“For a couple months, things went smoothly for us. We kept our relationship between us and…” Viteri shifted a little. “Ma’am, uh…” He hesitated.
“Mr. Viteri?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Well, it’s just you seem like a proper lady, so I’m not sure…” He gave her an awkward look. “Just there are places where the details are a little important so…”
“I’m a big girl, Mr. Viteri.” She smiled a little.
“Right. But if you get uncomfortable, then uh…” He shrugged. “Right. Anyway.” He took a deep breath. “Tobias and I, we got to know each other in a lot of different ways, and we learned some things about ourselves too.”
“Ouch!” Zeke danced away from the workbench, clutching his hand. He heard Tobias laughing. “Oh, shut up, this is your fault.”
“It’s my fault you zapped yourself with a live wire?” Tobias raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have a master’s degree in electronic mumblety-jumbo?” He rolled his eyes. “How is this at all my fault?”
“You’re not wearing a shirt.” Zeke glared. “It’s distracting.”
“If someone hadn’t cannabilized the AC unit because he couldn’t wait until morning for a part…” Tobias shook his head, then looked back down at his tablet. He moved a finger to scroll upward, then started laughing.
“What’s funny now?”
“Remember those Department of Defense guys?” Tobias looked up.
“What, Sylvester and Tweety?” Zeke nodded. “Yeah.”
“Zeke, I swear to god if I end up calling them that…” He sighed. “Well, apparently, they tried reverse engineering your rig and apparently think the fact that they can’t get their knock-off to work is somehow your fault.”
“I can’t follow their logic.” He started putting his tools away.
“Actually, they aren’t the first.” Tobias stood and leaned on the desk. They’d worked together long enough that he didn’t try to touch anything, just occasionally offered Zeke a box or bag for items. “So far, nobody has managed to successfully reverse engineer one of your things.”
“That…” Zeke stopped what he was doing. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Zeke, I rarely make it through half one of your schematics before things stop making sense. You get results nobody else can figure out how to duplicate.” Tobias chuckled. “I got emailed a one hundred and forty-seven-page report on how that solar conductor thingamajig of yours cannot work based on the laws of physics as they are currently understood.”
“I’m going to want to read it.”
“It was a lot about tensile strength and ignoring frictional components.”
“I explained how I overcame the frictional losses.”
“Yeah, the word ‘voodoo’ was actually used regarding that explanation. They can’t duplicate it on any other framework.” Tobias shrugged. “They can’t explain why your shit works Zeke, even while they admit that it does work.”
Tobias handed him a drink, then sat down. He hadn’t bothered to put a shirt back on, for which Zeke was just a little thankful. “I’ve got about forty papers that need your signature tomorrow. And we are doing another round of interviews for R&D if you want to sit in.”
“Nah, you’ve got it. I just make them nervous.” He took a sip.
“Want to watch a movie?”
“That reminds me. Mom dropped off a couple boxes at the thrift store and being Mom, picked up a couple boxes at the thrift store.” Zeke grinned. “Sent one of them to me. Lot of old movies, including Star Wars before Lucas fucked it up.”
“Han shot first.”
“See, this is why I like you.” Zeke chuckled before grabbing the box and bringing it out. “Okay, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica the good shit, and uh…” He held up a box. “The Star Wars Christmas Special.”
“I…” Tobias stared at him. “Have never been that drunk in my life.”
“Come on, you know you want…” He opened the box, and a set of handcuffs fell out. He blinked. “Okay, and tonight the Star Wars Christmas Special will be played by ‘Lesbian Cavewomen 3: Dawn of the Dildosaur.’”
“What the hell is a Dildosaur?”
“I…” Zeke winced. “Really don’t think I want to know.”
“It’s probably better than the Star Wars Christmas Special.” Tobias picked up the handcuffs and started fiddling with them.
“Anything is better than that.” Zeke shrugged and picked up the Star Wars tape. He put it into the player and hoped the tape was still in good condition.
Then he sat down while Tobias snuggled into him. They’d experimented a bit, and discovered Tobias didn’t care much for the dominate role in lovemaking. He seemed happiest when Zeke was calling the shots and directing things. It made for an interesting switch to how they normally did things. In the office, it was Tobias running the show. He was a natural leader, and people just sort of gravitated to him. Zeke followed his direction because that was just how it fit.
But at home, when it was just the two of them, Tobias was his. Halfway through the movie, Tobias picked up the cuffs and started fiddling with them again. After a few moments, he gave Zeke an awkward look. “Are the keys in the box?”
He sat up. “Looks like. Why?”
“I, uh…” Tobias blushed a little. “Uh…”
His eyes widened just a bit. Then he gently took the cuffs away from Tobias. Zeke hesitated a moment, then caught one of Tobias’s wrists. He clicked the cuff closed, then caught Tobias’s other wrist. Then he secured Tobias’s wrists behind his back. Tobias swallowed, then tilted his head up a little so Zeke could kiss him. “You’re at my mercy now.” Zeke smiled. “You okay with that?”
“You’re a mad scientist with a full lab.” Tobias laughed just a little. “Whole world is at your mercy.”
“Mmmm…” Zeke leaned down to nibble at Tobias’s shoulder. “Guess I’m going to have to figure out who sent you.”
“Do your worst.” Tobias grinned.
He pulled Tobias closer. “I intend to.”
“Your relationship involved bondage?” Diana raised an eyebrow. The notes had stated some paraphernalia had been found, though they obviously hadn’t considered that Tobias Grady was a willing participate. Admittedly, it was possible by the time of his death he wasn’t. And it was also possible Mr. Viteri was lying. Something about it rang oddly true.
“Remember when I said that high school had nothing to do with it?” Viteri took a deep breath. “Not sure how it would go over with those DSM folks or whatnot, but when it comes to getting over shit…” Viteri shrugged. “Nothing quite comes close to handcuffing your high school bully and putting him over your knee while he squirms and begs for more.”
“How long did your relationship go on?”
“That’s uh…” Viteri exhaled. “A complicated question, ma’am.”
“Answer in your own way.”
“The company took off. We were making money. Real money, even turning down all the Department of Defense stuff. My old crew, my first lab rats, they were now running R&D teams and living in nice houses. Things were going good, and they were just getting better. That’s, uh…” Viteri looked away. “When Paden got involved.”
“You have to understand how this looks for me Tobias.” Paden paced through the office, waving his hands. Zeke hung back, not willing to walk into the middle of this particular argument. “My own brother won’t play ball.”
“I wasn’t aware you running for office obligated me to do anything.” Tobias folded his arms.
“Oh don’t play innocent. You know damn well your name got brought up every time the subject turned toward my views on research and scientific advancement even if you were an asshole about giving interviews.” Paden leaned on the desk. “We’re falling behind in the arms race.”
“We aren’t making weapons, Paden.”
“You’re really going to turn your back on your own people like this?” Paden shook his head. “Gonna let the terrorists win?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Tobias glared at him.
“If we don’t do something, it’s going to be Sharia law everywhere. Bad enough we’re being outbred but you seem to want us to be defenseless.”
“The population of the US is still growing.”
“You know what the fuck I mean, Tobey.”
“Why don’t you spell it out for me, PJ?”
“If we don’t fight for our god-given —”
“Paden, get out of my office.”
“No.” Tobias stood. “No, I’m sick of listening to this shit. I told you no. The answer is no. The answer will always be no. I’m not signing the contract. I’m not donating to your little redneck ammosexual come to Jesus club, and I’m not listening to your shit anymore. Get out of my office.”
“You fucking —”
Zeke started to move when he saw Paden take a swing at Tobias. He didn’t need to bother. Both may have played football but Tobias was the one who’d also wrestled, and it appeared he still had the reflexes. Five heartbeats later Paden was face down on the desk with his arm twisted up behind his back. “Get…” Tobias’s voice was little more than a growl. “Out of my office. And don’t come back.”
He stepped out of sight as Paden stormed out, cussing up a storm. Then he went into Tobias’s office. “You alright?”
“Not really.” Tobias rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m going to hear it from fucking…” He laughed bitterly. “Pretty sure I was just disinvited from my niece’s birthday party and…”
“Come home with me. Let Mom make you some pie.”
“If it’s…” Tobias sighed. “Rather just go home and…” He took a deep breath. “Let you run the show for a while.”
“I can do that.” He smiled.
“Holy fucking codswallop.”
“You know, I was looking for a good name to call —”
“You did it.” Tobias stared at the prosthetic. “You actually did it.”
“You talk like you didn’t believe he could.” Jenna, his test subject, laughed.
“I knew he could, I just…” Tobias stared as she used the prosthetic hand to do a paint by number. “Figured it was still a decade or two off.”
“It’s not perfect yet.” Zeke shook his head. “Look, she’s off the mark just a —”
“Zeke, both my hands are real and she’s doing a better job than I ever could.” Tobias shook his head.
“You gave me back my arm.” Jenna smiled up at him.
“We need to…” Tobias exhaled. “Shit. Alright, it worked, so I can get ahead of law suits and fines and she’s capable of informed consent even though we aren’t approved for human trials so I think we’re in the holy fucking shit you created a cyborg.” Tobias crouched a little to look Jenna in the eye. “How are you feeling? Any sudden fits of diabolical laughter? Cackling? Urges to move to a small skull-shaped island and plan world domination?”
“There were a couple muahahas, but they all came from Dr. Zeke.”
“Yeah, and Jenna, I tried to hold this in as long as I could, but uh…” He gave her an apologetic look.
“Go ahead.” She laughed. “You earned it.”
“Right.” He touched her mechanical arm, then threw back his head. “Muahahaha. It’s alive, aliiiiive…”
“And he killed the mood.” Tobias tossed the papers in his hand over his shoulder.
“They’ve noticed an increase in mood swings, but Jenna claims it’s just because she’s excited. There are also some balance issues, but those are lessening and can be explained by her just having to get used to having that weight and —”
“If you don’t stop talking, I’m going to gag you.” Zeke pulled Tobias down next to him.
“Why aren’t you more excited about this?” Tobias grinned up at him.
“I…” Zeke laughed. “Because, you idiot, you’ve been telling me for two years now I could do it.” He kissed Tobias. “I believed you. All I’ve done is prove a known fact.”
“You’re amazing.” Tobias ran a hand down his torso.
He caught the hand, then twisted to pin Tobias beneath him. “I love you.”
“I…” Tobias went silent for a moment, like he did every time Zeke said the words. He was okay with not hearing them. Tobias had his limits, and Zeke didn’t doubt that the man loved him. “I want to move the company headquarters and the labs.”
“Okay…” Zeke moved to the side. “Really not what I was expected —”
“To a state where it’s legal for us to get married.”
“I…” Zeke stared. “What?”
“I want us to get married. To…” Tobias touched his forehead to Zeke’s. “This company, this thing, this…” Tobias put his hand on the back of Zeke’s neck. “We’re partners, Zeke. I want…”
“I love you, Tobias.”
“I love you too, Zeke. Marry me.”
Viteri went silent. She sat there for a few minutes, unsure of what to ask next. Absolutely nothing she’d learned here was what she’d thought. Nothing in anyone’s testimony had indicated Viteri’s relationship with Tobias Grady had been anything but professional. She frowned a little. She’d seen the list of people who’d testified in the trial, but now she was considering the list of people who hadn’t. None of Viteri’s friends. Jenna and the other human trials hadn’t. Nobody who’d truly been around to see the two men interact had given testimony.
A moment before she opened her mouth, Viteri looked up at her. “If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, have you ever uh…” He shrugged. “You ever tie anyone up?”
“I…” The cop’s face flashed in her mind. Michaels. It had been just a bit of a lark. “Yes.”
“There’s a lot involved. Someone lets you tie them up, means they’re trusting you with themselves. Making themselves vulnerable. You’re responsible for them and…” His voice shook just a little. “They’re helpless, their lives in your hands, and you’re responsible.”
Her eyes went back to the stack of trial notes. Ezekiel Viteri had confessed to being responsible for what happened to Tobias Grady. Confessed to being responsible, but had never actually said… “Mr. Viteri…” She took a deep breath. “Did you kill Tobias Grady.”
His voice trembled, and she saw tears in his eyes. “No.”