“I wanted to be the person you thought I was.”
“I know who you are, Natalie. I know you. You’re...good.”
Natalie turns to look at them.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Philip raises his gun.
“Don’t do this.”
“Please don’t do this.”
“If I could do anyth- please!”
“Whatever happened way back then-”
“Прости меня, мать. Прости меня, отец.”*
“Wait! Just wait!”
“It’s not his fault!”
“It’s not her fault! You heard what they did to her! You heard it!”
She reaches for her own gun.
“You can’t do this!”
She has no choice.
“You can’t do this!”
“No, John! John!”
She fires again.
“I wanna get out of here. We should just go.”
The road unfolds in the darkness.
“I mean it. Let’s go home.”
They stop at a safehouse in New Jersey.
Philip pulls the car into the driveway.
He cuts the engine.
For how long, she doesn’t know.
Suddenly, Philip is at the passenger door.
He opens it.
He bends and wraps an arm around her waist.
Gently, he tugs her up and out of the car.
His hand steadies her.
He guides her toward the safehouse, up the steps and through the front door.
He flicks on lights as they enter rooms.
He takes her directly to the bedroom.
She sits on the edge of the bed, the plain, brown comforter a thin cushion beneath her.
Philip disappears for a moment, or longer.
When he returns his disguise is gone. He holds a glass of water in his hands.
He extends it to her and she accepts.
She sips. Once. Twice.
She doesn’t feel it going down, but it helps.
He takes the glass from her and places it on the nightstand.
He returns to her field of vision, towering above her.
He takes her hands in his, pulls her from the bed and leads her to the bathroom.
She sits on the lid of the toilet while he turns on the shower.
As the water runs and heats, he removes her disguise, piece by piece.
Until she is left in only her underwear.
Steam rises from the shower.
He unclasps her bra, slides her panties down her hips.
Both fall to the floor and join the pile of her clothes.
He pulls back the shower curtain and she steps into the tub.
The water is near scalding - the way she likes it.
For a moment she is alone.
The water pelts her face, blasts away the touches of makeup from her disguise.
She is unaware of Philip joining her until she feels his hands on her body.
He lathers her with soap - the nondescript, nearly-scentless kind that seems to exist in every safehouse.
His hands rub and knead and slide across her skin.
They move to her hair. He massages shampoo into her scalp, works it into the long strands.
He turns her toward him.
She stares into his eyes as he tilts her head back.
He holds a hand at her hairline, shields her from the suds as the shampoo rinses out.
The shampoo and soap swirl down the drain.
They stand under the hot spray, face to face.
Their foreheads touch as they lean against each other.
She closes her eyes.
Philip wraps her in a towel.
He finds a brush among the sparse toiletries under the bathroom sink and nods for her to go back out to the bedroom.
She sits on the corner of the bed and he stands behind her.
He runs the comb through her hair, delicately works through the knots and tangles.
She remembers him with a young Paige, worried he would pull the brush too hard through the curls and waves she inherited from them both.
Satisfied with his work, he returns the comb to the bathroom and switches his towel for his boxers.
He brings her her panties and his undershirt.
She stands and unwraps her towel. He takes it as she slips her underwear back on and pulls the cotton t-shirt over her head.
He leaves the room to turn off all the lights and check the locks.
When he returns she is in bed and the room is dark.
He joins her.
They lie on their backs, not touching.
The mattress is hard and unyielding.
She turns first, studies his profile in the darkness.
His head turns toward her and she acts.
One fluid motion is all it takes to straddle him.
She grinds down and leans forward.
He responds to her kiss at first, then pulls back.
She can feel that he wants her, but he hesitates, questions if he should.
She attempts to resume, but he continues to hold her fast.
“Not like this.”
He rolls them. She is beneath now.
He hovers above her, and then descends.
His lips trail down her neck while his hands slide up under her shirt. His thumbs find her nipples.
She moans and arches into him.
His mouth captures her lips. He kisses her slow and deep.
His hands pause their teasing and tweaking to lift the shirt from her body. She raises her arms to ease the task.
He regards her for a moment, takes her in.
She does not shy or look away. She lets him see it all, bare and exposed.
His thumb strokes the faint line of the scar on her abdomen. A shadow passes across his face.
She reaches for him, draws him away from the places she knows his mind goes.
Her legs wrap around his waist, pull him closer.
She wants the contact. Needs it.
He is more than willing to comply.
His hands and lips resume their earlier work. He tweaks and nips and kisses and grinds, plays her deftly, builds and builds and builds until she is strung tight, taut and needing release, desperately seeking it.
He knows the exact moment to give it.
She nearly cries with relief when he finally slips inside her.
He holds still for a moment, flicks his hips once, twice.
Their eyes lock and he increases his pace, builds to a steady rhythm, brings her to the edge, and then slows again.
She arches up against him, urges him to go faster, but he maintains the pattern until she can finally feel his control slip.
The end is a frantic, hurried mess. A collision of skin and lips and teeth and hands that leaves her shaking and spent.
He doesn’t let her roll away, keeps her trapped in his arms. She doesn’t fight it, doesn’t think she could move if she tried.
Their chests rise and fall in unison, the only sound in the room their breaths, deep and heavy.
The pads of his thumbs brush across her cheeks.
Only then does she realize that the shaky breaths belong only to her, that the salt she tastes on her lips is both sweat and tears.
He holds her and doesn’t say a word.
Her decision is made.