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The idea for this fic came from the exchange of letters that took place between Chris and Toby in season 5. I wanted to use those in a post season 6 setting where everything we saw on the show still happened (unfortuantely) but Toby was eventually released. I was also inspired by the numerous times Chris was shown reading books throughout the show.
It Is Written
"This one goes out to the one I love //
This one goes out to the one I've left behind //
A simple prop to occupy my time //
This one goes out to the one I love"
-REM, The One I Love
Toby inhales words like they are the very breath needed to sustain his body.
They flicker by his eyes (which skirt back and forth, up and down) and travel silently along the tip of his tongue and the edge of his teeth. He likes how the differential fonts evoke more meaning than the words themselves--comical or serious, period specific, bland, powerful. Each curve is suspicious while inviting the reader to look closer.
So he does.
In the backseat of the law firm's car or a taxi (a suspended license can come in very handy when he wants to let his mind drift away) Toby stares at the storefronts that whiz by. An amalgamation of fast food joints, hardware stores, boutiques, and tech depots; it is life compartmentalized and made easier for consumption.
Before Oz he took it all for granted.
Back then the urban jungle was a cluttered eyesore burning bright and closing in, it was exhaustive black and white, and yet the quiet truth was that he found the latter exciting. He got a kick out of reading old cases with summations and verdicts rendered like prophecies, but everything else was inconsequential and therefore expendable.
He dictated worth selfishly.
Nowadays on the subway he reads even the most irrelevant bits of advertisements that surround him to the left and right. From a new album release to a physical therapist's office to a returning fall television show; he trails his gaze along the jutting angles of competing graffiti tags, personal turf wars declared and fought by invisible soldiers. He stares at the upside down half of a folded newspaper and turns gibberish into English. Meaning is everywhere, screaming to the blind but only now can he see the forest for the trees.
Sometimes he goes to the corner bookstore and stands in one row of the large fiction section and reads the titles on the spines that face him. It is not about finding one in particular. Rather he revels in the alphabetization that leads one story to another, and the way the titles act as birth names full of intent and hope, and the promise of something else, barely detailing the multitude of (fictional) lives within. With his head tilted to the side and eyes straight ahead, he slowly strolls through the stacks while the rest of the world falls away, no longer welcome in his insular and protective bubble.
He plays homage.
Before prison all those names packed side-by-side seemed a gluttonous deadly sin of the mind, trading on intellect and moral superiority. Now they are the friends he has yet to meet but is familiar with nonetheless. The walls of words crowd him warmly and invitingly providing comfort while teetering on the brink of suffocation but an acceptable death if it is to be.
When he does slip away with a chosen book into a quiet corner it is his solace and salvation laid out before him granting a peaceful absolution. Certain words are intricately bolded, sounding like complicated perfection--catastrophe, balderdash, superfluous, mitigating, Persephone.
He drags his right index finger across the inked imprint and feels the information travel though his hand and up his arm, across his shoulder and up his neck to the bumpy ridges of his tongue as he mouths them out; a medium in sheep's clothing, connecting to the inanimate and raising the dead.
Not dead. Not forgotten.
If eyes are the windows to the soul then letters are the secret language that transcend the metaphysical and make real the abstraction of thought and emotion.
In Oz he read his letters constantly, as if they bred purpose into his limbs and reason behind his will. Separated by humanly constructed walls, those handwritten declarations were Toby's life line. Away from that other life, Toby only pulls out the letters on rare occasions when he is desperate to feel; when the hurt is as good as the love and refuses to be severed.
Transcendence was learned within stagnation.
Those words etched on paper for all time are the most powerful ones in Toby's life.
They remind him of--
They are Chris.
********** ********** ********** ********** **********
Reading in Oz is stepping foot in an undiscovered country that has few inhabitants.
Most treat the library as a quiet place to perform business meetings. Toby prefers the `in-and-out' method of grabbing a wanted book and heading back to his pod. It as much about self-defense (people can't attack him if he can see them coming and is encased behind see-through walls) as recreating the illusion of privacy he once took for granted.
He can escape.
The library is more than the semblance of humanity at his fingertips. The booked walls are more than a hobby to kill time. For those in the know, the words are the key.
Toby rediscovers--or realizes for the first time--how much he loves the act of reading. There is an intimacy to the way the sentences unlock his brain and flush emotions through the twisted reactions of his body. Whether it is a maze-like journey through legal precedence or fictional tales that sail the high seas into alternate realities, Toby swallows them whole, willingly succumbing to the euphoria displaced in Oz yet exactly fit into place within him.
He reads to forget and to always know.
Chris treats the library as if it is sacred. In the pod he flips through skin magazines, but in the library he immerses himself in philosophy and English literature. Toby never bothers him there, instead choosing to watch him for a minute or two from the librarian's desk before heading out. He is struck by the way Chris pours over the pages before him, his head down and fingers rubbing the tipped corners as he slowly flips ahead. Chris' eyes hardly blink; rarely leaving the page as if the gesture will disrupt the meditative state he has entered.
That isn't to say Chris is somehow weakened within his reverential obsession. He is the only person Toby knows who can be reading, seemingly utterly absorbed, one minute and mindfully staring down a potential threat a second later. It captivates Toby the way Chris steals between those two existences yet owns them both equally. Chris doesn't hide the fact that he finds personal pleasure in reading, but he doesn't flaunt it either. It is something that Toby notices and ponders but knows better than to draw attention to it.
He recalls back when they weren't together and he stumbled upon Chris in the computer room working on his GED. Toby hadn't felt it was his place to comment, knowing such an affirmation could be misconstrued as a belittling remark. Not that Chris cared what people thought of him--except Toby's opinion obviously did matter. Toby had wanted to encourage him to keep going, to congratulate him for taking on such a worthy challenge (and doing it without the benefit of going to class) but it wasn't their time or their place, not yet, and when it finally was, Toby felt the need to respect Chris' silent plea for privacy.
Still Toby can hear the book smarts in Chris' manner of speaking, the incantation of his words and the privilege of his delivery. He is more than just a street-smart thug who got caught trying to rob a store the same way Toby is more than just a wealthy alcoholic lawyer who hit a little girl with his car.
Oz has redefined them and their expectations.
One thing Toby never offers (but wonders if he sees the question in Chris' eyes when they briefly meet his in the hours between final count and lights out) is to read to Chris. Strange as it seems it also feels like the next natural leap, but Toby never broaches the subject. It exists in Toby's daydreams when the words on the page in front of him light a fuse in his mind and he wants to scoot over on the top bunk so that Chris can squeeze in next to him while he reads the passages that are ingraining themselves in his mind.
He imagines delivering husky sounding passages while Chris is either curled up against him, his head on Toby's chest, or while he lets Chris hold the book (pretending to read) while Toby moves down his body, marking a pathway with kisses on his skin in between utterances.
More than that, Toby wishes he could ask Chris to read to him from whatever book appears to have captured his (nearly undivided) attention. He has always felt overcome by Chris' all encompassing attestations but that doesn't stop him from wanting a taste of that other world; that part of Chris not meant for the masses.
He wants to know if the poetic diligence Chris bestows upon the books he considers so deferentially is the same as when he is pulling Toby close to him and offering up midnight confessions as sacraments.
Words are words.
But some come bound with an arsenal, taking prisoners along the way.
********** ********** ********** ********** **********
The first letter is classic Chris Keller.
There is an air of superficiality to the otherwise genuine confession: I miss you.
Toby remembers expecting more than the guarded sentiment that greeted his own comparatively uncensored proclamations. Time apart set his imagination on fast-forward so that anything less than absolutes pushed him further off balance.
But he wasn't a hopeless cause. He didn't make demands (although he wanted to), instead reining himself in slightly. His next letter to Chris was more subdued but just as insistent and slowly he drew Chris, in all this devouring glory, back to him.
The contention was clear: this is real.
Maybe that was the self-set trap unknowingly--subconsciously--put into place by Toby, taking them one step closer to their eventual demise; because once Chris got his love-dripping claws back in, he was never going to let go. And truth be told, a dark part of Toby, the part that lusted for the burn of the drink and yearned for the buzz of a drug-addled high, loved being Chris' addiction--felt validated by it.
Toby's weakness was transferred to the very person who made him feel the most fully realized as his own person. The lack of logic that led to such a potentially--probably--tragic turn of personal circumstance was something Toby learned in subsequent years to down and to accept.
There is something to be said for being a moth to a flame or the story about the scorpion and the frog for that matter.
Some days Toby reads the letters sequentially. He is able to viscerally relive the experience almost down to the dotted `i' since he has both sides of their correspondence in his keeping. Chris' death resulted in what was left of his most worldly possessions being given to his ex, Bonnie, with whom he still had legal arrangements. In turn she righted the one wrong she could and returned to Toby the carefully wrapped letters he had sent to Chris.
All together, like a set piece, they tell a whole other story not many were privy to. There are times when Toby jumps ahead in the timeline, seeking out specifics that answer unspoken questions that still crop up when he thinks too much on the subject. There is a distinct difference to the arrangement of pen strokes when Chris' protective resolve gives way and his writing reveals his uncertain acceptance of Toby's relentless grasp for him. Chris' words flow more freely and there is a hint of lyricism interlaced amongst the more blatantly stated desires.
I wish you were in here with me or I could be out of this rat hole. I want to push you hard against the wall and press myself against you, knowing you want me to fuck you and not stopping until I'm coming inside you because you're all I want...I can't take these walls between us. In Cedar Junction I could pretend. It's all I had. But here...knowing you're a few hallways away, breathing in the same air, just beyond my touch...it's torture. They could hang me, strap me to the electric chair, put me in front of a firing squad; but nothing would compare to being this close to you and never being with you again.
Over time Toby committed parts of Chris' letters to memory without even trying. In and then out of Oz, he read them like daily offerings until they were second nature to him, an invisible skin that he felt protected by and loved within.
For a fleeting moment (or weeks if he is going to be fair), when Chris presented him the poisoned apple (and Toby naively, stupidly bit into it), the return trip to Oz filled him with the fiery rage to burn out of existence every single keepsake that was fixed in his mind as being Chris. He went so far as to send word to Angus to bring the letters from his desk at home and then spent the night in his pod glaring at them and convincing, then unconvincing, himself to rip them into pieces and flush them down the toilet.
But he couldn't do it and then Chris died, the son-of-a-bitch, and Toby was wrecked. Those letters, those words in which he could reconstruct the vulnerable and tenacious man, the one who had broken him and then fought for forgiveness, the very one who loved him so much it hurt, became all Toby had left.
I was here, Chris' voice is still loud and clear.
It is written cursively overtop Toby's life, a watermark memento.
There are no defined dates to bookend their time together, although technically there should be. Toby knows that what he had with Chris existed beyond such constructs. Their lives had been set in motion to meet long before it became truth and once those livewires were crossed there was no untangling them. Ever.
On the outside again (this time for good, Toby tells himself each morning when he wakes up and at night before he goes to sleep), he lies on his bed and rereads the second last letter. He discerns intent behind the pen's strokes, what drove rushed scribblings versus full script ramblings and remembers desperate wants and sated pleasure over long distances; and the unexpected comfort begat of a finally realized kinship in all its hazardous forms.
I was here, Chris states unflinchingly.
Toby smiles and presses the letter to his chest. So was I.
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