They live in a rundown apartment on the outskirts of town. It's by far not the worst place he's lived in in his life. Just a wall away Whistler's girl and his son sleep and breathe. It's as close to peace as he's gonna come.
He kicks back a chair and puts a bottle of cheap tequila on the table. He waits. He wants to get drunk. Real stinkin drunk. He's been wanting to get drunk ever since that day with Michael.
Of course he can't let himself, he's got a family to protect and so he caps the bottle and swings it in his hand. Feeling the sway of liquid. Imagining it running down his throat.
All his life he's believed that a man has to stand up for himself, but he's never been one for pointless bravery. He's fought for principle before, he's fought useless fights because there was nowhere else to go. This time, there was a way out. And he took it. Took it only for himself. Pain spreads out inside his chest and he buries his face in his hands. He gave up trying to be perfect a long time ago. He's got some experience with falling short, but never before this much.
Out there somewhere is his brother. The brother he let go. The brother he allowed to believe that there was nothing left for him, just because it was easier for himself. His hand reaches for the tequila, holding on to it like it keeps him here.
He lets those last those last few seconds run through his head, over and over. He took the easy way out and he knows it. Even though he knew just where Michael was heading. He told himself that there was nothing he could do to stop him, but he knew better. He rim of the bottle bumps against his lips and he manages to tear it away just in time.
Again he repeats every moment in his head, trying to identify the one exactly when he chickened out. When he picked his own happiness, no, his own comfort over Michael's life. He chose to protect himself over protecting Michael. He looked at the odds and gave up on his brother, the brother who always refused to give up on him. The brother he's lied to for all his life.
Now maybe he'll never have the chance to tell the truth.
Once more he goes through the torturous ordeal trying to imagine how things could have been different. Even as he tries to formulate the words his mind balks. He doesn't care that it's the truth. To say it, even quietly in his head, is a different kind of wrong that Lincoln can't even begin to describe.
He tries to tell himself that it wouldn't make a difference, but in his heart he knows that it would to Michael.
He still isn't sure what he's gonna say even as Michael slips into the seat next to him in a parked car in a no name parking lot in the middle of the night. Michael looks worn. Like he hasn't slept in days. Like the world has fucked him and put him away wet.
Wordlessly he thrust the bird book over on the dashboard and Michael's hand trembles as he reaches for it.
Lincoln nods and puts three stacks of money, half of what he has, on there too. Instant alarm rises in Michael's eyes.
"T-Bag. Long story. Don't ask."
Michael hesitates for the tiniest moment before he takes it and hides it in his jacket. They fall silent again. Unsure what to say to each other. It's hard to be here with each other. He can feel Michael's pain as much as he can feel his own. Not in some psychic BS kind of way, no, because he knows Michael. Knows him like the back of his hand. Even when he doesn't like to think about it, he knows what Michael loves, what Michael hates, what has the power to hurt him. Right now, he's in a different universe of hurt.
"Do you know where we live?" He blurts out at last.
"Yes, I know." Michael turns his face away, knowing what will come next.
"Do you want to come? Just for a few hours. LJ would want it."
A sad little smile barely reaches Michael's eyes. "No. It wouldn't be safe for you."
"When are you leaving?"
The nightmare threatens to take him over and Lincoln grips the steering wheel tighter. Everything with Michael is a silent code. Right now Michael's hand resting lightly on the dashboard and the little curl on the side of his mouth means it's alright. Don't wait for me. Faux bravado in the face of despair.
Lincoln knows that this might be the last time he sees his brother. His knuckles turn white from the strain. "There's something I've been meaning to tell you."
"Linc, you don't have to..."
"Yes, I do," it comes off more harshly than he intended. Nervously he licks his lips. "I just need you to know... I know you think there's nothing left of you anymore, but there is."
Michael's brow furrows in consternation. "What do you mean?"
"LJ, he's yours. He's a part of you."
Michael expression is sad, but tender. Talking to Lincoln like he's talking to a small child. "Of course he is."
"No, you don't understand. He's yours. All yours," Lincoln says and wonders how the truth can feel like yet another lie. "Lisa and I, we weren't..."
All color has dissipates from Michael's face. "You are lying," he says calmly.
“I'm not lying,” Lincoln says glumly. “Not this time.” He tears himself from the steering wheel.
Michael's hand is already wrapped around the door handle, his foot half raised to step outside when he freezes. “Why? Why are you telling me this now?”
Before he can stop himself, he can feel himself getting defensive. “Look it makes no difference...”
“No difference?” Tears are burning in Michael's eyes now and his hands are shaking, clattering against the car's door. “You lied to me, Lincoln. Again.”
“You were just a kid Michael. Not even out of high school. You couldn't possibly...”
“God,” Michael hisses, his voice seething with disgust. “I can't even look at you.”
He throws the car door open and Lincoln jumps up to follow him. “Michael,” he yells, “You needed to know. We...”
Michael whirls around on his heels. His hand darks into his jacket. His fist full of bills he waves them into Lincoln's face and throws them down in front of his feet.
“I don't need you. I don't need anything from you.”
Helplessly his hands reach for Michael's wrist, grabbing him, holding him him when he wants to tear away. Needing him to understand what can't be understood.
"You were just a kid, you weren't ready to be a father."
"Maybe I would have liked to have a say in that."
"Oh please. You would have been yourself just like always. You would have felt guilty, would have thrown school and worked yourself to the bone for the kid. I wasn't gonna let you. It was the right thing to do."
"Fuck you, Lincoln, you know, fuck you." Michael's face is red and angry, right in front of him. His nerves were frayed around the edged even before he came here and this isn't likely to improve his mood.
"We did it because I love you." Lincoln blinks as he catches the mistake, but he can't stoo now. He knows it must sound petty and hallow to Michael's ears, but it's all he can say."I wanted you to have a better life."
"It was my life, Lincoln. My Life. Don't you understand?" Tears of helplessness well up in Michael's eyes and there are no words for what Lincoln wants to do and how much he wishes he could unbend the twists and turns in Michael's life.
"I'm sorry," he says dumbly.
"Well, maybe I'm sick of sorry."