TIME/SETTING: This story happens sometime after McManus is stabbed in the "Cuts Like A Knife" episode. The setting is his hospital room, the day before he is released.
McManus sat up today. More alert, a dazed look decorating his face.
His features appeared healthier. Those subtle blue eyes set behind a strong Scotch-Irish nose. His shadowed, unshaven cheeks burst into a grimace now and then. He hadn't smiled at all since the stabbing.
Another stabbing. Another near-death incident. They were countless over the years. Countless not simply because of the number, but because he didn't care to count, to know the sheer magnitude of his failure. His many, many failures as a prison manager. As a husband. As a lover. And so on and so forth. It could be applied to each and every part of his life.
Timothy McManus. `Little Timmy-boy' Father O'Malley used to call him. Reformer of lost souls. Protector of prisoners' rights. The thing with prisoners was, they didn't care about their rights. They didn't care about their futures. They didn't care about education, rehab — none of the shit he had tried to implement. For them. For all for them. But they didn't care. They didn't care about him. They didn't care about themselves.
Now, Timmy Boy didn't care either. Sure, he wore all the smiles. Especially when family came around to visit. But his heart was crushed, dead, stone. The muscle was stretched until it could stretch no more. It could give no more.
Tired. Worn out. Browbeaten. Obliterated.
McManus tired of caring about people who didn't care about themselves. He heard his critics' words years ago, but now he believed them. `You can't force people to better themselves.' Something to that effect.
He scoffed, thinking back to his first few months at Oz. So naive he had been. Everything was going to be idyllic. Flawless. He had expressed all his ideas, spit them out, spread them on the table so he could see them in a row. Accomplishable. It all seemed so easy.
Until the roadblocks. Always roadblocks. Everest-sized roadblocks. Devlin. Whittlesey and Wangler. Fate. Impassable. Impossible leaps across a bottomless abyss.
And he didn't care to brave the treacherous depths anymore. He'd seen the bottom of that chasm one too many times. He was through with it — over, done, out.
He could not face Oz again. Never again.
Three knocks. Rhythmic. He didn't move, only gazed out the picture window, at the green, green grass outside the hospital. The wildly swinging bare tree limbs flowing in the wind.
"Tim. It's Sean."
"How ya' doin', Buddy?" That Jersey brogue. Thick as pea soup. Thick as river bottom fog.
He didn't reply. A bird had landed on his windowsill, outside. It chirped some chipper fucking tune. Tim didn't feel like hearing it today.
"You're looking a lot better."
That same numbed stare.
"Jesus Christ, Tim. Talk to me." He touched his good friend's shoulder lightly.
McManus turned to face him, finally, that same dead-ass stare on his face. "I won't be going back to Oz." Tears tried to come, but he willed them away. Too dead inside.
"You can't be serious."
He nodded, barely.
"Tim, that's your fucking life. It's all you've ever known." Murphy rested an arm on his left shoulder. "It's all both of us have ever known."
"Well, I guess I'll have to learn something else. Something." A few tears rolled down his face; he brushed them away quickly. Perhaps he wasn't that dead inside.
"Tim, you can't give up."
McManus shook his head. "I'm not giving up." He sighed deeply. "They're the ones who gave up. On everything. I'm just—." He paused briefly. "I'm moving on."
Murphy grasped him by the upper arms and turned their bodies face to face. "Moving on to what? Huh?" He huffed. "Desk work? Waiting fucking tables?" He shook the man lightly as he spoke. "Tim, this is it, you know? It's in our fucking blood. This shit. It's all we have."
"Sean, we've known each other since, what, eight years old?"
"Six, even longer." Tim turned his eyes back out to the swaying trees. "I'm tired. So fucking tired." He lowered his head, shaking it, defeated. "I've done this shit since I was in college. Since I was fucking 21 years old."
"So?" McManus said mockingly. "So I can't say that I've helped one goddamn person since then. Not a single fucking prisoner."
"Tim, you know that's not true. Come on."
"Not true? Name just one — one person who I've helped."
Murphy shook his head. "There's still time."
"Time? Time for what? Twenty fucking years I've done this shit." He sighed again. "I'm so fucking tired of it." He knew he was talking in circles, but he didn't care.
"You've hit slumps before." Sean's eyes held the saddest expression. "Don't give up now. You'll feel better once you're out of this hospital room. Once you get back to Em City."
"I don't think so." He chuckled a few times with no trace of a smile. "When Glynn fired me from Em City, I was miserable. Hopeless. I didn't know what else I would do with my life." He scoffed, staring at nothing. "So pathetic."
"You're not pathetic, Tim."
"No?" His blue eyes looked glassy under the fluorescent lights. "How could I not be pathetic as hell? I'm a joke to my peers, the prisoners think of me as a dumbass hack with nothing to offer them, and my few accomplishments are a blip on the evening news." He smirked. "If I didn't have a couple of connections in Congress, my career would be over with by now."
"At least the Congressmen have faith in you."
McManus snorted a few laughs. "That's not faith. That's—." He paused in thought. "That's pity. That's mercy. And mercy doesn't even fund my causes anymore." His eyes sank to his feet, which dangled over the side of the bed. "Who honestly has faith in me?" The words barely escaped him, his voice a hushed tone. "Who ever did?"
"I do. I always have," Sean offered. He took the man's hand and lifted it in a brotherly grip. It was a gesture of strength, of friendship, of support. For a moment, he thought he would never get through to Tim, but their joined hands seemed to comfort the man. At least somewhat.
They stared at each other. Tim's hawkeyed stare, intense blue-gray eyes shining, beaming straight at Murphy's eyes, brown as bark, as rich and deep as soil.
"Why don't you ever talk about what's-her-name?"
Murphy erupted in a deep, throaty laugh. "Tim, you always call her what's-her-name."
"I never saw her that much."
"We were married for ten freakin' years." He chuckled at his friend.
"I could never remember her name. It's something strange, isn't it?"
"Fucking Susan, Tim! Is that difficult to remember?" Murphy roared with laughter now.
McManus smiled and laughed himself, despite their conversation from moments ago. "Well, you know—." He didn't even have enough bullshit in him to think up another excuse.
The laughter died and Tim's expression turned somber. He touched his stomach, as if the laughter had upset his wound. Sean released the grip on his hand and placed his hands on McManus' shoulders again. "We'll get through this, Timmy-Boy." He was utterly serious, but he smiled affectionately. "You and me. Like it's always been. Since we were kids."
McManus nodded weakly. "Doctor says I'll get out sometime tomorrow."
"I'll be here, to help you. We'll get you home. Get you some rest."
"Thanks, Sean." Tim looked out the window again; the songbird had flown off. "I don't deserve you. I don't deserve this friendship."
"Don't talk like that. Who helped me when I was shit-faced every night, going through my divorce, huh? Who helped me pull my shit together?"
Tim nodded, sighed.
Murphy's eyes met his. "Alright?"
They sat in silence together for another two hours. Soaking up the stillness in the room. They could do this, old friends. Sit without speaking. Have a conversation in their heads, so to speak. They were beyond words, sometimes.
Beyond words but not beyond feelings. They could read each other like familiar books by now. Each knew when the other was having a difficult time. Each would be there to comfort the other during those hard times. Friendship meant forever.