A Certain Slant of Light

The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison air;
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there
-Oscar Wilde


Sister Pete keeps a plant on the table behind her desk. It’s an anomaly, a single splash of bright, vivid green surrounded by clay-colored cement block walls, cheap discount-store furniture and industrial carpeting; it sits on a dainty-looking china plate, shedding clumps of dirt that Sister Pete sweeps away with one finger when she’s distracted, or as she talks on the telephone.

Beecher doesn’t know what kind of plant it is, and he isn’t exactly sure how it thrives with only the light from a single window covered in chain link to grow by, but it’s green, and it’s gotten bigger over time, so he figures it must be doing all right.

He is sitting on the lower bunk, staring at nothing, when Keller returns.

And it is a return, there’s no doubt about that. Whatever had happened between Keller and Ronnie – and Keller’s face gives away nothing, of course – it’s already behind them; ancient history. Beecher had known Chris would come to him, after, just as he’d known Chris would believe he’d been telling the truth.

Barlog is dead. Beecher knows this, also. Keller has killed many others for far less of an infraction -- with one notable exception, that is.

There will be time, later, for Beecher to think about that: about how well he and Chris know each other, how well they work together. Two fertile, conniving minds, still surprisingly in synch after all this time. There will be time, also, to think about the long line of victims who’ve paid the price for the games he and Chris have carelessly played, men whose blood stains Toby’s hands just as clearly and permanently as it does Chris’s. Andy Schillinger, Nate Shemin, Mondo Browne -- and now Ronnie, who’d been up close and personal with Toby’s hands only hours before, and was now lying cold and lifeless somewhere far beyond the FBI’s reach.

Right now, however, is not that time.

Right now, Keller’s hand is curling around Beecher’s neck, forceful and pleading all at once, drawing him into a rough kiss that Toby knows he shouldn’t want but isn’t at all surprised to find he still needs, just as much as he ever did, and for all of the same reasons as before.

He’d told Keller about the plant one night, back during the fourteen-day lockdown that Toby still thinks of, with a sick sense of irony, as their honeymoon. Keller had just laughed at him, that short, snort of a laugh that always seemed to say “You’re cute when you’re crazy,” or maybe just “Don’t we have better things to do?” Beecher might have chalked that up to Keller not being a big fan of symbolism –- it does take a while to get the point across, and Keller is all about instant gratification-– if it weren’t for that tattoo he wears on his arm. It’s more likely, Toby realizes now, that Keller was just jealous of anything that occupied Beecher’s mind that had nothing to do with him.

“Touch me,” Keller says, and Jesus, it’s still a thrill, familiar and welcome and wanted, even with Chris’s eyes still glassy from the kill and Ronnie’s things still lying around the room, waiting to be boxed up and thrown away. There’s something wrong with that and Toby knows it, knows there are lessons to be learned that he stubbornly continues to ignore, but right now, it doesn’t matter at all. There are shoulds and ought tos and how could you, my God, after everything simmering deep beneath the surface, but none of that matters at all in this moment, not with Keller’s skin warm under Toby’s greedy hands, his heart still beating and his blood still pumping, and the familiar heat rising between their bodies as if months of anger, jealousy and revenge had never sent them to opposite corners like boxers in a ring. Toby closes his eyes against the painful knowledge that someday it will be one of them down for the count –- it has to be, they can only do this dance for so long before someone falls – and instead he just pulls Chris closer, pressing against him everywhere he can possibly reach, until there’s no room between them for any thoughts that don’t involve this.

They fuck -- quickly, urgently -- back in the shadows behind the bunks, where the hacks can’t see unless they come looking. Groping each other with trembling hands and gasping breaths and impatience fueled by the time they’ve lost and also the time Beecher knows they no longer have, while Keller whispers hotly into Beecher’s ear a litany of words both sacred and profane, words that ultimately mean nothing at all, but somehow still manage to say everything Toby wants to hear.

During the long, winter-pale days that follow, Toby catches Sister Pete talking to the plant sometimes; gently, like to a child or a pet. He can’t help but wonder if that really does any good. Sister Pete always seems to think that talking cures all known ills; an opinion Beecher himself might once have shared, before Oz. But he is considerably wiser now. In Oz, there are a hell of a lot of things that are, indeed, better left unsaid.


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