It happened at the court house on a sunny Monday in the middle of August; he'd just finished pleading, he felt good and fine, smart and cool and life was wonderful, he began to walk up the stairs, thinking he'd be with Chris soon and then… Then he was lying in a hospital bed yelling with pain.

Nervous breakdown, lack of food, lack of sleep and a broken leg from the fall; he was sent to a hospital, far from town, his wounds cured, fed by force and he had to meet a psychiatrist, every day, to talk about what had happened, talk about Chris, about what he'd done with Chris and what Chris had done to him. He had no access to a phone and no clothes, no hope of running away.

His family came every day, his father, his mother, they said the children would come, but he didn't want to see them, he said he wasn't ready. After a while he didn't even want to see his father or his mother anymore and spent hours alone lying on his bed.

Mary Reimondo was sitting in front of him, frail and attentive, not a young woman but a good shrink, not what he needed. He needed Chris.

"You don't believe me," Toby said, shrugging, "you don't even want to try."

She sighed, noticed the habit he had of keeping his eyes on the window, watching the blue sky outside, birds flying from tree to tree. Free.

"No, Tobias, it's just that it's difficult to believe. You told me a lot about caring and understanding and love but when they brought you into this hospital, what I saw…"
"I fell in the stairs and broke my leg, that's not about him."
She pointed a finger at him. "Exhaustion was about him, marks and welts and bruises all over your body were about him."

He rose, leaning on his cane and hitched to the window.

"This is bullshit. I was feeling fine, my mind was clear, I'd just won a difficult case, listen, I'd never been that good a lawyer before, I felt…"

He didn't find the word and came back to his seat, shaking his head.

/Free /

Drugless addiction. Mary Reimondo was trying to understand something about the man who had so powerfully enslaved Tobias Beecher's mind and body.

"Explain to me," she said and he realised that she wouldn't let go, she seemed to think that his mind needed to heal much more than his body and as fragile as she looked she proved to be the most stubborn woman he'd ever met.

"How did it go when you were home?"
"You mean home with Chris?"
"There's nothing special to say, when I came back from work, he was home, so I took some time to undress, shower, put on clean clothes."

/get ready for him/

"What was he doing all this time?"
"Waiting for me upstairs."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting, patient and hungry, eyes half closed, listening to the water running in the shower downstairs, imagining Toby putting on the jeans he loved, too large, falling on his hips, imagining him walking up the stairs; hearing him, at least, his naked feet on the wooden steps and the door opened, Toby standing on the threshold, smiling and walking up to him, picking up the device Chris had left on a table –generally the violet wand- and kneeling in front of him, his head on his lap, his arms circling Chris' legs, the wand on the floor near him.

"Hey, gorgeous, how are you?" Chris asked, his fingers in Toby's wet hair, combing, stroking, soft voice, soft caress, shivers running on Toby's naked skin like a soft breeze upon the sea as he rubbed his face against Chris's thigh, feeling the heat beneath the fabric of the jean.
"I missed you."
"Yeah, so did I."

Tender. Chris spread his legs, pulling Toby closer, crooning to him, stroking his back, his shoulders, feeling him relax, his breath slow down, his own desire building, the hunger growing.


"I can believe that was love, I believe it was, or that you thought it was."
"It *was* love."


Then a swift move and Chris picked up the device but Toby was too far gone to notice or if he did, he didn’t mind and the first caress of the wand shook him up, made him yell.

"Sorry, I should've warned you."

Chris wet lips on his neck, sharing the pain for a while as the wand lazily traced his body, his back, his hips, the waistband of his jeans, Chris left hand pulling the clothes down, revealing his ass, making him moan, beg for more, opening him and then Toby sunk in an unknown world, losing sight and hearing, thrashing on the floor under Chris' weight, fucked by the wand, then fucked by Chris and in some way, he couldn't tell the device from the flesh but after that it took a long time to slow down his heartbeat, stop shaking and Chris remained buried inside him long enough to help him up from the depths of pleasure, pulling him up, bringing him back to life, not letting go, his fingers stroking his cock, teasing, stroking again, making Toby come at last.

"We ate together in the kitchen. Sometimes went to the restaurant when he didn't feel like cooking."
"He cooked for you?"
"Yeah, health food. Chris thinks I'm addicted to junk food."
"Did he starve you?"
"No!" Toby nearly jumped off his chair. "No, everybody keeps asking me that but he didn't! He's not like that, you know, it's crazy how you try to make him … evil. He's not evil!"

Face contorted with anguish, his lungs hurting, concern on the psychiatrist's face and he tried to explain.

"It's just that after a while, I wasn't hungry anymore, food disgusted me."
"What did you eat when you were hungry?"
"What did Chris said?"
"I didn't tell him."
"You didn't tell him? Why?"
"He thinks junk food's bad for me."

She lowered her head to hide her exasperation
/He starved you/

But she didn't say it, asked instead, "Did he let you sleep?"
"Sometimes he woke me up when he came back from work and we talked for a while."
"Then you fell asleep again."
"And he didn't wake you up again."
"No!" but Toby's voice shook lightly and she knew he was on the brink of something. "Yes, he did sometimes, gave me a blowjob, jerked me off, fucked me. Look, desire knows nothing like sleep and he desired me a lot."
"Did you sometimes wake him up?"
She sighed.
"Anyway I used to take a nap on the couch in my office, in the afternoon."

"When First Aid drove you in here, you were asleep and we couldn't wake you up. You slept for two days in a row, and you had an EEG that showed symptoms of sleep deprivation. You were also very lean and your father told us that you'd lost at least 30 pounds. Do you think Chris Keller didn't see, do you believe he was unaware of what he was doing? Waking you up twice a night, not feeding you enough, don't you see that the real reason why he cooked, and forbid you to eat anything else, was to control that too?"

She didn't go on; Beecher threw his cane across the office and stormed out.

Next day she tried another tactic.

"Did you have a dungeon?"

Christ. Toby turned his eyes away.

"Listen, discussing this with you makes me very uncomfortable."
"Why? Because I'm a woman? Because I'm too old? Because you know you can't convince me? Because you're ashamed?"
He gave her a long quizzical look.
"You really don't get it, do you? Call it a dungeon if you want… It's OK for a club, maybe it's the word you read in books but what we had was a bedroom."
She nodded.
"What was there in this … bedroom."
"A bed," he said, "a bed and a locked closet with toys and a cage, and electrified cage. Happy now?"
"Aw, how does that work? It sounds really frightening, I mean, how did he convince you to get inside?"
"He didn't convince me. He went inside first."
She leaned forward, her chin in her hand.

"Don't even think about it," Toby said, his arms crossed, watching the cage. "No way."
Chris sighed, took off his shirt and his pants, stood naked, facing Toby, seeing his gaze travel over his body and desire grow and he came closer, resting a hand on the nape of his neck.
"C'mon, Toby, what about a little while inside? Together?"

Together… After all if Chris was up to it, he could be too, they'd gone together through a lot of things like that. Electrical toys, breathe control, fire and Toby had to admit that Chris had trusted him all along when he'd made himself vulnerable. Giving a long hungry look to the lean body facing his, he got rid of his own clothes.

"We're gonna hurt ourselves against the bars," he said.
"Yeah. That's where the fun lies. That and," Chris pointed to a little black box on the floor, "this."

Toby shivered, recognizing a transformer; he'd seen the same on Gary's electric train.

Chris grabbed him by the arm with an impatient growl and dragged him inside. They fought, caressed, his fingers on Chris' cock, Chris' thumb swirling around the head of Toby's cock, their body taking the electrical shocks, sinking into pleasure long enough to take their own defences down, let the walls crumble, until Chris, aware of the danger of going too far, stopped the game, hitting the "power" switch with his foot. Afterwards, they'd crawled under the blankets, holding each other tight.

"I wanna be inside you," Chris mumbled in Toby's ear and they made love until sleep took them. Next day, and every evening after that Toby spent some time in the cage, Chris sprawled in front of him in the leather armchair, playing lazily with the control, sending electricity through the bars and the conductive floor at random frequencies, random rhythm, sending Toby into that place which made him ready for anything and allowed Chris to take him anywhere he wanted. That had been the time for violet wand and electric toys.

"There was a moment when he thought electricity was becoming too dangerous, he sent the cage back, got rid of the other toys and just kept the violet wand because I loved it. He never told me but I'm sure he was afraid we would go too far."

Days later, another meeting, Toby still looking tired, but the dark circles around his eyes had vanished and he'd gained weight.
She thought of something suddenly. "What did he call you?"
"Toby. I called him Chris."
"Not… I don't know… Master? Slave? Sir…"
"Stop that!" Toby screamed and she thought he was going to run away again, "just stop that, we never used those words, that's bullshit."
"Because he respected me! He loved me! And so did I."
She frowned, drew something on her pad.
"Tell me if I'm wrong, it sounds like you would've taken anything as long as he… respected you that way? Using the right words, being tender, showing love. You know, Tobias, there's a myth in SM. The legend of the perfect Dom, the one who's always in control, always cool and aware of what his sub needs, always understanding, gifted with natural authority and real love… Tobias it's just a legend, this man doesn't exist."
"He does. I met him."

She leaned forward, placed her hands on the desk and caught his eyes, refusing to let go.

"No. Chris is a manipulator, he persuaded you that he loved you, that he cared, that he was the one you needed but what he wants is just take away from you everything you have until you're only his, with nothing else left than him, no will, no family, no place to go, until the moment he can be the one who gives you everything, feeds you, possesses you, owns you, keeps you alive –or not."

Toby didn't move, seemed to give her words a thought and rose. "How can you know? You haven't even met him."
"I don't need to." She sighed. "These charismatic people subjugating men or women are all the same, they work the same way."
"I don't think so and I don't think I wanna talk to you again."
"Why? Are you afraid that I could be right?"

He didn't slam the door, just closed it softly and walked out.

Next morning he managed to break into the nurses' office and called Chris.

Chris listened to him and said he wouldn't come and take him out.

"Why? You said you loved me!"
"I do. Just… What we've been doing, it's too dangerous, we've gone much too far, I don't fucking want to kill you, I don't even want to harm you, and that's what I've been doing for months. Not letting you sleep enough, eat enough, and the way we played… it's over. I don't wanna see you again, don’t wanna hear about you again. I'd never thought… I never thought I'd fall for someone the way I fell for you. Toby, it's just not what you need, not what I need. Forget about me, move on."
"I can't ! Please…"
"No." And he hung up.

After that, Toby cried, curled up on the bed, sure he couldn't stand the pain and standing it nonetheless.

"I realize now that he… he changed."
Painful admission. He'd got rid of the cane, walked normally, he was attractive and smart.
"In the beginning, he didn't use anything else but his hands and whatever looked good to him, despised toys, whips, used my ties, belts, anything."
Mary Reimondo raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like paradise."
"Paradise, yeah, maybe. Then he had a 'let's try a suede flogger and what about a nine tail whip' period but it didn't last. Later, when we were living together, electricity seemed to fascinate him –it sure fascinated me."
"Yes, I kind of gathered that."
"Well, anyway. Hot wax was great, too, he was careful, shaved my body, checked the temperature of the wax on his hand, you know, same way you do with a bottle for a baby."
The comparison stunned her, disgust and incredulity.
"He painted strange patterns on my body with warm wax, used pins, and then razorblades. I think he was looking for the perfect stuff and couldn't find it. That's when he began to control my food."

Yeah, just talking about it made him hard, he could feel it again, the brush trailing the warm wax down his chest, his belly, along his cock, oh god, oh god, I'm gonna come and Chris slapping him and whispering, "no, you have to take more of it," as he went on but the pain, the pleasure were too strong; he couldn't help coming and the strap punished him hard.

"Tell me what happened before the accident. Let's say 48 hours before."

It was a hot Saturday night, they were together home, a whole week together because the kids were on holidays with Gen's parents. Sitting on the bed, dressed, Chris was drinking in the sight of Toby naked, facing the window, his lean frame pale in the darkness, his hands on each side of the window, his feet slightly parted. Jesus fucking Christ, he was so hot, beautiful and so *his*.

"What are you looking at?"
"Nothing, just thinking."

The mattress shrieked and Chris was behind him, barely touching him, his fingers on his hips, brushing along the warm flesh.
"Don't give me that shit, Tobe, c'mon, what's wrong?"
Toby stepped back, one step to feel Chris' body against his, feel his woollen shirt against his sensitive skin, feel the fingers stroke his thighs, feel his mouth against his neck, his breath warm.

Chris began rubbing his knuckles along Toby spine, along the taut muscles on each side of it, soothing, feeling him relax like a cat, getting ready for him.
"What's going on?"
"I don't know, it's a strange feeling. I was wondering, what you said the other day, remember?"
"What did I say?"
"That pain could set me free. I need that, if I don't find a way I'm gonna go crazy."

Slowly, Chris leant against him, heavy, watching Toby's muscles work to support his weight, his arms, his shoulders strained and kissed him there. So much stronger, so much crazier than he'd thought at first.

"How crazy?" he asked quietly, "crazy like you've been before, with booze and sleep pills? Drugs? Leather bars? You'd better not."

Toby watched the sky through his lashes, the summer rain pouring down, big drops of water crashing upon the leaves, the flowers, bouncing on the tiles of the terrace, and from outside came the smell of moist earth.

"Come on, let's go outside," Chris said in that voice, the voice that didn't stand any contradiction and Toby went to pick up his jeans.

"Don't, nobody will see you."

They walked down the stairs together, through the kitchen, out under the warm rain and Chris kissed him, pulling him close, his tongue teasing, then pushing him further outside until they stood in the middle of the backyard in the complete darkness of a hot stormy night, Chris fingers smoothing down the rain on Toby's skin, his eyes half closed, nearly purring with anticipation, then letting go of his lover, walking to a small bush, cutting a thin flexible branch, curbing it between his hands and smiling a lazy dangerous smile as he came back.

A hissing sound, a sharp pain and Toby yelled.

"No way, you're not going to make a fuss about it and wake up the whole neighbourhood, OK? Keep quiet."

Blows raining on Toby's chest, his belly, his thighs, avoiding his cock, fierce pain on wet skin and rain pouring on him, washing away sweat and blood, then Chris grabbed his damp hair and turned him around, dragged him to the wooden breakfast table.

"Bend over."

Toby hesitated, the branch whistled again and his left shoulder was on fire.

"Did you forget I don't like saying things twice?"

Another lick of the branch forced him to lie down, grip the edges of the table to steady himself.

"Spread your legs," Chris said, stroking his naked ass, then lashing it, his fingers digging deep into the flesh, bruising, until Toby turned to him and pounced and yeah, that was what they needed to light the fire, make it burn higher. They fell into the damp grass and fought like animals, Toby's fist crashing on Chris' face, Chris fighting to overpower his lover, pinning him to the floor, slapping him hard, hearing him hiss, feeling Toby's claws tearing his skin, his desperate struggle, the violence Chris had been feeling earlier spurting out.

"Yeah, come on, come on, fight me, that's what I want," and then breathlessly weighed on him, stilling his last attempt to fight before retrieving the thin whip, pulling Toby up, throwing him back upon the table and lashing his back, watching a criss-cross pattern of welts, blood dripping down, hearing Toby's breath catch and hitting harder until his arm hurt, listening to the rain falling on them and fighting to get free of his clothes before leaning in Toby and whispering, "first round's mine, I deserve a reward," forcing Toby's legs open, the hard cock brushing the back of his hand.

"No lube so you'll have to go with the rain," he said, pulling Toby's hips back to him until he could enter his body, ease his cock inside him and them pull out.
"No, please, it hurts too much."

"Too much is not fucking enough," and Chris entered him again, drinking the rain running down his ass, biting the cut skin, licking the wounds, thrusting deep inside, faster, Toby's body shivering, Toby's voice pleading, begging, his breath erratic, his moans lost, coming as soon as Chris touched his wet cock.

"Second round," Chris whispered into his ear, holding him tight, kissing the damp hair curling on his neck, "if you win this one, I'll let you go to bed, fuck me, whatever you want…If you lose, then… Let's say the earlier stuff was kind of an appetizer."

His eyes were shining in darkness as the rain began to slow down but Toby's eyes didn't waver.

"You run up the stairs and I count to five before running after you. If you manage to close the door on me, you win."

Easy, Toby thought, I run faster.

"OK, go!"

Later he was sure that Chris hadn't counted at all. Just when he was closing the door, laughing in triumph, Chris' weight pushed the door open, throwing Toby far inside the room.

"Game over."

In the darkness Chris' voice sounded strange, harsh and husky.
"Now let's have the main course."

Then again Toby was fucked, tied up, beaten, caressed, his nipples pierced with needles, no strength left to yell in spite of the pain that slowly engulfed him; and Chris' threatening gaze, his voice, steady, "shut up, just shut up, be still," as his hands worked on him and Toby became nothing more than some living anonymous thing offered up to skilful fingers, belonging to them, compliant, and he could allow to give up and let go of the fears, barely able to acknowledge the pain or the pleasure, coming endlessly between Chris' hands, inside Chris' ass, straddling him, drowned into his own world where nothing mattered but being touched the way Chris touched him, the way his fingers played with the needles piercing his flesh, the way he entered him again, one swift motion making him moan, the way he caressed him to soothe the pain, "Come on, come on, you can take it, I know you can."

No more worrying about his work, his next case, his constant struggle against his father's obsolete ideas, about his kids' future, himself and he cried in relief, begged Chris for more until he had no chance to escape that world of inexistence and irresponsibility, letting Chris make the choices, take the burden from his own shoulders and carry it.

And all over again until the room was bathed in a golden morning sun, finding the two men still entangled, and it took all the strength Chris had left to stop playing and push Toby away, walk to the shower. When he came back into the room, Toby was sound asleep, even taking the needles away didn't wake him up, he just mumbled in weak protest and Chris sat down to watch him sleep.

"That's what it was all about, then," Mary Reimondo said when he stopped talking, "tying to escape a life that didn't satisfy you."
"I've been doing that since I was a kid; if you take Chris away from me, I'll find something else, someone else."

This time she believed him, and thought maybe Toby's relationship with Chris Keller wasn't quite what she'd pictured, that Toby's enslaving had been his own work as well as Chris', that he'd used him for that purpose.

"So maybe you can work to make your life bearable without being forced to find such painful ways out?"
"Probably, but," he said, smiling, "that's not what I want."

Toby spent 4 months there, institutionalized against his will. Day after day, taught that what he'd done was bad for him, that Chris had been bad for him, probably they'd been bad for each other, that his masochism was some kind of illness.

"I loved him, was that some kind of illness too?"

In the end he gave up the fight, learned what he was supposed to learn, learned to look back on what had happened in a whole different way, tried to believe that his experience was deeply rooted in low self-esteem and fear of a reality, in the forgotten years of an apparently happy childhood, a peaceful and happy childhood. When Mary Reimondo wanted to dig further, he refused to go there, afraid of what he'd find, afraid his love for Chris would vanish in the process.

"If you don't do this work on yourself, you take the risk of falling again."
"I'll take the risk."
"What is the first thing you'll do when you get out?"
"Find a restaurant and eat decent food." And run to the club, or anywhere, find Chris, force him to change his mind, to take him back.

She smiled, his so sympathetic psychiatrist, frail ageing woman who, he learned this later, worked inside a prison too.
"I know what you'll do," she said, "you'll run to him."
He heard her sigh in frustration. "I wonder what he looks like, this man who got such a strong grip on you."
"Ask him to come, you'll see."
"I can't do that, you know it."
"Do you intend to keep me here against my will?"

She sighed again and three weeks later just after a Christmas he hadn't even bothered to celebrate he was out, it was winter, the air was cold and pure, he was happy to be free. Before leaving he placed an envelop on Mary's desk, a picture of Chris, and Jesus, the man was gorgeous, Lucifer fallen from grace with God had probably looked that way, dark blue mesmerizing eyes, mysterious smile and a body, what a body he had! She sighed and thought she'd pray for Tobias Beecher.

When Toby drove to the club, it was closed, Chris had left, moved somewhere else, to another town, another country maybe, who knew? Bonnie was nowhere to be found, he couldn't manage to meet anyone he'd met there; it was like a whole part of his life had vanished, like it had all been a dream and he spent hours inside the car, helplessly watching the closed door, the deserted place before driving back, his hopes shattered, his mind numb.

While he had been in the hospital his parents had sold the house he'd shared with Chris; he found an apartment near the office and Gen began bringing the kids back, for a few hours, a whole day, a night, a week-end. Probably someone had told her the whole story because she looked nervous and guilty; after all she was the one who had started the whole thing, and she looked determined to show some goodwill, promised Toby he'd have the kids as much as he wanted.

He took back his whole life like a burden, and even his children's laughter couldn't lighten it.

In December, before Christmas, Toby decided he'd take the kids skiing with his parents, get some rest, try to keep the fear and the need at bay, the fear he felt slowly creeping his way inside him, the demons waking up in the middle of the night, gasping desperately, breathless.

He'd spent months in a kind of comfortable numbness, living a normal life, fucking nice women, everybody sure he'd overcome the nightmare but the numbness was slowly fading and now it was like waking up in the middle of a dream that didn't want to vanish, living in a world where he didn't belong, like a ghost, among people who weren't real, and sometimes he closed his eyes and thought, "I'm gonna wake up, and I'll be back to my real life." But there was no real life, Chris was gone.

On the third morning his mind hurt so much he left the kids with his father and took a walk in the woods.

"I'm losing it," he said aloud as he was walking on a path, icy snow cracking under his boots, nice noise reminding him of when he was a kid, he'd loved snow so much. "Something happened when you were a kid," the shrink had told him.

"I'm falling apart again."

He saw a wooden bench on a side of the path in the sun, wiped off the snow, sat down, lost, and after a while he took off his gloves, pulled out his cell phone and called Chris' number, just a try, he'd done that several times before but the number was dead. The first ring gave him a shiver, and then he heard Chris' voice.

"Hey, I'm gone at the moment, but leave me a message, and I'll call you back."

5 minutes later, 2000 miles away, "Got a message, Chris!" Bonnie yelled from the first floor, maybe it's our supplier, he's late this month."

She heard his footsteps and a growl, he sat down.

"I don't have any fucking clue about where you are and what you're doing now, or how you feel. But I'm gonna tell you how I feel and where I am. I'm sitting on the bench in the middle of nowhere, there's a lot of snow and tell you what? They say if you lie down and wait, you die fast and without pain."

Toby was about to walk back when his phone rang.
"Don't, Toby."
"I can't go on. It's like the world I'm leaving in wasn't real. I'm lost, Chris."
"You got the kids."
"It's you I want."

A silence and then Chris' quiet and commanding voice, soothing the panic. "Don't do anything stupid, Toby."
"Stupid? Like, say, living?"
"If you feel that bad, you should go back to the hospital, that's the best thing to do."
"And then what? I'll spend some more months there, they'll try new drugs that will make me go half-crazy, try to creep inside my mind and finally set me free because there's nothing they can do, or lock me inside for ever."
"Your kids need you, they need a father."

Toby felt cold and the sky was darkening, he stood up and began to walk back.
"They need a father, but that's not what I am; I play the part but I don't feel it. I love them but it's like… It's like it's not for real, like I take care of them to keep my mind occupied while I'm waiting for something else."
A pack of snow fell off a tree just beside him, startling him.
"Eat tons of junk food, you love junk food, find a nice woman…"

"I don't want any fucking woman, I had one, it didn't work, I don't need food, it's you I want, just you, please! Every day I wonder if I'll be able to make it until tomorrow, every morning I wake up and look for a reason to step out of bed and live, every night I look outside and think 'great, I made it another day.' I'd rather die than go on like that."

Chris sat on the edge of a couch and said, "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do."

"Fuck you, bastard, fuck you, I hate you, I could kill you for what you've done to me, you said you cared, you pretended to be in charge, that you wouldn't let me down, but that's what you're doing right now."

And I could die, that would be a nice way to end all this shit, Chris thought, listening to the silence, then sighing inwardly, and straightening, his voice hardening.

"OK. When do you come back to town?"
Toby's heart nearly stopped.
"End of the week."

Six more days, Jesus, he didn't know how he could live six more days without Toby now that he knew; the past year had been so colourless, lifeless, sheer torture, he'd been so close to drive and take him back with him, but he'd hoped maybe Toby would heal; he didn't want to be the one who would ruin his life again. Yeah, death was easier to contemplate than what he'd gone through, in spite of the work, in spite of Bonnie, in spite of all the men and women he'd fucked, trying to take his anger out on them and failing because the anger and the need were too deeply buried inside him and that Toby was the only one who could satisfy him. His fix.

"Let's have lunch on Monday, you choose the restaurant. Noon. Is that OK to you?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Don't thank me, I want it as much as you do. And listen Toby… Think it over, what you want, because whatever you decide, whatever I decide, there'll be no turning back, so you'd better be ready for it."
"I am ready."

They barely shook hands and ate in silence.
"Write a note, tell your family you'll spend some time abroad to think the situation through."
"How long?"

Chris took a deep breath. "I don't know, 4 weeks, maybe more. There's a place we can go to, nobody will find us there," he caught Toby's cold fingers between his, imprisoning them in a painful grip. "I need to know, Toby; are you sure it's what you want?" and Toby just nodded with this serious and earnest look.

"OK, I'll wait for you on the parking lot in front of your office, next Friday, 8pm. If you change your mind, don't show, I'll understand. Now get up and come."

He pulled Toby into the toilets and leaned against the door, kissed him.
"Kneel down and show me how much you need me," he said, his tone harsh but his hands shaking as they grabbed Toby's hair. Later he fucked him on the cold tiles, and it was like being born to life again.

"Christ, I love you, Toby, I can't let go of you again."

Toby raised his head to look at him, delighted.

"Swear you'll keep with you me until the end, nobody will take me away from you again," he whispered, still sore and breathless and happy and desperate to keep him.

"I will, I swear," Chris said, kissing him, his lips, his temples, his neck, the bridge of his nose, wanting more "Nobody will tear us apart, nothing can part us, never again, Toby," and he couldn't keep his mouth and his hands off him, holding his hips to keep him close while he was devouring him, Toby's fierce embrace, fierce kisses matching his.

"Open the fucking door, man!" a voice said outside.
Breathless, they had to go out.
"Next Friday and after that, there's no way I let go of you."
"Don't even think about it, Keller, I'd kill you, this time."

Six weeks later, Bonnie called the police, Chris hadn't shown up at the club for a whole month and she was worried.

The cops found the bodies inside the main room of a little cabin Chris had bought just before he left; half frozen in front of the huge fire place, Toby's neck broken, Chris neatly killed by a bullet shot straight into the head, his left hand still holding the gun, his right arm around Toby's body. They'd left a letter, Toby's diary and pictures on the table.


"How about speeding up? We'll never get there at this rate!"
"Yeah well, it's snowing a lot, I don't want us to end up dead."
He sighs in frustration but says nothing.

Zack and I take the trip every year at the end of January to the house where our fathers died 25 years ago. We've been doing this for 6 years now and we don't plan to stop.

When we met we were both married, he was a pianist, I owned a bookshop; fine lives for the both of us, we should've been happy but we had this unhealed wound that seemed to taint everything, eat us alive; and no one to share the pain with.

We spent a long time talking; hours, days, face to face or on the phone, trying to understand.

"There's nothing to understand," he told me once, "all we can do is accept, and move on."
"I can't move on. I have to know."

I'd spent years drowned in the Beecher family's myth; Chris Keller was a monster, he'd enslaved my father and killed him in the end; but when I read the note, when I read the diary, looked at the pictures they'd left, alone, then with Zack, there was only one possible conclusion; even if Chris Keller had broken my father's neck before killing himself, my father's diary was clear about it, the decision they'd made, they'd made it together.

"It was a suicide," I told Zack. He rested his dark blue eyes on me, looked away for a second and sighed, then nodded.

Later we talked a lot, confessed to each other how much we'd been fucked up by the whole thing, frightened to discover some unknown weakness, not daring to feel too much, afraid to wake up what was asleep deep inside us; I was buried among my books, Zack was engrossed in his music; we made a fine pair.

One morning 6 years ago, I was 24, he called me and asked, "What about a trip to the snow? See the cabin where they died?"

I hesitated a lot and finally agreed; that's how it began and now every year, ranting, grumbling, we drive over there and look at the nice little house in the woods. I throw snowballs against the door, yelling, "You didn't give a damn about us, well, look, we don't give a fucking damn about you!"


"Yeah, and that's why we keep coming back, you fucking bastards!" Zack adds, laughing.

The cabin's his, Zack inherited it. We never go inside, just stay on the steps that lead to the door, eating sandwiches, and it's cold as hell, there.

Later we take a walk around and finally drive back.

"Nice trip," Zack says, yawning when we finally park the car near his house, grabbing his bag.
"Sure, 5 hours of driving in the snow, then walking on this fucking path and freezing our asses outside for hours, then driving back… I sure as hell won't be doing it again."

But of course I will. Maybe someday I'll even walk inside.

We don't see each other that much the rest of the year, Zack Keller's often abroad. He phones sometimes or I do, we talk for a while; nobody knows about this bond we have, apart from our wives; not my family, it would kill them; and it's good to know there's someone somewhere who looks at the pictures they took, opens my dad's diary and read his appeased words about how they'd planned the end of their story and how relieved they both were, able at last to let go of the violence, knowing that nothing would tear them apart again; someone who tries to understand and fails like I do; someone Chris Keller abandoned, not even telling Toby about having a son, just like my father abandoned us with this burden to carry, a burden my sister and my brother don't even want to talk about and that I'm the only one to acknowledge.

It's like having a brother, not the false cold kind Gary is; a real one, someone you can lean on and who can lean on you and apart from my wife and my kids, Zack Keller's the best thing that ever happened to me.

I just wish we knew how to let go of the ghosts, free them, free us. And at last, move on.

The end.

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