First story in the Paper Trails series. SC angst, post Lost Son, but not in the usual way you're accustomed to. Inspired by the lyrics in Josh Kelley's "Almost Honest." Nothing recognizable is mine.

He'd never really been the letter-writing type.

Why write something down when you could just as easily say in person what needed to be said? Why send something through the mail when the simple click of a mouse could send it so much quicker? Why spend money on stamps and paper, especially when, knowing the mail system, it was never a guarantee that the recipient would read your words anyway?

Besides, letters left a paper trail. A connection. And connections had a way of making everything just a little more complicated.

In Tim's mind, the fewer connections he forged, the better off he was. Connections made it harder to leave. Connections made it harder to start anew. Connections made it harder to do what he'd been doing all his life.

Never before had Tim had a problem dropping everything and leaving. Starting over. In the past, he'd only been too glad when a way out of his current life would present itself. The attachments he'd made were superficial; it wasn't hard for him to pack up and leave without a goodbye. He'd been doing it all his life; it was second nature to him.

But then, he'd ended up in Miami.

He'd met the one person that would change his whole outlook on life. He'd met the one person who would make him want to stay. He'd met her.

She'd unknowingly turned him into the letter-writing type.

She was the first attachment he found himself unable to simply let go of. He couldn't do it.

Even after two years, living under a different name, living a different life, Tim still couldn't let go of Calleigh.

It was why almost every night for two years, no matter how late the hour, he found himself sitting in a chair before the fireplace, pen in hand as he poured his very soul into the paper before him. The paper he knew she would never see.

Even though his words would never reach her, putting them on paper; seeing them with his own eyes connected him to her. It was the one connection he knew he'd never be willing to break, and knowing that; knowing the depth of that connection kept him writing to her, night after night after night.

Never in his letters was there a greeting of any type; never any of that 'how-are-you-I'm-fine' kind of thing, nor any evasive talk of the weather or something equally as inane. When Tim picked up the pen, he simply jumped bluntly into what he needed to say. After all, he'd never really been good at sugarcoated beginnings.

Calleigh, I'm sorry. There's so much I somehow need to say to you, but it all comes back to that. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was always such a sarcastic son of a bitch. I know sometimes you wanted to strangle me for that. I'm sorry I can't tell you I'm still here, that I'm still just as much alive as you or Delko. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you. I'm sorry you'll never know how badly I wanted you to know everything. Not just everything about that day, but everything about me.

He'd known exactly what would happen that day when he walked into the jewelry store. He'd known it two weeks beforehand. He'd actually jumped at the offer; he'd spent enough time in Miami, and he figured it was time to move on. He'd heard the consequences everyday for two weeks - he knew he could never come back to Miami. He knew he could never contact anyone again. He knew that, though he'd still be alive and well, the Tim Speedle everyone knew would be dead. Honestly, he had no problem with that.

Except when it came to her.

For two weeks, she was the only thing on his mind. For two weeks he couldn't concentrate on anything other than her soft peridot eyes, her bright smile, her sweet giggle. For two weeks he endured the evil voice in his head; the voice that never failed to speak up whenever Tim laid eyes on Calleigh; the voice that constantly reminded him that he would never see Calleigh again after fourteen days. After ten days. After eight. Six. Four. Two.

One.

And then it finally hit him. One more day, and then he would never see her again. One more day, and he would be cutting her out of his life; himself out of her life.

He had one day to say goodbye. He had one day to let her know what she really meant to him. One day, and that was it.

I'm sorry that the last words I ever said to you were a lie. There was something else I wanted, no, needed to say instead, but I chickened out, Cal. I chickened out and it's the greatest regret of my life. I needed to tell you, and I didn't. For the first time, I was almost honest with you about how I felt about you, but in the end, I wasn't.

I love you, Calleigh. Somehow it's so easy to write it down; to see it without giving voice to it. Maybe part of it is because I know you'll never read this letter, or any of the letters I've written to you before, nor the ones I'll continue to write. Maybe writing it down is practice, so that when I do see you again, I'll finally be able to tell you.

He paused, staring down at the sentence he'd just written, one word in particular catching his eye. When. It was always 'when'; never was it 'if'. Night after night in his letters, without a second thought he always wrote 'when,' as though knowing subconsciously that somehow their paths would cross again. They had to; it was that belief that kept him going each day.

You were the first person that ever made me feel like staying in one place. You were the first person that could keep me sane; keep me grounded, and you did that without even realizing it. You were the only person in my life that I could see myself pledging the rest of my life to. It's scary to think like that, but that's how you affected me, Calleigh.

Absently, Tim pursed his lips, tapping his pen on the arm of his chair. He wasn't lying; it did scare him that, after he'd spent years living willingly and happily detached from others, Calleigh was able to come in and get under his skin and make him want more.

And for the first time, he'd wanted to want more. For the first time, he wanted it and he couldn't have it.

Tightly closing his eyes, Tim decided that tonight's would be a short letter. The day had been far too hard, and he wasn't sure that he could handle the barrage of emotion that came with writing to her. Not tonight. Other nights, Tim would sit for ages, writing just anything and everything that came to his mind. Sometimes he'd write to her about his day, sometimes it'd be about that fateful day two years ago, every moment leading up to his supposed death; everything about that day and those before that he regretted. Sometimes he'd write about the color of the leaves, or the feel of the crisp, fall air that was so unlike Miami. Sometimes he'd write about the young, happy couple he sometimes saw out walking, holding hands, and laughing; envisioning himself and Calleigh like that - happy, together, in love.

He placed his pen again to the paper, his final words flowing onto it. He never ended the letters with a defined closing; after all, he'd never been good at smooth endings.

I'm sorry, Calleigh. I'd give anything to be able to actually say that to you. That, and I love you. I mean that, Cal. I love you.

Evenly he folded the paper, slipping it inside an envelope, and with a final sigh, Tim carefully sealed it. Turning it over, he traced his finger over the blank front, reverently tracing out her name. Even now, he still held onto the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day the front of the envelope would not remain blank. Maybe one day, his words would leave the confines of his living room; the confines of his mind, his heart.

But like so many before, that day was not today, and with a tired yawn, Tim stood, tossing the letter into the fire. Aching, he watched as the flames scorched the very words of his heart, feeling it as though he were the paper in the fire.

Slowly; agonizingly, the last of his words crumbled into ash, and Tim finally turned and headed for bed, prepared again to face the inevitable replay of the last time he'd ever spoken to her. He'd had the opportunity, and he'd let it go. He'd almost told her, but in the end, he hadn't.

He'd left it unspoken, so unspoken it would remain.

It was a memory that would forever haunt him. The last words he'd ever told her had been a lie.

----------

"I wanted to apologize," he began, watching her reaction. "For real this time."

She smiled at him; that bright, beautiful smile that got to him every time. "Tim, it's fine."

He shook his head. "No, it's not. You're right, I should've asked you before I borrowed your crime light. And I should have charged it afterwards. I'm sorry." 'For that, and so much more,' he added in his mind.

Calleigh crossed her arms, looking at him intently. "You okay? You're acting different…" she remarked, pursing her lips. His anxiety had not gone unnoticed by her, and she was concerned. It took a lot to rattle Tim Speedle; she'd only seen him really bothered by something once or twice.

Tim ran a nervous hand through his hair; she was right. He was acting different. But how could he stand before her, knowing this would be the last time he spoke to her, and not act differently? He tried to shrug it off, glancing to the side to avoid losing himself in her deep green eyes. The eyes that he knew he'd continue to see in dreams for many, many years to come. "I just - you were mad earlier, and I wanted to say I'm sorry."

He didn't want the last feeling she felt for him to be anger.

Calleigh chuckled. "Tim," she said, slightly amused. "I swear, it's okay. I'm not mad." She paused, grinning teasingly. "But if it makes you feel better; if you feel like you've really done me wrong in some unforgivable way, then you can feel free to buy me lunch later."

He smirked, despite himself. "You and food…" he remarked in amusement, watching her playfully narrow her eyes at him.

"Well, if you really wanna apologize to someone, what better way to do it than by offering lunch? I'd certainly forgive anybody if they offered me free food," she sassed, the corner of her lips twitching.

Any other day, Tim would have conceded readily, telling her to pick a time and a place. But he knew he couldn't promise her lunch, or dinner, or anything else for that matter. He knew he couldn't leave her with a broken promise.

With a sigh, he took a step closer to her, the words 'now or never' never being more true than in that moment. Because it truly was now or never.

"Calleigh." The look he gave her was serious; it held none of his usual sarcasm, none of his usual wit. It was intense, almost overpowering, and Calleigh shivered, having never recalled him looking at her quite that way before. "There's something…"

Calleigh tilted her head, watching him curiously. "Tim?" she asked, touching his arm gently. "Are you alright? What is it?"

"I wanted to say…" He swallowed; his heart pounding. 'I wanted to say I love you, Calleigh.' The words were there; they even sounded perfect in his mind. He'd gone over this very conversation in his mind everyday for the past two weeks. But no matter how perfect the words sounded in his mind, he just couldn't lend his voice to them. He couldn't tell her.

Defeated, Tim glanced to the side and discreetly drew in a breath before looking back at Calleigh, forcing a halfhearted smirk. "You know, it's nothing. I'll see you later."