Title: Like A Kid In A Candy Store
Characters: Lincoln and Michael (Gen)
Summary: Five First Things Lincoln did after getting out of prison.
Author's Notes: Written for Live Journal's prisonbreak100, where I have the Gen pairing of Lincoln and Michael. This is for prompt #94, "Celebrate." The idea for this story came from a discussion on fluffier stories over on pbplotbunnies.
Outside Texarkana, they'd pulled off by the side of the road to eat their takeout. All their meals were on the run— they never stopped anywhere long enough to be recognized, or attract attention.
Michael was working on a bacon cheeseburger—the same thing Lincoln had fallen all over yesterday. His brother… had moved on.
Lincoln had ordered some sort of brownie-sundae concoction. Two of them, actually. They were goopy, drippy, and horrifyingly large. Michael glanced over occasionally, in part because Lincoln was so preoccupied that he hadn't said anything in the last five minutes. Finally, Michael found himself staring.
His brother was enjoying the entire thing far too much. Watching it was like viewing some sort of pornographic extravaganza, not that Michel had much experience with that. But this had to be an event worthy of a marquee header, he was convinced of it.
"God, Lincoln," Michael sputtered. "It's just Dairy Queen."
"Mmmmm," Lincoln moaned. "It's fantastic."
"If you say so." Not to put too fine a point on it, but really—ice cream, sauce… it wasn't even Haagen Daz. How good could it possibly be?
"You don't know what it's been like," Lincoln said. "For years, all I've had is the stuff other people decide for me is a treat. Things like tapioca and custard. This… is good."
Hearing that made Michael consider. The food at Fox River had been pretty awful, and he'd only been there a few weeks himself. Plus, he hadn't had the kind of stress Lincoln had dealt with all that time, waiting for the end on Death Row.
"Just don't make yourself sick," Michael said. Lincoln nodded and kept on scooping up spoonfuls of sweet, personal heaven.
They finished, cleaning up with extra napkins and bottled water.
An hour later, they had pulled off to the side of the road again. Michael rubbed Lincoln's back while his brother lay across the backseat in misery. Michael had a brief thought that he'd been in this situation before, with their positions reversed—maybe back when he was eleven or twelve and had overdone it at a birthday party.
He pushed down the urge toward I told you so, just like Lincoln had done all those years ago.
Pleasure had its price, no doubt about it. But sometimes, it was still worth it.
It was after nine on the Gulf, the air still warm after a blistering day. They were through with driving for the day and had stopped overnight at the beach, ready to stretch out in sleeping bags when it got late enough.
The soft waves of the ocean gleamed white in the moonlight, nothing more than a gentle roar stirring the air. Lincoln had stripped off his shoes and was scuffing through the sand like a little boy. He lifted and flung chunks of sand with the tops of his feet, watching them vault and then splatter. Finally, he stopped. Michael watched him shimmy-twist his feet further down in the sand then, probably enjoying the feeling of it underneath his toes.
"Remember when Mom used to take us to the Lake?" Lincoln asked.
Michael smiled. "I loved going there. Almost as much as the Field Museum and the Planeterium."
"Ha! You and your museums." They were moving again, strolling along the edge of the surf.
Michael felt the liquid swell of the water sweeping over his toes—different now across the place where toes were missing. Focus on the results, he reminded himself. Maybe it was a form of denial, but it would get him through all those lingering after-effects and memories. It was a small price to pay.
Suddenly Lincoln took off, running through the water and splashing Michael and himself as he went. Chucka-chucka-chucka-chucka!
For a fleeting moment, Michael caught himself thinking that Lincoln was making too much noise, and that someone might notice them.
But there was no-one but the two of them there. And his brother hadn't been this carefree in as long as Michael could remember.
He found himself grinning, and running to catch up with Lincoln. He sloshed through the shallow waves as he went, soaking himself with saltwater and the sense of decadent freedom. It was beautiful, the sky star-laden and clear, and he was fast and weightless, lifted up with childhood memories and a wellspring of hope.
Villahermosa was hot—especially for Michael, who seemed to be permanently trapped in long-sleeved shirts.
I wish I could have been sure I'd remember it all, he thought. I could have stopped the tattoo before the arms, and I wouldn't be practically dying right now. It had just been too big a risk, though, leaving anything out. Not worth gambling with Lincoln's life.
He walked just behind Lincoln, keeping sight of his brother's straw sombrero. Lincoln had gotten used to it now—he even pretended that it was stylish. Me llamo Jorge, he'd say, clicking his tongue and giving Michael a cheesy grin. Like hell, Michael would answer, but it always made him smile.
"Oooh." Michael nearly stumbled into his brother as Lincoln stopped outside a doorway. The sound of bells and clicks and electronic noises spilled out onto the sidewalk from the dark interior of the arcade.
"You want to go in, don't you?" Michael murmured. They spoke softly, even though they were probably easily recognizable as Americans to just about anyone.
"Yeah," Lincoln grinned. "I haven't been to one of these since high school."
They went inside and traded money for machine tokens. Michael splurged for what was probably five dollars worth, based on the exchange rate from when he'd stockpiled all that Mexican money before going into Fox River.
"Hey, they have Centipede!" Lincoln went over and popped a token in the machine.
"I'm going to the bathroom. Stay away from the pinball machines," Michael warned. "Remember how you get."
Lincoln nodded absentmindedly, his fingers shifting back and forth, pushing buttons, still too slow from being out of practice.
When Michael came back, Lincoln had moved on just as Michael could have predicted.
His brother was practically riding the pinball game, hips jerking, flippers clacking as he snapped his wrists and hands. The machine rocked as it lifted up on one side, and Michael cringed when it banged back down again.
"Ai! No mas! No mas!" The man behind the cash register had caught sight of the threat to his livelihood, and was banging on the lid to get Lincoln's attention.
"Sorry," Lincoln said, backing away with a hint of embarrassment.
Michael guided him out toward the sidewalk, back into the heat of the afternoon, as stray curses followed them through the door.
"I always think I won't let it go that far," Lincoln said, as they headed back to the car. Michael didn't need to tell him it was time to make themselves scarce. They were both used to the routine by now.
"I know." Michael admitted. He'd been down this road before. "But it always does," he said softly, trying to keep the accusation out of his voice. Like pretty much everything, he thought—but didn't say.
Of The Flesh
In Cheturnal, Lincoln's eyes kept drifting down the alleyway. Girls in clingy blouses and short, tight-fitting skirts lingered against the wall, smiling coyly at them as they passed.
Lincoln looked over at Michael and waggled his eyebrows. And Michael had to admit, he'd half expected this.
There'd been the cigarettes, within the first two days after breaking out. "Do you really want to start this up again?" Michael had asked. "They smell god-awful, and they're bad for you. Plus, we don't really have the money for it long-term. And you've pretty much kicked the habit already." Lincoln kept at it for a day, even after Michael vetoed smoking in the car. But he gave it up again. Not worth it—or just not worth the hassle.
This was going to be harder. Michael couldn't reasonably expect Lincoln not to want this— not after years in prison, years of facing your own mortality. And it was Lincoln. His brother had been focused on this particular track since about age 13, and he'd had a lot of success in pursuing it. It was as much a part of Lincoln's nature as strength and loyalty. This wasn't a battle Michael was going to win.
Thank god he'd prepared for it.
He pulled Lincoln around an empty corner, and went over the ground rules. "Use protection— every time, take a whole bunch of condoms if you need to. Don't let her see any of your tattoos and don't tell her anything about yourself, just in case. No kissing, nothing where you could catch anything from her—it's going to be really hard to get medical attention where we're going, and we can't risk the attention anyway. So here's 200 pesos, and be careful. I'll be at the car. Don't get rolled."
Lincoln looked kind of stunned. Whether it was that Michael was saying yes to the hooker thing—which was the kind of thing Michael frowned upon in general—or the laundry list of instructions he'd given out, Michael couldn't be sure.
"You're okay with this?" Lincoln asked.
"I wouldn't want you to make a habit of it, but… I know what you've been through. So go ahead, and have a good time. Just be careful." There was a surreal overtone to the whole conversation, and Michael felt like someone's Dad letting his son take the car out on the weekend. Except that this was totally different, and infinitely weirder in a really sleazy sort of way.
"You're not coming?"
Michael wrinkled his nose before he could stop himself. "No," he said flatly.
"There were lots of pretty girls back there."
"Not my thing," Michael stated firmly.
"Oh. Maybe a guy, then?"
"What? No. Just—no hookers. Or strangers," Michael said. "And with my tattoos… Even if I wanted to, it'd be way too dangerous."
"Okay. Just trying to be open-minded," Lincoln said.
"Well thanks, I guess. Not that you need to be, but thanks. So, do what you have to, don't get caught, and don't tell me about it afterwards."
"You don't want to hear all the details?"
"I really, really don't. I'll see you back at the car."
Michael patted Lincoln's arm, not missing the combination of reservations and anticipation warring on his brother's face. But he had to let Lincoln have this. It was everything Michael would never do himself, but this wasn't about him.
He and Lincoln were just different, in this area most of all. They reacted in opposite ways to all of the impulse-control issues—sex, drugs, alcohol, anger.
Sex was the least dangerous part of that whole picture, and it was something he could let Lincoln have with little chance of it snowballing.
The things I do for him, Michael thought.
But when he stacked it up against dropping out of high school to pay the bills and keep the two of them out of foster care, against borrowing too much money so that Michael could go to college… it was so small and weightless that it seemed nearly non-existent.
Be glad that I can, a voice said inside Michael's head. Be glad that I can…
Coping With The Consequences
Three weeks into the escape, Michael came out of the grungy hotel bathroom one morning to find Lincoln standing in front of the mirror half-dressed.
"Michael, my pants are tight," Lincoln said.
Not that Michael was planning on saying anything, but he'd wondered how long it was going to take Lincoln to notice. "Ummmm," he hedged.
"I guess all that food is taking its toll," Lincoln said.
Michael did an instant mental review of the last few weeks. Cheeseburgers, Doritos, beer, burritos, queso, ice cream, candy bars— it had been a never-ending parade of junk food. His stomach lurched just thinking about it. Personally, he'd moved onto fruit and other basics about a week back.
"I guess getting bigger pants probably isn't the answer." Lincoln yanked on the waistband a little, as if that would help.
"Probably not," Michael admitted.
"God, I never had to care about this stuff in prison. Not that I could have done much about it anyway. It wasn't like my health was going to suffer."
Michael never knew whether Lincoln was trying to be funny when he said things like that. He probably was. It must be part of the mental game you had to go through in that kind of situation.
Michael poked around in his luggage, in an effort to seem casual. "We can cut back a little, if you want." He didn't look at his brother, trying to minimize the situation. It was always a toss-up how Lincoln would react to suggestions like that. He might get pissed off that Michael even said it. Or he might think it was completely sensible. No way to be sure.
"Yeah, guess I better. I can't really get out and exercise much while we're still traveling. How much further?" Lincoln put his shirt on, and frowned at the result. He took it off again, trading white for black.
Michael looked away before his expression said something his brother could identify.
"Probably another week," he answered. "Depending on the roads."
Lincoln jammed his remaining clothes into his duffle bag and sat down to tie his shoes. He stopped a moment to look at them.
"Do we have enough money in the budget to buy something more like running shoes?" he asked.
"Yeah, we could probably swing it," Michael said. "You're thinking of taking up jogging?"
Lincoln smiled. "I'd kind of like that. It'd be a huge change from being stuck in that tiny yard, or even being in the city with all the traffic." There was a wistful look in his eyes that Michael had noticed a couple of times in the last few weeks, but which he really hadn't seen much of before. Lincoln had always been the kind of person who dealt in what was—he didn't hold out a lot of hope for things that might happen someday in the future, if there was more money or if the chance came up or if pigs started to fly.
"Absolutely," Michael answered.
"You know what else I'd like? If there's a place for it when we get there?" Lincoln said. "A basketball hoop. Nothing fancy, just a hoop and a ball in a flat space big enough to bounce the ball around."
Michael remembered. Only a few people ever played basketball at Fox River—you had to be the right color and in with the right people to use the hoops out there in the yard. He'd been neither. And before Death Row, he supposed the same had been true for Lincoln.
Michael thought about noise, and activity, and whether there'd be neighbors where they ended up who might look at the two of them a little harder out of irritation. And he looked at his brother, who hadn't wanted much of anything for years—at least not that he'd ever mentioned to Michael.
And Michael made a decision.
"If at all possible," he said, "I will make that happen."
Michael's heart hummed at the way Lincoln beamed.
This was why he'd done it, every risk and every lasting scar. And he wouldn't trade this outcome for anything.
------ fin ------