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Precious Things

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All the places Michael remembered were small, those apartments and borrowed rooms where he and Lincoln grew up. He got used to accepting what was given, and kept himself from wanting too much more than he could have.

Even as a child, Michael was a pragmatist. He might consider, and even hope, but he kept his expectations firmly under control.

For years, he and Lincoln shared a bedroom. When things were bad, they tried not to grow their belongings out of more than a box could carry. When things were better, there might be posters, books and toys. But there was very little that stayed precious. Both knew better than to love anything too much that they might later be forced to give away.

In the last few years before their mother died, the family was crammed into an aging apartment that had three main rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Lincoln and Michael had just one bed between them, but neither of them thought that was unfair. Being the big brother carried a lot of responsibility and sacrifice, but it shouldn’t mean having to sleep on the sofa for years on end.

They learned to maneuver into comfort together, spooned on their sides with Lincoln at the back. Lincoln was solid, all strength and security. He kept Michael from falling off the edge of the bed—and later, the edge of the world—as their childhood spun out before them.

Michael was all elbows and edginess, always struggling to settle down at night when his unfettered brain could not help thinking. “Go to sleep,” Lincoln would whisper, as if a simple command could still such an uncontrolled process. And over time Michael adapted, to the point where his brother’s breath behind him could lull him into slumber. When it was finally just the two of them, their mother then a beloved memory, this closeness soothed their fears and kept them sane. They held on nightly, clinging to the past while their future slipped and wavered in the dark.

Lying awake now in his prison bed, Michael wishes Lincoln were here with him. He’s too old to be so childish, but he still misses the safety of knowing someone else will take care of everything. His bed feels unfamiliar, and it's just too big right now, it’s too... unstructured. It is like all of the dangerous possibilities that haunt his schemes and deliberations. He has lost the comfort of confinement and control.

His thoughts are twisting, tumbling day and night now, always afraid of what he might miss. The slightest inattention, and something will change, or shift… or fail… and the price will be more than Michael can survive.

He is managing details, endlessly planning and fine-tuning, and this is the loneliest he’s been in a long time.

His nerves are unsettled and his bed is cold, and having Lincoln here would end this feeling and the reason for his worries all at the same time.

After all the places he let go of, the belongings that slipped through his fingers, he still kept one precious thing that was his no matter how bad it got. That his brother and his childhood and his center are all one and the same is simply the hand the universe has dealt him.

But no piece can be parted from the other, nor survive unbound from the whole.

These fragments joined as one are all that have held Michael together, that are holding his world together even now.

He must not, even for a single second, let them go.

 

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