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Written for hardtime100 flashfiction challenge #55 - Storage Room

Laying It On The Line

by levitatethis

"This isn't going to be a problem is it?" Ryan asks, fingers lingering on the handle of the closed door behind, his eyes trained on the man in front of him.

He is on Keller's turf right now, so being mindful of his own safety is as important as putting up a strong front. Ryan knows (they all suspect, actually) only one person who has ever caught Keller alone in here and brought him to his knees. It's the same person who has, thanks to misguided or reckless actions, brought Ryan here today. A fact surely lost on neither.

Chris pauses mid-action with the box of blank paper barely balancing on the edge of the shelf. After a second he shoves it into place, taking some satisfaction in the sound and feel of it snug against the wall, and slowly turns around. "Is what going to be a problem?"

It's a loaded, if false, question and they both know it. Ryan carefully hides the exasperation in his voice. He's worked too hard to get things back in proper order (re: Em City back under some semblance of pliable control after the Querns/Adebisi experimental disaster nearly sent life to hell in a handbasket) to have it tossed under the bus now. He sees little room for bullshit. "Beecher and Barlog," he states, noting the way Keller's jaw tenses at the names.

When Ronnie Barlog first rolled into Em City with a swagger similar enough to Keller's, it made Ryan blink twice. He thought another potential ally had been sent into the shitfest of political maneuverings Oz had turned into. Keller seemed thrilled at the prospect, grinning broadly. Of course the other shoe dropped almost immediately, two seconds later, when Beecher implied a game playing move that all but declared, `Check Mate,' in whatever the fucking battle was between him and Keller.

Ryan isn't an idiot. He knows the details of Beecher and Keller's current falling out. Hell, he's fine with letting it continue to play out on its own sordid terms with Keller making strategic (and not so cryptic) mincemeat out of anyone who dares to go near Beecher's cock. As long as Ryan's position within Em City isn't threatened, he's willing to look the other way. But now the tables have turned slightly off kilter and everything seems on the verge of imploding once again. Beecher's big mouth is the least of Ryan's problems. Potentially losing Keller to a fucked up lovers quarrel could turn everything back on its head.

"What about `em?" Chris posits too casually. He doesn't want to say their names in the same sentence, let alone think of them fucking in the bottom bunk--his bunk--in Toby's--their--pod.

This room has always been his bit of sanctuary, a place to think and consider (and reconsider) plans of action, feelings he never thought he'd ever have (or even deserved), the details of his screwed up life before and after landing in here. Now O'Reily has breached the walls and voiced what should be silent, and suddenly it's all too real, inescapable...unavoidable. It's tangible psychological fucking warfare and O'Reily doesn't know how close he is to stepping in it.

Following Chris' chat with Toby, during which the, `you fuck someone else, I'll kill them `cause I might not be with you (now), but no one else gets to either,' cards were put on the table; after McManus moved back in as the clueless wizard of a broken town without pity, everything was suppose to go back to normal. Which, at the time for Chris, meant eyefucking Toby, but not touching him, making cold yet suggestive remarks at him, but not forgiving him (yet), and generally toying with him until neither of them could take it and they either killed each other for real or fucked long and hard, seven ways to Sunday. Chris was betting on the latter. He got hard just thinking about it.

Ronnie showing up was a blast from the past and at the very least it meant friendly, easy and to-the-point company, something Chris hadn't taken much stock in before. Toby--the fucking crazy motherfucker--pounced on the opportunity, ripping yet another delightful hole in Chris' already wounded heart.

Where Chris normally would have been impressed by such tenacity, finding out Toby made a play (which was gladly reciprocated by Ronnie) their first night as podmates, makes Chris want to puke and go on a bloody rampage. He wants to break Toby's face as much as hold him close, in a deadly bear hug, and hiss, "What are you doing? Stop trying to punish me into loving you again. I never stopped, you fuck. Never." Ronnie, he doesn't want to hurt. He's one of the few close things to a friend Chris still has. But if has to choose between Toby and Ronnie...he needs to educate them both on what's what. Before it rips his mind apart.

Chris folds his arms across his chest and affects an unwavering stance. He waits for O'Reily to approach, which he does cautiously.

"We all know they're fucking," Ryan says, returning the unblinking stare. "I need to know this isn't going to be a problem for you."

"You mean you don't want this to be a problem for you," Chris counters, angling his head enough to look down his nose at him.

Unapologetically, Ryan shrugs his shoulders, taking another few steps forward and stops a couple of inches away. "If it's a problem for me, then it is a problem for you." Ignoring the slight raise of an amused eyebrow on his cohorts face, he continues, "Hey man, whether you two never speak to each other again or kiss and make up this afternoon, I really don't give a shit--as long as we know where we stand."

Chris considers his reply before answering clearly and concisely. "We know where we stand."

"Do we?" Ryan challenges, eyes narrowing inquisitively. "Because we can't afford to screw up now."

Chris cracks a half smile and leans into O'Reily's space. Lowering his voice, he says, "You worried I'm going to hang you out to dry, O'Reily? You don't think I can multitask?"

Not when it comes to your boyfriend fucking anything on two legs just to make you jealous, Ryan thinks, drawing his mouth into a tight line in a bid not to risk those words from rushing forth and putting a killer glare on Keller's face; a prelude to something very bad. Ryan rolls back on his heels and wills an easy but calculated smile in place for show. He doesn't like when Keller gets too close. He's seen it work wonders in disarming others as Keller sets a trap in motion, but being the one in those crosshairs now gives Ryan a very uneasy feeling. The intention of this visit was to diffuse a potentially catastrophic situation. Not add fuel to fire.

"Easy K-boy," Ryan says with a steady voice. "I'm just making an observation."

"Which would be?" The smile is gone from Chris' face.

Silently he dares Ryan to give him an excuse to lash out. Toby has twisted his mind into a pretzel and if Chris doesn't blow soon, he fears he's going to hurt Toby in a way there's no coming back from. He can't have that. Fleeting lack of control lasts only a few seconds. He credits it to O'Reily daring to air dirty laundry in his damn safe place.

Except for that shank in the back--could have just pulled my pigtails instead, Toby.

The truth is, Chris already has a plan in place.

Ryan looks at him closely. "You might be the king of the con, but Beecher gets to you. And after the move he made yesterday I'm betting you're not just in here stacking paper out of some indelible work ethic." He leans forward. "Your mind's spinning a mile a minute. I can hear the fucking gears from here."

Chris considers telling him off, but the fact of the matter is O'Reily has a pretty good read on him right now. It screams of weakness and vulnerability. Toby would think it reeked of something poetic, like hope--

Chris shrugs, tosses a tiny frown in for good measure, then states plainly, "Beecher's throwing a little tantrum--screaming, waving his arms, crying for attention. He's trying to call a bluff he doesn't know is there. I got it covered."

Surprised, Ryan's eyes grow wide. He wrinkles his brow contemplatively. "Care to fill me in?"

Chris grins. "That's on a need to know basis, and you," he grabs the bottom of Ryan's chin, pressing the edge of his thumb into the skin, and with a firm tone adds, "don't need to know."

There's a drawn out pause meant to hit home the point (during which Ryan tries to pull back but Chris, peering intently, holds on tighter) then Chris says, "Now get the fuck out of here before Murphy thinks you're giving me a blowjob."

The second the grip loosens, Ryan snaps his head back and steps away. Instinctively he rubs his jaw. "Put him on a short leash."

"Don't you concern yourself with Beecher," Chris says and dismissively turns back to the stack of boxes he's meant to be shelving.

There's no denying the command in his voice. Ryan trails his gaze along the length of Keller's body, taking in the flexing muscles beneath taut skin, seeing the power in his movements, and knows he's come close to pushing a little too far. It would be best to leave things where they are...for now.

Back at the door, Ryan casts one more look over his shoulder. "You do your part and we're cool."

Chris continues working and Ryan waits until he glances over. They exchange a nod and Ryan opens the door. Heading into the hallway, he takes his time making his way back to Em City.
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