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"It makes me sick//
It makes me laugh when I shouldn't//
Kill what I came to keep alive//
Your turn to spill//
Now that's fate//
Looking our way"//
-Matthew Good Band, The Inescapable Us
There are no happy endings in Oz.
The best anyone can hope for is a smile, a kind word, a comforting embrace, another day without a shank in the back, in the midst of such chaotic endlessness.
Toby knows this far too well. Not that it stops him from turning the page with hope, foolish though that may be.
You are death. Let me live.
Toby had meant the words when he said them, still reeling from having his life implode once again, conspiring to send him back to Oz for a second time. Truth be told, he had just as much self-loathing for falling for Chris' calculated--desperate--plan.
But then Chris had taken those words to heart; he became Death. His final act of manipulation, that last sacrifice for all to see, for Toby. The selfishness of the death dive not only placed Toby under immediate suspicion it ensured that Chris would haunt him forever, whispering what Toby could have done to save him, insisting that their painful existence was etched forever in his brain.
The selflessness of Chris' act not only guaranteed no prisoner would try to harm Toby now that Schillinger and Keller's deaths were tied to him in some way, but it also bestowed a certain freedom on him. Chris removed the one obstacle between them: himself. His love for Toby was all encompassing--too much, too hard, too fast--that it could be permanently scarring. Sometimes Toby couldn't breathe under the crushing weight of it all. And in the end, Chris had let him live.
He now bunks with Ryan who is still recovering from the execution of his brother, Cyril, in a pod (not so) affectionately referred to as the Lonely Hearts Club. There was a time when that moniker would have been only the tip of the derisive iceberg but life within these gray walls changes on the turn of a dime and the name itself is deemed enough of an act of ridicule.
They were assigned together when Oz was finally deemed fit for habitation once again (another nod to Chris that Toby cannot escape) and falling into old patterns bred a familiarity that gave everyone a screwed up sense of comfort. Ryan, although now there is a more obvious sadness in his eyes and laboured steps, still wheels and deals between groups better than anyone. Which isn't to say his cons are perfect, but he still manages to toss the scrutinizing spotlight of blame on others fairly well.
Toby mostly talks with Rebeadow and Busmalis. With Said gone--murdered so ruthlessly and carelessly, so unbefitting the man he was--he misses the moral discussions (arguments) that built them both up and tore them done. Despite their opposing viewpoints on certain matters, Toby appreciated that he never felt the need to hide who he was from Said. He knew when to expect his disapproval, but he stood as firm as he could. In return, Said was always a touchstone, a shoulder to lean on. No matter what, in this place they had found a friendship.
He feels the loss of Said even more acutely with Chris gone as well. Said and Chris, the two extremes that pulled at Toby, gone but not forgotten. Still pushing inside of him, they weave through the pathways of his mind.
After count one night but before lights out, Toby peers up from the book he is reading on the top bunk and watches Ryan leaning against the front of their pod gazing out. He hears those conflicting whispers in his head.
"It's fucked up, him losing his brother like that," Chris says quietly and there's a casual indifference to his tone. "But this is Oz. If it wasn't the chair it would have been a shank. That's the truth of it and you know it. You take what you get in this place; this life."
Toby sighs quietly.
"That man is tormented by a prison of his own making," Said retorts emphatically. "As his brother's keeper it was his duty to protect. Instead Ryan wielded him as a weapon for his own selfish reasons. It is because of Ryan that Cyril murdered Dr. Nathan's husband. It is because of Ryan that Cyril was sent to Oz. It is because of Ryan that Cyril was sent to Death Row and subsequently executed. It's all fine and well to rail against the system, but what about railing against himself? Ryan is still trying to play God with the lives of others. He is the dark morality play, Beecher. Pay attention."
Toby imagines Chris rolling his eyes and shrugging, not necessarily dismissively but as if to say, `Listen to who you want. Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe, but you know I'm right.'
They are both right. Toby snorts at the idea of Said and Chris being two sides of a coin (then realizes that may not be quite the stretch it seems) and considers the elaborate logic that governs this boxed in underworld.
Ryan turns from the plexiglass to stare at him. "What's so funny, Beecher?"
Toby is tempted to tell Ryan that wishing only to change the past is a useless endeavor. It's done and over with, for good or bad. Ryan can no more bring Cyril back than Toby can command Kathy Rockwell rise from the dead or will Genevieve and Gary to breathe again. He can't take back the hit he ordered on Hank Schillinger any more than he can suck out the drugs that killed Vern's other son, Andrew.
As sick as it is, Toby thinks about how all those jagged stepping stones unveiled and paid homage to the destined purpose Chris meant to his life. All those mistakes brought him to Chris and they were the screwed up contexts for Chris' returned declarations of love. Chris sacrificed himself a few times for Toby--when he wasn't using their love to make an example out of Toby or just be with him in the rare moments of quiet they were afforded during the lockdown or a stolen minute in the storage or laundry room, even Sister Pete's office when Chris was feeling particularly frisky.
It is on the tip of Toby's tongue to tell Ryan that solace cannot be found in ruminating on yesterday at the expense of tomorrow. But in this moment it feels too personal a confession and even though he is thankful that living with Ryan means not having to worry about (unwanted) sex or the very real risk of death, he doesn't want to push it.
"Nothing," Toby says and rests his book with the pages spread against his chest. "Life, love, once upon a time."
Ryan narrows his eyes a second before the lights go out and Toby hazards a guess that he is tallying the possibility of the return appearance from the crazy alter ego that once had the Aryans rolled back defensively on their collective heels.
No rhymes tonight, Toby smiles in the darkness and closes his book, sliding it beneath his pillow. He fits his arms below his head and stares up at the ceiling. With or without blood on their hands he and Ryan are as culpable in the messes they have been part of as those who waded through the copper tainted waste with feral grins.
I wish to God I'd left you on Death Row.
Toby wrinkles his brow, tenses his jaw, and rolls onto his side, adjusting his arms so that he is resting with them beneath the side of his face. His gaze lingers unfocused on the plexiglass wall.
There are times when he wishes he had a bad memory. Sometimes all he wants to do is forget the horror of Kathy's contorted body across his windshield and the cruel glean in the presiding Judge's eyes when she turned him into an unwitting symbol of wealth and privilege getting its just desserts. He wants to forget Vern burning the swastika into his skin and fucking him literally and figuratively until the old Toby passed into oblivion. He would let go of every time his visiting kids nervously regarded him before smiling and letting him back into their lives.
He would toss aside every time Chris broke his heart, serving it back to him poisoned and on a platter. He doesn't want to remember the snapping of his arms and legs or the ridiculing way, `I never loved you,' rolled off of Chris' serpent tongue. Toby wishes he did not recall Chris' cold refusal to forgive his devastated murder accusations, going so far as to symbolically toss him back into the lair of predators with callous indifference and a shoulder shrug. And he certainly does not want to call back the pit of despair that threatened to choke him when he realized Chris had set him up to break parole.
Then over the edge he goes.
Toby closes his eyes and swallows loudly, willing his heart to slow down and stomach to unclench. Parting his lids he shifts his focus between the dirty glass and Em City, back and forth, back and forth, and for a split second he convinces himself that it is Chris breathing in the bunk below.
As if that will wipe the slate clean one more time.
Toby prefers a good memory. He can still taste Chris on his lips form their first kiss. Lie or not doesn't matter, it was the beginning of everything; of a life Toby didn't know he could lead. He still feels Chris up close behind him, the heat from their bodies almost too hot to be bearable but wonderfully comfortable all the same. Chris' musky scent--rich with power, sex, and unflinching love--lingers on Toby's skin, at the edge of his nose from when Chris would nuzzle his neck, when they were alone or in full view of their adoring public. It was a claim staked between the two of them that said others could look but not touch. Then Chris' hands would move up his body, either rough and bruising or gentle and smooth, the physical language that was spoken between them making perfect use of the silence.
In love and war.
But words still had their power. Words were their salvation and their weapons. They caressed with uncensored endearments and trapped with harsh truths. Chris could make Toby's body writhe with a gentle murmur against his stomach--
Toby stretches his right leg. Focusing on flexing his limb helps distract him for the twitch of arousal against his boxers. Sometimes a good memory can be unpardonable.
It was so much more than the sex, which in itself was never just sex. Rather they were in a consistent ricochet between languidly making love (complete with low moans and mirthful sighs) and outright fucking (a cacophony of rough grunts and sharp gasps). The point of contention, however, was far less obvious.
Even with Genevieve and Marion, Toby couldn't do it without feeling restless, but with Chris...with Chris he could just lie. Wrapped up in each other, side-by-side or one curled over top the other, their bodies acclimated to a matching rhythm. With little sound but their breaths, the faint rustle of sheets when one of them shifted, and quiet conversation, Toby never felt more at peace; probably because it struck quite a contrast to their otherwise intense modes of existence.
I couldn't face living the rest of my life in here without you.
Complete honesty. The one time Toby could have done without it. It was ruthless and possessive. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but. It would be easier if it were all a lie, no self-sacrifice to complicate matters. But even Toby wasn't immune to the chaos of a well-placed hit by Cupid's sharpened arrow. He saved Chris from Death Row and can as easily be blamed for Chris' neck breaking jump. Maybe Chris was always going to die early but destiny demanded Toby's presence, it reminded him of what he was finally free of and what he would never have again.
Why are you doing this?
I would have thought that was fairly obvious.
Death to prove love. Eternity to prove the value of right now. What a backward riddle they still are. He hates himself for feeling the need to prove his love for Chris by risking his own parole. Toby should have known better, and he did.
Toby turns again onto his back. He lowers his left arm to his side and rests the forearm of his right one against his forehead. He considers the (remote?) possibility that he fell for the set up because subconsciously he wanted to return to Oz, to Chris, to what he knew as fact. Yet having Chris so expertly manipulate the situation made it easier to cast blame forward. Or maybe he wanted to believe Chris loved him enough to let him go.
Are you listening to yourself, man? What are you, Tinkerbell? Wishing on a star?
Who's the con now?
Chris' love is still crushing. As exquisite as it is it also refuses to loosen its grip. The more outward forces threaten, the tighter the hold. The more inward forces careen, the stronger the fist. There is no right, there's no wrong, there's only popular opinion. And the people say, `They're fucked up...and they're in love.'
Toby freezes at the faint sound of Ryan's voice.
At the non-reply Toby hesitates then begins to turn on his right side to look over the side of the bed when he hears Ryan clear his throat. Toby settles onto his back once more.
"You still hate him?"
Him. As if uttering the name Chris will trigger a psychotic break. Toby can't tell if it's a question as much as a statement. They have rarely spoken about Chris, Toby preferring to keep that part of him to himself. He wonders what has prompted Ryan to broach the subject. The truth itself is too complicated. Still, he answers.
"Yeah, but I love him more."
"...I gotta say that's fucked up."
Toby muffles a smile and lays his hand on his stomach. "With Chris...we were never Ozzie and Harriet. We were always extremes. Our fights were directly proportional to how strongly we wanted to be together."
"But at the end," Ryan's voice clips through the shadows, insistently, "he really fucked you over. He almost destroyed your life."
"And a part of me will never forgive him for that." Toby sighs and rolls onto his side, facing the inside of the pod. "But another part of me understands why he did it. His love had no boundaries; it was infinite, so much so that it ate everything in its path."
Toby thinks a moment. "I was an addict for so long. I still have to control it each day, and I know what that `all or nothing' state is like. That I could be that drug to him--be so much to one person--is...flattering."
And frightening and too powerful a position for any person to handle.
The bunk squeaks and then Ryan is suddenly standing up and staring at him through confused yet questioning eyes, crinkled at the corners, while gripping the edge of the top bunk tightly.
Toby holds the gaze for a few seconds then wryly points out, "I said flattering, not healthy. I'm not completely delusional."
"And you're okay with that?" Ryan scoffs his disbelief.
Toby sits up, dangling his legs over the side and wraps his fingers around the side of the bunks frame on either side of him. "It doesn't matter. It is what it is. I can't change it or make it acceptable. I have to own it."
Ryan quirks a serious but crooked half smile and leans against the bunk with his left arm propped upon the mattress. Tilting his face up to Toby's he asks, "So what--you taking responsibility for Keller's actions?"
"I accept the part I played in them because the truth of the matter is that in this place my love for him was just as overwhelming. I just showed it differently." Toby offers up a small smile.
For a second Ryan looks pensive, waffling his gaze to wall, the ceiling, the floor, seeming distracted.
Toby softly asks, "Hey, where are these questions coming from?"
Ryan snaps his attention back and regards Toby as if contemplating whether to answer truthfully, offhandedly or not at all. Resting his head against the angled up palm of his left hand, he scratches the back of his neck then drops the arm to the bed and pushes away, while still holding the frame.
"You know it, like it's some absolute truth, what he felt for you no matter what he did that hurt you," Ryan finally says.
Toby almost instinctively wants to argue the assertion since it makes him sound almost pathetic, but there are so many variables that factor into the relationship he had with Chris, that still exist across the line between life and death, that it seems rather useless to try and nail down all the details. With a slight shake of his head he shrugs--surely a contradiction to Ryan's eyes--and acquiesces with a, "Yes," as a sufficient answer.
Ryan takes a deep breath. "I think about Cyril and the reason he got slow in the first place..."
He turns his back to Toby and walks to the opposite wall with his face turned to the front (likely eyeing any inquisitive hacks who should be minding their business). Once at the far side he pushes his arms against the wall and turns on his heels. "I put him here in this shit-hole and now he's gone. All because of me."
"He knew you loved him," Toby says and is surprised when Ryan quickly moves forward with his eyes wide and jaw tensed.
"That's the goddamn problem!" Ryan snaps, pushing against the bunk frame then looking anywhere but at Toby. "He loved me not really knowing the shit I put him through. If he knew..."
Ryan give him a pleading look that is at once demanding with unblinking eyes as he takes a small step into his space. "If he really got it, he shouldn't love me, screw forgiveness. `Cause I'd fucking hate me."
"But he would forgive you--,"
Toby hops off the bunk at Ryan's raised voice and, turning his back to the front of the pod, raises his hands in a pacifying and calming gesture towards Ryan. "Because forgiveness isn't about what's deserved," he insists.
"What the hell does that mean?" Ryan wrinkles his brow.
"Forgiveness," Toby stresses, reaching for Ryan's shoulders then pulling back at the last minute, "is being able to let go while giving someone else peace. It doesn't have to be deserved. People give it because they get to the point where they just want to be able to let go and move on."
"How do you move on from someone who's supposed to care about you ripping your life apart instead?" Ryan asks incredulously.
"There's no one answer," Toby replies, turning on the spot to watch as Ryan pushes by him to lean against the front of the pod with his left arm angled up above his head. "I can't tell you why Chris and I were apart more than we were together or why we fought so much and loved so strongly."
Ryan spins around and folds his arms across his chest, glaring.
Toby runs a hand through his hair. He knows that Ryan wants to hear that if he and Chris cold love each other through everything they put each other through that Ryan and his brother are assured the same, but Toby can't bring himself to affirm that in such a false and placating way.
"Sometimes I think that the more Chris and I hurt each other the more it strengthened us," Toby says contemplatively. Ryan raises an eyebrow and Toby goes on. "Because we'd just snap back together, harder than ever."
"Yeah well me and Cyril ain't like that." Ryan drops his shoulders and walks to the bunk, settling in on the bottom one.
Toby stares at him and crouches low, waiting for Ryan to flit his eyes over to meet his.
"Cyril would forgive you because he was better than all of us. He genuinely loved you--unconditionally." Toby reaches up and presses down on Ryan's chest when he notices him begin to sit up in protest. "And it doesn't matter if you like that or not. It's true. You fucked up and he still wouldn't want his life to go on without you in it."
Toby sternly holds Ryan's frustrated gaze. "You want to hate yourself? Go ahead. God knows I'd hate you if you screwed me over. Hell, if Chris did half of what he did to me to you, you'd have had him killed without a hint of remorse. But that's not the way it happened. You got Cyril. I got Chris. It's the way it was always going to be."
Toby stands up and after a quick glance to the front of the pod, rests his eyes on Ryan. Reverently he says, "You've already paid a heavy price. Let go."
He props himself back up on the top bunk and lies down, once more staring at the ceiling.
After a few minute Ryan asks, "Is that what you've done?"
Toby waits a moment. "I'm trying," he admits rolls onto his side, closing his eyes.
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