Title: Sacrifices

Author: HalfshellVenus

Characters: Lincoln and Michael (Gen)

Rating:K+

Summary: Lincoln's eyes witness every sacrifice Michael has made for him.

Author's Notes: An AU post-escape story (written post-Season 1). This was for fanfic100, where I have the pairing of Lincoln and Michael. This story is for prompt #5, "Outsides." It was written for thelana, who has waited for someone to write this scene for ages.

x-x-x-x-x

In an out-of-the-way part of Mississippi, Michael and Lincoln have stopped for the night.

They are making their way south, covering as much ground as possible in the dull, dependable sedan Michael had kept in a storage locker. His supplies had included gas and bottled water, sleeping bags and a tent. There was enough food and changes of clothes to keep from having to buy things more than a couple of times before crossing the border. Not being seen or noticed is paramount to their survival, and cutting down on the opportunities for that was one of Michael's smartest moves yet.

The tent keeps the mosquitoes away as the brothers lie on top of the sleeping bags in the humid night. Michael is already asleep, still sweating in his underwear. The window flaps are open for the hope of a late breeze.

By lantern light, Lincoln is still thinking. He has slept every moment he wasn't driving, drugged to exhaustion by the sudden lack of constant, agonizing stress. Their worries are not over, but he is no longer waiting in his cage like an animal about to be slaughtered. The relief was so great at first that he could barely stay awake. Now, with the initial shock behind him, he has time to observe and to reflect.

His brother's face is tilted toward the light, and Lincoln is remembering the Michael of long ago. Asleep, the intensity leaves Michael's face. All that remains is the sweetness that is such a part of who his brother is. When his intellect is silent and his logic is stilled, the lasting empathy tells every secret that Michael hides. His choices and his kindness are more driven by this part of himself than Michael could ever admit. Without this irresistible pull of love and loyalty, Lincoln would have given up on himself a long time ago.

Michael slowed his descent into self-destruction as a teenager. Now he has brought him this new future Lincoln never should have had. Words can never express how grateful Lincoln is, how astonished and undeserving-- but he knows he has to try to tell Michael again and again.

Michael's hand lies softly between them, and Lincoln follows its line up to Michael's shoulders and back. A tapestry of images covers everything, so much beauty in the details and so much darkness in the larger effect. These tattoos are so unlike Michael that Lincoln's breath catches every time he truly looks at them. They belong to a much harder and more aggressive man. That they cover the soft skin and tender heart of the gentlest man Lincoln has ever known is so wrong he can barely stand it.

Michael did this for him. He did it to make sure that no single forgotten path or aspect would endanger their escape from prison. This sacrifice will mark his brother forever, and Lincoln cannot look any more without feeling that he and prison – and the tattoos themselves-- have obliterated his brother's innocence beyond repair.

He turns his face away then, back to a moment when his little brother's hand inside his own flowed into the tint of freckles instead of ink. But Lincoln knows that even after he moved out Michael was still hanging onto him, still pulled by the invisible threads of devotion. That hand never left his, not really, and this situation—snaking through the country as scarred and endangered fugitives-- is where Lincoln led them both.

He rolls his neck and sighs a little. There is no way to pretend that all of this is not his fault. The path from that first wrong step to this life of endless running is vivid before the power of hindsight. He can see the trail backwards to the beginning in a single second. If only he could have known it going forward…

Michael sleeps on, and Lincoln's gaze drifts down those legs to the last unspeakable injury, barely visible in the semi-darkness. This is no trick of the shadows, this blur where flesh should be. That elegant foot, forever ruined by the brutal absence of those toes, is the starkest reminder of all that Michael has endured. It will hinder him with every step, and it will shame him into self-consciousness—this symbol of the betrayal of decency that should make him proud instead.

This harshest of Michael's outer scars hurts Lincoln more than anything.

He feels the briefest cowardly urge to run away from it all, to escape the evidence of his own sins staring back at him from Michael's mutilated body. But that would destroy his brother—after everything else they've survived—and he owes him so much more than that. After all Michael has given him, now and all those years ago, it is Lincoln's turn to take care of him again. Michael needs his love returned in full measure, and a depth of loyalty that means Lincoln will not leave. He needs the constancy and stability that has always wavered under his touch, and he needs to know that Lincoln will work to live a different life for him— that Michael is worth that, and always was even when Lincoln failed.

Michael needs to know that Lincoln admires him, that he became more than Lincoln ever would have dreamed

Above all, Lincoln thinks his little brother was braver than he could ever be himself.

Tomorrow, he will find a way to say that.

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