In the daylight, consumed with the need to keep one step ahead of the Company and the unseen enemies in the shadows, there is no time to dwell on their demons.
At night, in the darkness, it’s a very different story. The monsters come for her in her sleep, stalking her dreams. Every night, he wakes to find her twisting on the bunk beside him, her feet kicking away the sheet, a thin sheen of sweat glistening on her skin. Every night, he does whatever he can to pull her back from the edge.
“Sara, it’s okay.” He grabs her flailing hands, gently restraining them against his chest. Her eyes are open, but he knows she doesn’t see him. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
He watches as she comes back to herself, awareness creeping into her dark eyes, quickly followed by despair. “Oh, God.” Her face crumples, and as he gathers her into his arms, he can’t be sure if her cheeks are wet with sweat or tears.
“Talk to me.”
She draws a long, shuddering sigh, then shakes her head against his chest. “I can’t.”
Just as he does every night, he tells himself not to take her refusal personally. “Why not?”
Her voice is little more than a whisper, but it slices harshly through the silent, warm air. “Because talking about it just makes it seem more real the next time I close my eyes.”
He feels as though something is squeezing his heart, wringing it dry. “She’s dead,” he whispers as he eases her gently back onto her pillow, brushing the tangle of auburn hair out of her eyes. “Gretchen’s dead.”
She stares up at him, and there’s a bleakness in her eyes that makes him want to break things into very small pieces. “You thought I was dead once, too.”
His stomach lurches unpleasantly. Sliding his arm around her waist, he bows his head to hers, his forehead pressed against her warm temple. “The Company killed her for allowing Whistler’s double-cross.”
Her hands come up to grip the arm resting on her stomach, her fingertips pressing anxiously into his skin. “I really want to believe that.”
Touching his lips to her forehead, he inhales the scent of her skin and shampoo, a light, heady scent can make him feel at home in the most unfamiliar of places. “She’ll never come near you again.”
She closes her eyes, her lips parting on a soft sigh. “Thank you,” she murmurs, her bare legs tangling with his as she rolls onto her side, fitting her body into the protective curve of his, her hands still wrapped around his arm.
He lies awake long after she’s fallen asleep in his arms, listening to the steady rhythm of her breathing, and prays he isn’t lying to her.
“How did Gretchen die? When was she killed?”
Alex Mahone levels a steady gaze in his direction, unfazed by the blunt question. “I don’t know the details.”
Michael frowns. “Did Whistler know?”
Alex shrugs, his gaze darting back to the floor plan spread on the table in front of him. ““If he did, he never had the chance to tell me.”
“Then how do we know she’s really dead?”
“Gretchen was a mercenary with expensive tastes, Michael, and Scylla was worth millions of dollars. Nothing short of death would have kept her from making that last meeting.” The other man’s gaze narrows in speculation. “Why do you ask?”
Avoiding glancing in the direction of the small boat where he hopes Sara is sleeping peacefully, Michael chooses his words carefully, wanting to be honest, not wanting to betray Sara’s confidence. He knows she doesn’t want her nightmares to become public knowledge. “When I tell Sara she doesn’t have to worry about Gretchen anymore, I want it to be the truth.”
Alex nods slowly, his fingers drumming on the table. “Some lies are easier to hear than the truth,” he finally offers, and Michael suspects he’s thinking of another woman, one far removed from Sara or Gretchen. “Especially if there’s a history there.”
“She deserves the truth.”
“You can only tell Sara what you know, Michael.” The other man gives him a searching look. “If we’re wrong about Gretchen, you and Sara will have to find a way to deal with that.”
“I know.” Leaving Alex to his work, Michael backs away, thinking of the one very important truth he’s deliberately keeping from Sara, and tries to remember exactly when he’d become a hypocrite.
When Lincoln finds him washing his face in the bathroom, the water in the basin is still a faint pink. “You okay?”
He doesn’t look at his brother. Perhaps if he doesn’t look at him, they won’t have the conversation he knows is coming. “Yep.”
“How many times?”
Michael grabs a handful of paper towels, pressing them to his face, hiding his eyes. “How many times what?”
“The nosebleeds,” Lincoln says almost casually, as if they’re discussing ordering takeout for dinner. “How many have you had?”
A burst of irritation streaks through him. Screwing up the paper towels, he pitches them towards the trash can with unneeded force. “Today, or ever?”
“You can’t mess around with this, Michael.” Beneath the reproach in his brother’s voice, Michael hears the familiar fear, and he hates it. “You know that, right?”
“Can we talk about this later, please?” Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, he finally turns to face Lincoln. “What’s happening with Scuderi?”
Lincoln stares at him, his face tight with frustration, then scrubs his hand over the curve of his newly shorn head, as if trying to wipe away their unfinished conversation. “The dude chartered a flight to Vegas five minutes ago.”
“So we’re going to Vegas.”
Lincoln doesn’t smile. “You think Self will go for that?”
Don Self’s reaction to this development is painfully easy to predict, but Michael doesn’t particularly care at this point. “He’ll have no choice.”
“Good.” His brother leans against the open door of the bathroom, his arms folded across his chest. “Maybe you can find a quiet moment by the hotel pool to tell Sara about your nosebleeds.”
Michael’s palm twitches with the urge to smack it against the mottled mirror to his right. “Give it a rest, okay?”
“They’re only going to get worse, you know that.”
He crosses the small room to his brother’s side, knowing he has to get out of here before Lincoln can goad him into saying something he’ll regret. “It’s just a reaction to the increased stress.”
Lincoln is plainly unimpressed. “You were plenty stressed at Fox River and Sona, Michael.” One dark eyebrow lifts, a silent question mark. “I don’t remember it happening to you back then.”
A dull ache has begun to pound against Michael’s temples, pressing against his skin and his skull. “We’ll talk about this later, okay?”
His brother’s blue eyes – so like their mother’s eyes – narrow. “Your head’s hurting right now, isn’t it?”
Michael opens his mouth to deny it, then stops, knowing Lincoln already knows the answer to his question. “I can handle it.”
“You have to tell Sara.”
The thought of burdening Sara with this when she’s already shouldering so much makes Michael feel faintly sick. “She doesn’t need anything else to worry about.”
Lincoln is looking at him as though he’s just starting speaking in a foreign language. “Look, I know it’s none of my business, man, but I think she’d wanna know anything that’s going on with you.”
Michael closes his eyes. He doesn’t need this, not today. They’re so close - once they grab Scuderi’s card, they’re only one step away from the decoding process. When that’s done, then he can deal with the headaches and the nosebleeds. If he treads carefully, Sara will never have to know, at least not for a long, long time. Maybe he’ll tell her in a few years’ time, when they’re sitting on a deserted beach somewhere, the sun hot on their bare skin, her bright hair a glorious contrast to the white sand and blue water surrounding them. “Let’s just get to Vegas and get this done.”
“Did you hear the news?”
“That we’re definitely going to Vegas, yes.” Sara flashes him a gentle smile, her hands busy as she stows mysterious bundles of silk and cotton into her duffle bag. “Roland doesn’t exactly believe in using his indoor voice.”
“Are you okay with that?”
“Going to Vegas?”
He watches her as she reaches for the small makeup bag on her bunk, the compulsion to admire the graceful lines of her body now as natural as breathing. “Yes.”
“Sure.” Her hands grow still, her gaze finding his across the small cabin of the boat. “Are we staying overnight?”
There’s a playful lilt to her voice, and he feels his spirits start to lift. “Why do you ask?”
Again that enigmatic smile, curving her mouth just enough to warm her eyes. “I just thought it might be nice to sleep together in a real bed for a change.”
Something tightens in the pit of his stomach at the thought of spending time alone with her behind a locked hotel room door. Sadly, that’s not possible, not on this particular trip. “Self wants us back here by midnight.”
She shoots him a rueful grin as she turns her attention back to her packing. “Typical.”
He watches as she carefully stashes something skimpy and gold in her duffle bag, and feels a frown tighten his throbbing forehead. “Linc’s going to do the legwork on this one.”
“I know.” She zips up the bag, then gives him a smile. “I’m a great believer in being prepared.” She runs one hand through her hair, the gesture unfamiliarly coquettish, her eyes still locked with his. “Maybe we’ll have time for a swim before we leave.”
His frown fades in synch with the grin spreading across his face. “How about dinner and a show?”
“I could definitely be persuaded.” Her eyes shine with laughter as she turns her back on her luggage and moves towards him with lazy intent. “Too bad Siegfried and Roy are on hiatus, though.”
Every inch of his body is tingling with anticipation of her touch, and she hasn’t laid a single finger on him. “Maybe we could pick up a few cheap seats for Celine Dion?”
Her answering chuckle is warm against his lips, the soft fullness of her breasts flush against his chest as she curls her arms around his neck. He tastes the sweetness of her throat and slides his hands beneath her shirt to stroke the smooth expanse of her belly, the unpleasant thrum in his temples forgotten as his blood sparks with a very different kind of stimulus. “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he murmurs regretfully as she catches his bottom lip between her teeth, chasing his mouth with her own. “But we only have fifteen minutes, so -”
Her hands are suddenly on the waistband of his jeans, her fingers nimbly dispensing with his belt buckle and zipper and sliding inside to find him, straining and aching for her touch. “So stop wasting them,” she breathes, her breath hot against his ear, and then they’re moving across the cabin and tumbling onto her bunk and he’s tugging at the zipper of her cargo pants and palming her breast through her shirt. She sucks in a sharp breath, her hand tightening its grip on his aching flesh, and he thinks he sees white heat spots behind his eyeballs. “God, Michael, hurry -”
They shove at clothes and zippers, their hands clumsy in their haste. Finally, he curls his hand between her legs, the sleek heat of her warming his palm, and feels the gentle sting of her teeth in the crook of his neck, making him shiver. Then he’s on his back and she’s above him, taking him deep inside her with one quick, desperate arch of her spine, and he’s lost in a storm of desire as desperate as it is tender. He chokes out her name as they move together, his skin slick with sweat as it slides against hers, his body twisting and beseeching and demanding. His hands tighten on the swell of her hips as she rises and falls above him, pushing them both higher and faster until they’re both falling, her mouth slick and hot against his, breathing each other in as they tumble together.
Breathless and boneless, they lay entangled on her bunk, and he has the sudden urge to check to see if the windows have fogged up. He’s still wearing his shoes, he realises with an amused start, and shakes his head, grinning. At least he’d taken the time to check that the curtains were drawn. To think there was a time when he thought that quick sex meant bad sex. “You okay?”
Swiping her hair back from her face, Sara smiles down at him. “I’m very good, thank you for asking.” A smirk twitches her kiss-swollen mouth. “And with a few minutes to spare, too.”
He gazes up at her, his heart constricting painfully with something that feels a lot like guilt. You should tell Sara. “I’ll put them on your tab for next time,” he says lightly, but her answering grin only makes him feel worse.
“Make sure you do.”
Thirty minutes later, Brad Bellick takes a telephone call that changes the entire layout of the playing field yet again. Michael finds himself watching Sara closely as Brad tells them what the woman from GATE had said about T-Bag having visited her office. Perhaps even more so than Gretchen, Theodore Bagwell is the one person Michael plans to never, ever let come anywhere near Sara Tancredi. They need to deal with T-Bag, and they need to deal with him now.
When Brad stops speaking, Sara’s gaze immediately finds Michael’s across the room. “Couldn’t Self’s men pick T-Bag up?”
God, how he wished it were that simple. “Self is duty bound to follow the rules and regulations as much as anyone. He’ll have to notify Chicago Bagwell’s been apprehended, and once the local authorities get hold of him, they’ll yank him back to Chicago as quickly as possible.” On the couch beside him, Lincoln is nodding in agreement. “We need to know what he knows about Whistler’s book, and we can’t do that if he’s rotting in a cell.”
Lincoln frowns at Bellick. “And this chick didn’t give you any clue as to where he was right now?”
“Nope, she wouldn’t spill a thing.” Brad gets to his feet, the faintest tremor in his voice as the attention of the room focuses on him once more. “She wants two grand first. I’m meeting her at noon.” His gaze flicks to Michael’s, and Michael sees the barely discernable appeal in his eyes. Brad Bellick might be enjoying this moment in the spotlight, but he doesn’t want to do this alone.
Roland looks around the group as though the answer is obvious and he can’t believe they’re still sitting here discussing it. “Okay, so the next card’s more important, right? So we go to Vegas first, then we deal with T-Bag.”
He’s barely finished saying Bagwell’s name before Sucre barks out a now familiar, “Shut up,” perhaps irritated by the other man’s casual mention of one of Fox River’s most notorious inmates. Roland presses his lips together in a tight, thin line, but he says nothing.
Michael feels the dull pressure begin to scratch at his temples once more, and his brief sojourn with Sara suddenly feels like it was weeks ago. A few minutes ago, they had a simple plan, and now they don’t, and he wants nothing more than for someone else to step up and offer him a goddamned solution for once.
He looks up at the sound of Alex Mahone's voice, unsurprised the other man’s thoughts have mirrored his own. He’d learned soon after leaving Fox River that the intuition that had made him such a formidable enemy made him an even more valuable ally. Michael gives him a nod of thanks, feeling several pairs of eyes on him, waiting, watching, and he feels none of them more keenly than Sara’s. She’s not going to like what he’s about to say, but it’s the best way to keep her safe and as far away from Bagwell as possible.
He gets to his feet, perhaps in the vain hope it will make his announcement easier to utter. “Linc, take, uh-" he falters as his gaze locks with hers, and he hastily looks away, “Sara, Sucre and Roland to Vegas.” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Roland punch the air with his fist. “The rest of us-” he glances at Mahone, who gives him a quick nod of confirmation, “-will handle T-Bag.”
Relieved, he turns to look at his brother, silently willing him to understand why it has to be this way. Lincoln gives him a look that speaks volumes, then gets to his feet and swiftly makes his way towards the waiting SUV. He doesn’t say goodbye. Michael watches him go, his heart sinking at the tension stiffening his brother’s shoulders. He’s angry, Michael knows that, but there’s nothing that can be done about it now.
Sara rises to her feet and grabs her duffle bag, the bright tumble of her hair hiding her face. As if following Lincoln’s lead, she turns to make her way towards the SUV without saying a word. Stung by what feels a lot like a dismissal, Michael quickly goes after her, filled with the urgent need to make things right between them before they part company.
She immediately spins on her heel, turning to face him. If he was a man to indulge in wishful thinking, he’d be tempted to believe she’d been waiting for him to stop her. He reaches out, curling his hands around her arms, gently tugging her close. “Promise me something, would you?”
She lifts her face to his, her hands coming to rest on his waist as she looks at him expectantly. “Yeah?”
There are a thousand things he should say to her right now, but what he wants most is to reconnect, to rediscover the simple joy of making her smile. “Can you get me Carrot Top’s autograph?” Her eyes widen, then she starts to laugh, her soft hair brushing his face as she bows her head. He grins as he runs his hands slowly up and down her arms, memorising the feel of the laughter humming through her. “Because I just think that would make this whole thing worthwhile,” he quips as he laces his fingers through hers as she lifts her head, amusement still glittering in her eyes. She smiles, and he knows he’s forgiven for his decision to send her away.
“Be safe.” Her hand tightens on his hip, drawing him closer, then her mouth is soft and supple beneath his, a lingering kiss that tastes like a promise. Before he can speak, she steps back, squeezing his hand once before she pulls hers from his grasp.
He watches her as she walks away, filled with the almost overpowering impulse to follow her and ask her to stay with him. I’m not leaving you behind this time. He can’t bear the thought of letting her go, but the possible ramifications of letting her stay in the same vicinity as Theodore Bagwell are even more frightening. She’ll be with Lincoln, he reassures himself. She’ll be fine.
As Roland shrieks out yet another war cry, Michael turns to Mahone and Bellick, not wanting to watch Sara leave, not wanting to think of every terrible thing that’s happened to her every time he’s let her go. “Let’s get to work.”
He stares at the frightened face of the young girl who’d unwillingly brought them to T-Bag, watching as the barrel of Bagwell’s gun presses into the soft flesh of her cheek. "How far gone is Michael Scofield?"
He no longer knows the answer to that question. All he knows is that he is very, very tired of being surrounded by casual, careless death. He quickly capitulates - that could have been Sara if he hadn’t sent her away, his brain frantically asserts on a loop – and the girl lives, if only until the next time Bagwell tires of playing with her.
He takes the clues that Bagwell offers him, piecing them together with increasing speed, his pulse quickening in time with his hands as he glues and staples the pages of Whistler’s plan together. He tells Bagwell exactly what he wants to hear, knowing it’s the best way to keep them alive. When the inevitable happens and the other man puts a gun to his head and tells him they’re going to finish their little chat in the offices of the GATE building, Michael lets the tiny paper crane fall from his fingertips to the floor. There was a time when Alexander Mahone had dogged his every step by finding the clues he’d never intended to leave behind. He prays this clue will prove no exception.
Alex Mahone stays true to form. He follows them to the GATE building, and Michael watches as he punches Bagwell with teeth-rattling force with great satisfaction. “I got your message,” Alex tells him casually as T-Bag howls his fury through the wire gate of his temporary cell, and Michael feels at least one of the knots of tension tightening his spine begin to unravel.
An hour later - an hour during which Michael wrestles with the impulse to call Sara several times, finally deciding to wait until he was back at the warehouse - Don Self arrives at GATE, and his first task upon arriving is to inform them that the team on the ground in Las Vegas had been successful in copying the fifth card and were on the way back to LA.
“Here’s your cell phone, by the way,” he says cheerfully as he hands over the phone T-Bag had liberated earlier. “We found it in the kitchen of the girl’s apartment when we picked up her and Bellick.”
As he goes on to talk about how pleased he is that they’d managed to ensnare Bagwell so quickly, Michael checks his phone. He has five missed calls, all of them from Sara over the course of the last few hours. Damn it.
“Oh, and your brother also said something about there being an issue with Roland, but that he wanted to wait until they were back to discuss it in person.” Don Self frowns. “I hope the kid’s head wasn’t turned by all the glittering lights.”
Michael nods distractedly. His relief at knowing the Vegas job was a success is palpable, but the lingering unease that always follows an encounter with Bagwell hovers on the outskirts of his thoughts, making him feel as though he’s missed something. Putting T-Bag out of commission had been too easy, he thinks, and nothing connected to Theodore Bagwell is ever easy.
Unfortunately, as they leave the building and walk into the bright afternoon sunshine, his fears are realised. The three of them stop in unison at the disembodied sound of the ringing phone, tracing the source of the sound to the metal trash can on their left. As if trying to wake himself from a particularly vivid nightmare, Michael watches as Self pulls out a cell phone and answers it, then stares at the pages that Alex pulls from the envelope, pages that are all too familiar. He listens to Self’s side of what is obviously a terse conversation, and a very unwelcome thought comes to him in a rush.
Someone else is pulling Bagwell’s strings.
He turns to Don Self and literally takes the phone from the other man’s hand, knowing the caller is that someone, that they’re being watched and that right now, they’re sitting ducks of the worst kind. “Who is this?”
He hears a soft inhalation of breath, then a voice he’d hoped never to hear again. “Hello, Michael.”
A chill ripples through his blood. Gretchen is dead. She’ll never come near you again. I promise.
He turns to exchange a look with Alex Mahone, whose startled expression reflects his own. “I know what you’re thinking,” Sara’s torturer purrs, the words sounding like fingernails down a blackboard. “Fancy meeting you here, right?”
“What do you want?”
“To make a deal.”
He hears the smile in her voice, and thinks of the feel of Sara’s scars beneath his fingertips. “No.”
“Tell you what,” she shoots back. “How about you give the phone back to the suit, or you’ll never see Scylla? How’s that sound?”
Gritting his teeth, he motions to Self and Alex to move back towards the entrance of the GATE building. If Gretchen is watching them, he wants to make it as difficult as possible for her. Once they’re hidden inside the foyer, he puts his hand over the receiver of the phone and looks at Self. “Find out what she wants, but promise her nothing.”
“You two should head back,” Self whispers, his eyes trained on the phone in Michael’s hand. “I have to wait here for my guys to show up, anyway.”
Alex nods. “My car is parked behind the building. If she’s out front and working alone, which I'm pretty sure she is, she won’t be able to see us leave.”
Michael hesitates. He knows Gretchen, and he’s beginning to know Don Self. If he had to bet on a clear winner in a game of manipulation, he wouldn’t put his money on Homeland Security. But Self’s right – they need to get back to the warehouse and wait for the others to return.
Halfway to the warehouse, Alex finally breaks the heavy silence in the car. “I’m sorry about Gretchen.”
Coming from someone else, it might be an odd apology, but Michael understands the sentiment behind the calm words. The habits of a former FBI profiler die hard, and he knows Alex has been watching Sara, just as he’s been watching all of them. It seems her battle with her private emotional rollercoaster hasn’t escaped him.
He thinks of Sara making her way back from Las Vegas, blissfully oblivious to the fact that her tormentor was still alive and well, and his hands curl into fists on his knees. “I promised Sara that Gretchen would never come near her again.”
Alex looks away from the road ahead to give him a quick but searching glance. “We can still make that happen, Michael. We just have to be careful.”
He’s grateful for the mention of we, but it’s not enough to reassure him. “It’s not going to be that simple,” he mutters darkly, thinking of Gretchen’s demand to speak to Don Self. “It never is.”
Three hours later, Sara and his brother and Sucre and Roland return from Las Vegas, spilling from the SUV amidst the loud accusations of idiocy and betrayal, then the bombshell of the loss of Roland’s device.
Michael stares at Roland, who is busily looking everywhere but into Michael’s eyes. “How could you have been so stupid?”
Roland shrugs. “Gambling’s a disease, man. An addiction.” He casts a sly glance in Sara’s direction, and Michael feels his blood spark with anger. “You know how it is.”
Suddenly weary beyond belief, Michael turns away. Self is due to contact them shortly, and he needs to have some answers ready for him by the time he does, like exactly how they’re going to copy with the final card without having anything to copy it with. Pain stabs at his forehead, and he closes his eyes, willing it away with a force born of pure desperation. Not now. Not now.
He opens his eyes at the sound of Sara’s voice. She’s standing a few feet away from him, cradling her duffle bag against her chest like a shield, her eyes glowing with a tender accusation that makes his heart lurch. Behind her, Lincoln ducks his head as he walks away, but not before Michael sees the guilt etched on his face.
His pulse begins to race, but he manages to offer what he hopes is a serene smile. “Hey.”
He walks towards her, but she doesn’t move, doesn’t smile, doesn’t speak. She just looks at him, sorrow and fear welling up in her dark eyes, and he knows that Gretchen’s survival isn’t the only secret that’s been learned today.