In Love or War
Originally posted to TS in June 2001
Notes: This is in response to chrdona's "Play God in Oz"
challenge on the TS list.
Summary: Father Ray asks Chris to intercede with Slutty Beecher. For some
reason, Chris decides to give it a try. Poor, poor Chris.
I know that I'm damned if I
never get out
And I know that I'm damned if I do
But with every beat I've got left in my heart
I know I'd rather be damned with you
--- Meat Loaf, "Bat Out of Hell"
"Beecher, what the fuck is going on with you?"
Toby stood at the sink, gazing at the mirror. He didn't know how long he'd been there, studying his own face -- it seemed that ever since
Chris had moved out and Mondo had moved in, the image in the mirror had taken on a life of its own. Sometimes a full half-hour would go
by and Toby wouldn't budge from the glass; he just stood there, absorbing.
Idly, he wondered if he had finally gone off the deep end. Freudian
as it was, this compulsion to look at himself seemed a little bizarre, even by his own extreme standards. Not that he wouldn't love to convince Sister Pete that he was developing real psychotic tendencies -- hell, the Valium alone would be worth a transfer to the
Psych ward, at least temporarily. But still, pretending to lose your mind was one thing. Actually high-jumping over the cuckoo's nest was quite another. And losing control of whatever hold he had left on
reality -- well, that wouldn't help him in his daily war against life in Oz.
Especially when one of the walking battles in that war was standing at the door to the pod, looking way too good and far too fucking
familiar. The momentary relief he'd felt at being diverted from his
ritual was instantly squelched, swallowed up by the tide of feelings that Chris evoked in Toby simply by breathing the same recycled air.
Toby watched himself wince. "What do you mean, 'going on'?"
"Look at you. You're a fuckin' mess."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Toby lied.
Chris gestured toward the mirror. "Like what you see?"
"Did you want something, *Keller*?" Toby snapped. "Because if not, you know, I've got things to do."
Chris looked around the pod skeptically. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Laundry." He paused, smiling nastily. "Mondo's."
// Take that, motherfucker.//
But his only reward was a tightening in Chris' jaw, a slight tension in the long body that wasn't there a moment before. Toby was sure no one elsewould have noticed it, but it was enough. Hell, it was *something.*
Chris leaned back against the wall of the pod, crossing his ankles. "So Mukada comes to see me in the gym," he began. "He gives me that look --
you know that look? Like he's ashamed of me, or something. He comes to me, looking like that, asking for a fucking favor."
Toby resumed the obsessive study of his own reflection. Sunken, red-rimmed eyes
-- he sighed. Not enough sleep. "So?"
"So, seems he's been hearing stories. Prison grapevine. And suddenly he's asking me to be a fucking hero. Wants me to talk to you, try and save your
ass." His smile was fleeting, almost sad. "Once more, for old time's sake. Huh, Toby?"
"Sounds like Father Ray needs to get laid," Toby said blandly.
"Yeah, that's what I told him."
Toby snorted. "I'm sure you did."
Chris went on. "So then he starts talkin' about you and me. Says we had a relationship – no, wait, a *loving* relationship, he said." He chuckled. "Like
that could even exist in this fucking place."
Ouch. Direct hit, straight to the heart. A few weeks ago, Toby would have let it go, accepted it as his due, even embraced it. Before Mondo, he would have.
// But you've *learned* a few things since then, haven't you? Prag? //
"Or anywhere, between two people as fucked up as you and me," he shot back.
"Yeah." Chris said softly. "So I'm thinkin', why me? I mean, yeah, we fucked each other. Last I checked, that don't make me your personal savior." He
paused. His smile was dangerous. " 'Specially when I'd have to stand in *line.* "
Toby stiffened. Part of the reason he'd embarked upon his current state of affairs -- forgive the pun -- was to forget what it had been like with Chris. He'd
be damned if he would stand here and discuss it -- or worse, listen to Chris talk
about it so casually, as if there were no difference between Toby fucking Chris and Toby fucking...well, anyone else. Because whether Chris wanted to admit
it or not, there *was* a difference. Toby was sure of that now.
He leaned his forehead against the mirror, staring deep into his own eyes. Time to get Chris out of here. Get away from him, shut him up, end whatever
cruel little game he was playing, before Toby slid right into the madness he saw
lurking in that double image.
// 'There's no white light,' Chris had said once. 'I was there, and they're bringing
me back.' Well, I'm not going back, Chris. Not without a fight, anyway. //
"So you're here to talk some sense into me. Make me see the error of my ways?"
"Something like that, yeah."
Toby forced a laugh. "Better men have tried."
"You're a slut, Beecher."
"Now you sound like Said," Toby murmured. Jesus, had Chris just come from the showers? Even from across the pod, Toby was sure he could smell the soap
on Chris' skin. It was driving him nuts. And the mirror showed it all - the telltale
flush rising up from his neck, the pulse increasing at the hollow of his throat. Fascinated, he leaned in even more; so close now, he could sweep the glass with his eyelashes. "So what'd you tell Father Ray?"
"What do you think I told him?" Chris shrugged. "Been there, done that, too many fucking times to count."
"Mmm. Yeah, I suppose you have." Absently, Toby traced the faint line of shadow across his jawline.
Chris pushed himself away from the wall. "I'm wastin' my time."
Finally, Toby turned. "Look. Ray sent you here because he's feeling guilty. I can't blame him for that," he said with a shrug. "I know all about guilt. I feed
on it." He leaned back against the sink and tilted his head thoughtfully. "But all
things considered, I'd have to counsel you not to put much value on the advice you get from any of them. I do have a little experience with that, after all."
"So, what, you saying you're okay?" Chris asked. "Toby, you *looked* at yourself lately?"
"I'm just saying that Father Ray, Sister Pete, Said -- they're as fucked up as we are. Only they're more dangerous, because they're supposed to know
better." Back to the mirror, he began rubbing his temples. "But you and me? You said it yourself -- we fucked each other. Literally, figuratively, in every
way there is. And now we're done."
Chris' eyes narrowed. "Toby..."
Eyes glued to the mirror, still rubbing, Toby watched as his skin grew taut, relaxed, tensed again. Round and round, in big, rhythmic circles -- oh yeah,
the madness was there, waiting, threatening to erupt.
Look out, Oz. Beecher's gonna blow.
"Let me make this easy on you," he told Chris. "You don't want to save me? Well, I don't want to be saved. So, there -- you've done your civic duty, now
I'm letting you off the hook."
// Now get the fuck OUT, cocksucker, before I *lose* it, once and for all. //
Chris stood, gazing at Toby briefly with eyes too dark to read, before pivoting
and striding toward the door.
// Good. Go. And this time, it'll be for good. Life will go on, some new shit will replace the old, and the long, drawn-out chapter of Toby and Chris will
finally come to an end. Fin. Finis. Finito. Good-fucking-bye. //
The mirror beckoned.
"No." Then, louder: "Goddammit - *NO*."
Toby didn't know how it happened, didn't *mean* for it to happen, but suddenly he was moving across the room, one hand already reaching out for
Chris' arm. His fingers slipped around Chris' wrist, halting him mid-stride.
"Wait," he begged, hating himself. "Just tell me one goddamned thing."
Chris glanced down at the hand holding his arm, then raised his eyes to meet Toby's. "What?"
Toby stared. His eyes devoured Chris' face, analyzing it, memorizing it.
// Do I even know you? I love you, God yes -- I love you almost as desperately as I hate you. But...I never got a chance to find out *why.* //
When he finally spoke, he didn't bother hiding the tears. "Do you think I really am crazy?"
Chris' eyes were shuttered. "I dunno, Toby," he said slowly. "Maybe. Why?"
A pause. Then, softly: "Because I thought it was more." Toby closed his eyes briefly. "You know? What we had – " he waved his hand between them –
"I really thought it was more."
"More? What, more? Toby, you tried to *kill* me."
"I wasn't thinking, Chris, I was crazy. My son --"
"That'd be the one you thought I murdered..."
"I was out of my mind! That's the only reason I believed them --"
"Nah, that's not it," Chris said. "Admit it. You believed 'em because in your heart, you wanted to believe 'em."
"It's true, Toby. Even after all the shit he's done, you were ready to kiss Vern's ass just to save your fuckin' soul. But me?" He laughed scornfully. "You never wanted to forgive me.You never even wanted to love me. You just needed a good reason to stop."
In Father Ray's office:
"Chris told me you asked him to talk to me," Toby said.
"I'm sorry, Tobias. I was -- I am -- concerned about you."
Toby nodded. "You know, when I met Chris, when I fell in love with him, I actually thought maybe God had sent him here. Like He was finally giving me something to make up for all the shit I've had to go through."
"And then Chris betrayed you."
"I know why he did it. I understand it. And I knew -- I *know* -- he was sorry, he wanted to make it right. But I wouldn't forgive him," he said, bitterly. "I forgave God. I even forgave Schillinger. But I wouldn't forgive Chris."
"Tobias," Ray said gently, "despite what most people think, it's not our enemies who have the greatest power to hurt us. It's often the people we love who do us the most harm."
"I do love him."
"So what should I do?"
"Perhaps you need to make a confession."
Toby groaned. "No offense, Father, but I'm not even a Catholic. Hell, I don't even know what I am anymore."
Ray smiled. "Not to *me*, Tobias. To the only one who can absolve you."
"You mean Chris."
"Yes. Maybe you should tell him what you've just told me. Ask for his forgiveness."
Toby shook his head. "It won't be enough."
"How do you know that?"
The answer, when it came to him, pierced like a shank to the gut. "Because it wasn't enough for me," he whispered. He rose swiftly, heading for the door.
"What will you do?" Ray called after him.
Toby paused. "I'll do what I have to."
At night, in Beecher's pod:
"Yo, what if I don't, man?" Mondo was obviously trying to sound cool, but Toby wasn't fooled. The man was practically hyperventilating, his eyes fixed steady on the knife Toby was pressing to his groin.
"You will," Toby said calmly. "I know all about the deal with Querns. No violence." He leaned the knife just a little more, watching as sweat broke out on Mondo's skin. "I also know that Adebisi is keeping a close eye on you after that little scene with Cyril. So you see, if anything happens to me, Adebisi will rip you a new asshole." He grinned. "You're screwed either way. But me? Fuck. I've got nothing left to lose."
"You're crazy, Beecher. Get th' fuck offa me."
"Now here's the plan," Toby continued, ignoring the interruption. "You can tell Adebisi anything you want. Tell him I snore. Tell him I'm crazy, I don't give a fuck. It's true enough, anyway. But get him to move you out of this pod. Tomorrow. Or I promise you, one of us will die." Toby rose, sliding the shank back into his own waistband before reaching up to pat Mondo's cheek. "Our last night together," he said, mock-sweetly. "Sleep tight, loverboy."
Turning toward the bunk, he glanced one last time at the darkened pod above. Chris was standing there as always, watching, though it was too dark to see his expression. Toby walked to the glass wall, leaning his hands against it briefly as he returned Chris' stare.
// What I did was wrong. I've been trying to think of a way to show you that I'm truly sorry. And I do love you. //
Toby stood at the glass for a long time. He would have stood there all night.
The following morning, rather than settling into work as he would normally have done, Toby went straight to Sister Peter Marie. "I need to talk to you," he said.
Sister Pete looked up, removing her glasses. "Tobias, what is it? Is something wrong?"
"I want to do the victim-offender program," he told her. "With Keller."
"You and Chris?" Her face went blank. "But I thought you and he weren't even speaking anymore."
"We're not, not really. But I need to do this."
"Tobias, I don't know. Chris is -- he's a manipulator. He'll find a way to hurt you, and make himself come out smelling like a rose."
Toby's eyes were cold. "You told me you were sorry for not being there when I needed you. When Gary was killed." At her nod, Toby went on. "Then do this for me now."
She frowned. "I'm just not sure that confronting Chris with the things he's done will make much of a difference at this point."
"I don't think you understand," Toby said quietly. "I want *him* to confront ME."
Said – Arif pod:
Toby found Said outside his pod, watching the other inmates mill around the common room.
"Beecher. You look -- energized."
"I do? Must be the glow of righteousness." Toby laughed at Said's puzzled expression. "I need to talk to you."
"By all means." They walked together into Said's pod. "What can I do for you?"
Toby leaned against the wall, inhaling deeply. "Several months ago, I came to you in desperation, asking for help with my feelings about Andy's death."
Said smiled. "You wanted forgiveness. I helped you find that."
"Yeah. Right. Well, I think I've finally accepted my part of the blame for what happened to Andy. And for what I've done to my own family, and the Rockwells. I think I can even forgive what I've done to myself."
"Beecher, that is wonderful news."
"Yeah, it is. So now, I'm ready to forgive you."
Said gaped in surprise. "Me?"
"And what is it you feel I should be forgiven for?"
"You made me doubt the one and only thing in here that I knew was real," Toby said. "The only halfway decent thing I've known since I walked into this shithole."
"You're talking about Keller." At Toby's nod, he added, "Beecher, what you and Keller had was against God. It was poisoning your soul."
"No, Kareem." Toby's voice was calm now, almost serene. "I was doing that all by myself, without any help from anyone. What Chris and I had? That was *love*. And doesn't love come from God?"
"You told me yourself you didn't want to love him," Said insisted.
"Yes, I said that," Toby agreed. "And it was a lie. I've forgiven myself for that, too." He smiled wistfully. "I just hope that Chris can."
Toby walked away feeling light, almost buoyant. There *was* freedom in Oz. You just had to look for it.
It was time to find Chris.
His penchant for drama being what it was, Toby was not at all disappointed to find Chris in the storage room, shelving copy paper. He crossed the room as silently as he could, placing his hand gently against the hard muscles of Chris’ back. "Hey."
Chris swiveled, instantly bracing for battle. Seeing Toby, he relaxed only slightly. "Hey."
"I need to talk to you," Toby said.
"I spoke to Sister Pete today," Toby told him. "I want us to do the interaction thing."
“Yeah, us. You and me.”
Chris’ eyes were cold. “I already paid that debt, Toby. You got your own back and more. Far as I’m
concerned, it’s ancient history.”
“I’m not talking about that, Chris. I’m talking about what I’ve done to you.” Toby’s smile was sad. “I want to make things right between us.”
“By talking?” Chris stepped aside, turning back to the shelves. “You can’t. You can’t make it right.
Now get the fuck out of here.”
Toby gazed at Chris, the rigid stance, the tension in his body. Nodding silently, he turned and left the room.
In Em City:
“You must move Browne to another pod,” Adebisi told Querns.
“Beecher, he is crazy. He threatened to kill my boy.”
Querns frowned. “You think he’s serious?”
“With Beecher, you never know,” Adebisi replied, shrugging. “But Mondo, he has no self-control. He will try to fuck Beecher again. And then, one of them will die.” He adjusted his hat. “Best to separate them.”
“So what’s your suggestion?” Querns asked.
Adebisi shrugged. “You want no violence in Em City.” Querns nodded. “Put Keller back in Beecher’s pod.
Tell them they can fuck like rabbits, long as no one gets hurt.”
Querns tossed his pencil onto the desk, disgusted. “I’ll take care of it,” he said.
Sister Pete’s office:
“Tobias has asked me to set up an interaction between them,” she said. “He wants Chris to confront him
about the attack.”
Ray looked surprised. “Are you serious?” Pete nodded. “Then perhaps there’s hope for them after all,"
Ray said softly.
"Ray! Are you telling me you want to see them together again? After everything they’ve done to each other?"
"No…. no. I’m not saying that, exactly." Ray looked sheepish. “Look, Pete. I don't know what's gone on between these two. All I know is that Tobias was hanging on by half a thread before Chris Keller came to Oz. Chris changed him, somehow. Made him stronger, more able to stand up for himself.” He met Pete’s eyes before adding, “They found something in each other.”
Pete looked skeptical. “Regardless, I don’t know if I should allow it. You know how I feel about Chris.”
“Yes, I know,” Ray said gently. “But it’s not your feelings that matter, is it?”
Sister Pete nodded to Lopresti, then closed the door behind Chris. She stood for a moment at the doorway, watching thoughtfully, as Chris dropped into the seat in front of her desk.
“I have to tell you, Sister, I was kinda surprised you asked to see me. After everything that went on.”
Pete took her seat behind the desk. “I asked you here at Tobias’ request.”
Chris stiffened in his chair. “Toby?”
Sister Pete nodded. “He wants the two of you to sign up for the victim-offender interaction.”
“Yeah, he told me. And I told him no.”
“Chris, it could be good for you. For both of you, to talk things out, clear the air…”
Chris smiled – the charming, disarming smile that Sister Pete now recognized, the one that meant she was hitting a nerve. “Talking ain’t gonna fix what went wrong with me and Beecher,” he said. “Hell, talking is the
one thing he and I could never get right.”
“Chris, I may not know everything that happened between you and Tobias. But you told me yourself that you loved him. And I know he loved you.”
Chris’ eyes slid away. Sister Pete leaned across her desk, forcing him to look at her. “Think about it.
After everything he’d been through with Vern, do you think it was easy for him to fall in love with you? To let himself care about you? Do you know what he went through, coming to terms with that?"
Chris was silent.
“I think you do know,” she said quietly. “Before he met you, Tobias had no experience with loving a man.
All he knew of sex between men was with Vern – and you of all people would know what that must have been like. So tell me, what do you think it would have meant to him, to admit his feelings for you? To willingly, actively, enter into a physical relationship with you?”
Chris looked uncomfortable. “Why are you doin' this?”
“I just want to make sure you see what you’re doing, Chris.” She sat back in her chair. “You told me that
what you wanted from Beecher was unconditional love. Isn’t that right?”
Chris shrugged. “Yeah. So?”
“So, you broke him. You betrayed him. You turned your back on him.” She looked at him intently. “You
passed him to another man like he meant nothing more to you than an old shirt. And still, he loves you,” she said simply. “How much more proof do you need?”
Zabitz approached Schillinger’s table cautiously, his eyes scoping every corner of the room. It wouldn’t do
to run into Beecher or Keller now, not while the news of Hank Schillinger’s arrest was so fresh and everyone
in Oz was talking about it.
He sat down across from Vern nervously. “You gotta protect me,” he said.
Vern raised an eyebrow. “I do?”
“Everyone knows I lied," he said. “It's only a matter of time before Beecher and Keller come after me. You
gotta protect me.”
Schillinger bit his apple, unconcerned. “I’ll take care of it,” he said. “Now beat it.”
As Zabitz scuttled away, Vern nodded slightly at Robson. “Get rid of him,” he said.
Moments later, Howell sauntered up to Schillinger and took him roughly by the arm. “Come on,
Verno,” she said.
Vern stood. “Where we goin’, Officer?”
“Warden’s office. Seems your son Hank had a story to tell. In fact, the way I hear it, he’s been singing
like a fucking canary.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Vern said.
Claire laughed. “Save it for the judge, fuckwad.”
Sister Pete's office:
"Oh, good, Tobias, you’re here." She gestured at the chair beside Chris. “I was just telling Chris that
seeing as we all know the history here, we can skip the basics and just get right into it. That’s okay
Toby nodded, his eyes never leaving Chris as he took his seat.
"Okay, then. Why don’t you start with what it was you wanted to say to Chris."
Toby leaned forward, elbows to knees, watching Chris as he spoke. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I shouldn’t
have believed them.” As he had expected, Chris remained silent, his dark eyes stony.
“I knew you didn’t do it,” Toby continued. “Hell, I told them it wasn’t you. Over and over, I told them it had
to be Schillinger – that you wouldn’t… that you were…” He closed his eyes briefly before focusing on Chris
once more. “And Zabitz. It never occurred to me that he might be working for Vern. It was me who approached
him, after all. But even then, even when he said it was you, I didn’t believe it.”
Chris' disbelief was obvious. “Then why the fuck did you try to kill me?”
Toby inhaled audibly. “That night in our pod....I looked at you, and I saw all the reasons why I can never
go back to my old life. I saw Vern, and the things he and I have done to each other. I saw Robson, and
Metzger, and Gen sitting in her car, dying. And Gary…” His voice broke.
”I had nothing to do with any of that, Beecher.”
“I know.” He took a deep, deep breath. This, he knew, would be the hardest part. “But you – you were dead, and then you came back. You came *back.* And I wanted Gary to come back, Chris. I wanted him to be alive -- and maybe I even wanted to be dead myself in his place. When I attacked you, I didn’t know what I was doing. All I knew was that I was alive, and you and Vern....we were all alive, and my son – my beautiful baby boy, who’d never hurt a soul – was dead.”
Chris swallowed, his jaw tightening, but he said nothing.
Toby left his chair and kneeled down before Chris. “This wasn’t supposed to happen, this thing with you and me. I never expected it – not in a prison, not with another man, and definitely not while my wife and son were rotting in the ground, a result of my own mistakes. My feelings for you, they seemed – well, blasphemous, almost, given how I’ve ruined the lives of everyone I loved.”
Chris stiffened. “Then you got what you wanted, huh, Toby? We’re done. Maybe now you can forgive yourself."
Toby shook his head violently. “I don’t want that.”
"No? But you wanted me dead." Chris grinned. "Beecher, you don’t know what the fuck you want."
Toby’s eyes traveled over Chris, finally resting on the spot where he’d once kissed a healing wound.
"After you got shot,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper, “I didn’t know if you were going to
live or die. I was a fucking mess. I thought that if you died,” – he stalled – “If you died, I didn’t think
I’d be able to go through it again. Those hours I spent waiting to hear…” He shivered. “I’ll never
forget it. *Any* of it.” He raised his eyes again, pale eyes searching. “Don’t you get it? After going
through that, how could I ever try to hurt you? If I’d been in my right mind, with any semblance of sanity at
all... I couldn't have done it.” He paused. “Killing myself would be easier than that.”
For a long moment, nobody spoke.
Finally, Sister Pete stepped in. “Chris? Do you have a reaction to what Tobias is telling you?”
Chris glanced sideways with a tight smile. Toby recognized the gesture, that shield Chris threw up
whenever he was about to strike back, or to hide. He sighed -- so there would be no forgiveness, he told himself. But at least he’d finally said what he should have said back then; there was a certain
accomplishment in that, even if Chris never forgave him.
Oh, screw that. It wasn't enough.
Suddenly, Chris stood up. When Toby began to rise also, Chris quickly held out a restraining hand. “No. I heard what you said.” He pointed toward the door. “I gotta go.”
Sister Pete frowned. “Chris. Chris, wait. Sit down.”
Chris glanced at her. “Nah.” He pushed in his chair. “Beecher, if it makes you feel better to unload all
this shit, fine. You do what you have to. Me, I don’t see the fucking point.”
“No. Later. Okay, Toby? Later. Right now, I gotta stretch my legs.” He rapped once on the frosted glass of the door, then quickly opened it and left the room.
When Lopresti had shut the door behind them, Sister Pete glanced at Toby, worried. “You okay?” she asked.
Toby lifted his eyes, but his head remained bowed. “Yeah,” he said, lips pursed. “It went about as well
as I expected it to.”
Sister Pete folded her hands on her desk. “Tobias…”
“Don’t,” he warned. “Just don’t. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me, convincing him. It’s okay.” He headed for the door. “I’m not finished yet.”
Toby walked into the common room, instantly realizing that something was up. The inmates were all talking, clustered around tables or standing in large groups around the room, and the noise was deafening.
He scanned the room quickly, and saw Chris at a nearby table with Ryan and Hill. He headed over. “What’s going on?” he asked O’Reily.
“Where the fuck have you *been*, Beech?” Ryan asked. “You missed the big show.”
Toby raised his eyebrows. “What happened?”
Hill turned his chair to face Toby. “They got Schillinger with conspiracy, for kidnapping and murdering your
son,” he said.
Toby fell into the nearest chair, pale. “Hank confessed?”
“Better than that, man,” said O’Reily. “He totally rolled. I guess family loyalty wasn’t his strong point.”
“They put him in solitary,” Hill said, smiling. “My guess? He’s gonna be there for a long, long time.”
Toby dropped his face into shaking hands.
“Yo, that ain’t all,” Hill said. “They caught Robson in the library, cutting up that Zabitz guy. Y’know, the one who said Keller here was the kidnapper?”
Chris raised heavy eyebrows. “Zabitz is dead?”
Toby made a strangled noise. Only Ryan, sitting immediately beside him, realized that he was laughing.
Chris looked up at the control station. “Yo.”
“You’re moving,” Officer Smith shouted. “Pack your stuff.”
Chris frowned. “Where’m I going?”
The hack glanced at his clipboard. “Beecher’s pod,” he called. “Orders from Querns.”
Chris glanced sharply at Toby, eyes narrowing, before rising from the table and heading up the stairs. Toby looked over at the crowd surrounding Adebisi, and the laughter threatened to explode from him -- he quickly tried to squelch it with a contrived cough, but a manic smile remained. Perched beside Adebisi, Mondo sat on top of the chess table, glowering. Toby smiled sweetly at him, then laughed outright as Mondo flipped him the finger.
Toby turned back to the men at his table. “Excuse me, gentlemen. Looks like I’ve got a new roomie. I think I’ll go help him move in.”
“Did you do this?” Chris asked, his voice cold.
“Who, me?” Toby asked innocently. “Come on. You know I don’t have any influence around here.”
Chris looked at him suspiciously. “Your buddy Browne looked mighty pissed off.”
Toby shrugged, his tiny smile giving away nothing. Stepping over to his own bunk, he pulled a manila
folder from under his pillow and handed it to Chris.
Chris swiveled, lying the folder on the bed and lifting the cover. "That’s my house,” Toby told him,
pointing to the first of several photos lying on top of a sheaf of papers. Of course, there’s nobody living
there now. This is my parents’ house, where the kids are staying until I get out of here.” He lifted the
photos and gestured at the top sheet. “That’s the name and location of my bank, the account numbers
for all of my accounts. Passwords, PIN numbers, you name it.“
Leaning over, his arm brushing Chris' chest, Toby sifted through the papers. “Here’s a copy of my
driver’s license, social security card, all the credit cards Gen and I had. I think they’re all still open.
Titles to my cars, the deed to my house.” He glanced up. “There’s even a copy of my will.” He watched
Chris closely as he spoke, but if Chris was feeling anything, he wasn’t letting it show.
“These are the most recent photos of Holly and Harry.” His voice shook a little as he slid them over.
“My father brought them for me, last time he was here. They’re getting so goddamned big…”
Finally, he lifted the last two papers from the pile and passed them to Chris. “The first is a letter I
wrote while you were in the hole. It’s essentially a written confession, in which I admit to attempting to
murder you." He paused. "Twice."
Chris’ head jerked up at that last word, but Toby forced himself to keep his eyes on the page. “I think
you’ll find that it’s very precise, with a detailed description of each incident.”
Chris turned to the last page. He glanced over it, his face coloring in shock as he read what was written
there. “Toby, what the fuck is this?”
Toby stepped away, turning his back. “It’s a suicide note,” he said quietly. “If anything should happen to
me, I’m sure it would help clear up any suspicions about the cause of my death – as long as it was
carried out in such a way, you know, where they couldn’t tell.…” His voice hitched, but he forced
himself to continue. “Being a lawyer, I made it a point to be as convincing as possible.” He sat down on
the lower bunk -- Chris' bunk -- and waved a hand in the air. “It’s all there,” he said.
Chris shook his head slowly. “Why are you showing me this?”
“Not showing. Giving. Everything I am – or was, at least. It's in your hands.”
"What am I supposed to do with it?"
Toby shrugged. “That’s up to you.”
Chris shrugged, obviously at a loss.
"Okay, let’s start with the obvious," Toby explained. "You could kill me. That’d get me out of your hair,
wouldn’t it? Or take everything I own --the house, the car, the money, even my identity. Hell, it’d be easier
than any ponzi you ever pulled." He glanced around at the pod, chuckling. "Of course, you being here in
Oz, maybe none of that would be of much interest….so there’s always the other option.” He paused. “You
could sell all this to Vern. You'd do all right, I think. Plus, you’d have the added bonus of being welcomed
back into the Brotherhood. For that much info, I’m sure old Vern would be willing to cancel all debts...”
Chris jaw dropped. "You got a death wish, Beecher?"
Toby shook his head. “I don’t want to die, Chris. Not anymore.”
"You're just giving me permission to fuck up your life."
"No. I’m giving you the *means* to do it. And I’m betting my life that you won’t.”
Chris tossed the folder onto the bed. "Toby, you *are* crazy. You don’t know half the shit I've done..."
“What I know,” Toby said softly, “is that you don't give a crap about any of that. You don't care who I
was before I came here. You never wanted a goddamned thing from me -- not my money, my pride – not even my fucking calling card.” Toby took a deep breath before continuing. The moment of truth. “I know you loved me,” he said. “I don’t know *why* – hell, I don’t know how anyone could, not anymore --but I know you did.
And now -- now I need to know if you still do. If you still can.”
Chris gazed at him, silently, for a long time. Toby sat motionless, barely daring to breathe, as he
watched the play of emotions across Chris' face. He was vaguely surprised to realize how well he knew
this man, enough to predict each reaction: disbelief, annoyance, even a bit of fear. And yes – there was
love. Brief as it was, Toby recognized it. He stood up, reached out, unable to stay distant.
"You might have to work real hard, to convince me," Chris said finally.
"I can be convincing," Toby said, heart lifting as he stepped closer. "I was a lawyer, remember?"
Chris smirked. "Litigation."
"Still, we're a tenacious bunch." He wrapped his hand around the back of Chris' neck, pulling him in.
"I love you. And I'm so fucking sorry," he whispered.
The smirk faded. Chris' eyes bored into Toby's for what seemed like a moment too long, leaving him
adrift; Toby felt as if he were standing in the ocean, with no idea how to anchor himself. But still he held
Chris' gaze, knowing this too was part of the test. Was it enough? He still wasn't sure. But he'd done all
So he stood, and he stared, and he suffered the not-knowing. Until finally, with one short, slight,
barely-there movement that Toby almost thought he couldn't have seen, Chris nodded.
“I won’t make it easy for you.”
Toby couldn’t help but laugh. “Like this has ever been easy?"
"So what makes you so fuckin' sure it'll get better?”
Toby sighed. "Chris, listen to me. Being in Oz, everything that’s happened to me here – it broke up
all the pieces of me, mixed ‘em all up. It altered me. *You* altered me.” He grabbed Chris’ arm when he
would have pulled away. “No, listen.” Chris glared, but Toby went on, unfazed. “I may not always like the
way those pieces fit back together. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter.” He stepped closer, his body flush
against Chris’ own, then pointed at the mirror. “Look.”
Chris looked at the two of them reflected in the glass. “See?” Toby said. “You’re one of the pieces
now. Leave or stay, live or die, that’s not gonna change.”
Chris turned his head, meeting Toby’s expectant eyes. “You *are* crazy,” he whispered.
“Yeah,” Toby agreed, just moments before Chris’ mouth took his.