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Thanks to LiveJournal user jessindistress who beta'd for me.


by Jess

With insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. - Narrator, Fight Club.

Sean Murphy rose with the dawn. Rose from his double bed, though it was seriously against his nature to wake up this early, but then, he wasn't so much waking up as getting up. Is it called waking up if you're not sure you ever slept? Staring at the ceiling for so long, he thought maybe he'd been dreaming. An insomnia-induced trance, white ceiling becoming the whole world for the hours he lay in bed. He passed his hand over his face in a scrubbing motion. Sleep in his eyes, but can you have sleep in your eyes without sleeping?

He rose from bed and wiped sleep from his eyes without ever sleeping.

God, he was tired, early mornings and late nights and early mornings, times when he lay in bed willing himself to sleep, then early mornings again. Don't take your work home with you. He shouldn't, and would tell anyone who asked he didn't (even his most trusted friends, Tim), but insomnia told a different tale, which showed on his face, dark under his eyes. No one ever asked.

He was a creature of habit, to bed, lay, rise, coffee, shower, work. Life was change, people said. Well, his wasn't. His life outside anyway, but that was his life. His only life. Everything else was a job.

He felt like his life had given up on him, everything aborted, still born reality from the first moment he'd set foot in the first prison he'd worked in.

Sean turned on the cold tap in his bathroom and splashed his face, the freezing water making him shiver. He glanced at himself in the mirror, dark hair, dark bags under his eyes, dark look.

Feeling more awake, he made his way to the kitchen to really start the day. Dark coffee. His kitchen, stark and impersonal, the table was covered in old magazines and junk mail, the chairs frames of bent steel, with hospital green cushions. Last night's dirty dishes sitting on the sink, coffee mugs, coffee mugs, coffee mugs, Chinese food containers on the bench.

He supposed he should clean up. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today, his mother had always said.

That thought was enough for him to get dressed quickly and slam the door on his uncleaned kitchen.


Ad Seg. The hole, concrete and steel. Never quite felt right in this hallway, but today the fluorescent light that flickered incessantly made him feel like throwing something at it. On or off light, pick one.

He wondered if he could bring himself to give up coffee and if he'd sleep if he did. He wasn't going to give it up, and it wasn't the first time he'd thought about it. Insomnia, for as long as he'd had it, had brought him finally a sickly parody of a benefit: being tired all the time, he was wrapped in cotton wool. Everything was kept away from touching him by the layers of hazy softness he saw everything through these days. Nothing was real enough to touch him. Everything in Oz seemed like a strange play he'd been thrown into, not hard to imagine that's exactly what it was. A surreal play, strings being pulled by an unseen force (is that you god? He snorted. God wouldn't create something like Oz. Oz wasn't the work of anything divine, more a purgatory for prisoners and guards alike).

"Many hands make light work," Claire Howell said loudly and smugly, grinning at a male colleague, over a clearly subdued (as always, enthusiastically) prisoner, naked and face down on the stained floor. The colour was bleached out of the scene, and Sean managed to feel a little irritation at her callous and taunting words. Somehow, he wanted to thank her.

He wondered if she'd heard him coming down the hall and had said it to annoy him, or if that was really just her, a complete and utter hard bitch showing off to the new kid. Hoping he'd roll over for her. Now there was a scary thought. He did appreciate, in a detached way, how she dominated the room even more than most of the men he'd known on the job. Authority was only half the job though.

"I think he's down for the count Howell," Sean took a step into the room, the younger officer took a step back seemingly out of respect, smiling at Sean in greeting. Claire didn't move, but she kept on smiling, which Sean took as more of a bearing of teeth then a greeting. Bitch.

"You think so?" She kicked the prisoner over roughly with her boot, so he was face up.

Ryan O'Reily, lacking the smirk (or was it that just his smile, there's some more insomnia fodder) he usually shot in Sean's direction.

"He was resisting, we had to subdue him," she said, "you know how much of a smart mouth this one has." Woof. He could have seen himself liking her, if she weren't a guard. At this moment, he felt his defences dent with O'Reily's eyes on him, always tracking. Always thinking. Sean could have stared a lot longer at the prone form of the Irish man, but consciously pulled his eyes back to Howell's face.

"Last time I checked, `smart mouth' didn't get a prisoner taken to the hole, and he seems pretty subdued to me," Sean replied, why he felt the need to argue with Howell of all people, today, was beyond him. Maybe because she needled him in a way that was almost enough to make him angry. He glanced down at O'Reily, who was still conscious and apparently still felt smart enough to smile up at Sean with bloody teeth. Oh, there it is, Sean thought, reminding himself he wasn't supposed to play favourites. Just like he wasn't supposed to take his work home. Just like normal people slept at night. Just like he wasn't supposed to have an on and off fuck buddies pact with his best friend. He winced thinking of Tim, while looking at O'Reily. Smart men. His downfall in life was giving people too many chances, because the few that didn't bounce right back from him were too good the throw away, even when they were too bad to keep.

Howell nodded to the young guard, who left the room, Howell following close behind, shoving past Sean.

"You coming out, Murphy, or you wanna be locked in there with your little friend?" Claire called when he didn't move fast enough for her liking. Sean bit back a more acidic comment, remembering she was just fishing for a reaction. He figured he'd give her one when she really got to him, and wouldn't it be funny when she realised she'd never seen who he really was.

"You sure he doesn't need to go to the infirmary, Howell?" Sean said, "I'm sure you wouldn't want another prisoner getting hurt on your shift." He knew he shouldn't have said it, even in the carefully moderated reasonable tone he used when talking to dangerous people. He knew Tim would be pissed off if he found out he was throwing around information he wasn't supposed to know. Somehow, he would be happy to get a rise out of Tim. The fluorescent light was still flickering in the hallway, as they closed the door locking Ryan inside a muffled string of cursing came from the cell. Finally got his voice back, O'Reily without words was something not quite right in Sean's book. He knew he was a good with keeping people in line with his sincere and equal opportunity manor, but O'Reily had a gift he respected. He had the right words.

He wiped Ryan out of his mind. Don't play favourites, Sean. That was his father. Whose word was law, and who never told a lie. Every child in the house got equal treatment, every child got equal punishment, leading him to believe as he got older he was getting punished less, when really his body and mind had just hardened to harsh words and harsh hands. He knew now, he had too much time to think now. Tick, tick, tick. The clock every night.

"What did you want exactly, Murphy?" Claire glared at him.

Sean Murphy never liked being a message boy, but Tim had asked him specifically, and he had never been able to refuse Tim McManus.


Lunch hour chatter sounded around Sean, as he sipped his coffee (black, for a change), occasionally interjecting a bland comment into the mix. The puppy that'd been in solitary with Howell was staring at him, looking like he was on the verge of asking him something. He was a second from taking pity on the poor guy, probably his first day too, when Howell strode into the room.

The boy's eyes snapped to her, and Sean thought he could wait another day to give the kid the friendly advice that everything he'd learned so far was bullshit, in school and from Howell. Though not in so few words, maybe thinking of a speech for the guy could keep his mind from poring over it's regular subjects, smoothed over like stones at the bottom of a river bed: Tim. Sleep. Work. O'Reily. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Sleep. Feeling as if he was moments from sleep, Sean rose from his seat, inwardly wincing at the chairs squeaking scrape across the floor. Cruelty was the universe's game, and God was a bastard. The only place Sean could not afford to sleep, and he was nodding off.

He decided to make sure O'Reily the first hadn't expired from his beating, something he knew was highly unlikely, but feeble excuses and things that eased guilt made the world go round. So he made his way to the hole within his lunch hour, every step away from the room of chatting colleagues making him feel more awake, his walls growing thicker.

Maybe he wouldn't even need for O'Reily to see him there.

Ryan sat knees up in the corner of the stained concrete room, top of his thighs touching his stomach, arms around his legs. It looked uncomfortable, which was, of course the point. He'd have no better luck laying on either side, Sean judged the red welts from baton blows down his sides. They'd be bruises tomorrow, he'd be lucky if his ribs weren't at least cracked.

He wondered what O'Reily had done to end up in that condition. Probably his crime was smaller than its consequence, but even so, he'd likely done something to deserve his currant state. Murphy, however, didn't share most guards' view of prisoners deserving, and probably having done something worthy of, the beatings they got.

The hole wasn't supposed to be comfortable, but Murphy felt his gut twist as he involuntarily imagined himself in O'Reily's place. The cloud of tired, cotton wrapped floating seemed to disappear a little. It left him feeling raw, it left a sick feeling of power in him to know he was above that, it left him the knowledge Ryan was firmly under his defences and he wondered if there was room for him to coexist on the inside of Sean's world.

On one of the few occasions he'd slept a full night since coming to Oz, he'd dreamt of being in the hole. The last mandatory state employee psychiatric evaluation with bored looking psychiatrist had asked him what he dreamed, and the dream of the damp, cold hole was the only thing he'd gotten out of Sean. He'd recounted the dream to save himself the trouble of telling the things that were on the inside of his haze. Insomnia. His fascination with Ryan. Tim's constant confusing, yet infinitely simple presence as best-friend/whenever-Tim-decided-fuck-buddy.

The doctor had glanced at his watch and said things like, `you're holding up remarkably well for someone in this job as long as you've been,' and Sean knew that moment, no matter what, his outside mask would never fall until he decided to let go of it. The doctors droning voice sounded in his memory, `that dream sounds perfectly normal and consistent with the stress in your like of work,' glance at his watch, `I'm happy to say you've adapted well to this stress and from what I can gather from talking with you and observing you today, you shouldn't have any problems in the future.'

Sean had always known he had a good `front', younger brothers looked up to him as a protector and a tough but fair judge of what their father would expect from them. He'd gotten himself out of a lot of shit, alive and unscathed, with his game face intact.

Something guards and prisoners that survived shared: a front that got them through the first years inside, and eventually was used so long and so often it became the true outer face, they forgot slowly how to drop it when the time came.

Sean wasn't sure he'd ever had anything but an outer image, game face or mask.

Ryan raised his head from his knees to stare at Sean where he stood, visible through the open window high on the door.

`It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,' was Tim's motto. Sean wondered if it was better to have love and lose than to love and never, ever have.

Sean shook himself.

"O'Reily, you're not gonna die in there are you?" More statement than question, to keep up the act. He was interested to see if Ryan would try get out of here with a complaint to go to the infirmary. To his own love he'd never, ever have.

O'Reily was silent for a long time, obviously turning over his answer in his mind. Sean was about to shut the window when Ryan found his tongue. Obviously he wasn't going to let him go without saying something.

"I don't suppose that if I told you I wasn't you'd believe me?" Ah, they'd danced this dance long enough for Ryan to finally get that Sean just couldn't, could not, give in to him. It made him nervous, almost. O'Reily without bullshit.

"What do you want Ryan?" Damn it, Ryan. Slip of the tongue. "Make it quick, I'm back on shortly." His mouth was obviously out of sync with his brain, because that was precisely what he didn't need O'Reily to know, that he was here of his own accord and doing something not out of duty. He could tell Ryan latched onto the information, thirsty to grab every little bit of usefulness out of it.

Ryan paused again, perhaps for effect this time.

"Cyril." He said, "I need you to keep an eye on him while you're here, I'm sure we can work something out." No doubt he had some back up plan for when he couldn't be around 24/7, but Sean wondered at his choice of words, O'Reily never needed anything. He saw a lot, and Sean wondered how much he really did see, enough to know his choice of words was perfect maybe. Enough to make everything he said sound respectful, but almost flirtatious. How much did he know about Sean, how much did he see.

He had to know that it was impossible not to feel guilty when he refused, guilt, guilt made the world go round.

"Last time I checked, this wasn't Let's Make a Deal. You know I can't promise to do that." Cyril was a lamb amongst the lions most of the time. Ryan knew he was pinning Sean with something he was bound to do by guilt, with those simple words. Need.

Sean would almost be proud of Ryan's ability to fuck with people, if that ability wasn't directed his way. No wonder he didn't bother wasting his breath on trying to get out of the hole, wouldn't wanna push the hack too far before asking for a favour.

Ryan got up from the floor, unfazed by his nakedness, years of prison conditioning them both to be at ease in situations most people would find horrifyingly embarrassing. Sean wasn't sure Ryan would have ever been embarrassed with anything in himself, he was a born con man, comfortable in his skin. His walk was slightly stiff, his ribs obviously still paining him, but he still managed the few steps to the door with an almost sexual grace. `I'll-do-anything-to-get-my-way-anything' expression and body language firmly in place.

Murphy was irritated to realise Ryan's very real need for him to do this, was backed up by his own strange need to give in to him.

"Murphy..." face right near the window.

"O'Reily." Outside looking in.

"Officer Murphy, you gotta try for me?"

"I'm not promising you anything O'Reily. It's my job to see that everyone behaves," he could slam the window in O'Reily's face right now and be done with it.

"I'm not asking for a promise... just... do what you do. I'm just telling you that Cyril need to be watched out for, or there'll be trouble." Ryan walked a fine line of double meanings, tongue like a honey coated razor blade, somehow people would swallow everything he said, even if they knew it'd bad for them in the long run.

"I try to make sure every prisoner in here stays safe. Cyril included. Don't push it."

"Thanks, Murphy. I... owe you one." Ryan pressed his hand to steel, slowly curled it shut then looked at Sean through half hooded eyes, making Sean think of late nights, whisky and fucking. And Sean knew Ryan knew, and Sean knew O'Reily was pushing his advantage, and Sean knew he should walk the fuck away, and Sean knew he wouldn't.

The window slammed shut, the light still flickering, he made his way out of Ad Seg.


The rest of the day was uneventful. Break up this fight, shouts of shut up here and there. Easy, practiced. Cyril sat with an irritated looking Hill, who obviously was close to the end of his rope with the man.

He checked on Cyril again before lock down, before he left for home. He was fine. Sean wondered if he'd stay that way, but then, Cyril never really dented his armour like the other O'Reily.

At home, he poured himself a drink, whisky killing the taste of bitterness and day old Chinese food in his mouth. The thoughts that danced through his head, O'Reily's razor sharp smile and hooded eyes, spurred thoughts of the next time Tim would see fit to stumble through his door and into his bed.

His head hit the pillow, and he didn't sleep.

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