It was easy to say that it wouldn't have been like this.
A different childhood—a mother who'd lived, a father who'd stayed—would have changed the final outcome. Lincoln would've made something of himself.
But watching the light from the "Vacancy" sign wash over Michael's face, Lincoln knew he'd be fooling himself. He was destined to wind up exactly like this, lying in the dark feeling all used-up in some seedy afterthought of an inner-city motel.
There were never any possibilities for him— only for Michael. With the right family, with some stability, Michael's genius could have reached its potential. His achievements could have amounted to more than the tarnished legacy of having sprung his worthless brother from a steel and concrete cage.
Michael certainly never would have ended up here, in this shit-hole life on the run—always a few unlucky moments away from being returned to the jail where he never belonged.
This part was all Lincoln's doing. It wasn't deliberate, but it all came down to mistakes he'd made and the people who'd gotten hurt along the way. His biggest mistake was that he hadn't kept Michael from rescuing him. That had left more than just damaged lives behind—it had gotten people killed, both inside Fox River and out.
Lincoln was never like Michael, never had any real hope of succeeding at anything. He wasn't patient, he wouldn't wait for rewards to come. He wanted everything and he wanted it now.
He took what came his way, whether it was his for the taking or not. And always, right up until it was too late… he wanted to pretend that the consequences would never find him.
"So what happens to us now?" Michael whispered.
Lincoln didn't have the answers Michael needed. All the real answers had been gone for more than a year.
He'd tried to hold it together for so long, working after school to bring in money while Mom drifted into nothingness in that bed.
It wasn't enough to keep her alive.
It wasn't enough to save them after she was gone.
When the Family Services people came, Lincoln told Michael stories about how they'd stay together, the two of them forever. He knew how unlikely that actually was. He also knew he was a big part of the reason why.
His juvenile record wasn't as bad as it could have been, but the point was that he had one. Not too many foster families would take on a teenager who'd already been in trouble with the law. Even if he had a really great little brother who was probably a genius (though some people freaked out about that, like Michael was weird or something, only he wasn't and the getting-lost-inside-his-own-head thing never lasted more than a couple of days at most).
Nobody was ever going to want Lincoln. Just fifteen years old, and he'd screwed his life up but good.
And if that wasn't bad enough, he might have screwed up Michael's life already too.
The people Lincoln had run with back then—not as bad in High School as the thugs he'd let into his life later, during that downward spiral into the end—Michael had been scared of them all, as much for who they were as to what he was afraid they'd do to Lincoln.
Michael had been right.
It had been too easy to get comfortable with the fighting and the drugs, every next step in the wrong direction always easier to take. By the time Lincoln had been arrested for the second time, he'd forgotten how exactly he'd come so far wrong.
In spite of his own mistakes, Lincoln had tried to prevent Michael from taking the same path. He'd kept an eye on Michael's friends (spied on them if necessary), even broken down the bedroom door once when he'd caught a whiff of marijuana. He'd knocked Michael to the floor that time, ready to throttle him to save him from the downfall of drugs.
The truth was that he'd really been trying to save Michael from all the things he hated most about himself.
Michael deserved better than to become like him, and Lincoln had thought for the longest time that all his efforts to keep Michael from that fate had succeeded. Even as his own life had continued to become more hopeless, Michael's had grown in stability and promise. Part of Lincoln had always felt that was exactly how things were supposed to turn out for the two of them anyway.
Lying in the dark with his regrets now, Lincoln was forced to admit that something had gone seriously wrong.
He was still the worthless punk with authority issues, who would always have to watch out for his impulses, his anger, and the return of his attraction to drugs.
But Michael—his sweet brother Michael, with those innocent intentions and that enormous heart—the things Michael had set in motion were far more deadly than anything Lincoln had ever done.
Michael was a criminal now too, as calculating and dangerous as they came. All because of Lincoln.
It was only in trying to save Lincoln from the mess he'd gotten into, that Michael had finally become just like him. That full-circle destiny, always waiting, had somehow come back and captured them both.