Title: Longing (1/5)
Disclaimers: Characters belong to Tom Fontana and HBO Note: This story was my attempt at changing the 'history' of what happened after 'A Failure to Communicate'. In order to give better reference to the 'plot' (?) that follows original story-line, I included parts of real Oz dialogue, without permission :P Dedicated to Adriana - for giving me the nudge I needed, and for having patience to go through (literally) every word with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you :D
Sister Pete: Thank you, Officer. Good morning.
Keller: Hello, gorgeous.
Sister Pete: Ah, we're in that kind of mood, huh? Alright, under a new state law, every six months I have to review the mental health of every resident of death row, and it's your turn. So, how's your mental health?
Keller: Well, Beecher seems to think my days on death row are numbered.
Sister Pete: Yeah, I know, I saw him earlier.
Keller: How'd he seem to you?
Sister Pete: Well, he's obviously grieving for the loss of his father and Said.
Keller: Yeah, I mean, other then that.
Sister Pete: What are you asking me, exactly?
Keller: Beecher's in love.
Sister Pete: Really? Did he say so?
Keller: I can tell.
Sister Pete: And how does that make you feel?
Keller: I don't know.
Sister Pete: Come on, Chris, don't bull me. How does that make you feel?
Sister Pete: For him?
Sister Pete: And for you?
Sister Pete: And what are you going to do with that jealousy? Chew on it? Suck on it? Devour it whole?
Keller: Yeah, okay!? Beecher has what I want! I want a life! I get executed and he lives a long, old life surrounded by his grandchildren. I want a life! You can't expect me not to be a little envious.
Sister Pete: Sure, I can. If you truly love him, I expect that and more. I'll write in my review that you're behaving normally.
Keller: Toby, I owe you my life.
And what a life...
Keller: So, what's the latest from the outside world?
Beecher: Kids are great. Harry...actually hugged me yesterday.
Keller: Sweet. I'd like to meet your kids.
Beecher: Yeah, right.
Keller: I'm serious.
Beecher: Yeah, okay. Yeah, definitely. You know, you know, just not right away, though.
Keller: Been drinking?
Beecher: Not a drop. Went to a cocktail party the other night and passed with flying colors.
Keller: Good boy. And Holly's teacher, how's she?
Beecher: Why do you ask that?
Keller: I don't know, you're the one who's mentioned her a couple times.
Beecher: You know, actually, to be honest, Chris--
Keller: Yes, let's be honest.
Beecher: Marian and I have been dating.
Keller: You fuck her yet?
Keller: Be honest.
Keller: Good for you, you sexy motherfucker.
Beecher: You're pissed.
Keller: I'm not.
Beecher: Be honest.
'Honest.' Jesus, if he were honest right now--
'Honesty' stared at both men with eyes of silence. There was nothing to share-- not really, not anymore; there were only wounds to remember - those they inflicted on each other, and the ones inflicted by others, because of each other. Brief hours of stolen passion to heal them were now insufficient for all the pain inside-- hours of pain to fit into minutes of pleasure.
Beecher's tailored suit still couldn't hide the man Chris knew was underneath, of course - he knew Toby's curves, he knew the scars, the feel of his skin, he knew how to tease it and satisfy it, he knew how to hurt it best. Despite different outside this was still Toby. Only he wasn't 'Chris' Toby' anymore, and the notion ate Keller up, choked him until he really couldn't utter another word.
Before him stood a man with dreams Keller could never dream, even if he were given a chance. And Toby's dream carried him further away from Chris; what hurt the most was the fact that Toby never even realized it. Such was freedom.
Keller sincerely wished he could say that he loved Beecher enough to be happy for him. But-- no, not even the purest and most sincere feeling Chris had ever had could remain untainted. He tried hard to listen to Toby talk about places he went, people he met, talked to, touched, made love to, but he couldn't. He faked a smile, nodded along, but on the inside was screaming to block Toby's voice, to block the pictures that haunted him once Beecher left, when the lights went out and ghosts of past came rushing into his pod, each demanding revenge, explanation.
So there was nothing to say. And he said nothing. Instead he looked at Toby for a long time, his arm unconsciously finding Toby's. He caressed Beecher's wrist, traced the bulging vein with his index finger - the closest they got in months. Keller looked at his own hand, callused and dirty in unforgivable ways. In silence, he relied on the past once again, thinking how, maybe, just maybe, Toby was remembering it, too-- how they used to sit close in the common room, playing chess or watching Miss Sally or whatever, and Chris would deliberately press his thigh against Toby's, or let his arm brush against Toby's, just to feel Toby's skin-- shit, he was sure whole Oz noticed the way his hair would rise in delight, just because Toby was there, this beautiful man, all his, returning Chris' childish advances with unexpected innocence.
"Chris." Beecher reached for Keller's hand once Keller retrieved his own. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Keller asked as he followed Beecher's hand with eyes, not returning the touch this time.
Beecher took a moment to think before he answered. "Everything."
Keller's face remained blank. He suddenly felt tired.
"I wanted to believe - to prove - I was ready to go on."
"No." Beecher shook his head. "No, I'm not."
Keller smiled a resigned smile, and brushed his fingers against Toby's cheek. "Yes, you are."
Beecher suddenly leaned across the table and captured Chris' lower lip, sucked on it for one all too brief moment, eyes never closing. Keller never moved.
"I'm sorry," Beecher whispered. Resting his forehead against Keller's shoulder, hands desperately clutching Keller's upper arms, he repeated, "I am really sorry, Chris."
"You know...when I wrote to you back then that I loved Katherine...that was to test you."
Keller faked an amused smile. "So. How did I do?"
Beecher shook his head, forehead wrinkling in mix of distress and sorrow. "You passed," he answered, self-deprecatingly adding, "I didn't."
"Is this another test, Beech? Do you love the teacher?"
"No." And he was sure about the answer, but he felt like he was lying, anyway.
"Don't lie, Toby," Keller whispered, knowingly.
"I don't love her," Beecher insisted. "I love you."
Keller sighed. "That wasn't the question." He shifted in his chair as if to move away, and Beecher's hands instinctively reached up to stop him, landing on Keller's shoulders. Their eyes locked.
"But that's the answer, whatever the question is, Keller."
Chris looked away, not wanting to see Toby's eyes when he said, "I don't believe you."
"I'll come back," Beecher said, the urge to say just that and the statement itself coming out of the blue.
"No. You won't."
"I promise, Chris."
"Don't. Don't promise anything, and don't come back. Ever. Again." Keller's voice was at the same time dark and threatening and sad and resigned.
"I'll come back," Beecher repeated as a solemn tear escaped his eye.
Chris stood up and Toby followed. "Be happy. Take care of your kids and live a good life...you deserve it." He reached for Beecher one last time, meaning what he had said.
Beecher's hold tightened as he buried his head into Keller's neck, kissed it, whispered, "I love you, Chris, I do," voice cracking. "What do I have to do to prove it to you? What more do you want?"
Keller lifted Beecher's head up from his shoulder, cradled it between his palms, kissed Toby's mouth chastely. Toby closed his eyes, but the pleasure was over before it even begun.
Keller then turned and left.
So what more did he want?
Everything wouldn't be enough.
But Beecher did stop coming to Oz, despite what he had promised, despite what he was feeling. Keller had stopped expecting him from the minute he had exited the visiting room that day. Beecher's 'work' in Oz was supposedly over - he had gotten Chris Keller his life back, and - moreover - he had been given his own life back, which now belonged to Holly and Harry. It was time for each man to relearn for himself how to live that life again, decide where to take it.
Marian turned out to be more than just a quick replacement for Keller, after all. Sure he missed him, but all the newly rediscovered 'sensations' of the world somehow occupied him enough to not notice he didn't think of Keller that often any more. With a lovely woman at his side, children that had finally grasped the reality of having their father back, and mother that had found her comfort in seeing her son live a good life again, many old wounds were supposed to be healed and bad memories replaced with new ones, good ones. Tobias Beecher had been given a chance.
But time in Oz was altogether something else - it was malignant by default. Same faces over and over and over again as a reflection of self that got more and more distorted with each day. Keller stopped counting days. He used to do that because his time was always limited-- by his crimes, by punishment, by lurking death...and by Toby. He counted down his time with the other man, and when they ran out of it, he just stopped counting. There was no more time. There was...there was nothing. And nothing mattered, just because Chris Keller didn't have a chance.
"What changed, Chris?" Sister Pete asked as their usual session began. It was over 3 months that Tobias stopped coming. Keller had actually told her Beecher wouldn't be coming any more, and she didn't dare ask too many questions, knowing this - even if Chris had made sure she knew it was his own decision - was hard on him. She knew him long enough to tell that he, despite unyielding faade, still cared.
Keller smiled a wry smile. "What changed," he repeated. "You mean-- beside the obvious? He's out there, I'm still here."
"You know what I mean."
"What changed... Well, let's say I realized I needed him more than he needed me."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Time will tell, Sister, don't you think?"
"I agree, but I still would like to know if that's what you believe."
"I believe that he can do without me."
Sister Pete nodded. "What told you that?"
"I created an illusion for him-- an illusion that he was safe and sane only with me around." Keller smiled self-depreciatingly. "Well, I don't have to explain you the truth about that."
"I see. So you think that all of it - what happened between the two of you - that was all staged by you and you only."
"Pretty much, yeah. He wanted comfort, I wanted him, it was a fair deal at a time. He got his comfort, I got him. Permanent comfort comes once he's out of here, I-- I lose him. End of our story."
"A-ha. That's pretty strong, you know."
"Yeah. It's a cruel world, what can I say."
"Why do you feel you have to trivialize what you're feeling, Chris?"
"Am I doing that?"
"I'd say so, yes."
"Well...I'm pretty trivial myself."
"You're not getting away with it, you know."
"Oh, but I'll have to."
"He's gone, Sister. He's gone and I let him."
Time in Oz was the real punishment. Minutes that ticked unnoticed, spilling into hours, and days, and months. The end of Keller's necessary visits to Sister Pete's meant one more reason to stop remembering Toby. And he did. With a little help of tits here, moonshine there...time seamed more bearable and the maddening, unbearable, endless ticking of it morphed into comfortable numbness...silence. Keller spent time high, slumped in his bunk, in the darkest corner of it. Riots happened, usual conspiracies and vendettas, but Keller wasn't disturbed by any of it, secluded in his little universe of oblivion. So maybe getting him off of death row wasn't such a good idea after all. Because this death, slow and with bad withdrawals - it wasn't helping; and it was supposed to.
This little suicide went on for months, until Sister Pete walked into Chris' pod one day, all serious and worried, and actually kneeled on the dirty floor in front of Keller's bunk, her eyes misty with tears. He fought fatigue and managed to keep his eyes opened, peered at her from the shadow.
"You've got to stop this, Chris," she said with a pleading voice. She reached for his cold hands and held them for a long time.
Chris tried to sit up, but failed. He was weak and his head hurt and he needed his drugs, but Oz's dealers were somehow all doing their time in the hole these days and he didn't know for how long he'd be cut off. That was more frustrating than the lack of drug itself. Time.
"Stop what, Sister?"
"Killing yourself like this! You know how hard we fought for your life, you can't--"
Chris laughed, weakly. "My life..." he whispered. "My life...is worthless."
"There isn't such a thing as a worthless life, Chris, and you know it!"
Keller coughed, getting sicker with each second. Sister Pete brought his hands to her mouth and kissed each as tears slid down her face.
Keller wiped her tears, gave her a half-smile. If he could only feel anything right now, he would be touched. Maybe later...
"Promise me you'll stop this. Promise me, Chris! Whatever it is, we'll work it out together, remember-- you're not alone!"
But he was alone and there wasn't anything anybody could say to prove him different. However, he was always a sucker for tears-- Kitty's tears, Angelique's tears, Bonnie's tears...Toby's tears. Hell, who knew when he'd be able to get another kick; in the meantime, there were tears, cried because of him - for him - drug as powerful and possessing as any other. And as funny as it may sound - boosting his ego.
It had been almost half a year since that day; Keller was clean, regularly attending Sister Pete's sessions again. Tobias' name was never mentioned, of course. Sister Pete waited for a sign - he was the reason for all that Chris had gotten himself into, and she even thought of informing him about the state Chris was in, but dismissed that thought immediately. Knowing Tobias, she presumed guilt-driven man that Tobias was would see it as an undertow that he'd let pull him down again. No matter how free, Tobias would always be looking for penance. She couldn't risk that, no.
Chris was evidently doing better, anyway. She could recognize a little bit of shame and self-consciousness in him, as he was now fully aware that he had let himself be exposed in the worst possible way (here in Oz), the way so uncommon to the man that he was. There wasn't a place to run away in here, not even a real wall to hide behind, and all eyes in Oz were on him. That was a load to bare. He had showed his weakness, a stupid luxury he had allowed himself. Not ever again, he decided. Sister Pete was actually happy that he had gotten some of his arrogance back.
People avoided him. His drug-poisoned sanity was somehow as menacing as his lucidity, and he only had his earlier reputation to thank for that. And O'Reily, of course, a friend in need. Who would have known, right? Chris Keller was back again, though, and nothing was going to disturb this newfound purpose without purpose.
It was time for a new start, even if the sense of it was lost. A lot of time for a new start, Keller guessed.
Why couldn't he still feel free in his freedom? Why couldn't he enjoy breathing fresh air, sun and breeze caressing his skin - delights he once dreamed of? Tobias felt unbearably exposed again, and all of a sudden, too much space around making him feel uncertain about where he was, where he was heading. There were no dark nooks to crawl into, and just as striking was the fact that there was nobody at his back, lurking. Tobias still couldn't stop himself from looking back though, at alert, even after over 2 years of freedom. The world was going in its own direction everywhere around him, past him. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk, fascinated by the river of faces that walked by him. When he turned again, there was a group of men walking in his direction, and Beecher's breath caught, the scene familiar and threatening; but just as he was about to start running away, the men split and passed by him, just like everybody else, their attention elsewhere. Tobias' heart didn't stop pounding wildly, though. He still felt like running, cold sweat coming from every pore of his tired body; only, he couldn't move.
Where would he run now that there was no need for running away anymore? Who he would run to now that there was nobody to run to anymore...not really.
'Chris.' There it was. Again. No time could wipe that thought away, and lately, it was everywhere, all the time.
Jesus, he wanted to believe that their relationship was a result of circumstances. He was alone, Chris was company. He needed comfort, Chris offered it. The equation was simple, really.
But Chris was there to touch as well, to kiss and hold and protect him the way nobody had ever kissed, held and protected him. Certainly not lately. Did that come from necessity, too?
Somehow he doubted it. Now more than ever. He did back in Oz, though; no matter how dozed he would get from the carnal pleasure Keller provided, he never completely let go to it. Keller did break him once, he did lie and delude him, he played mind tricks and there would never be a kiss or a touch or a word that strong to make the scars left by them go away.
Tobias had hurt and cheated and deluded in return, yes, but that was what he had to do, and Keller even told him so-- they had pretended it was ok, the debts were even. It didn't feel like that anymore as Tobias suddenly felt burning need to say he was sorry. He felt the need to hold Chris and really let go this time. He was ready to let go, he was ready to succumb to the truth, now clear as a day, as free as he supposedly was.
But Chris wasn't here. And all this people milling around him, so present and real, couldn't compensate for Keller's absence. Which was crazy, of course, 'cause he felt him everywhere - his thoughts surrounded by Chris, by the memory of him. Tobias had finally gotten his long wanted chance to start making real memories, the ones he would gladly recall 30 years from now, be proud of, but he couldn't. His head buzzed with past and it seemed like there wasn't space left in it for anything else but--
Even with his children at home, his family, with a woman that was more than willing to offer her company for life, he felt more alone than he ever had. And he felt like a cheat.
'Chris,' his inner voice called, inconsolable.
Still motionless, gaze riveted to the concrete that represented freedom, the road to anywhere he wanted and was finally able to go, the road that never stopped, Tobias now knew for sure it was love and beyond. All of it! And this concrete road was leading to Oz, just as anywhere else.
Maybe he wasn't free after all - another truth he had grasped, hopefully, not too late. He would never be free if he didn't go back one more time and face this unbearable pain that had Chris' name, ripping through his chest. Longing, the worst of all self-inflicted pains, more lethal than any weapon, Chris had once told him, had built another wall around him, with walls thicker than those of Oz.
The warmth radiating from the sleeping woman's body beside him made Tobias flinch. The air was still thick with the remnants of their lovemaking, but the room was now silent, motions stilled and thoughts rushed in again, like always - waiting to attack. Tobias squinted his eyes in the semi-darkness until woman's contours morphed into a familiar memory, a vision. Instinctively, he reached his hand to trace the pale skin, bruised by shadows and love. But when he did, it didn't feel like he remembered it, and a whisper died on his lips. 'Chris.' He jerked back.
All of this-- whatever it was, wasn't love; it wasn't just fucking either (it would be degrading towards Marian to call it that). It was an illusion, his mind playing tricks on him - it was as real as imagining Chris lying beside him. Tobias thought, if it were to prove he was still a man, he did that. He just did that! He certainly didn't look at any other man since he got out of Oz, didn't desire one. He wasn't gay, right? No, no, certainly not-- that was out of necessity - that was Oz. Loneliness combined with something primal, something crazy, something that, looking from this perspective, out here, was another life, another universe...and hopefully never again, Tobias reasoned.
But there was no reasoning to stop longing, and Tobias longed for Chris Keller. There was certainly nothing to refute the truth that love did happen in the most unlikely of places, the most unlikely of times - that his love was locked away with the most unlikely of men.
Tobias closed his eyes and breathed slowly. Silence of the room pressed against his conscience, hard, and he felt fatigue slowly and finally drag him into sleep. And there, waiting for him - just like every other night - was Chris.
He never said a word. His face was unreadable as he stood with his back against the glass wall of their pod, dim light from the guard station illuminating his contours as he faced Tobias. He appeared like a fallen angel, his features glowing in mid-darkness. But instead of wings, this angel out-stretched his long hands to Tobias, and Tobias had to reach for him, almost desperately, as if he were afraid this, too, was an illusion... Was it?
The body under his palms felt very real, warm and taut; familiar scent invaded Tobias' senses so much that he had to close his eyes in pleasure, in spite of himself. Chris' hands caressed his back possessively, tightening their hold until it was hard to breath, but Tobias let himself be held that way, because pain was good, pain was what made it all real, in Oz - and just like outside. He was kissed and caressed almost violently, his clothes ripped in a hurry, and he still couldn't move, he still couldn't open his eyes and search for beloved face, or return the kiss. The truth was - he was too afraid to move, afraid that if he did, the split second would take Chris away. And this time forever.
It wasn't until he felt Chris moving inside him, all over him, friction blistering, that he dared to reciprocate. Ha had to. He scratched Chris' back, kissed and licked and bit at every inch of exposed skin of his neck and shoulders, and he held tight, both on the inside and on the outside. There were all sorts of noises filling the small space now, gasps and grunts and muffled moans, and Tobias wanted to scream, to let this passion ripping through him out, free, to let it reverberate out through the walls around them. That was one luxury that they couldn't afford themselves, though, so he kept quiet, as quiet as it was possible with turbulence of desire undulating along every nerve of his body. Behind Tobias' closed eyelids, dimmed prison neon light exploded into beautiful colors as he approached the peak of pleasure - his body jerked uncontrollably, his inside clenched around Chris, engulfing him. He willed himself to look at Chris, and he saw him lost, raw and exposed and fragile when there was nothing lost, raw, exposed or fragile about him, ever. Tobias realized he had been the one in control all this time, and losing it, God, so close, unable to hold his screams inside anymore, not with this revelation--
A hand touched him, and Tobias jerked from this dream, sweaty and exhausted, heart pounding loudly; painfully hard. Marian looked at him with worried eyes and Tobias couldn't stand her compassion, especially knowing that compassion was for something he had led her to believe he needed to be sympathized about. That worry was for Tobias Beecher who suffered 6 years of prison brutality and humiliation, for Tobias Beecher who was facing troubles learning his way through life again, and needed a lot of help and attention and care to feel human again. Sorrow glittering in her eyes wasn't for longing that was making him loose hours of sleep, that made him run after a ghost when he did sleep; it wasn't for the loss he was feeling, because why would anybody feel at loss after escaping that hellhole? Of course, there was no way she would ever understand that - there was no way he would ever share Chris, even if it was just a memory from years ago. There was no way that she could ever have compassion for a man like Chris Keller, if she knew him - for a murderer. Funny, if she only knew she was doing just that, 'cause Tobias was no different, not really. He had tried that, and failed - at running away - from the truth of realization who he was, all along - just as capable of doing anything, just what he blamed Keller for.
How stupid it was to believe, even then, with Katherine McClain, that it was possible to divide love, to share it. It was selfish, he was selfish, and he felt the urge to apologize for it - for Katherine, for Marian, to Katherine and to Marian. To Chris, for everything. This life, such as it was, was a lie, a safe path to sanity and normality, as he knew it; and he kept so desperately trying to follow that illusion, and failed again and again and again. Jesus, if he could touch Chris just one more time, if he could say how sorry he was that he screwed it all the way he did, if he could just make him believe it wasn't all a lie. Apologize for letting go. If he could just...
"What is it?" Marian whispered, brushing away sweat and strands of hair plastered to Tobias' forehead. "Another bad dream?"
Tobias shook his head, face crumpled in a mix of - to her - unreadable emotions. Oh, there were bad dreams, but this kind of dreams were the ones that really teased his sanity. He pressed his hands, balled into fists, hard against his groin, turning from her to escape questioning eyes, benevolent care. There was too much light in the room all of a sudden, no place to hide. She didn't know, she wouldn't know, and this little torture he didn't want to share anyway-- not with her, with anybody.
"I've gotta go," he said in a hoarse voice after a moment, and hurriedly got up from the bed, started dressing.
Marian, confused, looked at the clock on the nightstand. "It's 2 am, Tobias. You can't go. Please, stay," she said as she got up herself, followed him from the room.
"No, no, no..." Tobias chanted, tears burning his eyes. He didn't dare to look at her, afraid his secret would be exposed if he did. "I've gotta go. I'll...I'll call you," he said as he absently kissed her cheek on the way out of her apartment.
Marian looked at the door that closed behind her lover, wordless. Something told her he wouldn't call, not this time. There was always reticence in his company, uncertainty even. Maybe this was for the best, after all. How much can one do to help somebody who doesn't want any help?
So he finally managed to ruin it. He laughed crazily at the thought. What was there to ruin if you didn't think there was something in the first place? All these contradictions were making his head hurt, but he just couldn't stop thoughts from rushing in.
Look at it differently-- he wasn't to be blamed for ruining a possibility with a wonderful, caring woman - no, that actually wasn't the crime. His true crime would be making an illusion out of real possibility, wasting it when pretence, created by desire, made him believe his truth was elsewhere. Well, not just elsewhere-- with Chris Keller, in a tiny glass box in Oz, the only universe the two would ever have and need - just the right amount of space never to let the attention of one slip away from the other.
Tobias opened the door of Holly and Harry's room-- they were sound asleep. And they would never lose sleep again, Tobias had promised himself, not now that he was here, guarding at their door.
"Toby..." Victoria Beecher came down the hall, awakened from her sleep. "I thought you were staying at Marian's tonight."
"Mother...I'm sorry I woke you up," Tobias whispered.
"It's ok. I wake up a lot ever since your father..." She didn't need to finish the sentence; Tobias nodded.
"Son, are you all right?" She was close enough to see traces of tears, and recognize the old torment in his red-rimmed eyes.
Tobias looked at her for a long time, wordless. This woman had lost her husband, her daughter in law, her grandchild just as he had lost a father, a wife and a son. And she was recently, again - from day to day, without actually knowing it - witnessing her son's slow death. It was so easy to lie, so easy to delude her, and everybody else for that matter, into believing there were only right decisions and wise choices this time. He owed that much, actually.
Tobias soothed her worried brow with his cold fingers. "I'm fine. I just wanted to be here when they woke up in the morning."
She nodded, then embraced him. "You'd tell me if something bothered you, right?"
Tobias held her in return. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but he couldn't speak. He wanted to tell her, tell somebody. She knew about Chris, she knew what he felt for Chris...once. Still. But she didn't know that. In part, Harrison had died because of Chris, and although she never said it, Tobias presumed she had to tie sorrow to something - to somebody - she had to give a name to the tragedy that hovered over them. So he didn't say anything. He owed her that as well.
"I'm fine." He faked a smile. "Let's get some sleep, ok?"
"Sister! To what do I owe the pleasure?" Keller said, lying the book he was reading down, getting up from his bunk.
Sister Pete smiled, closing the door of the pod. "Just wanted to check up on you...see how you've been doing lately. We haven't seen each other for some time." Two weeks exactly.
"You missed me?" Keller teased.
Sister Pete smiled knowingly. "You know I did."
"Take a seat, Sister," Keller motioned to the chair in the corner of the pod as he himself sat back on his bunk.
"So...how are you?"
She nodded. "McManus tells me that you--"
"No, no, far from it. He just told me you've been...am...gloomy lately."
"He sure knows gloomy," Keller smirked, looking through the glass wall at Em City.
"Well, he's concerned, Chris. You're not...am--"
"--using any substances to make me feel better - again," he finished for her. She nodded. "Nope," he answered.
"That's good, Chris. That's...excellent. You're stronger than that, right?"
Keller smiled wryly. "Yeah, Sister, that's me."
"Would you like to return to the sessions again? Talk about...things? Even if you don't want to talk, you know, I like company, you could just...spend some time..." she trailed.
Keller looked at her for a moment, silent. "I'm ok, Sister. Really. This concern of yours... Thank you. But you'll have to stop worrying, 'cause I could name some people in here that need your time and attention more than I do."
"I'm sure about that," Sister Pete smiled. "I'd still like to continue our sessions, Chris. Make the time go faster."
"That's a lot of time," Keller sighed, looking away again.
He had to tell somebody. It was crazy to expect instant compassion, even from the one who knew it all, that he was aware of-- but Tobias truly believed that if he just said it out loud, that would make all of this seem less phantom, less haunting.
He had lost his 'friends' a long time ago, even before Oz. Marian...well, she - just like Katherine McClain back then - had caught a hint of truth that was Chris Keller, silent on the outside, but screaming inside. At least he was subtle this time. Yeah, maybe he was, but that didn't diminish guilt. Mother and Angus...were out of question. Who, then?
Sister Pete. She would know, she would care. So Tobias called her, after over a year. She actually suggested a meeting - "Somewhere outside Oz, of course," she had said.
Tobias was sitting in a restaurant, nervous, looking around the room for a familiar face. How much was lost, how bad the damage, how much time compensated - he would know instantly as soon as he saw her face. And there she was.
"Sister!" Tobias rose from his chair and met the nun halfway to their table. They hugged and studied each other for a moment. "It's nice to see you," Tobias said.
"Same here! You sure look good. Still, I've got to ask-- how are you?"
Beecher shrugged with a half-smile. "Better." He had surprised even himself when he resisted the urge to immediately ask about Keller, before anything else.
Sister Pete nodded. "It takes time to accommodate." She'd reveal the truth in time.
Across the table, the nun took Tobias' hands into her own, inspecting his face closely. He smiled, almost shyly. And there it was-- 'the look'. She knew what was coming, of course she knew. Probably from the moment she recognized his voice over the phone, just like a little over a year ago when he had called her after months of absence from Oz.
"How is Keller doing, Sister?" And there it was - the question.
Sister Pete patted his hands with care. "Don't do this to yourself."
Beecher's face turned helpless. "I've got to know."
"You don't need this anymore. You're free, Tobias, so go free."
Beecher shook his head, defeated. "I've tried, Sister. I can't."
Sister Pete sighed. She had truly hoped he had gone past it after all this time.
"Please, tell me how he's doing...please."
"He's...he's fine, I guess."
Tobias' eyes lightened with expectation. This brief information wouldn't do, Sister Pete knew.
"What do you mean?"
"Don't get me wrong, he's still same old Keller; it's just that he's...keeping it more to himself these days."
He didn't need to know about Keller's trip to oblivion after their 'consensual' departure - drugs and booze and numbness that he had lately started getting himself out of, with a lot of her own efforts. This interest was threatening in a way.
"Does he...am...ever talk about me-- about us?"
"Not anymore, no."
Beecher frowned, obviously hurt. What was he expecting, anyway? The man had asked him to stop coming and he obeyed 'the order'. "You're ready," Chris had told him and, like always, Tobias believed. It was another lie, how the hell didn't he think of it back then?!
"Don't do this to yourself, Tobias, please."
"I had to know." And now that he did-- now what?
"Now that you do, you can let go. Go on with your life."
"No, no, no," Tobias chanted, shaking his head in disapproval. "That's it, Sister, I can't let go, I can't..."
"Hey, don't say that," Sister Pete protested. "Don't ever say that! You've got good life, Tobias. You've got your children depending on you! What about Marian? You've told me you were getting along well, she was good to Holly and Harry..."
Beecher smiled impatiently, a little frustrated. "Yeah. Yeah, I've said that. But I lied. I mean, she is a wonderful woman, that's true, but...my heart is elsewhere-- always was, always will be. We haven't been seeing each other for some time now, actually."
"I'm not," Tobias returned, desperation more obvious in his expression. "When I stopped calling...I wanted you to believe I was able to go on - that I had control over my life again."
Tobias smiled another sad smile. "Yeah, I do, I guess."
"Then that's a start, Tobias. Hold on to it. You're free!"
"I know this ain't Oz, Sister," Beecher gestured around, "but in here," he tapped at his chest, "in here I feel like I've never left."
"It will go away, believe me, you just have to be persistent in your decisions and let time heal the wounds."
And-- oh, did he do his best to do just that. Longing, intensified by loneliness, morphed into sadness so heavy that he sometimes didn't feel able to get up from the bed. Some wounds he didn't want to heal, as sick as it was, and he was sure she knew that - there was pain that he welcomed, that he cherished, that made him feel alive - just like Chris' love, back in Oz.
Sister Pete had told him Chris was doing fine, but that didn't console him. At all. That wasn't why he had called her, what he wanted to hear. It was ironic, actually, Tobias thought as he remembered discussing with Sister Pete (over 2 years ago, just after he was paroled) Chris' incapability to accept that Tobias was getting his life back - Sister Pete had told him Chris wanted to be happy for him, but just...couldn't, in spite of all the obvious love and sacrifices that said there wasn't anything he wouldn't or couldn't do for Toby. His Toby. What was the significant difference between intention and capability? Maybe it didn't even matter anymore.
Beecher smiled into his pillow, hugged it to his chest, just like he used to hold Keller after their wild lovemaking - yeah, sex in its primal glory - it was afterwards tenderness that made the difference. It showed exactly where the difference between intention and capability was, and it sure mattered.
There was nothing he liked better than pressing himself into Keller's chest, eyes closed, arms around Keller's broad back, tracing bones and muscles, tired but distinct under Toby's knowing touch. Keller's body was like an instrument - every curve, when caressed the right way, strained wantonly, accompanied by sounds that were Tobias' favorite music. He played Keller expertly, lovingly, and the song was for him and him only.
It was impossible to resist getting lost in the dizziness that Keller's presence caused, and the privilege was all his own. He hated ex Mrs. Kellers for owning at one time what was his now. He eagerly intended to wipe away their traces, each and every memory of their touches. His fingers scratched and teased Keller's back, and Keller purred like a cat, encircling Toby with his dead weight, sighing into his ear, all hot and bothered again. Beecher had to smile against Chris' collarbone, for this was his little victory over the big man. Keller might have been stronger on the gym floor, but here, on the narrow bunk they shared for the night, Tobias was winning. Not that it was a contest, of course, but like every man, he basked in this little bit of sweet power.
Hands gently warmed Chris' back, tugged at his nape and Tobias purred back against Chris' wild heart, feeling it beat against his lips and he felt Chris' hands reach to drag him higher up. Chris' lips grazed his own, and Toby felt Chris' heartbeat in the moist, agile tongue, and blunt fingers that claimed over and over again what they already owned. They kissed, lazily, moaning into each other's mouth, whispering endearments that they dared say only when lights were out, bare like this.
And they were both hard again, but they kept almost still, only their pelvises pushing against each other in barely evident 'assaults', enticing pleasure once again, but slow, painfully slow. Their legs scissored, friction so still, but maddening, hands never leaving strained, arching back of the other, hearts pounding in unison as they came practically without touching. Exhausted, they lay sticky and still not letting go...until fake Oz dawn, when they had to separate, but not really, for they carried each other's smell for the day.
Tobias sniffed his pillow, like there was a chance the memory would materialize - but it didn't. It was just fabric conditioner.
He turned on his back, pushed the pillow to the other side of his big bed and stared at the white ceiling for a long time.
And then he decided to let the road lead the way. Freedom was all about being able to make choices and this was the final one, or the first one, he couldn't tell anymore. Tobias Beecher stood at the entrance of Oswald Correctional Facility, heart racing wild, roaring in his ears.
An officer led him through familiar halls to Sister Pete's office. Chris Keller was somewhere behind those walls. Not just somewhere-- Tobias knew exactly where he was. He stopped at the gate that led to processing and looked beyond the bars. Another officer joined them and called Tobias' name. The experience was strange and almost familiar. No number followed this time, though, but he couldn't help but wonder if he could ever go back? Really back. For Chris.
What if Keller passed by him now? What would he say? 'Sorry' wouldn't do, not really, although he was desperate to say it. 'Sorry' was a word too short to compensate for time.
It was over a month that he had the talk with Sister Pete. He had promised her, at last, for Chris' good, that he wouldn't disturb things, that he would let everything be. Depression followed, of course, and it wasn't anything new. There were priorities that had to be considered, Sister Pete had told him, and his priority now was taking care of Holly and Harry. He had promised the nun he would do that, take his mind off of past. But past was time, too, and it extended beyond borders that our heads come up with in order to grasp it; his past with Chris extended into today, and the next day, and the next.
And this keeping silent about what ate up at him was driving him crazy. He admitted it at last, to himself - yes, he was the selfish one, not Keller. It was Tobias who wanted what he couldn't have, not Keller. It was Tobias who was the one provoking destiny, not Keller. He actually even envied Keller, for he knew Keller didn't really have any options - options were on the other side of bars-- too much possibilities scared Tobias, especially when he couldn't recognize them. Keller was an impossibility. And Tobias wanted Keller, more than ever, and damned be promises, damned be pride, damned be all the circumstances, he wasn't going to keep it inside any longer. He had to know, had to see for himself, and he stood in front of Sister Pete's office, like so many times before, determent and ready to beg, if he had to.
Officer stood by the door and waited for him to enter. Tobias smiled nervously, then knocked. Inside the office, Sister Pete was behind her desk, as always, buried in reports and evaluations. She got up, obviously surprised. "Tobias!"
"This is a...a surprise, I must say."
"Yeah. I know. I'm sorry I didn't call first-- I was afraid you would have told me not to come."
"You know me all too well, I guess," she tried to smile, but failed. "Come in. How did you get in, anyway?"
"A little luck, I guess," he smiled another nervous smile. "I know the guard on the entrance, told him you were expecting me."
"Ah!" Sister Pete smiled. "Ok, so you're still managing around here."
"Once you learn..." he tried to joke, but his serious face spoke otherwise.
They stood in the middle of the small room, facing each other. Tobias looked away for a moment, trying to focus on something - anything - to gather his thoughts. "I want to see him," he finally said.
Sister Pete went behind her desk again, sat there, head bowed over clasped hands, in thought. She looked at him again - he was pale, thinner than a month ago when she had last seen him; eyes red-rimmed, dark with pain that she could name, without a doubt. "Tobias... I- I don't think that's a good idea."
"Please, Sister, please-- don't try to talk me out of this."
"Don't pickle at old wounds, Tobias, don't disturb the past. You know the likes of that. You'll end up hurting more in the end, I'm sure you know that. All of this is behind you-- you left. And keep going, just keep going and everything will be all right, you'll see, just give it some time! Please, listen to me--"
"I miss him too much. I never missed freedom the way I miss him now that I've tried living without him. It's...it's a torment I can not take any longer-- and, believe me, I've been trying all this time - I've been trying to prove that he had not consumed that much of me, that he was just a fixation that would fade in time. But now I can say for sure that it was love all along, Sister. All of it!"
"Look-- if this is because of the brake-up with Marion, I understand you're hurt, but-- please, this is not the comfort you need, believe me! You're just being fatalistic--"
"Maybe. But I don't want to wait a minute longer if I can do something about it. I'm willing to take my chance, Sister. I've been running away for too long. I've gotta do this. I'm not moving any further, not unless I can get Keller into my life again. I believe you mean well, Sister, but I still want to see him. If you don't want to help me, I can find another way-- I can always just show up--"
"No!" He was begging for troubles, stubborn as always. "I didn't say I wouldn't help you. Just...just tell me one good reason why I should support this decision, why I should violate what's been accomplished with time that separated you."
"I love him."
And that was a fact, she knew it herself, all too well. Still, this would never go as easily as Tobias was hoping, and she sensed there would be revenge and reproach and bitterness and remorse, and she knew exactly which would come from which man. It all meant a lot of steps back for one big step forward made the day when Tobias Beecher walked free out of Oz. The day he had managed to get Chris off of death row. The day Chris had asked Tobias never to come back again, the day he had given Tobias up, for love. The day Tobias had walked out of Oz and Chris, without looking back. Over 2 years ago. No, love wouldn't be a sufficient reason to go along with this.
"I love him and I want to tell him I always loved him, even when I was telling him different."
"What makes you think he wants to hear it?"
"I don't care if he wants to hear it, I wanna tell him anyway. I didn't when I had the chance, and I know it could have made a lot of difference if I did, for both of us. I wanna tell him now; I want him to know that he is loveable, that he is worth it, to me. Always will be. I don't wanna keep silent about it anymore."
"That's selfish, you know. I expected that from him, not from you."
Tobias smiled, ironically. "I don't deny that. I am selfish. Love is selfish."
"Whatever you do, you know that none of it - whatever there is or might be - can ever have future, Tobias. You two belong to completely different universes now. There's no way he would ever be able to let you go once he knows he can have you again. You don't know what he's capable of, Tobias, and I'm scared what might come of this--"
"I know exactly what he's capable of, Sister! And I have the answer."
"He still loves me, you just said so."
"No, no," Sister Pete tried to untangle from the mess she had just put herself into. "That's not what I've said-- you know Chris, Tobias. Don't play with fire. I can't let you, no, you've got to think clear here!"
"I love him."
"That doesn't change anything!"
"Oh, but I think it does-- it changes everything. Me, and him, and us together, and life in general. I want to see him and I will see him, with your help or without it, Sister. I'm sorry you disapprove."
"Tobias." Sister Pete looked at him, helpless.
"Will you help me, Sister?"
"Tobias..." Taking his hand into hers again, voice pleading. "You don't know what you're doing. Please, let's sit and talk about it..."
"I'm willing to take my chance."
"What makes you think he'll want to see you after this much time?" But she knew. She never even told Keller Tobias was asking for him a year ago, and even if she did, Keller was so messed up that it wouldn't have made any difference, anyway. He probably wouldn't have wanted to see him back then, if nothing because, proud that he was, he wouldn't let himself mistake remorse-attack for craved affection. Because it was remorse that brought Tobias back - Keller had counted on it, not knowing (and trying to not care) when it would strike. However, it was undoubted love that was finding a way to proceed with this, putting everything at stake this time. Keller was losing his own battle as of lately, and she was the one to witness it all, for both of men.
"Will you help me?"
Desperation and sadness in his eyes always broke her. 'Here we go again,' she thought.
"Sure. Sure I'll help you." And, God, this needed all the help possible to be kept in track. There was range of emotions that needed to be reined, reactions that needed to be supervised, or there was going to be a catastrophe the two were supposedly subscribed on.
Toby smiled - joyous smile that made him years younger - first time in months.
Keller could smell freedom in the room. There were remnants of outside air still lingering, mixed with the familiar scent...the scent of...Toby.
Turning around on his heels, a half-smile on his face, Keller gazed upwards, at the ceiling, as if to catch the scents with his eyes, 'cause they were imprisoned, too, and couldn't go further than that; he inhaled deeply, stealing them before anybody could see him.
He looked down then, face very serious all of a sudden. Toby... Toby was here.
He sat in the chair opposite Sister Pete's table and waited for the nun to come and start their session. He wouldn't tell her he knew. He would carry the smells he gathered with him, and lock them in his pod...and dreams. He wouldn't allow interruption. At least in his dreams Beecher was near, and...his alone.
Another illusion, of course. The truth was, Beecher was always Said's and Sister Pete's and he had to be shared in thousand ways in here. He could share that much, he had no choice, of course. But the dreams were always his, and his alone. Tobias Beecher was a reason, an initiative, he was vindication, he was...the sun around which, seemingly, everybody in this place evolved at one time. And most of all, Tobias Beecher was the center of Chris Keller's universe. That used to be a good illusion.
Sister Pete entered the office. "Hello, Chris."
Keller smiled a Mona Lisa smile.
The nun was quiet today. Keller watched her thoughtful face with interest. Yeah, Beecher was definitely here, he decided.
"You're not sayin' much today, Sister."
"Ah?" Sister Pete jerked from her reverie.
"I can leave you alone, ya know, give you space to think, if you want."
"Nonsense!" she protested with an attempt of a smile. "This is your hour."
Keller smirked. "Yeah...happy hour."
"So... How are you?"
"You ask the same question every day, Sister."
"Yes, well-- that's because I expect different answer every day, Chris. Surprise me."
"Days are pretty alike here in Oz, there's not much difference to expect, ya know."
She smiled. He was right. She peered into his eyes for a long time. "Tell me something, Chris. Tell me..."
Oh, there it was, Keller thought. She was going to ask--
"Tobias," he whispered, unaware that he did, and loud enough for her to hear it clearly. They looked at each other, each expecting the unexpected from the other. Then they both looked away.
Keller didn't speak. Beecher was here, now he knew for sure.
"We haven't talked about him in over a year, you know..." she began.
Oh, he was so not getting himself into this discussion. Yet, she had revealed-- no, no - he had revealed she had information on Beecher and he couldn't let this just pass. On the other hand, he had means and ways to get that information elsewhere, a long time ago, too, but he didn't. Why? He was to do himself a favor, for once in his damn life. So he didn't and he overheard all the questions that anybody had asked him after that last time he had seen Beecher, over two years ago.
Keller stood up and left Sister Pete's office without a word.
Sister Pete followed him to Em City's common room. Keller stopped by a man, whispered something. The man nodded and Keller proceeded to his pod. Sister Pete called after him, "Chris!"
Keller sat on his bunk, face turned away from the nun when she entered the pod after him. "Chris." He still didn't look at her.
"Did you ask that man for drugs?" she asked with voice that had a hint of anger and desperation.
Keller rose vehemently, startling her. He went to the sink and splashed some cold water on his face, watched his reflection in the mirror, drops of water landing on his chest. He laughed, still not looking at her. "No, I didn't ask him for drugs," he said with anger of his own.
"Don't lie to me, Chris," the nun's voice was trembling.
"What would be the point?" Their eyes finally locked. "Sister, just-- please, let me be alone for a while, ok?"
"I'm not letting you get yourself into the pit of that hell again, Chris, and if I have to, I'll personally guard the door of this pod to make sure--"
"I didn't ask for drugs," Chris repeated, calmer now, a little surprised by the heartedness that came from the tiny woman. "I told him to wake me up for dinner in case I fall asleep."
She looked at him closely, weighting the possibility that what he was saying was true. "You sure about that?"
Keller shook his head incredulously. He couldn't stay angry with her, not when she got like this, all motherly. No matter what she did, no matter how favorable the outcome, he couldn't deny that she only meant good. "Yes, I'm sure, Sister. Besides," he added with a tired smile, "I don't think I could manage another battle with McManus and you and every damn CO in Em City at my neck. There's only so much a man can bare, you know."
She stepped closer to him, reached for his hand and squeezed it with affection. "You better not be lying to me, Christopher Keller, or else."
Keller nodded. "You better go now, Sister, or people might start talkin', you know, we spendin' so much time together and all."
She laughed. "Same time tomorrow? And we don't...am...we don't have to talk about anything you don't want to talk about, Chris, you know that. Don't be mad, please."
"I'm not mad, Sister. Same time tomorrow, and we'll talk about Tobias."
"Ok, ask me."
"Ok, ask you what, Chris?"
Keller smiled. She was obviously going to grill him about this, in her particular way-- nothing about Beecher was ever simple, not even now pretty distant reflections. Fuck, he'd have to start first, get it over with.
"No, I don't miss him, and-- no, I don't regret sending him away."
"And you're telling the truth, right?"
"A-ha." Yeah, well. The truth was a relative thing.
Keller looked at the nun questioningly. "Is that it?"
"Yes, if you say so."
An uncomfortable smile followed. "I didn't say anything." Which meant-- this ought to be discussed. He actually wished she'd fight him about this.
"You said you didn't miss him and you didn't want to see him again. Now it's my turn to tell you something."
He waited. Maybe she was going to prove him different.
"Tobias misses you and he wants to see you."
Oh. He peered at the nun without expression.
"I said Tobias--"
"I heard what you said."
"And what do you have to say about that?"
It wasn't just a possibility he used to ponder in his lone hours-- it was a fact. He could deal with possibilities, he was good at that. The facts...well, that was something else. Keller's expression never changed, though. One more thing he was really good at. What did he have to say about this? Well. 18 months had passed since they had last seen each other. Not that he was counting, no. And life's routine - the routine of Oz, to be precise - had numbed him enough not to look at it as tragically and with as much self-pity as he used to. Things weren't good, that was a stupid thing to say in here and in circumstances like this, but the storm had finally calmed, and he had gained some perspective again. Staying alive and sane was all about perspective.
So he finally answered, "I don't wanna see him," meaning it. Why bother?
Sister Pete nodded. She should have known, of course. Even though she had used all her wits to keep Beecher away, hearing Chris' response now made her stand up for the other man. She owed it to Tobias to try to pass the message this time, to redeem for the time when she didn't do it, a year ago. Tobias had come to her then, just like a month ago, to ask if Chris was doing well and if he needed anything. He had come to get an opinion whether he was making a mistake or not - he had always relied more on judgement of others than his own. Uncertainty ate up at him when thought of Keller struck after long absence. She had sent him away then, thinking it was for the best. Protecting Chris.
Tobias had come with a demand this time, and that made the difference. They both needed protection now, but it was more protection from themselves than from each other.
"He really misses you, Chris."
Keller sighed, perplexed. "There's nothing I can do to help him about that."
"He doesn't think so."
"Well, he fucking thinks too much!" Keller returned a bit too rapidly, voice rising in frustration, revealing that he was all but indifferent towards the subject after all.
"It's ok, Chris. You don't have to see him if you don't want to. I'll tell him that."
Keller rubbed his face nervously. 'Fuck, fuck, fuck! Why now? Why again?' And that thought was enough to set possibilities in motion. All sorts of possibilities, actually-- like...maybe Beecher was heart-broken, maybe his little lady Marian had left him for somebody else...or maybe he had cheated on her and now, poor fuck, needed to confess it to somebody. Maybe he had started drinking again, secretly run over another child and was looking for comfort that he could only get from another murderer, of course, who else. Or maybe he was in another quest for self-proclaimed penance, guilt-or whatever the fuck-driven to redeem himself. From what - only God knew. Maybe Beecher just didn't know what to do with his fucking time!
"Chris? Are you ok?" Sister Pete asked after a few minutes of silence, breaking his reverie.
"Yeah," came the absent answer. "I'm great, can't you tell?"
Irony meant only one thing, Sister Pete thought - Chris Keller had second thoughts. Of course she recognized his true feelings, she knew him long enough. He was giving in. Doubt washed over her again. Was this really a good idea?
"He's ok, right?" Keller finally asked, curiosity and just a little hint of worry in his voice.
Sister Pete considered the question for a few moments. 'Ok' was such a relative state for these two. If Beecher had only known, and if Keller only assumed... Better not get into that.
"Well...yes, technically he's ok..."
"What does that mean-- 'technically'?"
"That means he misses you."
And that never had good outcome. Fuck, they really did some crazy shit while missing each other. Keller shifted in his seat, intrigued. 'Why now? Why the fuck now?' But then again, if not now...when?
"Fuck," came a frustrated retort.
"Are you mad, Chris?"
"Yes, I'm mad." Keller sniffed, resentfully. "He's heartbroken or something, right?" The question held a little bit of malice.
"He's heartbroken about you."
Keller snorted. "Right." He couldn't allow himself to believe that.
CO knocked on the door. It was time for Keller to return to Em City. Chris reluctantly stood from his chair. "Ok."
"Ok, I'll see him."
The little bitch had probably managed to get himself on the verge of breakdown-- why else would Sister Pete be doing him this favor, after everything she had witnessed. She had admitted, on numerous occasions, that she thought their separation was the best thing for both, that no feeling, no matter how strong, could ever survive the enormity of pain, bot physical and emotional, that it carried along, more punishment than a blessing. Love wasn't supposed to be that, she had said.
He could always send him away again, right? He was just being polite here...right?
"But I don't want to do it in the visiting room. Make it here." Keller's eyes found Sister Pete's for one brief moment before he added, "Please."
Sister Pete nodded. "That's fine with me. So...until tomorrow, then?"
Keller nodded back and left.
"Dad! Telephone for you!" Holly called from the hall.
"I'll take it in the study, honey!" Tobias called back, taking a moment to rest from the paperwork he was buried in.
"Hello, Tobias," familiar voice greeted him. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"Sister Pete! No, I was just...about to take a little break."
"It's arranged, Tobias!" Sister Pete announced proudly. Not wanting to drag this into infinity, she just said it. There.
"W- what?" he asked, incredulously.
"Chris had agreed on seeing you!"
"He did?" Tobias said through a smile. "Jesus...oh, my...Sister Pete, how can I ever thank you--"
"Don't thank me yet."
Tobias' heart raced. "Visiting day is still on Saturdays, right?"
"Actually, you can see him tomorrow. He doesn't want to meet you in the visiting room, so...so you'll meet in my office. We have sessions from 3 to 4 pm, 3 times a week. Now, nobody can know about this, Tobias, because this kind of arrangement isn't allowed, as you know. I can't call it a victim - offender interaction...well, you know, considering the earlier circumstances...and the fact that you two haven't been...in touch, lately. We'll have to keep it a secret, ok?"
'In touch...lately.' Jesus, that hurt. "Sure, Sister, of course!"
"All right, then. You'll be here tomorrow at 3, right?"
"Count on it."
The following night was impossible. Keller tossed and turned in his bunk, troubled, annoyed. What gave Beecher the right to disturb his safe slumber?! What gave him the right to demand anything - and Chris was sure that little bastard had played every card possible to get the nun into this. Fucking bitch.
And why did he, Chris, for fuck's sake, give in?! Why did he have to succumb to...whatever was making his heart race and palms sweat when it came to Beecher? He wasn't sure if it was love, no. It never fitted the definition, not with all the amount of pain they shared. Sometimes he couldn't even remember the feeling - whatever that dilution was. Then-- why?
Keller squeezed his eyes shut, buried his head into the pillow. Behind closed eyelids, after countless months of absence, Beecher was waiting for him in all of his innocent glory, his face arranged in a loving promise, arms open wide, inviting. Damn...
Keller snapped his eyes open against the illusion. It was going to be one long, long night.
Beecher sat on the bed with Holly and Harry's pictures on his lap. They were smiling, healthy and happy. From the drawer of the nightstand he took out a newspaper scrap ('Chris Keller escapes death by technicality', the text was missing) - a black and white picture of Chris Keller. Tobias smiled as he pressed it against his heart. He didn't need to look at it to remember the loving face, of course, but still. It felt like Chris' eyes were somehow alive - they never looked away.
He then placed the picture with other photos in the album. It was where it belonged. He was to be thanked that Holly and Harry got their father back, after all. Some day, he would tell Chris just that. He would bring pictures of his smiling children and show them to Chris, and tell him that he had made that possible, each of their smiles. And Tobias would smile, too, and tell him that was his doing as well. Chris would...
What would Chris do? What will Chris do? Tobias wondered. He closed his eyes and rested against the pillow. If it were only that simple.
Once he fell asleep, Chris smiled with him and there was no need for explanation. Chris' touch soothed and Tobias gave in to it, words forgotten. In dreams, they laughed together.
Keller walked down the hall to Sister Pete's office. He felt tired. He stood unmoving in front of the door for a second. Lack of sleep evident in his posture, he sighed and closed his eyes, pondering if he should simply turn and walk back to Em City, to 'safety'. Well...this really meant he was going crazy - seeing Em City as a refuge. He finally knocked on the door and, without waiting to be called in, proceeded inside. Wordlessly he slumped into the chair opposite Sister Pete, who immediately reached for his hands from across the table.
"Are you ok, Chris?"
Keller nodded nervously. Yeah, he was great, sure. "Is he coming?"
"Yes. They just notified me he was on the way."
"Nobody else knows, right?"
"Nobody else knows, and if anybody asks, we had session as usual, ok?"
Keller nodded. "You're gonna stay in here for a few minutes, I mean...when he comes...right?"
Sister Pete smiled. She didn't think Chris knew how obviously vulnerable and nervous he was. "Yes, if that's what you want."
Another nod. "I do."
Knock on the door. "Come in!" Sister Pete called.
In the next moment, eyes wide with anticipation, Tobias Beecher was standing motionless at the door, caught. His hands trembled visibly as he closed it.
"Hello, Sister Pete...Chris..." he said in unsteady voice, eyes riveted to Chris' back. As Tobias stepped closer to Sister Pete's table, Keller directed him a brief glance, followed by a nod, and then looked down again, hands crossed self-protectively over the broad chest.
Tobias sat in the chair opposite Keller's. It was hard to breathe in here, he thought as he drank in the man at his side; his heart pounded so loudly that he was sure both Chris and Sister Pete could hear it. Swallowing loudly, he gave Sister Pete one brief look, silently asking for help.
"Gentlemen." The nun stood from her chair and headed for the door to the adjoining office. "I'll leave you alone. You've got one hour exactly, and I trust you with that time." With those words she left them alone, to themselves...or each other?
Once alone, Tobias turned a little sideways to get a better look at Chris - he was still strong, his frame beautifully sculptured with defined musculature, still emitting strength and wit and menace in just the right amounts to make you desire him. Desperation and ever-present desire colored Tobias' face.
"What do you want?" Keller asked unexpectedly, not daring to return Beecher's stare, although very much intrigued. The urge to just grab him and hold him was ripping him inside, but he wasn't going to do that, no way. Not this time. It was probably what Beecher counted on, anyway.
Tobias' voice caught in his throat. "I..."
"'Cause I ain't got time for this shit, ya know," Keller proceeded without actually paying attention to the other man's possible answer. "What do you want?" he repeated.
"I wanna talk."
"Should've guessed," Keller commented ironically.
"What?" Beecher calling him that...it stung, it burned. "What, Beecher? You just woke up one day and decided you wanted to talk, is that it? C'm on, spill it!" Keller now glared openly at Beecher, annoyance and hostility obvious in his expression. And-- oh, that was Toby all right, he could now really see him - Toby's unobtrusive beauty (even if he weren't aware of it), accented with desire-filled time of separation, never paled, and Chris had to look away again to prevent himself from doing anything stupid. But Beecher looked troubled and tired, too, and that made him even more desirable, especially knowing it was because of Chris Keller.
"You don't want me here?" It was a statement rather than a question.
"I think I was clear about that."
"Yeah, well. Why don't you tell me again?"
Stubborn asshole! "What are you doin', ha? What the fuck do you think you're doin'?!"
"I'm sorry, Chris." It was spoken in almost a whisper.
"Fuck you, Beecher." Dja vu. "I don't wanna know-- Hell, I don't wanna be here!" Keller yelled as he stood up from his chair. Tobias instinctively followed, catching Chris' upper arm, his fist clutching around taut bicep so hard that he knew there would be a bruise left. This was altogether familiar, too, Chris thought, and wanted to laugh about it, but didn't want to let his guard down. He just pierced Tobias with his cold eyes instead, yanking his hand away after a moment, knowing Tobias would hold onto it even harder, enticing the blond with this response. Yeah, Toby's mark was just what he needed for tonight's good sleep, for reviving the sweetest of dreams. He had already caught Beecher's smell, now he would have the touch, too, imprinted in his flesh as well as his head. Always.
"Fucking let go of me," Keller spat through clenched teeth, and in spite of the thrill that was warming him inside.
"Don't leave," Beecher said pleadingly. "Please."
Keller laughed. Beecher finally let go of his arm, and Chris slumped back in his chair. 'Toby, Toby, Toby...you'll never learn,' he thought. Sighing, he asked again, sounding resigned, "What do you want from me, Beecher?"
"I wanna be with you."
"Be with me..." Chris repeated, then smiled evilly. "Yeah, that can be arranged, alight. Just say a word, baby," he said in a sultry voice, getting up again, approaching Beecher, stopping inches from him. Close enough to touch, but not touching. "There's always a way."
"Stop that," Tobias said as he closed his eyes against the underlying malice of what was said.
"Stop what?" Keller asked, breathing directly against Beecher's neck.
Tobias swallowed hard. "You don't mean it, I know you don't."
"You wouldn't do it."
"And here I thought I was capable of anything," Keller commented in dismissive tone, returning to his seat again.
"Then do it," Beecher said, not caring if he had just signed devil's contract. If that was the deal to straighten all of this, then-- yeah, he would do it. He was ready for anything. Any outcome was better than none at all.
"What do you want from me?" Keller sounded defeated this time, tired.
"I want you," Tobias answered, unaware that he already had him. But the familiar glitter in Chris' eyes didn't escape him, though, as their gazes locked. That look rose goose bumps and made him think of all the little victories he ever made over Chris Keller.
"What about your lady teacher?"
"Fuck her." Tobias didn't want to explain how there was no more lady teacher or lady lawyer or any other lady for that matter in his life anymore. Fuck all of them, he thought.
"You'd share?" came a teasing retort, so like Keller, of course.
"Fuck you," Beecher answered with a glint of guilt.
Keller smiled, nodded. "Yeah...you know I could never resist you."
Both men looked down, in silence. Tobias stepped closer to where Chris was sitting, but the door behind him opened and the moment of this little almost-victory was over way too soon. Sister Pete observed the two men -there was no blood, no ripped clothes, no broken furniture, so she had to assume things went...hm...well?
"Chris, it's time you head back to Em City," she spoke after a moment of awkward silence.
Both men nodded, nervousness returning their posture. Tobias turned to give Chris another look, but Chris looked away. "Yeah," he whispered.
Keller walked to the door, then stopped there for a moment as if he were considering something. He then turned to Tobias. "You were right. I wouldn't do it," he said and went out.
Sister Pete watched the life of Em City through the glass wall of Chris' pod. They wouldn't be seeing each other till Monday, and she desperately wanted to know what he was thinking. Tobias didn't say much, but that was just because he had to sleep over all the new emotions before he was able to put them into words. He would put emotions into words, unlike Chris here. They were going to see each other on Monday as well.
"I'm going crazy, you know." Keller paced the pod.
"No, you're not."
Keller smirked. "Yeah! You can't even fuckin' distinguish one from the other anymore, that's how bad it is!"
"Do you want to tell me something?"
Sister Pete still looked at him with expectant and curious eyes.
"But you'd still want to know, right?"
"Only if you want to tell me, Chris."
"I don't. No offence, Sister."
"None taken," she smiled. "Ok, then that's it."
Keller finally focused his eyes on the nun. "Tell him to stay away."
"Yeah." Did he? He couldn't remember it anymore. "I'd like you to tell him, too."
"You did?" Of course he knew she did, but still. It didn't sound...right.
"Well, yes, I..." she trailed.
"Why?!" There was sudden anger in his voice.
"You just asked me to, Chris! I thought--"
"When?" Keller cut in.
"Did he come here before? When did you tell him not to come back again? Tell the truth, Sister, I deserve to know the truth."
"He'd...called on several occasions, actually...over a year ago and he came here, once--"
"Fuck," Keller muttered, not letting her finish the sentence. "Fuck!" He never told him, of course. Or maybe he didn't hear it, fucked up on tits as he was.
"Chris, you were in bad enough condition to add Tobias Beecher to it, and you know it! What good would it have made even if I told you? What would you have done-- what is there that you can do now?"
Right. What would he have done? What was he going to do?
"Jesus," he whispered. "Jesus." Then he walked out of the pod, wordless. He didn't know what to think anymore.
When he returned 20 minutes later, calmer, Sister Pete was still there, waiting for him. "I'm sorry," she said.
"I know you are." They looked at each other for a moment. "I want to see him on Monday."
Sister Pete nodded.
Finally, Monday, 3 pm. Keller turned to the barred window on his left. He loved this time of the year, when it was still light enough outside to see the world - ok, not much of it: just a vast parking lot, and a lot of trees behind - gray, green, brown, branches swaying with the wind. And sky-- never-ending and free.
He observed leaves rolling on the ground. Hands in his pockets, gaze carried away, he finally spoke, "You know what I miss the most?" It wasn't a question, really. "Smells. Smells disappear first. Voices you can remember, and shapes...faces... But smell you can't revive. It's just...gone." He traced the windowsill with a hand absently, observing traces of dust on his fingers. "Do you know when I first realized you were really gone?" Again - not a question; still, Tobias opened his mouth as if to answer, but Keller was quicker-- "When your smell evaporated. I still had a shirt of yours, but your smell disappeared... I could still remember every wrinkle on your face, every inch of your body, your voice and each and every word you ever said to me - I could remember everything but your smell." He stepped closer to Beecher then, close enough to touch, eyes closed; leaning a bit forward to the blond's neck, not touching him, though, he inhaled Toby's scent. Then he turned and went to the window again. "Your smell was gone...and I knew you were gone."
Tobias' face crumpled in mix of pain and remorse as he listened to the admission.
"You told me not to come, Chris."
Keller smiled knowingly. "Yeah...yeah, I did. But when did you ever listen to me?"
"I did this time." Two thumbs up for his sense of timing.
Keller nodded, turning to look through the window again. "Yeah. Yeah, you did."
"If you hadn't asked--"
"You would have stopped coming anyway, Beecher, and you fucking know it!" There was a hint of rage in Chris' voice as he said it.
"No, no," Tobias repeatedly shook his head, eyes filled with tears.
"Don't-- just...don't fucking lie to me. You know you would have eventually stopped coming." Keller stepped closer again. "So, this way at least I had pretence that it was because I asked you to, not because you got your chance to do it."
That said a lot, but not enough. "Do you love me, Chris?"
Keller smiled, looking away. Damn bitch always played dirty. He shook his head incredulously.
"What's that got to do with anything? What difference does it make, anyway?"
"It does-- now, answer me. Do you love me?"
"No, Beecher, I don't." Keller's eyes were grief-stricken, but at least he sounded convincing.
Tears slid down Tobias' pale cheeks and Keller's eyes followed their lazy path. He regretted the words instantly, but still wouldn't let this just slide.
"Am I?" Why couldn't Beecher realize he was provoking him with such a question?!
"I know you're lying." Tobias felt small and cheated all over again, and he wanted to scream in frustration, only he couldn't allow any outbursts because this meeting would be over way too soon if he did. "I know you're lying, Keller," he repeated, stepping closer, a hand reaching for Keller's shoulder.
Keller stepped back when he registered the motion. "Go home, Beecher."
"I won't be going anywhere, Keller, not until you tell me the truth!"
Chris smiled ironically. "The truth...fuck, you're always looking for it at the wrong places, you know, Beech? With the wrong people."
Tobias' gaze never faltered, eyes expectant and knowing, glittering.
"I gotta go," Keller said and tried to push past the slightly smaller man, but Beecher grabbed him by the upper arm then, pushed him back against the wall and forced his whole frame against Keller's chest, breading him in, shaking from the sensation that vicinity produced.
"You're not going anywhere," he breathed out before he launched for Chris' lips, licking them violently, trying to push his tongue inside, meeting resistance. Keller managed to push him away after a moment, then wiped his mouth against his sleeve.
"Fuck you, Beecher," he spat, shaking with anger and - it couldn't go past Toby - desire. "Fuck you." And then he exited the room with a slam of the door.
Beecher slumped in the nearby chair, shaking himself, but - still, a smile on his face. Keller would be back, he just knew it.
"What did you expect, Tobias?" Sister Pete asked.
He didn't answer.
"Now that you've seen him, do you think you can move on? Put all of this behind once and for all?"
"I'm not giving this up."
"Oh, Tobias..." Sister Pete shook her head desperately. "What's the point? He's moved on--"
"He's moved on just as much as I did, Sister!" Beecher fervently protested. "Maybe he's managed to fool you, but he hasn't fooled me. And I'm gonna keep coming back until he knows I'm truly sorry for ever leaving him, until he knows for sure that I did love him, from the first day I laid my eyes on him, still do, always will. I'll keep coming until he takes me back."
"There's no way back, Tobias, can't you see? You're free, he's not!"
"I'll find a way."
"Tobias, please, don't do anything stupid, please."
"I won't do anything stupid, don't worry. This time I know exactly what I'm doing."
Keller carefully closed the door of Sister Pete's office, not looking at Beecher, just nodding.
"So..." This had to go slow if he intended to make something of it, but the pace was going to kill him in the process, Beecher thought.
"What brings you back?" Keller asked. Self-satisfied, Tobias noticed. So they were going to drag this slow dance into infinity - he expected that, of course. But he wasn't new in this game, either.
"You know what brings me back, Keller," Tobias answered, resigned.
Keller smirked. Of course. Still, it was fun seeing Beecher helpless-- he deserved it. Keller would never allow being outplayed in his own game, not even to Beecher.
"I'm your family," Tobias said looking down.
Keller looked at him, considering the statement. "I ain't got no fucking family, Beecher," he said after a moment.
"Well, I'm gonna be your fucking family whether you want it or not."
Chris circled the little room, studying cracks in the walls, before he sat in the chair opposite Tobias, still not looking at him. The bastard had been growing some balls again. He shook his head incredulously, not knowing what this new approach was about, but-- hell, it was amusing.
"And don't forget you've got 2 children as well," Beecher added after a moment. No matter how hard Keller was trying to prove him wrong, he could still sense love and care. Desire, like always. Of course, he never really understood what was it in him that made Keller weak, but he intended to use it now. Keller wouldn't be here in the first place if he didn't still feel something for him, Beecher thought, and relied on it.
"Are you gonna be quiet the whole hour or...?"
"Yeah, Beecher, I'm gonna be quiet for the whole fucking hour. Ain't got nothing to tell you."
"Ok. Fair enough."
Keller nodded, not able to fight the urge to look at Toby as he heard twinge of disappointment in his voice. Beecher stood up; hands buried deep in his pockets, he repeated Keller's path around the room, not looking at him. This time Keller's eyes intently followed Tobias' back.
"You don't wanna be here, is that it?" Beecher asked.
Chris said nothing.
Tobias dragged his chair a little closer to where Chris was sitting, sat in it, and watched him lower his head down again.
"Ok." He nervously slapped his hands against his knees. "Fuck, I could never give you orders, right?" A bitter smile followed the words. "But that's ok. If you don't wanna be here, that's fine. That's...fine." He was rambling, of course, but anything was better than cutting silence. Silence between them always revealed more than it hid, especially when its intention was to prevail. "Go. You can go, I'll...I'll tell Sister Pete you weren't feeling well, she won't bother you with questions. I won't tell her anything either, so...go."
But Keller never moved. He looked at Tobias, his face red with unspoken emotions Tobias deciphered as defeat and frustration and anger and love - yes, love. Keller never moved. They sat like that until their hour was over and Sister Pete came. Even though not a word was spoken, Tobias felt happy as if they had told each other everything. Chris then went for the door, but before he was out, Toby called after him. "See you next week!" Keller turned to him, expression serious, but Tobias knew his eyes were smiling. There was hope.
'Self-centered, stubborn bastard,' Keller thought as went back to Em City, a smile on his face.
"K-boy," Ryan O'Reily nodded as Keller confidently strolled to his pod.
"O'Reilly," Keller nodded back.
"You sure seem to be in a good mood today."
Chris smirked. Oh, if the Mick only knew... "Yeah, well, what can I say-- life is good."
"Yeah, I'll trust you on that," O'Reily commented in his usual manner.
Keller smiled and proceeded into his pod. Slumped on the bottom bunk, he closed his eyes. 'I'm your family,' Toby had said. Now, if that didn't make life good, then... Jesus, the only thing ruining it was the fucking weekend. Monday, 3 pm, seemed light years away. He sighed and turned on his side. 'I'm your family.' Yeah, that was definitely something to hold on to.
The weekend was a complete torture. He couldn't stop counting down hours until he would see Chris again, the expectation and excitement so evident in him that his mother suspected he was back with Marian. "Jesus, no!" he said with a smile. Victoria looked at him, puzzled, but a smile was one thing she didn't have to question or worry about, she concluded - smiling was good and the only thing that mattered was that Toby was smiling again. Life was good. He wanted nothing more but to share his enthusiasm with her, but it was probably too early still. He was on the right way, though, and nothing could wipe the smirk from his face. One more thing he picked up from Keller, he smiled to himself.
Tobias entered Sister Pete's office with usual curious impatience.
"Hello, Tobias," the nun greeted him.
Beecher turned around the room. Chris wasn't in yet; he was usually here before Toby would arrive. Something was wrong, his troubled mind screamed. "Where is Chris?"
"Tobias...am-- Chris won't be coming today."
Blood instantly drained from Beecher's face. "W- why?" he stammered.
"There was a riot yesterday. He was...well - stabbed."
"Jesus fucking Christ! Jesus fucking Christ!" Tobias jumped from his chair, sharp pain piercing through his head making his vision blur for a moment. "Why didn't you call me?! I would've--"
"I didn't tell you because I knew what would your reaction be, and that's exactly what I didn't want - you worrying. Please, take a seat, calm down."
"Tell me he's alive--" Tobias' voice trembled.
"He's alive, don't worry."
"Thank you, God, thank you, thank you..." Tobias buried his face into his palms, exhaling in relief. "He's in the hospital, right?"
"Yes, and he will be transferred to Em City tomorrow, I expect, due to lockdown."
"But-- He's ok, right? I mean, how can they transfer him if--"
"He's ok, Tobias, stop worrying! He'll be fine. It was supposedly just a rough cut, not too deep..."
"There's no 'just' rough and not too deep cuts in Oz, Sister," Tobias' eyes stormed. So what if the shank didn't have your name on it-- nameless shanks were the lethal ones just the same.
"You know what I mean. Don't worry, please, it's not that serious. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, I just thought it was best this way."
"Why wasn't it on the news? Why--"
"Devlin will make sure it doesn't get out. Incompetence of his administration might cost him at next elections, you know."
Beecher sat down, still worried, uncomforted. How many times had this happened before? How many new wounds did Chris get that Tobias didn't know about - and might never know? Keller had to run out of that kind of luck sometime, Beecher just knew that, and his chest hurt at the thought. Time in Oz didn't come with a guarantee.
"I've got to see him."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible."
"I'm sure you could--"
"No, no, I'm sorry, not this time, no. Warden Glynn somehow found out you were the one having sessions with Chris instead of me and we...we had a fight and I'm afraid asking him for the two of you to see each other otherwise would be pouring oil into fire."
"I'm sorry, Sister, I really didn't mean for you to get into trouble."
"Don't be sorry, I'm not," Sister Pete smiled. "I'm glad Chris is feeling better-- you know he is, and I'm glad you're well, too. I'm here to help. So don't be sorry, because I was only helping you and I would do it again. I just think you should be patient for awhile."
"How long is it going to last?"
"I wouldn't know just yet. But I'll let you know as soon as I know something, I promise. And I'll let you know when he's released from the hospital, I promise."
Tobias nodded. "I'd appreciate that, Sister. But if you get the chance to see him, please-- tell him I was here. And that I'll be back."
"He knows that," she said with another smile. "But I'll tell him anyway."
"The lockdown's gonna last for another 2 weeks, at least," Sister Pete informed.
"Jesus!" Tobias rubbed his eyes nervously, willing away tears of frustration. "How is he? You've seen him, right?"
"He's fine, considering the situation. He's been transferred to Em City; Gloria tells me his wound will heal just fine."
Sister Pete smiled at the sincerity of the blond man's concern. "He's fine."
"Did he...did he say something to you? I mean...did he ask about me?" Tobias' heart was racing. He sounded goofy, he knew that, but he didn't care.
"I told him you were here. He...didn't really say anything, although I think he was happy to hear it. It's just... You know Chris. I think he likes to keep that kind of happiness - anything that involves you, actually - to himself."
Tobias nodded. Yes, that would be Chris. He wished there was a message Sister Pete would pass on to him, but this made sense, too.
"I wrote him a letter." Tobias fished a thick envelope from the pocket of his jacket. "A few, actually. Or one long one. I just kept adding to that first one, you know...all the things I still need to tell him." He then added sadly, "As if I knew I wouldn't be able to see him in a while."
"You will see him soon, don't worry."
"Would you give him the letter, Sister?"
"I'll be happy to."
'I guess this is what it's like when you put love for a man before love for life, your god, before truth, against all odds, before your every thought of self. Can you feel it? Learning to live without you was the worst punishment of all. I'd still choose you above everything else. I'd choose condemnation for that moment of wholeness that was - you and me. And so living seems bearable again when you remember that you really did live it out loud. At one point, at least, louder than anybody else, ever. Because of that I'll be holding on to you for as long as I live - here, and in Heaven, remember? We're gonna live again, I promise.
I love you like I've never loved anybody in my life. It's one mind-blowing, throbbing emotion that starts somewhere in my gut and flames every cell of my physical presence, until it finally blows my mind into ecstasy of you, into sensory oblivion, with time freezing and world stopping. Even though a lot of time has passed since the actual moment to produce such a sensation, the memory of that - now distant - touch remains as vivid as ever. As real as your presence was in my life. Still is, whether you want to believe that or not.
One should be thankful to get any kind of love these days, and I'm not saying that to preach you, to prove you anything. I just want you to know that your love was - and is - a lifeline. And because of that I feel blessed. Bliss we've created when our bodies and souls collided into one within those prison walls made us better men, now I know for sure - a bit of you in me, a bit of me in you, literally, yeah, laugh if you want, and we were one. I was never feeling freer than when you were holding me in your tight, jealous embrace... Or maybe the jealous part was mine, I can't tell anymore. So many contrarieties for such a pure thing, don't you think? I remember wanting to know if you felt as caught in it as I did, and right then and there, in the heat of our fleshy adoration of one another, without a sound, I had found out it wasn't wishful thinking only. I knew. I knew you, Chris. You let me.
I walk around with this smile on my face, although the pure joy - that was and is you - has been missing for some time now. I never used to be like that, you know - suddenly, nothing is that important. I see myself as I used to be in the faces of strangers that pass me by in the streets - I see worries, loss, want and temporary passion, just to get by - all kinds of things your love taught me weren't what made me be me when I looked in the mirror at the end of the day. The first time I got along with what I saw there. And I can't understand what the fuss is all about anymore, not now that I got free - of me - by you. You did that for me, Chris.
I believe you can only find who you really are in the very center of another. You held my truth when I was so desperate to fill all the missing parts with just the wrong pieces. The right piece always comes disguised in everything but. We should know. You always knew. So, you see, between the two of us, you're the wise one, not me.
And then every now and then you smile to me from a crowd through another stranger's eyes and when I pace to reach you, I'm all alone again. Time stops and the world freezes. You seep through my fingers like sand, like way back when I last got to touch you-- I had you for one brief moment in time and that moment was bliss beyond everything. A moment to fill a lifetime. A moment of you to fill minutes, hours, days and years without you. Not anymore, and not ever again, if I can do anything about it, and I know I can, I know I will and that's a promise.
Why you - you once asked me and probably will again. Well, here's why:
Thank you for love.
Thank you for understanding.
Thank you for comfort.
Thank you for pleasure.
And most of all, thank you for time. There wasn't any choice there, I know, we were forced into each other's lives by some higher force, but it was your choice to make that time worth not just something - but everything. For both of us.
I love you, Christopher Keller. You're one of a kind. You're everything my life was missing all along, and I want to tell you that again and again and again, until I'm out of breath. I've found my missing piece - knowing that brings that smile on my face. You and me together - it can never be over. Remember that, because I'll never forget, no matter what you say or do. And even though I don't really have you anymore, still - you're mine. And just because you wanted me to be, I'm yours and with that I end my every prayer.'
He didn't know how many times he read the letter. When the lights went out, he scooted to the edge of his bunk to catch the ray of light coming from the guard station - he read that last page over and over again. Carefully folding the papers back into the envelope, leaving just the last one out, he crawled under the sheets, placed the envelope under the pillow, and pressed the remaining page against his chest. And smiled.
Warmth of the awakened emotions soothed the rage he was feeling-- because of his wound, (even if it was nothing serious), the fucking lockdown, deprivation and injustice everywhere. Time was ticking again, and ticking like a bomb. It had measure again, it mattered, and it couldn't be wasted. Seconds and minutes and hours and days each had meaning again. Toby was back.
Chris closed his eyes. And just as he did, Toby leaned over him, smiled as he traced Chris' face with gentle hands. Chris pushed himself from the mattress, cradled Toby's beautiful head and plunged his tongue inside Toby's mouth, desperate to feel Toby's moist warmth, his sweet taste, his nostrils already filled with the smell of Toby.
Their hands and legs tangled, and all pains disappeared with caresses that followed. There were no wounds, no scars, only raw feeling left by burning kisses, licks and bites, and teasing touches. Keller pulled at Beecher's hair to make him look up - Toby's eyes were the only shining lights in this night, and they peered deep into Chris' soul. 'I love you, Christopher Keller,' Toby whispered, and Chris felt little shivers from head to toe go straight to the middle of his chest, straight to his heart.
Toby caressed his face, kissed his neck, his collarbone; he licked and sucked on Chris' nipples, made a slowly, teasing path to Chris' navel, dipped his agile tongue inside until Chris growled with need, pulled him up again.
It was time for him to thank Toby. So he kissed the blond's mouth with hunger, kissed the breath out of him, until they were both dizzy from the lack of oxygen. Spread between Toby's legs, locked around Chris' waist, keeping him near and still, he felt trapped but happy. This was against every resolve he had made, but this was the right thing and there was nothing and nobody to prove him wrong. He slid down Toby's desire-tortured body, and engulfed Toby with his lips, until his grunts became loud moans, until he screamed in pleasure. No hack came to break them up and Chris knew for sure this was a dream. It didn't matter, though. He would have Toby anyway he could get him.
And when he entered him minutes later, when Toby's inside devoured him with desperate desire, when he was blindly pulled to the center of life, Toby smiled and held him tight, replacing Chris' breath with his own. They moved against the stillness surrounding them, doing their little dance of love, smiling all along, even as the earth shook underneath them, and screams of pleasure ripped through their love-bruised bodies, now still and at ease as time and space around them.
'I love you, Christopher Keller,' Toby said again before they fell asleep in each other's arms, never letting go.
Beecher entered the visitor room, Sister Pete behind him. She didn't follow inside, but stopped to stand at the glass wall, looking in. Tobias recognized most of the faces scattered around a few tables in the room. Men with lovers, ex-lovers, relatives that still cared...and there, in the corner, sat Chris. Beecher's breath caught at the sight. Keller looked exhausted, a little pale - well, that was part of Oz, of course - didn't shave for a few days, his eyes red-rimmed.
He slowly walked to the table, breathing labored; Chris never looked up. "Chris," Toby called, but it seemed like Keller didn't hear him, his head still down. Beecher knew pain and deprivation himself. He grabbed the edge of the table and pushed it from Chris; the creaking sound made everybody in the small room turn their eyes to the two men, but Tobias never even noticed; Chris lifted his head enough to catch the attention from under his lashes.
The CO at the door moved to get the 'situation' in order, but Sister Pete grabbed his upper arm. "Officer, don't!"
"The furniture can't be moved, Sister."
"It will be put back into place, Officer, I assure you."
"I've got orders to follow--"
"And I order you to leave them alone, Officer!"
When the table was pushed far enough, Tobias kneeled down on the floor right in front of Chris' slightly parted knees. Keller never moved. Tobias slid inside the little space, never minding the calls from around, teasing and laugh. Nothing mattered. His trembling arms slid up Chris' tense thighs; he pushed himself further between Keller's legs until his chest rested against Chris', his cheek pressed right above Chris' heart - Tobias closed his eyes and listened to its wild beating, telling him everything Chris himself wasn't able to say, was afraid of or just didn't know how to. His arms found their way around Keller's back, muscles tight and at bay under Toby's palms; and when he finally had him completely in his embrace, Tobias exhaled in gratitude, in relief, a solemn tear sliding down his face. Chris was here and he finally held him, he finally had him.
Keller knew his heart gave him up - so did his breath and every trembling nerve in his body. His arms hovered over Beecher's back, and Tobias felt their nearness, felt Keller's tense frame give in little by little. Finally they grabbed a handful of Beecher's jacket. Tobias held tighter in return, pressing his face deeper into Chris' chest. Instead of yanking Beecher away from himself, as it was expected, Keller, on instinct, pushed from his seat and drew Beecher's slim frame against his chest, held him close, cradled the back of his head, his back. Just like he used to do, once.
"Get up, Toby," he whispered, aware that everybody was looking at them and that Beecher didn't have to kneel in front of anybody for anything anymore. It was humiliating, but it was Chris who felt the humiliation, not Tobias. Beecher just shook his head no, not caring about anything but this - Chris in his arms, and himself in Chris'. Face buried in the crook of Keller's neck, Toby sobbed quietly, the sound of it reverberating through his whole body to Chris', who absorbed them with touch, until Toby felt safe enough to give it all away and sagged against him, relieved.
It seemed like the whole eternity passed before they let go of each other. Then Keller lifted Toby's face up, looked at him closely, with a half-smile. He brushed strands of hair from Toby's forehead; more tears came running down Toby's cheeks at the tender touch, and he had to smile at his own desperation. His lips trembled as he tried to say something - anything - but there weren't words strong enough to describe what he was feeling at the moment. Keller brushed Toby's tears with his thumbs, then traced his mouth, cradled the blond head again, and nestled it on his shoulder, wordlessly caressed it as Toby inhaled Chris' scent, as his lips brushed the exposed skin of Chris' neck-- almost a kiss, almost...
Chris searched for Toby's eyes again, peered into them for a long time. He had been dreaming about Toby's eyes. They never concealed anything - no matter what was ever said or done, Toby's eyes always held the truth...and right now they were speaking to him of longing, as deep and unquenchable as his own. Keller smiled a wry smile. So much time was always being wasted on things that didn't matter, on attempts to do well, while true good was passing them by. So much time spent in longing left scars deeper than those made with shanks.
"You shouldn't be here," he whispered at last.
Beecher returned the sad smile, shaking his head no. "Maybe not...but this is exactly where I wanna be," he said in a shaky voice. "Do you believe me?"
Keller traced the soft skin under his eyes, now dry. "You forgot you should be careful what you wish for in Oz, Beecher."
Tobias smiled at that. "No, I didn't. Wherever you are, Chris, that's where I wanna be." Silence fell upon them again. They sat across each other, hands touching unhesitatingly, though almost shyly, eyes glittering with tenderness.
"You really ok?"
"'Cause I was really scared. I missed you."
"I missed you, too," Chris whispered, eyes down.
Toby smiled, interlacing their fingers. "So..."
"I'd like you to meet the kids."
"Yeah. I've been telling them about you and..."
"What have you told them?"
"That I love you."
Keller nodded, in thought. "Yeah."
"I love you, Chris."
Chris' eyes stormed with returning emotion, but he settled for a smile.
"Time!" CO announced.
"I love you, Chris, and I'm not giving you up, not now, not ever," Toby said as everybody around them started their good-byes.
Keller stood up, too. With a corner of his eye he caught Sister Pete smiling at the door and he nodded at her. She looked happy. Turning his gaze back to still seated Toby, he was met with worry and expectation. Keller extended his hand to the blond man and helped him to his feet. He then pulled Toby to his chest, held him for a brief moment, felt Toby tremble. He kissed the corner of Toby's mouth, licked the inviting lips, then let his mouth brush against heated cheek as he let go, withdrew, Toby's arms clinging to him until he wasn't near enough to touch anymore.
Beecher followed Chris' retrieving back. Keller stopped at the door, turned to him. "See you next week, Toby," he said with a smile before CO led him through the door back to Em City. Toby exhaled in relief. "See you next week, Chris!" he called after him, returning the smile. Sister Pete, who was still standing behind the glass wall in the hall, waved him goodbye and followed Chris and the rest of the inmates with a smile of her own.
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
THE SPACE BETWEEN
You cannot quit me so quickly
There's no hope in you for me
No corner you could squeeze me
But I got all the time for you, love
The space between
The tears we cry
Is the laughter what that keeps us coming back for more The space between
The wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep us safe from the pain
But will I hold you again?
These fickle, fuddled words confuse me
Like 'Will it rain today?'
We waste the hours with talking, talking These twisted game we're plain'
We're strange allies
With warring hearts
What wild-eyed beast you'll be
The space between
The wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep us safe from the pain
Will I hold you again?
Will I hold...
Look at us spinning out in
The madness of a roller coaster
You know you went off like a devil
In a church in the middle of a crowded room All we can do, my love,
Is hope we don't take this ship down
The space between
Where you're smiling high
Is where you'll find me if I get tickled The space between
The bullets in our firefight
Is where I'll be hiding, waiting for you The rain that falls
Splash in your heart
Ran like sadness down the window into... The space between
Our wicked lies
Is where we hope to keep safe from pain
Take my hand
'Cause we're walking out of here
Oh, right out of here
Love is all we need here
The space between
What's wrong and right
Is where you'll find me hiding, waiting for you The space between
Your heart and mine
Is the space we'll fill with time
The space between...