Characters: Michael and Lincoln (Gen, Angst)
Rating: PG-13 (subject matter, language)
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.
It's quiet in Block A in the forgotten hours of the night. The two- and three- and four-o'clock questions that crowd in and haunt Michael then have no answers, but the loneliness holds something a little like peace.
In the daytime Fox River's schedule progresses with bells and commands and commotion, when all Michael wants is to be left alone. He's trapped with a cellmate whose sympathy is more than he can bear, because Michel can't be happy or comforted, he can't 'move on' or 'let go' or anything else his friend might wish for. With kindness comes expectations, and Michael has nothing left to give anyone including himself.
In the daytime he longs for the night again, the undemanding night. He wants the freedom to do nothing, whether it's for now or for an eternity, the freedom of silence and stillness that lets the rest of the world just slip away.
"Let's get some breakfast," Sucre urges him, but what Michael hears instead is Lincoln saying "I'll make you pancakes" some Sunday morning when their mother had to go to work.
Michael hardly left his cell at all the first week, unable to lift his lead-filled body off the cot where he lay curled against the wall, staring at the holes and uneven terrain of the gray bricks filling the space in front of him, He doesn't go outside into the Yard anymore, because the fenced-in area where Lincoln used to be waits like an accusation, impossibly vibrant in its emptiness.
The cafeteria is full of knowing eyes, some sympathetic but all of them too heavy—settling on Michael's shoulders until the skin on his back starts to jump. He usually doesn’t bother going.
Warden Pope came to see him in his cell the day after, wondering about a memorial service in the chapel, and Michael couldn't sit still to even discuss it. The irony of a prison service for a man it had killed was too much for him, and the warden's sorrow was a burden that threatened to bury him under its weight. Michael sat down on the floor and wrapped his arms over his head, keeping out all the emotions and meaning and words as he rocked the world loose. The cell was dark by the time he stopped.
He should have said no when Lincoln asked him to be a witness, but he couldn't. How could he refuse when Lincoln had no choice about being there, about letting himself be killed in someone else's place?
Michael didn't say no.
The room was filled with reporters and a few officials for the President, and there he and Veronica were— his shackles throwing still more accusation on Lincoln—the only two people who weren't there to feed the silent lie and to gloat.
It was all he could do not to scream his brother's innocence.
The guards put Lincoln into the Chair, put on the restraints that would hold his arms and legs and waist. Lincoln didn't fight or cringe or make the slightest sound, not even when they moistened his head and slipped on that deadly metal-cage cap. In those moments, trapped in the worst experience of his entire life, Lincoln was as brave as he'd always been. It filled Michael with pride and then destroyed him all at once.
He stumbled forward, making sure he was up against the glass where Lincoln could see him, where his love would be the last thing Lincoln would take away from this world.
When the black hood dropped over Lincoln's face, Michael turned away, unable to watch the end.
And when the lights dimmed and flickered and the air crackled with current, Michael's stomach rose up through his throat and heaved its contents on the floor, a spasm of soul-deep agony overtaking him before he could even think to try to conceal it.
"When're we getting out, boy?"
Michael's made it out to the railing this morning, his clothes nightmare-wet against his skin as he stares at the prisoners swirling and eddying down below. T-Bag's voice falls wetly on his ear, breaking him into the present—the forgotten present, where nothing waits but the long hours of loss and remorse that fill Michael's days.
"No hurry now." Michael's voice is flat, devoid of interest in the either the idea or the threat that lies behind the question.
"Life goes on, Pretty, and don't you forget it. The rest of us are mighty tired of waiting."
Michael doesn't notice him leaving, doesn't hear anything but the voices in his head:
"I need you to take care of the dishes—I've got to go out."
Lincoln had said that Friday night too, and Michael's stomach grew heavy, his dinner congealing into a leaden mass. Drugs again? he wondered. This was how it always started—going out late, sleeping half the day away afterwards, just like this morning. God please, not drugs. Things were going so well…
"Going to see some friends?" he asked tentatively.
"Uh, no," Lincoln answered. "It's—I've got a second job as a bouncer over at this dance club on Halsted. Just a temporary thing. Be sure to turn off any lights you're not using."
Michael dug out some candles from kitchen junk drawer after Lincoln left, huddling in bed to read in semi-darkness when the dishes were done. He wondered if they'd be able to buy groceries this week and still make next month's rent…
Veronica came to see Michael today, for the first time ever. He thinks she did it for herself and not for him, hoping to draw strength from someone else's heartbreak over losing the man they both loved when everything sensible said they shouldn't.
They'd both tried at different times to walk away, Veronica more successfully than Michael. She'd had a life of her own finally—a fiancé—and Michel wound up throwing his future, his past, his everything away to wind up here. All he had in the end was Lincoln and the driving force of hope. Now both of them are gone.
Veronica was already crying on the other side of the glass when he got there, her eyes pleading with Michael for something, like he had anything left to give. "Don't come back for awhile," he said when his time was over.
The whole thing took so much out of him that the guards had to half-drag him back to his cell.
The room is gray, rust-colored stains on the walls, and Michael only notices them because he's trying so desperately to look anywhere but at the Chair that defines the room's purpose. The side of the room closest to him is glass, the viewing deck for the gallery of those whom come to prey on death and call it justice.
Suddenly the door opens and a man shuffles in, guarded and manacled against escape from an agonizing death. His face is a blur, but still Michael backs up against the wall until he can go no farther. It's then that the man turns to him in recognition:
"Michael! Michael, you've got to help me, don't let them do this to me—Michael!"
Lincoln pulls against his chains, straining toward Michael even as the guards force him down into the Chair. "Michael, help me!"
But Michael is rooted to the spot, as if the wall at his back has swallowed him and submerged him into stone.
A guard drops the hood over Lincoln's face and steps away as another man grabs the lever.
Gasping awake, Michael sits up so rapidly that he bangs his head into the bottom of the top bunk above him. "Fuck!" he growls, clutching his head and rubbing it. His face is wet, the dream so real it still has a hold on him, and the physical pain is a welcome distraction.
Block A is quiet now, the dead-of-night stillness that marks these hours of self-recrimination Michael knows all too well. Every one of the last six nights he's found himself staring at the bottom of the bunk above him— whether from the aftermath of a nightmare, or just too many emotions chasing through his thoughts to let him go to sleep at all.
He tries to remember all the times it wasn't perfect—lots of times, practically all of the time.
It doesn't matter.
He wouldn't be here if it did.
The guards still take him to the Infirmary for his insulin shots every day. That trip has become harder than ever, the combination of medical treatment he never needed and the impossibility of escaping the kind of sympathy that could easily destroy him.
"How are you doing today, Michael?" Sara's taking his vitals oh-so-gently, as if his outsides are as fragile as what's inside now, on the verge of breaking through.
"Mmh," Michael says. He doesn’t have the energy for words today, usually doesn't, and he wishes the rest of the world would just let him disappear.
"I want you to know—" Sara clears her throat and tries again. "I did give those papers to my father, and I begged him to read them, but I don't think he even bothered. And I'm sorry, Michael, so sorry about everything." Her eyes are wet now. "I really am…"
It's easier to comfort Sara than himself, and he brushes his hand over her arm and offers her the understanding she's seeking. "I know," he says softly.
Then he turns his head away and holds out his arm, hoping she'll give him the shot and just let him escape out from under all these regrets that are threatening to choke him.
Later, in the safety of his cell, he feels bad for acting like that when she was only trying to help. He is alienating people who care about him—cared about Lincoln. But they all want something from him, whether it's reassurances or for him to begin healing.
And he can't.
Lincoln knew better, knew how to give without taking when Michael really needed it. He'd put his arm around Michael and sit with him awhile, or squeeze his shoulder and let his eyes say all that was necessary. He didn't talk.
God, but it's lonely now without him…
"Hey, Michael, what're you up to there?"
He'd have thought the purpose of Want Ads would have been obvious, but maybe they weren't. Or maybe Lincoln thought Michael was scoping out a better job for him, one with higher pay.
Lincoln never really looked more than two months down the road, so why had Michael expected this time to be different?
"I'm looking for a job," Michael answered, his eyes never leaving the listings—as if some miracle of a white-collar windowless bookkeeping hell was going to jump out at him any minute.
"You already have a job, it's called going to school." Lincoln sounded puzzled.
"Yeah, but that'll be over in a few months when I graduate from high school, and my afternoons are free already. If I don't find something now, there'll be nothing left in June."
"You mean a summer job," Lincoln persisted.
"No, Lincoln, I mean an actual paying-the-bills kind of job."
"But you're going to college!"
Michael sighed. "Lincoln, even if I get a scholarship—and there's no guarantee I will—that doesn't cover enough of the expenses to go full-time. It'll just have to wait."
Lincoln stared at him for a moment, like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "There's money," he said suddenly.
"Money. From when Mom died—she left money for you to go to college."
"And you're just telling me this now?" After months of worrying about where his life would go next?
"Yeah. So don't sweat it, okay? You're going to college."
God, how the hell could he actually have believed any of that? There was no money—there had never been any money, not for anything after Mom died. That's how they wound up in foster care to begin with.
The money Lincoln got hold of for Michael's future became the noose around his neck that led to his murder conviction, that led to his death. All for Michael.
Suddenly the cell Michael's hidden in for days is too small for him to breathe. He lurches out the doorway, awkward and aimless, just needing to move.
Across the upper level and down the stairs he goes, so many people crowding on the ground floor that he wonders if the outside break is coming up. Not that it matters—nothing much matters, he doesn't even pay attention to the time anymore.
He only catches sight of the prisoner coming up to the left when he nearly bumps into him. The ones that grab him from behind and shove him into a cell are even more of a surprise.
"Caught myself a Fish," the biggest one says. Latham, Michael thinks, somebody-Latham, one of the White Power gang.
"Think Bagwell wants him?" another one asks.
"Doesn't matter—Bagwell ain't here, and he never laid claim anyway."
The blow to Michael's stomach is swift and vicious, doubling him over while unseen hands yank his shirt up and rip open his pants, pushing him against the wall.
"Hold on now boys, hold on!" T-Bag's voice is unmistakable. "Didn't anyone ever teach you not to trespass on other people's property?"
The only answer is the sound of the other prisoners leaving the cell.
"Next time, I won't be so concerned for your well-being," T-Bag hisses in Michael's ear. "So you'd better make sure we're out of Fox River before the next time comes, do you hear?"
"Got it," Michael answers shakily.
"All right. Get busy with your planning, then, Pretty." T-Bag points a finger at the window, his face unsettling in its seriousness as he backs out onto the main floor.
Michael leans against the wall and sighs.
Back in his own cell, Michael trades the torn pants for a different pair and lies down on the bed. The headache that never quite leaves him is stronger now, and he closes his eyes to will it down.
Moments later, a soft rapping on the bars draws his attention. It's Westmoreland. Michael is suddenly glad to see him.
"Mind if I come in?"
"Of course. Please sit down." Michael gets up to make room, and Westmoreland motions him down beside him once he's settled.
"Saw what happened downstairs," Westmoreland begins. "I sent Bagwell over to break it up. Pointed out that it was in his best interests to keep you healthy."
"I appreciate that," Michael says softly.
"Thing is, though," Westmoreland rubs his moustache thoughtfully, "those fellows downstairs won't be the only ones. It'll keep happening again and again if you keep on like you're doing, making yourself vulnerable and not paying attention." His expression is sympathetic, but Michael knows he's serious. "Is that what your brother would want?"
"No…" Michael breathes out a reply.
Westmoreland nods, taking the information in. "Told you to be careful, didn't he?"
"His exact words, in fact."
"Doesn't surprise me."
They sit for awhile longer, in unhurried silence. Finally, Westmoreland speaks: "I really don't think you'll survive here if you serve your full sentence. You'll be marked as a victim, word'll get around. And it'll change a part of you that'd break your brother's heart, if he could see it. You won't be the man you should've been." He waits for Michael's reaction.
"What do you suggest?"
"You never planned to be here for long. You were going to get your brother out and start a new life. What's keeping you from doing that now?"
Michael's eyes prick at the mention of that failed plan, at the thought of that future with Lincoln that will never, ever happen. "What's the point, when Lincoln's gone?" he rasps out angrily.
"The point is you," Westmoreland says. "I'm sorry about your brother, sorry as can be, but you can't throw your own life away on top of his. You've got to start caring enough to save yourself."
Michael thinks about the things Lincoln said to him at the end, about his own promises in return. "It's hard," he admits softly. "I was ready to give up everything as long as I didn't have to give up him."
"I know," Westmoreland says. "And I'm sure he knew it too."
"So…" Michael rests his elbows on his legs, trying to think. "I've got to come up with another plan."
"What's wrong with the old one? You've got time. Might even unload a few passengers along the way."
Michael looks at him in appraisal. No due date means the others won't be anticipating the exact time of the escape. No T-Bag, no C-Note, no anybody else but who he wants or needs to take with him. "You still interested?"
Westmoreland nods matter-of-factly. "Guess there's no point in me dying in prison either, old as I am."
"Good," Michael says, a smile breaking through. His chest feels lighter, his breathing easier for the first time in days.
"So what's the next step?" Westmoreland asks.
"I'll need to borrow some toothpaste."
It takes only a few more weeks to break down the pipe under the Infirmary again. At first Michael's days are spent waiting for his doctor's appointments and the mundanities of forcing himself to eat. When the sudden threat of carpeting over the hole in the Break Room floor rises up, it puts new life into him—an eleventh-hour scramble to float a concrete patch on the barest structural support, all on the off-chance he might need to bust through it later even though he expects to stay underground this time around.
"Soon," he tells Abruzzi with a few days pending, "but keep it quiet." Michael wishes he could leave without him, but he needs Abruzzi's airplane connections to get them far away as fast as possible. He'll have to live with the results.
He almost wishes Sucre could stay behind, but he made his friend an accomplice from the beginning, and Sucre doesn't deserve to take all the heat that would follow. Michael knows Sucre's thinking about Maricruz and the baby, but her loyalty's suspect and Sucre could wind up making himself a fugitive for nothing. He'd be better off not going and just serving the rest of his year. Thanks to Michael, that choice is gone.
The day it all goes down is a blue-sky Thursday— a beautiful day, the kind Lincoln used to love even stuck in prison because he said it made him feel like hope was out there waiting.
Michael has timed and re-timed the guards and Abruzzi's ordered the plane, and now it's a matter of hanging around until it's dark.
Westmoreland slips into the cell just before four and goes behind the wall. He volunteered to be first in their spread-out migration, the man most able to take the extra hours in the dark. "I'll catch some shut-eye back here," he says as they close him in.
Abruzzi saunters through at the beginning of the last outdoor break for the day. Sucre stands lookout while Michael helps Abruzzi through, then goes out to the Yard himself with Michael following soon afterward. They make sure they're both seen.
The cell doors will be closed for the night at seven-thirty, and they need to make their move before then. At six, Michael hangs a sheet for the last time, thinking about everything Fox River has cost him—his only brother, his very soul.
"Gonna miss this place?" Sucre pulls the toilet back away from the wall.
"Not for one second," Michael answers. He wonders if he'll ever feel like himself again.
Their progress through the tunnels is cramped, a longer journey than the one that started in the Break Room but taking less to chance. The rest of the plan goes off without a hitch, though pulling the window down from the Infirmary was more of a challenge than Michael expected.
Across the wire they go, climbing down the back of Fox River's walls with time to spare. Then they run for the van, run for freedom, under a night filled with stars like Michael hasn't seen in months.
They board the plane and lift off within minutes, arcing away from the prison, from the past.
"Where do we drop you off?" Abruzzi asks.
Michael realizes then that he doesn't really know.
His home is gone now—every home he ever had was somehow tied to Lincoln, even the ones he hated, even the frontman-for-success apartment his college degree helped him land, the degree that Lincoln made sure he got.
Michael doesn't have a clear future in mind now, not without Lincoln. He's got a criminal record and an unfinished sentence, and all he can do is run until he figures out a better plan.
His throat tightens suddenly as he realizes he's alone now—utterly alone, even more than the worst moments of his life when there could still be "someday" and Lincoln ahead.
He's still struggling to find an answer when a gentle touch on his arm makes him turn. Westmoreland is watching him, his eyes full of understanding as he smiles with a quiet sympathy that soothes Michael's churning emotions.
His words are a promise:
"Michael and I are going to Utah."
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