Five Times Beecher Never Cried

Written for the "Five for Six" challenge at [info]oz_rapsheet.

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I.

The hospital is bright, too bright. Too much light, everywhere, and Tobias closes his eyes, fighting back a wave of nausea.

It’s bad enough that Genevieve had refused to let him drive the car, taking the keys away from him right there in the driveway, right in front of their neighbors, as if he was some degenerate who couldn’t be trusted to take his own son to the fucking E.R. Now he has to deal with insurance forms, co-pays, and the desk nurse with her fucking clipboard, and Tobias is certain he’s not imagining the way she keeps glancing at him with censure in her eyes, as if he had pushed Gary off the skateboard with his own two hands.

He tries to focus, he really does. But between the round of drinks he’d had after work -- it was a rough day, goddamn it, he’s not going to apologize -- and the memory of his son's fine blond hair crusted with blood, it’s all he can do just to keep himself upright, to keep from puking right there on the nurse’s squeaky, pristine-white shoes.

Beside him, Genevieve is babbling, nervous tension streaming from her in the form of words that lash Tobias like whips. Gary had gotten the skateboard just two months ago, she says. She’d known he was too young, she’d told Tobias not to buy it for him -- who gives a skateboard to a six-year-old? Tobias says nothing, just stares down at his own expensive shoes, dull and brown against the shiny white tile, remembering the day he’d brought home that skateboard. The way Gary had clutched at it as if it were a gift from the heavens and not just a half-assed consolation prize, a bribe from a father who is never home, and is never sober when he is.

Closing his eyes again, he begins to pray.

Please, God, don’t let him die. Don’t let my baby boy die. I’ll do anything you ask, anything you want, I’ll even --

But another voice filters through the nausea, cuts through the thick alcohol fog. A broken wrist, the doctor is saying. Some black and blues here and there, but nothing too serious -- Gary is going to be fine. Tobias opens his eyes and laughs aloud, a totally inappropriate sound which earns him another suspicious glare from the nurse -- but he doesn't give a fuck about that now. Not with his heart thudding wildly in relief.

Not dead, he thinks, again and again. Not dead, not brain dead, not anything dead, and he grabs Genevieve’s hand and squeezes it hard, all trespasses instantly forgiven as they turn together to go see their son, the promises he’d been about to make already forgotten, now that the danger has passed.

They keep Gary overnight, just for observation. Genevieve stays with him, settled into a chair by his bed, while Tobias reclaims his keys from her purse, heads home to relieve the babysitter and tuck Holly into bed.

He stops at the liquor store on the way. It’s been a really rough day.


II.

It takes four nights.

The first one is little more than a blur: long, dark hours that go on and on, a prolonged nightmare of fear and shock and pain. Beecher has no idea when the tears start or even when they end, only realizes they’ve been shed at all the following morning, when he wakes with swollen eyes, a pounding headache and the lingering taste of salt in his mouth.

It’s even worse the second night. Having a hard dick shoved into his ass had barely pinged his radar the night before -- the pain inside barely registering after the piercing agony of being branded like a cow -- but this time, without the pain of the branding to distract him, there’s no escaping from it. Beecher knows and feels everything Schillinger does to him, every last torturous, horrific, humiliating thing, and he can’t stop the tears any more than he can stop Schillinger from doing what he wants -- taking what he wants. Vern laughs at him then, claiming the tears as a reward, a payment for services rendered, but by then, Beecher is too wrecked, too wrung-out to care.

By the third night, he thinks maybe he can keep it under control, but he miscalculates. He’d honestly thought that nothing could be worse than getting fucked, but it turns out that Schillinger’s cock actually is almost as big as it had felt inside him, and when Vern rapes his mouth, thrusting in and pumping mercilessly, Beecher chokes and gags and feels his eyes begin to sting, welling and filling and spilling over.

But the fourth night is different.

The fourth night, Schillinger demands a strip-tease. Beecher balks at the command at first, shrinking away in instinctive protest, but the shank in Schillinger’s hand makes it crystal-clear what the punishment will be for defiance, and something inside Beecher settles, falls still.

This is what he is now. This is all he is -- he’s lost everything, every last thing that mattered. Pain and humiliation are all he has left to claim, and it’s nothing more or less than he deserves.

There’s a sudden, unexpected freedom in knowing it’s out of his hands.

Closing his eyes, he slowly strips off every last piece of clothing, swallowing thickly around the symbolism as he exposes himself to whatever perverse, sadistic procedures Schillinger will choose to inflict on him. Eventually, when Schillinger grows tired of just watching, Beecher goes down to his knees without protesting at all. His eyes remain dry the entire time.


III.

He gets the papers on a Tuesday, less than one month after coming to Oz.

They arrive in an ordinary brown envelope, along with a renewal for his subscription to The Wall Street Journal and a perfumed letter from his grandmother. He sits at a table in the common room, sits there for a very long time before finally opening the clasp and sliding the sheaf of papers out into his hand.

The documents are filled with the formal, detached legalese unique to his former profession, words like plaintiff and defendant, settlement and judgement filling up the pages. There’s nothing even remotely personal about it -- everything is fair, just, and equitable, after mature consideration, and by mutual agreement -- but now that he’s sober, for better or worse, Beecher is much better able to read between the lines.

Genevieve would have been sitting at the desk in the den, the polished mahogany antique one his parents had bought for him when he passed the bar. Staring down at the gold band on her finger, or maybe she’d already taken it off. Beecher can almost see the invisible stains from her tears on the pages, the faltering strokes of a signature written with a trembling hand, and for a moment, he wishes he could have been there to hold her, to tell her everything would turn out all right. It would have been all lies, of course, but he’s lied to her with less motivation, and for much less noble reasons, a million times before.

There’s a whole lot of bitter irony in the knowledge that he might be a better husband now than he’d ever been during their marriage, but that’s something he isn’t going to dwell on -- not now, not in this place, where every vow he’s ever made has been broken, and every emotion he's ever felt has been twisted and warped into something beyond human recognition.

His hand is steady when he signs his name on the line. It may be, he acknowledges silently, the first truly unselfish gesture he’s made in years.


IV.

He doesn’t recognize Mrs. Rockwell at all, can’t find a single reference to her face anywhere in his brain. It’s a shock at first, but then he figures he really shouldn’t be all that surprised. The first time they'd met, he'd been all bundled up in self-pity and drugs and what Sister Pete calls post-traumatic disassociation; in short, he couldn’t have cared less about the Rockwells’ pain -- or anyone else’s, except his own.

He’s no longer the man he was then, but there’s no way to begin to explain the changes to them, and he’s not even sure it matters, so he doesn’t try. In the end, it doesn’t make a difference; they’re better people than he would have been. He just nods, and tries to be grateful for that.

Later on, in his pod, he thinks about the possibility of parallel universes. There’s an overabundance of inherent guilt in receiving this second chance -- something their daughter will never have -- but he’s already carrying more guilt than he can handle, so he pushes that thought aside. Instead, he thinks about the dozens of lives he might have lived -- and the dozens of lives he might have saved -- if he’d just made different choices somewhere along the way. There are hundreds of points on the timeline of his life he could single out, could say “there, right there, let’s back it up—that’s where it all went wrong.”

He stumbles out of the bar. In an uncharacteristic moment of prescience he realizes he’s way too drunk to drive, so he hails a cab instead, fumbling with his wallet and tossing a handful of bills at the driver before shuffling into the house and promptly passing out on his bed.

Across town, Kathy Rockwell delivers the rest of her newspapers and heads for home. The front door slams as she enters; her mother calls “Wipe your feet!” from somewhere deep inside the house. Kathy watches TV and then she has dinner, finishes her homework and goes off to bed. Soon she is graduating from high school, then going off to college, and one day she has kids of her own and she teaches them to be careful when they go out on their bikes, just like all good parents do. And she lives out her perfectly happy, perfectly unremarkable life without ever truly knowing about the dangers out there, the ones you never see coming.


Toby rolls to his side on his narrow bunk and closes his eyes. It comforts him to think that maybe, somewhere out there in the cosmos, things have been already been put to rights.


V.

They line up as instructed, and Toby finds himself standing behind Alvarez once again, while up ahead of them Murphy is barking out orders, reminding them to stay in line and to follow the rules. It’s deja-vu, but not quite: five years have made a difference, have taken their toll in more ways than Toby is willing to count.

There are ghosts standing in this line; even his own. The Tobias Beecher who’d come into Oz had been a different man: naďve, indignant, wallowing in resentment and woefully unprepared for life in Oz, clinging to the idea of justice the same way he would soon learn to cling to drugs, to guilt, to self-loathing -- even to Keller.

But the indignation is gone, along with the drugs, and Toby gave up on the idea of justice a long time ago. Many more people are dead, some he accepts the blame for and some he will never lay claim to, but he’s paid a price for each and every one. He continues to pay, even if it’s not in any way they can see.

Justice, he realizes now, isn’t really blind so much as dumb.

Finally, the line begins to move. For a moment or two, there’s blue sky above him, a breeze in his hair, but Toby keeps his head down and stares only at the steps with their ridged plastic treads, rising one after another in front of him. It’s a change, he tells himself as he boards the bus, finds his seat; just another change to adjust to, adapt to, and somehow he’ll keep on going -- because somehow, somehow, he always does.
 

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