He floated, staring at nothing because there was nothing to see. It was actually somewhat relaxing, but lately also tinged with boredom. Sometimes he would half hear sounds around him, a whispering voice that spoke soothing nonsense phrases. He strained to understand the words, and occasionally thought he caught a glimpse of meaning. It usually disappeared too fast.
He wasn't in pain. He remembered a time when he was - fire in the belly and chest, spikes in the head - all eventually numbing and fading away. Occasionally he thought he felt a flicker of touch on his skin, warm and reassuring, soft and gentle.
Lately, the sounds around him had been more intense - he was picking up more than that garbled, vaguely familiar voice. He heard clanks and beeps, sometimes the swish of cloth, occasionally other voices. The sounds were intrusive, and he resented them. They didn't stop though. If anything, they just got clearer.
Slowly, he became more aware of his own body. He sometimes felt like he was being rocked and turned. He started to feel things - scratchy sheets, water on his face.
Voices he could understand began to clamour inside his head. He wasn't sure if they were internal or external voices, but it didn't matter. They all said variations on the same theme. 'Wake up, Beecher. Wake the fuck up.' He tried to push them away, but they just got louder, more insistent. They made him tense, disturbed his previous sense of peace.
His ears felt like they were constantly ringing. He wanted the fucking voices to just shut up. They wouldn't though.
And so, after a while of this internal struggle, he woke up.
His eyes fluttered open to darkness, and for a moment he thought maybe he was still asleep after all. Eventually though, he realised that it was night. He listened to the small sounds around him, tried to figure out where exactly he was. He heard shifts and sighs, small grunts and squeaks of beds, the occasional scrape of metal against metal. His eyes adjusted slowly, and he began to make out strange angular shapes half-lit by dim light coming from far away. The room had a vague institutional smell - mass-cleaned laundry and a slight antiseptic sting.
He figured it out. He was in a hospital. He played with the realisation for a few minutes. A hospital where? His eyes moved to the right as he heard a door opened slightly. He watched a figure walk slowly down the row of beds. Male, solidly built, gait authoritative with a hint of a swagger - he couldn't see facial details, but something about that walk triggered a memory.
A hack. Ahhh yes. Oz. He had to be in the hospital ward. The recognition brought with it a crashing sense of defeat and depression, somehow tinged with a small sense of accomplishment at actually remembering where he was and what had happened. Alvarez, Ricardo and - he smirked - Guerra. Pain in his head and shank in his chest.
How long had he been out? And why, of all the times, did he have to wake up at night?
He had the worse sense of timing. He smiled ruefully, and his lips cracked. He ran his tongue along the sensitive skin and tasted the slight coppery-iron tang of blood.
He wanted water, and he knew he'd have to wait.
Shit. No sense of timing at all.
Miguel silently moved to stand beside the bed. He looked down at Beecher, gazed into unfocussed eyes. His podmate's forehead was creased, whether in pain or concentration, he couldn't tell. He was seized by a sudden urge to reach down and smooth out those creases with his fingers, to brush the tensed skin with his lips.
He quashed the impulse. He didn't need every fuck in the room watching, smirking and filing away the observation for future use. Beecher was a mess right now, an easy target for all those fucks like Schillinger. Miguel needed to maintain a wall of strength. He had to strike that balance that showed everyone that he wouldn't tolerate Beech being fucked with, that he was someone to avoid angering.
So, instead he reached out and shook the other man's arm. "Yo. You need some painkillers or somethin'?"
Eyes focussed on him, and Toby's head shook slightly. "I'm not in pain Alvarez."
"Your face is all screwed up tight."
"It's not pain. I'm just thinking."
A twitch of a smile. "Yes."
He shrugged his shoulders slightly, and looked around the room, eyefucking anyone who happened to be watching. He sneered when, seconds later, Schillinger entered the room with that fuckin' mail cart, looking like some pussy mail room braindead fuck. The guy always tried to strut when he was pushing that cart, but to Miguel he just ended up looking like some aging shit trying to hide the fact that his muscle mass was rapidly turning soft and moving south.
Schillinger moved down the line of beds, stopping in front of Toby's bed, standing up straight, white and fuckin' PROUD.
"No mail for you today Beech-ball. Guess no one gives a fuck you finally decided to open your eyes. Me now - *I* do care, 'cause I had some money riding on your pussy ass NEVER waking up. Should have made sure my bet came true. Guess it's true what they say - you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself."
Miguel narrowed his eyes and stepped closer to the Aryan fuck.
"Oooh, I'm sorry To-BI-as, I seem to have upset your little fuck buddy here." He smiled that superior little smile that always made Miguel want to spit in his face. "And how long HAVE you two been 'special friends'? Was the spic over here fucking you back when we had OUR arrangement, Bitcher?" He narrowed his eyes. "Always figured you were a natural whore, getting it wherever you could. 'S'what made it so easy for Keller, once I told him what to do."
Miguel sneered again. "Fuck you motherfucker." He looked down when he heard a snorting laugh. Beech had an amused look on his face.
"Vern-baby - you jealous? Mmmmm-hhmmm, I think you are. Well well. Never thought you cared so much." Beech started to laugh again, and Miguel stared at him in amusement and amazement. "Mmmmm," the sound was low, almost a growl, "Well - don't you worry Vern. I'll be up and about soon enough...maybe if you're lucky, you and I can have a few more intimate encounters." Beech held Schillinger's gaze, until the CO yelled at the fucker to move on. He gave a shake of his head, bent back over that stupid mail cart, and left the room.
Miguel turned to his podmate. "Shit man. Coma's done you no good." He smiled a little.
He got a genuine smile back, even if it was tinged with a little wildness. "Yeah, maybe not. What the fuck. Vern is so easy to provoke sometimes. I swear, he's losing his touch."
Miguel shook his head. "Nah - I hear he runs his shit pretty tight in Gen Pop."
Beech looked unperturbed and uninterested. "Whatever. Listen - when the fuck do I get out of here? I've been lying in this bed for too fucking long."
"Hey - I ain't no doctor."
He got a snarky look for that. "C'mon Alvarez. You hear shit, I know."
He shifted slightly impatiently. "Yo - you been out for a long fuckin' time. You think you can just get up and go? Your muscles are all shit, Nathan says you need physical therapy. You gotta get used to eatin' food again, not gettin' everything through those tubes. Relax."
Beech got an irritated look on his face, and he struggled to sit up a little more. He was shaky, and Miguel moved to help him a little, but got weakly pushed away. "Fuck Alvarez. How much of my time here have I spent in the hospital? Lying in a bed, unable to do shit for myself. I'm sick of it. I want to get up and walk the hell out of here, move on, not be coddled and fussed over."
Miguel backed away, slightly hurt, somewhat annoyed. "Fuck you Beecher. You wanna get all pissy an' shit, that's FINE. You wanna get up an' try an' walk out, go right ahead. How long you think it's gonna be before some fuck like Schillinger figures you'd make a nice easy target again? I'm tryin' to be NICE here, help you out, help you keep breathin' while you get your shit together. You wanna fuck with that, then fine." He watched the expressions on Beech's face change rapidly - anger, annoyance, shame, and then contrition. The guy opened his mouth, about to speak, but Miguel turned and walked away.
He didn't want Beecher to see the hurt in his eyes, the frustration. Fuckin' ingrate.
He needed some space.
Toby watched the other man walk away, and felt stupid, guilty and angry. What the hell was Miguel's problem? Slowly, he pushed himself into a sitting position, and pulled some IV tubing from his arm. Goddamn things itched like fuck. He drew his knees up to his chest, surprised by the slow response time, by the sweat that unexpectedly beaded along his upper lip. Still though, it wasn't as bad as the last time he'd been in a bed like this, trying to get his newly healed arms and legs to work after months in casts.
He remembered those physical therapy sessions, working past the exhaustion and pain by visualising revenge on Schillinger and Keller.
He hugged his legs close to his chest, breathing deeply. Another memory resurfaced. Keller. He'd been in the gym that day with Ricardo and Guerra.
Had he had a role in the whole thing?
He looked around for someone to talk to, but found no one even vaguely appetising. Shit. He hated being this out of the loop.
The next day O'Reily was brought in to get some stitches in his arm - apparently he'd had a kitchen accident. While waiting, he moved to sit on the adjoining bed. "Hey Beecher - heard you were awake."
A nod and a slight grin. "Good thing too."
"Why? You miss me?"
He got a flash of that brilliant smile. "Sure. Not as much as some people though."
"Like who? Keller been whining in your ear?" He was fishing for information, and not doing it too subtly. He didn't care though.
O'Reily gave him a strange look. "Beecher - Keller's dead. You didn't hear?"
Stunned. That's all he could think - he felt stunned. His mouth moved on automatic. "I haven't heard much lately, Ryan." Dead. Huh. He hadn't been expecting that AT ALL. He half heard O'Reily rambling on about Keller being found, throat cut, bleeding out all over the floor. No real details, just the raw data. He shook his head, trying to clear it. O'Reily didn't mention who had killed Keller, why he was dead. That was unusual, 'cause Ryan usually didn't overlook the details.
He focussed on O'Reily's voice again. He'd returned to the original topic of conversation. "No no, I was talking about Alvarez. The guy went all silent and shit while you were out of it. Distant, you know? Did what he had to do, but wasn't entirely there most of the time. I was starting to get worried."
A cynical little voice in Toby's head picked up on that comment. Ryan probably HAD been worried, but more about losing access to the income that hospital 'scripts brought in than anything else.
AND - so Alvarez had been a ghost of his former self? Hmmph. Something to think about.
Keller dead. Alvarez silent.
He and O'Reily spoke for a few more minutes - later, he honestly couldn't say about what - and then he was alone again, starting at the ceiling, his fingers, the blankets, ANYTHING that was a distraction.
Miguel walked towards the psych evaluation office, headed for a regular appointment. When Beech had been lying in that bed, the nun had told him he needed extra counselling. She'd expressed concern over his behaviour. She'd said the priest was worried too.
So, he'd started going to the extra sessions - not like he'd had a choice - mainly spending the time talking about insignificant things, or just not talking at all. He'd been able to sense the frustrations of Sister Pete, and on some level, he'd felt slightly sorry for her, for the effort she was making. He'd felt almost bad that he hadn't been able to muster up the return effort, to give her what she wanted.
Walking down the dull hall, he thought about the morning he arrived at the infirmary to find that Beech was awake. He remembered feeling slightly nervous, tongue tied. He'd been both surprised and unsurprised to find that Beech had woken up.
He'd known that Beecher would wake up eventually. He'd FEARED that it would never happen, but on some level he'd known it would.
He stopped walking and leaned against the wall, shoulder on cool concrete. He knew what the priest would say. Faith. Miguel had had faith.
He sighed, checked up and down the hallway, and when he verified it was empty, he shut his eyes tightly.
So Beech had woken up, his faith had been rewarded. But Beech had been pissy yesterday, and now he wasn't sure what to do.
He moved away from the wall. Fuck the useless counselling session - he needed to talk to Beecher.
He headed to the infirmary.
When he arrived, he found Beecher's bed empty and neatly made up. His breath caught - what the fuck? His heartbeat increased slightly. Oh shit - where was he? Miguel looked around wildly for a moment, then tried to think clearly.
He caught Nathan looking at him, smiling slightly. Ok. A smile. That was good. He forced his legs to move until he was closer to her.
The doctor was nice. She'd done her best for Beech, had shown some degree of caring. She'd been good to his grandfather too. He respected her for that.
"Hi Miguel. Are you looking for Beecher?"
He nodded numbly, afraid of what she was about to say. She didn't look upset though. She looked calm. It soothed him a little.
"He's in the gym - physical therapy, remember?"
He felt his shoulders relax a little, and he half smiled. "Yeah. Ok." He started to walk away, but turned at the last minute. "Thanks." She smiled in return.
Again he adjusted his direction, and headed for the gym. When he arrived, he stood behind the dividing fence, silently, and watched some strange - and HUGE - guy manipulate Beech's arms and legs, then goad him into lifting pathetically light weights. He watched the sweat pour down his podmate's face and arms, listened to the frustrated grunts and curses that occasionally surfaced.
Eventually, the therapist let Beech rest, bringing heated pads to wrap around his arms and legs. Beech lay on a mat on the floor, shirt off, his eyes closed. Miguel entered the gym, drawing a curious look from the therapist. He ignored it and went to crouch next to Beech's head. Toby didn't open his eyes, so Miguel reached out and pushed back a stray lock of damp hair.
Eyes stayed closed, but Beech's mouth twitched slightly, and he sighed.
"Alvarez." The voice was sleepy, slow.
"Mmmm. I can smell you."
He let humour slide into his voice. "Hey - I just showered, ok?"
The mouth twitched again, and he caught a flash of teeth. "Miguel - it's a good smell. I just recognised you."
"You look like shit."
"I feel like shit."
"You want help gettin' back to the hospital?"
"Not yet, ok? It's nice to get out of there for a while, even if it does mean this kind of pain. Besides - I'm not sure I'm ready to walk back yet." Eyes finally opened. "Just sit with me?"
Those eyes were as blue as he'd remembered them. It was stupid and sentimental, but he couldn't help feeling relieved. He shifted and sat down.
Beech closed his eyes again, but continued to speak. "Hey - I'm sorry about yesterday. I didn't mean to go off on you like that."
He shrugged, then realised Beech wouldn't have been able to see the movement. He forced himself to speak. "'S'ok. It happens. I been there too, remember?"
Miguel looked around. The physical therapist was watching them, but not interfering, and this left him vaguely surprised. He looked back down at Beech. The exercise had given his skin some colour. He was still a little bit flushed. It was a welcome contrast to those weeks of lying in a bed, skin chalky.
Beech's lips weren't so cracked and dry anymore either. They didn't look as painful.
He looked up again. Now the therapist was putting stuff in a bag, turned partially away from them. Some hack was standing at the door, but was looking down the hallway. He looked down at his podmate, who was still smiling slightly, eyes closed.
Before he knew what he was doing, he was bending close, mouth pressing against Toby's lips. The normally soft skin had hints of rough scratchiness, matched by the slight scrape of the day-old stubble on Toby's chin.
He felt a hand close around the back of his neck, and one tiny part of his mind wondered how much the movement had cost Toby.
The rest of him wasn't thinking much at all. He was moving on instinct. His tongue ran along the seam of Toby's lips, and he was faintly surprised by the intensity with which the other man sucked him in. He breathed in the scent of fresh sweat mingled with his podmate's characteristic warm smell.
Fingers brushed lightly at the hair at the base of his neck, and a shiver ran through him.
Oh yeah...so good. He remembered this, the warmth of Toby's mouth, the soft brush of tongues, the smooth curve of palate.
He felt breathless, like some fuckin' teenager making out during lunch. He moved one hand behind Beech's head, pulling him even closer, tongue slipping deeper, teeth clacking softly. He let his other hand move across Toby's chest, stroking gently, feeling muscles contract as his fingers brushed the slightly damp, silky skin.
He hummed ever so slightly.
His fingers brushed a nipple, and tweaked gently. Beech moaned into his mouth, and the low sound sent shockwaves straight to his cock. He broke away for a moment, took a deep breath, kissed Beech again, and then started to move his lips towards Beech's neck. Eyelashes fluttered gently against his skin.
A vague clatter to his right pushed through his reverie. He looked up, and remembered the therapist. Shit. What had the guy seen?
His back was still turned. Either he hadn't seen anything, or he'd chosen to ignore it.
Miguel looked down at Toby, and saw he was grinning.
"What we need, Alvarez, is a little more privacy."
He smiled back, and took in the lines of exhaustion on his podmate's face. "Ain't none of that around here, Beech. An' anyway, you need rest." They looked at each other for a moment, then Miguel grabbed Toby's shirt, stood up, and reached a hand down. "C'mon, get up." He helped Toby to stand, then picked up the heating pads that fell to the floor. He turned to the therapist while Beech pulled his shirt back on. "You gonna take him back now?" The guy nodded and walked towards them. He handed over the still warm pads, then helped Toby balance himself against the other man. When everything looked ok, he gave a final small smile to Toby, and slowly walked out of the gym, trying to ignore how constricting his pants felt. He smirked to himself, glad for the length of his t-shirt, for the other shirt tied around his waist.
He felt slightly giddy, and had to force himself not to grin widely at every hack and prisoner he passed. Schooling his face to his habitual mask was harder than it should have been. Finally he found a quiet and deserted corner, slid down to the floor and lit up a smoke.
He tried to identify what he was feeling. Eventually, it came to him. He felt happy. At the moment, he couldn't remember the last time he felt like this. He remembered feelings of triumph, relief, satisfaction, sometimes even a little superiority. He'd felt depressed, worried, anxious, nervous, stupid, cornered and - aaah shit, he didn't even know the words for the way he'd felt lately.
Now though, he was fuckin' HAPPY.
Things were actually going ok for once.
Toby stumbled back to the infirmary, sometimes more than half-dragged by his physical therapist - aka Ben. His knees were weak, and he knew that it wasn't just a result of the exercises. It was a good thing Ben was such a huge guy.
He knew Ben from his post-broken bones bout with physical therapy. He wasn't bad to talk with, even if he was a stubborn fuck when it came to the exercises. At their first session together this time around, Ben had given him a bewildered, resigned and slightly amused look. He'd shrugged, smiling ruefully.
They kept moving towards the hospital, which really was too damn far from the gym. The taste of Miguel lingered in Toby's mouth, and he savoured it. He'd been surprised by Miguel's actions - generally the guy wasn't up for any kind of public physical contact, much less a groping tongue-fucking session out in the open. He'd also been vaguely surprised by the strength of his reaction.
It wasn't that he'd lost interest in Alvarez, oh no. He was just surprised by the fact that he would have fucked the guy, right there, Ben, hacks and whoever else just happened to walk by notwithstanding. He'd been so absorbed by Miguel's mouth, fingers and warmth that he hadn't even noticed whatever it was that had made the other man look up and move away slightly.
Finally they arrived at the infirmary. Ben led him to the bed, helped him up, and said something about tomorrow. He nodded in response, thoughts still on Alvarez.
He smiled. Ryan had said Miguel had been distracted and distraught. It had made him wonder. This, coupled with Miguel's behaviour in the gym, pointed to some pretty intense emotions on the part of his podmate.
He knew Miguel liked him. Their arrangement was good for both of them. He hadn't fooled himself into thinking it was love though. No room for love in Oz - he'd tried THAT before, and what a disaster it had been.
No, they had an accommodation, and one which was subject to change. He'd always been aware of this on some level. Now though, he wondered about his assumptions.
He lay back on the pillow and started to reassess his evaluation of the relationship.
Later, Sister Pete came to visit him, a smile on her face. "Hello Tobias. How are you feeling?"
He shrugged and smiled back. "Sore, exhausted, bored. My ass is numb from lying here for so long."
He watched her suppress a small laugh. "Well - in a couple of days, if you feel up to it, you can come to the office, and do some typing. It's not too strenuous, and it will get you out of here for a few hours."
He gave her a small laugh. "You're that behind on the files, huh?"
She looked at him indulgently. "You know me too well, Tobias. Yes - I've missed you, and the assistant McManus assigned me in the interim has been pretty much useless."
He nodded slightly. "Ok. I'll be there."
She gazed at him for a few moments, and her face clouded briefly. "Tobias - Keller is dead."
He sighed. "I heard."
"I thought you might want to know, because of your previous...feelings...for him."
He shifted a little, uncertain how to reply. "Do you know what happened?"
She shook her head. "Not really. He didn't show up for evening count. Eventually they found him, he'd been dead for hours. Nobody is saying who planned it, who had a grudge against him."
She looked at him sharply. "Do you have any ideas about this, Tobias?"
"No." He let his eyes close, hoping she would get the point.
After a few moments, he felt a hand pat his arm lightly, then heard her shoes tapping against the floor as she walked away.
He lay thinking. How did he feel about Keller's death?
The answers were too complex. He just couldn't muster the energy to think about them right now.
He moved onto nicer thoughts. His parents were coming to see him soon, and he didn't want to be too pissy.
After evening lockdown, Miguel lay on his bunk, and let the feeling of happiness wash over him. Hours after groping Beech in the gym, he was still half-floating. That giddy breathless teenager feeling was hanging on.
It was fuckin' stupid.
What the fuck was he doing? Things were changing, and he wasn't sure that this was a good thing.
He thought about the way things with Beech had started. The guy had helped him out after solitary. He'd been a mess - he could admit that to himself now - and out of his own needs, wants AND a sense of debt, he'd given Beecher what he'd needed. A little kindness, some respect, some fun.
The thought made him smile for a second, before he quashed the response. He moved back to his original train of thought.
Then there was the Guerra incident. Beech had risked himself, and been sent to the hole for the payback.
And, once again, Miguel had been in his debt.
So, he'd taken care of Keller. Debt cancelled.
Except - Toby didn't know. And he wasn't sure if telling his podmate would be such a great idea.
They'd never really talked about it - what was there to say? Neither was much for the heart-to-heart conversations - but, Miguel wasn't clueless. He'd watched Beech watch Keller. He'd had glimpses of the dynamic they'd had going before Keller and Schillinger had broken the guy's legs. O'Reily had filled him in on some of the details of Keller's obsession with Beech after the bones had healed.
Had Beech felt the same way - obsessed with some twisted sense of love and anger, feelings conflicted?
If so - how would Beecher react to the news that he and Ryan had set Keller up to get his throat cut? That HE had been the one to actually kill the guy? He dug his thumbs into his temples.
At the time it had seemed like a good idea. Keller had been indirectly responsible for Beech's injuries. Miguel had KNOWN that the fucker would just keep messing with him and Beech. It had seemed like the only way to resolve the matter. To get Keller off his ass, pay back his debts...and, he had to admit, to keep Beech safe.
Then - waiting for Beech to wake up had been his anchor. He hadn't wanted to think during that time. So he'd waited. He'd paralleled Beech's coma with his own state of inertia.
And now - now he was swooping down on Toby in the fuckin' GYM of all places, all thoughts being pushed out of his head by the taste and feel of the blond man.
It had made him HAPPY.
It was a great feeling. But - happiness was false, temporary. He KNEW that. It led to a loss of control. It made him WEAK.
It led to stupid impulsive actions like those in the gym. And he sure as hell didn't need every fuck knowing about his life.
He spent the next days in a state of uncertainty. He didn't know what to do, how to feel. Every time he saw Beech - too fuckin' much, working as an orderly, and yet somehow not enough outside of that - he felt relief and anticipation wash over him, followed quickly by anxiety and reticence. He didn't go to watch Beech do the physical therapy again, no matter how much he craved some first hand knowledge of the other man's progress.
They spoke, but not as often as would have been possible, and not for long. The ward was unusually busy for a few days, so he had an excuse to avoid lengthy conversations. After it quieted down, he tried to keep looking busy.
One afternoon, he surreptitiously watched Beech limp back into the infirmary after a visit with his kids, the first since he'd woken up.
His face - glowed - it fuckin' RADIATED. Miguel could almost taste the blond man's lingering happiness. Had HE ever put that kind of expression on Beech's face? Had he ever broken down those walls that far?
Was that how his own face had looked, after that day in the gym?
Something inside twisted bitterly, and his mouth went sour. He would NEVER have the kinds of feelings Beech was having right now. He'd lost that chance long ago. Beech had things he could never have.
Anger, bitterness, envy - they all came crashing down, and he turned away.
Soon - too soon, and not soon enough - Beecher was functional enough to be released back to Em City.
Miguel had reached a decision. Things had to end with Beecher. This happiness thing was too unstable, too dangerous. He had to get on with his shit, get it together, and move away from the other man's endless needs.
He spent the day avoiding Beecher, dreading lockdown, wanting desperately for everything to just be said and over.
He shouldn't have worried about it so much. By the end of the day, Beech looked exhausted, and was unusually silent. Maybe this would be easier than he'd thought.
But, being locked in the tiny pod for hours waiting for lights out - and the possibility of some sleep - took its toll on him. How often had he visualised having Beecher back in with him? How many times during those long, monotonous lockdown hours had he thought, ever so briefly, that Beech was actually in the pod, not lying in the hospital?
The small sounds his podmate made, the extra energy in the room, the few brief words they exchanged - they all messed with his head, fucked with his resolve.
Finally, the alarm sounded, and the lights began to be shut off. He stood automatically, moving to brush his teeth.
After spitting and rinsing, he turned back towards the bed, only to find the way blocked.
Fuck. How had Beecher moved so fast, so quietly? He stopped, uncertain what to do next.
Beecher reached for him, eyes lidded and heavy. He felt his gut twist with a familiar sense of anticipation and a slight tingle of vanity at the other man's desire. His breath caught briefly.
He wanted to let himself fall, let the feelings sweep him away.
Instead he steeled himself and pushed his podmate back. Trying to keep his voice steady, he said, "I can't do this."
Beecher got a slightly bewildered look on his face. "What?"
"I can't do this no more."
He threw his hand up in frustration. "This. Us. YOU."
Beecher swayed slightly, legs still occasionally unsteady. Miguel suppressed the urge to reach out and brace the guy, help him to regain his balance. He backed towards the wall, and watched his podmate move to lean against the bunks.
In a voice tinged with weariness, Beecher asked, "Why?"
He pushed out a deep breath. "'Cause. You're a fuckin' GUY." It was the easiest reason to give, and he hoped Beecher would take it at face value.
"That didn't stop you before."
"Yeah well, before was," his voice trailed off a little, but he forced himself to continue, "...before. Now's different."
"Does it matter?"
Beecher narrowed his eyes. "Yes."
Fuck. He turned away slightly. What the hell should he say now? Before he realised what he was doing, he'd opened his mouth, and was half-whispering, "You made me happy. That day. In the gym. You woke up and it was good, and then I was fuckin' happy, ok? That's why." He stopped speaking, and screwed his eyes shut. Shit. Where had that come from?
He heard a snort of laughter. "So - you don't want to touch me because I make you happy? That's got to be the stupidest fucking thing I've heard in years. What the fuck is your problem?"
Beecher's voice raised a few notches. "No Alvarez - fuck YOU. You think this is easy for me? Huh? I was married before I got in here. Three kids. Then I get sentenced to this shithole, and I get branded with a SWASTIKA, and Schillinger's fucking me every goddamn night, and you have NO IDEA how far from my life plan, my expectations, that was." He paused, took a deep breath. "THEN, I fall in love with some guy - something else I was not expecting - and that guy, who I actually TRUSTED enough to tell him I loved him, goes and breaks my arms. Do you have ANY idea what that was like? DO you?"
Miguel shook his head numbly, vaguely stunned by the sudden outburst. Then again, what had he expected? That Beech would just shrug his shoulders and turn away? Beecher continued to speak, and he forced himself to focus back on the voice.
"You think you got the monopoly on pain and confusion here? Maybe I sometimes wonder what I'm doing with you, why the fuck I let my guard down AGAIN after everything that leads to in here. Did you ever think of that?"
He felt a surge of anger. Fuckin' white rich law boy with his kids and his endless suffering, his attempts at manipulation through guilt. Beecher didn't understand ANYTHING. He closed the distance between them, grabbed Beecher's shirt, and propelled him towards the wall, hissing, "You are such a fuck, you know that?" He shook the other man. "You know the last time I felt happy? When my baby was born. An' you know what? He DIED. You know how fucked up that was? D'you know how THAT felt? I don't wanna feel that way again, Beecher, EVER, understand?"
"So what - you want to isolate yourself, drop all your connections, make yourself a target? How's that gonna help?" Beecher paused and narrowed his eyes. "Ooh - I get it. You've got your thing going with O'Reily. Hernandez is dead, so that's the major thorn in your ass gone. You're set, everything's good. And me - I was just some way for you to get through the rough times - someone to use in the interim. Right. You're such an ass. You deserve whatever you get." Beecher pushed him away, snarling. "Tell me Alvarez - how much did you like cutting out Rivera's eyes? Did it give you some sense of control, power? How much of all that guilt was just another act, a little hook to reel in those around you? To get sympathy from Mukada, me?"
He drew in a sharp breath, feeling like he'd been sucker punched. On automatic, he decked Beecher, and watched the guy slide down, light reflecting slickly off of skin. Blood.
He backed away, uncertain once again. Beecher just sat there, unresponsive, face set.
Fuck. How had he come to this? He crossed to the sink, wet a cloth, and moved to kneel in front of Beecher, careful to keep a good distance. He held out the cloth.
Beecher ignored him, so he shuffled a bit closer. No response. He moved his hand towards the other man's face, gently cupping his chin, turning him. With his free hand, he started to wipe at the blood, heard the slight hiss of pain. After a few seconds, the cloth was taken from him, and his hands were pushed away. He backed up and sat on the bunk.
Days ago, he'd been sitting in an isolated corner, thrilling at the bewildering happiness that ran through him. Now, he was watching Beecher glare at him, holding a cloth against split lips. What the hell was wrong with him?
He'd thought maybe by breaking things off with Beech, he might be able to get himself under control. Instead, he'd lost it even more.
And, he felt badly about something. He HAD used Beecher. The guy had provided a source of fun. He'd been someone to talk to. Even lying in that hospital bed, he'd been an anchor - a source of hope, a reason to survive. Miguel had taken it all without thinking about it too much.
He sighed. "You shouldn't have said that."
"What?" The word was slurred slightly, newly puffy lips getting in the way.
"About Rivera. You KNOW that's shit."
Stubborn. Beecher was SO fuckin' stubborn sometimes. "You know."
"Alvarez - what are you scared of here?"
He sneered. "I ain't scared o' nothing, ok?"
Beecher opened his mouth to speak again, and winced slightly. Miguel felt another surge of guilt. Shit.
"You expect me to believe that? Miguel - look, I'm sorry about your baby, ok? Really, I am." A flicker of sadness crossed Beecher's face, and he whispered, "I know what it's like to have someone you love die."
Ahh fuck. His wife.
And - Keller? Was he talking about Keller too?
He was cut off. "Shut up for a minute, ok? You think that by pushing me away you'll get your shit together, get stronger, get some control. And - maybe you will, for a while. But, do you really want to be left alone? Is that really what you need? 'Cause Alvarez - isolating yourself isn't going to work. If that's what you want, you might as well get yourself thrown back into solitary, wait out your sentence there."
He shivered. This was not going the way he'd planned. He needed to push Beech away somehow. So, he hardened his voice, and spoke what he hoped were hurtful words. "Beecher - you're right. I used you."
He got a sharp bark of a laugh. "Alvarez - it's not using someone if it's mutual, ok? You think I didn't have my own reasons for getting into this whole thing? I could've said no, gotten out if I wanted to. But you were fun. You were a great escape from so much I didn't want to think about."
A deep breath. "Yeah. And other stuff."
Harshly, "You loved him, an' now he's dead."
"I loved him once." Beecher sighed. "That stopped. It just got mixed up, twisted with other stuff. I'll never know now what I wanted to do about it."
Fucking Keller. Dead and STILL causing problems. Miguel knew he'd screwed up AGAIN. He'd thought that killing Keller would be doing Beech a favour. He'd acted for the other man, acted as though Beech couldn't deal with it himself.
A tiny voice tried to reassure him. Miguel - he COULDN'T deal with it himself, remember? He was lying in that bed, and before that, he'd just danced around Keller, too indecisive to act. And anyway - Keller was a pain in your ass too. You had to do something.
But still - he opened his mouth to speak, and was once again cut off.
"You did it didn't you? You killed him."
He looked away. Was this some kind of trap? But - maybe admitting this would be the thing that would push Beech away for good.
"Did you do it for me, Alvarez?"
He closed his eyes and turned away slightly. "No. For me. The guy was a pain in my ass. He kept tryin' to fuck with me."
"And that's all?"
"How did it feel?"
"Cutting Keller's throat. How did it feel?"
What the fuck was this? Some kind of twisted show and tell? He stared for a minute, then shrugged. "Like nothin'. It just happened. Everything slowed down."
Fuck. Beecher had spent too much time in that psych evaluation office. "I felt...relieved. Like pressure had been released or somethin'. Why you askin' this shit?"
"Just wondering. Sometimes I thought about what it would be like to kill him. I'll never know now, so I just wanted to get your impressions."
Beech laughed that crazy laugh. "So?" He held out his hand. "Help me up, Alvarez."
He looked at the hand dubiously.
"Look - you fucking put me in this position, so you OWE it to me to help up, ok?"
Reluctantly, he stood and reached down to grasp Beecher's wrist, wrapping fingers around it tightly, and pulling up. After Beecher struggled to his feet, Miguel released his grip, tried to back away.
But then his own wrist was encircled, held almost painfully. He tried to shake the hand off, but Beecher was unexpectedly strong. He was pulled closer, close enough to feel the heat radiating from the other man's body.
"No." Another hand closed around his arm, squeezing hard enough to make him hiss. Beecher moved his face closer, and Miguel thought he was going to kiss him. At the last moment, Beecher turned his head, and breathed hot air into Miguel's ear.
His legs went watery, his mouth went dry. This was not what he wanted. He tried to steel himself, to calmly tell Beecher to let him go. Instead, a stream of too fast words slipped from his mouth. "LETgofuckin'BITCHgetoffgettheFUCKoffme." He tried to shove Beecher away, without success. The hands on him just gripped tighter.
His heart started beating too fast, and for a moment, it was all he could hear. He started to feel panicky, crowded. A hissing voice penetrated the heartbeat wall of sound.
"...think you can just walk away, no problems, Alvarez? I'm not your goddamn PLAYTHING. You think I didn't notice you avoiding me today, brushing me off the last couple of days? You're so fucking self-absorbed, you know that? I am NOT going to play these kinds of games with you..."
The voice faded out. He couldn't breathe. His vision narrowed, darkness crowding in. He couldn't see around him, only in front of him. It felt like he was in some rapidly shrinking box. He opened his mouth, wanting to yell, scream at Beecher to get the fuck away. His throat was constricted. No sounds came out. He tried to push away again, but his arms were weak.
Beecher was babbling about something else now, and he half heard the rant "...fucking killed him Alvarez. You want to know how that makes me feel? I don't even know. He was MINE, and YOU killed him..."
Oh fuck, oh God, the box was getting smaller. All he could see now was Beecher's twisted face. Why weren't his lungs working? He couldn't BREATHE. He tried to swallow, tried to make his throat open a little bit. He attempted to shake Beecher off again, a screaming litany running through his head 'GEToffgetoffgetOFFgetoffofmeyouFUCKINGnutfuckGETOFF'. He heard a slight whine coming from his throat, and tried again to vocalise the internal howls.
Instead, what came out was a croak, a piece of information he didn't want to let slip. "...did it for you." SHIT.
But - hands released him, and Beecher backed off. Legs weak, Miguel stumbled backwards, eventually half-falling to the bunk. Released now from Beecher's grip, he started to shake. He tried to control the shivers, tried to remember that he was in the pod, not some nightmarish shrinking coffin. Even if he couldn't GET out, he could look through the glass walls. That door would eventually open.
After what seemed like hours, he felt a warm shape settle on the bunk beside him. A hand was pressed between his shoulder blades, its weight reassuring.
Slowly he came back to himself. How many times had Beecher done this for him? He remembered the early days, after he'd first been released from solitary. He remembered the nightmares, the times he'd woken up panicking, certain he was still in that tiny grey cell. Beech would just sit with him, trying to soothe with soft sounds, tiny touches.
How many times had they sat next to each other, staring at nothing, too distracted by their own crippling guilt and fears to sleep?
Shit. He was such a fuck-up, never knowing when he had it good.
He leaned back into the touch, and felt an arm snake around his waist.
Beech spoke, breath hot against his ear, his cheek. "I know you killed Keller for me Alvarez. And...I can't say I'm entirely happy about it, but I...think I understand why you did it. And...I appreciate the gesture."
Miguel let himself be pulled back, shoulders connecting with chest.
He felt exhausted. All of his defences were gone, so quickly. He was so fuckin' weak. Taunting internal voices sneered at him. Miguel Alvarez, weak and hopeless, spineless. Weak and WORTHLESS. He tried to shut them out, even though, deep down, he KNEW they were right. He should have the strength to push Beecher away, to survive on his own.
But - Beech was so WARM.
Sometimes it was a relief to let those defences down.
He closed his eyes, and settled more comfortably. He felt moist breath on his cheek again, felt arms tighten around him.
"Alvarez...sometimes you are one stubborn, self-punishing fuck. You need to just let go. I can't promise you that things will work out long term, ok? In here - even OUT of here - it's too unpredictable. Just - take what you can, while you can."
He wasn't convinced. This way wasn't necessarily easier. But right now he was so fucking tired, so he just let it go.
Later. He had lots of time.