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Written for the 2008 OZ Free For All for cmk418. Prompt included at the end. Not exactly strict canon.
(What Would Be) The Chance of That
Tim boxes with the punching bag, letting it swing back hard and connect with his sore fingers. He'd singed his fingers burning the letter from Diane, and then Gloria refused his dinner invitation. Now he's punishing both his fingers and his already-battered ego.
He's middle-aged. He can't throw a decent punch. He can't keep a woman, sure as hell couldn't keep a wife. He can't remember all of the women who've abandoned him. Even nuns hate him.
"You gonna give up that bag anytime soon?" Murphy's voice breaks Tim's trance.
Tim looks up, and the bag swings back one more time, catching him heavily across the chest, forcing his breath out in an audible whoof. He stumbles backwards, and Murphy lets him fall.
Tim knows that he's worn out the topic of Diane Wittlesley. Any sympathy Murphy may have had is hidden well behind his stoic expression, yet Tim's mouth keeps moving and the words won't stop. "London! Who the hell moves to London!"
"Was she really the love of your life? Even after the fallout from the riot?" There's no censure in Murphy's tone.
"It's not that simple," Tim protests. "We- we'd made plans. She said we'd have another chance, that it could work."
Murphy towels his hair. He doesn't respond.
There's something in his eyes that makes McManus feel small.
Tim buttons up his shirt. "Hey, you want to grab dinner tonight, huh?"
Sean pulls his gym bag from his locker. Sitting down on the bench, he ties up his shoes.
The silence stretches. Tim hovers uncertainly.
Murphy looks up. "I don't think so."
McManus waits for him to say "Another time" or "I've got plans".
Murphy puts on his coat and leaves Tim standing there, wondering what the hell just happened.
Tim forces himself to go home. He stands in the doorway of his apartment and tries to look at it through someone else's eyes. It's comfortable and it's supposed to function as a solace, because he actually thought he'd bring someone home who would spend time there. But the women only see the bedroom, and sometimes the kitchen, and all his friends are work friends, not the types to call and invite over to watch the game.
He thinks about Sean Murphy as he closes the curtains, wipes dust off the face of the aquarium with his sleeve, fills a glass with water from the tap, and then puts it on his nightstand. He thinks he should be thinking about Diane, but it's too fresh, it hurts too much, and anyway, it's all her fault.
Tim wasn't kidding when he told Glynn that he trusts Murphy with his life; they've worked together for nearly two decades. Tim realizes that he talks to Sean as if they're old pals, but Murphy never returns the favor. He doesn't know a single thing about Sean Murphy's private life, while he's been laying himself bare for years. What if Murphy grins and bears it, because Tim's his boss?
He checks the schedule and finds Murphy in the staff room during his lunch break.
Murphy's engrossed in a book. Steam rises from the open Thermos in front of him, and there's a wrapped sandwich, an unpeeled orange, and slices of green pepper in a plastic bag on the table.
Tim rolls his eyes. He slides into the chair across from Murphy. "Your mom pack your lunch?" he asks snidely.
"No," Murphy regards him steadily. "I packed it myself."
Again, looking into Sean's eyes, Tim feels insignificant, a dust speck, a mote in the air. He changes the subject. "Good book?"
Murphy holds his place with a finger and shows it to Tim. On the cover, a low-flying plane is playing chicken with a control tower. "It's about aviation disasters," he says. "Crashes, explosions, stuff like that."
"Like the day the music died?" Tim asks.
Murphy looks at him, and his eyes seem clearer. "Yeah," he says slowly, a glint of humor in his tone. "Like that."
Tim nods. He drinks his coffee, and after a few moments, Murphy goes back to his book.
He watches when Tim stands, gathering up his coffee cup and sugar wrapper, but they don't exchange goodbyes.
They meet for lunch in the break room nearly every day. Tim brings paperwork, Sean brings his airplane book, and they share a table.
Tim never finishes his paperwork, but eventually Murphy finishes his book, closing the cover with a thump and a heartfelt sigh.
"Ever flown a plane?" Tim asks casually, and he's surprised when Murphy's resigned expression melts into an enormous smile. He looks years younger, and Tim's struck by the sheer wonder in Sean's eyes.
The look's gone in the next second, and Murphy shakes his head.
"Nah," he says, fingering the corner of the book. "I'd probably toss my cookies all over the place."
"Huh," Tim says.
He starts to go back to his papers when Murphy says, "That's it? Here I was expecting a story about you. Mile-high club with all the stewardesses or some time your plane skidded off the runway."
Tim's forehead wrinkles as he looks at Murphy. He shrugs. "No story."
Murphy laughs loudly, though it sounds hollow to Tim. "No story," he says. "Okay, Timmy. You feeling okay?"
"No," Tim says, truthfully.
He doesn't elaborate, and of course, Murphy doesn't press for an answer. Why should he? They're not friends.
They talk a little more after that, and never about the inmates or other staff members. Every time Tim's tempted to say "I did, I saw, I went, I remember when", he asks Sean a question instead.
It never even occurs to him that he's treating Murphy like a woman he's interested in until Sean's birthday rolls around and Tim buys him a present.
He sits in his office, and rationalizes.
Tim wipes mustard off a chart. Sean's reading a travel book about the Mediterranean, or how to make your own olive oil, or something. Tim pushes an envelope across the table at him.
Murphy looks at him. "Monthly bribe money?" he asks, arching an eyebrow.
"Funny," Tim says. "Happy birthday."
Murphy's other eyebrow shoots up. He picks up the envelope gingerly, flips it over, thumbs back the flap, and coaxes out the folded sheet of paper.
Tim waits impatiently while Sean reads the page, seemingly slower than when he reads his books.
"I'm beginning to think you don't know what you're doing, Tim," Murphy says, and Tim has to laugh.
"No shit," he says.
"No shit," Murphy agrees. He slides the paper back into the envelope. "Flying lessons, huh?"
"I always thought you were too grounded," Tim jokes, and they laugh together.
For the rest of the day, Tim's so upbeat so much that even Said looks at him askance. In the hallway, Keller's look sweeps him up and down, and then he smiles as if they share a secret. Tim slows, watching out of the corner of his eye until Keller disappears into the library.
They're playing a game of pick-up in the gym, shirts versus skins, and Tim's guarding Murphy.
"Works better if you guard him with your hands, not your eyes!" One of the SORT guys yells at him from the bench.
Tim growls, low in his throat. Murphy looks surprised. It doesn't matter; someone else scores and the game ends.
Murphy's not in the locker room afterwards and Tim decides to shower at home.
Lathering up, he runs his soapy hands across his chest and down his stomach. The clean pine scent mixes with clouds of steam, and Tim sighs happily. Sometimes he showers two or three times a day, scrubbing the smell of misery from his skin. Mostly, it works.
He catches himself thinking about Murphy again - Sean, now - and how he'd been distracted during the basketball game, somehow transfixed by a bead of sweat traveling down Sean's bare shoulder. The curl of Sean's thick hair, untamed by haircuts, and how fluidly he moved from side to side, balancing his weight, pushing off with his right leg.
Naked, his skin flushed from the heat of the water, Tim studies himself in the mirror on the back of the closet door. For damn sure, he won't win any beauty contests, unless the mantra about bald being beautiful is true. But he's still muscular enough, and his big blue eyes and dimples can still hold their attention. He frowns at his reflection, then snaps off the light and crawls into bed.
He trips on purpose, missing a step as they ascend the stairs to the control tower in Em City. Just to see. Falling forward, he uses Murphy's body as his cushion for the impact. He grabs onto the railing with one hand, steadying himself, but latches onto Sean with his other hand, wrapping his arm around Sean's waist. His face presses against the cotton of the CO uniform, right between Sean's shoulder blades. Tim notes that Murphy doesn't smell like misery at all, just soap and aftershave.
Murphy stiffens. Regaining his balance, Tim apologizes, and then turns away to talk with Officer Larman, because he just groped a man who he hopes is his best friend.
He'd like to do it again, and soon.
"Okay, who is it this time?" Murphy asks, a trace of resignation in his tone.
Tim looks up guiltily from stealing another baby carrot from the bag at Sean's elbow. Carefully, he places the carrot next to his coffee cup and clears his throat. "What?"
Marking his place with a piece of paper, Murphy puts down his book. "You've been moping around all day - actually, all week. What's her name? A waitress at the diner? Yoga instructor from downtown? No, lemme guess, it's the grad student that called eight times yesterday. Broke your heart, yeah?" His left eye twitches.
McManus grimaces. "No, nothing like that. Roll your eyes, I know you want to."
"You're damned right I do." Settling into the chair, Murphy crosses his arms over his chest. "What else besides the perils of love? You're never like this when you're getting laid."
"I didn't realize I was so transparent," Tim grouses.
"I can read you like a book, my friend." Murphy grins.
"Are we?" He sits straight up in his chair and locks eyes with Murphy.
"A little intense, there, Timmy," he replies warily. "Known you for twenty-odd years."
Tim clasps his hands together and nods. "Okay, so keep that in mind when... I mean, we've made it through a lot together." He grimaces. "And I don't always do the right thing... oh, hell." His body droops for a moment, and then he squares up his shoulders, nodding as if having come to the correct decision.
Murphy looks bewildered. "Uh... yeah. McManus, did you knock up my niece or somethin'?"
McManus growls in frustration, rubbing his hand down his face from forehead to chin. "Of course not. Listen."
Murphy stays quiet, willing to listen, but the raucous shrieking of the general alarm interrupts their conversation. Tim stands, grabbing his papers and folders; Sean sweeps his lunch remainders into the trash. They're at the door of the staff room when SORT thunders by, and it's to both of their relief that the team's not headed to their unit.
McManus bows out of the conversation by pretending to forget paperwork on the table, knowing Sean has to get back to work. "We can catch up at the end of the day," he says sincerely.
The wrinkle lines on Murphy's forehead don't recede. "Why don'tcha just tell me now, Tim."
"After work!" McManus says brightly, walking away, and turning to wave.
He is such a coward.
Sometime between back-to-back meetings and a file review with Pete and Gloria, McManus realizes that Sean's shift finished an hour ago. Needless to say, he's not waiting for Tim in his office. When Tim shows up at Sean's apartment, he's got two six-packs under one arm and two large pizzas under the other. Extra sausage, light on the sauce. There are some things he knows.
Sean answers the door in jeans and he's barefoot.
"You look like shit," he says in greeting.
Tim nods. "Hey, I'm sorry I missed you today. I had this -"
"Can it," Murphy interrupts sternly. "Pizza'll get you in the door, but then you're gonna tell me what is going on with you."
Tim recognizes the don't-fuck-with-me expression on Sean's face that he usually only gets around the inmates. He's serious. Tim stares at him. Instead of feeling guilty or chastised, he's turned on. He has a wild thought about handcuffs and Murphy's nightstick.
He bumps the pizza boxes against the door. "Move," he says roughly, embarrassed at this new side effect of Murphy's demeanor.
Tim eats as slowly as possible, but once the leftover pizza's in the fridge and he's grabbed another beer, it's time to spill his guts onto Sean's coffee table. The game's still on, the volume low, and Murphy waits patiently. His face is serious.
"All this build-up," Tim says. He laughs nervously.
Murphy doesn't respond.
"Okay." He takes a deep breath. He stares at the stack of magazines on the table. "I like you."
Sean laughs. "I like you too, Tim."
Now or never. Tim steels himself. He looks up at Sean's smiling face. "No, I mean. I like you."
The smile drops away. "Oh," Sean says quietly.
"Oh," Tim agrees. He fiddles with the label on his bottle of beer, and then risks another look. Sean's brow is knit, his forehead wrinkled in thought.
"So... the past couple months, that's not you being my friend, that's you tryin' to get into my pants?" Sean sounds pissed.
Tim shakes his head violently. "No, absolutely not!"
A thick silence settles between them. Tim listens to the muted cheers from the television. When Sean stands up, he does too, balancing on shaky legs.
"I won't be your rebound." His words carry weight; they're heavy and sad. "Your rebound experiment."
"No! God, no. It's not like that, I don't want that. That's not what I want."
Sean raises his eyebrows. "I don't think you have any idea what you want. No, Tim. Don't ask me again." He's angry.
He falls back into his easy chair, and Tim stays standing, unsure if this is the cue to leave. After a few graceless moments of indecision, he sits back down. Murphy's watching him, his face smooth and expressionless, but his eyes are hurt, and Tim feels like the world's biggest jackass.
"Wait," he blurts out.
Sean's gaze doesn't waver.
"I shouldn't ask you again? That's it? You're not the least bit concerned that I think about jumping into bed with you, kissing you, touching you? Your response is don't ask again?" His voice gets louder with each question.
Murphy shrugs. He takes a swig of beer.
"Okay, and if you're not concerned, that's because you... and you said not to ask again, which means you... Jesus Christ, Sean. Thanks for that little bomb! Why didn't you tell me?"
Sean frowns. "Figured it might change how you see me."
And it does, but not the way Sean means.
"Yeah, I'm that much of a jerk, thanks a lot!" Tim rants.
Murphy cuts his eyes at Tim, then follows up with a slow, appraising look. He sighs. "It's not that you're a jerk, okay, though you do have a fat mouth. Let's have another beer and watch the game. I've got a fifty on it."
"No way," Tim says heatedly. "I know you think I'm on the rebound, but I'm not. I like being around you. I'm always interested in what you're going to say. Sometimes I get it right, and you're my right!" He gestures emphatically, sloshing beer onto the leg of his jeans. "Fuck," he says, looking down at the spill. He breathes deeply through his nose, and then says quietly, "Once in a while, I get it right." Hopefully, he looks over at Sean.
Sean won't meet his gaze for several agonizing moments, and then he looks straight at Tim. His words are harsh with finality. "Not this time."
Tim wants to tear out what little hair he has left. Sean's so goddamned stubborn. He watches while the other man gets up and heads down the hall to the kitchen. He throws in the towel. "I want to be with you."
Murphy spins on his heel and sucks in a sharp breath. "You don't know me at all!"
Tim follows Sean into the hall. "That's not going to work!" He crowds into Sean's space, back him against the wall. "I do know you; I've known you for twenty fucking years." He shoves at Sean's chest with the flat of his hand. "And you think you've got me all figured out? Well I've got your number, too. You try to shut me out all the time and I'm not going to let th-"
The bottle drops from his hand to the carpet with a soft thunk. Tim grabs Sean's head with both hands and kisses him, mashing their mouths together, thrilling inside at his own audacity.
Their kiss isn't perfect or life changing or even all that great. Sean's mouth is slack, and the angle is wrong. They bump noses and suddenly Tim wishes he knew how Sean liked to be kissed. There's a weird buzzing in Tim's ears, and he thinks he might be grinning when he pulls away. It's dark enough in the hallway that Tim can't read the emotions in Sean's eyes. At first, he doesn't respond at all and Tim starts to freak out, his earlier boldness turning into fear. What the hell is he thinking? He's an amateur, blundering into situations and never able to extract himself gracefully.
He's not prepared when Sean reaches out and touches his fingertips to Tim's lips. Murphy's head tilts to the side, and he looks as if he's come to an uncertain decision. There's no time to dwell on the look, because Sean's hand palms the back of Tim's neck, anchoring there, and then he slides his mouth over Tim's and this time it's amazing. Tim tastes beer on Sean's lips, and the kiss is warm and searching. Lifting his hand, he touches the stubbly line of Sean's jaw lightly, following the line of it into his neck, a ghosting touch over his shoulders. He's not sure where to put his hands, so he keeps them moving, rewarded with a low groan when Tim's hand skims over Sean's nipple.
Tim's body responds, gooseflesh rising on his arms, and he's nearly embarrassed at how quickly his dick gets hard, but it's Murphy. They're pressed together, mouths fused, and Tim realizes that Sean's unbuttoning his shirt. The chance at feeling Sean's skin under his hands ignites passion in Tim: he focuses, his world constricting until he can hear each button slipping through fabric, each breath that Sean pulls in through his nose, every single one of his rapid heartbeats. He's about to break the kiss so he can choke in a breath when Sean touches his tongue to Tim's, and then Tim finds that he doesn't need oxygen; he needs Sean. Their kisses grow increasingly heated. Tim grinds against Sean's hip and he knows it's okay when Murphy's hand tightens on his neck, then relaxes. Sean sinks his teeth into Tim's bottom lip and Tim scratches his fingernails down Sean's chest and then they're bucking against each other and Tim's lips ache when they finally break apart, gulping for air, their eyes locked on one another.
"Can you leave it alone now?" Murphy rasps.
"What?" Tim gapes at him.
"Leave it alone. You tried it, we tried it, now you can let it go." His voice is gruff.
Tim still can't read his expression clearly, but he watches Sean's eyes widen when he snorts loudly, a grin spreading across his face. "You have to be joking! No chance. No. Chance." He swipes his hand down over his face. "Jesus, you're a good kisser." His lips still tingle.
"And... you don't have someplace to be?" Sean asks after a minute.
"What?" Tim's confused for a second. He narrows his eyes at Sean. "No," he answers. "Nowhere other than here. Why, what are you thinking?"
Murphy edges toward the kitchen. "I'm thinking I need another beer before you blow your top."
Tim nearly stamps his foot in exasperation. "I'm not! I'm not going to blow anything." He hums, considering. "Okay, that's not entirely true." He smiles engagingly at Murphy, who rolls his eyes and walks away.
Tim trails after him. Compared the dim hallway, the kitchen is bright, and he blinks, adjusting, his hungry gaze lingering on Sean's broad shoulders and back. He watches as Sean moves around the space, taking out another two beers, using the bottle opener, his long, sexy fingers cradling the metal... Tim looks up quickly when Sean clears his throat.
He takes the beer from Sean and they clink bottles, which strikes Tim as bizarre considering what they were doing three minutes earlier, but also familiar. He knows Sean's waiting for him to flip out, but really, Tim thinks that Sean is taking this rather well.
They stand in the kitchen for a while, not speaking, drinking their beers and listening to the people in the apartment upstairs moving around.
Murphy breaks the tension. "No chance, huh?"
"None," Tim replies grimly.
"Okay," Sean says. "Come by tomorrow after work. We'll go out, grab a bite. Maybe at that diner you won't shut up about." Though his tone is affable, he looks at Tim warily.
"Tomorrow?" Tim parrots. "But, what about... I mean, we kissed." He knows he sounds petulant.
"We can do it again," Sean says. "But we both have to work tomorrow, and you've had four beers, and I'm cutting you off. Beer and kisses," he clarifies as Tim's mouth opens.
"What about a good-night kiss?" Tim implores. He balls his hands into fists. Sean said they could do it again. See him tomorrow. Dinner. A date! He grins.
"Don't push your luck." Sean growls.
Tim backs off.
They return to the living room, and Tim can't stop smiling. He catches Sean watching him, amusement shining from his eyes.
"I'm glad I'm so entertaining," he grumbles.
Sean's hearty laugh fills the room. "Timmy, you are nothing if not entertaining." He lifts his bottle in a toast. "To Tim McManus, a sneaky, neurotic asshole, also a great kisser, and most importantly, my best friend." He stares at Tim. "Don't fuck this up."
Tim shakes his head. "I won't. I really, really won't."
"Good," Sean says lightly.
When Diane calls, Tim doesn't have anything to say to her; he rushes to get off the phone. He's late for lunch with Sean.
Prompt: Slashfic where McManus pursues Murphy for a change.
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