They had never fought about Fox River before. Never. Past that chilling look she’d given him when he’d told her the truth, in the infirmary, Sara had never brought any of it on the table again – using her, seducing to her, starting what would become a happy marriage on the crumbling basis of a handful of cheap lies.
To be entirely fair, Michael had never expected for his charm act to really take. It could have just been easy, empty flirtation, distracting her at the right timing. He’d been throwing rocks at the stars and by whatever unasked for miracle, he’d actually hit it right.
But that was the past and, most of the time, it just felt like a distant dream, washed over by the business of their everyday life – cooking Mikey’s lunch, driving him to school and then off to work. Then Michael couldn’t remember he had ever been in prison, let alone that that’s where he’d met the love of his life.
Today was an exception, he hoped, the only one.
It’s because it had been so hot, in the car, well over a hundred degrees. Sara had been fanning her face with a bookmark where a painted dog called Kipper waved you goodbye – he could have been waving hello, depending on how you chose to look at it. It had probably dropped out of Mikey’s backpack. They had just left him off at a friend’s for the night.
“I hate the heat,” Sara closed her eyes, uncrossing her legs, looking for a cooler position.
“Well,” Michael smiled, could never help but tease when she was irritated. “We might have thought twice about that before moving to Central America.”
He didn’t mind that she wasn’t listening. The windows were rolled all the way down, but Michael wasn’t driving fast enough to blow in cooler air. The sun beamed whitely in the sky despite it being over six p.m.
“You know,” she said, “I have a theory that people start losing their minds when it’s hot enough.”
“Well, it isn’t my theory,” she admitted. “There’s something about heat that just makes people snap. A part of their brain they’d never noticed before comes alive. Put enough people in a closed room when it’s hot as now, they’ll all be behaving like animals.”
“The reptilian brain,” Michael exhaled musingly.
“I know, it’s such a wrong name for it. Reptiles are much too majestic animals for a crowd of wild and sweating people. Anyway,” Michael could see her shaking her head in the corner of his eye. “It always makes me think about Fox River.”
Michael arched a surprised brow. “Reptiles?”
“The heat. A few weeks after you were incarcerated, there was such a hot day –” A pause cut into her speech.
Michael knew perfectly what day she was talking about. The riot. Now, it made much more sense, to think why a weather like this one would get her thinking of men behaving as animals. He blinked and, for a second, he could see her in the infirmary again, cornered, frightened, clutching a piece of broken glass because she was ready to fight, ready to get just as feral as the inmates trying to break their way in.
“You know,” she resumed, calm as her usual self, but it was like hearing her talk about something that had happened to other people, in another life. “The day you came for me in the infirmary.”
Michael let out a wistful sigh. “You took my hand,” he remembered.
“Well,” she was the one to tease, “I had limited options.”
“You trusted me,” he rephrased. “And I – I remember how ashamed I felt that you did, that you thought I saved you.”
She sighed with mock exasperation. “You know you aren’t your best when you brood, Michael. You did save me. Take credit where it’s due.”
He paid no mind to her comment. “You were right. The heat was what did it. If I’d known it would put you in danger, I would have never –”
Something stopped him, and he didn’t immediately realize what. So many years, sharing each other’s lives, it was almost like they had the same mind, he sometimes forgot they weren’t actually two pieces of just one whole, forgot there were things she didn’t know.
How could she not know? How could he not have found the time to make sure he’d gone through every little thing, so that she didn’t have to find out because of some blunder –
“You would have never what?” She prodded, serious, a little startled.
“I, um –” He tried to keep focusing on the road. This conversation deserved a better moment, one where he could look at her. “Sara, we should get home –”
“Just tell me, Michael.” Her voice was calm but uncompromising.
She wouldn’t wait and he wouldn’t make her. “All right,” he said. “All right.” They were currently driving through a small village. He slowed, trying to find the closest place to park.
“That serious?” Sara said, wanting to sound amused, but it wasn’t coming through.
Michael sighed, all regrets and no tiredness. “Afraid so.”
At first, it didn’t look like things were going to spiral out of control. She heard him out, jaw clenched, lips pursed tight, very, very silent.
It actually felt strange to think Sara could be mad at him for this now – in Fox River, making the air conditioning system dysfunctional precisely to cause a riot, so he’d have enough time to work on digging a tunnel for he and his brother to escape through. Since Michael had married Sara, there had been few arguments, never a real fight, and they had always been about things of daily life – not things of the past. It felt odd, somehow irrelevant, for her to look so silent and cold, about something that had taken place many years ago.
“You mean, you started the riot,” she said, after a moment.
Michael had tried to park somewhere in the shade, but the heat was thick and unbearable, worse even than when they were rolling.
“Yes. I should have thought of telling you much sooner. It’s just so many things happen, I never –”
“No, I ought to have guessed.” Her calm didn’t fool him. At this point, he’d just known her for too long. “I mean, I was an idiot for thinking there had actually been any real coincidences.” She shrugged. “You brought up Gandhi because you’d read I liked him. You saved me during the riot from trouble you’d indirectly caused.”
Silent, uncertain what words to use. It felt like speaking a different tongue, trying to go back to past excuses – I never meant for things to go like that. I just wanted to save my brother’s life. Michael was sick just at the thought of saying those words again.
“You’re not an idiot,” he just said.
“It’s okay. Let’s go home.”
He knew by then that this wasn’t going to be the end of it. This had mattered to her, more than she would show. That moment when she’d grabbed his hand, when he’d appeared out of nowhere from amidst the smoke, those stolen, magical bits of conversation while they were absurdly crawling through the ceiling – it had been important, special. By taking it away, he’d removed a pillar from a solid house, tainted something she thought was real.
It was real. He suddenly wished he could make her understand that. Even all of his lies for her had been real.
But it was probably the sort of thing that’s easier to see when you’re the one who’s done the lying.
She climbed upstairs without a word, as soon as they got home. Of course, she did it with enough poise not to look like a sulking child but a dignified, offended woman. After a few minutes, Michael heard the sound of the shower running upstairs.
Now that Fox River had gotten in his head, he realized it was hard as hell to chase it. He could see himself and Sara again, five years younger, characters in a book he hadn’t thought of for ages. Using his cocky smile more than he ever had in his life, while she humored him with laughter that only sounded a tiny bit wry.
In truth, she thought he had been a puzzle to her, but she’d been the very same thing. A combination of cynicism and hope – maybe appropriate for an ex-addict that worked in a men’s prison – he knew he’d never see something like that again, had never seen it before. When had it happened exactly, that turn in the wind? He remembered looking at her one day – had he been incarcerated for a week yet? – and realizing she was beautiful, the sort of beauty that bleeds with kindness, the sort that can start a war, stop a revolution.
If he’d been any bolder and a little younger then, Michael might have quoted the Iliad to her, the bit about Helen of Troy.
Driven by guilt and maybe even nostalgia – if it was possible to be nostalgic about prison life, those visits at the infirmary were entirely to blame – Michael climbed up the stairs and knocked on the bathroom door. The water had stopped running for a few minutes. Sara said he could come in.
She was still naked, a few beads of water trickling down her stomach and hips, her wet hair darker – the sun had given it a strawberry-blond look over the years.
Suddenly, Michael wished he were naked, too. His shirt felt stifling around his chest, his throat knotted with discomfort.
“You’ve a right to be mad,” he said. Stupid, easy thing to say.
She leant against the tile wall opposite him, faintly smiling – that joyless smile on the edge of her lips was the single biggest indicator that she was angry. He’d seen her smile like that when she talked about her father in Fox River, when she’d learned that T-Bag was going back to prison for life after he’d tried to rape her. Had he had this smile coming? Yes, probably. It didn’t make it easier to take.
“Thanks, Michael, for letting me know what feelings I’m entitled to. You said anger. I was thinking – I don’t know. Disappointment.”
A sigh escaped him. It sounded strangely raw, animal. “Sara, you knew what I was up to in Fox River, what I had to do.”
“I know. I know,” still calm. If he didn’t break through that surface, he felt he was going to go insane. “I just didn’t think all of it could be taken away.”
“All of what?”
“What I fell in love with.” The shock of it felt like falling, like solid ground disappearing under him. It must have been all over his face because she mercifully added, “For Christ’s sake, Michael. I love you. Of course, I love you. We’ve been wonderfully married for years. I love everything about our lives, every little thing. But when I try to remember what I fell in love with about you –” She shook her head. “It’s always lies. Like fairy dust. I can’t help thinking that I was a fool for having it. I’m glad our life is what it is now, Michael, but I wish there was something at the beginning that was really what I thought it was.”
There was silence. Michael tried to breathe out but found the air was caught in his throat, like solid ice. Then he realized he was angry, too. He didn’t have the slightest idea why, just that it was blazing in him out of control.
“All of it was real, Sara.” He managed. Her eyes lowered to his fists, clenched so tight the veins on the back of his hands looked close to bursting. “How can you not know that now? You were all that was real about Fox River.”
The words infuriating to speak, because he’d spoken them a thousand times – but had he? Or had he only thought them so often, when they were apart, that it had come to feel like he had?
Now that the past was there between them, alive and wild, he could remember that once or twice, while they were still on the run, while nothing was guaranteed, that he’d looked at her and wanted to say something, something easy and true – he loved her; he’d loved her from the first – but then there’d been a sudden interruption, or he’d just shaken his head, thinking there was no point, thinking, Why bother? She knows.
Sara looked a little bit wary now. Michael wasn’t one to show much emotion when he could help it. They both usually kept themselves on check.
But damn if there wasn’t something about the heat spreading wildfire under their skins.
“Why does it matter so much,” he said, “that everything around us was a lie, when you know what I felt wasn’t?”
“Because you made a fool out of me, Michael!” Her cries were never shrill, always deep, trembling with intensity. “You’re the sort of thing I prided myself on not falling for, do you understand? You never stop using your brain, use it now. Girls get the warning, believe me – men that look too good to be true often are. Beautiful surfaces have terrible depths.”
“So that’s it then? It’s about pride?”
“It’s about shame.” Her voice was iron around the words. “And don’t think I didn’t know shame, Michael, before I met you, before I was ever hounded by horny inmates for you to save me from. Being an addict makes you surrender your dignity like nothing else – but then there’s some comfort in it, because you’re doing it of your own accord. You know what you’re selling away.”
Michael stepped forward. “And I’m worse? Because I didn’t leave you a choice? Because I fooled you – I did. But I didn’t get to choose either.”
He was on her without really being aware of it. Suddenly, her face was inches from his, he could feel her breath on him, the heat of her naked body against his clothes.
The look on her face showed surprise, not fear. Even in Fox River, she’d never been afraid of him.
“I’m sorry if falling in love with me makes you feel like a fool,” he said. “But I didn’t feel any smarter than you. After all those months of planning, I’d been had by the oldest trick in the book.” He chuckled, mad. “My brother was going to be put to death, I was the only one that could save him, and do you know what the only thing I could think of was? Your smile. The haunted look in your eyes.”
He didn’t know why he kissed her, suddenly, his hands around her shoulders, pinning her to the wall – it was only when he pulled away and the desire between them caught fire that he knew it had been because she was craving it.
Then she thrust her face forward despite his hold on her and kissed him again, the sort of kiss they saved for when he’d been away for a few days, when they were so hungry for each other there was absolutely nothing to do but let desire have its way.
“I’d give up anything, anything for you, Sara,” he said when she started kissing his neck. “You talk about pride – I’d crawl through a field of broken glass for you. I’d –”
The sting of her teeth on his lower lip caught him by surprise. He thrust her deeper against the wall and heard her moan against his mouth. There were times when tender lovemaking was the sweetest thing in the world, and there were times when they just had to have it rough. Nothing anyone could do about it.
They started in the bathroom and finished in the corridor, halfway to their bedroom. They’d have bruises all over them from the harshness of the wooden planks. Michael felt thirsty as hell, but entirely incapable of moving a muscle. Instead, he ran a finger against Sara’s stomach, chuckled at how sticky they were from the heat and each other.
“We should fight more often,” he said ridiculously.
“Michael Scofield,” her smile was somewhat serious, “it might not be the worst idea you’ve ever had.” She sighed, blissful exhaustion. “God, I’m hurting all over.”
“Me too. I think I’ve got a splinter somewhere.”
What she said next was so unexpected it took him a moment to realize what she meant. “We still have the flower.”
He blinked at her a couple of times.
“The flower you made me for my birthday,” she continued, sounding serious. “No one had you make it, did they?”
“And it wasn’t part of any plan.”
She smiled. “It’s part of what I fell for. So we still have the flower.”
He sat up, cupped her cheek with his hand. “We have so much more than that.” She tasted of salt and sex when he kissed her again. “And by the end of the day,” he promised, “you’ll love the heat, Mrs. Scofield. Just call my bluff on that. See if I’m lying.”