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Beta'd by Erin.
Keller sits still in his chair trying as hard as he can to focus on what the dark-haired woman -- Holly's teacher -- is rambling on about. Monotonous voice, boring, bleached blue eyes -- her white skirt hanging on her small figure like a piece of dead skin peeling off a corpse.
Remembering Beecher's stupid, *stupid* comment: "You'd like her."
Well, Keller's met her...and he DOESN'T.
But then again, Beecher grew up in a different world, he's got different tastes in...everything, really. What with that fucking cushy, middle class life of his...(--up 'til Oz, that is.)
And that is starting to slowly but inevitably suck - big time. Take the other day, par example: Chris had gone to the store to get himself some cigarettes and yogurt.
Toby had yelled at him to get some for the kids, but he'd forgotten to mention what kind...and later, getting back some two hours late, dizzy as hell from smoking way too much of...well, definitely not tobacco -- he's forced to endure Beecher snarling at him for buying the wrong fucking brand of yogurt!
Well, the scene must have been caused also by the very-obviously-high Chris - half-reeling, doing his best not to fall on his face; smiling like a moron. But...whatever!
And...oh yeah!... Let's not forget about Toby's not-so-subtle remark about getting his 'fucking ass off the couch and looking for a goddamn JOB already' -- let us not *forget* about that one!...
(--'Okay Tobe. You'll be the DISBARRED lawyer doin' that shitty job of yours you hate so much; I'll be...the garbage man? 'Cause - with my fucking record - I ain't getting anything better than that, since drug dealin's out of the question... Or robbing stores, for that matter.'--)
Beecher's acting worse than his goddamn P.O. most of the time; bitching and nagging like an old woman.
Kind of like...(--'Bonnie.')
He stretches his long legs and lets his eyes roam over the other *parents*...
(Yeah, THAT's funny!)
Well, what do we have here?!...
A sweet little blonde; golden curls falling on her considerably large chest, nice, *petite* fingers aimlessly tapping on her thigh. Looking a little bit like Bonnie -- only a whole lot less...LESS.
And -- speaking of Bonnie...where the hell was she? Chris had tried to get in touch with her; he actually thought she'd run back in his arms the moment he had been released, but...she hadn't. None of his ex-wives had, to be more precise...
Which says...what? Oh, whatever.
One more long, sizzling gaze at the little blonde - tilting his head to take a better look. *Nice tits.* She turns her head, meets his smile...and smiles back.
Two hours later he's already fucked her and given her his (fake) phone number...
(--'Jeez, aren't you *irresistible*?!'--)
Turns out she's divorced, raising a boy the same age as Holly, by herself.
"Are you married?"
And Chris - after trying his best not to burst into a hysterical laughter - answering back, cool as a fox:
"Nope. Divorced myself too."
I mean...it's the truth, right?
Having her asking again - in between gasps - as Chris' hand slides between her thighs: "The little blonde girl...Holly, right? She's yours?"
"Yeah, she's MINE!..."
Ain't that the most - make that the only - honest thing he's told her the whole day.
Except...(she's not HIS. Not exactly.)
But it sure does feel like it.
(--'Now, shut the fuck up.'--)
Leaving her place, he notices a small bike in the alley; old, ragged, kid-size sneakers near the garage: little bits of her life, of what he might have if he were to call her...something which...(he won't.)
'Cause after a while...(--the sex starts to suck.)
Okay, okay...'cause what he's got with Beech is all he's ever wanted. Right?
Then...(--'Why the hell did you just fuck someone else?'--) 'Cause she's a chick. Duh!...
And besides...Beecher's had his fair share of pussy, right? She don't mean shit.
He wonders if Beecher's fucked her.
No, she'd know Holly's NOT *his*.
(--'You fucking idiot.'--)
He suddenly realizes - too fucking late, as usual - just how wrong it was to tell her Holly was his kid.
Jesus, he's totally fucked up! Dumb, stupid fucking moron!...
What the fuck's he gonna tell Beecher now?
But...maybe she'll keep her fucking mouth shut.
I mean, who'd be bragging they've fucked some guy they'd only met two hours earlier?
Keller would - but Chris is not most people.
And...(--'Do you feel guilty, Chris? I mean, you've just...'--)
But he knows that's not it. Sticking your dick into somebody else has nothing to do with guilt, or betrayal. It's an impulse response.
(--'Sister Pete would totally *love* this: "No, no Sister... I've fucked her, but - you know, if it itches...you gotta scratch. No foul play intended. Just move the fuck on."--)
That inner rash burning on the inside, spilling over the tip of his tongue, stinging his tired eyes; licking - hot, flammable flicks - the edge of every nerve cell in his body, the razor blade limits of every single thought he can process...
He thinks of meth, crack, every thinkable and unthinkable drug; huge fucking shelves filled with unlabelled bottles of pills just waiting to be popped and swallowed all together like candy - 'til every vein in his body explodes.
He thinks about sucking some guy's cock while listening to the weather on the guy's car radio. Having the guy's hands digging into the back of his neck, pushing him so hard his windpipe burns and he starts gagging. For money, for drugs, just for the fuck of it...for the feeling it brings with it. 'Til he fucking suffocates.
He thinks of getting beaten, broken...the taste of blood in his mouth, the general confusion, the pain and fear and fucking anticipation of the one thing he's learned in his fucked-up life to be as normal, as natural as breathing: rape. 'Til he starts faking.
He thinks about Schillinger.
He...misses him. Everything the man is - clawed into his flesh, poisoning his body - just like with...
'Cause Toby's not the one rushing into sinking his cock into the first piece of ass he sees responding to his attention.
He's not the one taking the *wrong* turn here, stepping out of the car and ending up on a stained, ragged mattress, getting high - getting fucked.
Brilliant way to keep a relationship going, Chris thinks, smiling bitterly while he's watching through drug-induced lowered eyelids the other man tucking his shirt in his pants and zipping up.
Right before Chris passes out.
(--'Guess there's things you just can't ever get rid of. No matter how hard you try.'--)
"Where the fuck have you been?" Toby asks him in his most casual, disinterested tone of voice.
Keller looks at him through lowered eyelids; he's tired and having a hard time focusing on anything, let alone Beecher's question.
Still, he senses Toby must be really pissed, 'cause the kids are both seated at the table and they're giving their father the same look as Chris.
Beecher never swears around them. Well, almost never... Old habits die hard.
"Went to see some friends," Chris answers morosely.
(--'Shit, *I* don't believe myself... When the fuck did I turn into such a lousy liar?'--)
A dry, fucked up snort -- the *Beecher* snort; Keller knows it means trouble, and he can barely keep himself from giggling. The annoying pattern he already experienced with his wives settles in further with each day that passes. Except that - this time - Beecher's NOT his wife.
"*Some friends*, huh? Fine." He grabs Harry's wrist and pulls it out of the peanut butter jar, yelling: "Hey, don't do that. How many times did I tell you not to do that?"
"Don't yell at him just 'cause you're pissed. Jesus, come on... If he wants to stick his hand in the jar let him do it. What's wrong with you?"
They always do this; it's the Toby/Chris game - always revolving around Beecher's kids.
Toby tries to be father he hasn't been for six fucking years and Chris always, ALWAYS tries to be their friend. The one cutting them some slack, letting them do whatever they want - everything their own father forbids them to.
Dad says "No TV after 10 o'clock" - Chris watches TV with them until way past over 12; Dad says "No sugar, no junk food" - Chris buys them pizza and a shitload of candy.
And they like him because of it. Actually, *Harry* likes him. Which - after all - is why he's doing it in the first place. It irritates the hell out of Toby.
"What's wrong with me? What's wrong with me, Chris? They're my kids, that's what's wrong. *Mine*, get it?"-- eyes flashing an unmistakably icy spark in between snake-like fluttering of gold-rimmed lashes: "Don't fucking interfere where you don't belong."
His tone is so cold, so, so... Keller feels his hands reflexively clutching onto the edge of the table, thumbs painfully pushing into the wooden mass; he takes slow, shallow breaths of air, incapable of looking at the other man.
Instead he meets...Holly's blue gaze, sending the same unspoken message, eyelashes flicking just like her dad's: 'After all...you're not my dad. I'm not yours.'
Yeah, Holly doesn't exactly like him. And why should she? Chris is the closest reminder of her dad's six-year-long absence.
Still...that doesn't stop him from loving her. From seeing her as *his*. Just like with her daddy over there, glaring with that ugly squint of his. Chris tries his best to keep his shit together and not blow up in front of the kids; from this perspective, strangely enough, Keller almost always does a better job at hiding his real self than Toby does. Probably because he has a lot more to lose than the other man; after all, Beecher is their father, not him.
(--'But then why the hell do you keep doing stupid things like fucking complete strangers when you know that's WRONG? When you know it can only bring *this*?!...'--)
Yeah, but Chris knows *this* is only a small part of the problem... A part Toby's not even aware of. Even if he probably suspects it.
THIS is the real problem: Holly's ugly stare; her brother's inability to tell his teacher what his daddy does for a living - or better said, *which* daddy...
His answer dropping like a bomb on both his teacher and Toby alike: "My daddy's a lawyer. I don't know what Chris is."
One small, innocent remark throwing the entire family in a mini-scale tornado lasting almost two weeks, with Beecher's mother uncharacteristically yelling at her son in the kitchen and then sobbing in the expensive car speeding up the street and Toby having long conversations on the phone with his ex-in-laws, while Chris tried to not listen as he watched cartoons with Beecher's boy in the living room.
Having Harry slowly crawl onto his chest and put his small arms around his neck; head pressing against his shoulder, his eyes asking quietly: 'Why's dad so upset?'
And Chris giving the only thing he could ever give to the small child, the one reassurance he's capable of - hugging him close and kissing his forehead.
Something nobody ever did to him; knowing - because of that - just how important, how priceless it can be for a little kid like Harry.
And sensing Beecher's eyes boring holes in the back of his head, his never-to-be-asked question filling up the void between them: 'Why does he choose to do *that* with you and not *me*, his FATHER. *You*, of all people.'
Yeah, this is the real problem, among a shit load of other problems...
Meanwhile, in the here and now, Keller doesn't answer anything back; he knows there's nothing he could say in the first place.
Beecher's right; they're HIS kids, Chris doesn't have any legitimate right to interfere.
Still - just because he knows where he stands in this little domestic arrangement - that doesn't make Beecher's claims *right*. It just doesn't *feel* right.
After all, why the fuck did he hang on to Beecher in the first place, once he got out? He could have left, hit the road and never look back. Like always.
But...he didn't. Because of *this*.
What had attracted him to Beecher the most: his family. The illusion he always chased after and never really grabbed a hold of.
Okay, it's not the perfect husband-wife-loving-kids Hallmark card shit. Hell!...
It doesn't even come CLOSE to it, but...(-- it's *his*.) Harry's arms around his neck tell him so; that little, weird tickle he feels in his stomach whenever he takes the kids to school.
Holly's not-exactly-surprised but definitely amused chuckle at his school record.
Her half-closed blue eyes, her head slightly tilted to the left - an unmistakable, miniature female version of Toby - giving away a small, barely restrained contemptuous snort at Chris mentioning to her that Beecher had helped him with his GED exams.
"Oh, yeah? And what did you *do* in return?" -- unusually deep, throaty voice - almost like *his* - carrying as much blatant sarcasm as soon-to-be-applying-for-Harvard wits.
Barely 12 - and she's as smart as a whip.
Carving wounds into his flesh, nerve-deep intent on distantly stalking him, hunting him down, pushing him away and then giving Keller a sly, silent 'maybe' just to have him approaching her again close enough to *really* hurt him. Over and over.
Throwing him into a semi-subconscious nerve-wrecking drive to WIN HER OVER, no matter what.
(Pretty much like with her dad, truth be told...)
In a fucked up way, it all makes sense to Keller. Why shouldn't it? NONsense is his specialty. His element.
The only problem is: is it Beecher's too?
Seemed so...(-- back in Oz.)
But - this AIN'T Oz.
And *that* Toby ain't *this* Toby, not by a long shot.
Keller can try - he IS trying - to bend himself like never before into something resembling the normalcy Beecher and his family are after; some of it comes off almost naturally, making Chris believe that that part of himself had always been there, buried under layers of thick, protective bullshit.
He's *almost* convinced now he could have been a good dad; he IS - sort of - a good dad...
Better than Beecher sometimes, that's for sure.
But...(--'it's the *sort of* that matters, right?'--)
The other parts - those that don't/never will fit with his new *approach* on life - well...those are the tricky ones...
Can this Toby handle them? Live with them?
(Live with him?)
The utter nonsense Chris Keller is, always was - forever will be? (--'Not fucking likely.'--)
He has - BEFORE. But this is NOW.
And everything's different.
Even the sex part isn't what it used to be...
But then again...(--'it's only natural, ain't it? I mean, once you're...*married*.--)
Heh! Beecher would probably turn on him like a crazed weasel if Chris was tactless enough to even *joke* about it with him... Because...(--'we're NOT married, are we?'--)
The whole concept is monumentally stupid; even Keller's mature enough to know that.
But at the same time - it's not exactly clear just what the fuck they have here...
Hell! They never were sure...just that *this* is a fuck of a lot more complicated.
Definitely more complicated than what Keller's ever had.
Those first months after moving in with Beecher and his kids, having Harry circling around him like a small animal, *sniffing* him:
"*Who* are you?"
Yep. One big fucking question...
Waking up in the morning and having to *knock* on the bathroom door and see Holly's momentarily bewildered gaze saying: 'Oh, it's *you*. And...what are you doing using *my* bathroom?!...'
He still hasn't completely gotten over that one; neither has Holly apparently.
(--'Yeah, this is complicated.'--)
Those first months...he thought about leaving. Letting go.
It would have been a whole lot less difficult for Beecher - that he knew with certainty. Single parent, freshly released from prison having to deal not only with the hardship of learning how to live again and reconnect with his children, but also dealing with his parents and former in'laws over his chosen *living arrangements*...
Beecher had surprised him; in fact, the other man had totally *blown* his mind.
He had stuck by his initial choice with that usual stubbornness of his; grabbing Chris by his shoulders and telling him, more with his eyes than his lips: "You're staying here."
And Keller did; he took his words as fucking gospel - a promise.
Except that - of-*fucking*-course - it wasn't. Not quite, not exactly. (--'Definitely don't feel like that now...'--)
So that itching feeling he always gets - just like with his wives - to just pack up and get the fuck out, invades his body like an unstoppable stream from time to time, in between suburbia-induced hazy fantasies of domestic bliss...
(--'Chris Keller - *do-mes-ti-ca-ted*... Hee!... Vern would laugh his ass off at this one.'--)
And...(--'isn't this what you wanted out of Beecher in the first place, Chris?'--)
A small crack in Toby's armor - in *Keller's* own armor - with something so unfamiliar, so weirdly appealing shining through it; Chris just had to touch it; rip through it, fucking settle all over...
Get his sticky, hungry hands inside it - inside him - and GRAB...whatever there was to grab. Everything the other man had - everything Keller had never had.
And once he did that, once he'd ripped and broken through it...well, it proved - as always - to NOT be enough.
(Never be enough.)
Both of them trapped with their own demons, their own irrational frustrations; not knowing *what* exactly it is that they want or *how* they want it. Or even *IF* they want it...
(--'Yeah, Ryan O'Reily was dead right: we're both fucked up.'--)
'Cause walking into that fucking store and shooting that poor bastard *definitely* WASN'T a fucking accident, ba-by...
And maybe...that little girl dying on Beecher's windshield wasn't exactly an accident either.
Still...Beecher felt bad, he felt guilty about what he did; he came to accept his punishment and learned enough from what he did, from what was done to him, as to ask for forgiveness. And he received it. He's stronger now than he's ever been; definitely stronger than Keller, in Chris' own mind.
Keller didn't get that; he asked for forgiveness, in his own fucked up way, and for all the wrong reasons.
(--'Wrong reasons, right reasons, what-fucking-ever...'--)
What he got was some sort of a bargain, a truce; not real, honest forgiveness...
But -- that's okay for Chris; he's always had that, so it's only natural to see it for what it is: the only thing anyone could ever give him. Still...that doesn't make it right.
'Cause he loves Beecher; he's giving everything he has, everything he can, to the other man.
And what he gets in return is a silent nod of acknowledgement; Beecher leaning in close, arms around Chris' shoulders - saying one thing through his carefully studied gestures and hiding something completely different in his lowered gaze.
(--'You don't wanna look me in the eye anymore 'cause you know I can see through you. See your suspicion, your reluctance. Your doubt.'--)
And Keller feels he just has to keep repeating it to him, an almost desperate plea: "I love you, I love you, I fucking *love* you..."
(--'Love me *back*; tell me you love me back. Tell me... And be fucking honest about it.'--)
Knowing the other man will never answer him accordingly; not exactly, not quite...
Not like Keller would want him to.
Knowing also Beecher will never truly believe him, not completely... A shadow of doubt, an endless frustration running between them - forcing them close, closer; never close enough.
Still...they're doing *this* - this *family* thing, or whatever it might be called - and none of them truly wants to back away from it.
And - to some extent - it's actually working!... It's not exactly a Kodak moment or shit, but it's working; and they're both sticking by it. The question is: for how long?
Keller doesn't have a fucking clue. Neither does Beecher, probably.
However...just slouching on the sofa in front of the TV with Toby's kids feels... Feels like nothing before; feels nice, safe. Natural.
(He feels welcomed.)
As it always should be. Everything else disappears, the whole fucking world vanishes.
He just loves those kids.
All that Beecher has.
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