Mick's mama had a thumb as green as bottle glass, from chlorophyll, she'd explained to him, that stained the fingers cutting and working with plants. He doesn't remember her trimming a lot of flowers the way he's seen those florists on TV do, but her hands were always warm and brown with earth and her knees grass stained.
There'd been one summer when he was little, maybe six or seven, and his pop had been working in the mines. His mama had pulled him outside one morning when the dew was still on the grass and sat him down to help her in the garden. It was a relatively small vegetable garden, he knows that now, couldn't have been more than ten feet by twenty. But she'd pointed out all her plants, sugar peas and tomatoes, zucchini and summer squash with their sweet yellow flowers, pumpkins on wild roving vines and bell peppers of all colors. She was always so patient with him, teaching him how to tell the difference between each of her plants and how to properly pull a weed out by the roots, hadn't been at all bothered when he decided he wanted to collect all the little rocks they dug out of the ground. It had seemed so big, then, a whole world tucked away in that little garden in their backyard.
He'd played in it even when they weren't gardening, chasing butterflies and marveling over the little Japanese beetles with their shiny colorful wings, the giant brown spider, big as the palm of his hand, that spun its web deep in the heart of the eggplant bush. There'd been something about the smell and feel of the tilled earth beneath his bare feet and caked under his fingernails, the knowledge that he'd had a hand in bringing all those plants to life, that he couldn't get enough of. It soothed him like nothing else had, at that point.
The fire took it, in the end, like it took everything else. But there had been greenery, for a time, and life, too.
Lenny picks him up from a stint in county in a battered old El Camino, ruby red and rusting around the wheel wells.
There'd been a heist, and a fire, and an informant who got a little too chatty with the cops when they showed up. The informant had ended up six feet under with a bullet between the eyes, courtesy of one Leonard Snart. Mick ended up in a county jail in South Dakota for a year, courtesy of the District Attorney.
Lenny's draped across the hood when the guards buzz Mick through the gates, dressed head to toe in black and baking in the midday sun like the melodramatic fool he is.
Mick stops on the tarmac, shading his eyes with his hand to look at him for a long moment. There are dark circles under his eyes, the faintest hint of a bruise on his jaw, but he's smirking cat-like, eyes bright, and when he moves it's nice and smooth, no stiffness or other sign of injury. Good. Lewis must not be in the picture then. Mick hums thoughtfully, hitching the burlap bag containing what few belongings he'd gone in with higher up his shoulder. Lenny tosses him the keys once he's close enough, and Mick slings his stuff in the trunk and settles happily in the driver's seat. "Lisa at summer camp?"
"Yup," says Lenny, grinning outright. "The terror of her coaches, of course--" Mick huffs a laugh; he'd expect no less "--but she's one of the best kids there, so there's not really much they can do about it." He sounds nothing if not proud of it.
"Not to mention the extra ten grand you promised them if they didn't kick her out," Mick notes wryly.
Lenny beams at him. "That, too," he agrees.
A few minutes later they're pulling out onto the old country road, the wind through the open window cooling the sweat at the hollow of his throat. The radio cuts in and out, but Lenny's humming along to Curtis Mayfield like he doesn't even notice. Mick can't help but smile. He'd never believe it if Mick told him, but he's got a really good voice. Mick likes to listen to him sing.
Fifteen, twenty minutes later, Mick asks, "Where to, boss?"
"No idea," Lenny says brightly. "Thought we'd see where the wind took us."
The road in front of them is long and straight, wide open fields on each side, speedometer hovering at a nice steady forty-five. Mick slants him a long look. "Really."
Lenny waves a careless hand out the window, cheerful as anything. "Why not? I've always wanted to go on a road trip."
Sure he had. "I dunno if you noticed, boss," Mick says, "but road trips usually take a little more planning than this."
"Do they?" Lenny asks. There's a smirk hovering at the corners of his mouth.
There had been a surprising number of bags in the trunk, now Mick thinks of it. He eyes him sidelong, not buying the guileless act a wink. "What'd you do?"
"Me?" Lenny asks, affecting hurt. He even presses a hand dramatically to his heart, the complete loser. "I'm shocked, I'm offended, I'm--"
"Cut the shit, Snart," Mick sighs, rolling his eyes.
Lenny huffs, subsiding with a pout. He's still smirking a little around the eyes, though, his fingers dancing jittery rhythms against the window frame. Mick waits him out. He's learned patience, with Lenny, when before all he'd had was the fire. Lenny folds like cheap cardboard after a minute or two of silence, just like Mick had known he would. "I may have hit a couple cash shipments," he says, and then, as Mick is nodding along in encouragement, "that belonged to the Darbinyans."
Mick slams on the brakes.
It's a reflex, he can't help it. "You what?!"
Lenny is swearing, white knuckled on the dashboard. "What the fuck, Mick, you can't just stop in the middle of the fucking road--"
"You stole from the Darbinyans?"
Lenny blinks owlishly at him. It takes Mick a second to realize that roar had come from his own mouth.
Count the inhales, his prison shrink had told him, nice and slow. Mick counts, one, two, three, in and out. Then he turns on his directional, pulls over on the side of the road, and just. Puts his head in his hands, resting on the steering wheel.
"Uh," says Lenny.
"I need a minute," Mick tells him, muffled.
Lenny shifts awkwardly in his seat. "Mick--"
"Gimme a minute," Mick snaps, "Jesus Christ, Lenny. One goddamn minute."
So Lenny does.
It kills him to do it, Mick knows. Silence and stillness do not agree with him outside of a job. But he does it, because for Mick he will always at least try.
The Darbinyans. Christ.
Abruptly Mick finds himself laughing, full-bodied. He doesn't stop until he physically can't anymore, breath wheezing in his chest, belly aching. His face is wet, his cheeks aching.
When he finally manages to calm down Lenny is staring at him wide-eyed. "You, uh," he says, "you wanna tell me what that was all about?"
"I leave you alone for a year," Mick says, wiping tears from his cheeks. "One year. And you rob one of the fucking Families." His voice is fonder than he really wants it to be, but whatever. It's not like Lenny doesn't already know he's crazy about him.
Lenny starts arguing about Mick's way of looking at things, because of course he does. But that's beside the point.
They both know Mick is right anyway.
They end up driving south through Nebraska and into Kansas, following Route 83 till it meets I-70 and hooking east. They drive mostly in a comfortable silence, broken here and there by idle chatter, Lenny updating him on all the new ice skating tricks Lisa's learned, Mick sharing names and contacts he'd picked up in prison for future use on heists. The wind whips the salt sweat from their faces. Lenny sings softly along with the radio when he feels like it, Otis Redding, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Sly and the Family Stone. His mother's music, he'd once confessed to Mick, drunk to the gills and a little wistful, in ways he rarely allows himself to be.
Mick's mama had come over from Ireland as a little girl with her mam and two sisters, and he'd grown up listening to the traditional Irish music they'd played back home. Mama's singing voice wasn't the best, a little too rough to carry a tune, but then, that was what she'd had her sisters for.
He'd never told Lenny that, he realizes. He'd never told him anything about his mama, actually.
The exit sign for Russell County flashes by. He makes the decision, spur of the moment, and gets off at the exit for Lawrence, follows K-10 to the Old 56 Highway, and then it's south on US-169 away from Olathe into the country and small town roads the rest of the way.
Lenny looks around with interest when Mick pulls off the main road onto the old dirt track. In truth there's not much for him to see; the fields have grown wild, waist-high grass interrupted here and there by a busted plow or rusted old tractor, left victim to the ages. Mick watches him take it all in, bounced around by the uneven road, and even before they round the bend and get close enough to reveal the blackened shell of the old farmhouse he can see in his eyes that Lenny knows the answer even as he's asking the question. "Where are we?"
Mick has to clear his throat a couple time before he can say it. "Home."
He pulls the car around in the dirt some thirty yards or so from the house, takes his time taking the keys out of the ignition. Lenny gets out, the sound of the car door slamming loud as a gunshot in the silence as the radio cuts out. Outside there is bird song, the whisper of the wind through the tall grass, the staccato hiss of katydids. Mick sits in the driver's seat for a long while, listening to the engine click as it cools. His breath is coming fast in his chest.
Finally Lenny comes around the car, leaning over to look at him through the window with his arm braced on the roof. "You haven't come back here since it happened," he says, "have you." It's not a question. His voice sounds kind of funny, careful. Mick hears it as if from a great distance, or through water.
"No," he says, at last. He can't seem to get his eyes to focus on Lenny's face.
"You wanna know how I knew that?" Lenny asks, matter of fact. "I knew it because you're on the verge of a panic attack."
"No I'm not," Mick protests.
"You really are, buddy," says Lenny, not without sympathy. "Look. You sit here as long as you need to, okay? I gotta go take a piss." That startles a snort out of him; Lenny smirks, victorious. "I'll be waiting over there when you're ready." And he points off to behind him, toward the copse of white birch Mick used to play in as a child.
Birch trees aren't native to Kansas, Mick had heard somewhere. Probably on one of those stupid nature documentaries Lenny was weirdly obsessed with a year or two ago. He wonders whether his mama planted them.
Guess he'll never know, now.
The sun is low in the sky by the time he climbs out of the car and crosses the field. The grass comes up to his waist, beaten dry and brown by the sun, tickles the soft insides of his elbows as he walks. It sings with insects that fall silent as he passes and take their toneless hum up again behind him, a strange and ancient hymn to the earth. When he reaches the shade of the trees, green and cool, he finds Lenny leaning against a peeling birch, foot propped up on a rusty old wagon wheel near tall as he is. He's got a weird look on his face.
Mick frowns, following his gaze.
What he'd at first mistaken for a tumble of large rocks turns out instead to be grave markers, listing to the side, barely visible through the weeds that have grown up around them. One of them has sunken almost completely beneath the tangle of weeds.
"One of them's got your name on it," Lenny observes, tone carefully neutral.
"I didn't know," Mick says blankly, crouching to brush the weeds and fallen leaves away so he can read the graves more easily. His fingers trace the shapes of the names as he reads them, Pop, his mama, Willie, little Jane and Sally, the twins, baby Casey. And there, in the middle, his own name, carved into white granite among all the things the fire had stolen from him. "I ran away," he says, can't seem to stop himself, "I was so scared, I didn't know what else to do." He swallows, throat clicking. "I always thought--"
"You thought they'd blame you," Lenny says, soft.
"You know how I get," Mick says. His throat hurts, raw. "It'd only just started getting real bad, but the whole town knew about it." He traces the shapes of their names till his thumb is tingling. "I'd snuck out to play by the creek--" he points vaguely south, where the creek used to bubble its way between the high banks; he can't hear it, now, though he used to be able to "--and it wasn't until I got back that I realized something was wrong. But by then it was too late."
"And so you ran," finishes Lenny, "because you knew if you stayed they'd blame you."
"Yeah," he whispers. Lenny offers him no platitudes, no useless condolences. Just a hand on his shoulder, and the wordless comfort of his presence as Mick bows his head and, for the first time since he was a boy, allows himself to grieve.
They leave the cover of the trees as the sun starts its last descent toward the horizon, the sky already darkening to the east.
Mama's garden is as overgrown as the rest of the farm, the pumpkin patch tumbling over everything for a good thirty feet in each direction, the tomatoes and the peppers collapsed in over themselves. What fruit they might have born has long since been eaten by wildlife. But the earth...
The earth, that feels the same as he buries his hands in it to the wrists. Dryer, maybe, now that it's not being properly ventilated, thick with weeds and rocks that before would have been dug up and discarded, yes. But the coolness of it, that calms the race of his blood through his veins, the rich loamy smell of it, that is the same. For the first time since he pulled off onto the dirt road he finds that he can breathe properly.
"What are we doing?" Lenny asks, watching him with his head tilted. A little confused, a lot curious. Free of judgment, never impatient with him. Ready to take whatever crumbs of Mick's past he's willing to give him and then clutch them greedily to his chest the way he has every other piece of himself Mick has entrusted to him.
It's like a tremendous weight has lifted from his shoulders.
He pats the earth next to him, sun-warmed and solid, unchanging, and as Lenny, eyebrows high, sits cross-legged beside him, Mick says, "When I was little my mama asked me to help her in the garden..."
Later, as the stars come out, they will sprawl on their backs in the tall grass, surrounded by a chorus of nighttime insects and peepers. In low voices Mick will point out what constellations he remembers Willie teaching him the summer before the fire, when they'd actually felt like friends instead of enemies, and Lenny will tell him stories long into the night about each in return.
Somewhere in there, between scraping himself raw with stories of his mama, Lenny's startled yelp and then delighted laughter as the first firefly sparks its way through the darkness, and when they finally fall asleep, dawn tinting the horizon, Lenny will turn and watch him. "You know," he'll whisper, face painted silver by starlight, "there are some species of plants that won't grow until they've been destroyed by fire," and he'll take Mick's hand in his.
Mick will smile softly, heart warm, and give his hand a squeeze.
He's home, at last.