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Six Vignettes in Search of a Happy Ending

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One

Tobias thinks maybe he’ll stay crazy. It’s the first thing that’s worked for him since he got here, after all.

It’s less work than he’d thought it would be. Go a little apeshit now and then, bite a few dicks off, babble a nursery rhyme, and people start to leave you alone.

It worries his family. Every visit he can see the concern gouging deeper as they struggle to understand the strange creature he’s morphing into. They think Oz alone has done this. That guilt and booze and being brutalized have made him don this eccentric persona like a suit of armor, and that when he’s out of here and everything’s back to normal, this will all melt away like a snowball on the 4th of July.

Tobias doesn’t have the heart to tell them they couldn’t be more wrong.

There is no going back to normal. He will never live that life again. It’s as dead and buried as Kathy Rockwell and far beyond any resurrecting.

He doesn't mourn that as much he knows he should.

He think he might grieve for the madness when he does finally have to let it go. It’s comfortable here, and safe, where he touches and is touched by nothing. It would be good to stay here forever.

Standing in line at the cafeteria, he’s jostled against Schillinger, who turns to glare at him from one pale, baleful eye.

Tobias grins, and burbles back a rhyme, and thinks, Just another day in paradise.


***
Two

Chris has his hands full of Toby, and it pisses him off how much he likes it.

He doesn’t know how the crazy motherfucker’s gotten under his skin. Wrestling him around and getting him sprawled out on the mat, all hairy and sweaty and soft as the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Chris thinks that it’s sure not Toby’s looks that keep making him want to wade on out into deeper and deeper water.

Only … Chris keeps wondering about that. Keeps picturing how Toby’d look, all spruced up and shaved. He can almost see it sometimes, see him all fresh faced and bright-eyed, not a screw loose anywhere … and no rope of lies drawing tight as a noose around them.

Angry as his illusion flits away like a butterfly he’d caught hold of for an instant, Chris wrestles Toby around some more, gets him in a tight hold from behind and thinks he could do it now. Snap his neck, clean and quick, and have it done and over.

He could. He wants to. He wants Toby gone before anymore damage is done. Before he starts wanting things he can never have. Worse, before he reaches out for them, believing they can be his, only to turn to dust in his hands.

He’s holding Toby so tight he can feel his heart beating, and he skims a hand up his chest, wraps it around his neck … and all the while Toby’s resting against him. Believing in him. Trusting Chris not to hurt him.

Fuck!

He pushes Toby away and hunches over, head in hands.

“Chris?”

A square, practical hand rests on his knee and he watches it rub around in gentle circles.

“Are you okay?”

Chris looks at him, seeing past the crazy -- seeing how he’s warm and bright as the first day of spring, after a cold, dark winter -- and he wants to kiss him. Wants to taste that and touch it and keep it forever.

But it’s already too late. There’s no turning off this path, and somewhere he can hear Fate laughing her ass off.

***
Three

This … is different.

It seems a lifetime ago that Toby spoke those words to Sister Pete, gingerly picking his way through the minefield of falling in love with Chris Keller. They still apply, but their scope has broadened.

He’s watching Chris take a shower. Something he’s done a hundred times before. But something’s changed. The current has shifted somehow. And it’s not just because, as he watches the water cascade over that mouth-watering physique this time, he doesn’t duck away from what he’s feeling, he doesn’t hate himself for wanting him.

When he catches Chris’ eye, for instance, instead of flashing him a cocksure grin and blatantly flaunting that body, Chris shoots an uncertain look his way and is the first to avert his gaze. A pensive look lingers on the handsome face, its profile belonging on an ancient Roman coin, and all his concentration is directed to lathering himself up and rinsing the soap away -- washing with a sense of ritual to the cleansing, as though so much more than sweat and grime is being swirled away down the drain.

That’s when it hits Toby, the thing that is different: Keller is starting fresh. Come hither displays and sensuous seduction belong to the past. He has confessed his sins and done his penance, and believes he has been absolved.

Only … Toby’s not so sure.

He wants it to be that easy. He wants to look at Chris and only see the man he loves. But he’s still catching shadowy glimpses of the past out of the corner of his eye.

Tonight, Chris will touch him. Touch him the way they both have wanted for so long. Toby can already feel those hands caressing along his body. Beautiful hands that belong to a painter or pianist -- hands that comforted him … and broke his bones. Those sensual, kissable lips will kiss his mouth, his body; they will worship him and bestow erotic pleasures he’s never known … just as they whispered lies and hurt and betrayed him.

He hates remembering all that, but he doesn’t know how to forget.

Soaping up his body and rinsing it off, Toby thinks that if he still wants revenge, tonight will be the perfect time to exact it. Tonight, when he’s the one cloaked in secrets, when he has all the power. Keller’s never been this vulnerable before, every tender spot exposed.

Looking up, his eyes meet Keller’s, and there is such a look of yearning in that deep, vivid blue gaze -- a lifetime of shattered hopes and broken promises -- that Toby knows there are no secrets here. Chris knows it all. And still he will come to Toby tonight, a condemned man kneeling at the executioner’s block and waiting for the axe to fall -- or to be granted a last minute reprieve.

And Toby turns his face up into the lukewarm spray of the shower and wonders how it will all turn out.

***
Four

It’s a long bus ride from Oz to Cedar Junction.

The scenery past his window is a slushy gray landscape where winter’s hanging on with a greedy grasp, and spring is still a mist-shrouded destination that seems impossibly far out of reach.

Like Toby. Like the life Chris dreams about having with Toby. Dreams so secret, so sacred, he barley acknowledges them to himself.

Dreams that don’t come true are all he will ever have now.

Chris doesn’t know why that hits him like a revelation.

The first time he touched Toby, really touched him -- kissed his mouth and tasted him, exploring every inch and crevice with fingers and tongue, and feeling like a fucking virgin because sex had never been like this before -- Chris had known the moment was only on loan to him.

He had hoped there would be more time, though. He would have liked to hold Toby in his arms once more, make love to him one last time before being locked away from him forever. And he’s still having trouble believing that last embrace, where he couldn’t he couldn’t even hug him back, is all there will ever be.

He’s so afraid Toby won’t remember him.

But what if he’s the one who forgets? Forgets the taste of Toby’s mouth, and the slippery damp feel of his skin as they hung onto each other in that narrow bunk, the look in Toby’s eyes as he comes. Or the way Toby would keep him there close, all tangled up together, hot and sticky and for a few breaths feeling as free as the wind.

Chris closes his eyes to remember, and the bus rumbles on down the road, carrying him away from the only wish that ever came true.

***
Five

He never should have loved Chris. It would have been kinder.

Toby can taste that knowledge in the desperation of the kiss, the pressure of Chris’ hand against his back, fingers digging into his flesh as if he would never let him go.

That awareness is a moot point at such a moment, he
grants that, but still, these are the sort of thoughts
that are always working their way through his
mind no matter how hard he tries to shut them off.

He’s never been able to simply be in the moment. He
wants to. This one time at least, he would like to
simply give Chris everything he needs, everything he
wants. No past, no tomorrow, just the here and now of
Chris’ mouth and the vitality he can feel, reaching
through the bars to touch him, run a hand along his
back.

Impossible, in that moment, to believe such a
lifeforce could ever be extinguished. “They shoot
me, they stab me, I ain’t goin’ down.”

Yet … Toby remembers more. Remembers Chris trembling
in his arms, feeling the singe of hellfire in his
dreams.

He did that, Toby thinks. He’s the kryptonite, the
Achilles heel that’s made Chris vulnerable. Not loving
him would have spared him that, Toby thinks, even as
he kisses him more some more.

As he draws back at last and looks at him, however,
Toby knows Chris would not have it any other way. And
that knowledge of how much Chris loves him -- that’s
the deepest cut of all.

Toby touches his face and looks at him, and wonders
if, had Chris known the price to be exacted, would he
still have loved him anyway?

He tastes the yes of his answer in the
heartrending joy of a kiss.

***
Six

This is strange.

The sun’s too bright in his eyes and he raises a hand
to shade them, bemused gaze taking in the vista
before him. He thinks it must be like something he dreamed
once, this wide open expanse that’s so lush and cool
and green, the air washed so clean and fresh it was
like the world had started over.

He doesn’t remember such a dream. In fact, now he
thinks of it, it’s like everything has fogged over,
images showing only indistinct and gauzy as he
searches them out in his memory.

The bike beside him feels solid enough, though, and he
walks it along the trail, up to a grassy hill shaded
by elms and apple trees, looking out over the sea. He
parks the bike there and eases down in the grass, back
resting against the rough bark of a tree as he waits.

He’s not sure what he’s waiting for, but -- shading
his eyes again and looking out over the water,
gleaming like silver in the sun -- he bets it’s that
boat that’s coming closer and closer, finally pitching
ashore on the rocky beach. He watches the man at the
oars climb out and look around, finally tilting his
golden head to look up and see him.

Throat constricted, something clenched in his belly,
Chris watches him hike up the path from the beach,
anticipation almost unbearable, his hands tearing up
fistfuls of grass as he watched him draw near.

“Toby?” He whispers it like something sacred, and
feels a benediction in the lips that touch his. Feels
the muscles of his face aching because he’s smiling so
huge.

“Toby.” He sighs the name now and feels himself
enfolded in a warmth he’s never known -- but once upon
a time.

This could be heaven, or it might be hell. He doesn’t
care. He was always ready to take either one, so long
as it came with Toby.

~the end~