Reunited, And It Don't Feel So Good (official version)

by Riley Cannon

Disclaimers/warnings: Tom Fontana & HBO own them; I only borrow them for purposes of non-profit smut, angst, and sap. Summary: This started out as a scene for the volleyball fic Mav and I are doing (see, Mav, I'm talking about it in the present tense ). It didn't really fit there, however, and Mav suggested I tinker with it and see what happens since it appears my ChrisMuse has a few things on his mind -- and anyone with a ChrisMuse in residence knows what tends to happen when he finally decides to take center stage. ::sigh:: Thanks to Mav for encouraging me to spin this out and see just what my ChrisMuse had on his mind, and also for beta work on it.

And dedicated to pirl, even though it didn't get done in time for her birthday.

~Reunited, And It Don't Feel So Good~

Part One
With his personal effects and bedding bundled together, Toby followed Mineo down the stairs, reminded of why musical chairs had never been a favorite game of his. "Why am I being moved again?"

"It's just our special way of fucking with you," Mineo replied, straight-faced.

There were times Toby could really believe that.

They crossed the common area, everyone else lounging around playing cards or watching television, a few -- like Said -- looking over to track his progress. Toby nodded to Augustus in passing, glad to see him back. His smile faded as he saw just where Mineo was leading him, experiencing a rush of very conflicted feelings as they reached the pod door.

"Home sweet home," Mineo said, adding in a conversational manner, "Your roomie'll be along soon. We really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for this guy."

"Really?" Oh, joy. What kind of nut job was he getting stuck with this time?

"Yeah. Guess talk's gotten around how bunking with you is the kiss of death," Mineo said, like there was some joke that Toby wasn't getting. "You might want to try and not get this one killed right off the bat," he said, still acting like he thought something was a hoot before he went over to see what Morales and Guerra were doing.

Toby sighed, looking around his old pod and thinking Mineo wasn't so far off in a bizarro kind of way. For one brief interlude this tiny room had felt like his only refuge in this place. The one place he could truly feel safe, where he had found himself again and discovered love could bloom in even these barren surroundings. And one podmate had lived to tell the tale -- well, technically speaking.

Letting out another deep breath, he set his things on the top bunk, his gaze roaming over the lower one as he remembered nights spent between those rough, prison issue sheets. Hot and sweaty, limbs tangled, his skin burning everywhere Chris touched him and kissed him; drops of sweat falling from Chris' face to his lips as they stared into each other's eyes, bodies joined and souls mating just as deeply as they watched each other come.

He sucked in air as he leaned against the top bunk, face buried in his hands. He looked up after another moment, giving his head a shake. What kind of sense did it make to torture himself like that? That was gone, over; he and Chris would never touch each other like that again. They might never even see each other again. The last appeal had fizzled out and Chris going to the electric chair was looking more and more like an inevitability. And as much as Toby wanted to scream and carry on about that, there wasn't a goddamn thing he could do stop it.

"Breathe...breathe..." he told himself, thinking he could hear Chris' voice echoing off the walls for a moment. Was Chris haunting him already? Would that be such a bad thing? he wondered with a wry lift of his lips as he began setting out his things and making up his bunk.

He was tucking Chris' letters away in his locker, right beside the ones from his family and the drawings Holly gave him, when he heard footsteps approaching and looked around to see who he was going to have to try and get along with this time -- and for a moment he couldn't remember how to breathe.

Sitting on his bunk, back against the wall and a yellow legal pad propped on his knee, Chris read back over what he'd written, knowing Toby wasn't going to like it but he was kind of running out of time here and this had to get done. He tilted his head, thinking he'd heard Sister Pete next door talking to Cyril. None of his business what she might be telling Cyril to help him face what was coming. He was willing to bet whatever happened, Cyril wouldn't put on quite the show Timmy Kirk had when they'd come to take him off for his lethal injection. Hoyt had gone off acting pretty cool, like it was no fucking big deal, although it wouldn't surprise Chris if Jaz had sort of changed his tune when they had actually strapped him in and flipped the switch.

Chris hoped he wouldn't carry on like a nutbar when the time came. He had a feeling the hard part would be that interval between them strapping him into the chair and feeding him the juice. Sister Pete had told him it was only a few seconds, but seconds could feel like forever sometimes. He almost wished Toby could be there with him, for Toby's face to be the last thing he would ever see in this world. Even if he could ask for that, though, he never would; Toby didn't need to watch him die. The last thing he wanted was Toby carrying some memory like that with him when he finally walked out of this fuckhole.


He looked over at the bars, Sister Pete standing there. It was funny, it looked like she had tears in her eyes but she was sort of smiling, too. "What's up, Sister? Cyril okay?"

"Yes, Chris, he's fine. What are you doing?"

He got up, tossing the yellow bad on the bed. "Just working on my last will and testament," he told her, walking over there and not missing the way she winced when he said that. "Don't they always say you gotta get your affairs in order?" As affairs went, his didn't amount to much -- mostly just a little money he'd put by and never told the girls about. Toby would see to it everything got taken care of, though. "Is it okay if it I give it to you outright to give to Beecher, since it's sort of a legal document?" She'd been real good about smuggling a few letters back and forth, after Toby'd gone back to work for her, and he appreciated that more than he could ever tell her.

"Chris..." Acting kind of choked up, she touched his hand where it was resting on the bars, still smiling and crying at the same time as she looked at him. "You can give it to him yourself -- but I don't think you'll want to."

He shook his head, not understanding what she was getting at. "What do you mean? You get the warden to let Toby come see me?" Christ, he'd give just about anything for that, just one more glimpse of Toby. If he could look into his eyes once more, touch him, kiss him one last time, the rest of this would be a breeze.

"No. Chris, you're going to see Tobias. You're going back to Em City."

Okay, he really needed to sit down right about now only the bunk was too fucking far away. "What do you mean? How--"

"The State Supreme Court has overturned the death penalty. Your sentence has been commuted to life without possibility of parole."

Life...not death. Not right now anyway. And he would think about how life in prison was kind of a cockeyed reprieve some other time. He could see Sister Pete was already aware of how that might sound kind of screwy, and if it had been anyone else springing this news Chris would have been waiting for the other shoe to drop right about now. She wouldn't yank his chain, though, not about this, not about Toby. "When does this happen?" he asked, amazed he could sound so calm and composed when he felt exactly the opposite.

"Right now," she said, smiling and stepping back as Lopresti and a couple other hacks came along to unlock the cell door.

Maybe he was having a stroke or something because he was having a real hard time processing what she was telling him. "Right this fucking minute?" he said, seeking clarification as he gripped the bars, too afraid to move, too afraid to believe.

"Yes, Chris, right this minute," she said, a whole lot of sympathy in her eyes. "Do you need to take some time?"

"Uh-uh." He shook his head, impatient for Lopresti to get the door unlocked. "I'm fine." He was going to be fucking fantastic as soon as he saw Toby.

"I know you think you are," she said, looking up at him seriously, no bars separating them now. "Chris, remember what you told me when you first got back here, about feeling off balance?"

"I remember." This was different, though, and he just wanted to get on with it. They were wasting some valuable time here with all this yapping. "Sister, can we talk about this tomorrow?"

Giving him an exasperated look, Pete shook her head and sighed. "All right. I want to see you in my office first thing in the morning, though. And, Chris, I want you to pace yourself tonight." She rolled her eyes as he shot her an incredulous look. "Emotionally. It's a lot for you to get used to -- give yourself the time to do that, all right?"

"All right," he said, agreeing with her so she'd quit yammering at him and keeping him from Toby. That was all he needed for his emotional balance, that was all he'd ever needed.

"Chris?" All Toby could do for a moment was stare stupidly at him standing there, right there, so much like the first time they had first lain eyes on each other that he wanted to produce some loopy rhyme for old time's sake. All he could get out of his mouth, though, was, "You're here."

Even without benefit of a crazy rhyme, Chris gave him a dubious look, head cocked just a bit as he walked on into the pod and dropped his bundle of personal effects on the bottom bunk. There was a smile in his eyes, however, as he said, "Nah, you're just imagining me."

"Don't even joke about that," Toby said, huffing it at him. He had imagined this, dreamed him so many nights, awakening every time to empty arms and an ache in his heart.

He couldn't rely on the evidence of his eyes even as they hungrily roamed over him. He had to touch, had to feel the pulse of life beneath his fingertips. Gaze never leaving Chris' face as he crossed the short distance that separated them, Toby was gratified to see a flicker of anxiety in those deep blue eyes that belied the casual, 'Yeah, I'm cool,' pose. Wanting to chase away any twinges of concern, he reached out to him, offering the comfort of touch. For a moment his fingers hovered there, not sure where to land, but then they brushed his forearm and glided on up the sculpted muscle, dancing over the blank ink lines of the tattoo before curving around the muscle, treasuring the hardness of that muscle, the warmth of the skin stretched so tight and smooth over it.

He brought his other hand up as Chris watched him, holding himself so still. Something fluttered sweetly in Toby's stomach as he touched Chris' face, watching Chris' eyelashes sweep down and his lips part with a tiny gasp as if he were savoring every instant, every sensation however slight it might be. Toby watched, feeling tender and greedy at the same time, as the strong body shuddered just from him brushing a thumb along Chris' lips. He felt a tremor run through his own body as his hand slipped around to cup the nape of Chris' neck and tug him down the infinitesimal fraction necessary to bring their foreheads together, and only felt able to draw a deep breath when Chris' arms went around him, holding him tight. And if anyone came along to break them up he was going to fucking murder them.

No one did, though, and after a time they moved apart just enough to see each other's faces, neither of them able to quit touching each other -- and Toby had to smile as Chris frowned and reached to straighten the collar of his black polo. He closed his eyes for a second and absorbed that feeling as Chris brushed his fingers back through his hair. "I got a haircut."

Chris gave him another doubtful look. "I got my sentence commuted to life."

Toby pooched out his lower lip, like he was weighing those two accomplishments. "Okay," he nodded, "you win." More seriously, searching his eyes again, he said, "What happened?"

Chris shrugged. "Sister Pete says they overturned the death penalty."

Toby frowned over that, wondering why she hadn't said a word to him about it. "She came to tell you?"

"Yep -- and not a minute too soon," Chris said with some fervency.

Unable to suppress a pleased smirk, Toby said, "You were that anxious to see me, huh?" He'd preen if he knew how.

"Nah," Chris drawled, "Cyril was drivin' me nuts with his sock puppet is all," biting back a smile and then letting it turn into a big grin at Toby's pissy expression. Just before Toby could form a suitably bitchy response, Chris snagged him close again and whispered, "Yeah, Beech, I was that anxious to see you. Not getting fried's what you'd call an unexpected bonus."

No argument there. Toby wound his arms tight around Chris again, really feeling like he was hanging on for dear life. "Was it Sister Pete's idea to put us back together?" he said, kneading the small of Chris' back.

"I don't know." Chris' voice was muffled against his neck, holding on just as desperately. "She didn't tell me that."

Toby bet it had been her idea. And he'd bet it was more for Chris' benefit than his. Ever since that business with Adam had forcibly opened her eyes to the reality of poor, sweet, put upon little Tobias he'd gotten the distinct impression her preferences had shifted slightly to Chris. That was okay, though. He didn't begrudge Chris having her on his side. It wasn't like he didn't get to reap the benefits, after all. Maybe he'd even call his dad and ask him to send her flowers by way of thanks.

Drawing back just a bit, Chris gave him a serious look, long fingers brushing back through his hair. "You okay with me being here?"

Oh for... Toby took a moment to check the coast was clear before reaching for Chris again, bringing his face close, both hands curved around the back of his head and fingers pressing into his hair as Toby kissed him, making a short but sweet job of it. "That answer your question?" he said as they separated.

A pleased smile warming those extraordinary eyes, Chris nodded. "Yeah. 'Course," he trailed a finger along Toby's cheek, "I might need a couple points clarified later on."

"Mmm, well," Toby managed to insinuate himself closer, hands stroking up and down Chris' broad back, "my office hours always were flexible." He kissed the corner of Chris' mouth, swept his tongue along parting lips, and would have plunged on inside for a nice long consultation -- if Mineo hadn't pounded on the glass right then.

"Put your toys away and wash your hands for supper, boys," the hack told them before moving on.

Chris sighed and rested his forehead against Toby's as they lightly held each other by the shoulders. "Who told him he was a comedian?"

"Christ knows." Toby reluctantly stepped back, drawing his hands slowly down Chris' arms to clasp his hands for a moment. "I'm glad you're back," he said, looking at him very seriously.

Just as serious, Chris said, "Me, too."

Toby nodded, solemn, thinking this much mutual accord could only bode well.

Part Two
Thanks again to Mav for terrific beta work on this, and for insisting AngstyChris come out to play in the first place. I have to admit to being somewhat taken aback by his arrival this time, and might have just set that first draft aside if not for Mav's arm-twisting.

Any lingering goofs are entirely my property.

And before anyone asks (well, if anyone was going to): Yes, all the foreshadowing likely means there will be a sequel sometime down the road.

Chris had thought it might feel kind of strange to be back but he hadn't been prepared for just how uncomfortable he was feeling, standing here in line. He had been alone, or close to it, for so long now and all the noise and crush of bodies in the cafeteria was a lot to get used to after that much isolation. The courtroom had been fairly well packed during his trial, but not on this scale. There hadn't been this racket of voices, food odors mingling with too many unwashed bodies. He'd felt a lot of things, sitting there day after day in court, but there hadn't been this almost overwhelming urge to bolt and run back to the pod. Feeling jittery and anxious, when someone jostled him from behind, he whipped around to level a ferocious glare at Agamemnon Busmalis.

"Oops," Busmalis said, trying to look non-threatening. "Sorry."

"Chris?" He heard Toby's voice near his ear, felt one of those broad, square hands pressing against his back. "You okay?"

"Yeah." He forced himself to relax, drawing some deep breaths into his lungs as he continued to stare at a fidgety Busmalis. "I'm fine." He was just kind of keyed up and all, which he guessed was pretty understandable under the circumstances. Chris glanced at Toby and flashed him a reassuring smile. It must not have been entirely convincing, though, because Toby went on looking worried, giving his shoulder a little squeeze.

Nodding after another moment, letting out those deep breaths, Chris thought he felt better, more grounded by the second as he stayed focused on Toby. This was just the goddamn cafeteria, nothing he hadn't experienced a thousand times before. Nothing to be freaking out over. "No problem," he said to Busmalis, annoyed at the way the old guy kept looking at him like a startled rabbit about to get snarfed by the big bad wolf.

"Perfectly understandable, Chris," that was Bob Rebadow, the old coot giving him a thoughtful look as the lined moved forward. "I was jumpier than a kangaroo with a hotfoot for a long time after I came back from death row."

Oh yes, that was helpful. Chris was tempted to compare notes with Rebadow, though. He was the only one around here who'd been to the same place - and then some. Chris couldn't even imagine what that had to be like, actually strapped into the chair and feeling the electricity jolting through your body when you got your reprieve.

"Have you heard anything from God?" Busmalis asked as they got up to the serving area, the question earning him a trio of aggravated looks. "It's a fair question."

"What's a fair question?" O'Reily said, plopping big helpings of runny mashed potatoes onto their trays. "Hey, K-boy, good to see you back."

"O'Reily," Chris nodded in greeting to his cohort in skullduggery, betting Ryan's cheerfulness had a lot to do with Cyril sitting over at a table, showing Hill and Redding his sock puppet. Better them than him. "Good to be back."

"I'll bet. And hey, thanks for looking after Cyril for me. He says you were real nice to him."

Chris shrugged, feeling uncomfortable again. "I just talked to him once in a while." And Christ only knew how many brain cells'd been fried by those conversations.

"Yeah, even so, I owe you big time."

"Oh, yeah, you owe me all right," Chris said, giving Ryan a definite look and then cutting his eyes over to C.O. Claire Howell at her post by one of the doors.

Trying to look innocent, Ryan followed his gaze and gave a casual shrug. "You had more warning than I ever did."

"Yeah, and you just forgot to mention the part where she turns into a psycho bitch when you don't give her what she wants," Chris said, keeping his voice low as Rebadow and Busmalis moved on; he still had a way too interested audience in Toby, though.

"Save your sweet-talk for later, ladies," another hack told them. "Keep the line moving."

Chris gave Ryan another hard look, letting him know they weren't done hashing this out yet, and followed Toby over to the table with more of the Em City crowd. Hill and Redding gave him a nod as he and Toby sat down across from Rebadow and Busmalis.

"That boy sure does like his puppet," Burr Redding said with feeling, not doing a very good job of masking his relief as Cyril introduced Jericho to Rebadow and Busmalis.

Chris smiled, letting out another pent-up breath and shooting a sideways glance at Toby with some surprise as he felt the blond's leg nudging his under the table. Yeah, he could do this. It was like Sister Pete said, he just needed to give it some time.

Toby caught Chris' surprised look and returned a warm smile, bumping their legs together again for good measure. He was relieved to see Chris settling down now. For a couple of minutes there he'd thought the other man was going to blow some kind of gasket, he'd been wound up so tight. Well, maybe Bob was right and some of that was only to be expected after such a radical change in circumstances. Hell, hadn't he spent his first weeks here walking around in a kind of daze, and not just because of drugs? And he had a few ideas on how to help Chris bleed of some tension and feel all better tonight, if need be. Toby was really hoping that necessity would arise.

Of course every silver lining had to have a cloud here in Oz, and one was bearing down on them now in the form of Vern Schillinger strolling their way, several of his boys tagging along. Robson was bringing up the rear, still carrying that air of a beaten dog eager to regain his master's good will.

"Aww," Vern started right in, "look at this - it just does my heart good to see you two lovebirds back together." He aimed a beatific look their way, nothing but malice lurking in the depths of his eyes.

"Hey, Vern," Chris said, sounding unconcerned even though Toby could feel the tension vibrating through his body again, a match to his own. "Hey, is it true they had to let you out of solitary so they could fumigate the place?"

"Yeah," Toby quickly picked up the cue as Ryan came over, "I heard the place got infested with lice right after you got there." It probably wasn't the smartest move in the world, provoking Vern, but the nazi fuck had been out of solitary for a couple of days now and Toby was getting tired of being kept in suspense. There was no way retribution would not be forthcoming for him getting Vern tossed in solitary, and the sooner they got it over with the better.

Well, despite all those victim/offender sessions, Toby had never lost the conviction that this vendetta between them would only be resolved when one of them was six feet under. All he could hope was that they didn't take any more innocent bystanders with them in the process.

"Wow," Chris had a wealth of snarky appreciation in his voice. "So, what, you got your boys there picking the vermin off you like in those National Geographic shows on TV?"

"Hey, yeah," Ryan snapped his fingers, joining right in, "I saw one of those once. This bunch of baboons were sitting around, picking bugs off each other's butts and eating them. You know, I always thought you guys reminded me of something," he finished with a gleefully evil smile at Vern and his goons.

Doing a slow burn, Vern leveled a hard at them. "Laugh it up while you can," he said, the warning inherent in his voice.

Well, what would Oz be without Vern around, cackling, `I'll get you my pretties,' at the three of them? All the same, as he watched Vern's poisonous gaze linger on Chris, Toby felt a shiver run up his spine as he thought of what form Schillinger's retribution might take this time.

"So what's up with Robson?" Chris said as the Aryans finally moved off. "Thought he got kicked out of the Brotherhood," he added, eyeing a forkful of meatloaf with dubious regard.

"Watch," Ryan said, and they all looked over as Vern and the others sat down at a table, some bikers coming over to fill up the remaining spaces and leave Robson standing there, looking stupid. "Just breaks your heart, don't it?"

"So he's still being shunned?" Chris said as Robson looked around, finally sitting at the only empty spot he could find - over with Tony Masters and Fiona Zonioni, sitting as far from the latter as possible.

"Yep. He got fixed up with a new set of gums but they're not taking any chances," Ryan said. "He's going to have to do something big to be Schillinger's little sidekick again."

Ryan didn't sound terribly concerned about that, and Toby wished he could be as sanguine. It was all too easy for him to imagine the ways and means Robson might employ to get back in Vern's good graces, for one thing.

"Hey, Cyril, will you put that fucking puppet away," Ryan told his brother, earning a mournful look in response - and an unexpected admonishment from Chris:

"Let him keep the damned thing, O'Reily. It keeps him happy."

"Oh, you know that for a fact?"

"Yeah, O'Reily," Chris told him, sounding pretty definite about it, "I do."

Ryan and Toby gave him curious looks, Ryan conceding the point with a shrug. "Sister Pete said the same thing."

"So listen to her," Chris said, dipping his fork in the gloppy mashed potatoes and opting for the green beans instead. He froze in mid-motion, gaze fixed on something as Ryan tensed up, too. Toby looked around to see what had caught their attention, spotting Officer Howell coming down the aisle. As she neared their group, she must have felt Chris and Ryan's baleful stares fixed on her because she looked over at them, a flicker of uncertainty passing over her face for an instant before she passed on by without any remark. Toby wasn't quite sure what that had all been about -- although he had some suspicions -- but if looks really could kill Officer Howell should have been vaporized on the spot.

"Anyone care to enlighten me?" he said once she was well out of earshot.

"'Bout what?" Chris said, deceptively nave and mild.

"Why you two have it in for Officer Howell?"

"We need a special reason to have it in for a hack?" Ryan said.

"For it to feel as personal as this does - yes." He knew Howell was the one who'd put Chris in the hospital a while back, but Chris had never explained precisely what had brought that on, and Howell's only statement had been that Chris had acted up. If he had to take a wild guess, drawing inferences from the scraps of things he'd already heard about Officer Howell... "Chris," he scooted around on the bench to look at him, keeping his voice pitched low so only Chris and Ryan could hear him, "did she sexually harass you while you were in protective custody?"

Chris replied with a, "No," that sounded emphatic enough, but somehow Toby wasn't buying - especially when he and Ryan both looked so guarded and uncomfortable. He could understand that: tough guys like them didn't get themselves in situations like that. No, that was the kind of thing that was only supposed to happen to pussy Harvard Law boys.

This particular Harvard Law boy knew better than to suggest any remedy so mundane as a lawsuit. For one thing, the odds were stacked against them winning, and for another neither of them would want the risk to their reputations of starting some legal action like that. Well - as he was always being reminded, they were in Oz, so... "Are you two planning something?"

Ryan cast a cool look at Chris, saying, "I don't know. K-boy, were we planning something?"

"A fandango, you mean?" Chris replied thoughtfully, a corner of his mouth lifting with a tiny smile as though the pair of them were sharing some kind of in-joke. "Maybe."

Sort of resenting that they had a shared of history of duplicitous dances that excluded him, Toby figured there was one way to get over that and said, "Whatever you do, I want in on it."

Chris gave him an annoyed look. "You don't have any history with her."

"That's why you need me." He knew Chris wouldn't like it - Ryan was looking pretty dubious as well - but Toby was prepared to be adamant about this. And he trusted Chris remembered what he was like when he'd made his mind up about something. Judging by the look of sour resignation settling over his features, it looked like that particular realization was already dawning. "We'll talk about this later," he said, seeing Said and Arif coming along now, disapproval radiating off them.

"Beecher." Said gave him a nod by way of acknowledgment, looking torn between promptly moving on and lingering to have one last shot at saving him from ruin.

Deciding to make it easy on Said, Toby cupped the nape of Chris' neck, caressing lightly, looking at Said and daring him to say anything about it. "There a problem, Kareem?" he said, well aware Chris was giving him a puzzled look.

"You're just hell bent on this path, aren't you?" Said's voice was rich with outrage.

"Looks that way, yeah."

Said's gaze moved to Chris, something almost imploring in his eyes now. "If you truly cared about him, Keller, you wouldn't let him do this."

"And if you knew the first thing about him," Chris said, drawing a look of thoughtful surprise from Toby this time, "you'd know no one makes him do a damned thing." A slow and seductive smile crept over his face then, and he gave Said a wink, adding, "And you keep this up, Said, people're gonna get the idea you're jealous."

Looking supremely miffed, Said stalked away and Toby sighed and shook his head as he watched after him.

"You gonna tell me what that was all about?" Chris said.

"Later." Toby hated being on the outs with Said, but he hadn't been left with many choices. And he didn't regret the one he'd made, not for a moment. "It's okay," he said, smiling at Chris, casually letting his hand slip under the table to squeeze his leg for a moment, and get him another bemused look from the other man. "What?"

Chris just shrugged and shook his head. "Nothing. Guess I've got a few things left to learn about you."

"I expect we both do. Might be fun, huh?" he said with a playful smile.

Chris returned it with just a hint of caution. "Could be, yeah."

Ryan groaned and rolled his eyes, getting up from the table. "See ya later. Cyril, come on, you can help me clean up."

As they were headed out of the cafeteria, Toby aimed a thoughtful look at where Officer Howell was standing and made a point of heading over there, catching her eye. There was no time like the present to get the ball rolling on Operation Claire, after all.

"Yeah, Beecher, something on your mind?"

Smiling sweetly and hoping he looked harmless, he said, "I just wanted to say I really like your perfume, Officer Howell. My wife wore that fragrance all the time."

"Yeah? Well that just makes my day, Beecher. Keep moving."

"All right," he said, mild-mannered as could be. "It's just a nice change from sweat and testosterone, you know?" he added on a wry note, slanting his very best scared rabbit look over at Chris - who was unwittingly helping out a lot by glowering ferociously at him.

"I said keep moving," she told him and he meekly did as he was told, following after Chris.

Once they were out in the corridor, Chris demanded, "What the fuck was that about?" He underscored the words with a fierce look that would have sent anyone else scurrying for cover.

"It's called tactical subterfuge - I think you're familiar with the concept," Toby said, walking on. "Like you said, she doesn't have any history with me."

Chris gave him another grumpy look, warning him, "You keep away from that bitch."

Toby paused, giving him a hard look now. "Don't give me orders. And don't expect me to watch from the sidelines while you and O'Reily go to work on her." He softened his voice, reaching out to touch Chris' shoulder. "Would you, if it was me she'd gone after?"

"That's different," Chris said, looking uncomfortable.

"No, it isn't it."


"Chris - I'm in this with you, get used to it," he said and walked on, kind of liking the mystified look on Chris' face, like he wasn't quite sure what to make of little ol' Toby. It was good to know he could still keep him on his toes.

Utterly baffled as to what had gotten into Toby, Chris turned on the shower, adjusting the water temperature and standing with his face turned up into the hot spray as it poured over him. The way he remembered it, Toby had never been comfortable with any kind of public displays, at least not during that short time they had been together. He could understand some of that in retrospect, like him just grabbing Toby's crotch that one time. If he'd ever done anything like the show Toby'd just put on, though, he'd have gotten shot down just as quick and treated to a pissy earful of complaints once they got back to the pod.

This change of attitude wasn't unwelcome, no, just sort of unexpected. That might happen a lot, actually, and maybe Sister Pete was kind of onto something there, advising him to take it slow and easy. Because when you added it up, he and Toby'd spent a whole lot more time apart than they had ever had together, and as intimate as they had gotten in their letters it was different to actually speak face to face, deal with each other in the flesh.

Speaking of which... He shook water out of his eyes and glanced over again, making sure that wasn't a mirage standing there, just two showerheads away, naked and wet as could be.

Jesus, he was beautiful. That was all Chris could think, standing there mesmerized as he watched the water sluicing over Toby's lean, hard body. He watched Toby's hands as they filled with soapy lather, working that over his chest, gliding lower - and was treated to a teasing, almost wild smile as Toby caught him looking. The blond didn't say anything, just gave a long, slow look, tilting his own face up to the water.

Chris let out a deep breath and tore his eyes away from that appealing vision, soaping himself and closing his eyes against the water as he let his mind wander, conjuring up a favorite fantasy. They were alone somewhere, far away from these prison walls, and they were in the shower together. Steam was fogging the glass of the shower door as they soaped and washed each other's bodies. He'd reach for the shampoo bottle, squeeze some out into the palm of his hand and work it into Toby's golden hair, kissing his mouth as the shampoo was rinsed away. They would press together, slick with soap and water, arms twined around each other as they kissed. He would trail a slow line of kisses all along Toby's body, from the tip of his adorable nose right on down to his cock. And kneeling there on the tile, he'd take Toby's cock in his mouth and suck him, suck him while the blond pulled at his hair and gripped his shoulders hard enough to leave bruises--

A soft chuckle brought him out of his daydream and he shook his head to clear it as Toby said, "Are we thinking happy thoughts over there?"


Chris adjusted the water temperature again, hoping the cold water beating down on him would help chase off his erection before anyone else came along to notice.

Christ - how much longer was it until lights out?

Part Three
If Toby really thought Chris was going to let him take part in any kind of plan to get back at that bitch Howell then he must have ridden the special bus to Harvard. He would need to give it some thought, but there had to be a way of diverting Toby's attention elsewhere -- like acing his parole the next time around. Maybe Toby thought he owed him some kind of big gesture like that, because of how he'd tried to take the fall for Hank Schillinger?

Chris thought about that, watching the golden head bent so intently over the chessboard set up between them. That would be like Toby, wanting to clear all his debts here before he walked away and left Oz behind him. Not that Toby did owe him one damned thing. He was the one with the debt that could never be paid off, not with anything short of his life anyway. Still, Toby was like that, seeing an obligation where none really existed.

He watched Toby make his move, putting a knight in place and then sitting back, looking pleased with himself. "Your turn."

Chris nodded and leaned over the board, pretending to study it. His thoughts were on what Said had told him about letting Toby be if he really cared for him. He hated to admit it, but there was something to that. If he'd been stronger that one time, if he'd kept the vow he'd made -- Toby's blood staining his shirt, his hands, praying to God to save Toby's life and he'd never bother him again -- maybe none of this would have happened and Toby would be safe and sound back at home right this minute. That had looked like some kind of miracle to him, though, Toby wanting back with him, and he just couldn't turn his back and walk away.

He sighed, shaking his head over the board, just pushing a pawn forward at random before he settled back on his bunk, propped up on his elbows. This was hopeless. It was never going to work out. He didn't even know Toby anymore, not this one who touched him in public and acted like he was trying to come onto him in the showers. When had that gotten to be so easy for Toby? And could he believe it was real? Had it ever been?

"Are you sure that's the move you want to make?" Toby said, studying the board and then looking over at him.

"Yeah. Why?"

"It's not a very good one." To illustrate, Toby moved his knight again and took out a bishop Chris had carelessly left unguarded. "I seem to remember you playing better than this."

Yeah, he'd been a good player once upon a time, before he'd had anything to lose. He sat up and hunched forward with a shrug. "I'm just kinda rusty."

Toby gave him a sympathetic look at that, nodding. "I guess you would be. We could do something else."

He shook his head. "This is fine." Chris knew he'd been getting on Toby's nerves earlier, pacing around here, unable to settle down -- wanting to bolt and run again when McManus and Murphy had come along just a while ago. It had taken him a few seconds to register that all they were telling him was that his new work assignment would be in the library. He'd been so sure this was the other shoe dropping: they were going to tell him there'd been some mix-up, Sister Pete had got it wrong and there wasn't any reprieve -- they were frying him after all.

Trying to find a better move this time, Chris looked the board over as he said, "So what was all that about in cafeteria? Why's Said got a bug up his ass now?"

Toby's mouth quirked with a tiny smile that just as quickly turned pensive. "I disappointed him."

Fuck. That was how Holier-Than-Thou-Said showed how much he cared about Toby, by letting Toby know he was a disappointment? Not that self-righteous pricks had that market cornered, he had to admit, wincing away from the memory of how he'd wanted to wound Toby in return for hurting him so badly. All because he'd been let down that Toby's love wasn't the cure-all he'd wanted it to be. Maybe that didn't make him any better than Said, but at least he kept trying to get it right. That might count for something. "Toby, look, if he wants to go around all pouty and put out because you're not dancing to his tune that's his fucking problem, not yours. He's no goddamn different from Schillinger that way." And that was probably way more than he should have said on that subject. He held his breath, waiting for anything from a verbal slap down to a punch to the jaw, and shot him a wary look when all that came was a quiet chuckle. "What?"

"I told them that once, in one of our sessions together. Mutual outrage was had by all." Toby sighed, shook his head. "This is more complicated, though. I..." He hesitated, biting his lip and giving Chris a thoughtful look. "You must have wondered what I was doing, delivering the mail for a while there."

Oh yeah, just a bit. "You said it was McManus trying to mix things up again, changing some work assignments." And like Chris had believed that for a fucking minute.

Toby gave him an interested look. "Did you actually buy that?"

"No." But Toby had looked all right, and McManus and Sister Pete wouldn't let him do something actually dangerous, and it had been too much like another answered prayer getting to see him and touch him for those few times.

"Yeah, well," Toby shrugged, "I lied. I guess," he paused again, looking like this was something he would prefer to skip over and Chris wanted to tell him it was okay, he didn't need to know. That might be true, but it might also be true Toby needed to get it out -- he was like that, Chris remembered that much. After a pensive huff, and pulling up a self-deprecating smile, Toby went on, "I guess if you wanted to be melodramatic you could say I did a deal with the devil."

Chris sighed and glared over at him, half-wanting to reach over and smack him one, betting he could name that particular devil in one try. "What did you give Vern?"

Toby's smile went sad and thoughtful. "Not much -- just another piece of my soul," he said and went on to tell him about Guenzel and Winthrop and the price Toby had been willing to pay just for a chance to see Chris.

He wasn't even sure what he felt about that admission, his feelings were all in a jumble. He was pissed off at Guenzel for being such an asshole, for one thing, and ever putting Toby in a position like that. And he would have said the little prick got what he deserved, except that he could see the guilt eating away at Toby. "Winthrop's okay, though?"

"Yeah. Well, comparatively. They moved him to another unit to get him away from the Aryans after I testified." Toby looked like he appreciated having that much off his conscience, at least. "At least he doesn't have to go around looking like Cindy Brady anymore," Toby added, mouth quirked with another bitter smile.

They looked at each other across the chessboard, eyes locking and shadowed with memories of the one thing they had in common: living -- and almost dying -- at Schillinger's whim. Chris looked away first, down at the board as he captured Toby's pawn with one of his own. Toby had become an accomplished player, all right. And as sad as that made him, Chris couldn't deny that he felt a certain satisfaction mixed in as well. Now Toby knew. He knew the desperate lengths you could be driven to, the stakes you were playing for in here, and the rules you played by.

Even so, he couldn't help wondering if Toby thought the cost had been worth it. "You could've walked away, blown it off," he said quietly, as Toby bent over the board again.

Toby shot him a quick, hard look. "I'm nobody's bitch," he said, crossing into Chris' territory and taking up an unassailable position with his knight. He shrugged again after a moment, a troubled look back in his eyes. "I don't know -- probably I could have handled it all differently, but," he looked at Chris again and grasped his hand, "at the time all I saw was a means to an end."

And Chris suspected he shouldn't feel kind of turned on by that confession. If he needed proof Toby wanted him back just as badly, he guessed he had it. Only -- Chris dropped his gaze back to the board and moved his other bishop forward, no real intent in mind -- was it more than that, more than wanting to fuck? That's what he desperately needed to know.

He rested back on the bunk again, watching Toby ... hungrily, warily ... wanting to come right out and ask but too afraid of the answer. When it had looked like it was all beside the point anyway since they were never going to see each other again, it had been easy -- okay, easier -- to just let it lie. Where was the harm in going to the electric chair, believing Toby really loved him? Now, though...

"That still doesn't explain why Said's in a snit," he said, circling a little closer to the main point.

Toby gave him a wry smile and a tiny, amused huff at that. "After Adam died, I...went to Said to confide in him, seek his advice. He said since you were the reason for my deplorable lapse," his wide mouth twisted with the sarcastic bitterness that showed in his eyes, "I should atone for my actions by denying myself any chance to see you."

Chris barely spared an irritated thought for Said's interference. Feeling a dangerous twinge of hope, he leaned forward, intently watching Toby's face, alert to every thought and emotion he could see there no matter how subtle. "You came, though," he said, quiet, trying not to invest that with too much significance.

Toby nodded. "Like you said, I don't take orders well." He gave him a serious, apologetic look then and reached over to touch his arm, stroking along the forearm. "I tried to keep away," he said, as if confessing some grievous sin. "I saw you once, in the hospital. I wanted you to look over and see me, I wanted to go to you, but," he sighed and gave a hapless little shrug, "I turned away. My need to punish myself took precedence. I'm sorry." He clasped Chris' hands, twining their fingers together. "But when I heard about your sentence all I could think of was that I had to get to you, I had to see you and let you know there was someone who cared, someone who loved you and would stand by you no matter," he finished, blue eyes growing bright for a moment with the force of his declaration.

Feeling his own eyes sting for an instant, Chris looked down at the board again -- but he didn't withdraw his hand from Toby's gentle grasp. "Said didn't approve?"

Toby's laugh was soft and rueful. "No. And..." he gave Chris' hand a squeeze, "I don't especially give a fuck."

"He's your friend," Chris said, looking up at him again.

Somehow managing to look sad and happy at the same time, Toby reached over with his other hand and cupped Chris' face, saying, "Yes, but you're my lover. That makes a difference."

Yes, it did, but instead of being thrilled at such an outright statement Chris felt another rush of anxiety tear through him. Getting to his feet abruptly enough to jostle the chessboard, he paced over to the pod door, bracing his hands against the Plexiglas as he stared out into the empty common area. He felt Toby come up behind him, felt Toby's hands on his shoulders, kneading them. Heard Toby's breath soft against his ear, asking, "Chris, what is it? What's wrong?"

But he didn't know what to tell him because he didn't have a fucking clue himself.

This was all going wrong. That was all Toby could think as he stood there, feeling Chris trembling under his touch, every muscle wound tight with tension. Instead of settling down and relaxing, Chris was getting more skittish. And for the life of him Toby couldn't see what he had said or done this time to bring this on. He'd thought Chris would want to know how badly he'd needed to see him, how highly Toby valued him. Maybe he'd been coming on a little strong, sort of flirting with him there in the showers, but he'd thought Chris would get a kick out of that. That it would be a pretty clear signal that Toby was very glad to see him and couldn't wait until the lights went out and they could really celebrate their reunion.

"Chris..." He sighed, rubbing the strong shoulders again, resting his cheek there for a moment. "Is it Schillinger? Are you mad because I went along with his demands?"

"No. I'm not mad about that. I'm not mad about anything, Toby," Chris said, the words spoken softly, a tone of exasperation coloring them.

"Well...then...?" Utterly mystified, Toby just held him, feeling his chest rise and fall with a sigh, Chris' warm breath fogging the glass for a moment. "Talk to me, please."

The exasperation was sharper in Chris' exhalation this time and Toby could feel the strong muscles tightening up some more, as if Chris wanted to just burst out of the pod and run, keep running until he achieved some nirvana of total exhaustion. Toby knew a little something about that. He could help him with that, if Chris would only let him.

"There's nothing to talk about, Toby," Chris finally said, the words sounding almost like they were being recited by rote. "I'm not mad at you."

Maybe not -- but something was eating at him, and if Chris expected him to just let it be than he must have forgotten everything he had ever learned about Tobias Beecher.

"All right." Toby stepped back, dropping his hands to Chris' waist and for an instant, squeezing and aching to do more. He wasn't about to give up on working this out, no, but he could see that another approach might work better. "Then if there's nothing wrong," he dropped his voice to a seductive whisper against Chris' ear, "how about we get ready for bed and see about working out all these kinks." He punctuated his words by running one hand up Chris' broad back, fingers lingering over the knotted muscles.

Chris turned to face him then, a kaleidoscope of emotions in his eyes, something a lot like angry suspicion standing out clearest of all. "When the fuck did that get so damned easy for you?" he said, the hurt and apprehension evident in his voice.

"When did what get so easy for me?" Toby backed off a little ways, wanting to understand but feeling more bewildered by the second.

"All this..." Chris shook his head, gesturing emptily, like the words were frustrating him. "Anytime I touched you in public, anytime I showed you how I felt about you where anyone could see, you'd get all pissed off and uptight. Now all of a sudden you can't keep your hands to yourself?" he finished with an angry look.

Well for... Toby glared back at him, saying, "Well I beg your fucking pardon. I had this goofy idea you might appreciate my not being all pissed off and uptight." He regretted the words almost immediately, seeing the stricken look in Chris' eyes. "Chris," he stepped forward again, struggling not to touch him, "why are we fighting?"

"I don't know."

Toby could see that was true. He took another step closer, giving in and touching him now, just gripping his shoulder for a moment. "You're here, you're not going to die," he said, trying to explain. "That sort of makes me happy, and I thought we might want to mark that with some kind of special observance. That's all." He shrugged, giving him an ironic smile. "I could probably get bitchy about something, if that's what would really make you happy."

Those highly kissable lips gave a slight twitch, like the absurdity of this was dawning on Chris at last -- but there was still something wary lurking in the depths of those blue, blue eyes. "No, that isn't what I want."

"You're sure? `Cause I could even put together a crazy rhyme if that would help." Toby watched him carefully, wanting to make sure Chris understood he was just teasing.

Those lips quirked with a bigger smile and Chris shook his head. "No, I don't need any rhymes."

"You're absolutely positive?" Toby said, looking at him with mock seriousness. "Not even..." he paused, thinking, and then leaning in close again to whisper, "Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine--" The hand placed across his mouth quieted him. "You don't like that one? How about," he said when the hand was removed, barely getting out, "A Nick and a nock, a hen and a cock," before his mouth was covered again. Huffing as the hand was removed again, Toby narrowed his eyes at him, saying, "I suppose you'd have objections to anything about a guy from Nantucket, too?"

"Maybe later."

Toby nodded, thinking he'd achieved his objective anyway as he watched Chris visibly relax and saw most of that guarded concern leave his eyes. He could only keep his fingers crossed it would all be gone before too much longer. This shouldn't still be hard, not after everything they had been through, not when they had been able to say so much in all those letters. Jesus, hadn't he told Chris time and again what he'd like to do with him if they could ever be truly alone? Sharing all those fantasies should have gone a long ways to letting him know little Toby was all over his inhibitions. Maybe dealing with that in the flesh took some getting used to, though?

He thought he could understand that, especially when it had been such a long time since they had been together like that. Anyone might be feeling just a bit jittery. After all, didn't he keep chattering away so he wouldn't dwell too much on the enormity of this, having Chris back? There he was, right there, looking better than anyone just released from death row had a right to. And he was real, wonderfully, vibrantly real, not just another dream. Toby could touch him again, kiss him and hold and love him again. Touching was absolutely essential, in fact, to make sure this wasn't just an incredibly vivid figment of his imagination. And if he really did think about that too much he might need to go sit in a corner and jibber to himself for a while.

So all things considered, it looked to him that wanting to get naked between the sheets with Chris and just revel in the feel and smell and taste of him was the vastly preferred alternative. He hadn't expected Chris would require any convincing that way, but Toby was perfectly resolved to call upon all his powers of persuasion to bring Chris around to seeing that was indeed the most desirable outcome.

If need be, in fact, he was prepared to work on it all night long.

"Are we good?" he said, giving Chris a serious look.

And Chris hesitated only a fraction of a second before nodding. "We're good."

With just a bit of luck they might be on their way to fantastic very shortly -- but Toby thought it might be wise to let well enough alone just for the moment.

"Shall we finish the game?" Toby said, glancing back at the board.

Chris looked there, too, but shook his head. "Nah, you had me beat."

This was true, although Toby had a hunch that wasn't just because Chris was out of practice. The remnants of the game, Chris' side especially, showed an uncharacteristic lack of focus, pieces moved all willy-nilly as if the player's mind had been a million miles away.

He tidied up, putting the cheap board and plastic pieces away in the locker, casting another thoughtful look over at Chris, still standing by the door and watching him. Always watching him, even across a gulf of pain and misery. Funny how much he had grown to rely on that, taking a perverse sort of comfort in that constancy. That first night without it had been the hardest, looking up to the second tier of cells there and knowing Chris wouldn't be there, he wouldn't be waiting as if it was all some prearranged rendezvous. Standing there at the door and gazing up at nothing -- that's when everything had really hit him, when he truly realized Chris was gone, forever. And if, for once, he had kept his grief private and quiet, hoarding it to himself like something rare and precious, it had still cut deep.

He hoped he might be forgiven for being glad he could stop preparing to go through that again, feel that much desolation again.

Reaching to move a yellow legal pad out of the way as he rooted around for his sweats, Toby's heart stopped for an instant as he read the words so carefully written down there: Last Will and Testament of Christopher Keller. Oh man. He touched those words, fingertips tracing over them as his vision grew blurry and his throat tightened up. Thank you, God. Offering up the silent, heartfelt prayer, he closed the locker and shot Chris another look, weighing some pros and cons.

Pro: He really wanted to show Chris how glad he was to have him back. Con: Chris seemed a bit taken aback by his flagrant advances, however. Pro: Well that was just fucking tough, and the big galoot could just learn to get used to it because this relationship had been on an unequal footing for far too long. Con: Of course, he would probably feel like an idiot, but...

Resolved, Toby sat down to remove his boots and socks, then stood up again to enjoy a nice, slow, full body stretch -- trying not to smile as a casual glance confirmed that he did, indeed, have his companion's undivided attention. Now if he could just pull this off with a certain degree of finesse, it just might go a long ways to providing a certain someone with stimulating inspiration. Well, there was also the possibility Chris would bust a gut laughing his ass off. Toby wasn't making bets either way.

He'd never done anything like this, he'd never even thought of doing anything like this. In fact if the idea of a guy stripping had ever crossed his mind back in the day, it probably would have struck him as pretty damned silly and not in the least erotic. All that had changed the day that certain someone -- brooding good looks, sleek and smoldering, peeling out of his clothes with a casual and unselfconscious sensuality -- had said, `Wanna wrestle?' And while Toby had some personal doubts about possessing anything close to those qualities, it was easy to believe otherwise whenever he looked into Chris' eyes. That knowledge was the only thing that made this remotely easy.

He tugged the black polo out of his pants and grasped the hem, slowly...slowly drawing the cloth up over his abdomen...higher... Damn. How had Chris been so cool and easy doing this? Toby was already feeling warm and tingly, his nipples hard and sensitive as the soft cloth brushed over them, and his cock ready to stand up and say howdy. Taking a deep breath and striving for some nonchalance -- nope, nothing going on in here, just getting ready for lights out -- Toby got out of the shirt and flung it out of the way, stealing a glance at Chris and taking a good deal of satisfaction in what he saw. Clumsy or not, he had a captive audience, all right. He could feel the heat of those blue eyes sizzling him as they raked him up and down and he couldn't wait for those parted lips to caress his skin. It was always like that, Chris looking at him like he was the most delicious and desirable thing Chris had ever seen. And someday they might just try that experiment he'd wondered about, find out if Chris really could make him come just by looking at him.

Thinking about that really didn't help, however, and he paused to draw in a couple of deep breaths, hands reaching for his zipper and waiting until his overeager anatomy settled down just a bit. Maybe music helped distract your mind? he thought, trying to think of some sexy, bump-and-grind tune he could hum to himself. The only thing popping into his head, though, was `There was a farmer had a dog, and his name was Bingo.' Although... B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O, Bingo was his name-o ... Yes that did help, actually. He was able to pull the zipper down and get out of his pants and briefs without anything standing up to salute anyway. The point was casual, going on about his business just as if Chris wasn't standing over there visually eating him alive.

Toby slipped into the navy sweats then, letting them ride low on his hips as he went over to the sink and reached for his toothbrush. Short of taking out an announcement in the Times, he didn't see how he could send out a clearer invitation. Now it was just wait and see what kind of response came back.

Off-hand - and out of the corner of his eye Toby watched Chris resting back against the bunks, breathing like he'd just done a set up push-up -- he would have to say all the indications were very encouraging.

Jesus Christ. Was Toby doing that deliberately? Chris had never been able to tell. Sometimes he'd thought it had to be false modesty, Toby acting like he had no idea he was hotter than asphalt on the Fourth of July. Other times he'd got the feeling the blond really was completely clueless that way and that it was his special responsibility to open up Toby's eyes. That was one job he'd really enjoyed.

He was getting a kick out of this show, too. Although he'd like it better if it was for his eyes only. Had he told Toby about that one, the daydream he had sometimes about them slow-dancing to some hot, bluesy music far away from Oz? How in the daydream they undressed each other to the beat of the music, its rhythms matching their movements even as they tumbled down to the bed? Yeah, that was always a good one. Maybe Toby'd like it.

He let his gaze linger on the slim lines of the other man's body as Toby went over to the sink. A few pounds too slim, perhaps, but Chris didn't have any other complaints about the view -- barefoot, wearing a pair of navy blue sweats that were riding low on narrow hips as he reached for a toothbrush. Sensing he was being watched, Toby cast a look over his shoulder that was an awful lot like that coy, come and get it glance Chris had been treated to that long ago New Years' Eve. The fact that he couldn't entirely trust his interpretation worried him, though. All of a sudden he needed something a whole lot more explicit to clue him on how to proceed.

He could just come out and ask, of course, and he didn't know what had him feeling kind of shy all of a sudden. Maybe it had to do with how they had spent so much time lately communicating through letters, and some of that stuff was harder to express face to face? And maybe it had something to do with how they hadn't touched each other like that in such a long time?

Every moment of their last night together was permanently imprinted on his memory, starting with that amazing moment when Toby had kissed his wound, that simple gesture filled with such sense of reverence and tenderness that it could still floor him two years later. Even after everything that had happened in between. He remembered thinking he could be very content with just that touch, being close to Toby and offering whatever comfort he could to help him get through that nightmare of his missing children. Chris hadn't expected Toby to want more, to need more right then, but Toby had told him he needed to feel something besides fear and desperation, pulling Chris down to the hard and narrow mattress. That hadn't been anywhere near their most passionate coupling but it was had been one of the most satisfying, just touching and kissing, both of them needing to feel another heart beating in the darkest part of the night. It had been one of those perfect moments when Chris really believed this was it, this was the love he had been starving for all of his life.

A sad smile quirked his lips for a moment as he stood there remembering every touch, every look that had convinced him Toby loved him -- and how those memories had made him feel so stupid afterwards, twisting the knife even further into his heart when Toby had turned on him so unexpectedly. Trying to figure out how that made any sense, how Toby could love him so sweetly one second and then try to kill him the next, had just about driven him nuts those days he'd been locked away in the hole. `You're capable of anything!' Toby had screamed at him, truly believing that -- and Chris knew he couldn't deny it. Like he'd told Sister Pete, he was as bad as they came. Toby especially hadn't had one goddamn reason to think otherwise. That was the fucked up thing, though. Chris had truly believed Toby had been able to find something of worth in him, something that a person like Toby could love. Having that illusion shattered all to pieces without any kind of warning -- nothing had ever hurt that bad, nothing had ever made him want to just crawl in a hole and die.

He guessed it was still a pretty tender spot, probably it always would be, just like Toby would never really get over that first betrayal no matter what. Chris appreciated that he kept making that effort, though. It was more of a second chance than he deserved, that was for sure.

But -- could they really glue all those broken bits and pieces back together and love each other like that again? He didn't know, and he was almost afraid to find out, but ... Chris watched Toby brushing his teeth ... he was more afraid of never knowing. Even so, he was glad when the lights finally went out and left them in shadow, because whatever happened next had to be easier in the dark.

All those words on paper should have helped more.

Chris was thinking about that as he stood there, watching Toby finish brushing his teeth. They had said so much to each other, things Chris had never confided in anyone - words from Toby that felt like things he'd wanted to hear all his life. He'd believed them easily enough up to now, looking forward to every letter almost as if they had become the embodiment of all the Christmas presents and birthday parties that had never turned up. Which was a really stupid way to think of them, and he'd never told Toby about that, but that's how it felt - that same blend of anticipation and hope he'd felt long, long ago that maybe this time, this year, it would be different and he wouldn't be forgotten. Trouble was, now it was also starting to feel like the letdown that always followed as expectation collided with reality.

He flashed on a stupid memory, one time his Aunt Francie had brought him a birthday cake and how he'd just realized it really was for him because she'd put his name on it when Danny'd come along, saying, `Hey, Chrissy, you need a closer look at that?' and pushed his face into the cake. And even that wouldn't have been so bad if everybody else hadn't laughed right along with his big brother, even Aunt Francie.

Stupid fucking memory. And anyway Danny was dead - 19-years-old and riding his bike like a bat of hell and never seeing that truck coming until he smashed right into it. Chris pushed that memory away, too, seeing his brother's mangled body there on the street, crying even though he'd half-hated the stupid sonofabitch, and hearing his mother's voice screeching at him down at the hospital, `Oh, God, why couldn't it have been you!'

Sitting down on his bunk for a moment, Chris hunched forward, not understanding why stuff like that was popping into his head now, when Toby was right there, ready and willing and looking better than any pile of presents under the Christmas tree. Was it what Sister Pete'd kept harping at him about, that delayed reaction? Whatever it was, he wished it would just go the fuck away and let him be so he could enjoy what was here and now. He had the rest of his goddamned life to remember all the rest of it - but Toby would be gone so soon.

Even so, it took a lot of effort for Chris to get up again and take the couple of steps necessary to bring him up behind Toby, close enough to touch ... and he did, caressing the nape of his neck and feeling the silky gold of those curls tickle his fingers. Growing bolder, his fingers traced the bumpy ridge of spine, wanting to run his tongue along that same route, wanting to kiss and caress every inch of that beautiful back. For now he settled for resting his hands at Toby's trim waist and nuzzling those springy curls. Not sure how to interpret Toby brushing more furiously, Chris planted a soft trail of kisses along the back of his neck and left shoulder, face burrowing into the crook of his neck, mouth open against Toby's flesh so the taste of him would saturate his mouth.

In the next instant he could have sworn he felt all those hairline cracks splintering again as Toby said, "Stop -- Chris, quit it."

Oh Christ.

Chris stepped back, not knowing what to do, only wanting to not have to stand there feeling like a fucking idiot. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, not even risking a look at him. What had he done wrong? He couldn't see what he'd done wrong this time.

"Well I should hope so," Toby was saying, sounding like nothing at all out of the ordinary was happening, "because we have had this discussion, you know."

"What?" Chris looked at him then, completely clueless and kind of wishing Toby would just shut the fuck up.

Toby rinsed, spit, and turned around. "You not getting frisky when I've got a mouth full of toothpaste, that's what. I'm glad you like me minty fresh but you can just hold your horses for a second."

He thought this was fucking funny? "Why don't you just go to hell?" he growled out, sitting back down on his bunk, hunched over again with his arms folded around himself, really feeling like he might just come apart any second. God, when was this ever going to stop - the games, the jumping through hoops? Sometimes he felt like he should be playing that stupid game where you plucked the petals off a flower, saying, `Toby loves me, he loves me not, he loves me ... he loves me not...' He even knew he deserved the mind-games, if that's what this all really was, because what he'd done to Toby could never be forgiven. If the last thing Toby ever said to him just before he walked out of Oz forever, was, `I don't love you, I never loved you,' it would be nothing but justice, the payback he had coming. But, Christ, he didn't know how much more of it he could bear.

"Chris... Chris, what it is?" Toby said, sounding like he actually cared. He watched bare feet pad over to him, the slim, pale body kneeling down and those strong hands resting on his knees, as Toby asked, "Chris, will you look at me? Come on."

He just shook his head furiously, feeling himself shaking now. "Leave me alone."

"No. Chris," Toby was moving, sitting beside him and taking him into his arms, "it's okay, come on, it's okay."

"It isn't fucking okay," Chris hissed back, struggling in that embrace, belatedly remembering how Toby was always so much stronger than he looked. "Nothing is fucking okay!" Oh Christ, he felt like he wanted to scream or cry, or ... he didn't know what.

"All right," Toby spoke against his ear, soft, soothing, one hand stroking his hair, "all right, it's as okay as it can be, though. Just calm down, calm down," he went on like that, shushing him softly, holding him, petting him through the tremors. "Tell me what's wrong -- can you tell me what's wrong?"

Chris shook his head, letting Toby hold him now. "I don't know. It -- it's everything. It's thinking I was never going to see you again and starting to get used to that and then they tell me, nope, you're going back to Oz. And I'm fucking looking forward to that," he rushed the words out, stumbling over them, feeling like they would choke him if he didn't get rid of them, "and then they tell me, no, no Toby, no nothing, just that fucking cunt hack and a one-way trip to the electric chair. And then," he had to clear his throat, burying his face against Toby's shoulder as he felt the stupid fucking tears welling up, holding on tight to Toby as they fell, "you're there, you're really fucking there, and I can touch you and kiss you and that's like fucking heaven. And they fucking take that away, and there's just nothing, nothing until today, just out of the blue, they tell me oh, yeah, you're not getting fried after all and you even get to go see Toby again -- and it's just another fucking trick, isn't it? Tomorrow they'll come along and say it was just a joke and take you away again. And...and..." running down, no words left, he just sagged in Toby's arms, trembling, wishing he could just die right this moment because all he'd done was make a goddamn fool of himself carrying on like a maniac.

Toby just held him, though, rocking him gently, stroking his hair, and not even saying anything for a long time. When he did speak, there was a tender, wry note in his voice as he set Chris back just a bit. "Well, you've just had quite a day, haven't you?"

Chris felt his lip trembling again and bit down on it, afraid he was going to start bawling again. "It's not funny."

"Well," Toby drawled it out, reaching out to touch his face, brushing at the wetness, "you having a fit of hysterics is kind of amusing." The look in his eyes was soft and warm, though, and he drew Chris' face to him, kissing his cheeks, tasting the salt. "I'm not laughing at you, baby," he murmured. "Never."

Chris sniffed, cleared his throat. "It's just...too much," he admitted. Christ -- it had been too much all his life.

"Yeah, it is," Toby said, still keeping him close. "A good screaming hissyfit every now and then can really do wonders for you, though."

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind," Chris grumbled, letting himself rest against Toby, wanting to stay right there forever.

"Tell me what's hurting you," Toby said once he felt Chris relaxing against him, the tremors easing. This had to be more than just getting readjusted to life in Em City. That might discombobulate Chris, but Toby didn't see it bringing on anything like this reaction.

Chris' reply sort of confirmed that, a trace of resentment in his voice as he said, "Why should you care?"

"I don't know - I'm funny that way about people I love." Toby kept his tone mild, striving not to add to the volatility. "What do you need?"

That earned an inarticulate sound that carried a great deal of incredulity in it, but Toby waited, his patience rewarded when Chris said, "I need to be a million miles from here. Can you give me that?"

Toby sighed, stroking his hair again, a familiar vision popping into his head of the two of them on the back of Chris' bike, racing down some endless highway under a clear blue sky. "I would if I could. You know that."

"I do?"

O-kay, that was kind of unexpectedly on the snarkily disbelieving side. "I would have thought so, yes," he replied, still trying to keep it calm and easy.

"That's why you made sure I got such expert legal advice?" Chris shot right back, no mistaking the bitterness now as he got free of Toby's embrace and scooted down to the other end of the bunk.

It was on the tip of his tongue to snap back something about what had he wanted, for Toby to hire Johnnie Cochrane? The haunted look in Chris' eyes stopped him, though. Well, and not to mention his own sense of retroactive guilt and responsibility. "I thought Katherine would do her best."

"And you based that on what, exactly? How fucking short she wore her skirts?"

"Look," Toby sat up straighter, dearly wanting to avoid a fight but feeling his confidence that way slipping rapidly away, "there is no reason to drag Katherine into this."

"No? Why - you still fucking her?" Chris shot back, all the anger and suspicion crystallizing in that accusation, even while he looked like he'd give anything to have the words unsaid in the next second.

"No, I am not still fucking her, I never did fuck her." Toby popped up off the bunk and crossed quickly over to the pod door, knowing there had to be some space between them right this moment. Leaning back against the door, he stared over at Chris, hardly knowing where to start. "That's what's eating you? You're jealous of Katherine?" And everybody thought he was the crazy one. Jesus fucking Christ - what did he have to do, what did he have to say to make Chris believe? He pushed off from the door and crossed to the locker again, opening it and tearing through the contents, carelessly discarding items on the floor - even the drawings from Holly and Harry that he'd been showing Chris earlier in the evening - until he'd found what he wanted. Hurling the bundle of letters over at Chris, he demanded, "Did you read one goddamn word I wrote you?"

The letters were thrown back at him even more violently, smacking into the wall and scattering over the floor as the rubber band broke that held them together. "They're just fucking words, Toby!" Chris hunched over again, hugging himself tight, repeating in something like a heartbroken whisper, "They're just fucking words."

Toby watched him helplessly, wanting to go to him -- not wanting to fight over a woman that meant less to him than a daydream. He didn't know if he could do it, though, if either one of them had the emotional wherewithal to keep this up any longer. Was it even worth it to try? he wondered, already feeling exhausted and frazzled and almost glad to see the beam of a flashlight swinging their way, a hack pounding on the glass and cautioning them to keep it the fuck down.

Climbing up to his bunk, Toby sat with his back resting against the wall, arms looped around his knees as he tried to find some way out of this vicious circle they were trapped in. Was it worth it? He'd sure thought so, just a few minutes ago. He hadn't even needed to think about that, not a few minutes ago.

"Chris - what do you want?" he asked into the darkness, not even sure he'd get an answer.

One drifted up to him, though, Chris sounding just as exhausted and forlorn. "I don't know."

"Well can you take a shot in the dark?"

Silence answered him this time and he might have given up then, if not for the quiet sigh he heard, something in that sound reminding him of the desolation he'd felt when Chris was gone, a loneliness that cut too deep for words. He dropped to the floor, glancing at the man still sitting at the end of the lower bunk, and took a couple of minutes to clean up the mess of the floor - and work out what to say.

"This isn't really about Katherine, is it?" he finally said, slowly approaching that lower bunk again.

"Isn't it?"

"I don't think so." Toby sat down carefully, not touching him yet. "She didn't mean anything to me, Chris, I swear."

"Swear, promise, make an oath, take a vow?" The words were tossed back at him softly, no venom in them, just a trace of worn out irony. "You dreamed about being with her, strolling hand-in-hand through a park with her when they let you out of here. How couldn't she mean something to you?"

"Chris..." He sighed. "Do you know why I told you about that?"

"No." That was all Chris said, but it was enough for Toby to suspect that was something Chris had spent a lot of time wondering about, and that he'd come to all the wrong conclusions. And whose fault was that?

"Chris, I dreamed about walking in the park with her because it didn't mean anything. It was make believe, no more substance than a soap bubble." Even if he hadn't truly realized that at the time it didn't make it any less true. Katherine's memory didn't haunt him; he didn't lie awake at night thinking of the thousand things he could have said or done differently with her. He leaned forward just a bit and carefully reached out, needing the affirmation of touch, fingertips just barely tracing along the fine hairs of Chris' arm. "Knowing I will never walk in the park with her doesn't break my heart, Chris." Hell, up to this moment he hadn't even thought of her since she had walked out of his life.

Chris gave him a quick, troubled look, then glanced away again and drew in a shaky breath. Toby longed to reach for him and soothe away whatever was tearing him up inside. He didn't even know where to start, though, he wasn't used to Chris being the fragile one.

Only that wasn't quite true. There had been moments, sometimes no more than a quick glimpse, sometimes more substantial - dealing with his demons there, alone in the dark and trying not to bother him, asking for nothing except for Toby not to let go. Acting like the tiniest gesture of kindness or casual intimacy was some sort of miracle.

Maybe it was, to Chris. In so many ways this man was still a complete mystery to Toby, all the ways that were supposed to matter. Ask about the Keller ex-wives club or Ponzies past, no problem. Chris had written enough about both to provide plots for three or four novels. Change the subject and venture an inquiry about his family, though, where he came from and how he'd grown up and you smacked right into a brick wall. Christopher Keller began life at seventeen, in Lardner - period. And even then the story was carefully edited and pieced together so that he hadn't been Vern's victim. Oh no, Chris had let Schillinger abuse him, rape him. And wild horses wouldn't make him budge from that. Toby had given in on that at last, seeing it was crucial to Chris' self-image that he not have been a helpless victim. Because somewhere in that past he wouldn't talk about that's exactly what he had been?

Up to now Toby hadn't really minded taking the easy route and almost believing he was only thinking of Chris by doing so, wanting to spare him having to tear open all those old wounds. That he tended to be selfishly obsessed with own endless trials and tribulations hadn't been a factor, of course, no sir. If that past was spreading its poison even now, though, that careful avoidance wasn't an option for either of them anymore.

"Chris," he scooted closer, laying his hand on Chris' forearm and feeling the muscle so taut beneath his palm, "I wish I could read your mind, but you've got to tell me what's going on."

He wasn't sure Chris would answer him. He had just about decided Chris was just going to stare at him all night with those wounded, weary eyes as Chris finally said, "I know I've got no claim on you, Toby. I know you don't owe me the time of day much less anything else. I know you're gonna walk away from here and never look back, never think of me again. It's just..." He trailed off then, biting his lip, breathing hard and dropping his gaze down to his hands, folded neatly in his lap.

Aching for him, Toby bit back the half dozen replies that leaped to his tongue and reached for Chris' hands instead, clasping them. "You know all that for a fact, huh?" he said at last, striving to inject a note of gentle humor into his voice. "You couldn't be more wrong, Chris, about all of it."

That only got him a doubtful, frustrated look. "You don't gotta lie to me, Toby."

Swallowing his own frustration, Toby said, "How do I show you I'm not lying?"

Just shaking his head, Chris said, "I don't know - listen to me?"

"I am."

Chris shook his head again. "I mean listen to me, like you do Said."

This was important, Toby could tell that from the earnest way Chris was looking at him. For the life of him, though, he just wasn't getting it. "All right."

Whatever Chris wanted to hear, though, that wasn't it. "Look, just forget it, okay?" He got free of Toby's grasp and slipped off the bunk, crossing over to lean against the sink. Weariness infused every movement, the kind that had nothing to do with physical tiredness. He spared a brief glance at his reflection in the shadowy mirror before turning and tugging his wifebeater out of his pants, making as if it to peel on out of it. "You wanna fuck?"

Toby felt his heart crack wide open. He'd never seen Chris like this, never heard him sounding so...dead. "No, I don't want to fuck," he said quietly as he got off the bed and approached him, feeling like he was walking on broken glass. He stopped when he was near enough to touch, to see his face but not boxing him in, and said, "Chris, I'm listening, I am." He didn't know what else to say or do, and that might have been the hardest thing he'd done in a long time - just stand there and keep quiet while Chris watched him, searching his face as if hoping to discover buried treasure.

"Look," Chris finally spoke up, resignation in every syllable, "I know you can't trust me, I know I fucked up any hope of that, and you've got even less reason to ever...I don't know, respect me, but...but I wish you would listen to me, not Said, when it comes to someone like Schillinger. I wish..." He trailed off again, shaking his head as if expressing a sense of utter futility, one corner of his mouth quirking up with wry irony, as if he might be recalling someone else wishing on a star in this pod once upon a time. "I... You said I'm your lover and Said's your friend... I want to be that, Toby, I...I want to be more than just some guy you...fucked." The effort to get those words out seemed to exhaust him and he dropped to the floor, knees drawn up and his head bowed forward. His posture saying he was waiting for another notice of execution.

With little idea of what to say, Toby sat down beside him and reached for his hand again, threading their fingers together, giving a little squeeze. He didn't know how long they sat like that, quiet, their breathing slowly easing into a synchronous rhythm. Long enough for a hack to pass by again and shine his light over them, moving on without any comment. After a bit Toby laid his head down on Chris' shoulder and said, "You have never been just some guy I fucked. Even when I was angry enough at you to spit, you were never that. I'm sorry I let you down--"


"My turn to talk, okay?" Toby cut him off with a tiny huff. "Yes, we got off on the worst foot possible, but that's ancient history. I forgave you--"

"You can't."

Another huff. "I fucking can and I have, so just get that through your head once and for all. And quit being such a goddamn suffering martyr because I called dibs on that when I got here." Okay, so it was kind of soon to try lightening the atmosphere with a stab at humor. "Do you forgive me?"

"You know I do."


"Because I love you." Just like that, just that simply. That never ceased to blow Toby away.

"And that strikes you as a good enough reason?"

A frustrated sound from Chris then, and he shifted around to look at Toby, suspicious and unsure of himself. "What the fuck's that mean?"

"It means you're not the only one who can let bygones be bygones."

Chris grimaced, looking away. "Operation Toby was a lot more than a fucking bygone."

"Yeah - and so was stabbing you in the back, in the dark," Toby said, watching him. "So was believing you ever could have ordered the murder of my son and trying to kill you. Yet you kept right on loving me, no matter what."

Chris gave a hapless shrug. "You're all I've got, Toby."

And that just about killed Toby every time he thought about it. "Then at least believe you really do have me. And don't give me any bullshit about how you know I'm going to walk away from you and deny I ever knew you."

Toby reached over, framing his hands along Chris' face, making the other man look at him. "You're under my skin and pulsing through my blood and filling my soul, Christopher Keller. You're as indelible as your tattoos or the brand on my ass. If I wanted to, I couldn't get rid of that - and I will never fucking want to. I don't know what will happen if I ever leave this place. But I know this: even if I had to leave tomorrow and could never come back, if I never saw your face again or heard your voice, it wouldn't matter. You're a part of me, a part I will treasure until I draw my last breath on earth - and don't you ever even think about ditching me in heaven, you sonofabitch," he finished, eyes stinging, dropping his hands to Chris' shoulders and giving him a shake, desperate to get through to him.

Taking a chance on the one thing that never failed them, he slid a hand around the back of Chris' head and drew him in close, kissing his bright eyes, kissing his mouth. "I love you, I will always fucking love you," he murmured between kisses, brushing his fingers through the short, dark hair.

"I don't think that's how the song goes," Chris said, breathing the words against his ear.

"It'd be a better song if it did." Toby wrapped his arms around Chris, just needing to hold him close. "I like you a lot, too, if you really need to know that."


"Umm hmm. We can pass each other notes and exchange friendship rings and have sleepovers - whatever makes you happy," Toby said, hoping a sliver of humor might come in handy now.

Apparently it did, because while Chris drew back to give him a doubtful look there was no trace of haunted sadness in his eyes now. "You are nuts," he said, wry affection in his voice and eyes.

"Oh yeah, and like you're the poster boy for mental health," Toby returned just as affectionately, punctuating it with another kiss on his mouth. "Thinking of sleepovers, though..." he danced his fingers along Chris' spine, slipping his hand under the wifebeater and caressing bare skin, pausing to nip at an earlobe, "...what do you think?" he nodded his head over at the bunks, searching Chris' eyes for the answer. "It can be just sleeping," he added when Chris seemed to hesitate an instant too long.


Toby's mouth quirked up with a happy/sad little smile and he kissed his again. "Yeah," he said, rubbing their noses together before getting to his feet and hauling Chris up with him. The rest would come in time.

Chris sat on the edge of his bunk, watching with some bemusement as Toby knelt and unlaced his boots, tugging them off. This wasn't exactly what he had been looking forward to when Sister Pete had brought him the news he would be back with Toby tonight. It was sweet, Toby getting him ready for bed and all - but sweet wasn't exactly what he needed.

On the other hand, he wasn't sure either of them was up to much after this roller-coaster ride. He did want to signal Toby it would be all right to want sex, though. It would be just like Toby to start obsessing over that now, thinking Chris needed wooing or something. He had what he needed now - fuck, Toby's declaration was a lot more than he would have even thought to ask for.

When Toby reached for his zipper, Chris caught those efficient hands and shook his head. "C'mere," he said, sliding back onto the bunk, stretching out along the hard, lumpy mattress and patting the spot beside him. After a moment's hesitation, looking like he was waging some little war with himself, Toby eased himself down there, snuggling back as Chris spooned up behind him. "That's better," he murmured, holding him, one hand splayed over Toby's chest.

"You're sure?" Toby said on a happy sigh that managed to contain a note of anxiety.

Chris nuzzled his ear. "Umm hmm." Sometimes he thought this was what he had missed most of all. Sex was good; sex with Toby was incredible, but this - he'd never had this before. "How come we work together?" he said after a few more blissful moments of just being quiet and hearing Toby's breath.

"What do you mean?" Toby shifted around to face him.

"I mean..." Chris shrugged, not exactly sure how to put it into words. "We got nothing in common - `cept Vern," he said, frowning pensively over that connection for a moment. "So how come it works?"

"I don't know." Toby looked serious, like he might have spent some time thinking about this, too. "I think we sort of... I don't know," he shook his head, kind of frustrated, like he didn't quite have the words, either, which had to be one of those once in a blue moon deals. "I think we shore each other up," he said at last, making a face like he realized that sounded sort of goofy.

"Shore each other up?" Chris repeated.

With a small huff, Toby returned, laughter in his eyes, "All right - we complete each other. You like that better?"

"Mmm - keep workin' on it."

"Smart ass. Anyway," Toby made himself more comfortable, hiking Chris' wifebeater up just a bit, hand curving along Chris' waist, "maybe it doesn't matter if we know each other's favorite color and both like sushi--"

"I hate sushi."

Toby gave him a hard look. "Pizza, then. We both like pizza. Okay?"

"Okay," Chris said mildly, trying not to laugh.

"The point I was trying to make," Toby said, sliding his hand up over Chris' ribs, "is that anyone can have stuff like that in common but it's no guarantee they will strike sparks--"

"Do we strike sparks?" Chris murmured, nuzzling his temple.

"Sometimes I think we're going to spontaneously combust," Toby sighed, reaching his other hand around the back of Chris' head and bringing him in for a kiss, a nice, long, getting to know you kind of kiss. "Knowing your favorite color's pistachio," he said, kind of breathless when they finally parted, "and you have a mint collection of Hallmark Christmas ornaments isn't going to give that anymore zing."

"For the record," Chris had to draw in a couple of shaky breaths himself, "my favorite color ain't pistachio and the only thing I ever collected was baseball cards." He drew back a bit and gave Toby a suspicious look. "You got a mint collection of Christmas ornaments?"


He had to check again and make sure. "Christmas ornaments?"

Looking back defiantly, Toby declared, "They're pretty," in a tone that invited him to just try and make something of it.

Laughing softly, Chris reached for him, bringing him close enough for another long kiss. With a long, contented sigh, he settled back, holding Toby, idly playing with his hair. "Is there stuff you want to know about me?" he said, venturing out along that delicate limb.

"You know there is. Are there things you want to tell me?"

"Sometimes, maybe." He could admit that much.

"Maybe we can start small."


"Like... What's your favorite movie?"

"I don't know." Brows drawing together, he thought about that. "Body Heat was kind of cool."

"Yeah? What did you like about it?"

"You mean besides Kathleen Turner being naked?" He smiled at the sharp nudge in the ribs that got him. "I don't know - it was sexy, and you didn't know exactly how it was going to come out for a long time, and there wasn't any kinda fake happy ending." Toby gave him a really interested look at that, like he might want to pursue that. Preferring not to just at the moment, Chris said, "So what about you?"

"It's perfectly acceptable, you know," Toby said like this was something he might get huffy about, "to enjoy something just because it makes you feel good."

"Yeah? So - what, your favorite movie's, like, Mary Poppins?"

Yep - there it was, that tiny hmph, followed by, "No, it isn't Mary Poppins."

"So...?" Chris trailed his fingers down Toby's arm and back again, rubbing his thumb over the collarbone.

"You want me to say I've seen Grease a hundred times?"

"Have you?"

A deep sigh, then, "Just about, yeah."

"It's a good movie," Chris said, not quite able to smother his laughter this time.

"Mock all you like," Toby replied with a sniff.

Chris kissed his mouth. "I'd never mock you, baby. What's your favorite part?"

"The end, when Olivia Newton John goes after John Travolta and knocks his socks off."

It was Chris' turn to give him an interested look, wondering if there might be some deeper significance there. "When she's wearing the black leather and stuff?" he said, betting Toby would look like a sin come to life in tight black leather.

"Uh-huh." Toby leaned in and kissed him again, pushing the wifebeater higher. "You're the one that I want," he whispered, smiling.

Chris laughed outright then, head pressed back into the pillow - the laughter dying in his throat as he felt Toby's mouth there. "Christ, Toby..." He reached for him, burying his hands in golden silk as Toby's mouth feasted on him. Oh Jesus... He groaned as that wicked tongue darted out at his lips and slipped between them.

Drawing back, Toby gave him a concerned look, running a gentle hand down his torso. "Is that all right?"

"Toby..." Chris gave him a fondly exasperated look. "Yes, it's all right. I want you to touch me, Toby, I need you to touch me."

"How?" Toby offered his hand, and Chris looked at it thoughtfully, clasping it and pressing it to his chest, right over his heart.

"Here, touch me here," he whispered, a heartfelt sigh escaping as that golden head bent and Toby's mouth pressed there, giving the nipple an almost casual lick.

And like that last night together, it wasn't 9.9 on the Richter Scale sex - but it was everything Chris needed right then, maybe everything they both needed. And it was no hardship to just lay back the way Toby wanted him to, to let Toby finish getting him out of his clothes and then simply luxuriate in the feeling of Toby's body, just as naked, pressing against him there on that narrow bed. It was everything he wanted, every brush of lips and hands telling him how Toby felt, like he had been just as starved for this. He hoped his own touch said as much. He thought it did. Toby's body trembling against him, collapsing against him in the aftermath and not wanting to move for a long time afterward even if they were hot and wet and sticky - that told Chris as much as words ever could.

They were together. It couldn't be forever - but it could be enough.

the end, for now

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