Character: Lincoln (Gen)
Summary: These are the burdens of being the big brother…
When Michael was a baby, Lincoln’s role had been simple. Don’t make too much noise. Keep the small toys off the floor, and don’t play too rough. He liked to make Michael laugh, with funny faces or tickling his tummy and toes. After many months, he was allowed to read him the occasional story, with Michael snuggled in his lap and his silky baby hair against Lincoln’s cheek.
By the time Michael was two, their father was out the door. Tired of the responsibility, tired of being a grownup, or maybe just tired of them, he had gone out one night and had never come back. In between his mother’s tears and Michael’s crying, Lincoln found himself doing more of the parenting that Michael needed. He knew how to read stories with voices, how to build Lego palaces for Michael to destroy, and how to kiss and bandage the boo-boos while their mother was at work.
Sometimes he wondered why no-one was really taking care of him that way, a seven-year-old boy who needed time and answers too. But at least Michael had him.
At four, Michael was Lincoln’s constant shadow. He was unshakeable, no matter what Lincoln was doing, and could not be persuaded to do anything other than trail after him all day long. Some days it was okay. On others Lincoln just wanted to break free— to just have some time with his friends and do what he wanted to do. On those days he would escape out the back door, leaving Michael crying brokenhearted behind him and with the guilt already eating into his own happiness. But most of the time they had fun together. Lincoln had showed Michael his first frog. He taught him how to swing, and about keeping caterpillars in jars.
And the day Lincoln walked into Michael’s room and found him wearing his underwear on his head and trying to put his tiny little socks on the cat was one he would never forget.
Michael broke his arm when he was seven. Lincoln had gone back into the house for just a minute, and Michael fell out of the maple tree. An ear-splitting scream drew him back outside in an instant, and he rushed to Michael’s side, cradling him in his arms and wondering how bad it was. When the wails and sobs just would not stop, Lincoln knew something was terribly wrong and ran back in for their mother. He crouched there behind her in the back yard, listening to her comfort Michael and feeling the sickness grow in his stomach. He should have been paying more attention. It was his fault.
A year later, Lincoln couldn’t figure out how an eight-year-old could beat him so easily at Monopoly, but that was usually how it went. Still, it was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. And he proved more than once that tickling can trump strategy pretty darn well.
Nine-year-old Michael was a bully magnet at school. Maybe it was his sarcastic mouth, or the way he always looked like he thought he was smarter than you. The problem was that Michael actually was smarter, and he was too young to know how to keep a lid on it.
Lincoln would go by the elementary school to pick Michael up in the afternoon, and he just couldn’t seem to get there quickly enough. The number of times he found him with torn jeans or a bloody nose just made him run all the faster the next day. Always too late to catch Michael’s tormentors (except for one day that had been particularly satisfying), he could only hold Michael and rock him gently while his own anger mounted. Then they’d go home, and Lincoln would make Michael hot chocolate and sit next to him on the sofa while they watched cartoons until their mother came home.
She died when Michael was eleven. She’d been sick most of the past year, but they had kept hoping she would make it. Lincoln alternated between keeping watch over her and staying out all night, always torn between the extremes of anxiety and guilt. After she was gone, Lincoln tried his best to make up for her. He checked Michael’s homework, made sure his clothes were clean, and held him at night when he cried. It was killing him too, missing her, but he never said anything.
He had to be the strong one…
These thoughts came back to him now, sitting on Michael’s bunk and holding him on his lap as the riot raged on and Michael shook and choked through tears. This monster that Michael had unleashed had gotten people killed and more people hurt. The C.O. he had tried to save had been killed anyway. Michael had to know it was all because of what he had set in motion that day.
For Lincoln, sitting there with his bruised and aching neck and blood on his face, that C.O. had had a name. It was Bob. He was too new, too kind, and he had a family that he loved. He was a good man. And he didn’t treat Lincoln or anyone else like dirt. He had been apologizing to Lincoln just this morning, just hours ago, and now he would never go home again.
But Lincoln didn’t say anything. He never would. He rocked Michael instead, comforting him and letting his own grief gnaw at his heart.
It was hard, always holding and never being held. And, god, sometimes he just felt so tired.
But it was who he was. It was who he had always been.
He hoped it was enough.
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