There had been a few moments since they'd all moved into the warehouse together that Sara had been struck by the attractiveness of her boyfriend's brother. It made sense that she found them both appealing, though because they were so vastly different, observing their distinctive charms was like looking from one end of the spectrum to the other all at once.
In fact, when Sara looked at Lincoln, she was positive he was the kind of man she would have been with before she got sober. Or perhaps a better way of saying it was that he once had been the kind of man she would have been powerless to resist, because all her good sense had been sucked up in a vortex of poor choices.
So there was just a nudge of guilt associated with even finding him attractive at all, because she liked to think that was all behind her now. Michael was her proof that she had really changed; her ability to hold it together lay in direct relationship to how she felt about him, and how he felt about her. She loved Michael. She was insanely attracted to Michael.
But while in the casino, working undercover with Lincoln, Roland and Fernando, they had all agreed they'd take it as far as they had too. This was their only chance at this portion of Scylla, so they couldn’t blow it. Whatever it took to get it—anything to make sure they weren’t caught—was the imperative mission.
She and Lincoln were playing a couple on vacation in Vegas, and Don Self had supplied them with upscale clothes and the appearance of people who could stand to lose a little (or a lot of) money at the casino and not sweat it. After targeting their mark at the Blackjack table, and playing a few rounds, they casually followed him to the elevator. Lincoln had Roland’s contraption in the inside pocket of his sport coat, and the simple plan involved just this: Following the guy, and coming up with an excuse to hold him there long enough for the copying process to complete, if their first strategic hold up didn’t work for some reason.
Roland was supposed to call Lincoln’s cell phone when the transfer was complete, and it was vitally important that everything go well. The first time. If they had to go to plan B—the not-so-simple-plan, someone would probably end up in jail.
She had her arm around Michael’s brother’s waist as they got on the elevator. The man they were following didn’t even look up at them as they entered behind him, he was too busy looking at his Blackberry, apparently deep in thought. As the elevator started moving, Sara felt Lincoln’s hand brush against her bare back, over the scars Gretchen’s madness had left behind. She turned her head and their eyes met; the sudden weightlessness that afflicted her stomach, she told herself, was only in relationship to the elevator’s upward motion.
When it stopped suddenly, it caused all three occupants to clutch at the available handrails, and became a welcomed distraction for her. This was Sucre’s handiwork, but who would have guessed that Michael could teach him how to both short circuit and repair something so easily? Fernando had laughed and said it was like stealing a car, so none of them should be too impressed with him, but as the elevator lurched to a halt and she was thrown against Lincoln, she felt impressed.
Perhaps it was the heat of Lincoln’s body that impressed her so much.
Their Blackberry-engrossed friend instantly reached for the elevator phone and dialed the service number, which was supposed to have been thwarted by Sucre as well. As he explained their predicament, he glanced over at Lincoln and Sara and clarified he was not alone. As he replaced the receiver, he looked at them again. “They said it will take at least ten minutes to isolate the problem. Hope you’re not claustrophobic,” he added with a grim smile. He seemed somewhat irritated by the delay, but by no means angry.
Lincoln’s arm surrounded her shoulder, the callused pads of his fingers brushing over her exposed skin. Tugging her against him, he said, his voice low and filled with innuendo, “Oh, no, we like small, enclosed spaces, don’t we, baby?”
Sara’s attempt at following his lead was nearly destroyed when she looked up into his eyes and saw the devilish glint there. So like his brother, in that instant, she simply had to take it to the next level—for the sake of the op. “The tighter, the better,” she quipped. “Isn’t that what you always say, baby?” She ran her hand up inside his sport jacket, the purpose of which was to turn Roland’s digital thief on, but she let her fingers linger against Lincoln’s chest once she’d finished that.
She watched as his eyes darkened—another quality he shared with his brother, and the world seemed to narrow for a moment. They had an audience, but they were neither Linc nor Sara in that space, and both of them turned up the heat on their performances.
“Here for pleasure, not business then, I take it,” their companion asked, which forced them to break eye contact with each other and turn their attention to him.
“All pleasure,” Lincoln said, his hand sliding down her arm, his fingers skimming the outer side of her breast before settling over her ass in an appreciate pat. “You know how it is,” he said conspiratorially to the other man.
Sara felt her face flush, and she liked to think anger prompted it because of the machismo erupting in the elevator not because once his hand settled on her bottom, he didn’t appear inclined to move it.
“That I do,” the gentlemen agreed, smiling at them. Sara began to feel uncomfortable with how long the man stared at her face, suddenly worrying that it had nothing to do with Lincoln’s inappropriateness. Instead, she feared that he might recognize one or the both of them, especially if the elevator didn’t start back up within the three-minute time frame Michael and Fernando had supposedly perfected.
Perhaps Lincoln sensed her discomfort, or he just came to the same conclusion, or maybe he had no good reason at all, Sara didn’t know, but he moved right then, spinning her around so that her back was up against the elevator wall. He kissed her as if no one was watching—and as if he meant it.
He kissed in an entirely different way than Michael did, and the fact that she was comparing them even as Lincoln’s tongue swirled through her mouth gave her hope that all this awkwardness, and flirtation, and the dangerous, dangerous line they were treading would end with the ringing of Lincoln’s cell phone.
Her hands gripped at his waist under his suit coat while she anticipated the ring, but the longer the kiss went on, the more involved she became in it and the likelihood of it ever ending felt more and more distant. Lincoln lifted his head so infinitesimally that his lips hovered just over hers, and she could read in his gaze that he too was beginning to lose the purpose of their being there.
The elevator jerked back into motion as Lincoln’s cell phone rang, and he backed up to reach inside his pocket. A feral grin spread across his face and he rumbled, “Who’s your daddy?” into the phone, though it was obvious he spoke to Sara.
She couldn’t hear Roland’s voice, but Lincoln’s nod and short, “Good,” was enough for her to know that their mission had been accomplished.
Their companion exited the elevator a few moments later, when they hit the 18th floor, leaving them alone, which allowed Sara’s ire to manifest itself. Turning an accusatory glare on him, she demanded, “What was that about?”
Lincoln’s mouth quirked in amusement, his eyes crinkling as he returned her fierce stare. “I embarrassed him. He wasn’t looking at us—“
“Oh, right!” Sara scoffed.
“—he was too busy being embarrassed.” When she just glared at him, he shrugged. “All right, we gave him a show, and maybe we turned him on, but trust me, he won’t ever remember what we looked like. Just what we did,” he said as an afterthought, his eyebrows going up suggestively.
Sara had seen a few other similarities between Michael and Lincoln before, but with this event, she was suddenly very aware of their shared DNA. Speechless for the moment, she wondered how he’d ever become aware of what other people noticed in a given situation, but as if reading her mind, he answered her thought. “My dad was a spy, Sara. Michael and I probably come by it naturally. The sneakiness, the lying. You have to remember that, and not get too mad at Michael when he keeps stuff from you. He has this weird way of looking at it—you know, like he’s doing you a favor.”
Sara felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. Lincoln’s statement was something she had suspected about Michael, but thus far she’d had nothing concrete to base it on. Of course he’d lied to her in Fox River, but that had been a different situation. She hadn’t caught him in a lie since they’d been reunited, but then again, it had only been eight days. “Are you trying to tell me something?” she asked as they reached the ground floor and the elevator doors re-opened to the casino’s busiest section.
He hesitated just briefly as they left the elevator. They were supposed to meet Roland and Fernando at the slot machines, make sure everything had gone smoothly, and then drive back to Los Angeles right away. “Just don’t take it personally, that’s all I meant.”
Sara reached out, grabbing him by the forearm and halting both of their steps toward their destination. “Don’t take what personally, exactly? You kissing me, or Michael lying to me?”
His eyes hardened, and the coldness she’d seen him exhibit towards some of the men in their little band of misfits from time to time sharpened in his features. “Both,” he said flatly. “You’re a beautiful woman and I’m a regular guy. I had an opportunity so I took it. Michael’s the exact opposite of that, I’m sure you’ve noticed. You might give him a thousand chances to tell you, and he’ll still find a way around it. What I do—it doesn’t mean anything. Everything Michael does means something.”
Sara waited a moment before responding, but she knew when it came down to it, Lincoln would win the quiet game every time. “These cryptic warnings are all I’m going to get, right?”
“Ask him about his health. Ask him if he was ever sick when he was kid. Ask him questions he can’t talk his way out of.” He shrugged her hand off and started towards the slot machines. “But try not to tell him I kissed you. And never tell him that you kissed me back.”
Chapter 2: Diagnostic Testing
Linc's POV of What Happens in Vegas...
Diagnostic: serving to identify or characterize; being a precise indication.
Sucre had volunteered to drive, and though Lincoln hated to give up control in any way, he was tired, and so he let him. Sitting in the back with Roland wasn’t so bad. Truth be told, he sort of liked the snarky douche bag, but of course, he would never let Roland know it. A little fear was good for the kid.
He had his laptop out, literally on his lap, in the small confined backseat of the Corolla they were driving to Las Vegas, and his fingers flew over the keyboard rapidly, but Lincoln knew he wasn’t doing anything related to their stuff, so he gestured at the screen and asked, “What’s that?”
“Diagnostic testing,” Roland replied.
“What’s that?” he repeated.
Roland glanced up at him from the screen, giving him the look that generally made Linc want to box his ears, but he asked in response, “You really want to know?”
“I asked, didn’t I?” Lincoln retorted shortly.
Roland flinched just a little, letting Lincoln know that the fear was there, even if he tried hard not to show it. But as he launched into a bunch of terms about computers Lincoln wasn’t familiar with, and really didn’t care about, he gave him his full attention. It was better than thinking about how he wasn’t supposed to tell Sara about Michael’s condition, even though he’d have many opportunities over the next 24 hours as they played a couple in Sin City while Michael, Mahone and Self tried to get at another target back in LA.
“…so basically, it’s looking for problems in the system, seeing if it’s running right. You know, it has these parameters, and as long as the data configures inside those parameters, the computer will still run correctly. Which is important, you know, when you gotta download shit in a short amount of time so as not to get your head blown off.” As Roland finished his explanation the computer had finished its test, and a dialogue box appeared onscreen that read, No problems were detected.
Lincoln stared at the screen until Roland clicked okay and then lowered the laptop lid, shutting the computer off completely. His eyes wandered to the front seat and Dr. Tancredi, who was sitting silently next to Sucre. Ponderingly, he asked Roland, “So, the data that goes into the computer just has to have certain elements, is that what you’re saying?”
“Right,” Roland replied seriously. It seemed he enjoyed talking about this stuff, and since he apparently knew everything about it, Lincoln could see why. “It’s like how our bodies work with food, you know. Most everything goes in okay, but if it’s something we don’t like—in my case, anything with mushrooms—then—“ he made a retching sound in his throat and pretended to throw up on Lincoln. “The body rejects it. If we try to input something in the computer that it doesn’t like it will reject it. But, if it doesn’t reject it, well, then you know what happens.”
“What?” Lincoln asked.
“We’re fucked, man. Majorly, up the ass, fucked.”
Once they were at the hotel that Self had told them the mark would be staying in, they rented a room and got set up. Lincoln waited for Sara to go into the bathroom to change into the dress she’d bought while he put on the dress clothes Michael had picked out for him. Sucre and Roland were off checking out the area they were going to occupy while they got close enough to the next cardholder for the digital thief to steal the information they needed. He stripped off his jeans and t-shirt and put on the black slacks and button-up shirt. There was a full-length mirror hooked to the bathroom door, so he stood in front of it, fastening the buttons quickly. Michael wanted him to wear a tie, to really sell the idea that he and Sara were wealthy vacationers, but he wasn’t going to. He looked good enough without the tie, and besides, he hated ties more than just about anything on earth.
According to Roland’s explanation of diagnostic testing, his body rejected ties. He smiled to himself as he slipped the sport coat on.
They hadn’t discussed exactly what they would do to engage the guy once they had him cornered in the elevator, but Lincoln wasn’t the planner that Michael was. Sara had asked him once in the car if he wanted to do something specific and when he’d said they’d just play it by ear, she hadn’t appeared overly concerned about it.
He’d been thinking a lot about what Roland had said about diagnostics. It had only been six days since he’d been shipped out of Panama, and his goodbye to LJ and Sofia had been less than satisfying for all of them, but during those six days, when he’d had a moment to himself, he found himself thinking about what the hell he was doing with Sofia. With Roland’s explanation about how computers received and processed data, and how the diagnostic testing would eliminate things that shouldn’t be there, he’d begun to understand that everything he’d done with Sofia had been like a systems check for his cock. It had been a long time—far too long, in his opinion—since he’d been close to anyone in that way.
He thought now, with a little bit of distance, and the last words Sofia had said to him as he was taken away by the feds—I love you—that he needed some sort of diagnostic test for himself. To see if it wasn’t so much Sofia, as it was what she was—a willing woman—and it sickened him a little that he had fallen into it so easily. On the other hand, if he had learned anything from the last three months of his life, it was that he didn’t want to waste time.
But part of him wanted it to be real, too.
When Sara opened the bathroom door a moment later and stood facing him, he noticed her in a way he never had before. The black dress she wore curved and clung in all the right places. He imagined Michael would appreciate the view very much, and feel a little frustrated by the fact that he wouldn’t get the chance to remove that dress.
It seemed like a perfect chance for a new systems check.
In the elevator, he let his hand wander lightly over Sara’s exposed back. Michael had told him that Gretchen had done some terrible things to the good doctor but the slightly ridged tissue under his fingers made him feel even more anger towards that bitch. He hoped to hell he saw her again some day because when the urge to kill her rose up again, he wouldn’t quench it. He didn’t want Michael to do it. He didn’t want to see Michael kill anyone ever.
He also didn’t want to watch Michael die. Sara’s head turned then, her eyes snagging his, and he wondered if she sensed anything about his brother. She was a doctor, after all. Did she have a sixth sense about sick people?
The elevator’s upward sweep stopped suddenly, and they all pitched around like rag dolls for a moment. Sara landed against him, the curve of her hip rubbing against the front of his pants accidentally. The way she moved away from him showed him that she was suddenly aware of him the way he was of her, but he couldn’t let her strange body language translate to the guy in the elevator with them. He needed to believe they were together, but be completely disinterested in them at the same time. Lincoln understood the nuance of that, but he hadn’t yet decided how to accomplish it. This is where Michael would’ve been sweating bullets, if he knew that Lincoln had entered the elevator unprepared.
Once the mark placed his phone call to report the elevator problem, the best way to handle Sara’s nervousness and hold their companion’s attention appeared in his head with such clarity, he supposed it would have impressed his brother, if he could have gotten past the part he would have automatically not liked.
“They said it will take at least ten minutes to isolate the problem. Hope you’re not claustrophobic.”
Game on, Lincoln thought. Wrapping his arm around Sara, he let his fingers caress the top of her shoulder gently while he pulled her tightly into his body. He smiled at the man who stood just a few feet from them, and said, “Oh, no, we like small, enclosed spaces, don’t we, baby?”
He wasn’t sure how Sara would react, but he should have known she’d be willing to take one for the team, as it were, because she’d already put up with a whole lot on Michael’s account. When her eyes met his, he could see she wasn’t intimidated. “The tighter, the better,” she said, flashing a bright smile of her own. “Isn’t that what you always say, baby?”
Her hand moved inside his coat, slipping into the inside pocket to switch on the device, but that wasn’t the only thing that she turned on in that moment. Especially as her fingers remained, long after they should have departed, and her short nails raked downward over his left nipple. He supposed he ought to just be impressed with her retaliation, but instead, he could feel his blood heating up in response.
His train of thought was disrupted further when the guy said, “Here for pleasure, not business then, I take it.”
Lincoln made himself look at the guy, dragging his eyes from Sara’s face quite unwillingly. Wishing for the moment his reply of “All pleasure,” was true, he didn’t even try to stop his wandering hand from sliding down her arm, and groping lightly at the edge of her breast before firmly resting on her ass with a little rub and pat. “You know how it is,” he said, winking at the other man.
He felt Sara’s breath rush out against his neck, the soft warmth of it on his skin causing all sorts of sensations he hadn’t anticipated. He squeezed her bottom just slightly.
“That I do,” the guy agreed, his smile just a bit leering as his eyes settled fully on Sara. Lincoln didn’t like the way he looked at her, anymore than Michael would have liked him standing there with his hand on her ass, but since it was only his dislikes he had to worry about right then, he made another quick decision that would undoubtedly cause nothing but trouble.
Moving quickly, he put himself between the guy and Sara, but also made sure the pocket of his coat with the device was closer to the guy. He looked down at her, trying to give her a little warning, though he wasn’t sure how effective it was and then he kissed her.
She didn’t respond at first, and to be truthful, he wouldn’t have been surprised at all if she had kneed him in the balls and thrown the whole operation out the window, because he was way out of line. But when her lips opened, he just went further with it, his tongue sinking into her mouth as if it rightfully belonged there. She tasted warm and sweet, and yet there was an edge to her, in the way her lips moved against his, and he knew instantly that this wasn’t ever going to feel like Sofia at all. Sara’s fire came through, even though he knew she had to be holding back on some level because the one thing they were both intensely aware of was that he was not Michael.
He started to forget that though, and maybe she did too as her hands slid down his chest and settled on his waist, her fingers curling into him. He liked to think that she wanted to pull him closer, but she didn’t because there was someone watching them. He lifted his head out of the sheer necessity for breath, but he would have gone right back to kissing her if the elevator hadn’t started moving right then and the cell phone in his other pocket hadn’t chirped annoyingly.
She was turned on, but annoyed, he could see it immediately, and damage control at this point was all he had. He grinned as irreverently as possible as he flipped open the phone and when he said, “Who’s your daddy?” to Roland, Sara’s eyes narrowed into a full-throttle glare.
“What?” Roland asked, laughing. “You’re joking right? We’re all good, daddy.”
“Good,” Lincoln replied. He moved away from Sara, tucking his phone back into his pocket, and the mark avoided Lincoln’s gaze altogether for the few remaining moments he stayed on the elevator with them. When they reached his floor and he got off, he never looked back at them.
The elevator door shut and he punched the Ground Floor button to take them back downstairs. As soon as they were alone, Sara demanded, “What was that about?”
He smiled again, looking into her eyes so she wouldn’t know he felt any discomfort over the whole thing. “I embarrassed him. He wasn’t looking at us—“
She rolled her eyes and interrupted him with an “Oh, right!”
“—He was too busy being embarrassed.” She glared at him, so he shrugged. “All right, we gave him a show, and maybe we turned him on, but trust me, he won’t ever remember what we looked like. Just what we did,” he said, lifting his eyebrows suggestively. If it was possible for her to glare harder, she did it right then. Then her eyes changed subtly, as though she was measuring just what had happened.
Lincoln didn’t like it at all. He’d wanted to kiss Sara and have it be as mildly pleasant as all his interactions with Sofia had been. He’d wanted to know that that was all he could expect, that just because it didn’t feel like it had with Veronica didn’t mean anything other than Sofia wasn’t and never could be the love of his life.
What he’d discovered instead didn’t sit well at all.
All that was left to do now that he had the information was get Sara off his back. Michael would be pissed, but he’d be angrier to know Lincoln had a thing for his girlfriend. “My dad was a spy, Sara. Michael and I probably come by it naturally. The sneakiness, the lying. You have to remember that, and not get too mad at Michael when he keeps stuff from you. He has this weird way of looking at it—you know, like he’s doing you a favor.”
She just looked at him strangely for a beat, but then she asked, “Are you trying to tell me something?”
The elevator doors opened and Lincoln escaped the small enclosure, wishing he could leave behind what he’d discovered there as easily as he’d left Sofia in Panama. “Just don’t take it personally, that’s all I meant.” He knew he was going to do his damnedest not to himself.
He looked around, searching for Roland and Sucre, but Sara reached out and grabbed his arm, preventing him from walking over to the slot machines where they waited. “Don’t take what personally, exactly? You kissing me, or Michael lying to me?”
This was the problem with women, he thought darkly. Maybe men could just get through life and not have weigh and measure everything if women could just let it all alone. But they had to say things like I love you and they had to know what every little thing meant, and it fucking drove him nuts. “Both,” he said flatly. “You’re a beautiful woman and I’m a regular guy. I had an opportunity so I took it. Michael’s the exact opposite of that, I’m sure you’ve noticed. You might give him a thousand chances to tell you, and he’ll still find a way around it. What I do—it doesn’t mean anything. Everything Michael does means something.”
The longer she looked at him, the more exposed he felt, and the more irritated he became. Finally she asked another question. “These cryptic warnings are all I’m going to get, right?”
The final betrayal to Michael consisted of giving her specifics as close to the subject as he dared. It was all he had, and he went with it. “Ask him about his health. Ask him if he was ever sick when he was kid. Ask him questions he can’t talk his way out of.” Dropping his arm down so she wasn’t touching him anymore, he moved towards the slot machines. His last request was for himself even more than it was for Michael. “But try not to tell him I kissed you. And never tell him that you kissed me back.”
As he walked towards Roland and Sucre, he made a mental note to never listen to anything the computer nerd said ever again.