by Alexa C.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses
Summary: ... as we forgive those who trespass against us.Notes: Published in Contraband, 1999. Originally Internet-posted May 10, 2000. Woven through the canon events of S3. Beta by Heph.
I. Thy Will Be Done
He had known Toby would break, but he thought he'd be able to help pick up the pieces.
And now Chris Keller stood in the darkness of an Em City midnight, watching his would-be lover - his ex-lover - on his knees in a pod a few yards and a million miles away, face a chiaruscuro mask of pain as Tobias Beecher prayed for the love of God. The kind of love Chris had let slip through his own fingers, acknowledging his damnation and the loss of grace only hours earlier in Sister Peter Marie's office, under the eyes of another martyr - one twisted and broken on a cross instead of a gym floor.
Unconditional surrender. Unconditional love.
They had told him that God's grace was inexhaustible, but what did that mean when even the people who were supposed to love him couldn't manage it?
I'm a piece of shit. I am worthless. As bad as they come.
He had mouthed the words at Sister Pete, but in reality, he was nothing more than an oracle, speaking for those other voices he could still hear, rooted so long ago that the very process of digging deep enough to pull them out threatened to crumble the soil around them. Tell a child anything long enough, and he'll believe it. If they couldn't love him, then who could?
He had thought he had a chance this time, thought he had proven himself. "Go fuck yourself," Beecher had said. And Chris had, again and again, fucking himself as he threw himself on his sword under the hard glare from Metzger in the pit as he demanded to see McManus, under the incredulous, disgusted gaze of Tim McManus himself as Keller poured out his sins, under the knowledge of what Vern would do in response to the betrayal.
Fucking himself as he threw himself against the wall of ice Beecher had used to try and freeze Chris out.
Because even as Beecher had smacked and pushed him away, lips saying no, the other man's body had unconsciously said something else. Instincts built up over years of observation, of searching for the clues that would give him insight and an edge had shown Chris a different truth, spoken in a quick blue glance at the lips that had once moved against Beecher's own, in a voice that shook as the other man's resolve had been shaken.
So Chris kept pushing, pushing, pushing, and all the while the apology, a well-rehearsed formula - "I am sorry. What I did was wrong. And I want to make it up to him." - was ultimately ignored, just as it had been all those years ago.
Sooner or later, everyone failed the test. Sooner or later, that grace was exhausted, forgiveness withheld.
Forgiveness. Was that what he was looking for, spilling out his guts on Sister Pete's desk in some kind of confessional?
He had forgiven Toby.
He could still feel the stunned shock of knowledge like a cattle prod, his heart spasming, gut clenching, muscles loosening like water in the aftermath of a convulsion of fear and pain. He hadn't wanted to believe, not until Beecher - Beecher, yes, no hint of Toby, Toby wasn't coming out to play anymore, despite Chris' beseeching plea, Toby, was it you? - until Beecher had looked at him with gleefully cold eyes, malevolent voice laying claim to the deed.
It had meant nothing when he believed Schillinger had done it: tit for tat, as Ryan O'Reilly would - sort of - say. Business, check and balance in the log book. But Vern had planted the first seed of doubt with his cool words in the infirmary.
If it'd been me, you'd be dead.
Who wanted to keep him alive to play with?
I'm going to do a shitload more than that.
Reality splintering, noises of Em City echoing hollowly around him as his world narrowed to the knowledge of what Beecher had done, had confessed to. Raped long ago by flesh, now raped again by steel - and worse, by words - body aching from the violation, but the pain of the soulfuck worse. Cold, so cold that it burned, the way Vern's cock had burned that first time, playing out the power games.
Taste of blood and ashes in his mouth, and it had been heart's blood this time, not the iron-salty, cloying muck he had spewed out after the attack, staining the white sheets of the stretcher with a puddle of viscous red. He had confessed his love, and he had been stabbed in the back.
Was that how Beecher had felt looking up at him from the gym floor?
But there had still been those cracks, those fissures in the facade that Chris had set his fingernails in and tried to rip open, ripping Beecher apart in the process.
Are you saying you did it for us?
Beecher's incredulous voice in the mess hall, in the aftermath of Operation Andy, before he made it clear how badly Chris had miscalculated helping Toby along a path that had shattered him again, leaving the other man grasping for some kind of cleansing. He had done it for them, but not the way Beecher thought. He'd had his own tangled motives for Operation Andy as much as he'd had for Operation Toby. It had been a simple thing at first, a desire to worm his way back into Beecher's good graces until a blow to the face in defense of young Andrew Schillinger had left Keller more poleaxed emotionally than physically. And then Beecher's later challenge when Chris had called him on it ... It had to look legit. Like Mark Mack's nose.
You little bitch, Keller had thought. You really think you can pull this off? Go ahead, see how it feels. See how it all feels. Got a little boost of confidence from our meeting in the storage room? Try betraying an innocent this time around. See if you keep your taste for it. See if you like feeling how I feel. Let's see you try it, because I couldn't even manage that - still trying to see if I have what it takes with Sister Pete - so I know your punk ass can't pull it off.
And a simple gesture had put Beecher on the path of his prey, fucking aiming him at the kid and waiting for the resulting explosion.
And it had come.
Because Beecher might have learned from the best, might have had weeks lying in a hospital bed to go back and pick apart the plan of attack that had taken him down, to study all of Keller's moves with 20/20 hindsight, but there had been one thing Keller had been incapable of teaching him.
Don't fall for the fucking mark.
II. Forgive Us Our Trespasses
They'd told him that hell was the absence of God, and God had abandoned him.
Hell was cold, a depthless ache inside him, a void where he'd kept his hate in place of the tumor God had been - the tumor he'd cut out. Now, Tobias Beecher shivered on his knees in an empty pod filled with ghosts as the void screamed to be filled.
He'd made his bed in hell, wrapping the cold around him like a mantle to freeze out the searing pain of hands and cocks and feelings that poked and prodded and cut deep into his flesh and his heart, scrubbing against him like steel wool on raw wounds. Don't let them touch you, and they can't hurt you.
Rage resurfaced, kindled again, but this time it was held in an iron grip of control, narrowly focused, the twisted alchemy creating a machine.
A killing machine.
Power and invulnerability and flat affect as he refused to be touched by the pain of others, even the innocent whose blood had been shed by a monster.
Do you know the family?
His own voice, small and tinny in his ears, brushing off Augustus Hill's disgust over an entire family slain, over the brutal deaths of children who could have been Beecher's own.
Then why are you so bent out of shape?
Why do you care?
Why care about another child, hardly innocent? A mirror held up, reflecting the child and the father and the man, exposing the monsters who'd killed him.
Not the first time he'd killed, not even the first time he'd killed a child. The first time, he'd been out of control, slipping and sliding, losing his grasp on his life until the body of Kathy Rockwell brought him up short with a sickening thud and crunch.
But the second time he'd killed ... He'd known exactly what he was doing, watched from outside of his own body, pulling the strings like a puppet master and viewing the results with a frozen detachment, like a cheap movie with bad special effects. No mistake this time, no accident, just Tobias Beecher taking hold of his own life by the throat, clinging to control tooth and nail and stepping over the detritus that littered his path.
He had learned fast that it took a lot to kill a man. When he first came into Oz, he'd been shocked to see Miguel Alvarez emerge from the infirmary, scarred from the knife blade but walking, breathing. Now, he'd seen enough to know that some men didn't die easily.
He'd counted on that. Because sometimes, death was too kind an escape.
The struggle, a hard body jerking against his own, fueling the pounding search for satisfaction. Time slowing as the blade pinned his prey with a wet, slick sound, hard steel sliding home in a sheath of flesh. Brief resistance then a curious give as he buried it, thrusting deep - once, twice - and the warm gush, the spill of blood over his hand, slippery-hot and viscous between his fingers, still not warming the space inside him, the cold, dead blankness. He could bathe in an ocean of blood, let it wash over him in a wave, and not have to worry about the hot flush of shock or shame.
Walking away without a backward glance at the limp body in the storage room, and then standing back in the pod, cleaning the blood off his hands, a rusty red stain that had settled into the lines - life line, heart line - scored into his flesh by genetics in the womb. Studying himself in the mirror.
Is this who you are?
Better this than a victim, again.
Power and invulnerability, and wasn't it better to reign in hell? He'd taken back the manhood he'd been twice tricked out of, taken out his manhood in the only currency he'd learned to exchange in Oz, inflicting it on the mind and body of Vern Schillinger's proxy in the mortal, immoral combat of this prison. A man again, in a way even Vern could understand, would have to acknowledge.
Andrew's limp body nestled against him, slack in sleep, still hot and damp from the sickness of withdrawal, cradled against Beecher's chest, fever warm and pulsing with blood the way Beecher's own children had been when he'd held and comforted them through an illness. Curled against him like some scruffy, bedraggled kitten pulled off the street - a kitten whose neck Beecher would wring before tossing the body out to be torn apart by a predator who would recognize another man's scent on his spawn.
Cheap, easy cruelty. Shooting fish in a fucking barrel. How dumb was this kid, anyway?
I wanted to thank you. For hitting that guy.
"That guy" who just walked out of my pod, cupcake? My cellie, my roomie, my podmate? My partner in crime?
And nothing had turned him from his path, no finger of conscience or remorse, no flush of guilt or shame. Not until he'd seen the achingly empty pod when the hacks had stripped away the last of Andrew's life, leaving Beecher alone with the demons and the ghosts who tried to creep into the space left hollow now that his rage and bloodlust had been slaked.
Left empty. Cold. Abandoned.
Abandoned by God, abandoned by everything. Hating himself and what he'd become, driving Chris away with shoves and harsh words and tantrums - bitch - because the other man was just another mirror where he saw his own twisted reflection.
I'm a piece of shit. And if I'm a piece of shit, you must be, too. Is this how you felt? Did you even care? I hate myself for being able to do this. And I hate you for being able to do it to me. And I think about that every time I see you, and it hurts. GO AWAY.
The cold was too deep inside him, and he didn't know if he'd ever be warm again.
Shivering on the floor, body cramped and chilled from hours on his knees, he reached out blindly for the comfort of God's notice, like an infant thrust shockingly out of the safe, comfortable womb, wanting only a haven to be cradled in.
Because even Lucifer - that bright, shining angel who'd fallen in hubris to reign in hell - even he could be redeemed at the end of time.
Forgive us our trespasses ...
as we forgive those who trespass against us ...
III. Lead Us Not Into Temptation
To be forgiven, he must forgive.
It was the hardest lesson to learn, to believe, to live. Not wanting to admit that like called to like, blood to blood, bound inextricably in a knotted, tangled three-fold cord.
He craved forgiveness like a drug, like a shot, like a hit of that sweet fire that had crawled through his veins in a parody of forgetfulness. Forgiven but never, ever forgotten.
It was a start.
And guided by another hand, a hand that daily reached out for God's touch, Tobias Beecher had stared into the chaos, tried to own it, claim it, call it brother. Tried to accept in another man what he wanted to reject in himself. If he consigned the other man to hell, wasn't that where he, himself, belonged? There was no smashing this reflecting glass, no kissing himself goodbye in this mirror. He had to claim the reflection as his own, accept it, forgive it. Love it as he wanted to be loved, as he wanted to believe he deserved to be loved.
I love you.
Hubris again, thinking he'd moved on, when in truth, he'd frozen himself atthe starting line - a lesson brought starkly home not by Kareem Said, but by Vern Schillinger, the man who'd always doled out the most painful lessons and humiliating truths. Beecher had offered words of apology in a gym redolent of old sweat and blood and animosity, cut himself open on the same altar where he'd been sacrificed for another man's pride, hoping it would ease the ache in his soul, until he saw himself in the other's face, rage in every deep-cut line.
How the fuck could you ever make that up to me?
His own thoughts, spewed back at him from a Nazi bastard's mouth, and the mirror was mocking him again. His apology thrown back at him like so much dross.
That's supposed to even the score? And make everything OK between us?
Echo of his own silent screams when he had looked at the man who asked for his forgiveness. Forgive, yes, not forget - but forgetfulness hadn't been asked. Only the chance to move on, to make atonement and move forward. It would have been a start. But he'd crippled himself as surely as he'd kept clinging to that damn cane, wearing his martyrdom like a badge of honor.
Poor, poor Beecher. Maybe if he was pathetic enough, people would feel sorry for him.
How the fuck could you ever make that up to me?
It's a start.
But there was no start, no moving on, only an endless circling dance around a singular point of pain that he'd used to anchor himself, to give himself control. To give himself power and invulnerability. He'd reached out to embrace Schillinger when he'd spurned another man who'd asked for forgiveness, shoving him away again and again because of his own terror of losing control.
He couldn't surrender himself again. He remembered his own cracking voice, like something out of the bad B-grade movie that had become his life, the Beecher-in-jep feature of the week.
I can't trust myself anymore. My fucking feelings ...
The warning flare of understanding, the knowledge that if Keller had taken one step forward, had reached out and touched him, placed warm hands on chilled skin, it would have been the end, glacier calving and shearing away, avalanche of defenses breaking down. Tiny fissures already showing, now growing and exposing the weakness he hadn't been able to cover entirely.
He hadn't been able to help that little downward glance in the midst of pouring hatred and frustration, after smacking Keller's hands away and finding himself pressed against the wall, hearing the desperation in the other man's voice - I did what you asked ... - and feeling the press of that body, powerful thighs against his own, fists clenched in his shirt. A sudden sickening lurch of twisted sense-memory - Chris' scent filling his head, wall of heat and force driving him backward in the laundry room, the sweet-sharp taste of alcohol burning his tongue and the taste of blood where he'd bitten his lip as Schillinger pressed him down, down into the mattress, crushing him, suffocating him. Pushing back, striking out with a sharp tongue intended to cut as deep as the knife had thrust, but he couldn't help that glance, tiny flick of eyes down to Chris' lips, remembering, wondering what they would taste like this time if Beecher gave him the kiss he was asking for.
Shoving him away with words, with the last twist of the knife Beecher had saved, the kitten's sharp claws worrying its already wounded prey, admitting that the bloody scores across the other man's body and heart were his own work. Using the same defense he'd used when he'd called Keller bitch or threatened to kick his ass, the little verbal kicks and blows he'd rained on the other man that Chris had steadily ignored as if the abuse meant nothing.
Starting again in the computer room as Keller's warm breath caressed his ear, as mobile lips brushed against his cheek.
Shoving the other man back again, always back, never moving forward, taking flight like a startled rabbit.
And now he was facing the knife, being forced backward, on the defensive, and this time he wouldn't give in, wouldn't give ground, he was stronger than that ...
Liquid pain, a brand in his side, marking him, but the sharp shock of recognizing himself in the face of his attacker bit deeper, driving him back into an ignominious sprawl, and had he finally paid for his sins?
Had they all paid for their sins?
Chaos breaking loose around him, and Said's voice echoing down a dark tunnel, bellowing Beecher's name, and somewhere in the distance a klaxon was blaring, but Toby's focus narrowed to a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, and he turned his head to see Chris moving in, time slowing as the other man swung his hand back, glint of metal sharp and deadly. Tangled mix of emotion - disgust, admiration, misplaced amusement, didn't the guy ever give up and how the hell did he find the courage or the stubbornness or the sheer foolishness to keep moving in, to keep moving forward? A sudden sucking gasp for air lanced white-hot through Beecher's body, and he looked down to see the blood staining his sweatshirt, crimson pool slowly spreading. He'd been wrong again - this wave of blood was warm, was hot, searing as it painted his side and pumped out of his body to spread across the floor.
And then strong arms around him, cradling him, supporting his head and pressing hard on the wound, slowing the river of blood, and a body curled above him. Keller moving in, warm breath caressing Beecher's ear and lips brushing against his forehead as the other man muttered what could have been a curse or an accusation or a prayer.
"Jesus, oh, Jesus."
And Beecher reached up and curled his hand around the other man's back.
It was a start.
IV. Deliver Us From Evil
A touch of grace was all he had to hold on to, all he had to anchor him.
Adrift in unfamiliar territory, Chris Keller met Tobias Beecher's eyes across a gulf dividing them - metal railings and empty space promising a shattering fall with one false step, and fears, both old and new - as the other man, newly released from the infirmary, emerged from McManus' office.
In the gym, he'd moved instinctively, with no thought for the consequences or what he could gain, only concerned with protecting Toby and with hurting the person who'd hurt the man he loved. Later, alone with his solitary thoughts, locked in a tiny room with only himself for company, he'd been shaken by the knowledge.
There was no guarantee he was going to get anything out of this. There'd been no guarantee he'd get anything out of that maddened flight to Beecher's side - although there was the potential he'd get a world of hurt out of his detour to bring down his former master, his Mother Superior, breaking with the old religion, sloughing off the old gods, leaving the old beliefs for a new faith.
Faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Wandering lost in the wilderness, he was a supplicant, offering himself without assurance that he'd be given anything in return. Beecher had pushed him away again and again, every time he'd tried to force his way through the barriers.
But the path to Toby's heart had never been marked by force, had it? Every time he'd thrown himself against the wall, he'd been thrust back, equal and opposite reaction, flung away as he'd run his hands down the damp heat of Toby's body to touch the hardness of him, thrown aside as he'd pushed the other man against the wall in frustrated longing after his return from protective custody, propelled back as he'd tried to snatch a kiss in the computer room. Beecher's voice as the other man had watched Chris pound the computer in irritation, trying to make it bend to his whims ...
That's not how you do it.
Grace had to be asked for, had to be petitioned.
Floundering confused and out of his depth, moving in a world where there were no simple equations of give and take, where the prison economics he'd learned no longer applied. And afraid, terrified of giving himself over to the man who'd spurned his offerings, trying to drive him away with blows and angry words, like trying to discourage a stray dog that didn't know when to give up.
But he didn't know how to give up. He craved it, like a drug, like a shot, like a hit of the sweet fire that crawled through his veins when he touched Toby, when Toby touched him.
Do you know what it's like to want somebody? To long for them? And I'm not talking about sex. Just ... just to touch them.
And Toby had touched him, there in the gym.
Chris hadn't tried to grab, to take, only offered himself, petitioned that touch of grace.
A simple touch that mitigated the fear, made him brave - or foolhardy.
Giving up power and control to the one man who could truly hurt him, who had hurt him. Schillinger had never really touched him, never reached inside him, grabbed his guts and his heart, no matter how many times the older man had run his hands over Chris' body or thrust a cock into him or demanded loyalty and respect. Chris had let Vern think he was in control, and all the while, he'd held his own agenda, twisting Schillinger's schemes to suit himself, to gain power - from the very beginning.
Topping from the bottom.
Chris understood instinctively, brain-deep, gut-deep, cell-deep, the way Beecher needed to grab his life and shake it, make it bend to his whim, rather than be buffeted by whichever wind blew. Remembered the fear of helplessness, trapped under Vern. Told when to sleep, when to eat, when to piss, when to bend over and take it. The driving need to claim the integrity of one small corner of your being, to exercise some kind of control.
Now, Chris was in freefall, no thread of control to hang on to, no safe word, no life vest to keep him from sinking in the stormy sea if the waves closed over his head and dragged him down.
Because Toby needed control.
So Chris would give it to him. Because it was the only way to bring Beecher back, the only way to keep the other man from flinging himself against the bars of the cage, beating himself bloody in an attempt to escape.
Trite saying on a poster in his high-school guidance counselor's office, bird against blue sky where Chris had wished he could have flown as he tuned out the drone telling him again that he was worthless, that he would never amount to anything ...
If you love something, set it free ...
And now calling a faint, first hail to land as Beecher emerged from McManus' office, forcing skin and bone and muscle to remain brutally casual as he leaned against the railing, made small talk, tried not to show the itch that threatened to drive him toward the other man, threatened to spook Toby into flight again. Navigating the alien landscape he found himself in, waiting for Beecher's move, ignoring the need that screamed at him not to turn away, not to turn his back on the other man.
Your move, Toby.
The quiet, heart-breaking sound of his name in Toby's shaking voice, a kind of formality dropping into place, and that was OK, too, because it was more honest somehow than the forced intimacy in the computer room when Keller, himself, had scoffed at Beecher's use of his first name. A realization and an acknowledgment that maybe they didn't know each other as well as they'd thought. And maybe it was time to learn each other, time to start over from the beginning.
"I asked McManus to let you be my roommate again."
... if it comes back to you, it's yours.
The first step, acknowledgment and success and reward bound together, hispetition heard, his offering accepted, his fear assuaged.
A touch of grace.
V. The Power and the Glory
They had only kissed once.
Just once in all those months, and now days and nights of chastity were behind them, sleeping apart as they took those tentative steps back toward each other, the courtship ritual beginning, the mating dance starting anew as they slid again into the familiar routine, touching, talking, moving with and against each other in increasingly familiar patterns. Sometimes bruising, sometimes flinching - What the fuck was that about?: Beecher's voice, knife-sharp edge of anger trying to flay the man who wouldn't come to heel, who had stayed to listen to Vern, working the angle - but wearing down the edges until there was some approximation of fit.
And now, as the lights shut down on an Em City midnight, Keller wondered how much he was giving away, trying to wash away the the sins of the past and the uncertainty of the future, catching a glimpse of Beecher in the mirror, lying in his bunk, too tense to be truly sprawled, but waiting, watching. A cat-quick flick of a pink tongue across the other man's lips, as if he could eat Keller up, and Chris clamped down on sudden doubt, the question niggling at him: What would his sacrifice, his offering cost him? How much would Beecher demand?
Heart held captive, hostage for good behavior, and how long would the leash be? What would Chris eventually do in the name of expedience that Beecher couldn't live with? His own words to Sister Pete, the bride of Christ, echoing in his head - would the love of God leave his bed cold?
... not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately ...
Quiet thump as Beecher slid down to land on his feet, and the blond man felt the impact jarring through his body, singing in bones that still ached and a wound that still throbbed with the slow pulse of blood under his skin, a constant reminder. A sharp, silvery frisson of fear etching itself along his nerves, doubt and self-doubt drawing him taut as wire - could he trust this? Could he trust himself, his own worst enemy, to give into this, laying him bare again?
Steadying himself, leaning back against the bunk for support as he watched Keller turn toward him, met the other man's eyes, watched him approach. A slow few steps across the tiny pod, across a chasm, and Beecher knew what those steps cost, knew the courage it took to make them, remembering his own steps in another glass-walled room, wrapped in the clean scent of detergent and a blanket of humidity from half-dried clothes.
Bone-deep weariness suddenly pervading him, and he dropped his eyes from Chris' searching gaze as the aftershocks of months of guilt and pain and rage dropped on him like the lingering effects of a hangover even as the poison drained out of his system, leaving him worn and bruised, tension snapped, energy sapped. Reaching out a hand, he touched the other man, felt the weight and heft of him, real and solid, heart drumming under Beecher's palm, heat and blood coursing through veins, the fantasy Toby had believed in and lost now made true again and lending him strength ...
... give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault and to seek each other's forgiveness ...
Heart held in Beecher's hand, Chris closed his eyes and let that touch wash through him, surrendering himself to it, feeling the heat of the body only inches away wrap around him and revitalize him. Transubstantiation, communion and union, fire along his nerves tempering him, changing him by virtue of that touch.
This was what he'd needed, what he'd craved and fought for so desperately, willing to run roughshod over anything - and anyone - in his way. He rested his forehead against Beecher's, trying to assuage the turmoil he still sensed in the other man, closing the circuit to lend Toby some of his own new-found strength.
Let go, Toby, let me in.
Reaching out again to curl around the other man, fingers automatically moving to the spot where he'd held Toby's life in his hand as blood washed over them in the gym, trying to stanch the flow and hold Beecher together. The flinch stopped him cold, and he pulled back, hesitant, just far enough to study the shadowed features where pain still sketched itself under the surface of lowered eyelids and skin drawn tight across cheekbones, seeking permission for the continued hold.
Too fast, too soon? Had he overstepped the bounds already, hitting one of the tenderest spots through the defenses that Beecher had built up and was only slowly letting down?
... for better or worse ...
An instinctive flinch as Chris' hand pressed against the wound in his side, ghostly pain lancing through him and the specter of another man - an infernal matchmaker - in the pod with them, and Beecher suddenly felt every single one of the marks that had been left on his body and his soul flare. Squirming away from Chris' touch ... moving back again ... and he caught himself, determined to stand his ground this time, to be strong in the face of the pain.
Leaning again into the other man's hands, feeling the hot throb of blood under the half-healed flesh, a corporeal reminder like a pinch to assure he wasn't dreaming, grounding him as the pain had always done: yes, it's real. A dull, sick ache, like pressing on a bruise, but holding it long enough, keeping the touch steady enough, let you to move through and past the pain, to reach the point when releasing the hold, allowing the blood to rush back in, would hurt more.
A reminder of past mistakes, not forgotten, but maybe - finally - forgiven, not wiping the slate clean, but time to write a new chapter, to stop tracing the same harsh words and wounds over and over.
He glanced up at the other man, reading the familiar features with an ease few could master, seeing the concern and the hesitation.
First step forward ...
He reached up and drew Keller in.
... that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt ...
A first tentative kiss, soft brush of lips and warm breath mingling, and Beecher pulled him in further, hand coming up to stroke across Chris' cheek, delicate touch feathering along the bone, urging Keller on. Deeper then, the taste of Toby on his tongue, filling his mouth, forbidden fruit that brought salvation rather than damnation - half-remembered and never forgotten from that single kiss they'd shared, a glimpse of paradise before his fall. Wet heat fluttering against his palate as Keller pressed himself against Toby, gathering him into a cradling embrace. Body and blood, breath of life, the syncopated rhythm of his heartbeat with the other man's, so close both were thudding in his own chest.
Wanting to feel that heartbeat, needing to feel Toby's skin against his own, to have the other man's touch envelop him, and he pulled away, breath hitching, to study Beecher's face again as he ran a hand under the T-shirt, palm cupped against dampening flesh. No resistance as he stripped away the cloth separating them, shivers chasing themselves across his back as the heat of Beecher's hands moved away to pull free of the tangle of white cotton that was pushed back to reveal the sharp little features and tousled hair dark in the shadows.
And then that touch returned to stroke across Chris' shoulders, down his chest, tugging free his shirt to reveal flesh to hands that marked him, branded him, sealed him, and he pulled the other man against him as he bent, lowering Toby onto this strange marriage bed they had made for themselves.
... if it comes back to you, it's yours.
Fingers delineating sharp angles, a shoulderblade, a collarbone, arch and curve of ribs exposed by the ravages the thin body had endured. Nothing lush about Toby's body now, except for the satin feel of the skin itself under his fingertips, pulled taut over bones. Bestowing light kisses down the golden-furred stomach, pause for a quick flick of his tongue at that tiny cup of flesh, the indentation of Toby's navel, as his hands smoothed over the edge of a waistband, rough cotton protecting the tender skin beneath. Feeling fingers slip through his hair and watching the small, involuntary roll of the hips under his hands as he knelt on the bed and stripped away the last interfering layers of clothing, a deadly serious game of touch and response, and any other man would have felt his senses - and his patience - stretched to the breaking point, but it was second nature to Chris now, to approach and to wait for permission, to approach and to wait for permission, a supplicant waiting for that touch to grace him, allow him to move onward.
Can I touch you here?
Can I touch you here?
Can I touch you here?
Tracing the lines of the other man's body, mapping the tender spots and the wounds that needed soothing, sensing the reactions of the body under him through his own skin. Feeling the sudden tautness as he moved back up to press quick kisses along the underside of a fresh-shaved jaw, hips notched into strong thighs and the curve of the other man's pelvis, his hands skimming down lean arms to tangle Beecher's fingers with his. A barely aborted struggle as the body under him tensed in an instinctive, panicked response to his weight, and Toby's voice was strangled in the gloom.
"Chris ... I can't ..."
... each to the other a strength in need ... a comfort in sorrow ...
Can't breathe, can't move, can't escape ...
Longing for some notice, some recognition of his existence - I want Him to know me. To know I'm here. Still in this place ... - and suddenly he had found himself the focus of absolute attention, of the conscious study he'd been searching for. Sheltered in the palms of two hands that touched him, molded his body, shaped it inside a womb of comfort and caring, breathed life back into him and resurrected parts of himself he had been afraid would stay cold and dead in this icy hell of glass and metal and stone.
Chris' tickling tongue and firm, careful fingers, breath and fire infusing cold clay with spirit, moving down his body to tease a nipple, smooth across the shivering skin of his belly, draw harsh, panting breaths from his lungs as he felt the heat spread, filling the void, pooling in his groin and the small of his back - heat that couldn't be dissipated by the caress of cool air against him as the other man leaned back, freeing them both from the last confines of clothing.
Sweat-slick skin sliding up his body, pressing him into the mattress and twining into him, nudging into the cradle of his pelvis and holding down his arms, and terror suddenly washed through him in a wave as he was pinned, suffocated, crushed, spread open for the taking, and it was all he could do to keep himself from beating frantically, desperately against the solid looming mass forcing him claustrophobically down.
"Chris ..." he managed to gasp out, clinging to the last threads of control. "I can't ..."
Hard arms wrapped around him, and he bucked against the other body that had him trapped, felt sudden disorientation as they rolled, almost falling off the bed. Brief struggle, setting both palms against the other man's chest and pushing against the arm that caught around his waist, kept him from falling, before a warning hiss from Keller broke through his panic, reminding him of the need for silence.
Realization setting in, shaming him as his terror eased and he found himself straddling the body that had covered him, felt smooth skin against his inner thighs, saw Chris' hands come up to frame his face, holding him and supporting him as his breath and heartbeat slowed. Had Chris felt this same kind of fear, the iron grasp that clutched at his soul, squeezed his heart when he tried to exorcize the demon? Beecher raised a still-shaking hand to touch the other man's face, brushing along a ridge of brow, down the heavy jaw, watching the stormcloud eyes darken as concern was replaced with lust. Keller was still hard under Beecher's hips, and Toby felt the other man's cock hot against his stomach as he leaned forward, fascinated as those dark eyes slitted and Chris turned his face into the touch.
Hesitant, a touch never before allowed on another man's body, never before pleasurable on another man's body, as new and unfamiliar as the shiver of delight, the feeling of power, that curled through him as he watched Keller's eyes close, his body arch, his hand come up to press Beecher's palm to his chest, over his heart again. Mapping the contours of the broad chest, the well-defined pecs and small, hard nipples with increasingly sure fingers as Keller's hands moved to his back, sliding down the length, stroking as unconsciously as a cat kneads in pleasure and contentment.
A thrust of hips, his own cock hard again and sliding slick against a matching hardness, sending a whipcrack of pleasure through him as Keller's eyes flew open and he bucked up to meet the body over him. Beecher settled himself deeper and pushed, feeling the movement met and matched as they set an instinctive rhythm against each other. Bending down, he caught Chris' mouth with his own, sucking in the lower lip, worrying it before releasing it to give a quick flick of his tongue over the arch of the other man's mouth. And then hot suction pulled him in as Keller opened those mobile lips, the taste of him filling Beecher, immolating fire.
Beecher pulled back, rocking his hips again, looking down as Chris met his gaze from beneath heavy brows, frustration and desire plain on the other man's face to anyone who could read him, and Keller growled, a warning and a plea as Beecher held them suspended, searching.
You'd kill for me, you'd die for me, will you live for me? How far are you willing to go? How much can you take?
And he dropped forward, pressed his full length against Chris' body, shifting and undulating, skin catching and sliding against skin, wiping out thought, reducing him to here, now, this moment alone as they both strained for completion, a hard body jerking against his own. Thrusting hard - once, twice - and then the warm gush, slippery-hot and viscous on his belly as Keller came silently, desperately, muscles strained to the snapping point, vibrating like drawn wire. Beecher let the wave of pleasure and mastery wash over him, through him, muffling his own cry against the other man's neck, tasting salt on his lips and tongue before sinking down, lassitude flowing through him like honey that could seep into the body under him.
... let no man put asunder ...
Later, lying tangled together, he felt the limp body of his lover nestled against him, slack in sleep, and he stroked a hand along the arm across his chest, buried his fingers in strands of hair like rough silk.
He had found what he'd been searching for. No one would take this away from him.