This was written in response to the Secret Identities challenge over on LiveJournal (secret_ids.livejournal.com/). The writing prompt for the challenge was: write a story in which someone tells a lie and someone tells the truth.
Lockdown at 5:00 p.m. Lights out at 10:00 p.m. And in between? Five hours of boredom, of lying on a bunk in the fluorescent-washed world of Em City, of saying nothing and thinking too much (or maybe the other way around). There are some days when Tobias Beecher wants to scream and throw things or drown in a drink just to break up the monotony. Actually, most days.
At least he has Keller, right? Five hours of chaste Keller. Confined to their pod, there's no place to hide for a quick blowjob. Under the bright lights, there's no opportunity to press themselves together, to get inside one another. During those five slow hours, Beecher occasionally wonders if sex is all he and Keller really have. And when he starts thinking that, starts believing that, he has to talk, to be reassured of Keller's love, to hear Keller's voice softly respond to what Beecher has to say.
Keller is Beecher's confessor. Beecher admits things to Keller that he wouldn't otherwise say. Not everything. Some things he will never admit to anybody, not even himself. But with Keller, he can somehow be more open. He can expose raw cords of emotion that he can't elsewhere. Keller doesn't judge him. Wait, yes he does. But not like others would: Sister Pete, his parents, McManus, everyone else.
Beecher stares at the ceiling and wonders what he can confess today, what he can say to help fill up the empty time, and can think of nothing. He wishes Keller would take up that responsibility, but Keller seems content with silence, reading a magazine, and thinking whatever it is Keller thinks about.
Sometimes... most times, Beecher wishes Keller would offer information about himself, would reach out to Beecher in words as Beecher has reached out to him. Keller confessions happen rarely, but Beecher loves when they do because he suspects Keller tells him things he would never tell anyone else. Maybe that's not true, but Beecher likes to think it is. So today, Beecher offers a prompt:
"Tell me something about yourself."
The request is met with a lazy, "What?"
Beecher rolls onto his stomach and peers down over his bunk at Keller, who glances up from his magazine.
"I just want to hear something about you."
Keller gives a small shrug. "I'm gonna suck your cock later."
Beecher sighs and rolls onto his back, staring up again at the ceiling. "Okay, whatever."
"What? You don't want me to suck your cock?"
Beecher hears the lower bunk squeak slightly as Keller moves. There is a slap of paper against concrete as Keller's magazine is dropped onto the floor, and then Keller is standing beside Beecher's bunk, a lecherous grin on his face. "You want to suck mine instead?"
Beecher shakes his head. "Chris, be serious."
Keller leans against the side of Beecher's bed, his back to the front of the pod, body partially blocking the view of anyone who would look inside. He covers Beecher's fingertips with his own.
"No, you're not." Beecher pulls his hand out from under Keller's.
"Jesus, Beech, sometimes you're just..."
"What? A bitch?"
It's bait, really. Keller should know better than to take it (though knowing better doesn't always win over impulse). It's the same dance it always is with them: talk, fight, or fuck. Since the bright lights and public scrutiny bar two of those options, there's only one left.
Keller is silent for a moment, but then says, "Why?"
"I always dump this shit about me on you, but you don't volunteer much about yourself."
"What's to know?"
"I don't know. Anything, everything."
Keller shrugs and steps away from the bunk to lean against the wall near the sink. "Ain't nothing worth hearing. Nothing you'd like to hear."
"I can judge that for myself," Beecher says and sits up, swinging his legs over the side so he can face Keller. "Tell me three things about yourself."
Keller softly hits the back of his head against the wall, and looks up as if guidance will come down from above.
"Humor me," Beecher urges.
"All right. You know this game... what is it...? I tell you two things that are true and one that's not."
"Yeah, sure, and I have to guess which is the lie."
He turns his gaze back upon Beecher. "Exactly."
"I'm game, let's play."
Keller moves back to Beecher's bunk and stands between Beecher's legs, placing his hands on Beecher's thighs, and rubbing gently. He stands like that for several moments, watching his hands move back and forth before he speaks.
"The first time we kissed." Keller looks up and makes eye contact with Beecher. "Right before... I told you I loved you. I meant it. Toby, I want you to know: it wasn't a lie."
Beecher's heart rate quickens as the memory comes back to him. The admission, the reciprocated "I love you", the taste of Keller's moonshine wet lips on his own, the intoxication and confusion of falling.
Keller leans forward and gives Beecher a light kiss. "I couldn't face that kind of truth at the time."
They never discuss what happened back then. It has been some sort of unwritten rule between them, a rule that Keller is now breaking. Beecher finds it a strangely comforting piece of knowledge that when he fell, Keller fell too.
A bang on the door and a "break it up" from Mineo makes Keller step back, his hands sliding down Beecher's thighs and squeezing his knees.
Keller again leans next to the sink. "I was standing right here when you asked me if I had ever felt with another man what I feel with you. You remember?"
"I remember," Beecher says softly, sliding off the top bunk and going to the sink. Of course he remembers: the day of Gary's funeral. Turning on the faucet, he cups his hand, and takes a drink of water.
"I know you thought I was lying, but it was true when I said I have never felt this way before. Not with a man. Not with a woman. Only you."
Part of himself, Beecher supposes, always believed that. Not consciously though. He can't pin down why it seemed so unfathomable that Keller could never have felt those feelings before. Maybe it was because Keller had been married. Maybe because Keller had slept with other men. Maybe because it was inexplicably frightening to be the sole recipient of Keller's true love.
Keller moves around Beecher and hugs him briefly from behind before whispering in his ear, "Only you."
Frightening as it is, it is also overwhelming and wondrous that somehow Beecher stirred Keller's soul. It makes their coming together have some sort of purpose, makes it in some way meant to be, makes existence in Oz bearable.
Keller jumps up to sit on Beecher's bunk and Beecher watches him in the mirror. Two down, one to go. Two things that Beecher desperately wants to be true, perhaps even needs to be true.
With a sick wrench inside his gut, Beecher realizes that Keller has twisted this, made this about the two of them, made it about Beecher. He places his hands on either side of the sink, his fingers curling tight over the edges. Taking a slow breath, he finds he can't face hearing anything other than a blatant and obvious lie next, something which he doubts Keller will give him.
"Chris... don't say anything else."
"Three things, baby, that was the deal," Keller says. "You already tired of this game?"
"Yeah, I'm tired. C'mon, get down."
Keller shrugs and slides off the top bed. For a moment, he and Beecher face each other, and it feels awkward at best, almost antagonistic, charged. Keller makes no move to touch Beecher, but gets into his own bed instead.
Beecher hops onto the top bunk, his heart awash with relief that the game has been cut short. This way, he can quietly tell himself that he has heard two things that are true. This way, it doesn't hurt to love Keller.
An officer calls, "Lights out!" and a flick of a switch somewhere brings darkness. Beecher stares up, clearing his mind, letting himself gradually start to drift. His heartbeat slows, his eyes droop, strange pre-dream thoughts start to flit at the edges of his consciousness.
But then Keller's voice rises from below, jostling Beecher from his peace.
"I like hurting people. I don't know why. But not you, Toby. Maybe I do it anyway, but I hate it when I do."
There it is, the third thing.
This was meant to be simple, a way for Beecher to get a little insight into Keller, to feel a little closer to him. And perhaps he has gotten some kind of insight, but all he feels is a bitter confusion.
"I'm not going to guess," Beecher says softly and closes his eyes again, aware that he will not sleep.
Maybe this is the way it will always be between them. Truth and lies indistinguishable; no desire to determine which is which. Maybe this is how it has to be.
He hears Keller rise from the lower bunk, senses Keller standing near him, feels Keller's hands touching his body: arms, chest, belly, crotch. Beecher sucks in a breath through his teeth and opens his eyes, his body arching slightly. Keller's hands pull away and Beecher turns to look at him. Keller's gaze is intense even in the dim light.
"What?" Beecher asks.
"I love you, Toby."
So sincere, so devoid of doubt, so true, so much like a lie.
Beecher gives a slight smile. "I know."