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After writing a fic from Beecher's perspective I thought I'd try a fic from Keller's POV.
"Every heart to love will come
but like a refugee"
-Leonard Cohen, Anthem
Some prisoners prefer protective custody. It makes them feel safe within the confines that already stifle and suffocate. It is an illusion they buy into hook, line and sinker, worriedly and gratefully.
Protective custody makes Keller feel de-clawed and neutered. Not being able to move about of his own free will (or as much as could be afforded in Oz) makes him antsy. He misses the power that rushed through his body when he maneuvered the floor plan of Em City. Walking tall with his shoulders a strong line of too casual indifference, he mixed up meanings for sport; tilting his head back and gazing down his nose at those around him said, `come and get it, I dare you', while angling his head forward and staring up jeered, `you don't want to fuck with me.' He could switch between them day-to-day or minute-to-minute.
He reveled in all those eyes taking in his controlled swagger, and not just for the sex he knew he dripped with unapologetic intent, but with caution and admiration for the brutality he had no qualms inflicting. With an audience he has always been powerful.
All too well he knows the cues and can see the exits and entrances that claim the lives of others. He understands the metaphoric hand being foreshadowed. He has made a career living the con and to do that, one must commit to the time it takes to learn all the telltale nuances. In and out is for amateurs or a half-assed job carried out for no more than a quick fix. A real con is an art form.
But stuck in a cell with few visitors (and definitely not ones who want to see him) seriously damages his will. Officer Howell (and he really should have known better based on O'Reily's rundown of their depraved sexual nightmare) is too much of a freak herself to be an easy mark for his manipulations. She turned out to have a vicious streak and her own set of destructive tendencies. The only difference between her and the men she guards is that she somehow has the law on her side. Keller's transactions at her behest were far too poisonous.
Sister Pete is a survivor of one of his longer cons in the joint, but she nearly lost herself in the process. Still, that con was a true work of brilliance. Maybe too good. It was bound to backfire, which it did. She still comes by to offer words of support and though Keller knows she means them, the damage between them is done. It doesn't take a genius to know she does not come for him. Not that he cares. She comes for someone better.
The owed favour to Schillinger that turned into a more convoluted and complex job; which in turn became the most unexpected (and complicated) surprise of Keller's life.
The man who permeates his thoughts and somehow wriggled his way underneath Keller's skin, setting up permanent residence and staked a claim on a soul Keller didn't even know he had. Possession is nine-tenths of the law and despite appearances to the contrary--the ones that misguidedly caused those to assume within Em City that Beecher was his prag--Keller is as much, even more so, spellbound by him.
On paper Beecher was like any of the rewarding marks in Keller's past that set off his radar: relatively unassuming, so caught up in a world of privilege where money speaks and morality is black and white, reprimanding sufficiently before forgiving the confessed sin. An elite target, the fun came in bringing them to their knees in more than one way. But Oz isn't the outside world and morality is a million shades of gray.
By the time Keller had him in the palm of his hand, Beecher had already proven himself to be another creature all together. He was smart, far beyond the stuffy academia that had filled his brain with baffling expectations of the microcosm of life that prison nurtured like some virus in a petri dish. He learned to survive and, more importantly, how to fight back, doing so with the gusto that earned him a reputation well heeded by others. While Beecher was in the infirmary recovering from the dividends of Operation Toby, Keller had had O'Reily fill him in on the missing pieces that made up Beecher's life before Oz and as Schillinger's prag. The lesson had been an eye opener to say the least.
The story itself wasn't new but the outcome sure as hell was. Somehow, somewhere along the way to despair and repulsion, with his will set on automatic to self-destruct; Toby discovered the strength no one knew he had. He was reborn into madness, but not haphazardly. That lawyer's brain kicked in and he made a space for himself that many preferred not to risk messing with. The once mild-mannered reject flipped Oz on its head.
Down but never out was Beecher and in the six weeks that Keller had their pod to himself he had nothing to do but think about the man who wasn't there yet was as potent as ever, fused into every single thing around him. He had to quietly admit that this "fucking lawyer" was far more. Keller had ignored the signs during Schillinger's game, dutifully doing his job so that he could be out from under the Nazi's thumb sooner rather than later. He had convinced himself that once it was over any and all confused thoughts and feelings would disappear as well.
Wasn't that the biggest con of all--the one he pulled on himself?
In his absence, Beecher became Toby to him, all the more present than ever before. Keller could not exorcise him if he tried--and he had tried, even after the trials Toby put him through as proof of his feelings. After Lardner, Keller vowed never to be anyone's bitch, but accepting that he would compromise if need be as long as it was on his own terms. Still, Toby had pushed him to the brink and intoxicated, smitten in love, Keller had begrudgingly, resentfully, done what was asked.
Many times during their volatile time together that followed, when they ricocheted between love and hate only to realize that those extremes exist on the same point of the circle, Keller tried to walk way, to prove to himself that he could do it. But the more effort he put into denial, the more bound he knew he really was to Toby. They were unbreakable and indestructible. Everything was felt intensely and the verve that they moved about each other, together and apart, in the raw explosion of desire and denial, was their devastating passion play. They were as strong apart as they are together, and everyone knew it. The difference was that when they were apart there was a body count attached to it.
He misses Toby and it is made all the worse by being back in Oz after expecting to spend the rest of his days in Cedar Junction. At least when he was away he could wrap his head around never seeing Toby again. But with only a handful of walls between them now, Keller feels like he is slowly losing his mind, day-by-day. It is cruel and unusual punishment, and the worst torture Keller has suffered to date. To be so close and yet so far away from the one person who had stopped him from spinning out of control in his life, the one person who has made him believe in love--and not the hearts and rainbows bullshit that card companies sell greedily for a profit but the real deal, with soaring highs and crushing lows, sweet nothings and threats, sex and violence, a meeting of hearts and minds, a diversion of ration and will.
He wants to talk with Toby again, the way they used to. Any and all topics were (cautiously at first) broached, ranging from the type of random and impersonal discussions that may find the sharing of favourite songs or chess moves, to the confidential and private confessions that intimately shared tales of love and loss. Hell, even when they fought and words were either terse or unspoken they were actually engaging in deliberately confrontational exchanges filled with challenges and dares, enlightened revelations.
They spoke a language designed for them and in this place it was damn near Shakespearean with its multiple meanings, intonations and precision. Their words were swords, shanks that could strike crippling blows; and they were the peaceful quiet when the beast within could slumber, sated; and they were the pondered questions unasked but realized, that handcuffed them beyond pre-conceived expectations.
Now all Keller has is deafening silence and taunts from the guards. His mind craves an outward release but is stuck spinning its wheels. Keller had no idea how much he had come to rely on and need the perfected match that Toby turned out to be.
He longs to touch Toby and invade his personal space. Every single one was sacred between them, be it out love or punishment. Toby understood the value of them in a way that no one else had bothered to consider. He knew the way the watchful eyes of those around them perceived each one. It made Toby discerning. He avoided public displays of affection, much to Keller's frustration and amusement, out of survival, knowing he needed to maintain some semblance of the individualistic and scrappy image he had worked hard to establish.
To be seen as a bitch or prag again would be an epic undoing. But when Toby gave permission for Chris (and Keller loved the way Toby said his name like it mattered so damn much) to come closer, when he accepted rather than flinched away from desirable advances, that was when the final pieces fell into place.
Chris wants to nuzzle his nose against the curve of Toby's shoulder. He wants to fit his hand around the back of Toby's neck and hover their lips a millimeter apart while they stare into each other's eyes, before stealing a kiss. He dreams of Toby pushing him up against the wall and pressing their bodies, thrumming from expectation and demanding want, together. He can feel the wet kisses trailed down his torso as Toby works his way to his knees then takes his straining cock between his lips. Many times Keller has fantasized about Toby climbing into his bed and slipping under him, wrapping Chris between his legs and arching up against him, recreating their melded bodies in their own image.
All he has of Toby's voice, however, are the letters Schillinger has (curiously) agreed to shuffle back and forth between them. Chris is certain the price that Toby has submitted to is high, but despite wanting to insist that Toby call it off (because being in Schillinger's debt was not a place any man wants or needs to be), Chris knows he cannot-- will not--give up any contact now, no matter what the questionable terms.
The closest he came to touching Toby again was when Katherine, Toby's advocacy lawyer, considered taking on his case to get him off of death row. Though Chris did not care all that much for her he still flirted up a storm, working all those angles that had served him so well before. As far as seductions go he would have fucked her had the opportunity presented itself, but it wasn't out of adding another notch to his belt of well- orchestrated scams.
She was the medium by which to be with Toby again. Chris could read Katherine's body language. Toby had kissed her lips and held her hands, and god knows what else. He had emotionally connected to her. As such, Chris drew her to him, tried to touch her hands and pull her into his space, all to turn her into a conduit for what he truly wanted. And if he couldn't have it for himself he wanted to mark her in some way in the hopes that Toby would smell his scent on her.
Her reasons for helping Chris were, ultimately selfish, not at all altruistic. She was checking out the competition, and being on the other side of the bars did not stop him from doing the same. She was smart enough to throw in the towel early on, an act of merciful self-protection since she would never have been able to surpass Chris in Toby's eyes, although (amusingly to Chris) she seemed to think so. As long as Oz was still a factor in their story, there would be no other invites to the Chris and Beecher table in return know. Katherine learned her place, but losing her was a bittersweet win.
Yet again Chris finds himself alone, another invisible wall separating him from what he desires most. Protective custody is anything but protective. It is a never-ending death sentence played out each day. The only way he can escape it is when he lies on his own in his cell and the lights are turned out for the night.
Where other guys dreamed of life on the outside, his midnight contemplations go to Em City and the bottom bunk. For everything he had seen and been part of in that other life, for everything that pod--their pod--had borne witness to, one of Chris's most valued moments was one he had all to himself. It resided in the minutes that followed "lights out" but came before he called Toby down from the top bunk to slip in beside him for as long as possible before the hacks forced them apart.
Those few quiet minutes were a respite from the constant battle of wits and will that made up the day. Chris took advantage of the time afforded, the only true peace of space within it all that he could call his own. Protective custody, the hole, solitary, all of those were forced solitudes. The dark minutes in Em City, by comparison, felt like real freedom, where he could imagine anything. On occasion his thoughts drifted to his childhood or adolescence, cons he pulled, people he had screwed literally and figuratively.
Many times he thought about Toby lying above him, sometimes even stretching out his hand to graze his fingers along the bottom of the bunk, sensing Toby's every shift and turn. He tried to visualize him in preparation for when he would need to rely on those memories, it was a dark inevitability he hated pondering and ignored by succumbing to an overdose of denial. Something he never shared with any one, and barely wanted to admit to himself were thoughts of he and Toby outside of Oz, a selection of what might have been had they met under other circumstances and a series of what might still possibly be, as far reaching as it sounded.
The truth of the matter was that Oz was all he and Toby really had if they wanted to be together. Chris was a realist. Toby was a dreamer. Toby spouted wishes and Chris crashed the world down on them. It was harsh but in the wreckage they had each other. In Oz they had each other.
The first hours of night in Em City went one of two ways. If the day had gone relatively well, Chris looked forward to the speed with which Toby would respond to his invitation. Those nights his initial uninterrupted quiet was a lead up to the completion only Toby could bring. They would curl up into each other, like their angles and curves were made to fit together. Breathing each other in, tracing each other's skin with light yet firm fingertips, they would whisper serious and amused flirtations. As much as it could be achieved, Chris would transcend the walls that held him in.
If the day was less forgiving, however, he felt the heavy weight of the pause, and the purposeful resistance that Toby tossed back at him before eventually, slowly, making his way down. Their awkwardness was apparent in jutting limbs and uneasy shifting, never able to get comfortable, both of them lying on their backs and staring at anything but one another. Neither would give in, stubbornly convinced of their own righteous position, but at some point the tension would dissipate and they would angle their heads together.
Intertwining their fingers, Chris would hum against Toby's neck, sucking the heated skin between this lips softly then more urgently until that knowing moan, the one that said I love you too escaped past Toby's lips. Soon they would be grabbing at each other, groaning as they rubbed their hardening cocks together, a more demanding and colourful display of language calling out between them.
The one time Toby had taken the lead still occupies a place in Chris's mind. His return to Em City after being shot had been a mess of mixed emotions and all he had wanted was something to cling to as a lifeline. He had seen Hell, felt its fire, been burned by its rampage. After the hack had forced them apart on the cell floor Toby had slowly helped him to his feet and guided him back to his bed. Chris recalled how worried Toby had seemed, holding his hand and staring at the bunk, suddenly uncertain about how to proceed. Chris had looked to him to make the choice, deliver the answer for them; take the lead that said they would be okay, that they would survive any obstacle God dared to throw at them.
Toby had moved his eyes back and forth between Chris and the bunk before gently guiding Chris to lie down and pushing in next to him. He had wrapped his arms tight around Chris, letting him rest his head against his chest until a soothing sleep, conveyed in calmed breathing and steady hands claimed them. The next morning Chris had awoken to find Toby back in his own bunk, presumably moved in the middle of the night to avoid the hacks from unnecessarily breaking them up. Their last shared peace together. It had all gone to shit later that day when the hand of Toby's son was sent as a gift in the mail and Chris had no clue how to return the solace except to not leave him. It had seemed a decent enough attempt especially from someone with no previous experience but it had obviously fallen very short when despair had easily turned Toby against him.
Making love or fucking--when it comes to the two of them it is one and the same. It is one of those things he thought about when he was with Toby, and away from him it holds true. Before being sent to Oz, Chris would differentiate between the two, but Toby confused him. It was all those goddamn feelings. The closest he came before to genuinely caring for someone other than himself was Bonnie (for Christ sake, he had married her twice), but it is Toby who has come to consume him so definitively.
Chris finds he is caught between wanting to love Toby, wanting to possess him, and wanting to destroy him for meaning so bloody much. Many times he has given thought to how exactly an overly educated, white-collar non-criminal, and potential model citizen, became unparalleled in importance. His curiosity is furthered by the wondrous knowledge that this very man feels as connected to him in return. It is a shared compulsion that locks them together, no matter the obviously stark contrasts. Within the opposition they are the same. Lately though, Chris doesn't give much credence to why. All he knows is that what he is feeling supercedes everything else.
His skin hungers with the desire to have Toby. It could be quenched somewhat if Glynn weren't such a cunt, stopping them from seeing each other. One fucking measly visit--to say hi, to run his fingers along his skin, to make sure Toby knows that it is still love that sparks between them, to clarify that telling him to go away and never look back was the greatest gesture of self-sacrifice and devoted love Chris could bestow on anyone--but any ounce of happiness is not to be tolerated in this place. He knows that all too well. Rape, murder, the breaking of bones and souls, all that could happen under eyes that looked the other way. But love, compassion, mutual affection carried out in caring touches, brought the hacks bellowing out of the woodwork to lay a smack down.
So much for McManus's dreams of rehabilitation, the only thing reinforced in Oz is destruction. Chris is already well versed in that game. As much as he wants Toby again, he is also aware he would probably find a way to ruin it; again.
Instead he finds reprieves of comfort in random acts of change. If he had known that getting a beat down from Howell would mean a trip out of his tiny cell he would have told her to fuck herself earlier. As it was his refusal came a few desperate screws too late, while he wallowed at the impending doom of losing his last true physical line to Toby. A debilitating rain of blows dropped him but he liked to think he came out the clear winner in the end with a few days in the infirmary, surrounded by other people, nurses, doctors, officers, prisoners, an audience, a life. It was a breath of fresh air in a stale tomb.
********** ********** ********** ********** **********
It amounts to fuck all anyway. A jury of his peers has demanded his life cut short. The end is a heartbeat away and he is completely undone. To think that in the twilight of an aborted life (seemingly lived four times over) he would finally feel the depth of love he never understood or truly believed, only to have it withheld when he needs it most.
He stands in his new cell on death row and he sighs deeply, irritation laden in the sharply exhaled breath. He can't do this. He can't live the rest of his truncated sorry excuse for an existence in this goddamn box. Leaving Cedar Junction has turned into a worse nightmare than he had allowed himself to consider. The smuggled letters from Toby hardly scratch the surface anymore for what Chris needs and he finds himself reading between the lines and creating stories that are not there. Maybe Toby has found someone else, beyond Katherine, maybe another pod mate? No. He wouldn't. But once the sullied and salacious thought is planted it burrows deep and refuses to let go. He will be dead soon enough and Toby will surely forget him. Out of sight, out of mind. No. Toby loves him. Still--
Keller tiredly stares at the back wall of his cell then picks up one of Toby's letter. He gazes at the meticulous strokes that make up Toby's words, and takes a few familiar swaggering steps side to side that no one else sees but work to wring out the stiff kinks that come with being out of his element for too long. He has no idea what to do anymore. He could do sit ups or take a nap. He could stare at the ceiling until he is comatose. Maybe he should write to Toby, confess the complexity of what he feels as a last will and testament. He wants to rip his cell apart and burn it to the ground. He contemplates forcing Howell's hand again to guarantee himself another daytrip out of this place--
And like that the world stops spinning. Keller freezes, the voice behind commanding him. He is certain it is a hallucination, nothing more than a trick his mind is playing on him or a deception his busted hearing is perpetrating. There is no other explanation. If he stays where he is, as he is, he can drag out the illusion. If he turns around it could all be a pillar of salt and a return trip to the underworld. But the chance of granted hope guides his movement to turn and face the front of the cell with a furrowed brow of skepticism and disbelief in place.
Time freezes. Chris drops the letter to the floor.
It is almost too much to take in Toby with the mail cart, before him, all at once. Chris's stomach flips and his heart pounds in recognition, heat flushes his body at the proximity of finally having fruitless prayers answered. This is what has sustained him.
Toby looks so innocent (unexpectedly so since Chris knows their past is anything but) and sweetly unfettered by the tumultuousness of the situation. His expression is open, at ease with wanting. His hair is longer and Chris tries to reconcile what Toby has written him versus what is conveyed now in flesh and blood. His eyes are as amused as ever--confident yet tentative, inquisitive, decidedly warm, uncensored happiness.
He smiles at Keller and raises the letter in his left hand. "You've got mail," he jokes and after a pause grabs one of the bars with is right hand. He lets out a small laugh that boasts a hint of awkwardness at their unexpected reunion.
It is a terrible joke, and very much Toby when he is suddenly too self-conscious. Like telling yourself not to spill water and becoming so aware of the way your fingers are wrapped around the glass and the way the water is swishing near the top that you can't help but do what you shouldn't. Keller smirks and walks forward, a combination of his own free will and the inexplicably magnetic pull that unconsciously takes over. He holds Toby's gaze with a penetrating stare as he closes the space between them and firmly clasps his left hand over Toby's resting one.
There are a million things Chris wants to say. Declarations, promises, and an off hand joke all fight for supremacy on his tongue but in the end nothing comes out. It is probably for the best, he thinks, it would most likely only sound like gibberish.
Touching Toby again, after all this time, overwhelms. Chris won't let go; he won't turn away, not now. He anchors himself back to a life that was, up until a few minutes ago, fleeting. They are glued together through sight and touch and there is no way he is losing a second of this offering. With no hacks and only a couple of other inmates who are too wrapped up in their own misfortunes, all that exists is them.
Unlike the last time he saw Toby, when his face was worn with concerned lines and sadness in his eyes at their abrupt goodbye just when they had found their way back to each other, Toby's face is now lit with relief and unending love. It is a feeling that has no place in Oz and Chris loves him all the more for it. The contradiction that defines them is once again on blatant display, unapologetically.
Chris reaches through the bars with his right arm and wraps it around Toby's shoulder, bringing him forwards. Completion. Chris steps as close as he can despite the metal barrier and presses his lips to Toby's. Their kiss is not rushed or desperate.
It is slow, purposely exploratory as if recalling what is familiar while rediscovering it all for the first time, love and lust all at once. Chris's body and mind are flooded with desire yet he has never felt more calm or in control.
Toby both contains the beast within Chris and unleashes it. It clings to Toby greedily, wantingly. Arousing and devastatingly consequential, they know the conflict but still throw caution to the wind and steal what they can. Selfishly. Hopefully.
Chris wants more. He needs it. This taste is a tease, an incentive. His reason to be is re-ignited, with the Holy Grail in human form, existing just for him. But if this is all he gets for now he will not balk. Chris has learned to take what he can, when he can. Toby and him are forever, but what that timeline entails is unclear. What Chris knows for certain is that right here, right now all that exists in the world is the two of them.
No matter what it takes, Chris plans to keep it that way.
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