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