"I think it should end with catastrophe, I think there should be this massive explosion, car crashes, bullets flying, characters you love lie dying left and right, and then freeze frame in the middle of this chaos, and rapidly rewind all the way back the four seasons of Prison Break, episode after episode, scene after scene, flashes of different characters and moments happening, almost too fast to be recognised. And rewind, all the way back to the night Lincoln was supposed to go kill the Vice President's brother, and this time he chooses not to go. He just puts out his cigarette, kinda grinds it under his heel, turns around and walks away. And you never even see Michael. I think for a show that's really played a lot with choices and consequences, it might be a really cool way of going out."
~ Wentworth Miller, Paley Fest, 2008
No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.
~ Turkish Proverb
If he was asked to define Hell on Earth at this exact moment, Michael Scofield thinks, he would be tempted to simply wave a weary hand at his current situation. Then again, he's thought he was going to die at least three times in the last ten minutes, so maybe he's not the best one to judge.
Sweats drips into his eyes, making them sting, and each pounding step sends a quiver of agony through his calf muscles. As the footsteps over his shoulder grow closer and closer, he sucks in another desperate lungful of oxygen, pushing himself even harder, because he has no intention of letting his tormentor win this particular battle.
Five minutes later, he's bent over at the waist, his hands on his hips, gulping in as much air as his lungs will hold. The hearty slap on the back nearly knocks him off-balance, but the familiar jibe that follows is enough to make him pull himself upright.
"That desk job's gonna be the death of you, man."
"On the contrary," Michael gasps as he unceremoniously grabs the bottle of water from his brother's hand and downs half of it in one gulp. "You seem to be the one intent on killing me."
Lincoln's snort is muffled in cotton as he pulls up his t-shirt by the hem to wipe his face, displaying a set of ludicrously well-defined stomach muscles. "It's for your own good." Letting his damp shirt fall back into place, he reaches out and reclaims the half-empty bottle of water from Michael's hand. "You'd do nothing but watch DVDs and eat pizza all weekend if I didn't drag your ass outside."
The thought of food at this point makes him feel vaguely nauseous, but he can't resist the urge to defend himself against his brother's customary lecture. "Give me a break, will you? I work fourteen hours a day." Except for today, of course, he thinks, but there's no need to dwell on semantics.
"That's no excuse." Lincoln grins as he slaps him on the back a second time. "Healthy body, healthy mind."
"Says the guy who consumes beer and nachos each weekend like they're both endangered species," Michael shoots back mildly. They're walking slowly along the river's edge now, and he's glad of the opportunity to let his heart rate return to something resembling normality. The one Friday this month he's managed to leave the office before eight o'clock, and he spends it running through Chicago with an exercise Nazi. So much for that elevated IQ his shrink used to talk so much about. "Save the slogans for the poor slobs who actually pay you to torture them, will you?"
"Family gets tortured for free, you know that." His brother's grin widens. "The slogans are just an added bonus."
In a companionable silence, they walk to the back street where they'd parked their cars. Lincoln's SUV is mud-splashed and in desperate need of a new paint job, making Michael's gleaming black Audi look even more pristine. The thing is, though, he can't think of one lasting memory of any particular time he's spent in his car, while the sight of Lincoln's battered transport instantly conjures up visions of barbecues and spontaneous trips to the beach. An odd longing tugs somewhere deep in his chest at the thought, but he pushes it aside.
Just like he always does.
The sun finally starts to dip towards the horizon as he pulls the car keys from the pocket of his sweatpants, the heat of the Chicago summer day finally waning. After rifling through the gym bag on the front seat of his car, Lincoln strips off his t-shirt and replaces it with another that looks identical, only dry. "You coming to the game with LJ and me tomorrow?"
Not a fan of stripping off half his clothes in public, Michael contents himself with patting his face and neck dry with his gym towel. "Can't."
He looks at his brother, making no attempt to hide his lack of enthusiasm. "I'm going to a wedding, remember?"
"Shit, that's right." Lincoln tosses his gym bag onto the front passenger seat of the SUV. "Who's getting married? The boss' daughter?"
"The boss' son," Michael corrects automatically. "At the Ritz-Carlton."
Lincoln's face contorts into a mocking expression that Veronica likes to call his la dee dah face. "Fancy."
Michael sighs, dangling his car keys from one finger. "Yes, I'm sure it will be a laugh a minute."
His brother shakes his head as he gazes at him over the top of the Audi. "Why are you going if you hate the idea so much?"
"It's the unwritten rule of business, apparently," Michael says dryly. "If your boss invites you to his offspring's wedding, you buy a present from the registry and you put on a monkey suit and you turn up and toast the bride and groom until your face hurts from smiling like an idiot."
Lincoln chuckles. "Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?"
Wondering if his brother ever grew tired of looking out for the preening clientele who frequented his own place of work, Michael gives him a weary smile. "I guess so."
"How about Sunday? We could catch a movie."
Michael hesitates. It's not that he doesn't like spending time with his brother, it's just that sometimes there is other stuff he needs to do. "Uh, I'm working at the shelter."
Lincoln smiles. "You work too much."
Michael knows his brother appreciates any time spent at the homeless youth shelter makes up the most rewarding hours of his whole week, but he still feels the need to justify himself. "The shelter isn't work."
"I know that." Still smiling, Lincoln gently taps the roof of the Audi with his knuckles. "Thanks for the run, man. Drive safe."
"You, too. Say hi to Vee and LJ for me."
He lets the SUV pull away first, and as he watches it get smaller and smaller in his rear view mirror, he becomes uncomfortably aware of something burning hard in his chest, something that feels a lot like envy. After a week doing a job he enjoys, his brother is driving home to the woman he loves and the son he adores.
Whereas he –
Michael turns the key in the ignition with an almost savage flick of his wrist. Whereas he's spent the week doing a job that no longer interests him and is going home to an empty apartment to pick out a suit and tie to wear to the wedding of two people he's met precisely three times in his life. Oh, and because he's a stubborn ass who refuses to risk actually having a good time, according to Veronica, he'll be going alone.
The burning sensation tightening his chest hollows out, leaving him feeling more than a little restless. As weekends go, this definitely isn't one to be written in the annals of history. Maybe if he's lucky, he thinks with a humourless smile, the bride will leave the groom standing at the altar and save him from six hours of making small talk.
He sighs, already mentally flicking through his collection of ties and cocktail party anecdotes, because no one could be that lucky.
"It's six o'clock."
Sara Tancredi keeps her eyes trained squarely on the patient file lying open on the desk in front of her. She's read it twice already this afternoon, but at least it keeps her from having to deal with Katie's reproachful gaze. "I know."
"It's Friday night."
"I know that, too."
She hears the determined scrape of Katie's chair as she tucks it neatly under the nurses' workstation. "You wanna go out and hit the town?"
Sara smiles as she turns another page. Next Tuesday will mark her fourth sobriety anniversary, but she doesn't feel like sharing that particular tidbit with anyone right now. "I'm pretty sure my 'hitting the town' days are far behind me."
"Seriously, though, the kids are at my sister's tonight." Katie casts her a hopeful glance. "How about grabbing a bite to eat?"
Sara hesitates, thinking of the meagre contents of her refrigerator. She hasn't been inspired to do any grocery shopping in over a week, and the thought of going home to milk and half a loaf of bread isn't appealing. "That would be great, as long as we make it an early night." Her face threatens to twitch into a grimace, but she manages to squelch the impulse. "I've got Rebecca's wedding tomorrow afternoon, and knowing her family, it will probably go on and on until the small hours of eternity."
Katie moves around the office, opening and closing drawers, then locking the drug cabinet with the faint jingle of keys. "Did you find a dress to wear?"
"What's it like?"
"It's green," Sara answers distractedly, trying to reconcile up her last patient's blood work with his claim he was suffering glandular fever and needed to be moved to the SHU. He'd been lying, of course, she thinks, suppressing a sigh, just like the patient before him and the one before that. She tries to remember a time when she didn't expect her patients to lie to her every time they opened their mouths, but that would mean remembering life before Fox River Penitentiary, and there are some days when it feels as though she's never worked anywhere else. "Oh, and I got it on sale," she offers in a pleased addendum. Looking up, she catches the tail end of the smirk Katie is trying to hide. "What?"
The other woman shakes her head as she slides the last of the inmates' medical histories into the filing cabinet. "I don't know exactly how a Governor's daughter is supposed to shop for her clothes, but I'm pretty sure she's not supposed to care about paying full price."
"I like good clothes," Sara says crisply. "I just don't think I need to spend a huge amount of money on them because I was lucky enough to have a trust fund."
Katie chuckles under her breath, then heads towards the coat stand in the corner of the room. "It is now six fifteen," she announces in a voice that brokers no dissent. "You wanna get out of here?"
Sara hesitates, then flips the patient file shut, admitting defeat. She knows only too well that Katie won't be leaving here without her, and she just doesn't have the energy to argue today. "Yes, please."
Katie smiles triumphantly, and plucks the patient file from the desk. A few minutes later, Sara is flicking off the lights and saying goodnight to the late shift staff, and letting Katie steer her through the system of security doors that take them back into the real world.
They end up at a small Italian café fifteen minutes drive from Fox River. They've never been here before, but the place claims to serve Chicago's best deep dish pizza. Of course, that's a claim made by almost every Italian place in Chicago, but it's been a long week, the food smells good and the café's air-conditioning is a welcome relief from the heat of the day. After they order - Katie flirting cheerfully with the twenty-something waiter – Sara takes a long sip of her soda and leans back in her chair, pleased she allowed herself to be talked into eating out tonight.
"So, who's your date for the wedding?"
Then again, Sara thinks dryly, every pleasurable experience has a downside. "My what?"
"Your date?" Katie looks at her, obviously an inch away from rolling her eyes. "For the wedding," she adds slowly, as though Sara is suddenly having trouble understanding English.
Sara feels a slither of heat creep up the back of her neck, but there's no way out of this conversation but the truth. "Uh, my dad?"
"I'm sorry? Can you repeat that?" The other woman leans forward, propping her elbows on the table. "For a minute there, I thought you said you were taking your dad as your date to this thing."
"I did." Sara swirls her glass, watching the melting ice turn in slow circles. "I've known Rebecca since the first grade. Dad's been friends with her father forever, so he got an invite too."
"You didn't think that maybe you could take along a real date?"
Sara shrugs. "I didn't want to have to make conversation with some guy I barely know as well as deal with four hours of speeches, so it made sense to go with Dad." Even to her own ears, the explanation sounds more than a little pathetic, and she's not surprised when Katie looks as though she's tempted to say any number of things. Thankfully, her friend merely reaches for a complimentary breadstick.
"Gonna be hard to meet a nice suit with your dad looking over your shoulder."
It had been obviously too much to hope that she wasn't going to hear this particular lecture this evening. "I'm not going to this wedding to meet anyone."
"More's the pity," Katie mumbles under her breath, then clears her throat. "Tell me more about your dress." She wriggles her eyebrows. "Will your father approve of it?"
Sara thinks of the simple (but hopefully elegant) dress she'd bought two days earlier, and wonders if Katie is happily picturing a slinky sheath designed to lure a potential mate. "I hate to disappoint you, but he probably will."
Her friend sighs heavily as she reaches for her own glass of soda. "Maybe it's just as well you're not on the lookout for a nice guy, then."
Sara can't help smiling. No matter how many times the subject changes, it seems that the topic of conversation always manages to come back to the same thing. "You know me. I don't like nice guys."
Katie points her half-eaten bread stick across the table. "Oh, I know you, trust me. I'm totally onto you, girl." Her friend's dimples flash as she grins. "I know you're only working at Fox River so you can have your pick of all the bad boys in Chicago."
Sara chuckles as she tries and fails to think of one inmate or colleague for whom she'd cross that particular line. "I'll tell you one thing, Katie. If I ever do find one of those nice guys you keep talking about, it's not going to be inside Fox River."
Katie shakes her head. "Poor Bradley."
"He'll get over it," Sara says, wondering why she suddenly feels as though she's kicking a puppy. Some puppy, she thinks wryly.
"I don't know. It's been four years and he's still carrying the same damn torch he was clutching when he first met you."
Sara fights the urge to squirm. She's seen both the best and the worst of Bradley Bellick, CO, over the last four years, and she has to admit she's disinclined to believe the two sides can peacefully coexist. He'd been nice enough to help her source an interview at Fox River, but like so many things in life, his kindness had come adorned with expectations she just couldn't meet. Their relationship, such as it was, had gone steadily downhill since her first gentle rebuff of his dinner invitation. "Some people only want what they think they can't have," she says lightly, knowing she may as well be speaking of herself.
The arrival of their appetisers brings a welcome break from the subject of Brad Bellick and Sara's lack of social life, but the damage is already done. As Katie picks up her fork to start on her Caesar salad, Sara looks down at the generous pile of fried calamari on her own plate and tries to summon up the appetite that had been clamouring to be appeased only a few minutes earlier. Normally, Katie's teasing rolls over her like water off a duck's back, as her mom used to say, but tonight, her friend's words have managed to impart a lingering sense of gloom. She picks up her fork, then reaches for the safest subject she knows. "How are the kids?"
Katie accepts the diversionary tactic with a knowing smile, but thankfully launches into an animated tale of her six year-old daughter's recent attempt to convince her mother that she was, in fact, a tiger in disguise and therefore didn't need to attend school. "She had it all worked out," Katie chuckles. "Even asked me to cook her steak extra rare and everything."
Sara grins. "How did that work out?"
"Let's just say it seems there are some tigers that prefer dessert to raw steak."
Sara is home by nine o'clock, and as she locks her front door, she's conscious of the silence in her apartment in a way she hasn't been in a long time. She thinks of her occasional visits to Katie's home, and the way her family life imbues the house itself with energy even when the children are outside playing in the yard. She normally treasures the sanctuary of her quiet apartment after a week of the kind of rough noises and angry voices that only a prison environment can provide, but tonight it feels empty rather than peaceful.
It's that damned wedding tomorrow, she decides as she dumps her purse on the couch and goes to the kitchen in search of a glass of cold water. She's never really been a fan of society weddings, and is even less of one now that she's clean. There's nothing like spending several hours watching other people get drunk to remind you that alcohol can be one of life's great social dividers.
It's definitely not because she had her thirtieth birthday eight weeks ago and hasn't had a proper date since she was two weeks shy of turning twenty-nine. It can't be because the thought of watching one of her oldest friends marry a man she obviously adores makes her feel as though she's somehow failed because she hasn't hit the same milestone in her own life. And it can't be because the only man to tell her she looks pretty in her new dress tomorrow will probably be her father, something that was just fine when she was fourteen but not quite as satisfying now she's thirty.
Finishing her water, she deposits the glass on the side of the kitchen sink with a unnecessarily loud clink. That's one of the few drawbacks to living alone, she decides. There always seems to be far too much time to think about things far more than she should.
Flicking off the kitchen light, she makes her way to the bathroom to wash her face clean of the minimal makeup she always wears to work. As she pulls her hair back into a messy ponytail, she thinks of the ease with which Katie had bantered with their waiter tonight, while she'd just buried her own nose in her menu. Nose in the menu, head in the sand, she thinks darkly.
Okay, fine. She's got her own personal demons under control. So far, so good. But now what? Does she hide herself away for the rest of eternity to make sure she doesn't slip and fall? Does she have to wait another year before she has a date with a halfway decent human being who doesn't turn out to be a political fanboy intent on making buddies with her dad or a deceptively normal guy who turns out to be an idiot who drools over the thought of her working behind bars?
Damn it, Katie. Why did you have to go and open up this old can of worms all over again? Gripping the edge of the bathroom sink, Sara takes a deep breath, sending a silent apology to her friend. Her current state of mind certainly isn't Katie's fault.
Okay. She won't hide herself away this weekend. She can do this. Tomorrow, she'll put her new dress and go to the church and listen to her father as he murmurs society gossip in her ear and put in an appearance at the reception and toast the bride and groom with club soda as long as polite manners demand. Then she'll come home, change into her sweats and watch television until she's tired enough to fall into bed.
Enough of this pity party, she decides. Being clean and sober is one of the exhilarating achievements of her life, and she's proud of the work she does every single day at Fox River. She argues every day with her father, but she knows he loves her as much as she loves him. She has a few trusted, treasured friends and enough acquaintances to field a friendly game of football if she so desires.
So why, she thinks as she stares at her pale face in the mirror, does she suddenly feel as though it - this series of events she knows as her life - is no longer enough?
Averting her gaze from her reflection, she splashes her face with cool water, then reaches for her face wash. It's been too long a week to start thinking like this, she tells herself. She's just tired and in need of a holiday. She needs some sun and some sand, maybe even a couple of Shirley Temples on the beach. She closes her eyes as she scrubs her face, mentally flipping through her roster for the next few weeks, and already knows that a holiday is going to have to wait.
She turns off her bedroom light just before ten, leaving her windows open in deference to the heat and an air-conditioner that's seen better days. As she lies in the darkness, she hears the sound of a nearby party, the faint echo of music and laughter, and she suddenly has the absurd sense that she's lying alone in a glass dome, separated from the rest of the city. She punches her pillow hard, then rolls onto her side, turning her back to the window.
Maybe she'll join a book club on Monday.