The Wrong Side of the Right Road
WARNING: Here there be discipline, violent ‘images’, and naughty words
At least he’s not crying every minute of every day, thought Michael as he settled his nephew in front of the small television set they had in their apartment.
LJ looked up at him expectantly.
“Juice,” he repeated for what felt to him like the millionth time.
“Just because you keep asking for it, won’t make it appear from thin air, LJ. I showed you there wasn’t any.”
LJ flopped onto his back, allowing his little legs full flaying and kicking motion.
Michael groaned. What was it with the two year old that he didn’t seem to understand anything. He didn’t remember being that way when he was a little kid.
“There’s. No. Juice,” Michael said, hoping that by emphasizing the little boy would understand.
“Juice! Unca Mike, Juice!!”
Michael groaned again, sparing a glance at the wall-mounted clock. He couldn’t run out to the store, not with just him and LJ. LJ liked to run away, and being two made him very careless at where he was running (into). And then Michael would have to drag a crying two year old all the way back.
No thanks! That was the kind of mistake that he only did once!
Choosing to ignore the baby, and effectively the hard kicks to his legs, Michael left him in the living room and headed into the kitchen where he had his homework laid out on the kitchen table.
“Juice! Juice! Unca Mike!! Mike, Juice!”
With a heavy sigh, Michael sat down, ignoring the thumps of temper driven limbs banging on the ground. No one was downstairs at this time anyway.
The sound of his stomach grumbling was a sure sign that he needed to take a break. Michael looked at the pile of completed work to his right. His English, math, and history were all neatly finished. Now, with only his science to do, which wasn’t in the least bit difficult, Lincoln couldn’t get mad at him for spending all night doing his homework again.
Sparing a look over his shoulder to the digital clock on the stove, Mike frowned.
It was quarter to five, Lincoln should be getting out of work soon, but it’d be at least another half hour before he got home. More importantly, however, was that he couldn’t remember hearing a peep out of LJ for the last hour.
And when that kid was hungry, he could raise the dead.
“LJ?” Michael asked towards the living room, an awful feeling starting to settling around him.
Michael stood, walking slowly towards the living room. He refused to run. Running would mean that he was worried or something, but there was nothing to worry about.
Please be asleep. Please be asleep. Please be asleep. Please be… “Oh shit!”
Now Michael did run. He looked in all the rooms, double checked the tub and under all sinks. No sign of LJ anywhere.
“LJ! Please! Come out! I’m not playing around!” Michael screamed at the greatly constricting room.
But there was no reply. No real surprise there.
Michael grabbed his coat and ran out into the cold, February air. He pulled the door open, pausing before closing it behind him.
The door had been left ajar.
“No, please no. Dammit, LJ!” growled Michael, slamming the door shut and locking it behind him.
Getting to the bottom of the stairs and still no sign of LJ, Michael looked over the street before him.
“Oh man, oh man, oh man,” he mumbled. The street in front of the apartment building wasn’t as heavily trafficked as other streets would be. But to a small child like LJ, even one car was trouble.
Luckily, there didn’t appear to be a splash of blood on the street. That was good.
But it also wasn’t much of a lead.
Michael looked at both ends of the street. To the left was the more busier street. There was a corner store, owned by Mister Caraballo, and a few blocks away was the subway.
Michael didn’t want to take that direction. He turned towards his left, and ran that way.
Hopefully, LJ would have been turned away from the more active road and more towards the safer right side.
Michael sniffed back some tears as he slowly made his way back to where he lived.
He had walked as far as he had dared to go, even threading into areas Lincoln had told him not to go. He’d seen a few people he knew, asked them and looked around as much as he could without bringing attention to himself. The last thing that he needed was for CPS to be knocking on their door. Because he was not going back. Ever.
In Michael’s overly active mind, he went over dozens of scenarios that could potentially be happening to his nephew at that moment. The worst of which, he couldn’t decide between being taken hostage and ending up in foster care like he and Linc had been in for years after their mother had died.
The other one, that actually brought tears to his eyes, was the thought of LJ lying dead somewhere. His body cut apart for parts, barely leaving enough flesh, bone, and blood for a lab identification. His face beyond recognition, shrewd into pieces by some cats or something.
Michael shivered, damning himself with ever step that he took.
By now, Lincoln would be home and freaking out. He hadn’t even left a note.
The thought of his brother’s face when he told him he’d lost his only son made Michael nearly sick to his stomach.
He really hoped his brother killed him for this, because he wasn’t sure how he would ever live again. It was all his fault.
How could he have been so irresponsible. So neglectful of a child who only ever wanted love and affection and maybe a little too many sweets.
Michael walked towards the building, coming from the opposite side of where he had left. He had circled the block and a few surrounding it looking for LJ.
Michael frowned. Reaching the lot in front of the building, he turned around to spot Mr. Caraballo stepping out of his store towards him.
The man was Puerto Rican, born in New York and moved to the area shortly after Lincoln and Michael had. He called Michael, Miguel, the Spanish form of the name and the name of Caraballo’s only son. It was sort of an honor, Mike had thought when he was eleven and moving in.
“Mr. Caraballo?” asked Michael as the elder man came towards him. His voice sounded strained to his own ears so he had little doubt Mr. Caraballo hadn’t picked up on it also.
Mr. Caraballo, a man nearing his fifties and struggling to upkeep his store most seasons, looked relieved to see him.
Michael internally cringed. He had little doubt that, being all of an hour late, his brother hadn’t been to the store to look for him.
“Miguel! Finally! Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Michael felt on the verge of tears. He wanted to say what had happened, but he couldn’t find the words. Somehow, actually stating the facts to another person would make this all real.
Mr. Caraballo looked at him in sympathy. He stepped forward, reaching out a hand to lay on Mike’s shoulder.
“Your brother’s back. He was looking for you. We’ve been getting worried.”
Michael just nodded. He had expected as much.
“I, I better get home,” Michael said, wondering if this would be the last time he would ever see the man.
“Yes, yes you better. Lincoln is awfully mad, leaving the little one all alone like that and then taking off. Had me imagining things,” Mr. Caraballo just shook his head. It was better not to talk of evil things, especially to children.
Michael frowned. Mr. Caraballo’s mentioning of LJ had sounded so calm. As if he’d just recently seen the boy.
Michael was afraid to ask, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Mr. Caraballo? Did, did you see LJ?”
He nodded. Michael nearly cried again.
“Saw him playing in front here, by his lonesome. Took him in the store for a few minutes, you know, customers and all. And then I went looking for you. Can’t say I knew exactly where that was, knew it was in the second floor, but that wasn’t enough. There’s at least ten different apartments up there.”
Michael nodded slowly.
“So, wh where’s LJ now?”
“With his Papi, probably worrying sick over you the both of them. Get home, Miguel. It’s good to see that you’re well.”
Michael nodded, turning once more to the building, this time running fullon towards it and up the stairs.
LJ was safe and sound. Lincoln had him. LJ was safe. LJ was just fine.
He on the other hand, was still oh, so dead!
“Michael! What the hell!?”
Michael ignored his brother for the moment, walking past him and into the bedroom. He couldn’t deal with Linc just yet. He needed to be sure. He needed to see that everything was okay.
In the center of Lincoln’s bed, nestled between a few pillows and covered in a light green blankie, LJ rested peacefully, finally settling down for his nap.
Michael went over to the bed, sitting a few feet from the baby at the foot of the bed. He started to silently cry, just watching LJ’s chest rise and fall. He was okay.
“Michael. Come here,” Lincoln said from the doorway.
Michael wasn’t ready. Not yet.
Knowing he was in deep, deep trouble didn’t settle well with him. But he had imagined some of the most horrendous things imaginable. He needed time.
Michael shook his head.
Lincoln walked over to his, his intents clear with every step he took. Determined steps. Michael didn’t even flinch. His gaze stayed on LJ until he heard Linc a step away from him.
Michael turned around, leaping at his brother and holding onto him. He started to sob, clutching at his brother’s shirt and wanting to feel safe.
What he really wanted to do was hug LJ. He wanted to apologize to the baby and promise him he would never, not ever, let anything happen to him again. But, he wasn’t about to wake the baby and the kid wouldn’t know what he was talking about in the first place.
Lincoln got a hold on him, pulling him back slightly before picking him up.
Michael decided that he was too thin, needed to fatten up. It was still way too easy for his brother to handle him. Regardless, he wrapped himself tightly around his brother and hoped never to have to let go.
Or at least not until his fears were done replaying in his mind.
“Alright, kid. Quit blubbering, you’ll live.”
Linc walked them back over to the living room. He walked over to the couch and sat down, settling Michael on his lap - not quite yet over it.
“How about you tell me the whole story? Couldn’t get much out of LJ.”
Michael shook his head. He didn’t want to talk. He wanted to forget. So he buried his face against his brother’s chest, tightly wrapped his arms around Linc’s neck and continued to sob.
Beneath him, Lincoln sighed. His arms held strong around Michael’s slim frame.
And luckily for Michael, he was allowed all the time he needed to calm down.
Michael groaned, twisting away from the slight shake to his hip.
He refused to respond, turning his face further into his pillow.
“Mike, wake up.”
He groaned, ignoring his brother’s words and focusing on reclaiming that sweet serenity of just a few moments earlier.
He must have fallen asleep on Lincoln, because the last thing he remembered was clinging to his brother in the living room.
“Michael,” Lincoln stated sternly. He tugged at the sheets around the teenager’s now awake body knowing that his little brother would start to fidget and eventually move because of the unwelcomed cold.
“Wha?” Michael replied into his pillow.
Lincoln sighed behind him.
“Get up. I’ve been calling you forever now. Or don’t you want to eat?”
“Mm not hungry,” he replied. But that really wasn’t an option where Lincoln was concerned.
“Tough. Get up and come eat. I won’t tell you again nicely.”
Michael groaned, he twisted around to glare at his brother just to see his retreating form. Nothing quite like a threat to get you up and going right?
Getting up, he made his way to the bathroom and then headed into their little kitchen.
LJ was happily babbling in his booster seat, banging around his utensils. He looked over at him just as he entered the room.
“Unca Mike! There you are!” beamed the little terror.
Michael smiled at him, going over to give him a tight hug.
“There you are. You scared me half to death.”
“Yeah, and you both scared the shit out of me!” Lincoln added, setting the food on the table.
Michael looked up to him, wondering if his brother was going to start in on him now. He really hoped that the whole episode would be forgotten. He’d learned his lesson, he’d never let LJ out of his sight again.
He hoped that would be enough for his brother as well.
“Sit down, while you still can,” Lincoln said, giving him a slight shove towards his seat.
Michael gave his brother a look, frowning as he walked over to his seat.
“Oh, come on, Linc,” he muttered, taking his seat.
Lincoln frowned back at him.
“I’m not discussing this now, but you have to be crazy to think that you’re going to get away with today. Now eat.”
Michael glared down at his food. Suddenly, even though he’d been hungry going on three hours now, he didn’t want to touch his meal.
“Eat, Michael. I don’t want to hear about you not being hungry either.”
So Michael picked up his fork, dove into his meal. At least it tasted good because he wasn’t really in the mood for much at the moment.
“Tell me what happened,” Lincoln said, crossing his arms casually over his chest as he leaned against his brother’s dresser. From there, he could look out the room and into the bathroom in front of it where LJ was currently splashing around.
Michael sat on his bed, newly cleaned and all set to go to bed. And he’d be doing just that if his brother wasn’t so insistent on wanting to know everything.
“I’m sorry. It won’t ever happen again.”
“That’s not what I asked for, Michael. I’m done kidding around. What the hell happened today!”
“Well, I really am sorry. And I won’t ever do that again. I promise! I don’t know what else there is to say!”
Lincoln all but growled at him. Stealing a quick glance towards the bathroom and confirming the toddler was still fine, he made his way over to Michael’s bedside.
Michael started back crawling on his bed towards the superficial safety of the wall. However, no part of the bed wasn’t within Linc’s easy reach.
Lincoln pulled him away from the wall and stood him on his own feet. Michael tried to get his arm out of Linc’s grip, tried to twist his bottom away from target but it was no use.
Lincoln swatted at his pajama clad bottom a few times hard, easily bringing Michael to the tip of his toes.
“Start talking, Michael.”
A fruitless tug at his arm resigned the teenager to his fate. Or doom rather.
“I didn’t hear him, okay?” Michael finally cried out.
“Hear him what?”
“I didn’t hear him leave! I wasn’t paying him any attention. He, he was annoying me and I just bl blocked him out. I’m so sorry!” sobbed Michael, already feeling miserable for himself.
Lincoln shook his head. He knew that he couldn’t blame Michael for getting irritated. At fourteen, it’s difficult to realize how certain things may play out in the future. Like ignoring a toddler. But just because he could understand didn’t mean that it wasn’t wrong.
He sighed, releasing his brother. He knew that this would be taking some time and LJ had already proven that he could not be left to his own devices.
“Try and calm down, Michael. I’ll be right back.”
Mike nodded, sitting back down on his bed. His arms wrapped tightly around him and he continued to cry as he heard his brother gather LJ up.
Lincoln walked back into his brother’s bedroom once LJ had already settled in for the night. His talk with the two year old had been pretty pointless, not that he had expected much more from him. Michael, however, would be a different story.
“Mike, come on, sit up. We’re not done talking.”
Michael groaned, leaning away from his brother’s voice. He just wanted to forget that day ever happened.
“Ow!” he yelped, as a hard hand landed on his unprotected bottom.
Sitting up, Michael kept his eyes on the ground.
Slowly, Michael told his story. He mentioned LJ’s tantrums and how he’d blocked him out to finish his homework. He said all about running all over the place looking for the baby not noticing Linc’s glare as he mentioned places that he shouldn’t have been at. Lastly, he mentioned coming home and catching up with Mister Caraballo.
By the end, tears were freely flowing from his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Linc! I didn’t mean to lose him!”
Lincoln rested a hand on the slim shoulder.
“Mike, I know, alright. Look, it’s hard looking after another person. Even for someone with your brains. But, LJ’s a little kid. He can’t look after himself. I hate leaving the two of you alone, but you’ve got to be better than this.
“I know how you’re zoning out goes, your dead to the world. Most of the time, I’m fine with that, but you were supposed to be looking out for him. I don’t know how he got out, but I’ll put another lock on the door, higher one, just in case. You’re very lucky nothing bad happened this time.”
Michael nodded, surprised that his brother wasn’t yelling his head off. Lincoln could get pissed off at just about anything. Maybe he’d had a beer or something and Mike hadn’t noticed.
“Now, it was real stupid of you to run out like that. Just because you’re a little older than LJ doesn’t mean things won’t happen to you! You’ve got to think, dammit”
And now Linc was pacing. This was more like the Lincoln he knew.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated. For all of his vocabulary, there really weren’t any other words he could think of.
“How many times have I warned you about those streets? These’s no exception to that rule Michael! You could have been gunned down just for being there! And if they noticed you were looking around for something, there would have been an awful lot of people curious about that. Fuck, Michael, you could’ve been killed!”
As if Michael wasn’t crying enough. He opened his mouth to apologize again, but Lincoln stopped him.
“No, don’t say anything. I already heard what you had to say. I can’t blame you for wanting to ignore LJ, but one things wanting it and another thing is doing it when you know you can’t!”
Lincoln was at his side, pulling him up from the bed. And yeah, he was going to get it.
“Please, Lincoln!” Michael whimpered even as his clothing was lowered to his ankles.
Lincoln didn’t answer him, just pulled his across his thigh.
Michael closed his eyes as soon as he landed. He really hated getting spanked and always tried to distance himself from the pain.
Unfortunately, Lincoln knew of this little trick of his. And he hit just hard enough that Michael couldn’t just ignore it.
“No! Ow! Oww! Lincoln, please!”
“Quit wiggling so much, Michael,” Lincoln said, getting his grip secure around his brother’s waist.
Michael had no idea how he was supposed to stay still. He couldn’t help but move. He wanted to get the hell up and off Lincoln’s lap.
Well, off this certain position from Lincoln’s lap. He didn’t mind too much sitting with him.
“Ouch! Linc! Oww! Please!”
Lincoln kept quiet. He had been terrified when he had gotten home and had found both Mike and LJ gone. So, okay, half of his reason for spanking Michael wasn’t about the punishment. He had been scared, and Lincoln Burrows didn’t do scared very well.
“Lincoln! Pplease!” Michael began to sob.
Lincoln made sure to cover every inch of his bottom. He wanted to make his brother stop and think about what had almost happened every time that he sat down for a week. Or a few days really. He wasn’t putting that much force behind his swing.
Michael did note how much area his brother was covering. All the way down to his sit spots and the top of his thighs, Lincoln met each area with a hard slap of his hand.
“I’m sorry! Please! Oww oww! Linc!”
Being terrified was not a strong point for Lincoln. Michael was above everything else a good kid. There was no reason that Lincoln could think of for him to have taken LJ out of the house without asking. Linc knew that sometimes Mike had to take LJ out, the toddler loved to go to the park and even shopping sometimes. Like his father, LJ hated to be in any one place for two long.
So his immediately having jumped to conclusions wasn’t Lincoln’s fault.
“Pplease!” cried Michael, hating that he wasn’t getting any response from his brother. “Linc! I’m sorree! Lincoln!”
Michael’s pale skin was brightening red as each swat landed. Each felt harder than the one before it, which was starting to feel like an impossible feat.
“Oww! Ow! Lincoln!”
“Michael, we’re almost done here, alright. This last bit is because you’re smart enough to know better than go down those streets. You endangered yourself and that’s not alright! You and LJ are the most important people in my life. Don’t forget that!”
Lincoln concentrated the last series of swats at Michael’s thighs, causing the teen to sob loudly. He couldn’t go easy on the kid, because life wasn’t easy. His brother was smart enough to know that, sometimes he just needed a reminder.
“Noo! Oww! Pplease! Linc! Oww! Ow!”
Just as he finally stilled his hand, Lincoln set his brother back on his feet.
“Never again! You hear me?”
Michael nodded. He brought his hands up to wipe his eyes, but they were soon flooded with more tears as he continued to sob.
“I need to hear it, kid.”
Michael shook his head. He couldn’t talk! All he could do was cry and his pigheaded brother knew that.
Regardless, Michael dove forward and sought the safety of Linc’s forgiveness. It wasn’t always easy to get, but it was at least consistent. He’d already been punished, and he couldn’t utter a word if he tried.
“Michael,” Linc groaned. If just once, the kid could just talk than they could put the whole incident behind them. But Mike was so clingy, that it really was impossible to ignore. And he did try on occasion.
So he held the kid, waited the tears out, and was pleased that his brother didn’t immediately fall asleep.
“Can you breath?”
Michael nodded, he leaned back to look up as his brother.
It was funny, in a not really funny kind of way, how vocal his kid brother was usually and how quiet the kid got when he was in trouble. Lincoln knew that his brother hated to think that he had disappointed him, and sometimes he did use that to his advantage. But when his brother sounded so small and weak, when one small word spoke volumes, he couldn’t stay mad at him.
Not that he would ever tell Michael that. The kid didn’t need to know how defenseless he was to him.
“Okay. You all set for bed?” Lincoln asked, pulling Michael back towards him.
Michael nodded against him, wrapping his arms around his brother’s neck. Few things sucked more than a spanking, and he really never wanted to do that again. At least Lincoln didn’t seem mad anymore.
“Alright then. We’ve all had a long day. How about we follow LJ’s example and go to sleep already?”
Again, Michael did little more than to just nod.
Lincoln shook his head. Even though it was often times pretty damn irritating, he was glad that his brother was still clingy with him.
His brother was growing up, it wasn’t that hard to notice since the kid barely fit into his old clothes anymore. If he was going to admit it, at least to himself, it was kind of nice that even with the shit life they had Michael still kind of looked up to him.
Not that Lincoln was the kind of person he wanted Mike to role model after.
Whatever, he lived with the ‘Do as I say, Not as I do’ mantra as it be. At least LJ would have Michael to role model after. Because he seriously doubted he’d be able to handle another teenager any time soon.
And Michael was a good kid.
Hoping with all his might that LJ would grow up to be a good kid too, Lincoln stood up and walked them over to the other room. LJ was spread out already, under the covers and clutching to a pillow. For a skinny little toddler of two, LJ really could take up some space.
Linc lowered Michael on LJ’s other side, closer to the wall. He easily slipped the covers out from under the relaxed form and tucked Mike in. Sighing deeply, he finally allowed himself to relax, glad that at least for one more night, the two most important people in his whole world were safely besides him. And with that in mind, Lincoln Burrows finally went to sleep.