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I've always liked the idea of a third party looking in at Beecher and Keller's relationship. I figured I'd give McManus' POV a shot.

Eye of the Storm

by levitatethis

"Let me guess, you want me to leave you in with Beecher?" McManus leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest.

It doesn't take a career of working with cons for him to know Keller is easily reading the defensive posturing, possibly readying for a fight. Casually, with his legs splayed out in front and arms informally resting on the chair's armrests, Keller shrugs.

McManus regards him closely and spies the twitchy smirk tripping up the corners of his lips. "No," McManus states definitively and goes through the motions of looking for something important amongst the clutter of paperwork on his desk.

Keller doesn't respond so much as remain slouched and seemingly indifferent. All the same, McManus feels the judgmental weight of his gaze wanting to strike, but wisely holding back. His theory is confirmed a few seconds later when he chances to look up and meets expectantly stormy blue eyes.

"It's not going to happen." McManus sits up straight and glares, attention briefly flitting to the cut lip and slight discolouring of purple near Keller's left eye. "Not after what the two of you pulled yesterday."

"It was a disagreement." Keller appears inordinately relaxed despite the tension that is emanating from beneath, threatening to turn his limbs rigid and tongue into a weapon, which they know will only exacerbate the situation.

"No, this is a disagreement. You two had an altercation--and not the first or the last one." As usual, McManus' temper flares quickly before he can rein it in. "You two seem to think we're all here to accommodate you. I'm not running a goddamn dating service and if I'd known what making you podmates in the first place meant, I wouldn't have fucking done it!"

Keller still doesn't move and McManus is struck by how the motionless man somehow still manages to command the office, his presence large and overpowering, threatening to blow out the walls and shatter the glass. By comparison, McManus finds it difficult to assert himself without raising his voice or pacing about and gesturing emphatically to hit home a point. It's a cruel test by the universe and McManus isn't in the mood to play. Looking over Keller's shoulder he meets Murphy's inquisitive eyes peering through the window.

Standing up, McManus dismissively shoos Keller, barely acknowledging him. "Get out of here."

The two seconds pause that follows feels like thirty and McManus wishes he could figure out how time is yet another thing Keller seems able to manipulate. But before he can glare, Keller is up on his feet.

Whether it's said out loud or not, McManus is certain he hears Keller mutter, "Dick," under his breath. Then again, this is Keller, so the insult is already implied in his stride and gaze, his generally contained countenance.

"When you two are together you try to kill each other." McManus huffs with an air of exasperation, angry at having his day meet its quota of crap already. With his hands on his hips, he stares at Keller who has stopped and is staring down this nose at him. "When you're apart other people seem to get hurt. Not only will I not reward you for shitty behavior, but if anyone ends up in the infirmary and I connect it back to you, you're heading to Gen Pop, no questions asked. You understand me?" He waves Murphy in.

Keller's face transforms from a glower into a smirk. "Sure thing, Mr. McManus, sir. We can always count on you to keep us on the straight and narrow."

McManus furrows his brow as he watches Keller walk--correction, stroll--away, with Murphy a few feet behind. "Shit," he mutters under his breath.

Trouble is brewing.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

Beecher is reading a book on the top bunk when McManus pauses in the doorway of the pod. He waits until Beecher glances his way, noticing the flat expression on Beecher's face that gives nothing away; a skill learned since arriving at Oz with few survival instincts in place to speak of. Nowadays Beecher looks like he can (almost) give as good as he gets.

McManus ignores the joke people on the outside tell, the one that makes him cringe and want to rant about bullshit funds for correctional facilities and rehabilitation, the one that goes, "It took prison to make me a criminal." He prefers to tell himself his Em City dream is part of what has helped Beecher truly consider his potential, beyond what the right family name and sizeable wealth could give him; still falling short of saving him.

McManus believes in hard work and "long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to light." He believes the work he is doing is for a greater good that's taking a long time to reveal itself. He believes someone like Tobias Beecher, born into privilege and the vices of those who get everything handed to them, was on the fast track to hell anyway (and didn't know it) when the pedestal was knocked out from beneath him, and that Em City was the enlightening light at the end of the tunnel.

Something tells him Beecher wouldn't quite see his situation the same way. None of the inmates can appreciate what he does for them to make them better people, ones worthy of existing once again within society. Beecher, however, chaps his ass because he had it all and drank it all away, but is still smart enough to walk the line between hob-knobbing lawyer and the dregs of the prison system, with a certain strength of mind McManus can't quite put his finger on. He supposes Beecher frustrates him because, truth be told, he actually doesn't mind Beecher all that much. As for the rest...

Ungrateful bastards.

McManus steps inside the pod and closes the door behind him. He recalls Beecher once explaining to (the newly arrived) Keller that a visit from him meant the delivery of bad news. He wonders if this visit will prove or dispute the point.

"I've informed Chris Keller that he will not be returning to this pod, not after his quick trip to the infirmary and your uncanny inability to keep your hands off each other."

McManus finds he is less concerned with Beecher's reaction than with his own sudden formality, as if there were any other Kellers he could be referring to.

"Whatever," Beecher mumbles and goes back to reading.

Annoyed, McManus raises an eyebrow. Prison breeds cynicism no matter how much he tries to bring some positivity into their lives, and it's proven to be an upward battle countering set disaffection. Considering the fight which unfolded between Beecher and Keller ten days earlier, he expects some grasp of why he is keeping them apart. After all, it's not the first time (or the worse) he's seen Beecher suffer--survive. A pit stop to the infirmary for Keller, a week in the hole for Beecher, and McManus is still sending them to their separate corners.

Taking a tentative step towards the bunks, McManus wraps his hand around the bar at the end. "Trying to keep you alive is not my full time job, Beecher. I do what I can."

Beecher snorts and closes the book, laying it to his chest. "You're doing this for my well being?" he asks with a mocking laugh in his tone.

"I know you find that hard to believe--,"

"Impossible, actually." Beecher sits up in a movement that would be swift if not for the awkward turn of his body and the slight grimace on his face from his own injuries. He swings his legs over the side of the bunk. Gripping the sides of the mattress, his shoulders hunched, he stares intently at McManus before hopping down. "You don't care what I want. You don't care what we were fighting about--,"

"It's the fighting that's the problem. It always does you two in," McManus argues and Beecher's eyes fly wide at the interruption. "Your safety is an issue."

"My safety," Beecher scoffs, holding his ground; half turning away with his arms raised before moving back into McManus' space. "Where the hell was your concern when Schillinger was fucking me up the ass every night or burning a goddamn swastika into my skin? Oh yeah, you were telling me to buck up and be a man."

Shocked at the assertion, McManus snaps, "I have never told you to accept mistreatment or deal with it yourself."

"You implied it." Beecher's resolve is firm, his blue eyes cold and unflinching, but the flush of pink across his cheeks reveals the fiery passion below threatening to rush forth, unapologetically.

Closing his eyes, McManus takes a deep breath and fixes Beecher in his sights. "So what do you want me to do?" It's not as if he'll actually listen, but he wants Beecher to feel some sense of empowerment within the uncontrollable.

"Doesn't matter. You've made up your mind. I get to play hostess to another one of Em City's upstanding gentlemen as soon as you decide who you're going to throw in with me and Chris is shacked up with someone else."

Chris. Not Keller. Chris. It's all together too affectionate for this place. It's the crack in Beecher's carefully built walls and it gives McManus pause. He watches Beecher roll his eyes and walk towards the door.

Handle in hand, Beecher looks over his shoulder. There's something wistful in his expression, as if he's resigned himself to an unfortunate turn of circumstances--or is simply putting up with it until McManus goes on his merry way.

"We done? Miss Sally's coming on and I don't want to miss Nooter."

McManus hesitates, but the right words refuse to cooperate. "Yeah, fine." He scratches the back of his head and follows Beecher out. Making his way up the stairs to the guards perch, he stares upon the inmates pushing their chairs into place over by the televisions. He rests his attention on Beecher whose gaze stays forward, never swaying, not even when Keller slips into the chair behind him and spreads his legs out, enough that the breaches Beecher's space. Keller stares, presumably, at the back of Beecher's head.

McManus makes a mental note to keep his eye on them.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

"Tell me I'm doing the right thing." McManus bites into his sandwich in the staff room during his lunch break.

Murphy offers a half smile and puts down his coffee. "You want me to tell you that or the truth?"

McManus tosses the sandwich to the table and sits back, dropping low in the chair. His face is grim. "Tobias Beecher and Chris Keller."

"Ah yeah, Em City's resident soap opera."

McManus shakes his head. "I don't get them."

Murphy narrows his eyes in an expectant fashion, clearly prompting him to explain.

"Their relationship...I can't tell if they actually hate each other as much as they profess to love each other or..." McManus crosses his arms and leans against the table. "I'm not saying it's impossible for two people to have a relationship in this place, but those two?"

He chooses to ignore Murphy's raised eyebrow silently calling into question the mess of sexual liaisons he has had at work. It's a judgment he feels acutely, but is not in the mood to drag a spotlight over at the moment. "After what they've done to each other--,"

Murphy smirks. "Look, I don't pretend to know what those two have. I don't know how Beecher--a preppie-yuppie type who probably never looked at a guy until Oz and then was hazed into it pretty badly--could fall for Keller--a con since he was born, with the screwed up past, a handful of marriages under his belt, and enough charm to work God over--who falls for him right back? If you try to figure it out you'll only make yourself crazy."

McManus thinks on that a moment. "So you think it's love?"

"Whatever it is, I sure as hell never had it before." Murphy takes a sip of coffee then adds, "Not sure if I'd want it."

McManus sighs and wraps up what's left of his sandwich. Beecher and Keller have been an oddity for him, and Oz for that matter. Maybe if he had paid attention early on when he first moved them in together they wouldn't be such a puzzle. As it was, he didn't notice them much until Beecher fell off the wagon again, and even then McManus was ready to write it off as Beecher succumbing to personal demons.

Honestly, he should have known to look closer when Beecher first (eventually) took to his new podmate in a way he rarely did with others. But when things are good it's easy to ignore potential problems lurking beneath the surface. Of course, by the time Beecher was twisted and broken into pieces in the gym, it was too late to reflect on red flags that should have been blindingly obvious.

It's the crux of the point McManus still can't explain away. He has seen men turn to each other in the prison system, consensually or through force, taking pleasure or comfort where they can with whomever is nearby or willing. It's rarely pretty. Beecher and Keller are no exception except somewhere along the line they turned into something that drew the attention of usually indifferent inmates; they became something referenced offhand in conversations.

With his own eyes he watches them snap back together no matter how much distance stretches out between them. He witnesses the spilled blood, bruised and battered skin, and harsh words. Yet as logical as keeping them apart seems, he is always caught off guard by the covetous look in their eyes when they watch each other, he is stymied by their manipulation of space, moving into each other's with a familiarity and intimacy that normally has no place within the walls of the prison. He imagines their overnight conversations are much of the same, only then, between the night watch guard's rounds, they've found a way to show each other exactly how much they feel.

Of all the unlikely pairings, they are near the top of his list. They hate and love in the same breath, all for each other. They're a damn paradox. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The greater the space between them grows, the stronger the glue binding them becomes until they ricochet back into each other with such force that casualties are inevitable. McManus has no idea what line to walk with them, if one even exists.

"You think I should move them in together again?" he asks, annoyed by how much they've come to consume his waking thought process.

"I think there's going to be trouble either way," Murphy says. "But at least when they're together the only people who are likely to get hurt are them." After a pause he dryly adds, "And if they kill each other, problem solved."

"I don't like the idea of rewarding them--,"

"For what? Wanting to be together? I can think of worse things in this place," Murphy challenges. "And right now you're the obstacle keeping them apart. You're the one not letting them make up with each other. That's why the tension is getting so bad."

The pit in McManus' stomach grows. He was hoping for back up or a co-conspirator he could share the blame with if--when--things get worse with Beecher and Keller. Frustrated at being out on his own, he stands up and palms the leftover sandwich, lobbing it across the room into the trashcan. "I'm tempted to send Keller to Gen Pop or solitary permanently."

"Don't cut off your nose, Tim. I'd rather keep the blood confined to one place in Oz." Murphy grabs a magazine from the other table. He takes another sip of coffee and flips through the pages.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

McManus trains his eyes on them like a hawk for the next few days. Restless nights make for restless measures. Watching them so carefully, a pattern emerges, but he can't tell how much is their subconscious doing--and if that's the case, they're more tuned into each other than previously expected.

They turn Oz into a chess game, and even though Em City provides the main battleground, their actions are not confined there. The cafeteria and interconnecting hallways of the correctional facility provide their share of marked landscapes, and stories spill from gossiping lips of tense interactions, even if it occurs when they are simply passing each other by.

He begins to see his own part in all of it, as small as it is. Forcibly keeping them apart during the hours they normally fuck (or kill) each other has thrown a tremendous kink in their natural (and screwed up) repertoire. Distance, throwing other inmates into the mix, has nudged certain insecurities (on both their parts) forward, though they mask it; relatively well at first, then increasingly haphazardly as time piles up. Issues which wouldn't have taken root before, or would have remained dormant, come to the forefront. Yet even apart they remain a solid entity, separate from the others.

Any time Beecher makes his trek to Sister Pete or to visit his family, McManus can be sure Keller, no matter where he is, raises his head to watch Beecher's retreating form. And when Keller is strutting around with O'Reily (almost always up to no good), Beecher's attention to detail is tested, watching with a put upon pout and rolling his eyes, grumbling out of displeasure (which in turn brings out Keller's amused glare). They are a petri dish of the most intense and messed up human relations; a bullheaded mating ritual.

Each day is filled with them moving about Em City with deliberation, mindful of the other. They cross into each other's space, jostle the equilibrium, and retreat, reveling in whatever is left in its wake. McManus notes the other players--O'Reily (with Cyril at his side), Said, Hill, Busmalis, Rebadow; even Schillinger (all the way in Gen Pop, by way of being the asshole who once had his hooks in both of them). Others enter and leave the fray, but the recurring players make McManus' watch far more involved. Even Sister Pete and Father Mukada try to offer sage words of advice that McManus files away for personal reference.

It's an intricate set of plays and the tensions that run beneath are like an undercurrent ready to electrocute everyone. It makes McManus very nervous. He hates feeling his hand being forced, but if push comes to shove, for the well-being of life in Em City (and his bloody job), he may have to be willing to compromise otherwise steadfast resolve.

A none-too-bright member of Adebesi's crew has been hassling Beecher lately and even though Beecher has easily resisted the uninvited advances, the attempts are getting more blatant. It's only a matter of time before Beecher either goes "crazy" or Keller's possessive nature gets the better of him.

It's a challenge to them all. McManus doesn't want to risk a dead body on his record for Glynn to hang him with. Beecher is aching to show his independence, Keller is burning to show his power--they also want the others to know they remain bound to each other, and any actions against one are an attempt on both; it's unacceptable.

Em City is a string pulled taut. With too much pressure and no slack in sight, it's going to snap.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

He's just past the security desk on another fine morning in the penal system when he hears about the previous night's emergency lockdown. With only the vaguest of details--fight in the gym, serious injuries, unrelated attack has left a man in a coma--McManus stalks with determined steps into Em City. He is not nave as to not make the possible connection between the two incidents.

Unrelated, my ass. The word `distraction' lights up in big bold colours across his mind.

Everyone is still in their pods, most curiously (and agitatedly) eyeing the empty quad. He feels their gazes on him but keeps his head forward. With a nod to Murphy up at the guard's bay, McManus climbs the stairs and points over his left shoulder. He ignores Murphy's far too knowing shake of the head.

With no pause of reconsideration, McManus marches to the pod at one corner of the second landing and opens the door. "Get your stuff, Keller. You're moving."

Keller reclines on the top bunk like some sly prowling cat licking his lips. His podmate's brow wrinkles with questions and confusion at McManus' abrupt visit and unexpected order.

Slowly Keller sits up, his eyes never leaving McManus'. "Where to?"

Stopping short of punching him in the face (though McManus is tempted--if it didn't cost him his job and if he thought he could actually take Keller in a fight, fat chance), McManus says, "I think you can guess, but consider this your one get out of jail free card. Now hurry up."

Keller doesn't bother to conceal his pleased smirk and McManus hazards a guess it is as much for being reunited with Beecher as it is for thinking he's twisted McManus between this fingers. Maybe it's well earned.

McManus leaves him to gather his belongings and walks back to Murphy who he counts on to be smart enough in keeping any opinions to himself. Along the way McManus looks down at Beecher's pod and sees him standing at the front, staring up with a blank (unsure, maybe yearning; hesitant wonder) expression from Keller to McManus. Once McManus is back at the guard's bay he can feel Murphy awaiting his `go ahead' and the pressure of the very world he helped create (which always seems to exist just beyond his grasp) pushes down on him from all sides.

He grips the railing in front of him with tight fists and readies himself. Glaring, he says, "Let `em out."

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