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This was written for the Kink & Cliche challenge on Live Journal.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Riley Cannon
Thank you to Maverick for nudging me to take part in the challenge, and to the challenge sponsors for pulling it all together.
Summary: This is a what-if? interlude in "Cuts Like a Knife," prompted by reports of the DVD deleted scene confirming the boys were reunited -- if all too briefly in strict canon terms. Fanfic is for nothing if not speculating on what might have been, so for this fic pretend Chris & Toby had one more night together before the official timeline kicks in.
~Nothing Gold Can Stay~
"Shh." I brushed my lips along Toby's cheek. "Stay, just a minute." There was time, plenty of it.
He gave in with a quiet little sigh and I tried not to clamp down, tried to believe he really wanted to linger there in my arms just as much as I wanted to hold him. I do know him; Toby'd never be here if this isn't what he wanted. Suggesting this was all nothing but some kinda pity fuck -- yeah, that'd be a good way to get a punch in the nose. Again.
"We're going to be glued together," he said in another moment, squirming against me in a way that wasn't exactly awful.
I kissed his temple, running a hand down his arm. "Would that be so bad?"
He sighed again, one of those huffy ones, and told me, "Chris, I'll be right back."
Yeah ... and if you love someone, let them free. I let him go and rolled over on my side, looking out at Em City, everything dark and quiet. He had the water running and I tried not to mind him washing away every trace of me. Give him time, he'd get comfortable with everything again. There'd be time, there had to be. His date with the parole board wasn't for a while yet, and maybe ... But I ducked away from that thought, hating myself for even coming close to it for a second.
The water shut off and I heard his footsteps coming back here, waited for the creak as he climbed up to his bunk -- flinched in surprise as a warm, wet cloth was laid against my back. "Sorry," he whispered, close enough I could feel his breath on my neck. "Is it cold?" he asked, running it along my back and thighs.
"No, it's good." I rolled over on my back, watching his face as he cleaned me up. There was a tenderness there that shouldn't be directed at me. Didn't keep me from craving it, craving him. But I had to smile, remembering how I'd almost been afraid to reach out and touch, like maybe this was all a dream -- us back together -- and he'd vanish like a soap bubble if I tried to catch hold of him. And just like that first time, he'd pulled me to him and showed me it was okay, showed me it was true. He'd let me satisfy that need, let me touch him and kiss him as much I wanted, and then he gave it back. He'd buried his face against me and breathed in deep, like he'd missed the smell of me. He'd mapped every inch of me with his fingers and tongue, like he was making a memory.
He dropped the cloth on the floor and fitted himself along me again, dropping a kiss on my shoulder, just at the edge of the scar. "What?"
I shook my head. "Nothing, just ..."
He pulled back to look at me, frowning. "Chris, what?"
I touched his face, leaned in to kiss his mouth again. "Just making sure you're real."
He smiled and shook his head then, one hand curving around the nape of my neck, fingers pulling at my hair. "Real as a train wreck, baby."
I laughed, guessed that was a good way to describe all this.
He didn't budge for a long time, and that let me know clearer than words that Toby wanted to be there, close as could be and touching, kissing a little bit now and then. We weren't trying to work each other up again, just keeping in touch. After all these months without him, this -- holding him, our legs tangled and his foot rubbing my ankle -- was almost the best part. And I'm not so sure there's any almost about it.
After a while, though, both of us had to give into some yawns, and Toby leaned in to kiss my cheek and tell me, "Good night, don't let the bed bugs bite."
"Fuck you," I yawned back, not having such a hard time letting him go now.
"Tomorrow," he promised, kissing me again and whispering, "Sweet dreams, baby," before finally scrambling back up to his bunk for the rest of the night.
Sweet dreams in Oz -- yeah, right. But you know what? Maybe it's nuts and all, but I gotta admit I've had some good ones about him. Back when it looked like this was never gonna happen, those dreams were about all I had to keep me going. Good as they were, not one of them got close to the reality of touching him, holding him in my arms and finally able to love him like I wanted. Losing all that ... yeah, you could skin me alive and set me on fire and nothin' would ever hurt worse than having to watch Toby from a far off distance again, believing I'd lost the best thing I ever had.
So, yeah, I didn't need dreams now, didn't want 'em. The truth of Toby was so much more satisfying, and I guess it's spoiled me for anything else.
But, I do sorta daydream, I guess, trying to imagine how things would be if we were somewhere else, somewhere not Oz. Him and me -- that never would have happened anywhere else, I do know that, and even if it did probably this feeling between us wouldn't be so powerful and all-consuming. Maybe it's the danger that fires it up, knowing how we could caught and punished anytime, knowing how easy we could lose it all. If it wasn't for that, that current of high voltage risk running through it all, would I start taking this for granted? Instead of longing to hold him in my arms all through the night, would boredom move in and settle down?
I lay there, listening to him shifting around and trying to get comfortable, and the way I could tell when he'd finally drifted off to dreamland told me that was one concern to go ahead and scratch off my list. There's never gonna be a time the shine goes off Toby. Even back when this had mostly been a lie, no one else had registered a blip on my radar. I never noticed anyone the way I zeroed in on Toby. Might've been easier if I had, 'cause there's a lot of wear and tear comes with this much drama, but ... no, I wouldn't give up a minute of even the worst of it. Gotta take the good with the bad, right, and the best of it was worth any price I had to pay.
But, yeah, ask me again when he's gone and I'm left here on my own, and I might have a different spin. No sense dwelling on that, though. We had some time, we had this fresh start, and the important thing was to hold onto it tight this time and not fuck it all up again.
Like Toby said -- tomorrow. We had that, to have and to hold, one tomorrow at a time. Reminding myself of that, looking forward to it, made it easier to finally close my eyes and drift off, 'cause Toby'd be there in the morning and that was the sweetest dream that could ever come true.
Fuck, I must've overslept. It took way too much effort to sit up and swing my legs over the side, slumping down there with my head in my hands, scrubbing at my face like that could get rid of this groggy, disconnected feeling. Not much luck, and I hoped to Christ I wasn't coming down with something 'cause I didn't want even a bug comin' between me and Toby.
"Hey, Beech," my voice sounded hoarse and scratchy, "rise and shine, babe." And it was weird how Mineo wasn't already over here, pounding on the door and barking at us to move our lazy asses. I snagged my pants from the floor and dragged them on, running the tap and catching some cold water in my palms, splashing it over my face and letting it drip down on my chest.
"Toby?" I looked in the mirror, expecting to see him still up in his bunk, just waking up and looking all rumpled and sleepy. Only the bunk was empty and made up neat as could be.
I went back over there, frowning as I ran a hand along the blanket, giving the whole pod a longer look. Except there wasn't anything to see, not so much as a towel hanging on the hook or a sock tossed over in the corner.
But that wasn't even what set off this funny feeling in my belly. No, that was how the pod door was standing wide open, only there wasn't anybody out there. Nobody falling in for count, no hacks keeping watch, not one solitary soul but me. I went out there, looking all around at the cold, gray emptiness -- no lights, no sounds, no nothing anywhere. I shouted -- "Toby!" -- and it echoed back at me.
I was running then, nothing to stop me, my bare feet pounding on the floor and sound bouncing back at me, and then I was outside, no guards anywhere here either, and I charged across the yard, kicking up clouds of gray dust. Nothing ... nothing; only dead silence and stillness all around me, no color anywhere, not even when I looked up at the sky.
"Hey! Hey!" I made it to the gate, gripping the bars and pulling at them, frantic to get out because there was life out there, so close I could almost touch it ... almost, stretching my arm through the bars far as it would go, the tips of my fingers straining some more and just barely able to brush against all that color and warmth.
It was all dark and cold and silent here but there -- right over there it was like a fucking carnival. The sky was clear and blue and the sun was shining down so bright I knew it'd hurt my eyes to look at it. There was grass and trees and people coming and going, laughing, living, and I kept trying so goddamn hard to get to it, to grab hold of it, but it just kept slipping right through my fingers.
Then the whole crowd parted and Toby was there, smiling and laughing. He looked ... golden, better than I'd ever seen him and it felt like if I didn't touch him right then I was going to die. "Toby! Toby!" I pushed against the gate, fighting to squeeze through, to reach him. I tried to climb over it but couldn't get anywhere near the top no matter how hard I tried, and tumbled back down to land in the gray dirt, sprawling there and tasting the dirt, breathing hard, desperation making me scramble back to my feet just as the gate opened up a crack, just a wedge, but if I could make it, if I could just get there in time -- I lunged for it, fell, tried again, but it was so far away now, and Toby was walking away, like he never saw me, never heard me, like I was nothin' but a ghost. "Toby! Toby!" I lunged for the gate, crashed into it as it slammed shut on me, locking me away forever. "Toby, no!" He was slipping away in the crowd, I was losing him, and no matter how hard I pounded on the gate, how much I yelled and screamed, he couldn't see me. "Toby -- don't leave me, don't leave me here! I'm here, Toby, I'm here. Toby!"
I was breathing hard, shaking, alone in the dark, a dark that was never going to lift again, never, never...
The voice was right against my ear, quiet and intense, and I could feel a puff of warm air against my skin, lips touching my ear, arms holding me so tight and strong and rocking me, a hand stroking my hair. The voice whispered over and over, "Chris, baby, shh, shh, it's okay, it's okay, Chris, shh..."
"Toby?" I could barely hear myself, and my throat ached.
He stroked my hair again, holding me even tighter. "You okay?"
I had to look at him but it was so hard to pull back even a couple inches, I felt all wrung out. It's never completely dark in Oz, some feeble light always lingers, and there was enough for me to see him sitting there beside me, a worried expression on his face as he kept touching me, cupping a hand along my cheek. I could feel that, I could feel him warm and solid against me, and pressed back into him, my face buried in his neck before he could see the tears brimming in my eyes. I didn't want him to see me like this, I wanted to run away and hide, but it felt like my muscles had all melted away and I didn't have the strength to move an inch.
"You want to talk about it?" he asked, and I tried to shake my head, just barely able to move my face back and forth along his skin.
"Okay." He held me, touching, murmuring, prying my chin up so he could see my face. He didn't look disgusted or embarrassed, though, just ... worried, and like he was hurting along with me. He moved in, ignoring my moan of protest, and kissed the wetness on my cheek, kissed my eyes closed and held me there against him.
Minutes dragged by, maybe hours, before I let out a deep breath and finally moved, far as he'd let me anyway. Stretched out there, side by side, I had to keep touching him, had to keep making sure he was real. "Promise..."
Toby caught hold of my hand. "What?"
"Promise ... you won't forget me."
His smile was sad and he touched my face again. "Chris, how would I ever forget you?"
"You will, when you're not here anymore, you'll forget."
"No." He looked at me so serious then. "Chris, I'm not going anywhere for a long time, and if I ever do there is no possibility of ever forgetting you. You're in my fucking bones."
I winced at that and he kissed me, saying he didn't mean it that way.
His knuckles brushed my cheek and he looked at me so searchingly. "What brought this on? Something you dreamed?"
I nodded, burrowing close again, wishing I could tell him, but -- what if that made it all come true? "Just," I swallowed, held onto him, "just promise, Toby."
He sighed, kissed my cheek, the bridge of my nose. "I promise, Chris, I will never forget you."
He would, though, I knew he would. He wouldn't mean to, he'd walk out of here convinced he'd keep that promise, but things would come up, life would take him away and he'd forget except for every now and then, and one day there wouldn't be even that, and all I'd be was that ghost, left behind here and never able to touch him again.
But I lay there next to him, listening to his heartbeat, wanting to believe ... wanting it to never be tomorrow.
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