Spoilers: Post S6
A/N: AU. After throwing himself off the promenade in EmCity, Keller survives, but with extensive injuries. His package for the Aryans arrives right on schedule, and Oz is evacuated.
Summary: Some things can't be left behind. Disclaimer: Not mine blah blah blah no infringement intended, no profit gained.
"I loved alcohol, I loved heroin, but I had to put them behind me because they were poison. Death. You are death. Let me live." "I can't."
-Beecher and Keller, Exeunt Omnes
Fall. A little spin, a touch of a chair leg, and he hits - curved back first - some sad smile before losing consciousness. Ryan O'Reily crouched down, staring up with anger and hate.
Beecher is dragged away before the paramedics arrive.
"He refused to testify against you, but with so many witnesses, the DA is going to press charges anyway."
Toby hears the voice as though from far away. McManus, hopped up like a strain junkie, his hand making regular passes over his rubbery face. Four months has made this difference, has created this palpitation in his mannerisms.
"If he testified for me, this would be over," Toby says bitterly, "I didn't fucking push him."
"I know Beecher, I know. Sister Pete and I both want to testify on your behalf," McManus says. Pithy words.
"How is Killer Keller, anyway? Gonna walk?"
"Yeah," McManus says. A crumpled pack of cigarettes appears out of his pocket, spilling a couple of darts on the table. McManus puts one in Toby's chained hands. They both smoke, though neither of them have ever been smokers. "The doctors say he's had some nerve damage, but the spinal cord is intact. He's lucky to be alive."
Toby snorts, and they share a grim smile. Gallows humour.
"Lucky me. I'm not headed for death row. I'll just get life."
Long silence. Cigarette smoke spiralling through the air.
"Oz will be reopened soon," McManus says, as though he slung his ass all the way up to Rikers just to tell Beecher that. "I want you back in EmCity, obviously."
Obviously. Toby's a con and looking down the barrel end of life in prison, but he gets the nice prison. Obviously.
"Querns coming back?" Toby asks. McManus nods. Small talk - oh the joy.
"Beecher... Keller will come back too."
Ahh, the kicker. The sharp end of the blade, dipped in his own impure blood. Write it on the wall, everybody. Life sucks.
"Fuck," Toby says, enunciating too much.
"Yeah," McManus says. He keeps nodding long after the words have faded away.
A few weeks later, and Toby is shuffled off the mockery of a school bus - like children ever rode this. A brief moment of sunshine, and then he's welcomed back into the yawing mouth of Oz. He sees some old familiar faces, shuttled from prisons in every nearby state, gathered together again like some sadist's class reunion. Instead of a nametag he's got a number.
He's processed - meat for the grinder - and finds himself back in EmCity, damn near a relief after the gritty darkness of Rikers' gen pop. Same old, same old.
Ryan O'Reily is leaning over the balcony, in the exact spot where Keller did his brilliant backward lunge. He bares his teeth, and spits down at Beecher, just missing. Toby flips him the bird, disappearing into his designated pod.
There's no place like home.
Time does pass. Little drops of water hitting him, over and over and driving him slowly insane. Beecher goes to court in his nice suit, hard prison muscles straining the fabric at the shoulders. And though he stands up and YesYourHonours and NoYourHonours in his best lawyer voice, nobody in the room can pretend that he is not a con.
He is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault, a couple of hacks testifying against him, whether they meant to or not, cause the truth as they know it looks a lot like Beecher pushed Keller. Sister Marie stands up and testifies to the volatile nature of their relationship, to Keller's unpredictability, but it seems to work against him in the end.
Keller does not testify, but the DA spins the light, refracting the truth. Poor Chris Keller, afraid of testifying against his psychotic ex-lover (bit off a man's dick, yanno), afraid of the consequences back in the closed walls of Oz.
Beecher tells McManus not to take the stand.
This time Toby doesn't hate the judge, the bored bald man behind his imperial bench, cloaked like a vulture with a gavel. He hates the DA, the conniving, snivelling son of a bitch who'd happily prosecute Keller into the electric chair, except the star witness (namely, Toby) just tried to kill the suspect.
Agent Taylor's offer of parole for testimony has - strangely enough - been withdrawn.
And in light of his previous - ahem - indiscretions, in light of his parole violation and dubious history with the suddenly absent Aryan Brotherhood faction of Oz, in light of Macbeth dying tragically and taking Vern Schillinger with him (now highly suspect and subject to reinvestigation)-
-in light of drugs and sex and violence and hate and fear-
-Tobias Beecher gets convicted, even though the 'victim' of his crime never makes it to the stand. Even though Sister Pete prays and prays, even though McManus (tired and mellowed after year after year of fizzled birthday parties, cause Said sure as hell TOLD him about that one), went to Keller personally and came back shaking his head, even though everybody tried, on his behalf, to move heaven and earth, Tobias is convicted. Because nobody can move God.
Life without parole.
Time and routine does not dull anger, it hides it. Little scraps of memory and reason are hidden amongst mind-numbing boredom, slid under the mash on Toby's tray so he eats up his own hatred and loses it in his digestive system. His anger is worn down in the fine groove of life in Oz - pieces are left in Peter Marie's files, and slicked across the toilet bowl every time he takes a piss, left like fingerprints in the pages of the books he reads over and over again.
So that one day, at lunch, when Christopher Keller shuffles through the door into the cafeteria, Toby's fork only hesitates for a moment. Then he looks back down at his tray, and resumes eating.
He's not even a little bit surprised when a tray clatters onto the table opposite him, and Keller slouches into the seat. He's awkward, Toby notes, arranging his limbs like he's not quite sure how they work anymore, like he got rewired in hospital. Beecher almost wants to laugh at the irony.
"My leg itched," Chris says conversationally. He starts eating - chewing slowly, talking with food still rolling over his tongue. "I'm in this fucking body cast and my leg itches. I convinced a nurse to get down there with a knitting needle once, but she got shifted to another unit and I'm left with pussies too scared to get near me. I'm lying there with a broken fucking back and half the bones in my body snapped... what do they think I'm going to do? Kill 'em with dirty looks?"
Toby looks up finally, looks up into Keller's tired eyes and haggard face. He looks further up - McManus is pressed nose against a window, watching them - and when he turns his gaze back to Keller he sees his whole future stretching out in front of him.
He sees a rival more dangerous than Schillinger could ever hope to be, he sees a lifetime of petty revenge tactics and plotting and hating, blood slicked like oil over every year. Aeons spent in the hole with McManus banging his head in frustration and the corpses piling up, Sister Pete looking over her glasses at him with confusion and misery. He and Keller hating each other too much to stand coexistence; wanting each other too much to sink a shank and get it over with. Year after year after year, until they'd be old men, flicking the pointy ends of chess pieces at each other across the breach.
Or there's option B.
Beecher remembers all the words he tried so hard to hold close to his chest, all those concepts of forgiveness he had thought he'd grasped, Said's patient teachings underlined with the faintest doubt because he didn't get it, not until now. Here, in a place buried deeper than any circle of hell, Toby feels the hand of God on his shoulder. Forgiveness.
"You should have traded blows for scratches," he tells Keller.
He lets a little smile turn the corner of his mouth. Chris smiles back.
"You want to what?"
Sister Pete's mouth is open, jaw unhinged, like a stiff breeze could knock it off and send it clattering to the floor.
"I want you to set up counselling with me and Chris," Toby says again.
"Tobias..." the glasses come off, "We've known each other a long time. I've seen you go places I didn't think you'd come back from. And this is probably the only time I'll ever ask you this: are you nuts?"
He laughs, a dry sound.
"I am ALL for victims facing their attackers, you know that. But Tobias... this is one time I think you should leave well enough alone. Keller is the reason you're in for life!"
"I know, I know that Sister Pete, but... my sentence has been handed down. The likelihood of that getting reversed is zero. They didn't need Keller to prosecute me, and his word wouldn't be good enough to get me off. We've ruined each other's credibility as a testifying witness," Toby says. "So I'm here, for the rest of my life. And Chris is here, for the rest of his life. And Pete... I don't need another Schillinger. If I have to be here, I want to live my life as peacefully as possible. I need Chris... to be my friend."
"And you think counselling can do that?"
"No. I think forgiveness can. I need..." the words, hard and jagged in his throat, are surprisingly easy coming out, "I need to forgive him. I need him."
Sister Pete is torn, her heart on her sleeve and her ethics of psychology arguing against her recognition of sin.
"It's the only way, Sister," he says. "If there is no love, there is only hate left to us."
The debauched irony of it all - only here, roiling in sin and licking blood from the walls can Toby find grace.
It's about damn time.
Every little shift or shit in Oz has to be cleared by unit managers. McManus listens to Peter Marie, but his gaze settles on Beecher.
"You're fucking insane," McManus says.
Chris, in some manic twist of the universe, winds up in the mailroom. Toby learns this when Chris saunters, devil may care, into Sister Pete's office the next day, Sister Pete conspicuously absent. The hand of fate, Toby wonders, or Killer Keller?
"Beech," Chris says simply, hip cocked into the doorframe.
"Sister Pete told me. That you set up the counselling."
Five years of love and hate becomes a stretched elastic thread between them - it must snap them close or break altogether. Toby swivels in his chair, with that squeak he's been meaning to fix for a lifetime now, Killer Keller propped against the door like a drunken marionette. Most men's centre of gravity is somewhere around their solar plexus - Keller's is rooted firmly in his cock. Broken bones and shattered vertebrae have made him a little awkward, like a windup soldier, but the sexual magnetism still sweats from every pore.
"You coulda got me off the charge," Toby says.
"They din' need me, Beech, you know that."
It's true. The DA is hardwired to the Mayor who sucks the new Governer's cock, and after Devlin's crooked roulette, 'Shit Hot On Crime' is the state's brand new motto. The prosecution would have tossed the salad of every juror in the box, and even if Keller had proclaimed to God and the nation that he was a serial killer, psychotic and that he threw himself off a balcony with a megaphone, a conviction would still have been handed down.
Toby is a crook. For the honest God-fearing citizen, you're never getting rehabilitated, debt to society paid or not. Keller's word will never mean shit in society again.
"So uh, I got mail duty," Chris says, bright with amusement. He flips letters onto Peter Marie's desk.
"Don't open any suspicious jars," Toby says.
"Huhuh," huffs Keller. He does his hip-rolling saunter into the room, hooking a thumb into his pants, unbuttoned and rolled down over his hips.
"Are you going to agree?" Toby asks.
Chris is focused, but not on conversation, his hands settling on the back of the Toby's chair so he's leaning over real close, almost nose to nose, and Beecher can't tell whose pulse he's listening to anymore, what the words forming in his mouth are supposed to be, because he's so fucking dry and a martini is trying to give him a lap dance.
"The... thing... counsel..."
Stubble sliding his cheek, rubbing; he's being marked by a cat. Closes his eyes.
"Mean it. No more... fucking... fucking it up."
A whisper of a petal-soft lip against the corner of his own, a nose nudging at his jaw; Christopher Keller smells like cheap deodorant and musty mailroom and sweat and oh, (swear to GOD), smells just a little bit like come.
"Like... couples counselling?"
"Yeah," Toby says, his brain playing leapfrog in the dark, trying to find the conversation.
"So... talk before we shank?"
Small chuckles, from both of them.
"Oh good lord! Keller, get off him!"
Sister Peter Marie, back from wherever the hell she often disappears to. Keller, never one to respect authority, backs off one molecule at a time, and Toby is slick and confused and hard in his wake.
"Seeya Sister," Keller says, and is gone with a little wave.
"Was he forcing you?"
Blink. Peter Marie, standing over him, hands on hips and indignation at full mast.
"No. No, he wasn't."
"Tobias, you let him?"
Let, as though he had a choice, or let, as though he didn't invite it, or let, as though he didn't want it, need it, crave it more than H, because H had never needed him back. More than an addiction, more than a compulsion: Chris Keller's name was tattooed on his spine, and the ink ran through every vein.
"I'm not sure I want to help you," Pete says, every syllable aching.
"If you don't, the blood will run," Toby says mildly, swivel-squeaking back to the computer. "It's inevitable."
Hard and edgy gazes across the room, and those chairs that are supposed to make you feel comfortable but are just a let down with sagging padding. Sister Pete and her big sad sighs (are you sure, Toby, are you SURE?) shuffling papers in the most unenthusiastic manner EVER.
"We're here to... resolve the problems between the two of you. In the five years you've known each other, there has been a lot of violence - between you and with others. For the sake of getting this resolved, everything you say here is confidential. So you can talk about... things... without fear of prosecution. Either of you want to start off?"
Chris raises his hand, school-style, urgent and earnest.
"Ah..." he looks at Toby, eyes dark and hot, "I love you Toby."
"That's well established, Chris," Sister Pete says. She's trying not to roll her eyes. "Anything else? Honesty, Chris, is what strengthens a relationship."
"I fucked up your parole."
Heart-seizing, his chest trying to compress on the surge of anger. Breathe, Toby thinks, just breathe and work through it. You've got a fucking lifetime.
"And I swapped the shanks during Macbeth."
Sister Pete breathes in sharply.
"I sent the package to the Aryans. I did it for you. So you wouldn't be bothered by them ever again."
White knuckles. He knew, of course he knew, but Keller wasn't ever supposed to say it aloud, because that made it real and false realities were what he'd clung to, what he'd dry-humped in the darkness to make him feel alive. Truth had no place in Oz, but that was why all this shit had gone down in the first place.
"I killed lots of people. For you," Keller continues, throat working convulsively, and he laughs bitterly, "I even tried to kill myself for you."
"You didn't have to die, Chris," Toby says in the pin-drop quiet.
"And live without you? I don't want to, Toby, not ever. I don't ever want to live if you're not there with me."
And there is the hollow-tipped truth, the bullet that will shatter on impact. Fragments are already speared through his every organ and worming into every bone. Keller will do anything and anyone to keep him, will kill and maim and cheat and lie to keep him, and how can you be a recovering alcoholic if there's no chance to recover? If every meal you're served comes fermented?
"You implicated him, Keller. You made it look like he pushed you," Sister Pete says.
"I wanted you to suffer," Chris says, "I wanted you to suffer like I do."
Pain, practically tangible, a current in the air caught on the eddies of their past.
"That's all we've ever done. Suffer for each other, by each other," Toby says, "I don't want to anymore. If I have to be here forever, I want to live in peace. No more, Chris. Nor more blood and violence. We work it out, get it?"
"I want forever, Toby. I want it with you."
There is no time or space between them, Keller across the room and on Toby before Sister Pete can blasphemy against God, Toby pinned into his chair by large hands, hard hands, his mouth bruising and lips forced open, tongues fighting in a slick parody of past sexual acts and it's good, it feels like home.
He's left panting in his chair, hacks pulling Keller away, licking a drop of blood from his lip.
McManus, Mukada and Pete are locked in a compression session room of cigarette smoke and disbelief.
"Keller fought all the way to the hole, and apparently hasn't stopped screaming for Beecher for the last six hours," Sister Pete says. McManus snorts, pours himself another shot.
"Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking when he put those two together," Mukada says, lighting a new cigarette from his old one. "It's sick."
"Amen," McManus says. "Tell me why I should put Keller in EmCity, Pete. And make it sound like a happy ending."
"You know as well as I do that they'll kill themselves trying to get back to each other."
"It makes sense," Mukada says. He shrugs at the narrowed looks. "Schillinger is dead. The Aryans are all dead, so is Said and Hank and Andy Schillinger. Everybody who ever stood between those two is dead - where did most of their problems start? Other people planting suspicion or provoking them. Beecher has no chance of parole, and Keller will be an old man before he can even think about his. They're both lifers. We might as well give them this. It might keep the peace."
"I can't help but feel that Beecher sees no other choice. That he's committing to a relationship with Keller to make life as easy as possible," Pete says, frustration a burn in her soul, eked out over years of working in Oz.
"So what?" McManus says. He too lights another cigarette, holds it up so the ember of all his failures is burned onto his retina. "He's being practical. Keller will never give up."
"It's another addiction," Pete says.
"Perhaps a necessary evil," Mukada says. "Beecher will always find something to drown his sorrows in. Keller may be the least deadly poison."
A philosophical silence.
"Keller's in the hole for three days," McManus says, "When he gets out, I'll request his transfer to EmCity."
Cards with Rebadow. His little pep talk with McManus still reverberating in every cell (no obvious fucking, no shanking, regular -small smirk- couples counselling with Sister Pete, ONE hint of trouble and you're both in Ad Seg).
A state sanctioned same sex relationship. Wave the Gay Pride banner, everybody.
A glimpse, a tinman jaunt in the corner of his eye, trying not to look fast but still too close to whiplash: Killer Keller doing his mechanical swagger across the quad, his arms piled with gear. He grins, disappears into the pod, and Toby has dropped his cards already to follow.
He stops, just inside.
Lights out. The not-darkness of night in EmCity. Keller pulling his shirt over his head, and there are criss-crosses of surgical scars up and down his back. Toby kisses them all, one by one.
"I love you Chris," he says. More than heroin, more than Gen and more than alcohol, probably more than freedom's fading memory and more than air. More than self-respect and left-brain functions, more than his capacity for anger or the possibility of pain. More than fear for the future, more than his lessons learned.
"I love you Toby."
Kisses. Slow and desperate, drowning kisses of the soul-swallowing variety. Naked bodies colliding on the bottom bunk, heavy breathing and the distant hoot of a voyeur. Together again. Together forever. Toby is writhing under manipulative fingers, shocked by the buzz of his tickled prostrate, wanting cock the way he once wanted gin.
Chris inside him, a little pain from too much, too long, subdued by the slick mouth snagged on his neck and the blunt fingers burrowing into his hips. Rocking motions, faster than the ocean but closer, so much closer, a tidal wave of heat that crashing down and short-circuiting his brain, sticky come gluing them together in the aftermath.
And oh lord, it feels good.
He hears his own punctured breath, feels the vibrations in Keller's chest. Chris is speaking directly into his breastplate, and it sounds a lot like 'nevuhleavemetobynevuhleavemeagainnevuhnevuh'.
His hand strokes, automatic comfort.
"I won't, I won't," he says quietly.
Put out the conscience, like a stray cat. Close the door behind it. He's no better, after all, no better than anyone. Life without parole. Never free, not of any of the ghosts standing around this bed, but at least he won't be alone.
He's got his favourite poison to keep him company.