Search Engine |
Random Story |
Thank you to the wonderful illusionaltzu, who helped me find my focus. Thank you to the talented colleendetroit, who made an awesome graphic for this story. Written for the 2008 Spook_Me challenge. Prompts at the end. Starts from the last episode, after the play.
"Weirdest shit around here some days," Poet mutters.
Pancamo makes a check mark on the inventory sheet and looks up. "What?" He barks out.
Poet reveals the mealworms in the flour sack, and Pancamo gestures at him. "Just open a new one, for Chrissakes," he says impatiently.
"This is a new one, man. Opened another one up wantin' flour, got little bugs, tried another, same thing. The hell kinda food we gettin', anyway." Poet shakes his head.
Pancamo's cut off by a shout of surprise from over by the dishwasher. Both men hurry over to investigate, where Urbano's staring at a stack of freshly washed trays covered in what looks like hundreds of specks of rice.
"What the hell..." Poet starts to say, then trails off.
Pancamo prods at one of the white spots with the end of a plastic fork, prying the bit off. The three men huddle closer to inspect it, and then Urbano rears his head back. "Maggots!"
"Are those things," Poet finishes. "They're dead, right?"
Thieving, murder, money laundering - Chucky can deal with all that. Bustling streams of ants, thick lines of lumbering beetles, and creeping, fat maggots: a man's got to draw the line somewhere. He thinks if he stares at them too much longer he might imagine that one of them just wriggled. "Toss the whole thing. I'll put it down as cracked."
Poet snorts. "This's fuckin' cracked all right. Goddamn. Where the hell are they comin' from."
The quad in Em City is packed, and there's a heavy, anxious feel to the air, as if everyone's exhaling quickly in hard, humid breaths. COs ring the area in front of the television, hemming them in, while McManus shares Querns' latest orders for inmate exchange with Unit B. His outrage at the decisions is obvious, down to each reassignment of the pods. O'Reily watches with a disinterested air, but gives himself away with the twitch of his jaw. Perched on one of the game tables, Beecher's upper body is all brittle angles, though his legs swing loosely. Finally, the guards disperse. On the tower, Murphy nods to Officer Armstrong, who flicks on the power for the televisions. The news program draws the inmates' attention, and people settle into the familiar routine.
There aren't any reports of particular interest to the assembled crowd, although during a short piece on how weather patterns affect local wildlife, O'Reily leans forward in his chair and grunts, then uncrosses his arms and wipes his palms on his pants. An expose on cheerleaders who moonlight as strippers - "'Cause that's a stretch", someone quips - rouses a few catcalls and whoops from the assembled crowd, but their energy is lackluster and quickly drains away.
"Are you developing an interest in meteorology, Ryan?" Rebadow asks, crooking an eyebrow.
Several seconds pass before O'Reily blinks. "What? No. Something just, you know, made me think about somethin' I heard once. Rainforests and bugs. Butterflies."
"A butterfly flutters its wings..." Rebadow nods.
Beecher interrupts. "Small variations of the initial condition can lead to variations in the long-term behavior of the system. A lot depends on the sensitivity, though."
Both men twist around to look back at Beecher.
"Say you're standing at the top of a hill, and you roll a ball down the road; depending on where you start it from, it'll track differently," he explains further, and then huffs out an annoyed breath at their blank expressions. "How you do stuff has consequences that affect the outcome of your decisions or your actions."
"Ready for your shot on Up Your Ante, Toby?" A fourth voice chimes into their conversation.
Shoulders tense, Beecher hops off the table and disappears into his old ground-floor pod, made new again by the reassignments.
O'Reily grins. "Welcome back, man."
Rebadow offers a slight smile, and then turns his attention back to the television while Ryan and Keller tap their fists in greeting.
Officer Smith gapes at the size of the spider spinning its web in his locker. It's easily the size of his fist, and he never knew they got that big this far North. He wonders why the spider picked that spot, since it's dark, windless, and not exactly prime real estate for catching flies. He's thinking this over when the spider shoots out a line of sticky web, seemingly at him. It grazes his forearm and he jumps back, slamming the door shut. He never knew they could do that either, and he decides he'll just wear his uniform home tonight, and maybe switch lockers when he comes in tomorrow.
She hasn't gotten home before dark for nearly three years now, and she always leaves the porch light on, its spill of yellow light soothing, like there's someone inside, waiting for her to come home. Pulling into the driveway, she notices the light's off, and her hand goes immediately to her hip; she grimaces when she remembers her nightstick tucked into her locker at work.
There doesn't seem to be anybody in the house, though - and she looks carefully, one hand clutching a heavy snow shovel from the garage, her tread purposefully heavy, like she means business, like she's a man on a mission.
She takes a fresh light bulb from the pack and opens the door to the front porch from the inside. There's a pile of what looks like - fake snow, or cut-up rags on the mat. She pushes into the heap with the shovel, and bodies float like ash away from the house. They're moths, she realizes. There are bits of wings and appendages stuck to the porch light, as if they've beaten themselves against the fixture until the glass broke. How many moths lay at her feet? Claire shakes her head. She's tired. She'll clean this goddamned mess up in the morning.
Alvarez knows it's bad luck to kill an araña, but motherfuck! He wakes up to see a whitish shape not four inches from his eyes. He sits up in terror, unsure if this's another of Torquemada's mind games. If only he didn't sit up - he inhales spider web, the crisscrossed silky threads dissolving in his mouth, the tacky feel of it brushing against his cheeks and nose, sticking to his eyelashes - Miguel hurriedly scrubs the heels of his hands over his face. Taking a deep breath, he focuses on the first tiny movement he sees: a spider crawling slowly on the metal rail right next to him. He kills it.
She's finishing the reports from the latest string of deaths and her thoughts drift as she works on Schillinger's paperwork. It's not fair, or right, but she thinks that maybe things will go more smoothly for Tobias now, and it doesn't much bother her that Vern is dead.
"Pete? Want me to walk you to your car?"
She hears Mukada's voice in her office before she actually sees him. When he appears in the doorway, his shirt is rumpled and he looks tired, so she gives him her brightest smile and motions for him to sit down.
"I'm just about finished here, Ray." She pats her hand on the papers in front of her.
Mukada leans forward and peeks at the name on the file. "I'd say it's a shame, but I'd be lying," he says.
He helps her on with her coat, and she locks the door behind them. They both say good night to the guard at the desk, who musters up a wan smile for the pair. The clear sky is softened by the last rays of the sunset, and the sound of chirping crickets makes the parking lot seem nearly idyllic - provided they don't turn around to face the twelve-foot wall.
They're in the parking lot, about halfway to her car when Pete notices that the chirping has stopped, and instead she hears a faint whining, like cicadas singing far away. Then the noise gets louder, and she's tilting her head to listen harder when Ray grabs at her hand and starts pulling her back towards the outer wall of Oz.
At first she resists, and lets go of his hand. She's barely opened her mouth to ask him what he's doing when she sees something, a dark stain on the horizon, and the chirr gets louder. She's still dragging her feet as the blotch doubles in size, and a heartbeat later it clicks, and then she's hurrying after Ray. They stand shoulder to shoulder in the doorway and watch as the swarm of locusts grows bigger, hugely so, rising up like a tidal wave, swelling in the middle and not more than half a minute ticks by when the first line of insects reaches the far end of the parking lot.
The mass descends rapidly, blanketing cars and pavement, sticking to the tall halogen lights, and Pete has the irrational thought that it has to stop now, has to stop because this is a prison, where everything's locked up tight, safe and sound. Her back's against the wall and Ray is closing the door before she realizes that she's moved, and they both listen as the noise rises, but the door remains solid. Exchanging wide-eyed looks, Pete and Ray drop their coats and bags on the floor, then rush off - one to talk to the guard on desk duty, and the other to find more people.
Gloria presses the heels of her hands against her eyelids, and then blinks rapidly, trying to clear the grit from her eyes. Wrapping her hands around a cup of coffee, she dumbly hopes the warmth seeping through the Styrofoam will revive her, since she can't stomach any more caffeine. She hasn't been this tired since her med school rotations, and she stares longingly at the couch in the corner of the staff room.
Healing everyone to the best of her ability is always her goal, but today her bedside manner is abrupt and hollow. She doesn't have answers to the questions; she has no idea how many times she says, "I don't know". The fear lacing prisoners' voices is increasingly difficult to tune out, especially since she's afraid they hear it in hers, too. All she's done for the past few days is treat the flood of inmates and their various scrapes, stings, bites, and rashes.
Three inmates are dead from allergic reactions from spider bites, and another five from bee stings, without even making it into her care.
Gloria hates feeling helpless and uncertain. She sighs despondently, and then gulps down more coffee.
Em City buzzes with gossip: two COs are dead, one by his own hand - a heroin overdose, it's rumored - and the other when he tried to leave the building. Officer Mineo's reputably unflappable, so inmates fall silent, and then whisper worriedly when he's escorted to McManus's office, his face unnaturally sallow, and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
Pieces of his story drift down through the open door: Officer Rollins was acting all crazed, shouting about miracles. He pushed through the barricade and staggered into the fray. He waved his arms at the clouds of insects fruitlessly. He made it about six feet out, and then a swarm rose up, taller than a person, and swept over him. It knocked him down as easily as a wrecking ball through an old building, and then he disappeared into the mass. It all happened within seconds, and he did not rise again.
McManus hasn't heard from anyone in Unit B all day and can't raise a guard on the phone. He and Murphy make their way together cautiously, hugging the cold gray walls for no reason either of them can verbalize. Murphy uses his key on the door and they stand in the guard station silently, shoulder-to-shoulder, staring down the main hallway in Unit B. The fluorescent lights only let them see that much clearer.
McManus moves first. His destination is clear: the second door in the control center, the one that leads into the monstrosity of a cellblock.
"Tim, stop!" Murphy's voice works again but his limbs are heavy and he misses the other man's elbow in time to catch hold of him. "Shit, wait!"
His eyes blink a fraction too slowly, and the message to his brain arrives a split-second too late; McManus trips over a desk chair and falls to the floor, head in his hands, face scrunching up in sorrow and disbelief. "Holy shit," he murmurs. "Holy fucking Christ."
Sean turns his head to the side and vomits next to a filing cabinet.
Twenty minutes later, they're in Tim's office, along with Gloria, Ray and Peter Marie. The remaining eighteen COs are milling around in Em City, but McManus can't face them all at once, and he doesn't expect Murphy to address them in his stead.
He speaks. "First we thought everyone had left, which didn't make sense, but... And then something swooped - fell down, and I looked up, and it was. Couldn't even see the ceiling; there must've been six hundred... gray, like papier-mâché... nests. Wasps' nests. And. We saw. It was just... people. They were all-" He wipes his forehead on his sleeve. "They were swollen, bloated. Shapeless. Bitten." He pauses. "Stung! Whatever. Hundreds, thousands of times." Sadness tinges his words. "No one was moving. We left them there." He pulls his knees up to his chest and rocks in the chair. "Oh, God, we left them there."
Murphy looks back at the three pale, expectant faces. He doesn't have any good news to counteract Tim's retelling, but he finds the strength to move to Gloria's side when she gasps and buries her face in her hands.
The boundaries dividing the groups curve and then bend as what's happening outside begins to affect their reality. The struggle for survival advances on every one of them with expansive force and in frightening circumstances. Given all of the predators trapped in Em City, it's not surprising that the individual pack mentality is transforming into one for a whole, united tribe. They want to live, but days pass sluggishly without answers or reassurance, and deadly possibilities begin tickling at the edges of everyone's minds.
Several inmates squash around a table, rubbing elbows and pretending to play cards. O'Reily's got the jitters; his knee keeps bouncing up and hitting the underside of the table. The cards slide to the side each time, but no one mentions it. The game is only a diversion.
Keller looks at his hand, then at the messy pile of cards on the table, and then his gaze slides over to Beecher, who's sitting next to him, gripping the edge of the table with both hands. He hasn't picked up his cards yet. Already, their shoulders touch whenever Chris leans up to the table, so he pushes forward, harder. Toby's head whips around and he glares at Keller, but he can't move further to the other side without winding up in Rebadow's lap, and they both know it. Toby feels Chris's hand resting on his back, and he narrows his eyes again, pissed off, but with a hint of resignation showing on his weary face. He's envious that Chris is dealing with this latest horror just like any other calamity in Oz, and wonders how he remains outwardly calm.
Turning his head away from Beecher, the quick flash of Keller's smile is calculating. Torquemada regards him appraisingly.
Alvarez sighs. "Too bad Busmalis's stuck in solitary. Maybe he could be tunneling out right now. Y'know, up here, though. So we could all go."
Another inmate looks at him. "Where we gonna go, man? Whole world's falling apart."
Alvarez keeps going. "Maybe it'll be termites next. They'd get us outta here in a heartbeat."
"This prison's mostly stone and brick. Termites eat wood, you stupid spic." O'Reily's left eye twitches.
"Fuck you, asshole. So much for your big ideas, O'Reily. I don't hear you comin' up with shit." Alvarez sneers at him.
Before the squabble turns into a fight, the wall of televisions comes to life, and heads turn, anxious for once to watch the news.
The pale faces of the morning anchors flicker to life on the screens. Samantha Connelly's hair is drawn back in a sloppy ponytail, and Peter Bridger sags in his chair. Their exhaustion is evident by shadowy rings under their eyes, but the usual theme music plays, and as they start their spiel, the atmosphere in Em City lightens. If the outside world is still functioning, it can only be a matter of time before everything returns to normal.
The only story of the night concerns the bugs, which Bridger refers to as an infestation. Samantha's plastic smile cracks when her co-anchor explains that although they haven't left the studio in two days, their information is from first-hand accounts and respectable witnesses. Sadly, there's not too much of a story to report, which prompts a reshuffling of papers on the desk and frowns from both anchors. Yes, the infestation is worldwide, and entomologists, scientists, and other important people are working as quickly as they can to find a solution. In the meantime, it's important to stay inside, in a room without too many windows, or somewhere near a faucet; to tape up the windows, doors, and along the baseboards; to remember that there have been some deaths, but mostly people who were already sick. And of course nationwide quarantines are in place, but only until the whole thing blows over.
After delivering this information, Peter looks at Samantha and they stare at one another for a few seconds. Samantha's hand trembles when she reaches out to touch Peter's forearm.
Inmates look at one another and then back at the screens. The only noise in the common room is the electric hum of the fluorescent lights.
"Well, shit," someone mutters. "Guess we're fucked."
Playing with one hoop earring, Masters giggles. "It's the end of the world as we know it."
On-screen, the camera trained on the news desk jerks suddenly, then rights itself, focusing on the top half of Connelly's face. Her eyebrows raise, and then Bridger's mic amplifies his yell. "What in the hell?"
The camera shakes again, and suddenly spins wildly out of control, doing one full rotation around the nearly empty room before it tilts up to face the ceiling, showing only the yellow and white studio lights. A sound like a slap, and then the scrape of chairs pushed back and the crinkle of papers. Someone curses.
Their audience in the quad is transfixed, straining to hear more.
A faint buzzing noise, more sounds of confusion, then footsteps, and the camera jigs to the left an inch or two. A bumblebee drops onto the lens, and several people gasp in surprise. Within two minutes, the entire picture on the televisions is a mass of moving bees. A CO shuts off the power, and a thick silence settles over the group.
Abruptly, O'Reily stands up and approaches the two men. "Hey, I gotta idea now, Alvarez. Stick me. C'mon, stick me. Do it. Shank me." Ryan spreads his arms out wide and stares at Miguel. "Come on, man. Shank me." O'Reily's eyes are wild. He drops to his knees in front of Alvarez, whose mouth is open in shock, and Torquemada, who seems amused. "What the fuck does it matter, huh? We're all gonna die in here anyway, so c'mon, do it, do it." His voice is lower now, and he scratches his fingernails through his hair. The silence stretches on, and then Ryan laughs, a dry, cracked sound, and gets to his feet. "I hafta find Cyril now; can't leave him alone too long, he gets antsy." Another half-laugh. "No pun intended."
The men at the table are quiet for another minute, and then someone whistles, low and long. Keller says, "And you thought you'd cornered the market on crazy, huh, Beech?"
"Feel like we've been seein' the same hacks all the time, man. Don't they ever go home?" Poet takes a hit, sniffs, and rubs his nose.
"Give the man a prize," Beecher drawls, staring longingly at the tits in the other man's hand.
A few seconds, and then: "Yo, what?" Poet's eyelids droop.
"They are the same hacks. None of `em ever left, and nobody new's coming to replace them. We're all stuck here, in it together. No one in or out." Toby folds his arms over his chest and tucks his hands into his armpits. He won't reach out and grab the one-hitter. He won't.
"Fo' real?" Poet sounds sleepy.
"As real as it gets. What about the quarantines, you hear about them? No? Statewide, indefinite. No visitors, including deliverymen. How 'bout that. Yeah, they stopped coming. Done. No more supplies for us." Toby hears himself becoming hysterical, but he can't stop his tirade. "And by supplies, I mean things like soap and toilet paper and, most importantly, food. They stopped feeding us. But I can see all you care about is tits. Hope you've got enough to last until the end of the fucking world, man. We are. All. Going to die here. Die." He takes a deep breath. His hands shake, even after he clasps them together.
"Musta. Must have." Throwing his head back, Poet laughs. "Yeah. Sorry I missed that."
Beecher shakes his head in disgust. He surveys the quad, his gaze seeking out Keller, who's sitting with his back to the TVs, fingers locked behind his head, feet propped on the chair in front of him, looking worry-free. Their eyes meet and Keller tilts his head. They regard each other in silence, and then Toby finds himself next to Chris, pulled in by Keller's tractor-beam of a stare; when Chris smiles up at him, Toby can't summon the willpower to suppress a smile in return.
"But where are they coming from?" McManus slaps his palm onto the table for emphasis. He needs the loudness, the sound of something other than buzzing, whirring wings. The other staff members assembled in the room need the distraction too - their expressions are vacant, eyes filled with questions as they turn the recent events over in their minds.
A pause, and then Murphy's voice fills the void. He's hoarse from yelling at men in Em City, trying to get them to stop fighting, stop lashing out, and stop trying to throw themselves off the second-tier. Locking them into their pods seems to be the only solution, but it's still no way to fix what's happening.
"Does it matter, Tim? I'm more interested in knowing what we can do to stop them," he says roughly. One hand rests unassumingly on the tabletop, but under the table, he's digging his fingernails into his thigh. He reflects that there's nothing like a little bodily harm to focus the brain on something other than fear.
"If we knew where they were coming from, maybe that would help us stop them," Tim says, petulance coloring his tone.
The two men stare at one another, spoiling for a fight - something physical and even more out of control than their current situation - and then Sister Pete speaks, a sad acceptance on her face. "I think we need to face the facts, gentlemen. It doesn't really matter where the, uh, bugs are coming from-" Another pause, one hand up to ward off Tim's splutter. "Because the truth is, we can't stop it. There's too much ground to cover. We taped up the staff room as best we could, but we all know that they're in the pipes and the walls, and sooner or later, we'll be overrun."
They all know that she's right, but no one wants to be the first one to agree, and by proxy, give up hope.
Dr Nathan and Sister Pete are in the hallway, halfway between Em City and the staff room when the power goes out. Gloria catches a fleeting glimpse of Peter Marie's open mouth and scared eyes and then they're standing in pitch-blackness. Tentatively, Gloria reaches out, fumbling for Pete's hand. Time stretches while they wait, silently, for the emergency lights to come on. They both blink against the light when the generator kicks in a minute later, the dull phosphorescence seeming harsh after the absolute dark. As if they're now surgically attached at the hand, they shuffle slowly to the phone that's mounted on the wall, but the line is dead.
"It's like we're in a bad horror movie," Sister Pete says. "I keep thinking that I'm going to have to run from some maniac with a chainsaw, screaming my fool head off, waiting for my stiletto heel to break."
A hysterical cackle burbles up in Gloria's throat, and the two women slump to the floor, supporting one another through gales of anxious, uncontrollable laughter.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Gloria says, "We should get back to Em City... Tim's probably losing his mind."
"What's left of it..." They share a conspiratorial chuckle. Peter Marie presses a hand to her abdomen. "Oh, my stomach hurts."
They stand, and start walking. Gloria squeezes Peter Marie's hand. "I'm glad you're here, Pete," she says. "I mean, I'm not glad we're here at all, but- well, I'm glad it's you."
Sister Pete smiles. "I know," she says. "Me too."
OZ relies on the generator for power, but the pod doors still lock, and the inmates are contained and separated, though it's a formality at this stage. Their choices are asphyxiation due to lack of oxygen or suffocation by choking on insects, and no one wants the bugs.
Mulling it over, Beecher can't decide if it would've been better to be in gen pop, with the bars and the near surety that his life, and all of this would be over by now. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of his children finding their mother dead in the garage, Toby gasps aloud from the pain of the reminder that he won't see his children again... unless the express train to Hell whisks by Heaven, taunting him with three blond-haired angels sitting hand in hand in hand. The last news report that the radio picked up made it sound like this was it, the end of the civilization, the final footprint imprinted by human beings on Earth.
Keller studies the hacks outside of the pod. Not a single one has any interest in watching the inmates, instead, most of them are sitting at the tables, talking; a couple are scribbling furiously, page after page; one woman's been pacing - thirty-five steps up, thirty-five steps back - for nearly three hours; a few sleep on the floor. He's hopeful for a glimpse of Sister Pete, or even Father Mukada, but he turns away from the glass wall when Beecher moans. Their eyes meet, then Toby's face crumples, and Chris knows he's thinking about his kids again. The only solace he can offer is touch, and he slouches down next to Beecher on the bottom bunk, fully expecting to be pushed away and rejected.
They sit in uneasy silence for so long that Keller nods off, and startles awake when Murphy yells, "Lights out!", as if it's any other day, and not the night when every-fucking-body's going to be trying to check out before management boots them out. Now that the chances of survival are looking so goddamn grim, it's a mad rush to the exits. It's plain that they're all doomed, rattling around in a city of the dead, and those who contrive to step off the mortal coil sooner rather than later may be a little luckier than the rest.
They've moved around on the bunk in sleep. Keller's back is to the glass wall and Beecher's curled up in front of him, one arm shoved up under the pillow, the back of his neck inviting, tempting Chris to lean in for a kiss. The longing is so strong that he actually trembles, his control stretched tight, but he can't stop himself from dropping a hand onto Toby's hip, and working one finger underneath Toby's shirt to feel the heat of his skin.
Beecher jolts awake, and then freezes when Keller's finger strokes his side. As soon as he flinches, Keller tries to move his hand away, but Toby catches Chris's wrist and holds it steady. They shift closer on the bed, and Toby sucks in a deep, shaky breath when Chris slides his arm around Toby's waist. He holds the breath as long as he can, and when he exhales, words tumble out: "Don't let me choke to death on bugs."
Chris tightens his hold on Toby. "What?" He props himself up on an elbow to hear clearly. "Tobe, you're not gonna go out like that."
"No? How do you know? I- I was thinking about Holly, you know, and Harry, and god, my mother and Angus, and they're probably all going to-" Toby shudders. "I mean, aren't you thinking about your ex-wives?"
"Sure, I guess. I dunno, they're all pretty resourceful," Chris answers. There's a short pause. "Mostly I'm thinking about you and me, because- Beecher, there's no one else I'd rather be with during my last minutes on this world," he admits. "You gotta know that."
"Yeah," Toby says softly. "I do."
They doze again, and this time when they wake up, the quad is empty of COs, but there are bugs on the outside of the pod, sprinkled like garnish onto the glass. Em City's abandoned, with the hacks and the rest of the staff withdrawing to higher ground and leaving a legion of men entombed in see-through coffins.
Their legs tangle together and then their faces are close, too close for the raw emotion that shines from their eyes. Toby hitches himself up the bed and leans on the pillows; Chris's head rests on his thigh.
"I keep thinking about Gary and Holly finding Gen in the garage," Toby says. "I think about how much I want my kids to live, and that I don't want them to find me the way they found their mom. I know it sounds crazy-" He swallows a sob.
Chris looks up. "It sounds pretty fucking sane, actually."
Defeated, Toby lowers his chin to his chest and meets Chris's gaze. "Chris," he whispers. A tear slips down his cheek.
Awkwardly, Keller reaches up, Toby grabs on tightly, and it's like a handshake. Toby kisses the back of Chris's hand.
"I promise," Chris says, his face open, and tender, and mean, all at once. "Toby, I promise."
The blanket of insects on the glass effectively limits their sight, so they can't even tell what is going on in other pods. It's mostly dark, too, since the layers of bugs block out the weak orange fuzz of the generator-powered lights. And it's noisy - each writhing insect beating its wings and pushing against its neighbor in an instinctual pursuit of more space.
Chris helps Toby pull the mattresses from the bunks, and then sits back to watch as he tries to dismantle the frame, ostensibly to barricade the door, though the metal is so old that it's fused together. Toby's frustration peaks and turns to fury, his fists smashing against the walls until his hands are bloody, and then it all washes away. He curls up in a limp, sweaty heap, head on his arms, eyes unfocused.
Picking his way through the detritus on the floor, Chris crouches down and hefts Toby up, then steers him over to the sink.
"Stay," he orders, and Toby does.
He doesn't balk when Chris submerges each of his hands, one at a time, in cold water, washing off the blood and dirt. Toby leans against the wall, his expression dreamy, as Chris doctors his hands using strips of fabric from a shredded t-shirt.
Chris pushes the thin mattresses together and comes back for Toby, pulling him into an embrace so they're sitting chest to back against the far wall, just under the window. Toby lets his head fall back onto Chris's shoulder, relaxing unashamedly into the cradle of Chris's strong arms. Tiny flashes of daylight dapple the concrete in front of them as light forces its way between the insects outside their sliver of a window.
Finally, Toby sighs. "Why are you being so careful with me?" He hates that his voice sounds weak.
Chris tightens one arm around Toby's chest. "You deserve it," he answers honestly. He trails his fingers over one bandaged hand, up Toby's arm, and then down the soft skin of his neck, touching the strong pulse at his throat.
"I made you promise, you mean," Toby says wryly.
Chris chuckles. "Toby, I've always been taking care of you." Toby nods in agreement, because the affection in Chris's voice is sincere. Even with every shitty thing for which he's responsible, with their sadistic collusion culminating with despicable mindfucks and all of the violence... Toby doesn't doubt their love, their twisted, masochistic, scorching, passionate love. Did he ever really think that love was anything else, or could be as real any other way? He has to trust, has to believe in it right now.
They're quiet for some time after that, Chris's thumb sweeping circles on Toby's arm and neck; Toby's head nestling in the crook of Chris's shoulder and arm, his fingers lightly petting Chris's thighs. Toby feels like he's in a trance, the air thick around them, and he doesn't notice the ant tickling his wrist until Chris flicks it off. Toby figures he should be consumed with panic at this point, since it's obvious the bugs are getting into the pod, but instead he feels miraculously calm, like it's all out of his hands and there simply isn't anything he can do.
A long sigh starts with Chris and spreads to Toby, and then Toby tips his head up for a kiss, one that's so tender and airy that he thinks he imagines it. Toby opens his eyes and meets Chris's gaze, then there's another brush of pleasure on his lips, followed by a burst of heat in his chest, and he's amazed to find that he's getting hard.
Neither of them expends much energy; every touch feels magnified, the heat between them ratcheted up, but a sense of peace permeating every movement. After unzipping, there are a few slow grinds with Chris's erection pressed against his ass, some leisurely writhing from Toby, and then Chris wraps his spit-slick hand around Toby's cock and works it in a familiar rhythm that both comforts and arouses. Toby comes within minutes, panting, with one arm flung back, his hand wrapped around the back of Chris's neck, knees bent and legs parted, and a contented smile on his face.
"You need..." He lets the question hang in the air.
Chris wraps him up in his arms again, and kisses his hair. "Watching you's plenty," he replies smugly.
They kiss again, slowly, almost drowsily, and then Toby closes his eyes, rubbing his head against Chris's shoulder, then tilting his head back and arching his neck. His eyes stay firmly closed, even as Chris straightens out his legs and then sits up on his haunches, bringing his forearm up and under Toby's chin. He feels Toby's pulse beating against his wrist, and it's still strong, but erratic now, so Chris leans forward and rests his forehead on the crown of Toby's head. He smells Toby's hair, listens to their combined breaths, then slides his hand up the side of Toby's face and tightens his grip.
"I love you, you know," Toby whispers thickly.
Chris unclenches his jaw long enough to reply. "I love you, Toby."
It's a quick, clean snap, and Chris is glad he didn't do it face to face, because he never wants to look into Toby's dead eyes.
He's triumphant, partly because Toby still loves him, but now Chris knows that Toby trusts him, too. He trusted Chris to take care of him, and that's close to forgiveness. It's practically absolution. Chris suffers for love, it tortures him, and soon he'll die for the right reason.
Settling against the wall, Chris pulls Toby close to him, arranging his body on the mattresses so that he can look down at Toby's head lolling in his lap. He wants Toby's face to be all he sees, though that isn't different from any other day.
He bares his teeth defiantly as the air grows thin.
Creature - Insect(s); Prompts - 'Tortured', 'City of the Dead'
Please send feedback to trillingstar.