(Effortlessly, I feel my soul slipping away. My sanity fading, my morality twisting, and when I look up all I see is blood. Death, and all its friends, grinning at me. I want to scream. I want to scream, run, run far away, but my feet are plastered to the ground. My body is immobile. I can't swallow, I can't breathe, I can't blink. All I can do is stare, stare at the damage, stare at hell, stare into the eyes of a dead man I shot seconds ago––)
Footsteps. Frantic. Two warm hands hold either side of her face, and Piper can feel Alex's heartbeat against her chest when she holds her. It's a brief embrace. Rushed. Alex is panicking. Shaking. Tears are pooling in her wonderful, green eyes and Piper's heart breaks. The gun falls from her hand, and she gasps, stepping back when Alex turns away. She watches her kneel down to Felix's body, press two fingers to where his pulse should be. Feels nothing. Alex stands, pushes her glasses higher up the bridge of her nose, looks at Piper.
It's a second. A split second when Piper sees fear. For a split second, Alex is scared of Piper. But the terror doesn't last; she comes back to her senses. Remembers who Piper is, remembers she is no killer, that the blood on her hands doesn't belong there. Alex is the bad one here. Alex is the evil, twisted psychopath. Not Piper. Piper is innocent, she has always been innocent. She is good, and she has always been good. Her family have seen her as the good child, the favourite. Alex comes forward, Piper shudders, lets Alex pick up the gun at her feet.
(Hold me. Tell me I'm not a bad person.)
Alex stuffs the gun into the waist of her trousers. Passes Piper her bag. Piper moves, takes it. Stops breathing. Watches her, wide eyed. Her eyes are so blue, so bright. They pause, gaze on each other undisturbed, until Alex speaks. 'We got to go.' Her voice is trembling, she's whispering; she's scared, and when she grabs Piper's hand, pulls her to the door, Piper doesn't want her to let go. In this moment, Piper will go anywhere with Alex. Go absolutely anywhere, she doesn't care. She doesn't care; she just wants to leave, to never look back, to vanish.
The snow bites her flesh. Piper hates the darkness, but, right now, she is grateful for the lack of light. They can't be seen, and she doesn't want to know who heard the gunshots. Two bullets. Only minutes apart. One to the head. The other to the throat. Luck. Pure luck. Piper has never shot in her life; it was luck, it was fucking unfortunate good luck. (I am no killer, I am no killer, I am no killer, oh Gods, oh Gods, Alex, what have I done?) Suddenly Alex halts, pulls out her mobile, types a speedy text. Then she lets go of Piper's hand. Walks away, presses the phone to her ear. Piper stands there, still wide eyed, still shaking, and she nearly calls out when Alex starts to move a little too far away for her liking. However, Alex spins on her heel, returns, and then she's pacing. Back and forth. Back and forth. She's speaking quietly, calmly, to whoever is on the other end of the phone.
After a couple of minutes, Alex hangs up. Piper wants to speak, wants to talk to her, wants to hold her, wants to kiss her; she wants so many things, but she's paralysed. Clinging to the bag, pressing it against her chest, staring ahead, eyes wide, breathing quickly, too fast. Alex is quiet, and this frightens Piper. She looks at her, looks away, looks at her again, but Alex is still, waiting, staring down the road, waiting, waiting, waiting. Tears threaten to pour from Piper's eyes, but she forces them back. She can't cry. She has no right to cry.
(I am a killer.)
Then she hears it. A car. Skidding on the turn, and zooming in their direction. It's a black car, small, camouflage. Alex suddenly grabs Piper's hand, hears the blonde gasp in surprise, and drags her to the edge of the curb. The car breaks harshly right before them. A woman steps out. Fiery red hair, trailing down her shoulders, dark eyes, tall. She glances at Piper, then Alex. She doesn't look at Piper again. 'You've fucked up big this time, Vause.'
'Be a fucking hassle to me when I have time, yeah? Just do what I'm paying you to do.' The redhead shakes her head, but doesn't argue. Alex looks at Piper. 'Go with her. I'll meet you shortly.'
'What?' Finally, Piper finds her voice. She doesn't recognise it. 'Alex?'
'Just do it.' Alex pulls at her arm. 'Trust me.'
'Don't–– Don't do this––'
'Piper, stop fucking around. I know what I'm doing.'
She's angry. So fucking angry. Piper's worst fears have been realised. Alex may as well have slapped her across the face. It's enough to make Piper yank herself out of Alex's grip and walk towards the redhead. No one says a word. Piper scowls when the redhead grasps the collar of her blouse, opens the passenger seat door, and literally pushes her in. Mentally, Piper swears at her, calls her a "bitch". Frantically, she turns, looks out of the other window to see Alex. But she isn't watching her. Her eyes are on the redhead, and the two women share a look, a knowing one, as if secretly agreeing to a gamble, before the redhead slips into the car, starts the ignition and drives away.
The moment Alex is gone, Piper realises how alone she is. She looks at the other woman, who sits with her back straight, shoulders rolled back, unnerved. Her eyebrows are raised slightly, and there's a sense of professionalism behind her posture. It doesn't take long for Piper to gather she's done this many times before. She's used to fleeing, or helping criminals flee, escape the country to find safety. And she looks bored, impatient; she would rather be doing something else.
Darkness floods the atmosphere. Piper leans back in her seat, watches the houses and street lamps go past in a blur. She inhales. Tries to calm down. But she's fucking scared. She's just shot two men dead, and now Alex has abandoned her? What the fuck? What the fuck is going on? Piper is suddenly raging, hating the woman sitting beside her, looking so tedious and cold. She hates how allowing Alex back into her life has ruined her future again. Everything is tumbling down, everything is fucked up all because of Alex, all because she wants Alex.
(Why do you keep doing this to me?)
Piper whips her head around to face the redhead, frowns at her.
Despite her aggressive tone towards Alex, the woman's voice is gentle and warm towards Piper, and the blonde immediately feels more repulse towards her. Because even though Alex is destroying her life, she still feels protective over her. Still feels as if she should defend Alex against anyone who so much as lays a finger on her. How weak. Piper is so fucking weak.
'Don't tell me to be calm,' Piper retorts, but her shaky voice betrays her. 'I have no idea what's going on, so don't tell me to be calm.'
The redhead cocks a brow. 'Hm. She forgot to mention you were feisty.'
She. 'Her name's Alex.'
A grin. 'Oh. How cute. You're trying to defend your girlfriend's honour.' She shakes her head, and the grin falls. 'If you hadn't met her, you wouldn't be in this shit, sweetie.'
Sweetie. Piper clenches her jaw. 'And my name's Piper.'
'Okay. Well, my name is Rachel. Nice to meet you, Piper. Before you bring out your claws, just know that I'm doing you a fucking favour here. Alex owes me. Big time, and not just for this. So watch your fucking mouth, or I'll kick you out of the car. And I don't give a shit if Alex fires me, beats me, threatens me –– I'll just do it.' And Piper believes her. There isn't a doubt in her tone, no quiver, no pretence. This woman tells the truth, and she delivers it bluntly without any fear. She's tougher than Alex, edgier, and there's a bite in her voice.
Obediently, Piper is quiet, but she's still angry, and she isn't sure what she's angry about. So many things have happened in so little time, and she hasn't had a moment to collect her thoughts. She just can't believe Alex left her like that, yelled at her, told her to stop fucking around when Piper had every reason to fuck around. And how dare Alex be angry at her? How fucking dare she scold her? Piper swallows, holds the bag tighter.
(I can still see his face, his surprise. As soon as the bullet went through his neck, I saw everything he was hiding. I saw so many emotions: fear, anger, disappointment and even innocence. Then he fell back, crumpled up against the wall, wide eyed. To think if I had been a second later, less than a second late, he would have shot me––)
'We're nearly here.'
(––I shot him.)
The car pulls into a driveway.
(I shot two men.)
Rachel turns off the ignition.
A hand rests on Piper's shoulder. She looks at the redhead. 'You coming in or what?'
It's a stupid question. Piper doesn't have a choice. The ground beneath her feels unstable as she follows Rachel out of the car, towards the small house ahead. It looks normal, like any other home, with a small garden. Snow crunches beneath her shoes. Piper peers over her shoulder, then to the door. Rachel stabs her key into the lock, turns, lets Piper in. The blonde can smell perfume, the type of perfume her mother wears, and it makes her ache. Makes the guilt come rushing, but she has to ignore the guilt, she has to ignore it all.
Rachel guides Piper to a room on the left. It's a lounge. A settee at one end, a TV opposite, a computer is switched off on the desk. A few paintings on the walls. No photographs. Piper sits down, tense, still clinging to the bag. Rachel pulls out her mobile, leaves the room, and starts talking to someone on the other end in a different language. Piper's head is fuzzy, her mind is numb; she can't decipher what language Rachel is speaking.
(The paintings are ugly, yet strangely appealing. The house is too clean. Rachel lives alone. I want my heart to stop beating so fast; it's beginning to hurt. I want to stand up, I want to grab Rachel by the scruff of her collar, and demand what's going on. Suddenly, I don't care about Alex's whereabouts. Suddenly, I think –– fuck you. Fuck you for leaving me, again. Fuck you for making me clean up your shit again. Like your errand girl.)
Suddenly the doorbell rings. Piper stiffens, turns to the doorway as she watches Rachel walk past. The door opens. A man greets her, steps inside. 'Is she here?' This is a different voice. Piper jumps to her feet, drops the bag, approaches the doorway. Rachel hears her, looks in her direction, faces the speaker, 'Yeah, she's here. What, did you think I'd ditch her?'
Piper sees the man first. He's dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and she doesn't recognise him. His brown eyes catch sight of her, trail down her appearance, but he quickly loses interest and proceeds past. Piper hears the other voice again, 'Knowing you, I wouldn't be surprised. You have a knack for changing your mind last minute––'
'Fuck off, Vause.'
(And, just like that, the anger fades. My energy weakens, and the ground cracks. My insides tighten, and my heart pace quickens. I flush. I tremble, and I desperately barge past Rachel, my hands reaching out to grab Alex's top. I don't see her face. I press myself against her, hold her so fucking tight, and feel her arms wrap around my waist, feel her hand rub my back, but Alex is talking again. Her eyes are on Rachel, not me, and she's still mad.)
'Did you contact him?'
'Of course,' Rachel snaps.
Then, to Piper's horror, Alex's arms slip from her body and she comes closer to Rachel. 'I have an hour. We have an hour. So fucking do what you can to change Piper's appearance. I don't care what you do, just get it done.'
'You know, you can be such a bitch.' Rachel sneers at her. 'Since when did you give a crap about your girlfriends? Certainly struggled when it came to me.'
Piper nearly flinches. She stares at the two. Then it all makes perfect sense.
'I don't give a shit,' Alex responds, and brushes past her, following the man she walked in with to a separate room. Piper wants to catch her, but one look at Rachel forces her to stay put. There's envy in Rachel's eyes, a new form of hatred, and Piper glares back.
Rachel exhales. 'Come on.'
Surprisingly, her voice is gentle. Piper follows her up the staircase, but doesn't soften her expression. Rachel pulls her into a bedroom. A twin bed in the centre, multiple colourful cushions on top, and a lavish red quilt. A drawer, polished wood, the surface stacked with makeup. And a desk, folders and paperwork atop. Rachel starts searching through her drawers, her wardrobe, retrieving different clothes, then a box on the high shelf.
When Rachel looks at her again, the jealousy is still there, but there's sympathy too. 'You don't have long. Just do what I tell you to, and you'll be fine.'
(I remember the way she kissed me, before I left. How she comforted me and told me everything would be fine; that she'd meet me in Brussels, and we'd go from there. I remember her arm around my waist, her hand pressed against my breast, how she held me possessively, as if I was all hers. I was all hers. Every part of me was hers, and she had no idea. By the time I left the hotel, I was already sweating, already breathing frantically, already panicking, already hating myself. And I wanted to run, I wanted to run. I just wanted to run away.)
That's all Piper thinks about. The very same fear, the panic, the dread.
And the sheer will to do anything Alex asks. To follow her to hell and back, even if it ruins everything she's lived for.
Their fake passports are already done. Alex pays the man, but he doesn't leave just yet. 'For now, you must stay in Finland. It's a fucking long trip, but as long as you do what you're supposed to, you should be fine. This is the first plane I could get you tickets for, so if you don't like Finland, then tough.'
Alex glances at her passport, then Piper's. She reads their temporary names. 'Cecilia Brooks and Diane Ashby.' She raises her brows. 'Classy.'
'Save your jokes for your girlfriend.' He pockets the cash Alex handed him. 'You get caught, Vause, then you're on your own. Your crazy girl shot two people dead, and fuck knows if your boss is going to be chasing your tail too.'
'Thanks. I wasn't aware of that. Tell me more.'
He stares at her bluntly, rolls his eyes. 'Whatever. Be on that plane in forty minutes.' With that, he leaves the room and she hears the front door slam shut behind him. The silence starts to creep its away into Alex's mind, makes her worry again, but she knows exactly what she's supposed to do. Alex grabs a shopping bag she brought to the house with her, and enters Rachel's downstairs bathroom. Inside, she wets her hair with the tap, retrieves the hair dye from the bag and squirts it onto her palms. It's easy business, stuff she's done before.
After fifteen minutes, Alex's black hair is blonde, and she doesn't like the colour. She doesn't like bright colours, but, right now, she can't complain. Alex removes her makeup, applies a faint eyeshadow, red lipstick. Then, she stuffs her glasses into the shopping bag, before chucking it into the bin. Two contact lenses delicately rest on the sink's basin. Alex hates contact lenses. She winces when putting in the first, and then the next.
Just as she leaves the bathroom, she spots Rachel coming down the stairs. Alex turns her attention to Piper who follows behind. She's wearing cut jeans, black top and leather jacket. The brunette wig almost looks natural. Alex retrieves Piper's passport, and passes it over, 'Your name is Diane Ashby, and if anyone asks, you're travelling to Finland to meet your family. Your sister has just had a baby. Work on your accent. You should be fine.'
Piper is watching her silently, and Alex can't read her expression. She doesn't know if Piper is in awe at the blonde hair, the contact lenses, or the fact Alex has just shoved a fake passport into her hands. Whatever it is, Alex is not willing to waste more time to ponder. She looks at Rachel, and from the corner of her eyes she sees Piper stiffen when she does.
'Take her to the airport.'
'Why aren't you tagging along?' Rachel asks, but she's already heading for the door.
'Because Piper and I can't be seen together. I'm not risking anything.'
Rachel cocks a brow, but more out of snide than anything. 'Fine, whatever. I'll get the car ready.' She doesn't look at Piper, doesn't want to, and leaves without looking back.
When Alex catches Piper's gaze, it's a mistake. Suddenly she's overwhelmed with so many emotions she can't grasp a hold of; she doesn't know what to do with herself, doesn't know what to say, and it's horrible how distant Piper feels. Alex can barely fathom what she's thinking, feeling. She's still terrified from when Felix nearly shot Piper, she can still see the gun aimed at her, she can still see it all happening, and she can't handle it.
Piper nearly died. Because of her.
How the fuck can Alex handle that?
'You have to switch planes at Oslo. Meet me there.'
'We have to take separate planes, so I may be a little delayed meeting you. Don't wait for too long, though. If I'm not there in half an hour, stop waiting. Get the next plane and you'll be in Helsinki. A friend of mine will meet you there.'
'Don't make a scene. Don't make yourself noticeable. Act calm, and... Piper, just don't fuck up.'
'We can talk when we're in Finland. Just go get in the car.'
Piper stares at her, out of breath. Her lungs feel heavy. 'Don't leave me.' Alex pinches the bridge of her nose, sighs heavily. 'Don't you fucking leave me.' Finally, Piper feels a few tears trickle down her cheeks, but she roughly wipes them away. 'I don't want you to leave me––'
'Stop it!' Alex grabs her by the shoulders, and shakes her. 'Piper, stop it! I'm not leaving you. I'm not going to leave you. But you can't lose it. You can't start to lose it now. I need you to do this. Please, do this. We'll be in Finland before you know it.'
'You'll meet me in Oslo.' It's not a choice. Piper isn't making this a choice. 'I need to know you haven't been caught. I need to know you're still fucking alive.'
'I wasn't the one who had a gun pointed at my face.' Alex's lower lip quivers, and Piper feels as if she's been hit with a ton of bricks. It occurs to her Alex isn't angry at her, she isn't frustrated with her. She's just angry at the situation, angry that she nearly lost Piper. 'You're not the only one who's going to be freaking out, so just do what I've told you. The first plane takes around seven hours, and you'll arrive in Oslo. Are you getting this?'
'You then get on the plane to Helsinki. That should take around an hour and a half.'
Alex kisses her. It's a brief, but urgent kiss, and Piper feels her knees weaken. She kisses her back, grabs at her top, but Alex is already pulling away. She has to pry Piper's fingers off her, 'I don't know yet. I'm pretty much making this up as I go along.'
'Piper, go. I'll be with you again soon.'
And she goes. Piper clings onto the last moment she has with her, before pulling her bag over her shoulder and leaving. The snow has stopped falling, but the chill is unwelcoming, makes her teeth chatter. Rachel is waiting in the car, and she says nothing as Piper falls into the passenger seat, cold tears staining her cheeks. As the car drives away, Piper leans back against her seat, holds her bag close to her, and begs, begs, begs that wasn't the last time.
(... just come back, come back to me again.)
Begs that Alex will keep her promise, and meet Piper on the other side.