by Riley Cannon
Disclaimer/warnings: Tom Fontana & HBO own them, I just borrow them for non-profit fics. No warnings - well, unless angst turns you off.
Summary: ClaK, that is all.
Double dedication: to nudgemistress Mav for pointing me in this direction, urging me to try and get inside Toby's head; and to Tom Fontana for giving us that unexpectedly perfect moment in the B/K saga.
And a thank you to Trasker, for the Oz transcripts site.
Song: I'm Still Here by Vertical Horizon Lyrics supplied by Maverick
Owww - goddamnit! Toby pushed himself upright on the hard, lumpy mattress, his face aching as he scanned the pod for any sign of Keller. His former podmate and on again/off again lover was long gone, of course. Scooting to the edge of the bunk, Toby lowered his head into his hands, waiting for a wave of dizziness to pass and wondering what the hell that had been about anyway. No way Keller really believed being laid out unconscious for a few seconds was going to deter him from what had to be done. So what the fuck had been the point?
It had only been a few seconds, right? Suddenly uncertain, he got to his feet, swaying for a second and catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, a brand new set of bruises shaping up where Chris had hit him. He pushed that out of his head and went out into the common area, no sign of Keller there, either. O'Reily was lounging around as usual, however, keen gaze trained in the direction of McManus' office, and Toby made his way over there, certain the Irishman could tell him what he wanted to know.
O'Reily jerked his chin up at the office. "Gabbing with McManus," he said, the next words making the hair on the back of Toby's neck stand up. "Said he had to clear something off his conscience."
No - no, Chris wouldn't, he wasn't put together that way. But even as he watched, Toby saw Murphy and McManus lead Chris out of the office, saw Murphy finish snapping the cuffs on him and bring him down the stairs. He started forward, needing to set things straight, but O'Reily clamped hold of his arm and kept him right there, silencing him with a hard look.
"It's K-boy's play, Beecher. Let it be."
"Let me the fuck go," Toby hissed under his breath, struggling to get free but held fast.
McManus, leaning against the railing, was looking down at them, his hangdog face even more mournful as he shook his head and watched Murphy escorting Keller out of Em City, Chris never looking back. And Toby needed him to look back, needed to see his face, but the bars clanged shut and it was over, O'Reily finally letting him go when it couldn't matter anymore.
He walked over to the gate, hands wrapping around the bars as he stared down the corridor for one last, shadowy glimpse of Chris - and then he was gone. But Toby stayed there a long time, numb, his thoughts a white noise buzz of bewilderment.
This was really happening. They were going to take Chris away from here, from him. He'd never be able to touch him again, look in his eyes, hear his voice. Everything would become a memory after today.
And then Chris was on his feet and coming to meet him, pain and loss in his eyes as he threw himself into Toby's arms. This time Toby caught him, holding him tight, never wanting to let go. When they did step back from each other, Toby couldn't take his eyes off him, no one else existing in those too few moments.
"Sorry I can't hug you back," Chris said, finding his voice first, the pain receding from his face as if all he had needed was one glimpse of Toby to cure everything.
Not understanding that, knowing he wasn't up to that much responsibility, Toby still soaked it up, soaked up the way Chris looked at him. "Schillinger believed Cloutier, thinks I'm innocent. Even shook my hand," he said, not sure he really believed that but he wanted Chris to, wanted him to believe this grand gesture had not been in vain.
"You see?" Chris said, smiling. "And I get a nice trip to Massachusetts, stand trial, serve life in Cedar Junction far from Schillinger's reach."
He made it sound like all their troubles were over, but Toby had to caution him, worried for him, "There are Aryans in Massachusetts."
Chris blew that off with familiar bravado. "Half-assed Aryans. Besides, I think I've proven that I'm pretty nimble when it comes to staying alive."
And Toby couldn't argue with that, but he would still worry about it all the same. Yep, one more thing to chalk up in the guilt and concern column. As crowded as that was, it seemed there was always room to add one more item. Right beside it would be trying to work out how he could possibly deserve Chris doing this.
Feeling the pain of that, absolutely baffled by it, he looked into Chris' eyes, asking, "Why are you doing this?"
Chris looked at him as if that couldn't possibly be a mystery, and said, "I would have thought that was fairly obvious."
Toby nodded, knowing for Chris this love between them was an indisputable law of nature. That knowledge hurt, though, because he didn't think he could match it, he didn't see what he had ever done to warrant it. And all he could say was, "Yeah," and try to accept it.
"Besides," Chris went on, still smiling, still drinking him in, voice dropped to the most confidential of whispers just like they were back in the pod and exchanging secrets in the dark, "I love the irony. I got away with all those murders I actually committed and here I am confessing to one I'm innocent of."
That was probably true, it just wasn't the whole truth. And there was so much else to say, so much Toby wanted to tell him, but the time was gone, precious seconds lost as they stared at each other, reality kicking them both in the gut as they realized this was really it, this was the last time they would ever be together.
Toby didn't know what to do, couldn't find any more words to say - but Chris found all they needed, moving in for one last kiss, and Toby held on even tighter, pouring everything he could into that last kiss, that last embrace, nuzzling into his neck to fill his lungs with the smell of him.
Chris drew back at last, his smile huge, nuzzling at his hair for just a split second. "I'll see you."
Huffing, Toby said, "When?" It was impossible, they both knew that, and yet he was willing to grab onto any strand of hope he could find.
"Back here, or in heaven," Chris said, at the door now, practically glowing and so beautiful it almost hurt to look at him.
Toby would have loved to believe that, but, "You really think we're gonna get into heaven?"
"Ah," Chris beamed, eyes bright, as if there couldn't be any doubt of it, "you and me together? God doesn't have the balls to keep us out."
Toby watched him leave, hating the way the shackles hampered him and restricted his movements, forcing him to shuffle along when he was meant to swagger through the world. Toby watched him leave, his throat tight with grief, eyes burning, aching to undo everything, take back every brutal word he'd said, get back all that time they had wasted.
But it was too late. Chris was gone, and Toby was still there, alone.
So many things he wanted to tell him, needed to tell him ... and the words eluded him. Him, the guy who used words as a weapon, spinning verbal traps and tossing out razor-sharp comments that sliced deep as any shank. Was that an irony Chris would appreciate? That when he wanted words to make it better he was always struck dumb, his tongue turned to stone in his mouth?
He sighed and propped the pad against his upraised knee again, pen moving back and forth over the paper without actually making any marks as he sorted through the jumble in his mind for a place to start.
It's two days since you left, he began to write, the pen scratching over the paper. *Two days, and I'm not sure it's all sunk in yet. I even thought I saw you yesterday, in the library. Don't worry, I'm not back to reciting nursery rhymes. I'm not ~that~ nuts, not yet...* Oh, yes, that was perfect. Make him feel guilty and worried that poor Tobias was sitting back in Oz, losing his mind. He squiggled lines through that and started again, I miss you. If I could see you one more time, I would tell you all the things you needed to hear from me, but I could never find the right time and place to say them. He read that one back, nodding. That was better, that was closer to what he wanted to put down.
But was it even true?
He would have to ponder that tomorrow, however, as darkness abruptly descended on Em City. He put down the pad and pen and made his way over to the sink, wondering if Chris would come to haunt his dreams tonight.
Splashing warm water over his face, he carefully patted it dry with a rough towel, his bruises still tender. Gaze fixed on his shadowy reflection, he reached up to trace those bruises that he wore like a medal, like they were something to be proud of. That wasn't something that could be said about the other wounds that marked him, the scars he would bear all his life.
He wished he could carry these bruises longer, that they wouldn't fade away and vanish. He had a terrible fear his memories of Chris would disappear with them, that he would forget these precious bruises stood for how much someone had loved him, how much someone had valued his life. No matter how vehemently he vowed to never forget, he knew he would. He knew when the hurt and the empty pit in his belly got too bad he would seek out something to numb it. Booze or drugs, or another body. Anything to keep from feeling the pain, from losing himself in it.
Months had been wasted because of that, because it had been more important to dull the ache - and make Chris hurt just as bad - than to speak the words that might have made it better. But ... that was the thing, what he couldn't get through his brain. Two words, three syllables - "I'm sorry." How could that make things better, make up for all the pain he'd caused?
*"You have to forgive me.* The words echoed in his head; if he turned, he could almost see Chris standing over there by the bunks gathering together his meager belongings, broken into jagged pieces by Toby's vicious, ugly words. Could it have really made a difference if, instead of demanding forgiveness as his right, Toby had asked for it as a privilege?
He'd never know. That was the misery of this. All he was left with were questions and uncertainties, and too many ugly, cold hard acknowledgements. Like admitting to the spiteful satisfaction it had given him to know he had power over Chris, that he could hurt him with words, with actions. The power of knowing he was taking Chris down with him every time his faithless lips and hands touched another. If Chris wouldn't give him what he wanted, he would destroy the one thing Chris held dear?
Hell if he knew even now what all had been going through his head. And all in vain, because Chris still held him dear, Chris had forgiven, would forgive him anything, and that was the most terrifying knowledge of all.
Why? He looked into that mirror, begging for an answer, for what made him worth all that. What did Chris see when he looked at him that made it all worthwhile? His salvation? Toby shook his head, denying that, knowing what he wanted to tell him most, even more than, "I love you."
He touched the mirror, in his mind seeing Chris' face there, and spoke the words Chris needed to know, "But everything you wanted from me, is everything that I could never be," so Chris would stop putting his faith in someone who would always fail him.
And Chris' face just looked back at him, peaceful and confident, not buying a word of it.
I found the pieces in my hand
They were always there
It just took some time for me to understand You gave me words I just can't say
So if nothing else
I'll just hold on while you drift away
Cause everything you wanted me to hide
Is everything that makes me feel alive
The cities grow the rivers flow
Where you are I'll never know
But I'm still here
If you were right and I was wrong
Why are you the one who's gone
And I'm still here
I'm still here
You've seen the ashes in my heart
You smile the widest when I cry inside and my insides blow apart I try to wear another face
Just to make you proud
Just to make you put me in my place
But everything you wanted from me
Is everything that I could never be
Maybe tonight it's gonna be all right
I will get better
Maybe today it's gonna be okay
I will remember
I held the pieces of my soul
I was shattered
And I wanted you to come and make me whole Then I saw you yesterday
But you didn't notice
You just walked away
Cause everything you wanted me to hide
Is everything that makes me feel alive
The lights go out the bridges burn
Once you go you can't return
But I'm still here
Remember how you used to say
I'd be the one to run away
But I'm still here
I'm still here