by Riley Cannon
Title: The Stake
Series: Yes; Love, Love will Keep Them Together; direct sequel to "Breaking Up is Hard to Do."
Author: Riley Cannon
Subject: B/K, canon-based AU, rated R to NC-17 Disclaimers/warnings: Fontana and HBO own them; I only borrow them for non-profit romance, angst, and smut.
Summary: Uhhhhh.... It's February 14/15, 2001; Toby wanted Chris to have a nice Valentine's Day, it got all fucked up, and they are now in the midst of an angst-filled conversation whose aim is to get to the bottom of what makes Chris Keller tick. HML will, eventually, ensue. (At least this is what the muses have been assuring me all this time.) You need to know this is Chris as I first envisioned him, Seasons 2 & 3, although this is set post-Season 4.1. Most of what happened to that point is accepted. The stuff that isn't - well, you will shortly be seeing that. If anyone really needs a synopsis of the story so far, I do have one that I can send you.
I'm rolling it back to start with the last little bit of part seven, so some of this may sound familiar. I think you'll spot the new stuff when it comes along, though.
Beta'd by Anne, who was far too generous I think; and dedicated to Anne, because I know she wanted to see this continue for a long time.
Hope it was worth the wait.
... "You know how a Ponzi works?" Chris asked after a moment.
Lawyerly instinct made Toby want to say, `Objection - irrelevant,' but another gut instinct told him to overrule himself in this instance. "I know it's a pyramid scheme."
"Yep, invented by Charles Ponzi back in the `Twenties and improved on ever since. See, the way we did it," Chris paused, frowning. "We were like a gang; that's how I met Kitty, her dad ran the operation. I tried it later on my own, and with Bonnie, but she never really took to it `cause she always felt sorry for the people we were scamming."
"And you didn't?"
Chris shrugged. "It wasn't like I was doin' little old ladies out of their life savings," he said, a trace of defensiveness in his voice. "Not usually, anyway," he added, clearly torn about admitting that. "Anyway, what Johnny taught me was to always pick a mark with deep pockets, and who won't run straight to the cops `cause he won't want anyone knowing what a gullible asshole he'd been. We did a lots of cons but the Ponzi was our sure-fire bet.
"Johnny'd given it his own spin over the years," Chris went on, shifting over on his side, facing Toby. "He'd send out this letter inviting the mark he'd picked out to get in on the deal of a lifetime - guaranteed returns for your investment, that kinda thing. Me and Kitty would pose as his prime examples of how it paid off: a young couple just starting out and having a tough time making ends meet until we invested in this deal and then, bam, the money was rolling in and me and Kitty were living in the lap of luxury." The way he talked about, excitement underscoring the words, gave Toby a good idea those had been some of the best times for Chris. "Johnny'd show the mark around our house, show him our cars - I got to drive a fucking Ferrari for twenty-four hours once - and get us all tricked out with snazzy clothes and jewelry, all that shit, even got us a boat once, down in Florida. That was pretty cool, too. Anyway, the mark'd see me and Kitty living the good life, not a care in the world, and he'd fall for Johnny's investment scheme hook, line, and sinker and be parted from his money. By the time he found out he'd been fucked, we'd blown town and were living high off the hog for real."
"Uh-huh. Why do I get the feeling you saw `The Sting' one too many times when you were a kind?" Toby said, looking at him with fond exasperation. "Chris, not that this isn't really interesting," in fact he was a bit embarrassed to admit to getting a voyeuristic kick out of these glimpses into Chris' criminal past, "but what's it go to do with what we were talking about?"
"It's got to do with how come I'm such a fuck up about stuff I oughta get right, but I can ace pointless shit like a Ponzi. Everything in my life's been like that and I never got a second crack at ever getting it right - not until you. See," Chris moved, sitting crosslegged at the other of the bunk and looking at him, "I fucked it up with you, too, right off the bat. What I said about Bonnie feeling sorry for the marks? That's breaking rule number one, and I broke it with you right from the start, that first night when you woke up screaming, and it was downhill all the way from there."
Toby sat up, too, not sure if that was a compliment or not, and decided silence might be the best policy at the moment. He'd wanted Chris to talk; he guessed he had just better be ready to listen to it all.
"When it was over," Chris went on, dropping his gaze to the mattress now, unwilling to look in Toby's eyes as he spoke, "when Operation Toby had been completed to Vern's satisfaction, I figured," his voice cracked for a moment and Toby wanted to reach over and touch him. He held back, though, sensing Chris really needed to get this said. "I figured that was it," he went on after a second. "It was another lesson in irony: I'd had this chance to find something ... something really good, someone who didn't look at me like I was trash. Someone who might even mean it when they said they loved me. And I had to fuck it up. If I didn't go along with Vern, I was gonna be dead, and no matter how I played it you were gonna get hurt. I couldn't figure out any way to make it come out right."
Ignoring him, Chris went on as if it had all been a stunning revelation for him. "But then there was, I got a second chance, the first time ever. See, I got to find out what it's like to really love someone, Toby, and to ... maybe to be loved back--"
"There's no maybe about it, Chris." Toby reached out to touch his arm. What did he have to do prove that, for Christ's sake?
Chris shrugged, nodded. "Maybe so--"
"The thing is," Chris went right on, "I still gotta pay for the things I've done, Toby, and just being locked up in here wouldn't have been enough, not even for eighty-years. See, I expected that, ever since I can remember I expected something like that. The way I'm gonna pay, though, the way I'm gonna really understand what it means to be locked away in here for the rest of my life, is because of you, Toby. It's having to stay here and watch you leave, knowing what coulda been if I hadn't been such a stupid fuck up." He looked at Toby then, an earnestness in his expression that begged Toby to understand.
Only Toby wasn't sure he did, not really, and he didn't know what to tell him.
"Chris..." He sighed and ran a hand back through his hair. "Chris, you robbed a store and shot someone. There are guys in here who have done a hell of a lot worse and they didn't get what amounts to the life sentence you did." Toby gave him an earnest look then. "That's what Dad and I are working on, finding a way to reduce to that something a lot more reasonable."
Instead of taking any reassurance from that, however, it just seemed to agitate Chris more. "Jesus, Toby..." He got off the bunk and paced over to the sink, leaning back against that stainless steel and watching him. "I'm not talking about the goddamned robbery. Don't you ever listen?"
"Yes, I listen," Toby shot back, swinging his legs off the bunk. "Try saying something that makes sense. Even the damn Ponzis don't warrant eternal damnation, for Christ's sake." He stopped cold then, looking at Chris and remembering the folder Agt. Pierce had shown him, the crime scene photos the FBI man had spread out for him to see, telling him, `Get a good look at your boyfriend's work.' "Chris ..." He got up, pacing to the pod door, not wanting to hear any more confessions tonight. "Look, all I wanted was for you to have a happy Valentine's Day. Why can't we leave it at that?"
A long silence behind him, and then, "'Cause you fucking wanted to talk, Toby."
"Yeah, well," he pressed his palms to the glass for a moment, wishing both of them had just kept their mouths shut, "we can talk tomorrow."
Toby didn't hear him move but felt the instant Chris had moved up behind him. "Chris..."
"Whatcha afraid I'm gonna say, Toby?" Chris said, stroking the back of his neck, the curls there, his voice dropped to a seductive whisper - with an undercurrent of menace that hadn't been there at the height of Operation Toby.
"Chris -- don't."
"Don't what, Toby?" Chris breathed the words again his ear. "You're the one wanted all the cards on the table."
Not these cards. "It's not important."
"No? So how come you don't want to talk about it?" Chris pressed a kiss to the back of his neck - and laughed when Toby shuddered. "So tell me, Toby," he crooned, "what turns you on most: that you're getting fucked by a murderer, or that you might be the next victim?"
Toby turned then and shoved him off. "Knock it the fuck off!"
Chris stumbled but caught himself, holding onto the bunk and leaning back there the next instant, looking smug and self-contained, the coolest customer on the block. Toby wanted to clock him a good one. The only thing that made him hesitate, that made him doubt, was a flicker of something in those blue eyes, something that looked a lot like disappointment and resignation.
He walked over to the sink, bracing his hands against the cold steel, looking at his face in the mirror. "Anything you tell me, Chris - I could be compelled to testify to it in court. It's not like we have spousal privileges that way."
"Well, fuck," Chris drawled, still mocking, "if that's your way of hinting you'd like me to propose, Beecher--"
"Goddamn it, Chris," Toby turned to glare at him, "will you take this seriously?"
"You think I did it." It was a statement, cold and hard. "You think I whacked those three guys just `cause Agt. Taylor says so."
"He showed me," Toby reached behind him to grip the sink again, "he showed me the reports, Chris, the photographs." And he had tried so hard not to believe, not to let the possibility lodge in his mind and gnaw away at him.
"Yeah? Oh, hey," Chris smiled mockingly again, holding out his arm and snapping his fingers at him, "that musta been the one where I wrote, `Whacked by Chris Keller,' all over the body."
"It isn't funny."
"No, it fucking isn't," Chris shot back, no mockery in his voice now. "You really think I did it," he said, searching Toby's eyes, shaking his own head. "Christ," he muttered under his breath, turning away, a bitter laugh underneath it all.
"Tell me you didn't, then," Toby pleaded, feeling mixed up beyond belief.
Chris looked at him again. "And you'd believe me?" he said, a soulaching wealth of doubt in that simple question.
"I want to."
Chris sank down on the bottom bunk, leaning forward, hands clasped between his knees. "Why?"
Toby took a deep breath and went over to him, kneeling down and placing his hands on Chris' knees. "Because I love you."
A corner of Chris' mouth quirked up with a bitter smile. "Oh, yeah, that's good reason."
"It's the best reason there is, Chris."
Chris stared at the cold, hard floor for what felt like the longest time before breathing out a deep, deep sigh and looking at him. "It wasn't me, Toby. I don't know how to prove it to you, but ... it wasn't me."
Toby searched his face, nodding, wanting so badly to believe. "Why would the FBI think it was?"
"'Cause I went to that same bar Taylor says the victims did. Hell," Chris shook his head, "for all I know I saw them there, talked to them." He shrugged, biting his lip. "And...and maybe `cause I know who did kill them."
Toby rocked back on his heels then, staring at him, frowning. "Chris ... What do you mean? How could you know that?"
"'Cause," Chris bit his lip again, swallowed, looking guilty about ... something. "'Cause I got picked up by someone at the bar, and....and he tried to...whack me," he finally confessed in a small voice.
"But..." Toby leaned in again, trying to get Chris to look at him. "Didn't you report it?"
Chris shook his head. "I couldn't."
Chris looked at him helplessly. "Because he used to be my goddamn priest."
Toby stared back at him, only able to think, What the fuck? as his brain tried to wrap itself around that bombshell. He shook his head after another moment and moved to sit beside Chris, touch his back. "Chris... You're going to have to explain that some more."
Chris sighed and nodded, not exactly chomping at the bit to get on with that, however.
~~to be continued~~