Lincoln slept soundly through the night except for the few times he woke coughing, waking up Alex in the process. Alex handed him water every time after which they both went to sleep again. Or at least, Lincoln did. Alex had some trouble following his example; worry about Cameron and Lincoln warred inside his head. His tired body, the stress and the wonderful bed did their best to drag Alex under though and he went eventually.
The next morning, Alex awoke without Lincoln in his arms. He turned and noticed that Lincoln was up, dressed and ready to go.
“You’re awake,” Lincoln grumbled, looking over his shoulder as he buttoned up his shirt. He was flushed but looked better than he had the day before.
Alex pushed himself up on one arm. “Apparently so. It’s still early.” It was in fact 7 A.M. Not that early, but they still had time before they’d hit Costa Rica.
“I want to find LJ and Mikey. Have my time with them before-”
Before Alex would drag Lincoln away from them. Lincoln let it hang in the air between them and Alex snorted. What a way to wake-up. Lincoln really had a gift to lift Alex up and kick him in the nuts.
“We still have some time in Costa Rica as well, don’t we?” Alex tried, not liking how guilty the entire dirty business of revenge and promises made him feel.
Lincoln nodded and let his hands fall from his white shirt as he stifled a cough. “A day before the other freighter arrives. I’m thinking of asking them to stay for a night. We could crash on the beach, no need to go to a hotel and arouse suspicion.”
Alex winced. He didn’t look forward to a night on hard sand on the beach. Not to mention the awkward presence of two people who hated his guts. “I don’t think that’s wise with your cough, Linc.”
Lincoln waved his objections away with his left hand and made for the door. “It’s nothing, really, just a bug. I’ll see you on the deck at 10?”
In other words, please stay away from us until it’s time to disembark. Alex pinched the bridge of his nose. This was becoming more difficult and frustrating than it had been in the shed. He’d never imagined that could happen.
“Yeah all right; enjoy breakfast.” He couldn’t manage to say anything else.
Lincoln left then and Alex’s stomach made a protesting sound. Well, he wasn’t really welcome outside the cabin. He glanced sideways. The half-eaten garlic bread beckoned and since it was his only choice, he decided that was the way it was going to be. He swung his legs over the bed, took a sip of water and broke off a piece of dry, hard bread. God, he wanted coffee, but freighters usually didn’t have room service.
Alex was on the deck at 10 AM sharp and ready to get off the ship. Just as he was about to wonder where Lincoln and his family were, they came around the corner laughing, undoubtedly about something one of them had said. As soon as they saw him however, their laughter died. He was right back to feeling like a diseased person nobody wanted to be around.
“Alex.” Lincoln said curtly nodding at him, both hands stuffed in his pockets.
“Lincoln.” He copied the gesture, nodding and pretending they were two correct adults being very proper, but Michael set his jaw as if he could see right through their act, whilst not betraying any of his feelings.
LJ was easier to read. Like his old man was sometimes, LJ’s face was an open book. He looked down as if he wanted to make sure what he was about to do was all right, and then held out his hand. He ducked his head a bit, but looked at Alex just the same, digging his other hand deeper into his pants. “Hey listen, I’m willing to... you know, you helped my Dad and all. The rest… you were just doing your job, right?”
Alex was amazed once more by how mature the kid actually was, within reason, despite his resemblance to Lincoln in both looks and personality. Lincoln placed a hand on his son’s shoulder and Alex took LJ’s offered one. “Indeed; I was just doing my job,” he lied because he couldn’t say anything else, “LJ, but I am also sorry about everything that has happened to you and your family.”
Alex hoped it sounded neutral enough and apparently it did. LJ didn’t make their handshake last any longer than was necessary though and moved down the ramp as they docked.
“Yeah, so am I,” were his parting words.
Lincoln stared at his son with worry and Alex could understand that. There was no telling what kind of effect the events would have on a teenager.
“So Linc tells me you’re leaving tomorrow,” Michael cut in.
Alex’s eyes left LJ’s retreating back as soon as he heard the steel voice. He looked at him the same way as he had yesterday so whatever Lincoln might or might not have said to his family Alex doubted it had much impact on Michael.
“Yes, Lincoln arranged for a freighter to go to San Francisco.” Alex carefully weighed his words. With Michael he had to be on his guard. Lincoln watched them like a hawk, frowning, presumably because he knew Michael wasn’t exactly warming up to Alex or his decisions.
Michael crossed his arms across his chest. “And you’re in a hurry.”
The statement sounded accusing without it actually being so; Michael was a master at playing with emotions. Alex would have walked away if it wasn’t for Lincoln.
He nodded and glanced sideways to LJ. “I have a son, as you know. I can’t leave him any longer than is necessary.” He kept his voice as neutral as he had with LJ, but somehow he was afraid that Michael was too good and would pick up on anything Alex wanted to stay hidden. The man had been like that before with Pam, coming to his house, digging –
“Yes, I know; he’s younger than LJ so it must be hard without his parents around, like it would be for LJ. He would like to have his Dad around too.”
“Michael!” Lincoln’s shocked voice cut in.
Alex let his fingers touch Lincoln’s chest softly, but barely, just enough to get him to back off. “It’s all right.” He let out a short laugh and smiled cynically. “Michael, as you might remember I was willing to walk away yesterday. If you have a problem with your brother’s choices I suggest you take it up with him.” Alex dropped his hand to his side and wished he had something to hold onto. He wasn’t going to end up with his hand in his pocket like the Burrows’. “Now if you’ll excuse me,” He said as politely as he could and walked away, down the ramp onto the soil of a new country. Somehow, Michael’s frost was a lot less appealing than LJ’s blatant dislike.
Alex waited at the ramp for twenty minutes. LJ was about five feet away from him. They didn’t really look at each other or try to have a conversation; it would be forced and fake anyway. Alex didn’t mind the silence. It was interesting and somewhat relaxing to see the dockworkers work; ropes, grease and random shouts of rough men doing their daily jobs. The smell of the sea combined well with fish from the fisherman’s boats that docked further down the docks. Palm trees, warmth and the fact that all those workers were bare-chested added an exotic feel to the mix. Now that they were in a different country Alex would have felt a bit freer were it not for the weight of his general life and companions pulling him under.
He put his hand in his pocket, despite himself, and swayed along with the breeze as he closed his eyes. He wanted to enjoy the sounds; this moment of… his hand came into contact with a piece of paper. Alex opened his eyes again as he pulled it out. He hated cluttered pockets. The moment he saw it he recognized it; it was the piece of paper Whistler had pushed into his hands just before he ran. Alex opened it up, half debating whether to throw it away and yet-
“How about a cold beer?” Lincoln rumbled behind him, a partly swallowed cough following the sentence, and Alex forced himself not to turn and look. He put the paper back in his pocket without looking at it. It wasn’t as if he should feel guilty about having the note –
The kid turned and look at his father, face lightning up the moment he saw him. Alex wondered if Cameron would have the same response to him. Would he even recognize his father? “Where’s Uncle Mike?” LJ asked and this time Alex couldn’t help but turn. Indeed, Michael was nowhere to be seen.
Lincoln frowned, looking a bit sad. “He took a walk around the ship to clear his head he said. He should be back soon.”
Ah, so the brothers didn’t have a talk at all as Alex had hoped. That wasn’t very promising. “Is that wise?”He found himself saying. Lincoln looked him in the eyes and Alex’s heart beat just a little bit faster.
“Don’t tell me you’re worried about me, Alex.” Michael’s voice drifted up to them as the man in question approached with stealth.
Alex wiped a hand across his face. He had promised himself not to get into this. “It was just a question, Michael. I hope you had a good walk.” Civilized conversation; Alex assumed Michael could do that.
“Yes I had a very good walk.” Michael looked him square in the eyes and Alex felt as if the bell for the boxing match was about to ring. The ramp moved, the sound breaking the tension if only just a bit.
Lincoln went to Alex’s side, gently pulling on his arm before he let him go again. LJ pulled his Uncle with him in a similar way, coming into step next to Lincoln. The two Burrows’ made an effective barrier between Alex and Michael. Alex let out a snort and he could see Lincoln look at him from the corner of his eye, but a cough broke any sternness he might have tried to communicate. Their feet hit the docks, Costa Rican soil, and the feeling that Alex had before returned; freedom. “How about that beer, Lincoln?” He asked, feeling his lips curve up in a smile of their own accord.
Lincoln answered with his own blinding smile, an unguarded moment of pure Lincoln. “Yeah, yeah, we should get that beer.”
Near the docks was a small cantina serving refreshments to sailors. They weren’t allowed to serve alcohol to the dockworkers, but it didn’t take much convincing to make them understand that Alex and his companions were anything but. Ten minutes later, they all had a local beer in hand. Even LJ had gotten permission from his father to have one. That illegal act was the least of their problems.
Alex watched the seagulls fly above the water. The hustle and bustle of the docks was relaxing. Once again he let himself be taken away by otherworldly sounds and the smell of seawater. Even the breeze was wonderful. He brought the beer to his lips.
“Should you be drinking that? I mean, with your history?” Michael’s voice pierced his thoughts and Alex halted his glass mid air.
Alex looked Michael straight in the eye and wondered why Michael was still so angry and so filled with rancor obviously aimed at him. Michael had been like that in Sona yes, but surely after everything… “It’s not a problem,” he said, careful to keep emotion out if his voice. He wasn’t going to be baited. Alex took a big swallow of beer just to demonstrate and Lincoln sighed very audibly.
“You look forward to the beach, bro?” Lincoln intervened and Michael’s eyes searched out his brother’s.
The expression on his face softened a bit, but the intelligence that shone from his eyes did not dim. His love for his family only succeeded in brightening them. “You know I do. I still have hopes for that surf shop you know,” Michael said with a lighter sound to his voice.
Lincoln laughed. This was probably something new. A surf shop? So they really had plans to stay here for a long time. “Hey man, you got me out of that chair. You want a surf shop; we’ll get a surf shop. Don’t know if LJ will be able to keep up with his old man though.” Lincoln playfully ruffled LJ’s hair.
LJ smiled as well now. “I can surf, I’m telling you!”
Lincoln winked at Michael before turning to his son. “And where in Chicago did you learn?”
LJ got into it now and playfully hit his Dad against the chest, causing Lincoln to cough again. LJ’s face fell because of it, guilt on his features, but Lincoln had become so well-versed in covering up that he did it like a pro now as well. LJ was back on his high within seconds and came back with, “same place as you did, I think.”
Touché. Michael didn’t smile much; Alex suspected it had something to do with Alex’s presence, but the corner of his eyes showed some lines of merriment and worry. They disappeared as soon as he realized Alex was watching him though.
“So Alex, what are you going to do when you leave?” Michael asked quite casually, but Alex felt the pressure coming back full force right away. Everybody else must have felt it too, because any sound of laughter had stopped.
“You know what I am going to do, Michael,” Alex said as normally as he could, keeping both his hands on the beer glass, careful not to break it.
He was more conscious of the sounds directly around him than what was happening on the docks now. Lincoln’s breathing, a bit hitched, LJ fidgeting in his chair, scraping the floor. Michael was poised to lure him in and make Lincoln see... what exactly? The cutting voice went on, “find your son and what, take revenge? You know who did it? Are you going to kill them or is Linc?”
So that was it. This was a different route to show Lincoln what a wrong decision this was. What if all of Michael’s reasons combined together should work? What if Lincoln started to feel as Michael did? A short stab of fear froze Alex’s heart. He didn’t want to go on alone, but things were beginning to look like that more and more. God, he was so used to Lincoln’s presence now.
He kept his face smooth. Not a hint of emotion was supposed to come through. “I don’t know, Michael. Are you truly interested or is this some judgmental question? I seem to recall your meeting with Susan didn’t end well either.”
Michael’s eyes flashed a little, but he too had mastered the look of indifference. “So that’s a yes then. You’re planning to go out and kill a man, maybe more than one, together with my brother.” Michael took a sip of his beer. A reminder of Alex’s move just minutes ago and then he continued, “That’s hardly the same thing as what happened yesterday. Susan tried to kill Linc and my nephew. I did what I could to protect them.”
Alex let out a bark of a laugh. He sounded sarcastic now; he had to try to reign himself in. He used to be so controlled, damn it. The palm of his right hand started to sweat and he forced himself not to breathe too deeply. “You’re pleading self defense now? Don’t tell me that you haven’t dreamt of murdering the woman who killed Sara. With six bullets, I might add.”
Michael seemed to have difficulty keeping a straight, neutral face now as well. His mouth was flat, a thin line which started to have a faint sneering quality about it. “Like you do? Have you planned it yet? Nice and bloody, make the person suffer? And then what, you’re going to plant some evidence to show that Linc did it so you can run away with your kid?” Michael leaned forward, closer to Alex. “You can’t live in the States anymore, can you? Now that you’re a wanted murderer and drug dealer, I mean.”
Lincoln jumped up, his chair clattering over the floor behind him; his beer still largely untouched. “That’s it, if you two want to measure dicks, do it without me. I’m out of here.” He looked sideways to LJ. “You coming? Going to see how we can get you to Guanacaste.”
LJ nodded, shooting one glance at his Uncle before standing.
Lincoln looked at Michael and Alex again. He looked positively angry. “You two get through whatever issue you’re having. I already told you both what the deal is. I’m not going to-” Lincoln started coughing. It sounded like a bad fit at first, but when he didn’t stop, it seemed he couldn’t and Michael and Alex stood as one and moved towards him. Worry slammed back in full force and cut off any other emotion. Lincoln held a hand out, trying to tell them it was okay, but then he actually doubled over, his neck and face turning red and his left hand pressing against his chest. This wasn’t good at all.
“Get a doctor,” Alex said to nobody in particular as he hurried to Lincoln’s side and slid an arm around Lincoln’s waist to keep him steady. He shot a look at Michael. “Get a doctor, Michael!”
It took him a few seconds at most before Michael was off. Now was not the time to wallow in hate. His brother was in real trouble, shaking and... Alex felt Lincoln’s neck and then his face. He was burning up. For the tenth time in twenty-four hours, he cursed himself again. He should have checked better, taking care of Lincoln after that night...
“Lincoln; Linc, can you hear me?” he tried. His let his left hand cup Lincoln’s shuddering cheek as he tried to keep him upright with his other. LJ had moved to the other side, trying to help. “We need to move you to a chair, Linc.” Alex spoke as clearly as he could, a bit louder than he’d liked just so Lincoln could hear him over the coughing and heaving.
Lincoln’s hand came up feebly, trying to grasp Alex’s or LJ’s, Alex didn’t know, but then it dropped and Lincoln’s body went limp. “Shit.” Alex exclaimed as he went down with the heavy man, who’d stopped coughing altogether.
Michael came running towards them. “What the hell happened?!” Alex barely heard him, his worry slowly changing into a full-blown panic attack. He bent over to put his ear on Lincoln’s chest and heard a feint gurgling sound.
LJ sat next to his father on his knees and answered his Uncle. “He collapsed; he just collapsed.” He sounded lost, afraid.
“There isn’t a doctor around and we can’t call an ambulance,” Michael said hurriedly, fear coming through his voice ever so slightly. “I asked one of the ships if they… a man’s coming. We need to take him some place comfortable.”
Alex wanted to say something cutting, but he couldn’t. He just wanted to hold Lincoln and not let go. He started to whisper in Lincoln’s ear. He could hear Michael talk to LJ and then leave again. Two other men joined them and Michael was by his side trying to lift Lincoln. It took all four of them to do so and then they brought him to a car. Within minutes it drove them away to some sort of a hotel nearby. He had a vague recollection of Michael saying they needed two rooms, but then they moved Lincoln to one and the ship’s *doctor* went to work. Alex heard the man say something in a thick accent; ‘pneumonia’ and ‘he needs a hospital’, but other than that all events of the world flew by.
The fear was so all consuming that Alex focused on one thing only. His hand on Lincoln’s while the doctor worked. Alex wouldn’t let go. He was aware of Lincoln’s tremors and labored breathing and for a moment he felt utterly helpless. He couldn’t go through this again. Not that soon after Pam. Maybe never.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Beta by the lovely Foxriverinmate.