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May 23rd, 1991

It was a warm and beautiful day that Thursday afternoon. Near the end of the month, the occasional cool breeze here and there would start to die down into a more sweltering heat as spring shifted into summer and May shifted into June.

He was the only one in his family, the only one out of his old and new groups of friends, that didn't despise the summer. Of course he didn't enjoy the days where the heat would become unbearable to stand. That was just downright masochistic in his opinion. Instead, he loved the brighter atmosphere of summer in contrast to the much more "bitter" winter.

Making plans with his buddies to splash around in the local pool, the satisfying feeling he would get by accompanying his outside escapades with an ice cream cone or a cool soft drink... Not to mention, he loved spending time with his friends, and nobody ever wanted to go out and do anything during the winter because it was always too damn cold! The summertime was much more preferable to make plans to hang out, or to host a house party, or to go out in the middle of the night and do something ridiculously juvenile. On that day, as the breeze settled down and gave way to the scorching beams of the sun, he knew it would have been the perfect day to do so.

By the time he would be released from prison, however, it would have been winter yet again, and he would have to wait another few months for summer to make its return. 

The only reason he became aware of the upcoming season was because of the drastic change in the climate he had experienced while being out on the prison's courtyard. The plain white tee he wore had several pools of sweat piling into its nooks and crannies before he removed it from his torso. The perspiration made his tawny chest glisten underneath the sunlight, and he spent another ten minutes playing the heated basketball game against his prison mates before their daily recreational time was over and they were called back inside.

He managed to cool off long since then. He was thankful that the facility, though merely adequate in most aspects, could at least provide all of its inmates with proper ventilation. Now that he was inside and back in his cell, after reading a few pages from an old sports magazine he borrowed from the library, he decided to check himself out in the steel mirror on the wall. Right after he finished slicking back his orange eyebrows with a lick of his thumb, he grabbed his hairbrush from the counter of the sink and brushed through his uniquely styled buzzcut.


In the midst of his grooming, a correctional officer stepped into his cell and called to his attention by shouting his surname. Russo regarded him with a side eye and a raise of his eyebrow.

"You've got yourself a new bunkmate," he said. "Make some space."

Russo was surprised to hear that news. The last time he had a roommate, it was nearly four months ago. His previous roommate had obviously resided within that cell much longer than he had, but within their first week of getting to know each other, he managed to chase the poor bastard out and into an entirely different cell. The older man would pester the warden everyday about Russo's unbearable snoring, claiming that he had lost hours upon hours of sleep since the day he was incarcerated, until the warden finally decided to give in to his never ending plea. Ever since then, Russo kept the whole cell to himself.

Though he felt guilty for chasing the guy out of his own room, he didn't mind having it all to himself. He could choose any bunk he wanted, he had more personal privacy when using the restroom, and he could indulge in his hobbies without bothering anybody else, which mostly involved loudly rapping along to the songs he played from his Walkman. The facility gained a few freshly incarcerated persons every month or so, but oddly enough, none of them were arranged to occupy the empty space until then.

"Eh? Really? Did somebody request a cell change, or is it a new inmate?"

"New inmate," the officer said. "After the news about your midnight death rattle had been spread around, every other prisoner in this block made sure to steer clear from your cell when requesting their cell changes. We'd have this newbie in another room if we weren't so running low on space, so try not to chase this guy out, ya hear?"

"Okay," Russo said with a grin. "No problemo."

"Though, I personally don't think you'd be able to this time." The officer added a laugh to his claim. "He's in for murder, but shit, if looks could kill, I'd be—"

"Wait. The new guy's a convicted murderer?"

"Yup. First degree."

"What? Then why the hell is he being bunked with me?!" Russo exclaimed, his eyes now wide with shock. "This cell block is for petty crimes, like thieves and pot smokers! Murderers and serial killers are supposed to be in D block, not B block!"

"Quit your bitching, Russo. I just told you this place is running low on space. You'll just have to hang tight 'til the end of your sentence."

"'Til the end of my...? Oh, come on! That ain't fair, Sorrentino!"

"Quit your bitching, inmate!" the officer repeated with much more aggression.

"Fuck you, man! You quit your bitching!"

"Is that back talk, inmate? Do you want me to give you a shot?"

"Fuck your shot!"

Sorrentino sneered at him, but left the room without announcing whether Russo's sass earned him a shot or not. Instead, he took his leave after concluding, "Be nice to your new bunkie."

Russo stuck his bottom lip out in a pout as he threw his hairbrush onto the counter of the sink. It was already bad enough that he happened to be stuck in prison during the first few signs of summer, and now he would have to spend the rest of his sentence with a goddamn murderer. What a fantastic day he was having!

He reckoned the new inmate would be there any second now, and as he turned around to check the cleanliness of the bunks, he spotted the several sports magazines he had strewn all across the lower bed. He realized that cleaning up his mess was probably what Sorrentino meant by "make some space." Russo gathered said magazines in his arm and plopped them onto the room's small desk area, along with his other miscellaneous crap, when he heard the probable footsteps of the new inmate approaching the room. After getting all the magazines onto the desk, he turned to face the newcomer.

"Yo! Nice to meet..." He rose his hand in the air and got ready to wave, but after a brief flinch he found himself frozen in place. ""

To Russo, Sorrentino's remark about looks being able to kill was merely an understatement. He didn't mean to be rude, but the newbie's appearance was pretty damn frightening, and in his opinion it was fitting for someone who would have committed first degree murder.

The man standing in the doorway of the cell was much, much bigger than he was. Russo was only a smidge taller than the average male, but the other was more of a colossus and had more muscular gains on him as well. And yet, his most distinguishing and intimidating feature were neither his height nor his build— instead, it was his eyes, which had abnormally pitch black sclera bordering piercing red irises.

He wore the same uniform all the newbies would wear: the striped and collared shirt with the facility's name, "Penitenziario di Catania," printed on the back in bold, black lettering along with the matching striped bottoms. The older inmates would switch out their uniform shirts for plain tees and tanks, and Russo had long since exchanged his sweaty white t-shirt for a fresh white tank top. Ironically enough, the newbie wearing the proper dress code of the facility made him appear even more out of place and further distinguished him from the veterans of the building.

In his hands he held several spare changes of clothing of his own size, along with a towel, shower slippers, and a free toothbrush. He held a blank facial expression as his eyes briefly scanned the room, though he remained still in the doorway as if he were a vampire requiring consent to enter. Eventually, he did take a few steps inside, but he unintentionally disregarding Russo's greeting with a question.

"Where should I place my things?" he asked. His tone was soft, but his baritone voice still boomed throughout the quarters.

Russo snapped himself out of his paralysis and gestured over to where he had just shoved all his mess. "The desk over here is fine." Then, he supposed it would be a good idea to get his junk out of the way, and he made haste into rearranging his mess into its own pile. The new inmate silently placed his stack of belongings on the opposite side.

Afterwards, he continued to stand still and look around his new living quarters. He examined the steel bunk beds, the steel commode in one corner of the room, the steel mirror, and the steel sink below it. There was a great deal of steel in those prison cells, he observed. Nothing there would be made of any breakable glass or porcelain.

He hardly glanced Russo's way, and Russo arched a brow at his queer behavior, noticing that his mannerisms weren't as fitting for his interpretation of a murderer and were more similar to those of a lost puppy. The inmate was also fairly quiet and had not uttered a word since he inquired of where he could put his things. Russo shuffled to the bunks and sat down on the edge of the bottom one with a grunt, informing the newbie that he could sit down in the desk chair if he desired. The large man sat down in the chair the very moment he was given permission.

"I think we should start off by introducing ourselves," Russo said, wanting to break the awkward ice between them. "My name's Formaggio. First name's Formaggio, at least. My last name is Russo. What's your name?"


Formaggio slowly nodded his head and waited a few more seconds for any further clarification, but oddly enough, he had said nothing more. The new fish mumbled "Nero," left it at that, and let his eyes wander off into space again. The ginger wondered if his new roommate happened to smoke a joint before his incarceration.

"Is that your first name, or your last name?" he spoke, after an entire minute had passed without either of them saying a word.

He managed to bring Nero out of his trance with the inquiry, but the answer he received was hardly a direct answer at all.

"Risotto Nero."

Formaggio was left more puzzled than before, and he scratched the back of his head as his eyes circumferenced the room. "Soooo, exactly what do you want me to call you, big guy?"

"Risotto is just fine."

Formaggio began to snicker through the airy breaths of his nose. As loud as it was, Risotto didn't seem to notice.

"Do you mind if I lie down?" the newcomer suddenly asked. "Sorry, I've just had a pretty long day."

"Don't apologize man, you're fine," Formaggio reassured as he got up from the mattress. "Do you want top bunk or bottom bunk? I usually sleep on the top, but I don't mind if you wanna take it."

"Bottom bunk."

"Wait, really?"


The two of them proceeded to switch places, Formaggio sitting in the desk chair and Risotto lying down against his acclaimed bunk bed. Formaggio sat in the chair backwards from how he was supposed to sit so he could face the bunks.

"I've never seen anybody willingly take the bottom bunk around here," Formaggio told him. "Some inmates have actually fought over this shit, y'know. Are you sure you're okay with sleeping down there?"

Risotto shrugged his shoulders as he placed his hands behind his head. "Too tall for top bunk."

"Oh. Then yeah, that makes sense." Formaggio looked up at the ceiling for a moment. "The ceilings are really low in these rooms."

The new prisoner nodded wordlessly, as he stared at the chipped blue paint on the bed railings above him. He began to tap his foot against the ladder poles on the other end of his mattress. Formaggio watched him with his hand resting on his palm and with a quick scratch to the temple.

"You must be really quiet, huh?"

"How could you tell?" Risotto asked sarcastically, though he accompanied the question with a smile to show he meant no harm.

"I heard you're in for first degree murder?"


"So, I'm not trying to be rude, but you do look like the type of guy to be a murderer." Formaggio held his hands up in defense, but Risotto only reacted by a purse of his lips and a small nod in agreement. "And I'm not sure if you're aware, but they put you in the wrong cell block. I've never really interacted with the murderers and serial killers in this prison."

"You think I'm a serial killer?"

"Shit, no! No, no, no!" Risotto sounded quite offended by his words, and Formaggio was quick to clarify, furiously shaking his head and hands. "Listen, that ain't what I meant. I'm saying that when you hear 'first degree murderer,' or 'murderer' in general, you usually think negative thoughts about that person. Like, maybe they've got some anger issues, or maybe they have some type of mental illness, something along the lines of that. I've seen those traits in all of the other murder felons in this place, and I've always kept my distance from them because of it. So, I'll admit, hearing that I was being bunked with a murderer kinda scared me at first."

Risotto nodded again. "I understand. You're trying to say that I don't have the stereotypical behavior of a murderer."

"Right, and I'm pretty relieved, 'cause you seem to be a laid back type of dude. I wouldn't think you could be a murderer at all if you didn't look so intimidating. But when you came in, you were acting a little awkward, and you are really quiet. Are you shy? Or are you just a repeat offender?"

"This is my first time being in prison," Risotto said, in response to the repeat offender presumption. "I can say that I'm also fairly nervous about this... new situation, but yes, I've always been shy."

"Why are you shy?"

"I'm not so used to speaking or being spoken to. I've always been an outcast in social situations."

"Why's that?"

"You said it yourself," Risotto stated. "I'm intimidating. Take one look at me, and you can find your answer. Nobody wants to be associated with a freak upon nature."

"Well..." Formaggio laughed sheepishly as he rubbed the nape of his neck. "I didn't say it like that, but..."

"You don't have to sugarcoat anything around me," Risotto disclosed. "I'm sure I've heard much worse about my appearance. Don't be afraid to be honest."

"I mean..." Formaggio sucked his teeth. "Saying stuff like that makes me feel guilty. Even if you don't mind, I don't wanna be rude."

"Let's say I came in and behaved like the stereotypical murderer you've described. Would you still neglect the urge to be rude towards me?"

Formaggio had a moment to himself to think, and Risotto patiently waited for his answer.

"Hell yeah!" he shouted.


"Because if not, then you'd kill me!"

Formaggio didn't notice it before, but the wider Risotto smiled, the more prominent his dimples became, and watching him laugh was the prime of this unique quality in his features.

"Although," he went on, after Risotto's laughing died down, "considering you're my bunkmate, I would be nice to you regardless of whether you're crazy or not. You can't act that way around everybody around here, 'cause some of those punks will try and use that to their advantage— and I'm way too friendly, so I learned that shit the hard way— but, I might as well befriend the guy I'm bunking with. We'll be living together, after all."

"I heard you happened to chase your old roommate out with your snoring," Risotto mentioned. "The guards warned me about it. They said the warden won't be able to accommodate me if I had any complaints."

"Oh, yeah. My bad about that in advance."

"It's fine. I've had to sleep through all types of noises before. I think I can handle a bit of snoring."

"Good to know you won't start shouting at me about it in the middle of the night," Formaggio said. "The last guy did that a lot."

After Risotto shook his head, the room fell silent again. Formaggio stood up from the seat, mumbling something about it making his ass hurt while he scratched the aforementioned body part, and walked over to the bed to begin climbing the ladder to his own bunk.

"By the way, I think you have a nice personality," the newcomer said. "I would have appreciated someone like you while I was growing up."

After hearing that, Formaggio halted midway on the ladder. "What? You're saying you didn't even have any friends while you grew up?"

"Unless you count my cousin, then no, not until upper secondary, but I'm not completely sure if I should consider those people my friends, anyway."

"That's a load of bullshit," Formaggio scoffed. He climbed onto his bed with a thump, and Risotto watched the mattress move against the rails above him. "I don't see why you didn't have any friends. You're really chill."

"Freak upon nature. Remember?"

"Yeah, but that's still bullshit to me. It only took me a couple of minutes to get to know you, and you're more than some 'freak.' Plus, Mama always says to never judge a book by its cover."

Risotto sighed at his statement. Hearing about other people's mothers always made him feel doleful, but he knew better not to push his unwanted baggage on another person. 

"A mother always knows best," he said, as his eyes fluttered shut.

"Yup. Always."

As Risotto began to drift off into a nap, Formaggio pulled a sports magazine out from underneath his pillow and began to read it to pass the time. The magazine was at least three years old, but it was all the prison's library had to offer due to the minute funding it received, and he somehow never got sick of reading the same old thing about the same old athletes several times over. A few minutes had passed before he remembered to check the wristwatch he had hidden under his sheets.

"I reckon nobody here's offered to show you around the prison yet," he said to Risotto, while putting the watch back in its hiding place. Not having fallen asleep just yet, Risotto was brought back to full consciousness with his words.

"Shit, right. I forgot the guards told me to ask around for directions," he said, "but I chose not to bother with the looks that everybody's been giving me."

"Well, it's almost time for us to eat, and I've got no problem with showing you around until dinner." Formaggio made sure he remembered the current page number before setting the magazine down and hopping off the side of the bunk. "Don't mind the other guys in this block. They're all just a bunch of knuckleheads. I'll introduce you to some of my pals, they'll open right up once they get to know you."

Formaggio waved Risotto over as he scuffled towards their open cell door, and Risotto got up from the bed to follow him outside.

"Also, I'll show you where to get a plain tee or tank top. I don't think striped tops fit you well." As they walked out into the open cell block, they were given a couple of stares by the lingering inmates, but Formaggio told Risotto to ignore them for now.

"How is everyone able to get away with not wearing the uniform shirt?" Risotto wondered, noticing that nearly every other inmate in his block had a different top than him. "I would've thought that a correctional facility would be more strict about these things."

"Trust me, we get away with a lot more than just changing our shirts."

"I'm well aware. But not wearing the uniform shirt is more obvious than the things I presume prisoners do in their discretion."

"Honestly, I dunno how we get away with this," Formaggio answered. "I guess the warden just doesn't care, but newbies are easily singled out if they wear the striped tees. That's why I'm showing you where to get a plain one. You're an all black type of guy, right? The black tees and undershirts become unpopular during the summer, so there should be lots of spares for ya."

Risotto gave him a funny look. "How did you know I like to wear all black?"

"Just an assumption," Formaggio said with a shrug. "What type of music do you like to listen to?"

"Hmm... Heavy metal. Why?"

"...Yeah, that just about proves my point."

Chapter Text

Formaggio managed to show Risotto most of the other rooms and areas of the prison before it was time for dinner. They stopped by the prison's canteen to grab the spare shirts Formaggio had mentioned, and Risotto was given many t-shirts and undershirts for free. Formaggio then used his own funds to buy Risotto a bottle of soap and shampoo for his baths. After getting back to their cell block, Risotto changed from his striped shirt into a large black tee. The two of them waited until a correctional officer called the entire cell block into chow hall.

"Chow hall" was what the inmates called the cafeteria, and it was one of the very few places every criminal from every cell block could get together and mingle amongst themselves. Walking into chow hall reminded Risotto of the years he spent in secondary school: the cafeteria bustling with activity, the unique facial expressions each person held, the amount of diversity in the large group of students. The only big differences were that there were no women in sight, and that there was more of a consensus among their faces. All of them were men, within the age range of adolescents to the elderly, and none of them seemed too content with being stuck in prison.

Several different factions existed within the facility. While going through the meal line, Formaggio helped point some of them out. There were just too many men and too many tables for him to name every single one, but Risotto understood the general gist.

Those are the prison gangs. Those are the prison gangs that have affiliations with outside gangs. Those are the racially divided groups, and those are the prison's drug dealers. Those are the weirdos. Those are the muscles for hire. Those are the psychopaths. Those are the old men with life sentences.

And then, right at the end of his listing, Formaggio pointed to a specific table and exclaimed, "Those are my homies!"

After their trays were filled with mostly indistinguishable slop, Formaggio led them to a half empty table seating a few young men that Risotto had remembered seeing in the common area of B block along with a few others he had not yet seen before. The chattering table had instantly turned dead silent when Formaggio approached with his new friend. They were scrutinizing the new fish with frowns and scowls, though Risotto remained emotionless when meeting their gazes.

"Hey, Red," one of them called, as he switched his gaze from Risotto to Formaggio. "Didn't we tell you a long time ago that the freaks aren't allowed to sit at this table?"

With a roll of his eyes, Formaggio ignored the complaint and set his tray down at his reserved place at the table. "Come sit, Risotto. Don't mind Angelo's griping," he said, as he sat down and patted the empty seat next to him.

To Formaggio's dismay, Risotto didn't move a single inch from where he stood. He remained idle, with his tray in his hands, as the other inmates continued to shoot him dirty looks. Though he appeared to be unnerved by their discontent, their stares were starting to make him feel slightly uncomfortable.

"I'm not so sure if I'm welcomed."

"You aren't welcomed," the inmate named Angelo confirmed with a snort, "but at least you're smart enough to realize that. I'll give you some credit for having more brains than this redheaded retard over here."

"Man, what even is the big fucking deal?" Formaggio groaned. "Just because he looks weird doesn't mean he is weird. The dude's perfectly fine. He's just new, and he needs some good friends."

"Even if he isn't a weirdo, new fish are never supposed to sit with us," said another inmate that had a tattoo of a red rose cascading down his temple. "We're the ones that invited you into our circle, remember? You sat alone for at least two weeks before that."

"Okay, and now I'm inviting Risotto, yeah? No problemo. Risotto, come sit."

"You have no jurisdiction over who sits at this table," Angelo retorted, "I do, and like I said, I don't remember allowing freaks to sit at our table. If he needs a place to sit, he can sit with the other psychotic serial killer fucks from D block. Either you ditch the freak, or you can fuck right off along with him."

"Woah! Would you guys look at that? A serial arsonist who ended up burning somebody's fucking grandma to death is trying to judge another man for murder! If you're gonna be so fucking judgemental, Angelo, at least try not to be a goddamn hypocrite!"

As the other inmates at the table made long "oohs" at Formaggio's remark, Angelo drew his lips back in a snarl. "Get the fuck out of my face, Red."

Formaggio didn't hesitate to grab his tray and stand up from his seat. "Cristo Santo... Since Angelo wants to be a drama queen, it just can't be helped." He sighed as he began to walk away from his table of friends. "Follow me, Risotto."

The duo settled down at the end of an emptier table near the very back of the chow hall, a few quiet older men sitting on the side opposite to them. Formaggio grumbled a few Italian curses under his breath as he glared daggers at the table of his so called friends, who went on to babble about without inviting Risotto into their circle.

"It doesn't bother me, Formaggio. I've grown used to it by now. Don't stress yourself out over trivial things," he said.

"Fuck that. They're all acting like a bunch of middle schoolers." Formaggio shoved a scoop of the mystery food into his mouth. "I don't know what I'd expect outta a bunch of cool guy wannabes anyway."

As Formaggio proceeded to wolf down his dinner, Risotto studied the slop on his plate. The extremely dry looking corn was the only portion of the tray he could figure out on his own. He categorized the rest as green goop, white goop, and a dark slab of mystery meat. A red apple he grabbed from the fruit bar sat alongside the tray, but when he took a closer look, he noted several brown flecks across its surface.

"What is this?" he asked, picking up his plastic spork and pointing it towards the green goop on the tray.

"Peashhh," Formaggio answered with his mouthful.

"Peas?" Risotto gawked at the proclaimed peas in disbelief, while Formaggio nodded with an "mhmm" and resumed tearing into his tray. Risotto moved and hovered his spork over the white goop next. "Then, what is this?"

"Mashed potatoes."

At least the mashed potatoes were actually fitting for its appearance, Risotto thought, but as he scooped up a sporkful of the food and brought it to his mouth, he found himself almost spitting the mush back out. The mashed potatoes were unsalted and unbuttered, yet somehow unnecessarily creamy, and for whatever odd reason contained an abundance of black pepper. Risotto forced himself to swallow the food and immediately chased down the abhorrent taste with a few sips from his water cup.

"It's bad, ain't it?" Formaggio inquired with a grin, though ironically enough, he was chomping down on the contents of his tray like it wasn't bad at all.

"It's distasteful," Risotto agreed, still wincing from the aftertaste. "Who even cooks around here?"

"I think some of the senile geezers from C block are the ones that have most of the kitchen jobs," Formaggio said. "I rarely see anybody young coming outta the kitchen or putting the food on our trays."

After Risotto observed the meal line, he concluded that Formaggio was right; he only saw much older inmates working behind the counters and coming from the double doors of the back kitchen. Alzheimer's and dementia were especially ripe at their ages, which would have deemed them too old to work anymore, but even if their minds had been deteriorating an experienced cook would at least be able to maintain the quality of something as simple as green peas. Not only were they debilitated by their old ages, but he also assumed those men were never qualified for kitchen duty in the first place. After coming to this conclusion, he no longer wondered why the food was so terrible.

"Does the kitchen accept new employees?" he queried, as he continued to study the poor excuse of a cooking crew. "I believe I could do much better than this."

"Not sure, but I bet one of those overworked geezers with a bad back would gladly give their position up to you," Formaggio quipped. "I didn't take you for a guy who would be interested in culinary stuff, though. You know how to cook?"

A couple of seconds went by before Formaggio, who was mostly distracted by his grub, realized that Risotto had never answered his question. He appeared to be wandering off into some wonderland of his mind and was just as quiet as he was back in their cell.

"Yelloooo!" Formaggio nudged him in the arm with his elbow. "Earth to Risotto!"

"Do I have something on my face, Formaggio?"

Formaggio paused before he brought another scoop of mashed peas to his mouth, and he glossed Risotto over for a short second. "Huh? Whaddya mean? I sure don't see anything"

"They're staring," Risotto explained, his eyes narrowing at what was ahead. "I'm not too sure why."

Formaggio raised a brow, swiftly downed the mush, and glimpsed around the chow hall for whichever table he was referring to. He already had a good guess on which table it was, and finding it confirmed his suspicion.

On the opposite side of the chow hall, a table full of rough looking men were staring directly at Risotto. When Formaggio caught sight of them, they were in the middle of sneering and making a few rude gestures towards his friend.

"Oh, for fuck's sake. Not this shit again." Formaggio averted his eyes back to the tray in front of him. "Just ignore them, Risotto."

Risotto mimicked the other in his gesture while placing his head in his palm, subconsciously twiddling his spork in the other hand. "Who are they?"

"A bunch of no good punks, weirder than the weirdos," Formaggio murmured. "They're a group of guys from D block who've gotten locked up for shit like mass murder and sexual assault. Did you see that big guy over there? The buff skinhead?"

"I did."

"That's Zeno, the leader of the bunch. The rest of those wackos are just his stupid goons he's got following him around. You can get away with ignoring those tards, but you gotta watch out for Zeno sometimes. He's a little... off."

"What do you mean?"

"Zeno is notorious for... um... violating other inmates. Like, raping them and stuff. Especially the new fish. He targets the newbies all the time, so I guess he thinks you're his next bet."

Risotto frowned after hearing that, and he stopped fiddling with the utensil in his hand. "Has he ever done anything to you?"

"Well... There have been a couple of times where he'd reach into the shower curtains and feel my ass, but nothing too serious, like..." The ginger cleared his throat and took a sip from his water cup. "You know what I mean."

The frown on Risotto's face turned into a deep scowl, and a small growl left his throat.

"It's worse for the people who've ended up in D block," Formaggio added. "You're pretty lucky to have not ended up in the same block as them. He likes to keep some of the new D block fish as his 'wives'. The only time you have to watch your back for him is during rec time and the showers. Avoiding him should be pretty easy otherwise."

Risotto suddenly dropped his spork across the mush on his tray. "I've lost my appetite."

"Eh? But you've hardly eaten anything from your tray," Formaggio pointed out. "I know it tastes like shit, but you gotta eat something, Risotto. I've got some chips I bought from commissary back at the cell if you really can't stand the food yet. Here, I'll just eat your food for ya."

While Formaggio reached out for Risotto's plate, the taller inmate briskly collected all of his things and jolted up from his seat. As he made his way towards one of the chow hall trash bins, Formaggio scarfed up most of his remainders of slop and followed his friend in protest.

"Wait, man! Don't waste food like that! You can just give it to me!"

Risotto ignored Formaggio's pleas and threw away his hardly touched food. Without looking back into the chow hall, he ambled out of the large and crowded room, his shorter friend scuffling right beside him. He could still feel the eyes of Zeno burning a hole into the back of his neck, attempting to mark him as the next piece of candy he would have loved to suck on, to sink his teeth into, and to tear apart.

Chapter Text

"Hey, about your eyes." Formaggio set aside his magazine and stuck his head over the end railing of the upper bunk. Risotto was sitting on the edge of his own bed, an open bag of sour cream flavored potato chips in his hand. "How did they get like that, anyway? I'm just curious."

Risotto pulled another potato chip out from the bag and munched on it. The chips had a slightly peculiar taste, but they were much better than the insufferable mush that was served to him earlier.

"My black scleras are a part of a rare genetic mutation I was born with," he said. "Red irises are a common trait within my family, but we also tend to have darker hair."

"So, were you just born with some weird type of albinism?"

"No. Several doctors have run tests on me when I was younger, and each one of them ruled out albinism. My vision is fine, and I might be pale, but my skin isn't overly sensitive to the sun. They could never figure out what the mutation truly was, so I just refer to it as a rare one."

"Damn. I know you get judged for it, but fuck it, that's kinda cool, man. I don't know about the hair, but I'd like to have weird eyes like yours. That shit's hella unique."

"Would you like to switch eyeballs with me?"

They chatted about his distinct eye color for a while longer, Risotto finishing his small meal during their conversation, before Formaggio found himself checking his wristwatch again for the time.

"Are you up for hitting the showers?" he said. "If you are, we've only got a few minutes before they start getting too crowded."

"I thought you would never ask," Risotto replied, as the redhead jumped from the side of his bunk and landed onto the concrete floor. With all their appropriate belongings in hand, the two headed out of their cell, departed their housing block, and made their way towards the showers.

The communal showers were dimmed due to one of the two fluorescent bulbs being long since burned out of its energy, leaving it unsatisfyingly darker in certain parts and lighter in others. In the poorly brightened area, the inmates went on with their cleansing as if it were nothing. A correctional officer was never present within the room, but two of them stood watch outside of the door in case there happened to be any commotion. Though it wasn't the brightest idea, it was a small gesture to give the inmates a sense of privacy, knowing they hardly had any to begin with.

Formaggio could never get to the showers early enough. He wasn't the only one in the facility who owned a contraband wristwatch, and the men who less of their luck learned their own habits of keeping track of time. No matter when he chose to take his bath, whether it be sooner or later, it would always come with a crowd. In fact, there were other groups of men from either the same or different housing blocks who rushed past them to try and grab a vacant shower first. The upside of being there sooner was that they only had to wait a few minutes for more space to clear.

Each showerhead was privatized by walls and curtains that separated one from the other. The showerheads lined the walls of the entire room, while in the middle of the space were benches where the men could rest their fannies. A separate side room served as a changing area for the men to get in and out of their clothing. More benches, along with small lockers to hold their personal items, were present in that room as well.

Risotto and Formaggio undressed in the changing room and covered themselves with their towels. Though he kept his eyes away from his friend, there was a great chance that Risotto would unintentionally catch a glimpse of another naked man. Albeit understanding he had no choice but to get used to seeing a stranger's genitalia here and there, it didn't make him feel any less awkward or invasive. On the contrary, he was still receiving the stink eye from others for being a new, strange face, and when they eyed him, they looked him up and down. The scrutiny had made him even more uneasy, but he chose not to mention anything of it, and the duo left the changing room to wait for their baths.

When there was a vacant space for the both of them, Risotto and Formaggio housed themselves under a showerhead next to each other. The showerheads themselves appeared to be a little too shabby, and the water pressure wasn't the greatest, but Formaggio made it the least bit better by giving him a brief description on how to adjust the knobs in order to get the perfect water temperature, as perfect as it could be in their penitentiary. In his own cubicle, as he began to rid his body of the dirt and grime of the day and washed his short, silver hair all the same, his mind was able to wander off and tune out the effusing tones of the other inmates. Formaggio told him that the showers were limited to a maximum of twenty-five minutes per inmate, and twenty-five minutes was all he needed. Back home, taking a long shower was one of the only things he found could calm his nerves.

Before he was officially sentenced to serve time in prison, he spent several days in jail and had been robbed of the right to a fulfilling shower, let alone any soap and shampoo to clean himself with. He slept in darker cells that reeked of piss and vomit, and on cold, hard benches instead of a subpar mattress. The smell of the prison wasn't anything near satisfying like the smell of lavender sheets, but being transported to the larger facility still felt like a breath of fresh air to him. He had hardly been there for a day, yet jail had already proved to be much worse than prison. He hated every second he spent in that dreaded hellhole.

Then again, maybe he deserved it. Maybe he deserved the mistreatment he was given by the jail guards and inhabitants alike, to be harassed for his looks and spat on by some convicted, God fearing drunkard who claimed he held the eyes of a demon. Maybe he deserved the long and grueling hours of interrogation and psychological torture for what he had done to his victim.

Not only had he gashed his throat, but he continued to strike him several times in other parts of his neck, in his eyes, in his chest and his stomach, until he was satisfied with the mangled, bloody mess before him. He could still hear the deafening screams of his victim's wife, who attempted to punch him in his head several times over in nothing but futility, as she cried out and pleaded the monster to stop, and yet, nothing could have stopped Risotto's rampage that night. Nothing could have stopped him from stalking the felon for several years until the very moment he was released and placed on parole, the perfect moment to break into his house, kick down the door to his bedroom, and pull out a sharp, steel blade to end his life.

After his unnecessarily long interrogation— he brutally murdered the man, what more could he even say?— he was briefly trialed in court and sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars. The jury decided it was due punishment that he suffered for the godawful crime he committed against a married man with a wife and two children, a man who never got the chance to find out he had another child on the way. They couldn't have cared less about how he felt injustice for what was done to his cousin, and the inexpensive attorney provided to him by the court didn't serve much help with his case.

He ran his fingers through his soaked hair to try and get the remaining shampoo out of it. He had long since accepted his fate and the inevitability that he would be buried with the other deceased inmates in the prison's pity of a graveyard. What worried him is what his friend would think of him if he really knew about the brutality of his crime.

Formaggio proved to be a wonderful person, and though he wasn't the brightest, it wasn't exactly his fault that Risotto neglected to get into detail about his conviction. Formaggio slightly misjudged him, and then went on to misjudge him again. Maybe the fact that he was so awkward and shy was what hid his true nature. He definitely had some temperamental issues, and holding a murderous grudge against a man to the point where it always felt unbearable for him to let go of it showed obvious signs of mental instability. He knew that his friend deserved to know that he was truly the murderer he feared, but if he told him, then what would happen? Then, he would have ruined the opportunity for him to develop a close bond with anyone outside of his deceased relative, and he would once again be left alone, outcasted, and—

He was abruptly brought out of his thoughts when he felt a firm hand grab and smack onto his bottom. His eyes shot open at the obtrusive feeling, and he snapped his head around just in time to catch sight of the offender.

The terrible lighting of the room had shined on him flawlessly, but flawless was opposite of what Risotto would use to describe Zeno. He flared his tacky gold and silver teeth in a sneer, and the obscene tattoos that lined his face didn't make him any more attractive. The most noticeable tattoo on his body, located on the back of his neck, was a heinous one indeed— an image of the Third Reich eagle carrying an embroidered swastika by its talons. Risotto already felt disgusted by the offense, but the simple fact that a supremacist had even dared to touch him with his grimy hands encouraged him all the more to retaliate.

He furiously ripped open the curtains of his shower, rushed out of his cubicle, pursued Zeno's light tread to a newly vacant showerhead, and grabbed the skinhead's right arm from behind. Firmly twisting the arm behind his back, he proceeded to knee him in the loin and pin him down to the tiled floor, yanking the hideously decorated limb far from its place. The loud thud of Zeno's body colliding with the damp floor, along with his incessant shouting and cursing at Risotto, caught the attention of every other inmate in the room and caused an immediate uproar. The men gathered around the scene and erupted into cheers or hisses, mixed in with the sounds of some of the bones in Zeno's arm cracking and snapping with every couple of seconds and every pull Risotto made. Through the mass of chaos, Risotto swore he could hear Formaggio chanting within the crowd, "Get him, Riz! Get him, Riz!"

A single correctional officer rushed through the crowd of moist bodies to shout and break up their quarrel. With the officer's newfound presence, Risotto finally decided to release the poor arm from his half minute long grasp. When he no longer felt Risotto's knee digging into his back, Zeno stumbled up from dirty floor afterwards.

"What the fuck do you think happened?! This freak son of a bitch attacked me!" he yelled at the officer, after they were both asked for an explanation. "Can't you see that my arm is completely fucking dislocated?!"

And it was. His limb was left horribly disjointed, resembling a swollen mass of flesh more than it did an arm, as it hung dead and useless beside his large torso.

"He reached into my shower and sexually assaulted me," Risotto uttered calmly. "I just decided to teach him a lesson."

"Sexual assault my ass!" Zeno spat. "You're nothing but a fucking sissy, and I can tell it by the way you act. I bet you actually liked it when I grabbed you, huh, fish? You're not fooling anybody with that freak show bullshit. I can see right through your stupid fucking facade!"

Zeno's accusation caused another surge of hollers in the crowd. Risotto only responded with a small frown.

"All of you, shut the fuck up!" the officer demanded, and he waited for the short few seconds it took the inmates to quiet down before he spoke to Zeno. "Scavo, I'm sick of hearing about you not being able to keep your damn hands to yourself. The next time it happens, I'm sending your sorry ass to solitary for three fucking months. That's five shots! Take your stupid fucking shower, and after you're done, take your stupid ass to the goddamn infirmary!"

"Like hell I care about getting shots or being put in solitary!" Zeno snapped. "All you COs have been doing this shit for years, and it hasn't stopped me yet! And you!" He used his other arm to point a thick finger towards Risotto. "I'll remember that, bitch!"

"I'm glad you will," Risotto taunted. "Maybe next time, you'll think twice before groping me without my consent."

Zeno angrily hacked up a wad of spit and punted it near Risotto's feet. He shoved past a few inmates and limped away with the broken arm swinging pitifully beside him, his curses loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room.

"Nero, I know you were only defending yourself, but I'll have to give you a shot as well," said the officer. "You could've ripped his entire arm off if I wasn't here to stop you."

"And so what if he did?" Formaggio challenged. "That's what the fucking bastard deserves!"

Several of the inmates roared in agreement, but it only lasted another second before the officer pulled out his baton and slammed it against the floor, ordering the inhabitants to shut their mouths once more. "Hurry up and finish your damn showers, boys!" he commanded. "You're not the only ones here who's been waiting to wash their asses."

The crowd dispersed back into their previous places as they continued to gossip over the shocking event they had just witnessed, and the correctional officer left to remain standing watch outside of the door. Risotto stepped back into his shower cubicle and stopped the running the water. Grabbing the white towel he set atop his cubicle wall, he used it to dry off his hair and body before wrapping it securely around his waist. He was given several stares and side glances as he unoccupied the small space, though for the first time he noticed he began to gain looks of approval from the other inmates. He disappeared into the changing room, and Formaggio was soon to finish his bath and follow behind him.

Chapter Text

"What you did back at the showers was amazing, man! You damn near tore Zeno's arm apart!"

Dressed in another pair of striped bottoms and a black tank top, Risotto hung his towel over the edge of the sink and placed his bottles of soap and shampoo onto the desk. Formaggio, in another plain white tee, kneeled over the end of his bunk while he hung his towel over one of the ladder steps to dry.

"It's so nice to see that piece of shit finally get what was coming to him. Nobody else here has ever had the balls to stand up to Zeno." Formaggio placed the wristwatch under his pillow before he pulled the thin bed sheets over his body and lay face up against the mattress. "Not only because they're afraid of him, but he's got lots of other friends around here, inmates and COs alike. It's almost like he runs the place instead of the warden. With that being said, he definitely won't be your only issue anymore. Make sure you watch your back for real, dude."

"My back will be watched," Risotto assured, as he climbed onto his bed as well.

"This turned out to be one crazy ass day. My buds back home would eat this shit up." Formaggio folded his arms over his chest as he stared up at uneven paint of the stained ceiling. "Everything except all the rapey parts, at least."

Risotto fluffed his pillow as best as he could before lying down against his bed. As his weary eyes fell upon the small window of the cell, now a pitch black tint from the lack of sunlight, he was reminded of the several hour long bus ride to Catania.

There were only a few other convicts riding the bus with him, and they were all sweating like hogs under the squelching heat, including the stout bus driver, who made a frequent habit of taking off his cap and wiping his damp forehead with what seemed to be a dirty white cloth. The vehicle had a very stale aroma, uncomplemented by the intense warmth and lack of a functional air conditioner. The rusted metal fan hanging above the driver would make a bothersome crackling noise as it tried its damn best to provide some type of ventilation.

His wrists cuffed together by steel, Risotto had to use both of his hands to wipe the pools of sweat that collected upon his forehead. Considering he was sitting right next to the window, he could have been getting the worst of the weather, possibly serving as a large curtain for the smaller convict sitting next to him.

And yet, despite the unbearable heat, he spent every second of his trip admiring the unmerciful sun through the gritty windows. The jail cells had no windows whatsoever, leaving him without a proper sense of time that drove him to near madness. Though it was only a week, it felt like years since he was able to catch a glimpse of sunshine.

He felt a sense of relief after being brought to his new cell and noticing the window on its wall. The glass was too blurry to see out of, and the bars didn't make it any better, but he was still satisfied knowing that he would be provided with some indication of time. Though, he would be a liar if he said the inability for prisoners to own or view any analogue clocks didn't irritate him. But at least for now, from the black tint on the window, he was able to tell that it was getting late.  

The lights in their cell wouldn't be turned off until what Formaggio referred to as "Lights Out." He was exhausted, but the room was much too bright for him to focus on getting some shut eye. He turned and faced the wall beside the bunk to block out the blinding light, settling into the darkness of the corner of the room. A small, breathy sigh left him after he closed his eyes and began to rest.

"Hey, Riz," Formaggio spoke softly, slightly turning his head to face the edge of his bunk. "You asleep yet?"

"Not quite," Risotto mumbled in reply, "but I'm about to get there. Why? What's up?"

"Oh. I was gonna ask you a question, but nevermind. I should let you get some sleep. If I remember, I'll make sure to ask ya tomorrow."

"No, it's alright," Risotto said. "I'd rather you ask now than forget it later. What's on your mind?"

"Alright, so, it might sound a little weird, but whenever I'd ask anybody else in this place, they'd get offended. You seem like a smart guy, and you're pretty chill, so that's why I thought to ask you."

"Go ahead. I'm all ears."

"Dude." Formaggio sat up on his bed and rested all of his weight against his elbow. "Why does being locked up always turn people into queers?"

Risotto didn't believe the question was offensive in any way— actually, he thought it was a really good question to ask, but the wording of it couldn't help but bring out a snort.

"Can you give me an example?" he requested, reaching a hand up to scratch an itch at his neck.

"Okay, so there's guys in here, straight, heterosexual guys who've probably got wives or girlfriends waiting for them back home, that legitimately think being gay is repulsive. Like, they go around being all macho and shit, calling other people faggots and sissies for no damn reason, and then the next thing you know, they're sitting in the warden's office 'cause they got caught fucking each other in the janitor's closet. I don't understand that shit, man. Why do they do that?"

"I see what you mean," Risotto stated. "To put it simply, they're just lonely. When you're stuck inside of a place full of nothing but men, without a woman in sight, you become desperate to find someone else to satisfy your needs. That's why straight men are 'turned' into homosexuals, as hypocritical as they may act about it."

"Really? That's it? They're so damn lonely they'll risk getting HIV and poop dick?"

There was no way for Risotto to avoid cackling at his crude remark. Though it was crass, he wasn't necessarily wrong within context. Some random inmate wouldn't exactly be the best surrogate for another man's pleasure.

"Aren't you lonely here, Formaggio?" Risotto asked him. "Do you ever miss a woman's company?"

"Shit, to be honest..." Formaggio hummed and sucked his teeth. "I really do, man. I miss being on the outside, away from all these goddamn guys, and being able to look at some fine woman's ass while walking down the street. And damn, do I miss having a girlfriend. Had to break up with my last one after I got arrested, 'cause she said she didn't wanna be with a felon. But that doesn't mean I'm about to go fuck some nasty ass dude in here 'cause of it. And if I did end up fucking a dude, I wouldn't sit there and pretend like it never happened, especially if everybody else finds out about it. Some of the guys in here are fucking idiots, man. I mean, I'm dumb, but I ain't that damn stupid. Sheesh. "

Risotto chuckled at his ramble, giving a small nod of his head. "Well said, my friend."

"How about you, Riz?" Formaggio queried. "Do you think you'd let this prison shit get to you and have you out here banging dudes just for a nut?"

"Well..." Risotto trailed off for a moment as he thought of a way to answer. "I'd honestly prefer a man on the outside," he said, "but if I become so desperate for touch that I happen to sleep with another inmate, I would rather keep that to myself."

"Wait..." Formaggio attempted to process what was said to him, but didn't understand just yet, and was left puzzled as he scratched at his head. "Huh?"

"I meant that I—"

"No, wait, wait, hold on." Risotto could hear shuffling and the springs of the mattress creak above him. Amusingly softer than before, like a sense of realization, Formaggio asked, "Dude, you're gay? "

"Not exactly," Risotto said. "I can swing both ways."

"Yo... That's fucking sick, man!" Formaggio exclaimed. "Shit, wait, I don't mean that in a hateful type of way. Sick, like, wicked! I've never met a guy who swings both ways before."

"Not even in here, where lonely men have sex with each other for their own gratification?"

"I told you, man, these guys are fucking confusing! None of the fools who got caught want to admit that they're some type of homo. I don't know why they're always so bitchy about it. It ain't my damn fault they fucked some guy in the ass and actually liked it."

The two of them shared a laugh before Formaggio went on.

"Anyway, since you said you like both, I got another question. Do you mind telling me what it's like to be with a man?"

"What would you like to know? Do you want to know how it is romantically, or how it is physically?"

"Ehhh... Ah, fuck it. Tell me everything."

"Romantically, it's complicated," Risotto started off, "or it was for me, at least. So far, all of my relationships with men have been very dull."

"Yeesh. Why's that?"

"I don't know the real answer to that," he said. "I can only guess and make assumptions. I do know that the amount of passion and sentimentality, some of the things I experienced in all of my relationships with women, was almost never present when I was with a man. I'm not saying that they were bad because they weren't women. Hell, none of my relationships were the best, anyway. I'm saying our bonds weren't as strong for reasons I'm still unsure of. Right now, I believe the biggest reason is either external or internal homophobia."

"Damn. I don't know what any of that shit means, but that sucks, man."

"As for the sex, well... That's a different story."

"Besides the obvious reasons, like no titties and sticking your dick in the shitter, how's it different?"

"It's tends to be softer with women and rougher with men, and I like— no, I love rough sex. It's like the sweetest joy next to getting revenge. I prefer women more when it comes to romantic relationships, but having sex with a woman is nothing like it is with a man." As an aside not meant for Formaggio to hear, Risotto then murmured, "Men also don't get pregnant."

"Oh, so you like it like that, huh?" Formaggio said with a laugh. "How rough do you like your lay, Riz?"

Risotto scoffed at his next question. "Do you really want to know the answer to that?"

"You know what? Lemme think about it." Formaggio mulled it over for a moment longer. "Nah, I really don't. Too much detail, and I might get my dumb ass scarred for life, as if this shithole doesn't do that enough already. Still, man, I've learned quite a few things from you. Whenever I got a question around here, I'll make sure to remind myself to ask you instead of risking my fingers getting chopped off by somebody else."

"I promise I won't try to dismember you if you have another question," Risotto said with a yawn, "but I'm afraid any others will have to wait until tomorrow. I guess all that talking tired me out. I feel like I could pass out at any moment."

"Oh, yeah. That's all I had to ask," Formaggio replied. "Sorry for keeping you up. Get some rest."

"No need for apologies, it was my choice to stay up a while longer. Goodnight, Formaggio."

"Goodnight, Riz."

With that, Risotto relaxed his mind and drifted off into a deep slumber, and Formaggio spent a few minutes reading another magazine before he joined him with his harsh snoring.

Hours after they both went to bed, a correctional officer announced, "Lights out!" Still lingering inmates piled into their cells, the doors were shut, and all of the lights in their block were simultaneously switched off.

Chapter Text

May 24th, 1991

The prisoners awoke early in the morning to take care of housekeeping and personal hygiene before breakfast. If they were done washing up and didn't have anything in their cells to clean up after, (or, if they just didn't care enough to clean it,) then there was a short time period left for them to sit and relax, or to leave their cells and mingle with others within their block.

Risotto brushed his teeth with cheap commissary toothpaste, cleaned his face with cold water and a washcloth, and ran his fingers through his short hair as a makeshift comb. Formaggio was in the middle of brushing his own hair when he noticed the way Risotto was grooming himself.

"Shit, I forgot that you needed a comb," he said with a snap of his fingers. "Remind me to go grab you one from commissary after we eat breakfast."

Chow hall was just as busy as the night before, and the meals were unfortunately just as awful. While shuffling through the line of the elderly filling each portion of their plates, out of the corner of his eye, Risotto could see the same posse of scoundrels glaring up at him, eyeing him like a predator eyes its prey. The head of their circle had the right side of his body wrapped within a shoulder cast, leaving his arm completely immobilized until it could heal properly. It was such a pitiful sight that Risotto couldn't help but give a smug look, a look that he made sure all of them could see.

"Yo, sweet! Riz, look, they've got bacon today." Formaggio brought Risotto's attention to the two blackened slices of pork being placed on each of their trays. "You're pretty lucky to get bacon as your first breakfast," he said. "They almost never serve bacon around here."

"But it's torched," Risotto pointed out, poking the stiff pieces of meat with his finger.

"Well, it is torched, but look here. It's still got some color left in it." Formaggio pointed at the minuscule amounts of dark red within the meat, nearly too small for Risotto to notice at first. "When you see that, it means it's still left with some taste."

After they reached the end of the line, they turned and headed for the quiet table at the back of chow hall. It was in Risotto's nature to observe his peers and eavesdrop into other conversations, and as the duo walked past the other tables, he keyed in on their reactions to his presence, overhearing what meant to be whispers or otherwise bold side comments through the ambiance of constant yammer and colliding plastic. There were some who had respect and admiration for what he did, yet there were others who believed he had made a huge mistake. Angelo made it clear that he was among the "other" lot. When they were almost past his table, Risotto distinguished his low and youthful voice from the rest of the gruff crowd:

"That new fish that Red's made friends with? He's definitely dead meat."

The general agreement among the other inmates was that Risotto had managed to make a name for himself overnight. But the rest of them had been there for much longer than he had, and if their opinions leaned more towards him being in serious trouble, then he knew he really would have to start watching out for himself.

He was already certain that the clique full of neo-Nazis were a threat, but there could have been more inmates he had not met and corrupted correctional officers he had yet to learn the names of. He knew if someone tried to harm him, he would be able to protect himself through both sense and strength, but not being aware of exactly who would try made him wary.

"So, yesterday," Formaggio began, snapping Risotto back into reality, "when I was showing you around and telling you about all the jobs in this place." He scooped up a sporkful of eggs. "You thought about what job you want yet?"

"No," Risotto said. "I'll begin considering all of my options today."

"Usually, I work in janitorial." Formaggio shoved the eggs into his mouth and spoke with his mouthful, the chunks of his eggs falling out here and there. "It ain't the cleanest, but money is money, even if it is just for a few lire an hour. That's how I ended up racking so much cash for my books these past few months. Sometimes, my aunt will send me some cash, but it ain't all the time."

Risotto picked up his spork and frowned down at his tray, trying to decide on which portion he would attempt to eat first. The bacon, even if it did have some color left over, appeared as if it would still taste like nothing but charcoal. The sausages were a paler brown and were slightly chilly to the touch, so he guessed that they may have been undone, but he chose not to bother with testing that assumption. Scrambled eggs for breakfast was an unusual sight for an Italian, but what was more odd than that was the extremely dry texture. The bread roll would have been ideal if it weren't too stiff with a lack of any condiment whatsoever.

"The best part about earning money from these jobs, other than being able to afford all the shit you need, is that when you get out, you still get to keep all your earnings." Formaggio grabbed his own bread roll and chomped right through the hardness. He made a crunching sound as he chewed, a sound Risotto knew well enough should never be associated with that type of bread. "In the end, your balance might only be enough to buy you a single bus ticket, but hell, something's always better than nothing."

Risotto made a muted sound of agreement, though he truly thought of it to be redundant information. He scooped up a sporkful of food and finally decided to risk his life and taste buds with the scrambled eggs.

Once he began to choke, Formaggio cackled at his disgust over the scrambled eggs. He swore that the kitchen crew had an unhealthy obsession with black pepper, and the eggs were so dry that it felt as if he were chewing through sandpaper. Instead of forcing himself to swallow it down that time, he hacked it back onto his tray, right on top of the other untouched portion of eggs. He grabbed his water cup and took a very large swig.

"How can you even stand to eat this?" he croaked out, wiping the excess water away from his lips with his thumb.

"I just learned to get used to it," Formaggio said with a shrug. "When you're faced with two choices for a good year of your life, which is to either eat badly cooked shit or eat nothing at all, you eventually start forcing yourself to get used to it. If not, then I'd be spending all of my money on snacks and wouldn't have enough to afford the soap I wash my ass with. Shit's all different on the outside, but when you're in prison, if you aren't willing to make sacrifices you'll never survive."

"Figlio di puttana," Risotto cursed under his breath, bringing out another laugh from his friend.

"Honestly, every time I eat this shit, it makes me wish I was back home," he said. "Eating my mama's cooking is like being sent to cloud nine. This garbage is nothing compared to her food, but I can't let myself starve. I don't wanna go back home all skin and bones."

"That reminds me..." Risotto shoved his tray aside and let his arms rest against the table. He turned and watched as Formaggio munched on the rest of the rock hard bread roll. "I've been meaning to ask how you ended up in prison. What crime did you commit?"

"I got sentenced to a year in this circus for repeated larceny," he said after taking a sip from his water cup. "I've served about four months by now, and I got another eight to go."

"Why did you steal?"

As Formaggio picked up a slice of bacon, Risotto cringed at the way it started to crumble and leave ashed marks on his fingers. "My mama got really sick," he said, and as he took a bite from the meat, the sound of his crunching was more like the sound of rolling gravel. "She couldn't work in her condition anymore, and my clumsy ass couldn't get a job to save my life. After my tenth time trying to get a job, I just said 'fuck it,' and as a plan B I started to steal. I stole from stores, I stole from markets, I stole from houses, I stole from cars... Hell, anything you could name, I've probably stolen something from it."

"Do you not have any older siblings, or at least a father figure that could've helped around?"

"Nah, I'm her only kid, and my dad's a piece of shit," Formaggio answered flatly, eating the rest of the bacon. "Both of my parents split when I was a baby, and I never had any stepdads or anything, so it's only been me and my mama. My dad would come and 'visit' me sometimes, and would take me to shitty places like cheap restaurants or some adult porno store I could never go in, but I'm pretty sure he only came around to steal some of our shit. Things would always disappear when he was around. As a matter of fact, I even caught him in action one time."

Finishing the crunchy slice of bacon, Formaggio sprinkled the ash from his fingers and licked any excess grease off of them— though, there was hardly any grease to begin with— before he went on.

"The last time I saw him, I was twelve years old, and one night I woke up to all this loud banging coming from our living room. Tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but I couldn't get any damn rest until it stopped, and it stopped right after I heard the front door shut. I got curious, thinking someone must have broken into the place, so I took a peek outta the blinds of my window, and, shit, whaddya know? The bastard was carrying our best TV to his car. Haven't seen or heard from him since, so I guess the TV was all that was left of what he wanted from us."

Risotto gave a sympathetic nod of his head as he reached over for his own cup of water.

"My mama's the sweetest woman I've ever known," Formaggio said, with a small and coy grin. "I know I worry her to death sometimes, and every time I do something bad or get on her nerves, she says that I act just like my dad. But no matter how much I make her upset, she still tells me that she loves me every single day." Chuckling, he added, "His genes are probably why I would steal so damn much, now that I think about it."

"How is your mother?" Risotto asked. "Is she still sick?"

"My mama's always sick. She's had heart issues since she was young." Formaggio picked up a sausage from his plate and took a bite. Risotto was left halfway surprised when he immediately spat the chewed up chunks back onto his tray. "Fuck's sake," he shouted, "this shit isn't even cooked!"

Risotto let out a chuckle as he watched him curse over the food. "Is she doing better?" he asked.

"Yeah, she's alright." Formaggio nearly slammed the undercooked sausage back onto his plate. "She had a heart attack about a month before I got arrested, but she's doing much better now. My aunt's been taking care of her since I've been gone. I give her a few phone calls and she visits every now and then to give me updates."

"That's good, then. I'm glad she's getting better."

"Yeah, and I miss her like crazy, too. There ain't a day that goes by where I don't think about her, or wonder how she's holding up. The first thing I plan on doing when I get outta here is to go home and give my mama the biggest goddamn bear hug."

A bittersweet smile formed on Risotto's lips, and before he drank the rest of the water in his cup, he said, "I hate to say that I'm jealous." Formaggio glanced at him with a raised eyebrow as he downed another scoop of his dried up eggs. Risotto took that as a sign to clarify. "My mother died from cancer when I was six. I can hardly remember anything before her death, but I think if she were still alive, my life wouldn't be as rocky as it is now."

"Damn," was all Formaggio could muster right then, seemingly baffled by his confession. He set his spork down against his tray and gave Risotto a few gentle pats on the back. "I'm really sorry for your loss, man. That shit hurts to hear. I could never imagine not having a mom, cause my mama's all I have."

"You're very lucky to have her, Formaggio," Risotto said. "From what you've told me, it sounds like she loves and cares about you just as much as you do for her."

"You're right." With a curt nod of his head, Formaggio picked up his spork and continued to finish off his eggs. "But there's no need to be jealous of me, man. Whenever you get outta here, you can always feel free to come live with us. By then, I would have found a real, good paying job, and I'll earn enough to take care of all three of us. My mama loved all of my other friends back home, so I'm sure she wouldn't mind having you around."

As idealistic as it was, Risotto would have liked the gesture, because if he did have a shorter sentence, there would be a great possibility that he wouldn't be allowed to stay at home anymore. Not that he would have preferred to, but as Formaggio had said, he would only be able to afford a single bus ticket to God knows where and absolutely nothing for any decent housing. Still, what sane woman would want their ex convict of a son offering yet another felon, a murderer, at that, a place to stay in her own home?

In the end, it didn't matter, because he was never going to leave the prison grounds. He still remained jealous of Formaggio, both because he had a loving family and because his sentence wasn't life long.

Chapter Text

June 3rd, 1991

Risotto had grown tired of the sun.

He was never really fond of it, anyway. Being stuck in a jailhouse made his love for the sun conditional, but now that he was accustomed to the prison luxury, he was sick of the sun, sick of the heat, and sick of all the sweating. He hoped that autumn would come soon enough— then he could enjoy the outdoors without having to deal with the possibility of a heat stroke. Despite his animosity, Formaggio always wanted to go outside and play basketball, and for a while he used that as an excuse to let himself roast under the cruel star.

Though Risotto was never interested in the sport, Formaggio almost always coaxed him into playing a one on one game. Even if he had a major height advantage, Formaggio would win every time. There were some days where they would finish their games until the courts closed, and there were other days where Risotto would give up halfway through, mannered enough to say "Good game," yet would end it off with, "but it's just too hot out here." He would spend the rest of the time cooling himself off in the looming shade of a wall, watching Formaggio continue to sprint back and forth across the court. Compared to Risotto, his movements were all smooth and steady, as if knowing how to dribble a ball was natural to him since birth. There was no wonder why he could never win a game against him.

However, on that sunny Monday afternoon, Risotto chose to stay inside. Formaggio begged him to come out to the courtyard, telling him that the game could last for five minutes for all he cared, but Risotto had already made plans to go to the library and would've preferred to stay inside due to the heat. Formaggio made a few teasing remarks about him being a vampire, but Risotto only laughed at that, jokingly licking his canines and asking, "And what if I am?"

"I'll be back before you will!" Formaggio promised, before he departed their cell in a sudden hurry to get onto the court. "See ya later, nerd!"

Formaggio became lost in a trance, left off in his own little world, as he dribbled the basketball against the cracked slab of concrete.

Soccer would always be his number one sport, but after being denied a spot on his school's soccer team and trying his luck with another, he had grown to love basketball as a close second. He was considered one of the best players on the team and was given the nickname "Soaring Red" for how he could fly across the court and, despite tripping over his feet and shoelaces more times than anybody could count, still manage to land the ball into the hoop. Eventually, his growing reputation made him want to pursue the Lega Basket Serie A. If his reputation could grow enough for him to make it into a professional team, then he could earn a great salary off of doing something he loved. His mother, along with his coach and his teammates, encouraged him to follow his dreams. They told him that if he continued to get better at the sport it would eventually come true.

All of that changed for him when he was caught and prosecuted for an attempted burglary. Though he was given a relatively short trial, his sentence was a year long, which forced him to drop out of school, quit the team, and leave his dreams of professional basketball behind. He left his peers behind as well... or in reality, they left him behind. As he often thought about his friends, some even promising to keep in touch, four months have gone by without a single letter or visit from any of them. He was pretty far from home, and he understood that they tended to have busier lives near the end of every school year— school would end for them in a few days, he had realized. But at the very least, they still could have wrote him a letter.

He was as lonely as could be for his first few weeks of prison, up until Angelo decided to invite him to his table full of young convicts. Angelo was the very first to introduce himself, and he distinguished himself as a proud arsonist, showing off all the burn marks on his pale hands from how he chose to recklessly play with fire. He expressed immense hatred for all the men sectioned in D block, calling them "a bunch of sick fucks" and "crazy fucking psychopaths," then proceeding to boast about how he killed an elderly woman in one of his fires but still managed to land in the block reserved for petty crimes.

He was given some mindless praise for his anecdote by others at the table. Unlike them, Formaggio found Angelo's claim quite ironic, but thought it was best if he just nodded along in faux agreement. His opinion had been supported by Lucky, the young inmate with the rose tattoo, when he pulled him to the side and revealed that the only reason Angelo didn't make it into D block was because of his age.

Formaggio never liked people who were too full of themselves, so he already knew there may be some instances where he and Angelo wouldn't get along. But they had never fallen out to the point where everyone else would start to avoid him. Even Lucky, who he once considered his closest friend, had consistently ignored him just the same as the others. Lucky was the one he would always play basketball games with, and the two friends would become nemeses on the court, constantly going head to head to see which one of their teams could get the most hoops. But whenever he would find Lucky and a few others getting ready to start a new match, it was the same reaction every time. They would drop the basketball, they wouldn't say a single word to Formaggio, and they would all walk away, leaving the space to himself.

It sucked that everyone chose to abandon him over something he didn't even know the reason for. Was it because of what he said to Angelo? If it was, it wasn't exactly like he was wrong. But to him, it was whatever. If everyone else wanted to ditch him, then he would still have Risotto, right?

Formaggio still waited for the very moment that he would chase Risotto away with his loud mouth, his strange questions, and his godawful snoring. But it had been nearly two weeks since they've met, and Risotto showed no signs of discontent. Outside of their jobs and Formaggio's frequent phone calls, Risotto was always willing to spend time with him, whether it be a small game of cards within their cell, watching television together in the recreation room, or conversing about miscellaneous topics the redhead would bring up just to get Risotto talking and out of his shell. Not once did he say he was tired of Formaggio, nor did he call him names, nor did he tell him to shut up or keep quiet whenever he spoke. Risotto legitimately seemed as if he enjoyed being around him, and that alone made him feel happy.

He had made several hoops by the time there was sweat pooling at his sides. He recalled throwing a few tough misses to the backboard or airballs here and there, but otherwise, all of his other shots were successful. He believed he was still as fresh on the court as he was back home, and he glanced off to the wall, expecting Risotto to be stationed in the shade so he could ask him if he saw how fly he was. But the nerd was still off in the library reading books, and he shook his head and smiled at the thought of the large young man sitting in one of those small library chairs, at the even smaller round tables, reading a book just as big as him.

Formaggio would shoot a few more hoops into the "basket" (more like a rusted ring that had long since been missing its ropes) before he decided to take a water break. He tossed the basketball aside and let it roll off into the fence, slithering through the crowd of loitering inmates to get past a correctional officer standing near the closed door that led back into the building.

No one else was in the long and brightly lit hall with him, but there were all types of noise all around him, coming from both the courtyard and the inside of the blocks and separate rooms of the prison. It was all the usual ruckus, and somewhere within his vicinity he could hear something along the lines of inmates talking about their next phone call, or talking about the next unlucky son of a bitch who was destined to get it, or talking about their next fix. Formaggio didn't care enough to tune into any specifics, rather, he was more focused on the water fountain located not far from the open doorway that lead into the changing room of the communal showers. He pressed his palm against the fountain button and took several sips of cool water before he was well hydrated, and he eased off towards the door he came from, sliding his hands into his striped pockets.

Right as he passed by the showers, he heard someone call his name as clear as day.

"Hey, Red," the inmate said gruffly, and Formaggio swore on Christ himself that there was no one else in that hall with him earlier. And though there wasn't much he could've done to avoid it otherwise, turning around to acknowledge him had become his biggest mistake, because as soon as he faced him with a raised brow and a half smile, someone had socked right in the nose. He was beginning to see stars before he registered that there had to be more than one person dragging him off into the empty, dark, and stale changing room.

He couldn't see or say anything. His mouth was muffled by someone's hand that reeked horribly of cigarette smoke, preventing his shouts and screams from reaching anywhere outside of its tight proximity. His eyes were covered just the same, and his wild kicking and bumping did no justice in an attempt to free himself, only earning him a few strikes in the chest instead. He was granted the ability to see shortly after he felt his back being shoved against a brick wall. But who he saw was definitely not anybody he wanted to see, and he stared wide eyed at the men circled around him, screeching into the makeshift gag that was being roughly tied from the back of his head.

His four attackers, two of them as skinned on their heads as a cancer patient, had captured him and dragged him into the room. He wasn't given enough time to perceive the weapon one of them held in his fist before he was slugged in the gut without hesitation, making him double over and groan into the cloth. The next strike came swiftly afterwards with another punch to the face, and he cried out for mercy after another decided to kick him in the groin.

He wanted to collapse to the cold floor and clutch himself into fetal position so that he could at least protect his most vulnerable areas, but there was the fourth attacker who stood behind him, holding him up and restraining him by his arms. He would kick him in the back of his legs every time they began to give way, and he would hiss at him with rancid breath to keep standing up. They remained ruthless, not giving him a second's worth of pity, and delivered enough punches to his face and his abdomen to severely bruise him in both areas. After beating him to the point where his spirit was almost knocked out of his body, one suggested that they strip him of his clothing. Knowing what horrors that could indicate for him, using every ounce of energy and breath he had left, he screeched a plea into his gag and furiously shook his head.

"Shut the fuck up, Red!" A large skinhead delivered a fist into his rib cage, and Formaggio bit into his swollen bottom lip to hold back any more sound. "If any of us get caught because of your ass, we'll make you wish we killed you the first time around!"

Another one of his attackers had stepped forward until his midsection was directly in front of Formaggio's face. He reached down to the hem of his pants, getting ready to pull both his pants and underwear down to his ankles, when the buff skinhead had stopped him by lightly shoving him away.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

There was a moment of complete silence between all thugs. The skinhead with the weapon in his hand exchanged a glance with the one holding Formaggio, who was left trembling and knock kneed under his restraint. The one who made an attempt to desecrate him had moved his hands away from his pants. "I, uhh... I thought we were—"

The buff skinhead took a sudden leap towards him and shoved him harder that time around, almost knocking him completely off of his feet.

"When the fuck did I ever tell you we were doing that?" he growled. "All I told you to do is what he wants us to do. He wants us to beat this bastard into a bloody pulp. Nothing more, nothing less."

"And why the fuck would you care?" the other retorted, running his fingers through his full head of hair. "Isn't this the type of shit he does anyway?"

"Is he here?" The skinhead held out his arms, glimpsing all around the dark, moist room for the obvious answer to his question. "No, he isn't here, because that sick fuck got his arm twisted apart by that goddamn mutant. As long as I'm doing his dirty work for him, we're sticking to beating them 'til they're black and blue. Anybody who's fruity enough to stick their cock in another man can do it on their own fucking time."

"Then why the fuck are we taking off his clothes, genius?"

"To humiliate him, you frocio. Not everything is about getting your fucking dick wet."

"Hey, the two of you, can you quit bitching at each other and hurry this up?" said the one behind Formaggio, forcefully pulling his victim to stand straight up on his feet. "That CO said he can't pull the tapes for too long. If they catch us coming out of here after the courts close, then we're fucked."

"Right." The lead skinhead stepped towards Formaggio, grabbed him by the tank top, and began to tear its threads apart. "The two of you, come help me take his clothes off. We beat him some more, we cut him up with the shiv, and we get the fuck outta here."

They ripped all of the clothing off of his body and tossed it aside, leaving him in nothing but his underwear, socks, and shoes. His bruising only got worse from there as they continued to strike him again, again, and again. The cloth tied to his mouth had become stained from the blood, sweat, and tears that ran down his face, his nose left as crooked as their snickering, while he was beaten until he had been given an entirely new appearance.

The sharp weapon he saw, blurry and indistinguishable from his tears and his dizziness, had come for last. The other skinhead had used it to slash random and chaotic cuts into his chest, and he was so deprived of energy that he could hardly give any verbal or physical reaction to the pain.

Once his arms were finally let go, he immediately collapsed to the floor, but they weren't completely done with him until one of them delivered one last hard kick to his chest.

"If you say anything about who did this to you, you're fucking dead, kid!" he warned. "I suggest you keep your loud mouth shut!"

He watched, dazed and disoriented, as his attackers left the crime scene. His body was left in agony, his poor legs ached every time he tried to move them, and he continued to weep as he took more than a minute's time to shakily untie the gag from his mouth. But with the little amount of vigor left in his soul, he proceeded to crawl across the floor, like a poor, lame animal, until he reached something he could try to steady himself on. He nearly fell over again when he pulled himself up against a locker tower, but he succeeded in keeping himself upright enough to limp, and he stumbled out and about until he reached the end of the room. He walked out into the light of the hall that brought him to his demise, knowing that if he at least made it there, then everyone would be able to see him.

He collapsed onto the floor as soon as he stepped out of the changing room. His breath was ragged as he inhaled and exhaled through the slight part of his purple lips. Falling as hard as he did more than likely made his injuries worse, but he was too exhausted to even care as he faded in and out of consciousness. He could tell a short amount of time had passed before there was some type of uproar over the sight of his bare, beaten body strewn out in the middle of the hall, his wounds illuminated by the prison's bright lighting. But he was much, much too tired to hear all of what they were saying. He needed some rest. He thought he deserved that, at least.


...Someone's calling me...

"...can you hear..."

...I can hardly hear what he's saying...


...Jesus, this shit hurts...

A correctional officer was trying to shake him awake, to get some type of answer out of him, but Formaggio had long since fainted. Another was yelling at inmates to get out of the hall and back into their blocks, spitting curses at them every other few words. A third had pulled out his walkie talkie and spoke a certain code of numbers into the speaker while naming the number of the hall they were all located in. Completely clearing the hallway of prisoners and blocking it off from any onlookers, the officers waited until the medics rushed into the scene with a stretcher to take him into the infirmary.

Risotto returned to his block with two books under his arm. He had a grand time in the old, quiet library, picking out two fictional books and sitting down to read almost half of the larger one in forty minutes. It was an interesting tale pertaining to mythology, and he wondered if Formaggio was interested in letting him geek out and ramble about some of the details.

As he promised, Risotto expected Formaggio to be back at their cell already, either reading some old magazines or listening to some music from his Walkman. He was left utterly confused when he spotted a correctional officer waiting for him outside of their cell, and, after taking a small peek inside, noticing that Formaggio was nowhere to be found.

At first, he thought the knucklehead must have gotten himself into some small trouble and that the officer was just there to relay the message. But the truth had hit him harder than a truck. For a split second, he felt his body freeze from shock, from the very moment he mentioned Formaggio getting ambushed and currently being treated within the infirmary. Still, he listened to the very end, his hands trembling from his panic and his throat becoming more like the Sahara with every new detail. After he had heard everything he needed to hear, he practically slung the two books onto the desk and rushed to the infirmary to see it for himself.

Formaggio's body was left in a terrible state. The doctors and nurses had put him in a hospital gown type garment to make up for his nude arrival, but it was only able to hide the cuts and bruises on his torso. He was lying against his back, his head left facing the side of the room where visitors and new patients would enter. The very second Risotto had walked in, he could see his black eye, his broken nose, and his busted up lips. His legs were wrapped in bandages and were placed on top of a few pillows to provide them some extra cushioning. There was a lot of swelling and a few broken bones, but the nurse told him that his vitals were fine and that he was guaranteed to live through it.

It wasn't like Formaggio to be so quiet while he slept, and he seemed so peaceful to the point where it made Risotto feel a little frightened, making him worry that he could have slipped away when the nurse wasn't looking. But when he sat down in the small chair next to his cot, if he listened hard enough, he could hear a hint of snoring in his breath, and he could easily see the small rise and fall in his chest. An IV was hooked into his arm and pumping enough morphine into his blood to ease all of his pain. Maybe the morphine is what made him so silent, he guessed. It doped him up enough so that he could rest without much of a peep.

Although he was relieved to know that Formaggio would live, that did nothing to calm him down. Thinking about who could have done this to him, knowing who could have done this to him, made his blood boil to the roof of his body. Yet, he couldn't help but feel as if it was all his fault, as if he were selfish for leaving him vulnerable to an attack like this. He believed himself a fool to think they would never stoop as low to target someone just as innocent as him. A dumb, blinded fool.

Risotto was told that he could sit with Formaggio as long as he liked. He held one of Formaggio's warm, calloused hands in his and looked straight into his peaceful, yet mangled expression. The image of Formaggio's bruised and bloody face would scar his memory for the rest of his life.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, his voice so soft that he could hardly hear himself. "I'm sorry for abandoning you, my friend."

And Risotto sat with him, in the same exact position, almost unmoving for a few more hours. He didn't bother leaving for dinner, not only because he almost never ate the food, but he found no point in trying if Formaggio wasn't there to encourage him. He had left so late that he had to wait longer in line to take his shower, and for once he tried to pay no mind to all of the extra attention to his presence or the side comments that were made. He blocked out the noise and tried to bathe his body clean of his wrath, but unfortunately, the shower did nothing to help calm his nerves.

Every passing second, his mind was set on getting his revenge. And his idea of revenge wasn't going to be pretty.

Chapter Text

A few nights ago, over a game of cards, Formaggio mentioned something interesting about the facility's laundry service. He explained that working in the laundry room was supposedly a job offer that anybody could take, but whenever any inmate outside of D block asked for a position, they were always denied.

"I mean, I don't care about that job. It's almost as dirty as working in janitorial," he said, shuffling through his deck of cards. "But whenever I go in there to drop off my laundry bag, there's always at least one skinhead working in there. Sometimes there will be two, but there's usually just one. You following me?"

Risotto nodded, showing that he was still tuned in to what he was saying while he also waited for him to put down another card. Scratching his head, Formaggio struggled to find a good card for Risotto's previous play, but he went on with his explanation nonetheless.

"Rumor has it that the skinheads, the Nazis and shit, they're the only ones who're allowed to work with the laundry because Zeno uses the supply closet in the back to conduct all his business." Formaggio reluctantly removed a card from his deck and placed it against the stack. "From what I know, it's mostly just about drugs, and hell, that's all I really wanna know. Either way, I think it's best you stay away from the laundry room, 'cause that'll be a one way ticket to getting caught up in some shit. As a matter of fact, I'll just take your bag for you from now on. What day did they assign you?"


"Wednesday... Okay, no problemo." Formaggio grinned at him. "Make sure you remind me though, alright? You know I'm a little slow, so I might forget."

While he reorganized some of his and Formaggio's belongings on the desk, he mulled over the rumor surrounding the supply closet. He wanted to find out if it were really true or not, and if it were true, then he would be a million steps closer to achieving his goal. He continued to tidy up the cell, making up his bed and climbing up the ladder to try and make up Formaggio's messier bed without bumping his head against the ceiling. He happened to find a hidden wristwatch layered between some magazines. After checking the time, which read close to 7:34, he left the watch lying underneath the pillow and descended with the magazines in hand.

After doing as much housekeeping as he could, he quietly left his housing block and made a few twists and turns until he made it to the open door of the laundry room. Slipping silently through the door, he observed that the rumor so far proved to be true. There were a couple of men inside, both of them surrounded by mostly untouched bags of dirty laundry, who were laughing and launching an arrangement of dirty clothing at each other rather than doing their jobs. All of the clothes that were supposed to be washed by the end of the day were either still in their bags or on the floor, and there wasn't one spinning washer or dryer in sight.

One man had his hair nearly buzzed to the very scalp of his head and, for whatever reason, had been shirtless. He was fairly skinny but muscular, almost similar to Formaggio's build, and had raunchy tattoos all over his arms and chest. A tattoo much alike his leader's Third Reich eagle was present on his right upper arm.

The other had a head full of messy, dark, and scraggly hair, but kept his facial hair well kempt. Risotto believed he would be much more presentable if he took better care of his hair and if he didn't have all those markings scattered across his face. The tattoos were just as bad as his friend's, but also had a lousier quality, as if they all had been done by an amateur prison stick-n-poke artist rather than a machine.

They ceased their horseplay when they noticed Risotto's presence seconds after he entered the room, making the messy one jolt backwards in surprise. Risotto acknowledged them both with a glazed stare, waiting for one of them to speak to him before he uttered a word. His silence intimidated the hairier man, and as the seconds silently went by he thought, Jeez, is this weirdo gonna say anything at all?! His silence and his appearance had no effect on the skinhead, however, and he took one step forward as he crossed his arms over his bare chest.

"What the hell do you want, freak?" he queried, eyeing him up and down. "'Cause you sure ain't got any damn laundry in your hands."

"I want to speak to your boss," Risotto answered, his voice calm and steady, yet still deep enough to blare through the room like a bomb.

"Um..." The hairy one scratched whatever it was out of his bird's nest of a head. "How do you know he's here?"

"I actually didn't, up until you said something." Risotto gave him a brief shrug. "Now, may I have a word with him?"

The skinhead sighed and smacked his forehead, shooting a glare the other's way. "You absolute fucking retard. How many times have I got on to you about thinking before you speak?"

"Dude, I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean to—"

"Shut up!" his partner barked before pulling a shank out from the hem of his pants and thrusting it in Risotto's direction. "And you, you need to get the fuck outta here, or I'll gut you like a goddamn fish! You're not having a word with anybody but Christ himself if you don't fucking scram!"

"I'm not here for any trouble," Risotto said, his attitude unwavering in spite of the threat of being shanked. "I'm only here to apologize and make amends. I didn't realize how much of a horrible mistake I've made until my friend got hurt."

The skinhead snickered at his claim, as if he had told him some kind of joke. "If you wanna scrap your beef with Zee, you're gonna have to do a lot more than give him some bullshit apology."

"I'm fully aware of that. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to show that I'm sincere with my apology."

His eyes narrowed up at him, his lips drawing back into more of a snarl. "I don't fucking believe you," he seethed. "I won't believe you for a damn second."

"Would you like to check me first, then?" Before the skinhead could answer, Risotto spread his legs wide and away from each other and held his hands behind his head, exposing every part of his body that he could have used to conceal a weapon. "Go ahead. I promise that I'm not here to start a fight."

The two partners reacted with very strange looks. While the bird's nest was pretty much convinced out of fear, the skinhead remained extremely skeptical. Risotto was much too persistent about this "apology" of his, he brought a certain air to the room that made them feel as if he were about to suffocate, he had a small look in his eyes that made him uneasy, and at some point, there was a split second twitch of his left eyelid as he spoke. But, against his better judgement, he decided to indulge in Risotto's claim and ordered his partner to help him search for a weapon. They were both cautious as they inched towards him, thoroughly patting him up and down, but after a full minute of searching they both came up with absolutely nothing. Risotto was telling the truth.

Though relieved that he showed up unarmed, there was still something about him that made him wary. The skinhead attempted to hide the quavering in his voice by pretending to clear his throat, and told Risotto to follow him, leading him to the back closet of the laundry room. He rapped his fist against the closet door, opening his mouth to announce that his boss had a visitor, but was interrupted before he could get anything out.

"I heard everything," he boomed from the other side. "Let him in, the door's unlocked."

The bird's nest twisted open the doorknob and pushed the door open. They were all faced with a shelf full of chemicals and cleaning products brought to light by the dim, overhanging bulb in the storage area. At first glance, that one shelf was all that were to be found within the room, but Risotto soon noticed that there was more open space to his immediate left. He was in the middle of taking note of it when one of the inmates had pushed him over the threshold of the door, almost causing him to crash into the shelf full of chemicals in front of him.

Risotto wanted to explode right then and there. He already wasn't in a very good mood, and any more pressure to his nerves could have done it, but he chose to ignore it in order to keep his cool.

To his left, at the very end of the closet, Zeno could be found with his back leaning against the painted brick wall. There was a small, knotted bag in his left hand that he would casually toss into the air, catch within his palm, and toss up again, the sound of the him playing catch with the bag almost echoing within the closet.

Risotto turned his body so that he was facing his direction. Zeno smirked in the face of his emotionless gaze, the chromed and golden dentures revealing themselves from the side of his parted lips. As he lifted himself away from the wall, he caught the small bag one last time.

"Leave us," he demanded of his two accomplices, "and keep your guard over the laundry room. I should be through in thirty— nah, about forty minutes. If that basehead comes looking for his crack before I'm done, tell him to come back later, sometime around nine."

"Alright," said his junior skinhead, who gave Risotto another dirty look before he grabbed the knob and slammed the door shut, leaving the two enemies within their lonesome.

They remained separated at a distance between the two walls, Risotto standing within the darker portion of the supply closet and Zeno much closer to the light. Zeno took a small step forward to set the bag full of crack beside a few large bottles of cleaning chemicals on a shelf.

"You know, your eyes are bright enough to see through the dark," he said, finding his previous place on the wall and crossing his good arm over his cast. "I've honestly never seen anything like that in my life. Damn. You really are a fucking freak."

He waited for Risotto to say something, to do anything in response to his insult, yet Risotto did nothing but stand still and stare back at him. As Risotto swallowed to ease some of the dryness in his throat, he held back the sudden urge to clench his fists.

After several seconds had passed, Zeno decided to add, "You're as quiet as a fucking mouse, too. I thought nothing could be more annoying than that bastardo rosso talking his fucking head off all the time. I reckoned I did you a favor by sending him to the medics, but I guess you care about him too much."

"I don't remember asking to hear your bullshit."

"Oh, so he speaks!" Zeno laughed and snapped his fingers. "I knew it, something told me that would get a reaction out of ya. But you're right, you never came here to hear my bullshit. You came to sacrifice yourself, your dignity, to protect your stupid fucking prison boyfriend. Lock the door for me, why don't ya? And come over to the light, so I can see you better."

Not bothering to defend himself from such an awful assumption, Risotto did as he was told and locked the door to the room. Zeno had already begun to advance on him, and after Risotto locked the door he took a few steps forward so that they were both standing directly under the lightbulb. Zeno had gotten close enough to feel Risotto's nostrils breathe steady breaths of air upon his face, and he grinned up at the other inmate's unchanging facial expression. Risotto even stood tall over one of the most violent inmates within the prison, but to further prove his title, Zeno seemed to cared less about their height difference.

"The thing is," he murmured, placing his hand against Risotto's waist and letting it slide past the hem of his shirt, "relationships, friendships, all of it in here is worthless. It ain't like the outside in here, y'know. Everything in here comes with a risk. If you piss somebody off, you're putting yourself at risk. If you make any friends, you've put them at risk too. And—"

"I don't need you to tell me this," Risotto interrupted, wincing as Zeno's hand reached up to feel his nipple. Their faces started to become dangerously close to one another. "And I especially don't need you trying to kiss me."

"Oh, the sissy doesn't want me to kiss him?" Zeno taunted. "That's so cruel. You're hurting my witty bitty feelings. What's so wrong with giving me a kiss, Risu?"

Zeno hadn't originally intended to set him off, but the pet name finally brought a noticeable switch in his empty gaze. By chance, "Risu" happened to be a nickname given to him in the past, a nickname that had come from his late and beloved cousin. It was a name he hadn't heard in four long years, but hearing it come from Zeno's mouth felt so wrong, so tainted, that it spiked his nerves and made his heart begin to pound out of his chest.

"What's with the sudden death glare, sweetheart?" Zeno asked, pinching the nipple between his thumb and index. "Is it something I said?"

"Don't call me Risu," Risotto mumbled. "Don't call me Risu ever again."

"What's so bad about calling you that? I just thought it would calm you down, since you seem a little tense." He moved his left hand from his chest to his lower back, running his fingers halfway up Risotto's spine. "I'm just trying to be gentle, Risu." He snorted as he felt Risotto tense up more at hearing him repeat the nickname. "I know you probably feel like absolute shit for letting yourself stoop this low for your little prison punk. I wanted to do you a favor and not be so rough with you. Not everybody gets this opportunity."

"You're fucking pushing it."

"How am I pushing it if I'm being so kind? Would you rather me bend you over and fuck the brains out of you, like I've done to all of the other bitch boys in this prison? Do you want me to force you to the ground, rip off all of your clothes, and fuck your face senseless? Better yet, how about I gut you open first, and then I could stick my cock in your carcass? I guess that's better than trying to be nice, Risu."

"If you try to put your disgusting cock anywhere near me, I'll do more than break your other arm."

"Ooh, I'm shaking in my goddamn boots, Risu! I'm so fucking scared. You were dumb enough to waltz into my territory without a weapon, and yet you still have the audacity to threaten me? Maybe I should just forget about fucking you altogether. Instead, I'll send your sorry ass straight to the graveyard. I want you to try to break my other arm, I'd just love to see you fucking—"

In a sudden movement, Zeno pulled his leg back to try and knee Risotto in the groin, but Risotto's reflexes were much quicker and blocked him with his hand. Something told Risotto that Zeno would have had something up his sleeve— his cast, for that matter, and he used his other hand to protect himself as Zeno tried to ram it through his lower abdomen. As he grabbed at the blade, he felt it slice through the skin of his hand, and he roared at the pain that shot through his limb. There was a brief standoff of power struggle between the two, their bodies tussling against each other and the soles of their shoes scuffing against the concrete, until Risotto gained the upper hand by hardening his grip on the weapon and pushing forward, hurling both of their bodies towards the end of the room.

"Fuck! Fuck!" Zeno unintentionally released his grip on the blade due to the rough collision he had with the wall behind him. Risotto saw that as an opportunity to pull it out from his grasp and toss it behind him, and after Zeno cried out for help, Risotto shoved his bloody hand against his neck, clenched at his esophagus, and delivered a swift right hook into his face. Zeno tried to use his only working arm to strike him back, to grab his own throat, or to at least push him away, but his disability only halved his remaining strength, and it was far too late for him to realize that Risotto was much stronger than him. He could only watch through the stars in his eyes as Risotto's own lit up like a fire. He finally understood the fear that every one else felt whenever they were in his presence.

And Risotto showed no mercy. Just as they had shown no mercy for Formaggio, he showed no mercy for Zeno, repetitively delivering his hard fist into his face until he and his knuckles were bruised and bleeding and until he had deprived him of so much oxygen and energy that he was beaten down to the floor.

"I knew it! I fucking knew it!" He could hear the skinhead shouting from the other side of the door as the two accomplices tried to break through by ramming their bodies into it. Only one of the hinges had fallen off of its frame before Risotto used all of his might to push one of the large shelves full of supplies down in front of the door. An extremely loud clang and the thud of the large bottles falling to the floor resounded throughout the storage area. The skinhead and the bird's nest continued to shout over the noise from the outside, but they rammed into the door to no further avail.

What happened next for Risotto was a blur. He remembered grabbing the small, bloodied switchblade up from the floor and a bottle of bleach that fell within the pile of mess. He remembered punting Zeno in his teeth after turning back around and catching him in the middle of trying to get up from the ground. But everything afterwards was blinded by his fury, up until the moment an electrified feeling had knocked him out of consciousness.

Whenever he happened to land himself in the infirmary, whether it be over minor cuts and scrapes or his current injury, he always came with the same attitude. He would lie in bed, flirt with any of the active duty nurses, gobble down the food provided to him, and keep up a heap of noise.

But because Formaggio was heavily sedated by the morphine, he could hardly sit up in bed and do anything without nodding off into partial unconsciousness. He was in the middle of loudly singing along to the lyrics of his favorite songs that played off in his head, but the words came out much slower and more slurred because of his intoxication. Sometimes, he would stop singing completely whenever he started to nod off again.

"Nurse Carmela," he said, abruptly halting his recitation of some random love song, "have I ever told you how beautiful you are?"

Nurse Carmela was indeed a beautiful woman. She had a curvaceous body, light brown eyes, and short and curly dark brown hair. If she wasn't beautiful, then she definitely had a large bust that gave the men a tendency to ogle her breasts. Her appearance could make all of the inmates swoon, but just as every other pretty women, she had long since found a man to settle down with— a man who wasn't a convicted felon.

She rolled her eyes as she dabbed around Formaggio's swollen face with the medicine. In contrast, he watched her lovingly through his unbruised eye with a smile on his puffy lips. He had commented on her beauty a thousand times by now, and if his obnoxious singing wasn't enough, that was beginning to irk her nerves as well.

"Russo," she sighed, "I don't know how many times I have to tell you. I have a wonderful, loving husband at home, and he would be furious if he finds out that you keep trying to hit on me."

"That bumpkin? Fuck him, he's nothing compared to me, honey bun. I," he put tons of stress on the "I," "am the man for you, and I'll treat a beauty like you just like a man should."

"You're not even a man," Carmela huffed in a retort. She gently spread a pinch of bruise remedy cream across his black eye. "I'm much too old for you, let alone too dignified to even let myself fall in love with an inmate."

"Give me two years, baby," he said, still persistent in his attempt to woo the nurse. "In a few months, I'll be out of this joint, and in two years I'll be eighteen. I'll roll by to come take you back to my place, like... like the Sicilian Prince Charming, sweet cheeks. My mama will love you, she'll cook you all types of buono shit, and..."

There were pauses in his speech here and there for when he started to nod off again, and he would give himself a few seconds of time to recollect his thoughts. 

"...And I'll be out working for the dough to provide for all three of us. You won't even have to work at this crummy ass prison anymore. That's how much money I'll make. March 3rd, 1993... Mark your calendar, caro. That's when I'll be coming to get you."

"Dream on, Russo," Carmela giggled, applying the finishing touches of medicine onto his face. After she was done, she rose from the seat on his bedside to put the cream away.

"It won't be a dream, trisoru," he said confidently. "On March 3rd, 1993, on that day, I promise I'll make you mine."

And as the nurse threw away her disposable gloves and washed her hands in the sink, Formaggio went on to sing another cheesy love song that Carmela had not heard on the radio in several months. It was popular when Formaggio was still free to roam the streets, but it definitely had been outdated by other romantic Sicilian musicians who made it to the top of the charts. She shook her head at the doped up kid, and he continued to sing his floating head off until she shut herself in her office to cancel out his noise.

"She'll come around someday," he reassured himself, his eyes fluttering shut from the immense amount of pleasure and relaxation he felt from the painkiller. "A beautiful woman like her... deserves the world."

He eventually let his head nod off into another nap, and he slept for a period of time he couldn't keep count of.

He happened to have a short dream. Within his dream, he was granted an early release from prison, and he instantly went home to his mother and gave her a suffocating hug. Then, he appeared to be on a basketball court playing street ball against his friends, while all of their girlfriends served as cheerleaders in the background. The dream made him happy, and it made him forget about where he was until he was awakened by all of the commotion being brought into the infirmary, consisting of a bunch of people shouting and a strong, metallic smell.

Two doctors, Nurse Carmela, and a single correctional officer accompanied the stretcher that was being wheeled in through the inpatient door. The officer seemed to be yelling orders at someone else by the door, and it didn't take long for Formaggio to find out that it was another inmate. He spent half of a minute shouting and cursing at the inmate before he lost all of his patience and slammed the door in his face. "Get back to your fucking cell!" he shouted through the glass panel of the door. Once the inmate had given up and scurried away from the door, the correctional officer joined a doctor's side as they inspected the new patient.

On the stretcher lay a man who wore a white tank top pooling with blood, the fluid leaking through the slashed tears of fabric. A faint choking sound coming from the inmate could be heard underneath all of the hustle and bustle of the medics assessing the damage and trying to halt his bleeding.

There was something familiar about the inmate being brought in that Formaggio didn't notice until they began to remove the soiled clothing from his body. He was large and muscled, his face was covered in tattoos, and his right arm was wrapped in a now bloody shoulder cast. He hadn't put two and two together until the body was lifted to an empty cot right next to him, and as they continued to work on keeping all the blood from spilling out of his body, his head happened to plop over in Formaggio's direction. His eyeballs were nearly a crimson red, appearing as if they were melted and burning, and his bloody mouth had been left agape, a few of his golden and chromed teeth missing from his gums.

After suddenly being face to face with that bloody, disarrayed mess, Formaggio nearly had a heart attack.

"What the fuck happened to him?!"

The rushed answers were mostly too complex for him to understand in his state, but he picked out pieces of what they were saying to get the general gist:

"A brutal battering to the face."

"Bleach poured into his eyes."

"Stabbed more than thirty times with a small, steel switchblade."

And, according to the correctional officer, his attacker didn't quit beating and stabbing him until several of them had to rush in and stop him by tasing him twice.

Although the sight of his mutilation gave him a knot in the pit of his stomach, he couldn't have cared less about Zeno's well being. That bastard was the very reason he was hospitalized in the first place, and if he could, he would personally congratulate the inmate that finally grew enough balls to take him down. But there was something else that was said that bothered Formaggio, and yet another that would stick with him for the rest of his life. It came from the correctional officer, who looked as if he were regarding Formaggio with a scowl.

"It was your friend," he grunted. "Y'know, the really tall guy with the creepy eyes. He locked Zeno in the laundry room's supply closet and went fucking berserk. He's probably gonna be sitting in solitary confinement for a long fucking time, and I hope he rots in there, that sick son of a bitch."

It made plenty of sense that he was the one to have done him in, because Risotto was the one who had the guts to stand up to him from the start. But in his mind, he called out to Jesus over and over for his grace, as he gaped at the body and linked the terrifying image with his friend. He was always so calm and so patient about things that he could hardly grasp the concept of him ending another person's life. It was almost unbelievable— not unbelievable to watch Zeno hack up a clot of blood as the medics rushed to stabilize his body, but unbelievable to think that Risotto, Risotto, was why he was drowning in his own blood in the first place.

Zeno had done what he had done to get him riled up, and taking it too far had cost him his life. Now he finally understood exactly what was so dangerous about him.

But as shocking as it was, that's not really what concerned him, because he knew that Risotto had only done it to get his revenge. What concerned him was Risotto being sent to solitary confinement, for God knows how long, because of the severity of what he had done. The amount of time that could be tacked onto his sentence worried him as well, and he guessed that his new sentence would more than likely end up being longer than both of their ages combined. Risotto had yet to tell him about how long his sentence really was, but Formaggio continued to pray for Christ's mercy.

Not only for a decent sentencing, but against the torture he was bound to experience while being stuck in solitary.

Chapter Text

June 17th, 1991

Large grey clouds had begun to roll in that afternoon, blocking most of the sunlight and bringing in the faint smell of rain. Out in the distance behind him, rays of sunshine would poke through the open cracks between the clouds. The forecast of the day suspected there would be a chance of rain, but the prison planned to keep the courtyard open per schedule, so long as the clouds continued to hold back on their droplets.

He had only been discharged from the infirmary two days ago. Though the bruising on his face was almost completely gone, there was still a shooting pain in his left side, and his aching legs left him walking with a noticeable limp. Daily physical therapy, topical medication, and enough rest would be sufficient in getting him back on track. For now, his body still needed some time to heal, and it was the doctor's orders for him to avoid any straining physical activity. Instead of going out on the court to shoot some hoops, he would sit out another day on one of the concrete benches and indulge himself in a cigarette. After he pulled his cigarette out from his pocket and a small lighter from the other, he had to flick the lighter a couple of times before it could spark a flame.

Every inmate was free to purchase cheap tobacco and rolling paper from the canteen, but no matter how much he practiced, he was still a very lousy cigarette roller. Under his rough fingers the cigarettes would always come out looking like a half assed mess. He would usually have Angelo, or someone else roll his cigarettes for him, but that had been out of the question for almost a month now.

The smell of cigarette smoke intermingled with the scent of the forestry behind him and the stagnant rain from above. Resting his back against the fence and placing his hands at his sides, he let his eyes wander aimlessly around the courtyard as he took hits from his dingy little cigarette every minute or so. He had been surprised he was able to take more than two hits without the thing completely falling apart. Maybe he really was getting better at rolling them.

He eventually came across a familiar face. A young man with a rose tattooed along his temple stood among a group of chatty inmates. Instead of talking along with them, however, he had been staring directly at Formaggio, his eyes narrowing when Formaggio had found him. The redhead thought nothing of it at first; his left eye was still bruised around the edges, so he guessed he must have looked awful enough to gain some acknowledgement after several weeks. But his eyes went wide as he watched the inmate excuse himself from his group and briskly make his way towards the basketball court.

Formaggio lurched out of his reclined position when he realized that Lucky was actually walking towards him. With his hands in his pockets, Lucky stepped across the basketball court and sat down on the empty space next to him. He was a smidge taller than Formaggio, but he slouched over and placed his arms against his knees so that he was looking up at him instead. Formaggio gawked back at him, his mouth left agape, but not too wide to drop the cigarette he spent nearly an hour trying to roll.

"Hey, Red," Lucky greeted, his mouth curving into a warm smile. "How've you been holding up?"

Formaggio remained silent and answered him with a blank stare. Hoping that it would bring some ease into the obvious tension in the air, Lucky let his hand rest delicately against his, but Formaggio immediately yanked his hand away and accompanied his reaction with a look of disgust. Lucky's smile had faded, and he felt his cheeks begin to burn from shame, while Formaggio used the same hand to pull the cigarette away from his scarred lips.

"You've been avoiding me for weeks, you haven't visited me once while I was in the infirmary, and now you're wondering how I'm holding up?" he retorted.

Frowning, Lucky turned his head away from him and stared off into the crowd. "You're right about that, and I apologize. I wish I had a good excuse for avoiding you... or, at least an excuse you would wanna hear. I won't lie to you, but if I told you the real reason, I know you'd have a fit."

"Then why even bother?" Formaggio asked bitterly. He turned away as well, bringing the cigarette back to his lips. "Every single one of you flanked on me and wouldn't even tell my why." He inhaled from the cigarette, brought the smoke to his lungs, and blew the excess from his nostrils. "If you're here to tell me it was just to kiss Angelo's ass, I'm through talking to you."

"It..." Lucky trailed off as he searched for a counter argument. Knowing that there was no use in sugarcoating the truth, he swallowed and gave his answer within a sigh. "It was, Red, but that's not the only—"

"Done talking," Formaggio cut in, holding his palm up in Lucky's direction. "I don't wanna hear any more of your bullshit. Leave me alone."

"Red, wait—"

"I said I'm done talking to you, now get the fuck out of my face," Formaggio barked. "Don't make me have to say it again."

"Formaggio, listen to me," Lucky urged, his tone growing as loud and as sharp as the former. "I beg you to at least give me a minute of your time."

His prison mates would rarely ever call him by his first name, so hearing Lucky say it gave him a bit of shock, and he glimpsed over him with a raised eyebrow. He thought about it for a moment longer before he sucked his teeth and carefully flicked the ashes of the cigarette onto the concrete. 

"Go ahead."

Lucky let out a sigh of relief and relaxed from the tension in his body before he began to speak. "Red, none of us avoided you just because Angelo told us to. The agreement was mutual, it was between each and every one of us, and you've gotta understand—"

"What?" Formaggio now had a firm scowl on his face. "What the fuck is there to understand about that? If you sons of bitches didn't do it because Angelo told you to, then what other fucking reason would there be?"

"Red, I'm trying to tell you why we did it. I can't fucking tell you that if you don't listen."

"I've been listening, and so far all I'm hearing is utter dog shit. But yeah, keep going. Let's see how long it takes you 'til I run outta patience."

Lucky muttered a harsh "Christ!" under his breath before he continued. "You have to understand, Red. What Risotto did back at the showers that night put him in huge danger. Anybody who chose to associate with him would be in danger too. If you never became friends with him, none of this would have ever happened to you."

"And what the fuck does that have to do with you guys ditching me?"

Lucky began to twiddle his thumbs, a personal tic of his for whenever he began to grow nervous. He knew what he would have to say, and he was afraid Formaggio would relent him even more for saying it. But if he didn't, he would have just been wasting their time altogether. He took a deep breath before he gave him his answer.

"Guilt by association," he said. "If we kept hanging out with you, then we would've become targets, too."

Formaggio suddenly paused before he brought his cigarette back to his lips. His face had gone blank, and he had been so still he appeared to have been frozen in place. Lucky waited patiently for his response, and several seconds had passed before Formaggio had spoken again.

"You guys," he started, turning his head back around to meet his dark brown eyes with his own emerald, "are fucking snakes. Every last one of you is a motherfucking snake. I'm done talking to you, and I'm done talking to everybody else. Go fuck yourself, Lucky."

Hearing those words made Lucky feel as if his heart was being ripped out of his chest. Despite the very warm air, a very sudden, chilly feeling had engulfed him, and for a moment he found that he could no longer speak. But Formaggio remained unbothered and continued to smoke his cigarette as if nothing harsh was ever said. That spiked more anger in Lucky than it did heartbreak, and it caused him to jump out of his seat and snap.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" he shouted, earning a few onlookers from across the way. "How in the fuck are we snakes, Red? We've been friends with you from the very fucking beginning!"

"Oh, you don't think you guys are snakes, huh?" Formaggio taunted. "If so, then tell me why none of you geniuses, especially you, thought it would be a wonderful fucking idea to warn me that those sick fucks could've been after me."

"Guilt by association, Formaggio, I just fucking said it! There are eyes and ears everywhere in this place! Giving you a warning could have easily cost us as well, and the risk was too goddamn great to take that chance!"

"Mmm, okay. I get it now. When it comes down to it, being selfish and saving your own ass matters to you more than looking out for the people you care about." Formaggio let out a mocking laugh, and then went on to say, "And you still don't think you're a fucking snake?"

Lucky's breathing became more rapid, and he clenched his fists as if he were holding back the urge to sock Formaggio in his still disjointed nose. He knew that hitting him would do more harm than good, that it would do absolutely nothing to get his point across. Though his honesty wasn't doing much to help either, he still couldn't bring himself to lie to him.

"No, I don't think I'm a snake," he said, "and I don't think they're snakes either. What we had done may have been wrong, it may have been selfish, but when you're in prison, none of that shit even matters. When you're in prison, you're not here to make long lasting friendships, you're here to serve your fucking sentence and get the fuck outta this shithole as soon as you possibly can. They can't risk their lives for someone else, I can't risk my life for someone else, because none of us wanna fucking die here! Don't you understand that? I have a family to go back to, Formaggio, an actual fucking family, and I'm not going home in a goddamn casket because I sacrificed my life for another stupid fucking felon!"

Formaggio halted yet again to process the things Lucky had said to him. Although there had been tons of weight brought on by his proclamation, leaving him red in the face and his heart pounding out of his chest, Formaggio was still just as calm and quiet as before, twiddling the cigarette between his fingers as he mulled it all over. The time between then and his next statement would be enough to calm Lucky down and prepare him for the next.

"I don't believe in that," he finally uttered, after almost half of a minute had gone by. "Honestly, I believe you're just a punk. Nah, actually, pussy's a better word for the likes of you. I believe you're just a pussy."

Once again, Lucky's heart sank. "...What?"

"You said that none of you wanna die here, right?" Formaggio flicked the ashes onto the court again before he breathed in more of the tobacco. "I understand that, 'cause I don't wanna die here either. I got dragged into the showers, gagged by somebody's sweaty shirt, and I screamed for my dear life as they beat me black and blue. When I was getting punched and kicked, cut up by a blade, and almost face fucked by some dirty Nazi, I thought I was gonna die right there in that dark and wet ass room. I thought I was gonna go home in a casket myself. They told me if I talked, if I told anyone who did it, I was destined to die. I wouldn't even get to say goodbye to any of you, and that's the very last fucking thing I had on my mind before I passed out. But you're not the one who risked his life to get revenge on the bastard who did it, are you?"

At another complete loss for words, Lucky quietly stammered to find something to say in return, and he could only manage some unintelligible sound before Formaggio interrupted him.

"No, you weren't. You want me to tell you who had the balls to kill Zeno? Riz did."

His eyes widening with realization, Lucky attempted to get another word out. "Red—"

"You want me to tell you who got those crooked COs fired for fucking with the tapes and smuggling in drugs for him?" he interrupted again. "Riz did."

"Formaggio, hold on—"

"And, despite what you said about not wanting to die here, you want me to tell you who still risked his entire life to avenge me? You want me to tell you who played basketball with me, who played cards with me, who ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner with me, who actually fucking visited me while I was stuck crippled and drugged up in that crummy ass infirmary?"

For a millisecond, Formaggio instinctively glanced off into the crowd of inmates, a small reflex to the constantly bustling bodies, when he saw yet another familiar face wandering among them. It was one that made his eyes go buck wide, one that made him drop the rest of his cigarette to slowly burn out on the concrete, one that made him forget all about the serious conversation he was having with an old friend and forget about all the pain in his legs and his side, as he hopped up from the bench to sprint across the court, shoving his way past a few inmates that were in his path.


Risotto heard his name being called out by a voice he instantly recognized, but was too late to notice him before he collided into his body. They both let out their own grunts of pain while Risotto stumbled a few steps back from the impact. He returned his friend's embrace after he regained his footing, and he could feel Formaggio's muffled laughs against his chest and the pats on his back. The redhead rocked their bodies back and forth like they were two good friends who had not seen each other in years.

Lucky watched their reunion with a pang of jealousy. There was something else that he had to say to Formaggio, something that could have truly opened his eyes to the point he was trying to make, but he knew he wouldn't be able to get through to him anymore. He had wasted too much time, and the guilt of abandoning him was starting to settle in again. He wanted so hard to believe that Angelo was right. He thought that saying it out loud to Formaggio would help convince the both of them. But in the end, listening to the arsonistic nutcase only made him lose someone he loved.

With a glum look on his face, Lucky stomped out the flame of the cigarette and walked away from the concrete bench, making his way back into the building without another word to his group of friends and without either of the duo noticing.

"I missed you, man! I missed you so fucking much!" Formaggio pulled his head away from Risotto's bosom and looked up at his face. His beaming grin turned into a grimace at the sheer terror of what stared weakly down at him. "Cristo Santo, man, you look like merda!"

Compared to the ruby red irises and pitch black sclera, the red was more blushed and the black more greyed, as if the life had been almost completely drained from Risotto's eyes. His skin was pale, his hair was an uncombed mess, and he was growing a nasty stubble along his chin and cheeks. He had not been face to face with an actual mirror in several days, so he knew that Formaggio saying he looked terrible wouldn't be far from wrong. Still, he smiled down at him and returned the gesture of patting him on the back and said, "Your bruises have healed well, my friend."

"I know, but Jesus, look at you! I've seen solitary do worse, but you're just... my lord!" Formaggio stepped to the side and placed his hand on Risotto's back, leading them both to the bench on the basketball court. "You need some eye drops or something, Riz. Your eyes look more dehydrated than you in general."

"Maybe I do need eye drops," Risotto replied, squinting off at their destination. "It was really bright in there."

"Bright? Like, the lighting?"

"Yeah. They kept the lights on all day... and all night," he droned. "There was nothing to do in there, either. Eat, sleep, eat, sleep, rinse, and repeat. I wish they would've given me a book to read, or some type of game to play, or... some type of—"

"Woah!" Formaggio had to help Risotto catch himself before he collapsed face first into the concrete. "Take it easy, why don't ya?" He wrapped his arm around Risotto's shoulder and Risotto's arm around his, assisting him over to the bench with the little strength he had himself. "I got you, bud. Don't push yourself too hard. Let's sit down."

The way Risotto plopped himself down on the bench made Formaggio think he could have broken it. His back crashed into the fence behind them, the sound of the metal vibrating from the collision as Formaggio used his arm to steady him upright.

"Riz, you really don't look too good," he said worriedly, and with more close observation he noticed that Risotto's face had remarkably thinned. "Have you actually been eating, dude?"

"I can't eat that food," Risotto croaked out in reply. "They feed us the same shit from chow hall. I could only eat bits and pieces. I've skipped so many meals."

"For fuck's sake, man! You can't be doing that!" Formaggio tisked and ruffled Risotto's hair into more of a mess than it was. "Have you been keeping yourself hydrated, at least?"

"The water was the only thing keeping me running," Risotto said, "but waiting every few hours for water was excruciating. I couldn't have anything upon my own request. I ate when they told me to, showered when they told me to..." He eyes suddenly fluttered close and his head lolled off to the opposite side. "Didn't even give me soap..."

"Come on, bud, you gotta stay with me. Don't pass out just yet." Formaggio patted him on his shoulder to keep him conscious and attentive. "I got a lot of things to tell you, Riz. A bunch of shit happened while you were in solitary, but I think we should get you fed and patched up first. Being out in the heat ain't good for you right now anyway."

There was the abrupt sound of Risotto's stomach loudly growling before he said, "That would be nice."

Formaggio stood and pulled Risotto up to his feet, adjusting themselves back to their previous arm-around-shoulder position before they headed back for the building.

"You smell like cigarettes," Risotto commented, as they snaked through the lingering inmates. "You shouldn't smoke. It's a very unhealthy habit."

"Oh, don't worry about that," Formaggio said. "I only smoke when I'm bored. As soon as I can start playing basketball again, I won't touch another cancer stick."

Upon Risotto's request, Formaggio stopped in the middle of the hall to let him sip from the water fountain, and as he waited for him to finish, he frowned at the dark and empty room of the communal showers. Ever since that day, he had been extremely wary of passing by it alone. Just thinking about what happened to him made an uncomfortable feeling crawl up his spine. But now that Zeno was dead, and now that Risotto was free, he felt as if he wouldn't have to worry any longer. He was glad that the bastard had finally suffered for the things he had done.

Once he heard the water stop running from the fountain with an audible click, Risotto stood as straight as he could, signaling that he was ready to move onward.

"Come on, I gotcha." With his words of reassurance, Formaggio led them back to their housing block.

After he tore through two and a half bags of stale tasting chips and downed two full bottles of water, Risotto lay down against his bunk and listened to Formaggio ramble about all that happened within his two week absence. The rain started to fall once they left the courtyard, and they could hear the rough pitter-patter of raindrops crash against their barred window. Risotto became exhausted after he filled his stomach, but he felt it was crucial that he listened until the very end. The two of them were relaxed in a position similar to the one from the very first day they met, and it was something they both made a comfortable routine.

For starters, Formaggio talked about Zeno's untimely death.

The medics fought hard to keep him stabilized overnight, but his body was unresponsive the very next morning, and he was suspected to have passed away while Formaggio was sleeping. He had been stabbed too many times, in too many places, and it didn't help that the infirmary had little to no supplies for a proper surgical procedure.

One remarkable blunt strike was one that was located on his neck. They said that it was a very sloppy wound, that Risotto must have repetitively, yet aimlessly stabbed him in the same place, but he eventually plunged deep enough to hit a part of Zeno's vertebrae that sent him into a permanent state of paralysis. He remained stiff before his death, and the only type of response that came from his body was the sound of him hacking up his blood every couple of minutes. If it weren't for the morphine, Formaggio would have hardly gotten any sleep that night.

If he would have survived his stabbing, there was a great possibility that he would live on as a blind paraplegic. The medics were sympathetic about his death but thought it was for the best that he be laid to rest.

There was no funeral for him. He had no family that were willing to claim his body, so he was buried under a tombstone only marked by his identification number, amongst the other lost souls within the prison's graveyard. Inmates were allowed to hold memorial services for the dead, though his memorial didn't turn out the best. After the news of his death was spread about, the remainder of his "Fourth Reich," as Formaggio called it, had split themselves apart.

A few of the neo-Nazis were loyal to him until the very end, but several others disbanded and stopped associating themselves with the infamous legacy he left behind. Most of them admitted to joining only because they feared for their lives. A select few chose to confess that they joined because he had violated them and to avoid being publicly outed as one of his prison wives. Formaggio suspected that many more of them had went through the same thing, but assumed they had been too embarrassed to come out about it.

His ride or die followers held the memorial among themselves at a loan table in the common area of their housing block. The memorial had been fairly civilized until bystanders from other tables started to spurt out rude comments. They disrespected the dead by calling him all types of names and, to add insult to injury, would say that he deserved his death or that they even felt joy over his passing. The small fight that broke out between the inmates soon turned into a bloody riot, and before it could escalate any further, several correctional officers rushed in to disperse the riot and placed the entire block on lockdown. Shots were distributed through every inmate involved, and the solitary housing unit was nearly filled to the brim.

Due to the missing tapes surrounding Formaggio's assault, the warden investigated his employees using disbanded Nazis turned narcs, offering them reduced sentences for whoever wanted to speak up. Almost every single inmate who was questioned had named at least one correctional officer. Several of the employees had been fired, two of them scheduled to go on trial for smuggling drugs and contraband into the facility to profit off of the prison's inner drug trade. Unfortunately, he couldn't pinpoint exactly who screwed with the security footage, nor could he find the missing chunk itself.

In the meantime, the inmates housed in A block were having a field day and quickly took advantage of their biggest competitor being removed from the trade. A block was the block full of criminals who had not committed violent crimes, but may have been involved with serious offenses such as dope peddling, arms dealing, and sex trafficking, and the inmates had the strongest connections with outside syndicates. Formaggio had talked to Risotto about them some time ago, but he didn't think much of it until now.

Then, Formaggio asked him the question he was dreading to answer.

"How about your sentence, Riz? I know they must've added some more time because of this whole shitshow. Did any of them discuss that with you?"

"The warden didn't say," Risotto lied. He thought he had taken too long to answer, enough that Formaggio would notice his faltering confidence, but the redhead mentioned nothing of it and only shrugged at his response.

He wasn't too sure why he still chose not to talk about his sentence as if it were some terrible secret. Formaggio had been unbiased towards him ever since they met, so why did he always want to avoid the subject? He was the one who saw all of the blood, the wounds, the burning eyes, the missing teeth, and he still treated him like he was a normal human being. Maybe it would be fine if he had been straightforward about his crime, if he told him about how he obsessively stalked someone for years and brutally murdered him in front of his pregnant wife.

Then again, maybe that was just what would end up chasing him away.

Because Risotto had already been given a life sentence, the warden thought it would be impossible to add any more time, and he believed that solitary would be due punishment. However, as a result of what he had done, Risotto greatly decreased the possibility of appealing his original case. Murdering a helpless man in his own bedroom was enough. There was no way the court was going to accept his plea after he murdered someone else with a minor disability he had caused.

"Well, I hope it's not long, Riz," Formaggio said with a sigh. "You don't deserve to be here long."

Risotto disagreed with him, but he knew better than to say that out loud, and as the cell grew quiet he suspected that Formaggio was done telling his story. While he was getting ready to turn his body over to the opposite, darker side of the bunk so he could drift off into a power nap, Formaggio suddenly stopped him for one more thing.

"Oh, shit! I just remembered. Hold on, Riz. I wanna give you something."

He groaned out yet another complaint about the chair hurting his bottom as he lifted himself up and shuffled over to the desk. The desk was just as neat as Risotto had left it, save for two stray objects sitting atop of the edge, and Formaggio had picked up said objects before making his way over to the bunk. He slightly winced as he kneeled beside Risotto's bed, holding out his hands to present both items to him.

"What's this?" Risotto asked, gently accepting the cassette case and portable cassette player from his palms.

"A gift," Formaggio replied with a coy grin. "The cassette player's a Walkman. I got you that and a cassette tape, though I figured you could buy your own headphones. You said you liked metal, right? The guy working in commissary had a lot of metal cassettes, so I just picked out whatever looked the coolest. Kinda made it harder since I can't even read most of the damn band logos."

Risotto squinted at the obscure band logo in the corner of the case and mumbled out, "Dark throne." The bottom of the cassette case had an album title that was in clear, all capital lettering: "SOULSIDE JOURNEY." He had never listened to that specific metal band before, so the chance of him enjoying it would be somewhat hit or miss, but he appreciated the gift nonetheless. He leaned forward to wrap Formaggio in a grateful hug.

"Thank you." He patted him on the back before pulling away from their embrace. "I wouldn't want to ask too much of you, but I would also like it if you stopped smoking cigarettes. Even when you're bored."

Chapter Text

As the reality of his death settled into their consciences, the aftermath felt as if a remarkable weight had been lifted off of nearly everyone's shoulders. He was gone for good, there was no bringing him back from the dead, and the menacing sense of dread he would instill with his presence, or even from hearing one mention his name, all had died along with him.

It was impractical to say that his death made being locked up significantly better than it was. "It would have happened anyway," one inmate had said. "That was just his karma," thought another. "I don't give a fuck about that neo-Nazi rapist, I wanna get the fuck outta here!" declared the next. 

But as for the inmates who directly suffered by his hand, whether it be through humiliation, desecration, or a gruesome death, all of those poor souls could finally rest easy. Risotto incidentally avenged many damaged or fallen inmates just by the decision to avenge his single friend, and he would soon come to realize he had earned a copious amount of respect for what he had done.

By the following weeks that had passed by, both he and Formaggio were doing much better. The ginger was left with a couple of battle scars, but his limp subsided and the rest of his bruises faded away. Instead of smoking his badly rolled cigarettes on the courtyard while waiting for his body to heal, he found himself napping in uncomfortable library chairs while Risotto occupied himself with some long novel. He had cried out a praise once the doctors finally told him he would be able to get back on the basketball court, only after another week or so of physical therapy.

Risotto still refused to eat the chow hall food, but he thrived off of enough commissary snacks and cheap ramen to revive all of the life that his isolation sucked out of him. The day after he was released back into the general population, Formaggio took him to the prison's barbershop so they could both get new haircuts, and for the price of a few lire, Risotto's messy hair and uneven stubble had been groomed back into his former beauty. While he nursed himself back to better health, he noticed that more prisoners were starting to approach him with friendly greetings and small talk. Risotto wasn't used to the extra attention, nor did he really mind it, but he knew there was a certain reason behind their sudden interest. He wasn't yet sure whether that reason would become a blessing or a curse.

July 6th, 1991

That Saturday morning held yet another typical chow hall get together for breakfast: the room buzzing with activity, the morning meal no better than it was the preceding days, and the correctional officers strategically placed on standby near the doors and along the walls. Formaggio shredded through his tray of food while Risotto's remained mostly untouched— "mostly untouched" meaning the other would reach over to his plate and slip away a burned chip of pork when he wasn't paying attention, and with his headphones blasting strange lyrics into his ears, his eyes snapped shut, his head firmly rocking along with the brutal rhythm, Risotto paid no attention to the outside world at all.

Not until he felt a few light taps on his left shoulder, which would then bring him out of his daze. Risotto gave Formaggio a small hum of inquiry before he opened his eyes to the unexpected visitor seated across from him. He slowly pulled his headphones down to his neck while Formaggio eyed their guest with curiosity, occasionally shoving more scrambled eggs into his mouth.

The inmate's slick hair was as black as his t-shirt, and he looked at Risotto with his amber green eyes. Located below his small goatee was a tattoo of a snake constricting his neck, and on the bands of his thin, muscular arms were nearly identical tattoos of barbed wire. He appeared to be just as young as Risotto, if not older, but spoke with a higher pitched tone of voice than him.

"Sorry if I'm interrupting your little jam session," he said, resting his barbed arms against the table and flashing a gap-toothed smile. "I just thought it would be a good idea to stop by, say hello, introduce myself, all that jazz."

"You're fine." Risotto let his thumb fall on the pause button of his cassette player, and the faint sound of the song blasting from the headphones could no longer be heard. "What's your name?"

"Vissente Drago." The dark haired inmate reached out an open palm for the other to shake. "Everybody calls me Vinny, for short."

"Risotto Nero." He accepted the brief handshake with a curt nod of his head. "You're from Sardegna?"

"My madre e padre are from Sardegna," Vinny said. "I was raised in Sicilia my entire life. My dad moved to Napoli some time ago, so I've been staying with my mom in Ragusa. Or, at least until those fucking pigs put me in here."

"What're you in for?" asked Formaggio, his face plunged into his food as he chomped through a mouthful.

"Apparently, threatening to overthrow the government is a 'serious crime,'" Vinny scoffed, "but after they searched my house, they ended up charging me for being involved with gunrunning for the mob. I gotta serve ten years over this shit. I'm on my fifth year right now."

"How old are you?" Risotto asked.

"Twenty," he said. "My birthday was last month."

His brows furrowing, Formaggio paused and took a second to do some of the math. He averted his gaze from his tray and gave Vinny a funny look. "You were fifteen, trafficking guns and threatening to overthrow the government?"

"Yeah? What's the matter with that?"

The redhead couldn't hold his blank stare for long before a snicker wheezed its way out of his throat. Risotto retained his stony expression until Formaggio nudged him in the side and mumbled, "You meet somebody new every day," making his lips twitch into a half grin.

"Come on, man. You're just being judgemental. You can do anything at any age," Vinny protested. "You never know, a fifteen year old could end up taking over the government one of these days, or even one of the bigger mobs."

"Okay, you're right. My bad." Formaggio would have seemed much more sincere about his apology if he had stopped with his giggling. Vinny gave him an unamused frown, but he still didn't quit until Risotto made a small side comment about being rude. He excused himself again and cleared his throat, and he went back to eating his food.

"What mob were you trafficking guns for?" Risotto inquired.

"I can't tell you that just yet," Vinny said, as he made a seemingly precautious glimpse off to the side. "But, I can tell you what I did. I would secure a small job near the docks, and whenever any shipments from the mob would come through, I would help transport the goods to the mafiosi in Sicilia. In turn, they paid me a nice cut of lire to keep our home stable while my dad was away. Made a pretty decent killing until I got locked up in '86, and I've been stuck in this shithole ever since. I didn't get involved with the trade war between A block and the Fourth Reich until '88, when I was old enough to be moved outta B. That's when I got the first taste of Scavo and his pig fueled drug ring."

Risotto tapped his index against the bottom of his chin as he thought, paying no mind to the abrupt sound of Formaggio biting into his burnt slice of toast. Vinny took advantage of the short break in their conversation to try and fix a stray piece of his hair back into its slicked place.

After his brief moment of reflection, Risotto uttered his guess. "I assume you're here because I disposed of your block's biggest competitor."

"Not only that, but I'm here to offer you some incentives as a sign of our gratitude."


"Of course!" Vinny's gap-toothed grin returned as he outspread his arms against the table and went on with his proposal. "How about we continue this conversation later, over a game of cards, or chess, or something? I'd talk about it here, but some of these guys can be very..." His frown had returned, and he made a suspecting glance over his shoulder, as if there were someone out there trailing his every word. "...Nosy, if you catch my drift."

With the blackened piece of toast hanging from his mouth, Formaggio turned to Risotto and asked, "Iff he falking about me?" 

"Oh, not you," Vinny clarified. "I mean the other inmates sitting around us. Even those old men over there, they could be tuning in to everything I'm saying right now."

The duo gave a second's glance over at said men, who had wrinkling skin, ears filled with hearing aids, and faces as grubby as an infant's from the crumbs of their food. Formaggio had to down the urge to snort at Vinny's ridiculous amount of paranoia, but he still couldn't hide his smirk.

"Anyway," Vinny dismissed, bringing their attention back to the question at hand. "I promise you, Risotto, you'll love being allied with our block. The money we make from our trade will be enough to keep you set for life. And I don't mind having Red around, so if he wants, he can tag along with you. Whaddya say?"

Risotto didn't ponder it long before he made his decision. "When would you like to chat?"

"Meet me in the game room tomorrow, at seven PM," Vinny instructed. "Our block usually takes the entire room over late at night or during visitation. Today would be fine if I didn't have some shit to tend to, but I should be free all day tomorrow. Sounds good?"

"Perfect." Risotto nodded at him again, and with a beaming smile, Vinny shook hands with him once more. "It's been a pleasure talking to you, Vissente."

"You too, Risotto." Vinny rose from the squeaky stool and stalked away after saying, "I'll be seeing you tomorrow."

He reclaimed his place at a table full of other A block prisoners near the opposite end of the hall. Formaggio waited until he was sure the former gunrunner was out of earshot before he spoke up again. "Are you sure you wanna be in cahoots with a guy who wants to overthrow the government?" 

"I'm sure it will be fine," Risotto said with a chuckle, his attention happening to fall down on his tray. "He seems like a nice..." His small grin twisted into a frown as he noticed that a slice of his bacon had become unevenly shorter than it was before, to the point where the slice of meat were about two bites away from being finished. His head snapped in Formaggio's direction with an accusing glare. "Did you eat off of my tray?"

"Dunno what you're talking about," Formaggio rushed out, his fib as obvious as the bullet like speed in his response. He had his face turned the opposite way to hide his grin.

Risotto let out a deep sigh before he began to chastise him for what was probably the twentieth time that week. "Formaggio, I don't know how many times I have to tell you this. If you keep eating this shitty food, you're going to get sick. When you eventually get the runs after this food gives you salmonella, I don't want to hear any of your bitching."

"Riz, I don't know how many times I have to tell you that's a load of bullshit," Formaggio countered. "And what the fuck does salmonella even have to do with anything? Last time I checked, bacon is pork, not salmon."

Risotto was left absolutely dumbfounded by his response, and he spent several seconds gawking at him as he ate the rest of his toast. "Are you joking?"

"About what?" A few crunchy bread crumbs flew out of his mouth as Formaggio spoke. "What's there to joke about? You ever heard of bacon being made out of salmon?"

Risotto was left more stumped than before. Not only did Formaggio think that salmonella was directly linked to salmon, but he completely mispronounced the word salmon itself. Instead of saying the only thought that came to mind, which was that Formaggio really needed to invest in some of the prison's educational courses so he could learn how to speak proper English, he shook his head and dismissed their small altercation as another lesson for another day.

"You should try the eggs though, Riz," said the redhead, grabbing the spork and bringing a scoop of his eggs to his lips. Risotto's thumb hovered over the resume button of his Walkman before he used his hand to bring his headphones back to their place around his neck. "They're actually pretty good this time around. They're not overcooked, they're not dry, and they're not seasoned with all that damn pepper."

Risotto studied his scrambled eggs before he considered picking up his spork. The eggs actually appeared to be pretty decent, the only issue being they were a bit too mushed up for his liking. He pushed his skepticism aside for a change and scooped up a large bite, only to wince from the food's briney taste. He swallowed the mouthful nonetheless, but had to chase the aftertaste down with a gulp of his water.

"When you said they weren't seasoned with pepper," he said in a near rasp, "you never mentioned they were seasoned with too much salt."

"Oh, are they?" Formaggio stuck his lip out at his eggs as Risotto proceeded to down two more chugs from his cup of water. "Damn. Guess I was so hungry that I didn't even notice."

"I should really try applying for a spot in the kitchen," Risotto mentioned, using his spork to shuffle the rest of his eggs along the tray. "I don't dislike the job I already have, but I think I would be much better off helping these old men learn how to properly cook their food."

Formaggio was positive he asked about it before, but he couldn't remember if Risotto ever answered his question. To be sure, he decided to bring it up again. "You must be a really good cook."

"I'm not sure if I could be considered a gourmet chef or anything, but I can cook just fine," Risotto said, his eyes wandering around the cafeteria. "I could probably cook any meal you can think of."

"Can you cook chicken parm?" Formaggio asked.

"Chicken parmigiana? Yes I can."

As Risotto let his guard down, Formaggio continued to list any meal that came off of the top of his head, an attempt to keep the other distracted as he stalked his hand over to steal the last chunk of the bacon.

"What about fettuccine alfredo?" he asked.

"Absolutely," Risotto said.

"Margherita pizza?"

"...I can try. I've never really made a pizza pie before, so I'm not sure how that would turn out. But I can also bake good breakfast foods, like cannolis, and—" Formaggio accidentally bumped his hand into his arm, and he looked back down just in time to smack his hand away before he could grab the leftover meat off of his plate. "Stop that."

Formaggio huffed out a "Fine!" as he shook the stinging pain out of his hand. After he was done with his pouting, he grabbed his spork and worked on finishing off his eggs. "When did you learn how to cook?"

Risotto blinked a couple of times, and his eyebrows slightly furrowed as he rubbed the bottom of his chin. He then clasped his hands together and turned to look Formaggio straight in the eye.

"I was hardly fifteen," he began, "a year younger than you are now. One day, my father told me it was prime time that I learn how to cook. He placed me in front of the stove, handed me some ingredients, and told me to make him an omelette for his lunch. He said he wanted it done exactly like my mother used to make it."

Risotto turned away and looked off into the busy bodies of the chow hall once again, nudging his tray further to his right so that it would be out of Formaggio's reach. Formaggio wanted to grumble out a side comment, but he didn't want to interrupt Risotto's new story.

"I would always hear him ramble on about those special omelettes, about how he hadn't eaten his wife's cooking since she died. Every time he talked about them, it kind of made me jealous of how much good food he got to eat. Anything, anything, would have been better than the disgusting slop I had to eat while living with him. Unfortunately, having no prior experience with cooking and no recipes in sight meant that I would inevitably mess up his omelette."

He grew quiet after that, sipping from his cup of water with a noticeable frown. As he set his cup back down on the table, his scarred left hand would suddenly clench, mimicking the tightness of his jaw. It wasn't like the dazed, awkward pauses he would have in his speech when they first met. It was as if he were reluctant to finish his story, as if there were something awful about the outcome of his mistake that could bring such a reaction out of his calm demeanor.

Formaggio swallowed the eggs he were chewing, but set his spork down instead of scooping up another bite. He placed his hand against Risotto's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"You can tell me, fratello," he said softly. "What happened?"

A small sigh left his throat as he faced his friend with a grave look. "He beat me, Formaggio," he muttered. "He got pissed and beat the living shit out of me."

Risotto always gave hints that he could have been brought up from a bad place, so Formaggio wasn't as shocked to learn about his abusive father. As curious as he was to find out more, the subject obviously made Risotto upset, and he wouldn't force him to keep talking about a distressing topic.

"If you don't wanna keep talking about this, you don't have to," Formaggio told him. "We can drop it and forget that it was ever brought up."

There was another moment of silence in the air, the background noise of the chow hall filling in for them, before Risotto uttered his thoughts. "Considering I rarely ever get to talk about it, I think it would be best to get it off my chest now."

He pulled the corded headphones away from his neck and set them next to his Walkman on the table. He pushed his tray further away from him so he could have space to rest his arms and lean his weight into the edge. As he got comfortable, Formaggio gave him a reassuring nod of his head, telling him that he could start whenever he was ready.

"My father is mentally unstable," Risotto explained. "He refuses to seek professional help while using alcohol and other drugs to cope. The rest of my family would always tell me he hadn't been an addict until my mother passed away. The substance abuse coupled with his mental instability only sent him further into a downward spiral, and being the only one left to deal with his bullshit, he took all of his anger out on me."

"Did he always beat you?"

"Not always. Most of the time, he would be too fucked up to see straight, but that didn't stop him from running his mouth. When he wasn't beating me, he more than likely talked a lot of shit. It was easier for me to hide from all of his rampages when I was younger, because I was small and frail, and I could hide behind things. But when it came to fucking up his favorite meals, if he was sober enough to catch me, I would always suffer the consequences."

He then gave an unexpected chuckle, as if he came across something amusing underneath all of his misfortune.

"It's crazy, it really is. Whenever I think about all the times I undercooked something, burned something, used the wrong ingredient, or many any simple mistake, I realize that a woman I never got to know had eventually saved my life."


"My mother," Risotto responded. "If it weren't for her, I'm sure her widowed husband would have ended up beating me to death."

"How'd she save you if she's...?" Formaggio trailed off to reconsider his choice of words before he could finish. "Sorry. How'd she save you?"

"One night, while my father was out buying groceries, I started panicking, because I knew he was going to force me to cook another meal that was bound to end up like all the others. I rushed into the kitchen and turned the entire thing inside out, looking for absolutely anything that could have saved me, a knife that would be sharp enough to kill him with the skinny and poor little arms that I had, up until I came across my mother's old cookbook. In that cookbook was everything I needed to know. Every ingredient she used, everything she did, the amount of time she would spend on every dish... Ever since that night, my father hasn't laid a single hand on me for not knowing how to cook."

Formaggio was as stupefied as he always was when hearing about Risotto's tragedy. He could never imagine going through all the hardships his friend had to withstand. It was true that his father was nothing but a thieving deadbeat, but he had never been abusive towards him or his mother, and it pained him to think that Risotto lived his entire life without any good parental figure at all.

"Honestly, I don't even know what to say," he uttered after their umpteenth period of silence. "Other than the fact that hearing about your life makes me wanna cry sometimes."

Risotto was beginning to apologize to him with an "I'm sorry," but Formaggio cut him off before he could say another word.

"Don't apologize for a goddamn thing. None of the shit you've been through is your fault, Riz. None of it. You're one of the nicest, most caring people I've ever met. If anybody in this shitstain ever deserved a better life, it would be you."

He shuffled to the very edge of his seat and wrapped his arm around Risotto's shoulder, pulling the taller one into a comforting embrace. While he patted him on the side of his upper arm, he looked up and gave him a huge smile.

"Listen. I believe in you. If you wanna apply to be a cook, then go for it, dude. I bet you can cook better than any geezer that's working in the back of that nasty kitchen. Your dad might be the reason why you learned how to cook, but he's nothing but a drunk piece of shit. Your mama's the one who taught you how to cook, man. You finding that cookbook was a sign, it was a message from her in the heavens above so she could save you from any more of his abuse. She might be gone, you might not be able to remember a damn thing about her, but she hasn't forgotten about you, Riz. If my mama still has the patience to put up with my slow ass, I know yours has to love you just the same."

Risotto had never been the type to believe in spirituality. His upbringing made him ditch any ounce of faith he had left, and he went on the rest of his childhood thinking there was no merciful God who could be so merciless about his life. Yet somehow, Formaggio's words had convinced him otherwise, that there actually could be a slight possibility of a God after all. Maybe his mother really was trying to help him that night, maybe there could be someone looking out for him, maybe the angels above had finally noticed his suffering and answered his prayers by blessing him with a friend as sweet and understanding as the loved one he once lost, in the midst of serving life in a fucked up prison.

"Thank you." Risotto flashed the rarity of his warm, beaming smile back down at him. "I appreciate that."

"Ah, come on, now! I know you can smile better than that!" Formaggio chirped. "Show me those dimples, big guy!"

That had brought a laugh out of Risotto, and as he laughed he smiled wide enough for his dimples to reveal themselves at the far corner of his lips. 

"Atta boy!" Formaggio gave him two final pats on the arm before letting go, and he picked up his utensil to finish eating his breakfast.

Chapter Text

July 13th, 1991

Visitation day was every Saturday, and there was at least one Saturday out of every month where Formaggio's aunt would come to visit him.

The inmates were only allowed inside of the visitation room by one housing block at a time, as to prevent standoffs between rivaling cliques and overcrowding. Fortunately for him, everything was always done in alphabetical order, and it wasn't much longer after the facility opened its doors to its visitors before a correctional officer would step into his block with a clipboard in tow.

"Alright, boys! Listen up!"

His voice would resound throughout the entire block. Just his presence was enough to grab all of their attention, to halt the constant chatter within the common area and to bring some of them to stand at the thresholds of their cell doors.

No prisoner would ever respect his higher authority when there were no benefits to come from it. They were either too corrupted by their power or too yellow to properly represent the role they were given. The mere sight of their skintight white collared shirts and black slacks always brought ridicule along with it. As much as they wanted to sneer and utter small quips, any sign of disrespect could cost them the benefit of getting to see their friends and families. So all of them went quiet, and they listened closely as he prepared to list the names from the clipboard.

Many hoped their name would be on that list, but only a select few of them would be accounted for. Some already knew their names would be called, either having discussed visitation with their loved ones some time prior or being accustomed to getting visits on certain Saturdays of certain weeks. Others could only pray that someone they knew on the outside would actually care enough to show up for once. It didn't surprise them when their prayers were never answered, but it would deepen the holes in their hearts and the pits in their stomachs.

"When I call your name, come line up beside me," he instructed, as he pulled the clipboard from underneath his arm. He turned a single page over the top of clip before he was faced with the correct list of names. "Let's make this quick, boys. You know you don't have all day." He cleared his throat before he began to call out the names as loud as he could. "Mancuso! Barone! Parrino! Crocetti!"

The ginger stood against the open doorway of his cell to listen out for his name. He never had to fret over the possibility of it being called or not. He was one of the lucky few who could always talk with his relative to discuss and schedule her visits.

"Falco! Morello! Russo!—"

And that was all he needed to hear for him to join the growing line of prisoners. The officer continued to go through the list until he came to the very end, leaving fifteen men standing in line out of the seventeen he had called. The housing block was as still as a mouse while he eyed the line and used a pen to scribble check marks by each inmate that was present. After conducting his second, muted roll call, he turned back towards the others and announced, "If I've called your name and you're not in this line within five seconds, you're gonna be shit outta luck until next month!"

That had brought a small murmur among them.

One inmate stood up from his seat and inquired, "Are you sure those are all of the names on the list?"

The correctional officer scanned the list once more as he tapped the end of the pen against his chin. There were no names left other than the two inmates that never appeared before the line.

"Are you Falco?"


"Are you Magro?"

"Who the hell is Magro?"

He shrugged and dropped the pen back into the front pocket of his shirt. "Sorry. You're not on the list."

Loud groans erupted from the rest of the crowd, and after realizing they had scored no luck that Saturday, they went back to their previous activities and paid no more attention to the correctional officer. The inmate cursed something under his breath and grumpily fell back into his seat. Neither Falco nor Magro appeared under the officer's warning, so he placed the clipboard back under his arm. "Well, I guess that's that. Let's roll out!"

Contact between inmates and their visitors were so limited that they were allowed no more than a glass window to see through and a mounted telephone to speak. The stools were the most uncomfortable chairs Formaggio thought he could ever sit on, and the window on his booth had missed out on proper cleaning, but none of that stopped him from swiftly making his way over to his reserved booth.

He grinned as he sat down in front of the window that showed him his aging aunt. No matter where she went, she would always make sure she appeared within a presentable fashion. She would curl her long, dark brown hair for every occasion, and that day she wore a nice floral blouse that complemented her green eyes. In unison they grabbed the blue telephones from their own sides of the wall, and Formaggio was the first to speak into the object he held alongside his ear.

"Buon pomeriggio, Aunt Isadora," he greeted. "How's it hanging in the outside world?"

Instead of returning his politeness, there was a blatant roll of her eyes as a snobbish groan rolled out of her throat.

"Will you ever come up with anything better to say?" she said. "It's always the same damn thing whenever I see you. 'How's it hanging?' 'How's it hanging?' I'm about sick of it."

No, it was never the lack of contact, the hard stools, and the blurry windows that deterred him. But he would often reconsider his plans to see her just because of her incessant need to complain about something redundant, whether it be one stupid thing or another. He sighed over the nagging voice that rang into his ear.

"I'm just asking how things are holding up. You don't always have to find something to bitch about, you know."

The woman gasped at his insolence, and as soon as she began to chew him out he knew that he had made a mistake. If her chastising wasn't enough, speaking through the air tube of the telephones made the sound significantly worse. The air screeching into his ear had him cringing so hard he had to slightly pull the phone away from his lobe.

"Rossino! Watch your goddamn mouth! I've told you about talking to me like that! Oh, I swear to God, Flora should have washed your mouth out with soap when you were younger! You have always been so disgustingly vulgar, just like your damn father! The very nerve, the audacity of you to talk to me like I'm just some type of—"

"Okay, Aunt Izzy, I get it!" he interrupted. "I didn't mean to say it that way. I'm sorry."

He did mean to say it that way, but at the very rate she was going with her reprimand, they both would have wasted their time fussing at each other instead of ever getting to the point. Isadora huffed out a sigh as she relaxed back onto the stool, using her free hand to fluff her curly hair.

"How is she?" he asked.

"She's doing just fine," Isadora answered. "She's almost as lively as she used to be. Her new medication is helping her regain her energy, and the doctors say she'll continue to improve as long as she keeps taking her prescription."

"That's great!" Formaggio's smile returned after learning about his mother's good health. "I'm really glad to hear that."

"She's started to talk about you all the time, Rossino," said Isadora. "It seems like you've become all she wants to talk about now. I'd be lying if I said it doesn't annoy the living hell out of me."

"Maybe if you weren't so lonely," he wanted to jeer, but he knew better than to start yet another fight. He still believed she had no right to speak on others for being nerve wracking when her own attitude was the very reason she couldn't find love. "What does she say about me?" he asked instead.

"She always talks about how much she misses you or how much she can't wait for you to come home," Isadora monotoned. "The only thing that's been new for the past month is her talking about wanting to send you letters. Oh! As a matter of fact, the first letter should already be on its way."

Formaggio's eyes went wide at the sound of that, and he leaned in so close that his nose was almost pressed against the mirror. "Are you for real?"

"Yeah? Why wouldn't I be? We sent the letter out, what, two or three days ago? It took us a good minute to get everything together. She spent almost a day thinking of what to write, and I had to help her find a few things she wanted to add to it."

"What things?"

"I can't tell you that, Rossino. You would have to see it for yourself."

"Whaddya mean, you can't tell me? It doesn't hurt to know what else is in it before it gets here. Come on, Aunt Izzy! Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!"

"You are ridiculously impatient!" Isadora spat. "Your mother poured her frail little heart into that letter and I'll be damned if I spoil her surprise! Come on, have some respect!"

"Damn, you're right," Formaggio mumbled, and for once he actually meant what he said. "My bad. I'll wait for the letter as long as it takes."

"Well, enough about that," Isadora dismissed. "So? How are your friends?"

"Friends?" Formaggio's forehead creased into a look of confusion. "What friends?"

"Oh, come on. You've talked and talked about your little prison mates to the point where I felt like my head was about to implode, and now you don't have any friends? Don't tell me you hit your head too hard and ended up forgetting about them."

"Oh, them?" Formaggio said with a snort. "You mean Angelo and his stupid little clique? Fuck all of them, Aunt Izzy. They're nothing but a bunch of pricks."

"Watch your mouth," Isadora warned once again, though the warning only went on deaf ears. "What happened? Why aren't you friends with them anymore?"

"I'm not gonna get into any detail, but just know that they ditched me when I needed them the most, and..." He trailed off as he tried to come up with something to say, but he couldn't find an explanation that wouldn't be too straightforward.

"And?" his aunt quizzed, expecting his answer.

At that moment, he became plagued with the memory of what happened to him in the changing room of the communal showers. "They beat me," he wanted to tell her. "They beat the living shit out of me, cut me up, almost violated me and left me for dead." But how could he ever bring himself to tell his aunt the very occurrence he wanted to forget? Somehow, it would always come back to haunt him, either through intrusive thoughts or the small chance of a sweaty nightmare. He subconsciously hid his tortured expression in the shadow of his palm, and he rubbed at his temples to try to ease his tension in his skull.

"...Rossino, is there something wrong?" she asked worriedly.

"No, no. Nothing's wrong. I'm cool." He moved his hand away from his face, and the look in his eyes didn't convince her any different, but he tried to camouflage his pain under yet another smile. "I'm just not friends with them anymore. Let's keep it at that."

"Formaggio, are you sure? If there's something wrong, I need you to—"

"I said I'm fine, Aunt Izzy," he closed. "There's nothing wrong with me. There was no harm done, okay?"

Having known him since the very day he was born, Isadora could almost always pick out her nephew's lies, and at that very moment, she could easily tell that Formaggio was lying. She was not an ignorant woman, and she was definitely no stranger to how rough imprisonment could be. He could have been abused, beaten, or even raped, and her guess was just as good as any of those assumptions, but in the avoidant state he was in she knew there was no way she could get any type of answer.

"Okay. I believe you," she said to him, though her voice quavered with uncertainty.

"I did make a new friend though," Formaggio mentioned, "and he's much better than all the other jackasses. He's probably the sweetest guy I've ever met. Says a lot for this place."

"Oh?" Isadora felt somewhat relieved. "What's his name?"

"Risotto Nero," Formaggio told her. "I like to call him Riz, 'cause I think it's a pretty cool nickname."

"Risotto Nero?" Isadora repeated with a raise of her brow.

"Yeah, and he's like, almost two meters tall," the redhead went on. "He's a buff giant compared to me, but the most unique thing about him would be his pitch black sclera and his red eyes. He might sound a little scary, but he's a really cool guy. He does listen to weird shit though, like heavy metal music, and he's also really quiet, but I think I've been doing a pretty good job of getting him out of his shell so far. Oh, and he's really smart, just as smart as you and—"

Isadora had tuned out of her nephew's positive rambling about his friend since the very beginning. While he continued to go on about Risotto and how much time the two had spent together, his aunt was stumped on trying to figure out why his name sounded so familiar. She had definitely heard about him from somewhere, but she couldn't place her finger on it, and it was starting to bother her more than anything else. Exactly where did she recall hearing the name Risotto Nero?

"That sounds nice," she spoke outside of her daze, right after Formaggio had finished with his babbling. "I'm glad you've found a better friend that you can trust."

"Yeah, well... Umm..." Formaggio absentmindedly scratched at the side of his face. "Is there anything else you wanna tell me before I go?"

Isadora observed the look in her nephew's eyes once more. She hated how much he would resemble his incompetent father in both his appearance and his actions, but his eyes were the same as her sister's, gleaming whenever he was happy but almost empty whenever he was in pain. His father was nothing but a lazy and greedy bastard who showed hardly any compassion for anyone, only driven by his undying lust that Flora foolishly mistook for undyling love. His own seed was nothing but a little slip-up to him, and it angered Isadora that her lovestruck fool of a sister kept him around for that long, enough to where it almost tore their entire family apart. Yet, while he could be as loud, vulgar, and obnoxious as him, he always had his mother's tenderness and her silly idealism. He was truly her sister's son, and he deserved better than what she could only presume he had went through behind the large brick walls and barbed wires of that prison.

"Please be safe, Rossino," was all that she said. She placed her palm against the glass window. "Flora and I both love you very much. We want you home safe and sound."

Formaggio grinned at her, and he placed his palm against the opposite side of where her own hand laid. "I love you guys too. Make sure that you tell Mama that I love her bunches, and tell her I can't wait to see her letter."

"Oh. You're here, Riz?" 

Risotto glanced up from the novel he was reading. Formaggio's torso was hidden by the bunk hanging overhead, but he didn't need to see his face to recognize his voice.

"Yes, I'm here," he said, as the redhead shuffled further inside of their cell. "Why?"

"I expected you to still be in the game room with Vinny by the time I got back." Formaggio stopped once he reached the foldable desk chair, and he sat in it as backwards as he always would, his chest resting against its back. Now Risotto could see the rest of his body, and he watched as he crossed his arms over the top of his seat. "Didn't you two have something to talk about?"

"He didn't discuss much." Risotto took note of his place in the novel before closing the book and setting it aside. "Our conversation only lasted for a few minutes, and I spent the rest of my time there playing him in chess. He wasn't too happy about losing against me in both of our games. He said no one has ever beaten him in chess before."

"You're nothing but an old man," Formaggio joked. "All that talk about playing chess and reading books and shit."

"You've never even played chess, so who are you to say it's for the elderly? It's a fun board game for all ages."

"I've never played chess 'cause I never bothered to learn how to play it, and I don't even think I want to. That shit looks hard. The pieces do too many things and move too many different ways— like that fucking horse looking piece. How does that shit even move?"

"In an L shape."

"Ah, fuck that. I can't even spell the letter L."

The two shared a brief laugh over his feigned ignorance. After their giggling had died down, Risotto started anew with an inquiry about his visit. "How did it go?"

"It went fine, for the most part. Aunt Izzy can be a real pain in the ass sometimes, but she says that Mama's doing better than ever, and that's all that really matters to me. Hearing that made me feel like I struck the damn lottery today, and that ain't even the only reason why." Formaggio's grin grew much wider as he leaned into the chair, slightly tipping it forward with his weight. "Guess what, Riz?"


"She's sending me letters, dude!" Formaggio whooped as he threw his arms up in the air. "My mama's finally sending me letters! I finally get to speak to her!"

"Really?" After he was given a nod in reply, Risotto shifted his body towards the edge of his bunk and motioned for Formaggio to bring it in. He jumped up from the chair and gratefully accepted Risotto's hug, who rubbed his back and told him how pleased he was to hear it.

"I have some good news as well," Risotto said, and Formaggio pulled away so he could look him in the eye. "I hope that it makes you even happier than before."

"Yeah? What's up?"

"What if I told you today would be the last day you would have to eat undercooked sausages, or rotten fruit, or burned bread rolls, and sandwiches with expired meat?"

"Wait." Formaggio's eyes lit up with astonishment as he gripped Risotto's shoulders. "You got in? They gave you the job?"

After Risotto affirmed his guess with a short nod, he suddenly felt his body violently rock back and forth as Formaggio feverishly shook him by his shoulders. "My boy made it into the kitchen!" he cheered, pulling his woozy friend into a tighter hug. "I'm so proud of you!"

Chapter Text

July 17th, 1991

"Nero! To the kitchen! You've got mouths to feed!"

It had only been four days since Risotto was given his new job in the kitchen. Being rudely awakened at the ungodly hour of five, for the fourth morning in a row, was enough to drive Formaggio so far up the wall that he hissed half conscious threats and curses at the loud correctional officer. That had earned him a shot he was too tired to register, and he didn't stay awake for much longer before he would doze back off into his thundering death rattle.

Unlike him, Risotto never seemed to mind waking up early. He had become a much busier man, of course; his new job required him to wake up at five in order to prepare the breakfast that was served half past seven. The cooks also had to create meal plans for the remaining courses, begin the actual cooking, and clean around to keep their workspace tidy. Risotto's busier schedule meant the time the two of them could spend together would diminish significantly, but even if he could have certain days off as he so desired, he wanted to work as much as he possibly could.

His coworkers were what made him so restless. He complained about them being so decrepit that he felt as if he were working two different jobs: a cook and a babysitter. They would forget to wear their hair nets. They needed constant reminders to wash their hands. They had to be closely watched to prevent them from accidentally chopping their own fingers off into the food. Even if they were humorous and intriguing old men, that failed to make up for their mental decline which drove him to near madness.

However, when he disregarded the fact he had to deal with his coworkers' early onset dementia, Risotto loved every second of his job. Formaggio would see him working the meal line with the baggiest eyelids, and yet, Risotto always greeted him with the friendliest smile.

"Look at you, all smiley and shit!" Formaggio teased him during his first morning on the job. "You look so happy, man."

"You're damn right I'm happy," Risotto conceded, and he used his tongs to place two extra pieces of sausage patties on Formaggio's tray— sausage patties that the ginger later found had tasted as if they were cooked and seasoned to near perfection.

Formaggio would have to eat alone during breakfast and lunch. The idea bothered him at first, but he soon realized that eating alone now wasn't as awkward as it felt during his first few weeks in prison. He would enjoy his first two meals in a comfortable silence, and he would go on about his day by working his job, relaxing in his cell, or playing his solo games of basketball. But because it was the end of his shift and there was little work left to be done, Risotto could join him for dinner. The tall hunk would leave an elderly inmate to take his place at the meal line while he fixed his own tray of food, and he would venture across the chow hall to take his usual place beside Formaggio. Still clad in his hair net, apron, and all, the scent of his hard work would waver off of him as he kept the same smile from hours prior, only wider and more dimpled, and they both ate together as they conversed about their day.

Since he was the one who cooked the food, he would finally eat every portion on his tray, and Lord knows his food was delicious. There were limits to being a prison cook just as there were limits to being in prison, so not every ingredient provided by their weekly delivery truck was at its best quality. But somehow, some way, Risotto used those large hands of his to spur up the magic that made a bruised vegetable well complement its soup, or clumpy spices adding extra umph to its meat. If it weren't the best of the best, it damn sure tasted better than the slop that would come out of the kitchen before he started working there.

That morning's breakfast proved to be no less than his ongoing miracle. There were scrambled eggs with the right amount of salt and pepper, along with a dash of mozzarella that provided a nice addition to its flavor. The bacon was actually bacon, and not just thin slices of coal, that Formaggio considered to be the tastiest and juiciest slices of bacon he had ever set his tongue upon. The bread was toasted with an accessory tinge of margarine, and to top it all off, the facility served pastries for breakfast and Formaggio was given a mouthwatering cookie.

Actually, he was given three cookies, because Risotto always chose to spoil his glutton of a friend by sneaking extras onto his plate.

After his substantial breakfast, Formaggio went back to his cell and read one of the old magazines he hoarded from the library. It was one of his off days, and in the middle of his skimming he considered calling in to ask if they could assign him a few hours to keep him busy. Risotto's absence wasn't unbearable, but it became mighty boring when he had nothing better to do nor anybody to talk to. At some point, he attempted to read one of Risotto's borrowed novels that the oddball could somehow read within an entire day, but after a few seconds he immediately decided to quit and had given up on the first page.

Humorously enough, the first page he was reading wasn't the actual first page of the novel. In fact, he was reading a rather boring forward about the author and had already been too inattentive to realize it. Those big books just weren't his forte— he would rather read his sports magazines or buy one of the pornographic ones from that strung out inmate who worked in the library.

The junkie sold his contraband porno on the low in exchange for sedatives or commissary cough medicine. Formaggio found out about him through Angelo some time ago, but he never personally traded with the guy himself. He preferred to bum a magazine or two from his friends and return them whenever he was finished. Of course, there was no way in hell he could ask any of them now, and Risotto didn't seem like the type of person to indulge in porn. The thought was so outlandish to Formaggio that he snickered at the small chance Risotto could have been secretly reading erotica within one of those life sized books.


The sound of his name being called out into the housing block dragged him out of his thoughts. A correctional officer was asking for him to come out of his cell, but he was puzzled as to why, because it definitely wasn't visitation day. He threw his sheets away from his legs, and he was getting ready to jump off of the side of his bunk when something clicked.

Every morning, after the end of breakfast, an officer serving as a mailman would stop by each block to drop off letters for the inmates. Before he started thinking about purchasing adult magazines from that drug addict, he recalled hearing the guard announce that he was there to deliver their mail.

He nearly tripped over the railing and faceplanted into the rock hard floor as he rushed to retrieve his mail from the officer. Formaggio had never received any mail until that day, so it had to be his mother's letter.

He almost broke out into a cheer when the letter had been passed off into his hands, but his simper contorted into a scowl once he saw that it did not come in mint condition. The torn flap of the envelope was lazily taped back into place, as if somebody else had ripped it open and inspected the contents before it was given to him. The culprit of the vandalism obviously cared less about making it seem as if it weren't so.

"Aye!" He called out to catch the attention of the retreating correctional officer, who held his empty mail satchel at his waist. Formaggio flashed the blatant sabotage of his letter to his superior's arched brows. "Mind telling me what the fuck happened to my mail?"

The officer snorted at the sight, and he turned back around to address the inmate's concerns in a direct manner. "Alright, kid, since it's obvious ya don't get alotta mail, I'll do ya a favor and tell you a little secret," he said. "Hell, maybe I'll even be able to put it into words somebody like you could understand."

Formaggio already knew his grin was full of shit, so when the guard leaned in and faced him with his shit stain of a smirk, his stone cold expression was just as unchanging.

"It's protocol to go through everybody's mail and, to be frank, none of us give a flying fuck about you or your mommy's 'wittle 'wetter," he mocked, before he feigned a playful shove to his shoulder. "How about you stop worrying your red little ass off about the tear on the envelope, and just be grateful we even allow you dumbasses to look at any of your mail?"

Formaggio wanted to make some type of witty comeback towards the son of a bitch, possibly a quip about his fruity mustache, but knew well enough the disrespect could jeopardize him from being able to keep his letter at all, so he stared straight into the man's eyes and responded with a small huff of his nose instead. He could hear giggles coming from the inmates seated at a nearby table, and the officer waited seconds longer for any other remark before he ended their altercation with a patronizing pat on the head and a, "That's what I thought."

He sucked his teeth after the correctional officer's departing stride, and with a scowl still present he bore holes into the tear of his envelope. "It can't be fuckin' helped," he muttered to himself. But his frown had dissipated once he turned it back over and let his eyes gloss over the neatly written name above the return address, Flora Terranova. It was beautifully placed atop the location of the home he had lived in for as long as he could remember. 

Formaggio was so impatient that he had ripped the envelope back open before he could even settle back onto his bunk, nearly removing the contents of his mail as he stood on the ladder steps. Common sense had given him grace, and the redhead made sure he had his bottom resting against his mattress once he began to pull the items out from the envelope. Encased within was a neatly folded sheet of paper, which brought out a hidden photograph once it was unfolded and its inked words brought to light.

He recognized the photograph the very instant he saw it, but what he wanted to admire first was the letter from his mother. Written in her lovely handwriting, and embroidered with her very own penned sketches of flowers at the frame:

Carissimo Formaggio,

Il mio piccolino, there is never a day that goes by when you are not in my thoughts or my prayers. Your zia Isadora tells me about how much you ask about me, how much you miss me and how eager you are to come home. Me figghiu, me duci figghiu, I miss you more than you could ever imagine. I miss hearing your laugh, I miss seeing your smile, and I miss watching you grow.

If I could, I would give you hugs and kisses through this very letter, and it pains me that I'm unable to do either. Isadora is lucky that she gets to see you, even if her physical contact is still limited.

I understand that you two sometimes have a little trouble getting along... I reckon that's how it will always be. But she still loves you, Rossino, even if she can have a tough way of showing it. Me soru was the only one that has been there for us, for you, since the day you were born. I can tell that it pains her when she says she's never able to hug you through those glass walls, or that she can't even hold your hand. You may not agree with me on this, and you may never will. But if the time ever comes, my dying wish would be that you two can learn to better respect each other. 

I know I never got the chance to see you as you went through trial. I never got to hug you or kiss you before you would be kept away from me for a very long year. Just know that I don't nor will I ever resent you for the mistakes you have made. You can be awfully silly, Rossino, but that's how you've always been. No matter what you do, no matter what choices you make, you will always be il mio bambino, mio Rossino, forever and always. There's nothing you could do that would ever stop me from loving you. You are the greatest blessing Diu has ever given to me.

Please be safe as you push through the rest of your sentence. I am not only worried about you, but I am frightened that something bad could happen to you while you are there. Isadora says you've been doing well, and I want it to continue to be that way. I want you home with your handsome little smile intact.

I feel as if this letter is too short and that it does not say enough, so to make up for it, I've given you something special. Please don't lose it. It's the only photo we have of that day, and I know how much it means to you!

I love you, Formaggio.

Write back as soon as you can.


A tear was already making its way down his cheek before he came back to the photograph that he held against the bottom of her letter.

A younger and tinier Formaggio, as snaggletoothed as he could be, beamed back at his future self's teary eyes. The short and thin woman kneeling next to him had him wrapped in her motherly embrace, her own smile and emerald eyes as bright as his.

They were situated near the edge of a concrete bridge just above the docks of a coastline. He could remember the casual stroll they were taking, and when they stopped for the photograph they could hear the busy lives of the fishermen buzzing below them. In that photo, nothing stood behind them but the glistening Mediterranean Sea.

His father was the one who took their picture, after Flora pestered him about the scenery and how beautiful it would be for them to snap a quick photo with their son. He refused to be included, but helped them take it nonetheless, creating the ten year old memory that Formaggio would never forget.

Even if he could be pretty clumsy when it came to one of his favorite photographs, as it was much more aged and somewhat torn at its edges due to his carelessness, it was what always gave him a warm sense of joy after spotting it somewhere among the mess of his room. He already knew that his aunt had a grand time griping over how much effort it took to find that one photo in his messy room, but he was happy that it was something his mother wanted to include with her letter, because now he was tearing up so much that he could hardly see it through the build up in his eyes.

A couple more of his tears fell onto the picture before he wiped his eyes with his forearm and swept the fallen teardrops away with his thumb. In a couple of minutes he would rush to the canteen to purchase stamps, envelopes, and paper, and he would write his mother a letter and send it off as soon as he possibly could. But as for now, in the midst of his snotty sniffing and silent weeping, he would borrow some of the tape Risotto used to hang cutouts of heavy metal band logos on the wall space of his bunk, and on his own space, he would carefully tape his photo on the place above his pillow. That way, it would be the first thing he would see when he awoke, and the last he would see before he slept.

For the rest of his time in prison, that teary routine remained just the same.

Chapter Text

July 22nd, 1991

"Rizzy, I'm back!" Formaggio announced in a song, rapping his knuckles against the doorframe. His arrival caught the attention of dark eyes that were once focused on the pages of his novel, but were now tracking the striped pants that marched into their cell.

After they returned from their showers, tossed their worn clothing into their laundry bags, and hung their towels to dry, Formaggio left the housing block once again for a "quick walk around the town," though the walk took much longer than Risotto had expected. As he watched him waddle towards his 'favorite' chair, Risotto could hear a strange, faint sploshing sound come from his lower half.

"Good," he said as the other sat down. "I was starting to get worried."

"Heh! You sure don't sound like you're worried." Formaggio reclined into the chair with a sigh, the noise halting a moment after he had been seated. "You always sound so calm and emotionless. Hard to tell unless I'm looking directly at your face, and..."

As he leaned in to get a closer look, he saw that his grin was opposed by Risotto's natural poker face. Formaggio followed his quick observation with a snort.

"Damn, you look pretty indifferent," he said. "Were you being sarcastic?"

"No, I'm serious," Risotto replied. "I would've began looking for you had it taken any longer. Where did you go?"

Though there was a slight difference in his pitch, he remained monotonous overall, and if Formaggio had not known any better he would have been skeptical. But they had been friends long enough for him to understand that it was simply just the way Risotto expressed himself, and underneath his stoic demeanor there would always be a big guy with a big heart.

"I told you already. It was only a little walk around town," he said with a cool shrug. "I just decided to stop by someplace, to pick up a little... package, so it took a bit longer for me to get back."

"A package?" Risotto queried. "Is that 'package' what I hear moving around in your pants?"

Formaggio wanted to keep the package a secret for as long as he could, but Risotto was much too observant for him to see it through, ultimately ruining his surprise. Still, he took advantage of the phrasing to play it off with a joke, a joke so immature that it made Risotto give out an exasperated sigh.

"Nah, that's just my big fat dick!" He then howled in laughter as he repeatedly slapped at his knee, kicked out his legs, and let his body tilt backwards with every holler, as if he were being possessed by some comical demon. In the middle of his fit, he pointed a mocking finger towards Risotto's unamused frown. "Gotcha!"

"Yeah, sure," the more mature of the two mumbled in utter boredom, having thought the incessant quips about his friend's penis had gotten old long ago. "You got me."

As his howls died down in giggles, Formaggio looked to his left, taking a glimpse outside of the open doorway. He searched the outside perimeter until he spotted the correctional officer that was patrolling the upper floor of their housing block, peering into the cells to make sure none of the inmates were up to any suspicious activity. He assumed it would be a moment before the guard eventually made his way back down the steps, and to Formaggio that was a huge relief.

He turned his head back in Risotto's direction and pointed towards the other end of his bunk. That entire end had been occupied by Risotto's long legs. "Mind if I sit?"

Risotto wordlessly set his book aside and pulled his legs up from underneath his sheets. While turning and twisting his limbs off to the edge of his bed, Formaggio briskly switched places from the chair to the newly vacant space beside him, producing the sound of sloshing liquid once more. Risotto faced his mischievous smirk with bewilderment, as there was nearly no telling what he was up to that time around.

"Are you ready?" Without awaiting an answer, Formaggio pulled down the hem of his striped bottoms and revealed the knot of the plastic bag he had stashed near his crotch. "Surprise!" He used his other hand to unsheath the bag full of a flushed, almost beige colored concoction that horrified Risotto the very moment he set his eyes upon it. Formaggio snickered at his sudden change in facial expression, asking, "What's with the funny look, Riz? It's just a bag of hooch."

"Are you offering that bag of 'hooch' to me?"

"I don't mind letting you have a couple of sips, but a couple of sips is all I'm willing to give you. One bag of this costs a lot of stamps. If you want more, you're gonna have to go buy your own."

Out of all the things he had witnessed during his stay, from clogged toilets to brutal and bloody shankings, that one bag of prison hooch had to be the absolute worse. To Formaggio, it made him feel as if he were hitting the jailbird jackpot, but to Risotto, it was as if he were face to face with a bag of someone else's vomit. He didn't have to think twice before he shook his head and pushed the bag away. "That's alright. I think I'll pass."

"Aww, what?" Formaggio began to pout as if he were offended by his response, reaching into his pocket to pull out two other items, "And to think I even got a straw for you."

The small, paper wrapped straws were identical to the ones Risotto would have stocked in a bucket at the end of the meal line. They were provided to the inmates in case they preferred a more sanitary option for drinking their water, but he guessed they could have been hoarded for more recreational purposes.

"Why won't you just try a little sip?" the ginger said in an attempted coax. "Come on. I promise it won't kill you."

"Are you positive that alcohol made in another inmate's toilet won't kill me?" Risotto asked, having much more sense than to believe something as horrid as that wouldn't do any harm to his body.

"Made in a toilet?! " Formaggio gasped. "Man, where the fuck have you heard of hooch being made in a toilet? This was made in a sink. It was hidden in a toilet."

"Umm... Alright, sure. But that still doesn't make it look any less disgusting."

"I mean... I ain't gonna lie and say that it tastes as good as alcohol on the outside, but this is just about the best quality hooch you could find in this entire prison," Formaggio boasted. "It's got enough fruit, enough bread, enough sugar, and no ketchup! God, I hate when a bootlegger adds fucking ketchup packets to the hooch. Shit makes it taste like fucking seawater."

After Formaggio set the bag against his lap and delicately untied the knot, they were both hit with a waft of the sweet scent of citrus combined with the stronger aroma of fermented ethanol. Unlike his companion, who was practically salivating from the smell, Risotto grimaced and pinched his nostrils shut. He would have been able to deal with the fruit cocktail if it weren't for the overwhelming scent of alcohol.

Formaggio tore the tips of the paper away with his teeth and chucked them out into the air, pulling both straws out from the remnants of their wrappers. "The taste has a special kick to it that regular booze doesn't have," he said, "and with it comes an experience you'll never forget. I'm tellin' ya, this hooch will hit you harder than a fucking truck."

He aimlessly plopped both straws into the drink and clenched them together to take a double sip, a belch and a delighted sigh leaving him afterward.

"Not harder than something like vodka, of course," he added, "but definitely harder than a beer. So, what's the strongest type of alcohol you've had, Riz? You seem like a whiskey typa guy to me. Am I right?"


"None? Whaddya mean, none?"

"I mean I don't drink." 

Formaggio was in the middle of taking another sip when Risotto had made his statement, and he had to catch himself before he spat his mouthful of hooch all over the concrete floor. He gulped the cocktail down before any of it could slip past his lips, but he spoke too soon after he swallowed, causing him to choke.

"Huh?!" he managed to croak out before erupting into a nasty coughing fit. Risotto roughly patted him on the back to help get it out of his system, and nearly half of a minute had passed before Formaggio could find himself able to breathe again. "Fuck, that shit must've went down the wrong pipe," he wheezed. "Are you serious, Riz? You don't drink?"

"I'm serious. I don't drink," Risotto said. "I've never drank alcohol, not even a beer."

"Well," Formaggio hacked up his lung one last time before clearing his ragged throat, and he held the bag of hooch out to Risotto once more. "It sure won't hurt to try it out now."

Risotto winced as the scent of the hooch came closer to his nostrils. He denied the offer again with another gentle push. "I'm generally put off by the thought of drinking," he clarified. "I would rather not drink at all."

"Really?" Formaggio narrowed his eyes at the slow nod that Risotto gave him. "Wow. Never heard that one before. All of the friends I've had love drinking. I can hardly see why someone wouldn't wanna have a drink every once in a while."

"I don't see why someone would want to drink," Risotto protested, looking down at his feet. "For you, alcohol might have been nothing but fun memories and shits and giggles, but for me, it was the opposite. I always thought having an addict for a father was the worst it could get, but..." He found himself staring down at his palms, noting how one appeared drastically different from the other. "After experiencing a death in the family, dealing with him was nothing but a close second."

"A death in the family?" Formaggio repeated. "I don't think you've ever told me about that."

"No, I haven't." Risotto shook his head. "But I'm not sure if you would want to hear about that. It's, umm... pretty depressing. I know how you feel about that type of stuff, and I don't want to—"

"Okay, no. No, no, no. Stop. You gotta stop saying stuff like that. Look at me, and listen to me."

Risotto did as he was told, looking away from his palms and into the stern eyes of his friend. Another burp rumbled inside of Formaggio's throat, ruining some of the seriousness in his face, and he snickered as he placed a warm hand against Risotto's shoulder.

"Risotto, I don't give a fuck how depressing it is. I'm always willing to listen to you." He playfully shoved him in his shoulder, bringing out a coy grin from the other. "Listening to you talk about your life helps me get a better perspective on you, y'know? And it brings us closer together. The more we know about each other, the stronger our bond, fratello."

Risotto was still afraid of telling Formaggio about his past. He believed that revealing more and more about himself would only come closer to revealing far too much. Even after gaining enough power and respect in the facility to provide him with all of the friends in the world, losing Formaggio was his biggest fear, because he was a real friend— a true friend. He was there for him since the very beginning, who had been the first to give him a chance despite the demonic image everyone saw on the surface. Though he knew they would inevitably part within the next six months, he had not become close to anyone like Formaggio in the last four years, and he wanted to cherish his blessing for as long as he possibly could.

But would it hurt to tell him about his loved one's death? He didn't have to mention the atrocity he committed as a result, nor did he have to mention the verdict as a result of that. Anything pertaining to his crime and his sentence could be completely voided from the conversation. If he slipped up and did happen to mention too much, he could only hope that Formaggio would be too tipsy to remember any of it.

"Have I ever mentioned my cousin?"

"Once or twice," Formaggio replied, taking his third sip from the bag of hooch. "Actually," he paused to let out another burp, "I think it's only been once, like, a couple months ago. Was your cousin an alcoholic, too? Is that how he passed?"

Risotto was quick to shake his head. "No, no, of course not. He passed away when he was about your age, and he disliked alcohol as much as I do. In fact, I think you should be taking notes from him, you little rascal."

"Whatever, ya old coot!" Formaggio's jive brought out a chuckle and a wider, dimpled smile from his friend. Before he continued drinking from the bag, he urged Risotto to go on. "So? How did he die?"

His smile retreated with the question left hanging in the air, and Risotto found himself subconsciously tracing the scar on his palm with his opposite unscathed hand. "He wasn't an alcoholic, but he was killed by one. A drunk driver," he explained in a near murmur. "He was wasted out of his mind, too blasted to pay attention to the road or to even be operating machinery in the first place. I don't understand why he thought he was in the right mind to drive. I don't understand why my cousin, out of all the people in our town, had to be his victim. But he was. He was impaled with a portion of the car's broken bumper before his body plummeted into the gravel. It killed him in almost an instant."

"Oh, Jesus." Formaggio cringed and sibilated at the mere thought of his own body being stricken the same way. "What happened to the guy who killed him? Did he get arrested?"

"Not for long," Risotto answered in a bitter tone. "He was set to serve five years over a crime others have served for up to four times more. For a drunkard, he knew enough people and had enough money to buy himself a lighter sentence. My family received nothing but mere condolences for my cousin's death, devastating his parents and leaving them both feeling unjustified. It would be selfish to say I had it worse than them, but losing him still tore me to shreds. He was only one I truly considered family, the only one I could call my friend."

Risotto could almost recall the living nightmare as if it were yesterday.

His father was insensitively drunk as he relayed the news to his son, somehow making the burning in his chest and the tremble in his hands all the more worse. He didn't believe his father to be credible in his state, but the man ruthlessly denied his pleas to take him to the hospital, claiming that visiting a corpse wasn't worth any of his precious time. The memory of what came next was mostly a blur, but he remembered hearing an empty bottle crash dangerously close to the side of his head and the slurred shouting of his father before he managed to escape their suffocatingly musty home upon the seat of his bicycle.

The night was excruciatingly cold. He shouldn't have left his jacket, but he knew that trying to retrieve it from his room would have given his father the upper hand. The amount of pressure he was putting on the pedals was beginning to take a toll on his strength, and neither did the merciless wind, nor the tears welling up in his eyes, make it any better. Young Risotto sought his destination with his heart aching in his chest, even if he had no idea of where he was supposed to go. It was always his older cousin who came to him, who talked to him, who fed him, who helped him with his schoolwork, who took him places to get away from his terrible home, who was more of a father figure his own father could ever be. He thought that if he continued to push on, his spirit would have led him into the right direction.

Instead, he ended up crashing his bicycle into someone's old, rusty car while he got too distracted with trying to wipe the tears away from his eyes. He was left lying against the road, his body aching and wailing on top of a pile of fallen leaves, as the owner of said vehicle rushed out of his house to shout about his blaring car and the stupid little kid that ran into it.

Risotto didn't get to see his cousin until the funeral that was held a week later. The morticians had cleaned and dressed him up well, but seeing his lifeless body lay still in his coffin was all too surreal. He tried to convince himself, over and over, that it was nothing but a bad dream, that he would be waking up soon, that his cousin would stop by the very next morning, alive and well, to take him out to eat a nice breakfast. However, the young Nero never woke up from his nightmare, and he wept days, weeks, even months after watching his loved one's casket being lowered into the ground.

"What was he like?" Formaggio asked, bringing Risotto back from the memory of dark dresses, dark suits, and a dark, fallen sky.

"The complete opposite of me," Risotto said, clenching his scarred hand shut. "He was bright, outgoing, an overall joy to be around. He was the life of the party among all of his friends, but for me, he was the very light of my life. He taught me how to be strong, how to be brave, how to be myself. If it weren't for him, I don't think I would have even lived to see the day he died. I wish I didn't have to."

"I bet having an alcoholic for a father didn't make the grieving any better, eh?"

"Exactly." Risotto relaxed his hand, turning his head to once again look the other in the eye. "You took the words right out of my mouth."

After a moment of silence between the two of them, and with a minor slur in his speech, the redhead patted his friend on the shoulder. "Alright, I think I understand now." He took one last sip from his hooch before he removed the straws and tied the bag back up the best he could. "Err... Sorry for waving my bag of hooch all in your face like that. And sorry about your cousin. If I had known about that, I wouldn't've done it, and I wouldn't be drinking around you either."

"It's okay, Formaggio. You're fine," he reassured. "I don't mind if you like to drink. But, I'm still concerned with the fact that you're drinking something that came out of a toilet."

"Miooo signoreee! It did not come from a damn toileeet!" Formaggio cried in a half drunken haze, before he realized that he was being a little too loud and lowered his voice to a near whisper. "They hide it in a toilet!" he seethed. "They hide it!"

"Alright, alright. I get it. They 'hide' it in a toilet." Risotto reached for the book resting behind him and opened it back to the folded edge of the page where he had left off. "Just try not to drink that stuff too much. You could get really sick."

Formaggio grunted out a "Yeah" as he nearly stumbled to his feet, the bag of his leftover hooch in one hand and his two straws in the other. "Drinking this stuff sometimes gives me a bad case of the shits, but it gets me beyond fucked up," he said. "And, as long as I get fucked up, sono soddisfatto!"

Risotto shifted back into his original position on the bunk while he watched Formaggio take his time making his way up the ladder steps. "Do you really think getting drunk off of prison wine is worth the explosive diarrhea?"

"That don't matter right now, 'cause that's in the future, and it ain't about the future, it's about the present." The mattress springs squeaked above as Formaggio landed onto his bed and crawled until he made it to his pillow. "While I'm in the present, I'm about to get drunk off my ass. I don't give two fucks about the future."

"If you say so, my friend. If you say so." Risotto scanned the pages in front of him until he found the paragraph where he left off, and ended their conversation with a "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Riz."

July 23rd, 1991

Though he would have to wake back up within the next thirty minutes, Formaggio did not enjoy being up earlier than usual, let alone having to rush down to the toilet before he accidentally shat on himself.

Risotto had left alongside that loud mouthed correctional officer not too long ago. The routine wake up call had greeted the ginger with a skull pounding hangover and the familiar, frightening rumble within the pit of his stomach. The absolute worst of it was whenever he decided to drink his entire purchase, and when he felt underneath his pillow he was met with an almost empty bag, his straws taking up most of its volume.

He knew he had to be groaning loud enough for Risotto to hear; at one point, he could have sworn he heard giggling come from his friend. But that didn't matter anymore, what mattered was that he was currently unleashing a violent fury of excrement into the toilet bowl. As he slumped himself over the steel seat, he could only pray that the pipes wouldn't clog and that there would be enough toilet paper left to clean up the aftermath.

"Red from the past," he groaned out into his empty cell, "if you can hear this... Go fuck yourself."

Chapter Text

August 3rd, 1991

Carissimo Mama,

He shoved his wristwatch back into his pocket after checking the time. Only mere minutes away from becoming ten o'clock, Formaggio's day was nearing its close, and he sighed as he resumed his gaze upon the almost blank sheet of paper.

The desk had been messy before he decided to take over Risotto's chore for the night. Formaggio was nowhere near as patient or as organized as him, so his attempt to clean up the mess appeared as if he only shoved it all to one side (which, is exactly what he did) to give him more space to write.

In a little over forty minutes, the lights would be turned off and the cells would be locked shut, a routine "goodnight" from his white collared oppressors. If he didn't want to end up relying on their dingy desk lamp for proper lighting, he would have to finish writing the letter within the slim amount of time he had, though he spent a quarter of that precious time tapping his pen against his stack of paper and biting at the calloused skin near his nails.

He and his mother were writing consistently. Once he finished his current letter, it would be the third one he would have written to her, but at the time he wasn't sure if he could ever get done when he was left stumped on trying to get past the introduction. While writing the previous letters, he found no such conflict with himself. Now there was an ongoing clash between one side and the other, between keeping everything bottled up or letting it all spill out. He spent another minute tearing the dead skin off of his fingers before he finally came to a decision and jotted down the next line.

What a fucking day.

Just who do you think you're talking to, Red? he thought to himself, quickly marking out the profanity and settling on What a day.

Oddly enough, his foul mouth otherwise knew no boundaries, making it somewhat ironic that he regularly used curse words such as "bitch," "shit," and "ass" around his mother but crossed the line whenever it came to "fuck." Something about saying that word around Flora never sat right with him, so he chose to avoid it altogether.

The sleeping body stirred on the bunk behind him and let out a faint sigh before he continued to rest soundlessly. Risotto was so quiet that Formaggio nearly forgot he was there, and he mimicked his friend's exhaustion by yawning into his palm. He was pretty damn tired himself, but he was afraid he would have lost the will to write out his feelings by the next morning, so he wasted no more time as he began scribbling them down at a steady pace.

I'm gonna be honest with you, Ma, he began. I lied to you and I feel terrible about it. I've been saying that I'm fine and I'm doing great, but that's far from true. Izzy was right when she told you that something might be going on with me. She'll chew my ass out for lying, but tell her that I'm sorry too.

The truth is that this place is taking a huge toll on me. It's bad enough when I'm stuck in here like a little hermit, having to pay a few lire a minute just to call my own damn family, having my aunt drive miles to see me when she can't even hug me before she leaves, or reach over and slap the shit out of me when I get to cussing. Not that I would actually want her to slap me, but... Yeah. You get what I mean.

That's just the icing on the cake when you're surrounded by violent felons and crooked COs. Being stuck in a prison is like having to live in a small community full of rival gangs that separate themselves by districts, and then even further separate themselves by neighborhoods. Pissing somebody off in here will give you two possibilities: a pile of shit in your shoes or a knife in your back, and you can lose friends in this place just as quick as you can gain them.

I used to have a bunch of friends. Maybe Aunt Izzy's told you about them, I used to tell her about them a whole lot, but those guys? They were my ride or fucking die. I spent my first few weeks in this joint as lonely as a wacko and nearly as depressed as one too, up until I met my boys. We're all around the same age, and a bunch of rowdy juvie kids have always gotta stick together when you're surrounded by a bunch of grumpy adults. They looked after me, and in return, I looked after them. We were all closer than a pack of wolf cubs stranded from our families. When I was with them, I thought nothing could ever go wrong.

Well, I was wrong about that.

I guess I got selfless confused with selfish, but after seeing their true colors I stopped associating with them. But don't worry, everything's chill, because before we split I happened to meet someone that's a better friend than all of them combined. His name is Risotto Nero, and I wouldn't trade this kid for the world. I've only known him for three months and he feels like family to me. Real family. The other guys were cubs from different packs, but Riz feels like a long lost brother. That's just how close we are.

Still... Just because I don't talk to those guys anymore doesn't mean I wish anything bad on them. Just because I kinda hate their guts for what they did doesn't mean I don't remember all the things they've done for me, or all the good times we've had together.

I probably see other prisoners fight a couple of times a week, witness someone getting shanked every month or so, and hear about somebody dying at least once in between. In fact, I've heard that more people have died here than they've gotten out. The shit happens so much that I'm almost desensitized to how violent this place can be. I see a group of inmates fighting, I move on with my day. I walk in on someone getting jumped, I gotta pretend like I never saw a thing just to save my own ass.

Never in my life did I think I had to see something like that break out between them. Them, of all people, the wannabe goody-two-shoes sons of bitches who tried to kiss pig ass and stay out of trouble to avoid any extra time on their sentences.

That's how fucked up this place is. (Excuse my French.) Being in here for too long starts to make you go crazy, and what I saw today probably messed me up as much as them. I never thought he would do something like that. And I never thought I would have to see him get stabbed.

Four hours earlier...



"If you were missing an eye, what would you do?"

"...What do you mean?"

"I mean if you were missing an eye, what would you do?"

Risotto had been blowing the steam away from his soup before he paused and raised an eyebrow in Formaggio's direction. "Umm... What?"

"Like, what would you do?" Formaggio asked once more, waving his hand about, "Or, how would you feel?"

"If I were missing an eye, I would feel like a pile of shit."

"Okay, yeah, but what would you do? "

Risotto stared Formaggio down with a very lost look. Formaggio jokingly wiggled his eyebrows back at him, offering him no further assistance, and he was left to ponder the question on his own before he settled on his first and final guess. "...Breathe?"

"Oh my God, dude," Formaggio said with a snicker. "Riz, you're smart as hell, but sometimes you can be an absolute fuckin' goofball."

"I just don't understand what you're asking," Risotto said, returning his laughter. "What am I supposed to do if I have a missing eyeball? Play with the empty eye socket?"

The smug look on Formaggio's face had been wiped clean by an expression of pure horror. "Ewww! Nooo!" he squealed. "I meant something cooool! Like, getting a glass eye, or getting an eyepatch!"

"Oh! Shit." Risotto chuckled at his own misunderstanding, but Formaggio's grimace made it obvious that he didn't find it very amusing. "If that's what you meant, you should've just asked."

"Man, I did! I asked you four times! You're the one who's over here talking about playing with empty eye sockets!" Formaggio shuddered at the image his mind conjured from the topic, which proved to be too grotesque for him to bear. "Jesus, y'know what? Let's just forget I ever brought it up. I don't wanna lose my damn appetite."

Risotto answered with a hum of dismissal before he continued to blow on his soup. He sipped up the broth after believing it had cooled enough, chewing at the meat and vegetables that swam around in his mouth. His quiet sipping had been followed by Formaggio's louder slurping and smacking after he nearly shoved his entire face into his own steaming bowl. While watching him drink the hot soup, Risotto wondered if his impatience ever gave his mouth blisters.

The cafeteria was as calm as it would always be around the last meal of the day. As some of them bowed their heads and prepared for grace, while other less religiously conscious men dug in without thinking twice, a handful of prison guards stood watch over the area to ensure that dinner continued to run smoothly. Witty jokes and booming laughter mixed in with vulgar profanity and trash talk, along with the occasional slam of a tray and the pound of a fist. Whether they chose to chatter within their tightly knit prison families or socialize among other groups, all was going well, and the near serenity of their state made them forget where they were and the situations they were in.

Formaggio's leg was keeping itself busy as he slurped up his scorching hot soup, his foot tapping against the floor at a rapid rate. Risotto had mistaken it for pain, but it was only a small habit of his that could be triggered by nothing but a delicious meal.

"How's the search going?" he asked through his tapping.

Risotto downed another spoonful of warm soup with half lidded eyes. "It's okay."

"It's okay?" Formaggio echoed in disbelief. "That's it? Just... okay? There ain't nothin' that stands out? Nothin' you found interesting?"

The taller inmate twirled the spoon in the contents of his bowl as he murmured the word "interesting" to no one in particular. He appeared to be in a brief moment of reflection, tapping his finger against his chin, before his eyes lit up with an instance that called to mind.

"Actually, yes." He let go of the spoon, watching it rock with the slow whirlwind of the soup before slowly halting altogether. "There are quite a few interesting things that have stood out."

"Then tell me about it, big guy." Formaggio grabbed one of the three slices of toast from his otherwise empty tray and took a large bite, spewing bread crumbs as he talked. "I'm all ears."

"Let me start by telling you how our application looks. It's a little more than half of a page," Risotto said. "It asks you for your identification, if you already have a job, if so, what that job is, and whether or not you attend classes throughout the day. Then, after you fill all of that out, there's only one other question that asks if you have any prior experience with cooking. Following the question there's a small little line that's only big enough to fit a 'yes' or a 'no'."

"Damn. I neffer fought getting a ffpot in the kiffen would be that ffimple," Formaggio said before swallowing his mouthful. "That's only a sheet of paper more than what I did to start cleaning everybody's shitty toilets."

"Yeah. I think it's too vague for this type of job, but I'm still glad that a lot of inmates are showing interest in it. I'll need all the help I can get after the old men retire." Risotto picked up his own slice of toast and took a bite, pausing his story to chew and swallow before he went on. "But I'm worried that some of them aren't taking it seriously," he said. "In fact, some of them wrote very... intriguing, but very irrelevant responses to that question."

"How'd they write it if the line's too small?" Formaggio asked.

"They wrote beneath it. You know, there's some empty space at the bottom," Risotto gestured with his freehand, "enough to fit about four or five extra sentences depending on how large their handwriting is. But, yeah, when I was reviewing some of them yesterday afternoon, I did not expect one of them to have written almost an entire paragraph about how he used to cook crack cocaine."

For a second, Formaggio's face had been frozen in a wide eyed stare until his throat suddenly rattled in a wheezing laugh. After he inhaled a quick breath of air, his laugh turned into a noisy cackle, his fist abruptly banging the shit out of Risotto's shoulder. He was being so loud he caught the attention of the deaf old men that sat on the far side of their table and earned a few glares from a neighboring table of inmates.

"Hey, shut that kid up!" one of them shouted, giving Risotto a firm scowl.

"Formaggio, calm down," Risotto spoke between hissing and chuckling as he tried to stop his fist from bruising his shoulder. "I knew you'd like that one, but I didn't think you would find it that funny."

His cackling ceased after it induced a rough coughing fit. Risotto handed him a cup of water so he could have a few sips. Once he chugged enough water to clear his throat, Formaggio broke out into a quieter and calmer fit of giggling.

"Yeah, that shit was hilarious," he ended with a sigh. "So, whaddya think? Is he getting the job?"

"Absolutely not. The last thing I need is a kitchen full of freebase," said Risotto.

He flinched as Formaggio's elbow collided with his arm, thinking he was about to start jabbing the piss out of him again, but his playful nudge had been much more gentle. "Honestly, I think it would be a good idea to hire the nut," he brought his cup back up to his lips. "I mean, he might be a crackhead, but at least he can help increase the pffffft—"

Formaggio couldn't even get the word "productivity" out before he was doubling over and wheezing out every ounce of breath left in him. Once he started leaning back, he nearly spilled the rest of the water out of his cup, and Risotto had to quickly snatch it from his hand. Watching his friend practically die from laughter couldn't help but bring a few snorts out of him, his grin unmasking the craters in his cheeks.

Their spell had been broken once the duo heard a flurry of shouts come from the other end of chow hall. Formaggio and Risotto weren't the only ones who had noticed the outburst, as several other inmates from nearly every table in the room turned to rubberneck the altercation. A table down the way, seating a group of younger inmates— Formaggio recognized their faces and realized that it had been his old prison family— were in the midst of a heated argument before a nearby correctional officer stepped over to investigate.

After their superior had scolded them with warnings and threats, they ceased their bickering, and every curious soul resumed their previous activities once the officer began walking away.

"What the hell was that all about?" Risotto was the one who broke the semi-awkward moment of silence between them.

"I don't know, and I don't care," Formaggio retorted. "All of their problems stopped being my problems near the end of May. Anyway," he picked up his slice of toast again, "you got any more funny stories to tell, Riz?"

"Yeah. Not sure if you'll find it as funny as the crack cocaine one, but..." Formaggio snickered some more as Risotto scooped up another spoonful of soup. "I think it's my favorite one so far. Do you wanna hear it?"

Formaggio was in the middle of saying yes when he was interrupted by another shout and a loud thud against the floor.

Almost the entire room had twisted their heads towards the noise. Before everything had further spiraled out of control, they watched the two inmates tussle against the dirty tiles and listened to them howl obscenities at each other. The rest of their table ran over to try and help pull one inmate off of the other, and correctional officers rushed over to disperse the situation as fast as they could, but by the time they had reached them it had been far too late.

The very moment Formaggio saw the sharp, grey object being lifted into the air and brought down onto the other, the moment he heard the blood curdling scream ring out in the room, he felt his breath hitch in his throat. In almost an instant, as someone had shouted out, "Gesú Cristu, I think he got stabbed!" the sound of the screeching tables and shoes scuffing the floor had drowned out the chaos coming from within the eye of the storm. Formaggio's eyes were as wide as saucers and his mouth was left agape. He had little time to process what he had seen, but he swore what he saw had to be some type of trick. There was no way that he had seen the rose inked on the side of the culprit's face. There was no way he saw the weapon being plunged down on his victim. There was no fucking way.

Without giving it a second thought, Formaggio jumped up from his stool and sprinted over to get a closer look, to try and prove his feeble mind wrong. Risotto tried calling him back to no avail, and soon found himself rising up to follow after the shorter body who began pushing and shoving his way through the crowd.

"Everybody, get the fuck back!" an officer shouted at the inmates. "Get the fuck back, I said! Back away!"

Several of their superiors were attempting to settle down the large, roaring crowd, and Formaggio was ignoring them just as much as his fellow peers were. By the time he found himself at the front and center of the jostling bodies, the two prisoners had already been separated from each other. It only took him a second to take in the horrifying scene laid out in front of him, and once he was face to face with the truth, his body ran cold and he felt paralyzed from the waist down.

The streaks of blood staining the grimey white tiles was the very first thing his wide, emerald eyes had come across. An even bloodier weapon laid not too far away from its victim, who had been left lying motionless on his back.

Almost. A closer observation revealed that he was barely holding on to his consciousness, his ragged breaths doing nothing to calm the quivering hand he kept clutched over his stomach. The blood spilling out of his wound soiled his white shirt and dripped past his hand full of burn scars, falling on the tiles that lay beneath him.

He felt his entire body tremble as he gaped into the near lifeless eyes of his former friend. Formaggio shot his hand up to shield his mouth, immediately swallowing the sudden urge to regurgitate every chunk of his dinner.

"A-Angelo?!" he panted against his palm.

The culprit of Angelo's demise was getting no better treatment. Three different guards had him pinned against the floor while they relentlessly beat him with their batons and boots. They cursed and spat at him to keep still, even if it were obvious he was making little effort to resist. One of them grappled a fistful of his dark brown hair and slammed his head into the ground. His eyes were clenched shut, and the collision caused him to grind his teeth, but he sustained every blow to his body without a single sound leaving him.

Through the sudden haze of his heartbeat blaring in his ears, he saw more of his former family trying to push their way past the blockade. There was yelling and shrieking between the two parties that he was getting too dizzy to understand, but he heard them crying out Angelo's name, saw them trying to reach out for their dying friend, and yet, they were being held back by the prods of a baton and a tasing to the abdomen. The thunder of his heartbeat was soon joined by a loud ringing in his ears after he witnessed an old friend scream and shout at the inmate being beaten senseless, right before the officer lost his patience and tased him to the floor.

"What the fuck did you do, Lucky?!" he cried. "What the fuck did you do?!"

Not until his eyes shot open at the sound of his name, until he aimlessly searched the crowd for the wailing voice and accidentally came across Formaggio's petrified expression, did he realize that Lucky had been crying too.

He would have fainted if someone hadn't pulled him back by the collar of his undershirt and wrapped him within his arm, leading the both of them out from the crowd and away from all of the calamity. The pounding on his skull mimicked the rapid beating of his heart, but the smell of the warm apron against his cheek was beginning to calm him down from the traumatizing image once set before him.

"Let's go," Risotto had said to him. "You know you shouldn't be seeing this."

Taking a warm shower and getting Risotto to distract him with more stories about his job was enough to calm him down, but it still remained a fresh wound upon his mind.

Before he even realized it, he had written a brief, yet thorough summary of the event into his mother's letter. He had not meant to give her so much detail about the more gruesome parts of the incident. He wanted to be honest to her, but he wasn't trying to give her another heart attack in the process. There was nothing he could do about it without essentially wasting the amount of time he spent writing it, so he prayed that it wouldn't frighten her as much once she read through it.

Lucky, the guy who had the shiv... He shook his head and sighed before he continued writing into the letter. It's crazy to think that he would've been out of here next month. One day, way back in February, we were talkin about our sentences and shit, and he told me he would be out of here in September. He's got an entire family waiting on him, too. He's got a ma, a pa, two little brothers, and an older sister. Now I have no idea when he'll be getting out, and I can't imagine how hurt his family would be once they find out he won't be going home so soon. Shit's absolutely fucking insane. (Excuse my French. Again.)

I haven't spoken to him in two months, but if I could, I'd go and ask why the hell he did it. It's true that Angelo can be a real pain in the ass sometimes most of the time, but what the hell did he do so damn bad that made Lucky want to stab him??

Either way, I can't ask him anything now. After beating him to near death the pigs more than likely have him holed up in solitary, and there's no telling when he'll be back out in gen pop.

Ma, I wish we were face to face so I didn't have to tell you all of this through some shitty letter. I wish I were home with you so I didn't have to tell you any of this shit at all. But unfortunately for me, I'm busy facing the consequences of my stupid decision to break into somebody's house, and

"Lights out!" he heard an officer shout before the collective sound of shoes shuffling against the concrete and stomping against the stairs reverberated throughout the block. A minute later, the door of his cell began sliding itself shut, and he scribbled as much as he could onto the paper before the light in the room had flicked off within an instant.

"Fuck." There was a small amount of starlight pooling in from the blurry window, but that was nowhere near enough to help him see the letter he was writing. "I guess I'll finish it in the morning," he said, letting out a sigh that quickly turned into a yawn. He set his pen aside and stacked his papers together.

He stood up and stretched his limbs after sitting still in that chair for so long, his bones giving out a crack before he made his way over to his bed. He climbed up the ladder and landed with a thud before making his way over to his pillow. Resting his head against the uncomfortably thin cushion, he found himself staring at the old picture he had taped on the wall, and with half of a smile on his lips he closed his eyes and gradually fell into a deep, rumbling slumber. 

Chapter Text

August 12th, 1991

No matter how many games of chess Vinny would play against Risotto, the latter would almost always come out on top.

There were only a few luckier instances where Vinny would have gotten the upper hand on Risotto, either by minor mistakes or his opponent intentionally making an error so that he could win, but otherwise, Vinny would be the one who took most of the losses in their games. He remained a good sport nonetheless, shaking hands and saying "Good game," or "Well played," after every match, but after what felt like the hundredth time of getting bested he had begun to grow irritated.

He didn't like how Risotto was the only one he couldn't beat. When it came to any of his other prison mates, winning a chess game was like a walk in the park. But winning a game against Risotto was like striking gold, and he hadn't struck much of it before he became fed up with his losing streak. One night, after losing the last game he thought he would ever lose against Risotto, instead of shaking his hand or giving him praise he offered him a bet.

"Y'know what, Riz? I have a proposition for you. You might be able to beat me in chess, but I'll slaughter your ass in poker!"

Risotto had been quite reluctant to accept his offer, mainly because he had no clue on how to play poker. However, he was lucky enough to have a delinquent friend who participated in both underage drinking and underage gambling, and as it came time to face his challenger, Vinny would come to realize that his attempt to have a winning advantage over Risotto almost led to his downfall.

The opening price for their game was thirty postage stamps. Stamps were the general currency between prisoners and were used to purchase most commissary or contraband items from each other. Risotto never traded with other people, nor did he write any letters, so Formaggio willingly gave him a third of the price and told him not to worry about reimbursement. On the night of the poker game, Risotto visited the canteen and bought himself his own book of stamps, and after taking their showers he and Formaggio joined the group of prisoners that took over the game room every night, the stash of postage stamps tied up in a plastic bag and tucked into his pocket.

Before they started the game, two unforeseen opponents decided to join them in poker. One of them was a one armed inmate who Vinny called "Enzo." For someone who was only twenty-two years old, the large scars lining his face, his unkempt stubble, and his guttural tone of voice made him seem as if he were in his late thirties. Formaggio was curious to learn about the story behind his disfigurement, but Enzo only grumbled something along the lines of, "Bad accident," and chose to leave it at that.

The other inmate, a plump young man that everyone called "Chubs," had come to the table only to whine about how he wanted to play another game. He spent a nice chunk of their time trying to persuade Vinny to start an easier game. Risotto merely watched the ongoing argument between them and the amputee, and Formaggio alternated between awkwardly glancing around the room and pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, before Chubs finally decided to sit down, shut up, and play with his thirty stamps.

After Vinny handed the stack of playing cards to Formaggio, entrusting him with the responsibility of being the dealer of their game, their bet was on. Not far from their round foldable table were smaller tables with different pairs of inmates in the middle of playing checkers or chess. Another prisoner was slouched in a chair next to the doorway. His job was to make sure that nobody outside of their housing block entered without Vinny's approval, but his lack of any work was beginning to make him snooze.

The farther they got into their poker game, the more Risotto would run them clean. Vinny wasn't expecting himself to fall on the shorter end of the stick against someone who had to get a lower classed thief to teach him how to play, but now he was nearly in the same predicament as he was in their chess games, and it was starting to make him believe that Risotto generally had more skill than him. If it weren't for his intelligence and his merit, then it was definitely because of his natural ability to keep a straight face.

In his place, he was hoping that Enzo could somehow gain an advantage over Risotto. Enzo was damn good at poker, and those two would have been tied had Risotto not been an extra five stamps ahead of him. Still, he was relieved that he wasn't going through the worst of it. Chubs only had a few more of his "poker chips" left before he would have gambled himself out of several lire worth of stamps.

The ante for their new hand had only been five stamps, but during the flop Risotto raised it by ten more. Though he would have eventually ran out anyway, Chubs still didn't want to waste what little chips he had left and folded as soon as he got the chance. Vinny and Enzo met Risotto's bet with their own stamps before Formaggio revealed the turn.

After seeing the turn, Risotto decided not to up the bet and rapped his fist against the table, calling in a check. Enzo squinted at his own hand of cards before he placed them face down on his lap and copied his movement. Vinny took much less time to do the same.

Once Formaggio had shown them the river, there was a notable pause between the last community card being flipped and Risotto's decision. As his eyes eased back and forth between his hand and the board, the others were left to only watch and stare. Formaggio drummed his fingers against the table, Vinny fiddled with the toothpick in his mouth, Chubs' eyebrow gradually rose higher with every passing second, and Enzo had his single arm folded across his chest, the room so quiet that the slight wheeze of his breathing had been loud enough for all of them to hear.

Risotto's poker face failed to betray him, even when he pushed every single stamp in his possession into the betting pot, killing the moment of silence in the room as he uttered, "All in."

"Oh, fuck no!" Vinny threw his pair of cards onto the table and pushed them forward. "I fold."

Enzo made a strange sound within his throat as he snatched his cards up from his lap. He took much longer to fork over his hand; he had a feeling that his opponent could have been pulling some kind of idiotic bluff, but the chance of Risotto actually having a better hand made him give in to the pressure. "Fuck it," he slid his cards forward. "Fold."

It was up to Risotto to show them his hand if he wanted. His choice to reveal his cards had succeeded in his goal to rile them up, and once Enzo laid his brown eyes upon his winning hand he slammed his fist onto the table and growled, "I fuckin' knew it!" Risotto had no valuable hand at all— the only card he was able to play was his highest, which was a King of Spades, but the rest of his hand served as nothing but kickers.

Vinny's face had been full of shock before he started to chuckle. He pulled the toothpick out from his mouth and pointed it in Risotto's direction. "You're a slippery son of a bitch, Riz. Y'know that?"

"A real slippery son of a bitch," Enzo agreed, glaring daggers straight into his opponent's abnormal eyes. "And here I thought you had a better hand than me, yet my measly fucking pair could have beat that. I see through your bullshit now. You made a huge fuckin' mistake, big guy. You'll get what's coming to you."

"Sure," Risotto replied dubiously, swooping all of his earnings to his side of the table.

"Actually, Enz, I think I see through his bullshit too," said Chubs. "In fact, I think I know why he's had so many good hands. Him and Red are cheating!"

His companions briefly gawked at him before Enzo scoffed out the one thought they all had in their minds. "...What?"

"I mean, who says that Red hasn't been secretly sliding him good hands throughout the whole game?" Chubs continued. "Riz said that Red's the only one who will really use the stamps, so it makes plenty sense!"

"Man, are you fucking retarded or what?" Formaggio countered. "Riz's hand on the last round wasn't even good."

"But what about his other hands? What about that full house that nearly fucking cleared all of my commissary?"

"That happened because your stupid ass tried to beat him with a weaker hand. Of fucking course a full house is gonna beat a pair, you goddamn idiot!"

"Chubs, you are being kinda silly for accusing Red of cheating," Vinny said. "I've been playing this game since I've been in this joint. I know the ins and outs, I know nearly every possible way you could cheat, and I watch him shuffle the cards before every round. If they were cheating, I definitely would have caught onto it already. Relax, alright?"

"Right, thank you!" Formaggio huffed as he began collecting their cards. "I don't know why this guy thinks it's my fault that he's dog shit at poker. I'm only sixteen and I know how to play this shit better than him."

"Man, fuck you guys," Chubs cursed. "I told ya I didn't wanna play this damn game."

"Then why the fuck did you even join, Chubs?" Enzo asked. "The game was originally supposed to be between Riz and Vin. I asked to join them 'cause I wanted to. You," he reached his arm over to poke Chubs in the thick skin of his chest, "were the one who brought his fat ass over here and started pestering us to play another game, when it wasn't your decision in the first damn place."

Chubs grimaced as he pushed Enzo's gruesomely scarred limb away from him. "I thought I told you a long time ago not to touch me, Enz. Your entire body looks a fucking rotting corpse, and it creeps me the hell out."

"Up yours, grassu." Enzo flipped him off while Formaggio began shuffling the deck of cards against the table. "I might have a fucked up body, but at least I'm not a whiny little bitch."

"Hey, do you guys mind shutting the absolute fuck up?" asked an inmate from the chess table. "You're killing my goddamn focus over here. If I fuck up this game 'cause of you, it's gonna be your asses."

"Don't mind us, Leo. We'll keep it down." Vinny stuck his toothpick back in his mouth as he closely observed the way Formaggio shuffled the cards. "Chubs, Enzo, pipe down and let the guy focus. After Red gets done with the cards, we're getting back to our..."

Vinny trailed off as his eyes darted away from the cards and up at the door, a moving body catching his attention. As the stranger walked towards the door, he only managed to take a half step into the room before alerting the inmate by the door. The bouncer jumped to his feet before the unexpected guest could trek any further into the room and pushed him away from the door. Nearly knocking the inmate down to the floor, he towered over him in the middle of the passageway and asked him what he wanted.

"Chill the fuck out! I just wanna speak to Drago!" the inmate snapped, almost tripping over his own two feet as he attempted to regain his balance. His outburst had called his presence to everyone else's attention, and the others instinctively paused their games to gaze over at the door. "I heard he's got good shit," the man further clarified, the volume in his tone much lower after he recalled his surroundings.

Formaggio gave the doorway a brief glimpse. The bouncer was blocking most of his view and left the visitor practically unrecognizable from where he was seated. He paid them no mind, continued to shuffle the deck, and began passing out the new set of hands once he deemed himself satisfied.

"Let him through, Tony," Vinny commanded, the bouncer moving aside a second later. Now the inmate was allowed to stumble his way past the threshold, giving Vinny and his associates a better view of their visitor. Vinny eyed the other man up and down, his lids narrowing as he slid the toothpick around his mouth with his tongue. "And who the fuck are you?"

"Why the fuck do you need to know?" the man shot back with a minor, yet noticeable slur in his speech.

"What, is he drunk?" Chubs whispered in Enzo's direction. The amputee answered with a slight shake of his head, a soft wheeze leaving his nostrils as he folded his arm back over his chest.

"No, Chubs. He's a junkie," he murmured back. "Dope sick, I reckon."

"No need to be so aggressive," Vinny spoke over their side chatter, lifting his arms up in defense. "I just never see you around much, and I'd feel better if I know exactly who I'm sellin' to. What block are you housed in?"

"I'm from D, now can you stop being so goddamn nosy?" the inmate snarled. "I've never seen somebody so paranoid over some fucking drugs."

The room would have fell into an uncomfortable silence had it not been for Enzo's loud snickering. It was contagious enough to pass onto Vinny and Chubs, which then eventually floated over to Leo's table before Tony had contracted it, too. Soon enough, almost the entire room was caught in the midst of shits and giggles, leaving their guest bewildered by the sudden humor they found in the situation. Formaggio looked at him again with an elevated eyebrow as he wondered, What's so funny? and Why does that guy look so familiar?, and though Risotto had been steadily tuning into their conversation, he was much more interested in his new hand of cards than ridiculing an addict.

Once Vinny raised his hand into the air, everyone's laughter had ceased. Now there was an obvious tension in the atmosphere as his expression had phased from playful scorn to a much more grave appearance. "Do you seriously think I'm gonna sell to some fucking fascist?" he said. "Get the fuck outta my sight."

"Fascist? Are you fucking kidding me?" Tony made an attempt to grab him by the arm and lead him back outside, but the inmate snatched it away and took another step towards the table. "What the fuck makes you think I'm a fascist? Is it... Is it because I worked for Zeno? Is that it?"

"I never even said you worked for Zeno, but now that you've admitted it... Fuck, man! That makes it even worse!" He tried to keep a straight face, but the return of Enzo's snickering was starting to get to him again, and he chortled as he took his toothpick out again and pointed it towards the door. "Just get him the hell outta here, Tony. Jesus, these junkies crack me the fuck up sometimes."

"Listen, I-I didn't work for him as much as you think, alright? I only— Get your fucking hands off of me!" The addict snatched himself away from Tony again, and Tony looked like he was getting ready to put the poor bastard in a chokehold before Vinny asked him to hold back once more. "I only worked for him a couple of times, just a couple, and I never worked for him again. I-I was only in it for the d-drugs, alright? I'm no Nazi, I don't stand for that t-type of shit, and I never did! All I want is some H, and you're the only g-guy left in this place that sells high quality smack."

His stammering made him sound as if he were about to have an emotional breakdown on the spot, but his desperate pleading only made the group of inmates laugh even harder. He stepped even closer to the table, the florescent lights above bringing more attention to the bags under his eyes and the nasty blemishes in his arms and face. His addiction appeared to have messed him up beyond any repair, yet nearly every soul in the room had been mocking his pleas, Chubs being the loudest of them all as he snorted like a pig.

He still didn't quite understand what they thought was so funny, but their amusement was entertaining him in its own way, so Formaggio joined in too. But once he had finally recognized his voice, remembered his face, recalled his stature and matched it with one of those dreadful silhouettes, his giggling had stopped and his body locked into place. He felt the familiar, suffocating feeling of panic rising up in his throat. His heart began drumming in his ears, the deafening sound masking most of the laughter, and he cupped his hand over his mouth as he tried to steady his ragged breathing and his rapid heartbeat. Risotto noticed his wide eyed stare almost immediately, though Formaggio could hardly comprehend him asking what was wrong.

"Well, I can pretty much tell you need it quick, 'cause ya look like a pile of shit," Vinny said, currently unaware of Formaggio's predicament as he continued to entertain his client. "Maybe you should lay off the heroin for a little bit. Try quitting it cold turkey."

"What is this, fucking rehab?!" the inmate barked. "I didn't— I didn't come here for this shit!"

"Of course you didn't, but I hate selling to junkies as sick as you. You kinda remind me of the poor bastard who works in the library, the one who drinks all that medicine to stop himself from having those seizures." Vinny leaned back in his chair, his gap toothed simper dissipating into a parted frown once he glanced over at Formaggio and followed it with a much longer double take. "The hell's wrong with you, Red? You look like you're about to shit yourself."

When the visitor heard the nickname his open jaw clenched shut, and his cheeks began to burn when he noticed the frightened emerald eyes staring up at him. He felt his heart pound against his rib cage as everyone else noticed him too, and then he discerned the back of someone's short, silver hair that looked like he was trying to talk to Formaggio, but it had been far too late for him to put two and two together, and far too late for him to realize that his cravings led him to the wrong place. He could only take a single step away from the table before Formaggio broke himself out of his paralyzed state. He launched himself out of his seat and pointed a trembling finger towards the addict, shrieking at one of the men that always came back to haunt him in his nightmares.

"It was him! I remember him! He was the one who almost fucking raped me!"

With no further delay, the rest of the crew jumped out of their seats and rushed to capture the retreating inmate. The vermin managed to slip away just in time by ramming into Tony, causing him to crash into his chair, but Tony quickly scrambled to his feet and followed after Leo and another inmate from the checkers table. The rest of them gathered around the door as they watched the trio chase after the junkie, Vinny having to hold Enzo back from trying to join the chase, while Risotto helped Formaggio settle back down into his chair and tried his best to calm him from his panic attack.

The addict had sensed something terrible within Risotto's being. When Risotto had snapped his head around to look at his face, his large body suddenly rising out of his chair, he looked into his eyes and almost choked on his own breath. He could feel the bloodlust radiating from his striking red irises, and the pitch black sclera nearly sucking the soul out of his body, as if he were face to face with the human reincarnation of a demon.

But now, as his hands gripped the sides of Formaggio's arms, attempting to console him with words of comfort, the bloodlust was almost nonexistent. "You're okay, Formaggio, you're okay," he whispered. "Look at me." When the ginger could bring himself to look up from his shaky, clammy hands, the eyes that were once filled with an insatiable thirst for blood had been the most calming sight he could ever see. "You're okay. I'm here. I've got you."

Formaggio burrowed his face into Risotto's shoulder and began to weep. Risotto gently rubbed and patted him against his back, reassuring him through low murmurs that everything was okay, that everything would be fine, that nobody could ever hurt him anymore. While his friend's tears seeped through his jet black shirt, he shut his eyes out from the light of the room and tried his best to contain the beast that was threatening to unleash itself from its binds.

The sound of Vinny slamming his palm against the round table made him jump, yet he kept his lids shut as he listened to him cackle, his laughter dripping with more anger than it did amusement. "Looks like the sick 'wittle dope fiend's found himself wandering into the wrong fucking territory! " he shouted.

"You're damn fuckin' right!" Enzo almost slang his chair to the floor as turned it towards the door and took a seat. "Nasty neo-Nazi child rapist son of a bitch! I'd be gutting that motherfucker if I were them!" He angrily stomped the heel of his shoe down against the floor. "Fuck!"

"What now, Vin?" Chubs wondered as he rather calmly reclaimed his own spot. "If the guys catch him, are we killing him on the spot?"

Vinny shook his head and sighed, "Nah, nah, that ain't up to me." He gingerly descended into his chair as he pointed a finger towards Risotto. "That's up to Riz. If he doesn't want us killing anyone, I'm not going against his wishes, but as soon as he says the word we'll—"

"Kill him," Risotto uttered with no hesitation. "I don't care how you get it done. I don't care how long it takes. Do it."

"Alright, then there you go! We're killing him!" Vinny clasped his hands together and leaned forward, placing his elbows against the table. "Riz, you have my word. We'll have the little bitch's guts hanging out to dry as soon as we get our hands on him. For now, you should take Red back to the cell and get him calmed down. Give him something to snack on, or some water, or whatever you have. I promise you it helps. We'll handle the rest from here."

As Risotto started to get up, Vinny added one more thing.

"Oh, and keep your 'chips' from our poker game. It's a shame we couldn't finish, but we should set up another one sometime soon. Y'know, when the day's a little brighter."

"Thank you, Vissente." Risotto gave his associate a firm nod as he collected all of his earnings and shoved them into his pocket. He helped Formaggio stand by lifting him up by his arms and led him out of the room after hooking an arm around his shoulder. "Let's go."

Almost as soon as they left, the three inmates in pursuit of the junkie had returned empty handed. "He fuckin' got away, Vin," the first of them to arrive had breathed out as he slouched his body against the doorframe. He paused to catch his breath before the other two inmates appeared after him.

"He got away? How the fuck did all three of you let a fucking junkie get away?" Enzo sneered. "See, if my body wasn't so fucked up, I betcha I would've caught his ass alone. You motherfuckers need to get in shape."

"Cool it, Enz," Vinny warned.

"We would've caught him if a fucking pig didn't keep us from chasing him down," said Tony. "The motherfucker had himself hidden somewhere after he rounded a corner, but there was a CO standing in the middle of the hall. He started asking us what we were looking for, and then he started grilling us out, threatening to send our asses to the warden."

"Send you to the warden? For fucking what? Who gives a shit about some stupid junkie?" asked the inmate left at the chess table.

"That's the fuckin' problem," Leo said. "I told these two that I think the CO was doing the junkie a favor since he worked for Scavo. I wouldn't doubt if what's left of the Fourth Reich still has some pigs working in their favor."

"Wait. Didn't he say he wasn't really a part of the Fourth Reich?" Chubs asked.

"You don't know that shit, Chubs." Leo and the other inmate stepped back inside and sat down in their empty seats, Tony still standing guard near the door. "That guy could have been saying anything just to get more smack in his veins."

"That's alright, fellas," Vinny reassured. "We won't worry about him getting away. We might have lost him, but killing a junkie is as easy as pie."

"We're killing him?" Leo asked.

"Yeah, we're killing him," the boss confirmed with a nod of his head. "But unfortunately, we can't kill anybody we don't even know the fucking name of. That dope fiend might be stupid, but he was being pretty damn cautious, and after this little bit I guarantee he's gonna try to go into hiding."

"Not like we won't find him anyway," Enzo remarked. "Remember that one guy who went into hiding for over a month, thought he was safe, and got shanked by some of our guys three days after he came out? Shit's gonna be no different for him. Hiding won't change a thing."

"Except I'm not waiting a damn month to kill this cat. I don't think Riz would appreciate it if we took that long to get rid of the sick fuck who almost raped his brother."

"Riz said he didn't care how long it took though, Vin. There's no need to rush."

"Yeah? Well I care," Vinny said, "for his sake and for Red's sake. You saw how Red freaked out. That shit's fucked him up for life, and yet one of the guys who were involved in it has the audacity to waltz in here like it never even fucking happened. That right there pisses me off. There may be no need to rush, but I'm not taking ten years to do this shit either. That son of a bitch needs to die. Now."

"That is true," Enzo said, "but it's gonna take a mighty long time if we can't figure out the bastard's name. And it's not like we're allowed to just walk into D block either."

"Which brings me to this question. Does anybody in this room, right now, happen to know the guy's name?" Vinny asked them. "Have you met the guy once? Did you happen to overhear it someplace? Try to think back, 'cause this shit is really important."

For a moment there hadn't been a very helpful answer. Some of them only mumbled, "I don't know," or "Beats me," or "Never met him before," until Chubs had announced "Oh, shit, I actually have heard his name!" and spoke up.

"I think I heard it this one night, in the showers or something," he said. "I know it had to be him. I remembered what he looked like, and a CO had to walk in and wake him up because he nodded off too hard and passed out in his cubicle. Goddamn, now what was it? I know it starts with an S. It's like it's on the tip of my fuckin' tongue. Err..." He rubbed his chin as he tried to recover the name from his memory, and once he came across it he snapped his thick fingers in an instant. "Scaletta! Last name's Scaletta. I dunno his first."

"Good looks, Chubs!" Leo praised.

"Yeah, thank you, Chubs. Seriously. You just saved us a lot of trouble." Vinny reached over to pat him on his shoulder. "You might not know his first, but it's way easier to find somebody by their last name in this place. Hell, do you know how many 'Vinnys' there are in this shithole? There's Vinny Vaccaro, Vinny Albero, Vinny Baldovini—"

"Boss, you're the only Vissente, though," Enzo pointed out. "The other Vinnys are either Vincenzo or Vincente... You know, the Vincente with a C."

"...And how the fuck would they know the difference unless they spelled it out? It's pronounced just the same."

"Well, they could just call you 'Vincente with an S,'" Chubs guessed.

"Okay, yeah, but why not just Vinny Drago? I don't wanna be called 'Vincente with an S', that's a load of dog shit. I'm a Drago, and I deserve to be respected as such, not treated like some wannabe—"

"Vinny, Vinny, Vinny," Leo groaned in the middle of his rambling. "Gesú Cristu, this shit again? We fuckin' get it, you're a Drago, your blood deserves respect, blah blah fucking blah. We've heard it a million fuckin' times already. Can we just get back to what we were supposed to be doing and figure out how we're gonna kill the junkie?"

"You're right, Leo, you're right. Sorry for getting off tangent. Alright, now pull your chairs over and gather around." While the rest of his men stood up and dragged their chairs to his table, he gestured for Tony to remain at his post. "Not you, Tony. Keep that door guarded and make sure nobody's listening in. We don't need anybody eavesdropping on us."

Once everyone settled down and huddled up at the table, Chubs and Enzo hiding their stamps in their pocket, Vinny began to talk business.

"Now, I think I have an idea on how we could kill Scaletta. It's not gonna be pretty, but it'll teach every one of those fascist fucks a hard earned lesson..."

August 14th, 1991

Even so early on in the morning, as he yawned and tried to wipe the tire away from his eyes, Risotto wanted to finish the first part of his shift before he considered taking a break.

Now that he had the back kitchen full of younger, livelier, and much more able minded inmates, his job had become ten times easier. Teaching some of his less experienced assistants had been his only challenge before they gradually learned to get the hang of it themselves. On that Tuesday, he would only have to work during the morning and help them make breakfast. He had plans to leave the rest of the kitchen shift to some of the other cooks, which would allow him to spend the rest of his day with Formaggio.

Unfortunately for him, things didn't exactly go as planned. While he was in the middle of heating up the stove and washing out a few dirty pots and pans, a correctional officer burst through the double doors and informed the kitchen crew that the prison would be on lockdown for the entire day.

"Everybody who's here right now will have to work the whole shift," he said. "Nobody can leave unless we say you can leave. If you have to use the can, I'll escort you to the nearest one, but you cannot go alone. Do you understand?"

"Why the hell are we on lockdown?" asked one of the other cooks.

"One of my fellow employees found a body in the changing room. A dead body. It was all bloody, mangled, and was left with a gouged out eyeball. I didn't see it myself, but I heard about it over the radio. The place will be on lockdown the entire day while they try to clean up the mess and find the culprit behind the murder. Speaking of which..." He slowly gazed around the kitchen full of felons, examining each and every one of their faces. "Anybody here have any idea of who could've done it? Or any possible accomplances?" All of his scrutiny suddenly fell upon the largest prisoner, knowing that he was the most notorious out of all of them for extreme cases of murder. "Nero? Do you have any idea who it could be?"

Risotto calmly shook his head as he lied to his superior. "No, Signore. I don't."

The officer narrowed his eyes at him, more than likely suspecting that he had been telling a fib, but his lack of proof had given him no further leads on the matter. He sighed dismissively and chose not to press them anymore, knowing that it would probably be nothing but a waste of time. 

"Alright. Then get back to work. Chow hall will be opening in a few hours, so make it snappy."