Zero Sum

by Adastra

I won.

The thought quickens Keller's heartbeat, the rush like a drug as he stands over Beecher's broken body. Schillinger's and Metzger's laughter echoes under Beecher's choking agony.

"Zeig fucking heil," Schillinger yells and pounds his heavy booted foot hard onto Beecher's right leg. The loud snap brings another rush to Keller as he recalls not only the sound, but the feeling of Beecher's arms breaking under him, the sensation powerful and warm, quasi-orgasmic, thoroughly intoxicating.

Beecher coughs hard and then throws up the eggs and orange juice from breakfast. The acrid smell mixes with the heady scents of sweat and pain.

"Should we leave him one?" Keller asks, pointing to Beecher's unbroken leg. "I think it'd be kind of funny seeing him hop around this place."

Grinning broadly, Schillinger takes a moment to mull the thought over and shakes his head. "Nah, I feel there's a certain symmetry required." He puts his thumbs and index fingers in the shape of a square and looks through, framing Beecher. "Like a fucking piece of art."

"You know," Keller says, giving a small smile of his own. "I don't think I ever appreciated art until now."

Metzger holds down Beecher's unbroken leg and Schillinger brings his foot down again as Keller watches and listens.

Snap. Ah, there it is again: the rush.

Keller drops down on one knee next to Beecher's head and leans in. He whispers, "You remember that night you were sobbing about how fucked up your life is? About how you were all alone? I told you that you weren't? I lied then too."

Beecher's eyes are glazed over slightly, but he manages to slur, "I loved you."

"I know," Keller says and pats Beecher on the cheek before he stands up. "That's why it's so fucking funny."

The pain in Beecher's body must be unimaginable, and Keller wonders if the words hurt just as much. They should. The whole thing is brutally comical, in a way.

Keller watches Beecher's eyes close as he starts to slip away. In the transitional moment between consciousness and unconsciousness, the anguish melts from Beecher's face into a peaceful, beautiful, almost beatific expression. A sharp contrast to the chaos of his distorted limbs.

"Think we've got time to snap his fingers?" Schillinger asks.

"You've got all the time you want as far as I'm concerned," Metzger replies.

Though not laughing, Keller smiles and looks down at Beecher's still, quiet face. What Keller feels is a sick sort of happiness. Not really happiness at all. Just... a high.

"Keller?" Schillinger says.

Glancing up from Beecher's face to Schillinger's, Keller says, "Nah, what fun is it if he can't feel it anyway?" He half-heartedly nudges Beecher's head with his foot, but Beecher's eyes don't open.

"Besides," he continues, "I'm hungry. We probably got time for lunch before anyone finds him anyway."

Schillinger claps a hand on Keller's back. "Nothing like revenge to whet a man's appetite. Let's go."

As they leave, Keller looks back one more time at Beecher, and the rush ebbs. His heart slows to a normal, disappointing pace. The satisfaction of victory almost isn't there at all. Seeing Beecher lying broken on the floor brings with it a sort of melancholy that he can't quite name. He shrugs and tries to shake the feeling. Coming down from a high is never easy. That's all it really is.

Lunch is fruit punch, an apple, a bologna sandwich, and creamed corn. It all tastes the same: a little sweet, mostly stale. Keller pushes his tray away.

Schillinger takes a bite of his apple and as he chews, he asks, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Just not as hungry as I thought." The thought of food only makes him nauseous even though his stomach is still empty. Maybe it's not his stomach after all. Rather, a hollowness... somewhere. "Think anyone's found him yet?"

"Who? Beecher?" Vern snorts. "Probably not. Who gives a shit anyway?" Schillinger laughs and the other Aryans join in. Keller only gives a weak, tight smile.

Schillinger locks his gaze onto Keller's and stops laughing, the playfulness vanishing from his eyes, from his voice. "You don't give a shit, do you, Chris?"

Keller shakes his head, his lips stretching into a smirk. "I hope they don't find the fucker for days. All I care is that I won this game, baby, that's all."

Schillinger reaches across the table and clamps a hand solidly around Keller's forearm. "I won this game. This thing between me and Beecher, it's got nothing to do with you. You just played along."

Keller jerks his arm away. "Fuck you, Vern."

Schillinger ignores the insult and responds in a bored, patronizing tone, "It's not that I don't appreciate your help, Chris, because I do. You did what I wanted so now we're even."

Keller leans in toward Schillinger and, voice low and dark, words carefully enunciated, he says, "I did what I wanted."

His gaze hard, but the sound of his voice merely conversational, Schillinger says, "See, I'm not sure I believe you."

"Yeah, why's that?"

Schillinger shrugs. "You've been quiet, withdrawn Not a smile, not a single gloating sentence since we left Beecher."

"Maybe I'm just a man of few words."

"Maybe Beecher got to you just like you got to him."

Keller snorts, incredulous. "I don't think so."

Shrugging again, Schillinger says, "It doesn't really matter. I'm sure we have an understanding about the matter anyway."

Keller hears a small snapping sound and glances down to see that Schillinger has broken a plastic spoon in two with his right hand.

"Oops," Schillinger says, smiling. "That seems to happen a lot around here."

It's a threat, but a useless one because people don't get to Keller. Not like he gets to them.

Keller lounges on his bunk with forced relaxation, looking at but not really seeing the naked women in the magazine in his hands. A knock comes to the pod door and Ryan O'Reily opens it and sticks his head inside.

"Hey, Keller, you hear what happened to Beecher?

Without putting the magazine down, Keller mutters, "Yeah. So?"

"So word is that Schillinger's behind this. I mean, who else? He's had it in for Beecher for a long time."

Turning the page, Keller asks, "You got a point somewhere, O'Reily?"

O'Reily steps all the way into the pod, closing the door behind him "You and Beecher... I mean everyone knows. It's not my thing but whatever you've got to do to make it in this place." He leans back on the wall next to the sink. "It seems like you ladies had a fight or something after you got out of the hole. Still, what Schillinger did, it's gotta bug you."

"That a fact?"

"You tell me."

Keller flings the magazine onto the floor and stands up. "There ain't nothing between me and Beecher."

"Whoa, pal," O'Reily says, holding his hands up. "I didn't mean to push any buttons. It just seems you've got no reason to harbor any love for Schillinger."

"My business with Schillinger is none of yours."

"Hey, you're right, man. None of my fucking business." O'Reily leans back against the wall again. "You know," he says casually. "Even though it's none of my business, I just thought I would pass on that the word is you used to be his prag."

Keller steps in close to the other man. "You put a lot of stock in rumors, don't you, O'Reily." He places a hand on the wall near O'Reily's head and says softly, "If I were you, I wouldn't go around spreading rumors."

Keller steps away and moves back to his bunk and sits down. He knows O'Reily is pushing his buttons on purpose even if O'Reily denies it. He wants to get a rise out of Keller, to get Keller to do something for him so he doesn't have to do it himself. But people don't get to Keller, so he pushes back. "Besides, I thought your brother was Vern's prag."

O'Reily tenses slightly, but answers cooly, "Nah, Schillinger fucked him up the ass, but that doesn't make him a prag. Cyril's not licking Schillinger's boots or doing his laundry now, is he?"

"No, he's doing yours."

"Hey, I protect my brother."

"Didn't Schillinger used to protect Beecher?"

O'Reily bristles and moves to the door. "Just keep in mind what he's done to Beecher. I'd keep my eyes open if I were you."

"Thanks for the concern," Keller says, dismissing O'Reily with his tone, but O'Reily doesn't leave, just stands by the door and shakes his head.

"Nothing between you and Beecher?" he says skeptically and then looks at Keller.

"Not a god damned thing."

"I don't know what your game is, K-boy, or why you're playing, but you're good at it. Maybe we can do business some time." O'Reily leaves, the door closing behind him.

Keller bends over, scoops up the magazine, and lies back down on the bunk. He opens it and flips quickly through a few pages before resting it on his chest.

"Nothing between me and Beecher," he reaffirms, and then closes his eyes. "Fuck."

Sitting on his knees on the floor, Keller pops open Beecher's trunk and lifts the lid. It smells of Beecher, and Keller breathes it in deeply before reaching inside to rummage around. He shoves aside the clothes, rumpling them, feeling around for anything of value. Shirts, toothpaste, shorts, pants, soap, a chessboard, a trunk full of nothing.

At the bottom, his fingers find a plain envelope folded in half. He pulls it out and unfolds it, lifting open the flap. Upending it, he shakes the contents out. A few scraps of paper flutter out and land on the floor. Bits of photographs. A smiling boy and girl, the girl's face ripped in half. A baby, torn off at the chest and forehead. A woman, the left half of her body cut away on a diagonal tear. Beecher's kids. Beecher's wife. Family.

Beecher had told him about when Schillinger had made him rip up the pictures, a whispered confidence in the dark.

"That's fucked. I'm sorry," Keller had said back to him. Just to say it. Just to identify with him. Just to bring him a little closer. Just to catch him.

But maybe he had meant it after all.


Keller shakes his head, scoops up the picture fragments, and puts them back in the envelope. Shoving the envelope back to the bottom of the trunk, he again smells Beecher, and his breath catches. He closes his eyes and for a moment it feels as if Beecher were in the pod with him. Yes, he's there with him and tonight they'll say "I love you" again, they'll drown in a kiss, they'll fuck each other for the first time, they'll... Keller slams the lid down and sits on top of the trunk.

Whatever had happened to Beecher in the past, whatever will happen to him in the future, Keller doesn't care. Perhaps Schillinger doubted that fact, O'Reily too, but that's how good Keller played the game. So roll out the red carpet 'cause it was a brilliant fucking performance.

None of it was real. None of it bothers him. No one gets to him. Not like he gets to them. Right?

Quietly, he lies to himself. "Right."

Lights out. Standing in front of the sink, Keller washes his face and hands, and wonders about Beecher. Was he asleep at this exact moment? Had he cried himself to sleep? Was he having a nightmare? Was he in so much pain that he just sat awake unable to move, unable to even scratch his nose if it itched?

Keller releases a shaky sigh. Nighttime in prison is worse than the day, even in Em City. The surveillance is just a pseudo-safety. Most nights the hacks just do the same thing: kick back with a cup of coffee, and read or do paperwork. The rounds never come as often as one might expect, if they come at all. Just like any other cell block in any other prison.

Inmates could easily fuck unnoticed. Keller wonders how many nights Beecher had been awakened roughly and been forced to suck Schillinger's cock or get fucked up the ass.

Every night? Probably.

Keller feels his face turn hot at the thought of it, and he splashes some cool water on his face. For a moment, he can see Beecher's reflection behind him on the top bunk, and hear his quiet nightmare pain. The next moment, the bunk is neat and empty, the room silent.

Keller dries his hands and face, steps away from the sink, and turns around. He surveys Beecher's empty bed, touches it. Keller's feelings should be cut and dry. Life's a competition: fuck or be fucked. Well, Keller had won, Beecher had been fucked. Simple, really.

But... not.

There had been a certain attraction, he admits. Hunter and prey. The only kind of attraction he really knows.

So why does he think about Beecher still? It's a kind of longing. Not purely physical. Not just to fuck. A longing more than that. Not... love?

No, not that, and at the same time, yes. He doesn't want it, but there it is, hollow and aching. Beyond the game there is something inside of him that Beecher has won. And if Beecher has won... Keller rubs his hands over his face, and finally understands.

Oh fuck.

I lost.

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