slashsmut annie serial beecher keller

Another Time, Another Place

by Annie

All lyrics and titles © U2, used without permission
Bows also go to Velvet Goldmine


Until The End of the World: January 1, 2000

*Tangle.*

That was the first - the *only* - word that came to my mind when I caught
his gaze in the mirror. My tongue tangled in my mouth, my insides tangled in
a knot, my emotions tangled to the point where I didn't recognize any of
them. Beecher, staring at me with that enigmatic, calculating look on his
face, fingers curling in his hair, so innocently seductive. I froze, water
dripping from my face.

(~Haven't seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold, just passing time~)

"Happy New Year."

His voice was quiet, a tiny smile playing over his lips, almost too tiny for
me to catch it.

I returned his smile and his offering. "Happy New Year." *Tangled.* Tangled
in desire, fear, hope. Mostly hope. I ducked my head back under the chill
water of the sink, willing its iciness to cool the flush in my body, in my
heart. A litany wound its way through my brain, growing louder with each
repetition.

*ohshitohshitohshitOhShitOhShitOHShitOHShitOHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT*

Turning to face him, watching him stretch langorously and rise, that same
maddening smile curving his lips. He just stood there, watching me, leaned
against the bunk. Just watching. Waiting.

*Fuck. He's going to let ME make the first move.*

He knew what he was doing, knew what he was asking of me. To take that risk,
to cross that final boundary that had lain between us since that day in the
gym. That day when I broke his arms and his legs and his heart along with
them. All of my apologies and flirting and guilt came down to this time,
this place. Would I take that final step to him? For him?

*Fuck.*

(~Last time we met it was a low-lit room
We were as close together as bride and groom~)

Without knowing it, I was there. There, standing in front of him, so close I
can see the gilt of his lashes even in the semi-darkness of the pod. He lays
his hand on my chest, on my heart. Feeling, testing the rapid beat of my
heart. Beating so violently hard I'm surprised it doesn't throw his hand
off. He looks down at his hand, not able to meet my eyes now that I'm so
close. For a moment, I feel triumphant. Until I remember who this is.
Beecher. Tobias. Toby.

*Sigh.*

I rest my forehead against his briefly, craving this simple contact with him
before things got complicated. I almost laughed at the thought.

*Yeah, like things weren't already complicated as all fuck before?*

*Not like this.* The other half of my mind answered mockingly.

I brushed one hand up to hold him, fearful of the sudden wince he gave as my
hand pressed a little too hard against the newest mark of Schillinger's
obsession with him. I expected him to push me away once again, the stab
wound yet another reminder of my unholy association with Vern.

He merely looked at me, not moving except curling his hand around the back
of my neck, the solid warmth of it an invitation. I held his wound
carefully, reverently, showing him I could be trusted not to hurt him
anymore. His tightening fingers on my neck spoke of his acceptance.

I'm not sure who kissed who first, or even that it matters. The delicious
warmth of his mouth caught and held my breath, tasting, searching. Softer,
but harder than that first time in the laundry room so long ago, more sure.
Eagerly, wantonly, I clutched him, deepening the kiss. I nearly fell as his
hand cupped my face, thumb gently brushing my cheek. That gesture, that tiny
caress, set me to trembling uncontrollably.

(~We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
You were talking about the end of the world~)

I couldn't take it anymore, the teasing hesitancy of his hands and mouth. I
pulled him close to me, rejoicing in his tighter embrace. I recalled a movie
the hacks had brought in once for Movie Night. I couldn't remember the name
at the moment, but I remember how it was shut off about halfway through
because most were disgusted by all the fags in it. And I remember one line
from the movie, one line that caught me as firmly as Toby's kiss had caught
me.

*The world has changed because you are made of ivory and gold;
The curves of your lips rewrite history.*

I knew how the guy in that movie felt, changed inexplicably by his lover's
kiss. My tongue quested anxiously in Toby's hot, suckling mouth. I pushed us
both down onto my bunk, covering the length of his body with my own, being
careful of his injury, never releasing that *oh-so-sweet* mouth of his that
I had missed more than even I was aware of. I knew he could feel my hardness
against him, straining to be released.

He broke our kiss. I actually fucking whimpered, a sound that had never left
my body except in pain. I strived to catch his mouth again, but he held me
off.

"Chris, help me take my shirt off. Please." His whisper was hoarse with
desire. I understood, knowing he couldn't maneuver well with his healing
wound.

Lifting the edge with my hands, I bent down to lay my cheek against his
stomach, reveling in the quick intake of air I felt as he gasped. His skin
was so soft (*too soft for Oz*), quivering as I breathed softly on it. He
smelled of soap and sweat and vaguely lemony, a scent I would remember until
I died.

I kissed my way up his stomach, pausing to dip my tongue in his belly button
and enjoy the twitch his cock gave against my side. As I went, I slid his
shirt up, so slowly as to increase his pleasure and reduce his chances for
injury.

His nipples hardened as the cool air touched them and even more so as I
kissed my way between them, following the path of his shirt. I lifted each
arm ever-so-carefully to help him out of the constraining garment. He
impatiently whipped it over his head, where it landed somewhere on the
floor. Reaching for me eagerly, he yanked my shirt off too, using the motion
to pull me to his lips in another searing kiss. Bare skin to bare skin, we
sought to escape Oz and our pasts in each other's mouths.

(~I took the money, I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think~)

This time, it was me who pulled away. I had to know.

"Are you sure?"

Toby just looked at me, his blue eyes dark with desire. I searched for any
sign of fear or trickery (*It would only serve you right.*) but I found
none. Instead of answering, he pulled me closer to him, molding his body
against mine, his erection as insistent against me as mine was for him. All
of my doubts were erased.

I trailed suckling hot kisses down his body, pausing to bite teasingly at
his nipples until they were so hard they could have cut the glass wall in
our pod. He writhed under me, moaning softly, making me uncomfortably tight
in my pants.

I slid down further, licking softly across his belly as my hands pulled his
boxers over his hips and down his legs, freeing him at last. I tossed the
clothing in the same general direction as our shirts, followed quickly by
the remainder of my own clothing.

Unencumbered now, I bent to my task, determined to show him the depth of
pleasure I had denied him so long ago. Breathing softly, my face nestled on
his thigh, I grinned to myself as his cock strove to reach me.

I wrapped one hand around his length, exploring his texture, his heft. Toby
sucked in a breath and let it out raggedly, growing even harder as I stroked
him firmly but gently. I loved the control I had at that moment, the power I
had to bring him exquisite joy or terrible heartbreak. It almost made me
feel like the old Chris, the Chris Keller I had been before Toby. Before I
met the man I nearly destroyed, before I discovered to my surprise and
chagrin that I had actually *meant* it when I said I loved him.

(~You led me on with those innocent eyes
And you know I love the element of surprise~)

I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to taste him, to feel his hardness in my
mouth. I licked delicately across the head once, twice in quick succession,
before I took him into my mouth. Toby jerked, not to get away from me, but
to push deeper into the ocean-wet depths of my mouth.

I suckled his cock insistently, sensing his need, his readiness. He wouldn't
be able to take much more without release. My hands cupped his balls,
squeezing with the same rhythm as my mouth and throat squeezed his cock. He
twisted under me and keened low in his throat, an animalistic sound that
excited me almost more than I could bear it.

It was funny. In my years, I had sucked a lot of dick. A lot. Some I did
because I wanted it, but mostly it was to pay a debt or make some cash or
get protection. But even in those times when I had done it because I wanted
to, I had *never* gotten my own pleasure out of it. Never. Yet here I was
with Toby, tasting the salt-sweat of his cock and listening to the sounds he
was making, and *I* was rock-hard. *Me*.

Caught up in my own pleasure as well as his, it startled me when he came,
shooting down my throat as he cried out my name. I gagged a little before
recovering my wits and swallowing deeply as he continued to convulse, all of
the pent-up desire of the past months released. He clutched my hair as he
continued to chant my name over and over, the sound of it reverberating off
the walls of our pod.

(~In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world~)

At that moment, I knew that everything in our past had been erased, wiped
clean. His ejaculation was part of a bigger release. It was a purge of all
that had transpired and conspired to keep us apart. It was redemption and
forgiveness. It was sanctuary. It was love.

Moving up, I wrapped my arms around his still-trembling body, and sought his
mouth. He tasted himself on my lips and my tongue, sucking my lower lip and
twisting gently. I found myself shaking just as hard as he was, struck by
the sheer intensity of his orgasm and how it affected me. We clung to each
other in the darkness of Oz.

"Chris," he murmured between kisses. "I want--- I want you to---"

I looked at him, prompting him to continue. He blushed. "I-I want to feel
you---" He stammered.

I understood immediately what he wasn't able to say. "You don't have to do
this, Toby. You know that, right? I won't force you to do anything you don't
want to." I brushed my lips across his cheek to reinforce my words.

He nodded, gulping. "I know. I *want* to. Please, Chris." The yearning in
his voice was unmistakable. I couldn't deny him anything.

*I'd die for him.*

"OK, but I don't want to hurt you. We should change positions so there's
less chance of opening your stitches." I shifted both of us until he rested
on top of me and I was laying on my back. My hands stroked the curls on the
back of his neck as I kissed him hungrily.

He swung his leg over mine, settling into position. My aching cock strained
against him as he ground teasingly against me. I growled playfully and
nipped at his throat.

"Cocktease."

He chuckled quietly, wiggling even more, compounding my hardness as he
reached a hand around to stroke me. I could feel him growing hard again
beneath my belly.

Without warning, I felt myself enter him as he lowered himself slowly on my
erection. I held agonizingly still, letting him set the pace of my entry.
Despite Vern's rapes, I knew he was still so very new at this and I didn't
want to hurt him. Slowly, excrutiatingly slowly, he took more of my cock
into him until I was buried deep within his ass.

For a long moment, we just lay like that, our bodies connected as deeply as
our lives has been since we had first met.

(~In my dreams I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows they learned to swim~)

So slowly I almost didn't feel it at first, he began to move against me. As
before, I let him set the pace and the rhythm, cupping his face in my hands
as he had done when this night first started. I kissed him, claiming his
mouth with mine just as he had claimed my heart with his.

He moved ever and ever faster, sliding his body away from and back towards
my cock. I rose to meet his thrusts and he moaned, his eyes clenched tightly
shut in pleasure. I snaked a hand down to grasp his cock, stroking it in
time with our movements. He threw his head back and I sucked at the hollow
of his throat, tasting his rapid pulse.

Winding around each other, through each other, we reached together for
climax and found it. It shattered us, as easily as I had shattered Toby's
bones and heart, leaving nothing but the pieces of our stampeding hearts and
softening cocks behind. We gasped and quivered, bathed in mingled sweat and,
to my astonishment, a trace of tears.

*My tears? His tears?*

*Our tears.*

(~Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim~)

I have no idea how long we lay there in each other's arms, streaked with
sweat and tears and semen. Our breathing and heartbeats returned to normal
and Toby slipped off to curl at my side, pressing against my warmth as
surely as I clung to his. I pulled a piece of our discarded clothing off the
floor to wipe the drying stickiness off our bodies before tossing it away
again.

He opened his eyes to gaze at me sleepily, sated. I drew him to me closer as
he twisted a leg around mine lazily. I just looked back at him and sighed,
feeling more contented than I had felt since I entered Oz, and Toby's life.

I had to ask it. "So what happens tomorrow?"

He kissed me fiercely, possessively. "Same place, different time."

I drifted to sleep on those words.

(~In waves of regret, waves of joy
I reached out to the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you'd wait until the end of the world.~)

Part Two

Exit: January 1, 2000 to March 18, 2001

Toby was right. In the morning, it was the same place. Just a different
time.

I woke up in the pre-dawn hours and just watched him sleep. Even in sleep he
was troubled, the crease between his eyes pronounced. I sighed. Life in Oz.

"Wake up. Hey, Toby, you gotta wake up." I shook him gently.

"Wha?" He rubbed his eyes blearily until they focused. He smiled at me as
the memories of the previous night flooded back to him. "Oh, good morning."

He was irresistible. I kissed him hard, deep. "Good morning, yourself. Now
get out."

He sat up sharply, frowning. "What? Chris, if you're fucking with me, I'm
gonna---"

"No, man. I mean, the hacks'll be here any time to wake us up. If they catch
us in bed together we're fucked."

He relaxed. "Oh, ok. I almost wondered..." He left the sentence unfinished.
He didn't have to go on. I knew what he meant. Despite last night, despite
the healing and forgiveness, I knew it would be some time before he could
truly trust me again. It was ok. I could wait.

(~You know he got the cure... but then he went astray
He used to stay awake
To drive the dreams he had away
He wanted to believe
In the hands of love~)

Oz was the same, but in some ways it had been irrevocably changed. I wasn't
alone anymore. Toby wasn't alone anymore.

The days drifted in and out. We drifted with them floating on a tide of
routine. At first, the other inmates were wary of us. We didn't try to hide
that we were together. I don't think we could have even if we tried. But we
didn't flaunt it either, and that made it easier on us. It wasn't the first
time two inmates had fallen in love and it wouldn't be the last. We were
left alone for the most part.

True to his word, Toby helped Schillinger find his surviving son. I didn't
agree with him, and I told him so.

"Why are you doing this? The fucker tried to kill you. And he'd try again if
I wasn't here!"

He just looked at me, compassion and guilt and resolve playing over his
soft features. I kept pushing at him, hoping he would get angry at my
constant reminders of Vern's treachery and change his mind, but he never
wavered.

"I have to do this, Chris. I have to set things right, in the only way I
know how."

I sighed. "OK. If this is what you really want, although I think you're
setting yourself up for a big disappointment. What can I do to help?"

The smile he flashed me was breathtaking in its sheer gratitude.

It took months, and Sister Pete's help, but we did it. We found Jason
Schillinger living on the streets in Chicago. Sister Pete delivered the news
to Schillinger. We waited.

Four days later, McManus moved Schillinger back into Em City. I found out
later that he did so at the urging of Toby. Why he did this, he wouldn't
say. He just said it was something he had to do. I told him he was letting
his guilt over Andrew's death mess up his judgement. He said he knew that. I
didn't press him. I had learned to let Toby be when he felt he had to do
something. I had learned a lot about Toby recently, not the least of which
was a powerful inner strength that never left him. I envied him for that.

Two days after Vern came back, he stopped by our pod. Toby was reading a
book in his bunk and I was trying to catch some sleep. As he stood in the
doorway glowering, I sat up, prepared to move quickly if necessary. I didn't
have to.

"All debts are cancelled, Beecher." He barked out, then left.

We just sat there in silence, stunned. I didn't believe it at first. But
after months passed and Schillinger continued to leave us alone, I began to
relax. Toby told me later that Vern had, with the help of Sister Pete,
gotten his son off the streets and in a rehab center.

(~His head is felt heavy
As he cut across the land
A dog started crying
Like a broken hearted man
At the howling wind...
The howling wind~)

Toby and I were fucking like bunnies in those months. After a while, we
began to get sloppy about getting into our own bunks before the hacks woke
us up. They ignored it for the most part, but we occasionally got sent to
McManus for a lecture or thrown in the hole. Just so we'd remember who was
in charge. We didn't care. We were too caught up in each other to care.

One day in late September, Toby and I were showering. Both of us realized at
the same time that we were alone. I looked at Toby, who just raised an
eyebrow wickedly, before he dropped to his knees to take me into his mouth.
I clutched at the tiles to keep from falling at the sensation of his
questing, pulsating mouth and the steam rising from the water. I groaned as
his hands cupped my balls and squeezed gently, slipping a finger into my
ass.

"Oh, God, Toby, I'm gonna---"

"What the fuck is going on here?!"

The voice startled me into orgasm and I slipped as I came, falling on top of
Toby, sputtering water as I collided with warm flesh and hard tiles. I
looked up and saw Murphy glaring at us, hands on his hips. The sight was so
comical that I had to stifle a giggle.

I looked at Toby, panting on the floor under me and licking his lips
salaciously. He grinned. "Well, Chris, this is a fine mess you've gotten us
into."

That did me in. I broke out in peals of laughter, snorting and choking on
the water still cascading down on us. Toby joined in and we lay there
gasping for breath as Murphy yelled at us about the "no fucking" rule in Oz.
Two other hacks came in and dragged us off to the hole, but we were still
laughing hysterically. I even caught Murphy hiding a grin behind his hand,
despite the tirade.

That little escapade got us both a week in the hole. We still didn't care.
McManus threatened to separate us. I found out later that Sister Pete and
Dr. Nathan spoke up in our defense. Nathan reminded McManus that Toby hadn't
been in the hospital once since we became lovers. Sister Pete pointed out
that I had started up my counseling sessions again and was making real
progress. We had a couple of angels on our side. McManus threw up his hands
in frustration, but he left us together.

(~He went deeper into black
Deeper into white... he could see
The stars shine
Like nails in the night
He felt the healing
Healing, healing, healing
Hands of love
Like the stars shiny, shiny...
From above~)

Before we knew it, another year had passed. Another year in Oz, where
everything's different and nothing has changed. The year had brought few
changes to our world. Adebisi got thrown in solitary for inciting a riot
that ended up being squashed even before it began. Said became the leader of
the Muslims again and was writing another book about his fall from grace.
Rebadoh died in his sleep one October night. Wangler tried to sell tits
behind Pancamo's back and left Oz in a bodybag. Alvarez was sent to the
mental hospital for painting the walls of his cell with his own shit several
times. New people came in. Other people got out.

But me and Toby, we knew the year had been ours. *Ours*. We celebrated the
new year in the same way we had the year before. But this time, it was a
reaffirmation instead of an exploration. We had proven to ourselves and
everyone else that people can be transformed and strengthened by love. Even
in prison.

The past year had been the happiest for me since my mother died when I was
eight, and I told Toby that. He kissed me hungrily and whispered words of
love and desire in my ear and I felt more free with him, in Oz, than I had
ever felt on the outside.

(~He put his hands in the pocket
His finger on the steel
The pistol weighed heavy
His heart he could feel
Was beating, beating
Beating, beating oh my love
Oh my love, oh my love
Oh my love~)

2001 started out the same as 2000 had. Fucking, laughing, loving. *Living*.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. And when it did, neither one of
us was prepared for it.

(~He saw the hands that build
Could also pull down...
The hands of love~)

Part Three

Ultraviolet (Light My Way): March 18, 2001 to May 31, 2001

"I have to go."

"Hmm?" Toby and I were catching a few brief moments stolen together in a
hallway after lunch before we had to go back to work. I was too busy licking
his neck to pay much attention to what he was saying.

He laughed and half-heartedly pushed me away. "Chris, I gotta go. I have
that appointment at 1, remember?"

"Oh, right." My mouth trailed fiery kisses over his jawline. "What
appointment?"

"The parole board. I told you about it last week."

*That* caught my attention. "You did not!"

He looked indignant. "I did so. It was last Wednesday, right before we went
to sleep. I told you my hearing was up today. It's been four years,
'member?"

I grinned, remembering the night in question. Toby had found a new and
inventive way to use his hands. But... "Toby, I don't remember you saying
anything, I swear. I'd remember something like that."

He just shrugged. "It's no big deal. I know they're gonna turn me down. I've
been involved in too much shit to make parole."

I nodded. "You're probably right. But I guess you shouldn't be late. They
might tack a few years onto your sentence."

He chuckled softly and kissed my cheek. "Then you'd be stuck with me even
longer. Wouldn't want that, eh?"

"Fuck off, ya prick," I said good-naturedly. "Get outta here."

(~Sometimes I feel like I don't know
Sometimes I feel like checking out
I wanna get it wrong
Can't always be strong
And love it won't be long~)

Toby stumbled into our pod later that afternoon, his face ashen. He
collapsed on his bunk and pressed his fingers to the crease in his forehead.
I swung off my bunk, alarmed.

"What's the matter? Who died?"

His voice was shaking as he answered. "I-I, Chris, I made parole."

I didn't think I'd heard him right. I knew I must have heard wrong. I *had*
to have heard him wrong. "What?"

He couldn't look at me as he spoke, voice thick with emotion. "I made
parole. They're releasing me in May. To a halfway house for six months. Then
I can go home. Wherever that is."

I couldn't seem to speak above a whisper. "How did this happen? I thought...
I thought there was no way it could happen?"

He finally looked at me, anguish in his blue eyes. "Sister Pete. She
convinced them. Said I didn't belong here. They must have agreed."

I couldn't take it anymore. I stormed out of our pod, furious and devastated
and looking for blood. I ignored Toby's cries for me to come back and
stalked over to Murphy.

"I have to see Sister Pete. *Now*." His eyes darkened at the tone of my
voice but he nodded.

"OK, c'mon." We walked down the halls to her office, my rage building with
each step. Murphy knocked on her door. "Sister Pete? You got someone who
wants to see you."

She looked up from her paperwork and smiled wanly. "Thank you, Officer. You
can go now." Murphy shot me a look of warning as he left, but I ignored him
as I stood in front of her desk, shaking with anger. "What can I do for you,
Chris?"

"How could you do this to us?" My voice sounded alien to my ears, low and
throaty with barely restrained emotions.

To her credit, she didn't try to pretend she didn't know what I was talking
about. She just sighed and gestured to a chair. "Please, sit down."

"I don't want to fucking sit down! I want to know why you're taking Toby
away from me!"

Her eyes narrowed as she regarded me for a long moment, waiting for my
temper to subside. I paced the length of her office several times, muttering
obscenities under my breath. Finally, I calmed down enough to sit and listen
to what she had to say.

"OK, Sister. I'm waiting. Talk to me."

"Chris, do you want what's best for Toby?" Her voice was deceptively soft.

"Of course I do. And *I'm* what's best for Toby. Even you said that to
McManus when he tried to separate us last year."

She shook her head sadly. "I know. And you *are* good for Toby. I'm not
denying that. And he's been good for you. The two of you have found
something in each other that's very rare."

"So why, Sister? Why'd you do it?" I asked plaintively, all the anger gone
and only the hurt remaining.

"Because even though *you* are good for Toby, *Oz* isn't. You know that. He
doesn't belong here with... with everyone else."

I felt a spark of my temper return and I responded bitterly. "You mean with
people like me, don't you? Criminals. The dregs of society."

She didn't try to shield me from what I knew was in my heart the truth.
"Yes. Chris, despite what you and Toby have here, in Oz, you come from
different worlds. He needs to go back to his. And you need to let him."

To my dismay, I felt tears spring to my eyes. I looked at the floor, lost in
misery. "I know. I just don't know if I can."

(~Oh sugar
Don't you cry
Oh child
Wipe the tears from your eyes
You know I need you to be strong
And the day is as dark as the night is long
Feel like trash
You make me feel clean
I'm in the black
Can't see or be seen~)

Returning to our pod, I moved sluggishly, struggling to keep myself under
control. I couldn't let Toby know how much his leaving tore my world to
pieces. I couldn't lay that kind of guilt on him, not after all I had done
to relieve him of the guilt he carried in his heart about his past inside
and outside of Oz.

He didn't see me standing at the doorway at first and I took the opportunity
to watch him, knowing I wouldn't get many more chances like this. The
thought broke my heart just a little bit more.

As always, he had his nose stuck in a book, holding it close to his face to
decipher the words without his glasses. I smiled to myself, remembering
times when I had snuck up on him and removed his latest book and placed
myself in its position. Resting my head against his, skin to skin, breathing
in his scent and rubbing gently against the stubble on his cheeks. He'd
always pretend to get pissed whenever I snatched away one of his books, but
we both knew better. He loved the sneak attacks just as much as I did.

I cleared my throat softly. He jumped up and caught me in his embrace. I
sagged in his welcoming arms.

"Chris, are you ok? I was going crazy when you ran out of here. I thought
you were gonna do something---"

"What, like commit nunicide?" I laughed lightly, wanting to hide how I was
feeling from him. "Naw. I just needed some time to sort out some shit. I'm
ok now."

He held my face in his hands firmly and forced me to meet his eyes,
startling in their intensity. "Look, Chris, I've been thinking. Maybe I can
do something, ya know, that'll keep me here. Cause some sort of trouble so
they'll revoke my parole or something---"

"No!" I snapped at him and he recoiled. I softened my voice with a struggle.
"No, Toby, you can't do that. You've been given this amazing chance to get
the hell out of this place and you need to take it. You *have* to take it."

"But... I never got to help you get your GED, like we talked about. And we
were gonna ask McManus to start a pet program in Em City."

"Toby, no. Just stop it. Promise me you won't do anything to fuck this up,
ok?"

"But---"

"*Promise me*." I tightened my grip on him as I put as much steel behind my
words as I could muster. I kissed him hard, wantonly, desperately. "Please,
promise me, Toby."

He nodded as he held his face against mine. I could feel the wetness of his
tears on his cheeks as he whispered. "I promise."

(~Baby Baby Baby light my way~)

The two months we had left together blurred past with astonishing speed. By
the time May 30 arrived, it caught both of us unawares. The day started out
like any other, but by mid-morning we knew it was the beginning of the end.

McManus brought the final release papers by after breakfast. Sister Pete
came to give Toby information about the halfway house he would be staying in
for the first six months of his release. Dr. Nathan ordered Toby to get a
complete physical.

But the final nail in the coffin was the party. Some of the other inmates in
Em City got together to throw Toby a party. A fucking *party*. I felt like I
was dying, suffocating on my misery, and everyone else wanted to party. I
took some small comfort in the knowledge that Toby didn't feel comfortable
at the party either. But he stayed, in gratitude for their rare showing of
friendship and solidarity. Everyone was there. Ryan, Hill, Said, Cyril,
Pancamo. Even Schillinger came by. He didn't say a word to Toby but I saw
him nod to him as their gazes met. It was almost funny in its absurdity.
Almost.

Before we knew it, it was nighttime and Murphy had called lights out. Toby
and I sat on my bunk, side by side, in the gloom of our pod, our *home*. Not
saying a word. Just listening to each other's breathing one last time, a
sound that had grown so comfortingly familiar over the past couple of years.

"I'll come see you." I almost didn't hear his words, uttered so softly as
they were.

"You don't have to."

"I will," he repeated firmly. "They won't let me when I'm at the halfway
house but that's only for six months. I'll come after I find a real home.
And I'll write until then."

"OK." I didn't bother to keep the misery from my voice any more. I couldn't.
I reached for him, hoping to bury my grief in his love one last time.

(~I remember
When we could sleep on stones
Now we lie together
In whispers and moans
When I was all messed up
And I heard opera in my head
Your love was like a light bulb
Hanging over my bed~)

We clung to each other desperately, as if trying to fuck our way to a change
of our fates. It was nothing like the past times we had made love, either
slow and searching or playful and lusty. We were frenzied, almost brutal,
striving to chase the coming dawn away.

I sucked and bit my way over his body, leaving a trail of fiery red marks in
my wake. I knew those marks would fade eventually but since I wouldn't be
there to see them, I could let myself believe that they would remain
forever, a symbol of my connection to him. I sucked his cock into my mouth
with the same force and passion, drawing his climax out of him with a
scream.

He was caught up in the same ferocity of lovemaking that I was and I was
neither surprised or offended when he flipped me over and drove into my ass
without any forewarning. I craved the pain it caused inside me, because I
knew that if I could feel pain, I wasn't dead inside yet. He thrust and
ground his way deeper inside me, jerking on my throbbing cock with the same
relentless pace. The friction was agonizing and erotic and the feel of his
dry hand sent shivers of pain and lust through me.

I felt him come, felt his hot seed travel into my depths, and that set me
off. I bucked under his body and hands and coated his fingers with my
eruption. Sated, we collapsed in a sweaty heap on the bed, his softening
cock sliding along my back as we lay gasping, our urgent yearnings released.

The second time was more languid, more gentle. I kissed my way over every
part of his body, suckling and licking between his fingers and toes. I
buried my nose under his arms and caught his inimitable Toby-scent, soap and
sweat and lemon. I sifted my fingers through his hair and brushed my lips
delicately over his features, remembering them permanently with my mouth.
His cerulean blue eyes with the long, golden lashes that melted my heart
each morning we woke up together. His thin but curvy lips that tasted of
spearmint and coffee and the faint hint of salt. His smooth cheeks and blunt
nose. He was the more beautiful person in the world to me and I wanted to
hold his perfect face in my heart and mind forever.

When I entered him, he arched his back, pushing towards me in desire. I
moved slowly, ever so slowly, wanting this final time with him to last for
an eternity. But nothing lasts forever and neither did our lovemaking. I
came with a choked sob and he followed quickly, my hands catching his
release.

(~Baby Baby Baby
Baby Baby Baby
Baby Baby Baby light my way~)

We didn't sleep at all that final night. We spent it holding each other in
the cool darkness of our home in Oz, talking softly or just enjoying the
silence of being together. Before we were ready for it, dawn arrived, and
the reality of what was coming.

"Toby, I want to tell you something. Before the CO's come."

He lifted his head up on one hand and bent to kiss my throat. "Go ahead."

"I know I've told you this before, but... Well, I have to say it again. I
love you, Toby. *I*. *Love*. *You*. More than I can express, more than I
even thought was possible. I would do anything for you. Even if it means
letting you go." My voice caught on the last word and I buried my head in
his warm shoulder, feeling his heartbeat beneath me.

His arms tightened around me and he planted kisses along the top of my head
as I wept. "I love you, Chris. More than anything. And I won't let you let
me go."

An hour later, he was gone.

(~Baby Baby Baby
Baby Baby Baby
Baby Baby Baby light my way~)

Part Four

Numb: June 1, 2001 to June 7, 2002

It took a month for it to kick in that he was gone. A *whole* fucking month.
I kept expecting to see Toby coming in from a late afternoon shower, damp
hair curling on his forehead. Or to wake up in the blue-black darkness of
early morning, hearing him breathing softly beside me.

It didn't really hit me until one day in July when I couldn't smell him
anymore. Not at all. There wasn't a trace of his scent anywhere in our pod.
And that's when I first started referring to it as *my* pod. That's when it
became clear.

(~Don't move
Don't talk out of time
Don't think
Don't worry everything's just fine
Just fine~)

In late July, I got a new podmate. McManus had left me alone as long as he
could but as he reminded me, this was a prison. Not a fucking dormitory,
where I could have a single with just a few extra bucks. I shrugged, not
really paying attention to him.

Busmalis moved in, which was fine with me. He kept to himself and didn't try
to talk to me. He didn't try to talk to much of anyone since Rebadoh died. I
knew how he felt.

Two months had passed and no word from Toby. Nothing. Not a Goddamn fucking
thing. I wanted to ask Sister Pete if she had heard from him, but I didn't.
I couldn't. I just kept remembering what she said to me the day I found out
he was leaving. About Toby not belonging here anymore. Not with the other
inmates. Not with *me*. She was right. I just guessed Toby realized that
too. I loved him for it almost as much as I hated him. Almost.

(~Don't grab
Don't clutch
Don't hope for too much
Don't breathe
Don't acheive
Don't grieve without leave~)

Without even fully realizing it, I had slipped back into my old habits.
Turning tricks, shoving anything white up my nose I could get my hands on,
living in a bottle. Ryan O'Reily made a shitload of money off me. He put up
a minimal protest when I first came to him.

"You sure about this, Keller? You been clean for a long fucking time."

"Yeah, well, things change. You gonna let me buy off you or do I hafta offer
to suck you off too?"

He rolled his eyes. "No, thanks. Just making sure this is what you want."

"It is."

(~Don't check just balance on the fence
Don't answer
Don't ask
Don't try and make sense~)

Nobody knew how to act around me, so they left me pretty much alone. The
only people who even bothered to talk to me anymore were O'Reily and
Schillinger's new podmate, Adam Hansen. That guy was a piece of fucking
work. He got some kind of whacked out crush on me. *Obsession*. Followed me
around everywhere I went until I couldn't take it anymore.

I grabbed him around the throat and slammed him against a wall after the
twentieth Goddamned time I caught him shadowing me. "What the fuck is your
*problem*?"

He struggled, but not too hard. "Just want to talk to you, man."

I released him, suddenly weary. "Yeah, well, I don't talk no more. Fuck off
if you know what's good for you." I stalked off.

He stopped trailing me after that but I could feel his eyes watching my
every move. I ignored it, and him. I just didn't give a fuck.

(~Don't whisper
Don't talk
Don't run if you can walk
Don't cheat compete
Don't miss the one beat~)

Busmalis died in September. We all knew it was coming. He'd been even more
transparent in his grief than I had. I barely even noticed when the hacks
came to remove his stuff.

Vern stopped by a few days later. We had reached an uneasy truce of sorts,
started when Toby found his surviving son. But we were far from being
buddies or even on speaking terms.

"Keller."

"What do you want?"

He looked decidedly uncomfortable, something rarely seen on Schillinger.
*That* shook me out of the fog a little.

"I want to move in with you."

I gaped at him. "Are you fucking crazy? You and me in the same pod? I don't
think so!"

"C'mon, Keller, don't be a dick. I need to get away from Hansen. He's a
fucking nutball. Even more than Bee..." He stopped himself but I winced
anyway.

"Yeah, I know. You're not the one he's stalking, 'member? Doesn't mean I
want you living with me. I don't trust you to not stick me in my sleep."

A spark of the nasty Vern I was familiar with raised its head. "The
feeling's mutual, cupcake. But you're the only one with an empty bunk and
I'll kill Hansen before long if I don't get out soon."

I eyed him. "What'll you do for me?"

He crosses his arms, in his element now. "What're you asking for?"

"Three things. One, you tell the Aryans that I'm off limits. Permanently.
Two, no cracks about Toby."

"And three?"

I closed my eyes, feeling like I was making a deal with the devil. "Three,
you stay out of my business. Completely."

He nodded, satisfied. "Done. I'll go talk to McManus."

(~Don't fill out any forms
Don't compensate
Don't cower
Don't crawl
Don't come around late
Don't hover at the gate~)

By the time another new year had rolled around, I was deep into a
self-destructive path of tits, booze, and sex. I tried to bury the Toby
Years, as I called them in my rare sober moments, in all three. Sometimes I
succeeded. Other times, I just managed to dull it a little.

Vern kept his word. He didn't get on my shit about the drugs, although I
know it was killing him. Not because he gave a fuck about me. Not Vern. It
just offended his delicate sensilibities to see anyone involved in the evils
of drug use. But he stayed quiet.

Sister Pete and McManus tried to get me back into rehab. McManus even threw
me in the hole at random times just so I could detox. But as soon as I got
out I found the nearest bottle or pill and climbed back into the haze. Every
drank I took, every line I snorted, every dick I sucked; it all pushed me
farther and farther away from Toby.

(~Don't plead
Don't bridle
Don't shackle
Don't grind
Don't curve
Don't swerve
Don't lie, die, serve~)

Sister Pete cornered me a few times about coming back to counseling. She'd
look at me with those sympathetic dark eyes and talk to me with that gentle
concern in her voice. And all I heard was *that* conversation.

>>>"Because even though *you* are good for Toby, *Oz* isn't. You know that.
He doesn't belong here with... with everyone else."

"You mean with people like me, don't you? Criminals. The dregs of society."

"Yes. Chris, despite what you and Toby have here, in Oz, you come from
different worlds. He needs to go back to his. And you need to let him."

It would repeat itself in my brain over and over until it shrieked inside
me, splitting apart the clouds of my latest buzz. I'd make excuses and
promise to come to the next session, and flee as soon as I could. Where I'd
lose myself in a bottle of warm amber once again.

(~Don't project
Don't connect
Protect
Don't expect
Suggest~)

Tim McManus quit abruptly in April. Didn't even give Glynn two weeks notice
or some shit like that. All we heard was that he was burnt out and wanted to
escape. I could sympathize. Glynn named Sean Murphy as his replacement, to
the relief of the inmates and staff alike. Murphy didn't have the
self-absorption that made most of us hate him and he had the experience of
being a hack in his favor with the other hacks. But still, Oz went on the
same as it always did.

Ryan came to me bitching and moaning about something a few weeks later. I
ignored him, as I usually do when he's on his Irish temper kick. But one
thing caught my attention.

"...and Sister Pete says he's going in July, soon as she can get all the
arrangements made."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Ryan looked at me as if I were a child. "Pay attention, asshole. They're
taking Cyril away."

"Oh. Why?"

He snorted. "They say he doesn't belong here. No shit! I been telling them
that since he got here, four *fucking* years ago! And now they catch on that
it's not a real good idea to have a retard in a place like Oz? Fucking
morons."

I feigned more interest than I felt. "So where's he going?"

"Minimum security. But he's gotten used to having me around. He won't know
how to handle it." He kicked the side of my bunk in frustration.

"He'll be ok. He's learned a lot since he's been here. He won't let anyone
corner him like Schillinger did."

His eyes narrowed. "I hope you're right."

(~Don't borrow
Don't break
Don't fence
Don't steal
Don't pass
Don't press
Don't try
Don't feel~)

"Hey Cyril, what's up?"

I had heard the sniffling coming from a dark corner as I meandered drunkenly
around Em City one summer afternoon. I was tempted to pass it by but
something drew me to find out who it was. Turned out to be Cyril, curled up
in the fetal position and crying to himself.

"Go 'way. Lea' me 'lone."

I nodded. "OK. But since I'm having a little trouble walking, I'm gonna just
sit here. I won't say nothing, I promise."

He looked at me suspiciously, searching for trickery.

*Yeah, Oz has definitely taught him well.*

I just listened to him sniffle in the gloom, focusing on the sound to get my
head to stop spinning.

"Chris?" I jumped a little when Cyril spoke.

"Yeah?"

"I hafta leave Ryan."

"I know."

"I don't wanna. I'm scared."

I sighed. How the fuck do you comfort a grown man with the mind of a child?
There was a reason none of my ex-wives and I never had any kids. I just
couldn't fucking deal with it. "You'll be fine."

"Like Toby?"

I started again at the sound of that name, that name I hadn't heard in so
long. I realized it had been over a year since he had left, over a year
since I had heard from him. Over a year since he promised me he wouldn't let
go of us. I suddenly wanted to reclaim my alcoholic bliss.

"Yeah, like Toby. Except you won't actually be out. Just in a new place. A
nicer place."

"Oh."

Silence, as he pondered that. Then: "I'm gonna miss Ryan a lot."

I patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "I know, big guy. He'll miss you
too."

He looked at me, eyes brimming with unshed tears. "Like you miss Toby?"

*Oh, fuck.*

"Yeah, like I miss Toby. Uh, I gotta go, Cyril." I stood up quickly, too
quickly, swaying as I tried to catch my balance. I scurried off, leaving
Cyril to his thoughts and went to lose mine.

(~Too much is not enough
I feel numb
I feel numb
Gimme what you got
Gimme what I don't get
Gimme what you got
Too much is not enough
I feel numb~)

Part Five

Drowning Man: June 8, 2002 to May 1, 2003

"Keller, this came for you today." Schillinger tossed the package on my
stomach as I lay in my bunk willing another hangover away. I grunted and sat
up, rubbing my eyes as I tried to focus.

"What is it?"

"Look at it yourself. And let me tell you, you owe me big for making sure
this didn't get into the hands of anyone else. That thing's worth a
shitload. Don't say I never did nothing for you."

Curious, I pulled the box out of its torn brown paper wrapping. There was no
return address on the package and no letter inside. Just the box, white
cardboard and square.

Vern was rocking back on his heels in barely repressed sadistic glee. I shot
him the best eyefuck I could muster. "I don't need a fucking audience to
read my mail. Go away."

He shrugged. "Suit yourself. But if you want my opinion---"

"I don't."

"---don't open it. Throw it away." Having delivered his cryptic message, he
left, presumably to find someone else to torment. I sat staring at the box
for several long minutes, wondering what he meant.

*Fuck it.*

I pried the top off and gawked like a teenage boy seeing his first pussy.

Lying there on the pristine white cotton was a watch. No, a pocketwatch, one
of the old-fashioned kinds with the chain that my grandfather used to carry.
It sparkled even in the dim flourescent lights of the pod, golden light
dazzling my eyes.

Lifting it, I saw the note hidden beneath it. Just a single white sheet of
paper, matching the cotton so well it almost became invisible. My mouth gone
dry, I lifted it and thumbed it open, knowing before I even read it who it
was from. Him. Toby.

*GoddamnfuckingTobyleavingmelikethisandneverwritinglikeyoupromisedyouwould.*

There were only three words on that note, three words that bounced around my
head like a pinball until I felt myself repeating them like a primal chant.

I haven't forgotten.

I choked on the bile rising to my throat, a half cough and half sob that
burned with bitterness. Hefting the solid weight of the watch in my hands, I
turned it over. That's when I caught the inscription.

Another Time,
Another Place

That did it. I thrust the note and watch under my pillow where I couldn't
see either and snatched up my bottle of oblivion.

(~Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can I'll cross
The sky for your love
For I have promised for
To be with you tonight
And for the time that will come~)

For months I avoided looking at the watch and the message that came with it.
I stashed it away where no one could find it and left it there. But I
couldn't ban the image of it, the meaning of it, from my heart. It tugged at
me everytime I entered my pod. It woke me from my fitful sleep each night.
It whispered to me constantly.

*I haven't forgotten.*

I couldn't take it anymore.I had to purge Toby from my system for good. This
shit had gone on for far too long. So I went to the only person who could
help me, the one person I had avoided more than anyone since he left.

I threw the package down on her desk. "Take it."

Sister Pete looked up, alarmed at my agitation. "Chris, please sit down.
What's wrong?"

Instead of sitting, I paced back and forth, reminded of the last time I had
come to her office in such a state. Reminded of what she had said to me.

"It's from *him*." I spat.

"You mean Tobias?" I just nodded. Curiously, she opened the box and whistled
a bit when she saw the watch. "Chris, this is beautiful! When did you get
this?"

"Last June."

"June? That was almost a year ago. And you've kept it in your pod this whole
time? That's pretty risky for something this expensive."

"Yeah, well, not anymore. I want you to take it."

"Me? Why?" She raised an eyebrow.

I collapsed in a chair, not able to keep my frenetic pace up anymore with
all the booze in my system. "Cause he's gone. He has been since the day he
left. I don't need this, this reminder. I don't know why he fucking sent it
to me anyway."

She watched me carefully. "Maybe because he misses you?"

I snorted. "Yeah, right. So much he never wrote to me after he left. Not
*once*, Sister."

(~Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can I'll cross
The sky for your love
And I understand
These winds and tides
This change of times
Won't drag you away
Hold on, hold on tightly
Hold on and don't let go
Of my love~)

"He *does* miss you, Chris. He told me so."

Her words startled me. "You talk to him?" She nodded. "So why? Why didn't he
write? And why now?"

She sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "I can't tell you that. It's
confidential. Just know that he does miss you. And he sent you this gift to
show you that. Don't shut him out."

I laughed bitterly. "It's too late for that, Sister. Or haven't you noticed?
I'm just another common criminal. I belong in Oz, away from all the good
people like Toby. Even you said so."

She winced.

(!The storms will pass
It won't be long now
The storms will pass
But my love lasts forever~)

"I'm sorry." Her voice was quiet, apologetic.

"For what? You're right, you know. Toby isn't like me. Toby made one fucking
mistake. My whole *life* has been a mistake."

"No, you're wrong, Chris! I *never* should have let you think that you were
somehow less of a person than Tobias or anyone else. God, and you've been
carrying my words around with you all this time, haven't you?" Her eyes were
wide with horror at the damage she had done.

I couldn't meet her gaze anymore. "Like I said, you were right."

In a flash, she was around her desk and crouched in front of me, gripping my
hands with surprising strength. "Chris, listen to me. I was *wrong*. Wrong
to say that to you and wrong to not realize how much it would hurt you. I
let my concern for Tobias and desire for his release get in the way of my
judgement and all I did was destroy your self-esteem. I fucked up, Chris."

I looked at her in shock. "I've never heard you swear before, Sister."

She gave me a little half-smile. "Yeah, well, the situation seemed to
warrant it. There's no other word for what I did to you. And I have to beg
for your forgiveness. And a chance to earn your trust again."

I shook my head. "I dunno, Sister. It just doesn't seem to matter anymore,
ya know? He's gone. I'm gonna be here for the rest of my fucking life. I
might as well get used to it."

"Don't do this. Don't just give up. Tobias sent you that watch for a reason.
And the note. He *hasn't* forgotten about you. He hasn't given up on you.
Don't give up on yourself."

"What's the point? Even if we wrote and he came to visit and shit, it's not
like we'd be *together*. Sometimes it seems easier to just think of him as
dead."

She gave my hands a little shake. "Easier, huh? Is it really? Do you think I
haven't noticed what's been going on the past couple of years? The drinking,
the drugs? The sex? Is that *really* what you think of as easier?"

*Goddammit.*

(~And take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can I'll cross the sky
For your love
Give you what I hold dear
Hold on, hold on tightly
Hold on, hold on tightly
Rise up, rise up with wings
Like eagles you'll run, you'll run
You'll run and not grow weary~)

I felt myself flushing with shame and hated myself and her for it. "I-I
can't do this right now. I need to be alone."

She sat back on her heels, nodding. "OK. But promise me one thing."

I eyed her warily. "What?"

"Promise me you'll think about coming back to counseling with me. And
promise me you won't have a drink or do drugs until you decide."

I stood up, just wanting to get out of there. "OK, I promise." I knew I'd
break that promise before the night was over but I just wanted to appease
her enough to run.

"Chris?"

*Oh, shit. What now?*

"What do you want to do with this?" She gestured at the box lying open on
her desk, the gold of the watch shining.

I was tempted to tell her to throw it away or sell it, just so I didn't have
to look at it anymore. But I knew that wouldn't keep it from plaguing my
thoughts day and night. "Can you hold on to it for me, Sister? Just until I
decide what to do, ya know."

"Of course. And Chris, I'll be praying for you."

I fled from her office before I did or said anything rash.

(~Take my hand, take my hand
Hold on, hold on tightly
Hold on, hold on tightly
This love lasts forever
This love lasts forever
Take my hand
Take my hand~)

Continued in Part Six


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