Into The Dark
By - Isis_uf
Rating - R (possible NC-17 somewhere later in the series)
Word Count - 10k-ish
Warnings - Angst with a side of hope, canon-ish (whole series and Final Break), adult themes, references to violence and murder, mild cursing, rampant metaphor use, abuse of imagery themes, one or two probably incorrect internet translations of English to Spanish dialogue
Warnings for series - Whole series (including Final Break) spoilers, violence, (probably) sex, cursing, death, het (canon pairings), classical literature and mythology references, questionable knowledge by the author of science, medicine, code-breaking and the mechanics of shady multinational conglomerates who secretly rule the world
Author's Note - This is the first of four planned stories that don't directly violate canon, but take place after Final Break in an attempt to make it more palatable (and, to me, more poetic and satisfying). It will likely be several months before I begin to post the next story (to be titled "Five Minutes to Midnight"). Please understand that it's plotty and detail-oriented and I want to have it well underway before I post any of it anywhere so that I can avoid backing myself into a corner.
On another note, Michael's birthday is non-specific because they couldn't get it straight in canon (I did research it, I swear). I had to make up Lincoln's, too. The tone and storytelling style of these stories should shift some from story to story. That's intentional for a variety of reasons. Huge thanks to andacus for everything (as always) and to foxriverinmate and jennaxrose for the fact checking and encouragement.
Disclaimer - If it belonged to me I would have established that Christina Scofield had an horrific sociopathic evil twin that took her place after the lovely mother of both Lincoln and Michael died of liver cancer sometime in the 1980s. Since that didn't happen... you know that nothing Prison Break related belongs to me.
Summary - In some ways, Michael is dead for 1507 days. In a lot of the same ways, Sara and Lincoln are too.
The low hum of fluorescent lighting was the first thing to invade his consciousness, a steady buzz that echoed in the back of his skull with increasing volume.
Pain bloomed next, bone-deep and seemingly everywhere. He throbbed, seared, ached throughout the whole of his battered body. After all he'd withstood, all he'd endured, he would have thought that he was used to pain, his threshold had always been high after all. It was really too bad he was wrong.
An inhuman sound, something like the involuntary moan of a dying animal rang through his ears. It took a couple of moments to realize that noise was him.
The world was bright and pink behind his closed eyelids and he fought to prise them apart, to take in his surroundings.
He was dead, wasn't he? He was supposed to be dead. That was the plan. Then again, he thought ruefully, when had things ever gone according to plan?
Yellow-white light flooded his vision as his eyelids parted and soaked in the artificial glow of the room. He couldn't turn his head, couldn't really move, but even from his limited vantage point he could see both medical equipment filling the room and restraints clamped down upon his arms and legs.
If this was the afterlife, it was certainly nothing like he'd imagined.
"He's awake," someone said from somewhere behind him.
An older man clad in a white lab coat and a not-entirely-friendly eager smile peered over him a moment later, swarming his vision.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Mr. Scofield," the man grinned, his dark beady eyes unsettlingly excited. "Do try to stick around awhile?"
As he spoke, though, the man - the doctor? - pushed a syringe full of something into his IV and the edges of the world dimmed, color fading into grayscale as the darkness consumed him again.
Costa Rica was everything and nothing like what Michael had promised Panama would be. Long stretches of coastline and heavily treed mountainsides made for a picture-perfect postcard. But that was it: a snapshot of perfection that could never hold up under the weight of reality. Sara couldn't live in a postcard.
She dug her feet into the sand, letting the grittiness work its way between her toes as the tide rolled out and the sun loomed low on the horizon of the Pacific. The capuchins spoke noisily somewhere in the branches behind her and birds she'd never learned the names of warbled their songs as evening drew near. The winds were calm, the sea was still, and there wasn't a soul in sight save for her.
She was, for the first time in recent memory, safe. Safe and hollow. And the wrongness of it all stuck in her craw, heavy and sour. The dream, her dream, as Michael had sold it to her, was dead.
As the sun sank below the horizon, stealing color from the world as it went, she bit back thoughts of dreams half-realized and now-dead hopes for her future. Hand resting on her barely-swollen belly, she put one foot in front of the other, carving her own trail in the sand back toward her cabin.
"Did you remember to lock the door?" she asked, slipping off her shoes and unbuttoning her sundress.
"Of course," he replied blankly.
As if it mattered. As if the people who had been after them were the sort to be stopped by a deadbolt. As if she didn't know that as well as he did.
"Did you talk to Sara about..."
"I'll do it tomorrow," he replied gruffly.
Silence bounced around the room like an echo and with it still ringing loudly in his ears, he turned to see her tight-lipped smile and closed-off gaze.
He sighed and pulled her slight frame into a tight hug, kissing the crown of her head by way of apology and grimacing at the pantomime of normalcy they'd somehow transitioned into. Sofia was a hell of a woman and she deserved more than this, more than the broken mimicry of domesticity. But he was too selfish to set her free and she was too stubborn to let him go. So, they fell into this pattern that bordered on normal.
Maybe if they repeated it enough, it would start to feel right. Maybe the wrongness of this ending would bleed away and by sheer will they'd all smile and mean it again.
"Get the lights, would you?" he asked, squeezing her shoulder as he let her go.
The world seemed easier without the harshness of light, room plummeting into night with the flip of a switch. It was easier to forget, here. Easier to lie with her in his arms, her skin under his hands, than to think of the brother who died for him, the sister-in-law who was widowed before her time, the niece or nephew who would never know their father. The world was easier at night, and he sighed in heavy relief at the close of day.
Michael Scofield, Jr. wailed his first cry at 12:01 am on a Monday, four days after he was due and well before Sara was ready. The symbolism wasn't lost on her. His very arrival screamed of beginnings and endings and transition and she was overwhelmed from the get-go.
Her face was hidden behind a mask of tear-tracks that weren't entirely happy but weren't entirely sad either when the doctor allowed visitors in and her makeshift family flooded the small room: Lincoln and Sofia and LJ and Sucre. Family by choice - all of them. Her son's family.
"I'd... I'd like you all to meet Michael," she said, holding her newborn too tightly and choking on his newly gifted name.
She stared at her son's face and smoothed the fine tuft of dark hair atop his head over and over again rather than look up at her family. Maybe she was afraid of seeing the same pain in their eyes that she knew lived in her own. Maybe she was afraid of seeing that it had waned some for them in ways it couldn't for her.
They were quiet for a long beat, save for a masculine sniffle that she mistakenly thought came from LJ or Sucre.
"Pretty as his momma," Sucre finally said, boisterous voice breaking the quiet. "Good luck keeping the girls away from him, Doc. You're gonna need it."
She smiled up at him, biting her lips together, "Thank you."
They had all been thinking it for months, but it had been Alex who finally gave voice to the thing no one would say: Sara wasn't coping.
"She hasn't said a single word about herself," he'd told them solemnly, his watery blue eyes staring at Linc and Sofia from behind the computer screen. "Not a word about Michael, either. It's entirely about the baby or the house or you guys. It's like she's pretending she doesn't exist. And sooner or later, Lincoln? Sooner or later it's all going to catch up with her. It always does. Trust me on that one. You both need to be ready for when she breaks, for her sake and for Michael's."
Lincoln didn't ask which Michael.
Mahone hadn't even seen Sara in person since Miami and he could tell she was headed someplace dark. Maybe being three-thousand miles away made it clearer for him, somehow. Maybe distance, in this case, lent perspective. Or maybe he and Michael had always thought so much alike that he had some sort of insight to Sara that the rest of them were lacking.
In any case, they had all been watching, waiting for her to break, crumble beneath the heavy weight of widowhood and motherhood and lonesomeness. So it hadn't been a surprise when two weeks before the first anniversary of Michael's death, Sara had shown up on Linc and Sofia's doorstep with the baby on her hip and panic and pain written in equal measure across the plains of her face.
It was early afternoon but a thunderstorm was rolling in over the mountains, black angry clouds blotting out the sun as they trekked westward. Sara jumped as thunder cracked in the shallow distance, so startled that Lincoln was surprised tears didn't start raining down her face right there.
"Hey there, little champ," LJ said softly, trying not to jar Sara as he lifted his cousin from the woman's arms. "How about we go listen to some tunes. You like The Black Keys don't you? Yes, you do!"
She could have leaned on any of them, could have needed Sofia - another woman to relate to - or Michael's best friend to console her or even Mahone's too-familiar mind to sound off against. But it was Lincoln whose shoulder she finally sobbed against and he felt like a traitor for wishing like hell she hadn't. He wasn't good with feelings, his own or anyone else's, and he sucked at dealing with weepy women. But he owed it to Sara and he owed it to Michael and - hell - he owed it to himself, to man up and support this fractured family they'd all built together even if it meant having someone sob all over him.
He patted her awkwardly on the back with one arm as she crumbled against the sturdiness of his chest, honestly not knowing what to say.
"You're okay, Doc," he said finally, even though it mostly wasn't true. "You got all of us in this with you whether you like it or not."
She sobbed something back that sounded like words but was muffled indecipherably against his shirt, so he pulled her back an arms length and looked her in the eye.
"He's got Michael's eyes," she choked out, finally. "I kept thinking they'd change, but... no they're his. How do I look at that every day and know he's never coming back to me?"
Lincoln's jaw clenched and his eyes stung suspiciously, but he didn't have an answer and she was clearly looking for one. So he tugged her in tightly again, hoping she could draw some sense of comfort from his presence instead of some words. He'd always been a man of action. Michael was the one who would have had the right words.
"You're gonna be okay," he told her again, his voice sounding rusty. "You will."
He honestly wished he knew that was true.
"Happy birthday," said the old man with dark eyes and white coat.
Michael didn't have a window, hadn't seen the sun in who knew how long, had been in and out of consciousness for much of his early time in this facility. He had no way of gauging where or even when it was.
"Funny," he said dryly, mostly because as much as he couldn't stand the self-professed doctor, he was likely to be the only company Michael had all day. "It doesn't feel humid enough for summertime."
The old man was clearly pleased, dark eyes gleaming with the satisfaction of a hunter whose track had been sprung.
"It's not," he replied, his grin toothy and unsettling. "It's November fourth... November fourth, Mister Scofield. Do you know what November fourth is?"
Every muscle in Michael's body tensed up at the revelation, his back ramrod straight, his face impassive as he fought back ghosts of happy memories that threatened to drive him mad. Thoughts from another life.
"It's the day I died," Michael relented finally.
"No, Mister Scofield," the doctor grinned wildly, looking every bit the mad scientist. "It's the day you were reborn."
He hated that he could see the truth in that. The then and the now so sharply different in every way.
"What do you want from me?" he asked finally, a question that had been looming on the edge of his mind since he'd regained consciousness months ago with screws in his skull and an IV in his arm.
"For now, Mister Scofield, we want only to give you a birthday present," the doctor replied, extending his arm with a large manilla envelope clasped in his hand.
"Of course, we might... request... something in return at some point?" he continued, studying Michael as if he were a specimen in his lab.
Michael hesitated briefly before taking the envelope. His heart hammered loudly and his throat suddenly seemed too dry. A year ago, he might have refused, might have sought to deny this man, this doctor the satisfaction of a reaction. But this was not a year ago. He was not that man. Twelve months and he'd not heard an uncalculated word, not seen the sky, not felt a human touch that wasn't cold and clinical or calculated.
Immeasurable to him as always, time slowed to a crawl as his fingers clumsily worked at the clasp on the envelope and a handful of pictures slid out onto his waiting palm.
"Oh my God," he whispered, one hand white-knuckled on a soldered-down chair and his vision blurring with a sea of tears. "Oh my God."
"Lovely boy, isn't he?" the doctor asked, head ticking to the side as he soaked in the emotion of the scene, leaching it from the air. "Looks just like you. And his mother... well.. I don't have to tell you how lovely she is, do I?"
"I swear to God, if you hurt them..." he seethed, vision washed in red as terror and hope and relief, all so dangerous, coursed through his veins.
"Now, whyever would we do that?" the doctor asked, brow furrowed in mock confusion. "We're friends now, aren't we Michael? And friends help each other. You will help us, won't you Michael?"
He stared down at the top photo in his hand, eyes lingering along the the familiar lines of Sara's face, the practiced way she balanced their son - he had a son - on her hip as she picked some fruit up at an open-air market.
The doctor's words might have been mocking, calculated, but by God he wasn't wholly wrong. The little boy, his son, was beautiful, so beautiful. Dark hair and light eyes and Sara's fair skin and her easy smile. He wanted, more than anything, to hold that little boy in his arms for just a moment, kiss that dark hair and breathe in his scent and feel that little hand wrap around his finger.
But he couldn't have that. Not now. Not ever.
Sara was smiling at the little boy and he was grinning back, face full of adoration. They were happy. They were safe. That was what mattered. That was always what had mattered.
There wasn't a choice for him now. Maybe there never had been. Like Fox River and Sona and Miami-Dade Penitentiary. They'd found his weakness and he had no choice but to yield.
"Of course I'll help you," he said brokenly. "Now, I ask you again, what do you want?"
"All in good time, Michael," the doctor smiled, seemingly satisfied. "For the moment, enjoy your birthday present. I'll be seeing you soon."
"Got any plans today, dad?" LJ asked uneasily, resting his forearms against the kitchen counter while Lincoln rooted around the refrigerator, sniffing some orange juice before apparently deeming it good and swigging some straight from the carton.
"Sure. Got a report due to the boss by eleven and a board meeting at two. Then I've got an appointment to get my hair trimmed after work. Not much, just a little around the ears," he said screwing his face at his teenage son. "What the hell kind of question is that, LJ?"
LJ rolled his eyes dramatically, telegraphing his patience running thin. But when he spoke, his voice was oddly soft and tolerant.
"Come on, dad," he said gently. "For real."
"Course not," Lincoln replied, still looking at his son as though he were maybe crazy. "Do I ever have any plans."
"Yeah... exactly," LJ grumbled, once again sounding like the teenager he was.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Lincoln bristled, putting the orange juice carafe back and slamming the fridge door with a little too much force.
"It means... It means, what ever happened to the dive shop idea, dad?" LJ asked.
"I don't even dive, LJ," Lincoln countered, ignoring the point as he crossed his muscled arms in front of his chest.
"That's not the point!" LJ railed. "It was something. It was a goal. It wasn't... being a beach bum for rest of your life."
"It was never my plan, okay?" Lincoln argued, voice towering over his son's. "I was never the one with plans."
"Right..." LJ huffed, laughing humorlessly. "It was Uncle Mike's plan and now that he's gone you're just standing in place like you're waiting for directions."
"Son, you want to watch what you say to me right now," Lincoln seethed, voice low and blood rushing to his face.
"Two months from now I'll be off to college," LJ reminded him. "It'll be you and Sofia and Sara and the baby. I'm not saying this to be mean, dad. You've just gotta have something other than playing house with Sofia and trying to keep Sara from falling apart to keep you going."
Lincoln didn't respond, his blood pressure still raging angrily at his son's comments but at least able to sense the boy's intentions hadn't been misplaced.
"Some days keeping Sara in one piece is a full-time job," he said finally, a retort and an admittance rolled into one.
"It goes both ways," LJ replied bluntly. "And Uncle Mike would have been the first to tell you that one broken support can't hold up another for long."
Linc stared at his son for a long moment, faced with both the reality of the situation and the truth that his boy had grown up somewhere between suburban Chicago and the Costa Rican beaches.
"Yeah, well, he always was a bit of a know-it-all, so he probably woulda been the first to say that," Lincoln said, shooting for humor but missing his mark slightly.
"He was also usually right," LJ pointed out.
"Yeah..." Lincoln echoed. "He was also usually right."
The carpet was awash in a sea of primary colors, toys strewn about in a way that had proven hazardous to Sara's toes time and again. Somehow, Mikey seemed to make sense of all of it, always knew what toy was where and even threw a bit of a tantrum if Sara tried to move his blocks before he was finished playing with them.
He was a sweet boy, her almost-toddler, most of the time. But he was also a solitary one. Self-sufficient, his pediatrician called it, and while Sara was at times grateful for her son's ability to entertain himself, she also worried about his lack of interaction with others. He was driven, single-minded, and seemed happiest playing by himself with blocks or puzzles or crayons. Always proud of his creations, he'd show off his scribbles or block towers with a wide, toothy grin but he rarely wanted help or even conversation as he focused on his task.
"Michael, are you almost..." Sara's voice trailed off as she placed her teacup back on the coffee table and watched her son work.
Intensely focused, the little boy added to his sprawling block structure with precision and clear intent. And Sara found herself holding her breath as she watched, throat drying out and heart-rate speeding up as she really studied the way he fit the pieces together.
"Knock, knock," came a voice from the screen door and Lincoln let himself in without awaiting a response. "Where's my favorite neph... oh, he's playing with blocks."
Sara didn't even glance up at her company, if Lincoln could even be called that at some point, semi-permanent fixture that he was in their household. She chewed her lower lip roughly and watched her son, anticipating with certain knowledge where he'd put the blue block currently sitting in his chubby little hand.
"Do you suddenly zone out staring at blocks too, Sara?" Lincoln asked with amusement, finally drawing his sister-in-law's attention.
"When was Michael diagnosed with LLI?" she asked with no preamble, her voice thick and heavy.
"Uh... before mom died... or disappeared, whatever. Just before we thought she got sick," Lincoln replied. "I guess he was like seven or so? Why?"
Sara nodded mutely, glancing back at her son.
"How early can they test for it? Do you know?" she asked finally.
"Sara, why?" Lincoln asked, glancing at Michael and back to her. "You've got no reason to..."
"The blocks, Linc. Look at the blocks," Sara replied.
"So he's good at blocks. He likes them. So what?" Linc said off-handedly.
"Really look at them, Linc," she shot back, looking up at him with wide, worried eyes.
Red, blue, blue, yellow, yellow, yellow
Red, red, blue, blue, blue, yellow
Red, red, red blue, yellow, yellow
"It's a pattern," she laughed bitterly, running her hands through her hair as Lincoln's brow furrowed in twin concern. "My God, Linc. He's not even two yet and he's building patterns. That's not normal."
"So? He's smart. You're smart. My brother was smart. It's not surprising that your son's an ivy league shoe-in is it?" Lincoln asked.
"It's more than that and you know it," Sara countered, eyes boring into him, daring him to contradict her. "My son's father and grandmother both had LLI and they both had brain tumors that could have killed them. If he has LLI too... Linc, I think he needs a CAT scan."
"Give it a decade, Sara. Or two, even," Lincoln counseled. "Maybe you're right. It certainly can't hurt anything to check, but he won't hold still now and it'll just scare him. And if Michael and Christina are anything to go by, he's got nearly thirty years before it would even be an issue."
Despite her overwhelming need to protect her child from anything, everything that might hurt him, she knew Lincoln was right. She closed her eyes and nodded fiercely, as if trying to convince herself of the truth she already knew. She only stopped nodding, her eyes opening back up when she felt a tiny hand settle on her knee.
"Mama? I builds," a little voice said, big blue-green eyes shining up at her with tremendous pride.
"You did, Michael. I see," Sara said, forcing a lightness to her voice that didn't come naturally. "That's a really great building, buddy."
"See, Uncle?" the boy asked, toddling over to Lincoln's hulking form and pointing at his creation.
"Rockin' job, little dude," Lincoln replied, holding a hand up for a high-five. "I really like the colors."
"Good colors," Michael nodded solemnly. "Is good."
"He's smart, Sara," Lincoln said again, looking back at her. "He's good. Better than good, even. I wouldn't worry about it."
"Yeah, maybe," she replied, knowing all the while that - unlike Lincoln - she certainly would worry about it.
It had been so long since adrenaline coursed through his veins, so long since he'd felt anything other than despair and frustration, that he almost didn't recognize the feeling at first. It was a heady rush, hope surging through his circulatory system, feeling as though he might be closer to freedom every time his heart beat.
Crouched against the wall, Michael occupied the sole space in his room that the observation cameras seemed unable to survey. Overhead, the whir of the surveillance camera spinning in search of him was proof enough that this first step of his very risky plan had been a success.
The irony of literally backing himself into a corner hadn't escaped Michael.
An alarm started up forty-five seconds after he'd taken up residence in the small, private space that defied observation. Calm and staccato, the klaxon was deceptively innocuous, a world away from the blaring sirens of Fox River, and it set his nerves on edge even more.
He counted off in his head, his first real measure of time in the incalculable span of his existence spent in this place, as footsteps echoed steadily down the corridor. Two minutes and thirty seconds after he'd stepped into the void, the door to his cell of a room flung open and two men strode inside.
"Step away from the wall, Scofield," one of them demanded, weapon drawn and trained steadily on him.
Hands clenched into tight fists and body curled in on itself as he sat with his back against the corner, Michael didn't respond, instead thudding his head rhythmically against the wall and keeping his wide eyes fixed on the empty space to his left.
"Shit, he's fuckin' lost it," the guard said, lowering his weapon a bit.
"What the hell did they think would happen?" the other guard spoke up. "Keep someone caged up like that without anything or anyone to interact with for years on end, sure he'll go batshit eventually. I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner."
"Just go get the doc," the first guard responded. "He'll pump him full of something, prop him up and put him back to work."
"Yeah," came the reply. "Be back in ten."
Footsteps faded down the hall and Michael fought against the tensing of his muscles, the need to act, for as long as he could, counting down from two hundred in his mind before moving. Then, like a coiled spring, he shot into action. Palms sweaty but fingers tight around a syringe of tranquilizers he'd stolen, he plunged the needle into the inattentive guard's arm, taking him down with relative ease in mere seconds.
The door was open. The door was open. He was unguarded for the first time in memory, the door was open and the clock was ticking.
With a deep breath and a heady rush of freedom, Michael ran.
The incapacitated guard's gun tucked in his waistband, Michael plowed down the hallway at a breakneck pace, heading away from the infirmary where he knew a guard and the doctor both were, heading away from the lab he sometimes worked at. As breakout plans went, this was easily his most haphazard and most likely to fail. There were no blueprints, was no way to surveil the surroundings.
He pushed open the first fire escape door he found, but passed the threshold, instead continuing his progression down the hallway. Another fire escape came into view as soon as he rounded the corner and this time he darted through the door and up the stairs he found there.
There was no sound of footfalls behind him and for the first time in recent memory, Michael found himself genuinely hopeful. This could work. This was working. He'd get to the roof, survey his surroundings, shimmy down the side of the building if he was lucky, steal a car and go. He'd have to get in touch with Sara or Linc fast, for their own safety, but he could do that. He would do that.
Reaching the top of the stairway, he opened the door and ran through in one swift motion, finding himself immediately plunged into the black of night and blissfully fresh air. The stars shone brightly overhead but he wasn't about to stop to admire them. He propelled himself to the edge of the roof to get a better look at his surroundings, ignoring the white paint beneath his feet as he went.
The pitch black of night bled out over the horizon in every direction with no hint of a city or civilization. A glint of something caught his eye in the distance after a moment and he stared at it with no small hint of desperation. It might have been a car or something headed his way. But as his eyes adjusted, he looked again overhead before his eyes drew back down to the horizon.
The moon. It was moonlight glinting off of water.
He rounded the edge of the building, hoping to find something, anything, other than water down below. But it was all in vain. They had him on a damn island in the middle of nowhere and escaping his damn room of a prison only meant he'd escaped into a much larger prison.
He laughed humorlessly, a manic noise, finally spotting the harbor and finding no boat in it before looking down at the white markings on the concrete beneath his feet that he'd dismissed earlier. He was standing on an empty helipad.
"I'm surprised you didn't try this earlier, Michael," said a droll voice that Michael knew too well.
He turned and trained his gun on the doctor who was flanked by three guards. The doctor raised his hands in a ridiculous, non-threatening gesture as the three guards pointed their weapons straight at his head.
"We'd expected this a year or two ago," he continued, taking a step forward. "Not now. Tell me, Michael. Why now? What changed?"
"Opportunity," Michael replied blankly.
"It was a very poor choice, Michael. A very selfish choice," the doctor said, his tone reminiscent of a parent scolding a small child. "There are consequences to your actions, you realize."
Michael stiffened in response, panic rushing through him at the thought of what these people could do, what they had done in the past.
The doctor pulled out a cell phone and Michael's heart caught in his throat.
"Put the phone down," Michael demanded, too-clear images racing through his brain of things The Company had done to people in the past. "Put it down."
"I don't negotiate with hostages," the doctor said smoothly, hitting a button on the phone.
He was out of options. Out of options and desperate. Any second the man in front of him was going to order some agent somewhere in the world to hurt his wife or his son or his nephew or his brother, maybe even order their death, just to get him to stay in line. Taking the reason for hurting them away was the only recourse he had, the only chance to keep them safe. Resolved, he raised the gun to his own temple, took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.
A resoundingly empty click was his only response.
"Really, Michael," the doctor chided. "We know you better than that.
"Yes, I'm here," the doctor continued, turning his attention to the phone. "I'm afraid we've had an incident."
"Hang up," Michael half-begged, half-demanded, taking a step toward the doctor as all three guards cocked their guns.
He was pretty sure those three, unlike the one in his hand, were loaded.
"Hang up and I'll do what you want. I'll work on your project. I won't try anything like this again. Just don't hurt them," Michael implored.
"Do it," the doctor ordered, crisply hanging up the phone as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
"I know you won't try anything like this again, Michael," the doctor soothed. "Do you know how I know? Because I make good on my threats. Your nephew is about to have a very bad night. He's at a bar just off campus at the moment and someone is - oh, just about now - under the impression that he was hitting on the wrong girl. He's about to get dragged outside and have a few ribs broken, maybe a punctured lung and a pair of black eyes, too."
Guilt and hatred weighed heavily on Michael, frustration gnawing at his soul as he knew, knew what was happening at that very moment to someone he cared about so very much, but completely incapable of doing anything to stop it.
"Next time it won't be your nephew and it won't be a few nights in the hospital, Michael," the doctor promised darkly. "I find this all quite distasteful - as a doctor. So I'd appreciate it if you didn't force my hand and make me do this. But if I need to, I will remind you quite thoroughly of exactly what happened to little Cameron Mahone."
Michael couldn't breathe with the weight of all of this sitting in his chest. The crisp night air lingered just a breath away, but he couldn't will his lungs to take a long-dreamt-of deep breath.
"I'll do whatever you want," he agreed quietly. "And I won't try this again."
And for the first time since he'd woken up to find himself in this hell of a place, he knew that was entirely true.
"Did you start up the grill yet?" Sara's voice rang out, carrying from the kitchen to the nearby living area as she chopped peppers into thin slices.
"I did it," LJ called back. "Dad's too busy trying to explain to Mikey why soccer is not as cool as football."
"Everybody who is not an American in the whole world disagrees with you, Lincoln," Sofia called toward the living area.
"Sucks for them to be wrong, then!" Lincoln called back.
"Humor him. It's his birthday," Sara reminded her friend with a smile as she pushed the chopped peppers to the side and started on an onion.
Sofia walked over to the doorframe and leaned against it, her eyes trained on Lincoln and the little boy sitting next to him in front of the television.
"You are delusional, old man, but we have decided that we will humor you since it is your birthday," she smiled affectionately, baiting Lincoln in an obvious way that made Sara shake her head and grin behind a curtain of auburn waves.
"Old man?" Lincoln asked as he rose to his feet, eyes alight with amusement.
"One year from forty, now," she confirmed as he closed the space between them. "It's a good thing that you are already bald or else you might be traumatized by losing hair."
LJ snickered from the nearby back porch as he tossed some steaks onto the grill.
"Sofia, you are the coolest non-stepmother ever," he grinned.
"Thank you, LJ," Sofia smiled broadly. "And you are the coolest non-stepson ever. I am very glad that you came home for spring break."
"Me too," LJ replied. "And, I'm even more glad to have that damn cast off of my arm so I can surf while I'm here."
It was impossible to miss the look of relief on Lincoln's face at the exchange between his girlfriend and his son. After the first year or two in Costa Rica, Sara had found herself wondering when Sofia and Linc would decide to get married. It was clear the two of them were in it for the long-haul. But, the more time went by, the less she thought that was likely to happen. Lincoln didn't seem particularly partial to the idea and the two of them were clearly happy with the way things were. It might not be a conventional family that they'd all formed, but it was theirs and they were happy with it.
"Uncle Linc?" asked Michael's small voice as the little boy tugged on Lincoln's pant-leg.
"What's up, little dude?" Lincoln asked.
"Uncle Linc, would you be my daddy?" the almost-three-year-old asked, big bright eyes staring up hopefully at his uncle.
There was absolute dead silence for a long moment. Sara stopped chopping the onion, her hand too unsteady to wield a knife, and her eyes pinched shut, warding off the water in her eyes.
"Doesn't work that way, kiddo," Linc finally replied, softly enough that Sara's ears could barely make out the words. "You've got a daddy. You've got an awesome daddy. He's just not here."
"I want a daddy who's here," the little boy replied and Sara could practically hear the pout in his voice. "My friends have daddies who are here. Why don't I?"
"He would be if he could, Mikey. I promise you that," Lincoln replied solemnly.
The little boy huffed a sigh and Sara chanced a glance over toward him, finding his shoulder drooped in heavy disappointment.
"Tell you what," Linc said, crouching in front of the child and resting his big hands on the little boy's shoulders. "I can't be your daddy, but how about I be the very best uncle ever? I bet none of your friends have an Uncle Linc, do they?"
"That's true... they don't," Michael replied, brow furrowing in thought. "I guess that'd be okay."
"Cool," Linc replied, squeezing the boy's shoulders affectionately.
"Um, time to wash up, Michael," Sara said raspily, batting at her eyes and sniffling a little. "Dinner will be ready soon."
"I'll go with you," Sofia volunteered, taking the boy's hand in her own and walking with him toward the bathroom.
"You okay?" Linc asked Sara as soon as the toddler was out of earshot.
"Hm? Yeah, I'm good," she replied, nodding too hard.
"Just those damn onions getting the waterworks going, huh?" he asked.
"I'm good, Linc," she replied again, looking him in the eye as she spoke. "I am.
"And you're right, you know," she said, smiling thinly.
"How's that?" he asked.
"Michael really does have the very best uncle ever," she replied.
Her eyes were still red, but her smile was as genuine as her words.
"Yeah, well, I can't help being awesome. Just part of who I am really," he grinned broadly and she smacked his shoulder in response.
"I'm gonna go check on LJ and see how those steaks are going. I'm not sure I trust the kid around a grill yet and I'd rather not have charcoal for dinner, you know?" he asked.
"Yeah," Sara replied, picking the knife back up and grabbing the onion again. "Go for it."
"Linc?" She called out as he stepped from the kitchen into the living room.
He stopped and half-turned to look back toward her.
"Thank you," she said simply.
Steam rose off the pavement like a fog of sticky summer heat. There were a lot of things Sara loved about Costa Rica, but the way her hair frizzed up in the moist June air wasn't one of them. She'd learned that first year in her new tropical home, while heavily pregnant, that in summertime you did whatever was necessary to keep cool. Ponytails became her default hairstyle somewhere around the start of May and light, loose shirts were a must until the end of September.
Summer was good for business, though, in spite of the fact that winter was a decidedly better time to vacation in Costa Rica. The dive shop was LJ's and Lincoln's, really. Realizing that working in the medical field made her entirely too conspicuous, Sara had taken a job at the local high school as a guidance counselor. But, in practice, the dive shop was a family business and most days off saw Sara lending a hand behind the register or restocking shelves.
"Sofia, what time is Lincoln due back from shuttling that boatload of tourists out to the reef?" Sara called out as the door chimed welcoming a customer to the shop.
"Senor Peterson," Sofia greeted the newcomer brightly as Sara tried to stand up too quickly and indelicately thunked her head against a shelf of diving masks.
"Sofia, it's Jack, please," the man replied. "It seems like I'm in here enough that we all ought to be on a first name basis, doesn't it?"
"Of course," Sofia replied, flashing a brilliant smile at the sandy-haired American, her eyes darting toward Sara. "What can we do for you today, Jack?"
"Need a couple of full tanks for a dive this afternoon, if it's not too much trouble... Hi, Sara," he said, spotting her a couple of aisles over and smiling somewhat nervously.
"Hi," Sara replied shortly.
"I, uh... I have some empties in my truck to trade out," he said, gesturing out toward his rig. "I'll just bring them around back?"
"Sounds good," Sara replied.
"She'll meet you out there," Sofia promised taking a few steps toward Sara and grabbing her friend by the elbow.
"See you around back then," he smiled before heading back out the shop door, chimes dinging as he went.
"What are you doing?" Sara questioned warily.
"Dios mio Sara, are you blind or are you just that out of practice?" Sofia asked her, eyes wide in disbelief. "No one dives that much. He is here to see you."
"I'm... Sofia," Sara said warningly. "I'm not interested."
"Of course you are," Sofia scoffed with a wave of her hand. "I'm not even available and I'm interested."
Before she could even protest, Sara found herself shoved unceremoniously out the back door, stumbling onto sand and crab grass under the sweltering summer sun. It was blinding for a moment and she felt like the thin layer of sweat across her arms was searing her skin, absent the half-working air conditioning of the shop. But she acclimated after a moment and her vision cleared to see a tall, lean-muscled man walking toward her.
It wasn't that she didn't like Jack Peterson. There actually didn't seem to be anything to dislike. A marine biologist and a chemist, he'd developed some technique to save wildlife from oil spills and made a small fortune off of big oil in the wake of the disaster in the gulf. Because he apparently had to be a ridiculously endearing person, he'd donated a healthy portion of it to wildlife conservation and lived a modest retirement immersed in the sea life he loved.
He was brilliant and unassuming and ruggedly handsome and clearly had an interest in her. All of which made her wildly uncomfortable because, well, five years ago she would have thought herself insanely lucky. She'd have thought he was exactly what she was looking for. These days, she knew better. She'd already found - and lost - exactly what she was looking for and anything else would pale in comparison.
"Where's the little guy today?" Jack asked, dropping a pair of empty oxygen tanks by the back door and smiling hopefully at her.
"LJ's watching him," Sara replied, uneasy despite the familiar, innocuous topic. "He said something about, um, rigorous reprogramming of musical taste? Reversing Linc's influences? I'd bet by now they're building a city out of play dough, though."
"He's a pretty cute kid," Jack offered up. "Seems really bright, too."
"Thanks," Sara said, squinting into the sun and shifting her weight absently. "He's... um... he's a lot like his dad."
"He's a lot like you," Jack countered, hazel eyes boring into her with too much honesty.
Something that felt a little like panic rose up in her throat and Sara crossed her arms in front of herself in an unconscious, defensive gesture.
"Jack, I'm sorry. I can't..."
"Yeah," he responded stiffly, something dying in his eyes a little at her assertion.
"It doesn't matter that he's gone; I'm in love with my husband and no matter who he is, no one else will ever measure up for me," she said with brutal honesty. "He kind of... he kind of left behind some impossible standards to measure up to."
She hated seeing sympathy in Jack's eyes, but there it was, right alongside the hurt she knew she'd caused. It was misplaced, that sympathy. Yes, she missed Michael horribly and it was brutal and unfair the way things had ended, but this wasn't about that. Not really. This was about her knowing what she wanted, knowing who she wanted, and being totally unwilling to settle for someone who would never quite be that person.
"He must have been a hell of a guy," Jack said finally, hand settling on a full tank of oxygen as he smiled dimly at her.
"Yeah..." Sara replied, toeing the sand, the glare of the sun reflecting off it, blinding her with its brilliance. "Yeah, he was."
On good days, Michael didn't much notice his guards, too caught up in puzzles and riddles that intertwined in knots. Good days meant he'd loosened a knot or found a code or even - on very good days - broke a bit of it open, peeked inside. On good days he was useful. He was engaged in something, if not with someone.
Bad days were a different story.
On bad days, Michael missed the bulls from Fox River. They'd been detestable two lifetimes ago, forever trying to make him feel like a lesser man, like the basest kind of person. They'd been schoolyard bullies picking on the weak to make themselves feel strong, but at least they'd acknowledged him, interacted with him. At least they'd known he was a person.
These guards didn't.
They didn't taunt him, didn't talk to him, didn't look at him unless he was doing something he shouldn't. He was a machine to them, a resource to untangle their Gordian Knot of encoded secrets. They were the network security to the mechanics of his brain as surely as the doctors and nurses were his god-damned IT staff.
Today had started out as one of the bad days, the newest in a long string of them. The project - the god-damned project - was seemingly never-ending. Every code cracked only led to another layer beneath it. Symbols and letters and numbers braided in strings of data, some of which was missing. It was like trying to figure out what Ripe Chance Woods meant when you were missing all the vowels and the bottom halves of the consonants. For all Michael's brilliance, for all his successes, he could provide them with clues toward their sought after answers, but not the answers themselves.
Lately, there'd been a sense of urgency in the air. Pressure had been been steadily increased and threats had been leveled with alarming frequency. Not at him. Never at him. Always them. He was too valuable an asset and they knew far too well which buttons to push to make him work. But today had been quiet, way too quiet, and Michael was wholly on edge, working furiously over scraps of print outs on the workspace in his room.
The door unlatched, squeaking on its hinges a little as it swung open in announcement of his visitor's arrival. But Michael didn't look up, focusing instead entirely on the puzzle in front of him, until the click of high heels echoed throughout his room earning both his confusion and attention.
For a good half of a second, his eyes burned and his throat dried up. For a half-second after that he thought he might throw up.
She had brown eyes and auburn hair and a lab coat, but that was where the resemblance ended. She was too short - probably the reason she was wearing heels - and too tan and her disturbingly bright eyes held nothing of the softness that Sara's had.
"Hello Michael," she said, her smile disingenuous and her voice a pitch higher than Sara's would have been. "I'm Doctor Middleton. I'll be taking over for Doctor Irving."
Funny, he'd undoubtedly been here for years, but until that moment, he'd not even known the old doctor's name.
"What happened to him?" Michael asked curiously, fingers subconsciously tapping out patterns against the steel tabletop.
"He's been repurposed," she replied succinctly. "It was felt that you might benefit more from my leadership than his at this point."
Michael didn't say anything in response but quieted his hand when her gaze drifted to his staccato fingers. She looked entirely too pleased by the stilling of his hands.
"I'm already doing everything I can," Michael told her levelly. "A lab coat and a bottle of auburn hair dye isn't going to speed anything up."
"Hair dye?" she questioned, obviously amused.
"Your eyebrows are brown, Doctor Middleton," he pointed out.
"Yeah, well," she laughed a little, brushing her hair back over her shoulder dramatically. "I figured, what the hell. I'm worth it, right?"
He blinked at her a little in confusion and surprise. It had been so long since someone had just talked to him, made a joke, treated him like a human being, that it threw him now. And, honestly, he wasn't sure what her angle here was.
"Look, Michael... Can I call you Michael?" she asked suddenly, eyes staring at him expectantly.
The absurdity of being given a choice hit him fully and he couldn't quite hold back a humorless laugh.
"Doctor Middleton, I'm pretty sure you can do whatever the hell you want," he replied finally.
She appeared to weigh that for a second, head tilting side to side, lips pursed as she studied the ceiling.
"More or less," she agreed after a beat. "But that's no excuse for rudeness."
"Forced imprisonment, that's just fine, but rudeness is deplorable?" Michael asked dryly.
"We all do what we have to, Michael," she replied, smiling a little. "You know that better than anyone."
"Right," he replied gruffly, hands scrubbing his eyes in a failed effort to wipe away strain or irritation.
"Doctor Irving was a brute, Michael," she began again, stepping a bit closer and settling barely outside his personal space. "You and I both know that. It doesn't have to be that way."
"You're... what? Going to be a kinder, gentler dictator?" he asked, tone level in spite of his obvious sarcasm.
"Hmm," she mused a moment, watching him as if she were studying him. "Do you like horses, Michael?"
"Believe it or not, not a lot of families in the foster care system own horses, Doctor Middleton, and I am pretty sure owning one in downtown Chicago would have been against some city ordinance or another. So, I'm afraid I haven't had much experience with them," Michael replied dryly.
"Well I have," she replied. "They're amazing creatures, horses. There's nothing like racing them, experiencing a speed and grace you'd have never been able to achieve on your own. But the thing about horses is if you push them, really push them, you can run them into the ground. They'll drop dead mid-stride of exhaustion rather than disappoint their master.
"You're our Seabiscuit, Michael. Doctor Irving was going to run you into the ground," she levelled with him, eyes serious.
Maybe he ought to have been irked at being compared to a horse, a beast of burden, but part of him was just glad to be acknowledged as being alive.
"We know you're motivated," she continued. "But we need results. The General was executed yesterday and with him finally gone there are... factions, I suppose, who are struggling with each other to dominate the Company. That information you keep untangling for us? It's names and bank accounts and locations of safehouses and other stores of information that no one but the General had access too. It's what you thought Scylla was in the first place. It's our silver bullet. And we need it now."
In fifteen seconds, she'd given him more information than he'd had access to in years.
"So you tell me, Michael. What do you need to make this happen?" she asked. "A computer? A walk along the beach to clear your head? A god-damned tattoo artist? I can make any of that happen, and I will. But if you try to escape, Michael? If you take my generosity for granted? I will be forced to find other resources to aid us. You son is proving quite the problem-solver, utterly off-the-charts at sequencing and decoding. He's not even four years old and he's interpreting puzzles and patterns that would probably stump most adults. He's too young to be of use to us right now, but I'm not above taking him in your place, molding him to fit our needs if you try to escape. And if you try to just kill yourself instead, I'll take him to replace you and kill the rest of them just for spite. Don't test me and don't mistake my generosity for weakness.
"I have an agenda here and I will do anything to succeed," she followed up. "I refuse to follow the footsteps of my predecessor. So, for now, I'll leave you to think about things Michael. I'll be back tonight and by then I expect you to let me know what it is you need for this project to be a resounding success."
With that, her heels clicked against the solid cement floor as she turned and strode out of the room, imitation auburn hair swaying in her wake. He stared after her for a moment, mind whirring with bits of hope and heaps of terror. There was opportunity here, certainly, but so, so much danger. And, for the life of him, he couldn't decide if this was shaping up to be a good day or a bad one.
It was a testament to how unthreatened their lives had been these last four years that Lincoln and LJ didn't notice another occupant in the room until Lincoln flipped the light switch.
Darkness bleeding from the room, every muscle in Lincoln's formidable frame startled at the sight of a familiar blonde sitting in his armchair, her back to a corner, positioned carefully so she wasn't in view of any windows. He hadn't seen her in four years and - despite the fact that he didn't dislike her at all - he wasn't happy to see her in the least.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Linc asked gruffly, even as LJ beamed brightly at their visitor. "You even being here puts all of us in danger. You even being in Costa Rica probably puts us in danger."
"I'm not being tailed," Jane replied sharply, tilting her aviator sunglasses to rest atop her head, her eyes daring him to contradict her.
"Really?" He asked sarcastically. "Then why are you sitting in the dark?"
"I wasn't avoiding someone tailing me, Lincoln," she repeated. "I was avoiding someone tailing you."
Lincoln's brow furrowed at that and he swallowed hard, long-dormant memories of adrenaline and panic flooding his veins anew even as he shook his head in silent rebuttal.
"Those days are over, Jane," LJ told her with far more confidence than Lincoln felt and a smile he couldn't have mimicked if he'd tried. "The Company's torn to pieces. Even if they had the manpower, they've got no reason to keep tabs on us now."
Jane spared only a brief glance toward LJ, her eyes set in a hard stare locked solidly with Lincoln's. Something sunk horribly in the pit of the older man's stomach at the seriousness and severity of the blonde's gaze.
"When did they start watching us again?" he asked finally, voice deadened by reality.
"Lincoln," she said, her voice bordering on softness or sympathy or something else he'd never associated with Jane. "They never stopped."
It was a good thing there was a sofa an arms-reach away because suddenly dark spots swam in front of Lincoln's eyes and everything sounded a million miles away. Gripping the arm of the sofa with whitened knuckles, he lowered himself to sit across from her.
"Sit down, LJ," Linc said finally, touching his son's sleeve as he realized the distant sound of half-muted voices ringing in his ears were LJ's panicked protests that Jane was wrong.
"Why?" Linc asked finally as LJ crumbled next to him. "It's been years. If they'd wanted us dead we'd be dead. It's not like we have anything they want."
"Yes you do," Jane replied, her voice self-sure but kind.
"What?" Lincoln asked, completely at a loss. "What could we possibly have?"
"Leverage," Jane replied simply.
The word rattled senselessly in Lincoln's head, leaving him feeling like there was a picture somewhere in the periphery of his vision that he maddeningly knew was there but couldn't quite make out.
"Jane, I don't..." he started as the blonde pulled out a laptop computer and hesitated briefly before opening in and punching in a series of codes.
A video popped up as Jane turned the screen to face him and LJ. The picture was surprisingly crisp showing a windowless, white-walled room, that was sparsely furnished. A man was walking away from the camera, tall, lanky with longish curls of salt and pepper hair. His hands moved with patterned determination, long fingers puzzling around each other in a painfully familiar way. In truth, Lincoln knew who was on the video even before the man paced back toward the camera, but the muffled gasp from LJ evidenced that the young man next to him hadn't.
"What the fuck is this, Jane?" Lincoln asked angrily, unready to be confronted so fully with the memories of his long-dead brother. "You break into my house with some old video of my brother-"
"It's not an old video, Lincoln," Jane countered. "It's not a video at all. It's a live feed."
For a long moment, it would have been dead silent if not for a choked noise from LJ and the dull hum of the air conditioner in the background.
"What did you say?" Lincoln breathed, not daring to believe his ears.
"Michael's alive, Lincoln," Jane told him, leaning forward, arms resting on her knees. "And we're going to get him back."