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set through the end of "Out o' Time".
A Little Destruction
Toby has learned that there are two types of heartbeats in Oz. The most prominent is fear, anxiety, the kind closes your throat, makes you sweat, makes your chest tighten as your pulse roars in your ears.
The second is anticipation, in its many varied forms.
Until Chris kisses him in the laundry room, he only knew of one.
Long after the hacks haul Chris away, Toby stands against the washers, running his tongue along the roof of his mouth, searching for Chris's true taste mixed with the severity of the alcohol. It hadn't been long enough, he'd barely let Chris inside, and then it was over, done. There's nothing left but the pounding of his heart, the flush of his cheeks.
It isn't an excuse, really, the way he gravitates straight to that jar that has, in hindsight, been waiting for him all along. But he's being haunted enough as it is, everything is happening all at once, and fuck, it's been too damn long--if ever--since he's heard his name whispered so carefully, like it was precious.
I love you, Toby.
He fades into the black drunken nothingness with the words on faint repeat in his brain, imagining Chris's taste burned into his tongue.
There is nothing like the shift of your heart from relief to the sickening falter that follows disappointment, or worse, rejection. It's humiliating in a high school melodrama kind of way, knowing that your face has fallen and your eyes are growing red, and you are seized with an uncontrollable urge to call out that person's name in the hopes that the simple sound of your voice will draw them back to you.
He's already begun to convince himself that feelings, any feelings, are overrated within the walls of Em City. They are moot, irrelevant, like flies in a warehouse. It doesn't matter that sobriety has turned into this dull ache he's grown tired of; inebriation only makes his mind wander, and he finds himself staring across the quad, willing Chris's glance, his acknowledgement, anything other than the smooth indifference. Toby knows he's pathetic, horribly so, but it doesn't matter. There's no going back, and that, too, is irrelevant.
Then Keller destroys his body with Vern's help, and through the red haze of pain Toby realizes he's been wrong along. To feel keeps you alive.
He lets himself cry, once, tucking his face into the must of the hospital pillow. He holds his breath until his lungs scream and after that there are no more tears. Ever.
Desperation is not a good look for Chris. It's a sign of weakness, and Toby figures he should know better. Still, he feels an odd sense of power sitting atop his bunk as Chris babbles on about their two month separation and letting Toby break his arms as penance. From this height Toby can angle his leg just so and kick him straight in the mouth--it would hurt like hell, but he'd be able to see him wince and spit out his blood mingled with a smattering of teeth.
It would be a start.
The penitent ones pray on their knees, you fuck.
Anticipation and giddy fear beat together into one cohesive rush. For once, he enjoys the sound of silence as Chris tries to convince himself that Toby would never bleed him, wasn't capable of such a thing. That was Chris's area of expertise, and Toby was the innocent bystander.
Innocent. Yeah, Toby can manage that.
After everything is said and done and Vern's kid is dead (my fault all my fault Christ Andy), Chris thinks the part where he pushes and pushes until Toby finally gives in (or up is there really a difference?) is over, and Toby isn't surprised. For Chris, it's as simple as sliding his hand across Toby's thigh beneath the table--in the cafeteria, in front of God and whoever else cares to look--and leaning into him, saying the words once more in that hushed voice of his.
It makes Toby sick, the sudden clutch of his heart at the way Keller squeezes his leg, fingertips tracing patterns in a soft upward motion. He feels the heat in his cheeks again and they might as well be back in the laundry room, when he'd been sober and bright-eyed happy and thought canes were for old guys with arthritis in their knees.
He shoves Chris away and leaves him behind, knows the look on Chris's face without even glancing over his shoulder. He can love Toby all he wants; it'll keep him alive, but in the end it won't mean shit.
Every night he feels it, like the ringing in your ears when you sense a television being turned on in another room. Toby never allows himself to look out the pod door and make it real; he doesn't allow either one of them the satisfaction of his acknowledgement. It's proof, this silent watch Keller keeps over him at night, of his commitment. A dark guardian angel, or better yet (Toby smirks) a junkyard guard dog.
He stares into the railings of the bunk above him and doesn't care. He doesn't need the reassurance, not anymore. The fragility of his body has made him stronger.
For the third time in as many weeks, Toby has the same dream, one that does not involve him gasping into consciousness drenched a cold sweat. Instead, he blinks awake, like each time before, and licks his lips, his left hand rubbing absently at his shoulder in an attempt to trap the imagined heat of a kiss that was never there. Then he curls up on his side and sighs, his pulse a slow and heavy pull within his chest.
Toby tells himself it's all born out of his progress with Said, that to forgive and forget separates men from the animals. He's clinging to what's left of his humanity, that's all, and it sure as hell has absolutely nothing to do with the sardonic, melancholy smirk Chris gives him when Toby says his name for the first time in ages.
Toby forgives him--he says it, finally, out loud--but he doesn't love him. It becomes a frantic, blaring mantra in his brain, set to bullhorn decibels, as Chris wraps Toby in his arms and begins to melt against him, his body sagging in relief. He tells Toby he loves him, and Toby decides it's the humanity that makes him say it back.
And yet Toby's reaction to the warmth of Chris's skin against his is violent and sudden, a stab of adrenaline to the heart; he stumbles back and lets the emotion die before it even truly breathes.
The end. Next story.
Forgiveness is anything but divine. It's nothing but a word defined by its inflection.
I forgive you.
Does God even care how you say it, as long as you're earnest?
Toby says the words to Vern and he means them, every one. But he's working vicariously through Schillinger, taking the back way to asking Andy for his own forgiveness. He expects the contempt that's automatic--fuck, Toby's even learned to feed off it--and when Vern comes at him with the shank, things sort of spin out into slow motion and he's falling. There's pain again, like vague dj vu.
But Toby never shuts his eyes until he's seen Keller take Vern down like it's nothing, like he barely even thinks about it, and Chris is dropping to knees, pressing against him, saying things that are lost in the chaos before the moment is over.
The loss of blood lets Toby pass out on the hospital gurney, but he can still hear the echo of Chris yelling his name as he's dragged off to solitary.
He wonders why he even believes he's deserving of the look in Chris's eyes as he leans against the railing and tells Chris he's back in Toby's pod. It's something that practically flashes and becomes a tangible thing Toby can feel across the space that holds them apart. God knows Toby'd never have that same look for him if their places were swapped.
Through years of practice, Toby can convince himself of anything.
He has learned that anticipation is never far removed from fear. To wait for something, to let it consume you in the ongoing suspense, is both heady and terrifying.
After Toby has laid his hand on Chris's chest--the first move, the initial touch, Chris had waited and God, Ilovehim--there's a small pause, a slight tick in Chris's jaw, barely visible in the pod's stale darkness, and then his palm presses hard over the stab wound in Toby's side, deliberate. Proof. His fingers splay along Toby's back just before the kiss, their second, though it might as well be their first. Toby takes Chris's face in his hands as he opens his mouth to him, lets their tastes merge. His thumbs trace Chris's jaw, down his throat and just below his chin, where his pulse is alive and uneven. Toby digs in, wanting that jagged rhythm, and as his thumb sinks into the curve of Chris's throat, Chris jerks back slightly, his mouth slack.
"The fuck, Beecher?" But his voice is soft and unthreatening.
"I just...I'm experimenting." Toby ducks his head, feels his cheeks blush. He doesn't really know what he's saying.
Chris leans in and rubs his nose against Toby's cheek. "You think too fucking much," he whispers.
Or not enough. He shivers as Chris slides his hand beneath Toby's shirt, his nails grazing his skin.
Thinking, like feeling, is overrated.
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