~*~ The events of this story will incorporate external added elements from the author's imagination into the already rich and exhilarating canon narrative of the HBO original series, Oz. For the most part, the canon of the series will remain intact to preserve a sense of realism to the plot, while also being sensitive of the time flow of events occurring within Oz.

~*~ Although the characters to be featured are prominently factual in their given genre, they are the sole property of Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, and are copyrighted to Rysher Entertainment and HBO. All original characters are of the author's creation and belong to him alone and, as with the rest of the story, may not be replicated or redistributed in any way without formal consent from said author.

~*~ Underage reading or any other illegalities is neither encouraged nor condoned in any way by the author. He also will not tolerate any form of plagiarism towards any of the words to come, as they are his and his alone. The principal objective is that of enjoyment and entertainment to you, the reader.

~*~ Address any type of question and/or feedback to jc71883@hotmail.com, making sure to add a relation to the story on the subject line of the e-mail to guarantee its reception.



Miguel Alvarez sat by himself in the cafeteria as he picked at the food on his lunch tray. His emotions were unstable and his body confused about what happened in that storage room a few days ago. The fork fingered the mashed potatoes as he kept his eyes down and thought about the partnership he was now in---but more about Ryan O'Reily. The man that many in Oz believed could not be trusted worth a damn. He thought about what he had gotten himself into.

Alvarez had his guard up always because he never liked snakes from the beginning and the viper he was playing with now had the longest fangs and the most poisonous venom of them all. This víbora's desires drove him and that was dangerous. The Latino got up and dumped his practically uneaten tray into the trash. He walked across the cafeteria to leave. Ryan O'Reily watched him from the kitchen.

"Here comes the dead man," Guerra said as he passed them by.

"Make your move, bro," Alvarez slammed his hands on their table and smiled.

"Later. But I'm keeping my eye on you."

"Truer words never been spoken, man."

"The hell's that mean?" Guerra stupidly asked.

"Being that you only got one good eye---droopy-eyed motherfucker!" the Latino laughed and walked away.

Guerra and a few other Latinos jumped up punched Alvarez in the back while the others surrounded him. The cafeteria erupted in applause and cheer as the hacks quickly assembled to break up the fight. Alvarez threw one punch at Guerra's gut before they were all pulled apart. The guard pushed Alvarez out of the cafeteria and sent him on his way while the other officers told the other Latinos to sit back down and cool off. Alvarez had to come up with a plan to get them off his back.

O'Reily had watched the fight from the kitchen but did not do a thing because it would have been the wrong move if he had. Morales would have gotten suspicious if he had jumped in to help Alvarez and the Irishman wanted to remain on as good of terms with them as possible. He was no fool and if Alvarez went around picking fights, then he had to deal with the consequences on his own. The partnership had to remain secret.

The Latino was in the laundry room washing his clothes after he got back to Em City and his mind was deep in thought about Guerra. He had to figure a way to get Guerra away from him. Alvarez watched the dryer spin round and round and could not stop thinking about Ryan O'Reily in his hand---that night in the storage room where he brought the man so much pleasure from just a hand job. The door opened and Rebadow walked in with a handful of clothes.

"Fascinating," the old man said. "You in the cafeteria."

"What do you mean?"

"Throwing caution to the wind."

"Think it'll work?" Alvarez asked. "Will I survive?"

"I don't know."

"But you got to know. You've been in Oz like thirty-six years---been through the same shit that I been through, and more. And I know you know all the tricks."

"No. No tricks," Rebadow smiled and started the machine in front of him.

"Well then, what?"

"I've just been myself. Like I said, it's fascinating, the differences in generations. You young people growing up with so much choice and possibility. On the one hand, that's a marvelous thing---on the other, so many of you battle with who you are. For us, it was simpler---there was none of this `finding yourself' jazz. You just concentrate on what you had to do. You were eighteen, nineteen years old, going off to war. So that's who you were. That's who we all were."

"So you guys were heroes---that's what you're telling me? You guys are He-men?" Alvarez asked because he did not quite know what to make of the words.

"Lord, no. We were scared to death. But when the landing boats carried you to shore and the metal doors came down, you charged the beach---took the blow. That's just how it was. It had to be done," Rebadow said to him. "I've faced many hurdles and moments of great fear in my life---but, coming from an age when men took the blow, I've always felt comfortable in my own skin."

"Good. Sounds good."

Alvarez absorbed the old man's words in his brain and really thought about them. All he said had made sense. He had to live his life his way---and not the way Morales or El Norte wanted him to live it. He retrieved his warm clothes from the dryer and started folding them as Rebadow left to get fabric softener. He had to take the hit. He did not have to be scared to stand up and take the hit. Alvarez returned his clean clothes to his pod and walked into the computer room where Guerra was.

"Woo---get it baby! Woo, hoochie momma---mmm," Guerra said to himself as he was looking at porn on the internet.

"I want you to stab me," Alvarez said with no emotion in his voice.


"I want you to shank me. I won't retaliate."

"Man---are you going to let me kill you?" Guerra was not able to hide his excitement.

"Not kill---stab in the shoulder," the Latino made it clear. "Proposition this---I give you a free shot at me, and, in return, I don't die."

"The fuck you talking about?"

"I'm willing to take the blow. Wouldn't it be satisfying just to stick me?"

"Immensely fucking satisfying," he said back.

"Okay. To make sure you hold up your part of the bargain, I want witnesses. I want a lot of them," Alvarez planned his taking the blow carefully.

"I get this. You let me swipe at you and the hacks throw me in Solitary for the next ten years," Guerra said.

"No. We'll do it when the guards aren't around," he said. "You'll control that. I just want the inmates so---so in case you do decide to kill me, one of the inmates go to Glynn, give you up. You end up on death row."


He left the computer room and went back to his pod to think about what he had just done. Guerra was not an honorable man and his life hung in the balance, but there was no backing out now. He had to remain tough and go through with it if there was ever a chance of getting Guerra off his back. Alvarez waited for rec time to get it over with. Nerves were building inside him, but he felt good about the move.

Alvarez was in the gym boxing the large bag with his bare fists when he saw Guerra and two other Latinos walking in and paying the guard to take a walk. The door closed behind them and all the inmates were left unsupervised. His nerves grew but he maintained himself as they walked over to him. For some reason, Alvarez wanted O'Reily there to see it.

"We ready?" the loco Latino asked when he stopped hitting the bag.

Guerra produced a shank and said, "Ready."

"Yo!" Alvarez yelled out to get everyone's attention. "Yo, man, look over here! Over here, guys---over here. Watch this! All right. Ready."

Guerra had an ugly look on his face as he rushed forward and stuck the shank into the upper left part of Alvarez's chest. The crowd went wild with excitement as he went down to the floor and held his bleeding wound. The pain was great, but he did not cry out or make a sound. Guerra looked down at him and smiled as he put the weapon away. The doors swung open and the hacks entered because of all the loud noises. They immediately calmed the crowd and assessed the situation.

A hack walked over to him and spoke into his radio, "This is fourteen---we got a twenty-nine in the gym! We got a twenty-nine in the gym---get down here! Repeat, I got a twenty-nine in the gym---hang on! This is fourteen."

Alvarez felt the warm searing pain in his chest as more of his blood leaked out onto the floor. The hacks were busy clearing out the rest of the inmates and he looked up to see the big smile on Guerra face. Another officer came and helped him up from the floor as they took him to the infirmary to get medical help. Alvarez wondered what O'Reily would have thought of this plan if he had told him about it. The plan had formed spur of the moment after he had spoken to Rebadow in the laundry room. He did not have time to get word to the Irishman. They took him off to the hospital ward.


Em City was quiet as most of the inmates sat in the quad and played cards or watched TV or talked. Cyril was in the pod coloring as O'Reily sat at a table with Rebadow. Alvarez had been stabbed yesterday, he found out, but no one named any names. The Irishman was not stupid---the stabbing had El Norte's fingerprints all over it, and especially Chico Guerra's. He kept his suspicions to himself. He had to talk to Alvarez to see what he wanted to do about the problem.

"Yo, Busmalis," O'Reily hollered when he saw the old man coming out of his pod. "Any word from your fiancé since she left you at the altar?"

"Yeah, sure. Like `Don't try and track me down---I done skipped town'," Poet joked.

"No. I watched the show yesterday---Norma's still working on Miss Sally. Her name's still in the credits," Busmalis sadly said.

"Those are repeats. In fact, I read in the newspaper they may even cancel Miss Sally's Schoolyard," Poet continued with his deranged sense of humor.

"What?" Busmalis said.

"Jeez, you are a sad fuck. No wonder she ditched you."

"What the hell do you know about it?" Rebadow questioned him.

"Know about what, motherfucker? What?" Poet said.

"Loss---being left. You have no idea, you stupid fool," Rebadow said as he got up.

He and Busmalis walked away while the quad laughed at Poet for being the idiot he was. O'Reily watched but mostly remained out of it and to himself. The stabbing worried him more than it should have. Alvarez had to be fine---because he would have heard something by now if he were not. But, he wanted to see the Latino and knew that Murphy had enough of his visits to the infirmary for one lifetime. He had to bribe another hack.

O'Reily would also get to see Dr. Nathan so the infirmary was where he needed to be. A guard escorted him and they followed the same route he did only a few days ago. They passed the same storage room where Alvarez had snatched him inside and had held a blade to his throat---where Alvarez had jacked him off, as he wanted more and more. O'Reily shook his head and continued walking.

"Okay, all done. Wheel him into the ward," Dr. Nathan said to a nurse as she finished with a patient.

"Dr. Nathan, we got a trauma to the head," an officer said as he brought a prisoner in.

"What happened?"

"I was releasing this joker from the hole and he took a swing at me."

"I ain't no pussy!" Stanton said.

"Yeah, yeah. So I gave him one of these," the officer wiggled his club.

"Take him for sutures," she ordered. "Well, it doesn't look too bad. You'll need a couple of stitches. What's your name?"

"Henry Stanton, and I don't love you!" the framed man said.


"Glynn sent me to the hole because he said I was obsessed with your tits, but I'm not! You got to tell the warden I'm an innocent man," he got frantic.


Stanton pushed the officer away and grabbed Dr. Nathan as he yelled, "You, fuck! You got to! You got to tell the warden I'm an innocent man!"

"Get off me!" she screamed as she tried to fight him off.

"Hey!" O'Reily yelled upon entering and punched Stanton in the face. "Bitch. You all right?"

"I was handling this, Ryan!"

"Well, it didn't look like it."

"Well, I---I don't need you in my life!" Dr. Nathan yelled at him.


"Just get the fuck away from me!"

"Okay!" O'Reily yelled back.

"Keep moving, O'Reily."

"I need those sutures! Where the fuck are they? I need him prepped for surgery. Can you hold him please!" she was on edge.

The Irishman's eyes found Alvarez's for a brief second as he was being pushed out of the hospital ward. The trip had been a waste. Dr. Nathan was upset with him and he never even got a chance to ask Alvarez what happened between him and Guerra. He also wanted to know how long he was going to be in the ward for. O'Reily told the officer to take him to the cafeteria because lunch was soon. He wondered why Dr. Nathan was in such a bad mood.

Pancamo and the rest of the crew were already in the kitchen when he arrived so he got to work prepping the cart and putting out the trays of food. It was weird---somewhere inside his body tingled whenever he saw Alvarez. He hated it, but it would be a lie if he said that the pleasure the Latino had given him was not intense. It was one of the strongest orgasms in a long time---not since high school. And Alvarez had only jacked him off and he was so turned on. O'Reily was no fag. In the line, Morales was in front of him.

"Here you go, Enrique," he said to the El Norte leader.

"Yo, Ryan. What do you say to some extra beets?" Montgomery said to him when Morales had passed.

"All of a sudden you got quite the appetite there, Marty."

"Oh yeah. I never seem to get enough---which is why we got to talk."

"About what?" O'Reily asked.

"My compensation for lying to Glynn."

"Whoa---hey, shut the fuck up," he said.

"That's what I'm talking about. For me to keep my lips zipped, you got to come up with a lot more moolah," Montgomery told him.

"Oh come on, Marty man, we had a deal, right?"

"Why are we negotiating?"

"All right---I'll tell you what. What do you say we meet in the---library at four o'clock?"

"Bring your checkbook."

O'Reily smiled but it dropped from his face as soon as the man was out of his sight. The little jackass was going to be a problem, but he had foreseen this when he had enlisted Montgomery's services. He knew all the man's moves before he even thought them up. Most of the prisoners were so thick or stupid that it was excessively easy to manipulate them. O'Reily smiled and continued serving the rest of the inmates their lunch.

They returned to Em City after lunch for little while before it was rec time. O'Reily was in his pod with Meaney while Cyril was outside watching TV with Beecher. Glynn was never going to trace anything back to him. That fucker Keenan got what he deserved for what he had done to Gloria Nathan. His true murderer had to go unpunished.

"I had Montgomery lie to the warden and say that Henry Stanton killed Patrick Keenan," he said. "Now, Montgomery says if I don't pay more, he's going to rat me out."

"If he does---Glynn will know for sure that you killed Keenan. He'll fry your ass," Meaney said the obvious.

"Which is why I'm not going to make my four o'clock appointment with Montgomery."


"No. I'll have Stanton show instead," O'Reily smiled.

He was in the gym lifting some free weights as Cyril boxed against the large bag. He found his mind wondering where exactly it was that Alvarez had been stabbed. The circumstances surrounding that situation were still unclear to him and none of his sources was saying anything about it. O'Reily knew one thing though---the attack was different from the other shankings that happened in Oz. It was something he would have to look into, but later.

"Yo, Stanton," the Irishman said when he saw the man enter the gym.

`'O'Reily---I ain't bothering your brother or Nathan or nobody. So just leave me alone," the pathetic fool said.

"Look, I know, man. You know, I think you and me---I think we just got off on the wrong foot, and I just want to let you know that I got no beef with you."

"That's good."

"In fact, actually, you and me, we got something in common," O'Reily smiled as his poisonous fangs came out. "We're both suspects in the murder of Patrick Keenan."

"I know."

"You know, we both got eyewitnesses who say they saw us do the deed---and, I don't know who's accusing me but, as luck would have it, I found out who's lying about you."

Stanton stared and him and said, "Who?"

"Well, you know I'm hesitant to tell you for the fear that you're going to do something crazy," he said as the venom was practically dripping off his fangs.

"Motherfucker lies about me---that does make me crazy."

"Well, see then? I'm not going to tell you, man."

"Tell me goddamn it!" Stanton demanded.

"No, I don't think I should," O'Reily continued to play coy.

"Tell me! You tell me!"

"I'm not going to tell you."

"Tell me."

"I'm not going to fucking tell you," he repeated again with a devious grin.

"Tell me!" Stanton yelled out.

"I'm not going to fucking tell you!" O'Reily raised his voice as well as if he was getting annoyed.

"Please, tell me."

"Martin Montgomery," he said easily.

"Martin Montgomery?" Stanton was furious. "I'm going to kill that fucking cunt!"

The venomous fangs had sunken into skin and had retracted as quickly as the poison spread through Stanton's body. He just had to wait until another of his plans happened exactly as he had planned it to. The O'Reily brothers left the gym and headed back to Em City after he had told Stanton where Montgomery would be and at what time. It was all too easy. Once they got back, Cyril went to take a shower as O'Reily sat at a table and waited for the word.

He wanted to go to the infirmary to see Dr. Nathan---it was weird how she had yelled at him, but he decided to give her some time. It was frustrating but he had to back off for a moment. O'Reily also wanted to talk to Alvarez but they could not be seen in public like that. A hack walked over to him and told him to get moving. He was escorted out of Em City and to the interview room. It must have happened already.

"Stanton's in Solitary. Montgomery's at Benchley Memorial in critical condition," Warden Glynn said and his eyes were intense. "People at the gym say they overheard you telling Stanton that Montgomery squealed on him."

"Oh, no. Stanton asked me if---if I knew anything about it and I told him I just heard a rumor, that's all," O'Reily answered and was used to being grilled by the warden by now.

"We found this is Montgomery's footlocker," he produced the gold shamrock.

"What's that?"

"Keenan's shamrock."

"Oh yeah, right," O'Reily said as he looked at it. "I recognize that now. The fuck was Montgomery doing with it?"

"I was hoping maybe you could tell me," Glynn's eyes narrowed in on his.

"Uh, no. Jeez, warden, I don't know."

Glynn ordered the guard to take him back to Em City and he followed. It would have been better if Montgomery was killed, but the stabbing bought him more time and the ball was still in play. Cyril was watching TV when he sat beside him and watched it too. Alvarez was on his mind---again. He was starting to have his doubts about the partnership---it would have been better for them both if he joined El Norte again. Morales was getting more and more complacent in his role as leader---that was the best time to take him out.

The next morning, he sat with Cyril, Beecher, Busmalis, and Rebadow as they watched TV. Morales might have been plotting something, but Redding had been laying low for the past few days. The death of Hill's mother in the bus crash devastated them both so the homeboys were widely scattered. O'Reily knew that Morales and Pancamo had the most power right now. He needed to strategize. A news anchor broke into programming.

"Suzanne Fitzgerald, the sixties radical who turned herself into federal authorities after thirty-two years on the run, was released today from the Parker Correctional facilities for women," he said.

"No fucking way!" O'Reily smiled and laughed.

"The governor's decision, while widely expected, remains controversial," the anchor went on to say.

"Yes! Come on, Cyril."

He had told Cyril about Suzanne Fitzgerald being his real mother but never bothered to bring up that they were half-brothers. Cyril had never asked because he either never fully connected the dots or he felt the same way O'Reily did---they were brothers no matter what. In the pod, Cyril picked up a paper rose he had made a few weeks back when O'Reily had told him about Fitzgerald.

A hack had told him that he remembered seeing Fitzgerald in the building earlier and said she was heading to the cafeteria. O'Reily was going to bribe the same guard to take them there but Sister Pete had used her influence to get them to the cafeteria so they could spend some time together. He got there and Fitzgerald had her back to them as she was checking out the stage and the piano.

"Psst---" he walked up to the stage and called out.

"Ryan!" she turned around and got down.

"Hey, hug me," O'Reily said as they did. "Christ, I thought I'd lost you forever."

"Oh no, baby," Fitzgerald softly touched his face and said after they broke apart. "You're stuck with me."

"I know he's not your son, and he's only my half-brother but, um, I kind of want you to meet Cyril."

"I'd love to," she smiled.

"Yeah? Okay. Cyril---Cyril," O'Reily called and his brother came over to them.

"Hello," Cyril said in his childlike way.


"I made this for you," he said as he produced the paper rose and handed it to her.

"Oh, thank you. It's so sweet," Fitzgerald said as she pretended to smell the paper flower. "It's beautiful. Can I give you a hug and kiss?"


"Okay," she said and approached him and gave him a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek before cupping his face and smiling. "So, are you two going to be my first pupils?"

"Uh, jeez, you know mom, I can't sing," O'Reily scratched his head and said.

"Me neither."

"You can't? Oh---guess you take after your father. That man had the voice of a warthog," Fitzgerald said and they all laughed.

"She's funny, right?" O'Reily said to his younger brother.


"I'm glad you think so," she said and smiled at Cyril. "Will you have some of your friends sign up?"

"Our friends?" he asked.


"Oh, yeah. Of course," Ryan O'Reily promised.

The guard called to them and Fitzgerald gave them both a hug before they had to go. He promised he would be back soon though and they left. They returned to Em City and he told Cyril to go inside the pod while he took care of some business. He found Busmalis coming out of the laundry room and pushed him against the wall to force him to sign up for singing lessons.

"All right, all right! I'll do it," the old man said but was not frightened. "In fact, I've been told I have a pretty good voice."


"Yeah. In high school, I had the lead in `The Pirates of Penzance'. I am the very model of a modern major General," Busmalis said proudly.

"As far as my mother's concerned, you never sang a note---you got it?"

"Okay---not a problem."

"Okay," O'Reily said and backed off.

"Hey, O'Reily," Jaz Hoyt called out from close by. "Your mom is looking fine. Does she fuck younger guys?"

The Irishman dashed forward and punched the tattooed biker with a built up rage inside him. No one was going to talk about his mother that way. Hoyt came back for the retaliation but the hacks intervened and dragged them apart. O'Reily's blood was boiling and his anger was swelling inside him.

"What the fuck did you say?" he yelled as he struggled to break free of the hacks.

"Come on!" Hoyt provoked.

"Fuck you! Come on, man!"

Murphy came down and took O'Reily out of Em City to cool off. He knew this was going to be a problem. He had fucked with so many people in this shithole that using his own mother to hurt him was a thought he could not bear to think about. He had to get her out of Oz. O'Reily told Murphy to take him to the cafeteria because he had to be in the kitchen in a few minutes to start preparing lunch anyway. The officer agreed and walked him over.

"Slowly---slowly, roll up," he heard his mother's voice when he entered. "Right. Slowly, slowly, slowly. Wait---wait, Matt. Get your---okay relax your jaw. Relax your shoulders."

"We got to talk," O'Reily walked over and stopped in front of the stage.

"I'm in the middle of a class."

"Oh, that's okay," Busmalis said. "I've got work to do."

"Well, I'll see you Thursday?"

The Irishman shot him and look and he said, "Um---definitely."

"Okay," she smiled and waved him off.

"Come here, come here, come here," he guided her to the side.


"I want you to quit."


"Yeah, look---"

"On my first day?" Fitzgerald questioned her son.

"Look---I've ticked off a lot of the assholes in this place, okay? And I don't want to put you in any jeopardy," O'Reily said in all seriousness.



"There's a CO standing nearby."

"Yeah---well, trust me, the hacks aren't that reliable," he said honestly because almost all of them could be bribed to look the other way.

"I'm not worried."

"Yeah, but I am."

His mother smiled and kissed his cheek, "Well, that's sweet."

"Look---I'm not being sweet, okay? Christ, you could get hurt," he said as he tried to get her to understand his fear for her.

"Ryan---I'm a big girl and I've made my choice. Look, this is where I'm needed---this is where I belong," Fitzgerald said. "Nothing you say is going to make me change my mind."

"Hey, O'Reily," Pancamo yelled at him as inmates entered the kitchen. "You working today?"

"Go," she said.

"What the fuck, man?" Poet said.

"Move you fucking ass, O'Reily." Pancamo warned him.

"We working alone, now?" Poet threw his voice in.

Fitzgerald cupped her son's face for some sort of reassurance before he left to go to work in the kitchen. O'Reily was more than worried, but his mother was not taking it seriously. He had to keep eyes on her too but it was going to be next to impossible. He put those thoughts away for later and concentrated on his work. Pancamo was already breathing down his neck and that was the last thing he needed now.

He had remained mostly in his mind for the rest of the afternoon and until it was time to get dinner prepared. He was walking a bit behind Pancamo and the rest of the wops and noticed that Peter Schibetta was walking among them. The once leader of the Italian gang was now the laughing stock of Oz. He had fallen so far so fast. There was no redemption for him inside these walls. O'Reily almost felt pity for him.

"It's all different, huh?" Schibetta said when he walked inside the new cafeteria.

"Yeah. The gas explosion pretty much obliterated the place," O'Reily said.

"Good," he replied in a low voice.

It had to be hard coming back to the place for the first time since it had happened---since Adebisi had raped him in the kitchen a few years back. O'Reily watched him a while as he examined the place. He had lost all his power since then and, mostly, people had either laughed at him or felt pity for him. That was one thing the Irishman never understood or never would. How two men could be together like that and it be natural. He never understood how a man could willingly let another man fuck him. It was the ultimate sign of masculine weakness in his eyes.

Schibetta's rape had not been willing, but rather forceful. But, either way, he lost all his power and respect in Oz and no one considered him a threat anymore. He was as low down on the scale as Busmalis or any of the Muslims. Said was a different story, though. The leader of the Muslims had embraced his inner demons since he killed Adebisi and was willing to fight if necessary. The Said of a few years ago had never resorted to any type of violence. O'Reily stacked trays and got large spoons out as he thought about how Schibetta was practically less than a man now---a broken man.

"Ay, O'Reily," Pancamo called to him.


"You're on delivery duty tonight. Grab the clipboard and start loading the cart."

It gave him a chance to see Dr. Nathan in the medical ward---she had to have cooled down and been calm by now. He had avoided her for a few days like she had asked. And, Alvarez was still in there recovering from Guerra's stab wound. O'Reily would not have time to talk to them both and he really wanted to see Gloria so he decided t do that. The Latino would be out of the hospital and they could make a time to talk without anyone knowing.

He loaded up the trays and got ready to leave. The clipboard showed that there were many patients in the hospital ward so he could only deliver to there tonight. Pancamo got someone else to cover the rest of the cellblock. O'Reily took one tray out and opened it before he slipped another piece of fried chicken on it and covered it back. He grabbed the clipboard and headed out of the cafeteria towards his destination.

The infirmary was silent when he walked in. The only noise was coming from the cart and trays rattling against each other as he pushed it forward. O'Reily and saw one nurse busy with paperwork on her desk and there was no guard present---which he found completely odd. There was also no sign of Dr. Nathan---or Alvarez for that matter. He walked around to each bed and delivered the trays until Alvarez's was the only one left. One of the private rooms had the door open and lights on so he stuck his head inside.

"There you are, Alvarez," O'Reily said as he entered with the tray in his hands.

"That's me, víbora," he smiled at the company. "Brought me dinner, huh? What did I do to deserve this?"

"Shut up! Here," he rested the tray down on the side table and rolled it over to the bed and tucked it above Alvarez's lap. "How you doing?"

"Can you talk?"

"There's no guard outside. Strange---I know," O'Reily informed him. "Why are you in a room? Did he stick you that hard?"

The Latino laughed and said, "Nah. When I came in, all the beds outside were full, so Dr. Nathan put me in here."

"Where---where is Gloria, by the way?"

"Went home already---said she was feeling dizzy or something," Alvarez said as he lifted the cover off his tray and smiled a little. "Two pieces of chicken, huh? What---you trying to get me fat or something?"

"Shut up and be grateful," O'Reily scolded, but it was harmless. "Tell me what happened."

"Grab a chair."

O'Reily knew there was more work to be done in the kitchen but he ignored it and got a chair to sit next to the bed. He thought it best to wait there until everyone finished eating and take the trays back one time rather making another trip. If Pancamo was upset, he could go fuck himself. The loser got off too much on running the kitchen. Alvarez started to eat the mashed potatoes as he watched him. O'Reily wondered when, or even if, they were ever going to talk about what really happened in the storage room that night. Now was not the time or place for that, though.

"I am grateful, Irish," Alvarez said after he swallowed a mouthful of food. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it. Tell me about Guerra. I'm sure we're alone for right now," O'Reily looked back at the door and said. "Everyone's staying quiet about the shit, so I know something's going on."

"Sent up a red flag, did it? I wanted Guerra to shank me. I set it up with him before he did it."

"What? What the fuck, Alvarez?" he was more upset than he should have been. "Are you fucking going crazy again?"

"Relax," the Latino laughed a little. "Relax. I took the hit. I took the hit---thinking it would end the bad blood we got going between us."

"You are fucking losing your mind! Guerra hates you. He could've killed you. He wants to kill you---and you go offer yourself up like that?"

"Maybe---but I'm not going to continue walking on eggshells around him, or El Norte. I told him to stab me in the shoulder so the slate would be wiped clean---so we would have nothing to do with each other," Alvarez tried to explain his thinking on the situation.

"What if he had killed you?"

"There were witnesses there---the whole gym, as a matter of fact," he said. "If he had, someone would've gone to Glynn, and he'd be on death row."

O'Reily said after an awkward moment of silence, "Why didn't you tell me? We could've figured something else out."

"I had to do this for me, O'Reily. I'm sick of the shit between me and them---sick of always having to watch my back from my own fucking people," he said before he ate some more.

"I thought that's why we formed the partnership---you watch my back, I watch yours. You don't trust me."

The last words should have never escaped his lips because it made it seem as if he needed Alvarez in some way. But, there had to be a better solution to dealing with Chico Guerra than him getting shanked. He was determined to stand on his own two feet and not abuse the partnership and O'Reily liked that---he respected that. But, they should have talked first before anything---to at least give O'Reily the chance to tell him what a bad idea it was and try to talk him out of it.

"You think I call you víbora because you look like a damn viper?" the Latino stuck his fork into the second piece of fried chicken. "I'm cautious when I'm dealing with you. I want you to bite others but I know there'll always be that chance where you turn around and bite me---and I fucking hate snakes!"

"So, you think I can't be trusted?" O'Reily said and he was getting far more upset than he was supposed to. "Well, you know what, fuck you, Alvarez---and fuck this partnership!"

"Wait," he said as the Irishman got up to leave. "I still want to be partners. You're delusional if you think, after one meeting, we were automatically going to trust each other. You know there's no such thing as trust in Oz."

"Why bother with the partnership, then?"

"I want to trust you---and, I want you to trust me." Alvarez said when their eyes met. "But we have to work on it. You're the damn king of mind-fucking in this hellhole. I'd be stupid---and probably fucking dead by now if I went all in with you."

"So, what are you saying?" O'Reily questioned.

"We can't give each other our trust---we got to earn it. I want to earn your trust, O'Reily. I want you to earn mine. Think about it."

O'Reily just looked at him and said nothing as he watched him finish eating. He had already spent too much time in here but he was lost in his thoughts and emotions. What Alvarez said was true and it made a lot of sense. He would be a fucking idiot if he showed all his cards to Alvarez right off the bat, too. There really was no trust in Oz and everyone knew that. And, O'Reily had made a career in his prison life of lying and manipulating to get what he wanted. Sometimes, he was unsure if he could even tell the truth anymore.

"Yeah---I hear you," O'Reily said.

"I'll tell you something," he said lowly. "I want this partnership to work because I need someone at my back. I don't have any allies since I'm not going back to El Norte."

"Those fucks were never your allies."

"So---you couldn't be much worse then, right?" Alvarez smiled.

"I don't know. The viper's bite is venomous---pretty strong stuff actually," the Irishman said as he tried to boost himself up.

"I'll have to take my chances. I know the real extent of power and influence you have in here, Irish. I could not wake up tomorrow because of this conversation."

"But you won't," he said. "I got to get back. When are you getting out?"

"Tomorrow, I think."

"We have to meet to talk strategy," O'Reily's brain went to work again.

"Drop me word and I'll be there," the Latino said as the food tray was taken from him. "No cherry pop?"

"Not this time, loco."