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Keller was standing at the door, his hands resting against the glass wall, looking at the guys in the other pods, barely paying attention to Beecher's voice.
Beecher talked a whole fucking lot about his kids these days. Keller didn't really care about Beecher's kids. Yeah, he did in some way because Beecher loved them so much and Keller was always ready to listen and give a piece of advice just like when he was playing Vern's game. Beecher seemed to take his opinions very seriously and even looked absurdely grateful for it, which meant getting that wet thankful smile Keller had come to love so much and the warm weight of a grateful Beecher against him.
Anything that pushed Beecher in his arms for any reason was good.
On the other hand he knew, intimately knew that these three angelic blond-haired, blue-eyed children with their shy smiles were the ultimate obstacle to Beecher's complete surrender; the last umbilical cord tying Beecher to the outside world, keeping Beecher from giving himself up completely to their love just as *he*, Keller, did, body and soul, forgetting about anything that wasn't it.
He had nothing outside to distract him from Beecher; Beecher had his kids. Sometimes, he wished they didn't exist. Sometimes he wanted... Fuck that.
And from that point of view he sometimes got upset with Beecher talking about the kids; forced to face the dreadful day when Beecher would be free, walk out of Oz, irresistibly pulled away from him by those soft little hands...
Fuck. He didn't want to think about it.
"Why don't you ever talk about your childhood?"
The question pulled Keller out of his thoughts and he turned back, arms crossed, his best "don't go there" look on his face, the kind of glare that worked with everyone.
Too bad Beecher wasn't everyone.
"I'd like to know."
"No. You wouldn't. Believe me, you fucking wouldn't."
"Come on! There must be something or someone back then you loved, a memory you want to share!"
Keller sighed, turned and crossed the room, shoving Beecher aside on his way and collapsed on his bunk, grabbed a magazine.
"What?" Beecher said, "I don't deserve it?"
"Drop it, Beecher; it's not about that."
"I know... I can guess that your childhood wasn't..."
Keller's tone turned to a whisper; something so soft and low Beecher had to strain to hear it, but he didn't miss the threatening tone of it, the scary inflexion.
"Just fucking drop it, Beecher."
Toby dropped it. Shit. Now it would take hours to pull Keller out of his dark mood, hours to get a word or the slightest sign of interest out of him. Great job Beecher, he thought. Like you didn't know he hates to be pushed. But of course you had to, didn't you?
So Beecher just sat there pretending to read, glancing from time to time at Keller's locked expression, his eyes lost somewhere in an unknown place, unreachable, the hours between lockdown and lights out dragging by in the most boring possible way.
Lights out didn't bring any improvement; Keller just turned to the wall and pretended to sleep. The worst was that he knew Keller didn't even do it on purpose; he probably wanted nothing more than forget about it, pull Beecher into his bed, into his arms, and fuck him. He just didn't know how to get out of it.
"Moody motherfucker," Beecher said, loud enough for Keller to hear. but even that didn't prompt any reaction. So he climbed into his bunk and waited.
It took a long time, hours maybe until Keller said, "Won't you fucking hop down?"
Beecher did of course, crawled against Keller's body, feeling Keller's arms lock him in a possessive embrace. He buried his face in the crook of Keller's neck, breathing deep into the musky scent, felt fingers run through his hair, pulling his face back to kiss him.
"Fuck, I love kissing you; you're quite the drug, Toby, aren't you?"
Keller's hand was already sliding between Beecher's legs where it was warmer still and the skin felt soft; strong fingers parting his thighs, stroking, entering him, barely wet with sweat and spit, nimble fingertips looking for the magic point inside that made Toby weak and hungry even when he didn't want to be fucked.
"Fuck me," Toby whispered, "I want you to fuck me now."
Keller looked at him, looked at the guards outside and at the dark pods all around them, sighed, retrieved some lube -O'Reilly be thanked for supplying them with such a useful item; Keller really got a kick from the disgusted look on the Mick's face when he handed him the tube.
He was feeling lazy, suddenly; fucking Beecher always did that to him, made him want to take his time, watch, touch, caress, listen to the soft muffled noises Beecher was doing, take his time kissing him, feel the hot wetness of Beecher's mouth on his cock before pulling away, stretching, wrestling the other man on his back with a growl, just like two big cats fighting until he had Beecher right where he wanted him, panting and ready. He entered him at last, almost regretfully, thrusting hard and slow because that's what turned Toby on, until they both couldn't take it anymore, until they were too close, Beecher's body arching to take him deeper with every thrust. A last warning growl and Keller picked up a quicker rhythm , leading them to a silent orgasm that left them shivering and exhausted.
"Fuck, that's so good; you're the best fuck I ever had, Beecher. And so much more."
Beecher moaned something like an agreement and they both dozed off.
Much later, sitting on the lower bunk, his back against the wall, holding Beecher tight , running his lips against the soft skin in the crook of his neck, kissing softly, biting, raising goose bumps all over Beecher's skin, Keller spoke, his voice low and husky.
"First time I fell in love I was 4. Maybe 5. Not in first grade yet."
He stopped, wary, waiting for an interruption maybe but Beecher knew better, and Keller continued.
"We went to school together; he lived nearby."
He? Beecher still said nothing; any remark, even the most innocuous one, would send him back to his bunk without further ado.
"His name was Joe. The fuck if I know what happened to him; he moved at the end of that year; I remember crying my fucking heart out. The other boys didn't like us so we used to sit on a little wall and just watch them play. Too fucking shy, I guess or maybe just clumsy. I remember I loved to hold his hand in mine. Strange how I still remember his face after so long. Blue eyes, mussy dark hair. Yeah, I fucking loved him."
Keller let out a grim laugh. "Maybe I was gay already, who knows?" he said, shrugging. "Sister Pete would love this, I'm sure."
He fell silent again and there didn't seem to be much more to say; he just held Toby tighter, resting his chin on his shoulder.
Later, shaking himself, he said, "Come on, you'd better go back to your bunk; Murphy's coming around."
Sleep was long to come that night; Toby couldn't dismiss the vision of two little boys holding hands, two frail silhouettes lost in a world too big and too tough for them; seeking comfort in each other.
Just like Keller and him.
Wondering what had gone so horribly wrong in Keller's life, turning a five year old hungry for affection into the Chris Keller he knew.
Certain he'd never know.
Chris was late at the cafeteria that day. He glared at everyone before spotting Toby, sat in front of him and began eating without a word. Bad sign.
"So, what did she say?"
"Who? Sister Pete? She said Joe didn't exist, she said he was some imaginary friend I'd made up because I felt too fucking lonely; she said shit of that kind happened and that it matched my psychological profile."
Chris had that slightly singing, light tone, kind of "it doesn't matter" tone which meant it did matter. Meant that he was hurt. The lighter the tone, the deeper the wound. Eyes filled with shadows.
"What does that bitch know about anything, anyway?" Chris said.
Toby rested a hand on Chris' fingers but Chris pulled away as if he'd been burnt.
"I'm sorry," Toby said, "sometimes she just..."
"Shut the fuck up, Beech, the matter's closed. You wanted me to tell her for one of those obscure reasons of yours and I did. Looks like it was another fucking bad idea."
But the matter wasn't closed for Toby. Of course he resisted the urge to talk to Sister Pete . But why would Chris need any imaginary friends at five? He knew such things existed, he knew that it sometimes turned into some kind of neurosis but still... Chris' Joe sounded pretty real to him.
During his father's next visit he told him about Chris' story, asked him to do some research and Harrison Beecher gave his son one of these looks that meant he'd do whatever he was asked, even if he didn't like it.
"I only know the name of the town where he grew up but it's a small one; I doubt there are a lot of schools there."
"Keller obviously didn't go to a private school so that narrows the search," Harrison said with a sigh, "OK, I'll try to find out something."
Harrison Beecher was a man of his word and a month later a smug Toby handed out a brown envelope to Chris, smiled at his wary look and watched with happy anticipation as he opened it, pulled the picture out and looked at it, his face absolutely blank. Frozen.
Not at all what Toby had expected. Something was going wrong, he could tell even before Chris had opened his mouth.
"Where did you get this?" Chris said, still looking at the photograph.
"I asked my father to make some investigations and..."
Chris looked up at Toby standing in front of him and for a moment he said nothing, just looked, the picture hanging between his fingers.
"Who the fuck allowed you to poke around in my past, Beecher?"
Just a question asked by Chris' quiet voice and Toby knew he'd made a mistake. A big one. Chris was near enough to touch, his mouth mere inches from Toby's face; Toby could feel his breath, see his blank look, his crazy smile, hear the roaring anger in his voice when he said, "Did I?"
"No. I thought... It's just a picture, Chris and you'd said..."
Just a picture, one of those you get at school every year; all the kids sitting on benches side by side with their teacher... What the hell did that mean?
"Yeah? What the fuck did I say?"
"You said you loved him; I thought you'd be happy to have a picture of both of you."
Chris looked down at the photograph, expressionless.
"You wanted me to tell you something about my past and I did. You didn't have to dig any further."
The man I have in front of me, Toby thought, speechless, isn't the one I know. He's not the one I love, not even the one I used to hate, or fear. He's a stranger. Same body, same face, same eyes, same hands, but the soul inside belongs to someone else.
Chris didn't say anything else after that. Just tore the picture in pieces before walking out of the pod, leaving Toby behind, stunned, a dull ache in his chest.
He stood like that for a while, looking at the small pieces of paper on the floor, remembering how moved he'd been when he'd looked at the photograph, hours ago, smiling at the sight of the two little boys sitting in the second row. Holding hands just like Chris had said. Joe looking at the camera, Chris looking at Joe... Chris. Frail, blue eyed, dark haired Chris but Chris without a doubt.
At the moment Toby had been overwhelmed with such emotion, it was so familiar, so moving, Chris looked so open and loveable.
So what? He kept asking himself the question, trying to piece the picture together again, making his best to hide the gaps and tears with scotch tape he'd borrowed from a resigned O'Reily. Staring at it again, he began to see more in the picture than what met the eyes, more than a cute moving scene. Chris' look was unmistakable; a look so intense, oblivious of anything that wasn't Joe, his fingers locked around the other boy's hand tight, not letting go. The world would've crumbled under their feet and the five year old Chris wouldn't have given a fuck. Only Joe mattered.
"What the fuck did you do this time, Beecher?" Ryan asked, watching him work from the door of the pod.
"Why don't you mind your own fucking business, O'Reily?" Toby snapped, his voice shaking.
"Ask the wrong question? Why the fuck do you ask questions? Can't you just let him be?"
Beecher rose, glared at O'Reily. "Since when do you give advice? Think you're the poster boy for conjugal life?"
"Well, it can't be worse than the mess you both throw at each other. Keep the tape, could be useful later."
Fuck O'Reily, Sister Pete, Keller and the whole bunch of psychotic fucks of Oz, Toby thought, sliding the picture into the envelope again and hiding it in his locker where he was sure Keller wouldn't find it; not even search it. Now that he'd made his point he didn't have to.
Still, Beecher thought, Joe wasn't an imaginary friend and Sister Pete was wrong. Because in the end it had been about her stupid reaction; he'd been so pissed off at Pete's determination to deny Chris any humanity, any normality, that he'd wanted to prove to her she was wrong and the picture proved that. He'd expected Chris to be happy because *he* would've been; he was every time his father or his mother showed him one of those old pictures of him as a kid that reminded him of happier times.
But he wasn't Chris.
He didn't see Chris again that afternoon; he didn't show up at the cafeteria or in the common room or in the library, let alone the pod, and Toby had looked for him everywhere when O'Reily came to him.
"Your boyfriend bought some tits from me two hours ago; should be going down now," the Mick said in a conspiratorial whisper, leaning against the rail near Toby.
Toby felt his heart clench.
"Why did you give him that shit?"
"He had cash, Beecher," Ryan said with the same tone he used with his brother, "and he wanted it bad. Go get a look in the storage room."
Beecher managed to find a reason to go there -Sister Pete needed copying paper and she let him go alone, frowning at his obvious concern but keeping her mouth shut.
The door was open, and in the grim light Toby saw Chris sitting in a corner between the shelves and the back wall like a wounded animal, his back against the wall, sweat rolling down his face, his breath short and laboured.
"Chris?" he called softly, taking a step forward.
"Fuck off, Beecher."
Yeah, like I'm gonna leave you here, Toby thought, stepping over open boxes.
"Come on, let's go back to our pod, you can't stay here, if the hacks find you here they'll drag you to the hole."
Toby crouched in front of him, held out a hand.
"Don't fucking touch me," Chris growled, "I don't need any damn help."
He stood up, leaning against the wall to keep his balance and stumbled all the way back to Em'city, stopping from time to time, breathing hard. He walked across the common room without a look around, inmates cautiously getting out of his way and collapsed on his bunk. When he heard Toby rummage in his locker to find some juice, give him something to drink, he said, "Don't you fucking think you can be all around me like a fucking nurse, Beecher. Stop trying to make things better, can't you see you're only making them worse?"
So Toby sat on a chair near the bunk, not too near, pretending to be absorbed in a book, not looking at Chris, listening to his breathing slow down as he fell asleep. He slept all afternoon, didn't eat, but long after lockdown, he drank a lot of water and puked his guts out. Drank again until he was so drained Toby had to take him to his bunk.
No sex that night, no sex the following night and Chris did his best to keep as far from Beecher as he could, not talking to him.
Two days later while everyone was absorbed in the enthralling sight of Miss Sally he got Beecher against the pod wall and fucked him, not even stripping, just undoing his pants and rubbing against him like a cat in heat until Beecher was biting his lips, drawing blood, Chris fingers under his shirt stroking his nipples, twisting, Chris lips against his ear whispering obscenities about how hard he would fuck him after lights out, make him yell, make him pass out, make him beg - when Beecher came, Keller had to press his palm against his mouth to stifle his cries.
Keller's weight holding him up, Keller's breathing in his ear as Beecher was slowly coming back to his senses and when he was feeling well enough, Keller's voice, low and dark and expressionless as if he'd been speaking under hypnosis.
"Now listen to me, you motherfucker. Joe died. He died, do you hear me? His family was supposed to move to another town that day; his mother had baked a whole bunch of cookies; I grabbed them all and put them in a bag, then I took Joe by the hand because I wanted to spend that last afternoon alone with him. We walked passed the houses and the railroad tracks and settled near the river. We played, ate all the cookies. Then he lost one of his shoes in the water while we were trying to catch frogs and he wanted to get it back."
Keller was so heavy, Beecher could barely breathe.
"He drowned. He slipped on a stone, fell and drowned; the current swept him away. I ran along the bank calling his name but I couldn't see him anymore so I ran back home... The neighbours were pretty sure I'd pushed him, said I was a mad and mean nasty kid; the cops questioned me. I couldn't say anything. I cried, my mom cried, then Joe's mother came home and hit me, yelled that I'd killed her little Joe. I kept screaming that I loved Joe, I didn't want him to go, I would've done anything to keep him, and why the hell did she want to take him away from me in the first place?"
Keller took a deep ragged breath.
"We had to move because people in the neighbourhood kept throwing stones in our windows and I got beaten up at school every fucking day. Kids running after me, calling me names, saying I'd killed Joe."
He seemed to collapse against Beecher's body for a moment before pulling himself together again, stepping back, looking deep into Beecher's eyes.
"Now you got it. You fucking got it, your little moment of intimacy, your nice little memory, this thing I shared with you."
Beecher closed his eyes, silent. When he opened his mouth to say something, Keller had left the pod. He saw him sitting beside O'Reily, arms folded on his chest.
After a while, exhausted and sick, Beecher joined them, sat on the chair a younger inmate caught under Keller's threatening gaze had just left, and like every other day Keller spread his knees and rested his thigh against Beecher's thigh. When Beecher turned to him a moment later Keller was looking at him.
It was the look of the picture and Toby didn't want to think about what it meant.
- The end -
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