Characters: Michael and Lincoln (Gen, Angst)
Rating: PG-13 (subject matter)
Summary: This is an alternative take on Season 1's "By the Skin and the Teeth," where Lincoln's execution is not stayed and Michael must figure out how to survive his brother's death.
Author's Notes: My final-round entry for pbficsurvivor, based on a suggestion by wrldpossibility. Also for prisonbreak100, this is "Days" (for how hard each one is to get through), and "Time" for philosophy_20.
Time is a whisper— a curse— at the edges of this somber room. There is no clock, but time weaves in and out of every word, every gesture, every glance.
It's running out…
"Swear to me, Lincoln," Michael insisted, with everything riding on that single answer. If Lincoln hadn't killed Steadman then Michael's future was forfeit, because he'd have to try—he could see the miracle that was possible, remote but still possible. The treacherous piecing together of inside knowledge and connected opportunity was a puzzle only Michael understood, and it could kill or save them both.
He waited for Lincoln to speak, eyes burning with fear for either response. He'd already set the bulk of the plan in motion, sealed his life off, transformed his skin, but this last step would be irreversible: a gun, a felony, a forever-altered fate.
"I swear to you Michael," Lincoln answered finally, in a voice that left no room for doubt.
Michael could feel the bars closing in around him then. The thought of being locked inside Fox River was terrifying, but it was the lynchpin in Lincoln's freedom. He would have to make sure that first part turned out right.
Every step from the moment Michael put on that suit and loaded the gun has been calculated, a series of small, crucial actions all building toward a single goal. An Allen bolt, a passageway behind the cells, a water-filled cistern leading to the property room that houses Michael’s watch, a fake phone, a pact of trust, a tube of toothpaste.
Any of these things alone looks deceptively meaningless. But together they add up to an escape plan, all on a timeline ordained by Lincoln’s impending execution.
The plan’s still holding together in spite of several unforeseen hitches. There's the pedophile who tried to corner Michael on day one, and now holds a grudge for something Michael didn’t do. The Mafioso Michael needed for transportation liked the bribe so much that he tried to force the information early, and took Michael’s toes as the price for his stubborn silence.
The psychotic cellmate who held up Michael’s schedule until all the slack slipped away was nothing compared to Michael nearly getting transferred out of Fox River. If that had gone through, the rest would have been hopeless. Michael couldn’t save Lincoln from the outside these last three years; locked inside a different prison with just weeks to go, he’d have lost even the visiting privileges he’d had to offer Lincoln before.
The betrayals will be harder than Michael had expected. He'd intended only to form a rapport with the doctor, and something's changed in her when she sees him, something more than affinity. She wasn't supposed to find out about the marriage, and she can't know it isn't real. Sara already thinks he's a two-timing cheat now; imagine how used she'll feel when she finds out her Infirmary was the focal point of his escape.
Warden Pope already weighs on Michael's conscience. They were never supposed to meet—Michael would've stayed a faceless number if not for the warden's plans for him. But Pope thinks he knows him—that he's nurtured Michael's potential—and he'll take the escape personally now. It's too late for Michael to undo that.
The date's getting closer, right around the corner. So many things left to do, and what if he doesn't finish them in time? What if something new—god, there've been so many "somethings" already—gets in the way?
What if he fails?
Can't think like that, he tells himself, pushing the thoughts away. He's got work to do, and the hours are moving by faster every day…
The pipe. The-pipe-the-pipe-the-pipe-the-pipe-the-p
That was the part that couldn't change—the access into the Infirmary where Lincoln was waiting. Michael had been working on it since he came to Fox River—he'd been getting insulin shots for almost a month, for god's sake, just to have access to the drain that would let him corrode that pipe.
But when the escape team finally made it to the room under the Infirmary tonight, the pipe wasn't the one that had been there just this morning. Michael can still see the new pipe shining overhead, repeating in an image that glares again and again before his shell-shocked eyes.
What the hell is he going to do now?
Think, think, think… He paces in his cell, desperate for an alternative—a chance to stall the execution.
Charles. He'd been telling Michael some story on that fractured trip back to the Break Room about someone whose execution was delayed because of an electrical problem with The Chair.
Michael's breath catches in his throat, then eases out slowly. He's spent years learning how to avoid electrical problems. Making one happen is just the inverse of something he already knows.
This has been the longest day of Michael's life.
He shorted-out the electrical supply that fed the Chair, but it was repaired and the execution rescheduled with almost no delay. Despite a day of scrambling and grasping at straws, he came up with… nothing.
He wasn't able to save Lincoln after all.
Tears sting his eyes, and he forces them back down. They'll be coming to take him to Lincoln any minute, and he can't show up looking like he feels. He owes it to his brother not to destroy him before the last and most terrible experience he'll ever face.
He gave Lincoln hope where there was none, made him believe and then fell short of the miracle he promised. The fact that he almost, almost made it happen doesn't matter—Lincoln's still here in Fox River, and the end is coming. The only difference now is that Lincoln was prepared for this day before—had accepted it and made peace with it—and Michael's schemes undid all that and laid him bare once more for all the horror that is to come.
Michael knows he'll never forgive himself for that.
There's a sound on the walkway outside his cell, and this is it—time to put on his brave face and help Lincoln through this last impossible part of waiting.
The next few hours are a blur of stiff smiles and fighting not to break down and sink Lincoln's mood any lower than it already is. Michael keeps thinking that he can't stand it for much longer, and then he's flooded with guilt, because when it's over everything else will be over with it.
He can't even begin to make himself ready for that to happen.
He hasn't even thought about what life will be like when Lincoln's gone, because he refused to ever consider the possibility. There was no contingency for the plan not working—there was only the two of them, some place safe and unreachable where Lincoln had a future and Michael could erase his own short-term criminal past.
What the hell is he going to do now?
"Promise me," Lincoln's voice breaks through the mental fog, "that you'll take care of LJ."
"Of course," Michael answers, though he doesn't know how—LJ's outside and he's in here, and he can't imagine what the world will be like without Lincoln in it and whether he'll be able to take care of anything after that.
Don’t think about— not now—
He gets up and refills their cups with water, something to do, someplace else to be, as if moving fast enough will leave those thoughts behind.
"Here you go. Want to play some cards?"
"Yeah, why the hell not."
Lincoln sounds so listless, as if he's already stopped being here, and Michael's heart sinks at the realization.
There is so much he needs to say—has kept from saying this last hour. Now he wants to say it while he's still sure Lincoln might be listening.
"I'm so sorry I didn't get you out of here," Michael begins. "I had everything planned—I really did, I wouldn't have gotten your hopes up if I hadn't. But I couldn't quite make it to the finish, and… I just want you to know how sorry I am."
"It's all right," Lincoln says hoarsely, like a thousand other times when Michael missed the ball or got too caught up in a book to start dinner on time. Like every other failure, but there's no trying again with this one. There are no second chances left anymore.
"No, it isn't all right." Michael's throat tightens, and he pulls his chair closer to Lincoln's. "You shouldn't be here, you didn't kill anyone, and I couldn't fix it!" he finishes in anguish.
"But you tried, Michael. How many people would even have tried, especially for a guy like me? Nobody—only you would have even thought of something like this, let alone tried to do it."
"I had to. You're my brother," Michael whispers.
Lincoln reaches out and pats Michael's shoulder, then pulls him into a rough hug. "As your brother, I'm going to tell you something and you'd better listen: after all of this, when I'm gone, you need to watch out for yourself. Here, in prison I mean. Don't let your guard down or someone's going to take advantage of it. Be careful. Promise me you will."
"Okay." Michael's answer is almost inaudible, the struggle with tears lost now along with any willingness to see beyond this moment. He leans his head against Lincoln's, feeling the comforting warmth around him that will be gone forever within an hour's time.
He can't promise anything right now and mean it. The future is unknowable and too terrible to want to understand. Lincoln won't be in it, and Michael will wish he weren't either.
Surviving the unsurvivable—that's what waits for Michael in the next eternity of tomorrows.
For a second, he wonders if his mission to rescue Lincoln was anything more than a desperate attempt to put off facing exactly what's here in front of him right now.
"Ready for some cards?" Lincoln says finally, and Michael knows he's trying to make it easier for him—for him—now of all the times Lincoln deserves to be utterly selfish.
"You bet," he says, wiping his eyes and pasting on a smile that is nothing compared to what he owes Lincoln now and always. "I'll deal."
The guards come all too soon.
The last part of Michael's time with Lincoln was stolen—or eased— by Veronica joining them. Michael can't think whether it would have been better or worse without her; her presence reminded him that someone who understands a little of his pain will still be there when it's over.
In the closed-in hallway leading to the death chamber, Lincoln hugs each of them in turn and it's so hard for Michael to let go. He can't stop thinking that if he stalls a few seconds more something will change— the phone might ring and Lincoln could still be saved…
It's Lincoln who pulls back instead, turning bravely away and letting the guards accompany him to that final doorway. Michael watches blearily as his brother's posture stiffens, as Lincoln steels himself for what's coming.
Michael's still holding his breath when Lincoln steps across the threshold.