From the moment Rick had walked into his cell, Mateo had known it would be better not to mingle in the boy's life. That he was quite self-destructive was proven by the fact that he had ended up in prison because of his boyfriend. But no matter how often Mateo told himself he didn't care what happened to Rick—it simply wasn't true. He wasn't as hard and indifferent as he looked like—that was impossible, grown up in a loveless home where he had to take care of his little brother for years. Rick and Juan were nothing alike, and yet, he felt the same pressure—the pressure that something horrible would happen the moment Mateo abandoned him.
As long as he was stuck between these prison walls, he couldn't do shit for his little brother. Something that was eating him, especially because it was such a long time since he'd heard from Juan. Protecting Rick—and looking for a way to protect Aaron as well—felt like some sort of compensation for being unable to be there for his little brother.
But it was anything but easy to come up with a good plan.
Rick said he would do anything for his boyfriend, but when push came to shove, he probably wouldn't even dare to step on Moloch's toe. Or was he underestimating him? He thought back to that time in the dining room when Moloch ordered his cellmate to give him a blowjob. Rick had wanted to attack the guy with a fucking plastic fork.
It was possible that Rick would be prepared to do more than Mateo gave him credit for. That however didn't change the fact that he was a first-class idiot. When having a gun, he'd probably shoot his own foot instead of putting a bullet in Moloch's brain. Acting out of emotion was different than planning a murder.
Not that it was possible to shoot Moloch in the head. The only weapon Mateo might be able to get was a knife, but it was risky. He was opting for something more subtle. Something the man wouldn't see coming.
If he gave the cook enough money, would that be something that could be arranged? It was worth trying. The moment he'd get the chance to exchange some words with Boyd—the guard who usually did him favors or a good price—he'd ask for a meeting with the cook.
The chance that the cook would come up with poison himself was negligible. Turning them a blind eye was one thing. Being the murderer was something else. Somehow, he needed to get his hands on poison—and unfortunately, he knew shit about poison.
Would one of the smugglers know more about it? A few leaves of nightshade; would it be enough? On the other hand—his bank account started to shrink and he wasn't sure he could trust the smugglers. Perhaps it was better if Rick talked to them himself.
He shook his head.
No, that was stupid. That idiot would return with some edible mushrooms, believing it was poison. He couldn't leave the job to him. But maybe he could talk about it with Emeril or Ace.
. . .
Three days after the so-called attack on Moloch, Mateo saw Aaron back in the dining hall. He didn't sit with the other boys. Rick jumped up and buried his boyfriend beneath a big hug, but the boy pushed him away and Rick backed down with a crestfallen face.
Mateo understood Aaron.
His world had just collapsed. And no matter how sweet Rick was—sometimes, his everlasting positivity could also be oppressing. As if he was living a fantasy, unable to face reality.
Mateo was just taking away his tray when Aaron showed up next to him. "Can I talk to you?"
The voice sounded so soft, it took a moment before Mateo realized the kid was talking to him. He'd never heard him talk. Instinctively, Mateo looked around, but Moloch was still in the infirmary.
"Why?" he asked bluntly.
His harsh tone was a habit, although it didn't scare Aaron off. "I only need a minute."
Even though Moloch was nowhere to be seen, Mateo did catch the glance of his own cellmate. Rick was standing a few feet away from them, looking like a beaten puppy. Mateo suppressed a sigh. "Fine." He glanced at the clock. "The outdoor area is open for 30 more minutes."
In silence, they went outside. There, Aaron intertwined his fingers. He stayed close to the fence, so he had a good look at the square without being on full display himself.
"Rick told me you bribed a guard once. And got some chocolate."
Mateo didn't like the direction the conversation was taking. "And?"
Aaron took a deep breath. His shoulders slumped down and he stared at his feet. "Well... I was wondering... To whom would I need to go... if I want something?"
Mateo studied the boy's face, but he avoided his glance. "Depends. What do you want?"
The boy rubbed his scarred arms. Mateo found it hard to look at them, knowing this happened only a few cells from his own while he never had the balls to do something about it.
"Euhm... some coke," he muttered. His voice was shaky. "Or something else that... makes me feel numb."
The poor kid...
Mateo understood why he needed it, but it was still painful to see a young man like him reach for drugs.
"I don't want Rick to know," he muttered. "Then—then he will worry about me even more." A tear rolled down his cheek.
Awkwardly, Mateo looked away. Should he tell him not to push Rick away? Or did it actually help him?
"None of the guys is gonna give ya drugs. I assume Moloch wants you to be fully awake?"
The boy flinched. Briefly, he wiped his eyes. "I—I don't know how to take this anymore," he whispered. "I know—I know you help Rick sometimes. And I thought... Maybe you can buy me some drugs. I'll pay you back later." He curled his hands into fists. They were shaking.
Mateo chewed on his cheek. "Maybe I could," he said eventually. "If the plan I'm working on doesn't work out."
"P-plan?" Aaron looked up.
Mateo showed something that was supposed to look like an encouraging smile. "I'm working on something. A protective Rick is tiring as hell and if I do nothing, he's gonna get himself into deep shit. I try to get some poison. If we can put it in his food, it will take some time before they know what's going on and with a bit of luck he'll be dead once they figure it out."
A little bit of hope loomed in Aaron's eyes. "Can I help?"
Mateo hesitated. People would know Aaron wanted to kill his cellmate with it. But would someone really care, except for the guards he paid? Everyone feared that guy, to one degree or another. He was an unpredictable force, a reckless jerk.
Perhaps, Aaron managed to do what he couldn't.
And as selfish as it sounded—when things went wrong, Aaron would be the victim. His life couldn't get worse than it was already. Contrary to Mateo, he had nothing to lose. And so, he nodded slowly.
"Yeah, maybe you can."