by Riley Cannon
DISCLAIMERS, WARNINGS, ETC.: Oz, the series, and its characters/concepts are the property of Levinson-Fontana Productions, HBO, etc.; I am making no money from this.
Summary: Oh boy, I should probably say this may be a tear-jerker. Might be a little sappy, too but, I hope, in a good way. And...yeah, the final scene might be a bit much, but I just couldn't help myself. <smile> And if you will indulge me for a moment: I think I always did believe there was something more than just this life for us here, but it wasn't until sometime after my father's death that I got some pretty incontrovertible proof of that and believe me, I tried to find something to disprove it, but eventually had to accept that what had happened was real, however improbable it seemed. So, when my mother was dying a little later, and telling me she'd dreamed of my dad waiting for her under a tree, or coming to pick her up on his old police motorcycle, and that they were both young and beautiful again, I never doubted it for a minute. So, none of what follows here is any kind of stretch for me. Your mileage may vary, of course. <smile>
Oh, this isn't really a song fic, but I was listening to my Pure Moods CD as I sat down here, and was just struck by Enigma's "Return to Innocence," and thought it would be as good a title as any.
RETURN TO INNOCENCE
Cedar Junction, Massachusetts
Chris found himself inexplicably transfixed by his reflection in the mirror. All he could think was, When the hell did I get so old? He had stopped marking the passage of the years a long time ago, but time had moved on all the same. How long? Chris found himself wondering. Thirty years, more? It was longer than he'd ever expected, that was for sure. And how much longer yet to go?
Wearied by the very thought, Chris sank down on his bunk, stretching out on his back. Maybe he'd just close his eyes for a minute. He thought he was still in pretty good shape, but his energy sure wasn't what it used to be. Well, he'd always had a suspicion getting old was going to suck and guessed he should have gone with his original plan: live hard, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.
Of course he probably wouldn't have met Toby then, and that was the one thing in his life he would not change for anything. The one right thing he had ever done was loving Toby. And the price had been worth it, buying Toby back his life. Sometimes Chris wished he could know what Toby had gone on to do with it, though. At least Sister Pete had been good enough to write him that one time, telling him Toby had gotten his parole and gone home to his family. That had made it all worthwhile. Sure, he used to think maybe Toby would come visit, at least write him, but as the time had passed and that hadn't happened Chris had learned to accept that was just part of the price to be paid. That was okay, that was the point: that Toby would be free to go on with his life free of everything.
Chris shifted on his bunk, trying to get comfortable; this was the second time today he'd felt that funny little pain in his chest. Maybe he'd go see the doc after he'd rested a couple of minutes. Or maybe he'd just stay here and think of Toby. He'd never stopped, of course, but lately, these last few months, Toby had been on his mind more than ever. There were far worse things he could have on it, of course...
He looked over at the hack. "Yeah?"
"You've got a visitor."
Chris frowned at that. He never had visitors. "Who is it?"
"Look, all I know is someone's here to see you, so move your butt."
He moved, half because it wasn't worth making a fuss about, and half because he was curious to see who it could be. Even so, walking into the visitor's room, Chris couldn't believe what he was seeing for a minute.
"Hey." Toby got up from the table and walked over to him, reaching to touch his arm. "You look good."
And that was strange because Chris knew he was looking young and strong again, like when he'd met Toby. But Toby that's what made Chris smile: Toby looked fantastic. He actually looked younger than Chris remembered, all the lines of anxiety erased from his features; his hair was still thick and golden, his eyes were bright and shining, no longer shadowed by that wounded look that had lurked there so often. "What happened to you you find the Fountain of Youth, or something?"
"Yeah it's called peace of mind," Toby told him, smiling.
Yes, Chris could understand that. It was one of the things he had hoped to buy Toby. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I wanted to see you," Toby said, as if that should be obvious.
"But why now? After all this time?"
Toby gave a little shrug. "Because it's time," he said quietly. He looked right into Chris' eyes, reaching to brush gentle fingers along Chris' face. "I've missed you."
Chris closed his eyes, savoring that slight touch. Did that make sense, that after all this time the slightest touch from Toby could warm him right to his soul? "Me, too," he said, looking at Toby again. He reached up to cover Toby's hand with his, bringing it to his lips to press a soft kiss to the palm. "What have you been doing?" he asked as they sat down at a table.
"This and that. Trying to make a difference a good one, for once." Toby reached over to clasp Chris' hands on the table. "You made that possible, Chris."
"It was worth it." Every long and lonely moment had been worth it if Toby had made a good life for himself. "How are the kids?"
"They're great," Toby said, and Chris could tell that was true by the way he smiled, the light in those blue eyes. "Would you believe they've given me five grandkids so far? Guess what Holly named her first son."
Chris shook his head. "How would I know? What -- Tobias?"
Toby's smile grew even warmer. "No -- Christopher. She said I talked about you so much she felt like she knew you, and it just felt right to do that. Sometimes I think he even looks a little like you. I mean, I know that's nuts, but," Toby's smile turned wry, "there's new about that, huh?"
Chris shook his head, not sure what to make of that. Around the ache in his throat, he managed to say, "She marry a good guy, treats her right?"
"Worships the ground she walks on," Toby told him, grinning. "Harry's wife is great, too. They both turned out really well, all things considered."
"I'm glad," Chris said, clasping Toby's hands in his now. "I know that worried you." God, it was good to see Toby really, truly happy, so at peace with himself. There had been dark times when Chris had wondered if he really had done the right thing; selfish moments when he wished he could take it all back just to be back in Oz with Toby. He knew now, seeing Toby like this, that he would not change one single thing.
"What about you?" Chris asked after a moment. "You...get married again, make some more babies?"
But Toby shook his head. "Tried dating a few times but it never really worked." He titled his head a little, giving Chris a familiar coy smile. "You're a pretty tough act to follow."
Chris frowned, though, saddened by that thought. "You shouldn't have been alone, Toby. You didn't need to be."
"I was never alone, Chris. Between the kids and," he paused, tears sparkling in his eyes for a moment. "I was never alone," he repeated.
Chris couldn't help prompting, "Between the kids and what?"
"Me?" Chris shook his head. "I wasn't there, Toby."
Toby freed one hand to reach across the table and touch Chris' face again. "You were always with me, Chris, you were always in my heart." The tears brimmed again, threatening to spill.
Chris' own vision was all blurry, too, and his throat ached again. "How come you never-" he stopped, biting his lips as his voice threatened to break.
"I wanted to," Toby said, somehow divining what Chris wanted to ask. "I wrote you a hundred letters, but... I could never find the courage to send them. How could I write you, or come see you, telling you how wonderful my life was, knowing you were never going to have any of that? That I only had it because of you?" He curved his hand along Chris' cheek, tears welling in his beautiful eyes again. "How could I come see you and then walk away, just leave you here? I know I should have tried, that I was a coward not to, but..." He bit his lip. "Can you forgive me, Chris, for leaving you alone so long?"
"Hey," Chris said softly, reaching to touch Toby's face, brush away the tears, "you were always with me, too, so don't talk nonsense. That's what I wanted for you, Toby, for you to be free."
Toby swallowed, nodded. "I know. And I know there's no way I can ever thank you for that."
"You already did, baby, just by doing that, by making everything worth it."
A bell went off somewhere and Chris realized it must be time to end this visit. He stood up with Toby, just drinking in the sight of him. "Can I...?"
"You'd better," Toby said, smiling through his tears as he came into Chris' arms.
"Oh, God, I missed you, baby, I've missed you so much." Chris just held Toby tight for a long moment, as close as could be, savoring the warmth, the feel of him. "Kiss me?" he whispered against Toby's ear.
There was no hesitation at all. Toby's hand curved around the back of Chris' head, drawing Chris to his lips, and it was even sweeter than Chris remembered. Nothing had ever felt as good as kissing Toby, and Chris had long thought that would be heaven enough for him, to spend eternity kissing Toby.
Far too short of eternity, though, Toby pulled back a little, looking into his eyes again. "It's time to go."
Chris nodded, already missing him. "Will you come again?"
But Toby shook his head. "No."
"Oh..." Chris dropped his gaze, feeling a disappointment that was proportionate to the joy he'd felt at seeing Toby again. He nodded. "I understand."
"Do you?" Toby's hand cupped his chin, raising his head. "I won't come again because I won't have to. You're coming with me."
"Toby I can't just walk out of here." What was he talking about? And was it getting bright in here all of a sudden?
"Sure you can. It's easy just take my hand."
"Chris, just take my hand."
He did, feeling the light now although he was pretty certain it dimmed in comparison to the brilliance of Toby's smile.
"You were right, Chris, you were right."
The warm, welcoming light was engulfing them now and none was warmer or brighter than the love Chris saw in Toby's eyes.
"His heart just stopped?" Harry said.
Holly nodded. "That's what they said." She sighed. "At least they're together, like Daddy always wanted."
"Father Ray gave a nice service, didn't he?"
"Yes." Holly looked over at the elderly priest, wondering again why he kept giving her husband such odd looks. "I guess we should go, huh?"
"Yeah. They'll always be here for us," Harry said.
And with each other, Holly thought, looking at the graves one more time before following Harry to the cars where the rest of the family waited. She welcomed her husband's strong arm around here, and just leaned into Dickie for a moment, soaking up the sense of peace, of grace.
Note: Yes, in this universe Holly Beecher grew up to marry Dickie Stabler. :/