slashsmut annie serial beecher keller

Another Time, Another Place - Part 6

by Annie

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


Love Rescue Me: May 2003 to August 2003

Every morning was the same. It was the only time I was actually sober, and
Sister Pete knew that. So when she came for me two weeks after I fled from
her office, I was relatively clear-headed. Relatively.

"Chris, come with me to my office, please."

"Huh? Wha?" I rubbed at my eyes in an attempt to chase away the hangover
threatening and nearly gagged at the sour taste in my mouth. "Sister, isn't
a little early for a counseling session? I haven't even had breakfast yet.
Or a shower."

"Breakfast can wait. I'll stand outside while you change and wash up." She
was brisk, not offering any room for protest.

I just shrugged. "Your call. Gimme a sec."

Following her down the halls to her office, I tried to get her to tell me
what was going on, but she wouldn't budge. I had images of Murphy and Glynn
and Dr. Nathan huddled in her tiny office, conspiring to stage some kind of
intervention on me. The latest round of Save-The-Inmate.

*Yeah, right.*

But I never expected to see the person who was waiting for me.

"Toby." My voice sounded hollow in my ears.

"Hello, Chris."

I couldn't *fucking* believe it. After all this time, here he stood, less
than ten feet in front of me, that same searching half-smile on his face
that I first saw the first time we kissed. That smile that seemed to ask,
"Is this ok?"

*No, it is definitely NOT ok.*

Sister Pete cleared her throat discreetly. "I'll leave you two alone. You
have an hour, Toby."

And just like that, I was standing alone with the man I loved. The man I
risked everything for. The man I hadn't seen or spoken to in two years.

(~Love rescue me
Come forth and speak to me
Raise me up and don't let me fall
No man is my enemy
My own hands imprison me
Love rescue me~)

Toby ended the awkward silence first. "How are you doing, Chris?"

I snorted derisively, recovering quickly from my shock at seeing him and
feeling all of my buried anger rising to the surface. "Fine." I threw myself
down on Sister Pete's couch and casually slung my legs up on the table. I
eyed him up and down, enjoying his squirm of discomfort. "You look good."

And he did. He looked fit, healthy. Happy. I despised him.

He glanced down at his suit. "Thanks. I'm working again. In law, that is."

"Oh?" I wasn't going to make this easy for him.

"Yeah. Doing prisoner advocacy law. I got my license back about eight months
ago." He moved to sit next to me but thought better of it and perched
nervously on a chair.

"Congratulations." I kept my tone deliberately neutral.

"Chris, I... Look, I wanted to say I'm sorry."

"For what?"

He glanced at me sharply under his dark-gold lashes. "For what? Uh...for not
writing. Like I said I would."

I shrugged. "S'ok. No big deal."

He sighed in frustration. "Goddammit, Chris, stop it."

I picked at my nails absently. "Stop what?"

"Stop acting like you don't care. I know better."

I let a trace of the anger I felt show. "You don't know *shit* about me,
*Beecher*."

He went white, struggling to hold his own temper in. "Oh, it's Beecher now,
is it? Whatever happened to Toby?"

"He's gone. Two years now, in fact," I replied acidly. I stood up, not
willing to endure any more of this. "Look, I gotta go. Sister Pete
interrupted my beauty sleep and I got a *date* later. Gotta look nice."

*Yeah, and a very happy fuck you to you.*

"Chris, I'll be back. I won't give up."

"Yeah, whatever." I slammed the door, nearly colliding with Sister Pete
hovering outside the office. I just glared at her and stalked back to Em
City.

(~Many strangers have I met
On the road to my regret
Many lost who seek to find themselves in me
They ask me to reveal
The very thoughts they would conceal
Love rescue me~)

He did come back, a week later. I feigned illness, but Murphy told me I
could either go see Toby or spend some time in the hole. I was tempted to
take the second choice but it wasn't worth it.

I didn't make it easy for him. Instead of getting angry or pretending not to
care at all, I just didn't talk to him. At all. I let him try to cajole me
or provoke me into responding, but I just sat there, staring into space.

But he kept coming. Week after week, he kept coming. And it got to me. It
fucking got to me.

I'd find myself lying in my bunk after another visit, thinking about the
intensity of his blue eyes as they tried to reach me. Or the warmth of his
hands in the few times he had tried to touch me. I'd be horrified to find
myself stiffening at the memories of how his charcoal grey suit stretched
across his shoulders.

I'd stroke myself slowly as I heard his gentle voice in my head, coaxing me
to listen to him, prodding me to tell him how I felt. I'd close my eyes and
imagine it was his hand, his assured touch, moving firmly on my erection.
I'd come screaming his name soundlessly in my thoughts and cursing him out
loud in the empty silence of my prison.

*I cannot fucking do this anymore.*

(~And the sun in the sky makes a shadow of you and I
Stretching out as the sun sinks in the sea
I'm here without a name in the palace of my shame
Love rescue me~)

"Why?" I growled as I entered Sister Pete's office for our weekly sessions.
He looked startled; it was the first word I had spoken to him since that
first time.

"Why what?"

"Why'd you do it? Why did you abandon me?" I cringed at the neediness in my
voice.

He sank into a chair with a ragged breath of relief. "I didn't think you'd
ever ask."

"Why didn't you just tell me? All this time we been meeting, you coulda told
me."

He shook his head. "I had to know that you *wanted* to know. That you still
cared."

I wasn't ready to admit to him that I did still care. "So tell me why. I'm
listening."

He took a deep breath and began.

"At first when I left, it was great. I wasn't *out*, out, but I wasn't in
here. I was able to see the sky again and feel the sun on my face. And I was
busy, real busy. The people at the halfway house kept me busy, with job
interviews and counseling and trying to get visitation rights with my kids.
For those first couple of months, I didn't have time to write to you."

I nodded impatiently for him to go on.

"After that, it just fell apart. I started having nightmares every night,
sometimes several times a night. About this place. And I'd go out to a job
interview or something and I just couldn't breathe. I'd just shut down. I
found out later that I had something called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ever heard of it?"

"Yeah, isn't that what guys who go off to war have when they come back, or
some shit like that?"

"Yeah, that's it. Anyway, all I knew was that I felt like I was dying. And
the scariest thing was, I *wanted* to die. I waited for it, hoped for it.
Every fucking night when I woke up screaming from another nightmare, I
prayed to God I would just die. And finally, I decided to take matters into
my own hands."

He left his chair to sit beside me on the couch and pushed up the sleeves of
his white cotton shirt. I could see clearly the thin scars lining each
wrist, puckered and white.

"Y-you did this to yourself?" I couldn't help my reaction. I grabbed his
hands in mine and rubbed my fingers over the scars as if I could wipe them
away with my touch.

(~In the cold mirror of a glass
I see my reflection pass
I see the dark shades of what I used to be
I see the purple of her eyes
The scarlet of my lies
Love rescue me~)

"I lost control, Chris. I couldn't take any more. Death was the only way
out. And I almost made it that night. I would have, if it weren't for
David."

"David?" I mentally kicked myself for not being able to keep the hint of
jealousy out of my voice.

He smiled slightly, catching the emotion. "It's not what you think. He was
my roommate at the halfway house, and about as hetero as you can get.
Imagine a black version of Chuck Norris, and you have David."

I laughed at the description and felt the twinge of jealousy dissipate. "So
what happened?"

"David took that night, the night I decided to die, to develop a stomach
flu. My life was saved because he had a case of the runs."

I laughed again, despite the seriousness of Toby's story.

"Anyway, to make a long story short, I ended up in the hospital and then
spent several long months in a psychiatric hospital. While I was there, I
was discouraged from contacting anyone who might trigger my PTSD. And that
included anyone from Oz. Even Sister Pete didn't know what was going on
until after I got out. And the day I got out was when I sent you the watch."

I flinched at his mention of the gift I had given to Sister Pete so I
wouldn't have to look at it anymore.

(~And the sun in the sky makes a shadow of you and I
Stretching out as the sun sinks in the sea
I'm hanging by my thumbs
I'm ready for whatever comes
Love rescue me~)

"That was a year ago. Why did you just start coming to see me three months
ago?"

Toby pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't know. I really don't know.
Fear, mostly. Fear that too much time had passed already for us to ever mean
anything to each other anymore. Fear of Oz. Fear of who I was when I was
here."

"And now?" I prodded, needing to know everything.

He caught my eyes with his. "I love you. Despite everything that's happened,
despite the fear, I love you. And after Sister Pete called me and told me
what was going on with you, I knew I had to keep my promise to you. I
*wanted* to keep my promise."

I couldn't look away from his anguished, pleading stare. "So what do we do
now?"

"Can you forgive me?" He whispered.

I forced my gaze away and stared at the floor. "I don't know. You fucking
*left* me, Toby! You didn't just leave Oz. You left *me*. After you promised
you wouldn't. And sometimes I hate you for it."

"Sometimes?"

(~Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow
Yet I will fear no evil
I have cursed thy rod and staff
They no longer comfort me
Love rescue me~)

"Yeah, sometimes."

"It's not all the time though. It's a start."

I narrowed my eyes. "I don't think that sometimes will ever go away. I don't
think I'll ever stop hating you sometimes."

"Then why are you still holding my hands?" His question was soft.

I looked down to see that I still clutched his hands in mine, fingers still
stroking the scars on his wrists. I tried to pull them away but he held onto
them firmly. "Let me go." I struggled to break free, willing my emotions
away.

"Never." He raised my hands to his face and pressed his cheek to them. My
skin burned at his touch as he turned his head to kiss them gently. He
whispered the single word again. "Never."

I yanked myself away from his grip and bolted for the door, my legs
trembling and unsteady beneath me. I heard his voice behind me as I ran out
the door.

"Never."

(~I've conquered my past
The future is here at last
I stand at the entrance
To a new world I can see
The ruins to the right of me
Will soon have lost sight of me
Love rescue me~)

Part 7

Dirty Day: August 2003 to September 2004

"I can't do this anymore."

"What do you mean?"

"This. These meetings every week. These fucking meetings that never go
anywhere and only make me feel like *shit* afterwards."

Toby looked apologetic as I ranted. "I'm sorry, Chris. I don't come here to
make you feel bad."

"So why do you come here?" I twisted the end of my shirt in frustration. I
was sober, a state I had found myself in with surprising frequency, but the
clarity of it made all of my pent-up emotions even more pronounced than
usual. My nerves were jangly and my body language reflected that.

He looked vaguely surprised at my question. "Because I love you and I want
to spend time with you. I thought that was clear."

"Yeah, but why? *Why*? Why do you love me? You have the chance at a normal
life now. Why aren't you taking it?"

He shook his head. "I lost my chance of a normal life, whatever the hell
that is, the day I killed Kathy Rockwell."

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I do." He sighed. "I don't know. I don't know why I love you. I just
do. And I don't want to lose you again."

It was my turn to sigh. "Yeah, well, I can't keep seeing you like this, week
after week. I need some time apart from you. Time that's *my* choice, not
because you leave or are busy or something."

To my astonishment, he nodded. "OK."

"OK?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

He smiled. "OK. I can wait."

"You might be waiting a real long time."

"I know. Just... Chris?"

"Yeah?" I looked at him, noticing an odd note to his voice as he said my
name.

And found myself nose to nose with him, lost in the murky depths of his
eyes. I jerked back but he grabbed onto the sides of my head and held fast,
pressing his forehead against mine.

Then his lips were on mine, tantalizing sweetness curling around my mouth,
tentative and possessive at the same time. I reacted instinctively, feeling
the rush of memories swarm me as my tongue probed his hot mouth and my hands
clutched his jaws desperately. He still tasted the same as I remembered, of
spearmint and coffee and salt.

*And oh holy God his smell*

I lost myself in his delicious mouth, in a brief moment able to forget the
past couple of years in the twist and motion of his lips under mine.

And when he pulled away at last, I found myself gasping and trembling
violently. He stood up and I nearly cried out for him to stay, stay forever.
But I didn't. I couldn't.

"I'll wait for you."

(~I don't know you... and you don't know the half of it
I had a starring role... I was the bad guy who walked out
They say be careful where you aim
Because where you aim you just might hit
You can hold onto something so tight
You've already lost it~)

I spent the next few months in a daze, trying to sort out my feelings and
failing miserably. Not even the booze and the tits gave me comfort anymore
and the thought of fucking to forget turned my stomach. Finally, I turned to
Sister Pete.

"I want to return to counseling, Sister."

She looked at me enigmatically. "Are you sure?"

I nodded emphatically. "Yeah. Yes. I-I don't know what the fuck I'm doing
anymore. Please, you have to tell me what to do."

"Chris, I can't do that for you. Only you can decide what to do. But I will
help you sort things out so you can make a choice."

"What kind of choice do I have, though? Toby keeps talking about being
together and all this shit, but he seems to forget he's out there and I'm in
here."

She propper her chin on her hands. "And you think he should move on with his
life? Find someone to be with on the outside?"

"Yes. No. Fuck, I don't know! What can I offer him? I'm gonna be here until
I die. He should be with someone he can actually *be* with."

"There's something you need to know, Chris. Tobias is trying to get you out
of Oz." She watched carefully for my reaction.

I stared at her in disbelief. "How? How can he do that?"

"He doesn't know. But he's trying. The point is, he's not giving up on you."

I laughed hollowly. "He's the only one."

She smiled. "So what does that tell you?"

(~Dragging me down
That's not the way it used to be
You can't even remember
What I'm trying to forget
It was a dirty day
A dirty day~)

"How is he?" I could hear the voice in the blur of painkillers but I
couldn't make out who it was. I struggled to open my eyes and saw Dr.
Nathan, Sean Murphy, and Sister Pete hovering over me. Three versions of
each.

"He'll be ok in a few weeks, but he was hurt pretty bad. His lung was
punctured and he had a significant degree of rectal tearing." That from Dr.
Nathan, I could tell. I heard murmurs of the conversation continuing but I
drifted back off into a heavily drugged sleep before I could make anything
else out.

The next time I woke up, I felt more alert, except for the blinding pain in
my head. I opened my eyes cautiously and looked around. I was in the
hospital.

"You're awake."

Turned my head to the left too fast and grasped onto the edges of the bed to
keep from shrieking. The voice belonged to Murphy. "Yeah. If you can call it
that."

He didn't even crack a smile. "Keller, you've been out for six days. Do you
remember what happened?"

I closed my eyes, wincing. Flashes of being cornered in a classroom, pushed
against a wall. Glimpses of a zipper going down, then excrutiating pain,
only eclipsed by the agony of the knife in my chest. I steeled myself and
opened my eyes to see Murphy watching me, a rare look of concern on his
normally stoic face.

I shook my head. "No, I don't remember nothing."

Defeated, he gave up. "OK. If you remember anything later, you know where to
find me." He walked off, stopping only to confer quietly with Sister Pete as
she was coming in. About me, no doubt.

(~You want explanations...
I don't even understand
If you need someone to blame...
Throw a rock in the air
You're bound to hit someone guilty~)

"How are you, Chris?" She sat down in the chair and took the one hand that
wasn't covered in gauze and wires.

"Oh, just great, Sister. Ready to run a marathon." Unlike Murphy, she
cracked a smile. But I could see it didn't quite reach her eyes. "OK,
Sister, give it to me straight."

"All right," she replied. "You nearly died. The knife punctured your lung
and Gloria had to remove part of it. You'll have trouble taking a deep
breath for a long time. You suffered numerous contusions and a concussion
from your head hitting the floor as you fell. And..."

"And?" I pressed, knowing what she was going to say.

"And you were raped. Brutally, violently raped." She paused, taking a deep
breath. "Chris, can you tell me who did this to you?"

I shook my head, careful not to start my migraine up again. "Sorry, Sister,
I didn't..."

*Adam fucking Hansen*

"... didn't see who it was."

"Are you sure?" I could tell she wasn't buying it.

"Yeah, I'm sure."

She had a calculating look on her face but she let the issue drop. For now.
Instead, she switched tacks. "Tobias wants to come see you."

That time I did stir up the pounding in my head when I shook it. "No. No! I
don't want to see him."

"He's worried about you, Chris," she protested. "It's been ten months since
you've talked to him."

"Yeah, well, I'm gonna be fine. Murphy said so. You can tell him I'll be
fine. I don't wanna see him, got that?"

She gave up, knowing I was adamant. "All right. I'll tell him."

(Get it right
There's no blood thicker than ink
Hear what I say
Nothing's simple as you think~)

I was released from the hospital three weeks later, with strict instructions
to come straight back if I experienced breathing problems. While I was still
in bed, Murphy and Sister Pete kept trying to get me to tell them what
happened, but I kept my silence.

It would do no good to tell them anyway. It's not like it was the first time
something like that had happened to me. I'd been in prison most of my adult
life and it was neither the first time I'd been raped nor the first time I'd
almost died. I didn't give a shit.

At least, that's what I told myself when I woke up each night in a cold
sweat, remembering Hansen driving the knife into my body at the precise
moment of his orgasm. That's what I told myself everytime I jumped at a
shadow or started at the sound of the generators kicking in. I didn't give a
shit.

*Yeah, right.*

Vern was oddly solicitous, for him. I think he may have suspected who was
behind my attack. He was the only one who really knew how crazy and obsessed
with me Hansen was. But he never said anything. I just began to notice him
hanging around in the background whenever I and Hansen had to be in the same
room together. Almost as if he were watching out for me. It was fucking
weird and I would have confronted him about it if I weren't so Goddamned
spooked all the time.

(~Wake up
Somethings you can't get around
I'm in you
More so when they put me in the ground~)

"Keller, you got a visitor." I jumped slightly at Murphy's voice as I
shelved books in the library.

"Yeah, who?" I wasn't in the mood to see anyone. The night before had been
particularly bad, as I struggled to keep myself from drinking to oblivion
just so I could get some uninterrupted sleep. "One of my exes?"

"Toby Beecher."

I jerked my head around so fast I almost fell off the short ladder. "Tell
him he wasted a trip. I'm not going."

"Yeah, you are. You don't have a choice." I saw he wasn't about to argue it
with me.

*Fuck.*

"I thought you were gonna leave me alone so I could think."

"I know. And I'm sorry. But this is too important." He looked different from
the last time I had seen him. He had grown his beard back but it was neatly
trimmed, not like the times I had seen him with a beard in Oz. And his eyes
were purple with circles. He looked like he had slept almost as much as I
had in recent weeks.

I decided to hear him out. "OK, shoot. What's so life or death?"

"I think I've found a way to get you out of here."

I sat up straight, all of my attention on him. "What did you just say?"

"I've been talking to the DA and the governor and Glynn and, with your
cooperation on a certain matter, you could be released early. And I really
mean released. Not sent to a minimum security prison."

"You're not kidding, are you?" I could barely believe my ears but his
demeanor suggested no trickery.

"No, I'm not. But this, this matter. It's dangerous. Very dangerous."

"Toby, I've almost died several times since I've been in Oz. Maybe my nine
lives are up. But if I have a chance to get out of here, tell me what I need
to do and I'll fucking do it."

He took a deep breath and began. "There's a prisoner here, name of Adam
Hansen..."

(~It was a dirty day
A dirty day
And love, it won't last kissin' time~)

Part 8

Shadows and Tall Trees: October 2004 to August 2007

I wandered back to Em City in a daze, going over everything Toby had told
me.

"This guy, Hansen, he's a real monster. Makes Vern look like a pussy cat.
He's in for serial rape, which should give you a clue how bad he is. But
that's just the tip of it."

At the word "rape", I visibly flinched, but Toby didn't catch it. "The tip?"

He leaned forward. "Yeah. We've done some checking on his background, me and
Sean Murphy. Turns out he's been part of some radical Christian group,
targets gays and abortion clinics. And we found out he's suspected in
several rape-murders of prominent gays and pro-choice activists. *And* their
families."

"Wait a sec. He hates fags but he rapes 'em? That don't make sense."

"No, it doesn't. I can go into details about his psych profile, control
issues, sexual abuse from his father and brothers, but it all comes down to
one thing. He's fucking crazy."

"OK. So where do I come in?" I dreaded the answer.

"We need you to get close to him. Find out what you can, get confessions."

*Oh, God.*

"What makes you think he'll talk to me?"

"It's a pattern with him. He got busted for the rapes because he talked
about them when he was in for aggravated assault. Based on his records, he
gets close to one person and eventually tells them everything." He paused to
take a deep breath and I asked the question we'd both been avoiding.

"So what's the risk?"

He closed his eyes briefly. "High. Everyone he's talked to has ended up
dead. I wouldn't ask you to do this, Chris, but we need to put this guy away
for good. Despite the fact that he's been convicted of four rapes, he still
comes up for parole in nine years. And..."

"And it's my chance to get out of Oz."

"Yeah. It's your only chance."

I nodded, my decision already made. "I'll do it."

He exhaled with a rush. "OK. Thank you. Chris, there's one last thing. Find
someone in Oz you can trust to back you up if necessary. You can't tell them
any of this, but find someone who won't leave you and Hansen alone."

I snickered. "Someone I can trust in Oz? Yeah, right. Wait..."

Schillinger. He's been tailing me anyway whenever Hansen was nearby, like a
fucking twisted version of a guardian angel. It was perfect.

Toby raised an eyebrow. "Got someone in mind?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Good, good. Good luck and for God's sake, be careful."

"I will." I rose to leave but Toby clasped onto my arm.

"Chris, do you know Hansen already?"

I smiled coldly. "Yeah, I know him."

(~Back to the cold, restless streets at night
I talk to myself about tomorrow night
Walls of white protest, a gravestone in name
Who is it now? It's always the same~)

It wasn't easy. Far from it. Getting close to Hansen was damn near
impossible, especially since I had blown him off so many times. I had to
tread carefully, even more carefully than when I seduced Toby at
Schillinger's orders.

But bit by bit, it began to pay off. I'd offer to spot him in the gym or I'd
sit next to him during meals. Soon simple greetings in the halls as we
passed each other by stretched into longer conversations. He transferred to
work in the library with me about eighteen months into the operation, a move
that caught Vern's attention. He confronted me about it as soon as he could.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Keller?"

I pretended not to know what he was talking about. "What do you mean?"

"Don't think I haven't seen you getting cozy with Hansen," he growled. "Are
you fucking insane?"

"Aww, Vern, I didn't know you cared," I smirked.

"Fine. Fuck you. You won't see me crying when you end up dead." He marched
off, back ramrod straight, but I noticed he still continued to shadow me
whenever he could. I couldn't figure out why, but I threw him a mental
thanks anyway.

One good thing came out of my uncomfortable assocation with Hansen. In the
summer of 2006 I took my GED test and found out a few weeks later that I had
passed, after months of coaching and drilling from Hansen. I was thrilled to
get the results but I felt a twinge of sadness, remembering how Toby and I
planned to work together on this many years ago.

I didn't see Toby at all during that time. It would have been too risky. He
had become a semi-celebrity as a former-inmate-turned-prisoners'-advocate.
He met with quite a few prisoners he thought were unfairly convicted in
order to reduce their sentences. If Hansen had gotten wind of the two of us
meeting, it might have tipped him off. So I met with Sister Pete for my
weekly sessions and she passed along messages from Toby. On the day I got my
GED, she handed me a letter from him.

Chris,
I'm so proud of you. I knew you would never give up on yourself. I miss you
and I love you.
Toby

I read it through about a hundred times before I handed it back to Sister
Pete for safekeeping. I ached to see him, to hold him, even though I had
tried so hard to push him away. I was determined to make this operation
succeed so I could be with him. It was the one thing driving me, even as my
skin crawled each time Hansen hugged me or each time I woke up from another
nightmare.

(~Who is it now? Who calls me inside
Are the leaves on the trees just a living disguise?
I walk the sweet rain tragicomedy
I'll walk home again to the street melody~)

Finally, after more than two years had passed and I didn't think I would
ever get any closer to Hansen than I already had, all of my work started to
show results. It started small, just hints dropped and suggestions made. But
my already heightened nerves stretched even further and I went to Sister
Pete.

"I think he's ready to talk." I rocked back and forth in place, unable to
calm down enough to sit.

She came around her desk to stand in front of me. "Are you *sure*, Chris?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure. It's gonna be soon."

"All right. Before I go on, I need to tell you this. If you still want to
back out, now is the time. I won't hold it against you. Neither will
Tobias."

I stopped rocking just long enough to gape at her. "Are you fucking kidding
me? After all this work? I'm in, Sister."

She looked relieved, but still worried. "OK. We need you to wear a wire."

I collapsed in the chair, all of my energy released in an instant. "What? A
wire? If any of the other inmates catch on that I'm wired, I'm a dead man."

"We know." Thankfully, she didn't try to feed me any false reassurance.
"We'll make the risk as minimal as possible, but it's still there. We need
his confession recorded. The DA won't accept anything less."

"He doesn't trust just my testimony." It wasn't a question.

"Right."

I took a deep breath, held it for a long moment, then let it out slowly.
"OK, Sister. String me up."

(~Life through a window, a discolored pain
Mrs. Brown's washing is always the same
I walk the sweet rain tragicomedy
I'll walk home again in the street melody~)

For long agonizing months, I walked around waiting for the knife in my ribs,
just knowing that everyone could hear the tiny whisper of the wire rubbing
against my clothes. I took what precautions I could, showering after
everyone had left, avoiding the gym. But I knew I was flirting dangerously
with my own death with each passing day.

It was a late summer afternoon when it happened. I was shelving books in the
library, empty since the librarian called in sick. The tape holding the wire
to my stomach itched and I found myself scratching it absently as I worked.

"Need any help?"

It was Hansen, smiling up at me as he hovered close to the ladder. Too
close.

"Nah, I'm almost done."

"OK. Well, mind if I sit here and jabber while you work?"

"Nope. What's on your mind today, Adam?"

"Today's a special day for me." His voice held a touch of glee in it that
chilled me.

"Oh? How's that?" I kept my tone carefully under control, just letting the
slightest hint of casual interest show through.

"Today, ten years ago, was the first time I did God's work. The first time I
helped Him rid the earth of the scourge of faggots and babykillers."

"You don't say."

*Holy fucking shit.*

And that was how it began. For three fucking hours I listened to him
describe crimes that horrified even *me*, complete with details that almost
sent me running from the room to puke my guts out in the closest toilet.
After hearing about the first family he had slaughtered "in God's name", I
sat down heavily on the ladder, all of the strength gone from my legs. I
screamed inside for him to stop but he just kept on, happily reliving the
torment and agony he inflicted on so many. So many deaths.

"Chris?"

I shook my head, clearing the numbness that had settled in after the horror
became too much to bear anymore. "Yeah?"

"I said, don't you agree this is a day for celebration?" He was grinning,
eyes shining in demented ecstacy.

I grunted. "Celebration. Yeah." I worked my way down the ladder, wanting
only to escape his presence as soon as I could.

"What's that?"

"What's what?"

"Looks like you got a thread hanging from your shirt. Hold on, I'll get it."

*Oh, God. I am so fucked now.*

In my distraction, I had scratched at the tape so hard the wire had come
loose and was dangling out under my shirt. Hansen tugged at it, frowning,
and I hissed in pain as the rest of the tape pulled away from my skin. He
held the wire and miniscule recorder in his hands, turning it over and over
as if he expected it to become something else.

"Chris, what is this?" He spoke quietly, but I could hear the menace behind
it.

"Uh..." All of my bullshit and bravado fled me and I stood there shaking.

He just ignored me. "You were gonna turn me in, is that it? You were gonna
betray me. You already know firsthand what happens when someone ignores me.
What do you think happens when someone betrays me?" With each word, his
voice grew more and more harsh and grating.

He advanced on me and I cowered against the stacks, truly terrified for the
first time in my life. His hands wrapped around my neck and squeezed, and I
saw sharp bursts of color pop up in my vision. I couldn't move, except to
feebly bat at his hands. I was going to die. All of my planning and
maneuvering for the past three years, and I was going to die and Adam Hansen
would get away.

Because of that, I missed the flash of movement to my right. All I knew was
that I could breathe again and I sank to the floor, sucking in oxygen. I
heard struggles nearby and as my vision finally returned I saw Schillinger
kicking Hansen viciously, who tried to fend him off with a wicked-looking
serrated knife. He slashed out and caught Vern in the calf, causing him to
stumble against the table. I tried to cry out to Schillinger in warning, but
it was too late. Before he could recover, Hansen drove the knife home in his
chest, twisting it savagely.

I watched in horror and shock, unable to do anything as Vern fell, blood
spilling from his mouth. But using his failing strength, he twisted his body
as he fell and grabbed onto Hansen's shirt, yanking him down with him. He
used the weight of his body to push Hansen hard against the edge of the
table, the other man fighting to push away. But even when dying, Vern was
stronger, and I heard the sickening crack of bone before I saw Hansen's body
lying there under Schillinger, neck twisted at an unnatural angle, eyes
blank in death.

I crawled over to Vern, rolling him off Hansen's body, but it was too late.
Blood pooled from his chest and streamed from his mouth as he coughed for
air. He opened and closed his mouth several times and I bent close to him to
hear what he was trying to say.

"Tell... Beecher... I kept my....promise." He hitched for air a few more
times, and then he was gone.

I sat there by his body until the hacks arrived. I sat there by the man who
had been my father, my lover, my master, my friend, my enemy, and my
protector, and I cried.

(~Out there
Do you feel in me, anything redeeming
Any worthwhile feeling
Is life like a tightrope? Hanging on my ceiling
But I know oh no
But I know oh no
I know
Shadows and tall trees...~)

Part Nine



Running to Stand Still: August 2007 to March 2008 It took some time before everything was sorted out, but three weeks later I found myself breathing fresh air for the first time in almost ten years. After the botched sting that resulted in Schillinger's death, I feared that I would be denied release. Toby assured me that wasn't the case, that with the tape of his crimes, Hansen's death was clearly the result of self-defense. And in any case, he wouldn't be back on the streets again. That's what mattered to the DA and Glynn and Murphy. In those days, I found out what was really going on with Schillinger, why he had been watching over me. After Toby found his son and helped get him into rehab, he continued to keep tabs on him. He brought him back to New York and helped him get back into school. After he finished, Toby gave him a job working for his office as he studied for a law degree. Several years ago, Vern asked Toby to come see him. When he did, Schillinger told Toby he owed him, that he repaid all his debts. Toby protested, telling him that helping Jason was the only way he could clear his conscience after Andy's death, but Vern insisted. Finally, Toby told him to look out for me, make sure I didn't get hurt. At first, he didn't try too hard to fulfill that request. But after I was attacked, Vern started taking his pledge seriously. And because of it, he had died so I could live. I almost couldn't believe it when Toby recounted the story. Toby hadn't changed much in the three years since I had last seen him. He had shaved his beard yet again and there were a few more grey hairs and a few more lines around his eyes, but otherwise he looked the same. And, as I reminded myself as I noticed my own receding hairline, we were both pushing forty. So much time had passed. We had spent more years apart than together. I moved in with him when I was released. I had nowhere else to go. My parole officer wasn't happy with the arrangement, but he allowed it. I was told I had six months to find a steady job and I had to go to counseling once a week. It was a small price to pay, given that I never expected to see the outside ever again. I slept in Toby's guest room and he never once pushed me to make things more intimate between us. I had finally confessed to him and Sister Pete what really happened when I was attacked, when Hansen raped and stabbed me. He understood and gave me plenty of space. But it wasn't enough. (~And so she woke up From where she was lying still Said we gotta do something about where we're going Step on a steam train Step out of the driving rain Maybe run from the darkness in the night~) I went out each day to hunt for a job, but to no avail. Even with my GED, I still had the stigma if being an ex-con. And each morning I watched Toby go off to his office, envious and resentful at the ease with which he had found his purpose. I grew increasingly frustrated and to make matters worse, I was sick constantly. "I brought you some soup," he tentatively said as he stood in my doorway. I had heard him come in from work but I just huddled in my bed, too miserable to move. "Ibe not hungry." "Chris, you need to eat something. You haven't eaten in three days." His voice grated on my nerves. "Goddabbit, I said Ibe not fugging hungry! Now fug off!" He laughed, which only increased my temper. "Stop acting like such a baby. You're only sick because your body isn't used to breathing non-recycled air. You'll build up your immunity soon enough, but you need to eat." With the little strength I had left, I pushed myself off the bed and stood nose to nose with him. "Stob treating be like a fugging kid. Leab be the fug alone if you know what's good for you." I shoved him out the door and slammed it, not caring about the hurt look in his face. He was right, though. The constant colds soon passed, but the feelings of depression, anxiety, and resentment only grew. I avoided Toby as much as I could. He'd try to start conversations but after my uninterested grunts, he began to avoid me too. I yearned for him to just take me in his arms and tell me everything was going to be all right, but I also couldn't stand to have him near me. (~Sweet the sin But bitter the taste in my mouth I see seven towers But I only see one way out~) It was terribly easy to start drinking again, even though Toby never kept alcohol in his apartment. I'd go out in the mornings, ostensibly to search for a job, and end up at the nearest bar. I'd be careful to come home before he got back from work and shut myself in my room. He had stopped knocking. It helped that he was embroiled in yet another custody battle to get his kids. I knew it was killing him. His oldest two were teenagers now and had been poisoned against their father by his asshole ex-inlaws. And his little girl barely even knew her father. I wanted to comfort him some of the nights I heard him sobbing in his room, but I never did. Before long, we were both strangers to each other. I spent my days drunk, except when I had to go to counseling or meet with my parole officer. My nights were sleepless, filled with nightmares of Adam Hansen and Schillinger's death. Toby spent more and more time away from the apartment, only coming in late at night and leaving at dawn. Weeks would pass when we wouldn't even see each other. (~You got to cry without weeping Talk without speaking Scream without raising your voice I took the poison, from the poison stream Then I floated out of here~) Something had to break eventually. And when it did, I was lying curled in my bed watching TV, an illicit bottle of vodka against my side. Toby barged into my room without knocking. "Chris, we've got to talk. I can't go on like this anymore, not talking..." He trailed off as he noticed the bottle. "You-you're drinking?" Mockingly, I lifted the bottle to my lips and took a long drink. I was relieved it was all out in the open now. And I wanted perversely to taunt him with it. "Yeah, so what?" His eyes grew dark with rage. "So *what*? What the fuck is *wrong* with you? If your parole officer knows you're drinking again, you go back to Oz. And if he find any booze here, *I* am fucked." "Don't worry your pretty little head about that, *Tobias*. I've been careful. No one's gonna know." "No, you will *not* just blow me off like that, you asshole! I am sick of this shit you've been putting me through. I'm tired of tiptoeing around you all the time, worrying I might say or do something to set your temper off. I love you, but I can't live like this anymore. I shouldn't *have* to live like this anymore. If you love me---" "Who says I do?" My words rang false in my ears but I had gone too far to stop now. I wanted to hurt him, I desired it more strongly than anything else at the moment. I wanted to make him feel as Godawful horrible as I felt. "Who says I love you?" (~She runs through the streets With her eyes painted red Under black belly of cloud in the rain In through a doorway she brings me White gold and pearls stolen from the sea~) Instead of sending him into a further rage, my question shut him down. He took a ragged breath and let it out. "You're right. No one's said you love me. Least of all you." He sat down on the edge of the bed, defeated. I almost reached out for him, wanting so much to take back my words, but it was too late. I stood up and grabbed a bag out of the closet and started throwing clothes into it. He watched me for a moment, eyes red with unshed tears. "What are you doing?" "Packing." "You're leaving?" The anguish in his voice nearly stopped me cold, but I continued to toss my meager belongings into the bag. "Yeah. I don't belong here. We both know that." "Chris, I don't want you to go." *Don't stop, don't think, don't feel. Just move.* "But you don't want me to stay. And I don't want to stay. Not like this, not supported by you like I'm your fucking mistress. I need to get out, find my own way." He nodded miserably and just repeated one thing I had said. "Not like this." "Yeah." I zipped up the bag and slung it over my shoulder. "I'll tell my parole officer that I needed to find a new place to live. I won't get you in trouble or nothing." He just nodded and followed me to the door, holding on to the edge of it as if it were keeping him from falling. I walked out into the winter night and heard him calling my name. "Chris?" I turned to see him watching me, one hand stretched out instinctively to me, his features twisted with sadness and loss. I almost lost it then, almost threw myself at him. I steeled myself inside. "Yeah?" "I love you." I smiled bitterly, regretfully. "I know." (~She is raging She is raging and the storm blows up in her eyes She will suffer the needle chill She is running to stand still~)

Part Ten

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For: March 2008 to July 2010

The months passed by in a blur of unrelenting grey, my thoughts and emotions
stripped of color as I buried them in booze. I holed up in a fleabag motel
just to give my parole officer an address to find me but I spent more time
on the streets than in a bed.

I worked odd jobs, construction, trash collecting, but I never stayed with
any of them longer than a few weeks at a time. I was always short of cash
and soon turned to hustling to pay for rent and food.

I never let any of them fuck me. The very thought of it made me nauseous.
But there was an endless parade of cock in my mouth and my hands. With my
eyes closed and enough liquor in my system, I could almost imagine it was
Toby's sweet-salt taste in my mouth and not the unwashed, rank stench of
most of my customers.

(~I have climbed the highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you~)

He didn't try to find me. I wasn't sure if that bothered me or not, so I
chose not think about it. But the memory of his touch, the softness of his
voice, crept beneath my skin. I couldn't escape him, no matter how hard I
tried.

I had more than a few customers take it out on me when I refused to let them
fuck me. I relished the pain they caused. I craved the agony of the bruises
and the cuts and the occasional broken bones. It took my concentration off
of *him*.

"Hey, kid. Kid, get up before the coppers see you." The voice penetrated my
alcohol and pain-filled brain just barely. "Bloody hell. This isn't
working." Then I felt myself being lifted and the blessed relief of
unconsciousness as I passed out again.

Later. I woke up, sober for the first time in days, lying on soft cotton
sheets.

*Where the fuck am I?*

"Where the fuck am I?" My voice, hoarse, echoed my thoughts.

"In my bed, kid." The feminine voice I had heard earlier came closer. I
turned my head to see who my rescuer was. "You've been unconscious for two
days. It's good to see you awake."

She smiled gently and regarded me with warm green eyes. I eyed her warily.
"Why do you keep calling me 'kid'? You look about the same age as me. Who
are you? How did I get here? Where is here?"

She laughed, the sound musical and intoxicating to my ears, ears used to the
harsh grunts of a faceless trick climaxing in my mouth. It had been so
Goddamn long since I heard anyone laugh. Especially myself. "I call you
'kid' because you have that lost-little-boy look about you. And I don't know
your name," she said pointedly.

"Chris. Chris Keller." I struggled to sit up and she reached over to help
me, but I pushed away her hands. Shrugging, she sat back down.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Chris Keller. I'm Talia Jacobs. Here, is my
home. And you're because I brought you here."

I didn't think I heard her correctly. "You brought me? How? Why?"

She laughed again. "It wasn't easy, I'll tell you that. I half-carried,
half-dragged you. You're pretty solid for someone who looks like he hasn't
eaten in a week. As far as why, let's just say I can't resist taking in
strays."

(~I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for~)

As I recovered from a fractured wrist, I learned more about Talia. She was
English and she owned a little bookstore in Manhattan. She really meant it
when she said she took in strays, as evidenced by her four dogs, seven cats,
and two birds. One of the birds was a kestrel, a bird she told me didn't
normally live in New York. She had gotten permission to care for it from the
city when she found it flapping along in Central Park, its wing broken and
starving from hunger. The bird would never fly again and Talia took care of
it, but I watched it hop up on the windowsill and look out at the sky with
such longing, and I knew how it must feel.

Talking with Talia was easy. She never pushed, but I found myself telling
her all about Oz and Toby before I even thought to keep it inside. She
didn't look shocked or horrified that I was in prison or that I had fallen
in love with another man. She just listened to me as I talked about things I
hadn't dealt with in years.

My wrist healed, but I still hung around her place. She didn't press me to
leave and started teaching me how to feed the kestrel and the other pets so
I could help her out. At first I was leery about getting my hands so close
to that vicious-looking beak, but the raptor took to me right away. Talia
approved. She said it was like two wounded creatures finding each other.

(~I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire~)

"Talia?"

"Hmm?" She was reading a book as I sat on the wide windowsill, watching the
clouds of a thunderstorm build.

"Don't you think I should be going? I mean, I don't need you taking care of
me anymore."

She looked at me, her green eyes piercing me. "Are you sure about that?"

"What do you mean?"

"We're friends, right?" I nodded, not sure where she was going with this.
"Well, I'd imagine I'm the first real friend you've ever had, one who
doesn't want anything from you in return. Am I right about that too?" I
nodded again. "So, I think you need that."

I protested weakly. "But I'm not doing anything to help you out. I don't pay
rent, I don't help with the bills. It's not right."

"You're right."

"I am?" I said stupidly.

She just laughed that throaty, musical laugh she had. "Yes, you are. You
help out with the featherhead over there and the other animals, but you can
do more. Come work for me."

"I... What?" I stammered, feeling overwhelmed. "I don't know nothing about
books."

"It's not brain surgery. You need a job before your parole officer starts
getting on your case again, and I need an assistant." She bowled over my
protests with the same efficient briskness she always had.

(~I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of the devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for~)

I went to work for Talia at her store and cleaned myself up, at her decree.
She told me in no uncertain terms that if she caught me drinking or doing
drugs or turning tricks, I would be out on my ass again.

"I'm your friend, Chris, not your enabler. I won't coddle you anymore."

To both of our surprise, I was good at my job, really good. I came up with
new ideas for displays and advertising and increased her business by twenty
percent after eight months on the job. And I liked it. I liked how quiet the
store was in the mid-afternoon hours after the lunchtime rush and I liked
the smell of the dust and the wood and the paper. And I found myself taking
the occasional book home with me to slog through. Me, Chris Keller, who had
never finished a book in his life.

I continued to live with her as well, at her request. I knew she was
somewhat lonely, all of her friends and family back in England and only her
pets to keep her company. And she never made me feel like I was another one
of her rescued animals or a guest. Once I had made the decison to stay, I
was part of her family. I'd never had family before, at least not that I
remembered.

We shared the same bed every night, but we never became intimate. Not for
lack of trying, at least on my part. I fell for her deeply, and I finally
told her so, fearing the worst. But she just gazed at me with those blazing
green eyes and to my utter astonishment, leaned over to kiss me.

Twenty seconds later, we pulled away, both laughing hysterically. After we
had caught our breath, she, like always, said the sensible thing.

"Like kissing your sister, wasn't it?"

(~I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
But yes, I'm still running~)

My thoughts of Toby became less and less painful as time went on, as I
became more comfortable and confident in myself. I'd find myself thinking of
him at the oddest times, like when Talia helped me pick out my first new set
of clothes after I started making some money. I stood there in front of the
mirror at the store, not sure this was the same Chris Keller I had been all
of my life. Talia just smiled in approval.

"You look like a lawyer, Chris."

And I did. I looked like *him*, like Toby. And I discovered that I could
think about him without the familiar bile of resentment and bitterness
rising to the surface. My feelings for him were still bittersweet, but more
sweet than bitter as time went on. I could finally admit to myself that I
had loved him, would love him for the rest of my life. And it didn't hurt so
much anymore.

(~You broke the bonds
You loosed the chains
You carried the cross
And my shame
And my shame
You know I believe it~)

The bell tinkled over the door as a customer entered the store one
stiflingly hot July afternoon. Talia and I were sitting in the storage room,
the only semi-cool place since the air-conditioning had gone out. I groaned
and rose to my feet.

"I'll take this one." She just flashed me a look of gratitude.

"Can I help you?" The man turned and he looked vaguely familiar, tall with
pale blond hair and ice-blue eyes. I couldn't place him so I just dismissed
him as a former customer.

"Chris Keller?"

I stiffened, as I felt Talia come up behind me and place a hand on my
shoulder. As far as I knew, only my parole officer and Talia's friends and
customers knew who I was. Cautiously, I replied. "Yes, I'm Chris Keller."

The man breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God. I've been looking for you for
weeks now. I didn't know where to start since he wouldn't tell me anything
but then I got the idea to go to Oz and find out the name of your parole
officer and that's---"

As he babbled on, I tried again to figure out why he looked so familiar to
me, why his voice had such a familiar timbre to it. Younger, but with the
same deep rumble as... And then it clicked.

"---and finally I got the address for this shop. I'm sorry, I haven't
introduced myself. I'm---"

"Jason Schillinger."

He looked startled. "Yes. H-how did you know?"

"You look a lot like your father."

"Oh, yes. I suppose I do. I get that sometimes but since I hardly ever saw
him I---"

"Why are you here?" Thank God for Talia, who interjected as I stood there
staring at Vern Schillinger's son, a carbon copy of his father.

Again, he looked startled, a bit timid of Talia's directness. "Right. Well,
it's my boss. Toby. Something's happened."

(~But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for~)

Continued in Part 11


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