"Toby?" He let his hand brush over the other man's cheek gently. Beecher sat on his top bunk, stone silent and immobile, hands fisted into the fabric of his pillow case.
Slowly, Beecher began to rock back and forth. Expression still impassive, eyes empty, his hands began kneading the material he gripped in his fists. Shallow breaths -- inhaled and exhaled through his narrow, flaring nostrils.
"Toby?" Chris tried again. "Talk to me. You're scarin' me, here, man." The other man's thin lips pressed together in a firm, pale line. Still, he said nothing. "Toby, fuckin' stop, now. What is it? Is it somethin' about the meetin' you had today with Sister Pete? What the fuck did she say to you? Why'd she call you in there today?" That fuckin' busy-body nun and her fuckin' interfering ass. Chris slid his hands up over Beecher's, giving them a light squeeze. Toby whimpered softly, his entire face crumbling right before Chris' eyes. "Toby -- Toby, *answer* me, goddamnit!"
"My babies..." he gasped, the cadence of his rocking increasing ever so slightly. He continued to stare directly ahead, behaving as though Chris weren't even in the pod. "My babies, my babies, my babies..." His voice broke as he spoke the words over and over again, tears filling his eyes. As his sobs became more violent, the words slurred together, until they were nothing more than a continuous, incoherent wail.
Chris stepped back from the bunks, jaw hanging open in mute horror as he watched his lover spiral down into inconsolable hysterics right before his eyes. It was as though he had been possessed and had suddenly started speaking in tongues.
He stood there for several minutes, expecting Toby to stop -- at the very least to catch his breath -- but he didn't. Not for the whole night. Chris finally curled up in his bunk and tried to ignore the sound of his lover's pain razing him into trembling shreds.
Chris had been on his bike one day and driven past a car wreck -- real nasty one that ate up three lanes of the busy street, several bodies lying on the scorching New York pavement, covered with white sheets. But there was this one guy -- maybe about Toby's age or a little older -- he was sitting on the sidewalk, face drenched in blood from wounds on his scalp, thanks to shattered glass from his windshield. To Chris, he looked like a victim in one of those horror movies, covered with fake blood. The guy didn't even give a fuck about his head -- he was watching them working on the cars that had been forcibly melded together by the wreck. One of the EMTs came by and said something to the poor fuck -- it couldn't have been good news, because the man started sobbing. He stood up, forgetting his injuries and hurried over to what must have been the carcass of his vehicle. He peered in, trying to see if there was anyone inside the twisted heap, but then he turned and noticed the white-trussed figures lying beside the car. He knelt down beside one -- a tiny one, so tiny you had a hard time believing it could be human -- and pulled back the sheet.
Fuck. A kid.
And the man cradled his little girl in his arms and cried... but it wasn't real crying, from the sounds of it. It sounded like the man's soul was trying to rip its way out of his bleeding, balding, middle- aged shell so it could join his daughter's.
That sound had haunted Chris... he'd seen people die, seen people mourning, but he'd never seen anything like that before. Even after a great long time had passed and he'd ended up in Oz, he could still remember the sound -- even when the circumstances that had begot the sound itself were long forgotten -- in his head, that was the sound he heard when Vern had shanked Toby in the gym. The sound he'd heard while he was breaking Toby's arms.
That was the sound he'd heard as he felt himself falling into hell as he lay defenseless on the operating table: clawing its way across his psyche like a set of broken, nicotine-tar-yellow, blood-stained fingernails.
And now, he was hearing it again -- slightly different circumstances, different person crying -- but it was the same exact fucking sound. If Chris closed his eyes, he could almost feel himself sitting astride his bike -- this sweet little Harley, the one luxury he'd actually bought and paid for with clean money -- at the red light, feeling the engine vibrating, purring like a pussy-cat under his skillful touch, spreading its ticklish adrenaline-sweet throb through his body.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, as his ma used to say. If anybody'd know, it'd be Chris Keller's mama -- she'd been married five times, herself.
The wail had devolved into sobbing, then hoarse, strained moans as Toby's voice began to fail him, then at last, Chris heard the creak of the springs on the bunk above him, sounds of Toby settling down in his bunk. There were a few occasional whimpers after that, but then... nothing.
He rolled out of his bunk carefully, to avoid making cheap springs that held up his bunk squeak, and straightened. Toby had fallen asleep in a fetal position, arms wrapped tightly around his pillow, eyes red and swollen, face twisted into a pained grimace. Chris gently smoothed a hand over one of the hands clenching at the pillow case.
And he found himself wishing he could cry like that -- just once.