He wanted to laugh when Sr. Pete said it, but he refrained out of deference to her utter lack of humor about the situation. Mostly, he wanted to save himself the lecture. After all, despite Sr. Pete's professional training and experience, she wasn't exactly a neutral observer when it came to Chris. Toby knew she'd be upset when she heard the news that they would be living together again, but for her to say that he had encouraged Chris... Well, sure. In the same way one encouraged the ocean to pound waves relentlessly on the shore.
All right, he hadn't outright murdered the guy. Even in the depths of his vengeance-minded fury that day in the storage room, Toby had punched his shank into Chris' flesh with the intent to wound, not to kill. In his frothing mind at the time, he'd told himself that what he really wanted, more than anything, was for Chris to suffer. To know even a taste of the kind of vulnerability and doubt and pain that had tormented Toby's own mind and body during those endless weeks in the hospital. Oh yes, he'd most definitely wanted Chris to know pain. But he hadn't actually wanted him dead -- and since that was what it would take, apparently, to ensure that Chris was out of his life for good, he supposed it could be taken to mean...
Whatever. He wasn't about to cede even that much to Sr. Pete at the moment -- it wouldn't do anything but deepen the strain between them over this. So instead he just nodded, looking at the floor and crinkling his brow slightly to indicate his grave consideration of her words. After what he judged to be a long enough moment of feigned reflection to appease her, he smiled blandly, and said,
"Well, anyway, Happy New Year's, Sister."
Then he left her office.
When he got back to the quad, Chris was sitting with O'Reily at one of the tables, arguing over something in a newspaper. They were both jabbing at the same spot on the open page, voices escalating in an obvious attempt to conquer with volume what could not be won by logical persuasion alone. The spirited discussion animated Chris with a kind of kinetic radiance that made Toby's breath catch in his throat. That volatile part of Chris, the unpredictable trajectory of his energy, leant a combustible edge to even the most innocuous-seeming interactions. It made him unbelievably beautiful. And dangerous as hell.
Toby hadn't taken three steps into the quad before Chris looked up, argument trailing off as he refocused his attention. And now Toby smiled for real. The familiar prickle of awareness across his skin under the weight of that penetrating gaze no longer felt unsettling. Well... no, actually it still did, but Toby had come to welcome the sensation -- a good kind of unsettling. He was feeling something again.
"Hey." Chris hooked an ankle around the leg of an empty chair and pushed it out toward Toby in invitation.
Toby fought an unbidden, self-conscious flush as he pulled the chair up to the table and sat down. O'Reily threw up his hands in disgust at the loss of his argument, snatching the disputed newspaper and stalking away, muttering curses under his breath about somebody's parentage. A flicker of amusement crossed Chris' face at O'Reily's departure, but he kept his attention squarely on Toby.
"She still pissed?"
"She, uh..." Toby nodded with a little snort of laughter. "Wholeheartedly disapproves, yeah."
So did Kareem. That hadn't been a terrifically comfortable conversation, either. But there wasn't really anything Sr. Pete or Kareem could do about it now. Toby had made his decision, and the waiting was almost over. The holidays had meant bureaucratic bullshit delays on the paperwork, but now, finally, in just a matter of hours he and Chris would be locked up tight together for the night. And even Toby had to acknowledge that this crackling anticipation was an amazing transformation from how he'd felt just a few weeks ago.
When he'd first returned to Em City following the three months it'd taken to even marginally rehabilitate his broken limbs, Chris' clumsy attempts to reconnect had only filled Toby with rage. That Chris even thought forgiveness was possible was nervy enough -- but to expect that he could just say he was sorry? Profess his love through those pretty, lying teeth, and have Toby believe him? It was incredible. And even when it had become obvious that Chris really had jumped ship from Schillinger, heedless of the consequences that would bring -- it hadn't made a bit of difference. Chris had broken something in Toby all right, and it was a hell of a lot more than mere bones.
But Chris didn't give up.
Toby could remember the first time he'd really felt Chris watching him from afar. It was in the middle stages of Operation Andy, and things were going swimmingly. Caught up in a conquest of his own (a memory that still made him squirm in his seat now when he thought about it), Toby had suddenly become aware of a distinct sensation, like a breath blown across his skin, that made him glance up.
And there was Chris. Watching. Past Andy's shoulder, two tables away, yet Toby's eyes had been drawn to his unfailingly. At the time, Toby had just scowled dismissively and returned to his lunch. But that had been only the beginning. Toby soon came to realize that Chris was monitoring his every move. Every place he went, he felt those lenses trained on him. All day. All night -- Toby would wake up in a panicky cold sweat from one of his still-frequent nightmares, sit up to catch his breath, and see shadowy movement in Chris' pod. Chris knew all about his nightmares, after all. Chris knew about everything.
It had felt infuriatingly invasive... at first. And then, it had just
become normal. Every once in a while, Toby would look up and meet Chris'
burning gaze, read the hunger there, and wonder.... Maybe....
But then something would happen, he'd lean against a table and feel a
pain in his arm, remember that snap, and the anger would return.
It isn't love, Tobias. It's a dangerous obsession.
But Sr. Pete hadn't been there, in the gym, when Schillinger had tried to kill him, for real. Chris was there -- like he'd always been there. And it occurred to Toby for the first time, as he slumped to the floor in a puddle of blood -- wounded but still alive -- that maybe Chris had been watching over him all that time.
"You all right?" Chris' thumb brushed the back of his hand, and Toby looked up, realizing that he'd been off in his own headspace for a while. Chris' eyes were downcast for once, and Toby wondered if he was worried that Sr. Pete's and Kareem's disapproval would make Toby change his mind. He'd been careful, almost tentative, since their conversation on the balcony following Toby's release from the infirmary. It was a very un-Chris-like way for him to be.
Toby smiled and turned his hand over on the table, palm facing up, to clasp his fingers around Chris' hand, giving it a squeeze. "I'm fine."
And it was true, amazingly enough. The bandaged wound in his side from where Schillinger stabbed him was still sore, of course -- but he felt clear with himself, for maybe the first time since he'd come to Oz, about what he was doing. What he wanted. He didn't really expect anyone else to understand.
And right at the moment? He didn't really care.
You have watched me, safe in your anonymity
And you captured me
Every place I go I feel your lenses trained on me
And you captured me
Some people believe a photograph traps your mortal soul
And you captured me