Authors: Chase T. A.
There was a ding and the elevator came to a stop. He took a deep breath while it opened to reveal a beautiful foyer with gleaming hardwood floors and walls painted a rich brown. Jensen’s mouth dropped as he wandered around, staring at the paintings on the wall.
“Are you coming all the way in or are you just going to stay in the front entrance?” Toby called from somewhere farther away in the condo.
“Holy shit, Toby. You’ve moved up in the world. This place is amazing,” Jensen said, following the sound of things moving into what must have been the living room.
Toby glared at him from where he stood next to an elegant walnut bar, setting a bottle down. “Thanks, I guess.”
Toby took a drink from a heavy crystal glass. Jensen strolled only as far as the couch before sitting. He didn’t want to annoy him any more than he already had.
“Do you want something to drink?” Toby asked very reluctantly.
Shaking his head, Jensen smiled. “No thanks, man. I don’t drink any more, but I’d like some water if that’s possible.”
Toby frowned as he stalked past into one of the other rooms, which Jensen assumed was the kitchen. He heard doors open and close, then a clink of what might have been ice cubes in a glass. The rush of water from the faucet. He glanced up when it sounded like Toby was headed back toward him.
“Here.” Toby held out another heavy-bottomed glass. Only this one was filled with clear water and ice.
“Thank you.” Jensen took a sip of it, starting to set it on the end table closest to him. He paused, noting the pristine surface. “Do you have a coaster or something for me to use? I don’t want to ruin your furniture.”
“It’s just an end table. Nothing antique or important. Since when did you start worrying about furniture?” After grabbing his drink, Toby flopped into the chair across from Jensen. “And when did you stop drinking?”
“Six years ago.” Jensen stared at the amber liquid in Toby’s glass. “The day after I left New York. I checked myself into a rehab center down in Miami and haven’t fallen off the wagon since.”
Toby jerked straight up, a concerned expression on his face. “Rehab? I didn’t know your drinking was that bad. Is that what you meant when you told me you were going to get clean?”
Jensen shrugged, dropping his gaze to his knees. “Yeah. The email was the best I could do at the moment right before I entered the center. I exhausted myself hiding it from you and everyone else. I figured out I have an addictive personality. It’s really easy for me to become obsessed. There was only one good addiction I had while I lived here.”
“Is there such a thing as a good addiction?” Toby frowned as he set his liquor down on the coffee table in front of him before leaning forward. “I would think that any kind would be bad for you.”
“I guess you could be right about that,” Jensen muttered. “I mean once I got clean, I started climbing, you know. Oh, my God, Toby, it’s amazing to be out there in the clear air and hanging from a rope and an anchor from the side of a mountain. Your entire life relying on a one-inch connection to the rock.”
“Sounds like you found something you enjoy doing.” Toby’s brown eyes dulled.
Jensen licked his lips, moving until he knelt in front of Toby. He took Toby’s hands in his then stared up into his beloved face. “To find something that saved my life, I had to leave behind the only person I ever loved.”
Stiffening, Toby tugged on his hands to try to get free of Jenson’s hold. “Oh, hell no! You don’t get to disappear for six years then come back to tell me you loved me. You don’t abandon someone you love, Jensen. You proved to me we were only fuck buddies. Nothing more.”
He wouldn’t let go of Toby, not until he’d told him everything. It was something he needed to do to complete his road to sobriety. Then he would leave, letting Toby get back to his life while Jensen found the next mountain to climb.
“Will you listen to me without interrupting? Let me tell you my truth, then if you want, I’ll leave you alone.” Jensen took a deep breath. “I know it really isn’t fair to you to have me just show up out of the blue like this, but when I took that fall a couple weeks ago, I realized I had some unfinished business with you.”
Toby clenched his jaw and Jensen saw that his former lover wanted to tell him off, wanted to send him away, but again his sense of fairness got to him. “Fine. Once you’re done, though, I get to tell you exactly how your leaving like you did made me feel.”
He had to take his lumps, whether he wanted to or not. “Of course, you have the right to yell at me or throw shit at me. I must draw the line at hitting, though. If only because I’m still healing.” He held up his right hand as a reminder.
“I don’t throw things or punch people. You know that,” Toby muttered, but there was a slight lift to Toby’s plump lips.
Jensen glanced away. He couldn’t think about how gorgeous Toby was at the moment. If he did, he would get distracted and would end up trying to seduce him back into bed. While he’d love for that to be a result of his confession, he knew better than to expect it. Toby probably had a boyfriend.
He jerked. “Fuck, Toby. Were you expecting someone to come over? Am I interrupting something?” He winced as he pushed to his feet and his ankle protested.
“No. I haven’t had a serious boyfriend since my last one disappeared on me,” Toby informed him. “Just a series of one-night stands and quickies in the clubs.”
“Oh, shit, honey. I’m sorry. I fucked so much up, but I panicked. When I woke up to see that needle still in my arm, all I could think of was that I could’ve died and I didn’t want to go out like that.”
Toby fell back in his chair, staring at Jensen. Shock shone in his eyes and Jensen could also see fear hidden in the depths.
Jensen rolled up his sleeves to show Toby his left arm and the faint tracks marring his tanned skin. He didn’t flinch as Toby reached out to trail his finger over the scar that ran almost the entire length of his forearm.
“This doesn’t look like a needle track.” Toby shot him a questioning look.
It wasn’t something he liked to talk about, but he’d promised he would be honest with Toby about everything. He took a deep breath.
“I was in rehab for about a month when I couldn’t take it anymore. I missed the dampening effect of the drugs and alcohol.” He paused, but knowing he had to bare his entire truth, he continued. “I missed you, but I knew I couldn’t come back to you the way I was. So I slit my wrists.”
“Obviously you didn’t succeed. But you got clean and you still didn’t come back to me,” Toby accused him.
He studied the floor for a second before facing Toby. “I’ve been alcohol-free for six years. I never said anything about being drug-free for that long. I had a relapse a year ago, which is why I was in Alaska, climbing Denali.”
Toby shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“I promised myself and my sponsor that if I stayed clean for six months, I’d climb Denali. I met Cat at the rehab center for both of my addictions. She was one of my therapists and she told me about her passion, which is mountain climbing, though she can’t climb again for another seven months or so.” He smiled. “She’s pregnant and Jigger, her partner, said he wasn’t going to let her go near even a rock climbing wall until the baby comes.”
“Is that how you got into climbing?” Toby rubbed his thumb over Jensen’s suicide scar. Then he asked, “You missed me?”
Jensen snorted. “The only good thing I was addicted to here in New York was you, Toby. You were the only person I cared anything about while I lived here, but I wasn’t the right guy for you. I couldn’t stay away from coke and that led to the night when I shot up heroin. I hid who I was from everyone, even the guy I could see myself loving the rest of my life. But how could I do that if I didn’t love myself?”
Toby inhaled sharply then removed his hand from Jensen’s. Before Jensen could ask what he was doing, he shot to his feet to press a kiss to his lips. Not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, he wrapped his arms around Toby’s waist, pulling him close. He nibbled along Toby’s bottom lip, begging him to open to him. When Toby did, Jensen swept his tongue inside.
Toby moaned and seemed to melt into his arms. Jensen wanted so much to take him up on his offer, but he knew he had to finish telling him the whole story. Then they would find out if Toby still wanted him or not.
He eased away, working on catching his breath while he did so. Toby stared at him, his chest heaving and a question on his lips. Jensen smiled softly.
“I want to tell you my story, Toby, then you can decide if you want to kiss me again or not.”
Taking a seat again, Toby grabbed his glass then swallowed the liquor in one gulp. After returning to his seat, Jensen took a sip of his water then he cleared his throat.
“I started drinking when I was sixteen. It was the best way to dull the pain, you know. It’s weird. People always told me how great a life I had and my parents were awesome. But I never fucking felt that. Maybe they were. Maybe there’s just something deficient in me that doesn’t allow me to be happy.” He shrugged.
“You’re happy when you’re at the summit of a mountain, aren’t you?”
Toby’s question caught Jensen off-guard. He thought of when he’d stood at the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and how at that moment, he felt like he’d conquered the world. Then he thought of the sadness that had overwhelmed him when he’d realized he couldn’t tell Toby about it.
“I’m happy up to a point, then my excitement dulls and I wonder what I can do next to keep the rush going,” he admitted.
Toby acted like he wanted to ask him something but then shook his head. He motioned for Jensen to keep going.
“Anyway, I was a functioning alcoholic by the time I left college and started at the securities firm. I’d learned how to hide it well.” He thought about the bottle of scotch he’d kept in the bottom drawer of his desk and how he’d lace his coffee with it in the mornings. “Shortly after I started at the firm, I was introduced to cocaine to help keep me up when we worked such long hours then went out to the clubs afterward.”
He jumped to his feet again, pacing from the bar to the couch over and over again. He didn’t stare at the bottles lined up in front of the huge mirror. Jensen kept his gaze on the hard wood floor he walked over, not wanting to fight the urge to walk behind the magnificently carved bar and grab a bottle to drink from. Jensen understood his limitations and while he could deal with being in a club or pub, hanging with people who drank, he knew if it was just him with a bottle, more likely than not, he’d be passed out on the floor before too long.
“I still remember the first time I met you,” he told Toby. “You’d just been hired and all I could think about was your mouth. How much I wanted to taste your smile and see if you looked as good naked as you did dressed.”
He chuckled as he caught a faint blush color Toby’s cheeks.
“Imagine how thrilled I was when I saw that you did.” Stopping in the middle of the room, he remembered how thrilled he’d been when Toby agreed to go home with him. Then joy and peace that had swamped him after they’d come and were curled around each other in his bed. “You were the only time I knew peace without the alcohol and drugs.”
“But I never knew any of this,” Toby murmured.
“I couldn’t let you know, so I hid it. I was so ashamed. I knew I was destroying myself, but all I could think about was that I needed to be better for you. And in my twisted mind at the time, it meant I needed to make more money, have nicer cars, and live in an expensive apartment. I had to take you on fancy trips and give you pricey gifts.”
“I didn’t want any of that stuff.” Toby rolled his eyes. “All right, so the trips and gifts were nice, but I could’ve bought those on my own. I didn’t need you to have money or cars or an apartment. All I really ended up wanting was for you to keep me. To actually spend a night in my arms instead of bolting away as soon as you could after we fucked.” Toby bit his bottom lip.
Jensen could see it cost him something to admit that. Jensen went to Toby, kneeling again. He rested his hands on Toby’s knees, pleading with his eyes for Toby to believe. “Do you understand a little why I couldn’t stay? I had to get my fix and have my drinks. I couldn’t do either of those at your place. I never allowed myself to bring my drug of choice into your apartment. In some way, it was like if I did, I’d be desecrating your sanctuary. I’d leave you in the middle of the night, berating myself the entire time I drove to my dealer for the coke and hating myself when I returned to my empty apartment to do some lines and drink some shots.”
His heart leaped when Toby covered his hands with his. “Why didn’t you try to stop?”
“I didn’t know how and while I hated myself on the nights I crawled out of your bed, the rest of the time I truly thought I had things under control. I was making money hand over fist in the stock market and hedge funds. I told myself that my drinking and drug use weren’t affecting anything.” He glared down at his left arm, glad for once that a brace covered the right one. “Then someone introduced me to heroin and things went downhill from there.”
“The night you disappeared. What happened?”
Jensen rocked back on his heels then wiped his trembling hand over his mouth. He hated reliving it because he hated admitting he’d been so weak. “It was stupid. I’d decided to finally tell you about my problems and that I needed help. I was going to ask you to wait for me while I went through rehab. I had it all set up to go. Then I went to Casper’s party to meet you and I saw you flirting with some guy.”
He saw Toby narrow his eyes and he knew he was trying to remember who the man was. Jensen tapped Toby’s hand to bring his attention back to him.
“It doesn’t matter now whether you were flirting or not. Or whether you meant anything by being so friendly to him. It was what I saw and thought that mattered at the time. I was becoming increasingly paranoid that someone was going to find out my secret. Also, that you were going to realize how much of a waste of time I was.” He closed his eyes for a second. “Again, it was my delusional state that put me into the situation I ended up in. It really had nothing to do with you and if I had been in my right mind, I would’ve simply come and talked to you.”