Coelacanths and Confessions - Part Three genfic hetsmut sug serial alvarez mukada

Coelacanths and Confessions- Part Three

by Sugaree

It's been nearly two months since his return to Em City, and Alvarez has kept his nose clean. He's been quiet as a mouse as far as McManus can tell. He resumed the script trade the very day he was reassigned to the hospital, but he keeps it quiet and sly. Never pilfering too much at once, therefore not calling any suspicion or attention to himself. He did get a chuckle when he saw the scalpels and sharper instruments locked up in the same drawers he breaks into nearly every day. But he kept it to himself, and stayed far away. He doesn't need a weapon, and he knows if he'd get caught with one, he could kiss his ass goodbye probably forever again. They'd start thinking he was some sort of freak, obsessed with blinding people.

He still talks to Mukada. Not as much as when he was alone in solitary, but at least once a week. He honestly thinks the priest does help. He helps to keep him balanced, sane. He's also the only person in here that Miguel thinks truly cares about him. He's the only one who doesn't demand things from him, and Miguel likes that. And he still likes to talk. Luckily, Mukada still likes to listen.

Even better, Mukada not only listens, he still tries to help. He knows how lonely he is. He knows he's still trying. He's seen the subtle shift too. He doesn't know what caused it, Miguel won't talk about it, but he knows he's on the fringe again. Ray's walked through Em City and seen who's in control. Chavez is, that's for sure. And he and Miguel have had a parting. They aren't at war, Ray's sure of that. And Alvarez hasn't been forced back to the obsequious position he was previously in. To the contrary, he's doing ok. Still no one dares to cross him. But there's a definite chill between the childhood friends.

Ray tries to talk to him about it, figure out what's going on, and even though Alvarez tries to stonewall him about it, he again picks up enough clues to form a theory. They come in small snippets, never spoken straightforward either. Sometimes Ray presses, but either he's not cagey enough, or Miguel is more perceptive than Ray gives him credit for. Whenever he senses that the priest is trying to go into netherland territory though, he backs right off and shuts up. He's good at it too. He simply brings up Maritza, starts sighing about her or the baby a bit, and that puts Ray right back on his heels.

Sitting behind his desk in the small cramped room, he peers across at Miguel in the chair opposite him. It's become something of a ritual for them to have a sit down in here once a week. Sometimes, lately, the roles even reverse and once in a while Alvarez will listen to Ray for a little while. It ends up amusing the both of them when it happens, but each one of them still gets something significant from the exchanges. Sometimes, they don't even discuss anything pertaining to either of them. They simply talk about baseball trades, why the A's suck this year, and how phenomenally good the Yankees are. Like old friends, they simply sit around, kvetch, shoot the breeze, and bullshit.

But that's not Ray's interest for today. He wants to know why. He wants to know why two guys who were thicker than thieves growing up are suddenly divided. And he wants to hear it from Miguel because he already has a clue. The Latinos aren't divided, he knows that. So it can't be anything relevant to business, it has to be personal. But what could be so personal that Miguel would willingly distance himself from everyone?

"Miguel,"

"Uh oh, that's trouble, Padre," Miguel deadpans.

"What?"

"When you say my name like that, you know, and you sorta draw it out, sigh at the end. You always say my name like that when I'm in really deep shit, man."

"You aren't in trouble, I just,"

"I know I ain't. I ain't done shit!"

"I know, I know, I just was wondering some things, that's all," Ray proceeds.

"Yeah, like what? You know, I can tell you 'bout these wild dinosaur fish. They was in an article in one of them books you brought me when I was locked up. They was s'posed to be extinct, but they ain't, ever wonder about shit like that? Freaky shit."

Chuckling a bit, Ray tries to stay focused, keep the conversation steered where he wants it to go. "That's good, Miguel, but I was more interested in you. How are you doing since you've been back in Em City?"

Shrugging, he answers noncommittally, "I'm a'right, things are fine. I /am/ glad to be out of that tiny cell, Padre. You know, I know you was a big help, talkin to Glynn, gettin him to let me out. I never thanked you for that, so thanks."

Beaming, Ray can't help but feel a little proud right now. Not vainly so, just satisfied with accomplishment. "It was no trouble. Besides, the judge recommended it, Warden Glynn merely agreed with and abided by his decision."

"Nah, I know you did a lot. Seriously, I 'preciate it, Padre. I was, like, I was getting content in there, you know? I think that woulda been bad though, stayin there for a long time," he says and looks out the window.

Ray can tell he wants to get up and pace a little, but he's keeping himself seated anyhow, trying to give his full concentration. So before Ray loses his attention, he attacks again. "So, if you're so glad to be out, how come you're never hanging out with the gang?"

"Whaddaya mean?"

"Well, you don't eat lunch with them, you sit by yourself all the time. During Rec time you never play cards with anyone anymore, you just sit in front of the TV. You act like you're still cut off."

"I don't know. I guess I just got used to bein alone a little, you know? I just don't feel like hangin out all the time anymore."

"Miguel, are you in trouble again? Are the other Latinos threatening you?"

"No. Fuck no, padre. Nobody bugs me. Nobody screws with a guy that cut out a CO's eyes."

"But, you used to be friends with Chavez, on the outside. You were thick with him as soon as you went back to Em City. I know he's running things, Miguel. What happened, he cut you out?"

"No. I still do my part. I still run the scripts for the gang..."

"You what?" Ray is actually shocked by that statement. He knows what Alvarez just said, but can't believe he heard right. He honestly thought he wasn't involved in anything anymore.

"Nothing, nothing, Padre," Miguel backpedals. It was a sign of his comfort level and easy trust in the priest that allowed that statement to tumble out of his mouth, but he wanted to swallow it as soon as he said it. He knows Ray tries to understand, but he also knows that he can't ever fully comprehend everything. And he doesn't want to lose the trust on his side. He just wants Mukada to think well of him. He doesn't want to disappoint him again.

"No, it's not nothing. What are you talking about, Miguel?"

"Nothing, really, it's no big deal, Padre, don't worry."

"Scripts. You steal drugs from the infirmary and sell them."

Shrugging again, Miguel just looks at the other man. Ray stands up and begins a short pace behind his desk. Holding his hand to his forehead, he is momentarily speechless. He looks at Alvarez, who simply shrugs again. Then he looks at the ceiling and mutters the word. "Scripts." Pacing a few more times as he fully digests the information, he finally replies with the only thing willing to come out of his mouth. "What the fuck are you thinking?"

"Padre," Miguel retorts, now he's the one who's shocked, and a bit amused. "You can't say that."

"Jesus, Miguel!"

"You can't say that neither, man!"

"What do you want me to say? How, how could you be doing this? How long have you, no. No. I don't want to know. How, how could you /tell/ me this?"

"I'm sorry man, it just slipped out, you know," he answers, snorting back a giggle. He's still thoroughly amused, can't believe he actually made Ray say "fuck" and "Jesus." "You was askin me about the gang and all, so I was just explainin how shit worked now, and..."

"Stop. I don't want to hear any more. What am I supposed to do? I can't know this and not say anything."

"You can't say nothing! You're a priest, you can't tell no one nofin' I say to you," Miguel protests.

"This isn't a confession, Miguel! We were just talking here!"

Sitting up straighter now, beginning to squirm, it's suddenly not as funny to Alvarez. "Well, I only said it cause I thought you couldn't repeat it."

"Oh, Miguel," Ray sighs again.

"Yeah, there's that name that way again," Miguel nods. "Come on Padre. You can't rat me out. If I get busted again, I'm done, man."

"You have to stop. You have to stop right now, you hear?"

"Yeah, a'right," he agrees.

Agitated, knowing he's being patronized, Ray walks around to the other side of the desk. "I mean it, you have to stop."

"Ok."

"Now."

"A'right!"

Sighing and shaking his head, Ray walks back around and sits down in his chair. He turns around and looks out the window for a few moments, then back to Miguel. He looks like a little kid with his hand in the cookie jar. Remorseful, yes. Remorseful that he got caught. "How do you...No. Forget it. I don't want to know."

"Then I won't tell you. I'm sorry, Padre. Really, please. Don't bust me man."

"You have to stop."

"I will."

"Ok then."

"Ok then."

Trying to collect himself, Ray fumbles with some papers on his desk as he clears his throat. "I uh, I have a lot of paperwork that I'd better catch up on, so uh, I'll see you later."

Rising, Miguel feels bad that he put the padre in such a bad situation. He's even more upset that he's now once again chipped away at the trust and respect he so values from Ray. He hovers at the door, trying to clear the air again. "I'll uh, I'll come by tomorrow, ok?"

"Yeah, that's fine," Ray answers curtly.

"Padre, I am sorry, man. I guess I'm just so used to tellin you everythin that I don't know when I oughta shut my big mouth."

"It's ok, Miguel," he says, still fumbling nervously with the papers that clutter his desk.

"I really didn't think you was allowed to tell no one either."

"I won't tell, Miguel."

"I know," Alvarez says simply and walks out the door.

He's not going to stop. He'll lie through his teeth to Mukada about it for the rest of his days here and tell him he's not running scripts anymore. But he still will be. Alvarez doesn't want to fuck up anymore, but he's no saint. He's still going to do everything he has to do to survive in here and maintain as much respect and authority as possible. And he doesn't even have a guilty conscience about it. Not at all. He doesn't see the harm. He's not hurting anyone by peddling tits. Shit, he still pops a few every once in a while too. He's not a fiend like Chavez is becoming, but Alvarez always did appreciate a good buzz. He just gives people what they want. If he doesn't do it, someone else will. So why shouldn't he take the cash and prestige, he figures. He now draws lines between right and wrong, but there are still plenty of things that he puts on the acceptable list that most people simply don't.

***

On his way back from Mukada's office, he's intercepted by Pancamo while cruising through the pit of Em City. "Hey, Nappa wants you," Chuck says.

"About what?"

"Don't know."

"So bring 'em here."

"You gotta go see him."

"I don't gotta do shit," Alvarez says, trying to step around the other guy. He hasn't kept his jizz by running like a messenger boy all this time. He's ignored everyone, done his own thing, and he's not about to start answering to anyone now.

Chuck steps in front of him again, blocking his way. "Go see Nappa."

"Fuck you."

"It's important."

"Then he can come to me. Now get the fuck outta my way," he says, glaring, defying. Chuck doesn't move, so Alvarez stares intently at his eyes. "You got nice eyes, Pancamo."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Wanna keep 'em?"

Chuck blinks, and Alvarez pushes around him, retiring to his pod, chuckling to himself as he goes. Nasty as the eyeball caper was, it sure is going a long way in here for him. He's not even settled down to read when Nappa and Pancamo appear at his door. Rolling his eyes at the sight of them, he holds out his hands and flippantly questions them, "What?"

"Uh, may I come in? I won't take up too much of your time."

"Yeah, a'right. Make it fuckin quick," Alvarez answers, still put off.

Nodding to Chuck to get lost, Nappa enters the pod, standing directly in front of Alvarez, head held high, looking every bit the quintessential wiseguy. "I've been displeased with some of my employees lately," he begins. "When I agreed to have the gangstas running tits for me I didn't realize they were such junkies and fiends."

"Yeah, got nothin to do with me, go talk to them about it."

Ignoring the protest, Nappa presses on. "Their use is cutting into our profits severely. I can't have that. But I don't have the manpower to peddle myself. I need soldiers."

"Yeah, well, I can't help you out there. Not interested."

"Are you sure your men wouldn't be?" Alvarez looks up at him now, debating. Nappa presses on. "Everyone knows what's going on with your gang. You peddle the scripts, and the other one has been bringing in tits. Your men run them. A little liquor trade on the side, and you boys are doing well for yourself. But you have the same problem I do now."

Nodding out the window, he directs his attention to Chavez, sitting in front of the tv, completely spaced out. Alvarez swallows. Sanchez has already come to him twice complaining. They aren't making money anymore. Chavez is taking their liquor cash and only returning minimal amounts of tits. It's obvious he's fucked up all the time, and he's simply snorting up profits and fucking up shipments. "Your tits aren't as fresh as mine, but your men are fresher. You can keep your liquor and script trade, I just need help keeping the flow of mine going smoothly in here."

"What do you want?"

"I just told you what I want. I need a few men to help me move my stock, that's all. They'll be compensated for their time. In return, they don't move for anyone else."

"Nah, nah, nah. That's never how it goes with you fuckin wiseguys," Alvarez says, turning around, fighting the urge to start pacing. "You always want more and more. Always some sort of catch to your deals, man."

"Look," Nappa interrupts. "There's no catch here. I need to keep my tits moving. That's all. Your men aren't moving many right now. I thought we could help each other, a partnership."

"Yeah, what about the g's," Alvarez nods out toward Wangler. "When they figure out they've been cut out, that's gonna be trouble. You're gonna tell me to take care of them, huh?"

"Actually no. I don't foresee much trouble coming from them. They're going to have their hands full with, hmm, legal problems you see. Look, just talk to your men, get back to me. It's a good deal for everyone," he says, dropping his head, meeting Alvarez eye to eye.

Miguel sits down on his bunk, his mind already racing with the possibilities. He's been burned a little by Chavez's fuck ups. He's had to front some tit money that he never saw come back his way. And Chavez isn't bringing in much these days. Mostly just enough to feed his own cravings, not much for profit at all. The other guys are restless. It's a deal that makes perfect sense. Except for one thing.

He's stayed away. He hasn't gotten involved with anyone else's business since he's been back here. And no one has fucked with him either. If he jumps in now and arranges this, that thin layer of isolation will be shattered. Even if he doesn't get involved in day to day operations, he'll still be officially in the mix. He could just keep peddling his scripts, keeping to himself, and have no worries. But what if Nappa goes around him then. Will the other guys be pissed that he didn't come and offer them this deal? They could think he was trying to keep them down. But if he does arrange it, there will be one certain severe repercussion. Oscar. He'll be pissed. His men, his own men ditching him to run tits for some guinea at Alvarez's arranging? Miguel looks out the window of his pod at Oscar watching TV. He has no doubt. He's too fucked up anymore. And Alvarez still has the dirt on him. He wouldn't dare fuck with him.

He lays back down on his bunk, fingers thrumming his chest. A few months ago, this is exactly what he didn't want. And now he does. Then, he was in his own little tidepool, no other fish around. When he first got back here, he didn't swim against the current. Instead, he swam perpendicular, cutting through all riptides and undertows, ignoring all the other fish. But you just can't swim like that forever. For all the world, there are some things that just can't be changed. He's learned to care, he's learned to take responsibility. He's grown a lot. But he still can't resist being a hotshot. He just can't be excluded from the rest of the school. So now it's time to turn and fall back and let the current speed him along for a while.

Guerra, Sanchez and Garcia all agree. They aren't making shit with Chavez anymore. They've even begun to finance the sinking operation. Why not run tits for Nappa for a while? At least they won't be spending their liquor trade money even if they don't make good dough. They know Nappa has the tastiest, freshest tits in all of Oz. And he has lots of 'em too. As for Chavez, he still scares the piss out of them, that's their worry. Nail removing sadist. That's when Alvarez becomes aware of just how much juice he has. He says he'll handle Chavez. They all just nod, say ok. Apparently, eye gouging is still higher on the list of atrocities than nail shiving in Oz.

Alvarez stops back to see Mukada the next day. Once he had business taken care of and settled, he festered all night long about what he's done. He didn't want to fuck up anymore, and he did it again. This time directly screwing the one person who always tried to help him. He still doesn't feel any remorse for stealing narcotics and then selling them. Not a bit. But he feels bad for putting Ray in the position of knowing about it. He knocks on Mukada's door, and when he's given permission to enter, he does so with his head hung low.

"Yo Padre," he says sheepishly.

Looking over, Ray puts his pencil down and half smiles at Miguel, gesturing for him to have a seat. Miguel walks over and sits on the edge of the chair, elbows on his knees, hands together, head still low.

"Miguel," Ray begins.

"There's that name again, baby. In that bad way."

"You aren't in trouble, Miguel. I told you, I'm not gonna say anything."

"I know, I trust you. It's just, I feel bad, you know?"

"It's ok. Just don't tell me any more things like that," Ray laughs. "I know, I do know that you have to do some things in here. But you have to stop that. If you get caught, Miguel,"

"I know. Don't worry about that though. It's just, see I know how it feels. To like, know something, and not be able to say, even if you think you should."

Ray leans forward now. He knows instantly. He knows what this is about, and he hopes maybe he can get Miguel to finally spill. He treads gently at first. "Well, if you think you should say, then you should," Ray advises.

"Nah. See, that's only one thought, and it's my first one. I told you before, every decision I make is wrong. So if I think I oughta, you know, then that'll be fucked up, so I can't."

"Miguel," Ray sighs, deciding to be blunt. "Is this about Glynn's daughter again?"

"Yeah," he says, still looking at the floor, one leg bouncing up and down nervously.

"You have to talk," Ray pleads.

Rising from his seat, Miguel begins to slowly pace around the room. Circling around the desk, he stops to look out the window. He loves to look out the window. Then he reverses back and paces in front of the desk again. "Nah. I can't Padre. I just can't. But so, I know, you know, how it sucks."

"Miguel, listen to me on this,"

"No. No, I can't. Are we, is this a confession right now?"

"You mean so I can't tell anyone?"

"Yeah."

"No. But if you want, I can make it one."

"Yeah, make it one."

Ray agrees, crossing himself and draping a white sash around his neck. He quickly recites an Act of Contrition along with Miguel, and then leans back, his dark eyes pleading with Miguel to continue.

Miguel continues to pace, speaking softly as he does. "See, I really don't see the point, man. You know? What good would it do?"

"It would help Ardith. That's who. Look, I know you have no love lost for Warden Glynn,"

"Got that right."

"But still, /she's/ never hurt you, Miguel."

"I know that too. And I feel bad, you know, for her. It bugs me. But still, even if tell, it can't undo things, can't change things for her."

"It can help her move on."

Shrugging, he circles over to the window and looks out it again. Ray doesn't know what to say. He can't seem to find the right words to convince him. "It's the right thing to do," he says, hoping that will have some resonance.

"See, is it? That's what I don't know, Padre. That's not how I grew up. You never, never ratted out a friend. No matter what."

"This isn't like tattling on your pal for chewing gum in class. This is different. Someone was hurt, Miguel."

"Yeah, but it's still ratting, you know."

"So, he's a friend of yours, that's why you can't rat on him," Ray prods.

Shrugging again, Miguel waits a beat before answering. "He was. Yeah, I mean, yeah, he is."

"Look," Ray tries again. "What if he does it again?"

"What do you mean?"

"Miguel, if you speak up about what you know, you could be helping someone else down the road. He could very likely do this sort of thing again."

Shaking his head, Miguel doesn't listen to that either. "Nah. He can't," he says, moving to the front of the desk again and halting there.

"Why not?"

"Just can't."

"He's here, isn't he?"

Miguel stares up at Ray with that comment, their dark eyes meeting and locking together. Ray swears he can see the wheels turning in his mind now. He can actually see the flicker as he tries to decide on what to do. Praying, willing him to speak, Ray's eyes don't waver a bit. They hold steady, offering support, and reinforcement.

But it's not enough. Miguel blinks first, and looks back down at the ground. Ray already knows. He knows exactly who it is, he's not stupid. But that's useless. Unless he can get Miguel to speak, first to him, then to someone else where it /is/ legally binding, it does no good.

"Padre, where I come from, and where I live in here, you can't rat people out. Ever."

Ray just nods. He knows he can't press any more.

Taking a deep breath, Miguel sits back down, again looking at the floor. "I just wanted you to know, you know, that I'm sorry. For what I did to you yesterday, puttin you in the same position and all. So I don't blame you, if you gotta tell."

"I'm not going to tell."

"Yeah, I know."

"Good. You should."

"I do."

"Ok then."

"Ok." He looks up from the floor, allowing a grin to creep across his face. "So, how many Hail Mary's I gotta say?"

***

"Alvarez!"

He knows who's yelling behind him before he even bothers to turn around. Stopping in his tracks, he figures he may as well do this now. "What?"

Oscar saunters up to him, rubbing his nose, looking like ten miles of bad road. "Hey, I need some cash to bring in a delivery of tits."

"Ain't got no cash to give you Chavez."

"What the fuck you talkin about. I just saw Guerra, he told me he gave you the liquor money, come see you."

"Oh, I got cash, baby. You just ain't gettin none."

Eyes narrowing, he squints defiantly. "Yo, what the fuck's that mean?"

"Means you ain't eatin up no more of our profits," he says, leaning in close. Sticking a finger in Chavez's chest, he states it point blank. "You a fuckin fiend. You snort up nearly everything you bring in here, baby. Come to us for green to support you. Ain't gonna work that way no more."

Grabbing Alvarez by the shirt, Oscar lunges and pushes him back against the wall. "Don't you fuckin forget who works for who 'round here, brother."

Knocking the hands off of him, Alvarez shoves back. "I don't work for nobody but myself," he yells. Straightening his shirt, he glares at Chavez. "They don't work for you no more either. You get your own tits from now on, amigo."

"Don't fuck with me Alvarez, I'm warning you," Oscar drawls.

"No! I'm warning you," Miguel spits right back. "Don't even fuckin think of getting cute. 'Less you wanna be answering questions to Glynn 'bout his daughter, asshole."

Squinting again, Oscar's jaw drops. "You wouldn't fuckin dare."

"Test me."

"You fucked me over. You're gonna regret this, Alvarez."

"I don't think so, baby. Want some advice? Stop suckin tits all the time, take care of business, and try to stop bein such an asshole. That's what fucked you over. Not me, man. Not me," he says and turns around, walking away from his old friend.

***

Alvarez still goes to visit Mukada constantly. But he never again brings up the subject of Glynn's daughter. Instead they fall back into their comfortable routine. But Ray sees. He's out of solitary, but he's still cut off. Even though it seems self imposed this time, he knows it has to be hard. After arranging the deal between Nappa and the rest of the gang, Alvarez again stepped back, refusing to get intricately involved in daily operations. He used his juice to pull it off, and that's what mattered to him.

He still talks about Maritza all the time. Usually with guilt, but sometimes just wistfully. And he's still trying. He tries so hard to stay out of trouble, to stay to himself. So Ray goes to McManus on Miguel's behalf to arrange a visit. Ray doesn't get a conjugal, he wouldn't have even tried. Cool as he is, he is a priest. But he does convince McManus to let him see her face to face, family time, without the cold glass separating them. To his surprise, McManus doesn't fight him on it. He simply shrugs and says, "Fine."

The hard part was convincing Maritza and Miguel. She didn't go to Miguel's trial, she hasn't written, and she hasn't inquired about a visit. Ray assumed he'd have to beg her. He figured she was bitter, pissed off at Alvarez for all he'd put her through. But she's not angry, or vindictive, Ray discovered by speaking to her.

She misses him. But he hasn't called her, he hasn't written either. For some reason, they both just seem afraid. Afraid of what seeing the other will do to them. What they'll think about. What could they possibly say to each other? They haven't seen each other since the death of their baby. He's afraid she hates him. She's afraid he thinks less of her. So Ray ends it. He convinces her to come, he convinces Alvarez to see her.

He walks out into the busy room to meet her. He knew he was anxious to see her, but it takes him by surprise when his breath catches at first sight of her. His heart palpitates lightly, and there's a subtle tightness in his throat. Blinking quickly and moving forward again, he does his damndest to compose himself as he strides over to her. Weaving between the tables of other inmates seated with their mothers, fathers, wives, sisters, and babies, he meanders through the short path slowly, watching her backed against the far wall, standing, waiting for him to approach.

She looks exactly the same as he remembers, only better. She looks real. He had forgotten why he chose her in the first place. She was so sweet. Man, she was nothin like the other broads in the neighborhood, loud, mouthy and trashy. Oh, she was no delicate angel, that's for sure. She could stand toe to toe with anyone, but she never picked the fights. She never hassled him. She wasn't a drama queen always looking for attention, even if that meant arguing to get it. She'd rather get his attention by winking coquettishly or sliding up behind him and pressing her firm breasts into his back. She did anything he said most of the time. She always stood behind him. Sweet, that's what she was.

But that's how she kept him, not how she caught his eye. She did that exactly as she was doing it now. By looking like one of the finest, foxiest chicas he'd ever seen. Man, she has a body to die for. It could bring him to his knees when he was kissing all over her, feeling her swells in all the right places, smooth and supple and lean in others. Havin a kid didn't change that at all. If anything, her curves got a slight bit bigger, but he liked that just as well. Standing there against the back wall, dressed in tight, faded Levis and a snug, cropped t-shirt, he can't help but admire her graceful neck, how it leads down and plunges into those glorious tits. Her slightly squared shoulders, the curve of her breasts narrowing suddenly to reveal a smooth, trim waistline. Oh man, he thinks, licking his lips as he moves even closer, she's still fuckin hot as hell.

Then his eyes travel up, blatantly inspecting her face, and she doesn't turn away or look down, she's doing the same thing to him. He hadn't even noticed it. She had looked him up and down and slowly back up again as soon as he came through the doorway. She recalled the catlike saunter perfectly, he still sways with the same rhythm as he walks, one hand held flat against his stomach, but other things have changed. She looks at his shoulders, and they seem wider, and he carries them a bit straighter now. His neck, that's thicker too, but the single vein running down the left side is still pronounced, still as tempting as ever. His arms, my god, she thinks, look at them. They were always so defined, he was always perfectly cut, every single muscle in his arms, his chest, his abs strongly etched. But now they carry more weight too. They aren't thin and sinewy like before. They're, matured. Underneath the thin cotton of his t-shirt, she can tell the same is true of his chest. Still sculpted, but slightly bigger. Absently biting her lower lip as he draws near, her eyes move up again, searching his once familiar face.

Oh man, that thick dark hair, he used to love to knot his hands into it, feel it fall on his chest when she'd lean over him. So dark, so wavy, so full. And those lips of hers. Look at her nibbling on her bottom lip. She'd do that. She used to do that when she was thinkin dirty thoughts, he remembers and grins. Another subtle trill vibrates through his body with that thought. Man, they're so full, and they way they tasted when I'd suck on 'em. And then she'd open her mouth more. Lettin me in. And her tongue...

His eyes. They haven't changed, they didn't always look so sad though. So big, so open, so dark. They always seemed like they could see everything I was thinking, everything I was feeling. She sighs lightly, her chest feeling suddenly heavy. And I knew everything he was feeling. Just by looking in his eyes. That scar, though. My baby, what'd you do to yourself? Why...

Then he pushes one last empty chair out of the way, and there he is. Standing right there, in front of her. She swallows hard, still pressed against the wall. He places his hands on her hips and her arms immediately rise and her hands rest on his shoulders. And then he leans his head down and meets her gaze with upraised eyes for a moment. She can feel the heat of his shoulders under her hands, looks into the penetrating deep brown irises. Her breath catches sharply in her throat now, she didn't expect to react like this. She feels her stomach begin to twist slightly with longing, and he wins again. She leans in first and places a soft kiss upon his lips.

Soft and slightly moist, he feels the warmth of her mouth pressed gently against his. Lingering there, inhaling deeply, a sudden surge rolls through his belly, turning him around, making him feel weak. Closing his eyes, he feels her lips part ever so slightly, demurely, but an invitation nevertheless. Unable to resist, his tongue flicks out, painting her upper lip with his flavor. His feels his heart drop in his chest with the sensation, seeming to plunge down and take more of his strength with it. Then she returns the favor, nibbling at his bottom lip, sliding her tongue against his.

He feels her expel a sharp breath, hot and moist against his mouth, and his comes rushing out with a jagged edge too. Suddenly, he notices the subtle, floral aroma hovering around her. Still tasting her lips, one word leaps to his mind. Sweet. She's still sweet. Then she moves her hands slightly, up his neck, her fingertips brushing through his short hair. It's too much then.

He can't forget where he is, no matter what. His heart leaps again at her touch, and he feels her quiver slightly in his hands, but he holds still for a moment. He marks it in his mind, taking a mental snapshot of this moment that may have to last him a lifetime. Then he inches back slightly. Raising his heavy eyelids, he feels another hot breath of hers land on his mouth. Instinctually, he licks his own lips, tasting the remnants of her mouth. He presses his lips together, licking again, savoring the taste before it's washed away, and sees her do the same.

Clearing his throat, a smile tugs at the corners of his mouth and he nods at the table next to them. "Wanna sit, for a minute?" He guides her gently to a chair in the corner, one hand still on her hip until she lowers herself into it and sits.

She wasn't sure she'd be able to sit down gracefully, grateful for his steadying hand. Already, from one stupid kiss, she thinks. My legs are weak, he's got my mind all fuzzy. He still, he turns me on.

He seats her in the corner of the room, and pulls a chair in front of her for himself. That way, he can see only her. For a few minutes at least, even if he can't forget where he is, he can block it out, turn his back to it and focus on her. He sits close, almost crowding her, shielding her from everyone else and inhaling the light flowery scent of her hair. Her knees are together, tucked inside his, pressing gently on them. Then he leans forward in his seat, and she does the same. He rests an arm on the table and her hands fall onto his knees.

They sit there like that for a few awkward moments, neither knowing what to say really. Then he clears his throat again, and tries. "Maritza," he sighs, "baby, I'm sorry, for you know, everything, and..."

"I know," she interrupts. "It's ok. Miguel, he wasn't your fault, he was mine too."

"But, I..."

"No. Don't. I know, I do, and it's ok."

He nods, thankful he doesn't have to say it out loud, cause he doesn't know what to say. Sweet. She's still sweet, lettin him off the hook. She could be hateful right now, she could be yelling at him, she could be blaming him, maybe she should. Even worse, she could have just ignored him, forgotten about him altogether. But she's still sweet to him. "You look good, baby," he says with a sly smile. "Real good."

"Yeah? So do you."

"I'm glad, you know, that you're out. That's good. You can, you can have a life now."

"Miguel..."

"Baby, I can't. You gotta, you can't wait for me. Don't. It's gonna be a long time now, I fucked up a lot."

"Yeah," she answers and looks down. Then she notices his hand. His arm, draped over the table, but his hand dangling down, and a couple of his fingers gently stroke her upper arm. His other hand, covering hers, on his knee. So hot.

She looks up at him again, directly in his eyes that tell her everything, and it nearly breaks her heart. She could swear that it does. She can feel it, in her chest, tensing and stricken for him, for herself, for them.

Without thinking, he reaches up then and sweeps the hair off her shoulders, behind her back, barely brushing her ear as he moves past it. It's a sweet gesture, she knows, and she's moved by that now too. Then she looks over his shoulder, her eyes sweeping the rest of the room. Everyone is consumed by their own families. Talking, hugging, arguing, whatever. And here they are, back in the corner, no one paying any attention to them, she notes. So she leans closer. As she does, she brushes her chest by his dangling hand and hesitates there, watching his face for a reaction. He tilts his head to the side, looking at her, and she presses ever so slightly into his hand.

He can't resist, so he flicks a finger up, brushing it over the soft fabric, teasing her. She inches closer again, and he moves again then too. Knowing no one can see around him, he lazes his finger up and down again, this time he can feel her nipple underneath, through the thin cotton of her shirt, the silky fabric of her bra. He feels it hardening under his touch, and again he feels his breath involuntarily hitch for a moment. He locks her in his sight, every trace of a smile gone now, and the sadness that she hates momentarily erased. Only the simmering intensity of building passion is reflected back at her.

That's what she wanted. To take that look away for a while. Even when he smiled at her, he looked so lost. But now he doesn't. She doesn't want it to end yet either. Not breaking his gaze, while his fingers still travel up and down, clandestinely massaging her, she snakes one hand upward from his knee. She feels his thigh tense under her as she moves up. Slowly, deliberately, nothing sudden, and he doesn't stop her.

He's the one who inches closer this time, both of them leaning forward, his back to the rest of the room. Still her hand moves up his leg, every muscle in it tensed and taut. Then she finds him there, already hard as can be under her touch, and she presses firmly, searching his face for a reaction. Ever so slightly, she sees it. His eyes flicker, his mouth parts, and a quiet, heavy breath falls out, whispering across her own lips. She moves up further, struggling to undo the top botton of his chinos, waiting to see if he'll take her hand, stop her.

He doesn't. He leans back a bit to assist her. He knows where he is, and he turns his head around, scanning the room to see if anyone can tell, anyone knows what's going on. While he feels her nimble fingers tugging at his zipper, he glances quickly. Beecher is there with some old chick, probably his mother. And Wangler, with some young chica of his own. A couple other guys he doesn't recognize are there too, but they're all busy, not paying any attention. Her hand still moves down, slowly, carefully, letting each tooth unclasp seemingly one at a time, not making any sudden moves. He cranes his neck even further, and eyes the guard. He's just standing there, not really watching anyone, just a glazed over, bored to death look in his eyes. So Miguel flicks his fingers against her again, this time catching the hard nipple between his fingers, squeezing slightly, loving the way it's so firm, resistant against him. Then he feels her other hand on the side of his face, urging him to turn back around, to look at her. One last quick survey, and then he obeys. Leaning forward again a bit, he turns and catches sight of her face, hovering only a few inches from his, so close, but so far.

She's so pretty, he thinks, so sweet. She tastes so good, she's so soft, and she smells so fresh, like flowers. She shifts her hand again, this time reaching inside, and she finally catches hold of him. Hot and hard already, she doesn't know this started as soon as he saw her. By the time he had made his way through the room he was like this, wanting her, ready. She runs her thumb over the head and firmly circles her fingers around his shaft. His eyes drift closed, his head dips a bit. Inside, his chest contracts again, and a fluttering ripples all through his body, almost like a chill, but not quite, better. She starts to move, slowly, up and down for him. But it's too hot, too dry, so she releases him, and he opens his eyes again. He sees her raise her hand to her mouth, and she quickly runs her tongue along her palm, wetting it. Seeing her do that makes his stomach flip again, and when she reclaims him, it makes him lurch a bit.

She's so warm and soft around him, moist heat, gently stroking him, and it sends another shiver up his back. He can keep it quiet, but can't completely hold back a low, lust-filled growl from deep in his throat. She hears it, and increases her pressure. He's still looking at her, and he rubs at her breast again with his thumb, the most he dares to do in here. He wants to do so much more. He wants to lean forward right now and capture her mouth, he wants to take that stupid shirt off her and kiss her neck. He wants to pull her close, wrap his arms around her back and lift her up on top of him. He wants to make her shiver and sigh, like she's doing to him right now. But he can't. But as she strokes him, firmly, slowly, he imagines it all clearly.

Even while his eyes are opened and looking at her, he can picture it. But he's still aware, he doesn't dare move, or touch her like that. Someone would notice that. All these mooks, they don't know right now, and he's not going to let them. Thoughts like that push him to the edge, and then he can't resist. His whole body is on edge, tensed up, concentrated on the wonderful sensations rolling through it. The soft, smooth heat of her gentle hand causing all this pleasure. His heart pounds in his chest, belying the stillness of his body. He lifts his free arm and twines his hand in her hair, clutching to her neck. He holds tight, uncontrollably pressing his hips forward. Not much, just slightly, the tiniest of thrusts into her palm. And it's so good, so warm, so sweet. Another shiver running up his back again, he holds even tighter to her now. His eyes fall closed again, and the quietest, softest of sighs escapes as his mouth closes around it, forming her name, for only her to hear, "Maritza."

Hearing him whisper her name, she strengthens her hold, deepens her stroke. And that does it for him. His hand on her neck clenches tight, his teeth scrape together, his back straightens up, and he starts to come in her hand. Not earthshattering, not powerful, but enough to weaken his legs, make his heart pound harder, and send a subtle vibration to his limbs. Not the best, but it's release, and it's sweet. She strokes again, milking him dry, as she watches his chest rise and fall under his thin t-shirt with his labored breathing. He says her name one more time, growling it out, lowly, softly, "Maritza," as his eyes open again, still heavy.

He's just in time to see her raising her hand, her eyes scanning the room. She looks back at him again and leans low, licking his cum off her hand, off her wrist. He leans back a bit, releasing her neck, and zips his pants up, watching her finish. Dipping back in, he catches her wet hand in his, and gives her a kiss. He tastes his own salt still on her lips, and slides his tongue out, tasting her, tasting himself. Just like everything else, it's sweet. Then she pulls back, taking a deep breath.

She looks in his eyes again, and she can see them changing. It's already coming back, that sadness. It was gone, for a while, it was gone when he was looking at her. But now he's gazing at her and it's coming right back. She wonders if that's how it would always be. Even if he was getting out of here, if he'd still always look at her and think of him, their son, and get sad. He used to look at her and see only her, just like he did a few minutes ago. But now he's seeing him again. It broke her heart too. She felt like she was going to die when she lost her baby, and she still mourns him all the time. But she can't be constantly reminded about it. She still has to be a person other than that, and he links her to that, to losing him now. She knows she can't take it. She loved him. Unquestionably, he was her first true love. He was so strong, and so wild. They had so much fun. He could always do to her what she just did for him. And when they were alone, he was so sweet to her. She places her hands on his shoulders again, but averts her eyes. "I gotta get goin now," she mumbles.

He nods, "Yeah, I know. Thanks, you know, for coming and," a grin creeps across his mouth as he lets the sentence die, just like everything else between them.

She nods her head, and they both laugh a little. She pushes up with her hands and stands up. He looks up at her, and she leans down and kisses him on the forehead. "Bye, baby," is all she says. Then she steps over his leg and walks out of the room.

He doesn't turn around to look at her or watch her leave, he refuses to allow himself that last pleasure or suffer that final misery. He raises his hands to his face for a minute and rubs gently at his eyes. As he does, he notices the faint trace of a sweet aroma on his hand, the one that was tucked into her hair, clinging to her neck. He knows it smells like a flower, but doesn't know what kind. He's never been to New Orleans, or Haiti, or the Orient and it's not commonly indigenous around here. It's probably best that way anyhow. If he knew that it was jasmine, he'd probably spend a bunch of greenbacks getting a hold of some and sniffing away at the bottle every once in a while when he wanted to wallow in misery and memories. But he doesn't know, and he's not about to go making Beecher sniff his hand and ask him if he knows what it smells like. So the word jasmine will be lost to him forever, even though he'll always have a clear, feeling memory of what it smells like. It's the antithesis of everything here in Oz. It's sweet, just like her.

Maritza picks up her pace as she weaves out of the oppressive building. Feeling it hitting her harder and harder, she knows she won't make it much longer either, so she ducks into the ladies room in the reception area before heading out. She goes directly to the sink and flips the faucet on. Hesitating, she moves her hand up to her face first and inhales deeply. It's Miguel. It smells of him, and she makes a mental note of it, logging it in her memory because she knows that memory will have to last her a lifetime. Then she ruefully plunges it under the running water and allows it to be rinsed away forever. The tears start to run then too. It's not a sobbing, gut wrenching display of hysterics, but just a calm, steady stream. She loved him. And she loved their baby. And now they're both lost to her. In different ways, but just as certain, Miguel is just as lost to her as their baby is. She would have waited for him. Even if he didn't want her to, she would have. If only he could have looked at her as her again. Just her, seeing nothing but her. For a short time there today, he did, and that's enough for her right now, that's enough to get her through. That and a hundred other memories. But she can't face the future by looking in his dusky eyes and always seeing guilt, pity and all that sadness. And she can't face the future with him without being able to look into his searing brown eyes at all. So she can't face the future with him. And once again, Maritza's heart breaks.

***

Chavez doesn't carry anything with him on his way out. Reaching the gates of Em City, he hesitates, then turns back around. The CO stands there, waiting for him to return. Trotting across the pit, he stops at Alvarez's pod. Miguel's in there, sitting back absently leafing through a book. Feeling a presence, he looks up to the doorway and sees Chavez there. He knows he's leaving today. They haven't spoken to each other in months though. Chavez points to the bunk, asking permission to sit.

Grudgingly moving his feet, Alvarez clears space for him, allowing him room. "Yo, whatchyou want?"

"Just came to say goodbye, amigo."

"Yeah, a'right," Miguel nods, softening a bit. He extends a hand, which Chavez accepts. Oscar then throws another arm around his shoulders and quickly brings him close, holding tight.

Whispering in his ear, he drawls out his farewell, "You shouldn't a turned on me, Alvarez."

Tensing, Alvarez reflexively tries to jerk back as he snaps out a confused exclamation. "What?"

Not letting go, Chavez moves close again, keeping his voice low. "You shouldn't a cut me outta the business man. You remember that you picked this."

"I didn't cut you out Oscar. You cut yourself out."

"Yeah, whatever. I just want you to know something though," Oscar presses forward. "I been thinkin. For a couple days, thinkin bout what I wanna do first thing when I'm out. I was always jealous of you, Alvarez."

"What? What the fuck you talkin 'bout?"

"That sweet, pretty girlfriend you had. Maahrrritzaa," he drawls, rolling her name off his tongue.

Miguel swallows hard, his lungs contract in his chest. Head suddenly swimming, he doesn't know what to say. The thumping of his heart reverberates through his ears, but it doesn't drown out the words falling into them.

"I'll bet she misses you huh? Maybe I'll stop and let her know you're doing ok. Yeah. That's the very first thing I'm gonna do. Pay a nice visit to Maritza."

Shoving him away, Miguel leaps to his feet. Mercurial eyes flashing with hate, his voice shakes as he growls out the only possible reply. "You stay the FUCK away from her!"

Laughing now, Oscar slowly rises, inching out the door. "Yeah," he winks. "Don't worry, I'll be sure and give her a kiss from you."

"Motherfucker!" Miguel charges, knocking them both to the ground. They spill out of the pod, Oscar trying to wiggle away, placing his arms over his head to protect himself until the hacks come. Alvarez pounds away furiously, landing a few jolting blows, opening the bottom lip of his adversary. The hacks pry him off before he can inflict any real damage. Struggling to extricate himself from their grasp, they begin to drag him off, kicking, yelling as he goes.

Quickly bouncing to his feet, Oscar simply leers as a bloody smile sweeps across his face. "Adios, amigo," he calls out. "I'll still give her that kiss."

He waits until he can't hear the frenzied yelling anymore. Straightening his shirt, he glances around at the other inmates staring at him. Shrugging, he simply declares, "He's just a little jealous, that I'm leavin, you know." Laughing, he then saunters back over toward the gates of Em City. Walking through the doors, he's already fixated. He doesn't revel in the fresh air, or the feeling of being out of Oz. He just wants to get to his destination. He can't wait to go see that sweet pretty girl.

Conclusion in C & C Epilogue


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