He heard her gasp as he entered the room. He understood the reaction. His shaved head surprised him when he caught a glimpse of it, when his hand brushed it. He didn't consider himself overly vain but the lack of hair bothered him, made him feel less... him. That was the reason it had been done, of course. Delousing may have been mentioned, documented, but it was done so that he was aware that he had no control here; even his physical appearance was outside of his realm.
He shuffled to the table, eyes downcast, his face burning with shame. He had hoped to have this... situation resolved before they met again. Better that she never saw him again if that wasn't possible. He lowered himself onto the metal chair, and concentrated on his breathing. When it was even, he lifted his eyes.
She was sitting opposite of him, her body tightly clenched, her eyes on the floor. Neither acknowledged the heavyset male guard that positioned himself to the right of the door in the back of the room.
He rested his hands on his lap. It was easier with the shackles to keep them low. He looked past her shoulder. When he knew his voice wouldn't betray him, he spoke. "Hello, Shannon." He couldn't keep his eyes from her face.
She was biting her bottom lip, her eyes swimming, her gaze somewhere to his left. She frowned deeply and faced him. "Sawyer said you jumped ship."
He wished that he had. He was much better at eluding than escaping.
"They kept arguing with Jack about letting me see you. He got to see Kate right away. They wouldn't let us use a phone or that radio thing. We couldn't call anyone to find out if you had any freakin' rights."
As they boarded the ship, they were gently funneled to the ballroom for processing. He held Shannon's hand, anxiously watching her. Even good things could trigger an asthma attack. Jack was moving through the crowd, checking on everyone. Shannon was next in line for the physical, he reported to them with a smile.
Not long after she disappeared with a person donned in medical green, Sayid was summoned. He was lead a different direction to a small room, the door swung shut behind him. He spotted Kate sitting in a chair near the far wall, her face white, her lips thinned. She looked frightened and angry, and clearly had been crying. She was handcuffed.
The door opened behind him as he took a step towards her. He was suddenly surrounded by three large men. He received a blow to the head when he started to speak, enough to cause his ears to ring. He was herded farther down the hall and a flight of stairs to yet another room where he was stripped; hosed down; deloused; and presented a bright orange jumpsuit. He was escorted to what one of the men announced to be the brig.
He hoped that the same treatment was not afforded Kate.
He looked at the table top separating him from Shannon. It was brown, he noted; clean. A bit scratched. Not natural wood. What was the word? Formica? Shannon's breathing sounded labored. He hoped that she wouldn't need an inhaler. No doubt she had one by now; a benefit of leaving the island.
He couldn't force himself to think of it as being rescued. Not now.
He wasn't too familiar with ships, not this part of them. The term brig sounded correct to describe his living space. It looked like a cell with its thin mattress over a slab, a toilet, and a sink: better than most in Fallujah. It was cooled and antiseptic. It was quiet. It was light. Until it was dark, when the light was put out sometime after the dinner tray was taken away. There were no windows – port holes? – so they controlled his night and day as well.
Shannon was struggling for control. He ached to stroke her cheek, touch her hair, hold her. He relaxed the fists that his hands had become. He focused on his breathing, tried to hold his gaze on her.
"I -" she cleared her throat and started again, staring at her hands. "I finally got to talk to Agent ...ah...ah."
"Jenkins," he supplied softly.
Her eyes flicked to his face, then back to her hands. "Yeah, Agent Jenkins. He showed me some...documents with ... about you. About how you... how you were moving around so much... before... since leaving ... Iraq." Shannon's voice dropped. She swallowed audibly. "Sayid, he said that...you're... that you meet the profile of a ..."
This time he waited. He would not say it. It was not so. He clenched his teeth, worked to keep his expression neutral.
"A terrorist," she choked then rushed the next words. "He said to ask you about Essam Ta - Ta- "
"Yeah. Essam Tazia. And," she locked eyes with him. "And Noor Abed Jazeem. He said to ask," her voice fell to a whisper. "So I'm asking."
"Nobody calls her Noor," he said it absently.
They had been together since the first months of the crash. Somehow they never discussed with any depth his life before Shannon. Beach or the caves; papaya or bananas; boar or fish; Sun or Jin; cats or dogs: these topics filled hours. Never why he had been in Australia. Never why he left - escaped - Iraq. Never the extent of the blood on his hands. Did she even know about Sawyer?
She knew that Nadia existed, not completely her place in his life. Since he wasn't clear on that himself, he left her a childhood friend who escaped Iraq, one whom he needed to find.
"Essam and I attended University together. In Cairo." Eons ago.
Now he couldn't pull his eyes from her face.
"He's dead," she said flatly. "He's a dead terrorist. And you were with him when it happened. In Australia." Her voice grew stronger.
He nodded once, recalling Essam's blood staining his shirt as it dripped from the roof of the truck cab. The bleakness of his choice then flooded him again. He could not honestly say that he made the right – the better choice. It was tainted with selfishness, no matter how he had tried to convince himself otherwise. Did he ever consider Essam once Agent Cole threatened Nadia?
"Just how do you explain this, Sayid? What can you say to make this go away? So anyone with half a freakin' brain could possibly believe you? Sawyer said you were a terrorist. Dammit, is he right?"
He could find no words but could recall the blows he and the southerner exchanged over the term.
"This Essam guy shot himself." Her tone was cold, accusatory. There was no question there. The first Shannon, the one that sunbathed while others toiled around her, was across from him, sitting straighter in the chair. Her eyes drilled into his. "While sitting in a truck full of explosives. With you."
Sayid blinked as dormant skills stirred. He shifted slightly, his shoulders drawing back. "Why don't you save both of us time and ask me real questions, not things you already know," he said kindly, his face matching the tone.
"There's no chance of juicy details that way." Shannon leaned forward, hands on the table, eyes slitted. She pushed the chair to an angle from the table, its screech cutting to his ears. Seeming to catch herself, she sat back casually, crossed her legs, and smiled with deadly charm. "Pictures aren't always worth a thousand words. Do you even know a thousand words in English, Sayid? Have you ever said that many?"
He studied her intently. He had forgotten this defensive side of her. After Boone had died, after the Others took Walt, the need for the hard, pretty shell, the cutting tongue seemed to fade to nothing. Apparently not completely. Could she maintain it without years of practice?
Perhaps it would be better if she could; she could walk away from him without a backward glance. She could see herself as duped, his victim. The anger from that perspective would protect her.
But he ached at the thought; he did not want her angry. He wanted her to know that he was the man that he presented to her on the island. He needed her to know that her decision to lower her defenses and trust him was a valid one; that loving him was not wrong. He wanted her to love him still.
He needed someone in the CIA to find Melissa Cole. He needed someone in the ASIS to find Robert Hewitt. Their filed reports lacked detail. This CIA agent, Jenkins, seemed obsessed with his trip to Australia. His detention in London was mentioned over and over. Was his part in Essam's death not made clear? Was the "deal" that was made not spelled out?
Why had the CIA suddenly decided that he was a danger to its country?
Or had it all be a ruse? If the plane had landed in the United States those years ago, would he have found himself facing this same situation?
But not facing Shannon.
He absently lifted his hand to run through his hair. The shackles stopped him as well as reminded him of his shorn state. He quietly placed his hands on the table top, staring at metal encircling his wrists.
"Since I really don't know you, I don't think we'd save much time." Was it wishful thinking to hear her voice slightly waver?
He looked at her. She still appeared icily beautiful; no cracks in the façade. Perhaps it wasn't one. Perhaps the Shannon that he loved could not survive off the island, couldn't believe in him when surrounded by civilization, was the real facade. Perhaps she was too civilized to follow her instincts about him. After all, what was their intimacy compared to printouts of destinations and strange Middle Eastern names, and candid photos of him before she cared that he was?
He knew what Shannon had been shown. Agent Jenkins had been very happy to show Sayid the file at their first meeting two days ago. There was a report with an unnamed operant and absolutely no mention of the means used to control him. There were photos of Essam, of course: on the street somewhere in Sydney, outside the mosque at their first meeting, kicking a soccer ball with Sayid; the truck in which Essam died, blood splatters the focus; a photo of Nadia in California; photos of him: in his army uniform, restrained in Heathrow, his arrival in the Sydney airport. A thick pile of flight manifests with his name circled; a worn map of the world, dates scribbled on countries; some reports of the cell activity of Essam; a news clipping of the C-4 theft – nothing false, all misleading in Jenkins' hands.
"So what was with the globe trotting, a nice little soldier like you?" Shannon interrupted his reverie. "Hitting all those countries? You know, the ones on the news that are – what's the word? – 'sympathetic'," she made air quotes with her fingers. "To terrorists."
His eyes lingered on her hands, and he noticed that her nails were painted. He took a mental step back, and took her in: she was wearing a pink dress; her hair was swept up in a flattering fashion; she had applied make-up. She was stunning, no man would argue with the conclusion.
She was in full Shannon armor.
She abruptly turned her shoulder to obscure digging through her purse, a shiny and new appearing object from which emerged her new inhaler. She scowled at him and twisted so that he couldn't see her use it.
His chest tightened as he allowed his eye to follow the curve of her leg to the ankle. Why couldn't he answer her? Why wouldn't he defend himself? Why was his tongue not moving with explanations so that she could breathe in his presence? He had wondered about Shannon's ability to resume old behavior, and missed that ingrained conduct had taken control of him.
Once assigned to the Intelligence Division, sleep began to elude him. After he could no longer assign the growing twinges of guilt to the senior office in charge of the interrogation; after Nadia pushed his conscience out of dormancy, he lay and considered his victims of the day, his eyes scanning the ceiling.
Some nights it was the unnerving interrogation that plagued him: his prey determined not to appear frightened, not to cry out when struck, not to utter a word. He mulled over what should have been done, should have been said that could have altered circumstances, even if that circumstance was an easier execution, one hand instead of a two, a cut instead of a burn.
Other nights he reflected on the person who broke early and easily, not able to see that they were still facing death or dismemberment regardless of their behavior, what they said, who they offered. He pretended to marvel that fear could blind the most glaring conclusion.
Every night he tried not to think of those, like Nadia, who always answered his questions, but provided nothing. People who jumped when he slammed his palm on the table, who screamed when he twisted flesh and bone to breaking points, who cried when punched or slapped but still remained disobliging. They knew that they faced death but did not plead, did not bargain. They frightened him.
At the inquest into Omar's death he hobbled with a cane into the darkened room, sat in the chair on the wrong side of the table, and discovered that the nightly review had somehow prepared him for this. His victims had all served the purpose of training him, when to speak, what to say, when to cry. It was possible to be interrogated and survive whole. He appeared to be telling the truth, appeared to be cooperating. He appeared to be distraught at the death of a comrade and friend at the hands of the enemy. He appeared very abashed that by not following protocol, Sayid cost Omar his life and permitted his killer to escape. He appeared useless to the Iraqi Republican Guard.
He did it well enough that he was discharged instead of executed. He knew that some of those in attendance did not completely believe him. He provoked his father into a public display and fled the country.
Sayid wandered at first, heading to places where he blended in. He moved from place to place, surviving on cash earned by his ability to repair mechanical objects. He kept to himself, lacking the heart to create a new life; lacking the desire to stay in any one place very long. In time he lost the ease of conversation, and spoke only as necessary. He lacked purpose, direction until one day in Muscat he thought that he saw Nadia.
It wasn't her. But the pounding of his heart, the spinning of his head during those moments he believed her in front of him, these pointed out his course. He was going to find Nadia. Finding her would save him. She would be living proof that he had goodness in him. If she was still alive, he could live, too.
He didn't consider the idea that she might be dead. Neither did he make a logical plan. He worked until he had the money for a ticket – a plane, a ferry, a train - then scoured towns and villages where Iraqi refugees were rumored to collect. In these he eavesdropped, asked questions. Now he could lie: he was looking for his sister, his wife. If not here, where? No source was suspect. All tips were pursued. He would dash here, then there, and back whenever someone whispered there was a woman one day, not long ago, who met the description of his sister, his wife.
He was two years into the search when reason returned. Nadia would not stay veiled, would not hide as a fugitive as he had done. She would head for freedom: the Western world.
He changed course. He sat in rooms at night with maps and plotted straighter lines, more efficient use of time, money. During the days he would listen – still - and lie, if necessary. He again utilized his training: the speaker was lying; the informant had no real knowledge; this one believed himself completely; there was truth in her. Sayid could question softly and know the words useless, helpful, or compelling. He still did not consider what he would do if – when he found her, but she was his mission.
He was seven years in his flight from Iraq when he flew into London. He felt no closer to seeing her. Reason was again rearing its head. He would never find her. She had to been killed in her escape. He was never going to be saved. How long would he continue?
Cole and Hewitt offered hope.
It had been very expensive.
Looking into Shannon's eyes at this moment, he realized that the cost continued to mount.
Sayid closed his eyes and dropped his head. He focused on his breathing – in, out, calm, even. He frowned. She was wearing cologne. This was new. He kept his eyes closed and breathed in. It was floral, a touch of spice. He opened his eyes and looked up at her.
Shannon shifted uncomfortably, then turned to face him fully. She glared defiantly at him. "What?"
She was in full armor. It was not donned to protect her from him. She pulled on each piece to cover Shannon from herself. He should have recognized it sooner.
What was it that Shannon said at the end of most of their arguments? Some advertisement slogan she tossed out - "Can you hear me now?" – that somehow perfectly described how they didn't really communicate until cornered. She would say it with a laugh as she slipped her arms around his neck, anger gone, lips soft against his. He didn't care then.
He cared now. It was time to begin talking. It was time to break this pattern. With her. With himself. Of course it was too late. Once more the words would come after the pain. But if he was given the opportunity, she would know him. Know his thoughts. Know his history. She would understand him when he spoke, he would make sure of it. He would pursue this until they reached a point when spoken language was no longer the barrier.
When she asked for help, he would spell out exactly what he could do. She would know when he said family that he meant her. That love meant a lifetime.
First, he had to complete the old pattern. "Shannon, I am not – ", said Sayid.
He was interrupted by the opening of the door behind him.
A man of moderate height, dressed in a nondescript brown suit, entered the room. He glanced at the two at the table and stepped closer to the guard.
"No!" shouted Shannon at the sight of him, her right hand shooting across the table and grasping Sayid's tightly. "Dammit, you promised I could have as long as I needed!"
Sayid stared at the hand that gripped his. He lifted his gaze to her face and watched as she struggled to regain control. He covered her hand with his, reveling in her skin. He tried to swallow. There would be no time for words now.
"Well Mr. Jarrah," Sayid recognized Jenkins' voice.
Sayid kept his eyes trained on Shannon, not acknowledging the agent's presence. His heart was thundering in his ears. He would waste not a moment of precious time looking elsewhere.
"I am not a terrorist," he said softly. He had to say it now, just to her. He could hear the two men approaching them.
"I know that, Sayid," she kept her gaze leveled on the others. She had lost the purse at some point. She stroked his wrist, sliding her finger under the cuff. The façade was flawless: she was haughty, a queen displeased with this subject, about to order his execution.
"I just got off the horn with Melissa Cole." Jenkins stood next to Sayid, the guard at Sayid's back. "She let me know she's not exactly a member of your fan club. What she call you? Oh yeah, the nicest was 'pond scum'."
Shannon did not blink. "You have something to say, Agent Jenkins?"
"She thought you were dead. Didn't bother with some paperwork, like taking the flags off your name. She wasn't too thrilled about the attention you brought to her little shortcut."
Sayid would sit forever to watch Shannon like this: she was breathing icy smoke, towering with frigid indignation from a throne. He would survive with this image.
"But her reports not mentioning you, that wasn't an oversight. She never divulges names of civilians," he placed heavy sarcasm on the word. "Involved with her cases. She said to ask you just how detailed the Republican Guard made their reports. You know, on interrogation techniques."
Sayid watched the hope fade in her eyes.
"But," Jenkins didn't sound happy to continue. "Robert Hewitt returned my call after her. He remembered you. Something about you handling the funeral arrangements for Tazia impressing him. He backed your story. You are the unnamed operant in the report." The agent scratched his chin.
The words were slow to be processed. Sayid blinked, connection broken with Shannon. The ordeal was over? It was really over? Relief slammed into him, making him boneless in the chair. He thought to close his mouth. It was over. He looked over their hands to her.
Her eyes were huge in her face as she stared back at him.
"Well." Jenkins drew her gaze away with the word. "Guess that's that."
"That's that?" Shannon erupted, pulling away her hands, jumping to her feet. She grabbed the purse and slammed it on the table. "Take those damn things off him right now, you asshole!"
"Calm down, calm down. It's happening now." He nodded to the guard who fished a key from somewhere in his uniform. The stocky man lifted Sayid's wrists, fumbled for what felt like hours, and dropped the cuffs on the table.
He took several more hours as he knelt by Sayid, and fumbled some more. Metal clattered to the floor.
Sayid vaulted the table before he had considered moving. He stopped abruptly before her, his eyes raking hers. With eyes swimming, she opened her arms and he dove into them. They clutched forcefully, not able to get close enough.
"You're free to go, you know."
"We know," snapped Sayid as Shannon spat, "Get out."
The room grew quiet.
He breathed her in again and released his arms enough for space between. "I'm sorry. I -". His throat constricted painfully and his eyes burned. He couldn't speak. Tears pushed out his lids.
She touched his cheek in wonder. "Shhhhh. It's okay now." She pulled him back into her, stroking his back. Her hands tentatively touched his scalp. "Oh God, Sayid, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It's okay now." She crooned it over and over, somehow rocking as they stood.
"How is Kate?" he asked when he was finally able to ask, taking a small step back.
Shannon snorted. She grabbed one his hands. She gently wiped the wetness from his face with the other, her face betraying a tenderness that pierced him. "She's fine, I guess. I really haven't paid too much attention. I was preoccupied."
Sayid learned against the table. He was suddenly so weary. "You would have found me without Jack," he said with a small smile. "The CIA is no match for you."
"He made so much sense, Sayid!" the words burst from her mouth as once more her eyes swam. "Those pictures! All that evidence..."
"Shannon, I am responsible for Essam's death. He shot himself but I – "
"It's not that it doesn't matter. It does." She closed her eyes, sighing. "Where's Locke when I need some great bit of wisdom?" Her lips turned up slightly as she looked into his eyes. "It comes down to this, Sayid Jarrah. Somewhere I heard 'honor' with your name – maybe it was Hurley, I don't remember. It's not a word I use. But it's a good word and you're a good man."
He pulled her close. He kissed her neck, her chin, her cheeks, finally her mouth. Her tongue, her taste, her smell fed his senses, quieting all ancient noises buffeting his mind. He felt still, complete. He was the man of the island and could continue to be.
"Let's get outta here," she whispered, leaning into him. "Can you hear me now?"
"Where?" he replied as they linked fingers.
"We have a cabin," she replied, pulling him behind her as she headed for the door.
He stopped her before they stepped into the hall. They were once more heading into the breech without talking. "Are you certain? We did not discuss life after the island."
"We didn't discuss life before the island or this never would have happened. For me at least. Are you having second thoughts? Is this about Nadia?"
"It is always about you, Shannon," he smiled and felt it. "Always and forever."
"Got that right," she sniffed. She tugged his arm. "C'mon."
"We have much talking to do."