It’s the sirens that wake him up, early in the morning. His body jolts, and he’s instantly awake without recollection of his dreams. He draws his knees to his chest and presses his back against the dumpster, the green metal frosty against his skin that’s sprinkled with gooseflesh. He waits for the police car or ambulance to drive past the alleyway, and then relaxes.
T-Bag has been on the run for a week now, ever since Scofield tossed him out of the car and told him that, since he was on the outside, he was on his own. It’s been rough, as one would expect, and he’s been living in alleys and underneath sweatshirts on buses. Gotta keep moving, so people don’t recognize you. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but he knows he can’t sit in Chicago forever.
The only difficult problem is food. He can’t waltz into a nearby grocery store and buy a sandwich, as he has no money (he can’t risk stealing, either) and somebody would recognize him. So, he’s taken to eating out of dumpsters and nicking finished meals from abandoned plates. Not exactly a four star meal, but it keeps his hunger quenched.
He pushes himself up off the ground, brushing dirt off the clothes he stole from a homeless man in a drunken slumber. (He’s been changing clothes, too. Can’t have a single description of him out there. Gotta keep changing.) There probably isn’t much in the dumpster this morning, because he isn’t anywhere near a restaurant, but he can’t start moving until later. He’ll eat breakfast, sleep for another few hours, and then move some place else. It’s a damn good thing he’s off the heroin, or he would be suffering some shitty withdrawal right about now. That month in the hole had helped him curb the cravings, even if they’ll always be there.
T-Bag checks the streets on opposite ends of the alley, but there are hardly any people walking by. It’s with good reason, as it’s probably a few hours after midnight. Carefully, he pushes the top of the dumpster over his head, and paws through the garbage with his free hand. Torn magazine subscriptions, those red Netflix envelopes, an empty lotion bottle, a frayed blanket covered with piss stains, and the usual assortment of plastic bottles because people are too lazy to recycle, but no food. Not even a goddamn orange peel. It is only the top layer, but he doesn’t want to dig any deeper.
He slams the lid down irritably, and instantly regrets it. The sound ricochets off the stone walls, and the few people that are walking by stop and glance into the alleyway. He ducks his head, tugging the hood over his head.
At the sound of a voice, T-Bag whirls around and presses himself against the dumpster. He’d rather be thought of as a crazy homeless man, because then that person would back off. They can’t see his face. He can’t risk that.
“Hey, is there anything in there?” It’s a male voice. “Can you hear me?”
T-Bag’s hand drifts down to his belt. He’s still got a shank from Fox River, and he knows he’ll have no problem using it. It’s a risk, to kill somebody, but he’d rather take somebody’s life than be caught by someone looking for the reward money.
“Who are you?” T-Bag calls out. His voice is hoarse and almost rasping. He’s forgotten that he hasn’t spoken a word in seven days. “Cop? Fed?”
There’s a small, nervous chuckle. Probably half a smile to go along with it. “I’m just a kid.”
He’s probably not very young, but old enough to have gone through puberty, even partially. Somewhere between fourteen and eighteen, T-Bag reckons, and almost certainly an effortless kill. Then again, it’s been a long time since he’s had any tail. And this boy does sound just his size. T-Bag turns on his heel and faces the boy, shank in his right hand.
Immediately, the boy’s hands fly up in surrender. “Whoa, whoa — ”
“This is just insurance, boy,” says T-Bag, sliding his thumb along the blade. He jerks his head to the dumpster. “Come over here.” He leaves the let me have a good look at you unspoken. “C’mon, I’m not gonna hurt you. I told you, it’s just insurance.”
The boy is either unbelievably brainless or desperate, because he walks over to the dumpster, hands still in the air. T-Bag scrutinizes him carefully, looking for hints of a weapon or anything out of the ordinary. Nothing. He’s just a mundane teenager, with pretty eyes and smooth skin.
When T-Bag tucks the shank back into his belt, the boy lowers his hands. “What’s your name, boy?” T-Bag asks, unconsciously licking his chapped lips. He tightens the strings of the hood, obscuring his face from the other side of the alleyway.
The boy hesitates. He opens his mouth and closes it twice before answering, “LJ.”
It sounds familiar, but he can’t recall why. The boy looks familiar, too. “LJ, huh? Short for something, I imagine.”
“I’m named after my dad,” says LJ. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans. T-Bag notices that the boy’s clothes are grimy and mildly tattered, as if he’s been wearing them for more than a few days. “Why do you want to know?”
“Just curious.” T-Bag finds himself licking his lips again. “What you doing in a dirty alleyway?”
LJ shrugs. “Looking for breakfast, I guess.”
“There’s nothing in there, unless you want to go diving,” T-Bag replies, tapping the bottom of the dumpster with his shoe to emphasize. “What’s a nice boy like you looking for his morning meal in the trash?”
LJ’s cheeks flush slightly, and his mouth twists awkwardly. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
“That’s okay.” T-Bag pats LJ on the shoulder. The skin beneath his dry palm flinches. “Parents kick you out?”
When the brief answers start coming, it’s time to stop. T-Bag changes tactics, takes a risk. “Most people call me T-Bag.”
The twisted mouth breaks into a wide grin. Nicknames after sexual practices. That’s a way to make a teenager laugh. “You’re kidding, right? That’s got to be a joke.”
T-Bag smiles. “Nope. All true. I didn’t like my initial name. Theodore Bagwell.”
LJ’s smile falters, and he takes his hands out of his pockets. Preparing for something? “Theodore Bagwell?”
LJ takes a step backwards, but he walks into the dumpster. T-Bag takes advantage of the moment and withdraws the shank from his belt, pointing the blade into LJ’s chin while his forearm presses into LJ’s throat. “Have we met?”
“No,” LJ chokes, his eyes wide with terror. T-Bag feels the arousal begin to swim in his belly, and he grins while he pushes the blade in deeper. A small cut appears on LJ’s chin, and blood trickles onto T-Bag’s fingers. LJ makes a distorted, garbled sound, then forces out hastily, “But you’re one of the prisoners who escaped, and I read about you in the newspaper when you first got to Chicago and when you escaped, and my dad told me about you — ”
T-Bag pulls the shank back. (He’s tempted to lick the blood off his knuckles, but who knows what the boy’s got.) Who’s LJ’s father? “Who’s your dad?” LJ doesn’t say anything. T-Bag knows that the boy’s voice is shutting down due to panic and fear, so he lessens the pressure on LJ’s throat. “Who is it?”
That’s where he knows this LJ. T-Bag remembers back to a day in that storage room, when both Burrows and Scofield had been upset over a missing boy. LJ. Burrows’s son, Scofield’s nephew.
Oh, this is too perfect. Eating out of dumpsters had been worth it, if it had given him this boy to bargain with.
“I escaped with your daddy,” says T-Bag, and LJ nods. “And your uncle. You know how to get in touch with either of them?”
LJ nods again. “My dad’s ex-girlfriend gave me a number where I can call him, in an emergency. I haven’t used it yet, though, because the Feds are tracking me. I can’t let them find my dad.”
The Feds are tracking me. The bottom of T-Bag’s stomach drops out. Shit. “Why are the Feds coming after you, boy?”
LJ doesn’t say anything. When T-Bag pushes his throat again, LJ coughs and forces out, “They think that I — that I killed my mom and my stepfather, but I didn’t, they did, right in front of me because they’re trying to frame my dad for the murder of the vice president’s brother, and — ”
“That’s enough,” T-Bag cuts in, holding up his hand. He remembers Burrows talking about how innocent he was when he was in Gen Pop. Nobody had believed him, considering his previous altercations with the law. But now, come to think of it, Burrows had been moved to death row fairly quickly, and all his appeals had been denied in record time. “Are they watching you right now?”
LJ shrugs. “I don’t know. They’re usually in a black car, and they trail behind me sometimes. They want me to lead them to my dad.”
What a predicament this boy is in. His father is finally on the outside, but he can’t see him. Poor boy.
“I have a proposition for you,” says T-Bag, releasing LJ’s neck. The boy takes in a deep breath, rubbing the bruised skin. “Give me that number. I’ll call it in a few days from a payphone, or I’ll steal a cell phone from somebody on the subway. You’ll just have to stay in one place, so your dad will know where to get you.”
“What’s in it for you, though?”
Perhaps he’s not that stupid. “Well, you see, your daddy and I do not see eye-to-eye on a number of things. He and your uncle tossed my sorry ass to the curb once we were out of Fox River. I’d like to get the hell out of Chicago.”
“Okay, but how do I know I can trust you?”
T-Bag grins. “You’ll just have to.”
“That’s not good enough,” says LJ, shaking his head.
T-Bag steps closer to LJ, so that their thighs and hips are touching. They’re about the same height, but LJ is probably ten or fifteen pounds heavier. “And why is that?”
“For all I know, you’re one of them,” LJ explains. He shrinks back into the dumpster, turning his head away from T-Bag’s face. “You look like the guy they’re tracking, but maybe you’re just a trap.”
“I have recently been sent to prison for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of six children,” says T-Bag. He rests his chin on LJ’s shoulder, holding the boy’s wrists against the dumpster, and continues in a whisper, “Before that, I went to juvenile hall at age ten for attempted arson. I strangled a guard there, when I was twelve. I’ve killed many, many people since then, and if you don’t assist me now, I will not hesitate in slicin’ your throat.” He strokes the inside of LJ’s wrists with his thumbs, feeling the boy’s pulse rise rapidly. “So, you see, you’re gonna have to trust me. You ain’t got any other choice.”
LJ swallows. “Okay.”
“Good boy.” T-Bag drops LJ’s wrists, and pats his abdomen. “Now, where can we disappear for the time being?”
They left the dumpsters immediately after that, careful to watch over their shoulders every few minutes. No cars had been following them, luckily, and no people had, either. T-Bag had spent a good portion of his life in prisons, and he knew when he had a shadow. There were none this morning.
“You sure this is empty?” T-Bag asks. They’re standing in front of a large building in the early hours of the morning (4:45, to be precise). T-Bag’s got his hand on the crook of LJ’s elbow, his fingernails digging into the boy’s skin. He doesn’t want LJ going anywhere.
“There was a fire on one of the upper floors two years ago,” LJ explains, gesturing towards the top of the building. “It turned out the owner had started the fire on purpose, to collect the insurance money. The company didn’t have the money to rebuild, so they just packed up and left. It’s been on the market since, but nobody wants to buy it.”
“What about a security system?” T-Bag pulls the hood off his head, and taps on a window that’s stained with fingerprints and scratches. “I’d rather not have an alarm sound.”
LJ shakes his head. “There isn’t one anymore. It was destroyed during the fire.”
“How do you know all this?” T-Bag inquires, glancing over his shoulder. No cars, no people. Good. “I don’t think it’s common knowledge.”
“A friend of mine used to grow his pot in the basement,” LJ answers, scratching behind his ear. “But he got caught a few months ago, so there’s nobody in there.”
“Ah.” T-Bag lets go of LJ’s elbow, and pushes him slightly. “C’mon. How do we get inside?”
LJ starts walking, pointing to the back of the building. “There should be an open door in the back.”
T-Bag follows the boy, shoving his hands into his pockets. The temperature has been steadily dropping, and he’ll be able to see his breath soon.
“Here.” LJ signals to a plain, white door. T-Bag nods, and the boy twists the knob. The door opens with a slight creak that echoes in the silent street. LJ wipes the knob with his sleeve — smart boy, smudging his prints — before saying, “Let’s go.”
T-Bag steps inside, LJ at his side. It’s completely dark inside, and T-Bag stumbles over what feels like a stack of newspapers when LJ shuts the door. “Shit!”
“Watch yourself,” says LJ. T-Bag can hear the boy breathing. “This place is a mess. There’s stuff everywhere.”
“Where’s the safest room in here?” T-Bag asks, blindly fumbling in the dark for LJ. His hand touches the back of LJ’s neck, and the boy gasps under his breath. T-Bag grins, and links his arm with LJ’s. “Escort me, boy.”
T-Bag lets himself be lead by LJ across the hardwood floor, the room silent except for their breathing. After ten minutes or so of sightless strolling, LJ stops.
“What is it?”
“Basement,” LJ whispers. There’s a pause, and then a door opens. “Watch your step.”
Hesitantly, T-Bag squeezes between LJ and the doorway. For a fleeting moment, he pictures LJ pushing him down the stairs hard enough that he breaks his neck. But the moment passes, and T-Bag continues walking, gripping the railing for support. LJ keeps behind him, and shuts the door.
When they reach the bottom of the stairs (necks still intact), T-Bag tugs LJ closer. “Any lights?”
“There should be some switches on the wall,” says LJ, his voice oddly strangled. Poor boy. He’s terrified. “Are you sure we should?”
“It’s the basement,” T-Bag points out. With his free hand, he gropes along the wall for a light switch. “Nobody can see in, can they?”
“I guess — found them!”
There’s a clicking sound. Instinctively, T-Bag shuts his eyes. Even through his eyelids, the lights are bright enough to hurt.
When he does open his eyes, there’s not much to see. There are no windows along the concrete walls. Across the room, there are old newspapers and shoeprint-marked papers strewn all along the floor, hundreds of cardboard boxes, and broken desks. Many places to hide.
“What did this company do?” asks T-Bag, releasing his arm from LJ’s and walking towards the center of the room, kicking newspapers out of his way. He turns on his heel and faces LJ, who shrugs.
“Dunno.” LJ paces along the perimeter of the room, yanking his sleeves over his hands. “Just your average business, I suppose.” He pauses. “Do you think there’s a phone in here?”
“Doubtful.” T-Bag’s eyes drift towards the papers on the floor. Memos, scribbled notes, and application forms, all stamped with dirt. When he continues walking, some stick to the underside of his boots. “I’ll steal a cell phone.”
“Harder to track, if it’s not yours,” LJ concludes. He’s sitting on a table now, legs dangling off the side. T-Bag watches the boy’s sneakers sway, the toes a handful of inches above the floor. It’s such a simple, natural movement. Makes him seem more innocent and childlike. “When?”
T-Bag shakes the papers off his boot. “Sometime before six, I think.” He wanders over towards LJ, fingers grazing against the cardboard boxes. “The subway won’t be too busy.”
LJ nods. He grips the side of the table before saying, “How about I steal one, instead of you?”
T-Bag raises an eyebrow, a skill that’s been perfected by hours in a tiny cell. “Do you really think I’m that stupid, boy? I’m may be from Alabama, but I’m not a toothless hillbilly, neither.” He rests his hands on LJ’s knees vehemently, swinging his hips out of the way to avoid the instinctive kick. “You think I’m gonna let you run away from me, when I know you’ve got a number that could get me out of here?”
LJ leans back slightly, his hands still on the edge of the table. “But you’re going to leave me here while you get the cell phone, right? You can’t take me with you. I mean — if they haven’t already — they can’t see you with me. You’ll be back in Fox River like that.” He lifts one of his hands to snap his fingers. The sound reverberates in the room and echoes hollowly in T-Bag’s ears.
T-Bag responds by sliding his hands up LJ’s legs, his callused palms snaring on the coarse denim. LJ swallows, bending back further. T-Bag pauses, his thumbs lazily brushing the boy’s inner thighs. He says nothing, choosing instead to bend forward and suck his lips into his mouth.
“And you can’t kill me, because you want that number,” LJ continues, his tongue sliding clumsily over the word kill. Doubtlessly, he’s nervous. Can’t blame him. He doesn’t have a reason not to be. “Another death threat won’t work.”
“But, you see,” T-Bag whispers, careful to let the words complement his warm breath on the boy’s neck, “I don’t just kill. I can torture, too. I’m a…what do you call ‘em? Two-in-one.” Gently, he presses his thumbs into LJ’s thighs. LJ fidgets a little, but he doesn’t move from the table. “I could go old-school mob boss and cut off your fingers and toes, one by one. But that’s a little hateful, don’t you think?” He nods to himself, and chews on his tongue for a moment before continuing, “I could always go the love route. I could — you know, boy, if you keep leanin’ backwards, you’ll be lying down on that table. You really want to be on your back with my hands sheer seconds from bein’ down your drawers?”
LJ halts, his knuckles whitening on the table. T-Bag grins and squeezes LJ’s thighs, watching the boy squirm, gulping down air and saliva. He’s a very pretty boy, T-Bag notices. The Scofield/Burrows family has some decent swimmers in the gene pool.
“I thought so,” murmurs T-Bag, drawing out thought with a few extra syllables. He moves his hands from the boy’s legs to his belt loops, and hooks his fingers through. “Now, you listen to me, and listen good, ‘cause I’m only gonna tell you once. You will stay here.” He tugs slightly on the belt loops, and by the look on LJ’s face, he knows the skin underneath is crawling with gooseflesh and sweat. “Because if you do run away to your daddy, you know he’ll try to find me. And when he finds me, I’ll find you, and I’ll not think twice about rippin’ your pretty little throat out.”
T-Bag swoops in even closer, slipping his fingers inside the top of LJ’s jeans. His thumbs stay behind, but the pads of his other fingers are pressed into LJ’s boxers, the sweaty material moist with anxiety and terror. “Do you understand?”
LJ nods, almost frantically. His eyes are abnormally wide, his body slick with sweat. T-Bag can feel it underneath his fingers, see it underneath the boy’s arms and across his forehead.
“Thank you, darlin’.” T-Bag removes his hands and takes a step back. LJ looks immensely relieved. “Do you have any money with you?”
“I — what?”
“Money,” T-Bag repeats, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together. “Got any?”
LJ pries one hand from the table, and gropes through his pocket. He pulls out a ten, and T-Bag snatches it deftly from the boy’s hand.
“I’m goin’ to go get a cell phone. I’ll buy some food while I’m out.” T-Bag tucks the bill into his back pocket, and flips the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. “Remember what I said.”
After walking through the ground floor with some difficulty — without LJ to guide him, T-Bag manages to trip sixteen and a half times — he leaves the abandoned building, careful to wipe his prints off the door handle.
Deciding to forego the subway (he doesn’t know Chicago that well, after all), T-Bag strolls up to tiny café that’s nearby the hiding place. There’s a thirty-something woman sitting inside, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and typing at a laptop with the other. Her eyes are baggy and dark, flicking from the screen to the keyboard. Finishing up a big project before work, T-Bag thinks, and opens the door. Once he’s inside, he can see the cell phone on the table, on the other side of the laptop. This is taking a risk, being in public like this, but it’s going to be worth it.
He tightens the string of the hood, blocking her view of him as he walks to the counter. There’s a yawning teenaged girl behind it, and she offers up a weak smile when she sees him enter the café. Once he approaches the counter, though, the girl sniffs the air and purses her lips. Shit. Since he’s been living on the street for a week, he probably doesn’t smell too good.
“What can I get for you this morning?” the girl asks, a hidden yawn underneath her words. She covers her mouth, embarrassment in her cheeks. She doesn’t apologize for it, though.
“I’ll take half a dozen muffins,” says T-Bag, letting loose of his accent. There’s still traces underneath — he can’t make it perfect — but it’s not so obvious now. Less of a chance the girl will remember him, if he doesn’t have a distinctive voice.
“We have plain, raspberry, blueberry — ”
T-Bag holds up his hand, and the girl stops. “Surprise me.”
As the girl picks up a brown paper bag, T-Bag watches the woman over his shoulder. She’s still gulping down the coffee, her fingers tapping along the plastic keys. He can’t just snatch the phone while she’s still sitting there. She’ll have to move.
“Um…” The girl shakes the paper bag slightly, and T-Bag turns his attention back. He reaches into his pocket, hands over the ten dollar bill, and receives the bag in return. The cash register pops open with a shrilling ping, and the girl gives him the change. He doesn’t bother to look at it, just stuffs it into his pocket, and glances back at the woman. It’s his lucky day. She’s standing, moving to drop her coffee cup in the trash.
On the way out, T-Bag slips the phone off the table and into his pocket.
“I brought muffins,” T-Bag announces, raising the paper bag.
There’s no answer. Shit.
T-Bag drops the bag of muffins onto a table and starts frantically searching underneath boxes and desks, kicking newspapers out of the way. His heart thumps painfully against his ribcage, and all he can think is fuck fuck fuck. That boy better not have run away, he better not have —
“Oh,” T-Bag whispers when he finds the boy. LJ is asleep inside a cardboard box, curled into the fetal position. He looks so fragile, so delicate. So young. It makes something twinge in T-Bag’s chest, and he crouches down beside the boy, unzipping his sweatshirt. Carefully, he arranges it over LJ’s shoulders, brushing hair off LJ’s forehead. The boy stirs, and he opens one eye.
“Sleep well?” T-Bag asks, slipping his fingers through LJ’s hair. The boy shrinks back into the cardboard. “I got muffins.”
“Okay,” says LJ. It’s then that he notices the sweatshirt. “Is this yours?” T-Bag nods, and removes his hand from LJ’s hair. “Here, take it back.”
“No, I’m — ”
LJ sits up, pushing the sweatshirt off his shoulders. “I don’t need it.” He tosses the sweatshirt into T-Bag’s lap and crawls out of the box, heading for the muffins.
“No need to be so rude,” says T-Bag, clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He rises to his feet, slipping the sweatshirt back on, and follows LJ, continuing, “I did, after all, buy you breakfast.”
“With my money,” LJ shoots back, reaching into the paper bag and pulls out a blueberry muffin. He stares at it, a trace of an almost wistful smile on his lips. But it’s gone once he bites into the muffin, crumbs dropping onto the table. With his free hand, he brushes the crumbs onto the floor. “And after threatening me with death and possible torture.”
“I do apologize for the threats,” T-Bag replies, touching his hand to his chest lightly. He zips the sweatshirt up to his bellybutton, and grabs a muffin. With a mouth full of raspberries and bread, he says, “But it was necessary. You know how it is, bein’ a fugitive of the law yourself.”
“Whatever,” says LJ, shrugging. He’s already devoured half the muffin, clearly eager to satisfy his hunger. “I realize that, if I bullshit you, you’re going to hurt me. I figure I’ll just do what you want — within reason, of course — until I get back to my dad.”
“That was rather swift of you. Smart one, ain’t you.”
LJ shrugs again. “With everything that’s happened in the past year or so, I’ve gotten really smart really quick.”
“Grown up too fast, you mean,” T-Bag supplies. He finishes his muffin, sweeps the small pieces off his front, and drags a closed box over to the table. He sits, folding his hands on top of the table.
LJ, who’s mouth is full, nods. He points to the bag, swallows, and asks, “Can I have another?”
“Save ‘em for lunch,” T-Bag orders. LJ nods, and, looking at a point somewhere over T-Bag’s shoulder, sighs.
It’s certainly an abrupt change in LJ’s behavior, T-Bag muses. He’d gone from helpful to frightened to indifferent in the few hours that T-Bag had known him, and it’s difficult to follow. It’s probably due to the boy’s uncertainty of what was going on around him. If he had been tossed into this mess without much idea of what was going on, then he had to make up as he went along — pick his friends carefully, figure out where to sleep, where to eat. All difficult decisions that have to be made quickly.
But LJ is smart. T-Bag can tell. The way he speaks and acts shows that he’s a good student, that he’s been educated decently. There are no blank stares from LJ. He’s just terrified and struggling to hide it, which explains his shifts in behavior. He’s trying to be a tough guy without coming off as too cocky. Like Scofield was when he first arrived at Fox River, LJ’s just tough enough to stay alive. T-Bag admires that.
“Pull up a box,” says T-Bag, pointing behind LJ, “and come talk to me.”
LJ looks over his shoulder, then back to T-Bag. “Why?”
“Just want to talk to you.” Well, so much for the lack of blank stares. T-Bag drums his fingers on the table impatiently. “C’mon. This is within reason, ain’t it?”
“Guess so.” LJ heaves a large, plastic container filled to the brim with manila folders over to the table. He sits, laying his hands across the top of the table. “Did you get a cell phone?”
He’d almost forgotten about that. T-Bag pats his sweatshirt pocket, where the phone is resting uncomfortably against his abdomen. “Yup. Let’s have a talk first, though.”
LJ fidgets, his shoulders almost jammed into his ears. So tense. “Fine.”
“I’ve got a few questions about your daddy,” T-Bag begins, stopping the tapping of his fingers. He wets his chapped lips before saying, “Can you explain to me what the hell is goin’ on? When Burrows was with me in A-Wing, all he could talk about was how he had been set up. Your momma and her new man have been killed, and you’ve been accused of the murder. Do the two of you just have bad luck?”
“Honestly, I don’t know,” says LJ, resting his elbows on the table. He cups the side of his face with one hand, and blinks a few times before resuming speaking. “All I know is that Dad was framed for the murder of the vice president’s brother, and somebody big was trying to put him away for it. There’s a bunch of money involved, too, but I don’t understand it all. Veronica tried to — ”
“My dad’s ex-girlfriend,” LJ explains. He’s telling the truth, T-Bag can tell. That’s good. That means that LJ somewhat trusts T-Bag. Only somewhat, but it’s still something. “She’s a lawyer that was trying to get him off death row, but the Feds got to her, too.”
LJ starts to shake his head, but stops. “I don’t know. I met up with her and Nick — he’s a lawyer, too, that works death row cases — a while ago, but we got separated. I haven’t seen them since my Dad escaped.”
“Lemme see if I can get this right…” T-Bag raises his hand and begins counting the points off on each finger. “You and your daddy have been falsely accused of murder. There’s money involved, as well as important political figures. Some big government conspiracy that you all are engaged in.”
“Sounds about right.”
T-Bag folds his finger back down, and cracks his knuckles. LJ blinks and grinds his teeth together. Doesn’t like the sound, probably. “Too confusin’ for a simple man like me. I’ll sit on the outside with this one.”
LJ snorts, smiling slightly. T-Bag reaches across the table and pats the boy on the shoulder. “See? This ain’t too bad.”
“I always plan to spend my weekends with a murdering, raping pedophile,” LJ retorts, but he’s still smiling.
“Always hated that word,” T-Bag mumbles under his breath, but LJ catches it.
“Pedophile,” T-Bag spits out. The word feels rotten on his tongue every time. “Just ‘cause I fucked some kids, they automatically assumed I get off on the pre-pubescents.”
“You said you raped six children,” LJ replies. He looks queasy.
“That don’t mean I think about little Sally when I’m tuggin’,” says T-Bag, jerking an invisible cock in the air. “Nowadays, I think about your uncle, if you’re interested.”
LJ definitely looks nauseous now. “So then why did you rape those children?”
T-Bag grins broadly, running his tongue along the inside of his lower lip. It’s a question that every judge, D.A, lawyer, psychiatrist, C.O, and inmate has asked him. “Maybe I’m just fucked up.”
LJ nods vaguely, as if to say yes, yes you are.
“Well, that’s really all I wanted to know.” T-Bag taps the table for emphasis. “What about you?”
“I guess.” LJ clears his throat, rubbing his mouth with his palm. He clasps his hands together in his lap. “My dad sent me letters whenever he was in prison, and he mentioned you a few times. How’d you know each other?”
“When I came up to Fox River ‘bout three years ago,” says T-Bag, stretching out his legs underneath the table, “Burrows was inside for some drug charge, I think.”
“Battery, actually,” LJ corrects. T-Bag’s boot touches the boy’s ankle, and LJ glances down and up before asking, “Are you trying to play footsie with me?”
“Sorry, accidental.” T-Bag moves his foot to the side. “Anyways, the other wings were full up — Fox River was nearly overflowin’ with cons that year — so the Warden put me in A-Wing. Your daddy was my cellie.”
“He was paroled, though, and he left two months later,” T-Bag continues. LJ is listening intently, his eyes focusing directly on T-Bag’s. “However, once he got that murder charge, he was in for life. Came back to A-Wing, and since there hadn’t been much trouble between us a year prior, the hacks put us back together again for a few weeks — my previous cellmate at the time had, ah, died under mysterious circumstances. But, I found a new cellie, and Burrows didn’t mind leaving. And once he was given the death penalty, he left Gen Pop for death row. He got assigned the needle quicker than anybody I’ve ever known.”
“So…you spent a lot of time together,” says LJ, his words hesitant and vaguely broken.
“Yes,” T-Bag answers, nodding. He brings his feet up onto the cardboard box, and crosses his legs.
“In the same cell.”
“Boy, are you goin’ anywhere with this?”
“Well, I — I just — ”
T-Bag rests his hands on his knees and leans forward. “You askin’ me if I pragged your daddy?”
“Or vice versa.” LJ’s cheeks are scarlet. Poor boy. He’s so awkward.
T-Bag studies LJ, who clears his throat and flicks his eyes away. He considers lying, just to see LJ’s reaction, but that would just be cruel. The boy’s suffered enough, hasn’t he? “Naw, I didn’t. Your daddy’s not into that sort of thing. He declined my offer.”
LJ looks somewhat relieved. Is he glad that his daddy isn’t a queer? “Oh. But you still lived in the same cell?”
“The first time around, there wasn’t anywhere else we could go. Everything was filled.”
“And the second time?”
T-Bag shrugs. “It was only for ‘bout two and a half weeks. We didn’t kill each other in the process, as you know.”
LJ draws his knees to his chest, hugging his shins. “You said you found a new cellmate?”
T-Bag smiles. “Jason Buchanan, otherwise known as Maytag. Sweet boy.” On impulse, T-Bag slides his hand into his pocket, fingering the material. LJ’s eyebrows rise faintly, and he peeks across the table into T-Bag’s lap. “I’m not jerkin’, no need to spy.”
“Oh. The pocket thing. My dad said you had people hold onto your pocket, but he didn’t say why. What’s with the pocket?”
T-Bag turns the pocket inside out, rubbing the white fabric between his fingers. “They hold onto this, I protect ‘em. Nothing can happen to somebody if they’re by my side at all times.”
“Oh.” LJ nods and scratches the side of his nose. “So…I hate to voice a cliché, but that makes them your, ah, ‘bitch,’ right?”
“Mmhm.” T-Bag tucks his pocket back inside. “But they don’t mind.”
“You’re kidding, right?” says LJ incredulously, dropping his chin to the spot between his knees.
“I protect them, in exchange for a little tail.” T-Bag shrugs and tucks the pocket back into his jeans. “It’s an exchange that’s been done to death, but it works.”
“Are they always unwilling?”
“For somebody who was rather short with me when I returned,” says T-Bag, tilting his head to the side, “you’re askin’ a hell of a lot of questions.”
LJ doesn’t say anything. He lowers his eyes, avoiding T-Bag’s gaze.
“But I’ll humor you.” T-Bag uncrosses his legs. His knees pop loudly. “Most of them are in the beginning.”
LJ guesses, “Not Maytag?”
“Not Maytag,” T-Bag concurs. He’s tempted to touch his pocket again. “Really charming boy. I miss him.”
“When does he get out of Fox River?”
“Already has.” T-Bag bites down on his upper lip. “By way of body bag.”
“Oh.” There’s true sympathy in LJ’s eyes, which flabbergasts T-Bag. He usually doesn’t produce that emotion in people. He contemplates letting LJ know that it had been Scofield who had done the deed, but he decides to leave that part out. That sort of information might keep him in Chicago. “I’m sorry.”
“Shit happens.” T-Bag stands abruptly, smiling when LJ jumps in his seat. “Give me the number. It’s probably around 6:30 now. Think they’ll be awake?”
“I hope so,” says LJ eagerly, rising to his feet and fumbling in his back pocket. He produces a small, folded piece of paper, and hands it over to T-Bag. “Michael always wakes up early.”
“Usually ‘round 5:30,” says T-Bag, flipping open the cell phone. The battery power is high, which is good. He opens up the paper and dials the number that’s written in a hasty scrawl. “He was always awake before most of A-Wing.”
“You were cellmates?” questions LJ. He folds his arms across his chest. “I thought it was some other guy. His name began with an S, I can’t remember it — ”
“Sucre,” T-Bag interrupts. The phone rings in his ear, and he can feel the anticipation rise. He’s ridiculously excited for somebody to pick up the phone, even if it isn’t Scofield or Burrows. He just wants to get the hell out of Chicago, and this is his ticket. “His name was Sucre, and no, your uncle and I weren’t cellies. I could see his cell from mine, is all.”
“Is it ringing?” LJ steps around the table, reaching for the phone. T-Bag slaps his hand away. “Ouch!”
“Hands off,” T-Bag commands, turning his back on LJ. “I’ll talk to him first.”
“It’s my dad!” LJ protests, grabbing for the phone again. His fingers graze the back of T-Bag’s neck, and, despite the shivers the touch creates, T-Bag bows out of the way, crouching on the floor. “It’s my fucking family!”
The ringing stops. T-Bag seizes LJ by the collar of his shirt, yanks him down, and holds him against the cardboard box. Using the hand on the phone, T-Bag presses his forefinger to his lips. LJ nods.
“LJ?” There’s mild static, but T-Bag can hear Burrow’s voice just fine. It’s both eager and frightened. “LJ, it’s me.”
“Sorry, Sink, it ain’t your son,” T-Bag drawls, curling his fingers tighter around LJ’s collar. He moves from a crouch to a kneel, and moves closer to the boy.
Silence. Then, “You fucking pervert, where’s my son?”
T-Bag grins. He can almost see the vein in Burrows’ forehead. “Don’t worry. He’s in excellent condition. I’m takin’ good care of your boy.”
“Don’t you dare touch my son,” Burrows snarls. In the background, T-Bag can hear Scofield asking what’s wrong. “It’s not LJ. It’s T-Bag. T-Bag’s got my fucking son. T-Bag, where is he?”
“He’s sitting right next to me.” T-Bag releases LJ’s collar, and the boy immediately rubs at his neck. He stretches out his legs, leaning against the box and watching T-Bag keenly. “Breathin’, too. Want to say hello?”
“Of course, you fucking idiot.”
T-Bag hands the phone over to LJ, who snatches it with impatient hands. “Dad?” LJ’s mouth distorts, and he wipes at his eyes with his sleeve. “No, he didn’t, I’m fine…Dad, I want to see you…No, I’m fine…Really, I’m fine. I’m fine.”
T-Bag licks his lips. He touches the inside of LJ’s knee, and the boy’s leg twitches. Without asking, he takes the phone back and presses it to his ear. “Satisfied?”
“Where are you?” Burrows demands.
T-Bag pushes himself along the floor so that he’s side-by-side with LJ. “I could let you know of our location, but I’d like something in return,” says T-Bag, gnawing on his thumbnail. He spits the nail out onto the ground, and continues, “Take me with you, wherever you and your brother are going.”
“Oh, no way — he wants to come with us, Mike — no fucking way, T-Bag.”
“I really don’t think that’s the proper way to be speakin’ with me. After all, I’ve got your phone number and your son. I think the Feds would appreciate that, wouldn’t they? If I were to turn myself in, that information might keep me off death row. Besides, I know the location of your son. Don’t you want to see LJ, Burrows?”
Burrows doesn’t say anything. T-Bag grins. Burrows will give in, of course, and listening to the strained silence is certainly worth the wait. So is watching LJ’s petrified expression out of the corner of his eye.
“Fine,” says Burrows at last. “Fine. Just let me have the damn address.”
“Gladly. You got a pen?” When Burrows says yes, T-Bag gives him the address of the building. “We’re in the basement, by the way. When can you come?”
“Michael, do you know when we can get a car?…Okay. We can be there around noon. Let me talk to LJ again.”
“What do you mean, no? Let me speak to my goddamn son!”
“You can talk to him when you get here.” T-Bag glances at LJ, who has been slowly inching away. “I’ve got business to attend to, so you’ll have to forgive me for ending this call early.”
“If you even think about touching my son — ”
“That’s an empty threat, Burrows, and you know it,” T-Bag interrupts. “Just get over here as soon as you can, all right? Goodbye, Sink. Tell your brother I said hello.”
“Tell LJ I love him —” is all that T-Bag hears before he ends the call. There’s urgency and stress in Burrows’s voice. Good. He’ll move quickly.
“Your daddy loves you,” T-Bag informs LJ, snapping the phone shut and dropping it into his pocket. “He wanted me to tell you.”
LJ nods, pushing the bottom of his palms against the floor. “When are they coming?”
“Okay.” LJ rises to his feet, gesturing over his shoulder. “I’ll go and take a nap until then. We have, what, five hours?”
“And a bit more.”
LJ makes a noncommittal sound from the back of his throat, and walks between the desks and boxes towards the cardboard box that he had been sleeping in before. T-Bag watches him walk, licking his lips.
It’s been three hours. LJ’s still asleep, T-Bag’s eaten two more muffins, and there’s still two and a half hours until Scofield and Burrows arrive. Frankly, T-Bag’s bored. He’s already played numerous word games in his head — that’s how he would pass time in the hole — and read some of the newspapers scattered across the floor, and now there’s nothing else to do.
T-Bag wonders why he hasn’t fucked LJ yet. If it had been any other boy, LJ would be on his stomach with his pants around his ankles. Maybe it’s because it would be too much of a risk — even with a threat, LJ would tell Burrows about it. LJ’s smart, after all. It took him too long to realize that.
On impulse, T-Bag wanders over to LJ. The boy is sitting against the box with his legs sprawled out, a hushed snore falling from his open mouth. It’s a different position than the one T-Bag found him in earlier. He’s not coiled into a ball anymore. Does that mean he’s not afraid? No, that’s not right. He doesn’t look fearless.
T-Bag’s always liked watching people sleep, because whatever somebody hides during the day is always exposed during a slumber. Their anxiety, their anger, their grief can be seen when their eyes are shut. Now, T-Bag can see the pure fear in LJ. He’s been hiding it underneath layers of sarcasm and exaggerated anxiety, but now he’s just scared. He makes harsh, guttural noises from the back of his throat in his sleep, and his mouth twists. If he was awake, he would be crying. This is strange. Perhaps LJ’s terrified, but not of T-Bag. Even stranger.
Either way, T-Bag can’t help but think poor boy when he looks at LJ. He doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet, and he’s already having to think like an old con. If LJ follows his dad and his uncle, he’ll have to spend the rest of his life in hiding. No way to spend a life.
T-Bag squats down beside the sleeping boy. He reaches out and touches LJ’s cheek, his thumb rubbing the curve of the boy’s jaw. LJ doesn’t move. Must be a deep sleep — the best kind.
Careful to keep quiet, T-Bag straddles LJ’s hips. He settles down on top of the boy gradually, watching LJ’s expression for any change. Nothing. T-Bag lies his cheek against LJ’s chest. He can hear the rhythm of the boy’s heart underneath his ear, and he closes his eyes, tapping his fingers on LJ’s belly in time with the pulse.
After a few minutes, T-Bag tilts his head up towards the boy. His skin is smooth and unblemished, which is strange yet remarkable for a teenager. T-Bag presses his lips LJ’s neck, the skin warm and soft. He moves to the boy’s mouth, continuing to kiss. LJ’s asleep, so he won’t be kissing back and his breath is stale, but T-Bag truly doesn’t care.
He unfastens LJ’s jeans, dipping his hand inside. He cups the boy through the fabric of his boxers, squeezing gently. At that moment, LJ’s eyes open drowsily. Muttering a curse, T-Bag pushes himself off the boy and scuttles into the opposite corner of the box. He stretches out his legs, gazing at LJ.
“What are you doing?” LJ asks, his voice soaked with suspicion and coarse with sleep.
T-Bag clears his throat, folding his hand over his abdomen. “Nothin’.”
“It doesn’t look like it.” LJ glances to his still-undone jeans, and buttons them back up with quivering fingers. “What are you doing?”
“Just watchin’ you sleep, is all,” T-Bag insists, holding up his right hand. “Scout’s honor.”
“Why were my jeans unbuttoned?” LJ persists.
“You got too many questions, boy. Go back to sleep.”
“I’m supposed to go back to sleep?”
“Go back to sleep,” T-Bag snaps, and shuts his eyes.
T-Bag awakens to the sound of the door opening. Immediately, he tucks his legs inside the box, his body pressed comfortably into LJ’s. The boy is still asleep, his head lolling onto his shoulder.
It’s Burrows. T-Bag pokes his head out of the side of the box and waves a hand. “Over here!”
T-Bag stands just as Burrows and Scofield begin walking over. The brothers are both clean-shaven and wearing dark-colored suits. Clearly, they’re doing quite well on the outside. T-Bag presses his lips together, letting an, “Mmm…” slide out as he brushes dirt off his clothes. Scofield wears a suit properly.
“Where’s my fucking son?” Burrows growls, striding across the basement with his hands curling into fists. Scofield hurries behind him, but before he can reach his brother, Burrows draws back his fist and slams it into T-Bag’s jaw. T-Bag stumbles backwards, cursing. His top teeth had dug into his bottom lip at the punch, and there’s blood. “Where’s LJ?”
“He’s in there, Lincoln,” says Scofield, motioning to the cardboard box. Burrows makes a relieved sound and drops to his knees, tugging LJ out of the box and wrapping his arms around his sleeping son. “Hello, T-Bag.”
“Afternoon, Pretty,” T-Bag greets, holding onto his stinging jaw. He spits out blood onto the floor, splattering a memo about misconduct with red. “Did you miss me?” Scofield doesn’t answer, but his eyebrows raise. “What about you, Sink?”
“Did you rape him?” Burrows demands, heaving LJ to a sitting position. The boy is still asleep, his mouth half-open. Burrows cups LJ’s head in his hand, holding his son to his chest. “Why isn’t he waking up?”
“I didn’t fuck him!” T-Bag insists, wiping his mouth. “He’s just sleepin’, like a baby. You think he’d be sleepin’ after I fucked him?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Burrows snaps. He shakes LJ, his fingers digging into his son’s shoulders. Scofield joins his brother on the floor beside LJ, his delicate fingers hesitantly touching LJ’s forehead. T-Bag remains standing, leaning against a stack of boxes. “LJ, wake up. It’s me.”
LJ stirs, opening one eye. He voices a small, broken, “Dad!” before tears spill out from his drowsy eyes and he can’t speak anymore. He hugs Burrows, burying his head into his father’s neck. Burrows holds LJ close, choking on unspoken words. Scofield joins the hug, resting his head against LJ’s back.
Christ. It’s a fucking after-school special with these three.
“Enough with the family reunion,” says T-Bag, kicking Scofield’s leg, “and let’s get the out of here.”
“Give me a minute,” Burrows orders, waving his hand. “You don’t have any children. You don’t know what it’s like to not see your son in weeks.”
“You never know. There could be a little Teddy runnin’ ‘round Alabama.”
“I hope not,” Burrows mutters, but he does pat LJ on the shoulder and say, “C’mon, kid. Let’s get going, okay?”
LJ sniffs and nods, wiping at his eyes as he stands. Scofield and Burrows join him. “Is he coming with us?” LJ asks, pointing to T-Bag, who winks at Burrows.
“You made me a promise,” says T-Bag in a singsong voice, nodding to LJ. “I found your son, didn’t I? And here he is, alive with his backdoor intact.”
“We could kill you,” Scofield points out. LJ stares at his uncle, his eyebrows furrowed.
“No, you couldn’t. You’re a non-violent man, Pretty. Couldn’t even let somebody else do a killing for you. And your brother couldn’t kill me, either, ‘cause he’s got his son beside him. You really want LJ to think of you as a murderer, Burrows?”
“Don’t even refer to him by his name, T-Bag — ” Burrows barks, but LJ grabs his father’s elbow.
“Let’s just get the hell out of here,” says LJ quietly, his gaze switching between Burrows and T-Bag, “even if he has to be with us.”
Burrows stares at his son before snapping, “What did you do, Stockholm Syndrome him?”
“I’m in awe of your knowledge, Burrows,” T-Bag retorts at the same time as Scofield murmurs, “LJ would have had to be with him for a few more days.”
“Whatever. Let’s go.”
Burrows leads LJ past T-Bag, his arm securely around his son’s shoulder. T-Bag falls into step beside Scofield, who is watching Burrows and LJ fixedly.
“You look very nice in a suit, Pretty,” T-Bag compliments. He rubs his jaw again. That punch will leave a bruise.
“Thank you,” says Scofield. He glances at T-Bag. “Did you touch him?”
“Why would I do that?” T-Bag asks, stepping over the remains of a desk.
“I know that LJ is your type,” Scofield replies, his voice low. T-Bag has to step closer to hear it, but that’s not a problem. “He’s young, and he’s vulnerable.”
“So are you,” T-Bag points out, reaching around and pinching Scofield’s ass, “but you aren’t a rape victim, are you?”
“No,” answers Scofield, swatting T-Bag’s hand away, “but I’m not barely sixteen.”
“And I’m not lyin’. I didn’t fuck him. How many more times you need me to say it?”
Scofield bites down on his bottom lip. “If you did…I’ll kill you myself.”
“That threat don’t affect me much,” T-Bag whispers, and follows Burrows out of the basement.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thank you, as always, to my lovely beta thelana, who gives me both assistance and confidence. She rocks. :) Written for Fanfic100, Prompt 056: Breakfast. Reviews are appreciated, as is constructive crit.
I don’t really feel I need to write this, but, just to be on the safe side, if you’re uncomfortable with the material in this piece of writing, then don’t read it. I think that’s pretty easy to do.
I'm currently writing a sequel.
I don’t really feel I need to write this, but, just to be on the safe side, if you’re uncomfortable with the material in this piece of writing, then don’t read it. I think that’s pretty easy to do.
I'm currently writing a sequel.