by Alexa C.
Summary: Beecher and O'Reily deal with the fallout. Post S2.
Notes: Beta by Heph and stina. Hives off from canon between S2 and S3, when it was originally written. O'Reily is spelled with two "L"s - this was before the question about spelling even came up, and anyway, I still think one "L" looks wrong. I don't believe in aging pills, either. Also the story with the infamous apple scent. Originally posted Nov. 8, 1998.
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie. You're in the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort here. -Sarah McLachlan
His very bones ached from the cold in her voice.
"Touch me, kiss me, please," he'd wanted to cry out, again, but the words had died in the chill of her gaze.
He had been sure, so sure, that if he could just get a few minutes to talk to her, he could melt that icy regard. Sure enough that he had felt exultation singing along the nerves, rather than pain, when his arm was cut in the kitchen. A chance to see her face, breathe her sweet scent, feel the heat of her body radiating to warm him as she stood close, examining his wounds.
Gloria was a doctor - surely she would see how he was hurting, would soothe him with her soft words and gentle touch, recognize the inner scars that needed more care than his body. They could heal each other, if only he could tell her how sorry he was for hurting her.
He never got the chance.
Ryan O'Reilly stared, unseeing, out the window of the infirmary, across the brick walls and razor wire to the dirty streets outside of Oz. She had left him here. Gloria had examined his arm with perfunctory hands, called over Nurse Ratched to stitch the wound, turned on her heel and walked away. A dozen words, total, had passed between them. The woman who had sat by his bedside, held him while he cried, fought to save his very life had shuttered herself away from him.
A metallic whir caught his attention, and he turned to see medical attendants cutting the last cast off Tobias Beecher's leg. The blond man raised his head to meet O'Reilly's gaze.
"You look better with hair," Beecher observed.
"You look better without the casts," O'Reilly returned without rancor.
They looked at each other, two survivors, sharing their grief.
The walls of Em City were a blur as he followed the hack back to his pod, tucking his bandaged arm close against his side. He looked around the cramped cage with disinterest, watched the movements of the bodies outside the glass wall with the same disjointed, disconnected feeling the smack had once given him. How fucked up was that? Everyone in Oz spent so much time and money on tits, when they could achieve the same effect with unrequited love.
Ryan laughed suddenly. He'd better not let the secret out, or his business would go under.
Vaguely, distantly, he could hear Cyril calling his name.
Cyril. Yet another reminder of his monumental fuck-up, of the hideous miscalculation he'd made as the drugs addled his brain. Cyril, his baby brother, who couldn't even protect himself since Ryan's stupidity had caused the fight that left Cyril with the mind of a child. Strange, how Ryan's own brain could race around so frantically, seeing the action of that day in fast forward, when the movements around him now were drawn out in slow motion.
Ryan looked down and realized he was holding the stethoscope Alvarez had pinched from the infirmary months ago, the stethoscope Ryan still kept under his mattress, only pulling it out at night to run the smooth plastic through his fingers, to place the cool metal against his heart. The metal was warm, now, compared to the icy hands that held it. Ryan slid down the wall and closed his eyes. He was just so fucking tired and so cold, still frozen from the contempt in Gloria's gaze. He could sit here forever, ignoring the sounds outside the pod, the scared murmur of Cyril's voice, ignoring everything except the ice growing over his heart. He didn't need to keep his mind on the intricate steps of the dance he wove through Em City every day, didn't need to be on the alert against any misstep. It was safe there, inside that frozen shell.
Heat, searing his skin, wrapping around his fingers. A body pressed against his side and warm breath on his cheek. He turned his head and opened his eyes to an ocean of tropical blue.
Beecher. The man was kneeling beside him, leaning over him, fingers wrapped around the hands that held the stethoscope in a death grip.
"Ryan," the other man was murmuring, over and over like a mantra. "Ryan, come on, come on, Ryan, come on."
O'Reilly stared at him.
"How'd you get here?" he asked.
"I can walk, now, O'Reilly," Beecher responded acerbically. "Do you think we can get off the floor? You're scaring the shit out of Cyril."
"Be my guest," Ryan said, pulling one hand out of Beecher's grasp and waving it vaguely around the pod.
"O'Reilly, all I had to do to get down here was fall. Getting back up is another matter."
Ryan stared at him for a minute before a snort of laughter escaped.
"You've fallen and you can't get up?"
"Something like that, yeah." Beecher grinned at him, and then they were both laughing, a note of hysteria in the sound, yet still like old times.
"Ryan?" Cyril's scared, quizzical voice cut through their strained mirth.
"It's OK, bro, everything's all right," Ryan said, still leaning against Beecher. "Did you get Toby?"
"I didn't know what to do, I kept calling and calling, and you wouldn't answer ..." Cyril still sounded scared.
"Hey, it's OK," Ryan said, reluctantly pulling himself from the cocoon of heat and levering himself up from the floor. He patted his brother's arm. "You did good, Cyril. Toby was a good person to go to."
Cyril beamed. Beecher cleared his throat.
"Not even back to my pod yet, and there's Cyril, shaking ... Help?" Beecher said, holding up a hand from where he sat curled on the floor.
Ryan stared down at him, shaking his head.
"You're a mess," he said, leaning over and slipping an arm under Beecher's to pull the other man to his feet.
"Should have seen me a month ago ... ssssst." The words were broken off with a grimace and a hiss of pain as Beecher straightened his legs, still stiff and sore, still weak from months in casts. He swayed, and Ryan caught him, propping him up with his body, curling an arm around his back, feeling that heat sear down his side again. He clenched his fist, bunching Beecher's T-shirt in his fingers.
"I'm OK," Beecher said softly, but his arms stayed wrapped around O'Reilly's waist.
"Are you?" O'Reilly asked, and Beecher looked away.
"Are you?" he replied.
"Never better," Ryan replied, pasting on his trademark shit-eating grin, and guided Beecher over to the bunk. Those blue eyes looked at him searchingly, and it was O'Reilly's turn to look away.
"So, you're back," he said, noncommittally, stuffing the stethoscope back under the mattress and moving to stand slouched against the wall. "Slumming already? Cyril was hoping you'd come to visit. He was always talking about what you were doing in the hospital. Besides teaching him how to play checkers."
"Cyril and I had a lot to talk about." The blue eyes were icy with rage now.
"Don't worry about it, Beecher," Ryan said. "It's gonna be taken care of, sooner or later."
"I should have known. You always have a way to take care of things, don't you?"
Beecher was leaning on the metal railing, looking down at the ant hill of activity in the pit, when Ryan swaggered over, Cyril in tow, to prop his lean body beside the blond man's. Beecher, being Beecher, was brooding.
"Shake it off, man," O'Reilly advised. "You think too much."
"I think too much? This from the man with the plan 24 hours a day?"
"There's a time to plan and a time to act." Ryan shot the other man a grin, the back of his brain still turning over his latest meeting with Nappa. The prison Don was as sick of that little punk Kenny Wangler putting on airs as O'Reilly was. No finesse, a cardinal sin in both O'Reilly's and Nappa's books, but it made the little tin god the perfect tool in the shitstorm O'Reilly had patiently been brewing between the Aryans and the gangsters. And when Wangler took the fall, it would leave Ryan's hands clean - although he could feel the wave of pleasure surge through his body when he imagined his own hands around Vern's neck, squeezing the breath and the life out of him. Nobody fucked with Ryan O'Reilly or his family.
He squashed the feeling. No, better to let Vern live, helpless, knowing what had been done to him, just the way Cyril had to endure his memories and his nightmares.
"A time to act ..." Beecher's jarring laugh pulled O'Reilly back to his surroundings.
"I told you it was being taken care of, OK? Don't go sticking your nose in where it's only going to mess shit up. Don't try and pull another end run the way you did with Jefferson Keane."
Anger, bright in those icy blue eyes.
"Vern is mine, O'Reilly."
"You want to see him go down? Or do you want to keep tossing this ball back and forth without ever winning the game? I'm telling you, just sit back and enjoy the show. You want to do anything, lawboy, keep an eye on Cyril for me. Hit the library and see if you can find a way to get him out of this shithole. I can't trust anybody else with him. You've done good with him so far." O'Reilly turned his plea full-force on the other man with the earnestness only he could manage, leaning in close.
"Ryan, what are you doing?" Beecher's eyes darted over O'Reilly's face. "This isn't you talking. I've watched you, you know. Seen you skate over the thinnest patches of ice ..."
"It's not just me, now, do you understand that?" Ryan's voice was urgent, low, secretive. "I've got to make sure Cyril's OK, too, and I can't move with that leash on. Goddammit!" He raised his hand to pound the railing with months of bottled frustration, aborted the gesture, took a deep breath to regain control. He couldn't afford to lose it, not out here, where everyone could see.
"Ryan?" Cyril's voice was tentative as the hulking child recognized the anger in his brother's voice, heard his own name and worried that he had done something wrong. Again.
Beecher looked at O'Reilly for another moment, then slipped past him to rest a hand on Cyril's arm.
"It's OK, buddy, he's just worried about you. Are you doing all right?"
An expression of fear washed over the handsome, slack face.
"I had another dream last night." The boyish voice was unhappy. "About the bad man."
Beecher could hear Ryan swearing softly behind him but forced himself to concentrate on Cyril.
"I know what you're talking about, buddy. But you're OK, now, right? You woke up and everything was OK. And no matter what the bad man did to you, it wasn't your fault, Sunshine. You didn't do anything bad."
Cyril nodded, eyes still downcast.
"Why'd he want to hurt me? I didn't do anything to him."
Beecher's hand was shaking as he brushed the long strands of Cyril's hair back behind an ear.
"Some people are just mean," he responded, the same pitiful explanation he'd once offered his little girl when the other preschoolers made fun of her for some childish, forgotten reason. "They do hateful things because it makes them happy. They're evil, not like you and me and your brother. You just stay away from the bad man, OK?"
Cyril nodded again, and Beecher squeezed his arm before turning back to O'Reilly, a mask of rage dropping over his face.
"I want him dead," the blond man hissed. "And I want him to suffer the same way Cyril's suffering, the same way I'm suffering. You'd better take care of it, O'Reilly, or I will, and fuck whatever plans you have."
"Don't worry." Ryan caught Beecher's eyes and held them. "It will be everything you want and more. Just watch out for Cyril for me, OK? That's what you can do to make this happen."
"Soon," Beecher whispered. "Soon. I need to feel alive again."
"You're going to be fine, Beech," Ryan said, draping an arm over the other man's shoulder. "If you can hate that much, you can't be dead."
He turned back to the railing and looked down to find Chris Keller's steady gaze on them.
O'Reilly had no idea how soon or how well Beecher would hold up his end of the bargain.
Later, Ryan cursed himself for taking his own eyes off Cyril for a few minutes. Only a few minutes to talk to Nappa, leaning against the door of the Godfather's pod to discuss the squeeze on tits in Em City ... but it was long enough.
Cyril, left to his own devices, was happily bouncing his new ball, but it got away from him. Again.
"Can I have my ball back?" he politely asked the big man who picked it up as it rolled away.
The other inmate snickered.
"The dummy wants his ball back," he said to his companions.
"Can I have my ball back?" Cyril repeated, growing agitated.
"My ball, now," the other inmate said breezily, twirling the rubber sphere in his fingers.
"Give me my ball."
Ryan's head snapped around, attention snagged by Cyril's tone. Holy shit, the elder O'Reilly thought. He sounds like he did before ... before. There was anger crowding out the vacant expression on Cyril's face, and Ryan felt his stomach plummet.
"Oh, fuck." The words were barely out of his mouth, and he was moving in on his brother.
*"Give* me my ball." The words were deadly soft and Cyril was in the other man's face as Ryan reached for his brother's shoulder, but the other man was already shoving Cyril back, and the younger O'Reilly exploded, fists flailing in rage.
Ryan took a glancing blow to the head, staggered back, watched the stop-and-start action around him in slow motion: Cyril's crimson, angry face, lips moving in words Ryan couldn't understand; a fist drawn back, cocked to slam his little brother; Beecher suddenly materializing, throwing his body in front of Cyril, shoving the bigger man back; a yelp of pain - Toby's; black uniforms moving in; Cyril's cries as he struggled against the nightstick at his throat and the arms around his body.
"Let go of him, you cocksuckers," Ryan yelled, struggling against the burly arms of Jazz Hoyt, who held him out of the fray.
"Stop them." It was a hiss from Beecher, flung straight at Whittlesey, a low intense command that cut through the mayhem. The woman shifted uncomfortably.
"You know the rules, Beecher," she began.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Whittlesey, they're making him worse, you know he doesn't like to be touched."
Beecher was moving toward the guards clustered around Cyril, voice low and soothing now - the same mantra that had pulled Ryan out of his fugue only days ago, a steady stream of calming words and endearments.
"C'mon, Sunshine, come on, it's OK now, buddy, you're all right, come on ..."
Cyril was still struggling, wearing himself out against the arms that held him, slumping finally as rage gave way to exhaustion. Beecher followed him down to the ground, still careful not to touch him, heedlessly knocking away the arms of the COs. Whittlesey shook her head at the hacks, leaned over to speak to Beecher in a low urgent voice: "He's going to have to go in the hole, Beecher. McManus isn't going to let this go by - you know it and I know it. But if you don't calm him down, they're going to sedate him, too."
Beecher looked at her for a moment, seeing unhappiness written in the tense planes of her face. He had always known there was a soft spot somewhere under all that resigned, businesslike attitude. They had all sensed the tension between Whittlesey and McManus since Metzger had been moved out of Em City, and Beecher wasn't sure what the problem was, but he wasn't going to let any advantage slip through his fingers. He nodded, holding her eyes with his own.
"Let me go with them when they take him."
She looked at him for silent moment before nodding back.
"I told him he'd have to stay by himself for a few days. I'm going to go talk to Sister Pete, see if she can get him out of there."
Ryan jerked at the sound of Beecher's voice behind him but didn't turn from his study of the wall in his pod.
"McManus is threatening to move him back to Gen Pop," O'Reilly told the other man, voice harsh, body quivering with rage. He slammed a fist into the concrete wall, pain barely registering. He did it again. And again.
"Ryan, stop it."
He felt Beecher moving up behind him, arms slipping around his body, fingers wrapped around his fists, chest a curving wall against his back. Beecher was still too weak to manhandle O'Reilly, but he used the dead weight of his body to press Ryan against the wall, effectively containing the burst of fury. Ryan stood pressed flat against the concrete, feeling its cool grit against his cheek in contrast to the heated breath on the back of his neck. The other man was completely wrapped around him, and Ryan felt the comfort of the touch wash through him. It was a weakness he would never admit to, how he craved simple human contact since being locked inside these walls. It had never seemed that important, outside, where it was free for the taking. But now, how long had it been since someone had touched him, other than the rough shoves of the hacks or a blow from another inmate? Had anyone bothered, since Gloria?
Odd, how his body recognized Beecher's touch, remembered it from months ago - an accidental brush of chest against shoulder, a playful arm flung around his neck, a fleeting, light press of fingers on his back. The small reassurances he had sought, that the other man accepted his own touch, hadn't disappeared, still had his back. Even the length of Beecher's body pressed against his wasn't entirely unfamiliar ... He shied away from the thought, from the knowledge that this body was more familiar to him, from their giggling, drugged horseplay, than Gloria's ever could be. Even Beecher's scent was well-known, a curious, crisp apple scent that seemed to emanate from the other man's pores.
Suddenly uneasy, he pushed back, shaking the other man off of him.
"So, you think Sister Pete can get him out of there?"
"I'm going to go talk to her. I mean, I think it's obvious that's not his normal behavior. Something set him off."
"The ball," O'Reilly said, pieces suddenly snapping into place. "He said he was playing with his ball when Schillinger showed up, that Vern took it and wouldn't give it back to him ..."
They looked at each other, steel meeting steel in the glance.
"I'm going to talk to Sister Pete right now." Beecher was out the door before he turned around, eyes still hard. "Don't let us down on this, O'Reilly."
Beecher sat at the cafeteria table, staring apathetically at the colorless mush on his tray, too tired after the exhausting physical therapy to shovel anything into his mouth. Two weeks since the last cast came off, and it wasn't getting any better.
"Aren't you going to eat anything, Toby?" Cyril's voice was muffled.
"Don't talk with your mouth full, Cyril," he responded automatically, then winced, remembering another time, another life, when he'd spoken those same words to his own children, when he sat around a dinner table with his family, comfortable, respected, respectable. That life was gone, that man was dead, and what the hell did it matter if Cyril talked with his mouth full? Who worried about table manners - any manners - in Oz? Who ever asked for anything politely or was grateful when they got it? He'd been grateful - grateful for a few crumbs of affection flung his way - and look where it had gotten him.
He looked up at Cyril.
"You want it?"
"You ever gonna eat again?" O'Reilly's voice was smooth as he slid into the seat beside Beecher.
"How's your arm?"
"Fine." O'Reilly's answer was short. "I can't believe you're not going to eat that delicious creamed corn. After I spent hours slaving over it."
"How was the trip to the infirmary?" Beecher persisted, a sudden, small-minded viciousness urging him to poke at someone else's wounds for a change.
"Fine." O'Reilly was not going to be pulled into this dance. He concentrated on his food, outwardly oblivious to Beecher's stare burning through him. After a good 10 minutes of silence he threw down his fork.
"What the fuck do you want me to say? She's still ignoring me. Give me some time."
"Maybe you're better off being ignored."
"What the hell does that mean ..." The angry words cut off as his eyes followed Beecher's gaze, to meet the hooded eyes of Chris Keller at the next table. Ryan leaned in close to Beecher, his breath stirring tendrils of blond hair as he whispered. "Don't worry about it. When Schillinger goes down, that asswipe won't be far behind."
"What are you planning, Ryan?" Beecher's voice was low, and his eyes were still locked on Keller, like a rabbit hypnotized by a snake.
"It'll be worth the wait."
Beecher turned back to him, face inches away, and grabbed Ryan's wrist.
"What are you planning, O'Reilly?"
Ryan looked at the other man, searching his face.
"What, are you worried about him?" His voice was incredulous. "Concerned maybe he's going to stub his toe? Jesus Christ, Beecher, after what that guy did to you - I don't understand you at all, don't see why you wanted to get mixed up with him after what Schillinger did, anyway - and I know he had something to do with you ending up like a pretzel ..."
"I'm not worried about him." Beecher's voice was low, harsh. "He deserves to get fucked as much as Schillinger."
"Then what's the problem?"
"I don't want to talk about this." Beecher dragged himself to his feet, grabbed his tray. Anger was evident in the set of his shoulders, even as he limped out of the cafeteria.
Ryan shoved the last of his dinner in his mouth and rose, cursing. He still had to deal with cleanup.
"Cyril, are you done? Go find Toby. Don't talk to anybody else, don't go anywhere else. Just go find Toby and stay with him. You understand me? Make sure you can see one of the hacks the entire time. And yell if anybody tries to pull anything."
Beecher looked up, eyes dulled grey with weariness, as Ryan ambled into the pod. The blond man was curled up with a book at one end of his bed, keeping a watchful eye on Cyril, curled asleep at the other.
"He hasn't been getting much sleep since he came back from the hole, has he? You'll have to wake him up to get back to your pod for lockdown."
"Still got half an hour. Let him rest."
Beecher nodded and looked down, fingers smoothing over the cover of his book.
"He still has the nightmares, doesn't he?"
"Wakes up in the middle of the night." Ryan perched carefully on the edge of the crowded bed as he spoke, sat hunched to avoid whacking his head on the upper bunk. "He cries."
"Nothing wrong with that." Beecher's voice was wry, but his fingers were clenched around the edges of the book tightly now, knuckles white. "I cry sometimes, too."
His own words, spoken more than a year ago, mocked Ryan. He remembered hearing about the display Beecher had been forced into, made to lick Vern's boots, and the look on Toby's face when Ryan had found him later, washing out his mouth. How had Beecher endured so long before lashing out? Ryan had waited for the explosion, wondered what it would take to light the fuse on that powder keg. He had refused to fight the other man's battles for him - it was for Beecher's own good, he told himself. Make him take back that small bit of manhood.
But he also remembered the regret he felt watching the walls go up around Toby, trapping him inside a small room of madness, cutting off his connections with everyone, Ryan included, even as those barriers formed a protective shell that saved him from the ravages of Oz. And when Beecher had taken down those walls, he had been broken again. Looking at the other man's closed, pinched face, Ryan saw himself. He knew Beecher was better off this way, but some small part of him - buried so deep he hardly recognized it - mourned for both of them.
He reached out, touched the taut flesh of Beecher's hands, unwrapped them from around the book.
"Do you? Do you ever cry any more? Do you remember how?"
"What the fuck did it ever get me?" Beecher's voice was as tired as his expression now.
"Don't, Ryan." Beecher pulled his hands away and huddled in the corner of the bed.
"How long?" Ryan asked, turning his head to examine his brother. "How long before he can put this behind him?"
"You're asking me?" Beecher's laugh was jagged as broken glass. "Ask me in a few hundred years. Maybe then I'll have something to tell you."
"Then why was it so easy with Keller?" Ryan leaned toward Beecher, crowding him in typical O'Reilly in-your-face fashion. "What's going on with you two, anyway? Shit, Beecher, I never knew you were really queer ..."
"It didn't have anything to do with that," Beecher said, anger flaring. "I didn't want it to happen. I didn't want to fall in love with another man ..."
"Jesus. If you don't like guys, then how could you?"
"I needed somebody," Beecher said fiercely. "I was stupid to believe in the wrong person, but he was there when I needed someone. Who else was there?"
He raised his eyes, and Ryan looked away from that searching gaze. O'Reilly himself had been wrapped up in chemo and Gloria, in the fear of death and a desperate grasping for life, and who had been there for Beecher? What if Ryan had been there instead of Keller ... he ruthlessly cut off that train of thought and laughed, trying to break the tension.
"You've got to learn to rely on yourself, Beecher. Look at me. I don't have time to need anybody."
"I think you do, O'Reilly."
Ryan met Beecher's eyes steadily.
"No," he said evenly. "I don't."
"Are you going to tell me you've forgotten?" Beecher said with a sharp laugh, a challenge in his hard gaze. "Maybe you'd like to forget. Maybe it doesn't go along with your image as the macho Irish thug. But there's something in there that remembers, isn't there, O'Reilly?"
O'Reilly stared at him. God help him, he hadn't forgotten. He had tried. Tried to forget the feeling of Beecher's body heavy against his side as they toppled against each other; the pulse of blood under the tender skin at the nape of Beecher's neck as Ryan rested his hand there; breath tickling his throat as Toby slid down to rest against his shoulder; the tip of a moist, pink tongue tracing patterns on his hand.
That tongue ... He'd reached over Beecher's shoulder, around the other man's body as he'd done a half-dozen times, offering the powdered ecstasy, and before he could draw it back, Beecher had laced fingertips through his own, and that tongue had flicked out, delicately following the powdered remnants of the drug, leaving a moist trail down to O'Reilly's wrist. Ryan remembered the heat that had built between their bodies, inches apart, the quick, shallow breaths that brought his own chest into contact with Beecher's back. They had tumbled together with the innocence of puppies until that moment changed everything, until a sudden hollow feeling had built in his chest. The dance had changed, and nothing would ever be the same.
He had lied to everyone, told them he'd stayed clean after his time in the hole, tried to deny what had happened when he and Beecher shared those subsequent, glorious highs.
A shiver gripped him. He squashed the feeling.
"It didn't mean anything, do you understand that?" he grated out, low, forcefully. "It was just the drugs."
Beecher flinched as if he'd been slapped.
"That's right, O'Reilly. Just you and Vern, both getting your jollies however you could."
Ryan felt the blood drain from his face, felt the sudden rage coursing through him. Any sane man would have been afraid of the expression on his face. But Beecher wasn't quite sane - hadn't been for a while, now - and he didn't move as O'Reilly crowded against him.
Ryan was up in Beecher's face now - chests almost touching, hands gripping the other man's shoulders, a slow burn through his body, and God, it felt good ...
But the hacks were calling evening count, and Ryan backed off, growling out a warning.
"Stay away from me."
The memories weren't so easily banished.
Lying in his bunk, Ryan O'Reilly was remembering, the images broken and disjointed, drug-hazed, dreamlike.
His eyes were open, but they didn't see the ceiling. They saw the smooth arch of a pale throat, muscles working beneath the thin skin to hold back noisy, betraying gasps.
His fingers flexed, but they didn't feel the scratchy wool of cheap blankets. He felt satin flesh and the hard muscles of another body flexing against his own.
He flicked his tongue over his lips, but he didn't taste the toothpaste from his nightly brushing, setting a good example for Cyril. He tasted salt sweat, a clean, sharp frisson of flavor against his tongue.
The stuffy odors of Oz and the almost silent buzzing hum of electric lights and generators were swallowed by the memory of the apple scent that was part of the other's skin, and the sound of sharp, panting breaths, his own and another's, mingling with laughter.
He flung himself onto his stomach, twisting deeper into the blankets. It hadn't meant anything. It was just the drugs, and the feeling of a body pressed close to his own. He was so fucked up, he could have gotten off if Godzilla rubbed a scaly body up against him. He wasn't gay. He was a man. He liked women. He loved Gloria.
He didn't need this shit. Beecher was a bottomless pit of need, always had been. O'Reilly couldn't let himself be sucked in. If he wanted a puppy, to gambol at his heels and take care of, he had Cyril. While he winced at the thought, he recognized its truth.
But it had felt so good just to laugh. Something in Tobias Beecher had freed O'Reilly, the instinctive animal understanding: No threat here. And Beecher had nothing that O'Reilly wanted, could do nothing to help O'Reilly with an appeal of his court case or his schemes in Oz. There was no need to play a role with the other man, to move him around like a chess piece in the complicated game that was Ryan O'Reilly's life. Nothing to gain, nothing to lose. And the sudden freedom brought down his walls, allowed him to play as he had once run and played with Cyril in the squalid tenements that were such a wonderland of hidden treasures to a pair of little boys who hadn't yet learned the swagger and guile that all survivors eventually developed.
But the stakes were higher now. Beecher finally had something O'Reilly needed: another pair of eyes to watch over Cyril. An instinctive understanding of what Ryan's little brother was going through when Cyril woke up crying in the middle of the night, when he shied away from the touch of the hacks or the other inmates. And Cyril was good for Toby, too. Cyril's almost empathic responses to the emotions around him, his fear of doing something wrong or bad, of making someone angry - they kept the madness and rage simmering below Beecher's surface in line. They were good for each other.
Ryan's fucked-up reactions to Beecher couldn't be allowed to interfere with that. But what were the implications for Cyril, if Beecher could admit to falling in love with Keller - with another man?
Beecher crowned the red checker closest to him and grinned at Cyril.
"Next thing you know, you're going to be beating me, Sunshine. I almost think you're ready to start learning chess."
Cyril beamed happily and looked up at Ryan.
"I'm getting really good." His pride was evident.
"Yeah, you are, bro." Ryan shifted his perch on the table, still standing with his arms across his chest. He looked down at Beecher. "Sunshine?"
"What? I've called him that plenty of times." Beecher's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here anyway, O'Reilly? Don't you have some kind of business to take care of?"
"Just keeping an eye on things. Why, you trying to get rid of me?"
Beecher looked at him coldly and turned back to Cyril.
"So, what do you say you try some outside competition?" he asked the younger man. "How about Rebadow, here? I think he probably wants to test your skills. And it would give me and your brother a chance to talk."
"Oh, I don't think that's such a good idea," the older man said from his seat beside Cyril. "It wouldn't be fair. God might tip me off to what your next move would be. But Busmalis here might offer some competition."
"Do you really talk to God?" Cyril asked, intrigued all over again.
"Keep an eye on him for a minute, guys, would you?" Beecher asked, rising from his chair and grabbing Ryan by the elbow, feeling the other man tense. "Get the fuck over here, O'Reilly."
Beecher's grip was still weak, but Ryan let himself be dragged anyway, underneath the stairs where they had some privacy. Beecher dropped his arm and looked at him with ice in his eyes.
"What the fuck is going on, O'Reilly? Aren't you supposed to be working some angle? Or has Schillinger dropped off your priority list? Nappa doesn't seem too happy with his do-boy neglecting his duties the past couple of days, either. Not like you to let business go," he said nastily.
"Just keeping an eye on my baby brother," Ryan responded mildly.
"I thought that was my job. Or can't I even do that right? Or," Beecher stepped closer to Ryan now, backing him up against the wall, invading his personal space, "are you afraid I'm going to take advantage of him?"
Ryan avoided Beecher's eyes, tried to turn down his awareness of the other man's body inches from his own.
"What am I supposed to think? You told me you were in love with another man, for Chrissake. And I know it's not the first time you ..." he broke off.
"That I what? That I touched another man, tasted his skin, felt his hands on me? Wanted to feel his hands on me? Tell me, O'Reilly, what does it feel like? What does it feel like to have every conception of yourself turned inside out because you need to be touched, to be held, so bad that you're willing to toss your entire self-image aside, just to have that connection? Tell me, because I really want to hear about it."
Beecher, suddenly seductive, traced a finger down O'Reilly's cheekbone, to his mouth, across his lips.
"Tell me, Ryan. Or should I ask Dr. Nathan? I know she's seen you that way - broken, desperate."
Ryan sucked in a sudden gasp of air. Beecher's body pressed against his own was the only thing that kept him from sagging to the floor. He closed his eyes against the pain.
Beecher wrenched away from O'Reilly, and the sudden movement, the bereft, cold feeling it left, forced Ryan's eyes open. Beecher was shaking, fine tremors running through him as he looked at O'Reilly, face pale, eyes wide.
"Oh, shit, oh, shit," Beecher whispered. "Oh my God, Ryan. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." He staggered backward, face twisted as he stumbled to the underside of the stairs, supporting himself against the risers. They huddled, two separate bundles of pain, until O'Reilly noticed Beecher sagging where he stood.
"Toby ..." Three long strides, and he was supporting the other man, arm around his waist. Beecher was heavy against him but still tried to push him away.
"Stop it. Stop it!" O'Reilly said fiercely.
"Don't." Beecher's voice was harsh. "My God, how can you stand to even look at me? After what I just said ..."
"Fuck, Toby. Nobody else is beating up on you, so you have to beat up on yourself? You defended yourself, that's all. Finally. I was the one who was out of line. My God, I know you would never do anything to hurt Cyril."
"I didn't have any problem hurting you, just now, did I?"
O'Reilly released him, stepped carefully away. It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done.
"I deserved it," he said, voice low, eyes on the activity on the other side of the screening stairs. "I can't respect what you're feeling, so why should you respect what I'm going through ..."
Beecher was back in Ryan's face, eyes blazing.
"If we can't trust each other, who can we trust?"
Ryan stared at the other man.
"I miss that, you know," Beecher continued, turning away to stare into space, talking to empty air. "You were the one person who didn't want to hurt me. The only person who didn't laugh at me. When I was standing up on that stage, in that ... that ... I kept thinking, if I only had a hit, this would be so much easier. But I didn't. And I had to make it through. And I looked at you - the only one who wasn't laughing."
"I hated seeing you up there," Ryan whispered. "Couldn't watch while you ..."
"I know. I know. But it wasn't enough, was it? You didn't need me as much as I needed you. You were the strong one. Nobody fucked with you. Or if they did, you took care of it. You didn't need anybody. My God, I envied that. Hoped some of it would rub off on me, I guess."
Ryan stepped up close behind the other man, rested his hands on Beecher's shoulders.
"I needed someone. I ..." He broke off. Nothing had ever been as hard to say. Not the first time he told a girl he loved her, not when he took his marriage vows. Not when he asked the doctor what Cyril's chances were. Ryan O'Reilly didn't admit weakness. It went against two decades of conditioning. And he steeled himself to admit it for the second time in his life.
'You don't think I just run around giving away drugs for free, do you?" He laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. "I was like the girl who sleeps with the football team. Here, try some of what I've got, just like me, spend time with me. Make me feel better."
Beecher turned in his arms, looked into his eyes. Raised a hand to touch his cheek.
"Why? I didn't have anything you wanted."
"Toby, for someone who's supposed to be so smart, you sure can be dumb. That's the point. You didn't have any angle. You were honest. You're still honest. No one else was ever honest with me. Even Shannon. They always wanted something I could get them. Until Gloria. She looked at me like I was a person, not a connection. Until I fucked it up. Wanted too much. That's what happens when I don't keep my mind on business."
"Life isn't all business."
"Isn't it?" He tried to extricate himself from Beecher, but the other man clung to him like a barnacle, and O'Reilly found himself wanting to melt into that shockingly familiar embrace. He shook it off. "You reminded me a while ago, I've got some business to take care of now. So let me take care of it, huh?"
"I need to keep my head clear on this, OK?"
"Are we OK?"
He turned back, graced the other man with a patented O'Reilly grin. Only this time, he meant it.
"We're OK. Go keep an eye on Cyril."
Relieved from baby-sitting duty after Ryan hauled Cyril off to a weekly appointment with Sister Pete, Beecher was morosely watching his shirts and underwear spin in the dryer. It was a good metaphor for his life, he decided. No matter how many times he circled around, he always seemed to wind up in the same place.
He worried at his decision to turn the reins over to O'Reilly like a dog with a bone. Lying in the hospital bed, consumed with fury, he had plotted dozens of revenge scenarios, savage and bloody. He could still taste it, the hatred and the desire, coppery in his throat.
But his sharp lawyer's mind - buried deep, but still whispering - told him to let someone else do the dirty work. Get an expert, it said. Someone used to getting down in the mud, someone else who would be in the line of fire if the shit hit the fan. Only a couple more years until your first parole hearing, Toby, and you don't want to take the chance of fucking that up, do you?
Who was he kidding? He needed someone who could actually get the job done. Every move Beecher had made against Schillinger had eventually been countered, leaving him with his face back in the dirt. And Keller ... Keller was even worse. Beecher didn't want to examine the feelings of petrified indecision mingled with rage that struck him every time he saw his would-be lover. Didn't want to drag those emotions out into the light.
God, he was pathetic. He knew what the next arc of the circle would be. He could already feel the itch in his veins. He was too uptight, too worried about what was going to go down. The tension in Em City didn't help. Even knowing that O'Reilly was somehow responsible, that it was part of the plan, didn't help. The nervous throb just added to his discomfort, made him need a drink, a hit, something to calm his nerves, more than ever. He would jump out of his skin soon.
"It was business, you know. Nothing personal."
Beecher had been aware - almost painfully aware - of the man moving up behind him, but his shoulders knotted anyway at the sound of the smooth, dark voice.
"Fuck off, Keller."
The other man laughed.
"What, you don't think your new boyfriend wouldn't sell you out in a minute, if it came down to it? You think you're building some kind of nice little family? Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear? Don't be so naive, Toby."
"Don't call me that." Beecher was trembling now, anger mixed with a hot, familiar feeling coursing through him at the sound of Keller's chocolate voice, the warm breath tickling his ear. "I know who my friends are. My real friends."
"I don't think friendship was where we were heading ...." Hot lips touched Beecher's neck, sharp teeth worried his flesh, a moist tongue flickered out to soothe the sting. "I know you, Toby. I know what you need. You're looking for it again, aren't you? But you're not going to find it in that little mick. He's too scared to admit he can find it in a man. But we aren't, are we? We both admitted it, didn't we? Right here. Remember? You told me you loved me and you kissed me ..."
"Get the fuck away from me." Beecher swung around, all his weight behind his clenched hands as he struck Keller, flinging the tall man back to land on his ass in the same ignominious sprawl Beecher himself had once suffered.
"You don't know anything, Chris. You don't know anything about friendship, and you certainly don't know what's going on between me and O'Reilly, whatever your twisted brain might think."
"I know you're not going to get what you need from him," Keller drew his knees up but remained on the floor, leaning back on his hands, his gaze penetrating from under dark brows. "You know it, too. But you know where you can find it. Why else did you cover my sorry ass?"
Hidden in the corner of his glass cage, screened from prying eyes by his bed, he rested his forehead against the wall, panting, trying to catch his breath. Still suffering the aftereffects of months of inactivity, his body was also shuddering from the adrenaline rush that accompanied his surge of rage. He swung around when he felt the touch on his shoulder and would have hit O'Reilly if the other man hadn't grabbed his wrist and forced his arm down.
"What the fuck ..."
Beecher rested his head back against the wall, closing his eyes.
"What the hell happened to you? O'Reilly asked, raising his other hand to trace Beecher's throat.
"What are you talking about?" Beecher asked, raising his own free hand to trap the fingers and still the tickling touch.
"You look like Dracula's take-out."
"There's a fucking bruise, isn't there? A goddamned hickey." His voice was becoming frantic, and he squirmed in O'Reilly's grasp. "He had to leave his fucking mark, didn't he?"
"What are you talking about? What happened?" Ryan edged in closer, almost touching now, trying to still the movements with his own body.
"Keller," Beecher said reluctantly. "Tried to pull ... something, I don't know. I never know what his angle is. Knocked him on his ass. Not before he had a chance ... Shit. I'm carrying around his mark, can't get it off ..."
Seized by a sudden, mad impulse, Ryan grinned.
"Is that all you're worried about?"
Beecher lowered his head and looked at Ryan like he was nuts.
"Solve that problem for you," O'Reilly said lightly, stealing a quick glance around before leaning in, taking a sharp nip at Beecher's throat.
"Ow!" Beecher jerked in his arms. "What the fuck was that for, asshole?"
Ryan grinned into the other man's neck.
"Cover up his mark," he said, lips still brushing skin. "Look in the mirror tomorrow, and you won't even know he's been there."
Beecher laughed suddenly, and O'Reilly felt the rumble against his own chest, the vibration under the silken skin against his lips. He raised his head to meet Beecher's eyes.
"Does this mean I'm yours now?" The blond man's voice was light, but Ryan was suddenly exquisitely aware of the body against his, the flesh and bone his own lanky form pressed to the wall. A thrill of possession ran through him, and he gave Beecher a dangerous grin.
"Mine," he agreed, and lowered his head to place a series of sharp nips along Beecher's throat, not hard enough to bruise, but leaving small red spots to mark his passage all the same. Beecher moved against him, and O'Reilly tightened his grasp around the other man's wrists, pressing him harder into the wall. Beecher' head was flung back again, and as Ryan reached the hollow of the other man's throat, he darted out his tongue to taste ...
Salt, exploding in his mouth, hauntingly familiar, and a floating memory
*the taste of Beecher's flesh; the feel of damp, heated skin; biting down hard on a muscled shoulder as he came in his pants like a kid, pressed against the other man, the angeldust singing through his veins. He had known it was a farewell, that he was sending a gladiator into the arena to fight and die, on his feet, finally. But the other man had come back, despite his madness, despite everything that had intervened: the aftermath of the riot, Beecher's own spiraling descent, O'Reilly's mad flight from what had happened. The frantic flight, Ryan burying himself in his business, in his machinations; the terror that swept through him when he found out about the cancer, the denial of his illness and the feeling that suddenly he was less of a man, tied to Beecher, keeping him from the other man, afraid to talk to him, to stir up those emotions; burying himself again in thoughts of Gloria. And Beecher, wrapped up in Keller, always Keller ...*
O'Reilly jerked away, and Beecher reached for him, but Ryan caught the hand and stilled it.
"No," he said, and Beecher looked away from the steady gaze. "You're not mine. You're not anybody's. When are you going to learn that?"
Ryan was sitting among the thinning ranks in the cafeteria, playing with his leftover food, trying to avoid work, trying to avoid thoughts of Beecher. What the fuck had he been thinking? If anyone had seen that little display, he could kiss his rep - and consequently his ass - good-bye.
You, he told himself, are going to maintain. You've been out of control long enough. And losing control has fucked up your life too often. It got Cyril hurt, it got you here, it got Cyril locked up in Oz. Whatever the fuck you're doing, whatever the fuck you're looking for, you've gone this long without it. And you certainly don't need to look for it from another man, for God's sake. You're not queer. You've never taken it. That's disgusting, perverted. If Beecher wants to find another man, that's fine for him, but it doesn't have to touch you.
It didn't have _anything to do with that. Beecher's voice in his mind.
"Moving in on my territory?" This voice was low, husky, breathed in his ear from behind. Ryan felt his hackles rise at the intrusion of his personal space. He forced his body to remain slouched, relaxed, but his voice was taut.
"You got a problem, I can solve it, so I'd advise you to back off," O'Reilly told the dark, hawk-faced man leaning over his shoulder. Keller laughed, and Ryan felt as much as heard it, as the other man's chest pressed against his shoulder.
"No problem. I just never knew you swung that way, O'Reilly." A finger ran down O'Reilly's shoulder blade, tracing the edge of his tank, and Ryan's skin tried to crawl away from the touch.
"Get your hands off me," Ryan said, the threat evident in his voice.
"Hey, I can share. He is sweet, isn't he? That mouth ..."
O'Reilly surged to his feet and swung.
In the hole, he had plenty of time to examine his motives.
There was a new coolness between them when he got back to Em City. Ryan had stepped over a line that shouldn't be crossed, but his head was back where it belonged now. They had a common goal, a shared interest, but it was business. It would stay that way.
"Thanks for looking out for Cyril for me."
"It's the least I could do, considering you were defending my honor." Beecher's tone was sour.
"It had nothing to do with you. That was all about me."
"Oh, I know," Beecher grinned wryly. "That's one of the things that's so refreshing about you, O'Reilly. Your obvious self-interest."
"If you don't look out for yourself, who will?"
"You got that right."
"Gotta go get these damn stitches out of my arm." O'Reilly tried to conceal the anticipation in his voice. Beecher raised an eyebrow but made no comment, so he must have been successful.
O'Reilly was surprised the paint hadn't peeled off the wall of his pod, as much time as he spent glowering at it lately. He had made the walk back silently, had ignored his brother and Beecher sitting with Rebadow and Busmalis, playing some game of cards this time - at least they were off the fucking never-ending games of checkers.
Sitting on the edge of Cyril's bunk, Ryan just wanted to be alone, to find time to lick his wounds, to put himself back together before he had to face anyone. His arm was healed, but his heart was a raw, open wound. As if Gloria's continuing contempt wasn't enough, that cocksucker McManus had been there today, leaning over her as she riffled through the papers on her desk, whispering in her ear, raising his head to shoot a slow, mocking grin at O'Reilly.
"Gloria," he had whispered to her as she bent over his arm. "I have to talk to you."
"Some kind of medical problem, O'Reilly?" Her voice had been professional, detached, but it had drawn McManus toward them, to hover like some kind of vulture waiting for fresh meat.
"In private," Ryan had said, shooting McManus a withering glance.
"I don't think that's such a good idea, O'Reilly. Why would I want to spend any time alone with you?"
"Gloria, I know how you feel ..."
"You have no idea how I feel. You have no thought for anyone's feelings except your own. My job requires me to patch you up when you get hurt. It doesn't require me to play your twisted little games. Your arm is fine. Go back to Em City."
And then McManus, standing behind him, whispering in his ear the same way Keller had.
"Stay away from her, O'Reilly. Or I promise you, my mission in life will be to make your sorry ass miserable every single minute of every single day you're here."
"She's a big girl, McManus. Where do you get off playing protector? It's none of your business, anyway." Ryan had followed Gloria with his eyes from across the room, breathing deeply, trying to fill his thoughts with her presence to blank out McManus' venomous tone.
"But Gloria is my business, now." McManus had moved around to smirk at O'Reilly, and Ryan had clenched his fists, suddenly understanding what the other man was saying.
Gloria and McManus? A freezing wave of rage had hit him.
"You have no idea what goes on outside these walls, O'Reilly." McManus had turned away, gestured to one of the hacks standing by the door. "Get him out of here."
Still lost inside his head, Ryan barely noticed when Beecher showed up at the door of the pod.
"When?" the other man asked.
Ryan looked at him blankly.
"How long?" Beecher said, pent-up anger leaking into his voice. "You've been dancing around for how long now? When are Vern and Keller going to go down? Do you even care any more? Have you seen Cyril's face when he notices Schillinger in the cafeteria? I warned you, O'Reilly. I told you that if you didn't pull this off, I would do it myself. If Keller touches me one more time, I'm going to kill him, and fuck all your plans."
There was steel in Beecher's eyes, a wall that was hiding his emotions more and more often these days. O'Reilly recognized it - had seen it not half an hour ago in Gloria's eyes - and something twisted inside him.
"She's never gonna love me, is she?" His voice was harsh, and he caught Beecher's frozen blue eyes with his own.
"It doesn't matter if she loves you or not," Beecher said, his voice rasping and broken. "She can love you with every fiber of her being. That only makes it worse. She can't allow anything to happen. It's a matter of self-respect. If you lose that in Oz, you've lost everything."
Ryan looked at him, an expression of anguish on his face Beecher had never seen. The closest approximation had only been directed at Cyril. Something in Beecher softened, and sat on the edge of the bed, reaching out a hand, laying it on Ryan's shoulder, rubbing his back, offering wordless comfort.
"No," Ryan grated out, and Beecher froze, wary, his hand stilling. But Ryan continued with the conversation he had left off. "See, I know I can make her love me. I know I can make her understand, if I can just find the right words to say. You gotta help me. I don't know all those pretty words you must have learned in college ..."
Beecher caught O'Reilly's face in one hand, palm cupping chin, fingers pressed against the other man's jawline. The blond man's face was desperate and intense.
"Think about what you're doing, man. You say you can make her love you, and maybe you can. But then what happens? She tears herself up inside. You. Killed. Her. Husband. She can't forgive you for that. And loving you will only make it worse. She'll hate herself."
"You still love him, don't you?"
Beecher's hand jerked away from O'Reilly's face as if he'd been burned.
"I hate him."
"But you love him, too. That's why you hate him so bad."
"Ah, Jesus, Beech. I'm sorry." O'Reilly reached out his own hand, and the other man flinched, barely perceptible, but agonizing nonetheless.
"It's OK, it's all right. I'm not going to hurt you." O'Reilly felt as if he were approaching some half-wild animal, a fey creature that would startle at his touch, coaxing it to accept the hand that slid across Beecher's shoulder to the back of his neck, pulling him close, feeling his heat. He rested his forehead against the other man's.
"Just hold on. We're gonna make it, man. Both of us," Ryan said fiercely.
"Yeah." The word was little more than an exhalation, a hot brush of air over Ryan's lips, and he squeezed his eyes shut, steeled himself against it as a familiar feeling - apprehension and something else - curled in his belly.
And then Cyril, the perfect chaperone, bounded into the pod.
O'Reilly was safely hidden among the rows of canned corn and peas and turnip greens in the kitchen, contraband cigarette dangling from his lip, when he heard the stealthy steps and swung around to confront Beecher's strained, white face.
"What is it?" he asked, recognizing the search for a refuge, even as he moved to draw the blond man deeper among the shelves, tossing away the cigarette. Beecher looked as if he might be sick.
"Chris ..." The word was a strangled sound.
"What?" O'Reilly said, moving swiftly toward him, grabbing his face, warm palms on either cheek, thumbs resting on the sharp cheekbones that had been revealed as the baby face melted away. He forced Beecher's head up, forced the blue eyes to meet his own. "What the fuck happened?"
"He said he missed me," Beecher whispered. "That fucker came up to me and said he still thought about me, that he was sorry for what had happened."
One of those hysterical laughs erupted, and Ryan could feel the madness humming like an electric current beneath the other man's skin.
"Do you think he wants to get back together?" the blond man continued, and then he was laughing - no, he was crying - and Ryan stood helpless. Had Beecher allowed himself to cry since any of this had happened, Ryan wondered. His own whispered words from more than a year ago echoed in his mind, mocking him again.
It's OK. I cry sometimes too.
But he didn't, really. He had no one to cry to. Not any more. He brushed his fingers through the blond hair, weary again, wishing he had the strength to break down and be held like this. Dammit, he was so tired all the time. His energy had never really returned after the chemo, sapped by the poor diet and the constraining walls of Oz. It took all of his efforts to keep his mind on business these days, to shuffle through the steps he had once danced so effortlessly. In a sudden fit of temper, he untangled himself from Beecher, batting away the other man's hands. Why did everyone always have to depend on him?
He saw Beecher's anger flare, turning on Ryan in the absence of the man he truly wanted to hurt.
"Fuck you, O'Reilly. You have to be fucked up to even touch me? Is that how it goes?"
And then Beecher was gone, slamming past the metal shelves, leaving cans tumbled in his wake. And Ryan couldn't even follow him, recognizing the truth of the words.
It was Cyril who tracked Beecher down, following that unerring connection the two of them shared, the need for peace and a quiet place where they could hide from prying eyes that looked at them with pity or contempt. And it was Cyril who brought Ryan there, to the one small janitor's closet with a window, a chink to the outside world, hemmed in with bars but allowing a glimpse of freedom and blue sky.
Ryan pulled his brother down the hallway to Sister Pete's office, asked her to keep an eye on him.
"Is Toby gonna be all right?" Cyril's face was puckered, worried, in his distraction for his friend.
"Is something wrong with Tobias?" Sister Pete's concern was clear.
"Nothing I can't handle," Ryan answered, bringing all his charm to bear on the small woman, trying to hide his fear that he was, in fact, too ill-equipped to handle this crisis.
"I've got this one, Sister. He'll be fine. He's just dealing with some shi ... Sorry."
"You come get me, Ryan O'Reilly, if this is something you can't handle."
"You know I will." And Ryan was gone, down the hallway, turning the corner, grateful to be out from under her soul-searching gaze.
Beecher was leaning against the window sill, cradling the bottle of whiskey against his chest. He had already managed to work his way halfway through the amber liquid.
Ryan shut the door quietly behind him, locking them in.
"You were right, you know," he said with an uneasy grin. "And maybe I'm a coward. But I don't know how ...."
Beecher offered him the bottle. And God help him, he took it.
The alcohol gave his hands tacit permission.
"You never smile any more, Beech," O'Reilly observed, reaching out a wavering finger to touch the worry lines etched on Beecher's brow, missing the grin that usually accompanied their horseplay.
"Gonna give yourself wrinkles," Ryan continued, smoothing the finger across an eyebrow to the creases that marked the tender flesh at the corner of Beecher's eye.
Again, no response.
"Christ, you're a sad drunk. C'mon, Beech, give us a smile." O'Reilly prodded at one corner of the downturned mouth and ran his finger across the pouting lower lip.
"You gonna give me something to smile about?" Beecher's tone was belligerent, but his breath was hot on Ryan's fingers, and those blue eyes lifted to look at O'Reilly.
Ryan let himself fall.
They had sated each other's bodies, shared stolen moments of sweetness, but he had never tasted the other man's mouth. Never crossed that last terrifying boundary, never opened himself to that frightening, heart-wrenching intimacy. The alcohol made it easy, shimmering molten gold through his veins and lending a sharp, sweet taste to Beecher's lips.
It was different from the frantic, frenzied encounters under the spell of the drugs. The whiskey made them slow, languorous. Ryan licked across the other man's lips, felt a hand stroke his cheek, bury itself in his hair. The bottle crashed to the floor, forgotten, as Beecher wrapped his arms around O'Reilly, stroking the shifting muscles of his back through the thin T-shirt Ryan wore.
O'Reilly felt the hard bone of Beecher's jaw moving under the thin skin against his fingertips, registered the half-remembered scrape of stubble against his cheek, explored the sharp edge of teeth with his tongue. It was hot and wet inside that mouth, and Ryan heard a moan as he ran his tongue over the ridges of palate, met wet velvet. He wasn't sure whose chest the sound was torn from. He only knew that he had to get closer to the body moving against his.
His own body shifted, adjusted to bring full, electric contact, and he sucked in a breath from the other mouth - hint of spice, taste of whiskey - at the shocking heat against chest and belly, the hard press of thighs against his own. Those hands were on his bare skin now, his T-shirt rucked up around his shoulders, fingers leaving tickling trails of fire down his back.
More, closer, now.
He grabbed the collar of Toby's shirt, breaking the kiss sharply to pull the interfering garment over the other man's head. He felt fingers scrabbling under his own bunched-up T-shirt and ducked his head, sliding out with practiced ease.
He emerged from the cotton cocoon to the sight of a deliciously tousled Beecher. The blond man looked dazed, features softened by the alcohol, lips swollen and wet. Ryan watched as a pink tongue artlessly licked across those lips, as they shaped words muffled in the whiskey haze.
"Jesus, Ryan, hold me."
The arms encircling him were desperate now, and Ryan tightened his own wiry arms around the lean frame they encompassed, burying his face in the curve of the other man's shoulder, crushing Toby against him as if the pair of them could burrow into each other, curl up in each other's flesh. Hands skimming along the other man's back, noting the satin pull against his fingertips, he traced the sharp, delicate protrusion of shoulder blades. Beecher had been heavier than O'Reilly once, before his muscle mass melted away over months in a hospital bed. Now, Ryan could feel the other man trembling on weakened legs and pressed him back against the window sill for support.
He wanted to take that tender sweet mouth with his again, but it would mean pulling back, and it felt too good to have Toby's heat burning against him, to feel that leg between his thighs, to feel the answering hardness against his own thigh through his heavy cotton pants and the rough denim the other man wore. It felt too good to be held like this, his face pressed into the other man's neck, strong arms supporting him as he leaned into the other body, rocking his hips hard into that cradle of flesh and bone.
He heard hitching gasps, couldn't be sure if they were his or Toby's, only knew they were both ... almost ... there ...
Holding the other man, Ryan realized Beecher still smelled like apples.
Afterward, gesticulating frantically at Cyril through the window of Sister Pete's office, desperate to get the younger man into the hallway without having to approach the woman, knowing she would smell the alcohol, sure she would scent sex on him, Ryan had to snicker. He felt like a teenager again, sneaking around, copping a feel in the closet, for God's sake. He felt lighter than he had in weeks, and he admitted with brutal honesty that it wasn't entirely from the whiskey buzz that still clung to him.
Sister Pete stuck her head out of the office, concern still written across her features.
"Is everything all right?" she asked suspiciously.
Ryan graced her with a blinding grin, careful to keep his distance.
"Everything's great," the blond man replied, and Ryan had to muffle a laugh. "I was just kind of down, you know, with the physical therapy and everything."
"You come in and see me tomorrow, OK? I'm worried about you."
"He's fine, Sister. I'm keeping an eye on him," Ryan said, grabbing Cyril by the arm and yanking him down the hallway. "Gotta go now. Places to go, people to see."
Beecher gave her a jaunty wave and sauntered down the hallway after them.
Holy mother of God, she thought, watching them go. Was Tobias Beecher whistling?
They collapsed together against the wall, consumed by drunken giggles, once they were out of sight and earshot.
"Oh man, I just knew we were going to get busted," Ryan said. "That woman sees things no one else can see. And she still doesn't trust me. I'm surprised she didn't come haul me out of that closet, away from her baby bird."
Beecher doubled over with mirth.
"Hauling you out of the closet ..." he gasped, breathlessly.
"Aw, man. Don't say shit like that, OK. That's not me," Still wrapped in a cloud of alcohol, post-coital relaxation and good will, Ryan couldn't even summon up the requisite indignation. "Come on, before I just sliiiiiide down this wall and stay here."
"Cyril can carry us back, can't you, Sunshine? How'd you get so big, anyway? You always been that tall?"
Cyril just grinned back, glad to see his brother and his friend so happy, even if they were making less sense than conversations usually did.
"Come on, Beech," Ryan said, pulling the other man upright.
"All right, all right ..." Beecher broke off as he felt the body against his tense and pull away. He turned his head to meet McManus' gaze.
"Is there a problem?" McManus said.
"Where do you want me to start?" Beecher asked. "Number one, you're running a shithole. Number two, most of your staff is so far from qualifying for employee of the month that they have more chance of making it into Mensa. And number three, your hallways are waaaaay tooooo looooooong, especially for those of us undergoing extensive physical therapy after being broken into little pieces and left for dead on the gym floor of this five-star prison you've put together."
Ryan was scandalized and delighted. For Beecher - Beecher, of all people - to unexpectedly go off on McManus was just the perfect topper to his day. Toby could probably get away with it, too. McManus would put down the drunken rambling to one of the man's psycho spells. And McManus was still carrying around way too much guilt about what had happened to Beecher. Beecher had been on a very long leash lately.
"If you're worried about it, I'd be careful what company you keep." McManus' voice was smooth and poisonous, and Ryan felt himself tense again at the implications of the words. He'd seen the wary look in Beecher's eye too many times. Did Toby think Ryan would hurt him?
He felt the other man's chest pressed against his shoulder, down his arm, and the familiar warmth washed through him. A hand rested in the small of his back, hidden from McManus' view.
"Oh, I know who I can count on," Beecher said lightly and turned away dismissively. He stumbled as he took a step down the corridor, and Ryan slipped an arm around his waist, pulled one of Beecher's arms over his own shoulder. Leaning against each other, they walked away, Cyril at their heels.
Don't think, just act, O'Reilly told himself when he woke up the next morning. It was the same philosophical attitude he'd adopted after the previous encounters. It happened, it was over, nothing had to change. He avoided the thought that he'd set himself up for it this time, looked to the bottle of whiskey to provide him the excuse he needed to do what he wanted to do anyway.
And now he found himself lounging in the door of Beecher's pod, grinning as the blond man pulled a pillow over his head, groaning. Beecher had matched Ryan pull for pull on the whiskey, with half a bottle already in him. Big mistake. The cell's other inhabitant, some nonentity who had barely registered on O'Reilly's radar in the past, brushed by on his way out, shaking his head.
"Didn't see you at breakfast," Ryan said to the lump under the blankets. "Not feeling well?"
"If you even mention food to me, I will kill you," Beecher's voice was muffled.
"Yeah, well, I've got the perfect thing to make you feel better," O'Reilly said, moving to crouch by the bed. He lifted the pillow. "Keep an eye on Vern."
Blue eyes opened suddenly, piercing him.
Ryan reached out a hand, smoothed the hair back from Beecher's face.
It didn't matter that the drugs didn't come in through the mail. That's what the gangsters thought, that's what Ryan and Nappa wanted them to believe. And when the supply had slowed to a trickle, the Aryans, who ran the mail room, were the ones who took the heat.
Junkies were pressing their suppliers, business ground to a halt. Tempers smouldered. And when the hacks busted three of the gangsters who were dealing what little they could get their hands on, Ryan dropped the word in the right ear that the Aryans, those anti-drug motherfuckers, had sold them out.
It wasn't pretty. Ryan spent three days dancing a fine line, working his connections, covering his ass, watching the dominoes fall.
Beecher never let Cyril out of his sight until they were locked up each night, and he spent his time wondering if this was a glimpse of the rest of his life, taking responsibility for a child who would never grow up.
They were playing checkers - again - when Ryan sauntered over.
"Hear you're not feeling so hot, Beech," he said, leaning on the table.
Beecher looked at him with narrowed eyes.
"I think a trip to the infirmary might fix you right up."
"What the fuck happened to him?" There was an unholy glee in Beecher's voice as he gazed down at Vern's unconscious form.
"I hear somebody hamstrung him, cut right through those tendons in the back of his legs," Ryan said, offhandedly, leafing through a medical catalogue that had been lying on a bedside table. "I hear they told him they would make sure those shit-stompers were retired. Hear one of those Nazis got his tongue cut out for squealing on the dealers, so good old Vern ordered a beatdown on the guy with the knife. Big mistake. I also hear life can be hell in a wheelchair. I mean, Hill does all right, but everybody likes him. He hasn't pissed off nearly as many people as Vern."
Beecher was still looking at the unconscious man in the bed.
"He looks, smaller, somehow," he said. "I look at him, lying in that bed, and I think, how could I ever have let him do that to me?"
"Hey." Ryan stood and walked over to him, put a hand on his shoulder, turned him around. "No matter what the bad man did to you, you didn't do anything wrong. You didn't do anything bad. Don't you always tell Cyril that?"
"I just wish I could believe it."
"Why can't you?" Ryan grabbed Beecher's chin, forced those blue eyes to meet his own. Before Beecher could respond, a shadow fell across them.
Chris Keller, with a black eye and a puffed lip, but otherwise unscathed, standing by Vern's bedside, watching them with an unreadable expression. Ryan suddenly realized they were standing in the middle of a very public place.
"Come on." He dragged Beecher away, toward the door .... and ran right into Gloria. He could only stare at her as rough hands grabbed him and hauled him away.
"What the fuck are you doing here, O'Reilly?"
Why the fuck did it always have to be that cocksucker McManus?
"I ... I'm sorry," he said, ignoring McManus, looking at Gloria.
"Sure, O'Reilly. Whatever. Are you in here for a reason? If not, I'd appreciate it if you would leave. Right now." Her voice was icy, and she brushed at the front of her lab coat as if she could brush away his touch. Another crack opened in his heart.
He felt Beecher behind him, propelling him toward the door, and the warm hand on his waist was like a lifeline. He followed that touch back to Beecher's pod, to Sister Pete's office, where she looked at them again with a quizzical expression but promised to keep an eye on Cyril. Followed it into that closet, with its chink of blue sky.
He turned at the sound of the door locking and saw Beecher opening the brown bag the other man had retrieved from his pod.
Beecher offered him the bottle. O'Reilly took it and set it aside, meeting those blue, blue eyes.
"Ryan?" The other man's voice was puzzled, hurt. Ryan stepped toward him, took his face in trembling hands and kissed him.
"No drugs, this time, Toby. No booze. Hold me. Please, God, hold me."
He felt arms close around him.
"We should get back before Sister Pete comes looking for us, pulls us out of this closet," Beecher said, leaning his head back against the wall and running his fingers through Ryan's hair. O'Reilly shifted against his shoulder and traced a finger down the other's throat, encountering the faint, fading bruise there.
"You didn't ask me about Keller."
Beecher looked away.
"He's tough, Toby. He's smart. He knows how to keep his hands clean. And he really only has a few connections with the Aryans. I could have worked it so that he would have been tangled up in the mess, but .... honestly, I wasn't sure what you wanted me to do."
"I don't ... I need some time."
They sat cocooned in silence and peace, warm flesh pressed together.
"How can you stand to touch me?" Ryan suddenly wondered aloud. "People keep telling me what a horrible person I am, what an awful thing I did to Gloria. How is it any different from what Keller did to you?"
"Did you love her? Do you love her?"
"Yes." Ryan's voice was harsh.
"That's more than Chris ever felt for me."
Then, finally: "That's sick," Ryan said.
"I know. But it's all we've got."