By CatHeights


NC-17; angst (lots of it); bad language
Between the fourth season episodes Revenge is Sweet and Cuts Like a Knife
Website: www.geocities.com/catheights
Disclaimer: Tom Fontana and HBO own everything Oz. I'm just messing with the characters a bit. No copyright infringement intended or money to be made.

Part 1 - Toby's Acceptance

The door sealed, and Toby was locked in for the night — alone. He gazed through the glass of his pod, watching as a new hack, a shocked expression on his face, hurried over to Murphy. Ah, so they found my podmate. Let me guess, he's dead. No need to come tell me about it until the morning, after all, I already know. But you don't know that, do you? For all you know I could be in here pacing, wondering what the fuck happened to my roomie Ronnie, not likely, but hey you could consider the possibility. Give me a little fucking consideration. That's all I ask.

He chuckled softly, and the harshness of it seemed incredibly loud in the empty pod. It sounded as if all the bitterness in his soul was bubbling out, screaming insanely at him. His laughter died, and he eyed the new hack one more time. Bastard wouldn't last the week if he didn't stop looking so appalled.

With a sigh, Toby moved away from the wall, resisting the urge to glance upward. Keller wouldn't be there, not yet. Oh no, he'd wait until lights out before he'd resume his nightly routine of staring down into his former pod. Every damn night since their relationship had come crashing apart, Toby had looked out of his pod to meet that accusing gaze, to feel those eyes marking him.

The worst part was that he had come to look forward to seeing that glare. His greatest fear was that he would look up one night to not find Keller staring at him. If that happened, then he'd know that Keller no longer felt anything for him. Just the thought of that possibility caused the emptiness, his daily companion, to swell, momentarily choking him. He swallowed hard and felt the panic recede. Keller would be there tonight; he was sure of it.

Toby climbed up into his bunk, lay on his back and closed his eyes. It would be another endless wait for lights out. Once that wait would have been filled with sexual tension, as he and Chris tried to kill time until they could touch each other in the darkness. Now, he wished away the hours until he could just look at Keller. It didn't matter if the other man's expression held only anger or spite. No, what mattered was that he still had some connection with Chris Keller; that their two lives were still tied together in some crazy fucked up path.

“Chris,” Toby breathed softly, wishing that he could hear Chris's voice drift up from the bottom bunk, “Yeah, Toby.”

Of all his addictions, this one he had for Chris was the strongest. And surely it was an addiction. Nothing could get that man out of his mind, his blood. It would be this addiction that would either kill him or save him from his own self-destruction. He had always felt a hollowness within him, a desolation that on the outside he had kept at bay with alcohol. In Oz, that emptiness had grown and neither alcohol nor heroin had been able to rein it in and keep the madness away.

Sometimes with Chris, though, it had felt like that emptiness had just disappeared. Chris had the power to fill that void that lurked within him, but he also had the power to split the chasm wide open so that Toby could feel that emptiness reaching out to embrace him again. He hated Chris for having that power over him, and he loved him for that same reason, but even more than that, he needed Chris. He needed Chris like he had never needed anything else in his life. It didn't matter if they were fighting or fucking, as long as Chris was near, his attention focused on Toby.

Withdrawal from a drug, any drug, was brutal, but if you could get through it, there was a possibility of breaking that addiction. Toby knew that from experience, but withdrawal from Chris Keller — that was a death sentence. There was no moment where it got easier, eventually he had to break and do something, anything, to gain Chris's attention. He had to let Chris know that whether you want me or not, I'm still here. Notice me, damn it.

Lying on his bunk, Toby felt a shiver go through him as he remembered the coldness that had moved through his chest when Chris had refused to forgive him. His heart had frozen, and later it shattered in that burning cold when he had heard Chris basically give Mondo Browne rights to him. Chris had to know that by saying, “I don't give a fuck what you do or he does,” he might as well have announced that Toby was nothing more than a prag he had gotten tired of.

Toby had wanted to scream that it wasn't like that. It had been about love, or had it? After all, it wasn't very loving to falsely accuse your lover of murdering your son and then try to shank him. But he had been out of his mind what with the nightmares, the lack of sleep — the grief. He had been crazy, right? Hey Toby, haven't you been nuts for most of your time in Oz. Is being crazy an excuse, an escape or just way overused?

He groaned and bit down on his knuckle, wishing for once he could stop his mind from digging up everything. Why did his brain have to catalogue each hurt, mistake and self-doubt? Why was it so good at clipping just the right set of memories to remind him of his failures? Toby didn't want to recall how it felt to believe that Chris felt nothing for him.

He remembered the despair that had settled on him — his son was dead, his daughter traumatized, and Chris out of his life. You were supposed to protect your children, and instead he had brought them harm. His actions had let the evil of this place reach out and harm his family. You were supposed to have faith in your lover, but his doubts had stripped from him the one thing he cared about in this godforsaken prison. Once again, he was alone.

That nothingness had threatened to swallow him, so he had reached out for something to fill it, and you know what, in a pinch, self-hatred always came through for him. Toby gave away his body willingly, offering it up to any who wanted to help him indulge his need for self-punishment. The first time had been the hardest. When Browne had kept whining to him to suck his dick, Toby had wanted to push the bastard through the glass. Obviously his reputation as a dick-biting psycho had lost its luster long ago.

Staring up at Chris while Browne's voice continued to grate on him, Toby had felt anger shiver through him. Son of a bitch, you gave him permission. Well if you don't fuckin' care, neither do I. That's when he had turned and let Mondo kiss him. This what you wanted, Chris? I hope it hurts like hell to know that I had no problem touching him and having him touch me.

Oh and it had hurt, at least for him. As Mondo's lips had touched his, the self-loathing had struck him forcefully, making him want to vomit. What the hell was he doing? Images of Schillinger, raping him, burning him, had flooded his mind, and he had almost pushed away, but then the thought had come to him that he deserved this. He was the one who should hurt. That frightening nothingness had retreated slightly as waves of self-hatred pushed forward.

Rather than face that emptiness, the vacant but brutal introspection, Toby had chosen to feel something. It was easier just to let them take what they wanted, give them what they wanted, and let his sense of self be ripped away. Hey, at least he was feeling. So what if every harsh caress made him ache to feel the swipe of Chris's hand across his neck, and if the taste of some stranger's skin only reminded him of how he would never taste Chris on his lips again — that was right, how it should be.

Toby sat up. There had to be some way to just make his brain stop. He didn't want to remember any of this. He didn't need to think about how each meaningless body he had touched had reminded him of what he had lost with Chris. Nor did he need to recall the tortuous, dream-filled nights where Chris's saying, “You actually thought in your heart that I could do such a thing? Order the murder of a child?” was mixed in with his children screaming, “Daddy, no, help us.”

He scooted over to the corner of the bunk, wrapping his arms tightly around himself as if he could squeeze the memories away, but still they came. He had been drowning in his misery, adrift on another path of self-destruction, when who should stop his tumble into the abyss but the Almighty Chris Keller. Toby's eyes slid close as he pictured Chris leaning against a bunk as he spun a convoluted tale about how he had gotten his tattoo. Not a word of Chris's story had seemed relevant, but it wasn't Keller's tangent that had put the tenseness in his voice. No, it was the way his body had responded to being that close to Chris, and the sudden picture in his mind of halting all this nonsense with one deep kiss while his hand caressed that damn tat.

Toby was breathing heavily as he remembered that moment when Chris had admitted that Toby's sleeping around bother him. It mattered. The emptiness and self-hatred that battled for what was left of his pitiful soul had made a temporary retreat as hope had coursed through him. And how fucked up was that? To find hope in discovering that the man you love has killed someone because you slept with him.

He swallowed hard and opened his eyes. He tried to pull his mind from the memory of Chris leaning over the railing and saying, “You should take care of where you stick your dick. That baby's lethal,” by forcing himself to focus on the drabness of Em City. She was silent, her center empty now that her prisoners were all contained in their tiny glass cages. Did that floor remember each foot that had stepped across her, each body that had tumbled to its death on her, or did they blur together like they did for him? Too many faces and names that held no emotional attachment to be worth remembering.

Chris had killed both Shemin and Browne, a testament to just how much it bothered him to see Toby sleeping around. Toby should have been appalled by those murders, but he wasn't. Browne had been a mean bastard that no one would miss, and Shemin, Toby barely even knew the man. He was just one more face swallowed up by this place that devoured the weak.

So what did that say about him that those deaths didn't horrify him? He guessed he had actually mastered a few of Oz's survival lessons. You didn't waste time worrying about dead bodies that meant nothing to you. It also hadn't taken him long to figure out that the reasons for Chris killing Shemin and Browne were two-fold. Oh, Toby had not doubt those deaths were meant as a message to him, but he also knew that Keller and O'Reily needed a few dead bodies to show up so that the warden would start questioning Querns' run of Em City.

Some twisted part of him felt a certain appreciation for the economy of the murders. Unfortunately a few people had to die in order to push Querns out, so why shouldn't they be men Toby slept with? Toby laughed, a short huff of air. Keller had a certain flair for getting what he wanted. Too bad Toby couldn't figure out what it was Keller wanted from him.

“How is Browne in bed?”

Toby rocked softly, his back hitting the pod wall. He swore he could actually hear Chris saying those words. That question had made him want to vomit, made him want to beg Chris not to taunt him like that. Toby had wanted to say, “He sucked. He wasn't you. Is that what you need to know,” but the words had stuck in his throat.

He should have pushed his advantage once Chris admitted that Toby's sleeping around bothered him. That was the opening he had been waiting for. Instead of baiting Chris with threats and leaving with a smart remark, he should have said, “You're right, I do love you too much to tell.” What had he done, though? He'd gone off alone to lick his wounds, to try to deal with the combination of hope, desire and hurt that Chris had dredged up, never realizing the opportunity he had missed. Brilliant Toby, that sharp lawyer mind takes fucking weeks to tell you that you screwed that one up.

His jaw tightening as he ground his back teeth, Toby thought about how after their little run in over the death of Shemin, Chris had exchanged his silence for evil smirks and sharp barbs. Not to mention that in between the taunting, Toby had felt Chris's eyes tracking him, wanting something, but he still had no idea what that was. There had been days where he had just wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, “I'm sorry. Jesus Christ, I'm so sorry. What else do you want from me? What more can I say? Please tell me what I need to do to make it right. Please.” Yet he had kept his mouth shut, afraid Chris would smile maliciously and say, “Nothing.”

The worst part was that as the nastiness between them had continued, his faithlessness had struck again, and he'd begun to wonder if Chris being bothered by him sleeping around had nothing to do with love but with power? Was Chris trying to tell him, no I don't want you, but I have no intention of letting anyone else have you? How pathetic was it that even though a part of him believed Chris's taunting was just a power play, it hadn't mattered. At that point he would have played any game Keller wanted, so long as Chris was paying attention to him. He could handle anything Chris dished out, except indifference.

While he had played the game willingly, easily matching Keller's snide remarks, he hadn't been able to help growing annoyed. The whispered comments in his ear, and the way Keller would brush up against him, knowing that Toby's body would respond, had started to drive him nuts. Then there had been that goddamn air that Chris had about him that said there was something Toby was supposed to figure out. His inability to gain even a clue as to what he was supposed to know had infuriated him. Sick of being toyed with, Toby had been so close to losing it when Ronnie Barlog, that good friend of Keller's, had come along.

Toby's lips twisted slightly as he remembered the look on Chris's face when he had told him, “Ronnie's cute. Does he like to fool around?”

That expression had been sweet. He had finally gained the upper hand, and Chris's full attention. Ha, ha, ha, Keller, what you gonna do now? You see I know you better than you think. You're not going to kill Ronnie for sleeping with me. Browne, Shemin, they meant nothing to you, but Barlog, he's a pal. Someone you knew on the outside, a partner. You can't get rid of this one, Keller. Now what?

Toby took a deep breath and let it out. What kind of bastard had he become? He had felt such glee using Ronnie to torment Chris. That first night after he and Ronnie had messed around, Toby hadn't needed to glance up to make sure Keller was watching. Toby had no doubt that he was, and that not knowing what was going on was killing Chris. The morning afterwards, Toby had felt Chris's eyes drilling holes in him, but he had resisted the urge to look up. He had wanted to let Chris have a taste of how it felt to not matter.

Oddly for a short time, he had believed he actually had control over something in his life. He foolishly thought that he had found the perfect way to get Chris back. Chris's accusation in the cafeteria that he was using Barlog to make him jealous had delighted Toby. He had found a weakness in Chris's armor, and he had had every intention of exploiting it until he got what he wanted.

When he had taunted Chris with his inability to do anything about Barlog, Toby had felt a rush at seeing the rage in his ex-lover's eyes. He had thought, “That's it Chris. Get angry, very angry.” There was a fine line between anger and passion, and Toby had planned to drive Chris over that line. It had seemed like such a simple, perfect plan. After a few confrontations, there was no way Chris wouldn't do something to reassert control.

He had had it all planned out. Toby laughed bitterly as he thought about the ridiculous way he had imagined things. Chris would start by yelling at him, getting right in his face. Then he would grab Toby harshly and kiss him. Oh sure, at first, Chris would be kissing him just to prove a point — that he wouldn't be forgotten. In his little fantasy, though, Keller's reasons wouldn't matter, because once Chris's lips met his that would be it. In Tobyland, there was no way Chris could forget what it had been like, and once he lost control, no way he could halt the desire. Even if he couldn't get Chris to forgive him, he could get Chris to want him again.

Toby was sure if he told Keller what he had been up to, his sometimes lover and tormentor would give him that wicked smile and say, “So Toby, how'd that plan work out for you? Not too fuckin' well, huh?” No, it hadn't gone well at all. He had underestimated Keller, a very stupid thing to do.

Clenching at his stomach as if he'd been sucker-punched, Toby remembered Ronnie telling him that he and Chris had fucked, and that Chris had asked Ronnie not to do anything with Toby. The thought of Chris and Ronnie together had filled him with jealousy, but even worse then Chris sleeping with Barlog was the fact that he had told Ronnie he loved him.

The anger he had felt then returned in full as he heard in his mind Ronnie's voice saying, “He says he loves me.” His mind went further back, and he pictured Metzger holding him while Chris patted his face and said, “I never loved you.”

I never loved you. I really do love you, Toby. Oh wait, I just told Barlog I loved him. What the fuck do you know about love Chris? The hand Toby had been clenching his stomach with turned into a fist, and he pressed it hard into his side, feeling it bruise. What kind of bastard are you Keller?

Like a shock of cold water, Toby remembered how much he had enjoyed fooling around with Ronnie. He had the answer to his question. You're the same kind of bastard I am, dear God. Bile filled his throat as he admitted to himself that he had enjoyed having sex with Barlog. Ronnie gave and took, no strings attached. Sex with Ronnie hadn't made him feel dirty or repulsed. There was no real emotion, negative or positive, invested in the act; it was just a diversion and a release.

And he had needed that release; it had briefly helped ease some of the tension that constantly lurked within him. Of course, the relaxation factor of sleeping with Ronnie had only been a small part of the charm. His twisted mind had loved the idea that while he couldn't fuck Keller, he was using a friend to fuck Keller over.

Jesus Christ, was it possible that it had only been a matter of hours since he had been watching TV, trying to figure out a way to break his addiction to Chris. As if that was possible. Days, even weeks, sometimes went by in Oz in a dulling monotony, and then there would come a day when more pain and confusion then you ever imagined fell on you. The monotony shattered without warning, and your emotions were sent on an out of control ride.

While it felt like ages, it really had not been that long ago that he had been trying to keep his mind Chris Keller free when Ronnie Barlog had showed up and blown his hard fought efforts. Ronnie's kneeling down near him as he watched TV had instantly made Toby imagine Chris kissing Barlog and then saying he loved him. That little image hadn't exactly made Toby feel like being generous to Ronnie when he had asked for a little legal advice. Did he look like he held office hours?

Then Ronnie had run his hand along the inside of Toby's thigh offering a little exchange for the requested advice. All thoughts of trying to get Chris out of his life had fled; the game was back on. He had almost giggled aloud as he thought, so Keller you're not as memorable as you think. Old Ronnie boy is back in my court.

Toby recalled that as he and Barlog had walked back to their pod, he had already begun to think about how he could toss Ronnie's betrayal in Chris's face. He had figured that he should wait a few days so that he could really catch Keller off guard. Toby bit the inside of his cheek, drawing blood, as he remembered that he had also thought about trying to convince Ronnie that this shouldn't be a one shot deal, so that he could enjoy himself while he waited to start the next round with Chris. He really was a faithless bastard, wasn't he?

Because his goddamn mind had been so caught up with running possible scenarios of how to let Chris know about this latest development in their little game, Toby had only been paying partial attention to Ronnie's tale of the FBI offering him a reduced sentence if he played the snitch. The matter really didn't need his full attention because there wasn't much advice he could give Barlog.

Toby moved over so that he was now sitting on the edge of his bunk. He rested his head in his hands as he shook with anger. Just thinking about all that had gone on with Barlog made him wish the bastard were still alive so that he could rip his tongue out. He wondered too how he could have been so stupid. He had been so caught up in trying to get back at Keller that he hadn't realized until the end of the conversation that the man Barlog was talking about selling out was Chris.

He groaned softly as he thought about Ronnie's answers to his questions on how much he knew about this “friend's” crimes. Had he actually seen the murders or been told by his friend that he committed the murders? Well, no, but he had seen his friend go off with two of the three guys that had been found dead, and each time on the day that they were supposedly murdered. Not only that, on one of those nights, Ronnie claimed he and this friend had been pulling a late night con, and he had seen him burn something that looked like a bloody shirt.

Toby had told him that the evidence he had was circumstantial at best. What kind of deal he got would depend on what other evidence the FBI had against this guy. He recommended getting a lawyer who could work with the FBI to draw up a deal before agreeing to anything. Ronnie had thanked him, and said he had some time to consider whether he would try to make a deal.

Then Ronnie had said the words that stopped Toby's heart. “You know, Chris is a friend and all. We had some good times, but still I never *really* knew him, and then after his last divorce, he got odd. Scary almost. I mean I'm pretty sure he did it, so…”

Ronnie's words had dropped off, and Toby had struggled to keep his tone casual. “You mean Chris Keller? I hadn't realized it was someone in Oz.”

“Yeah. Don't mention this to anyone, 'kay?”

“No problem. Attorney-client privilege, remember.” Of course, I'm a disbarred attorney, idiot.

Ronnie smiled. “Cool. We'll settle up payment tonight after lights out.”

Somehow Toby had managed to dredge up a smile, those years in front of a courtroom paying off. The smile had disappeared the instant Ronnie left the pod. Toby had no doubt that Ronnie would snitch on Chris. He seemed unsure at the moment, but the FBI would keep at him and sooner or later, most likely sooner, Ronnie would capitulate.

The FBI couldn't base a case on Ronnie's information alone. A good lawyer would discredit Ronnie in a snap. And if it came to a trial, Toby would make damn sure Chris had a good lawyer. There was no way he was ending up on death row. Still, he had no way of knowing if the FBI had other information that if collaborated by Ronnie would make a good case against Chris. He couldn't take that chance. He knew he had to find Chris and tell him.

He had feared that Chris wasn't going to believe him because of these bloody games they'd been playing with each other, but he was pretty sure by the time he had left the library that Chris did believe him. At least enough to give it some serious thought. Toby had already decided, though, that if Chris had ended up not believing him and left Ronnie living, he would take care of Ronnie, particularly if Barlog continued to sleep with Chris. The thought of Chris sleeping with anyone made his stomach turn, but the thought of him sleeping with someone just waiting for the opportunity to sell him out made Toby murderously angry.

Toby lay back down, this time on his side, curling up near the edge of the bed. His hand twisted and untwisted the sheet. Well, he didn't need to worry about killing Barlog, that deed was already done. He wondered how Chris had done it. No, he didn't need to know, and he wasn't about to ask Chris to tell him. It couldn't have been an easy thing for Chris to do.

Funny, he really believed that killing Barlog had hurt Chris, even after he had just received proof that Chris had killed those three men. The truth had been in Chris's eyes when he had told him Ronnie was selling him out. Hell, he had known it was the truth from the moment the FBI had told him during his kids' kidnapping investigation. He hadn't needed Chris to confirm it. It wasn't a case of doubting Chris; it was just that somehow he knew it was true.

He wished he could say the knowledge hadn't mattered to him, but it had. He remembered Ronnie saying that he hadn't really known Chris, and it made his skin crawl. Still, he couldn't deny that his finding out about the men Keller had killed had made him question how well he really knew Chris.

The FBI had expertly manipulated the native distrust he had of his own emotions. Could his mind, his decisions be trusted? Obviously, he had come to the conclusion “no,” because he had believed Zabitz's information that Chris was responsible without question. Grief, lack of sleep and his own self-doubt had made him an easy target for planting questions about Chris. Did he really know this man who had broken his arms and then claimed to truly love him? This man who had saved his life, whom he had made love and fought with. This man who had killed three homosexual men. What was a man who could hurt you so viciously and then turn around and love you so deeply capable of?

Toby took a deep breath and let it out in short bursts. His trust in Chris had wavered so easily. It had done so even though deep down he had known Chris hadn't ordered the kidnapping of his kids. He had been as sure of that as he had been that Chris had killed those men. Why was it he could trust his instincts on the evil Chris had done, but not on the depth of Chris's love? Maybe because it wasn't Chris he doubted but himself, or rather the idea that he could inspire such love.

He surely wasn't worthy of it, and he had proved that with the way he had treated Chris. He had said that he should be forgiven because he had forgiven Chris, and only now did Toby see the arrogance in that thought. Only now did he think that Chris had been right not to forgive him. He didn't deserve that forgiveness, but still he wanted it. He would give anything to have it.

Of course, too late, he now could answer the question of how well he knew Chris Keller — better than anyone else. He knew Chris better than any of his wives, better then so called friends like Ronnie Barlog. He knew Chris as well as he knew himself because Chris was a part of him. He was a part of Chris. Nothing that happened and nothing they could do to each other would ever change that.

Did he know why Chris had killed those men? No. Did he know what Chris's father was like or anything about his childhood? No. Oh sure, he had hints from things Chris said and from the occasional cries Chris would make in his sleep. Still, there was a lot he didn't know about Chris's past, but that didn't mean he didn't know Chris. It wasn't that anything Chris had done or had been on the outside didn't matter, it was just that the connection they had had changed them both. He knew Chris better then anyone else because he knew what it meant to love someone so much that it hurt — that it could drive you to do just about anything.

Because he knew Chris so well and because he knew how their love could hurt, he was the one person who shouldn't have doubted that love. He was the one person who shouldn't have been able to let Chris down, yet he had. Chris had thought he had found someone who would care no matter what. Toby thought it was too bad that Chris had put his faith in a person so unworthy of it. Maybe that was what Chris had wanted him to figure out, that his lack of faith hurt just as much as having your bones broken. Chris's betrayal, his betrayal, they didn't cancel each other out. They just made Chris feel like a fool.

Toby rubbed his fists into his eyes, wiping away the dampness as he tried to breathe past the heaviness in his chest. Oh God Chris, I really am sorry. I do trust you. I did forgive you. I'm just so good at fucking things up. Please, Chris, you've got to forgive me. I feel like a piece of me has been cut out, and yet I still feel it there aching.

How much he loved Chris was part of the problem. He thought he knew what love was. He had loved Genevieve, right? Yet, it had never felt like this. He knew what she would say, how she would act, what she would order at dinner. Love was safe, comfortable. What was between he and Chris was anything but safe. It was a rush, a thrill, but also comforting, yet frightening. The attraction was so damn strong that he swore it couldn't be love. Love didn't mess with you like that.

Toby knew he had been wrong. This was love, and maybe the problem had been he'd never truly been in love before. He'd never known what it was like to love someone so much that you just wanted to be able to look at them, to touch them. He couldn't have imagined how it would feel to want the taste of another's lips so badly that you would do anything for that kiss. He didn't know that you could love someone enough that you would do anything for them, and that whatever they did or had done couldn't dim your love.

It was time to stop fighting his feelings for Chris. His fear of their love had brought so much pain. Maybe if he gave into this frightening desire, the freedom of it would save both him and Chris. They could love instead of hurt. He didn't know if he could give up that control, but he was willing to try if Chris could forgive him.

“Lights out.”

Finally, Toby thought, as he sat up and hopped off the bunk. He made his way to the front of the pod and gazed up. Sure enough, Keller was already there. He met Chris's eyes fearing he'd see some reproach there, but all he saw was sadness. Was that what had always been in that gaze? Had he only imagined the scorn? He supposed he had made it worse than it was.

Even from this distance, he could tell that Chris was exhausted. Toby could see the tiredness in the set of his shoulders and how he propped himself against the pod wall. When he had talked to Chris in the library, he had thought then that Chris had seemed tired and now he seemed even more so. On many of the nights when he had stared up at Chris, Toby had gone back to bed after awhile, only to wake a few hours later to find Chris still staring down. How much sleep could he have gotten over the last few weeks? Toby thought it was very little.

Toby ran his hand sideways across the glass, slowly back and forth. In his mind, he was moving that hand across Chris's shoulders, easing the tension out of them. He watched as Chris closed his eyes and tilted his head sideward, almost as if he could really feel Toby's touch. Toby stopped moving his hand and pressed the palm hard against the glass-like substance that was the current barrier between him and Chris. His eyes opening, Chris locked gazes with Toby again, both his palms pressing against the clear wall.

This has to end, Toby thought. We can't keep doing this to each other. He needed Chris, and Chris needed him. That was all that mattered. Tomorrow, after they asked the inevitable questions about Ronnie's death, and he played dumb, he would ask McManus to move Keller back into his pod. At least by lights out tomorrow, they wouldn't be staring at each other in separate pods, and if he was very lucky, maybe he could convince Chris to at least try to forgive him.

Part 2 - Chris's Hell

Chris threw his arm over his eyes. Fuck, his head hurt. Damn thing felt like it was about to explode. He had been lying on his bunk for the last fifteen minutes trying to think only about how much his goddamn head hurt. Lockdown for the evening was about an hour away, and normally the last place Chris could be found before they closed them in for the night was his pod. He hated the sound of the door sealing and usually he took advantage of every moment of “freedom” before he'd have to hear that sound, but not today. For the first time in weeks, he was looking forward to being locked in for the night. It would mean he could finally stop running into Beecher. For a few hours, at least, he'd be free of the questions in those blue eyes.

It had seemed that every time he turned around today, he had found himself meeting Beecher's gaze. He would hold that gaze for a moment, briefly acknowledging the other man, but not giving away the slightest emotion. Chris had no idea what Beecher wanted to hear from him, maybe that he had been right about Barlog. Well he hadn't been in the mood to deal with any of Beecher's bullshit. He had needed to be alone. Still, even alone, he couldn't avoid Toby. He swore each time his head throbbed, he saw Toby staring at him with those expressive eyes. Those eyes that could look so unbearably sad, downright cunning and fuckin' sexy.

Jesus Toby. Why did you tell me about Barlog? Why? Did you want to prove to me that there's no one I can count on? Lawyer home the point that nothing about me instills loyalty. If that was the case, you shouldn't have wasted your time, Toby. I got the point that I was stupid to believe I could count on anyone when you accused me of killing your son. But then I've always been stupid where you're concerned, so Barlog couldn't make me feel any more stupid than I do for loving you.

Of course that didn't mean Barlog's turning snitch didn't hurt. He had been fond of Ronnie. On the outside, Chris had often treated him like a brother. He had watched his back, and let him in on more than one lucrative ponzi. Ronnie had been laid-back, always willing to go along with whatever scheme Chris hatched. Not to mention, Chris hadn't minded the way Ronnie seemed to idolize him. Yeah, Ronnie had been a pal.

And Toby had been a fucking bastard to mess with Barlog knowing that he was Chris's friend. He hadn't expected Beecher to pull something that low. It had made him furious. Toby had known that he wouldn't kill Ronnie just because Toby had lured him into messing around. No, this time it wasn't about Toby hurting himself, cheapening himself. This time it was about Toby purposefully trying to hurt Chris. Beecher's smug look and the thought of his mouth on Barlog's dick had made Chris want to slam Toby up against a wall and ask him what the fuck he was trying to pull.

Chris took deep, even breaths, never moving the arm that covered his eyes. He laid still, the remembered anger at Beecher a coiled knot in his chest. He had been so close to losing control with Toby, until he had decided to take back what was his. Ronnie was part of his world, not Beecher's. He had the upper hand, and he used it, easily drawing Ronnie to him and getting him to promise not to touch Toby.

Being back in control had calmed him down, plus sleeping with Ronnie hadn't been bad, not at all. Chris had been touched by how eager Ronnie was to please him. Up until that point, he hadn't even thought about finding another lover. He hadn't wanted anyone else, but Beecher had pushed his hand. Not that sleeping with Ronnie had been anything close to being with Toby. No one was like Toby.

Yet it had been okay with Ronnie, he was a friend after all. If he had been a little too eager, it was just because he admired Chris, right? Ronnie wasn't like those others who had been so eager to please that it was disgusting. So pathetic in their desire to be liked that they weren't even worthy of a second glance. No, he wasn't like those, he had been worse, and Chris hadn't even realized it.

The sound that filled Chris's head was louder than a train barreling through a quiet night. His mind was thrashing in that harsh, rattling sound while the heat of his rage burned through his body. Pictures of men flashed through his mind. Pathetic creatures that had somehow managed to catch his interest, to convince him that there was something behind their greedy glances. But they had lied. There had been nothing there but fear and an unhealthy need to be desired, no matter what degradation that entailed. Blind panic filled him. He couldn't let them speak his name for fear that they would claim he was just like them.

For a moment, Oz, Toby, and even the bunk he was laying on were gone, as he existed only in that ever-increasing sound that wrapped around sporadic images. He saw a fist heading for him and remembered the feeling of it smashing into his tiny jaw, the world spinning as he hit the wall. That sound buzzed, ripping the image away and replacing it with hands biting into his shoulders and shaking him until he swore his head would roll off. That too faded into the noise, leaving room for another sight to flicker by — him falling to his knees. Fear was lodged in his stomach, as he gave in and let someone else measure his worth by how well he sucked him off.

Chris fought that sound and struggled to bury those images. He slammed back into himself, the hard bunk beneath him a blessed reality. The arm across his face felt heavy and sweaty, so he let it slide off and drop to his side. He stared at the ceiling, grounding himself in its normalcy. His body seemed relaxed as he lay there. Even during that moment of mental torment, his body never betrayed his distress. It was one of the few things he could count on. Chris's head pounded, and he welcomed the purity of the pain. He focused on that simple hurt, until his rage receded and his heart stopped hammering.

He closed his eyes and once again as his head throbbed, he pictured Beecher gazing at him, but this time he saw himself stepping closer and kissing Toby. He imagined the feel of his hands in Toby's hair, the scent of him, and the way his body would strain to get closer. Christ, he missed Toby's touch. Last night, when he had been gazing down into his old pod, he swore he could feel Toby's hands gliding across his back. He had yearned for that touch so much that being trapped in his pod, unable to reach Toby, had been almost unbearable.

Yet, in the morning when the lights had come on and the doors to their cages were unlocked, Chris found that what he wanted most to do, to touch Toby, he couldn't. The urge to pull Toby into his arms and pretend that nothing had ever gone wrong had haunted his every step today, but reality kept his face impassive and his arms at his side. He had always believed in moving forward and not wasting time on past shit that couldn't be changed. While Chris had no doubt that if he kissed Toby, it would be reciprocated, he also knew that once that kiss ended there was no way Beech would be able to resist trying to hash out everything, and he just couldn't deal with that yet. He needed time to center himself, and to separate from all that had happened.

If he was truthful, he knew he couldn't just make himself forget and move forward, not this time. Maybe his inability to let go was because it mattered too much, or maybe it was because lately he hadn't been able to let things roll off of him. Lately? Who was he kidding? That was the goddamn reason he had ended up in Oz. About a year, maybe two, before his sentencing, he had started to lose control over those things that he had so firmly locked away. Bits of forgotten memories had begun to surface, and while they were too hazy for him to recall details, just the hint of those buried horrors had been enough to flood him with rage. Chris had found the anger agonizing because he couldn't pinpoint the source and didn't know where to direct it. He had searched desperately for an outlet for that rage.

When the drugs and the sex that he tried to get lost in only served to magnify that anger rather than suppress it, he had told himself all he needed was a break from the streets. He had spent too many years always looking for the angle, judging the mark and staying a step ahead; he needed a break. Chris didn't have a clue as to how that thought had led to the asinine idea of robbing a grocery story while blitzed out of his mind. He couldn't even recall what cocktail of drugs he had taken that day. The whole incident was one big blur, not that he minded that. There were already too many things clamoring to be remembered.

Chris opened his eyes, stretched his arms out, laced his fingers together and casually slid them underneath his head. He gazed at the ceiling looking as if he were inordinately bored. The ceilings of Em City would be his sky for the next 88 years, oh wait, there was always the possibility of parole in 50 fuckin' years. He remembered at his sentencing the difficulty he had had wrapping his mind around the idea that he had just been given 88 years. Waiting to be transferred to Oz, he had still been struggling with that concept when he had gotten a message from the Aryan Brotherhood, or more accurately Vern Schillinger.

Being told that Vern was in Oz and had a job for him had made that day even more surreal. Vern. He hadn't seen that bastard since he had gotten out of Lardner. Great, just fucking great. His practical side had quickly kicked in, though. Schillinger was obviously the head of the Aryan Brotherhood in Oz. When he got there, he would need to align himself with some group, have someone to watch his back. He didn't care much for the Aryans or Vern, but he had doubted there would be many options.

You always had to prove your loyalty, and Chris had been sure once he did, he would have no problem getting Vern to accept him on equal footing. He could handle Vern, and all he had to do to assure his place in the Brotherhood was seduce some pansy assed lawyer. He had figured it would be one of the easiest cons he had every pulled, but that was before he met Tobias Beecher. Toby who had made him discover parts of himself that he had never known existed.

He had always thought that true love, if there was such a thing, was something he wasn't capable of experiencing. Oh sure, he had cared for each of his wives, still did, and there were times during his marriage to Bonnie, particularly the second time, where he had thought that they might have had a chance at love. It wasn't possible though, because of him. Love had always seemed like one of those many things that were beyond his reach.

Sex, now that was something he understood. It was simply your body responding to the touch of another. If you got the right chemistry going, the sex was amazing. Problem was that the chemistry had eventually fizzled in each of his relationships, and after that, there was nothing left, except maybe a lingering affection. Those first few days he had spent with Tobias Beecher, he had felt that chemistry flair between them, but he hadn't been concerned. Chris had tossed it off as just lust, and figured feeling it would make his task so much easier.

Back then, something about Toby had made him uneasy, but he hadn't been able to put a name to it. He hadn't been able to place the funny feeling that he had gotten in his chest whenever he heard Toby's voice, or understand why it was such a simple pleasure to share lunch with the other man. He had attributed it all to him playing the part very well. Still, it had startled him how angry he had gotten when Vern had tormented Toby about his wife's suicide. Chris recalled having briefly wondered if Vern had murdered her as part of “Operation Toby,” and wanting to smash in that Nazi fuck's face. He had had to forcefully remind himself that he and Vern were on the same side and to wonder why that reality left a bad taste in his mouth.

Sure, Chris had had plenty of hints that there was something more between him and Beecher than just his being Vern's tool of revenge, but it wasn't until Toby voiced the words that the realization struck Chris. He was in love. He had told Vern that Beecher loved him but didn't realize it yet; he could have been talking about himself. For the first time in his life, he had been able to say the words “I love you” and truly mean it.

Even now, he could recall vividly the feeling of their first kiss. How his alcohol hazed brain had briefly cleared at the tentative touch of Toby's lips, and how those lips had increased in pressure and urgency, as he had pushed Toby back against the table. The sexual desire that had tingled through his skin had been very familiar, but what hadn't been was the feeling that he was safe. Safe — he didn't even know what that was or why he would want to feel that way, but not only did he want it, he wanted Toby to feel that way too.

Of course that moment had been all too brief. The hacks had broken their interlude, and the alcohol had streamed through his blood again causing him to lash out in frustration. He had wanted it all to disappear except Toby. All he needed was Toby. Instead what he had gotten was a chance to sober up in the Hole. Alone, he had had plenty of time to think, and that had been the last thing he had needed. The demons that had landed him in Oz had descended on him, showering him with pain and with memories of the other things they had driven him to do.

The scent of death heavy in his mind, Chris had told himself that he should stay away from Toby. What he had believed he felt during that kiss was only alcohol induced. But how could he avoid Toby when he had made an agreement with Vern? He had to get his shit straight, and go on with the plan. No stream of memories or thoughts on the stupidity of betraying Vern, however, could make him believe that what he had felt wasn't real. He loved Toby.

He had started the pattern then of not thinking things through where Toby was concerned, for he hadn't even considered the possibility of returning from the Hole to find Beecher drunk. Chris remembered how his stomach had plummeted. The goddamn moonshine, Toby had drunk it. He recalled the panic he had felt when he realized “Operation Toby” had just progressed as he had planned. Trying to think past the knot in his stomach, Chris had decided he needed some space from Beecher. He had to focus his energy on figuring out a way to keep both he and Toby safe. He had never been able to get that time to think, though. He couldn't avoid Toby or Vern. Between the two, he had felt trapped, and the rage had bubbled up, and as always it was looking for an outlet. It had found the most obvious one — the mark — who just happened to also be the man he loved.

Chris's jaw clenched, and a knuckle cracked as behind his head, his hands crushed into each other. With his eyes squeezed shut, Chris could feel Toby's arm in his as he twisted it until he could feel it break. He could hear Toby's cries; see the anger and betrayal on his face. This was one memory that he had never tried to lock away; he deserved to remember what he had done. He had relived it in his dreams every night that Toby had been in the infirmary his broken bones healing, and it had continued to haunt his dreams even after that, at least until he had believed Toby had forgiven him. Only then had he been able to let it go, but that memory of his betrayal had recently returned to his dreams, disturbing the few hours he slept. Maybe he shouldn't have even briefly let go of that memory. It would have made him realize that what he had done could never be forgiven.

Actually, he doubted if back then anything would have made him believe he couldn't be forgiven. The thought that he had destroyed the love Toby felt for him had been unbearable. So, he had done what he always did when he wanted something, pursued it relentlessly. If you truly want something, you do whatever you have to do to get it, and you don't let anyone stand in your way. His approach had failed miserably, and it was only by the luck of being in the right place at the right time that he had been able to save Toby's life and with that one instinctive act, get back what he had lost.

Unlocking his fingers from behind his head, Chris flexed them. Pain lanced through the abused joints, but he didn't even wince. His eyes were now open, and he was again staring at the dull ceiling. He rested his hands lightly on his thighs as he remembered what it had been like to believe that Toby accepted his love as truth.

Who would have thought that two weeks spent in lockdown would be some of the best weeks of his life? He'd give anything to go back to that time, to just exist in that moment. During those weeks, he had discovered that there had been an empty hole in his soul that he hadn't even known existed until Toby filled it. He had felt a sense of completeness that was alien to him. Touching Toby filled Chris with a heady mixture of desire and peace. He had never loved anyone like this, nor could he imagine loving anyone more than he did Toby.

Sure things hadn't been perfect after the lockdown ended, but he had expected that. After all, they were in Oz. What had annoyed him, though, were the people like Said butting in where they didn't belong. Their bullshit was a danger to Beecher if he believed it, and Chris had feared he did. He had wanted them all to mind their own business, and just let him and Toby be. To Chris's chagrin, Toby hadn't felt that same way. Even with the arguments over certain people's advice, Chris had still believed that Toby knew how much he loved him. He was wrong.

His right hand knotted into a fist, and Chris pressed it hard into his thigh. In his mind, achingly clear, Chris could hear Toby saying, “You're lying.” On the day of his son's funeral, Toby had asked him if he had ever felt this way about another man, and Chris had told him, honestly, that he had never felt this way. He remembered the sharp flair of pain that had shot through him when Beecher had called him a liar. How could Toby not believe him, wasn't it obvious? He had never felt this way about anyone — man or woman. He had told himself that it was just grief messing with Toby's mind, and that maybe his lover needed more reassuring. After all, what he was going through with his kids was pure hell.

Well, he knew now that no amount of reassuring would have changed Toby's mind, not with Hell lurking over their shoulders. He had died, twice, only to come back, and Chris was sure that unknowingly, he had brought back with him a bit of Hell's inferno. It was the only explanation for this nightmare turned reality.

“You're capable of anything.”

Chris swore that when Toby had said those words to him, he had felt the flames of hell lapping at him. He had looked into Toby's eyes, and there wasn't an ounce of love. Instead, he had found himself gazing into the eyes of a man who was looking at a monster. The worst part had been that Chris knew he was a monster, that was why Hell was coming for him, but he wasn't the kind that would have done that to a child, Toby's child. Never. Toby, why didn't you know that? Why? The one place where Chris had felt safe and worthy was in Toby's arms, and that had been a lie. All those times he had said, “I love you,” and Toby had never believed him. He had never been forgiven or trusted.

Although he had walked away from Toby, Chris had never been able to let go. There was an empty space inside him that only Toby could fill. That would never change. Chris knew that Toby loved him, and so he had waited hoping Toby would understand and say to him, “You still love me, you always will,” but those words never came out of Toby's mouth. He had watched Toby, expecting that smart brain to work out the argument and come to the conclusion that he didn't need to ask for forgiveness. Chris had already forgiven him; he loved him too much not to.

He had hoped today, after everything that had happened with Barlog, that he might find what he was seeking in Toby's eyes. Of course, all he had seen was guilt and that perpetual question of why can't you forgive me. Damn it Toby, how the fuck do I make you believe I really love you? Maybe he never could, maybe Toby's not believing him was another part of that hell that was eating at his soul bit by bit.

The hand that had been knotted on his thigh unclenched, and he let it fall limply to the bunk. He was so fuckin' tired. There was too much pain hanging between him and Toby. He wanted to clear it away and lock down all this baggage. It was just too much. Chris couldn't handle remembering Toby's heartbreaking cries over the loss of his son, and how helpless he had felt in the face of his lover's grief. It was unbearable to know that he must have been so little comfort to Toby, despite how much he had wished he could have done something, anything, to spare Toby that pain. He didn't want to know anymore what it was like to be falsely accused by one's lover. And he wanted to erase from his mind the rage he had felt at seeing Toby sleep around; the pain he had felt, as he had to watch Toby degrade and hurt himself. He was too damn tired of remembering it all. He needed to forget.

He needed Toby. Only the scent and feel of Toby would be able to make all this go away. He'd have to learn to deal with the idea that his lover didn't understand just how much he loved him. Maybe someday, he'd be able to prove it. In the meantime, all he was doing was hurting them both by keeping the distance. He was wasting precious time, and he knew it. At some point, sooner than he wanted it to, Hell would come for him, and when it did, Chris knew what awaited him. Eternity without Toby. Oh he believed there would be the flames and the pain, but none of that would compare to the agony of forever without Toby, particularly knowing that he had loved with all his heart and it hadn't been enough. Whatever he gave was never enough.

Chris sighed, a barely audible release of air. Tomorrow, he would try to set things right with Toby. Tonight, though, he had to try to get some sleep and clear his mind. Toby was alone in his pod; there was no need for him to keep a vigil. Beecher was safe. Chris closed his eyes. It couldn't be too much longer to lockdown.

His eyes were only closed for a second before he heard the door to his pod. He slowly reopened his eyes, and folded his hands across his stomach. He focused his gaze on Mineo who had just entered his pod. What the fuck did that hack want? He hoped it wasn't something to do with Barlog. Not now.

“Get your stuff together Keller. You're moving.”

Chris's eyes narrowed suspiciously. “To where?”

“As if you don't know. Just get your damn stuff together. McManus wants you moved before lockdown, so move it,” Mineo said and left the pod.

What the fuck? Why was he being moved and to where? Had he missed something that went down today, or…. No, it couldn't have been him. Why would he make such a request? Chris jumped down from the top bunk, wincing as the feeling of his feet hitting the floor jarred his already aching head. No use playing a game of where, why. He'd find out soon enough. He began to gather his stuff at his own pace. He wasn't rushing just because McManus had a fucking timeline. His arms full, he stepped out of his pod, and headed toward Mineo.

“Took you long enough,” the hack said. He waved his arm toward the row of pods below and pointed. “Home sweet home. I'm sure it's glad to have you back.” He dismissed Chris with a wave of his hand.

Chris raised an eyebrow as he headed over to where Mineo had indicated — Beecher's pod. It had to have been Toby who had requested this change. No way McManus would have done this without a request. So much for him trying to avoid Beecher. Goddamn it, he didn't know if he could deal with this now. What the hell was Toby thinking?

Keeping his expression neutral, Chris opened the door to the pod and stepped inside, only to find that it was empty. Didn't that beat all? Beecher wasn't even here. He walked over to the bottom bunk and dropped his stuff on it. With his arms now free of their burden, he brought his hands to his temples and massaged them, trying to ease the pain of that goddamn headache. After a moment, Chris gave up and started to put his stuff away.

It didn't take him long, and soon he was making up his bunk. He was folding down the top of the blanket when suddenly he pictured Ronnie lying on this very bunk, his eyes closed in pleasure, as Toby gave him a blowjob. Then, he could feel his hands on Ronnie's head, the pressure through his arms as he twisted that head. He could hear the snap of the neck as he extinguished a life.

Chris backed away from the bunk, standing up quickly. “Christ,” he muttered, as he reached out with both hands to grab the top bunk so he could steady himself. It was at that moment that he heard the door to the pod open and close.


He didn't turn at the sound of that voice. Great fucking timing, Toby, Chris thought as he struggled to even out his breathing and conceal the shaking in his braced arms.


He took a deep breath, letting the mask slip over his face. Chris turned toward Beecher and fixed a cold gaze on him. “You don't seem surprised to see me here.”

He saw Toby's lips twitch slightly before he answered, “Who do you think put in the request? It wasn't Tinkerbell.”

Chris sneered. “Yeah. And as I didn't figure it was Said, I guess that leaves you. What are ya up to?”

“Up to? Nothing. I just thought maybe we could work things out if we were back in the same pod together.”

Seeing the hopeful, pleading expression on Beecher's face, Chris wanted to say something like we can try, but the words wouldn't come. He searched his brain to find the right thing to say, but nothing came to him. He was too exhausted. Frustrated and cornered, he said, “What if I didn't want to be back in the same pod?”

He watched that hopeful look harden as Beecher said, “Too fuckin' bad.”


Toby stormed out of the pod to line up. Chris sighed as he looked through the glass at Beecher's rigid back. Shit. He hadn't even managed to go five minutes without pissing Toby off. He rubbed in between his eyes where his headache seemed to have centered itself for the moment. Of course the rubbing didn't ease the tension one bit. With a small shake of his head, Chris walked out of the pod to stand next to Toby.

As he waited for the hacks to finish calling out the prisoners' numbers, Chris kept glancing over at Beecher. He noticed that some of the stiffness had gone out of Toby's shoulders. Maybe they would be able to stop arguing for the night. Even if they ended up passing the evening in angry silence, Chris had to admit that he was glad that when this count ended, he and Toby would be going into the same pod. When he closed his eyes tonight, at least he'd know that Toby was nearby.

The hacks finished, and Chris headed inside first. He crossed the length of the pod, turned and leaned against the wall, folding his arms across his chest. He watched silently as Beecher, who was standing just a short distance in from the door, chewed on his bottom lip.

Toby took a deep breath and said, “Chris, can we at least try to talk without getting mad at each other?”

Chris nodded. “What do you want from me?”

“I want to stop fucking with each other's heads. I want to work things out between us.”

“You think we can do that?” Chris asked, his gaze firmly focused on Toby.

“I don't know, but I'd like to try.”

Nodding again, Chris looked at his feet for a moment, before raising his head and asking softly, “Why did you tell me about Barlog?”

He watched in concern as Toby's face crumpled in misery. He was just about to give in to the urge to walk over and offer comfort, when Toby said, “Because I love you.”

Chris felt like he had been struck. I love you shouldn't be said as if it were the hardest burden you had to bear. He took a step away from the wall, glaring angrily at Toby. “Why do you say it like that? Like loving me is a sentence worse than the one you're serving now. One more thing poor Toby has on his shoulders. Ya know what? If that's the way you feel, get over it? I don't care if you have to fuck the whole prison to do it. Whatever it takes, just don't add loving me to your list of heartaches.”

He watched with satisfaction as Beecher's nose flared and that infuriating, hopeless look faded. Toby sneered at him and said, “Oh, are we going to play that game again? You tell me you don't care who I sleep with and then you go around killing off the guys I have sex with. Was Ronnie the start of a new twist in the game? I sleep with them, then you steal them away, tell them you love them, and then kill them.”

“You fuckin' bitch,” Chris said, his voice low and rage filled. “Barlog had nothing to do with you. And what's all this bullshit about me telling Barlog I loved him? If he told you I said that, he was lying. I did say I loved sleeping with him, but shit you probably said the same thing to him. Why do I bother? You never believe a goddamn word I say anyway.”

He started to head toward his bunk, ignoring the plaintive “Chris” that Toby called out to him. Just as he reached the bunk, he felt a hand on his arm trying to hold him back. He yanked his arm free. “Don't you fuckin' touch me.” Chris moved away from Beecher and lay down on his bunk.

Toby stood there with his arm still outstretched for a few seconds. Then, he sighed and slowly lowered it to his side. “I'm sorry,” he said so softly that Chris had to strain to hear him. “I should never have implied that Ronnie's…had anything to do with me. I know it didn't. Chris, please listen to me. I love you, and I don't consider that a burden. How could I when I love you like I've never loved anyone else? And that's the problem. Sometimes, it scares me that I love you so much. I don't know if I'm explaining this right, but it's not you I distrust, it's me. I really do love you, Chris, and nothing will change that.”

Chris was silent. He just stared at the bunk above willing himself not to cry. If he had been capable of saying something without completely breaking down, he would have told Toby that he understood. Loving like this was frightening, but he wouldn't give it up for anything. Being able to love Toby was worth all the pain and disappointment. Chris heard Toby give a sigh that sounded a bit like a sob, and then he saw Beecher's feet dangle as he climbed up into the top bunk. He wanted to tell Toby that it would be all right, but he couldn't just now. His throat seemed to have swollen closed.

He closed his eyes, and strangely, he heard a lilting female voice say, “Always look to the brightest star, and you'll be all right, my love.” Well how the hell could he do that in a place where you could never see any stars, and why was he remembering his mother? He hadn't thought about her for a long time. She was a mystery he had given up trying to find the answers to years ago.

His father had been easy to understand; he was a bastard who thought his son was a piece of shit. His mother, though, had been very different from his father. He remembered that at times she had had an air of elegance about her, and when she smiled, he would have done anything for her. Chris recalled moments when he had felt like she thought he was the center of her universe, and he could do no wrong. They had shared some wonderful times like the night when she had pointed out to him all the constellations and told their stories. Or those times when she had told him how smart he was, how handsome, and how blessed she was to have such a son.

Then, there had been the other times, when she would swear at him and tell him what a disappointment he was. She would scream that he was just like his father, and she wished she had never given birth to such a worthless son of a bitch. He would plead with her to tell him what he had done wrong, but she never did. She would just dig her hands into his shoulders, those beautiful hands of hers becoming claws, as she shook him. Eventually she would stop shaking him and fall to her knees, crying, asking him why he made her do these things.

He had only been 12 years old when she died. Fell down the stairs, his father said. Chris had never believed a word of it. He was sure his old man had killed her, a fight gotten out of hand. He had hated the screaming between the two of them, as he had always dreaded it escalating into his father hitting his mother. Even worse, though, were the days when his Dad would be sitting watching their fuzzy TV, and his mother would just fly out of nowhere and attack him as if she were possessed. She'd drag her nails across his face, as his father struggled to grab her wrists. When the sudden energy that had fueled her attack died out, his father would beat his mother senseless.

After she had died, his father had forbidden Chris to speak about her. Not that his father could have shed any light on her behavior. After all, he barely had a moment to spare for his waste of a son. So Chris had always wondered what was the truth. Did his mother think he was that brilliant, handsome son she was blessed to have, or was he the worthless son of a bitch who should never have been born? He couldn't be both, could he?

He knew that his mother had probably suffered from some illness, and he suspected she had been an addict as he swore he remembered seeing needle marks on her arms. Still, he had to wonder if she had been able to see some sort of contradiction in him. Maybe it was the same contradiction that made Toby struggle to understand why he loved Chris. Toby, will I always be the bastard who broke your arms, or will I be the man you love, and can I be both? He didn't know the answer.

Chris heard a page turn. Beecher must be reading. He could hear Toby breathing, and he focused on that sound finding it soothing. His own breathing slowed, and he let his mind drift, not thinking of anything. The sound of running water suddenly jarred his eyes open. He stared blearily toward the sink. Toby was brushing his teeth. Shit, he must have dozed off for a few hours because Beech wouldn't have been doing that unless it was close to lights out.

He watched as his podmate got ready for bed. His nightly routine at the sink finished, Toby started to get undressed. He pulled off his shirt, and Chris got a lovely view of his back. He stared as Toby stretched, pulling his right elbow over his head and tugging it with his left hand. He could see the muscles contract in Toby's back, and he wanted to get up and run his fingers between those tense shoulder blades. He could work out those kinks better than any stretching. Toby repeated the stretch with his other arm, and then he was sliding out of his pants, taking off his socks and walking back to his bunk, clad only in his boxers.

Chris waited a few moments, and then with a yawn, he got up and headed over to the sink. The whole time he was getting ready for bed he could feel Toby's eyes on him, and he kept trying to think of something to say. By the time he was finished and wearing only boxers himself, lights out had been called. He walked back to his bunk in the semi-darkness still not having said a word to Toby.

Lying down again, Chris tapped his fingers on his chest, wondering how to break the silence. He had just decided to call out to Beecher when he heard, “Chris.”

“Yeah, Toby.”

Instead of a response, Chris heard choking sobs coming from above. He quickly slid off the bunk and stood up. There were no tears on Toby's cheeks, but he was curled on the side of his bunk, gulping for air as he shook. Chris reached out and ran his hand along the side of Toby's face.

“Shhhhh. It's all right. It's gonna be ok,” he said as he continued to stroke Toby's face. Chris moved his hand to reach the back of Toby's neck, gently running his fingers through the hair there. He gave Toby's neck a light squeeze before moving his hand to rest on his shoulder. “It's all gonna work out,” he whispered.

Still breathing heavily, Toby sat up, and Chris took his hand away. They stared at each other until Toby hopped off his bunk. As soon as Toby's feet touched the ground, Chris pulled him into his arms. Toby buried his head in Chris's neck, still shaking.

Chris ran his hand down Toby's bare back, trying to still those tremors. “It'll be all right,” he whispered again, as he relished the feeling of being able to hold Toby close. He held his lover tightly until he felt him relax. Then, he moved back slightly, his hands on Toby's shoulders, as he rested his forehead against Toby's for a few seconds. Chris moved his head away but kept his hands where they were. “You okay?”

Toby swallowed hard, but he nodded. “Yeah, thanks.” He dropped his eyes, and Chris massaged his shoulders until he looked up again and said, “I'm so sorry. Chris, I really am sorry. I wish I could make it up to you. I wish I'd never hurt you. I don't know what to do to make things right.” His voice broke.

“I told you it was okay.” Chris ran a finger across Toby's bottom lip. “I forgive you,” he said because he knew it was what Toby needed to hear and because it was the truth. Relief flooded Toby's face, and Chris smiled. He leaned in meaning to place a gentle kiss on the lips before him, but Toby had other plans, pressing in closer and slipping the tip of his tongue between Chris's lips.

As his hands moved into Toby's hair, Chris sucked lightly on the tongue gently teasing his. Their kiss deepened, and he slid his hands down Toby's back and into his boxers, grabbing his ass. He moved his right leg so that it was between Toby's thighs and pressed him in closer, swallowing the groan the other man made. He released those soft lips, planted a teasing kiss on them, and then moved to kiss the hollow between Toby's neck and shoulder. Inhaling Toby's scent, Chris felt a sense of completeness as that heady combination of desire and peace filled him, chasing away everything but this moment.

Toby stepped out of their embrace and removed his boxers. Chris grinned. “Now that's a good idea,” he said as he followed suit.

“I do occasionally have good ideas.”

“And you should always go with those,” Chris said pulling Toby close again, feeling his hardness. He loved the feel of his lover's body pressed against his, the glide of skin against skin. He ran his tongue along Toby's lips and then kissed him. Chris thought he could kiss Toby all night and would never tire of it.

“Well then, I'm just going to follow your advice, and go with my good ideas,” Toby said as he tugged Chris toward the bottom bunk.

“No objections here,” Chris said with a smirk as he allowed Toby to push him down on the bunk.

“Shhhhh, you talk too much,” Toby said smiling as he straddled Chris.

Chris laughed quietly in disbelief. “I talk too much.” Toby cut him off with a kiss, and again Chris had no objections. He kept one hand threaded through blond hair, as Toby began to make his way down Chris's body, kissing and sucking. Chris arched upward as he felt Toby suck on one of his nipples, softly at first then more insistent. When he was done with one, Toby proceeded to give the other equal attention.

Toby moved down lower, planting wet kisses on Chris's side and blowing. Then Toby was nudging Chris's legs further apart so he could kiss the inside of each thigh. Chris stifled his moan, fearing the noise would bring them unwanted attention. Toby licked Chris's balls and then sucked gently on them. After releasing them, he turned his attention to the hard shaft before him, and as Toby began to suck on it, Chris had to put his hand in his mouth and bite down to keep from crying out. When he took his hand out of his mouth, he kept it clenched near his head

“Oh god, that's good,” he said, and then a low moan did slip out as Toby released his penis. Before Chris could object, Toby was running his hand along the tattoo on his arm and then bending down to trace its outline with his tongue. He could feel teeth grazing the tat, and again he arched. Toby turned Chris's arm over and slowly licked his way down the inside of it. Then he looked up, locked eyes, and lifted Chris's left hand. He proceeded to slowly suck each of Chris's fingers.

By the time Toby was finished with the last finger, Chris thought he was going to explode. He pulled Toby down onto him and kissed him hard. Then, lightly, he pushed Toby off of him and moved out from underneath. He climbed on top of Toby, positioning himself so that his penis lined up against his lover's. He reached out and clasped one of Toby's hands pressing it down onto the bunk. As he leaned down for a kiss, Toby said, “I love you,” and as their lips met, Chris felt Toby saying the word “you” against his lips.

He began to move against Toby, and this time he wasn't the one that released the moan. Toby moved with him, and Chris got lost in the sensation. The feel of Toby's lips, the connection of their hands, and the ever-increasing pressure as his penis slid between their bodies enveloped his mind.

Their pace grew more frantic, and Chris felt Toby squeezing his hand tighter and tighter. He covered Toby's mouth with his, kissing him deeply, just as his lover arched up, coming. He felt the pulsing against him, and he kept kissing Toby as he came forcefully.

When his breathing was a bit more than just shallow gasps, he propped himself up slightly, taking his weight off of Toby, and continued kissing him, very gently this time. Then he moved off of his lover to lie next to him. He tugged Toby into his arms so that the other man's head was resting on his chest. Curled up like that, with Chris occasionally running his hand through Beecher's hair, they both dozed lightly.

A little while later, Chris found himself reluctantly waking up. Toby was no longer lying across his chest, but instead was curled up on his side pressed tightly against Chris. He ran a hand lovingly along Toby's arm and smiled sleepily at Toby's sigh of contentment. He yawned, trying to figure out why he was awake.

The full feeling of his bladder finally clued him in. He had to pee. He carefully slipped out from behind Beecher, trying not to wake him. Toby stirred, as Chris moved past, but he didn't open his eyes.

After he had finished, Chris cleaned himself up. When he turned around, it was to find Toby sitting up, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

“Hey,” he said with a smile, as he pulled his boxers on.

Toby returned the smile as he stood up and stretched. Chris walked over, kissed him and then started to straighten up the bunk. When he got into it, he started yawning as soon as his head hit the pillow. During one of his yawns, Toby had finished cleaning himself up and was now standing somewhat awkwardly near the bunks.

“Good night,” he said.

Chris pulled the blanket back and said, “Stay with me for a little while longer, okay?”

He was floored by the smile that lit Toby's face. He had rarely seen Beecher look that happy. He wanted to memorize that look so he could keep it with him always. Toby climbed back into the bunk, and Chris laid his head down on Toby's chest, once again yawning.

He felt Toby's hand running back and forth across his back in a soothing manner. It was so nice to feel this contentment, to feel safe. He yawned again, and Toby chuckled. “Go to sleep Chris.”

“I might,” he muttered.

“You should, you need it,” Toby said, his tone concerned. He ran a hand through Chris's hair. “Sleep.”

That sounded like another good idea of Toby's, but first he needed to tell Toby. He couldn't go to sleep without saying it, no matter whether it was believed or not.



“I love you.”

With those words said and a feeling of safety wrapping around him, Chris couldn't resist sleep any longer, but he swore that as he drifted off to sleep, he heard Toby say, “I know. I know you do.”

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