Deja Vu All Over Again

by Riley Cannon

Title: Deja Vu All Over Again
Author: Riley Cannon
DISCLAIMERS, WARNINGS, ETC.: Oz, and its characters/concepts are the property of Levinson-Fontana Productions, HBO, et al; I am making no money from this. Slash - B/K; rated...R - NC-17.
Summary: This is set 4th season, after the break up and all, but - if I may borrow a phrase from Krikzil, "in a world without sluts and serial killers." Possibly Tom Fontana will, in the upcoming 5th season, convince me that the latter storyline in particular didn't come right out of the Twilight Zone, but for now that is pretty much how it hits me and I prefer to live in my own little alternate universe. So expect a whole lot of revisionism. Additional warning: The following may contain large quantities of sap. Do not say you were not warned, `kay?" Oh, "I have become comfortably numb," is a lyric from a song on Pink Floyd's "The Wall." I'm no longer sure which one, precisely, because my tape of the album got eaten by the tape player. (And how come I can find CDs of every totally half-assed piece of music ever released on vinyl, 8-track, etc., but can I find "The Wall," or the Stray Cats debut album, or anything else I really want to replace on CD? Nooo. Want the latest from Bimbo Britney or these boy band clones, sure, they've got those, but honest to gawd real music you want to listen to? Hah! *Hey, you want a theme song for Chris Keller, you need look no further than The Stray Cats' "Stray Cat Strut." Well, maybe "Bad To The Bone," too, by George Thorogood and The Destroyers, but I digress.) <ahem> Sorry about that. I've just been going through my old record collection lately and getting grumpy. {The relevance of the above is dubious, but it has to do with something Toby's thinking at one point.} Feedback welcome.

~Deja Vu All Over Again~

As Toby got the machine going, he had to admit his time in Oz had not been a total dead loss: at least he'd learned how to do the laundry. That actually was no small achievement, he considered as he leaned back against the table and watched someone else's load of wifebeaters, boxers, and jeans tumble over and over in a dryer. Self-sufficient was not a phrase anyone would have used to describe Tobias Beecher in his pre-Oz existence; there had always been someone else to take care of everything, make his life easy. Maybe that had even all been part of the problem. Or, maybe not. It didn't really seem important anymore.

But then neither did anything else. His whole life had pretty much narrowed down to this, going through the motions day by day. He thought that might even be the secret to enduring in here, to just let it all blur together, each day like every other until you scarcely even noticed them passing. Maybe the time would even go by more quickly that way, if you didn't pay attention. It was already hard enough to keep track of the months, the seasons.

So why not go with that? Let the days flow by unremarked and then he could be taken by surprise one day to learn it was all over, that he had served his time and was free to go back to...well, whatever. Toby couldn't quite wrap his mind around that anymore, the idea of a life beyond this one, outside these walls. At first he had tried to think of his life, that life, as being in a kind of limbo, something he could step right back into when this prison thing was done. In his loopier moments, Toby suspected that extended to imagining Gen and the kids frozen in some kind of suspended animation, waiting for him to return so everything could resume according to schedule.

That had pretty much shattered all to hell with Gen's suicide, of course. Now, even the hope of returning to his kids was hard to hold onto, tainted so badly by the things he had set in motion here. Wouldn't he only be a constant reminder to Holly of the terror she had endured? Wouldn't Harry be better off never knowing him? Toby supposed that was a mark of, well, something, that he could think about not being a part of his children's lives and not go all to pieces. Of course that little bit of disassociation would probably come back to bite him in the ass soon enough. Everything always did.

All the more reason, he supposed, to stick with this new program. It wasn't like there was any particular incentive to do otherwise, not anymore. No more schemes and more Chris. Just this comfortable numbness. Toby's mouth quirked with a ghost of a smile as he wondered if anyone would be surprised he'd ever listened to Pink Floyd. He hadn't liked it much, but he had listened.

Turning to look around as someone else came into the laundry room, Toby had to wonder if there was something to that tempting fate bit. Because didn't it just stand to reason that as soon as he had resolved to keep himself apart, to take no notice of his surroundings, the person most likely to trip him up would walk right through the door?

Chris halted just inside the door, sparing Toby a brief glance before taking up his own stance in front of the wall of dryers, waiting for his clothes to finish. Arms folded over his chest, projecting an aura of confident nonchalance as he lounged there; to all outward appearance he was completely oblivious to the other man in the room. This was one of those instances when there was far more going on than met the eye, however, because the truth was Chris hadn't been this intensely aware of Toby in a long time.

His first thought upon seeing him was that the little fuck looked like hell. His second was, Good, he should. Chris Keller hadn't had many illusions to start with and by now had certainly been disabused of the few he had held onto. He suspected that was one source of his anger, discovering one tiny sliver of hope, of faith, had remained when he had been so certain all that had withered up and died a long old time ago. But no, that one little fragment had remained, hidden safely away until Tobias Beecher discovered it and brought it out into the light - only to stomp all over it right when it was starting to thrive.

Maybe that was even deserved, though. Maybe that was Toby's ultimate payback to him. That was the worst thing, playing over everything since New Years' Eve, wondering if it had all been a lie - every word, every touch, every kiss. Wondering if Toby had been faking him out all along, waiting for the moment when his revenge would taste the sweetest, the perfect moment to rip out Chris' heart.

There were flaws in that, of course. No way could Toby have foreseen what was going to happen with his kids. Even at his craziest, his most devious-minded moment, Toby wouldn't use his son's death as a catalyst for getting back at Chris for his part in Operation Toby. Not to mention that the little prick would have to be putting on one hell of an act if this pathetic, woebegone look was all fake.

And, maybe born of some streak of emotional masochism, Chris wanted to believe Toby had not lied with those sweet touches and kisses. If he was going to be here for the rest of his life - Yeah, right, big if, he thought with a wry smirk - it might help him endure to have those few memories to draw on in the bleakest times. Or would remembering those snatched moments of joy with Toby only guarantee the bleak times would never lift?

Anyway, even if Toby had spoken the truth and nothing but as he touched Chris' body, Chris cherished no illusions of what it signified to the other man. For the little while it lasted maybe it had meant something to him, but when this was over, when Toby got his parole and walked out of Oz and back to his life, Chris knew he would be forgotten. Toby'd meet some nice girl, get married again, maybe make some more babies, and if he remembered Christopher Keller it would be as some aberration unique to the circumstances of prison life. That was as it should be, of course. It was only that Chris wished it could be as easy for him to forget Tobias Beecher ever happened.

Not that he was going to admit that to anyone. No, to all intents and purposes, all Chris cared about was observing the steady tumble of his clothes in the dryer.

Fine. If Chris wasn't going to say anything then fuck if Toby would, either. They could stand here and ignore each other till doomsday for all he cared. Firmly resolved to that, Toby crossed his arms, too, and tried to project his own air of indifference towards the man standing a scant two feet away.

Sadly, he wasn't even fooling himself.

He slanted a cautious glance at the other man, drinking in the familiar, unmistakable profile. Nothing soft or yielding in those sharp-edged, planed features. No, for softness you had to look into those changeable blue eyes. You had to be quick sometimes to catch a vulnerable moment, a flash of hurt, an almost shy smile that could make you forget you were caged up with one of the world's deadliest creatures. They were softest of all after sex, drowsy with love and contentment, making him think Chris might purr with smug satisfaction if Toby softly stroked that lean, sleek flank.

And as for yielding... Against his will Toby's gaze went to Chris' lips, finding it treacherously easy to remember how they felt against his own, how they brushed and supped at his mouth, enticing kisses from Toby as if Chris' whole existence depended upon them. A memory flashed through his mind, Chris stroking his hair, saying, `You realize we've only kissed once? In all these months - once. It's all I've been thinking of, kissing you again.' Even then, as angry, hurt, and suspicious as Toby had been, he had been effected by those soft words, tempted by that unexpected plea. He had been prepared to guard against, deflect the other man's clumsy, crude advances; the tenderness had shaken him, kept him off balance and all the more defensive around Chris.

Toby couldn't remember anyone ever just wanting to kiss him. Couldn't think of another instance when just that touch of lips had been so incendiary. Gen's kisses had never made him feel like that alone could make him come. But Chris' did - had. Hell, all Chris had to do was look at him, hunger smoldering in those blue eyes and making Toby feel like he was the sexiest, most desirable thing in the world, and Toby would be rarin' to go.

Hating himself for being so pathetic, Toby couldn't help the silent plea that welled up in him, wanting to beg Chris to look at him like that again. To make him feel that wanted and needed. Hating himself most of all for having thrown it all away, for having so little faith. How could that ever make any kind of sense, that he told Chris he loved him, meant it, and had never felt anything but loved and cherished in return, and yet be such a willing co-conspirator in destroying everything between them?

It couldn't, it didn't, it never would.

And feeling really, really sorry about it didn't make a fucking bit of difference.

Aware of Toby's scrutiny, uncomfortable with it, Chris broke the silence to demand, "What're you lookin' at?" Once upon a time he would have welcomed Toby watching him. During that long, uphill struggle to win him back, Chris had taken what encouragement he could from catching Toby in the act of looking at him, assessing him. As long as he had Toby's attention, after all, that had to mean possibilities were still in the air. His confidence had wavered now and then, Chris could admit that to himself, but had only been seriously rocked when Toby's interest had seemed to shift at last, to Said and his half-assed words of wisdom. Of course Toby didn't see it that way. What had he called it - synchronicity? Something like that, saying how if he hadn't cozied up to Said and gone to forgive Vern, all the rest of it might not have happened. Of course all the rest of it, at that point, had only been him and Toby finally getting between the sheets. Chris had a feeling Toby wouldn't be so keen on that synchronicity bullshit now, after how it had all played out.

And now, where once he'd gotten a little thrill by catching Toby watching him, now it just got on his nerves. He couldn't tell what was going on in the other man's mind anymore, couldn't tell what he was feeling.

Toby's reply didn't help a lot. "What am I looking at?" he said, a nasty little note of derision in his voice. "Nothing. Not a damn thing."

Yeah, well, looked like they finally agreed on something. `Nothing' was exactly what Chris Keller amounted to. He flashed on a weird memory, one in a long line of psychiatrists, psychologists, whatever, who tried to make out they were going to help him. This one'd had a really great idea: Chris was supposed to make a list of all his qualities in these two columns, "Good" and "Bad." Filling up the "Bad" column had been a piece of cake; after staring at the other one for what felt like forever, though, the only thing Chris could think to write there was Good fuck.

That guy'd been even more useless than Sister Pete. Like talking ever made a difference, ever helped. Like you ever really knew if someone was telling you the truth anyway.

Was it still a lie if it was what you wanted to hear? Chris wondered, his thoughts returning to that New Years' kiss. He'd asked Toby, then, if it was for real, because Toby wanted it to happen, or was it just some screwy sense of obligation: Chris'd saved his life, so he'd let Chris fuck him and they'd be even? Toby had insisted that no, this was real, it always had been; he'd never stopped loving Chris, wanting him. And he was tired of fighting it; he wanted them to start with a clean slate, everything out in the open now. And with Toby in his arms, kissing him more sweetly than he'd ever imagined, Chris had bought it, believed it, thought he had finally found what he'd been looking for all these years. What did he need with God's love, or anyone's, so long as he had Toby's?

And now? Chris looked at the man beside him, noting Toby looked too thin, his hair a little straggly, sky blue eyes looking at something a million miles away. Looking so lost. Chris couldn't pretend that didn't get to him, that even now he didn't have the urge to take the other man in his arms and try and soothe his troubles away. He wasn't going to give into it, though, not again. He couldn't, wouldn't risk his heart again. It just wasn't worth it.

And Chris wondered which was the bigger lie now, that - or his telling Mondo he didn't care what went on between him and Toby.

Not that anything had gone on. Chris had to smile, knowing he wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it for himself: Mondo putting the moves on Toby that night while Chris watched, unable to look away even though it had been killing him, knowing he was either going to see Toby give himself to another man, or get raped. Chris had been about as surprised as Mondo, though, when Toby'd come completely unglued at Mondo's touching him, beating the crap out of Mondo before the hacks got there and dragged them both off to AdSeg.

Chris would have liked to think Toby's reaction was because he only wanted Chris touching him that way. But that was too big a leap of faith for him to take now.

Sister Peter Marie wasn't liking the view in the mirror much these days, especially as it was increasingly accompanied by a scornful echo of, `Hell hath no fury, huh, Sister?' Never mind the road to salvation being a straight and narrow one; this one she had to navigate now, towards a kind of atonement, that was the real doozy. Sister Pete spared a rueful smile at that thought as she checked the time, not wanting to be late for this staff meeting. Her first steps along that path would begin there, for one thing.

It had been...comforting, laying the blame for her crisis of faith on Chris Keller. To cast him as a kind of incubus, making her doubt herself on every level, and tempting her with carnal longings that were supposed to have been long banished. How else to explain the urges he provoked, flattering her vanity, skewing her perceptions so that she actually believed herself desirable to an attractive, much younger man. That she wanted his attentions and flattery. What other explanation could there be for the treacherous flash of jealousy she had felt, as she realized Chris' only intent had been to soften her up and win her sympathy, so she would aid him in his true objective: winning the love and devotion of Tobias Beecher.

`Do you know what it's like to want somebody? To long for them? And I'm not talking about sex. Just to touch them.' Oh yes, she knew. And Sister Pete blushed, remembering how she had longed to touch him, how - God help her - she might have actually stood there and let him kiss her, if that had been his intent, if Sean Murphy hadn't come to the rescue.

Only it wasn't her he longed for - and that was maybe the worst thing of all. Taking her envious resentment out on Tobias as well, disguising it as concern for his well being. She remembered Tobias coming to the office, after the lockdown had ended, noting how he seemed more content and at ease than she had ever seen him. She'd told herself, then, that it was pity she felt for him, at his being such a willing participant in whatever hateful scheme Chris was hatching now. She had reveled in her sense of superiority, too: she had seen right through Chris Keller and figured out what made him tick, while this poor, confused, lost soul was walking around without a clue. She had even thought it would serve him right when he got his comeuppance, when Chris broke his heart again; that he would be lucky if that was all that got damaged. All those books on the market about women making poor choices in their mates - someone should write one about Tobias and call it Smart Men, Foolish Choices, Sister Pete had thought, then, unwilling to admit that she had been profoundly tempted to the same choice. That she wondered what it would be like to genuinely have all of Chris Keller's attentions focused on you. To be desired by him.

Tobias had wounded her vanity in a different way with his insistence that he understood Chris far better than she ever could. `I know better than anyone the hurt he can cause. But, still, I love him.' She had wanted to demand why, how he could give himself to this monster and stand there claiming it was love. She had wanted to tell him it was a bizarre infatuation, a misguided sense of obligation. If Chris had saved his life, it was only because Chris expected to get something out of it - expected Toby to offer himself up in reward.

Chris wasn't capable of loving anyone. She had been so certain of that, hearing the self-loathing in his voice. `I am worthless. A piece of shit. As bad as they come.' And yes, she recognized he was reciting a lesson he had been taught over and over in his life. She had spared some pity for him, at that moment, wondering how differently he might have turned out if only someone had not gone to such meticulous pains to teach him that he was without value, undeserving of any kindness let alone love. That had to have factored into her reaction, too, professional pride fueling her desire: she could help him, she could reach him and heal those old wounds. The worst thing was acknowledging that maybe she really could have, if spite and resentment hadn't worked their way into the mix. Whatever undercurrents had been swirling around, she had achieved a rapport with Chris. His objectives may have been questionable, but he had opened up, revealed a few layers of himself.

Well, she didn't know how much good she could do now, if it was a case of too little, too late, but she had to try. She had to start making amends for how she had treated Chris and Tobias - for their sake, and yes, for the care of her own soul.

Because two images kept haunting her: Going to the library, and seeing Chris and Tobias at one of the tables, heads bent together over some book, whispering. Tobias seemed to be showing Chris something, helping him. He'd laughed at something Chris said, eyes sparkling with tender affection. The look on Chris' face had been what brought Sister Pete up short, though, the warmth in his eyes, his smile as he looked back at Tobias, as if he was gazing upon something wondrous and infinitely precious to him. It hadn't been poisonous jealousy spiking through her then, but - for lack of a better word - a sense of epiphany, a sudden realization that whatever she thought, Chris Keller's feeling for Tobias were something real. Rare and unlikely for him, maybe, but real. She had watched them awhile longer, noting the sidelong glances, the surreptitious touches. She had expected to witness something overtly sexual from Chris, something that was meant to mark Tobias as his. Instead, the interaction she saw was almost...innocent, sweet, even. Nothing remotely like a sexual predator and his victim. Feeling like she was intruding on something private, she had left before they noticed her, but that image had lingered, refused to be banished, reasoned away.

The other image was more recent, less specific to time and place. Tobias coming to work, for instance, doing everything expected of him, but with a sense of just going through the motions. Sister Peter had told herself that was only to be expected, that it was his grief for his son manifesting itself. She hadn't wanted to admit, yet, that there was more to it, that while Tobias mourned and ached for his lost son, he also longed for his lover to comfort him, to help soothe that pain. And she most definitely had not wanted to see the desolation in Chris' eyes, the soul deep hurt so expertly masked by a lifetime's experience of donning the expected persona.

She couldn't say why now, today, it had suddenly become unendurable. It just was, and she had to do something to correct it. Something to atone.

`What does the love of God feel like, Sister?' She couldn't answer Chris then, wouldn't; too smugly secure in her certainty that she had been touched, singled out, and that only special people could ever know how that felt. Well, she had been right on at least one count there, she knew now. What she had forgotten in her self-righteous piety was that God's love was all-encompassing, and that if anyone was `special' it was those lost and searching souls, like Chris Keller.

What did it feel like? For Chris, Sister Pete suspected he felt the love of God whenever he looked into Tobias' eyes.

What was he looking at? "Nothing. Not a damn thing," Toby said, seeing only bleakness stretching out before him. It was hard, now, to remember how his life had once been filled with so much promise. There had been other modifications along the way, of course, as early ambitions smacked into life's realities. Like: he was a good lawyer, but probably not destined to be an especially brilliant one.

Like: he and Gen were happy, they had a good life, a comfortable one. Yet, sometimes, with increasing frequency in those last couple of years, he had felt a vague dissatisfaction, like there ought to be...more. Weren't you supposed to make love because you couldn't keep your hands off each other, not just because it was Thursday and there was nothing good on TV? When they had made love, too often Toby had gotten the feeling Gen was only doing her wifely duty, that she wasn't getting much out of the experience.

Maybe that had been his fault, too. He'd thought about that a lot since getting involved with Chris, having to admit that he wanted, desired the sexual intimacy between them. How could he not wonder if perhaps that had been the problem all along, that things were only `nice' with Gen because what Tobias Beecher really wanted to go to bed with was a strapping six-footer who could fuck him through the mattress? Toby still didn't have an answer to that one. Off hand he couldn't recall any specific homoerotic urges prior to encountering Christopher Keller. But, even if Chris was the total embodiment of raw sensuality, wasn't it empowering him just a little too much to suppose he possessed the ability to transform your sexual orientation on the spot? Although Toby didn't doubt the man's ego would be nicely puffed up at that notion.

Thinking that, Toby stole another look at Chris, wishing he could tease him about that. Wishing so many things. Just to know what was going on behind that impassive exterior. He had flattered himself that out of all the people who had been a part of Chris' life, he alone had been granted the privilege to understand Chris Keller, to know what he was thinking, what he felt. The saddest thing was there was probably some truth to that. Toby had formed a pretty solid impression that Chris didn't confide in too many people; that it always took him a little by surprise when he had allowed Toby some rare and intimate glimpse.

Those flashes of insight were seldom all warm and fuzzy, though. Usually Toby had been left aching for the other man, longing to soothe the pain Chris so glibly glossed over. Almost grateful Chris didn't, quite, tell him the whole story. A memory came to him from those two weeks in lockdown. How in a particularly gooey moment - metaphorically gooey, he amended, surprised he could dredge up a smile at the thought - he'd dug out the cards the kids had made him for Christmas, wanting to show them to Chris, share that with him. He'd babbled on about Christmases past in the Beecher household, how magical this time of year had been when he was growing up and how, no matter what else was going on, he'd made a point of recreating that for his children. Just before he could start feeling too sorry for himself, he'd looked over at Chris and asked what he remembered most about the holidays. To judge by Chris' expression he may as well have asked him to describe the tribal culture of headhunters in Borneo, it was that alien to him.

He'd shrugged after a moment, saying Christmas hadn't been any big deal in the Keller home. He kind of remembered his mom putting up decorations one year, but... Shrugging again, Chris had tried to change to change the subject but Toby hadn't been able to let go of it, pressing for details about Chris' parents - where were they, why didn't they ever come visit?

Looking uncomfortable but resigned, as if he believed Toby would just keep picking at it until he'd been appeased - and Toby did not like to think how true that was - Chris had said, `Mom died when I was ten, some kinda cancer or somethin'. I just remember her getting real thin.' His voice, manner, had been sort of detached, like he was relating something that had happened to somebody else. Toby had learned that usually indicated just how difficult, painful, something really had been for him. `I came home from school one afternoon and found out she'd been taken to the hospital. Next thing I knew I was watchin' her get buried. My old man married again, a couple years late, some nympho half his age. When they weren't fightin' or fuckin' she was screwin' anyone else she could get her hands on.' Another shrug, dismissive. `Haven't seen or heard of either of them in years.'

Toby had been shocked to find himself hoping they were both dead, and that it had been something really horrible, because what Chris hadn't said was far worse. `Screwin' anyone else she could get her hands on.' Including her twelve-year-old stepson? He hadn't asked, hadn't wanted to hear that confirmation or make Chris have to dredge up anything so poisonous.

Maybe that was him being nave coupled with the horrific vision of his own children being preyed on like that, maybe a lot of guys would consider it some kind of badge of honor to lose your innocence that young and to an older woman. Turning another thoughtful look on Chris, though, something told Toby it didn't rank as one of Chris' fondest memories. It was probably ridiculous to be troubled by it, something that happened so long ago, but he couldn't help wondering how life might have gone for Chris if someone, sometime, had given more of a damn about him. If it hadn't been drummed into him that he was only good for one thing.

He sighed, knowing it was futile to dwell on what ifs, mourn for all the might have beens. Of course this, the laundry room, was probably the wrong place to avoid getting ambushed by the past, Toby considered with a wistful smile. Hardly a classic romantic setting - but it had worked for them. Sometimes he wondered if it had really been the way he remembered, walking in here feeling all warm and fuzzy, ready to admit that this guy, this Chris Keller had him all tingly and giddy with love.

"Somethin' funny?" Chris asked, and Toby blinked, banishing the rose-colored image he'd conjured up of the two of them locked in that first embrace.

"Not funny, no, just..."


Toby shrugged. "Just memories." He looked at Chris, knowing he was insane to even mention it, but, "Do you ever think of it? That first time we kissed?"

For a moment he thought Chris would just ignore him, that watching his clothes tumble in the dryer was of far greater interest to him. Then Chris said, not looking at him, arms still folded over his chest, "What if I do?"

"Don't know. I guess it's just...good to know I'm not the only one it mattered to."

Chris looked at him then, an aggrieved look in his eyes. "Yeah, cuz we all know you're the only one whose feelings matter."

Toby returned his own injured look. "That isn't what I meant. That isn't what I said. Fuck," he pushed away from the table, moving to face Chris. "What is it with you and this...sensitive psycho shit?" This wasn't what he wanted to say, not by a long shot, but he was so goddamned tired of tippytoeing around. If they really loved each other there shouldn't be anything they couldn't say. Wasn't that what that "For better or worse," bullshit was about? "I said I was sorry. I begged you to forgive me. You want me to throw in some groveling, too?"

And he might have known Chris would zero in on one word and ignore all the rest.

"Psycho?" Chris glared back at him, brows lowering over stormy eyes. "You believe those FBI assholes?"

Toby sighed with frustration. "For the last fucking time, no. I knew they were wrong about you being involved with the kidnapping--"

"Yeah? You didn't have any trouble believing it from Zabitz."

"Look, I am sooo sorry I happened to be out of my mind with grief at the time. I know I screwed up." Toby reached out to touch Chris, feeling like he'd been punched in the stomach as the other man flinched away from him. "Chris, please, I gave you another chance. Can't you give me one? Can't we start over?"

Shooting a cautious sidelong glance at the other man, Chris was puzzled at the goofy little smile on Toby's face. What the hell was there to be smiling about? "Somethin' funny?"

Toby gave him a startled look, like he'd drifted off for a minute. "Not funny, no," he said. "Just..." He trailed off like he wasn't sure what he wanted to say.

"What?" Chris prompted, wondering what could ever put Toby at a loss for words.

"Just memories," Toby said after another moment, turning to look at him. "Do you ever think about it? That first time we kissed?"

Whatever Chris had been expecting him to say that sure as hell wasn't it. After all this time, all the water under the bridge, what was the point of bringing that up now? "What if I do?" he replied, and wondered why Toby couldn't ever just leave things alone.

Did he ever think about that day? Fuck yeah. It's my memory too, isn't it? Everything had changed in that moment, hearing Toby say he loved him, feeling Toby's hands on him, Toby's lips kissing him back. That hadn't been part of the plan, Toby springing a surprise on him like that. But then that whole day had been fucked up. Chris still didn't know why getting that letter from Bonnie, telling him she'd gotten married again had gotten to him so much. Ego, maybe. The sting of knowing she'd found somebody who could give her more than he ever could. `Nobody'll ever fuck me like you did, baby,' she'd actually written that, probably thinking he'd like hearing it, `but I need more than that. Things you couldn't give me, or Angie or Kitty, even if you weren't going to be locked up for the rest of your life.' And he'd really needed to hear that, too, to be reminded that he wasn't ever going to see the outside again - just see the sky, feel the sun on his face. One more person telling him he was real good in the sack but pretty much useless otherwise had really hit the spot, too.

Even so, getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself had been pretty stupid. Yeah, as opposed to all the really brilliant shit I'd done up to that point, he thought. If he hadn't been dumb as a rock in the first place he never would have landed here, right in good ol' Vern's lap. Right back where he'd started.

He remembered thinking that as Toby had walked over to him, how he wished this could all have been something real, just him and Toby, nothing to do with Vern-fucking- Schillinger, because Tobias Beecher wasn't like anyone he'd ever known. It was way too easy to forget he was supposed to be pursuing an agenda and just enjoy the time with Toby. And that day, Toby seeking him out like that and looking so damned good with that beard gone - all of a sudden it hadn't been a game anymore and it didn't have anything to do with Vern. It was just him and Toby, for one instant there, with Chris feeling like he'd finally found the reason he was alive in the touch of Toby's mouth.

Chris guessed it stood to reason, too, that he would find what he'd been looking for here, in prison, when it was way too late to matter anymore. Where, even if he and Toby had been able to hang onto it a little longer, he would still have to watch Toby walk away, out of his life one day.

Why'd Toby even need to ask about that? Chris wondered, casting another look at him, feeling a resentful pang of disappointment as Toby said, "Don't know. I guess it's just...good to know I'm not the only one it mattered to."

"Yeah, cuz we all know you're the only one whose feelings matter," Chris heard himself saying in reply, knowing he probably sounded put out, resentful. But - how many times had he told Toby he loved him? How many times had he shown him how he felt? It wasn't ever enough, though, not to wipe out the doubts and suspicions Operation Toby had left. Chris knew that was his fault, that there wasn't any way he could really make that up to the other man. He'd tried the best he could, tried to help him with his grief - Yeah, like bringing him a fucking orange was gonna make him feel better. - but knew he was poorly equipped to handle what Toby'd been going through. And if Toby still wasn't sure how much it had all meant to him, Chris didn't know what else there was to say or do about that.

Toby was giving him a hurt look now, though, moving around to face him. "That isn't what I meant. That isn't what I said. Fuck." He looked mad, too, sort of frustrated. "What is it with you and this...sensitive psycho shit?" he demanded out of the blue.

"Psycho?" Chris repeated, glaring back at him. "You believe those FBI assholes?" Fuck. They had it all wrong about the kidnapping, sure, but oh yeah, they must be right on the money about Christopher Keller being some serial killer? Shit.

Toby's sigh matched the frustrated, angry look in his eyes. "For the last fucking time, no. I knew they were wrong about you being involved with the kidnapping--"

That a fact? "Yeah? You didn't have any trouble believing it from Zabitz," Chris returned, still smarting about that, that Toby would be so quick to believe some little lying weasel like that.

"Look, I am sooo sorry I happened to be out of my mind with grief at the time," Toby shot right back. "I know I screwed up." He reached towards him, but Chris couldn't help flinching back, half expecting a blow. Toby's face sort of crumpled up at that, though, blue eyes bright with tears. "Chris, please," he said, pleaded, "I gave you another chance. Can't you give me one? Can't we start over?"

Chris meant to say, `No, go fuck yourself,' - or something like that. So he sort of startled himself by actually saying, "Toby, what's the point? Even if we did - this ain't goin' nowhere."

"Why does there have to be any point except that we love each other, Chris? As for it's going anywhere..." Toby shrugged. "Nobody ever knows that anyway." He came a little closer. "I know I hurt you, believing Zabitz, accusing you of Gary's murder." His eyes welled up again. "If I could take that all back, I would. Just like I know you'd change things, too, if you could."

Chris gave him another startled look at that. He knew that? Toby knew he wished they could have just...met, fallen in love, without any Operation Toby hovering there between them? "Toby--"

Toby was very close now, close enough to touch, and Chris didn't flinch from him this time as Toby's fingers grazed his cheek, his ear, brushing through his hair. He closed his eyes as Toby's lips touched his chin, the corner of his mouth. "I love you," Toby murmured between kisses, voice and lips so soft. "Please let me, Chris. Please."

Chris slipped one hand around to caress Toby's nape, playing with the baby fine hair there. His other hand curved around Toby's shoulder, his back, pulling him even closer as Toby kissed him so sweetly. "Toby... I love you, Toby," he whispered back, sighing as he felt Toby's arms go around him, holding him, losing himself in the heaven of Toby's mouth.

"Hey! What's goin' on in here?" an authoritative voice barked, and they parted to look over at Sean Murphy's glowering countenance - and Sister Pete's blushing one.

Oh fuck.

Oh my, Sister Pete thought, feeling much too warm all of a sudden at the sight of the two young men so passionately entwined, kissing as if their lives depended on it.

"Hey! What's goin' on in here? For Christ's sake, you two," Murphy was saying as he separated Chris and Tobias, "in front of a nun?" He gave Sister Pete an apologetic look. "See what I mean, Sister?"

She saw, and she understood that rules were rules, but... "I'm sure there's an explanation, Sean."

"Oh yeah - they were givin' each other mouth-to-mouth resuscitation," Murphy returned, shaking his head. "You sure about this, Sister?"

"As sure as I've been in a long time," she told him.

"Okay. I'll be right outside," he said, aiming another stern look at Chris and Tobias before taking up his watchful station right outside the door.

Sister Pete glanced at him, then focused all her attention on the two men watching her with undisguised curiosity - speculation in Tobias' eyes, wary suspicion in Chris'. "We need to talk," she said.

"Do we?" Tobias said, no welcoming warmth in his manner at all. "You don't think it's a little late in the day for that?"

"Tobe," Chris put a hand on his shoulder, "don't be like that."

Tobias turned a surprised look on him. "Chris, she turned her back on you out of spite. And she wasn't exactly there for me, either."

"That was my fault," Chris said.

"Chris," Sister Peter took a step closer, "no, it wasn't. I," she took a deep breath, still not wanting to admit this but knowing she had to, "let you manipulate me. I let you take control of our sessions. And Tobias is right, I acted out of hateful spite towards you - and harmed Tobias, too, as a result. There is no excuse for any of that."

"Sister Pete--" Chris began, but Tobias put a hand on his arm, quieting him.

"Let her talk," he said, still watching her with cold curiosity. "I want to hear what she has to say for herself."

Chris gave him a censuring look. "Toby, you don't talk like that to a nun."

Sister Pete had to suppress a smile; obviously Tobias hadn't informed Chris of just what he had said to this particular nun. "It's all right, Chris. He has a right to his feelings."

"Maybe," Chris said, giving Tobias a dubious look, "but he doesn't have to be a prick about it."

Before Tobias could respond to that - and to judge by the look on his face he had a particularly choice comment on the tip of his tongue - Sister Pete stepped in before this got out of hand. That was the last thing she wanted. "Both of you be quiet. This is difficult enough without you two squabbling."

"So?" Tobias said, tone neutral, but blue eyes challenging her to present a damned good case.

Chris shook his head as if deploring his friend's behavior, and looked at Sister Pete as if to say, What can you do?

Sister Pete couldn't help reflecting that this was an interesting insight into their relationship. On the face of it, a person would suppose Chris was the dominant partner, but something told her that when push came to shove it was Tobias who called the shots. Nor did that appear to be a problem for Chris. She couldn't help thinking there was some calculation behind that, some instinct telling Chris that's what Tobias needed to be comfortable in this relationship. It was a little startling to realize she didn't automatically see some kind of malice lurking behind his actions, however. That had to qualify as progress.

"Before we do anything else, Tobias, there's something you need to know," she said. "Maybe you should sit down for this."

He went pale, looking like he really needed the support of the arm Chris quickly slipped around him. "Oh Christ, now what?"

"No no no," Sister Pete hastened to reassure him, mentally kicking herself. "I'm sorry - it's not bad news, Tobias. Just the opposite."

"Yeah?" he said, leaning against Chris, aiming a skeptical look at her.

"Yes. Hank Schillinger's made a deal with the prosecutors."

"And that's supposed to be good news?"

"Tobe--" Chris tightened his hold on Tobias, restraining him, looking at Murphy watching them.

"Tobias, he's given them a statement implicating Vern in the kidnapping and murder."

Tobias sat down then, looking a little dazed. "He rolled on his own father?"

"Oh man," Chris said, "wouldn't you love to see Vern's face when he gets the news?"

Sister Pete felt she ought to deplore their pleasure in the misfortunes of another - but that would require a level of hypocrisy she hoped was beyond her reach at even the worst of times. "I'm told he didn't take it gracefully."

"I'll just bet he didn't," Chris said, looking down at Toby. "You okay?"

Tobias looked up at him, nodded, something almost like peace in his eyes. "Getting there, yeah."

Chris nodded back, laying a hand against Tobias' neck; Tobias reached up to curl his own fingers around Chris' wrist as they locked eyes again. Sister Pete forced herself to look away, once more feeling like she was intruding something intimate. Catching sight of Sean Murphy's frowning face, she shook her head at him when he would have rapped on the glass to interrupt.

After a couple of moments they both seemed to recollect where they were, however, and who was watching them. Chris drew his hand away, but remained standing beside Tobias as they both trained inquiring looks at Sister Pete.

"All right," she said, taking a deep breath. "Now, I have a question for you both," she said. "Am I right in thinking you've reconciled?" She waited a few moments, watching them give each other a, You say it first look. "Well, don't everyone speak at once."

"We're working on it, Sister," Tobias finally admitted, aiming a look at Chris that dared him to contradict him.


"Yeah, we're working on it, Sister."

She nodded. "Good." That should make this a lot easier than she had anticipated.

They both gave her surprised looks, Chris a little more taken aback at her apparent endorsement of their relationship. Sister Pete knew exactly how he felt. She had wrestled with this a long time, knowing what church doctrine said, and yet finding herself questioning the wisdom of denying anyone their right to love as they chose, as their hearts led them.

"Then, Tobias, if Chris agrees to it, would you want him to move back into your pod?"

Tobias drew in a sharp breath, shooting a quick look at Chris. "Yes."

"Chris, do you want that?"

He looked at her, at Tobias, conflict showing in his eyes. "You really want that, Toby?" he asked, a kind of hopeful hesitation in his voice.

"Yes," Tobias said, reaching up to touch his shoulder, letting his fingers trail lightly over the tattoo there as if once more forgetting Sister Pete was there - or not caring.

Chris seemed equally oblivious, having eyes only for Tobias. "Okay."

Tobias nodded, holding Chris' gaze a moment longer, before making a visible effort to look away and say, "But Querns was pretty adamant about keeping us apart, Sister Pete. Don't tell me he's had a change of heart."

She shook her head. "Not a change of heart - a change of vocation would be a little closer."

Eyes narrowed, Tobias asked, "What do you mean? What's happened?"

"There's been a little shake up," she said. It seemed to be a day for that, although she still couldn't quite believe how quickly it had all happened. She had arrived at the staff meeting to find Leo Glynn stating that, `It's been brought to my attention that I've had my head up my ass lately - well, that's changing as of now.' First, Querns was out as head of EmCity, and Tim McManus was back in - `Do you want the job?' Leo had asked.`Letmethinkaboutityes!' Tim had replied, and everything else had tumbled into place like dominoes. Her request about Chris moving back in with Tobias had practically been the least of it all, and Sean Murphy had posed the only real objection, mostly on the grounds of, `Sister, rules is rules.' Her assertion that Chris and Tobias would behave themselves had been met with a look of total skepticism from the Corrections Officer, but he hadn't made an issue of it.

"So," she told them, "if you behave yourselves, there shouldn't be any problems." Sister Pete fixed them with a stern look. "I've given Tim and Murphy my word there won't be anymore fighting between you two. Can I count on that?"

Tobias looked back at her, unfazed. "Just no fighting?"


"I just want to be clear on this," Tobias said, looking at Chris.

"No, you just wanna be a pain in the ass about it."

Tobias smirked at that and Sister Pete got the feeling it was time to change the subject before she became privy to far more information than she needed.

"Chris," she looked at him directly, suspecting this was going to be the hardest part, "I want you to think about resuming our sessions. You need help," she added, watching as his posture changed, becoming more rigid, arms folding defensively over his chest - nor did she miss the annoyed look Tobias shot her before training a concerned one on Chris. She wasn't going to be deterred, though. She couldn't be. "If you can't trust me, Chris - and you have every right not to - I will make arrangements for you to talk to someone else. Will you at least think about it?"

He gave her a guarded look, glanced at Toby, shrugged. "Maybe."

"All right." That was probably the best she could expect, right now. She was certainly in no position to insist on anything. It still needed time. That was something they had a lot of, however. "In the meantime, and this isn't optional, I want you back in the group." Sister Pete wasn't surprised at his quick nod of agreement: Tobias would be there, too, after all.

Toby tried not to pace his cell, tried to sit and concentrate on his book, but as it got closer and closer to lights out and still no sign of Chris, his resolution to not pitch some kind of hissyfit was getting a lot more difficult. Had McManus decided against the move? Had Sister Pete gone off and had another change of heart, deciding she'd been right the first time? Maybe Chris'd had one? Toby paced over to the wall, looking up to the pod Chris had been exiled to these last weeks, trying to catch a glimpse of him there. Unless he was deliberately keeping out of Toby's line of sight - and why should he do that? - Chris wasn't there, either.

A rap of knuckles against the door startled him, and Toby turned, eager to greet Chris at last, more than willing to pull him close and kiss him breathless in front of God and everyone - but it wasn't Chris. It was Said, looking like he wasn't too sure of his welcome.

"Beecher? May I come in?"

"Sure." Toby stood, waiting to see what the other man wanted to say, hoping it wasn't going to be another injunction against men loving men. He wasn't too sure what he believed in now, whose version of God and truth and salvation he bought into - a really rebellious part of him kept wanting to demand where anyone got off thinking they owned the exclusive rights to God, anyway - but if he felt a conviction about anything it was that a just and loving God would be a little more preoccupied with the myriad ways human beings hated and destroyed each other, than with the kind of love he'd found with Chris.

"How are you feeling?" Said asked, sounding like he really wanted to know.

"You mean about Schillinger?"

"Partly, yes."

Toby shrugged, not sure he'd really absorbed it all yet. Seeing the report on the news, Vern being transported to a federal prison to await trial on the kidnap and murder charges, the orange jumpsuit making him look sickly, had helped make it real. But... "I don't know. Even if he's convicted, even if he fries for it," and, God help him, he wanted Vern to fry, "it won't bring Gary back, it won't end Holly's nightmares." Or his own. He sat down on Chris' bunk. "You know I come from a long line of bleeding heart liberals?" he said. "It was just lip service, though, least on my part, including the being opposed to the death penalty part. It's easy to be fair minded, I think, when you want for nothing. Noblesse oblige, and all that crap. Now I look around here, at men I would have walked right past on the outside for all my high-minded concerns about the less fortunate, and the...the sympathy, the compassion I feel for them isn't just politically correct hypocrisy anymore. These men are something real to me; some of them, they scare the shit out of me, but others - I could call them friends. And I've learned just how much darkness exists inside me. I know I'm no different from any of them, not exempted from anything because of the privilege of my birth." He looked directly at Said. "I love a man I probably wouldn't have met under any other circumstances. I don't know what I believe in anymore, but I do know hardly anything is black and white, that justice and fairness is far harder to achieve in reality than they teach us at law school. That no sentence the state imposes really washes anything clean."

"Maybe that's why, ultimately, it's all in the hands of a higher authority," Said replied.

"Maybe. All that eye for an eye stuff, though..." Toby shook his head, not wanting to admit he'd thought about that, that maybe Gary's life had been taken to balance out some cosmic scale. Toby had taken the life of an innocent, Cathy Rockwell, and justice demanded an innocent in return.

"Don't stop looking for answers, Tobias."

"Even if I look elsewhere?"

Looking like he sort of surprised himself, Said told him, "We have to find our own paths, the one that rings the truest to us. And - mine may not be yours."

There seemed to be a lot of enlightenment going around today. Toby wondered if it was something in the water.

A sudden flash of movement outside caught his attention, though, and he stood, going to the door and watching as Chris finally - finally - crossed towards him, carrying his few personal effects. Predictably all eyes followed his progress, knowing glances passing between one inmate and another - O'Reily'd probably had a pool going - as Chris reached Toby at last, sending a brief, insolent look at Said before focusing all his attention on Toby.

"Can I come in?"

"Yeah," Toby said, moving aside to let him by.

Said couldn't seem to help fixing a disapproving look on Chris, and had his mouth open to say something, but Toby spoke first--

"Kareem - don't. My path, remember?"

Said didn't look happy about it, but he let it go, nodding curtly at Chris and aiming a faintly despairing look at Toby as he exited the pod. Toby closed the door after him, wondering if this was the sort of thing everyone else had to put up with as just one of those things, your friends and family disapproving of the person you loved. That hadn't been a problem before, with Gen, his mother had practically picked her out for him, after all.

And he couldn't help it, he had to laugh at the thought of who had set him up with Chris.

Chris paused in the midst of stowing his stuff to give him a wary look. "You know, you standing in the middle of the pod laughing to yourself could worry a person."

Still smiling, Toby took the few steps forward that brought him right up to Chris. "I was just thinking of the one thing we can say in Vern's favor."

"And that would be...?"

Toby let his hands rest on Chris' shoulders. "Well, he's a hell of a matchmaker - you have to give him that."

"Yeah, I can just see him running some dating service," Chris deadpanned back.

Toby laughed again and was about to lean in to snatch a kiss when Murphy thumped on the door and yelled for them to knock it off. Aiming a dirty look at Murphy, and a regretful one at Chris, Toby moved out of temptation's reach. It wasn't long till lights out, after all. And then...? Toby wasn't sure, to be honest. When he had awakened this morning it had been with no expectations beyond what was shaping up to be another in a long string of empty days, just going through the expected motions. `They're just givin' each other mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,' Murphy had said, and maybe that wasn't so far off, because that touch of Chris' mouth, his body pressed so close, had breathed life back into Toby. Filled him with renewed possibilities.

He could only hope the feeling was mutual. That Chris was here because he wanted it, too, not just because he thought that's what Toby needed, wanted. Because - and Toby was a little ashamed to admit it had not always been the case - what Chris wanted and needed was kind of important, too.

As final count was called and the lights went out, though, Toby lay in his bunk, alone, wondering if everything was going to work out after all. The third time was supposed to be the charm, right?


For a moment, lying there in the dark, Chris was tempted to ignore that soft voice. In the long run that had to be the smartest thing, the safest course. But then, when had this ever had anything to do with being smart or safe?


"Why are you down there?" Toby asked.

"Don't know."

"Can you take a wild guess?"

Chris smiled. "Haven't had an invitation, have I?"

"Oh, well, pardon my manners," Toby shot back. "Mr. Keller, would you please get your ass up here?"

"Well, when you put it so nicely..." Chris slipped out of his bunk, cast a quick look out into the darkened quad, then climbed up beside Toby, settling into the space the other man made for him. Propped up on an elbow, he watched Toby, wondering what happened next. He wouldn't put it past Toby to just be in mood for some snuggling and pillow talk. Not that Chris minded that. Which was kind of strange, now he thought about it. His ex-wives - the problems had always started when the sex was over and it was time for talking, that's when Chris realized there was nothing else between them, nothing to say. Beat him how that made any sort of sense, though, him having nothing to say to Bonnie, or Angie and Kitty, but no problems like that with Toby.

"What are you thinking?" Toby asked, stroking a thumb along his jaw.

"Dunno." Chris closed his eyes for a moment, absorbing the feather-light touch. Nobody had ever touched him the way Toby did, he was something precious, fragile, even. Which was nuts, of course, but Chris could never seem to object to Toby's handling.

"Hmm, you're just a big bundle of uncertainties tonight, is that it?" Toby said, and Chris opened his eyes to confirm the smile he'd heard in the other man's voice.

That wasn't so far off the mark, Chris thought.

Looking more serious, Toby said, "Do you really want to be here?

What? "Toby--"

"Because I need to know you're not just doing this because you think it'll make me happy. It does - but that's not the point."


"Because it isn't true, what you said before, about mine being the only feelings that matter. If that's how it's felt to you, before, I - I'm sorry. I never meant to make you feel like that, like you, your feelings aren't important." Toby cupped Chris' cheek as he leaned in to tenderly kiss his mouth. "Do you know how much I love you? How much it means that you accept me and put up with me?"

Chris waited a moment as Toby watched him, searching his eyes. "So - you done?"


"Toby," Chris pressed two fingers over his mouth to quiet him, "do I act like I'm here against my will? Yeah, you're a self-absorbed prick sometimes, but--"

"Oh thanks a lot," Toby said against Chris' fingers.

"But that's just part of the package, Tobe. It ain't like I'm any kinda prize, either." He slipped his hand around the back of Toby's head, threading his fingers through that silky, red-gold hair, bringing him close for a kiss. "I love you, Toby. That's something I'm sure of." Aww, fuck - he hadn't meant to make Toby cry. "Don't. Toby, shh." Chris pulled him even closer, catching the tears on his lips.

After a moment Toby eased back a little, sniffing as Chris brushed the last tears away. He smiled a little sadly, catching Chris' hand and pressing a soft kiss to the palm. "Chris, I don't ever want to be like everyone else--

"Everyone else?"

"The people who said they loved you, but only hurt you," Toby said, and Chris frowned at that, wondering why Toby had to ruin things by bringing up the past.

"Because that's not love," Toby went on, touching his face again. "This," he kissed Chris' lips, softly, sweetly, chaste almost, "is love."

Chris tried to turn away, to hide the tears he felt brimming in his own eyes, but Toby wouldn't let him. He held Chris still and kissed his eyelids, the damp lashes, tasting the tears before finding Chris' mouth again, sipping at his lips, teasing his tongue between them and into Chris' mouth. Settling back against the mattress, Chris enfolded Toby in his arms, pulling his lover over him, rubbing his hands over Toby's head, down his back. He pushed Toby's t-shirt up, needing to feel skin - biting back a cry of protest as Toby deserted his mouth, sitting up to get the shirt all the way off and toss it to the floor. Chris looked up at him, laying his hands against Toby's chest, fingering the hard little nipples. He had to taste him there, suddenly, and leaned up to press his lips to one bud, flicking it with his tongue, sucking, hearing Toby's little gasp of pleasure, feeling Toby's fingers stroking his hair, clasping Chris to him.

Chris kissed a lazily path upwards, along Toby's neck, along his jaw, pausing to nip at an earlobe. "You sure you want this, Toby?"

"You notice me trying to beat you off with a stick?" Toby sank back on the mattress, drawing Chris down with him, looking into his eyes. "Chris, this is about the only thing I am sure about right now." He laid his hand alongside Chris' face, idly brushing the hair at his temple. "Do you believe me?"


Toby sighed. "You could sound a little more convincing, you know."

"Toby... " Chris turned his head, kissed the inside of Toby's wrist. "What do you want me to say? That I believe we're going to live happily ever after, grow old together? Like you said, we got right now. That's enough."

Not for Toby, though, going by the sad look in his blue eyes. "You really think I could walk out of here tomorrow and, and just forget you?"

Pretty much, yeah, Chris thought. He couldn't say that, though, and just shrugged.

"You're wrong," Toby said, caressing his shoulders. "You're so wrong about that."

"Toby - what, you're gonna wait for me?"


Chris gave him a Be serious look. "Even assuming I live to make parole, we'd both be in our fucking eighties when I got out."

"So, we'll pop some viagra and, you know, see what happens," Toby said, pulling up a smile.

And Chris couldn't help smiling back. "You're nuts."

"Umm, yeah, I think that has been firmly established. And like you've got the market cornered on sanity."

"Nah, couldn't have, could I?" Chris replied, catching Toby's hands, threading their fingers together as he pressed them against the pillow. "Not and love you like I do," he added, lowering his mouth to Toby's again.

"Not and love you like I do," Chris told him, and Toby closed his eyes as he kissed him, settling between his legs. He wished he could offer Chris comforting words, promises that they would make a life together outside Oz, but he knew Chris wouldn't believe him and didn't want to hear empty platitudes. Of course that didn't mean Toby had to relinquish any such twinges of optimism. His present position was pretty much all the proof he needed that miracles did happen, after all.


A sigh. "Toby?"

"And you really do forgive me?"

"Toby, geez," Chris raised up to give him an exasperated look, "you just gotta beat everything to death?"

Toby traced a finger over Chris' collarbone. "Part of the package, remember? I mean it, Chris, I don't want to tell you I love you in one breath and then," he bit his lip, forced the words out, "and then accuse you of horrible things in the next...try to kill you."

"Toby..." Chris brushed his fingers through Toby's hair, sighed. "It's like you said, you were out of your mind with grief."

"That's no excuse. I should have known better. I don't know why I listened to that little weasel. Why I let everyone try and poison what we have."

"Maybe cuz you're afraid of it?" Chris suggested.

Toby looked up at him, surprised. "You know that?"

"'Course I know that, Toby. You never expected something like this, somebody like me. It never would've happened at all if Vern hadn't got it moving. And," Chris hesitated now, dark blue eyes clouding, "that didn't exactly start in the best way possible, did it? Everything between us - it started as a lie." He looked away, adding, "Why shouldn't you think I'm capable of anything?"

"You know I told my parents about us? Told them we were lovers, that I knew you intimately." Toby shook his head and smiled, a little sadly, as Chris looked back at him, a little taken aback. "I think that's only beginning to really be true. I don't know why you love me, Chris; even in here, I think you could do a hell of a lot better. But I really want us to try again, I really want us to get it right this time. You think we can?"

"Well," Chris rewarded him with a smile, the kind Toby always felt was reserved exclusively for him, "I know one thing that'd help a lot."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"If you would learn when to shut the fuck up," Chris told him, effectively cutting off any possibility of retort by covering Toby's mouth with his own.

Yeah, I can do that, Toby thought, groaning softly as Chris' tongue teased his lips apart. Whether Chris liked it or not, though, they weren't done talking, there was still a lot to resolve, but - Ohmygod - maybe it could wait... "Chris...Chris..." Toby squirmed blissfully under his lover's attentions, feeling deliciously tormented by that way too skillful mouth that kissed a path down his neck and chest, intent on discovering erogenous zones Toby hadn't even known he had. It was funny, that first time, New Years' Eve, he had been so nervous - Chris, too; Toby remembered him trembling, asking if this was all right, and did he like that - not sure what to expect, never in a million years imagining Chris would turn out to be such a foreplay junkie. He had fully expected Chris to just - pounce; that this part, the physical intimacy, was just the price that had to be paid in order to be close to Chris. Toby hadn't expected to like it, to crave it; Chris hadn't given him any choice in the matter, though, coaxing him along so patiently, until Toby had thought he'd...die, or spontaneously combust, or...something, if he didn't feel Chris moving inside him.

The technique might vary a little, the mood might shift, but every time had an echo of that first one, like they kept rediscovering each other. Like nothing else in the world mattered right then. `Loving you, Toby,' Chris had confessed once, holding him close, whispering the words against his ear, `it's like a...a sacrament.' It was the sweetest, sappiest - scariest thing Chris had ever said to him.

Toby knew exactly what he meant, though. It was like that old wedding vow - With my body I thee worship. He suddenly wasn't sure he had ever shown Chris that, however; the odds were probably good he hadn't, in fact.

No more, he thought, maneuvering around until he had Chris on his back, looking down into indigo eyes that watched him a little warily, a little wondering. Toby smiled at him, hoping Chris could see in his eyes how much he was loved. "Just let me love you, Chris," Toby whispered, brushing his fingers through the short, dark hair, leaning in to rain soft kisses all along the handsome, beloved face.

Covetous. That's what he felt; he coveted this man, yearned for him and resented all the others who had touched him. Or maybe he should pity them for never knowing what they had? All the more for me, he thought, unapologetic in his greediness as he kissed Chris' mouth before proceeding to a lazy journey along Chris' body. He lingered a long time over sensitive nipples, memorizing - again - the taste, the sweat and soap and skin tang unique to this man; the sweet sound of his gasps of pleasure, cries of pleasure swallowed and bitten back so as not to attract attention. Toby longed to make him scream, as much as he ached to when Chris was driving him crazy. He just longed to make love with him somewhere private, no one getting their voyeuristic jollies from watching them, no more worries about getting caught and punished.

He rubbed his cheek against Chris' stomach, feeling Chris' fingers combing through his hair. Dipping his tongue into Chris' belly button, Toby glanced up to catch his lover throwing an arm over his mouth to contain the laughter that had bubbled up. Toby grinned, and couldn't resist blowing a raspberry on his stomach.

"Toby--" Chris hissed at him.

"Well, somebody's ticklish, aren't they?" Toby teased.

Hooking his thumbs in the waistband of Chris' white boxers, Toby tugged them down over slim hips and long, long legs, tossing them away. Somebody was also in need of some more direct attention, and Toby applied himself accordingly. He really hadn't expected to like this, having another man's cock in his mouth. What had been so ugly with Vern, though, was transformed into an act of the most intense intimacy with Chris. Chris was young and beautiful, and Toby loved him, and pleasuring him like this was nothing like the ordeal he had expected. He felt powerful, in fact, knowing he was the reason Chris was unable to keep still, unable to catch his breath in anything but little gasping sobs. And the taste and feel of Chris' orgasm was a revelation, that powerful body so completely surrendered to him.

"Toby," Chris' voice was soft, breathless, as he tried to drag Toby up, "c'mere."

Toby stubbornly resisted for a moment, but then slid back up, into Chris' arms.

"Umm," Chris kissed him, tasting himself on Toby's lips. "God, Toby, you been taking lessons?"

"Yeah - from the best," Toby said, looking into his eyes.

That earned the predictable smug smirk. "Yeah, bet they don't teach that at Harvard."

"Well, it would be a hell of a popular course if they did," Toby said, smiling back, resting his head on Chris' shoulder, breathing in the scent of him.

"Feels like there's some unfinished business here," Chris said, pressing his hand over the front of Toby's boxers, feeling the hard length of cock, the damp cloth.

"Yeah." Toby nuzzled Chris' throat, feeling Chris take the boxers off. This, yeah, this was how payback should feel, he thought as Chris loved him.

Maybe they were insane, but - Toby looked up into Chris' face, feeling the love between them - this felt better than any kind of sanity he'd ever known. Putting his arms around Chris, he drew him down, kissing him, being kissed back, like they could never get enough of each other. Like being in each other's arms was where they both belonged.

It felt a lot like heaven.

To love another person
Is to see the face of God.

--Les Miserables, the musical


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