Sleeping with Ghosts by msgenevieve
Summary: Punte Chame should feel like paradise on earth.There are days - usually when the sky is cloudless and the water is clear and the air is scented with salt and flowers - when it almost does. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t, and Lincoln doesn’t need to pay a shrink a huge wad of cash to tell him why.
Categories: Post-Escape, Alternate Universe Characters: Jane Phillips, Lincoln Burrows, LJ Burrows, Michael Scofield, Sara Tancredi
Genres: Angst, Drama, Friendship, PWP/Smut, Romance
Pairing: Lincoln and Jane, Michael and Sara
Warnings: Character Death, Extreme Language, Sexual Situations, Spoilers S1, Spoilers S2
Challenges: None
Series: Full Circle
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes Word count: 21830 Read: 7002 Published: August 11, 2007 Updated: August 22, 2007
Story Notes:
This story is part of the Full Circle series. It takes place between the 'end' and the 'epilogue' of Safe House, and will make much more sense if you've already read that story. Many thanks to sk56 for the beta and sarah_scribbles for the handholding and the cheerleading. Dedicated to domfangirl/americanoutlaw who really wanted me to write some Lincoln/Jane in the Safe House universe which made me very happy because I'd already started to write that very thing. The title is shamelessly stolen from Placebo.

1. Chapter 1 by msgenevieve

2. Chapter 2 by msgenevieve

Chapter 1 by msgenevieve
~*~

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.

~ Henry Wordsworth Longfellow



~*~




Punte Chame should feel like paradise on earth.

There are days - usually when the sky is cloudless and the water is clear and the air is scented with salt and flowers - when it almost does. After all, he’s no longer afraid that every breath might be his last, his son looks and sounds more like a well-adjusted teenager with every passing day, and his brother is finally planning for his own future rather than everyone else’s.

It should feel like paradise but it doesn’t, and Lincoln doesn’t need to pay a shrink a huge wad of cash to tell him that guilt and grief can fuck you up more than any other human emotions. Because fucked up is definitely what he is.

Every day, he forces himself to get out of bed and do what he has to do, and every day, he feels as though he’s drowning on dry land. During the day, he helps his brother build a house and spends every spare moment he can with his son.

At night, he dreams about Veronica.

On the good nights, her skin is smooth and fresh under his hands, her body warm and soft beneath his. On the bad nights, her pretty face dissolves into a screaming mask of terror, her hands now slippery with blood as they reach for him, her dark eyes gleaming with silent accusation. Every morning, good or bad, he wakes feeling aching and empty, wanting to rail at the world, angry with everyone who isn’t her.

No, he thinks as he stares out at the endless blue water that was supposed to be their sanctuary, he doesn’t need a shrink to tell him why he feels as though he doesn’t deserve to be here. It’s painfully simple. Every day he’s here in this paradise is another day Veronica isn’t alive. He’s here and Veronica is gone and nothing he says or does will ever be able to change that.

Maybe it would be easier if Veronica was the only woman stuck in his head, but whether he likes it or not, she’s not the only one. He rubs his hand over his newly shaved head, digging his thumb into the knots at the base of his skull. Thinking about Jane Phillips unsettles him on so many levels that he doesn’t even know where to start. He doesn’t want to do ‘complicated’, not again, and he suspects his feelings for her are as complicated as they come.

Jane calls at least once a week, seemingly happy to talk to whomever happens to answer the phone, and Lincoln finds himself both relieved and annoyed that she makes no effort to single him out. He gives her his new cell phone number, asking her to pass it on to Sara, knowing that it’s not Sara he wants calling him. She agrees readily enough, then asks after LJ and Michael before telling him about his father’s latest trip. Just like he does every time she calls, Lincoln listens to her calm, melodious voice with a growing fire in his belly, the longing to see her burrowing itself deep beneath his skin.

Jane Phillips, a woman that even now he can hardly believe actually exists. Former FBI agent, sharpshooter, unflinchingly loyal and utterly fearless, a straight-talking blonde Amazon who saved all their lives more than once. During the short time they’d spent together, they’d argued more times than he can remember, but she hadn’t wavered from her goal of keeping him and his family safe. A woman nursing an ancient, private grief of her own, she’d never once hesitated to risk her neck to save his.

He’d kissed her twice, both times fuelled as much by desire as it was by adrenaline, and sometimes he thinks he can still remember the taste of her mouth. He shouldn’t want her, shouldn’t want any woman who isn’t Veronica to be with him in this place, but he does, and he hates himself for it.

He hates himself for it, but it doesn’t stop him trying to beat his brother to the phone every time it rings.

~*~


He holds it together for four long weeks before giving into the urge to blot out the screaming in his head. Leaving LJ with his uncle, he heads for the tourist district and the brightest, loudest bar. The next morning, he wakes half-dressed in his own bed, his head pounding, his mouth sour, his body imprinted with the memory of raw, anonymous sex. He remembers dark eyes and small clever hands that needed no urging, his hands threaded through silken black hair as a hot mouth consumed him. He wonders if he called her Veronica. He wonders if he talked to her at all.

His stomach suddenly rebels against the onslaught of cheap bear, tequila and shame, sending him rushing towards the bathroom. Afterwards, he tells himself that he can’t do this. He has his whole life ahead of him, he has LJ and he has Michael, and that should be enough.

It’s not.

He does it four more times, desperately trying to lose himself in booze and sex, knowing that he’s fighting a hopeless battle. Despite the mess in his head, he sets himself two unbreakable rules. He never brings a woman back to the house and he’s always home before the sun comes up.

Neither LJ nor Michael say a word, but their conspiratorial silence is a reproach in itself. Sometimes he finds a cooked breakfast waiting for him, sometimes a note to tell him they’ve gone to the market. After the fourth time, there is neither a note nor breakfast left for him, and he knows he can either keep doing his best to obliterate himself or he can try to salvage the second chance he’s been given. The next day, his father calls to say he’s booked a flight to Panama City and would like to come and spend some time with his family. If Lincoln was looking for a sign, this one would be hard to beat.

Aldo stays for a week. After precisely twelve hours of listening to his sons bicker over everything from the width of the steps leading down from the balcony to the contents of the refrigerator, he takes Lincoln aside.

“Have you thought about what’s going to happen when Sara arrives?”

Lincoln watches as his brother sands an already smooth edge of the balcony railing. “If she arrives.”

“She will,” Aldo assures him, “and when she does, she and your brother are going to want some privacy.”

Lincoln raises his eyebrows. “Is there a point to this conversation?”

His father smiles. “All I’m saying is that sometimes a little family goes a long way.”

It’s all Lincoln can do not to roll his eyes. “You’re preaching to the converted, Dad, trust me.”

When his gentle efforts to dissuade his younger son from working twelve hours a day on the house fail – Lincoln could have told him it was pointless - Aldo takes Lincoln and LJ fishing. They explore the local haunts, and Lincoln grins at the sound of his son’s halting Spanish as he discusses bait and lures with the local fisherman. When he asks LJ when he’d started speaking Spanish, though, his son just looks annoyed.

“Uncle Mike’s been teaching me,” he says, the words faintly accusing. “I told you ages ago, remember?”

Annoyed with himself, Lincoln says nothing, then he feels the clasp of his father’s hand on his shoulder, the unspoken reassurance lightening his suddenly heavy heart. “Practice makes perfect, son,” Aldo murmurs, and once again Lincoln has to fight the urge to roll his eyes.

“Look who’s talking.”

Aldo grins. “I’m still working on it.”

~*~


Three weeks after his father leaves, Lincoln signs a six month lease on a two bedroom house a half mile from Michael’s place. Close enough to hang out, far enough apart not to want to punch each other every other day. LJ seems happy to have a room of his own in a house where he can track sand across the tiled floor and drape wet towels across the backs of chairs, both domestic habits frowned upon by his uncle. Lincoln’s just relieved not to have to watch his brother spend his every waking hour waiting for Sara Tancredi.

A few days later, he’s standing in the middle of Michael’s kitchen, trying to persuade his brother to come for a run on the beach. Michael gently brushes the suggestion away, his attention focused on the screwdriver in his hand. “Thanks, but I think I’ve filled my running quota for the year.” He glances up at Lincoln, his smile apologetic. “Why don’t you take LJ?”

Lincoln leans against the kitchen bench, running his fingertips through the fine grains of sawdust that cover the surface. “He’s still asleep.” His son, the typical teenaged boy, still asleep at noon. If it wasn’t so reassuringly normal, Lincoln might be annoyed, but he’s just glad LJ isn’t finger painting scenes of death and destruction.

When the phone rings, Michael looks at him over the top of a half-affixed cabinet door, his expression oddly unconcerned for a man who usually jumps two feet into the air every time he hears a ringing telephone. “Could you get that?”

The caller is Jane. As always, the sound of her voice makes Lincoln’s gut tighten. As always, she doesn’t seem to notice. She asks after LJ and Michael, then adds, “I saw Sara today.”

He blinks. “How is she?”

“She’s doing well.” She pauses. “I believe she’s recently spoken to your brother.”

He looks across the room to where Michael is working, belatedly realising that his brother has been humming cheerily under his breath ever since Lincoln arrived. He allows himself a few seconds to be annoyed that Michael hadn’t seen fit to share that particular bit of information with him, then he shakes it off. They’ve all got their secrets. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“I have some free time next month,” Jane announces without preamble. “I thought I might finally come down there and check up on all of you.”

He swallows hard, trying and failing not to picture her dressed for the beach, damp blonde hair plastered to the curve of her full breasts, long legs striding through the blue and white splash of the ocean. “Okay.”

She hesitates, making him immediately regret his unintentionally lacklustre response, then continues in a brisk, careful tone. “Well, perhaps LJ and Michael will appreciate a visit. Would you put Michael on the phone, please?”

He swears under his breath, despairing of ever being able to say the right thing to this woman. “Listen, Jane-”

“It’s fine, Lincoln,” she says calmly, as though she’s never once kissed him with a passion that made him feel as though his clothes might catch fire. “Is Michael there?”

“Sure,” he tells her, his voice dull. “I’ll get him for you.”

Moving to Michael’s side, he hands over the receiver without a word, then walks out onto the balcony. He stares at the sand and the water until his eyes begin to sting, his fingers gripping the wooden balcony tight enough to invite splinters. Fucking paradise on earth, he thinks darkly, and goes to wake up his son.

~*~


Two weeks after his conversation with Jane, the Governor’s daughter finally arrives, and his brother is transformed. Lincoln watches the hope ignite in Michael’s thin face, the delicate joy in Sara’s, and he tells himself he’s happy for them.

She’s barely there an hour before she looks at him with those dark eyes that always seemed to see far too much. “Have they visited you down here yet?” They’ve been discussing Aldo and Jane, but he has the feeling she’s not all that interested in Aldo’s movements.

“Dad was here a few weeks ago.” She keeps looking at him, an almost imperceptible smile playing about her lips, and he reluctantly admits defeat. “And Jane thinks she might come down next month.”

“Good.” She smiles as though she truly means it. “I think she’d like it down here.”

So do I, he wants to tell her, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to think about how Jane Phillips makes him feel. It’s much easier to turn the conversation back to Michael’s borderline manic behaviour over the last few months than it is to let her shine the spotlight on him. He knows how easy it is to talk to this woman – he’s cried in her arms, for fuck’s sake - and the last thing he wants to do is hear himself blurting out is how the guilt is eating away at his insides.

Instead, he tells her a few home truths about his brother, watching her deceptively fragile shoulders sag a little under the weight of his words. She takes a deep breath, then looks at him calmly, her eyes solemn, her words as measured as though she’s swearing on a stack of bibles. “I came here to be with him, and I have no intention of going anywhere for a long time.”

“Good.” He lets out his breath, only now realising he’s been afraid of having to pick up the pieces in her wake. “Maybe now you’re here, you can convince Michael to come surfing once in a while.”

She laughs, the sound breaking the tension between them. “Is he any good?”

“He’s not bad.” He glances towards the French doors through which Michael and LJ had disappeared a few minutes earlier. “I’m better.”

She smiles as she shakes her head, but her dark eyes are serious as she studies him. “You’ve told me about Michael, but how are you doing down here?”

He hesitates, pressing his tongue against the back of his teeth. The temptation to talk about Veronica, if only to say her name out loud, is suddenly overwhelming, but he’s afraid that if he starts, he may never stop. “I’m okay.”

She looks as though she wants to press the point, then she smiles warmly. “How’s LJ coping with the new lifestyle? I bet he’s enjoying the break from school.”

“You have no idea,” he tells her with a rueful smile, thinking of his son’s now entrenched routine of surfing, fishing and cycling. “Sixteen’s a brutal age no matter what your surname is, but after everything that’s happened, I wanted him to have some time to just be a kid, you know?”

“I do know.” She looks at him. “Will you take him back to the States when school starts again?”

He shrugs. “I’m going to leave that up to him. If he wants to go to school down here, that’s good enough for me.” He looks away from her concerned gaze, once again fighting the urge to dump his own problems onto her. She’s got a steep enough learning curve ahead of her without you adding to it, he tells himself. “There are more important things in this life than the name of your high school.” She lifts her can of soda to him in a silent toast, then Michael and LJ spill out onto the balcony, his son talking loudly about the scooter he wants to buy, and the quiet moment between them is over.

He finally manages to drag LJ home, doing his best not to notice the growing tension between the two other adults. Of course, he’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice the way they’ve been looking at each other for the last four hours, and he’s happy for them, he really is. It’s just been a long time since he slept with someone who loved him as much as he knows Sara Tancredi loves his brother, and the sudden memory of the last time he’d slept with Veronica – a blissfully frenzied reunion on the night of her graduation ceremony - makes him feel hollow and alone, too many sharp edges inside his head.

That night, with LJ safely tucked into bed at the other end of the house, he shuts himself in the bathroom. Standing beneath a scalding hot shower with his eyes closed, he wraps his hand around his aching cock, chasing a quick release as much as he’s chasing a memory. He desperately tries to think of dark hair and dark eyes, but his disobedient mind slides instead into visions of pale blonde hair and creamy skin, swollen lips and angry blue eyes.

Gritting his teeth, he gives up, letting himself remember that first, fierce kiss born of anger and lust, Jane’s body arching against his as he pressed her up against the still-running SUV. His hand pumping furiously, he remembers the way she’d kissed him back, as though daring him to take it further, and he’s done. Swearing loudly, he leans one shoulder against the cold tiles, shuddering as his cock pulses almost violently in his hand.

That night, he once again dreams of Veronica. The next morning, he wakes up feeling as though he’s back in his cell at Fox River, and he knows that something has to give, and soon.

~*~


LJ doesn’t talk about Veronica, at least not to him. Lincoln stumbles upon him once or twice in the middle of a hushed conversation with Sara, and the look on their faces makes it obvious whom they’re discussing. It’s not exactly pity, but it’s close enough to make want to put his fist through the nearest wall, and to make things worse, he has no one to blame but himself. If only his head were screwed on half as straight as LJ’s, he thinks darkly.

Michael and Sara do not – despite Lincoln’s earlier fears – appear to be joined at the hip. Okay, so they spend endless hours either walking along the beach or sequestered behind closed doors, but Lincoln still sees his brother every day, and Sara does her best to make it clear she has no intention of upsetting the family dynamics. He’d like to tell both of them that he’s grateful, but he doesn’t know how to say the words without sounding like an idiot, so he says nothing and simply enjoys their company as best he can.

“Jane’s arriving tomorrow,” Michael remarks casually as the three of them emerge from the water late one afternoon, and Lincoln feels his stomach clench. He certainly doesn’t need his brother to remind him of something that’s been weighing on his mind for the last month.

“Yeah, I know.”

Michael and Sara exchange a quick glance that only serves to remind Lincoln of everything he doesn’t have, and he quickly pastes a smile on his face. “Not bad out there today, Doc.” He glances at his brother. “Better than Michael, anyway.”

“Well, I do have all ten toes.” She grins. “That’s bound to make a difference.”

Lincoln rolls his eyes as his brother begins to pontificate on the subject of ‘hanging ten’ being merely a figure of speech, then gestures towards the boards at their feet. “You can leave the boards here if you like. Easier than lugging them all the way back again next time.”

“Thanks.” Michael wipes his sandy hands on the seat of his shorts. “You want a hand taking them up to the house?”

Lincoln shakes his head. “Nah, it’s cool. I need the exercise.”

Michael scoffs under his breath, then shares another quick glance with the woman beside him. “You and LJ coming up to the house for dinner tonight?”

“Sure thing.”

Sara flashes him a smile as she squeezes the water from her tangled hair. “See you around seven, then?”

Lincoln nods, then Michael picks up their towels before they start the short walk back to their own house. He watches them as they walk away, and when they’re half-way down the beach, his brother flicks Sara’s backside with the end of his wet towel. Her laughter drifts across the sand as she digs her fingers into Michael’s side, just below his ribcage, right where he’s the most ticklish. Lincoln grins, impressed she’s managed to discover his brother’s Achilles Heel so quickly. He hears Michael’s voice raised in mock outrage, then the outline of their figures blends into the fading afternoon light, leaving him alone.

He looks up and down the beach, his gaze narrowing as he takes in the scattering of strolling couples. The whole damned world is going by two-by-two, and something tightens in his chest. He doesn’t want what his brother and Sara have – he tells himself he’s not interested in the flush of romantic love, not anymore – but he wants something. He just doesn’t know what that something is.

“Fuck this shit,” he mutters to the empty blue sky above him, then drops his towel onto the wet sand. He strides into the water, diving deep beneath the surface until the only sound in his head is the steady thrum of his pulse.

~*~


The next morning, he runs into LJ in the hallway, and is surprised to see his son out of bed and fully dressed so early. “Got a hot date?”

LJ grins. “I’m going with Sara to pick up Jane from the airport, remember?”

He belatedly remembers overhearing their conversation at dinner the night before. “Oh, right.” He hears the familiar toot of the horn of Michael’s 4WD from the driveway, and gives his son a tight smile. “Don’t ask Sara to let you drive again, okay?”

LJ looks at him with guileless eyes, as though he’d never dream of doing such a thing. “Are you going to be at Uncle Mike’s when we get back?”

“Maybe.”

LJ looks disappointed, then Sara beeps the car horn a second time and he’s grabbing his jacket and heading for the front door. Lincoln waits until his son slams the door behind him, then glances at his watch. He has two and a half hours, maybe three, to decide what the hell he’s going to do about Jane Phillips. Of course, he reminds himself, he might be worrying over nothing. Maybe Jane has no interest in starting anything as far as he’s concerned. Maybe all she wants is a cosy visit with Aldo’s extended family and a few days in the sun. The thought should come as a relief, but all it does is make him feel vaguely depressed.

He rubs a hand over his chin, feeling a week’s worth of stubble scratch his palm, then looks around him at the cluttered living room. If nothing else, he thinks, maybe he should use Jane’s visit as an excuse to clean up. Nothing to do with impressing her, he tells himself, then has to resist the urge to punch himself in the head.

His immediate problem is easily solved. He takes a shower and shaves, then gives the bathroom a quick but thorough once-over. He makes himself breakfast, then tidies the kitchen. He dresses, then shoves every piece of dirty clothing in the laundry and shuts the door. On his way out the front door, he picks up the scattered newspapers and magazines, making a mental note to tell LJ to at least try to keep his surfing magazines from taking over the whole house. Easier said than done, he muses. Something about this place makes you feel as though you’re on one long vacation, as though the normal rules don’t apply.

He takes one last look around before he leaves, trying to see it through new eyes, then he shrugs, suddenly irritated with himself. Jane would probably stay with Michael and Sara – they’re the ones with three spare rooms, after all. No reason to think that she’d end up here long enough to pass judgment on how tidy he was keeping the place. Shaking his head, he pulls the front door shut behind him, wondering just when he’d become a dithering idiot.

Michael is sitting on the balcony by himself, drinking coffee as he flicks through the newspaper. He gives Lincoln a wave as he walks up from the beach, then jerks his head towards the open French doors behind him. “There’s coffee if you want it.”

“Thanks.” Lincoln wanders through to the kitchen, ruefully noting that the house is as tidy as it was the day Sara first arrived. The only difference he can see is that the bookshelf is now literally groaning under the weight of twice as many books. Resisting the urge to check if one of the spare bedrooms has been made up for a guest, he pours himself a coffee and makes his way back to his brother. “Anything good in the paper?”

Michael smiles. “Nothing about us, if that’s what you mean.”

“Thank God for that.” He sips his coffee, then leans back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. “What time does Jane’s flight get in?”

His brother gives him a quick glance of amusement. “Why? Want to know how long you’ve got to make your escape?”

Lincoln sighs. “Give it a rest, Michael.”

Michael purses his lips as he turns the page of the newspaper. “If you don’t want to hang out with her, that’s cool.” His mouth twitches, but Lincoln can’t tell if it’s with a smile or with disapproval. “We do owe her our lives, remember.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Lincoln mutters, “and I never said I didn’t want to hang out with her.” He winces at Michael’s choice of words, wondering why the two of them seemed to slide backwards into childhood every time they argued.

“No?” Michael looks at him. “Then why do you flinch every time anyone says her name?”

Lincoln frowns, struggling to find the words to explain. “Look, I like her, okay?” He gives his brother a stern glare. “I’m just not thrilled by the fact that all of you seem to think that she and I are, well, that we’re-” He breaks off and reaches for his coffee, needing to buy himself a moment to try and sort out the muddled thoughts in his head.

“No one’s thinking anything like that, Linc,” his brother says in a soothing tone that only serves to irritate him further.

“Of course you are,” he shoots back. “One of the first things Sara did when she got here was to ask me about Jane. LJ drops hints all over the place about how maybe Jane would like to visit that place or see this thing.” He eyes his brother. “And you -”

Michael looks at him with the same innocent expression LJ tried to palm off on him that morning. “Me? What did I do?”

“It would make you feel better if I hooked up with Jane, wouldn’t it?”

Michael looks puzzled. “Why do you mean? If you were happy about it, that would be great -”

“Look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn’t feel better about Sara being here with you if I was with Jane.”

Michael’s gaze narrows, but he doesn’t look away. “That’s not fair.”

Lincoln thinks of a long ago conversation on a train, his brother apologising because Sara was with them and Veronica wasn’t, and he knows damn well he’s not being fair. He also knows that he doesn’t really care. “Veronica’s dead, I’m alone and, from I can see, you’re all pushing me towards the most convenient warm body.”

Anger flashes in his brother’s eyes. “You’re incredible, you know that?” He splays his hands flat on the newspaper in front of him, and Lincoln wonders if it’s to stop himself from trying to reach across the table and land a punch. “In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re the only one who refuses to talk about Vee.”

They glare at each other for a moment, Lincoln’s fury reflected straight back at him from his brother’s eyes, then they hear the subtle roar of Michael’s 4WD pulling up in the driveway. Michael blows out a loud breath, then flips the newspaper shut, his gaze sliding away from Lincoln’s. He looks defeated, and Lincoln is suddenly swamped by the dull certainty that he’s being an asshole.

He reaches across the table to tap Michael’s arm. “Look, man, I’m sorry.”

Michael looks up at him, his eyes glittering. “You need to talk about her, Linc.”

“I know.” His throat closes over the words, as though trying to stop him from saying them, as though his body knows better than his head. “But I can’t.” He takes a deep, shuddering breath, wondering if he’ll ever stop hearing Veronica’s last horrified whisper in his head. “Hurts too much, man.”

The front door slams, and he knows that he has two choices. He can quickly vanish down the beach and literally bury his head in the sand, or he can suck it up and be a gracious host to the woman who’d saved their collective asses. He hears the soft lilt of female voices and the sound of footsteps on the wooden floorboards inside the house, then Sara appears in the open doorway. “We’re back.” She smiles at Michael. “Obviously.”

Michael grins as though she’s just made the funniest joke he’s heard in years, then gets to his feet to give her a quick kiss. “How was the traffic?”

“Not too bad.” She turns to Lincoln, her eyes sparking. “Just so you know, LJ didn’t ask this time.”

“Just as well,” Lincoln says, thinking of his son’s determination to learn to drive by any means available, then Jane appears in the doorway behind Sara and every thought in his head seems to slip away.

She’s dressed simply in a white t-shirt and a pair of linen trousers, her long hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail. Dark sunglasses are perched on the top of her head and, despite her obvious weariness, her blue eyes glow when she smiles. “Good morning.”

Michael is the first to react, leaning over to kiss her warmly on the cheek. “Almost afternoon, actually,” he jokes quietly, then smiles at her. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too.” Her gaze flicks to Lincoln, and he feels the impact of it like a punch to the gut. “Hello, Lincoln.”

“Hi.” He gives himself a mental shake and tears his gaze away from the soft lips he’s been fantasizing about for the last three months. “Uh, we’re just having coffee.” It seems like Sara isn’t the only one capable of stating the obvious this morning. “Want one?”

Jane raises an elegant eyebrow, then gives him a smile that sends a wisp of heat curling through the base of his spine. “That would be very nice.”

Behind them, Sara clears her throat. “Listen, guys, I’ve been a bit of an idiot and double-booked myself. I completely forgot that I made plans to check out two of the local health clinics this afternoon.” She gives Lincoln an apologetic smile. “Michael and LJ had planned to come along for the ride, too.”

Lincoln blinks, belatedly realising that his son hasn’t followed the others into the house. “But Jane just got here.”

“And I’ve already spent the entire trip from the airport apologising for having to run off for a few hours.” Sara smiles at him. “You’ll look after her, won’t you?”

In his head, Lincoln hears the sound of a trap snapping shut. “Uh, sure.”

Michael smirks at Jane as he passes her. “Whatever you do, don’t let him take you out and buy you a Jamaican Collins.”

A slow smile tugs at Jane’s wide mouth as she turns to gaze steadily at Lincoln. “And what, exactly, is in a Jamaican Collins?”

“That’s the thing,” Michael quips as he vanishes into the house with Sara. “No one can ever quite remember afterwards.”

Jane laughs, her eyes still locked with Lincoln’s. “Sounds deadly.”

Lincoln takes a long breath, feeling as though his blood’s already spiked with a dozen shots of rum. “How about a cheap beer at my place instead?”

She smiles. “That’s the best offer I’ve had all day.”

~*~


To Lincoln’s relief, the light-hearted exchange eases some of the tension zipping through the air between them. He manages to catch Michael before he leaves the house to tell him of their change in plane and, smirking, Michael tells him to make sure he brings Jane back in time for dinner. Rolling his eyes, Lincoln goes back to the balcony to find Jane gazing at the ocean with a wistful expression. “You okay?”

She shrugs. “I haven’t been to the beach since John and Catherine died,” she says in a matter-of-fact voice that twists his heart. “This is very different to Malibu, though,” she adds softly. “It’s very peaceful.”

He finds himself reaching out to touch her hand where it rests on the railing. “Sometimes.”

She tilts her head to study his face, her hand motionless beneath his. “How far is it to your place?”

“Not far.” He looks down at her slip-on sandals. “The quickest way is to walk along the beach.”

She smiles as she gently slides her hand out from beneath his. “Sounds good.” Obviously content to leave her luggage in Michael’s spare room, she picks up her purse and slips off her shoes. “Lead the way.”

He’s not surprised that they talk about Aldo while they walk. It seems odd that his relationship with an estranged father should be a more comfortable topic than anything else going on in his life, but he’s not about to argue. “He told me you and LJ have become quite the fishermen.”

Lincoln grins, watching her bare feet as she walks through the foam of the waves. She’s rolled up the cuffs of her trousers, and her ankles are pale and smooth. “Nothing tough about sitting in a boat drinking beer.”

She shrugs. “Patience is a skill all its own.”

“You’re talking to a man who spent almost three years on Death Row.” He turns to look at her. “I know a little something about patience.”

They study each other for a moment, then she smiles, gesturing towards the houses dotted along the gentle slope rising from the beach. “Which one is yours?”

“The one that looks absolutely nothing like Michael’s place,” he grins, and offers her his hand as they reach the ancient steps that led up from the beach. “Careful of splinters with your bare feet.”

She eyes his outstretched hand for a few seconds, then takes it in hers. Lincoln has to stop himself from gripping too tightly. She may have kissed him twice but it’s the first time she’s held his hand, and the fact that he finds the simple touch almost as arousing as the memory of her kiss is something of a surprise.

Unsettled, he releases her hand when they reach the top of the stairs, and she doesn’t seem to mind. She says nothing as he leads her to the back entrance of the house, waiting until he’s unlocked the door and waved her inside before she speaks again.

“You didn’t seem very happy at the prospect of me flying down here.”

“Don’t take it personally.” He shuts the door behind her, then drops his keys into the bowl on top of the nearby table. “I’m not all that happy about anything these days.”

She drops her sandals onto the floor beside the door. “If it helps, I don’t exactly know why I’m here.”

“That doesn’t sound like you.”

“I know. I’m not used to finding myself at a loose end.” She darts a sharp glance at him. “I’ve spent the last decade of my life chasing after shadows and ghosts, Lincoln.” Frowning, she lifts one hand to free her hair from the confines of its severe ponytail, letting it fall loose onto her shoulders. The effect is startling, her face suddenly younger, softer, and Lincoln stares at her, his gaze lingering on her lush mouth, his own mouth feeling dry, his words awkward.

“Sounds like you need a holiday.”

"I do." She looks at him steadily. “I’m not looking for happily ever after, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Her bluntness is both a shock and a turn-on all its own. He looks at the strong lines of her face, the sculptured curves of her body, and his pulse begins to race. “I’m not worried,” he tells her, and it’s suddenly the truth.

She studies him for a long moment, then nods. Putting her purse on the table next to his keys, she looks at him with a quite but unmistakable challenge in her eyes. ”It was a long flight from LA. Would you mind if I took a quick shower?”

There’s not the slightest hint of flirtation in her voice, but he has to clear his throat before he can speak. “No, no at all. It’s down the hallway, the second room on the right.” He’s half-hard already, and the thought of her using his shower isn’t helping. “I’ll have that beer waiting for you.”

She slips off her watch, then drops it into her purse. “Maybe you could bring it in to me?”

With that, she smiles and walks past him towards the bathroom, her bare feet slapping gently on the tiled floor. He watches her walk away, then leans against the closest wall, smiling as he shakes his head. “Holy shit.”

Maybe the most sensible thing to do would be to wait until she’d emerged from the bathroom before starting an earnest conversation about a possible relationship. When he hears the sound of running water, however, arousal tugs heavily at his groin, and he reminds himself that he never was the sensible type.

The bathroom is already filling with steam by the time he reaches the door. Jane’s clothes are draped over the closed toilet lid, and before he allows himself the pleasure of looking at her silhouette through the smoky glass of the shower stall, he takes a moment to smile at the decidedly ‘girly’ underwear lying on top of her crumpled t-shirt. Who would have thought that undercover anti-Government agents wore cream lace with red flowers? His gaze moves to the shower stall, and a jolt of raw lust streaks through him. If he’d known all that was hidden beneath those power suits –

Cutting off the thought, he puts the beers on the corner of the vanity (he’s trying to be a good host, after all) then strips off his t-shirt, fighting the urge to pinch himself. “You want your beer in there?”

She chuckles, a dark, throaty sound that makes his cock twitch. “Beer and soap isn’t the greatest combination, but it’s up to you.”

His body apparently making the decision for him, his hands shove down his shorts and throw them into the corner. When he wrenches open the door of the shower stall and steps inside, Jane looks at him expectantly, almost pleadingly, her hands hanging loosely by her sides. He sucks in a deep breath, trying to take in everything at once – the pale skin slick with soap suds and water, the jut of her full breasts, the dark rose of her nipples, the damp blonde strip of hair between her legs - then his mouth covers hers, his body pressing hers up against the tiles as the warm water sluices over them.

Her mouth tastes just as good how he remembers, and he feels a low groan rumble deep in his chest. Her hands slide down his back to cup his ass, urging him closer as she kisses him hungrily, her tongue sweeping his mouth, teeth bumping gently against his. He lifts one hand to touch her breast, squeezing gently, and she arches in his arms, wrapping her leg around his as she tucks her foot behind his knee. His cock presses against her thigh, then the soft hair between her thighs, and she gasps into his mouth.

He lifts his head, desperately trying to remember how to count to ten. This isn’t the first time he’s had sex since he’s been out of Fox River, but it’s the first time that it’s not just fucking. No matter he’s been trying to tell himself, this means something, she means something, and he’s suddenly afraid of getting it all wrong. When he finally manages to speak, his voice sounds as though it’s coming from a long way away. “You don’t think maybe we should talk first?”

She shakes her head, pressing an open-mouthed kiss to his throat. “No.” Her hand slides between them, skimming over his chest and stomach, then he’s rising up on his toes as she wraps her hand around him, her touch steady and slow. “We can talk later,” she murmurs, her long fingers sliding down to cup his balls, making him suck in his breath. “Right now, I think we need this more.”

“Works for me.” He’s not about to argue with her, not when heat is already licking along his veins, burning him up from the inside. Cradling her rounded ass in both hands, he bends his head to her breasts, feeling her shudder as he tastes one tight nipple, then the other. One arm wrapped around his neck, she strokes the aching length of his erection, her hand slick with soap as she gently draws him up towards the heat between her legs.

“Condom?” she breathes in his ear, and he’s stepping out of the shower stall before she has the chance to say another word, trying to marshall enough blood back into his brain in order to remember where he’d stashed the condoms when they’d unpacked.

Top drawer, his brain finally stutters, and he’s yanking open the drawer and ripping out the first plastic square he sees.

Slamming the shower door behind them, he encloses them once again in a haven of warm water and steam. He brushes away her unspoken offer to help him with the condom, then backs her against the wall, his hands exploring everywhere his mouth can’t reach. There’s nothing dainty or fragile about her, her firm breasts filling his hands, her muscled legs almost as long as his own. He kisses her, hard, then she pulls back, her eyes flashing blue fire as she wraps one leg around the back of his thighs, the slick flesh between her legs opening up like a flower against him.

He presses her hard against the wall, feeling the muscles in her thighs flex as she starts to lower herself onto him. “Jane-” He mutters her name unsteadily against her throat at the first feel of her around him, then he’s buried deep inside her. A hot wave of pleasure rips through him so hard that he feels as though he’s about to split his skin, and his legs almost buckle. Splaying one hand flat on the tiles behind her, he sucks in a deep breath, the soft weight of her breasts sliding against his chest. “Fuck.”

She wraps her arms around his neck as she jerks her hips against his, her reply little more than a strangled whisper. “Yeah.”

Mindful of the slippery tiles beneath his feet and the fact that his whole body feels as though it’s about to go up in flames, he moves into her slowly at first, his jaw tightly clenched, his eyes locked with hers. Her eyes grow darker with every thrust, her lush mouth falling open on a silent gasp every time he buries himself inside her. Her arms tighten around his neck, her legs around his hips, lifting herself up against him as though she’s trying to crawling inside him. Everything is slick and hot, her skin against his, his cock pressed deep into the tight, wet heat of her, her tongue in his mouth, and fuck he’s close, he’s so close, but he wants, needs, to take her with him.

Kissing her fiercely, he slides his hands under her ass, lifting her higher, arching his back as he buries himself deeper inside her again and again, slow, deep thrusts that set his every nerve ending alight and flush the pale skin of her breasts and throat with colour. Her legs tighten around him as she jerks against him, then he tastes her gasp of pleasure on his tongue, feels the slick warmth of her body flutter around him. Digging his fingers into the soft swell of her hips, he thrusts into her once more, everything drawing up tight and hard, then he’s coming, groaning out her name as he shudders in her arms, his body pulsing deep inside hers.

They stay like that for a long moment, wrapped around each other, breathless and shaky-legged. Finally, he gropes for the shower faucets, his hand brushing the smooth curve of her breast as he turns off the cold water. “You’re trying to cop a feel now?” she murmurs in mock indignation, and he starts to laugh, a low rumble of mirth bubbling up inside his chest, something he hasn’t felt for a very long time.

“I never was very good at prioritising.”

She blinks lazily, looking at him through wet eyelashes. “I think you’re doing okay.”

He lowers his mouth to hers, giving in to the temptation to taste the tiny beads of water on her lower lip. “Practice makes perfect.”

~*~


They’re very late for dinner, but no one seems to mind. LJ gives them a wave from the couch where he’s sprawled watching television, while Sara merely points him in the direction of the fridge and the microwave before pouring both of them a glass of wine. Jane quickly excuses herself with a smile, saying she needs to change into fresh clothes. Lincoln watches her leave, then looks at the two people sitting at the dining room table. “What?”

Sara says nothing, burying a smile in her teacup, while Michael merely shrugs. “Nothing.”

When Lincoln returns to the dining room a few minutes later, a plate of reheated dinner in each hand, he sees Michael slipping a twenty dollar bill into Sara’s hand. Catching his eye, his brother gives him a sheepish look, and Lincoln narrows his gaze. “What’s that all about?”

Sara looks up at him, the personification of wide-eyed innocence. ‘He lost a bet.”

Lincoln glowers, but the effect is immediately ruined by the fact that Jane has reappeared and he can’t seem to stop smiling at her. Besides, he tells himself, they’ll keep. Turning his back on two grinning idiots at the other end of the table, he slides a plate of chicken curry and rice in front of Jane, then drops into the chair beside her. She touches his knee lightly, the quick caress more than enough to make his groin tighten, then gives him a smile as she reaches for her glass. “How did your visit to the clinics turn out?” she asks Sara, seemingly ignoring the fact that Lincoln’s fingers are tracing the soft skin at the back of her knee.

“Good,” Sara says brightly. “I’m going to be working at the pediatric centre two days a week.”

Lincoln looks at Michael. “What about you?”

Michael smirks. “I’m going to be a kept man.”

Jane chuckles into her wine glass. “So that was the dream all along, was it?”

Lincoln barely hears Michael’s laughing reply. He eats his food and watches Jane, studying the curve of her jaw, the tiny lines at the corner of her bright blue eyes. The ends of her hair are still damp from their very long shower, and the memory of it twisted through his fingers is enough to make him shift restlessly in his chair. He watches her as she talks with Michael and Sara, watches them as they effortlessly draw her into a conversation of private jokes and ancient history, and he suddenly realises that he’s happy.

It’s an odd feeling, but definitely one he’d like to explore further.

Jane politely declines when Michael offers them coffee after dinner. She gives Lincoln a veiled yet heated look, then turns to murmur something quietly to Sara. Sara nods, then bestows a dazzling smile on his brother. “I’m going be the designated driver for a few minutes. Can you make sure that our overnight guest makes it into the right bedroom?”

Michael grins. “Sure.”

Lincoln’s heart sinks - obviously, he’s assumed too much – then Michael gets to his feet and walks across the room to where LJ is dozing on the couch. “You want to crash here tonight, bud?”

LJ looks up at his uncle blearily, nodding as he rolls onto his side and closes his eyes. “Cool.”

Lincoln grins, realising that once again everything is being organised without him even knowing it. Having thanked Michael and Sara for inviting her to dinner, Jane is wheeling her luggage down the hallway towards the front door and Sara is dangling Michael’s car keys from her fingertips. “Well, come on,” she tells Lincoln sternly. “Just because I’m nice enough not to make you walk through the dark carrying Jane’s suitcase doesn’t mean I’m going to wait forever.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

The twenty minute walk takes only five minutes in the car. Sara does most of the talking, joking about having to charge LJ board if he’s going to be sleeping on their couch on a regular basis. When she pulls up in front of the house, Lincoln impulsively leans across and kisses her on the cheek. “Thanks, uh, for everything.” He’ll get the full story out of one of them sooner or later, but he suspects she had something to do with Jane’s appearance in Punta Chame.

“Think nothing of it” He can’t really tell in the half-light, but he suspects she’s pleased by his words. “See you guys tomorrow, maybe?”

“Sure.”

He grabs Jane’s luggage out of the backseat with one hand, his other arm tight around Jane’s shoulders as she leans against him. “I could sleep for a week,” she murmurs, and he grins.

“You’re on holidays, remember?” he points out as the bright red taillights of the 4WD disappear into the darkness. “You’re allowed to sleep as late as you like.”

She’s almost asleep on her feet by the time they get inside the house, and he once again feels the urge to pinch himself. If someone had told him yesterday that tonight he’d be undressing one of the most amazing women he’s ever met and tucking her into his bed, he’d suggest they make an appointment with a shrink, and fast.

He’s gentleman enough to leave her underwear on, but not enough of one to keep from running his hands over the enticing curve of her butt as he propels her towards the bed. Jane mutters something about taking a raincheck, then she’s literally asleep as soon as her head sinks into his pillow. Grinning, he strips off his clothes and crawls into bed beside her, sliding his arm around her waist. It’s been a long time since he’s slept like this with another person, but his body soon remembers the best way to mould the heat of his skin against hers. Her back warm against his chest as he tightens his arm around her waist, he breathes out a heavy sigh as he closes his eyes.

That night, for the first time in a long time, he doesn’t dream of Veronica.

~*~


The next few days pass in a haze of great sex, average surf and the growing realisation that while he’s not looking for happy ever after, happy for a while feels pretty fucking good.

There’s so much he doesn’t know about her, but what he does know, he likes. After that first afternoon of not doing very much talking at all, she does her best to let him into her life a little bit at a time. She tells him what happened the day her husband and daughter died, how she was so filled with rage and grief that she could barely see straight, how his father had literally saved her life by recruiting her into his organisation. She never once breaks down, but he finally recognises the loneliness in her voice, and realises that this holiday is as much for herself as it is to spend time with Aldo’s family.

He tells her snatches of his time at Fox River, never really sure how much she already knows. Sitting at the end of the small wooden deck at the back of his house, they drink beer while he haltingly tells her he’d felt when he’d first seen Michael on the inside, how he’d come close to losing it the day LJ’s mother had been murdered. He doesn’t mention Veronica, and to his relief, Jane never asks. If the thought of talking about her to his family is painful, talking about her with Jane feels like a betrayal.

Jane doesn’t press him to talk about anything in particular, seemingly content to let their conversations meander quietly from subject to subject. They don’t make any plans that involve anything further than the next day, sometimes the next week, and he finds it oddly reassuring to know she’s just as uncertain of the future as he is.

She spends every night in his bed and is curled up next to him every morning when he wakes, something he still finds hard to believe. She makes it quite clear that she enjoys his company and is very attracted to him, despite the fact that she’s obviously not comfortable with long, flowery speeches or declarations of affection. That suits him just fine, because he’s done with all that crap.

He’s done with all that crap, but he misses her when she vanishes to the markets with Sara for several hours, and has to bite his tongue not to ask when they’ll be back when she announces she’s going for a walk on the beach with LJ. So, yeah, he thinks as he watches her striding up the path from the beach to the backdoor of his house, maybe he’s not as done with all that crap as he’d like to think.

“We’re invited to the big house for a few drinks,” she tells him, and he smiles at how quickly she’s fallen into the habit of using LJ’s nickname for Michael’s place. He lets his gaze wander over her lazily, from the lightly tanned legs that seem to go on forever to the pale blonde hair pulled back into a haphazard ponytail. It’s her fourth day in Panama, and already he’s having trouble remembering the suit-wearing Amazon he met in Gila.

He steps back to let her through the door. “When?”

She darts him a glance from beneath dark blonde eyelashes. “Whenever we’re ready.” Her smile is all soft pink lips and white teeth, like strawberries and cream teasing a starving man. He reaches out and curls his hand around the back of her neck, bringing her face to his for a slow, deep kiss. Her lips taste of lip balm, her throat of salt and vanilla soap, and he has to fight the urge to sink his teeth into her sun-warmed skin. Her hands skim down his back, then slip beneath his t-shirt, her fingernails lightly scratching his spine, and he knows they won’t be leaving for the big house any time soon.

They make it as far as the couch, hands tugging at zippers and fastenings, finally falling in a tangle of arms and legs, neither of them apparently willing to stop touching each long enough to bother with things like grace or finesse. Somehow Lincoln manages to pull his wallet from his back pocket of his jeans, throwing it onto the floor as soon as he’s retrieved the solitary condom packet he shoved in there months ago. Jane’s busy fingers make quick work of his belt and button fly and her own shorts, then she’s sinking down onto him in a slow, delicious slide of wet heat that almost has him arching off the couch.

Her mouth opens on a sigh, her head falling back, the sight testing his already tenuous grip on proceedings. Gritting his teeth, he tugs open her shirt, lifting his hands to cup her breasts, palming the soft weight of them as he gently pinches her nipples through the satin of her bra. They pucker at his touch, and he feels himself grow even harder inside her, the familiar tingle starting at the base of his spine. “Too fast,” he warns, but she shakes her head, her hands splayed on his chest as she rocks her hips against his.

“It’s perfect.” He watches her face, transfixed, as she closes her eyes, a tiny frown creasing her forehead as she moves against him, caught in a rhythm all her own, seeking and finding exactly what she needs. He counts to ten, then twenty, sweat prickling on his skin, every slow drag of her flesh over his driving him out of his mind. He’s a few seconds away from admitting defeat and letting go when she grows still, her whole body straining. “Oh God, Linc-”

She starts to tremble, her back arching as she pushes back against him. His hands tight on her waist, he lifts his hips to meet hers, thrusting into her helplessly, the soft pulse of her release pushing him over the edge, a rough groan burning his throat as he loses himself in her.

After a moment, she looks down at him with heavy-lidded eyes, her chest heaving. “Ready for that drink now?”

“When I can walk again,” he mutters, running his hands up her thighs, marvelling at the recuperative talents of covert operatives and wondering – not for the first time - what the hell a woman like this is doing with a guy like him. “Maybe gimme an hour or so.”

~*~


“Why don’t you want LJ to learn how to drive?”

Lincoln shakes his head, reminding himself that he shouldn’t be surprised that LJ would complain to Jane. After all, she’s the woman who showed him how to drive stick shift in her SUV on the long drive from Colorado to Gila. “It’s not that I don’t want him to learn how to drive,” he tells Jane calmly, then turns to address his son. “I just don’t want him to have his own car yet.”

LJ frowns. “But I’m almost seventeen.”

“What happened to the scooter you wanted to buy?”

His son sighs. “I can’t carry a board on a scooter,” he explains patiently, as though it should be obvious. “Besides, it’s not as though we don’t have the money to buy another car.”

“Exactly.” Lincoln reaches for his beer. “When I was your age-”

“When you were my age, you were hotwiring cars,” LJ mutters, and across the table Lincoln hears Michael snicker.

“He’s got you there.”

Lincoln starts to retort, but Michael holds up his hand, grinning at the sound of the ringing telephone coming from inside the house. “Saved by the bell.” Sara starts to rise but Michael is already on his feet. “I’ll get it,” he says, smoothing his hand over her windswept hair, then he vanishes through the French doors.

Lincoln eyes his son, waiting for him to start up on the driving issue again, but to his surprise LJ swiftly changes the subject. “I applied for a part time job in that dive shop on Thompson Street,” he announces casually, and Lincoln blinks.

“When?”

“Yesterday, when I went into town with Uncle Mike and Sara.” He gives his father a hopeful grin. “That’s okay, isn’t it?”

Lincoln smiles. “Sure, as long as you don’t mind riding your bike to work.” LJ’s grin fades, and Lincoln has to bite the inside of his lip to keep from chuckling. He's about to tell his son he's proud of him for deciding to earn some money, but Sara's anxious voice interrupts his train of thought.

“Michael, what’s wrong?”

Lincoln looks up, following the line of Sara's gaze to where Michael is standing in the doorway. His face is pale beneath his tan, his eyes glazed with what looks like shock. “Cooper Green’s on the phone.”

Sara gives him a curious glance, and Michael shakes his head. “It’s not about the divorce.” He turns slowly to Lincoln, his eyes glittering with tears. “It’s about Veronica.”

Lincoln gets to his feet, vaguely aware of LJ’s suddenly white face across the table, Jane’s hand gently touching his arm. “What about her?” His brother looks as though he’s about to be sick, and Lincoln feels the bile rising in his own throat. “Michael?”

“Cooper’s office received an anonymous tip-off a few days ago. He didn’t want to tell us until they’d looked into it, just in case it was another crank call. But they sent someone up there and uh-,” Michael swallows hard, and Lincoln’s blood runs cold, knowing exactly what he’s about to hear. “They think they’ve found her body.”





~*~
Chapter 2 by msgenevieve
Author's Notes:
The poem quoted in this chapter is "Part Four: Time and Eternity - Exultation is the Going" by Emily Dickinson.
~*~





“They think they’ve found her body.”

Shock pushes at the edges of Lincoln's vision, making his brother’s pale face swim in front of his eyes. Body. The word echoes in his head and Lincoln realises too late that part of him never truly believed Veronica was really dead. Turning slowly to look at LJ, he sees the same disbelief in his son’s face and wants to rail at the universe. “Cooper’s still on the phone?” he hears himself say, and Michael nods.

Afterwards, Lincoln doesn’t remember walking inside and picking up the receiver from where Michael had left it on the kitchen bench. All he can remember is Cooper Green’s voice calmly confirming that yes, an anonymous tip-off had come directly to his office, telling them where they would find Veronica Donovan’s remains. Each word stabs at Lincoln’s insides. “This is some kind of sick joke, right?”

“I wish it was, believe me.” Lincoln hears paper rustling in the background. “But the information was extremely detailed, more than enough to warrant the FBI sending a forensic team to check it out.”

Lincoln frowns as he walks aimlessly into the dining room, unable to keep still. “Who the hell would send a tip-off to your office rather the FBI?”

Cooper sighs. “Given the nature of the information, it’s obviously someone with ties to the Company.”

“What did the FBI find?”

He hears the other man takes a deep breath. “They found human remains in three separate locations.”

Lincoln’s stomach lurches, his vision blurring around the edges once more. He gropes for the back of the nearest chair, sinking into it. “This isn’t happening,” he mutters thickly. But it is, oh God, it is and there’s nothing he can do to make it stop.

“I’m sorry, Lincoln.” The other man hesitates. “Perhaps you’d rather I discussed this with Michael?”

“No.” Lincoln puts one hand over his eyes, pressing the phone a little closer to his ear as he takes several deep breaths. “What do you need us to do? Should we come back to the States?”

“That’s up to you,” Cooper Green replies gently. “It may take the ME several days to either confirm or discount the possibility that the body is that of Ms Donovan.”

The body, Lincoln thinks again numbly. At least Cooper hadn’t referred to her as the remains a second time. He scrambles for something to say, anything to break the silence that’s filling up the phone line, and latches onto the first mundane thought that comes into his head. “Does her father know?”

“The FBI contacted him this morning.” Cooper’s voice has become studiedly professional, almost impersonal. “He wasn’t able to help them very much with their enquiries regarding her last movements before she disappeared. Apparently he and his daughter were estranged.”

“And with good cause.” Anger streaks through him, and he embraces it with open arms. The last time he’d seen Thomas Donovan had been at Veronica’s graduation ceremony. The old bastard had looked him and Michael up and down, his upper lip curled, his nose wrinkled as though suddenly confronted with the stink of rotten garbage. Not that Lincoln had cared – Veronica’s dad had been looking at him that way ever since he was fourteen. “We already know her last movements, don’t we?”

“That’s one thing, Lincoln, but making a positive identification is another. Mr Donovan has offered to give a DNA sample, which will help speed up the process.”

Lincoln scowls. “That’s mighty big of him.”

He hears Cooper clear his throat, then the sound of more paper being shuffled. “Okay, now, Michael mentioned that Ms Phillips is there with you at the moment?”

Lincoln blinks, his thoughts slow to shift gears. “Yeah, why?”

“May I speak to her?” His tone is apologetic. “I’d appreciate her input on a few things.”

Three pairs of eyes turn to study him when he steps onto the balcony. Sara is standing behind Michael’s chair, her hands on his shoulders. Jane is also on her feet, leaning against the railing, her arms folded across her chest. There’s no sign of LJ, and Lincoln’s heart sinks.

He looks at Jane, holds out the phone to her. “Cooper wants to talk to you,” he says gruffly. She quickly moves to his side, her hand catching his as he drops the phone into her palm. His eyes start to burn at her touch, and he glances away, not trusting himself to look at her. Not here, not now. As Jane begins to speak to Cooper Green in a low voice, he turns to his brother. “Where’s LJ?”

Michael gestures towards the beach. “He went for a walk,” he mutters, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

Lincoln frowns. “He shouldn’t be by himself right now.”

Sara puts a gentle hand on his arm, her tone soothing. “He was very upset, Lincoln. I think he just wanted some privacy.”

Lincoln closes his eyes, remembering Kingman, Arizona. He’d liberated LJ from the shadowy suits following him, then five minutes later he’d had to look his son in the eye and tell him that Veronica had been murdered by the Company. He remembers the way LJ’s face had crumpled, angry tears streaming down his face as he’d pushed his father away. She’s dead because of you, LJ had shouted at him, and for a moment Lincoln had almost wished to be back in Fox River. “Shit.” He looks at Sara. “Which way did he go?”

She points in the direction away from his own house, and Lincoln grunts a thank you. Casting a glance at Jane – she’s still deep in conversation with Cooper Green – he takes the steps down from the balcony two at a time and strides down to the beach, the hot sand slipping beneath his bare feet.

To his relief, LJ hasn’t gone far. Lincoln finds him sitting near the rocks a few hundred yards from Michael’s place, his legs pulled up in front of him, his arms wrapped around his knees. He’s staring out at the water, and even at a distance Lincoln can see he’s been crying.

“LJ.”

His son looks up at him, and his face is soft with anguish. “This is never going to be over.”

“It will, and soon.” He trudges to LJ’s side, suddenly feeling tired and old, and eases himself down beside him. “I promise you that.” Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to promise something he’s not sure he can deliver, but at this moment, looking at his son’s miserable expression, he’s prepared to do whatever it takes.

They sit in silence for a moment, then LJ sniffs loudly. “Veronica saved my life.”

“Mine too.” He closes his eyes, remembering late night telephone calls when he thought he was going to go off the rails, the soft conversations that always ended with the words I believe in you. He remembers her appearing in the interview room at Fox River, dressed in her best suit and clutching her briefcase like a nervous child clutching a lunchbox on the first day of school, her pretty face pinched with determination. “More times than I ever told her.”

LJ looks past him, over his shoulder, and Lincoln turns his head to see Michael walking towards them. “Cooper’s going to call back in a few hours,” he says quietly as he drops down to sit cross-legged on the sand on the other side of LJ. “He told Jane he should know more by then.”

Lincoln presses his palm against his hot forehead. “What else did he tell her?”

Michael hesitates, glancing at LJ, and Lincoln shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’d rather LJ heard it from you rather than some random idiot with a microphone.”

His brother aimlessly digs one hand into the sand beside him. “Whoever did it knew what they were doing.” He stares at the sand as it slips through his fingers. “Deep graves in three different locations scattered through Montana.”

Lincoln’s stomach flips over. “Cooper really thinks it’s her, doesn’t he?”

“Yes.” Michael presses his lips together into a tight line, his eyes glittering with tears. “But he wants us to wait until they’ve made a positive ID one way or the other before we do anything,” he adds, darting a glance at his brother as he says the last word, and Lincoln knows the gentle rebuke is aimed directly at him.

He stares at the horizon. “I hate just waiting, man. Feel so fucking useless.”

“I know.”

The sudden weight of Michael’s hand on his shoulder is both reassuring and oddly claustrophobic. He turns to study LJ’s tear-stained face, reaching out to gently cuff his son’s tousled head. “Let’s go back to the house.”

~*~


When they return to the house, Sara is alone on the balcony. She looks at them all in turn, her gaze lingering on LJ. “You okay?”

His expression is morose as he shrugs, but he doesn’t pull away when she brushes her hand over his shoulder. “It just sucks, you know?” he mumbles thickly, and she nods.

“Yeah, I do know,” she tells him, then looks up at Lincoln. “Jane’s inside. She’s talking to your father on the phone.”

Lincoln nods slowly, then makes his way into the house, LJ trailing behind him. As he steps through the doors, he sees Michael move to Sara’s side, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her into a tight embrace. Their murmured conversation is too low for Lincoln to hear, but it’s easy to see the tension in his brother’s shoulders relaxing, the way his eyes close as soon as Sara puts her arms around him. Suddenly feeling like a voyeur, Lincoln looks away, but not before a sudden flicker of envy twists through him.

Jane’s eyes meet his as soon as he walks into the living room. “They’re back. Did you want to speak to him?” She listens for a few seconds, then holds the phone out to Lincoln. “It’s Aldo.”

“Thanks.” He takes the phone from her, then watches as she walks to LJ’s side, waiting until they both make their way into the kitchen before he starts to speak. “Dad?”

“How are you doing, son?”

Lincoln feels his back teeth meet as his jaw clenches. “How do you think I’m doing?”

“I think you might be planning on doing something rash, like jumping on the next plane to the States.”

First Michael, now his father, he thinks sourly. “If it’s Veronica -”

“We don’t know that for sure yet.”

Lincoln wants to pound his fists against the wooden balustrade in frustration. “How long before we do know?”

“It could take a week, it could take a couple of months.” His father’s tone is both gruff and gentle. “All I know is that it would be best if you wait until we know for sure before you come rushing back.”

Lincoln thinks of telling Jane on her first day in Panama that he’d learned a whole lot about patience while sitting on Death Row. Maybe he should have stayed in Fox River a little longer, because right now he’s feeling anything but patient. He feels worse than useless sitting on this fucking beach right now, but Michael and his father are right – there’s nothing else he can do. “You’ll let me know the second you hear anything,” he tells Aldo, and his father is quick to reassure him.

“I will, I promise.”

The call ended, he takes a moment to pull himself together. His head is spinning, the urge to dive deep into the closest bottle of booze almost overwhelming, but he thinks of LJ’s shattered expression and reminds himself that he’s not the only one hurting here.

One glance over his shoulder tells him that LJ’s in good hands – he and Jane are in the kitchen, pulling sandwich ingredients out of the refrigerator – he walks back out onto the balcony. His brother and Sara are now sitting next to each other, talking quietly. He drops into the seat across the table from them, and looks at the woman he’s just realised is more than qualified to answer his most pressing question. “Tell me about DNA testing.”

Sara looks startled, but recovers quickly. She exchanges a glance with Michael, then gives Lincoln a sad smile. “It’s nothing in which I’ve ever been directly involved, but I’ll tell you what I can.”

“Thanks.” He lets out a shaky breath, casting a longing look at the empty bottle of beer in front of him. Michael clears his throat, then pushes back his chair.

“I’m going to grab another beer.” His eyes meet Lincoln’s. “Want one?”

“Thanks, man.”

Michael slips into the house, and Sara studies Lincoln with dark, serious eyes. “What do you want to know?”

Everything, he wants to say, but forces himself to stick to the question he wants answered the most. “Cooper said that Vee’s father is willing to give a DNA sample to help identify-“ he hesitates, unable to bring himself to say the word remains.”How long do these things normally take?”

She sighs. “It varies from case to case. The better sample the coroner can obtain from the, uh, body, the easier it is to match to the sample given by the donor.” She gives him an apologetic look. “Sometimes it’s simply not possible to make a positive ID.”

He frowns. “But if her father is the donor-”

“A blood relative is always a good place to start.” She glances up at Michael as he reappears, carrying two beers and a can of diet soda, flashing him a quick smile of thanks as he puts the can in front of her. “But if Veronica had recently donated blood or had undergone a surgical procedure, it would be even better.” She watches Lincoln as he twists the cap off his beer. “Even something like a toothbrush or a hairbrush would be helpful.”

“Her apartment was bombed by the Company,” he mutters, lifting the beer to his lips for a long swig, and Sara’s face pales.

“Right,” she says hastily, looking faintly embarrassed. “Sorry, I’d forgotten about that.”

Sitting beside her, Michael slides his arm across the back of her chair, his hand curling around the back of her neck as though to reassure her. Looking at them both in turn, Lincoln has the sudden feeling that he’s infecting everyone in this house with his unhappiness. “That’s okay, Doc. Thanks for the info.” Abandoning his beer, he rises to his feet, needing to get away from their sympathetic faces. “We might leave you guys in peace.”

Michael hesitates, looking as though he wants to protest, then he nods. “I’ll call you as soon as we hear anything.”

Lincoln looks at his brother. “I know you will.”

With LJ choosing to stay at his uncle’s for the night - Sara reassures Lincoln that it’s fine, saying that both of them need time to process what’s happening - he and Jane walk along the beach in silence. When he unlocks the back door of his place, she sighs. “I know this will be of little comfort to you now, but knowing is always better than not knowing.”

Lincoln follows her into the house, then shuts the door behind him. “I don’t really want to talk about it, if that’s okay.”

“Sorry.” She drops her sandals onto the floor, then smooths a hand over her hair, shooting him a concerned glance as she crosses the room. “I do know something of how you’re feeling, Lincoln-”

His control slips, his temper sparking. “What part of I don’t want to talk about it don’t you understand?”

They stare at each other, and he sees the flicker of hurt in her eyes. Taking a deep breath, he scrubs his hands over his face. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Her expression is calm now, understanding, and it only serves to make him feel worse. He opens his mouth to tell her again that he’s sorry, but she’s already moving away towards the small kitchen. “I have to make a few calls.” She stops, looking back at him over her shoulder, her gaze searching his face. “Will you be all right?”

He hesitates, at war with himself, wanting to be left alone with his miserable thoughts, wanting to lose himself in the warm sanctuary of her body. Finally, he nods. “I’ll be fine.” He gestures towards the television in the corner of the living room. “Might watch some TV.”

She looks unconvinced but, to his relief, she lets it go. Grabbing her cell phone and laptop and a soda from the fridge, she makes her way to the small dining room. He knows she’s going to spend the next couple of hours trying to connect the dots of Veronica’s death, and he has no idea how he’s supposed to feel about that.

Turning on the television, he drinks beer that does nothing to numb the pain and disconsolately flips through programmes he has no interest in watching. After a couple of hours, his eyes are gritty, his whole body stiff, as though he’s been lying on the couch for a week. Jane is still on the telephone – he can hear the faint murmur of her voice – but he’s more than ready to put this day behind him. He gets slowly to his feet, suspecting he’s very drunk but feeling painfully sober. In the bathroom, he clumsily brushes his teeth, then splashes cold water on his face. It’s only ten o’clock when he strips off his clothes and crawls into bed, but it feels much later.

He has no idea what time it is when Jane finally comes to bed. He wakes up in the darkness to find her stretched out beside him, her breathing steady and deep. Slipping his hand beneath the sheet, he touches the curve of her hip, then trails his fingers down the smooth length of her thigh. Jane murmurs in her sleep, then rolls onto her side, turning her back on him.

Lincoln lets his hand fall away, telling himself it means nothing, but for the first time in days, he suddenly feels very alone.

~*~


The next week is one Lincoln plans to forget as soon as humanly possible. His mood grows more sullen with every passing hour that doesn’t produce a phone call telling him that it was all a mistake and Veronica is alive and well, and he’s not surprised when Jane starts doing her best to stay out of his way. She goes to the market with Sara, asks LJ to show her his favourite fishing spots, spends time talking to Michael about everything from his father’s bad dress sense to the architecture in Panama City. In other words, he thinks darkly, everything she could be doing with him, if only he wasn’t such being a miserable asshole.

They both know what he’s doing, that he’s pushing her away, punishing them both for reasons he can’t bring himself to voice. He’d feel better if she yelled at him, pushed him until he paid her the attention he knows damned well she deserves, but she doesn’t. She seems content to wait him out, calmly going about her daily activities, treating him as warmly as she ever did. She doesn’t mention Veronica to him again, seemingly happy to talk about harmless topics like the sightseeing she’s been doing with LJ and Sara’s new part-time job at the clinic, and that only makes him ever more miserable.

She still sleeps in his bed every night and the sex is still staggeringly good, but she only makes love to him if he initiates it, never once making the first move. It’s a stark contrast to the first few days of her visit, and Lincoln knows it’s not just their sexual relationship that’s changed for the worse. He wants to make it stop but he doesn’t know how. It feels as though he’s standing outside himself, watching as he makes one bad decision after the other, and as loudly as he yells in protest, he can’t make himself heard.

On her tenth day in Punta Chame, he wakes up to find Jane already up and dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, her suitcase open at the foot of the bed. His eyes puffy with sleep, he squints at her, then at the watch lying on the table beside him. It’s six o’clock in the morning. “Where are you going?”

She puts several folded items of clothing into the suitcase, then gives him an apologetic smile that doesn’t seem to sit right on her mouth. “Washington.”

He must be still asleep, because her answer doesn’t make any sense. “Why?”

“Your father called. He’s convinced the anonymous tip off came from Kellerman.”

Anger sparks at the sound of Caroline Reynolds’ former right-hand man’s name, but he pushes it away. Right now, he doesn’t give a damn about Paul Kellerman. “So?”

Zipping up her suitcase, she swings it off the bed and crosses the room to stand it next to the door. “So, Kellerman’s a loose end.”

He stares at her. “And you hate loose ends, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

He tries to swallow them, but the words are out of his mouth before he can’t stop them. “Is that what I was? Just another loose end?”

“No.” She looks at him, her blue eyes suddenly glowing in the early morning light. “You’re much more than that.” He’s wide awake now, his pulse racing, but before he can speak, she continues, her voice tinged with regret. “That said, I don’t think this is the best place for me to be right now.”

Confusion slides through his thoughts. He’s treated her as though she’s part of the furniture for the best part of a week because he’s a coward and somewhere inside his head is the idiotic thought that if he doesn’t let himself admit how he feels about Jane, that might somehow stop the body in Montana from being Veronica. He should be relieved that Jane’s about to give him some space, but now that she’s poised to walk out the door, he’s fighting the urge to pull her down and tie her to the damned bed to stop her from leaving. “I’m sorry.”

“I appreciate the apology,” she answers briskly, her long fingers tugging at the cuffs of her sleeves, her eyes locking with his. “But as I told you days ago, Lincoln, I do understand how you’re feeling.”

He swings his legs over the side of the bed and rubs his hands over his head. He literally has no idea what to say to her, but he knows he has to say something. “What do you want me to tell the others?” he hears himself ask, and wants to cringe at the neediness in his voice.

“I’ve left a message on both Sara’s and LJ’s voicemail.”

He nods, still struggling to come to grips with this abrupt turn of events. “What time’s your flight?”

“Ten o’clock.”

He buries his face in his hands, trying to make sense of the mess in his head. He hears the sound of her footsteps crossing the room to the bed, then feels the cool touch of her hand on his bare shoulder. “Do you want me to stay?” Her voice is gentle, but it hits him like a blow to the gut.

“Would that make a difference?”

“It would to me.”

He lifts his head to look at her. When his eyes meet hers, it’s suddenly easy to tell the truth. “Right now, I don’t know what the hell I want.”

She gives him a sad smile, apparently unsurprised by his answer. “I’ve booked a taxi – it should be here in a few minutes,” she murmurs, and he briefly considers asking if she would have called to cancel her ride if he’d asked her to stay. But he says nothing, resigned to the point of feeling numb, and she bends to kiss him, her mouth warm and soft against his. It’s over in seconds, and she’s picking up her suitcase, getting ready to leave him. “I’ll be in touch.”

He doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. He can’t. It’s all too hard, too much. He simply sits alone in his bed, the sheet tangled around his waist, and listens to the sound of her footsteps fade as she walks out of his house.

~*~


Michael is in the carport when Lincoln finally finds the energy to get dressed and walk along the beach to the big house. His brother waves him over, seemingly glad for the excuse to stop working on the battered car he’d had lugged from Gila a few months earlier. “Want to give me a hand?”

Lincoln eyes the Rambler warily. The front end might look like a million bucks these days, but he’s not falling for this again. He’s still picking paint dust out from beneath his fingernails from the last time he helped Michael. ”I’ll pass.”

Michael grins, and screws the lid back on a tin of chrome polish. “I hear Dad and Jane are looking into the Kellerman thing.”

Lincoln shrugs. “I guess she’s still on the payroll,” he returns shortly, not bothering to elaborate. Michael opens his mouth, then shuts it again. Lincoln gives him a look. “What?”

His brother shakes his head. “Nothing.”

Lincoln narrows his eyes. “You want to give me another lecture about Jane?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, trust me,” his brother drawls, wiping his hands on a rag, and Lincoln feels a reluctant smile tug at his mouth.

“She was needed elsewhere, so she went.” Michael says nothing, and Lincoln quickly changes the subject. “LJ around?”

His brother nods. “He’s inside,” he says with a rueful smile. “He didn’t feel like helping with the car either.”

“Smart kid.”

Michael flicks him an amused glance. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that.” He nods towards the house. “You might want to go rescue him.”

Inside the house, Lincoln is greeted by the sight of LJ vacuuming the rug in the living room. “This is unexpected.”

LJ turns off the vacuum cleaner with obvious relief. “Just helping clean up the mess I helped make,” he mumbles, and Lincoln grins.

“Is that the line your uncle fed you?”

“Actually, it was me,” Sara says as she strolls in from the direction of the kitchen. “I thought I’d try out one of my father’s favourite sayings.” She smiles at both of them, then looks at LJ. “I can’t believe you bought it.”

LJ looks sheepish. “I’ve been hanging out here a lot, though,” he says, darting a glance at his father, “I don’t mind pitching in.”

Lincoln blinks. He can’t remember ever hearing LJ use the term pitching in, but obviously there was a first time for everything. He suddenly feels as he’s stepped back in time and his son is once again growing up without him there to see it. “Did you hear from the dive shop?”

LJ grins as he bends to unplug the vacuum cleaner from the wall. “Yep, Robbie called this morning, said I could start on Saturday.”

Lincoln’s dark mood lightens at the obvious excitement in his son’s face. “That’s great. Maybe you’ll need those driving lessons after all.”

“Too bad Jane’s not here to give them to me,” LJ says with studied casualness, and Lincoln feels the smile freeze on his face.

“LJ, why don’t you go see if your uncle’s ready to take a break,” Sara interjects gently, and LJ is quick to take her up on her suggestion. As soon as he’s gone, she gives Lincoln an apologetic look. “He’s unhappy about Jane leaving.”

Lincoln raises his eyebrows at her. “And I’m not?”

She looks at him steadily. “You tell me.”

He stares at her, torn between irritation and amusement. “You don’t believe in beating around the bush, do you?”

She smiles. “Diplomacy is overrated.” The soft peal of Michael’s cell phone drifts through the room, and she quickly picks it up from the coffee table and checks the caller ID. Her gaze snags Lincoln’s, then she flips open the phone.

“Cooper? It’s Sara.”

Lincoln stands unmoving in the middle of the living room, his gut churning, his throat suddenly feeling hot and tight. The call takes less than two minutes - Cooper Green does most of the talking – then Sara murmurs a thank you and flips the phone shut.

“Lincoln-” Her eyes are swimming with tears, and he knows.

“It’s her, isn’t it?”

She nods, and Lincoln feels something inside him crumble into a thousand pieces. He sinks onto the couch, and she’s suddenly beside him, her hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she tells him, but her voice is coming from a long way away. Then Michael and LJ are there, bringing the smell of polish and paint with them, and it’s too crowded, too many faces looking at him.

“I need some air,” he manages to say as he gets to his feet, then he’s outside, leaning over the railing of the balcony, feeling as though he’s going to be sick, his whole body clenching with grief and rage. He wants to scream at the sky, pummel his fists into the faces of the people who did this to him, to them. He wants to wake up and have this all be a dream.

By the time Michael comes to stand beside him, he’s almost glad of the company. His brother says nothing for a long moment, then he sighs heavily. “This isn’t how it was supposed to end.”

The guilt weighing down his brother’s voice finds an echo in his own thoughts, and Lincoln swallows hard. “This is Veronica we’re talking about, man,” he whispers harshly, fumbling over her name. “She shouldn’t be lying in pieces in some fucking morgue in Washington. She should be here.” The words rise up in his throat, almost choking him. “With us.”

Michael stares at the horizon for a long moment, his gaze narrowed against the glare of the sun. Finally he turns to Lincoln, his determined expression one his brother remembers all too well from their first meeting in the chapel at Fox River. “Then let’s go get her.”

~*~


Sara and LJ drive them to the airport late that night. His son sits beside him in the backseat of Michael’s 4WD, his mouth set in a grim line Lincoln recognises from the bathroom mirror that very morning. When Michael pulls into the passenger drop-off area, Lincoln climbs out of the car and motions to LJ to help him with the suitcases. Dragging his feet, his son joins him at the back of the car, and Lincoln does his best to catch his eye.

“I’ll call you as soon as I know what’s going on.”

LJ shrugs. “Sure.”

Ignoring his son’s petulant expression, Lincoln pulls him into a tight hug. “We’re not leaving you out, LJ. Your uncle and I need to organise a few things first, okay?”

Sniffing, LJ nods, then he feels his son’s arms tighten around his waist. “Okay.”

They sling the two suitcases out of the back of the car, then slam the hatch door shut. As they make their way to the pavement, Sara slides out of the passenger seat, walking around the front of the car to take the keys from Michael. “Call me when you can?” she asks quietly, and Lincoln sees his brother’s head bob in a nod.

“You sure you’ll be okay?”

She smiles. “Definitely. I have LJ, not to mention your state of the art security system,” she tells him, then starts to rummage in her purse, eventually producing a dark blue baseball cap. “This is for you,” she murmurs as she hands over the cap, “In case you need it at the other end.”

A slow smile spreads across his brother’s face. He says something Lincoln doesn’t catch, then Lincoln turns away. The sight of his brother kissing Sara Tancredi goodbye is not exactly helping him forget the mess he had made of things with the woman who’d travelled thousands of miles to be with him.

The check-in process is quick, painless and – most importantly – anonymous. No-one at the airport gives them a second glance, even when they hand over their passports. He knows it will be very different when they land in the States, but he’s beyond the point of caring about cameras and microphones.

The woman behind the counter hands Lincoln his boarding pass, and his eyes widen. “You booked business class?”

Michael shrugs. “Less people around means less people trying to remember where they’ve seen us before.”

Lincoln briefly wonders if his brother will ever stop seeing life as something to be planned down to the tiniest detail, then dismisses the thought. If Michael wasn’t the way he was, Lincoln wouldn’t be breathing now. “Good call.”

~*~


Two hours into their nine hour flight, Lincoln pulls off his headphones and looks at his brother. “I know you want to say something about Jane, so go ahead and spit it out.”

Michael holds up his hands as though fending off an invisible punch. “I was just wondering why she needed to go to Washington in person when she was already in constant contact with Dad by phone.”

Lincoln flicks the plastic headphones with his thumb, not wanting to meet his brother’s gaze. He’s been asking himself the same question, and the only answer he can find is that he’d given Jane a more than enough reason to leave and she’d found an excuse to go. It’s not something he feels like sharing, though, so he simply shrugs. “She was on vacation down there. After everything that went down with the Company, she needed to get away and blow off some steam.” The flimsy headphones in his hands are in danger of snapping, he realises, and he hastily drapes them over his knee. “She does still work for Dad, you know.”

“A woman doesn’t fly thousands of miles to Punta Chame just to blow off some steam, Linc.”

Lincoln gives him a cool stare. “You’re an expert on women now too, huh?”

Michael flushes. “I just think you should try to focus on what could be, rather than what was.”

“You think I should just forget about Veronica?

Michael shakes his head. “That’s not what I meant.” His brother’s jaw clenches, his eyes glittering. “I loved Veronica too.”

Lincoln stares at him. “Not like I did.” His eyes blur hotly, and he dashes them with the back of his hand. “Never like I did.”

His brother slumps back in his seat, breathing out a loud sigh. “No. Not like you did.”

On the surface, the words are soothing, but there’s a hidden sting in them that slices through the air between them. Lincoln leans closer, his voice dropping to a harsh whisper. They may be in business class, but he’s not in the mood for an audience. “You have no idea what I’m feeling, Michael.” He thinks of the tender exchange he’d witnessed at the passenger drop-off. “You got your happy ending.”

Michael’s gaze narrows. “You think it’s been easy for Sara and me.”

“Looks like it to me.”

His brother snorts. “I lied to her every single day for two months, Lincoln.” He frowns, his words obviously an unwelcome reminder. “Because of me and my family, she lost her sobriety, her job and her father.”

Lincoln shrugs again. “She’s obviously forgiven you.”

Michael looks at him as though he’s an idiot, and maybe he is. “We decided that we had something worth saving.” He shakes his head. “It’s not all happy families and margaritas on the beach, Linc.” A darkness flickers in his eyes. “We both have our demons and that’s never going to change.”

Lincoln’s anger falls away, and he’s suddenly ashamed. “My head’s a mess,” he mutters, finding a small measure of comfort in finally breaking his self-imposed silence. “Maybe if they’d found her when we first came down to Panama, or in a year’s time-“ He breaks off, struggling to find the words to explain what he can barely understand himself.

Michael studies him for a moment, then Lincoln sees comprehension dawn in his eyes. “You think this is because of Jane.”

Lincoln feels his face grow hot, not because the assertion is ridiculous, but because it’s all too close to the truth. “Maybe.”

“I felt like that once,” Michael tells him, his tone conversational, and Lincoln frowns.

“When?”

“When Kellerman grabbed Sara.” Michael’s throat works as he swallows. “I pushed back my plans to meet you when I went after her.” He stares unseeingly out the small window beside him. “I drove for hours in the darkness, having no idea if either of you were still alive. I felt like I was being reminded that I couldn’t have both of you.” Michael suddenly turns to look at him, his eyes bleak, and Lincoln’s chest tightens. “That I’d have to choose one or the other.” He sighs, rubbing his temples with his fingers, then gives Lincoln a small smile. “You’re not being punished for trying to live your life, Linc.”

Lincoln digs his fingers into the armrests of his chair, if only to stop himself from ordering as many double scotches as they’ll let him. “So why does it feel as though I am?”

~*~


As Lincoln anticipated, their anonymity comes to an abrupt end as soon as they step onto American soil. Luckily, thanks to Michael’s habit of hoping for the best but expecting the worst, there’s a car waiting for them when they finally make it through Customs.

“I thought that guard was going to try and take you out,” Michael says with a faint grin as soon as they’ve climbed into the backseat of the car sent by Cooper Green’s office.

Remembering the visibly nervous security guard who’d turned white at the sight of them, Lincoln rolls his eyes. “Really? I thought he was going to piss his pants.”

Michael laughs. To his surprise, Lincoln finds it’s infectious. A moment later, his face finally aching from something other than grief, he coughs and wipes his eyes. “We’re going to Cooper’s office first, right?”

Michael nods, the smile on his lips dying. “He said he’d have the coroner’s report by the time we get there.”

Lincoln hesitates. “I’m not sure I want to hear it.”

His brother sighs. “Neither am I.” Their eyes meet. “But we owe it to her.”

Lincoln stares out the tinted window at the passing traffic. “The only good thing I did for Vee was to push her out of my life.”

Michael reaches across to pat Lincoln’s arm lightly. “She didn’t see it that way.” The cuff on his sweater has ridden up; looking down, Lincoln catches a glimpse of the indigo patterns inked onto his brother’s wrist. “And neither did I.”

Lincoln swallows hard, but the lump in his throat is wedged so tight it feels like a fist. “You always were the brains of the family.”

~*~


It’s been four months since they last saw him, but Cooper Green looks reassuringly the same. He shakes their hands warmly, then ushers them into the office Lincoln remembers from their last visit. He didn’t think he’d be back here so soon, but then he never thought he’d be discussing the result of Veronica’s autopsy, either.

Fuck.

Cooper waits until they’re seated and contemplating the coffee that’s been brought in by one of his aides, then he clears his throat and leans forward, his elbows on his desk. “How much detail do you want to know?”

Michael and Lincoln exchange a quick glance, Michael giving Lincoln an almost imperceptible nod. Knowing that his brother has just left the decision up to him, Lincoln turns back to the man behind the desk. “Was it quick?”

Cooper folds his hands over the papers on the desk in front of him, as though he’s read them so many times he knows them by heart. “In his recent testimony, Terrance Steadman stated that Ms Donovan was shot once in the head and twice in the chest at close range." He glances at them both in turn. "According to Steadman, she died instantly.”

Lincoln’s stomach pitches and rolls. “He watched her die.”

“Yes,” the older man replies, “and he has the rest of his life to sit in his cell and think about how he stood there and did nothing.”

Lincoln feels his hands curling into fists. He wants so much to be told Vee hadn’t suffered, but her last terrified words are buried deep in his brain and he knows that she did, no matter how quickly they pulled the trigger.

Cooper casts an apologetic glance at them in turn, then continues. “The body was dismembered and buried in three separate locations, each one-“

“Stop.” The word is out of Lincoln’s mouth before he realises he’s saying it, bile stinging the back of his throat. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”

He feels Michael’s hand on his shoulder, then the sound of his brother’s voice as he talks to Cooper. “We can’t change how or why she died.” The hand on his shoulder squeezes gently. “We’re here because we want to honour the memory of her life.”

Taking a deep breath, Lincoln lifts his head and gives his brother a grateful look. Across the polished desk, Cooper Green is nodding. “I understand your reasons for being here, which is why I’ve done whatever I could to make this happen for you.” He reaches for the phone on his desk, and a few seconds later is speaking to one of his aides. “Could you show Mr Donovan in, please?”

Lincoln gets to his feet, his mouth going dry. “Veronica’s father is here?”

Michael, looking as shocked as Lincoln feels, turns to Cooper Green. “This may be a little awkward,” he says with his usual understatement, but the older man looks unconcerned. The door to the office opens, and one of Cooper’s aides ushers in the man Lincoln had, after the scene he’d made at Veronica’s graduation ceremony, vowed to punch senseless the next time he saw him.

Thomas Donovan looks much older than he had at Veronica’s graduation. Thicker around the waist, his dark hair threaded with silver, his faded green gaze slides through the room nervously. “Michael.” He hesitates, then puts out his hand. “Lincoln.”

Lincoln stares at the hand, then at the hand’s owner. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“Linc-" Michael says quietly as he comes to stand beside him, but Lincoln brushes the warning aside.

“The last time we saw this guy he was mouthing off at Veronica, telling her that her little piece of paper meant nothing and that she was never going to amount to anything and for her not to expect his door to be open when she came crawling back.”

The words pour out of him, a furious tirade that roars up from deep inside him. Michael has hold of his arm now, as though he senses Lincoln’s longing to smash his fist into Thomas Donovan’s face. As happens so often when he’s with Michael, Lincoln feels as though he’s fallen sideways through time to re-enact a painfully familiar tableau. Suddenly he’s fourteen years old with Michael at his side, Veronica crying quietly behind them, the red imprint of her father’s hand emblazoned on her pale face. The only person missing here is Veronica, he thinks hazily, and grief streaks through him.

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Donovan mutters as he takes a step backwards, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his ill-fitting jeans. “I don’t remember much about that afternoon, to be honest with you.”

The older man’s passive response does nothing to ease Lincoln’s anger. “I’m not surprised.” He feels his lips twist into a sneer. “You were beyond wasted.”

“Lincoln.” Michael’s grip on his arm tightens. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”

“I agree.” Cooper Green ushers Veronica’s father into the empty chair on the other side of Michael, then looks at Lincoln. “Perhaps we could start again?”

Lincoln drops into his chair, his hands still twitching with the urge to wrap themselves around Donovan’s throat. Michael takes the seat beside him, and Cooper returns to his desk. “I’ve already spoken to Mr Donovan about your request regarding his daughter’s ashes,” he says quietly. “Given that Ms Donovan hadn’t made a will prior to her death, any decisions regarding funeral arrangements fall to her next of kin.” He glances at Veronica’s father, then gives Michael a pointed look. “Now that you’re here together, perhaps you’d like to ask the question yourself?”

Michael darts a quick glance at Lincoln, then at the silent man on the other side of him. Clearing his throat, he addresses Veronica’s father directly for the first time. “We’re very sorry for your loss, sir, and we’ll understand if you don’t want us to have anything more to do with your daughter.” He clears his throat a second time, his hands twisting together in his lap. “But Veronica was like family to us for a long time.” He looks at Lincoln in mute appeal, but Lincoln shakes his head, not trusting himself to speak without shoving his foot straight into his mouth. Michael turns back to Thomas Donovan, his voice dropping to a low whisper. “We would take very good care of her, I promise you.”

Donovan finally lifts his head, and Lincoln is shocked to see that his eyes are wet with tears. “For what it’s worth, I’ve been sober since the day the police told me she was missing.” He looks at Michael, carefully avoiding Lincoln’s gaze. “I kept hoping she was with you, but of course she wasn’t.” His voice cracks painfully. “They killed my little girl and put her in the ground.”

Lincoln stares at the older man, torn between cynicism and sympathy. Thomas Donovan was a shitty father and a poor excuse for a human being, but the grief in his eyes is all too real.

“I guess I should blame you because you’re here and she’s not,” Veronica’s father mumbles, staring straight ahead at the bookcase behind Cooper Green’s desk, his words making Lincoln’s gut tighten.

“Maybe you should.” Lincoln lets out a harsh sigh, finding a certain relief in the truth. “I do.”

Thomas Donovan shrugs, a defeated gesture. “The girl had a stubborn streak a mile wide. I bet you know that as well as I do. She never did know when to leave well enough alone.” His red-rimmed eyes meet Lincoln’s at last. “I never did right by her, not once. If she were still here, she’d want to be with you.” He shrugs again, his hand trembling as he smooths them over his knees. “That’s what she always wanted.”

Lincoln feels deflated, as though someone’s let all the air out of his lungs. There are a dozen things he wants to say to this man – although whether he wants to point out a few more home truths or to beg for forgiveness, he’s not sure – but in the end, he sticks to two simple words. “Thank you.”

~*~


“So weird.” Lincoln contemplates the half-eaten burger on the plate in front of him, then looks up at his brother. “I’ve spent the couple of decades hating that guy’s guts.”

“He was pretty easy to hate,” Michael murmurs, dipping a dozen fries in a puddle of ketchup. “Remember that night at Vee’s place?”

Lincoln grimaces, thinking again of the night Vee had taken it upon herself to convince her father that Michael and Lincoln needed somewhere to live and their apartment was the perfect place. “How could I forget? It was the first time I got us thrown out of somewhere.”

They’re in their hotel room, stuffing themselves with burgers and fries and trying to deal with the unavoidable reality that is jet lag. Michael finishes eating first, sliding his empty plate onto the room service tray with a faint groan. “Remind me again why we ordered so much?”

Lincoln takes another bite of his burger. “Because we’ve been eating grilled fish and bananas for three months, man.”

Grinning, Michael thumps his fist against the middle of his chest, then gets to his feet. “I need to call Sara, let her know what’s happening.”

“I’ll talk to LJ when you’re done.”

The knock on the door takes them both by surprise. Michael tenses, twisting around to look at his brother, then shakes his head as if annoyed at himself. He walks to the door and, after checking the security peephole, quickly opens the door. “Hey, how are you?”

“Hello, Michael.”

Lincoln’s pulse stutters at the sound of Jane’s voice. Hastily wiping his mouth with a napkin, he pushes his plate aside, getting to his feet as Michael ushers Jane into the room. Apparently having abandoned her vacation wardrobe, she’s once again dressed in a dark pantsuit, her pale hair pulled back into a sleek knot. Her eyes meet his, and he feels the familiar kick of sexual attraction hit his bloodstream.

“What are you doing here?” He regrets the words as soon as they’re out of his mouth, and he doesn’t need to look at his brother to know that he’s just rolled his eyes.

Jane’s smile doesn’t falter, but he sees the uncertainty in her eyes and wants to kick himself. “I wanted to see you,” she says simply, and the room is suddenly much too crowded.

Slipping his phone into his pocket, Michael picks up one of the electronic room keys. “I might walk off that burger while I talk to Sara.” He smiles at Jane. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too.”

Michael pulls the door shut behind him, then Lincoln is alone with a woman he likes very much and wants even more, and he has no idea how to start bridging the gap he can feel widening between them. “How did you know we were here?”

“I spoke to Cooper this afternoon.” She hesitates, her eyes searching his face. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t.” He moves towards her and, to his relief, she meets him halfway, sliding her arms around his waist. She fits into his arms perfectly, her cheek smooth against his, the soft warmth of her body pressed against his from shoulder to knee. Her hands start rubbing his back in a gesture he’s sure is meant to be comforting but instead has him wondering how long they have before Michael returns.

As if sensing his train of thought – or maybe she can feel that his blood has left his brain for more interesting places - she gently disengages herself from his embrace. When she speaks, he thinks he understands why she wanted to put some distance between them. “I’m so sorry,” she says quietly, and he knows she’s talking about Veronica. “I know how tough today would have been for you.”

Lincoln lets his hands falls from her hips. It doesn’t feel right to be touching her while they’re talking about Vee. “Her father agreed to let us take her ashes back with us.”

Her brow furrows, as though she’s flicking through her mental file notes. “Her mother’s dead, isn’t she?”

He nods. “Couple of years ago. Cancer.”

Her hand gently trailing down his arm, Jane steps away from him, dropping her purse onto the small writing desk against the wall. She looks around the nondescript room, then smiles. “Cosy.”

He returns her smile. “It’s only for a night or two. Just until we get the red tape sorted out.” He can’t bring himself to say the word cremation, but he’s sure he doesn’t have to, not to Jane. He’s sure she’s already well aware of what needs to be done before they can leave the country. “Is Dad still in town?”

She nods. “He’s at Cooper’s office this afternoon.” She idly flips through the room service menu, and he has the sudden, strangest feeling that she’s nervous. “We haven’t managed to find anything concrete on Kellerman yet,” she murmurs, “but that isn’t much of a surprise.”

“I guess Dad’s not giving up the trail just yet?”

A small smile touches her lips. “Of course not.” She hesitates, then gives him a long, considering look. ”He blames himself for Veronica’s death, you know.”

He looks at her, puzzled. “Who?”

“Your father.”

“What do you mean?”

Putting down the plastic menu folder, she leans one hip against the desk. “If he’d contacted you sooner, perhaps Veronica wouldn’t have made the mistake of approaching Steadman the way she did.”

“Wait.” He frowns, catching what feels like unspoken criticism in her words. “Are you saying it was Veronica’s fault that she was murdered?”

Jane’s steady gaze doesn’t waver. “Her actions were incredibly courageous, but yes, I believe it was foolish of her to go into that situation alone.”

“I don’t believe this.” He stares at her. “Veronica died trying to save my life.”

“I know that, Lincoln.” Something dark flickers briefly in her eyes, but her voice is gentle. “But going into that house alone was pure suicide.”

“You’re blaming her for having the guts to make a stand?”

“I’m trying to make you understand that her death was not your fault.” Her voice is sharper now, her eyes flashing. “I want you to realise that Veronica made her own choice that night.”

He takes a step towards her, then stops, because it’s happening again, his head is filled with too many sharp edges and tangled lines and he doesn’t know how to make it stop. “You don’t know the first thing about her, so don’t talk to me as though you do.”

“I’m trying to help you, Lincoln.” She lifts her hands as if in defeat. “Don’t do what I did. Don’t make the mistake of canonising her.” Her blue eyes are glassy. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was trying not to cry. “Sleeping with a ghost is one thing, but living with the memory of a saint is another.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Actually, I do.” Her face hardens. “I lost my family to the Company, Lincoln, or have you conveniently forgotten that in your mission to martyr yourself?” He stares at her, mute with anger and sorrow and more than a little shame, and she takes a deep breath. “I’m going to ask you a question, and I’d like you to be completely honest with me.” She lifts her chin, her eyes burning into his. “Do you want to be with me?”

They stare at each other for a long moment. “I don’t know,” he finally mutters. “It’s complicated.”

She nods slowly, her expression becoming distant, as though she’s retreating into herself. “Well, I’ll simplify things for you.” She picks up her purse, then lifts her head to look him in the eye. “Take care of yourself, Lincoln.” Before he can say anything, she’s walking out of the room, just like she did in Panama, shutting the door behind her with a faint click that seems to echo through his bones. She’s gone and he’s alone, and this time he’s got no one to blame but himself.

~*~


The return flight to Panama City is a sombre one. Michael dozes most of the way. At least, he looks as though he’s sleeping. Maybe he’s just tired of trying to talk to someone who’s on the verge of a quiet meltdown. Either way, Lincoln’s just relieved he doesn’t have to make conversation.

As the hours wear on, he listens to music and watches bad movies, anything to distract him from the thought of the tiny urn securely packed in their luggage and the fact that he’s just let a truly amazing woman slip through his fingers. It doesn’t work. He’s a free man who doesn’t have to work another day in his life, and yet he feels as suffocated and hollow as he did in his tiny cell in Fox River.

Once they’re back on Panamanian soil, though, he suddenly feels as though it’s easier to breathe. They catch a taxi from the airport – it’s one of Sara’s rostered days at the clinic – and when they’re ten minutes from home, Lincoln turns to his brother with a sigh. “In case you haven’t already figured it out, I royally screwed up things with Jane.”

Michael raises his eyebrows. “If you say so.”

“Trust me, I screwed up.” Lincoln turns to stare gloomily out the window at the passing landscape. “LJ is going to be pissed.”

“I think he’ll get over it.” Michael leans forward, trying to catch his eye. “What about you?”

Lincoln shrugs. “Shit happens.” His brother gives him a look that makes it quite plain he doesn’t buy the casual answer, but thankfully he lets the subject drop.

They reach Michael’s place just as Sara arrives home from work. She walks halfway down the driveway to meet them, greeting them both with a wide grin. “I’m glad you’re home.”

His brother pulls her into a tight hug, smiling into her windswept hair. “I brought back a stash of Hersheys for you.”

Lincoln hears Sara chuckle. “Then I’m definitely glad you’re home.”

Deciding he’s not exactly in the mood to do the whole 'fifth wheel' thing, Lincoln keeps walking towards the house. “I’ll grab LJ and get out of your hair.”

“LJ’s at the dive shop.” Drawing away from Michael, Sara reaches out and puts her hand on Lincoln’s arm. “Maybe you should head straight home.”

“Trying to get rid of me already?”

She raises her eyebrows. “No, but I think Jane might like to see you.”

Lincoln blinks. “She’s here?”

“She’s at your place.” She doesn’t say the words don’t screw it up this time, but she doesn’t have to. He hears them loud and clear.

Leaving his suitcase in Michael’s care, he heads for the beach, shaving five minutes off the normal fifteen minute walk to his place. When he arrives, Jane is on the small wooden deck at the back of his house, stretched out in a lounge chair. She’s swapped her work clothes for a white skirt that barely reaches her knees and a pale blue sleeveless shirt, and once again he’s amazed at the transformation. Her feet are bare, and there’s a book lying open in her lap, its pages splayed wide. Her eyes are closed behind her dark glasses, but he knows she’s not sleeping.

“You came back.”

Pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head, she regards him calmly. “I’m as surprised as you are, believe me.”

He walks towards her slowly, not taking his eyes off her as he sinks into the other chair. “I thought that, well, after what happened-”

“I guess you were right about me not liking loose ends.” Closing the book lying in her lap, she puts it on the floor beside her chair. “I walked around Washington for two hours after I left your hotel.” She gives him a rueful smile. “I wasn’t exactly in a fit state to go back to Cooper’s office.” She looks at him, her eyes very blue in the afternoon light. “I shouldn’t have spoken to you the way I did, and I’m sorry.”

He swallows hard. “Yeah, well, maybe you shouldn’t have, but maybe I needed to hear it.”

A faint hint of colour creeps across her face. “I meant no disrespect. You need to believe that.”

“I do,” he says, and to his relief, he means it.

“The Company murdered my husband and my child,” she says softly, her gaze skimming over his face until her eyes lock with his. “Did you truly think I wouldn’t understand how you were feeling?” He shrugs, not daring to speak unless he says exactly the wrong thing, and she gives him a sad smile. “We all have our ghosts, Lincoln.”

“Yeah, I think I’ve finally figured that out.” He takes a deep breath, knowing the time for tiptoeing around the subject is long past. “Do you think this -" he gestures between them with his hand, “is worth a shot?”

She smiles, mischief suddenly glinting in her eyes. “I wouldn’t have just wasted thousands of frequent flyer points if I thought otherwise.”

He starts to laugh, the hollow space deep in his chest filling up with something that feels almost like hope. “Well, I’ll have to make sure you get your money’s worth.”

Still smiling, she swings her legs off the lounge chair, and he catches a tantalising glimpse of tanned thigh. “I can stay for a week, then I have a few commitments back in the States that I need to finalise.” She catches sight of his frown, and smiles. “Work commitments.”

“Right.” He leans across the space between them to take her hand in his. “To be honest, long distance isn’t really my thing.”

“We’ll work something out. For the next week, though, I’m all yours.” She shoots him a subtle yet heated glance that he feels everywhere.

He looks at her, relief and desire pounding at him in equal measure, then they’re both on their feet and he’s pulling her into his arms. Her mouth is soft and warm, her hands as urgent as his as she slides them up his arms and across his back, as though trying to remember the feel of him. The back of his throat suddenly burns with the threat of tears, but he no longer feels as though he’s betraying a memory. What's happening between them is between them and no one else.

“It was a long flight,” he mutters unsteadily, letting his hands wander over the enticing curve of her ass. “I might take a shower.” He dips his hand a little lower, and watches as her eyes darken, her full lips parting on a silent sigh. “Wanna bring me a beer?”

She smiles, a breathless hitch in her voice. “I think that could be arranged.”

~*~


The sun is warm on the morning he lays Veronica’s ghost to rest. They choose a sheltered spot a few miles down the beach, a curved stretch of white sand overlooked by pampas covered dunes. LJ stands beside him, his hair still damp from his foray into the bay. The native flowers he’d taken out on his surfboard are now floating lazily on the surface of the water, scarlet petals bright against the blue.

Lincoln looks at his brother, who is turning a folded piece of white paper over and over in his hands. It was Michael who’d gone searching for the right words to express the unfathomable, and he’d found them in the voice of one of Veronica’s favourite writers.

“Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses -- past the headlands --
Into deep Eternity --”


By the time he’s finished speaking, Michael’s face is wet with tears. He folds the piece of paper with exaggerated care, then gropes blindly for Sara’s hand. With his son on one side of him and Jane on the other, Lincoln carefully unscrews the small urn holding Veronica’s ashes, then closes his eyes.

Don’t give up on me, she’d asked him once, her touch warming him even in the depths of a cold, dark cell. Thank you for not giving up on me, he tells her silently, then he opens his eyes and lifts his hand, holding his breath as he flicks his wrist, the little urn held fast between his fingers.

The light gray ash dances through the air, swirling on the updraft, spun out to sea like a tiny, fierce cloud.

For a moment, no one says a word, then Lincoln clears his throat. “She should have been here with us.” He screws the lid back onto the urn with shaking fingers, his eyes blurring. “Now she is.”

“Amen,” LJ says beside him, taking him by surprise. Hooking his arm around his son’s neck, he pulls him close for a brief moment. LJ’s shoulder is almost level with his, and he’s once again he’s reminded of the unavoidable fact that life has to move forward, no matter how much you might want to hold onto the past.

Jane puts her hand on his shoulder, her thumb gently rubbing the knot of tension at the base of his neck. “You okay?”

He nods, not bothering to wipe his eyes. “Yeah.”

That night, he dreams of Veronica. She’s smiling, her delicate hands fluttering in the air as she talks, her mouth moving with words he can no longer hear. She touches his face gently, just once, then he awakens in the darkness with a start. He’s not a superstitious man, but he has the oddest sense of being absolved.

He rolls over onto his side, curling his arm around the woman lying beside him. The warmth of her body seeps into his skin, the sound of her breathing soft and rhythmic. If he dreams again that night, he doesn’t remember.






~*~
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