Ghost Story © 1999 - Sting and Interscope Records - used without permission
Someone had left the CD on the table in the library. Finders keepers, right? Chris picked it up, read the cover. Sting. He'd liked the Police, back in the day, maybe this would be all right. Hell. Anything to break up the daily grind, even dubious music; best case scenario, he might be able to trade it for... something. Or.
Sting was brainy music.
He could give it to Toby.
Another peace offering.
One, snarked the cynic in the back of his brain, that Toby would probably never accept. They might be sharing floorspace again, and the occasional conversation, but not much else. Fuck it. Keller slid the CD into the waistband of his shorts and headed back to the pod.
That night, nothing better to do except listen to Toby snore, he slid his discman out from under his pillow, put the CD in. Play.
The first song was slow and sweet, the second was pretty weird, with some kinda fucked up chanting over the backbeat. The next, a sad love song, the next, a peppy love song. It wasn't bad. It wasn't *spectacular*, but fuck it. He closed his eyes, let the music flow with this thoughts. The song about the hooker he *really* liked, felt a certain fucked up affinity with the chorus: 'Don't judge me. This could be you in another life, in another set of circumstances.' Perfect description of Fate, of the whims and random choices that had landed him here, had landed so many guys here.
How *Toby* had landed here.
No, dumbfuck, don't think about Toby, how he's just feet away, think of anything but, think of the song in your ears about a gas station attendant who cleans out the cashbox so he can take his girl to Vegas. Hah. Now *there's* something you can relate to...
Chris drifted off to sleep as the second-to-last song began, heard only the first whispered lines:
'I watch the Western sky, the sun is sinking... the geese are flying south, it sets me thinking...'
His dreams were misty and confusing, searching for something he could not find. Chris woke feeling almost more tired than when he'd gone to bed. His headphones were still on; he took them off, slipped the discman back under the pillow and slouched out to count.
Afternoon. Toby was in a shitty, edgy mood, and he now had to cross that bridge, pay that toll, for a session with Sister Pete. A session which, in itself, was inextricably tied to Toby. A few warm moments standing near him, wondering whether he was gonna flip like he'd done that morning, or just stomp out like he'd done at lunchtime, or fuck knows what. Then an agonizing hour talking *about* him. Maybe a dismissive glance on the way out.
All of which he deserved.
He was a scumbag, and they both knew it. Toby had offered love, and Chris had destroyed it, had to bleed to hear him say those words again. Toby had offered forgiveness, then today he'd basically crapped on it by getting down and chatty with Schillinger. As he'd left the cafeteria, he'd shot Chris this *look*, eyes sliding over him with an expression of barely disguised disgust.
Yeah, he'd fucked up, again.
'Hey Toby,' he said quietly, walking in to his appointment.
'She'll be right with you.'
'Don't, Chris. I haven't got the fucking patience today.' An edge crept into the other man's voice, but when he flicked his eyes up at Chris, it was not hostilty he saw there.
And that cut.
*Anger* Chris knew how to deal with.
But sadness, disappointment? How do you combat *that*?
'Listen,' he cut in, rubbing hard between his eyes. 'Why don't you go lick somebody else's cock? 'Cos *I'm* tired.'
Well, he deserved that too. Then the sister was in her doorway, beckoning him with her own distaste on her face, and he had to shove the pain deep down in his belly, 'cos Sister Pete expected the same cool, glib, remorseless fucker as always. The same face he showed to everyone, when the truth was, even *with* Toby back, he felt like there was a ghost inside him, puppeting him, taunting him. He went through the motions, behaved exactly the way everyone expected him to. Made it look like nothing had changed.
But fucking hell, something *had* changed, had starting changing long ago, finally moving past the point of no return the moment he'd felt Toby's blood on his hands.
In the hole he'd been unable to get his hands clean, since he'd been back he'd been compulsively washing them, biting his nails down to the quick so they'd be easier to clean.
But everytime he looked down, he saw the stains again. Eventually, he'd learn not to look.
On the way out of the appointment (fucking...*point*less), he paused and looked at Toby. The other man kept his gaze fixed on the computer screen, but his fingers weren't moving.
Chris stood at the doorway, hunched his shoulders. 'See ya later, Toby?'
A response, please. Any response. Negative attention was better than no attention at all, fuck you very much Dad, for teaching that lesson soooo well.
Toby drummed on the keyboard with his index finger. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Then he looked up, met Chris' eyes for the briefest, hottest moment, and nodded. Just a slight inclination of the head, just the tiniest upturn at the corners of his mouth and eyes, but...
His blood sang. He grinned back, for good measure, and left.
Back in the pod, he stretched out in his bunk with the Discman, took a longer look at the cover as he listened to the Sting CD again. It was called 'Brand New Day.' Good title. Today had been a new day, a good day, and hell, it was the last day of the century. Toby may have been pissed, and snapped at him, but he'd totally deserved it. He was willing and prepared to take all the insults the other man could dish out.
In his mind, the ghost revived a long fled moment, overriding the music.
*'I hate it when you're self-deprecating. It's so cute.'*
Cute. He'd been cute once, in the other man's eyes. Cute and worthy of love. And Toby had said it again. And today he'd nodded.
He skipped ahead to the hooker song, he really liked that one, decided to skip over the gas station guy. Here was the song he'd fallen asleep to last night, with the pretty opening line about watching the sunset. He inched the volume up, the next words came clear, and his gut turned to ice.
***I did not miss you much
I did not suffer
What did not kill me
Just made me tougher***
***I feel the winter come
His icy sinews,
Now in the firelight
The case continues
Another night in court
The same old trial
The same old questions asked
The same denial
The shadows closing round
Like jury members
I look for answers in
The fireís embers
Why was I missing then
That whole December?
I give my usual line,
I donít remember
Another winter comes
His icy fingers creep
Into these bones of mine
These memories never sleep
And all these differences
A cloak I borrow
We kept our distances
Why should it follow thatv I must have loved you?***
Fuckfuckfuck and double fucking cocksucking hell.
He slammed his thumb down on the pause button, clenching his jaw shut over the sob that threatened to burst ouut. He was NOT about to cry, not here, not now, not over a stupid fucking *song*, and besides, the song wasn't *totally* right, he at least *knew* he loved Toby, *unlike* the guy in the song...
You will NOT cry. Not even with all the shitty things that had happened to him, or he'd done himself, not even with all the anger and grief and horror he had bottled up inside him, he was *not* going to cry. Some people (like Toby, Said's apt pupil) said that keeping shit inside was the problem, but whenever he revealed his true feelings, nothing good ever came of it.
The ghost flitted back, showed him the memory.
Today, Toby had nodded, eyes full of promise.
Chris sucked in a deep breath, tried to calm himself as much as possible. Was the *song* the problem? (The fact that was speaking words ripped from his heart.) Nah. (Words he hated like hell to acknowledge.) Fuck the song. (Words he heard over and over again, the ghost in his head pronouncing a sentence of guilt, hard labour to win Toby back.)
He pressed play.
***What is a force that binds the stars?
I wore this mask to hide my scars
What is the power that moves the tide?
Never could find a place to hide
What moves the earth around the sun?
What could I do but run and run and run?
Afraid to love, afraid to fail
A mast without a sail
The moon's a fingernail
And slowly sinking
Another day begins
And now I'm thinking
That this is indifference
Was my invention
When everything I did
Sought your attention
You were my compass star
You were my measure
You were a pirate's map
Of buried treasure
If this was all correct
The last thing I'd expect
The prosecution rests
It's time that I confessed
I must have loved you
I must have loved you***
Chris' thumb slid over the stop button and there was silence in the pod, no sound except his own breathing, the whole of Em City muffled. No tears, that was good, right? It meant he was still strong, right? Even after this long December of cold self-hate? Did it make him weak to cry for what was lost, what was an uphill fucking battle to be regained? Did it make him weak to *feel*?
Toby had wept, the ghost pointed out. In Chris' arms, even. Toby was no less of a man for it, exactly the opposite. Toby was probably the strongest man he knew.
Take a deep breath Keller. Get over it.
*'See ya later, Toby?'
And he nodded.
As good as a promise.*
The ghost whispered urgently in his ear. (Don't get over it. *Give in* to it.)
Chris Keller turned his head to face the wall, and wept.
con't in Bad