Dear all,

this is a short prequel to my story titled Sandcastles/The Bars Between Us that I wrote last year. It can also be read as a stand-alone fic set in 2x10. I thought about posting the story as one long chapter but decided to divide it into a few short chapters. I hope it cheers you up and brings you something to look forward to in these uncertain times.

I hope you and your loved ones are well. Much love, winter.

The Night That Never Left Us

Chapter One

The dust had settled on the Buttercup Road and the day had settled into the afternoon. They were in the motel, the wound on his arm was tended to, and as reluctant as he was, he knew she needed some space.

So Michael closed the bathroom door behind him, putting up yet another barrier between Sara and himself. He leaned on the sink, letting out a sigh he was hiding from her since his feet had touched the gravel of the Buttercup Road. She was okay – well, as okay as someone could be after finding themselves in ruins because of bad faith.

He had thought his scheme reached its nadir when Bellick told him about her overdose. Then she informed him of her father's death, unequivocally placing the governor's blood on his hands, as if he hadn't already been crumbling under the mound of the body count. He had never been arrogant enough to believe his plan would unravel swimmingly, but by now it had failed so spectacularly that falling in love was by far the most innocuous detriment. If one discounted the furor it caused in her life, of course.

He left the bloodstained clothes neatly folded by the sink. The warm stream of water was soothing, ridding him of the dust of the desert and the sweat of the chase. His forehead sought the cool tiles in hopes of quelling the panic that constricted him. She didn't say yes. Maybe Mahone had appeared before she could realize that Panama was the safest, the only option to consider as far as she was concerned. But the gun she had stared at in the abandoned factory had to prove to her that while people may be after her, bullets that waited to pierce through him, and his brother, were manifold. He could deal with any blemish on his plans but the one of her not getting out.

There was nothing about her mien when she tended to his freshest wound to make him hopeful, let alone confident that she would still be there, perched on the bed or standing by the window, once he'd emerge from the bathroom.

He wanted to ditch the vagueness of his words, replace the casualness of his request with the reality of his fears. They, whoever it was that had set this nightmare in motion, knew she had left the door unlocked that last evening in Fox River. They had to guess by now that she was important to him. He knew they wouldn't think twice before taking her to entice him out of his plans or shoot her dead to teach him a lesson.

Michael couldn't think of the last day that had passed without his heart sinking, but never before had it felt as devastating as now when there was a knock on the door. Too many people had been instructed to shoot him on spot and too derailed his plans had gotten for him not to assume the worst. He let the water running as he listened for a voice that was not hers or shrieks induced by someone's hands on her. Nothing gave away any struggle.

He shut off the water and wrapped a towel around his waist. Still not entirely pacified, he looked around for something, anything he could use as a weapon, and chided himself for forgetting it wasn't just the two of them, but the two of them against the world.

He ran his hand over his head, hoping it hid the relief when he opened the door and Sara was all he saw. Glancing over her shoulder, no shards from the broken window were dotted across the floor and the thick curtain was undisturbed, still keeping them hidden from their hunters, for now.

"Sorry, I am so sorry," said Sara. There was a kettle in her hands and a light blush resting on her cheeks as though she had not seen his inked chest before. But they weren't in Fox River anymore where the coat she had worn assigned their roles. "I just need some water."

When he reached for the kettle, his knuckles brushed against hers. It might be coincidental, it would be accidental with anyone else, but he caught himself wanting it, and the way her eyes didn't connect with his, he knew she did, too.

The door behind her slowly came to a close. The steam covered their reflections in the mirror, leaving them only to each other. They were not a slot in her schedule, there was no one already waiting to see her. No nurse would burst into the room after a knock too quick to hide any indiscretion. He was no longer an inmate and she no longer his doctor; now, they were a man and a woman, finally freed of everything that had kept them away from each other. The time they might still not have, but they had right now. He wanted to take off her clothes, pull them off her, let the towel crumple on the floor. He wanted to taste her on his tongue, wanted her hands to tease him, pull her into the shower after him. pin her against the wall, have her wrap her legs around him, love her, fast, because he didn't know how long they had, quick, so that he could do it again.

He was ashamed of just thinking about this, about her, like this in this place, in these hours.

"Sure," he said. His eyes sought her face as much as hers were avoiding him, and he felt the cold all over him.

She didn't say yes.

But she was here, still, he tried to reassure himself. Failed, because the morning was still too far away for him to succeed.

"Everything's okay, right?" he asked.

She was still looking at everything but him.

"What? Of course," she said. She forced a smile upon her lips but it did not undo the frown between her eyebrows. He wanted to reach out, take her hand, and make her look at him, listen to him as he reassured her, see the conviction as he reassured her. His mind that never stopped racing, computing the odds that were against them; he had to believe, for her, that things would be okay.

But the kettle was now full and she turned the water off, taking the kettle out of his hands, swiftly, as if she couldn't wait to get away from him. He hated it, of course he hated it, but he couldn't blame her for it.

If until then there had always been words on his tongue when he needed them, an apology would now not leave his mouth. It was just two syllables, and he had never had a problem saying them, even at times when they weren't as warranted as now. But now they seemed so insignificant that they would make no difference even if he said them two billion times.

Sara noticed his struggle.

"What?" she asked.

He just shook his head.

"Don't use all the hot water," she said before shutting the door, shunning him away again.

To Be Continued.