by Riley Cannon
DISCLAIMERS, WARNINGS, ETC.: Oz, the series and its characters/concepts are the property of Levinson-Fontana Productions, HBO, et al; I am making no money from this.
"New Years' Day"
Shifting carefully in the narrow bunk, Toby propped himself on an elbow and looked at the man lying beside him. A wry, bemused smile touched his mouth as he considered that. Of all the twists and turns his life had taken these last years, this had to be the most unexpected. That seemed a strange idea on the face of it, given everything else that had happened to him, all the unexpected darkness that had lain nascent within him, until life in Oz brought it out in the open. He had expected some of that, though, been prepared for it however inadequately. No, he couldn't have foreseen his life intersecting with someone like Vern Schillinger, but he had known Oswald State Penitentiary was not going to be a fun place, that it wasn't going to be full of 'nice' people as his mother would put it.
If he hadn't been able to envision just how horrific it would be, at least he'd grasped that on some level it was going to be a life-altering experience. The nightmares, the anguish those had been anticipated. Never in a million years, however, could he have imagined this, that he would find love within these walls. Let alone that it would come in this unlikeliest of packages: the blue-eyed, soft-voiced, hard muscled six feet of Christopher Keller. Part time hood, full time hustler, evidently able to almost charm the knickers off a nun. Toby shook his head at that, smiling with rueful resignation. He supposed he ought to want to whap Chris for going after Sister Pete like that, but he figured that would be about as useful as cursing a tornado for being a little breezy. Inevitable forces of nature just were. You could bitch and moan about them, or learn to appreciate their dangerous beauty.
Toby gently brushed his fingers over Chris' hair, thinking about that, how Chris instinctively knew just which buttons to push to charm a nun or an emotionally shattered yuppie lawyer. Knew exactly how to flaunt his natural assets in a way that was beguiling in its utter shamelessness. And nice assets they were, too, Toby reflected, fingers trailing lightly along Chris' back, stroking the curve of a firm buttock.
He smiled at the thought, but then sobered just as quickly, saddened by the knowledge that was all Chris thought he had to offer. Toby wished he could be certain Chris knew it wasn't like that now, between them. Yes, the handsome face and glorious body were incredibly alluring, no doubt about that. He was certain that a dozen different juries would return identical verdicts on that: that Chris Keller was a walking aphrodisiac. If you could distill and bottle what Chris had, the sales would make Viagra's profits look like pocket change. But you probably couldn't capture the core essence that made Chris so appealing, and that's what Toby had fallen in love with.
Even knowing the calculation that had lurked behind everything for the sake of Operation Toby, he still treasured some of those earliest exchanges. As much as he had tried to convince himself everything between them, every word and gesture, must have been born of coldly crafted treachery, ultimately he hadn't been able to sell himself on it. Their current position, Chris' relentless pursuit of him these last months, constituted pretty strong evidence that Chris had been snared in his own trap somewhere along the way, after all. He'd probably been as tangled up in knots as Toby, maybe as confused, as wary of what was happening between them. For himself, Toby knew it had been a cumulative effect, spurred not by Chris' clumsy attempts to get in his pants, but by conversations over a game of chess, making the delightful discovery that a very sharp mind was camouflaged by a grammatically-challenged exterior. What Chris saw in him was anybody's guess, but Toby knew for him it had been all the little things, the humor and gentle touches, the easy sense of camaraderie, the unexpected kindness. The assurance that he wasn't alone.
Maybe it was foolish to want to believe some of that had been real. Maybe it didn't matter anymore. That first kiss, though he'd never believe that had been planned, that it hadn't knocked Chris for a loop every bit as much. Toby had felt Chris respond to him, felt a hunger and passion in the other man that had been more intense than he'd ever dreamed.
He remembered being in such a happy little glow after seeing the kids, the mood only dampened a little by having to leave them. Then finding Chris and feeling so brave because it was going to happen, he was going to admit he loved Chris and then... Well, he hadn't really thought much past some kissing and cuddling, only trusting that Chris would know what to do. That when Chris made love with him it would be something beautiful, no shadow of Vern Schillinger hovering there.
That first touch of Chris' lips had pretty much been a, 'Ohmygod, I can't believe how good this is!' moment for him. Tobias Beecher was kissing another guy, and loving every moment of it. And he was ninety-nine per cent Chris had, too.
Well...okay, ninety-five per cent sure, he amended with another smile.
Toby was glad they had waited until now to consummate their relationship, though. Now when Chris kissed him there were no shadows of doubt about its being real. No alcoholic desperation fueling either of them. He closed his eyes, resting his cheek against Chris' shoulder, his hand curling around a slim hip as he remembered those sweet kisses. He'd never known it could feel so good to just give in, to stop fighting what he felt and surrender to it.
And all it had taken was getting a shank in the side, he reflected. Funny how things did sometimes just sort of crystallize in one moment like that. He still wasn't sure which had been the greater shock: Vern driving the shank into him, or the sight of Chris striking out at Vern in the same heartbeat and only caring about getting to Toby's side, of holding him. Toby hadn't missed the irony, that those same arms that had once held him down and hurt him so badly had, in that instant, transformed into the safest of havens, cradling him so protectively.
Chris moved against him, and Toby wondered if he was waking up, feeling sort of ambiguous about that. He was enjoying this quiet time, able to just lie here and take stock of everything, store up memories. But no, Chris was only getting more comfortable, a soft sigh escaping his lips as he turned and nuzzled into Toby's neck.
Happy now? Toby wanted to ask him, smiling with pleasure at the heavy warmth in his arms. Maybe that was the oddest thing of all, how much he wanted Chris to be happy. How bad he felt about hurting him. He bit his lip, his own sense of well being evaporating as his fingers found a scar on Chris' back, remembering all too well how that had happened.
Had he really said it had been sweet, driving that shank into Chris' back? Had it really felt good, then? That was the one nice thing about being crazy, he guessed, details like that sort of blurred and grew fuzzy around the edges, given time. Not that nearly enough time had passed for that. He had his doubts about how legitimate an insanity plea would be, come to that. He'd known exactly what he was doing. He could only be grateful that some hack had come along in time to find Chris before the other man had bled out his life on that cold, dark floor. Toby still felt deeply ashamed that he couldn't be sure if he would have summoned help, or just left Chris to die.
He still didn't grasp how Chris could forgive him so easily, trust him again. Sometimes he thought maybe it was just that Chris didn't believe it, that he had chosen to think that no, a little pussy bitch like Toby couldn't have done something like that. That was, marginally, better to think of than the alternative: that Chris accepted that kind of thing as par for the course. That being hurt by someone who said they loved you was the normal way of things.
Toby hated to think how many people had done that, told Chris they loved him, taken what they wanted from him, and then left him there, never seeing the damage they were doing or seeing it, but not caring. How may times had love been desired on Chris' part, but withheld? Had a mother, a father, only dealt out hurt with hands that should have cherished? There had to be a reason why Chris always tried to steer any conversation away from himself. Maybe, some day, Chris would tell him.
For now, Toby just wrapped his arms around Chris, holding him as close as he could, loving him more than he'd ever imagined.