Disclaimer: Property of Sara Shepard, I. Marlene King and ABC.
AN: My sick mind was intrigued by the whole gender-switcharoo on the show. R&R if you're not feeling nauseous or, you know, irrationally afraid of the dark or anything...
He knew people who'd managed it before. It shouldn't be such a bitch, especially not to someone who could pick apart a Harley and put it back together easy as pie. Blindfolded and standing on one leg. Drunk. Having abandoned his careful exploration of the joints and seams in the damn thing, Toby had moved on to hitting the tether with the butt of his screwdriver. It wasn't working. He knew he mustn't break it, that it would trigger the alarm as surely as if he'd waltzed off to Hanna Marin's party with a nice Merlot, but it felt good, the impact, the sound of wood on metal. It was the sound of denial, and right now he fucking needed it.
Jenna was inside. He had an eye and an ear on the house without actually looking at it. Old habits. He didn't like having his back to the door. He felt as blind as her. Facing it would be worse. He wished he had something else, like a shed. Or a tree house. A spacious closet would be nice. Not a garage. No. Not that his parents would ever let him have a safe place like that again. He was aware, and had been back then, of the serial killer-vibe holing himself up like that put out. But it was safe. Or it had been, until Jenna saw the benefits of a structure separate from the house, with doors that locked and windows too small and too high up to see through. He'd always wondered why their parents hadn't thought it beyond weird that she'd suddenly wanted to hang out there, with nothing but him and his motorcycle to distract her. She hadn't even bothered to pretend to practice her flute.
It was a beautiful evening, warm and soft, the air at a sharp clear height that warned of fall. He could have been under a bridge right now, looking for a sheltered place to sleep. He could have been in Canada. At least there they wouldn't kill him if they caught him.
He didn't start at the sound of the door – not quite there yet, thank you very much. He looked up only when he recognized the footsteps. Footsteps took on a language of their own; his father's and his stepmother's and the occasional stranger's, which were always alien. Distinctly different. The steps behind him now were, in turn, distinctly different from how they'd sounded a year ago. They'd changed so completely that it had taken him weeks after he came back to tell them apart from a stranger's. Those first nights he'd listened for the old steps, the way he'd used to. Sighted steps. Old, old habits.
He sat very still as she crossed the short distance to the porch steps. Turned his head just enough so that it didn't feel quite so much like she was behind him.
"You hungry?" she asked.
Go back inside. It's chilly and you don't like to be cold. Go back inside. Please.
Tap, tap on the stairs next to him. The cane had a voice of its own, too. He hadn't slept much since the arrest, and there had been a few four a.m.'s that had found him in a cold sweat, listening for that tap-tap and those changed footsteps. Even now, as she carefully lowered herself onto the step beside him, he could feel that dusty echo of fear, like a hangover, the dead-rat taste of shame at the base of his tongue.
When he'd first come back to Rosewood, he'd spent a lot of time staring at her. Her face was gone, eaten by those ridiculous glasses, making her look blinder than she would have done without them. He'd quickly learned to be quiet, to keep still and not shift his feet, but he'd also found it hard to believe that she really couldn't see him. He'd stared, just stared, looking for something, some little tell that betrayed her. Something he could use to determine just how weakened she was, how much of a threat. The Cyclops was blinded, but Toby was still in the cave, and the bastard still had teeth.
"You never told me that Emily tried to talk to me," he said. Level, off-hand; the voice, like moving without sound across the hardwood floors of the house, was something he'd had to learn to tame, to make it communicate only what he wanted to say.
"Why would I?" Jenna said. "What can she say now, that would make it better?"
Toby wanted to sigh. But it was another thing she'd hear, another thing she'd analyze. "She wasn't the one that turned me in," he said instead; if Jenna assumed as much it was just another reason to hate that Jenna didn't need.
"I know that."
Beg pardon? She knew that? Then why the scorn?
Toby didn't want her to think of her bitterness as his, too. It was something that had worried him, this presumption of hers that his life had been tumbled into as many pieces as hers that day – and that the pieces put together made one china doll instead of two.
He leaned a fraction closer, wishing he could see her eyes, that he could read her like he'd been able to once. It was bizarre, wishing such a thing, since what he'd read had usually made him want to cry or scream or grab her head and kick it downfield. And that was only when he saw what she showed him.
"How?" he asked her now, wetting his lips nervously. He wanted her to say, and he could almost hear it, the way it dripped lazily from her lips, honey-sweet and simmering, Because Emily's too naïve and gullible to resist a pretty face. On Ted Bundy's trial she would've been the juror who voted against eleven and successfully flushed all those tax dollars down the toilet. Think about it, Toby. She would've let Bundy walk. He would probably still be alive and kicking today. And if God has a sense of humor, which I daresay he does, it would be her and her pretty little friends he'd pass his time with these days.
She didn't say that. Turning her head to face him (which always made his skin crawl), she took a slow breath and said instead, "Because I did."
All of a sudden he could see her at the kitchen table, between her mother and Toby's father. He could recall his thoughts as he entered the room, how strange it had seemed that they were awake at this hour. It had initially not occurred to him to worry. He'd just assumed that something else entirely had happened; that someone somewhere far away had died. A grandparent or aunt or uncle. A car had crashed on a road in a place he'd never seen and would never visit. His mind wandered as far as a terrorist attack and howthehelldid he miss that and it wasn't like the lookout point was under a rock.
I his defense, he'd been very drunk.
"Where have you been?" his father had asked. Toby had steadied himself on the doorjamb, had run the words through his head. He'd looked at Jenna, as if guided by some deeply rooted instinct, and had refused to acknowledge what he saw on her face. Even as he moved his gently spinning gaze to Jenna's mother and finally, his own father's, he'd refused to see what she had done.
They'd put a number of things on the table, lined them up neat and tidy like tarot cards. Jenna had watched his face, while her mother had watched the Anarchist Cookbook, the weed in its little zip-lock bag, the switchblade, the empty bottles. The condoms had come up last. He remembered thinking, with a sudden urge to laugh, that his stepmother had looked more upset about him having sex than him smoking pot or wielding knives.
Toby swayed on the spot and tried to listen, but all he could seem to take in was Jenna's face. That past weekend he'd been what she liked to call "difficult". He'd said no. More than once. He'd made her slap him. The sex had been violent, with a fist in his hair and fingernails dug deep in his chest the whole time. This was his punishment. Her way of putting him in his place.
"Look, Toby," she said now, drawing him to the present on a string. "If you're running around like you're some kind of fugitive, how are you going to prove that you're innocent?"
If you come to me drunk or stoned off your face one more time I'll rip it off. Are we clear?
Then her hand was on his knee. The other on his thigh, edging up. "You need to be home," she said, trailing fingers up his chest, his collarbone to his face. It was cold. "Where you're safe."
He let her palm rest there for a moment, a solid reminder of what he was free of.
"You could chain me to this porch," he said, moving her hand, "and I'd still never touch you like that again."
He saw the slap before it came. He had time to remember that night, after she'd gotten him grounded – her warm fingers around his hand as she led him to the garage, the sound of her breath, angry and fevered through her lips, making him think, childishly, of dragons. She'd turned on all the lights because she knew he didn't like it. She'd made him take his own clothes off, which happened only when she was thoroughly pissed. Slow down, then Come on, Toby, I haven't got all night, then Slow down again. Where's the fire, sweetie? Then her clothes, at which point she lost her patience with his trembling hands and the tears he just – couldn't – fucking – stop from coming and decided to keep them on. He'd still been drunk, and he'd known he wouldn't be able to get it up, and he'd known that she knew it too and that she'd already decided how she would deal with it. Her eyes, pale in the harsh overhead light and flat like a lizard's, her lips, hot and greedy and he was yet to kiss a girl without thinking she would put a knee in his groin if he pulled away.
When she slapped him he thought of Emily, and all the ways in which she wasn't Jenna.
"Who do you think you're talking to?" his sister hissed, venomous, and picked herself up off the step. As pain bloomed where she'd got him below the jaw he wished she would trip. She didn't.
It would be so easy to convince my mommy and your daddy that you've been forcing yourself on me.