CHAPTER 4: REASON TO WORRY

Days passed and Toki gradually became, once again, more alienated from the rest of the band. Skwisgaar refused to be in the same room as him, and the others were oddly unnerved by his surprising new hair color. Nathan gave the guitarist odd looks, Murderface tried not to make any contact with him at all, but Pickles, like always, was just as friendly as ever. Toki accepted this and continued his own schedule of rigorous, merciless guitar practice—his hands were now constantly wrapped in layers of gauze, but not even that hid the red bloodstains—and utter isolation. Getting back at Skwisgaar had been nice, and the next time Toki got his revenge it would be even bigger. The Swede would absolutely have to think differently of him then...

Toki's sudden success on the guitar didn't escape the notice of the band's manager, who by now was concerned with far bigger things other than the 'band dynamic'. He called the Norwegian into his office one day and bid him to sit down. "Toki," he said in his usual seriousness. "I think that we need to talk about something."

"Abouts my solo?" his new blond hair was neatly tucked behind his ears, exposing his great, pale and glittering eyes to the other man.

Ofdensen found those wondrous eyes quite unnerving, but he tried to ignore them as he nodded and said cordially, "Some of the behavior you've exhibited over the past few weeks...well, it makes me worry. It makes all of us worry."

Toki rolled his eyes. "Alls of you meaning like Skwisgaar, rights?"

"In a way, yes, but what I'm mainly concerned about is-"

"I'm not goings to quit my solo," he said flatly, narrowing his eyes at the other man. "because it ams a chance for me to actually makes my own guitar identity and tos-"

"I'm not asking you to quit, Toki." Ofdensen interrupted, pouring himself a small glass of brandy. He offered it to the guitarist, who politely shook his head. "All I'm asking is that you maybe tone things down a bit. It hasn't been easy getting along with someone who has as big an ego as Skwisgaar, I know, but please just try to understand his position."

"I dos." he said, watching his manager down the glass of brandy then pour himself another. "I understand more than ever what it ams like to be him—all the fans, fames, money, and stuff must get to be reallys a problem, huh? Boy, I wish I hads all that stuff to think about." he rested his head on his hand and sighed in thought. "But after this solo I'll be just like hims, so I won't have to be so sads anymore."

"Toki, you're fine the way you are." Ofdensen said solemnly. "Hasn't anyone ever told you that before?"

The Norwegian thought for a moment before shaking his head. "Nos, not really, 'cause I'm nots fine the way I am—the way I was, buts I'm getting better now. Looks at me, I'm kind of perfect now, right?"

"Hmm." he frowned and then took a sip from his glass of brandy. After a long moment of contemplation Ofdensen finally said, "Toki, I think that maybe perhaps this is a matter that's bigger than both of us—you, me, and maybe Skwisgaar. I think that it might be beneficial for you to see a councilor."

His face became full of worry. "Likes what do you mean? A therapist?"

"I didn't say that, all I said was-"

"Nos!" Toki cried, shaking his head. "Absolutleys not!"

Ofdense gave him a serious look. "I'm sorry to say that it's what I think is best, so either you agree to see a counselor about this sudden and disturbing new obsession you have with Skwisgaar, or you don't do your solo—your choice."

The Norwegian's face grew pale. It wasn't as though he felt like he didn't need a therapist—something inside of him had always secretly thought he needed one—but it was more of a matter of finding out if something was truly wrong with him. Toki had always feared that other people might see that there was something wrong with him emotionally, and the thought of everyone knowing was mortifying. He shook his head, said again, "Nos, there ams no way that I'm going to go talk to some stranger abouts my problems—not that I haves any, it's just-"

"Toki, can I ask you something?" when the guitarist said nothing, Ofdensen ventured to inquire, "Do you think that you have a problem?"

"I—nos, no way."

He seemed unconvinced. "Because if you did then you know that we could probably buy medication to help solve i-"

"Please don't takes away my solo." Toki pleaded, losing all of his previous stability. All at once he was sobbing, struggling to keep himself from crawling over to Ofdensen and begging him to have mercy. This solo was what he had worked his whole life to achieve, and now that it was practically here he couldn't deny the fact that he wanted it; he needed it. "Please, please, please, I'll do anythings..."

Ofdensen was clearly taken aback by his sudden pleading, because in a moment he was shaking his head and saying in a firm voice, "No, Toki, I'm sorry, but this is the way it has to be. I don't like what you've been doing and saying lately, and this is the only way that I see to put an end to it."

"But I needs it!" he sobbed, rising up from his chair and crossing over to the other side of the desk, to where Ofdensen sat calmly. Toki fell to his knees and hugged the other man's legs; just as he did this old, buried feelings emerged within him, ones that he'd stored away since the day Pickles had rejected him. Ofdensen was like a father to him, a person of authority that he somehow respected and even loved. Love. Toki swallowed and licked his lips, peered up at the calmly sitting man. "I needs it." he repeated, his hands traveling up to touch Ofdensen's cheek. The other man shied away and pushed back in his chair in a desperate attempt to get Toki to stop.

"My decision is final." he said, almost in frustration. "Now please leave my office."

"Nos." Toki said stubbornly, "Because you don't really wants me to go."

Ofdensen frowned and arched a brow. "What are you talking about? Of course I want you to-" he was cut off as Toki fell into his arms and hugged him. For a long while they just sat there both indulging in each other's embrace—it wasn't often that any affection was shown towards Ofdensen, and he had to admit that he actually found it a nice change of pace. In a moment the guitarist was fully taking advantage of the other man's willingness, because he slipped his hands into Ofdensen's and smiled wistfully. If only this was Skwisgaar right now, then he'd be happy. Ofdensen shifted uncomfortably in his seat, tried to squirm out of the embrace. "Toki, what are you-"

"I'm sorrys I've been bad lately."

"It's fine, but I still think that you should go."

Toki peered up at him, his pale eyes shining brightly in the light of the office. "Do you hates me? I think that everyone hates me now after what I did to Skwisgaar."

"No, of course I don't hate you."

"Good. I don't hate you eithers." he stood up but didn't leave; instead he kissed Ofdenesn right there. It was a hot kiss, one full of unexpected lust and passion. It ended quickly, though, as the manager forced Toki's tongue out of his mouth and pushed him away. The Norwegian stood there for a while panting, biting his lower lip, waiting for the punishment that was sure to come.

Finally Ofdensen turned around in his chair, wiped his mouth, and said coldly, "I think it would be best if you left now, Toki. Perhaps you can still do your solo, but I'd really like you to consider the thought of a therapist, alright?" he spoke to the other man as if he were a child. The Norwegian didn't mind, though.

He just nodded and said, his voice cracking unexpectedly, "J-Ja, sures. Do you wants me to-"

"Don't tell anyone about what you just did."

"I won'ts."

"Good, now go."

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Toki's first instinct was to retreat back into his room, and so he did. For the next two hours all he did was practice until he heard a knock at his door. Annoyed at having to stop, he yelled, "What do you wants? I'm busy!"

"We need to talk, dude."

The Norwegian's face grew red when he realized who it was. "Alrights, if you still ams my friend."

In a moment Pickles had come into his room with a small, shy smile on his face. He closed the door gently then went over and sat next to the guitarist on the bed. "Don't be stupid; you and me'll always be cool."

"Buts after I-"

"Please don't bring 'dat up again." the drummer said, sounding distressed. " 'Cause it's all I've been able to think about for the past few days, and the more I think about it the more I start to regret nat doin' anything to you."

Toki's face grew redder as he laid down his guitar and asked, "What ams you mean? You regret nots sleepings with me?"

"Yeah, I do." Pickles sighed and breathed almost longingly, "I really do."

The Norwegian perked up at this. He reached for the drummer's hand and said charmingly, "That offer ams still good if you really wants to dos m-"

"No! I...I just..." he shook his head and swallowed, clearly unnerved by the current situation. "That's nat why I'm here. I'm here because I've been noticin' some things about you that I don't like—that none of us like."

"You means like Skwisgaar?"

Pickles frowned at this question. "No, this ain't about him, it's about just you and me, that's it. Nobody forced me to come up here or anything."

Toki raised a brow in confusion. To him everything—the whole world—seemed to be about Skwisgaar. Everything revolved around him like the Earth revolved around the sun, so if the Swede hadn't made the drummer come up here, then who had? "What ams this about? Are you trying to talks me out of my solo?"

"No, I think you should do the solo." he said, gently taking one of the guitarist's bandaged hands. He observed it for a long while, played with some of the gauze that it was wrapped in, then sighed almost sadly. "You hands, they used to be so soft. That's my problem."

"That I don't haves soft hands no more? That ams your—Pickle, what ams you doing?" he cried in wonderment as the drummer began unbandaging his hands. "Don'ts, don't looks at them! They're-"

"This," Pickles said, staring down at Toki's unwrapped, gnarled hand. "is my problem." then he stared into the Norwegian's eyes and whispered in an almost betrayed way, "Your breath smells like the expensive stuff Ofdensen drinks."

"He—he called me in to talks earlier today and I drank a few glasses ofs it." he lied, looking away. "It ams no big deal." The redhead shut his mouth and brought Toki's cut and horribly raw hand up to his lips; he kissed it lightly, brushed his lips along the palm and each newly bleeding fingertip. When he was done the other man was trembling, nearly crying. "Why did you dos that?"

"Because," he said, still holding Toki's hand. "I love you, and ain't nothin' can change that, but sometimes I worry..." he brushed aside some of the guitarist's newly blond hair and repeated in an undertone, "I really worry."

"Don'ts." he responded, trying to pull away. All of this new attention was too much. He didn't deserve it, didn't want it from anyone that wasn't Skwisgaar. Pickles seemed to understand this, but still he didn't desist. Instead he only tried harder.

"Dude," he said, touching the guitarist's cheek delicately, "I worry about you so damn much. You're nat okay, no matter how much you think or say you are, I can tell."

"How can you tells?"

"Because I know you." gently he wrapped an arm around Toki's waist and pulled him into a loose embrace—although he was still not backing down in his attempt to show an almost overwhelming amount of affection towards the guitarist, he was behaving very timidly, being careful not to scare the other man into running off. "I know you better'n anybody else, don't I?"

Toki, seduced by the sudden attention that he had craved for so long, let out a little content sigh and nodded. "Ja, sures you do."

"And I know you good enough to tell when something's wrong with you—I love you, dude. You know that, right?"

"Sure."

"Then don't you think that you can trust me?" he pulled away, let Toki stare into his eyes. "You know I wouldn't hurt you, right?"

He couldn't help but to nod, totally powerless to that part inside of him that wanted to be talked to like this, so tenderly and with that air of utter and unyielding affection; yes, he wanted this, to be touched so lightly and sweetly like this, to just be held and know that everything was somehow going to work itself out. He wanted this—from Skwisgaar. "N-No," his voice was quaking with emotion. Yes, he supposed that he did love the drummer, though not nearly as much as he loved Skwisgaar. "you wouldn't hurts me."

"Then listen, please." the pleading got his attention, and soon the guitarist was letting Pickles hug him a little tighter. "You're the best guitarist in the world, but what you're doin' to yourself is scarin' me. Your hands, your hair...there's something that's not right about you no more, and I don't know what it is, but I just hope you know how much you mean to me—to everybody. We all really love you dude, and I want you to be happy, but not if it means that you're hurtin' yourself."

"Okays." he whispered, closing his eyes and drowning in Pickles' warmth. The other man was such a welcome comfort, such a perfect escape from his world. Gods, Toki thought, I wish that Skwisgaar would holds me like this...I wish he would tells me that he loved me, but he doesn't...nobody does, not even Pickle... "Pickle?"

"Hmm?"

"Why do you loves me?"

He didn't even need a moment to think before responding with, "I don't need a reason, I just do, and I feel bad for other people like Skwisgaar."

"Whys?"

Pickles smiled, kissed the top of Toki's head, and murmured, " 'Cause when they look at you I don't think they see what I do. You're the best person in the world, Toki, but I don't think that they can really see it...like all your stupid fans, they just look up to you as one of the world's greatest guitarists. They can't see what I see, and I feel bad for them."

He tried to end the hug, but the Norwegian pulled him back and asked timidly, "Just one mores second?"

"Sure." he said, hugging Toki again, this time even closer. "Hey, dude?"

"Ja?"

"Don't lose yourself, okay?"

He didn't really know what this meant, but he knew that Pickles had said it with love in his voice, so he nodded. "Okays, I won't."

"You promise?"

"Ja," Toki said, feeling the drummer plant another kiss atop his blond head. "I promise."

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Vart tog min gamla Toki vägen?
[Where did my old Toki go?]

Unna.
[Away.]

När kommer han tillbaka?
[When will he be back?]

Aldri.
[Never.]

Aldri.

Aldri.

Aldri.

Jeg er feilfri. Jeg er en Gud nå. His mind was totally gone from the world around him. He'd disappeared. He was back in Norway, trying to remember a time when his family had said that they loved him. He could remember none. Never once had he been told that he was loved. His parents had never even hugged him or told him that he was good at anything, just sent him to do his regular chores every day. He really did hate them and the rest of the world for some reason, but why? He'd never known love before, so how could he hate them for not loving him when he didn't even know what the word meant?

Toki tried, he really did, to give 'love' to other people. He tried to earn hugs and compliments, but it was so damned hard sometimes. Usually he couldn't even think about one thing that he liked about himself, not even one. He was just too fucked up. He didn't deserve love or any of that other make-believe bullshit. The world wasn't a loving place. It wasn't good or friendly or warm. He didn't forgive anything. All those horrible memories of his past life had come rushing back to him and he felt wretched.

Like now, when all he had the energy or the will to do was curl up in a ball on his bed, close his eyes, and mutter, "Stupids, stupids, stupids..."

And he kept muttering insanely until he was fast asleep, drowning in the thoughts of his own slowly eroding sanity. He slept for hours, trapped in that hellish word of his old country, but there came to him a dream that was unlike any other he'd ever had before. It made him wake up sweating, gasping for breath, praying for Skwisgaar.

He was laying in an open field. It was night outside, and around him darted tiny fireflies. Toki smiled and looked up at the gently glowing moon. It smiled down at him, full and cheerfully smiling, but it was the only light in the entire black velvet of the sky. There were no twinkling stars, no clouds or anything. The sky seemed fake and glossy, as if it'd been painted there with black nail polish. Toki frowned, but before he really had time to think about the lack of stars, there came a warm, platinum-white light off to his left. He turned and looked. What he saw made him gasp.

"Skwisgaar!"

The Swede stood there in the middle of the field of jet-black, tall grass, shining and glowing like nothing else Toki had ever seen. It took a moment for him to realize just where the light came from; it was the stars. Skwisgaar was surrounded by every single star in the sky, and his once golden hair was intertwined with the twinkling pixels of light.

Toki got to his feet and watched as Skwisgaar walked up to him, smiling. "Tokis," he said, his voice a sort of sullen whisper. He almost seemed to be saddened by something. "I loves you."

"I...I..."

"Toki?"

"Ja?" he asked as the Swede wrapped his long, thin arms around his torso and pulled him close. In a moment he was surrounded in that white-light, but it wasn't as he had expected it to be. It was cold and distant, like something he could never have. It was odd, but that was the only way Toki could describe it as he asked softly, "Skwisgaar, why ams you here?"

He said nothing for a moment, and in an instant he was standing before Toki completely naked and exposed, his body glistening with that wonderfully silver light. Toki's pale eyes grew wide. "You ams so beautiful..."

The Swede pressed a starry hand to the Norwegian's cheek and smiled sadly. "Toki, I can'ts take this."

"Are you real?" Toki asked. "Or ams I just dead?"

"Here." Skwisgaar leaned forward and kissed him deeply, his tongue entering the Norwegian's mouth. It was too brief; as soon as Toki let out a moan, let his hands bury themselves in Skwisgaar's liquid golden hair, it was over. The Swede pulled away and asked, "Do you thinks you ammnest dead now?"

He shrugged. "Maybe I'm just in heavens."

Skwisgaar's response to this was to take Toki's hand and press it against his naked chest, let him feel the steady, unwavering beat of his heart. Never failing. Never stopping. A smile grew across the Norwegian's face and he hugged Skwisgaar, nearly sobbing in his happiness. "You ams alive! I-"

"Toki, what you ammnest doing to yourself...it's tearing me aparts."

He looked up at him, saw the sorrowful look on Skwisgaar's face, and asked, "What?"

"Looks." the Swede took Toki's hand and ran his thumb over his index finger; a sharp blast of pain shot thru him and he looked down at his fingers. His nails were gone, picked down to the quick, nothing but a mess of bloodied, exposed, and raw flesh. Toki's eyes grew wide.

"I'm hurtings myself?"

"Toki, you gots to stop this, what you're doing," Skwisgaar said, holding his hand tightly. "You're killing yourself."

"Nos," he insisted, "I'm not."

"It tears me apart." and he pressed one of his bony, slender hands to his bare chest, right over where his heart should have been. In an instant blood was running between his fingers, glistening as if it were made of diamonds that had been molded together. Toki gasped and tried to grab his hand away, make all the bleeding stop, but as Skwisgaar removed his hand, all that could be seen was a hallow space where his heart had been. With a tired, dying sigh he whispered, "I loves you so much, but sometimes it hurts."

"No," Toki begged as he took the other man's arm and held it tight, tried to get him to stay. Some horrible feeling inside of him said that Skwisgaar was going to leave him forever, going to disappear. "don't go nowheres! You can't die! Please don't-" but it was too late. The Swede was already fading, the twinkling stars burning themselves out with one last blinding bit of light. Then he was gone. Toki was left alone by himself in the cold dark of the night, with Skwisgaar's shimmering blood running thru his fingers.

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He dreamed this until there came a knock at his bedroom door. Toki let out an exhausted little, "Uh..." and the door opened.

"Toki," it was Ofdensen. "we have a concert in a few hours; I thought you might have forgotten, so-"

"Outta my way, dude. Oh, sorry, I-"

"Quite fine, just make sure that he's up and moving around within the next hour, alright?"

The soft clinking of dishes could be heard; it was accompanied by the warm, comforting smell of food. Toki rubbed his eyes and pulled the covers up above his head, desperate to go back to sleep. The voices didn't go away, though. Instead Pickles just said, "Yeah, yeah, he'll be up, just piss aff."

"Fine. Thank you, then."

There came the sound of a closing door and foosteps echoing down the hall outside; Pickles pressed a hand to Toki's cheek. He brushed some blond hair away from the guitarist's face and smiled down at him as he took a sip from his own cup of coffee.

"Mornin', dude. Are you ready?"

"Ready?" he sat up and rubbed his head. "Fors what?"

"For the concert. You're playin' your solo today, dude!"

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**A/N**

YES, I AM BACK...temporarily. Since the summer's about to come, my mother has gotten a little lax with making sure I'm off the computer at all times. I'm updating this story and planning to finish it soon...hopefully. I'm sorry, but everything's a little uncertain right now. Hope you enjoyed this chapter and please, please, please review it. I'm desperate to hear from you all again.

In my long break from writing fanfic, I've come up with at least 10 new Pickles-Toki story ideas. Hope you guys look forward to more of my writing. ^.^