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Set during season 4, going just beyond "Cuts Like A Knife". Appearances from O'Reily, Sister Peter, Barlog, and Mukada.
I'm caving in//
I know it's not allowed//
But sometimes I fantasize//
I'm peeling off my skin//
Enough to fill it up again//
Into the pavement//
I'm caving in"
-Matthew Good Band,Failing The Rorschach Test
Chris didn't know what he was thinking when he gave Browne permission to do what he wanted with Toby. To be fair it was probably along the lines of Fuck you Toby, the still fiery remnants of anger bitterly burning at the unfathomable accusation.
Logically he knew Toby had acted out of despair and unimaginable loss. The desire for vengeance, the one thing he could do for his murdered son in this God forsaken place, had tripped the switch in his mind and turned him into an irrational creature. Chris could understand that. Love, ripped at the seams to shreds, turned everyone into shadows. Chris hid his own transgression behind cold words and an uncaring demeanor. Toby's deconstruction was more plainly stated.
Chris could have let him off the hook--would have, if he were the better man. But misery loved company. Hurt for hurt, he wanted Toby to feel the unbelievable pain that had split his skin (soul) like a crude shank. Of course infection set in, as it was want to do when little care was shown for the severity of the inflicted wound.
Truth be told, Chris expected Toby to give Browne a death match fight in the pod that night. He wanted (no, needed) to see Toby's desperate defiance--directed at him (watching from the new pod he called home on the other side of the quad), aimed at Browne for daring to lay unwanted hands on his body, in retaliation at Em City as a declarative statement that he was no one's prag. Chris saw the broken soul that hovered behind Toby's eyes as they stared at each other, but the decision that Toby ultimately made was a knock out punch. He allowed Browne to have him, as a fuck you right back at Chris.
It was unexpected to say the least. Considering what he knew of Toby's initial baptism into Oz, his willingness to roll over for Browne was a mindfuck. Where was the man who defecated on Schillinger's face and bit off the tip of Robson's dick? Where was the rhyming nut job who had made even Chris question what the hell Schillinger had gotten him into upon arriving at Oz? Watching Toby and Browne that night, Chris realized there was still a lot he did not know about the man who had come to mean far more than he had any right to.
It only fascinated Chris all the more.
********** ********** ********** ********** **********
Another beautiful day in the neighbourhood.
Chris leaned forward against the railing that ran along the second floor of pods. With an impassive expression fixed in place he casually observed the growing sea of black faces shifting the, always precarious, balance of Em City. He felt (then saw out of the corner of his left eye) Ryan stroll up beside him and mimic his posture.
"We're going to Hell in a fucking hand basket," Ryan said with a nod to the prisoners on the floor below them.
"I always thought that would be a lot more fun," Chris said wryly.
Under Ryan's watchful gaze Chris pretended to take note of the emerging alliances and weak spots amongst the influx of new faces from Gen Pop. The colour line was being rewritten with Querns giving Adebesi leeway for power that was frightening and potentially deadly to any and all non-conformists and non-black faces. It was going to take some cunning planning to dig out of the mess.
The bigger problem (and it should have been the other way around but the heart wanted what the heart wanted) was that Chris was distracted. What was that about separating the personal from the professional? Who ever came up with that gem either didn't practice what he preached or had never been in love. As much as he was casting a questioning eye at the increasing size of Adebesi's fold, he was more interested in where Toby had disappeared.
Chris had seen him that morning reading in his pod, and then at lunch looking worse for wear, sitting with Rebadow and Busmalis; although he still had enough of the piss in him to glare daggers at Chris when their gazes met. It was a small gesture that any other curious eyes may interpret as further proof of their fallout but actually meant quite the opposite. It reminded Chris that the two of them were still very much locked together (as it should be), intertwined intricately with no apologies.
And now he was nowhere to be seen.
"Earth to Keller."
Chris furrowed his brow and looked at Ryan.
With a hint of exasperation in the tight lines that accentuated his clenched jaw and the subtle roll of his eyes, Ryan said, "Please tell me you're thinking up some brilliant way to turn this shit around?"
"Quality not quantity." Chris rocked back on his feet and stood up. Keeping a grasp on the railing with his right hand, he leaned suggestively into Ryan's space.
"What? Substance over style?" Ryan stood up and tilted his head inquisitively to the side, not stepping back.
Chris gave him a wide, closed mouth smile. "Making a statement."
"Without getting our hands dirty," Ryan said.
Raising his left hand, Chris indicated an inch with his thumb and index finger. "A little bit dirty," he joked.
Ryan quirked a half smile and asked, "What did you have in mind K-Boy?"
Chris exaggeratedly leaned toward him then turned to face the quad, gripping the railing with both hands. Deliberate precision was the key to the operation. Not anyone would do. He spotted Toby crossing the floor on the way to his pod. Chris' focused attention flickered from Browne (tossing some useless joke at Toby, eliciting a handful of catcalls from the other men at his table) to the direction from where he had come. Sure enough there was that pathetic excuse, Shemin, walking from the laundry room with a stupid grin plastered on his face.
Chris looked back at Toby's pod in time to see the door closing. A concerned looking Said followed him a few seconds later. Chris sucked in a deep breath and thought, We finally agree on something, Said.
"Two birds with one stone, O'Reily." Chris grinned at him and looked down at the unknowing pawns. "Everybody wins."
********** ********** ********** ********** **********
Toby had proven himself to be quite the force of nature.
Never underestimate the depravity of a lawyer's brain, Chris reminded himself as frustration built.
There seemed to be stages that Toby was going through, though what they were was unclear. Self-loathing had given way to righteous indignation. Chris considered that the step in between, that bridged the two, was their conversation after Shemin's `untimely death' during which Chris admitted the issues he had with Toby's new slew of fucking partners. Toby's surprise at the news had caught Chris off guard--had he really thought Chris wouldn't care whose dick he sucked? For Christ's sake at least put up some resistance.
At first Chris figured a warning would suffice but for extra incentive he added Browne's body to the death count. While Em City crashed beneath mismanagement, Chris and Toby redefined the rules of war.
Then it was anger and resentment that lit Toby's eyes. It tightened arousal in Chris' groin and many times he had to stop himself from grabbing Toby and pushing him up against the wall, fucking him with abandon. He missed Toby's lips around his hard cock and the slickness of his tongue trailing up and down the length. There wasn't a night where he did not think about Toby's legs wrapped around his waist while he thrust steadily into him, their eyes latched together, both refusing to blink.
Mostly he missed kissing Toby. He yearned for his soft lips and tentative then probing tongue teasing him right back. Chris daydreamed of grabbing Toby by the back of the neck in the middle of the packed quad and leading him into a no holds barred kiss that told Toby and everyone else that Toby was his, no ifs, ands or buts.
A recurring fantasy was Toby walking into his pod and slipping in next to Chris on the bottom bunk; all their cares tossed aside as they touched and explored every square inch of one another again, after too much time away.
An angry Toby was the preamble to getting to the damn point. Chris wanted Toby all to himself. Toby had other ideas in mind. Oz was upside down, or right side up--Querns was out, Adebesi was dead, McManus was back, and Toby was ticked off at any and all exertions of control by Chris. It was a challenge met and returned. Toby became more confident--or reckless--in drawing attention to Chris and Ryan's questionable involvement in those things preferred unmentioned. Despite Ryan getting his panties in a twist over being outed, Chris saw the game for what it was and refused to lose his cool. Each strong fisted push between he and Toby was a schoolyard declaration.
Love worked in mysterious ways.
And Ronnie's arrival, into Toby's pod no less, only complicated the matter.
There were lines not to be crossed (as if that ever stopped them) laid out as unspoken rules. Ronnie became a spoil of war, a casualty of a battle far beyond his mental grasp, splayed out in a no man's land. It shouldn't have gone that way but Chris had taught Toby well and in return Toby called his bluff, daring him to kill Ronnie for going where Browne and Shemin had signed their own death notices.
Toby was world savvy, but Chris was Oz smart. As much as he had seen Ronnie like a brother on the outside, he had never considered fucking him until Toby went there first. It was a bitch move and the most personal combination change up between them. Blinking was not an option. Despite Chris' vast sexual history outside of prison, despite his willingness to let his dick do the talking within a newfound confined existence, despite his strangely obsessive proclivity towards all things Toby (that bordered on unsanctioned monogamy), Ronnie was the first person, post Toby, he considered maintaining an ongoing sexual relationship with.
Love, as it applied to Ronnie, had nothing to do with it. The sordid admission was that he could not handle the thought of Toby and Ronnie as a replacement for what he and Toby had. And that was what it was. Ronnie was the closest thing physically to Chris without being Chris. As such, Toby was getting the fix without mainlining. Chris called bullshit.
Seducing Ronnie worked twofold. Chris used it to keep Ronnie from Toby and in turn Ronnie became the medium through which Chris could be with Toby, intimately, once more. With the help of a vivid imagination he used his mind's eye to see Toby's body beneath his fingertips, to taste wet lips between this own, and to feel him arch up into a tight fist moving up and down his straining cock. Ronnie unwittingly played the part to the hilt.
And to the victor...
How the reward turned into another betrayal, this time with Ronnie chucking loyalty aside for a reduced prison sentence at Chris' expense, was a jagged pill to swallow; but he choked it down. He had to. A wrench in the playbook, it had caught both he and Toby off guard. The change in context bestowed a new perspective that neither could chance to ignore.
If he believed Ronnie, then Toby was a vindictive liar. If he believed Toby, it meant there was only one person in the world he could trust and he was the same one Chris had pushed to the brink to suffer the misfortune ripe between them. It was an unenviable position and Chris had steadfastly tried to hold his ground out of stubbornness and uncertainty. But he could not ignore the flicker in Toby's eyes as he delivered the prophetic warning in the library--regret.
Snapping Ronnie's neck was a cathartic lesson in self-sacrifice.
********** ********** ********** ********** **********
Inherently, Chris was not a selfless person. If he could not gauge the personal benefits of an action he simply did not do it. What was the point? No one did anything out of the goodness of his heart--everyone was motivated by personal gain.
Awhile back, Mukada had pleaded with him to do the right thing and help Toby out of the downward spiral laying waste to his being. Chris had quickly schooled him in the laws of Oz, the ones that he knew well enough and allowed to bind his hands into indifference. Deep down inside he knew he could help Toby but the pleasurable taste of his suffering--for daring to question Chris' love after everything -was intoxicating. He got drunk on it. But not so wasted that it destroyed the part of him that still wanted to pull Toby into his arms (after whacking Zabitz and his lying mouth for doing Schillinger's dirty work of destroying what Chris had worked so hard for with Toby) and whisper promises of comfort and love.
He was a piece of shit, denying them both what they desperately (needed and) craved. It was his self-inflicted punishment for falling in love in the first place. It was Toby's punishment for not loving him enough when it mattered most. Chris knew well his selfish nature, but what was Sister Pete's excuse?
That was what he wanted to yell at Mukada after he left the gym. For a Bride of Christ she certainly hadn't turned the other cheek with regards to her near pratfall with Chris, she hadn't offered the solace that Toby needed. Rather she had left him to suffer out of spite for her own hurt feelings over the fact that Chris had managed to manipulate her (reminding her just how fallible she was), and that Toby had been the one who truly held a place in his heart. Charming wasn't it, how debased they could all be when they should know better?
In his mind he called her out on it. "Your God's kind of an asshole, ain't he sister? Letting a man drown. Where's his grace now? Where the hell is your unconditional love? Don't put this on me. If God works through you, you can keep him."
The cracked confession was that love was as self-serving as it was unconditionally rendered. Turning himself into the sacrificial lamb was instinctive, but subconsciously he knew full well what he was doing. Protecting Toby's life at all costs wasn't a question; it was a fact. It came to Chris with the ease of breathing--he just did it.
And it was for far more than the altruistic want to save Toby from a demise he did not deserve; an ending that would be a barbaric final curtain for a life spun out of control by wrong choices, good intentions and bad deeds. Chris falsely naming himself as the perpetrator behind Hank Schillinger's death was the one surefire way to guarantee Toby's heart would continue to beat out its place in Chris' life.
The very thought of existing in a world where Toby was not, turned his stomach, made him clench his fists tight enough to turn nail indentations into blood drawing wounds, and raced his mind and heart with the ache of utter loss. He couldn't live like that, if he could even be called living. He would be exorcised of the one person that made him feel human, as if his existence had a purpose beyond con jobs and screwing. Toby was the air in his lungs and the blood through his veins. He was the goddamn sunrise and sunset.
It was better to be far away from Toby but know he was safe--living, breathing, and thinking of him--then simply gone.
Chris could deal with the separation, the chemicals between them that threatened and tethered the entity they had become. The possibility of each other's thoughts of the other crossing at some point in space and time brought a small grin to his face. Curling his lips up at the corners he allowed himself to think on that.
Reality had a harsh way of crashing through hope, however, and the knowledge that keeping Toby meant never seeing him again tightened the dull pain that threatened to implode his chest. He dropped his smile and stared at the floor. They had spent too much time playing a game of back and forth, made up of fuck you jabs and stubborn refusals to give an inch, all the time (wrongly) thinking they had forever to do it; endless time to outwit and outplay each other all the while moving towards the grudgingly accepted truth that they were forever bound.
The joke was on them.
He almost didn't hear the gate open or the approaching footsteps that stopped in front of him. He looked up in time to see Sister Pete looking down at him. "Hello Chris," she said, her hands casually in her pant pockets not betraying the concern etched on her face.
Though it wasn't the friendly face he hoped to see before being carted off--no final wish granted for the absolved soul--he still managed to muster up a cocky smile as he stood up. "Sister Pete, you hear to wish me a bon voyage?"
********** ********** ********** ********** **********
The bus ride to Cedar Junction was an uncomfortable barrage of bumps and turns. His body swerved and bounced awkwardly, serving as a constant reminder of a life course altered yet again. He closed his eyes as a counterattack to the elements and focused.
Remembering the taste of Toby's lips on his during their goodbye (maybe God did work through Sister Pete once in awhile) made him lick his own, biting the bottom one and sucking it inward to savor whatever trace amounts of Toby's essence had been left behind. Toby's scent, laid on his skin when Toby nuzzled his neck in a desperate (to not let go) hug, lingered like a worn jacket perfectly fitted to the angles of his body. It made Chris hard; he smiled.
"What's so funny?" Officer Huntworth snapped from the bench across from him.
Chris opened his eyes and glared at him. "None of your fucking business."
Huntworth rolled his eyes, muttering, "Prick," and looked out the tiny back window.
Chris shut his eyes and tried to recall a time when Toby and he were not loaded down with the issues that always seemed to get in their way. He didn't want to be stuck with only the stained memories, but the good ones were few and far between. Their relationship was a series of hellos and goodbyes; making the most of the in between was where trouble brewed. But it wasn't all a loss.
A night in the middle of the two week lockdown when they had first truly began that intimate move forward side-by-side, sprung to mind. Being forcibly confined to a pod with Toby, day in and day out, had its ups and downs. It didn't matter how much you loved someone, the inability to escape him could cause a severe meltdown. There was a flipside however; with no unsolicited interference from others, it really was just the two of them falling deeper, together.
"You miss being a lawyer?" Chris asked; lying back on his bunk with his left arm angled up under his head and the right one resting palm down on his chest.
He watched Toby who was standing at the front of the pod and gazing out at a dead Em City turn around. He leaned back against the glass, folding his arms across his chest, and returned Chris' gaze.
"Some days I don't. Most days I do," Toby said with curiosity in his voice over the question.
"Mine were always public defending assholes still in diapers." Chris grinned. "The other guys were too slick."
"I was pretty slick," Toby joked, pushing forward and approached the bunk.
"I bet you were." Chris lifted his upper body and rested his weight on his elbows, pressed into the mattress. "What do you miss most?"
Toby stopped next to him and faced the bunk. He grabbed the end of the top one and leaned forward, looming down at Chris. He rocked back and forth on his feet. "The rush," he finally said reverently.
Chris turned on his right side, propping himself up with his right elbow and waited for Toby to explain.
After a thoughtful pause, Toby said, "In here physical strength is paramount. It can make or break everything. But you still have to be creative, sharp. In the courtroom it's similar but it's not about being physically imposing. It's a battle of wits and quick thinking. Big or small, it's about what you have up here." He pointed to his head and smiled. "I could work a room."
Chris shifted back on the bunk to make room for Toby to lie down next to him. Chris stared down at him while Toby's glance moved from him to the bottom of the top bunk. He liked seeing Toby contemplative and pictured the wheels turning over something academically stimulating. It was the odd time that Toby's mind gave over to positive ruminations, like his kids and, now, a career he had passionately enjoyed. It reminded Chris how different Toby was from many of the guys he had met in the system and it flushed his body with desire at how this very different man saw something in him worth wanting.
"You wheeled and dealed the judge and jury?" Chris mused and trailed his left hand up Toby's right arm, across his shoulder, to rest on his chest just below his neck.
Toby settled his attention on him. "I didn't quite practice that kind of law...you make me sound like a con man." He raised an eyebrow.
Chris held his gaze then leaned forward. "In your own socially acceptable way--legally speaking--you are a con," his voice was low and steady. He hovered his lips a millimeter from Toby and lightly moved his left hand around the back of Toby's neck, carding the ends of his hair with his fingers. "We both convince people..."
Their deepened breaths spilled between them and Chris swore he could taste every single thing that made up Toby's essence.
"...Of what they think they want?" Toby whispered, his body still as a statue.
"Of what they want but are afraid to go for," Chris clarified, not moving forward to complete the near kiss hanging unfinished between them.
One second passed. Then two. Three.
Chris pulled back slightly. "I'd like to see you work your game."
"Yeah?" Toby sounded contemplative. "Genevieve was never interested. She'd seen too much of it growing up. It had lost its luster by the time I came along."
"I'm not her," Chris stated. "You don't bore me so easily."
"I'm beginning to get that," Toby said.
Two pairs of blue eyes never wavered from each other. Then Toby shifted. He pushed up and claimed Chris' mouth in a searing kiss and wrapped his right arm around Chris' neck, holding him firm. Lips parted and they slipped their tongues forward to taste and mark. A moan--they shifted again, with Chris laying his body over top of Toby's. A groan--the kiss unbroken, Chris dropped his hands to Toby's thighs and pulled his legs around his hips; rocking forward. Toby reached around his back and down pushing his hands up underneath Chris' tank, and raked his fingers along the overheated skin.
Chris always reveled in Toby's touch. Those two weeks during the lockdown had been a revelation. Toby's mouth, his fingers, took inventory of his body so wantingly. It was a sharp contrast to the unflinching resistance that lay in the wake of Operation Toby. To know Toby wanted--needed--him just as much. Returned affection rocked him to his core.
Later he came to appreciate those intimacies in light of Toby's aversion to public displays of affection. Chris may not have cared about the prying eyes that watched them and drew conclusions about their dynamic, but Toby did. It frustrated Chris who had learned from doing time before to take what you could when you could because prison put little effort into privacy.
But he wanted Toby too much to rip the created comfort zone that protected him. Instead he subtly pushed Toby for more, here and there invading his personal space, but stopped short, letting Toby negotiate the terms when the situation was more affable.
The bus lurched. A part of Chris wished he had pushed Toby a bit harder, for more; fuck the hacks and other prisoners. If they had known that was all the time they were getting, they would have adapted accordingly. He hated the disjointed stiffness of regret.
He sighed and opened his eyes, staring at the shackles that held his hands and feet in place. The closest he had ever felt to true freedom was when he was with Toby. Freedom, after all, wasn't about the physical existence within prison walls or not. It was wherever he was the most himself; authentically speaking it was when he was his most genuine self.
And because of him, for him, Chris would never know that again. It would exist as no more than a memory, a moving picture in his mind whose colour would fade, angles would become less defined, and sound would become more muted over time.
The cost of loving Toby was not being able to call the shots and see the final outcome ten moves ahead.
And Chris willingly paid the price.
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