Story of Faith by Clair_de_Lune
FeatureSummary: He had thought that death was black. Dark, at the very least. And itwas dark at first, after the fireworks he’d created had subsided and their imprints on his retinas had faded. After that, though, there were colors. After Miami Dade, while Sara, Lincoln and Sofia settle in Costa Rica and try to build a new life, Michael awakes far away from them... (Post-series, fix-it story).
Let's be honest: the revival made this story totally irrelevant. With that being said, given how long it took me to complete it, I am going to post it here no matter what ;)
Categories: Post-Series Characters: Agent Paul Kellerman, Jane Phillips, Lincoln Burrows, LJ Burrows, Michael Scofield, Michael Scofield Jr, Original Character(s), Sara Tancredi, Sofia Lugo
Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Pairing: Lincoln and Sofia, Michael and Sara
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 22 Completed: No Word count: 52074 Read: 1583 Published: June 07, 2017 Updated: August 12, 2017
Story Notes:
Many, many thanks to msgenevieve for reading the (draft for the) first three chapters and assuring me it wasn’t utter crap ;-) to anna-tarawiel for boldly offering to read the whole draft and for her helpful (in several ways) comments; and to foxriverinmate for cheerleading, support, beta-reading, and generally putting up with my whining, freaking out, complaining, flailing, questioning, dithering, procrastinating... ♥

1. Prologue and Chapter 1 by Clair_de_Lune

2. Chapter 2 by Clair_de_Lune

3. Chapter 3 by Clair_de_Lune

4. Chapter 4 by Clair_de_Lune

5. Chapter 5 by Clair_de_Lune

6. Chapter 6 by Clair_de_Lune

7. Chapter 7 by Clair_de_Lune

8. Chapter 8 by Clair_de_Lune

9. Chapter 9 by Clair_de_Lune

10. Chapter 10 by Clair_de_Lune

11. Chapter 11 by Clair_de_Lune

12. Chapter 12 by Clair_de_Lune

13. Chapter 13 by Clair_de_Lune

14. Chapter 14 by Clair_de_Lune

15. Chapter 15 by Clair_de_Lune

16. Chapter 16 by Clair_de_Lune

17. Chapter 17 by Clair_de_Lune

18. Chapter 18 by Clair_de_Lune

19. Chapter 19 by Clair_de_Lune

20. Chapter 20 by Clair_de_Lune

21. Chapter 21 by Clair_de_Lune

22. Chapter 22 by Clair_de_Lune

Prologue and Chapter 1 by Clair_de_Lune
Prologue

It’s a story of faith. Of losing it, refusing it, finding it again, keeping it, passing it along.

Just have a little faith.

Lincoln hears it coming from nowhere in broad daylight and sometimes wants to answer fuck you; Sara sing-songs it to her son and tries to believe it herself; Michael Jr. has never had an occasion yet not to abide by this precept, and everyone around him hopes it lasts as long as possible.

Michael used to hear it in his dreams and, once in a while, in his nightmares too.


Chapter 1

Aboard the boat on its way to Costa Rica, Sara and Lincoln slept together.

Not like that: they fell asleep together.

When it was finally dark, after they’d watched Michael’s video and safely tucked it back into Sara’s bag even though they wondered whether they would ever be able to watch it again, eventually, they fell asleep together, against one another. Michael’s last words had induced an odd feeling of peace, but it didn’t last. In the face of reality, it wore off and faded, became too thin to play its soothing role. Pain twisted Sara’s insides and froze her on the spot.

Lincoln sighed and hugged her, worried she’d shatter into pieces right in front of his eyes.

They didn’t bother stumbling to the small bed at the bow of the boat. They shared the bunk/sofa combo in the main cabin, pressed together, Sara bunching Lincoln’s t-shirt in her fists, Lincoln trying not to touch her still flat stomach or stroke her back, and settling for palming the nape of her neck.

They’d been getting along with each other just fine up until now. Maybe a few tensions here and there, maybe the start of something deeper than casual friendship and a sense of belonging to the same family, probably some teaming up against Michael for his own good. Nothing more; it wasn’t as if they’d had the time to become best buddies.

But this. The loss, the grief, the absurd future she was carrying in her belly. It brought them closer faster than they’d seen it coming.

“I hate him,” Sara whispered. Her words were thick and salty against Lincoln’s shoulder.

“I know.” He half-indulged her, half-shared her feelings. “Me too.”

She breathed him in and smelled something of Michael in the crook of his neck.

For that, she hated Lincoln too.

(Not for real.)

* * *

Colors. The blue of the ocean deepening, deepening and then edging into a lighter blue-green as they were reaching their destination, and the vivid colors of Costa Rica. This was for Sara and Lincoln and the yet-to-be-born baby. A future in vibrant colors sounded about right and fair for them.

Him, he’d thought that death was black. Dark, at the very least. It was dark at first, after the fireworks he’d created had subsided and their imprints on his retinas had faded. After that, though, there were colors: glimpses of natural blue and white, hints of cold electrical light, and finally smudges of gold and reds, dark greens and browns. Very autumnal, very aesthetic, death. Not as bad as he’d expected, all in all.

Except for the part where he couldn’t share colors with Sara and Lincoln and the yet-to-be-born baby.

* * *

Blur and confusion.

Almost no pain.

White and unreality and liberating numbness.

He thought in sensations, words, streams of phrases. It wasn’t thinking, it was feeling. He didn’t know where he was, and hell, he wasn’t sure who he was; just that everything was blurred and confused. Deep down in his heart and bones, the pain lurked and drummed, waited to break free and eat everything it could consume.

(He knew things about breaking free; maybe he could teach pain a few of them, later.)

His upper lip twitched. Warmth and comfort were pumped directly into his veins.

Somewhere in a room that he didn’t know, Michael had just woken up.

* * *

Under the circumstances, one might have expected a large room filled with beeping machines and hushed conversations, fluorescent light and ghostly-looking doctors in their white lab coats and masks.

(Or maybe he’d seen too many episodes of the X-Files.)

From the little he could gather in his position, the bedroom was large. The resemblance stopped here, though, as it was seemingly empty, the light bright and pouring through a large bay window, the beeping sounds, albeit present, faint and distant.

The bed was nice and welcoming, more pleasant than any hospital bed he’d ever had the occasion to lie in. He blinked and tapped the tip of his index finger against the sheets. He should have been thinking, trying to orientate himself, figuring out... whatever needed to be figured out.

He closed his eyes and fell back into sleep.

* * *

He wasn’t supposed to wake up. Ever.

Plan A had failed; it was expected. Plan B had failed too; that was a problem. He couldn’t remember the details, the hows, whys and whos, but the principle itself? He knew he had a plan for something, and the plan had failed.

Plan A meant full success. Everybody alive and en route to some safe haven. Plan A was unrealistic for half a dozen reasons, but it was necessary nonetheless. You didn’t run into the battle defeated before even fighting. It existed only in abstract and was never meant to work.

Plan B aimed for Sara and Lincoln alive and en route to said safe haven, and him dead. It was a solution to several problems, maybe not an elegant or a perfect solution, but a working one, and that was all that mattered.

Obviously, he wasn’t dead since he’d woken up.

He didn’t have a plan C. Panic bubbled in his stomach. This time, when he closed his eyes, it was on purpose and with the intent to hide said panic from anyone watching him.

* * *

The doctors and nurses had white lab coats but no masks. When he sneaked glances at them, he could see their faces: young, old, in-between, soft low voices, professionally neutral smiles and hints of genuine care in their eyes. Not what he expected, even though he wasn’t sure why.

They examined him from every angle -- bad time for being modest -- washed, cleaned, injected him with stuff. They moved him and massaged him. They filled his IV bag. They talked to him -- small talk -- and called him Michael.

(Their hands were warm and considerate, but they wouldn’t ever be as warm and considerate as his previous doctors’ ones were even when she wore gloves.)

He was Michael. He’d remembered his own name only after remembering Sara and Lincoln’s, after remembering who Sara and Lincoln were and why they mattered so much, mattered more than anything and anyone.

Lincoln and Sara. He didn’t know if they were alive. He was terrified at the mere possibility they weren’t. It froze him dead inside even more than he was outside, crippled, shrank and folded him up around his fears. He spent all of his conscious hours ignoring the physical pain and trying to rationalize how they could have managed to make it safe and sound, playing and replaying all the possible scenarios in his head, from the worst to the best and backwards, again and again and...

A deep rough voice told him to have a little faith and he snickered at it. Yeah, sure, whatever. Faith was for another life, when the situation was desperate and yet he could see the sliver of light at the other end of a crazy plan. He didn’t have a plan now. No plan C, remember?

He observed, tried not to let the docs know he was doing it, and fooled some of them. It was easy: lie back, stare in the void, pretend that he didn’t see, hear or understand anything. All he had to do was bring up memories he didn’t know he had of real similar episodes.

One of the doctors didn’t buy it; a middle-aged woman with olive skin and a long braid of straight hair, dark eyes and a shiny smile -- when she cared to smile. And she did care to smile today as she leaned down so he could see her face and her mouth when she talked, when she told him, “Whenever you’re ready, Michael.”

He had the vague feeling she thought that he would be fed up with his little act way before she was. She was delusional; you didn’t get fed up easily when your life and the lives of the people you cared about the most might be at stake.

“Lincoln and Sara are fine,” she added before leaving the room.

He blinked, tried to lift his head. For the first time since he’d woken up, he wanted some interaction, craved for it, wondered if she wouldn’t give it to him on purpose or if she was just leaving him alone because he needed to rest. He wanted to call her back, but his voice didn’t work. He didn’t know whether it was a medical issue or an emotional one.

* * *

“She doesn’t cry,” Sofia told Lincoln. She seemed to think it was a problem. She was probably right.

Sara hadn’t cried since they set foot in Costa Rica. Aboard the boat, she tore up, sniffled, sobbed, wept, and cried pretty much the entire duration of their trip after they’d watched the tape. No wailing, nothing noisy or dramatic, just a quiet flow of tears that Lincoln sponged with tissues and t-shirts. He held her, shushed her, assured her everything would be okay. He also joined her once or twice, her tears adding to Michael’s death itself to get to him. In that respect, the moistness of her cheeks was convenient, allowing him to hide his own.

She stopped crying the second they tied the boat to the harbor and she never started again. On some level, it made sense to Lincoln, but he couldn’t explain why to Sofia. He wasn’t his fucking brother, good with words and psychological stuff.

Sara had also stopped smiling, but that was pretty much expected.

“I’m okay, Sofia,” Sara said from the door of the living room.

(She wasn’t, not really, but she couldn’t imagine how she could be. I’m okay was a shorthand for I’m as okay as I can be given the situation.)

“I’ve found a home,” she added, and Lincoln might not be as good as his brother had been with words, but he did notice that she said ‘home’. Not house, bungalow, apartment or shanty on the beach for all he knew. Home.

He’d bought an old shop on the beach with an apartment on the second floor -- the money the non-official apology from the government after his exoneration and before everything had turned shitty again -- was taking scuba lessons and was planning to study for becoming an instructor.

He was doing it for LJ and because Sofia urged him to. He was doing it in memory of Michael because -- as LJ, all icy eyes and righteous tone, put it when he’d found his father sitting alone with a bottle of tequila waiting to be drunk --­ Michael hadn’t died for his brother to fall back into his old demons and become a damn loser, full of booze and self-pity.

Lincoln had the vague idea that, as a father, he shouldn’t have tolerated his son speaking to him in this manner. But you know... it was hard to take measures when you agreed with the words thrown in your face.

(Plus, after the first couple of dives where he wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into, he’d started to enjoy it. Everything was so quiet and weightless under there, how not to enjoy it? Maybe this was why Michael had had this idea in the first place, the quiet and weightless qualities.)

The apartment was just big enough for the four of them, provided LJ was happy with sleeping in the back of the shop -- they hadn’t needed to ask him twice. Sara had settled in the guest room. Neither of them had imagined this would be a permanent arrangement, but Lincoln felt a pang in his stomach at the thought of seeing her go and severing another bond to his brother.

“The bungalow needs to be freshened up,” Sara said. “I... I could use some help?”

They visited it, just the two of them. They left Sofia and LJ to take delivery of stuff they’d ordered for the scuba shop and they went visit it. Normal activities. It felt weird to have normal activities after all that time spent running and fighting; weird to plan when their lives had crumbled. Odd too, visiting a house with her when it should have been Michael sitting by her in the old car.

She drove. Up until now, when they’d gone somewhere together, Linc had taken the wheel and hadn’t even asked if she wanted it. There had to be a symbol in the fact that she was driving now, and in the fact that the road turned and turned again before they found themselves on a sinuous dirt road.

Beach in front with dark blue-green waters and what was left of a pontoon bridge, small woods at the back, the place was beautiful. Peaceful, calm, smelling of salt and warm sand.

Lincoln stood by the car and scratched the nape of his neck.

The bungalow was a wreck.

“Yes,” Sara admitted. “Yes, it is.”

(That was the point.)
End Notes:
Quick history of Story of Faith: I started plotting this fic in 2011 -- please don’t laugh. In the meantime, I read Seven by rosie_spleen and wrldpossibility and abandoned Story of Faith for a while because Seven was so very good and had a somewhat similar premise -- I’m not pretending to be original -- so what was the point? Having a light tendency to get fixated on things, I started working on it again in 2012 and completed it May 2015. So, all in all, it only took me four years and a lot of complaining to write the damn thing...


Given all this, I’m going to beg shamelessly for feedback ← please consider this is shameless begging ;)
Chapter 2 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 2

Her name was Yoki Evergreen, she introduced herself on her next visit, and she would be his main doctor. It didn’t sound reassuring since it implied there would be need for a few others.

She showed him a picture of Lincoln and Sara, alive and looking well if not crazily joyful, and fear almost choked him. That woman displaying a picture of Sara and Lincoln meant someone took it, which meant someone was keeping tabs on them, which...

“Sara and Lincoln are fine.”

She held it mere inches from his eyes, so close and so far that it made his fingers itch to touch it. It wasn’t only fear that was choking him now, but also need.

“They’re fine,” she told him again as if she thought that repeating it could make the statement real and the picture less threatening for him. “I’m not going to lie to you. We want something from you. We won’t hurt you or anyone you care about to get it.”

His eyes followed the picture as she moved it to settle it on the night stand. He tried to move on pure instinct, tried to sit and reach for it.

He only managed to lift and turn his head, which was a little progress, at least.

“It’s going to take some time. Michael? Do you hear what I’m telling you? You’ll be better, but it’s going to take some time. Don’t try to force things.”

Teams of doctors gave way to groups of physical therapists. Sometimes a man or a woman in a dark suit and undecipherable expression stood by to follow his progress. He had to relearn everything: to drink, to eat, even to speak properly as words sometimes eluded him. It was such an irony for the smooth talker he was supposed to be. Lifting his head or his arm was an effort, one he wondered why he needed to make until the memories of Sara’s smile or Lincoln’s voice hit him. They were sharp, those memories, those images of them, when everything around him was still blurry and hazy.

Dr. Evergreen hadn’t lied to him, which was a point in her favor: it did take time. Days to be able to shift his arms and legs, more days to be able to sit up in his bed. She brought in a calendar and checked the passing days on it. He counted and recounted the marks with no small amount of trepidation. He needed to be with Sara and Lincoln; he needed to make sure for himself that they were all right, even if Yoki assured him they were just fine. Or maybe especially because Yoki assured him they were just fine.

He wasn’t fool enough to trust her, but her no-nonsense attitude and straightforwardness mellowed his defenses enough for him to eventually ask her, “Are you Company?”

“No.”

“Government?”

She gave it some thought before shaking her head.

She helped him swing his legs to the side of the bed and stand up. She was average height and build, but she held him securely. He wished he didn’t find it comforting. He couldn’t allow himself to go there as long as he didn’t know who she was -- and even after, if he ever knew, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea anyway.

“I have questions.”

“You’ll have answers. But let’s proceed step by step.”

He wondered if she believed that too much information at a time could kill him. Perhaps it could, indeed, and then, it meant it couldn’t be good information.

* * *

“How about you start by telling me why I’m alive,” he asked her a couple of days later.

She’d never explained to him what a ‘main doctor’ was supposed to do, but apparently, it involved sitting by him whenever someone else was with him -- and sometimes when no one else was with him -- like it was currently the case with a very muscled and silent physical therapist.

He touched his fingers to his head; more accurately, he touched the bandages wrapped around his hands to his head. His hands were still numb, skin transplanted on the whole of the palms and fingers. It happens when you grab a non-isolated electrical wire with both hands, Dr. Evergreen had pointed out matter-of-factly as if skin graft was her daily bread.

“The tumor? We removed it. So far, the intervention seems to have been a success. We’ll start on the chemo and other treatments when you’re a bit stronger.”

The therapist was massaging his legs; it was more pleasant than some of the rehabilitation the man had been putting Michael through for a couple of weeks.

“The surgery doesn’t work. The Company’s doctors tried. It doesn’t work.”

She shrugged, unimpressed.

“I guess I’m better than they were, then. Or maybe they didn’t want it to work. Have you considered this possibility, Michael?”

That the Company had played him, just delayed the end to get what they wanted from him? He hadn’t since he’d woken up here -- wherever ‘here’ was -- and he couldn’t remember if he did when the Company put him under the knife. But he certainly should have.

“Where are we?”

“In a compound in Delaware, not very far from Dover.”

“Why are we here?” he asked again, pushing his luck.

This was obviously a drawing-the-line question. Dr. Evergreen signaled the therapist that he was done and should go.

“I’m here to take care of your health, Michael,” she told him after the man was gone. “Some questions, I can answer for you. Others, you’ll have to wait. Someone else will answer them.”

* * *

She lived in limbo.

Sara didn’t cry. Sofia got this right. She didn’t cry because she had no tears left to shed. She had dried up in more than one way during those few days between Florida and Costa Rica. She left something behind her and, yes, there was the baby, but for now, the baby only made the void more obvious.

She worked on the bungalow; on their home. She sawed, hammered and painted like all the others who were here to help -- Lincoln, LJ, Sucre, Sofia when she could, even Alex and Felicia at some point.

Lincoln had gotten Sucre on the phone when they went back to the scuba shop after visiting the place weeks ago. It was fast and simple, a request to “Get your ass here... Just do it, Papi,” and Sucre got his ass here because he was Sucre.

Sara should have felt grateful, overwhelmed, bathing in their affection. If she looked deep, deep enough inside her, she kind of did. But on a daily basis? She didn’t feel anything, which may or may not be worse than feeling like shit. She lived in limbo, showered and ate because she had to if only for the baby, if only because Michael hadn’t died for his wife to let herself fall apart.

They gave her hell for sawing, hammering and painting like all the others. “It’s not good for the baby” was the sentence she’d been hearing the most, lately. “I’m pregnant, not sick” was the sentence they had been hearing the most, lately. They didn’t understand that she needed this, but she didn’t feel like explaining it. Dodging their concerns and discarding their remarks was easier, simpler.

“It can’t be good for the baby, Sara,” LJ -- LJ of all people for God’s sake -- pointed out when he spotted her with a mask on her face and the sander machine ready to get into action.

She squinted at him. Her belly was starting to get rounder; she still had a few months before moving became an issue, and she intended to use those damn months.

“You know what’s not good for the baby either?” she asked no-one in particular.

(A mom living in limbo.)

“Stepladders?” Sucre chipped in.

“Contrariety.”

She sawed, hammered and painted like all the others. The bungalow was a wreck that slowly found its way back to home-ness. It would never ever be as it used to be, but it would make a suitable habitation.

* * *

Soon enough, Michael could sit up alone, and then he could get up and stand alone; eventually, he managed to limp around. He put this relative freedom to good use and explored his bedroom. Despite all the heavy medical equipment -- not as much as when he was first brought in, Dr. Evergreen said -- it didn’t look like a hospital room.

Three doors, one leading to the outside of his room, one of them locked, the third one giving access to the bathroom; one large bay window, tinted, bullet-proof and as locked as the doors. Queen-size bed that they’d installed a couple of days ago to replace the hospital bed. Wardrobe with civilian clothes -- he was still wearing some sweats -- desk, sofa, television. Dark floorboards and blue paint on the walls, curtains for the window, rugs on the floor. It was a nice room, bordering on luxurious.

(It remained a jail.)

There was no computer or phone, but as far as he could tell, the television had unrestricted access to all and any channels he could imagine. They didn’t want him to reach the outside, but the outside reaching him didn’t seem to be an issue. Message received loud and clear, fitting with the fact that Yoki had had no problem telling him where they were.

A painting was hung on the wall facing his bed, all in subtle colors and complicated lines and patterns. It was made to catch his attention and keep it. It worked like a charm -- someone knew about his LLI, but that wasn’t a surprise.

He asked for sheets of paper and was asked which size, color and grammage he needed. He got a hunch this was in a nutshell what his stay here would look like: a very important, highly-considered, pampered inmate.

Whatever kind of paper they had handy would do.

Courtesy of the lack of practice, the brain surgery and the skin graft, it took him half of the afternoon to fold a single origami crane.

(He did fold it, though, and that was what mattered.)

* * *

Yoki handed him a green folder, unlocked the mystery door of his bedroom and motioned him to follow her. The door lead to a study that was as practical and casually cozy as the bedroom.

A laptop was open and fired up on the desk.

“It’s not connected to the internet. You have no way to connect it to the internet,” Yoki said, which meant don’t waste your time and my time trying to.

Of course. Not that the thought hadn’t rushed into his mind as an instinctive reaction, but of course. He sat in the chair at the desk and waited.

“Can you solve this for me, Michael?” Yoki added, nodding at the green file in his hands.

He smiled at the way she’d phrased her request. Solve it for her. For the doctor who saved his life and had been taking good care of him. She was a bit too obvious, but she was a bit too obvious openly, not imagining he wouldn’t notice it. What was more annoying was that it worked.

“Will anyone be hurt if I fail? Or if I succeed for that matter?”

“I’ve already told you--”

“I know. I don’t mean Sara or Lincoln.” He lifted up the file. “I mean the people involved in this.”

“No. No risk of casualties. Green files are low risk cases.”

“I thought you were here to take care of my health.”

He was already flipping through the reports, pictures and diagrams, fingers shaking in his excitement. It partly was his brain needing to do something a bit more elaborate and significant than the games and trials Yoki had subjected him to up until now.

(A prison somewhere in Portugal and a woman to break out of it, as safely and cleanly as possible. Right. What a not-surprise.)

“I am. This will help us solve a case and it will be part of your physical evaluation.”

He thought about the picture on his night stand. It was several weeks old.

“I want something in exchange.”

Yoki smiled this radiant smile she’d offered him when he woke up; proud and amused and understanding.

“Work on the file, and I’ll give you something.”

She was back at the end of the day. He handed her his conclusions. She handed him another picture. Sara standing on the veranda of some half-wrecked bungalow, eyes lost in the contemplation of the ocean. So perfect, so beautiful, so far away that he felt his throat constrict and tears well up.

The baby bump had started rounding her lithe figure and was obvious beneath the orange fabric of her dress.

The green file was only the first of a series. One, two, three, four. Before long, he solved one before lunch and an afternoon nap, another after, and then more, more, more. It was addictive, finding out his brain was still functional and exercising it, not only for the sake and the pleasure of it but because some day, he would need it fit and in full thinking mode.

He went along with it and did whatever Yoki told him to. It took him some time to realize that he didn’t second guess her demands, didn’t bargain or rebel, didn’t even ask any questions. She’d told him Sara and Lincoln were fine and no one would hurt them. He believed the first part because he’d been given proof. He’d studied the picture from every possible angle, trying to make sure it wasn’t a fake, and decided it did look real. But the faith that sustained him through Fox River and the following months had faded, reduced to nothing, a barely-there flame he couldn’t rekindle. Yoki had told him Sara and Lincoln were fine and no one would hurt them, but he had no faith it wouldn’t happen anyway if he didn’t comply.

So he complied and brained up. It was all he could do for now, until he could figure out who they were, what they wanted -- and how he could outwit them if he needed to.

Each green case was rewarded with a new picture. He didn’t even need to ask anymore, they came one after another and, very soon, he had something resembling an altar pinned above his nightstand -- an altar of photographs above his nightstand, and a drawer filled with origami cranes. When he was taking a new file from Yoki’s hands, his fingers shook. He was starting to feel like the Pavlov’s dog of the infamous experiment. He was starting to feel like there was a good dose of weird in the way someone had to spy on Sara and Lincoln to get him those photos, but he couldn’t help it, couldn’t help himself.

When they trusted him with a yellow file, Yoki lingered a second longer than usual, made sure he understood the change, the code of colors.

“I want something in exchange,” he told her.

“You know I will--”

“No, Yoki, that’s not what I mean. I want to talk with the people who will answer the questions you can’t answer.”

(You see, he did understand the code of colors.)
Chapter 3 by Clair_de_Lune
Author's Notes:
Starting with this chapter, there are a few very not-subtle references to another TV show in the story. This is not meant in any way to be a crossover, and it will stay at the stage of very not-subtle references. Initially, it was an in-joke with myself about Mrs. Jamison’s name and I extended the silliness to a few other things.
If you know and like said other TV show, do not expect characters development, actual crossover, fusion or anything. If you don’t know said other TV show... don’t fear actual crossover, fusion or anything of this sort ;)
Chapter 3

Michael woke up to the smiling face of Paul Kellerman.

He shut his eyes.

(Maybe he’d never woken up in the first place. Maybe this was an elaborate trick and he was in Hell. Being in Hell was the only thing that would have explained Paul Kellerman’s presence at his bedside.)

“Come on, Michael,” Kellerman said. “You know I’m one of the good guys, now.”

“Michael.”

Yoki’s voice was firm and unrelenting, sobering. He opened his eyes again and inwardly winced at the influence she had over him. He hadn’t seen that one coming, the influence.

“You said you wanted to talk to the people who would answer the questions Dr. Evergreen can’t answer.” Kellerman opened his hands, palms turned upward. “Here I am.”

Michael hadn’t thought about who -- the physical people -- was behind the whole thing. It hit him. He’d wondered, of course, but lost in his worries and hopes about Sara and Lincoln, bogged down in his brain exercises, mandatory naps and physical rehabilitation, he hadn’t reflected about who was running the show. He wouldn’t have been surprised to wake up to the smiling face of Paul Kellerman if he had.

He glanced at Yoki. She didn’t move, but she nodded at a nurse who stepped in to pass him clothes; real clothes, no sweats. He thought it spoke volumes about her relationship with Kellerman that she didn’t assume a lesser task she would usually have assumed without even thinking about it.

“I’ll wait for you up there, Michael,” Kellerman said, index finger vaguely pointing at the upper floors.

He put on more formal clothes for the first time in months; dark pants and a blue shirt a bit loose but a reasonable fit and made of the same kind of expensive fabric he used to wear. It was unsettling. It made him feel as though he was back to the beginning of the story.

He was marched -- “escorted,” they said -- by two guards in black suits. He limped. It was due to his missing toes but also to the tumor, the surgery, the shock he went through at Miami Dade. He was in bad shape and had a hunch he wouldn’t fully recover. He didn't care that much. Sara and Lincoln were alive, the baby would be fine, he was alive even though far from his family. That was more than he could and should have hoped for.

The guards politely matched their pace to his. Usually, there was no need for whoever worked here to wait for him: the therapists or the doctors sat him in a wheelchair and rolled him to any room he needed to be lead to. The rest of the time, he stayed in his bedroom or office. It was okay. The circumstances being what they were, wherever they were leading him, he’d rather go there walking on his own. On his feet to face the answers.

They went down long hallways with marble floors where he’d never been before, and then into an elevator. Its doors opened several floors higher, right in front of a large office. Big place, old construction but up-to-date installations, baroquely modern.

It wasn’t Kellerman who was waiting for him behind an imposing desk, but a woman in her late forties, black hair and piercing blue eyes, her pant suit almost molded on her; cold and collected. A poster image for any kind of organization working with Kellerman. She was surrounded by the acrid smoke of a cigarette that she crushed in an ashtray the second Michael passed through the door.

“I thought you’d quit like a millennium ago?” Kellerman pointed out from his seat on the other side of the desk.

She didn’t bother with an answer.

“I’m Mrs. Jamison, Mr. Scofield. Please have a seat.”

“This is Mrs. Jamison, Michael,” Kellerman mimicked. “She works for us... with us -- sorry, Mrs. Jamison -- to bring down The Company.”

It sounded so obvious in Kellerman’s mouth.

(Last time Michael had heard of it, The Company was already in the ground, and yet, he was only half-surprised to be told that the monster was still alive.)

* * *

They waited to let him absorb the news, to study his reaction or maybe just for emphasis and dramatic effect. Go figure.

“Do you know what a hydra is, Michael?” Kellerman eventually asked him.

Michael didn’t grace him with an answer that Kellerman didn’t expect anyway. The question was rhetorical. Naturally Michael knew what a hydra was. Kellerman knew he did, Mrs. Jamison too.

“The Company is a hydra. If you cut one of its secondary heads, two other ones will grow. And of course, one way or another, the main head won’t die.”

You could trust Greek mythology to come up with desperate-sounding stories.

“Please tell me this place isn’t named Sisyphus,” Michael replied dryly. “Because if it is, you’re doubly screwed.”

Kellerman rolled his eyes. Jamison smirked -- she had a smile like a shark’s but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant -- and volunteered, “This place is The Foundation.”

Right. Foundation. Company. Shady organizations with shady goals, shady people, and capital letters in their names.

“Mr. Kellerman here has asked us to take care of you.”

“You did a great job. Thank you. Now that I’m feeling better, I assume I’m free to go?”

His tone was laden with sarcasm. It appeared that sarcasm had as little effect on Mrs. Jamison as it had had on Yoki the couple of times he tried it. She reclined in her seat and crossed her hands on her spotless desk.

“As a matter of fact -- and I speak under the control of Mr. Kellerman -- you are.”

* * *

He wasn’t going to lie: his gut instinct was to get up, limp out of here and not stop until he reached Costa Rica, Sara, their yet-to-be-born baby and Lincoln.

It was precisely the evocation of Sara, the baby and Lincoln that strapped him into his chair more securely than any kind of bonds could have. Yoki had said they wouldn’t hurt anyone he cared about.

But of course...

“Of course, if you do, Sara and Lincoln will be in danger,” Kellerman said. “The baby, LJ, Sofia... For now, The Company is laying low because they’re licking their wounds, trying to regroup, all that jazz. But if they find out you’re alive, they’re not going to take it kindly, Michael. They’re going to want things from you. You remember how enamored they were with your brain? The lengths they were ready to go to assure your cooperation? What they did to Sara?”

Michael didn’t move, hardly breathed, face ashen and hands sweaty. He’d realized all what Kellerman was explaining even before Kellerman started to talk, but hearing it made the risk real, almost palpable. It twisted his guts, cut his breath, messed with what was left of his brain...

He leaned forward and laid a moist palm on the dark wood of the desk, where it left a clear imprint. He could feel Jamison’s eyes on his hand; they were oddly compassionate.

“Sara and Lincoln will have to--” Kellerman started again.

“He got it.”

His salvation came from Mrs. Jamison who broke the buzz of Kellerman’s threats, her voice husky and definitive. Kellerman nodded as though to concede his defeat.

Michael breathed in and smelled her perfume mixed with the odor of leather, cigarette smoke and, fainter, Kellerman’s aftershave.

For a split second, he felt as if he was going to be sick. Kellerman slid a glass in his direction, leaving a trail of fresh water on the mahogany desk.

“So here is the deal. You stay here. You work with the lovely Mrs. Jamison and her do-gooder Foundation to help us kill the hydra. We have you to help us. What’s even better for us, for you, for Sara and Lincoln, you’re not wandering around so The Company doesn’t even know you’re alive and can’t have you to help them. Huge win-win. In return, I make sure that Lincoln, Sara and the little Scofield-Tancredi live happily and safely... Well, happily I can’t guarantee, but safely at least.”

“When can I speak to my wife and my brother?”

Kellerman shook his head, grunted with derision, discarded a perfectly valid instinct by making it sound dumb and reckless.

“You don’t speak to them. They can’t know you’re alive, for this plan and for their own safety. As you can imagine, their safety is not my main concern, but I know we won’t get anything from you if something happens to them, so yeah, let’s pretend I care about them.”

Michael blinked. He was tired and the room spun around him. He held onto the edge of his chair but couldn’t help drifting out of the conversation. He had worked on two yellow files, earlier today, and then this. His much needed nap interrupted, Kellerman, the walk, the office, Mrs. Jamison -- he couldn’t tell whether she was friend or foe -- the explanation, the hundreds of questions he still has, the...

“You think about it, Mr. Scofield, and we’ll discuss it again tomorrow morning,” Jamison said. Kellerman dropped his mask of bonhomie and looked daggers at her, not happy with her intervention. She didn’t bat an eyelid. “He needs to rest, now. Don’t overwork my assets, Mr. Kellerman, I know what I’m doing.”

* * *

He couldn’t sleep. He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling through the dark of the night, and made a mental list of cons and pros.

The cons part counted too many items to keep track of all of them in his current state.

The pros list was shorter, but its main bullet point was ‘Sara, Lincoln and the baby alive and safe’.

Pretending he was dead to keep his family safe. The kind of ploy that ran in the family, it seemed. Never before had he understood so well -- felt deep within his bones and loins -- why his own father had taken a similar road decades ago.

He didn’t question what Kellerman had told him about The Company or the nature of The Foundation. A few months ago, he would have, but not anymore, not after everything he’d seen. Not after Kellerman actually helped them.

He closed his eyes against the darkness, against the tears prickling his eyelids. Hardest and easiest decision ever all at once. At dawn, when he met again with Kellerman and Jamison, he would have more questions to ask, conditions to lay out, but he knew his answer already.

He suspected Kellerman knew it the second Michael had woken up in this room.

* * *

“I want Sara’s name cleared,” were the first words getting out of Michael’s mouth when he met with Kellerman on the next morning.

Mrs. Jamison wasn’t attending their meeting. Michael wondered if it was because it wasn’t necessary or because she grated on Kellerman’s nerves, and vice-versa.

Kellerman’s lips twisted, his head tipped to the side, faking regret. Pretending to fake regret, in a too ostentatious manner, almost as if concealing his real feelings about the demand. Michael stared at the man in front of him and pushed the idea away. He was reading too much in Kellerman’s game.

“Can’t do. After the legal delay and if you succeed in your assignment, I’ll try to get her a Presidential Pardon. That’s all I can do. That’s way more than anyone would be willing and able to do, and you know it.”

Michael considered the offer. A Presidential Pardon would mean Sara was no longer a fugitive. She would have to live with the label of criminal sticking to her, she would never work as a doctor anymore, but at least she would have the possibility to move and travel freely wherever she would want to.

“If I succeed in my assignment, you will get her a Presidential Pardon, legal delay or not.”

Kellerman rolled his eyes in annoyance and nodded his agreement. A roll of eyes and a nod of the head: that was how much a woman’s future weighed in his balance and in his scheme.

“That’s the least you can do,” Michael whispered angrily. “Sending us a useless lawyer: that’s all you did when Sara got arrested.”

The other man reclined in his chair, in a way indicating he was actually getting prepared to pounce on a prey.

“Michael, no matter how much you think I do, I do not owe to you to step in each time a member of your little gang gets into trouble -- that would be a full-time job anyway.”

“That would be true if you weren’t one of the bastards who set up my brother in the first place and started it all.”

“Yeah, I know. Old song. Let’s move on. There’s a limited amount of favors I can call in and I had pretty much exhausted all of them to get you and your pals that deal.”

Michael considered the situation. Post-bringing down the General, Kellerman should have been at the spike of his influence, only needing to snap his fingers to have done what he wanted to be done. There was only one thing that could have got in his way.

“Someone was faster and more lethal than you, huh? Whoever tipped off the FBI and sent this video tape of Sara shooting my mother was faster and more powerful than you. You couldn’t do a thing.” Kellerman lifted and dropped back his right hand in admittance. “Makes you all the more resolute to get them, doesn’t it?”

“If they can still have this kind of influence when we thought we had killed them, imagine what they could achieve if they revive that fucking organization? Warden Simms lined up with the FBI for a bunch of reasons. Not wanting to be victim of one of your escape plans was one of them. Sara’s responsibility for what happened in Fox River was another. At least, she was smart enough to let herself be convinced to warn me if something went really awry.”

Michael knew Kellerman and had met with Simms a couple of time. She was a cold, tough, determined woman. He could imagine what kind of convincing it had taken to bend her to Kellerman’s demand.

Over a cup of coffee and pretentious croissants, Kellerman told him how, when they brought him here a few months ago, he looked like something the cat had dragged in, and even a bit worse. But at least, they did bring him here, thanks to the warden who kept her word and contacted Kellerman when she found out Michael wasn’t totally dead, by the way. Not that it was an option right now, but Michael owed the warden a fucking thank you note because if she’d been a bit less careerist -- and attached to her limbs and a few family members -- he would have ended up falling into The Company’s hands.

(Michael thought of the way the warden had treated Sara and a thank you note was the furthest concern in his mind, but whatever, he let Kellerman blather.)

Between a croissant and a slice of peach, Kellerman announced, “General Krantz is in jail and will be sentenced to death.”

The trial had only just begun because there was too much evidence to gather and process, too many procedures to follow and witnesses to protect, but the outcome had already been written, at least in Kellerman’s book -- which was the one that mattered here.

“As you know, there can be years between a sentence and its execution.”

(Even though Kellerman and his group would see that the delay was reduced to its minimum. Kellerman had experience with this kind of thing, after all.)

“In the meantime, Krantz will try to put The Company back together and leave it to one of his lieutenants.”

“I thought you had... harvested all of them?”

“Most of them,” Kellerman corrected. “The less smart ones. A few of the cleverest ones managed to elude us. And the troops, the lower level manpower... We need to go deeper. We need to expose, arrest and neutralize them in a way that will ensure they won’t have the possibility, and even less the desire, to start everything all over again as they’re doing it right now.”

Michael listened. He didn’t ask how Kellerman could be so sure of what Krantz was up to because he knew the answer.

“It’s already started, Michael.”

Kellerman whispered with intensity, acting up for Michael’s benefit, and Michael hated to admit it, but it worked. Beyond expectations because his hurt but still out-of-the-ordinary brain could envision it without effort: if Krantz could work to put The Company back together, then he could work to do to Sara whatever struck his fancy.

“The man has been in solitary for weeks and yet, he can still communicate with the exterior.”

Kellerman kept talking, explaining. His voice was a background hum as Michael thought about this place, about Sara and Linc and the baby, and how to get back to them. For now, wandering attention to Kellerman’s speech was sufficient: Michael had understood what he would ask him as soon as he mentioned Krantz.

“We want you to work on finding out how he can do that, and then on ways to prevent him from doing it. We want you to help us find out who will be the next head of The Company.”

Kellerman talked, talked, talked, and during all this time, a baby was growing in Sara’s belly, so really, there was only one question making sense in Michael’s mind: “When can I go?”

Just as he never second-guessed or fought Yoki, he didn’t second-guess or fight Kellerman. That would be pointless, a waste of time.

“I’m sorry?”

“When does it stop? I’m not going to stay in this place forever.”

Kellerman seemed to be amused by his question, its naivety.

“It stops when Krantz goes to the chair and the Hydra’s main head rolls to the ground.”
Chapter 4 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 4

Once upon a time, he was ready to sacrifice life as he knew it to save another man’s life, and to lose life as he knew it and five years of freedom if he failed. Once (or twice) upon another time, he was ready to sacrifice whatever had to be sacrificed to save a woman’s life. Ultimately, he thought he had gone there and done it, the sacrifice. But maybe it wasn’t enough to redeem his sins because it didn’t feel like a sacrifice? A dying man shortening his sufferings to save those he loved? Where was the sacrifice, when you think about it?

Now he was going to give up years -- God only knew how many -- to make sure a man was executed and that man’s grand plan failed. The irony was not lost on him, the sacrifice, for him and unbeknown to her for Sara, either. The disgust of knowing that the better he worked, the faster that man died weighed heavy in his stomach and forced bile into his throat.

(“What if it takes twenty years to execute Krantz? Then I’m stuck in there for that long?” Michael had asked Kellerman before the man left, and Kellerman had just snickered. “It won’t. Believe me. Remember how swiftly your brother was scheduled to leave us?”)

He would have to deal with the guilt and the angst attached to his decision later, though.

He’d sat or stood through a handful of orientation days of various kinds. This one was an odd combination, somehow a mixture of a high school lecture, the quiet danger of Lechero’s threats and the smoothness of his first day at Middleton, Maxwell & Schaum.

Mrs. Jamison offered him a seat in her office, the same as a few days ago, with the difference that Kellerman was not here anymore. Agreement reached, deal made, he had left Michael in the capable hands of Mrs. Jamison.

Her speech was short and brisk, business-like. She didn’t sugar-coat things, but she didn’t taunt him the way Kellerman did.

“You stay because you want to, Mr. Scofield. You’re free to go anytime. It’s not like I could help it anyway, is it? But you pass through the main door of this facility without my knowledge, you can never get inside again and you assume the consequences for yourself and for your family. I’m here to help you achieve a mission. I’m not here to watch you and I’m certainly not here to chase you if you leave. Are we clear?”

They were. Crystal clear. He was handing himself over. Willing prisoner in the hope of saving the people he loved, fix his mistakes and right his wrongs, those he’d caused directly and the collateral damages. It seemed to be a pattern and, even in his condition and in his situation, he could admit and appreciate it.

Mrs. Jamison pointed a finger at the other side of the frosted glass doors of her office where a man in a suit was waiting for Michael.

“You need something, you ask Tom. He’ll be in charge of your security.” Her eyes softened slightly and she leaned forward, her elbows resting on her desk. “Tom is not a watchdog; his job is to protect you. But if you think that main door may become too... attractive, you can ask him to politely walk you back to your room whenever you wander too close to the exit.”

Willing prisoner indeed.

She informed him that he would have an unrestricted, although monitored, internet access. She also informed him that if he abused said access and pulled a stunt on her, she would have his balls cut and served on a plate for her breakfast.

(She didn’t sugar-coat things.)

She reached out for something behind her and handed it over to him. He found himself with a walking cane made of dark wood, its carved handle a nice piece of work.

“Dr. Evergreen thinks that your limp should improve with time, but for now, this could help.”

It was the oddest welcome gift he’d ever received, but somehow, it was symbolic -- he would be able to move around on his feet, without the drawback of the wheelchair, and he was grateful for that.

* * *

He wasn’t Captain Optimism, Lincoln would admit that much. In his defense, life had never prepared him to be Captain Optimism. So, despite his best efforts and self-promises, every now and then, he sank into muddy waters and felt like he could never ever escape them. When it happened, he heard his fifteen-old self preaching faith and wanted to smack him across the mouth.

It always started with something mundane; silly. Wasn’t this always the case?

A chessboard in the window of some store. Despite what one might think, it was Lincoln who taught Michael to play chess. And according to what one might think, it took less than two months for Michael to beat the shit out of Lincoln at the damn game.

Strawberry ice-cream because it was Michael’s favorite. (“Can’t you be a grown man, Michael, and like grown man’s stuff? Strawberry ice-cream is for kids.” -- “Fuck you, Linc,” and Michael was all smiles and half-closed eyes in delight.)

The account book of the scuba shop. The words account book’ alone made him yawn, and Sofia didn’t seem too eager to take on this duty. It should have been a job for Michael. His throat tightened each time he opened the damn thing.

And of course, right now, the fucking roof of the fucking bungalow of his fucking sister-in-law. He couldn’t fix it. (When he gazed into Sara’s big brown, sad eyes, he thought that he couldn’t fix her either, but for now, the roof would have been a start.)

He threw plans and tools to the floor and fled the room, leaving behind him Sucre, Sofia and LJ; and Sara. In his wake, he heard conversations and then footsteps, and fuck, because the footsteps were Sara’s. He went down the stairs and walked faster on the sand, trying to distance her, but she wouldn’t have any of this.

“Don’t you dare make me run, Lincoln!” It was followed by words that probably shouldn’t have been used when you’d got the kind of education Sara Tancredi-Scofield received.

He stopped and waited for her, hands on his hips and chin up, challenging her to challenge him.

“You’re good at it,” she attacked when she stood a mere foot from him. “But not as much as you imagine you are.”

A bit awkwardly, she sat on the sand with her legs crossed. He helped her down, just the way he would have to help her up later, and dropped beside her.

“Good at what?”

“Pretending you’re okay.”

“Like you can talk.”

“We can’t be okay. But the way you’ve been there for me... why can’t you let me be there for you? I’m not Michael.” His head whipped up, eyes dark and hurt by her bluntness. “I don’t need you to take care of me.”

He nodded at her baby bump.

“Say that again in five minutes when you can’t get up.”

“But I do need a friend,” she kept talking as if he never interrupted her. “Quid pro quo, Lincoln. It’s been rather one-way up until now, don’t you think?”

He watched the cut he gave himself with the tools. The blood was staining his jeans.

“The roof... it’s a job for Michael.”

It had been on his mind, in his heart, twisting his guts from Day One when she showed him the wreck of a bungalow she’d bought. The roof was a job for Michael; the whole bungalow was a job for Michael; being there for Sara, Sara being there for someone was supposed to be for Michael too.

“I know. A bunch of things should be a job for Michael.”

She shifted and writhed, knelt and pushed on her hands to get up. It wasn’t pretty, but she managed to do it. He sat there, watched and waited until she offered him her hand because he wasn’t as thick-skulled as you’d think and he did retain something from her little speech. He took her hand and squeezed it a bit too hard, but that was okay; she didn’t protest. She hauled him up, and he was amazed by the strength with which she pulled on his arm and lifted him up.

* * *

He got a bigger office to go with his civilian clothes and fancy cane. The room was in the same hallway as his bedroom, at its other end. People were waiting for him when he got inside for the first time, two men and a woman. By ‘waiting for him’, he meant working on computers with gigantic screens and looking up when Tom No Last Name opened the door for him.

They were his analysts, Tom explained briefly: Pat, Nat and Cat.

(Seriously?)

He would need a few days to understand that Pat, Nat and Cat were under his orders, here to accomplish whatever task he asked them to perform.

Two piles of files sat on his desk on the other side of the room, all of them orange and red; no yellow, and even less so green, folders anymore. This, he understood immediately what he was supposed to do with.

* * *

Little by little, the bungalow started looking less like a wreck and more like a house. The walls were propped up, the floor and the roof consolidated or rebuilt, the water and electricity restored. The place smelled of sawdust, fresh paint and old furniture bought here and there.

Little by little, Sara had to give up the sander machine and step ladders, paint and hammers, and become an observer of the transformation. She did reach the stage where moving was a problem.

She wasn’t ready. At all. Maybe the bungalow looked less like a wreck, but she didn’t. She hadn’t finished the transition and she’d run out of time. She had an eight-and-a-half-months old baby kicking in her stomach as a warning he was coming out anytime soon.

She’d bought and repainted an old cradle, packed up diapers and stuff, had enough baby clothes in her dresser for one year. She’d done everything she had to do. But pushing the baby out, expelling from herself a part of Michael she’d been nurturing in the most primary way?

She couldn’t do this.

“Of course you can”, Lincoln counterattacked. He kept talking, something about her being the fucking strongest person he’d ever known. Apparently, Lincoln Burrows didn’t get the difference between strength and absence of choice. “He’s not going to stay in there anyway.”

Right. That made sense.

“Will you be there?”

She’d been thinking about it for quite some time, now. It would only be fair: someone who’d known and loved Michael as she much as she had -- still did -- to welcome his baby into the world, someone to hold her hand, someone who could use the hope of a new life. It was a win-win situation -- as much as anything in her life could be a win-win these days.

She watched Lincoln, and she could almost have laughed at him. He needed a few seconds to digest that she wasn’t meaning there in the waiting room, but there with her.

His lips twisted. He’d been there and done that once, when LJ was born. He thought the situation was bad, back then; bad, and yet bearing promises and expectations at the same time. It wasn’t so different today, just magnified ten times. He reached out, caught Sara’s eyes to ask the permission, and brushed his hand over her distended belly.

“Sure,” he grumbled. “They’ll have to kick me out of the delivery room.”

(They would probably try.)

Outside, below on the beach, Sucre and LJ were working on fixing the small pontoon. Even from here, she could hear the mish-mash of their discussions and occasional swearing, brought in by the breeze. She pressed Lincoln’s hand against her stomach and whispered a thanks.

If she wasn’t ready, the baby was, right on time; his father’s son in his precision and will to bend his mom’s plans to his own.

When it happened, when she ended up at the hospital with the midwife looking between her legs and Lincoln squeezing her shoulders -- and vice-versa at some point -- she felt as if she’d been ripped open; split in two. She welcomed the physical pain and held onto it. At least, this was a kind of suffering that had a purpose, something she could fight and beat and that would end.

She clutched the bed rails to steady herself, breathed and panted and pushed when she was told to, all in a surreal haze. Lincoln, and the smell of antiseptic and bodily fluids, the incredible stretch of her body and the comforting pain, and Michael, Michael, Michael who was not here, would never be here anymore. Maybe never before today had it been so obvious, hitting her in the face and the heart.

“Sara?” Lincoln was patting her hit-by-reality face and stroking her arm. Best brother-in-law ever, even though he was prone to wallow in his guilt and misery when he let himself sink. “You okay?”

She was screwed, she wanted to tell Linc. But these couldn’t be the first words her baby heard, so she didn’t say anything at all and just nodded her head. Thank God, the baby wailed, Lincoln shut up, and Sara -- who’d always tended to think that those stories about wanting to laugh with relief and cry with misery at the same time were crap -- indeed felt like laughing and crying.

She called the baby Michael. What else could she have called him? The name had imposed itself in her mind the day the ultrasound showed her it would be a boy.

* * *

He kept seeing Yoki on a daily basis, but she wasn’t around as much as she used to be. She didn’t sit with him all day long; she had been reassigned to some of her previous functions, whatever those were; she didn’t check on him every other hour anymore. So when she showed up at two P.M. in his office and motioned him to follow her outside, his heart leaped in his chest.

“Everything’s okay, Michael, I just have some news for you,” she reassured him as the door closed behind them. “Sara has gone into labor.” He watched her and said nothing, grateful for the cane that he could lean on. “You’re free for today, Pat will take over. Mrs. Jamison’s orders.”

He nodded, still said nothing and walked to his bedroom.

He had no regrets. Maybe in twenty-five or thirty years when he became a grandfather? Or way before that, when he showed up on Sara’s doorstep a few years from now, and she welcomed him with shock, watering eyes and a stinging slap, or possibly a punch, to his face? But today, he had no regrets. It was all for the best -- hide, keep a low profile, keep them safe.

He knew right from the start that he wouldn’t be there for her, and that was okay. He made a choice -- the lesser of two evils -- took a decision, and he clung to it for the greater good of everybody. Plus, Linc was with her, and Linc was more awesome in those circumstances than anyone would have imagined.

It lasted. Hours and hours. Who would have thought that a child born of Sara Tancredi and Michael Scofield would have such a strong mind of his own and would get out of here when he decided it? Michael could hear Lincoln’s sarcastic comment, could see the way he leaned down towards Sara, could feel the warmth of his hand holding hers. He could imagine all that, at least, and of course, it was his punishment for not being here for her. He gladly accepted it.

For twenty-four hours, he didn’t move, didn’t sleep, hardly drank or ate. He lay on his bed, and breathed slow and deep. Projected for himself in minute details the picture of what was happening in a clinic hundreds of miles away, his own little mirror of Tantalus -- a cab, a plane, a bus and he could have been over there.

He cried for the first time in seven months when a disembodied voice on the phone announced to him that he had a son.
Chapter 5 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 5

The bungalow was neat and clean, roof, floors and walls as good as new, and a faint scent of fresh paint still in the air when Sara entered it for the first time with Michael Jr. in her arms. Lincoln and LJ had hammered the last nails in the day before; Sofia had stacked the fridge with fruits, vegetables, and more food than Sara could eat. The place was ready for him. She was ready for him.

(Hopefully.)

She hadn’t pushed for or insisted that the clinic let her go home early. Quite the contrary. She dreaded the moment where she would be alone, sitting by herself with too much on her mind, only the memories of Michael and a ‘could-have-been, should-have-been’ little tune playing in her head to keep her company.

It didn’t happen the way she’d imagined.

For five days, she slept and showered when Michael Jr. allowed her to. She ate when he was done with his meal which, by the way, was the only moment where she did sit. Any other second was spent up on her feet or collapsed across her bed, no in-between.

On the morning of the sixth day, she gave Lincoln a call -- Lincoln who’d asked her, “You sure you don’t want any help?” and to whom she’d replied, “I’ll be just fine.”

He was good with babies, that was plainly obvious and she told him so.

“Been there, done that,” he said with a shrug.

He didn’t fool her. He’d been there, done that once about seventeen years ago. He was just good with babies. His hands were huge under the tiny head of the infant and yet so nimble and fast when said infant needed to have his diaper changed.

“Didn’t they show you how to do it at the clinic?” he asked her, and then added, “I thought you were a doctor, anyway.”

He was a bit too sarcastic for his own good, but it wasn’t like she could blow him off now. Moreover, it was fascinating how hands looking like oversized paws managed to handle and master the tiny fastenings. She wasn’t sure she wanted to find out where he’d picked up such dexterity besides taking care of his own kid, but it was interesting to watch.

“My training in pediatrics lasted two months ten years ago and I don’t even know why you imagine it covered this kind of thing,” she replied. “Anyway, I haven’t practiced medicine for months, and the last time I had patients, they were convicts in a federal prison. Let me tell you something about convicts in a federal prison, Lincoln--”

“Sure, go ahead, ‘cause I don’t know anything about them.”

“They’re not the kind of people you want to see in a diaper.”

He had to concede on that one.

She glanced at Michael, who had fallen asleep as soon as Lincoln had settled him in the crook of his left elbow.

“He likes you,” she told him.

“He’s a baby. You feed him, you clean him, you change his diaper, he likes you. You love him, he loves you back.”

That was true. He was a nice, easy baby. Stubborn but quiet. Hungry and eating enthusiastically. Maybe a bit squirmy when it came to diaper-time.

“Mike was a pain in the ass,” Linc grumbled pensively. “He didn’t cry, but he didn’t fall asleep until he’d had what he wanted.”

And just like that, Sara -- who hadn’t cried since she set foot in Costa Rica and hadn’t sat since she left the clinic except to feed Michael -- watched her baby snoring softly against the white tee-shirt of her brother-in-law, sat on the couch and let the tears pricking her eyes slide down her cheeks.

“Shit... Sara...”

“I’m okay.”

She was not. But at least she was not okay in an okay way for the first time in a long time. Lincoln sat in a cane armchair that creaked under his weight, cradled Michael, and waited.

She cried for Michael Jr. who would have to rely on testimonials like the one Lincoln just provided to know his father; she cried for Michael who wasn’t there and for Lincoln who was here but shouldn’t have been here that way; for LJ just because; for Sofia who was alone at the scuba shop because Lincoln had to leave her to come here; and while she was at it, she cried for herself.

Lincoln settled in the guest room for the night and, the next morning, cooked them pancakes. She thought of their discussion a few months ago, how this thing they had was supposed to be quid pro quo, and how fucking much this was not quid pro quo for now.

She slept, ate the pancakes, and decided she’d do quid pro quo later.

* * *

Michael got a picture of his newborn son for free.

No need to work on and solve an orange, red or any other color file. Mrs. Jamison laid the pic on his desk herself, and when he looked up in surprise, she merely shrugged.

“Don’t go around pretending that I don’t have a heart, Mr. Scofield,” she said.

He didn’t bother studying her face and looking for evidence that she was telling -- or not telling -- the truth. He had something better to focus on.

He tried to focus on it, anyway. His eyes moistened, a lump swelled in his throat, and before he knew it, he was actually-fucking-crying. He couldn’t bring himself to touch the photo so it lay here on his desk, where it shouldn’t have been, in the middle of files screaming guilt and ugliness when his son was all innocence and hope.

Never before had he felt so acutely that you could be filled with emptiness and longing. Sure, he’d experienced it quite a few times because of Linc -- in a memorable way even -- and with Sara too. But now? The ache, the absence of Sara and the baby, carved its place within him. He feared he shrank down, collapsed around that empty place; it couldn’t happen, he couldn’t let it happen, not if he wanted to see his family again one day.

The baby. Michael. Michael Scofield Jr. Michael Scofield-Tancredi. Michael Tancredi-Scofield. He tested the various combinations, the various possibilities, in his mind. Sara had named their baby -- their baby, except that she was alone to raise him, alone with Linc and Sofia’s help, LJ, Sucre and even Mahone: everyone but his father -- Michael. It made him so happy and so devastated at the same time

(He tried to picture Lincoln’s reaction had Michael Sr. -- he was a ‘Sr.’ now -- been around. The teasing about naming his kid after himself and not doing better in that respect than his big brother. The image was meant to keep the wave of emotion in check, and it failed miserably at this task.)

Jamison looked up at the ceiling to give him the time collect himself -- and he couldn’t say if it required minutes, hours, or the rest of the day.

“Was it Yoki’s request? The pic?” he asked eventually. It looked like Yoki to be, or seem to be, that thoughtful.

“Possibly,” Jamison admitted gruffly, “but I could have refused.” Then, her voice sounding almost nice and warm despite its strain: “He’s beautiful.”

The photo had been taken only a few hours after the baby was born. He was a bundle of pinkish and wrinkled flesh wrapped in a white cloth, with a few rashes on his cheeks and forehead, and a small mouth pinched in discontentment to have been pulled away from his mother’s breast for some odd guy to take his picture. At this stage, you had to be his mother or his father, or at least very close family, to find him beautiful.

Obviously, short of Sara -- and not by much -- he was the most perfect human being Michael had ever seen.

He gazed at the picture every night before going to sleep, studied it to the point that he could have drawn by memory each single detail. The creases of Sara’s gown, the curve of her swollen breast, the protective curl of her fingers around the small head. The white diaper of Michael Jr., the way his tiny nose wrinkled, the delicate nails. The hint of a huge hand right at the top right corner of the image, a hand that had to be Lincoln’s. The teddy bear dressed in a blue checked jumpsuit lying on Sara’s lap.

The teddy bear became an obsession. Something he thought about when he gazed at the picture, when he pinned it back to the wall, when he woke up in the morning, when he walked to his office and when he exercised at the gym. The teddy bear was one of the first of many things he wouldn’t have been able to give to his son himself.

And it was bad; he knew what obsessions could do to him.

He could be -- become -- anything to cater to an obsession. He could be smart, strong, purposefully weak, he could be cunning, threatening, manipulative. He could cheat and lie, feel awful about it, but do it nonetheless because it had to be done. Even more so when it concerned something as important as this baby he’d never held in his arms.

He could be anything.

He could be charming.

He hadn’t really tried to be charming since he’d been here; maybe a couple of times with Yoki, but Yoki responded to charm when she wanted to, hinting that his attempts were, in the end, useless.

In the lunchroom of The Foundation, under Yoki’s interested scrutiny, he offered Mrs. Jamison a black coffee -- no cream, no sugar, obviously -- a smirk and velvety words, snarky but flattering in a quirky way. He offered Mrs. Jamison a challenge because he couldn’t win her over, but he could charm her by eventually letting her have the upper hand. He had a hunch she was the kind of woman who liked to come out on top. He said this last bit aloud and she tipped her head to the side, smiled back at him over her coffee.

It wasn’t the smile of someone who had been charmed.

“Mr. Scofield,” she began in a too reasonable tone. “I can tell that you want something. If you want something, you ask me for it. Straight. If I can give it to you, I will. If I can’t, I won’t. It’s as simple as that. Don’t try to manipulate me, don’t try to fool me, don’t try to woo me. I’m too old and too cynical for you.”

She got up, and he understood that when she told him he should ask for what he wanted, she didn’t mean here and now. She meant on her own terms.

“I am not Sara Tancredi,” she added coldly. “The door here is already open and I don’t care whether you walk through it or not. My contract with Kellerman doesn’t include keeping you captive.”

(They had made this point quite clear, both of them. He was an escape artist: he was here willingly and they were not going to waste time and energy trying to keep him in.)

It hit him in the guts, the backlash, the harshness of the comeback and how Sara would have been entitled to throw something similarly merciless in his face. He’d thought it countless times, but hearing it had a weirdly cathartic quality. He held on to the edges of the table and tried to breathe.

Jamison walked out, but he barely paid attention to her departure. From afar, he could hear Yoki telling him, almost apologizing for her boss, “She’s not a total jerk. She just--”

“I don’t think she is one,” he replied honestly.

And since Mrs. Jamison’s ‘own terms’ implied walking to her office, sitting on the other side of her desk, and waiting for the questions that have to be asked at some point, he did exactly that. He’d done harder things for weirder reasons; it wasn’t an issue to abide by her requirements.

“I want to send a stuffed toy to my son,” he told her the instant she looked up from her computer.

At least, the incident would have given him the small satisfaction of seeing her squint in surprise -- she hadn’t seen it coming. He wondered what she’d imagined, what kind of grand scheme she thought he had in mind.

She didn’t ask any questions, though.

“He has nothing from me,” he elaborated. “Of course Sara can’t know it comes from me, but it could be a complimentary gift from some store where she shops or--”

“You have been giving it some thought, haven’t you?” Jamison interrupted him.

He shrugged. “I thought I’d better come prepared.”

“Yes, I’ve heard it’s a pattern of yours.”

She didn’t give him an answer, no yes or no and even less a maybe. She wasn’t a ‘maybe’ kind of woman. But two days later, Tom handed him over a toy catalogue.

“Mrs. Jamison said no smartass move, Sir. Don’t try to pass them a message.”

Yes, he’d figured. No message -- his balls, her breakfast, etc. Gotcha. As if, with him supposed to be dead and them logically convinced that he was dead, anything could have passed for a message.

He chose a white duck with a green hat and matching bow-tie.
Chapter 6 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 6

It was a constant struggle. An ensemble of constant struggles that drained his energy but had the merit to leave him exhausted enough so that he could sleep at night. He wouldn’t have slept otherwise, eaten up by too much guilt and too many worries.

Michael struggled with nightmares in which he was dead, and some nights even worse, in which Sara or Lincoln had died. He struggled not to become crazy thinking about Sara, Michael Jr. and Lincoln. He struggled with orange and red and whatever-color files. He struggled to regain some fitness. But even more than anything, he struggled about Krantz. He fought with the General from a distance, a chess game in which the black player wasn’t aware of his white opponent and yet won, won again and kept winning. Orange file after orange file, guard after inmate, each time Michael closed a communication line, Krantz opened another one.

He talked to Yoki and admitted his frustration to Mrs. Jamison, who happened to be oddly lenient about his failures; she didn’t consider them as failures, truth be told, but as some kind of learning course. “We knew it would be hard, Mr. Scofield. This is why you’re here. If anyone could make it, we wouldn’t need you.”

He wondered if Paul Kellerman felt the same, had the same discourse. He certainly didn’t have neither the time nor the patience for a learning course.

It seemed to be endless when he desperately needed an ending. He hit the keys of his computers with the same determination with which he hit the punching bag at the gym and did lengths in the swimming pool, flipped through the files and reviewed for the umpteenth time intel that should have been engraved in his memory by now. He ended up surrounded by pics and graphics, facts and plans, frustration and anxiety. An annoying little voice he hadn’t heard in years was sing-songing into his brain that it wouldn’t work, couldn’t work, he wouldn’t be able to make it work, work, work...

All the small pieces of information were spinning around him in a hectic whirl.

“Michael.”

Yoki’s voice tore through the haze. Her hands were on his shoulders and they squeezed hard. He hadn’t even seen her entering the office. On the other side of the large room, Cat, Nat and Pat were watching him warily. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they’d called her in.

“You’re losing it, Michael,” she informed him formally, quietly. “Breathe. Focus. Don’t let it eat you.” Easier said than done. “You didn’t plan your brother’s escape being totally neurotic, did you?”

He shook his head. No. But back then, he had fully functional brain and body.

“You’ll regain that. I’ll make sure you regain that as much and as fast as possible,” she assured him. “Didn’t I tell you not to rush things, when you woke up? Krantz is not going to the chair next week or even next month. I know that right now it doesn’t sound like a good thing at all, Michael, but you have time. Make time your ally, not your enemy. Time will reward you if you treat it well.”

Her voice was soothing. He wasn’t positive that he heard or understood all her words, but they slid on him, wrapped around him like a blanket. They dampened his anguish, and slowly, slowly cleared his mind.

Trying to prevent Krantz from communicating with the outside world wasn’t sufficient. They had made progress, no matter how Michael felt about that: they knew how he worked, they knew the kind of connections he used. It was about time to open communication lines they could use rather than fight.

He took a deep breath and the small pieces started falling into place.

* * *

On the first anniversary of Michael’s death, Sara and Lincoln sat in the couch of Sara’s living room and played the videotape Michael had left them. It was the first time in a year that they watched it. Yes, Sara had ran it a few times, to copy it and even make digital copies of it just in case, because she didn’t want to watch it, but she wanted even less to risk losing it. That was her talisman. She didn’t have to -- and, for the sanity of her mind, couldn’t -- turn to it every day that God made; she just needed to know that it was there, within reach.

Earlier in the morning, she’d carefully dressed Michael Jr., also carefully picked her dress, combed her hair, and made up her face while Lincoln was folding a paper crane. Perhaps, she thought while observing him create the delicate origami, this was how he acquired the dexterity that turned to be so useful with those damn diapers when she lost it a few months ago.

She smiled at the image of Michael on the TV screen, heard Lincoln clear his throat to hide what may very well be a sniffle, and she nudged him gently. Not the point. Lincoln groaned as though she’d actually hurt him.

“This is Daddy,” he said, pointing at the TV for Michael Jr.’s benefit.

Sara had shown him pictures. The rare pictures she’d been able to lay her hands on. How were you supposed to get pictures of a man who shed his whole life and left it behind him before dying? Every now and then, Lincoln yapped about it, but it never lasted very long. It wasn’t as if any childhood keepsake wouldn’t have been stained by the reality he’d uncovered later, after all.

Michael didn’t seem over-invested in what was going on on the TV. He babbled and waved his white and green plush duck -- that could have used a good wash if only he had consented to let go of it -- but he was asleep before the tape had reached its end. Good for him, Sara decided. He would have a whole lifetime to understand what happened to his Dad.

She brought him to the gravesite, carrying him against her, no stroller, with Lincoln taking care of the flowers and the origami. Fernando and Alex were waiting for them, hands in their pockets and eyes to the ground, not sure what to do with themselves. It was kind of cute from Fernando, more unexpected from Alex. She kissed their cheeks, grateful for their presence. They had visited a few times since Lincoln and she settled here, but they’d never been to Michael’s grave. She’d rarely been to Michael’s grave, truth be told; most days, she didn’t need it.

They walked to the tombstone. The place was beautiful: calm, desert, endless blue ocean, endless blue sky, simple gray marble.

There was nobody -- no body -- under that simple gray marble and, just as each time she’d come here, Sara tried hard not to wonder where Michael’s body rested. It didn’t matter. What did was the two men who’d asked if they could be here, the morning spent with Lincoln watching the tape and getting ready, her son heavy in her arms, the white flowers, and the origami crane that Linc carefully laid on the grave even though he knew the wind would have blown it away in two seconds.

What mattered were the memories and the commemoration, one of the ways to keep Michael alive.

* * *

That day, Michael took care not to think about it and immersed himself in the most abstruse red file he could dig out from the seemingly never ending stack waiting on his desk.

He couldn’t. He couldn’t picture Sara and Lincoln today, he couldn’t imagine his son growing without him, so far away from him, he couldn’t wonder if anyone else had made the trip to Costa Rica. He couldn't face the craziest deception he’d ever pull on them. He couldn’t or he would lose what was left of his mind.

So he woke up early, and worked, worked, worked and didn’t think, ate because Pat put a sandwich on his desk and told him, “Eat it, Boss. Now,” and he retreated to his room only when today was almost over and already edging into tomorrow.

He couldn’t escape Yoki, though. She was comfortably settled in an armchair with her small computer in her lap to annotate her files while waiting for him. For all he knew, she may have been annotating her file on him.

She didn’t ask him if he was okay because she didn’t like it when he lied to her.

“They visited your tombstone today. Sara, Lincoln and your son.” She closed her laptop and stood up. “And Fernando Sucre and Alex Mahone were there too.”

“Please don’t, Yoki. Not today.”

“They’re not forgetting you.”

“Maybe they should, given what I’m putting them through.”

“Lose the guilt, Michael. You act in their best interest.”

He was tired, and not only physically. Thoughts that he usually managed to keep at bay had been surfacing and nagging at him all day long.

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. Who can tell? I made that decision for them. Who am I to make decisions like that for them?”

But then, that was nothing new, was it? He’d made decisions like that for them when he got himself jailed in Fox River or when he conveniently left out of his explanations an essential detail about his plan to get Sara out of Miami Dade.

Yoki tilted her head and considered him for so long that he thought she was just going to get out and leave him alone.

“You used to have an avenging angel tattooed on your chest, Michael.”

“You should update your files, it was on my back,” he said, failing to see where she was heading.

“Whatever. A damn avenging angel, Michael. You’re a megalomaniac, well-intentioned bastard with a good heart and a twisted ego. I think that you know what saves you here, and what may cause your downfall. You just need to walk the line -- if possible, don’t stumble tonight.” She shrugged and felt it necessary to add: “That’s not a professional opinion.”

He couldn’t help a small smile.

“Thanks for the pep talk, doc.”

“Anytime.” She slipped her hand in the pocket of her lab coat. “I have a picture of... today. Do you want it?”

He thought about it for a few seconds.

When he said no, he wasn’t sure whether it was because he wouldn’t be able to look at it or on the contrary to inflict on himself a well-deserved punishment.
Chapter 7 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 7

He got a Wall; a New Wall.

Sometime around the twelfth month of his official involvement with The Foundation, and with whatever name Kellerman’s gang was calling themselves, Michael walked into his office to find out that The Foundation’s employees had set up a Wall during the weekend. A wall of the electronic, tactile, writable-on kind, with which he could tag and sort and rearrange his documentation at will.

Mrs. Jamison was on his heels, that Monday. She leaned against the closed door, her arms crossed across her chest, as Michael took in the sight.

He had started to work on Krantz’ case the same way he’d worked on Lincoln’s case a few years back. Only the purposes were drastically different, the method was the same: gathering documentation, sorting it out, ordering it, ranking it, and ultimately pinning it to the bare walls of his office for easy access and visually figuring out his next moves.

The more organized the Wall was becoming, the harder Mrs. Jamison squinted at it; until the Friday evening she told Michael that he was free for the weekend.

Free weekends were a particularly sadistic form of Hell. He had nowhere to go as ‘free weekends’ didn’t mean he was free to leave The Foundation’s walls. (“At least, in Fox River, there was the yard, Mrs. Jamison.” -- “I bet the food was not as tasty, Mr. Scofield, and the company far less accommodating.”) Free weekends also meant he couldn’t work on Krantz’ case since he couldn’t access all of his documentation. Ergo free weekends were nothing but a waste of time. He didn’t need them, and he didn’t need to rest, although Yoki begged to differ on that one. All he needed was completing his mission as fast as possible and going back to Sara, Michael Jr. and Lincoln.

He hated free weekends at The Foundation with the petulance his twelve year-old self hated closed libraries in summer, and with the despair of a grown man kept away from his loved ones.

But the New Wall as he walked into his office the following Monday? The large expanse of dark tactile screen hung all around the room, from floor to shoulder high? With all of his documentation scanned and carefully rearranged in the exact same way it was when he left? He had to admit that he was blown away, that the two days he’d lost in a free weekend would be compensated for by the upsides of the device. Considering the discreet but very real quirk of Mrs. Jamison’s lips, his satisfaction must have shown on his face.

She handed him a remote and offered a short explanation.

“It’s not only for your convenience, Mr. Scofield. All of your planning so easily accessible to anyone who enters this room was making us nervous.”

Her manicured nails straightened a picture that had been scanned a bit off, some handsome guy in a three-piece suit who couldn’t have looked more British if his clothes had come from Savile Row -- thinking of it, they probably did -- and she tilted her head appreciatively.

Not at the man nor at Michael, though.

“Moreover, Kellerman paid for that little toy and we’re keeping it when you’re done with it so... thanks, I guess?”

* * *

“Life goes on,” an old woman had told Sara at the local Sunday market, just a couple of days after she and the guys had visited Michael’s grave. Sara still didn’t know what she had done or said; if she had done or said anything, to elicit the compassionate words and soft smile. Maybe it was her wedding ring and sad eyes or... go figure.

Life did go on. She didn’t think about Michael every day anymore; she knew Lincoln didn’t either. It needed something special, a kind of reminder, a memory-enabler, and said enabler needed to be always less subtle, always more obvious. Not everything revolved around Michael and his absence anymore.

Life went on. People around her kept living and even she, after a while, kept living without having to put an every-second effort into it. That was the painful part. How did life dare fucking go on?

On Michael Jr.’s first birthday, she noticed that she could drive by a cop’s car and not tighten her hold on the steering wheel anymore out of sheer nervousness. She didn’t go as far as being able to smile through the rearview mirror at Michael who was comfortably settled in his safety seat behind her, but she managed not to coo to him so that he didn’t risk crying or babbling and draw attention to them.

It was a sensation she hadn’t experienced for over a year and that almost felt new.

It wasn’t necessarily a good thing, though. During said last year, she’d been worried about the police, rightfully so since, if Lincoln had been cleared and exonerated, she hadn’t. No exoneration or pardon for her, far from it, but she kind of suspected that with her husband dead, Kellerman running for the House of Representatives, a new administration taking over and trying to clean -- or hide -- the mess... with life going on and moving forward, no one really wanted to stir the pot, look for her and file for extradition.

And yet she still didn’t feel safe. She was cautious; she didn’t have a routine, she double-checked the locks on the doors, she never slept with her windows open, and she carefully assessed any stranger before engaging even in small talk. She vaguely felt guilty about it because it wasn’t a life, not the life Michael had wanted for her. But if the alternative was unnamed, fuzzy risks for herself and her son, was it even something to wonder about?

She threw a glance through the window before leaving her home, checked for cars in the rearview mirror and looked over her shoulder every now and then. She felt spied on, and if the law enforcement forces couldn’t be pegged as the reason for her uneasiness, it could only mean one thing, couldn’t it?

The Company.

The idea that The Company was still out there in one form or another slowly but surely carved its path into her mind.

Oh, fuck it, as Lincoln would have elegantly put it. The idea had always been there, never left, never stopped pestering. She had a boat berthed a few yards from her house just in case, a house that overlooked the beach allowing her to see people approaching, and small woods behind it where you could easily hide if you knew the place -- and she knew it, she made sure she knew it.

Maybe that was crazy. Maybe she was becoming crazy, obsessed by an organization that almost destroyed her, and surely destroyed the man she loved. Would they even have the manpower to do... anything? Krantz’ downfall and Scylla delivered to the government had hit them hard, ran them into the ground. Small cells after cells had been exposed and destroyed after Krantz’ arrest.

The thing was, nobody talked about it anymore. It had been off the news for months. The silence, with the questioning it induced, was worse than anything.

* * *

“The Company is not watching us.”

Lincoln might not be as smart and perceptive as his brother was, but he had eyes and a brain and he could add one plus one. It had taken him a couple of weeks of observation and Sofia’s gentle prodding, but in the end, he got it. It would have been hard to miss anyway, how Sara was quiet in a bad way, excessively careful and observing everything going on around her

“The Company is not watching us, Sara. There’s no Company anymore.”

Lincoln said this softly during one of their bi-monthly dinners. Business as usual except for the subject matter. He let her digest the sentence and watched his nephew. On the other side of the room, Michael was trying to get up, stand and walk. The little buddy had been at it for a while, stuck in a never ending process of grasping the upper half of the playpen’s net and bars for stability, pushing on his chubby legs, and managing to put one foot in front of the other only a couple of times before falling back on his butt.

“He’s stubborn. He’s been doing that all week,” Sara had said a bit earlier.

She didn’t react when Lincoln smirked and sneered that it was only fair retaliation when kids took after their parents.

Sara glanced through the living room, towards the kitchen where Sofia was busy with the dessert, then looked back at Lincoln. She didn’t say anything. Not Why would I think that The Company is watching us? nor Why do you think I think The Company is watching us? She didn’t deny or argue. She was clever; she didn’t waste her time and her breath.

“Sara?” he prompted her.

She carefully folded her napkin.

“I feel spied on.”

“That’s one of the pleasures of being a fugitive.”

“Spied on, Lincoln. Not tracked or whatever the cops would do.”

And then, of course, came the question, the one why he’d avoided broaching the issue with her for the better part of the last weeks, even though she had started to look like hell (again) and he’d been wondering if she even remembered how it felt to eat something.

“How would you know about The Company, anyway?”

(There, that question.)

He fought the temptation to grab his beer and mutter his answer into the bottle.

“I spoke to Kellerman,” he said not too loud but very clear.

She didn’t startle, she didn’t protest or ask him how the hell he’d imagined contacting Paul Kellerman was the right thing to do. She just sat back in her chair and stared at him. She was going to be that kind of mother when Michael was older: just a stern look because the kid was back ten minutes after curfew, and it would be enough to convey how mad -- or, worse, disappointed -- she was at him.

Of course, for now, Michael could barely stand alone by his playpen, and she was mad at Lincoln.

“He said you’re not in danger. We’re not in danger.”

He could see the cogwheels of her brain working. In that instant, she reminded him of Michael -- the senior version -- and made him wonder how long you needed to be exposed to someone to start acting like them. Or maybe it had nothing to do with Big Michael. Maybe she was already like that before and they just matched.

“That’s not exactly the same as saying that The Company isn’t watching us. And since when do you trust Kellerman?”

“I wouldn’t if it was only my ass on the line. I do when it’s about yours.”

She flushed from the root of her hair down to the neckline of her dress, both with anger and embarrassment. She knew exactly what he was alluding to. It was hardly the first time he’d brought it up, being snarky, derisive or downright disdainful towards Kellerman, depending on his mood. She had always refused to discuss it, discuss the advantages she could get from it.

“Don’t even go there, Linc.”

Looked like she hadn’t changed her mind on the question. He couldn’t say he blamed her.

A few feet away, Michael let go of the playpen’s bars and net. Before Sara or Lincoln could react, he launched himself through the living room, arms in front of him and hands aiming for his Mom. His course was rocky and hesitant, but he did manage to land precisely where he so obviously wanted to, and he held onto Sara who’d knelt just in time to catch him.

Lincoln cheered, laid a soothing hand on Sara’s shoulder, and didn’t understand her glance -- stunned, amused, and sad all at once -- when he grumbled, “Life fucking goes on.”

* * *

Life fucking went on indeed. For the most part. Lincoln didn’t have it in him to think too much about the past and changes and what went wrong. He used to. He used to explain his behavior and his choices in life -- the good ones, and more conveniently the bad ones -- by what he’d gone through.

He stopped doing that after they’d settled in Costa Rica. His brother sacrificed himself for Lincoln to have a life: in Lincoln’s book, this was erasing pretty much anything else, beating pretty much all of the crap Lincoln faced during his youth.

(Reboot, start again, don’t mess up this time.)

He’d dreamed of Vee during the first months here -- of how she felt when they made love and fought and made up, of the way she’d been killed and he never got to see her again. It was weird ‘cause it hadn’t happened before, while he, Mike and Sara were on the run. Or maybe it was everything but weird. Maybe he’d needed to settle and have some time to process the memories.

He dreamed of her, and he woke up to Sofia’s soft touch and light kisses. Nightmares versus reality; he would have to work with that to keep life fucking going on.

LJ was dreaming too. Of Jane Phillips. Of what she’d done for him, how she tried to protect him and paid the high price for it, how The Company just shot her like it was nothing and left her on the ground. He wasn’t talking much about it -- or maybe he was talking to Sofia? -- but Lincoln knew. Sometimes, rarely, the dreams were finding their way into reality, and LJ would let out a question or a remark about the woman, would gasp in grief or stare at the beach, lost in his thoughts.

“It’s not your fault,” Linc told him gently, because he knew how deep guilt could run in this family.

“And yet, I’m alive and she’s not.”

“You’re a kid, she was an adult. She knew what she was going against, LJ. Blame it on The Company.”

His boy winced at him.

“The Company isn’t here anymore so who’s left to blame, Dad?”

Good question.

“Nobody. You don’t blame it on anybody else. You just... Life’s going on whether you like it or not. You just do your best to live it well because there’s no better way to honor the dead.”

Life was going on.
Chapter 8 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 8

They made progress; some days, weeks or months more than others. They managed, if not to close Krantz’ channels of communication, at least to monitor them, sometimes to use them to their profit. Considering the endgame, monitoring or using them was so much more useful than closing them anyway, Cat had pointed out on a sunny morning, her innocent face and smile a stark contrast to her blunt words and sneaky handling of the intel she was responsible for.

Some days, weeks or months were productive. Others? Less. Today belonged to the second category.

Mrs. Jamison rarely came down to Michael’s office, even less so on a weekday at 3 P.M. She trusted Michael and his analysts to do the job -- it wasn’t like he didn’t have the best motivations, was it? So, when she entered the large room in the middle of the afternoon, it couldn’t be good; the tight line of her lips hinted that it was downright bad.

“John Coleman was found dead,” she announced. “The police say it was a car accident.”

She smirked in dismay because, yes, coincidences happened, but Occam’s razor and all that jazz? A car accident was not the obvious explanation in this case.

Michael held on to the edge of his desk and watched his knuckles go white. If he didn’t hold on to the edge of his desk, he was going to grip his cane and use it to sweep the files off said desk or hit the over-priced tactile wall.

It had taken them months. Infiltrating Coleman among the guards dealing with Krantz on a daily basis and earning the General’s trust -- or whatever the man was capable of that bordered ever so slightly on trust -- hadn’t been a walk in the park. Sure, Krantz was more reckless than he used to be; he didn’t have a choice, his options always less broad. It didn’t mean he wasn’t half-paranoid about who he talked to.

“All those months, all that work.” Michael’s throat felt raw, his tongue heavy, the words whispered and hard to get out. “Reduced to nothing just like that.”

It wasn’t just the work, his, his analysts’, whoever else’s. It was the sacrifices, the months -- months made of never ending seconds -- spent away from his family.

Anger, deep and red and blinding, boiled in his stomach and behind his eyes. It was the first time since he’d been there that he really was angry, but for now, he was too angry to realize it and be surprised. Later. Later he would wonder how it could have taken him so long, how he’d been able to experience pain, longing, fear, and half a dozen emotions, without anger ever coming to the foreground.

He rose to his feet, raised his arm armed with the fucking walking cane, and aimed for the nearest piece of furniture, which happened to be his computer monitor, only to be grabbed as it arced through the air, stopped and held midway by Mrs. Jamison. He struggled, either on principle or instinct, and she gripped his wrist tighter.

She didn’t tell him anything. Not that he was going to hurt himself, not that she was going to hurt him if he kept that up, not that he needed to control himself. She just moved on as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t been this close to smashing a computer screen.

“Let’s see the upside,” she said quietly. “At least, it means we’ve put our finger on something. Figure out what it is, Mr. Scofield. Kellerman is sending a team to take a look at Coleman’s car and apartment. I’ll let you know what they find.”

He sat down. He was squeezing his cane so tight that his hand was shaking.

“I’m sorry for Coleman.”

A man had died. A man had died trying to help them. Michael let go of his cane and heard it hit the ground. He was safe, here. He played with files and information, with people’s lives, but he didn’t risk anything. Maybe that was another kind of punishment for everything he did; for everything he was doing to Sara and Linc.

Jamison shrugged. “He knew what he was getting himself into.”

(Right. Coleman did. Sara and Linc had no idea. That scared Michael to death.)

The anger didn’t subside. He got back to work, made sure Pat, Cat and Nat got back to work, but the anger didn’t subside. Quite the contrary. He kept it tamped down and under control, but he felt it all the rest of the afternoon, all night long, and it was still there when he woke up the next morning. The next days -- days that extended into a couple of weeks -- it didn’t leave him alone. During their sessions, Yoki listened to him assuring her he was fine. She didn’t buy it, just as she hadn’t bought his little act when he woke up here over a year ago, and she told him that being angry was okay; it was normal and expected. Coleman’s death was only the trigger to an emotion waiting to break free.

He knew that. He also knew that anger, just like fear, determination or hope, could either undermine or boost him.

For now, it boosted him. During the day, he worked on identifying what had caused Coleman’s downfall and finding another way to approach Krantz. During the night, his brain wouldn’t stop working, the events and intel from the day finding their way into his dreams -- his nightmares.

Yoki scowled at him, told him he wasn’t going to be able to follow that rhythm very long. He dismissed it and told her it worked for him. The faster he got it over with, the better.

Sometimes, in his drive to beat Krantz -- to defeat him here and now, no worries of the consequences -- he’d almost lost perspective on the whole chessboard. It had taken a twisted smile on Cat’s round face when she mentioned their endgame to remind him there was an endgame, a bigger one than merely having a temporary upper hand on the man.

That frame of mind never had lasted for long, though, and it didn’t this time either. He needed to think bigger, for a longer period of time. Now that they’d understood how Krantz worked his assets from inside of the prison, it was easier to take measures and recommend actions.

Maybe insiders had given all they could give. He put Pat in charge of finding an alternative to Coleman because he wasn’t quite ready yet to abandon that lead, but he started working from a different angle. It had been twenty months. They must stop considering Krantz as the focal point -- he wasn't anymore -- and concentrate on his potential successors. They’d made more than enough progress to get onto the next step. Nat, who’d been assigned this task since the beginning, smiled and laid the result of his research at Michael’s feet as if it was some sort of offering.

“Wondered when you would ask, Boss.”

They went through Nat’s files for days -- Michael would have lived on coffee and sandwiches if Yoki hadn’t pointed out that he needed to eat, hydrate and rest properly to be efficient. In the end, they targeted three people, two men and one woman. Three possible new heads, each with their little band of followers behind them. Michael stared at the pictures and information, unhinged, flabbergasted that after the blow their little team had given to The Company by turning Scylla over to the government, The Company still had this kind of manpower within its ranks.

The Company is a Hydra, Michael. Maybe Kellerman had been wrong on this one. Right now, to Michael, The Company looked more like a deeply rooted weed.
Chapter 9 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 9

Mikey walked.

Now that he’d figured out how it worked, he walked a lot. That didn’t mean he’d stopped crawling, preferably in places where his uncle would never think he could fit in; he did keep crawling. But the walking? That was something he loved. Walking, and running, and climbing; falling and getting back on his feet, rarely crying. Lincoln babysat him a couple of hours once or twice a week, and when he did, it implied sticking to light administrative work at the scuba shop in order to keep an eye on the little buddy.

Lincoln had no idea what Sara was doing during those few hours. Maybe he should have asked, but it wasn’t like the woman didn’t deserve a bit of free time, and since Lincoln liked to have his nephew around, just for him every now and then, it was a win-win.

Michael was evasive today, playing a game of hide-and-seek to which Lincoln must pay special attention not to lose sight of the kid. So, when the small bell of the shop’s door tinkled, he threw a sideway glance at Michael and said without looking up at his potential client, “We’re closed for the afternoon. I can fill you in on our fees tomorrow if you’re interested.”

“Tomorrow’s okay,” a feminine voice answered.

His head was whipping up before the woman was even done talking. He hadn’t heard that voice, low and confident, in over two years, but he hadn’t forgotten it. His second reaction was to get up, grab and push Michael behind him. The kid giggled and held onto his leg, small hands gripping Lincoln’s colorful Bermuda shorts.

That was a ridiculous reaction for a dozen reasons. The main one was that, despite everything, she’d never been foe; another one being that if she’d wanted any or both of them dead, they would have been dead by now.

And speaking of dying...

Jane Phillips. Very much alive and standing before him.

“I thought you were dead.”

Not the best welcome in the history of welcomes, but she didn’t take it personally. She shook her head and answered matters-of-factly, “No. I’m not.”

She was as collected and composed as he remembered her, blond hair in a ponytail, flowery dress incongruous on her, no matter how much it was fitting for the beach. He wondered where she hid her gun -- that wasn’t a corny or dirty line, he actually wondered. He would never buy that she didn’t carry one.

He did not wonder how she’d found them. He had no illusion about people knowing his whereabouts, especially people like her. Hell, he had contacted Kellerman a few months ago, which might or might not have given him away.

“Not that they didn’t try to get rid of me when they took LJ from me,” she added.

Lincoln squinted at the mention of his son. “You could have given some sign of life sooner. LJ was devastated.”

“I would have loved to be able to do that.”

The meaning of her retort sank in. He stared hard at her. She didn’t flinch, just stood and waited. If she had any scars, they were hidden under her clothes -- but then that was entirely possible. She wouldn’t have been the first: there was a reason why Sara often kept her shirt on at the beach, after all.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, his tone tired rather than worried now. She was a ghost from a past he’d rather not think about and, no matter how glad he was to see her alive and well, she was forcing him months back.

Mikey went into climbing mode and attacked his leg. He scooped him up and sat him on his hip. He was pretty sure he had nothing to fear from her, and if they were in immediate danger because of anyone else, she wouldn’t have been chit-chatting.

“I work for an insurance company. I was around, I thought I would drop by and say hello.”

He couldn’t help a smirk.

“An insurance company? Really?”

“I never said I sold insurances”, she said. “I, err, retrieve things for them.”

She took a business card from her purse -- because yes, she had a fucking purse to match the flowery dress -- and gave it to him.

“You’re a detective for an insurance company.” It made more sense, even though it lacked the irony of her selling insurances.

“It pays the bills and I dodge less bullets than when I was working with Aldo.”

“So you being here has nothing to do with...”

He trailed off. He didn’t need to finish his sentence. He didn’t want to, not with Michael slowly falling asleep against his shoulder, exhausted by his afternoon. At least, he would give him back to Sara quiet and ready to eat and go to bed.

“If it was the case, do you think I’d show up just like that?” Then nodding at Michael. “He’s cute. He’s yours?”

He swallowed. He hadn’t yet reached the point where the question didn’t make him recoil. He didn’t picture this day happening anytime soon.

“My brother’s.”

Her face darkened in sympathy. “I’ve heard about what happened. I’m sorry, Lincoln.”

Sorry. A lot of people were sorry. Some of them were sorry that someone like Michael died because his deadbeat of a brother had been stupid enough to be dragged into such a mess in the first place. At least, Jane Phillips knew better. Jane Phillips knew that, even if Michael was the good and smart one, Lincoln was a mere pawn in an insane game and never stood a chance.

“Yeah,” he told her. “Me too.”

Later that night, Sara tilted her head when Lincoln told her about Jane’s visit. He could see it happening again, all the cogwheels working frantically in her pretty skull. Linc couldn't blame her, the coincidence was too strange. They didn’t live (anymore) in a world where they could chalk up this kind of event to coincidence.

“The company she said she works for, Lockhart & Pearson? It does exist,” LJ offered helpfully, his laptop opened before him on the kitchen table.

Right. LJ lived in the same world as his Dad and aunt-in-law. He was ecstatic to learn that Jane was alive, but that didn’t mean he didn’t wonder about the veracity of her story. LJ was too cynical for someone who wasn’t even twenty yet.

“Of course it does,” Sara said.

“And she is a registered detective with them.”

“Of course she is,” Lincoln parroted.

Jane had booked a room and scuba lessons for a week. Lincoln would have bet she didn’t need those lessons, maybe could even have taught him a thing or three about scuba diving, but he had no reason to turn her down. More importantly, the lessons would give him the opportunity to grill her a bit.

That was Sofia’s turn to smirk. It was a smirk implying that, even if she didn’t know Jane Phillips personally, Sofia had dealt with enough Company’s agents and counteragents during a few weeks to have learned a bunch of things about them.

“You won’t get anything from her,” she said.

Lincoln looked only marginally hurt. Sofia had done this to him, bringing some lightness to him when, a couple of years ago, he would have muttered and brooded.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, baby.”

He wouldn’t say he didn’t get anything from Jane; but he didn’t get much. He wanted to believe that it was because there was nothing more to get, nothing more than what the eye could see.

He couldn't help remembering about how Sara felt spied on or his own phone call to Kellerman a few months back.

* * *

Mikey walked to his Dad’s tombstone for the second anniversary of Michael’s death, one hand in his Mom’s, the other in his Uncle’s. Jane, who was still around, observed from afar, refusing to join a celebration that was family only. She’d never met Michael Sr., she explained, she’d have felt out of place.

The visit held the same ceremonial feel as the first one, but also a sense of recurrence that twisted Sara’s heart.

* * *

There wasn’t a free spot on Michael’s Wall, and Pat kept (half-)joking that at this rate, The Foundation was going to need bigger servers to secure all the intel they’d been gathering. It was all reviewed, tagged and filed according to a maniacally precise system Michael had elaborated with Cat.

(As far as searching and archiving went, Cat was a kindred soul, really.)

Diana Acero. Rajesh Chopra. Jeremy Smythe.

They knew the identities -- the real ones -- of the three people who might succeed Krantz. They knew the identities of their followers. They’d been working on their habits, networks and modus operandi. They had tons of intel, and each time they managed to link one little thing to another, Michael felt a thrill going through his whole body. Each tiny connection brought him closer to his family, step by step, small link by small link.

‘Succeed Krantz’ was a figure of speech. This wouldn’t be a quiet and civilized inheritance. Michael tried not to revel in the notion that the three people featured in the portraits he looked at every day were probably going to fight to the death -- and he was going to help them, fuel them. He didn’t want to become that kind of person, but each picture of his son growing up, growing up without him, added to his own bitterness.

He wasn’t sure anymore of the color of the files he was working on. ‘Red’ didn’t begin to describe them. What color did you pick to file, even symbolically, ways and means to feed a war? To feed a war which outcome would set you free?

Paul Kellerman was sitting in Pat’s chair when Michael came back from his nap after lunch.

(He still needed his after-lunch naps. When he’d asked Yoki how long this was going to last, she smiled and asked him if naps were really a high price to pay after the wounds and sickness, the surgery and physical therapy. This was the kind of question that didn’t call for an answer.)

Pat was not here, neither were Cat, Nat or Tom, but Mrs. Jamison was half-leaning half-sitting on the edge of Michael’s desk, arms crossed, stilettos in full view and looking like weapons of their own, face unreadable. Kellerman was chit-chatting jovially, but that didn’t mean anything. Kellerman could be chit-chatting jovially while gutting you, and Michael meant ‘gutting’ in the literal sense.

Then, he noticed Yoki on the other side of the room and concluded that, whatever they were about to tell him, they expected him to react badly.

“Paul.” He sat at his desk and rolled the chair to the right so that Jamison wasn’t blocking his line of sight. “It’s been a while.”

And that was the problem. Kellerman hadn’t showed up in person since Michael and he had closed that crazy deal. For him to be here today, something must have gone wrong, something Mrs. Jamison had decided wasn’t covered by her contract.

“I’d like to say ‘nice to see you’, but you know...”

He rested his hands on the armrests of his chair and tried to conceal how badly they were shaking. That was another of the joys of his recovery, so little control over his body.

“I have good news and bad news,” Kellerman began. He looked up pensively. “They’re the same, really.”

“Are Sara and my son okay? Lincoln?”

“We’ve made interesting progress on The Company.” Kellerman went on as though he didn’t hear him, and he bowed a little bit to Michael and Mrs. Jamison to acknowledge their outstanding work. “So interesting that The Company has dispatched a couple of agents to Costa Rica to keep tabs on your little family.”

Kellerman kept talking and Michael kept listening to him without saying a word because that was the easiest, fastest way to learn everything Kellerman was willing to disclose about the situation. And also a bit because his heart was beating in his throat, almost stealing his ability to speak, just as Kellerman’s words almost stole his ability to move or breathe.

Breathe.

He breathed. He needed to breathe in order to bring oxygen to his brain and keep listening. Then, when Kellerman shut up and took a sip of his fucking coffee, Michael demanded, “I want them exfiltrated. Now.”

“They’re not in danger, Michael.”

It was Yoki who answered him. Michael cast her an angry, incredulous glance, wondering how she could take Kellerman’s side on this issue. They did it on purpose, all three of them, he thought: they’d choreographed the announcement, aware that a reassurance coming from Yoki would be more trustworthy than one from Kellerman.

“Dr. Evergreen is right, Michael. The Company wants to make sure that Lincoln and Sara have nothing to do with the setbacks they’ve experienced recently. They want us to know that they watch them. They can’t afford to fight on that front, but they can afford to let us know that front is under surveillance. You understand? We exfiltrate them now, it’s admitting that something is going on and Sara and your brother have something to do with it. Now, something is going on, but they have nothing to do with it, do they, Michael? Michael? Keep your head cool. It’s a chess game.”

The whole damn thing was a chess game. With living pawns. There were pawns he wasn’t willing to jeopardize, even less sacrifice.

“Now, I didn’t even have to tell you, you know? I did it out of honesty.” Such an odd word in Kellerman’s mouth. “So trust me on that one. We’ve sent someone to check on them, an operative who worked with your father.”

As much as it killed Michael, Kellerman was right. Considering the whole chessboard was not only the smart thing to do, but also a necessity. It was the best way to ensure himself that they won the game as fast as possible.

“A single agent?” he pointed out. “He better be good.”

“She’s not bad, but she’s more of... a carrier pigeon in this case: we know you’re here, don’t mess with us. You know what I mean?”

Michael got a picture of the agent, Jane Phillips, a couple of days later, courtesy of Yoki who had thought he would want to see what she looked like.

There was no big surprise here. Jane Phillips looked just like you would expect someone assuming this kind of mission would look. She was wearing khaki shorts and a white tee-shirt, and she was laughing with Lincoln -- so good seeing Linc laugh -- but despite her outfit and her attitude, Michael could see the vigilance and readiness in her posture. Or maybe it was because of her outfit and her attitude, the stark contrast with them. When you knew what to look for, it was there, in plain sight. Hiding in plain sight, he thought, that was the trick: hiding in plain sight.

“My brother knew her before, you know,” he told Yoki.

“I know. Kellerman thought that Lincoln would more easily trust someone he’d already met.”

“Lincoln’s trust has never been easy to win, even less now, I guess. He mentioned her once or twice. I’m not sure he liked her very much, but he trusted her enough to leave LJ with her.”

“He likes her just fine, don’t worry.” Yoki’s mouth twisted with mischief. “But as far as I know, they had a rocky start.”

No surprise here. Lincoln could be abrasive, and the woman in the pic looked like she wouldn’t back away from a fight.

They were at the scuba shop in the pic. Lincoln had it spruced up and freshly painted it, there was equipment and customers on the pontoon, Sofia was a discreet silhouette at the front desk. The place was doing good and Lincoln had obviously done everything he had to do to make it work; to make his brother’s fantasy true.

And Michael wouldn’t even know what to do with half of the stuff neatly stacked around Lincoln. He was a pretty good swimmer, but not a diver. He would need to be a diver -- someday, when he went back to Sara and Lincoln.

“I need to take scuba diving lessons,” he told Yoki.

She raised her eyebrows at him.

“Sure. Just let me call the closest scuba diving instructor and we’ll drive you to the beach right away.”

He gave her his coyest smile. “I know, Yoki. Not in the realm of the possible. But maybe someone in here is a trained instructor. Or can train to be an instructor and then teach me as much as I can learn in this environment? You know, the theory, the basics, the first steps that can be done in a pool? As part of my workout routine?”

Two days later, at six in the morning, Lena from the security detail knocked at his door. She was bringing coffee and scuba diving textbooks.
Chapter 10 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 10

Michael sent a box of Legos to his son for Christmas -- same method as the stuffed toy. The biggest box he could find, the one that would have Sara curse under her breath when she walked barefoot on one of the frigging bricks. Surely, he shouldn’t have smiled at that perspective. But he loved the idea of Sara and Mikey living mundane, normal lives; he binged on it, lived on it.

He didn’t need to discuss or bargain, this time. He mentioned to Mrs. Jamison that Christmas was coming. She didn’t say anything, gave no sign she even heard him, but the next day, he found a toy catalogue neatly set on his desk. He headed straight for the Legos section -- what else? -- and picked the largest box suitable for a two year-old. He kept flipping through the pages for long minutes after he’d made his choice, looking up only when he felt Yoki staring and smiling at him.

“I liked Legos,” he explained with a shrug. He never got the sort of fancy box he just picked for Mikey, but he loved his small sets of bricks all the same.

“It goes without saying.” Yoki winked at him. “I’m sure Mrs. Jamison would let you order a box for yourself.”

“I’m afraid I have other kinds of games, these days,” he said, nodding toward the couple of red and black files waiting for him.

That was the very same box of Legos that prompted a long-time coming discussion between Sara and Lincoln, a few months later.

There was the biggest, weirdest looking medieval castle on the floor of Sara’s living room, with red and green towers and a drawbridge that actually worked. Michael was asleep on the couch, snoring softly and suckling on his thumb despite Sara’s best efforts to prevent him from doing it. Sprawled on the floor, Lincoln was putting the last touch to their piece of work, ‘as a surprise for Michael when he wakes up’.

Sara smirked.

“Building things runs in the family, it seems. Must be in your blood.”

Lincoln looked up, the last brick of Lego for the dungeon still between his thick fingers, and stared at Sara for what seemed like hours, uncertainty pinching his face.

Damn.

Sara opened her mouth as though she could swallow back what she’d just said, and closed it again.

Damn.

(Damn. Shit. Fuck. Double fuck.)

She waited. She hadn’t meant to bring up the issue now -- or ever as a matter of fact. It wasn’t an issue for her, had never been, would never be. Stupid quip.

Damn.

“Lincoln...”

“I’m not really his uncle,” he eventually said. He noticed the total absence of surprise or incomprehension on her face and added, “But Michael had told you about that, huh? Seriously, you guys. You didn’t have better subjects for your pillow talks than--”

“You are his uncle,” Sara cut him off.

“That’s not what Christina said.”

“Christina was a bitch and I shot her in the back.”

Lincoln couldn’t help chuckling and pointed a finger at Michael.

“Language, Mom.”

“A bitch who may or may have not lied, for all we know. She was prone to that, wasn’t she? Lying? Not that it changes a thing about the fact that you are his uncle. And the biggest pain in the ass of a brother-in-law a woman can have.”

Lincoln placed the last piece of the dungeon.

“Maybe she lied,” he admitted.

Sara slid down the couch and crawled on the floor to sit cross-legged near him. She hurt her hand on a yellow brick of Lego and cursed, which earned her another verbal rap on the knuckles.

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything. But if you ever want to be sure, there is a way,” Sara offered, her eyes trained on Michael.

It took a few seconds for the suggestion to register with Lincoln.

“Fuck, no!” he blurted out, forgetting his own rules about bad words. “I’m not poking holes in that kid to know if she was telling the truth or not!”

“I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t involve poking any holes.”

“Still. No way.”

“I get it.”

“Good.”

She stuck the offensive yellow brick on top of the construction.

“How long is this thing going to sit in my living room, by the way?”

The medieval castle was torn down and rebuilt into (Lincoln’s interpretation of) the Hyatt Center, which itself morphed into a series of improbable cars and boats. Sara followed the evolutions from afar -- boys’ club, only Michael, Uncle Linc and occasionally LJ allowed to play -- between housework, every-now-and-then shifts at the scuba shop, beach sessions, dozens of other tiny or not so tiny activities, and shooting practice.

Exactly, shooting practice. It had become part of her regular activities.

She’d acquired a gun months ago, sometime after Kellerman’s reassurance there wasn’t any danger. Maybe Kellerman’s word was good enough for Lincoln, but it sure wasn’t for her. She didn’t like guns. She hated them with the fire of a thousand suns, but she hated even more the odd and ongoing sensation of being under some kind of surveillance, the perspective of Michael being in danger, the thought of re-living one way or another what she went through a few years ago with Michael Sr.

So she had been practicing on a regular basis. Alone at first, with Jane’s help then, since Jane kept visiting from time to time. Sara joked that the woman had a crush on Lincoln; Lincoln joked she had a crush on Sara -- which might be true, thinking of it, given how willing she’d been to help out with the shooting practice thing.

Lincoln didn’t know, and didn’t need to know, about the gun. It wasn’t just that she didn’t need his blessing. It was that what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt or worry him.

Until he walked in on Jane and her cleaning up their equipment.

He froze at the door of her living room -- where the cars and boats made of Legos had been replaced with houses made of Legos -- and stared for a while. Jane didn’t react, but Sara laid down her gun on the dining table and waited for the shoe to drop.

“Is this why you need LJ or me babysitting Michael every week?” he asked eventually. “So you can fucking shoot at things?”

His voice rose to an almost-roar of anger on the last words. She didn’t blink an eye. He didn’t impress her when he was shouting like that. She’d seen and gone through worse.

“Among other things.”

“And I’d bet my right hand it was her idea.” He pointed an accusatory index finger at Jane.

“Nope, just helping,” Jane said laconically. “She’s a good shot. Just needs me to improve herself.”

“A good shot?”

Jane nodded solemnly. “Yep.”

He looked away from her with exasperation.

“So, one morning, you just thought that learning how to fire a gun was a good idea, got up and illegally bought a piece?”

“I knew how to fire a gun, Lincoln. I shot Kim and Christina. Remember? Or did you think I got them by chance? My father wasn’t into gun control, but he was into knowing how to handle it safely if you owned one.”

He snorted in derision. “From all the ways you had to take after your father...”

She knew all that, had reflected on it during more sleepless nights than he could imagine. He was missing the point by a few hundred miles.

“I don’t feel safe,” she started reasonably. “I don’t care what Kellerman pretends, it’s not safe. If they come after Michael, I want to be--”

“Exactly, Michael! You have a three year-old kid in that house. Kids and guns don’t mix well.”

“Right. Because you know? I leave it loaded and all at Michael’s disposal in his toy box. Right near the bottle of bleach, the matches, and the codeine cough syrup.”

She shut up. He hated it when she was being sarcastic, partly because it pissed him off and partly because it reminded him of his brother’s holier-than-thou attitude. She could live with the former -- no problem at all -- but not so much with the latter.

He drew a chair and gingerly sat at the table with them. For a few minutes, he watched Jane cleaning her gun and Sara’s delicate fingers drumming on the butt of hers.

“That’s kinda hot,” he said after a while. “Pretty women and big guns.”

Jane rolled her eyes.

Sara brushed her hand over the barrel. “You know you find it hot because guns are phallic objects, right?”

“You know that if you’re caught with that kind of phallic object, you’ll be in huge trouble, right, Sarah Connor?”

She was well aware of that, thank you very much. She had weighed her options, evaluated the risks, the pros and the cons, and made an educated decision.

“It’s dragging you back,” he told her later, after Jane had left and he was done fixing a step on the veranda.

He was calm and serious, just enunciating the obvious. She could not not concede to him on that one.

“I know.”

She wasn’t coherent with herself, wanting to move on and rebuild a life, if only for her son, while letting her old fears and obsessions eat her. She couldn’t ignore the possible fallout, the consequences if she wasn’t cautious enough. That was the trick, the precarious balance to find.

“And to think that Michael asked me to keep an eye on you because you have a tendency to run into trouble,” she joked.

“My baby brother. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, was he?” Lincoln said with a grin.

Rebuild a life. Build a life. She’d been working on that since they arrived here, and Lincoln had too, with Sofia and the scuba shop. She’d told him once or twice that his brother would have been proud of him, but Lincoln had discarded the compliment with a grunt, awkward and not used to praise as he was. As for her, she had a smart and healthy kid and a home, and she was as happy as she could be, she discovered with a hint of surprise when she analyzed her situation.

“But?” Sofia asked when they broached the issue together; she shrugged at Sara’s questioning glance. “You sounded like there would be a but.”

There were several buts.

But Michael was growing up and soon -- “In about ten years, Sara!” Sofia said with a laugh -- he wouldn’t need her as much as he did now.

But she missed some aspects of her old life.

But if she wanted to build a life, she needed to build it, not just gather the pieces and make the best of them -- not that it hadn’t been a slow process, not that it wasn’t an achievement in itself.

Her medical license had been revoked and even if it hadn’t, she was still a fugitive. She couldn’t be a doctor anymore.

“When Michael starts school, maybe you can work at the scuba shop? We’re doing well enough that I can pay you,” Lincoln offered.

She didn’t need the money and Lincoln knew it. More importantly... “I’d like that. Sofia has told me that it was quite busy and she could use a couple of free days every now and then?” He nodded. “But this isn’t exactly what I meant, you know?”

Shelters, environmentalist organizations, orphanages, AA meetings and what nots -- there was no shortage of choice. She’d become a doctor because she wanted to help. She couldn’t help anymore by practicing medicine, but there were other ways.

She applied to volunteer at the nearest orphanage and avoided discussing the reasons of her choice with Lincoln.
Chapter 11 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 11

After making himself scarce for the first years of Michael’s stay at The Foundation, Kellerman was visiting more and more often. Files and facts to discuss face to face with Michael and Mrs. Jamison. It always was an interesting moment, seeing newly-elected Congressman Kellerman’s security detail stand at the door of Jamison’s office along with Michael’s -- looked like Tom didn’t trust Kellerman’s bodyguard or something like that. Only Jamison wandered around freely during those visits, seemingly not worried, but then, Michael suspected that Jamison wandered freely with a gun tucked in a holster and might have been on the security detail’s side of the fence once upon a time.

Michael started to both look forward to and dread Kellerman’s visits.

The visits meant they were making progress, quick and important progress.

The visits meant that sooner or later, Michael would be set free -- would set himself free -- and go back to Sara and Lincoln; to his son. It wasn’t a distant possibility any more. It was becoming something that could and would happen in a near future, probably a span of time that counted in months.

“It would be normal to feel nervous,” Yoki told him casually one day after Kellerman had left. “It’s normal to feel nervous about changes and breaking big news to people.”

“And I have one hell of a big piece of news to break to them, haven’t I? Sara, Lincoln, how are you doing? Oh, by the way, I’m not dead,” he ironized.

It was something he’d pushed into the deepest corner of his mind after making the deal with Kellerman because he had to. He couldn’t focus on guilt and do what he had to do at the same time -- same thinking as years ago when he worked on breaking Lincoln out. Back then, he knew some people would be hurt, injured, touched one way or another by his actions.

(Except that this time, the people touched by his actions were his wife, his kid, his brother.)

“You still have some time to think about it, but you knew it would happen, didn’t you?” She drummed her fingers on the small laptop she always had with her. “Maybe we should book a few appointments to talk about that.”

He tilted his head. “I’ve never understood what kind of doctor you actually are, you know? Oncologist? Neurologist? Neurosurgeon? Psychiatrist?”

“I, uh, I multitask. You’re not the only one able to do that, Michael.”

It didn’t matter, anyway. He trusted her. She had an agenda -- not a hidden one, but another one than helping him get better -- but it was the same as his: making sure his mind and his body were able to take down The Company.

“What if I’m like my mother?” he asked her in a whisper. “I faked my death and abandoned them just as she faked her death and abandoned Linc and me.”

“You pretend to be dead to protect them. That’s the contrary of abandoning them.”

And yet, he still wasn’t around. Sara and Lincoln had gone through the ordeal of mourning, Sara would have to keep living with the so-called murder of Christina Scofield attached to her name, and his son was growing up without him.

* * *

Administrative work, teaching math and English to the older kids, animating creative work groups for the younger ones. Staying away from the medical supplies because she wasn’t supposed to doctor anyone anymore.

(Sara sucked at the creative stuff herself, but that was hardly the point.)

Her job at the orphanage was time-consuming and energy-devouring; a physical energy in the first weeks, an emotional one after that. She had forgotten how rewarding but also how demanding it was to care for and attend to so many people at once, and kids were a new brand of their own, in that respect.

“Don’t let Lucia work you too hard,” Rafael advised her sometime around her fourth month. “She’s the most charming person and has this way to wrap you around her little finger, and before you know it, you end up doing the oddest things for her.”

Rafael, fellow volunteer, allowed to approach the medical supplies, sometimes looking at her as though he didn’t realize she could have been his older sister. Totally better than her at the creative stuff, but needing to work -- hard -- on his bedside manners.

(Also, cute. In a puppy kind of way.)

She liked Rafael.

She ducked her head, smiling to herself, and pretended to be extremely interested in the documents laid in front of her.

The description he just gave of Lucia was perfectly accurate. There was something about their manager -- the kindness, the dedication, the fist-of-iron-in-a-velvet-glove attitude, the rare but bright smile -- that made it if not impossible at least hard to say ‘no’ to her.

“I’ve known someone just like her. I can handle Lucia.”

“That’s the trap,” Rafael insisted, his eyes crinkling with laughter. “You think you can, but nobody can handle the Lucias of this world. Maybe it’s a good thing, that said. The world needs Lucias.”

(Wasn’t that true?)

Sofia lifted an interested eyebrow when Sara started mentioning Rafael. And Lucia, other employees and volunteers, but mostly Rafael. Lincoln took care not to say anything at all or to react in any way, but the half-smirk on his lips was telling heaps about what he thought.

Sara didn’t bother protesting and rolled her eyes. The kid was, well, a kid. Med student volunteering, and he was, like, twenty-three, and sweet and smart -- and Sara was absolutely not interested in that kind of relationship.

For several minutes, Lincoln listened to Sofia enumerating reasons why Sara should be interested in that kind of relationship -- either with Rafael or with another man -- then shook his head and poured more iced tea into Sara’s glass, grumbling something about him sucking at chick talk.

“Just stop thinking, Sara.”

She started at his tone, soft and low, so brotherly that she suddenly didn’t have the strength anymore to even reach for her drink.

“How many times did you say that to Michael?”

“More than you can imagine but still not enough.” And then, because he was Lincoln: “Shit. Three years. I know how it is. How can you handle it? You know, the--”

“Thank you, honey,” Sofia cut him off, and the ‘honey’ was so not a good thing in her mouth, Sara couldn’t help laughing.

Coffee and lunch and movie and dinner and... It was odd, going through that dance again. It reminded her she never went through it with Michael. There hadn’t been any time for that. She didn’t regret it; she liked that what they shared couldn’t be compared to anything.

(Stop thinking.)

Rafael was sweet. Rafael called Lincoln ‘sir’ the first time they ran into each other at some café, and Sara choked on her drink at Lincoln’s face. Rafael held her hand on their second date and wrapped an arm around her waist at the end of the third one.

She briefly wondered if she was interested in Rafael or in the fact that he was the first man she’d allowed herself to have interest in for three years; if she wanted to be interested in him because it was part of a healing process; if...

(Stop thinking.)

She kissed Rafael on their sixth date.

* * *

Things were getting better. Not easier, not by far, but certainly better. Michael had regained control over most of his brain and body, he swam and could kind-of-run, lifted weights at the gym in a way that earned him appreciative nods from Tom, and even more appreciative look-overs from Cat. The Company investigated as best as they could but weren’t finding much about whoever was going after them, both because Kellerman and The Foundation were being cautious and because The Company hadn’t regained its former power. One by one, soldiers and then lieutenants of the New Heads -- © Mrs. Jamison -- were flushed out, arrested and interviewed. No killing so far, which he praised him and his team for, even though he’d rather not ask about Kellerman and Mrs. Jamison’s methods of interrogation. Necessary evil. During the last few years, he had to compromise quite a bit about necessary evil and he knew that it would haunt him for the rest of his life, but at least, so far, he had a life ahead of him.

Sara and Lincoln seemed happy -- as happy as possible given the situation -- and Michael Jr. was growing up beautifully. Michael dutifully ignored the twinge in his chest each time a new picture was delivered to him, a twinge made of satisfaction, relief, remorse, regret, jealousy, hope, faith...

Bitter-sweetness at its best.

Things were getting better. This was when the dreams became bad; or good in a really bad way. He’d had a bunch before, obviously, but nothing unmanageable, nothing that vivid, nothing that...

* * *

Sara is straddling him. Her thighs encase his hips, her breasts brush his chest, her hair caresses his face, and when she kisses him, he feels life being insufflated into his whole body.

Michael likes it when she’s on top. He can watch her, stroke her; she sets the rhythm that works best for her. Sure, sometimes, often, at some point, he can’t take it anymore -- too good, too many stimuli, too much love. He needs to hold on to her, embrace her and hold her tight. He rolls them over and thrusts deep into her, then.

Not this time, though. Tonight, he relishes the warmth of her body and of her eyes, he basks in her touch and in her moans, he tries to give back as much as she gives him. He comes deep inside her when she leans down and whispers “I love you,” against his lips, and life, life rushes through him -- he hasn’t felt that alive in years.

His head was throbbing when he woke up.

He’d come in his pajama pants. Like a horny teenager. He brushed his fingers over the damp fabric and frowned, too stunned to be embarrassed. Later, probably. For now, he stumbled into the shower -- the exact place where he usually, cleanly took care of this kind of thing -- and washed any traces of sticky fluid and the remains of dreams and pleasant warmth. It was odd. He hadn’t noticed before how his room was neatly air-conditioned and yet always felt cold.

It was the picture Kellerman gave him earlier today that had elicited the dream. Photos, he guessed, were taken by operatives of The Foundation and were usually rather neutral, but this one had been selected by Kellerman himself: Sara in a bathing suit, toned and lightly tanned, long red hair wet in her back, laughing at what had to be one of Lincoln’s silly jokes.

She was beautiful in a sending-stabs-of-want-to-his-guts way; stabs of love of course, but definitely of want and lust too.

Michael stared at the picture for a couple of minutes, seeing in it something that had eluded him the day before, eager that he was to drown himself into it. A smile curved his lips and he picked up the phone to call Tom. It was four in the morning, but it didn’t matter as far as Tom was concerned.

“Is Mr. Kellerman still here?” he asked. “Please let his assistant know that I want to see him before he leaves.”

They’d had a few of those meetings over the course of the last years. Quiet room, great food and tense dialogue, plans of saving the world -- or, at least of preventing it from getting even shittier than it already was, Mrs. Jamison had dryly said once, killing Kellerman’s dramatic flair.

“I want Sara’s name cleared,” Michael started when the three of them were seated at a small table in Mrs. Jamison’s office.

Kellerman sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, are we three years ago again? I already told you--”

“I know what you told me.” He put down on the table the picture of Sara in her bikini. “When The Company is finished, I want her name cleared and her medical license restored. I also want her to be able to stay in Costa Rica if she feels like it. Or to settle anywhere she wants. Her and Lincoln too, obviously. I don’t want them to spend the rest of their lives in hiding, fearing some Company, Foundation or Government men. I don’t care what it takes to get that. Just make it work.”

Kellerman brushed his forefinger across the top of Sara’s bathing suit. “And I’m supposed to accomplish this small miracle because... what? you offered me a photo of your pretty wife? Something to jerk off on, maybe?”

“You’re an asshole,” Jamison said with annoyance; she always sounded annoyed when she estimated that Kellerman’s antics were making them waste their time.

“He flaunts her picture at me to get what he wants and I am the asshole? And what are you going to do if I refuse, genius? Stop cooperating and sentencing her, your kid and your brother to death?”

“There’s a misunderstanding. I’m not threatening you to do, or not to do, anything. I’m not asking you anything. I’m telling you you’re going to do it. Willingly. Happily. Not for me, for her. Given your history, I wonder where this thing you have for her comes from, Paul. But maybe it is because of your history. You have a thing for women who hold out on you, don’t you? And Sara held out on you good.”

He pointed at the picture.

“This isn’t the kind of photo of her I usually get in here. This is the kind of photo picked by a man who has some parts of his anatomy -- please don’t tell me which ones -- really interested in her. This is why you already helped her once, and this is why you’re going to do it again.”

He pocketed the photo. He wasn’t letting Kellerman have it, this one even less so than others.

“You’re going to do it because you have feelings for her. As you told me three years ago, you are one of the good guys now. I get that it’s not easy for someone like you, but somehow, you’ve grown a conscience. Deal with it.”

He didn’t wait for an answer, there was no point. On his way out, he caught Mrs. Jamison blowing out a cloud of blue-gray smoke and Kellerman complaining again, “And I am the asshole?”

* * *

For the first time, when they visited the grave on the anniversary of Michael’s death , Mikey let go of his mama’s hand and ran alone to the tombstone as Lincoln was setting the inevitable origami crane on the gray marble. Sara swallowed hard and felt grateful for Sucre stepping closer and slipping his hand into hers.
Chapter 12 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 12

There was a man in Sara’s life.

The reality of it hit Lincoln in the face at the beach. Not that he hadn’t noticed, known or even pushed for it. But what they said about the difference between knowing and seeing? Yeah.

In addition to being his place of work -- there were worst places of work -- the beach was a family thing. Sofia and him, LJ when he bothered, Sara and Mikey when their schedules matched.

And some Sunday, Rafael joined in. The next one too, and the next one, and then evenings on weekdays when they had dinner on Sara’s deck or boat.

He was nice. He helped. He played with Mike. He chatted with Sofia. He wrapped a beach towel around Sara when she was coming back from swimming, curled an arm around her waist or shoulders, whispered into her ear, smiled into her neck, brushed kisses over her cheeks or lips.

He was nice, and he could hold his ground.

He told Lincoln, “I’m not trying to fill your brother’s shoes,” and Lincoln grumbled, “They’re too big anyway, kid.”

“I know, Mr. Burrows.”

Again with the ‘sir’ thing.

“Don’t call me Mr. Burrows. I’m not your fifth grade teacher.”

“Don’t call me kid. I’m not your student.” He raised an eyebrow, and Lincoln thought that there was no way that the kid was laughing at him; it wouldn’t have been safe for him.

(He totally was, though, and it wasn’t like Linc would do... anything.)

Yes, the kid could hold his ground.

Sara, eyes closed and back and legs covered in suntan lotion that Rafael had applied very thoroughly, pretended not to have heard their exchange. The smirk on her face left no doubt, though.

“Mike likes him,” Sofia pointed out one day as Sara, Mike and Rafael were playing in the surf.

“Sure he does. He has a buddy to play with. Raf isn’t so much older than him, after all.”

Sofia leaned up on her elbows and smiled sweetly at Lincoln; too sweet to be nice.

“Well... I’m not so much older than LJ.”

“Laugh riot, babe.”

There was a man in Sara’s life. It triggered in Lincoln something he was quite familiar with, the notion of what could have been-should have been had life not been such a bitch. Could have-should have been his baby brother on that beach, on that deck, on that boat, in those arms.

A few yards away, in the blue-green water, Mike shrieked in delight at something Rafael had just done, and Sara’s laugh bubbled into the warm evening.

(Stop thinking. Life goes on; live it well to honor the dead. Just have some faith.)

He jumped onto his feet, scooped up Sofia, and threw her over his shoulder. She shrieked as loudly as Mike did seconds before and tried to kick Lincoln.

She could always try. This wouldn’t stop their march to the surf.

“Let’s see if I’m too old for you, lady.”

* * *

They ended the year with a file of the darkest black.

They had been making progress, unraveled plots, stopped deals, and caught a bunch of soldiers and lieutenants; the General was securely locked in jail.

The General was a done deal, though, and soldiers and lieutenants weren’t the endgame of their mission.

‘The gathered intelligence indicates that Diana Acero is General Krantz’ designated successor.’

One little sentence in a report, one short order in response: ‘Smoke her out.’

They’d come up with a plan -- Michael, the analysts, Mrs. Jamison. A simple plan: lure out Acero with the perspective of meeting Chopra for a negotiation and using the opening to locate her and put her under surveillance. The fact that she was Krantz’ designated successor didn’t mean she was unchallenged -- and Chopra was an easiest target, way less cautious about not exposing himself than Acero and Smythe.

They’d been following the execution of the operation for an entire day, Michael’s office turned into a control room, images and reports from field teams displayed on the Wall. Around the nineteenth hour, his analysts had started falling asleep and had been sent to the break room by Mrs. Jamison.

It was only them, by now; Mrs. Jamison and Michael, Kellerman on the closest monitor from somewhere overseas, and Tom on the other side of the secured door.

Michael was running high on adrenaline. For nothing. Nothing had happened for almost two hours. Mrs. Jamison was reclining in Nat’s chair, legs extended in front of her and stilettos propped up on the desk, cigarette smoke surrounding her.

“Not a word to Dr. Evergreen,” she had warned Michael while pulling out her lighter. “About me smoking when you’re around and about the fact that I didn’t send you to your bedroom about ten hours ago.”

He looked up from his screen and smirked tiredly. His eyes were red and burning, but it would have taken a security detail to send him to bed.

“I would never have thought you were afraid of Yoki. Or of pretty much anyone, for that matter.”

“Being afraid when you should be afraid is a proof of intelligence and self-preservation.”

She threw a glance at the control monitors. They were displaying greenish satellite images of a storage facility in Indonesia where nothing was fucking happening.

(Mrs. Jamison could have a very metallic, scary tone when she was getting impatient.)

“Listen, Michael,” she started after taking in a calming deep breath and an even longer drag on her cigarette. “Dr. Evergreen and I have never discussed the issue, but you’re physically fine now and I’m not sure all of your needs are met.”

“All of my needs?” he asked distractedly.

(This was why he never saw it coming, okay? He knew he should have been prepared for anything around here, especially the worst, but he was distracted. He was keeping an eye on the screens. Never mind that there was about one hundred alerts set to on, he trusted his eyes more than any monitoring system.)

“Sexually speaking,” she elaborated. She was calm and relaxed, as if making small talk -- if she had ever made small talk. “I was thinking that maybe you would appreciate spending some time with a woman? Or a man?”

He choked on his beverage at the first suggestion and started to cough at the second one, coffee going up his nose in an unpleasant and unattractive way.

“Man, woman, both at the same time, I don’t care as long as everything happens between consenting adults who aren’t your co-workers.”

He put down his mug. “Where the hell does this come from?”

And by this, he meant not just the odd offer but also the jibe about his co-workers.

“You haven’t seen the way Cat has been looking at you recently, have you?” she asked. She was watching him that way, the same way as Lincoln when he wondered how someone so smart could be so dumb and oblivious. “I don’t want this kind of relationship among people working here. It’s a highway to trouble.”

It made sense. What made less sense was her solution.

“So in order to deflect trouble, you’re offering me a call-girl in the middle of a black file op? Because I assume this is what you’re suggesting, isn’t it?”

She shrugged and pointed at the Wall.

“Nothing’s happening for now and we don’t have many occasions to chat. I’m just making the best of the situation.” She sipped on her coffee and grinned. “Your employers never offered you the services of a hooker before?”

Not the kind of question calling for an answer, in his book, so he didn’t bother providing one.

“Obviously, you’ve never had the right kind of job, Mr. Scofield.”

He stared at her and felt his cheeks redden slightly. He wondered if somehow, she’d found out about the dream he had before their last meeting with Kellerman, if Cat was merely an excuse. No way she knew, right? Even this place couldn’t delve that deep in his mind.

“Thank you -- I think,” he said cautiously, “but I’m a married man.”

“You love your wife, I understand and respect that. What I’m suggesting has little to do with love.”

Fair enough.

“Okay then: I do not want a call-girl. But thanks.”

“Nor an escort-boy?”

He chuckled. “Nor an escort-boy.”

She straightened up in her armchair. She looked as stern as ever, but there was a hint of compassion in her eyes.

“Don’t take it the wrong way, okay? You’re a young man, you’re fit, you’ve been kept away from any intimate touch for several years. I don’t imply you would be unfaithful to Sara, but I must be practical. I need you to be focused on your mission, and I’m open to any requests making it easier for you.”

He nodded and took a long swallow of his coffee. Something else they’d better not tell Yoki, how much coffee he had recently.

“I get it. It’s okay.”

(He did. She was a practical woman even though not as cold and detached as she pretended to be.)

They returned their attention to the Wall and the monitor where Kellerman was speaking soundlessly -- thank God, Jamison had cut off the sound at the beginning of their odd exchange about call-girls, escort-boys and too-thoughtful employers.

He’d been waiting for almost twenty-four hours, but he wasn’t in the control room when it happened. Mrs. Jamison had ordered him to go to sleep right after what had been one of his most surreal conversations since his arrival at The Foundation -- and he’d had quite a few ones of those; he knew a thing or two about surreal conversations.

He’d gone asleep to a black file op dragging on.

He woke up to the news and footage of Acero shooting Rajesh Chopra in cold blood and swiftly vanishing from the monitors.

* * *

He knew it could happen. He had evaluated the risks in the report he’d sent to Kellerman and Jamison. He was aware of the flaws of his plan and of the fact that they were dealing with ruthless people.

He’d taken the chance nevertheless because every step, from the tiniest to the hugest, brought him closer to a reunion with Sara and Lincoln, to hold his son in his arms for the first time.

He’d taken the chance, and someone had died. Several people had died. Chopra wasn’t Acero’s only victim; she’d left a few dead bodies in her wake. The satellite surveillance was merciless in its clarity: Chopra and half a dozen of his people had fallen into an ambush, barely a couple of sentences exchanged before the shooting started.

Michael played the short video ad nauseam before Pat decided it was more than enough and pulled the plug.

“I am like my mother,” Michael told Yoki.

He sat motionless in his bedroom for hours, watching the landscape on the other side of the bullet-proof bay window without seeing it. Neither Mrs. Jamison’s forceful suggestions to get over it nor Yoki’s gentle prodding managed to reach him. He remembered the last time something looking like this had happened, how Sara had been able to reach him, to bring him back to the here and now.

The Foundation had other methods. The Foundation couldn’t afford Sara’s patience at the moment.

The needle digging into his shoulder took him by surprise; he slowly collapsed onto himself, falling asleep across the bed.
Chapter 13 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 13

Yoki was sitting beside him when he opened his eyes, displaying her time-for-a-reality-check face. A replay of his early days at The Foundation. She looked up from her laptop, alerted by the change in his breathing or by a damn medical sixth sense -- go figure -- and the lecture started. At least, she kept it short.

“All right, Michael. I’m going to go through it for you. Acero killed Chopra. A few other people died during the op. None of them were our operatives. It could happen, your plan took this into consideration, you warned us, and it did happen. No amount of freaking out or remorse is going to change that.”

She handed him a glass of water.

“You slept for almost three days.”

“Nice trick, doc,” he said grumpily. Throwing her an accusing glance, he rubbed his shoulder where she’d dosed him, and drank his water.

“Cat and I used that time to do some research,” she continued, not impressed by his display. “I owe you an apology. I should have done that long ago. I took for granted what we thought we knew when I should have known better.”

She leaned down to pick up something on the floor at her feet, retrieved a five-inch-thick file, and dropped it into his lap.

Christina Rose Scofield, written in silver-white letters on a gray cover.

He stared at it for several seconds, frozen with hate and fear, flabbergasted that something related to his mother could still get to him so easily. Then, slowly, cautiously, he put the file aside, pushing it off his knees and on to the mattress.

“You’ve wasted your time. I already know everything I need to know about my mother.”

“Do you? You don’t. You know what she told you when you met in Miami and what The Company wanted you to know. Tell me, do you remember how she was when you were a child?”

He couldn’t do that, bring up those memories, think about the fakeness of his youth, about the lies and the deceptions, about the revelations Christina threw in his face after twenty-five years.

He tried to move in the bed and get up, only to find out that whatever Yoki had administrated to him hadn’t totally worn off. His head was still spinning.

“Lie down and answer my question. Don’t make me shoot you up again,” she threatened with a hint of humor.

There was only one way out when she sported that kind of determination. It wasn’t like he could go anywhere at the moment anyway.

“Fine!”

The images and sensations came back easily, assaulting him. They were vivid and felt like they could break his heart and his mind all over again -- sweetness and nostalgia of the memories that were nothing but fantasies, bitterness of the reality.

“She was affectionate and patient,” he said softly, looking into Yoki’s supportive eyes. “She was brave, kind, and she loved us -- both of us, Linc and me -- more than anything in the world. She had the strongest sense of what was right and wrong. She taught us how to be good people.” He tapped his fingers on the gray file and his tone hardened. “She was a fraud.”

“Or maybe she wasn’t.”

“Don’t.” He shook his head. “Please. Don’t make up a story about how her actions three years ago were some... act. She said awful things. She did awful things. Nobody forced her to make me choose between Sara and my brother. Nobody forced out of her mouth the things she told me about Linc. She chose to say and do that.”

“She did,” Yoki admitted gently. “She was the woman you remember from the last time you saw her, but she was also the woman you remember as a child.”

She grabbed the gray file from the bed and set it on the small desk at the other end of the room, out of his reach.

“You know what, you don’t need to read this now. You’re going to listen to me and if you decide that the time Cat and I put into that research was worth it, then you’ll delve into it. Study all the info and details.”

“Do I have a choice?”

She wrinkled her nose.

“No, not really. Better me than Mrs. Jamison, though, don’t you think?”

How funny that the two women used one another as a scarecrow. He wondered if they knew, if they did it on purpose, or if they genuinely had this respectful/cautious relationship to each other.

“Now, do you know how complex, resilient and yet fragile, the human mind can be? Perhaps brilliant minds like yours and your mother’s even more so? It’s a cliché, but the line between genius and insanity can be so very fine. You should know, shouldn’t you? Been there, almost done that.”

He’d never deluded himself about the fact that she knew everything she had to know about his medical history.

“Are there answers at some point or do you only have questions, Yoki?”

“Cute. When you arrived here, hurt and sick, half-dead really, do you have any idea of what I could have done with you? To you? I could have shaped you to my will; to my employers’ demands; to Kellerman’s requirements.”

“Maybe you did for all I know,” he spat before quickly grumbling an apology.

A few things he learned during his stay here: he could trust Yoki -- reasonably; she wasn’t working for an organization running a charity business; despite said organization, she wasn’t the mad scientist kind; last but not least, she wasn’t prone to blather aimlessly, which meant she was onto something.

“What are you trying to tell me, that The Company... brainwashed her?” he said with derision.

“What I’m trying to tell you is that The Company picked a dying woman from the hospital, saved her and had years to do whatever they wanted to do to her. To model her brain, her mind, her opinions. Her morality. Her memories. Didn't they try to do exactly that with you?”

(He shouldn’t have listened to her. It could only lead to disappointment and more heartache.)

The rational part of his mind flipped through her assertions, questions-that-were-answers, and hints. It was a nice story, one that he wanted to believe. Who wouldn’t have wanted to be convinced that his childhood memories weren’t, in fact, an imposture?

“Think, Michael. Occam’s razor. What sounds more logical? A criminal playing a part for over twelve years, passing for an exemplary mother and never slipping the slightest bit out of character, or the explanation I’m bringing you?”

The room was spinning and, this time, it wasn’t because of the drug Yoki had given him.

“You said it yourself. She was a brilliant mind. She could have done it.”

“You’re a brilliant mind. During the couple of months you spent in Fox River, you never slipped?”

Go figure whether she actually knew something or she faked it. She had a pretty good poker face.

“She might have been a sociopath,” he said desperately. “She might have had proper training and...”

He didn’t finish his sentence or his train of thought. It was silly, crazy, to hold on to a vision of the world that he had rejected so hard at first. It had changed during the first months of his recovery. The rejection had morphed into acceptance, and eventually, he’d wrapped himself into his newfound knowledge like he would wrap himself in a blanket. He’d found comfort in his hate and contempt for Christina, the comfort that sure things provided when your whole life was upside down.

He looked into Yoki’s eyes. He needed something to anchor him. He needed to have reality sink in, to adapt and re-adjust to it. Not a sure thing, her allegations, but if he considered it coldly and logically, knowing what The Company was capable of, he had to concede that it was a possibility.

He wasn’t questioning the value or accuracy of Yoki’s research; he’d seen what The Foundation was able to dig up when needed. But he could not, absolutely could not afford to nurture false hopes.

So convenient for Kellerman and The Foundation, what Yoki was implying. Just at the right moment to refuel his hatred for The Company when he’d weakened a bit too much for their taste.

(Yoki wouldn't lie to him, though. Use any and all intel she could get her hands on, yes; lie, no.)

“She was an operative of The Company right from the start,” he insisted feebly.

“No.” Yoki pointed her forefinger at the gray file, implying that its content invalidated Michael’s objections. “No. Up until her thirties, she was just a nice girl trying to raise her kids right. She... I ran a DNA test of samples from her, you and Lincoln: she lied to you about Lincoln three years ago. Or perhaps she’d been convinced it was the truth, but it wasn’t.”

She waited for him to say something, anything. He couldn’t. His mind was filled with white noise; too many thoughts whirling at the same time, threatening to overwhelm him.

“She was a too-smart woman caught in a terrible game. Who got caught in a terrible game because of her intelligence. So, in that regard, I guess you’re right when you say that you are like your mother, huh?”

He picked the first small thing he could think of to get a grip on reality.

“You had no right to test my and Linc’s DNA without our consent.”

Yoki patted his head, got up, and retrieved the gray file to bring it to him.

“Sue me.”

Her hand on the doorknob, she halted as he was already absorbing himself in the file.

“Michael? Despite its outcome, the op is a success. It allowed us to locate Acero. After she killed Chopra and left, we were able to keep tabs on her. We’re following her. That’s great news. Kellerman is quite happy with you, and I think Mrs. Jamison even cracked a smile.”

Good. Fine. Whatever.

The file. The file was what interested him right now. Not Acero, Chopra or Smythe, not Kellerman or Jamison, not The Company or The Foundation.

It was a very comprehensive file that Yoki and Cat had put together. You could trust Cat with this kind of thing, and Michael ought to know what a driven Yoki could achieve.

Files from the Cook County Hospital where Linc and he were born.

Pictures of their youth Michael had no idea how and where Yoki got. The love and devotion Christina displayed on them could be fake, obviously, but if it was, she’d been one hell of an actress.

(She’d been one, whichever way you looked at it.)

Death certificate established by a Dr. Bowman who did not work at the Cook County Hospital and whom Cat had found out to be linked to The Company.

Dr. Bowman who, by the way, was a neuropsychiatrist, not an oncologist. Of course, just like Yoki, he could have ‘multitasked’.

He sure had multitasked quite a bit according to his reports to The Company, reports retrieved from Scylla and analyzed by Yoki and her team. The man had interesting -- as in frightening -- theories and, given who he’d worked for, chance was that the theories lead to experimentation and practical application.

Files and files of Christina Rose Scofield’s first jobs in the field. Hesitant and almost harmless at first, less and less as her appointments with Dr. Bowman went on, and months and years passed.

It was all circumstantial.

Reports and more files of Christina climbing the ladder within The Company, rising to the top and gathering so much -- too much -- power, starting to worry the very people who had recreated her and asked her to become what she’d became.

Michael barked out a laugh at the idea of what The Company had done to itself.

(Should have seen it coming, guys. Mom was too clever for you. Not that it had been a good thing for her boys.)

It was all circumstantial, but the more Michael was reading, the more Yoki’s allegations made sense. They’d fucked her up on purpose and bent her to their agenda -- until Christina developed her own, that is. It was stated, neat and cold, in a five-inch-thick file made of grainy photographs, soulless studies and clinical reports.

He read for the whole day and then went back to his office. A pile of red and black files as well as Mrs. Jamison were waiting for him. He grabbed the files and arched an eyebrow at Jamison.

“Mr. Scofield,” she greeted him with a nod of her head. “I see you’re feeling better. After what happened last week, are you ready to get back to work?”

He’d known her for long enough to know what she actually meant. After the way you handled what happened last week, how far are you able to go? Just as he’d known Yoki long enough not to delude himself about her intents: they were good for the most part, but she had her own mission -- The Foundation’s mission -- and what she’d found out about Christina could only serve it.

It certainly served it. Anger was cold and heavy in the pit of Michael’s stomach, at the back of his head, on his fingertips, in his throat. What they did to Christina, what they did by extension to Linc and him, to Veronica, to Sara, LJ, to his own son... There was only one way to take down The Company for good, and it was to use their own methods. He needed to fucking stop playing by his own rules and start abiding by theirs, the sooner, the better. Any integrity lost in the process would be compensated a thousand times when they killed the Hydra.

“Mr. Scofield? Are you with us?”

Jamison was staring at him, her blue eyes their usual icy cold. For a second he wondered if she’d gone through the same kind of journey he did or if she was just that devoted to her job.

(To each their own reasons. It wasn’t his place to question hers, or Yoki’s or -- damn -- Kellerman’s.)

“Chopra is done,” he replied, “and Acero might be the General’s designated heir, but there’s another player in that game: I assume Smythe has his own views on the situation. We need to think about what we can do with that.”
Chapter 14 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 14

“It’s not enough anymore.”

Michael was settled in a leather armchair at one end of the table, the other attendees to the meeting paying close attention as he was unraveling his argumentation and his plan. It felt comfortable, pleasant almost; he knew well the people he was working with, and he’d run dozens of meetings like this one in a previous life.

(Though... not exactly like this one: it was the first time he’d entered a meeting with plans for assassinations.)

“Finding them, arresting them and--”

He stalled, not sure what happened after The Foundation, Kellerman, the Government or go-figure-who got their hands on The Company’s operatives. It didn’t bother him as much as it should have. The question had gnawed at him a bunch of times since the beginning of his mission, but not anymore. Not after studying Dr. Bowman’s reprogramming techniques and having them stick in his mind.

“And taking the necessary course of action,” Nat provided helpfully.

“Right. This. It’s not enough. We need more chaos among them if we want to divert their attention from us and do more than merely contain them.”

They’d made quite a bit more than merely containing The Company. But it still wasn’t enough: almost three years, and if The Company wasn’t as strong as it used to be, it still was. The Hydra kept growing and nurturing its heads. Even worse, they had acquired intel about their opponent, intel that was starting to hit a tad too close to home for The Foundation’s good. They weren’t in a situation to strike back -- yet: it was only a matter of time before they did, though.

They were in a meeting room next to Mrs. Jamison’s office. No windows, backlit panels on the walls, long mahogany table, comfortable armchairs, and nothing else. It was a room like The Foundation liked them. Michael had grown fond of their minimalist yet luxurious feel.

Mrs. Jamison was facing him at the other end of the table, the analysts and Yoki on the sides, Tom standing by the door. Kellerman was walking around the room, which wasn’t surprising at all. Always on the move, always elusive, Congressman Kellerman.

“So your idea of strategy is to create a mess,” Kellerman said. He was oddly not sarcastic. It was a rare frame of mind when he was in Michael’s presence. “They’d be busy eluding us and would have to fight against each other at the same time. Simple but effective. Divide and rule.”

“Divide and destroy, actually” Jamison quipped. She was smiling with satisfaction. Mercy wasn’t her main quality.

“They’re already fighting against each other,” Michael reminded them, “but Acero is trying to make a deal with Smythe. We need to stop this and take their dissensions to another level. We can do it, now. We didn’t have enough intel on the various factions to implement this approach sooner.”

“It’s fine, Michael,” Kellerman told him. “I get that.”

Pat looked up from the black file in front of him. Not that he needed to refer to it since he’d worked on it with Michael, discussed the strategy, elaborated the tactics, planned the upcoming operations.

“We already went through this, but you do realize there will be casualties, Boss? A lot more than we had with Acero. A lot.”

He knew that. He’d thought it would cause him a few sleepless nights, but so far he’d been sleeping like a baby, and he was (reasonably) sure that Yoki wasn’t slipping him any sleeping pills.

“We’ll have to deal with that aspect. Most of those people would have faced the death penalty anyway, wouldn’t they?”

Yoki straightened up in her chair at that, at how casual he was about it.

“It depends on which state or country would judge them,” she protested. “And even so! Michael, you’re still angry and--”

He didn’t spare her a look, his eyes trained on Kellerman and Jamison.

“Yes, I am, and I think I’m going to be angry for a while. But it doesn’t change the fact that we need to take that road.”

“You shouldn’t make this kind of decision in your current state of mind.”

Kellerman stopped his pacing around the room.

“Dr. Evergreen, could we agree that now isn’t the time for a therapy session, please? This isn’t Michael’s call, anyway. It’s mine. And your lovely boss’. I thought that by now you’d got how this works? He proposes, we decide.”

Michael glanced at him but said nothing.

“And I will pick up the pieces when he--”

“Thank you for your input, Dr. Evergreen,” Jamison cut her off. “Thanks to all of you,” she added, motioning at the door.

The analysts and Tom left; Yoki had to follow and exited the room after them, face closed and lips pressed in a tight line.

Michael didn’t budge from his seat. Kellerman negligently leaned against the overpriced table and tilted his head at him in expectation. Next to him, Mrs. Jamison was going through the black file, seemingly not paying attention to them. She looked approving and reluctant at the same time, but Michael knew without a shadow of a doubt which side would take in the end.

“Anything I can help you with?” Kellerman asked when it became obvious that Michael would be keeping quiet.

“That was nice of you.”

“I’m sorry, Michael. I understand that me being nice to you rocks your world off its axis.” He shrugged a phony apology. “What was nice of me, by the way?”

I propose, you decide? Way to lift the burden of that sin off me. Of course, it could also be patronizing, a little reminder of who’s the boss here. But it wasn’t like that, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t like that,” Jamison seconded without raising her eyes from the documents she was checking. “It took him a while, but finally, he’s accepted the notion that he’ll never ever bed your wife, no matter what. He can keep it in his pants, no need for a dick-measurement contest. So he might as well be nice with you. Who knows, you may even mention it to Sara one day.”

Kellerman threw Michael a can you believe her?! look that wasn’t returned. Michael could indeed believe her. He’d been around her for three years. And he’d been around Kellerman for even longer: that astonished look of his was as phony as his apology seconds ago.

(Moreover chances were she was right, which was kind of unsettling.)

“You’re a bitch,” Kellerman told her good-naturedly.

“God. I’m so insulted; I had never been called that before.” She smirked at him. “Oh, wait... Anyway. I think you have something for Mr. Scofield?”

A thick brown envelope was fished out of Kellerman’s briefcase and landed noisily in front of Michael, almost knocking his black file off the table.

“Don’t get your panties in a knot. It’s a facsimile, not the real thing, and it’s not effective yet.”

Michael pulled the documents out of the envelope with shaking fingers.

Sara’s exoneration for shooting Christina and for breaking out of Miami Dade.

Sara’s medical license.

A few more documents with Linc, Sucre and Alex’ names on them -- plus a blank one for him ‘cause, yeah, God forbid he had a legal existence for now -- to which he didn’t bother paying much attention for the present.

Everything was signed, no dates on it.

“It’s all set,” Kellerman explained. “The second Krantz has been executed, we have Acero and Smythe in custody -- or you know, in body bags -- and The Company is too fucked-up to recover, I stamp the date on those papers, and you guys can live happily ever after.”

He moved his ass off the meeting table.

“You hadn’t asked for it, but I added the paperwork for your little stunt at Miami Dade for everyone involved. Would be a pity for you to go back to jail for that one, wouldn’t it?”

Michael was still drinking in each single word on the documents when the pneumatic door swooshed closed behind Kellerman. Michael saw his figure retreat through the frosted glass doors and made a move to follow him.

“You’ll thank him next time,” Mrs. Jamison held him back. “He won’t mind. He likes you, you know.”

“Sure. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

“Give him a break. He isn’t used yet to liking people. He doesn’t always know how to do it.”

She tapped her fingernails on the black file.

“Back to our business. That’s harsh methods. Welcome to the dark side, Mr. Scofield.”

“Speaking of dark side, for how long have you had the intel Yoki gave me about my mother?”

He’d had the time to study the file with the appropriate thoroughness. Cat was awesome-good at her job, and Yoki had one hell of a brain, but three days for gathering this sort of intel? It bordered on genius. Or improbability.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

At least, she was looking him in the eye while lying; and she didn’t even bother lying well or pretending that she minded whether he believed it or not.

“I don’t care, you know. I get it. Whatever it takes to bring them down. Maybe I don’t deserve this anymore, but Sara and Lincoln do. My kid does. And apparently, my mother’s memory does.”

She sighed and pushed her example of the black file aside, as though to take away its content and consequences.

“You need to have faith. Just... just have some faith, Michael. Please?”

He started at the request, not sure anymore what she knew about him and what she truthfully meant -- meant from the bottom of her heart -- what had been scripted and what was honest words of encouragement. All of that wasn’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

“Faith?”

“Faith that in the end, things will be the way they should be.”

“It sounds like a fancy way to say that the end justifies the means. You don’t look like the kind of woman who needs such a euphemism.”

“You confuse euphemism with keeping your eyes on the goal.” She shrugged. “You don’t know whether I need this or not, but what I know is that somewhere along the road, you will -- when your anger wears off, and you realize what you’ve been part of and that there was no other way. You’ll need that kind of faith, then.”

* * *

So many dates that Sara had stopped keeping track of and countless days at the beach, most of the time with Michael Jr. and often with Linc and Sofia, before she considered stepping over the last line. She felt like she was taking a plunge into the unknown.

She wasn’t feeling guilty. She had no reason to feel guilty, obviously, and yet she had expected the sensation, braced herself for it, prepared to deal with it. It didn’t show up. Not when she walked up the stairs to Rafael’s small apartment, not when she woke up in his bed the next morning, neither in-between, nor when he sat by her with a glass of juice and kissed her shoulder.

(Not as much as she’d imagined, anyway.)

She was relaxed, sated -- so very sated -- a bit sore in the best way, and almost not feeling guilty. It was okay. She was okay, everything would be okay. She was young and healthy and it had been more than three years and Michael wouldn’t have wanted her to be mourning him for the rest of her life and... and...

She kept running through her mind the reasons Sofia had unraveled for her months ago, the reasons she held on to, the reasons Lincoln rolled his eyes at because -- duh!

The fact that she needed to remind herself of those reasons partially invalidated them, but at least here she was, almost guilt-free, relaxed and so very sated, Rafael kissing up her shoulder and neck -- and then, her cheek, not her mouth.

“It was the first time, wasn’t it?” he said softly.

And with that, she realized that if the feeling of guilt wasn’t exactly pregnant, a sensation of weirdness weighed heavy on the nape of her neck, lurked in her belly. There was more intimacy in those kisses on her shoulder, in that glass of juice and gentle question than in anything they’d done last night. She was bare and exposed in a way she hadn’t been since Michael, except maybe with Linc and Sofia, but it was so very different with them: they’d known her before, witnessed the process of her transformation, gone through it with her to one extent or another. Rafael? Rafael only knew this Sara, Rafael had no link whatsoever with her old life, Rafael was one hundred percent fresh start.

Maybe she wasn’t ready to let her memories become memories.

(To let Michael become a memory.)

She laid back against the pillows, the sheets tucked around her, and quirked an eyebrow, trying to act light and okay with everything when her heart was beating into her throat.

“You know I have a kid, right? It definitely wasn’t the first time,” she joked.

He kissed her cheek again, sweet and chaste, the contact so different from last night’s -- very sweet indeed, last night, but a long way from being chaste.

“You know what I mean.”

She wasn’t doing so good at her ‘build a life’ thing, it seemed. Maybe she should just have picked up some guy on a vacation and fucked him. Of course, this wouldn’t have been very compliant with her aspirations for constructiveness.

Too fast. Or maybe Raf was too nice. You didn’t want to hurt a Rafael; you didn’t want to unload your luggage and crap on him; you didn’t want to let him closer for he could see how not ready you were to keep this thing going on.

(Charade. This charade going on. She’d been silly to think she could do this.)

“I’m sorry,” she breathed out.

“I’m not. Great dates, beautiful woman, awesome night. What’s to be sorry about?” He reached for her dress that had been haphazardly thrown over a chair last night and handed it to her. “I’m not going anywhere, you know. Maybe someday--”

(Wait for me. It won’t always be like this.)

She smiled in sad amusement at the irony of it, at the way her determination to move forward had rekindled her memories.
Chapter 15 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 15

“You don’t have a crush on them at least, do you?”

Michael kept typing on his laptop and didn’t bother answering Kellerman’s question. Just another jibe. Every day he was regretting a bit more the time when the other man wasn’t around so frequently, but he could deal with it. Kellerman’s increased presence was made necessary by the decisional process; choices had to be made, that, at this stage, Jamison wouldn’t make on her own.

‘Them’ were Acero and Smythe. Kellerman was eying with interest their portraits displayed on the Wall. Figured. Diana Acero was his kind of woman from head to toe -- handsome, in her fifties, dark eyes and dark soul, clever and reserved to the point of coldness, as manipulative and hungry for power as Caroline Reynolds had been.

“Because you had a crush on Mahone and it caused you all kinds of trouble, remember?” Kellerman said.

Michael looked up and glanced at Jamison, collecting facts and adding one plus one. “He told you I had a crush on Alex Mahone? Is this why you offered me female and male company a while ago?”

Jamison shrugged. Right. She’d made it clear that she couldn’t care less -- as long as he wasn’t sleeping with his co-workers.

“Company? You offered him a hooker?” Kellerman asked, half laughing, half impressed.

“He didn’t tell me anything,” Mrs. Jamison replied without acknowledging Kellerman. “It was in your file. In your psych evaluation.”

“I see. Well, I didn’t have a crush on Alex.”

“On his brain? You totally did,” Kellerman insisted. “This is how you’re wired, Michael, no big deal. You have a thing for smart people who can be brain-sparring partners for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had one on Mrs. J. here.” He snuffled. “Truth be told, I feel kind of offended you never had one on me.”

Michael entered data in his laptop and watched the field team react accordingly. It was freaking him out, this war from a distance; too much like moving pawns on a chessboard.

He hadn’t had a crush on Alex or on Alex’ brain, nor on Acero’s and Smythe’s. Not on Mrs. Jamison’s either and certainly not on Kellerman’s.

Granted, there had been some fascination for Alex. The man seemed -- was -- able to get inside his head and understand how he worked and what made him tick. Not a common occurrence by a long shot.

Acero and Smythe were a different kettle of fish. Acero and Smythe couldn’t get inside his head since they didn’t even know he existed. He, on the other hand, knew very well they were out there.

You think there’s a part of you that enjoys this? It feels to me like chasing a high.

He did not enjoy this; who would have?

Except for the part where Sara had been right all those years ago, of course, and a part of him did enjoy it. A lot.

(Not all those years ago. Four years ago, give or take, which was as good as a different lifetime.)

There was something deeply satisfying in the chase, the competition, the possibility of emulation. In being smarter than them -- both of them at the same time, he should add -- but also in exercising and using his brain to its full extent, pushing it, stretching its limits. Kudos to Yoki for that. She’d promised him she would do anything to help him regain a fully functional brain, and she did.

It was a simple plan, put into gear in the field operation after operation. He liked simple plans; simple premises, at least. There was elegance in simple premises. If you wanted someone who was in jail out of prison, break them out. If you had two enemies who were in a competition, let them tear one another down; help them if necessary. Simple.

The General had been constant and adamant about his chosen successor. Acero had got rid of Chopra and was working on striking a deal with Smythe. She was this close to the prize and wouldn’t let go now. She had everything to lose and wouldn't take kindly to someone trying to snatch the victory from under her nose.

“Let’s spread the word that Krantz has changed his mind,” had been Michael’s recommendation. “Ms. Acero isn’t going to like this.”

Kellerman had sneered at that. If Michael liked simple premises and crushed on smart brains, Kellerman had a thing for information; or disinformation in this case. The nice thing about disinformation in their line of work was that the harder you tried to deny it, the truer it sounded. Krantz could always swear to his protégée that she still was his protégée, Acero would know -- think -- differently.

The team leader made his report and gave the body count. Detached and professional and so very good at his job. He earned Kellerman’s thumb up and Jamison’s detached and formal congratulations.

Michael closed his eyes and felt his throat tighten. Despite his little display and tough attitude at their meeting one month ago, he hated that.

And he hated even more not having the strength -- or would have it been the weakness? -- to stop what he’d set into motion.

* * *

Rafael went out of Sara’s life as smoothly as he’d come in. After that, the time she spent at the orphanage with him around was just awkward enough to feel normal -- polite salutations, too-friendly smiles, a bit of elusiveness whenever they could avoid being in the same room. She’d wanted normal, she had normal.

By way of comfort, Jane pointed out that most rebound relationships were doomed to fail; Lincoln grumbled that he liked the kid but, hey, she was the one who mattered as far as he was concerned; LJ offered to babysit Mike; Sofia asked her if she was okay.

Simple, basic reactions reminding her she wasn’t alone.

She was okay. She had scars, inside and outside, and it was okay. Somewhere along the way, she’d remembered that she didn’t need to heal all of her scars to keep on going. Some would close and the skin would cicatrize nicely; others would itch like a bitch forever. There was peace in accepting the notion that not everything was curable.

* * *

The engineered encounters between Acero and Smythe’s people, Jamison called them confrontations or clashes. The occasional reports and satellite footage rather evoked blood baths to Michael.

“I know you don’t approve,” he told Yoki. He’d ended up in her office for the first time since they’d disagreed and Jamison shut her out.

“I don’t,” she admitted, “but it’s not your problem. I’m your physician and an employee of The Foundation. You’re my first concern; The Foundation, the second one.”

“Not the other way around?” he asked with a smile.

“No, not the other way around. You, then them. Me, as far as you’re concerned, I’m not part of the equation.”

“I hate what I do, but I have to do it.” Yoki merely nodded her head, listening. “I... But when everything is over, what if I’ve changed so much that Sara and Lincoln don’t recognize me anymore?”

So much time spent in here, and it wasn’t finished yet. Once or twice, he’d considered coming up with a plan that would lead to Acero and Smythe’s capture, and to hell with their followers, minions and other supporters. He could do it, it wouldn’t be that complicated. But of course, this wasn’t the deal he’d struck with Kellerman, that boiled down to neutralizing as many Company’s people as possible. More importantly, it wouldn’t ensure Sara, Linc and Mike’s safety -- who could know when the Hydra would raise a new head if he left too many operatives alive and free in his wake?

“You will have changed by then, Michael. This is how life works. But I have trust that, deep down, you’ll still be the man they love and care about.”

“That doesn’t sound like a very professional opinion.”

“You may find out that things on their side aren’t exactly how you imagined they would be either. Life goes on. Don’t beat up yourself. You’ll need a period of adjustment and so will they, that’s all.”

He squinted at her. Almost four years of care, discussions and introspection. He knew it when she was onto something, when she knew something she wouldn’t tell him because, as much as he was her first concern and The Foundation was only the second one, it was a tight finish between them.

Not very complicated to list things that wouldn’t be what he imagined -- hoped -- they would be.

“Has my brother run into trouble again?”

A shake of her head, firm and definitive. “No. He’s doing just fine. You can be proud of him.”

Okay.

“Is Sara seeing someone?”

The shake of head was a tad longer to come. Too much compassion in her voice when she spoke. “It’s over, Michael. It was a young man she worked with, and...”

He didn’t hear the rest, couldn’t even tell if she kept talking. Distress and hurt stabbed him, a feeling of betrayal sneaking inside his heart even though he had no right, no rhyme or reason, to feel that way. Absolutely none. He was dead. She was alive. If things had gone the way he’d planned them at Miami Dade, he wouldn’t have expected her to mourn him forever; wouldn’t have wanted it.

It was only fair that Sara had met someone; it was a good thing she’d met someone.

(Keep telling yourself that, man. Maybe you’ll feel it at some point.)

“Have you heard the part where I told you that it was over?”

Did he look so terrible that Yoki needed to say this twice and couldn't restrain from taking his hand in hers?

He pictured a faceless man making her laugh when he brought misery upon her, warm hands sliding over her skin when he had to look at snapshots taken by strangers, support for everyday life when he couldn’t even send a gift for her birthday, and sending one for their anniversary would have been the epitome of bad taste.

He snatched his hand out of Yoki’s and hit the first thing within his reach. An antique table lamp crashed through the room and broke against the wall. He didn’t even sense the pain when blood surged from the back of his hand.

Great.

Yoki handed him a compress from her personal stock. He pressed it against the cut, watched it redden, accepted another, let Yoki check if he would need stitches, all the while replaying their short conversation in his mind.

“You said it was over?”

“Yes.”

“How come?” How could someone have her and let her go? Did this guy even understand how lucky he’d been? “He was some jerk who just slept with her and left when he’d got what he wanted? Wasn’t she good enough for him?” he asked, redirecting his anger to a different angle of the situation.

Yoki shook her head and laughed at him. In his face. Not even trying to feign remorse for it.

“All right, you need to take a breath and calm down now. Sara ended it.”

She grabbed a stitching kit from her cabinet. He wondered if he really needed stitches or if this was retaliation for his outburst. Surely a doctor wouldn’t do this kind of thing, would she?

“He was a nice guy, it just didn’t work. It happens.”

She put on surgical gloves. That was one thing to know in life: if you were going to be stupid and cut your hand, do it with a doctor around.

“She wouldn’t have been interested in a loser, you know. From what I’ve gathered, Dr. Tancredi-Scofield has better taste than that when it comes to men.”

He couldn’t help a small, coy smile. Dr. Yoki Evergreen, master of low key compliments.

He dreamed of Sara, that night, of Sara and her former... boyfriend? lover? He woke up early, as dawn hadn’t even started to break, his mind full of images he tried to will away. He showered, got dressed, and sat in the armchair facing the longest wall of his bedroom. Months after months, the wall had been lined with cork panels, and the cork panels were covered in pictures. Sara, Michael Jr., Lincoln, Sofia, LJ, even Alex and Sucre when they visited. Three and a half years of sadness, happiness and routine.

The routine was the worst. You could understand wondering how they lived through sadness and loss, how happiness and joys helped them through the journey. But what was his excuse for the routine? For spying on Sara going to the grocery store or lazing at the beach, on his son sitting on Sofia’s lap, on his brother handing fees to possible customers, on his nephew checking out a pretty girl, on Sucre and Alex shaking hands with Linc and hugging Sara?

This was creepy.

He was creepy.

He picked up the intercom and punched Tom’s number.

It took two minutes for his bodyguard to show up, black suit and all, awake and ready to comply with any request. Sometimes, Michael wondered if the man didn’t just sleep on his doorstep.

“Are you okay, Sir?”

Boxer face and distinguished English accent, stylish suit fitting perfectly over bunched muscles and hands even larger and stronger than Linc’s. Jamison had a knack for recruiting interesting people, and she hadn’t derogated to the rule with Tom.

“Yes. I’d like you to remove those panels from my bedroom, please, Tom.”

The guard glanced at the dozens of pics accumulated over the years, then at Michael, back and forth, a couple of times.

“Should I leave the snapshots on your bedside table, Sir?”

“No, you remove everything. Especially the snapshots. You bring them to Mrs. Jamison and ask her to destroy them. You tell her that I don’t want... I don’t need any pics anymore.”

Tom gnawed at the corner of his mouth. It was odd, watching that man who usually executed orders without even blinking hesitate before a wall of photos.

“You sure?”

No ‘Sir’, genuine concern on his face, even raspier voice than usual. Tom No Last Name was officially stepping over boundaries as defined by The Foundation. Not that Michael cared about the boundaries as defined by The Foundation.

“Yeah. I’ll just keep these two, over there.” He pointed at a couple of pics of his wedding that he knew from before, from when he was officially alive. He didn’t know how The Foundation got them in the first place. Probably from Jane Phillips snooping about Sara or Linc’s things and making a copy of them. “And thank you, Tom.”

(For the help. For his concern.)

He watched as the guard, not sure this was the smart course of action but doing a good job at hiding it, removed the pictures, tore off the cork panels and took away everything.

He stared at the blank wall.

That was more like it.

If he wanted to see his wife, his kid or his brother, all he had to do was to work hard on reuniting with them.
Chapter 16 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 16

Soggy soil under his boots, sap-scented air down his lungs, invigorating mist against his skin.

It had been a long time.

Michael was walking so very slowly in the small woods that were part of The Foundation’s property, taking all the time in the world to enjoy and feel each step, how the ground felt soft yet unrelenting, sticking and lodging itself into the tiniest cracks and notches in the sole of his shoes.

Tom was behind him, Lena -- his diving instructor -- ahead of them, he had half a dozen trackers on him, and long distance surveillance cameras trained on their little trio from a watch post near Mrs. Jamison’s office. The air, cool and crisp, was making his skin and his eyes prickle; the earthy scent of the undergrowth invaded his nose and his mouth; the murmur of the wildlife and of the wind in the trees was almost too loud to bear. It was spring. Spring here was fresh and beautiful and overwhelming.

He halted and pressed his hand against a tree for support.

“Is everything all right, Sir?” Tom asked, hand already on his cellphone to report any situation.

“Yes. Thanks. It’s just a bit too much all at once.”

He’d got the authorization to leave The Foundation’s main building for a one-hour walk.

(“You told me you were open to any requests making it easier for me to focus on my mission. This would help.”)

All he had to do to get Mrs. Jamison onboard was to let his hair and beard grow for a couple of weeks, put on some colored contact lenses, wear glasses, a cap, gloves and a scarf, swear on his son’s life that he wouldn’t try to contact anyone -- he didn’t quite get this one as he could have contacted anyone from within The Foundation if he had wanted to but whatever -- and agree to the bodyguards’ presence. In the meantime, Jamison’s goons had checked the woods multiple times and secured them, making sure no one would be in position to spot him.

Really, it had been a true walk in the park. Not.

He hadn’t been outside, in the natural sunlight, without some kind of screen protecting him from unwanted eyes for almost four years. He’d been functioning on sunlamps and very, very occasionally sitting in an inner patio in the main building. No outside walks as Kellerman and The Foundation wouldn’t take the risk of anyone spotting him, recognizing him. Of course, after years of being locked up -- at least, Fox River had its damn yard -- another kind of issue had arisen: he’d woken up one day and couldn’t breathe. Yoki snorted at Tom’s worried report, and her lapidary diagnosis was to marvel that it had taken so long before Michael had started to suffocate.

What Michael did not admit to Yoki was that, maybe, it wasn’t being cooped up for so long that caused the sensation of suffocation.

The night before the episode, he’d learned that the date for General Krantz’ execution had been set. November First. All appeals exhausted, no way out except a presidential pardon that had zero chances to happen. A few days before the anniversary of Michael’s alleged death which Cat, with a twitch of her lips and lack of mercy, called poetic justice.

“Does it make me a bad person to be relieved? Especially after what happened to my brother?” he told Jamison.

She offered him a drink because “You look like you could use one,” and poured herself another glass. “I’m against the death penalty for various reasons.” She swallowed down her scotch. “Doesn’t mean there aren’t a few people whose heart I’d gladly rip out of their chests with a butter knife. Slowly and painfully.” She slammed her glass down and shrugged. “I think it makes you a normal person.”

Krantz going to the Chair was half of his deal with Kellerman. If he managed to complete the other half -- and this part was going rather well -- he could be out of here and with his family in six months.

Six months sounded like a lifetime away; six months sounded like tomorrow. This was when the hyper-ventilating had started.

“See? What did I promise you when we struck our little deal?” Kellerman said brightly. “Took barely longer than for your brother. Now, you just need to make sure that someone doesn’t break Krantz out of jail before the execution date.”

“Sometimes, I wonder if he grasps the basic concept of tact,” Pat grumbled from his desk after Kellerman had left.

Michael smirked at his analyst. “I don’t wonder anymore.”

(Kellerman did grasp the basic concept of tact. He just cared very scarcely.)

No one was planning to break General Krantz out of jail. Not anymore, at least. Michael had been keeping an eye on this option since the beginning, and the odds had decreased with the passing months. Too complicated and expensive in terms of manpower, money and resources at first when The Company needed to regroup; counterproductive now as far as the New Heads were concerned. The General’s support provided a useful caution for the all-comer operatives and for some executives, but why would Ms. Acero, Mr. Smythe and their respective inner circles have wanted to hand over the leadership to an old man locked in maximum security and waiting to be roasted in the chair? At this point, Ms. Acero, Mr. Smythe and their respective inner circles were the only ones in position to plan an escape -- no executive and even less so no group of operatives could pull it off -- and they certainly had no intention of going there.

Wolves eating the older wolf. Michael didn’t even need to get his hands dirty.

(To get his hands dirtier. Dirtier. His hands were already quite dirty. Covered in blood and tears.)

Michael’s plan had anticipated a side effect of the date for Krantz’ execution being set: the competition between Acero and Smythe amped up, the clashes and confrontations becoming more frequent and more brutal. People on both sides were being captured and interrogated and killed. They couldn’t leave the Hydra without a clearly identified main head after Krantz was dead. Better than that, they needed a clearly identified main head before Krantz was dead.

No surprise here, no need to be a genius to foresee it.

Coming up with responses covering the possible outcomes did require a genius; working with a team.

Said outcome was as brutal as the battle between Acero and Smythe had been, and played out in Guatemala, in an abandoned factory -- go figure why those guys loved travelling and meeting in crappy places so much. Michael monitored it through the usual channels, rubbing his sweaty palms together all the while.

(Too close, way too close. Sara, Linc, and Mikey were on a beach, in a shop or on the deck of a bungalow a few hundreds of miles away. Of all places, did Acero and Smythe need to choose Central America?)

The analysts and he had planned for possibilities and contingencies. This time, he had a plan B, and a C, and a D even, each of them decreased in various options. They just hadn’t really foreseen enacting one of the options of plan C -- there was a reason why they only labelled it plan C, you know?

Plan C was meant to be set in motion if Smythe’s people wiped out Acero herself.

* * *

“Fuck,” was Kellerman’s reaction, the word falling quiet and dispassionate.

He was in DC, his office displayed on the Wall of the control room at The Foundation. Even watching him on the monitors, Michael could have sworn that there was a glimmer of regret in Kellerman’s eyes. Whether it was regret that Acero had been killed or that he hadn’t been the one holding the gun, no way to say, though. The guy was pretty screwed up, and Michael spoke from experience as himself knew a thing or two about being screwed up.

Kellerman was checking the pictures and the short footage sent through secured channels. The encounter had been fast and violent, enough to elicit a twitch of lips from a man who had been there, done that multiple times, in the most gruesome ways. Maybe it was different when you were sitting behind a desk, when it was a slightly grainy video playing for you. You could handle and manipulate people, but in the end, they decided how and when and where to pull the trigger.

It was over within a couple of minutes: Acero shot in the stomach and collapsing onto herself, drawing and pointing her own gun at her opponent. She missed; only got his thigh, put a hole in the muscle and in his overpriced and over-British suit. She was a good shot, but not from this angle, not with blood and life already flowing out of her. There was no sound on the video, no way to know -- not for now -- what she told Smythe and what he replied before firing another bullet, this time right between her eyes. The pool of blood expanded around her, dark and sticky, spilling from her flank and from her skull, staining her curly hair and white pant suit, as well as the tip of Smythe’s shoes when he stepped closer and leaned over her.

Michael made an effort to remember that he was watching a woman dying. One who had caused pain, one he had tracked and set up and ambushed and hoped for her capture -- at best -- or her death -- if it had to come to that. He’d been way too flippant about enemies dying during the last months, maybe because they were faceless and nameless for the most part. Or maybe because in his plan, in his scheme, they didn’t hold the pivotal role that Acero had held.

“He took something from her pocket,” Kellerman said. “Have you been able to define what it is?”

“We’re trying to figure it out, but he’s fast and his hand half-hides whatever it is. We also have a team working on the transcript of their conversation. Maybe the resolution is good enough for the lip reading expert to get something out of it.”

The satellite vid had run to its end and there was only static on the screen now.

(Blank screen. Leave Acero behind. Next step.)

“So plan C?” Kellerman prompted.

Plan C was ready.

* * *

This wasn’t pre-Fox River all over again; this was a Sona replay. In colder weather and nicer furniture. In other words, Michael couldn’t afford to come up with an elaborate plan, polish the details and study every contingency. There was no time for that, and too many contingencies, too many people out of his reach to take into account, which meant that he had to draw the main outlines and fill them in on the go. Put up the walls and decide as each brick was cemented what he would make with the space he was creating.

Plan C was his main outline: isolate Smythe by offering bargains to his allies and supporters, neutralize those of them who wouldn’t go there, arrest the other ones. It was easier than it would have been with Acero: his network was smaller, wary and on its guards after what had happened to the two other New Heads, more inclined to defect and strike a deal.

(Remove the foundations from Smythe’s building and see how long he could hold on to thin air.)

“We think that the item Smythe retrieved from Ms. Acero was a chip with a list of her supporters and compromising intel on the less supportive of them.”

Michael looked up from his computer and turned toward Mrs. Jamison who’d been leaning against the door of his office for a couple of minutes, watching him as he was lost in data and intel. She was displaying her usual poker face, but Michael knew her enough to read beyond it.

“Shit.”

(Not good for plan C. Not good for any plan, actually.)

“My thought exactly,” Jamison admitted.

Probably in more colorful terms when she’d had the news broken to her, though.

“And why do we think that?” he asked.

“Because the lip reading expert has finished transcribing the vid and according to him, this is what Acero told Smythe before she died.”

She sounded resigned and matter-of-factly; ready for the next move whenever he would be, too. He wondered how long she’d been doing this, building plans and planning operations that could turn to ashes within the blink of an eye. As far as he was concerned, four years was already too long a time for so many things slipping out of his control.

He summoned up the memories of the footage. Acero had said something and then Smythe had shot her a second time. A deadly shot. The first one had only hurt her, no matter how badly.

“Perhaps she offered him the intel if he didn’t kill her, but he didn’t keep his word?” Tom suggested.

“No,” Michael and Jamison replied at the same time. She didn’t bother to explain why, so Michael took over. “It’s not consistent with her profile, and she knew what she was getting herself into anyway. She knew probabilities were that one of them would end up dead when they met. She gave it willingly.”

Maybe they’d had a deal...

“Honor among murderers?” Jamison snorted.

... or maybe, worse than that, Acero had put the survival of The Company above everything else, even defeated, even knowing she was about to die.

Shit didn’t even begin to describe it.

“We need the content of that chip. Pat can take care of our current research while I--”

“Mr. Kellerman and I will handle the field team,” Jamison cut him off. “I’m putting it together right now, and will brief them tomorrow. I need you to go through the experts’ reports and then to focus on tracking Smythe.”

He leaned back in his chair and pondered whether it was worth fighting for it; whether it was smart fighting for it. Jamison had conducted dozens of this kind of search and retrieve operations, probably participated in a few herself -- not to mention Kellerman -- and he would be more useful working on the ways and means to strip Smythe down of his supporters.

“They still don’t trust me to make the hard decisions if needed,” he told Yoki on their next appointment.

“They don’t want you to make that kind of hard decision. They know what effect it has on you. It’s not good for you, which means it’s not good for the mission. And on a side note, how cocky are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“For being so sure you would handle it better than they will?”

It wasn’t about skills. He wasn’t questioning Jamison’s, and he’d had a first-hand experience of Kellerman’s.

“It’s not like that. It’s just--”

He shut up. He could almost hear Lincoln’s chuckle, his brother asking him ‘Not too painful to let ’em be in charge, control freak?’ Yoki probably knew what the issue was; Yoki was almost as good and sarcastic as Linc when it came to forcing him to face his flaws.

“They know what they’re doing, and believe it or not, they’re better at this than you are, especially when they team up. Do what you are better at doing, and what hardly anyone else is able to accomplish, okay, Michael?”

He shrugged and threw her a glance over the rim of his glasses.

(He needed reading glasses now. Yoki was putting it down to previous illness and injuries, medical treatments, all what he went through at Sona and after, rather than to age -- “You’re thirty-five, Michael, you don’t know yet what old means.” Still. Glasses and a cane. He was a real catch, and Sara would be so lucky to have him back.)

“And maybe this chip is a good thing, after all.”

Smythe in possession of all of Acero’s assets being a good thing. There was a reason why Yoki was a psychiatrist -- and a neurosurgeon, and an oncologist, and possibly a few others MDs and PhDs she’d never cared to mention -- and not a strategist.

“It has nothing to do with strategy,” she replied wisely. “It’s about optimism. You catch Smythe, between his own intel and the chip, you get the list of all the main people involved in The Company, right?”

Right. He only needed to catch Smythe. Piece of cake.
Chapter 17 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 17

Red, red, blue, yellow, red, red, blue... Mike was piling up Lego bricks to build... something, Lincoln wasn’t sure what. There was a pattern in the piling up, and a familiar, displeased frown, when Lincoln was trying to break it.

(Fucking Legos. Fucking kid. This was taking Linc back thirty years ago to a dingy apartment in Chicago.)

“I know, you know...” Sara told him without moving from the kitchen counter where she was making a cherry pie. She wasn’t the best cook in the world -- couldn’t hold a candle to Sofia -- but her cherry pie was to die for, and Lincoln intended to stick around a bit.

“That he’s smart? Have you met his father? And you’re not exactly dumb either.”

“That he’s that kind of smart.”

There had been signs and hints, but the older Mike was getting, the more obvious it became.

It was quiet in the bungalow. Just Sara, Mike and him. Jane had come and gone -- some assignment for her insurance company or whatever she wanted to call it -- Sofia was taking care of the scuba shop this afternoon, and LJ was back at college. Maybe he would take his exams this time; or not. It was all so lazy and normal -- except for Mike’s obsession with the order of his rows of Legos -- and for the first times in years, Lincoln realized he wasn’t unhappy. He wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was happiness, but it definitely was not-unhappiness. They’d reached a balance, some kind of peace. Maybe this was something Sara had known before, but it was a first for him.

Or maybe it was a first for Sara too. She’d stopped the nonsense with the shooting practice thing a few months ago. Ascribe it to time passing or to nothing bad happening after all, she wasn’t feeling watched and followed anymore. Lincoln knew for a fact that the gun was still in her bedroom, secured out of Mike’s reach, and she had bullets in the house, but she hadn’t mentioned practicing with Jane in months.

“What are you going to do about it?”

She rubbed her sweaty cheek against her shoulder. No air conditioning here, and the ceiling fan wasn’t enough to help today.

“Stimulate his mind. Keep him busy and entertained. Make sure he has fun and interact with other kids.” She smiled sheepishly at Lincoln. “Try not to freak out when he starts asking questions I don’t know the answers to.”

“It will happen sooner than you think.”

“Speaking from experience?”

“Damn right.”

He didn’t confess to her what he really thought: that he’d never been able to deal with it properly when Michael was involved because he’d never had the kind of brain and smart she had and that was needed. She hated it when he belittled himself in such ways; she was very capable of throwing the cherry stones left from her pie at him in retaliation, and then he would have to leave. He didn’t want to, not before he got a slice of the damn pie.

* * *

It took a few weeks, several visits from Kellerman to The Foundation, Michael lending a hand for some aspects of the plan, and a lot of cigarettes for Mrs. Jamison, but eventually, they did get a partial copy of the content of Acero’s chip. No casualties in their ranks as a result of the operation, which was always a good thing. Less good: Smythe knew that they -- someone -- had access to a fair amount of his intel. Not that the man was clueless or naïve to the point of imagining that the very people who had tracked down The Company a first time four years ago weren’t on his tail now. But he knew how close they were, how advanced they were, and he started to take extra precautions, precautions he’d shed while fighting off Acero.

They lost his trail somewhere in Morocco. The subsequent string of curses and swear words falling from by Mrs. Jamison’s lips was graphic and cruder than anything Michael had ever heard from Linc. Not a small feat.

“Let’s focus on the content of the chip, okay?” he suggested quietly.

Politicians and businessmen, a couple of celebrities, churchmen and officials... It was a disparate range of supporters that Acero had put together and cultivated, as disparate as her means of pressure over them -- both stick and carrot for almost all of them.

Krantz’ execution was scheduled in less than two months and, despite everything, Smythe was closer than ever. Michael could almost feel the man brushing his fingertips, smell his cologne -- Burberry Classic, he knew as much because, apparently, someone had pegged the info as relevant and included it in a report -- hear his very English accent and elegant delivery even in his sleep.

Closer than ever, even though wandering somewhere in Africa or Asia. Underlings starting to worry, the carrot-and-stick approach not quite enough anymore with the threat of legal action -- or not so legal action, actually -- factions weakened by the internal struggles from the last year.

Kellerman’s version of the carrot-and-stick approach amped up the desertion rate, ranging from a few, quite generous, plea bargains to arrests accidentally (or not) ending up with the suspects being shot down.

It was a mere race, now; a hunt. Race to reach The Company’s members and operatives, hunt to find Smythe. Within a few weeks, he went from offensive to defensive, from gathering Acero’s supporters to seeing his own base starting to defect.

“I want beefed-up protection for my family,” Michael said, and he suspected that, for several reasons, Kellerman had been passing on orders before Michael asked for it anyway.

Krantz went to the Chair a couple of weeks before the alleged anniversary of Michael’s death, and it wasn’t for Michael the big the event he’d envisioned. Sure, a mixture of relief and unease to feel that way sliced through him, remnants of hate and fear following, but nothing like the small earthquake he’d expected. He didn’t have the time anymore for Krantz and his offenses and crimes, whether they’d been committed against Linc, Sara, his mother, himself or thousands of other people. Krantz was the past, and he didn’t have the time anymore for the past: he had to focus on the future, and the future depended on his ability to neutralize Jeremy Smythe.

Everything was going fine.

(That is, if you estimated that striking deals with criminals, breaking into foreign countries, into places and homes, arresting people when you did not necessarily have police power was pertaining to the realm of things going fine.)

Everything was going fine, and everything kept going fine for a few more days.

On the fourth afternoon, they experienced a minor setback, some low-level employee changing his mind about the deal they’d came to and disappearing, and yet another one during the night. On the sixth morning, it was a higher ranked operative. Another one found dead, her throat slashed, on the seventh day.

“We have a problem,” Jamison told Kellerman over a secured line.

“No: you have a problem, Mrs. J., and you need to fix it ASAP,” Kellerman replied coldly.

Four failures of escalating importance in four days when everything had been going fine could only mean one thing: Smythe had had access to their plans and had been testing his intel. Successfully.

She indeed had a problem as no one else but Kellerman himself and some of her own people were privy to said plans. Kellerman wouldn’t have betrayed, that was pretty much established, so her options were limited.

“We have a mole,” she told Michael in the privacy of her office, room screened for bugs, doors locked, phones and computers turned off and unplugged.

He unrolled in his mind the last operations they led, the troubles they ran into, who was where when they discussed the plans. He didn’t like what he gathered from his quick check.

“Two operatives from the task forces were on several of the last missions that failed. And it could be anyone from my team: Nat, Pat, Cat, Tom, Lena--”

“Or Dr. Evergreen.”

He gave her a shocked glance.

“Yoki would never--”

“She would. We all would if they managed to find our weak point. You know their methods better than I do.”

“We must--”

“No. Not ‘we’. This is a management and logistics issue. I take care of management and logistics issues. You take care of cornering Smythe.”

On the ninth day of the Smythe’s race/hunt, while exfiltrating the head of a regional section in Southeastern Asia, a Foundation’s task force was ambushed; five men and women were killed when the safe house they’d just entered blew up.

Things were not going fine at all anymore.
Chapter 18 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 18

Full lights flashing on in the bedroom, heels clicking on the wooden floor and metallic voice: when it came to waking up someone in the middle of the night, Mrs. Jamison had no lesson to take from the badges at Fox River. She had no more care for Michael’s modesty either as she grabbed jeans, a shirt and a pair of shoes in his closet, threw the clothing on his bed, and waited by the door while he got dressed.

She had her gun in its holster at her waist. He’d suspected she carried one, but it was the first time he actually saw it, within reach in a fraction of second. It couldn’t be good.

“The security breach has been confirmed. I’m taking you to a safe room while we check a few things.”

He froze with his pants mid-legs while pulling them on -- fuck modesty.

“My family?”

“On it.”

He would have to be content with that for now, to trust that her people were doing everything that needed to be done for Sara, Lincoln and Michael Jr.

“Smythe knows who we are,” Jamison added while Michael was buttoning his shirt.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Smythe -- as well as Acero and Chopra -- was smart, savvy, experienced; too much to attribute all of the troubles, struggles and internal wars between the News Heads to bad luck and lack of cooperation between them. Of course they had known about someone, something, tampering with them, although Michael had never managed to find out to what extent they were aware of The Foundation’s activities.

He was amazed that The Foundation had managed to keep a low profile for such a long time.

(Amazed and frightened. Good thing they were the nice guys in this story. Sort of the nice guys, all things being relative. Mrs. Jamison was hardly Mother Teresa, and Kellerman... Kellerman was Kellerman, even if this new version of him was a bit better than his previous self.)

“I take it you’ve found your mole?”

During the last week, Mrs. Jamison had been letting slip specific intel to specific people. It wasn’t an original tactic, but it had achieved the goal even though she didn’t look happy with the result she’d got. There was no way she could win that one in the first place anyway.

The second he’d snapped his belt buckle closed, she nodded at the door, grumbled “Come on,” and escorted him outside.

The hallways were quiet and empty. Their footsteps were loud on the marble floor and echoing in the silence. The hallways at The Foundation were never totally empty. Even at three or four in the morning, there always was someone on a mission or assigned task. Mrs. Jamison had had the place cleared for him, and they met nobody on their way to the safe room located in a sublevel.

“Are you going to tell me who it is?” The mole?” he asked as the elevator moved down, trying to take his mind off his wife, his kid, his brother.

She didn’t answer. He wondered if she was already focusing on those ‘few things’ she needed to check while he would be locked up for his own safety, or if she merely didn’t know how to break the news to him. She wasn’t the emotional kind, but even she had to feel something when fooled in such a way.

The distraction of learning the identity of the mole being delayed for a few more minutes, he leaned against the wall of the booth and tried not to think about Costa Rica. He would lose his mind if he thought about Sara and Linc now, about what Smythe could do if he knew that Michael was still alive and working on taking him and his organization down.

Someone he’d been working with for four years had betrayed -- betrayed The Foundation, their cause, betrayed him.

More hallways and a steel door with a couple of guards in dark suits, and behind it, the safe room. Five people were sitting around a metallic table, a sixth chair waiting for him.

Nat, Pat, Cat. Lena. Yoki -- and despite his conviction that Yoki would have never done such a thing, it brought him a hint of comfort and relief to see her here.

Tom wasn’t in the room.

* * *

Michael put his foot in the doorway of the safe room, preventing the guard from closing it and trapping him inside. There was no doubt the man could remove him forcefully, but Jamison raised an index finger to stop him and he moved back.

“I want to see Tom,” Michael demanded. “I want to talk to him. I need to know--”

“No. To all of it. To any requests regarding him. No.”

Jamison breezed past him and into the safe room, away from the guards’ ears. Michael followed and closed the door behind them.

“What have you done to him? What are you going to do to him?”

The analysts and Lena kept their eyes on the table around which they were seated. Only Yoki was looking up, at Michael and Jamison, maybe to help Jamison if needed, maybe to make sure Michael would be all right.

“You’re pretty lenient for a man whose family could be in danger because of this agent’s actions.”

It wasn’t about leniency. If Tom was facing him, he’d want to beat him to a pulp, hit and punch until the bodyguard was a bloody mess and wasn’t even able to ask him to stop anymore. But as Jamison had pointed out only a few days ago, he knew The Company’s methods, how merciless they could be. He could never forgive Tom, but he wanted -- needed -- to know what The Company had done to get him to betray them.

“No.” Mrs. Jamison seemed to be in a no phase tonight. “It doesn’t work like that. He works for me. He knows the people we go against can threaten him or those he cares about. He knows that risk is part of the job and he knows the protocols to follow if this happens. He didn’t even try.” She shrugged. “What do you think you talking to him would achieve? Now, you sit here with your team and you wait. I have an interrogation to lead. As soon as I know the extent of the damages, you’ll be authorized to resume your work. Your family’s safety is being dealt with.”

Yoki pulled a chair for him next to hers and nodded at him. She was right of course. Yoki, the voice of reason. The sooner Jamison was done with Tom, the sooner they could go back to the office and start tracking Smythe again -- with an added motivation, as if they needed one.

“If I may so, Sir,” Lena said after Jamison had left the room, “it shouldn’t be too long before we’re allowed to go back to work.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Stick and carrot: the method they’d been using to lure The Company’s defectors. If Tom had betrayed them, there was a chance that the stick The Company had used was much more efficient than any of the carrots The Foundation could offer. Jamison was left with the stick, and Michael had a good idea of how harshly she could handle it. His boxer face and bunched muscles wouldn’t be much of a help to Tom in that interrogation room.

(He shouldn’t care about Tom. He should worry about Sara and Linc, about his son and his nephew. He did worry about them. But the very man who had just deceived him and put their lives in danger had been a discreet and constant support for the last four years. He just couldn’t wrap his head around the situation, which was stupid; childish even. All the dead bodies The Company had left in its wake, his mother’s fate, what they did to Sara... What was a glorified bodyguard’s betrayal in regard of all that?)

“Mrs. Jamison isn’t going to hurt him... much,” Pat stepped in.

“Please don’t pretend she would never use this kind of method.”

He’d seen her face, her eyes, her demeanor: icy and collected, focused. Cold angers were the worst. Michael ought to know; he was prone to them too. He’d been working with her for four years, anyway, and was perfectly aware that if physical and psychological violence wasn’t something she liked, she would have no qualms resorting to it if needed.

“No, that’s not what I mean. She’ll do whatever she needs to do to make him talk, but Tom’s smart: he knows that being upfront is his best shot.”

(His only shot.)

Tom was smart. And not as strong as Michael had imagined, feeling guiltier than he could ever suspect or perhaps Jamison was just that convincing. Either way, it was only a couple of hours before she opened the door of the safe room and signaled the analysts and Yoki they could go. Lena, excluded from the release authorization, stood demurely and waited for her punishment.

(It had been two long hours. Nobody felt like talking, not even Yoki who couldn’t ignore what Jamison acted like in the interrogation room. Quickly, Tom’s fate had taken a secondary stance in Michael’s considerations, even the disloyalty put on the back burner. Sara, Mikey and Lincoln, and an arborescence of what if had invaded his mind, from the harmless to the scariest, back and forth, back and forth, again and again, ad nauseam. He’d hardly noticed Yoki when she’d asked him if he was okay -- he wasn’t, not at all. This was the kind of moment where he cursed his predisposition for seeing the smallest details in every and all situations.)

“Tom made it clear you didn’t know anything, and his statement seems to be genuine,” Jamison told Lena. “I want to have a word with you, though. Go wait for me in my office. Close the door on your way out.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Michael watched the young woman exit the room and asked, “What did she do?”

“Nothing. That’s the issue, she did nothing. She was working with him, it was happening right near her, and she saw nothing. She deserves a good rap on the knuckles.”

(Last time a Foundation’s operative got a good rap on the knuckles, he disappeared for three days and came back a bit pale. Back then, Michael asked Tom, only half-joking, if The Foundation happened to have the equivalent of the SHU. He never got an answer, which was an answer in itself.)

She sat opposite of Michael and slumped slightly into her chair, something Michael had never witnessed in four years. She looked weary, wiped out, her hair slightly mussed, her make-up and usual icy cold melting.

“I’m doing what I think is safer for your family, Michael.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I’m not sure it’s the smartest course of action for our mission, strategically speaking, and Kellerman may blow a gasket when he finds out. Meaning I’m not sure my business relationship with him will have a future after this operation is over. Meaning I don’t give a fuck about Kellerman blowing a gasket.”

Michael tilted his head and smirked at her, coy smile and velvety look. Maybe it was because she was tired and disgruntled because of Tom, angry at herself to have been fooled by someone she had entrusted with the safety of their main asset, but the charm act she’d warned him about when he first arrived here did work. Kind of. She blinked and suppressed a smile, her cheekbones even flushing a little bit.

“Mrs. J.,” he began, impersonating Kellerman’s best assholish tone, “don’t overplay it. You know that whatever road you choose, if this op is a success, you’ll be his top contractor ‘til the end the days, and probably a bit after that.”

“Jeez. Just what I hoped for: an eternity of working with Mr. Kellerman.”

“We all have our cross to bear but I have to admit, this a heavy one. Now, I’d like to know what arrangements you’ve made for Sara and Lincoln, and then I need to go back to work. Please?”
Chapter 19 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 19

Another year, another trip to Michael’s grave. Fernando and Alex visiting. A blue shirt for Lincoln that he still couldn’t manage to button properly but made of a fancy cotton his baby brother would have approved of. An ephemeral tattoo for Mike because it was a cute way to celebrate his Dad’s memory. A new, pretty yellow dress for her, something lively and happy because Michael had paid a high enough price for her to be alive and happy.

(Kind of happy.)

Another origami crane that the wind blew off the tombstone and took far, far away. “All the way up to the sky, where Daddy is looking out for you,” Lincoln had told Mike with a wink, on their way back home. Sara had choked a little bit at that one and let Fernando wrap an arm around her shoulders -- and then chuckled and writhed out of his hold when he tickled her ribs.

It was getting a bit easier every year. Four years ago, if you’d told her so, she would have bitterly laughed in your face, but there was peace in what they’d built here, in the thought that they were living the way Michael had meant them to live.

(The secret was to take one day at a time, not to think too far ahead in the future. It wasn’t an unpleasant way to live, anyway, and for a few months four years ago, she’d collected enough thrills and adventures for a lifetime. She was fine.)

Another day after another trip to Michael’s grave. A short fight with Mike who didn’t want the ephemeral tattoo to be removed, Fernando not helping at all by agreeing that the tattoo looked awesome, and Alex totally helping by reminding Mike the thing was meant to be temporary and Mommy would surely be more disposed to grant him another one for another occasion if he was a good boy.

“Not easy to convince him otherwise when he has his mind set on something, huh?” Alex noticed while finishing packing his suitcase. “I wonder from whom the little guy got this kind of attitude.”

Sara nodded her head and smiled with benevolence. “Funny guy. You can spare yourself the effort: I already have Lincoln reminding me about once a week that a combination of Michael’s genes and mine could only lead to this kind of trouble.”

Business as usual.

Nearly.

Three days after the anniversary of Michael’s death, Jane showed up at her door.

Now, that was unusual. Jane tended to give them space and time at this moment of the year, probably because seeking space and time was the way she dealt with her own losses. Yet, this year, here she was, something subtly different about her. Maybe the jeans she was wearing in place of her regular shirts or colorful dresses, maybe the tight smile she gave Sara, maybe the barely perceptible tension in her shoulders. Not something a casual observer would see, but Sara wasn’t a casual observer. She’d spent time in prison -- both sides -- and with Jane, and--

“There’s no easy way to do this, Sara,” Jane started. “Do you, uh, do you still keep that emergency travel bag for you and Mike? If you do, it might be a good idea to go get it. I also need you to call Lincoln and tell him to come here right now with Sofia and LJ.”

You never see these things coming, you know? You fear and worry and remain on your guard for months and years, first thought in the morning when you wake up and last one at night when you lay your head on the pillow, and yet, you never see it coming because it may be two minutes or two decades after you finally dropped you guard that reality catches up with you and bites you in the ass.

(She’d sure expected for this sort of stuff to happen since they’d arrived in Costa Rica, the notion lurking at the back of her mind, and yet she never saw it coming.)

The emergency travel bag had caused a bit of sarcasm from Lincoln. The target shooting thing had pissed him off, but the emergency travel bag? Sarcasm and irony. Sara had been well aware it was a self-defense mechanism from him and never bothered replying. But she’d kept the emergency travel bag between her mirrored armoire and the wall of her bedroom, filled with a few essential items for Mike and her.

Another thing she’d learned in both sides of prison and during the last four years? It was to assess who she could trust blindly -- not so many people -- and act in consequence. Jane could be trusted. Now wasn’t the time to ask questions.

(She would ask questions. Later. A lot, a lot of questions.)

She swallowed hard, turned around and walked -- walked, did not run -- inside the bungalow calling for her son in an even, non-alarming voice. Jane was on her heels, grabbing the cordless phone on their way to the master bedroom.

“Sara, you’re listening to me?”

“Yes. Shoot.”

It was somewhat surreal, how swiftly she switched back to the survival mode she’d known for a few months four years ago. A few months against thirty years of almost-carefree life, but it still came back to her as though it had never left. Maybe it had never quite left, she would have to think about that -- much later, after she was done asking the lot of questions she had for Jane.

“You call Linc and tell him to close the scuba shop for a few days. You call Lucia at the orphanage and tell her you’re going to take a short sea trip in memory of Michael. You apologize for warning her on such short notice, but visiting Michael’s grave was hard this year and you need a break to collect your thoughts. Your family is helping you with--”

“I get it,” Sara cut her off through clenched teeth, not liking the idea at all but indeed getting the necessity of the lie.

(Not quite a lie, anyway, how hard it was to visit Michael’s grave. Never quite a lie.)

“Where are we going?”

Jane handed her a piece of paper where coordinates had been scribbled down. “You guys take your boat. I’ll meet you there in three hours.”

“Where are we going after that?”

“I need to bring you to a safe place. I can’t tell more for now.”

“So, after all, I guess you don’t work for an insurance company, right?”

It wasn’t because now wasn’t the time to ask questions that now wasn’t the time for a small barb, was it?

Lincoln was tense when he stepped out of his car, and angry by the time they stepped out of Sara’s boat one hour and thirty minutes later. Jane pointing out “You’re late,” didn’t help with his mood.

“Bite me. I’m not going anywhere if you don’t tell us where you’re taking us anyway.”

Lincoln didn’t have any emergency travel bag. He did believe it years ago when Kellerman told them they were safe. Or maybe because he didn’t want to tempt fate by keeping one. Either way, it was saying something: he wasn’t as ready as Sara was to see their little world blow up so abruptly. It was an issue: angry and unprepared Lincoln meant Lincoln being difficult and arguing about meaningless stuff when they didn’t have the time to argue at all.

Jane rolled her eyes.

“You have thirty seconds to grab whatever you brought with you.” She pointed an index finger at her partner, whom Lincoln had only seen once or twice before, but knew was even bigger and larger than him, and had quite amazing scuba-diving capabilities. “After that Pete and I knock you out and drag you into the car. Now, tell Sofia and LJ to get out of the fucking boat.”

They drove away in Jane’s plain car at regular speed while some guys took over the boat and sailed back offshore. Sara’s heart was hardly beating a tad faster than normal, Mike was flipping through some book in the backseat, Sofia and LJ were quiet, even Lincoln had shut up. This wasn’t how she’d envisioned this kind of situation. She’d remembered screeching tires, and men in dark suits, and guns, and... And instead, she had a plain gray car, no pursuers (yet), her son not even disturbed by the whole thing, and a friend behind the wheel. Sure, her boat was going go-figure-where steered by go-figure-who, but that was a minor issue, really.

They changed cars ten miles further along the road and hopped in a white van. It was in said van, en route for go-figure-where, that Sara started to freak out. On the boat, there had been a goal, a place to go, familiar tasks to accomplish, a defined length of time. That wasn’t the case anymore. They didn’t know where they were going, why they needed to leave so fast -- though it didn’t take much imagination to figure this out -- and how long it would take to reach their destination. She kept it together for Mike and for Sofia, who was livid under her nice tan, and because this was just what she did -- keep it together under pressure. But her heart was hammering in her chest, her skin clammy with sweat, her mind filled with dozens of not good, bad, terrible, awful scenarios.

(Moreover, she left her fucking gun in her fucking dresser. What had been the fucking point of practicing target-shooting if she couldn’t even think to pick up her fucking gun before leaving?)

The van bounced on a pothole. Mike was half thrown off his seat and secured in extremis by LJ.

“I’m going to kill that bastard,” Lincoln grunted between gritted teeth.

He hadn’t said a word since Jane threatened to knock him out. It had taken Mike almost hitting his head to pull him out of his silence.

“Who?”

“Kellerman. That asshole lied to me.”

Sara rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Lincoln. It was three years ago, the situation may have changed about fifteen times since then. Moreover, it’s Kellerman. Kellerman is Kellerman.”

“Yeah. You’re the smart one. I’m a dumbass. I’m still killing the bastard.”

“Who’s the bastard?” Mike asked with curiosity.

Sara gave Linc a pointed look. “Great. Just great.”

* * *

There was a stack of tiny, accurate but useless information about The Foundation’s agents and operations in front of Michael. He’d just finished checking their innocuousness before one of Mrs. Jamison’s operatives would leak them to The Company using the communication channels Tom had been using during the last weeks. It served two purposes: Smythe didn’t know his mole had been spotted and arrested; The Foundation kept the gates open to feed Smythe fake intel if needed later.

(It had a third, though less official, purpose as Jamison obviously enjoyed playing with disinformation.)

So Tom’s communication channels were working and being used. Even though Tom was still MIA and nobody, not even Yoki, would tell Michael anything about his former bodyguard’s whereabouts.

They had lost track of Smythe in Morocco; they found him again in French Guiana and then in Suriname. Michael felt itchy, twitchy, sweaty and other unpleasant stuff while trying to figure out the man’s next move. He always felt that way when the highest Company’s operatives were wandering too close -- all things being relative -- to Costa Rica.

“Where are you securing my family?” he asked Mrs. Jamison.

The only and curt reply he got was, “In a safe house,” followed by an equally curt suggestion to go back to work and keep tabs on their target before they lost him again.

Well then. He guessed he should be grateful not to be snowed under with details that would have distracted him from his mission, huh? Yoki sat down with him for a couple of minutes to convince him that yes, indeed, it was for his own good, that knowing exactly where Sara and Linc were taken wouldn’t help in any way. He listened and squinted, and then...

“I do know that, Yoki. I’m amazed that your boss felt compelled to send you here just for that, that’s all. I’m not going to break under pressure. You fixed me up a long time ago, don’t worry.”

She smiled at him sweetly. “You’re a snooty jerk when you’re anxious.”

Kellerman wasn’t at his office in Washington when his face showed up on one of the screens. The bickering between Michael and Yoki had stopped, the analysts and even Jamison were working with him on tracking Smythe’s every move, and Kellerman wasn’t at his office in Washington. Moreover, he wasn’t happy; really not happy. Jamison looked up, unimpressed, and Michael didn’t look up at all, too deeply absorbed in the data.

Kellerman vaguely waved his hand at Pat, Nat and Cat. “You may want to ask the three Stooges to leave the room before we start this conversation, Mrs. J.”

“I need my analysts right now, Paul,” Michael said, still not looking up. “We’re in the middle of something in case you haven’t noticed, so can you please throw your fit as quickly as possible and let us work?”

Yoki breathed out “Snooty,” and reclined in her chair.

In Kellerman’s defense, it was fast. And brutal in this fakely smooth way of his. There were insults and name calling, questioning about Jamison’s tactical intelligence -- and about her intelligence, period -- as exfiltrating Sara, Lincoln and the kid was akin to admitting they had something to do with the whole situation and--

“Phillips made it look like they were taking some time away after the anniversary of Michael’s death.”

(Four years, and Michael still started when someone mentioned his death.)

-- and Jane Phillips, by the way, wasn’t supposed to take orders from The Foundation, so would Mrs J. be so nice as to please ask next time, before she recruited one of his operatives.

“Sure. Last time I checked, Ms. Phillips was a fellow contractor free to strike another deal as long as it doesn’t impede your interests, but sure. Anyway, Tom hasn’t just given out some of our plans, he’s also learned a few things from his contact at The Company.”

This time, Michael looked up: this was not something she had bothered sharing with him.

“The Company has started asking the wrong questions to the wrong people. Or the right questions to the right people, depending on where you stand. It may be only a matter of time before they find out that Mr. Scofield isn’t as dead as he’s supposed to be. So yes, exfiltrating his family so that they don’t become a bargaining chip sounded like the smart thing to do. Too bad if you don’t agree with my decision.”

Kellerman processed the information, and Michael could tell that he was mentally listing the people who were a risk and needed to be taken care of. Not a long list, but still a too substantial one for Kellerman’s peace of mind, starting with the former warden and doctor of Miami Dade.

“All right, Mrs. Jamison. It was the right move.” He leaned forward, his voice lowering even though it was useless since he was on speakers and on a large screen. “Not one pertaining to the realm of your attributions, that said. We’ll need to discuss this.”

The screen went black.
Chapter 20 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 20

Sara was curling by the fire with a cup of tea, wearing a fluffy sweater and thick socks for the first time in four years. Inside the two-story house, everything was blonde wood and light fabric, the rooms just large enough and quite comfortable, even more so considering the purpose of the place. Outside, it was snow and cold and crystalline blue sky, a small house in a quiet place.

(Safe house in a quiet place, so not-remarkable, which was undoubtedly the point.)

Despite what was going on -- whatever it was that was going on -- Sara was enjoying the frozen landscape, the snow and the peculiar light. While in Costa Rica, she hadn’t realized how much she was missing all this. As far as safe places were involved, this one wasn’t half bad, compared to those Sara had lived in.

Canada.

“Where are we going?” Lincoln had asked Jane on the plane. He got no answer and looked at Sara, maybe hoping that some super-special-secret female bonding with Jane had granted her access to information the other woman wouldn’t share with him.

Lincoln could still be incredibly naïve for an-almost forty-year old man who’d gone through so much crap and shit in his life.

“She needs to bring us to a safe place. She can’t tell us more for now,” Sara had answered.

“That’s what Pete told me too.”

“Yes. Figures, right?”

“Do you think they even know more?”

Jane had condescended to throw him an annoyed look from behind the screen of her laptop, but had provided no answer.

Canada it was.

Sara wasn’t supposed to go to Canada.

“Don’t worry,” Jane had told her as they were getting into the car at the small airdrome.

They had flown over the States, for God’s sake. Forget Canada, Sara wasn’t supposed to fly over the States, nor go near the States in any way. She was still a wanted fugitive in this part of the world. Up until now, this part of the world had been letting her live her life in Costa Rica because it was simpler for pretty much everybody, but waving the mouse in front of the cat might not be the smartest move, was it?

“Don’t worry,” Jane had repeated.

Sara closed her eyes and tried to relax in the armchair, tried not to think how less than seventy-two hours ago, she was feeling at peace (kind of) and happy (kind of too).

She’d jinxed herself.

“Sara? Wake up.”

Someone was poking her in the arm, gently but firmly. Lincoln. She had fallen asleep. Falling asleep easily wasn’t because of the survival mode she’d switched to when Jane told her they had to leave Costa Rica, not the one she’d learned as she was running away from the police and The Company and the FBI at least. It was a reminiscence of her years of internship, when the best advice she’d been given was to sleep whenever she could, wherever she could ‘cause she would need it.

“Kellerman’s here. Apparently, he knows more than Jane and her goon.”

Sara straightened in the armchair, rubbed her eyes, and pushed her hair behind her ears, going from slumber to full alertness in three seconds tops and noticing that someone had prudently removed the cup of tea from her hands. Of course Kellerman was here. Of course Kellerman knew more than Jane and had something to do with their current situation. He was a true Jack-in-the-Box: you knew he would spring in your face eventually, and yet, he still managed to catch you off guard.

She wasn’t the only one who had fallen asleep. On the large couch at the other end of the room, Sofia and LJ were shifting to sit up too, throwing worried glances at Kellerman who was standing in the doorway. Sofia had never met the man, but had heard enough about him to know that having him in the same room as Lincoln could only lead to trouble.

Paul Kellerman hadn’t changed much in four years. Longer hair, a few wrinkles. Besides that, he still was as classy as ever in his dark suit, still gave this impression of a permanent smirk curving his mouth. Or maybe the changes evaded her because she’d caught glimpses of him every now and then, on TV, on the internet, in newspapers, and witnessed the evolution from afar.

“Hello, Sara,” he said softly. “It’s nice to see again. You look good.”

She’d spent the last days hopping from boat to cars to plane and then more cars. She looked like shit and didn’t care in the slightest.

“That’s the bastard, Mama?”

Mike. Mike had that perfect-awful tempo only kids could display. He also had a very clear and rather loud voice because his Mama and his uncle had taught him that speaking clearly and audibly so that people understood him was good manners.

Lincoln, who was usually so big on Mike not using bad words, chuckled. Sara was not nearly as amused.

“Michael!” She snapped and immediately regretted her tone. “Don’t use that word. It’s a naughty word, honey.”

“But Uncle Linc--”

“And Mama is going to wash Uncle Linc’s mouth out with soap.”

Unruffled by the fresh welcome, Kellerman knelt to level his eyes with Michael’s. “Yes, that’s me, Michael, but only your Uncle Lincoln calls me that.”

That was debatable. From the top of her head, Sara could name a bunch of other people who would use the epithet, but there was no need to go there right now.

“You can call me Uncle Paul.”

“Paul will do,” Sara stepped in. Getting up from the armchair, she walked to her son and laid her hands on his shoulders, moving him away from Kellerman. “So, Paul... are you here to tell us what’s going on? Because Jane dragged us here, but won’t say anything and was waiting for someone who would explain the situation to us.”

“Yes.” Still crouching in front of Michael, he glanced at Sofia over his shoulder. “Maybe Sofia can take care of the little guy while we talk? If you don’t mind, Sofia?”

“Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of her,” Lincoln grounded.

“Thank you for your input, Lincoln. It’s in front of your nephew that I’d rather not talk, right now. Firstly, you don’t know what kids pick up from conversations and can repeat to the first person they meet.”

To his credit, the ‘bastard’ line was hard evidence that he got this right.

“Secondly, Sara may want to speak with him later, in her own words.”

“It’s okay, Lincoln.” Sofia held out her hand. “You’re coming with me, Mike? We’re going to drink some hot cocoa.” He didn’t seem particularly eager to move. “With marshmallows.”

The last offer definitely pried him away from his mom and put him into gear. Hot cocoa with marshmallows was a novelty he’d discovered when arriving here and constituted an efficient incentive.

“He’s a nice kid,” Kellerman said after Sofia and Mike were gone. “Even if I can spot Burrows’ influence in his words choices.”

Sara sat back in the armchair and tucked her hands under her thighs to conceal their shaking, her composure starting to slide away now that answers were within reach. She’d been holding up well until now, they all had, but Kellerman standing here in his tailored suit -- and probably with a gun under his tailored suit -- was bringing back memories and feelings from another time.

None of this could be good. What looked very much like an exfiltration, flying them across the globe and landing so close to the US, Jane’s somber expression, the mere fact that Kellerman was involved, none of this could be good -- and yet, Jane seemed anxious rather than worried, and Kellerman didn’t exactly look as if he was about to deliver bad news.

Sara ought to know that a woman like Jane had numerous reasons to be worried, but that it took something different to make her anxious. Kellerman... she wouldn’t dare dream what Kellerman pegged as good news and bad news, so that didn’t mean much. It was unnerving. Between Costa Rica and Canada, in the moments where she failed to not think about the hasty departure and the trip and Jane playing it GI Jane-style, she wondered and drew up scenarios. All of them involved The Company still being around, no surprise here, but none of them could provide her with a reason why they would be of any value to a reborn Company.

“Spill it, Kellerman.”

Lincoln too was done with the wait. He was standing by Sara, his hand on the back of the armchair, so close that she could sense the warmth and the nervousness radiating from him. He hid the nervousness well, but she’d learned to read the signals.

“You need to understand that we took the road we took because we didn’t have a choice and because it was safer for you guys.”

Still not spilling it.

Sara fidgeted, LJ squinted with exasperation, and Lincoln shuffled his feet. His knuckles were white where his hand held on to the armchair. Kellerman didn’t seem to realize, or to care, that he was about to pounce on him and smash his skull into the nearest wall. Sara certainly wouldn’t stop her brother-in-law; Sara might do her own share of pouncing and skull-smashing, especially given Michael wasn’t around to witness his Mama going physical on the bastard.

Jane unfolded her arms and elbowed Kellerman, saving him from a threat of violence he wasn’t even aware of.

“Okay.”

He went for it, enunciating slowly and clearly so that there could be no doubt about what he was saying, no misunderstanding or confusion.

“So here is the thing: Michael... the big one, not the little guy... Michael didn’t exactly die when he broke Sara out of Miami Dade.”

He paused. He didn’t look at Lincoln or at LJ, possibly because he wasn’t interested in their reaction, possibly because looking a bull in eye wasn’t a good idea. He did try to make eye contact with Sara, to make sure she was following what he was saying, but she looked through him, not seeing him, her brain trying to process the words and not quite managing to.

(Michael didn’t exactly die-- She couldn’t even remember what Kellerman said after that. Didn’t exactly die. Not possible. Been there, done that herself, but didn’t they say that lightning never struck twice in the same place?)

“He didn’t die at all.”

Wasn’t Lincoln staggering beside her? Because if he collapsed onto the armchair, he would crush her.

“What do you mean, he didn’t die?” Lincoln asked.

He was definitely not processing the words, Sara thought, otherwise he wouldn’t sound as if Kellerman had just told him that his old car wasn’t irremediably broken, after all. She wasn’t doing any better; she felt as if she was experiencing the conversation and the settings from second-hand, floating in the room above everything, out of herself.

“Michael is alive,” Jane said.

Everything came to a stop. The world, the air in the living room, Sara’s heart, Lincoln’s breathing above her head. There was an antique clock on the wall in front of her, and Sara wondered how it managed to keep on ticking. It was the only things she could hear, that ticking and the blood rushing to her head and making her ears buzz. Jane seemed to add a few words or sentences, her lips moving, Kellerman’s too, but nothing reached Sara, Lincoln or LJ. They were fixated on the three little words Michael is alive and trying to determine how this was possible, trying to understand that it was possible.

And then Lincoln moved. Sara admired him for being able to move, because she certainly couldn’t, her body weighing a ton, her butt and back stuck to the armchair, her feet planted in the carpet on the floorboards. But Lincoln moved and he did pounce this time. On Jane, who was standing right in front of Kellerman, head first because this was what Lincoln always did, going in head first, jaw squared and fists clenched in anger.

It was over four years ago, but fool her once, shame on you, fool her twice etc. So not this time. This time, she swiftly stepped aside. Before anyone could do anything, Lincoln’s forehead was connecting with Kellerman’s face, and there was a loud crack, an even louder shout, and Kellerman falling into the sofa LJ and Sofia were napping on an hour ago. Jane grabbed Lincoln with both hands and pushed him back, away from her and from Kellerman who was swearing and bleeding on his white shirt and blue tie.

“I didn’t know, Lincoln! Sara...” Sara startled at her name and looked at her friend -- not sure she felt like calling her a friend right now, but that was a question for another time. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

LJ got up and tentatively laid a hand on his father’s arm, trying to guide him to a chair, but Lincoln wouldn’t budge. Muscles bunched and tight, he was struggling not to throw himself at Kellerman again, or maybe at Jane, hit and let the rage and the incomprehension flow that way. That was what the old version of Lincoln would have done; the man he’d become managed to somewhat keep it together, to breathe and think. His baby brother would have been so proud of him.

(Shit. Did this mean Michael was actually around to be proud of him?)

“It’s true, she didn’t know,” Kellerman confirmed. He wiped his bleeding nose on the back of his hand and loosened his tie. “She was told only last night.”

“Lincoln.” Lincoln turned around at Sara’s soft, soft voice. “Michael. Is. Alive.”

She realized she’d needed to utter the words to understand them, even if they didn’t totally register. Alive. Not dead. Didn’t die.

(Michael was alive. Michael was alive. Alive. Her husband, Mike’s dad, Lincoln’s little brother, LJ’s uncle. Alive.)

“I want to know why and how. Don’t you?”

He nodded. Yes. Yes, he did. Voice of reason, that woman. Even when she did some crazy shit, like helping inmates to break out of jail and going after awful people and breaking out of prison herself to raise her kid and practicing at target shooting when she shouldn’t have and... there was still more reason in her than in most people.

He did want to know. He also wanted to be happy, but the news was too big and too fresh for him to be happy. He couldn’t believe it, let alone be happy, without knowing the whys and hows. Sara was right.

Sara nodded back at him. She knew how he felt; she felt the same way: euphoria bubbling into the pit of their stomachs, heads and minds refusing to run with it.

She’d been dead to them too, once upon a time, but Michael had been able to see her, hold her, kiss her. He’d made her real for him again, back then. Today, Michael being alive was an abstraction. Words in the air, nothing more than an odd tale by an untrustworthy man. She had a thousand questions, too many to manage to ask them as they were rushing all at the same time. She would have to sit and listen to Kellerman’s explanations.

“I think King Kong here broke my nose.”

Kellerman’s voice was croaky in a way Sara hadn’t heard since she’d tried to strangle him in that train en route to Chicago. She shrugged unsympathetically.

“I’ll take a look at your nose later. Tell us about Michael.”
Chapter 21 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 21

“I want to know where my family is.”

Michael launched his attack the second Mrs. Jamison stepped into the control room. He’d lured her into his office, told her on the phone he had new information on Smythe. And he did have new information on Smythe, but minor things only, nothing to justify her coming down here.

“I know. And do you know how I know? You demanded it from me six times in three days. Go back to work. I want to know what Smythe is up to. I want the rest of the intel he retrieved from Acero and the intel he’s gathered himself. I want Smythe, and you’re not giving him to me, Mr. Scofield.”

That was odd, being chastised like a bad student. He didn’t think he’d ever been chastised like a bad student in his life. Of course he could always say that he would work harder on Smythe’s whereabouts when she told him where Sara and Lincoln had been secured, but they both knew he wouldn't do that. Every second of stalling kept him away from his family. Perhaps every second of stalling cost her money or go-figure-what, but either way, it was nothing that could be compared to being kept away from his family.

He tried something different.

“I assume that by now, Kellerman has told them the truth? As much of the truth as Kellerman is able to tell, anyway. They know, so at least let me talk to them.”

She weighed her options and threw a look at Yoki who didn’t seem to leave the control room anymore. They did fear that he might break down and would become useless.

“No. It would pose a security risk.”

“A security risk, or are you afraid that talking to them would distract me and I couldn’t do my job anymore?”

It was a battle of wills. He was past the point where he could think straight, he needed to demand and argue. He needed it to keep his mind from wandering into darker territories where he was dying of fear for Sara and their kid and Lincoln. He wasn’t even sure he actually wanted to talk to them right now.

Scratch that. He was terrified of talking to them right now. He wanted and needed to, yes, he wanted and needed to see them and make sure they were safe, but he dreaded the conversation he wouldn’t be able to avoid, the how could have he done that to them? Not to mention showing himself with his cane, his glasses, his greying hair, his skin too pale from the lack of sun and his eye sockets too dark from too many working nights. Showing himself alive after lying to them by omission for four years. Showing himself with all the awful things he’d done to get back a life that maybe he didn’t deserve anymore. Maybe they were better off without him. Without him, they wouldn’t have been snatched from their lives and moved God only knew where. He was bringing pain and misery when they had managed to rebuild something.

The worries that had been nagging at him for months were resurfacing with a vengeance now that the end was within reach, and he doubled up over his desk, holding onto the cold metal so that Jamison, Yoki or the analysts wouldn’t notice how bad he was shaking.

(Except that they knew him and noticed.)

“I said no, Mr. Scofield.”

Jamison’s voice was metallic, colder than it had been in months, and so, so comforting. It was only delaying the inevitable, but at least, he didn’t need to wonder whether talking to them was or wasn’t a good idea.

“Do you need to take a break?” she asked more nicely.

He didn’t hesitate before shaking his head. He didn’t need to take a break. He needed to get his virtual hands on Smythe and bring him to her or to Kellerman.

* * *

Kellerman’s explanations were quiet and crystal clear, factual and objective. It was the former soldier reporting in precise words and short sentences, from general situation to specific matters, anticipating most of their inquiries. He talked, they listened, he answered the few questions that fell from Sara’s white lips or were ground out by Lincoln. In some way, it was the most surreal part of the whole thing, listening to an insane story told in a methodical account.

He absolved Michael of all sins before the thought of accusing him of anything even crossed Sara or Lincoln’s mind. Michael hadn’t planned this; Michael had wanted to tell them right from the beginning; Michael had worried for them through the whole thing; Michael had taken the safer decision for all of them and, as a matter of fact, they were all Michael had in mind and heart when he took that decision.

Lincoln leaned heavily into the sofa and didn’t have the nerve to tell Kellerman to go to hell, that he didn’t need him to validate Michael’s choices. Even he could see that Kellerman was trying to be nice.

Kellerman’s story matched the scenarios Sara had thought up during their trip over the States and Canada. Michael being alive was only the missing piece, the element she didn’t have and that explained why, all of a sudden, The Company and whatever organization Kellerman was running or working with were interested in Linc, Michael Jr. and her again.

Kellerman. His nose was red and swollen, blood still seeping, but it wasn’t broken. After he was done telling and they were done asking, she focused on it because she needed to focus on something safe and mundane, something she had a grip on while she digested what she’d just heard. Maybe she hadn’t healed anyone for over four years, but a red, swollen and bleeding nose was safe and mundane enough to provide a grip on reality. Kellerman had leaned back, closed his eyes and relaxed, breathing through his mouth as Sara’s fingers examined, cleaned and dressed the wound. LJ hadn’t moved or talked for about an hour, and Jane was standing in a corner of the room. The atmosphere was heavy, as if they were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

(There was no other shoe. Michael was alive and coming back, even if Kellerman couldn’t tell when for sure. Days, maybe weeks, possibly but unlikely months.)

“Sara touching one of your appendages,” Lincoln snarked from the sofa in front of Kellerman. “That must be like a wet dream coming true.”

Sara barely heard him. Kellerman didn’t bother opening his eyes or moving at all.

“Appendage is a big word for you, Lincoln. I’m impressed.”

“Shut the fuck up!” LJ, who’d been stunned into silence by Kellerman’s story, was finding his words again. Kind of. Jane tried to reach for him, to grab his hand, but he snatched his arm out of her hold. “Uncle Mike is alive and all you can do is argue about--”

His voice broke.

“Kid’s right,” Kellerman said. His breath brushed over Sara’s hand. She shuddered with a discomfort she hadn’t felt since her first days at Fox River and the likes of Abruzzi. “Michael is alive, all in all in good health, and working hard to rid us of The Company and come back to you. Good news, right?”

(And nothing here felt surreal at all.)

“I want to talk to my brother,” Lincoln said. “Now.”

He was back to reasonable and calm, his son’s outburst having talked him out of any irony or aggressiveness towards Kellerman. Reasonable and calm and very firm about his demand. Sara’s fingers quivered and pressed too hard, and Kellerman groaned in pain. She apologized on auto-pilot.

“Yes,” she seconded. “We need to talk to him.”

She moved away from Kellerman. She couldn’t do much more for him, he would just need to wait and let it heal. He was lucky that Lincoln had been thrown off balance by Jane moving away and didn’t hit as hard as he’d meant to. Though thinking of it, maybe Jane was the one lucky to have top notch reactions.

“I can’t allow it. There’s always a possibility that The Company traces back the communication. Moreover...” He hesitated, shrugged, went for it. “... Moreover, Michael’s handlers think that it would distract or upset him. He can’t be distracted or upset right now. You have to understand that our operation is far from being over. We don’t know how much time it will take to complete it, and in the meantime you as well as Michael are still in danger.”

Yes. Yes, they had figured out that one. The hasty exfiltration had been a hint that risk of one kind or another was tight and imminent.

“So all we have that assures us he’s alive and well is your word,” LJ pointed out. “Why should we believe you?”

“Why would I lie to you about this, LJ?”

LJ goggled at him with huge eyes, as if the question hadn’t even crossed his mind. Why, indeed? Kellerman was Kellerman as Sara had put it, and you couldn’t ask a leopard to change its spots. But even if that leopard was many things, he’d never lied, tortured or killed for the kick of it. And today, he didn’t ask nor expect anything. He’d just talked and answered their questions.

LJ’s doubts crumpled and fell into ashes -- and LJ himself crumpled.

Lincoln squeezed his son’s shoulders with both hands and Sara gave the two men a shaky but valiant smile. She got LJ’s reaction, the incredulity, the need to be cautious. How could you believe this kind of story -- even for them, it reached another level of insanity -- how could you be sure there wasn’t a big misunderstanding? Kellerman’s tale was the epitome of too good to be true.

Their visitor stood up, saying something about missions, assignment, things to take care of if they wanted Michael back before the end of the decade. Walking up to Sara, he handed her a couple of items and he was gone in the blink of an eye, before she even checked what he’d just pushed between her fingers.

Maybe a comparison to a wisp of smoke would be as appropriate as the Jack-in-the-Box one?

Sara opened the palm of her hand: a small flash drive and a piece of paper with a password or the code to decrypt the data. Cautiously, as if the flash drive could burn her, she put it on the coffee table. Lincoln and LJ stared at it.

“I’m...” Jane cleared her throat to get their attention. “I’m getting you a laptop to check this. Or do you want to talk to Sofia and Michael... Mike first?”

Sara looked questioningly at Lincoln. He shrugged, as lost as she was.

“We need to tell Sofia. Mike later. I don’t know how I’m...” She was breathing too hard and too fast. She tried to catch her breath and managed only partially. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that,” she finished in a low voice. “Let’s talk to Sofia first.”

And then the flash drive because they all were dying and dreading in equal parts to find out its content. And Mike later, when she wasn’t so close to laughing hysterically and bursting into tears at the same time, when she could talk to him without looking like a crazy Mom and scaring him for the rest of his life.
Chapter 22 by Clair_de_Lune
Chapter 22

There were several documents on the flash drive Kellerman had given Sara. By tacit agreement, they went for a video file that he had smart-assly labeled ‘you may want to start with this one’.

The last time they’d watched a video of Michael, he had recorded it himself and he was saying goodbye. It was sad and moving, and oddly inspiring. It had soothed Sara and Lincoln at least for a few hours, and sustained them through the last years.

This time, the vid had seemingly been recorded without his knowledge and he wasn’t doing anything special, only sitting in a room that looked like it belonged with Star Trek, full of sleek steel, computers and huge screens. No sound, no indication of location, obviously. And Michael. Older, his hair a bit longer, grayer. Even on the image of the surveillance cam, it was obvious that he was pale from either lack of sun or lack of sleep -- possibly both, knowing him. He looked tired and intense, focused, but quite well, all things considered. He limped slightly when he got up and walked across the futuristic room using a cane, but the cane was visibly there out of habit and insecurity in his own capacities rather than by actual need.

He was wearing dark jeans, a shirt and an elegant sweater, and glasses that made him look like the too-smart-to-care-about-his-look architecture teacher he would never be. And a weird silvery black stubble on his jaws.

“Shit,” was Lincoln first reaction. His voice was low and thick in a way Sara hadn’t heard in a long time. “Is this supposed to be a beard on his face? The kid has never managed to grow a proper one, you know?”

Sara gasped and grabbed his hand, her nails digging into his skin.

Kellerman hadn’t lied to them: Michael was alive.

(Why would I lie to you about this?)

Without any conscious thought, Sara reached for the screen and let her forefinger draw the contours of Michael’s silhouette. This was as close as she could get to him for now. She had intellectually understood that and grasped the concept, but it took the evidence of the video for her to actually believe it. He was alive and well, even smiling at something someone was saying. There was an underlying sadness in that smile, the kind he would never ever be able to totally ditch now, but the smile was genuine nonetheless.

Later, Sara and Lincoln would notice the other people in the room -- a middle-aged woman in a white lab coat, a tall brunette with a threatening smirk, a triumvirate of men and woman with the older one looking like he couldn't possibly be over thirty. They would see the large expanses of walls that had been blurred in the vid, because they probably displayed plans and information, and Lincoln would point out that Michael had obviously found himself yet another wall on which to pin his goals and the pathway to achieve them. They would play and replay the file and look up for any and every clue in the images displayed in front of them.

But for now, when the screen went black, they reloaded the short vid and immersed themselves into it again, drinking in the sight of Michael, moving and talking, arguing and giving orders, planning and plotting.

(For the record, Lincoln knew his brother’s planning-and-plotting face, and he was definitely wearing it in that vid.)

It was nothing special: no message from Michael recorded at the end, no big plan revealed, no explanation, no code hidden, not even an origami crane sitting on his desk.

It was everything: Michael breathing and thinking and striving to reunite with them.

Sara stole a glance at Lincoln, who winked at her and pretended his eyes weren’t watery, and at LJ, who didn’t bother pretending anything at all.

* * *

It was the most frustrating thing. For months, they could have arrested Smythe -- and before that, Acero too when she was still alive. They’d had several occasions; not a lot, but definitely several. They didn’t go for it because Kellerman and The Foundation needed the man roaming freely in order to define the extent of his network, the range of his activities, his eventual endgame.

(It turned out that he didn’t have one endgame, but a multitude. When their odd little group worked on taking down The Company the first time, Krantz had an endgame, something that made his moves somewhat predictable. Not so much luck with Smythe.)

And now they had gathered the useful intel, they could hardly ever locate Smythe anymore. When they managed to spot him somewhere, it was already too late to set up an intervention and send a team. Best case scenario, said team arrived on site to gather minor evidence.

Frustrating not to have arrested the man when they could. Even more frustrating that they couldn’t get their hands on him now they’d obtained so much data on him.

Michael thought of the time months ago where on a twisted level, in a sick way, he’d enjoyed the chase because it had been a game of who’s the smartest one, and he mentally slapped himself. It was nothing like a game, even less so with Sara and Lincoln brutally extracted from their little haven and locked up somewhere, at risk because The Company could find out any time now that Michael was alive.

Flushing out and capturing Smythe was becoming more urgent by the second, not only because of Kellerman and The Foundation’s agenda -- he didn’t give a damn about Kellerman and The Foundation’s agenda.

“Smythe is one fucking evasive son of a bitch,” he said in quiet anger after yet another setback, his tone as velvety as his words were harsh.

Nat sighed and backed up the hypothesis they’d been working on for the last day. “Must be something Agent Mahone said of you quite a few times back in the day,” he pointed out.

Michael blushed at the joke that sounded like a backhanded insult -- until it actually reached his brain.

Prey, predator. Predator, prey.

“What did you say?”

Nat smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, Boss, didn’t mean to--”

“No.” He looked at his screen filled with pictures, diagrams and reports. “No, it’s okay.”

It certainly was something Alex had said or least thought of him back in the day, but in the end, Alex caught him. Temporarily and Michael managed to escape once again rather quickly, but the main point here was that Alex did catch him. That was all what Jamison and Kellerman were asking of him today, that he caught Smythe. The aftermath, the logistics of his interrogation and detention weren’t Michael’s concern or business.

Prey, predator. He was pretty sure that Alex had caught him because he’d entered his mind. Even back then, even after they’d crossed paths only a couple of times, he’d known that Agent Mahone had managed to get into his head in a way very few people had ever been able to. He’d entered his prey’s mind and thought like that prey, and he caught Michael. Michael had been inside The Foundation’s walls for four years. It had been way too much time if he was thinking like a predator only and had forgotten what it was like to be the prey.

If he’d worked with plans and papers, he would have swept everything off his desk. Since he had a room full of computers and a Wall, he merely closed all the files that were displaying on the different screens. Hardly less dramatic as everything his analysts and he had been working on for days suddenly vanished. Cat threw him an alarmed look, worrying that he was losing it again.

He wasn’t. He hadn’t thought that clearly for weeks, trapped in this narrowed state of mind that he’d been in.

“Let’s try another approach.”

* * *

Sara felt as if she’d lived a whole life in two days. Once the shock of Kellerman’s disclosure had gone -- kind of gone -- time seemed to flow painfully slowly, the day-time hours never ending, the night-time hours finding her sleepless and impatient, a what-now? sensation filling her mind, worry and eagerness beating in her heart and guts.

She hadn’t said anything to Michael Jr. and wouldn’t talk to him until everything was over and his Dad was en route to see him. She couldn’t afford the full hope of a happy ending, neither for herself nor for Mikey. She needed to be cautious. Kellerman’s explanations and files made it clear that Michael was in a safe place, but safe places had always been a relative notion as long as The Company was involved.

This was not over yet. Michael was not back yet. They were not safe yet.

That being said, she was safe in Canada, at least law-wise. Among the documents on the flash drive, there were facsimiles papers exonerating her for the death of Christina Rose Scofield, acknowledging the shooting as self-defense and granting exoneration for it as well as a pardon for breaking out of Miami Dade.

She guessed this was why Jane had told her not to worry about being in Canada.

“The papers have been signed a while ago,” Jane explained. “Kellerman hasn’t released them yet because it would draw too much attention on you, but if something happened to him or if the police caught you while we’re here--”

“Yes, I saw that. I’d been officially exonerated several months ago.” She nodded at the laptop. “So you’ve been working for Kellerman the whole time?”

“Kind of. After I gave The Company the slip, I went into hiding for a while. Not much of a choice.”

Right. Sara knew The Company’s methods first hand -- she’d rather not imagine what Jane went through.

“Then I started looking for what was left of Aldo’s people. I could count them on the fingers of one hand, and I... It killed me to admit it, but the smart thing to do was to offer our services to Kellerman.”

They were whispering, but even their low voices sounded loud at this hour of the night. It was dark outside, with only a crescent of moon reflecting on the white coat of snow. Sara knew for sure she hadn’t been able to really sleep for the last couple of nights, but she wondered if Jane rested sometimes, given she was always up whenever Sara was.

“I’m sorry, Sara. I didn’t mean to lie to you or Lincoln or LJ.”

“It was part of the job, keeping an eye on us to make sure The Company didn’t get too close. I understand that.”

“No. Well... yes, it was part of the job, but I do consider you a friend.” She smiled sadly. “Although I can’t blame you for not sharing my take on our relationship.”

Sara looked into the bottom of her mug of herbal tea.

“You know, about five years ago, a man admitted to me that I had been a pawn in his plan, but that he’d come to care for me. More than care, I guess, huh? That what he’d done, he’d done it for a good cause. That how he felt and what he’d told me was real.” She shrugged to chuck off the melancholy that was threatening to take over. “Apparently, love or friendship, I’m a magnet for this kind of thing.”

Jane threw a new log in the fire and watched the flames twist and crackle.

“Did this man get a free pass for what he did?” she joked.

“Eventually.” Sara gulped down what was left of her tea. “You do know that Lincoln and I never really bought that crappy explanation about you working for an insurance company, right?”

Maybe it would have been a sane reaction to hold the lies and half-truths against Jane? But she did understand why Jane had done it. More importantly, she’d needed and would need too much energy to face what was coming to waste any of it in pointless resentment.
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