What Comes After
Written for the Second Oz Lyric Wheel. Lyrics are
"Perfect" by Smashing Pumpkins. Spoilers for "Cuts Like a Knife."
What Comes After
He'd tried, he really had.
From the day he was released, even way before, Toby had suspected that leaving his prison life behind would be next to impossible. After all, Oz had stripped him right to the core, leaving only the raw and oozing carcass of his former self. It was no surprise that reconstructing that man had proven a monumental task. Or that the attempt would be infinitely more painful than any torture Schillinger could have cooked up.
To put it even more succinctly: This tattoo ain't coming off. Not without a lot more blood.
The stares, the whispered comments behind his back, being snubbed by those he'd once called friends-- that he had expected, and rarely even noticed. The ingratiating concern of his parents, their stifling, smothering
affectations of kindness – that, too, wasn't a surprise. A few well-timed malicious remarks, combined with a tantrum or two, had effectively convinced them to leave him pretty much alone.
All of that, he could deal with.
It was his own tormented mind that was his enemy now. And without drugs or alcohol to turn to the way he would have in the past, simply surviving was the most he had strength for. Despite his success in navigating the minefields in Oz, he found it near to unbearable, getting through each day on the outside. What little
contentment he'd known before being sent up was unreachable now, while 'hope' was a word that meant nothing at all.
Finally, when nothing else brought him any kind of peace, he'd sought what refuge he could find in the familiar. He'd been mildly surprised at how easy it was, and how naturally it came to him
now -- in the clubs, the museums, art galleries or shopping malls, he discovered a whole underside of the city that the old Tobias Beecher had never known existed. Warm, eager bodies in restrooms and darkened halls, mere stepping stones along the dark journey of guilt and self-hate.
And when that too had failed to fill the gaping holes, there was only one place left to go.
He looked around in surprise. Hundreds of times he'd dreamed of visiting Chris, but he'd always pictured it being the way it was in Oz -- sitting across or next to each other at a table, guards keeping a restrained and respectful distance. He'd imagined being able to touch him, maybe even to kiss him. It had never occurred to him that they would be forced to talk through a thick piece of solid glass; and yet, there seemed to be some kind of poetic justice in that. Toby couldn't help but think how much better they might've gotten along over the years, with real shatterproof walls between them rather than the ones they'd constructed themselves.
The thought made him think back on life in Em City, where the inmates were given just enough free rein to allow them to pretend, for a few hours a day at least, that they weren't under lock and key. Here in Cedar Junction, where the worst of the worst were kept under a constant and rigid surveillance, there was absolutely no doubt. The thought of Chris being caged like this for the rest of his natural life brought a fresh wave of nausea to Toby's throat.
Even the visitor regulations were harsh. Toby had taken a risk even by coming, and he'd experienced more than a few doubts when he passed from New York into Massachusetts -- a direct violation of his parole. At the entrance to the prison he'd been required to show identification, which was promptly noted on the guard's sign-in sheet...an easy paper trail to follow, if his P.O. should be so inclined. But none of it mattered. Nothing mattered to Toby
now, his freedom least of all.
"Hey." Toby gripped the telephone tightly, as if it were actually connected to Chris.
"How you doin', Toby?"
"Not so good." And God, he felt guilty for even saying that, considering who he was talking to, and where. But Chris knew, just like Toby himself did, that a man's prison often has little to do with walls.
"You look like shit."
Toby snorted. "Thanks."
Toby shook his head. "I don't see them much," he said painfully. "My parents..."
Chris nodded. "So what are you doing here, Toby? I thought I told you not to come."
Toby tried to smile, but it was a dismal thing. "Easier said than done."
"Chris, I had to come. I needed to."
"For what, Toby? To make yourself feel better? You needed to see how much worse things could've been for you?" Lowering his voice, he added roughly, "Or maybe you're just horny, huh? What's the matter, can't get it up for the girls anymore?"
Toby shakes his head sadly. "I'm sorry..."
"I told you to get on with your fucking life," Chris said flatly. "Pretend I never even existed."
Toby looked at him with haunted eyes. "I can't," he said desperately. Then, more softly: "I can't."
Chris sat back in his chair, crossing his ankles, looking for all the world like a man without a single care. "Jesus, Beecher. Don't make it so fucking complicated. You did your time, now you're done. Move on."
"And what about you?" Toby asked ruefully. "I'm supposed to just forget about you? Christ, I'm the whole reason that you're in this place."
"I'm not here because of you, Toby. I made my own decisions." Chris chuckled. "Hell, according to Sister Pete, this was all a part of God's plan. You gonna take responsibility for that, too?"
"Don't fucking placate me," Toby snapped.
Chris's eyes narrowed. "Aw, c'mon, baby. Isn't that exactly why you're here? So big bad Chris can chase the demons away? Just like old times." He leaned forward, his voice dangerously soft. "You wanna be back in prison? Want someone else to punish you, so you can stop punishing yourself? Gimme a break, Toby. We both know that wouldn't stop you."
A silence fell. For a long moment they both sat, staring, listening to the white noise from the wire that bound them. It was Chris who finally broke the standoff, with a huge, weary sigh. "What do you want from me, Toby? Promises?"
Toby shook his head. "No." He paused. "Okay, yes." When Chris shook his head in disbelief, Toby added, "I don't know. Maybe I want to know that you *would* promise
me... something, if you could."
"I already did that, Toby," Chris said quietly.
Toby snorted. "Yeah. Heaven."
"Can't fuck it up there, right?"
Toby gazed at him pointedly. "Is *that* a promise?"
Chris hesitated, then conceded with a careless shrug. "Maybe. Who knows? Maybe next time, we'll be perfect."
Toby gazed at him, feeling eased somehow by the thought. "Perfect, huh?"
They sat silently, gazing at each other somberly, until the time came for Chris to head back.
"Better now?" Chris asked as he stood to leave. He loomed, larger than life, larger than life in prison, as he stood there behind the clear, clear glass.
"A little." Toby smiled, though his eyes were damp. "Although..."
"I wouldn't say no to a little phone sex," Toby teased. "To hold me over, you know, till we get to heaven."
Chris laughed – a low, dirty sound. "You think they'll let us fuck there?"
"I'm sure we'd find a way."
Chris pointed at Toby through the thick glass. "You're a sick fuck."
They laughed briefly, then fell silent, each waiting for the guard that would return them to their respective cells. There seemed to be nothing else to say.
*** end ***
"Perfect" by Smashing Pumpkins
I know we're just like old friends
We just can't pretend
That lovers make amends
We are reasons so unreal
We can't help but feel that something has been lost
But please you know you're just like me
Next time I promise we'll be
Perfect strangers down the line
Lovers out of time
So far I still know who you are
But now I wonder who I was
Angel, you know it's not the end
We'll always be good friends
But the letters have been sent on
So please, you always were so free
You'll see, I promise we'll be
Perfect strangers when we meet
Strangers on the street
Lovers while we sleep
You know this has to be
We always were so free
We promised that we'd be