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Of a similar bent as Gift Horses, where you just have to allow for a little bit of magic in the air.
And sometimes it's good to write something purely for the fun of it.
Anyway, inthekeyofd suggested giving gifts to our favorite fictional characters, and I chipped it to say I'd wave my magic wand and give Keller the chance of a do over . and Danielle fed the bunny a little more, and I scribbled away madly at this and other fics all weekend, and this is the result.

Save the Last Dance

by Riley Cannon

~Save the Last Dance~

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time..."

Yeah, Shakespeare had sure as hell got that right, Chris was thinking as he listened to Vern and straightened up the props backstage.

That's all he was doing now, killing time and going through the motions. Wasn't like it mattered anymore. He could slip back into old habits and patterns and no one would even notice. He could keel over dead on the spot, and who would shed a tear?

For one split second in eternity, yeah, maybe things might have been different, he could have been a better man -- because Toby loved him. Because he loved Toby and wanted to believe the things Toby saw in him were true. Deep down he'd always known they weren't, of course he had; he was nothing but a worthless piece of shit. And there was no reason to try and pretend otherwise now. Toby didn't love him anymore, and how did anything else matter?

His foot knocked against a box, tipping it over and spilling out some of the contents. Hearing the play near its climax, Chris knelt and began picking stuff up, wondering what Miss Fitzgerald meant to do with all these doodads anyway. All she'd told him was she'd picked up a couple boxes of junk down at a flea market and had just taken the lot, because you never knew when you'd want something. Maybe she was anticipating some more productions of the Oz Repertory Company down the road? His lips quirked in a wry smile at that, and he hefted a plaster skull in one hand, guessing that could come in handy if she had them put on Hamlet next year.

Would he be around to see it? He shrugged at his own question, not really caring one way or another, and he put down the skull and picked up a pair of glasses, the kind that might as well have nerd stamped all over them. The frames were square and heavy, black rims, fake lenses, of course. Nothing like the ones Toby had been wearing the last time Chris saw him. Those had been hip and stylish, really looking good on him even though Toby hadn't thought so.

He had walked into the visiting room that day, almost positive Toby wouldn't be there, his fears and resentment eating away at him like a cancer. There would be a last minute message relayed to him, probably via Sister Pete, about how something had come up and Toby couldn't make it. But nope, there he'd been, sitting at a table and looking so good in a brown cashmere turtleneck that had felt incredibly soft when Chris touched it, and wearing those glasses, holding onto those goddamn tube socks. As Chris had sat down, though, Toby had acted embarrassed and slipped off the specs, saying they made him look like a dork. Yeah, like that was really possible.

Chris had told him that, said the glasses made him look sexy, but Toby hadn't been buying. Matter of fact, Toby hadn't been buying anything that day. Now, when it was way too late, Chris could see that with startling clarity. Thrown into even sharper relief was the moment when he still could have saved it. Right there when Toby had leaned in close and searched his eyes, asking if Chris was lying to him -- all he'd had to do was say yes, admit to it, and everything could have still been all right. Toby would have been spitting mad, no question, would have laid into him every way from Sunday, but he might not have left and never looked back. But no, because he really didn't think things all the way through sometimes, especially when he off his game, Chris had stuck to the lie and Toby had seen right through him. And watching him figure it all out, that had been a million times worse than any degree of anger.

Toby had looked shattered, so unbelievably hurt and disappointed. That was the worst thing, the way Toby'd looked at him with such pain scrunching up his face, like Chris betraying him like that was tearing him up inside. "I don't even know you," -- those were the last words Toby had said to him before walking away forever.

He'd done that, he'd hurt Toby that bad all on his own. No Vern lurking in the background this time. No anything except those malignant tumors of doubt and fear and desperation growing inside him. If he had it to do over again... He sighed and shook his head, keenly aware of that futility. There weren't any do overs, and he'd pissed all over any second chance that ever came his way.

He listened to Macduff make his entrance and go after Schillinger, thought it was a shame that couldn't be played out for real, and scooped up what looked like some kind of Aladdin's lamp. Weird. Was Miss Fitzgerald going to zig from Shakespeare to the Arabian Nights?

Funny too, he'd really loved those old stories when he was a kid. Stupid, of course he knew that now. There was no kind of magic, no flying carpets or genies to grant your every wish. Once upon a time he had believed it all, though, and even used to imagine himself finding a lamp just like this one and having a genie appear to give him three wishes. That's where the fantasy always broke down on him, because all he could ever think to wish for was stupid shit, like getting picked to play kickball.

Yeah, he sighed, and then he grew up and discovered wishes and dreams never came true, and God wasn't ever answering his prayers.

Still, Chris rubbed at a smudge on the brass finish of the lamp, he knew what he'd wish for now, and it wouldn't be to play any kind of dumbass game. Nope -- he scrubbed vigorously at another smudge, the metal feeling warm and making his skin tingle -- if he could make one wish right now, it would be to roll back time, to some moment before everything got so hopelessly fucked up. One of those split seconds when it all could have played out another way. That was it, just one real do over, so he could be the man Toby had wanted him to be, the kind of man Toby could love and trust and believe in. Fuck, if he had a soul worth anything, he'd sell it in a heartbeat for a crack at something like that.

He frowned over that, suspecting it might be another example of him not quite thinking something out enough -- and dropped the lamp as it went white hot and sent a couple of sizzling zzts right through him. Fucking static electricity or something; somebody must've wired it up, he could see a blue glow of energy arcing over it, and cautiously reached out with his foot to nudge it further out of the way. Another hot zzt! shot right through his foot and traveled up his leg, felt like it was headed straight for his heart -- and the last thing he saw was Schillinger's face, looking all surprised, and then it all went dark.

~*~ Only ... not exactly.

~*~ "Hey, pal, whas a guy hafta do ta get served 'round here?"

Chris blinked, having to focus as if from a far off distance, and maintaining a white-knuckled grip on the bar as he fought off a dizzy feeling that had his heart pounding, the room spinning around and around for a wild couple of seconds. Noise was the first thing he processed as the universe righted itself. Otis Redding on the jukebox, singing about sittin' on the dock of the bay, and the clack-clack as billiard balls smacked into each other; voices -- loud and laughing, singing along with Otis; and the smooth liquid sound of booze being poured out, ice cubes chiming like crystal. Smells came next, the aroma of all that booze and bodies, perfume and cologne, sweat and cigarettes making for a rich, aromatic blend, the ceiling fans working hard to keep it all circulating.

A hand, liver spotted and covered with coarse hair, waved in front of his face, stubby fingers trying to snap for his attention. "Lissen, pal, 'm not askin' again. Gimme a refill or 'm takin' my bizness summare else."

"So? Move your drunken ass then," Chris growled back. "And, asshole, I ain't your pal."

The drunk tried to pull himself up into a pose of indignant outrage, tripped and stumbled and tried to catch himself against the bar, sliding for the floor as two buddies stepped up to catch hold of him and drag him on out.

Chris watched them weave away toward the door, still feeling like he needed to ground himself. He ran his hands along the bar, the dark wood smooth and polished to a rich luster. And real, very, very real. He looked at the bracelet around his right wrist, a strip of black leather strung with three silver beads. Fuck, he hadn't seen that in ... in... Yeah, he shook his head, the memory skipping out of reach.

He was dressed in jeans and a black tank top, a white towel slung over his shoulder, and could taste salty perspiration on his lips from the humid warmth. Every detail was etched so sharp, textured, totally beyond dispute. And -- why did that even pass through his mind, that anything should be up for debate?

"Umm," someone cleared their throat, "excuse me?"

Blinking to focus again, Chris zeroed in even more intently on the new guy leaning against the bar. Short blond hair, rumpled like he'd run a hand through it. Expensive, well cut suit showing some wear and tear, like he might have slept in it; his collar undone, the silk tie pulled loose. Light blue eyes, bloodshot and bleary, looked at him from behind a pair of old-fashioned, too big for his face glasses that didn't do a thing for him. Too pale, and ... softer looking than felt right to Chris. Baby fat or too much booze? he wondered, reality flipping out for a second as he saw this same man again, with longer hair and a sharp and canny gleam in those eyes, body lean and honed and hard. He had to suck in a breath, grab hold of the bar again, one image superimposed over the other.

The freaky weirdness cleared itself out, and he caught the guy giving him a worried look now. "You okay?"

"Oh, fuck yeah, just ... one of those nights."

"Yes, think I've had a few of those."

"Having one tonight?"

The wide mouth thinned out some more in an ironic smile, those eyes looking more focused. "Could be." He let out a huffy little sigh, head tilted as he listened to the music. "That song about sums it up," he said, singing along under his breath for a moment, "Looks like nothin's gonna come my way, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay, watchin' the tide roll away..." He trailed off with a tiny laugh, looking embarrassed. "Sorry."

Chris shook his head. "Not a problem. Got a nice voice."

Looking more flustered, the guy fumbled his glasses off to wipe the lenses; Chris hoped he'd leave them off. "Yeah, well..." He shrugged his well-tailored shoulders. "So, can," he stretched it past one syllable, "I get a martini?"

"You could." Chris gave him another look over. "Sure you need another, though?"

A spark of fire flared for an instant in those blue eyes; Chris wanted to see it some more. "I can handle it."

"You drivin'?"

An aggravated huff, then, "May I ask how that's any of your business? Not to mention, why do you care?"

This time Chris shrugged, using the towel to polish up the wood some more. "Don't know. Might be I'd get held liable if something happened, is all." He gave him an intent look then. "Might be I want a chance to get to know you better."

If he was taken aback, the blond still held his ground. "You might not care for what you found out."

"Chance a guy has to take sometimes," he replied philosophically. "And besides, I doubt that very much, Toby."

He blinked, eyes focusing a whole lot more sharply now. "And you know my name -- how?"

Brows drawn together, Chris thought about that. "You've been in here before, we talked before."

"No," Toby stretched that out to, looking puzzled and thoughtful. "I'd have remembered you."

That made Chris smile. "You would, huh?"

"I'm pretty sure of that, yes." Still puzzling over it, he reached out, fingers brushing along the ink on his shoulder for an instant. "Nice tattoo."

"Thanks." He could feel it tingling from where Toby'd touched him. "You got any?"

Surprise in those eyes nows. "Me? Fat chance, wouldn't suit the image."

"Don't gotta suit the image, Toby, just has to suit you."

"That a fact? And what do you imagine striking the right note?"

"Don't know." Head cocked, Chris studied him and thought about it. "Something means strong, indestructible."

The blond head gave a resigned and weary shake. "I'm not strong."

"You fucking are, more than you know."

Another huff, disbelief running through this one. "And you would know that how?"

"Good at reading people, that's how I got this job." Sick to death of the grifter's game, getting afraid of what might lay down the road if he didn't smarten up, he'd looked up an old friend, hit him up for this job, and found out the talents he'd used so long to con people out of their money, to stay one step ahead of the law, were just as useful at charming customers happy to hand over the dough.

"Is that a fact?"

Chris smiled some more. "You got some doubts?"

"Well, let's say I'm skeptical."

"Skeptical's good, long as it don't make you slam shut every door."

Toby mulled that over, drawing circles on the wood now. "So," he said after a bit, "you're not getting me that martini, are you?"

Chris shook his head. "Doesn't look like it. Gonna get to know each other better, remember?"

That got a smile out of Toby finally, a little exasperated, a little wistful. "You really think that's going to happen, Chris?"

"Got a good feeling, yeah. And how'd you know my name?"

"You ... told me."


"Well," golden eyebrows pulled toward each other, a couple of furrows deepening between them, "I heard it then," he said, and shivered like he'd suddenly felt a chill.

"You cold?" Chris asked him, goose bumps raised up on his own arm and a shiver going down his spine.

"No, no, just... felt like someone walked over my grave," Toby said, giving him a perplexed look.

Chris rubbed his arm, still feeling the cool touch that had come out of nowhere. "Me too. Listen," he hurried on, "we're closing in about an hour. Why don't you park yourself and slug some of this down," he poured him out a Coke, letting it fizz up over the ice.

"And then what?"

"Well," he reached over to touch is hand, thumb rubbing over an extra pale band of skin where a ring might have rested once, "I get you home safe and sound."

Blue eyes, clear and sharp now, raised to his, that fire burning bright. "And if home's not where I want to be, Chris?"

Chris covered his hand where it lay on the bar. "Tell you what, Toby, let's take one step and see how it goes."

"I have to warn you, I'm a lousy dancer."

Chris shook his head. "Bet you got moves you never dreamed of."

"Know what?" Toby turned his hand palm up, clasping his hand. "I'm getting that same feeling about you."

Chris winked, smile huge. "It's fate, babe."

Funny thing too, how it really felt like it might be.

~the end~
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