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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: Chris Says Goodbye (8/17)
The evening before his release, while he was in Protective Custody, Chris found Sister Pete at his cell. Unexpectedly, just like old times on Death Row. Standing a foot away from the bars, the same conflicted expression on her little face.
"Chris," she said.
Chris, who was lying on his bed, fully dressed, felt a homily coming on. He was so not in the mood. He wanted to think about Toby. Analyze Toby's behavior again. Make sure he'd covered every angle so he'd get his next move right. Well, if he couldn't be left in peace to think about Toby, he'd fucking well listen to Sister Pete talk about him. What Sister Pete wanted to do anyway, he was sure. She should have been counseling him about life outside and support groups. But he was sure the pleasantries about his change in fortune were just leading up to...
"I need to talk to you about Tobias, Chris."
Yep. Here we go. Poor little Toby and my bad influence, thought Chris tiredly. He'd heard it all before. It would be best just to play along, tell her she was right, flash her a killer smile. Do what you have to. Be left in peace to think about Toby. Chris was drained and lower than when he got handed down his eighty-eight year sentence. Tomorrow he would be free. Whatever that meant. But Toby would still be here. Chris didn't have the strength or inclination for any more fighting. As Sister Pete spoke, he studied her from his bed where he half-lay, half-slumped against the wall. He couldn't bring himself to fight the inertia to get up and stand at the bars as he usually would for a visitor.
One of the last times they'd talked, Chris had turned to Sister Pete for help, for comfort...for God knows what in hindsight. Toby had just been paroled and Chris felt ripped apart. Sister Pete had told Chris that he should let Toby go. Give him up. But not for Chris's sake, but for Toby's. There was to be no solace or comfort for Chris. Leave Toby to lead his own life outside Oz without him.
If Chris really loved Toby, she said, he should be happy to sit back as Toby got it on with someone else and have a life that excluded Chris. If he really loved Toby unconditionally, he'd be able to watch himself being gutted like a Christian martyr. If he couldn't do this, then he didn't really love Toby. Bullshit. Lucky he hadn't fallen for it.
"This relationship isn't healthy," Sister Pete was saying.
"Damn straight," said Chris, "there's too many people in it."
"Chris, you really need to think about Tobias..."
"I do, Sister, all the time."
"That's what I mean," she said, her voice taut with frustration. "You're obsessed with him."
"I'm in love with him!" snapped Chris, sitting up with the first energy he'd shown the entire duration of her visit.
She gave a small jump.
"I'm sorry," he said uncharacteristically, huddling down on his bunk, seeing her relax as he shrank.
He looked up at her as appealingly as possible. "And he loves me."
He didn't want to hear why Toby might not love him. He decided to change the course of the conversation instead.
"Why is it, Sister, that different rules apply to me?" he asked, keeping his voice as friendly as possible.
"Whatever do you mean, Chris?" Sister Pete asked, her forehead creasing. "You know I don't discrim..."
"Yeah, you do," said Chris, feeling the leaden inertia flooding back into his limbs. He sat back against the wall again.
"I've screwed things up, I know, but so have most guys in here. This is fu...this is prison, Sister. We're not in here because we're good. Toby killed a kid, for chrissakes. I've never killed a child."
"It was an accident," said Pete stoically, trying not to get sucked in, he could see. Too bad.
"She's still dead," Chris persisted. "And you forgive him. You can see past his crime. Past his drunkenness, his drug abuse, his craziness. You forgive him and you redeem him. You see his soul. But you don't see mine."
"That's not true..." began Sister Pete.
"What do I need to do to be forgiven?" Chris interrupted her. "I am, in fact, innocent of the crime I was almost executed for. You're the counselor here, but you've never discussed that with me. What it was like dealing with that. Being in Oz has cost me every fu...everything I had. Maybe I deserved that, but I've paid my dues. Then I find someone who can love me despite my being God's throwaway, but my loving him is not enough. I have to love him unconditionally, according to your recipe. Love him by giving him up. Love him as a penance."
"Love is..." began Sister Pete again, but Chris continued unheeding.
"No," he said. "You don't get to tell me what love is. Your husband..."
"Don't -" said Sister Pete. She sounded in pain. But Chris was ruthless.
"Your husband," he said again, "meant the world to you. So much so that when he died you gave up the world for him. You became a nun out of love for him, not for God."
"Chris!" said Sister Pete, but she was transfixed. Tears stood in her eyes. Chris felt a bit sorry to see them, but he didn't stop.
"I can understand that," he said. "I'd never tell you to let him go. But you told me to let Toby go and he's still alive. You told me that would show I loved him unconditionally. Why would you expect me to sacrifice the one decent thing in my life? The one redemptive thing I had? You couldn't. Does that make your love for your husband less? You're a nun and chosen by God. I'm a worthless shit, a criminal. God's never given me the time of day. You're not able to love unconditionally. Why should I?"
Sister Pete was wiping her tears away as discreetly as possible. Chris pretended not to watch her.
"I can't win, Sister, I'm damned," he said, looking up at her. "I don't know if God damns me. Personally, since Cedar Junction, I've started to think He's too busy looking after His Chosen to be bothered with me. But I'm damned by you. Whatever I do is wrong. I've done bad things and have been branded a sinner. But to be forgiven, I can't just be a little bit better, I gotta be a saint. How can you expect that of me when I'm as far removed from God as you get? Would you ask that of Toby?"
"God loves you, Chris," said Sister Pete.
"Guess that's why He cut me loose," muttered Chris.
Another of God's small Chosen visited Chris that night. Father Ray Mukada.
"I've just heard about your statement to the FBI, Chris," he said.
He did not look pleased. Chris summoned a smirk.
"Yeah, thought I better come clean," he said.
"Why did you confess to those murders if you didn't do them?" inquired Mukada. His boyish face was quivering with indignation. Translation: Why did you confess to me?
"I wanted to see what you'd do," said Chris.
This seemed to make Father Ray angrier.
"How dare you?" he said.
"How dare I what?" said Chris getting up to stand at the bars in front of him and look down on Mukada's small frame.
Mukada stepped back involuntarily. But continued. He was brave for a little guy. Chris had to give him that.
"How dare you make a mockery of Confession and of the Church's Sacraments?" Mukada demanded.
"It's not as if you absolved me, Father," Chris reminded him. "You seem kinda disappointed I'm not a serial killer, though."
"Why'd you confess to the hit on Schillinger's son?" asked Mukada, changing tactics suddenly.
Uh oh. Took by surprise.
"Owed someone a favor," Chris said.
"It wasn't Chucky Pancamo, was it?"
It was more of a statement than a question. Chris needed a change in tactics himself. He snaked his unbroken arm through the bars and put his hand on Mukada's neck.
"You know, Father," Chris said quietly, in a voice that made Mukada's muscles stiffen even more, "you may not be able to forgive me, but I...forgive you."
As he squeezed Father Ray's neck very slightly, he could swear he felt the short stiff hairs on Mukada's nape start to stand on end.
"Let me go," said Mukada, his voice thin, "or I'll call the guards."
Chris released him. Mukada stumbled back a couple of steps.
"Why is everyone so sure you're telling the truth now about those serial murders?" he asked.
"Evidence," said Chris leaning against the bars, his good arm dangling through to Mukada's side, "lots and lots of evidence."
After Mukada left, Chris sat completely immobile for some time, staring at nothing in particular. He allowed himself to go somewhere else in his mind. Dissociation, the Cedar Junction shrink had called it. Chris had learned to do this as a child and it had stood him in good stead as an adult. He was alone in Protective Custody (other than the hack, who was reading a cheap novel and didn't count anyway). Chris didn't mind being alone.
In Cedar Junction, he'd spent the large amounts of alone-time thinking about Toby. Imagining Toby visiting him after parole and telling Chris how much he loved him. Chris was never quite able to make the leap of imagining Toby helping to free him, but he did sometimes imagine that Toby was somehow transferred to Cedar Junction and that they were together again, this time forever and without Schillinger. When Chris had been returned to Oz and, later, when Toby had got Chris's death penalty commuted, Chris had felt a tiny flicker of life return to his long-dead capacity to believe in the future.
But this evening, on the verge of freedom, Chris felt grayer even than when Toby was paroled. The old despair was back, worse than at Cedar Junction. Worse even than in Lardner the first time. He felt as if his insides had been drained out of him and that he was just a shell. He wondered if crying would have helped, but he'd never been much good at it. The few tears he'd squeezed out about Hell years ago were the best he'd been able to manage since childhood, until his colossal fuck-up in the Prop Room with Toby. Right now he didn't feel as if he had anything left inside to squeeze out.
He realized that his breathing had increased and automatically fingered his pulse as he did at gym. Yeah. It was racing. Anxiety. This had started at Cedar Junction. When he'd had his first panic attack, he'd thought he was dying. The shrink there had taught him breathing techniques to control it. Chris had later blurted out some of his best kept secrets to the man about his fears and childhood shit he hadn't thought of in half a lifetime. He'd felt as indebted to him as if he'd saved his life. He would have developed a crush on him, had it not been for his feelings for Toby. Instead, he'd started studying for his GED, on the psychiatrist's advice, to take his mind off his worries.
Chris was breathing harder and his heart was starting to hammer in his ears. He forced himself to slow his breathing and to focus on something neutral, although his mind wanted to go skittering off into a haze of incoherent thoughts and images. His eyes skimmed over the peeling paint on the bars, the dingy walls, the neon-lit corridor, the shiny floor... shit! He couldn't focus. His thoughts kept wanting to go into orbit. He was clenching his jaw so hard that his teeth hurt. He was freezing cold, but he was starting to sweat.
Then someone was calling his name. It sounded like Sister Pete. The attack must be pretty bad if he were hearing voices, he thought vaguely. His head was like a frigging helium balloon. The cell's door clanged open.
"Chris!" said Sister Pete's voice again and someone shook his shoulder. "Breathe!"
As he refocused his eyes, Chris came to see that Sister Pete was indeed with him again, actually in the cell, kneeling beside his bed. She was holding his plaster-free hand in one of her small ones. Feeling his pulse with her other. Anchoring him, her big, dark eyes on his, bringing him back, keeping him focused.
"Breathe deeply, Chris," she told him. "Breathe slowly."
He did. At last the whirling and pounding stopped.
"He okay?" asked the hack.
He was a newcomer to Oz, a replacement for that asshole Brass, and Chris, in post-panic attack daze, couldn't remember the man's name. The hack rattled his keys.
"Yes," said Sister Pete firmly, "but I'm going to stay with him a while."
She sat on a fold-up chair next to Chris for an hour, mostly in silence, while Chris struggled to regroup.
"Are you sure you don't want me to notify the infirmary?" asked Sister Pete. "Maybe get you something to help you sleep?"
Chris didn't want to be referred to Psych Ward on the eve of his release. He'd be no good to Toby then.
"I'm fine, Sister," he lied glibly.
"I brought you a farewell present," she told him at last, explaining her return to Protective Custody.
She pressed the gift into his hand. "It's for your new life."
Tears came to Chris's eyes.
By the time Sister Pete left, Chris had decided that the first thing he'd do when he was free was go back onto those antidepressants he was taking before his and Bonnie's marriage hit the rocks the second time. After that, of course, and after the serial killings, he had found crystal meth much more effective in numbing his pain and self-loathing, until he'd hit that grocery store and his life had officially gone to Hell in a hand basket. Antidepressants. Yeah. That's what he'd do. Hell, maybe he'd even go to a non-denominational therapist, like Bonnie had wanted him to years ago. Get himself straightened out for Toby.
Might take a bit of time though... How long would Gambodge take to fix Toby's parole? Not long enough. Wouldn't do to get Toby out of Oz and lose him for good. Might have to stall Gambodge a bit...
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