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
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.
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
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
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
"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.