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Author's Notes: Alternate Reality due to my messing with the timeline. Set approximately around the time of the episode "Out of Time", but takes some major liberties with the timing and spacing of events. Instead of everything happening around Christmas, Ryan's friendly little warning to Miguel after mass about El Cid's return to Emcity happened about a week earlier. Basically, just assume the events were slightly more spaced out, some happened earlier, and some things have been postponed to later. (Usually, the timeline on Oz is kind of sketchy anyway, but thanks to my luck, everyone in this episode mentions that it's Christmas Eve, Christmas day, etc. about five million times)
Later parts betaed by the magnificent and ever so helpful Catheights and Vix. They helped make it much better. The earlier parts can all be blamed on me.
Dedicated to Czeri and Krystal, whose work and theories inspired me.

Shifting Alliances

by sistersleep

~ Chapter 1: Desperation ~

Ryan lurked in the secluded hall off the infirmary, idly picking at the food trays he was supposed to be delivering. Waiting. He came to attention when he heard footsteps coming his way.

Ryan had kept a careful eye on the comings and goings in the hospital ward during his deliveries the last few days. His prey was right on time.

Bingo. Miguel Alvarez rounded the corner, and Ryan quickly pushed the tall metal cart holding the lunch trays into his path, forcing Miguel to stop short.

"What the fuck?"

"Hey there, Alvarez. Time for a chat." Ryan casually leaned against the cart, keeping the hallway firmly blocked.

"I told you earlier, O'Reily. I don't need any friendly advice and I want no part of your bullshit." The Latino was quietly simmering, impatient and hiding his anger just below the surface. So fucking dangerous and beautiful. All he needed was a little convincing.

Keeping a constant eye on Cyril was wearing Ryan down. The game was taking even more of his energy; he was tired. There was too much risk of him getting sloppy. He needed backup, and Cyril could no longer be that. Cyril was the one that needed protection now. Adebisi was growing too dangerous and unreliable. He could still use Adebisi for the time being, his ruthlessness would prove useful, but it was time to explore a more stable alliance.

"Hmm...you think I don't know what's going on? I'm not going to just take El Cid out for you, you're going to have to participate somehow." Ryan said. He remembered Alvarez's eyes on him when El Cid had told Ryan to back off the tit trade. He'd known the slick outcast Latino had been up to something, felt it in his gut.

Alvarez just looked confused...and still pissed. Maybe the crazy ass motherfucker really didn't realize what he had been doing. Time for a lesson in the ulterior motives of men.

"You want El Cid gone or you wouldn't have pointed him at me." Step by step, Ryan inched closer to Miguel, slowly herding him back against the wall as he talked. "You think I didn't see that smug little grin on your face when El Cid was telling me, in his oh-so-unsubtle way, to get out of the tit trade? You know what happens to the motherfuckers that come after me."

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about, man. I didn't do shit. Now move out of the way." Miguel's anger finally bubbled to the surface, voice turning rough and dark as his eyes focused on Ryan, still and deadly.

Bet he didn't even notice that Ryan was manipulating his movements, unaware of how much closer they were together.

"Maybe you need to check in with your subconscious more often there, hermano." Ryan finally pressed in, words breathed out right into Miguel's face, Miguel's back thudding against the wall. "You think I didn't feel the way you pushed me against the wall? That wasn't strictly necessary, now was it?"

Miguel was frozen, fierce eyes locked on his, tinged with defiance...and something else, all hiding behind that stubbornness.

"You think I didn't feel the heat from your hands running over me?" Ryan leaned in even closer to whisper in Miguel's ear. "I know what you want."

Ryan was fucking lonely. Ryan was fucking *horny*. Gloria was untouchable and driving him crazy. He'd been shut away in this shithole almost three years, and he was looking at endless more now that his parole was out of the picture. And now that he was bunking with Cyril, he couldn't even jerk off in his own bed at night. His brother woke up at all hours with those fucking nightmares, and that was not a conversation he wanted to have. Ryan would never have been able to get it up again if that happened. Fuck, he was so frustrated he was starting to notice that even the puppets on TV were fags.

There was too much risk with Adebisi, and while that cocksucker Timmy Kirk had been useful in the past when they were podmates, he just rubbed Ryan the wrong way. Then Ryan had finally noticed Alvarez. He'd been surprised by the fact that Miguel's hands running over his body in that perfunctory frisking started that familiar brushfire in his body. There was just something about Alvarez -- the big brown eyes, the sharp smart mouth, the cocky strut -- that made Ryan's pulse race and his blood stray southward.

"I want you to back the fuck off."

For some reason Ryan just didn't believe that statement. Might've been the heat in Miguel's eyes, or the shaking of his body. Or the fact that he knew Alvarez definitely had a shank on him, and two free hands, yet he hadn't made a move.

"Did you feel powerful and in control, Alvarez? I know you miss it. Now that you're following that ape faced motherfucker like a bitch. He doesn't see your potential. I do." When Alvarez still hadn't pushed him away, Ryan knew he had him. He knew that he had read the Latino right. Ryan teased one finger down Alvarez's arm, touch light and brief. "A partnership could work to both of our advantages."

"Are you high?" There was a hitch in Alvarez's breath; he was confused and off balance. But Ryan could see it, the slightest little sparking of possibility within him. Perfect.

"Did El Cid come up with the idea to muscle me out of the drug trade all on his own, or did a little Latin birdie whisper it in his ear?"

Miguel didn't say a word, but the answer was written on his face.

"You wanted me to kill him." Ryan stated, a knowing whisper.

Again, Miguel didn't have anything to say, knowing it was the truth.

"It's you or him. He's going to be after blood when he gets back to EmCity." Ryan decided to start moving in for the kill. "I'd much rather it be you." He slid his hand down Miguel's side, feeling the hard muscles tense under his touch, hand coming to rest on the sharp curve of Miguel's hip. "I can help make sure you come out on top."

"What the fuck are you doing?" Trepidation, but not fear, was on Miguel's face as Ryan's full intent finally penetrated. That was another thing that had drawn Ryan to him, Miguel was confident enough not to be afraid of him, but he was smart enough to be wary. "You don't fuck with guys." The statement hid a bit of stunned question in it.

Ryan had seen the way Miguel had been looking at him, remembered the Latino going out of the way to shove him with his shoulder when they passed on the stairs. He knew there was interest lurking deep under the surface somewhere.

"Of course not, everyone knows that." Ryan answered easily, as his other hand slid up the inside of Miguel's thigh. "I'm just...frisking you." Finally coming to cup Miguel's dick in his hand. "Huh...looks like I found something." Half-hard already. Jackpot. Ryan knew it. A firm squeeze had Miguel bucking into his hand.

The rules were different in here, without the options of the outside. The rationalization was that if two guys got each other off, it didn't make you a fag. As long as you didn't take it up the ass. As long as you weren't a prag. He'd already firmly established his rep. That mattered more to Ryan than who he got off with or turned on by in this lonely hell. It was all about perception. Bullshitting to cover your ass. Hell, if the guy whose dick was in his hand didn't believe Ryan was a fag, no one else would question him. He'd had slight ...indiscretions... in the past and no one was the wiser. It was all in the way you played it.

Kirk hadn't been very good at giving head. But Ryan was willing to bet that Miguel, with that mouth of his, would be something worth experiencing. The way he'd been working that fucking lollipop while staring Ryan down. Shit, could he be more obvious? That was not a coincidence. Miguel wanted him, even if he didn't fully realize it.

But Miguel's hand locked suddenly onto his wrist, trapping him in a crushing grip. Ow. Ryan kept his expression casual and steady, stilling his movement. When Ryan had been considering his new alliance, Miguel's strength, speed, and skill in fighting were assets -- just not in this particular instance.

"I'm not gonna be anybody's bitch."

That was all? That was easily put to rest. "No shit. Lipstick? Not a good look for you." Ryan said with a grin and dismissive shake of his head.

When Miguel was definitely not amused, Ryan continued more seriously. "Look, I want a business partner, not a fucking prag. And I don't want any of these scumfucks knowing anything is going on between us beyond that, got it? But that doesn't mean we can't have some mutual fun in private."

Miguel looked like he wasn't quite sure whether or not to believe him. Jesus, the guy didn't believe Ryan even when he was telling the truth for once. Time for more show and tell.

"Tit for tat, hermano. I promise." Ryan whispered as he suggestively licked his lips and relied on his hand that wasn't in a death grip. Still resting on Miguel's hip, his thumb dipped below the waistband of Miguel's pants to rub in provocative little circles on his heated skin. Ryan watched Miguel's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard, lust burning bright and unhidden in his eyes now.

Miguel finally loosened his grip on Ryan's other wrist. Good boy. Miguel hadn't broken the contact, though. His hand still loosely wrapped around Ryan. Ryan wondered if Miguel was aware that his fingers were unconsciously stroking the sensitive flesh on the inside of Ryan's wrist.

One last little bit of reluctance surfaced, even as Miguel gave in. "Anything that goes anywhere near my ass gets Cut Off." Miguel warned with a growl.

"Ditto." He could live without that, although it was a lovely ass. Ryan had no intention of going that far, and no way in hell would he reciprocate that. Ryan had expected slightly more resistance. He'd even planned a whole fucking speech. Oh well.

Now that he was satisfied, Miguel's hold on Ryan's wrist turned into a caress, hand slowly sliding over his arm, up his neck, to end up cupping Ryan's head, pulling him tentatively into a kiss. Now, that was a smooth fucking move.

Just the slightest pressing of lips. Ryan could tell that Miguel was unsure how he would react to it. Ryan responded enthusiastically, deepening the kiss, sucking Miguel's lower lip into his mouth. Finally free to move again, Ryan started to massage Miguel's cock through his scrubs.

Miguel pulled away from his mouth, slightly out of breath. "Wait."

Oh, for fuck's sake. What now? Maybe he would get to break out that speech after all.

"I'm not gonna whack El Cid."

Ah, back to business. While Ryan realized it was best to hammer out the details, the Spic couldn't have had worse timing. Thankfully, Ryan had planned out several courses of action beforehand, so maybe they could come to an agreement *quickly* and still have time to deal with the ever increasing ache in his cock.

Then Ryan looked at the darkly serious expression on Miguel's face, that passion banked by worry, and resigned himself to a discussion instead of the contact he would have preferred. Ryan backed off slightly, taking his hands off of Miguel completely.

Ryan kept the desperation and exasperation out of his voice, staying calm and straightforward. "Fine, we have other options. You were at El Cid's right hand, sort of. If you told Pancamo and Adebisi that he was trying to fuck them over or he was holding out...they might get angry. Add in a little worry about him starting to lose control of El Norte and they might start looking for a new partner who could step up and lead." Ryan stared pointedly at Miguel, leaving no doubt as to who he thought should take over the reigns. "Adebisi will back you." Ryan would make sure of it.

"You're serious?"

"Do I feel like I'm kidding?" Ryan leaned back into Miguel, causing him to gasp as Ryan's hardening cock rubbed against him. It still didn't dissuade the Latino from the conversation. And while an ability to stay focused on business was technically a plus, it didn't seem like it to Ryan's dick at the moment.

"Everybody thinks I ratted them out and got them caught with tits, even without El Cid they're not gonna follow me."

Miguel wanted it. All of it. He just needed a little coaxing to admit it. "Ah yes, but you didn't rat them out."

Miguel interrupted. "No, you did."

Ryan shrugged it off and continued. "We'll find a scapegoat, clear your good name. We've just got to keep it quiet that you're the one that talked to Adebisi and Pancamo. I'll figure out something to show your loyalty and ability, and you can step back in to lead. Guerra's the only one that really has a problem with you besides El Cid." Ryan tried to make Alvarez see that it would work, putting all his concerns to rest.

Alvarez looked slightly awed that Ryan had thought things that far out, but also conflicted as doubt started to creep back in. "I'm not like you...I'm not going to turn on my people."

Alvarez's loyalty, a double edged sword. But in the end, the positive had outweighed the negative. While it was something Ryan didn't personally possess, it had contributed to his decision to pursue Miguel, because it could be used to his advantage.

Ryan already knew that Alvarez wanted El Cid gone, he was just having a hard time admitting it to himself. Ryan had no problem justifying it for him. "You wouldn't be betraying El Norte, just El Cid. And that fucker turned on you already. He was going to let you rot in solitary for blinding Rivera. But if you hadn't done it, he would've killed you himself. He's wanted you gone from the start. He just needs an excuse, and now with you being the only one to walk away from the drug bust, he's got one." Ryan used his best coaxing, convincing voice, while he quietly hoped Miguel didn't focus on Ryan's part in that last bit.

"You have an answer for everything don't you?" Miguel was resigning himself to the situation, admitting the truth to himself.

"Of course." Ryan answered with a quick and easy predatory grin. "You satisfied for now?"

Miguel still looked troubled, but Ryan knew he had finally broken him down. "No." The quick irritated answer had no weight behind it. It didn't mean anything, and they both knew it. Miguel had made his choice, he just wasn't happy with it.

"They're getting out in a few days, hermano. It's decision time." One last knowing prod. Ryan needed him to make a firm commitment.

"I know." The words were barked out, short and angry. Backed against the wall in more ways than one, Miguel was just putting up a token struggle against fate. It was futile. "Fine. You got a deal."

Miguel held his hand out to shake on it, a man who stood on ceremony. Ryan took his hand firmly, the strong, rough grip quickly over. There were other ways Ryan could think of to seal the deal, but they didn't have time for that anymore.

"The king is dead. Long live the king." Ryan's grin shone bright and wicked now.

Miguel just snorted. "You gonna stop blocking the hall with your horny, skinny white ass now?"

Oh yeah, this was definitely going to be interesting. Ryan stepped back, chuckling, hands held up in mock surrender. "We'll talk more later." Ryan's eyes raked over Miguel's frame, promising more than talk.

Miguel stood stonily under his scrutiny for a second before walking past him.

The smooth cocksucker purposely rubbed lasciviously against Ryan, bumping far more than shoulders as he passed. A firm brush of heat. Showing that he definitely wanted Ryan, no matter how well he had kept it hidden.

He turned around to point at Ryan as he continued walking, backwards. "And stop fucking calling me 'hermano'."

~ Chapter 2: Negotiating ~

Miguel finished out his shift and returned to Emcity. His mind was still reeling from his encounter with O'Reily in the hall. What the hell kind of trouble had he attracted now?

Back in Emcity, O'Reily avoided him as usual. O'Reily was slinking around, conducting his business. And now Alvarez was involved with the devious fuck. But Miguel didn't have much of a choice and O'Reily had known it.

Miguel was worn down, still messed up from his interaction with Rivera. Stress and grief were pushing in on him from all sides. That familiar claustrophobic feeling of being trapped was building up in him again, pushing him to the brink.

Now all this shit with that motherfucker El Cid was coming to a head. He'd been trying to avoid it, keep to himself, pull away from that entanglement, but it was impossible. He couldn't escape any of the pain or danger surrounding him. Of course a shark like O'Reily had smelled the blood in the water.

The shit O'Reily had said...it just sent Miguel's brain spinning even more. Because he'd been right, no matter how much Miguel wanted to deny it. Deep down, Miguel had wanted El Cid dead. And he knew crossing O'Reily was a good way to end up in a pine box. But Miguel hadn't wanted to admit any of that to himself.

Miguel *was* the one that had brought up O'Reily cutting in on the tit trade. He'd gotten El Cid angry about it, ready to do something stupid. Miguel had nothing to lose, or so he'd thought. The slippery Mick had managed to turn it against him, of course. O'Reily could spin anything to his advantage, twist his way out of anything.

Miguel spent the rest of the day lost in his thoughts until dinner time rolled around. His eyes went immediately to O'Reily as soon as he stepped into the cafeteria. O'Reily was serving at the end of the line, dishing out his usual insults and menace with the food. Miguel slowly moved down the line, finally coming face to face with O'Reily.

He slopped something down on Miguel's tray. "Eat up." Ryan's eyes locked on his, delivering a message hidden in the usual detached, mocking tone. "Don't forget to eat slow, digestion is important."

So Miguel sat, alone, slowly pushing the food around his plate, waiting for a sign. To play it safe, he didn't eat anything, just in case O'Reily had prepared it *special* for him. He wasn't stupid enough to completely trust the bastard, even if he now had to deal with him. Miguel kept his eyes downcast, keeping a covert watch on O'Reily.

Ryan finally finished and left the line, strolling casually past where Miguel sat. He paused just long enough to snatch the apple off of Miguel's tray and speak under his breath. "Broom closet off the kitchen, five minutes."

The exchange was brief and unnoticed, leaving no one else the wiser.

Miguel slipped away and now found himself alone in a cold, mostly empty storage closet. Nothing but a couple of mops and buckets leaning against mostly bare, metal shelves containing a mix of cleaning supplies. Miguel waited impatiently, anxious to see what was coming next. The close stone walls of the room were slowly starting to make him uncomfortable. He hated small spaces, especially when he was alone.

O'Reily finally slid in quietly, all charm and sly grin, closing the door behind him. "Did you miss me, muchacho?"

Muchacho? What the fuck? "I wouldn't miss you if you escaped and ran to the end of the earth."

"Now, now...be nice, ese." Ryan's expression was calm but it had a hint of hardness to it. "We're partners now. If you want to go it alone, you can. But you need to let me know now."

Ryan's voice was serious, danger ever-present, but it wasn't a threat. It was a question, a last chance to back out. That's what this meeting was. Well, that and Ryan probably wanted to finish what they had barely started earlier.

But it seemed important somehow to O'Reily that Miguel be committed. "No one's forcing you to do anything, and I don't have time for your 'woe is me' shit. If you're in this, then you need to be completely in this."

"What is 'this' exactly? What do you want from me?" Miguel still wasn't completely sure, didn't know exactly what O'Reily expected of him.

"A partner in the tit trade, back up...a gang on my side, quietly of course." Pointedly focusing on business, O'Reily left the sex unspoken, even though that was the one thing Miguel was sure the man wanted.

Miguel had never fucked with a guy before. He'd kept the thought firmly from his mind since he'd been locked up here. Miguel knew, no matter what O'Reily *said*, that Ryan wanted it as part of the deal. He still hadn't quite wrapped his mind around the shock of that -- Ryan O'Reily, the straightest motherfucker in here, being hot to get in his pants. If O'Reily had brought it up when Miguel had first gotten here, he would've knocked the Mick on his skinny ass just for the thought.

That was then. This was now -- after about 3 years and too much time spent in solitary with nothing but the ghosts in his head to keep him company, after Miguel had tasted a desperation he'd never known before. If it kept him out of that little room and out of a little box buried six feet under, he would do it. He'd do almost anything. Even make a deal with the devil, swim with the sharks.

And O'Reily didn't want a prag. He seemed to want to keep this as quiet and hidden as Miguel did. But he hadn't been kidding before, if O'Reily tried to fuck him, Miguel would show Beecher how it was done and cut the fucker's dick off. And Ryan had better give as much as he took. Not that that seemed to be much of a problem, judging by the way Ryan looked at him, the way he had touched Miguel before. And Miguel had just gone with it, unthinking, encouraging Ryan. The flow of Miguel's blood automatically headed south at the memory, surprising him even more.

"What about this?" Miguel decided he had to bring up the issue himself, since Ryan wouldn't say it aloud. Miguel reached out, gripping Ryan's package, with a slight squeeze to get his point across, before he quickly removed his hand. He had to keep the smirk of his face when O'Reily involuntarily moved toward the contact.

"That's like our optional benefit plan, amigo." Ryan spoke calmly, despite the heat lurking in his eyes. Amigo? Miguel was now seriously regretting telling Ryan not to call him hermano. Judging by the amusement dancing in Ryan's eyes, that was the point. "I meant what I said before."

Mutual. Tit for tat. Miguel saw the supposed earnestness on Ryan's face, but he wondered what Ryan would say if he turned down that 'optional plan'. Miguel realized with another little shock that he still didn't want to turn it down, any of it. He flashed back to Ryan's hand on his dick, the brief pleasure it had caused...it had been so fucking long since he'd gotten off with anyone besides himself. He was more willing to be with O'Reily than he wanted to be. He'd kissed Ryan, rubbed up against him as he'd passed, just to hear the hitch in his breath.

But he couldn't think too deeply about that now, couldn't think about anything. He'd made his decision...and found he didn't want to back out. He was tired of running scared, tired of El Cid. He didn't deserve the shit that guy had put him through; no way was he going to let that cocksucker waste him. He wasn't going down without a fight. And Miguel knew, with O'Reily in his corner, he would win.

He'd never really needed to be a leader. Never *needed* the power like some people, although it was definitely fucking nice. It had felt good to be in charge, but he'd given leadership to El Cid with no problem, feeling no bitterness. He had been perfectly happy to follow...then the bastard had fucked him over. It was time to take it all back. Miguel was being given another chance, a choice this time, and stepping back up to lead was infinitely better than death or solitary.

"I'm in."

Ryan's quick wicked grin followed his acceptance, and he immediately moved closer, eyes darkening even further with lust as he spoke just inches from Miguel's face. "Good. I'll start putting things in motion tomorrow." And with that, it was clear that Ryan was done with talking.

Miguel wasn't used to someone being so up in his personal space. Hell, he was just getting used to being around people at all again. But O'Reily never seemed to notice personal space even existed. Miguel found he suddenly didn't mind. After so much fucking time alone, thinking he'd be that way forever, the chance of being returned to his little gray room still looming on his horizon, he relished the closeness of anyone. The heat of another body. He was hungry for contact. But since he had been out of solitary, there had been no one it was acceptable to touch, no one he could trust himself with. He wanted nothing more than to press himself full body into someone else, feel that heat, the solid, comforting movement of flesh and bone that wasn't his own.

So he did. Fuck it, O'Reily was the horny motherfucker that had started this. Miguel closed the scant inches between them, and pressed against that long, wiry frame. Bodies fitting together, touching everywhere possible, like he was trying to meld with Ryan. Once he started, he didn't know if he could stop, he wanted it too much. Miguel didn't realize just how much he'd missed it. O'Reily didn't pull away; he just smiled, and writhed with him, grabbing the back of Miguel's head, pulling him into a deep kiss that burned like that touch.

Ryan pulled back, licking his lips. "Is that a shank in your pocket or are you just happy to see me, ese?" Quick return of Ryan's mouth to his making Miguel forgive the bad joke.

"Take a guess, tiburón." Miguel had been so wary lately he'd been carrying one with him as much as possible. And if Ryan was going to keep purposely annoying him by pretending to speak Spanish and calling him ese and muchacho every five seconds, Miguel figured he could call Ryan whatever he wanted. He was amused by the slight tilt to Ryan's head that signaled he'd had no idea what Miguel had just called him.

Then Ryan's hand snaked between them to grab his dick, and Miguel's mind went with it. He couldn't stop the groan or little thrust that followed.

"Well, this isn't the only thing hard in your pants. I'd rather not lose anything important, do you mind?"

He wasn't so sure about leaving himself unarmed around Ryan, but he had more pressing concerns at the moment. Miguel reluctantly took the crude shank out of his waistband and set it on the shelf beside him, maneuvering Ryan as far away from it as possible, continuing the kisses and contact all the while.

Miguel may have been straight, but at this point it seemed his dick only had three requirements: alive, willing, and human. Ryan was all three, as well as enticingly desperate. And his tiburón certainly could kiss, pushing any doubts or thoughts right out of Miguel's head, sending complete control straight to his dick. Keeping him thrusting against Ryan, seeking more of that delicious sensation.


Ryan knew he'd made the right choice; his little bit of effort had definitely paid off. Miguel was hard and insistent, moving with him, sealing their deal the *right* way finally. Thank fucking Christ. Ryan automatically moved into the contact, answering the need with his own.

Ryan now had an ally that was dangerous, smart, and in his pocket. Just where Ryan wanted him. Although, right at the moment he was more literally under his hands, in his mouth and rubbing against him, cock to cock, sending hot shivers down Ryan's spine. Miguel wrapped around him, rough and fierce. All that passion Ryan had known was right under the surface, calling to him.

Ryan's hips pushed back against Miguel's, insistent and unrelenting. They gave in to kiss after kiss, Ryan's tongue invading Miguel's mouth while he rubbed his aching dick against Miguel's answering hardness in a rushing rhythm. Ryan knew it had been far too long if he could get off just from a dirty, desperate dry hump in a storage closet, but fuck, the friction felt so good he just couldn't stop. Spurred on by Miguel meeting his every thrust. Breath coming out fast and gasping, Ryan tried his best to keep quiet, muffling his groans with Miguel's mouth. The heat built between them fast and strong, all rhythm lost in the last burning rush.

Ryan bit down reflexively on Miguel's bottom lip as they came together. Ryan's eyes closed as bright white spots exploded behind his lids. The stark taste of blood in his mouth as they shared a last kiss, before pulling away. Such a welcome release after being pent up so long. This was just what he needed. Miguel was just what he needed. The edge taken off, now Ryan could go set his plans in motion when he was calm and relaxed for the first time in ages.

As Ryan finally managed to pull away completely, he was pleased to see the stunned, satisfied look on Miguel's face. Everything was falling into place perfectly.

~ Chapter 3: Testing the Waters ~

Over the next few days, things started to play out just like Ryan had anticipated. Everyone behaved like he knew they would, the gossip disseminated just like he wanted.

Ryan had learned some new, interesting things in the last fifteen minutes though....

Miguel liked it fast and rough, bucking up into Ryan's hand when he sped up his strokes, making the hottest little grunts when Ryan gripped him tight.

He'd also found out that Miguel was a quick study with very skilled hands of his own. Miguel had jacked him off slow and sweet, just the right rhythm to leave Ryan breathless and gasping. Kissing all the while, Ryan tongue fucking his mouth. Miguel had just taken it, with a hot wet suck on Ryan's tongue that made him shiver and thrust. It had just proven to Ryan that he had to figure out a way to get Miguel to move that amazing mouth southward in the near future.

Now, they were catching their breaths, trying to compose themselves as they leaned against the wall next to each other. They were back in the same storage closet, which was fast becoming Ryan's favorite place in the prison.

"Man, you are one horny bastard aren't you?"

Ryan just threw him a wicked grin. "You're not exactly up for priesthood yourself. I didn't hear you complaining about your chastity."

Miguel smiled wryly, conceding the point. "Your note said we had to *talk*."

Ryan's mind refocused on business now that the pleasure was out of the way. He pushed off of the wall, moving to stand in front of Miguel. He had to put some distance between him and Miguel, had to get away from the heat pouring off of that body if he wanted to stay cool. "You flushed that, right?"

Miguel rolled his eyes, voice full of sarcasm as he spoke. "Nah, I passed out copies. What do you think?"

"We can't be seen conducting business until El Cid is dead."

Miguel obviously didn't like Ryan questioning his intelligence, suddenly growing defensive and agitated. Ryan would have to remember that -- Miguel was much easier to deal with if you showed him respect.

"No shit. Do you think I'm a fucking idiot? I burned it, tiburón."

"Great, just what we need -- you being sent to the hole for setting small fires everywhere." Ryan teased, but he carefully kept it joking. Then he tried to pacify Miguel with an explanation. "I'm just too used to working with the stupid fucks around here. I know you can handle yourself, amigo."

That settled him down. And it was actually the truth, Ryan wouldn't have chosen Miguel otherwise. He needed someone strong and smart at his back now. Someone who had the potential to become a real partner, now that Adebisi was unraveling and shifting his goals, and Ryan was straining to keep it together with Cyril to look after.

Meanwhile, Ryan had caught that word again, the Spanish that Miguel said with a rolling growl. "That's the second time you've called me that -- tiburón. I thought I knew all the interesting words in Spanish, what the hell does it mean?"


Ryan raised an eyebrow. Crazy fuck, what the hell did that mean?

"I never really thought about it." Miguel explained, answering Ryan's unspoken question with a shrug. "I guess it's because you're a cold blooded predator, one of the best, and you never stop moving."

The backhanded compliment amused Ryan. So that's what the loco Latino thought of him. "You stop moving, you die, ese."

"Some sharks can stop."

"You watch too much National Geographic. Anyway, what does that make you? Chum?" Ryan chuckled and broke out into his best slick, dangerous leer before sweeping in for a quick, rough kiss.

Miguel didn't look happy about the chum comment, but he still responded to the kiss, looking less than pissed afterwards. Ryan switched back to business before he could get distracted again. He'd planned to do the talking first, but Ryan had a hard time keeping his hands off of Miguel in the small space. Plans had changed quickly when he got that skin and that mouth within reach and business had taken a back seat to pleasure. It had been far too fucking long since he'd had anyone besides his own hand, and Miguel was desperate for any contact, even though he tried to fight it.

But they had shit to discuss now, Ryan needed to update Miguel on their progress. "Word is spreading as we speak that you weren't behind getting El Cid and the gang sent to the hole."

"Who are you pinning it on?"

Ryan grinned, this was a surprise and he wanted to see if the info reached Miguel intact anyway. "You'll see."

Miguel snorted, looking apprehensive. "What about El Cid? How are we going to take care of him?"

That bastard was understandably Alvarez's main concern, along with getting his own name cleared.

"We're going to get Pancamo and Adebisi to do it for us. We're just going to *help* things along."

Miguel was paying attention now, eager to hear the plan. He stayed quiet and listening, a light sparking in his eyes as he waited for Ryan to lay out the details. Ryan had decided to let him in on things as much as possible, a little at a time. Miguel obviously wanted to know how it was going to unfold. He *wanted* to see the steps ahead. That was good, promising. If Miguel started seeing things in the bigger picture, figuring out how Ryan liked to work, he could help Ryan. Miguel was smart enough, he just needed some guidance. Ryan would have another mind to work with, which is what he wanted now. He missed the days working with Cyril, missed someone capable having his back and Ryan needed it now more than ever. For a while, a long time ago, he'd wondered idly if he could groom Beecher, but that was lost to him now. It was for the best.

"The rumors should be spreading soon that El Cid was going to move against Pancamo and Adebisi. I planted the seeds of El Cid's betrayal in Adebisi's mind already. Pancamo should be coming around to see you for a *chat* to get the real info."

Miguel looked a bit taken aback...and the slightest bit amused. "The fucker's going to try to intimidate me, isn't he?"

"And you're going to let him."

Ryan knew Miguel didn't like being pushed around, and wasn't one to scare off or back down, so this would be the hard part for him. He had to keep a loyal image to El Norte, but he had to confirm the suspicions against El Cid that Ryan had started at the same time. The best way to do that was to make it look like he didn't want to give the info up.

"Shit." Miguel shook his head, but he took it in stride. Miguel still seemed more entertained by the idea than anything, which pleased Ryan. "So I get to play loyal and innocent, pretending not to talk while making sure he knows exactly what we want him to." Miguel's hands kept moving as he talked, gracefully illustrating his words.

Perfect. Ryan knew he had made the right decision picking Miguel. He knew just what to do with little coaxing, this was working even better than Ryan had planned. It was looking like Miguel might deserve that respect he craved. "Pancamo is easy to fool. He might push you around a bit, 'force' the information out of you...try not to slit his throat, okay?" Again, Ryan kept a teasing lilt to his voice to show that he wasn't questioning Miguel's ability on this one.

Miguel just chuckled, hands slightly raised in a 'Who me?' gesture of innocence. He also looked slightly pleased that Ryan was confident in him. "Don't worry, El Cid will look guilty and I'll be clean."

"Good. We'll meet back up after, and I'll let you know the next move."

Miguel gave a quick nod and slipped out first. Ryan was starting to notice that the small storage room made Miguel a bit twitchy, but it wasn't Ryan that caused the nerves. As long as Ryan kept him distracted, Miguel was better. Looked like the loco Latino didn't like confined spaces. Too bad the unlucky fuck was stuck in them now.


Afterwards, Miguel went back to hanging out alone, as usual. His blood slowed to its usual dull hum. He was surprised at how fast Ryan had made it flow, at how quickly they had come together. Only three days and already business and sex were falling into his routine.

Miguel finally drifted out of his shell, interacting with the other inmates enough to hear things. He collected gossip, and learned who was being blamed for El Cid getting nabbed. The info was already being taken as credible, spreading like a virus. Of course, it wasn't being connected to O'Reily in the slightest. Miguel couldn't believe who the bastard had the balls to pin it on.

A quick note was penned in frantic block letters, slipped discreetly in a book. A book that Miguel recommended in passing to O'Reily as they watched television. The comment was missed by everyone else who was mesmerized by a bouncing Miss Sally. It was unsigned, untraceable if picked up by the wrong person, but it's not like most of the motherfuckers in here read anything anyway.

Later that day, one of the Irish made a passing comment that Miguel needed to hit the gym, cloaked as an insult. It was scary how fast they had fallen into this easy, smooth rhythm.

Miguel signed up for gym time immediately, slipping into a familiar storage room.

So very easy.

O'Reily was already there, looking annoyed but the slightest bit lustful at the same time. "Awfully soon for another meet, muchacho. What was so important that you had to see me twice? Did ya miss me?"

Yeah, there was that wicked grin and that flirting tone again. And the fucker was still calling him shit like 'muchacho' just to get under his skin. Telling Ryan to stop calling him hermano was turning out to be one of Miguel's worst ideas.

Miguel got right down to business, letting Ryan's other comments and leering slide away. "Pancamo and Adebisi ratted out El Cid?" He incredulously repeated the lie that was being taken for truth by...everyone.

Ryan looked pleased now, ignoring Miguel's disbelief and agitation. "It's reached a loner like you? Perfect."

Miguel just stared at him, marveling at his casualness. "That's who you're pinning it on?"

Ryan sloughed off Miguel's anger with a shrug. "They heard it yesterday. They aren't pleased...they each blame the other."

That shark grin slid over Ryan's face, cold fire in his eyes as he talked about his handiwork. A predator happily watching its prey develop a limp.

"You're going to start a fucking war."

That just got him a bemused shrug from the Irishman. "Nah...minor skirmish. And besides, what do people need in times of war? A strong leader to bring peace and prosperity." Ryan gestured to Miguel to make his point.

"There's going to be bloodshed."

"We can keep it to a minimum. You want El Cid dead, you want to lead? You're going to have to deal with it. This is Oz, not the fucking U.N."

Miguel wondered again what in the hell had he gotten himself into.

Ryan continued confidently, trying to get Miguel to see his side. "It's not like it's innocent blood. Adebisi is itching for a war anyway. This way we can play him to our side."

"You haven't let him in on this." The slightly stunned statement slipped out. Miguel knew those two worked together, and he was surprised that O'Reily was leaving the Nigerian out of the loop.

"No. This can't be traced to you or me." Ryan's tone was firm and final. "He'll know that you want El Cid gone, that you can be useful to him and might be open to a partnership. But as far as the rest of this shit? It's in our best interest if he really thinks Pancamo and El Cid are plotting against him."

"And now, El Cid *will* be against him when he hears your version of events circulating around."

Ryan just flashed that devil grin again. "Exactly. I told you, Pancamo and Adebisi will take care of El Cid for us. Hopefully Pancamo will do it on his own, with the proper motivation. Adebisi is plan B. He thinks Pancamo was behind the move on El Cid. He hates the wops anyway, and he'll help us whack El Cid and blame it on the dumb fucks if necessary."

"War." Jesus. This was how Ryan lived? No wonder he had seemed on edge lately. "El Norte will want vengeance for El Cid's death."

Ryan was unconcerned, dismissing the worry. "Nobody has the balls to whack wise guys, and by the time we're done it'll be clear that El Cid brought it on himself. When you step in, you can talk them down to a symbolic gesture of retaliation at the most, a small attack, and then help them enter into an alliance with the homeboys."

"Fuck. So...I need to bait El Cid, get him to go after Pancamo. Get him to make a foolish move."

"Exactly. It won't be hard, the guy's a hothead who will be out for blood. The more erratic we make him, the better. I was going to go over this with you at our next meet...if you could've waited." Ryan wasn't really upset though, his brain clearly spinning and planning even as they spoke. "Does he partake of his own product?"

This couldn't be going anywhere good. Miguel answered cautiously. "Sometimes. He has a small stash."

"Perfect. You can get access to it, right?"

Shit. "Yeah...you want me to spike it." Miguel kept his voice serious when he continued. "I told you, I'm not gonna whack him myself."

"Never the easy way, I know." Ryan didn't miss a beat, apparently he *hadn't* been trying to push Miguel into doing it anyway. "We're just going to keep him...agitated. He needs to start losing even more control. If I thought you would off him yourself, I wouldn't have to engineer this war."

There was a slight mocking tone to his voice on that last word, but Ryan was more bemused than angry. Like he was exasperated, but it was nothing he wasn't expecting and he had planned around it. "Oh, and I wouldn't recommend nibbling off of his plate." Ryan added.

Miguel almost wanted to laugh, hysterical urge bubbling up in him. But he just slumped back against the wall, sighing at the way the Irishman worked. And not for the first time, Miguel was glad the devious fuck was on his side. He hoped. "Jesus."

"Don't worry. I know what the fuck I'm doing."

"That's what fucking scares me."

Ryan moved in smoothly, crossing the room to stand as close to Miguel as possible. Ryan braced his hands on the wall on either side of Miguel as he leaned in. "You wanted this, Miguel."

Miguel. The use of his first name stood out. Not his last name, not a Spanish familiar designed to annoy him. Ryan didn't use first names often or lightly.

Ryan's hot breath was so close it made the hair rise on the back of Miguel's neck. "Now, since we're here, *unnecessarily*...what do you say we make it worth it?"

Ryan's hand slid down Miguel's side. The sure caress bringing a tremor already as Miguel instinctively leaned into Ryan's body. Fuck...they'd just gotten off together earlier in the day and Ryan was already on him again...and Miguel's body was responding eagerly.

"Let's get your mind off your troubles. Chase those blues away."

And then there was no more talking as Miguel lost himself in that dangerous mouth.

~ Chapter 4: Drench ~

Miguel was lost in blood.



Rivera's empty eyes bleeding, trapped behind dark glasses forever.

Distant ringing of metal hitting the floor.

Rivera leaning forward to make him see.

To wash him in the blood he had spilled.

Miguel jerked awake, hands moving defensively to his face, breath coming hard and fast. His heart tried to pound its way out of his chest, leaving him dizzy and off kilter.

A sudden whoosh of air startled him -- the sound of the door. He sat up quickly, expecting El Cid. But it was Ryan O'Reily, and he looked almost...concerned. It even looked real, even though it resided only in the eyes, Ryan's face its usual mask. With O'Reily, it was hard to tell what was real and what was just what he wanted you to see. Still, he wasn't always as slick and unreadable as he thought he was. Miguel thought he could tell sometimes, could read tiburón like Ryan read everyone else.

"Yo, brood boy. You okay? You're looking a little rough around the edges there."

Miguel had been resting, a nap in the middle of the day as he tried to calm himself. He needed his reserves since El Cid would be getting out tomorrow. On top of that, Rivera had called off their interactions... which Miguel was upset and relieved about at the same time. No matter how he tried though, It wasn't very restful in his mind, and sleep wasn't going to help apparently. Miguel shook his head slightly, trying to clear it of the clinging images of his nightmare. Was it a nightmare if it happened during the day?

They'd been locked down for two days after Beecher had *issues* with the cocksucking Aryans in the gym. He'd been locked in here with his head and hadn't seen Ryan since their last meet. Thankfully, Pancamo had come to see him right before the lockdown. So, the dumb fuck was fooled and all the players had their fixed scorecards. It was time to just sit back and wait for El Cid's return. Now that the lockdown was lifted for Christmas Eve, Ryan had apparently found his way back to Miguel's door to check on things.

"Problems, poco loco?" Ryan's voice was insistent beneath the teasing tone. It carried an edge...almost like worry.

Poco loco?!? Cocksucker. O'Reily certainly knew how to piss him off, didn't he? Although Miguel got the feeling that in this case, that wasn't Ryan's intent. It was good anyway, it was a feeling other than fear, horror, and guilt. And any sting from the annoying new nickname was muted by Ryan's next words. "Look, you've got nothing to worry about. We'll be good. Don't start losing it now."

That was definitely concern Miguel heard, belying the calm face. And it almost sounded like concern *for* him, not about him fucking up the plan. It sent a small shock through Miguel.

Miguel cleared his throat, sloughing off the stifling visions and sleep. "It's not El Cid. I'm fine."

"You don't look it."

"I was just dreaming. About Rivera." And Miguel thought that would get him to back off. Ryan didn't give a shit about that, it had nothing to do with their plans.

But much to Miguel's confusion, Ryan didn't just drop it.

"Bad nightmares, huh?" Ryan's voice suddenly turned soft and low, full of something hidden. But even as he spoke, Ryan kept his casual pose, leaning in Miguel's doorway like it was nothing. "Cyril has those."

Oh. That explained the unknown emotion lurking in his voice. "It's nothing to worry about. I can handle it."

Ryan let it go, but his voice didn't lose that edge. "Okay."

"We shouldn't be seen talking, remember?"

Ryan just shook his head slightly. "Everyone's otherwise occupied. Besides, they'll just think I'm fucking with you."

That explained the mask, all sneers with no smile, the posture of taunt and dismissal. Physical lies. Verbal truth. Which was real? Should he believe the words, the eyes and the meaning lurking in them, or the body language?

"I just wanted to check in before El Cid gets out. It's our last chance to talk before the ball gets rolling and shit starts happening. All set, amigo?"

Miguel snorted, nodding his readiness dismissively before changing the subject. 'Amigo' was fine compared to shit like 'muchacho' and 'poco loco', but still... "What do I have to do to get you to stop calling me annoying shit?"

Ryan grinned, small and hidden away immediately, disappearing before it could be seen. "Hey, you call me tiburón all the damn time."

Miguel just rolled his eyes, leaning back in his bunk now. "You *like* that." Miguel could tell.

Ryan was humoring him, keeping it oddly friendly and easy. "I'll make you a deal, I'll stick with one."

Inconsequential chatter. Ryan's way of keeping Miguel's mind off of what was really bothering him for a moment. Ryan was trying to calm him down, and Miguel couldn't tell why. Maybe it was just to assure that his plans ran smoothly.

Miguel went with it, needing the distraction. "If it's 'poco loco', I'll fucking kill you."

Ryan wanted to laugh, Miguel could see it around his eyes, but he couldn't show it, not out in the open like this, not yet. It was all in his voice when he spoke. "Hmmm...how about gato?"

"Why the hell would you call me that?" At least it didn't annoy him. Miguel was a bit surprised Ryan even knew the word; he'd thought the Mick only knew basic familiars and probably some insults.

"You're a fighter, like a scarred up alley cat. You've got nine fucking lives...and even if you bristle, I know you like it when I pet you." That last part came out low and smooth, a vocal leer.

Surprisingly, that didn't piss Miguel off either. It just started that now familiar heat spreading through him.

But there was nothing he could do about it now, so Miguel joked instead. Oddly, it almost sounded like Ryan had given it some thought. "You do realize that sharks and cats aren't known for teaming up, right?"

Ryan swallowed that grin again. "They're both predators. They both like fish. How do you know that cats aren't just pretending to hate water? Maybe they hang out with sharks, maybe they go fishing together when no one is looking."

And Ryan was the one calling *him* crazy? But Miguel could tell that Ryan was just saying insane shit to distract Miguel from his worries, to keep his mind off the nightmare. It was another unexpected bit of kindness from Ryan that surprised Miguel.

That honey smooth voice continued, belying the outwardly calm pose of Ryan's body putting on a show for anyone who may have looked up at him. "What you need is some tension release."

Fuck. Miguel was starting to notice things he hadn't before when it came to the devious Irishman. Ryan moved like sex, fluid. He spoke with it drenching his words, eyes containing a constant tease, and Miguel's body was starting to respond to that without consulting his brain.

Despite the absurd conversation, Miguel could see his own growing lust mirrored in Ryan's eyes. But he had other worries. Real ones, that needed to be addressed. "It might not help, I've got other problems."

The sudden blind switch in topics didn't throw Ryan off, but the nearly undetectable tension returned to his body. So subtle that only Miguel could see it. "What's up?"

"My unlucky ass is going to end up in solitary, no matter what I do."

"I told you, I know what I'm doing." Ryan was dismissive and annoyed. He probably thought Miguel was worrying about El Cid.

"It's not that. Do you know *why* I got out in the first place?"

Ryan shifted slightly in the doorway, eyes narrowing in sudden interest, greedy for any new information. "I heard the nun saved your ass."

"Kinda. She wanted me to do the interaction shit. After our last session, Rivera ended it though. I just found out."

Ryan scoffed, relaxing again almost imperceptibly. "So? Sister Pete isn't going to send you back for that."

And Miguel wasn't sure how much to tell Ryan, but he didn't have much to lose at this point. "There was another part to the deal...Glynn wants something else to secure my freedom."

Ryan just waited for Miguel to continue, glancing around to make sure the coast was still clear and everyone was still downstairs.

"I have to give up his daughter's rapist." Miguel was sure Ryan had heard some of that, so he didn't explain further. Sometimes Miguel wondered if the slick Mick wasn't the one that talked to god with all the shit he somehow managed to know.

Ryan didn't see the problem, and Miguel had known he wouldn't. Ryan did anything to save his ass. "So? Do it."

Old bitterness surfaced sluggishly in Miguel. It seemed so distant now. "That fucker deserves to squirm, what he did to me for no fucking reason..."

"What? And you deserve to rot in solitary for a fucking rapist? Give. Him. Up." It was dangerously close to a command, disbelief and disgust permeating Ryan's tone.

Part of Miguel bristled at that...but that's what Miguel wanted to do anyway. He couldn't go back to that little room. Not when he had a chance to stay out. Screw his loyalty to El Norte, it didn't count in this instance, this wasn't like the thing with Rivera. Screw his grudge against that cocksucker Glynn. He would sacrifice it all to stay out, now that he had a chance. But there was another issue.

"It gets out that I ratted, I'm right back where I started. I might as well have just gone back."

"Shit. It's never easy with you is it?" It was weary instead of accusatory and Ryan looked like he was starting to get nervous, mind working behind those eyes. "I've been here too long. So listen to me, and shut up."

If it hadn't been clear that Ryan was worried about exposing their alliance and too busy thinking to consider his words, Miguel would've had to tell him to fuck off. But he let it go, just this once. Because Ryan was actually trying to help him -- and that was another little shock all it's own. Besides, Miguel wanted the outside perspective.

Ryan fired off questions briskly, all business. "Who knows the name of the guy that did the deed?"

"Everyone in El Norte, inside and out of Oz."

"And no one knows about your deal with Glynn or the source of the tension between you two?"

Miguel went with it, giving up partial control of this situation because he had to. He hadn't come to a solution of his own and he was fucking tired of it gnawing at him. "No."

"Then fuck it. They'll never find out. Any number of guys could've given the doer up. If we have to, we'll pin it on somebody else. Give Glynn what he wants." Ryan locked that intense gaze on his, the tiniest hint of something in those eyes...he wanted Miguel to go along with it, to accept it.

Miguel hesitated for a breath, but he knew this was the best way. He felt relief at putting this behind him. Maybe a little bit of it was due to having someone at his back, someone to help make this decision that had been fucking hard for him. "Okay."

And there was relief in Ryan's eyes as well. "We're good then?"

And again, oddly...it seemed like the answer mattered to Ryan. Miguel just nodded and watched that little relaxation of his body again, the slightest untensing of muscles and lines around the eyes.

Ryan turned to leave, hesitating. He tilted his head slightly, searching Miguel's face. Then he shifted back into smooth mode, that banked lust springing back to life in his eyes. "Meet me in the gym in twenty minutes...I'll make sure no one's looking, gato."

Miguel nodded again, slow. Just the sight of that heat in Ryan's eyes brought back the fire that had been running through Miguel's blood. It was sped along by the weight that had been lifted off his shoulders now that he'd chosen a course with Glynn. And Ryan had...helped, in his own odd way, even though he didn't need to, because it wasn't really part of their business, and it was Miguel's own problem to deal with. Sure, their partnership ended if Miguel went back to solitary, but Miguel hadn't thought it really mattered to Ryan.

Miguel had been sure that Ryan's seeking him out had been a convenience, that Ryan had backup plans in case Miguel went away again. But it looked like he meant all that shit about partnership, and wanting Miguel to have his back, and Ryan was apparently prepared to watch Miguel's in turn. It was surprising... and a little bit fucking insane.

Miguel watched Ryan leave and swim back into the fray, cutting through the other inmates with grace. Yep, he definitely moved like hidden sin, and Miguel was finding he loved to watch it.


When Ryan entered the gym, it was empty except for one other inmate. Miguel hadn't noticed him yet, being too focused on working out. That was not what Ryan had meant by tension relief, he thought as he stood back and watched Miguel. Miguel was laid out, doing bench presses when Ryan sauntered over to stand at his head.

Ryan looked down at him, at the slight traces of sweat on that exposed caramel skin as those muscles worked underneath. Miguel had taken his shirt off to work out. "Need a spot?"

Miguel smirked up at Ryan, putting the weights up as he sat up. "It's a bit too much for you, O'Reily."

Ryan came around the bench and sat down in front of Miguel. He straddled the bench, leaning forward into that heat. "Oh, I think I can handle it."

Miguel just chuckled as he toweled his sweat off. "Did you miss me during the lockdown, tiburón?"

Ryan didn't answer with words, instead lunging forward to convey everything with a sudden deep kiss. Miguel's small startled exclamation was muffled by Ryan's mouth. But the shock quickly wore off and Miguel returned the kiss with passion.

Fuck. Ryan would have to do without this soon. El Cid getting out would curtail Miguel's ability to get away for a while. It was just another incentive to off the bastard quickly as far as Ryan was concerned. Ryan had gotten used to this already. There was nothing like getting off regularly to help pass the days and lighten his step. He had also wanted to get his mind of off Gloria, his obsession with her was the cause of his biggest mistakes. And so far it was working.

During the short lockdown, Ryan had found his mind slipping back to Miguel often. And now that they were out, Ryan had wanted to see Miguel first thing. Miguel must've missed it quite a bit too, judging by the intensity in his kisses as he forcefully pressed into Ryan, knocking Ryan back slightly.

Miguel tugged Ryan's bottom lip between his teeth, dragging the end of the kiss out hotly as he pulled away to rasp out a question. "Do we have time?" Miguel asked with a gesture to the large empty gym.

"I took care of it. We'll be undisturbed."

Ryan saw just the flash of teeth in a wicked grin before Miguel swept him up in another kiss. Miguel's hands were already slipping up under Ryan's shirt, that familiar fire spreading with his touch. This had been a very good plan. Ryan started to push Miguel back, as his tongue stroked into that mouth. Miguel went with it until he was laying down on the bench, legs straddling it, with Ryan leaning over him. Their legs knocked and entwined slightly on either side of the bench. Ryan tore himself away from that mouth long enough to sit back and stare just for a second. Miguel was laid out before him, chest rising and falling with his rapid breath. Miguel's hands stayed on Ryan, fingertips just grazing his hips.

"Merry Christmas, gato." It was only Christmas Eve. But since El Cid got out tomorrow, that wasn't going to be a very bright day. It was like Miguel was getting a lump of really ugly coal in his stocking, so Ryan decided to bring him some cheer now.

As Ryan leaned back down, those hands slid back under his shirt in a smooth caress up his back. Miguel shivered under him as Ryan placed the first small, wet kiss to his chest. Ryan moved on to lick one dark nipple, feeling it harden under his tongue. Miguel groaned and pushed up against Ryan. He could feel that Miguel was already hard. Good. But he wasn't done yet, for this to work Miguel would have to be practically begging.

Ryan had decided that to actually get what he was dying for -- that mouth on his cock -- he was going to have to open the door himself. Tit for tat, with Ryan leading the way. That was the only way Miguel would do it any time soon. And Ryan needed this now, before he lost Miguel to the scheme for a while.

Ryan continued kissing across Miguel's chest, tasting salt and skin. He nipped and sucked those nipples in turn as his hands teased lower, touch just firm enough not to tickle. Ryan felt damp skin, hard muscles tensing as he listened to Miguel's breath quicken and rasp. He wondered if he could feel Miguel's heart speed up. He pressed his lips to Miguel's chest right above where his heart was and found he couldn't really feel the beat. Oh well.

Miguel was still stroking every bit of Ryan's flesh that he could reach, rucking Ryan's shirt up. But Ryan didn't bother to remove it. The fiery touch of those slightly rough hands felt so good, a reminder of why Ryan was doing this. He missed that touch, even after only two days, he had longed to feel this again.

Miguel hadn't quite clued in to what Ryan was working towards yet. He tried to pull Ryan back up to his mouth as he kept thrusting up against Ryan, seeking friction. Miguel kept brushing against Ryan's own already hard cock, causing Ryan to moan against Miguel's chest.

Ryan pressed Miguel's hips back down, denying them both. "Uh-uh. Not yet."

It almost hurt him to say it, Ryan was just about as desperate as Miguel and he barely kept himself from thrusting right back, yearning for rhythmic contact.

Miguel let out a frustrated groan that turned low and sultry as Ryan's mouth moved lower. He licked a slow, teasing line down the center of Miguel's chest. Miguel's hands were finally forced to slip out from under Ryan's shirt as Ryan slid farther down the bench. Ryan felt those tight abdominal muscles under his mouth, felt them quiver as he started to undo Miguel's pants.

It finally hit Miguel. Ryan could feel it in the sharp intake of breath, in the twitch of Miguel's hands tightening where he had been caressing Ryan's upper arms. Ryan buried his smirk in the golden skin of Miguel's stomach as he finally tugged Miguel's pants open. He couldn't really pull them down with Miguel's legs on either side of the bench, but he got them down enough to expose hips, more warm skin and to free Miguel's dark, heavy erection. So close to Ryan's mouth now.

Ryan was pretty sure Miguel actually stopped breathing for a minute there as Ryan sucked on a tender bit of flesh right below Miguel's navel.

"What -" Miguel's words were cut off with a shudder as Ryan moved to lick across a sharply defined hipbone. "What are...you doing?" Miguel finally finished his question with a rough breathlessness.

Ryan stopped to look up at Miguel, resting his chin lightly on Miguel's stomach. "If you need to ask, it's definitely been way too long."

Ryan returned to kissing the softest skin on Miguel's lower abdomen, feeling the sprinkling of coarse hair under his lips, the beginning of a sparse trail leading down. Ryan stopped right as Miguel started to pant. "I'm making you a deal."

"Deal?" Miguel's voice was husky and strained.

"Quid pro quo."

Ryan looked up into Miguel's eyes, watched the slight reluctance completely give way to lust and need.

"Diabólico, tiburón." Miguel knew exactly what Ryan had been doing, and he seemed almost amused by it. Of course, he also seemed to be still a little in shock. "Deal."

Fuck yes.

And there was such need in Miguel's voice. Ryan found he loved it when Miguel sounded like that. Breathless. For Ryan.

Just do it. Dive in head first, Ryan thought wryly. Ryan lightly drug his nails over Miguel's ribs, down over his hips as he took the head of Miguel's dick into his mouth. That was a fucking beautiful noise Miguel made.

It wasn't what Ryan thought. Although he'd been trying to avoid thinking about it. At the first taste those brown eyes were locked on him, full of amazement and shivering heat. Desperation. Ryan had been planning to hurry up and get it over with, telling himself it was a means to an end. But now...he wanted to hear that rough gasp again.

It wasn't that strange. Ryan applied what little knowledge he had, based on his own experience on the receiving end, things like...almost everything felt good except for teeth. If it brought that shudder and that low groan, keep doing it.

Miguel's hand rested on his head, a hesitant touch turning into a light stroke, fingers carding through Ryan's hair. Ryan loved touch, any kind, and it was rare in here to have one that was so welcome. Ryan was getting even more turned on, heat and blood in his body rushing south.

Taste of pure Miguel. Ryan thought of Miguel's mouth. Thought of Miguel sucking on his tongue, the way he gave himself over to Ryan. As Ryan sucked and licked Miguel's cock he thought of Miguel's fierce consuming passion when they had kissed, when they had touched.

Ryan pulled back with a long lap of his tongue to swirl around the head. Tasting the small bitter tang before sliding that length back into his mouth. Miguel's sweat slick skin was under his hands, firm trembling muscles, the sharp curve of a hipbone against his palm.

Ryan kept up that sloppy wet suck and the deft flicks of his tongue until Miguel was close. It had been even longer for Miguel than it had been for Ryan. So quick, it hadn't taken much at all. Low rumbling moans cut off by sharp breathes, a shudder under Ryan's fingertips.

"Ryan..." Miguel's voice so rough and deep it was like gravel, the sound of it gliding over Ryan's skin.

His name.

His thanks.

His warning.

Ryan pulled off completely, Miguel's dick slipping out of his mouth to be taken up by his hand as he sat up. He switched to sure, swift strokes to finish Miguel off. Finally able to thrust, Miguel came up into Ryan's firm grip.

Ryan watched. All trace of nerves and that hard edge were gone from Miguel's face. Nightmares and worry chased away. This was much better. Miguel's head tilted back, but his gaze was still focused on Ryan, eyes staring out from under half closed lids. Pure relief, tinged with that intensity and something hot and deep that sent a shiver down Ryan's spine.

Miguel finished, coming over Ryan's hand and his own chest. Thrusts abating as his gasping breaths slowly evened out and he lay there relaxed and loose, with a lazy, open smile on his face.

The satisfaction and wonder radiating from Miguel was echoed in his voice. "So good...Fuck. Give me a minute."

Ryan just sat back and waited, a pleased and slightly smug grin on his face. He used Miguel's towel to clean up before he threw it on the floor. "Better present than a bicycle or a puppy?"

Miguel chuckled, as he slowly sat up, and propped himself back on his arms. "Mmm...much better. One of the best early Christmas presents ever."

Miguel sat up fully, pulled up his pants and zipped back up before scooting closer to Ryan on the bench. "Come here."

Finally. Ryan leaned into that deep sweeping kiss eagerly. He was so fucking hard and desperate by this point. If Miguel tried to tease, Ryan would kick his ass. The kiss broke with a lingering sloppy suck of tongues. Sweet Jesus. He needed this Now.

Deciding he didn't want anymore bench contortions, Ryan got up, coming to stand by the side of the bench near Miguel. Ryan was already hard and ready, he didn't really have the time or the need for Miguel to conduct a lengthy exploration of his skin, no matter how much Ryan loved that touch.

Miguel stayed seated but swung his legs around, turning to face Ryan. Miguel pushed up Ryan's shirt, starting with a soft bite to Ryan's stomach as Miguel's hands slid up his sides in a caress. He was softly laying kisses, tasting Ryan's skin. Ryan's cock was still straining, confined to his pants. But it wasn't a tease and Ryan knew he would have to wait. And every move from Miguel still felt so very good, despite the building ache unknowingly making it sweet torture.

It had seemed to Ryan like Miguel had restricted himself to his own right hand the whole time he'd been here. So far he had approached everything with Ryan like it was new. So Ryan knew Miguel might have to take a moment, and Ryan tried to give him as much time to adjust to the idea as possible. Despite how fucking desperate he was.

Ryan caught one of Miguel's hands and brought it up to his mouth. Ryan's tongue teased over Miguel's wrist, up to place dirty little flicks to Miguel's sensitive palm. Ryan licked two fingers into his mouth, sucking on them as wetly and provocatively as possible. He felt Miguel's groan vibrate on his stomach. Seemed like he liked that then. Miguel undid Ryan's pants slightly awkwardly and one handed. Fuck. Ryan was finally exposed to the air, and he groaned low in his throat in relief and anticipation. Miguel gently pulled his hand down, Ryan let Miguel's fingers out of his mouth with one last lick.

That hand came to grasp Ryan's aching cock, wet fingers rubbing up the length. Ryan moaned as he finally got that touch where he needed it most. Miguel just stared at him for a moment, unintentionally teasing with that hot breath gusting across his dick. Fuck. Something in Ryan finally cracked a little with the raw need.

Ryan's voice came out low and soft. "If you're going to act like you're going before a damn firing squad, then just never fucking mind."

His voice was devoid of anger, instead it was almost hurt sounding, Ryan couldn't help it. Ryan didn't want hesitant obligation. He wanted that passionate, enthusiastic mouth. He wanted just a taste of that desperation that Miguel usually put into every touch.

Ryan had been fucking good to Miguel. He had *tried*, and he was no slouch when it came to pleasing his partners, when he wanted to. And he'd never even made the effort before with the other fucks in here. Ryan had his dick sucked since he'd been in Oz, although it had been too damn long, but he'd never returned the favor. He'd never given more than a quick, dispassionate hand job in return, if even that. Little Timmy Kirk had never gotten anything but Ryan's leadership in return.

But with Miguel...Ryan found himself putting himself into it, wanting to give as much pleasure as he got. Ryan had even gotten off on Miguel's reactions, every noise he'd pulled from Miguel, the feel of him, even the taste of him had made Ryan harder. And it would be best not to think about that too much.

But Miguel didn't pull away, he held Ryan in place with a firm grip on his hips, staring up at him with an unreadable look on his face. It held things even Ryan couldn't decipher.

"Calm down." Miguel deadpanned.

Then Miguel's tongue lapped the underside of Ryan's cock, one quick firm lick. Ryan trembled with that sudden heat.

"Impatient motherfucker." Miguel muttered jokingly, quiet and bemused.

Miguel suddenly engulfed Ryan in the longed for soft warmth of his mouth. Quick smooth slide into that perfect heat.

"Oh fuck." The words were pulled from Ryan, his voice low, ragged and awed.

Ryan had been thinking of this since he'd first seen Miguel working that lollipop. He'd imagined it at night when he remembered the greedy kisses they shared. This was better than even his vivid imagination. So much fucking better.

And Miguel sure as hell wasn't being timid. Ryan was so far gone after having Miguel writhe under his mouth and having waited so long for this, that he knew he wouldn't last. Miguel must've known it too. He kept up a wet, steady suck with firm strokes of that wicked tongue. Ryan wanted to feel every second fully, wanted to paint it on his memory to keep. It was just what Ryan had wanted -- Miguel's passionate neediness tugging at him deep inside. Perfect.

That soft sliding suction pulled Ryan in. Oh Fuck. Taking this standing up had been a very bad idea. The warm buzzing pleasure Miguel was causing to course through him made Ryan unsteady. Ryan wished he had something to lean back against, it was so fucking amazing he felt like his knees were going to buckle. He settled for leaning forward slightly, his hands braced on Miguel's shoulders to support himself. Ryan tumbled quickly toward the edge in a pure rush of adrenaline, of Miguel.

"FUCK." Harsh exclamation turning into a drawn out moan.

Ryan got the impression that Miguel would be laughing at that if he could. Maybe it was the look in those eyes, or the soft shaking of Miguel's shoulders. Smug bastard, Ryan thought fondly. But he had every reason for it. That was the last thought in his head before it was obliterated by that clinging heat. Miguel's tongue sending a delicious tremble through Ryan's frame, sensation seeming to slide into his very blood.

Ryan could feel his orgasm building already, needy and raw. Miguel just kept a firm grip on Ryan's hips, anchoring him as he took Ryan with that fervent mouth. Miguel made one of those throaty groans of his, and the vibration stroked along the nerves of Ryan's dick. It was all too much.

"Miguel..." Ryan gasped out.

But Miguel didn't pull back, and Ryan came into his mouth, his relief hard and complete. Ryan sagged forward, Miguel still bracing him. The last smooth, light strokes of Miguel's tongue washed over him as he rode out his orgasm, pulsing into that wet heat.

Miguel finally pulled back when Ryan was done. Ryan could do nothing but pant as he left Miguel's mouth, leaning heavily on those broad shoulders. Ryan couldn't remember the last time he'd smiled this open and freely, so wide that it made his face hurt.

Miguel turned his head to spit, hitting the towel on the floor. Well, that was attractive, Ryan thought sarcastically. But it had been fucking wonderful, even if Miguel hadn't swallowed. Hell, Ryan hadn't even let Miguel come in his mouth...maybe next time.

And best of all, Miguel looked happy still. Or as happy as the broody fuck ever looked. There was always darkness constantly lurking in those deep brown eyes. It was a side effect of being trapped in this shithole. Still, in this moment there was no worry on the surface, no discomfort and there was that flicker of rare, joyous light that amazed Ryan. And Miguel definitely looked quite pleased with himself. But considering how he had perfectly dismantled Ryan, some self satisfaction was only fair.

So fucking good. The thought was still repeating stupidly in Ryan's head as he stared at Miguel. Fucking beautiful.

Ryan collapsed onto the bench next to Miguel, leaning heavily on him. Warm and strong, propping Ryan up. Fuck it. Ryan slid down bonelessly, somehow ending up with his head in Miguel's lap. He stayed there comfortably as he caught his breath in the afterglow.

Miguel stared down at him, amused. He waited a moment before speaking, expression turning slightly serious. "When El Cid gets out..."

No. Not now. Ryan didn't want to think. He reached a hand up to quickly cover Miguel's mouth. "No. No business yet...just give me this."

Thankfully, Miguel shut up. A mischievous flicker in Miguel's eyes was Ryan's only warning before there was a hot lick across his palm, followed by a sucking bite.

Ryan groaned happily. "That's better."

Ryan slowly withdrew his hand. Miguel nipped a finger as Ryan pulled it away, amusement still dancing in the dark eyes, chasing away the seriousness of a moment ago.

Miguel stroked Ryan's hair as he chuckled, the low rumble reverberating through Ryan's loose body. Ryan soaked up that absentminded affection as Miguel's hand kept up the light caress.

Miguel gave Ryan his moment, before it finally had to be broken. "We can't stay here forever, tiburón."

"I know." Ryan said with a sigh as he started to pull himself up.

Miguel's hand trailed over Ryan's back, not breaking contact as Ryan sat up, continuing to speak. "It cost enough to buy us this."

It was costing a small chunk of his boxing profits to keep them alone and undisturbed, but Ryan considered it all well worth it.

"The fucking hacks have no holiday spirit." Miguel joked.

Ryan smirked at that, then reluctantly shifted back to reality. "You should go back first."

Miguel nodded and took his shirt from where it had been hanging in his back pocket, pulling it back on. "El Cid's going to want to keep an eye on me."

And that must've been what Miguel was going to address earlier. "Word that you weren't behind his capture should reach him as soon as he hits ground, but be careful. If you think he's going to make a move against you, do what you have to do and we'll change plans if we have to."

"I'll lay low until I'm sure. Then I'll welcome them back."

"Good. We can't see each other as often for a while." And there was real regret from Ryan in that statement, but he tried to hide it as best he could. "I'll contact you when something develops, and you do the same."

Miguel bent down to kiss Ryan one last time, quick and firm, tongue sweeping through his mouth. Ryan instinctively leaned up slightly as Miguel pulled away, chasing those lips.

"Feliz Navidad, Ryan."

Miguel used his first name again...and Ryan liked it. Today had been even better than he had hoped for. Ryan leaned back slightly with a content sigh as he watched Miguel leave. Miguel actually made him feel *good*, and that was the rarest gift in here. Merry fucking Christmas indeed.

~ Chapter 5: Suckers ~

Miguel was sitting on the bed in one of the private rooms. In his hands was the patient file he had 'borrowed'. Busy scanning it for the pertinent information, he heard the approaching footsteps too late. The door swung open just as he shoved the folder under the pillow, futilely trying to hide it.

Ryan O'Reily entered, wearing his kitchen uniform but nowhere near food. Shit, the guy had magnificent timing.

"What are you hiding there?" Ryan strolled over and snatched the file from it's hiding place as he perched comfortably on the hospital bed next to Miguel. "Ahh...learning fascinating facts about our fellows to know and share?"

Ryan, hungry for information as always, opened the file with a smirk that quickly faded into stone. "This is *my* file." Ryan's voice was stunned and suddenly devoid of all humor.


Ryan's body tensed beside him as he turned his head to pin Miguel with a narrow gaze. "What are you doing with my file?"

Damn the guy was fucking touchy. "I..uh...I was looking up something."

There were reasons Miguel hadn't just asked, one being that he didn't know if he trusted Ryan to tell him the truth, but the main one was that it was fucking uncomfortable.

"What?" Ryan asked, the word coming out dark and clipped.

When it came to Ryan, Miguel had just been acting without thinking too much about it. But here and now, after what he'd done yesterday...he had to process the fact that he was getting off with Ryan on a regular basis. And he *liked* it. Far too much. Hell, part of him was coiled even now, waiting until the next time he could get that dangerous fuck alone somewhere more private. Unfortunately, Ryan had proved by waltzing right in that this was not the time or place. The bottom line was that Miguel couldn't deny things any longer, and it was time to stop falling into everything blind and ignoring certain risks.

"Calm the fuck down, okay?" Miguel rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. "I was checking your tests for sexually transmitted diseases and shit."

Ryan searched his face for a second, trying to see if he was lying, before he relaxed. Paranoid fucker.

"You could've just asked."

Miguel snorted. "Yeah, because you're known for your honesty."

Ryan grinned evilly at that. Miguel was just thankful that it appeared Ryan wasn't going to give him shit about it.

"See for yourself, I'm clean." Ryan flopped the file into Miguel's lap. "And I already knew you were." Ryan said with that little all knowing smirk.

The fucker had been acting all pissed, when he'd already snatched Miguel's file. Cutre.

Ryan continued. "Besides, I already know you've been on your best behavior since you've been inside and you've stayed away from the other fucks."

It was true, but how the hell did Ryan know that?

Ryan leaned in even closer, until he was pressed against Miguel's side to whisper in his ear. "I can tell by the way you touch me."

Ryan's low, seductive voice, and sneaky hand suddenly stroking down Miguel's arm, were starting that heat in Miguel again. Shit.

Miguel shook it off, or tried to anyway, as Ryan moved slightly away from him again. He was still in Miguel's personal space as always, but he kept his hands to himself.

Miguel ignored the last comment and focused on other things. "Yeah, and I know you haven't 'behaved'."

Which had been quite the fucking shock. Everyone thought Ryan was the straightest fucker in here, including Miguel until recently. Then Ryan had come on to Miguel -- strong. It changed Miguel's view on things and made him wonder. And now it seemed Miguel couldn't keep his hands, or his mouth, off of Ryan.

"This doesn't mean anything, you're still never getting my ass." Miguel warned firmly. That had been another issue, there was the likelihood that Ryan would misunderstand Miguel's motives for checking and start getting ideas in that fucking head of his.

"I know, you'll cut off the family jewels." Ryan held his hands up in a calming gesture as he grimaced slightly at the thought. "Don't worry, that got through loud and clear, gato."

"You can get enough nasty shit even doing other things." Miguel knew that from working the hospital ward. Miguel also knew that he was implicitly admitting that what had happened in the gym was not a one time holiday surprise, that Miguel was open to it happening again. He could see the slight pleasure in Ryan's eyes at the news.

"Your chart doesn't really mean anything though, does it? With your horny ass, you probably picked up something on the way here." Miguel made it clear that he was joking, but he did want to know the risks and just how much dicking around Ryan was doing. Miguel couldn't take anything for granted if the guy had hidden his activities so well this far.

For a split second, Ryan looked like he was contemplating whether or not to get angry at the remark. But he ended up just laughing. "I may have had a very *few* indiscretions in the past." Ryan held up a finger to emphasize his point. "...but now? Just you."

Miguel was slightly surprised Ryan had admitted that he hadn't been playing it quite as straight as he let on before...but it's not like he had anything to lose by telling Miguel. Miguel already had firsthand experience of Ryan's activities. Ryan hadn't named names, and it's not like Miguel could share the information.

Ryan continued, getting his own dig in. "So as long as you're not going to give all of El Norte a very *special* welcome back party, we don't have to use anything."

Miguel stared in revulsion at just the fucking idea. He had no intention of messing with *anybody* in El Norte. "That's fucking disgusting."

Still, Ryan had just been joking, fucking with him as always. Miguel punched him playfully in the arm without thinking. Catching himself a second too late, Miguel wondered if he had crossed a line. But Ryan looked fine, comfortable. He didn't get pissed or try to hit Miguel back. He just looked amused, laughter dancing in those green eyes.

Miguel found he believed Ryan when he said he was safe. Maybe Miguel was just losing his mind again. He hoped the decision to trust Ryan didn't come back to bite him in the ass. At least the risk was slight. And Miguel had to admit he would rather not use condoms if he didn't have to.

Ryan grimaced a little at his own words after a moment. "Yeah, that is one nasty visual, isn't it? Try to forget it." Ryan's hand slid up Miguel's leg to aid in the forgetting process as Ryan leaned in close again, licking his lips inches from Miguel's. Ryan's expression turned more lustful as he continued to speak. "I want to be able to *feel* your mouth on me."

Miguel shivered, and nodded slightly before closing the scant distance between them for an impulsive kiss, overtaken by the pull of nearness and the passion behind Ryan's words. Just a brief shiver of contact of those lips against his, ending far too quickly.

Ryan grinned that wicked grin. "Besides...yours is the only dick I've sucked." Ryan finished the sultry statement with a flick of his tongue to Miguel's lips.

Fuck, if Ryan kept saying shit like that, in that dirty voice, Miguel was going to lunge on him right there. But they couldn't do anything right here and now, dammit. In fact..."What are you even doing here? We're supposed to be laying low and keeping our distance."

Miguel had been noticing that Ryan loved touch, any kind. He had no personal boundaries, always coming so close, and Miguel found himself responding in kind. Ryan always seemed to fucking love it, showing those subtle tells, leaning into Miguel, his entire demeanor relaxing ever so slightly. Like now, with the both of them sitting on the hospital bed next to each other, pressed side to side, turned just slightly towards each other to speak. Miguel leaned into Ryan, and as always Ryan moved right into Miguel, solidly against him. And even though Ryan's dirty words had been turning him on...this was different from lust. It was almost about...comfort, and that was enough.

Ryan tugged on his white shirt, arm softly bumping Miguel with the movement. "I'm delivering lunch."

Miguel snorted. "And doing a great job."

Ryan's legs were moving in a graceful unconscious fidget now, knocking and rubbing pleasantly against Miguel's.

"Yeah, and how's that invisible patient you were in here checking on?" Ryan mocked. "We're not sitting on him are we?"

He had a point, Miguel wasn't exactly hard at work either. But he didn't slack off usually, not like Ryan.

Ryan turned slightly more serious. "I just wanted to see how the return of your comrades went."

Miguel shrugged. "I saw them before I came here, but we didn't get the chance to say much. They don't seem too pissed at *me* at the moment. Everyone's buying your story and they know I didn't have anything to do with their bust."

"And El Cid?"

"He isn't happy, but he's not showing it. He's still got that fucking grudge against me but he doesn't believe it was me either. I think he's kind of pissed off about that. He's busy trying to figure out what's up with Adebisi and Pancamo though, so I'm safe for now."

"Good." Ryan nodded and stood up. "I'll give you some stuff to slip in his personal stash later, so we can start revving him up. I'm off to feed the animals."

"Remember, nothing fatal."

"Nah, of course not. We just want to keep him on edge, and then push him over at the right moment. You start whispering in his ear about people plotting against him. I'll take care of what goes in Adebisi's ears." Ryan turned back to look at Miguel before he left. "And you did a lovely job making Pancamo think El Cid was planning a move against him, so he's already focused on El Cid."

Miguel scoffed. "That dumb motherfucker can barely string a thought together. I practically had to spell it out for him while pretending not to say anything."

Ryan chuckled, throwing out one last thing before he went out the door. "And make sure you put my fucking file back."


Miguel made it through the rest of the day without too much hassle. He had still walked away from the bust that caught the rest of El Norte, so they were a bit distant with him. But they had other concerns, and Miguel had the information they needed, so they were accepting him for the moment. The air was thick with the tension between gangs and they needed all the warm bodies on their side that they could get.

Miguel played it loyal, laying out everything he 'knew', which was really everything he and Ryan wanted them to know. He made it seem like it was lucky that he had been out to keep track of the happenings and stick up for El Norte. He made it clear that 'credible' sources favored Pancamo and the wops as the rats who were out to get them. They believed him, and the only cautious stares he got were from El Cid and Guerra, which was what he had expected.

That night Miguel was locked down with El Cid again. Hours to kill and nothing to do. Miguel had to face up to El Cid now that they were alone. He had no idea how El Cid was going to play it, he'd left Miguel alone so far, when the others were around. El Cid had played distant and just listened to Miguel run down the happenings. El Cid's first concern had naturally been Pancamo and Adebisi, there had been information gathering and a lot of harsh words flying amid the gang.

But now, Miguel would see how El Cid really felt as far as Miguel was concerned. And find out if he needed to do something drastic. Time to see if Ryan's plans would even get a chance to really get off the ground.

El Cid sat on Miguel's bottom bunk, making Miguel perch on the toilet again. So he could show who was boss, show that everything that was Miguel's belonged to El Cid.

"So, Michael..."

There it was again. That fucking bastard. If Miguel needed anything to help him rationalize his decision to turn against El Cid, being back in a room with the guy had provided it. That one word cemented Miguel on his chosen course, steeling him for what he was doing. Miguel had taken a guy's eyes for this cocksucker, he'd consigned himself to a life of solitary. He'd done everything to prove himself to the leader and El Shithead still treated Miguel like he was nothing. Like he wasn't good enough.

It was all Miguel could do to keep his head down and stay quiet. To think that Miguel had respected him, had given this bitter little man his loyalty. Fuck that motherfucker. Miguel was *better* than good enough and he was going to prove it.

"I hear you ran things good while we were gone, kept El Norte on the map."

Shit, Miguel had never heard anything that sounded so insincere in his life, and he spent time with O'Reily now, the king of doublespeak, so that was saying something.

El Cid continued to speak, darkness and threats becoming even more clear in his tone. "I hope you didn't get too used to it. You miss being in charge, Michael?"

Just you watch, motherfucker.

Miguel ducked his head. "No, El Cid. You're the boss. I didn't do anything but try to hold it together until everyone got out. I ran what little tits I could, and put off Pancamo when he came sniffing for weakness in our gang. I mainly just listened and waited for your return." Miguel kept his voice low and deferent, letting just a bit of fear barely show in his voice. And the fear was real. Miguel was walking a razor's edge, death or a return to solitary on either side. He kept his expression hang dog and humble. It would be best if he pretended to be beaten down by this man. "I'm glad you're back. I follow you. I can't go it alone in here, you know that."

El Cid just nodded, looking wary but sure of himself and his hold. Cabron.

Miguel wasn't alone. He had tiburón on his side. For now at least. Maybe O'Reily couldn't be relied on completely, and Miguel knew there was a large chance that the Irishman would dupe Miguel or turn on him the second it was more profitable for him to do so. But Ryan was a better chance than El Cid. And Ryan hated El Cid too, so for now he could be trusted. Hell, Miguel might be a pawn in Ryan's larger plans, but Miguel *knew* that. He knew to be on his guard. And it was seeming more and more like Miguel really was a partner in Ryan's plans. Which just meant that the whole world was going mad.

Miguel looked up at that ugly mug examining him. It looked like Hernandez believed him, for now. The leader needed soldiers and he thought that he still had Miguel under his thumb. That huge fucking head of his. Yeah, thinking he was a great powerful leader and Miguel was a gnat that he could control.

"It's good that you still understand your place, Miguel."

Oh, what a fucking honor, Miguel thought sarcastically upon Hernandez using his given name finally. Miguel recalled his vows to El Norte, what they had meant. He felt a deep pang of guilt, but shoved it aside. Things had changed. Miguel's survival came first, now he knew no one else was going to look out for him. El Cid did not deserve his loyalty anymore. This man wanted him dead or gone, he would use Miguel up and throw him away again. El Cid wasn't loyal, he abused his power.

And El Cid was still talking, oblivious. "Tomorrow we get well. What did you run while we were gone?"

Miguel shrugged. "Some Quaaludes and stuff from the infirmary."

El Cid handed him a small baggie of white powder. Just enough for personal use. El Cid's personal use, because Miguel didn't do heroin and he knew that.

"I want you to keep my personal stash safe for me from now on." There was no trust in that voice.

What the hell was he up to?

El Cid finished, dark antagonism hiding in his words. "Keep it in your mattress, since you seem to have a talent for not getting caught possessing."

Motherfucker. That way El Cid would have it easily on hand and Miguel would take the fall if it got found. It was El Cid's way of letting Miguel know that the bust had been neither forgiven or forgotten, even if he knew Miguel hadn't had a hand in it. El Cid was showing Miguel that he was still not in the leader's good graces. Miguel would be kept around while useful, and would have to prove himself. Again.

Fuck that, he was done giving everything to this cocksucker. Miguel knew right in that instant that he had made the right decision in getting El Cid out of the way. El Cid would never accept him.

Miguel nodded. Acting obedient, cowed.

It would just be even easier to spike the shit this way. El Cid didn't expect it of him, didn't even consider it. Even this dumbass might become suspicious eventually, once the PCP mix Ryan had provided started showing its effect every time El Cid used, but that's where O'Reily came in. If he was spiking the food, it would mix it up and keep El Cid from connecting the dots. O'Reily had probably planned it that way. Smart and dangerous...and working with Miguel. El Cid didn't stand a chance.


El Cid heaved his fat ass up to his own bed, finally, and Miguel laid down to read. El Cid ranted about his enemies a little above him and Miguel played his part, fueling his suspicion and anger against them, before the bastard wound down and left Miguel alone.

Finally the lights went out and Miguel could rest. All this deception and maneuvering was fucking tiring. He'd been on edge and having to hide it all day. Miguel had no idea how Ryan did it.

As worn out as he was, Miguel couldn't reach sleep. Even his crappy pillow seemed lumpier than usual. One hard lump in particular stood out. Miguel slid his hand into the pillowcase to pull out...

...a lollipop.

What the hell? He didn't keep candy in his pillow. Then Miguel noticed the green string tied in a sloppy, drooping bow around the little white stick.


It was all he could do not to laugh and draw the attention of El Cid above him. Motherfucker was snoring again. As much as Miguel had hated being by himself for the hours of lockdown, he did not miss the evil, ugly ape at all. He'd rather be trapped in the little room alone.

But, he wasn't really alone anymore was he? Miguel stared at his present, a little grin forming on his face. It was kind of odd that Ryan knew he liked lollipops, he didn't have them often. Ryan had been paying more attention to him than he had thought. Miguel's grin grew when he realized the pervert probably just liked watching Miguel suck on things. Instead of creeping him out or pissing him off, like it probably should have, Miguel just found it...amusing.

Feliz Navidad, tiburón.

Miguel had almost forgotten momentarily that it was Christmas. It never felt like the holidays in here, not the way it did on the outside. It was just a swirl of events going on elsewhere that reminded you that you were trapped. Inside, it was just another day like the last. Empty. But it wasn't as hollow if you had someone to share it with, someone to give it a tiny bit of meaning.

Miguel rolled the odd little gift in his hand. That fucker was crazy. Miguel kind of liked him that way though. Maybe he was fucking crazy too.

A sucker. It reminded him of yesterday. Reminded him of what he had done.

He'd become a cocksucker.

For some reason, he doubted Ryan had meant the gift to unsettle him. Miguel didn't think that was the point Ryan was trying to make. After all, the guy had given as good as he got. And he'd seemed rather blissed out when Miguel had left. Miguel wasn't the only cocksucker in their relationship, and Ryan had made that point clear.

The memories washed over him and Miguel found...he wasn't upset or disturbed. Ryan O'Reily's dick in his mouth. And it wasn't against Miguel's will. Everything had happened so fast and been such a surprise yesterday that he hadn't thought, he'd just acted on those urges. Ryan helpless and desperate in his mouth, coming with Miguel's name on his lips. Too much happening to think, Miguel had worried about catching something a bit too late, spitting Ryan's come out. More than that though...it almost meant something to Miguel. Bodily fluid, he'd had his share in solitary, drinking his own piss to survive, but this was different. Part of Ryan. He wasn't sure if he should take Ryan that far inside of himself. But maybe he was thinking too much, letting his mind spiral away from him. Miguel reigned it back in. Maybe it didn't really mean anything at all.

Right on the tail of those thoughts was the flipside. Ryan's mouth...that hot, wet suction Miguel hadn't had in so long. His mind focused on that -- Ryan giving something of himself first, only for Miguel. When Ryan had said Miguel's dick was the only one he had sucked, Miguel believed him. It had been so good. All of it.

Sucking off Ryan hadn't been bad...it was just the opposite. Ryan moaning his name like a benediction, crawling under his skin. That look on Ryan's face when Ryan came, and how he had acted afterwards. So unlike the O'Reily he knew completely. Those walls came down and there was a pause from the scheming, Ryan had just stopped to...breathe, to be open and playful.

Miguel had never known that Ryan needed a break from all the shit. His constant machinations, manipulations, and lies just seemed so effortless. Miguel had never thought there was anything else there. He'd thought that constant heartless cunning was all there was. But he'd been seeing glimpses of more lately.

Miguel had to admit that he also enjoyed being in on those plans. And Ryan was unexpectedly including him in the details, laying things out. Miguel knew that there were probably steps ahead that Ryan wasn't showing him yet, but Ryan was sharing intricacies he didn't have to. What had started as a partnership of necessity for Miguel, something needed for survival, was shifting into something else. At first Miguel had kept wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into, sucked into this web of danger and discovery so quickly, without much of a choice. But now...he knew he was playing a dangerous game, tied up with a master schemer...but he was finding he didn't want to extract himself.

Miguel found Ryan's mind interesting and frightening at the same time. But it was more fascinating to find out that there was something human in Ryan...buried. It drew Miguel in. In the past, Miguel had always watched the schemer in Ryan with detached amusement. But that newly glimpsed human part of Ryan, the part that cared, worried and needed a break, that was something Miguel understood and empathized with. Miguel didn't feel so alone and caught up in Ryan's plans after having seen that. Ryan engaged him on a whole other level now...and that was a little fucking frightening too.

There in the dark, Miguel had nothing to do but think. And he wasn't thinking about the business side of things, or El Cid anymore. Miguel was contemplating the personal side of things. Those clinging kisses. That quiet moment in the gym. Miguel had crossed a line, or more accurately, Ryan had enticed him over it. The promise of Ryan's mouth had been too much. Miguel had abstained since he'd been here, held back and controlled himself. But the loneliness was too fucking much. And Ryan was...fuck, Miguel didn't know. From that very first touch he'd been chasing after Ryan subconsciously, falling eagerly into all further contact. That fire felt so good. Not alone and so fucking alive for the first time in years. Miguel wanted more and more.

Miguel didn't know what that made him. Ryan's flat chest...Ryan's dick, every bit of him obviously male. It didn't turn Miguel off. He wasn't even thinking of a woman when they were together. At first he hadn't been thinking about anything besides relief and another warm body. Now... he thought of Ryan. Of being there in the moment with Ryan. He wondered if Ryan thought of Gloria -- but that moan had not been Gloria's name and those eyes had been *focused* on Miguel.

Had Oz and too much time spent solitary made Miguel a maricon? He found he didn't care, not right now. He still got hard watching Miss Sally...but now he wanted to drag Ryan away afterwards. He also got hard for *Ryan*.

And who knew what the hell was up with Ryan. The guy came across as straight, never taking a prag. But he had been the one to track Miguel down, the one that had led the way...and the way he moved...

Miguel wasn't a prag, that's what mattered. Ryan treated him like an equal. They were...partners. They were sort of becoming friends, almost. It felt good when nothing else did. Miguel decided he would just ride it out.

Miguel twirled the lollipop in his fingers before he slid the bow off the end, being careful not to untie it, and put the droopy string back inside his pillowcase. He did *not* put the lollipop back, because he wanted some fucking sleep and that thing was fucking uncomfortable.

Sneaky Irish bastard.


The next afternoon, after Miguel had ingratiated himself even further back into El Norte's good graces, Miguel spotted Ryan playing cards in the common room. El Cid wasn't around. Cyril was sitting with the one of the other Irish in front of the televisions. Miguel was carrying the lollipop Ryan had left him in his pocket. He got a very bad idea, and decided to mess with O'Reily a little. In a *friendly* way, of course.

He sat down at the next table with his book, pretending to ignore O'Reily's table. Miguel pulled the lollipop out and proceeded to suck on it casually as he read. Miguel swirled it around his mouth, sucking slow. He watched Ryan out of the corner of his eye as he pretended to focus on his book. The Irishman was glancing at him as he played cards, discretely...and frequently.

Miguel slurped on the candy and popped it wetly out of his mouth before he slid it back in with another slurp. Ryan...twitched. It was just slight enough that no one else paid attention, but Miguel saw it. It was extremely fucking hard for Miguel to keep the smirk off of his face. Especially when Ryan lost that hand. Guess he was distracted.

Miguel ate the lollipop as slowly and thoroughly as possible. Keeping a covert eye on Ryan all the while, he watched Ryan become more and more fidgety. It was a lot of fucking fun to watch Ryan become more and more distracted, doing his best to hide his growing arousal. Hey, Ryan had left it for him, it was only fair that he got to watch Miguel *appreciate* it.

Ryan's game ended, everyone else wandering off, but Ryan stayed at the table. He switched to solitaire as he kept an eye on Miguel, who was making his lollipop last as long as possible. Miguel was getting off on making Ryan's blood simmer. That little rush an undercurrent passing privately between them.

Ryan played cards ever so slowly, taking ages before every move. He slapped the cards around with a bit more passion than was probably required. Miguel would bet that the Mick was barely even registering the cards, even though he appeared to be carefully deliberating each move. Way too much concentration for a simple game of solitaire. But they both knew his real focus was on Miguel. Miguel wished he was close enough to see the growing lust in those eyes, but he knew it was there anyway.

When Miguel was finally done, he got up and bumped Ryan's chair as he passed. "Having fun playing with yourself, O'Reily?" Miguel mocked as he looked down at Ryan's game of solitaire. It was a normal, casual insult, the kind always traded in here.

Ryan shot him a look, and there it was, that fire in those eyes. It was fucking lovely, and it stoked Miguel's own slow burn of desire. But Ryan kept it carefully hidden by false disdain on his face. Truth and lies mixing, always putting on a show. "I'd rather play with myself than with you, hermano."

The usual bite was in Ryan's voice, but it was missing from the unusually lame retort. Miguel was gratified to see that Ryan was thrown off by his desire. It wasn't a very good taunt, but neither was Miguel's. It was all show. A secret language just between them that showed something else. Lust and frustration in those green eyes. Ryan looking horny and irritated. As usual. Miguel chuckled as he kept on walking.

Ryan was probably dying from the tease of Miguel's display. Ryan knew they had to keep their meetings even more hidden while El Cid was still around. What Ryan didn't know was that Miguel would be cornering him later on perfectly legitimate business ordered by El Cid himself. Miguel enjoyed getting Ryan all worked up, but he wasn't cruel, or stupid. There was nothing like a surprise.


Later that day, Miguel spotted O'Reily and swooped in, backing him under the stairs. "Time for a chat, O'Whitey." It was a gruff request, loud enough for those within earshot to get the unfriendly, businesslike tone.

They were soon hidden from most prying eyes in the cold shadows, tucked away deep under the stolen privacy of the stone. What fucking moron had designed a prison with so many places to hide away? Miguel shoved Ryan slightly once there was only one other set of eyes on them.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Ryan hissed out from between clenched teeth, angry and confused.

Miguel kept his voice low and his back to the outside. "Calm down, but look like I'm threatening you."

Ryan's face went into that stone mask, playing along as he waited for an explanation.

"El Cid sent me. He wanted me to warn you away from slinging tits again. I think he's hoping you'll kill me." Miguel smirked.

Amusement flickered through Ryan's eyes but he stayed looking outwardly defiant as he listened.

"Now that everyone knows I didn't rat them out, he's backed off of me. But he's still got a fucking problem with me. I think he was looking forward to airholing me when he got out."

"Is he an immediate danger?" Ryan asked, his voice deadly and calm.

Ryan went to ruthless and cold so fast, with none of the usual bemusement of the game in his words. Miguel thought that maybe this was what a life being expediently ended sounded like. It sounded almost...personal. If Miguel didn't know better, he'd say Ryan was concerned for him again.

Miguel quickly shook his head. "He doesn't have the excuse. It wouldn't please the rest of El Norte. Everyone else has accepted me back, because I ran shit while they were away and collected info for them. My allegiance isn't in question anymore."

And whatever it had been, that stone cold killer hint left Ryan's eyes with Miguel's assurance. And when Ryan spoke that tone was gone, back to the businesslike cadence he usually used. "He can't make an overt move. Everybody's busy buzzing and preparing for war anyway. El Cid has other problems. He'll be gone soon, just stay looking loyal."

"Is he watching?" Ryan asked after a second.

"Nah, someone else is though." Miguel smirked again. "My backup, keeping the coast clear while I give you El Cid's message."

Miguel stayed looming in front of Ryan, who was backed up against the wall. To the outside world it would look like he was threatening a defiant Ryan. Their body language portraying a heated discussion. But hidden deep under the stairs, only Miguel's guy could see them anyway, and he couldn't see much more than their basic stance, even when he was looking at them. Ryan was being careful not to look intimidated, just in case probably, so his rep wouldn't be affected.

Ryan's eyes kept a discrete check over Miguel's shoulder. "It's Vasquez, he's not really looking over here much."

Just in case, and just for fun, Miguel lightly shoved Ryan's shoulder. "Scary ain't I?"

"Definitely." And if you really looked, and he felt like showing you, you could see Ryan's real emotion hiding in his eyes. He was amused at the moment, and as always there was that little spark. The bastard was always fucking horny, at least when he was around Miguel.

Still in shadows and tucked away, Miguel pulled the little baggie he had been carrying out of his pocket. Miguel carefully blocked the view with his body, and slipped his hand into Ryan's pocket, depositing the pills there. Miguel remembered that Ryan said Cyril had nightmares. Miguel also remembered the hint of pain in Ryan's words.

"For Cyril, to help him sleep." Miguel answered Ryan's unspoken question. "They're from the hospital ward. They're safe, nothing hard, don't worry."

Those green eyes focused intensely on Miguel for second before something light and soft flitted across them. Whoa. Maybe Miguel was imagining things.

There was a weighty pause before Ryan spoke. "Thank you."

Nope. It was there in that voice as well. The simple words were packed with meaning...like Ryan wasn't used to saying them.

Miguel accepted the rare, genuine gratitude with a soft grin. "De nada."

Miguel's hand had lingered in Ryan's pocket and as he pulled it out he unintentionally brushed against Ryan's dick, only the thin fabric separating them. Well, it was mostly unintentional, the subconscious mind was a slippery fuck. Ryan's lips barely parted, letting out a small shock of breath at the touch.

Miguel smirked. He hadn't forgotten the gift left in his pillow or his tease of earlier, Ryan deserved the rest of his present. Miguel looked at the need in those eyes and decided to say 'fuck it'. Vasquez was out of hearing range and couldn't really see shit between the stone, the shadows and Miguel's body blocking what he was really doing. Vasquez's attention was turned outward anyway, as he also made sure no one else got close.

Miguel's hand hovered over Ryan's groin, the worn material of Ryan's pants just tickling his palm.

Ryan didn't stop him.

Miguel pressed his hand close, cupping Ryan firmly. Fuck, he could *feel* Ryan stiffen under his touch, filling his hand. Hard, perfect and so fucking fast. Those eyes were dark and dilated as that stone expression stayed on, just in case. Miguel rubbed Ryan through his pants, a firm pressure as Ryan's breath came quickly from between his lips.

"Is Vasquez still keeping an eye out, and keeping people away?"


"Do you want me to stop?"

"If you stop, I *will* kill you." The meaningless, joking threat was breathless and sarcastic.

Miguel started a slow stroke up and down, feeling the clear outline of Ryan through his pants. "He's not paying attention?"

"No." The answer came out with a soft whine to it as Ryan's breath hitched.

"Gracias por el dulce."


Miguel had the feeling Ryan could barely understand English at the moment, let alone anything else, no matter how simple.

"The lollipop, thank you. Very cute."

"That was one hell of a show you put on with it."

Miguel grinned wickedly as his hand kept moving, firm and sure friction where Ryan needed it.

"I thought...fuck...I thought you were such a fucking tease. It was all I could do not to just go over and suck that fucking lollipop right out of your mouth." Ryan said as he barely kept from bucking up as Miguel rubbed. "I thought I'd have blue balls all fucking day."

Miguel could tell by the strain of his muscles that Ryan was trying to keep from just grabbing Miguel right there. Ryan kept compulsively licking his lips and Miguel wanted to kiss him, but that would be a bit too obvious and risky.

"You really think I'm that cruel, tiburón?"

Miguel continued to rub and stroke Ryan's dick with just the right pressure to make Ryan's breath hitch in that sexy, needy way that Miguel loved.

"Mmm...No...you're very...very...nice." Ryan's voice faltered as he gasped ever so softly.

Their voices were quiet and low, Ryan's breathing heavy and loud as they were so close -- but not close enough. Miguel hadn't realized this would be torture for him. He hadn't really thought it through.

"Just watching you..." Ryan spoke in a broken, husky whisper. "Fuck...you always make me ache."

The statement spilled from Ryan full of feeling, a subtle change from his earlier crude words. There was a breathless vulnerability in that voice. Ryan was showing how much he wanted Miguel, letting Miguel know what he did to Ryan. It was another surprising little glimpse behind that exterior for Miguel.

Ryan was desperate and close, Miguel could tell just by the look in Ryan's eyes and that hard heat under his hand. "Vasquez?" Miguel asked.

"He's out of view." Ryan's desperation was echoed in his low strained voice

"Good, keep an eye out." Miguel said roughly before he quickly undid Ryan's pants just enough to thrust his hand inside and finally wrap it around Ryan's hard cock.

"Miguel..." It was a hoarse, grateful whisper of relief that slipped out from between Ryan's lips.

It made it all worth it. The risk, the fact that Miguel himself would not be getting off, none of it mattered in the face of the neediness packed into Ryan's utterance of his name.

Miguel stroked fast and tight in the restricted space down Ryan's pants, watching that fire dance in Ryan's eyes. "Let go for me, Ryan."

Miguel pressed fully against Ryan now, loving the solid heat of his body. A nearly inaudible groan escaped Ryan as he tilted his head back slightly. That mask slipped, Ryan biting his lip as he came, pulsing under Miguel's hand.

"Is the coast still clear?" Miguel asked, quickly as he removed his hand.

Ryan just nodded, still slightly dazed.

Miguel leaned in for a quick kiss, unable to resist that expression on Ryan's face. Ryan instantly responded, nipping Miguel's lower lip as he pulled back.

"Mmm...you can threaten me anytime, gato."

Miguel grinned and backed off completely. Miguel tugged at his pants uncomfortably. He was half hard and there was nothing he could do about it. Shit. He needed to learn to plan better.

"Problem?" There was that laughter in Ryan's voice again, hidden in faux innocence.

Miguel just glared at him silently, before checking to make sure no one was looking, not even Vasquez. Ryan had moved so that his face was hidden from outside view, and he could finally safely drop that stone mask completely.

"I've got a solution, but you're not going to like it." Ryan said, still far too amused, before he leaned in to whisper huskily in Miguel's ear, words burrowing straight into his brain. "Think of...El Cid...naked...hard...and fucking Guerra."

Shit. That did it. Miguel shuddered in revulsion. "Pendejo. *You're* the cruel one."

"Worked though, didn't it?" Ryan patted the side of Miguel's face. "Besides, I'm the one that has to make it back to his pod with his shorts full of jizz."

"True." Miguel chuckled at that, smirking. "Although, if you don't stop with those disgusting fucking visuals about El Cid, I'm never touching you again. I'll be fucking impotent."

Ryan faked a look of horror, before moving a finger over his lips. "Never again."

Miguel smiled, before his face settled back into it's own mask with regret. "Time to go back, now that you've been *thoroughly* warned away from the tit trade. Any information I should have gotten out of you?"

"Nah, everything's set for now. You should start dosing El Cid soon."

"Consider it done." Miguel said before shaking his head slightly. "I can't believe I'm actually trying to piss the angry motherfucker off *more*."

"Use your judgment, if you think he's already on edge enough, let his natural charm handle it. Just get word to me so I'll stop spicing up his meals." There was that worry lurking in Ryan's demeanor again. "Be careful. We want him pissed at Pancamo, not you."

And it wasn't worry that Miguel couldn't get the job done. It was that worry *for* Miguel. It threw Miguel off again. Just another little shock, adding up slowly. More evidence that Ryan wanted a real partner, that he didn't think of Miguel as a pawn. Miguel just nodded in response.

Ryan gave him one more quick devilish grin. "Now go and play nice with the Cro-Magnon man."

Miguel snorted, and jabbed a finger gently into Ryan's chest as he went to leave. "I told you to stop that, I don't need to be thinking of that motherfucker and sex."

Ryan grimaced slightly. "I didn't mean *that* nice. Now I have to go see Sister Pete, I'm so emotionally scarred."

Miguel grinned, quick and bright, before he finally left the safety under the stairs. His own mask of stone falling back into place as he went to collect Vasquez and head back to El Norte's table.

~ Chapter 6: Friction and Faith ~

Ryan slunk down the hall near the hospital ward and the cafeteria, making his way to the janitor's closet that was perfect for quick meetings with Miguel while he was working his shift in the infirmary. Miguel should already be there, and Ryan didn't want to leave him alone growing antsy in the small space for too long. It had been two days since Miguel's pleasant surprise under the stairs. They didn't really have any business to discuss. El Cid was already starting to unravel nicely and the tension between the gangs was getting even thicker every day. The fucking boxing was even called off, or 'postponed' according to Murphy, delaying Cyril's final match. Ryan didn't have time to deal with it right now. He was starting to wonder if waiting until El Cid took a dirt nap to hold the final match wouldn't be a good plan. It was all for show, to make Cyril look good, and nobody was paying any fucking attention at the moment.

Then Ryan heard footsteps approaching and someone turned into the hall, apparently heading for the same closet. Busmalis. Shit. The old fuck was whistling and had his little wheeled bucket and mop. Wait a minute. It *was* the closet where the cleaning supplies for the hospital ward were kept, but Busmalis shouldn't be here now. He already had his shit and he was no where near the end of his shift. Ryan had kept a careful eye on the scheduling and movements of people.

Busmalis spotted him and stopped with a stumbling jerk, low whistling faltering as his eyes darted around nervously.


Ryan strolled over, casual and cool. Like this was where he belonged. Ryan's self possession and seeming sense of purpose threw Busmalis even further off. The guy was practically sweating.

"Yo, Busmalis...what are you doing here man?" Ryan tilted his head, studying the man like Ryan was in the right and Busmalis was in the wrong.

"Oh...Hiya, O'Reily!" He practically knocked over his fucking bucket, he was so jittery. "I'm cleaning...the halls. That's my job you know...to clean." He started whistling again, starting to nervously push his mop around, haphazardly cleaning and looking guilty as sin.

Yeah, he was definitely up to something. But, as far as Ryan could tell, it was guilt and fear about his own secrets, not suspicion about what Ryan was up to. The guy was lost in his own head, panicking, and it had nothing to do with Ryan. Since he wasn't an immediate threat to Ryan and Miguel's goings on, Ryan decided to file it away and just make the motherfucker scram for now. He could ferret out what Busmalis was hiding later, if he had time. Hell, the guy might just be sneaking a break or stealing or something. As long as it wasn't about Ryan or Miguel, it could wait.

Now to get the fucker to leave. He was afraid of Ryan, and knew to steer clear, and he was obviously worried about being caught where he wasn't supposed to be, so it shouldn't be hard to make him scatter.


After Ryan made Busmalis rabbit off in fear of being found out doing...whatever the hell the old fuck was up to, Ryan slipped back to the supply closet himself. Miguel was already in there, looking a little jittery himself. Miguel really didn't like being in small spaces alone and Ryan had made him wait. Dammit. Ryan immediately went over without thinking, almost embracing Miguel in greeting. Ryan threw an arm around Miguel as he ran his hand comfortingly up Miguel's arm, ending by rubbing the back of Miguel's neck. Miguel unconsciously relaxed quickly under the touch.

"We've got mice hanging around outside." Ryan explained his lateness.

Miguel was leaning into him, his own hand idly stroking over Ryan's arm. "Who?"

Ryan enjoyed the pleasant touch and the easy nearness. "Busmalis. Have you seen him around here before?"

"Well, this is where he keeps his cleaning shit...but he's supposed to be working in the ward already and he had his supplies..."

"Nah, he was acting...squirrelly. He wasn't supposed to be here."

Miguel tensed. "You think he knows..."

"No." Ryan answered quickly. He didn't want Miguel getting paranoid and running off. "He was fucking surprised to see me. Guilty. He's up to something on his own, keep an eye on him."

"Maybe we should just go." Miguel pulled away to head towards the door.

No. That wouldn't do. Ryan played it cool, waving it off as he slunk back towards Miguel. "Nah, I scared him off."

And then Ryan was back within range of that heat, sharing space with Miguel's body as he relaxed back against the wall at Ryan's assurance.

"I owe you, remember?" Ryan breathed against Miguel's neck before he tilted his head to look Miguel in the eyes. "Unless you really want me to leave?"

Ryan pressed into Miguel for the briefest moment, feeling him along every inch of his body, before he pulled back teasingly, pretending he was going to go.

Miguel automatically grabbed a fistful of the front of Ryan's shirt and gave a firm tug, pulling Ryan back to him. Ryan went eagerly, melding with Miguel's body as Miguel licked and nipped at his lips with little playful kisses.

"Teasing Mick." Miguel chuckled fondly, just a little bit breathless. "Is that why you wanted to meet? You don't owe me, tiburón. I'm not keeping score."

"I know." Ryan said with smooth confidence. But actually, he hadn't been quite as sure as he sounded. Ryan had been careful to always give what he got, keeping the deal. He knew Miguel wasn't used to fucking with a guy, *hadn't* before, and was somehow willing and eager to be with Ryan...but Ryan hadn't known how far it went. Ryan had known that desire was lurking under the surface, and was happily surprised that Miguel was giving in to it so readily. It was looking like Miguel wanted Ryan as much as Ryan wanted him, and was willing to admit it now.

Besides...Ryan fucking *liked* it. He liked making Miguel shudder and come. He loved the way Miguel kissed him while Miguel got off. He liked seeing Miguel that way, liked making him that way. Ryan didn't even need Miguel to reciprocate every single time. It was fucking wonderful when he could though. That day under the stairs had been so fucking nice. And unexpected.

"I felt bad. You had to go get locked up with El Cid, you couldn't jerk off. Him listening to you, that's fucking unappealing. Wouldn't want to give him ideas."

Right now Ryan wanted to concentrate on Miguel. If Miguel wanted to return the favor, that would be fucking fantastic, but if Ryan left with that sweet aching pull...well, that was okay too. Ryan would see him again. They would do this again. That thought brought unexpected comfort to Ryan.

"I told you to stop that." Miguel said, exasperated, punching him in the arm, light and playful.

Ryan chuckled and tilted his hips to rub against Miguel's groin. "Hmm...you don't feel impotent." Then he slid his hand around the waist of Miguel's scrubs, just barely dipping down to touch soft skin. "Maybe I should investigate further."

The first thing he did was strip Miguel of his shirt. Not strictly necessary for a quickie in the supply closet. But Ryan wanted to see Miguel.

He liked looking at Miguel far too much. It wasn't just desperation for any touch. That light bronze skin and tight, defined muscles were beginning to turn him on as much as the soft curve of a breast. Strength and power evident...yet Miguel was compact and sleek at the same time. Dangerous. Beautiful.

Ryan pushed Miguel's scrub pants down enough to view that slim waist and free Miguel. Ryan ran his hand over a bicep, idly tracing a tattoo as his other hand slid down, bypassing that dick for the moment to cup Miguel's balls in a warm grasp.

Ryan tasted Miguel's neck with little flicks of his tongue that sent shivers through the Latino. Miguel's head thumped back against the wall as he groaned, exposing more of his neck.

"Mmm...so warm." Ryan hummed against Miguel's skin.

"You have that effect on me, baby." Miguel's low growl of a voice was so close.

"That's not the only effect, gato."

Ryan finally slid his hand up Miguel's cock. Root to tip, just barely grazing the hard shaft with his fingertips. Ryan felt Miguel quiver as he teased him.


"I'll be nice." Ryan whispered against the crook of Miguel's neck as he firmly grasped Miguel, closing his hand around warm, hard flesh.

Ryan's lips moved across Miguel's collarbone, soft, wet kisses as he started stroking Miguel.

Miguel panted. "You know what I was thinking about the other day, under the stairs?"

"New Years resolutions?" Ryan asked innocently.

"I wanted to kiss you so fucking bad. Kiss me, please."

Ryan could hear the desperate truth in that rough plea tugging at him. That's what Miguel wanted? That's what he had been thinking about, kissing? Ryan knew the feeling. A small moan escaped Ryan involuntarily, just the thought sending a pleasant buzz through him. Ryan gave Miguel what he wanted, starting with the softest touch of their mouths, licking at Miguel's lips before his tongue slipped inside to taste and thrust. Turning into a deep clinging kiss that Ryan could feel everywhere, heat spreading through him with each stroke of Miguel's tongue tangling with his. Ryan could kiss Miguel for hours.

Ryan gripped Miguel tight, speeding up his strokes, just the way Miguel liked. He lost himself in Miguel's mouth. Those passionate kisses, that perfect soft pull. Ryan moaned into Miguel's mouth. He was focused on the heat of Miguel in his hand, against his lips, as Miguel came gasping.

Ryan continued kissing Miguel slowly, stealing away his breath just as he tried to catch it. Miguel pulled his scrubs back up, cleaning up quickly without moving away from Ryan, leaving his shirt off. Ryan's fervor had turned into a slow burn as he returned to kissing gently down Miguel's neck, pressed up against the warm bare skin of Miguel's chest. Ryan was fully clothed, hard and untouched against Miguel's hip, but he was content for the moment to just relax here, leaning into Miguel's body as the Latino came down.

Miguel ran his hand over Ryan's hair, stroking him. Which of them was supposed to be the cat again?

"I like you like this." Miguel's voice was soft and warm.

"What? Making you come in a closet?"

Miguel chuckled. "Nah, not the sex. I like seeing you. You know... beneath all the bullshit, you're not that bad. I kinda wish I could see you more."

And Ryan would bet that Miguel hadn't meant to say that. Miguel was in that warm post-orgasmic haze, brain probably not functioning up to speed, and it sounded like it had just slipped out of his mouth.

Ryan just hummed and turned into Miguel's caress. Ryan didn't quite understand him completely, but he had a feeling that Miguel wasn't talking about just physically spending more time with him. Ryan tried to draw a clarification out of him.

"After El Cid is gone we won't have to hide our business relationship...we can be seen talking to each other more." Ryan said it casually. But, surprisingly enough, Ryan had been looking forward to that. Miguel was pretty good company, and Ryan had found himself wanting to see more of him too.

"Mmm...good." Miguel hesitated, tensing a little as he seemed to realize the thoughts flowing easily out of his mouth. But he didn't stop saying them. "I'd like that. But I meant...I like seeing this part of you, behind the mask."

Ryan didn't know what to say to that and Miguel looked a little wary of Ryan's reaction.

Now Ryan was tempted to say things he probably shouldn't, unable to help it in the face of Miguel's disarming honesty. "I can't show this to the scumfucks in here."

It begged the question of why he showed it to Miguel...and felt comfortable doing so.

"I know. You only show it to me, only a little. Thank you." Miguel said in that rough voice as those deep, dark eyes soaked Ryan in.

Oh...that was why. Miguel's words and that soft calmness in his gaze sent a warm little flutter through Ryan. Shit. Miguel carded his fingers through Ryan's hair, still petting him, that constant caress feeling so damn good and spreading that low heat throughout Ryan's body.

Miguel stared at him for a minute before speaking more seriously. "What do you get out of this?" Miguel clarified. "Our partnership?"

Ryan cast a lewd glance southward, pressing into Miguel's body. But it was a thought that was on Ryan's mind lately, not because he didn't know what he was getting out of it...but because what he wanted out of this partnership was quickly changing into something even more than he had planned. Something better.

Miguel chuckled. "Besides getting your horny ass laid, I mean?"

Ryan cocked his head in question, wanting to know Miguel's exact thoughts on the subject. This was a very strange conversation, and he was having an unusually hard time following it, maybe it was the proximity and the fact that all his blood wasn't in his head. Maybe it was the inexplicable rush brought by that look in Miguel's eyes.

Miguel clarified. "You're going through all this trouble to get El Cid out of the way, planning it all out. All I do is follow your lead, and I'm the one that needs the motherfucker gone."

"I told you, when you're in charge we'll be partners in the tit trade, and I'll have El Norte as an ally."

Miguel shook his head slightly, chewing on his lower lip. "That's it? It doesn't seem worth all the dancing your skinny ass has been doing. You already had Adebisi on your side."

"Adebisi is going fucking nuts, and is rediscovering his people." Bitter mockery evident in those last words. "I'm too fucking pale now. My partnership with him was...different, anyway."

He could never really depend on Adebisi or let him in on everything, it was just another game he had to play. Ryan considered how much he wanted to say, and decided to chance it by telling the truth. Taking another step towards letting Miguel in on his mind and plans. Besides, Miguel was a smart guy, he already knew the way Ryan moved. "And it's not really more effort on my part. The way I usually work...I trick someone into doing shit for me, making them think it's what they want. That takes time and coaxing and even more planning. Now with you... for some of that I can just tell you what we need done and you do it. It's easier in the long run."

"You're still spreading rumors and manipulating people and shit. And I need El Cid gone more than you do."

He hadn't tricked Miguel into it though, Ryan had just made him admit what he already wanted, and Miguel knew that. El Cid, as annoying as that ugly motherfucker was, wasn't someone Ryan really needed eliminated. It was a war Ryan was waging mainly to help Miguel. In a way, Ryan *was* doing a lot of the work, at the moment anyway, but Ryan knew that setting up things properly took effort. In the long run, Miguel as a partner would be worth it.

"Yeah, but you're helping." Ryan pinned Miguel with his best honest gaze, and for once it wasn't utter bullshit. "I told you...I want a partner. I need more stability. So do you."

Miguel studied him for a moment before he accepted it as the truth and nodded. "I've got your back, tiburón."

Ryan believed him. And that was why Ryan did it. If he really wanted Miguel helping him, a real partner and ally, which is where this was heading now, this was what Ryan needed to do. And Ryan had finally decided to go all the way with it. Make it *real*. It would feel so fucking good to have someone he could depend on again. He needed it now. And Miguel was turning out to just...fit. Perfectly.

"I'm the brawn, you're the brains, right?" Miguel joked with a smirk.

Ryan grinned with him, laughing softly. "Something like that."

Miguel looked thoughtful. "Just having an ally in here...it helps knowing someone's there."

And that was it exactly. That's what Ryan had been secretly wanting since he'd landed here. It was dangerous though, the trust required was hard to come by, especially for Ryan. He'd been wary of it before, keeping himself to artificial alliances, working with people he could manipulate, never having someone really at his back, never letting them in. The closest he'd come was Beecher before the cancer, they had almost been headed that way, slowly. But they'd both pulled back, Ryan dealing with cancer and getting lost with Gloria, Beecher losing what was left of his mind and finding Keller. That had been back when Ryan thought he'd get out, when he was alone, when it was easier to move. Now Ryan was in it for the long haul, with Cyril.

"It's more than that though...this isn't just about me." Ryan said. He had decided to go ahead and lay it all out for Miguel, let him all the way in. "I need Cyril protected. I can do that better if I have help with shit."

Cyril couldn't have Ryan's back quite like he used to, but just Cyril's presence and his love was a comfort Ryan could lean on. That love and support was something that Ryan had always relied on, even when Cyril was driving him nuts. Cyril was the one constant in his life, and Ryan needed him. Needed to keep them both safe, and Miguel could help with that. It was so much harder now with Ryan trying to keep all those balls in the air by himself. Ryan needed to do something before the stress of keeping it together became too much and he lost his steps.

Miguel nodded. "Don't worry. I've got it."

At the moment, Miguel was focused on El Cid. But Miguel was definitely pulling his weight and when the need arose, Miguel would be right there for Ryan, without any of the barely controlled chaos or bloodthirst of Adebisi. Ryan spent a lot of his time 'handling' Adebisi, steering him the way Ryan wanted. Adebisi was never someone Ryan could really depend on or trust. Ryan kept Adebisi in the dark about a lot of things. And he definitely couldn't touch Adebisi like he did Miguel. Nor did he want to. Hell, he didn't even like spending time around that crazy fuck anymore. In the end...Adebisi had always been just another chess piece for Ryan to move. Miguel could be more than that.

Once El Cid was out of the way, Ryan would have Miguel's strength and cunning on his side. Even now, Ryan could see it. Miguel was showing his potential. He was capable, and understood Ryan's plans without much trouble. They worked well together, fluid and instinctual. Miguel was a man of his word, that elusive *loyalty* that was so rare. As long as you didn't turn on him, like El Cid stupidly had.

"Good. I'm thinking of the future, Miguel. I see the big picture."

Ryan could plan, he could see the steps ahead like no other fucker in here. He needed a hand helping him carry those plans out, to help ease the weight of it all being on Ryan's shoulders. And someone to bounce ideas off of, another viewpoint, would help him hone his plans, tweaking the details, sharpening them to a razor's edge. On the outside with Cyril, even before the accident, Ryan had done most of the heavy lifting when it came to plotting his schemes. Having someone at his back, supporting him, was what Ryan missed. Someone he could share all those details with, someone that understood them, helped his process. A mind that he could brainstorm with.

Being trapped alone in his own constantly moving mind was a slowly building strain. Ryan was tired of dancing alone. And Miguel was falling into to step with him so well. Miguel felt like...more than a pawn, more than just someone in Ryan's pocket. Miguel could be someone who looked out for him, instead of just working with him. And Ryan found himself looking out for Miguel in turn.

Ryan tilted his head, looking into Miguel's eyes, deciding to reach out, testing their alliance. "In fact...I could use your help with something."

"What?" Miguel asked, quick and curious, willing to help.

Ryan just had to kiss him again for that, long slide of Ryan's tongue in his mouth, stealing his breath and making Miguel press into him.

He pulled away as Miguel laughed softly. "Ah...you need that kind of help."

Miguel rubbed against Ryan lasciviously, and Ryan couldn't help but move with him, moaning slightly at the friction before he remembered what he was going to say. And Miguel, while eager, seemed slightly disappointed at the thought that Ryan just wanted sex. Miguel was wrong about that though, and Ryan was going to correct it.

"Nah...but hold that thought." Ryan leered before he continued. "I actually need your help with something else. I need you to keep an eye on somebody for me, as much as you can."


That disappointment slid away, and Miguel's hand slipped down, distracting him again as they talked. Ryan loved Miguel's new ability to multitask.

"Stanislofsky. Nothing big. Just watch him if you see him, listen for anything interesting."

Ryan knew it was a risk, that Russkie cocksucker was a bit too close to the truth behind the boxing matches, and it was dangerous to put Miguel on that trail. Ryan had royally fucked Miguel over with the boxing, but that had been before their current arrangement. Ryan could deal with it if Miguel found out, although it would take some finessing.

But Stanislofsky was a perfect example of why Ryan wanted help. The guy was dangerous, and Ryan could use Miguel's eyes, his outside opinion, his moves, if the guy emerged as a credible threat. Ryan needed backup to comfortably deal with things like this, to alleviate the strain overwhelming him lately.

"The Russian? What the hell's he got to do with us?" Miguel asked, purely curious, no reluctance in his voice.

"Not you, me."

Miguel smirked. "You piss him off already?"

"Nah, of course not." Ryan said faux innocently.

"Mmm hmm..." Miguel, rightly didn't believe him and now looked highly amused. "Don't worry, I'll be your spy in your cold war."

Ryan smiled at that. And fuck...if Ryan was going to tie himself to a real ally, this was what he wanted. Someone that amused him, that he enjoyed spending time with...and that made him come like a freight train. Speaking of...

"So you don't need help with this then?" Miguel asked as he slid one leg between Ryan's, pressing up against Ryan's aching cock.

Ryan groaned and leaned into it. "Mmm..."

Ryan braced his hands on the wall on either side of Miguel's head. So fucking good. Ryan rocked against Miguel. But right as he started to revel in that slow friction burn of relief, he glanced at the bulky and unfamiliar watch on his wrist. Shit. Ryan groaned again, but this time it was full of regret. "We don't have time. I have to get back."

"Are *you* keeping score?" Miguel asked in a low voice.

"No, trust me, merely unfortunate circumstances. If you're not holding that strictly to our tit for tat deal, then neither am I." Ryan said. Yeah, their deal was definitely shifting...and Ryan found that he liked the way it was moving. He liked what it was turning into. Even if he didn't know what it meant yet. "Besides, it was plenty of fun just to watch you come." Ryan finished wickedly.

Fuck. The intense, sucking kiss that earned Ryan rocked him right down to the floor. He wished desperately they had more time. Ryan *may* have whimpered when Miguel pulled away. But he wouldn't swear to it in court.

"Since when do you wear a watch?"

Ryan wasn't going to admit out loud that Miguel had a tendency to dangerously make him lose his sense of time, and he'd deliberately worn one to be safe. "Better safe than sorry. We've got to watch it gato, if we're going to be doing this as often as we are."

That was an admittance all itself, an abandonment of the earlier plan to keep apart for a while. Ryan couldn't help it, these little snatches of time he spent with Miguel were turning out to be rare bright spots in his days. So many plans were changing, but Ryan knew -- the best plans moved fluidly and naturally with the circumstances.

Miguel's hand stroked over the unusual watch, part of a large leather wrist cuff instead of a usual band. "This huge leather motherfucker is going to get stolen."

"People don't steal from me." Which was mostly true. But while it was camouflaged slightly by the fact that it looked like a wrist cuff at a glance, he'd caught Adebisi, the fucking watch thief, greedily eyeing it a couple of times.

Miguel finally pulled away with a wry shake of his head. "Of course not, tiburón. Stupid me."

Ryan wanted nothing more than to pull him back. Fuck. He had to get it together. Covering up part of the distraction might help. He picked Miguel's shirt up off the floor, tossing it back to him. "Remember, keep an eye out for Busmalis."

Miguel nodded, pulling on the thin scrub shirt. "See you later, Ryan."

Miguel left first, leaving Ryan to try to get his body under control before he went back out to face the game.


The next day, Ryan sat casually on a bed in the infirmary as a nurse examined his arm. He wasn't keeping up his usual flirt, he was too busy scanning the ward for a certain orderly.

"Well, it looks fine. It's a little red and irritated, but it's healed up nicely." The nurse said, drawing his attention back to the matter at hand, the freshly healing scar on his arm.

"Yeah, it just itches."

"It itches?"

Ryan could tell she wasn't buying it as she shook her head.

"I can give you a cream to apply to help the irritation, but that's it." She sighed and left to get it, but Ryan wasn't paying attention anymore because Miguel was in sight and coming over.

"Yo, O'Reily." Miguel came to stand near him, tidying the bed next to the one Ryan was sitting on. "Did something happen?" Miguel asked quietly, concerned. It was clear he was asking about Ryan, not their plans.

"Nah, I'm fine."

The nurse had returned, slapping a small tube of some anti-itch shit in his hand.

"He's itchy." Disbelief and weariness clear in the woman's tone.

Ryan wished the bitch would just leave, but couldn't think of a way to get her to leave them alone without her just sending him on his way back.

Miguel chuckled. "I'll make sure he gets back to EmCity, they need you over with Johnson, he's fucking complaining again."

The nurse rushed off to attend to the other patient. Problem solved by his gato then. Ryan blinked at Miguel in question.

Miguel shrugged, smirking. "The nurses like and trust me. I'm *helpful*.

"I'll bet."

"How did you even get in here with an excuse as lame as itchy?"

"I'm charming..." Ryan gave him his best teasing smile. "...and it's Gloria's day off, so they're not as worried about my ulterior motives."

"What exactly is itching you?" Miguel's gaze flicked down Ryan's body. "I told you you'd pick something up."

"Ha ha." Ryan said mirthlessly. "No, it's my arm."

Ryan turned his arm over to show Miguel the scar where Shannon's name used to be.

Miguel hissed lowly under his breath. "Shit...that must've felt pleasant." Miguel briefly ran a finger over the scar. "Is it really bothering you or did you just need something?"

Ryan shook his head, keeping an eye out to see if anyone was paying attention to them. "Everything's fine, running smooth. My fucking arm really is itching the hell out of me."

And that was mostly true. The scar tissue was tight and dry, tingling and itching him like bugs under his skin. But it may have been mostly mental...he had kind of just wanted to see Miguel. Ryan wouldn't generally come to the infirmary for such a small thing unless he got to see Gloria.

Ryan was distracted from following that thought as Miguel casually took the tube out of Ryan's hand Miguel grasped his arm, touch firm but careful...and so fucking warm. Ryan just stared as Miguel applied a small amount of the cream to Ryan's scar. The odd unnecessary kindness was casual and without thought. Like it was natural. Miguel just automatically helping Ryan for no reason. Miguel just kept talking as he rubbed the cool cream into Ryan's skin. His gentle rubbing touch sent warmth sparking up Ryan's arm.

"There. Better?" Miguel asked, amused, as he finished.

"Yeah." Ryan answered casually, trying to hide the flutter under his skin at Miguel's touch. It had nothing to do with sex...and it still felt wonderful. Ryan hadn't wanted it to stop.

"Why'd you do it?" Miguel was serious now as he stared, one finger gliding over Ryan's arm, not quite touching the scar.

Ryan looked around again to make sure no one was paying them any mind. There were no conscious patients nearby, and the nurses just bustled by ignoring them. Instead of answering, Ryan gestured to the long, older scar marring Miguel's face. "Why did you do that?"

Miguel didn't mind the avoidance, he just tilted his head, studying Ryan. "You really want to know?"

When Ryan nodded slightly, Miguel continued. His voice was low, tinged with a deep sadness and turned inside himself. "I was fucking crazy. I did it for my baby. I thought...God was punishing me." Miguel shrugged slightly. "I couldn't do anything to help keep him alive...so I did this." Miguel shook his head. "Nobody gets it."

Shit. But Ryan thought maybe he did. "Like penance?"

"Yeah." Miguel blinked at Ryan in slight surprise, before letting out a dark, weary sigh. "It didn't help."

"Yeah...God never fucking helped me either. He doesn't make deals." Ryan's voice contained a similar darkness, the bitterness of his years being abandoned, by the priests that were supposed to help people and a deity that didn't give a fuck, almost slipping to the surface.

"Is that why you're always fucking yawning during Father Ray's service?" Miguel joked with a little smile.

Ryan shrugged. "The words don't mean anything. I only go out of habit." As earnest as the good Father appeared, the church had turned it's back on Ryan long ago and Ryan had done the same. Miguel still seemed to believe though, and it puzzled Ryan. Maybe Ryan missed having the faith that he'd lost after he'd learned the cruel truth, the catholic church and god and everyone involved were just like everyone else -- not to be relied on. "How can you still believe in that shit after everything?"

Ryan didn't know what compelled him to ask, but he partially just wanted to keep talking.

"I don't know...I just do." It was Miguel's turn to shrug thoughtfully, he'd stopped touching Ryan now...and Ryan felt the loss. "Just because I'm pissed, or I don't understand, doesn't mean I don't believe."

Ryan just shook his head. There were some things about the loco Latino that he wouldn't ever understand. Miguel's faith certainly hadn't seemed to help him any...then again, considering Sister Pete and Father Ray's support of Miguel, maybe it did.

Ryan's mind wandered back to Miguel's original question. "I did this..." Ryan ran his hand over his scar. "...because I was fucking crazy." Ryan said with a little smirk before he continued more seriously, voice going quiet. "I did it for her."


"Yeah..." She hadn't been at the forefront of Ryan's mind lately, and he hadn't even really noticed. And it seemed more and more like every time he did think of her, it was out of habit. He couldn't quite remember the feeling of fevered conviction he'd had when he'd went fucking nuts and slowly scraped away the trace of Shannon on his skin...but he did remember that he'd been secretly hoping his obsession with Gloria could be scratched away as well. "It was fucking stupid."

Miguel snorted, and looked at Ryan like he was the crazy one. "No shit."

Ryan remembered that Miguel had seen it, his love for Gloria, and dismissed it as impossible. 'There's no love in Oz.' But whatever was happening to Ryan's feelings about Gloria -- he would always believe that the possibility existed. That was one area where Miguel's miraculous faith was lacking.

Ryan saw that things in the ward were starting to shift, a guard patrolling near now and patients coming in sight. Time to go. He had to get back to Cyril anyway.

"I should head back." Ryan took his little bottle of ointment and stood up regretfully.

"Yeah...I've got shit to do."

"You've got people to fucking annoy." Ryan said with a smirk. "One in particular."

Miguel took the hint that he was talking about El Cid and gave him a coded progress report. "Yeah...some people are so easy to piss off. They've got so many enemies."

Sounded like thing were still going well then. Good.

Miguel winked at him before he beckoned a guard over to take Ryan back to Emcity.

~ Chapter 7: Festivities and Fists ~

Ryan was delivering lunch again while Miguel worked in the hospital ward. He was moving far more quickly and efficiently than usual. As Miguel discretely watched Ryan being an uncharacteristically hard worker, his mind centered on the Irishman.

Miguel had thought he'd said too much the other day closeted away with Ryan. But it had turned out...good.

Ryan had been right there the next day, showing Miguel even more. It had only been around two weeks, such a small amount of time in the long stretch of his days here. But in here anything that broke up the dull mind numbing routine, anything real and bright against the gray, seemed to last forever, filling up all the empty space and standing out. And in that short but hyper-real time, Miguel was already deep into dangerous territory...and he didn't feel like turning back.

He was starting to trust Ryan -- and that was potentially more suicidal than any noose. Miguel had tried feeling Ryan out, asking questions about their partnership. Searching for clues, for any sign of that web of ulterior motives Ryan had for everything. Searching for any sign that this was anything more than what he said it was, that his plans for Miguel were something else. Listening not just to his words, but what was underneath. Miguel vainly looked for a trap, but everything Ryan said...Miguel believed him. It only made that trust seem more right.

It all seemed to be exactly what it felt like. An ally. A fucking friend. Looking out for each other, bringing each other relief. Relief with that little spark of growing joy underneath.

Miguel was so fucking screwed if he was wrong. Maybe this was what Ryan did, his real talent. Making everything seem so real, so comfortable. Making you think you were crawling inside. Maybe it was all a show. The guy had gotten his own fucking brother locked up, for a completely self serving reason. Yet, Miguel wanted to trust him. Wanted so much from him.

Fucking suicide. Miguel tried to tell himself, tried to remind himself. Ryan would turn on him. Ryan would not keep him safe. Ryan couldn't be trusted completely by anyone, even his own blood. But Miguel was so fucking lost. All day spent pushing El Cid closer to the edge, and Ryan always there too. In Miguel's head.

Ryan seemed more and more human, more like someone Miguel fucking *liked*, cared about and understood. But then there were those facts Miguel tried to hold on to, those facts that now contradicted everything Miguel felt.

Ryan turned on everyone.

Ryan was only out for himself.

It was all crashing together in Miguel's head. Past facts clashing with everything Miguel saw of Ryan now, everything he felt around the man.

It had been so much easier when Ryan was just another fucking asshole taking advantage of Miguel's predicament, when working with him was just the business of survival. Before Ryan showed him those glimpses of a soul, flashes that he cared.

Such a short time and Ryan was making him feel...not alone for the first time in his life.

It could be suicide. Or it could be something so good it would be crazy to give it up. And every time Miguel looked at Ryan, really looked at that skeleton under the skin, Miguel was more convinced it was the latter.

Shit. Now Ryan was the one making Miguel slack off. He'd been making a bed for the past fifteen minutes. Shit.

Ryan passed him on his way out, having finished in record time while unknowingly distracting Miguel.

"Supply closet." Ryan muttered under his breath, barely heard over the rattle of the cart, gone practically before the words even reached Miguel's brain.

And Miguel felt that little spark of anticipation. He wanted to get away...with the person he was trying to get away from. He was so very fucked up.

Miguel snuck away shortly after. He smirked as he passed the lunch cart, left unattended in an empty hall. Like Ryan was off delivering food to the private rooms, not hanging in a closet.

Miguel slipped into the small room, which was rapidly becoming almost comfortably familiar. Ryan was there waiting for him. Miguel tried to shove down all the little doubts and fears crawling around his brain. Just for this moment.

"I can't be away for too long, we didn't have anything planned."

Ryan just grinned secretively. "Don't worry, just a quick surprise."

Miguel finally noticed that Ryan had a covered food tray sitting on a shelf.

"You brought food? I'm not hungry."

"Nah." Ryan shook his head as he uncovered the plate with a small flourish. "You thirsty?"

Ryan had revealed a bottle of vodka, lying down on the tray next to two shot glasses. "Happy New Year's."

And Miguel had almost forgotten again. The only way he measured years anymore was by parole hearings and time served. The landmark of a new year not mattering on January first, but on the day it meant one less year on his sentence. But here Ryan was again, reminding him of normal things he'd celebrated on the outside. Sharing them with him.


Ryan saw that odd little smile flit across Miguel's face at his surprise. It was a welcome sight, and what he had been hoping for. They'd been locked down last night, when the clock chimed twelve, signaling the real new year. Cyril had been asleep already and Ryan wasn't going to wake him for a bitter, hollow mockery of celebration. What good was New Year's anymore? It wasn't a new beginning for either of them. It was just another year in this shithole.

But upon waking, Ryan had wished him a happy New Years anyway and found that he wanted to share it with someone else. He wanted to do at least a little drinking, with someone who could bring a bit of light to it.

"Loco." Miguel chuckled. "I can't get drunk, I'm fucking working."

Ryan scoffed, disappointment creeping in. "You're not a fucking surgeon, you change bedpans."

And that had been the wrong thing to say, even jokingly.

Miguel was slightly pissed, pulling back. "At least I'm actually fucking helping instead of giving people cold nuggets and food poisoning."

Shit. Whoops. Ryan had gotten so used to joking with Miguel that forgot how touchy he was when it came to the things that mattered to him. But Ryan really hadn't meant it to sting.

"My bad. I was just kidding, it's cool. I just don't get why you like working here." Ryan had to soothe that defensive anger, recapture that little grin. "But then again, helping people isn't really my thing. But I know you do it because it matters to you. You're fucking good at it too. You actually care." Ryan said, sincere for once. He didn't really understand what Miguel got out of it, but Miguel did bring something to it. He actually tried.

"I know, you're only into helping yourself, tiburón." Miguel said. And there was something hidden in his voice, almost haunted and weary.

Ryan had noticed that something seemed to be up with Miguel since he'd entered. Miguel seemed almost conflicted about something, but like he was trying to bury it for the moment. Ryan wanted to ask, but figured maybe he should get some alcohol in Miguel first.

But then Miguel smiled slightly, shaking his head, obviously trying to hold on to a bit of cheer. "Man, you do know how to kiss ass."

Ryan just smiled back, more happy that Miguel wasn't upset any longer than he was offended by Miguel's remark. "It's true. Besides, I finally have a second alone with you, I don't want you grumpy."

Miguel chuckled. "Yeah, because you want to get your horny ass laid. Shit, man, I didn't get this much action on the outside. You put out more than Maritza did."

Ryan had a feeling that was payback for the bedpan comment, so he let it slide.

"Just one quick drink. To celebrate." Ryan coaxed, holding up one finger.

Miguel gave in. "What are we celebrating, baby?"

"A New Year, a new partnership..." Ryan poured two shots and winked at Miguel. "...great fucking sex."

Miguel laughed and took a glass and went to down it, but Ryan stopped him with a soft touch on his arm. "Wait. Not like that. Come here."

Ryan pulled him closer, hooking his right arm around Miguel's in front of them, so they could drink from their own glasses, but with their arms threaded together.

"Got to do it proper, huh?" Miguel commented, amused. His warm arm was braced against Ryan's as they raised their glasses to their mouths.


"Sláinte." Miguel pronounced the obviously unfamiliar word well, right before they downed the shots together.

As that fire burned down his throat, Ryan moved smooth and quick to pull Miguel into a sloppy kiss, licking the trace off of his lips, chasing the taste in the heat of Miguel's mouth.

"Mmm..." Miguel murmured happily as Ryan ended the kiss. "I like the way you drink, Ryan."

Ryan just smiled, and shuffled back to lean against the wall, pulling Miguel with him. He made sure the Vodka was still within reach on the shelf, and they put their glasses down next to it so their hands would be very, very free to wander.

They kissed slowly, without any real intent, just enjoying each other and the stolen time. Miguel pulled back, running a hand lightly over Ryan's chest, his eye seeming to catch Ryan's ever present cross. Miguel tugged on it slightly, turning it in those graceful fingers.

"You always wear this, don't you?"

Ryan just nodded.

"I thought you didn't believe in this shit anymore?"

"That's not really about God, it's more about Cyril." This got Ryan a raised eyebrow.

Ryan reached over to awkwardly pour another shot, as he tried not to stray too far from Miguel, precious liquid spilling slightly, making the glass sticky. He poured Miguel another shot as well, but the Latino didn't drink it, didn't even bother picking it up. He just stayed listening to Ryan.

"I was raised in all that Catholic shit. When me and Cyril were growing up, everyone was always fucking telling us that we were bad, and if we didn't repent we would go to hell. Especially me."

"What a surprise, tiburón." Miguel smirked. "Don't you have a fucking tattoo of a cross on your back, too? For someone with no faith, you have a funny fucking way of showing it."

Ryan shrugged. "It's hard to shake that shit, no matter how abandoned you feel." He suddenly needed another shot, so he did Miguel's. Ryan cleared his throat of the pleasant burn, trying to shake off the old pain and finish his story. "Besides, that's more about Irish pride."

Miguel's fingers ghosted back over the cross. "Cyril got it for you?" Miguel guessed.

"It was kind of an inside joke with us. Always razzing each other about needing to save our souls." Ryan grinned now, wide and devilish. "Back in the early days, when we were just joining a gang, we had to knock over this pawn shop. The guy would never take stolen shit, he had *integrity*. But an honest pawn shop? Not in our fucking neighborhood."

Miguel snorted, amused, and listened to Ryan spin the tale.

"We sold most of the shit, to smarter pawn shops and some fences. But Cyril had taken this." Ryan fingered the little gold cross with a small nostalgic smile. "It wasn't worth much, so he kept it, and gave it to me. He told me - 'God helps those who helps themselves.' If I didn't have faith, he'd steal it for me."

Miguel chuckled darkly, shaking his head. "Man, that is so fucked up."

Then Miguel sobered slightly. "I don't get you, man. I hear the way you talk about Cyril, I watch you with him. If you love him so much..." Miguel trailed off, obviously struggling with something.

"What?" Ryan's thoughts were already clouding with the buzz of the alcohol, blood rushing at the slightest provocation. He didn't know if he would like where this was heading, something about that look on Miguel's face. Whatever was bothering him was coming to the surface...and it didn't look good for Ryan.

"How the fuck could you betray him and bring him here? Make him do that shit? You're supposed to protect him, not use him. Are you that fucking selfish?" Miguel wasn't yelling, keeping his voice low and questioning, like he was really trying to figure Ryan out. That tone carried a weight that meant more than volume. Each quiet, yet intense, accusation thudding in Ryan's head, hitting him like a blow.

"Do you ever think of him or is it always about you?" Miguel's voice was angry and accusatory underneath the confusion, words coming fast. "I know you always think of yourself first...but shit. He gave up his life for you. Even after you landed him here, you left him unprotected and you let him get fucking raped."

Motherfucker. Ryan was vulnerable, giving Miguel another piece of himself -- and Miguel spit in his face. Sudden anger surged through Ryan at the damning words, as quick and unexpected as lightening, sped by the buzz of the liquor turned ugly. Before he could think, Ryan's fist was swinging for Miguel's face. Shut up shut up shut up. Had to shut that fucking mouth.

Contact. Flesh hit flesh with a hot shock. Hard and powerful as the wild swing caught Miguel off guard. Fist to jaw, glancing off of that mouth.

Miguel took it, head turning to the side and back slightly with the force. And before it even finished registering, Ryan's back was slamming into the wall, hard, as Miguel flew forward to restrain him. Hands clamped on Ryan's upper arms like irons, sweat slick but firm and unyielding.

"You motherfucking cocksucker!" Ryan yelled.

Ryan bucked, still riding that rush of hot anger, fighting the strong, solid body that was just barely holding him back.

"Shit! Back off O'Reily!"

Miguel threw himself into it, using all the strength in those arms as Ryan instinctively kept trying to throw him off and break free of Miguel's grasp. He wasn't quite able to. Miguel kept slamming him back, struggling until he finally had Ryan pinned.

Ryan's struggles grew weaker as the flash of adrenaline ran it's course. It had been only seconds, but he felt so tired. Ryan stared at Miguel's face...no mark yet, no blood.

"Calm the fuck down!"

Ryan had fucking snapped.

Because those words hurt.

Miguel had uttered out loud the thoughts that ran through Ryan's head at night after Ryan had soothed away another nightmare.

It was the truth.

And it stung with a sharp fiery pain, like a bullet straight through the heart.

Ryan sagged back against the wall, energy leaving him in the wake. His eyes were closed now as his head rested back against the cool stone.

Aunt Brenda's fucking voice was in his head. 'You have the devil inside.'

Old bitch.

Maybe she was right.

His own selfishness and loss of control damned the only one who was always there for him.

Ryan waited for Miguel to...punch him, or leave him to slide to the floor alone...or whatever. It didn't matter.

But that crushing, restraining grip relaxed, wary and not quite backing off yet.

"I shouldn't have said shit. It's not my fucking business, I crossed the line...I'm sorry." Miguel said, calm and low, devoid of emotion.

That voice was dead and empty, the apology hollow. It sounded like pulling away.

No. Irrational need to hold on taking over, spilling the pain and truth from Ryan's lips. He needed to tell *someone*, more than he'd told fucking McManus, that had been different. That had been for Gloria's ears. He needed to say it out loud. Share the weight by giving it voice.

"You're right." It was a rasp.

Miguel stayed, Ryan could feel the warm weight against him. Ryan opened his eyes to see Miguel waiting, unsure.

"I wanted to shut you the fuck up...because you were right." Ryan continued. "I always put myself first...he always looked out for me, followed me...and he paid for it."

That restraining grip of Miguel's hands turned into a soft caress, a comforting stroke down Ryan's arms as Ryan poured his words into the starkly quiet room. The loose press of Miguel's body almost holding Ryan now.

"I wasn't thinking. I lost control. I didn't think of the consequences. I..." Ryan's voice cracked a little. "I didn't think he'd really get caught, you know? I came here not long after his accident and I...wasn't used to how he was. I missed him. The way he used to be. I wanted to believe there was still something of him left, that he'd manage to get away with it. I forced him to do it." Ryan couldn't stop the thoughts that were always in the back of his mind from falling from his lips now. "After...after he came here, I still wanted to believe there was enough left of him that he could take care of himself. Even though I *knew* there wasn't. I was afraid to face him knowing it was all my fault again. I'd fucked him over. Took him for granted. And he paid."

It had been easier to stay lost in Gloria than to deal with the damage he had caused.

Too much. Too much. He'd said too much. But he couldn't stop it.

"Shh...It's okay, Ryan." Miguel muttered meaningless things, mostly in Spanish, kissing him gently to stop the words, stop the hurt. Soft press of lips on Ryan's, taste of salt.

Miguel pulled back, but Ryan's hand rested on the back of his neck, keeping him close as Miguel kept up that soft caress.

"I'm sorry." Miguel apologized, and it wasn't hollow this time. "I didn't mean to...I shouldn't have said it like that."

Ryan shrugged slightly, trying to pull himself back together. "The truth fucking hurts and all that shit."

Ryan felt so open and raw...and somehow better. Getting those words out, braced here with that comforting heat. Fuck. What was he doing?

Ryan started to pull his walls back up in panic, wondering what the hell he was spilling his guts to Miguel for...wondering what it meant that it felt right. Just then though, before he could retreat behind the mask, Miguel pinned him with that deep gaze, keeping Ryan there.

"You know my baby that died?" Miguel's own pain and guilt was evident in his voice. "The doctor said it was my fucking fault. All the drugs and shit we did before, fucked him up. Maritza wanted to stop...but I didn't think anything could hurt us. I didn't think anything could touch me...and my boy died because of it."

Miguel had opened up his own wound for Ryan to see. It wasn't quite the same, and Miguel hadn't fucked up in the same spectacularly selfish, premeditated way that Ryan had. But Ryan felt less naked, now that Miguel had stripped down too. Shared his own pain.

Miguel was leaning forward against him now, and Ryan couldn't tell who was supporting who. Ryan stayed resting there with him in the quiet.

"I'm starting to trust you...and it's fucking scary." Miguel whispered against Ryan, so low Ryan almost didn't hear it.

That was it then, the conflict and struggle Ryan had seen turning in Miguel. Ryan didn't know what to say, couldn't think of anything that Miguel would believe.

"I'm a scary guy." Ryan answered with his own ghostly quiet words, slightly bitter tinge to them. "So are you."

Ryan tried to let him know just with his voice and his touch, hands stroking slowly over Miguel's back, that in this case, the trust wasn't misplaced and Miguel wasn't alone. Ryan wanted Miguel to trust him...because he trusted Miguel now. And Ryan now had no intention of turning on him. Ever. Ryan didn't know how to make Miguel see that though. But Miguel seemed okay anyway. Apparently Ryan's little breakdown had shown him something he needed to see.

Miguel pulled away finally with a little shake. "Man, from now on? I don't think we should fucking drink."

Ryan chuckled softly, relieved. "Yeah, it doesn't bring out our best qualities does it?"

"It's just not the holidays without some drinking and violence."

"Well, now that we've had our 'fun'. It's time to go back." Ryan stashed the glasses and bottle back under the tray lid, shaking his head. Fuck, they were lucky the yelling hadn't attracted anybody, but Ryan knew it wouldn't. Not here. He'd taken pains to arrange their solitude. Hacks would rather not be bothered, especially if you distracted them with cash.

"This isn't exactly what I had planned." Ryan said, apologetic as he turned back to just look at Miguel, wanting to see that he was okay.

"Nice punch, baby." Miguel said appreciatively as he rubbed his jaw.

Ryan reached out, gingerly grazing Miguel's mouth and jaw with his fingertips. "Sorry."

"Think it'll bruise?" Miguel asked, smiling and bouncing slightly on his feet. He was in extremely good humor for someone who had just taken a punch to the face.

Crazy fucker, Ryan thought fondly. "Are you a masochist or something? Cuz I can hit you again if you like it so damn much." Ryan joked in a sweet tone, glad for the lighter mood, no matter how odd it was.

"Nope." Miguel said quickly, still grinning. "If it's visible, I'm going to tell El Norte that the wops did it."

Ryan grinned back now, getting it. "Perfect...might make you look bad though."

Miguel shrugged. "Nah, I'll spin it my way. They'll be so pissed off that it'll be easy. And if it bruises, it'll be obvious that *somebody* hit me. Might as well turn it to our advantage."

"Jesus...you're starting to sound like me." Ryan said, pleased. "Do you want me to hit you again for good measure?"

He was joking again, of course. Sadism wasn't really his thing. The regret at hurting Miguel in his moment of defensive pain tugged at Ryan.

"No more fucking punching me." Miguel said, mock sternly. "I like this better."

Miguel leaned in to kiss him again. Firm but sweet, their tongues just barely teasing before he pulled away.

"Did that hurt?" Ryan asked with slight worry.

Miguel shook his head in the negative and teased. "Sorry, tiburón. It wasn't *that* good of a punch."

"Speaking of bruises..." Ryan rubbed his sore upper arms.

"Shit..." Miguel moved forward again. "Sorry...but I couldn't just let you keep hitting me."

"No shit." Ryan smiled wryly as Miguel's gentle touch danced back over his arms in sympathy. "It's not your fault."

"You're so fucking pale..."

"Yeah, but I don't bruise easy. If I do...well, it is cold. I guess I'll catch a chill and wear my jacket a lot."

"Man, that thing is fucking ugly."

"Hey! Fuck off, I like it." Ryan said without any vehemence, back to just joking. The intense atmosphere had just...evaporated, passing back into their easy togetherness. Somehow more comfortable and real now that they had moved past it. "Besides, I'm not taking fashion advice from the guy who rips the sleeves off of all his shirts for no fucking reason."

Miguel just chuckled and kissed him again.

His surprise hadn't exactly gone well, but Ryan felt somehow lighter now. He didn't regret doing this at all. As Ryan turned to leave, he stopped. He'd almost forgotten to check in on El Cid, it kept slipping away from him, distracted by Miguel. "Wait, what's the buzz in El Norte lately?"

A little shadow passed over Miguel's face, stress showing back up around his eyes. Not good. "Things are going exactly like we want...fast. El Cid's close to the fucking edge, shouldn't be long now."

"You okay?"

Miguel just shook his head. "He's hard to deal with, but I got it."

Ryan wanted to trust him, he didn't want to piss Miguel off again by underestimating his abilities. But he didn't want Miguel getting hurt either. "You need to tell me if we need to change things...I have back up plans if he starts to turn on you."

Miguel put on his stone face, confident, brooking no argument. "No. Not yet. I'm still safe. Don't worry, Ryan."

Then he slipped away with a last kiss. Ryan waited a moment for safety, his brain already moving and charting alternate courses just in case.

~ Chapter 8: Devil's Apprentice ~

Miguel sat at El Norte's table in the quad, observing. El Cid was on his way over as he received a whispered report from Guerra.

"Those wops can't pull this shit. Get back to moving what we got." Harsh low bark from El Cid that had Guerra moving again.

"What's up, El Cid?" Miguel asked, concerned, as El Cid sat down with a slam of a chair next to him.

"Word is Pancamo got a shipment in and split it with Adebisi, holding back from us." El Cid leaned in close, eyes wild as they always were lately. "You need to work Poet and anyone else you can to find out. If it's true...we got to make a move Miguel."

Miguel nodded obediently, then he was up and moving. El Cid was close. Things were moving at blinding speed all of a sudden. Miguel had been pushing every button El Cid had, and it was paying off. The bruise that had blossomed on Miguel's face, and the vague, but damning story he had woven about it was just another little shove, making El Cid's blood boil. Not because he gave a shit about Miguel, but because the Italians had dared to touch someone in El Norte. The wops were keeping enough of a distance, and things were tense enough between the two groups that no one would be able to pull apart Miguel's story. There was too much mistrust. El Cid was sure that the Italians had roughed up Miguel, while Pancamo was just as sure that it was a lie El Cid was spreading.

The bruise had faded now, but the conflict between the Italians and El Norte was blazing brighter than ever. Eyefucking and little squabbles were happening more frequently between the two groups. Adebisi was dancing on the sidelines in wait.

El Cid wasn't thinking clearly, not that he ever did. Stupid impatient motherfucker. El Cid wanted a dangerous war, wanted to show everyone that they weren't pussies, acting out of anger and pride instead of finding a better course...which was exactly what Miguel and Ryan had been working towards. Using the man's own temper and ruthlessness against him. He was so fucking close to making an overt and stupid move against the Italians...and it would be his death.

But there was a catch, Miguel went to the library first, planting a quick note for Ryan. El Cid needed someone to make the move. He hadn't planned it yet, but Miguel knew it was coming, he could *feel* it. El Cid's nightly rantings about making a point made it clear, and this proof of the Italian's betrayal would push El Cid to bring his angry words to reality. He wanted to strike a direct blow against the Italians...and he would turn to Miguel to do it. Miguel *knew* it, down to his bones.

As Miguel went to scope out Poet, his brain worked. He knew there were ways out, to keep himself safe, he could see at least one. Ryan probably had more options, he had hinted at it in their last meet, and Miguel knew that things were playing out just like Ryan wanted. Ryan had told Miguel to get word to him as soon as Miguel knew it was time. As soon as El Cid was at the perfect point. They needed to move at just the right moment if they wanted their plans to work. The rush built in Miguel's blood. It was time. Shit. He hoped he was right about Ryan's moves.


Ryan slid into their storage closet. Miguel hadn't been kept waiting long. Ryan looked like he was in full planning mode. Energy crackling under that seemingly relaxed surface. But there was an odd joy in his expression at seeing Miguel. Miguel was standing tensely, moving a bit, but not quite pacing, and Ryan reacted to it. Ryan came close, with his own straight stance, instead of falling into his usual casual lean against the wall. It worked to ground Miguel a little, and Miguel focused on him, stopping his anxious movement.

"It's time. El Cid is going to fucking blow soon." Miguel got right into it, before either of them could be...distracted. "I'll do it."

Ryan blinked. But he was serious at the tone in Miguel's voice. "Do what?"

"Slip him a hot shot, a real one." It was the first solution Miguel could think of. Simple, effective, and it would be hard for anyone to find out that Miguel had done it. He and El Cid were the only ones that knew El Cid kept his supply in Miguel's mattress, and Pancamo could've tainted the supply or El Cid's food.

Ryan raised an eyebrow at this change of heart, focusing on that instead of Miguel's plan for the moment. "What's he done to you to change your mind?" There was that odd edge to Ryan's voice, Miguel would swear it was more of that worry, mixed with something a lot like anger at El Cid. If he didn't know better.

"Nothing, same old motherfucker."

"Then why?" Ryan didn't believe him. His concern for Miguel almost surprised Miguel again. But it was less and less of a shock lately. Because it kept fucking showing up.

"He's about to snap. He's going to go after Pancamo's boys full force. He's going to want to draw blood."

"That was the point. El Cid makes a move, Pancamo eliminates him."

Miguel shook his head. "Who do you think he's going to ask to be his weapon? I know El Cid, I can tell by the way he's talking. When he finally makes a move against Pancamo, he's going to make *me* do it. He doesn't care what happens to me."

"Shit." Ryan exhaled, but he didn't seem overly surprised. "Look, we both knew this was a possibility. We have outs. We just need to choose a course now."

Miguel nodded. Miguel shifted back, bracing his back against the wall a little in the face of Ryan's cool, calm capability. "Exactly. I can just take care of it..."

Miguel hadn't wanted to before. Didn't want to have that final betrayal, thinking he already had enough blood on his hands. That was before he spent more time with El Shithead. He still talked to Miguel like he was...nothing, and it was more clear than ever that that grudge of his would never go away. El Cid would get rid of Miguel one way or another. Use Miguel up and consign him to solitary again, or just get his ass killed. El Cid would keep making Miguel prove himself...until Miguel was gone. Miguel may not have wanted to off the guy himself, but there was no way in hell Miguel was getting pulled down by that bastard again either. He wasn't going to make a foolish move against the wops for El Cid.

"That's a last resort." Ryan paused cautiously, almost bracing himself as he floated another idea. "I had some tentative plans in place."

Miguel had known that. He'd known Ryan had it planned farther than he'd shown Miguel yet. And there had to be a reason. Either Miguel really was a pawn, which seemed less and less likely lately, or Ryan thought Miguel would have issues with whatever his plan was, and had wanted to wait until it was necessary.

"You can't go after the wops." Ryan closed the small distance between them again. Always close enough for Miguel to feel his heat, even when they were just talking business. It calmed Miguel down for some reason.

Miguel rolled his eyes. "No shit."

Ryan just grinned a little at that before he turned serious again. "We'll need you out of the way. Out of the picture." Ryan began.

Miguel snorted. "What? You going to kill me to save me? How do I get out of the way? How the fuck do we get me out of doing it without me looking disloyal?"

"Make you look even more loyal...get you busted." Ryan stated carefully. Waiting. Ryan thought Miguel would need convincing to go along with this plan. And he was probably right.

So Ryan *had* been holding this plan back for the second reason. He seemed worried about Miguel's reaction. It was like holding it back until the last minute was Ryan's own fucked up way of protecting Miguel, keeping Miguel calm. The Irishman was so fucked up when it came to some things...but he was Miguel's to deal with now.

"What?" Miguel asked with a bit of disbelief. But already...he saw it. He was starting to be able to read Ryan's plans, follow that mind.

"Hear me out. Get caught carrying contraband. I'll send the guards after you. You'll end up in the hole. Safely away from the coming chaos."

"The hole?" Fear stole through Miguel's veins, icy and frenetic.

"If you know El Cid is going to turn to you, it's the best way to keep you out of the fray without bringing you into question. If he asks you to off one of the wops...tell him you'll do it. Be convincing, and loyal. Then we'll pop you in the hole before you can do it. I'll make sure it looks like Pancamo was behind your bust. You won't be available to El Cid, he'll be even more pissed off. It'll be perfect. El Cid will fucking snap, and make his last stupid move without you to do it for him." Ryan laid it out carefully, those eyes locked on Miguel's, still so close. Supporting Miguel without touching him.

"Perfect." Miguel repeated, a slight question in his voice. Yeah...he was going to need convincing. He definitely saw it though. And Miguel fucking trusted Ryan. Despite his fear, knowing how dangerous trusting the Irishman was. After Ryan's little New Year's breakdown...

You couldn't fake that shit. Ryan kept proving himself. Giving more of himself than needed. It had calmed some of Miguel's apprehension. Whatever was going on between them, whatever bond Miguel felt developing, he had seen it reflected back at him in those green eyes, felt it in that wild punch. Heard it in that truth that Ryan gave him. Miguel was in deep. And Ryan was right there with him. So Miguel was going to go with it. Even if he was wrong. In his gut, he didn't feel he was. And it was all or nothing time.

"Okay. So, lay it out for me, tiburón." Miguel signaled his willingness to go it Ryan's way. Miguel shoved that fear of the hole, and trusting a shark, to the side to focus on the details. Ryan would have it all planned. Ryan would make it work.

Miguel fucking trusted him to.


Ryan nodded, obliging. Wanting Miguel to see. To participate. "There's two ways we can go, one is slightly safer, but less effective for fully restoring your rep, and healing old wounds with El Norte. Option one - get caught with a weapon. It'll be easily explained by the tension. You can tell McManus you were carrying it for protection, and you won't get much time in the hole. But your boys will think you were on your way to off one of Chuckie's boys. But that won't get rid of old bitterness quite as well as option two - get popped for carrying tits. You'll be sent away just like everyone else was. It'll take away that sting from you getting away the first time. And they'll think it was Pancamo again. It'll be the final straw that breaks El Cid."

The less safe option.

"But I could end up in the hole the whole month...or get sent back to solitary until I talk, if they can prove I'm dealing for El Norte." Miguel voiced the danger.

"I know. It's a risk either way. But if you stick around and martyr yourself for El Cid's war -- that's worse. El Cid will have you go after Pancamo, or he'll come after *you* for disobeying." Ryan pointed out, tensely serious.

"I know. Fuck it. I'll go down for tits."

"We could go with a shank, if you're really worried..." Ryan assured him. "It's just that drugs would look better to El Norte. They'll forgive you for escaping punishment last time when they all went down."

Ryan was still worried about Miguel. But there was no other real choice. Miguel had known it would come down to this, or something like it. El Cid wanted him gone. This was why Miguel had joined up with his shark. Miguel was dangling between death or solitary before anyway, it was the same old risk. This way he at least had a chance for prosperity. A way out. The risk was much smaller with Ryan's moves on his side.

Ryan continued, trying to put Miguel, and possibly himself, at ease. "We'll make sure it's a small amount, so that they can't nail you for dealing. Plead it as personal use. Play the lost addict. You've already got Sister Pete, and Father Ray on your side. Use them. Use those sad, tortured eyes of yours to get McManus on your side. He loves a hard luck case he thinks he can easily help. Agree to drug counseling, spin a story of pain and regret. Desperation. Say you want to clean up and fly right. El Norte will think you took the whole fall yourself for them, and loyally kept quiet."

Ryan was so very fucking convincing. And diabolical.

"One last problem though...how bad is Glynn's grudge?" Ryan asked, chewing on his lower lip as that mind worked and plotted every little fucking angle. Ryan already muttering possible solutions before Miguel got his answer out. "You can play McManus against him..."

But Miguel stopped him. He wasn't really worried about Glynn anymore, that fucker had bigger fish to fry at the moment. "He might still hate me, but I gave up his daughter's rapist already. Sister Pete was there arguing on my behalf, I showed remorse." And it had stuck in Miguel's gut. But he had to do it, even if Miguel had wanted to punch that superior acting cocksucker the whole time. Miguel had gritted his teeth and given a performance to rival tiburón's deceptions. The whole time thinking of what they were doing right behind that clueless pendejo's back, and smirking inwardly at it. "I think he's focused on that and the gang tensions. Plus, he knows he was a motherfucker to me, and he feels shitty for owing me for finally fingering the rapist. He won't admit that though, so he'd probably just rather forget I fucking exist."

"Good. He won't be a problem then. Sister Pete will go to bat for you if he is."

"So, how exactly does this go down?"

"When El Cid comes to you to go after one of the wops, tell him yes, and then signal me fucking immediately. I'll send Murphy after you."

"He still in your pocket?"

"Not completely...but he's definitely on my side. We're Black Irish, gato. He's sticking by so far. I offer a tip, he's gonna act on it and keep it secret that it was me."

"Like when you busted El Norte the first fucking time." Miguel pointed out wryly. "Black Irish. That's a mixed up fucking myth, man." Miguel focused on that for a minute. Chatter to keep his mind occupied. Just being with Ryan for a second.

"You know about it?" Ryan asked, happily surprised.

"We got the internet, don't we?" Unlike most of the guys in here, Miguel didn't just use it for porn. It passed the time. And when he'd hooked up with his shark...his searches had taken an Irish turn.

Ryan grinned. "Murphy had to tell me about it."

"It's a myth." Miguel scoffed lightly, but he was grinning a little too.

Ryan shrugged. "It's a good story. Feels true. Back centuries ago, after the Armada was defeated, your ancestors wash up on the shores of Ireland..."

"I'm Cuban." Miguel commented, just to annoy Ryan. For just that moment, the business was off to the side again. They were just...themselves. Miguel got to see Ryan. Enjoy him a little. A reminder that against all odds, there was more here than plans, and schemes, and practical alliances.

Ryan ignored him with a friendly little shove. "They survived despite the odds. In a strange land, not even knowing the language. It's in our blood, Miguel. Both of us. That's why I was drawn to you. You're smart, you survive despite all this shit. So do I. We'll survive together, Miguel." Ryan was open, real, and without that mask again. He didn't hide behind anything with Miguel anymore, not when they were alone.

"As long as your ass doesn't turn on me." Miguel said it slightly lightly, but with that edge underneath. That fear beneath this...friendship. That's what it felt like. Friendship. More than that even. So rare in here. Ryan's words warmed Miguel despite his fear. They felt true.

Ryan was suddenly serious again, adamant. His hand grasping Miguel's arm with his words. "We're in this together. I know my word doesn't mean shit...but I give it to you. I swear on my mother's grave, on my brother, because we all know how I feel about God. I'm not going to fuck you over, Miguel." Intense eyes and voice trying to show Miguel. Wanting him to see.

Miguel nodded, slightly stunned at the oath. He believed Ryan. Miguel never thought he would trust Ryan...but he did. Fuck. "Yo también."

Ryan tilted his head in question.

"You can trust me too, Ryan." Miguel clarified.

"I know. You're loyal, Miguel." Ryan said with that same seriousness, but a hint of a small soft smile.

Miguel snorted. "I'm loyal? Yeah, baby. I'm here planning the death of a guy who thinks that I follow him." Miguel pointed out with a little bit of bitterness beneath the joke.

Ryan shook his head, negating Miguel's denial. "He fucked you over, gato. Loyalty to someone who wants you gone is just fucking stupid. I wouldn't trust or respect you if you were that fucking blind." Ryan was trying to reassure him.

And it actually worked a little. Ryan's callous, sociopathic logic was rubbing off on Miguel maybe, because that made sense. And the Irishman's trust and respect made Miguel feel...good. So much had changed, and Miguel went with it. Liked it.

But those words brought something else to mind. More business, more worries for the future for Miguel. "Speaking of trust and respect, besides El Shithead of course, El Norte has accepted me back. Except for Guerra. He ain't saying shit...but he feels the same as El Cid. He has a fucking grudge against me for no reason." Miguel said, back to that scheme to keep Miguel safe and alive. "And we aren't fucking killing him. I got no real beef with him." Miguel added quickly, firm.

He had to draw a line. El Cid was different. El Cid wasn't truly loyal to anyone, and was out to get Miguel despite all Miguel did for him. Guerra was along for the ride for no reason that Miguel could see, but Miguel still felt a tie to him. It wouldn't be right to go after him unless he made an overt move against Miguel, but he could still cause problems that may unravel everything after El Cid's death.

"Don't worry." Ryan looked a little disbelieving at the 'no beef' comment, but Ryan let that go and just gestured his understanding. "Guerra is with El Cid because he's a fucking lap dog. He's a bloodthirsty, insecure, hothead who needs to prove he's got balls and El Cid lets him off his leash more than you did. Watch, when El Cid is gone Chico will come crawling back. You won't have to worry, seeing what happens to El Cid will shake him. I think it'll take care of itself."

Miguel nodded again. Miguel was resigned, going back to the plan. Losing himself in it with Ryan. "I can do you one better with your plan for getting me out of the way, instead of having me nabbed holding my own tits...have the pod tossed."


"El Cid makes me keep his stash in my mattress. Nothing better than taking a fall for the boss."

"That cocksucker." Ryan looked pissed at El Cid, that death back in his gaze, but Ryan nodded brusquely. "That's best then, we just have to make sure he doesn't get nabbed."

"It's clear most of the time, like now. He's the leader, and he just got out not long ago, so we don't keep any other contraband in the pod in case of a shakedown."

"That *will* work better, gato. I knew I liked your mind." Ryan grinned a little, impressed through that seriousness and worry. But then his expression turned grave again. "Are you sure you want to do this? We can go with your way, spike his tits fatally this time." Ryan offered, still holding that concerned tension but planning to do what had to be done.

Miguel shook his head, stroking a soothing hand over Ryan's arm without thought. "Nah. I'll go with door number two, an all expense paid vacation to the hole." Miguel tried to joke.

Ryan leaned into the touch. Pushing the pure business aside again for a moment to focus on Miguel. "We don't have to do it. We could think of something else besides landing you in the hole. Some other way to keep you out of play. Or we could go with your spiking plan, give him one last high. We could pin that on Pancamo, and come up with another way to show your loyalty." Ryan offered softly, giving Miguel the choice again. But they both knew what the best way was. "Can you really handle that claustrophobic hellhole? Don't lie to me." That soft concern the only thing there now.

Ryan showing that he fucking cared. Vulnerability. Making Miguel want to trust him. Making Miguel feel...safe...with Ryan at his back. Ryan didn't have to tell him any of this shit. Ryan knew this plan would freak Miguel, and it was possible that Miguel would veto the idea. Ryan knew when Miguel was carrying, or he could've easily found out. Ryan could've just had Miguel snatched up without warning, to bypass any protestations or reluctance on Miguel's part. Telling Miguel invited complications, the chance of refusal. But Ryan did it anyway. He wanted input. He gave Miguel a choice.

It was little shit like this, and the look in those eyes, that made Miguel trust Ryan against all his old logic. Convinced Miguel that Ryan wanted an actual partnership. Real. With a dangerous amount of trust required from both sides. Miguel knew enough about the moves Ryan was making to be a threat. But that didn't stop Ryan from including him. And not only in his plans...but his life. Showing his regret for what he'd done on to Cyril. Telling Miguel so much personal shit. Just showing Miguel the real person underneath. The person Miguel...liked.

"Yes." Miguel said firmly. He knew he could handle the hole. Fuck his fear. Fuck that little room with the walls closing in. He just had to keep the way out in mind. Miguel just had to do this...and he would be safe.

"It'll work. Perfectly." Miguel added again with a wan smile. "I just have to go to the hole again." Miguel repeated with a sigh. He had to do this. He could.

"Hey, even I've done it. You're tough, mi gato. After solitary, you can do some time in the hole standing on your head. It'll be over before you know it." Ryan knew this was going to be hard for Miguel, it was clear in his voice. He was trying to be soothing, confident in Miguel. Trying to calm Miguel down.

Miguel started to retreat into his head. Could he really do it? It wasn't forever. He'd get out and El Cid would be gone. It wasn't like solitary -- he would be getting out. But Miguel could only think of the cold emptiness, and those walls closing in on him.

A warm touch on his face pulled him out of it, grabbing his attention.

"Hey." Ryan called Miguel's attention softly.

His face right in front of Miguel's, that breath on Miguel's face.

"It won't be long...and then it will all be over." Ryan continued in that soothing whisper. "El Cid will be dead by the time you get out, I'll make sure of it. You'll swoop back in afterwards, help take charge amidst the chaos. Lead El Norte, team up with me in the tit trade. We can do this."

Then Ryan was kissing him. Tongue teasing sweetly between Miguel's lips. Slipping in his mouth. Ryan's hand was warm and steady on the back of Miguel's neck, rubbing, comforting.

Soft hum from Ryan against Miguel's lips. "Gato..." Those kisses slipping down his neck. "You'll survive, we always survive."

Miguel fell into that touch. He could do this. He'd been in the hole before, he'd been through worse. He would be safe. Fuck. Miguel pushed that nervous fear away.

"I'll give you one hell of a going away party." Ryan said with a sultry smile before...sliding to his knees. It seemed that Ryan had the most beautiful way of comforting him.

Ryan lifted up Miguel's shirt to place more wet little kisses along Miguel's ribs, fluttering down his trembling stomach.

"Whatever you need." Ryan whispered.

Ryan lapped at his belly button, goosebumps rising on Miguel at the hot teasing licks. Miguel looked down into those eyes. Focusing on Ryan.

"While you're in there, think of El Cid, slowly falling apart, left to the wolves, his fat ass finally shuffling off this mortal coil. El Cid paying for what he did to you." Ryan spoke. Giving his own twisted version of a pep talk.

Those thoughts didn't comfort Miguel and it sure as hell didn't turn him on, but what Ryan was doing while he spoke did. Those sure hands that knew Miguel's body now. Ryan undid Miguel's pants, his words shifting off of revenge.

"And at night...you think of me. Here." Ryan continued.

Ryan was looking up at Miguel, and Miguel grounded himself in those intense green eyes. Comforted by Ryan's presence, and turned on by that touch, and the purr of Ryan's voice. Ryan pulled down Miguel's boxers just enough to free him, but didn't touch Miguel's hardening dick yet.

"Focus on this...keep this with you." Ryan continued in that hot, husky voice that shivered over Miguel.

Ryan's blunt nails scratched lightly down Miguel's sides as he expelled a hot, moist breath over the head of Miguel's cock, causing a sweet, tingling shudder through Miguel. With that, Ryan sucked him into that wicked mouth.

El Diablo.

His tiburón. Swallowing him whole.

Ryan's mouth sending Miguel shaking, pulse speeding, pleasure chasing away his doubt and worry. Swallowing up and drowning all his fear. Ryan put everything he had into sending Miguel's mind into orbit. There was nothing but that wet heat now. All of Ryan concentrated on him, making him moan and buck. Warm gentle squeeze of Ryan's hand to his balls. Fuck. Miguel buried his fingers in Ryan's hair, memorizing this. Every stroke of Ryan's tongue, the sweet, slow slide in and out of Ryan's mouth. Miguel was safe here, caught in those eyes.

~ Chapter 9: Take Cover from the Mortar ~

Miguel stood in the classroom. There to look tough. Stone face in place as he kept an eye on it all unfolding before him. Adebisi, El Cid, Pancamo all in a fucking little utilitarian room together. Each with their own stone faced glarer. Leaders sat, protection stood. They weren't really protection though, more like visual aids. This is who I'll be sending after your ass. This protects me, I rule this, and there are more like him. This is expendable. It's why El Cid had brought Miguel, he wanted the bull's eye on Miguel. Nobody admitted any of that. They were just there as muscle. To show that these were tough bosses.

It was a meet.

The meet that would spark the fuse.

Miguel was there to see it as Ryan sat down in the quad somewhere. Innocent and unconnected.

It was a good thing Miguel wasn't supposed to talk, because he had no idea how Ryan did this on a regular basis. Stood in the middle of a web he'd created...and acted like he had no idea where the hell it came from.

Miguel had the insane urge to just...talk.


Point at El Cid and tell him.

I did this to you motherfucker.

This is part of the plan.

This is the coming of your end that I set in motion with my shark weeks ago...and you don't even know. You can't see it.

I've got better moves than all of you put together now.

I win. You lose. You just can't see it yet.

Fuck...it clawed under Miguel's skin. Wanting to come out.

How the fuck did tiburón do this? Be the man behind everything, and never spill it.

Maybe Ryan did have this little scratch under his skin too, maybe it was a tiny reason why he shared his plans with Miguel, why he wanted a partner. Not the main one...but fuck...it had to soothe this. Knowing at least someone knew. Having someone you could share it with.

For now, Miguel had to stand here and be still. Quiet. Fade into the background while the big boy pretenders whipped their dicks out.

Thankfully not literally.

Adebisi was there even though El Cid and Pancamo were each convinced that they were the main enemies behind each other's pain. Adebisi was pretending to be neutral, the voice of almost reason.

He was good at hiding shit too it seemed. Pretending he wanted them at an accord to keep the tits flowing. Pretending that the tensions were pissing him off because he didn't want a lockdown.

Miguel knew, thanks to Ryan, that this was exactly what Adebisi wanted. Tension. War. His two enemies at each others throats, and Simon would gladly pay with a little lockdown.

Miguel could see it. O'Reily and Adebisi must work so fucking well together. But Adebisi was another pawn to Ryan in this. Ryan had told Miguel everything...but kept Adebisi in the dark on some things.

The crazy Nigerian knew enough to work this meet though. Pitting the two further against each other, and removing himself off to neutrality without them realizing it. They were too busy hissing at each other. Growing louder. El Cid and Pancamo throwing accusations about moves made by each side against the other. Some were true, most were tensions falsely created by Ryan and Miguel. Fingers pointed at the wrong parties but taken as gospel. A rivalry fueled to this boiling point by Miguel, his tiburón, and the swaying Nigerian. All of Ryan's work and lies falling into place.

Miguel tensed and took a step forward as El Cid stood, angrily pointing at Pancamo. Time to get his head in the game and pay more attention to the words, not just the lines of the web underlying them.

"You're going to lie to my face and say you aren't going behind my back, making a move against me?" El Cid growled at Pancamo.

"That's exactly what I say, little man," Pancamo answered, standing as well. "We've kept to the deal. You're the one trying to take our piece."

"Fine then, pendejo. You keep denying what we all know is true."

"The truth is what I say it is. Back off and keep to your slice. Or you're going to get a war," Pancamo warned.

"You're the one that needs to watch your greed. You want a fucking war? You think you can do this shit against us and hide it? We'll see."

"I guess we will. We ain't done shit. But we can," Pancamo proclaimed, going for the door. "We're done here. Watch your step, spic."

They left first. That just pissed off El Cid more. As soon as the Italians hit the stairs, Miguel was following El Cid in his storm out of the little room. Leaving Adebisi in the classroom shaking his head. Now, Simon was probably going to laugh his fucking ass off once they were out of sight.

Miguel was torn between wanting to do the same, wanting to throw back his head and laugh at what he'd done, at El Cid caught in his hands...and wanting to be locked away in a little closet with Ryan. Seeking a calm space. Stifling and nothing but breath, low words and touch. Miguel didn't find the small spaces confining when he was with Ryan. With Ryan there they were Miguel's own little hole to hide in, lose himself in. A part of Miguel also wanted to stop this. Go back to being blindly loyal. Simple and true. Wanted a time before El Cid, when Miguel knew who he was. Miguel wanted to be in confession. Being absolved for saving himself and betraying his vows. For feeling good bringing this about.

But he wasn't any of those other places. Wasn't any of those other things. He was here. Carrying out a plan.

Vasquez joined them right outside the door, all of them walking slowly after Pancamo had cleared. Miguel walked with Vasquez. The other man even more silent than usual, both of them just a step behind El Cid.

"Come with me, Alvarez," El Cid stated, before pointing to Vasquez. "You, go watch them and let the others know we are done dealing with those fucks." El Cid's anger was a living thing, in his voice, popping out of those bloodshot eyes.

Miguel followed El Cid grimly into their pod. Miguel knew. This was it. Time to go.

El Cid swore, a long string of raging vengeful words shifting from Spanish to English and back again. It didn't make much sense either way. The ravings of a lost, pissed off mind. His face red, spit making his point as those words flung themselves...but quiet. Not loud. That red face and popping vein strained from holding it in. An explosion deep in the earth, so devastating but not really seen so much as felt. No one outside their pod could see just how over the edge El Cid was because it was so intensely kept in, just leaking out with that hissing rage, too powerful to explode on the surface fully, that energy too deep. It was just for Miguel to see.

El Cid finally went still. Completely. All that intensity freezing in hate in his veins. He locked his serious gaze on Miguel, coming so close. Hand on Miguel's face to carry his point. It almost reminded Miguel of Ryan, and how he communicated. Touch to get attention, to carry the weight of the words. Miguel didn't have to stop himself from flinching away in disgust and hate from Ryan though.

None of that anger from El Cid was for Miguel. Miguel was his weapon. A weapon that El Cid was picking up, and sharpening one last time, about to let fly.

"This is war, Miguel."

No shit.

But Miguel kept his face stone. Matching El Cid's rage more steadily. Less fucking crazy. Letting a mask do all the work as he listened, already sure in his course. Just waiting for El Cid to say the words.

"We're going to show them. All of those cocksuckers. Nobody messes with wiseguys? They messed with us. And they've got to pay, Miguel," El Cid hissed.

Miguel just nodded.

Wait for it.

"We make a move now," El Cid said, that insanity decisive. "You. Leave your mark on one of them, not Chuckie. One of his go to boys. Take him out of the game. Send him to the hospital ward with a message that speaks louder than words. Your trademark." El Cid's stubby little finger brushed near over Miguel's temple, tapping near his eye.

Shit. Motherfucker. Miguel kept his own anger and disgust off of his face and kept still. Barely. Thankfully he was already supposed to look determined and pissed at the wops, little did El Cid know, all of that on Miguel's face, in his blood, was for *him*.

Miguel's trademark. Déme los ojos. That piece of fucking scum. That was not Miguel. That was El Cid. That was what Miguel had done for El Cid. What that cocksucker had made him do. It was just the last little reminder Miguel needed to feel fucking *right* about what he was doing.

And they had done it. This was proof. El Cid was fucking insane. Just like Ryan had wanted. Like they had wanted. Spiked tits, and whispered words turning El Cid so easily into...this. The leader was over the edge if he was making this move. Bold and brazen. Doing this shit against the wiseguys was almost unthinkable. Everyone would see. Everyone in El Norte and out. El Cid was lost and too dangerous to live long. Miguel hoped he was right in trusting Ryan to keep it from destroying El Norte. This destruction was just for El Cid.

Miguel ignored the slight twist in his stomach at having done this. It was him or El Cid. This man had destroyed Miguel. Shut him away. El Cid had abandoned him after twisting Miguel to the leader's own dark selfish purpose. Without a thought. And El Cid was going to do it again.

Miguel nodded, and took the task gruffly. Meaning something else entirely, that the leader was just too stupid to see. "It's done, El Cid. I'm behind you. He's fucking done." All that dark roughness in Miguel's voice was not for some member of the Italians.

"Good. Don't take so fucking long this time, Miguelito. You do this. Quick. Tomorrow," El Cid ordered before backing off. Walking out of the pod.

Casually leaving Miguel to die.

End up in solitary again.

Fucking El Cid didn't care. He was wrapped up in his head, unceremoniously having condemned one of the Italians, and Miguel. El Cid's only care was himself. His anger. His leadership. His ego.

Miguel wanted to punch the motherfucker. But he just left the pod, full of purpose, but loping slow. Down the stairs, across the quad, making his way slowly to a table where Ricardo sat, looking twitchy and angry himself. And on his way, Miguel surreptitiously looked for his shark. Spotted him casually leaning against a pillar, not looking at Miguel...but definitely seeing him.

Time to go.

Miguel pulled the bandana out of his pocket, putting it on his head, still casual. Unconcerned. Steadfast. No one else noticed.

Ryan did.

The Irishman started his own laid-back walk. On his way to finish Miguel's part in this.

Miguel waited.


Ryan listened to the spin of Cyril beside him as they sat in the quad. He was spinning...some magazine...on his finger. Over and over. Ryan stopped his own flip from the skin mag he was holding. Things were brewing. Ryan tried to look interested and detached. Like he hadn't started the events unfolding in front of him. He was good at that. Ryan's hand was everywhere. But he always made it look like he was on the outside observing things. Keeping it murky. Was O'Reily behind it? Or wasn't he? Always looking just cold and calculating enough that everyone could sense the danger...yet always keeping steps away from everything, so nobody could blame him. No fingers landing on him for vengeance.

And these current events, well, O'Reily couldn't have been further from them. He had nothing to do with El Norte, or Miguel Alvarez. The angry Latino currently getting his pod tossed...and being hauled off. Tough and defiant.

Ryan swallowed the grin that never made it near his face. Miguel was doing a lovely job. Strong. Insolent. Cocky. Blameless. Seems like Ryan's gato was quite the skilled actor himself. Surprise. Anger. Miguel bristling against guards he had been waiting for. No fear showing.

But Ryan knew it was there. Hidden away like Ryan's worry currently was.

Ryan's face had never seemed as much like a false mask as it did right now.

As Miguel got hauled off, Ryan tried to focus on the plan.

Looking for El Cid.

Now, there's a man that didn't have a mask. Just the ugliest fucking face Ryan had ever voluntarily sought out.

El Cid looked like he was going to have a fucking stroke. And those little piggy eyes were throwing daggers at...Pancamo.

Ryan swallowed a smirk this time.

Everything was working perfectly.

If Miguel could just survive the hole.

Ryan kept his own fear and worry buried. So deep that even Cyril didn't sense it. Even Cyril was watching the spectacle though. With those wide child eyes. His detachment was as real as Ryan's seemed.

As Ryan watched, he continued planning. His mind always running several tracks at once, keeping everything humming and in line. It had been...easier lately. The tension eased by Miguel.

Ryan had to get Adebisi to shift him to food delivery in a few days. Ryan would have to check on Miguel. Despite Miguel's earlier words...Ryan needed to see. Just for that that second as the tray slid in. Just a little slot of vision. Ryan needed to be there. Remind Miguel that he would get out.

But first there was shit to be done. Ryan had to make sure El Cid was making his last step. Had to make sure the spark that had been lit blazed into an explosive funeral pyre. The work had been done. Those embers tended, that fire sparked. Now he had to make sure the fuse burned fast and steady to its end.


~ Chapter 10: Don't Want You To Be Alone Down There ~

It took too fucking long for Ryan to get to Ad Seg. Days of that worry living under his skin. He had pushed it away and focused on the events happening around him. The goal.

There had been a minor blowup between El Norte and the Italians. Not enough. El Cid was pulling out his last threads. With Miguel gone, he had sent Ricardo. Before his planned trip to the hole, Miguel had informed Ryan that that would probably happen. They had both agreed Ricardo getting locked up would only help their cause.

Ricardo was another hotheaded moron. He'd been hauled off by the hacks before he'd done shit but piss off the Italians and convince them that El Cid really was out of his fucking mind. Ryan may have helped the whole situation turn out precisely right, with Ricardo's attempt failed and his ass caught by the mysteriously alerted guards. Miguel had probably figured on that too.

Em City had been locked down for four days. Futilely trying to calm the inmates down. To contain what was brewing. It was all just more fuel to El Cid's fire against the Italians.

Ryan slung the trays to the dicks in solitary, not even waiting for them to be taken through the slot. If the slow scumfucks weren't ready to grab it, they could eat their food off of the floor.

He made sure the guard stayed back at his desk at the entrance to the unit. Out of the hall. Leaving Ryan there alone. He paused at the end, the hole, bringing the lunch cart to a rattling halt there.

Ryan wasn't sure what to expect. He took a breath as he bumped his fist on the door. Cold, hard resistance met the side of his fist, dulling any sound. He had to pound to even make enough noise to signal his presence. He crouched by the food slot. Saw...not much through the sliver.

He saw enough to know that Miguel wasn't by the door. Sliver of naked skin seen on the floor.

Not the most promising.

Ryan stood quickly, throwing back the peephole.


Miguel. Curled up in a fetal position in the middle of the empty room. Locked in his own head. He was awake, because he was moving. A slight shake. Clutch of hands on skin. Clawing into flesh with the twitches. Holding his head.

A dark, almost whimpering sound.

Muttering in Spanish.


Ryan was struck by it. Felt it like a sucker punch to his gut. The sight before him and the realization of how much it tore at him.

He did not want to see Miguel like this.

"Yo, gato," Ryan rasped out. He tried to shake off the sick shock and breathe, steady his voice. Miguel needed his name. His real one. "Miguel."

Shake. Twitch. Still lost.


"Miguel!" Loud enough to be heard, but soft enough not to carry. Stronger, but weak at the same time. A forceful plea. Get back here to me dammit!

This had not been the plan. Ryan had fucking trusted Miguel to know what he could handle. Why the fuck didn't Miguel tell him? Anger at Miguel got lost in a tangle with that worry made real.

Ryan realized - he never would have went this way if he had known it would do this to Miguel.

He didn't want Miguel hurt.

Ryan wanted that warm, cocky, smart-mouthed bastard with him.

Fuck. He really did. Wanted nothing more than Miguel really here with him right now. He *mattered* to Ryan now. It was never more clear than this moment. Miguel naked and lost. Trapped.


Miguel did hear him and finally shifted a little. Still not turning to look at the door though, still curled in on himself. Ryan couldn't tell if Miguel was actually fucking seeing or hearing anything real though, since he was still talking to himself in Spanish.

"Gato. Pull it together. You owe me some conversation. Do you have any idea what it's going to cost me to keep the guard away so I can see you when you're in here? Half of it is coming out of your end of the tit trade when you get out."

Ryan was trying to sound cold and angry. Trying to get Miguel pissed off and *talking* to him. But...shit. Miguel looked...broken. Ryan couldn't keep himself from sounding shattered and desperate.

Ryan had known this wouldn't be easy. He actually had planned to work this unit until Miguel was out, stealing as much time as he could. He already had the money set aside for the hacks. Ryan knew he fucking cared about what happened to the Latino now. Knew Miguel didn't do well alone and closed in a tiny room. Ryan remembered his own time in the hole. Knew it would be worse for Miguel. But he'd had no fucking clue it fucked Miguel up this badly. How the fuck had Miguel survived solitary in the first place?

Oh. That's right. He'd *hanged* himself.


This had been a major miscalculation. Miguel had said he could do this, but Ryan should have heard the truth in his voice. He should have known it was a front. Should have seen it as shaky determination masquerading as capability. But he'd thought of nothing but their goal. Just assuming Miguel would handle it.

Ryan hadn't planned on leaving him this long without seeing him either. Five days...was too damn long.

Another misstep.

At least Miguel didn't have any sheets or shoelaces in there...although if anyone could make a deadly suicide weapon out of a nasty bucket, it would be Miguel.

All that Ryan caught in that low Spanish chant was mi tiburón and possibly something about fish.

"Yeah, it's your tiburón, gato. But there aren't any fish, it's just us here." Ryan thought Miguel might actually be hearing him now.

Miguel unclenched a little, and that painful knot inside of Ryan did too. Miguel was talking more steadily now, but it was still all in fucking Spanish. Still turned away from Ryan. Just showing Ryan the tense bowed line of his naked back. He at least seemed to be talking more to Ryan instead of just to himself and the walls.

"Did you fail ESL, ese?" Ryan taunted lightly, anxious frustration showing. Trying to get anything. Provoke a reaction again.

But it didn't get Ryan anything positive. Miguel just curled tighter into himself. Shit.

Wrong tactic then.

Be nice.

Nice had gotten a good reaction.

It was easier anyway. Felt better.

"I'm uh...I'm sorry it took me so long," Ryan started, his voice so fucking soft to keep it between them. Miguel might not even have heard him.

Come to think of it, when Ryan had been in the hole, his sense of time had been one of the first things to go. Granted, he had been going through withdrawal, but the main factors were the same. There was no natural light, and that bare bulb never changed. Most of the time, the food came irregularly, if at all. Couldn't be trusted to measure out the days. And while the guards checked on those in solitary at regular intervals, they mainly ignored whoever was rotting in the hole.

"It's lunchtime. I'm a little early though," Ryan continued. He had rushed actually, where usually everyone dawdled just to be out and about.

But he'd hurried as efficiently as possible without it being noticeable. So he could be here...talking to someone who may not even be aware of his presence. But the murmuring in Spanish had gone low...and faded away, like Miguel was listening.

"You've been in five days. That's almost a week, Miguel." Ryan realized he was talking to Miguel like he was...Cyril.

Like he was slow.

But Ryan felt that same fear. That same frustration. Worry that the listener was fucking lost to him. Trying to make them hear him properly. Understand him. Just trying to get through. Miguel's body slowly relaxed a little more.

Ryan tensed in anticipation. Waiting. Hoping for anything...

And Miguel turned over, looking towards the door now. At Ryan.

Mostly anyway. Those eyes not...fixed. Not all the way here. Curling up in on himself again as soon as he'd shifted. Dirty and worn.

Ryan almost wished Miguel hadn't turned to look at him. Those eyes. Fuck. They were...gone. So deep. Spinning off into a cold dark place. The rough lost expression on Miguel's face was so fucking foreign. Far beyond that worried brood Ryan had seen before. So much worse. It clawed at him like even those hands still clutching those tattooed arms never could.

Ryan didn't know what to do. He could see that Miguel was fucking locked inside of his head. The only thing he could think of to do in the time he had was to...speak. To try to get those eyes to focus. When Ryan was talking softly, in a normal friendly voice, not taunting or riling - Miguel's shaking stopped. Those hands stopped clenching and squeezing around flesh. Ryan's actual words may not be getting through, but they'd gotten Miguel turned around. Maybe Ryan's voice could get through whatever those eyes were actually focused on.

So, he just started talking. About everything that came to mind. Nothing serious, just mundane droning meant to be a lifeline, a distraction. To pull Miguel back with talk of normal, average, routine things. Things that would remind him that there was something outside of this little room. Ryan started with the bare facts. Ricardo. The lockdown. But he didn't want to dwell there, worried that it would send Miguel slipping further away. He moved on to gossip. Goings on that were interesting, but had nothing to do with their plans at the moment. He even mentioned Miss Sally. Filling in the minutes he had trying to get something from Miguel before he had to go.

Ryan was focused on Miguel the whole time. Seeking signs of life. Gaze roving over Miguel's body to see the slight relaxation of that posture, watching those eyes that *hurt* to look at.

Miguel eventually seemed closer to actually *seeing* him. He relaxed out of that fetal curl a little. More just lying there on his side while he listened to Ryan, the side of his head resting on the stone ground, arms still wrapped around himself.

"Es usted verdadero?." A little whisper finally broke through Ryan's monologue.

"Speak fucking English." An immediate thoughtless soft outburst of frustration leaving Ryan. Harsh, low, and pleading, but not really directed at Miguel. He was fucking glad Miguel was speaking *to* him at least. Miguel was here...somewhat.

And repeating himself...looking like he almost saw Ryan. "Es usted verdadero?"

But Ryan had no idea what that low scratching voice was saying. The only thing clear was that Miguel was asking something. Ryan really fucking wished he could answer it.

But he had no idea how to.

So, he just said what came to his mind at seeing that haunting troubled face trying to get something from him. "I have to stay on this side of the door. I can't..." Ryan did *not* choke. He just pressed his hand to the cold metal. "I wish I could..."

Ryan actually contemplated it though. Wondered if he could get away with it. If he could just have a second...but no. He couldn't.

And Miguel may have been adrift out of time, but Ryan wasn't. He knew he had to go now. Had run all his time out to get those few Spanish words and eyes that almost saw him.

"I have to go," Ryan said. Steady now. Hand going to that little window.

No real reaction from Miguel. Knees tucking up tight to his chest. Miguel was gazing in Ryan's direction, but his eyes were still staring off slightly, into himself. He must have gotten something though...because there was another string of Spanish muttering somewhat directed at Ryan before Miguel tucked his head down. No longer looking at anything.


Ryan turned to get a tray, bending to slide it through the slot. Miguel wasn't moving to get it, so Ryan tried to drop it through as gently as he could manage. Sticking the tray as far through as possible before he let it drop straight down, trying to keep the food on the fucking plate when it clattered flatly to the ground. It had worked, mostly.

"I'll be back. Eat. Wouldn't want you wasting away. Keep that body in good shape for me, gato," Ryan said. Trying to be light, because it's all he had. But his voice was weighted by the still felt sucking of the sick punch to his guts.

Miguel shook a little.

And Ryan would've sworn it was laughter this time, before he had to shut that little peephole with the resolute heavy slide of metal closure.


Ryan used his moves to swing the dinner shift as well. He wanted to keep picking away at that shell. To see Miguel. Assure him that Ryan was there. He had given up the chance to collect the lunch trays to get it. Figured this would be better. Ryan could bring Miguel extra food. He finished up the rest of his round just as hastily as the last time.

Another quick rap on that cold metal. Thumping felt to his bone. Before he slid back the peephole.

Miguel was...pacing.

Up and about...that was good.

He turned his head at Ryan's presence, and that swift walk switched tracks and those strides brought Miguel quickly to the door.

Less lost and zombie looking expression.

A little intense and fucking frightening though.

"Miguel," Ryan greeted with cautious relief as Miguel waltzed right up...

And poked him in the nose with a swift light jab of a dirty slender finger through the hole.

Ryan blinked into a grimace, but kept from flinching.

"What the hell?" Ryan asked, straining to chuckle. Worried. Miguel's finger had gone back, but he stood right there at the door, head tilted and eyes focused on Ryan finally. Good signs, despite the odd behavior. "Do you see me wearing a red clown nose? What's with the fucking poking?"

Miguel grinned a little. Shaky and dark...but with a little bit of pure hope. "Tiburón."

That sick hollow that had been in Ryan's stomach since his last visit lessened a little. Felt like he could breathe as Miguel started to...speak. To him. Coherently.

"I was just checking...making sure you were real earlier." Miguel explained. Less shaky.

And it was in fucking English. Hallelujah!

Miguel seemed fine with his statement, but it worried Ryan more. Ryan found himself leaning forward into the door. Close. Face right there at the little window with Miguel's.

"Why, have people that aren't real been visiting you?" Ryan asked, that concern overtaking any tease.

Miguel shrugged, although Ryan could barely see it. Miguel's face taking up his view. Still nowhere near his usual self. Eyes even darker. Close to being lost. But recognizable. Not trapped and broken.

"Yeah. I was fucking hallucinating again."

"Again?" First words out of Ryan's mouth. Quiet.

He'd known his gato was loco from the start, but now Ryan fucking *cared*. Wanted to keep him sane. Relatively. As much as possible. Or *happily* crazy at least.

Just got that little slow twitch of a shrug again. Like it was business as usual. "It happens."


"Well, I'm here now. For real. But don't fucking jab me in the face again," Ryan teased, weak but trying to be strong.

Rewarded for the effort with that slip of a grin from Miguel again.

"We were locked down for four fucking days," Ryan explained quietly. "I wanted to come sooner..." Had to give that to Miguel. Wanting him to know.

"El Cid dead?"

"Not yet." Ryan had to crush that bit of hope, which was oddly dark and resigned in Miguel's voice.

It seemed Miguel was going to carry around what they had done. Like it was tough to do. Ryan didn't get that. The motherfucker's death was nothing to feel guilt for. Ryan felt no qualms, and El Cid had only set back Ryan's tit operations. It was nothing like what he had done to Miguel.

"Oh." Miguel bounced a little on his feet. Like he was going to start pacing again.

Ryan wanted to reach through that rectangle cut in the metal and touch him. Stop him.

But if Miguel needed to move, he needed to move. Ryan knew what it was like to be caged in that tiny room.

Miguel backed up a little. Enough that Ryan could see a bit more of him, but Miguel wasn't quite giving into that jitter he must feel in his nerves to pace restlessly again yet.

"Four days lockdown?"

"Yeah. You've been in the hole five days now," Ryan repeated, in case it hadn't registered earlier.

"Earlier today was the only day you were here?" Miguel asked. "It was today, right?"

Ryan could see Miguel spinning in his own head, trying to hold on to slippery time and figure things out.

"Yeah," Ryan answered fast again, trying to help. "Only the once. Earlier. It's dinner now. Did you eat what I left earlier?"

Miguel nodded, and finally went back to pacing away from the door. Back and forth, a few feet away. But Ryan could see all of him now, with each little circuit. The room was so fucking small.

Miguel's nudity...wasn't that attractive at the moment. And it wasn't because he was dirty. Dirty, Ryan could deal with. Everything in here was dirty, and he was used to the smell. It just made him think of slipping in the shower together. It was the pacing. And those lost worn eyes that were trying to hold on.

"Why, this isn't the first day you've seen me?" Ryan went back to that. Trying to make that separation between what was just inside Miguel's head, and what was real out in the world more defined. For Miguel.

Miguel turned his head to smirk at him as he paced more slowly. "Nope. But I knew you weren't real before. You turned into Howell."

Ryan snorted in disgust, trying to ignore how bad Miguel had been if he was seeing that shit. Didn't matter. They could deal with it. "That cunt? That must have been traumatic."

"Mm-hm. And *she* was real," Miguel said with a dark chuckle. "That always fucking happens."

Ryan blinked, still leaning into the door. "I always turn into Howell? Should I be worried about how you see me, gato?" Ryan joked.

Miguel just shook his head. More relaxed and human and *there* with every second Ryan just talked to him. "No, it was only you the once."

Miguel stopped after that, came back to the door. "I'm...okay, Ryan."

"Yeah...you seem great. I especially loved the all Spanish hour earlier," Ryan said sarcastically, but it wasn't harsh. Just that soft concern.

"Sorry... that happens. I was wondering why you weren't answering me right. I thought I was too fucked up to hear you properly." Miguel came even closer. Right back there with him. Ryan pressed closer to the door unthinkingly. "I understood you though...towards the end, once I realized you were actually here. I think. I was a little fucked up."

"No shit," Ryan said softly.

Miguel reached through the peephole again. Ryan stayed still. Thankfully Miguel didn't fucking poke him again. Bare awkward brush of fingertips over Ryan's cheek. He leaned into it. Cold metal digging against part of his face. But warm real Miguel was all he felt.

"I'll survive." And Miguel sounded like he was trying to reassure Ryan.

That wasn't how this was supposed to work.

"You will. You're tough, remember gato? And El Cid will only last a few more days," Ryan said. It was his job to be the reassuring one. "I'll be here every day I'm able until they lock us the fuck down again. And this time...it'll mean he's gone."

Miguel's hand left but he nodded. "It's good to see you...for real."

"Yeah." Ryan's voice so soft, breaking a little on the edges. It was fucking fabulous to see Miguel making sense. Not shaking. Here.


The next day, Ryan had the breakfast shift. Bright and early...wanting to see if Miguel was better or worse. There was that worried gnaw in his gut that Miguel would have slid right back into that dark head of his overnight.

When Ryan slid back the peephole, his heart stuttered with that fear for a second when he didn't see Miguel up and walking. Back on the ground...but then he grinned.

Miguel was all there. Not curled up and lost, but doing push-ups. The hard kind...and up on his fucking balled fists on the bare hard floor. Now that was a little worrisome.

"Doesn't that hurt?" Ryan asked.

"Yep." Miguel didn't even pause. "Toughens the hands."

"Okay...because you were soaking them in too much Palmolive and they were too soft?" Ryan asked.

Miguel chuckled a little, breaking form before he buckled down and continued. "It's a boxing thing."


"I like your hands the way they are," Ryan said without thinking too much. Remembering them on his skin. Graceful. More elegant than his. And yeah...softer. Not as soft as a woman's, still masculine, strong, but fucking nice. They felt...perfect. All that was in his voice.

And it got Miguel to pause, turning his head to look at Ryan. "Don't worry, baby. It's just my knuckles. Doesn't change the way I touch you."

Ryan grinned wider, not so much at the words, as at the fact that Miguel was back. More like what Ryan was used to. Cocky. Flirting softly. Sure, he was still tense and frayed looking. Those eyes still haunted even more than usual, but Miguel was under there. Clawing to the surface to be with Ryan. Just fighting for the moment. Ryan would get him back unbroken when this was over. Hopefully. Ryan had to make sure of it.

Miguel bounded up. Coming back over. Naked and comfortable with it in front of Ryan, even though Ryan knew he wasn't as comfortable fully naked when they were out in Em City usually, in the showers.

"Your brother's a boxer, haven't you picked up anything?" Miguel teased.

Cyril. The fucking boxing. Another spot of worry. The boxing was still on hold because of the tension, and Ryan had been too busy to deal with it. And the fixed matches were a path Ryan didn't really want to lead Miguel down. But Ryan pushed all the worry down. He couldn't let it show here. It might push Miguel back into that dark spiral.

"Not really." Ryan just shook his head, wanting to change the subject. "How was your night?"

Miguel snorted. "Magical. You?"

Playing it off. But Ryan could hear it there. The strain. Trying to be tough but Miguel was still grasping. Trying to hold on through sheer force of will. Downplaying what he was going through. Like he hadn't been shattered and delusional just yesterday. But maybe that's what he needed to do, to pretend for a moment, so Ryan let him.

"Good as can be expected." Like Ryan was the one who might have trouble sleeping...but he was actually. Because he couldn't get that image of Miguel curled up and shaking out of his brain when he closed his eyes. Couldn't be back at ease until this was over. "Cyril's nightmares aren't as bad. He's been sleeping all night most of the time."

Miguel looked pleased at that. Concerned for Ryan and Cyril even with what he was going through.

Ryan wasn't used to that from people. Wanted to soak it up and bottle it away. But Miguel was like that with him. Not only thinking of himself.

"That's good, he getting better? Talking to Sister Pete?"

"Yeah, as always. But it's not just that." Ryan snorted a little. "I've been doping him when he's really bad."

Miguel smirked. "Be careful with that shit."

"It's the stuff you gave me. I only give him half a pill," Ryan said, and got a reassured nod from Miguel.

Ryan kept talking. Repeating some of the goings on that he had gone over yesterday... because Miguel was *here* now and could retain it. But Ryan stuck to the inconsequential stuff. Cyril, which Miguel actually seemed concerned about. Miss Sally, petty squabbles that didn't affect them, Beecher and Keller's dance. Miguel was there, part of the conversation, making sarcastic remarks and observations. Both of them managing to... hold on. Together.

Ryan had been locked up four days himself, but it wasn't the same. He had been able to see people. Those glass walls a relief and a curse. No privacy, but he had been able to watch outside his fishbowl. Movement. Life going on. And Ryan had had Cyril, another mixed blessing. Days locked down with restless Cyril got strained, but Cyril was *there* and Ryan wasn't alone. An annoying, claustrophobic comfort.

Ryan talked about the lockdown, but not much about it's cause. Just the views of the passion plays going on outside his walls and behind the others.

After a bit, Ryan checked his watch, the weight on his wrist slightly less unfamiliar these days. He'd been wearing it so much since he'd been with Miguel.

Miguel tensed a little. Tried to hide it, but Ryan was better at reading him than Miguel was at hiding at the moment. "You have to go?"


"Yeah," Ryan said softly. It had been over fifteen minutes, which was as close to the edge as he could push it.

And it was Ryan who reached up this time through the little hole. Awkward and cramped but he didn't care. Miguel moved forward, under his hand. Ryan's fingers tried to cup and caress Miguel's jaw, his face, as much as he could. Miguel turned into it, eyes closing with a sigh.

"I'm sorry, gato," Ryan said...so soft. The only indication that Miguel even heard the barely whispered words was the little nuzzling press into his touch...before Miguel pulled away.

~ Chapter 11: Ends and Beginnings ~

Ryan spent the next several days keeping Miguel from slipping back to insanity. He rushed through his food delivery only to slow down and rest against that cold metal door, stealing all the time he could. He did all he could to keep Miguel's mind out of the hole, since he could do nothing about the body being trapped there. It helped, both of them, if Ryan was being honest. Miguel was there, holding it together when Ryan saw him. He looked better overall. No more Spanish. No more hallucinations. Ryan hoped it was enough to keep Miguel from becoming irretrievably fucked up if Ryan was locked down away from him.

That jittery buzz built under Ryan's skin all the while. Waiting, fucking impatiently, for his scheme to finally work. It was rubbing him rawer than ever. But at least he could see it playing out, whereas Miguel could not. El Cid looked fucking insane, snapping at everything when he wasn't staring dark daggers at the Italians.

Then...Ryan felt it. One day while working the players, gathering information, spreading whispers. It was like the smell in the air before a lightening strike, so clear it was almost enough to raise the hair on his arms with the electricity.

All the players slid into place. Ryan kept informed of it all, going out of his way to keep tabs, and all the things he knew...added up to the finale. It clicked in his brain, in the air, finally.

The perfect cascade of well-placed dominoes -

Seggio, one of Pancamo's brethren, was in the gym - alone. And Ryan...had let that slip, talking to Cyril about boxing training while passing El Cid's table. Cyril left right afterwards to get his head shrunk by the nun, letting Ryan focus even more keenly.

An easily bribable hack was on duty. Murphy was not.

Ryan watched El Cid and Guerra disappear shortly after Ryan's covert mutterings.

Ryan knew it in his blood. It was coming to a head - now. He quickly made his way to Pancamo, and his table of boys, to make sure he knew it too, to make sure that El Cid would have unexpected company. That the ape-man would be outnumbered. It was so easy.

Ryan made sure to hide his haste, and sidle over casually. "Hey there, Chuckie. How they hanging?"

Pancamo drew his attention off the pussy in the magazine he was staring at to look at Ryan. "What do you want, O'Reily?"

"Want? Nothing." Ryan shrugged.

Ryan hid his grin as Pancamo snorted in disbelief. Playing right into his hand. He knew Ryan was up to something, yeah right. The dumbshit had no clue.

Ryan pretended to give in with a slightly deferent tilt of his head, acting like he had been caught. "Well...okay. I was just hoping to get the lowdown on the meet between you and the spics. You two finally kissing and making up?"

Pancamo blinked, and the guys with him focused on Ryan now too, practically scratching their heads. "What the hell are you going on about now, mick?" Pancamo leaned forward a bit, his expression mildly serious, and still thinking he knew what was up. "You've got some bad information for once. We ain't meeting." Smug.

Letting himself look confused, Ryan said, "Huh. Guess so. That's fucking strange. Cuz this, I witnessed with my own eyes." He leaned closer, conspiratorial. "I swore I heard El Cid and his butt boy talking about meeting with you in the gym just now."

The eyes around the table narrowed. Pancamo knew Seggio was in there, vulnerable and alone. The big dumb mook could figure that out at least, although it almost looked like the thought process was causing him pain. "What?"

Ryan shrugged again. "Yeah. I thought they were fucking late or something, because the amigos sure were hustling there looking determined, talking about you wops."


"You don't say, O'Reily?" Pancamo was taking him seriously now. Believing him. Acting like he was figuring things out that Ryan didn't already know. Just like Ryan wanted.

Ryan made sure to put the cherry on top, to make sure Pancamo moved. Framed it like an idle, out loud pondering. "Yeah, but who knows with that guy. I mean, have you seen him lately? He's fucking on edge. I wonder what's gotten up his ass? He's going off on everyone. Maybe he was just ranting."

That did it. It was more than enough.

"Must've been." Pancamo's voice was dark as death. His mind clearly spinning behind his eyes.

All he was missing was the steam pouring out his ears.

Ryan shrugged again, but Pancamo was no longer focused on him. Dismissing him by turning to his boys. Ryan didn't mind in this case. He went on his way, job done. The rest of the players were murmuring to each other before Ryan got two steps away. They were already hustling to the gym before Ryan had made his way too far from the table. He lingered near their abandoned table instead of sitting down somewhere else. When they cleared the gate, he went over and idly picked up the skin mag Chuckie had left behind. He flipped through it a bit before tossing it back down. Wasn't that good. And who knew what kinds of fluids were on it. Ryan pulled his own out of his back pocket before taking up residence at another table.

He almost wished he could see it play out its final act, watch the cocksucker's final moments for Miguel, watch their plans come to fruition, but staying out of the way was best. He stayed waiting, with that hum under his blood. The worry. Anticipation. Waiting to see if it worked, or if the players fucked it up. Even if they did, Ryan had outs. He reviewed them in his mind as he sat in the common room in well-masked anticipation.

If El Cid survived?

Spike his food. Spike his tits. Get Adebisi to have him taken care of. Blame it on the Italians. Even better if one of the wops got airholed in the gym, it would make it more believable.

A miracle occurs, El Cid undergoes a personality transplant and the spics and the wops made hasty peace with a truce?

Do El Cid anyway, everyone would just think the truce was a ruse, and the wops wouldn't really care.

Ryan flipped through his magazine, fingers tapping idly on the table. Fucking waiting. If it happened now - they would be locked down. Cyril was with the Sister. Ryan would have to be caged alone to think until Cyril was brought back and deposited. Good, and bad. His attention was drawn away by...Liam. Perfect.

"Yo, me boyo." Ryan called him over with a grin.

He got an eager one in return from Liam. This new guy was...good. Loyal, obedient, eager to please, not so bright that he would get dangerous ideas in his head, but not stupid.

"Yeah, what do you need?" Liam asked, voice low and designed not to carry with that grin still on his face. So very eager, and knowing Ryan needed something.

"I think things are possibly about to get very fucking interesting around here. Do me a favor and hang near the hacks, listen for news?"

"Done." Liam rapped on the table and casually made his way to hang out on the rail by the raised guard station in the middle of Emcity.

Good boy.

Pancamo and his boys came back first...with Seggio. They were looking pissed and a bit too worked up. Trying a bit too hard to look innocent. They were practically whistling and looking around at the sky with wide innocent eyes like a fucking cartoon, until they got to their table and hunkered down for a serious conference. All those eyes darting to the gates...waiting like Ryan was.

Ryan sat up slightly in his seat, but stayed casual. He caught Liam out of the corner of his eye still idling within hearing range of the hack in charge of the board.

Ryan looked up from his magazine just enough to see that hack suddenly talking on his walkie. Looking stressed. Time for the curtain call -- who was left onstage?

Lots of rapid walkie talk was happening within Liam's hearing range. Hacks were moving suddenly, the one at the main board moving and abandoning his coffee, flipping switches - and there he went to the mic.

"Lockdown!" Harsh shout carrying all that tension on the hacks faces, abrasive as the buzzer.

Ryan tucked his grin away to savor later, and settled on a groan and a grumble as he moved slow, getting up like it was an awful chore. His grumbles joined all the others, the mutters of surprise and curiosity, of anger, as everyone moved reluctantly. Ryan kept his lope not quite as slow, and met up with Liam on his way up.

"What's the headline?" Ryan asked, leaning his head towards Liam.

Liam was right in step with him for a moment to whisper in his ear. "Hernandez is dead. The other spic, Guerra, is in the hospital ward."

"Good job, thanks." Ryan said with a soft tap of his magazine to Liam's shoulder as the other Irishman split off, looking pissed at the lock down but pleased to have served.

Ryan entered his pod as the hacks started rounding up stragglers. The hacks were fucking tense. The wops had looked...pleased.

The door slid closed with that whoosh of air that let him breathe. Finally. He saw the hack at the controls locking them away as he just leaned against the glass, looking out.

They'd be stuck like this for a while. Hard to tell for how long. Ryan had that satisfaction of a plan run smoothly to its end in his veins...

But it was blotted out by thoughts of another. Trapped. Alone now.

For...who the hell knew how long.

His gato - trapped in that fucking head without Ryan to pry him out.

Ryan hoped Miguel remembered what this meant. Remembered that it was all over now. They would both be let out, and when they were...Miguel would be unchained. He would be Ryan's real partner, in charge and strong at his side.

Now...it was just beginning.


Ryan kept from restlessly pacing in front of the glass by staying in his cot. They'd be here for a while. The pacing could wait until he was ready to crawl out of his skin. He'd have someone to distract him when they brought Cyril back. And that would be plenty to keep his hands full. Cyril didn't cage his restlessness; he didn't have the presence of mind to. While they were locked down, Cyril acted out every itch under Ryan's skin. Talking. Complaining. Shadow boxing. Bouncing that fucking ball endlessly against the wall until the thuds matched the ones in Ryan's head. Yeah, Ryan remembered it all too well from just last week. While deep down Ryan was grateful for the company, it was the surface annoyances that frustrated him.

This was the last peace of mind Ryan would have for a while. He needed to take this precious time to get his head straight, so he could cope when the guards finally brought Cyril back. It wouldn't be long, as soon as things were fully controlled, and calmer. Once the dust settled enough to move him, they'd want to get Cyril safely locked up in his cage as well.

Ryan sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he lay there on top of his made bed. His stress level was higher than usual.

Because of Miguel.

Ryan was having it made painfully clear just how much Miguel...relaxed...him, now that the Latino was gone. Lockdown again, and Ryan would be counting the days until Alvarez was back. That worry over just how Miguel was doing without *him* would keep Ryan cold company all the while.

The satisfaction of a plan coming smoothly to completion and hopes for future stability weren't the only things on Ryan's mind. There were other issues overshadowing everything.

Ryan just wanted Miguel back out. Not to watch his back, or help his moves, or play the game covertly at his side - but just here. With him. Like they were in those increasingly frequent stolen moments when business took a back-seat. He missed Miguel's company. He was worried about Miguel's welfare.

Things had changed. And now Ryan had the time to really settle down with it and scope out the new landscape properly. Not the one outside the glass wall, he always had that one mapped, but the one inside of him. His heart. That part of him had been quiet lately. Not because it was dead, but because he was... happy.


His feeling better than he had in ages had left him able to focus razor sharp on that outer landscape. On physical survival. Until now. When he was worried. Restless. Strained. Aching. Lonely.

And he knew why.

But it wasn't because of Gloria anymore. He didn't feel the same about her now. Thoughts of her triggered pain and guilt over Cyril. He saw Cyril's destroyed life when he looked at her. He saw everything he thought he felt...fading away. He would always care about her. She was a good person that he had felt wonderful things for, but it was different now. Quiet. Changed. He had gotten what he had wanted - her out from under his skin.

Ryan jerked up, out of his reverie, at the distinct sound of compressed air being released -- the familiar signal of the door to his pod opening.


"Ryan!" Cyril came in quick, led by an irritated looking guard that swiftly left them locked back up. Leaving him with Cyril and his innocence and confusion. "Did something bad happen? Why are we not allowed to leave again?"

"It'll be okay, little brother. It's nothing bad for us." Ryan said truthfully, going for calm reassurance. He threw himself out of bed to greet his brother, leaving everything else for later.


Later was after lights out. Back in his bunk, keeping an ear out for Cyril. Ryan was staying awake until he heard Cyril settle down. It would be useless to pass out, only to be brought awake by screams after half an hour if Cyril had an early nightmare. But that wasn't the real reason. Cyril was doing better with that shit. Unfortunately, Ryan was pretty sure the break in boxing was partially to commend for that. Cyril wasn't stressed over not wanting to box.

Ryan couldn't sleep anyway. He had things to turn over in his head before he could rest easy and start planning for the new post-lockdown order.

Things having to do with Miguel.

Ryan wanted to continue what they had as soon as Miguel came out. Ryan wanted Miguel with him... for the foreseeable future. And not just at his side in the tit trade, although the smooth installation of that plan was something he'd have to return to in his mind after he got matters that had nothing to do with business out of his head.

Ryan had had indiscretions with men in here before. Quick, secret, played close to his chest, and strictly for getting his rocks off. It was rare and extremely hidden by necessity. It was plainly about his dick and nothing else. Anyone involved knew that. Like Adebisi having boy toys or even Vern and those fucks forcing prags. The only slight difference being, Ryan made sure the few guys that touched him were willing. But even if his actions came out, which they never had, Ryan was careful it would never have been seen as anything but a strong guy following his dick into any available hole. An acceptable fact of prison life.

Miguel was...different. He hadn't started out that way. But now...their relationship was going on for a long time. And Miguel was getting as much as he was giving. Ryan's balls weren't behind the steering wheel anymore. Neither was business.

It was time for Ryan to figure out the layout of possibilities for this change. How it would be viewed. What it meant.

He wasn't a fag if he didn't take it up the ass. He wasn't a fag if he wasn't a bitch.

But what if he dreamed about Miguel? Not Miss Sally and her great tits, not Gloria as his angel anymore...but Miguel. Well, there was that very nice dream with him and Miguel and Miss Sally as the fun creamy center --

Ryan shook that thought out of his head. It would be too easy to get caught up in hazy, blissful remembrance here in the secluded dark under his stifling sheets. That wasn't the matter at hand.

What if he worried for the loco Latino? What if he cared about him?

What if he wanted Miguel by his side forever?

What did that make Ryan?


There was an impulsive, base fear attached to the word, the idea. Especially in here. It was wrong. It was dangerous. It was weak. A weakness.

But so was any emotion. Any attachment meant danger. If you cared about something, you cared about losing it, and that was a weakness to be exploited. Anything that mattered...was just another thing that could be taken. Another thing that could be threatened.

Caring about another person? It meant you were weak in the eyes of these dumb fucks. They didn't see it. The strength. The best things.

To them, if you were a tough motherfucker, you only cared about yourself or your gang.

And if you were a fag?

Cocksucker. Maricon.

You were opening yourself up to trouble.

To the guys in here, fags were pussies. Fags were prags. Less than. Not a real man.

But if no one knew...

Ryan turned over restlessly. He always had to think it through. No one knew now. The plan was still that no one ever would. But the possibility was there. What if they did find out? Ryan chased it down, thought it out.

His love for Gloria had been a weakness, but she was a woman. The difference mattered.

His cancer was a weakness, and that was closer. Breast cancer. Like a chick. A pussy.

Cyril. Taking care of Cyril? Weakness. The biggest one of all. Cyril was his vulnerability. But Ryan managed it. It had been the worst at first. Cyril had been victimized even when everyone *knew* he was Ryan's blood. But Andy Boy had paid the price his father owed for touching Ryan's brother.

Ryan ticked off his weaknesses in his head. He'd survived them all.

He already cared about Miguel, and it wasn't even a question of stopping. Miguel mattered. Ryan would hold on to this good feeling he had found with all he had. That wouldn't change. It was too important, especially in here, despite the danger. He had found that with Miguel. Case closed. And, well...he was fine with the cock thing. More fine than he'd even thought he was actually, but he'd never been as against it as he acted. He talked plenty of shit, and twitched when it was mentioned, mostly to keep safe. All that no fag bullshit mainly just made sure no one found out about it. It was strategy. Caution. To keep hassle free when he could. No use complicating shit when you could keep it simple and play straighter than straight. Now, the complications were a possibility, but Ryan could handle that too. He'd kept out of it as much as necessary before because it had only involved his lust. It hadn't been worth any unneeded stress.

Ryan may have been a little uncomfortable with it internally in the past, but not nearly as much as he carefully made it seem. The shit with the cancer had flipped him the fuck out a little for one thing, made him wonder if that's why he'd gotten it, but that had been the fear and confusion about the plague in his body, and he'd calmed back down afterwards.

He'd only ever told himself some of those fag stories. Like how he gave into it sometimes, and appreciated men, more out of necessity in here. Like the narrowed choices made it different, more okay. That was just a bit of his own personal denial, in addition to the false things he said out loud, that he saw more clearly now. In the end, now that he'd found someone he wanted to be with, he'd had to own up to things and admit that it was more than that. What he'd found had eased his denial away without him caring much. He'd been too busy wanting more and feeling good.

Denying it now, when he felt all this, would be futile and fucking stupid. The rare good things had to be embraced when you found them. Why would he want to keep himself from feeling this? To try to hide from it? He needed it too much. Hiding it from others was safe and logical, because of the way *they* viewed it, hiding it from himself was something different. He'd have to be dumb as shit, like those Nazis that spent all their time violently fucking guys and still pretending it meant they were straight and powerful, not just horny, deluded, evil cumstains.

Fags had never really bothered Ryan, personally. He hadn't looked down on it like some guys did, no matter what shit he said. It was always more about fear and caution than true passionate objection on the subject for him. His upbringing and life discouraged that shit, but it was something he'd never really taken to heart. He knew weakness had nothing to do with where you stuck your dick or who turned your crank, it was only that perception of weakness that had held him up. On the outside, well, he'd had enough pussy that he could...ignore...anything else stirring his blood, as long as it didn't stir his heart. It never had. But he loved being with Miguel, in every sense. He liked Miguel's body. It turned him the fuck on, strong and sure. When it came to this, cock and heart were what mattered to Ryan - and they both approved.

Ryan stretched a little, head digging a more comfortable groove in the thin pillow. Time to move on...survival rate of fags in here.

Keller fucked guys. That didn't mean much in and of itself - Adebisi fucked guys, but they were a parade of fresh-faced prags. But Keller *cared* about Beecher and everyone knew it. Keller, who didn't have a gang or half of Ryan's moves, and he survived. Hell, *Beecher* was more of a danger to Keller than anyone else was. Ryan knew who had ambushed and airholed Keller. He knew what Law Boy was capable of, even if Keller didn't. Demented fucking love birds.

Law Boy...well, that didn't count. He'd been so fresh and innocent. He wasn't like Ryan in some important ways. He had that survivor's potential in him, but Ryan had to coax it out. Help him. The fucks in here didn't see what Ryan did at first, only Ryan saw those parts buried underneath. But he was only pondering perception right now, and Beecher had never had Ryan's rep, he never would. Ryan discounted him from comparison, but kept him in mind.

Keller's rep helped Beecher, protected him from all but the Aryans. So did Beecher's craziness. That smart, brutal survivor Ryan had uncovered, and who was fucking crazier and more of a survivor than Ryan's gato? He just needed it publicized better. Miguel had a dangerous rep in the making, all the history was there, the truth to back it up. The guy had blinded a fucking hack, taken a shank, taken a bullet, led during the riot. Miguel just hadn't executed his image properly. He didn't use it like he could. The right word of mouth would take care of that. And Miguel didn't have the history Beecher did, the weakness. He'd never been a prag. He was tough.

Cramer. Now, Cramer had fucked guys like it was going out of style. Cramer was labeled a fag even on the outside. He was the real deal. He was also tough. He survived in Unit B. *With* his little Anthony. People talked shit, sure, but nobody touched that cocksucker.

It could be done. It was just rare.

But that was Ryan's talent, surviving against the odds.

Ryan could handle it if it got out. He would do his best to keep it quiet. That was the plan. So that Miguel could lead. So that they could lead together. But Ryan could rest easier about that now after examining it in his head.

Reassured, Ryan turned to his feelings for Miguel to soothe himself....


He had to admit...they were enough to make it all worth it. They were light here in the dark. Relief in the face of the strain of life.

It was a huge fucking surprise. This...had not been the plan.

Miguel was sliding right under his skin, clawing Gloria out with ease. He was slipping into Ryan's blood, pumping straight to his heart.

Gloria. That obsession that had consumed Ryan was burning out and settling down finally. Those outside voices had said it wasn't really love, but it had been the closest Ryan had ever come, and it hurt to give it up. It hurt to let go of the idea. He had been so sure that she was the best thing he'd ever found...it had felt so good for a while. He had wanted to prove them wrong. He wanted to be happy and he hadn't been willing to give that up just because everyone thought he was wrong. He had wanted so badly for it to be real, he'd convinced himself it was. But he wasn't happy, and maybe they weren't entirely wrong after all.

Gloria was a beautiful woman. Kind. She had given Ryan feelings he'd cherished, helped him discover what he could feel. But going after her had only destroyed them both, killing everything that was good. She was in pain and Cyril was trapped. Because of him. Ryan had lost so much...it was fucking impossible to believe it hadn't been for a good reason. For true love. It was hard to accept that he'd stolen his brother's life and his own...for something that could end. Something that wasn't all there was. But Ryan had to face the truth that he didn't want any of that anymore. He didn't want her. He could be happy without her. It was like a little death. Giving up something that had taken so much of him, realizing it wasn't worth what it had cost him. Slowly realizing that he could feel something even better, that there was someone else he felt those amazing warm pure feelings for. But with the loss came relief. He no longer had that burning in his heart for someone he couldn't have. This was what he had wanted -- her out of his brain.

Ryan hadn't meant for it to happen this way though. Miguel had not been supposed to...burrow so deep. This was not what Ryan had wanted at first, not what he had planned. He'd wanted a distraction, a strong ally...not this. But he knew just as surely that he couldn't stop it. He didn't want to.

In the beginning it had been about logic. Ryan had known a partnership could be beneficial to him, that he could use Miguel to help him achieve his own ends. He'd even known that it could be more than that if he wanted, more of a true partnership without the usual deception and manipulation. He'd also known that Miguel would feel good guarding his back, playing a part in his plans, and would even feel good under his hands. He was someone Ryan could get off with, because that helped too. The relaxation and tension release did wonders for Ryan's mind.

But Ryan hadn't known just how good Miguel would feel, just how much this would bring him. Miguel wasn't the one Ryan had expected to catch a taste of happiness with. Ryan had just wanted a bit of relief, a shoulder to carry the smallest bit of the weight. He was getting that and more.

Miguel...who called Ryan a cold predator's name and then turned around and treated him like something else entirely. Ryan said things he shouldn't, pulled Miguel closer than was necessary. Sharing that weight and his schemes far more than he'd planned. And he couldn't stop that either, not when Miguel was slipping pills in his pocket in unasked for kindness, touching him with that fire, holding him when Ryan broke down, and grinning as sharp and bright as the sun reflecting off of metal.

Ryan couldn't help feeling this tug. Not when Miguel gave back whatever Ryan showed him of himself. Miguel had been pissed and reluctant at first, acting like he was tangled up in Ryan's schemes. Ryan had been a last resort for him. But now...Ryan saw that amused joyous spark in his eyes and smile when Ryan laid out the details of a plan. Miguel liked having a partner. It was even more than that though. They had started stealing time away together - just for the simple purpose of seeing each other. It felt good to share shit with him. The more Ryan gave Miguel of himself, the more Ryan included him, the more Miguel rose to it and responded in kind. Miguel opened like a book for Ryan, and all Ryan had to do was ask. And it felt too good to stop.

What was supposed to have just been business, even if Miguel was less of a pawn than usual, had become more than allying with someone to ease the weight. Miguel shifted beyond someone he could talk to about things, intricacies that Cyril didn't understand, even beyond a partner in mind and deed. Miguel made his blood pound in his veins.

Ryan hadn't meant to *feel* anything for Miguel. He hadn't meant to care about Miguel...but he did. So fucking much. Everything he'd found with Gloria...was right here. Found with that hot body, smart mouth, unexpected kindness, and playful spark. Miguel.

And every time Ryan showed something real of himself, even just a hint...Miguel didn't bat an eye. Miguel casually and comfortably accepted every new dimension of their relationship. Miguel made it worth the risk of opening up and showing him more. He trusted Ryan. Even when he didn't want to.

Ryan *knew* Miguel would have his back. Just like he knew that his time with Miguel felt fucking good. Their business arrangement had shifted far past that business, and Miguel just moved with it, talking and laughing with Ryan like they were becoming friends. Miguel made it worth relying on him, being real, and trusting him more than Ryan had planned. Because it felt more right than anything else in his life.


In the hole, a cacophony amped up slowly inside of Miguel's head. Ryan had been there briefly, pulling him out of it, drowning out everything else; giving him something to grasp so he could pull himself up the precious inches to sanity, for a while.

And then Ryan had disappeared.

Miguel knew what that meant. It was almost over. They were in lockdown. Had to be. El Cid was dead. He would be out. He would be safe. He would be out of that fucker's destructive grasp for good. Miguel curled up with the ghosts of Ryan's reassurances whispering in his ears.

Until time passed. Until sane hopeful things faded, and everything slipped into the dark contained in those four small walls. The dark in his head. Because it was never really dark in the hole. The hacks liked to leave the bare bulb on all the time for him. To fuck with him, it was always lit. Always fake day. He always had a clear view of those same four walls, that same stone floor and ceiling. But no matter how long they kept that bulb on, it always seemed dark. Because some darkness was too real and pervasive to be kept at bay by filaments. It was carried inside. It was trapped without a window. He lost track of anything. Time unending with no demarcation. Just one immeasurably long present that made everything outside the hole more distant, less real. He lost faith. He lost that confidence.

And everything crawled out of the dark to greet him.

Everything that was wrong with his plan came first.

El Cid could've survived. He could come out on top. There were so many variables they had to finesse. Ryan was the king of finesse. Maybe it was Ryan's time to stumble. Maybe Ryan had never planned it that way at all. Ryan could be lying. Ryan could be out there laughing his ass off at Miguel right now.

With Adebisi. The two of them preying on the chaos amongst the Latinos that Miguel had helped cause.

Or maybe with some new puppet head of El Norte under his control.

Or with El Cid himself.

Miguel was in here. Trapped in the dark. He had no way of knowing...anything. It all slipped away like his measure of days now that Ryan wasn't slinging food and conversation at him though the small slots of light.

Alone and slipping into the dark...Miguel's surety in his observations about Ryan faltered. If Ryan was playing him...fuck. It would rip Miguel to shreds now. He was in too deep. He had let Ryan in. Trusted him. Miguel *liked* the devious crazy fucker. Needed him in a way that had nothing to do with schemes, gangs, or tits.

Those worries that had been quieted, the things that had been soothed in his mind by his experiences with Ryan were nagging Miguel now. Doubt. Fear.

Then came worse things.

Worse because they were the undeniable truth. No matter how crazy he was...they were always real. Forever.

Miguel had done this. Miguel had betrayed his vows. Every justification fell away when he was in here alone with the facts.

He had turned on his leader. He had abandoned everything he believed in. He had smiled at the man, and planted a dagger in his back with a shark at his side. A shark that had never known loyalty of any kind. And Miguel had joined him. The things he felt for Ryan now didn't matter. Back then he had known nothing. It hadn't mattered. He'd joined blindly.

Everything Miguel had given his life over to...he had turned his back on. He was a betrayer.

Even if the reigns of his life were the prize, and not thirty pieces of silver. He had known what he was getting into when he joined El Norte. When he took those vows. When he swore that allegiance. Everything he was snatching back...was something he had given up willingly. Because he believed. In his honor, his word.

And he had backed out. Like it had never meant anything at all.

Rivera meant nothing. Miguel had taken something precious, something that could never be given back...and he'd done it for a vow that in the end, he had betrayed when it suited him. His nightmares of the man were intensified here. Rivera accusing him, bleeding on him...those clawing hands trying to take Miguel's own eyes in payment when he closed them to sleep. He heard the echoing ring of that dropped bloody blade still, here alone with only his own heartbeat.

Everything Miguel had lost, everything he had destroyed...

...had been for nothing. For words that meant less now.

He had stretched them. For himself. For his own life and sanity.

And it had shifted past that.

To a hot mouth.

A long body.

Rough hands and green eyes.

Laughter, comfort, and the exploration of skin.

Lying with another betrayer. Who might even be his -- his partner, his...lover. His own betrayer. Miguel wasn't sure which one Ryan really was anymore. Not in here. No matter what Miguel had thought he was finding with Ryan out there...he wasn't as sure about it's reality here in the dark. Maybe it was his shark's deception.

Miguel had given up his bond with his blood, with the gang that had carried and led his life, given up a slice of his honor...

For all this. To take care of himself.

And the very worst thing, the thing that whispered insidiously in his ear in the dark...

...was that he was happy with it.

This was what he had wanted. It felt better. He wanted this to be real. Wanted it to work.

He had given up a piece of the loyalty that he'd had his whole life, scratched the shine off of it, bending his values to save himself. And he would do it again if given the chance.

As dark as it got, Miguel didn't slip away completely. Even with the nightmares, there were still rare bright spots. Good hallucinations bleeding from good memories. Times when he could hold on to those pleasant real memories. And fuck - it was amazing enough he had any that had taken place in Oz. But he did now.

Through the doubt and fear and loss of surety...bits of Ryan peeked through. Dim memories of their time together, before those slowly faded away. It took a while for that to happen. But then the hallucinatory mindfucks eventually came to replace them. Twisting the old memories, drifting to dream, to nightmare. Visions of losing himself in Ryan's mouth, in Ryan's word...until Ryan stood aside while an invisible shank came out of the dark and pierced Miguel's side. And it was always too dark in the vision/dream to see the expression on Ryan's face. Was he grinning? Or was he afraid? Had he planned it, or been just as blindsided as Miguel?

But he was able to hold on to the slightly more firm, recent memories of Ryan talking to him in here. They came up occasionally through it all. Miguel liked to believe that those words had been real. That the concern had been genuine. He wanted to remember that he had believed Ryan, been almost sure of it, before he'd slipped into the dark. He needed that belief here.

It was all a jumble. Falling on top of him. The guilt, pain, and fear rocking him to sleep. It echoed with his mindless steps circuiting the small room when he was awake. What he had done was always there with everything else. And that couldn't be blamed on Ryan.

Ryan had only held the apple. Miguel had taken the bite.

But one thing stayed true. Whatever he did after this, if there was any life beyond this empty cold room, Miguel would stick to those old values from now on. The rest of his vows to El Norte were still strong, meaningful, in contrast to the weak flexibility he had given part of them to escape the crush of El Cid's hands around his throat. He wouldn't break them completely. He would go back to them, honor them, because he still believed. He hadn't turned into a permanent, two-faced betrayer. He'd only turned on one man. The man who would have had no qualms about turning on him. The man that had been itching to get rid of him since he'd first laid eyes on Miguel. Miguel would do his best for the rest of El Norte.

But he'd always know...he had broken some part of those vows to save himself.

To save himself from...possibilities. The *possibility* of a life back in solitary. The *possibility* of no life at all. But it hadn't even been kill or be killed. That was excusable. This was a crossed line. This was a preemptive strike. A what if. His honor had no place for what if. You trusted. You gave yourself up. And you were supposed to deal with the consequences of that. He hadn't. He had made sure it never came to a shank through his ribs, or a life lost back in solitary. Instead, he had followed his own interests, for that security of crossing off the "what if" and trading it in for a certainty. Taking care of one dangerous possibility to be faced now with the possibilities that would never come to pass because of that move. He'd followed the possibility of danger to him -- what if El Cid's grudge against him had taken over. But what if it hadn't? What if Miguel hadn't gotten into the murky water with his shark? What if Miguel had stuck completely by his honor and played along, like he had vowed to? He may have survived. El Cid might not have doomed Miguel the way Miguel did him. A part of Miguel, quiet and losing its voice in the dark, knew that El Cid's hostility towards him would only grow, that it had just been waiting to take new form, to lash out...

Miguel had crossed that line and not taken the chance. He hadn't been one hundred percent sure. No knife had been right at his throat. It hadn't come yet. Miguel had struck first to ensure it wouldn't go down that way. And here...the loud, sharp, rending parts of Miguel wouldn't let him forget that.

He dreamt of...well...a lot of shit. And sometimes it was hard to separate dream from hallucination. But the most frequent, the ones that he assigned to deep night, even though he never had any idea what time it was, were memories of taking his first vows.

Being beaten into El Norte. Jumped by everyone he was pledging to. A gauntlet of pain. He felt every blow. Heard the shouts for blood accompanying every impact to his willing flesh. Fresh and clean as the day it had happened. He remembered that what he was doing had gotten him through it. The meaning. The allegiance. Earned through blood and the solid smash of his skin down to deep muscle, feeling like it was shattering his very bones. It had meaning. It had been worth it. Duty. All of it was now living behind his lids while they fluttered in REM sleep.

And when he first woke up, nakedly alone on cold stone, he could still feel it. All over again. Reminding him of what he had betrayed.

He deserved it. Reliving it alone every night -- this here and now hell trapped in his head -- was his penance.

~ Chapter 12: Squinting in the Sun ~ The change was abrupt. Out of the limitless immeasurable grey, the outside world was suddenly back -- loud and slicing. "Alvarez! Month's over! Get your ass up!"

The thud next to his face of clothes hitting cement brought him the first scent that wasn't steel or his own biting waste and sweat. It was cheap industrial detergent, but it smelled like a spring breeze at the moment. The outside world, reality. The clack of the standard issue flip-flops following the clothes echoed through his head. All of it pulling him back fast.

All the rules he'd shed sprang back like that bark, like that stark light that changed the room. As he pulled himself up, Miguel's vision blinked to the open door.


Showing more dim light. A hall.

The continuance of life.

Another shock all its own. Miguel moved quick, dressing without needing to think. Automatic motion as his head slammed with the world. The one he would rejoin.

The ingrained routine and rules of behavior overtook that swim of pain and confusion that had swept him away. Because through it all, he knew...he did not have time to adjust. To regain sanity. There was no leniency for such things in Oz.

He was back in Oz. True, he hadn't left the prison walls, but he'd left the bodies and minds that made it a different kind of prison. It went from being his own inescapable trap back to being a whole different kind, with the opening of that thick steel door. Shifting from being alone with his own demons and nothing else to having to survive among the demons of many.

Miguel slid on his stone face and swagger with his clothes. He needed to appear in control now, even for the guards. He shut the howl of everything else away like the slam of the door to the hole behind them as he followed the guard out. Back into the fray the second his name had been called.

The shit in his head gave way to his survival instinct. Learned behavior. The chaos didn't matter, couldn't help him, and would only drown him when he was out in the world. With every step, every slide slap of those flimsy plastic shoes to that ever-present stone, he erected barriers in his mind. Shoved the mess of pain and guilt away. Every breath of fresher air clearing his head. Bringing him back. Fast. Because it was necessary. Out of his hole. Out of his head.


Biting clean. Showing him the truth. The standard temporary clothes felt strange on his skin. Muffling. Chafing. Made him feel even dirtier with his filth layered under them.

This was reality. Those nightmares gone, replaced with his real life. Just as brutal. But more dangerous. Because it was danger that was everywhere, not just from himself. At the same time, it was a vital improvement. All because he wasn't locked away with only himself.

It was always like this, an abrupt shift from being lost in his own head to what was real outside of it. It would take days to really be back, to fully regain his hold, but he always came back enough to cope and function as soon as he was...free. It might not be real freedom, the one beyond bars and out of his reach, but this, the kind he could have, meant everything to Miguel.

Every step away from Ad Seg continued to bring him closer to what passed for sanity. Still tense as a live wire, still worried. But he was starting to be able see the shit in his head for what it was. A stir-crazy maze. Delusions building on his fear.

He got back to Emcity, and his lungs ached with the pressure of that fresh air, that fresh view, all that open space. Beautiful, but painfully so from the abrupt change. The lights too bright for his eyes. And he was sane enough to know he couldn't show it. Miguel kept his casual cocky stroll and his face a mask of stone violence and seriousness. Blank of the pain. Blank of the lost feeling he'd fell into in his month in the hole.

All the people were another shock, but he didn't let that show either. He let the words, the shouts, the customary whistles, and taunts, either adversarial or congratulatory, slough right off him. He saw them as one big picture at the moment. One mass, even as his instincts watched each player carefully, judging distance to his body. Assessing threats and safety. They'd be real people later, when he could handle that. For now -- it was too much after so little to ask of his mind and wary nerves.

Except there was one face he saw as a fully realized person. One he noticed as individual, human, instead of just a possible threat, a body to be cataloged by group, by level of caution that needed to be assigned to it.

Ryan O'Reily. Right there. Looking just as casual in his own mask. His very body carrying the ruse as he sat at a table in the common room. The Irishman was slumped back and relaxed, owning the joint, his legs up on the table. Watching. That gaze burning a hole through Miguel. On him like a heat seeker the second Miguel had entered view.

Only Miguel could see the lack of casualness in that gaze. All eyes were on him as he came back, but that grey-green pair was the only one really *looking*.

There was nothing that could be done. Too public for any signal to pass. Miguel was still operating on auto-pilot. He passed without a sign to his shark, immediately going to his pod. The movement of his body was as mechanical as the door that let out a whoosh as he entered. The usual recycled stale toilet smell went unnoticed. After weeks next to a bucket of his own waste in a forever closed room, this smell was just as beautiful and fresh as the clothes on his back.

First things first.

Miguel gathered up his own stuff, restraining himself from burying in the pure harsh clean scent, from rubbing the rough thin towel on his face just because it was plush and wonderful compared to the stone he'd known.

Shower. Now. He gathered up soap and shampoo, throwing his shaving kit onto his burden as well. Everything necessary to bring him back to what passed for civilization in here. Little habits of hygiene to help bring him back to human.

He needed it. Needed to clean off the weeks of grime and insanity with blessed harsh soap and the burn of nice hot water. He could clean house in body and mind. It always helped after a long confinement. His steps carried him to the shower room. Empty bright clean walls. He would have it all to himself. Good.

He could finally rest, finally think, there under the spray. Water turned on without really noticing; the last of his automatic routine, the last of the actions that just flowed without him having to think about them.

He could breathe now, head hung under the spray, feeling it pound over his skull. Everything he hadn't felt while in the hole was starkly clear now. The dirt that brought a caked itch to his skin, scratchy like the rough unkempt hair on his face and head. He pulled his head up from under the beautiful calm sluice of water to work up a hard lather with that suddenly wonderful cheap soap. He was shedding the month with the slide of suds over his skin. Layer by layer. Grounding himself in the scent of clean. Roughly washing it all off. He felt more human already as he rinsed the second time. His mind coming back to itself with it, as his body was scraped raw to start fresh. He moved on to his hair with the same thorough efficiency. Thinking of nothing but getting clean. Of clearing everything away. When he was clean, he felt so much fucking better. Felt...not lost. He could *think*. He was *out*. He was safer now. If El Cid was gone...Miguel was on new steady ground, no longer a pawn with no destiny other than solitary or death, and that was worth any pain or guilt that had rushed over his head and dragged him under in the hole. That wasn't real. This was real. He shifted fast and easy. Like mercury. He'd done it before.

He didn't move from under the spray yet, it felt too good. Refreshing. Miguel was back out in the world now though, bringing his wariness was back. His awareness of the world around him. So, he knew the second the door to the shower room opened and let in someone else. He turned his head just the slightest to check on it.

Ryan O'Reily.

The Irishman with his own towel. Still looking casual, because they could both see the people beyond those glass walls. Miguel played his part and turned back to the spray after that needed little glimpse. Dipping his head back under. He was clean, but he still wasn't ready to leave. He felt like he could get his head on straight here, under the cleansing flow of water.

He saw his time in the hole as a dark swirl, right over his shoulder, but locked behind him and growing further with every piece of reality. Some of the past time was blurry and missing. But he remembered the nightmares. They were clearing as he regained his footing in reality though. He saw past the guilt that had plagued him, the worry. The insane paths his mind had spun off into. He was aware again. It was like the quick shifting shock of waking from a long, deep sleep that contained dreams you thought were real while you were experiencing them. They seemed like the truth at the time, you didn't question anything, even the pink elephants. But as soon as you opened your eyes -- you saw right through them. Saw them for what they were. Just the dark, doubting, twisting emotions dwelling inside being magnified beyond reality.

Miguel saw the movement out of the corner of his eye, heard another showerhead come on. He had to look. Had to see. He slid his gaze to...Ryan. All of him. Naked. One showerhead between them. Careful customary distance. It was all about appearances. He took in the sight of Ryan greedily. Another little spot of brightness.

Miguel saw his rambling crazy doubts about Ryan that had taken over his head in the hole for what they were now too. Fear. Just another part of the dark that had closed in. Here, clean, real, breathing again, and free of the crush of lonely walls, he knew where he stood.

Ryan had not sold him out. Most likely. He still knew caution when it came to the trickster Irishman, but he knew other things now. Things beside that fear and distrust. He remembered Ryan visiting him. He remembered the weeks before, shut away in closets. Stealing time. Words. Skin. Getting...close... in so many strange, unexpected ways.

He remembered all the reasons why he had begun to trust this man now. And Ryan was here to remind him even more.

O'Reily caught his gaze again, and Miguel turned his head to see Ryan discreetly turning his face towards Miguel.

Ryan spoke, face turned just so, careful. Looking like business as usual to anyone who passed the glass walls. "Miguel." He soaked up the sound of Ryan's deep voice, hadn't heard it in reality for a couple of weeks. Miguel's hand moved to the tile in front of him, palm slapping against cold before he was even fully aware of what he was doing. At the sound of that voice joining the nearness of that body, part of Miguel had just...reached out. Wanting to feel the solid reality of Ryan. Maybe partially to test it, make sure. He'd seen the crush of people, heard them, but no one had touched him yet to bring the reality home. He'd had no contact with another real body beyond a rough grab of the guard on the way to Emcity.

But even running on instinct, Miguel knew enough to realize reaching for naked Ryan in full view was impossible. Even as a reckless, crazy part of him wondered what Ryan would do if he had. Miguel braced that hand on the wall instead. Grounding himself on it. Wet, slick, cold, solid. This was definitely real, definitely there.

"Es usted verdadero?" Miguel was aware that he was whispering in Spanish, and Ryan wouldn't be able to understand him. He was just...remembering -- that first experience of Ryan on the other side of thick steel door, real and present, trying to pull Miguel back after he had lost himself in the hole.

"Miguel?" Ryan's voice repeating itself, newly wrapped tight with worry. Miguel could see the movement on the edge of his vision cease with it.

He cleared his throat, needing to show Ryan quickly that he hadn't spun off again into that insanity. "Yeah, Ryan?" See? Calm, coherent, and capable of English.

Miguel removed his hand from tile with the words, not needing it to ground himself anymore. He had a grip on things. He just wished he could touch the man next to him, and not because he wanted to see if he was real.

"You said that before, what does it mean?" Ryan sounded quietly sidetracked from whatever he had been going to say. Maybe he just wanted to make sure Miguel knew what he was saying, make sure he was all there.

He was.

"Basically -- are you real?" Miguel explained, hopefully helping put Ryan's worry to rest. "I was just remembering before. That's what I was asking you back then, trying to see if you were really there." He was okay now. Especially with Ryan right there, untouchable, but beside him. Talking to him again. No longer separated by steel. Not even separated by clothes, just by water and air, and kept apart by those eyes on the other side of the glass. This was enough.

"Oh." Ryan paused, even as he started washing up again, still sounding a little worried, but much less so. "How do you answer -- 'I'm real'?" Ryan calm, curious, but sounding like he needed a bit more of that same reassurance Miguel had needed that they were both all there.

"Estoy realmente aquí." Miguel said. Not quite the answer to the exact question Miguel had been asking, but it more directly addressed the main shade of meaning. Although, Miguel had been asking...a lot of other things as well with those simple words he'd asked in the hole. Are you here. Are you real. Are you true.

Miguel dipped his head as he let that warm water continue to sluice over him. Nothing left to clean, nothing left to rinse away, it just still felt fucking nice. Fresh and pure. He turned his face a little to the side, tasting a few stray rivulets running slowly over his cheek onto his lips. He did it to catch a glimpse of Ryan.

Ryan blinked at the words. "Shit...it couldn't be something shorter? Say it slower." Ryan joked lowly with a small wet shake of his head.

Miguel grinned softly. "Or 'soy verdadero', that works too."

That meant more. The real answer. It worked better, for all those shades of meaning, really.

Ryan nodded and grinned a little with that. "Much better." But then he tilted his head to covertly lock his gaze with Miguel's...and he was dead serious. "Soy verdadero. I'm real, Miguel."

"I know." Miguel said quietly. And he did know. "Why'd you come here so soon?" Miguel asked, his voice still gruff. Words feeling strange in his throat. He'd gone so long without talking except to scream only to hear his own echoes. Conversation was strange.

Ryan had sought him out pretty damn fast. Especially considering they couldn't freely interact fully in the shower. Miguel was fucking glad Ryan had though. Ryan being here warmed him. Made him feel as good as the clean fresh water.

Ryan looked away before he spoke, focusing on soaping up. But his words were what mattered -- they were for Miguel, not for the rest of Emcity. "I wanted to check in with you. See how you're doing."

The concern thick. The question. That worry.

Miguel snorted, leaning back, head out from under the spray. Feeling it on his chest. So good, splattering warmly over his skin. "I just spent a month with mostly only my own fucking company, locked in the hole with a bucket of shit. I'm out. That's a good change."

He just caught Ryan turning his grin at that towards the tiles before Miguel had to stare straight ahead. It had looked...shaky as Miguel felt.

"You know what I meant." Slightly impatient edge with that tight worry, even as Miguel could hear that relief.

He was probably just happy that Miguel wasn't speaking in tongues.

"Are you okay?" Ryan queried again.

Miguel could see his movement out of the corner of his eye. Soapy lather over pale skin. Hand sliding over his lean body, over his stomach.

Miguel felt a little saner with it. He was resurfacing quick. Everything from the hole fading away. His demons losing control back in the bright lights and press of other bodies in proximity, the presence of the world.

The proximity of the soaped up Irishman next to him helped even more. He felt even more human with Ryan near. Because he had been as truly human with Ryan as he could be in here.

"I will be." Miguel said, as he decisively shut off the shower.

He was still carrying the guilt. The reality of his betrayal. But here, now, he remembered why he'd done it. He knew...it was the right course. He knew he'd had to take his life back. He had to survive. He would always feel the sting, always know he'd turned on someone he'd pledged to. But...he just as surely knew it was the right choice. El Cid had betrayed Miguel's loyalty first. Miguel had done everything he could do. He'd stayed true to El Cid to his own detriment. But he was not going to throw his life and soul away for a man who was out to get him. He would serve his penance. He would stay true to El Norte, the whole of his ideal, and the true root of his vows. And that would be enough to get by. Having the Irish on their side in the tit trade would be good for all of them.

Miguel went to the little walled barrier, picking up his towel. He made his way from showers to the other part of the room, toweling dry on the way. He kept Ryan in sight. And he saw Ryan's gaze dart back to him. Heard that low private voice that wasn't quite done, had more to give.

"Good. We'll meet up alone later today. Soon." Ryan said, letting Miguel hear the need and concern still there. Then his voice went quiet, so that it was harder to hear him over the rush of the water. "I uh...I'm so fucking glad you're out."

Miguel blinked, surprised at the emotion there in the seemingly simple words. He was wrapping his towel around his now dry waist, and his tug tightened with the words as he secured the rough fabric.

He went over to the sink where he'd left his shaving kit on the mirror ledge. Stroll staying steady even as bright pleasant warmth blossomed in him at Ryan's honest sentiment. At the surprising truth in that oh so quiet voice.

"Me too. Obviously." Miguel said with a soft smirk, face carefully turned away from Ryan as he picked up his shaving cream. But he didn't leave it at that, couldn't, with Ryan being... honest and vulnerable like that. "I'm glad you came here right away, even if we're in plain sight and can't discuss or do shit." He said, quietly sincere, with a soft joking tinge of longing at the lack of opportunity for real contact here and now. "It...helps. Thanks." Miguel finished, with more serious depth, as he peeked to the side, and saw...

Ryan's back to him, to make it look like they weren't associating beyond normal, leaving Miguel a nice view of that expanse of wet naked skin. Ryan was finishing washing his back, spreading those slow dripping suds there. That view caused a hot little charge straight down to his dick, making Miguel realize how much he missed Ryan as even more than a blessed calm caring voice pulling him out of his head that short time he had been able to. That voice that had stayed in his head during the dark, even when the good memories had been quieter, and battered down by the others a lot of the time.

"You're definitely a sight for sore eyes." Miguel said softly, without thinking about it much, as he watched covertly.

He missed Ryan's body. And Miguel didn't even stop to ponder anymore when exactly it was he had started to find a male body so hot. This specific male body. The one whose form he had learned a little of. Enough to remember in the hole, even in the dark. The thin lips, the scar under the chin. The longer, fucked up scar along the ribs that drowned out the tiny pale one under his nipple. Sinewy limbs. Those hips. Flat soft stomach. The light dusting of freckles over skin.

While carefully keeping his head not fully turned, Miguel pretended to focus on applying his shaving cream to the rough beard that had been growing in while he was in the hole. But in reality... Miguel watched as those hands slid over that body. He fucking missed Ryan's touch. Miguel knew the slightly calloused, and skilled feel of those hands gliding over his own skin. He wanted it back so badly. Desire sparking in him at the display, at the thought.

Ryan laughed after Miguel's words, soft and husky, but he didn't turn around. He shifted though, hands going to brace up on the tiles, leaning forward to dip his head under the spray, to let it rain down his back, like he was just rinsing and reveling in the water. But Miguel knew it was for him. The stretch of muscles, the water playing over that long lean back, watching that stark black small Celtic cross tattoo move with the roll of Ryan's shoulders. Exposed and wet. Rivulets trailing speedily over all of that smooth skin.

Fuuck. Surprisingly beautiful to his eyes, and painfully missed.

"Tiburón..." Miguel warned lowly. Now was not the time to get hard. Miguel had been alone, without that warm sprawling body, for what seemed like a very long time.

This was more than he had ever really seen of Ryan during their times locked in closets together, actually. They had never managed to get completely out of their clothes. Always too fast, too desperate, too little time to think of doing more than shedding shirts, grasping for zippers and yanking pants to expose just enough. And Ryan had never turned his naked back toward Miguel before. Too vulnerable, too much of the wrong idea probably. Or maybe it was just inconvenient, hard to touch and kiss someone with your back turned to him.

Miguel was suddenly reminded that he had permission to touch every part of Ryan...except for that pale wet backside in his view now. But staring at all of Ryan's body exposed was another pleasure entirely. One he was apparently allowed. Miguel remembered that he had been the one to draw that line. Threatening to castrate the man if he got near his ass did the trick. He'd meant it at the time. Because Miguel had been cornered, endangered, and lost -- but he would never let himself be made a bitch. Ryan had felt the same, automatically agreeing. Miguel hadn't thought about it much since... he couldn't remember the last time he had, actually. He'd had enough shit to deal with. It's not like Ryan had given any indication he wanted to bring it up either. Didn't matter at the moment. He just wanted to touch Ryan. Didn't care how. He needed to be close, and that would be enough.

And it wasn't until now, after the long lost absence, that he realized -- there was so much skin, so many tucked away spots, that he had yet to explore. Places that still fit within what he was allowed to have, too. That strongly lanky male form that moved so comfortably, Ryan at home in his skin -- nice arms, long graceful torso, lean firm thighs and calves. That sensitive dip behind the knee, the soft hot skin in the crook of Ryan's elbow. So much that Miguel had yet to feel under his palm, so many places left to touch. Kiss. Lick, and bite, to provoke gasps out of Ryan. Miguel would have to remedy that as soon as possible. He realized now how much he wanted to, realizing just how much he had been missing.

Ryan laughed again, still too pleased and full of his own need to be anywhere near mocking Miguel. Just joining him in that hunger. His body didn't betray the shake of it. So very careful. "I know, gato. Don't worry. I'm done." He quickly straightened up with one last shake of his wet hair, and slammed off the shower.

Miguel slid his gaze back to focus solely on the mirror as Ryan went to get his towel to dry off. Miguel started to take off the last physical layer of his confinement. Focused on keeping his hand steady as he drew the safety razor over his cheek. He could hear the scrape of blade through hair, smell the scent of the shaving cream under his nose, feel the tickle of foam. The strips he shaved off felt good, leaving skin bare, and exposed to air again. Another piece of stark freshness.

Miguel kept half his attention between strokes of the razor on the mirror. The reflection of Ryan. Ryan was getting ready to leave, apparently having made sure Miguel was coherent and alive.

There was something Miguel needed to know first.

But Ryan looked down, turned away from the glass walls, to speak lowly again before Miguel had time to ask. "You up for a quick progress report?"

Seems like Ryan might know what he wanted without him asking then. "Yeah." Miguel swallowed hard, hoping it was good news. Almost fucking nicked himself with the rough bob of his Adam's apple.

Ryan's voice was more intense, still directed partially to the ground as he tied off his towel firmly. "No worries. We're good. Ding-dong the bitch is dead."

In the reflection, Miguel could see a slice of Ryan's dark smile at the words. Not even a hint of conscience or regret in the Irishman's voice, nothing but that black joy at a plan played out perfectly.

It sent a chill down Miguel's spine...but he felt it too. That bit of darkness living inside of his heart. Ryan was just displaying it proudly. Honestly. Miguel couldn't deny his own satisfaction and relief at that fear being dead and gone. Not with it mirrored back at him by Ryan. Even as a tiny part of Miguel recoiled at feeling that way.

And with that, Ryan left.

Miguel returned to his pod when he'd finished shaving. Once he was back dressed in his own clean clothes he felt his grip on reality grow even more steady. He was back. Still not free, but that was a given. This was as good as it got. Wider space, activities, interaction, and a view. That was one thing about the hole, it made Miguel grateful for even the fishbowl he usually felt trapped in.

He stayed in his pod, casually hanging out in a chair, legs kicked out with his feet propped up against the glass wall. He wasn't ready to head back out into the chaos yet, not when he could just kick back and see it from here and steady himself. He wasn't ready to be among all those people. It was funny, he had craved human contact the whole time he had been in the hole, but now that he was out -- it was too much. Overload after deprivation. He needed to just be with his own head, where he could watch those movements casually, not having to take part. Mingling would bring more stress. It would require him to act, to wear a mask, to follow the rules of interaction they lived by in here, and he wasn't quite ready for that yet. Not when he could just look stone faced and sit and observe. He took the precious time to adjust.

Miguel saw Ryan there, also observing. Sitting back at his table with one of his Irish boys and Cyril. Ryan's version of casually hanging out. It looked like he was just passing time like everyone else, it looked like he was talking with his boy, and half paging through a magazine -- but Miguel knew that gaze was watching, and that mind was cataloguing. Always working.

The Irishman was also always in view of Miguel, even keeping in range when he went to watch television with Cyril in tow. That was probably on purpose too. Of course, Miguel didn't know if it was because of that strange sense he was getting that Ryan really had missed him, or if his shark just wanted to make sure Miguel still had his grip on sanity and was keeping tabs on him for more practical reasons.

Miguel didn't care much either way. He found he liked having Ryan in his view. He knew his own reasoning, simple. He had missed Ryan. He didn't bother thinking of why, or what it meant. That didn't really matter. What mattered was that Ryan's presence soothed him. Ryan had been his only light in the hole, and was a welcome sight he longed for out of it.

It was all Miguel could do to hold back the still dying chaos in his head, there would be time for shit other than maintaining later. He just...watched. Relearning the rhythm and moves of the other men in Emcity. He knew he'd need it. But when he got tired, and the tension of watching the new invisible currents between the homeboys and the Italians started to bring an ache to his head, his gaze slid back to Ryan's, and the pressure lightened a little. Ryan wasn't being obvious about watching him, but he was definitely keeping a bead on Miguel. He caught glimpses of it, every once in a while when his gaze would slide over Ryan, it would meet Ryan's on him. Ryan checking in with him, just like he was with the Irishman. It helped Miguel stay...steady.

He only had a little time before his rest ended, felt like less than an hour, but it was hard to tell when he hadn't quite gotten used to tracking the passage of time again. But he knew it wasn't long before he had to move back into the tide himself. Miguel finally spotted a face he knew as one of his own, most of them were at work duty. But Vasquez came into view, and immediately sought Miguel out there, starting towards his pod.

Miguel took a breath to prepare. His mind starting to speed up with the wondering. What would his reception be like? What would the new world order be for El Norte? Where had the pieces fallen and how would he navigate them? How the fuck would he hold in what he had done? Miguel tensed inwardly, trying to keep a reign on his pulse, his mind, before they spun back off. Time to rejoin his life for real. Miguel stayed still propped there casually in his chair, looking much looser than he felt. He kept his eyes locked on Vasquez, kept his posture relaxed, but his face one of tough anticipation. He was careful to look like he had been waiting to see Vasquez, or someone else from El Norte. Vasquez looked welcoming at least. Seems the plan had worked enough that Miguel was accepted still after El Cid's death.

Time to go back into the fray. Another quick shift that Miguel had to adjust to, had to hold it together for. Back to the external chaos.

Miguel dropped his legs down with a nice grounding thud to the floor, standing up as Vasquez got to his pod. Miguel swung the door open, gesturing him in before he even had to ask.

Vasquez was a man of few words. Miguel figured it was because when the man strung them together he sounded like a fucking moron, and it took too much effort. He was muscle, and he followed Guerra like a sheep, but he was okay. As long as Miguel was on El Norte's good side that day.

Which...apparently, he was. Vasquez immediately threw an arm around him in the customary rough half-embrace, clasping a hand with Miguel between their bodies as they gave each other a pound on the back.

"Welcome back, hermano." Vasquez said firmly as they pulled back from each other, and it sounded like he meant it. "Things are fucked."

That's one of the things Miguel liked about Vasquez. He got to the point. The door had swung closed behind him, but they moved the few steps further into the pod, backs to the glass walls. The best privacy for a conference they could manage.

"No shit? I just got the fuck out and I'm hearing El Cid got airholed?" Miguel played clueless. Worried. Angry. He didn't have to fake the stress and tension at least. He let a little of his violent frantic energy from the hole leak into his words. It wasn't hard. "Fill me in." Miguel stated quickly, dark and braced for it.

Miguel leaned against the frame of the bed, left arm slung up and spread across the top bunk as Vasquez took up a post against the wall in front of him, watching Miguel and the world outside the pod, as he spilled the story.

"Ricardo got sent to the hole, El Cid got himself airholed by the wops. He fucking attacked them in the gym. He was apeshit, according to Guerra." Vasquez's voice low and intense.

Shit. It had worked perfectly then.

"Guerra was there? He okay?"

"Yeah. He got pounded a little by the wops, but he got nicked by El Cid's shank when the boss just flew off the fucking handle. They kept Chico in the hospital ward for a week and a half because of the lockdown. Ricardo's getting out of the hole in a coupla days. Emcity lockdown ended today and we're thin, man."

"Fuck." Miguel rubbed a hand over his face as his other clenched on the sheets. This was...not good. It was a delicate time. He and Ryan had known that going in. These first few days, before Miguel hopefully took the helm and El Norte met to patch shit up with the wops or ally with the homeboys, it was fucking dangerous to be wearing their skin. If they weren't fucking careful...Miguel could end up a casualty in the still unsettled war. Miguel hadn't wanted to think of that. Ryan had. He'd talked worriedly about it after they'd decided to get him popped for tits, in the rushed last minute meets right before Miguel went in the hole. Ryan seemed to think that if war drug on, Miguel could play up his previous distance and stay the fuck out of it somewhat. Maybe get an easy injury and hide out in the hospital. Miguel knew he couldn't do that. It was in or out with El Norte, and if things went sour and he stayed on the sidelines, they'd leave his ass there. Miguel couldn't do that anyway. Not after starting it. He was stuck. It was his mess to deal with. He hadn't told Ryan that though. The Irishman's loyalties were too flexible for him to have understood or accepted it.

"Well, I'm fucking here now, hermano. I've got your backs." Miguel locked eyes with Vasquez when he said it, burying his guilt, his hand in this. If they did this right, El Cid would be the only real casualty. And Vasquez seemed to believe him, just looking like he had naturally expected that and was pleased to have Miguel back. "What about the wops, they making a move?"

Vasquez shook his head in the firm negative, and Miguel's hope grew a little.

"They've stayed close together, but they haven't made a move or even looked at us too funny." Vasquez said. "None of their guys got hurt beyond a bruise or two."

"I'll keep my eyes and ears open, listen around and find out what's up." Miguel said with his own decisive nod. "We'll meet once Guerra's shift ends. Who's in charge?"

The important question.

Vasquez shrugged, a tense, worried shift of slumped shoulders. "Fuck if I know. We've been locked down."

They both knew that no way in hell was it going to be Vasquez. The other man seemed to like not being leader anyway, and he seemed to be looking to Miguel for a clue or direction.

"Well, act like we fucking know, okay? We can't be weak right now." Miguel said firmly. "We'll split up for now to ferret shit out, but we're together when Guerra gets back. Be careful, and don't provoke the wops until we figure out what's what."

Another firm nod from the big laconic man, before he went to leave. Miguel got a solid, reassuring, unifying punch to his shoulder from him, and returned it.

"Stay safe." Vasquez said as he headed out to a table.

"Usted también."

After Vasquez left, Miguel kept his back to him and all of Emcity for a precious second, letting out his breath in a long exhale. Fuck. He pulled it together and turned around with his face resolved...

...and saw Ryan discretely keeping an eye on him, still.

Miguel needed to get with him as soon as possible. Ryan would know what the fuck was up in more detail, and he'd be able to fill Miguel in enough that his information gathering duties would be taken care of for his El Norte meet later. And they'd be able to figure out their own moves...and properly welcome each other back.

Miguel needed the latter the most. He needed to be somewhere quiet. Somewhere close. To get away from it all before it pulled him under. To catch his breath.

With his shark.

~ Chapter 13: Reveling ~

After talking with Vasquez, Miguel made it through the short time until he could be alone with Ryan. They made sure they met up before Guerra got back and Miguel had to fucking deal with him. Miguel's wear started to show once the guard "lost track" of him, and he made his way down the dim hall by himself. He finally felt the cracks he'd been ignoring just to hold it together, as he made his way to the nearest storage room between Emcity and the gym, alone with just the stone corridors. He needed to get away from the press of people. From the lies he would have to spill right to his amigo's faces. From the delicate clean up of their plan.

He could do it. He just needed this break. Needed to breathe. He really fucking needed to see Ryan somewhere he could touch him.

Miguel's thoughts and nightmares in the hole had been force fed by bleak circumstance. That was not reality. He knew that now. He could feel it as soon as his world expanded back beyond those four walls and his skull. The dark had taken over, circled in on itself, and taken his mind over because of the lack of anything else.

He was back now. And he could breathe. See. Think. Remember everything that had been lost to the crushing despair of the hole. He was still shaky, and strained. Off kilter. But he was here. He could hold it together enough.

They had arranged to be lost together for a little over an hour, longer than usual, but Miguel needed it. Ryan had actually set the time, without Miguel even having let him know he needed to get the fuck away for longer. Ryan must've needed it too. Either that, or they had a lot to discuss. Miguel didn't think so though. They'd been over what needed to happen directly after El Cid's death pretty well before Miguel's trip to the hole, and now so soon after lockdown, nobody was organized enough to stir up trouble or make moves yet. Everyone was just gathering info, spreading gossip, breathing the fresh air. As far as swinging the extra time together, as long as it wasn't near count, or a shift change, it could be done. You just slipped past the blind eye of a bribed hack, or signed up to be somewhere like the gym or the library, and greased the wheels to make sure no one actually cared to check if you showed up there and stayed.

Miguel checked the hall one last time before he slid into the storage room, careful to close the door behind him. Ryan was already there. Alone. Waiting.

"Jesus, I fucking missed you." Ryan's immediate words as he crossed the small distance between them.


Miguel was taken off guard at that firm honesty. He had been surprised enough by the little glimpse of Ryan's pleasure at his return earlier in shower. But this was plain, bare, and right there in the open. Miguel could hear the raw truth in Ryan's voice, see the fevered sincerity in those eyes...

Ryan immediately caught him up in a strong embrace. Even in his slight shock, Miguel automatically returned it. Ryan enfolded Miguel up in it. And it had nothing to do with sex. This was...reassurance. Heat, and comfort taking precedence over their schemes. Only instinct and need. He wrapped his arms around that long, lanky, body in turn. Tight. Steady. Pressed close and body to body.

"Missed you too, Ryan." Miguel exhaled softly. He used Ryan's name, because he knew it meant more than a nickname to the man. "You're real." The words slipped out softly. Ryan really was there. Finally. Solid. Wrapped around him.

"I'm real. Soy verdadero." Strong reassurance, carrying weight that Miguel couldn't quite decipher beyond the fact that it made him feel good.

Then...it became a little about the sex, Miguel mused, as they met in a kiss that was just as strong and grabbing. Desperate searching taste of that solace he had missed. That other heat. And Ryan was right there to meet him, giving in, taking, just as passionate. Arms still wrapped around him, one hand clutching the back of Miguel's head. Like he needed to touch everywhere, needed to be closer, like he could pull Miguel inside of him. Miguel felt the same, arms staying locked around that body, pulling him tighter. Those thin but perfect lips against his, deft tongue stroking into his mouth. Needy. He missed this too. That heat spreading deep under his skin with the buzz stoked by that fervent willing mouth sharing his.

The kiss ended after they had felt that raw need in each other, found that little peaceful burn again after so long, but the embrace continued. The comfort stayed right there where he found he needed it. It was clear that Ryan needed it just as much, which made Miguel feel even less alone.

"I uh...I didn't do too well after you stopped coming by." Miguel admitted gruffly into the nearness of Ryan's ear.

Those strong arms felt like a steadying anchor around him. Keeping him from drifting, wrapping him up in it. He let himself feel...something so good...after the long dark.

Ryan's face was buried in the crook of Miguel's neck, inhaling his scent. Miguel felt it, the tickle of breath over his skin from the deep inhalation. Like Ryan was reveling in Miguel being there and real, needing to feel it as much as Miguel did. The odd, warmly clinging action from Ryan made Miguel convulsively grip his solid body with almost bruising strength, tightening to a squeeze in thoughtless shock. He couldn't help it. The surprisingly intimate gesture communicated volumes about how much Ryan had missed *him*, and it had made Miguel instinctually need more closeness. Ryan didn't flinch away from the force of Miguel's uncontrolled clutch, even though it must have hurt. Miguel quickly eased up, back to that comfortable embrace, as soon as he caught himself.

"Lockdown. I'm sorry." Muttered against Miguel's throat, dropped there with a kiss that was shiver soft but adamantly wet. "I wanted to be there."

Fuck. Miguel felt a little dizzy flutter with all of it. He wasn't used to... whatever this was. He didn't know what it meant. Even as he had been yearning for Ryan, he hadn't expected to be met with *this* much... the same intensity that he had felt, possibly even more, right out there in the open. It felt so fucking wonderful after the long trip to hell that he couldn't bring himself to examine it. What it meant didn't matter right now, just how it felt.

"El Cid is dead." Ryan pulled back enough to lock eyes with Miguel, as he imparted the slowly even words. Those arms and the embrace of that body didn't leave him though. It sounded like Ryan was trying to reassure him, like he was telling it for the first time. It sounded more like concern for Miguel than talk of their plans.

"I know. You told me that already." Miguel pointed out. Even with all the shit attached to El Cid's arranged death and how it had grinded him up in the hole, he still felt like a weight had lifted. Worth the guilt. He couldn't help the dark joy. The relief.

"Just making sure it got through." Ryan smirked, his hand cupping the back of Miguel's head again, like the Irishman couldn't stop touching him. Miguel didn't mind. He enjoyed the pleasant stroke of Ryan's fingers over his hair.

"It did." Miguel stated. He wanted to get away from that dark. Just be here with the man he had been missing, and not have to think about any of it. He'd had enough bad...he wanted to touch the good thing he'd somehow found. Stroke it. Make it respond, and come fully into this joy in his arms.

This connection. Ryan. Who was also thinking beyond business, it seemed. Putting *this* first, the two of them reconnecting.

Miguel caught Ryan up in another kiss. Grasping and deep, it signaled an end to the El Cid conversation. Knocking all of that right out of both of their minds, as Ryan groaned happily and just...clung to him, clutching. Purpose growing with very nip of those lips, every perfect stroke of that tongue meeting with his. That comforting embrace changed into pure heat -- hard bodies pressing, riding each other's gasping breaths as Miguel's dick started to stiffen pleasurably in his pants, spurred on by the feel of Ryan's hardness coming to life more insistently against his hip.

"What do you want, Ryan?" Miguel husked out, rough seduction full force in his voice. He liked the way it lit up Ryan's eyes, the way it made him shiver. Miguel had missed him, missed how good it felt to be here with this.

"You." Ryan was close enough that his flushed face and intense hooded eyes took up Miguel's whole view; close enough that he felt the breath driving the word against his skin as it left Ryan's mouth.

Miguel just smirked, brushing Ryan's mouth with it, parting lips to tease by speaking instead of slipping back into the kiss. "I know that. " Miguel bumped his hips into Ryan's, a hot confined brush of hardness against hardness to illustrate. "What do you want? Hmm? What you been missing?"

That he was asking purely about sexual aspects was clear in his voice. Teasing, talking, stoking Ryan's passion with his words, because it was sweeter that way.

Ryan reached up at that, fingers slowly gliding over Miguel's arm, before cupping his jaw. Those eyes on his stripping him bare with more than enough heat to keep him warm, as Ryan's thumb tugged lightly at his bottom lip. "Your mouth..." Soft exhale against Miguel's lips.

An answer.

Miguel swallowed up Ryan's breath, signaling his agreement to it, kissing him fiercely.

His mouth. Miguel could do that. Was more willing to than he'd ever thought he'd be. He could smell Ryan. His scent, clean and sharp. Miguel was getting teasing tastes of that skin, mouth slipping to graze Ryan's jaw. It wasn't enough.

He wanted more. To feel everything, alive and real. To really taste Ryan. Even that hardness digging happily against his own.

Miguel pulled back. Ryan's mouth chased him eagerly for a second, making Miguel grin at his shark's relentless hunger for him. Miguel held him back with hands firmly on his shoulders, one curling up to brush Ryan's neck, just to see Ryan turn towards the touch.

"Strip." It came out rough, almost like a demand, but it was just shaking raw need. Miguel wanted that view back. But he could still ask nicely. "Please. I want to see all of you." He wanted it too much to even try to hide the desire in his voice. Ryan seemed to like it.

Ryan slowly stripped his shirt off, eyes on Miguel when the fabric being removed didn't obscure them. "You too." Ryan's voice was a low and sultry challenge, issued with a little cock of his head after he tossed the shirt aside.

"You want me to strip bare, baby? You want to see me?" Miguel ran his hand over his stomach, over his shirt, resting it there, fingers stroking in a tease.

"Yes." Intense short answer, as Ryan's eyes held a fire that raced over Miguel's skin. That hunger in his gaze was almost a tangible thing reaching out to Miguel's body.

Ryan's hands hovered over his fly in his own tease. Signaling that he wasn't going to shed his pants until Miguel started stripping too. Ryan had definitely been missing seeing Miguel as much as Miguel had been missing him. Seemed like Ryan wanted to see all of him as well, wanted the same full access and contact.

It just turned Miguel on more. His shark missing his body this much, wanting more of it. Miguel stripped off his shirt slowly, tossing it aside. His gaze stayed on Ryan as they both kept going. Quick reveal of skin, freeing of bodies. They stripped down completely, even toeing off shoes, tossing off socks. Ryan even slipped off that big black leather-banded watch that he'd taken to wearing after they took up together, and tucked it in his abandoned pants pocket.

Miguel stared, taking Ryan in as the Irishman stood up straight and stalked over the short distance separating them, those narrowed desire filled grey-green eyes focused on him. He loved to watch Ryan move, so strongly graceful and open with that body. Seeing him like this, totally stripped down, every inch of skin and stretch of muscle visible, was fucking beautiful. Hot. Miguel pulled him close as soon as he got in range.

Touching bare skin. All of Ryan. Finally. He couldn't stop the clutch of his hands on Ryan's arms. He was here. Real, touchable, and alone. Ryan didn't discourage him, kissing deep and gracing Miguel's body with his own eager touch of exploration. They were both very much aware that this was the first time they'd actually been completely naked around each other while alone. And they were taking in every bit of that they could after the shower tease of earlier. Feeling each other's bodies naked and pressed close, connected in the hot press and brush of skin to skin everywhere. Something lovers got to experience. Something taken for granted on the outside, less available here due to constraints, usually less wanted due to the forced partnerships. They were different. And they were finally taking full advantage of it. Taking the time they had stolen for all it was worth. This wasn't that alliance of minds and strength right now. It wasn't even just plain desperation to get fucking laid. This was about...them. Unexpectedly found and embraced.

Miguel pulled back, a little breathless. He had other things he wanted. He quickly consolidated the strewn state of their clothes, bending over to lay them out on the floor, covering it in a vague blanket shape. Miguel felt Ryan watching him the whole time.

He finished fast, standing back up to meet a slightly questioning look. Instead of explaining, Miguel pressed back full body to Ryan for a kiss. Naked skin to skin again.

"Lie down." Miguel requested gently. Reveling in feeling Ryan everywhere, like he hadn't been able to earlier in the shower. He wasn't wet now, but it was just as good. Dry, warm, and responsive, pressing right back... until Miguel's words made Ryan tense a little, pull back a bit to stare at him, that question clear and not giving up now with the sudden slight tightness of those muscles. Miguel realized he might be just about to lose him. He could quickly figure out what Ryan might think he was asking -- for that one thing they'd clearly marked as off-limits back in the beginning. The ass Miguel had stared at in the shower. Ryan had agreed with Miguel's shank threatening sentiment back then...maybe still did, judging by the sudden tension in his body.

Miguel...didn't know how he fucking felt about it anymore. Confronted with the idea here, not planning to be, he couldn't draw an immediate conclusion. Not even the old automatic one of "Hell no". He knew that this relationship they were forging now had nothing to do with bitches and controlling one another. And he knew he wouldn't even think of searching for a shank or of causing Ryan pain just for bringing it up. Beyond that...he knew nothing else for sure about it here and now, even when it came to his own feelings. He'd just...accepted things this way, and hadn't looked back. Now definitely wasn't the time to re-examine though, with Ryan right there, acting a little worried and surprised. Which Miguel would be, too, if the places were switched and it had been Ryan making it mistakenly look like he wanted to fuck suddenly.

His brain was messed up enough right now, and he just wanted...quiet. He didn't want to think about that, definitely hadn't meant to bring it up. He wanted something he knew for sure. Something with no fear or worry attached. The familiar comfort and heat they brought each other. He wanted touch he knew for certain Ryan was more than happy to give. He wanted to calm Ryan's reaction and just enjoy himself.

He had one last thought before he filed all those confusing thoughts away. He vaguely wondered whether Ryan's mistaken tension was partially concern about that act making him a fag. While Miguel respected that boundary without question like Ryan did in turn for him, and he really didn't want to discuss breaking that old deal now, Miguel really hoped that wasn't Ryan's reason. Because Ryan should've been smarter than that. They'd passed the fag line long ago, and he'd be a fucking moron to think otherwise. Too much cocksucking and caring to pretend they were one-hundred percent straight.

Miguel put it out of his mind. He didn't want to freak Ryan, or himself, the fuck out, especially not right now, and his plan hadn't included dealing with dicks in asses, anyway. Ryan's possible assumption had thrown Miguel just as much, so he went for truthful reassurance. Miguel's own slightly shocked pause probably helped show Ryan that it had been the furthest thing from his mind.

"Calm down, I'm just tired of touching you while standing up all the time." Miguel explained truthfully, hand stroking over Ryan's arm. "I miss being horizontal."

Ryan relaxed completely, wicked grin back. "Me too. Good idea."

Ryan easily lowered himself to the floor, lying out on the clothes. Proudly. That body spread and comfortable under Miguel's gaze.

When Miguel stared a moment too long, Ryan lightly kicked out at his ankle. "Not that I'm not appreciating the view, but get down here."

Miguel followed with a grin, going to his knees at the end of Ryan's long body. Used to the hard floor, Miguel barely even noticed it. Ryan sat up as Miguel got close, reaching out to pull him to his mouth. Wrapped together again, Miguel up on his knees with Ryan easily spreading those long legs around him, encircling him. Good place to be trapped. He felt the light graze of Ryan's dick, the dull scratch of his fingers over Miguel's back, as he stayed upright and got lost in that mouth. He'd missed it too much. Something as simple as kissing. The needy joyful way Ryan met his mouth. His taste. Now with the extra-added heat of all that skin under his hands, against him.

He led Ryan back, urging him to lie back down. Ryan obliged, hands trailing over Miguel as they parted. Miguel remembered...something he really hadn't wanted to think about. Condom. He had thought of it earlier, while still in the hole, actually. It had been another dark scratch to his brain, and as much as he tried, he couldn't pretend it didn't bother him, even out here and regaining hold of his sanity. No matter what his rep for being straight, Ryan was not a chaste guy. Not in Miguel's experience. In the short weeks they'd been together before the lockdown, Ryan had been ready, willing, and meeting Miguel's ache whenever he was around. They'd messed around at least every other day, always fitting it into the discussions of business. And when they'd had to go longer than that without finding this with each other, Ryan had practically pounced on him with need. Not that Miguel hadn't felt the same. He liked that about Ryan, had met it eagerly. But with Miguel gone, the Latino couldn't kid himself ...tiburón's dick had probably led him to seek relief elsewhere.

Miguel's attention slid off of Ryan's naked body onto the clothes he was lying on. Shit. Should've remembered to get that out *before* they'd stripped. Miguel thought he spotted his pants under Ryan's ass, and went to tug on them. Miguel stayed sitting up on his knees, digging around, trying to find the pocket without yanking them out from under Ryan.

"Uh...I know you've been away for a while, Miguel, and you may have forgotten some shit, but it's much more fun if you grope me, and not the clothes."

Miguel rolled his eyes. "Looking for something..." Miguel mumbled as he...yep. Got it. He pulled out the condom he'd swiped and held it up for Ryan to see.

Miguel may have gone fucking crazy in the hole, and he may be feeling something strange, warm, and unknowably dangerous for Ryan, but he wasn't completely fucked up in the head. And he wasn't so far gone that he hadn't realized the real, albeit slight risks. He had planned ahead, which was good, because if he had had to stop and think of it now, he would've been way too fucking distracted by his need to make Ryan's pulse race.

Ryan blinked at him, heavy breaths suddenly turning into confused words. "What the...why do you have that?"

"Don't worry, it's for you. For my mouth." Miguel clarified quickly before Ryan got the wrong ideas again about where their dicks were going. "Safety, remember? Too much bad shit gets passed around in here."

Ryan just continued to pant softly, drawing up on his elbows now. So that Ryan could properly give him that look like he was worried Miguel had lost his damn mind, apparently. "Yeah, but we've been over this...remember? Don't need the rubbers. Don't like them." Ryan said with strain and a serious gaze.

Miguel had managed to make the honey-tongued Irishman *almost* monosyllabic. Huh. Fucking amazing. And fun.

"Yeah, well, that's for when we've only been sticking our dicks in each other." This really wasn't a conversation he wanted to have. Even if part of him wanted to know what Ryan had been up to. Maybe that was part of the reason he'd brought the protection instead of just giving in to the small risk. To find out.

Ryan pushed up more, sitting up slightly straighter. "Huh?"

Miguel snickered, petting the slightly damp skin of Ryan's hip, slipping up to feel the sped up breath fluttering under his ribs.

But Ryan's distress was taking over his passion. That wasn't the plan. Fuck.

"You just got out of the hole. You can't catch shit from fucking hallucinations, gato." Ryan said. His voice was questioning with a barely controlled shake of hurt to it.

What the -- was Ryan worried and jealous? Why did that make Miguel feel very fucking good?

"Nope. I'm clean. I ain't touching anybody in this shithole, you know that." Miguel shook it off to force a chuckle. He tried to play down the admission that he had no interest in touching any body other than the one laid out in offering before him. He still couldn't quite ignore the itch of jealousy under his own skin at the thoughts of what Ryan may have been up to while he was away.

Miguel wondered who it might've been. Ryan had never given up any names of previous encounters, so Miguel couldn't predict who else he might have found. Maybe that eager new Irish guy Miguel saw flushing red around Ryan. "But you weren't in the fucking hole, and you weren't in fucking lockdown the *whole* time either." Miguel explained, carefully keeping his tone much milder than he felt, because it wasn't really his place to get pissed off about it.

"That's it?" Ryan lost that tension and broke into a little grin. "Toss it," he declared easily, falling back into a more comfortable position. "I'm as pure and untouched as the driven snow." Ryan's voice had a sarcastic lilt, before he dropped it for a tinge of seriousness. "I told you, Miguel. I'm only touching you."

Oh. Good. Miguel didn't bother ignoring the proud burn that sent through him, the possessiveness, and the joy that they were on the same page and that Ryan sounded very final about that.

"Okay." Miguel said as he happily tucked the unopened condom back into his pants pocket on the floor. Well...it was *a* pocket, it may have been Ryan's pants actually. Miguel wasn't really paying attention to that. "But you ain't ever going to be pure, baby." Miguel said with a slick grin. His voice slowly slipped even lower with desire as he focused back on all that flesh, that long, flushed erection waiting.

"Mmm...true. Dirty me up some more then." Ryan seduced in that deeper, anticipatory voice of his, tongue darting out to wet his lips.

Fucking hot.

"Not a problem." Miguel husked out, looking over Ryan.

Where to start...

He was driven to do what he had wanted to earlier, what he felt like he needed to now. Learn Ryan's body even more. Take advantage of the total nudity, to touch all the innocent looking places that could be anything but innocent if you did it right.

Miguel was already kneeling at the end of Ryan's body, so he started there. He'd work his way up...then back down...and end up in the middle.

Miguel drew his fingers lightly up the arch of Ryan's foot. Feeling the smooth little curve of his instep. Careful not to tickle and ending with the lightest dig of blunt nails, before he ran the pad of his thumb over the little bump of bone on the inside of Ryan's ankle. There was the softest, smoothest little dip of skin there too, and he stroked over it with his thumb before his fingers slid up Ryan's leg, feeling the fuzz of hair.

Ryan's breath hitched a little, and he just stared down at Miguel. Watching. "Whatcha doing?" He didn't sound displeased.

"El explorar..." Miguel said lowly, before he bent to lay a soft kiss on the inside of Ryan's ankle. Staying for a moment too long, just enough to part his lips around that little knot of bone under the skin, letting a little tease of his tongue dart down to the soft skin below it.

Miguel wasn't sure if Ryan understood his words or not, but Ryan suddenly swallowed his own words and just stayed...breathing heavy, moving into his touch, as Miguel's hands continued their exploration in a nice slide up those lanky firm legs. Miguel didn't mind the hair anymore.

Of course, it being Ryan, he only stayed quiet for a second. "Is that Spanish for foot fetish?" Teasing question, but it was gratifyingly breathless and almost laughing. So much lighter, warmer, than Miguel was used to hearing in here.

Miguel rolled his eyes, but with his own little smirk because...fuck, it was another reminder of why he had really missed Ryan, for much more than just that eager body.

He'd already moved on from feet anyway, to graze over the soft spot behind Ryan's knee. Still just firm enough not to tickle the sensitive spot, but to feel good and make Ryan's gaze turn even more intense. Instead of dignifying the lame, inaccurate taunt with an answer, Miguel dipped his head again on his slow journey up Ryan's body, to replace the touch of his fingers with a sudden firm lick along that curve behind the knee. Slight sharply pleasant taste of salt there in the bending crevice of Ryan's body. Ryan signaled his approval and repentance for the remark with the softest, hot little noise. Miguel stayed there a long moment to continue to nip that hot damp skin.

He moved along slowly, running his hands up taut thighs, fingers spread, soft sprinkled hair tickling his palms. He was leaning over Ryan close enough to smell the lingering soap scent. Fresh, clean, and under his hands. Against his lips as he brushed them over Ryan's inner thigh. Miguel focused on the pure feel of flesh. The subtle taste of every stretch of this skin. The sound of Ryan's breath driven husky and hard by him. For him. Miguel was learning it all. Savoring it -- like that hot steady touch of Ryan's hands moving over his own upper body, feeding that heat wherever Ryan could manage to reach his skin.

Miguel's touch moved ever upwards, finally coming near Ryan's real straining need, tracing fingertips delicately over the soft skin of balls even as his mouth stayed away from that cock, standing upright and glistening. Miguel licked the little creased line of muscle and soft, damp skin joining hip and leg. Tracing over Ryan's pelvis...skirting the center with mouth and hands as his touch slid to feel the flutter of Ryan's stomach caused by his heavy breathing, instead of continuing where his hands had been heading.

The desperate, slightly protesting, hurt noise that escaped Ryan as Miguel skipped right over his dick was priceless. Miguel just grinned and dropped a wet kiss to Ryan's side. Before he carefully dipped his head, narrowly avoiding contact with Ryan's erection, to flick his tongue in the sweet little hollow of his navel.

Apparently, Ryan gave up on getting Miguel's mouth where he really wanted it for the moment, as the Irishman reached down to softly pull him up with a steady hand resting on the back of his neck. Ryan propped back up on an elbow to take another kiss instead.

Miguel carried the tease to his mouth. Little sucks on Ryan's tongue in that way he knew would draw a shiver from the man. It made Ryan's dick twitch hotly too. Brought that soft little noise right into Miguel's mouth, like Ryan would've been gasping and moaning if his mouth hadn't been too busy. Vibration and feel more than sound. Miguel was straddling Ryan now, lowly, on his thighs, not giving him friction where he wanted it, but resting there connected at his mouth. Miguel enjoyed the feel of Ryan's lean sides under his palms, still following the urge of needy exploration.

Ryan eventually gave up his mouth and Miguel slowly moved back downwards, revisiting every inch of skin in between. Deliberately driving Ryan crazy and loving it. He wanted to coax out that other little desperate noise, that rare deep whimper that he'd missed. Miguel tongued a hardened nipple as the pad of his thumb roughly rolled over the other. He felt the brush of Ryan's dick over his skin again. Just enough contact to tease the hell out of Ryan probably. Barely a whisper of that head painting Miguel's stomach and chest as he leaned over Ryan and worked his way down.

Ryan's hand came to rest gently on his shoulder, a soft glide of rough fingers over his neck and up over his hair in a caress.

"Fuck...Miguel." His voice was needy and pleading.

Miguel nipped the sweet skin of Ryan's vulnerable, flat stomach with another teasing scrape of his teeth before speaking. "You shove my head down -- I'll break your hand." Joking laughter graced Ryan's hip as his mouth slid over it.

Ryan laughed with him, strained, but low and joyful, shaking with it. It took the edge off, just like Miguel had wanted it to. He knew Ryan wouldn't push him. Even that first time, when Ryan had been desperate and breaking, he'd let Miguel brace himself for taking that step.

Miguel was lingering for a different reason this time. It was better this way, and Ryan knew it. Just a small amount of sweet torture, drawing out the pleasure, building it up. Miguel had all that pale skin stripped bare for him for once, and that was worth taking the time to explore.

Now though? It was definitely time to give in, to taste that body, and seek that salty bitterness. To feel Ryan shudder underneath him.

"You taste good, baby," Miguel said with one last teasing lap of his tongue across that sweet sensitive juncture of hip...before he chased that skin over to Ryan's cock. Finally he gave Ryan a nice savoring lick. The taste of Ryan was stronger there, but still good. Similar to that other skin. Just hotter. Insistent under his tongue. Ready.

There was that whimper.

Miguel didn't tease any more. Instead, he opened his mouth, wrapping his lips around that slick head, remembering the feel. There was nothing bad about those memories either, and he didn't even want to try to assign anything but this hot pleasure to this act. Here in this moment, he didn't care that he should choke on the idea of doing this for a man. It felt nothing but good.

The flick of his tongue under the head got that nice tiny tremble in response. Better than a lollipop. Ryan made his name a grateful groan, as Miguel had to keep touching. Grasping the beautiful reality of this moment. Ryan's cock was doing a damn good job of staying upright on its own, right there at his lips as he slid his mouth further down, taking more in. Heat. Stiff with attention, but graced with the softest damp skin. In his mouth, under the mercy of his tongue, as he started up a soft suck. The stretch of his jaw didn't feel awkward anymore. He didn't need his hands. He could skim them blindly up Ryan's side, wanting the contact. Loving the feel of every tiny shiver he caused right there under his touch.

He felt Ryan's touch moving softly over him, cupping his head, teasing at his hair, his neck. Felt Ryan's other hand join one of his in a caress over the back of it. Grasp and tangle of fingers, as Miguel slipped his head in soft slow movement. Just right for that hardness filling his mouth.

"Oh...fuuck..." More gasping joyous breaths from above.

Miguel missed those words from Ryan. Knew they meant only the best things, as Ryan's fingers clenched lightly, entwined with his still. Miguel kept the curve of Ryan's hip under his other hand, but Ryan didn't even try to thrust. He just let Miguel set the pace, let him take over with his mouth, lying back and enjoying it with those lovely noises and that other hand moving softly over his head.

That flesh felt nothing but easy and hot in his mouth. He closed his eyes and went with it. As much as he enjoyed actually seeing Ryan fall apart from his touch, the Irishman had a tendency to arch his back as he got off, head tilting back uncontrolled with the relief, so Miguel would lose most of his view anyway.

He just reveled in feeling it instead, in what he was causing. The slide past his lips, over his tongue, enjoying tweaking and manipulating Ryan. Running his tongue underneath that long cock as he pulled back, only to slide right back with a flick. Tasting him. That sweaty grip of sweet desperation held onto his hand through it all, fingers tangled tightly with his. He stroked his other hand over that hip, down to cradle Ryan's balls. He knew that would feel good, especially as Ryan got close. Another little groan turned to a whimper as Miguel rolled the soft flesh gently as he sucked. Another clench of those fingers in his, and the ones digging into his hair, as Ryan arched up into his mouth finally with his release. He swallowed down the slightly bitter rush over his tongue quickly.

"Miguel -- Mm ..." Ryan's gasping was cut off as he rode out his climax into Miguel's mouth.

His shark was probably biting his lip. Miguel's lids fluttered open as Ryan went lax, and Miguel let him slip out of his mouth. He was met with Ryan's hot gaze locked down on him as he immediately tugged Miguel gently up with that hand on the back of his head, and the still entwined grip of their fingers. Miguel followed as the touch led back up Ryan's body, to be caught by Ryan's mouth now, in his sweeping deep kiss. Lost in this like the clean beauty of the shower earlier. How the fuck could Miguel have a problem with that act, when Ryan clung to him, tasted himself in Miguel's mouth afterwards, and gave Miguel the same with abandon in turn?

When Ryan just continued those sweet sucking kisses of leisure, Miguel shifted them, falling to his side beside Ryan. Ryan scooted a little to make room on the thin blanket of clothes, turning towards him, finally letting go of his hand to rest it on the curve of Miguel's neck.

Miguel rested his head on the floor, barely noticing the stone, as he looked at an extremely pleased and relaxed Ryan. Just catching their breaths for a minute, even as Miguel stayed aching but untouched.

"So you did miss me." Miguel teased.

Ryan just grinned, hand idly stroking Miguel's side. "Mmm-hmm. Definitely. In every way." Those last words turned soft, making something inside of Miguel flutter again.

Miguel wasn't shoving Ryan's hands or head down immediately, wanting to wait until Ryan caught his breath, letting him glow with that bliss for a second. They had time.

Ryan used it to talk. What a surprise. Miguel liked it though; he missed words. "You know, that shit with the rubber -- I haven't been secretly running around fucking everything that moves during my years here."

Miguel shrugged, smirking softly. "Sure."

Ryan snorted. "When I said few indiscretions, I meant few. Easier to cover up."

Miguel looked at a lazily spent Ryan. "How the fuck did you manage that? From what I've seen -- you're one horny motherfucker." Miguel said it lightly though, showing Ryan that he was perfectly happy now about that.

"With you? Yeah." Ryan said. "I told you, Miguel. I can control myself. It's been me, Miss Sally, and my hand most of the time."

"Shit...you making up for lost time now, then?" Miguel joked.

Ryan laughed softly. "Hey, I never said restraining myself was fun. I don't have to with you. And you're as fucking enthusiastic as I am. I could be asking you how you've kept it in your pants these years." But it was clear he wasn't going to. Miguel had a feeling Ryan knew it was because Miguel had never thought he'd like this, want it as much as he did. He hadn't thought he could find this taste of relief with a man. He'd been hiding from the possibility, denying it as an option. Until Ryan had pinned him to a wall and forced him see it, to face it head on.

And now Ryan was showing him...this. Which was so far past what Miguel had expected, it was a different world. A far better one.

They lay there, legs overlapping each other's space, on the hard floor, facing each other. Miguel was still achingly hard, but waiting for Ryan to move. Seeing if he could hold off. Savoring that tight yearning feeling too. His own torture. That warmly relaxed body close and brushing his. Not enough, just tempting barely-there touch.

"Mmm..." Ryan drew a hand over Miguel's side, gaze just taking him in, tongue tucked momentarily between lips, like he was contemplating his move. "You seemed a little shaky earlier in the shower."

"I'm good, tiburón." Miguel answered the unspoken question truthfully.

Ryan's gaze dipped to Miguel's dick, and he grinned lewdly. "Yeah...you seem distracted from all that shit and very happy to be out now." That gaze was still stroking over Miguel's body like a living thing.

Ryan finally moved those touches from idle to purposeful, making due on the hot promise in those eyes. Mouth kissing down Miguel's chest, a steadily continuing journey down his stomach. Small splashes of heat gracing his skin as Ryan's mouth opened to lick and suck promises over Miguel's body. Hot wet tickle of tongue flicking inside his navel making his breath catch. Beautifully torturous.

Miguel laughed breathlessly, remembering Ryan's sendoff when they'd decided to send Miguel to the hole. "That's what it is -- you go down just to fucking distract me and keep me calm, don't you?"

Ryan paused to look up at him with a wink. "Works wonders, doesn't it?" Then that playful teasing was swallowed up by something else, shivering heat in those eyes as Ryan's voice turned rough and deep. "I do it because I want to."

Miguel didn't have time to process that much, his attention immediately stolen away by gorgeous wet heat. Voices swallowed as those words led that soft mouth in washing over him, bright hot gratification. Miguel's hand buried in that dark hair with a groan as Ryan finally gave Miguel a taste of relief.

Ryan still started slow, with a soft wet suck over just the head. Another slow promise, feeding Miguel's ache. Feeling so fucking good and making him hope for more, in a perfect way. Just before Miguel started to lose himself in the start of that slippery light suction...Ryan pulled off. Leaving Miguel out in the cold.

"Q-qué?" The strained questioning protest left Miguel without checking in with his brain. He looked down into amused green eyes and that wicked smirk.

"You're the one that likes... teasing." Drawled out answer as Ryan dipped his head, bringing the slide of that half parted mouth over the side of Miguel's length, touching but not taking him inside. Teasing the hell out of his aching body.


Soft lips glided along the side of his dick, damp silky contact so good but nowhere near enough. Just making Miguel shiver with need, with the so close sensation. Miguel groaned, fingers twitching, still buried in dark hair. "Fuuck, baby..."

Ryan laughed. Softly, a husk of warm breath over needy flesh...before Ryan diverted even further, moving off of his dick. Gracing Miguel with a little lap of lithe wet heat to his balls instead.

Miguel's head rolled back, eyes half-closing, as he tried not to thrust up into air, so desperate for some touch to his now neglected dick. At the same time he was being driven fucking crazy ... he was enjoying that new torturous touch. Ryan lightly mouthing his balls, softest, hottest tease of a suck. Just making the ache so much worse, the hot tingle and desperate desire for more so much better. "You beautiful slippery bastard..." Miguel groaned fondly, smiling and shaking with almost laughter, mixed with a heavy dose of want.

Ryan just laughed again, vibration buried in Miguel's body, hands sliding over his hips in that continued tease.

Miguel would not beg. At least not for another ten seconds.

Thankfully, Ryan didn't make him, lifting his head after a second of that laughter and winking up at Miguel again as he hovered over his dick. Ryan relinquished the wonderful torture fast, gripping Miguel's hips and sliding him into that mouth with a nice long swirl of devious tongue.

No more tease, just that heat, swallowing him up. Perfect after the taunting absence. Miguel let Ryan's heat wash through him, spreading that melting sensation to his very bones. Words fell from Miguel's lips as his hand settled on Ryan's head, stroking soft hair as Ryan's mouth worked around him. Encouragement and endearments and oh how he had fucking missed everything...mostly in Spanish, only half passing his brain on their trip to his lips. Ryan kept up the soft bob of his head and that grounding caress of his strong grip along Miguel's hips. Miguel caught glimpses of hot joy and amusement in his eyes...and that just made it better.

Until it all finally rushed over Miguel, sweeping him under in the most beautiful way, as he came into that mouth. Ryan swallowing it down without hesitation.

"Fuck...Ryan..." Miguel let out breathlessly as he came down slowly, floating from pleasure and relief, finally slipping from Ryan's devious lips.

He tugged on Ryan's arms, wanting him up where Miguel could kiss him, really touch him, lie in warmth with him. Ryan slithered up his body easily, taking Miguel's mouth. So fucking good. The taste of him in that mouth, taste of Ryan in his. Meeting and just giving in to each other. Joining in the heated afterglow as Ryan came to collapse close beside him. They stayed there in the quiet again, lying on their backs, sides pressed close. Miguel's hand was caught up with Ryan's. Thoughtless touch, fingers tangling with each other again, resting on Miguel's stomach.

He liked that he could just be here with Ryan afterwards. Feeling human. Even after he'd gotten that physical relief, he still wanted this. Needed it.

"Thank you," Miguel said after a few minutes, sincerity in his now serious voice, as he turned his head to gaze into those eyes.

"My pleasure." Ryan grinned with a little 'no sweat' gesture.

Miguel couldn't help rolling his eyes, a small smile on his lips. "Not for that. Thank you for coming to see me while I was in the hole."

"It wasn't enough." Ryan the serious one now, with that quiet voice and deep gaze.

But it was. Just the fact that he had tried.

"I'm out and better now, ain't I?" Miguel shrugged. "It helped keep me sane." He'd been lost there in that darkness, but he'd come back.

"Really? This is sane?" Ryan joked before shifting back to serious. "I'm sorry. I know you don't like being closed off alone, but I didn't know it would be that bad." Ryan paused, studying him. "You're... good... now, right?

"Yeah, I'm good, Ryan." Simple words repeated, but he let his eyes and his firm caress over Ryan's arm carry his sincerity and thankfulness for the continued concern.

There was something subtly different about Ryan, something even more open, but Miguel couldn't pin down exactly what it was. He knew it felt good though. He knew...a lot had changed since their deal had been struck. *Them*, and this strange heat and comfort, this humanity they'd found, were coming before the business end of things. Even the sex was no longer just about needing touch from any other body.

Miguel had missed Ryan himself, not the plans or their strategic partnership. And Ryan had clearly missed *him*. Had been worried about *him*, and it wasn't about his place in the scheme of things. The man who was always thinking, always scheming -- hadn't brought it up yet, had focused on just being with Miguel first.

Miguel may have been fucked up and lost, but he remembered how Ryan had visited him in the hole. Helped him while he could, anchored him. Ryan had been open and real, that mask peeled back completely. Only showing concern and just being there when Miguel had needed him. Even through the dark, Miguel had held on to that as much as he had been able to.

"I'm sorry we had to meet in another tiny fucking room right after you got out, but we wouldn't have been able to spend as much time alone in the gym safely." Ryan seemed genuinely regretful and concerned about Miguel getting claustrophobic.

Huh. Miguel hadn't even noticed the small space and close walls with Ryan there. "Didn't notice the room, Ryan. Just you." Miguel admitted quietly, eyes darting away from Ryan's and to the walls.

"Good." Ryan's own quiet word joining Miguel's, as his touch pulled Miguel's gaze back.

He was focused on lying there, spent and relaxed with another warm naked body. One that belonged to a person he wanted to be near. Sharing the afterglow. He hadn't had this in so long. Miguel didn't even care that it was the floor and not a bed. He just enjoyed it for a few minutes, letting himself not think.

But he knew he had things to work out, so he turned to Ryan more seriously after a few minutes, still keeping close to that body, not up to dressing yet. He was distracted by a tiny muffled beep. Ryan's watch?

"How much time we got left?" Miguel asked at the alerting noise.

Ryan shifted a little, hands digging into the clothes underneath them, groping Miguel more than he strictly had to in the process, before he finally came up with his watch.

Ryan grimaced as he checked the face and pressed the buttons. "Only fifteen minutes." He set it back down on the other side of his body with a sigh. "How'd things go with Vasquez?"

Ryan finally shifted to practicality, now that they had to. Miguel knew it was important. He needed to find everything out. He needed to prepare to go out and deal with it when he left here. They had stolen what they could without it, and that was good too. Ryan had apparently set his watch to warn them when they were almost out of time. Which meant Ryan had known he'd be extremely distracted. It made Miguel want to grin.

"Good. El Norte hasn't regrouped yet. He's the only one I talked to. We're meeting later," Miguel said. He'd known Ryan had been keeping an eye on him.

Ryan switched to the necessary conversation about what was going on, but he went back to that light idle caress over Miguel's arm at the same time. "Good. They're including you?"

Miguel nodded. "I haven't seen Guerra yet, but yeah. I'm supposed to be finding out what's up with Pancamo's crew, and what the word is." Miguel ended with a look at Ryan, prompting him to spill the knowledge he inevitably had.

"After you left, Ricardo got busted trying to mess with the wops. El Cid finally went over the edge, gathered up Guerra, and cornered Seggio in the gym. I think the crazy cocksucker was actually so far gone he was going to airhole the guy. Pancamo got there first. You know that Guerra got fucking stabbed in the crossfire by El Cid, right?" Ryan didn't even hesitate to lay it out, but as he spoke, he was being...fucking distracting. Even as his tone stayed businesslike, and he was obviously serious about the situation, it didn't stop him from moving over further into Miguel's space, throwing a leg over him, and turning to look down at him even as he moved. That long naked body slipping on top of his as Ryan talked fluidly. "El Cid was DOA. Guerra's fine, really. The wops barely broke a sweat."

Miguel nodded to signal that this was the information he already basically knew, just now in more detail, as he felt all that warm weight come to rest on top of him. Ryan covered him, propped up on his elbows sheltering Miguel's head. Chest to chest, hips to hips, Ryan's legs firmly braced along the outside of his. Fuck.

"I got all that from Vasquez. What's up with the wops now? How much payback are they gunning for?" Miguel kept his voice steady as he gazed up into Ryan's face. He was...blanketed by that body, nothing between them, just skin to skin pressing down on him.

This was a little new too.

But not necessarily in a bad way.

Ryan shrugged, and that felt pretty fucking nice all along his body. The Irishman didn't look too concerned. "So far? Signs are looking good for us. We may have just gotten out of lockdown, but you know how fast the fucking buzz spreads in here."

Ryan sat up, just a little, pulling back enough to run his hands lightly down Miguel's arms, before immediately turning to a caressing slide back up, guiding them up over his head. Odd graceful movement as Ryan was lost in that head. It was idle and without purpose. Miguel let him, arms sliding up over his head with Ryan's touch, Ryan's hands staying on him. Ryan slowly and gracefully fidgeting with Miguel's body instead of his own, as his shark thought and planned while he was laying things out.

"The consensus is --" Ryan punctuated the middle of his sentence by finally ending his grip up on Miguel's wrists. Their arms were up and spread apart on either side of his head, and Ryan was lightly holding his wrists in each of his own hands, pinning them to the stone floor as Ryan slipped back down with the move, pressed even closer and chest to chest again. "El Cid fucking snapped, and went rogue on everyone's asses, without consulting his boys."

Miguel raised an eyebrow at the movement. He was basically... trapped, but so gently and without a vibe of "gotcha". More like Ryan was just resting comfortably there and enjoying playfully messing around, rather than trying to restrain him. Like he was just lost in enjoying touch and movement. Miguel knew how Ryan craved touch, communicated with it, curled up in it for comfort. That kept Miguel from tensing up, from worrying. From panicking and throwing Ryan's ass off. The complete lack of power trip in Ryan's movement and gaze made it...okay. There was only bemused idle warmth, even as that mind worked and planned in grey-green eyes. Miguel had been carefully watching Ryan for intent, while he soaked in what was coming out of the Irishman's mouth.

Miguel was assured by the feel of that press, the light idle grip, and the look on Ryan's face that he didn't seem to have an intent other than... enjoying touch. Lots of roaming contact. Playing. Miguel found he didn't mind it. He liked that warm weight on top of him, the touch there constantly around him, even as his own mind worked with Ryan's, and he focused on what was going on in Emcity. It was like a discussion in bed with a longtime partner. Messing around with mindless, comforting contact even as you discussed serious shit. Everything seeming easier and lighter because you were together.

Miguel considered Ryan's words as he just felt the oddly relaxing weight of that body and mindless stroke of those fingers. "Really? That might actually be how it went down, I think. I haven't had a chance to talk to anyone other than Vasquez, but I don't think they were expecting the shit El Cid pulled. We don't waste wise guys."

As good and warm as that body felt on him, even with Ryan's fingers encircling his wrists, it was time to see how Ryan felt about a little change. See if it bothered him, make *sure* he wasn't serious about keeping Miguel pinned, however lightly. Miguel pressed up a little, swinging one leg from between Ryan's to hook around the other man's even as he broke Ryan's light hold, switching to holding the Irishman's arms.

Ryan just grinned, even as Miguel saw his wheels still spinning on business, and he let Miguel flip them without a blink. Miguel was careful, instead of just harshly slamming his pale ass onto his back. He didn't want that, just wanted to feel him. Guiding him gently in a quick, smooth fluid turn.

Their positions were easily reversed. Mirror image. Miguel on top. Pressing against that body between his legs, those wrists gently held under his hands now, spread out. Breath sped up, but Ryan just looked amused and still comfortable, pleasantly rubbing up against him.

He kept talking too, undisturbed. "The current word is good for us. You'll find out more about what actually was in your boys' hearts when you speak to Guerra. Even if that isn't how it went down, and you find out that Guerra was in on it, and that El Cid announced it to El Norte before it happened, we'll make sure no one hears that. We can just keep it spreading our way, if you can get your boys to agree to that version to keep things from getting worse. El Cid was a lone psycho wolf, fucking around without the backing of his loyal pack, who now realize the extreme errors of his ways, and they had no clue about the strike against the wops beforehand."

Miguel nodded, pleased. "Everyone blames El Cid, not El Norte -- no big war."

"As long as your boys see the wisdom in playing it that way, and the new leader goes to the Italians with an explanation fitting that story, looking to stop the tension and come to an agreement, as an olive branch." Ryan grinned right along with him, as Miguel let Ryan's wiry wrists go with a stroke back down those arms, coming up to rest on his own elbows on the stone, looking down at Ryan. Just enjoying the feel of their bodies lying all over each other, of Ryan so close.

"As soon as we get a fucking leader." Miguel snorted.

"Mmm...yep. I know who has my vote." Ryan leaned up a little, craning his head to steal a kiss.

Miguel let out a soft laugh after meeting that mouth firmly. "Yeah, but you don't get a vote."

Ryan shrugged again. Mmm...yeah, that felt good from this position too. That small movement of Ryan's body pressed underneath his.

"You'll work it out soon, you just have to get back to your amigos and feel things out, guide them. Shouldn't take more than a day or two. Adebisi and his boys are hanging back, just waiting to see what comes out. He's not going to stick his hand in any more though, not in any way that will hurt us. He'll support you being named as leader, and work with you."

Miguel remembered the last time he'd tried to team up with that motherfucker and grimaced. "That bastard left me out to dry last time. Laid me fucking low out in front of everybody."

"He won't this time. Don't worry about him. I've been dealing with his shit for years," Ryan said seriously, like they'd deal with it if he became a problem, before his demeanor lightened to what it had been, his hands slipping over Miguel's hips comfortably. "You all caught up?" Ryan tilted his hips up into Miguel playfully on "up". "We haven't been out long enough for anything solid to happen. Everyone is still regrouping like El Norte. Anything else you need clarified?" Ryan asked, tone slightly serious and thinking, offering. "I've still got some information gathering of my own to do. I think that's everything important though. Get with me as soon as you've met with more of your boys, and you've gotten the vibe there."

Miguel nodded. "Yeah, I'm good, and I will." Miguel pressed down, catching Ryan's mouth again. Now that he was caught up, he could lose himself there until they had to go back in a few minutes. Ryan seemed to have the same plan and agree heartily, shutting up and just melting him with that hot mouth, his hand coming to gently cup the back of Miguel's head, as the other arm wound smoothly around him. Happily leaving business behind again.

They were eventually pulled out of each other by another little beep. Damn. They'd flipped again at some point, and Miguel hadn't noticed much, caught up in Ryan's mouth and the easy tangle of their bodies. Miguel's back was on the stone again, clothes bunched under him, with Ryan on top, between his legs. Ryan pulled back away a few inches, on his elbows, that close encapsulation around Miguel's head again.

"Shit. Five minute warning." Ryan looked just as irritated at the interruption of time as Miguel felt. "We have to go."

Miguel sighed, admitting their defeat, as he sat up. Ryan shifted but stayed there, so that Miguel ended up with his arms around the warm Irishman in his lap. Fuuck. So nice. He didn't want to have to put the space back between them. He wanted to stay here and feel human, not alone. Free with this new disarming comfort he'd found wrapped up with that naked body. He was still a little surprised at how...easy... it was. How good and natural it felt, pressed close and practically rolling around naked together. It was more intimate than anything they'd done before. He had to kiss Ryan again with the realization. Just steal another second.

Ryan pulled back with a smile tugging at his lips, even as he sighed with his own displeasure at having to leave. "We have to get dressed." Ryan finally lifted up off of him, offering him a hand up.

Shit. Miguel took it, getting up, dusting off the parts of his body that had gotten dirty during their messing around. He stopped when he realized it would be more fun to dust off Ryan, reaching out to slide his hands over that skin, helping. Ryan grinned and returned the favor. They didn't linger though, no time, dammit. Miguel bent with Ryan to pick up clothes, shaking them out as they went. Passing them back and forth as they randomly picked up articles of clothing, until they each ended up with their own. They dressed quickly, tugging on pants, bracing on each other a little as they pulled on socks and shoes while standing up.

"Our clothes got a little dirty from our asses lying all over them on the floor." Miguel observed, not too concerned, as he gave his shirt another shake before pulling it on. They weren't too bad, nothing that would stick out as noticeable in here. Just some light dirt and smudges from the floor and the sweat, nothing incriminating.

Ryan said as much as he shrugged into his shirt with a grin. "Every scumbag in here is dirty. We'll blend."

Time to go. Miguel steeled himself for his return, ready to slip back out into the world after a final long kiss from his shark. They were wrapped back up in each other's touch, for a just a moment, fully clothed again.

Ryan pulled back, with one last lingering stroke of fingers over Miguel's cheek. "Adios, gato. See you soon."

Miguel nodded slowly, slipping his hand over Ryan's clothed hip and away. "Yeah, soon. You go work those moves you're so good at."

Ryan's sneaky grin flashed across his face at that. "You too. Stay safe."

Just when Miguel thought he was going to finally leave, Ryan darted in for another kiss. A brief damp touch of lips that was all about longing and promise. "Missed you." Whispered so low, Miguel wasn't quite sure he'd heard it.

"Yo también." Miguel returned with his own low breath, before they finally parted for real.

~ Chapter 14: Restoration ~

When Miguel returned to Emcity it was time to deal with everything. Put things to rest. Get El Norte's shit together while everyone was still regrouping from the lockdown. He had gotten the lowdown from Ryan before they'd gone their separate ways. Everything had seemed much less fucking dangerous and more manageable when he was there with Ryan. Body to body, Ryan's hands tracing idly over his skin as they talked. He hadn't seemed willing to stop until they'd had to, and Miguel found himself feeling the same. He was calmer now, felt like he had his head on straighter.

He would need that to deal with the faces of the men he had...partially betrayed. Miguel could lie, smooth and easy, with a smirk, swagger, and not a hitch of breath. He usually didn't even get called out. He just didn't live by it like tiburón did. He wasn't used to it with men that he was supposed to be tied to with blood and sweat. He had to keep in mind that that he'd managed it before he'd been sent to the hole. He just needed to fall back into the groove of it. Finish it. Miguel needed to focus now, to make sure everything slid into place like it was supposed to. The hardest work, the worst betrayal --getting El Cid out of the way-- was done. Dead and gone. There was nothing that would change that. If Miguel was going to go wishing for the ability to right unchangeable wrongs he had committed...he would have started with the eyes of an innocent man, not reviving the breath of the man who had made Miguel take that precious gift.

It was him or El Cid. He had chosen himself. It was time to move forward with the small control of his own fate that he had gained. It was time to make everything smooth for the future. Tie it up with a bow. There were still too many chances to fail.

Miguel was faced with one of his biggest internal chances to fail as soon as he returned to Emcity.


He had started to doubt Miguel's leadership before El Cid had landed himself inside. Miguel knew Ryan was right about the reason. Miguel didn't let Chico off his leash, didn't let him follow his rage into fights they couldn't win and trouble they didn't fucking need to stir. Chico had been more than fucking happy to step up and kick dirt on Miguel's face once they started following El Cid, using El Cid's dislike of him to really let himself loose on Miguel.

Now, he could keep Miguel from leading. Fuck, he could cause real problems for him. Miguel refused to resort to Ryan's kind of "solutions," though. Not with Chico. The guy was a dick now. But he was just a follower of El Cid in a way. Taking his frustrations out on Miguel for whatever fucking reason. Miguel didn't know where the grudge really stemmed from. Just bad timing, probably. Something little turning big in the face of the encouragement of El Cid's own antagonism of Miguel. Happened all the time in here. Mob mentality. Working yourself up over little slights until you couldn't remember what the cause was. All you could feel was just the release of having a target for all the shit inside of you to be vented on. Miguel knew that. He'd been there himself. It was no fucking way to live. After Miguel hadn't let him go off on just anybody, all that angry bitterness Chico had building up had been given an outlet by El Cid, and one of the main targets was Miguel himself. Miguel was hoping to change that, hoping it would be soothed. Back to the way it was. Miguel remembered...they used to be brothers. They used to be close. Chico used to trust and follow Miguel. Maybe El Cid's meltdown would knock some sense into the guy about his temper.

Here was Miguel's chance to find out. His bones were liquid steel. He would do this. Hide his secrets again. Stand firm. He hadn't let Chico get away with his shit before, and he sure as hell wasn't going to start now. Guerra was there waiting outside the pod of Miguel's door when he came back.

And that alone was a good sign. It was the little things mattered in here. The shows of boundaries and respect that they imposed on each other. Signals of who was strong, who mattered, of the connections between people. You only went barging into somebody's fucking pod when they weren't there for one of two reasons. Either you were really fucking close and you had their permission, or you didn't fucking care about disrespecting them.

Miguel and Chico were bound together by El Norte, but they both knew their bad blood put them past that first liberty. And the latter would mean Miguel probably couldn't reach the man and would have one hell of a fucking battle to set things right.

This...this was an olive branch. An acknowledgment.

Miguel took it, striding right over to Guerra, looking serious but not pissed. Keeping open.

"You're out." Chico greeted with a nod of his head, as Miguel got close. That old simmering antagonism wasn't in evidence. Guerra seemed wary, but not in an adversarial way. Like he was feeling it out as much as Miguel was.


Miguel nodded, immediately opening the pod door and stepping in, but he kept his hand on it in automatic invitation for Guerra to follow. "How you feeling, Chico?" Miguel inquired with a gesture to the man once the door was closed behind them. "You healing up okay?"

They slid into a position of the closest thing to privacy, stepping into the pod. Miguel spun around the chair he had been sitting in earlier, sliding it close to the bed before he slipped to sit on the bottom bunk. He wasn't going to make Chico sit on the fucking toilet.

Guerra hunkered down in the offered chair across from him. "Yeah, I'm good, Miguel. You?"

Chico was watching him closely, and looking nervous. Tentative and watching Miguel for clues, like Miguel was doing in turn. Guerra kept lowering his head and Miguel could see the hidden tension and uncertainty in his body. The need to fidget. He could also hear the cautious concern in the other man's voice. Guerra was looking for a truce. He wasn't like Miguel's shark. He didn't hide his true feelings to play nice and lull you into a false sense of security. When Chico had something against Miguel, he let Miguel know it. Guerra had always been that way with everyone.

"You know me and little rooms, hermano." Miguel said with a shrug, but with a steady sanity in his voice that played down what he had been through. "I'm glad I'm fucking out."

"We know you went down for El Cid's own stash. You made another sacrifice, proved again that you have the balls. You've always been a part of us." Guerra met his gaze head on now, seeming to gain comfort, as Miguel didn't hold anything against him. He was giving in and acknowledging Miguel's place. "I'm glad you're back, hermano."

Miguel nodded. Sounded a hell of a lot different when Chico said it than when Ryan did. It was just as genuine, but it didn't feel as nice to Miguel. Didn't hit him as hard and deep, not in the same way. It still felt good though. Acceptance. Even if Miguel was inwardly pissed at Guerra for turning on him in the first fucking place. Chico was using his real name and the familiar for a reason. Letting him know that the past was past and he was back. And that bit of nerves was...apology. Guerra would never say it out loud. This was as much as he would get. It was true to Guerra's nature, and to Oz, so it didn't bother Miguel.

Miguel gestured to Chico's body, even though he didn't know where the man had taken the shank exactly. "I'm glad you only got scratched."

And that was Miguel's acceptance of the unspoken apology. His agreement to burying the past. Guerra looked a little relieved. They both relaxed some with that out of the way.

"What happened?" Miguel asked, low and serious as he leaned forward.

Chico explained without a pause. "You know how El Cid was acting...it just got worse when you got popped. After Ricardo...he lost it. He gathered me up to fuck with one of the wops in the gym. I thought we were just going to intimidate him. Get information and rough him up a little, you know? But El Cid was all fucking worked up. Pancamo came and we should've backed off until we had reinforcements, but El Cid went fucking loco and attacked. He was yelling all kinds of crazy shit. How he was going to whack the wops, everyone was against him, and he was even rambling about me turning on him. He was waving that fucking shank around like he didn't even see me."

"Shit, man." Miguel drew his hand over his face with the weary words. A gesture that looked innocent, looked like he was just confused and torn up at the news, but it gave him something to hide behind. This was a scary balancing act. Fear, guilt, and hope for a renewed future were all pushing down on his shoulders, crowding his still mixed-up head. He carried on, pulling together the strength that kept him alive in here. "Nothing we can do about that shit now. You get the lay of the land? Where we going from here?"

"Don't know yet. Everyone else is on the way. We got to figure that shit out. What have you heard?"

Miguel leaned forward even more, both of them hunching close, and spilled what he knew. He left out his source of information. "The mooks aren't looking for hard payback yet. Their asses are just as lost as us. They don't know what the fuck was up with El Cid. They don't know if El Norte was behind it or he just went nuts. People are talking, saying he was loco, hermano. It keeps us safe for right now."

Guerra nodded. He had never been much of a thinker. Not that he was stone stupid, he was just a fighter. He acted. Chico was a good right hand. When he fucking wanted to be, Miguel thought with a bit of wry bitterness that he carefully kept off his face. Now, though, with no one clear to step up, he could get a delusion of leading. He was the only one other than Miguel really qualified; the only other one that might be accepted. Miguel could deal with that when they came to it.

He had some last groundwork to lay, some last words to get out just for Chico before the rest of the boys showed up. He needed to reaffirm his loyalty to El Norte, just for Guerra, and start planting seeds in case Guerra did end up the fucking leader.

Miguel locked eyes with Chico, serious and down to business. "We're here now, in this beef with the wops. It's a bad place, but it's our lot. El Cid may or may not have started this, but he led and that was his right. From here, we can try to smooth things back over to the truce El Cid originally made with the wiseguys...or we can go with the war."

Guerra spoke up, looking more worn and thoughtful than Miguel ever remembered seeing him. Maybe taking a shank actually had sliced some sense into the guy. "We're not pussies, but those wops aren't some little nigger gang. We kept peace with them for a reason. The fucking mob has things locked up. War with them..." Guerra left it open, knowing the possibility for disaster.


Miguel jumped right in with strength and reassurance. "I'll back you and El Norte whatever you decide. A war with the wops is going to be bad, hermano. I ain't going to lie. We're smaller, and without a leader. There will be major losses on both sides. Money and blood. At the first move, we'll be back in lockdown in the blink of an eye. But we can put up a hard fucking fight though."

He presented both of the options, but carefully made the war sound hopeless and devastating, while pretending to be willing to wage it. It was best if Guerra came to the decision on his own. Miguel's job was to make the cocksucker think he came up with it as the best course. He was playing it like Ryan would-- let the mark think it's all his idea. Guerra would head into it and back it more passionately that way. There would be no doubting it like there could be if it had been Miguel's decision.

Guerra nodded again, confidently. Like he was *thinking* instead of jumping the gun. Following Miguel's lead perfectly, like Guerra actually saw the sanity and logic of the cautious course for once. Good. This would be much easier if the man's old temper really had been changed by watching El Cid crash and burn like it seemed to be.

Both men saw the approach of Vasquez and the others. Even better. Time to settle things and get back on their feet. Miguel had more hope after his talk with the newly reasonable Guerra.


Ryan had been keeping an eye on Miguel's pod since the second he had entered it accompanied. By Guerra. Ryan felt the tension coil in his gut, familiar enough that he hid it with ease. His body language stayed relaxed and calm. Nothing to see here. Loose outside, tight inside. Mind and breath wary, as he appeared nonchalant and bored.

Miguel had said things looked good with his boys, but Ryan was still worried by the sight of Guerra alone with him. Ryan's apprehension increased when more of El Norte gathered in that tiny pod. Ryan observed the happenings inside with narrowed eyes that weren't really on the magazine he held in his hands. He kept a careful watch for any warning sign. Noting the posture, positioning, the stridency of gesturing hands. Making sure it stayed looking like a discussion and not a trap for Miguel. If it looked bad, well, there was no way he could intervene directly, but he could call the guards' attention to it and have them do it for him.

O'Reily relaxed with Miguel's seeming ease. With the lack of those bodies closing in. They were just huddled around each other. Talking. Getting down to business. Good.

Until the fucking hacks entered Ryan's view, making a beeline for the pod.


So much for getting the necessary rebuilding discussions out of the way.

Ryan kept his grimace inside, as he watched the meeting get broken up by overly cautious guards. With the known tensions involving the Latinos, and it being the first fucking day out of lockdown, the authorities weren't taking any chances. Anything that looked like a strategic gathering of the spics or the wops was getting put to an end as soon as it started.

It wouldn't last too long. The hacks just didn't want to look too bad by having another meltdown right after their last "punishment". They'd go back to less vigilance soon. Had to. Groups and gangs gathering were inevitable. Ryan and Miguel could wait, but not long. They needed him to put things right with his boys, to take the reins.

Ryan gave a frustrated-looking Miguel one last glance as the Latinos gave up and scattered. He went back to his magazine. His gaze shifted lazily over the staged shots of excitement. A pictorial that seemed to evoke a lewd pillow fight between slutty sorority girls who had lost their clothes.

His attention was pulled away quickly by Cyril's arrival. They'd needed fucking space after the long lockdown. Ryan had slid his gaze to his brother occasionally, making sure he was safely being babysat by the other Irish.

Cyril plunked down beside him, fingers automatically tapping a pattern-less beat on the table as he stared idly at Ryan. Quietly at least. Ryan sighed and gave up on his magazine, flapping it shut.


Ryan focused on his brother's innocent face. "Yeah, Cyril?"

"You seem better." Cyril stated simply, with a little bit of happiness that he had figured it out.

What the hell did that mean? "I wasn't sick, Cyril."

Cyril shook his head. That wasn't what he'd meant then. Ryan watched his brow furrow as he tried to figure out the words to make Ryan understand.

Fuck, it still hurt to see him like this when Ryan let himself remember the old Cyril. His brother was a permanent child now. As long as Ryan focused on how he was now, and forcefully put out of his mind that it had ever been any other way, it was better in a way. It took effort, though, to not think of the way he had been, but it was slowly getting easier as those years faded and the new ones stretched bleakly before them.

"Remember when you told me I didn't have to fight all the time?" Cyril restarted slowly.

"Yeah." Ryan was almost surprised that Cyril remembered that. That same little pause was caused when Cyril remembered or understood *anything*, like a small strange instinctual part of Ryan's brain thought that since the old memories were gone, there would never be any new ones again. But Ryan knew, in the more logical parts of his mind, that while Cyril's old memories may be gone, he did listen to Ryan closely now trying to soak up everything his big brother said.

What Ryan remembered about that particular incident was what Cyril had said. He remembered that brash little shock at what Cyril really was capable of comprehending, breaking through his anger. Sometimes he saw things that Ryan didn't even admit to himself.

'You don't have to fight all the time.'

'I don't?'

'No, you don't.'

'But Ryan, *you* do.'

That little flash of honest insight had knocked the breath out of Ryan for a second back then. Made him regret snapping at Cyril, made him feel...thrown, but less alone. A reminder that Cyril was still there, the parts that mattered. The parts that loved Ryan and saw into him like only his brother could. He was one of the only people Ryan let close.

Ryan pulled himself out of the memory, and nodded at Cyril's hopeful, impatient stare.

"You seem better." It gave Cyril the confidence to continue, in that stumbling hesitant child voice that at the moment held a strength of surety just the same. "Something's different. You're not fighting as much anymore, are you?"

And it knocked the wind right out of Ryan again...because in his own way, Cyril was trying to say that he saw it. The change brought about by the partnership with Miguel. The Latino was changing things for Ryan-- and Cyril *saw* it.

Ryan tensed a little, warily...but Cyril seemed pleased with the change. And Ryan *wanted* to say something. It slipped out quietly, just for Cyril's ears, as Ryan leaned forward a tiny fraction. "Someone's been helping me." He missed confiding in Cyril. Missed his brother always being there to lean on. So, he still told Cyril things he didn't give up to anyone else, but needed to let out even if Cyril didn't always understand them. But maybe he did this time.

Cyril started whispering, picking up cues from Ryan's posture and demeanor. "Who? Is it Dr. Nathan?"


"Nah." Ryan dismissed that with the same bit of wary nerves, even as it manifested as casualness to keep Cyril calm. He hesitated again. "It's a secret."

"Even from me?" Cyril was hurt, but Ryan had given up enough. Too many details would be a very bad fucking idea.

"Just for now." Ryan assured him carefully. He needed to make sure Cyril didn't get worried, and wouldn't say anything. "Sometimes you have to keep things secret to protect them."

"It's not bad is it?"

Ryan answered quickly, low and carrying the truth. "No. I promise."

"Then it's okay." Cyril nodded slowly. "I'm happy someone's helping you."

"Me too." Ryan said. "It's good for both of us, Cyril."

Cyril snorted, like a child who just knew better than an idiot adult. "I know. Everything's better when you're feeling better."


Miguel's fingers slipped over the worn spines of books in gracefully idle patterns as he pretended to look them over. He wasn't paying attention to the words printed across the bindings though, just the feel of them under his touch. His eyes were really slipping to the floor, watching the slow steps of black boots staying in range of him, gaze going up and over to catch Ryan there as they directed their low voices towards the shelves.

They were alone for now, but it was calculated chance, not safely scheduled and paid for seclusion. They were hiding in plain sight, carefully pretending to look for something to read near each other in case anyone came in. The library wasn't the most popular place in the fucking prison, though, especially during Up Your Ante on the first day after a long lockdown. They should be undisturbed.

"Fucking hacks interrupted our meet." Miguel murmured as he pulled out a light and well-worn paperback. He flipped it over curiously in his hands, but wasn't reading the blurb.

"I saw that. They're fucking twitchy and uptight about your boys and the Italians gathering right now." Ryan explained with amused irritation. "You get anything done before they broke up the party?"

"I talked to Guerra." Miguel shrugged as he slid the book back. He turned his head to look at Ryan, shooting him a smirk and pointing before he could speak. "Let me guess, you saw that too."

Ryan gave up his act of perusing the books, and leaned against the bookcase, turned to the side and facing Miguel as his arm slid over the bare top of the low wooden shelf along the wall. "You know me, I see all." Delivered with a small winning grin in that fondly sarcastic voice as his fingers picked at the wood.

Miguel snorted as he returned the grin with a shake of his head.

"You two kiss and make up?"

"We've been over this -- you want me to ever kiss *you* again? Don't mention my mouth and his in the same sentence." Miguel joked, face pulling at just the thought.

Ryan laughed huskily, and mimed zipping his lips.

Miguel nodded, finally answering Ryan's question. "I think we're good. The shit with El Cid shook him. He's acting like the grudge is dropped."

"Good. One less thing to worry about."

"Yeah. We didn't get to talk about a new head for El Norte though. " Miguel said thoughtfully as he turned to Ryan, leaning into the bookshelf himself now. "Chico's my main competition. He may want to lead."

It was dangerous information to give Ryan, and Miguel had held it back until now, but Ryan needed to know now. Miguel just had to make sure tiburón didn't airhole the guy because of it.

Ryan scoffed, calmly dismissive. "Fuck him. We can pick him off easy. You'll lead."

Miguel fixed his gaze hard on Ryan. He was not going to let his slippery shark do that. Especially considering what the fucker may already have done. This was why Miguel had to bring it up.

"No. He leads? I follow. You got that, tiburón?" Miguel stated firmly, not letting those grey-green eyes slip away from his. Ryan did not look happy at his statements. Miguel didn't let up. "The deal was for El Cid. I'm not turning on anyone else. I can still do what I can for you and get El Norte to back off of you in the tit trade without leading. With El Cid and his fucking grudge gone, I'm back in all the way. I've got jizz again," Miguel explained.

It was true. Miguel could tell that from the brief seconds he got with El Norte before the hacks had fucking butted in. It was obvious from Chico coming to him first with the closest the man would openly come to repentance for turning on him. If Chico ended up leading, Miguel would probably end up his second. He could get them to play nice and ignore the dealing of the Irish again, no problem. Especially since, well, it had been Miguel that had set El Cid on the war path against Ryan's dealing in the first place.

Ryan looked pissed -- tightening up and standing straighter with the first words out of Miguel's mouth, and not soothed by the rest, just dismissing them. Those eyes were alive and steady, locked on his with their own stubbornness. "Fuck that!" Not shouting, because of the venue, but the words were hissed out with vehemence just the same. "I don't care about that shit. I know you can make sure El Norte stops posturing and glaring about the Irish side of the tit trade. But I don't care if you can get Chico to beg for snausages -- you can lead better than that cumstain. You should head them."

"It's El Norte's decision. I'm fine with not leading. I'm staying loyal, I'm by his side as long as he doesn't turn on me." Miguel met stone with stone. He was a bit fucking thrown by the fact that Ryan seemed to be pissed about Miguel not leading for reasons other than business and the Mick's own welfare. He seemed to accept that Miguel could still help him either way, but was still passionate about Miguel being on top.

"Your loyalty lies with me, not Guerra!" That gaze was hot and adamant on his.

Miguel stood his ground, staring at Ryan in disbelief, taken aback by the assertion. "What?!? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I'm not your fucking prag!" Miguel's own shocked anger came out in the rasp of his voice.

"No!" Ryan slid closer with that, fast as a cobra strike, but all his anger changed to...irritated apologetic explanation. "That's not what I fucking meant, and you know it." Strident but desperate, and Miguel realized it with another shock. That outburst hadn't been about business at all. This was personal for Ryan. "We're partners, remember? We're in this together, fuck Guerra." It was a much milder dismissal of the man, almost off-hand.

That hurt shock was as genuine as the anger. Oh fucking hell. Ryan was jealous and feeling betrayed because he thought Miguel was putting his loyalty to Chico first and pulling away from his dealing with Ryan for El Norte? Shiiit. Apparently all that time in the hole had made Miguel forget how fucked up Ryan could be. Or maybe he'd just never felt this needy possessiveness aimed at him before. The outburst was caused by Ryan's concerns about their partnership ending -- and not just the one in the tit trade.

"I've got your back. It ain't about that." Miguel's defensive reflexive anger melted away at the revelation of the cause of Ryan's behavior. Ryan hadn't been calling him a prag or trying to order him around at all. Ryan was worried about keeping him close. "You know that even I don't like the fucking guy, but that don't matter. I'm part of El Norte, and that's not about us. I just wanted to give you a heads-up. If they name him leader, you keep your hands off of him, okay?" Miguel kept his tone lighter now, quieter. Just steady explanation, not threat.

Ryan nodded a little. Didn't look happy still, but he was back to just seeming mildly irritated about not removing Guerra as a complication.

Still...another thought occurred to Miguel. Ryan's motives were known for being slippery and Miguel had to make sure. "Why, do you want to re-evaluate our partnership if I'm not leading?" Maybe Ryan had another reason, some fucking plan, that required Miguel to head El Norte, and Miguel would lose his usefulness if he wasn't. It didn't seem that way though. It sounded genuine, and Miguel was pretty good at reading the Irishman by now.

"What? No, gato." Ryan shook that off dismissively, looking a little thrown by the thought. Like it hadn't been anywhere on his radar. "You can get my back either way. You being the head would be helpful in some ways, but it isn't required. Either way has its own bonuses and drawbacks. We can get things done regardless." Ryan's gaze dipped, as he went more serious, focusing on his own thoughts, with a tentativeness quietly haunting the words. "Even if you don't lead, you're sticking with this, right?" Ryan was seeking...reassurance.

That was it then. Miguel was right the first time. It had nothing to do with Miguel's usefulness to him as a player. How long had this been going on and Miguel hadn't noticed it? Not really, anyway. He saw that Ryan had started to really care, for some fucking reason, but he hadn't realized what that meant. Ryan was going to be even more of a delightful pain in his ass now. Because the Irishman didn't care about many people, but when he did, he did it with a vengeance. Miguel almost wanted to smirk, but figured it would be a bad time.

Miguel shrugged the question off, like it was insane, slipping a little closer himself. "Of course, Ryan. Nothing about us will change." Miguel let out his smirk after that though. "Chico better stay healthy if they turn to him instead of me though, okay?" Miguel warned one last time. Couldn't be too careful when it came to his shark.

Ryan rolled his eyes, but he was swallowing a grin at Miguel's first words. Miguel could tell. "Fine."

Miguel hadn't forgotten Chico's words either though, so he went back to studying Ryan closely as he asked the important question. "Guerra tells me El Cid was paranoid and rambling about Chico turning on him right before he accidentally stabbed his ass."

And there went all of Ryan's tells. ringing alarm bells in Miguel's head as the Irishman went...purposefully loose. Face too casual. Turning on the so smooth unknowing innocence. Like he did right before lying his ass off.

"Really? Guess the shit we were slipping him worked and he did go fucking crazy."

"Yeah." Miguel said, staring Ryan down mildly. Letting him know he knew. "It was the drugs making him paranoid, right? Not some little birdie whispering in his ear. What rumors did you spread after I went away, tiburón?"

Ryan sighed and gave it up. "Look, it wasn't much. Just a little chatter right before the fucker snapped about how somebody could possibly, maybe, think of selling him out. It didn't get to El Cid from a reliable source, if he wanted to believe it was possible -- that's all him. Chico's alive, right? He's back on your side and not mourning El Cid? Everything worked out."

"The deal was Guerra didn't get harmed unless we had to."

"Hey, it was one guy wondering about loyalty in times of trouble out loud in Hernandez's general direction. I didn't spread anything about Guerra actually betraying him. I was careful to only feed the motherfucker's paranoia. I thought *maybe* he'd snap at Chico a little, treat him like shit like he did you. Alienate him and make Chico rethink his treatment of you. Then maybe when El Cid shuffled off this mortal coil, Guerra would be nicer to you after understanding the guy's unreasonable fucked up grudges. I didn't think the crazy bastard was going to stab the cocksucker. He didn't go after Guerra just because of that one thing, the guy was nuts. He would've stabbed anyone near him."

Miguel knew that was true, too, from what Chico himself had said. El Cid hadn't been aiming for him, he'd been slashing at the air at any movement, lost to his demons and rage.

"Jesus," Miguel sighed out at the extra lengths Ryan had gone to.

But things had worked out. Ryan couldn't have done that much damage. Miguel had known what he was dealing with when he hooked up with the Irishman. The dangers. Even if their feelings towards each other had changed, O'Reily still operated the same. Miguel could handle that, he knew what to watch out for. It wasn't worth giving up...whatever this was. Ryan wasn't the only one that fucking *cared* now. Miguel may be a little pissed about the Guerra rumor, but it wasn't too bad. Ryan had held to his word far more than Miguel had expected him to, actually.

Ryan rolled his eyes at Miguel's slight show of exasperation with what Ryan was capable of. "Stop acting like I'm the devil, gato. Nothing happened to your precious Cyclops, I know what I'm doing."

Miguel raised an eyebrow, not able to keep a grin from tugging at his mouth. "Cyclops?"

They were both still turned to face each other, leaning on the bookshelves, but the space between them had condensed even further.

Ryan gestured vaguely at his eyes. "Guerra. What the hell is up with that eye of his anyway?"

"I don't want to fucking know." Miguel said with a grin and a shake of his head, before focusing back on business again. "Shit will be settled soon, one way or another. You're back selling again, right?"

"Who says I stopped?" Ryan was just...smirking. He plucked out a book randomly, and shifted to lean his back against the shelf, sliding closer in the process. "It'll be easier now that your ape isn't on my fucking back anymore."

The pages fluttered by as Ryan fanned through them, not reading. Miguel just watched the words blur and race, before Ryan clapped the book shut, turning his head to aim that smirk more firmly at Miguel.

"Don't think I've forgotten who set that cocksucker on my ass in the first place."

Damn. Tiburón didn't sound upset or vindictive though, just highly amused.

"You pissed off about that?" Miguel asked idly.

Miguel whispering in El Cid's ear, stirring him to muscle Ryan out of the tit trade, was what had gotten this thing between them rolling in the first place. At the time, he figured Ryan roping him into this shit and getting his boys popped for tits was payback enough to settle the Irishman's grudge.

Ryan's smirk shifted into that shark grin as he turned back to Miguel, slotting the book back in its place. "Now or then?"

"Then." Miguel prompted, wondering what the answer would be. He wanted both.

"Fuck yes. I sent the hacks after your asses, didn't I?" He was still amused, like it was one of those experiences that fucked you up at the time, but in retrospect you could see the humor.

"Now?" Miguel slid closer, into the heat of Ryan's body. It was still cold in Emcity, even if he didn't really know the temperature outside. Miguel was wearing his dark blue shirt with long sleeves as a nod to the chill of late winter, and Ryan had on his grey hooded sweatshirt unzipped over one of his green tees. The proximity let Ryan's scent join the musk of the books.

"Definitely not. You wanted that ugly ape off of your back too. You thought I could take care of it." Ryan explained, grin getting closer, bringing his warm breath to Miguel's skin.

Miguel remembered. He hadn't really been planning it that way, wouldn't let himself think of it too much. It had been mostly subconscious. He knew what you got when you pissed off O'Reily-- especially by trying to cut off his livelihood. And yeah, that's what he had wanted to fall on El Cid.

"You were right." Ryan finished, voice lower, matching that husk of breath right before he finished closing the distance between their mouths.

It was a brash grab of a kiss. Those lips half-parted against his. Firm and perfect, sudden heat warming Miguel straight through. Just for a second, before they both backed off, aware of where they were.

"What if I hadn't agreed to partner up with you?" Miguel asked idly, still feeling Ryan on his lips even as they put the distance back between them, a careful buffer.

"I would've walked away and left you to deal with him." Ryan answered seriously. "But you didn't, and I didn't...and I don't regret a fucking thing."

~ Chapter 15: Settling In ~

Miguel had time alone after lockdown. Time stretching out unfilled before the lights went off and he could rest on something other than stone for the first time in a month. The thin mockery of a mattress would never feel so wonderful as it would tonight.

They hadn't gotten him hooked up with another podmate yet, so it was just him in his very own fluorescent-lit fishbowl. He stared out for a while, leaning on the glass, feeling the coolness of it against his forearms. He surveyed things idly, like he always did. He missed it, in a way. After a month with nothing but stone walls to stare at and no way to mark time, watching the myriad lockdown and bedtime rituals of other men was interesting. While the lights were still up, some guys sat around talking, some played cards or chess. Some were obviously gearing up to take liberties from their weaker podmates as soon as the darkness would let them. Some shaved or settled in on the fucking toilet, to the annoyance of the man trapped in the pod with them. Some, like Miguel, just watched the world beyond the glass, the closest thing to television available after lockdown.

This was more like being inside the television set. Inside a cramped space, behind the glass, looking out at people staring at you or walking past. Watching people just going about their banal lives instead of programming designed to hold your attention.

Miguel saw a slice of Ryan there in his own pod. He had caught a glimpse of Cyril wandering around inside before. Ryan was parked there at the glass, just like Miguel. Tall grace, leaning his side against the invisible wall that was only noticeable by the glare of lights. O'Reily had gotten halfway dressed for bed. Shirt off, wearing grey sweats that had been worn thin and raggedly cut off into shorts just below the knee. Still had his big black boots on, though.

Miguel took a second in the darkness of a long blink to remember that body stripped down and gasping his name on grey stone. When he focused back on reality, Ryan's gaze was passing over him. Miguel had tossed his shirt off for the comfort as well, and he subtly flexed at the attention, his arms spread up there on the glass. Not enough movement to signal anyone else as out of the ordinary, but Ryan saw it. His gaze lingered in Miguel's direction for a moment, even as that expression stayed stone normal. Ryan's body shifted as he reached up, though. One arm slipping up, resting on the glass now. A casual stretch of his position and posture. Nothing out of the ordinary. But Miguel liked the way it showed off the long line of Ryan's body.

He had caught sight of something else when Ryan had moved into his current, lazy, half-stretched out position. A tiny sign that had been there and gone with the first shift of the movement. Ryan's hand had gone deliberately flat on the glass as he'd moved his arm up, palm out and pressed there for one extra second. Those eyes had been locked on Miguel's at the time.

Ryan's subtle hidden acknowledgment. His secretive version of a wave.

Miguel shifted himself with another flex. Bringing his arms down from the glass slowly, he casually changed his own lean against the glass. As he moved, he took a second to press his palm secretively to the glass in turn, staring at Ryan.

The moment of reaching out passed between them as invisibly as the glass walls, the glare of the action only catching in each other's eyes.


Miguel gave up his watch before Ryan did. He settled down into his bunk with a long release of breath. He took the bottom one, almost always had. He could've taken the top bunk now that he was alone and El Cid was gone. He just liked the bottom bed better. Even though he knew some guys went to a lot of trouble whipping their dicks out over ownership of the top bunk, like it meant something. To some it did. Miguel had never been a prag, so it didn't have that sting of other meaning, of being forced to the bottom, used and taken for whim.

Gang structure was different. Miguel had taken his vows, and willingly belonged to something bigger. It wasn't the same as being a bitch. It was a different, acceptable, exchange of power. Besides, El Cid had gone out of his way to make Alvarez feel lost, outside, and inferior in other ways, so that sleeping in the top bunk was nothing compared to the other signs of the man's disdain. The leader had the right to choose anyway. Miguel had given it to him, instead of the other man taking it from him. He hadn't even been using the top bunk at the time. So, the top bunk as an important symbol to hold on to didn't mean as much to Miguel.

To him, the bottom bunk mainly just meant your ass wouldn't fall so far if you rolled off in the middle of the night. He liked being close to the ground. He liked having the solid canopy above. The ability to hide a little in the shadows. It made him feel less like he was in that big glass fishbowl. Like he had a sliver of cherished shelter and privacy.

Even when he had led, he had taken the bottom bunk most of the time. It had been seen as a matter of preference, not a sign of subservience. It was only subservience if you couldn't *have* the top bunk, even if you wanted it.

Miguel knew Ryan always took the top. He'd have to ask him one day whether it was him showing off his big powerful dick, or the guy just liked the openness, the height, and the breeze. Maybe they felt more like freedom to the Irishman. Now though, it might just be the little brother/big brother code of the eldest getting the top bunk.

Miguel had kicked his shoes off, shed his pants, and climbed under his sheets. He wasn't quite ready to sleep yet, he just liked the luxury of the fact that he *had* a bed to lie down in, a blanket to pull over him. It felt cold and clean. He knew it would feel even better when it warmed to his body heat.

He was alone in the dark with his mind again, and the clutter and mess threatened to come back. All that shit that he'd shut away the second he'd left that little stone room was easier to remember now. To feel. It was better, the worse had gone, but the chaos was still alive. The worry and strain. It hadn't stopped the second the door swung open, he'd forced it down. It would take a while to really get back to normal, he knew that from experience.

He hadn't taken his meds since the boxing, and the fucking hacks wouldn't have given them to him in the hole anyway. They dulled the hot rush of anger, and fractured thinking, that sometimes hit him. They helped him feel a little more in control on his bad days. His mind shifted less chaotically when he was on them. He might start taking them again. Maybe it would help speed his adjustment, help him keep it together. Keep the dark at bay while it slowly faded away.

He'd made it through the crucial first day. First time after El Cid's death that he was face to face again with the gang he had subverted and partially betrayed. He had to hold on to the fact that he hadn't really betrayed *them*. That hadn't been his goal. In his heart, he hadn't been after them. It had been one man. El Cid would have been the death of him. Miguel had claimed his own life back. He'd never really turned on El Norte, just the man pretending to be king. But it was still hard. That first day looking at them all, realizing they had never had a clue that he had been manipulating events the whole time, and that he had dual loyalties now, to them and to his partnership with O'Reily. The first day leaving behind what he had done and starting anew. It was a painful stretch into a new future. A brighter, better one. But the past still scraped along his skin as he'd talked like he'd had nothing to do with El Cid's death and planned that future.

He'd held it together at the time because he'd had to. He'd gotten used to it a little, at least, during the time before the hole when he had been orchestrating everything and lying to them. He was still too shaky to slide right back into it without it messing him up a little. He had been helped today by the calm gained in his hour stolen by pale skin, slightly rough hands, long arms wrapping around him, and the taste of a firmly clinging mouth.

Now though, he could feel it. The splintered thoughts and fears that had shattered him in the hole were still floating around. He was having trouble focusing through it all. He was still learning to adjust to the light after the long dark. The stress didn't help. Made it harder to slough off the bad crazy shit and replace it with strength and confidence. With a sense of rightness.

He'd get it back. It would just take a while, like everything. He had time, now. Time without that guillotine threat of death or solitary hanging over his head. And he knew as well as anyone that in lives like theirs, you accepted your choices and rolled with the changes or you got crushed underneath them. He was quicksilver. Liquid and smooth. He'd been adapting and changing to survive his whole life.

And at the heart of it, his conscience could move past this far more easily than wrapping his mind and soul around what he had done to Ricardo. That would haunt him. This would fade away. It had been a necessary action. As necessary as other lives he had taken, and all the other trespasses he and everyone else in here lived by.

He closed his eyes, thinking of the thing that had settled his blood, gave him that sense of rightness and comfort -- belonging -- that he'd rarely tasted.


Ryan wrapping around him, seeking his own comfort. The memories were all grins, laughter, nice deep groans, and heavy breathing.

How had this happened? Didn't matter. Things happened, you rolled with them. If they felt good in a place where nothing else did, you didn't question them too much. It was a waste of time, when you could be holding on to the joy. Things were what they were. However fucked up him and Ryan O'Reily getting naked and close was -- it was something that he didn't want to lose.

Miguel thought of earlier that day. His homecoming in a storage closet. Reuniting with Ryan had been important to him. It had meant something. Meant as much as getting out of the hole did.

Miguel hadn't fully realized what they had become until then. Maybe being locked away without it had made it that much clearer when it all rushed back, as he remembered that Ryan was something that had kept him from drifting away completely in the hole.

He knew know, saw it clearly. Felt it with that same clarity, even here in the unsteady, quiet night.

Earlier? Hidden away, embracing, playing around, and fucking *savoring* each other? They weren't two guys working together -- covertly and forced at first, but becoming strange friends -- who fucked around with each other as a bonus to that business because other options were lacking and they needed any touch they could grab, anymore.

They were lovers.

As strange as it was, lover was the word that fit best, really. Not because they were in love, they weren't. But because it wasn't just sex grabbed without meaning or context, purely for the release with the only willing flesh they could find, anymore. There was more here than that. They were actually choosing each other now, not just falling together for strategic reasons. And they were tangling tighter together, just because it felt good. Because they liked it, and fucking liked each other now. Because they couldn't stop it.

They enjoyed each other's company. They were focusing on each other now, as much as alliances and covert business partnerships. Maybe even more, because the business was becoming partially about them. Keeping each other safe because the safety of the other was starting to matter, not strictly because of the deal.

Miguel could feel the remembered heat of Ryan's body on his even as he lay there under the blanket alone. It kept him company, allowing him to feel the truth of them, as his mind cycled down towards sleep.

He sighed out a deep low breath, eyes staying closed since everything he needed to see was in the inky blackness behind his eyelids, as the shock of fully realizing what they become wasn't, well, as *shocking* as it should be.

He had never thought this would happen. Of course, he was learning that O'Reily had that effect on him. Miguel kept doing things and discovering things that he would've denied as possible before.

Miguel Alvarez, lover of women -- their scent, their grace, their curves -- found that there was pleasure to be found in a male body as well. Out of desperation and pure lonely need at first. But it wasn't about that for either of them now. He touched Ryan, took him in his mouth, writhed against him because -- he wanted to. Ryan turned him on and got him off and calmed him down, and comforted him. He even worried about the Irishman's well being. He cared for and he lusted after the man. Ryan himself. Not just because he was available and the fucker had offered him a deal he couldn't refuse at the time.

Miguel Alvarez, who knew better than to trust that slippery fucking Mick who lied and manipulated like it was his mother tongue, had started to really want the guy around, and trust him.

Miguel smirked there in the dark, as he turned on his side and dug in to the wonderful relief of fabric, stuffing, and springs, pulling the blanket up high to keep warm.

It was fucking insane.

He'd not only slipped from forced desperate alliance to almost friend to fucking *lover* with a man, but he'd done it with Ryan-fucking-O'Reily.

At least Miguel wasn't doing this half-assed. O'Reily had been a force to be reckoned with since he'd set foot in Emcity, even when he hadn't had anyone to lead, no one behind him but himself. Miguel had since found out, because he became interested enough to listen for information about Ryan, although the Irishman himself had never mentioned it, that O'Reily had led on the outside too. Leader of his own fucking gang. Shit. Even Miguel hadn't led outside.

It figured- if Miguel was going to go for a fucking guy, it would be with a powerful, dangerous motherfucker that he could respect.

Truly fucking insane.

Didn't make it any less true.

Miguel focused on that, the insanity he liked, instead of the actual stress and chaos in his head, as he drifted off to sleep.


Miguel stumbled out for morning count with everyone else, getting used to days divided by buzzers and guards taking a more active interest in him again. He took note of where Ryan was, something he did frequently now. His gaze slid over everyone though, so it didn't stand out. It was what everyone who had half a brain cell did, watched those around you. Miguel's gaze didn't linger, but he'd seen Ryan there yawning, shirt slung over his shoulder, doing up his pants, with Cyril right beside him.

Miguel didn't keep a bead on the man though. It's not like he was fucking going anywhere. Miguel went about his own morning. He decided to grab a fast shower right away before it was time for breakfast. It didn't give him time to talk to El Norte, but they'd have time to get down to business and really talk at breakfast. The guards wouldn't break them up at their table in the cafeteria as long as they were eating.

He wasn't surprised that he had the shower room to himself for a few minutes. Not all of the guys in here showered every day, even though the dirty fuckers should've, and they were slow and lazy as a rule. Not a lot of early morning showers.

He wasn't surprised when a certain Irishman joined him after a few minutes, either. Ryan was dressed, carrying his shaving kit. He set up at a sink while Miguel let the water clean and invigorate him. They didn't really look at each other, but they didn't really need to.

"Morning, gato. First night out go okay?" Ryan asked quietly.

Miguel didn't bother checking if Ryan was looking at him, he probably wasn't for the sake of appearances. "Yeah. That lumpy piece of shit mattress has never felt so good. You?"

"Same piece of shit mattress as always." It wasn't too much of a complaint though, Ryan's way of letting him know he'd had a good night without saying anything.

Miguel casually glanced over and saw that Ryan may have been watching him in the mirror. Yeah, Miguel doubted Ryan had come in right after him because of some overwhelming need to be clean-shaven immediately upon waking. Ryan didn't say anything else, so it wasn't because they had to talk. They were alone, but it was a slightly dangerous game tiburón was playing. Not too much danger in the voyeurism though, just enough for a thrill.

He took his time washing, making sure to do a thorough job of sliding soap over his slick skin, and taking his time rinsing clean, letting that water cascade all over his body. Ryan was staring into the mirror intently enough that Miguel knew he was catching him in the reflection. A few covert glances confirmed it, as Miguel saw the hints of hot tease in those eyes. Hey, if his shark left with the start of a hard-on, it wasn't Miguel's fault -- he'd brought it on himself.

Miguel sort of liked Ryan being there first thing in the morning. It was reassuring after the thoughts he'd fallen to sleep with. It all hadn't been his mind fogging as he'd drifted off to sleep, he felt it here still with Ryan -- who was looking like he felt it too, and like he wished he could chase the suds over Miguel's skin.

The sound of the door signaled another occupant entering. Playtime was over.

Shit. It was Guerra. Miguel finished up, quick and cold.

"Yo, Miguel."

Miguel turned around after shutting off the shower. He approached the short tiled barrier as Chico did, both of them stopping there. One on either side. Déj vu, except one of the players was dead and gone, and the mood was entirely different. No questioning, no threat, no judgment, no disdain.

"Yo, Chico. What's up?"

Chico *handed* him his towel. *Nicely*. Things had definitely changed. Just like Ryan had said they would a while back, actually, now that he thought about it. Miguel kept anything from registering on his face as he took the towel with a grateful tilt of his head.

"Hey, O'Reily, this is private. Take a walk." Guerra called out, looking over to the Irishman.

Ryan looked at Guerra through the reflection in the mirror, expression strongly scoffing and dismissive -- and not intimidated in the least. "Nothing's private in Oz, Guerra. Or didn't you notice the glass walls?"

Great job, tiburón -- piss him off. But Miguel thought he saw a hint of what Ryan was playing at. Miguel decided to test his theory. Even if he was wrong, Ryan was smart enough to pick up on it and roll with it. He waited a moment until Ryan finished rinsing his face clean.

"O'Reily, you're done here, right?" Miguel asked, not as arrogantly dismissive as Guerra. It was easy respect, but still missing the kind of deference that he didn't owe Ryan since Miguel wasn't one of his men. "Stop hanging around to listen in on our business and check out my ass." It was a mild, routine taunt with no real venom behind it. Just the same casual tone and words everybody who wasn't enemies, but wasn't quite on the same team, used when they dealt with each other in here.

"You wish." Ryan snorted with that same casualness as he finished packing up his shaving kit. His movements were carefully unhurried, while still not dragging out his departure. The perfect balance of self-confident power, with respect. "I'll leave you two alone to stare at each other's asses." It wasn't as harshly delivered as it could've been, not a true thrown gauntlet of an insult, just that same regular shit talk.

And with that, Ryan left.

Perfect, and just what Miguel had suspected the Irishman had been up to when he had taunted Guerra and ignored his request.

Ryan had dissed Guerra, but left, as he finished up, when Miguel asked, showing Miguel the respect. All without hurting his own reputation and standing at the same time. It had shored up Miguel's in Guerra's eyes. Because Ryan was a gang leader, and he was treating Miguel as his equal in front of the man. It was a fucking beautiful move. Subtle and improvised, but grabbed at the opportunity and used to its best effect. His tiburón was so fucking smooth.

Miguel dried off briskly, before wrapping the towel around his waist, and resting his hands on the partition to talk to Chico.

"I came to make sure you're coming to breakfast, where we can all talk." Guerra explained.

"Yeah. Right after I get dressed. Unless you want to discuss the question of leadership with my naked wet ass dripping in your food?" Miguel teased easily, testing the new currents between him and the man.

He got a grin from Guerra for it. Damn, it had been a long time since Chico had been sane and friendly with him. It felt good. "Yeah, please get some clothes on that ass."

Miguel chuckled as he stepped around the low wall, going to leave. Fuck, Guerra was even joking back like the old days. The shit with El Cid must've really scared the hell out of the man. He had changed. Miguel knew it wasn't an act, because Chico wasn't ever anything but right there on the surface.

Guerra even waited to fall in step and walk out with him, but before they got close to the door, Chico made him pause with a hand on his arm and quiet words. "You were right."

His contrition was clear on his face, even though that must've hurt the man to admit. Guerra never would've said that if he didn't really feel and mean it. The guy wouldn't have been able to stand the blow to his ego any other way. The fact that he was even willing to do so was another good sign of his change.

"I'm right about a lot of things. Which one are you talking about?" Miguel teased with a raised eyebrow, keeping it light. It was his way of accepting the man's words without drawing attention to them, which would soften the blow to that ego. Miguel could tell Guerra appreciated it not being rubbed in his face.

"We shouldn't war over stupid shit. El Cid is dead because of it, and he left us fucking weak."

Miguel just waited for Chico to continue, since him railing against the old dead bastard would be poor form.

"We want you to lead."

Oh. Damn. Miguel didn't hide his slight surprise, or his serious acceptance of it as an honor. Shit, this hadn't taken anything at all to pull off. And Guerra was delivering the news himself on purpose, making it clear he was fully behind Miguel as leader. Seeing El Cid self-destruct, lose control, and almost take him down with him, had held up quite the mirror for Guerra, it seemed.

"For real? Everyone's agreed?" Miguel asked for clarification on purpose, as they stayed there by the short tiled wall, halted from leaving the privacy of the room. He was double-checking, showing that Chico and everyone's approval meant the most.

Guerra nodded strongly. "Shit's gotten all stirred up and we need brains, strength, and allies. We need a level head."

Sensible Guerra. Yeah, that was a definite change.

"And you want me?" Miguel's voice was serious and gruff, fitting the weight of the decision.

"Yeah. You tried to lead us that way before..." Guerra trailed off, as he looked down at the stone.

All that old bad shit left unsaid.

"What about you? I ain't going to lead just to have people change their minds when someone doesn't like my way." Miguel's words pulled Chico's face back up. He phrased it as carefully as possible, but it did have to be dealt with once and for all. Out loud. He wasn't being accusatory though, just matter of fact. Like he was giving Chico an out. He wasn't really, he was assessing the threat. He also knew asking would make him look better in Chico's eyes. "If you think there's someone else who would do better, someone you can stick by -- "

He *may* have been digging the knife in just a little with that last part. But it was his right.

Guerra cut him off with serious assurances, sounding like he was acknowledging his fault in the past. "No. You. I'll stick by you. I get what you were saying back then about being a hothead now. I understand why you have to stay cool and steady. I should've listened." Guerra's hand went to his ribcage with the words, but he seemed unaware of the gesture.

Miguel knew in that instant that must be where he had taken the shank. He nodded, and motioned for them to finally leave the shower room. "Good. It'll be my honor to lead. Thanks for coming to me. We'll get through this shit, hermano." Miguel cuffed him on the shoulder as Guerra nodded.

The other man stayed with him, beside him all the way to Miguel's pod. Thankfully, he then left to let Miguel get dressed. He said he'd hold Miguel's seat in the cafeteria and tell everyone the good news. Miguel would be back in charge right away. Chico coming to him was the official overture.

Once he was dressed, Miguel caught sight of Ryan. The Irishman hadn't gone to breakfast yet, but he wasn't in an easy position for Miguel to go over and ask to get him alone. Miguel thought a minute as he walked away from Emcity. When he saw that all of El Norte had left already, he quickly decided to sneak a fast detour to the library to leave word for Ryan.

They had stayed in the habit of leaving vague notes, not signed with their own names, for each other in certain books as a contact method. Miguel could leave O'Reily a short cryptic note that let him know things had worked out. The books they used changed, for safety, but the ones Miguel left things in tended to have something to do with sharks.

Miguel always found notes for him left near mentions of cats. Miguel grinned as he went for his chosen book, thinking of the one Ryan used most. It was a book of fairy-tales, his note always tucked somewhere in "Puss in Boots". The wily cat in that always reminded Miguel more of Ryan than himself. He wasn't sure if the Irishman intentionally used that one more frequently, but he had a feeling it was an unconscious thing.

The library was empty, the librarian wasn't in yet, and everyone else was off for work detail or food. Before Miguel even got a chance to leave the note, he was joined by --

-- Ryan himself, slipping in and shutting the door behind him. "You know, when they say books are food, they mean for your brain, not your stomach."

Miguel grinned. "I bet they would taste better than the shit you cook up."

"It's possible. " Ryan tilted his head with a matching grin, conceding the point. "Did you need me, or are you not going to eat this morning?" Ryan seemed a little worried.

Miguel shook his head. He could see how hiding out in the library instead of going to his boys in the cafeteria could be seen as a bad sign for his relations with El Norte. "Just wanted to drop word for you."

"Good or bad?" Ryan stalked closer, but they both kept an eye on the door.

"Good." Miguel said simply. They didn't have more than a minute, unfortunately. "Guerra came to me with it -- you got your vote for El Norte's new leader, baby."

He couldn't keep the cockiness out of his words or smile. Ryan didn't seem to mind.

"And here I thought going to the polls didn't really make a difference." Ryan's grin grew as he stopped right in front of Miguel, only to glance back at the door in caution before leaning in to grab Miguel's full attention with a quick strong kiss.

Tasted like toothpaste and triumph. Miguel licked his lips as Ryan quickly pulled back; they weren't safe here.

"Congratulations, El Capitan."


He quickly left Ryan to head to the cafeteria. He was greeted like he was in charge again, even Ricardo welcomed him with a clasp of hands. Guerra came up to walk through the chow line beside him, leaving the food he had already gotten to get cold. Hardcore discussion on what to do with the Italians would be later. For now, all that mattered was that the question of leadership had been established and discussing the new lay of the land.

Miguel had the most information out of anybody, but they'd all been hearing the same thing. People were inclined to see El Cid's actions as those of a crazy man acting on his own, unless someone in El Norte said different, and the Italians were awaiting El Norte's response before making a move. Miguel took charge easily, everyone listened to him without doubt, and he was pleased to see his and Ryan's plan seemed to be the course everyone was leaning towards following. He didn't outright mention O'Reily, or making friendly with the Irish quite yet, but it was hinted at that allies and truces were what they needed. When Miguel mentioned that the Irish were among those that might not dispute their side and they might come to an agreement with them, no one batted an eyelash or protested. They were just impressed that the Homeboys and the Irish were open to it. Because they partially knew it was because of Miguel. From the minute El Cid's reign had passed, Ryan had made sure it was no secret that he and Adebisi had considered Miguel the heir to the throne, one they were willing to deal with.

Preliminaries taken care of, most of the guys finished and left, following Miguel's directions. He lingered, eating more slowly.

Guerra was the last one to move, standing up when Miguel finally made to leave. "Don't forget to put money on the Muslim in the fight. He's gonna cream that white boy."

Miguel blinked up at him as they carried their trays to be dumped. "Fight? That shit's back on?"

He hadn't heard that. Miguel had gone to the shower right after morning count, he'd only talked to Ryan before now, and they'd been so busy with business that nothing else had come up.

Ryan hadn't mentioned the reinstatement of the last bout. He had never mentioned boxing at all, now that Miguel thought about it.

"Yeah. Hacks wanted to call it off, but they went to Glynn yesterday." Guerra nodded as they made their way back to Emcity. "Just heard this morning, it's back on, but nobody but those involved will get to watch it. They're doing it right away, trying to minimize the time for trouble to brew. It sucks, hermano. Everybody's still taking action though." Chico rambled, disgruntled about the lack of a spectacle, before he finally answered the question of who the "they" was. "You'd think O'Reily would've been against the fight, not going with the Muslim to argue for getting it back on -- since his little brother is going to get his ass kicked all over the fucking ring." Chico jabbed at Ryan with a bit of relish.

Miguel smirked, playing along. He said...something appropriate. He wasn't really paying attention. His mind caught on the other information instead.

Ryan had organized with the Muslim, and pulled to get the fight back on. The fight that was going down *soon*. And he'd never said fucking word one to Miguel.


A little while after lunch, Miguel was sitting back in the common room, playing a game of solitaire to catch a break for a second. The high of being in charge, of everything working out, was a rush in his blood. But it wasn't entirely a pleasant one. He felt his mind and pulse racing. The pressure was coming down on him along with everything else.

He was in charge of El Norte again. That hadn't worked out too fucking good last time. He hadn't really thought about it this time around. Even as he'd been pursuing it, Miguel had been more focused on just staying alive and out of solitary. Leading the fucking gang again was almost a side-effect.

He knew he could do it, that wasn't really the issue. He knew that he fucking had to, as well. In a way, the honor was also a sentence. He didn't have a choice but to make things work. All the added shit was his to deal with now. He was steering El Norte's fortunes behind bars, it wasn't something light. As much as he mostly reveled in it, and felt that he was capable, it wasn't all bright. They were in a fucking mess with the Italians. One he had created. He could pull out of it, but it was one more thing. One more reminder of what he had done. One more little pressure.

But at the same time, things were actually looking hopeful for El Norte.

Miguel just needed a distraction. A pause from it all. Things were set in motion, there was nothing he needed to be directly doing at that moment. Miguel felt the cards in his hands. Slick, cool, and logical. He could feel the thin, slicing bite of the edges across his palm if he gripped too tight while he shuffled. He stared at the cards and focused on the easy game of suits and numbers to calm his mind. To catch his breath. To remind him that life went on, long and boring, in here. His mind wandered to Ryan as he looked for moves.

The boxing match had been confirmed for the very next day. They were moving fast, didn't want to stir up trouble between the races again. But Ryan had definitely been the one fighting for reinstating the match, and that's where he had been all day since breakfast. Training with Cyril.

Speaking of -- the white boy was finally back, without his little brother. Ryan stopped in his stroll past Miguel's table, pulling up a chair to watch him. "Hey there, Alvarez." Idle, like he was passing the time like everyone in here.

Apparently, Ryan was sticking to the idea of them hanging out in public now. Before El Cid got shanked, it wouldn't have been good for them to be seen too much. Now though, they could talk and hang in public. Everyone would just think that with Miguel in charge now, there wouldn't be animosity between the Latinos and the Irish. They'd never been at odds in the tit trade before El Cid. It would seem like a casual new peace between the two groups under Miguel's rule. Plus, El Norte was looking to cultivate allies in the troubled times, so Miguel's actions wouldn't seem off to them, either. Everyone would think this alliance was something new, not something that had been going on.

It wasn't very dangerous, as far as their true relationship being found out, either. Ryan and Miguel themselves had never been true enemies before, and given both their reps, they'd probably have to fucking make out right in the middle of the cafeteria for anyone to think they were fucking.

This was something Miguel had been looking forward to, hanging with Ryan more. The fucker was sharp, quick, and funny. Miguel wanted to pass the time with him, even when they weren't touching. All the shit that Miguel had been thinking about last night stayed true in the light of day. He'd grown to like the man's companionship, now that he knew him better. And every sign said Ryan felt the same.

"Yo, O'Reily. Want to play?" Miguel offered as he gathered up the cards.

Ryan flashed him that sharp grin. "Deal me in."

Nobody was paying them any real attention, life in Emcity going on as usual around them, so they weren't watching their words too much. They would have to be cautious, but as long as nobody was close to their table, they didn't have to censor out everything.

"Where you been all day?" Miguel gave him a chance to bring it up, wondering if he would.

Ryan shrugged. "Gym."

"Gym? You?" Miguel teased lightly, with the raise of an eyebrow. He moved on before Ryan could counter the slight mocking insult. He had learned -- counter and dance before the Irishman could jab. "You taking an interest in body building? I don't think the Pancamo pumped-full-of-steroids thing would be a good look for you."

Ryan smirked, and knowing the Irishman's mind, Miguel had the feeling he was clamping down on the urge to say something about shrinking dicks that might take their conversation too far in public.

"Nah. Just like to stay in shape, and you know Cyril likes to work out." Ryan seemed to tense a little. It was almost imperceptible, but Miguel was watching closely. Miguel noticed the lie of omission, too. Ryan still wouldn't mention the boxing.

Miguel let it drop -- for now -- but filed it away. Technically, it wasn't any of his business, because it wasn't really part of their business goings-on. But Miguel felt a pang in his gut. He'd thought Ryan was open with him about things, thought that the Irishman wasn't keeping him strictly to their business shit. Sure, he didn't tell Miguel every detail of his day, but Miguel didn't know he was hiding things like this. He suddenly felt...left out, like he hadn't before. It was a bit of a shock after the closeness. It didn't fit.

Miguel pushed it down, attributing it to the roil of his mind. He tried not to let it bother him, trying not to question everything he had been assuming. Everything he felt. He didn't want that lost feeling of the hole to touch him, drag him back under. He dealt the cards, and left the subject, needing a bit of peace after the strains of the day spent starting the reorganization of El Norte.

They played a couple of lazy games, both of them dragging it out. Ryan went back to talking freely, seeming to enjoy just hanging out as much as Miguel was. It made Miguel forget his tension and doubts. Hell, maybe Ryan didn't want to talk about it because he thought the boxing was a sore spot for Miguel after his loss. It might only be Miguel being fucked up still. Hadn't gotten his head back on completely. Hadn't caught up on his meds. There was nothing to worry about. Yet. But in the back of his mind, clinging to the leftover chaos, was a new bit of wariness.


The next day, as the match drew closer, Ryan still hadn't mentioned it. They hadn't gotten a chance to really talk alone, although they had been sitting near each other and talking shit while watching television earlier.

They hadn't gotten to really celebrate their plans coming to fruition yet. They didn't *need* to meet until Miguel got things in El Norte more settled, and he was too busy at the moment, putting out feelers towards the Italians. And Ryan was busy with...the boxing, apparently.

Miguel was back playing solitaire before the match, another brief moment of quiet. Another moment taken to keep himself solid, keep from cracking. He'd put a fifty on Cyril for the fight, playing it off by pretending he didn't want to bet too much after his loss, and that he had decided to go for the underdog. Nobody but the participants and their boys by the ring would be allowed at the match, so there wasn't much for him to do.

Miguel's gaze caught O'Reily strolling by, seeming like he was heading somewhere.

He dropped by Miguel's table again first though, pulling up a chair, but he didn't really settle in. He spun the chair around, pulling it close to the table, and mounted it backwards, arms draped casually over the back of it. "Hey there, Alvarez. Playing with yourself again?" It held no real bite, and it was similar enough to a fake taunt Miguel had aimed at him once that it made Miguel smirk.

"It passes the time. You're the one watching me play with myself." Miguel pointed out with the slap of a card to the table. "You want to give me something interesting to do?" Miguel gestured to the cards.

Ryan shook his head. "I wish, but no time. I'm on my way to the gym."

Shit. Ryan had time before the match, Miguel knew this, but he still wasn't bringing it up. He had to fucking know that Miguel knew about the boxing, everybody fucking knew about it.

"Again? Maybe I'll get some gym time in too. Can't have you able to kick my ass." Miguel gave him one last chance.

"Nah. You stay here, I'm not even taking Cyril. We'll play a game later." Ryan's gaze went to the cards, tensing almost invisibly, and observing Miguel's play, but not leaving quite yet.

Huh. Miguel knew a fake and a dodge when he saw one. Ryan had just been in the fucking gym before lunch. Miguel knew, because he'd heard the fighters were getting in the last bit of training allowed before the fight.

"The boxing is back on because you pulled weight with the Muslim?" Miguel finally just broached the topic himself before Ryan could hustle off again.

"Yeah." Ryan said easily, attention...elsewhere... as soon as Miguel brought it up. The Irishman was focusing even more on the cards. "You missed a move." Ryan pointed out, reaching out and tapping the card with his finger. He was trying to distract Miguel.

Miguel placed the card without looking, eyes staying on Ryan. "Why didn't you tell me you pulled the strings?"

Ryan shrugged nonchalantly. It was too polished and deliberate though. "There's only the one fight left, you've got enough on your plate. Didn't think it mattered to you. It's nothing."

Miguel's gut tightened at Ryan's answer. His behavior. His effort to not engage the conversation. The hints in his voice, the too casual roll to his words, the slight tensing of his body. Just *that look* in his eyes. Something off, trying to hard to appear easygoing and honest. If Miguel wasn't paying attention, if he hadn't been close and familiar with the sneaky Irishman, he may not have seen it. But Ryan was definitely hiding something.

Miguel's mind turned the evidence over and over in his head. Ryan hadn't brought up the boxing at all on his own. Even though they talked about things that weren't strictly business for them now. They talked about Cyril, and Ryan himself. And this was something Ryan was obviously involved in, even if Miguel wasn't. It was the only topic Ryan avoided. And now he was fucking trying to do it actively.

A little shiver of doubt crept back, stronger now. He was still a little fucked up from the hole and under pressure. And just as he thought he was getting steady -- something was here. Making him wonder.

Ryan stood up to leave after his too casual dismissal. Yeah. Something was definitely fucking up. "I'll have time for cards later, after the fight. Try to round up some guys for a poker game if you want." Ryan paused, before that hint of something came back to shadow his eyes. "Make sure you lay down some money on Cyril, it'll pay off."

Miguel just gave a vague grunt of agreement as Ryan left. He gathered up his cards soon after Ryan passed through the gates though, deciding he needed to fucking move a little. Stretch. He tucked the deck in his back pocket and took to the stairs, passing the guard station to the second level. He decided to lean on the smooth metal rail and just take in an idle overview of Emcity.

Stanislofsky caught his attention after a few minutes. Ryan and Miguel were still keeping an eye on him, but the guy hadn't made a move.

Until now, possibly.

Miguel watched the Russian as he approached Murphy. He decided getting closer might net him something. Miguel casually strolled closer, staying on the second level, hand gliding gracefully over the rail in boredom. He slid his gaze down to Emcity, not focusing his sight on the Russian talking to Officer Murphy. Didn't need to, he was within eavesdropping range now, without having gained either man's attention.

He knew it had been a good idea to follow his gut as soon as he heard Ryan's name pass the Russian cocksucker's slippery lips. Yeah, this had to be a move.

Miguel listened to him talk with the Irish head hack, glancing over indiscreetly a few times. Stanislofsky brought up Ryan. And his *habit* of going to the gym before a fight. All of it was delivered with that conniving slither of a coax and a plan. His words all dropped hints to get Murphy to move, designed to plant ideas in his head. Miguel was familiar with the technique. Damn, this guy was a lot like O'Reily. No wonder tiburón was concerned.

Miguel didn't focus on piecing together the hints, moving first. His instinct was to take care of the threat to his partner before dissecting what deeds were actually going on. Dear old Nikolai wanted Murphy in the gym, wanted him concerned about what Ryan was up to. That was enough.

As Miguel spun the Russian's words and actions in his own mind, wondering about the hints about the boxing, he focused on rescuing Ryan's ass. That was his job right now. He didn't have a clue what Ryan was up to, but if Stanislofsky wanted Murphy in the gym, it was a sure bet that Ryan wouldn't.

Miguel swung into action, coming down the stairs to the guard station as soon as Stanislofsky split. Murphy was already on the move too, spurred by Stanislofsky's words. Miguel followed him, stopping him with a call. "Yo, Officer Murphy!"

Miguel couldn't keep the hack from going altogether. But he could stall him until there was a possibility that whatever Nikolai wanted him to see wasn't there anymore. Ryan had said he wouldn't be long and Stanislofsky had seemed to want Murphy to go right *now*.

A few minutes of distraction should do it. Miguel could pull that off.

~ Chapter 16: Old wounds, New Weapons ~

Miguel bought Ryan all the time he could before an impatiently frustrated Murphy finally slipped the hook.

He hoped it had been enough.

Now that the immediate shit was out of his hands, Miguel could sit down and figure out what the fuck he had just played a part in.

He made his way back to his pod, for once enjoying the seal of the door shutting out Emcity behind him. He could hear the muffled sounds outside the pod, beyond the glass, but he wasn't listening to the noises of trapped men. He wasn't looking out. Too busy trying to think.

He laid back on his bunk, on top of the covers, tucking away in the cool shadows to go over the information he had, trying to follow his shark's moves.

Ryan didn't want to bring up the boxing around him. That was what tied it all together, the clue that something was there.

The Irishman had been instrumental in getting the last bout back on.

Stanislofsky knew something.

Miguel focused on that for a moment. The man had made a point of saying that Ryan went to the gym before every fight. He had wanted Murphy to go, right away, which meant the Russian must've thought Ryan was going to be caught at...something.

What that something was...

Miguel went over the fights in his head.

Cyril was up against that big powerful Muslim, yet Ryan seemed confident he'd win.

Ryan was always confident about the winner, because you put your money where your confidence was. And Ryan had won every nice-size bet that he'd made.

Even the one against the favored Miguel.

The Mick was lucky and smart, but no one was that fucking lucky.

Speaking of smarts and luck...

Cyril had won bouts where he was definitely the underdog.

Cyril had won every one of his bouts.

Ryan got twitchy every time Miguel brought up the boxing, and didn't want Miguel personally thinking about it.


It all added up in Miguel's head, clicking like the chambers of a gun being loaded. One right after the other.

Ryan was fixing the fights.

And he was worried Miguel might figure it out, because he'd been made to lose himself.


Before Miguel fully focused on that, he frenetically chased it all the way down. He needed to think it all the way through. Maybe part of him was still hoping he was wrong.

How would O'Reily do it?

Being in the gym before the fight had to be when he was doing it, or Nikolai wouldn't have focused on that, and Ryan wouldn't have been so shifty when Miguel teased about tagging along.

But how the fuck would he do that?

Miguel thought about his fight. He hadn't thrown it, that was a fucking given. He had been *off*, though. He'd started okay, and ending up spiraling down, losing his moves. He'd attributed it to the rush of adrenaline, going off his meds cold turkey, and the punches he hadn't dodged. Boxing put you in a whole different headspace, and sometimes it was a fucking bad one if things weren't going good for you. But maybe it hadn't been the natural rush, brutality, and exertion that had fucked with him...

Miguel tried to connect his own bout with the gym...

The water.

That was the only thing that was out of his hands and in the gym before the fight.

It made perfect sense, especially given Ryan's chosen method of dealing with El Cid: he'd drugged the cabron.

Just like he had probably been drugging the Muslim minutes ago.

Just like he had drugged Miguel.

Miguel started to lose himself in the flood of revelations, couldn't find his footing, couldn't reconcile what he felt about Ryan -- what he'd thought he'd known -- with the new facts.

All this time...O'Reily had played a part in his disgrace. Miguel hadn't lost the fight fairly. O'Reily had made him seem weak. The Irishman had taken his ability away. There had never been a chance.

O'Reily had made him lose.

Ryan had taunted him afterwards, *knowing* that he had been the reason Miguel had lost.


'You lost. I won.'

Fanning his cash, laughing at Miguel, rubbing it in his face.

It had happened before their current partnership, before they'd made any deals. Hell, Miguel himself had fucked Ryan over shortly after. But still, Miguel had been honest about that. Eventually. Ryan was still hiding this.

Was Miguel reading everything wrong?

The sudden fear rose up in him with the old simmer of anger. What if Ryan decided to play him again? What if he'd been playing Miguel all along?

He'd known at the beginning that Ryan was liable to turn on him, but Miguel started to believe that he wouldn't. He thought he'd seen something else, *felt* something else from the man. He really trusted the motherfucker now, but Ryan was keeping this from him. What else had Miguel missed? What if he was fooling himself?

Ryan had helped bring Miguel low. Callously. For no fucking reason other than profit...

...unless it had been part of tiburón's plan all along.

That brought a whole new spike of fear, one that cut deep.

Shit. Miguel didn't know what to think, *couldn't* think beyond the anger and betrayal. The logical part of his brain that told him it had happened in the past, back when Miguel himself thought nothing of fucking Ryan over, when they were nothing to each other, was overpowered by the screaming hurt in his blood.

And it did fucking *hurt*. Because Ryan mattered to him now, the way he made Miguel feel was a needed shaft of sunlight in here, a taste of a kind of freedom. This shook the foundation of that. It ripped at him, leaving him scared and vulnerable. Lost. He didn't know who or what to trust.

This was a shock to his system. It had scared the shit out of him before, trusting someone as dangerous as Ryan -- but he'd thought he'd moved past it.

Now, all his confidence in his ability to read the Irishman and their situation was crumbling under the surge of his rushing paranoid thoughts.

There was nothing but that sting. Ryan laughing at him in his head, as everything the man was capable of took on a more personally sinister edge.

'I don't regret a fucking thing.'

What exactly *had* tiburón done to bring this about? What lengths had he gone to trying to secure the availability of Miguel's partnership?

Maybe he'd spent too long in the hole. It was all he felt now, all that doubt taking over, the darkness wrapping around him, sending him right back inside that fear.

Ryan had been there, trying to help him hold on, while Miguel was in the hole. The quiet part of Miguel's brain tried to remind him of that, but it was drowned out, consumed by the rush of pain.

Ryan had helped speed his fall. Ryan had neglected to ever mention it. O'Reily was capable of so much shit. Every doubt Miguel had once had about the man was spiraling back on him in one harsh blow.

A stark reminder.

He was entangled with a cold-hearted predator. Miguel's life was in the hands of a ruthless bastard. His life...and rapidly his heart.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

His head pounded, heart racing. Miguel felt starkly alone again. For the first time in a while.

Shit. Miguel felt it overwhelming him, clouding him and twisting him, his control slipping away...but he couldn't stop it.

Ryan had taunted him.

Ryan meant so much to him.

Ryan had brought him to this.

And it may have been one big scheme all along.

Miguel could see the possibility of it, could see the twist of Ryan's hand and mind in the events. Miguel had been shaky with El Norte, secretly despised by El Cid. Drifting from his boys. He'd been just holding on. Losing the fight had been one more mark against him. One more thing shaking him, breaking him. And Miguel already knew Ryan had been behind the final blow -- El Cid and every fucking guy in El Norte except Miguel himself being caught with tits.

If Ryan had wanted Miguel left with no choice but to join up with him -- it was all right there. It could have been all Ryan's scheme from the start, and it played out perfectly.

Here and now, Miguel wouldn't put it past him. He could *see* the probability of it. Feel it like an itching burn under his skin. O'Reily may have been behind it all from the very start to get Miguel to ally with him, and right now, Miguel couldn't say he wasn't. He couldn't say it felt impossible. Ryan may have engineered his fall, starting with the boxing, just to get Miguel vulnerable and within reach.


Miguel hadn't felt this before. Hadn't had it pointed out just how much he depended on his shark. How much he took for granted. How much he had grown to need Ryan. What the other man meant to him...

The past betrayal stood out sharp and clean, cutting through Miguel's blood.

*This* is the man you trust.

*This* is the man you want.

*This* is the man who brings you comfort.

'You lost. I won.'

And O'Reily had never come clean about it. He was still hiding it...possibly because it would reveal the start of his plan for partnership.

'I don't regret a fucking thing.'

All that fear and anger rose back up in a tidal wave....and Miguel was drowning.


How much Ryan cared about Miguel was solidly affirmed with a rush of adrenaline and fear.

It was more fucking strange and twisted than a funhouse mirror.

Because Ryan had his trust of Miguel confirmed while being shoved against a wall with bruising strength, a shank held in sight, inches away from his skin.

He was shut away in a storage room, experiencing the danger of privacy in Oz firsthand. Cold stone at his back, heat and rage let loose in front of him.

Ryan felt the depth of his feelings for Miguel at the most fucked-up time --

-- because it was Miguel's arm crushing his chest against the wall. It was Miguel's hand holding that shank, slicing through the air, menacingly breaching Ryan's personal space in pointed confrontation.

The hand that had brought a brushfire to Ryan's body, one that spread straight to his heart, was now threatening to spill his blood.

With the scent of stale air, cleaning fluid, and male sweat, Ryan processed it all, racing on the adrenaline of the moment. Trapped by surprise. Ryan had trusted Miguel enough that he had let this happen. He hadn't been watching for danger. Ryan always looked out for danger, always saw the possibility in a person to harm him, always calculated the probability of someone coming after him. But he trusted Miguel. And he had stopped looking, stopped seeing him as a player in the game.

Ryan keenly experienced just how fucking much Miguel meant to him in that moment of restraint and shock, because Ryan was scared. Terrified.

But his main fear wasn't that metal a few inches away from his skin.

He did wonder about it, in the almost hysterical, detached way that came with an unavoidable threat. Would it be cold? Or was it warm from being held by that hand, carrying the heat from being tucked away next to that body while waiting for him?

Its presence chilled him with the screaming alarm of his base survival instinct, with the desperation of one trapped and at a mercy that couldn't be escaped. But it wasn't the only fear rushing through his veins as he tried to stay outwardly composed.

He was scared not just of that blade cutting into him, but of Miguel cutting away from him for good.

Ryan felt full force now exactly what Miguel meant to him, right on the surface, affirming everything in his heart, because he was more afraid of losing Miguel than he was of that blade.

Not necessarily because he valued Miguel more than his own life, because he wasn't sure that was true, and he really fucking hoped this would not be the time he found out.

But that shank wasn't more than a vague threat in the hand not bracing him against the wall. It wasn't even against his skin, being held away from him. He could also see that the blade was dull. And Miguel was just holding him there. Ryan firmly believed that if Miguel truly wanted him dead there would be a scalpel, not a dull shank, in his hand and Ryan's blood would be staining the floor before he even felt it. So, Ryan wasn't as worried about his life being in real danger at the moment, not beyond that visceral fear of having a pissed off predator aimed at you.

It was the look in those eyes that Ryan was really afraid of, that sent that real unshakable stutter of panicked nerves through him.

Those eyes...

Miguel was so hurt...

...and angry.

And just a bit past comfortably sane.

It took Ryan a moment to figure out why...

He pored back over signs he may have missed because he hadn't been looking. Situations that he should have been more cautious with...

"I lost. You won." Miguel spoke finally, right into his face, dark pain raw in his voice.

It clicked into place so fast in Ryan's brain that if they hadn't been breathing so hard, Ryan almost thought he could have heard it.

The boxing match. Miguel had figured it out.

Ryan had known Miguel was smart and resourceful....and *fuck*, Ryan was having nice thoughts and warm feelings for Miguel even when he was pissed off and at Ryan's throat.

Miguel still hadn't made a further move, just trapping Ryan with the ripping darkness of those eyes and the hard press of that arm across his collarbone, blade just dancing around his vision with the movement of Miguel's other hand as he punctuated his words.

Miguel had left word wanting a meet as soon as Ryan had gotten back from the gym. Ryan had time before Cyril's fight, so he had made sure they met up immediately.

Ryan had been blindsided the second he'd stepped into the storage closet.

Ryan had been laying low around Miguel because of the boxing. Caution, and something that may have been the ghost of guilt, had kept him from bringing it up around the other man. Every time Miguel had gotten close to talking about it, Ryan had tensed, trying to bury it and move on to something else. Still, he hadn't originally expected Miguel to take the discovery this hard. But he thought he heard the reason in that voice, saw it in those eyes that were darker and more lost than they had been even in the hole, felt it in the strain of those muscles.

Miguel was on the edge because he trusted Ryan as much as Ryan trusted him. Miguel felt betrayed. Possibly, he was scared of that trust again, of what Ryan would do with it *now*. Miguel now knew just how badly Ryan had thoughtlessly fucked him over before. Now Miguel was aware of his personal experience with what Ryan was capable of.

But he also had to know that that was then, and this was now. Miguel *had* to see it in every move Ryan made. He was safe with Ryan now. They meant more than any of that shit. Maybe that scared Miguel too.

Miguel was just afraid again, Ryan could see it in those eyes that hurt to look at. He had to keep Miguel here with him. Couldn't lose him now. Ever. Ryan loved him. He felt it clearly in the light of how fucking frightened he was of losing it now. Ryan couldn't lose how truly good Miguel made him feel.

"Don't." Ryan got out through the crush of Miguel, voice rough but deep, not high-pitched with fear. Trying to break through.

"Don't hurt you? Are you begging for your life, O'Reily?" There was strained hysteria barely holding on in Miguel's tone. Fear.

And that stung. O'Reily. Not Ryan, not even the shark, just another scumfuck deserving only a last name.

"If you wanted me dead, I would already be dead." Ryan said seriously, keeping steady even through rushed breath.

Miguel nodded in confirmation, eyes still so dark, hand holding the blade carrying the tiniest tremor.


"Don't be afraid." Apparently, Ryan couldn't shut the fuck up. It's what he wanted to say. Don't be afraid of me fucking you up again. Of us fucking each other up. Don't do *this*.

Miguel just stared at him in hardened disbelief. "I'm not the one with his back up against the wall."

Ryan didn't mention that Miguel must feel that way though, if he'd come to this.

"But you are the one that feels betrayed." Ryan went with it. Had nothing much left to lose, except his pulse, but that wasn't going to happen and they both knew it. The knife was a threat, a prop, not a promise. Miguel hadn't called the meet here with the intention of killing him, or it would've happened already.

"Don't let that old shit break what we've got going now." Ryan caught himself at the last minute, trying to make it as innocuous and full of meanings as possible. He'd almost said don't let this break *us* up. Fuck.

It got Miguel's attention, but didn't change that anger and shiver of fear in those eyes, so Ryan decided to fuck it all, having to reach for the truth out of desperation. Sometimes it was the only thing really there.

Fuck. He loved Miguel. And the words welled up, wanting to break out at the possibility of losing everything, but that would be the wrong thing to say. It might be shining out of his eyes anyway, nothing he could do about that. But spitting it out in desperation hadn't helped him with Gloria, and he hadn't even fucked her over yet. Saying the words would not help him here, Miguel hadn't believed in his love before. But at the same time, he couldn't lose this.

Ryan paused, swallowing words and trying to think with all that hard heat that was pressed against him with all that fear.

I love you. Don't leave me because I'm--

--a cold bastard, selfish, (got the devil inside)--



"...don't leave me."


At least only that last part got out. But Ryan knew that if Miguel actually turned to leave, the rest would follow.

That was enough though. It shocked Miguel back a bit. Loosened his hold and backed him up. He looked like he was spinning out though, not knowing what to trust.

"Leave you? Fuck, you've made sure I'm with you, haven't you?" Miguel's voice was low and angry, spilling whatever chaos was driving that mind.

Ryan wasn't quite following it yet, but he listened for clues, letting Miguel just get it out with the hiss of breath and venom. Ryan took the opportunity for deep, pressure-free breath at the loss of that crush against the wall, feeling the soreness left behind.

"Is that how it went? Huh? You fix my fight. You bring me low. You start the chain reaction, then you take advantage of it with your 'partnership'. This all been another one of your fucking schemes??" Miguel was still illustrating his words with the thoughtless gestures of hand and blade. Each point a stab at the air. He slipped to pacing in front of Ryan. A tight tiny line, letting the shake of his anger drive his body as he kept talking, and Ryan started to see exactly why Miguel was so pissed, what it was that had brought them here. "You always got a plan, right? Putting people where you want them. You wanted me alone and with no fucking choice."

Oh shit. That was it then. Miguel thought he'd planned it all from the beginning. He thought Ryan had fixed the fight, planning to separate Miguel from the herd. He was giving Ryan too much credit, giving himself too much importance in Ryan's plans at the time. That wasn't what had gone down. Now if only Ryan could get Miguel to hear that and believe it.

"Even I'm not that good, Miguel." Ryan explained, a steadily serious counterpoint balancing the volatile shake of Miguel's uncertainty.

Miguel stopped pacing at least, started listening, staring, as he came back close. "Yes, you are," Miguel stated.

Well, that was possibly true, but while Ryan manipulating everything from the get-go was possible, that wasn't the way it had gone down.

Ryan took Miguel's slightly more steady attention as a good sign. "I didn't plan it that way. Fixing your fight was strictly for profit, I didn't think about you at all."

He hadn't been thinking *that* far ahead, there hadn't been enough evidence of something like that being a possibility yet. He may have been thinking of Miguel's ass and the beauty of his tight sweating body wailing on that bag far in the back of his mind, but there hadn't been a plan to go after it yet. There had been no scheme to reach out to Miguel at that point. He hadn't even thought of it, really. Ryan hadn't known the boxing loss would bring him quite that low. And it hadn't, not really, not until Ryan had El Norte and the boys busted for tits. But that came afterwards, and that was a split-second decision after Miguel had helped screw him while cockily sucking on that lollipop. Calling the guards had been about paying back El Cid, and Ryan hadn't known Miguel would walk away safely from the bust. The plan for the approach hadn't started glimmering in his mind until Miguel had walked past him, having left all his buddies behind to take the fall.

Should he lie? It was his instinct. But in this case, Miguel was about to snap, and all that angry pain was due to lies. Fuck. Ryan took a chance, holding back his wince at trying more of the dangerous truth.

Ryan gave up the entire explanation, laying out his thought process at the time. It wasn't pretty, but it was the truth. It seemed like that was what Miguel really wanted. "I didn't care about you either way. You, personally, weren't a factor -- just your skill. It was only the odds. You were favored, I wanted cash and a weaker class of opponents for Cyril. You had to go. It wasn't personal."

Miguel nodded slightly, tense, but those eyes looked like they were slowly coming back from the edge, pulled by Ryan's reasoned voice. "You really didn't start all this shit back then?"

"No, Miguel," Ryan said, steady and true as stone, wanting Miguel to be...okay. Willing to repeat it as many times as needed to get through all of Miguel's confused pain. He needed his words to penetrate Miguel's mixed-up head. "There wasn't a plan for you. I wasn't trying to leave you with no choice but to ally with me. Turning El Norte against you was never my goal. I didn't really think of approaching you until after that, Miguel, when you escaped the tit bust. I came for you because you were vulnerable, but I didn't make you that way on purpose. "

Ryan tried to make it better, keeping his words going. Trying to bring Miguel back. "I fucked you over. You need payback? Hit me. Beat me to a fucking pulp to make me pay. I won't lift a finger. I owe you."

Miguel stared at him a little like Ryan was the insane one, as the hand with the shank hung loose at his side. After exorcising the hurt fear and old anger that had driven him here, now he just looked...lost. "I don't want your blood, tiburón." His quiet voice sounded like it was being dragged out across broken glass.

But it was a good sign, like he'd chipped through the worst of the shit. So he kept up the reassurances, kept spilling it all, until Miguel really *heard* it. Anything he needed to do to make Miguel hear him and believe. Ryan's own breath started to steady, his own fear cycling down. He could reach Miguel, it would just take some more of that reassurance. As much as Miguel needed to bring him back from the dark.

"None of that shit has anything to do with now. Things are different, you know that. They're sure as hell different for me," Ryan stated passionately. He knew Miguel felt this. He wouldn't have been so fucking thrown and angry about Ryan fucking him over in the past otherwise. "I trust you. I don't trust anybody but Cyril, Miguel. Trust *me* now. This isn't fucking business. Not for me. And not for you."

Miguel's pacing had stopped completely, and those eyes soaked Ryan in. He could almost *feel* that hollow pain in their dark brown depths. "No regrets, huh?" Miguel's words were almost turned inwards, before he was speaking solely to Ryan again with the last of that old sting. "Even for fucking me over and making me lose? You sorry for that?"

Ryan just stared him down, strident and sure. He wanted the truth? "No."

Miguel's laughter sounded like choking, as he ran his hand over his hair, trying to find his footing. Amused and still shaken at the same time. "Why? Because of the money?"

"Why? Because of this." Ryan shook his head, voice vehement and not letting Miguel's gaze slide away, unable to stop his emotion. "Whatever bad shit happened -- it led to this. Don't even try to fucking tell me you don't feel *this*."

He was too far away. There was too much stone separating them. Three whole steps, which Ryan covered in two long strides to take a hold of all that pain, soothe it, gripping Miguel's jaw in his hand and pulling him into a kiss.

Ryan expected Miguel to return it with the strength of a reckless shove, bracing for a kiss as hard as the wall that was no longer at his back, one that bit sharp and took blood for blood.

He was rocked back on his heels by the opposite. Soft like regret, reminding Ryan of the tremble of the hand with the shank in it. Miguel's lips brushed over his, making Ryan shiver and give in to the urge to pull Miguel closer. He needed more, hands firmly cupping Miguel's head as his lips parted against that uncertain mouth. Ryan tried to show him with just this. Talking wasn't enough. He took that soft touch of lips and turned it into steadiness. Deeper than blades could cut. Miguel was right there with him, seeing the light and meeting Ryan's mouth single-mindedly.

Ryan's back did return to the wall with a soft thud, but he barely even noticed it.

After long moments of finding each other again, Miguel pulled back to take a shaky breath.

"I feel it." It was barely a whisper, Miguel's eyes avoiding him with the words. But he stayed beautifully close, right there where Ryan could keep him from shaking. "I wouldn't have...I wasn't going to hurt you." Miguel finally looked at him with that, trying for steadiness. His eyes were still so dark, full of pained regret now, instead of chaotic anxiety and anger.

One problem down. Now they just had to clean up the mess.

Ryan choked out a laugh. "Of course not. You just wanted to share your shank-making skills with me, and got overly enthusiastic."

"No! I...fuck." Miguel sighed out, frustrated, remorseful, and suddenly desperate for Ryan to understand, it seemed. "I wasn't. I swear. I just... flipped the fuck out. I was scared."

"And pissed the fuck off." Ryan calmly added.

"And pissed off." Miguel conceded, guilt tearing up his face, tearing at Ryan with those eyes again, but in a completely different way. Shit. He'd gotten over the anger, but was now left with how far it had driven him. "I guess I thought that if I had a shank and had you pinned, you might spill the truth. That you'd be scared too, enough not to lie. Fuck! I'm sorry." He was slightly frantic still in his apologies.

Miguel moved swiftly, a quick slip of the blade to his own wrist right before Ryan's eyes.


"No!" Ryan's exclaimed immediately as he struck out, grabbing Miguel's wrist that held the shank before he could slit the other one. He clamped down with all of his strength, frantic himself now. "I believe you. Don't--you don't have to slice yourself for penance." He said quickly, low and full of his own fear and desperation, as part of him focused on that scar on the Latino's face. He was grasping for any words to stop Miguel from hurting himself for him, thinking this was what talking someone down from the edge, instead of encouraging them over it, really felt like. It was a hell of a lot harder.

Miguel stopped cold and stared at him. "What?" He looked a little shocked at that, movement staying stilled, thankfully. "I wasn't going to -- I was going to show you how shitty the blade is."


Ryan's thrown cluelessness showed on his face.

Miguel just sighed. "Look, trust me." He spoke gently as he tried to pry Ryan's fingers off his wrist.

Didn't sound suicidal. He sounded stunned at what Ryan had thought, and like he was *calmly* trying to explain himself. Ryan let go, slowly. Keeping careful watch, ready to move again.

Miguel moved just as slowly, pressing the blade into the sensitive underside of his own wrist. Ryan tensed. Trust him. Suuure. Miguel slid the blade across his skin and Ryan's tension snapped as he quickly wrenched Miguel's right hand away again. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Calm down. Look." Miguel didn't try to throw off Ryan's grip, he just gestured slightly with the confined hand.

Ryan looked down at Miguel's other wrist, the one that had just been under the blade.


It hadn't even broken the skin, only leaving an angry mark.

"The blade is dull as shit, baby. It wouldn't slice dick." Miguel explained, like he was the one trying to soothe Ryan. He was still shaken and carrying that deeply remorseful guilt in his eyes though, and it made his words fracture, vehemently shaky again. "I was...I was fucking out of control. But no matter how fucking nuts...I would never try to kill you unless you were coming at me with your own shank."

"I know, okay?" Ryan said, almost absentmindedly, busy staring at the mark, reassuring himself that there was no real injury. He'd already known that Miguel hadn't been trying to kill him.

"Bruise you, maybe." Miguel tried to joke before he broke again, pressing close and whispering adamantly. "I'm sorry." Muttering against Ryan's lips, quiet and slow, moving to repeat the words against Ryan's skin, head dipping to the crook of Ryan's neck. Like he was hiding there in shame and abject apology, unable to face Ryan.


"It's...it's okay. I forgive you." Ryan choked out roughly. He meant it. He knew why Miguel had snapped and he believed him.

Fuck. Miguel was breaking down, shaking a little. Fucked up and lost in darkness, reminding Ryan of seeing him in the hole. He was worried about Miguel's mental state now, about what he would do to *prove* his penitence. Ryan didn't care about being shoved around and threatened a little, he just didn't want to lose Miguel to anything, especially stupid guilt. But maybe this was the purging of that. Shattering, before getting steady again.

He felt the warm breath of Miguel's sigh on his neck as the Latino wrapped his arms around Ryan's waist tentatively.

Speaking in Spanish now. Same words repeated. Ryan figured they were more "I'm sorry's".

"Stop apologizing. You're starting to worry me." Ryan tried a lame joke himself, hand going to rest gently on the back of Miguel's neck. Warm skin, with the tiniest trembles of those words and remorse, felt under his palm.

"I threatened your life, mi cielo." Torn and yeah -- fucking dark still, but slowly moving away from it, just stumbling over what he'd done to Ryan because of fear.

"Not really. All you did was slam me into a wall." Ryan shrugged, trying not to give it any weight, his other arm going around Miguel firmly with the gesture. It had been jarring and yeah, more than a little fucking scary, but Ryan knew its cause, and was just glad it had been dealt with. "You only meant to scare me."

Ryan was paying more attention to the end of the sentence, the Spanish that he had no fucking clue about, but it sounded...fond. Like Miguel was calling him something that was far from shark. He filed it away even as he focused on Miguel.

Miguel snorted against his skin, and Ryan almost grinned in hope.

"We are so fucked up." Miguel said with a small shake of his head against Ryan, before he finally pulled back to look at him again.

Those dark eyes still held pain, but it was tied up with the strong emotion held there for Ryan. If Miguel hadn't cared, he wouldn't have gone over the edge in fear. He cared as much as Ryan did.

That was enough.

Ryan stroked over the long scar on Miguel's face with the same gentleness he had been using, staring into his eyes. "Yeah, we are." Ryan confirmed, but it was a whisper. Light, with a joyful edge. Ryan was perfectly happy with that, because he may be fucked up... but he was in love, too.

Miguel was resting his head on Ryan's shoulder again, arms loosely encircling Ryan's waist, hands brushing the wall Ryan was leaning against.

"So...you expect me to suck your dick to apologize now?" Miguel joked, still a little fucking unsteady, but greatly improved.

And it was *their* joke, mockingly recalling the tease about Ryan's tendency to go down on Miguel to distract and relax him.

Ryan's hand returned to resting on Miguel's neck, stroking softly there again. "Nah, it's okay." There was laughter in his voice.

Miguel tilted his head, pulling back a little to give Ryan a look of disbelief. But there was a nice smile hiding there in the dark. "Did you just turn down a blowjob? Shit, I must've really scared you." He ended slightly bitter as the joy drained out a little with a reemergence of that fucking regret.

Ryan squeezed Miguel's neck in reassurance, guiding Miguel to face him fully. "You scared the shit out of me." Ryan said, and he was the shaky one now, before he made an effort to control himself and steady his voice as he let his eyes speak too. To show Miguel *what* had scared him, how it hadn't been the shank. "I need you *here*."

And that hurt a little to say out loud, even as it lightened something inside of him. Had to control his flinch again, control his words from slipping too far.

He covered it before Miguel could stare at him with those big brown eyes, figure it out, and start lecturing him about the impossibility of love in Oz. Because then Ryan would've had to shake some sense into him, and that could take a while. He could deal with that shit later. "As long as you aren't waving a fucking shank at me again. Okay? That's not my idea of a good time."

Oops. That brought some of that guilt back to Miguel's expression. On the one hand, at least it kept his focus off of Ryan's admission. Still, Ryan didn't want Miguel to...break...over what he'd just done. It wasn't the first time someone had roughed Ryan up. Rightfully, in this case, really. But Miguel carried everything like that with him, let it weigh him down.

"Stop with the tortured look. Let it go. I'm good if you're good." Ryan locked his gaze with Miguel's.


Ryan reached out to clamp a hand over Miguel's mouth before he could start apologizing again. "Hey, I punched you in the fucking face, remember? Did I get this bent out of shape about it? No."

Ryan could feel the quirk of Miguel's mouth under his palm.

Much better.

He slipped his hand away.

He saw that half-grin return, as Miguel took hold of himself and forcefully let it go. Better now after all that shit, obvious even in those eyes. Thank fucking Christ.

"Yeah, why *weren't* you more torn up over that, tiburón?"

Ryan grinned, not answering the rhetorical question, just overjoyed that Miguel was slowly slipping back to a more even keel.

"That was our deal -- tit for tat. I roughed you up, you rough me up." He mused. The deal had definitely changed, but it was a good tease, and it worked to further lighten the mood.

Miguel snorted, his spark of humor still slowly coming back. "I thought this felt familiar."

Ryan pulled Miguel even closer to him. To his mouth. The kiss started out full of soft hesitance again, growing firmer as they felt each other lean into it. It ended hungry and full of a new surety and reassurance. Felt like coming home.

Their mouths parted, but they stayed close. Their bodies leaning together, resting against each other. Ryan kept up that idle caress over the curve of Miguel's neck, slower now, slipping down over his shoulder and back up. He just watched those eyes, listening to that breath even out. Watching the newly steady calm take the place of the chaos.

Ryan's caress slipped down, over Miguel's arm, coming to stroke his fingers gently over that fading red scratch on Miguel's wrist. Barely a mark. On a whim, driven by the small pang of relief at the thought of what that mark could have been with sharper metal, Ryan lifted Miguel's marred wrist to his mouth. Gentle kiss to the thin heated skin, right there on the underside of his wrist, feeling Miguel's steady pulse under his lips. He wanted to...obliterate that mark. Wanted to open his mouth just enough to drag his teeth over it, to suck, and turn it into a pleasant bruise.

But into the quiet of their moment shut away, caution intruded. Couldn't. A scratch could be easily explained. The marks Ryan wanted to leave, at wrist, and even across strong collarbone, and gracing the curve of throat, could not. Ryan resigned himself to letting the mark of metal stay, ending the soft press of his mouth. He gave in just a little, parting his lips at the last second, gaining taste on the tip of his tongue and leaving dampness. But no mark.

Miguel was quiet, keeping that gaze on Ryan, still soaking him in, making him feel like marks were being left on *him*. But when Ryan let his wrist go, Miguel curled his hand, keeping it at Ryan's face. A caress of knuckles brushing gently over Ryan's jaw in return for the kiss. Ryan's head tilted into the touch, before Miguel's hand left his face and went to his hip, steadily intimate. Sharing calm reassurance with touch, unable to voice it.

Miguel turned serious after a moment, and Ryan felt the soft clench of Miguel's hands over his ribs in their idle caress. "Stanislofsky made a move."

Time for the rest of their reality again. Ryan focused his mind on the world outside of the dingy closet, still keenly aware of Miguel here with him, keeping up that close contact. It made it easier to think sharply.

"What? When?" Ryan hadn't noticed anything when he'd gotten back from the gym. The bout was fucking soon though, and the Russkie could've sabotaged it somehow.

"Before. He tried to get Murphy into the gym in time to catch you spiking the spritzers."

Damn. Miguel had figured it all out. Good for him. And Nikolai was what had led him down the path.

"That cocksucker." Ryan exhaled between his teeth, thinking, before he focused back on Miguel. "You stopped him." Ryan figured, the words containing a congratulatory gratitude.

"I stopped Murphy." Miguel clarified, before he continued. "I had to plant myself in front of him and run my mouth to delay his departure. It worked though, right? He catch you?"

"Nope." Ryan half-grinned. "That explains why he showed up right after I'd finished, though."

"He suspected you were up to something, but if he didn't get any proof it just makes you look clean and Nikolai look dirty. I know I'm definitely not on his list of favorites now. I think he's pissed at me, and he may think I'm fucking insane." Miguel finished with amusement.

Ryan leaned in for another series of kisses, murmuring against Miguel's lips. "Gracias...gracias..." Ryan dropped the word with the light damp touch of his mouth. Over and over. Like the spill of apologies from Miguel's lips earlier.

Miguel had saved his ass. And Cyril's.

And putting to rest all that anxious fear of Miguel's made them more steady. More real. Miguel could be more comfortable with how fucking deep they were inside this, each other, now. Ryan wanted to stay here just kissing the fuck out of him, lost in his heat, for the rest of the day.


"Mmm..." Ryan pulled back reluctantly, slipping his hands off of Miguel with a last stroke. "The fight. I have to go."

Miguel nodded and slid his hands off of Ryan in turn. Ryan missed the touch, feeling the slight intrusion of the cold with its loss.

"I've got a meet with Pancamo tomorrow to make peace." Miguel informed Ryan before he left.

Good news. Ryan had been waiting for that, seen the threads of it weaving together. He nodded tersely, focusing on that plan coming to an end. "You need anything from me?"

Miguel shook his head. "It should be okay. I'll have my own muscle with me. Signs are good."

Things should work out perfectly. Pancamo was looking to form a truce, Miguel would give him that, making sure his leadership of El Norte was off to a steady, safe start.

"I'll keep my ear to the ground." Ryan assured. "Drop me a message to let me know when and where."

"If you don't hear it first." Miguel added lightly.

"We'll have to figure out how to deal with Nikolai." Ryan added, getting another nod from Miguel. The shit with him was proof that it was a good fucking thing he had Miguel on his side now. Ryan would've lost Murphy's support, and possibly more, if that cocksucker's plan had worked.

"We will. Now go win." Miguel stepped back, motioning towards the door. "I still don't agree with you fixing the whole fucking thing. Ain't right, baby. It's supposed to be a sport, a challenge." He seemed serious about it.

Ryan paused for a second. "I did it for Cyril."

Miguel raised an eyebrow. "I know you. That may be one reason, but it was definitely the money too, baby."

He'd told Miguel that, but Miguel had been so fucked up, Ryan hadn't known if it had penetrated. Apparently, it had.

"And the money." Ryan admitted again.

"Now that's what I'm talking about. Honesty. So refreshing." But the words were more teasing than bitter.

Miguel would be okay with this.

Of course, if Ryan lied to him again, his cat may claw him up.

Ryan stole one last kiss before he was softly grinning his way out the door.

~ Chapter 17: Shark Infested Waters ~

Miguel stuck around a few minutes after Ryan left the storage room first, giving Ryan plenty of lead time and trying to think. Miguel made his way straight to his pod after he finally left. Well, he'd listened to the grapevine for a second, long enough to confirm that the boxing match was starting and Ryan was there. He'd wanted to make sure Ryan was okay and things sounded good.

Reassured about that, he sequestered himself, feeling like part of him had been hollowed out. He passed the tiny mirror mounted above his sink, unable to even look at his reflection.

What the fuck had he just done?

Miguel slammed down onto his bunk, wanting to feel it rattle his bones. Flexing his hand, he felt the sting and burn of minor injury, seeing the streaks of drying red splashed across his knuckles. He'd swung his bare fist at the wall after Ryan had left the storage room. He'd wanted to feel the pain, needed to release all that fucking anger.

The anger that was directed inward.

How had he slipped that far away from himself?

Sure, doubting O'Reily's word and plans was just plain healthy. But Miguel *knew* he meant something to the other man. Even Ryan wasn't that good of a fucking actor. Miguel had thrown him against a wall, pinned and crushed him, all threat and fearful fury --

-- and Ryan had just calmly spread himself open in front of him, spilling words and looking at Miguel like he *mattered*. All Ryan's intensity focused on him, for him.

Miguel should have just talked to the guy. Maybe punched him. But Miguel had been so fucking lost; it had taken him right out of himself. All that shit he'd been burying since the hole, all that chaos hiding in the corners of his brain, had rushed up and overwhelmed him, driven by stress and paranoia. It had been like he was right back there -- nightmares becoming reality. He hadn't been thinking, just spiraling out of control, on auto-pilot. He'd grabbed a shitty dull piece of metal that hadn't yet been sharpened to do damage and gone to get Ryan alone. To...


He didn't know what he'd planned to do.

Yell at him. Vent all that old bitter anger over losing the bout at its deserved target.

But in the moment, he'd mainly just wanted to know...

Know that it was real. That he wasn't fucking crazy. That he wasn't alone. That whatever the fuck it was he felt was actually there, and that what Ryan seemed to feel for him wasn't all an act.

He'd been so fucking scared that it was. That he was just fooling himself. Afraid that the old O'Reily, the one taunting him cruelly and laughing at his failure, wasn't dead and gone when it came to Miguel, that he was just a bug caught in a web. He'd also been reeling from the fear that his entire downfall had rested on the shoulders of the man that had come to mean something to him.

Maybe he had been a bit fucking freaked out at what he actually felt for the other man, too. But of all the fucked up things Miguel had done, all the things he'd felt since being in here, all the things he would've thought he would never do -- whatever the fuck he'd found with Ryan was the most sane. The only good one.

Feeling shit for a guy? What was that compared to spilling innocent blood and taking a man's sight? Being with another fucking guy, even caring for him, didn't seem so crazy in comparison. It wasn't the bad, unnatural thing he'd always thought it would be. At least it didn't feel that way, and that's all he had to go by in here. Your gut and your heart had to be clung to and trusted if they woke up at all in this shithole of numbness. It felt more natural than he could've imagined after avoiding it for years.

Maybe that was another thing that had made it frightening.

Not anymore, now that he'd felt what was more fucking scary -- the thought of losing it all. Losing this ability to feel, this connection that brought comfort, heat, and something like rest. Losing Ryan.

Miguel roughly thumped his head back on the pillow, rubbing his face. He was still a little pissed about Ryan fixing his fight and laying him low. That shit...really was fucking infuriating. But any further urge to vent it physically after slamming Ryan around and scaring the shit out of him had been drained out by Ryan's offer to *let* him do it. He'd heard Ryan tell him to take a swing at him, to beat the shit out of him, and seen on the Irishman's face that he meant it. That he would take it to put things right, knowing what a fucking bastard he had been.

Miguel hadn't been able to. His lingering justified anger wasn't that strong against the man he knew now. He was pissed at an O'Reily that was partially gone, at least in the sense that he didn't do that shit to Miguel anymore, even if everyone else was fair game. He had known back then the way that Ryan was. It had all been part of the game Ryan always played, it was the way he ran his shit, and back then Miguel hadn't had the part in it that he did now. Ryan had kept his word and earned his trust since. Being pissed at the way Ryan had treated him in the past was something...different. That Ryan had been just another motherfucker in Oz and that was the way shit went. O'Reily fucked him over, Miguel fucked him over, that was the way it worked in here. That anger somehow didn't really carry to what they had become, especially after Ryan's behavior now.

Ryan had been there. Calm. Trying to hold Miguel together, trying to hold them together, and that shit had shocked Miguel enough. Ryan hadn't denied anything or tried to defend himself. He'd just laid himself bare. Showing all that emotion that still stunned Miguel a little when he was faced with it.

And Ryan had forgiven him, easily, because the shit Miguel had pulled there in that storage room didn't even matter to him, whereas Miguel himself apparently did. Even the admittance that Ryan didn't regret fucking him over was a dulled sting. Because Ryan had kept up that brutal honesty about it...and made it clear why he would never regret it -- whatever they had found mattered more to Ryan than how they had gotten there. And he hadn't even tried to hide that fact. Miguel hadn't asked, but he knew the answer would've been the same if he had asked Ryan if he regretted Miguel fucking him over by siccing El Cid on him. That mattered more than old slights that were just part of life in Oz.

Miguel could hold a grudge with the best of them, but some shit...it just begged to be let go so you could let in the light.

Miguel's loss of control was another slight regret added to his burden, another hurt at almost causing someone he fucking cared about pain. But fuck...after all that chaos, he'd left that room with the sweetest taste of that mouth. The taste of forgiveness, assurance, and all those scarily good feelings that had slowly come to life.

Miguel's brooding was interrupted by a soft knock on his pod. He focused, looking up to see the other manipulative devil of Oz, one Miguel didn't feel any good shit for -- Stanislofsky.


What did that motherfucker want with him? Miguel didn't want to deal with his shit, but he was tangled up in it anyway. He had to find out what the man wanted and what he knew. Miguel gestured to him, giving him the okay.

Stanislofsky cracked open the door, just enough to lean in and speak. "Alvarez, may I enter?" It was a deferent act. Nikolai was carefully affording him the respect due a leader.

Thankfully, Miguel was in the position of not having to return it. He shrugged. "Whatever."

Stanislofsky slid in, closing the door behind him. "We should talk."

"Oh, should we?" Miguel mocked slightly with a raised eyebrow, still lying back casually. Yeah, his leadership position definitely had its perks. He kept the slightly bloody state of his knuckles carefully hidden, while still appearing casual. Didn't want to show anything to this man.

"You are a straightforward man, I appreciate that." Nikolai continued that Russian accented patter of respect and slithering manipulation. "Now that you have been promoted, deservedly so, you may have been approached by less than straightforward people."

Miguel snorted at his deceptive, cautious way of speaking that took forever to lay the groundwork before getting to get to the fucking point. Ryan used to try to do that with him, what seemed like a long time ago. Now the Irishman got right to it, being much more focused on touch and using their time more wisely.

Miguel thrust his chin out at the man playing at O'Reily's moves. "You admire me being direct, right? Stop dancing then. What do you want?"

Stanislofsky nodded, gauging Miguel's impatience. "I want nothing. Except to warn you of things I have noticed about our fellow men."

Jesus, it was still like pulling fucking teeth. Miguel idly wondered if throwing *him* up against a wall would get results.

"Oh yeah, what things?" Miguel kept it gruff, all steel and stone.

"This place is full of devious men." Stanislofsky paused. "Like...O'Reily, for example. He is not a direct man."

Finally. Show me your cards, baby. He had to figure out just how this cocksucker had connected them. The Russian must've done it somehow if he was here bringing O'Reily up out of the blue. Nobody else had picked up on them being allies yet, although they weren't going to hide it anymore. It was supposed to look new and not too deep, and Miguel had to see if this other shark knew too much.

"No shit." Miguel deadpanned. "I know how slippery that fucking Mick can be. But I ain't got no beef with him." Miguel was careful -- draw Nikolai out, leave things looking like he wasn't loyal to Ryan. Now, if only the cabron would get on with it and show Miguel what he wanted.

"That is the observation of an intelligent man: caution around an untrustworthy one." Stanislofsky paused after the 'compliment'. "I can see that you are not his enemy at the moment. Every new leader needs allies. It's wise to make them. In fact, you paid him a favor today, no? I only worry that it may not be what you think. Maybe...he is misrepresenting himself. That is the way of some men."

"Favor?" Miguel kept casual, playing the man's game. He certainly knew how, after dealing with Ryan. His stone face was his biggest asset here. Internally, he was less calm.

This was why Stanislofsky was here. He had figured out that Miguel had fucked with his plan to sic Murphy on Ryan. How much did this cocksucker know? At least he hadn't pegged how deep their alliance ran, and thought it was something just developing.

"I noticed you waylaid Officer Murphy after I voiced my concerns."


"I suddenly needed to schedule some time with the nun." Miguel deflected steadily, but he made it obvious by his unwavering gaze and the hollowness of his words that they both knew what was up, without outwardly admitting it. Speaking in the hidden language of saying things without really committing to saying them.

"Of course." Nikolai said with that smooth fake grin, acknowledging that Miguel wasn't going to give up any more information, or truly admit it at all, but that he wasn't really denying things. "Your business is yours, I respect that. I only wonder -- my concerns about O'Reily may also be your concerns. He keeps many people in the dark. You were a participant in the boxing, yes?"

"Yeah." Miguel kept his smirk off his face. Yeah, Nikolai was trying to lead him to the discovery of what he'd already figured out. The Russian thought Miguel was a shiny new dupe, roped into protecting Ryan by the slick Irishman.

"It was a great surprise that you lost. You are very skilled. You were ill, no?"

Nobody thought he'd been sick. They'd just taunted him for sucking. Stanislofsky must've thought Miguel was pretty fucking dumb to need such big clues. Or he thought Miguel had thrown his fight. Miguel let enough emotion show in his tone and on his face to make it clear that wasn't the case.

"I had an off day." Miguel tensed slightly, just enough doubt and old bitterness barely showing in his cloaked voice. Letting Nikolai lay out those clues, pretending to pick up on them, while still keeping up the act of not acknowledging things out loud. Exactly the way the man would expect him to play it, because you didn't voice such things to just anybody. It was better to play this game. Say one thing, mean another, to give you wriggle room later and hide any weakness.

"I think many men had off days. Pancamo, I hear he blamed his loss on being drugged."

Nikolai believed Miguel had been unwittingly drugged then, which was the truth, instead of thinking he had been in on it. And yeah, the guy definitely thought he was an idiot. Miguel hid his desire to roll his eyes at the giant strokes the Russian thought he needed to fill in for Miguel to connect the dots.

"Yeah, well, the wops are sore losers." Miguel stated darkly, staring his little birdie down.

As he kept up the speak-no-evil routine, he made sure it was clear he was 'figuring things out'. And getting pissed off at Ryan about that. The whole conversation was in that code of wariness, posturing, and caution, but they were both passing on the information they wanted to. He made sure the Russian saw him processing it properly.

Nikolai merely nodded when he saw that he'd given Miguel enough info, hands up in an innocent gesture. "I see you are on top of things." The Russian probably thought he was so fucking smooth, having planted the seeds. "If we should turn out to have common concerns -- common enemies -- you know that I am an honorable man, yes?"

"Yeah." Miguel said dismissively, like he was lost in his head. But not angry or disrespectful, still keeping to what was expected.

He needed to keep things open with the Russian, in case he and Ryan decided to use Miguel to play him that way. Stanislofsky left, with a respectful good-bye of course, thinking his job there was done.


Cyril won the fight in a big upset. Miguel quietly collected his money, acting surprised, and made sure to shoot a thoughtful look towards Nikolai.

He got his hand cleaned up before Ryan got back from the fight, figuring it would be best if the other man didn't see it. If Ryan noticed it was a little raw and bruised sometime later, he could always say he'd been hitting the bag too hard.

He wouldn't get to talk to Ryan until the next day, anyway. He got to lock eyes with him discreetly in the dinner line though, as Ryan slopped food onto his plate. Ryan had his game face on, but that gaze still focused on Miguel in a way that made everything inside of him quiet down.

He somehow ended up with an extra orange on his plate, too.


Ryan was perched on his top bunk, legs swinging freely over the edge, as he messed with the laces on Cyril's gloves, making sure they were good. Cyril was reliving the fight, shadow boxing against the wall at the end of the bunk beds.

Yeah, tonight would be a stressful lockdown for Ryan. Cyril was so fucking pumped. But Ryan wanted to let him have his moment of glory, let him bask in his confidence. Cyril needed the boost, the feeling of strength, after all the shit that had happened to him in this hellhole. It was good to see him this way. So, Ryan smiled indulgently and played along, miming taking a powerful hit whenever Cyril shadowboxed in his personal space.

"Yo, Rocky, put these up." Ryan called eventually, tossing Cyril his gloves.

Cyril quickly shifted to catch them, breathing heavier from his play. It was going to be fucking impossible to get his ass in bed tonight.

"I'm the champion, Ryan!"

Ryan smiled softly. "Yeah, you are." He paused for a second, watching Cyril dutifully put his gloves in his trunk, before he continued more seriously. "And that's a very good fucking thing. I told you that you could do it." Ryan pointed at him, needing him to get that.

"But the fights are over now, you know that, right? You can't be punching guys in the middle of Emcity." Ryan caught himself after a second. "Unless they touch you first. Which shouldn't happen now, because you've got the rep of being the champion, okay?"

"I know, Ryan. No fighting all the time." Cyril did stop messing around, plopping down on the chair near the end of the bunks. Thank Christ.

Ryan hopped down from the top bunk to lean against the bed frame next to him. "I'm proud of you little bro." Ryan congratulated again, reaching out to rub Cyril's shoulder.

It didn't mean anything to Ryan that his little brother had won because Ryan had fixed the fight, overthrowing that confident killjoy Muslim Khan effortlessly and impressing everyone. It was the win that mattered. What it meant for his standing, his protection, how it made him feel. Cyril would never know how things had really gone down, and that's the way it should be. Even Khan hadn't figured it out, returning to praying and glowering like his Muslim leader predecessor, without any real protest or anger, just spewing some shit about the will of Allah.

Cyril returned the congratulation with a fist bump, before he got that look on his face. All of him concentrating, like he was thinking of something else. "Are you still getting help from your friend?"

Ryan blinked at the subject, but grinned a little afterwards. "Yeah." He contemplated whether or not to continue being somewhat honest with Cyril, and decided it was still something he wanted to share, making it worth the risk. Cyril was the only person he could tell.

Cyril looked pleased at his answer. "Good. You needed someone to help you."

What was it they said? Out of the mouths of babes?

"Is that why you were upset?"

Ryan tilted his head, trying to put the simple questions in context. "When?"

"When we were being punished. You paced a lot and you seemed sad."

Oh. The lockdown. With them trapped in a room together for a week, he should've known Cyril would pick up on his worry and his missing Miguel while the Latino had been in the hole.

"Yeah...I was worried about him." Ryan picked idly at his blanket, still leaning casually against the bed frame. He liked being able to talk about this and the way Cyril was accepting it. Sure, Cyril didn't know the details, but if he knew how Miguel made Ryan feel beforehand, Cyril might not freak out when he found out what exactly was going on.

And he'd just let Cyril know his friend's gender. That should be okay, though. There weren't that many women around anyway, so even Cyril had to know it might be a guy, and Ryan hadn't said anything about *how* his friend was helping him.

"Why?" Cyril asked, dismayed. "Is he okay now?"

"Yeah, he's good, just like us. He's a little fucking pissed at me right now, though." Ryan mused with a low regretful laugh, running his hand over the top curving metal frame of the bed.

"What did you do? Did you do something bad?" Cyril asked sternly, staring him down.

It made Ryan chuckle softly again. "No...well, yes, but it was before we were friends."

"You should apologize." Cyril declared seriously, with a nod of his head.

Ryan hadn't done that, but that hadn't been what Miguel had needed. That wasn't what he'd been after. He'd needed to know he could trust Ryan now. He'd needed...reassurance... that Ryan felt what he did.

"I did." It was mostly a lie on the surface, but Ryan couldn't explain exactly what he'd done. It was a lie that got the true point across -- he had tried to make things good with Miguel.

"If he likes you, he'll forgive you."

"I think he did." And that wasn't a lie.

"I forgive you when you do bad things to me." Cyril said, trying to comfort him.

It hit Ryan right in the gut, stinging like a sucker punch. The statement was fucking painful, even though Cyril hadn't meant it to be. Because it was true.

Ryan slid closer, crouching by Cyril's chair, squeezing his little brother's shoulder again, hand slipping up to cradle his face. "I know. I'm sorry, Cyril. I love you. You know that, right?" His voice was quietly thinner, just keeping out his guilt.

Cyril reached out, giving Ryan a reassuring squeeze in return. "I know. I love you too, Ryan." Cyril barely paused for a second, before he asked another guileless question. "Do you love him?"


It took everything Ryan had to not register his shock and spill too much, thoughts of his relationship with Miguel rushing through his mind. Cyril didn't mean *that* kind of love, it was obvious by the innocent way he'd said it. Ryan wasn't even sure if Cyril grasped the difference completely. But still...fuck, that was close.

"No, we're just friends." Ryan answered, and he just barely kept from betraying a shake to his voice at that lie, eyes darting to the floor. He'd almost said yes.

"So?" Cyril questioned, confused, like he didn't see the contradiction.

Yep, didn't grasp the concept then. Or he thought Ryan was talking about the other type of love, the kind the brothers shared. Either way, Ryan was safe for now. Until he was prepared to tell Cyril what was really going on.

"I care about him." Ryan confirmed, moving to sit on the bottom bunk, turning to talk to Cyril, who was still in the chair. This was as far as he was going to go for now.

"Does he love you?"

It was a good thing he'd sat down.

Ryan shook his head slightly. "No...definitely not."

Well, Ryan knew Miguel felt things for him, even if they weren't quite the same. They might actually be, but Miguel didn't believe they could find that in Oz. He wouldn't admit it. In the end, as long as Miguel didn't start acting stupid and try to push his feelings down or pull away from him, Ryan didn't really care about the denial. They were just words. Nice, but not necessary. Ryan could see it and feel it anyway. He'd dissuade Miguel of his dumb fucking notions of love eventually.

"Is he mean to you like Dr. Nathan is?" Cyril seemed ready to defend Ryan at that thought, even as he sounded sorrowful.

Ryan grinned sadly with his own regret over Gloria and Cyril, shaking his head again. "No. He cares about me too."

That was all Ryan gave a shit about.


Miguel noticed something as he made his way to the classroom for the meet, with Vasquez at his side, right after breakfast the next morning. He was keeping his eyes out, being cautious, but the gathering easily caught his attention even without that.

Ryan and his boys were staged. The clump of watchful Irish was near where the meet was going down. Far enough to not encroach, but close enough to intercept anyone leaving or entering. They looked like they were in a good spot to send a runner to alert the guards if they had to.

That wasn't the whole surprise. The Irish were set farther off --

-- the Homeboys were closer. Adebisi himself was leaning against the railing, looking amused, toothpick in his teeth, looking like he was itching for a fight. He winked at Miguel as they passed.

Shit. Ryan had given him a hell of a lot of backup. And no one else would really know that's what it was. Everyone would think they were just hanging around to catch the show.

Miguel steeled his spine to meet Chuckie and his man, safe with his own hermano at his side and his unexpected crowd in the wings. El Norte was going to play it the safe, sane way, already having spread the word that they were disavowing involvement with El Cid's crazy-ass actions.

Miguel was on his way to make the peace, assure El Norte's safety, end talk of war, and cement his leadership.

It had all gone according to plan. Fucking amazing. Now it was time to finally finish it so they could start living for the future, under the new world order he and Ryan had created.


Ryan was relaxed back in the plastic institutional chair to watch the epilogue to all the shit they'd stirred up. Cyril was across the table from him, spinning a magazine again. It looked like Ryan was mainly just watching his brother in a bored, detached fashion. Cyril was a blur of blonde hair and the line of the moving magazine, but Ryan was focused farther ahead, past his little brother and an inch to the side, on the classroom a little ways off and one story up.

Liam was staring at his own magazine beside him, half-entranced, but half-dutifully ready to focus at any cue from Ryan. Colin was across from Liam, currently reaching across the table to dip the magazine down towards him enough to catch a glimpse. All of them just waiting, playing casual, but prepared to block anyone from the stairs or draw the attention of the guards, depending on what situation arose.

Miguel entered the classroom under Ryan's watchful gaze. He checked on the homeboys, looking up to Adebisi's languidly predatory lean against the second floor railing. Adebisi rolled his gaze down to Ryan for a moment, toothpick arcing up a little between his teeth as the big Nigerian checked in, before returning to watching the classroom with that same bemusement. He was swaying a little to some fucked-up internal beat.

Liam batted Colin's hand away as he turned the page.

"Wasn't done." Colin protested mildly.

Miguel was safely inside the classroom, with that big, silent, cousin It-looking Latino at his side. Things looked cool. Tense, but Pancamo and his boy weren't making a move, just waiting for Miguel to take a seat across from the head Wop.

Ryan snorted at Colin. "And you were reading what exactly? Do they come with jokes printed on their tits now?"

"Seriously, deal with my page turning pace. It's naked pussy, but it's not your girlfriend -- I want to see the rest. You're seeing them fucking upside down anyway, why so interested?" Liam added teasingly, flipping the page.

"I don't know, it's kind of interesting looking at 'em this way. Changes things up." Colin commented, leaning forward across the table a little to see the pussy in the magazine better, still getting an upside-down view, carefully not blocking Ryan's covert view of the meet.

Ryan laughed with Liam at that. "Good point. I'll have to remember that. Spice things up."

Their boys standing at their sides, Miguel and Pancamo were talking, looking serious. It was hard to tell at this distance, couldn't see their expressions, but body language alone was enough to calm Ryan. Things were going fine. Another darting glance to Adebisi confirmed his observation, because the blood-hungry Nigerian looked bored.

"You can't have my magazine. I'm busy," Cyril chimed in, still spinning it on his finger.

"Thanks, but yours is National Geographic, Cyril. That's okay."

"I like the big cats."

"Of course you do, little bro. They're graceful, cunning fucking animals." Ryan reassured him. "You wouldn't like Liam's kind of magazine, it's fucking boring."

Liam laughed at that. "Yeah, and your big brother knows his shit when it comes to that. He spends a lot of time looking at them."

Ryan smirked, lightly punching the arm beside him. He kept his visual attention on the meet though.

Miguel peppered whatever he was saying with fluidly strong, graceful gestures, which Ryan might have stared at even if it wasn't all about business. From here, it looked like the man's own inner rhythm come alive and keeping beat to his words. Pancamo mainly sat like an ugly fucking bump on a log when he spoke. This was just ceremony. Ryan had heard the gossip, had his finger on the pulse of power in Emcity. The Wops would make peace. Miguel's leadership was being taken favorably.

It was all fucking perfect. Better than he hoped. He was here keeping an eye, ensuring backup, but he knew Miguel could handle himself well.

He could handle Ryan too. Watch his back, satisfy his mouth, set his skin on fire, and make his heart *feel* things that weren't numb, or hurt, or hollow.

Ryan had strength at his side, and a sharp mind working with his, which was expertly soothing that strain of day-to-day life in here. Stopping it before it cracked him with slow wear and tear. He could lay out his plans and watch Miguel absorb them, sometimes tweaking them or just helping by being someone he could tell them to. Just what he'd wanted, and more. That mouth talking shit out, perfecting it, or even just rambling about things that had nothing to do with schemes. He listened to Ryan's rambles and divergences about everything under the sun in turn. Their conversations were a whole different kind of entertainment, beyond survival and business.

All that energy keeping up all those fucking moves was fed and tended by someone else now. Woven together perfectly and spread out. Wider reach, stronger foundation. Survival felt smoother and more assured. Ryan had always been able to handle it, but there had never been any rest before. No joy in the gritty grey living he was maintaining. No room for a deep breath. Now there was. He had life instead of just pure survival.

Assured of the meet's safety and predictability, Ryan glanced around to catch anyone else who had their attention aimed there. He was keeping a sharp eye out for Stanislofsky in particular. That motherfucker had stepped up the game. Tried to catch Ryan in a web and trip one of his steps.

They still had one up one him. Well, two. Nikolai was good, but Ryan was better, so he had always had that on his side. But now he had the advantage of Miguel too. That Russian cumstain didn't have a clue. Miguel would be there to catch Nikolai in their own web as soon as he got close.

The Russian wasn't showing any interest in the meeting of the Spics and the Wops though. He was aware of it, that much Ryan knew. But he wasn't watching it. Him not watching Miguel that closely was a good sign. He'd eyeballed Ryan earlier, but Ryan's presence could be read a number of ways. It didn't really give his alliance with Miguel away. For all Nikolai knew, this was just Ryan directly repaying the Latino helping him out earlier. A one shot deal. Or Ryan could be there just to gather info and watch the fireworks. Nobody in their right mind would assume Adebisi was there to really protect Miguel. Guy just liked fights.

Things with Stanislofsky weren't dire yet. There was still plenty of room to maneuver. Ryan wanted to let it play out for now. They had a handle on it.

"Can I borrow that?" Ryan snapped the magazine out of Liam's hands before he received an answer, smirk still friendly. "Thanks, pal."

Liam let him have it, smirking wryly himself, burying laughter. He was proving a good possible right hand. Right hand in the Irish, that was. Miguel was his true right hand, in more ways than one, but that was something between them, encompassing so much fucking more. It had nothing to do with this kind of simple gang thing. The Irish were something different entirely, ties of blood and power. Liam was better than Kirk, that red-headed bitch was useful, but a little too snaky and dangerous.

Liam slid forward on his arms a little now that he was deprived of his reading material, stretching. Ryan could tell he was keeping an eye on the classroom upstairs now. Taking over from Ryan without being asked, as Ryan flipped through the porno mag.

Liam's voice pitched low, full of admiration. "El Cid is gone cuz you wanted him out, right?"

Liam and the rest of the Irish had helped, but he wasn't required to tell them what they were helping with in the big scheme of things. They spread the gossip he wanted, they knew El Cid was on his way out, but he hadn't come out and said it was his plan.

"Now, if I did something like that, would I really admit to it?" Ryan answered idly, attention on the magazine.

Colin snickered off to Ryan's other side. He was helping Cyril look through his nature magazine now, telling him the facts he couldn't read in a quiet voice.

"El Cid being gone solves a couple problems for us. Nothing big, but he wasn't on our side. Him taking a dirt nap and the Spics getting new blood -- luck of the Irish." Ryan added, gracing Liam with another smirk and the brief focus of his gaze.

Liam grinned. "Yeah. The new guy going to be more friendly and helpful to us?" Just wondering, not plotting. Genuinely curious.

"I think so." Ryan said, feeling his pleasure but not letting it show too much, grinning down at Miss January, even though he wasn't really seeing her.

~ Chapter 18: Working Out Is Clean Healthy Fun ~

Ryan sauntered into the gym while he was working out. Miguel was setting up to do bench presses, alone in the gym until Ryan's arrival.

He hefted the last weight onto the bar and secured it, as the bar rested in its place on the arms of the bench, before turning his attention to Ryan. It was still a little cold, so Ryan was wearing that grey sweatshirt again, but it was unzipped and loose this time. Miguel wasn't wearing a sweatshirt; working out in a sleeveless tee was his nod to the chill. Ryan grinned a little when he spotted him.

"I hear things went good with the Italians?" Ryan asked as he continued his stroll towards Miguel, clearly knowing the answer already. "Ahh, peace at last." Ryan offered the commentary with arms outspread in a sarcastic gesture.

Miguel smirked. "Of course you heard, you were close enough to take fucking dictation, tiburón."

An exaggeration, but Ryan *had* been perched right there. He'd seen what went down. He had definitely been close enough to read the situation. Miguel had felt the assurance of Ryan having his back. He'd known the Irishman had been there for *him*, not just to pick up information or feed on the pieces like carrion if things had gone wrong.

They hadn't. Smooth as silk, everything had slid into place. The meet had been the easiest fucking part of the whole thing. Each side on their best behavior, trying to avoid war. Not because they would mind spilling each other's blood, but because a war would mean loss of profit and a long fucking lockdown. Everyone wanted to just go back to their usual, *profitable*, antagonism. A few words with the wops in that classroom, and they'd worked things out. El Norte was distanced from El Cid's actions and safe under Miguel's rule. Just like they'd planned from the start. His shark knew his shit.

Miguel was finally safe, or as safe as a motherfucker got in here, and had hope again. All because Ryan had cornered him when he was weak and drawn him into this. Something that had started out so fucking bleak...had turned into a blessed ray from the sun.

"Had to take every precaution," Ryan stated seriously, the ghost of worry there proving Miguel right about the Irishman having been there for backup.

"You know shit is bad when that motherfucker Adebisi is a 'precaution'." Miguel joked.

Ryan went back to grinning. "Yeah. He had your back, though. If only because he hates the wops more than your amigos, and wouldn't mind their asses gone. I think he was disappointed that there wasn't any bloodshed."

"We alone?" Miguel asked, considering changing his weightlifting plans with Ryan's unexpected arrival. There were better ways to work up a sweat and keep warm, especially now that another weight had been lifted off of Miguel's shoulders. He was in a better fucking mood than he'd been in a long time.

Ryan shook his head, a wryly displeased look on his face. "Unfortunately, only at the moment. I didn't make any arrangements."

Weights it was then. Miguel nodded and sat down on the bench, back to the bar. Ryan strolled past him as he laid back. Miguel saw him sit on the next bench and pick up a barbell.

Miguel exhaled as he reached up to graze the bar with his fingers, not picking it up yet. They couldn't fuck around, but they could talk until someone came in. Miguel still regretted the other day, roughing Ryan up. Not trusting him. Ambushing him. Ryan seemed fine with it, and they'd put it to rest...but this was the first time they'd been alone since. Miguel needed to make sure he really hadn't fucked things up. He had to say it one last time, purge the last of his guilt, make sure his amends had been enough, even if he had to stare at the ceiling while doing it and his voice came out haltingly quiet and rough.

"I'm....sorry about --"

He looked over as Ryan waved him off, hefting his barbell in one hand, working out his arm mildly. "I know, gato. I told you to stop apologizing already. It's done."

Miguel snorted, hopeful, but slightly doubtful deep down, a tiny bit of leftover worry. He stayed just hanging on to the bar, not hefting it yet, gaze back to the ceiling. "So you're just okay with it?" A lot of fuckers would hold a grudge.

He heard the thunk of Ryan putting the barbell down, looking over to see Ryan's gaze focused on him. "I fucked you over in the past, you got scared about where we are now, and rightfully pissed-off about back then. You went a little loco, but no damage done. We're good, Miguel. Aren't we?" The mild question came with a tilt of his head, eyes more piercing than the tone of his voice.

"Yeah. It won't happen again." Miguel said meaningfully, the words a pledge.

That shit -- he'd let his head get all fucked up and his fear take over. All those whispered doubts from the hole had hit him full force, not liking being pressed down so quickly for sanity. He'd tried to rush the transition too fast, with too much stress. It had bitten him on the ass. Broken him.

Venting it all by snapping had been fucked up and crazy, but it got the job done. Just not in the best way, or the one he would have chosen. Miguel felt calm now. Assured. He never should've done that to Ryan, but at least it had allowed him to finally put all that behind him.

He trusted the man, full stop. He was going to go with that now. Fuck anything else. No more of that paranoid scaredy-cat shit. He knew what he felt. He knew what he saw when Ryan stared at him with those eyes and spoke to him in that oddly soft voice. Ryan was in just as deep as him, just as afraid of losing whatever this was, and the Irishman was dedicated to hanging on to what they'd found. Like Miguel was.

Ryan considered Miguel's words, studying him briefly, and accepted it. Must've seen the truth. He nodded firmly. "And I won't fuck you over again. That's all in the past. I told you before and I fucking meant it -- we have something different now. I know you feel it, just like I do."

Miguel nodded in turn, a little taken aback by that passion again, before leaving that behind. Because he could hear the truth in Ryan's repeated words. It was a rare thing, but Ryan *meant* what he said to Miguel. He was probably one of the few people on the planet that Ryan did that for, and Miguel wouldn't fuck with that again. Especially since he'd heard the tinge of joy in the emotional adamancy of the last part, Ryan making it clear that it was something important to the man. That Miguel was important, the person that brought out that rare emotion.

"Yo, come give me a spot." Miguel proposed, lightening the mood, reveling in it a little, showing Ryan that things were good.

Ryan grinned, with a little bit of relief springing to life at the return of their easy familiarity, and Miguel *knew* they were solid. Ryan strolled over. Miguel tracked the movement as best he could, until Ryan was standing above him, at his head. Ryan's fingers danced along the bar, brushing across his own light grip with casual heat on the cool metal.

"You sure you can handle it?" Miguel teased as Ryan stared down at him.

Ryan's eyes narrowed. "Gee, I don't know. I might slip and accidentally crush your smart ass." He made it clear that he was joking with Miguel, playing along.

Miguel just snorted in amusement, before he focused and hefted the weight up off the bars. Ryan carefully kept his hands half curled around the bar near the middle, ready to take the weight if Miguel faltered.

He didn't. He felt his strength as he pushed the heavy bar up, only to bring it back down. He had a nice fucking view too, as he fell into the slow steady rhythm, feeling the powerful stretch and burn of his muscles. Ryan was right above him, standing so fucking close.

Which placed Ryan's package right above Miguel's head, the center of his view, practically close enough to touch. The slight bulge -- the line of the Irishman's balls and cock, lax at the moment, all tucked away behind cloth and zipper, right above Miguel's gaze. Jesus.

Ryan was staring down at the coil and stretch of Miguel's muscles with mild sultry interest, adding to the slight buzz of working out. That appreciative gaze watching his body was another pleasant burn. Miguel was almost thrown off by Ryan's mouth parting slightly, tongue tucking between his teeth in distraction, causing Miguel to carefully focus on hefting the bar before Ryan's heat fucked him up.

"About Adebisi," Ryan spoke after a few minutes, looking down at Miguel with consideration now. Miguel just nodded tensely for him to continue as he worked his muscles, pushing the heavy weight back up with a steady exhale. "I know you don't like him--"

"And you do?" Miguel cut in rhetorically before Ryan could finish, using the moment of steadily bringing the weight back down. All about strength and control. He loved the feel of it, conquering it, building himself up, burning with energy. Exhilarating, even as it drained you.

Ryan just twitched his shoulders in a shrug, careful to keep Miguel's spot, with a quirk of his lips that wasn't really a smile. Like he maybe did like the crazy fucker a little, against his will. He continued what he'd been saying. "He can't be trusted. But don't worry -- he doesn't know everything that went down with El Cid. He knows I backed you to lead, that you didn't like him, and you aren't going to be mourning the death or holding a grudge. But he thinks you were in the dark about how far we were really going when we engineered his death. He thinks me and him were the ones really manipulating the situation, and just using you."

Miguel nodded, with a smirk, feeling the sweat starting to prickle against his skin. He was keeping quiet count in his head as he continued doing the bench presses, keeping carefully aware of how his muscles felt, his breath, how much longer he could keep up. He was still good. It was still just that nice strain and pressure. He'd probably do about ten more then quit.

"He'll know we're forming more of a partnership now though, right?"

Ryan nodded. "Mm-hm. That was part of the plan. My excuse for wanting you to lead. But he doesn't have any fucking clue how big a part you played." Ryan paused as he kept following the movement of the bar, hands still feather-light on it. "Oh, and if he mentions us fucking? Be careful how you react."

Miguel's grip on the slick metal bar slipped a little, stunned. "What?!?"

Thankfully, Ryan supported the bulk of the weight, his hands steady on the bar between Miguel's unnerved ones, while staring patiently down at him, only showing a hint of strain from the surprise catch as he kept the bar safely braced above Miguel.

"He knows?!"

"Of course fucking not." Ryan sighed, like he was talking to Cyril, frustrated slightly by trying to support the bulk of the weight. "Trust me -- no clue. But that won't stop him from saying it just to get under your skin. Adebisi likes to talk shit, just to annoy people. He says everybody's fucking. Doesn't mean he really thinks that, he just likes to tease. And he won't figure us out -- unless you react like that." Ryan finished with a raised eyebrow, gaze fixed down on Miguel still.

Miguel calmed down at that, his hold steady again, taking back control of that heavy weight, relieving Ryan. If Ryan wasn't concerned, Miguel had no reason to be.

"Just act like he's crazy and tell him to go fuck himself or something. You know, react like you would if he messed with you about anything that wasn't real. Don't give it any weight."

Miguel nodded, filing that away. It was a good fucking thing Ryan had warned him.

"He says everybody's fucking, or he says that *you're* fucking everybody?" Miguel teased lightly, back to lifting the bar without trouble. He was definitely done now though. He placed it back up with one last press, setting it in its hold.

Ryan's mouth twisted a little at that, gaze weary, getting tired of that particular taunt it seemed. "Very funny. I'll say it one last time -- very few, Miguel. I can count the guys I've let touch me on one hand."

It was Miguel's turn to raise an eyebrow, just lying on the bench now, staring up at Ryan. Miguel still had that spectacularly interesting view. The dick in question right there.

Miguel had to ask, even though he sure as hell knew he shouldn't. His mouth went and did it anyway. "You and him?"

Ryan grimaced, sighing like he was exasperated by the absurdity of the question. "Do I look loco to you?"

Miguel stared pointedly for a second. Ryan possibly was loco, just in a highly organized, sharply cunning way. Plus, given the advice Ryan had just given him on how to deal with such accusations, that wasn't the most promising response.

Miguel sat up, reaching for the towel he'd placed nearby to wipe off some of his sweat. He found that this conversation was easier to have when his back was turned to Ryan. "That didn't answer my question." His voice was pitched low, as he stared in contemplation at the stone floor. He wanted Ryan to answer, but he didn't really expect him to.

Ryan stayed quiet behind him for a moment and Miguel just let the silence breathe.

"You really want to know?" Ryan asked finally, his serious voice cutting through the air in the huge room.

That sounded a hell of a lot like a yes.

"Yeah." Miguel answered, turning to look at Ryan.

He still had that serious, mildly displeased look on his face, like he was thinking about it. "Not for a long time."


"You've been partners with him since before the riot, right?" Miguel asked, keeping his shock and the fucking jealousy off his face. It was the least of the things he could think to ask, the most innocuous one, just to keep everything else at bay.

Ryan shook his head, but it was hard to tell if it was yes or no. The Irishman moved from behind him, walking to the bench across from Miguel to sit back down there. Miguel watched him the whole time.

"That's a whole different kind of partnership, gato. It's not like us, not even remotely." Ryan said fervently, leaning forward, towards Miguel. He paused again as he studied Miguel, returning to coolly casual. "I only fucked around with him twice, anyway. Back in the beginning, after I'd gained his respect. But then I didn't let him touch me after the riot. He stared at my ass too much. Too dangerous. If I'd let it keep up, we wouldn't still be working together. He'd be too fucking difficult to deal with."

Shit. Miguel just nodded gruffly, trying to wrap his head around it, while somehow trying not to fucking think about it at all at the same time. This was what he got for fucking asking.

Ryan must have sensed his turmoil. "Besides, it wasn't something I even enjoyed that much."

Miguel's gaze was pulled back up at that, locking on Ryan. "You had to?"

Ryan smirked, but he looked a little offended at the mere thought. "No. Do I look like a bitch to you? If he'd tried that shit, he'd be dead. And I may have let him stare at my ass when I was trying to get him to work with me, but I don't ever let anybody touch me just to get them to do what I want. That's not the way I work. I've got plenty of other powers of persuasion. I only ever fuck because I want to." Ryan stated firmly, before continuing more idly. "I just wanted some release, and I knew I could get him to jack me off without me having to do much in return. It happened when we were fucking high, and I backed away from that shit afterwards. So, he doesn't suspect me of fucking with guys now that I'm clean. I let him think it was a truly fucked up, out of the blue, brand new thing for me. He thinks he was the one that took advantage of my altered state."

Ryan had actually answered. Honestly. Amazing. It seemed to really be the truth. The graphic truth, which was a little disturbing, but eased Miguel's mind in the end, as long as he could keep the visual out of it. It also meant that Ryan had used that particular power of persuasion on Miguel only because he'd wanted him. Which was a twisted fucking ego boost.

Miguel decided to press his luck. "What about Beecher?"

Ryan paused for a second, like he was considering whether to really give up the stories. He answered again though, still sitting calmly across from Miguel, observing him. "No."

"Really?" Miguel phrased it as idle curiosity, devoid of disbelief, just wanting more information. He actually believed Ryan, given the way he made the hard declaration. He was just wondering why Ryan had refrained. He remembered them being close, and everyone knew Beecher was willingly fucking with guys now. And he had a feeling Ryan actually liked the guy in a weird way, from the way he talked about him when he came up.

"I mainly hung with him our first year. Touch him with that motherfucking Nazi raping him? No fucking way. I didn't even try. He was too messed up to want it. I wouldn't do that to him," Ryan finished quietly.

It was also spoken confirmation that Ryan hadn't forced the guys he had messed with, whoever the rest of them were. Which...yeah. Had to go there. It was like a scab he had to pick at. His curiosity and odd desire to know overrode his discomfort at having names and faces, and fucking hands, to place with Ryan. Asking for a list of names probably wouldn't net him anything though, so he tried to narrow it down to the more specific questions that had garnered answers. Ryan's blushing Irish tag-along sprung to mind.

"You fuck with any of your amigos?" He kept the question calmly undemanding, pure curiosity, knowing that he was pushing it. For some reason he couldn't peg, Miguel suddenly just needed to know Ryan hadn't fucked all his Irish boys, the men he could be close and friendly with in public in ways he couldn't with Miguel. Well, he could be friendlier with Miguel in public now, but that was beside the point.

Ryan must've sensed that need of Miguel's, because he didn't put up a fight even though it clearly wasn't a line of questioning he enjoyed. He was staring at Miguel like he mattered again, answering just as calmly after a moment. "Only one and he initiated it. Otherwise I wouldn't have, because that shit would just cause problems." He paused. Yeah, Ryan wasn't fond of this conversation. But he kept going. "Kirk."

Miguel tried to place the name.

"Redhead. He's in Unit B now." Ryan supplied enough details to help him remember. And then he supplied more than Miguel fucking wanted. "He's got a thing for giving head. He offered, more than once. It was something he wanted to do for me."

Shit. Maybe this was Ryan's subtle price for the information. Laying it all out, the cold details. You want to know, you take all of it. He wasn't saying it with venom though, not to wound. Ryan's voice was quiet and serious. Mild and dispassionate explanations about things he obviously didn't really want to talk about, only given up because Miguel had asked. Maybe Ryan wanted to see if he'd react badly. That might be part of it, given the way Ryan was watching him. Miguel kept calm, not showing rejection or disgust. He just nodded in acknowledgement of the honest answer, grateful for it. It was slightly disturbing information, given the parties involved, but that was partially possessiveness. None of it mattered now.

Miguel couldn't figure out who he wanted to picture Ryan with less, that big Nigerian, or that sneaky little devil-headed Irishman. Neither was appealing. He pushed it out of his mind. That was all in the past. Ryan's passions lie with him now, and this wasn't some drugged out or sucking up encounter availed of only because it presented itself, and that was obvious from the focus of that gaze.

Ryan stood up after the last answer was processed, like he was ending the conversation. Miguel let him, still surprised Ryan had given anything up. Besides, Ryan was moving closer, not farther away, and that was all that mattered. Miguel slid back in his seat, towards the head end of the bench where the weight was resting, to make room for Ryan as he settled down on the other end. They were both straddling it, facing each other. Closer now because they were sharing the same bench, more comforting and intimate.

Miguel changed the talk from Ryan's past indirections, oddly pleased that Ryan had actually finally let him know at least some of his history. He doubted the Irishman had told any other soul any of it. His jealous itch was thankfully fucking quieted down by the way Ryan had spilled it and the way those green eyes had been looking at him the whole time.

"You get my note about your Russian?" He shifted away from it like it didn't matter, without further comment, because in the end it didn't. Back to keeping Ryan safe instead.

Ryan nodded, a much more menacing grimace on his face at the mention of the man, his voice going dark. The conversation held his pure interest now. "Yeah. He came to you? What does he know? Fill me in." Ryan chewed on his lower lip, his mind probably searching for a path to something painful for Stanislofsky.

"Things don't look too bad, don't worry. He doesn't seem to really know dick about us." Miguel tried to reassure him off the bat.

"Yeah -- doesn't seem to. But he's like me, gato. If he's really connected us, he wouldn't let us know how much he knows."

Miguel smirked. "Yeah, he's like you. And I fucking know how to read you. Sometimes, anyway. I can read him. He knows we're allying now that I'm leader, but he thinks it's new. He only saw me stall Murphy, and he's fucking guessing from there. He's trying to get me pissed off at you so we don't hook up. He didn't even know I had already figured out the fucking boxing."

Ryan relaxed a little, that glint in his eyes. "Ah, good. He drop enough information for you to figure it out?"

"Yep. Clues so big your little brother could fucking piece it together. He just saw a chance to turn me against you and took it. He doesn't realize how close we are." Miguel kept talking, letting the truth of that last sentence just exist, speaking for itself. "He must really not like your ass if he'd try to get me on his side against you, though."

Ryan nodded in consideration; he looked less worried now. "We can use that. How'd you leave it?"

"I know. I left it open." Miguel assured him. "I wasn't nice to the cocksucker, but I let him think I was figuring things out, and that I didn't trust you."

"Good. If he thinks he might be able to use you as a patsy, that'll help." Ryan mindlessly tapped his fingers on the bench. "We should let it simmer a few days. Wait until he approaches you."

Miguel nodded. "That's what I figured. How far should I go if he re-approaches? Should I act like I want your ass dead?"

Miguel figured that would be a bit much. It would be a quick way to find out how immediately dangerous of a problem Nikolai was going to be, though.

"Mm...probably not. He might just try to pay you to kill me if you do that."


"I don't think he's looking to go that far yet." Miguel pointed out. If it turned out to be that bad...well...somebody was definitely going to end up dead. And it wasn't going to be him or Ryan.

"Me neither. But if somebody like you falls in his lap, offering, he might not turn it down." Ryan said, not seeming overly concerned for his immediate welfare though. Nobody in this joint had the fucking balls or reason to just airhole somebody like Ryan like that. Even if Nikolai got it in his head, he'd have to seek it out, and it wouldn't be easy.

Still. Didn't want the Russian cocksucker trying anything like that any time soon.

"You think he's going to make that kind of move on his own soon? Because if you think he's a threat, baby -- he's gone. "

Ryan smirked a little, leaning back. "Gone?" Faux innocence and confusion in his voice just to tweak Miguel.

Miguel refrained from rolling his eyes. "I'm just saying, if you think he's something that needs to be taken care of quick, we don't have to do your usual elaborate shit."

Ryan still seemed mildly bemused, even as he was taking Miguel seriously and thinking. "What happened to mi gato who doesn't airhole guys himself?"

That was a completely different situation. This was some cocksucker enemy of Ryan's that Miguel had no personal ties to. He let that show with his nonchalance.

"He ain't my blood. He don't hold any of my vows. He ain't dick to me. Besides, the man doesn't have any friends that are going to be mourning him or looking for blood and the hacks won't connect me. I'm not you, tiburón. I don't mind getting my hands dirty when it's easier. I'm fast, I'm good, and I won't fuck it up." Miguel added the last part pointedly. If Ryan was holding off because he thought Miguel couldn't do the job properly, that would just piss him the hell off.

"Oh, I know you can do it, and it would be fucking simple. If we have to, I'll take you up on it." Ryan assured, pleasantly confident in him, as his grin teased the corner of his mouth. "But I think we're good for the moment. I don't want unnecessary blood on either of our hands. That'll be a last resort. Let's just play it out and see." The way Ryan said it, it was clear it wasn't a conscience speaking, but a sense of practicality and caution. Miguel's shark didn't care about spilling blood, he only cared about it being traced back to them, more annoyed by the hassle than the fallen bodies. "When he comes to you, act pissed at me and willing to double-cross me, but make some shit up about not wanting to airhole me. You know, something like: you want to keep your hands clean and stay out of the hole, it's too dangerous, you don't have enough cause to deal with the mess of going that far...you have a conscience." Ryan added that last one with a teasing smirk.

Miguel sat up straighter, closer to Ryan, playing mildly defensive. "I *do* have a conscience."

"Sure you do, you're Jiminy Fucking Cricket." Ryan said with a wink.

Miguel snorted, amused rather than offended at Ryan's tease. Despite his previous offer to just take the Russian out himself, his tiburón knew he had rules that the Irishman didn't, rules that had caused Ryan grief before. "That make you Pinocchio? Because your fucking nose would be long enough to reach the end of the earth by now, with all the lies you spin."

"It's not my nose that's long, Miguel."

Miguel ignored the cheesiness of the leering comment, following where it led instead. He stared Ryan down with purpose instead of registering a reaction to the bad joke.

Ryan was leaning back, propped on his elbows behind him, leaving his pelvis cocked a little, legs spread as he straddled the bench. On display, without even realizing it. Not purposeful, just natural. Ryan's body speaking its own separate language, wanting.

Come closer. Touch me.

Miguel couldn't help but listen. He reached out, letting his hand drift up Ryan's thigh, skimming over worn material covering lean muscle. Slowly moving up, feeling the thick seam of the pant leg running under his fingertips.

Ryan didn't stop him, just tilting his head in amused, questioning approval. Miguel's fingers spread over his thigh, and Ryan's lower lip tucked into his mouth. A tiny sign of pleasure.

Miguel followed the seam, the line of his body, that hungry spark coming to life in Ryan's eyes, feeling the rough fabric worn soft covering Ryan's leg. His journey stopped with Ryan under his hand, touch curling around the heat behind that fabric, cupping that soft bulge under his palm.

Ryan's head tilted back with his hitch of breath, exposing the line of his neck. Miguel heard him catch that breath before Ryan spoke, practically feeling the unfulfilled desire of Ryan's hips wanting to roll up into his touch.

"Can't here." Ryan's voice was as husky as his breath had turned, frozen there, even as he gave the caution.

"I know." Miguel was keeping an eye on the entrances. He couldn't stop the brief rub to that heat under his hand though.

It was fucking worth it for the soft gasp it got him, those hips finally giving in to a tremble, cocking up further into the touch, legs spreading wider. Ryan's neck still arching back, Miguel could see his beautiful strain in the line of pale throat.

"There's a storage closet between here and Emcity." Miguel pointed out, unable to move his hand off of Ryan.

Ryan nodded, lip tucked back into his mouth, as he locked his burning gaze back on Miguel.

Ryan's lower lip was reddened and damp when he spoke. "We go together. Now."


They snuck down the hall, all wariness and heat. Carefully keeping apart, even though he could *feel* Ryan near him. Thankfully they made it without running into inmates or guards. Miguel loved the fact that most of the guards in this shithole didn't give a fuck about doing their jobs properly.

They stumbled into the storage closet, pressing together in need of contact, kissing hungrily as soon as the door closed and locked, not noticing their surroundings other than the important fact that they were alone. Ryan's back thudded softly against the wall, finally stopping their steps.

Slow. The only thought in Miguel's head beyond the need to touch and suck and kiss.

He ran his hand down Ryan's side, under the grey sweat-jacket, feeling heated skin through the thin white t-shirt Ryan wore. His hand clutched a hip just as Ryan gave into the need for a soft thrust, allowing Miguel to feel that muscle and bone straining towards him in search of friction. Miguel pressed into it, riding the slow confined rub of that growing stiffness with his own.

He pushed at Ryan's unzipped hoodie, urging him to shed it. Miguel missed Ryan's hands on him during even that brief moment, before it fell to the floor at their feet.

Slow. Even as their mouths met fast. Breathless and almost clashing, but falling into each other's rhythm, stroke of tongue and feel of lips, enough to make it perfect.

Miguel's hand slid back down confidently, cupping Ryan's half-hard dick through his pants with the firm assurance of their privacy. Didn't have to hold back now. He could rub nice and slow, feeling that outline he had been staring at during his workout, bringing Ryan to full hardness in his hand. Dragging out the burn with long sucking kisses and the press of his body as Ryan's husky breaths and roaming hands brought Miguel right along with him. Fuck, he needed this, here in the cramped darkness, like he needed fresh air and sunlight.

They just played with the smooth friction of bodies and touch for a while, because the lazy spread of smoldering heat felt so fucking right in the moment. Hips cocking, riding each others movements, a thigh occasionally pressing between legs and right up against stiff dick. So easy to lose himself there in the slip and rub and the --yess, right there-- rhythm.

Miguel felt Ryan's heavy pulse under his tongue as he traced his throat with wet kisses, and decided it was time for more, even as he kept up that pace that was thickly slow and smooth as honey.

He felt each tooth of the zipper click down on Ryan's pants. Finally slipping his hand into stifling heat, thin cotton under his palm again, but this time with that hard heat waiting right underneath. He slid pants and boxers down enough to leave Ryan free, turning even that into a caress. Could've just pulled him out of the boxers, but he wanted those extra inches of skin, for Ryan to have that extra breeze of air. That feeling of exposure.

He slid his touch back up Ryan's bare thigh, finally taking Ryan's cock in his hand. Slow, Miguel stroked, driven by Ryan's mouth devouring him, hand running over his hair, clutching him close. Languid slide, drawing it out. Just like Ryan liked sometimes. Ryan's breath was hitching in approval again. His gasp-shiver-thrust right fucking there against Miguel.

The rough tug on Miguel's pants that followed was even hotter. Ryan's hands followed that indolent beat, drawing dull nails over his hip, moving down to finally take him out. Ryan's hand slipped over his cock, only to line them up, press them close. Instant stimulation, pulse magnified. Carnal touch of dick sliding along dick as Ryan got an overlapping grip, joining him, grazing Miguel's own hand on Ryan's cock.

Oh fuuck, that was a nice little tweak on things. Joined together, slipping side by side. Miguel followed Ryan's beautiful lead, wrapping around them both, stretching his hand wide. Figuring out how to work this new hot friction to best effect, stroking together, hard heat against his. Sliding in mutual need, finding a rhythm together, fingers brushing and mingling.

Miguel's stroke was off a little, wanting too much, too fast, stuttering Ryan's. Ryan bit his lip and brushed his fingers over Miguel's hand, still wrapped around hardness.

"S..Slow." The directive husked out of Ryan's mouth on a gasp.

Miguel had to follow Ryan when he sounded like that, like he was lost in getting off. Pure fucking need. He was slipping his stroke slower to move fluidly with Ryan's before he realized it. Firm grip, pressed right up against Ryan as they continued the drawn out slip of friction together. Both of them moving. Cock to cock, encircled by hands synching perfectly, it was hard to tell what hot, needed touch belonged to who. Didn't matter. Jerking off each other, together. Like one cock and one hand, but more with tight heat, more contact. Wrapped up in it.

Mmm...needed to be wetter.

Miguel contemplated the tried and true basic jack-off methods of spitting in his hand or licking a palm. That seemed a shameful waste given what was available.

Reflexively biting his lip at the loss of stimulation, his hand reluctantly left those strokes. Slipping easily to his knees, he felt the thud of the solid ground and didn't waste any more time. Ryan's cock slid past his lips, wrapping around the hard strain of it. Slippery wet was his goal. Ryan slid over his tongue, filling his mouth, as Miguel used his saliva as lube. Engulfing Ryan, getting him as wet as possible, dirty and sloppy, focused on that purpose.

"Ohhh..." Ryan, above him, clearly hadn't expected that.

Miguel's plan had just been to give them some slick to slide on -- but he was starting to rethink things with the roll of Ryan's hips into his mouth. Ohh, he needed to touch, his dick begging for the return of contact at the feel of Ryan and the hot hushed sounds he was making. Miguel reached down...

...but Ryan's slightly shaky grip suddenly appeared on his shoulder, tugging him up. The boy was insane. Still, owner of the cock got to choose. Miguel let Ryan's dick slip from his mouth, and pulled himself back up, using Ryan's body, groping along the way. The brush of returning contact, more hint and promise than friction, brought an instinctive small thrust from both of them after he stood.

"You're turning down a blow job, again? Should I be worried?" Miguel teased breathlessly.

"Mmm...want you--and your mouth--here." Ryan answered, voice rough, as he demonstrated with a firm kiss, feeding that slow consuming heat, fingers playing along the back of his neck, sliding up into his hair. Ryan's other hand wasted no time sliding back over their dicks, positioning them to regain that hot press of flesh.

Miguel's hips moved into it at the first slide along Ryan's saliva-slick dick. Fuuuck. Much better. Miguel took a moment to just rub his cock against Ryan's, getting some of that slick for himself, before their hands went back to encircling each other, finding that perfect rhythm together again, naturally. Back to the slide of palms and rough brush of fingers, all with that tight slither of cock against cock just adding to the sensation. All wet friction and nerve endings stroking each other to life.

Ryan was driving that languid movement, taking control of the pace, his free hand pulling Miguel's face closer, a clutch on his jaw, capturing him in one long wet kiss that just slid into the next, drawing everything out in an unending, graceful tangle of wet-hot-more.

Deeper, never letting it stop, everything connected. The scrape of teeth over his bottom lip matched the rub of a thumb over the head of his cock, Ryan's mouth tugging at him with that same sweet, bone melting pleasure as their hands.

Fuck, Miguel was starting to see the beauty in "slow". Who wouldn't want to just settle and wear a groove here, milk this beautifully building ache?

As Ryan's mouth kept up that spreading heat, nipping moistly along his jaw, Miguel felt the light caress of Ryan's thumb over his bottom lip. A light lick of his tongue over the rough pad compelled it into his mouth. Miguel licked and sucked without thinking, liking the feel of Ryan in his mouth, something to stroke with his tongue. A complement to the rock of their hips and that slick rubbing stroke surrounding his dick. He half-imagined he felt the twitch of Ryan's cock along his, but it may have just been his own shiver, shared, as Ryan's husky breath groaned into his ear.

Ryan slipped his thumb out of Miguel's mouth, hand moving down -- only to slip under and up Miguel's shirt. Tiny grazes of dampness teased over his skin as Ryan made his journey up Miguel's chest in the close quarters under his clothes. He definitely had a goal, finally rubbing the still lightly damp pad of his thumb over Miguel's nipple.

Not wet enough to do more than tease, an echo of the deliberate hot slickness of their dicks. Ryan kept up that slow rough rub of his nipple, a nice spark to the building ache tugging at his cock.

Miguel's breath started to slip from him in grunts as slow slid along, gaining speed with a beautiful fluidity. Strokes keeping pace with the need pounding in his blood, with the gusts of Ryan's own husky half-moans, Miguel's fingers dug into the small of Ryan's back, pulling him closer, guiding him into it.

They both got lost in all that delicious contact still slipping against their palms and pressing together. Their mouths found each other for those drawn-out kisses, the drag of teeth and tongues, when the stroke of their hands left slow in the dust, flowing together in that hungry heat coursing through him, letting Miguel feel it all, ride it out. Beads of sweat formed on the small of Ryan's back under his fingertips.

Ryan's body pressed close. Ryan's hand with his. Ryan's cock. Ryan's mouth. Tangled together, overwhelming. Miguel came first, the stroke of their hands inescapable, feeling that shudder against his. Fuuuck. He felt the pulse of rigid cock right there with the milking of his own, the splash of heat as Ryan came. He gave over to the slow heat finally coursing through him with that delicious burn, draining him.

Their broken strokes tapered off after they were left panting, hands slipping away from cocks, sliding up under shirts and over sweat damp torsos. His muscles feeling fluidly slack and his body unsteady, Miguel melted into Ryan, who had also slumped down a little against the wall, reaching around Miguel even more in loose-limbed support. Absorbing each other's heavy breaths, they came down together.

Too soon to move. Much nicer here. Warm and lax, even if that slick had given way to slightly sticky.

Maybe this was their version of make-up sex. Or late celebration. Miguel didn't give a fuck, just liked feeling that body against his, happy knowing now that Ryan was with him, steady by his side.

They had to physically part soon though. This wasn't scheduled, and it wasn't as safe.

"We have to get back." Miguel husked out with a meandering open-mouthed kiss over Ryan's throat, his body refusing to move away. It seemed much smarter than his brain at the moment.

"Uh-huh." Ryan agreed unconvincingly on a slow exhale, arms still just wrapped around Miguel, half under his shirt. Their pants were still undone...and nobody was moving to take care of that either.

Miguel stayed collapsed there against Ryan. Had to catch his breath and cool down a bit, right?

The oddest shit popped into his mind after he got off sometimes. Like just the fact of the two of them -- here -- carrying on all this under the radar now that they were both leaders.

"You think Pancamo and Adebisi are getting it on?" Miguel drawled out, hand slipping over Ryan's hip, petting him idly. He knew his question should get a fun reaction.

Ryan blinked, thrown, pulling his face back the slightest margin. "What??"

Miguel snickered, finally having enough steady breath, looking at Ryan. "Payback's a bitch, baby. That's what you get for all that unpleasant shit about Guerra and El Cid you were always putting in my head."

"When, obviously, the things in your head are already disgusting and fucked up enough." Ryan countered with one last joking shudder.

"Really, hermano, you know who we fucking are?"

Miguel hadn't really thought of it this way in awhile. Their reps and their standing. This was just...him and Ryan now. So much more complicated and deeper than just two cons in charge of two slices of Oz. Personal. It was odd when he thought of them as how others saw them, how he used to see himself, even. Amusing, in a fun, twisted way.

"Yes." Ryan pronounced the word slowly, like Miguel was suffering from head trauma. "I'm Ryan. You're poco loco."

Miguel rolled his eyes, running an absentminded hand affectionately over Ryan's arm. "We head our fucking factions."

That got him another very slow nod, as Ryan unwound one arm from around him and reached out to press the back of his hand to Miguel's forehead. "Are you high and not sharing with me?"

Miguel glared lightly, but he didn't swat Ryan's hand away. He was rewarded when Ryan's gesture shifted into a stroke over his cheek.

Ryan finally stopped playing dumb. "Yes, Miguel. I get it. That was part of the point of all this shit. Getting you back in charge. Us in charge. And together." Ryan said it like they were two separate things...and the latter was more important now. "This going to be a problem all of a sudden? Are you going to be the lead spic who can't touch a dick now?" The gentle tease was joined by the winding of a wiry arm around his waist again.

You want to play? Miguel snaked his hand down with a hard smirk, cupping Ryan's spent package, enjoying the little shiver of sensitivity it produced from Ryan. "As long as it's yours? Nope."

He fucking meant it...and didn't care what it signified. Things had changed for him, inside, no matter what act he had to put on to keep safe. It was undeniable, because his feelings were real, when it was fucking rare enough in here to feel anything good at all. He sucked cock and cared about the owner of said fucking cock. It spelled maricon to him, in big fucking bright letters. His desires and comforts had turned into a textbook definition. And the word wasn't changing how he felt, so he might as well not give a fuck and go with it, even if only Ryan knew about it. This was where he was. What he was. And he felt...steady...here.

Steady and happy in seeming in-fucking-sanity. That was him. Figured.

Ryan looked a little relieved and disappointed at the same time as Miguel's hand slid away from his oversensitive dick.

"Good. Because then we'd have to talk." Ryan said, a mockery of firm and threatening, making Miguel grin.

"I just thought it was fucking funny. Crazy. Wasn't complaining." Miguel said gruffly, keeping Ryan close.

His shark just grinned. "Crazy can be good."

Another short, grabbing kiss proved his point perfectly.

"We never got to celebrate me becoming leader." Miguel said idly after a moment, deciding it was probably time to get their dicks tucked away before their hands got the urge to wander.

"No, we definitely did not." Ryan agreed, seeming like he regretted that fact a little too, and didn't consider this enough.

They cleaned up as much as possible. It was a good fucking thing Ryan's shirt had been white, and he had something to cover up with. Ryan gave into the inevitability of clothes and the fact that they had to leave after Miguel had tucked him away, bending to pick up his grey hoodie from the floor as Miguel backed off a couple of inches and did up his own pants.

"You free later?" Ryan asked, clearly thinking of something.

"Sure, let me just check my date book."

Ryan ignored that with an un-amused look. It was faked, Miguel could tell.

It just made Miguel smirk more, before he got slightly serious. "I got work detail, but I can slip away near the end of my shift. Last couple hours, nobody will notice until it's time to head back.

"Good. I'll leave word. We'll celebrate." Ryan imparted, following up by grabbing him for a long firm kiss to seal it before they left.

~ Chapter 19: Vacationing In Jamaica ~

Miguel slid into one of the larger utility closets they'd found. It was currently mostly empty, only one rusty shelving unit taking up space, but had the feature of a dirty bare-bones metal sink jutting out of the wall. Miguel realized that he was getting to know every fucking storage room and extra space with a door that locked in the fucking prison that they could get to.

This one was off the hospital ward, quite a ways off one of the twisting halls with the private rooms where there wasn't much traffic. It wasn't always convenient, but they'd gone out of their way. Miguel had ditched his late work duty at the ward. Dr. Nathan wasn't around, and the nurses got real lax the later it got. He had around two hours before he had to reappear at the ward to go back to Emcity. He hadn't asked how Ryan was getting away, figured it didn't matter. The Irishman had obviously planned for the most privacy they could grab, even at the last minute.

Miguel slid to the floor to wait for Ryan, leaning against the wall. It was a little fucking chilly through his thin scrubs. After those long days naked and growing numb to the cold in the hole, he was spoiled by being back out and clothed, now feeling the chill like he hadn't before.

There was one thing he was wondering. What in the hell did Ryan consider a celebration? Last time had involved whiskey and Miguel taking a fist to the jaw.

Ryan slid in after a minute, grinning. "Mmm...hola, mi gato."

Miguel stayed put on the floor when his move to get up was waved off, as Ryan strode over and dropped down right next to him along the one bare wall.

"You learning Spanish? Cuz that would be just plain scary, baby." Miguel teased, his hand running over Ryan's warm thigh without thought.

Tiburón got to wear his nice normal warm clothes, same hoodie as earlier, but he'd changed to jeans and one of those dark green t-shirts that caught the color in his eyes. The cozy bastard. At least he was pressed right up against Miguel's side, sharing his heat. Close enough to smell...soap. Miguel examined him more closely and saw the traces of almost damp clean sheen at the roots of Ryan's soft looking, freshly-dried hair. Miguel had showered directly after his "work-out". Ryan had apparently waited until long after Miguel had left Emcity, showering not long before he came here.

"Hell no, no more than I need to get by." Ryan said with his shark grin. "I manage fine. You know: 'hi', 'bye', 'you owe', 'fuck off'."

Miguel chuckled at that.

"I have you for translation of the complicated shit now." Ryan joked before a different kind of mischievousness entered his eyes. "I have picked up a couple new fucking things from you, though, mi cielo."

Damn, Ryan had caught that then. Miguel hadn't even remembered that he'd said it until it left Ryan's lips right this second. But now...he remembered it slipping out the other day with the shank. It caused Ryan's grin to quirk the corners of his mouth in a good way, though, so Miguel wouldn't give it much more thought.

Except Ryan wouldn't let it go.

Ryan tilted his face closer, head dipping to the side, towards Miguel. "What's that actually mean, anyway?" A curious tease of that husky voice.

Miguel smirked softly. So Ryan didn't know then, or he knew what kind of word it sounded like when Miguel said it, understanding the intent, but didn't quite know the full real meaning.

Miguel looked at the floor, slightly embarrassed at having to explain, ignoring that teasing spark in Ryan's eyes. Oh yeah, Ryan understood it enough.

Miguel contemplated lying and saying it meant cocksucker or something. But then he figured Ryan probably knew the fucking bad words enough to know he was lying.

Ryan probably didn't know any endearments, never had them said to him so he could pick them up, especially in here. Something about the loneliness of that thought made Miguel want to tell him the truth.

"Technically? Or what it meant when I called you that?" Miguel asked, gaze warily peeking at Ryan out of the corner of his downcast eye.

"Both." Ryan said smugly, pulling his knees up to casually rest his arms there.

Miguel felt the shift comfortably against his side. They were both looking somewhat in front of them at the grey wall and door, without really paying attention to it though, their faces only half-turned towards each other.

"Technically, it means sky." Or heaven, but Miguel was keeping that much to himself at least. "But it's used for..." Miguel's thoughts diverged for a second. "I'm surprised you didn't look this shit up to woo Dr. Nathan." He caught himself too late, realizing maybe he shouldn't have mentioned her. For one thing, he tended to avoid thinking too much about Ryan's desperate, unending love and devotion to her. Ryan had made that fucking easy lately by not mentioning it, actually, now that Miguel thought of it.

Instead of making Ryan tense or recoil (or start waxing poetic), it just brought him...closer, if that was even possible. Miguel heard the light scuff of movement on the stone and felt that heat pressed closer against him, Ryan's knees and legs right up against his now.

"Mmm, no. She barely wanted to speak to me in English." Ryan said, and it wasn't as bitter or full of longing as Miguel would've thought. "Does that mean you're trying to woo me?" Ryan's grin teased his lips with the amused, faux-innocent taunt.

"Like your horny ass needs to be wooed," Miguel said with a roll of his eyes, elbowing the form next to his softly, trying futilely to cover the rush of heat and embarrassment with bravado. He switched back to Ryan's earlier question before the Irishman could ride him harder about it. He should probably clear at least one thing up, since he'd gone and fucking mentioned Gloria. "Don't mean love or anything. It's just, you know..." Miguel muttered, still looking more at stone than Ryan. Had to if he was going to continue. Shit, why couldn't he have just called Ryan 'lover' or something he knew so he didn't have to spell it out now. "I was calling you something nice. Fond and shit. My sky. It's an endearment."

Miguel may have used that particular term on purpose. Because sky itself meant something more in here, where being out under it, just seeing it, was a desired prize. Something beautiful, that tasted like freedom and life.

"I figured, that's why I used it." Ryan said quietly, less teasing now, but not low enough that Miguel couldn't hear the pure pleasure underneath.

Good. Worth the embarrassment.

Ryan finally let up, moving past that without another word. "Time to celebrate."

Miguel looked over when he felt Ryan's bony elbow dig gently into his side. He was getting something out of the pocket of his jeans, legs sliding back down and stretching out in front of him to reach inside.

Ryan produced...a joint.

Miguel laughed at that. "Better than whiskey."

He wondered if Ryan had brought that and not something harder because he remembered Miguel saying he didn't do heroin once, or if it was just because the other man didn't want to get himself hooked again .

Ryan was half-smiling, digging in his pockets again, for a light probably. "Well, that didn't work out last time. You don't do heroin. I know you had some fun licking stamps back in the day, but that might get our asses caught, and besides, I was going for a nice buzz, not hallucinations. I didn't have time to hunt up any X."

Huh. Okay, he *had* remembered then. And he remembered Miguel mentioning the stamps too. Ryan actually listened to him and retained it now. He cared about all the odd shit that came out of Miguel's mouth, absorbing it, like Miguel did when Ryan told him shit.

And fuck, Miguel could really go for some ecstasy with Ryan. He'd have to ask again with more lead-time, or find a way to get his hands on some himself.

Miguel took the offered joint, rolling it in his fingers thoughtfully. "What's it spiked with?"

"Mmm...nothing. Pure good shit. Wanted something mild, figured you wouldn't want a spike of PCP," Ryan said with a shrug.

"Good choice," Miguel smirked. "You know we're going to be fucking high when we go back, though."

Ryan nodded with that El Diablo grin, matches now in hand. "That's why I went with mild. "

Miguel rested the joint between his lips, going for the matches, but Ryan waved him off again. Miguel leaned back and relaxed as Ryan struck a match, cupping his hands near Miguel's face around the joint, lighting it as Miguel dutifully inhaled to make sure it caught.

Miguel sucked down that good burning smoke. It had been awhile. Deep lungful, listening to the crinkle-burn of the alight rolling paper. He handed it off to Ryan, the Irishman still right there, sharing his personal space.

He held that tight burn in his lungs for as long as possible, watching Ryan inhale. Shit. Been too long. Miguel started coughing a little with the stinging tickle, having to give in and exhale with the inescapable rough continuance of the cough.

His bastard shark laughed a little at him, strained, trying to hold his own smoke in through his amusement. Ryan managed just fine without coughing, of course.

"Shut the fuck up, man." Miguel choked out, defensively, trying not to laugh himself.

Ryan exhaled much more smoothly, on a smirk, as Miguel took the joint from those skilled calloused fingers. Miguel let his head rest back against the stone, becoming less and less uncomfortable with its cool hardness, as they passed the joint back and forth. He closed his eyes, feeling that burn turn smooth, soothing, spreading through his body. He felt that warm body all along his, listening to Ryan's breath like music, as he let his brain just fog. Floating a little. Feeling blunter, calmer, less cold.


A little while later, joint having disappeared, Miguel exhaled slowly. Feeling loose and wanting a pillow to rest his head on suddenly, he shifted, sliding down, head going into Ryan's lap without thought, lying down on stone. Much more comfortable. Warm lap, firm body. Ryan looked just as relaxed, his hand slipping down to stroke over Miguel's hair.

They had been talking about...hmm...the world. Any place far from Oz. Miguel had told Ryan all about Tierra del Fuego, the end of the earth. Ryan shared jungles and heat and places where summer lived. Miguel was just listening to the flow of Ryan's words now, feeling the languid passion of them against his skin.

"We should be in Jamaica, mon." Ryan finished one of his informative musings on foreign lands in a drawling fake accent.

Miguel snickered in his lap, letting his body shake with it. "Should've turned on the faucet, made a fake waterfall."

Ryan laughed again, deep, but slithering out of his control. Miguel rode the shake of Ryan's body too. Felt good.

"Mmm...how much longer we got here?" Miguel asked with his own drawl, closing his eyes briefly again.

He felt the fluid small shift of that body, as Ryan was careful not to disturb him. "Hour and fifteen."

"Shiiit, tiburón. That's good. Not ready to cope yet." Miguel stretched his legs lazily, arms reaching up and slipping over Ryan in their own stretch as his head stayed in that perfect warm support of his lap. Time was moving slow.

"I'm assuming you can maintain and won't be sucking down all the patients' jello when you get back." Ryan said, hand still caressing Miguel. Constant easy contact, heat slipping over his head, his neck, down his arm.

"Mmm...jello." That sounded delicious -- slick, fruity, and chilled.

Ryan did that thing where he almost giggled again. "Here, munchie boy. This'll help." Ryan reached into the pockets of his hoodie and pulled out...two small bags of Fritos that looked like they were from one of the staff's snack machines.

*That's* why he'd seemed a little bulky and occasionally crinkled oddly when he'd moved.

"Damn, baby. You really are a planner at heart, aren't you, mi cielo?"

Ryan grinned, dropping a bag down into his hands. "I've got candy bars too."

Miguel's stomach wanted to tear into the bag, but he set it aside. Better for later, it would help dull the buzz before they left.

"That what's been poking me in the head?" Miguel joked, just to hear that free-floating laugh again, to feel it underneath him.

"No." Ryan formed the innuendo-laden answer out of that laugh.

Miguel rubbed his head against the warm worn material. He wasn't quite in that part of Ryan's lap, resting more on his legs. If Miguel just turned his head though, moved up a little...

Felt Ryan's package, lax still, soft bulge brushing against his head. He nuzzled into it a little, without thought. Damn, tiburón's drugs were good. Nothing but riding warmth, everything making more sense with its smooth dull edges, that hot little blanketing buzz alive in his very muscles.

Ryan groaned in an entirely pleasant way, fingers clenching in their idle caress over Miguel's arm. Miguel pressed into his heat, feeling Ryan's cock in a different way than usual, against his face, almost under his head, with another nuzzle. Miguel shifted again, turning towards Ryan more, his fingers slipping up to hold onto the waist of Ryan's jeans, curling down inside to brush skin. Mouthing Ryan's fly, just because it was there and he liked the feel of that little twitch, Ryan's cock coming to life under his touch. Denim between teeth with a teasing tug.

"Mmmm...yes...mi cielo..." Ryan's happy purring voice wrapped around him, touch still stroking over Miguel's skin with it. Encompassing him.

"Hey...this is supposed to be *my* celebration, ain't it?" Miguel teased, mouth leaving damp denim behind as he looked up.

"You're right." Ryan agreed, before Miguel's world was in upheaval, his resting place sliding out from under him.

Legs moving, Ryan sat up more, before shifting away. Miguel's head lightly thudded to the floor when he wasn't fast enough to stop the loss of his pillow.

"Ow," he said mildly, his tone containing a laugh all its own.

"Shit. Sorry." Laughing mutters coming close to join him, Ryan took up his view, pausing to drop an apologetic kiss on his forehead.

Ryan shed his sweat jacket, rolling it up and tucking it under Miguel's head. Nice and warm, it smelled liked Ryan. It was an improvement over the stone floor. He didn't even mind the two vague lumps that were probably the candy bars.

Miguel was fine there, laid out on his back on the floor, but it was so much better when Ryan stayed in view, coming to straddle him with lanky heat. Miguel's hands drifted to the curve of hips, holding him there in approval, feeling the nice firm pressure of soft ass and brush of better things, right there below his pelvis, close enough to be in firm contact with his dick though his thin scrub pants and boxers. Perfect seat for Ryan.

"Better?" Ryan smirked down at him, before he was leaning over and closing the distance.

Brushfire of lips against his. Graceful press of mouths, lazy and meandering slowly to the hint of a darting tongue. Perfect way to spread that buzz, that languid pleasure. The floor was definitely less chilly now.

It took them a little longer to get it up, but it was a good thing, instead of bad. Letting them touch and explore, just enjoy each other and the gentle spark that blanketed them, longer.

Ryan sat back up, letting him breathe, that little shift another pleasant rub of pelvises, more weight pressing down deliciously for a moment, as Ryan shed his shirt. Miguel watched the glorious stretch of arms, the exposure of pale flat chest, stomach, and old scars. Had to run his hands up, slowly taking Ryan in under his fingertips, experiencing the stretching movement by feel as Ryan tossed his shirt away and slid back down for more long kisses that served no purpose other than tasting, than staying warm and drinking each other up.

Who needed words and waterfalls when he could have that small gasp against his mouth, breath caressing his damp lips? It blotted everything from his mind. He could only focus on one thing at a time, and enjoying Ryan's body was the most important thing in the world right now.

Another nice rub of movement over his slowly stiffening dick, another pause, as Ryan sat up again to shed Miguel's shirt this time. Ryan returned again afterwards, falling back to his mouth with grace even as rough hands slid over his newly exposed skin, bringing trails of heat to the chill of the air, burning it away. Chest brushing against chest proving better for generating warmth than the insulation of clothes.

His hips occasionally moved up into the kisses, like the slow lap of waves, as Ryan rode them down in turn. Eventually catching more of a rhythm, he felt his dick harden more fully with each slow grind of Ryan against him, with the drag of fingers and suck of Ryan's mouth across his skin. Low heat simmering, spreading out. Amplified and growing, in smooth heated comfort.

Perfect celebration.

That nice buzzing heat slowly built between them, bodies flowing together as they languidly followed it. Miguel changed the angle of Ryan's firm warmth slithering against him. Their hips kept up those smooth thrusts even as their bodies shifted. His knee hit the stone hard as he rolled them to rest on top, but any dull pain was lost in the tiny shudder of Ryan's body under his with the new extra pressure against Ryan's cock, that mouth obliterating everything with the hot, drawn out, pure sex of his kiss.

One hard nipple grazed another, other sliding against slick skin, and there was that tremble again, lightning spark, riding Miguel down this time. Down against that body. Bare chests allowed skin to stick and rub to skin, even as his dick was living on the friction trapped behind cloth. He was between Ryan's legs still, as they hooked over the back of his. He was hotly held between thighs pressing close along the outside of his own, Ryan's lower legs wrapped around his, changing the angle more, Ryan's body enclosing him. Everything rubbing so much fucking closer. Tighter. More.

Miguel groaned huskily against Ryan's throat, the man stealing his fucking breath. He was so fucking high, the sweet cloudy buzz in his mind and blood stretching further and gaining that pure heaven feel from Ryan's body. Breathless in that nice dizzy fog. His hands skimmed skin, seizing it all in his arms. Needed to press closer. Touch everywhere. Driven by heat in his blood, slithering under his skin, his nerves alive and wanting, dick hard and balls tightening.

Ryan's hands slid down his bare back, a flat-palmed caress that must've wanted everything too, wanted to touch everything at once. Hands moving downward, slipping down his scrub pants, his boxers, access made easy by their elastic-banded looseness. Fingers firmly grazing down the naked curve of his ass, digging in softly. Ryan's hands came to rest cupping his ass, held between cloth and flesh. Feeling perfect and fucking hot as Ryan grasped his ass and pulled him hard into the thrust, with a soft moan into his mouth.

Fuuuck. Miguel shuddered and rode that clutch pulling him against Ryan. So fucking hard, he felt Ryan just as desperate, digging into him, grinding against him like nothing else could.

Miguel didn't know who came first. Who fucking cared? As long as that rush washed over him, running through him, making him come in his pants with the hot twitching driving force of it, and Ryan's body did the same, that 'Oh...fuuuck...' of the Irishman's lost in Miguel's mouth, drawn out as long as his fucking pulsing cock.

Miguel was dizzily buzzed. Happily so. Resting on the loose drained body beneath him for just one long moment before he shifted off, Ryan's hands slipping out of his pants, that last caress over his ass making him shiver. They stayed close, sweaty skin pressed tight against his side.

Had it been cold? Definitely wasn't now. His skin felt heated, like it was muggy but perfect.

"Mmm..." He heard that happy low groan of pleased relief and the pop of languid bones as Ryan stretched a little beside him.

Miguel felt the slip of that skin over his with the movement like an echo.

"Good enough celebration?" Ryan's husky voice was still naturally carrying the sound of sex when he wasn't even trying.

"Hell, yes." Miguel answered with a voice just as rough, wearily happy, eyes closed. Lost in the dizzy heavens for a second. He had that slick heat beside him to anchor him. "Damn, baby. I need a nap."

He wanted to just slip off into the high, so fucking tired all of a sudden, energy drained and worn.

Ryan's short low laugh slid over his skin, as Miguel felt the heat of the man now mouthing his throat lazily. Nice, keeping the buzz softly alive. Ryan was turned towards Miguel more, to enable those roving, open half-kisses. "I understand the urge." Ryan sighed for what seemed like a very long time, his breath chilling Miguel's skin left damp from his mouth. "Can't though."

Miguel followed Ryan's sigh with one of his own, feeling it right down to his gut. Which was fucking starved now, panging him through his pleasant haze.

He cracked open an eye. The sweatshirt with the candy bars wasn't under their heads anymore. It was however, still within reach off to the side. If he stretched. He turned towards it, and Ryan's hand took advantage of his exposed stretch away, sliding over his side, nails dully scraping his ribs, as Miguel got the sweatshirt. He dug out the candy bars with a crinkle, handing one to Ryan. Ryan took it, and the sweatshirt, shoving it back under their heads as they stayed lying their backs now, side by side.

"Fuck this, where'd the corn chips go?" Ryan muttered mildly, as Miguel felt the rejected second candy bar thud lightly to his chest.

Miguel craned his head back. Upside down room. Metal shelves. Floor. Corn chips. Miguel's bag was somewhere by their feet probably, but Ryan's was right up there. Miguel reached back, arm stretched all the way out, everything still upside down. Couldn't reach. Slithered up some, head leaving soft thin material for stone again, as the sweatshirt was now a speed bump under his neck.

Got it.

Miguel snatched up the bag triumphantly, smirking and vocal, as he shifted back into his old comfortable position right beside a pleased Ryan, who snapped up the bag.

"Gracias. My hero."

The crinkle and munch took over the room. Drained and happy, Miguel filled his nagging stomach with delicious peanuts, nougat, and chocolate. Ryan noisily ate corn chips beside him. Both worn out and still high. His candy bar was inhaled, as were Ryan's Fritos, before he noticed the dryness of his throat.

Thirsty. He stared at the sink. All the way over there. Damn. They had to get up eventually though, and even though everything in him protested and wanted to just...lie there...baked, he sat up. Slowly, and with a deep groan that felt good too.

"Why are you moving?" Ryan acted like it was a travesty.

He looked back at Ryan, who was holding up his wrist, as Miguel finally pulled himself up to stand. Still had that big black watch on.

"We've still got twenty minutes."

"Thirsty." Miguel explained, taking the steps to the sink. Huh. Wasn't that far after all. He turned on the faucet and bent low, craning his head underneath to catch that cool refreshing clean on his tongue, straight down his throat in messy gulps, overflowing and missing his mouth as much as he swallowed. The water running over his skin just felt good anyway, so he didn't try to stop it. He stood back up straight, his face left wet, water dripping down his neck. He rubbed his damp hand over his skin to catch the excess, running it over his hair afterwards, just because. The cool wetness felt nice, even in the chill.

"How's that waterfall?" Ryan asked with that amusement in his deep voice again, half-laughing with his words. More loose, and almost giddy, than he was when he wasn't high.

"Delicioso," Miguel answered with his own rolling growl, looking back at Ryan, who looked thirsty but unwilling to move.

Ryan balled up his empty corn chip wrapper. And tossed it at Miguel.

Miguel smirked as it bounced off of his body. "I don't think I can bring you water in that."

"Ha ha." Ryan looked displeased after that. "I have to get up?"

"Hmm. Nope." Miguel turned back to the sink, switching the faucet back on. He got a large pool of water in both hands, before he realized he needed one to turn *off* the water. He went back to Ryan with a smaller amount, cupped in one hand, dripping all over the floor for the few steps. Well, it had seemed like a workable idea at the time.

Ryan sat up with a smirk as Miguel stood over him. "Fucking loco." It was fondly amused and teasing, as Ryan reached out to steadily guide Miguel's hand to his lips.

He held Miguel's hand firmly, tilting it into his mouth, getting the mouthful of water. And licking all of the traces off of Miguel's skin afterwards, as he forcefully pulled Miguel down by it.

Much better plan than he'd thought.

"That wasn't enough, I'm still fucking thirsty." Ryan stated, full of intent, eyeing where Miguel's skin was damp from the water. "Come here and let me lick you," Ryan demanded hotly, as Miguel returned to the floor beside him.

Miguel groaned, reaching out to cup Ryan's jaw, needing to grab that mouth with his own for just a moment first.

Ryan tasted liked...corn chips. It was fucking crazy. All of it. Them. And it felt so damn perfect at the moment. Miguel suspected the feeling wouldn't change, even after the drugs had worn off.

Until then, they killed the time, dragging out the high every second they could, laughing into each other's mouths.

~ Chapter 20: Not Playing Games ~

Miguel sat in the common room, spinning a checker on the slick tabletop. He'd just played a game with Chico, but the guy hated to lose, and had gone to the gym afterwards. It was a fucking waste to get the shit out only to play one game. There wasn't anything interesting on the television for another half hour and Miguel had already used up his gym time for the day.

Miguel glanced around for Rebadow, the old guy might play a game with him, but he saw Ryan walking with Cyril instead.

Miguel hesitated a second, wondering what the Irishman would say with his brother in tow.

Worth a shot. "Yo, O'Reily!"

Ryan continued over, like that had been his destination all along. He casually sat down across from Miguel, gesturing for Cyril to take a chair between them.

"Fiver?" Ryan proposed the bet with a small tilt of his head, already lining up checkers on his side of the board.

Miguel nodded and went to set his own side of the board back up. They never set high bets against each other anymore.

Miguel spent the first few minutes wondering how to behave with Cyril there. Ryan didn't even seem to care, or hide anything, completely comfortable with the proximity of his little brother. Cyril didn't seem to mind his presence either, but Miguel figured that was probably because he was just happy to be around someone new. Ryan didn't let his brother socialize much, too protective.

Fifteen minutes later, Miguel had learned some things...

Surprisingly, for someone so swift, Ryan wasn't that great at checkers.

Cyril treated people more like human beings than most other people in Oz did and he was apparently perfectly happy sitting by and watching other people play games for a while.

Watching Ryan when he captured a checker was the really amusing thing. He would lightly flick it at Cyril with a grin, the younger brother making a game of smacking it to the table, catching it under his palm before it hit him or skittered off.

Miguel had never really paid much attention to Cyril before, but he found he kind of liked the kid. That's what he basically was, a child. One who deserved to be protected and taken care of in this hellhole, Miguel now realized. Ryan seemed to be getting slightly better at it as time went on. He'd had the role thrust upon him, but was learning to move with it. Ryan didn't seem to have the patience for it, but it was clear that he was trying. Miguel knew Ryan had finally tried to hook up with a steadier partner partially to help him be better able to protect Cyril less stressfully. Ryan didn't actually expect Miguel to look after Cyril, just free up and support Ryan himself. Miguel decided he would keep a covert eye on the kid too, if he could, though. He remembered his own kid. The loss that had ripped his heart out. He knew that love, that warm unending protective instinct. He...wouldn't mind having a small piece of it back.

Miguel took to carefully flicking the checkers he captured at Cyril too, because little brother liked playing with them, and Miguel cleared more off the board than Ryan did most games.

Four games, and ten dollars owed Miguel later (on his way to fifteen) Ryan got frustrated. He kept sighing through his teeth, and his eyes had narrowed a game ago. Miguel just smirked.

"You suck at checkers, hermano." Miguel finally declared out loud to taunt, his smirk widening.

Ryan's eyes narrowed further and he flicked a checker he had lost to Miguel directly at him this time instead of Cyril, before Miguel could snatch it off the board himself. Miguel easily caught it and added it to his pile, grin not wavering.

"I kick your ass at poker."

"When you cheat? Yeah," Miguel teased, knowing the cheating part wasn't true. Probably.

"I don't cheat," Ryan stated, making his moves with a bit more vehemence than necessary. He still seemed to be enjoying himself, though. Miguel would've backed off on fucking with him if he had seemed genuinely pissed off.

"You don't always win, either."

He won more than Miguel did, but Miguel didn't exactly suck.

"How about chess?" Ryan asked.

They'd never played that. Miguel realized he was starting to just assume he'd be playing plenty of shit with Ryan whenever they got the chance, taking time with Ryan being a new part of his routine for granted. Ryan's behavior indicated he was feeling the same.

Cyril was spinning a checker, trying to get two going at one time. "Chess is bo-oring, Ryan."

Miguel turned to him. "It is, huh?"

Cyril nodded adamantly.

"Seems it to me too." Miguel added in a conspiratorial aside to Cyril, his head ducking slightly in his direction.

A checker bounced off of Miguel's chest, bringing his attention back to Ryan. "Do you even know how to play?" Ryan's half-sneer was casual, humor in his eyes.

"Nope." Miguel stated truthfully.

"Hmm..." Ryan hummed under his breath. Like he was planning.

Damn. His shark was going to make him learn, wasn't he?

"You play?" Miguel asked, knowing he probably did since he'd brought it up.

"I know enough to win sometimes. Takes more concentration and passes the time better than this kiddie shit." Ryan gestured at the checkers.

Miguel chuckled and hopped another checker. "You suck at 'this kiddie shit', remember?"


The next day, Miguel pulled out the book Ryan had supposedly left word for him in. It seemed to be a new addition to the library, even though it was worn. It was probably donated used. The librarian was trying to change things up.

Ryan's pick this time made Miguel grin. Maverick Cats: Encounters with Feral Cats. It looked like it actually might be interesting to read, too. He wondered if Ryan knew he tended to read the books Ryan left notes in. It's not like he didn't have time, and it was an amusing way to pick out what to read when he didn't have anything else in mind.

He wasn't that surprised to see that the note had nothing to do with a meet, or business. It was a few words of Ryan's scrawled block letters:

'time to learn. lesson today. test later. - el shark'

It had a Dewey Decimal number after it. When Miguel tracked the book down, he snorted in amused disbelief.

It was a chess basics book.


Later that day, Miguel strolled the upper level without his boys. Now that he was leader, he hung around them more. He still got time to himself, thankfully. He had other people taking care of some shit for him now. Ryan was sitting at one of the few tables on the second level, near his pod. He had actually rounded up chess pieces and laid out a board.

That motherfucker hadn't been kidding.

"Yo, Alvarez. Feel like getting your ass kicked?" Ryan called out as Miguel got close.

It was an invitation designed for the edification of anyone nearby, not Miguel himself.

Miguel answered it in kind. "You getting tired of losing money at checkers, O'Reily?"

The words and swagger didn't mean anything. Both putting on a show and ignoring it from the other man at the same time.

He took Ryan up on his offer with a skeptical face (that, at least, was real) sliding into the chair opposite him. He felt a thump against his foot under the table. Ryan "stretching his legs". Ryan's grin was there and gone, just like Miguel's.

Nobody was close enough to eavesdrop, which was a nice bonus. Generally, nobody stopped and snooped around two guys of their position, wouldn't have been taken kindly. They could stop the theatrics, now that they'd narrated the start of their interaction for the public.

"What if Stanislofsky is watching?" Miguel mused, because that was one person they had to worry about seeing them being even half-friendly. They needed him to think there was a possibility of Miguel turning against Ryan.

It wasn't a major concern though, because that happened all the time in here. Just because you played poker -- or chess -- with a guy, didn't mean you weren't going to sell his ass out the second you got up from the table. You ate lunch with your gang, and spent a lot of time with them. But everyone was locked up in the same damn boring place. With all that free time, you tended to interact with others from other groups you weren't directly sworn enemies with. Most everybody mixed sometimes to help stave off the monotony, gossip, and scam cash from each other through bets and shit. Nobody in here thought just talking and hanging out with someone meant you were his friend. Hell, most guys in here probably wouldn't even recognize the word. The very nature of normal relationships in Oz kept Miguel and Ryan safely out of suspicion. The Irish and the Latino's tentative peace made them especially safe; it wasn't strange that they would mingle when they weren't with their blood.

Ryan smirked, fingering a chess piece. They were all by the side of the board, mixed up and not in place yet. "Doesn't matter. He'll just see it as keeping your friends close and your enemies closer."

"That what you do, baby?"

Ryan grimaced a little, but in an amused way. "Do you see me hanging out with the fucking Nazis?"

"It is something you do though, isn't it, tiburón?" Miguel asked.

"Yeah, when that's the best way to play it." Ryan answered matter of factly. "That's not why I keep you close, mi cielo." Ryan added sincerely, voice low and private even while his expression remained casual, as he leaned forward a little to grab a piece. Extra careful with the whispered endearment.

"I know." Miguel stated with that same seriousness, warmed inside by Ryan's answer without knowing exactly why.

He watched Ryan slowly sort the pieces, separating them into black and white and like to like. He was sliding the white pieces towards Miguel. "You don't have a big fucking plan, do you?"

The Irishman paused to quirk an eyebrow at him, amused. "I have a lot of plans, Miguel." Ryan called him by his first name now when he knew no one was in earshot, and Miguel did the same.

"Nah, I mean, the 'take over the world' plan. I always wondered if you had that one big fucking goal."

Ryan smirked. "Nope. I leave that to the other motherfuckers who make grand power grabs. I've got all I want already, I just have to keep it. I'm all about living. Surviving. I do what I can to be as comfortable as I can, to keep me and mine safe." Ryan laid out easily with that confidence, tilting his head slightly with a question at the end. "Disappointed?"

Miguel shook his head, his own little grin showing, teasing. "Fucking relieved. I was half waiting for the day you came to me with your grand scheme for us to rule Oz."

Ryan laughed out loud at that. "Nah, this is all I want. Cash, survival, the usual. The Latinos and the Irish working the tit trade harmoniously is fine. And someone at my back." Ryan glanced pointedly at him with that. He was talking about their alliance. About what they would be doing together, long term.

Just what they had been, apparently. It would be scaled down now a little, after El Cid's death. Ryan's little schemes to keep them alive and safe, to line their pockets. It was simple. But simple worked, and Miguel was...happy...with it like this. Actually happy, which he'd never had in here before.

They had that Russian to deal with now, but there was always somebody, and they were on top of that.

Miguel turned his attention to the chess pieces, as he watched Ryan's cues for where to set them up on the board and followed his example. "So, what would I be? Maybe one of these bitches with the pope hats."

Ryan chuckled. "You're not a bishop."

Miguel lifted his gaze from the generic pieces to meet Ryan's eyes, curious. "What am I then? I'm not a fucking pawn anymore."

"No, you're not. You never were, really. El Cid treated you like one. That was poor use of a knight." Ryan answered, somewhat cryptically, matching Miguel's slightly serious turn as he continued laying out the pieces.

"So, you hooked up with me to put my knighthood to better use?"

Ryan smirked down at one of the horse-like pieces. "No. Whatever I first saw you as, you're not my knight."

"You ever see me as a pawn?" Miguel asked idly, without rancor. He had a feeling Ryan saw almost everyone that way at first. A person to be manipulated. A tool.

Ryan rolled a pawn in his hand at the question, studying it, seeming...possibly a little regretful. "Maybe." Ryan tossed the white pawn to Miguel, and he caught it easily. "Chess lesson -- a pawn that reaches the other side of the board can become whatever it wants, except for the king. Use it for a queen."

"You may be a king, but I ain't your fucking queen." Miguel joked, setting it down on his side of the table.

"No shit." Ryan smirked again, spinning a queen before setting her in place right by her man's side. "Don't knock the queen, though. Bitch owns the board. You can move her any direction, for as far as she can go until some fucker gets in her way. The King only moves one slow ass square at a time." Ryan's version of a lesson, he demonstrated briefly by sliding the queen up, down, and across the board, somehow managing to give the slide a sexual grace.

"So, she gets around?" Miguel teased.

Ryan slipped his queen back into her spot. "Yep. She's a powerful slut."

Miguel laughed softly, putting his own queen in place. "We both kings, then?" He mused.

A tiny smile tugged briefly at Ryan's lips, but he turned even more serious at that. "We're not kings. The thing about kings is, yeah, they got the power, but the whole goal of the game is to bring them down. There's always some cumstain looking to stick a knife in your back, or slip poison into your cup in here. No matter how many times you win, another king, or pawn with delusions, is right around the corner, waiting to steal the board and break your reign. Power-hungry fuckers like Adebisi can play at king. Not me. Is that what you want?"

Miguel shook his head. Ryan knew that, knew Miguel would've been okay with not even leading El Norte. Little bit of power and more safety was fucking fine with Miguel. And he didn't feel alone for once, which was the fucking miracle. The thing that really mattered. "That's good, I don't need that shit."

The board slowly filled up, Miguel matching Ryan's placement. The fucker better tell him what to *do* with these pieces. He knew that the goal was to get the king, and that it had a roughly similar concept to checkers, but not much more than that.

Ryan nodded. "Enough power to be safe, not enough to be a target. What we have is perfect." Ryan's eyes locked on his when he said that last part. Just long enough that Miguel got the feeling he wasn't just talking about the threads of power in Oz anymore. Miguel couldn't look away for second, long enough to show Ryan his own steadiness.

"Yeah. Perfect." He echoed the word lowly, compelled to let Ryan know that he shared the sentiment. "We ain't kings, we ain't pawns..." He trailed off, leaving the repeat of his earlier question unspoken for Ryan to fill it with what seemed to be on the man's lips.

"We're not pieces at all. Who wants to be a little plastic bitch who can only move on the board? We're the ones that move the pieces when we need to," Ryan said, catching and holding Miguel's gaze again. "This isn't part of the game, Miguel."

And it was fucking clear now -- he was talking about more than alliances and moves. 'This' meant everything. Them.

"What am I, then, if I'm off the board?" Miguel asked idly, even though he already felt the answer. He steadily held that gaze again, even as part of him wanted to avoid it and look back at the board. He felt the ridges of the crown against his skin as he fingered a king.

"You're Miguel Alvarez." That little smile flitted back over Ryan's face before it was gone again, settling in his eyes. "You're the person I'm playing chess with. You're the one I want to be around whether I'm playing or not." Quiet words, slipping out with a need to be heard.

There was something else in the low, serious tone, in those eyes: Ryan's feelings for him. His emotional connection to Miguel was right there, alive, realized, and matter of factly accepted in Ryan's very breath. Ryan acknowledging that Miguel *mattered*. Obvious only to Miguel, only for him to see. Miguel wasn't sure how deep it ran, but that something was fucking there at all, for him... it almost felt like being high for second. An amazing rush, but scary, with a little of that lost 'what the fuck?' feeling at having found something in this shithole, that didn't dampen it at all. Miguel clung to it instinctively, not even quite sure what it was.

He nodded, not really knowing what to say to that, not much he could add, but knowing that he agreed. He let it show in his eyes instead. He knew that Ryan got it from the small quirk of a smile that passed back over Ryan's lips. That light alive in his eyes.

Miguel let himself pause in the moment, before tucking it away. They had to cloak it for the audience, bring their exchange back to normality. Wouldn't be a good fucking idea to be caught staring deeply into each other's eyes all day. It was okay -- they both *knew*. He let it slip back underneath, into his veins.

Miguel shifted right back into a tease. "I'm the one you'll be teaching this fucking game, actually." Miguel waved vaguely at the set up board. "And if you think we're playing for money when I don't know what the fuck I'm doing, you're loco."

Ryan grinned, in that smooth dealer way. "First one's free."

Miguel let out a rough bark of a laugh. "Always is, baby. You better not cheat or lie to me about the fucking rules, because I'm going to read that damn book and I'll catch you."

Ryan shrugged, trying out his slick innocence face. "Who, me? Never."


Ryan taught him chess, and they didn't talk about schemes anymore. Too public. Besides, they were too busy taking the opportunity to be with each other how they could here.

Ryan's eyes stayed on him, his grin hiding at the corners of his mouth. The teasing chess lesson, the rambling talk of any and everything -- for that space of time, it wasn't about survival at all.

Or maybe it was, just a different kind. Not the immediate concern of breath, and cash, and blood flow.

They had that kind of survival covered too, though. Strengths bound together, surprisingly now including loyalty. That was the stuff of backroom deals, intricate plans, manipulation, fists, and spreading whispered gossip, not something focused on here, right now.

This was the more important type of survival, the kind that most guys in here had lost and buried already. The survival of everything that made them human, of connection. That slice of heaven that could be found with another person. Light in the dark...or maybe even just someone you felt safe with in that blind blackness.

They had found this, along with that other more tangible safety, and were keeping it alive in each other.

Miguel still couldn't figure out how the fuck they'd found it. They'd somehow slipped right into it after starting with threats, and drowning desperation. The opposite of what it had become. But it was something to be held on to, fucking savored, in here.

He intended to keep it close, let it live, feeling it out and enjoying what he could grab. Ryan had shown that wasn't going to let it go without a bloody fucking fight either, with what the Irishman had said in the storage room that day of shanks and fear.

Miguel's world behind stone had shifted, in a short span that somehow seemed fucking sped up, but spread slow at the same time. Happening so fast, but seeming so natural that he had a hard time remembering what it felt like before this. Suddenly, hidden grins in green eyes, storage closets, and stolen time were forming parts of his life.

Miguel wasn't sure how deep this would run, or what exactly was forming. Didn't matter. He felt not fucking alone for the first time.

Same stone walls. Different perspective. One that he couldn't imagine losing.

It should have been impossible to find this here. Someone who was carving a notch in his heart -- scarred chin, rough hands, pale cock, calculating mind, bloody hands, and all.

Trust. Affection. Shelter. Passion. That shit didn't exist in Oz.

And cats and sharks didn't team up...

Except maybe they did, when no one was looking.


The End


Bad Spanish translation done on the web. I had to look up a lot of insults, fun! But probably wrong:

tiburón = shark

Cutre = jerk

cabron = apparently literally means 'billy goat', but needless to say, is used as an all purpose insult that means among other bad things, cuckold or fag. In this instance Miguel is using it to mean son of a bitch or bastard.

maricon = fag

Gracias por el dulce. = Thanks for the candy. (A.N.- I used the word dulce instead of other alternatives as a little inside homage to MJ Gage's Miguel/Ryan fic 'To Take Arms Against A Sea Of Troubles')

pendejo = asshole

Es usted verdadero? = Are you real?

Estoy realmente aquí. - I am really here.

Soy verdadero - I am true (I am real)

usted también. - you too.
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