Talking of Michelangelo

by Riley Cannon

DISCLAIMERS, WARNINGS, ETC.: Oz, the series, and its characters/concepts are the property of Levinson-Fontana Productions, HBO, et al; I am making no money from this. Archiving: yes. Feedback: Always welcome.

Summary: The only way I can come to terms with "Revenge is Sweet" is to write something about it. So... This isn't AU, more's the pity. From here on, however, I expect to be taking up permanent residence in the Oz Wing of AU Land. The title and lines of poetry quoted are from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot; there's something about it that makes me think of Toby.

If you don't know the poem, here's an URL where you can find it. It's good, you'll like it.

I'll be back to happy/sappy after this. And maybe I've still got my rose-colored glasses on here, but...

Riley Cannon

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

Toby sat watching as the hacks came and cleared away all traces of Ronnie Barlog. He knew that when he went back into the pod there would be nothing of Ronnie left behind, nothing to remind Toby that someone else - Not Chris. - had shared this space with him. Maybe the saddest commentary of all, Toby considered, was how briefly Ronnie would linger in his memory. One more ghost to haunt him, perhaps, somewhere back at the end of that ever-growing line.

'I'm not the man I was.' He shook his head, a bitter smile ghosting across his mouth. There was an understatement for the books. And he was reminded of old, old stories about faeries who would snatch a mortal child from its parents, leaving some strange changeling in its place. Was that how his parents felt now? Was that why they couldn't bear to look at him any longer, because they could only think someone had stolen their Tobias away and left this stranger in his place?

He glanced around the quad, at the little groups here and there, speculating on this latest event in the wonderful land of Oz. It would be a sensation for a few days, until the next event. Nothing ever lasted very long in Oz.

Toby's gaze rested on Bob Rebadow for a few moments, taking in the older man's lost and forlorn aspect. I know how you feel, Toby thought.

He looked on, past Morales and Pancamo, Augustus and Alvarez, grimacing as he saw Ryan making a beeline for him. He knew what Ryan's news was; hell, he'd known it the moment he'd spoken to Chris. And was that why I told him? Toby shrugged to himself, not knowing the answer to that - and feeling pretty certain he didn't want to, either.

"You know," said Ryan, dropping onto the chair beside him, "someone needs to start issuing new inmates an official warning when they check in here. Something like: If you get put in Beecher's pod you can kiss your ass goodbye." Toying with a chess piece, a knight, Ryan canted a smug, wry look at Toby. "Weird, huh?"

"Yeah, it's one for the Twilight Zone." Toby looked at the chess piece, thinking it was odd, wasn't it, that the knight - the valiant defender - should be that particular piece, forced into a little box in one sense, the specific way it could move, and yet within those parameters apt and able to nail anything coming and going. The king and queen might be the most important pieces, but lose the knights and you were screwed. A smart player would protect his knight every bit as rigorously as the king and queen.

Toby scanned the quad again, not seeing the one face he wanted to. Or - did he? And if he did, what would he say? What was there to say, now?

"Excuse me," he said to Ryan, as he got up, glad of the hack's being distracted so that he could walk by unnoticed.

There weren't many places an inmate could find to truly be alone in Oz, but Toby was pretty sure he and Chris had found all of them, back in better days. Days when stealing just a few minutes away from all those watchful, prying eyes had felt like some kind of victory scored. Days when it had been possible to forget, if just for a few minutes as lips met lips and bodies merged and melded, that this was Oz; to believe (pretend?), as hands caressed him and dark blue eyes gazed into his, that he had found a love that eclipsed anything he had known before.

It had been a pretty little fantasy, and he felt no gratitude toward the reality that had crept up and bit him in the ass. There was no other way for it all to come out, of course, he knew that; they weren't Romeo and Juliet. Or - maybe they were. That hadn't exactly had a happy ending now, had it?

He found Chris in that little room, where that cop had been pushed to his death down the elevator shaft. Seeing Chris there, literally poised on the edge of the precipice, whiteknuckled hands gripping the wall so hard, Toby thought he should have looked here first. The fleeting thought came to him that, maybe, he should go away and let him be.

"Don't," he said, so softly he wasn't even sure Chris would hear him.

That beautiful head flinched, though, one brief glance fired back at him. "Why not?" Chris' voice was low, too. Quiet, and so devoid of hope that it made Toby's throat ache.

"Because that's...not the answer." And what was the answer, then? What words were there left for Chris?

"I didn't want to kill him, Toby."

"I know."

"I never... I never wanted to kill anyone. I just... I just..."

"Come here," Toby said, echoing words spoken in what seemed another lifetime. "Chris, please, come here."

"It has to end, Toby. I," his voice caught for a moment, "I have to end. I can't do it anymore."

And Toby should have known that. He did know it now, when it far too late to matter. Funny, wasn't it, how at first glance anyone would probably think Chris was the strong one, the capable one. He looked the part, so much more convincingly than Tobias Beecher. Big and strong, a confident swagger in his step - and all of it camouflage. Drop Chris and he wouldn't bounce right back up, he wouldn't be strengthened in the crucible; he'd shatter in a million pieces that no one could put back together.

Toby thought Chris had probably shattered a long time ago, that holding himself together this long had taken every ounce of strength and effort Chris could dredge up.

If only... Toby sighed, shook his head, thinking those two words would probably make the perfect epitaph for Chris. If only someone hadn't fucked with his head so long ago, made him hate himself for things he could no more help than he could determine the color of his eyes. If only Chris could have found what he needed, the love and trust he craved so desperately, somewhere besides this hell on earth. If only Toby had been the answer - the salvation? - Chris had hoped for.

Except that wouldn't be Chris' epitaph, not if Toby had any say in it. He didn't know what words he would find, maybe - Christopher Keller, Rest in Peace - would be enough. He thought that might be all Chris really wanted, to rest, to find some peace at last.

Selfish as always, though, Toby didn't want to let him have that rest, that peace, not yet. And how fucked up does that make me? Toby wondered. What was wrong with him, that he could look at Chris and still see a man he loved? He was supposed to see a monster, wasn't he? He was supposed to see the faces of this man's victims, their dead eyes. He wasn't supposed to keep seeing Chris' face, his eyes smiling back at him with warmth and love; he wasn't supposed to think of Chris looking at him, shy happiness lighting those deep blue eyes just because Toby had said he loved him.

"I'm sorry," Toby said, and Chris looked at him now.

"For what?"

"For...everything." For ever doubting, for playing these goddamned games, for ever making Chris believe what he'd been searching for could be found in Tobias Beecher.

Chris shook his head. "You got nothing to be sorry for, Toby. This ain't your fault."

"Chris, please, come away from there."

"No, I'm okay. I'm just thinking. You go on, Toby, I'll - I'll see ya later," Chris said, giving him a lopsided smile that didn't go anywhere near his desolate eyes.

Maybe... "Suicide's a mortal sin, isn't it?"

A glimmer of ironic humor sparked in Chris' eyes for an instant. "That's kinda what they call a moot point, isn't it?"

"Chris, goddamn it, get away from there," Toby said, desperation starting to color his voice now. "Don't...don't leave me alone here."

"You'll be fine. You'll be out here soon."

"I won't be fine. I...I need you, Chris. Please don't leave me."

Chris gave him a dubious look. "What the fuck do you need me for, Toby? You know what I am, Toby, what I've done. How the fuck can you need that?"

"Because I love you."

Chris stared at him, disbelief clear in his eyes. "You can't. Nobody," his voice caught again, "nobody ever could."

"I do," Toby said, simply, daring to take another step forward. "I don't know what that makes me, maybe it means I'm gonna burn, too. You know what, though?" He got a little closer. "I don't give a fuck. Now get your goddamn ass away from there," he ordered, holding his hand out to Chris.

Chris looked at the hand as if he wasn't quite sure what it was, looking back into Toby's face, searching his eyes. "Toby - I gotta pay for what I've done."

"Not today - not like this. Chris, please." Even as he strained forward, aching to catch hold of Chris and grasp him close, Toby wondered if that wasn't the ultimate cruelty, though. He'd been to this abyss, he knew what it felt like; he hadn't even really wanted to be dead, just...he'd just wanted to be somewhere else, where everything didn't hurt so much. Where he couldn't hurt the people who cared for him. Strange how it was this man, Chris, who had been the one to haul him back from that darkness and despair. And he suspected there were probably times he was not especially thankful for that. It didn't matter, though; he didn't care if he earned Chris' gratitude. He just wanted Chris, and if that made him a selfish son of a be it.

Chris' eyes looked into his so long, so deeply, it almost came as a shock when Toby felt the strong fingers wrap around his hand at last, gripping tightly, trying to pull away again for a moment - but Toby caught him, held him, pulled him in until Toby could wrap his arms around the strong, trembling body, hold him close to his heart again.

"Toby, please..." Chris pleaded - for what, even Chris might not know - as Toby held him tight, pressing Chris' head to his shoulder.

Toby didn't tell him it would be all right - they both knew it wouldn't. He just held him, stroking his hair, feeling almost like he held another broken, hurt child in his arms.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo...


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