by Jen

Being alone, knowing the laser-beam burns on his back were going to heal, should have made Beecher happy. He was free. Not technically, he would never be truly free again, whether he lived in Em City or on the beaches of St. Croix. But he was free of the steel, inhuman eyes which had treasured and tortured him for three years.

What had he done with this freedom? Let's see...jerked off, built a wall of numbness with cement of simmering rage, managed to not cry into his new, stolen wifebeater as soon as the lights dimmed. Remembered the pain between his cheeks, Schillinger-shaded tears wiped away with callused Keller-paws, when he felt as if he'd waded through thirtysomething years of fog, waiting for a cock, THE cock, to assign him his place in the universe.

Wondered if he would look back and laugh at the half of his soul now torn asunder, or if he would dismiss Keller as a mythical beast, sliding to Earth from the skies after exposed contact with the human who destroyed all those around him. A hulking creature of stone and quicksand, birthed only to shatter Beecher, despise him, whore him, adore him. Beecher had been the catalyst for Keller the god's arrival, he had sowed the bloodied seeds for Chris the man's departure.

Beecher ached for him. And he knew he was the only person in this entire shithole who missed Keller. That was a surprising form of pleasure, the memories were his, the mourning belonged to him and no one else.

Certainly not Ryan, sitting across the table, waiting for Beecher's move of a pawn or bishop.

"Would you miss me if I...?"

They had been too busy pretending to care about the game to even make eye contact, and damn Ryan if he kept his chess partner at bay, no stunned stare or outburst, just an eyefuck with a black king and queen.

Ryan and he had been together for so long, too long perhaps. Initial constant contact had faded into detached observation. Oh, look, Beecher's nutso. No, wait, he's a swooning, gushy teenager. Oops, he's bearded and bouncing off the bars again. Begorrah, he's a crybaby. Make that slutty automaton, "mouth", "ass", and "both", installed in his forehead like a blender.

Ryan was no better. Cyril's meltdowns had been incredibly depressing at first, raw and unhinged. Now they were a little too familiar. If Ryan loved his brother so much, why did he keep him inside Em City? Did he sell tickets? AAAGGGHHH!!!! RRRYYYAAANNN!!! Some part of Beecher hoped the old Cyril was a Brando fan, just in the off chance the latest flip-out babble could include SSSTTTEEELLLAAA!!!!

Ryan had changed. His entire body used to hum with pleasure, pleasure at coups and manipulation. Smug, too smug, only saved by plots pasted together with spit and luck. Now he seemed to stumble through his daily machinations, seeing from afar that the tides were beginning to turn, but not being able to take a risk long enough to stop the water from filling his lungs.

"Are you going someplace?"

A move across the board, knight brushing against bishop. What a surprise that the man bothered to answer at all. Beecher laughed, false nervousness choked out, not knowing what to respond with. Not knowing why he bothered at all.

"It's...we've been here four years. So many people have come and gone, so many died, or vanished, and I can't even remember most of their names. Donald Groves, Jefferson...what was his last name?"

Ryan met his eyes then, flickers of a threat in the orbs of indecipherable color.


Danger followed the mention of that name, Beecher being one of the few who knew why Keane had been in that empty room, snapping neck with repentant hands.

"Stupid me, I almost forgot about Dino Ortolani."

Ryan put a chokehold on the queen's tiny head, squeezing and squeezing until Beecher thought he saw black paint on his fingers.

Those were the unmentionable names. The shock and rage Ryan fought a losing battle to suppress were narcotics to Beecher. He felt the flames dancing around those words, pushing Ryan just for the reaction, and he stripped naked, jumping in. Anything to melt the ice.

"I know you're going through a bad time and everything, but you might wanna keep your mouth shut Beecher."

Every word had this breathy tone, saying more the alphabet had ever been able to. Beecher sifted a hand through his hair, suddenly, stupidly nervous, picturing Keller sitting in that prison on the other side of the galaxy. Paying for Beecher's life, the life Beecher risked on a whim.

He gulped, placing an apologetic hand on Ryan's skinny, bare arm.

"The dead, the departed, they didn't give a shit about us either. Maybe their vacancy is a sign of our strength. We're still here, we've survived, it takes a lot more than Oz to bring us down."

Ryan's intimidating visage faded after he heard Beecher. The eyes flashed to brown, reflecting Beecher's own, blue-tinted sadness. Oz had brought them to their knees, figuratively or literally, only continuing to fight the daily battle had stopped them from letting that realization become a crippling blow.

Damage control. Beecher hoped Ryan would forgive him. Beecher hoped Ryan would order his death. Instead, Ryan smiled, swallowing whatever bitterness he and Beecher saved for these rare occasions.

"I like that."

The contact, warm and effortless between them, an amazing contrast to the earlier tension. Thoughts passed of leaning out of his metal chair, thin lips pressed against that delicate jawline, so natural, reigniting a connection so often on the fringes of coming to life...

"Get your hand off my arm."

Back to the dead. Natural too, Beecher supposed.