"There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth."
The entire room around her seemed to have gone blurry. It wasn't a rational reaction. It wasn't her normal state of mind, there wasn't a single doubt on that part. Because Sara Tancredi was a rational woman. Though today, at that exact moment, sitting on a luxurious couch inside a stranger's suite, while the enemy – the stranger – was busier lowering the silk fabric of her robe rather than asking why she had gone so quiet, Sara didn't feel one bit rational. In fact, she didn't feel like a woman at all.
She felt like a little girl.
A thirteen-year-old girl.
A stupid little girl who should have known better.
The room was still spinning around her and she really wished something would wake her up. She couldn't remain in that state, not for very long, and not just because the last thing she wanted right now was for Logan to have his way with her, but most importantly – more important because it concerned the mission – playing with the straps of the silk robe as he was, Logan wasn't far at all from discovering the scars. And harmless pretty girls you meet at the swimming pool for a one-night stand don't have scars like that on their back. Not unless they're hiding something.
And for what might have been the first time in her life, Sara Tancredi realized, she was hiding something. She had been hiding that something all her life, and as it turned out, trapped inside a smothering hotel suite, hiding it away hadn't made it disappear. It hadn't made it less real; perhaps that's when it truly occurred to her.
It had been real.
"You never told me your name." Logan observed, and Sara felt a bit grateful at the sound of his voice.
Anything that could wake her up was good, even if it was the sound of that man's voice. He wasn't actually hideous, but every feature of his face was ungraceful – dull eyes, shaven head, and a smile that wasn't nearly as charming as he intended it to be. If it could make her regain her sanity, she would give him any name he wanted.
"Lana." It was the first one that came to mind – the room began to steady around her; the walls regained their true color, not the filthy yellow-brown shade she had spent sixteen years trying to forget, but a fancy bright golden.
Waking up. Slowly. One step at a time.
Logan's hand brushed her shoulder blade over the bathrobe, unaware as he skimmed over the scars only thinly covered by a layer of silk.
And she really needed to get out of here. It was the first thing that came to mind as she recovered her ability to think and sorted out her priorities – she needed to get out of here, fast.
"Lana." The man repeated, his voice low in an attempt for sensuality. "I'm –"
Sara's eyes were more than willing to flee Logan's face at the distraction – she had heard neither the footsteps in the corridor or the sound of a door opening, but she figured she could blame that on the room-spinning state of mind she was in. Logan could always blame it on the martini. Either way, she wasn't sure whether she was more grateful or ashamed at the sight she discovered when her eyes set on the source of the spoken word.
Paul Kellerman was standing in the doorframe.
A wakeup-call as good as any other.
He was wearing the same black shirt and slacks as when she had seen him earlier that day, but the sunglasses had been removed – there was something different about his face too, a sliver of betrayal in his icy blue eyes.
An act, Sara realized, almost immediately. He was acting. And he was here to save her.
"I'm sorry man, but who are you?" Given the tone he used, Logan was absolutely not sorry – rather furious even, but Kellerman hardly paid attention to him.
He kept his eyes set on Sara, a smile on his lips – the one of a betrayed man who's just gotten the proof he needed but still can't rejoice about it.
"Well," Kellerman spoke, ignoring the other man's question. "Quite a surprise, isn't it, honey?" He chuckled humorlessly – he almost genuinely sounded wounded. "I guess it wasn't work keeping you from your son's birthday this weekend after all, was it?"
The role wasn't overplayed one bit – in fact it was so believable that, for a second, Sara almost bought it herself and believed that she was actually married to Paul Kellerman and had a child with him.
She remained stunned for a while – she should say something by now, she knew it, would it only be to make her part more believable, but still she sat speechless for a few seconds. Waking up was slow, and a little painful. That, and she had no idea what to call her alleged husband.
"Baby –" Because Michael called her that sometimes and it was the first thing that came to mind.
"Oh don't you serve me excuses!" Anger burst out of Kellerman, so realistic and sudden Sara flinched. She felt Logan shiver next to her, too. "How could you do this to us? You know what?" He chuckled, humorless, true disbelief.
The world's greatest actor.
"I don't even want to start with that." He went on, "How could you do this to our children?"
"Look –" Logan's interruption had nothing angry anymore, as though he was plainly trying to get out of harm's way because let's face it, a one-night stand wasn't worth all that trouble.
And suddenly the slightly-awkward man had nothing threatening to Sara's eyes anymore.
Should have known better.
"Shut up!" Kellerman only briefly glanced at Logan before reporting his attention to Sara. "Were you even ever faithful?"
She remained wordless only for a few more seconds, because it was about damned time she got into her role. Kellerman might be a great actor, this wasn't a One Man's Show.
"Of course." Her words were hesitant at first but she got a grip of her own voice. She rose from the couch, pretending not to feel the immediate relief to be out of it and the fear that her legs would quake. "Of course I was, you mean everything to –"
"You've never loved me." He cut her off, his assertion spoken with certainty and hurt. He looked back at Logan with the rage of a wounded husband. "You can keep her."
Around the time he started walking away, Sara realized it was truly time to get inside her part. "Wait." It was the only word she spoke before she started following him. Her footsteps wouldn't have been more hurried if he were Jesus Christ. "Baby, I love you!"
The door slammed on both of them as they reached the corridor and Sara was glad she didn't have to add another word.
"Keep walking." He interrupted, neither dry or cold as his hand closed on her forearm, keeping her straight and facing ahead. "The cameras are that way," he spoke in a low tone and briefly waved behind his shoulder with his chin – there was something in his voice that almost had her immediately reassured.
No, not reassured. Not comforted.
"Baby?" Kellerman simply echoed, only a hint dubious as they reached the staircase – to Sara, it felt more like reaching safety.
She shrugged for an answer. Not like she needed to justify her pet-names to Paul Kellerman – deep down even she knew that this was not the reason she wasn't answering. He had saved her. He had woken her up. It didn't mean the nightmare wasn't still on her mind. It didn't mean the nightmare hadn't been real.
She didn't pull away from him as he dragged her down the stairs – okay, it didn't feel like being dragged as much as being led by him; somehow it even felt a bit secure. Nothing much, really, when you think about it.
His hand, gentle but firm and tight around her wrist, and the beginning of her palm. Him walking ahead, and her only inches behind, almost as though she was his shadow – though it was the other way around, and through denial she knew it very well.
He was the shadow. Her shadow. Not the unspeakable darkness she had tried to deny and block out of her memory for sixteen years, nothing comparable to that. More like a shadow friend. Her shadow-self.
Because after all, that's what these early walks down the beach had been about for the past couple of weeks, right? Talking to him and listening to him although she wasn't sure why – all of that because she was supposed to realize how different he was from her; not alike. That wasn't supposed to happen. She wasn't supposed to realize that he could understand her. Much more dangerously – that she could understand him.
She didn't protest or even question him when his hand became a hint firmer on hers, and he led her inside a small room after picking the lock on a door – it was a closet, as it turned out. Not a real small one, but still narrow enough so that when Kellerman closed the door and they both stood facing each other, she could almost feel his breath on her.
She swallowed – not out of fear, though. After what had happened in Logan's suite, she'd rather avoid any place narrow or dark, any place that might take this brown-yellow shade through her panicking imagination, though as she realized, facing Paul Kellerman, barely able to distinguish the cold blue in his burning eyes from the duskiness of the closet, she wasn't one bit afraid.
With Paul Kellerman, darkness wasn't that frightening. And it answered a question she had never really acknowledged she'd been asking herself. There was indeed something in this world that could quench the horror, the nightmares and the fear. There was someone. And at that moment, standing inside that closet that she still didn't know why was necessary, Sara knew that it didn't matter that he'd tried to kill her, or that she'd tried to kill him – right there and then, looking straight inside his eyes even though she could barely see them, she knew as a certainty that no one would ever hurt her with Paul Kellerman around.
He would never allow it.
He would never say 'we don't have a choice', or 'one for the team', or justify her being hurt for the greater good in any way.
He would never allow it.
He pressed a finger against her lips, soft but discouraging any attempt to speak, so she kept quiet, long enough, until she could hear footsteps in the staircase. The sound became stronger for a few seconds until it slowly faded and died – Kellerman still waited a full minute of silence before he must have considered it safe to speak. His finger was still against her lips.
"Sorry." He excused himself, even though there was nothing to apologize about and he was well aware of it. "It's not safe for us to be seen."
"But I'm not wanted, and you said –"
"That's not what it's about." He interrupted, amused; in fact, now that her eyes were getting used to the darkness she could distinguish a smile on his lips – yes, perhaps that was the purpose of it.
Not running from the darkness, or pretending not to see it, but getting used to it.
"This is a private and quite expensive hotel," Kellerman went on, "we have no business here. If someone from security spots us they might search us – that's if they don't arrest us – and since you have that geek kid's device in your purse…"
They waited a few more minutes and reality started to burst in – actually, Sara tried to force it to burst in.
That was Paul Kellerman right next to her, not her dark savior.
There probably ought to be fear deep inside her, because there was nothing safe in being inside a locked closet with him around.
Despite the darkness, she probably should tighten her fist around her bathrobe, because she was pretty sure that golden bikini didn't cover more than it did earlier that day, when she had blushed in embarrassment at her own reflection.
And the final fact she tried to kick in. It wasn't protection she felt around him, and he didn't have a single reason in the world to protect her; unlike Michael.
Yes, thinking about Michael seemed to be a good idea, and it would pass time as well as anything else. Michael. He would protect her; would if he could. Could if he cared.
Maybe it wasn't such a good idea.
Oh, she knew Michael's type. Well, maybe not, but after all that time, she was beginning to know him. He loved her; unlike Kellerman. He respected her, took care of her and treated her with gentleness; unlike Kellerman.
But he wouldn't kill for her. Though she'd killed for him. Though she'd die for him.
"What happened in there?" Kellerman's voice pulled her out of her thoughts – apparently he had decided it was safe enough to speak. Or maybe this whole thing of being afraid to get caught was just another lie, maybe there was no risk whatsoever in leaving that hotel room safely and he was just plainly stalling.
But what for? Enjoy being locked inside a closet with her for a few minutes?
She figured it was safe enough to answer. To lie. "What do you mean?" She tried to make her voice free of doubts. "I'd gotten confirmation, I was just – waiting for the safest moment to make my move and leave. I was doing just fine –"
"Sara." He interrupted, neither sharp or cold.
She never had been able to lie to him. Even though all he did was lie to her.
And suddenly, it didn't matter. Didn't matter that he was Paul Kellerman, didn't matter that they were both locked inside a closet and she was barely dressed at all. It didn't matter compared to today's realization, and justifications came right away.
She might be wearing only a swimming suit and a bathrobe, Kellerman's eyes never drifted lower than her face. This might be a simple broom closet, but the narrowness and dim-lighting close to darkness was somewhat reassuring. And what did it matter, really, if he was Paul Kellerman? Maybe that just wasn't enough of an argument anymore, maybe who he was had stopped mattering long ago; he was the man who had walked down the beach with her, who had listened to her even though nothing forced him to. Listened to her more in two weeks than Michael had through their entire relationship.
The thought came with guilt. The guilt was easy to ignore.
Sara moved backwards slightly, until she could feel her back hitting the wall of the small wooden closet, and she let herself drop slowly and safely, until she was sitting down. Kellerman sat down too, right next to her; and as it turned out, there was just enough space.
"I was thirteen years old." Was all she said – all she managed to say at first.
Truth be told, she wasn't sure where to begin. She didn't know where that story started, let alone where it ended – but today, she figured that it was time the story be told.
"It was just before summer, sometime during May. There was a heat wave going on." This much she remembered. Disgusting, hot days; clothes clinging to her body with perspiration, sweat gliding down her forehead and collarbone during endless smothering nights.
In the end, she liked the cold much better.
Kellerman didn't object – he didn't ask exactly what the story had to do with today's events. In fact, as he had learned to do with enjoyment during the past couple of weeks, as their relationship slowly turned into friendship, he listened while she spoke. He listened with attention, like a caring friend, close to her without his proximity being intrusive. It was reassuring. Protecting. He would protect her, she knew that by now, didn't she? Even before he interrupted Logan undressing her, before he entered that courtroom back in Illinois and saved her from fifteen years of prison, she had known that, right?
He'd protect her.
He'd keep her safe.
"I didn't care much about good grades," Sara went on, and although talking to him, she seemed somewhat absent. "In fact during the year I had made it my game to get alarming results, maybe so that my mom would wake up or my dad would notice."
And he had. In fact, Frank Tancredi had gotten so upset Sara had figured maybe it was worth blowing all those exams, even when she could have answered, without studying. She had already skipped a couple of grades, and at first teachers would worry that she couldn't keep up, maybe even threaten to send her back where her age range put her.
"For some reason it was important to dad that I finished first," she recalled with startling easiness, "so he got upset. He yelled at me, we argued about it for almost a week I think. I tried to make it last as long as I could." Of course she had; she knew he would be back to ignoring her soon enough.
Kellerman only spoke when she kept quiet. He didn't hold her hand, didn't try to touch her in any way – she was getting to the heart of the story, but now the words wouldn't come out. As though she had gone as far as possible to it, but she couldn't possibly approach it more than she already had.
"Sara." His voice had nothing lecturing or pressuring, in fact the gentleness startled her.
She was used to gentleness. Every time Michael spoke to her, it was as though he had swallowed liters of honey first – but she wasn't used to it from Paul Kellerman. In fact, she could have never thought he would be able to show so much softness. Especially to her. Only to her.
"What happened today?" He asked again, only this time he made it clear that he wasn't asking for facts. What happened today, in your mind?
She answered coldly, but tears burned her eyes. "Nothing." Everything. "I remembered, that's all."
She wouldn't cry. She had never thought of crying in front of Paul Kellerman before, but she was sure if she had she would have considered it degrading and shameful – truth was, she didn't even manage to pretend that this was what was bothering her. Not to cry in front of him. But to cry because of this.
After sixteen years of nightmares, sixteen years of denial and perennial fear, crying because of this for the first time – and by crying about it, acknowledging that it had happened.
"Remembered what?" He asked, serious; still not intrusive.
Two weeks ago, she couldn't have even believed that she would tell him this – but now, somehow, it seemed so much more logical than to talk about it to Lincoln, or Michael even. Because to say it to Paul Kellerman, despite all he'd done, was somehow okay. Because he was there, and because he was listening. Because it didn't really matter if she told him anything.
Because he was her shadow-friend.
Shadows don't speak.
"Did someone hurt you?" Kellerman asked.
It should have made her realize what she was doing, what she was saying. But as always, with Paul Kellerman, there was no wakeup call.
"My history teacher."
Sixteen years, and she had never said it out loud. In fact, she was positive she had never even thought of it in an aware state, other than in ghastly dreams or traitorous thoughts that escaped denial. And now the words had come out.
She always thought she would feel different. Maybe shameful, for some reason. And if it had been anyone but Paul Kellerman, maybe she would have.
"It was towards the end of the year," she began, her voice strangely dull; passive, as though she was watching a memory play out like a recording, and she couldn't do anything other than say the words. "We had an exam on World War II. I knew the topic like the back of my hand."
She paused. There was an amount of things that she wouldn't say out loud, she knew this much, even if she didn't know what yet. There would be certain things that she would keep to herself; things that were plainly too ugly to ever be vocalized.
"I got a D." She went on, her voice still strangely equal "It was unfair. I mean, I'd gotten myself together and pulled prestigious scores throughout the year, after the argument with my father. So I talked to the teacher after the end of class. He told me he didn't have time to settle the issue now – I had piano lessons within campus that finished at five, so I waited up. I met him in his office, as he'd suggested." She let out a chuckle – nothing funny, something between a husky breath and a choke. "It was foolish." She knew it was. "Everyone had gone home already."
Stupid little girl. She really should have known better.
She wanted to leave it at that – she wasn't sure she could do differently. The rest wouldn't come out. The rest, she would keep to herself. Or maybe she'd say it to him, another day, later. One step at a time. Maybe when the rest of the story would stop feeling somewhat forbidden.
Yes, that's how it had felt.
Forbidden. Too forbidden to tell mom and dad, or anyone. Just skip school for the rest of the year, feel sick to your stomach every time you think of going back, spending nights in the bathroom throwing up until your parents finally worry, until they worry enough to agree to put you in another school.
Then the pretending starts. It's start so quick you can't even tell it apart from reality.
She heard Kellerman breathe out next to her – a funny exhale, slow and deep, as though trying very hard to contain something in. She had almost forgotten his presence, and their location, which currently was a small broom closet.
"You know what the worst thing was?" She didn't speak because silence was getting smothering, or because she was afraid he wouldn't speak a single more word if she didn't. His silence was okay. Right now, everything about him was okay. "I had actually spent all weekend studying for that test." She let out, her eyes set ahead into the darkness – no longer afraid. "That's silly, right?"
He kept silent, a few more seconds – she could fully distinguish his eyes now, and she appraised them shortly. He had beautiful eyes. She wasn't sure she had ever realized it before; darker than Michael's. So much darker. Darker than every bit of darkness she could conceive, even the one she had just spoken out loud, and to think of that, to think that the darkness in Paul Kellerman would always be greater than hers strangely felt – soothing.
Her dark, dark shadow-friend.
"Did you ever tell anyone?" He asked.
"Not even your parents?"
"No one." She simply repeated, noting that there was something peculiar in his voice – something that was apologizing and sorry even though it shouldn't be; had no reason to be. "Not even myself."
The gruesome details of the event itself, the twenty minutes spent inside that yellow office, she would keep to herself – but maybe, one day, at some point, she would tell him anyway.
Two weeks only, and Paul Kellerman knew her better than anyone ever had, as strange and slightly shameful as it might sound. Maybe, some day, he would know every detail of that nightmarish haunting afternoon, every bit of it and of her life, too.
Maybe one day, there wouldn't be a single detail about Sara Tancredi that Paul Kellerman wouldn't know by heart.
There was a bit of awkwardness, when Kellerman helped her out of the closet, sometime after he had decided that the cost was clear. They exited the hotel together safely, silently, yet there wasn't a bit of embarrassment about that silence – with Paul Kellerman, Sara decided that both talking and quiet were okay.
They joined the others, and Paul almost wished that he could have said something to her before they reached Lincoln and Roland – wished he could have asked her why she had told him, or if it changed anything; if she was still resigned to stay away from him as Michael had suggested.
It was his own damned fault, he figured; he'd had the occasion, they had walked out the staircase in silence and now, Lincoln was already assailing her with questions, worry visible on his face – what the hell would he have said to Michael if he'd lost his girlfriend? – and Paul's moment was gone. If he had wanted to seize it, it should have been before.
Though as the team embarked on the plane, as Roland verified the data on his device and Lincoln searched for his seat, Kellerman felt unwilling goose bumps cover his flesh as Sara's hand closed on his wrist; a bit like he had done with her after he pulled her out of Logan's room, only the contact was more brief, and intense.
Her small hand tightened on his forearm as she neared her mouth from his ear, so brief and discreet that even if the others had been looking, it's unlikely that they would have seen anything at all past a flash of auburn hair.
Hairs bristled on the nape of his neck at the tingling warmth of her breath when she whispered in his ear. "Michael can never know."
Then her hand fell back to her side and she walked forward, and just like that, it was over.
Except it was anything but over.
Maybe she'd meant the traumatic story she had told in the broom closet, maybe she'd meant their short moment of intimacy – the undeniable proof that whatever friendship they had maintained for the past couple of weeks wasn't dead.
Just anyone might have wondered just which she had been referring to, but Paul Kellerman knew.
She'd meant both.