Character: Sara (Gen-ish, romantic longings)
Summary: There are messages within messages, and Sara often wonders just what Michael is saying.
Author's Notes: This theme came to me suddenly, with the ending of Episode 2.15, "The Message". The title uses "uncoding" and not "decoding," because while Sara has unearthed Michael's meanings again and again, she would so much rather he stop complicating absolutely everything. Also for my philosophy_20 Prison Break Series claim, here for the prompt of "Extrinsic."
The first was the red origami flower. He left it because it was her birthday, and whether it was more than that, she couldn't tell.
It was thoughtful, and it made her smile. Maybe that was enough.
It wasn't enough when she found out that Michael was married—found out the hard way, just fell across it like it was a random fact and not some very important aspect of his life that he'd entirely failed to mention. He said it wasn't marriage "in the conventional sense," reaching for some unnamed technicality. That was his only excuse.
Only it wasn't new or even believable. She knew about men like that—hell, she'd been played by men like that. How could it be anything other than what it looked like? He was in prison, he was lonely, and she was available. And oh-so-blind…
Next was the too-sudden kiss in the Infirmary. Michael's eyes were full of something unknowable-- a kind of desperation, it seemed-- and then he was kissing her and the world stopped for a minute or an hour, until she remembered that this was a bad idea, that there was no this, not anything firm enough to count on.
"Wait for me," he'd said.
Wait where? Wait until his next visit? Until he got out of prison? She had the clarity and self-dignity to say no.
But still, she fell for the story Nika told her. She believed that Michael truly cared, and for a moment she forgot to ask herself the question of who Michael really was—this soft-spoken criminal with no prior record, this man who was both evasive and sincere. She forgot that nothing in that meant she had to be part of it. She forgot that it is in the nature of criminals to lie…
The missing key— reappearing so smoothly with Michael's next visit—reminded her of all those things she'd forgotten. She was a means to an end. And she'd been foolish enough let herself believe that it was real.
Michael wasn't done with her after that. He apologized, he told her that he needed that Infirmary door open to save Lincoln, pleaded so tearfully for his brother. What could she do then, when she knew from before that it might be the truth? She'd seen the file Michael had gotten sent to her, she'd met with Lincoln's lawyers and tried to reason with her own father, and it had done no good. If not for that phone call— almost too late, it had almost been too late—Lincoln Burrows would be dead now.
Justice was not going to save Lincoln. But Michael still had no idea what he was asking her.
She wasn't sure later whether her tears were for Michael leaving, or for herself, for the everything that this was going to cost her.
When the swans starting coming in the mail, she wondered why.
Why that? She knew those pieces of paper were some kind of message, but why couldn't he just tell her like a normal person—because none of those disjointed phrases or phone numbers added up to "I'm so sorry, Sara," or "I'll help you through this," or even "I'm so grateful for what you did."
They told her that Michael was alive, and that he knew how to reach her.
But he'd always known that, and look where it had gotten her. She was going to lose her job, and she might wind up in jail herself.
Understand me, the swans were saying . I need something from you.
Where was I asked too much and I'm sorry, and here's how I'm going to fix it?
This was still all about Michael, and maybe it always had been. She knew that at a minimum, she deserved something for herself.
What she had was a life that needed resurrecting. She went back to meetings, began shouldering the responsibility for bad choices that couldn't be escaped now. She began to see some of her father's anger and indifference as frustration, as too many times down a road of hopelessness with someone who kept giving in to her demons-- two someones if you counted her mother.
She was so close to making it right when her world turned upside down again.
In a sewer, still shaking from barely escaping death for the second time, from the knowledge that her father was murdered and that she was next, she took stock of her situation. She had some cash, she had the clothes on her back, and she had paper swans.
The swans became hope then, with no other clear path for her future.
She pieced them together, cracked Michael's code of numbers into letters suggesting words.
A place and a time. A rendezvous. She ran toward the only answer she was offered, armed with a purpose and a dead woman's name.
She should have expected that it wouldn't be enough. The signs from the past should have outweighed the single possibility of anything being different.
This was Michael, after all. He had no real answers-- he wanted absolution instead. There was no plan for her, for them. He'd promised her that once, but it wasn't true.
Come with me. As if a fugitive was in any position to save her. As if three fugitives together wouldn't make finding any single one of them all the easier.
Maybe she was a coward, sneaking out while Michael was in the shower. But she didn't owe him any more chances to weaken her heart.
She wasn't proud of that choice—it was self-preservation. The irony of that hit her later, as she struggled to keep from drowning at the hands of another man she'd trusted not that long ago.
Desperation made her stronger than she knew how to be. She got away a third time—right out a window, crash-landing on a blanket of glass. She'd had so many drugged-up daydreams where she was flying, but the reality would come to her in nightmares after this now, she was sure.
She wasn't sure how she got through the next few hours, gritting her way through stitching herself up in a filthy bathroom. A hospital was the first place Lance would look for her. She was left to save herself.
A stranger stared back at her from the bathroom mirror, a woman with haunted eyes.
Everything before this had been a cakewalk, all those years with her mother's drinking, her own addiction, losing her father and her past all in the same week. All of it so simple and survivable. She just never knew it before now.
She got good at hiding. She had no place to go, no-one to help her. But she kept her cell phone on all the same. She could pretend that it was because Michael was the only one not trying to kill her, but she knew it was more. She wanted to hear from him. Running toward him was better than running away from everything else.
She thought Michael called her a few days later, but there was only silence. It could still have been Michael—that cryptic combination was just like Michael—but there was no way to be sure.
Until she saw him on the news, back in custody all over again.
She had never in her life been in a place as small as her motel room was in that moment. Her future was that room, for as long as she could hang onto it until she ran out of money. There was no-one waiting for her, no-one to watch her back. There was no-one who would know she was missing if she got captured and killed.
Wait, her thoughts reminded her. Just wait. She could panic when her options were gone.
The next few days were hard. She spent hours running through the phone book, sketching out ideas on the motel stationery. She thought about waitressing, bartending, and Mexico. If the words blurred in front of her eyes, there was no-one else to witness it.
She never expected to see Michael on the television again, not like that. He was free again, his brother beside him, and they looked like they were doing better than she was.
Michael's eyes held hers as he spoke to the camera—to her. His words fell on her ears like music, offering apologies, comfort… peace.
They sang inside her again and again, stirring up feelings she'd meant to leave behind. Feelings of hope, of barest possibility. Until finally, another feeling rose up with them.
There is a solution… Safe haven…. Every doctor's nightmare…
Those words formed their own context. They weren't free-flowing regrets or confessions—they were a code. A message within a message for her to decipher all over again.
She reached for The Book, the one she knew as well as her own name by now with years of A.A. and Narcotics Anonymous behind her. Leafing through it, the words leaped out at her—chapter headings that told her she was on the right track.
In the forward to the last one was a place again—she hoped that was the gist of Michael's plan. But Ohio was too far away, and maybe Michael didn't know that. Or maybe he thought it shouldn't matter.
She took the book over to the bed, leaning back against the headboard and fingering the pages while she thought.
Another chance—for her, and maybe for them both. With so little to keep her going right now, it was hard not to chase that glimmer of hope.
She would probably do it. Somehow, some way… She'd be there, or let Michael know that she wanted it, that she was willing to keep trying. He might let her down again—god knew he had a history of it already—but it was something, and she had nothing.
And if it didn't work out, she'd keep on going.
She wished that she could just talk to him, just get an answer and a clear idea of where things were headed.
But then she wondered if that was even possible. There was the situation—by definition uncontrolled—but underneath it was the foundation of Michael and who he was.
Sometimes she hoped that he and his promises would prove worth waiting for. Even if it was short-term or ill-conceived, she hoped that something there was real enough to fight for.
Other times, she wondered if it could ever be enough. Heartache aside, with everything she'd lost, she couldn't help thinking that even in this—these brief second-hand communications, these symbols of something else—Michael just kept demanding again and again so much more than he would ever be able to give.
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