"Your Uncle Michael was the bravest man I've ever known."
This isn't the conversation Lincoln intended to have tonight, here on a rooftop in Sao Paolo. But after dark this is where his thoughts turn, when there is nothing between him and all his memories except the bottom of a bottle. It's a struggle he faces every waking hour.
Lincoln has LJ back now—because the Company got Whistler thanks to Michael, even if Michael didn't make it more than a hundred yards beyond the compound before bullet wounds claimed him. Lincoln had sent the truck along to Sofia before going back for Michael, but by the time he made it to the red-washed sand there was no sign of Michael except for drag-marks to the tire tracks of whatever had taken him away.
Lincoln never even got to say goodbye…
"I want to see him," he'd told the guards at the prison, and he hadn't meant that he wanted to but that he'd needed to. After everything Michael had done for him, he couldn't give up so easily.
"Already gone," the guards had answered, but Lincoln had already known that.
"Si. Muerto," he'd whispered hoarsely.
"No— gone," the guards had insisted, but what had that meant? Already buried? Taken by the Embassy? Something else?
"No," the tallest one had said, "Señora."
Then Lincoln had finally understood. That fucking bitch.
Michael had become unwanted evidence of The Company, of its interference. Without a body to rally round, it would be hard to prove he'd had anything to do with SONA or Whistler or the brutality of a conspiracy that had worked behind the scenes of the United States' highest office.
Susan, or whoever she was, had shown Lincoln the evidence when she'd delivered LJ to him at last. The photographs had been clear: Michael's tattoos riddled with bullet holes, the telltale birthmark on the lower left side still visible on skin that was an impossible bluish-gray. It was all Lincoln could manage, not to have thrown up on the spot.
He still sees those images, the stark finality of his brother's sacrifice, months later nearly every time he closes his eyes. He never sleeps if he can help it.
"But I don't understand why he did it," LJ says. "Why did he ever think it would work?"
"Because it did," Lincoln answers fiercely. "Both times—when no-one but Michael would've had the guts to even try it in the first place."
Because Michael had never really believed that things were impossible, not if you could find an angle or create one of your own, not if you simply refused to give up.
Lincoln had tried to believe all that once—that if he prayed hard enough Dad would come back home, or his Mom would get better, or so many years later that somehow justice would prevail.
In the end, all he came to believe in was Michael. No matter how hopeless things sometimes looked, that faith was never for a moment misplaced.
Lincoln doesn't have that kind of faith in himself—or any reason to. He can't stop thinking about everything Michael did to save him even though he never deserved it and will never be the kind of man who does.
If it weren't for LJ, Lincoln would have pulled the trigger on himself already just to be rid of this misery, to get out from under the weight of a debt he can't possibly ever repay. Instead, he goes through the motions of survival. He took LJ and ran, not for home but for anonymity. He works construction, everything under the table, just keeping a roof over their heads and avoiding any reason for someone to come looking either to help them or destroy them. He's had enough of both.
At night or when the world stops rushing past, memories haunt him. Michael as a boy, so smart and innocent, so very serious. Michael dragging his heels to keep from being taken away to his first foster home when Lincoln had to stay behind. Michael watching him in the courtroom, visiting him in prison… and later, standing on the wrong side of the bars.
The day Lincoln was nearly executed, Michael was there. He kept Lincoln company at the end, comforting and distracting him and somehow managing to keep from crying even though the effort must have been enough to choke him.
Mostly, Lincoln remembers Michael at SONA, how scared and desperate he looked when he tried to tell Lincoln that the place was a death sentence. After that, the images of tattoos and bullet holes take over until Lincoln can't blot them out without the aid of enough whiskey to lay him flat until morning comes.
He wishes he had the wherewithal and the will to do something about The Company—for what they did to his family, and most especially for what they did to Michael. He wishes he could bring about the justice Michael deserves.
But Lincoln will never be that strong or brave, he will never work that kind of miracle, he knows it.
That was always Michael instead.
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