In his previous life, his first life, Beecher had been an expert in blame. Litigation was more than just family tradition; it was an inspired career choice for someone who used guilt like one of his Brooks Brothers suits, putting it on when it counted for something, shrugging it off when it began to reek. He'd spent seventy hours a week blaming people, making them pay for the things they had done, holding them accountable for the bad choices they'd made.

Even after that life had imploded, even after he'd lost faith in just about everything else he'd once believed in, there was still one conviction he couldn't relinquish, one certainty he could not shake.

For everything bad that happens in life, somebody must be to blame.

As he makes his way down to see Keller, years are dissolving right in front of his eyes. Suddenly he's at the railings in front of McManus's office, gazing over at Chris with a new kind of certainty in his heart, and the sweet buzz of anticipation humming in the air.

But this time, he knows what he's looking for. And he *wants* it, he wants it *back,* even more than he wants his next breath.

Turning the corner, he enters the room with an expectant smile on his face -- only to lose it, instantly and definitively, when reality slams into him like a bullet. Point blank, straight to the chest.

This is Death Row.

He flounders, feeling like an actor who's just stepped out onto the wrong stage. He takes a step forward on legs gone weak, and simply stares.

He'd never given much thought to Death Row before. As a litigator, it was never an issue; as an inmate, he'd been kept fairly insulated from the reality of it simply by virtue of his particular crime. Even during the whole thing with Jefferson Keane, he'd been motivated more by a leftover sense of injustice than anything else; Keane wasn't to *blame* for the death of Johnny Post, therefore he shouldn't have to fry for it, while people like Bellinger and d'Italien had earned their place in the ranks in this dark, dingy hall.

It had all seemed so simple, so cut-and-dried, until now.

He certainly had never spared a single thought for how it must feel to live here. To wait... and to know, in a way most people never have to, that there is only a small, finite number of days left in your future.

Chris's future.

Oh, Christ.


Keller pauses, reacting to Toby's voice like there's a gun to his spine. He turns slowly, eyes cold with distrust, and Beecher -- who'd somehow expected something entirely different (or, more accurately, something entirely the same) -- is immediately struck by the changes in him. One of them in particular: the stiff, almost mechanical way that Chris moves as he slowly approaches the bars. As if -- as if somehow, he has lost the ability to feel safe inside his own skin.

"You've got mail," Toby says, lamely. He reaches for the bars with one hand just to steady himself, the same way he'd once reached for Chris... and he laughs.

He laughs so that he doesn't cry, seeing Chris Keller like this.

Despite the caution in Chris's expression, Toby can pinpoint, precisely, the moment Chris realizes Toby really is here. A wary half-smile, one hand clamping firmly over his on the bars, while the other one snakes through them, reaching for him. He can see, clearly, the toll that the past year has taken on Chris, the weight of the blame that he carries. Toby's, and his own.

Watching him, Toby finally understands, in some dimly lit, rarely-used part of his brain, what he'd only begun to suspect when he'd first defended his love for Chris to Said: in Oz, there are no absolutes. In Oz, even *guilt* is relative; when you've spent a year of your life on your knees, forced to worship the grinning, sadistic fuck in the bunk above you, you tend not to mind so much when your next roommate shows a little mercy and simply steals your watch. Fuck that, you're grateful. And more than likely, after enough time has passed, you'll find yourself up on that top bunk yourself, admiring the view even as you realize you've turned in to one of them.

Is that wrong? And if it is, who the fuck do you blame?

Seeing Chris, aching for him, Toby is suddenly blanketed by the same dry-eyed calm that descended upon him when they told him Gary was dead, when he realized he had to be strong, even though he wasn't, simply because it wasn't about him anymore. And he finds himself taking on a role that he's never attempted to play, certainly never with Chris: not accusing, not defending, just giving what he'd always been the one to take. Doing what he has to do. And the question he'd recently asked Said resounds in his head once again, making him even
more certain, despite all his past mistakes and bad judgments, that right now he is exactly where he is supposed to be.

How is love wrong?

And so he moves closer, letting Chris lead him into that silent, haunted space. And he leans in, his mouth falling open under Chris's hungry kiss, sensing the desperation that fuels it even before Chris clutches his shirt, holding him there. And if Chris is a little too rough, yanking him up to the bars and grabbing at him as if to go through him somehow and come out on the other side -- Christ, Toby can't blame him at all.

Somewhere in the shadows behind them, a hack clears his throat. "Come on, Beecher. Keep moving."

Toby ignores him, his hand tightening on Chris's hip. Fuck you, he wants to say, wants to scream. Don't you get it? There is so fucking much to make up for, so many things left to say. He presses closer, determined not to let go, but the hack's noises get louder. And this time Chris pulls away.

Toby lets his hands fall to the bars, smiling gently when Chris's fingers wrap over his. Chris's answering smile is sincere, almost shy, like a child's.

"I have to go," Toby tells him softly. "But I'll be back."


It is the first word Chris has spoken.

Once, back when Toby still thought there were laws for such things, he'd asked Father Ray: Is it wrong to love someone too much? It occurs to him now, he should have asked Chris. Chris would know.

"Tomorrow," he promises, firmly, and steps back up to the bars, kissing Chris hard. "For as long as they let me. As long as it takes."

Their eyes meet, and after a pause, Keller simply nods.

Right or wrong, whether it makes sense or not, the truth in its most basic form is this: Toby just doesn't care whether Keller is guilty or not, any more than Chris cares if *he* is. Whatever they've done, whatever they've been in that previous life, it has nothing to do with them now.

Besides, in this place, in this life, everyone is guilty. Every last one of them is.

And Tobias Beecher, this new one, can live with that. He *will* live with it, whether he wants to or not. Whether he deserves to, or not.

But Chris . . . Chris may not get a chance to. He may not have time.


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