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?”
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.
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.)