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The dark clouds loomed angrily in the sky. The rain would be coming down soon — hard. Sand swirled in the air, twisting in the gust of the relentless wind. Toby wiped a few grains off of his face and stared ahead at the ocean. The waves chopped into each other, fighting for the right to chip away at the shore. There was such power here, excitement, and freedom.

The wind gusts grew stronger, and Toby shivered as the moisture in the air hit his bare arms. He could go back to the house for a jacket, but he didn't want to. He wanted to feel the chill, the bite of the wind, all of it. Everything seemed to indicate that one hell of a storm was about to descend. The gray, raging landscape was incredible, but as magnificent as it was, it was nothing when compared to the dark-haired man who crouched just out of the reach of the waves. Even as nature violently thrashed around him, Chris Keller dominated the landscape.

As Toby drew closer to the shoreline, he could see the intense expression on Chris's face. He loved that look, even more so when it was directed at him. The way those blues eyes seemed to look right into him, to really see him, was both unsettling and comforting. The waves ate up more of the shore, and water splashed onto Chris's jeans, but that intense expression didn't waver. Toby noticed that Chris's bare feet were crusted with sand, and that his white shirt, which was billowing in the wind, was spotted with water. He wondered how long his lover had been crouching here gazing out into the endless horizon.

“Hey,” he called out when he was close enough for Chris to hear him over the howl of the wind.

Chris turned, a wide smile brightening his face.

A warm tingle of excitement moved through Toby as that smile and those dark blue eyes marked him. He felt like he was standing on a cliff about to take the fall of his life, but he wasn't frightened. No, he was exhilarated. Falling wasn't scary. It was wonderful, as long as you never hit the bottom. He took an eager step toward Chris and said, “What are you doing out here?”

“Waiting for you,” Chris said, his smile becoming a bit lopsided. He folded his hands over his chest, and his gaze never wandered from Toby. Chris appeared oblivious to the mist of water that was blowing over him.

Toby wiped the dampness off his face and pushed his hair out of his eyes. The wind immediately brought another wave of mist and once again tousled his hair. Toby shook his head admitting defeat. He gave a small snort of a chuckle and smirked at Chris. “Oh really. And how exactly did you know that I'd decide to come out here when it's about to pour any minute?”

“Because I know you. Because I know you better than anyone.” Chris's smile was gone, leaving behind only that intense expression that swallowed everything that Toby was.

Truth shivered through Toby, heightening his excitement and unleashing the desire that forever tied him to the man standing before him. Of course Chris knew him. He was the only one who really did, just as he was the only one who really knew Chris. Oh God, he needed to touch Chris, to feel the pulse of his heart, to hold him in his arms and never let go.

In his eagerness to bridge the short distance between he and his lover, Toby lost his footing, slipping on the wet sand. He never hit the ground. Instead, strong arms grabbed his biceps simultaneously stopping his fall and pulling him forward. Lips met his own in a demanding kiss, and Toby felt an electric shock of desire ripple between them. He pressed in tightly, his chest against Chris's, and even through his damp shirt, he felt the warmth. As they continued to kiss, Toby could hear the waves crashing nearby. This energy that connected him to Chris, that enveloped them both, was more powerful than the ocean, more necessary than breathing.

His hands fumbled with the buttons on Chris's shirt, fingertips sliding across the smooth wet surfaces as he tried to fit the buttons through the holes. Finally, he succeeded, and the last button was opened. The wind grabbed the now open shirt, billowing it out with a whipping sound. Toby slid his hands underneath Chris's white undershirt. He rested one hand along Chris's side, while the other made a path over toned stomach muscles and finally came to rest against his lover's warm chest. The rain began, drenching them both as they pressed closely against each other exchanging almost bruising kisses. Toby wanted to be back at the house, sprawled out on soft sheets, naked, with Chris. He kissed Chris harder.

Lightning crashed and the curtains blew. Toby pulled back from Chris and blinked in surprise. How had they gotten back to the house? He had no recollection of even entering the bedroom. It was as if simply wishing it had made it come true. Chris whispered, “I've missed you,” and Toby stopped wondering how they had gotten there. It wasn't important.

The kiss he gave Chris was gentle this time, just a light touch of promise. “I missed you too,” Toby said.

Chris took a step backward and shrugged off his damp, white shirt. He then lifted off his under-shirt and slid out of his pants and boxers. Lightning flashed, illuminating the firm, flat contours of Chris's body. Toby stared at the sight, his mouth opening slightly, and his tongue flicking across his top lip. The need, the desire, for Chris washed through him as strongly as the wind that was gusting the curtains. Following Chris's example, Toby quickly removed his clothing.

Material barriers out of the way, Toby pulled Chris to him, wrapping his arms around the other man's waist and then sliding them down along the curves of his ass. He surrendered his mouth, and as they kissed with almost desperate passion, a strange thunder rumbled through the room. Toby thought it sounded a bit like a foghorn. It sounded so damn odd.

Again, lightning crackled. This time so brightly that Toby was blinded for a moment. He closed his eyes, seeing spots. Droplets of cold water hit his bare back, and Toby opened his eyes in shock. The window was open, and rain was now blowing through it lashing he and Chris with its wet chill.

He heard Chris laugh, and he shivered as his lover's warm hands traveled down his rain slicked back. The rain continued to pelt them, and Toby delighted in the almost painful contrast of the cool water on his overheated skin. Chris pressed him down onto the bed, and the water that wasn't evaporated by their body heat dampened the sheets.

That strange thunder sounded again, its discordance creating ripples of tension throughout Toby's body. Panic filled him, and he grabbed Chris's wrist, suddenly fearing that the other man might disappear. He twisted a leg through Chris's and rolled so that he was now the one on top. Toby stared into those fascinating eyes silently pleading for things he couldn't even begin to express.

As Chris spread and raised his legs, Toby found it hard to breathe. He wanted Chris so badly, to be inside him, to possess every inch of him. He felt Chris's feet press against his shoulders, and he placed his hand on the taut stomach before him, loving how Chris shivered at his touch. Toby moved his hand down Chris's stomach, over the burning warmth of his penis, and past his balls, so he could reach the area he wanted to tantalize. He pressed his finger against the opening and found an eager reception.

Chris growled his name, and Toby knew that his lover was telling him he was more than ready. He reached a hand upward, seeking Chris's grasp. Their fingers met, and once they were entwined, he pressed their hands against the bed, and then he slowly slid his penis into that eager opening. The room rocked with thunder, and Toby's thrusts became hard and deep.

“Don't let go,” he said. With every thrust, he repeated the phrase, hoping that his words and his body would keep Chris here with him.

“I'm here,” Chris said, his voice harsh with love and desire.

The thunder became one long, never-ending sound. It wrapped around Toby as his body melded into Chris's. He kept up a hard, persistent rhythm, until his penis pulsed with its release. With the thunder pounding in his ear and his body flooded with sensation, Toby was tormented by powerful and conflicting emotions. He soared with the knowledge that he possessed everything he had ever wanted. And he tumbled with the despair that he had lost what he loved most. Toby squeezed Chris's hand tighter.

Lightning flashed, blinding him again. When his vision returned, Chris was gone.

Toby sat up, startled. The only thing his hand held was a coarse Oz bed sheet. The discordant thunder sounded, and Toby realized it was simply Adam snoring. It had only been a dream. He dropped his head to his hands, shaking with the need for Chris. Eventually the misery subsided to a level where he could breathe, and he lowered himself out of his bed.

As he was getting a drink of water from the pod's tiny sink, Toby heard Adam snore again. This time a sort of snuffling sound interrupted the snore before it continued to mutilate the quiet. Toby sniffed in annoyance. He wondered how Adam managed to sleep so soundly. His sleep had been far from restful his first month in Oz. Of course Adam hadn't had Vern and Adebisi as his welcoming committee, but still there were plenty of things in Oz to keep one up at night.

Sometimes it had been the fear of facing another day that had kept him from sleeping. While other times, it had been the night's current torment that withheld the feeble comforts of rest. There had also been the nights where he had lain awake trying to figure out how his life had come to this point. Shit, he still did that. Then, there had been those few brief nights that had been better then the days. Nights when his mind was at peace, his body satisfied, and his heart safe.

Chris.

Toby grasped the sink, pressing his fingers against the hard surface until they hurt. He took a deep breath and quietly moved over to his locker. Kneeling down in front of it, he opened the door and slid out a large pad. His fingers instantly turned to the page he wanted. There trapped in two dimensions was Chris Keller crouching on that beach from his dream — from a fantasy created long before. He traced his fingers across the pencil drawing, and his imagination imbued the picture with the smell of the ocean and the heat of love.

He had drawn this picture ages ago, during a two-week lockdown that had been equal parts torment and wonder. Toby remembered that for a time he had felt so trapped by Chris's presence. Seeing Keller everywhere he turned had been overwhelming. Sure, he recalled that aspect of the lockdown, but what he remembered most was how Chris's touch could make the whole fucking universe disappear. The pad in Toby's hand shook. Christ, he wanted to feel that way again.

His fingers absently stroked the edge of the pad. Before the night Chris had awakened to find him drawing, he had never really shared his work with anyone. Usually, he had just destroyed his sketches. But Chris had claimed that the drawings were excellent and had made him promise not to tear them up. So he had kept them, not once tempted to toss them away, even when he had thought Chris no longer loved him.

Toby felt the sob well up in his throat, and he fought it. He wasn't going to cry, damn it. It was just …Chris was so near. It wasn't fucking fair. Of course, one could say it was very fair. Chris's past had simply caught up to him. The thing was, he no longer believed in simplicities like fair and good. He believed in the reality of Chris's love, a hurricane that lured you into its eye and sheltered you there. That storm called to him. He wanted to be swallowed by it again, but they were blocking his way. So near, but so goddamn far. He sighed and allowed his fingers to trace the image of Chris one more time before closing the pad and slipping it back into the locker.

Adam's snores grew louder, and Toby turned his gaze on his podmate. As he climbed up into his bunk, images of the snotty, arrogant child Adam had been flashed through his mind. What type of man had that child become? The kind of man who felt a rush when the Aryans and Sicilians clashed. The kind of man who wanted to jump into the fight and kick some royal ass.

“If the snot-nosed kid wants a fight, let him have it. Think he'll last two minutes before the Aryans smash in his face?”

God, he could hear Keller so clearly in his mind, as if these were words he had really spoken. He could picture Chris leaning against the wall, a smirk on his face, as he sized up and dismissed Adam. This wasn't as good as his fantasy, but he'd take Chris anyway he could get him. Toby closed his eyes and let his mind go forward with this imaginary conversation. He saw himself sitting on his bunk, gazing down at Keller as he argued.

“I can't stand by and let the Aryans hurt him. Do to him what they did to me. For Christ sake, Chris, his father was my Scout Master.”

Toby could imagine the smirk disappearing from Keller's face, and that intense gaze being focused on him. “You don't owe him nothing,” Keller said with a nod toward the bottom bunk. “Will he have your back? Can you trust him? What's the risk to you? Forget all that bullshit about his father being some fucking scout leader. How well do you know this asshole?”

He released a huffy breath of air. Even in his mind, Keller could be so damn frustrating. “Oh here we go with the 'this is Oz' argument. You don't need to tell me that everything is fucking different in here. I know that. I'm different, for better, for worse, who the hell knows. But I won't let this place destroy me. I won't become Oz. I can't turn my back on everything I was before. If I can protect Adam, I have to do it. It's the right thing to do.”

Chris shook his head a few times before replying. “Toby,” he said.

For a minute, the internal conversation with Chris flickered as the memory of how Chris would say his name washed over him. He could feel the low warmth of that voice shiver through him. Oh God, he needed to hear Chris say his name again. He took a deep breath, and the mental conversation resumed.

“I wasn't telling you to forget your life on the outside. I asked how well you knew Adam, and you keep avoiding the question. Why? Is it because you know he's not worth protecting? You make this fuck sound like he's some sort of innocent needing big brother Toby to look out for him. Did you believe his little I blacked out?” Chris faked a pout, drawing out his words in a mocking tone. “Oh you got to understand, I was so drunk I didn't know what I was doing when I raped her.”

Chris walked over to the top bunk, grabbed onto the edge, and looked directly at Toby. “Come on, you saw what he was like after that fight in the gym. He got a rush, the same fucking rush he probably got when he raped that girl.”

Eyes still closed, Toby clenched his hands and shook his head, as in his mental landscape he countered Keller's argument. “I never claimed the guy was an angel. But what, because of that I should sit back and let Schillinger fuck him over? Who the fuck is innocent in this place, you, me?”

A small tug of the lips, and Chris smiled that partial-smile that always meant he was about to say something self-deprecating. “No one deserves Schillinger. And you're right, no one here is innocent, including that little shit who's your new podmate. Thing is Adam here thinks he's innocent, not because he blacked out, but because he's entitled to be innocent. He's the girl was asking for it type. I never claimed to be anything more than the dirt I am. See. There's a difference, Beech.”

A low sound escaped Toby's mouth that was a cross between a laugh and a sob. “No Chris, you're a hell of a lot more than that,” he whispered. Toby opened his eyes, facing the reality that Chris really wasn't in the pod with him offering advice. He'd had so many of these internal conversations with Keller over the months. When the pressure got too bad, he'd mentally consult Keller. He would dream up an argument, and then remember all of Chris's expressions and his coiled body movements.

Now though, he shouldn't be forced to rely on imagined conversation or fantasies. Keller was in this goddamn building. Chris should be here right now. He should be able to really get Keller's opinion on Adam, rather than playing out his own argument. Chris should be here touching him. He should be feeling those lips, hearing that voice.

He couldn't stand this any longer; he needed to see Chris. Besides, he could fucking feel him everywhere he went. Every sense told him that Chris was near. He kept turning around expecting him to walk through a door or come around a corner. Toby couldn't pretend that Chris was still at Cedar Junction. He couldn't fool himself as he sensed Chris's presence. Chris was so close, so damn close, and he couldn't get to him. He had to get to him. He had to see him.

Katherine had seen him. He needed to talk to Katherine to find out if Chris was okay. He had to hear what Chris had told her. What had they talked about? No, he couldn't see Chris, but Katherine could. She could touch his hand and be held captive by those dark blue eyes. Jesus Christ this was fucked up. It was supposed to be a lawyer from Katherine's office, not Katherine herself representing Chris. What the hell was Katherine thinking?

// “ I can't pass up the opportunity to meet my boyfriend's boyfriend.” //

The words from their last conversation kept running through his mind. None of what she had said made sense. It had been so unlike her. There had been a difference to her tone of voice that Toby just couldn't pinpoint, or maybe didn't want to pinpoint. She acted like this was some sort of game. It wasn't. Chris's life was on the line. There wasn't time for her to explore the novelty of meeting her boyfriend's boyfriend — not when there was a death sentence looming over his head. Christ, didn't she know how twisted that was. What was she up to?

Up to? What was he thinking? This was Katherine, not some inmate. She's not up to anything. She loves me, and I love her. She wouldn't do something to hurt me, and she knows that I care for Keller. Shit, she knows I love Keller. She'll do her best for Chris. I can't doubt that. This is Katherine. She saved me.

Toby brought his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Each breath he took felt labored as he remembered the overwhelming feeling of loss that had sought to drown him after Chris was taken away to Cedar Junction. The days and nights had been an endless swirl of guilt and memory. He had felt so empty, and then Katherine had showed up bubbling with optimism over his chances for parole. The constant ache for Chris had remained, but Katherine had given him a reason to get up each day — hope that he would be out of this hellhole soon.

That hope had proved fleeting, and the oppressive reality of Oz had once again crashed in on him. Schillinger and Robson had haunted his every step, stirring up the old feelings of fear, anger, and shame. Said had proved a temporary savior, but even that had offered Toby no comfort. The uncontrollable rage that now constantly burned in the depths of his friend's soul was an all too vivid example of how the years in Oz slashed away at you. Said's struggle with his own capacity for violence was painful to watch. And if all of that hadn't been enough to drive him crazy, an explosion in Emerald City had forced everyone to be moved into the overcrowded, dingy cells of Unit B.

As he had tried each night to block out the screams and catcalls that interrupted the darkness in Unit B, Toby had also prayed that Chris being gone was no more than a bad dream. Each morning, though, he woke to the truth that Chris was gone, and it was his fucking fault. It had seemed unbearable, and it would have been except for Katherine.

After his parole had been denied, he had expected her to just drift away, to end the flirtation that had been going on between them. He wasn't getting out anytime soon, so why should she bother? She hadn't done that, though. Instead, she had come by to see him more often, showing him with words and actions that her attraction for him was far from diminished. Her lips, soft and cool, offered him a haven where he could momentarily flee the maddening despair that circled his mind. The scent of her perfume was a refreshing reminder that the outside world was still there waiting for him to return.

As much as he yearned to be free of Oz, there was also a part of him that feared that day. Would he really be able to put all of this behind him? Could he walk out the doors and go back to his old life, or would the demons follow him? He knew the answer to his questions, and he didn't like it. Nothing would be the same. His old life was gone, and all he could do was hope that there was a new one out there for him. And if there was a new life waiting for him, could he manage not to fuck that one up? He hoped he could, and loving Katherine was the first step away from Oz and toward that new life.

Toby stretched out on his side and watched his fingers lightly tap the bunk's edge. He did love Katherine, right? He paused in his tapping. Of course, he did. He also still loved Chris. But that was different. There were many types of love, and what he felt for Keller was like no other love he had ever experienced. That love was a part of him now, something so elemental that he couldn't cut it out if he tried. He lived with it like one does a disease. And like a disease that love was doomed. So what did it matter if he didn't love Katherine like he loved Chris? Katherine was beauty and freedom, all things transitory. Although doomed, his love for Chris was eternity. It would never really die.

Nonetheless, he was scared for Chris.

Damn it, this whole mess with Katherine really was all Keller's fault. For once he had actually done what Chris asked of him. So many of his letters to Cedar Junction had gone unanswered, but when he had finally wrote Chris that he loved Katherine, then he had gotten a response. That letter had been more emphatic than their last telephone call. “Toby, hold on to Katherine. Get the hell out of Oz. Forget about me. And don't fucking look back. Chris.” Except for the forgetting, and well the actually getting out of Oz, he had tried to take Chris's advice. Look where that had gotten him, in some fucked up love triangle. Plus, he had a bad feeling that this whole mess would prove disastrous for Chris.

In a morbid way, it was kind of funny. His girlfriend was going to be working with his boyfriend, who had this past history of murdering young men. Not that his own hands were clean of blood, but Katherine didn't know that. He and Chris were the ones to be feared. Katherine was just a lamb. And that's where things got funny because he wasn't afraid for the lamb, he was afraid for the murderer. It had taken him a long time to figure it all out, but he had finally learned the truth. Chris Keller had one weakness — Tobias Beecher. It was a truth that now terrified him.

Katherine might not know it yet, but she had the upper hand. Toby knew that Chris wouldn't see Katherine as a threat, but as his salvation. Chris wouldn't doubt their love, no, that had always been his role. He'd see her as a connection to what he wanted most, a sign from the man he loved. Oh sure, he'd try to win her over, put on the charm, and make her believe. But Toby was sure that this time Chris's charm would fail him, and he'd never see it until it was too late. Katherine would leave him hanging, and Chris would be devastated, his case thoroughly screwed.

Toby turned onto his back and clenched his hands. Why was he thinking of Katherine like this? She was a good lawyer. She wouldn't take on a client she didn't plan to really help. Or would she? Toby sighed and admitted to himself what he had heard in her voice — jealousy. That's what scared him and fueled his distrust. Her interest in Keller's case was spurred by jealousy.

Katherine's revelation that Pete had asked her to talk to Keller had so stunned him that his mind had gone spinning. He had pathetically tried to convince her that he was concerned for her welfare, but his argument had lacked passion. It was Chris whom his senses had urged him to protect; even if at that moment, he hadn't fully understood the danger. Damn, what had Sister Pete been thinking asking Katherine to see Chris? Or had she simply asked Katherine to help her find someone to represent him?

He took another deep breath. If he just stayed calm, he could handle all of this. As long as Katherine believed Keller was innocent, Toby didn't think she'd have the heart to harm him. Even jealous, she was too kind-hearted to jeopardize the life of an innocent man. It went against all of her principles. So all he had to do was convince her that he believed Keller was innocent. When she eventually came to him and asked him if he had any knowledge of Chris's crimes, he would stare her in the eye and lie. He didn't like the idea of lying to her, but he didn't have a choice. Chris's life was at stake.

If only there was a way for him to talk to Chris and warn him to be careful around Katherine. Then, maybe he could save everything. Toby laughed softly. Who was he kidding? He was going to lose Katherine. All the denial in the world couldn't hide that truth from him. And he did love her — her lips, her perfume, and the aura of life that seemed to be carried in her smile. He was so drawn to her. So it disturbed him that the thought of her loss caused him only a slight twinge of pain. Nothing more than a pin prick really.

What had he become? It was a question to which he had no answer, and one that was unimportant anyway. Nothing mattered but Chris and this overwhelming need to see him, to make sure he was all right. The need was maddening, and he knew he was desperately seeking distractions, like protecting Adam and pretending he and Katherine really had a chance. He had to see Chris, and he knew eventually he would. He wondered, though, when the desperation became unbearable, how far would he go to get what he wanted? He'd only do what he needed to do, right?

The bunk below squeaked as Adam flipped over. He had thankfully stopped snoring. It was finally quiet.

Toby stared at the ceiling, images of Chris coming to mind. He saw Chris standing on the beach in his fantasy, kissing him on New Year's Eve, and lastly, wearing an orange jumpsuit, saying goodbye.

// “I'll see you.”

“When?”

“Back here. Or in heaven.” //

Well this wasn't heaven, so here would have to do.

He closed his eyes and imagined Chris lying on a bunk in Oz, thinking of him. “Goodnight, Chris,” he whispered. Maybe Chris would hear him somehow. The silence carrying his voice to Chris and offering him what comfort it could. After all, in Oz, stranger things had happened.