slashsmut serial el beecher alvarez oreily

Equilibrium

by El


Miguel left the conference room, trying not to run. He forced his pace into an easy saunter. The sessions with Sister Pete about Rivera were awful. The sessions with Rivera were worse. The whole time he just wanted to crawl into a corner and hide from the pain and anger of the former guard.

Rivera always made him feel like shit. And Miguel kept going back because he knew he deserved the feelings. He *was* a piece of shit. He deserved his punishment, deserved to be made to feel subhuman. But even with his deep capacity for self-pity and self-punishment, Miguel could only stand the feeling for so long.

Lately, the only time he felt remotely human was with Beecher.

He needed that feeling now. Needed to lose himself. Needed Beecher. Now. The thought circled endlessly. NowNOWnow*now*Nownow... He changed direction and headed towards the library.

***

Toby sat in the library, reading a piece of shit book. It had to be the worst fucking book he'd ever read. Sighing, he turned another page and thought about going to the gym.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noted Alvarez stalking into the room, heading straight for him.

Miguel grabbed Toby's arm, pulling him up. "Beecher. Let's go."

The scowl on Toby's face deepened."What?"

"Let's go. Now."

"What the fuck, Alvarez?" Toby tried to shake off Miguel's grip without success. The fingers just dug in deeper. "What for?"

Miguel looked at him like he was completely dense. "You know."

Toby inhaled slowly, and pried Miguel's fingers off his arm. Teeth clenched, eyes narrowed, he hissed, "I am *not* your fucking prag, Alvarez. You don't tell me what to do." From the corner of his eye, Toby saw the ever-present hack move closer, so he moved away from his podmate. He forced his voice to make a more normal tone. "Don't touch me Alvarez. Got it?"

Miguel drooped a little, irritation, lust, need and shame flickering across his face. "Look...I just..."

He stopped talking when he caught Beecher's flat stare. Miguel felt himself close off, and in a dead voice he just said, "Fine". He turned, and forced himself to saunter out of the library.

Toby watched him leave, felt a little bit guilty, and considered following. Alvarez was having a shitty time. He knew another session with Rivera had just ended. Miguel always felt like shit after - like he was subhuman. He always wanted Beecher after.

But no fucking way was he going to let anyone order him around again. He sat back down and returned to the god-awful book.

***

Miguel leaned against the wall just outside the library. Fuckfuck*fuck*fuckfuck. He'd totally blown it with Beecher. He didn't mean to piss him off, to order him around. But these sessions with Rivera always left him will little control, little refinement or subtlety. Afterwards, he just always craved the touch of someone who trusted him, at least enough to fuck with him. Beecher's willingness to touch him was soothing. And now he'd blown it. Fucked up his connection.

He moved away from the wall and started heading back to Em City. He was so wrapped up in wallowing in a mixture of self hatred, guilt and shame that he didn't sense the movement behind him. He was totally unprepared when a hand covered his mouth, and an arm wrapped itself around his throat. He tried to yell, but the sound was muffled. He couldn't breathe, and his struggles were futile.

He was dragged to the stairwell, and greeted by a grinning Guerra.

"Hey Mich-ael. El Cid says hello."

Miguel struggled again, but his air supply was fading. The edges of his vision were starting to blur, and as he watched Guerra come closer, the last thing he thought was /oh fuck/.

***

Once again, he woke up to the intense whiteness of the hospital. Fuck. Why couldn't they turn the lights down or *something* to make it less bright? Mukada's face swam into view. It was fuzzy and almost disembodied.

"Hi Miguel. How are you feeling?"

The voice floated down to him, distorted and drawn out. What kind of shit was he on? "Padre...your head is floating." Miguel's lips felt thick, his tongue heavy. He knew the words had been mangled. He grinned inanely.

The Father smiled back and faded out of view.

***

The next time he woke up, it was to Ryan O'Reily's smug face.

"Hey Alvarez. You're awake. Hungry?" He held up a sandwich.

"O'Reily. What're you doin' here, man?" Today his mouth worked. The sounds actually made sense.

"Bringing you lunch, ingrate. You gonna eat it or what?"

Miguel slowly sat up, and reached for the sandwich. His hand shook a little bit, but he stared at it until it settled down.

O'Reily sat on the edge of the bed. "So...Guerra stabbed you. You almost died."

Shit. Was there anything the mick didn't know? "Yeah. Oh man, I'm fucked. El Cid wants me dead." Miguel let self pity wash over him.

"Don't worry. It's taken care of. Beecher sent a message to those fucks."

Miguel swallowed his mouthful of food. He needed water. "What? I need water." O'Reily handed him a glass.

"Beecher took care of it."

Miguel looked at O'Reily in amazement. "Beecher killed Guerra? El Cid?"

Ryan shook his head, a look of unholy glee in his eyes. "No."

Miguel sighed. Why did O'Reily have to play these games? Was he totally incapable of a quick story? "Then WHAT, O'Reily?"

"Well....Beecher found out what happened and went nuts. You know how he gets. Anyway, he stalked Guerra for a couple of days...then cornered and jumped him. Left him alive, you know - no death sentence for Beecher..." Ryan paused for a minute, then continued. "And - this is the best part - he bit off Guerra's thumbs." Ryan laughed, clearly delighted. "*Bit* them off! Twisted, no?" He shook his head. "The guy's a fucking nut."

Miguel sat and tried to digest the information. "He bit off Guerra's thumbs? Fuck. That's just...just..." he was at a loss for words.

Ryan nodded in understanding, still grinning "Yeah, I know. Remind me to never piss the guy off."

Miguel was still muttering to himself, "His thumbs..."

Ryan leaned closer. "Yeah. I heard Gloria say that they would've been able to sew 'em back on, if they'd found 'em sooner."

If they'd found them sooner? Somehow, Miguel didn't want to know what that meant. He didn't know what to say. Beecher's actions were just too fucked up. So, his mind moved to the other details of O'Reily's story. "Beecher stalked Guerra for a few days? Fuck, how long have I been out?"

"About a week. Close call, right?"

Miguel slowly nodded. "Uh...O'Reily...how did Beecher know it was Guerra?"

O'Reily looked smug and lightly tapped his chest.

Miguel knew better than to ask how O'Reily knew. "Oh. Who was the other guy?"

Ryan's brow furrowed. This piece of information was obviously a surprise. Apparently there *were* some things O'Reily didn't know.

"What other guy?"

"The one that grabbed me. Outside the library."

Ryan's eyes narrowed. "Alvarez, I don't know. All I heard was Guerra. Fuck. You never saw the guy?"

"No."

"Huh." Ryan stood up and grabbed the lunch tray. "I gotta go. See you later."

Miguel watched O'Reily walk away, mind clearly racing as he tried to figure out this latest puzzle.

Belatedly, he realised he hadn't even asked about Toby.

***

A little later, Father Ray came to see him.

"Hi Miguel. How do you feel?"

"Fine. Ok. They got me on alotta drugs, you know? I can't feel nothin'."

"Good. It was close...we were worried."

Miguel snorted. "'We?' Or you?"

"Me. And Sister Pete."

"Sure. Well, you can stop worryin' Padre."

"Miguel - was it Guerra?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"Well...Beecher attacked Guerra - you heard? Anyway, you and Beecher share a pod. And Sister Pete told me the two of you seem...close....so, we think that it was Guerra that attacked you. I mean, it's no secret Hernandez doesn't like you."

Miguel shook his head. If only the priest knew. "I don't know. My memory's kind of fuzzy, you know?"

A nod. "Well, if you remember anything..."

"Yeah. Sure. Um...Padre...How's Beecher?"

A sigh. "He's in the hole. For a month."

Miguel nodded. "Ok. Thanks."

"Uh...Miguel..."

"Yeah?"

The priest looked at him for a moment, clearly trying to find the right words. "Beecher...is your friend, right? I mean, he helped you out before, and then this..." his voice trailed off.

"Yeah. I guess. What're you gettin' at?"

Ray shifted, obviously uncomfortable. He looked away. "Nothing...it's good to have friends."

Miguel rolled his eyes. What the hell was going on here? "And?"

"Nothing. Take care Miguel."

Shit. Today was the day for people leaving abruptly.

***

He spent another week and a half in the infirmary, carefully watched. He inspected his wounds. He'd have several new scars across his chest and stomach once the bandages were off.

Occasionally O'Reily, Sister Pete or the priest would visit. Mostly it was boring as fuck. He considered stealing the drugs in the hospital, but - who would he get them to? He was out of the loop. He wondered about Beecher, sitting in the hole. He tried not to feel too sorry for himself.

When he was released back to Em City, O'Reily came to meet him.

"Hey Alvarez. Today's your lucky day."

"Why?"

"Back to Em City. Out of here."

"Yeah, great. Whatever, O'Reily. You ain't the guy who just nearly got killed."

Ryan smiled and touched Miguel's arm lightly. "Relax. Hernandez's in the hole. Ricardo's in the hole. Guerra's the amazing thumbless wonder. No one's touching you."

"What the hell you talkin' about?"

Ryan sighed, clearly trying to pretend he didn't like telling a good story. "Hernandez got caught selling tits. He's in the hole. Ricardo picked a fight with Hill. He's in the hole. Guerra's hands are infected and shit...I guess teeth don't make a clean cut. Anyway, he's alone and in pain. And not exactly interested in messing with a guy marked by Beecher. So, you're in the clear for now."

Miguel leaned against the wall and sighed. Was that what he was?

Marked by Beecher? "Why're you being so nice?"

Ryan flashed the full O'Reily grin, obviously cranking the charm on to full. "'Cause I can be."

/Whatever/. Miguel rolled his eyes. "Sure. Fine."

The smile dimmed a little. "Hernandez is a pain in my ass. He keeps trying to shut down my business. So, you know - the enemy of my enemy...."

Miguel nodded. *That* made more sense. Even though odds were it wasn't the entire truth.

Silently they walked back to Em City. O'Reily followed him back to his pod and invited himself in.

Miguel looked around, and noticed a book on the small shelf. Beecher's book, the one he'd been reading last time they'd seen each other. He shivered slightly. God...the hole. And Beecher was there for him. Because of him. He felt guilt come creeping back.

"O'Reily. You know some hacks right?"

"Maybe. Why?"

"Think you could get something to Beecher in the hole?" He held up the book.

O'Reily looked him for a moment. "Sure. Easy. But you owe."

Of course. "Yeah. Thanks."

The other man leaned against the glass of the wall. "So. Tell me about what happened..."

***

Beecher sat on the cold floor, knees drawn close.

The hole gave him time to think. To stew. He thought about Alvarez. He tried to puzzle out the strange dynamic of their relationship. He had to admit, he felt kind of guilty. After all, if he'd just gone with Alvarez, Guerra would have had to postpone the attack until later.

But, he couldn't lose control of the situation. He couldn't let himself be used again. Even if Alvarez wasn't out to screw him over.

Even if he *liked* the guy. Which, he grudgingly acknowledged, he did.

It wasn't that he *loved* Alvarez. But Miguel made him laugh. He had a fast, slippery way of thinking. When he wasn't worrying or brooding, Miguel still remembered how to have a little fun. He was a distraction too - something to get Toby's mind away from the otherwise endless circling around Keller. And the invariably great sex was an extra bonus.

The sex surprised him. That Miguel had been the initiator had been enough of a shock. But Toby was also surprised at how *good* it had been, and how easily he had fallen into a pattern with Miguel. Miguel was inventive. He was...well, *really* nice to look at.

Every second they spent absorbed in each other was amazing. A great way to push aside the myriad problems and worries that surrounded them. Toby craved those moments.

It was all about control though. For once, Beecher had to maintain control. Miguel had to be a controllable addiction.

He shifted position and sighed. Ahhh, who did he think he was kidding? Controllable addictions didn't exist. He'd lost control when he'd gone after Guerra. At first it had just been a pay-back thing. A little lesson, mostly to reinforce his own reputation. To show his control. No one fucks with Beecher and his...friend?...fuck-buddy?...territory?...

Well, whatever you want to call it, baby.

But...the thumb thing...that had been unplanned. Uncontrolled. Biting off Guerra's thumbs had been about more than a lesson. It had been an act of personal vengeance. Nobody touched his Miguel. Nobody.

Disturbed, he considered his last thought. When exactly did he start thinking of Alvarez as his?

This train of thinking was difficult, so Toby moved back to Guerra's thumbs, remembering the soft/hard grittiness of bone in his mouth, the taste of blood.Unbidden, a small smile played across his face. A tiny part of him, still rational, told him that he was a twisted, sick individual. But, other voices told him to appreciate his work.

A plastic-on-metal scrape alerted him to the fact that it was meal time.

The tray came through the slot in the door, and he reached to grab it. Wouldn't want to miss any of O'Reily's finely supervised taste sensations.

Today though, there was something extra with his haute cuisine.

He picked up the book and brought it close to his face, squinting more than usual in the dim light.

Ah Christ. The worst fucking book in the world. It just figured. Well.

It seemed that Alvarez was awake and ok. Was this a reconciliation gesture?

Fuck, if only he'd been reading something decent that day in the library.

He couldn't help it. He started to snicker, which turned to a full out cackle. It felt good.

***

Miguel lay on his bunk, brooding. He was incredibly bored and kind of lonely. Nighttime lockdown was dull without a podmate. But the loneliness was more than that. O'Reily had been right, nobody messed with him. This came with side effect of almost nobody talking to him. He was well and truly marked as a man to be left alone. At least for now.

He was working in the infirmary again. It was light work, and they could monitor him all day. He guessed that they still thought he was fragile or some shit like that.

O'Reily talked to him, and Miguel sometimes felt inexplicably grateful. Ryan even seemed to trust him with Cyril, which had surprised Miguel. He knew that the mick was probably playing him, but what he couldn't figure out was why. O'Reily had no real interest in access to hospital drugs. At least, he didn't think so. He hadn't mentioned it. Miguel might be able to help him with longer term plans for Hernandez, but still...It just didn't seem enough to justify O'Reily's ever-present friendly bullshit smile.

It was confusing.

He wondered about Beecher. He hoped that O'Reily had been able to send him the book. Thoughts of Beecher were constant. Was he truly marked as Toby's? If so, what did that mean for his own reputation?

Fuck. He needed to get control.

***

Untold mealtimes after the arrival of the book, Beecher was visited by McManus. He stayed seated on the floor, and McManus looked at him, gravely.

"Beecher. You bit off a man's thumbs."

No shit. Ah McManus, the king of obvious statements. Toby looked at the wall for a few seconds, then moved his gaze up to McManus.

"Do you have anything to say?"

Toby sighed. What could he say? "Like what Timmy? That I'm sorry? I'm not. That I won't do it again? Who knows? I might. That it wasn't fun?" He laughed. "I'm not even sure about that. Sometimes I think it was fun. Then I worry about my state of mind." He paused. "Are you worried too, Tim?"

McManus frowned. "Why did you do it, Beecher? Why the thumbs?"

Toby looked at the assistant warden's earnest face and decided to lie. "It was self defence."

A snort of disbelief. "You beat a man senseless and *then* bit off his thumbs in self defence? Explain to me how that works."

Toby grinned. "He said he was going to take out my eyes. With his thumbs. So, I made sure he'd never get the chance."

McManus sighed, and handed over the pile of clothes he had been holding. "Get dressed."

Toby stood and slowly dressed himself. What he really wanted was a shower. McManus was still watching him. They stared at each other for a few moments, then McManus shifted.

"Look, Beecher...."

Toby wished the guy would just shut up. He wanted his fucking shower. He ground his teeth, and started chewing his thumbnail. He watched McManus' eyes widen the slightest bit, and realised what he was doing. He smiled wildly, and put his hand in his pocket. "What?"

"Never mind. Let's go."

Finally.

Half an hour later, a clean smelling, damp haired Beecher walked into his pod. It was empty, and although he wasn't surprised, he still felt a twinge of disappointment.

Tossing the book on the shelf, he moved to the mirror. His month long beard growth was nasty. Any previous shape had been mostly lost. He was getting bored with beards again anyway. He picked up the razor and started to shave.

After he was finished, he moved to sit on his bunk. Then he waited.

***

Miguel tossed the dirty sheets into the laundry bag, and turned as he heard the familiar voice speak his name. Sister Pete was standing behind him, her expression bland. "Miguel. Can you come and talk for a moment?"

"I'm on shift here, Sister..."

She cut him off with a wave of her hand and a slight smile. "I've got some pull around here. It's ok."

He shrugged fluidly and followed her to her office. Closing the door behind her, she motioned him to sit down.

"Nah sister, I'm good standing."

"Fine." There was a pause, as though she were trying to gather words.

"Miguel, I'm afraid that the sessions with Rivera have to end. I'm sorry. You and I can continue to meet and talk, but Rivera doesn't want to talk to you anymore."

Miguel frowned, and moved to lean against the concrete wall. His head started to throb, and he took a deep breath. "Why?"

There was another pause. "Miguel, I'm going to be honest. Rivera...he wanted you to die. After the attack. He said that he prayed you would die. He...he said when he heard you would live, he was full of rage and hate and disappointment." The nun walked over, and patted his arm. "I'm sorry Miguel. He just wants the sessions to end."

Miguel shook himself, trying to clear his head.

"Are you ok?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Thanks. I'm goin' back to work now."

Sister Pete looked at him, her face carefully schooled. "Ok."

***

Beecher stared at the ceiling, enjoying the feel of lying on a mattress.

A sharp rap on the glass wall made him look up. Murphy walked into the room, looking vaguely annoyed. "Beecher. You should be at your work assignment. Get off your ass."

Toby shrugged and got up. What the hell. It wasn't like he had any pressing appointments today.

Murphy escorted him out of Em City, and then left him alone. He walked down empty corridors, occasionally passing closed doors. Sometimes small sounds were audible, sometimes not. He wondered what kind of intrigues were happening now, what he had missed during his time in solitary.

Idly, he played with images that amused him. Maybe Vern-baby had been denounced by the Aryans. He snorted. Nah. That would never happen. Well,not without a little outside help, anyway.

Hmph. That was an interesting thought. He decided to follow it through.

Rounding a corner, caught up in a maze of ideas, Toby didn't catch himself in time to avoid the prisoner coming towards him. They collided, tangled briefly for a moment, swearing, and then stepped back and looked at each other.

Toby grinned toothily into the annoyed face of Chris Keller.

Keller looked blank for a second, then tentatively smiled back. Eyes softening a little, he reached out to touch Toby's cheek. Smugly, he spoke. "You shaved. I told you it looked better."

Toby let the bastard touch him, then silkily asked, "You wanna keep those fingers, Keller? If so, I'd advise you to get your hand off of me."

Keller's face hardened again. He moved his hand away and stepped back slightly. "Fuck you Beecher. I ain't afraid of your teeth." Suddenly seductive, he placed his index finger on Toby's mouth. In a softer voice, he said, "You ain't gonna do nothin', Toby. I know you. You might pretend to be a crazy fuck, but I know who you really are." He traced Toby's lips gently with his finger, and grinned when they parted a little, as a tongue gently flicked out to lick him. He moved a little closer, his free hand moving to Toby's neck.

Toby looked into Keller's eyes, and grinned inside. He let himself be pulled closer, and licked the man's finger again, more slowly. He saw the slight shiver than ran through Keller as a result. His inner grin widened. He reached up and ran his hand up slowly Keller's arm, stopping to grasp his wrist, lightly caressing the skin with his thumb. He could feel Keller's pulse underneath the delicate flesh. Then, he opened his mouth and quickly bit down on Keller's finger. Hard.

Keller tried to jerk back, releasing an explosive yell. Toby clenched his teeth and tightened his grip on Keller's wrist. He held Keller trapped for a few moments, registering the familiar taste of blood in his mouth. Then, grinning he let go.

Keller alternated between staring at him and his bleeding (but still intact) finger. Finally, through clenched teeth he growled, "What the fuck, Beecher? What the fuck?"

Toby grinned, spat and wiped his mouth. He grabbed Keller's hand, and kissed the injured finger gently. Then he turned and walked away, leaving the other man with a confused expression on his face. He had to admit, that had been fun.

Hmph. But maybe he was getting just a little *too* nonchalant about the taste of other people's blood in his mouth. He giggled softly.

***

Miguel walked listlessly back into the infirmary. He hated the sessions with Rivera, true. But, he also needed them. 'Cause Miguel had a deep capacity for self-punishment.

Arriving at the hospital ward, he worked automatically, going through the routine of his tasks. His head continued to throb painfully and he felt nauseated. When the shift ended, the other prisoners headed for dinner. Miguel changed clothes, tossed his hospital scrubs in a nearby bag, and headed for the closest storage closet. The thought of food was sickening.

Sitting in the stuffy room, walls closing in, breath coming a little too fast, Miguel relived the past. Over and over, images of blood covered hands, Rivera's screaming, bleeding, eyeless face, played in his head. Seeing Rivera at their sessions, hearing the pain, hate, anger, depression in the man's voice always brought those images. But, the thing was...the sessions kept the worst of the images away for the rest of the week. They let Miguel function. Let him push aside the guilt and remorse enough to get on with what he had to do.

The small room, the images, the loneliness, the pain, they all reminded him of solitary.

Shaking, curled up in a corner, Miguel entered a fugue state, trapped in a seemingly endless loop of negative emotions. He let the cold from the floor and the wall enter him. The cold built a wall inside, a wall of ice.

The cold kept back the images.

***

Toby closed the database program, shut off the computer, and left the psychiatric evaluation office, closing the door behind him. Sister Pete was off visiting some prisoner in protective custody.

He walked towards the cafeteria, eyeing the other prisoners around him. Mostly, they looked away. It was enough to make him grin. He stood in line, smiling at Cyril O'Reily as he served him his...fish fingers?...well, whatever. He'd know soon enough. He caught Ryan's glance from inside the kitchen. They nodded to each other.

Toby walked over to the familiar group of people sitting at his regular table. Sitting down, he exchanged small talk with Rebadow and Hill, while Busmalis eyed him warily.

"Relax Busmalis. You're safe from me."

He was rewarded by a slight nod. The meal was as bland as ever. He was pretty sure that it was fish fingers after all, but he wouldn't place a bet on it. For all he knew he could be eating chicken...or Guerra fingers for that matter. The thought made him snicker, which drew curious looks from his table mates. He just smiled and shrugged.

He finished eating, nodded to his tablemates, and stood up to leave. Turning, he caught the sullen glare of Keller from across the room, and answered it with a manic grin.

He walked out of the room, intending to go to the library. He needed something new to read. Before he got more than a few steps out of the room, he was intercepted by Ryan, who was still dressed in his kitchen scrubs. The white clothes made him look so...innocent. Clean. It was laughable.

"Beecher. You're out. I'm glad." That dazzling trademark smile was being directed at him.

"Sure. Thanks for arranging for the book." O'Reily shrugged. "It was from Alvarez." Ryan moved a little closer.

"That was some interesting work with Guerra, Beecher. You're one fucked up guy."

"You play some interesting games yourself, O'Reily."

"Yeah, whatever. It seems like the little 'game' with Alvarez was more of a team effort."

Toby raised an eyebrow. "What are you telling me, Ryan?"

Ryan grinned at him, and pulled him into an alcove. "Step into my office, Toby."

***

Later, Miguel came back to himself enough to realise he had to get back to his pod. It was almost time for evening lockdown. The thought of another night alone was alternately welcome and terrible.

Silently, he moved down the halls, past other prisoners and hacks. He ignored the stares, the whispers, the occasional taunts, and kept walking towards the pod.

He walked past O'Reily, not even noticing him. When Ryan reached out and touched his arm, grinning and smoothly greeting him, Miguel turned around, and stared at the offending hand. "Get your hand off me." O'Reily's grin faded to a slight smile, and Miguel stalked away, into his pod.

He was so absorbed in maintaining the wall of ice, of keeping back his thoughts that he didn't realise for a moment that the pod wasn't empty. Glancing up, he saw Toby sitting on the top bunk, holding a book, but looking at him.

His stomach jumped. He felt nervous. He wasn't sure why. He tried to focus on the cold.

There was a slight pause as they stared at each other. Finally, Miguel couldn't stand the silence anymore. "You're back."

***

Toby watched his podmate enter the room. Miguel looked distracted and vaguely sick.

"You're back." The tone was flat and uninterested. Toby looked at the other man. Miguel was leaning against the wall, hand on his stomach. The position looked calm, controlled, but Miguel's eyes betrayed the image. His eyes were wild.

Toby frowned. He hadn't exactly expected that Alvarez would be greeting him with hugs and kisses. But he was being a little *too* detached. He jumped off the bunk and moved closer to the obviously troubled man. "Alvarez. You look like shit."

There was a slight pause, then Miguel's eyes focused back on him. "You say that a lot, man."

"It's the truth a lot."

"Whatever." Miguel moved away, and sat on his bunk. He drew his knees up to his chest.

"Thanks for the book."

Miguel looked over, eyes focussing again. He nodded. "Was it good?"

"No. It sucked. But that's ok. I'm practising for my next job as a literary critic, you know?"

Miguel shrugged and looked away.

Getting Miguel to talk was like pulling teeth. It was very annoying. But he could wait. Toby moved back to his bunk and returned to his new book.

***

It was seconds after lights out, and Miguel had yet to speak more than 20 words. Beecher looked over at his podmate, who was leaning over the sink, getting a drink. Alvarez had been silent and withdrawn for too long.

Silently, he moved off his bunk, and stepped towards Alvarez. He lightly placed his hand on Miguel's cheek, tracing the scar delicately.

There was no reaction. No, that wasn't true. Alvarez was shaking, ever so slightly. Toby held his position for a moment, then moved away a little. He watched intently as Miguel stared at himself in the mirror.

Beecher considered the tangle of emotions inside him. He was annoyed with Alvarez. A month apart, after actions undertaken for *him*, and Miguel couldn't even say thanks. He knew it was stupid. He knew he shouldn't expect thanks. It just would've been...well, nice.

He was frustrated. He wanted to touch Miguel, to feel him. It had been too fucking long. Before Miguel's injuries, Toby had gotten used to the daily physical contact. Toby needed to fuel his latest addiction. He knew it and it annoyed him.

He was also concerned. Miguel seemed to be retreating to the state he'd been in immediately after getting out of solitary.

That sucked. Miguel needed to get it together. Beecher just didn't have the time or the energy to watch out for a guy barely attached to reality. Besides, he needed Miguel's mind. Beecher had half-formed plans for certain people, and he needed help.

So, he'd had enough of this brooding shit. He needed to coax Alvarez out of himself. Toby figured that if he applied just the right combination of flattery and lust, Alvarez would snap out of it. He would get back some sense of control.

He felt a brief pang of concern at his planned manipulation, but pushed it away.

Hell, he was doing this for Miguel as much as for himself. He moved back towards his podmate.

***

Miguel felt warm arms around his waist, and struggled. The warmth would melt his ice walls, the walls which he needed. The arms held tighter, and after a moment he just went still.

He felt warm breath on his cheek, and felt fingers stroking his chest, tracing the lines of the muscles. The arms turned him around, and his lips were met by another pair. He stood still, not reacting, trying to convince himself that he didn't want or need the contact. He wasn't successful. Almost automatically, he began to respond, tongue and lips moving in familiar, sweet patterns.

Beecher's hands were on his face now, thumbs caressing his jaw. He heard a soft sound, and moved back enough to ask, "What?"

Moving lips to his ear, Beecher said, "Strip."

"What?"

More insistently this time, the voice said, "Strip." and Toby moved away from him, to lean against the wall. "I want to see you strip. Now." There was a slight grin on his face.

Miguel felt annoyed. "Why?"

The other man sighed, rolled his eyes, and grinned nastily. "Alvarez, I like the way you look. I like to look at you. I like the way you move. I haven't seen you for a month. And I want you to strip. So do it. Now."

Miguel was confused, irritated at being given orders, and...what was that? He recognised a little sliver of vanity. A little of the old pride resurfacing. "Beecher - you don't give me orders."

Toby looked straight at him, eyes lust-filled and soft. "Fine. Then I'm *asking*. Miguel, will you please strip for me? I would be very appreciative."

The look on his podmate's face, the tone in his voice - Miguel suddenly felt a little brash, and a little less cold.

So, he started to unbutton his prison issue shirt.

***

Toby looked at the change in Miguel's face when he asked him to strip, and bit his lip to stop from grinning triumphantly. He was hitting all the right cues.

Miguel removed his shirt, slowly, then tossed it in a corner. Toby smiled as he watched chest and arm muscles gently roll. He reached out a hand to stroke a nipple gently. His hand moved down towards the new scars on Miguel's stomach and side. Even in the dim light, Toby could see that the skin was still red and sore looking. Miguel stopped the exploration, grabbing his hand and pulling their bodies together. His free hand worked itself inside Toby's shirt.

"Hey. You're supposed to be stripping. I want to watch you."

Miguel stopped the protests with a hard kiss. "Shut up." He backed away slightly, hands moving to the waistband of his pants. "Take off your shirt."

Toby shook his head, uttering, "No no no", in a low sing-song.

"Do it, or these pants stay on."

Toby sighed a little, and decided this was one contest of wills he was willing to lose. He shucked his shirt off, then stood, waiting and leering. "C'mon Alvarez. Get to it."

***

Miguel removed his pants slowly, then stopped and stepped closer to Toby. He hooked his fingers under the waistband of Beecher' pants, and pulled them together. Beecher was warm. He unbuttoned the pants, and pulled them down. Toby quickly kicked the discarded pants to a corner. Miguel moved away again, watching his podmate's eyes follow him. He grinned and removed his boxers, liking the way he was being observed. Standing naked in the pod, Miguel was still cold. But now, he didn't want the cold, the cold was useless. He could feel the heat radiating off of Toby, and he needed to feel more. He needed to bury himself in Beecher's warmth.

He looked at Beecher, who was leaning against the wall, still watching, eyes hooded. He grinned again and scratched his stomach, carefully avoiding the skin around his new scars. Beecher's eyes followed the movement. Miguel's grin widened. Then he pounced on the other man.

He supported himself with one hand against the wall, while the other snaked behind Beecher's neck. As Toby leaned into his kisses, Miguel felt a surge of emotion, combining lust, contentment and control. He liked...no *loved* the way Toby ground against him, the little growls of pleasure that were coming from the other man's throat. It was exhilarating. It made him feel powerful. Needed.

Toby's boxers were still on, and this presented a small problem. Keeping his mouth on Toby's, he reached down with both hands, and tugged the cloth down. One hand moved back to the wall for support, and the other gently brushed his lover's stiff cock, eliciting a deeper growl. He removed his mouth from Toby's, and took a minute to look into slightly unfocused eyes.

They looked at each other for a moment, then his head was pulled back. Miguel felt lips on his throat, and hands on his hips, pulling their groins together. He pushed Toby deeper into the shadows, pressing his back against the concrete wall. Frantically, he kissed his podmate again, teeth clacking then tongues sliding.

His hands moved up Toby's side, hips moving teasingly. His mouth travelled across the other man's neck and shoulders, tracing the ridge of the clavicle lightly.

Beecher's hands were still on his hips, crushing them together. He shifted away a little so that his mouth could move towards Toby's nipples. Toby growled again as Miguel's teeth worried delicately at his flesh. Miguel grinned to himself.

He *loved* that sound.

***

Toby let Miguel take control of the situation. It really wasn't that difficult of a task, considering the sensations the other man was causing. When Miguel's mouth moved across his chest, Toby bit his lip in an attempt to control his responses a little bit.

It had been so fucking long since he felt this way.

After a few moments, he tried to focus. This couldn't be just about pleasure. He needed Miguel to get back some sense of control. His podmate's mouth was slowly making its way down his chest and stomach, occasionally stopping in sensitive areas to lick and nibble.

Toby bit his lip again. "Miguel..." His voice was surprisingly hoarse.

"Mmmmphhh?"

"Do you want to fuck me?"

The other man looked up, slightly unfocussed and dazed. "What?...Is that what you want?"

Toby narrowed his eyes, grinned slightly and nodded. "Fuck yeah." Miguel moved closer, and kissed him again. He started to turn Toby away from the wall, pushing him towards the bunk.

"No."

"What?"

"Here. Against the wall."

Miguel looked at Toby again, obviously slightly puzzled, then shrugged. "Ok."

Toby was pulled close to Miguel, was assaulted by kisses. He groaned, and bucked his hips. Gently, Miguel turned him around and guided him to the wall, one hand gently stroking his cock.

Toby stopped trying to focus on his plan of semi-manipulation and lost himself to sensation.

***

Miguel happily listened to the sounds Beecher was making. Pushing aside his own desire, he continued to caress the body in front of him.

When Beecher asked him to fuck him, his blood sang. The fact that the other man trusted him, wanted him enough to ask...

It was unbelievably arousing.

He couldn't really figure out why Toby wanted it against the wall, but by this point, he was far beyond caring.

He turned Toby against the wall, careful to keep making delicate motions with his hands. He caressed Toby's hips, gently tweaked his nipples - eliciting soft gasping laughs. He cupped Beecher's balls, gently squeezing, causing deeper moans. He placed soft kisses along Toby's shoulders and neck, sometimes contrasting them with nips. He waited until Toby was writhing in his arms, then reached to the shelf for the small tube of Vaseline.

***

Toby felt a slick finger, then another gently teasing him, preparing him. Miguel was careful, occasionally kissing his neck, murmuring small phrases. Toby adjusted his position to make himself more comfortable, and bit his lip when Miguel's other hand closed around is cock.

He moaned, and felt Miguel position himself, then enter slowly. Toby ignored the momentary pain, and focused on the pleasure to come. He didn't have to wait long.

***

Miguel's thoughts lost any sense of coherence. All he could think about was how fucking *good* Toby's body felt. One hand on Toby's hip, the other stroking his cock, Miguel completely lost himself to sensation.

He was vaguely aware of a stream of words from his mouth when he wasn't biting gently on Toby's shoulder.

***

A little while later, sitting on the lower bunk in what could only be called a tangle, Toby looked over at Miguel, and contemplated the difference that the right mixture of ego-stroking and..well, cock-stroking, can make. Miguel was relaxed, and more focused on his surroundings. Toby knew the sex was a stop-gap measure for both of them. But, he also knew that long term solutions weren't very likely. This could get them through the days.

"Beech...um, about Guerra..."

Toby shifted a little, and turned Miguel's head towards him. "Hmmm?"

"Uh...thanks. I mean...I don't know...just, thanks, you know?"

"S'ok."

There was a slight pause, and Miguel looked away for a moment. "Why the thumbs?"

Toby shrugged. "I don't know. It just happened. I wasn't really thinking about it at the time."

"Oh." Another pause. "That's fucked up, man. It's kind of worryin' for me, bein' in the same room with you an' all..." Miguel's voice had taken on a slightly teasing tone. A small smile played across his face.

Toby grinned. "Alvarez, do you remember the first thing I said to you when you got out of solitary?"

"No."

"I won't bite you if you leave my eyes alone. Remember? Well, I've still got my eyes..." He grinned, and his voice mimicked Miguel's tone "...at least for now, so..."

Miguel's body went rigid. He disentangled himself, and got up, grabbing discarded shirt and boxers. He dressed, quickly, avoiding Toby's gaze. Toby looked closer. Miguel was shaking. After a moment, he turned around, and spoke in a flat voice. "Fuck you, Beecher. Get off my bed."

Toby was surprised. He got up and advanced towards the other man. "Alvarez, what the fuck?" He reached out to touch Miguel, but was pushed away. His podmate was shaking more visibly now. He tried to make his voice reasonably soothing. "Miguel...what's wrong?"

The younger man looked at him, with an expression of intense pain. He rubbed his temples, and spoke in a hoarse whisper. "Don't you know? I'd never do that to you, Beech. Do you really think I could? No...."

Looking at the shaking, guilt-ridden man, Toby finally figured it out. Miguel needed more than the physical release of sex, more than non-violent contact, more than the ego-rush. Miguel needed to feel that someone trusted him enough to do these things. That someone not only didn't hate him, but trusted him, at least a little bit. Enough to let down the game face for a little while.

It wasn't an epiphany, it wasn't a ground breaking discovery. But, it made him regret his teasing, insensitive words. So, he moved closer to Miguel, and, for the second time that night, wrapped his arms around a shaking body. He planted small kisses along his partner's neck, and then stopped to whisper soothing, reassuring nonsense words in his ear. He held on until Miguel pulled himself together.

"Hey Alvarez. You've got to teach me Spanish."

"Why?"

Toby grinned and licked the other man's ear. "'Cause you always speak in Spanish when we're fucking. I want to know what you're saying."

***

Next morning...

"97A413. 97B412." The hack walked by, moving onto the next pair of prisoners. Beecher watched for a moment, then looked over to the O'Reily pod. He caught Ryan's tight grin, nodded in return, and turned to look at Alvarez.

His podmate was leaning against the wall, hand lightly on his stomach. There was a slight grimace on his face. Beecher wondered how much Miguel's newest injuries still hurt.

The guard finished count, and Beecher returned to the pod to grab a towel. After a month in the hole, the thought of a daily morning shower was disturbingly pleasant. He smiled to himself. It was the little things that counted.

Alvarez was watching him, and Toby knew it. He grinned again, and turned to the other man. "So, Alvarez..." They moved out of the pod.

"Yeah?"

"I heard some things yesterday."

"So?"

"From O'Reily."

"Which one?"

Toby snorted. "Which one do you fucking think, Miguel?" He watched eyes widen slightly at the use of a first name in a public setting.

Miguel shrugged. "Yo - you got a point to make here?"

Toby nodded, and leaned against the wall. He watched Alvarez do the same. "I heard that Guerra wasn't alone."

"Nah man - I coulda beat that fucker's ass, but some guy's arm was wrapped around my neck."

"Yeah..." Toby caught Miguel's eye then pointedly moved his gaze to a group of men standing across the room. "Anyone look familiar?"

"No."

"Well, maybe you should look closer." He headed for the shower, leaving his podmate to watch Pancamo and his entourage.

***

After his own shower, a breakfast of tasteless eggs, some idle bitching with Hill, and a few more interesting words with Beecher, Miguel headed to the infirmary. He was disturbed by Beecher's revelation and their subsequent brief conversation.

Pancamo?...Why?

He couldn't figure it out. But he was more worried about the implications. If the Italian fuckers wanted him dead badly enough to work with El Cid...it just didn't look good. Beecher might have an interest in watching his back, but hell, what was one crazy fucker against those guys?

And anyway, he didn't want to count on Beecher for much. Who knew what the guy would do next? He wasn't exactly *stable*.

The thoughts branched out, and he tried to follow the maze of connections. He slowed his walk down a little when he noticed O'Reily walking towards him.

"Hey Alvarez. You talk to Beecher today?"

"Yeah. So?"

"Just wondering what he told you."

Miguel shrugged. "He told me."

"Yeah?" There was a slight pause, and a speculative look on O'Reily's face. "So, what do want to do about it?"

Miguel narrowed his eyes. "You offerin' something here, O'Reily?"

The other man smiled his bullshit grin and moved closer. "Alvarez - you're an ok guy. And honestly - I can't fuckin' stand Hernandez."

Miguel nodded. Honestly. Yeah, fuckin' whatever, O'Reily.

The mick continued. "And I ain't so fond of Pancamo either. So, what I was thinking was we could work out a trade." A hand reached out to rest on Miguel's shoulder.

Miguel shrugged the hand off and glared. "What kind of trade?"

O'Reily moved away to lean against the wall. "Not the kind you're thinking. I ain't no fag, remember?" The grin was back. "I'm thinking of expanding my business interests. Diversification's the key, right? You've got hospital access..."

Miguel nodded. Hospital narcotics. He could do that. "Hey O'Reily - d'you know why those fucks were workin' with El Cid, man?"

The question was answered with a smirk. "Pancamo wants to corner the tit trade. He figured his guys and the Latinos could work together, cut fuckin' everyone else out, you know?"

Miguel nodded.

"So, way I hear it, Hernandez was fuckin' suspicious. Why the hell should he trust Pancamo? So, he suggests a trial run. The Latinos and Italians work together, see how it goes. A test. And, he suggests killing you. 'Cause for some fuckin' reason," a sly, curious look, "he doesn't like you. You've pissed him off. Why is that, man? You want to tell me?"

Miguel shrugged. "S'nothin' to tell."

"Sure. Right. Anyway, so they agree, and the next thing we know, you're bleeding in the stairwell. And Beecher's going on a rampage." O'Reily paused, idly looking around. "So - what's it gonna be, Alvarez? You want my help? Or do you and Beecher want to deal with this alone? 'Cause I could work this so neither of you would have to get dirty."

"You want hospital tits."

"Alvarez, I've got the distribution lines. We could make a fuckin' killing."

"Yeah. An' if El Cid an' Pancamo are fucked, you get control of most of the rest of the tit trade. You don't have to worry about them pushing you out."

O'Reily nodded. "Smart guy."

"Ok - but if Pancamo and his fucks aren't bringing the tits in here, won't you run dry pretty fast? I mean, you got enough supply to suit the demand?"

O'Reily narrowed his eyes and stared for a moment. "Alvarez - I've got it worked out, ok? You don't need to know this shit."

"Don't try to fuckin' play me O'Reily."

The grin flashed back. "Never Alvarez. So - a deal?" Miguel nodded. O'Reily moved closer again, and they began to haggle about his cut.

***

A little while later, he was working in the infirmary. Same old shit duty, but it had some benefits. He knew the health state of all the prisoners, which might be useful in the future. He had access to drugs. And hell, he wasn't doing some shit factory work, making fucking *dresses*.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Nathan inspect the hand of that fuck Keller. He edged closer so he could hear what they were saying.

"What happened?"

"I got bit."

"What?"

"I got *bit*."

"When?"

"Yesterday."

"Then why weren't you here yesterday?"

"I don't know. It seemed fine. I cleaned it up."

The doctor sighed. "Keller - mouths are full of bacteria. This is a relatively deep cut. You should have come in yesterday. I don't think it will get too bad, but you come back in tomorrow, ok?"

"Yeah."

"Do you want to tell me who did this?"

"I don't know."

"How can you not know? You must have seen who bit your own finger."

"Yeah well, I was distracted, ok?"

Another sigh. "Fine. Any other problems? No? See you tomorrow. And Keller - try to stay more focused, ok?"

Miguel turned slightly to catch Keller glaring at him. He smirked back, and moved away.

***

Lunch. Again. Same routine. Beecher watched Alvarez walk into the room, grab a tray and join him in line. "Hey."

"Hey."

"Ricardo gets out of the hole in couple days. Hernandez has another week, the last I heard."

"Yeah. I talked with O'Reily."

"Oh? And?" He held out his tray, smiled at Cyril, moved along the line.

"You were right. He suggested a trade."

"Good. Plans?"

Miguel shrugged. "He didn't really get into the details."

"I think I can guess a few of them."

"Yeah?"

Toby twitched his head in the direction of the kitchen. O'Reily was watching them, and slowly slid his eyes to the side. He watched Miguel follow the movement, saw eyes rest on the other figure.

Adebisi.

O'Reily was playing with fire, Toby knew it. But, hell, it was his choice. He felt a twinge of concern, but if O'Reily couldn't handle himself, then who could?

"He said we wouldn't have to get too involved."

"Good."

"Yeah." They moved to a table. "Hey. I saw Keller in the hospital. Did you fuckin' bite him, man?"

Toby shrugged. "Maybe."

"Yeah, well his finger's all fucked up. Nathan was getting on his ass for not goin' in yesterday. He wouldn't tell her who bit him. Said he got *distracted*. How'd that happen?"

Toby looked at the other man and smiled. "Fucked if I know, Alvarez." He bit into his sandwich, and chewed for a few moments. "So - do you think Ricardo's going to be a problem when he gets out?"

***

A couple of days later, Toby sat in the common area, idly watching TV, thinking about O'Reily's intrigues. He wasn't sure what Ryan said to Adebisi, but it soon became obvious to anyone with an interest that the Nigerian had his bad-ass eyes on Pancamo. Toby knew that Miguel was more actively involved in the plans to get the Italians out of the way. He just didn't care to know the particulars of the scheme.

He noticed Alvarez enter the area, take in the details and move to sprawl at a table. For the last couple of days, his podmate had been too busy to succumb to endless self-pity and anxiety. He wasn't what Toby would call well-adjusted, but hell, who was? At least he was aware enough to participate in the daily game.

He smiled. Miguel had regained some sense of self-preservation. It was amazing what regular sex, the promise of a steady source of income and a little intrigue could do for a man. At least in the short term, anyway.

Miguel got some sense of control over his circumstances. Toby got some kind of connection, a way to lose himself without losing control of the situation entirely. And, he got a little bit of fun, and some interesting conversations. It was working out just fine.

Taking off his headphones, he stood and moved over to the table. "Ricardo gets out today." He sat.

"I know."

"The guy's volatile. He'll probably be a problem."

"I got it covered."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Fuck Alvarez, don't play games. What are you going to do?"

"Drop a few well placed words around."

Christ it was annoying when Miguel got cryptic. "Elaborate."

Alvarez shrugged and smiled a little. Quietly, he continued. "Ricardo raped Glynn's daughter. 'S'about time he found that out, don't ya think?"

Toby leaned back in his chair. "So, he'll get charged, probably go back to the hole."

"Yeah. You ever notice the way Ricardo acts after he gets back from the hole? He fuckin' hates that place. He always pushes people too fuckin' far after. So - he gets out, gets charged with rape, gets thrown back in - probably for a long fuckin' time - and when he gets out again...he's lost it. Completely. He pushes at the wrong guy and bang...no longer a problem."

He liked the way Miguel's mind worked. "And if it doesn't work that way?"

Miguel shrugged. "I'll think of somethin' else."

***

After Miguel explained his plans for Ricardo they played a few card games.

Miguel idly contemplated his podmate. Beecher was a smart guy. A fuckin' nut, sure, but his craziness tended to have a point. Most of the time. And the guy had gone out of his way to help Miguel on several occasions. It was strange.

He felt grateful in some ways. Beecher didn't want him on self-destruct. It was good that someone gave some kind of shit. He just couldn't figure out why.

He watched the other man look up as Keller moved across the room towards the television. Beecher's eyes followed the guy, his face strangely intent, eyes a little bit wild.

"Beecher - what the hell are you doin' with Keller?"

A shrug. "Nothing."

"The guy's got it bad for you."

"I know."

Miguel ignored Beecher's agitation. "So..."

Beecher scowled at him. "So-fucking-*what*, Alvarez?"

Miguel felt his face go blank. "I don't know. I just figured - if you want..."

"I don't want to talk about it, ok?" Beecher was slumping a little.

"Sure. Ok."

Beecher's face softened slightly. "Look...it's not important ok? I'm...I don't even really know what I doing. I just don't want to think about it, alright?"

"Sure." Miguel felt a brush against his leg under the table. Beecher was leering at him slightly.

"You know what my favourite way to stop thinking is?"

Miguel glanced around, pushed the hand away, and grinned. "You are just gonna have to wait, man."

Beecher shrugged and smirked a little. "Hey - your loss."

***

Two days later, Toby was once again sitting in front of the computer screen, typing in prisoner profiles. He used to think the job might be kind of interesting - give him an inside edge on what made his fellow inmates tick. In reality, what he read was mainly depressingly similar, and hideously boring to type.

A knock on the window made him look up. Ryan entered the room and sat down. "Hey Beecher."

"Ryan. Sister Pete's not here."

"I know. I've got an appointment, but I came early."

Toby raised an eyebrow. "To see me?"

"Don't let anyone tell you you're stupid, Toby." There was a slight pause. "You've done a nice job with Alvarez."

Toby shrugged, and started to turn back to the screen. Ryan's hand on his shoulder stopped him. Toby looked up and was surprised to find a sincere look on the other man's face.

"I'm serious. The guy was a mess. You helped him out when he needed it. He's got back some sense of control, you know? You're a good guy, Beecher."

Toby bit his tongue so he wouldn't laugh. What the hell was O'Reily up to now? He wasn't buying the sincerity routine for a second. "Uh - thanks Ryan." He was about to continue when Sister Pete walked into the room, effectively ending the conversation.

***

Miguel stood half in the shadows, watching Adebisi watch Pancamo and a couple of his nameless guys. He knew that O'Reily had been playing on the apparently endless animosity between the Nigerian and the Italians. He wasn't sure what Adebisi was being told, but he was pretty sure that the heroin the guy was continuously shoving up his nose was helping to fuel a sense of paranoia and hatred.

Looking at the predatory gaze on Adebisi's face, he figured that he wouldn't have to worry about the Italians for much longer.

Not that Adebisi wasn't a concern in himself. But hell, at least the heroin-fiend hadn't tried to kill him recently. Besides, as long as O'Reily kept Adebisi in on the tit trade once Pancamo was out of the way, things would be balanced for a little while at least. And O'Reily wasn't *quite* cocky enough to completely turn on the fucked-up Nigerian. Nobody was *that* suicidal.

Lately anyway.

He moved away from his vantage point and headed for the kitchen. He needed to talk to O'Reily about his plans for El Cid.

On his way out of Em City, he saw Keller moving towards him. Slowing down as they passed, the other man hissed "How long d'you think it's gonna be before the fucking nut turns on you, Alvarez? I'd get your ass out while you still can."

Miguel sneered. "Fuck off." Fuckin' *bitch*. He kept moving.

He walked to the kitchen, and entered, catching O'Reily's ever-watchful eye. He nodded ever so slightly, then left the kitchen and headed for their usual meeting place. O'Reily showed up a few minutes later.

"Hey Alvarez. Hernandez is out in two days."

"I fuckin' *know* O'Reily." He tried to keep the agitation out of his voice. "What the hell is goin' on with Pancamo and Adebisi?"

O'Reily smiled and handed him a cigarette. "Relax Miguel. Pancamo's biding his time, waiting for Hernandez to get out. I hear he wants to keep their deal up. After all - it isn't his fault Guerra can't stab worth shit. He doesn't really give a fuck if you're still alive."

"Yeah - I figured that. Like - it was a business thing."

"Right. Anyway - before Pancamo and Hernandez made their deal, Hernandez had a thing going with Adebisi. Same sort of agreement, except to get Wangler and his homeboys out of the tit trade. So - looks like Hernandez is trying to play both sides of the fence. I'm guessing he's going to be really interested in making up for time lost in the hole. Might even get a little reckless, you know? And - somehow, Adebisi has found out about Raoul's games."

Miguel raised an eyebrow. "Somehow, huh?"

O'Reily shrugged and grinned. "Yeah. He hears stuff."

Miguel grunted.

"Alvarez - have you ever seen Adebisi when he's been betrayed? It's not pretty. Especially when it involves Pancamo..."

"What are you tellin' him?"

"Do you really want to know?"

Miguel looked at the other man. Did he really give a fuck what lines O'Reily was feeding Adebisi? "Nah. Just as long as you're gettin' the job done."

"I've got a lot riding on this too Alvarez. And Adebisi may not know it yet, but so does he."

***

Three days later, Toby lay on his bunk, pretending to read, but really pondering the day's events. Hernandez had returned from the hole to find that Ricardo was back in the hole. Guerra was sullen and spent most of his days drunk.

Unobtrusively, Toby had watched Hernandez approach Pancamo with confidence. His overtures had clearly been accepted. Afterwards, Toby had followed him, and watched the overtures made to Adebisi. Also apparently accepted.

He had smiled. All was going according to plan. He had gone to find Miguel to talk about the next move. Together, they had sought out Ryan. After talking for a little while, Ryan had left to find Adebisi.

It was all like some kind of bizarre relay race.

He snapped back to the present when he realised Miguel was leaning on the bunk, staring at him.

"Yo - where were you?"

Toby stretched and sat up. "Just thinking. Hey - how hard do you think it is for Guerra to hold a bottle without thumbs? I mean - I wonder if it's hard for him to stay drunk." He grinned.

Miguel snorted. "You're a sick fuck Beecher."

"I've got to get my laughs somehow." They looked at each other for a moment. "Hernandez was pretty pissed about Ricardo."

"Yeah. Things are goin' good."

"So far, yeah."

"You worried?"

"Not really."

Miguel sighed. "Keller keeps warning me away from you. Says you might turn on me soon."

"Yeah?"

He nodded. There was a slight pause. Beecher moved to the door and looked in the direction of Keller's pod. He stared for a moment, until the other man looked up. They locked eyes. Eventually, Beecher moved away.

"He's jealous."

"Yeah."

"I won't, you know."

"Hmmm?"

"Turn on you. I won't."

***

Miguel listened to the reassurance of the other man. He wanted to believe it. The conversation was turning solemn, and he felt vaguely unnerved. Miguel looked at his podmate. Beecher's expression was serious, with a slight, almost pleading tinge. "I know. I just can't figure out why."

Beecher looked at him, face indecisive and uncomfortable. Miguel suddenly felt tense. His podmate looked like he was about to confess or something.

Through the glass, Miguel heard Murphy yell, "Lights out!" It snapped the moment.

Beecher moved forward. "Alvarez - does it really matter?"

A hand snaked its way behind his neck and he felt himself being drawn closer. He shook his head. "Nah." He was tired of always thinking about the whys. He let it go.

***

The three of them watched the situation between Adebisi, El Cid and Pancamo simmer for a few more days. The tension was aided by well-placed words from O'Reily. Finally, three days later, shortly before evening lockdown, Miguel approached Adebisi.

"Adebisi. I think I got somethin' you might wanna see."

His statement was met by a drug-addled sneer. "You think so pretty boy?"

"Yeah. O'Reily thought so too."

The huge man shrugged. "Fine."

They walked together a little ways, until Miguel brought him to the prearranged place. Motioning to the man to be quiet, they crouched in the shadows and watched and listened to El Cid and Pancamo plan.

"I'm fuckin' tired of that black fuck gettin' in the way, Hernandez."

The other man nodded. "He's cuttin' into my profits."

"Fine. So I'll make an arrangement."

"Get it done tomorrow."

They nodded at each other, and walked away in different directions. Miguel looked over at his companion. Adebisi's face had been transformed - anger, insanity and glee warred for control. Without acknowledging Miguel, Adebisi began to walk away, muttering. Miguel strained to hear, but only caught one word.

"...bitch."

He smiled and headed back to the common area. He had just enough time to update O'Reily before count.

***

Miguel knew what to expect, so he wasn't surprised when, the next morning, one of Pancamo's men was rushed into the hospital. Keeping out of the way of the guards, nurses and doctor, he tried to gauge the extent of the man's wounds.

There was a lot of blood. Nathan sounded worried. Miguel would lay out good odds the guy wouldn't last the night.

He didn't make it to the afternoon.

At lunch, he joined Beecher and told him the news. Judging from the smile on O'Reily's face, he already knew.

Looking around the tables, Miguel noted that El Cid was nowhere to be found. He looked back to the kitchen. Adebisi was working placidly at the back.

They sat down and started to eat. Miguel looked up when a group of hacks entered the area. He nudged Beecher's foot under the table. They watched as Pancamo was yanked out of his seat, beaten down and dragged away. Miguel looked questioningly at his podmate.

Beecher shrugged. "I don't know either. Just go with it, Alvarez."

Miguel nodded. It wasn't part of the plan, but things still looked good. That afternoon, he was sitting and watching some shit news show in front of the TV bank when he saw Beecher motioning at him from the corner of his eye. He continued to watch for a few minutes, then casually got up and headed to their pod. He smiled to Cyril, who was standing by the pod, bouncing his ball and watching his brother through the glass.

O'Reily was inside, leaning against the glass wall, idly talking with Beecher, one eye on Cyril. When Miguel entered, he was greeted by a smug smile.

"Alvarez. Your troubles are over."

Miguel felt a surge of irritation. What the hell did O'Reily know about his troubles? He bit back a sneer. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. Hernandez is dead. Pancamo killed him."

"What?" Miguel looked at Beecher, who was smiling lightly. "Pancamo? Not Adebisi?"

"Nope. After Pancamo's guy got killed, someone let it be known that Hernandez had arranged for it. That he was double-crossing Pancamo."

Miguel was confused. "So El Cid killed the guy?"

O'Reily smiled widely. "No. But he *could* have. I mean - it was possible, right?"

Miguel got it. Adebisi had killed the guy. Then, he and O'Reily had worked it so El Cid got the blame. "And - Pancamo went to kill El Cid?"

O'Reily nodded. "Yeah � bad luck for him. He went and did it just as some guy from Unit B entered the area. A little while after, same guy had an attack of conscience, and went and reported what he saw. So - Pancamo's in solitary. Out of the picture."

Miguel nodded. He wondered briefly who the guy from Unit B was, and what O'Reily had done to manipulate him into witnessing and then reporting the killing. "So - it's done."

"Finished."

He nodded again. "Good."

The three of them looked at each other, and O'Reily looked like he was about to say something more. Before he could, evening count was sounded.

Moving out the door, O'Reily grinned at them again, happily triumphant, and guided his brother away.

The hacks started moving down the lines of men, calling off numbers.

***

In their pod after lockdown, Miguel sat on a chair, legs stretched out and balanced on the door. He stared absently out the glass, fixated on nothing. He thought about his situation. In a lot of ways, he had a good thing going. O'Reily had a good route for hospital drugs. He had been right - they were making a killing.

He had a good connection with Beecher. The man calmed him down. He knew that the partnership was good for Beecher somehow too. He wasn't sure how, but right now it wasn't too important.

El Cid was dead, and somehow, knowing he wouldn't have to look over his shoulder at that fuck everyday made him feel lighter. Arranging for the bastard's death had been more than an act of self-preservation. He hadn't thought about it until now, but in a way it was an act of contrition. Rivera would never know, but Miguel knew and it made him feel the smallest bit better.

He knew he still played it close to the edge. But for the first time in too long, Miguel felt a bit in control.

Balanced.

Almost.

Momentarily focussing, he caught a glare from Keller. The man was staring intently at Miguel. It was slightly unnerving, but he shook it off.

End

Continued in Reckoning

Spring-induced Slop (a related vignette)


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