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Alex Mahone never expected to be regarded as something of a hero. To have strangers tell them that he'd done the right thing. That they would have loved to kill the bastard too. To have the head of the FBI tell him that while he couldn't officially condone Alex's actions, the son of a bitch had it coming to him.

He didn't expect a reduced sentence from the judge and jury. He didn't expect sympathy, support, or protection (such as they could give) from the prison guards. He didn't expect any of it.

And yet, he got it.

Ten to fifteen years for the murder of Oscar Shales. Possibility of parole at seven. Sentence reduction for his cooperation for helping take down the company. Medical help and legal medication for his mental instabilities. Unofficial support from everyone he knew.

Of course, the rest of the prisoners weren't so welcoming of his presence among their ranks. He was ex-FBI. Even if he hadn't personally put away any one of their number, he still represented the Law. And the Law wasn't welcome behind these walls.

The guards could only do so much. Alex was jumped. Beaten. His first three months on the inside he wound up in the infirmary at least once a week. But he gave as good as he got, stayed to the background as much as possible, never asked for favors from the guards or took up any offers of "protection" from other inmates. And, by his fourth month inside, the beatings tapered off. The harassment didn't end, but he was no longer the sole source of entertainment.

He'd lucked out on a cellmate. Travis was just a kid. A stupid kid who'd gotten messed up with drugs, gotten caught selling, and was put away. A stupid *pretty* kid with big green eyes and freckles across his nose and soft, bow shaped lips. His last cellie had enjoyed abusing those lips, Travis had confessed. It was the only way to keep himself safe from the rest of the predators out there, although Travis hadn't cried too hard when his so-called protector had found himself at the wrong end of a shank on the yard.

Although, the kid had said, blushing an appealing shade of red, he was going to miss the protection.

About half the fights Alex had found himself involved in the first few months were over the kid. Those fights, he always won, simply because he couldn't afford to lose them.

The kid tried to repay Alex. Alex refused every offer. Finally, he went so far as to crawl into Alex's bed in the middle of the night and trying to suck him off. Alex woke up before Travis got his pants over his hips and kicked the kid out. Or, rather, tried to. He end up holding Travis for the rest of the nigh after he dissolved into tears, confessions of years of abuse by his stepfather, his soccer coach, and later his cellmate tumbling from those beautiful lips and against Alex's chest.

How Alex ended up father confessor, he would never understand. He assumed it was part of his penance and took it without complaint.

The next morning, he took Travis to the infirmary. The stories came out again, this time with less tears and more hesitance. He clutched Alex's hand the entire time. Paperwork was filed. A social worker was sent out. More paperwork. Endless nights of nightmares and tears and frustrations. Medication was administered. And, finally, Travis was transferred to the psych ward so he could serve his sentence in relative peace and under the dubious care of the prison psychiatrists and doctors.

After Travis was transferred, the Warden called Alex to his office.

"You did a good thing," he said. "With that kid."

Alex only shrugged. "I only listened."

"You also fought for him. Both in the yard and to get him the care he needed. I appreciate that." He licked his lips. "Do you mind that role?"

Mind that role. Interesting turn of phrase. If he'd been asked if he'd liked it, he would have assumed the Warden was challenging him. Riding him for his presumption. But minding indicated he might be saddled with another charge.

Finally, Alex shrugged again. "Better someone I need to fight for and protect than someone I need to protect myself from."

The Warden cracked a smile. Nodded. "I know it's not easy for you in here, Mr. Mahone. It never is for someone who serve the law. Especially since they know we all admire you for what you did. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted..." He trailed off and smile apologetically. "At any rate. I appreciate the fact you're still following your moral code, rather than sinking to their levels."

"Thank you, sir."

He was studied a moment longer, then nodded. "You'll get your new cellmate tomorrow. I've been wondering what to do with him, and I still wonder, considering.... but I think it'll be okay." He nodded again. "Thank you, Mr. Mahone. You can go."

As Alex was escorted back to his cell, he couldn't help but wonder what exactly he was being saddled with now.

* * *

"Open on eighteen!"

Alex looked up from his book as the door to his cell opened. He hopped off the bunk, feet just hitting the floor as the guard entered, trailed by another.

"Here's your new cellie, Alex. I don't know what the Warden's thinking, but... play nice." He stepped aside, shoved the other man in front of him.

Michael Scofield stumbled, almost dropped the blankets and pillow he was carrying. Blue, blue eyes met Alex's, wide, shocked. He straightened, cheeks flushing, pulling the blankets closer to his body.

The guard stepped out of the cell. "Close on eighteen!"

The door shut with an overloud metal clang.

For a long moment, neither man moved. The air was thick. Silent. Tense. Michael's nose was pink and chapped. He breathed through his mouth, loud and raspy. It was the only sound in the room.

Alex didn't know what to do. What to say. What did you say to the man you hunted? The man you admired and respected, even lusted after? The man you'd tried to kill time and again. The man you'd tried to blame for ruining your life when you always knew, deep down, the blame rested solely on your shoulders.

What did you say? He had no idea. All he knew was the guards hate this man, the man who'd broken out of prison, made the guards of Fox River look like fools. The Warden wanted him protected. And Michael...

And Michael might not even want it. He would need it, from bitter guards and lustful inmates. But not from him. The man who'd once painted a bull's-eye on his chest and fired away.

What did you say?

He opened his mouth. All that came out was, "I've got top bunk." He frowned. Heard the words. Then, when no others came to him, he climbed onto his bunk and picked up his book once again.

After a moment, Michael moved to the bunk. Alex listened as he set about making the bed, working quietly. After what seemed like forever--the boy was meticulous--Michael moved to the bathroom area. Set his kit on the sink, opened it. Pulled out his toothbrush, paste, and plastic cup. Placed them carefully next to Alex's, arranging everything so the bristles didn't accidentally touch one another. Next came a plastic wrapped bar of soap and grey tinged wash cloth. Michael made a face at the cloth and the towel that came out next, prompting a snort from Alex. When Michael looked over at him, Alex quickly lowered his eyes back to the book in a lame attempt to deny he'd been watching.

Michael made a soft sound. It almost sounded like a laugh, but Alex couldn't be sure. When he looked up again, Michael, still fussing at the sink, was smiling.

Alex licked his lips. Watched as Michael finished with the sink, his supplies neatly in place. Looked away again as the other man turned.

The bunk shifted as Michael climbed on to the bottom. Springs squeaked, rusty and in long need of repair.

Without having read a word, Alex turned the page. Every bit of his being was focused on the man below him.

Michael started coughing. Deep, hacking, phlegm filled coughs. The entire bed frame shook. He kept coughing. Inhaled in short, painful sounding gasps.

He set down his book and slid from the bed. With a flick of his wrists, he unrolled about a yard of toilet paper from the roll. He tore it off, then tossed it onto the bed at Michael. Then he removed the toothbrush and past Michael had spent so much time arranging from the cup and filled it with water.

"Thanks," Michael rasped. He spat into the tissue, coughed again. Then he took the cup from Alex's hand and sipped.

Alex stepped away from Michael to lean against the wall. "Did they give you any tissue?"

He shook his head. "Didn't think to ask."

"You sound awful."

Michael smiled wanly. "What a time to get a cold, huh?" He coughed again into the tissue. "Welcome back to Prisneyland, where the cells are cold, the Kleenex doesn't have lotion, and no one has a cough drop." Another cough.

"Prisneyland?" Alex asked with a smile.

"Yeah." He coughed and nodded. "One of the first things Fernando said to me when I got to Fox River. I'd practically just stepped into the cell, looked outside, and saw someone get shanked. Scared me to death, but Fernando just smiled and said, 'Welcome to Prisneyland, Fish.'" Michael shrugged. "He still calls me that."

"Ah."

Silence again, save for Michael's now subdued coughing and water intake.

Michael cleared his throat. "So."

"So." He cleared his throat and looked away from the pretty eyes and flushed face. "How long's your sentence?"

"Seven to ten. Life was on the table, but I had a good lawyer."

"A really good lawyer," he agreed.

"You?"

"Ten to fifteen. Maybe seven, if I'm lucky. Which I probably will be." Alex smiled. "I'm popular with the guards and the warden."

"Not so much with the inmates."

"Not so much, no."

Michael nodded. Coughed again. "This sucks," he groaned, falling back on his bunk. "I've been downing vitamin C and Echinacea and everything they say you should. Drinking gallons of water, the whole bit. And I'm still sick."

"Because with the stress of prison looming over you, vitamin C and tea should be more than enough," he said dryly.

Hs cellmate stuck his tongue out at him.

There was a loud buzzing that heralded the unlocking of the doors.

"Yard time!" a guard yelled.

Well. This would be interesting.

Alex pushed off the wall. "Coming?"

Michael whimpered.

"The fresh air will do you good. Better than these moldy walls."

With a sigh that came from his toes, Michael rolled off the bed. He grabbed the baseball cap at the foot of his bed and he followed Alex out and jammed it on his head. Then, he shoved his fists into his pockets and hunched his shoulders, striving for invisibility.

Alex could only hope it would work. But, with a face like Michael's and the recent loss of another pretty face, he could only assume that Michael would be noticed right away. Especially if he tagged along with Alex. Not that Alex was going to suggest Michael go off on his own.

"Yo, FBI," a voice shouted almost the moment Alex stepped into the yard.

Fuck.

Alex turned toward the man lumbering his way. Tall, built, crooked nose and broken teeth, Charles McNab had been Travis's greatest admirer. Alex had been sent to the infirmary many, many times by this man. He foresaw years of such abuse. Possibly continuing right this moment.

"Who's your new cellie, FBI?" McNab asked, straining to look over Alex's shoulder.

"No one," he said shortly, continuing to walk.

"What's your name, kid?" McNab--who was only twenty-five--asked.

Michael was in Alex's shadow, dogging his footsteps so closely he was stepping on his heels.

Alex reached back and snagged Michael by the arm, pulling him even. This proved to be a mistake, since Michael lifted his face while being pulled, offering McNab full view.

"Fucking Christ, FBI, how the hell do you score these cellies?" he demanded. He planted himself in front of Michael, who didn't stop in time to keep from bumping into him.

"McNab, I'm warning you..."

"Hey, Precious," McNab said, ignoring Alex. "Name's McNab, but feel free to call me Daddy." He held out his hand.

Michael glanced at Alex, clearly unsure what to do.

"Come on, baby. It's just a hand. Ain't gonna bite you." He grabbed Michael's and shook. "There, see? That wasn't so hard. Now was it?"

Michael coughed. Pulled his and away and coughed into his elbow. "Nice to meet you. Alex?"

"We've got a game of chess waiting. Come on, Michael."

"Now wait, there, FBI." McNab threw his arm around Michael's neck and yanked him away. "Precious and me have some serious talking to do. Don't we, Precious?" He glanced down and saw Michael's tattoo peeking from under the cuffs of Michael's shirt. "You're inked? You don't look the type."

"There's a lot you don't know about me." He untangled himself and stepped back to Alex. "Thanks but no thanks."

McNabs hand clamped around Michael's arm. Michael winced and twisted it, unable to get it loose.

"I know who you are, Precious. You're that Fox River kid. You gonna break out of here, too? Because, if you are, you're bringing me along."

"My prison break days are over," Michael wheezed. "I'm staying and doing my time."

"Then I suggest you and me go and have a little talk, Precious. I think we might be able to work out a nice kind of arrangement, you know?"

Alex stepped into McNab's space until they were nose to nose. "Let him go, McNab."

Eyes slid to him. "You ran the other one off, FBI. I want this one."

"No."

"You want to go through this again?"

"Alex.."

He didn't listen. Simply threw the punch, feeling McNab's nose crunch under his fist. The return punch was solid in his stomach, like running into a brick wall.

He lost it. Rage overcame him and he was on McNab, kicking and punching and so much pain and there was blood and he just. Didn't. Care.

Guns fired. Whistles blew. He was torn from McNab, thrown to the ground.

"Don't, please, don't, just stop," he heard in his ear.

He rolled onto his back. Michael was next to him, coughing hard, wheezing. His arms were tight around Alex, holding him back from McNab, whose gang was doing the same to him.

"Dammit, Alex," one of the guard--Simms, he determined--said on hauling him up. "Seriously, couldn't you have just let them have him? You know what he did."

Alex blood from his face. Grabbed Michael by the arm and helped him to his feet. "He needs to see a doctor," he said. More blood gushed from his nose and into his mouth. He wiped again, smearing it.

Simms snorted. Rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, looks like you all get a trip. Come on, cons. Move 'em."