This story takes place between S5 and S6.
Every day it was the same reaction when he reached this particular unit — a tightening in the chest with accompanying increase of heart rate, sweat suddenly slicking his palms, and a slight tremble in his fingers as they gripped the handle of the mail cart. All of these autonomic reactions could have signaled the onset of one of many different emotions: fear, dread, anticipation...sexual arousal. And in Toby's case, setting off on the part of his rounds that would bring him to Chris's cell on Death Row, it seemed to be an unsettling melange of all of those things and more.
There was always an eerie silence up here, which didn't help. The low pitched rumble of the cart's wheels echoed conspicuously as he trundled his way down the long corridor, marked every few revolutions by a distinctive squeaking sound as one stubborn wheel caught and dragged against the scuffed and pitted floor: rumble, rumble, rumble, squeak, rumble, rumble, rumble. Of course, physically speaking, Death Row was really no different from any other unit in Oz, excepting Emerald City. It was the same arrangement of blankly inhospitable cells with their zoo-like barred outer walls, the same dingy institutional fittings, light that managed to be simultaneously hard and dim, and the same old acrid ammonia mop-water smell as the rest of the cellblocks. But there was also some intangible quality to Death Row that raised the hair all over Toby's flesh. The knowledge of what this place was — the smog of hopelessness that hung thick in the air.
And Chris was here.
Officer Lopresti was slouched in a gray metal office chair, propping himself up with one elbow resting on a gray metal desk of a different vintage. His head was inclined toward the sports pages of the local tabloid, but he looked as though he were mentally off somewhere else completely. His eyes barely flickered in acknowledgment as Toby pushed the mail cart past him. It was too early to know whether that lethargic pose was a good sign or a bad sign, though. If he was really sleepy, Lopresti might forget about Toby altogether and he and Chris would have as long to spend together as Toby dared be unaccounted for on his route. If he were merely bored, however, Lopresti might get up the moment Toby reached Chris's cell and wander down there to harass them. It was a crap shoot every day.
Toby rolled past Jaz Hoyt, stretched out on his cot with his elaborately marked arms folded behind his head, lips moving soundlessly as he poured out some silent litany toward the ceiling. No mail for Hoyt today. He almost never got anything, and it surprised Toby to find himself thinking poor bastard as he passed by. The first stop was Cyril O'Reily.
Cyril's state had deteriorated to near catatonia when he was alone, that creepy sock puppet Sr. Pete had given him as a confidante notwithstanding. Cyril sat on the floor with his knees drawn up to his chest, hugging himself. He was shaking his head slowly back and forth as though disagreeing with someone, and there was something white clutched in his hands that Toby presumed was the puppet.
"Hey, Cyril," Toby called softly, not wanting to startle him. "You got mail from your Aunt Brenda."
She sent mail dutifully — oversized children's cards printed with smiley faces and ridiculous phrases like "Have A Great Day!" There was one of them for Cyril today, a large canary yellow envelope, imported cheer that might have almost seemed spiteful were it addressed to anyone else. Toby felt a leaden sickness settle in his gut as he handed the card over and wheeled away from Cyril's cell. Why he should feel guilty that Cyril was up here, he wasn't sure — Cyril's murder of Jia Kenmin had nothing to do with him. But maybe it was just a small adjunct to the overwhelming guilt he felt coming up here every day. The guilt he felt facing...
Chris...who was standing at the front of his cell, waiting. He'd told Toby that even with his bum ear now, he'd be able to hear the mail cart from a mile away. He listened for it constantly, even when he knew the mail run wasn't for hours.
And there he waited, as always, with the sleeves of his dark blue prison work shirt rolled up and his forearms looped through the bars in a way that might have looked casual to anyone who wasn't finely tuned in to the tension that radiated from his body. That coiled tightness was always there in Chris now, it never dissipated.
The gash on Chris's face from where psycho Claire Howell had smashed him with her nightstick had healed down to a jagged dark red line between his eyebrows which made him look even more dangerous than usual. The rest of his bruises from that beating were "coming along", he reported. Toby swallowed hard and tried to muster a smile.
"Hey. Um, looks like Wife Number Two came through for you today," Toby turned and rummaged in the mail cart to produce an envelope heavily perfumed with some rich, vaguely tropical scent.
"Ange, that's good." Chris pursed his lips and cocked his head slightly to the side. "What's wrong?"
"Wrong?" Toby hesitated, turning the envelope from Angelique in his hands. Chris's powers of perception shouldn't have been surprising. "N-nothing. Why?"
"Dunno." Chris's fingers reached out to clasp around the envelope in Toby's hands and he tugged, Toby knew, not to remove the envelope, but to draw him closer. "You tell me."
Toby blew out a long gust of a sigh that failed to relieve anything inside of him. How insane it seemed to come up here of all places, to seek solace from a condemned man. Preposterous, selfish...
"Ah, I had another minor run-in with some of the Aryans in the cafeteria this morning," Toby finally confessed. "Ever since I blew the whistle on Schillinger..."
"He had it coming," Chris interjected.
"I know." Toby took another breath and really met Chris's eyes for the first time. "But I can't stop thinking about Adam Guenzel. About...my part in what happened to him."
Chris flashed an indulgently annoyed smile. "That's bullshit."
Toby began to make protesting noises in his throat, but Chris cut him off.
"You really think Schillinger wouldn't have gotten a hold of him sooner or later? From everything I've heard, that little punk was on the fast track to extinction — with or without your involvement. Was there anybody he didn't piss off?"
Toby looked down at the floor. "He was pretty bad, sure. But he didn't deserve that."
"Deserve. Who the fuck deserves anything they get? Come on, Toby, c'mere..." Chris's voice softened to his best huskily seductive growl. He pulled the letter from Angelique out of Toby's hands and tossed it to the floor behind him. "I only get a few minutes with you every day. I live for this, don't you know that?"
And there went the other stab of guilt. That Chris was here, on Death Row. Even though it was for one of his earlier crimes, not the murder of Hank Schillinger, Toby couldn't help but feel responsible — as though Chris's confessing to Hank's murder to save him had set some great wheels in motion that had inexorably led to this.
"Shut up, come here. You did it for us. Now how can that be wrong?"
Toby knew there was something wonky about that logic, but Chris had always known how to short out the circuits in his brain, rerouting all impulses to follow a new path straight to the groin. So when Chris pulled him in closer against the bars, Toby went to him almost gratefully, glad for the chance to shut off his brain completely, get lost in a kiss, not worry about his stupid guilt, Chris's death sentence, the realities of anything.
Cold columns of steel dug into his hips and shoulders, but all the pressure of the hard metal barrier seemed to do was heighten Toby's awareness of the parts of his body that could come into contact with Chris — most especially that crucial swath of solid heat down the center of his torso where Chris was pressed up against him. Toby sighed and felt himself relax, and with the exhalation he seemed to melt into the bars just a little bit, granting them less importance.
Closing his eyes, feeling Chris near, tasting him and breathing in his scent again, Toby was flooded with a vivid sense memory of what they had always been able to give to each other: animal need wrestled out in Chris's bunk after lights out — hot, hard fucking, bitten off cries of desperate pleasure that managed, if for only a moment, to tamp down the everpresence of fear.
Chris kissed him now, hard, possessively, doing his best, Toby knew, to chase away any thoughts that weren't about the two of them, together. And feeling Chris's mouth sealed against his own, with Chris's strong hands stroking his hips through his jeans, Toby was more than willing to give himself over to that idea.
Fuck! No. But Toby could hear the steady clomp of Lopresti's footfalls, and then his loudly derisive snort of delighted disgust at catching them.
"Beecher, what are you, Western Union? We don't do kissing telegrams around here. Beat it."
Toby could feel Chris's fingers tightening on his body, the violence beginning to simmer beneath the surface in the breath that hissed out between his clenched teeth.
"It's okay," Toby murmured softly, trying to soothe him. "I'll see you tomorrow." Then he put on a big, fake smile for Lopresti. "On my way, Officer."
"Toby," Chris said, catching one finger in his belt loop to snag him back as he turned to go. He spoke in a low voice so Lopresti couldn't overhear. "This other shit, it don't matter, but I'm running out of time."
"We're going to get you out of here," Toby began, but he stopped when he saw Chris's face. That wasn't what he wanted to hear, wasn't what he needed. Chris never had a lot of faith in tomorrow; what mattered to him was now. "All right," Toby nodded, clasping Chris's hand one last time.
And under Lopresti's scornfully watchful eye, he pushed the squeaking-wheeled mail cart back down the long corridor, away from Death Row.