Toby walked up the steps to the dorm room with his bags weighing him down, but carrying a bigger burden on his heart. Back for his second year at Harvard, he was already dreading seeing his "friends". They hadn't understood last year when he had stopped attending the parties and the study groups, withdrawing into his own world in an effort to quiet the demons that tormented him. Especially one demon. The one he was dreading facing the most.
He paused as he reached the hallway of the third floor, footsteps slowing, dragging on the carpet beneath his feet. Just thinking the words made his heart pound - even harder than climbing the stairs to his room with 30 pounds of college crap on his back. Chris Keller. Chris. Keller. Maybe repeating it would help reduce the impact it had on his psyche - but he doubted it.
He'd spent months trying to work the man's image, his betrayal out of his system. Trying to work out what all those feelings he had for Keller meant. And he thought he had finally done it over the summer, when he'd met Genevieve, a sweet, pretty, uncomplicated woman who soothed his heart and calmed his mind. Who provided him with the first moments of peace he'd known since the day he'd met Chris Keller. The same day Chris had first lied to him, and first betrayed him.
But just driving the familiar route to school, being on those roads, seeing students jogging, sitting outside the coffeehouses, studying in the soft sunlight of an early fall day, had brought thoughts of Chris back to the front of his consciousness. And just as quickly brought home to Toby the fact that he wasn't anywhere near done fighting his feelings for Chris Keller.
With a sigh, Toby pushed himself forward, down the long hallway to his room. The smell of the dorm brought back more memories, and he found himself rushing to get into the single that would serve as his home for the next 10 months. A place he was determined to make into a sanctuary from the pain of his life. As he fitted the key into the door and heard the turn of the lock, he took a deep breath, the routine task quieting the voices in his head, helping him regain his equilibrium a little.
Only to have it destroyed by the man who waited silently inside his "haven," those well-known angular features shadowed by the light pouring in from the window behind him. But despite the gloom, there was no mistaking who was waiting for Toby.
Keller looked up as he heard footsteps outside the room. He had been waiting for Toby to come back to Boston for what seemed like forever. The entire summer had passed in a litany of days counting down to the day when Toby would HAVE to return. This day. 96 days since he'd seen him. 96 days since he'd revealed his betrayal. 96 days of shame and self-loathing for what he'd done to the man about to walk in the door. 96 days to plan what to say.
And all of his planning, his carefully rehearsed statements flew right out the window as a key turned in the lock. The small sound brought him out of the chair he'd been sitting in as the door swung open quickly. In the next moment, Toby walked in, and shattered the fragile control Keller had been struggling to maintain since the last time they'd been together.
Keller drank in the sight of the slender blond man in front of him, forced himself to watch as horror and pain drifted across Toby's face. A face that had haunted his dreams. Then something closed down in the blue eyes, and blond-tipped lashes swept down to hide them from Chris's hungry, seeking stare. Rejection throbbing between them, lancing Chris with a terrible fire.
"Beecher." Plaintively. Pleading. "Toby." Softly, with a sigh.
Toby felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach. He couldn't take in what he was seeing. Chris Keller in his room, his safe place. The place he was determined to keep free of the past, a place where Chris had never been, where Toby hadn't been betrayed, where he didn't have any memories to crowd him out and drive him mad.
All destroyed before Toby could even begin to call on the defenses he needed to keep Chris Keller out. Caught in a steely glance, he flailed for control. After a moment struggling, fighting, clawing to gain his balance, he found the will to break the gaze, lowered his eyes and found a small measure of composure. And finally registered the soft words from the other man. Damn you, Keller, you don't get to call me Toby anymore. In his anger, he automatically slammed the door behind him, shutting them in together in the small room.
"How the fuck did you get in here, Keller?"
"Toby, I've been waiting for you. I wanted to explain, to apologize…" Chris's voice trailed off as he saw the anger flare even hotter in Toby's eyes.
"There is nothing to say, except to explain *how* you got in here." Toby struggled to keep his voice from wavering, his mind recoiling from the implications of having Keller imprinted on this room, too.
"I've got keys to all these rooms, Toby. I just wanted to try to talk to you before everyone else shows up. Try to make you understand - "
"You can't MAKE me do anything anymore, Keller. Ever. Again."
"You gotta know I'm sorry for my part in all of it, Toby. I want to make it up to you. I'll do whatever you want. Anything, just let me make it right between us." Keller heard the note of pleading weakness in his voice, but he couldn't seem to stop himself.
It was the tone that finally got through to Toby, a ragged voice that soothed some of the rage as it finally registered that, probably for the first time ever, Keller was not the one in control.
Toby felt a surge of power and adrenaline course through his body, tightening his muscles as he savored the feeling of being the one with the advantage. What could it mean, Keller so defenseless, so weak? His eyes narrowed as he considered the outstretched hand of the man across from him. He leaned back casually against the frame of the door, his luggage dropped to his side, forgotten.
Ignoring the pleading look as he settled more firmly against the door frame. Drawing on the strength he'd built over the summer. Facing his enemy and would be lover. "Oh, yeah, you're sorry." Hissed, in a harsh voice dripping with sarcasm. "So sorry you hurt me. So sorry you betrayed me. So sorry you ruined my life, my future. Well, I've got news for you. I don't care anymore."
He straightened, moving toward the darker man framed in sunlight. "And now that I know who you are, WHAT you are, I'm just glad I resisted you." For a moment, the memory of the kiss sizzled between the two men, upping the tension yet another notch. With an almost visible effort, Toby shook off the memory, and moved even closer to Chris. And continued, even more softly:
"Because what I felt for you wasn't real." Beecher paused, stopping inches from the warm body trembling in front of him. And his voice dropped to almost a whisper as he ruthlessly drove home the terrible truth.
"Because what you felt for me was always, always a lie."
It was a truth that was as painful for Toby to say out loud as it was for Chris to hear. They stood for a moment, only inches separating them, but farther apart than they had ever been.
Chris watched as Toby moved towards him, the words stabbing into his brain, triggering the shame and pain of what he had done in the name of a debt to Vern Schillinger. This man wasn't the Toby he had first met - the man who had been like a moth to Chris's flame, and like a flame to Chris's moth. He had been altered, damaged, changed utterly because of Vern's plans and Chris's complicity. And as Chris saw the Toby that he had helped make take shape in front of him, as he saw Toby tuck away the last shreds of humanity and walk toward him, he wanted to shriek aloud from the pain of his betrayal of the man he loved. Of the only person he had ever loved. Including himself. He was afraid that man was gone forever. Because of him.
Last year had been an elaborate dance - orchestrated by events that neither Chris or Toby had any real control over. A dance that Chris had had no choice but to continue to the last beat of music. A dance that had, somehow, opened up possibilities for Chris that he had long thought were not meant for him. But through it all, Chris had known that one day the music would stop, and Toby would finally see the REAL Chris Keller, the one who didn't deserve to stand in the same room with Toby Beecher. And then Chris would be alone. Again.
But this time had been worse, because Toby had taught Chris what it meant to NOT be alone anymore.
And today, facing Beecher in a quiet and gloomy room at Harvard, he was more alone than he had ever been. Or could have imagined.
The silence built as the soft echo of Toby's words died away, and the moment drew out between the two men, heightening the tension that had seemed to already be at a peak. Chris looked down into Toby's eyes, taking in the burning glare, absorbing the pain and the hate directed at him. Breaking free of the acid look emanating from Toby's eyes, Chris indulged his need to absorb the familiar features he had been waiting to see for more than three months. He moved his eyes quickly over Toby's face, taking in the soft curls at Toby's temples, the dimple in his chin, the high cheekbones and forehead, the slight shadow darkening his cheeks and jaw line, the long blond eyelashes. He swept a brief scan down the body inches from his own, noting the now whipcord leanness, the newly acquired strength in the tensed muscles, the narrow waist, the slender legs, the soft bulge in Toby's jeans. He noted the other man impatiently shifting his weight as the moment stretched on and reluctantly raised his gaze back to Toby's face.
As he looked at the blond man in front of him, he knew he had to get out of the little room, before he embarrassed himself, or hurt Toby any more. For another moment, he lost himself in the beauty of Toby's face, and found his gaze drawn inexorably to the soft mouth, the lips that were pressed thin in anger, hiding the small white teeth and the soft, pink tongue. The tongue that Chris had sucked on until his lungs almost burst, the mouth he had ravished, for that one beautiful moment they had shared before he had completed the betrayal he had promised Vern.
The thought of Vern brought Chris back to the moment at hand, and with an effort, he looked up again into Toby's eyes. Recognizing the resolve he saw there, he sighed, and brushed past Toby, feeling the heat of the smaller man's body against his side as he forced his way by. His heart contracted at the brief contact, and Chris felt like grabbing Toby, using his strength to break the control that Toby wore like a shield. But he knew that wasn't what Toby needed. And Chris, who had never been rejected before, couldn't handle any more rejection today.
Toby staggered back a bit at the sudden contact of Chris's body against his own. His heart racing at the fire that touching Chris always kindled in him, he turned to watch as Chris continued quickly to the door. Chris paused as he stood in the threshold, his back to Toby, to hide the tears that had suddenly sprung into his eyes. "I'm sorry Toby, I really I am. I hope you'll let me show you. Make it up to you. But I won't play these games."
Just before shutting the door, Chris looked back, pinning Toby with a steely gaze. "And nothing that I have ever felt for you was a lie, Toby. Nothing."
The door closed quietly behind Chris, leaving Toby alone in the room.
Toby sat down on the bed, suddenly unable to support his own weight as the implications of Chris's final words shot through him. And had those been tears in that usually steady gaze? Could it be possible? Could Chris really feel what Toby had just seen in his eyes, heard in his voice? Or was this all another trick, compliments of Vern Schillinger and his warped vendetta against Toby's father? Toby pulled his legs in to his chest and rested his head on his knees as he began to silently cry. This was just the first day - how was he ever going to make it through an entire year, with Chris Keller just down the hall? And I haven't even seen Vern yet, he thought with a hiccuping sob. I wonder where I can get some bourbon?
But this was the new Toby, and he didn't leave his room that night for his favorite crutch. He didn't give in to his demons. Instead, he girded himself for battle, lying in the slowly darkening room until it was lit only by the light of the moon, ignoring all the knocks on the door, all the sounds of his friends returning for the year. Turning over in his mind the events that had brought him here. The events that started the day he arrived at Harvard last fall.
END PART 1
Continued in Part 2