Adebisi listens to rumors. What else is there to do? He squeezes tits until they run dry and he fucks where he can and he listens to the talk, the chit-chat, that goes around Emerald City like a case of the flu. What there is to know, he knows.
He knows that Ryan O’Reily is in the infirmary as soon as O’Reily goes. He does not know why, but he listens, and when there is not much that leaks through the cracks in the walls, he uses cash like a crowbar to make them wider so that the secrets will flow. He hears about cancer.
Adebisi knows Oz. He has known Oz for years. The far left tap in the showers is broken and the water comes in spurts: it will never be fixed. There are the wiseguys: one leaves and he has another. Always they want to pretend that they do other things with their lives. There are his people. He can shuffle them like cards, send them here, send them there, but they do not surprise him. Even Jefferson Keane did not surprise him, though he thinks fondly of Keane now and then, because Keane was the closest of them all. With Keane he almost blinked. But still he knew.
He does not know Ryan O’Reily. O’Reily changes his skin too often to be caught. He has a smile like a switchblade. O’Reily is the leopard. What Adebisi knows about him is a handful of glittery things that disappear when he tries to look at them. He can trade advantages endlessly. He can survive death. The taste of his sweat. These things, Adebisi knows, but not the rest. He could spend time trying to find them out by squeezing the idea of O’Reily between his teeth like a nut until he cracks the shell, but, he thinks, he cannot do this if O’Reily is dead.
He listens to the rumors. There is surgery—no one knows where or what they cut—and recovery. O’Reily lies in a bed in the infirmary with poison running through his veins. Adebisi could slide Kenny Wangler into the ward as an orderly and hear, then, everything from O’Reily’s charts, but he does not do this. He is jealous of what other people could know about Ryan O’Reily. No, it is better to wait.
Then O’Reily returns to Emerald City with the walk and look of a man who has been torn up from his grave. He is white and bald and shaky. Even his sweat would taste different now, like the poison they flooded him with, but he is still the same man: Adebisi notes with satisfaction that there are prickles of red on his scalp from where he has shaved off all his hair so as to not lose it slowly, bit by bit, to the chemo. He thinks, like a proud papa, that that is his boy. And so when Kenny says that O’Reily must bruise like old fruit now and that they should take this chance to push the arrogant mick back down into his place, Adebisi says no: “Nobody fuck with O’Reily.” He cups Kenny’s chin in his hand. “You understand me?”
Kenny says yes, with that little smirk underneath his words that says that he thinks he does, yes, but he doesn’t. Adebisi is tired of Kenny already.
He gives O’Reily a hat. It is like a Valentine card with its red picture of a heart that does not really look like a heart. It is the one thing that stands in for the other, always the more complicated, thing. O’Reily knocks the hat back to him as casually as if he is swatting at a fly, but Adebisi leaves it on the table where it falls, and when they go from the room it is tucked into O’Reily’s back pocket and it is not Adebisi who put it there.
Then he is in the shower and O’Reily comes in, sees him, and looks around to tell if there is anyone else. “No,” Adebisi says. “We are alone.”
O’Reily sits down on the floor with his bare back against the wet wall. Steam curls around him like a lover and water traces its way down his arms and the slick expanse of his head where his hair should be. He says, “Stay over there,” but Adebisi doesn’t: he comes as close as he can, fascinated by this. O’Reily should snap at him like the wounded leopard that he is, but he doesn’t. What he does is put his head down between his knees and puke, half on his own towel-covered self and half on Adebisi’s feet. He has one sock on, still, and it soaks in between his toes on that foot instead of letting the runoff from the taps chase it away down the drain.
“Man, I tried to tell you,” O’Reily says. He looks up and his eyes are dark, dark, like the night sky that Adebisi can only sometimes remember.
Adebisi shrugs philosophically. He has had worse splattered onto him. He will have worse yet. “Oz,” he says. “Home. And with you I never know what to expect.” He extends a hand and helps O’Reily up from the floor. Even in the warmth of the showers, his skin is cold and clammy. He will get better, though, in time. Adebisi knows. He would never give a hat to a dying man.
“You’re pretty fucking strange, Adebisi, you know that?” He wipes a hand across his mouth and shivers. “Shit. I can’t ever seem to get warm anymore.” This is not something he would tell to everyone. It is something that he does not even, Adebisi knows, want to tell to Adebisi, and maybe later he will decide that it is an unforgivable thing that Adebisi has heard it, and he will saunter and strut and whisper across Oz until someone comes for Adebisi with a knife. But maybe he will not. He alone among the leopards can change his spots.
There is a small and crescent-shaped scar on his chest. It traces a line halfway around his nipple. So that, too, is something that Adebisi knows.
He does not look at it long enough for O’Reily to see him looking and he does not add it to the whispers that, when it comes to Ryan O’Reily and his cancer, are so intense and so misguided. It is jealousy again: he does not want to see O’Reily in such detail in someone else’s head. And there are misinterpretations and misinterpretations, and part of him wants to see, still, that nobody fucks with O’Reily by thinking that that scar, so small, means anything more than what it means. They took nothing out of him that he could not spare. He may kill Ryan O’Reily yet, but he wants the idea of him for as long as he can hold it without the dust of Oz settling down to make it old and tarnished, and so for now, he watches and keeps silent.
Sometimes O’Reily wears his hat, and that makes Adebisi smile.