Breaking Up is Hard to Do

by Riley Cannon

Disclaimer: Not-for-profit playing in Fontana's sandbox.

Summary: I'm impatient for the new season, and a little wary of getting my hopes up too much about what kind of reconciliation we'll actually see happen between the boys, so felt like doing my own. This is post-"You Bet Your Life," and totally AU with regard to the new season.

Feedback is welcome, on or off-list, but is in no way mandatory.

And (crossing my fingers that they won't mind) I'd like to dedicate this to all the terrific folk at the Twisted Sisterhood list; their supportive and encouraging comments have been a very welcome surprise to this all-too-prone-to-cynicism fan.

"Breaking Up is Hard to Do"

I: Back from a hard day slaving over Sister Pete's keyboard, Toby headed back to his pod, ignoring the other inmates gathered in the quad, not feeling up to the effort of being sociable. His step faltered as he got near enough to see someone moving around inside, close enough to know who it was. Pausing in the doorway, he said, "Chris?"

The other man threw him a brief, cool glance, and went back to putting his clothes away.

Toby swallowed, feeling his heart in his throat. Stupidly, he asked, "McManus put you back in here?"

"Well it wasn't my fucking idea."

Gee, and he sounded so happy to be here, too, Toby thought, pitifully gratified that at least Chris had spoken to him. "Umm..." That's right, Tobias; that's the kind of verbal dexterity that made you such a hotshot lawyer. "Chris, I-"

"Look," Chris moved to face him, "we got nothing to say to each other, so don't even bother." He moved on by, headed for the showers.

Toby watched after him, feeling the brief flash of warmth and hope dying again. What had he thought? That he and Chris would just fall back into each other's arms, like nothing had happened? Not fucking likely, he thought bitterly, hauling himself up into his bunk

Lathering his face up, Chris set about getting rid of the goatee, wondering why the hell McManus couldn't leave well enough alone. Wondering why the fuck he hadn't just said no, he didn't want to move back in with Toby. It wasn't like Mukada'd got to him, after all, with that pitch about him owing it to Toby, to what was between them, to look after the little prick.

He didn't owe anybody anything, not anymore. And the little prick could damn well look after himself.

That's what Chris kept telling himself. He wondered when he'd start believing it. Maybe about the same time he sold himself on the version where getting rid of Mondo and Sheiman had just been part of the grand plan, nothing at all to do with Toby.

In the dark, Toby lay in his bunk, staring at the ceiling, listening to Chris' breathing. How many times had he done that in the last couple of years? First in a kind of fascinated dread, feeling so drawn to this man and totally flummoxed by that attraction, not knowing how to fit it into the image he had in his mind of Tobias Beecher. That hadn't kept him from wondering what might happen some night if he didn't chase Chris away, if he let Chris keep touching him. Wondering how it would be if he succumbed to those fleeting urges to touch Chris back. And, God, that had spooked him, how much he wanted to touch Chris, to explore at leisure that body so brazenly flaunted day after day. He had tried to convince himself it was just some bizarre fixation, a harmless crush at most. It had been so long since anyone had touched him in kindness, affection, after all; so long since he had been able to touch anyone like that.

It would have been so much easier if that's all it had been, just the simple need for human contact, to find a few moments of comfort here in the darkness. Toby supposed with those elements in play, however, all the rest of it had been inevitable. What else did love spring from but that need to connect, for two people to get inside each other in every way possible? Without love, how would that metamorphosis have come about, where fascinated dread gave way to the sweetest kind of comfort, knowing Chris was there in the night. That if Toby needed him to, Chris would be there to hold him close and love him.

Why hadn't he known how important that was to him? How had he not known its impact on Chris? It seemed incredible that he could have lain in Chris' arms, made love with him, and never known how dearly Chris valued their relationship. A bitter smile touched his mouth as he remembered talking to Father Mukada, asking him if you could love someone too much. Now it seemed so clear to Toby that loving Chris too little had been his mistake. If anyone had loved to well and unwisely here, it had been Chris Keller.

*`I don't want to love him...'* Toby hated to think how true that had been. He didn't want to remember how he had resisted these feelings, these desires that Chris had awakened in him. That all seemed so foolish now, so wasteful, reeking of a hypocrisy he did not want to own. How must Chris have felt, what must he have thought, to have Toby all over him at night, when they were alone here in their pod, but then being held off in the light of day because Toby was worried about what people would think? Yeah, like some kind of...cloaking device, like on Star Trek, settled over their pod at night and kept all those same people from knowing exactly what they were doing in there.

Chris getting shot had almost, almost awakened him to the true depths of his feelings, his need for Chris. He'd been so scared, dragging Chris into their pod, trying so desperately to stop the bleeding, feeling so lost and alone when Chris had been taken away, so anxious to get just one little piece of information on his condition and frustrated by everyone shutting him out. He had been worried about Chris, hadn't he? It wasn't just himself, fearful of being left alone in Oz, that he had been fretting over? Toby shifted on his bunk, unable to be sure, but inclined to suspect the worst.

Now, when it was way too late, Toby finally admitted how much his relationship with Chris had meant to him. How dearly he did love Chris - love him, and want him, longing to have it all back. Just to touch Chris, talk to him again. To have another chance to give back at least some fraction of the gift Chris had handed him. Because right now Toby was hard pressed to think of one wholly unselfish moment in his time with Chris, when he had just...given to and of himself to the other man.

Why in hell would Chris want to go down that path again? Toby sure couldn't think of a reason. What was that line from that stupid old movie Gen had liked, about how loving someone meant you didn't have to say you were sorry? He had to wonder what kind of fatuous asshole had come up with that, could reduce love to some kind of bumper sticker philosophy.

Toby wished saying he was sorry could be enough. That those words could work some kind of magic to heal all the hurt and bring them back together.

He sighed, turning on his side, so desperately missing the man lying a couple of feet away.

Chris looked at the bunk above him, hearing Toby tossing and turning up there. He - almost - wished things could be like before, when he could ask Toby what was wrong, and did Toby need anything. And Toby would answer, *`Yeah, I need you,'* and he'd scoot over to make room as Toby slid in here beside him, stealing a little time for themselves here in the night. Maybe they'd just hold each other, talk a little; maybe they'd make love. Either way had been fine with Chris, satisfying a need, a hunger, Chris had barely guessed at.

He'd been an idiot - yeah, big news flash there - to ever fall for Toby like that. Hadn't he learned that lesson a long old time ago, that it just wasn't meant for him to ever know that kind of love? From the moment he'd touched Toby, really touched him in love that incredible New Years' Eve, Chris had known he would lose him, after all. He had thought that would come when Toby was paroled out of here, sure; he'd been preparing for that, to watch Toby walk away and never look back. But... Chris had thought, hoped, to hold Toby close until then, store up memories and dreams against that long, long time when Toby would be gone.

Despite what he'd told Mukada, Chris had never imagined things between him and Toby would end with such brutality, with so much misery. Funny to think he used to lay awake at night, aching to know what it would be like to love someone with his whole being, to be loved like that. Sometimes he wished he'd never found out, because compared to this ache, this pain of experiencing that kind of love and then having it wrenched away, the other had been nothing. To never again look into sky blue eyes smiling back at him, warming him right through; to never hold Toby close again, keeping him safe, soothing him when the nightmares came - thinking about that just about killed him sometimes. Almost as bad as lying down here, unable to do anything, to help, as Toby was ravaged with grief and fear for his babies. Chris would have done anything to take away that pain, share it in some way.

He knew he couldn't begin to imagine what Toby had been going through then. A child hurt - murdered, there couldn't be anything worse than that. And he could understand Toby being out of his mind from that kind of pain. But... Chris sighed, shifting on the thin mattress. But how could Toby ever think, ever believe he would harm a child, Toby's child? How could Toby love him and ever think that could be true?

The answer wasn't so hard to find, he guessed. Operation Toby. Everything between them went back to that, to that tangle of deception and betrayal and pain. He should have known Toby had never really got past all that. He should have known it was foolish to imagine anyone ever could.

Chris closed his eyes, wishing sleep would come. Wishing everything hadn't been a lie, a dream.

II: Reaching for a towel to wipe away some lather he'd missed, Toby watched Chris out of the corner of his eye, standing under the shower, all oblivious to Toby's hungry gaze. Or was he? Toby wondered, unable to believe there wasn't some calculation behind all these displays. No, not that Chris was trying to seduce him all over again - it had to be painfully obvious that was not necessary - but as a special kind of torment. Toby could look all he wanted, be reminded of what had been his to touch once, but was now so tantalizingly out of reach. God knew it worked, although that was the least of it in many ways. As much as Toby longed for that physical intimacy again, what he missed most of all was all the other ways he and Chris had connected. Oh, no mistake, he wanted to make love with Chris again, reacquaint himself with every inch of that glorious body and leave Chris in no doubt of how much Toby loved and desired him. But just playing a game of chess with him would put Toby over the moon right now, to sit beside him in the cafeteria, or in the quad watching TV. To to him.

Toby sighed, rinsed off his razor. Chris had been back in their pod for a week now and Toby could count the number of conversations they'd had on one hand. If you could even call them that. Most of Chris' comments were pretty much some variation on, *`Shut the fuck up, Beecher.'*

He looked at his reflection in the mirror, at the sad and bitter smile on his face. Even that would make his day, to hear Chris call him `Toby' again.

He sighed and started gathering up his things. At least he looked presentable for visiting day with his father, and as everyone knew appearances were everything, right?

Pausing at the door he cast one more look over at Chris, frowning at the little scene playing out now: that new inmate, Roger ... Something, sidling up to Chris, getting way too close for Toby's liking - and Chris', too, judging by the way Chris moved away and fixed the other guy with a Fuck off, jerkwad look. Roger Something wasn't getting the message, though. He acted like it was some kind of joke, Chris playing hard to get, and moved in again, sliding a hand along Chris' shoulders and trying to pull him in like the guy was going to snatch a kiss.

As unaware of having taken a couple of steps forward as he was of the angry look on his face, Toby was curiously gratified as Chris not only deftly eluded the kiss, but managed to dump Roger Something on his ass - all of it appearing purely accidental to the watchful eyes of the hacks. Toby smiled to himself, pleased with the sight of Roger looking nicely stupid tumbled there on the floor.

The only thing that spoiled the moment was remembering he was in no position to add his own two cents, to tell Roger to keep his hands off Chris. He could only be happy that, this time, Chris hadn't wanted what the other guy was offering. Toby didn't even want to think about how he'd feel when the day came, as it surely would, that someone did strike Chris' fancy. Probably a lot like Chris must have felt these last weeks, watching him give it away right and left.

Toby guessed that's why they said payback was a bitch.

"Toby!" Harrison Beecher stood up as his son entered the visiting room, enfolding him in a warm embrace. "You look wonderful, son."

Toby returned his father's embrace, smiling wryly at the comment. "So do you, Dad." He looked around the visiting room, other inmates there with loved ones. "Mother didn't come?"

Harrison dropped his gaze, looking a little hangdog. "No. She, umm, had a meeting she couldn't get out of."

Toby nodded, sitting down at the table. "I'm guessing it's not a meeting of Parents of Gays and Lesbians," he said, immediately wishing he could bite back the words at the hurt look his father gave him. He touched his father's hand, saying, "Dad, I-"

Harrison shook his head, clasping Toby's hand. "No, son, it's all right. Your mother's having a difficult time with this."

"And you're not?"

Harrison shrugged. "I can't say it's a moment I dreamed of," he said, smiling a little, "but-" He hesitated, looking like he was debating saying anything more.

"Dad - what?" Toby prompted after a moment.

"Well," Harrison looked a bit bemused, "to be honest, son, I did always worry that you might be a little...well, fruity."

Toby couldn't contain the laughter that bubbled up. "Well," he said, catching his breath, still smiling, "I guess that's something you can stop worrying about."

"I guess." Harrison sighed, looking uncomfortable but determined to be very liberal and open-minded about things. "So how is your...umm, Christopher?"

Toby smiled, appreciating the effort. "He's fine, but...he's not really my Christopher, not anymore."

"Oh." His father looked like he thought he ought to say he was sorry to hear that, but couldn't quite trust himself to say it convincingly. "And you're...not with anyone else?"

"No." There was no sense in telling his father about his brief stint as the Slut of Oz; it would only hurt him, needlessly, and Toby kind of wanted to stop doing that to the people who loved him. Best to change the subject, really. "How's Holly? Is she over her chicken pox yet?"

Harrison looked relieved to move onto something else, too. "Yes, but now poor Harry has it. Dr. Saunders says he'll be fine, though, and that Holly can come see you again starting next week. He just wanted us to keep her home for another couple of days."

Toby nodded, listening comfortably as his father went on, catching him up on all the daily minutia of family life outside these walls. Funny how, once, it was the kind of thing he would have tuned out, chiming in with noncommittal umms and hmms as Gen chattered on about her day, or even when Gary and Holly told him about something that had happened at school. It was just a little late in the day, he realized, to discover how precious those moments had been, should have been to him.

Yep, he was a son any father should be proud of, all right, Toby thought, hating himself for the self-pitying wallow he felt coming on.

"Hey, what're you reading?" Roger asked, parking his butt on the library table where Chris was sitting.

Chris held his breath for a moment, trying to remember why, exactly, he shouldn't murder this stupid asshole here and now. Oh, yeah, because that would be wrong. Not to mention kind of out of proportion to the offense. Well, probably. He settled for saying, "Nothing," as he closed the book and got up to put it back on the shelf.

Roger trailed after him, crowding him. "Anyone ever tell you you're a real fine looking man, Chris?"

Nope, Chris decided, he was going to kill Roger - just not in the library. "Fuck the hell off," he told the other man.

Apparently living in his own little world, though, Roger reached over to run a finger along Chris' bicep, over the tattoo. "You have any idea how sexy this is? I bet you do," he whispered, looking in Chris' eyes and seeming completely unfazed by the You're gonna die, cocksucker expression on Chris' face. Instead Roger just smiled and said, "Man, that intense look you get - that is so hot."

Chris' lips quirked in a smile that didn't reach his eyes, well aware of the curious gazes directed their way - including Toby, just coming in the door. "Unless you want to die in the worst way possible," he said, pitching his voice low, dangerous, "back the fuck off, right now."

"Chris-" Roger caught his arm as he shoved past, but Chris pulled free, striding for the door. As tempting as it was to smash Roger's face in on the spot, Chris just did not want to spend any more time in the hole. He pushed past Toby, shooting his ex a look that dared him to say anything. Toby, at least, knew how to read Chris and wisely kept his mouth shut.

Roger Elkins made to follow Chris but found himself stopped at the door by that Tobias guy, the one who shared Chris' pod. Flicking a glance over the smaller man, Roger was not impressed; not his type at all, not like Chris, and for sure no kind of threat. So he was a little taken aback by the strong grip on his arm and the cold look in the blue eyes glaring back at him.

"What the hell's your problem?" Roger demanded, finding it harder than he expected to pull free.

"I don't have one," Tobias told him, voice as hard and cold as his eyes, "but you will if you don't leave Chris the fuck alone."

Roger narrowed his eyes, the proverbial light bulb going off. "What's the matter, Tobias," he said, voice soft and silky, "you afraid you can't hold onto your boyfriend with me around?"

Tobias' mouth quirked with a mean little smirk. "I just have your welfare at heart, Roger. Keep your hands off him, or..." He let it trail off suggestively, the unspoken threat clear.

"Oh yeah," Roger shot back, not impressed, "like I'm gonna be afraid of a little runt like you."

The look on Tobias' face got even colder and meaner. "Yeah, well, ask around, asshole, you might be surprised." Then he stepped back and walked out, leaving Roger feeling just a little nonplussed.

"Y'know, if you want a word to the wise, Rog," that mick, O'Reily said, gliding up beside him, "it might be a good idea if you left those two alone. They're not exactly known for playing well with others." Then O'Reily left, too, and Roger wondered just what the fuck kind of soap opera he'd landed in here.

His Chris and that mean little creep? Nah, not in a million years. And even if there was something going on it couldn't be that good for Chris. No way that Tobias could give someone like Chris what he needed. No way.

"What the fuck's that about?" Toby demanded of Chris as soon as he stepped into their pod.

Chris looked up from sorting through his clothes. "What the fuck's what about?"

"Roger Whatshisname. How long's he been bothering you?"

The look on Chris' face was a kind of dubious amusement. "Bothering me? He ain't bothering me, Beecher, he's just being an asshole."

And Toby felt sooo gratified that Chris thought it was all a joke. "So why don't you make it clear to him you're not interested?" he said, knowing he had no right whatsoever to make such a demand. It was just that, seeing that guy pawing Chris, and Chris not doing anything about it, made him want to murder someone - and he wasn't sure Roger was the only object of his anger at the moment.

Chris' look of amusement only deepened. "Who says I'm not interested?"

"What?" Toby had a feeling his expression was the embodiment of dumbfounded.

"Yeah," Chris went on, "maybe I'm just scoping him out to see how serious he is."

Toby glared back at him, searching for the most cutting words he could hurl at the other man right now to wipe that smug smirk off his face. "Fuck you," was all that came to him, though - and he didn't even have the satisfaction of being able to slam the door after him as he stomped back out of the pod.

Chris watched Toby's retreating back, silently echoing the other man's first question, What the fuck was that about? It was a little late in the day to be pitching a jealous hissyfit. Remembering Toby's remarks just before going to his son's funeral, though, Chris guessed picking the weirdest damn times for getting snippy was a Tobias Beecher specialty.

Besides, there was nothing for Toby to be getting his boxers in a twist over, not now, and not then. Unlike somebody Chris could think of, he wasn't planning on whoring his way through Oz. That dumbfuck Roger would get a clue eventually and give it a rest. And if he didn't, and if Chris did feel inclined to take him up on his offer...? Well, that sure as hell wasn't Tobias Beecher's business. Not anymore.

And so what if all it would be was fucking? All things considered, Chris was inclined to think that wasn't such a bad deal. It might be empty...but at least empty didn't hurt.

Toby forced himself to sit down at an empty table in the quad. Going off half-cocked was not a pattern that had worked really well for him so far, not to mention that he was on some pretty shaky ground here. *`He's not my Christopher, not anymore.'* He sighed, watching Chris leave their pod with a pile of dirty clothes, heading for the laundry room. No, he had forfeited all claims, all rights in one astounding moment of insanity.

That knowledge didn't keep him from glaring murder at Roger as the other inmate made a beeline for Chris. Roger hadn't got very far, though, before O'Reily intercepted him and drew him over to a table where Cyril was sitting. Looked like he was trying to get Roger interested in a game of chess or checkers, or something, and Toby had to wonder if O'Reily was deliberately running interference. It beat him what O'Reily's motives could be, although he and Chris had gotten kind of chummy lately. Interesting how that alliance didn't bother him - well, aside from a few twinges of concern over the subsequent mayhem - but then the components were quite a bit different; for one thing, Toby was pretty damned sure O'Reily didn't want to get in Chris' pants. Roger, on the other hand, was just asking to get murdered. Or at least hurt really bad.

Toby leaned back in his chair, thinking about that, thinking about he felt he ought to be a lot more troubled than he was that Chris had murdered Mondo and Sheiman. The Tobias of five years ago would have been horrifyingly appalled at such a thing. That Tobias hadn't had a glimmer of a clue about what he was capable of, hadn't guessed at the darkness roiling inside him; that Tobias wouldn't have dreamed he could ever kill someone up close and personally, or stab a lover in the back, or set a boy up to be killed by his own father. That Tobias would have probably screamed like a girl and fainted dead away if confronted with the raw sexuality that was Chris Keller in all his glory.

Funny how, the more time that passed, the less Toby missed that old Tobias. God knew there were things he deeply regretted, that he would undo if he could, but at least when he looked in the mirror these days he confronted a reality he had never known before. Maybe it wasn't pretty, maybe it wasn't what he thought he should be, but it was real, it was him. And that included a - maybe ugliest of all - sense of gratification that even if Chris didn't want him anymore, at least he cared enough to not want anyone else touching him.

Although Toby was still damned if he knew what to make of that story about how Chris had gotten his Christ tattoo. That he was meant to glean something from it had been evident in Chris' disappointment that Toby didn't get it. Frankly, it had made Toby worry that Chris was on something. He'd heard from O'Reily that Chris had tried to get back into Sister Pete's group, that Chris had admitted to feeling the craving to take something - and that Sister Pete had climbed up on her sanctimonious high horse and turned Chris away.

Toby looked at Chris, still in the laundry room, and thought that if anyone deserved to burn in hell it was self-righteous hypocrites like Sister who wouldn't know compassion and love if it walked up and bit them on the ass. But, he smiled to himself, that was probably just him being a vindictive bitch again.

"Tobias," Bob Rebadow came over to join him, still wearing the borrowed hat from Busmalis, "how are you doing?"

"Oh, I've never been peachier," was Toby's reply, laced through with irony.

Rebadow nodded. "Some days are better than others, all right." He followed Toby's gaze to the laundry room. "How are things with you and Chris?"

Toby gave him a surprised look, wondering for a loopy moment if there was some unofficial Beecher & Keller Reconciliation Committee forming in Em City. "Not so great actually," he heard himself admitting. Well, given Rebadow and Busmalis were their next-door neighbors, they probably had been privy to a lot of the goings on between him and Chris. Neither of the older men had ever said anything, however - and Toby couldn't help smiling at the memory that prompted, one from better days.

Murphy had barely called, `Lights out!' before Chris had pounced on a very willing Toby, eliciting a little more noise than usual. Waiting for a moment when Chris' tongue wasn't in his mouth, Toby had suggested they should try and keep it down. Even aside from the hacks, after all, there was Rebadow and Busmalis to think about, right next door.

Chris had replied, smiling wickedly, `Hey, how do you know they don't like listening to us? Maybe it, you know, turns `em on.'

`Chris, that's twisted,' Toby had replied, trying not to squeak too loudly as Chris went to his knees, effectively chasing away any worries of what the neighbors might think.

The thought had come back to him later, though, lying in Chris' arms. `You think that could be us in thirty years?'

`What?' Chris had asked, playing with the hair at the back of Toby's neck. `Us turn into a pair of old farts like that?'

`Umm hmm. We could be a pair of old coots just like that, just being busybodies and shaking our heads over how the younger generation carries on.'

`Nah, not a chance,' Chris had replied confidently.

Toby had shifted around, raising up on an elbow to give him an amused look. `What - you've got a plan to stay young and beautiful forever?' he'd teased him.

He had gathered from Chris' - mostly non-verbal - reply that his plan for rejuvenation featured making love as often and thoroughly as possible as the centerpiece. At the time Toby had been strongly inclined to enthusiastically endorse the scheme.

"He was terribly concerned about you, when your children were missing," Rebadow was saying as Toby's mind wandered back to the present.

Toby blinked, nodded. "I know." Realistically he supposed there was nothing Chris, anyone, could have said or done during the worst of it that would have helped, but maybe if he hadn't kept shutting Chris out things might have gone so differently. If he hadn't let everyone and their brother plant their seeds of doubt about Chris, if he hadn't germinated them with his own fears and insecurities...

He sighed, thinking `if' had to be just about the saddest word in the whole fucking language.

"It's just...too late," he admitted, not knowing what prompted him to confess his fears to Rebadow of all people. "Too much has happened."

Rebadow patted him on the shoulder. "If there's anything you learn when you get to be my age, Tobias, it's that it's never too late for anything. And," he gave him one of those goofy little sideways looks, "maybe it's more that not enough has happened. Did you ever think of that?"

Not enough? That made about as much sense as Chris' convoluted tattoo story. Rebadow meant well, Toby supposed, maybe O'Reily did too, but this chapter was over. Maybe Chris still cared about him, but that didn't mean he wanted him back. It didn't mean he might not fuck Roger out of sheer spite.

And Toby knew he had no right to object to that; not after what he'd said, after what he'd done.

Yeah, a good wallow in self-pity was looming up ahead, all right.

III: Nope, you couldn't pay for entertainment this good, Vern Schillinger was thinking as he sat in the cafeteria and watched the latest installment of "Days Of Our Prags" play out.

The best thing of all was that little love triangle was nothing at all to do with him. So when it concluded - and if he was a betting man, Vern would put all his money on its ending in a murder/suicide - no one could point one little finger at him. Of course if good old Roger Elkins there happened to survive the fall out Vern thought he might make a point of making his acquaintance.

"Think Keller's fucked him yet?" Robson said, digging his fork into this evening's glop.

Vern shook his head. "No. Beecher would've shanked the poor bastard by now if that'd happened. Besides, you can tell by the body language."

Robson gave him a stupid look. "Huh?"

Vern sighed, shook his head. "Look at the way they're sitting," he said, indicating Keller and Elkins across the way, side by side, but not touching - not the way Keller and Beecher used to, sitting there all pressed together, making goo-goo eyes at each other; Keller copping a feel under the table until Beecher'd get all huffy, like it suddenly dawned on him somebody might see them. "Watch," he added, his own gaze riveted as Elkins edged a little closer to Keller, and Keller tried to edge a little further away; any further and he'd be sitting in Hoyt's lap. Beecher, on the opposite side of the table, was looking fit to be tied - that's when he wasn't looking like a puppy that'd just been kicked.

Vern smiled happily and peeled his orange. Life was good.

"There's a word for that, isn't there," Agamemnon Busmalis said, "people who have a compulsion to set fires?"

Rebadow nodded. "Pyromaniacs. Isn't that right, Tobias?"

Toby nodded, the food on his plate growing cold as he watched Chris and Roger. "Yes. I understand there's usually some kind of sexual dysfunction involved."

"Huh," O'Reily commented. "That true, Rog? You can't get it up unless you're torching something?"

Busmalis and Rebadow seemed to have some trouble swallowing right then, Hoyt snorted, Augustus Hill just shook his head, and Chris - for a moment Toby caught his eye and would have sworn he saw a spark of humor in those dark blue depths. It wasn't much, but right now Toby was chalking up every victory he could get.

Roger shot O'Reily a dirty look. "I'm not a fucking pyromaniac. The arson charges were a frame up."

"Yeah," Augustus said, "we're all innocent victims of miscarriages of justice here."

Toby only hoped they wouldn't all be victims of yet another recitation of the events that had landed Roger in Oz. And that had to count as another point in his favor, since there was no way Chris could be attracted to someone so incredibly boring as good old Roger. Or, maybe not. Maybe that could even be part of the allure - if there was any allure. Maybe Chris'd had his fill of Toby the drama queen and would welcome someone with no baggage, no issues, no anything except a desire to jump Chris' bones. Toby could hardly blame him, if that was the case. Hell, sometimes he wore himself out; he could just imagine the emotional wear and tear on an innocent bystander.

Honesty compelled him to admit to some concerns about sheer physical attraction, too, especially if all Chris had in mind was a payback fuck. What did it matter, Toby kept thinking, that his aim in giving himself to Mondo, the others, had not been to hurt Chris, but to punish himself? Besides, Toby was inclined to suspect that, intentional or not, consciously or not, some part of him had enjoyed tormenting Chris, making him pay for so cavalierly passing him along to Mondo. Quid pro quo in Oz was never a pretty picture.

So, was Rog Chris' type? Did Chris even have a type? Toby wondered, recalling the photos he'd seen of the ex-Mrs. Kellers. Kitty and Angelique, yes, they were knockouts in anybody's book, exactly the type you would expect to see on Chris Keller's arm. But then there was Bonnie, and Toby was ashamed to admit that he had been totally flabbergasted when Chris had handed him that photo: Bonnie in sexy lingerie, showing a whole lot more than Toby wanted to see. He remembered just gaping at Chris, and Chris looking kind of hurt and put out, saying, *`What - Bonnie can't be hot just because she's a big girl?'* Toby always had the feeling he had rather severely disappointed the other man right then.

Then there was him, and whatever attraction he held - had held? - for Chris, Toby couldn't flatter himself that his stunning good looks had anything to do with it. Funny, though, he considered, how Chris would look at him like he was the sexiest, most desirable thing he'd ever seen, calling him beautiful. `Guys aren't beautiful, Chris,' Toby had told him once, uncomfortable with Chris' flattery. `Who says?' Chris had returned, clearly unconcerned with such fine points, brushing his fingers through Toby's hair, kissing him softly, and leaving Toby with no real argument. Besides, wasn't Chris beautiful to him? And when he thought of Chris like that it didn't mean anything more, didn't carry some implied slur on his masculinity.

He sighed and watched Roger try to scoot a little nearer to Chris, and felt gratified to see Chris in turn scoot a little nearer to Hoyt.

Toby considered Roger once more. On purely technical points he supposed Rog fit the tall, dark, and handsome bill even better than Chris. Toby figured he was about their age, give or take, even though his dark hair was shot through with gray; he was maybe an inch or so taller than Chris, a little heavier, but not fat. In fact he was exactly the kind of guy Toby had always resented: relying on good looks and superficial charm to get him through life, and usually succeeding pretty well.

Toby frowned at that, realizing that description sort of fit Chris, too. Only sort of, though. There was so much more going on inside Chris' head, so much to discover once he really let you all the way inside.

"Really, Agamemnon," Rebadow was saying, fixing his podmate with a stern, disapproving look, "you look ridiculous."

Toby wondered what they were on about now, deciding he might as well focus on that than driving himself nuts, watching to see if Chris was giving Roger any kind of signal that he was in the mood. "What's up?" he said.

"That hat," Rebadow said, indicating the Miss Sally's Playhouse baseball cap Busmalis had taken to wearing, the brim turned backwards. "A man his age wearing it like that."

"It's how everyone wears them," Busmalis replied, perfectly reasonable. "I don't know why you have a problem with it."

Rebadow sniffed. "It's undignified."

"It's a fashion statement."

"It's an undignified fashion statement. Don't you agree, Tobias?"

"Oh no, I'm not getting into this," Toby said, smiling at the absurd exchange. God, it really was like looking into some kind of funhouse mirror and seeing himself and Chris reflected there; that was just the sort of ludicrous conversation/pseudo-argument Toby so dearly missed.

He glanced at Chris just then, catching Chris watching him, and wondered if Chris was thinking the same thing. Wishing he was brave enough to just come out and ask him.

Roger Elkins was not happy as he paused in the middle of the quad, thinking. Every time he thought he was making some real headway with Chris, here came Tobias to set everything back. What Chris even saw in the other guy beat the fuck out of Roger. He wasn't anything to look at, he had a personality like one of those little yapper dogs that made you think you could pat them on the head - right before they bit you, or pissed on you, and made you want to punt them across the room. And Roger could not imagine he was any good between the sheets. It had to be like fucking an iceberg. So how come it looked like, if Tobias said, `Jump,' Chris'd ask, `How high?' The stuff he'd been hearing about them sure made it sound that way, and Roger just did not get it.

Looking around, he spotted Chris in a card game with O'Reily and those two old farts; Tobias at the next table with that retard brother of O'Reily's. Roger approached, sitting down without waiting to be asked - like he would be, even the retard was giving him the cold shoulder - and made himself comfortable. Just making conversation, he said, "Hey, Tobias, I hear you used to be a lawyer. That right?"

Those cold blue eyes flicked over at him for a moment. "Yeah."

"And you landed here because you got plastered and ran your car into some little girl?"

He smiled as he saw Tobias sit up straighter, his jaw sort of clamping. "That's a fuck of a thing to do, isn't it? Guess, being a rich lawyer boy, though, you figured you'd get away with it, huh? Must have surprised the fuck out of you to wind up here."

Tobias wasn't the only one giving him a dirty look, so was the retard.

Unfazed, Roger went on, "Yeah, and then your wife offed herself - that right? She do that because she found out you were a little fairy boy who liked taking it up the ass?"

"You shut up!" the retard said, getting to his feet. "You don't talk to Toby like that!"

"Cyril," Tobias said, touching the retard's arm, "it's okay, just ignore him."

"Hey, what's going on?" O'Reily said, looking over at his brother.

"Tobias and me are just having a conversation," Roger said, trying to catch Chris' eye as he looked over, too. But, shit, Chris only looked at Tobias, like he wanted to know what was going on but couldn't bring himself to ask.

That had to be a good thing, Roger figured. Whatever had been going on between Chris and Tobias they were on the outs right now, and that was an estrangement Roger meant to make use of. He waited until the retard went over to sit beside O'Reily, then scooted his chair a little closer to Tobias and said, "So how long you and Chris been together?"

"Fuck off."

"I hear you been podmates on and off for a couple years. It been going on all that time?"

"Exactly what part of `fuck off' don't you understand?"

Roger smiled. "That turn Chris on, that prissy little attitude you got going, Tobias?"

"You don't know a damn thing about Chris or me, so shut the fuck up about it."

"That right? `Course, I guess, you being his boyfriend and all, you would know Chris better than anyone, right? You got his whole life story tucked away? I bet you do." Roger shook his head, sighing with exaggerated drama. "I gotta tell you, Tobias, that sounds so sweet, like a fucking movie of the week kind of love story. Bet you know his favorite color and the name of the first girl he kissed, and everything. Hey," he nudged Tobias in the side, earning a if looks could kill glare in response, "how'd you celebrate his last birthday? You treat him to some extra special loving that night, huh?" Roger would bet anything Tobias didn't even know when Chris' birthday was. He'd bet Chris was just a little walk on the wild side for good old Tobias, and not one thing more.

And he sat back, grinning like a cat who'd found the tuna casserole left out, as Tobias got up and stalked off to his pod.

Chris watched Toby's departure, reading his mood pretty clearly: pissed off to the max and probably inclined to be really ratty tonight. He sent Roger a long, cold look, thinking Thanks a fucking lot, asshole. Roger might think it was a hoot to rag on Toby but he wasn't the one who had to spend eleven hours locked up in a cell with him.

Not to mention that it wasn't Roger's place to be ragging on Toby. Until - unless - things were officially over between him and Toby, that was still his right. Someone really ought to clue Roger in on a few things, the fates of the late and unlamented Mondo Browne and Sheiman, for instance. Long as it was just words Chris figured Toby could take care of himself; but if Roger ever laid a finger on him good ol' Rog was going to wish he'd never been born.

Fuck. Chris had looked at Roger too long; the guy was coming over like he thought he'd been invited - and Chris welcomed Murphy calling "Count!" right then. He dodged Roger and took his place by Toby, shooting a glance at his podmate to see if maybe he'd settled down yet. Nope, he still looked like he wanted to tear into somebody.

Not for the first time Chris found himself thinking that Tobias Beecher was a serious handful - and not always in a good way. Chris would have thought someone with Toby's background would behave, well, with a little more decorum. The way he carried on sometimes, though, made Chris wonder if the guy'd been raised by wolves.

Locked in their pod with him, Chris was relieved when Toby just hauled himself up to his bunk and stretched out there, picking up a book. With four hours until lights out, though, Chris wasn't optimistic about being entirely in the clear.

For the time being he imitated Toby's pose, getting as comfortable as he could on the bottom bunk. His skin mags didn't hold any appeal, though, and he found himself just listening to Toby's movements, his huffy little breaths as he read - or pretended to, probably. Chris guessed it was probably nuts, but there was something really sexy about Toby in one of these moods. His cheeks would flush with some color, his eyes would get all hot and bright; if it didn't end in fists flying, it could be the prelude to a fantastic night between the sheets.

Chris smiled as he remembered that moron, Roger, actually saying he felt sorry for `poor' Chris, having to make do with a frigid bitch like Tobias. Aside from fighting down an urge to smash Roger's head into the wall, Chris had thought the guy had no idea. Toby - frigid? Yeah - exactly the way a fucking volcano was frigid.

And here came Mt. Tobias now, Chris thought, seeing Toby's legs swing over the edge of the top bunk and the other man lower himself to the floor. Hoping he just needed to piss or something, Chris picked up the discarded skin mag again and pretended to be engrossed with it.

When the eruption came it wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting, though.

"What's your favorite color?"

Chris looked at him over the magazine. "What?"

Toby was standing there, still dressed - just prison issue gray pants, but with that black polo shirt that made him look so good - arms folded over his chest, mouth kind of pouty. It took all the self-restraint Chris had for him to not just come up off the bottom bunk and take Toby in his arms there and then. But he'd probably better find out what the hell this was about first.

"I asked you what your favorite color is."

"Yeah," Chris said, drawling the word out a little as he considered this question. He looked Toby over again, his own expression a little wary. "You goin' nuts again, or something?"

Toby just looked huffier. "I want to know what your favorite color is. It shouldn't be a hard question."

"Yeah, but-"

"Chris, what's your favorite fucking color?" Toby demanded.

Geez. "How the fuck do I know?" He looked down at his shirt, shrugged. "I dunno - blue." And what the fuck did that have to do with anything?

"And what's the name of the first girl you ever kissed?"

Chris gave him another long, dubious look. "Why the hell do you want-"

"Damn it, Chris, just tell me the name of the first girl you ever kissed. Is that asking too fucking much?"

"Hell, I don't-" Chris paused at the look in Toby's eyes, the kind of look that suggested a shank might magically appear out of thin air if the other man didn't get what he wanted. Fine, whatever. "Theresa, her name was Theresa. Okay?"

Apparently not. "Theresa what?"


"Chris, damn it-"

"McNally, Theresa McNally." Jesus Christ.

"And what did she look like?"

"Beecher, for Christ's sake, that's like thirty years ago." Unless Toby had lost his marbles this had to be something more than a jealous hissyfit. Chris didn't have a clue what that could be, though.

Toby looked like he was willing to concede that point, at least. Something told Chris he wasn't done yet, though.

Chris felt his own curiosity spike a little, accompanied by a minute twinge of hope, as the other man sat down on the edge of the bed. God knew he still felt the sting of Toby's accusation - those words, *`You murdered my son!'* had bitten far deeper than any shank could ever reach - but if Toby was finally ready to start making up, Chris was willing. He just couldn't bring himself to be the one to make the first move, not yet.

Hunched forward a little, hands clasped before him, Toby gave him a long sideways look, like he was thinking something over. Trying to predict the next words out of Toby's mouth was never an easy task, though, and Chris could only hope it would be something like, *`I'm sorry I've been such a prick to you. But if you still want me, here I am.'* Fat fucking chance, of course; Toby'd never let anything ever be that simple, for one thing.

"When's your birthday?"

Well, that wasn't even in the fucking ballpark, Chris thought, sitting up and drawing away a little, resting against the wall and looking back at him resentfully. What the hell did that have to do with anything? "My birthday?"

"Yeah. When is it?"


Toby's sigh sounded frustrated, and Chris took some little satisfaction from that. You and me both, you loony fuck.

"Chris, when is your goddamned birthday?"

Chris glared back at him, grudgingly admitting, "November."

"November what?"


"Chris, goddamn it, can't you just answer one fucking simple question?"

"November fucking seventh," Chris shot back. "What the hell is this?"

Head in his hands, Toby wondered why he had imagined this could be easy. Like anything ever was between the two of them. Roger had really gotten to him with all those little digs, though. If Chris really was important to him, shouldn't he know all those little things? He'd known Gen's favorite color and flowers, the perfumes she liked, what kind of music made her grind her teeth and what kind put her in the mood; he still marked her birthday and their wedding anniversary when the dates rolled around every year. All those little, maybe inconsequential at first glance, things you just got to know and remember about someone you lived with, someone you loved. Why should that be any less important now - just because they were in prison, because Chris was a guy and that kind of stuff didn't matter?

But of course he and Chris couldn't just sit here and talk about that, not like a normal - sane - couple. No, Chris had to be a big bundle of suspicious insecurity about everything, probably wondering how these few tiny details would now be used against him. And any judge worth his or her salt would have probably cited Tobias Beecher for badgering the witness.

He sighed again, looking at Chris sitting there, backed up against the wall and watching him warily - like a big, blue-eyed alley cat who wanted to come over and be friends, but just couldn't bring himself to trust this other creature.

"I'm sorry," Toby said, standing up. "I won't bother you anymore." The look in Chris' eyes was hard to make out, but he thought it was closer to disappointment than relief. But - disappointment in what? Toby didn't know, and couldn't ask, not now.

He climbed back up to his bunk, reaching for his book, wishing Murphy would hurry up and call lights out.

IV: Getting up to answer a call of nature, Toby washed his hands, pausing for a moment before climbing back to his bunk, his eye caught by the tattoo on Chris' shoulder. He waited a few seconds, watching to make sure Chris was sleeping, then knelt by the bed, just feasting his eyes on the familiar features, wishing he still had the freedom to reach out and touch.

He had traced his fingers over that tattoo many times, wondering what exactly it was meant to signify, surprising himself by finding it kind of attractive. Tattoos had never done much for him before, he'd certainly never had a hankering to get one of his own, nor had he ever had any kind of urge to go get anything pierced - although now he thought about it, there was some alcoholic-hazy memory from college, some friends trying to talk him into at least getting an ear pierced. He must have had one lucid moment, however, when it dawned on him that his parents would pitch a fit over that because he had remained unmarked in any way until landing here in Oz. And if he had ever felt like indulging in some body art it sure as hell wouldn't have included getting a swastika branded on his ass.

Toby was glad Chris had skipped the whole body-piercing thing, too, and that any passion for tats had been curbed before reaching a Hoyt-like extreme. Chris' body was a work of art all on its own and didn't require any enhancement; Toby deeply regretted the few scars that marked that body, especially the ones he had put there. Still, the crucified Christ was striking, and surely not a standard pattern. Chris had to have specifically asked for this, maybe even designed it himself, and Toby thought back to that story Chris had told him about how he'd gotten it. There was something in there he was meant to understand, one of Chris' odd little gifts to him, although the more Toby thought about it the more he suspected maybe you had to have been raised Catholic to figure it out.

That, or flying on the same stuff Chris had been when he'd got it.

Maybe its significance had even transmuted itself into something else over the years, going from a cocky young hustler's proclamation of godhood, to... Well, God and Chris alone probably knew what. His own personal mark of Cain, maybe? As far inside Chris' mind as Toby had gotten, he didn't feel like he'd gotten far enough to work this one out.

He sank back on his heels, content to just watch Chris sleep for awhile. He suspected they could spend the rest of their lives together and he still wouldn't understand everything that made this man tick. That was a gift, though, that Chris wanted him to, that he offered up these puzzling little bits and pieces of himself. And it could even be, Toby supposed, that was all he was meant to get: to understand that Chris was singling him out as the recipient of these things, just because. Toby didn't necessarily have to do anything with it, no more than that alley cat would actually expect him to do anything with the endless supply of dead rats it might bring him; it might be sufficient that Toby got the gift, understood it to be a gift, and that it was something of great value to the one giving it.

Toby grinned, thinking he should probably be grateful Chris hadn't left Mondo on the doorstep for him to find in the morning.

He held his breath for a moment as Chris shifted around. He wasn't sure what he'd say if Chris woke up and caught him kneeling here, watching him. No need to worry, though, he saw as Chris just turned over; funny how Toby almost felt disappointed, though. Seeing a flash of light heralding the approach of a hack, he sighed softly, carefully pulled the blanket back up over Chris, and got back into his own bunk.

How could everything get so fucked up in just six months? Toby wondered, knowing the answer all too well: exactly the same way his entire life had gotten fucked up in one horribly miscalculated split second when he ran into Cathy Rockwell. It didn't take much. A couple of drinks too many, an idiotic conviction that, even so, he could make it home with no problem - hadn't he done just that so many times before, after all? - and the next thing he knew a little girl was dead, her parents left to grieve (and God, how fatuous had that been - him telling the parents he knew how they felt, he understood their pain; he hadn't had a clue about it, not then, no comprehension of the wrenching, soul deep agony of losing a child). Toby closed his eyes, finding it so easy to recall those nightmarish days. His father coming to the police station, looking so...shattered, and taking him home to a frantic Genevieve; Gen, his parents, asking over and over, *`Toby, what were you thinking? Do you realize how serious this is?'* So many questions and accusations, demands to know how long he'd had this drinking problem and why hadn't he confided in them. And no answers, nothing anyone wanted to hear. He hadn't been thinking, he had no defense to offer, and he would face the consequences, whatever they might be.

He'd just had no idea the consequences would include Oz. Would include Vern Schillinger. Had never dreamed that in this hell on earth he would find love again when Christopher Keller walked into his life. He couldn't have dreamed how Oz would change him. Change him - or liberate him? Toby had thought about that a lot, too. Did anyone ever really experience a complete transformation, or did you just become something more? Wasn't the caterpillar always a butterfly, after all? Didn't the butterfly still have something of the caterpillar in it after its metamorphosis?

At least, then, he'd been able to fall back on the excuse of being alcoholic; Tobias could never have done such a thing all on his own, it was the booze. So what did he blame for that moment his gears had completely slipped and he believed some...weasely scumbag when he said Chris was behind Gary's murder? Hell, even a fucking twinkie defense wouldn't cover that one.

Had he really thought that was possible, that this man who held him in his arms and kissed him so tenderly last New Years' Eve, could order the murder of a child? How did he go from being scared out of his wits that Chris might die, to trying to kill him? From aching for him, for the fear and remorse that was eating him up, wanting to comfort him and tell him everything would be all right, to accusing him of the worst crime imaginable? The crazed with grief part was true enough, but Toby found it difficult to exonerate himself on those grounds. The one consolation he'd been able to find was that he had not succeeded; he couldn't even imagine how he would have felt to have killed Chris and then discover Chris had been completely innocent. Schillinger would have loved that; would have sat there eating it up with a spoon. It was probably what Vern had been counting on, in fact.

And Toby didn't even want to think what form Vern's retribution would take if he ever found out what had happened to Hank. He knew he'd have to think about it someday, maybe sooner than he liked, but he shied away from it now, preferring to call up better thoughts, better memories.

That New Years' Eve, those whole last couple of days of 1999 with him and Chris easing back into familiar patterns, moving so carefully, both of them scared of going too far too fast. That had helped Toby, though, knowing Chris was just as affected, just as rocked by all this; love was the last thing Chris had expected to find in Oz, too. No, that wasn't quite true, Toby knew, saddened by the knowledge that love was the last thing Chris had expected to find, period.

Toby had thought it would be...nice, to kiss Chris, hold him, to be close to him. One of the few things he was sure of, in fact, was that he really, really liked being kissed by Chris. And the rest of it - well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe if Chris went slow and gave him time to get used to it, Toby could even like it a little bit. Oh yeah, Toby had learned to like it a little bit, all right. He smiled, turning over again, remembering how carefully Chris had touched him, coaxing him along with far more patience than Toby had imagined he possessed. Toby had surprised them both by being the one who wanted more, faster; touching Chris' chest, feeling the warmth of his skin, his heart beating so strong, had been so exciting. Kissing him there, tasting the salt and sweat tang of him, feeling a nipple stiffen against his tongue - hearing Chris bite back a little moan - had unleashed something in him, both easing the tension coiled in his belly and freeing him to experience all the pleasure, to follow wherever Chris wanted to take him. To take Chris to those same places. It was about love, about sharing those incredible feelings, all the things he had been so afraid didn't happen between two men. And not even the briefest flicker of Vern's shadow had come between them; no one else had existed there, in that little cocoon he and Chris had made for themselves, where all the pain and suspicion and fear had transformed into the sweetest passion Toby had ever felt.

For better or worse - he hoped, prayed it was for better - they had both been changed by that love. Neither of them were the men they had been when they had walked into Oz.

Who would Tobias Beecher be when he walked out of Oz? Yes, he could pick up some of the scattered pieces of his old life; he would still have Holly and Harry, maybe he could even find some work that would reconnect him to the law he loved. There was some small chance of getting his license back, but he wasn't nave enough to get his hopes up too high about that. And there would always be the whispers behind his back: That's Tobias Beecher - you know, Harrison and Victoria's son, the one who went to prison for drunk driving and killing a little girl. Such a shame, he always seemed like a nice boy.

Toby wondered if he'd care about those whispers, though. Or would he more likely feel provoked to get an even bigger rise out of the gossips by telling them about his boyfriend, the one he'd met in prison?

He smiled, trying to get comfortable, thinking that was interesting, how he didn't shy away from thinking of Chris like that anymore: as his lover. It had taken long enough for him to get to that point, struggling with the idea that he didn't just love Chris as a friend, that the physical intimacy between them wasn't just because options were kind of limited. Toby didn't know what that made him - gay, bi, straight but hopelessly jonesing for Chris Keller? Maybe it didn't even matter. All he knew for certain was that he didn't want to touch, or be touched by, anyone else now. His encounters with Mondo, the others, had made that abundantly clear; he'd been left feeling empty by those encounters, sullied. That had been the point, of course. He could have gone back to some lovely substance abuse in a heartbeat if simple self-destruction had been the only thing on his mind, but his aim had been to try and wipe out any memories of the way Chris had touched him, of how beautifully right their lovemaking had been.

And, yeah, to see how much Chris really meant it, when he said he didn't care who I fucked anymore. Well, he had his answer to that, but no idea what to do with it. What else did Chris need from him? `Maybe it's more that not enough has happened.' Like...? Toby felt the answer was so obvious that, when it finally came to him he was going to be feel like a complete moron for having missed it.

Awakened by something, Chris turned over, sleepy gaze traveling around the small pod before turning up to the bunk above him. Sounded like Toby was having another rough night, all that tossing and turning. Did Toby ever have any other kind of night? Chris wondered, hoping the other man had found a little peace in his arms the few times they had been to lay together here.

Useless to tell Toby he worried too much, that he should stop letting himself get eaten up by all these things he couldn't control. Chris guessed that was just the way Toby was made, though. He probably wouldn't be any different on the outside, either. Life could be going great for him, and Toby would probably fret over that, either feeling guilty because it was so good, or anticipating some impending doom just because it was too good and there had to be some disaster lurking in the shadows.

Not for the first time Chris wondered why he'd had to go and fall in love with such a total nutbar. And sure, he didn't exactly have any room to criticize there, but at least he didn't beat himself up over things he hadn't done. He for sure did not waste any time worrying over Vern's fucking feelings. Why couldn't Toby have listened to him just that once, and left well enough alone? Andy was dead, and yeah, he and Toby and O'Reily had helped that along, but it was done, over, and it was a little late in the day for Toby's conscience to be acting up. Chris had tried to tell him that, too: you set someone else for a fall, you damn well better not start feeling sorry for them. It was too bad about the kid, but there was no way in hell Toby could make that up to Vern. But no, Toby had to listen to fucking Said and Mukada, who didn't have a clue about what someone like Vern was capable of.

Sometimes it hurt to watch Toby walk around Oz, practically wearing a Kick Me sign.

He sighed, shifting around, wishing he could get back to sleep. There was no sense in laying here thinking about Toby. Yeah, and it was way better to sleep and dream about him instead, Chris thought.

Sleep didn't want to come, though, but thoughts of Toby did. The last time he'd had some trouble getting to sleep, for instance, before everything had gone all to hell, Toby had hopped down, asking him what was wrong...

*`Dunno, just can't sleep,' Chris had said.

Settling on the edge of the bed, Toby had offered, `Want me to tell you a story? That usually works for my kids.'

`Yeah, I'm sure it does, Tobe, but in case you ain't noticed I'm not exactly five years old.'

`Well, yeah, I have actually,' Toby'd said, in that way he had of teasing him, but in a nice way. `Of course it depends on whether we're talking physical or mental development.'

`Fuck you,' Chris had returned, also in a nice way.

`Come on,' Toby had climbed in with him, holding him. `Close your eyes.'


`Close your eyes and be quiet.'

`I can think of other things we could be doing.'

`I'm sure you can, Chris,' Toby had said, stroking his hair softly, `but we already did them. Now... Once upon a time-`

`Toby, this is stupid,' Chris had protested, although it felt really good, Toby holding him, his voice so soft and low.

`Shh, just listen,' Toby had quietly insisted, pressing a gentle kiss to his forehead. `Once upon a time there was a man named, umm, Tobias, and he thought he'd lost everything in the world that mattered to him and that he was all alone in the world. Just when he was about to lose all hope, though, a stranger came to him. The stranger's name was, hmm, Christopher, and he was unlike anyone Tobias had ever known-`

`Bet I know how this comes out,' Chris had murmured, burrowing his head a little more into Toby's shoulder.

`Shh,' Toby had said again, holding him a little tighter, going on with his story, although Chris quickly stopped listening to the words, and just let himself drift on the sound of Toby, the nearness of him...*

Chris wondered how that story had come out, if Tobias and Christopher got to live happily ever after. Wondered, too, why they couldn't have held onto that just a little while longer, just till it was time for him to give Toby up to his life outside Oz.

Just wasn't meant to be, he guessed, shifting around again, unable to find any comfortable spot.

"Chris?" Toby's voice drifted down, quiet in the darkness. "You awake?"

Chris bit his lip, wondering if he should answer. What were the chances Toby would say what Chris wanted to hear, after all? Pretty slim, he guessed, but... "Yeah." And...?

After several moments of silence, though he said, "Toby?"


"I'm gonna ask McManus to move me out of here." There, that's all you're getting from me, Toby; the ball's in your court now.

"But - why?"

"Why not?" Give me a reason, Toby. You're the one's supposed to be good with words, right?

Instead of that, instead of saying he wanted Chris to stay, all Toby said was, "Where are going to ask him to move you to?"

Fuck. Fine - he wanted it this way, he got it this way. "Roger wants me in with him." Chris didn't actually know if that was so, but he'd bet it wouldn't take much to make Roger want it.

A long silence up above, then, "Yeah, I'll just bet he does." And sure, Toby sounded pissed off, but - pissed off and jealous wasn't enough, wasn't want Chris wanted.

"Yeah," Chris said, "so I'll ask McManus tomorrow."

"Fine, you do that."

"I will."


"Good." Chris rolled over, staring out into the dark. If he was going to end up missing Toby anyway he guessed he might as well get started now.

In the bunk above, Toby was gazing into the dark, too, tears stinging his eyes. Maybe this was as fucked up as things could get, maybe this was finally the limit of what he had to endure.

He wouldn't be laying any money on that, though.

V: "Beecher!" Mineo yelled into the pod. "Get your ass out here!"

Toby sat on the edge of his bunk a moment more, wondering how many days in the Hole he'd get if he told Mineo to go fuck himself. Was it even worth it? He'd have to come back to Em City eventually, no matter what, and watch Chris with Roger, imagine what was going on in their pod after lights out. He supposed it was some small mercy that Roger's pod wasn't in his direct line of sight.


"Yeah, yeah," he said, dropping to the floor and pulling on his pants, going out to fall in beside Chris for morning count.

He swore he wasn't going to look at Chris, but of course he couldn't even keep that tiny vow as he glanced over at him, trying so hard to figure out what going on inside that head. Toby just could not believe this was it, that it was over, really over between them. These last few days especially, he had felt convinced that they moving back towards each other, that it just needed a little more time

Count done, they went back inside and Toby watched Chris brush his teeth, trying to think of just what to say. He bit his lip, suspecting he was just asking for more grief, but, "Chris? You...didn't really mean it, did you?"

Chris looked at him in the mirror. "What?"

Toby moved closer, close enough to feel the other man's warmth. "About asking McManus to put you in with Roger." Please say you were just yanking my chain. Please. "Chris...?" He reached out, brushing just the tips of his fingers along the back of Chris' neck - his stomach dropping away as Chris shook him off. "Chris..."

"Why would I have said it if I didn't mean it, Beecher?"

That was no fucking answer. "I don't know why you do half the things you do, Chris."

Dark blue eyes narrowed at him, that flash of disappointment sparking through them again, and Toby knew he'd just blown another chance. "Yeah, well, since I won't be doing them with you anymore, Beecher, you won't have to try and figure it out."

"You're really going to do this? You're going to throw away everything between us and go fuck some guy you don't give a damn about, just to pay me back?"

Angry incredulity flared in Chris' eyes as he fired back, "It's got nothing to do with paying you back, you little prick. And I'm not the one who threw it all away and pissed on it."

"I am so goddamned sorry I was in agony over my son," Toby returned, temper flaring. "I hope to God you never have to know what that feels like."

Chris' mouth quirked with a bitter, ironic smile. "Yeah, well, I think that's a pretty safe bet."

Toby turned, walking over to the bunks, dropping down on Chris'. God, he was so tired of this, swinging between these extremes of emotion. Maybe he should consider that was some kind of sign it was time to give this up? That would be the smart thing to do, wouldn't it? Funny how he'd never felt less like doing the smart thing, less like he wanted to play it safe. As laden with pain and frustration as this relationship was, as likely as it was to all end in tears, Toby had never felt so much, never wanted to give so much. Never wanted to fight so much for something.

He just didn't know what the fuck he was supposed to do, to say.

"Chris," he looked up at him, searching for some clue in those eyes, but only finding the guarded, closed off expression that had greeted him too many times of late, "you have no idea how sorry I am. How much I want to make things up to you."

"Yeah, that's right, Beecher - I don't."

"Then give me a, a fucking penance or something to perform! Tell me something!" He got up, walking over to him wanting to grab him and shake him. Wanting to grab him and kiss him. "What the hell do you want from me, Chris?"

"I want you to fucking know who I am, Toby!" Chris exploded, that cool and distant mask slipping at last. "That's what I want. But that ain't never gonna happen, is it? Roger may be an asshole but at least he's honest about what he wants."

"Chris, all he wants is to fuck you," Toby protested, desperately trying to sort through everything.

"Yeah? And that makes him different from you how, exactly?"

Toby couldn't have felt more stunned if Chris had hauled off and punched him. "Chris-" He caught his arm, trying to stop him as the other man started to exit the pod.

"Let me go."

"Chris, please, let me-"

"Let me the fuck go, Beecher." Chris' tone was low and dangerous, perfectly matching the look in his eyes.

Sick inside, Toby let his hand drop away, stepping back and watching Chris leave. How could Chris think that, any of it? Whatever had gone wrong between them, Chris had to know he loved him, valued him. Ruthlessly tearing into himself, though, Toby countered, Yeah, and exactly how would he know that? By calling a psychic hotline? He'd told Said and Sister Pete, Father Mukada, his parents - hell, he'd confessed his love of Chris to the fucking FBI. But when was the last time he'd told Chris? Had he even said it that last night they had spent together, when Chris came from the infirmary? They had made love, yes, touching each other so tenderly, cherishing each other more than ever. Even if he hadn't said the words, Toby couldn't believe Chris hadn't felt that, couldn't believe Chris had forgotten it.

He sank down on Chris' bunk again, reaching for Chris' pillow and clutching it to him, inhaling the scent of the other man that lingered there. Toby knew he was missing something, but... All he could think was that Chris was asking for some kind of declaration from him. But - that couldn't be it, that was too simple. There had to be something more going on.

Didn't there?

Roger just happened to be lurking in the vicinity of Chris and Tobias' pod, just near enough to be able to make out that they were having one hell of a fight. He couldn't quite make out what they were saying but it was pretty obvious the tide of animosity of running mighty high this morning.

Did he know how to push buttons, or what? Roger thought to himself, grinning with sweet anticipation of the rewards he was going to be reaping as he watched Chris storm out, looking like he wanted to murder someone. And Roger didn't think it was any mystery who Chris wanted to throttle right about now.

Watching Tobias sit there, holding a pillow to his chest and looking all dejected, Roger just couldn't help the urge he felt to give the knife a little twist.

"Hey, Tobias," he called, opening the pod door and lounging there, "you and Chris having some kind of domestic incident?"

Other than glaring murder at him, Tobias didn't acknowledge him.

"Gee, that's too bad," he said, shaking his head mournfully. "You two seem like the perfect couple, you know, like you stepped right out of some kind of Harlequin romance. Think I'm gonna have to go have myself a long ol' cry over this."

"Roger, will you tell me something?"

"I sure will, Tobias. Just ask."

If Roger thought the look in Tobias' eyes had been frosty before, now it was downright arctic. "Great. So - you wanna die fast or slow."

Roger just grinned, wider than before. "You know what, Tobias? I don't think I'm the one needs to be watching his back. If I was you, in fact, I'd be thinking about getting me a new roommate `cause I don't think Chris is too happy with you right now."

Still giving him that cold-eyed stare, Tobias said, "So I guess your answer is, `slow'?"

Roger smirked. "Ooh, I am so scared." He straightened up, spotting one of the hacks heading over. "Now don't you worry your little head about anything, Tobias. I promise to take real good care of Chris."

"If you even breathe on him-" Tobias began, coming up off the bunk and advancing towards Roger-

"Hey!" Murphy was there, looking things over. "There some reason you're hanging around here, Elkins?"

"Just making conversation with Tobias, Officer Murphy," Roger said, perfectly innocent.

Murphy gave him a dubious once over, asking Tobias, "That right, Beecher? You and Elkins are just making conversation?"

"Yeah, that's all it is," Tobias said.

"Uh-huh." Murphy didn't look like he bought it, but wasn't going to make an issue of it. "Well how about you two quit your gabbing and get butts off to breakfast?"

"That's just what I was thinking, Officer Murphy. Talk to you later, Tobias."

"Yeah, I'll make a note of it in my day-planner," Tobias replied.

Yep, life was good, Roger thought as he walked off.

Oh, yeah, things were getting good now, Vern was thinking as he watched Elkins come into the cafeteria, Beecher a little further down the line and looking like he was about to have a stroke or something as Roger got his tray and carried it over to where Keller was sitting. Instead of moving away and giving Elkins a Fuck off look, Keller not only let Elkins sit beside him, right beside him - you could maybe get a toothpick in between them - but he looked right at Beecher all the time he was doing it. Now it was just sit back and wait to see who shanked who first.

That murder/suicide scenario was looking better by the minute.

It took every ounce of self-control Chris had not to squirm away as Roger pressed up against him. If Toby hadn't been standing there, looking at them, he probably wouldn't have put up with it. He guessed it didn't really matter when things got going, though, especially since he was going to have go through with his request to move in with Rog. Damn, he'd really thought that would do it, that Toby would say he wanted Chris to stay, make some kind of claim on him. Sure, Toby didn't want him fucking Roger, but as far as Chris could tell there wasn't one thing he could look to that told him it was anything but Toby not wanting to share his toys.

He wanted to demand why Toby couldn't love him the way he wanted him to; couldn't know him the way he wanted him to. Chris knew he had no right asking that, though, especially not when he already knew the answer. He didn't deserve that kind of love, that kind of understanding. He never had, never would.

Try as he might, Chris couldn't even lay any of the blame on Vern. If he'd wanted to, he could have gotten out of Operation Toby, could have said he wasn't going to do it and faced the consequences. But no, even feeling drawn to Toby then, feeling like something suddenly burst into life inside him that first time Toby's mouth touched his, he'd had to go along with the game, not even admitting to himself until it was too fucking late that he was in love with Toby.

No, there was no one but himself to blame for any of this. He'd been right when he'd told Mukada everything between them had started in brutality, with a lie. How fucking stupid had he been to think it could ever get past all that, that Toby could really trust him, love him?

Chris looked away from Toby's hard, cold stare, trying to make himself relax as Roger pressed up against him, trying to keep a poker face as he felt Roger's hand on his leg. The thought of being with this asshole made his stomach turn...but wasn't that all he deserved?

How long would it take, he wondered, before he forgot what it had been like to touch Toby? To be touched by him? To believe for one tiny, brief moment, that he knew what it was like to really love and be loved?

VI: Oh God, Toby thought, tears of joy stinging his eyes as he saw his father sitting there with Harry on his lap, Holly kneeling up in a chair and intently drawing something on the paper she had spread on the table. He crossed quickly to them, pressing a kiss to Holly's forehead before reaching to lift Harry from Harrison's arms. The boy looked at him a little skeptically, casting another look down at his grandfather.

"It's all right, Harry, this is your daddy," Harrison said. "You remember."

Did he? Toby wondered as the little boy carefully searched his features. This was only the second time they had met, and the first time, at Gary's funeral, hadn't exactly been the best time for introductions. Toby made an effort to pack that memory away, looking into the blue eyes gazing back at him so seriously. After another moment Harry smiled a little shyly and nodded to himself.

"Daddy," he said, patting a tiny hand against Toby's face.

Toby smiled back at him, trying to swallow the lump in his throat.

"I probably should have told you I'd be bringing him," Harrison said, "but I thought maybe you could use a surprise."

Toby didn't have the heart to tell him that surprises had become one of his least favorite things, actually. At least this one was a rare good one. "Thank you," he managed to say past the lump, and sat down beside Holly. Not ready to let go of Harry, he craned his neck to try and see what she was drawing, hoping it wasn't something dredged up from her nightmares. If he was any judge, it was some kind of bird. Birds were nothing to worry about, right?

"How are you doing, son?"

Toby shrugged. "About the same." His dad wouldn't want to hear all the trials and tribulations of his love life. "Mother have another meeting she couldn't get out of?"

Harrison gave him a hapless little smile. "I'm afraid so, yes." Looking a little brighter, he added, "But Angus said he'd come for a visit next week."

Toby nodded. It would be good to see his little brother again. "How's he like being the new apple of your eye?" he said, once again wishing he could learn to bite his tongue at the hurt look his father gave him.

"Toby, it's not like that. You know we love you and Angus the same."

Of course that's what parents had to say; sometimes Toby wondered how much truth there was in it, though. He couldn't detect any difference in the quality or quantity of love he felt for his children, but then they hadn't shown themselves to be the total fuck up he had.

He checked Holly's drawing again, seeing she'd added another bird, a smaller one than the first.

Harrison leaned close to whisper, "They're angels - she calls them Mommy and Gary." He choked up now, tears bright in his eyes, and Toby couldn't help thinking that until this whole mess had started, he'd never seen his father cry. "She draws them a lot. The therapist thinks it's a good sign, that she's getting near to some kind of closure."

Closure, Toby thought, closing his eyes and shaking his head. A six-year-old girl shouldn't need closure. Wouldn't have if she didn't have an alcoholic asshole for a father.

Harrison must have seen something in his face because he touched Toby's arm, squeezing gently. "Toby, don't. You have to forgive yourself, son."

"How?" All the things he'd done, the people he'd hurt - how could he ever make up for that much less absolve himself? Hell, that was half the reason he had taken refuge in a bottle in the first place, to avoid taking responsibility, to not have to deal with life when things got a little difficult. "I've made such a mess of things."

"That's not true, son," Harrison insisted. "And even if it were, there's a second chance for everything."

"Yeah, maybe," he said, unable to put a lot of conviction behind it. He did have Harry and Holly to think about, though, and he owed it to them to do the best he could. Feeling sorry for himself and pining over Chris wasn't going to do anyone any good.

His father gave him another troubled look. "Come here," he said, urging Toby to put Harry down and come over with him. "Toby, I hate to see you this way. If there's anything I can do to help, son, you know you only have to ask." He looked at Toby very earnestly. "You can tell me anything you need to, Toby. You always could."

Toby dropped his own gaze, unable to help feeling he'd failed yet again in not having enough faith in his father, assuming he wouldn't care and couldn't understand. "I didn't want to burden you with things."

"I know. You were always like that, had to do everything the hard way."

Toby's smile was rueful. "Yeah, that sounds familiar." He sighed, watching Holly and Harry, now with their heads together in consultation; God, he wished he could see something of Gen in one of them. "I'm just finding it hard to accept that some things can't be fixed."

"Like what?"

Toby looked at his father, wishing he could confide, but... "It's kind of complicated, Dad."

Harrison looked back at him thoughtfully, saying, "Are you sure you haven't made it more complicated than it needs to be? You've always been a little prone to that, too."

Toby's smile grew warmer. "So what you're saying is I've always been a pain in the ass?"

"Well, yes," Harrison admitted, looking a little sheepish. "But we love you anyway, son."

Toby wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry at that.

"Toby, come on," his father patted his shoulder, "tell me what's troubling you."

"There's nothing you can do, Dad. There's nothing anyone can do."

"Oh, now I'm sure that's not true."

"I think it is. It," Toby took a deep breath, made himself forge on, "it's about Chris, Dad."

Harrison looked a little uncomfortable for a moment, but said, "I thought you...weren't together anymore."

This was a mistake, it had to be, but even so Toby couldn't seem to hold back the words; he so wanted to talk about it with somebody. "We're not. That - that's the problem. I want to be with him, Dad. I want..." Realizing he was on the verge of babbling, Toby bit his lip and waited for some lecture on how he needed to get over this sick obsession he had for Chris Keller.

So he wasn't prepared to hear his father say, "Do you really love this man?"

Trying not to gape too much, Toby said, "Yes, I do. More than I ever knew."

"Even though he's done terrible things to you?"

Again shying away from meeting his father's eyes, Toby said, "I've done worse things to him."

"Oh, I don't believe that."

"It's true, Dad. You - you have no idea." And Toby knew he would probably never be able to tell his father the whole of it, the worst of it. But maybe he could confide a little of it? "Another inmate told me Chris was behind the kidnapping, that he'd ordered Gary's," he had to pause to swallow another lump, "Gary's murder. It was all part of the set up by Schillinger, I know that now. But I should have known it then. Only..."

"Only you did believe this other inmate - and accused your, erm, friend?"

Toby nodded. "Accused him...tried to kill him."

"Toby, no, I don't believe that."

"Dad, it's true. You don't know, you can't imagine some of the things I've found myself capable of doing in here." His father deserved to have at least that much of the truth.

Harrison looked trouble, clearly preferring not to give his imagination a work out that way. "You were distraught, Toby. He must understand that."

Toby grimaced, running a hand through his hair. "Oh, I was distraught all right. And Chris did understand, at least until I took it all out on him." Chris had been astonishingly patient with him, in fact, incredibly supportive. Toby had a memory of Chris trying to comfort him when Father Mukada had delivered the news about the...the hand... Toby's mind shunted away from that, focusing on the memory of Chris wanting to help, starting to put his arms around him, just to comfort; but Toby had struck out at him, driving him off, rejecting every attempt Chris had made to reach him in his grief.

"You have every reason not to trust this man, Toby, given what he's done to you, what you know about him."

For the second time that day Toby felt like someone had hauled off and smacked him one. Given what Chris had done to him - for him, what he knew about Chris. *`I want you to fucking know who I am.'* Oh, Toby knew his father meant Operation Toby, meant the crimes the FBI wanted to pin on Chris. His father couldn't know there was so much more to Chris than that, so much more between them than Operation Toby. His father couldn't know how deeply Chris regretted his part in that, how hard he had worked to make it up to Toby. And his father would never understand the...the primal force of Chris' love; like that Tobias of five years ago, Harrison Beecher would be appalled at a love that could express itself in the most exquisite tenderness one minute, and in another instant manifest itself in blood spilled - striking out at anyone who harmed the object of that love.

Polite society, the world Toby had grown up in, would demand Toby be just as appalled, that he turn away from a love like that. But Toby found he had never given less of a fuck what polite society thought, what anyone made of this love he had with Chris.

"Dad, Chris is the one person I know I can trust, no matter what." He knew he could never explain that to his father, he barely understood it all himself, but, "He...he knows me in a way no one else ever has, in a way no one's ever wanted to."


"No, Dad, I know you mean you well, and I don't want to hurt you. If you need to believe that I'm still the man I was, that's all right. But you need to know this isn't just some phase I'm going through. Sometimes I wish to God I didn't know all these things about me, but I have to claim it all. Part of that, one of the best parts, is loving Chris." He could meet his father's eyes directly now. "He knows everything I am, and," he smiled, "and he loved me anyway. What I feel for him - it's so powerful it scares me sometimes. Like nothing I ever knew with Gen."

"You can't compare this relationship with what you had with Genevieve. What you and Gen had - that's the way love is supposed to be."

"Who says? Hallmark Card commercials? Dad, Gen never knew me - hell, I didn't know me then. You want a glimpse of the man I really am? Do you know angry I am sometimes that Gen wouldn't try to understand, that she couldn't even put our children ahead of her own fear and disappointment? I know that isn't fair, I know she must have been in so much pain, but..."

"Toby, she was in so much distress. If your mother and I had just realized, done more-"

Toby touched his father's shoulder. "Dad, no, don't blame yourself for that. One person in this family beating himself up over things that aren't his fault ought to be enough." He shrugged. "Gen needed me to be someone different, needed things from me I couldn't give her. And I needed more from her."

Harrison was having some trouble processing all this, Toby could see that pretty clearly as his father looked back him, shaking his head in a bemused way. "It's not just the," he lowered his voice even more, "homosexual thing, then?"

Smiling, paradoxically feeling the burn of tears in his eyes, Toby shook his head. "It's just a Chris thing, mostly. I think if we exchanged wedding vows, " and he couldn't help it, he had to grin at the scandalized look that flashed across his father's face, "Chris would mean every word." He paused, feeling a little stunned again as the realization hit him. "I think I might, too."

"Then you can't give up on it, Toby, not if it means this much to you," Harrison said, looking like he flabbergasted himself with those words.

Toby's mouth quirked. "What would Mother say?"

"Oh, Victoria can come down off her damned high horse is what Victoria can do." Harrison looked surprised at that declaration, too, but sort of pleased as well.

And Toby was beginning to get the idea there might be a lot more to his father than he'd ever given him credit for.


Chris looked around and up at Sean Murphy. "Yo."

"You've got an appointment with Sister Pete in ten minutes."

"No I don't."

Murphy gave him a no nonsense look. "Yeah, you do. And she was pretty specific about you not weaseling out of it this time, so get your butt over there."

So what the fuck was up now? Chris wondered, resentful at Mineo herding him along to Sister Pete's office. Christ knew he'd been pining away for another of her little `God's world revolves around me,' little lectures, all right. He didn't know why he let her get to him, what prompted him to tell her things he'd never told another living soul - well, except Toby. And even Toby didn't know all of it.

"Chris." She looked over at him from her desk. "Come in, sit down."

He did, arms folded across his chest, ready for some new lecture on why he was a total waste of space.

She held out her hand, his St. Dismas medal neatly coiled up in her palm. "I thought you might want this back."

Like she couldn't have just had one of the hacks drop it off. No, she'd just had to summon him to her office like he was being sent to the principal. "You keep it."

"Chris, it's yours."

"What do I need with it?"

"You're the only one who can know that, Chris."

"Yeah? So - I don't fucking need it anymore."

She placed the medal on her desk and sat back, looking at him. "You've found all your answers, then?"

He shrugged. There weren't any answers to find, nothing new anyway. "Let's just say I've had some old familiar truths confirmed." And why the fuck was he even telling her that much?

"What old familiar truths?" she asked.


"Chris," she said in that way she had, like she was sort of exasperated with him, but not quite enough to boot him out.

"You gonna sit there and pretend you give a damn?" he challenged, and wondered why he couldn't learn to shut the fuck up around her.

"I'm not going to pretend anything, Chris. That's part of what caused the problem in the first place." She paused, looking like she was thinking something over. "How's Tobias?"

He shrugged. "Ask him yourself."

"Are you two getting along?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask if she meant were they fucking, but something made him bite that back. Instead he just said, "Not particularly."

"Why not? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. It's just...over." Christ, it shouldn't be that hard to say it, to feel it.

"Something must have happened," Sister Pete pressed on.

"Yeah - he accused me of murdering his son. That's what happened. And like that's news to you." Why couldn't she just leave him the fuck alone?

"And you can't forgive him?"

"It's got nothing to do with whether or not I can forgive him. It's - Fuck. It's none of your business, that's what it is."

"Do you still love Tobias?"

"That's even less of your business."

"So, when you sat there and told me you wanted his unconditional love," Sister Pete said, "you meant that in the most selfish way possible."

He stared at her, blinked. "What?"

"You want Tobias to give you his unconditional love, but it's a one-way street: he doesn't get any back from you."

What was she saying, that he'd never really loved Toby? "There's nothing selfish about how I feel - felt - for Toby."

Sister Pete nodded. "Yet you can't forgive him for hurting you, for having one moment of weakness."

"He tried to kill me"

"And you betrayed his trust and helped Vern break his arms and legs. But he forgave you."

"The fuck he did," Chris said, resentment brimming over in his voice.

"You don't believe him?"

"Look, I believe he tried, but - he couldn't do it, not all the way. Nobody could." It wasn't Toby's fault he couldn't make that leap.

"And yet," Sister Pete said, "he gave himself to you. Even though all he'd known of sex between men was the brutality and degradation he experienced at Vern's hands. And he was beside himself, worrying about you, when you were shot. I don't know," she shook her head, settling her glasses in place, "that sounds like a lot of forgiveness and love to me."

Chris gave her a suspicious look. "What do you mean, he was beside himself?"

She gave a little shrug. "You know the way he gets when he's fretting about something, blaming himself and pestering everyone out of their mind for information about you."

Toby had looked awful happy to see him, Chris remembered, that time he'd snuck into the infirmary. But, "That was before." And everything was different now.

"And you can't forgive him," Sister Pete said, bringing them back to where they'd started.

"If I thought it would-" Chris clamped up, not wanting to give her anymore information. Besides, it didn't fucking matter anymore. "It's too late. It doesn't matter anyway."

She gave him a long, thoughtful look. "Chris, do you remember asking me if I ever found my bed cold and empty?"

Fuck. He shrugged; she knew he did, so why ask?

"Do you think you have a lot of room to talk, now?"

Yeah, this session was doing him a whole lot of fucking good.

VII: Carefully tucking away Holly and Harry's drawings in the trunk - Harry claimed his was a dinosaur; Toby took him at his word and just figured his son had a Dali-esque view of the world - Toby considered what to do next. What did Chris want? Maybe...maybe what he wanted was for Toby to shut the fuck up and just listen to him for once. Just listen, and not jump to all the wrong conclusions. Almost everything Chris had been saying, Toby realized, had been couched as a question, and he'd found it was often that way when Chris was trying to get something across to him. He didn't know if Chris had ever read Emily Dickinson, but he had certainly mastered the art of telling the truth, but telling it slant; testing the waters to see how something went over, and if all the signs were good, offering up a little more.

So... Toby looked around the quad, not spotting Chris anywhere. But there was McManus, talking with Murphy. Making his way over there, Toby asked, "Excuse me - have you seen Keller?"

"Keller?" McManus shook his head. "No."

Toby wondered if the relief he felt showed on his face. There was still time, then.

Unexpectedly, Murphy said, "He had an appointment with Sister Pete, actually."

Toby wondered what that was about, which of them had sought it out. He'd like to think it would be a good thing, but he was still feeling a little uncharitable towards Sister Pete.

Looking at McManus, he pressed, "And he hasn't put in a request to see you, or anything?"

"No. Why would he? Is something going on, Beecher?"

"No, no, nothing's...going on."

"So was there something else?" Murphy asked.

"No, that was it."

"So, maybe you can go find someone else to pester?" Murphy suggested, sharing a long look with McManus.

God, he hoped so.

Tim McManus watched Beecher walk away, glanced at Sean. "So - what's that about?"

"Hard to say."

"Yeah, well, feel free to give it a shot," Tim prodded. "Something going on with those two? Something besides the usual?" he amended.

"I'm not even sure the `usual's' going on," Sean told him. "I'll tell you this, Tim," he sought out Elkins, over in a corner by himself, "there's something up with them and the new guy."

Tim followed his gaze. "Elkins? What about him?"

Sean shrugged. "He's been sniffing around Keller quite a bit, and getting on Beecher's case."

Great, Tim thought. All he needed was another inmate turning up dead; he was skating on thin enough ice with Leo as it was. "Nothing much we can do if that's all it is, sniffing." He'd been a little surprised at how vehemently Sister Pete and Ray had argued for him to put Beecher and Keller back in the same pod, but if it was going to make his job a fraction easier it had been a small enough concession to make. If Beecher and Keller's relationship wasn't exactly made in heaven, he couldn't deny both men appeared to do better when they were together. "You're keeping an eye on things?


Tim nodded, confident of Sean stepping in before things got out of hand.

Poor little Tobias, Roger was thinking as he watched the ex-lawyer wandering aimlessly around the quad. Got nobody to play with anymore, huh, Tobias? But Roger did. He'd been a little surprised at how Chris had let him get real close this morning, even feeling him up a little; surprised, but not in a bad way.

And seeing as how he was feeling in the mood for some loving, Roger decided there was no time like the present to look Chris up and follow up on what he'd started at breakfast. He'd have to mark Chris somehow, maybe a good old fashioned hickey; something Tobias couldn't miss, something that would tell Tobias that Roger'd had his boyfriend.

He'd love to see the hissyfit Tobias'd pitch over that.

Sean Murphy sighed and rolled his eyes as Beecher meandered over again. "Yeah?"

"He can't still be in with Sister Pete."

Sean guessed you sort of had to admire the guy's tenacity. "No." He checked his clipboard. "Your boyfriend should be at his work detail right about now."


"Oh you're very welcome, it's what I live for."

Beecher gave him a funny look, but toddled on off, and Sean looked around the quad, just checking on everyone's whereabouts. Where the fuck'd Elkins gone?

Shoving some empty boxes out of the way, Chris wondered if Toby would call him on it, if he didn't happen to get around to seeing McManus today and asking to be moved. Maybe Toby would just let it slide? Had Toby ever let anything just slide?

He tucked his medal back in his T-shirt, thinking about the session with Sister Pete. As usual she'd got him to say way more than he'd meant to, and she hadn't let him change the subject like before. And, not that he'd tried - she'd kept him too off-kilter to even think about it - but Chris had a feeling if he'd tried on any of his other scams, she wouldn't have put up with it for a minute this time.

Beat the hell out of him why a nun would be concerned about his and Toby's love lives. If anything Chris would have expected her to be glad things were over between them. It had to be that she was worried about Toby, maybe trying to make up for how she hadn't been there for him when he'd needed her most. Only... What had her concerned about Toby now? Maybe the same thing that had brought the Padre around, urging him to do something? From Chris' point of view it was kind of late in the day for them to be waking up to Toby needing some help, but - maybe better late than never, like they said. They had to be way off base in thinking there was anything he could do though.

Opening a box of copy paper, he thought about what Sister Pete had told him, how Toby'd been fretting and beside himself after the shooting. And what the fuck could he have been blaming himself over that time? Chris considered, unable to think of one damn way Toby had contributed to that incident. All Chris remembered, in fact, was Toby dragging him into their pod, holding him, talking to him; he could remember thinking that if he was going to die, at least he wouldn't be alone like he'd always expected, at least Toby would there with him.

But he didn't really want to think too much about that, didn't want to risk bringing up the other memories of how it really had been when he'd died.

So... Even if that was true and Toby had been worried about him, how come he had to hear about it second hand? Why couldn't Toby have told him? Of course, now he thought about it, Toby had said he missed him, and the way Toby had kissed his wound - there had almost been a kind of reverence to that. Chris hadn't expected that, and hadn't quite known what to make of it. Toby had been...different all that night, in fact; the way he'd touched him, it was like he thought Chris had arrived marked Fragile - Handle With Care. That Toby had noticed he was around at all, given how eaten up with worry he had to have been over his kids, was kind of amazing, Chris supposed.

After this morning, though... Even if Toby would let it slide about seeing McManus, he wasn't going to forget what Chris had said to him, wasn't going to forget Chris had told him there was no difference between him and Roger. Fuck. Why didn't he ever think anything through? All he'd done was hurt Toby for no damn reason, just because Toby'd hurt his feelings. Because his pride wouldn't let him be the first one to budge, like Sister Pete had said? Maybe she was right about that, but Chris couldn't help feeling pretty dubious about the rest of it. Toby wasn't going to let him make amends this time; Toby'd already given him more second chances than he had any right to expect. He'd looked so tired and frustrated this morning, like he just couldn't take anymore. And why should he? As much as Chris hated the idea, he couldn't help thinking the best way to show he loved Toby now was to just let him be.

Hearing someone enter the storage room, memories still way too vivid of the last time someone had crept up on him in here, Chris looked around, not getting hit with any great sense of relief when he spotted Roger. Christ, didn't this guy ever let up?

"You want something?"

"I sure do, Chris," Roger said, coming closer.

Shit. If Roger got whacked in here it was going to be kind of obvious who'd done it. "Yeah, what's that?" Chris said, picking up an armload of copy paper to keep between him and Roger.

"Come on, Chris," Roger said, giving him what he probably thought was a sexy look; Chris thought he looked like he had gas. "You know what I want."

"I do?"

"Like I said, Chris, you're a real attractive man. And it's damn shame you wasting yourself on Tobias."

Maybe he could think of a way to kill Roger and make it look like an accident? Nah, Toby was the one who'd probably be good at that kind of thing.

"Y'know, Roger, I kinda have work to do here."

"Nobody's here but you and me, Chris," Roger said, sneaking up behind, running a hand down Chris' back, holding him around the waist. "Put the fucking paper down."

Chris closed his eyes, taking some deep breaths. He could do this, it wouldn't be the first time. Unless he was going to take a fucking vow of chastity it wouldn't be the last time, either. Why make a big deal about it? All he had to look forward to was one kind of Roger or another. That he had found Toby at all was some kind of miracle, and there was no way in hell he was going to be blessed like that twice.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, Chris thought, putting the paper down, turning to face Roger. Maybe if he just pretended it was Toby... He felt a hand at the back of his neck, pulling him forward like Toby would. That was the way, just keep his eyes closed and think of Toby. Remember how Toby used to kiss him... But, fuck, that wasn't working. Toby'd never just stick his tongue down his throat like he was checking out his tonsils.

Chris pulled away from Roger's kiss, pushed off from the other man - dodging as Roger grabbed for him again.

"Goddamn it!" Roger blundered after him, tripping over a box. "You only give it up to rich little lawyer boys? That it?" he demanded as he caught hold of Chris again, shoving him up against the wall and trying to hump him then and there. "Strutting around here, showing it off," Roger ground out, panting as he struggled to hold Chris in place, "'bout time someone put you in your place."

"Yeah - it ain't gonna be you, asshole!" Chris got free again, blocking Roger's fist as the other man struck out at him, but then getting rocked by a follow-up that caught him on the jaw.

Shaking his head to clear it, Chris found himself pressed against the wall again, Roger on him like a dog, and Chris would never know who was more surprised - him or Roger - as Toby dragged Roger off him and began beating the crap out of him.

For a moment Chris was too flabbergasted to do anything but wonder where the fuck Toby had come from, then he was grabbing Toby around the waist, trying to drag him away from Roger. "Toby! Toby!" Shit, it was like trying to hold a wild cat still. "Settle the fuck down!" he hissed in Toby's ear, clamping a hand over his mouth to keep him quiet as he heard somebody else coming in the room. "How the fuck long've you been there?" he demanded as O'Reily sauntered up.

"Long enough, K-boy," O'Reily said, looking like he was enjoying the floorshow way too much.

"Oww, fuck!" Chris pulled his hand away from Toby's mouth. "You bit me!" Fucking little maniac.

"Hey! What the hell is going on in here?" Murphy demanded, looming in the doorway.

"Oh, hey, it's good you got here, Officer Murphy," O'Reily said. "Rog there - you know he's been sexually harassing Keller? Yeah, and he was trying to force himself on him when Beecher and me just happened by. Oh man, I hate to think what would've happened if we hadn't been here."

"Uh-huh," Murphy said, taking everything in: Roger still on the floor, bruised, bleeding from a cut lip and a smashed nose; Toby all ruffled up; Chris and O'Reily trying to pretend they were choirboys. "That true, Keller? Elkins here been harassing you?"

Chris's one consolation was that he was going to have plenty of time to pay O'Reily back for this one. But if it would keep Toby out of trouble... "Yeah, that's right."

Murphy nodded. "And he was trying to take advantage of you just now?"


"Only Beecher - and O'Reily," Murphy shot a look at the Irish fuck that spoke volumes about just how much he really bought a word of this, "came to your rescue?"

Shit. "Yeah, that's the way it happened."

"That's a goddamned lie!" Roger protested, getting to his feet with the assistance of the two other hacks who had come in by now. "He's been leading me on since I got here!"

"The fuck he has!" Toby finally spoke up, acting like he was going to for Roger again - if Chris hadn't clamped down on him.

"All right, all right!" Murphy broke it up before they could really get wound up again. "Take him to the hole," he told the other two hacks, indicating Roger. "And you three," he added as Roger was hauled out, loudly proclaiming his innocence, "get your asses back to Em City while I'm in a generous mood."

"You know," of course O'Reily couldn't resist pressing his luck, "it might be a good idea if Rog was transferred. I hear there's room in Unit B."

"Get a move on, O'Reily, and shut your yap."

O'Reily moved; Chris followed at a slightly slower pace, his eyes on Toby all the way.

Back in his pod, Toby turned the tap on, running cold water over his hand. He didn't think he'd broken anything, pounding Roger like that, but it was a little sore.

And, yep, that's exactly what I meant to accomplish, he thought, knowing he probably hadn't helped his cause one damned bit. Chris probably thought he was a fucking lunatic, coming unglued like that. He just hadn't been able to control himself, walking in and seeing that asshole hitting Chris, trying to force him. If Chris hadn't dragged him off, Toby suspected he really might have beaten Roger to death.

He started, his breath catching as a hand touched his back. Looking up, he saw Chris' reflection in the mirror beside him. "Chris..." he whispered as the hand slowly crept higher, fingers playing with the hair at his nape. Oh dear lord... Toby closed his eyes as he felt Chris kiss him there, so softly. "Chris...?" He turned, looking into his eyes.

"This okay, Beech?" he asked, voice as soft as his kisses, pulling Toby close.

Toby answered him the best way he knew: curving a hand around the back of his neck and drawing him in, pressing a kiss to his chin, the corner of his mouth, brushing his lips, feeling like he was sinking into Chris as they teased and coaxed one kiss after another from each other...

"Aw, geez," O'Reily shook his head, watching his two fellow inmates making out in their pod. He just was never going to get that, it didn't jibe with his view of the world. Needing sex and taking whatever kind was available, sure, he could wrap his mind around that - although when his mind bumped up against a recollection of Claire Howell it pretty much wanted to run gibbering for cover. Anyway, the thing was, O'Reily didn't consider himself prejudiced or homophobic, nothing like that; what the fuck did he care what consenting adults did? It was just that if a couple of guys were gay or bi, whatever, it seemed to him they had an obligation to sort of advertise it. It kind of unsettled him that Beecher and Keller didn't look or act like fags were supposed to, that instead they looked and acted just like any regular guys - just like him. And that meant... Yeah, well, he just wasn't going to think about what that meant.

Rebadow and Busmalis looked over. "Oh, they've made up," the former remarked. "What happened?"

"Beecher beat the shit out of Rog."

"Good. I never liked him."

Busmalis nodded in agreement. "He had shifty eyes."

"At least we should get some peace around here now," O'Reily said as Hill dealt him into the game. That Keller owed him one now was no bad thing, either. It wasn't as much as he'd been counting on - he'd kind of been rooting for Beecher to shank Rog - but every little bit helped.

VIII: "You hurt yourself?" Chris said, reaching for Toby's hand and looking it over.

"No, it's fine." Toby looked a little sheepish. "I'm sorry I bit you."

"Nah, no big deal. You didn't do any damage - and you've had your rabies shots, right?" Chris smiled at the Smart ass look Toby shot him. He brushed his fingers through Toby's hair, liking the silky feel. He couldn't seem to stop touching Toby, and he wasn't alone: Toby's hands were restless, too, roaming over Chris' arms and shoulders, touching his face. He wasn't complaining, though - and he'd never felt less sexually harassed. "You didn't need to go after Roger like that, he wasn't gonna do anything to me."

Toby looked at him, frowning with concern. "Maybe not," he gently brushed his fingers over the spot where Roger's fist had landed, "but that wasn't how it looked to me. When he hit you - I just lost it."

"Yeah, I noticed," Chris said with a soft smile. Maybe it was fucked up, but seeing Toby tear into Roger like that had told him more than any words could. He knew that feeling; it was what had sent him racing across the gym floor to stick a shank in Schillinger and catch Toby in his arms. "What were you doing there, anyway?"

"I wanted to see you. I thought...maybe we could talk." Toby gave him a rueful look now. "Or - maybe I could just listen, for once."

Chris wondered what he meant by that and drew him over to sit on the bottom bunk. "I thought maybe you'd heard enough from me, Toby."

Reaching for Chris' hand, Toby said, "I think maybe we both need to work on our communications skills."

Well, he might be on to something there, Chris admitted.

"So," Toby was going on, looking at him expectantly, "will you ask McManus to move you?"

Chris stared back at him, feeling like he'd been smacked in the face again - only this had a hell of a sharper sting. "Toby, I thought..." He shook his head, pulling his hand free and getting up, not knowing what the fuck he was supposed to think, to feel. "Yeah, I guess," he said, going to the door. Pausing there, he looked back at Toby, figuring he had nothing to lose. "So, does this get you off, or something - fucking me around?"

Toby looked back at him, a kind of baffled expression on his face, then something seemed to click for him and Toby was on his feet, coming toward him and laying his hands on Chris' shoulders. "No, I didn't say that right. Fuck... Chris," he cupped both hands around the back of Chris' neck, "I meant you won't talk to McManus now. You don't want to move out."

Still wary, Chris said, "I don't?"

Toby moved a little closer, light blue looking into his. "I hope not. I want you to stay."

"How come you couldn't say that last night?"

"I...don't know. I guess I wasn't sure that's what you were asking me." He smiled gently, moving one hand around so he could stroke a thumb along Chris' cheek. "How about we try and stick to simple declarative sentences, and learn how not to jump to all the wrong conclusions?"

"Simple declarative sentences?"

"Umm hmm." Toby was pressed right up again him. "Like: I love you, Chris." He tilted his head a little, a smile sparkling his eyes. "That unambiguous enough for you?"

"I dunno," Chris said, his arms going around Toby's waist, one hand holding him there, the other rubbing up along his back. "I might need a demonstration."

"I think that can probably be arranged," Toby said, drawing Chris' face to him, their foreheads touching for a moment, and Chris was sharply reminded of New Years' Eve and how they had touched and kissed then, almost as if for the first time - the first time it was all real, all honest. He closed his eyes and soaked up the feeling, the closeness he had thought was lost to him, that he had missed so desperately.

"I love you, Toby," he whispered as their lips touched again. His hand slipped up to cradle Toby's head, fingers threading through the soft, golden waves as they kissed.

The sudden banging against the pod door was a rude surprise, and they both aimed a sullen glare at Mineo.

"Break it up, you two," the hack barked at them.

When they didn't immediately pull apart, Mineo opened the door and was starting inside when Murphy called out, "Mineo, get a fucking life. Go get Elkins' belongings; we're transferring him to Unit B when he gets out of the hole."

Mineo shot the younger CO a dirty look - Chris and Toby, too, for good measure - before he went off.

Murphy sighed, shook his head, looked at Chris and Toby. "You two - don't give me any headaches. There's this thing called discretion - ever hear of it?" He looked at them to see if the message had gotten through, then nodded and walked off.

"Well," Toby said, dropping down on the chair, "it's not that long till lights out."

It was fucking long enough, though, Chris thought, stretching out on his bunk and not thinking about what he was going to do to Toby tonight.

Sitting beside Robson, Vern looked around the cafeteria, wondering where his favorite pair of drama queens was - ah, there they were, getting their trays and sitting down with the rest of those Em City pussies. "Where the fuck's Elkins?" he said, not immediately spotting the third member of that little triangle.

"In the hole," Robson told him. "Word is he and Beecher got into it over Keller."

Shit. This wasn't what Vern had been hoping for at all. What appetite he had was not improved one little bit, either, as he watched Beecher and Keller sitting over there, side by side, sneaking little touches, back to giving each other goo-goo eyes. "Aww, fuck."

Sometimes life really sucked in Oz.

"Don't," Sister Peter Marie said, aiming a stern look at the three men gathered around the table in the staff break room as Claire Howell stormed out. "She could have all sorts of personal problems we knowing nothing of."

Even Ray gave her a skeptical look as he handed her a cup of coffee. "All I know is she makes me glad I'm a priest."

Sean and Tim burst out laughing at that, and Peter Marie conceded that finding redeeming qualities in Claire Howell might be something of a stretch. She was just feeling a little compulsive these days, wanting to make up for having so badly lost sight of her purpose.

She sat down next to Tim and said, "What's this about Tobias and Chris being in a fight?" She had felt so certain she and Chris had made some progress today; getting him to take back his St. Dismas medal and admit that Tobias still mattered to him had felt like such an accomplishment.

Sean was shaking his head, though, saying, "It wasn't them, Sister. Beecher got into it with that new inmate, Roger Elkins; the fight was over Keller."

"Over Keller?" Ray said, leaning forward. He shared a disbelieving look with Peter Marie. "It's hard to picture Tobias doing that."

"I got the impression Keller wasn't expecting it, either," Sean said.

"Is there anything to the sexual harassment charges?" Tim asked, and Peter Marie's grew a little wider.

"Sexual harassment?"

Tim nodded. "Apparently," and neither he or Sean could quite conceal their smiles, "Keller was being subjected to unwanted sexual advances and Beecher - and O'Reily - came to his rescue."

"Oh come on," Ray said. "I'm sure Keller needed to be rescued," he scoffed.

Sean shrugged. "That's their story - and they're sticking to it." He glanced at Tim. "But, yeah, there was something going on there. I think it ended up about the best way we could have hoped for."

"No body bags, anyway," Tim nodded.

"Is Tobias in the hole?" Ray asked before Peter Marie could.

"Nope," Sean said. "It might not have been necessary, but I think Elkins was the instigator and Beecher was just coming to Keller's defense."

Peter Marie had to admit the image of Tobias defending Chris' virtue was a little ludicrous, and yet - maybe it was almost what the doctor would have ordered. She knew she couldn't really understand the relationship Tobias and Chris had forged here, and she still couldn't bring herself to entirely trust it, but she was learning to accept that when all was said and done it didn't really have anything to do with her. Two people didn't go to the lengths those two did without there being something very real between them. And, perhaps, when there was that much passionate intensity bubbling up, it took violent actions - not calm and reasonable words - to find some resolution.

And she suspected it might not be a bad idea to try and remember that in any future dealings she had with them.

"What do you think O'Reily's angle is in backing up Keller and Beecher?" Tim said later, as he and Sean changed in the locker-room.

"I'm thinking just something to stash away for a rainy day."

"Yeah." Tim shook his head, thinking it was probably a pity some of these guys hadn't applied themselves this enthusiastically to something constructive outside. "You got plans for dinner?" he asked Sean.

"No. Why?"

"There's a new place down on Twelfth Street I've been wanting to check out. Want to come along?"

"You buying?"

"Hey, if I have to bribe you, Sean-" Tim began.

Sean laughed. "Nah, Timmy, no bribing necessary. Sure, I'll join you. What kind of food?" he asked as they left the locker-room.


"Italian's good."

Tim agreed that it was, and the two friends left Oz in comfortable accord with each other.

Toby watched Chris examine the chessboard, working out his next move, and couldn't resist asking, "No more complaints about all the rules?"

"Nah, some things need rules, don't they?" Chris replied, finally moving a bishop so that one of Toby's knights was frozen in its tracks for the time being.

"You sure you never played before you got here?" It was Toby's turn to study the board, looking for some advantage to press. If he had to label Chris' approach to the game he thought it would be something like Aggressive Defense. It meant the game's progress was slow - but there was nothing wrong with that, was there? Especially with Lights Out a seeming eternity away still.

"That's what I told you. Why?"

"You've just gotten awfully good at it."

Chris smiled. "Maybe I had a good teacher."

"I don't know about that," Toby said, reaching for a pawn, then changing his mind and hunching over to look the board over some more. What he did know was that Chris' *`I'm just a big, dumb cluck'* act was exactly that: an act. "How're you doing with your GED?"

Chris shrugged. "Dunno. Haven't really done much with it lately. Not much point, is there? It's not like I'm gonna do anything with it even if I got it."

"You don't know that. Things...can change."

"They aren't gonna change that much, Toby," Chris replied, and the resignation Toby heard in his voice was almost too much to take for a moment. "Toby...?"

He shook his head, blinking back the tears that had stung his eyes for a moment. "I still think you should pursue it," he said, quietly.

"Yeah. Maybe later," Chris agreed, and Toby heard what he didn't say: Later, when Toby was gone and Chris was alone here in Oz and there was nothing else for him to do.

There was no sense in railing against the unfairness of that, Toby knew that - but it didn't keep him from feeling it, just the same. He nudged a different pawn forward and sat back as Chris leaned forward, scanning the board. "There's no guarantee I'll get paroled," he said.

Chris looked over at him, frowning. "'Course you will, Toby. Why wouldn't you?"

"I haven't exactly been a shining example of a model prisoner, you know - and that's not even taking into account all the shit they don't know about."

"Nah," Chris confidently dismissed all that. "You were under duress. They'll understand that. All you've been through lately, no way they won't send you back to your kids." To hear him talk it was practically a done deal.

"Are you that anxious to see me gone?"

Chris didn't seem to like the placement of his queen, and moved it out jeopardy. He shrugged. "I just know the way it has to be, the way it should be. You don't belong in here with," he paused for a moment, not meeting Toby's eyes, "with guys like me."

"Don't do that, Chris," Toby said, reaching over to catch hold of Chris' hand. "Don't put yourself down like that."

Chris gave him a hapless little smile. "It's where I've always been, Toby. It's no big deal."

"Yeah, it is. And you never deserved to be made to feel like that, like you didn't matter. You could have been so much more - you still could, Chris." Toby suspected he probably shouldn't have said that, he knew Chris didn't like having the spotlight shone on him, afraid of seeing all his flaws and failings too sharply illuminated. And Toby wondered if it really was too late to tell him a lot of those flaws and failings existed only his mind, put there by whatever sorry excuses for parents or teachers or parish priests he'd had. Sometimes Toby wanted to get out of here just so he could look up all those assholes and smack them upside the head for what they'd done to Chris.

Chris was giving him a dubious look, though, like he thought Toby was just talking nonsense. "Like what?" He shook his head, dismissing the whole notion. "I never had any aptitude for being anything but what I am, Toby. I figured that out a long time ago."

Toby didn't know which hurt sadder: knowing someone had planted that idea in Chris' head, meticulously reinforcing it over and over - someone who should have loved and encouraged the child Chris had been once; or to hear Chris recite it with such quiet acceptance, as if it was a well-known fact of life that could not be disputed. "You must have wanted to be something, when you were a kid."

Chris shrugged. "Dunno. I guess."

"Like what?"

"Like... I don't know, Toby. How would I remember something like that?"

"I remember all the things I wanted to be, when I was growing up."

"Yeah?" Chris smiled at him, carefully disengaging their fingers. "You didn't always want to be a lawyer?"

"No. I had my heart set on working at a gas station for a long time."

Chris cocked his head, giving him another skeptical look. "Why would you want to do something like that?"

Toby shrugged now. "I'm not sure. Just because it all looked really interesting to me when I was ten, I guess." He smiled. "Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to get dirty. Mother never let me get dirty."

Chris' expression was curious now. "How come you call your father Dad, but you don't call your mother Mom?"

Toby considered that, frowning. "I'm not sure. I guess...she's just more of a Mother than a Mom." If that made any kind of sense. Chris looked like he understood, though.

"Yeah, my Aunt Sarah was like that," Chris said, and Toby couldn't help smiling at how he said it, `ahnt,' not `ant;' just another of those little incongruous quirks that made him wonder about Chris' background. "Always real prissy about everything -- What're you smiling about?"

"Nothing. So who was Ahnt Sarah?" Toby said, unable to resist mimicking Chris' pronunciation.

Nor did that escape Chris, judging by the suspicious glower he sent Toby's way. "You making fun of me?"

Toby grinned. "Umm hmm. You going to do something about it?"

"I just might."

"Promises, promises," Toby teased some more, rewarded with one of Chris' rare grins. "So - who was she?"

"Oh, just my mom's sister. They sent me to live with her after mom died."

More serious, Toby asked, "When was that?"

"When I was about ten. She didn't have a lot of use for me, either." Chris' tone of voice didn't invest the words with any special meaning, but Toby thought he caught a flicker of something in Chris' eyes, some remembered hurt or disappointment - there and gone too quickly.

"How long were you with her?" Toby asked, hating to think of Chris all alone and unwanted at that age - the same age Toby had been daydreaming about nonsense like working at a gas station.

"Couple of years. You gonna make another move or not?"

Toby glanced at the board, suspecting Chris was trying to divert the conversation away from him - again. "I'm thinking about it. Is that when you met Theresa McNally?"

"Yeah." Chris frowned at him, suspicious again. "What the fuck was with that, all those stupid questions?"

"They weren't stupid questions. Any reasonable person wouldn't have a problem telling their lover when their birthday was," Toby returned with some asperity.

"That what we are - lovers?" Chris said, his voice turning softer.

Toby looked up from the board, meeting his eyes, feeling captured by his gaze again. "That's what I told my parents," he said, and savored the surprise written across Chris's face, his head snapping back a little as he looked at Toby in blatant disbelief.

"You told them about us?"



"Because...I have nothing to be ashamed of," Toby said, only really grasping that now. "Because I wanted them to know."

Chris' surprise gave way to a look of concern as he said, "That can't have gone over real well."

"No, I think it's fair to say it pretty much floored them. Dad's come around, though. We had a long talk about you today, in fact. He says he'd like to meet you sometime." While Chris was processing this, Toby took the opportunity to move a bishop down a diagonal row and take out one of Chris' castles.

"Oh, I'll bet he does," Chris said, clearly finding that notion pretty doubtful. He didn't look like he cared for Toby's move, either.

"Well, he did tell me it might take some time, getting adjusted to the idea of having a son-in-law," Toby couldn't resist teasing him some more.

Chris shot him a cordial Fuck you look at that. "Yeah, I can just see that in the society pages."

"Why not? `Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Beecher are pleased to announce the engagement of their eldest son, Tobias, to Mr. Christopher Keller. Tobias and Christopher met while incarcerated at Oswald State -"

"Toby?" Chris interrupted.


"Do you ever shut the fuck up?"

"Bet you'll like what I do with my mouth once the lights go out," Toby returned, pouting a little.

"Promises, promises," Chris replied with a little smirk, and Toby had all he could do not to pounce on Chris then and there.

Just forty-five minutes to go, though. Something told him it was going to be one the longest forty-five minutes of his life, though.

Toby sighed as Chris began softly nibbling along his throat and shoulders. "What is it about me brushing my teeth that turns you on?"

"Hmm, don't know, guess you're just really cute when you're foaming at the mouth," Chris told him, smiling and pinning Toby's arms so he couldn't slug him.

Toby had to settle for saying, "Very funny," and trying to squirm free; the squirming part felt really good. He quit after a moment, though, and Chris loosened his hold, nuzzling his neck, breathing in the clean, fresh scent of him. "It's one's ever done that," Toby said.

Chris raised his head, looking at their reflections in the mirror. "Done what?" Chris asked, lightly rubbing Toby's stomach.

"Looked at me like everything about me is," Toby paused for a moment and Chris thought he blushed a little, "sexy," he finished.

"Everything is," Chris said and licked his ear, feeling a shiver run through Toby's body. Chris had never understood that, how Toby didn't know how hot he was, how everyone didn't see it. "Your wife must have thought you were sexy." Chris looped his arms loosely around Toby's chest, pressing his cheek to Toby's and watching their reflections in the mirror again, wondering if he should have said that. They hadn't talked about Genevieve much, and it had always been hard to get a read on what Toby's relationship with her had been like. Chris had suspected part of what made Toby hold back from him was memories of his wife; feeling guilty about finding even a few moments of pleasure when his wife was dead and in the ground.

"Gen?" Toby made a face, more rueful than upset, reaching up to touch Chris' face. "I don't think so, not like you do. We loved each other, but..." He shook his head a little, biting his lip. "Promise you won't get mad?"

Chris bit back a groan, half dreading what might pop out of Toby's mouth next. "Okay," he said, in as neutral a tone as possible.

Toby took a deep breath, looking like he was really thinking over what he wanted to say; Chris could only hope that boded well - but he wasn't going to hold his breath. He did vow to try and hold his temper, however.

"When we began making love," Toby finally said after another moment, "sometimes I really hated you afterwards. I- Chris, no, wait, please," Toby urged, turning around and latching onto him, gripping Chris' shoulders and keeping him there. "Let me finish, please."

After a moment Chris nodded, but he couldn't quite make himself relax even though Toby kept kneading and rubbing his shoulders.

"What I hated - what scared me was how much you made me feel, Chris. So much more than I'd ever dreamed was possible. What had just been...nice, with Gen, was...I don't know, mind-blowing with you. I wanted to be close to you, Chris, but I was so afraid of really liking it, liking the sex - wanting it. I was afraid of what that meant, what that made me," Toby said, looking so intently into his eyes. "With Gen - I just knew what my role was, how things were supposed to be, and I figured that's just how it was. And I felt guilty, like I must be some sex-obsessed nut, to be left wanting more from her."


"Shh, let me finish. After what Schillinger did to me, I couldn't imagine how sex between men could ever be anything but brutal, ugly; that it could bring me so much pleasure - that I could love someone who did those things to me." Toby put his arms around Chris' neck now. "Love him, and want to make him feel all that pleasure, too." He stretched up to press a kiss to Chris' mouth. "Of all the things I've had to face up to in here, in so many ways this - loving you, wanting you - has been the hardest. Even more than discovering my capacity for violence. I could rationalize that away, after all," Toby said, mouth quirking with a wry smile. "I can't do that with you - and I have tried. I spent weeks in that hospital bed, with casts on my arms and legs, trying so goddamn hard to hate you - No, Chris, please, let me finish," he caught hold of Chris again, holding him there when everything in Chris wanted to bolt.

"Shh, shh," Toby murmured, holding him tight, hands running up and down Chris' back in firm, soothing strokes. "Shh," he whispered against his cheek, kissing him there. "I'm not saying this to hurt you, to rake up the past. I want you to know how much you mean to me. That I love you so much I can't think straight sometimes, and how sometimes that makes me hate myself. It felt like such a betrayal of Gen at the beginning. She wasn't even cold in the ground and I was up there," he indicated his bunk, "wanting you, craving your touch." He stroked Chris' face, smiling. "Why do you think I acted like such a nut back then, blowing so hot and cold?"

"I tried...not to think about it too much," Chris admitted, not quite able to meet his eyes; not quite sure what to make of all this.

"Because it was all supposed to be part of Operation Toby?"

Chris winced, but nodded. "Yeah." He reached to brush his fingers back through Toby's hair, the strands like silk between his fingers. "You worry too much."

"I know, and I'd like to promise that will change, but," Toby sent him an impish little smile, "I think you're just going to have learn to put up with it." He sighed, pressing himself into Chris' arms, nuzzling into his neck, resting his head there. "I don't know why the hell you love me, but I believe you do - and I don't think you even know what a gift that is."

Frowning, Chris caressed the back of Toby's neck, playing with the little curls of hair there. "What do you mean?"

"I mean... You don't care that I went to Harvard or how much money I have in the bank or what kind of car I drive - all those things I used to think were important, that everyone around me thought was what mattered."

"Toby, come on, I'm sure Genevieve didn't love you just because you were rich and went to Harvard." Chris' private opinion of Genevieve Beecher had never been all that high because of her leaving Toby's kids without even a mom to look after them, and blaming it all on Toby to boot; Toby was never going to know about that, though.

"Maybe not just because," Toby conceded, "but they were strong incentives. It wasn't her fault; I used to think that was all that mattered, all I could offer. That's your gift to me: loving me for what I am, even the darkest, ugliest parts - and making me believe that the good things you see in me are real. I mean," he raised his head to look at Chris, "I still think if we walked into a room together everybody's eyes would be riveted on you, and I'd just be some other guy - if they noticed me at all," he smiled, "but it feels good to know you can look at me and see someone special, worth loving."

And Chris knew he would never get that, how Toby, with everything he had going for him, could ever feel like that. He didn't really know what to say, though, except, "That's how you make me feel, Toby." And it beat him why that made Toby's beautiful eyes light up, like he really had just been handed a gift.

"Yeah? I do?"

"Uh-huh," Chris said, trying not to squirm at the way Toby was looking at him, like he was something rare and precious beyond price. Chris would never understand that, either, what Toby imagined he saw when he looked at him. Sometimes he wanted to shake him and tell him to knock it off. If it made Toby happy, though, maybe it was a harmless enough indulgence. It wasn't like reality wouldn't be waiting to slap him in the face just as soon as Toby was gone from his life.

"I never imagined meeting someone like you," Toby was saying, wrapping his arms around him. "There are so many things in my life I would change, if I could, but," he pushed back a little, to look in Chris' eyes again, "that isn't one of them. Or, well, maybe I would," he went on, his smile a little crooked, eyes a little too bright. "I'd have us meet somewhere else, before we wound up in Oz." He blinked back the tears and offered up a shy little smile, confessing, "I dream about that, sometimes. You and me living a different life, raising the kids together, to love each other without prying eyes and having to look over our shoulders, waiting for the next shoe to drop."

Chris wondered if he should admit he did, too. Only Toby probably already knew that, and if he didn't then he'd want to talk about that some more, and Chris had frankly had enough talking for one day. So instead he said, "Yeah? And do we ever actually have sex in these dreams of yours?"

"Oh, well, pardon me for baring my soul," Toby shot back - but he was smiling as he said it.

"Well, I can think of other things you could be baring," Chris returned.

"Yeah?" Toby said, looking at him with a kind of challenge in his eyes. "What if I need a demonstration?"

Chris smirked; this he could do. He paused to cast a look over his shoulder, out into the darkened quad, a little surprised some hack hadn't already been by to rain on their parade - maybe Murphy had put out some Do Not Disturb sign? That didn't make a fucking bit of sense, of course, but sometimes it did sort of look like a lot of people around here took way too much interest in what he and Toby got up to. Weren't there enough soap operas on TV anymore? Still, if they had been granted some kind of special dispensation, even if just for tonight, he sure as fuck wasn't going to waste it.

Stepping back a little, never losing eye contact with Toby, Chris started stripping off his t-shirt, taking his sweet time about it, tugging the cloth up over his abs and chest, well aware of Toby's steady gaze, of the other's man's breathing coming a little more rapidly, the tip of his tongue wetting his lips. With a final flourish Chris whipped the shirt over his head and tossed it in the corner.

"You do that," Toby had to pause for a breath, "way too well. You ever do it professionally?"

"Do I look like someone who'd get up on a stage and take his clothes off for money?"

Toby waited a moment, then, "That was a rhetorical question, right?"

In retaliation, Chris pulled him close, one arm around his shoulders, the other hand buried in his hair as Chris kissed the breath out of him. He needed to feel Toby's skin against his, though, and worked his hands under his lover's t-shirt, pushing it up, groaning against Toby's mouth as he finally felt the smooth warmth of Toby's body against him again. Too long, it had been too long since he could touch Toby like this. For a long time, when he was trying so hard to win Toby's love and trust, he had thought that must be what hell would be like: to have what you wanted right there, so fucking close you could taste it, and yet always just a frustrating few inches out of reach. These last weeks, though, especially watching Toby let others touch him, that had been the real torture: knowing it really was as exquisite as he'd imagined -- touching Toby, kissing him, loving him -- and thinking he'd lost it forever. Never again, he vowed, knowing it was a vow he could never keep but not caring, not now. Now, this one moment, Toby was his again, and nothing else in the whole fucking world mattered.

He pulled Toby's shirt the rest of the way off, flinging it after his own. "Oh, God, Toby," he moaned against his hot skin, kissing, licking at his throat, his shoulders, along his jaw, losing himself in Toby's sweet mouth again.

No comparison, Toby thought as he melted into Chris. There was no comparison at all in the way anyone else had ever touched him, not Gen, and for certain not Mondo or Sheiman. All he'd felt then was empty, numb; for so long the only thing he could really feel was a grief so deep, an anger so immense, that he feared he'd lost all capacity to feel anything else, anything softer or sweeter. One of the few respites had come on those rare occasions when his eyes would lock with Chris' and for a moment he could feel some echo of all the passions Chris had stirred to life. That had almost been another kind of torture, though, being so keenly reminded of just what he had so carelessly thrown away. Never again, he swore, cradling Chris' head, kissing him back as if his life depended on it.

Needing to breathe, almost resenting that he did, Toby let their mouths part, burying his face in the crook of Chris' neck, breathing him in and wrapping his arms around the broad back, holding on as tight as he could. He ran one hand over Chris' head, fingers stroking the short, dark hair. He felt like he was on the verge of sensory overload, so many sensations were flooding him. "I thought I'd forgotten this," he whispered, knowing now that he never could. He turned his head, licking softly at Chris' neck, progressing to his jaw, right below his ear.

"Forgotten," Chris' voice caught in a little gasp, "forgotten what?"

"Your taste," Toby nuzzled his ear. "Your your skin feels." He couldn't get close enough to absorb every sensation; he wanted to be inside Chris, he wanted Chris in him. He wanted them to drown in each other.

He laid a pattern of kisses along Chris' strong, long throat, licking at the hollow of it, feeling the strong pulse of his blood surging through him just because Toby was making love to him. Chris was holding his head, fingers threading through his hair. He sighed his name as Toby's head dipped lower, mouth seeking a stiff nipple. Finding it, Toby bit gently at the sensitive flesh before laving it with his tongue, loving the low, breathless moan that escaped Chris. One of Toby's favorite discoveries had been that every square inch of Chris' body was pretty much a highly sensitized erogenous zone. As was his, apparently; at least when Chris Keller was the one doing the touching. It had turned into a little bit of a game in fact - one at which Chris excelled: to all appearances his lover was sitting out there in the quad, utterly absorbed in Miss Sally's Playhouse; only when no one was looking he was stroking a thumb over Toby's inner wrist, again and again, so slowly, fingertips delicately grazing the skin...either reducing Toby to a puddle on the spot, or leaving him so horny they could barely get to somewhere private in time. He had a harder time being surreptitious about it, but it thrilled Toby just the same to know he could make Chris whimper and squirm with pleasure with just a touch there, a brush of lips here.

And it felt so good to be doing that again, to have this contact with someone he loved and truly wanted to pleasure. Straightening up, enfolding Chris in his arms again, Toby pressed his cheek to the other man's, pure contentment flowing through him as Chris hugged him back.

"Bed?" Chris whispered against his ear after a moment.

Toby nodded, squeezed hard then stepped back. "I..." He swallowed, looked down at the shadowed floor. "I'm safe," he said, softly, hating that he even had to bring that up.

"Safe?" Chris repeated. "Safe from what?"

Toby looked up into his beautiful eyes, a sad smile touching his lips. "From, you know, AIDS." By the surprise that flashed in Chris' eyes, he could tell his lover hadn't even thought of that.

"Geez, Tobe, I never... Oh, baby, I'm sorry." And Chris pulled him close again, as if his strong arms could protect Toby from even that. "You're okay?"

"I'm fine. I... When I realized what I was doing, being...a slut," he paused, bit his lip, "I got scared. Said made me go get checked out. Everything came back negative. don't have anything to worry about."

"Oh, baby," Chris repeated, holding him tighter, stroking his hair. "What were you thinking, risking yourself like that?"

"I don't think there was a lot of thought going on," Toby confessed. "I probably would have deserved it, if I'd caught something."

Chris set him back, looking angry, almost shaking him. "Don't you ever say that, Toby, don't even think that."

Ashamed, certain he didn't deserve Chris' regard, he said, miserable, "I've been such an asshole, Chris."

Chris pulled him close again, kissing his face. "You don't exactly have the market cornered on that, Toby - and you have a hell of a lot more excuse."

Toby just let himself rest in Chris' arms go a moment, once more feeling that wonderful sense of liberation he'd found in loving this man. It probably wasn't the most romantic way of putting it, he thought, smiling, but it was awfully nice to know there was one person in this world who, no matter what boneheaded thing he did, would go right on loving him. He knew he didn't deserve it, but, God, it felt good.

After another moment he raised his head, looking into Chris' eyes. "You said something about bed?"

"I think I did," Chris agreed, that warm, sexy smile curving his lips, lighting his eyes; the one that said he thought Toby looked good enough to eat.

Maneuvering them the short distance to the bunks, Chris lowered him to the bottom one and slid in beside him, turned on his side so he could stroke a hand along Toby's body; starting at his shoulder and slowly skimming down his torso, stopping just at the waistband of his boxers. "Like that?" he asked, repeating the motion.

Toby sighed, wishing he could purr at being petted so nicely. "You know I do." He squinted up at him. "You don't have to look so smug."

Chris' cocky smile only grew wider, of course, as he petted him some more. He leaned in to kiss him, nibbling at Toby's bottom lip before sliding his tongue into Toby's mouth - right about the same moment he slipped his hand inside Toby's boxers. Toby surged up against him, hands holding Chris' head in place, demanding more kisses, more and harder caresses. And sure, it was probably another kind of addiction, this craving for Chris, but he didn't care - and he never wanted to give it up.

Stealing kisses from Toby's mouth, Chris slid his hand inside Toby's boxers, wrapping his fingers around Toby's cock, slowly stroking from base to tip, circling his thumb around the crown. He covered Toby's mouth, swallowing his little whimpers of pleasure, loving the feel of Toby's body pressing against him, seeking more contact. Chris was very happy to provide it. He'd thought he had forgotten, too; forgotten the wet heat of Toby's mouth, the strength of the slim body as it moved against him, with him; how the slightest touch seemed to have Toby on the verge of orgasm. Chris had thought time would dim that ardor, that familiarity with each other would bring the inevitable complacency that was one step away from boredom. But it hadn't happened. Every kiss was as powerful as that first one had been; every time they made love was like the first time, like they were discovering each other all over again.

He took his mouth from Toby's and smiled at the little cry of protest, glancing down to see those tender, kiss-swollen lips drawn up in a little pout. Relenting for a moment, he kissed them again, licked at them, then kissed his way down Toby's neck, smiling again at the little breaths Toby huffed against him, before he pressed his head back into the pillow, exposing all of his throat to Chris. Kissing, biting, sucking, Chris left his mark there, knowing Toby wanted it; knowing Toby would mark him in turn - the closest they could come, here, to exchanging rings, to telling everyone else they belonged to each other.

"Chris..." Toby bucked his hips a little, demanding more attention. "Please." He pulled Chris back to him, kissing him again, lapping at Chris' lips until they parted and Toby could slip his tongue inside.

Eyes closed, Chris cupped the back of Toby's head, holding him there for a long moment, then pulled free again and resumed his journey, raining soft kisses all over Toby's body, pausing to lavish special attention on one nipple, then the other, before trailing his tongue down the center of Toby's body, dipping into his belly button. Holding Toby's slim hips, Chris nuzzled his groin through the soft, damp cotton.

Toby cried out in protest as Chris rose up on his knees, but then sighed again when he realized Chris only meant to finish undressing. Throwing his own boxers into a dark corner, Toby's flung after them, Chris couldn't move for a moment: the way Toby was looking at him, reaching out to touch him, fingers trailing over his chest, his abs, pausing at the thatch of crisp, dark hair at his groin - just that slight touch was incredibly satisfying, telling him better than words how much Toby really wanted him. He let Toby tug him back down, let Toby kiss his mouth, his eyes; let Toby shift them around until they were on their sides, head to groin, and had to bite his lip as he finally felt Toby's sweet mouth cover him.

"Oh, baby," he murmured, reaching to pet the golden head that was so intently loving him. Yes, he thought, closing his eyes again as he took Toby in his mouth, savoring the rich taste, the scent of him. He sought out every sensitive spot he remembered, licking, sucking, taking him in as deep as he could, until his nose was pressed into the musky warmth of coarse little curls.

It was too much, after so long apart, it was too much. As much as he wanted to sustain the moment, make it last forever, Chris felt Toby moving more frantically against him, the need to find his own release too powerful to resist. Moments after he flooded Toby's mouth, he felt Toby fill his in turn. Hands gripping Toby's hips, Chris held him there, drinking him down; that gnawing hunger, thirst, deep inside him finally felt sated, all the cold and aching emptiness saturated with Toby.

Sinking back on the thin mattress, feeling Toby resting against him, he wished he had the breath to laugh as Toby said, "Well, that was a nice appetizer." He did smile as Toby raised up a little to look at him, an impish light in his eyes. "How long till we can get to the main course?"

This was what Toby had always been left wanting, what he'd felt guilty for needing: this hunger for a lover, feeling just as desired in return, when nothing more than a look could make every nerve-ending tingle and making love was a drawn out, sensual event. Although even this wasn't quite enough for him, he couldn't help longing to have Chris all to himself, somewhere far away from Oz. Snuggling up against Chris, idly running his fingers along his lean flank - smiling as Chris wriggled and pushed his hand away from a ticklish spot - Toby flashed on an incongruous memory of his honeymoon with Gen. She had wanted to go out sight-seeing, it was Paris, after all; he'd told her he was seeing all the sights he wanted to, and why didn't they spend the whole day in bed? Gen had given him such a hurt look, though, like his being some kind of sex maniac was depriving her of a special experience; they had their whole lives for making love, didn't they, and who knew when they might be able to come to Paris again? He'd given in, of course, and gone out to stroll around Paris with her, thinking she was probably right. And it had all been wonderful, but... Well, that was the crux of it all, he guessed, how he always seemed to end up thinking there ought to be more; something missing from his life, or something in him that didn't quite measure up.

"What are you thinking?" Chris asked, playing with his hair again.

Nestling against him more comfortably, Toby said, "If we were in Paris, what would you rather do: spend the day in our hotel room making love, or go see the Eiffel Tower?"

"That's a stupid question."

"Why is it a stupid question?"

"Well, why would I want to go see a fucking piece of iron that's always gonna be there, when I could be with you?"

Toby smiled against Chris' shoulder, appreciating his single-mindedness. "And I'm sure the citizens of Paris would love hearing it described that way," he said, but Chris' answer certainly did wonderful things for his ego.

"Why the fuck would we be in Paris anyway?"

"No reason. It was a hypothetical question." Toby propped himself on an elbow. "You ever been?"

"To Paris?" Chris looked at him like that was a pretty dumb question, too. "No."

Toby wished he could take him. "I bet you'd like it."

"I kinda doubt I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling, Toby," Chris said in that wry, off-hand way that was meant to indicate it wasn't anything important.

Toby wondered how long he'd been doing that, when he'd given up on whatever dreams he must have had once. He sighed, settling back down against him, trying not to dwell on how unfair everything was. "What is the most interesting place you've been?" he asked instead.

"Dunno. Vegas, maybe."

"Yeah? Why?"

Frowning slightly, Chris thought it over, saying, "'Cause it's really crass and tacky but not ashamed of it."

Toby grinned at that answer, loving his twisted sense of aesthetics. "Now I've never been to Las Vegas," he admitted, wondering if that would score him points for or against.

Against, he figured, judging by the dubious look Chris gave him.

"How come?"

"Don't know. I just never had any reason to go." After a moment, Toby added, "We took the kids to Disneyland, the year before..." Well, maybe that wasn't the best memory to dredge up.

But Chris pulled him a little closer, kissing his forehead. "The year before you landed here?"

"Yeah." Back when he had the perfect little family. It didn't even matter if some of that had been a faade; he'd thought everything was wonderful, at the time, and still kept the precious, good memories tucked safely away. "Holly was only two at the time, so she didn't get a lot out of it." He smiled at one of those memories. "She was really skeptical when a six foot mouse walked up to us. Gary loved it, though." Just as quickly his smile faded, that awful ache threatening to come back.

This time Chris was there to comfort him; this time Toby let him. "How you doing? You just pretending to be better?"

"No, I'm okay," Toby said quietly.

Chris held him and stroked his hair. "Long as you don't let yourself think about it?"

"Yeah," he admitted, not really surprised Chris understood that. "I mean, I know I'm supposed to have moved onto some other stage of grief by now, or...just be over it already, but..."

"Who says? Some shrink who's probably never had anything real ever happen to them? Feelings don't work like that."

"Sometimes I wish they did. That you could, I don't know, flip a switch, hit the delete key, and everything would just go away."

"It wouldn't last, Toby, you know that. The drugs and alcohol wear off, you sober up, and everything's still there, waiting." Chris spoke quietly, a wealth of experience coloring his words. "And you wouldn't really want to forget him, would you?"

"No, not forget, but... I wish I could remember him without thinking - imagining what happened to him." Toby welcomed Chris' arms around him, just comforting now, trying to share the pain that welled up.

"Don't think about that," Chris whispered. "Remember him at Disneyland, meeting Mickey Mouse."

Smiling through his tears, Toby rested his head on Chris' shoulder. Why had he thought Chris couldn't possibly understand, wouldn't have any idea what to do or say? "It's hard to remember the good things sometimes," he said after a few moments. "I think of how things used to be, the life I had, and it doesn't seem real." That made it all the more difficult to picture himself going back to that life. Always assuming he even wanted to, and that was far from a given.

"It's always like that," Chris told him. "At first it's being locked up that doesn't feel real but then you get used to that, it's what feels normal. You get out and for awhile you're thinking you'll never get used to life on the outside again. Before you know it, though, it's like this never happened at all." He smiled. "Guess that's why so many of us keep coming back."

"I can't imagine ever putting all of this out of my mind."

"Bet you surprise yourself. You'll be back with your family, your kids, and all this will just fade away."

Toby stubbornly shook his head. "That would mean everything that's happened to me here was just...pointless." He couldn't accept that. As awful as some of it, most of it had been, the one idea he could cling to help get him through it all was that enduring this crucible of Oz was forging him into a different man. Not a better one, maybe, but someone more authentic, a little stronger; he hoped a little wiser - although the jury was definitely out on that one.

But Chris was saying, "It fucking is pointless, Toby," and sounding so certain of it. "We don't come out of here new and improved."

"That's a pretty cynical attitude."

"I just call `em as I see `em."

"What about learning the error of our ways? You don't buy that, either?"

"Maybe. Depends who you're talking about. I mean, you're not gonna drink and drive again, right? But you didn't need to come to Oz to figure that out. That was some judge wanting to score points by making you an object lesson."

Well, there was something to that, all right, but Toby still resisted the rest of it, especially as he suspected what really lay behind Chris' words was a concern that Toby would walk away from Oz one day and never spare another thought for Chris Keller. And he knew he could promise Chris that wouldn't happen until he was blue in the face, but some shadow of doubt would always be there. Too many people had made promises to Chris that they never followed through on, and as much as Toby wanted to insist he was different, he was realistic enough to know it wasn't going to be that easy - especially given their track record so far. Love conquers all was a sweet idea, but it didn't come easy.

Worth it, though, he thought, sitting up and looking at Chris. "I'm not going anywhere right now, Chris, and I might not for a long time, so," he laid his fingers against Chris' lips to stop him speaking, "quit trying to chase me off. I could get the wrong idea."

"You can't want to stay here," Chris said when Toby moved his fingers.

"Not here, no. But - with you?" Toby bent to kiss his mouth. "Yes, I want that very much," he finished, stretching full length on top of Chris, settling between those long, strong legs. "Someday I'm going to figure out a way to prove it to you," he murmured, pressing another kiss over Chris' heart.

"You don't have to prove anything, Toby," Chris said, bringing one knee up.

Toby smile turned impish again. "Yeah? Not even if it includes a lot of non-verbal persuasion?"

"Non-ver-" Chris began, breath catching in a little gasp as Toby pressed his mouth to Chris' upraised knee, kissing a lazy trail down the inside of his thigh. "Geez, Tob..."

Toby smiled, licking a little more, letting the salt and musk flavor of Chris' skin saturate his mouth. He was a feast, and Toby couldn't help the soft giggle that bubbled up at the thought.

"What?" Chris asked, fingers stroking his hair again, rubbing his neck and shoulders.

Turning his head to plant a wet, sloppy kiss on Chris' thigh, Toby said, "I was just wondering if I could request you for my last meal."

"Yeah, I'm sure they'd find that real amusing," Chris returned, smiling. "So - you just gonna slobber over me, or what?"

"Gosh, Chris, you have such a romantic turn of phrase," Toby teased. Brushing a kiss over Chris' lips, he asked, "Want me to keep going, or do you...?" One of the more pleasant surprises in this relationship was discovering Chris' egalitarian approach to lovemaking. Top, bottom - it didn't seem to matter to him as long as everyone was having a good time.

Chris pulled him in to kiss him, then said, "Didn't your folks teach you to finish what you started?"

"Umm," Toby kissed him back, "now that you mention it..."

Commencing another sweet, slow journey, Toby didn't leave a single spot unexplored, having all he could do not to rush it as Chris responded to him, one arm flung over his mouth to muffle his groans of pleasure as Toby readied him and entered him at last. Just the thought of having that powerful body at his mercy, knowing he was the reason Chris' breathing was strained, that those little whimpers and rumbles coming from the other man were because of how Toby was loving him was almost enough by itself to put Toby over the edge.

"Toby..." Chris tugged his head to him, kissing him almost frantically, protesting, trying to drag him back as Toby took his mouth away, then sighing as Toby kissed and sucked along his throat, leaving his own mark.

Reaching between their bellies, Toby found Chris' cock, stroking, swirling his thumb around the tip, unable now to control his thrusts as Chris bucked up against him, urging more and faster. Toby could do nothing less than give him what they both wanted, finding that edge again and plunging them both over it into the sweetest abyss there was.

Tired, but not really sleepy, Toby was more than content to sit propped against the wall, holding Chris to him, loving the drowsy warmth of him. He didn't think he could ask for much more than to stay like this forever.

"Toby?" Chris sounded sleepy, content.


"You really wanna know what I wanted to be when I was kid?"

Toby smiled to himself, thinking this was always the way: when Chris felt like it, he'd offer up almost anything. "Yeah, I do," he said, frowning at the long silence that followed. "Chris? You still awake?" No answer, but he felt the dark head nod against him. "Oh - I get it," he said after another moment. "You wanted to be a mime?"

"Smart ass. No, I... I sort've wanted to be an artist," Chris confessed.

"Really? That's great, Chris." And not remotely what Toby would have expected, but that was sort of par for the course, too, where this man was concerned.

"Don't know about that," Chris said, self-deprecating as ever. "This guy, one of my teachers, thought I might have some ability."

Despite Chris' off-hand manner, Toby could tell it had meant a lot to him, and it pleased Toby to a probably ridiculous degree to know that Chris had had a dream once, and that at least one person had cared and given him some encouragement.

"So why didn't you pursue it?"

Another long silence, then, "My old man wouldn't go for it, said no son of his was gonna be some kinda faggot artist. By the time I was old enough to do what I wanted... I was in Lardner, and it was too late." His voice gave little away, but Toby thought he could detect some murmur of an old hurt all the same. "I probably wouldn't have been any good anyway," Chris added, trying to dismiss it.

Toby hugged him tight, kissing the back of his neck. "I bet you would've been great."

Chris shrugged, obviously not wanting to dwell on it anymore right now. Instead he asked, "So how'd that story come out?"

"Hmm? What story?"

"The one you were telling me that time, about Tobias and Christopher. How'd it come out?"

"You remember that?" Toby asked, wondering if he sounded as stunned as he felt.

"'Course. I remember everything you tell me, Toby?"

Closing his eyes for a moment, Toby absorbed that, shying away from all the horrible things he had told this man and just taking in the knowledge that he had given Chris something back. "I'd almost forgotten that," he admitted.

"So - they get to live happily ever after?"

"I...don't know."

"Bet they did," Chris said, snuggling against him, exhaling a deep, relaxed breath.

"I don't know," Toby repeated. "Maybe."

"That'd be nice, though, wouldn't it?" Chris was almost asleep now.

Smiling even as tears stung his eyes, wondering how he could feel heartbroken and happy at the same time, Toby pressed a kiss to his head. "Yeah, that'd be nice," he whispered, holding him close.


Waiting for Toby to arrive, Harrison tried to look casually around the visitor's room. There had been other occasions when he had come to a place like this, in the course of his work, but he had never imagined that one day he would be coming here to see his son. There were days he still woke up thinking, for a few moments, that this had all just been some grotesque dream, and he'd have to tell Toby about it when he saw him at the office today - and then it would all come crashing down on him, that it was a nightmare come to life, and he wouldn't be seeing Toby anywhere but here.

It was extraordinarily generous of Toby not to blame him for all this, but Harrison found it far harder to let up on himself. Sometimes all he could think of were all the ways he must have failed Toby. Had he expected too much of him, pushed too hard? When he used to commiserate with friends over all the troubles they had with their kids, maybe instead of being so pleased that Toby never gave him those kinds of headaches and worries he should have been concerned about that. He should have wondered what Toby was keeping from him, what secret concerns and worries he was struggling with all on his own. After the...accident...Harrison had pored over everything, trying to spot all the warning signs that he was certain had been so obvious all along if he had only been paying closer attention. There had been times he'd thought Toby was having one two many martinis at lunch, times it seemed Toby was fretting over something, but Harrison hadn't like to interfere, thinking Toby wouldn't welcome it.

Now it seemed absurd to have ever thought that, since Toby wasn't a falling-down drunk, he couldn't be an alcoholic. That because Toby never mentioned any problems at home, and he and Gen always looked so happy, that everything was idyllic. Maybe he hadn't wanted to see that? Victoria had certainly turned denial into an art form, something she must have been perfecting for years now. Seeing her doing that, practically behaving as if Toby was only away on a very long vacation at times, had shown Harrison just how ridiculous that was. You couldn't just put things like this away in the closet with that hideous lamp Aunt Eleanor had given them for Christmas twenty years ago.

The one good thing he could find in all this was that it had brought him and Toby so much closer. That meant more to Harrison than he could express.

Looking around as a prisoner was brought in, Harrison glanced away again when he saw it wasn't Toby. With that sense of being watched, though, he looked back around, finding that he was being scrutinized rather intently by this prisoner. Harrison tried not to fidget under that very serious blue gaze, but he couldn't help casting a look over at one of the Corrections Officers. After another moment, however, the prisoner unexpectedly flashed a quick, pleasant smile at him and continued on across the room to affectionately greet a generously-proportioned woman.

Well, that was...odd. That was all Harrison could think as he watched the couple.


"Toby - oh you look good, son," Harrison said, getting to his feet and embracing him at last.

Hugging back, grinning, Toby said, "You always say that."

He supposed he did, Harrison realized, setting Toby back a step and looking at him again. Toby really did look wonderful this time, though. He'd looked so sad, almost haunted last week. Today - he was almost glowing. "Something's changed," he said as they sat at the table. "You and your...friend?" He felt embarrassed as Toby's smile grew a little wider, imagining he must sound like a terrible fuddy-duddy.

"Yes, Chris and I have worked things out, at least for now."

"That's wonderful news, son," Harrison said, and he did mean it. He wanted Toby to be happy. It was just going to take awhile to become comfortable with knowing his son was finding that happiness with another man. Harrison had found that as long as he thought of Toby and this Christopher as enjoying a particularly affectionate sort of friendship, and didn't think about the exact nature of those affections, it was far easier to deal with.

"Thanks," Toby said, still smiling, looking as if he knew exactly what his father was thinking. "Where are the kids?"

"Oh, Gen's parents are visiting - didn't I tell you they were coming?"

"I don't think so."

"I'm sorry, I thought I had." Well, hopefully he simply had too many things on his mind to keep track of these days, and this wasn't the on-set of Alzheimer's or something. "Well, Margaret and Jack wanted to take them to the city to see The Lion King, and their tickets were for today's matinee. I thought it couldn't do any harm. Angus went along, so I'm sure everything will be all right."

Toby didn't look upset as he answered, "That's okay, Dad, I'm certainly not worried about Jack and Margaret. I hope the kids enjoy the show."

As they talked on, Harrison couldn't help noticing that every once in awhile Toby would glance over at that other inmate, and Toby's eyes sparkled a little more brightly when the other man looked back. Realization beginning to dawn, Harrison took a closer look at the other prisoner, noting the striking, hawk-like profile. He found himself thinking this man wasn't at all the type he would have imagined Toby being attracted to, and had to smile at that.

"Is that him - your Christopher?"

"Yeah, that's Chris," Toby said, looking a little shy all of a sudden.

"Well, that's a relief," Harrison said with feeling.

Toby laughed, giving him a puzzled look. "What?"

"Oh, he smiled at me when he came in. It was a bit, well, unsettling for a moment."

"Yeah," Toby smiled, sending another look at his friend, "Chris is like that."

"Who's that woman?"

"I...think that's Bonnie, one of his ex-wives."

"He's been married?" That was unexpected somehow.

"Umm hmm, four times - twice to Bonnie."

"Oh, I see," Harrison said, although he wasn't quite sure he did, actually. A part of him couldn't help thinking everything would be much easier - at least on him -- if everyone would learn to keep within the lines.

Then again, maybe trying to keep inside the lines was what caused all the problems in the first place.

"So, is that him?" Bonnie asked, watching her ex's gaze wander for about the twentieth time over to the slim, golden-haired cutie at the other table.

Chris gave her his patented puzzled innocence look. "Is that who?"

"That hottie you can't keep your eyes off - is that your Toby?"

Instead of playing `I don't know what you're talking about,' a little while longer Chris actually smiled and nodded, "Yeah, that's Toby. How'd you know about him?"

"Chris - honestly, he's all you ever talk about."

"He is not."

"Is too. Remember when you first landed here? Every time you called me practically the whole conversation was Toby this and Toby that. I could tell you had a bad crush on him even then." And even though she had thrown in the towel on Christopher Keller once and for all by then, it had still been a little exasperating, hearing him going on about his latest boyfriend.

She had to admit he actually looked happy, though, the kind of happy that went deep and lasted, something she had doubted he was ever going to find. Funny how things turned out. When they had first met, anyone would have thought - just as she had - that the messed up one was her. Not that that hadn't been the case for a long time, of course. After all this was a world where big girls weren't exactly welcome. They sure as hell didn't get courted by the handsomest, sexiest guy in town.

Bonnie could still remember the first time she'd seen Chris, when he'd walked - no, swaggered - into the store, sauntering up to the counter to ask what they wanted for the bike in the window, flashing her that cocky I could charm the pants off a nun grin. She'd about wanted to murder her cousin Laurie for scurrying over to horn in, because Laurie was slim and blonde, and standing just the right way for her boobs to attract his attention. Only they didn't; Chris hadn't paid a bit of attention to Laurie. Nope, he'd leaned on the counter, flirting outrageously with Bonnie, trying to get her to put in a good word for him with her dad seeing as how he'd also noticed the Help Wanted sign in the window.

As much as Bonnie had told herself he was only turning it on for the job, for the bike, and that as soon as he'd got them he would be nailing Laurie; as much as every instinct had told her this was the kind of boy mothers warned their daughters about, Bonnie had found it awfully hard to resist Christopher Keller. She knew better, of course she had. It wasn't the first a time cute guy had teased her, played at flirting with her. That had become quite the game over the years, in fact, setting her up and then waiting to see how long it took to make the fat girl cry.

Chris, though... Even now, knowing how messed up he was, and that it had been a different kind of game for him - Will you still love me if I do this? How about that? - Bonnie had never gotten over that first impression of him. And maybe she was soft in the head or something, but when she thought about him - which was way more than poor Jimmy would like to know about - it wasn't the bad times that came to mind. No, it was all the sweet, unexpected things he'd done for her, making her feel like she could put any supermodel to shame even when all her good sense told her he was full of it. He'd been far too easy to fall in love with, and too damned hard to get over.

And she wondered if Toby over there really knew what he had gotten himself into, taking this one on. If it wasn't for the...yes, the peace, she saw in Chris' beautiful eyes, Bonnie thought she might actually be a little worried for Toby. Something was different, though. She couldn't remember ever seeing Chris look this content; the expression on his face as he looked over at Toby again - that wasn't the look she'd come to expect, that smug cat that ate the canary one he wore when he'd made another conquest. No, this was that soft, sweet one he got when he was really happy about something, and he thought no one was looking so it was okay to let all the macho bullshit fall away for a second.

But didn't it just stand to reason that he'd finally find what he'd been looking for all these years in some godforsaken place like this?

"Well, I better be going," she said, getting to her feet. "Jimmy'll be waiting."

"He treating you right?" Chris asked, also standing.

"Why - you gonna beat him up if he isn't?"

"You know I would if I could."

Bonnie just shook her head, smiling. That hadn't changed, at least - `Want me to prove I love you by thumping someone?' "I know you would, hon. But you don't have to this time. Jimmy's a doll to me." Nice and normal, couldn't lie to save his life much less pull some kind of scam; and if they went out to dinner he definitely didn't spend half the evening flirting with their waiter. Yeah, she was soft in the head all right for actually missing this big, gorgeous nutbar here.

"You going to introduce me?" she asked, nodding her head at Toby.

Of course Chris had to stop and think that over, searching the proposition out for any hidden tricks; ask him the time of day and he'd want to know why and how come, and maybe three days later he'd mention it was half past one. After just a couple seconds, though, he nodded and stepped up to his boyfriend, saying, "Hey, Tobe?"

The cutie looked around, getting to his feet, too - so did the older man he was with - and looking at her Chris with the kind of smile that made you think the sky had cleared and the sun was out. All of a sudden Bonnie couldn't help feeling a whole lot better about what Chris had found here. Yeah, and maybe a little jealous, too, wondering what this Toby had - well, besides the obvious - that she hadn't been able to give Chris.

"Hey," Toby said, looking at her curiously, waiting for Chris to say something more - which he did after Bonnie gave him a little nudge in the side.

"Umm, yeah, Tobias Beecher, this is Bonnie Kel - uh, Bonnie Luttrell, I mean."

Tobias Beecher stuck his hand right out to shake hers. "Hello. It's a pleasure to meet you. Chris has told me a lot about her."

"I've heard a lot about you, too."

"Well," he smiled in a cute little self-deprecating way, "don't believe half of it."

"Oh, don't worry, I never do with this one."

Of course Chris gave them both that little hurt look that made him seem about five years old.

"Oh, umm," Toby glanced at the older man, "Dad, I'd like you to meet Chris." He shot his boyfriend a look that Bonnie recognized, that Chris - behave one. "Christopher Keller - Harrison Beecher."

Bonnie thought Harrison looked a little out of his depth, and she was starting to not like him very much when he just left Chris standing there with his hand out - but just before the moment could really take a bad turn Harrison smiled and clasped Chris' hand, saying, "I'm very pleased to meet you, Christopher."

"Umm, yeah, same here," Chris said in turn, and Bonnie found herself sharing a bemused look with Toby.

"Keller!" one of the CO's called, that one who looked like she ought to be in a wrestling ring. "Come on, this isn't a country club soiree."

Chris said, "See ya later," to his new sweetie, and only gave Bonnie a chaste peck on the cheek when they said goodbye. She sort of regretted that, it felt like a door was really starting to close. But maybe it was time. Lord knew it would put Jimmy's mind at rest.

"So, what do you think?" Toby said.

"I think," Harrison began, pausing to gather his thoughts, "he's very...memorable."

Toby grinned. "Yeah, he is."

Harrison looked at his son, wondering if he should mention this, but, "What about when your parole comes up, Toby? Are you going to be able to walk away from him?"

An echo of that haunted look came back into Toby's eyes, but he didn't try to avoid the subject. "I don't know. I don't want to think about it, really."

Biting his lip, Harrison hesitated, then said, "What was his sentence again?"

"Eighty-eight years; no possibility of parole for fifty," Toby said, a hopeless look in his eyes now.

"Just for armed robbery?"

"Well, he did kill the store owner," Toby said, sounding unfazed by that - and Harrison was a little surprised to find it didn't particularly shock him, either; he wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not, however. "Only after the owner took a shot at him, though. I mean, I know that isn't exactly self-defense or anything, but..."

"But I bet a good attorney might have made a difference," Harrison agreed. "I suppose he only had a public defender?"

"Yeah. One who either didn't have time or didn't give a fuck." Toby looked at him, searching his eyes. "Why, what are you thinking, Dad?"

"I'm thinking... Maybe there are possibilities that could be explored. If you'd like me to."

"You'd do that?"

"Toby," Harrison patted his hand, "I told you: anything you need, all you've ever had to do is ask."

And to his delight, Toby looked like he actually believed that at last.

~the end~

"Breaking Up Is Hard To Do"

Neil Sedaka

(quoted without permission)

Don't take your love away from me
Don't you leave my heart in misery
`Cause if you go, then I'll be blue
Breaking up is hard to do
Remember when you held me tight
And you kissed me all through the night Think of all that we've been through
And breaking up is hard to do
They say that breaking up is hard to do Now I know, I know that it's true
Don't say that this is the end
Instead of breaking up
I wish that we were making up again
I beg of you, don't say goodbye
Can't we give our love just one more try Come on, baby, let's start anew
`Cause breaking up is hard to do.

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