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by Ralu

Hill: "I'm innocent. You go to any prison, you ask any guy who's serving time and he'll tell you he's inn-o-cent."


"What are you doing here?"

He can't believe this is happening. He STILL can't believe it.

A bad fucking dream repeating itself over and over and over - and Toby's exhausted. He can't take another round, he just simply cannot.

"I asked Querns to transfer me back. I guess he convinced McManus. Even made us roomies."

"No." If Keller would pay more attention, he'd notice Beecher's barely talking *to* him. Jesus, he's so tired.

Obviously Keller isn't. Paying attention.


"Nothing's changed, Chris." Doesn't he get it yet? What the hell is he to do, hold up a goddamn banner saying 'Stay away from me'?

Keller stares back at him, a faint smirk painted on his lips, words spoken softly, tentatively:

"I know, you've got the top bunk, just like before."

And it finally hits him: Chris is not listening. He is not even *hearing* him, like the pod's submerged under water, sound, vision and meaning becoming distorted and blurred out by default.

Maybe this is the way it always was...and he just didn't bother to notice it. Didn't care to. Toby says 'right' and Chris hears 'left', and, at the end of the day, left is right and right is left - utter fucking nonsense for both of them. And comforting, because of it.

Keller's a good liar. And Toby loves self-deceivement. Maybe it's the same thing. Maybe it always was.

"I mean my feelings haven't changed," he manages to whisper through his teeth.

Leave me alone, leave me alone, please... He wants to leave. Leave the pod, leave Em City, leave Oz, just go back where he belongs, not here, not in here, not like this.

Fragmented snapshots flicker off the corner of his eye: black and white images of his little girl playing with her brother in the living room, the look on his mother's face, Angus frowning and swallowing a curse while talking on the phone with his Parole Officer. One fuck-up after another. And he's got 10 more years left. With *this*.

He looks up at Keller - and it's exactly how he had imagined it would be. Keller's just...waiting. Silent. Patiently. Waiting for him to give in again. Give up. (Surrender.)

I got Schillinger for you. We're even...right? (Tit for tat.) So...('you've got the top bunk, just like before.') Jesus...

"Do you even hear me?" Beecher mutters very quietly to himself, looking outside the pod, into the common area. He can see O'Reily playing chess with some new guy he doesn't know, Alvarez dozing off on one of the tables, close to that Torquemada freak. So many faces he doesn't even recognize anymore.

(Do you even see me?)

"What?" Keller asks just as softly, tilting his head to the right, leaning in a bit closer. "Toby, look at me." A small step forward, arms hanging like broken branches, as if unsure of what to do with them: "Please."

Beecher nods his head, looking down at his boots, Keller's boots; then he looks up, slant blue gaze unveiling like a shallow curtain of disappointment over dark blue weariness. He's so tired.

"Okay," Toby whispers, and feels something shuddering through his bones, traveling up his spine, splitting behind his eyeballs.

'That's guilt, sweetpea', a small voice resounds at the back of his mind, but he knows it isn't, not quite. He knows guilt, has lived with it for most of his life, and...this is not guilt. No, this is...relief. Following each other like two mad dogs in heat, hunting and chasing and ripping each other to shreds, so closely intertwined, how can you even tell the difference? Do you even care?

"Okay," he says again under his breath, avoiding Keller's touch and climbing up into his bunk. His throat burns and he can taste rotten food on the tip of his tongue, a flourishing nausea rapidly boiling up inside his belly - don't throw up, don't... His limbs ache as he pulls his legs close to his chest, a faint memory of those months spent in a body cast, learning how to walk again. His body always knows how and when to fuck with him.

He can see through his half-closed eyelids that Keller's still standing in the same place, watching him.

And Toby waits. For once, he waits.

"So..."--Chris staggers, and there's so much uncertainty in his voice that even someone as oblivious as Toby 'I-got-fucked-in-the-ass' can notice: "Okay, what?"

A beat, a small sigh:

"Okay, as in okay whatever you want, Chris."

Bad answer.

"And what the fuck does that mean anyway?"

Beecher closes his eyes, breathes in deep. Tiny shadows and bright, quick flashes of light chase, burn and devour each other just underneath his tightly squeezed eyelids; then, flashes melt into shadows, shadows into patterns - and Sister Pete squints back at him, preaching something about "abandoning the moral code whenever it's convenient", like that's supposed to actually still MEAN something to him after all the shit that's happened. Agent Taylor's voice, that disgusting demeanor Beecher has grown to associate with all that's fucked with the justice system, muttering words he *knows* - bone deep - to be true: "Freedom, Beecher. Tucking your little girl, Holly, in at night." ('He's guilty.') Words he cannot deny.

And Said. And Schillinger. And Said, and Schillinger, and Said teaching him about Rahmah - compassion and mercy, and Schillinger dying on that crappy stage like some blindsided old man, all alone, and cared for by no one.

And Keller, with Taylor's obsession for *justice*...his way out. His ONLY way out.

It's not guilt, it's relief, he tells himself quietly, almost like a mother reassuring his child he's doing nothing wrong - Tobias Beecher's own personal safety blanket: I didn't know, I didn't see, I didn't mean to, I'm sorry. (I had no other choice.) It wasn't my fault, but even so, I take full responsibility and I'm ready to make amends for it. I swear, I promise... (...take a oath, make a vow...) Wipe the slate clean.

Not that different from Chris over here, still standing near the bunks, arms hanging like twisted, broken limbs against his body - wanting to touch. Incapable to. For the moment, anyway.

"It means..."--Toby honestly doesn't know what to tell him, but it doesn't really matter, does it? Toby isn't even HERE, sunken in this drowned glass bubble where words and actions and thoughts and feelings amount to nothing but meaningless shit. "It means...that it's okay. It's all okay, Chris. Everything's okay."

Keller half turns to his right, stares outside the pod, and it's the first time Beecher thinks of him as an animal, gazing at the back of his neck, his outstretched hand holding onto the bunk's metal frame. A very dangerous, a very confused animal, reaching out at others because he can't reach inside himself. Hurting others for the same reason.

(Take it. Please, take it, Chris. Just...leave it the way it is. I know you want to.)

Toby may love self-deceivement, but Chris is a master at it, always has been, probably. Funny how he never thought about this until now.

And he takes it.

"Okay, I'm gonna go play chess with O'Reily or something," Keller mutters, looking back at him for a small second. A faint hint of hesitation, left knee jerking, arms folding over his chest; Beecher simply stares at him, blue eyes hollow and tired. "Okay?" Chris asks, smiling a little.

And Toby smiles back:


An idle memory from those first days he spent in Oz scratches at the back of his brain, kitten claws bruising his insides: Dino Ortolani's voice "don't smile, ever", Schillinger showing him his secret 'armor' in the Cafeteria. Adebisi's lazy grin. Vern's toothy smile.

Don't ever smile...unless you've got a reason to.

Keller smiles when he feels threatened and he smiles when he needs something; sometimes he smiles just to make sure he's being noticed. And if you smile back...

Beecher watches him getting out of the pod, walking close to the railing; minutes after Keller's disappeared down the stairs, melting away in front of the TV, Beecher is still smiling, a phantom memory reflected across the Plexiglas walls. And he knows Keller's smiling too.

Don't ever smile...unless it's inside you. (Finally.)

One more day and one more night - and it will all be over. (No more.)

Beecher raises from his bunk, falls on his knees and crawls toward the toilet, where he throws up.


---the end---

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