He's paying the waitress when he first spots her from inside the coffee shoppe. Her eye makeup is running down her face from the pouring rain and he's almost tempted to snap a photograph right then, but it's not worth it; the glass window would cause too much a glare. Instead, he leaves his coffee unfinished, not taking his eye off the girl who seems to walking away as he grabs his camera and tries not to run out the door.

"Ma'am!" He's still awkward about this, which is strange. Henry DuVaul is one of the most well-known photographers in New York City, any girl would be more than happy to model for him. But, he doesn't like that. Well-known models aren't his style (not to mention the fact they intimidate him beyond belief), he prefers ordinary people, people who he sees on the street or in a store, everyday places. And, though he's asked many others before her, still, the tips of his ears burn red. She turns, grimace disappearing as she looks him over. "I was wondering, would you mind if-"

"Fifty dollars. It's pricey, but worth it." She cuts him off, lips pursed into something unreadable. He raises an eyebrow; he's never had a model like this, naming a price off the bat. Fifty dollars wasn't that bad, though, and she looked like she could use the cash. He grins, gripping his camera a bit tighter and begins to say something else when she interrupts him again, "Okay, if you wanna do this, come on. I charge by the hour." She seems not to care that his mouth is hanging open, grabbing the arm of his coat and tugging him (though, not forcefully) to follow her down the street. They walk in silence, or, if you could classify it as such. Her high heels click and squeak on the wet concrete, the ghost of music from the dancing club sounds from a block over. The woman (or, girl? He can't tell.) coughs regularly, but is unfazed in a way that he knows she's not sick. They come to a stop in front of a sickly, pathetic little motel with peeling paint and sign that's only half lit. Her eyes dart between here and Henry, until she finally decides they are to move on.

The longer they walk, the nicer the the buildings become (honestly, though, Henry's too preoccupied with trying not to get his equipment soaked to notice). At last they come to a towering hotel, brilliantly lit and reminds both of them why they moved to New York in the first place. She looks to him, almost nervous, teeth grazing her lip. "Is this..?" The words have a softness, vulnerability he wouldn't of guessed she possessed.

"Oh, it's fine!" He fumbles over his words and she nods stiffly, but he catches the relieved glint in her eye. She struts inside with him following, impatiently waiting at the check-in counter while he basks in the dry, warm air. Rubbing a well-worn cloth to the camera lense, Henry attempts at small talk while paying for a suite, "Do you usually do this here?" The woman looks strangely out of place in the borderline-fancy establishment; makeup running down her cheeks like tears, frizzy curls piled on top of her head, soaking wet and wearing more jewelry than his great aunt. A flash of hurt passes through her eyes before it's replaced by something of a rage.

"It's no business to you where I work my nights." Her tone is clipped, anger dripping from each word. Henry mentally scolds himself; he's never been good with girls. Especially girls like this. Usually he'll stay quiet during shoots, only speaking to ask them to pose a different way or tell them they're done for the day. He always has a way of screwing things up.

"I'm, uh, I'm sorry. Didn't mean to ask about your personal.. life." He's going to continue, but he realizes the effort is futile and will probably result in a very angry client once again. The two walk quietly to the elevator, and Henry tries not to stare at her too long, but, really, how can he not? She's not anything like the girls he's worked with before; girls-next-door, blonde bombshells. There's an edge, a rawness about this woman in everything she does. The way she swings her hips as she walks in her slinky, too-short dress, the piercing glare of her dark eyes, the shocking red color of her full lips. Her undefined curls and the curved slope of her nose. Henry's a visionary, an artist; he notices beautiful things as his job.

She practically kicks in the door as his turns the key, blocking his way in. Holding out her hand and tilting her her head ever-so-slightly, pink tongue peaking between her lips, he forgets his train of thought, lost until she clears her throat. "Oh, uh... sorry." He rummages his wallet and gives her three twenties, "Keep the change." Henry nervously smiles, hoping to make up for offending her earlier. She looks genuinely surprised, but takes it anyway.

"Whatever you say." She shrugs, walking towards the bathroom, "I'll be out in a minute." She leaves him, dumbfounded and sitting on the bed. He's never had someone request to work somewhere, but the girl seems to know what she's doing. Henry polishes his lense once more, even though he's well aware it's clean. He almost thinks he hears the girl humming in the other room and grins to himself; maybe she'll warm up to him, after all.

"Hey," She smiles as she walks out a different person; ever curl in place, eyes large and magnified by perfectly applied liner, cheeks pink and her pout an even more shocking crimson. He's forgotten how to speak, mouth hanging open as she walks (glides?) towards him, stopping only inches from his lips, "What would you like to do with me, first?"

"I, uh..." His heart's thumping too loud for him to think straight, and he can barely swallow, "I..."

She laughs; dainty and bell-like, "Would you like me to choose?" The woman doesn't wait for an answer, untying her robe and opening it slowly, which finally jolts Henry from his mute phase.

"W-what are you doing?" He squeaks out, trying not to look at the very beautiful, very exposed woman in front of him. She's at his neck when he pushes her off, stumbling but not falling.

And her robe falls off.

"Thehell was that for?" She shouts, not fazed by her sudden lack of clothing. He stares at her for a moment before realizing what he's done.

"You're... oh, God. Oh, God, I thought you were... oh, God." His face grows redder with each word. She continues glaring at him, gaze somehow landing on the camera in his hands and her eyes widen. Crimson seeps into her cheeks, creeps down her neck, coming to a stop at her chest. The silence in the room in deafening, neither daring to move, until the woman quickly grabs her robe and runs into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Henry rubs his eyes, embarrassed, confused and kind of turned on. What the hell is he supposed to do, now? How could he have been so stupid? Did he really just hire a prostitute?

He hears sniffling from the bathroom.

Henry's never been good with women. He's never been good with tears. Mix the two together and Henry is probably the most incompetent moron in this part of NYC. But, what the hell is he supposed to do? She's been in there ten minutes by now, it doesn't seem like she'll be coming out anytime soon. What kind of guy would he be if he let her stay in there, listening to her cry? Against his better judgement, he stands and slowly makes his way to the door. Knocking tentatively, he clears his throat, "Hey... uh..." And, then it hits him; he doesn't even know her name.

Shit.

The sniffling immediately stops, to his relief. He shoves his hands in his pockets, shifting on his feet awkwardly until she emerges, red-eyed, but other than that, looking just as she did before. "There's been a misunderstanding, I guess." She states calmly, "I'll give you your money back and be out of your hair in a few minutes."

"N-no!" He startles both she and himself, "I mean- if you want to, I'd still like to work with you- n-not the way you wanted! I mean... but..." Finally, he gives up and motions to his camera equipment, while she stares at him with the best goddamn poker face he's ever seen.

"Let's get some things straight. First, I did not want to. It's a job." She glares up at him, pointing her finger into his chest for emphasis, "And, second... you still pay me by the hour." He grins and she fights hers back, resulting in some sort of grimace. Henry watches her as she turns back into the bathroom, clicking the door softly behind her and wonders what the hell he's getting himself into.

xXxXxXx

Click.

She's lying across a chair, lips formed into an innocent pout while her eyes speak an entirely different language. Her body shifts in just the right way, he gets her at just the right angle. "Beautiful." He murmurs to himself, but she hears him. Her cheeks go pink and-

Click.

"Okay, um, try sitting at the window." He suggests and she obeys, carrying her hips in the same way as before.

Click.

She looks back at him as she hears it, surprised, but almost laughing to herself.

Click.

Her dress contrasts the pale, eggshell curtains; she stands out like a blotch of ink on paper. Her wild curls drape around her shoulders, frizzy and crazy and absolutely breathtaking. She looks directly at him through her lashes, giving a tiny smile, and he almost forgets where the button is. When did it get so hot in here?

Click.

"Bed?" She suggests it, this time, with actual innocence in her voice. He stutters something, having to remind himself that, no, that'snotwhatshe'stalkingabout. She doesn't wait for an answer, climbing onto the creamy sheets and sprawling out in a way so endearing that he-

Click.

He swallows and walks over, gently brushing her hair in a way that's more photogenic, but can't help noticing how soft her curls are, how the corners of her eyes crinkle in the slightest way as she smiles up at him. He grins back, getting the camera right in her face to

Click.

She curls into the blankets, peeking up at him.

Click.

She smiles.

Click.

She moves closer.

Click.

Too close.

Click.

And proceeds to grab the camera from his hands.

Click.

"Hey!"

She giggles.

Click.

He rolls his eyes, trying to wrestle his precious baby from her grasp, but she's relentless and they topple over, falling onto the bed. He pushes her curls out of his face and she smiles, faces mere inches apart. She lifts the camera above them.

Click.

Henry grabs it away, finally, and sets it on the bed. "You want to take a break?" He asks and she nods, falling back on the bed. He certainly does not notice the way her dress rides up her thigh, how she licks her lips, how she bats her eyelashes at him.

"You know.." She smiles deviously, shifting to rest her cheek on her fist, eyes raking over him, "You can do whatever you what with me for the hour. The offer still stands."

"I... I don't even know your name." He shakes his head, reaching over to polish his lense again. He doesn't do that with his clients, and yeah, he's had more than a few advances through the years. It's only for fame; he can make them famous, if he really wants to. But, Henry's old-fashioned. It means something to him. Not that he has a problem with what this girl does with her body; times are tough and not everyone can afford to pay the bills will the average 9 to 5.

She looks pained, conflicted. "I..." She begins, "I don't usually give my name to clients."

"Well..." Henry shrugs, a smile twitching at his lips, "I'm not your client. You're mine."

She smiles, rolling over to face the ceiling. He assumes she's not going to tell him, and that's okay. In her line of work, it's for safety reasons. He gets that. That's why he's surprised when she sighs, rolling back over (in a position so close that her breath tickles his lips) and whispers, "Natalie."

"Well, then, Natalie." He emphasizes her name, loving the way it feels on his tongue, and extends his hand, "I'm Henry." She takes his hand in mock seriousness and he cracks a smile.

So does she.

Click.

xXxXxXx

"It's late." Natalie muses, "It's been a few hours." Her eyes dart to his wallet on the table and she arches an eyebrow.

"I know- I just... it's almost one in the morning." He tries not to sound desperate, "I... you could stay the rest of the night and leave in the morning. I can pay!" Fuck, now she probably thinks he's a creep. He's starting to like her presence; the short temper she had earlier is something he assumes to be to make sure she's not taken advantage off. He likes that, how she's not afraid to be in charge. He hasn't worked with many girls like that, and he sure doesn't want to lose her so quickly. Plus, why should they waste a perfectly good room?

Natalie cocks her head, considering. "You don't have to do that. I'll be fine, I know my way around the city at night." But, he gives her this silent plead and she sighs dramatically, "Buy me room service in the morning, and we have a deal."

xXxXxXx

"F-fuck..!"

"God, so beautiful... fuck..."

"Mmm, harder, please."

"You're so-"

"-So close."

"God... Natalie!.."

"H-Henry!"

xXxXxXx

Henry Duvaul wakes to someone in his bed for the first time in six months.

Her lips are bruised, curls matted, makeup smeared and she's practically snuggled into his chest. He hasn't grinned this big since... he hasn't. And, so, he can't help himself. He reaches to the side table and gropes for his camera, clicking just as her eyes flutter open.

"Good morning." He kisses her forehead and she smiles weakly, squeezing her eyes shut, then sits up slowly, letting the sheet fall from her chest. Now, Henry is not a perv. He is an artist, and again, he looks for beautiful things as his job. And, so, it's completelyfor his job when he jumps out of bed and snaps a few shots of her- mused, sleepy and quite beautifully naked.

Her lower half is tangled in the sheets, her hair splayed across the pillows, smoldering eyes glancing up at him. She's quite possibly the epitome of sex.

"Henry?" She asks, after a minute or two of furious clicking, "Can I take a break?"

And so, they order room service. He tries not to notice the long, raised scar running from her left breast to her pelvic bone, and she tries not to notice him staring. It gets unbearable as time goes on until she glares, "Take a picture. It'll last longer." And, he does, in fact, pick up his camera, but the look on her face leads him to realize what she meant.

"Oh. Sorry."

"Whatever."

Silence.

"I-"

"Please drop it."

More silence.

Henry, you may have learned, is quite impulsive. He really, honestly can't help that he reaches out to trace it with his finger, that he needs to feel the delicate, pink skin. Natalie tenses, but doesn't make a move to stop him.

"Is this okay?" He asks, because something seems off.

"It's fine." She answers quietly, but he pulls away. Her breathing is irregular and her fists clenched, but she doesn't say anything else.

Her whole life, she's let people touch her. It doesn't mean she wants them to.

xXxXxXx

"I should go." She stares out the window, watching people rush by. He nods, deflated, but sputters something out as she grabs her clothes.

"You, uh.. you're really photogenic. If you want, you can come back here tonight and, uh, do another shoot?" He stammers, expecting her to decline.

"Maybe. If I'm not busy." Natalie shrugs, but he sees a smile in her eyes.

"Tonight at eight?" He asks, hopeful, packing his equipment.

"We'll see, camera boy."

xXxXxXx

He waits outside the hotel from seven forty five to eight thirty, watching people walk by, walk in and out of the hotel. Snapping a few pictures, Henry starts to doubt she'll come, and he's about to give up when someone grabs his arm.

"Hey." She smiles, dressed in something completely different than the dark get up she was wearing earlier; floral patterned (though, still extremely short) dress, hair styled in near-perfect ringlets, a white headband contrasting her dark locks drastically, "Sorry I'm late. I had a... job. But we finished early."

"...Finished early." He laughs and her face turns scarlet, "Well, I'm glad you... came."

"Bad wording. And shut up." But, she's laughing, too, "So... are we going inside?"

"Well, it's still early." He looks around, where businesses and restaurants are just beginning to turn on the outdoor lighting, "How do you feel about ice cream?"

"Ice cream?" She stifles a laugh, "You're taking me out for ice cream?" Natalie smiles, shaking her head, "You know... I think I'll take you up on that." And so, he grins and they link arms, walking down the sidewalk as if they own the city. They pass people playing music on street corners, sketch artists selling their work every few blocks, restaurants with candle lit tables outside. "I don't usually work in this part of the city..." She sighs, eyes drinking in the sights, "It's... wow."

"Yeah. Wow." He grins, watching the way her eyes light up with every building they pass. Finally they reach a dainty little corner shoppe, brightly lit and painted a candy-colored blue. "After you."

The establishment itself is cold, but has a homey feel, which Henry always likes. It reminds him of where he grew up, back in Washington. Another couple, along with a mother and her kids are inside, enjoying their ice cream. Natalie smiles at the kids and the mother glares at her, eyeing her outfit. The family leaves and she glowers after them, biting her lip.

"Nat?"

"Hmm?" She asks, turning around. He's at the counter, pointing to the sign.

"What's your favorite flavor?"

"Oh... um..." She drums her nails on the table, "I like vanilla?"

"Vanilla? I'm shocked. You came off to me as a chocolate kind of girl." Henry teases, ordering, then walks over with a chocolate and vanilla cone, "Hey... weren't there kids sitting over-"

Her icy expression shuts him up.

"So... what do you like to do?" He asks, sitting across from her.

"I... what?" He's caught her off guard, "I, um... I don't know."

"You don't know what you like to do?" Henry raises an eyebrow, leaning forward, "I don't believe you. There must be something you like."

She sits, puzzled for a moment. "I used to play piano. I really liked that."

"Do you still play?" He frowns when she shakes her head, "Why not?"

"I don't have the time." She mumbles, busying herself with her ice cream, "Doesn't matter. I wasn't that good, anyway."

"I'm sure you were great." He covers her hand with his and she doesn't pull away like he expects her to. They sit there, talking, and they slowly figure out little pieces of each other that seem to click. Nat's lastname is Goodman, he learns. She's the daughter of an architect and her mom's vacant. She moved to NYC to pursue piano, but it didn't go well. She's been working (an 'escort', she calls herself) since she was seventeen. She's twenty three.

Natalie listens as he tells of his upbringing in the slums, how he grew up in foster care with lots of sisters. She cocks her head as he tells her of the first time he touched a camera, back when his sisters were so avid on wanting to look like the infamous Bonnie Parker, and he photographed them in each of her famous poses. Taking pictures is the only thing he's ever been good at. He's twenty six.

Their ice cream is long melted by the time they leave, walking back to the hotel in a comfortable silence. The check-in desk is manned by the same woman as yesterday, mousy brown hair tied into a bun and a pristine, royal blue uniform. Her tired eyes widen ever-so-slightly at Natalie's new appearance, so very different from the night before. "Sorry, dolls," Her accented speech is high pitched and grates on their eardrums, "We's all booked for tonight."

"Are you sure?" Henry asks, anxious, "Not one room left?"

She shakes her head and gives an apologetic smile, to which Natalie remains stone-faced. He sighs and leads Nat out of the building, "Well, I had... fun, tonight." She shrugs, but she really means it, "I should go, then."

"Wait. If you still want... we could go to my apartment? It's where I usually do shoots with other girls." He offers, since they're already drifting in that direction.

She pretends to think about it, "Are you sure you're not just trying to get me in your bed again?"

"Oh, you've figured me out." And they laugh loudly, causing a few passersby to turn and shake their heads. Somehow, their hands end up intertwined and he doesn't mind in the least.

xXxXxXx

His 'studio' isn't that big, but it serves it's purpose and does it damn well.

Henry murmurs to himself as he snaps the camera excessively, watching Natalie's every move. He's told her to do whatever comes naturally, and so now she's smoking a cigarette and it's possibly the sexiest thing he's ever witnessed; watching the smoke billow from her lips, hanging in the air above her. She eyes him with a look so devious he's questioning whether or not she'd be more qualified for Playboy.

"How am I doing, camera boy?" She smirks, walking over to blow smoke in his face, "Am I Marilyn, yet?"

She waits just long enough for him to put the camera down to wrap her arms around him and attack his lips.

"You... you know you don't have to do this, right?" He asks in between kisses, hands planted on her hips. She backs away slightly, panting, confused.

"I know. Do you... want me to?" She asks, tone uncertain. He smiles, holding her at arms' length.

"Do you?"

The way she practically tackles him is enough of an answer.

xXxXxXx

He kisses her awake and she appreciates this act verymuch.

"Good morning." He mumbles, tightening his grip around her waist, tracing a rough finger in circles on the soft, pale skin. Her eyes flutter open and Henry's coming to appreciate how deep a brown her eyes are. She closes her eyes again, snuggling down into his pillow. He smiles, pushing her curls out of her face, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "You should probably get dressed, I have an appointment with another girl in about an hour."

"'Pointment with a girl?" She muses, propping herself up on her elbow, "Wha'do mean?"

"I'm taking her picture. For a magazine." He clarifies, "It's not like your sort of... appointment." He smirks, letting her playfully smack his arm. "No, but really, we should get dressed."

"Sure." She sighs, leaning down to collect her clothes, "You want me gone, or?"

"Uh... no. I mean, you can... stay, if you want." He shurgs, and she accepts the offer silently.

Though, she's starting to wish she hadn't.

"Okay... perfect..." He grins, snapping picture after picture of a young, large-chested blonde. Jeanie's her name, Natalie believes, but then again, she doesn't really care. What she cares about is that she's got her hands all over him during their breaks, whilst Nat is forced to watch from the loveseat in the back of the room. She doesn't know why it bothers her; plenty of the guys who've hired her before have been taken, hell, most have been married. Why the hell should she care that some floozy has her eye on Henry?

And she does care. That's what scares her.

She cares enough to keep quiet and watch, stony faced, as 'Jeanie' poses again and again for the man who's making her rethink the entire premise of her career.

xXxXxXx

"She's nice." Natalie comments as Henry bids Jeanie goodbye with a kiss on the cheek.

"You hate her, don't you?"

"Floozy."

He just sighs and goes to the kitchen, not wanting to continue the conversation. She follows along, propping herself up on the counter and swinging her legs.

"I have an appointment in an hour." Natalie says, busying herself with examining her nails. Henry nods, unfazed as he pulls something from the fridge.

"Would you be done in time to, uh, come back for dinner tonight?" He asks, pouring them both a drink. He likes Natalie. He likes the way she talks, the way she carries herself so sure, how little shame she has. He likes the dimple on her left cheek and the way she puffs out her cheeks subconsciously. He likes her name. Natalie. So uncommon, much like herself. He likes it, likes her.

"Dinner?" Nat sips her drink, "I think I'm.. I'm booked most of the evening. I can come back at seven?" She shrugs, realizing the way she's talking. She's shaken, almost, by the easy way they make plans. Natalie doesn't do this with other clients, hell, she's never been like this with any other man. But... she thinks she likes it. She likes that Henry respects her job, and at least tries to respect her body. She likes how she can feel safe in his arms, how he kisses her so tenderly, as if afraid of hurting her. She likes that a lot. She likes Henry a lot.

"Seven. I'll make pizza. Pepperoni pizza."

"I'm a vegetarian." Natalie downs her entire drink, hopping down from the counter and grabbing her bag from the table. They share a kiss and she's out the door to be with another man, and you know what? He doesn't mind.

As long as, at the end of the day, she comes back.

xXxXxXx

"Cheese pizza, no meat." He announces proudly as she sits down across from him, music playing softly in the background. Natalie smiles, devouring it like she hasn't eaten in weeks. Which isn't true; she hasn't eaten properly in weeks. A candy bar here and there, a pretzel or two, if she can afford it that week. She's not starving, but she'd certainly been getting there.

They eat in somewhat of a silence, Henry joking once or twice, Natalie making a comment about the food. But, they don't really need to talk. It's one of those comfortable silences that feels normal, complete.

Soon the dishes are in the sink and they're lying on the couch. He's stroking her hair, listening to her breathing. Nat closes her eyes, napping in his arms. She's cute when she's sleeping, he thinks. He could get used to waking up to this.

And, he plans to.

"Nata?" He nudges her, watching her eyes shut tighter, before opening to look up at him.

"Mmm?" She raises her eyebrows, tired, confused.

"Want to move to the bed? I mean, it's late enough to go to bed. You seem tired." He chuckles, sweeping a curl out of her face. Natalie nods, about to stand when he picks her up (with little effort, he surprises himself. He'd like to think he'd gotten stronger, but in reality, Natalie is extremely small.)

"My legs work just fine. I'm capable of walking, Henry." She rolls her eyes, crossing her arms.

"I'm aware." He says, and that's that. So, she lets him carry her, bridal style, into his room. She even lets him tuck her in, doesn't protest when he wraps his arms around her waist and kisses her goodnight.

It's the first time in years she lets someone take care of her, and really... she thinks she likes it.

xXxXxXx

Some nights, he goes to sleep alone.

He leaves a coffee on the counter, leftovers in the fridge. She doesn't like him waiting up for her and he gets that, but he can't help but listen for the creek of the door opening at two in the morning, the water running in the bathroom, when she tries to set her bag down as quietly as she can. And, when she finally sneaks into bed, curling into him and falling asleep almost immediately, he pretends to be asleep, too.

No matter how late she gets back, he always awakes to the sound of her even breathing, her curls in his face.

Until one night, he doesn't just hear the creek of the door, the running water. He hears crying.

It's four in the morning and she's spitting blood into the sink.

"Natalie?" He rushes over and she tenses, not turning to face him, "God, Nat, what happened?"

"It's-" She coughs and spits out another wad of bloody saliva, "Nothing. I'm fine. Please go back to bed."

"No, look at me." He takes her shoulders and turns her around, appalled at her black and blue stained features, "Oh... God..." He doesn't know how to react, scared, exhausted. He just hugs her and she stands awkwardly, until she has to push away to spit into the sink again.

"He wanted me to stay, and I said no." She says calmly as he cleans her up, "He offered money, but I don't do overnight jobs." She shrugs, "So he punched me a few times." He's horrified, but she looks almost serene, as if it doesn't bother her. "I got away, though. Punched him back." Natalie smiles, "All these rings came in handy." He examines the bruising on her stomach, which isn't too bad, but still angers him.

"Henry, I'm okay." She runs her fingers through his hair, "It's not like it hasn't happened before." Nat idly trails her finger down the pink scar he noticed when they first met, and he makes the connection. She seems to sense it, too. "It was a long time ago. A broken beer bottle. He wanted more than I wanted to give. Eventually, he got it." Sighing and hopping off the bathroom counter, she peeks into the other room. "The sun's coming up. I'm going to bed."

After that, he waits up for her every night. Natalie doesn't object.

xXxXxXx

He likes having Natalie in the studio. The models are starting to, too.

"Okay, girls... here, I'm going to fix your make-up." She's good enough that Henry's tempted to hire her as a make-up artist, but he knows she'd probably think he wants her to quit her current occupation. Which, yeah, he does. He worries himself to the point of sickness that she'll come home bruised and beaten again. But, she has to quit on her own terms. The problem is, he's not sure if she ever will.

"Your girlfriend's sweet, Henry." Jeanie comments one day, and he's about to stutter something to deny the label, when he notices Natalie looking over and smiling, within earshot. He beams back, looking back Jeanie.

"Yeah. She is."

xXxXxXx

"How was I supposed to know?"

"Henry- how do you not know that hotdogs are meat?"

"I... oh my God, have I been eating dogs this whole time?"

"..."

xXxXxXx

"A date?" She laughs and he pouts, "You want to take me on a date?"

"What's so funny about that? Nat, you haven't been out to have fun in ages." He shrugs, "Wear the dress I got you for your birthday?" She hadn't had the chance to wear it out, yet. Wearing the dress your boyfriend bought you while you're fucking some other guy is not too classy in Natalie's book.

"Fiiiine." She drags out the word, walking back to their room to grab her dress and bag. Ten minutes later, she walks out and he's still not over how beautiful she looks without make-up.

"You look like a star," He kisses her forehead, "A vision in blue."

She rolls her eyes, though blushes at his words, "Let's go."

The club is playing some Elvis hit, one she knows the tune to and so she hums along as they dance. Once or twice, a boy with ask to cut in and she declines, much to Henry's pleasure. He likes having her to himself for the night.

"Fuck... we should go." She murmurs into his ear, voice worn out and strained, "One of my clients is over at the bar and he saw me."

Henry nods, not questioning her and soon they leave, swinging their twined hands, stopping for ice cream on the way home.

"What flavor?"

"Chocolate."

"Ohh, feeling wild tonight, are we?"

"Add chocolate sprinkles, please." She winks and he grins.

He makes her wait til they get home to try her first bite of chocolate ice cream, just to capture the moment on film. It's possibly the stupidest, cutest, strangest picture he's ever taken; it's his new favorite.

xXxXxXx

"I love you." He smiles, stroking her cheek as they lay twined together under the sheets. She nods, weary, tightening her arms around him.

"I know."

xXxXxXx

"You know, there's a piano in the basement." He says out of the blue, one day, at breakfast. Natalie perks up ever so slightly, trying not to get too excited.

"Really? That's nice." He sees her trying to play it off as no big deal, but there's a glint of something he's never seen in her eye.

"Want to see?" He asks, but there's already up and walking to the door, down the stairs. She's practically giddy; it's been so long, would she even remember how to play?

She had nothing to worry about, because at that piano, she was back home. Every note is perfect, every melody strings together perfectly. She's sixteen again, still has hope to get into college, still at home with her dad and her unloving mother.

"You're amazing." He breathes, and she just notices him on the bench beside her. Natalie grins, kissing him hard and hugging him close.

"Thank you." She mumbles into his shoulder, voice thick and tears in her eyes. From that day on, she plays for him every day, anything she remembers and, sometimes, her own inventions.

xXxXxXx

One day, he notices she's stopped going out every night.

No more bruises.

No more appointments.

He's beyond proud of her.

xXxXxXx

"Nat?" He begins nervously. She laughs and cocks her head, but loses her carefree expression as he pulls a velvet box from his pocket, "Nat, I know this is rushed. I know. But... I love you. I want you to be safe. I want to be with you the rest of my life. Will you-"

The color drains from her face.

"-marry me?"

She swallows. He waits. She doesn't move. Neither does he. She clenches her fists. He clenches his teeth.

"I... tomorrow. Give me until tomorrow."

He nods, throat thick and heart sore. But she smiles and he does, too.

xXxXx

That night she says it.

"Iloveyou," She cries out, sweating and clinging to him desperately, "I love you... so much."

He says it, too, but it's not a big deal. He's always said it. He always means it.

Nat clings to him even as they fall asleep, and, for some reason, he thinks he hears her weeping.

But sleep overtakes him before he's sure.

xXxXx

Henry Duvaul wakes to an empty bed for the first time in six months.

His blood runs cold. Maybe.. maybe she's just making breakfast. She's in the kitchen. Watching the news in the living room. Or had to run to the bathroom. Yeah. Of course.

He pads through the quiet apartment, searching for any sign of her. "Natalie?" He calls out, swallowing hard. "Nat? Babe?" He searches everywhere, frantic, finding nothing. The scent of her perfume no longer lingers in the air. Her shoes aren't at the door. Her bag isn't in the living room.

There's something on the table.

His camera, which he knows he didn't leave here. His wallet, fifty dollars missing. A new role of film, which he would later develop to find pictures of himself that she took herself, pictures of her at the door, holding her things. He doesn't know that, now, though. He still has hope.

Well, he did. Until he notices the note under the camera.

'I told you it was pricey. I hope it was worth it.'