Beneath the Skin (T-Bag/Michael, PG-13)
Rating: PG-13, but dark and with disturbing themes (well, it is T-Bag)
Spoilers: Up to "Riots, Drills and the Devil Pt 1"
Summary: T-Bag takes a trip down memory lane.
When Theodore Bagwell was six, he loved Miss Lucy Bundren. Miss Lucy taught Sunday school at the Sycamore Avenue Baptist Church in Hot Coffee, Mississippi; she was tall and thin and wore pretty print dresses with full skirts that rustled. Her slender hands were white and clean, and her hair was always fixed up nice. She smelled good. On Sundays when Theodore stood in line to file into her class, she'd always look for him; she would stoop down and, ignoring the dirt and the pellagra sores on his hands and the snot on his nose, she'd put out her arms and hug him close.
"Jesus knows your name, Teddy," she'd say, looking into his face, her pale blue eyes round and serious behind thick glasses. "He knows your name, honey, and He loves you. You're special to Him."
Theodore has felt the weight of a hand across his face, across his back often enough, but he never feels this soft pressure of warm arms anywhere but the grey-wood splintered doorway of the old Baptist church on every other Sunday morning, for half a minute and no more. During the hour of Sunday school the words about Jesus and His Father wash over him as so much noise as he looks at Miss Lucy, his heart so full that he wonders if it's going to split like Gramma Bagwell's heart split when she went to the hospital in Mount Olive. The rest of the week doesn't matter, with Momma grunting and hooting in the back bedroom behind the chicken-wire gate and Daddy Lester coming in at night stinking of sour mash and fired guns, his belt already off and looped around his hand. Sundays are the only times Theodore allows himself to come back to himself. He wakes as he watches the toe of Miss Lucy's spectator pump tap the time, and he sings with gusto, louder than the rest, as loud as he can make his voice go.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world...
When he was seven, one day he came to church and Miss Lucy was gone. Miz Ruth was teaching, Elder Johnson's wife. She told them that Miss Lucy was married now, and she might not come back to teach Sunday school for a long time; she might not come back ever. Theodore sat in his usual chair, middle of the front row, until the end of class. He didn't sing. It was his last Sunday.
That was in the spring. Towards fall he crawled through the tall grass in the back of the yards behind the pretty white houses in town. The third one from the end of the lane at the peach orchard was Miss Lucy's. There was washing on the line behind the house, clean sheets and white pillowcases and some filmy lady things that Theodore carefully averted his eyes from as he crept to the bushes below the windows. The myrtle bushes weren't sturdy, but they took his negligible weight. The first window he looked in was the kitchen. The second was the end of the hallway, curtains flapping over the window seat. The last, open to the afternoon warmth, had Miss Lucy.
She sat in a rocking chair, looking so different without her glasses, but just as pretty as he remembered. She wore one of the print dresses, the bodice unbuttoned and open to her waist. A little blanket-wrapped bundle was in her lap. Pink lips and a tiny pink fist were pressed to the bared white mound of her breast, the ruby-dark circle of her nipple. She was wearing the look Theodore remembered, the look that was his, as she stroked the bitty snuffling thing while it suckled, crooning to it in a voice full of love.
The sun went under the tall grass as the day wore down, the cicadas tuning up as evening drew in. Lights had come on in the first window ten feet to his left, and the savory smell of frying chicken made Theodore's stomach rumble. He raised himself on his tiptoes and peered over the window ledge into the room where Miss Lucy had been.
Long shadows made bars over the rocking chair, over the rag rug on the polished floor. There was a shadow moving inside the white-painted crib, too; small hands curling, small feet kicking. Silently, Theodore pulled himself over the sill and dropped inside.
The little thing was as tiny as a kitten and as weak, but the sounds it made underneath the pillow pressed to its face were unpleasant. Theodore pushed down harder, turning his head up to the window where the new moon was beginning to glimmer through the leaves of the myrtle, and sang under his breath just loud enough to drown it out.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world...
T-Bag remembers the day the new fish came to Fox River, six inches taller than him and a good thirty pounds lighter, all bone and brain and colorlessly limpid eyes. A college boy, according to the grapevine, and clean as a newborn's bottom before he took it into his head to go waving a gun around at the Wacker Drive Savings and Loan and earn himself half a bit of hard time. A smart, pretty boy who makes stupid decisions; really, there's nothing T-Bag likes better.
But one thing happened, then another, and somehow that fish wriggled away from him, slipping from his hands just as he was sure he had it caught. T-Bag licks the broken skin of his upper lip reflectively. If there's anything that he does like better, it's a challenge. And now, knowing what he knows about the hole in the cell, the brother, the trips inside the walls, this fish won't find it so easy to slip his net again.
He imagines that pretty boy, that Michael, with his head bowed down. The tawny skin of his nape, just below the razored line of dark hair, dips concave between the tendons of his neck, a thin trail of sweat working down to the hectic ink dancing over his shoulderblades and covering his back.
"Are you gonna fight me any more, pretty?" T-Bag will ask, just to see that dark head droop a few inches lower in defeat. He'll pull the velcro loose at the fish's waist, pushing the tangle of blues and drawers down to his knees, and then slowly, slowly, he'll draw one hand open-palmed over the bare curve of the boy's hip, over that shuddering, sharp flank.
"Look at me," he'll say, and take the pretty's chin in his hand; watch the long, dark-glassy sloe eyes slant their glance at him, the candescently pink lips firming, shaking, finally parting under the pressure of his thumb.
He imagines kicking those fine narrow feet, one maimed and still bloody, apart on the rough concrete, imagines the long muscles of calves and thighs quivering under his touch as his fingers slide everywhere, unwanted and uninvited. T-Bag wraps his arms tight, so tight, around Michael's thin torso, and knows the other man can feel his heartbeat between the wings of his shoulderblades.
"You and me," he whispers, inhaling the heady musk of hot skin and fear. "You and me have come to an understanding. You and me are going to have a good time."
The metallic clang of a pipe wrench on rough tile next to his head jolts T-Bag from his reverie. Sucre glares at him.
"Manos a la obra, pendejo."
T-Bag stares back for a long moment, until Sucre looks away. He takes the sharpened teaspoon and begins to dig at the grouting under the Fitz Road grate. He coughs as the sand goes in his eyes and his throat. At the edge of his vision he sees Michael, bare to the waist, measuring the line to the wall against the arcing sweep of an angel's gesture on his torso. T-Bag sets his shoulder and grinds harder. There's time yet, and the weight of years has taught him what patience is. There's a whole story caught in Michael's tattoos, hidden in flesh, but it's nothing to the story that Theodore will tell on his skin, one day.
It's a day that's coming soon.