“All this...land out here. You know what it looks like? Home. We’ve got this, too. Why can’t we grow enough grain ourselves? Alexei...some of what he says, I…”
“Everybody has problems.”
Except he’s right.
And she hates that he’s right. Hates that his doubts and questions voiced aloud force her to confront the very same thoughts she likes to believe she successfully buries immediately upon their conception.
But things are not well at home, if any of the vitriol Alexei spews can be believed. The words of a weak, jaded man. Easy to dismiss.
Yet Gabriel’s concerns about the food supply seem sincere and very real.
She is conflicted. Torn between duty and loyalty to her country, and her own instincts and opinions. Perhaps the years of living with Philip have softened her as Claudia always threatened they would. Maybe sharing more about their lives and their work with Paige paints things in a different light.
Or, worst of all, perhaps she has been wrong this whole time. Blind to the truth because of duty and loyalty. Foolish dedication to a lost cause. A life’s worth of sacrifice wasted.
She hesitates by the dresser, conflicted and confused. She fiddles with the radio and fingers Philip’s ridiculous 10-gallon hat.
He incites these thoughts in her head with his tendencies to question things, to look deeper than the surface, to not fully trust the information presented to him. Does it make him weak, like Alexei?
She used to think so. Used to see him as easy to bend and manipulate, wowed by the trappings of their capitalistic, American life. She used to wonder how someone who came from the same place, who grew up equally as impoverished, who went through the same training, and chose the same mission could somehow come out so different.
It took her a long time to see Philip’s differences as an asset, both to the mission and to their partnership. She still has her moments where she is unsure, but not about him. About herself.
Who is she if she is not a KGB agent, a defender of the Soviet Union? Who is Philip?
She wishes she possessed his confidence that they could make it if they had to go on the run, disappear and never go back.
She lifts the hat, stares at it and contemplates her next move.
Behind her Philip sits on the edge of the dingy motel bed, shoulders slumped under the weight of it all.
It doesn’t take her long to decide.
He needs this.
She approaches slowly, hat gripped between her fingers. He doesn’t look up until she’s right in front of him.
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and Philip’s never disappoint.
She dons the hat under his heavy gaze, watches with satisfaction as the gloom fades from his eyes, pushed to the edges by curiosity and amusement as she teases about being crowned rodeo royalty.
This is where she excels - when she’s in control and the situation is hers to mold, the emotions at play puppets on a string.
But then she drops the hat on Philip’s head and he stands, towering over her since she’s barefooted, and the power starts to shift. His eyes are dark now with arousal and soft with something else. Affection, some would call it. Love.
She can’t let herself get caught up in it, still unprepared to accept it and return it in the proper way.
This is about him, she reminds herself. Him and the mission. So she lets him take control, lets him do what he needs.
And when he pulls her close, sways them to the low and slow strains of the country ballad that drifts from the radio, looks at her like she’s the only thing in the whole world he gives a damn about, she tries to tell herself she doesn’t need this too.
He knows what she’s doing.
He’s no fool.
He lets it happen anyway, like he has a hundred times before.
She may be a master pretender, one of the best, but he’s no slouch in the game either. He can throw it right back, pretend her distraction is successful, pretend she actually means it this time, pretend their cover is real.
It’s exhausting, but what other choice does he have?
They’ve been in this for so long now he forgets any other way to be. The time and the place constantly change, the stakes rise and fall, but the dance remains the same.
So he lets her come to him, her pretense of shy, coy hesitance in full display. It’s a powerful move, one that works spectacularly on weaker men. Her slow walk forward, a slight sway in her hips, the delicate quirk of an eyebrow, the constant heat and weight of her gaze.
He wonders if she forgets that he knows all her moves. He wonders if she does it differently with him. He wonders who and what she thinks about when it happens. Still Gregory? Does she disappear far into her mind with them and with him?
He is guilty of projecting falsehoods onto their interactions. He conjures up a life where they are happy and free, no threat of discovery or death hanging above them. He pretends.
His eyes trail up her body, his hat perched upon her head.
She teases, he smiles. The dance is in full swing, their roles assumed and acted out with perfection.
He stands, looks down at her now instead of up. He thinks he sees a flicker in her well-crafted mask but reminds himself it’s all a part of the ruse. If the rules of the game change, it all falls apart.
She wraps her arms around him, allows herself to be swayed, allows him to lead. And this is part of the dance, too. Let him think he is in control.
He soaks it in, the feeling of her body warm and solid tucked against him. He lets himself get caught up in the moment, the music crackling through on the radio, the beautiful, strong woman in his arms. And he slips up, just enough to let her see how he really feels.
Grain shortages and crop-destroying pests. Deadly pathogens and Soviet-hating marks. Teenagers with growing pains and neighbors invested in budding relationships. Boys too young to be filled with so much rage.
All of it matters and yet none of it does.
She is all he sees at the end of the line, when he closes his eyes and pictures how it will end.
There is only her.
Forgive him his selfish moments of indulgence.