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Duplicity

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Paul was already waiting at a table when Elizabeth Childs arrived at the restaurant. He watched as she hung her coat and scarf in the entryway and then nervously smoothed the skirt of her dress—wearing something she wasn't totally comfortable in, so she hadn't come straight from work. While talking to the hostess she scanned the room, the trained observation of a detective—or perhaps simply trying to pick out Paul's face, familiar only from pictures.

She held herself with obvious tension, but smiled when finally meeting his eye. As the hostess led her across the room, Paul stood to meet her, moved around the table to hold out a hand. "You must be Beth."

"And you must be Paul." Her return handshake was firm, and he could feel the calluses on her palm from handling a gun, oddly incongruous with her small frame and the stiffness in her shoulders. At this range he could see the guardedness behind her smile. "It's nice to finally meet you in person."

He let go of her hand, pulled out the chair for her to sit. Her smile warmed, relaxed, as she sat down and the hostess handed them their menus.

Likely to appreciate chivalrous gestures had been a line item in her file.


Led into a windowless room somewhere on a base in Afghanistan, Paul had expected ungentle interrogation or summary execution, not anything like the neatly kept man in a linen suit sitting across the table from him. He looked evaluatively at Paul for a moment before removing several files from his briefcase, moving with an air of efficient authority.

When he spoke it was with a crisp English accent. "I am here with a proposal for you, Paul."

Paul said nothing, focusing on the pattern of bruises he could feel across his ribs every time he inhaled, across his face every time he blinked.

The man opened a file and made a show of reviewing it. "My employers have been watching you for some time. You've taken very well to intelligence work, haven't you Paul?" He didn't wait for an answer. "And yet now you find yourself in a very difficult position." He removed a photo from the file and laid it on the table between them. Without looking directly at it, Paul still knew what it showed. "If this were to get out, the only question would be whether you would be shot and buried in a shallow grave here in the desert, or whether you would face that back in the United States."

Paul grimaced very slightly but kept his silence.

"Happily for you, Paul, my employer has a need of a man with your skills." He opened a file over the photo of the dead soldiers. Glancing down at it, Paul could see that it was some kind of dossier, a serious-faced woman looking out of a picture clipped to the top sheet, but he kept his attention focused on the man sitting across the table. "We need this woman watched. She is a police officer, so we need her watched by someone with some skill at subterfuge. You have demonstrated quite ably," this said with a meaningful nod towards another of the files on his side of the table, "that you can maintain a convincing cover in the long term." He produced a passport and put it down in the middle of the table. "We can give you a new life, Paul, and make these unfortunate recent events go away. All we would require from you in exchange are regular reports, and occasional physical access to your subject."

Paul took the implied invitation and picked up the passport from the table, opening it to see his own face looking up at him. Paul Dierden was the name next to the photo. He looked back up at the man in the linen suit. "This is an awful lot of trouble to go to. There are private investigators listed in the phone book, if what you need is surveillance."

The man raised his eyebrows. "Indeed there are, if what we needed was someone to go through her trash. We need someone watching Ms. Childs at somewhat… closer range." He took a final sheet of paper and slid it across the table towards Paul. At first he couldn't tell what it was, a print-out of some online profile with a photo of the same woman. Then he recognized the name of the website at the top of the page, and looked back up with a sinking feeling. The man across the table smiled smoothly: "It would seem that Paul Dierden is just her type."


Beth was everything Paul had been led to expect by her file and a brief online correspondence. She was driven, dedicated to her job, slightly reserved. Their first dinner went well, their second was cancelled when Beth was busy with a case. She was apologetic, Paul was understanding, charming, solicitous. They rescheduled.

The first time Beth stayed over at his apartment, Paul lay awake staring at the ceiling for a long time after she had fallen asleep, his thoughts chasing each other around. Beth was a nice person, wound a bit tightly but pleasant to be around. Their relationship was developing smoothly, their lives and schedules naturally making room for each other.

She was fine. Their relationship was fine. The sex had been fine.

And every step towards intimacy had Paul lying to Beth with every breath he took. He was always free to spend time together, always interested to hear about her day, always solicitous of her feelings. Always full of sharp edges that needed to be blunted every single day to be the gentle partner Beth wanted.

Paul liked Beth, already knew her better than she could imagine, but if it hadn't been for six dead soldiers in Afghanistan, he never would have called her back. He admired her drive, was interested in her work, but he didn't care about anyone the way Beth wanted to be cared for. She was interested in the idea of Paul Dierden, the man carefully designed just for her, the attentive caring boyfriend who would be waiting at the end of her days dealing with the gritty reality of big-city crime. Nothing suggested that she would be interested in Paul, and if he did his job she'd never even meet him, not for real.

Or maybe that was just something Paul told himself to excuse his own subterfuge, to make himself feel better about his own disconnect. Everything he and Beth actually had in common was off-limits: he couldn't tell her anything about himself that didn't fit in with the image of the moderately successful career at Trexcom Consulting, and the beautiful waterfront condo, and the lack of hobbies more thrilling than long-distance running. As far as Beth was concerned, the last ten years of his life had never happened.

A month later she moved in with him. "Ahead of schedule," his new handler congratulated him (Olivier Duval, probably an assumed name). "I'm sure we'll continue to be pleased with your work, Paul."


It was easy to monitor Beth. She was good at her job, a successful police officer, but it was almost visible the way she turned that part of herself off, the part that was the hard-nosed detective, and became a friendlier and less aggressive self around him. She trusted Paul from the beginning. He tried not to judge her for it, for being unknowingly complicit in his success, blind to the reality of the man she had decided to make a home with, but he did. Paul had come back from Afghanistan full of jagged pieces and invisible hard edges, and it was impossible to reassemble them precisely because he had to pretend that none of them were there.

Their relationship ran smoothly for a little over a year of living together, as smoothly as most relationships at least, but Paul knew that Beth felt there was something missing, that she occasionally felt a false note in his warmth and attention. They fought about it, once or twice, her accusing him of failing to open up, of having problems with emotional intimacy, of choosing not to see her. But she never left, and each time they both apologized for their words and went on as before.

He saw her more clearly than she saw herself. He made weekly reports of every movement in her life, her diet, her moods, her tastes in television and books. He monitored her email and phone records, knew how close she was to every one of her friends (not very), could predict what she would say and do in almost every situation.

And once a month he drugged her and let a small medical team into her home, and he stood by as they efficiently collected the rest of what they wanted from her.


Halfway through their second year together, something abruptly changed. Always tightly wound, Beth became increasingly brittle at home, and no matter how Paul approached it she refused to say anything about it at all. That was not entirely new—Beth was committed to never bringing work problems home (Parents divorced when subject was 15, citing strain of father's police work), but as weeks turned into months it became clear that this wasn't a problem at work. Beth went from reserved to secretive, disappearing at strange times, taking calls at odd hours, her evening runs getting longer and longer. Paul began to see her only in passing, some days not at all.

Then the pills in the bathroom began to multiply. Slowly at first: he noticed she began to refill her anti-anxiety prescription more frequently. Then it was joined by a sleep aid prescribed by the department psychiatrist, then one by one a collection of miscellaneous others. He asked Beth about it gently, in passing, and was brushed off: the department had a great health plan, why shouldn't she take full advantage of it? The next time, she mentioned a recent push to normalize mental health treatment. Every gentle probe was deflected, and eventually he stopped asking, tried to believe that Beth was appropriately medicating real mental health issues.

He knew she wasn't. He counted the pills in every bottle and knew they had begun to disappear more quickly than they should have. Every detail he faithfully reported to Olivier and the faceless medical team.

He was sharply reminded that his role was to observe, not intervene, and instructed to do nothing unless Beth was in imminent danger of doing herself irreparable harm. And so Paul watched as she slowly, inexorably, began to spiral downwards and inwards.

Beth developed nervous ticks, started to forget where she had left her keys, increasingly lost the thread of conversation in the evening, when she was home to converse at all. (Subject has developed pervasive deficits in short term memory.) Paul watched as she started mixing prescriptions, not only with each other but then increasingly with an evening drink, then with several evening drinks. He watched and did nothing, nothing beyond expressing vague and directionless concern, occasionally holding her as she dissolved at the end of her increasingly foggy evenings, rocking her as she apologized for inarticulate failings, unshared anxieties.

Between the meltdowns they drifted ever further apart, Beth spending extra shifts at the station, working through the night and coming home artificially manic—or else already unconscious in bed when Paul arrived home from work. Paul welcomed the distance, their new strange equilibrium: when they did talk it was to argue, his attempts to draw her out (Olivier reminding him: "Paul, it's important that we have your perspective on her mental state") met repeatedly with avoidance and hostility.


When Beth shot an unarmed civilian, everything crashed back into new and more rapidly deteriorating chaos. The prescriptions proliferated faster, keeping pace with her increasingly frantic mental state as her brittle tension morphed gradually into outright paranoia. She began to monitor Paul's calls, but became yet more secretive about her own; she asked suspiciously after his day while refusing to give the blandest details of her own.

Her tension bled inexorably into Paul. He went from watchful to vigilant, poised for the next disaster, unsure what it would be but certain it would arrive.

Then Beth pulled a gun on him.

He had let himself into the condo early that afternoon, and was putting down his briefcase when he heard someone shout: "Freeze!" He was caught by the flood of adrenaline, calculating the distance to his nearest weapon, when he looked up and saw not an intruder but Beth, wild eyed, holding her gun on him. "What are you doing here?" she demanded, hands wavering but steady enough if she pulled the trigger.

Paul Dierden couldn't take the gun from her by force, had never handled a gun himself; Paul himself was out of practice, two years out of combat and tasked with not hurting Beth besides. He spoke softly instead: "Beth, it's me, it's Paul," he soothed, taking a slow towards her.

"Stay where you are!" Her voice ratcheted up in panic, her pupils visibly blown and hands beginning to shake in earnest; behind her on the table he could see her computer and... a phone? A phone he didn't recognize.

He stopped moving, eyes back on the gun. "Beth listen to me, it's me, it's Paul, I'm just home early from work." He let his eyes widen, his voice tremble. "Please put away the gun, and we can talk about this."

And abruptly, all at once, she seemed to realize where they were, and who he was. Her arm dropped, and for a moment she stood there, confused, then she...collapsed, sobbing. Paul rushed forwards, took the gun from her hand as he gathered her into his arms, shaking himself from adrenalin.

He soothed her through the rest of the evening, tried gently to press her on what had happened, what had brought this on, but she drifted asleep against his shoulder, or pretended to, without answering any of his questions.

He kept his hand on her wrist that night, suddenly struck with the imminent threat that her heart might stop beating.


The next morning Paul woke up to find Beth already in the kitchen. It was the time she most closely approximated functional these days, nightmares behind her and a day's fresh possibility before her, though she had also had the night to regain her distance, an armour around her. He tried once more: "Beth, about last night…"

He almost expected her to pretend not to know what he was talking about, but instead she looked somewhere over his left shoulder and grimaced. "I don't really know what came over me, I'm so sorry you had to deal with that."

Paul wanted to leave it there, minimize what had happened along with her and let it lie, but he had been living a lie long enough to know what his next line was. He steeled himself and went on. "You pulled a gun on me in our home." Softening his anger: "I'm worried about you: you didn't seem to know who I was…"

"Of course I knew who you were," she interrupted, but her eyes drifted sideways when he tried to meet her gaze.

He repeated his refrain from the last several weeks. "I want you to talk to me, Beth, I think you need to talk to someone about the shooting, and I think the pills are stopping you from feeling what's happening to you."

Now her eyes skittered back across him, angry the way she got every time he approached the topic of her medication. "Will you stop going on about that? You don't understand the kind of pressure I'm under right now." She stormed towards the door, gathered her coat and her bag. "When I want an opinion about my psychiatric treatment I'll talk to my doctor, not to you." Then she was gone.

Her hands had been shaking.

(Subject has developed an intermittent tremor.)


From that point on they barely spoke. Beth grew less and less stable, less predictable. She avoided Paul entirely or watched him with vicious suspicion; snapped at every inquiry and avoided his physical space. Increasingly he came home to find her passed out, sometimes in bed but usually on the couch, an empty glass nearby smelling of whisky, a bottle in the bathroom several sleeping pills lighter. Other nights he knew she didn't sleep at all—he woke in the night to find her gone, the sheets cold.

The date set for the inquest into the shooting ticked ever closer, and with every day Beth looked wilder, more panicked, more lost, especially when she didn't think he was watching. Paul was less and less sure that she would make it to the hearing, communicated his evaluation to Olivier as ever (confirmed alias, real name Kevin). Beth was in his opinion an imminent danger to herself, and he recommended direct intervention.

Olivier listened impassively, then abruptly told him to pack for a business trip.


The day of her hearing, while he was wasting his time in Cleveland, Paul's phone rang.

"We're concerned about Beth," Olivier's droning voice came over the line. "There's a chance something might happen to her without your stabilizing influence."

I told you this would happen, Paul didn't say, or: Why did you have me leave in the first place? He knew why, or suspected he did: they wanted Beth unstable, though not too unstable; sick but not actually dead. They were also worried Beth might be catching on, that her increasing paranoia was only partly the result of delusion. They were calculating Paul's presence against keeping her off-balance and compliant. Balancing that in turn against the need to keep Paul off-balance, preventing him from taking any action that would interfere, not trusting entirely to their threats or their leverage.

He spent the trip home expecting the worst, that he would walk through the door to find Beth dead, from an accident or by her own hand. His imagination painted grimmer pictures as the hours passed: Beth in bed, overdosed on sleeping pills; an officer waiting to tell him Beth had been in a fatal accident; Beth in the living room, shot with her own gun…

He tried to replace these with more everyday worries: Beth asleep after her evening dose of sedatives, scarcely breathing but still alive; Beth tearing her closet apart, artificially manic; Beth tearful on the couch, apologizing for failures she wouldn't specify; Beth shooting him when he arrived home days early…

Instead he came through the door to find the condo clearly occupied, but quiet. He found Beth in the bedroom—then for a moment he thought it wasn't Beth but a stranger in their bedroom, coming out of their closet holding one of his shirts.

Then she met his eyes and it was clearly Beth, but a Beth that looked straight at him, her eyes sharp and clear and focused in a way he hadn't seen in months. She met his eyes even as she avoided his questions (wearing a shirt he had never seen before). He felt off balance, couldn't right himself, his brain telling him to pay attention, that there was something he needed to notice even beyond the glib improbability of Beth's answers, but then she was warm and fervent in his arms, taking off his pants and all but tackling him onto the counter.

Much later, looking down at Beth in their bed, he tried to trace his feeling of suspicion back to its source. For the first time in a long time—long enough that he couldn't put his finger on precisely when it had changed, after the first prescription but probably before the third (the files would be more specific, tox reports corroborated by transcripts of his meetings with Olivier, all charting the course of her deterioration)—Beth was entirely present. She had met his eye and followed the thread of conversation, retreating but not disengaging.

After everything he had feared, everything he had imagined, all the ways he had tried to tell Olivier that Beth was headed down a path that would inevitably kill, and now she was… better. Not all the way better, not with the way she had avoided his question about the hearing, but alive and focused. Whatever oddities about her, she was like night and day from what she had been before Paul left.

His relief blindsided him. In the wake of the last months, of his certainty today that the worst had come to pass, that Beth had decided on a final solution to her problems, Paul felt the wall he had used to hold himself apart begin to crumble. He had needed it to maintain the lie of Paul Dierden, then needed it more to survive living with an addict he couldn't help or save, but how he could feel hope painfully blossoming, seeing Beth sharp and vibrant.

Alongside the relief, though, Paul made himself doubt, made himself know that the carousel could start up at any moment, Beth could relapse, could retreat from him as quickly as she had spun towards him today.


The doubt solidified in the morning, the warm contentment of his hope in Beth's recovery fading in the cold winter light. She was distant, standoffish, didn't want to engage. She avoided his touch and beat a retreat out the door as quickly as possible.

But she was still sharp, still sober. Through whatever miracle she was still off her meds. In the evening he could try again, try to talk, maintain their connection.

She didn't come back the next night, and when she still hadn't returned the next morning he reported her absence as soon as he arrived in the office.

Olivier did not seem overly concerned. "We need Beth in a controlled environment. If she's avoiding you, then I recommend you remove yourself from the condo. Once she returns, you can contrive ways to check in on her, I'm certain."

Beth returned as he was about to leave that night. He mimed his excuses, treading the pattern of their past arguments—and didn't miss the flash of relief in her eyes when he said he was leaving again, though she covered it quickly.

Everything he knew about Beth told him that she should be clinging tighter as he left, not unconcerned and certainly not relieved. Even at her most paranoid, Beth had wanted Paul where she could see him, where she could watch him. A part of himself he didn't like very much, a part that had been vindictively pleased to leave again when he thought it would hurt her, resented her sudden independence. It was as though Beth's strings had been cut, and rather than crumbling she was standing strong and on her own.

He couldn't quite read her anymore, knew only that she was lying about something, something Paul didn't know about, which was impossible because Paul had known almost everything about Beth Childs since before they had ever met face-to-face.


Every time he saw Beth he grew more certain that something was wrong. Everything about her was slightly out of tune, slightly off. Her voice was slightly different, her clothing worn differently even when it was the same. She hadn't just scaled back her drug use, she had abandoned it altogether, but without any visible physical effects. If anything she looked healthier, more physically at ease. Until now she had always been awkward in her body, had appreciated it for what it could do but hesitant to take pleasure in it. Now she inhabited it easily, casually, luxuriated in the shower, melted into pillows, pushed up against him like a cat when he touched her.

And she was watchful, steadily watchful in a way she had never been before, even when he first knew her, before they were close. Beth had always turned inwards as often as not, her attention easily wandering to her phone or her plans for dinner or, more recently, her inarticulate anxieties. Paul had been able to count on her distractions even in the midst of her paranoia, but now every time they were in a room together Paul could feel Beth's attention focused on him, tracking him even when she pretended to be focused on something else. Even as he became ever more suspicious, Paul couldn't help but find himself relaxing around this new Beth. Knowing that she was not only lucid but watching him made him feel less guilty about watching her in turn.

Despite her focus and attention, though, Beth was losing the thread more spectacularly than ever in myriad ways. It took time to notice, it was at first indistinguishable from the forgetfulness that had reached through their days. Then she called him into the station. He was afraid for what might have happened, to have reaching out for help in a way she never had before, but when he arrived it was instantly clear that she had no memory of making the call, wildly deflecting as Art watched on suspiciously.

(Art had never liked him, harboured an inarticulate suspicion that Paul was using Beth somehow. Paul secretly liked him for it.)

As he left her that afternoon, walking away from her outside the station, his suspicions began to crystallize. The people watching Beth, the people who monitored every aspect of her life, who medically examined her at regular intervals, had been warned that she was about to crack under the pressure of her paranoia and drug addiction. Rather than authorizing him to act they had sent him away, out of the country, then called him back to find Beth well, but fundamentally changed.

The inevitable conclusion was that something had happened to Beth. Something had been done to her, something more invasive than the usual tests, some kind of neurological rewiring, capable of undoing her addiction but with unanticipated side effects, a spotty memory and out of character reactions.

He looked at Beth now and despite the changes he saw a woman who had trusted him, whose trust he had returned with lies and betrayal. And now everything was set to begin again, but he knew now exactly where it could end: his certainty that Beth would die, his relief when she hadn't.

He wouldn't do that to her again, couldn't face being a man that would do that twice. If he wanted to be a better person, to help her rediscover herself after everything that had been done to her, he had to get her away from her watchers.

Something had been done to Beth while he was away. Clearly something had been done. He had to take her away, tonight if at all possible.


She refused to consider leaving. She put him off until the morning but clearly didn't mean it, no longer suspicious of an ever-present danger surrounding her. He tried to press her, but she wouldn't listen, went to sleep with her back to him.

And so he got up and had to let the doctors in.


Paul spent the morning in his office considering how to get Beth out of the country, to hide them both, with or without her cooperation, how to find a way to prove his suspicions that something had been done to her memory. Then she arrived in his office unexpectedly, bearing lunch. A peace offering, she claimed, sprawled across his office chair. She was evasive again, twisting out of his arms and towards the door. Paul wanted to catch her and hold her, whisper promises in her ear…

…her scar was missing.


The missing scar rearranged the evidence, presented new conclusions. A new personality, missing memories, those had been consistent with some neurological procedure performed while he was conveniently out of the way.

Physical changes (her hair had looked longer when he first returned) painted a different picture. Her evasions took on new dimensions, not forgotten details, an incomplete cover. Someone had stolen Beth away, somehow inserted a doppelganger—how they had managed it, and to what purpose, he couldn't yet see. Perhaps it had been his employers after all, the too-convenient trip arranged by Olivier, and he could feel a cold anger settling into him. Something had happened to Beth as he had suspected it would, maybe worse than he had feared. This wasn't Beth, and he was determined to figure out what was going on.


This wasn't Beth. Beth was dead.

He had been right to worry about what she would do to herself, wrong to think that her watchers would have intervened. This new Beth, this healthy Beth, speaking suddenly with a new voice, was a lie. She had lied in his life, in his bed, for days. The fresh start he had imagined for himself, redeeming himself by rescuing the woman whose life he had ruined, was impossible.

He couldn't start fresh with Beth, couldn't hide her away in Rio, make up for his trespasses against her, because this wasn't Beth.

He lashed out against this doppelganger, this not-Beth (Sarah), but she too-astutely turned the blame back against him. Inhabiting Beth's life for less than a week she had discovered his secrets; could he imagine Beth had stayed totally in the dark? He might not have pushed her in front of a train, but he had had a hand in Beth's death, sure enough.

Paul had known something was wrong, had convinced himself that Beth was in danger, but then had let himself be lulled by her seeming miraculous recovery—he knew he had soothed his own guilt about the years of lying and the months and months of his failing to act by letting himself believe in Beth's sudden recovery. He had pardoned his betrayal by telling himself that now he cared, now he could build a meaningful connection with Beth in spite of the lies surrounding her, now, years late, he would try to save her.

Now that it was too late, his failure to help Beth gutted him. He had been better able to connect with the cuckoo criminal who stole Beth's life than with the woman who had loved him and shared his bed for two years.

And the worst of it was that even knowing the woman standing in front of him, looking him steadily in the eye with false bravado, had been lying to him for days, even suspecting that every second word out of her mouth was still a lie, he liked her better. She was rough and sharp and it freed him to be rough and sharp in return, to unbind himself from the lie of gentle calm Paul Dierden.

He could still try to redeem himself. He could help Sarah.

But Sarah wasn't Beth.

Beth was dead.


Paul didn't honestly believe Sarah could be Beth's twin. He liked her, trusted her less for liking her, was determined to find out who she was, to kill her if she had killed Beth.

He set the ground with Olivier, confident now that his employers wouldn't intervene in a threatened relapse on "Beth's" part. Inventing a story about stopping Beth from overdosing, Paul injected selfish worry into his voice, confirming that he would not be held responsible for her death.

He was already responsible for her death.

Then he followed Beth's cuckoo to the suburbs, followed her into to an ordinary house at the end of a block, full of people coming and going. His heart almost stopped when he found walked into the basement and found the image of Beth passed out in a haze on the couch, of course Beth wasn't dead she had faked her death. But no, she slurred her name as "Alison", pictures on the shelf confirmed this wasn't a days-old cover. This was Alison who looked like Sarah who looked like Beth, Alison who lay in a haze on a basement couch while a party went on upstairs, Alison who had a man tied up in her laundry room, Alison who had a surveillance camera watching her bedroom, where he could see Sarah (Beth-not-Beth) talking to some thug.

He swarmed in, took over the scene, watched Sarah bite her tongue as he inserted himself into her deception, wondered how many wheels she could possibly have going, whether she had lied to this "Vic" like she had lied to him.

He let the thug threaten him down to the garage, then took control of the situation. With a name, he could find a history, figure out her angle.

"How do you know her?" Holding the nail gun to the back of Vic's head, watching him squirm. Crude, but effective.

"She's my girlfriend, was my girlfriend. Bitch stole fifteen grand worth of coke from me, hit me in the head with an ashtray for no reason. I got stitches, man, trust me you do not want anything to do with Sarah."

Shoving the nail gun more firmly into the back of Vic's head, Paul pressed onwards. "When did you last see her?"

"Last week, last week." His voice was climbing higher and higher in panic. "What's she got into with you, huh? Let me tell you about Sarah, she's crazy, faked her own death, left me to see her body in the morgue, all messed up, pretended she'd jumped in front of a train."

If he'd seen a body in the morgue, thought it was Sarah, thought she'd jumped in front of a train—he'd seen Beth. Beth was really dead, unless there was another double like "Alison" on the couch. Unlikely. Paul felt himself go cold, almost shot the asshole in the head on principle.

Though this also opened up unimagined vistas of perspective on Sarah (minor criminal on the run from ex-boyfriend, possible history of abuse), raised the possibility that Vic was in on it wither her.

It was satisfying to nail Vic to the Muskoka chair when he lunged for Sarah as soon as her back was turned, satisfying to see her face as she warily evaluated Paul and his capacity for violence, satisfying when she turned Vic out and stayed inside with him.

But she was a criminal, he didn't trust her, and he was going to get the truth out of her if it killed her.


Clones.

That actually made a lot of sense.


Paul was getting a better sense of Sarah Manning's life, her past decisions painting a picture of her present. So different from Beth, but he saw reflections every time she turned her head, the shrug of her shoulders, the shape of her frown.

He saw the shape of her past in the way she had talked to Vic, the way she had handled him. Paul wasn't sure she was doing any better sticking with him, but knew that he would hold on to her. He had failed Beth, could never make it up to her but could try to pay his debt forward to Sarah. She was prickly and sharp and full of sharp edges, just like him, and she had stepped into his life as a cuckoo but made it richer, made it more honest. He would shield her as best he could, stand by her, keep her safe as long as there was breath in him.


Sitting across a desk from Olivier (Kevin), Paul reflected on the fact that Beth had known, had felt the suffocating net spread around her even if she had lacked the clarity to find a way out. Beth had died for Paul's unwillingness to act, but had been driven to it by the same forces that stayed his hand.

Olivier told him what he already knew, that the woman in his home, in his bed, was not Beth, was an imposter. They wanted him to spring the trap around her, help them make her disappear into a facility where he would never see her again, where he would be unable to help her.

He had failed Beth already, would feel guilty to the end of his days for his failure. He couldn't also fail Sarah, full of sharp edges and deceit, prickly and secretive. He warned her, and the trap closed around him instead.

He saved her life, but then she saved his.


"When I first saw you I thought you were dead boring," she admitted much later, lying in his arms in her disapproving brother's bed.

(Felix's eyes had flipped up and down Paul evaluatively, before sniffing and quirking his eyebrow in a meaningful way at Sarah. Paul had an uneasy sensation Felix knew more about what was going on than he did, didn't like the feeling, didn't particularly like Felix.)

He hummed a question back at her, enjoying the way she felt in his arms, the way her hair smelled. He couldn't decide if she smelled subtly different than Beth, even using the same shampoo, or if he only imagined they were not physically identical.

"Yeah," she laughed her husky laugh, turned slightly to look at him. "Boring yuppie boyfriend." She grinned, teasing.

"What changed?"

"Who says anything did?" She laughed again, grinned, clearly delighted to tease him.

(So different from Beth, serious Beth, who had never really laughed like this with him.)

He mock growled and shifted to lean over her, "Are you saying this is boring you?"

More serious she looked up at him, familiar-stranger eyes twinkling but mouth solomn. "No, you're not boring, you're dangerous." Smiling again: "But I think you're on my side." Then she leaned up to kiss him, and they didn't talk any more that night.