(Post-season 6 and Keller's not dead)

They'd been away from Oz for 7 months, dispatched into various prisons and when they were sent back to Em'city, it looked like nothing had changed.

Two more weeks and Chris Keller was back too, released from the hospital. Looking fine.

Toby had been told Chris was alive; just after he'd jumped, Sister Pete had come to Toby as he was walking through McManus' stupid maze, shaking with remorse and pain.

"He's alive, Toby. Dr Nathan says he's going to live."

So he'd expected him back.

What he hadn't expected was the change.

"It's over, it's dead."
They were sitting in the library, facing each other.
"What? What's dead, what are you talking about?"
"Listen, I woke up in a hospital bed and I felt nothing, no anger, no sadness," he said, "and no love. It was dead. I felt nothing for you anymore."
Chris looked peaceful.
"Just like that? Why do I have trouble believing you?"
Chris sighed.
"Toby, don't begin to think it to death, OK? It's over and it's much better for us both."

Toby was angry. Furious. Mad. He felt humiliated and stupid.

So he tried again.

Like in the old times, Chris sitting on his bunk, Toby leaning against the sink, facing him.

"Who are you and what did you do to Chris Keller?"

Chris shrugged and shook his head.

"I killed him. I fucking killed him. Or you did, or he just died. Fuck, isn't it what you wanted?"
"Yeah… No… Fuck you." He was losing it.
"No thanks, this is over, too."

Toby thought of some smart reply but Chris' look shut him up. He took a step back and shook his head.
"I don't understand. You're not playing hard to get once more, are you?"

"Guess it wouldn't work that good, huh, Toby?" Chris smiled softly.
"No, it wouldn't."
"I'm not playing. It's over. Is it so hard to understand?"
"Explain to me, talk to me, fuck, just talk! Last time we met you were obsessed with me, now you don't even seem to notice me? What happened?"

The new Chris was the very patient kind.

"I told you, the obsessed-with-Toby part died, love died. It was over for me like it was for you when I betrayed you, fucked up your parole. It just took some time for me to understand"
"I can't believe it. I really can't."
"I don't understand why it makes you so fucking mad, you made it clear that you didn't love me anymore, you shouldn't give a shit about me. Or did you change your mind after all? Do you still feel something? Toby, do you still love me?"

Toby searched for smugness, irony, anything that could've given him a glimpse of the man he'd loved but there was nothing else than concern in Chris' voice and concern wasn't what Toby needed.

"Guess it's some bad timing, then," Chris said, rising, "I'm sorry for that too."
Laying a comforting hand on Toby's shoulder and leaving him alone.

"He's faking it."
Sister Pete looked at him and sighed. She looked frailer than before, or maybe, Toby thought, his own perceptions were altered, maybe he was going nuts for good, after all.
"He's faking it." Toby was pacing the room, relentless.
"I don't think so, Tobias. I talked to him a lot and from a psychiatrist point of view, I couldn't point out any symptom of simulation."

He stopped right in front of her.

"Come on, Sister, we're talking about Chris Keller there, not just anyone. He's good at that, remember? Remember the games he could play, before?"

She blushed slightly and shrugged.

"I remember, Tobias, I really do, but like you said, it was before. Knowing all the things I know about him, I've been very careful, very mindful of the traps he could've set up but this time… There was no trap. The man sitting in front of me was genuinely different."
"I don't fucking believe it."
"Listen, Tobias. Chris Keller went through a painful series of… ordeals, didn't he? And I'm not talking about your relationship here, I'm talking about his months on death row, the beatings, the FBI, and above all the fact that he nearly died. He nearly died, Tobias, he was in coma for weeks and it's not unusual that after such a shock people wake up… different. Feeling and thinking differently."
Toby snorted with mild exasperation. "What do you mean? Did he see God? Was coma some… epiphany?"
"I don't know, and I don't think he knows either but you should remember that Chris has always been very eager to meet God. Maybe he did after all."

Silence fell on the room.

/I can't believe I'm listening to this bullshit/

"Why are you unable to believe that what happened to you happened to him too? You should ask yourself the question," Sister Pete still asked.
"So what am I supposed to do with this man who calls himself Chris Keller?"
"Nothing, Tobias, actually I expected you to be relieved."

But he wasn't. He was exasperated, desperate and half-crazy and hell if he knew why. Keller was back in Em City, in a cell downstairs, they met every day and it was like meeting a perfect stranger, so he avoided him, and Chris seemed to understand or maybe just didn't give a damn, avoided him too, just nodding when they happened to bump into each other. No more insolence, no more provocation, no more violence, just a cool strong guy… Christ, next he would receive some medal for good behaviour.

"You know, the two of you, I could write a book about all the shit you pulled to each other."
"Thank you O'Reilly, great comfort. Anything else?"
"I played chess with your boyfriend this morning…"
"This man is not my boyfriend."
"Yeah, whatever. Told me he thought of marrying one of his ex-wives again."
Toby's heart skipped a beat.
"You mean Bonnie, the one who's already married and dying of cancer?" Toby asked, snorting. How ironic.
"Look, I saw her, she's divorced again and she looked fine."
"Fucking bitch."
"He changed, Beecher, we all do, become more mature. That is… except you."
"Christ, sometimes I think I'm lost in twilight zone! Everybody loves Mr Keller who turned so good and righteous and I'm the only one who still doubts him… Want the truth, O'Reilly? I think Chris Keller has been abducted by aliens and they sent us a clone. Now if you don't mind, can we please talk about something else?"
"Looks like crazy Beecher's back in town, ain't he?"
"Fuck you."

It took weeks before he was able to talk to Keller again. Not really talk. He said words, about the kids, about Holly's teacher who still came sometimes, poor girl, mostly because she felt she had some responsibility in Toby's damnation and Chris Keller answered with words about Bonnie and how he'd played chess with a nurse in the hospital and she was the best player he'd ever met. Behind Chris' words Toby felt nothing, no emotion, no real interest, like he was being polite, like he felt he had some obligation towards Toby. The conversation was the kind you have with neighbours at the door of your apartment and it never went further than that.

"I could still take the deal from the FBI."

Angus watched his brother. "Toby, please, stop it, you know it wouldn’t work. Whatever happened later, you and Chris Keller were lovers and your testimony is therefore inadmissible in front of a court."
"I know. Fuck, I always knew, I was just looking for revenge; and I would've done anything to be free."
Angus sighed.

Chris had become a hell of a chess player; he spent a lot of time in front of the chessboard, mostly with O'Reilly lost in what looked like companionable silence, focused on the game and no matter how hard he tried, Toby could never drag him out of his concentration, something that had been so easy before.

OK, so Sister Pete and Ryan and McManus and everyone were obviously right, Keller had changed and probably everybody should've been grateful to God or Chris himself because it was a fucking good change, but Toby didn't feel grateful, he felt betrayed, and of course he had to admit the feeling was stupid and unfair. But still… He couldn't fight it.

In February 2004 Angus told him that he could possibly get him out before the end of the year, use his professional, personal and political connections, pull some strings. Toby didn't yell with joy, he didn't want to hope, he didn't want to feel happy, not yet, he wouldn't be until he was out, he was afraid that something during the next week could fuck up the whole thing.

Nothing bad happened but Toby had to wait until the first days of January 2005 to be free. Like two years ago, he packed his belongings and got ready to walk out. First time has been a triumphant march, this time his departure would be as quiet as possible, he didn't want to tempt fate again. He said goodbye to Sister Pete in the privacy of her office, let her kiss him on the cheek twice, hugged Ryan, Redabow and Busmalis and that was all. He was about to grab his bag and leave when he saw Chris Keller standing in the shadows of his own cell downstairs, watching him. He couldn't see the expression on his face but he felt uncomfortable, felt he couldn't leave like that. The man had been his lover, and as strange as the situation had become he couldn't leave him without saying goodbye. He saw him step out of the pod, a basket in his hands, heading towards the laundry room and followed.

"Chris," he said.
"Get the fuck out of here Beecher, I'm busy."

Beecher froze on the threshold. He couldn't see Keller's face, he was shoving clothes into the washer, but something in his voice sounded wrong.

"I just wanted to say goodbye."

Chris didn't turn, kept his back to Beecher.

"Listen, if you need anything…"
"Please, go away and forget about me, OK?"

Beecher caught a pleading note on the first word, he took a step forward.

"Look at me, Keller," he said, "please; I'll never see you again so look at me."

He didn't care about begging, he didn't care about being laughed at, he saw men walking in front of him but none of them stopped. After a while, Chris Keller rose and faced him.

He was trembling.

"God, I was right, you were faking it all."

It was nothing more than a whisper but Keller pounced, wrapped his arms around him and squeezed, his eyes closed, searching Toby's mouth blindly, kissing his lips, his nose, his eyes, crying, moaning.

"Toby, why did you come, why didn’t you just walk away, everything was working fine."

His lips were everywhere, his hands on Toby's back, dipping in Toby's shoulders, his arms circling him, cuddling him and suddenly Toby stopped pretending, gave in to the feeling.

"I thought if you could believe I didn't love you anymore, maybe things would be easier, maybe you'd feel better, you wouldn't be afraid of me anymore."
"No, let me finish." He kissed him, silencing him, "I tried to wear another face, I thought it would allow you to leave free of all the shit we've been through and you could leave this fucking place behind you, once for all. But I wasn’t strong enough, shit, I fucked up."

Chris' voice tinged with despair, his hands roaming over Toby's body.

"I almost believed you. Every one did."
"Yeah and it was so fucking hard, I wanted to take you in my arms every time we met, I wanted you to come and make me whole. But at least you talked to me, you seemed to like me again."

They staid like that, wrapped into each other's arms until Toby heard Chris' voice again, close and sad.

"You said I was death…"
"I would've said anything to get rid of you, I was so angry and shattered and scared, I thought what we had wasn't worth so much pain anymore."

They kissed again, oblivious of Oz.

"Remember what I asked you once, Toby? You have to leave right now and never come back. I want you to become a dream of mine, one of those memories, you know, you don't even know later if they're true or not. I want you to stay away so I can idealize you, imagine you, dream of you and never see you grow old or sick. Please, just do that."
"No. We can find a way."
"There's no way we can find, we tried and we failed. If you come back, I'll fuck up again and so will you, sooner or later. You must leave. See? I'm begging you! Just fucking do it."
"Tell me I can write to you, like I did when you were in Cedar Junction..."
"No. Don't you see, Toby? You make my defences crumble; you make me vulnerable and I can't afford that here, I need to be strong. Save all this love for your kids, they'll need it; save it for a woman. Please, go away from me, set me free. We both need it."

/He changed after all, just not the way they think he did/

Toby nodded after a while and took a step back, swallowing hard as Chris hands slipped off him, sliding along his arms, Chris' heat deserting him, but their eyes, Jesus, their eyes were still locked, and Toby couldn't find the strength to break that.
"I love you Toby, I'll always do. Please go away now, go away."

Toby did, he ran out without a backward glance, blind with tears, his mind screaming. He wouldn't come back, he'd bury Chris' memory inside him like a secret treasure, something to keep him company through sleepless nights and painful days, something to cherish and revere. His kisses, his stubbly cheek scraping his skin, his mouth against his own and the heat of his body belonged to him forever.

O'Reilly walked inside the laundry room where Keller was folding his clothes, whistling.

"Nice little show."
"Yeah… Beecher, you know, he's so fucking sentimental… He needed that, and it was the least I could do, let him think he'd been right all along," Keller said, "now, c'mon, didn’t we have a little game of chess going on?"


Artist : Vertical Horizon
Song : I’m Still Here

I found the pieces in my hand
They were always there
It just took some time for me to understand
You gave me words I just can't say
So if nothing else
I'll just hold on while you drift away

Cause everything you wanted me to hide
Is everything that makes me feel alive

The cities grow the rivers flow
Where you are I'll never know
But I'm still here
If you were right and I was wrong
Why are you the one who's gone
And I'm still here

I'm still here

You've seen the ashes in my heart
You smile the widest when I cry inside and my insides blow apart

I try to wear another face
Just to make you proud
Just to make you put me in my place

But everything you wanted from me
Is everything that I could never be


Maybe tonight it's gonna be alright
I will get better
Maybe today it's gonna be okay
I will remember

I held the pieces of my soul
I was shattered
And I wanted you to come and make me whole
Then I saw you yesterday
But you didn't notice
You just walked away

Cause everything you wanted me to hide
Is everything that makes me feel alive


The lights go out the bridges burn
Once you go you can't return
But I'm still here
Remember how you used to say
I'd be the one to run away
But I'm still here

I'm still here


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