Title: Protection
Pairing: B/K
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: HBO owns Oz.
Summary: Toby and Chris don't see eye-to-eye.
Beta: Suespur!

*******

Beecher liked it up the ass. He did, and Keller watched it limp away. Schillinger had branded it, but that ass belonged to Keller, and it always would.

"I want a piece of that cocksucker."

Keller whipped his head around practically backwards. The spic who said that wasn't going to live long, unless he shut the fuck up. A small amount of laughter drifted to Keller, and he growled softly.

"That ass is for rent!" Schillinger howled. "Step right up!"

Keller glared. He hefted his tray and waited to see who he'd be bashing over the head with it. The hole was a fine place to spend a day or two. Schillinger's cold eyes met Keller's and a battle raged, silently. Keller leaned into it. The route to Beecher's ass was over him, and everyone that didn't know it would figure it while they were dying. The moment faded away into talk of tits, and he waited another minute before following after Beecher. O'Reily gave him a cocky grin, and Keller shrugged. Cyril just stared.

Emerald City was empty, and Keller sank down in a chair that faced Beecher's pod. No roommate, yet, but there'd be one soon. No amount of threats kept a man's dick in his pants. Beecher would drop to his knees, and they'd whip it out. Keller didn't blame Beecher; the man was born that way.

"Not hungry, huh?"

Keller didn't glance up at Sister Pete; he kept his eyes on the pod. "I'm always hungry -  for Beecher."

"He'll never forgive you."

"Didn't we have this conversation last week?" Keller decided to flash her a grin. "I got airholed for him." Or by him.

"He expected more from you." Her voice was like honey on bread. "You're nothing but a Vern Schillinger now."

Keller flexed his biceps. He had nothing more to say. She mouthed a few more worthless words before giving up. He liked her fine, but this was between him and Beecher. Time always passed slowly in Oz, and Keller studied the pod from every angle.

"Hey, Keller."

"What?" Keller shifted his gaze to the pod's occupant.

"Go the fuck away." Beecher gave him the finger.

Keller would like to shove that finger up Beecher's own ass. "Getting a new podmate today?"

"How the hell can I know?" Beecher went through the door, awkwardly climbed to the top bunk, and opened his book. He was on top now. Keller smirked. There were solutions to every problem, if a man was willing to get messy.

********

Keller needed to go the fuck away. Beecher turned the page and pretended to read. There had to be a way to get Keller to leave him the hell alone, but he couldn't think of it. The asshole was obsessed, and there was no way to fix that. Beecher considered letting him come back, but that would be stupid. The hen couldn't keep an eye on the fox. He laughed softly. Keller was a wolf - fucking the fox.

"Smile for me."

"Fuck off, Keller." Beecher shut his book with a snap and put it by his leg. It was a weapon, if necessary. "Pick Vern."

Keller smiled. "Ain't going there, not even for you."

"Can't say I really blame you." Beecher couldn't. Schillinger was nasty, inside and out. "What would it take for you to leave me the fuck alone?"

"Not gonna happen." Keller moved closer, his hand coming to rest on Beecher's leg. "I don't quit."

Beecher sighed. He hated this. He hated everything, but mostly, he hated this. "Why don't you get what you came for and get out?"

Keller's hand squeezed, not gently. It hurt! Beecher tried to control the squirm and gasp, but he'd never been very good at that sort of thing. "Break it again."

"I just might," Keller growled. "I did everything you asked, and it wasn't enough."

"Right." Beecher looked out the pod window. Where was a hack when he needed one? He eased out a breath as Keller's hand loosened and fell away. Keller gave him a look that spoke only of evil and strode out of the pod. Beecher tried to look calm. He needed an ally against the madness. Keller had betrayed him. There had to be someone else, someone strong.

********

Keller reported to the front as he'd been told. He controlled his sneer as he realized why.

"Jack Striker, Chris Keller. He'll help you get settled," Murphy said. "Keller, put him with Beecher."

Keller refused the handshake. "Come on, Striker." He only said it to get away from Murphy. Striker's smile died away, but he followed along, carrying his stuff. Keller didn't talk. Threats would do no good, so he took a good look. Striker was small, even short, and he didn't have muscles. He looked like a twink. Keller grinned. Maybe Striker was a twink.

"Here's your pod. That bitch is Beecher." Keller pointed. "He'll show you around. I got better things to do."

Beecher swung his legs over his cot. "Fuck off, Keller."

Keller laughed. "Oh, I will. Who knows? You might too." He winked at Striker and went to request time in the gym before count. This was gonna be fun.

********

Beecher rubbed his forehead and said, "Lights out in a few. Bottom bunk is yours."

"Sure. Bottom is good." Striker smiled again.

"Listen, Jack. Keep that up, and your ass is going to belong to everyone in Oz." Beecher glanced over at Keller's pod. Keller had taken up his position at the window, but his usual look of death was absent. He looked like it was all a big joke. What an asshole.

Striker shrugged. "Prison is prison. You think I ain't been on bottom? Think again."

Beecher gave him a look and went to the window to stare back at Keller. If only all this was over. Keller licked his lips and held up two fingers. Beecher got the message. Keller wanted to fuck them both. Beecher held up one finger, his middle one, and Keller laughed. The alarm rang, and the lights went out. Keller stayed to stare. Beecher had to shut his eyes and get away from Oz for an hour or two.

"Want me to suck your dick?" Striker sounded hopeful.

"No. Thanks. I hope you realize that I can't protect you. In Oz, there is the strong and the weak, and I'm weaker than most." Beecher hopped and pulled until he was on his bunk. He laid his cane down by his leg. Striker sighed. What a twink. He'd have to find a protector soon, and Beecher wasn't the man to do it. Keller could. Would he? Beecher sat back up and found Keller staring, still. Fucker should go to bed.

"You sure?"

"No!" Beecher snapped. He lay back flat and crammed his eyes shut. Shit. Fucking place.

********

Keller watched. They weren't. Of course not. Beecher liked to be seduced. Slut. And Striker was a bottom. Fucking hilarious. Two bottoms without a clue of what to do. He rubbed himself and went to lie down. So much there to work with.

********

Beecher knew he was in trouble. Shit, it was always something, but Striker was making it worse. Miss Sally seemed to think every day was a good one, but Beecher knew better. O'Reily crashed into the chair next to him and licked his lips. "People want your baby."

"He's not my baby." Beecher didn't look at the twink sitting next to him.

"Well, if someone offers you something good, take it." O'Reily swaggered off. Beecher craned his neck looking for Keller, but he was nowhere.

Striker leaned close. "You been here long? You don't seem to know how to play the game."

Beecher just stared. Little twink wanted to be whored out. "Listen, Jack. You want to get fucked, go do it."

"That ain't the rules." Striker leaned away, stretched, and yawned. Beecher edged his chair away, but it wouldn't do any good. There was no place to run in Oz.

********

Keller watched, but stayed out of sight. Beecher smelled desperate. It was a sweet smell, and Keller wanted to enjoy it. Talk was out about Beecher's baby, and it wouldn't be long before someone made a move. Beecher was going to need help, and from the look on his face, he knew it. Perfect.

"Who you stalking today, Keller?"

Keller turned his eyes on Bricks and his boys. "Same old. Same old."

Bricks laughed. "Better get you a piece of that soon." He swaggered off with his gang. They thought they were pretty tough - bunch of losers. Keller waited until he saw a bead of sweat break out on Beecher's forehead before making his move. Casually, he went around the corner and slumped into the chair next to Striker. Beecher looked relieved, then angry, and then cautious. Typical. Striker practically groaned.

Keller gave himself a rub. "Schillinger here yet?"

"Fuck off," Beecher blustered, but inside he was crying.

"Thanks," Keller murmured and pulled Striker into his lap for a kiss and a grope.

"Break it up!" Damn hack.

Keller laughed and pushed Striker back into his chair. Beecher looked furious. Keller patted Striker on the head. "You're a good boy."

Striker smiled. "Thanks."

"I'm going to be sick." Beecher fumbled for his cane. "Keller, he's all yours."

"Nope. He's your bitch." Keller scratched his stomach. "I already have a girlfriend."

Beecher looked away, back, and spat, "Take him! Leave me the fuck alone!"

"Tempting, but no." Keller stretched. "Miss Sally looks good today." He didn't watch Beecher limp away, this time. Striker stayed close. He would. He was hoping. Keller put a hand on him. "Your ass is Beecher's. Get it?"

Striker slanted his eyes at him. "He ain't gonna hold onto it."

"Yes, he is." Keller moved enough to hide what his hands were doing from the hack and took a good grip on Striker's balls. Striker's eyes flew wide, and he squealed. Keller twisted before turning loose. "You understand now?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Shit!" Striker covered up and rocked. "Weirdest-ass prison I ever been to."

"Yeah." Keller stood and picked Striker up by his shirt. "Run on with your daddy now."

Striker crept off after Beecher. Keller smiled. Perfect. And no one was fucking this up.

********

Beecher stayed on the move, and he stayed far away from doors that led to dark corners. Striker was right on Beecher's heels. Shit. This idiot wanted to be a prag. It didn't make a damn bit of sense.

"There you are, sweet pea." Schillinger's voice sent a wave of chills down Beecher's spine, but he stiffened it. "Here boys, we have not one, but two prags for the taking."

Beecher gripped his cane tightly. If he had any sense, he'd give them Striker, wash his hands, and go take a nap. Instead, he put Striker behind him. "Back off, Nazi queen."

Schillinger laughed and put his hands on his hips. "Well, my little prag has grown balls. Or he thinks he has."

Striker put a hand in the middle of Beecher's back. "It's okay," he whispered.

"No. It isn't." Beecher wouldn't send another man to Schillinger's hell. He had enough sin on his soul without that. Stupid, but true. Schillinger took another step, and Beecher saw a way out. "Hey, Officer Murphy, you met the new guy?"

"Something about this smells bad." Murphy put his hand on his stick. "Schillinger, beat it. Beecher's still limping from the last time."

Schillinger backed down and was gone. Beecher controlled the urge to spit after him, and Striker sighed. Probably with regret. Little whore. "Thanks, Officer."

"I can't be pulling you and your friend out of trouble all the time. Learn to get along, Beecher." Murphy knew the score. "Go on to your pod. Count in thirty minutes."

"Sure." Beecher grabbed hold of Striker and got moving. The pod was relatively safe, for two prags.

********

Keller let the day deal with Beecher as it pleased. Fear was good for a man. Beecher would learn a valuable lesson about responsibility and trust.

"Count!"

Keller obeyed, slowly. No good letting the hacks think they were the boss. Count took its usual amount of wasted time. Beecher and Striker were already home, and Keller leaned against their door. "Can I spend the night?"

Striker laughed. He was game. Beecher looked exhausted. Running all day would do that to a cripple. Keller waited for curse words, or something, anything. Finally, Beecher spoke. "Take him. Please. Protect him. I can't."

Keller looked Striker up and down. He was cute enough, but he was nothing but a piece of meat, for someone else. "Why not? You're tough."

Beecher put his face in his hands. "How much humiliation will make you happy?"

"Dunno." Keller moved to Beecher and ran a rough hand through his hair. "Toby, it's you I want."

"Too bad!" Beecher broke into action, jerked away, and stumbled because of it. "Take him!"

"It's not easy being responsible for someone who's weaker, is it?" Keller caught Beecher's face and turned him so their eyes met. "Tell him you love him, so when you sell him for a pack of cigarettes, it won't hurt him so much."

"Damn you, Keller!" Beecher gave him a shove. Keller had said enough, and he left before the hack came around again. Striker wrapped his arms around Beecher, and Keller went to watch from his window.

********

Beecher made a wretched sound. Striker held him tightly, and Beecher wanted to sink into it. Keller was trying to teach him a lesson. Shithead.

"It's okay. I'll suck you." Striker fumbled at Beecher's pants just as the lights went out.

Beecher trembled. Keller had protected him, up until he'd broken him. It was all wrong. Wrong! Striker licked him, and Beecher met Keller's eyes. Keller kissed the window, and Beecher pushed into a wet mouth. His cane clattered to the floor, and he grunted softly. He would take this and enjoy it - payment for protection. Refusing to face the truth was easy in Oz.

********

Keller enjoyed his breakfast. For some reason, he was hungry for food. Beecher and Striker looked sweet over there in the corner. Desperation had turned to fear-laced lust. Must have been a hell of a blowjob. Horny men were starting to stare at Striker and lick their lips. Beecher was going to have to make a choice. This was fun to watch.

*********

Beecher felt like a zebra with the lions circling. Striker gave him a look and a squeeze under the table. "Get as much as you can, and we'll share it."

"How can you live like that?"

"Easy." Striker slid his hand up and caressed. "I'm too pretty for prison."

"You gay?" Beecher figured Striker had to be.

"Hell no. I'm practical." Striker shrugged. "I've got one thing to trade. This is my third prison. I find a protector and live the good life."

"Except for the constant fucking." Beecher shoved his tray away. He wasn't hungry anyway. Keller was packing the food away. Dickhead.

Striker laughed. "I think of it as my job. Better than sitting behind a desk."

Beecher gave up. He couldn't do this. Striker was doomed. Keller lifted his head and flashed Beecher a hard grin. Beecher had spent a good part of one year taking it up the ass, and he should've been able to trade this pretty boy's ass away, but he couldn't. It wasn't in him, not yet. Keller had traded Beecher's ass away for something. What? Beecher clenched his jaw and took himself out of the equation. It was the coward's way, but damn, it was going to feel good. "Striker, here's my cane. Put it on my cot."

Striker took it and shrugged. "Sure."

Beecher picked up his tray and limped heavily to Keller. Keller immediately looked up and gave that beautiful smile. "Hey, crip."

The tray made a lovely sound as it crashed into Keller's head, but it was like swatting at an elephant. Keller roared up, and Beecher threw himself into it. Each blow that landed felt so good, and the hits that landed robbed him of breath that he didn't want anyway. Men yelled, joined the fray, and threw food. Nothing more fun than a fight in Oz.

*********

Keller had to admire Beecher's ability to start an all-out brawl, but it was stupid. Stupid fucker. SORT didn't waste any time beating the hell out of people, and Keller let Beecher get him down. It was Beecher that they bashed over the head, and Keller raised his innocent hands. They pinned him down, but that was nothing. Shit. He'd been hungry. When the chaos was over, Keller found himself taken to McManus' office.

McManus moved in close, pointed, and glared. "Who started it?"

"Can't remember," Keller said. He wasn't covering Beecher's ass this time, but he'd be damned if he'd rat him out either.

"Striker said it was Beecher." McManus smiled. He already had a rat, and he was gloating over it.

"Someone hit me from behind." Keller pointed at his lump. Good thing he had one.

McManus snorted. "Your head is made of rock. Get out of here."

"Thanks." Keller made sure his face told another story. He strolled out and down to his pod. Everyone was in lockdown. For now. But it would end, and Striker would be easy meat. Beecher could rot in the hole. Prick. He should have just sold the little whore. Keller had done it to the man he loved, for a price. It was easy. Well. It was fucking hard, but no one needed to know that.

********

Beecher hit the floor, grunted, and lay there in a heap. His leg hurt like hell, but it'd heal. If he put on a show, Dr. Nathan would show up, maybe. He shivered and dragged himself to the wall so he could lean against it. Blood dripped from his face, but he left it there. The blood and bruises were a payment of sorts. Striker would be easy meat now. Beecher put his head back and shut his eyes. This was Keller's fault. Everything was Keller's fault. Everything.

The window slid back. "Week in the hole, Beecher."

Beecher opened his eyes and let his head loll in that direction. "Sure."

"Can you stand?" McManus sounded like he cared. Liar.

Beecher turned away. Some blood rolled off his chin and landed on his thigh. Shit.

"You started the fight."

"Keller shouldn't have smiled at me." Beecher watched the blood. He did nothing but bleed in this damn prison. The metal door slammed, and he was glad. Suffering was what he did best, and doing it alone was nice for a change. Seconds, minutes, or hours passed, giving him plenty of time to think about the error of his ways, but he didn't. No one down here ever did. The door slid open, and he didn't look. It was probably Schillinger come to gloat and fuck him up the ass.

"I want him in the infirmary," Nathan said.

"No. He earned his way here," McManus snapped back. "Get what you need and do it here. No favoritism. Not this time."

Beecher laughed weakly. He was a favorite? Lord help him if he ever fell from grace. Nathan's hands were gentle on him, but he groaned as if he were dying. He could be.

"McManus, it might be broken again. Please." Nathan was a good woman. She should find another job.

There was a long moment of silence. Beecher made no moves. Anything he did would make it worse. McManus sighed. "Fine, but he's coming right back for a week!"

"Can you stand, Toby?"

Beecher gave her a look. "No." He couldn't because he wouldn't. It was a truth. She stood and brushed off before leaving. She'd be back with a gurney. Beecher didn't smile. McManus was watching. He stepped inside. Beecher looked up at him. "Keller down here?"

"He's in his pod." McManus shrugged. "Why do you care?"

"Just hoping." Beecher spat blood on the floor. He shivered. Time stretched and snapped back when two trusties slapped him on the gurney. One managed to give him a hard twist. Beecher took it. McManus was right; Beecher had earned it.

********

Keller paced and watched Striker. Lockdown was hell when he was alone with no podmate to keep him amused with the occasional blowjob. Murphy strode into sight, and Keller banged on the window until he got the dumb hack's attention.

"What is it, Keller?" Murphy opened the door.

"I want to see McManus." Keller crossed his arms.

"Going to confess?" Murphy smirked in his way.

Keller wanted to grab the baton and whack on him. "Maybe."

Murphy shrugged and took him. McManus was just sitting down at his desk, and he raised his finger and spoke first. "Beecher's half-dead! No thanks to you!"

"You take him to the doc?" Keller felt his heart beat faster, but he'd ignore it.

"You don't care." McManus slapped his hand down. "What do you want?"

Keller waited a full three seconds to let McManus calm down. "Striker wants to move into my pod."

"Bullshit." McManus laughed. "You're horny and in lockdown. How stupid do you think I am?"

Keller wasn't going to answer that. Pretty stupid, though. "Beecher wanted me to look after him. I can't if he's not in my pod."

McManus shrugged. "I don't care. Out!"

"You will." Keller turned away. "Beecher going to live?"

No answer. Murphy nudged him out the door and down the stairs. "Keller, you never give up."

"Yeah." Keller laughed. "Funny thing is, Beecher hit me first."

Murphy opened the door and pushed him inside. "For some strange reason, I believe you. You piss people off." He laughed and went on with his rounds. Keller gave him the finger and began to pace again. This had gone in a direction that he hadn't counted on, and now there was no way to bring it back. It'd play out.

********

Beecher hit the floor harder this time. The hacks were pissed he'd been out, but he was back, still naked. His leg hurt! Fuckers. Bandages dotted him here and there. Nathan had lobbied to have him overnight, but that had been overruled. The leg wasn't broken, that was all that mattered. Nathan had tried to give him some pain medication, but McManus had shown up in time to put an end to that. Beecher didn't care, not much. He put his back to the corner and hoped he'd fall asleep soon. Of course, he didn't. Images slammed in and out of his brain. Schillinger burned him. Keller held him. He knelt. And he knelt again. Keller. It all came down to Keller. Why had he done it? The sick bastard answer wasn't holding up anymore. Keller did sick shit for fun all the time, but that hadn't been one of those times. They had shared something. Something. Keller knew it. Now. And he wanted it back. That wasn't going to happen, but Beecher wanted to know why. Why. It was a simple question.

The door opened, and food pushed through the slot. Beecher ignored it. He wasn't able to walk, and he'd be damned if he'd crawl for it. Time wheeled around, and he was broken again on the gym floor. Keller looked giddy, disgusted, and determined. Beecher lay on the cold floor and shivered. He'd find out the truth.

********

Lockdown lasted two long days, and Keller was about ready to blow when it was finally over. He left his pod immediately and caught Striker around the waist before he could get far. "Let's go eat together."

"Good idea. Damn. Lockdown sucks!" Striker practically curled into Keller's side. Keller held him, but wished for someone else. "I need a shower later."

Keller got the message. "I'll go with you." Striker nodded, and they went to eat. Keller had three offers for the twink's ass before he finished his first biscuit, but he turned them down. He wanted a piece of it first.

********

"Toby?"

Beecher opened his eyes and focused. "Hi, Sister Pete."

Sister Pete smiled at him from the other side of the bars. "You're not eating. Tell me why."

"It's a long way from here to the door." Beecher sat up straighter, covered his cock, and winced. "I've made up my mind not to crawl. I've done too much of it."

"Pride goes before a fall." Sister Pete crossed her arms.

"Exactly, and the food isn't that good." Beecher ignored his stomach and dry mouth. They were about ready to strip his pride away after two days.

Sister Pete sighed. "I'll get you a tray."

"McManus said no favoritism." Beecher shook his head. "I'll make it in another day or two. Don't worry."

She didn't argue. She left, and Beecher rubbed his face. He hadn't thought he'd ever wish for his pod, but he was about there. Rubbing his leg didn't do any good, but it was something to do. The door opened again, and Sister Pete was back. She gave him a sour look. "You really managed to make him mad!"

"I did. He hates food fights." Beecher chuckled weakly.

Sister Pete rolled her eyes. "Keller came to see me yesterday."

Beecher didn't give him a damn, except that he did. He grunted, but refused to ask the question.

"Some day, if you can, you should forgive him." She was a nun, and they were big into forgiveness.

"He tells you everything. Why'd he do it? Tell me why and I'll consider it." Beecher watched her eyes. She knew. She did. He waited impatiently for her to think it through.

"Schillinger saved Keller's life when he was young and just put in the system." Sister Pete had apparently never heard of doctor/patient confidentiality. "Keller owed him, and he thought you'd forgive him."

"I know that! He bragged about it! It doesn't answer why!" Beecher wished he had something to throw, but not at her. "I loved him," he whispered. It was shameful to think it, but it was true.

"There are lots of different kinds of love." Sister Pete moved back to the door. "Unconditional is one I've heard talked about lately."

"Fuck him." Beecher meant that, in more than one way. Sister Pete left him then, and she wouldn't be back. Beecher stretched and reached for the bucket. He pissed into it and wished he could throw it on Keller. Schillinger hadn't deserved such loyalty. Schillinger deserved a shank, nothing else. Damn that Keller. Damn him!

********

Keller shut his eyes and imagined that was Beecher's mouth on his dick. He thrust hard, held the twink still, and shot come down his throat. The prison blinked out for a moment, and Keller was back, breathing hard and wishing he could pull Beecher up and kiss him.

Striker stood and moved under the shower. His cock was hard, but Keller ignored it. The whore could wank, and he did. Keller didn't care. He leaned into his hand and enjoyed the water going off his back. Schillinger wanted Striker bad, but that wasn't going to happen. Keller had almost done it, but he couldn't, and he knew he was weak. Beecher made him weak.

"Hey Striker, when you out?" Keller had never thought to ask.

"Up for parole soon." Striker soaped his body. "Might get lucky this time."

Keller put his face in the water. No one was ever lucky in Oz.

********

Beecher fumbled up to his feet on the third day. He took one tentative step, and his leg held, barely. The food tray was on the other side of the hell hole, and he hobbled the distance. Making it on his feet was a small victory, but here in Oz, victories were rare and to be savored. Keller would call him an idiot. Beecher slid back down the wall and drank the coffee. The food had no appeal, maybe he'd been too long without, but it roiled his stomach to think of putting it in his mouth.

The door opened, again, and Beecher sighed. His cell was like Grand Central Station. This time it was Nathan, and she groaned at the sight of him. "You look like hell, Toby!"

"Feel that way too." Beecher put a hand over his cock. He hated being naked in the hole. Nathan checked his bandages, took two of them off, and examined his leg. Beecher gasped once and said, "I walked today."

"Good. Only took you four days." Nathan looked mean. "I'm filing a complaint, not that it'll do any good."

"Don't bother." Toby sipped his coffee. It was awful, but he didn't care. Four days?

"You're dehydrated. I've had enough." Nathan stood up and stared down at him. "Come on." Beecher stared in confusion for a moment, but she helped him up and then took him back to the bucket. "Give me the coffee when you're finished." Beecher drank it all and handed her the cup. She picked up the tray on her way out. "Stay put."

Beecher laughed. The doctor was up to something. She was tougher than most men in this place. He admired her. She really needed a new job. He put his head back and shut his eyes against the light. Was a week five days or seven? He didn't want to go back to Em City, but he had been halfway through a good book. And Miss Sally wasn't all that bad. Watching Cyril train for the boxing matches was interesting. How did he keep winning? Beecher went ahead and lay down, putting his arm over his eyes. True sleep stayed just out of reach, but he dozed, and it was enough.

********

"Hack says your girlfriend is dying. Won't eat or drink." Schillinger laughed. "Stupid prag."

Keller ground his teeth together. "I ain't in the mood for this shit."

"It ain't shit." Schillinger did seem pleased. "Bitcher has quit. My livestock is on its last legs. Shame. Well, someone will put him down."

Murphy appeared. "Move along, fellas."

Keller wanted to kill. Kill. It pounded along his veins. Schillinger and his boys went away laughing, but Murphy was still there. "Is it true, Murphy?"

"Yeah." Murphy didn't look happy about it. "Word is he'll be dead soon. McManus doesn't believe it, and Dr. Nathan is on a tear."

Keller didn't believe it either. Beecher was playing the system to get out early. He was good at that. Keller looked down at the floor and then up. "Fucking hacks."

Murphy put his hand on his stick. "Move along."

Keller went. Landing in the hole next to Beecher wouldn't do any good. Beecher was smart. He'd be back in his pod before the day was out. Keller slumped down in a chair and ignored Miss Sally.

Hill leaned close. "He'll live."

"Damn right." Keller looked about. "Where's Striker?"

"Adebisi took him." Hill made a motion with his hands. "He said he'd pay you when they got back."

"Good enough." Keller rubbed his hands on his legs. He would not look weak. Hacks were stupid, and Beecher would come back with a shit-eating grin on his face.

********

"Get an IV in him and push it. Stat!" Nathan yelled.

Beecher thought it was drama, but he didn't argue. He just wanted to sleep, and he could if everyone would stop shouting. Time slipped away. Keller held him close, again, and Beecher smiled.

"Toby! Stay with me!"

Beecher felt her hand in his hand, and he squeezed. He wasn't dying or anything stupid like that. He was just tired.

"This is nothing but a show!" McManus raved.

Nathan hissed something, and Beecher watched the light fade away. Sleep. Good. He was tired.

********

"He's going back and finishing his sentence!"

Nathan lowered her head slightly and stressed each word. "Do you want another dead inmate? He's dehydrated, starved, and his leg won't support his weight."

"He should have crawled." McManus tilted his head slightly.

Nathan caught the eye of the warden, who had come up behind McManus. "Some men won't. This is neglect."

"Beecher is weak," McManus huffed.

Nathan was through arguing. Beecher had been strong enough to fight the only way he could. The warden sighed. "Put him back in his pod. He's suffered enough."

McManus whirled, opened his mouth, and stormed off. Nathan nodded. "I'll get him on his feet within two days."

"Good." The warden paused. "Why didn't he crawl?"

"I think he's had enough of crawling." Nathan stripped off her white gloves with a snap. The warden shrugged and strode away. Nathan went back to Beecher. "No more crawling?"

Beecher opened his eyes. "No more."

********

Keller pulled his head up off his cot. "What?"

"I'm moving in." Striker tossed his stuff on the bottom bunk. "McManus gave the order."

"Wonder why." Keller didn't watch. He laced his fingers across his stomach. He knew why. McManus didn't want Beecher to have a butt buddy. Beecher was in the infirmary and alive, but word was, he'd been more than half the way to dead when they took him from the hole. Oz sucked, but this was worse than that.

"What'd Beecher do to Schillinger anyways?"

Keller didn't answer the stupid question. Beecher had done enough, and he'd do more. It was in the works in that nasty lawyer brain of his. Keller crossed his legs. "You're sucking me off when the lights go out."

"Okay." Striker went to wash his face. "You gonna suck mine?"

"Fuck no." Keller stared at the ceiling. He needed to see Beecher, just a look. Beecher. Yeah.

********

Beecher took his cane from Nathan and smiled at her. "You're a great doctor. Ever consider getting a real job?"

She laughed softly. "Every day I'm here. Take it easy for a while. No fights. Rest."

"I'll do my best." Beecher would rest. He had plans, but they could wait, and he had to think about Keller. Sister Pete had made it much harder to hate him. Beecher took a step. He'd make it out the door.

McManus intercepted him on the way to his pod. "No more trouble. None."

"I can barely walk." Beecher wouldn't promise.

"Keller has your boy." McManus looked smug. Bastard. "You're alone."

Beecher nodded and continued his slow way. Everyone was alone in Oz, and Striker was safer with Keller. Schillinger found Beecher first and right outside his pod. Beecher nearly cursed. He'd almost made it. He waited to hear it.

"My prag is alive and kicking. I'd given you up for dead!"

Beecher curled his lip. He was weak on his feet, but he was nobody's bitch. And Keller was there. Like magic. His strength was a force between them. "Go the fuck away, Schillinger. Beecher don't need you in his face."

"Keller, I'm starting to think you want every bitch in this place. Isn't one enough?" Schillinger laughed. His evil eyes glinted. "Give me Striker."

"Okay. He was coughing up blood last night." Keller leaned and grinned. "I think he's HIV positive. Take him. Enjoy!"

Schillinger nearly jumped back. "Fucking queers." He strutted off.

Beecher put his weight on his cane. He wanted to touch Keller. Touch. Him. Kiss. Him. Muscles gleamed in the unnatural light, and Beecher caught his breath. Time would force forgiveness, but not now. Not now. He slowly made his way inside the pod. The bottom bunk was fine.

"Glad you're back."

Beecher's eyes found their way to Keller's face. "Me too. It ain't much, but it's better than the hole."

"You showed those hacks." Keller smiled.

"I doubt it." Beecher leaned his cane against the wall. "Striker is HIV positive?"

"How the hell can I know?" Keller was at his best when he was lying. Beecher saw it all over again. He laughed, and they shared a moment at Schillinger's expense. Keller moved close enough to touch, and Beecher wanted to let him, but it was impossible.

"Don't. You did this. You. Go on. Fuck Striker. I need to rest. Doctor's orders." Beecher lay back flat and shut his eyes so he didn't have to see what he desperately desired.

Keller wasn't quite finished. "I'll be watching."

Beecher knew it in his gut, but he wouldn't answer, and Keller's overwhelming presence disappeared from the pod. Oz was never quiet, but sometimes Em City was, and he listened to nothing at all. The smell of men was heavy in the air, and he could almost taste Keller. Beecher kept his eyes shut. He had to think.

********

Keller stood at the window and watched Beecher sleep. No one was messing with him, not again. Everyone from Schillinger on down better stay the fuck away or there would be all-out war in this place.

"You look like a man with a mission," O'Reily said. And he laughed. Crazy fucker.

"Put the word out. Beecher is mine. Anyone who touches him, dies." Keller's shank dropped into his hand. "Get it?"

O'Reily eyed the shank. "Got it. Some people might think you're greedy."

Keller shrugged. "Striker is on his way out, and that's just business."

"I see the difference." O'Reily leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. "You're fucked. You know that."

"Sure am." Keller cut himself to watch it bleed and put his shank away. "Beecher will come around."

O'Reily looked ready to laugh again, but he didn't. "I'll do it, but I want Striker in the shower later."

"Take him." Keller smeared his bloody hand down the doorway of Beecher's pod. "Mine. This fucker is mine."

"I'll leave you two lovebirds alone." O'Reily went to sit by Striker, and Keller didn't care. Beecher was all that mattered.

********

Beecher sat up slow, found his cane, and heard his stomach rumble. He had to eat, even the crap they served here. His pod was empty, and he glanced out the window. Keller watched. Did he ever not? Beecher lowered his head for a moment and prayed for strength. Strength. When he looked again, the hacks were taking Striker away. Beecher went to the door and looked the question at Keller.

Keller wandered over. So close. "He got parole."

"Lucky bastard." Beecher looked at Keller's pod. "But you'll find another whore soon."

"Don't need one. I got you." Keller laughed and walked away. Beecher considered hitting him with the cane, but he needed it to walk. Bastard. He had to find an ally. Someone strong or at least stronger than him.

********

Keller sat within easy distance. He watched, ate, and waited. Beecher ate quickly and limped away.

"I want me some of that . . ." The voice trailed away, and Keller grinned at the brother who'd dared to utter those few words.

Schillinger was quiet. He glared, but said nothing, and he wouldn't, not today. Keller pointed at the black man's tray. "You're done."

The brother mumbled something and left the table. Keller nodded in satisfaction. It was a start. Beecher had some protection, not enough, but some. A shank or two in the right place would drive the point home. Keller laughed. Several men muttered to themselves and moved away. Oz was crazy, and Keller was right at home.

********
End

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