Stepping into the room, she felt grateful for his semi-consciousness. She needed to wade into these waters slowly, acclimating to the temperature before reaching boiling point. If she had to leap, she’d drown. His face was precisely as she’d dreamed it, every inch still Michael, and that’s what did it…that’s what enabled her to sink into the familiarity. The sound of his labored breathing, his chest rising and falling with panicked determination: she’d seen this in the Fox River infirmary, in the makeshift Company surgery suite, even in the SHU, his head coming to rest on her knee. This Sara knew; doctoring Michael she could do.
She leaned down beside the bed. It was hard to tell whether he was lucid until she placed a palm to his face.
“Hi,” she breathed, and he stirred, then his face crumpled, and he grasped for her, each motion bending into the last, tying her heart into a knot. “I’ve missed you.”
Her words made him weep, or maybe it was her touch or just the sound of her voice in the same room as him, and she knew it had to hurt, the constriction of his abdominal muscles, the wracking of his chest. Instinct told her: soothe. Ease his pain. She kissed the top of his head, trying not to register how hot his skin felt against her lips.
Once she fell into doctor-mode, she could sense him relax; he closed his eyes again, he gave himself over to her. She was grateful: he took on so much and allowed the people he loved so thin a slice of responsibility, she snatched hers greedily. Lincoln, too, seemed finally able to breathe, knowing Sara was here, and even this other man, the one they called Whip, closed his eyes for a few hours.
Once Michael’s transfusion had taken effect, the waters grew less comfortable again, though certainly remained familiar. She had questions. He had answers. His eyes bore into her with recognizable intensity, but he spoke with painstaking care, his words placed for minimum impact. I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Sara knew this routine, in which Michael’s eyes said I-love-you-and-need-you but his mouth said I’ve-wronged-you-and-don’t-deserve-you. He’d laid it on her too many times to count.
But she wouldn’t play this game, not anymore. Whatever had happened, whatever his reasons, she trusted him impeccably, from the moment Lincoln told her they’d found him, their Michael. The only way he’d be apart from them for seven years was if he had to be, period. This was the only truth available to Sara. The hurt came secondary. This is real, she reminded herself. It’s real.
When he told her about Jacob, she thought she’d be sick. Michael also looked ill, but he, too, placed the hurt behind the more important truth of Sara’s loyalty. She didn’t explain the marriage; she didn’t have to. She was here, wasn’t she? She’d come the second he needed her, without hesitation. They were discussing their son. Still, it was remarkable to Sara afterward, once she understood how much Michael already hated Jacob, that he’d been able to hide all the but the crest of the wave of jealousy and rage that must have swelled, surfacing only in the way his hands gripped her phone.
He gave her space, taking care with his affection for her, reaching for her and then remembering himself, touching her and then almost wincing like he feared he’d be shocked by her skin, that she might pull away, causing him pain. It saddened her, and scared her a little bit, and also gave her a measure of relief, which made her hate herself slightly. She embraced him, reveling in the familiar feel of them together, the way they fit, the angle of her hip against his, his shoulder blade tucked under her chin. His hand palming the back of her head.
But when she pulled back to look him in the face, she just…couldn’t. Michael may always be the man with the plan, with cards up his sleeve, but he’d never had much of a poker face where she was concerned. Not in the infirmary, not in Gila or Chicago or Panama or L.A. His only recourse had been to look away. Saying goodbye before she flew back home to Mike, she did it for him, pivoting before he could see the conflict and love and anger all over her face. Because yes, for Sara, pain usually surfaced as anger.
She hadn’t taken more than five steps before she regretted it. He was waiting for her, had been waiting, she suspected, for her to initiate this kiss, and he held still, let her lead. The first brush of his lips on hers was like coming home, and the first taste of his mouth broke the remaining vestiges of why from her conscious mind. The kiss was soft, and more importantly, deliberate…not the dizzying surprise of their very first kiss that had surfaced from somewhere deep in the subtext of prison, nor like all the rushed, desperate kisses since. Not even like the kiss in Bruce’s safe house in Chicago when she had been the one coming back from the dead. When she pulled back, she could sense his reluctance as he released her, but an urgency hummed between them too. There was Mike now. They both thought of Mike.
It struck Sara like a bolt: this time around, she wasn’t the only one with two things keeping her going. As she got in the car to return to the airport, it was a comfort to know she wasn’t alone in this.