Six and a half hours later Toby was leading Chris out of the emergency room entrance. He was so doped up that there was no way he would be able to drive, he was too big to sit in front of him and he was in no shape to hang on either. He dreaded what was coming, but it had to be done. He walked over and stopped next to the back door of Steve's car and waited for him to realize what he was doing. Fortunately enough though, he was too out of it to even notice.
"Come here and get the door."
Steve side stepped Tobias and the huge man he was almost carrying and opened the back door for him.
"Watch his head, man."
Toby stared at Steve like he had two heads. //Since when do you give a fuck about Chris anyway?//
"Hey, hold on and let me pull him in from the other side."
Toby watched as Steve jogged around the back of the car to open up the door on the other side, and climbed in to help guide Chris into the car. Then Steve did something so completely out of character that Toby almost called him on it. He took off his jacket and folded it under Chris' head for a pillow. Toby smiled at him with all the heart-felt gratitude he could convey, shining in his eyes. Maybe there was hope for this friendship after all. He lifted Chris' legs in and bent them just enough to ensure that his feet wouldn't get caught in the door, then gently shut it.
"I'm going to go slow so I won't lose you. Give me your cell number just in case we get separated. Just to be safe." He would be carrying his most precious possession in the world in the back of his car. They exchanged numbers quickly then Toby moved to lead the way home. A few minutes into the drive, Steve was already overcome with frustration. "Slowly? Jesus Tobias, Just park the fucking thing, we'll get there faster!"
"Oh, shit! Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you up. Please, go back to sleep. He'll kick my ass for waking you up."
Chris heard genuine fear in his voice. //What the fuck did you say to him, Toby?//
His voice gravelly from sleep and the drugs, Chris couldn't believe the voice he heard coming out of his mouth belonged to him.
"Naaah. He's a pussy cat, a baby-doll. He'd never hurt nobody."
"That's not the feeling he gave me. He took half my face off after you left in the ambulance."
Chris snorted. The effort sending pain cascading through his arm straight to his brain.
"Awww, fuck. That hurt."
"I think we're here. He just drove up a sidewalk. Listen, I'm sorry about hitting you like that. I know it was my fault. I told the officer the truth before I left."
Chris was truly stunned. //Figured I'd have to go to court, again, and wind up wit my balls in a sling. Again.//
"Thank's man. I didn't want Toby doubtin' me."
"Oh, he didn't doubt you. Called me a liar straight to my face and accused me of trying to cover my ass at your expense. It was rather eloquent. Sorry you missed it, but I think he designed it that way."
"Yeah. Fuckin' tactful. Don't wanna rip you a new one in front of nobody, but wait till yer alone." Then makes an explosion noise to drive his point home.
"He must be going to unlock the door." Steve sat there trying to figure out how to phrase the next question, knowing he didn't have much time to find out, so he went for it.
"How did you and Tobias meet?"
"It's a hoot. Lemme get inside and laid out on the sofa then I'll tell you ‘bout it. ‘Kay?"
Steve braced himself, for what, he wasn't certain, but he felt something coming. Almost like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Toby thought he had heard them talking and his suspicions were confirmed when he yanked open the back door to find Chris smiling at him. //The air don't feel hostile, so that's a good sign. Right?
"Yup. Help me out, would ya?"
Toby leaned down and helped Chris to his feet, who swayed immediately under the effects of the drugs.
"I got you. Relax."
"You need some help?"
"Yeah, get his other side for me. He weighs a ton."
"Let's talk about him like he ain't here." Came his sarcastic reply.
"If he feels good enough to be a smart ass, he's already on the road to recovery."
"Fuck you, Beecher."
"Fuck you, Keller!"
"Whoa! Innocent bystander. Make sure your aims are true to target, please!"
Chris burst out laughing, sending an answering grin across Toby's face. //Well, maybe they could be friends, too. Or was that too much to hope for?//
"Put him down on the couch."
Toby smiled thinking about Mabel and Tim. They had given them every single piece of furniture they owned. //Going to have to kiss her for the latest gift.// Toby eyed the couch, with reservations. One thing was clear though. //Chris is waaaay to big to be able to stretch out on the love seat.//
"Need something to drink?"
"Yeah, scotch, straight up."
Toby felt the color drain from his cheeks then flush hot. He *knew* Steve heard that.
"I told you about that shit. Knock it off already!"
Toby stomped off into the kitchen to get Chris a soda and a couple of sandwiches. He had to be hungry. //Stop putting off thinking about it.// Toby admonished silently. //He almost blew you out of the water. Keep your wits sharp. Might have to cover yourself again and again. He's so doped up he probably hadn't even realized the slip. That is, until I bit his head of.// Toby winced and groaned inwardly. //Asshole.// He plastered his best smile on his face, as if the episode never happened, and carried the sandwiches and Coke back to Chris.
"Here, eat this. I know you're hungry. I'll get your bath ready."
Toby stiffly walked off to start his bath without a backward glance.
"What the fuck is up his ass anyway?"
"We joke like that a lot. Sometimes we play it out an' shit. Just to see who's gonna back down first, ya know? But I guess he's worried you might think he's a fag or somethin'."
"He said you didn't like that word."
"I don't. It's the only one I ever heard him use though, so I figured you could relate to it." Chris took several large bites out of his last sandwich, then continued. "I can understand where he's comin' from, tho. He doesn't want to wear a label, much less one that don't apply. *Understand?*"
"Yeah. I know he's not... Well, you know."
Chris nodded as he finished off his sandwich and drained the last of his Coke.
"Say, you were going to tell me how you met Tobias."
"Oh, yeah. Well, actually, it's a duet. Gotta tell it together. After the bath, all right?"
Steve shifted uncomfortably in his seat. //Why does he keep putting me off like that?//
"Ready for your bath, mister?"
"Uh, Tobe. I broke my right hand. Shoulda just turned on the shower. I coulda managed. There's no way I can get outta the tub by myself."
"That's why we're here. To help."
Chris and Steve flinched in unison. //Yeah, boys. We.//
"Come on, Chris."
He stood and followed him into the bathroom. His sense of dread spiraling out of control. He didn't want anyone to see him naked but Toby. //Especially this skinny little fuck.// But he knew he weighed too much for Toby to handle alone so his pride was going to have to take a hit.
Toby stepped up to help him off with the shirt, just like they were getting ready to make love. His eyes shot down to Chris' bulge. //Please, don't let him get hard. *Please.*// Shirt off, Toby pulled at his belt until it came loose then began undoing his pants.
"Steve, grab him under his pits, *gently,* and help him keep his balance while I get his pants off." Toby paused momentarily, to remove his shoes and socks. He glanced up to check on Chris. He seemed to be all right, it was Steve that looked ill.
Steve moved in and did as he was asked to. He could feel the muscles of the man he held. Tight, firm. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror. //Man, he is built!// His chest was so well defined it made Steve green with envy. //Weight training class here I come!// He thought ruefully. He suddenly understood Tobias' need to join. //Having to look at this guy every day of your life would defiantly motivate.//
Steve glanced down to check Toby's progress as he started sliding his pants down over his backside. Steve groaned inwardly. //His ass even looks good. *Shit.* Makes you feel like the original 98 pound weakling at the beach eating sand, doesn't it, Steve-o?//
"After we get him in the tub, um, I need to make a call."
Steve lowered his gaze at Tobias who *knew* not only what he was talking about, but why he chose now to mention it.
Toby blushed scarlet. He knew Steve was eating his heart out over the body that stood in front of him. //Yeah, motherfucker. Now you see why I'm going!// He couldn't let himself look at Chris though. Not even on accident. He was absolutely indecent and Toby *knew* he would do something to either embarrass him or to turn him on and leave him to explain his woody away. //NO, thanks.// He had to operate by feel, since he wasn't looking. //Down over the butt, hips, okay so far. Please, don't let him be hard. Down over the hips, without a hitch. Thank you, sweet Jesus.// Calves and finally, ankles. Toby patted his left leg to get him to lift it, then the right. He stood there completely naked and Toby could not bring himself to look at him. Instead, he rose looking just past him into the hallway.
"Okay, Chris. Brace yourself on us then we'll help you lower yourself into the water."
It went off without a hitch. Toby almost fainted from the sheer relief of it. He turned to leave and Chris stopped him.
"Tobe, how am I gonna wash anythin'? I got a cast on and I can't reach every where."
Toby stopped in his tracks. The wounded puppy-dog tone in his voice, and he was hamburger, fresh meat.
Toby scrubbed his back and chest and even washed his legs and feet but stopped just above his knees.
"I'll leave the rest to you, Buddy."
Then he turned and walked out. //Little fucker walked out.// Chris strained to hear what they were talking about in the front room.
"Make the call?"
"Yeah.... same time as you got it tomorrow..."
//They're matching schedules!// Chris felt his heart sink. //Is this really gonna work? He's already treatin' me like the hired help in front of his friend and now he's matchin' his schedule. *Fuuuuuck,* Chris. What are you gonna do, Buddy? Well, one thing I'm *not* going to do is tell that little ratfuck how we met. Toby can do that. I'm gonna go to bed and I'm gonna get outta here by myself.//
Chris twisted around in the tub where he could throw one leg over the side. //Oh Heaven help me! Fuckin' tub, cold against my balls! Uhhh.// He thumped down on the floor giggling in pain.
Within moments, Toby threw the door open and hit him in the head with it. Last thing Chris saw was stars as the blackness enveloped him.
"SHIT! Help me get him up, Steve!"
"I got his arms, you get his legs."
"That's the heaviest end. Sure you want it?"
It took all they had to get him into the front room. They sat him gingerly down on the couch.
"Wait here and watch him. I'm going to get him something to sleep in."
Toby ran into their bedroom and got him a pair of those new half-boxer/ half-brief things that he liked and his navy wifebeater and got back to him as soon as he could.
Steve looked up to watch the worry play across his old friend's face. "He's still out."
Toby leaned into him, just to be near him, and said. "Come on, Chris. Wake up for me."
Toby dressed him as he was trying to wake him. Gently shaking him then whispering into his ear as he slid his shirt on. //Come on, Baby. Wake up for me.//
"No use, man. He'll come around on his own. Just got to give the pain time to clear."
Toby shot up away from Chris, his back ramrod straight. He knew there was no way that he could have heard what he had just said, but his guilt made him snap anyway.
"How the fuck would you know?"
Steve heard the glitch of pain in his voice and ignored it.
"‘Cause I've knocked myself out before. I always came around and sometimes it was worse than the wack he just got. So chill. He will be all right. Just gotta keep an eye on him for a while."
Toby collapsed into the floor next to Chris. He put his hand over his heart, to reassure himself that he was still alive, and just sat there.
"Chris was getting ready to tell me about how the two of you met when you came and got him for the bath...."
"It really was interesting, the way it happened..."
Toby told him the whole story from his point of view. Since Chris was out, he added the way his father had automatically assumed that Chris was a criminal and that he couldn't be trusted and went on about how he stood up to him when he made the remark about his being under *his* roof. He then went on to recount the next morning when he told Chris about what had happened and his offer to let him stay with him.
"You know. I didn't know him from Adam, but I felt like I could trust him with my life. Ain't that strange? We've been the best of friends ever since."
"Ummmm. Told you about that word. Don't use ‘ain't' if you're expectin' to get into Harvard."
Toby's eyes stung with unshed tears.
"When are you *gonna* quit *bustin'* my balls, Keller?"
"Same time you quit callin' me Keller, *Beecher.*"
"What's with the last name thing?"
"Prisoners use each other's last names. Keeps people from getting too close to you. Kind of holds them at arms length. Never really trusting one another. Cold and impersonal."
"Very impressive. He does back flips too."
"Yeoooowww! Toby, shit. I was only playin'."
"I know. The smack was for trying to get out of the tub alone, asshole."
Chris busted into a deep rich laugh. Toby and Steve looked at one another helplessly trying to figure out what was so funny until Chris calmed himself enough to speak.
"Thanks, Mom. Lesson learned."
Comprehension dawning. //Smart ass!//
"What the fuck *ever,* Chris."
"Hey, you going to tell me your version of how you two hooked up?"
Chris looked over to Beech. How much had he told him? He was sure that he hadn't told him everything.
"I was filling him in on the how's and why's. About how my father overreacted about me wanting you to stay and all..."
Chris nodded in appreciation for the heads up.
"Well, I'll start back at the beginning. At least as much as I can remember."
He recounted the tale about how he was looking for some tail when he got lost. Terribly drunk already, he had found a party and left with a girl and went to another one. She had given him her address and asked him to come over. Well, being blind drunk, he lost the address and tried to remember, in vain, how she had said to go. He glanced over at Toby then finished up.
"Yep. Never found her. Never got laid that night. I think I might have tried but he (nodding toward Toby) wasn't forthcoming."
Toby's face was so red he could have lit a cigarette off of it.
"Wha? Oh. Sorry. Keep forgettin'. He don't got no sense of humor around company."
Steve was laughing so hard his face was red and he wasn't making any noise. //One of those about-to-piss-on-yerself laughs.// Chris grinned at him from ear to ear and set him off harder. He struggled to his feet and made his way to the bathroom.
"What the fuck was that about!"
An enraged whisper slapped Chris in the face as soon as he heard the bathroom door close.
"Um, uh, a joke?"
"Do you see me fucking laughing?"
"Nope." He hung his head, genuinely sorry, he couldn't meet Toby's eyes. "I'm gonna go lay down. Enjoy your visit."
He struggled to his feet and walked back toward the bedrooms. From where he was sitting, Toby couldn't see which one he went into, but he had an idea...
Steve straggled out of the bathroom wiping at his eyes with a tissue. A grin still covered his face until he saw that they were alone. "Where's Chris?"
"He went to bed. Wasn't feeling too good."
"You bitched him out, didn't you?"
Toby looked away sorrowfully. "Yeah. How did you know?"
"Well, one minute we were laughing and joking and having a good time, the next minute I come in here and it feels like I missed Hiroshima or something. You don't have to be so tough on him. I know you're not gay. Even if you were, shit, I wouldn't care."
Steve bent down and picked up his jacket off the floor. "I'm going to head on home. See you in the morning."
Toby nodded his head in agreement and watched as he closed the door behind him. "Sure you wouldn't care. Fucking liar."
He stood and crossed the distance to their bedroom. He gently eased the door open on the off chance that Chris might be in there, and even more remotely, might be asleep.
Toby felt for the light switch in the dark furtively then eventually gave up. He slowly made his way across the room mentally visualizing where everything would be and arrived at their bed intact. He slid his hands over the bed, fervently praying that they would run into the warm solid strength of Chris. To no avail. He wasn't there. //And you expected him to be?//
//Man, what the fuck does he want from me? He's obviously worried that I'm gonna say or do somethin' to let his little friend know the truth. So maybe I should make himself scarce whenever he comes around. Yeah, that's what I'll do. I'll stay gone and give him and Tobe all the alone time they could want and more.//
Chris forced the painful lump in his throat down and rolled over onto his side. He would have to go see Johnny tomorrow. This was *not* something he really wanted to do. "Get up early and leave so I won't have to be here for his fuckin' pathetic apologies. *Fuck him.* He's ashamed of bein' wit me. I've never been wit anyone who was ashamed of me. Well, maybe we should fix that too.//
Shattering pain shot through his wrist, reminding him of the inevitable. He would have to get another job. That was pretty clear. //Can't be a bouncer wit a broken arm, and construction's out of the question. Only alternative is to go back to strippin'. No need to tell Tobe. He wouldn't even care anyway. As long as I'm out of the way when Steve comes over.// It would be pretty much the same work schedule except he wouldn't go into later then he would work until two or three. The dancers and waiters had to help clean the place up, saved the owner on a cleaning company and earned them a little more money. //Sure as hell ain't plannin' on sellin' my ass this time around. Fuck that.//
Chris mentally planned his day to take his mind off of everything happening with Toby. //First thing's first. Gotta go check out the last few places left in town. Try to avoid the one gay club at all costs. Nothin' like an old customer remembering me.// Chris shuddered at the thought. There were two clubs for women, one of those would be his safest bet. //No gay man is gonna hang out wit a bunch of straight women when they got their own club wit gay dancers to boot.// Chris had been to both, and from personal experience, he knew the best looking guys were always at the gay club. He smirked in the dark. //The ladies would lose their minds if they ever found out *that* little piece of info.// He rolled over and punched his pillow. //Why you let him get to you like this?//
Continued in Part 12