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Beta: Fantastically, encouragingly and speedily beta-ed by Dorilon. Thanks!
Copyright: Edgar C. Gambodge, Elizabeth Lightbody and Martha Grosbeak are mine. Sadly so are Father Michael and Gruner.
Warning: In my Oz universe, many of the events from the last two episodes of Season Six are fictitious.
Settling the Bill: Back to Oz (15/17)
It took quite a while to clean Oz up even enough to allow the inmates back, let alone allow outsiders to visit. But eventually the day came that the prisoners were loaded back onto their rattling busses and trundled back up the hill to Oswald State Correctional Facility. They did not sing. Lardner's hacks did not weep.
On the first Visiting Day after Oz reopened, Toby found himself sitting at a table, waiting for Chris. Chris-out-of-Oz didn't look at all as Toby would have expected. Of course, it made sense that Chris probably wouldn't wear crumpled prison-issue trousers and old skin-tight tank tops or thermals that looked as if they'd been painted onto him, but Toby still felt a bit thrown by Chris's new look. A white, long-sleeved, Egyptian-cotton, button-down shirt, with new blue jeans and a good wool navy sports coat. Same old heavy, black boots. And spectacles. The modern frameless type that Toby had always wanted to try before prison, but had never gotten around to it. Chris looked surprisingly clean cut. That pissed Toby off.
"You look like a detective," he said sourly.
"Kiss me, Toby," Chris answered, with his familiar tigerish smile.
Toby did and it felt good. Too good. He cursed himself about that.
"Mmm, you smell sexy," Chris murmured in his ear, as they separated.
Toby felt his blood rushing to his face and groin. Chris smelled as he always did, which was sexy by definition. Toby leaned into him as if drawn by some irresistible force, vaguely aware that his body was betraying him. Chris took off his jacket to hang it over the back of a chair. Toby noticed how Chris's jeans hugged his ass and mentally cursed himself about that too. Chris, of course, noticed Toby looking. Toby sat down hastily. Chris rolled up his shirt-sleeves and smiled a small smile.
"You're doing this to try to fit in with my family," Toby gestured at Chris's ensemble. "Angus told me you'd been around again."
"You'd be surprised where I can fit in, Toby," Chris said softly, the small smile still lingering on his lips.
Toby suddenly didn't think he would be surprised and could see exactly why his mother had found Chris so charming.
"What are you doing these days?" inquired Toby testily. "Staying away from Mother, I trust?"
Chris leaned across the table suddenly and took Toby's startled hand.
"You know I'd never hurt your family, baby," he said with always-surprising Keller earnestness, "I just want you all to be okay, okay?"
God, Toby had never realized how sexy spectacles could be. But he was sure Chris did.
"Yeah, well, watch it," Toby mumbled, undone.
Chris seemed to take this as an invitation to sidle closer and move his hand up to Toby's forearm. He took Toby's hand in his other.
"I don't want anything - or anyone - to come between us, baby," he whispered.
Toby felt a frisson. He'd forgotten a small detail during all the drama of the last few months.
"Are you going to stay away from Marion?" he asked alarmed.
"Well, are you going to stay away from Marion, Toby?" asked Chris.
"Yes, she doesn't want to have anything to with me, since I was arrested," admitted Toby.
That hadn't surprised him, but had disappointed him. He hoped Chris would drop the subject.
"You see, she didn't really love you," Chris stroked the fine hairs on Toby's forearm, "not like I do."
Toby let himself be stroked. Of everything he missed in Oz, he missed simple touching the most. So far he hadn't succumbed to any of the temptations Oz (and Lardner) had offered. So far. He hated to admit how much he craved physical contact, simple innocent gestures of affection, like his daughter's kisses. He wasn't sure how innocent Keller's caresses were, but he didn't care. He just soaked them up. Chris turned Toby's hand and dropped a light kiss on the soft skin inside of his wrist.
Toby found it less easy to be angry with the new, improved Chris Keller. Perhaps it was the button-down shirt.
"So what are you doing these days?" he asked as casually as possible.
Chris looked away and remained silent. Damn, he really was cute when he was self-deprecating. And he was definitely up to something.
"C'mon, you can tell me," Toby smiled for the first time in ages.
Chris looked back at Toby again.
"I'm taking a college course in Masculinity Studies..."
"What? It's a new trend in Social Sciences," Chris told him. "If this part of the course goes well, I can sign up for special admission to write a Master's thesis..."
"Why are you doing this, Chris?" Toby asked. "Is it to fit in with my family?"
"Actually, Tobe, I'm doing this for me." Chris said, dropping his gaze and scowling at the table top. "I want to understand why things happened the way they did and maybe tell other people. I can use my experiences in Oz, Lardner and Cedar Junction as material. I...I'm using Queer Theory."
That terrible nakedness again.
"I'm sorry, Chris," Toby was abashed. "I hadn't heard of such a course. It'll be great."
He stroked Chris's cheek apologetically. Chris leaned into Toby's hand slightly and Toby felt the slight prickling of afternoon stubble against his palm. Chris raised his eyes to look at Toby.
"It'll be great when you're out of here," said Chris, with the first hint of his old intensity. "Gambodge says it could be anytime now."
He turned his face in Toby's hand to kiss his palm, then took Toby's hand in his. And so they sat, holding hands across the table top in the visiting room, just like before.
"Five more minutes!" barked Lopresti and the people around them started packing up and saying their goodbyes.
"C'mere," said Toby to Chris, as they stood up.
He bear-hugged Chris and buried his face in Chris's new, white collar. Toby felt Chris's familiar hard body, hidden beneath his new clothes, tremble slightly. Chris held Toby as if he'd never let him go.
"Christ, I'm missing you, Toby," he whispered into Toby's hair. "I can't wait till you're out. I'll never fucking let you go. I love you, baby."
For a moment, Toby felt as if it would all work out and everyone could be happy. He wished he could just stay in that moment and that all the worries and what-if's would just fade away. Hell, maybe they could. He only had to survive long enough to get paroled.
"I love you too, Chris," he said honestly, deciding not to think about how things would be outside Oz.
An inmate who had been seeing his wife came up to Toby after Chris left. Toby felt his stomach clench. He'd noticed the man watching them during Visiting Hour. Here we go, thought Toby, bracing himself for the next round of homophobia. In Oz, of course, it was always a question of whether it would be literal or figurative gay-bashing and whether it would end there.
"Didn't know you guys were still together," said the prisoner, who was a one-eyed, tattooed assaulter-and-batterer, who went by the name of Willie.
He was originally from Gen. Pop. and had acquired a reputation for making stills. He was one of the only inmates who were crazy enough to be temping in the Mail Room.
"Didn't know you were so interested in our love life," Toby retorted, wondering uneasily whether Willie wanted a different type of action than gay-bashing.
He clenched his fists on reflex.
"Are you kidding? You were the hottest couple in Oz," said Willie enthusiastically. "You were more fun than Miss Sally or even Sally-cise."
"Yeah, well, she sort of lost her edge after dropping Nooter and Pecky," Toby muttered.
"Hey, anytime you want some moonshine, you know where to come," said Willie, "for you, it's on the house. Respect, man."
"I'll bear that in mind," said Toby, trying to dismiss the idea that he could really use a stiff drink right now.
Toby spent a lot of time walking the maze in the gym. Sister Pete gave him special permission to do so, when she discovered that it calmed him down. She was rather surprised at that and chalked her discovery up to experience. She had initially had little confidence in McManus's plaything. Sometimes she met Toby there for his session and found he was better able to work through his questions and worries after he'd worked through the maze.
One afternoon as she was watching Toby make his trip, she was joined by Father Ray, whose youthful face was looking rather gaunt recently.
"Do you think he's got to the centre of the maze at last?" asked Sister Pete.
"It would seem so," replied Mukada, who had started chain-smoking in earnest, "but he's still got to get out again."
Not long after this, Toby's parole hearing came up. He passed with flying colors. This surprised many people in Oz, McManus amongst them. He shook his head at the fickleness of the system that would re-release Tobias Beecher, but not consider Miguel Alvarez. Still, he was touched by the interest O'Reily had shown in Alvarez's situation, bringing Alvarez's renewed drug-abuse to his attention. McManus's own interest in Alvarez's case was reawakened. He had removed him from Torquemada's pod immediately, applied for funds to send him to rehab and gotten them. Now Alvarez was clean again, in a new pod and in counseling with Sister Pete. Tim McManus felt quite rejuvenated. He wasn't even brought down by Murphy's insistence that there was a new entity supplying different drugs to the dinks at a rate that threatened to run Torquemada out of business.
Sister Pete was delighted for Tobias, but felt some trepidation nonetheless. Chris Keller seemed to be featuring rather prominently in Tobias's plans for when he left Oz. Tobias's plans changed from week to week, but were variants on the pattern of whether to stay with his mother for a while, until he and Holly had settled down or to move in with Chris immediately, so Holly wouldn't find it so disruptive.
"Do you really think you should spend so much time with Chris after you're out of Oz?" Sister Pete asked Toby at last.
They were sitting at her desk, drinking tea, while she and Toby went through some files of possible candidates to replace him as her assistant. Toby laughed.
"Chris has pretty much decided that I will," he told her.
"Tobias, is Chris forcing you into this arrangement? Is it because of Gambodge? After all, you and Chris haven't truly been together since before he left for Cedar Junction almost two years ago," Sister Pete looked at him over her spectacles.
"Sister, Chris and I have never truly been apart. He really loves me..."
"Tobias, love is used as an excuse for so many things: obsession, lust, loneliness, control..."
"Chris really does love me, Sister, in his own way. Maybe not as you or I would love, but he does. And I love him. I always did. We've been given a second chance. I mean to use it."
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