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Prelude, Interpose, Afterwards

Chapter Text

Trixie was nervous, the kind of nervous that tightens your insides and makes you feel like your simultaneously going to laugh and shit yourself. It was only a coffee shop, a crowd of maybe 30 people. But she'd never performed on her own before; had always been within a group of others and never the main focus. Her voice wasn't high enough, her look contemporary enough, she was too curvy to be a front runner. These were things that had been said, whispered behind her back. She didn't necessarily feel like they were lies, but she also loved herself enough to know that maybe what she had would make her stand out.

Still, it was one thing to talk yourself up and another to actually go out there and do it.

"You can go start setting up," the girl behind the coffee counter told her, as she made a double espresso for a guy in a shirt that read "my parents think I'm an asshole, but love me anyway".

Trixie picked up her guitar case, which had been sitting at her cowboy boot clad feet and took a breath. She just had to make it seem like she was confident right? And if she messed up, she just had to keep going. Laugh it off.

The lights over the small platform were bright, creating a spotlight effect. The rest of the lights in the small cafe had been dimmed, no doubt in an attempt to create some kind of artistic ambience. This was so not her scene, but she knew she had to start somewhere. And Kim had said that these art student types were usually pretty receptive to the talent night performances. She might feel better if she had at least one friendly face in the crowd, but Kim hadn't been able to make it because of a family emergency and there really wasn't anyone else she felt she could ask. All of her family was back in Wisconsin, and anyway, she wasn't sure she wanted them to see her perform. Not yet.

Trixie adjusted the microphone and began taking her guitar out of its case, tuning out the chatter of the people in the cafe, fully cognizant that in just a few minutes every eye was going to be on her. It was hot under the lights and she knew that her foundation was probably fighting a valiant battle to stay on her face. She fumbled with her guitar strap, heart in her throat, knowing people were probably wondering how long it would be until she started her song- it had been more than five minutes right? What was she even doing? This was a mistake. She needed to-Trixie glanced up as she finally got the strap over her head and was immediately confronted by the amused gaze of a blonde woman, in a sparkly red sweater, sitting directly front row. Her first thought was, wow her teeth are white. Her second was, who the hell dares to have teeth that white? And her third was, oh shit. The woman's gaze met hers and she smiled at Trixie, showing off the rows of perfectly pearly teeth. And Trixie, feeling all kinds of awkward, did what she always did in these types of situations: she went for humour and executed the most exaggerated wink she'd ever pulled in her life, directed right at the woman who was smiling at her.

It was instantaneous; the woman started laughing, wheezy and boisterous and loud. People were staring, and the guy at the table with her looked utterly bewildered, but all of sudden as Trixie watched this woman laugh she knew she was going to kill this performance and that afterwards she was going to find a way to talk to her. She was beguiled, and all she had done was make her laugh.

----

Trixie performed two songs, her two favourite of the ones she had written, and then she was off the stage as a spattering of applause followed her. Gripping her guitar case tightly she made her way back to the counter that the barista was tending. It was the only clear space in the cafe and she needed just a moment to regroup.

"That was good," the girl behind the counter told her in an offhand way. "It reminded me of the stuff my grandpa listened to on country radio."

Trixie took this for the girl meaning she had a vintage sound and not that what she was playing was outdated.

She fished a compact out of her purse and quickly checked that her high teased blonde locks were all in place and that her makeup hadn't smeared from sweat. Applying a quick coat of bright pink lipstick, she shoved her belongings back in her bag and quickly, but casually, looked around to see if the pretty blonde woman was still sitting at the table at the front.

For a moment her stomach dipped in disappointment as she saw the guy from before at the table, but not the woman. Then a voice sounded from beside her, slightly raspy as the person said " yeah, can I please have two coffees, one with two cream and one extremely black. Like peel the paint off your bones black- his words, not mine. And you can keep the change, it's the first thing he's paid for tonight and I am not that kind of girl."

"Preach sister." The barista took the money and Trixie found herself face to side profile with the woman she'd been seeking.

She was short, or at least compared to Trixie's 5'9. Her white blonde hair, obviously recently dyed, fell to her shoulders in thick waves held back from her face with a black headband tied in a bow behind her choppy bangs. It looked like she had cut her hair herself. The woman turned, probably feeling Trixie's gaze on her, and Trixie found herself looking into a pair of stunning bluish grey eyes framed by dark eye liner and eye shadow.

"Hi," She smiled, a closed lipped smile.

"Hi. Hello. Did you fix your eyelash?"

"What?" Trixie was baffled and it clearly showed because the woman leaned closer to her, her eyes crinkling with amusement.

"Well I thought with the way that you were winking at me from that stage that one of your fake eyelashes might have been falling off. Either that or your just really bad at flirting."

Trixie stared at her, her mouth falling open slightly and then she laughed, sending out a shriek that had multiple people turning to look at her "AHhha! Oh wow. Well I was going to ask you if you liked any of the songs, but now I'm not sure if I want your opinion."

The woman began laughing too, wheezy and boisterous just like before. "You did good right up until the joke at the end about your dad. That might have been a bit too much for this crowd."

"Definitely too much," the coffee girl quipped as she deposited two coffee cups on the counter and then moved away to the other end.

"You don't like a good incest joke? I'm just speaking from a place of truth."

The woman leaned on the counter, coming more into Trixie's space. "I love a good joke of any kind, but this isn't my usual scene and I don't think these art house kids are ready for that. Or ever will be."

"Hmm," Trixie hummed, finding herself leaning closer. "You're probably right, woman who has failed to introduce herself so far."

There was that smile again, peeking out from behind red lips. "Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova." She intoned with a perfect Russian accent. "But Tracy, it was Tracy right? You can just call me Katya."

They just looked at each other then, as of weighing the other. Feeling the electrons in the air and trying to see if the other felt it too. This is something, Trixie thought, taking a chance and placing her hand over the one Katya had resting on the counter.

"It's Trixie. Do want to ditch this place Katya? Go somewhere a little less pretentious?"

Katya glanced over to where she had been sitting before, biting her bottom lip slightly and leaving a pinkish residue on two of her top teeth. It was cute, Trixie thought as Katya turned back to her.

"Lead the way Miss Trixie Mattel."

---

They ended up walking around for a bit, keeping to the well lit main street, Trixie's guitar case bumping into the side of her leg in a rhythmic fashion. Eventually they found a quiet looking bar, and situated themselves at a corner table, away from the pool tables and jukebox.

She learned that Katya was a couple years older than her and was in college majoring in art. That she had made the sparkly sweater she was wearing, gluing on what looked like a knock off Hello Kitty smoking on the front. That she was Russian, if the long Slavic sounding name hadn't given it away, but was from Boston.

She in turn told Katya about Beauty School and her ambition to be a singer-songwriter instead of a beautician. About escaping her small Wisconsin town for Chicago and how her grandfather taught her to play guitar and her grandmother taught her how to sing.

"Your grandparents really performed at the Grand Ole Opry? Amazing. My grandparents were soviet spies who turned in their neighbours for violating food ration protocols."

"Is that why your parents came to the United States?"

They were standing outside the bar, Katya having requested that they step outside so she could smoke. It should have been a turn off, but Trixie was finding herself transfixed by the whirls of smoke and the way they danced from Katya's red lips as she exhaled.

Katya shook her head and gestured with the hand holding the cigarette as if trying to illustrate her point. "Don't you know America is the land of promise, Trixie?" She rolled her eyes. "They figured I would have a better life if we came here. It was the USA or Canada; I remember them arguing about it. My Mama wanted to go to Ontario and my Papa wanted to go to New York. We ended up in Boston, the only Russians on a block of Irish Catholics."

She blew out a cloud of smoke, carefully angling her head away from Trixie. The cigarette got stubbed out on the heel of her boot and then deposited into the little trash can by the door to the bar.

"At least you've seen more than just the state you live in. Chicago is the furthest I've ever been," Trixie admitted.

Katya fixed her with a measuring look and then she looped her arm through Trixie's and lead her back inside. "Barbie, I have a feeling that you are going to get to see a lot of this country and others too. You've got talent and I know we just met, but I wouldn't lie about something like that."

It made Trixie feel warm inside.

---

Katya insisted on walking her home, after the bar closed. Neither of them were drunk, having only partaken in water and Diet Coke, but it felt to Trixie like they were both a little high on the rush that comes when you find someone new you just click with.

Trixie lived in a small two bedroom apartment with two other people, but they were students and rarely home. As they walked, occasionally brushing against each other, she wondered if she should ask Katya to come in. She normally didn't just bring people home with her; a one night stand didn't warrant introducing the other party to where she lived and if she wanted to date someone, she didn't take them home on the first date. And she wanted to date Katya; she wanted to see her again and talk and laugh and make her laugh. And yes, she wanted to have sex with her-Katya was beautiful and she had been giving off receptive signals all night. But she could feel that this could be more than just physical attraction and she didn't want to ruin that.

"I don't usually take people home on the first date," Trixie found herself blurting when they reached her building.

Katya looked up at her,almost coyly from under her eyelashes. In her boots she was just short of eye level. "Well I don't usually follow strange lesbians home, so I guess we're both breaking our own rules tonight."

She reached out and took Trixie's unoccupied hand. Her grip was solid, warm.

"I really like you Trixie; I ditched a sure thing hookup to hang out with you. If you want to say goodnight now, then I'm going to give you my number and call you tomorrow. Cause I think we could be good friends, if nothing else. But if you want me to come up to your apartment with you, I'm not going to say no."

Trixie set her guitar case down and brought her free hand up to brush back the hair that had fallen forward over Katya's headband, letting her hand linger on the apple of her cheek. "Can I kiss you Katya?"

A slight nod was her answer and that's all she needed to gently cup the other woman's face and meet her lips with her own. She felt Katya's free hand come to rest against her stomach, could feel her fingers curling into the fabric of her dress, as she pressed forward and deepened the kiss, allowing Trixie full access to her mouth.

Trixie could taste the waxy residue of their mingled lipstick, the slight acrid residue of nicotine and the menthol gum Katya had chewed on their walk over. She had a feeling this particular mix would become one of her favourite sense memories.

Katya moaned, leaning in even closer until they were chest to chest and she knew that was her signal to stop. Breaking away, slightly breathless, she caressed her cheek with the hand still resting there and then picked up her guitar. Katya was still holding her other hand and she used that to pull the shorter woman with her as she turned towards the apartment door.

"Come up to my apartment? Stay for breakfast?"

A squeeze of her hand was her answer and despite the haze of attraction that had settled in the air, Trixie could feel a warm bubbly feeling settling inside her. This was the start of something.

Chapter Text

He'd thought she was beautiful the very first time he'd seen her; an aesthetic ideal personified. He'd been locked out of his dorm, standing outside under the eaves, trying not to get soaked by the falling snow. She'd come out of nowhere, one moment his field of vision had been clear and the next it was blocked by a woman in a furry hat, the kind a Russian Bond Villain might wear. It had been her eyes that had pulled him in, they were so big, such a contrast and when he'd looked into them he'd felt like she was looking into his soul.

With a quirk of the lips, a slight knowing smile, she'd asked if he had a lighter. He'd had to say that regrettably he did not, but he was sure he had one inside. She'd shrugged and said 'thank you anyway sweetie' and walked off, long hair blowing in golden streams where it fell from under her hat.

He'd drawn her that night, imagined her as a Silver Screen Starlet, classic and almost untouchable. When he'd been a boy, passed from foster home to foster home, he'd relied on the stability of the old Hollywood movies his mother had loved. In the Silver Screen classics he saw what he had always yearned for-a family. He'd seen the man get the beautiful woman and create an ideal life. That was what he longed for, that was what he aspired to.

He'd seen her twice more before he'd learned her name. Both times she'd seemed to have an air of being just out of reach, as if she were of this world but not entirely present. She fascinated him.

At the mid year art exposition he'd finally learnt his elusive mistresses name. He'd been wandering through the photography section, glancing at the attempts of his fellow students to capture different perceptions of light, when he'd come to a wall of Polaroid photos. They were whimsical and surreal depicting rain drenched overpasses under watery sunsets. Neon illuminated slick pavement, the Isabell Gardner Museum at sunrise. A children's playground under another sunset, a bottle of whisky just visible propped on the slide. A commuter train platform illuminated by two lights, on a dark night. He'd been enraptured and as his eyes followed the progression of photos they'd settled on the only one that featured a human subject.

She was lying on what appeared to be a slab of concrete, blonde locks spread around her head messily. A cigarette was hanging from her lips and she'd clearly been holding the camera above herself as she snapped the photo. What stood out to him were her eyes, vivid and full of so much life, and so much sadness. He had hastily read the artist profile, hoping that lady luck was on his side.

Her name was Yekaterina. He'd tested it on his tongue, sounded it out and found it welcoming. Yekaterina…

He wouldn't say he became obsessed after that. No, curious was the more apt descriptor. He simply wanted to know more about her, and get to know her. If he learned all he could he would know the best way to approach her and gain her attention.

He found out what dorm she lived in by charming the lonely middle aged woman in the registrar's office.She thought it was simply romantic that he wanted to surprise his crush with a bouquet of flowers. He watched her come and go, saw the type of people she spent her time with. Listened to her laugh at jokes and things only she seemed to find funny. More often than not she was on her own; he got the impression that she was solitary, like himself. That she too perhaps only gave her attention to those who fit the worthy mold.

One night he followed her to a party being held in some kind of den of debauchery. It was too vulgar for his tastes, but he was interested to see what had brought her there. He'd situated himself in a corner with a view of the whole room and watched as she flirted with a boy wearing black lipstick. Was this the type of partner she was seeking? Some trashy goth prototype? The boy kept feeding her drinks, whispering in her ear, running his black nailed hands over her fishnet clad legs. Eventually he slipped his arm around her shoulders and lead her away from the room and up the stairs.

He followed.

By the time he had reached the upstairs, Yekaterina had disappeared into a room at the end of the hall. He could hear her voice, slightly giggly in a way that would have been endearing in any other situation. He stood out in the hall and listened as her voice faded to be replaced with moans and gasps and the hard smack of skin. Bile rose in his throat and he finally ran back down stairs. How could she allow someone to use her in such a way? Did she not realize that she could have more? He waited outside, in the dark night, waited with his thoughts and an ever growing anger.

In the early hours of the morning she finally emerged from the house, Doc Martin boots unlaced, makeup smeared. Her hands shook visibly as she tried to light a cigarette and she dropped her lighter twice before she swore colorfully and gave up, tottering off down the road. He followed at a distance. Once back on campus she sat down on a bench and finally lit a cigarette. From his vantage point he could see that she was crying, silently but steadily, as she smoked. Eventually she pulled out a cell phone and called someone.

"Ginger, hey. Hello. Sorry if I woke you." A pause. "No, I'm not...Ging I fucked up. I fucked up real good. Can I come by? You can go back to sleep, I just don't want to be alone right now." Another pause and then, "Thank you. I'll be there in a few." She walked right by him then, noticed him in the shadows of the early daylight.

"Good morning," the smile she offered was half hearted, and passing at best. But he returned the salutation, watching her as she walked away.

Later, as he was leaving the library he saw her going into the rec centre and the temptation to see what she was doing was too much. He followed her, keeping a couple people behind in the busy hall, as she went into a room with a piece of paper taped to the door saying: MEETING, in blue Sharpie.

He hung back outside the door and listened as a voice asked if anyone wanted to speak. And he heard her voice, hoarse and tired,"Hi. My name is Katya, and I'm an addict. Last night was the first time I've used in a year and it was...I woke up this morning with a guy I don't remember meeting and bruises around my neck. And all I could think was thank God the beginning of break isn't for another week, how the hell would I explain that to my Mama?"

He left then and spent the day thinking; his muse was troubled, burdened. And it was clear she needed a guiding hand, someone to show her how her life could be. Yekaterina- he refused to call her Katya- was lost. He knew what it was to be lost. He would help her; it was meant to be.

Except life threw a wrench in his plans in the form of a flue and he was unable to see her before the end of the semester. He spent his summer back home visiting his former foster mother and working to afford his last year of school. And he dreamed of her, of Yekaterina. Her smile, her laugh, the long cascade of her hair. He planned; this would be the year. He would approach her and begin wooing her,convince her that she was meant for him.

In September he was unable to find her; he watched for her on campus and in the places she would normally frequent, but she was nowhere to be found. He bribed a student in the Registrar's Office to check what dorm she was in, but was informed that while she was still registered as a student she was not living on campus.

Finally he resorted to following the red haired girl he knew to be her best friend. Surely she must know where Yekaterina was; he just needed a glimpse to recentre himself and reestablish what her schedule was so he could find the best time to approach her.

One brisk October day luck finally seemed to be on his side. He followed the friend off campus and to a park. The day was nice and the park was full of people. He sat within hearing distance as the girl sat down on a bench and took out her phone. 20 minutes passed and he was just giving it up as a lost cause for the day, when the object of his affection strode into view.

She looked different; her once lustrous and long locks had been hacked off and bleached a white blonde. And she seemed to move with more boyanasy. The hair was not to his taste, he preferred her classic beauty of months before, but he was curious to know what had caused her to be so bubbly.

"Gal, your 20 minutes late." The friends tone was exasperated.

"I know! I know, I'm sorry. But oh my god, Ginger, I met someone. And it's only been like a week? Holy shit its only been a week…" she sat down beside the girl, Ginger, and grabbed her arm. "Ginger I think I might be in love. Can that happen in a week? Does that even happen? I've never been in love. I thought I loved Becca O'Connell in elementary school, but that faded when a cute boy named Ryan joined our class! Ginger I feel like I'm going to crawl out of my skin. But at the same time I feel amazing. What the fuck."

"Are you high?"

"Bitch! No, I am completely sober. I'm just...I really think I'm in love. And I'm scared because this is so fast. And you know I get attached quickly, like addicted to people. But she is so funny, stupid funny and beautiful and oh my god, so unapologetic. It's amazing and a bit intimidating."

"Back up a minute, did you say she as in a woman? Why didn't you lead with that!"

Yekaterina couldn't stay still,she was practically vibrating. He could see her leg jiggling.

"Yes, a woman. A beautiful woman with the singing voice of a countryfied angel!"

Ginger snorted, looking highly amused. "She's a real chanteuse eh? Ok, what's this beautiful creature's name? How'd you meet? I'm still over here getting over how casually you just mention that your new lover is female."

Yekaterina let out a wheezy laugh that shook her whole body.

"Lesbianism is the new trend Ging, keep up. You know I'm not discriminant. Love is love baby. Her name is Trixie Mattel, we met at a coffee shop while I was on a date with that guy from my Visual Art class. And she basically started hitting on me and I don't know, we just…" she snapped her fingers. "Clicked. I want you to meet her. Not now, but like give me a month and if I still feel this way I want you to meet her."

He'd heard enough. He left the park, leaving his love and her friend to themselves. Once home he went online and googled Trixie Mattel. It was no trouble to find her; within moments he was able to see her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as what looked to be not long established YouTube and SoundCloud. He watched a video of her, playing guitar, some folk tune that grated on his nerves, and listened to her sing. As he watched her, he could feel his blood boiling. She was young, a child really. Barely legal. This was the person that was causing his lovely Yekaterina to act so besotted? This bubble gum, vapid being? She wore more makeup than was contionable for any reputable woman. No. It had to be passing; Yekaterina didn't know what she wanted. She didn't know what was possible for her...but he would show her.

It became hard to keep track of her though; when he finally managed to find the rooming house she had moved into he discovered that it was halfway across the city from the campus. It was impractical for him to take the EL train back and forth like that; he couldn't let his own studies slip, he needed to do well so he could present himself as a stable, successful and level headed alternative.

When he did see his dream woman, she always seemed to be in the company of the painted whore. Whether on campus or off, where Yekaterina went Trixie seemed to follow. It sickened him to see the way she would look at her; the way the whore seemed to have no regard for anyone but herself, but seemed to be able to pull Yekaterina around and bend her to her will.

By the end of the school year he had come up with a solid plan...he was going to move back to California and get a job working in the movies using his degree. He would come back for his lady and sweep her off her feet once everything was in place.

 

He worked hard for a year, and kept a watchful eye on Yekaterina through social media. She wasn't very active, seemed to go through spurts and fits where she would post constantly and then go radio silent, but any time she posted a photo of herself it made his heart sing. She was so lovely, there was no other woman like her...his beautiful Russian Dolly.

He returned a year and a half after last seeing her in person, ready to enact his plan. But it was as if she were a mirage; Yekaterina was nowhere to be found and after some probing he found out that she had opted to finish out her art degree early and departed for parts unknown. He was distraught, despondent, enraged. He scoured her online accounts, the accounts of her friends, the girlfriend-who it seemed she was still with.

He returned to Hollywood and tried to devise a plan on how to find her. This was not helped by the fact that Yekaterina suddenly went completely silent online and the creature she called a girlfriend didn't include her in her posts at all. If he only had a location to start with...but there was nothing indicative of where they lived.

He was offered a chance to work abroad and loathe as he was to abandon his quest, the glamour of working in another country was too alluring. And it would just be another feather in his cap, another accomplishment that would make him worthy of his love. He left America then and as things transpired, did not return for a number of years. He still kept an eye out for Yekaterina, saw the things she posted and the things she was tagged in. He probably would not have returned when he did if it weren't for a video he came across online.

"Oh wow, hi guys its me Trixie. I am so excited, I'm probably going to go throwup after this." The years had not lessened his hatred for this woman; she was everything he loathed in the fairer sex.

"I sold my first song! And I just wanted to thank you all for your support these past years since we moved out to LA and started this crazy pipedream, it's meant a lot."

"It's all happening!" Another voice yelled, one he would know anywhere. Trixie let out a scream laugh that was highly irritating and then smiled at the camera. "Ok I am going to go round up my woman before she ends up throwing up from excitement. See you next time."

He bought a ticket back to the states that night.

Finding Yekaterina took him two weeks, but when he finally did, he was shocked. He found himself sitting in a club, staring at a stage like area as a man with a deep voice boomed over a microphone.

"Ladies and gents and all those who are fluid, you are in for a treat tonight. Coming live to the stage, all the way from Mother Russia; she's been called many things but your Dad just calls her Katya!"

Wolf whistles and hoots followed as music started to play and the lights rose and then she was there. Yekaterina. She shimmied out onto the stage in a high cut dress that left little to the imagination and began what could only be called a seductive and apparently humorous dance to a song that was entirely in russian. He watched with growing discontent as she titillated the audience with a series of increasingly provocative movements, eventually cartwheeling across the stage and landing in the splits. He would admit to himself later that he was in awe at how effortlessly she seemed to move, but that was largely overshadowed at the disgust he felt. What was she doing? Didn’t she realize she was putting ideas in these people’s heads?

He came back multiple other nights to witness more of the same; she was a magnet pulling him in, even when he was displeased with her. One night, he followed a crowd of people out of the club and onto the LA streets, and caught her leaning against the building smoking. A man was leaning beside her, also smoking, and he was just close enough in the throng of people to hear him ask, ‘Are you coming out tomorrow night?” she shook her head, blowing smoke away from him.

“I’m a working woman Matty. Double shift tomorrow; the morning at the gym and until 12am here.”

“Girl, you are going to burn out. I don’t know how you do it.”

Yekaterina shrugged and extinguished her cigarette. “Real talk? Trixie works hard and she’s finally getting somewhere. The least I can do is carry most of our financial burden. And you know I like to be busy.”

At home in his bed he mulled over what he'd heard and observed. He could not judge his Russian Doll, it was clear that she degraded herself out of some delusion that she owed the painted whore something. It meant she was loyal; mislead, yes, but very loyal. A good woman. He knew then that he had waited too long; he blamed himself. If he had acted years before he could have spared her from whatever trials there had been in the last few years.

Well, he would hesitate no longer. Like the leading men of his favourite classic films he would go out and get his lady. It was time; he would have to act carefully, give Yekaterina a chance to see that another option was open to her. And if that didn't work, well he would just have to take drastic measures.

But he knew that either way he was about to change her life. They were going to be so happy together and it would be as if the last few years of her life were a dream she had finally woken up from.

Chapter Text

Katya's favourite thing about Saturday mornings was that Trixie didn't work. During the week they were like passing ships most mornings. Trixie went into work most days at the same time, while Katya's work hours were varied, but many. But on Saturday mornings, Trixie didn't have to go to work and Katya could do her morning yoga and then cuddle back up with her girlfriend until she woke up.

That Saturday she peeked back into their bedroom and couldn't help the smile that curled her lips at the sight of the puff of blonde hair and the single foot that were sticking out from under their comforter. Trixie loved sleep, loved to be able to doze and wake up at leisure. Katya's relationship with sleep had always been negotiable. If she got five to six uninterrupted hours she was ok to go. Trixie, on the other hand, needed her eight hours or more.

Katya moved towards the bed and slowly climbed into her side. Trixie stirred slightly, but only enough to turn her body towards Katya and tuck her foot back under the covers. They had a whole morning before either of them had to be anywhere. Katya had one yoga class for beginners to teach today and then she would head to the club to wiggle on stage. Trixie had the day off and was going to use it to get the paperwork in order for them to apply for an apartment in a building they had looked at.

Katya loved their little apartment, with its shoe box bedroom and living room and postal stamp sized kitchen. She liked the minimalism of it, but could understand why Trixie thought it was time to move on. This apartment, nestled next to Spanish Abuelas and Polish Babcias, was never meant to be permanent. It had been what they could afford when they moved to L.A. and now they could afford more. They were moving up in the world; it didn't mean that Katya wouldn't miss it.

She turned her body towards Trixie's, hooking a leg over hers under the covers. Trixie was dozing now, she could tell from the way she was breathing; not quite asleep but not quite awake. Her eyelids fluttered slightly and Katya took that as her que to move closer until her mouth was level with Trixie's ear.

"Trix…"

"No," came the drawn out groan.

Katya let out a near silent laugh. "Betrix Mattel…" she kissed the shell of her ear and then trailed kisses down her cheek to her neck. Trixie moved slightly to give her more room and Katya grinned. She continued downward, trailing more kisses and light touches until she reached the hem of her nightgown. Still grinning , she pushed Trixie's nightgown up and then as Trixie was arching up into her touch, clearly expecting that something was about to happen, she pressed her lips against her stomach and blew a raspberry.

"Ah! You bitch!" Trixie lurched away from her as Katya cackled, falling back onto her side of the bed and throwing an arm over her eyes as she laughed. Trixie continued her verbal abuse.

"I want a divorce, I don't want to do this with you anymore. I don't know what's worse about waking up next to you every day: your bad breath, the drool you leave on the pillow or the fact that you think its funny to wake me up with juvenile stunts like that." Trixie huffed as Katya's laughter calmed down.

Katya could just picture the look on her face and sure enough when she moved her arm and turned towards her, Trixie was pouting.

"Awww, I'm sorry Barbie. C'mon, come here." She opened her arms and looked at Trixie expectantly, biting her lip so she wouldn't start laughing again. Trixie side eyed her for a moment and then sighed, a smile starting to appear as she rolled over into Katya's arms.

"I hate you," She muttered, pressing her face into Katya's neck.

"I know. I'm a rotted cunt. I don't know how you put up with it." She wrapped her arms tightly around her love, running her hands up and down her back. Trixie didn't reply, but Katya could feel her smiling against her skin.

They lay there in silence for a while, Trixie occasionally pressing a soft kiss into her neck. It was peaceful and made a burst of contented happiness erupt in Katya's chest. When she was younger, and dealing with demons everyday,she used to wonder if she would ever find something like this. Her perpetual drug use and drinking, as well as her poor mental health, made her think that hoping for happiness was far fetched. But then a beautiful Amazonian in pink cowboy boots had flirted with her.

After their first night together at Trixie's apartment, Katya hadn't known what to expect. It had been wonderful, but was Trixie really interested in anything further? It had filled her with anxiety the whole way home and she'd smoked through a whole pack of cigarettes before she even reached her front door. But that night Trixie had called her and they talked for hours. The next day Trixie had met her on campus and they had ventured down to Navy Pier. Every day, that first week, they had talked or had seen each other. Katya had been upfront about her addictions, not wanting to invest if Trixie was going to be driven away by her past. But she hadn't been and now here they were six years later, solid and as committed as they could be without being married.

"Baby, I can feel you thinking. What's up?" Trixie always knew when her mind was working overtime. She always knew when she had to pull her back to earth.

"Nothing. I'm just really happy this morning."

"Hmm," Trixie hummed and sat up, gently extracting herself from Katya's arms. She threw a leg over Katya, straddling her. "Happy is good." She leaned down, carding her hands through Katya's long hair and kissed her deeply. Katya kissed her back, allowing her body to dictate her actions for a moment before she pulled away and wrinkled her nose at Trixie.

"Talk about bad morning breath…"

Trixie kissed her again despite her protestations and then jumped off of her. "Payback's a bitch babe. Don't move from that spot, I'm not done with you!" She yelled as she ran for the bathroom.

Katya stayed right there, blissfully content.

---

"Trix? Do you know where my sunglasses are?" Katya moved a pile of laundry off their couch and started pushing her hands down the side, checking if they had slipped between the cushions and the frame.

"No, I haven't seen them. Did you check your backpack? Like really check and not get frustrated when you didn't see them right away?"

Katya rolled her eyes. "Yeah. They aren't there."

"Maybe you left them at work." Trixie sauntered into the living room, looking highly amused as she watched Katya tear their couch apart.

Katya paused, a throw pillow in her hand and then shook her head in exasperation as it all came back to her. "I left them in the office at the gym. I was going over my schedule."

"Well at least you know where they are this time." Trixie glanced at the clock they had hanging on the living room wall. "You better get going, your going to be late if you don't."

Katya sighed and dropped the pillow, turning to her girlfriend.

"Ok. Text me if there's anything you need to know for the paperwork."

She grabbed her backpack and checked to make sure she had everything she needed, minus the missing sunglasses.

"Hey."

She looked up to find Trixie right in front of her.

"Have a great day. Wake me up when you get home."

"It's gonna be super late."

Trixie shrugged. "Wake me up anyway. Come here." She grasped Katya's hand and pulled her closer, leaning down slightly to kiss both her cheeks and then her lips. Katya deepened the kiss, and would have pushed further, but Trixie pulled away with a laugh and gently pushed her away.

"Get going. Seriously babe, your going to be late."

"Alright, jeez. You're so bossy. I'm going." She shuffled to the door and then paused. "Trixie?"

"Yeah?" Trixie was already sitting down on the couch and pulling the small stack of papers that had been sitting on the coffee table towards herself.

"I love you."

Trixie glanced up and flashed her a smile. "Aww, I love you too babe. See you when you get home."

On her way down out of the apartment building, Katya passed two of her neighbours who were arguing. When they saw her approaching, Juan, her next door neighbour gestured to her. "Katya, help me out here. The landlord said that he would be sending someone on the 6th to deal with the roach problem, did he not?"

Silvia, the woman he had been speaking with, shook her head. "No, I'm telling you its today. He said November 4th."

Katya kept walking, but shouted back as she passed them. "Juan is right Silvia. Its November 6th."

Their voices followed her as she stepped through the doors to outside. The sun was out in full force and for a moment she regretted the displacement of her sunglasses, before she shook her head at her own forgetfulness and hurried down the street. She needed to get to the gym a little earlier, so she could meet her friend Matt and show him where to go to sign up for her beginners yoga class. She'd been trying to convince him for years to try yoga and he had finally agreed.

It's going to be a good day, she told herself. It was her last day of work before she had two days off and she was determined to be in a good mood. She felt optimistic and most of all content.

Yes, Saturday November 4th was going to be a normal day. A good day. She could feel it.

Chapter Text

Brian recognized her as soon as she walked into the office. He was good with faces and this was one you didn't soon forget, although today the makeup was slightly faded, as if it had been hastily touched up after being slept in. She was dressed far plainer than he was used to, in a short sleeve blouse and pink shorts. But she was still sporting the same high teased blonde hair that he'd seen haloed under dim stage lights every other Wednesday on Folk Night.

"Hi. I'm here to see Mitya? I called and he said he might have some time to talk to me this afternoon."

Brian's eyes settled on the time reflected back to him from his laptop. 11:50am. Not even afternoon yet. The woman's voice was tinged with tightly coiled emotion though, just an edge of what could develop into hysteria. He was good at reading these types of things; plus he was curious what this particular young woman could want to speak to his husband about.

"Yeah, let me just see if he's available." He stood from the desk and shuffled past the stacks of file folders on the floor. They really needed to get a storage unit, but Mitya kept putting it off. He could operate in chaos, seemed to thrive on it. Brian would just be happy if he could see their floor again.

"Mitya," Brian called as he entered the part of their rented office space that acted as their apartment. "Trixie Mattel is here to see you."

"Wah?"

Brian scoffed, a slight smile curving his lips despite himself as he looked at his husband lying on their couch. He had a pillow over his eyes, blocking out the sun that was coming through the window and his arms stretched out above his head so that his fingers just brushed the side table.

"Trixie Mattel. She's that folk singer I go see sometimes? She says she called and you told her to come this afternoon."

A groan was his answer, but he could see that Mitya was getting ready to sit up and abandon his nap. He'd been up until 6am on a case; it was why Brian was sitting at the desk and not out snapping photos, of a cheating Kindergarten Teacher, that he had been tasked with the day before. Trixie must have called early to have talked to Mitya before he’d retired for his nap.

"Does she look reliable? She sounded solid on the phone this morning, but I was also half asleep."

Brian shrugged. "She looks like she was anxious to get here. She sounded like she's five minutes away from losing her shit. But I only talked to her for like five seconds. C'mon, better not keep her waiting too long."

Brian left him there, knowing that he would follow in just a moment or two and went back out to the main office area. Trixie hadn't moved from her position in front of the desk. She was wearing brown moccasins and gripping the strap of her fuchsia purse tightly.

"Trixie Mattel?" Mitya emerged from the apartment area, smoothing down his dirty blonde hair as he walked. Trixie turned to him, as he approached.

"Hi, yes. Mitya? Is now a good time to talk about my case?"

Mitya sat behind the desk and gestured for Trixie to pull up the chair across from it. "Yeah, absolutely. Sit down. What can we help you with Ms. Mattel?"

Brian leaned against the wall behind Mitya. He knew he should probably step out, go take those photos that their client was waiting for. But as he watched Trixie sit down and pull a notebook out of her purse, he was compelled to stay. To hear what had brought her to their door that day.

"Um, so let me preface what I'm going to tell you. I saw you guys online. Your highly recommended for issues requiring investigation in the LGBT Plus community. And I wanted the best, because this isn't something that can afford to be sat on. I don't care about the cost, I'll find the money somehow." She opened her notebook to a page covered in looping scroll. She looked at the page, as if reassuring herself that what she needed was there, and then she looked at Mitya. From behind him Brian could see that her gaze was intense, direct.

"My girlfriend, Katya, has been missing since the early hours of November 5th. She left work and as far as anyone knows, decided to walk home. No one has seen her or heard from her since then. I have called her, texted her, I've looked in every place I know she likes to go. The police aren't taking this seriously, they think she might have taken off."

"Is she known to take off? Is she a solitary type of girl?" Mitya pulled a legal pad towards himself and waved a hand at Brian, who barley resisted the urge to roll his eyes and grabbed a pen from the top of the filing cabinet and handed it to his husband.

"She likes her alone time, but she's never just like, taken off. If she's going somewhere she texts me. And I know all the places she likes to hide when the world is too much for her. This is different, this is not Katya trying to escape her life."

Mitya made a note on the pad; Brian could just see that it said : solitary, but communicative. World gets to be too much for her?

"What else can you tell me? What have the police said?"

Trixie glanced at her notebook, referencing the lines of text again. "They asked if she was depressed, the answer to which is no. She's had issues in the past with drugs and alcohol and yes depression, but it hasn't been an issue in years. And I told them that."

Mitya made another note. "So no drug use, even on the down low? Nothing that stood out to you?"

Trixie was shaking her head before he had even finished. "It's not a factor. At all. She was clean and sober and as far as I could tell she was feeling good. Mentally. She usually told me when she wasn't."

"Were there any big changes that had come into your life recently?" Brian found himself asking. "Any variation from the normal routine that might have been triggering?"

Trixie looked over to him, behind Mitya. Behind the makeup he could see that her eyes were slightly red, from either lack of sleep or crying. Maybe both.

"We were planning on moving to a nicer place; it's more expensive so we were both working more to afford the first and last to move in. She was tired a lot, but in the way you are when your driven towards a goal. I know what she's like when she's in the headspace of doing something like drugs, and she wasn't. It's just not a factor."

Brian could hear the conviction in her tone, see by the set of her face when she continued to look at him that she truly believed what she was saying. He nodded and Mitya scratched another note: addict, but sober. Not a factor.

"When did you notice she was missing?"

Trixie turned her gaze back to Mitya and then glanced at her notebook again. "It was 12pm. I woke up that morning, and she wasn't in bed with me. Katya did yoga, so I thought maybe she had gone outside. She's very serious about her yoga, it's one of the only things that she says helps her keep level. We were supposed to go to brunch for our friend's birthday, but she didn't come home by the time we had to leave. So I went without her, hoping that she would meet me there. When she didn't show up, I asked our friends if anyone had heard from her and I texted her again. That was around 12pm. After that I called her, called all our friends, all the people that are just her friends and her places of work. And I searched everywhere I could think of. And then I called her parents and then I called 911."

Another note went down on the pad.

"And why bring this to us now?" Mitya asked, his tone nothing but curious. Brian saw through it though. His husband knew how to ask a question without showing that he was suspicious of the person he was questioning. "It's been a couple days. Generally people in your position wait to see what the police will find. I'm not judging you Ms. Mattel, it's just unusual for us to be brought this kind of case."

Trixie looked between the two of them, her mouth set, eyes slightly narrowed. To Brian, she didn't look offended; if anything she looked like she was considering what had just been said. She flipped her notebook and pulled a Polaroid from the back pages.

"I am coming to you now because I know that the Police are going to push this to the side, that they'll dedicate a short period of time to figuring out what happened to Katya, but then they'll move on. Katya is a woman, she's gay, she has a dubious past with addiction. They are not going to look past that." She pushed the photo towards Mitya. "But that woman right there is the love of my life and when I say I know her better than I have ever known anyone in my entire life, that's not an exaggeration. I know that something happened to her, that she didn't just choose to leave. That she didn't go looking for trouble. I am not prepared to wait on the Police and have them come back to me and tell me that they have nothing. I'll do whatever I have to, to find Katya. Not doing so is not an option."

Mitya looked at the photo and tapped his pen against the legal pad. It was one of his habits when he was thinking.

"Trixie- is it ok if I call you Trixie? I'm going to be honest, there isn't a lot here. People in L.A. disappear all the time; every day there is a new case. But I'm not one to back down. And I believe you when you assert that Katya wouldn't just leave you. So what I'm gonna do is dig around a bit. And I'll let you know as soon as I can if I think we can take this case on ok? Can I hold on to this picture?"

Trixie nodded. Her expression was verging on hopeful, as if Mitya was the first person to believe her since her personal nightmare had started.

"I'll give you my number, call me whenever. I'll answer; it doesn't matter what time." She ripped out the page in her notebook that she had been referencing and wrote on it quickly, but legibly. Mitya took it and handed it over his shoulder to Brian who immediately put the number in his phone.

"I'll call you, Trixie. I promise. And I'm very sorry that your going through this, I can't think of anything worse. If we can help you, we will."

Trixie stood, gathering her belongings. "Thank you, uh, how much...what do I owe you?"

"Nothing," Brian interjected before his husband could speak. "Consults are on the house."

It wasn't strictly true, but he wasn't about to make her pay. It felt sleazy and that wasn't what their business was about.

"Oh, wow. Thank you. Ok, I'll wait to hear from you." She nodded at them both and then she was out of the door, the sound of her feet on the stairs echoing behind her.

Mitya sighed, rubbing his hand over his forehead as Brian peeled himself off the wall and slouched into the chair that Trixie had just vacated.

"Are you mad that I didn't have her pay?"

His husband glanced up at him, "What? No. It's fine Bri. Really. I wasn't gonna make her pay either. This is a tough one."

"Hmmm," Brian reached out and extracted the Polaroid from under Mitya's arm. The woman pictured was young, probably around the same age as him. Very blonde, although not as blonde as the woman who had just left their office, and she looked happy. Her smile, big and perfect, made her whole face glow. He wondered if she smiled a lot, if she was one of those people who was perpetually sunny. Somehow, he thought not. But he would bet that she enjoyed life- her eyes said to him that she knew what real joy was, the simple every day kind.

"You want me to take the case on." It wasn't a question.

Brian sat back, still holding the photo. "I want you to take the case."

Mitya sighed again, looking at his notes. "I'll have to call the LAPD. See what I can get from Missing Persons. Check if there were any 911 calls about a petite blonde during that day and night. We'll have to call in that favour with Karl. I've got that case too, with the guy who is accused of stabbing his boyfriend."

"I'll type up your notes for the meeting with that guy's lawyer." Brian offered. "And call Karl. He's not mad at ME. And I'll cover all the cheating spouses and double dipping bosses."

Mitya's gaze was warm as he looked at him from across the desk. "You really want me to take this case on. We don't even know anything yet."

"I know that the woman who was just in here is having her world fall apart. And that this is more important than if Laura the Kindergarten Teacher is cheating on Sandra the Accountant with Lynn the Secretary. You heard her Dmitri. The police aren't going to take this seriously. You know it. I know it. And if something happened to you I would do the same thing that Trixie is. You don't see that type of devotion often."

Mitya sat back and pulled the legal pad towards himself, nodding."No. You don't, do you? Ok, my dearest darling husband. Lets see what we can find out about Katya."

Chapter Text

Mitya had a lot of thinking to do and not a lot of time to do it. Brian kept looking at him expectantly, and he'd finally gathered up all his notes and his laptop and moved to their bedroom. He knew that look, the dog with a bone tenacity that would follow. The sarcastic quips that would be his daily reality if he didn't choose right.

And it wasn't that he didn't want to take the case; from the moment Trixie had started talking about her girlfriend he had gotten a prickling along his arms and the back of his neck. His sister used to call that his hackles rising; the sense of something impending.

There was such little information; the girl had just left work and the only abnormality was that she'd decided to walk home. Karl had told Brian that the traffic cameras had lost her. She was simply there and then not.

He looked at the photo Trixie had left with them; she was a beautiful woman. Young, full of life. The perfect fodder for the dark tendencies of the denizens of the shadows. She reminded him of his half sister…

And maybe that was the rub. Like Katya, Mitya's older sister had just disappeared one day. Just been there living her life and then poof, she was gone leaving a gaping emotional hole that to this day was still raw. Mitya and Svetlana, his older sister, had not been raised together for the most part. Same father, different mothers. And while he had been given a Russian name, Mitya had grown up in a predominantly Irish family. His father had died when he was 3 and his mother, a woman from the "real Ireland" as she called it, had been firm in her Catholic guilt. Svet's mother had been a free spirit and so had her daughter. Their paths had crossed rarely, both mothers judging the other.

He'd loved Svet fiercely though; she had been his favourite person in the world. And when he'd been 17 she had just suddenly disappeared. There and then gone. And he'd known that something had happened to her, that she would have at least said goodbye to him if she had run off. And of course it had turned out that he was right-she'd gotten herself involved with the wrong people, ties to the Russian Mob up the wazoo.

Mitya sighed and looked through his notes again; just one more time. Was this enough? Had he ever taken a case on less? He didn't want to provide Trixie with false hope. That was one of the worst things he could think of in this situation. He knew what it was to live with the worry and the questions that had no real answers.

But could he really turn his back on this? Tell Trixie that she should let the police handle it? There was something here. Something that pulled at him after listening to what Trixie had to say. It wasn't the sense of something impending necessarily, but more that he had picked up on a scent as it were, a tickle of the metaphorical olfactory that pulled at his instincts.

Mitya looked at the bedside clock; it was after 10. He'd taken longer than he thought he would, but she had said she would answer if he called.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Trixie. It's Mitya, the PI."

"Hi." She sounded hesitant. He didn't blame her.

"I spent the day going through everything and you're right.The police are not going to give this the attention it needs. There is next to nothing to go on...but I think I've worked with less. We'll take the case. But Trixie, I can't promise that what we'll find is going to be good. I'm going to do whatever I can to find Katya, but you need to be prepared for this to not have a happy ending. Can you do that? I know its a lot to ask."

There was silence on the other end of the line, nothing but a near static crackle of dead air. He was just about to ask if she was still there when she finally spoke.

"Oh my god. Oh wow. Yeah, I mean, I have to right? I would never give up on Katya, I would never lose hope, but like I...I just need to know where she is and what happened. And if she's alive or dead. It's the not knowing. But Mitya, I picked you because you are supposed to be one of the best. And if she's alive I do think you'll find her. Maybe that's naive, but...do you believe in auras?"

It was a strange question, but Mitya was used to those. "I do Trixie. Very much so."

"Katya does. I've never really been like a real believer in it, being able to see or sense or whatever if a person is genuine or compatible, but when I talked to you and Brian I got a feeling of security if that makes sense? Katya would say you had a good aura. I fully believe that you guys are the ones to do this. I wouldn't be still talking to you now if I didn't. So your taking the case? This is happening?"

He looked at his scant file of notes with the polaroid pinned to the front. Katya stared back at him.

"Yes. I am taking the case. We're going to find her; I promise I'll do everything I can to unearth what happened to her."

Trixie took a sharp breath on the other end of the line. "That's all I can ask for. I'll come see you first thing in the morning."

Chapter Text

Katya could feel a panic attack coming on, the anxiety building, her chest becoming tight and tears forming in her eyes. She blinked them away, all the movement she dare make as she lay in the dark, an arm caging her; hot breath on the back of her neck. She couldn't wake him, if she woke him...She stared at the wall and told herself to breath. In and out. How many times had Trixie held her, always the big spoon, and whispered those words to her? "In and out babe", she would say. "Just focus on breathing, do you feel me breathing with you? Good. In and out."

What was that song, the one Trixie didn't play often? Something about time and hellos and goodbyes. She tried to remember all the words, tried to picture the way Trixie looked sitting on their bed strumming her guitar and softly singing about Minnesota.

Behind her there was movement, a slight shuffle and she held her breath as the arm released her and the breath disappeared from the back of her neck. But she didn't dare move. Instead, she continued to stare at the wall-she would sleep when he left, he was always gone long enough for her to take a nap. She had gotten good at timing it.

What was the name of that dog, the old one that lived on Trixie's brother's farm? It had just shown up one day, he'd told them when they had visited. Just been in the barn one day and it had never left. Meatball? No, it was Mutton. Mutt. That dog had followed her around for the whole five days they had been there. He'd had thick fur and had panted softly when she dug her fingers into it. He had been sweet, seeking love and giving love whenever he could. Such a good boy.

How many hours until sunrise? How many hours until her cage was all her own again? What if he woke up before then? Would he want more from her? She couldn't do more tonight, she would fight him; every instinct said to and she would lose and it would be worse. But she wouldn't just give in. She kept her breath steady and her gaze on the wall.

Boston was beautiful this time of year, if you knew where to look. Katya knew those streets like the back of her hand, all the spaces and places that others would overlook. She would like to go back for awhile, wait until a rainy day and visit the echoes of her childhood, capture them on film, have them come back as mere imprint of a feeling. Trixie would do it with her, she knows. She would complain that the rain was making her hair frizzy, but she would be there, humoring her crazy girlfriend, probably in her pink rain coat and carrying her bubblegum pink Barbie umbrella. She'd been so excited when Katya had come home with that umbrella…

Was she falling asleep? No! She could not fall asleep. The panic started to build again and she brought a hand up to cover her mouth, stifle the sob that was trying to escape. Once he was gone she could go into the bathroom, cry as much as she wanted out of immediate line of site. And she could sleep.

For Trixie's last birthday, Katya had given her a performance. She'd had to work, couldn't get out of it, and had insisted that Trixie come with her to the club to see that night's cabaret show. There were going to be some local Drag Queens and Trixie lived for a good drag show. It had been a 90s themed night and while she had been getting ready in the mass dressing room, Katya had been struck by inspiration. So she'd told the DJ she was changing her main track, assured him that management wouldn't care and when it was time she'd channeled her inner stripper.

As the music had begun pumping through the club, she'd kept her eyes fixed on Trixie, who thankfully was right up close to the front, and began to mouth the words to the Divinyls 'I touch myself' as she moved her body around the stage. When she'd landed in the splits, grinding herself into the stage right in front of Trixie and then began crawling towards where she sat open mouthed and pink cheeked, the crowd had all started whistling and hooting. But she'd only had eyes for what her girlfriend was doing and as she'd reached her and leaned over to sensually kiss her, she'd murmured, “happy birthday, Barbie”, before winking at her and leaving her stunned as she threw herself back into the rest of the song. It was one of her favourite memories, one she had visited numerous times over the past months.

Movement behind her again, deliberate this time. Katya closed her eyes, focused on keeping her breathing even. A brush of lips against her cheek, a hand softly carding through her long hair.

"Good morning my darling. Sleep well; I'll be back in a couple hours and we can have breakfast."

And then, a key turning in the lock and a door being silently pulled open as if with the greatest consideration that she truly was asleep. She waited, counted the minutes in her head and then opened her eyes. And for the first time in hours dared to move as she pulled herself up and out of the bed, her body stiff and bruised. She shuffled to the bathroom, the jingle of the chain around her ankle a constant companion.

Sliding down the wall behind the bathroom door, she finally allowed herself to cry. Five minutes that's all she would give herself. Just five minutes.

As the heavy feeling of bleakness settled in her chest, she could hear Trixie's voice saying slowly, soothingly, "just breath babe. In and out. Breath with me."

Chapter Text

Brian wasn't sure about doing this podcast; he thought that the podcast itself was a good idea, that getting Katya's story out to the masses might aid in finding her. He would take any help they could get; every day that they came up empty, a feeling of ineptitude built. But that didn't mean that he thought having he and Mitya involved was a good idea. What if whoever had taken or murdered Katya listened and was tipped off and made a run for it? Or worse, killed her if she was still alive?

So before the podcasters showed up, he and Mitya had sat down and hashed out the types of things they were at liberty to share. This was new ground for both of them, but especially for Brian who had never worked a case like this in his few years as a PI. And they had agreed that Mitya would do most of the talking; he would share the facts, and they would see if the public
listening to the podcast had anything new to bring to the table.

Trixie had called and spoken with Mitya, expressed the same trepidation about them participating. But at the end of the day, they had all agreed to speak with the podcasters. Finding Katya was all that mattered.

It was strange, trying to work with two strangers following his every move, but he tried to adapt. It may have been rude of him, but he pretty much ignored the fact that they were there unless they asked him a question.

And then what he had feared would happen, did indeed happen and it was revealed that the person who took Katya was listening to the podcast. Listening to that message and the calm and calculated way the person spoke, sent chills down his spine. Mitya had told the podcasters that it could be a hoax, but Brian had known he was only saying that so they wouldn't necessarily tip the person off more than they had. The knowledge of the car that had followed Katya was public now, but after that call Mitya had stated to him that they absolutely had to keep everything close to the chest from now on.He was certain now that Katya was alive and Brian agreed 100 percent.

Since the day that Trixie had come to them and asked for them to take the case, Mitya had been taking extensive notes. Any possibility that occurred to him got jotted down in a notebook.Brian had of course helped with the leg work and he was arguably the better of the two of them when it came to technology, so looking into Katya's online movements before she'd been taken had been left to him. The two of them would spend hours in silence combing over and over the evidence...or lack thereof.

Mitya maintained that the car was their key to everything. Brian had tried enhancing the image from the camera, but he could still only read a few of the letters in the license plate. It was clear that they could only go so far with that piece of evidence on their own.

And then someone who had seen Katya the day she disappeared came forward with a story that brought to light something they had all overlooked. One of their witnesses had been lying when they spoke to the police; a witness whose report had only served to establish a base timeline and that Brian and Mitya had never actually met or spoken to, because what he’d reported had been so minimal they had taken the police report at face value. Which had led to the situation that was now unfolding before his eyes.

“Excuse me?” he had never heard Trixie use that tone when speaking to anyone and he found himself glad he wasn’t the one on the receiving end of it. “Did you just say that this person, this...this potential abductor, supplied a fake name and contact information? No one thought to check if this guy was who he said he was?” her tone was acidic, biting, and her eyes were hard as she stared down Detective Davis, who was looking at her in a very unimpressed way.

Brian liked Detective Davis, he really did; She was a straight shooter and she seemed to work hard. But he didn’t necessarily believe that she or her department had put in their best work on Katya’s case.

“Ms. Mattel, sometimes these errors occur. We had no reason to suspect that this young man had anything to do with your girlfriend’s disappearance. He volunteered information and it seemed to check out. There was never any reason to have to follow up with him. It’s not a crime that he was hitting on your girlfriend and as far as we were aware that was all that had occurred.”

From his vantage point behind the desk, Brian could see that Trixie was about to lose whatever control she had been exacting since Detective Davis had informed them the LAPD had nothing on the man from the coffee shop. He glanced over to Mitya, who was pacing on the other side of the room, seemingly lost in thought and not paying attention to the two women having a pissing match in front of their desk. As if he could feel his gaze on him, Mitya’s eyes met his on his next pass across the small area and Brian nodded towards Trixie and the Detective. Mitya paused, taking in their defensive stances just as Trixie began to speak, her tone nothing but incensed.

“Her name is Katya! Katya. You never call her by her name! To you she’s just another missing person, you’ve never actually cared if she’s alive or dead. No one at the LAPD has ever taken Katya’s disappearance seriously. You all either make excuses or you only act on evidence that Mitya and Brian bring to you. I don’t think the LAPD has ever really given a flying fuck about the outcome of this case! Well if Katya is dead, then on your head be it and I hope you can live with that Detective. I really do.”

Dead silence followed her outburst, all of them shocked at the intensity of the words that had just flown from Trixie’s mouth. Mitya and Brian locked gazes from across the room and now it was Mitya nodding towards Trixie, a movement which Brian took to mean it was time for him to intervene.

“Ok, I think we all need to just calm down for a moment.” He stood from the desk and moved around it to Trixie’s side. “Trixie, come with me and let Mitya speak with Detective Davis alone. C’mon.” He gently grasped her arm and pulled her along with him, steering her out of the main office and into their living area. Once there, Trixie pulled away from him and dropped down to the couch.

"I can't believe this." Trixie put her head in her hands, her long blonde hair falling forward to create a curtain. "Every time something comes up that could help find Katya it seems like we're taking two steps back instead of forward. I'm so scared Brian…" she didn't look at him, but he could hear the fear in her voice. "I can't live like this anymore. If this person has her and he...why would he take her? Because she shot him down? Everyone gets rejected. And if he was stalking her, how the hell did no one notice? How did I not notice?"

Brian didn't have any answers for her; the questions she was voicing were the same ones percolating through his own mind. But he knew he had to try, if only to help Trixie calm down.

"Trixie, you've done everything you can. We all missed this guy: on paper he seemed so innocuous. But we know about him now and we are going to figure out how to find him." He sat beside her and she turned towards him. There were tears in her eyes and he felt the urge to give her a hug; she'd been rock solid through this whole experience, but even the strongest person eventually reached the end of their rope.

He settled instead for grabbing the box of Kleenex on the side table and offering it to her. She took one with a delicate sniff and began dabbing around her eyes, careful not to smear her makeup. Ever the personification of woman, he thought, watching her.

"I can't tell you why this person would've taken Katya, if it really was him. Some people are just fucked up Trixie."

"Do you think she's still alive?" Her voice was small, but her gaze was intense as she looked at him.

Brian nodded, keeping eye contact. "Yeah, I do."

Trixie nodded too, her hand tentatively gripping his to give it one squeeze. "I always think that I would feel it if she wasn't. That her absence in the world would register with me or something. I used to know when she was having a bad day, you know? I'd be at work and I would just get this feeling, and I would call her." She sighed. "Now all I feel all the time is like I'm slowly suffocating."

Brian was about to try and reassure her more, at least as much as was possible in a situation like this, but Mitya came in then.

"Detective Davis is gone," he told them both, throwing himself down into the corner armchair. "She says they are going to put out a call to the public for any info about our guy. It's not great, but at least it's something. That was quite the dressing down you gave her there; she was fuming."

Brian could hear the frustration in Mitya's voice. His husband had set aside all their other cases and turned down even more, referring those people to other PIs he thought were trustworthy. They were all putting everything into this, but was it really enough? What did you do when you hit a brick wall, but had nothing to bust it down?

"So what happens now?" Trixie looked between them both, her expression completely despondent.

Mitya sighed, his leg jiggling up and down with what Brian recognized as pent up energy. He was anxious to get to work. "Now, Brian is gonna take you home."

"Oh, am I?" Brian couldn't help interrupting and Mitya gave him a wane smile.

"Yes, you are. It's late and I don't trust these streets. And I'm gonna work on a few things. I'll call you with any updates we have Trixie. I promise. This is all a set back, but it's not the end."

Brian drove Trixie back to her apartment building, the car silent. She thanked him distractedly when she got out and he made sure she was inside the building before he drove off. Back at their office, he found Mitya sitting with a full pot of coffee, the surveillance video of the morning Katya disappeared playing on the TV. He was watching it intently and as Brian joined him he paused the video.

"What do we do now?" Brian asked. He was itching to act, to do something, anything that might help them find the person who took Katya. This case had become personal for them both, and while he knew that could be dangerous, he couldn't find It in himself to care. It had been long enough without answers.

"It's the license plate Bri. We have to find the car; that's what's going to lead us down the right path. I can feel it. But we can't waste time trying to decipher it anymore. I've been thinking, the car has got to be stolen. This person has covered themselves too well.”

"Is that what you would do?" Brian poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot, despite the fact that he usually tried to avoid the bitter drink. It was clearly going to be a long night.

Mitya nodded, "Yeah. So we need to get access to stolen car reports, have the digits of the license plate that we do have run against the reports."

"You're going to have to call in that favour with DeVayne," Brian reminded him. "It's the only way we'll get that info quickly."

Mitya grabbed the coffee cup out of Brian's hand and took a long sip, wincing at the heat. "Yep. But it'll be worth it. And tomorrow I'm gonna go talk to that Barista that Trixie met with today. Get a thorough description of our guy. While I talk to her I need you to go through all our notes, see if there is anything I might have overlooked."

Brian could tell that Mitya was still frustrated, and if he could warrant a guess, he would bet it was mostly at himself. "Mitya, you couldn't have known that the random guy who flirted with Katya might be involved. It was a short paragraph in the police reports. And you couldn't have known that the guy was sugar coating what really happened."

Mitya handed him back his now half empty mug and sat back on the saggy couch, laptop on his knees."No, but we're supposed to look at things the police wouldn't Brian. I feel like I dropped the ball here."

Brian knew he couldn't argue, that there was no point. Mitya needed time to ruminate and nothing Brian said would make him believe that it wasn't his fault they had missed this. So instead, he sat beside him and unpaused the video, watching Katya walk across the screen.

He always wondered what was going through her head at that moment. He hoped that one day he would be able to find out.

---

Days passed. Mitya went and spoke with the Barista, and got as thorough a description of their suspect as he could. He sketched him out on printer paper, based off of his notes and surprisingly was aided by Trixie and Katya's friend Matt, who Trixie brought to their office with a story of possibly having seen the man at Katya's work.

They'd sent the sketch to Detective Davis, who had promised to get it out to the public, but so far nothing had come of it. So they'd re-canvassed the area where Katya had disappeared and they'd talked to witnesses again and re-watched the surveillance video again and again, looking for anything thought have missed. Three days after they had provided the sketch, DeVayne finally came through with information on a car.

"Uh huh," Mitya had his cell phone cradled between his shoulder and ear as he quickly scribbled on the notepad they kept by their desk phone. "They retracted it? You’re shitting me. So someone connected or just real smart. Ok, thanks. I owe YOU one now."

Mitya hung up and threw his pen down. "You won't believe this."

Brian looked up from his laptop. "What did he say?" He'd been half listening as he worked.

"There was a black sedan, reported stolen on November 4th 2017. And the next day the woman calls and retracts the report. Says it's a mistake, her car is outside her house."

Brian pushed his laptop closed and reached for his phone. "Well that's not weird at all," he muttered.

Mitya stood and began his usual back and forth pacing, as he planned out loud. "We have to tread carefully. Call Detective Davis and tell her what we know."

Brian reached for his phone and selected the detective’s number, putting the phone on speaker.

"LAPD, Missing Persons Division." Brian was surprised to hear a male voice answering Detective Davis' line, but he shook it off and spoke with confidence.

"Hi, I'm a private investigator and I'm looking to speak with Detective Kasha Davis. She's the lead on the Zamo case."

There was a pause and then the officer spoke, his tone more official. "What is this in regards to?"

Brian rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "My partner and I have been looking into the case at the request of the family, we've been working with Detective Davis and I need to speak to her about some information we've come across."

Mitya rested his hands on Brian's shoulders and rubbed the tense muscles there. Neither of them particularly liked speaking with the police unless they had to.

"Yes, she did mention it would be possible you would call. Detective Davis is at a convention in Nevada. She won't be back for two days."

Brian could feel a headache coming on. Why couldn't anything ever be simple? Behind him Mitya gave his shoulders another squeeze.

"Is there somebody else who is handling her cases while she's gone? Someone I can speak with?"

The police officer now just sounded board. "No, you'll have to call Detective Davis on her cell if you need to talk about the case you are working."

Brian thanked the officer, despite his less than helpful attitude and hung up. He immediately dialed Detective Davis' cell phone, but she didn't answer. He left a message to call him back ASAP.

"Now what?" He turned towards Mitya and found him pacing again. When he was thinking, he tended to either wear a path through their floor or smoke. Brian knew which he preferred if there was an option.

"We can't wait," Mitya finally declared. " Without the presence of actual police this could go sideways, but we're wasting time sitting here when we could be getting closer to where Katya is. We're going to go talk to this woman who made the report and see if she knows our suspect. We talk to people all the time, and it's just talking." He warned," If we see anything abnormal we call the police."

---

After speaking with the owner of the black sedan Brian's fingers were itching to start typing on his laptop. They had a name.

He and Mitya didn't really speak in the car on the way back; there was a sense of anticipation, but it was as if neither of them wanted to jinx anything. Back at the office Brian hunkered down with his computer and got to work; Mitya left him to it and that was for the better. What he was doing wasn't strictly legal or ethical, but he wasn't about to split hairs. He was good at getting information people didn't want you to have and he was going to use whatever tools were at his disposal to move the case along.

Less than an hour later he sat back with a muttered, "Oh, I've got you now."

"You found something?" Mitya was by his side in an instant.

"Why would someone need both an apartment and a house?" Brian asked as he turned his laptop towards his husband to show him what he had found. "This is California. Unless you're rolling in disposable funds, why would you keep two places?"

Mitya shrugged. "Maybe he's renting the house out? No, it's not registered as a rental property. Hmm,maybe under the table?" He scribbled down the two addresses Brian had found.

"So, do we call Detective Davis again? 911? I think we should just go there and scope it out."

Mitya shook his head. "And if we ruin the case for a Prosecutor because we acted without police involvement? I don't disagree with you. I would rather just go scope it out ourselves, but if it leads to something?"

Brian sighed, staring at the information he had just unearthed. Max Malanaphy, 30 years old, one address in downtown and one in Watts. This was the guy, he could feel it in his bones.

"We ask Trixie what she wants us to do," Mitya said, grabbing his phone, his voice full of conviction. "If she wants us to go check it out then we do. If she wants the police to handle it, well we better hope that Detective Davis takes time away from throwing craps to check her phone."

He put the phone on speaker. It took two rings before she answered.

"Mitya, hi. What's going on?" Trixie’s voice echoed through the phone speaker, her tone direct.

"Trixie, we've got something. A name and two addresses. It could be nothing, or it could be something substantial. Detective Davis is away and won't be back for two days. My question to you is, what do you want me to do? I can go there now, with Brian. Or I can call Detective Davis and put it in the police's hands."

There was no hesitation. "Mitya, you go there and you do whatever you have to. I trust you. Both of you."

---

Brian knocked on the apartment door again, one final effort to do things legally. There was no answer, so he stepped to the side to let Mitya forward and angled his body so anyone looking that way would only see him.

"I can't believe we're actually performing a B&E right now." He kept his voice low as he spoke.

"Believe it baby." Mitya popped the lock and pocketed his lock picks. "Sometimes you've gotta colour outside the lines. C'mon. Remember don't touch anything unless you have to."

The apartment stunk and it was all Brian could do not to gag. "What the hell is that?"

Mitya strode towards the fridge and peeked inside. "Looks like someone forgot their dinner. Man, that's rank." He closed the fridge and stepped away. "Breath through your mouth."

Brian checked the bedroom, while Mitya searched the living room. It was clear that the apartment had been abandoned in a hurry. There was nothing left that would identify who had lived there, but there were clothes in the closet and books left on the living room shelf. They tossed the whole place just in case and then quickly left.

"So its got to be the house." Brian got in the driver's side of their car and started it. Mitya was holding his phone up to his ear already.

"Who are you calling?" Brian asked as his own phone directed him to drive straight.

"911. Just in case we're walking into something. We don't know what we might find there. Or what this guy is capable of; I'm not looking to get anyone killed tonight."

Brian listened as Mitya repeatedly explained what was going on to the 911 dispatcher. It took a while, but finally he seemed to get across to her the importance of what was occurring. After he hung up, he immediately called someone else.

"Detective Davis! Brian and I are on our way to the home of one Max Malanaphy, the man from the coffee shop...yes, I do believe he could be dangerous if he's the one who took Katya...you are? Ok Detective, will do. Thank you."

He hung up and began texting quickly and then pocketed his phone. "The Detective is on her way back from Nevada. I just texted her the address and she's going to send backup. Until then we're supposed to wait."

When they pulled up to the house in Watts, it was not what Brian was expecting based off of the apartment they had just left. The house looked well cared for, the grass had been recently mowed and it was clear that the house itself had some work done to it in the last year or so. It was the ideal looking suburban home.

Mitya told Brian to park down the block and then they settled in and waited.

"How long does it take to dispatch an officer? You called 911, what? 30 or 40 minutes ago? If this was a life or death situation…" Brian squinted out the windshield at the house down the street. "There's a car in the driveway, someone is definitely home."

There was a clicking noise beside him and he looked over to see Mitya had undone his seat belt and was reaching for the door handle."Where are you going?"

Mitya pushed the door open and climbed out of the car, and then ducked his head back in. "I'm gonna go scope out the outside of the house. You circle back around the block so it doesn't look like we're idling. Park closer to the house when you come back around." And then he pushed his door closed and began casually strolling down the street, hands in his pants pockets. Just a regular 30 something year old guy on an evening walk.

Brian circled back around the block, driving slowly to give Mitya enough time to inspect the outside of the house without getting detected. As he parked the car behind a minivan three houses down the street he could see Mitya, again casually strolling back down the street towards him.

"See anything?" He asked as soon as his husband entered the car.

"It’s him Brian." Mitya's voice was filled with grim conviction, and when he looked at Brian so was his gaze. "That house is locked down tight. The windows are blacked out or heavily curtained and there's a padlock on the back door. It’s him; no way do you do up your house like that unless your hiding something."

"Oh my god."

"Yeah."

A palpable tension settled in the car. Brian could swear he got goosebumps in that moment. This was it then, after all this time.

"We have to go knock on the door," he pushed. "Get a look inside the house."

Mitya was shaking his head before Brian had even finished speaking. "We can't Bri. No, don't give me that look. I know it’s gonna take everything you have to sit here and do nothing. Believe me, I want nothing more than to go bust that guy’s door down and demand to know where Katya is. But we have to wait for the police. If Katya is in that house, alive, this whole situation could escalate. And if she's not, but this is the person who indeed has her? He could react In any way. Like I said, I'm not looking to get anyone killed tonight."

Brian wanted to argue; he wanted to push to go into the house. But he could also tell Mitya was resolved and that this wasn't an argument he could win.

They waited an hour before anyone official showed up and they were both out of patience by the time the lone LA County Sheriff's car pulled up.

"Let me talk," Mitya cautioned as they got out of their car to meet the Deputy that was approaching them.

"Hi, you guys are the PIs? I understand we may have a potential abduction situation here?" The Deputy was young, way too young. Brian had a bad feeling in his gut; did this kid even know how to hold a gun?

"Yes, or at least we suspect that this person knows something that pertains to a missing person's case. Its not confirmed that our girl is in there, but we do think there's a high probability that she is. I did scope the house out and its locked down pretty securely. Padlock on the back door, blacked out basement window and heavy curtains on all the windows.

The Deputy nodded and Brian half expected him to follow it up with an 'okie dokie'. Instead he said "Ok. Alright then. You let me go to the door first, just in case and you guys just hang back. Let me just radio in for backup." The deputy went back to his car and then after a minute emerged. "This is the house over here?" He pointed in the direction of the house and once receiving affirmation started towards it.

They both followed behind him, keeping a couple steps back. Brian could feel a nervous sweat building and his stomach was tight with anxious energy. He knew that they could just be chasing another dead end, but his instincts were screaming that whatever next happened was going to be big.

The Deputy knocked on the door and then rang the doorbell. It was evening now, twilight just hanging out of reach. Next door two children were playing in the driveway.

The Deputy knocked again and again. He rang the doorbell one more time. The door was suddenly whipped open and they were all face to face with a man that could only be Max Malanaphy.

He was tall, was Brian's first observation, thin, but fit. He looked harried as if they had interrupted something. His pale eyes shifted between all three of them.

"Yes, what can I do for you?"

Beside him, Brian felt Mitya tense, and when he glanced at him out of the corner of his eye he could see that he was staring piercingly at Max. Knowingly. Had he recognized his voice from the phone call?

The Deputy asked if they could talk, in regards to a statement that Max had made to the L.A. Police; if they could come in. Max looked at the Deputy for an immeasurable moment and then his gaze shifted to Brian and Mitya.

"And who are these gentlemen and why are they here? They're clearly not police."

The Deputy started to answer, no doubt about to spin something about them aiding the police, when he was interrupted by a noise from within the house.

A piercing scream resounded; Brian had never heard anything like it outside of a movie and it made the hair stand up on his arms. That was the scream of someone who had reached their final option. It was a valiant plea for help.

All the colour drained from Max's face,quite a feat given how pale he was, and then before any of them could react,he whipped the door closed and the sound of a deadbolt springing into place could be heard.

"What in the actual fuck?" Brian turned to Mitya, who met his gaze with wide eyes, as the Deputy spoke into his radio rapidly, telling his dispatch that there was reason to believe that someone was in fear for their life and that he was going to enter the house.

"That was definitely a woman right? I'm not just projecting here? That was her."

Mitya nodded, and Brian felt sick. They had to get into that house. Who knew what was happening in there while they were stuck outside.

The Deputy warned them to stand back and then he began kicking the door, giving it powerful and well placed whams. The door splintered and he was able to shove it open.

"Stay out here," he warned them and he cautiously made his way into the house, gun held before him.

Everything went silent then, even the kids who he had seen playing next door were gone. After about a minute, angry shouting could be heard from inside the house. Brian and Mitya exchanged a look; both clearly wanting to go in the house.

"Mitya," Brian started.

"I know."

"We can't wait for backup, but we shouldn't both go in there."

"Brian, I know."

Brian steeled his resolve, "OK. I'm going in; I'm the better shot if I need to be. You wait for the police and tell them where to go." He started to step forward towards the open door, but was halted by Mitya grabbing his arm.

"I've got to go in there." His tone was a little impatient, but every moment wasted was a moment too many.

"Yes, you do." Mitya agreed, to Brian's surprise. "But that doesn't mean you go in there half assed. You pay attention to what is going on around you and don't try and be a hero OK? Go in, find Katya if you can. And when you come back out you better be in one piece."

Brian nodded, pulling away. He knew what Mitya was really saying, but in typical fashion he wouldn't just come out and say it. Brian had no such qualms. "I love you too."

The house was very minimal, there was only a couch in the living room and the kitchen looked bare. The shouting was coming from below, so that's where Brian headed. As he descended the stairs, he could hear the Deputy urging for calm as who he assumed was Max ranted.

Their voices were coming from a room that was just off the stairs and as he stepped into the room, It was a lot to take in. It was set up in an almost cozy manner with a king sized bed, a mahogany dresser complete with a vase of colourful flowers, and a plush reading chair in the corner. It looked like the room of a young, vibrant woman, instead of the prison that it surely was.

Brian's eyes were caught by a flash of silver as he quickly adjusted to scene unfolding in the room and it was with horror and elated shock that he realized that yes, they had been right: Katya was there and she was most certainly alive. She was not only being used as a human shield by Max ,who had a knife pressed to her throat, but she was also chained to the heavy bed by one ankle. As he took in the tableau before him, Katya's eyes met his; her gaze was sharp and as they held eye contact it was as if she were trying to tell him something. As if she wanted him to be ready. But ready for what? He couldn't look away.

"How dare you barge in here? You think Yekaterina wants to go with you? She's my wife! Mine. I will take her out of this world before I let her leave!" Brian felt like he was witnessing true madness. The words coming from Max's mouth were imbued with such conviction.

"Hey now," the Deputy’s tone was calm, almost friendly. "We can all just relax. If you put that knife down and stop threatening this pretty lady, I'll holster my gun and we can all talk."

There was no way of knowing if Max was even considering the Deputy’s request. Just then Brian could hear footsteps and voices upstairs; the backup must have arrived. It seemed everything happened at once then: Katya moved suddenly, bringing her foot up and kicking it back so it connected with her capture’s knee hard, and then in his momentary surprise, lurched away and towards the bed.

He's going to stab her, was the only thought that flashed through Brian's mind. Later, he would tell Mitya that he didn't even really stop to consider it; he didn't even think of his own safety. He just ducked past the Deputy and threw himself on top of Katya.

He didn't even really feel the knife pierce his side. He did however hear the Deputy yelling, "drop the knife, down on your knees!" Followed by the crack of a single gunshot. Under him Katya was moving, trying to get out from under his body and he sat up to allow her room.

"Oh my god." Slim hands pressed anxiously at his side and he felt a stab of pain where they were touching. He looked down and saw that he was bleeding, his t-shirt already soaked.

"Oh. Well that's a first."

Katya pressed harder against his side. "I'm sorry." There were tears streaming down her pale face. "Please don't die. I’m sorry, I really hope you don't die."

Brian placed a reassuring hand over hers "Hey," he ducked his head a little to meet her distraught gaze. "It’s ok. Really, I don't think it's too bad. Just keep your hands there, I'm sure the paramedics are on their way. It's mostly fat rolls there anyway."

Other officers had entered the room now and he did his best to tune them out as they checked on Max, who he could see out of his peripheral lying on the floor in his own blood.

Katya hiccuped, her tears coming harder.

"I'm Brian," he introduced himself, talking to distract her, to keep her with him and not spiralling into panic. "I'm a Private Investigator; Trixie hired me and my husband, Dmitri, to find you. I've been looking for you for a long time. And I'm honoured to finally meet you Katya."

Katya didn't say anything just continued to stare at him, her hands pressing harder, if possible, against his wound. So he continued talking.

"The paramedics should be here soon,I heard one of the officers radio in. My husband is probably going to have a fit; he can be very dramatic. It must be because he's Russian...it's like a requirement right? A flare for the dramatic? He's also part Irish, so I guess he never really had a chance."

He lapsed into silence, observing the officers now milling around the room, and the paramedics who entered the room then, four of them in total. Mitya rushed in after them, taking in the room with wide eyes, before settling on Brian and Katya.

“Holy shit.”

“It's not as bad as it looks,” he tried to reassure him. “Katya’s been a real help staunching the bleeding.”

A paramedic came over then, and tried to have Katya move her hands, an instruction which caused her to press even harder against him and shake her head.

“Katya,” Mitya crouched beside her. “I’m Mitya, I’m Brian’s husband. Thank you for helping him; you’ve gotta let the paramedics do their job now. I promise, once Brian is all fixed up I’ll bring him to you so you can see he’s ok. But you have to let go now.”

Katya looked anxiously at Mitya, who nodded reassuringly and gently gripped her hands, pulling them away from Brian and steering her back so the paramedics could get to him. Brian kept his eyes on her as the paramedics poked at him and pressed gauze against his wound. She was leaning against Mitya as the chain on her ankle was examined and his husband was speaking to her in a low voice. Whatever he was saying seemed to help, as her tears had stopped.

“Mitya,” his husband looked towards him. “I think they’re going to take me before her. You stay with her. Hopefully they’ll bring us all to the same hospital.”

Mitya nodded. “I’ll call Trixie as soon as we’re all on our way.”

What a night, Brian thought as he was loaded onto the stretcher. The whole day had been a whirlwind, but he couldn’t help the sense of elation that was settling in his chest beside the adrenaline high that was slowly fading.

They had done it; they had found Katya.

Chapter Text

Trixie didn't know what to do with all the emotions coursing through her body. She was by turns elated, relieved and surprisingly, terrified.

Katya was alive. She was alive and somewhere in this hospital, being poked and prodded and questioned by Nurses and Doctors. And they wouldn't let her in to see her.

She had never come so close in her life to physically attacking someone as she had when the Charge Nurse told her that she wasn't allowed to see Katya. She had wanted to scream; did they not understand that she had worried and wondered for a year and a half? She needed to be with her, now. Not whenever they decided it was OK.

"I can't believe you threw yourself in front of a knife wielding lunatic." Mitya's voice coming from over by the bed pulled Trixie out of her inner musings. "What did I say about coming out in one piece?" He softly scolded Brian, who was currently lying in the hospital bed, propped up by a pillow. There was no heat behind his words.

"Like you wouldn't have done the same." Brian chided back, knowingly. "I couldn't let him stab her." He looked down at his side, hidden now underneath a hospital issue gown. "It's probably going to scar. But at least it will give me street cred with all the mean gays in WeHo."

"Thank you," Trixie found herself interjecting, from her seat by the curtain. Both men turned to her. "I don't know what I would have done if...just thank you. Both of you. I'm sorry that you ended up injured."

Brian shrugged, "It's really not that bad Trixie. Hazard of the job, I guess. I'll be out of here in like a day. It might have been worse if Katya hadn't kept pressure on until the Paramedics came."

At the mention of her girlfriend, Trixie sat forward a bit, fixing both men with anxious eyes. "Did she really seem OK? Like physically?"

Brian and Mitya exchanged a look and it was Brian who answered. "She was pale, there was definitely some bruising on her arms, and she seemed understandably shaken by everything that was happening. But she looked OK."

Trixie sighed, sitting back. "I need to be in there with her, wherever they have her. Do you think they won't let me in because we're not blood related or married? Would they actually make me wait until her parents get in from Boston?" Trixie knew she couldn't wait that long; she would lose it.

"They're probably just checking her over and helping her get cleaned up." Mitya reassured. "And I don't think they could keep you out, even if you were told you couldn't go in."

Trixie looked at her phone, checking the time and ignoring the myriad of text messages that had accumulated from friends and family wanting to know more.The only one she didn't ignore was the one from Irena that said "we have a flight in 3 hours. That's the soonest we could get."

It was 8pm now; she wasn't waiting the many hours it was going to take for Irena and Vitaly to get to L.A. She fired off a quick reply, telling her that she was now at the hospital but hadn't been able to see Katya yet, and then she stood, dropping her phone into her purse. "I'm going to go talk to someone at the desk; I can't wait anymore. If I don't come back here, you know I got in to see her."

She parted the curtain slightly and slipped through. She slowly walked down the hall that would lead her to the desk, trying to ignore all the hospital sounds and the medical people hurrying by. She hoped Katya wouldn't have to stay here for long; she hoped she would be able to take her home.

"Excuse me," she addressed the Nurse at the desk. It was a different one from when she and Mitya first came in. "I was wondering if I could go in to see Yekaterina Zamolodchikova? I was told to wait, but that was almost two hours ago."

The nurse looked at a clipboard she had sitting to her right and scanned down the page. "What's your name?"

"Trixie Mattel. I'm her girlfriend."

The nurse looked at the page for a moment longer and then nodded, looking back up at Trixie."Ok, you can go in and see her. She's down this hall here and then you take a left and walk down another hall until you reach room 26.

Trixie thanked the nurse and quickly made her way down the hall, the heels of her shoes clicking against the hard linoleum tile. As she neared room 26, her breath began to come more quickly and she had to stop and lean against the wall opposite the closed door. Get a grip, she told herself, trying to calm down.You can't go in there a mess. She stood there for another minute taking calming breaths and then she stepped forward and grasped the door handle. This was it.

When she pushed the door open and stepped into the room she knows she gasped; she knows she started crying immediately. But what she will recall later is that when she finally came face to face with Katya for the first time in over a year, the pressure that had been living in her chest, the constant ache that had pervaded her everyday since they had last seen each other, faded.

And she could breath.

---

Katya felt like she was in a dream; she still wasn't sure that everything that had transpired over the past few hours hadn't been concocted by her imagination. Was she really free? Was he-was Max dead? The Doctors and Nurses had given her a thorough check up, taken swabs for tests and they had asked invasive questions, ones she wasn't even sure she could answer properly. After they had all filed out, one of the nurses had come back with a t-shirt and track pants and thick bedroom socks. "I hear your girlfriend is here somewhere waiting to see you," she told her gently. They had all been speaking in that tone, as if a regular tone of voice would startle her. "How about I help you wash your hair and then you can put these on and we'll get her in here?"

The nurse's hands were careful as they worked through her hair, but the feeling of fingers carding through its length made her tense up. She wasn't sure she would ever be OK with having her hair touched again. After she was done, she offered to braid it and Katya nodded. Once done, the nurse handed her the clothes she had brought and told her she would let the desk know that Trixie could come in.

As Katya waited, perched on the uncomfortable hospital bed, she was full of nervous tension. She had thought of Trixie everyday, used her as a touchstone to reality. But would she be the same? Her mind whirled and her hands started to shake. She curled them into tight fists and pressed them against her legs. Just as she was getting herself under control, the door pushed open and she had no more time to prepare; there, in all the beautiful blonde and pink glory that had filled her thoughts and helped keep her sane, was Trixie.

For just a moment, they simply looked at each other and then Trixie began crying, silent tears streaming down her face. "Oh my god."

"Trix," she wanted to move, she wanted to go to her, but she was frozen.

"Oh my god."

Katya could feel tears welling in her own eyes; she was feeling so much in that moment: happiness, anxiety, relief. She didn't know where to begin. "I'm sorry," she started, as Trixie began crying harder. "I thought about you everyday. Every single day. Please don't hate me. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to leave you."

"Katya," Trixie gasped, trying to control the sobs wracking her body. "No, don't." She hurried towards where Katya was sat, dropping her purse on the floor as she did. "I could never hate you. It wasn't your fault. I looked for you everyday babe." When she reached the bed she sunk on to it beside Katya and tentatively reached out a hand.

"Can I touch you? Is that ok?"

Trixie's proximity was making her skin vibrate; it had been so long. She had hoped and imagined what it would be like to finally be back with her and now it was happening."Yes. Of course; please."

And then Trixie was pressed against her, arms wrapped tightly around her, face pressed into her neck; she could feel the sobs emanating from her. Katya slowly wrapped her own arms around Trixie and turned her face into her hair. It smelled like vanilla and lavender and under that she could just smell Trixie's perfume.

As the smells filled her senses, she felt her body relax; this was real. She was really free.

Trixie pulled back, but didn't let go of her. Her makeup was ruined, but Katya thought she was probably the most beautiful thing she had ever seen; because she was real. She wasn't just a remembered voice or face in her head. She was real and she was with her.

"I missed you so much.So much; I'm sorry Barbie. I'm so sorry."

"Babe. Katya; stop apologizing." Trixie pulled her in close again, tucking her right against her. Katya could feel her heart pounding. "You have nothing to be sorry for. You didn't choose to leave. I always knew you wouldn't do that to me. Its ok. I missed you; it hurt without you. I love you. I love you so much. Thank you for coming back to me."

They held onto each other, breathing together, silently reveling in being together. Eventually Trixie convinced her to lie down, and then managed to squeeze herself beside her in the bed. It was a tight fit and Trixie's butt was definitely hanging off the side of the bed, but neither of them cared.

There was so much left to deal with; Katya knew the police were going to come talk to her anytime now and she wasn't sure she was ready for the questions they would surely ask. But for the moment, with Trixie's heart beating under her ear and her arms wrapped tightly around her, she felt secure.

She was free.

Chapter Text

"Will you dye my hair?"

Trixie stilled her fingers on her guitar and looked to the bedroom door where Katya was standing; her girlfriend was giving off a nervous energy, practically vibrating. Trixie was almost shocked to hear her speak, she hadn't said anything to her all day.

Katya's therapist, a lovely, but abrasive woman who wore even more makeup than Trixie, said that it was natural. That there would be days where Katya had to take some time and just be introspective. That it was bullshit to assume that she would just be able to jump into being the way she had been before she was taken.

Trixie hadn't assumed that she would, but she would be a liar if she didn't admit, at least to herself and the therapist that she missed the old Katya and the way she used to be with her.

"Sure Babe. What do you want to do?" She shifted her guitar to the bed and stood, stretching out the kinks in her back from sitting for so long.

"I want-do you remember when we first met?"

"Automic bland you used to call it. Kim said it was albino realness." She smiled slightly, recalling the white blonde of Katya’s hair and how disgruntled her best friend had been when she had learned Katya had done it herself with generic bleach and dye.

Katya twisted a piece of long hair around her finger. She didn't laugh at the memory like she would've in the past. "Yeah. I was thinking a change might be good. Not that white though, but lighter then it is now." She dropped the strands of hair as if they had personally offended her.

Trixie looked at her assessingly as she shifted in the doorway. Her heart hurt; a lump of grief sat in her throat. She wanted so badly to just wave her hand and make everything better, but that wasn't how it worked.

"I could cut your hair for you too. If you wanted?" She found herself offering as she stepped towards Katya, putting out a hand, which Katya gripped immediately. For the first time in over a week, Katya smiled and Trixie felt the lump lesson slightly.

---

"You have to sit still Kat," she scolded softly as she weiled the hair scissors. They had gone to the small beauty supply store down the street and bought the dye, but there was no point in dying all the hair that was about to come off.

"Sorry," Katya breathed, stilling her body.

In the mirror, Trixie could see that she was worrying her bottom lip and that her hands were curled into hard fists against her legs. Katya's eyes met hers through the reflection and she stopped biting her lip and took a breath as if to speak.

"He used to run his fingers through my hair." Her voice was low, but Trixie heard every word like a shot. "At night, sometimes, after he would take what he wanted. Sometimes just during the day, if he was making me sit with him while he read or something. He would run his fingers from the top of my head down like he was petting me. Once he told me 'Yekaterina, your hair is possibly my favourite thing about you'. And when I look in the mirror now I don't see me. I see what he liked about me."

Trixie could feel the tears, and she had to blink harshly against them. But she kept her hands steady as she cut the thick length of Katya's hair and section after section was disposed of. Before she had been taken, Katya's hair had reached the middle of her back; it now reached down almost to her butt. She didn't say anything in response to Katya's admission at first, couldn't, but towards the end she had Katya turn to face her so she could do her bangs and after she finished in a straight, but choppy line across her forehead she kissed the crown of her head and then beside each eye, the tip of her nose and then brushed her lips with her own "When I look at you," she finally told her, voice a little thick from the tears, "I see the strongest person I know. I see my best friend and the person I love most in this world. Your hair could be short, long, green or red and you will always be just as you should be."

Katya's hands came up to cup her cheeks, her thumbs brushing over Trixie's chin. "You are such a soft lesbian."

Trixie laughed, but didn't pull away and Katya leaned forward so their noses were almost touching. "Can I have a small kiss before we get into the smelly stuff?"

Trixie gave her two.

---

"Do you like it?" Trixie hovered behind Katya, watching her examine her hair in the mirror and run her hands over and through it. It was shorter than it had been in years, just reaching her neck in choppy waves. Asymmetrical. That's what Katya had wanted so that's what Trixie had done.

"It feels good Trix." Katya turned back to her looking like she wanted to say more.

"What?"

"Will you do my makeup?" She looked nervous to ask, despite probably knowing there was nothing to be nervous about.

"Oh, yeah. Of course; sit down."

Trixie painstakingly painted, gently contouring and slowly sweeping on the black eye shadow and liner that she knew Katya loved. She added a little pop of blue, because she'd always thought it complimented Katya's eyes and then she lined her lips and coated them in her favourite Russian red.

"Take a look." She stepped back, letting Katya stand and go to the mirror again. As she watched, anxiously from the bathroom doorway, Katya stared at her reflection intensely, eventually raising a hand as if to touch her face and then lowering it.

"She's a woman," her red lips curled into a smile. A real smile, complete with perfect white teeth and crinkled eyes. She turned back to Trixie.

"You are a gift to this world Trixie Mattel. I mean it. I feel," she wrapped her arms around Trixie and titled her face upwards so she could still see her despite their height difference. "I feel like I know who the person looking back at me in that mirror is. Or at least that I could know her."

It was such a Katya thing to say. Something she would have said before everything happened.

"I love you. I'm glad I could help you," was all Trixie could say. Katya wrapped her arms around her tighter and she returned the embrace. It felt good; Katya hadn't really wanted to be touched in any way in weeks.

"Do you wanna go grab some dinner? Maybe go to that thrift store?"

Trixie pressed her face against Katya's hair, no care for the chemical dye smell that still slightly lingered."Sure babe. That sounds amazing."

Chapter Text

People come into your life when you need them; that's what Brian's grandmother used to say. He can still see her in his mind's eye, sitting there on her porch, rocking back and forth methodically in her wooden rocker, as she relaid the wisdom of her years to her grandson. He thought that maybe she was right.

He'd met Mitya when he was 22, fresh to L.A. and working at a mall kiosk, spending his weekends and evenings video gaming and generally being alone. His boyfriend, who had convinced him to move from Wisconsin to L.A. in the first place, had dumped him, but only after cheating on him, and being caught and called out on it, and he hadn't made any friends yet. He had been lonely, broke and frankly starting to feel a bit desperate. And that's when he'd seen the ad. One day while using the last of his change at the laundromat he'd decided to fill some time seeing what kind of messages had been posted on the cork boards in the far right corner of the room. One notice had grabbed his attention right away:

“Seeking assistance with computer related problem. Applicant must be willing to colour outside the lines. Serious inquiries only.”

He'd been intrigued and had taken the number down, not sure if he would ever really use it. But of course, he had.

He hadn't expected that what he was replying to was an ad by a private investigator looking for someone who had the smarts to be able to hack into a laptop belonging to a twenty year old college student who was selling passing grades. It was all very Veronica Mars. They'd met at Mitya's office, and there had been very little fanfare. Within a minute of Mitya greeting him he'd pushed a Macbook towards Brian and abruptly told him that he required him to hack in. That was the job and if he could do it, he would pay him $500.

Brian had been in, in ten minutes.

Mitya had asked him what else he could do: did he know how to work a DSLR camera? Could he hack into other things? How were his research skills? He'd explained that what he really needed was an assistant. Someone to take up the slack of the day to day while he worked on bigger cases and built the business up. Brian was not a private investigator, he had never even had the urge to be one, and aside from unearthing that his boyfriend had cheated on him and watching Netflix documentaries, he wasn't majorly into mystery or crime.

But when he'd looked at the blond man, who was sitting behind the shitty fold-out desk offering him something new and possibly exciting, he had felt compelled to say yes. And it didn't hurt that he thought Mitya was handsome and he wouldn't mind looking at his face everyday.

Mitya had trained Brian in all aspects of PI craft and paid for him to get his license. Once, just after they had been working together for over a year and dating for a month, Brian had asked him why he had made that offer on the day they had met and Mitya had told him, with that warm eyed look that seemed only reserved for him, that he had liked Brian's aura as soon as he had walked into the room. That he'd been needing a change and he'd sensed that Brian had too. He had answered an anonymous ad after all, and only a certain type of person would do that. Brian thought that was fair.

When he'd gotten married, something that he'd not actually thought was in his future, he had remembered what his grandmother used to say. And he'd known it was true. But he also believed that sometimes if a person came into your life it wasn't because you needed them, but because they needed you.

He hadn't expected that he would become friends with Katya. He was pretty solitary, and if he wasn't working he was spending time with Mitya or video gaming. But after her case was closed, months after things had calmed down, gone back to some sense of normalcy, Katya had called him.

"Brian. Mitya told me once that you like to run?"

Brian recalled this conversation, his memory for such things was air tight. It came in handy as a PI. He did recall Mitya telling her, within his hearing, that Brian had taken up running. It didn't mean he liked it though. Still…

"Uh, yeah. I've taken up running. Figured it might be more enjoyable outside of a treadmill."

There was shuffling on the other end of the line as if Katya was on the move. "Perfect. Do you want to go running with me? Tomorrow morning?"

It was a Saturday,and he supposed he could get up early. His side of the caseload didn't need him to be working until the evening. People tended to keep their unsavoury behaviour for later hours. The cliche of the no-tell- motel paid by the hour was one side of the PI business he'd been tickled to find was true.

"Yeah. I can meet you wherever, what time?"

Katya hummed, "Hmm, I'll meet you at your place if that's ok. Trixie is going that way. 8am?"

Still not going out on her own, he noted. He didn't blame her; not after everything. He supposed that her seeking him out meant she trusted him though.

"Of course Katya. I'll see you then; just come right up. Step over Mitya; he'll be out late and he tends to fall asleep in random places."

She laughed and agreed and they said goodbye.

Katya turned out to be a good running partner. She was quiet while they ran but she always kept pace with him, and the huff of her breath alongside his own created a rhythm that was easy to fall into. After a month of running together in surprisingly companionable silence, she asked him what he was doing with the rest of his day.

"Well I've got to send some files through to this guy that helps us out sometimes. And I'll probably call my mom; she's been really quiet lately, so she's either started drinking again or she doesn't want me to know about something that's happened. It's probably both."

"She drinks a lot?" Katya was sitting on the grass while he leaned against a tree. As he watched, she manoeuvred herself until she was in the side splits.

"God, you're like a rubber band.' He found himself saying before he could stop himself.

She looked up at him, and wiggled her eyebrows. "You want to see something?" Before he could answer she pushed herself out of the splits and onto her feet; she then began bending over backwards until her hands touched the ground and walked her hands forwards until her body was lifted in a bend. Brian's back hurt just watching it.

"Holy shit. Jesus, OK, I'm getting rickets just watching you."

She straightened up and wiped dead grass off her yoga pants. "When I was a kid, I thought about joining the circus. I packed a bag one day, just with all my gymnastics gear and like one of those travel packs of Cheerios, just in case I needed a snack on the way. And I started walking; my neighbour told my Papa she saw me going down the street with a suitcase and he jumped in the car and came after me. He thought I was running away, but I explained that the circus was only in town for a week, so that's how long I was planning to be gone-he was not happy." She bent forward and touched her toes,stretching.

Brian continued to watch her, leaning against his tree. "I ran away once," he found himself admitting. "Lived in the woods for a couple days in this abandoned hunting shack. When I finally resigned myself to going home, my mom hadn't really noticed I was gone. That's when she quit drinking the first time. There's been a lot of times since then. Life has not been kind? Yeah. Life has not been very kind to my mother. At least according to her. She'll be sober for months and then its right back to the bottle."

Katya straightened up, squinting at him through the early morning light. She always seemed to forget her sunglasses. "It doesn't get easier; I don't know a whole hell of a lot, but I do know that. You know what I did yesterday? Trixie had to go to work-can't expect her to sit around and hold my hand forever. And I went to the bodega down the street to get milk and ended up standing in front of the fridge, staring at the bottles of Vodka...until the kid behind the counter asked me if I was the girl who got abducted. Then I went home and sat on the floor of my shower until Trixie came home from work. I haven't had a sip of alcohol in three years, but I tell you Brian, standing there in front of that fridge I wasn't thinking about what it would mean to break my sobriety, how that might affect Trixie or my parents or anyone. All I could think was, this could make me feel better. I knew it wouldn't help in the long run, but in that moment?"

Brian mulled that over as they ran. When they were done and back at the office and Katya was waiting for her friend Ginger to pick her up, he found himself making an offer.

"You know, um, if you are ever feeling like you were yesterday and you can't talk to Trixie or don't want to, you can call me. And even if you don't want to talk about what you're thinking, I'll talk your ear off about PI crap. You wouldn't believe some of the things I see on a day to day bases."

Katya was looking at him assessingly; he knew looks like that. It was one of Mitya's favourite facial expressions when dealing with suspects. He wondered what she saw when she looked at him.

"You're a really good person," she finally said, perfect white teeth peeking out in a small smile. "Ok, Brian. Don't think I won't take you up on that. If your phone starts blowing up, remember you offered first."

Brian knew he wouldn't regret making the offer. It took a while, but the first time she took him up on it he was on a stakeout. Katya didn't seem to want to tell him why she was feeling triggered, but she listened to him describe what he was seeing and hearing through the window of the seedy motel he was parked in front of. After a while she was laughing and when they got off the phone, she to go do laundry and he to take the money shot, he felt a sense of rightness. All he had done was distract her from her dark thoughts, but it was nice to think that maybe he had helped her, if only for a little while.

It took him a bit to realize though that they had become friends. He wasn't being obtuse, he just had a usual pattern of how he spent his days and Katya had worked her way into that pattern without him really noticing the change.

"I'm going to Folk Night; Trixie is performing. Do you wanna go?"

Mitya was sitting behind his desk, one leg propped up on it and laptop balanced on his lap. He looked up at Brian as soon as he spoke.

"I think I'll take a rain check this time. Call it an early night. I'm getting up really early tomorrow to drive out to talk to the father of that kid who is being accused of setting his neighbour’s house on fire." He pointed at Brian, "But YOU, go have fun. You've been burning the midnight oil a lot lately."

Brian wanted to say that he thought Mitya was working too hard as well, but he bit his tongue. Mitya thrived on being busy and it wasn't like he didn't make time for Brian.

"Ok, well I'm going to wait downstairs for Katya. Trixie had to go early, so she's just going to walk over with me."

Mitya had already gone back to his laptop, tip tapping away on the keys rapidly. "Go, have fun with your friend. Tell me how hauntingly beautiful Miss Trixie sounded when you get back."

Brian was halfway down the stairs when what Mitya had said registered. His friend-were they friends? He spent every Saturday morning with Katya, unless something came up. She called him sometimes and they texted each other things they saw that they thought the other would find funny. He was currently waiting for her so they could go listen to her girlfriend sing. The answer, when he thought about it, was obvious.

And he wondered, as he waited for her, if their friendship was born out of the fact that they had both been involved in the same situation. If Katya had sought him out because she thought he might understand where she was coming from and not judge her for taking a long time to move past it. And he again recalled what his grandma used to say about people coming into your life when you needed them-and how he'd always thought the reverse was true.

And maybe, just maybe it was.

Chapter Text

Katya worked hard to not let her anxiety get the best of her. It was a daily struggle now, more than it had been when she was a teenager or in her early 20s. She had hoped that with freedom from the daily nightmare of the captivity she had endured, that she would be able to breath. And yet she found herself in a constant state of internal panic. Her therapist, Bianca, told her that what she felt was normal, that if she thought she was just going to be able to jump back into everyday life she was kidding herself.

Bianca was always very straight forward and Katya loved her for that.

Talking to Brian helped sometimes; he never seemed to judge her. Running with him was a release. But she couldn't throw all her baggage on the man; for one thing their friendship was very new and for another she didn't feel that was fair to either of them.

Her other friends were trying to understand, to be supportive, but she was finding it hard to be in their company for long. Ginger had always been someone she felt she could confide in and rely on for everything, but since her emancipation she was finding even that once easy ebb and flow was strained. And it wasn't any of their faults, it really wasn't. She knew that. It was all her and she didn't know what to do about it.

Bianca had suggested in their last session that what Katya might need is a change. Something to help her put things in perspective and occupy her time productively. That maybe she shouldn't try to go back to the way things had been before, but that she should aim for something new.

She thought this was probably easier said than done.

Since Trixie had returned to work, Katya had been occupying herself with the day to day of their apartment. She did the groceries (online with delivery at first until she began to feel comfortable going out on her own), cleaned, made dinner and did the laundry. And she spent chunks of time just sitting, usually outside on the front steps of their small building and sometimes, if she felt brave, in the park. It was mundane and routine and she could feel herself getting stuck in it.

What was worse though, was that she could see that Trixie had put aside everything that they had talked about before she had been abducted. Trixie barley played her guitar anymore and when she did, it was only in short spurts. She had booked one performance since Katya had come home, but hadn't made any attempt to do others despite the owner of the bar saying he would love to have her come in regularly like she used to. And this was not what Katya wanted for her; it wasn't why she had come out to L.A. with Trixie despite all the trepidation she had felt about moving. It wasn't what she had worked two jobs for.

Katya knew that she herself was not ready to go out and get a job. But it came to her one day, as she folded laundry, that maybe what she needed to do was start encouraging Trixie to get back out there and ignite her music career. She knew that Trixie was talented, and she had always believed that eventually her girlfriend would be able to be a full-time musician. Nothing was going to happen if they didn't put in the effort though and if there was one thing that Katya had taken away from her time as a captive, it was that putting off until tomorrow was not any way to live.

At her next therapy session she ran her idea by Bianca who encouraged her to at least try.

She broached the subject at dinner that night ,"Barbie, I wanted to talk to you about something."

Trixie looked up from her salad, her fork still slightly raised. "What's up? Did something happen today?"

Katya pressed her right palm against her leg, grounding herself. Why was she nervous to talk to her own girlfriend?

"Nothing happened, unless you count the guy two apartments down getting kicked to the curb by his baby mama."

Trixie snorted. "Who didn't see that coming. Did she stand on the balcony and curse him out in Spanish again? Or was it full on drama with clothes flying down into the street while he mournfully stood below?"

"Oh, it was full on drama."

They both laughed, and Katya felt a bit of the tension leave her. "Anyway, I was just going to ask you why you haven't taken up the offer to start performing regularly again?"

"Oh." Trixie speared a piece of tomato, but didn't move her fork any further. "I think I should wait a while. Now's not the time."

"Because of me?" Katya hated how weak her voice sounded. As if she were pleading.

Trixie's eyes met hers and then she blinked, "No. I just don't think I'm ready to get back out there."

"What about online? I can help you do a video or record something for your Soundcloud. I know you've got at least one song that hasn't been put on there."

"Katya," Trixie sighed, in that way she always did when she wanted a topic to be dropped and Katya found herself getting frustrated. Her hand slammed down on the table before she even realized what she was doing, startling them both.

Trixie looked at her with wide eyes, clearly slightly alarmed.

"Kat, what the hell? Why are you getting upset? All I said was I wasn't ready."

Katya was shaking her head before Trixie could even finish. Her palm stung from where she had hit the table. "You're lying to me Trixie; I know you are."

Trixie looked scandalized. "Why would I lie to you? Katya, I get that you're upset, but I don't understand where you would get that from. I have never lied to you once in all our years together."

"Because I know you Trixie. I know you inside and out, backwards and forwards.You just don't want me to feel bad, to think that I'm holding you back. Well baby, I already think it and not only do I think it I know it! You're constantly worried about me, about having things be normal for me. But that's not living. I can't give you back the last year and a half of your life, and I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry, you will never know how sorry I am. But I don't want you to have to wait on me anymore. I'm here, and I want us to live. I want you to do all the things we talked about. I need you to try Trix. Because if you move forward then I can too."

She was shaking, her whole body vibrating. She could feel her heart rate ticking upwards. She didn't understand, how had this escalated so quickly? She had only wanted to talk.There was nothing to be upset about and yet she felt like jumping out of her skin.

Trixie was talking, her expression concerned, but Katya couldn't hear her. She closed her eyes against the tears welling there, threatening to spill over. This was all too much. She had pushed too hard. She should have stayed calm; Bianca was going to be disappointed. Katya was disappointed in herself.

A warm hand touched her shoulder, causing her to jump. "Don't!" She managed to snap out, her voice a clip. Harsh. "Don't touch me. Don't." She stood, pushing back from the table, her chair making a screeching noise across the floor.

Trixie looked so wounded, so shocked, but still so concerned. Katya couldn't stand it; she didn't deserve it. She brushed past Trixie and stalked to the door of the apartment.

"Kat, where are you going? Please don't go outside right now. Let's just take a moment. Breathe."

But she couldn't breathe.

"Katya!" Trixie was chasing after her now, down the hallway. Katya didn't know where she was going, what she was doing. She just knew that she had to get away.

"Go home Trixie. I don't want to talk to you right now, I can't. I need air, I need...I need…" her skin felt tight. Trixie was gasping behind her as she ran down the stairs after her.

"Katya, babe, just come back to the apartment. We don't need to talk until you are ready. I will fully go sit in another room from you. Just please-you are going to hurt yourself. This is reckless, I know you know that!"

They had reached the street; Katya's feet were bare, the pavement hot under her toes. She began pacing, clutching her sides, trying to pull in gasps of air. She needed to explain herself better, she needed Trixie to understand-they had to move forward. Why had she snapped like that? She needed space, she needed to think, she needed quiet. There was too much noise.

"Yekaterina!"

It was the tone of voice that did it, the command. In her mind, another voice echoed it and it was too much. Katya whipped around; her heart was going so fast. She was going to have a heart attack. She was going to keel over right here in the goddamn street.

"Don't call me that!" She practically snarled. "Fuck!"

Trixie was crying, her arms wrapped around herself as people stared at the two of them; Katya had done that. Max used to tell her that Trixie was a user, that she took advantage of Katya. That Katya was better than her. But Katya knows he can't have ever seen Trixie Mattel cry, because if he had, he would never have been able to say those things with conviction.

She couldn't stay here.

Katya ran then, her bare feet slapping against the pavement. Trixie did not follow.

---

Her feet carried her and she paid no heed to where they led. Eventually she found herself leaning against a brick wall, pressing her palms against cold roughness.

"Katya?"

She knew that voice, but she didn't want to open her eyes. Her feet stung from their flight across the pavement.

"What's happening? Is she OK, is she having, like, a nervous breakdown?" another voice asked, only to be abruptly shushed by the first.

"I don't know. Go inside, tell them I have something to deal with, OK?"

"You're on in five minutes!"

"You take my spot then. Just go."

Katya could hear a door opening, screeching on its hinges and then slamming closed. Then there was silence and she felt a warm presence by her side.

"Girl, what are you doing? Come on, at least let me help you up. I can't sit down in this corset."

Katya shook her head, eyes still closed. "I can't," she murmured. "I'm sorry Violet, I can't move."

Violet sighed, in that theatrical way she had, and then Katya could hear what sounded like vinyl shifting and then there was a gentle hand cupping her cheek. "At least open your eyes for me."

It was a struggle, but eventually she willed her eyes open. Violet was crouching in front of her, balanced on her high heels. She was in full drag, which only served to confuse Katya. Where had she ended up?

"Katya listen to me." Violet's voice was firm. "You are outside a bar; I told you yesterday I was going to be here. You're sitting in an alley. It's 9pm."

9pm? How had it gotten so late? How had she found Violet? Everything was blank.

"C'mon, we're going to go inside to the back and call Trixie."

Katya could only nod as Violet straightened up, pulling her with her by the arm. Violet looped her arm through Katya's and led her to the door, her stiletto heels connecting to the pavement in a satisfying way. Katya usually loved that sound; it said to her that the owner was a bad bitch not to be messed with. Today, it echoed the hollow feeling in her chest.

Violet shielded her from curious eyes as they walked down a hall to a small room that was strewn with clothes and makeup. She directed Katya to sit in a fold-out chair stationed in front of a mirror and then began rummaging through a backpack until she made a small sound of triumph and pulled out an iphone. Katya watched through the mirror, ignoring her own blotchy tear-stained reflection, as Violet pressed to dial.

Violet was so beautiful; she was like a high fashion drawing come to life. The first time Katya had seen her perform, the night they met, she had been enraptured. Once they had gotten to know each other, she realized that her new friend was guarded, but had a large capacity for compassion. A lot of people could and would say that Violet was a piece of work and not in a good way. But Katya knew that the beauty on the outside was as equally reflected by the person on the inside.

"I love you a lot you know,"she found herself saying as Violet ended the call. "A lot. I'm sorry that I'm making you deal with me right now."

Violet's eyebrows, or where her brows would have been normally, rose. She set her phone down and placed a gloved hand on Katya's shoulder, which Katya immediately gripped in her own. "I love you too Katya. I know I haven't been around much since you came home. But honestly, I thought maybe you needed space? Time to try to get back to normal."

Katya shook her head, "What's normal? I just want to move forward. But I feel stuck."

"Is that what brought all this on?"

Katya could only shrug. She didn't yet know how to explain her attack of anxiety and subsequent flight.

Violet's hand squeezed hers, but she didn't say anything. Eventually another queen came in and said that Violet needed to go on stage. She seemed reluctant to leave Katya, but she waved her off.

"Go, its OK. I'll be here when you get back."

Violet had been gone 15 minutes when the door flew open and Trixie burst in the room in a flurry of pink and righteousness. Her eyes cast about the room until they fell on Katya and then her mouth fell open a bit, as if in disbelief, before she slammed the door closed.

"What the hell...just what did you...do you even know?" Trixie began pacing, her arms crossed under her bosom, eyes narrowed. Katya waited for her to finally articulate what she wanted to say.

"What were you thinking Katya?" She finally demanded. "How could you be so irresponsible? I didn't know where you were, if you got hit by a car, were trying to score or had run straight for the first bar you could find and were getting plastered, not that they would have let you in! Bitch, you’re not wearing any goddamn shoes!" She whirled around midstep and fixed her gaze on Katya.

"I thought I was going to get a phone call telling me you were dead or in the hospital. I can't believe…" She crossed her arms again, guarding herself. "You can't do that to me Kat. I have to know where you're going, I have to know where you are and I have to know if you get there." Trixie was shrinking in on herself, clearly trying to stop herself from crying anymore.

Katya hated that she was the one that had caused that.

"Trix, come here."

Trixie eyed her for a moment, seemingly at war with the anger she was still feeling and wanting to come closer. Finally, she sighed and stepped over to her girlfriend. Katya held her hand out and after a moment Trixie took it. She held Trixie's hand in both of hers and ran her thumb over her knuckles.

"I can't apologize; I won't pretend that the words I am sorry are enough to fix this. I want to explain, but I don't know if I can."

"Try," Trixie's tone was softer, deflated of the anger that had given it buoyancy before.

Katya nodded, "At home? I should say goodbye to Violet. She'll be back soon."

When Violet did finally enter the room it was to Katya still sitting where she had left her and Trixie perched on the side counter, all the makeup pushed aside to make room for her.

"Trixie."

"Violet. Nice pasties."

Violet smirked, but then her eyes travelled back to Katya and she turned concerned. "Are you alright to go?"

Katya nodded, but Violet continued to stare at her, as if not quite believing it.

"OK." She stepped forward, as Katya lurched to her feet, and abruptly hugged her. "If you need anything, if you just feel like you can't talk to Backwoods Barbie, or you just want somewhere quiet to sit for awhile you call me. I don't care what time it is or what I'm doing," she murmured into the side of Katya's head, giving her one last squeeze before she stepped back.

"Take your woman home Polly Pocket, don't let her stew in her own head."

Trixie rolled her eyes as she too stood up, but as she passed Violet on the way to the door she gripped her arm briefly and said sincerely, "Thank you."

The cab ride home was quiet, although Trixie did press her side against Katya's, sitting right in the middle instead of in the other window seat. Once home, they shuffled up the flights of stairs to their apartment, ignoring the prying eyes of their neighbours who at this point surely must think Katya was crazy.

Trixie led Katya through their living room and into their tiny bedroom. "Arms up," she directed, keeping eye contact the whole time. Katya complied,and let her maneuver her out of the loose dress she was wearing. Trixie silently handed her a t-shirt and began stripping herself of the clothes she had worn to work, replacing them with her customary nightgown. Once both of them were dressed for bed she pulled back the covers and climbed into bed, then looked at Katya expectantly as she held the covers back.

Taking the silent cue, Katya crawled in beside her and allowed Trixie to pull her down until they were both lying on their sides facing each other.

"Tell me what happened?"

What had happened? How did she articulate the chaos of her mind? She would have to try though, she owed Trixie an explanation.

"It was like it just hit me all at once."

"What did?" Trixie's hand was resting against her collarbone, fingers tracing over it through the worn material of her shirt.

"How fixed in one spot we've become. How it feels like nothing is going to get better because we're just stuck in the same pattern. Dwelling on what happened, trying to make things normal. But they aren't, they can't be Trix. A really fucked up thing happened and no amount of going through the everyday motions is going to fix that. And all I wanted to say to you before was that I don't want you to wait for your dreams anymore. I want you go out there and get them,and make them real. And I want to help you in any way I can, because I think that it would help us both move forward. But I started to panic, and everything became tunnel vision; I couldn't breathe, I didn't want to talk you, but I did, I didn't want to be here, but I didn't know where to go. Everything was closing in and I...lost it. I'm ashamed of how I acted, snapping at you like that when you were just trying to help."

Trixie gazed at her silently, hand now resting over Katya's heart, a warm weight against her.

"Katya, I would do anything for you. If you told me you didn't want to speak with me for a week straight I would leave you alone and come find you at the end of the week. I will give you all the space and time you need, as long as I know where you are. You don't know what that did to me. It wasn't you screaming at me, pushing me away- I know that's not you babe.It was when you ran off, no phone, no indication of where you were going, I almost lost it. I was fully getting ready to call someone when Violet called. You can't do that to me again."

They lapsed into silence again, breaths almost synchronized. Katya was so tired; emotionally and physically. She imagined that Trixie probably felt the same.

"Tomorrow, after work I'll call and see if there is an open slot this week. And you can help me record something- I have a new song. I have a bunch of new songs. I wrote them, while you were...when you were missing. It felt too soon, to do anything you know? I thought It would be selfish of me to just jump back in like, OK bitch now that you're home it's time to focus on me. I wanted to give you as much time as you needed before I was just like, spotlight on me. It was always about me before and I don't want it to be like that again." Trixie sounded like she was holding back tears and Katya thought they had both done enough crying for one day.

"Barbie," she whispered, resting her forehead against her girlfriends "you are the least selfish person I know. You've always taken care of me, and I'm counting on you to still be here to take care of me when I'm old and senile."

Trixie snorted, "Which will be in about five years."

Katya started wheezing, scrunching her eyes closed in mirth. "Bitch. My body is changing and I'm not going to apologize for that."

"I wish you would."

Katya rolled onto her other side, a full body laugh taking over. Trixie leaned over her shoulder and when she looked back at her, she could see her face was a little blotchy from crying, but there was a smile gracing her lips. "What?"

Trixie shook her head and kissed Katya's shoulder. "You want to go to sleep now?"

 

They settled in, side by side, occasionally murmuring something to the other until Trixie drifted off. Katya lay awake for awhile longer, her thoughts still slightly dark tinged. She would make an appointment with Bianca tomorrow, talk out her worries with the other woman. While Trixie was at work she would come up with a plan on how they could get Trixie's songs the attention they deserved and once Trixie was home they would talk some more. And she would call her Mama; she missed talking to her.

She was lucky she supposed; despite everything that had happened she had it better than a lot of people. It was still hard though, to quiet the anxiety demons that lived in her head. To regain her sense of self.

Katya rolled to her side and stared at the wall. Tomorrow was a brand new day and it was another day where she was back where she was supposed to be. That was enough for now; the rest could follow as it would.

Chapter Text

Trixie wasn't necessarily close to her family. She loved them, had fond memories of her brother as they grew up together and of moments with her mother who had hardly been around, but had worked hard and loved her children dearly. And she knew that if either of them ever needed anything she would not hesitate to drop everything and help them; that's what you did for family. But she wouldn't say that they had a close relationship and she figured that was just the way things were meant to be. Maybe it was self absorbed of her, but she had her own life to worry about.

She'd been surprised then how attached she'd become to Katya's mother. Irena reminded her of the immigrant women you saw in movies, the ones who always insisted you weren't eating enough and proceeded to try and feed you a four course meal. And she was warm, the type of woman who was meant to nurture. The first time they had met, she had fussed over Trixie non-stop; was the pillow she'd put in Katya's old room comfortable enough for sleeping or did she need another one? Katya had told her Trixie was a vegetarian-was there any particular food that she wanted while she stayed with them?

Katya thought it was hilarious, but it had thrown Trixie at first. She'd soon learned that she needed to just let Irena fuss and that no amount of assuring her that everything was just fine would work.

Over the years they had grown close, speaking on the phone and often discussing Trixie's worries. They had even kept in contact during her and Katya's two brief breakups, as if they both knew that it was only temporary. Along the way Irena had started insisting that Trixie call her Mamushka,that they were far past the formality of her calling her Irena. Trixie had relented and it felt good, right.

"Hello?"

Trixie sat on her and Katya's couch and pulled her legs up to her chest, cradling her phone in one hand against her ear. "Hi Mamushka, it's your favourite broke-down Barbie."

"Trixie! How are you, how are things? Katinka called last week, she said you were making some music. That's so wonderful to hear. Everything else is OK there?"

After the nightmare of the last year and a half she hated to worry Irena. The woman had, had enough worry to last a lifetime. But she couldn't lie. "It's not. Not really. Kat is...she's not sleeping. She's full of energy, like pure adrenaline, but she is not sleeping unless she passes out from exhaustion. And I understand that she's still processing things, but she just looks so tired all the time."

"What does her therapist say?"

Trixie looked down at her nails, noting that the pink polish was chipped; she had no energy to consider fixing it. What had Bianca said?

"She apparently offered sleeping pills, which Katya shot down right away. She can't disclose anything to me, but she did pull me aside after Kat's last session and give me a piece of paper with the name of a sleeping aid on it. You know I also go see her once a month?

Irena hummed in affirmation.

"And in my last session I told her that I didn't think anything was really improving. And I know it's not going to right away, I know it could take years but...did Katya tell you about the panic attack she had a couple weeks ago?"

"Yes, a little. It sounded very bad. I'm sorry you had to deal with that on your own."

Trixie shrugged as if Irena could see her. "I can deal with it, I usually know how to help her work through it, but that day-it was so bad. She scared me; I was scared for her, of what could happen. I've never seen her lose it like that. She says she needs us to move forward with our lives, and I want to do that too, but its...its just a lot." She wasn't going to cry, she refused to. She'd done enough crying to last a goddamn lifetime. But she could feel a ball of tension in her chest, threatening to choke her.

"You need a break Trixie." Irena's tone was no nonsense. "You both need some time to breathe. Is Katinka there now?"

Trixie swallowed against the ball of anxiety. "She's outside on the front steps. Or that's where she said she was going to be."

Trixie had discussed her compulsive need to always know where Katya was with Bianca, telling her she felt like a stage four clinger. Bianca had raised her eyebrows and asked if Trixie had considered that maybe part of her felt like if she always knew where her partner was that she could stop something bad from happening to her again? And then she'd said that eventually a compulsion like that could breed resentment. Trixie was working on it.

"Go get her, please. Keep me on the phone."

Trixie complied, sliding her feet into a pair of moccasins and putting her housecoat over the nightgown she was wearing. The last thing she needed was to flash her neighbours.

"What do you mean about a break?" She asked, phone pressed to her ear as she trudged down the stairs. The fluorescent light of the stairwell cast it in shadows like something out of a horror movie. It had been one of the things she had been looking forward to leaving behind back when they were planning to move.

"You both need to take some time and slow down. I worry about you as much as I do Katya. This is not healthy."

Trixie had reached the lobby and she could see Katya through the glass door, sitting in what looked like her typical meditation pose. As she pushed the door open, she could see the boys that usually hung out by the bodega loitering across the street watching.

"Kat?" She didn't want to startle her; sometimes she lost track of what was around her. She sat beside her, phone still to her ear.

Katya opened her eyes and turned to Trixie. "Hey," she seemed surprised that Trixie was there. "What's up?"

"You are with Katya now, yes?" Irena's voice echoed from the phone. "Please put me on speaker so I can talk to you both."

"What's going on?" Katya mouthed at Trixie as she took the phone away from her ear. Trixie shook her head and pressed the speaker icon. "OK, you're on speaker now Mamushka."

"Katya, hello."

"Hi Mama. What's going on?" She reiterated the question she had just asked Trixie.

"I have just been speaking with Trixie and she tells me you are not sleeping. That you will not take the sleeping pills your therapist suggests. This is fine, if you do not think its good for you, then we have to trust that you are right. But I am worried about you and about Trixie. I would like you to come to Boston; I think you both could use a break from your everyday life for a little while. Trixie? Are you able to take time off of work?"

Trixie and Katya stared at each other and then both looked at the phone and then back at each other. It was almost comical. "Uh, yeah. I could ask for vacation time."

"Good. Please do so; as much time as you are comfortable with. Katya, I don't want any argument over this. I do not want to hear how I need to leave you be. I am your mother, I know you. You need to be home now, it will help. OK?"

Katya looked amused and floored at the same time. "Ok."

"Alright. Now I love you both, and you will call me to tell me when to book your plane tickets for. Do not worry about any expense, we will take care of it. You will call me, yes?"

"Da, mama." Katya said, switching to her mother tongue. "Ya tozhe tebya lyublyu".

"Spasiba.Ya lyublyu tebya. Trixie, l love you.
Speak soon." Irena hung up, leaving them in silence.

Katya was the first to speak. "So I guess we're going to Boston. Can you really take time off? You just started performing again."

Trixie sighed; she hoped that Katya wasn't upset that she had called her mother. Sometimes it was hard to read what she was thinking. "Yeah, if we go on a Thursday and come back on the Tuesday it'll be fine. I have vacation time so that's not an issue."

Katya nodded, but her facial features were drawn, not necessarily unhappy, but not pleased. "And you're alright with going to Boston?"

"Babe, of course. I think your mom is right. It would be good to just step back and be somewhere that feels…"

"Safe." Katya reached out and put her hand on Trixie's leg, a warm weight of comfort through the material of her robe. "I think you're right, I think Mama's right. It'll be good. C'mon , lets go inside. Those boys across the street are just waiting to see if your robe is going to move any more to the right so they can get a flash of something."

Trixie couldn't help herself, "Oh honey, I'll give you a flash of something, honey." She cocked a shoulder, and looked over it coyly at Katya.

It was almost instantaneous, she could see it building, watched with anticipation as Katya's lips twitched and her eyes started to crinkle. And then she started to wheeze, as Trixie continued to hold the position, batting her eyelashes at her.

"You are...you rotted...oh my god!" She was laughing full on now, and Trixie broke her pose to reach out a hand that was immediately grabbed by one of Katya's as she tried to quiet herself.

"What? You don't want all up in this?"

Katya was settling down now and she shook her head, "You are so stupid," She said with affection.

"You gonna start making out?" One of the boys across the street yelled. "I gots a bet that you two ain't real lesbians."

Katya rolled her eyes. "OK, that's definitely our cue to go inside." She stood and pulled Trixie to her feet. "Lets go watch bad Reality TV and pass out on the couch."

---

Trixie was able to get five days off from work to go to Boston. Once she had confirmed with Irena, she let Katya take over getting all their stuff together and making sure their tickets were saved on her phone. It seemed to take an edge off of the manic energy that had been driving her recently.

They set out at 5am, Trixie silently looking forward to getting on the plane so she could fall back asleep. She had been out at the bar until 1am, performing as the only act on folk night. Katya had been there as well, but she looked surprisingly fresh faced. Once they had boarded their plane, Katya took off her sweater and offered it to Trixie. "Go back to sleep,Trix."

She took the offered sweater, protestations that Katya should also be sleeping buzzing just behind her lips. But she swallowed them down and instead bunched the sweater up, tucked it behind her head and turned her face towards her girlfriend. When she woke, Katya's eyes were closed and her breath was shallow. She was holding onto Trixie's left hand and despite the sweat buildup she could feel, Trixie left it until they were ready to land and she gently shook her awake.

The airport was surprisingly not too busy and they were able to get their luggage fairly quickly. Katya's phone kept dinging, the text in Russian when Trixie took it out of her hand to see what Irena was saying.

"She wants us to meet her by the Starbucks," Katya translated. Her bangs were going every which way and her eyes had a slight sheen that Trixie recognized as over tiredness. She reached up and smoothed Katya's bangs down and gave an encouraging smile when their eyes met.

"We better not keep her waiting."

Irena rushed towards them as soon as she saw them, throwing her arms around Katya. She was a short woman, shorter than Katya, but as she pulled her daughter in close to her body she seemed to engulf her whole form.

"Katinka, ah I am so glad you are here! Look at this hair," she stepped back and fingered a lock of the platinum blonde locks. "So chic. I love it. Trixie come, I know you aren't a hugger, but come let me give you a kiss. I am so happy that you girls are here."

She led them out of the airport, and to her old station wagon. Trixie was always surprised that the thing was still running; it had been new back in the late 80s.

"Vitaly is at work, but you will see him tonight. You will probably want to rest today, you both look like you could use the sleep."

Katya got in the front of the car and Trixie in the back. Through the gap between the seat and the window Trixie could see Katya's face reflected back at her in the side mirror. Lines of exhaustion were evident and Trixie supposed that she didn't look much better. Katya closed her eyes and rested her head against the window as Irena started the car.

The house where Katya had grown up was small, suburban. It sat in a row of other small neat houses and the first time she'd seen it, Trixie had thought that it must have looked like the personification of the American Dream to two Russian immigrants and their small daughter. It was vastly different from the house she had grown up in.

Once inside, Irena shooed them up the stairs, telling them to go rest for a while. She was going to get groceries and would be back in a couple hours. Katya's old room looked as it always did. There was the old quilt on the bed, its red boarder faded and worn, but still serviceable. On the walls were old drawings and photos, all neatly framed. Trixie loved to look at them, they were all Katya's own work and all spoke of a different time in her life growing up. Today though, she watched as Katya stared at the bed, her fingers hovering just above the quilt.

"I thought I wasn't going to see this room ever again. My Babka sent me this quilt, you know. It was her mother’s and then hers and then my Aunt Anna's. She was the one who was arrested for stealing from the factory, I think I met her once before we came here...Babka knew she was dying and she didn't want the quilt to end up in some other family. So she boxed it up and sent it snail mail all the way from Smolensk to here. In her note she said, may it keep you warm and safe at night for all your days."

She turned back to Trixie who was still standing in the doorway holding her guitar case in one hand, with a backpack slung over her shoulder. "You look so tired."

Trixie set her guitar down and de-shouldered the backpack. She shuffled over to the bed, pulling Katya with her until they both were sat on the old Russian quilt."I'm exhausted babe," she admitted. "I hear you at night and knowing that you're unable to sleep keeps me up. I mean, you've always been a weird sleeper, but it seems like lately you aren't sleeping at all." She sighed and ran her fingers over a star like design on the quilt. "I know you don't want to talk about it and I'll never push you to. That's not my right. But I hope you know that you can come talk to me about anything. I would rather know what demons are filling your head than be kept in the dark."

Katya's eyes were bright as she nodded and Trixie knew to leave the topic for now. She slid off the bed and left the room for the bathroom; when she returned Katya was curled up under the quilt, breaths even with sleep. When she tucked herself in beside her, pulling the quilt up over both their shoulders, she had the fleeting hope that Katya's Babka was right and that they would both be warm and safe for a little while, even from the terrors of their own minds.

---

Katya slept for hours and Trixie left her to it, once she had woken and changed her clothes. She needed to catch up on all the sleepless nights she had spent wandering around their apartment and Trixie hoped that some uninterrupted time in her childhood room might help.

Downstairs, Irena was bustling around the Kitchen stirring various pots and chopping ingredients. "I am making Olivier," she informed Trixie when she came into the room. "Katya loves it. I thought it would be nice for her if she had some comfort food."

"Can I do anything?" Trixie felt at odds just standing there, watching as the older woman hustled from point to point in the kitchen.

Irena waved a hand, "No, do not worry Trixie. Please, sit down. Tell me about your performances these past weeks. Was there a decent amount of people there?"

Trixie sat down at the round table in the right corner of the kitchen. "It's been OK. I was honestly kind of nervous to start up again...I mean I fully believe what I'm putting out there, but it's been over a year. That's a long time to be out of the rat race, especially when you're my age. I saw some people who were regulars and they seemed happy to see me again; Brian comes to listen whenever he can and sometimes he brings Mitya. He and Kat have formed a real bond. And I know Katya is up to something, she keeps hogging the laptop and asking me things like, if I would describe my sound as more 'folk' or 'bluegrass' or like a 'folk-pop.' She won't tell me what she's doing, but it seems to make her happy? God, I don't even know if that's even the right word. Satisfied maybe; less restless."

Irena remained silent as she chopped carrots, letting Trixie work through her thoughts. "I think she's trying to focus on anything but what is really going through her mind. Bianca suggested to her that she needed to try and aim for some positive change and she's latched on to that. But I'm worried that by just trying to move forward, a larger issue is getting glossed over. And that's going to come to a head eventually and it's going to be so messy."

Irena put the carrot pieces in a bowl and started cutting potatoes. "Katya has always been one to push forward through things that others would stop and analyze before they became a set back." She said as she chopped. "I came to realize after her second relapse that she fears disappointing others, more than she cares for her own wellbeing. That started to change after she met you, but old habits are easy to fall back on. I think we must let her focus on moving forward, but we must also let her know that it is alright for her to come to us and talk about what is troubling her in her own time. And that it is Ok that she is not back on even ground yet." She looked at Trixie knowingly then, the kind of gaze only a mother could have.

"It is also OK that you take your time getting back on even ground too. You had to be strong for us all Trixie and I will always be grateful that you had that strength. But now it is alright for you to take care of yourself too. I really want you both to try and relax while you are here; I want you to have a couple days that are not filled with worry."

Trixie bit her lip and looked down at the table; worry was her constant companion now, the default at which she operated on a day to day basis. "I'll try."

---

The first two days of their visit were quiet. Once Vitaly got home the first night,they all had dinner and tried to keep the topics general and light. It couldn't be ignored that there was an elephant in the room, but they all steered around it for the time being. After dinner, Katya ended up in the living room with her father and when Trixie peeked in she could see them sitting close together and just hear softly murmured Russian. She left them to it and when Katya came to bed that night she was surprised when her girlfriend wrapped her arms around her and pressed a kiss into the back of neck. "Goodnight Trix, I love you."

"Love you babe, sleep well." She couldn't help the smile that touched her lips; this was the first intimate contact that Katya had initiated in months.

During the day that followed the two of them just puttered around while Irena and Vitaly were at work. In the afternoon Trixie took her guitar into the back yard,sat on the picnic table and started strumming aimlessly. She closed her eyes, moving her fingers by memory and only opened them when she felt the table shift as Katya sat on the bench.

"Will you play me something?" The sun shining on the synthetic blonde of Katya's hair made it look white.

"Sure. What do you want to hear?"

Katya shrugged, picking at the peeling paint of the bench. "Anything. Play me what you feel right now."

What was she feeling? Trixie continued to strum for a moment, as she looked at Katya watching her expectantly. There was a slight smile on her lips and her eyes were wrinkled against the glare of the sun. She always forgot her sunglasses. Slowly, Trixie's aimless strumming changed until she was playing with purpose and then she started to sing a song that she had never played for Katya before, but that was all for her. And when the last note had rang out and she stilled her fingers, Katya rested her head against her knee and Trixie could just hear her say, "Yeah, that's how I feel too."

The next day Katya woke her early and dragged her out of the house and into her Mom's car. Neither of them drove too often, but if one of them was going to she was glad it was Kat and not her. She didn't ask where they were going, and Katya didn't offer, just drove with the window down to let the early morning air in. Katya took them through the city, and when they finally stopped it was in front of a diner with a vintage vibe.

"Do you remember coming here? Like seven years ago?" Katya's voice was low in the early morning. Through the diner window Trixie could see a waitress placing menus on empty tables.

"Of course. You had pancakes, because you always do. And tea, instead of coffee, which I thought was strange because you drink your coffee like it's water. I had a Spinach Omelet, because I was on a fitness journey. And we sat in that booth there," she pointed to a booth close to the window. "It was crowded and loud and you kept running your foot up my leg and I was ready to ask for the cheque and get out of there and when I looked over to you, you were just looking at me and smiling. And I said something like, 'so do I have egg on my face?’ and you shook your head and said, 'no, I just love you.'

"Shit, you remembered that pretty much verbatim." Katya looked impressed and Trixie found herself blushing.

"It was the first time you said it to me; I love you. I think we both knew before that, I mean I knew within the first week of knowing you. But we'd never said it."

"That was a really good day," Katya said quietly and Trixie found herself turning her body to face her in the driver's seat. Katya's fingers taped against the steering wheel. "It's one of the things I thought about when I was gone. That helped me stay sane.That day and how we came here, because I remembered it from when I was a kid. And how cute you were sitting in that booth, trying not to get flustered because I kept running my foot up your leg. I remember I just looked at you and I couldn't believe that we were there, together. I couldn't believe that I was lucky enough to have that. And when I told you I loved you, you smiled, and said, ‘babe, I know you do. I love you too and if you weren't sitting all the way on the other side of the booth I would kiss you.’ So I came around to your side and I kissed you and the waitress came and was like," Katya deepened her voice so it sounded like she had just smoked five packs of cigarettes back to back, "Ladies, if it was up to me I would say whateva and let you's go at it, but management says you's gotta break this lovely moment up if your bill is paid." And we both stared at her and she just shrugged and muttered "whateva." And walked away."

"Homophobia aside, that was a really good day," Trixie agreed. She hesitated and then pushed onwards. "You said when we talked with those girls from the podcast a couple weeks ago, that remembering things helped you get through the day. Did it really? Help?"

Katya's fingers stilled their taping on the steering wheel. She sighed, and Trixie hoped that she wasn't upset that she was asking her this.That she was prying, instead of waiting for information to be offered at Katya's own pace.

"It helped in the moments where I felt like I was suffocating. When the panic and the inexorable hopelessness of everything would take over. I would think of things that I knew he couldn't touch, moments that were all mine or belonged to only you and I. He could have me, physically, but I wasn't going to allow him to have me mentally." Her fingers started taping again and Trixie took that as a sign that the conversation was over.

She looked back to the diner, where an open sign now flashed. "So, are we going to go in. Cause bitch if you brought me here and we're not getting pancakes…"

Katya scoffed and undid her seatbelt. "Who do you think your talking to? Not have pancakes. Am I or am I not someone who shoots straight from the hip around the corner? C'mon." She ordered, ignoring Trixie's snorting giggle. "Lets go get you some pancakes."

---

It was clear to Trixie that Katya was doing her best to get out of her own mind everyday. Their days in a Boston were filled with either wandering around the city or spending time with Katya's parents. Katya took her to a lot of places that she hadn't been to since before she had met Trixie, and the animated way she would recall stories about each place made Trixie's heart feel lighter. This was her Katya, the one she had fallen for pretty much at first sight, and it was wonderful to get a glimpse of her- to see that she was still in there pushing through all the trauma.

Nights were another story.

On their third night Trixie woke, not quite sure what had caused her to do so. The room was dark, so she knew it wasn't close to sunrise yet and a quick glance at the bedside clock told her it was 3am. It also told her that Katya was not in bed with her.

For a moment, her stomach lurched with panic, a short thrill of fear and she had to take a few deep breaths to calm herself. "It's OK," she thought. "She's probably in the bathroom or downstairs. You're going to get up and you'll find her."

Trixie checked the bathroom first, trying to keep her movements quiet on the hardwood so she didn't wake anyone else in the house. She flicked the light on and blinked against the glare, casting her gaze around, until she saw that the flowered pattern curtain was pulled across the bath. "Kat? Are you in there?"

At first there was no reply and then the curtain moved about an inch to the right.

"Can I come in?"

Trixie waited, her gaze intent on the shower curtain for anymore movement. Finally Katya spoke.

"Please."

When Trixie pulled back the curtain, Katya was curled in on herself in the far corner of the tub. Her knees were pulled into her chest and her eyes when they met Trixie's were wide and glassy. Trixie maneuvered herself into the tub and pulled the curtain closed. She sat down with a thump that reverberated through her whole body. "Can I ask why you're hiding in the tub at 3am in the morning?" She kept her tone level, soft, so Katya wouldn't hear the anxiousness that was bubbling inside of her.

"I didn't want to wake you and it was a lot...too much. I couldn't shut my mind off. At home, when you're at work and it gets to be too much I usually sit in our shower. It feels safe."

Trixie nodded slowly. "Can I touch you?"

Katya's hand shot out immediately and Trxie grabbed it, gripping her narrow fingers in between her own calloused ones. Katya's eyes were bright with unshed tears when she looked at her. "There were a lot of nights where he would stay with me. Those nights could be really bad if I didn't give in to what he wanted. And even if I did, he would just be there all night. Breathing on me, holding onto me. I couldn't allow myself to sleep; if I slept who knows what he might have done. And when he would leave, the only thing I could do was to hide in the bathroom. It was the only place I could be alone and I couldn't even close the door properly because of that fucking chain."

At the mention of the chain Trixie found herself looking at Katya's ankle. The skin there was shiny with scarring; Katya had been rubbing various essential oils on it that reduced scarring. Trixie had bought her some Scarzone, but she wasn't sure she had used it.

"Are you thinking about those times at night? Is that why you can't sleep?" A thought struck her, one she was loath to voice, but would because it would be selfish not to. "Is it because I'm sleeping beside you? I know I get handsy in my sleep. If you need to sleep on your own we can do that. I'll move to the couch."

Katya squeezed her hand and slowly untangled herself to move closer, her skin making a screeching noise against the tub as she did so. When she was close enough she leaned her head against Trixie's shoulder in the space between her shoulder and chin. "It's not you, Trix. Don't ever think that; being close to you, in any way, makes me feel safe. I've been having dreams, really horrible nightmares. And when I wake up, it takes me awhile to realize that I'm not there anymore- that I'm home with you. So I get up and pace around or go sit in the shower."

Trixie tightened her grip on Katya's hand. What could she say? Everyone, including herself, had said that pushing Katya to talk about anything that had happened during her captivity before she was ready would be counter productive. But by not talking about it, she wondered if it was making Katya think that she couldn't.

"Are you having nightmares about the things that happened to you? Or is it more exaggerated, your own mind building off the truth?"

Katya was silent for a few minutes and Trixie let her figure out what she wanted to say. They had not spoken in detail about the abuses that Katya had undergone, but Trixie was aware in general terms.

"It's mostly the night he abducted me; that's always exaggerated. Like I'm very clear on how that happened and in my dreams its always more. But sometimes, it's like a reenactment of things that occured when he had me. And that's always very true to what actually happened. It's him coming into the room, telling me that it's time for bed and that he would like to be close to me. Sometimes, he would just want to hold onto me and describe what he thought our life was going to be like. And sometimes he would want more than just that, sometimes he would make me take my clothes off and sometimes he would do it himself. And then…" Katya trailed off, her breathing picking up and she turned her face into Trixie's shoulder.

"Then he raped you." Trixie said it bluntly, matter factly. She felt like she was going to be sick. Neither of them had ever said it out loud in all the months Katya had been home. The Police had said it, when they spoke with Katya, but at that time she had just nodded and replied "yes" when they asked if any assault had occurred.

"Yes. Then he raped me."Katya's words seemed to echo in the bathtub. "Oh god." She lurched away from Trixie and ripped the curtain back, throwing herself towards the toilet. "Fucking Jesus." She leaned over the bowl as Trixie followed, climbing out of the tub to sit behind her as she threw up. She rubbed light circles into Katya's back and looked away, swallowing to stop her own bile. She had never done well with other people being sick.

Once she was done and had flushed the toilet, Katya leaned back against Trixie, who automatically wrapped her arms around her.

"It's not always that, the- the rape." Katya rasped, saying the word deliberately. "Sometimes it's the day I was found. And instead of only wounding Brian, he manages to stab him in the chest. Or he cuts my throat before any of us can react. And I wake up, my heart pounding and I can still see his eyes. Jesus H Christ, Trix." She brought a hand up to her mouth, but not enough to stifle the sob that followed. "I'm so tired."

Trixie tightened her arms around her, hooking her chin over her shoulder so she could press her cheek against Katya's. She could feel her own tears building, and she let them. They had both cried so much since Katya had come home, but sitting here on the floor of Katya's parent's bathroom, at 3:30 in the morning, in Boston, it felt pivotal. So Trixie didn't try to be strong, she just held Katya as she sobbed as she never had before and allowed herself to feel everything too.

Eventually Katya calmed down and took a few shuddering deep breaths. "Can we go back to the room?" She managed to get out. Trixie nodded, wiping her eyes quickly.

"Yeah, lets go." She let Katya stand first and then took the hand she held out and leveraged herself up after her. She felt spent and Katya didn't look much better. Once in the room, they both climbed back into bed and Katya scootched her back into Trixies front.

"Can you put your arms around me again? It felt good."

Trixie didn't say anything, just put an arm across Katya and linked her hand with hers. They lay there in silence, just breathing together. Eventually Katya spoke again. "I'm not going to let him hold onto me anymore. He's gone and I still have to live. And I want to. I do."

---

The remainder of their time in Boston was uneventful. Katya seemed to sleep more during the night and during the day she was quiet, but not in a withdrawn way. She never mentioned what they had discussed in the tub and Trixie didn't bring it up. She did notice that Katya had more of a settled look about her, as if she had decided something and was coming to terms with it.

On their last day in Boston, she came up to their room where Trixie was in the middle of playing around with a new song that had been tickling the back of her mind and sat beside her. She was holding Irena's laptop and when Trixie looked at her, she looked uneasy in an excited way.

"What's up?"

Katya bit her lip and drummed her fingers against the laptop. "So, I might have done something a couple weeks ago, after we talked about you starting to perform again. And I don't know how you're going to feel. I think it's good, like really good. BUT you might not and I probably should have told you, but I didn't want to get your hopes up...OK, you know what, just read the email." She shoved the laptop into Trixie's hands and flopped back on the bed, throwing an arm over her face.

Trixie opened the laptop to see an email screen already pulled up.

"Dear Ms. Mattel,

Thank you for your submission to the contest for emerging artists. We have listened to the tracks that you sent with your submission and are pleased to inform you that you are one of five finalists short listed for the final prize. Please contact us by 08/18/19 with the track you would like presented to the public for voting, as well as your explanation of what this song means to you as a singer and songwriter.

Congratulations and we look forward to hearing back from you.

Trixie read the email three times before she gently set the laptop down and turned to Katya, who was still lying on the bed with her arm over her face. She reached out and moved the arm away, forcing Katya to look at her. She went to speak and then stopped, prompting Katya to raise her brows at her.

"Well?"

Trixie opened her mouth to reply and then snapped it shut. She could feel the hair on her arms tingling. "Oh, wow."

Katya sat up. "Wow in a good way? Or wow, Katya how dare you not consult me before impersonating me and submitting my life's work to corporate shills?"

Trixie couldn't help herself, she lurched forward and kissed Katya soundly. "Wow, as in oh bitch. I can't believe you did this for me. Like, this wasn't even on my radar." She kissed her again and this time Katya responded, bringing her hand up to push it into Trixie's hair. "I love you. Thank you. Thank you." She murmured between kisses. "This is amazing. Oh my god" she stopped mid kiss and pulled away. "What do I do? What do I give them? What kind of contest is this?"

Trixie got up and began pacing. "I love that you did this. I can't believe you did it. Like wow, holy shit. With everything that has been going on, with everything you've been dealing with…" she could feel excitement coursing through her veins. But that excitement was quickly overwhelmed when she looked back at Katya sitting on the bed and still looking at her with clear trepidation. How did she reassure her that she was ecstatic about whatever this was? That she hadn't been this excited about something to do with music since she'd sold one of her songs? That song had never been recorded, stuck in a music company's catalogue, but the payment from it had been more money than she made in three months of working at the makeup counter or performing various gigs in L.A.

"Babe," she went back over to the bed and sat beside Katya again, cupping her face between her hands. "Really, thank you. You said that we needed to start making moves to change things, but you actually went and did it. It doesn't matter what this contest is for or what happens with it. No one supports me like you do."

Katya leaned into Trixie's hands and looked up at her with earnest eyes. Trixie's mom used to say that love came in at the eyes, something she had heard in a movie or read in a book, but Trixie thought it was true. Looking into Katya's blue grey eyes she knew that everything Katya did for her came from a place of real love and that the same was true for herself. She would never want to go through life with anyone else.

Katya reached up and took one of the hands that was cupping her cheek and brought it to her lips, kissing Trixie's fingers. "You want to read the company's website so you know what's going on?" She sounded slightly amused now that she was assured that everything was OK.

While Trixie sat cross legged on the bed and eagerly read through the web page for the contest, Katya got up and drifted over to the window, opening it and looking at something outside of the house. When Trixie finally looked up from Irena's computer, Katya was hanging partway out the window, resting her arms on the sill. Trixie sat and watched her for a moment, silently appreciating her profile in the late afternoon light. Eventually she felt like she had to say something.

"Katya? What're you doing?"

Katya stood straight, abandoning her perch and turned to Trixie. There was a smile dancing on her lips, threatening to grow bigger. She didn't speak though.

"What is it?" Trixie pressed, her own smile coming on as Katya grinned at her for no discernable reason.

"It's raining."

Trixie stared at her, lost, but Katya just shook her head. "This might sound crazy Baby, but would you care to take a walk with me?"

"In the rain?" Trixie was already beginning to stand though, shifting the laptop onto the bed.

"In the rain," Katya confirmed, eyes alight with expectation. How could Trixie say no?

"My hair is going to get all frizzy!" She protested, even as she started to walk towards the bedroom door. Katya laughed, as she knew she would, and kissed her on the cheek.

"I know. Isn't it wonderful?"

Trixie wasn't sure what had brought on this giddy joy that was radiating from her girlfriend, but she wasn't about to burst the bubble. She felt unadulterated happiness in that moment; pure and ready to be embraced.They hadn't had very many happy moments of late; who was she to deny this one?

"Can I have an umbrella?"

Katya's laugh echoed through the house.

Chapter Text

It was Brian who opened the letter, going through a routine stack of mail, but it was Mitya who ultimately followed up on it. He sat on it for a few days after Brian opened it and brought it to him with tight lips and hard eyes. At first he'd thought that he'd done something to piss his husband off, with the way he had slapped the letter down in front of him. But upon reading the innocuous looking piece of stationery, he'd quickly realized that Brian's anger had nothing to do with anything he might have done and everything to do with the contents of the letter.

But he still didn't act on it for four days, and Brian never mentioned it.

On the fourth day, a Saturday, he was sitting at his desk staring at his laptop as if it had all the answers to life in its retina display. The early morning sunlight was streaming through the partially closed blinds and his head was pounding from the multiple cigarettes he had smoked already that morning, his pack of Marlboros half empty. Brian wouldn't be happy, he knew. He was in for many a pointed look and comments on smoker's breath.

Just as he was popping the tab on a can of Red Bull, he heard the door downstairs fling open and then the distinctive thud of running shoes hitting the stairs, skipping the first stair, as always. It was a sound he had gotten used to hearing most Saturday mornings.

"Hello, hi Mitya."

He found himself smiling, returning the welcoming grin that was being presented to him. It was hard not to.

"Good morning my dearest darling Katinka. How are you?"

He always asked; he genuinely wanted to know. Sometimes, she would give a flippant answer and sometimes she answered truthfully. He could always tell a half second before she spoke if it was a truthful day or one where she wasn't interested in discussing herself. Today, Katya fingered one of her short braids and squinted at him.

It was a day for truth, he surmised, as she took a breath to speak. "The sun is out, the birds are singing and I am running on two cups of coffee and a prayer. My lover is off in New York getting her life and I can't sleep without her snoring in my ear. But I'm good; today is a good day."

Brian had told him that Trixie was going away for a week. Katya had called him, anxious and hyper, and breathlessly informed him that Trixie was going to New York as part of some contest for songwriters and she had lied and said she would be fine by herself. Brian had talked to her for an hour and whatever he had said must have helped in some way if Katya was here now and not hiding at home. She was a brave woman, he thought, stronger than she gave herself credit for. Every time he saw her she seemed better and better.

Maybe that was enough.

"Are you running today or are you going to try and convince Brian to bend his body into 'unreasonable positions'?"

"Oh, I thought a bit of both.Last time he told me his goal was to get his legs over his head."

There were a lot of places Mitya could take that, but before he could say anything, Brian emerged from their living area. "Hey, I thought I heard you out here. You ready to go?"

"Ready, willing and mostly able. And," Katya waved a pair of sunglasses in the air. "I remembered my sunglasses!"

Brian whistled, "Oh, she's extra prepared today. OK, lets get the torture over with so I can come back, pound two Red Bull and cry. Mitya, are you sure you don't want to come get physical?"

"Another time," he assured his husband, amused at the exchange he had just witnessed. "I'm just gonna stay here and wallow in the misery of research."

Once Brian and Katya had left, he turned his gaze back to the letter that had been occupying his mind for the past four days. What was he to do? The fact that the letter had been delivered to he and Brian, and not to the person it was actually meant for, told him that the person sending it knew they were overstepping.

Mitya wasn't sure he wanted to engage with such a person; but if he didn't, there was a risk that they would reach out to the subject of the letter themselves, and even if he did, there was always the chance they might go around him.

It was time to do some research.
---

Mitya wasn't a huge fan of lawyers, at least the sleazy corporate kind who were only out to make as much money as they could and close the case to move on to the next big pay cheque. But if there was one thing he knew, in some situations you needed a lawyer on your side. And there were two ladies he trusted with all his legal matters.

The small firm of Monsoon and Creme was situated in a tiny brownstone, framed by the ever present palm trees L.A. was famous for. They generally kept office hours on a Saturday, to service their clients who couldn't get time off work during the week.When he entered, he was greeted by a board looking young woman with pink hair, who was sitting behind the reception desk filing her nails.

Before he could say anything, the woman pressed an old fashioned intercom button and said, "Dela, that weird Russian PI guy is here."

The intercom crackled and a high voice responded. "For goodness sake Farrah! You need to stop calling all our clients strange or weird, you’re driving away business! Send him in please."

Farrah clicked the intercom off and shrugged. "Go on in, I suppose," She sighed dramatically, and went back to filing her nails.

Mitya bit back a laugh and walked down the short hall to the first office on the right; he tapped on the door and received a brisk, "come in" in response.

"Hello treasure!" the woman behind the desk in the office rose from her seat and walked around it to greet him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek; something that he had come to expect every time they met. Bendela Creme was one of the friendliest people he knew. She was also a shrewd lawyer, who could have worked for any high price firm and had chosen to instead use her talents to help the working class.

"How are you? I'm sorry about Farrah, I just do not know what is wrong with that girl. I think she's waging some kind of apathetic protest because Jinkx wouldn't let her take the afternoon off to go get her hair done. Sit, sit down!" She waved one hand at the chair in front of her desk and bustled back around it to settle in her own.

"I'm well Dela, thank you. Sorry to just drop in like this, but I needed some legal advice and I'd rather talk about it in person."

"Please, you're welcome anytime! What can I help you with?"

Mitya reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded envelope. "You remember the case I was working, the missing woman who was abducted?"

"Yes, Katya Zamo-something wasn't it? Poor dear."

"That's her. This past week we received a letter in the mail, and it was addressed to Brian and I, but it's clearly meant for her. Here." He passed the letter to Dela and she donned a pair of cats eye glasses, that had been hanging from a chain around her neck.

"Oh yes," she murmured, as she read the letter. "Yes, I see. Well this is entirely inappropriate. So this person basically claims they have a letter to pass on from the man who abducted your client and held her captive. And that they are looking to you as an intermediary. Heaven knows why." She silently skimmed through the rest of the letter and then sat back, dropping it to her desk.

"Does your client require legal representation?"

Mitya sighed, "I was pondering that, myself. I haven't shown this letter to Katya or her partner. They've been through a lot and something like this is just going to stir up more trouble for them. The writer of the letter is Max's foster mother, as I'm sure you've surmised. I can only think that she's afraid to approach Katya, but if Brian and I don't pass on her wishes to Katya, I'm afraid she is going to sum up the courage to contact her directly. I had thought to go speak with this woman in person, explain why what she is doing is a horrible idea. I understand that she lost someone important to her and wants to honor a last wish, but it’s just ludicrous to think Kaya would want to know anything more that man had to say. And if that doesn’t dissuade her, I do have some information that she wouldn't want to be known.Legally."

Dela raised one hand and pointed a manicured nail at him, "I didn't just hear that." She tapped the same finger lightly against her lips in thought. "Hmm, yes I can see how that could be an issue. I agree, don't tell your client about this, if it can be avoided. That's a kettle of fish best left alone. Legally speaking, without getting a restraining order, the best option is a Lawyers Letter. Which I think you know." She smiled slightly, looking at him knowingly.

"I do, yes. Would Monsoon and Creme be able to provide such a letter? Without Katya being involved?"

Dela re-read the letter again, the words just under her breath. She nodded, clearly coming to some decision and looked back to him.

"Yes, I think that's doable. You are acting on behalf of a client and you are 'employing' our services, as our client. And would you look at that, this fits right into our pro bono allotment for the month." She winked at him and turned to her computer, her nails clicking pleasantly against the keys as she began to type.

"I can cover the cost. I know you would normally bill for something like this," he offered, but Dela shook her head.

"No, between you and I something like this is nothing. And if Jinkx heard I had billed you for a service to help protect a woman who was victimised as your client was, they would never let me hear the end of it. Situations like this are why we started this firm in the first place."

An hour later, Dela had a letter drafted and had Farrah call a courier. "If anything comes back from this, it should come to me now." She told him, as she saw him to the door.

"Thank you Dela, I appreciate the assistance."

She waved a hand, "It's truly no trouble. Now, you keep in touch. We'd love to see both you and Brian socially sometime, it's been too long. Take care!" She hugged him again, her effusive energy rolling off her in waves.

---
When Mitya got back to the office, Katya was sitting at his desk, looking spry and energized and Brian was laying on the saggy couch. She made to move when he came through the door, but he shook his head and went to the couch, moving Brian's legs so he could sit down with them over his lap.

"How was your run?"

Brian groaned and Katya laughed.

“That bad?”

Brian groaned again and Mitya squeezed his calves in sympathy. He was proud of his husband for getting active, and sticking to it. Their lifestyle of late nights and irregular hours of rest was conducive to a heart attack by 50. He should probably do the same, or at least give up the copious cigarettes, coffee and Red Bull.

“Well, I better get going.” Katya rose from her seat at the desk. “I promised Trix I would call her.”

She began gathering her things and as he watched her, Mitya was struck by an idea.

“Katya?”

“Hmm?” she shoved her sunglasses up into her hair and looked at him expectantly.

“I was wondering, if you would want to help us out for awhile? As I’m sure you can see, we’re not the best at filing things or even being very organized.” He gestured to the general office area and she smirked, taking in the stacks of file folders and notebooks.

“I had noticed, yes.”

Brian sat up a bit, tuning into the conversation. He looked at Mitya questioningly, but Mitya kept his gaze fixed on Katya.

“Would you want to come in a couple times a week? Organize things, answer the phone etc? We would of course pay you and I think it would be good to have someone we knew we could trust taking care of things.”

Katya was excited by the idea, he could tell. Her eyes lit up and she looked around again, as if already planning where she would start. But all the same, she took a breath and said, “Can I think about it for a day or two?”

He understood her hesitance, so he just nodded and smiled reassuringly. “Of course, take all the time you need. The offer isn’t going anywhere.”

“Ok,” she smiled and he had a feeling she had already subconsciously made up her mind. “Alright; I’ll be in touch soon. Brian, you should do some stretches, loosen up those tense muscles.”

After her footfalls on the stairs had faded, Brian turned to Mitya and raised his brows.

“What?”

“I’ve been trying to get you to get this place organized for forever.”

Mitya shrugged. “Well, I guess it finally worked. I think it could be good for Katya, help her get back into the outside world without first entering a foriegn environment. And you know we can’t just ask anyone to go through our files. I think she can be discreet if she sees anything.”

Brian shook his head, but he was smiling. “You’re such a softy. You just want to make sure she’s OK. But you’re right; it’ll be good for us all.” He lay back down and kicked his legs slightly. “Can you rub my calves?”

Mitya started kneading the muscles there and Brian sighed. It was quiet for a short time and then he spoke again. “Where did you go, while we were gone?”

“I went to see Dela. I wanted her advice and her help, with that letter.”

“Oh. Yeah, THAT letter. I can’t believe that woman; who the hell in their right mind thinks something like that is OK? I mean she couldn’t have known beforehand why he was giving her the letter to pass on, but didn’t she wonder after everything that happened? I don’t even want to know what bullshit he’s trying to feed Katya from the grave.” Brian’s tone was hard.

“I know. It’s taken care of though; Dela wrote a Lawyers Letter, instructing that any contact with Katya desist, and had it couriered. Hopefully that will be the end of it. And we never mention this to Katya or Trixie,” he cautioned. “This never happened and if it comes back up, hopefully we can nip whatever occurs in the bud. I hope I did the right thing.”

“You did,” Brian assured him. “Katya is doing so much better now; she was a completely different person today. More like what Trixie described when she told us about her. Anything that comes up in the way of her discovering herself again, is best dealt with quickly.”

Mitya agreed; he really hoped he hadn’t overstepped. He liked Katya and Trixie; they were good people and he empathised with them completely. They were becoming friends and he wanted to keep that relationship on level ground. He hoped that if this ever came to light, they would both understand why he and Brian had not said anything.

As for the job offer, he was fairly confident he knew what Katya's answer was going to be. She just needed to reason through it herself now.

Chapter Text

Katya had cleared herself as large a space as possible in the living room; she'd pushed the couch back and lifted the coffee table to sit on top of it. She'd opened all the windows in the apartment to let in the early September air, and she could hear the voices of her neighbours, their laughter and conversations and the raucous of their children. Someone was playing the radio and the beat of some hip hop song could just be heard above the din. This was her soundtrack, as she worked her body through some of the more complex yoga poses.

She'd needed a distraction, something physical to pull her mind away from the doubts that had been plaguing her. Bianca had told her to listen to her body; if it told her she needed to eat, she should eat. If it said it needed some kind of physical exertion, then she should do that and if it was demanding rest, she better get some sleep. It was all about balance and she hoped she was getting better at it.

She wanted to tell Mitya and Brian that she would love to help them whenever they needed her. She felt a debt of gratitude towards them that she wasn't sure could ever be repaid; of course she could organise some files for them, answer the phone and do whatever else needed doing. But wanting to do something and actually doing it were two completely separate things.

Trixie thought it was a good idea; she'd looked so happy on FaceTime when Katya had said she was considering it. "I think it would be good for you to get out and do your own thing," she'd told her. "And you know you can trust them."

Katya knew she was right, she did. But was she really ready for that? Yes, she was doing better most days, but she still had her share of bad days; days where she wasn't sure she would be able to get out of bed. Or where everything seemed normal and then all of a sudden she felt like everything was rushing around her. She'd had anxiety since she was a child; she knew that it wasn't going anywhere. Before she'd been abducted, she'd pretty much had it at a manageable level. Now it was as if she was relearning the things that triggered it and what to do to deal with it. And she wasn't sure how having a job would fit into that.

Her phone began chiming, bringing her out of the calm she had established through her movements. Instead of jumping right to checking it, she worked through a cool down and only then did she walk over to the couch and pick up her phone.

She had one message, from Ginger.

Hey gal, you free this evening? Wanna hit a patio somewhere for an early dinner? I've got some news I want to share with my BFF.

Katya read the message twice, considering. She was hungry and she hadn't seen Ginger in a few weeks. And with Trixie not due back for a couple more days, she was alone with only her thoughts for company. Going out might be good. And she could talk to Ginger about her current thoughts.

She messaged her back and quickly dashed for the shower. If she was going out, she was going to make more of an effort than the yoga pants and tank top ensembles she had been wearing all week.

---

"How've you been lately?" Ginger asked her after their waiter took their drinks order- a Georgia Peach Coke for Katya and a Long Island Iced Tea for Ginger.

Katya raised a hand and titled it from side to side, scrunching up her nose. "There's good days and bad days. Today was OK. I pretty much stayed in all day."

Ginger pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her purse. "You don't mind? I know you've pretty much given it up."

Katya shook her head, "No, go for it."

Ginger lit her cigarette, took a drag and then spoke. "I didn't want to pressure you, so I figured I better just let ya be for a while. But you know if you need anything, to just call or text right?"

Katya did know and she appreciated her friend's support, more than she could say. "I know, you've always been there for me whenever I needed you. Even if you didn't always approve of my life choices."

Ginger laughed, "Gal, if you are referring to the averted tetanus disaster of 2015, I stand by my decision to stop you from getting your nipples pierced. Even if you did end up with a tattoo instead. I still don't think that guy was certified."

"His name was Gerrard and he was trying to put his baby sister through college. He was very convincing."

Ginger snorted and took another drag of her cigarette. "He was trying to get into your pants is what he was doing."

Their waiter came back then to bring their drinks and see if they were ready to order. Katya quickly squinted down at the menu, while Ginger ordered, and then asked for the Greek Salad without the feta.

"Without the feta?" The waiter looked unimpressed.

"Yes, sans cheese, please." She smiled winningly and the young man shrugged.

"They'll probably want to charge you for the feta anyway," he pointed out.

"Such is the way of the world for those of us who dislike cheese. Thank you!"

The waiter walked away and Ginger laughed, shaking her head, but looking at Katya with clear affection. "You're full of it."

"But I won't be full of cheese and that's the point. So, what's the news you want to share with me?" Katya took a sip of her Coke.

Ginger seemed to hesitate, and, before she even spoke, Katya could already tell she might not like what was coming.

"I got a job offer, with a theatre company and I'm going to take it. It's in Florida."

Katya took a steadying breath, and told herself to look supportive. She was happy for Ginger, of course she was. But she would miss her immensely, especially since they had only been able to really connect again recently.

"That's- wow! I'm really happy for you Ging. This is huge; it's what you've always wanted. Congrats."

Ginger beamed, accepting the congratulations. "I wasn't sure you know, cause my whole life is here. But you've gotta take your chances when you can right?"

"Right." Katya was feeling a lot of things, but their was one that she knew she had to voice now. "I'm going to miss you so much. You better FaceTime me ,and Skype, and email, and text and send smoke signals. A carrier pigeon even."

Ginger reached across the table and grabbed Katya's hand, squeezing it tightly. "You're never getting rid of me gal. You need me, you call and ya know I'm going to be calling you all the time. You're my sister; that'll never change."

Katya squeezed her hand in reply. "You're going to make me cry. Can we talk about something less emotional? Tell me about the girls at the club. How are they?"

They ate dinner and talked about people they both knew and how Trixie was doing in New York and if Ginger should cut all her hair off. It was nice; it felt familiar in a way things hadn't been in quite some time. It was only as they were drinking coffee, that Katya brought up the thoughts that had been on her mind for the past two days.

"Mitya offered me a job, organizing things for he and Brian a couple times a week. He told me to take my time deciding, but I feel like I should give an answer sooner, rather than later."

Ginger looked at her consideringly over her coffee cup. "What do you want to do?"

"I kinda want to say yes. Trix thinks it would be good for me and I do know them; it's not a hostile environment."

"But is working in an office what you want? Never mind what Trixie or anyone else thinks. What do you want, for yourself?"

Katya sighed, thinking about it. What did she really want? Ginger let her think and continued to sip her coffee, watching the people around them.

Finally Katya nodded to herself."I'm going to tell them yes. I want to do something worthwhile with my time, even if it's just filing for a couple of private investigators. Would I want to do it forever? No. I don't see that. But for now? Yes."

Ginger smiled. "That's good. As long as it's what you want; I want you to be happy Katya. You put what will make others happy before what you want; always have. And it's time for you to do what feels right for you. Whatever that is."

---

Katya called Mitya when she got home, not wanting to delay any longer. He didn't answer, no doubt busy with a case or hopefully just relaxing with his husband-those two worked way too much, they really needed to learn how to take a breather. She left him a message.

"Hi Mitya, it's Katya. I'm just calling to say that I accept your offer of a job and I can start whenever you want. Let me know the particulars when you can. Thank you!"

She hung up feeling excited, but also nervous. She hadn't worked in almost two years; her attention span for tasks that took a long period of time was minimal at best. But, she would work hard and while she was working maybe she would consider what Ginger had said. What did she really want for herself?

Chapter Text

Coming home felt amazing; just landing in L.A. and hearing the attendant announcing that they were now in California made Trixie feel like she had the energy to get through getting her luggage and finding transportation home.

She'd had a whirlwind week, full of meeting music professionals and recording the song she had submitted for the final stage of the competition that Katya had entered her into. She still couldn't believe that her girlfriend had done that and had managed to keep it a secret. She couldn't believe that they actually wanted her in the finals...especially after meeting the other finalists. But whatever the outcome, she now had a professionally recorded piece of music and she planned to use it to get her name out there.

After getting her luggage, and making sure her guitar was secure in its case, Trixie started to make her way towards the area where she would be able to wait for an Uber. As she was passing the Starbucks she heard someone start calling out behind her.

"Excuse me! Hi, hello ma'am! What is a lovely young lady such as yourself doing carrying all that luggage?"

She had to be hearing things, there was no way... "Oh my god, you stalker! How the hell did you know where to find me?" She turned, dropping her bag, but set the guitar down gently-there was no way she was ever being careless with that. It was just in time too, because the next thing she knew her arms were full with her favourite person.

"I called the desk," Katya told her as she rocked her back and forth with excitement. "I wanted to come pick you up, but obviously we don't have a car, so meeting you here was the best option. I missed you!"

"Aww, babe!" Trixie pulled back, to find Katya grinning up at her. Seeing that smile filled her heart with happiness. "I missed you too."

Katya pushed up on her toes in her running shoes and Trixie settled her hands on the small of her back to steady her. "Can I have a small kiss?"

She remembers the first time Katya had said that to her had been after they'd been dating for two months. She had already known that she was in love with Katya; was beyond sure that she had never felt these feelings before. It happened fast, but that was always her way. Katya had been getting ready to go to a class, and Trixie had been doing her makeup in the tiny bathroom mirror before she went to work. Katya had come into the bathroom, just before she put her lipstick on, and casually wrapped her arms around Trixie and said, "I gotta get going. Can I have a small kiss before I go?" It had become customary after that and it was one of her favourite Katyaisms.

Now she smiled and leaned forward, pecking Katya on the lips and then laughed when she frowned up at her.

"That was hardly a kiss Barbie. C'mon, you can do better than that!" Katya pulled her back in and proceeded to plant a deep kiss, complete with tongue, on her. Trixie was thrown at first; could only gasp into the kiss, before her body took over and she pulled Katya in closer and returned the kiss, gentleing it from the abrupt invasion it had been, to a kiss that said, "Hello, I love you. It's been a long time."

Eventually Trixie had to pull back and when she caught her breath Katya was looking at her very seriously.

"Let's get out of here before airport security escorts us out for indecent exposure."

The laugh that Trixie let out then had people at the Starbucks looking around, no doubt to see if someone was getting murdered.

They made a hasty exit, Katya pulling Trixie's wheely bag.

---

During the Uber ride home, Katya talked non-stop, telling her about Ginger getting a job in Florida, and how their next door neighbour had thrown her husband out again, this time brandishing a Zucchini at him as he made a quick exit out of the apartment. She seemed to be full of energy and Trixie let her talk, happy to listen to her.

"What were the last few days in New York like?" Katya asked, as they slowly progressed through traffic.

"It was so good! They gave me notes, and I recorded my song. It was weird, to be in a studio with musicians and not recording something in our bathroom. I think it went well; it felt so surreal to hear a song I had written being backed by instruments other than my guitar. The other finalists were so fierce; you could tell that they knew what they were doing. I'm probably not going to win, but that's OK. At least I now have something professional I can use."

Katya's hand found hers, lacing their fingers together. "You need to believe that you're going to win. Manifest that into being Barbie; no one can do what you do like you. But even if you don't, I'll still think you've got the voice of a countryfide angel."

Trixie squeezed her hand, but didn't say anything. Her heart was full.

When they reached their building it was as active as usual and their neighbour, the one whose wife had thrown him out, offered to carry Trixie’s bags up for them. She kept the guitar; not even Katya was allowed to carry that.

Katya kept up a steady conversation with the man, about the political state of his home country Brazil, as they climbed the stairs and Trixie trailed behind. This was another Katyaism, the ability to talk with anyone about anything at the drop of a hat. It had been sorely missing for the past few months.

Once inside their apartment, leaving their neighbour to meekly knock on his own door, Katya kicked her shoes off and then abruptly sat on the couch and leaned forward until her head was between her knees. Trixie could hear her taking deep breaths, and she left her to it. She quietly pulled her bags to their room and propped her guitar against the wall, before returning to the living room and sitting down beside Katya, sinking back into the couch with a small sigh at the feeling of the cushioning; Airplane seats always wreaked havoc on her lower back.

"Hey," she tilted her head towards Katya until she could see her. "Are you Ok?"

A quick nod was her answer, before a muffled response came from between Katya's knees. "Just give me a moment. I'm alright, I just need to convince my body that I am. I really wanted to come meet you at the airport, it's just…"

"That's the farthest from home you've been by yourself in a long time."

Another nod was her answer and she gently placed a hand on Katya's back to rub slow soothing circles. She was so proud of Katya, for pushing herself and not letting her anxiety about the outside world hold her back.

"Thank you for coming to meet me; I was so surprised."

After about another five minutes, Katya sat up and sunk back until her position mirrored Trixie's.

"Hey you," she breathed, a soft smile curving her lips.

"Hey."

They gazed at each other for a moment and then Katya leaned closer and pressed her lips against Trixie's briefly. "I'm really glad you got to go to New York," she murmured. "But I'm so happy you're home; talking to your pixelated face through my phone is just not the same."

Trixie agreed; every time they had spoken over FaceTime, she’d felt a pang that said, ‘I’m supposed to be where you are.’ It hadn’t helped that this had been the first time they had been separated since Katya had been found. It hadn't used to be like this; they had once been able to be apart with nothing more than text messages and phone calls to bridge the gap. But she supposed that was because there hadn't been the knowledge that they could possibly not see each other again. She never wanted to go a day without at least hearing Katya's voice again. Call her sentimental, or soft, but she knew what it was to live without it.

"C'mere." She crooked a finger, indicating for Katya to lean closer and she compiled with the same soft curve of lips. Trixie's hand came to settle on the apple of her cheek and she pressed her own kiss against the smiling curve of Katya's lips. "I missed you. I loved it, but at night the thing I wanted most was to be able to roll over and see you drooling on the pillow beside me."

Katya pulled back from her with an abrupt and wheezing cackle, her eyes alight. "I don't drool! Lies! Slander!"

"I have photographic proof girl." Trixie shook her head, her grin wide as Katya looked affronted.

"I am a woman of the utmost grace and dignity," her girlfriend protested, clearly trying to keep a straight face."These are malicious rumours and I demand you stop spreading them now. And to think I've just been here, waiting like a good Russian Housewife, with the vodka and dinner on the stove. Well, no ma'am. Nope." She made to stand, feigning indignation and though she was laughing, Trixie was just able to reach out and grab her arm, pulling her back.

"No, don't leave. I'm sorry!" She said through her laughter. "You drool beautifully. There is no one else I would want defiling my Target 2 for 1 linens."

"Bitch, you are on thin ice."

Katya sat back, one arm crossed huffily and the other still being held by Trixie's light grip. She kept glancing at Trixie out of the corner of her eye and a bright grin was threatening to break out.

"We are so ridiculous," Trixie sighed, finally getting her mirth under control. "C'mere" she lightly pulled on Katya's arm. "I promise I won't insult your sleeping habits again." Katya slowly scooted over, until she was close enough that Trixie could lean in and press a kiss to her cheek. "I did miss you." She told her honestly. "I always do."

Katya turned until they were facing each other. "I know. But maybe I needed that, the separation with the knowledge that you would be back and I would be Ok here by myself. Maybe we both did. Let's just not do it again for awhile."

"Deal," Trixie agreed, knowing that Katya was right. At some point they both had to stop letting the worry that something else was going to happen rule their everyday. Katya was taking big steps towards that and Trixie knew she needed to as well.

"When do you start working for Mitya and Brian?"

Katya's eyes lit up at the question. "Monday. Mitya says they think I could start with three days a week and we'll see what happens. Brian texted me, apologizing in advance for their shoddy filing system and general disorganization."

"That's so great babe; I think this is good, if it's what you want."

"Hmm," Katya hummed, shrugging. "It's good for now; maybe for the foreseeable future. Who knows. But I appreciate them offering. They're good men."

They really are, she thought, as Katya offered to make a quick dinner. They had gone the extra mile and they had never lied to her, never sugar coated anything. And now they were offering Katya a chance to step back into the regular world and feel safe doing so. Trixie had always trusted her gut feelings, they had rarely led her astray and she was glad that she had been right in choosing Mitya and Brian to search for Katya. Not only had they brought her home, but they had also turned out to be good friends in the aftermath.

Trixie knew she would never be able to thank them enough, never be able to really express what they had done meant to her. When Katya had been released from the hospital and had felt ready to meet Mitya and Brian properly without the rush of danger colouring their interaction, Trixie had said as much to Mitya, reiterating what she had briefly said to them in the hospital.

The man had placed a gentle hand on her arm, when words had failed her and said, "Trixie, you never have to thank us. Just take care of each other, OK? Just be good to each other and that's thanks enough for me. There's too much bad in this world. Its nice to know that we could do some real good"

Trixie took those words to heart. She was taking nothing for granted.

---

Katya can recall a night, when she and Trixie had been together for over a year and had just reconciled after a brief breakup that lasted all of two weeks. Trixie had been laying in bed, one of those sleep masks slathered all over her face, hair bundled up in a scarf to keep it from getting stuck in the mask during the night. Katya had been sitting in the chair she kept by their bedroom window, slowly smoking a cigarette and watching the smoke spiral out the open window and into the night air.

She remembers looking over to the bed and seeing Trixie sound asleep, gunk covering her entire face, and thinking that she wanted to freeze the moment. Trixie looked absolutely ridiculous, but seeing her there, content and willing to be her over-the-top self, made Katya feel settled and joyful.

In that moment she hadn't wanted to crawl out of her own skin, she hadn't felt the negative thoughts lurking in the corner of her mind, waiting to come forward and tell her she wasn't good enough. She hadn't wanted to escape reality for something that would make everything quiet. She had been truly happy and she'd known then, as her girlfriend snored away, that she would do whatever she had to, to be with this woman every day for the rest of their lives. Her young life had been full of doubts and regrets, but this she could not doubt.

She was struck by a similar thought now, the same type of quiet joy, as she watched Trixie putter around their bedroom, braiding her long hair and applying cream to her now makeup free face and neck. She wanted nothing more than to settle down under the blankets and know that when they woke up the next day they would still be together, still a two woman team who had figured out that the best way to get through the harshness of life was to do it together. That was a blessing and it was one that she was thankful for everyday.

"Babe? You OK? You kinda spaced out." Trixie was standing at the end of the bed, obviously having finished her routine while Katya was lost in thought.

"Yeah, just thinking about whether I should have bought ear plugs; I haven't had to listen to you snore for over a week."

Trixie's mouth dropped open and Katya started to crack up, wheezy laugh bursting forth and then, before she could even react, her ankle was grabbed and she was abruptly pulled down the bed, causing her to shriek and then laugh harder as Trixie loomed above her.

"You think you're so clever."

"Bitch, I am hilarious."

Trixie kneeled over her, not quite straddling her, and narrowed her eyes as she stared down at her. "You're moderately funny; I think you used your best material on me years ago. It's all downhill from here."

"Barbie just you wait, I'm gonna get ya when you least expect it."

Katya's laughter was settling now, and Trixie was staring down at her intently, eyes mapping her face.

"What?"

Trixie sunk down on top of her, resting her weight on Katya's legs. Her hands circled Katya's wrists, on instinct it seemed, and Katya tensed slightly; she quickly let go and placed them on either side of Katya's head. Neither of them verbally acknowledged what had just occurred.

"Nothing. I'm just really happy," Trixie said instead, answering Katya's question quietly, as if afraid to voice the feeling.

Katya brought a hand up and smoothed back the loose tendrils of hair that were hanging down into Trixie's eyes, tucking them behind her ears. She smiled. "Me too. That's what I was thinking about before; and that I'm lucky I guess. Or blessed. To be able to be happy, here with you."

"Snoring and all?"

"I love the snoring; and it's more of a snuffling sound? Like a little mammal."

Trixie rolled her eyes, "Oh my god." She leaned down until her nose was touching Katya's. Katya herself had started laughing again and the proximity of Trixie's face and the fact that she was also clearly starting to crack up too, set her off further. She scrunched her eyes closed and tried to settle herself down. They were clearly both punch drunk and should probably go to bed.

"Ok, ok," she sighed, opening her eyes. "I think we better call it a night. I promise I won't judge you for snoring, if you let me drool on your pillow."

"Oohhh, how can I pass up a deal like that? Really pulling out all the stops here Kat. But ok, bed sounds good."

Trixie hopped off the bed, to turn the light out, and then they both nestled down,Trixie on her back and Katya on her side.

For awhile they lay there in silence, but Katya could tell that Trixie wasn't anywhere near to drifting off and she wasn't either.

"Can't sleep?" she finally asked, voice soft in the dark. Beside her Trixie sighed and then turned to face her, scooting over until they were basically sharing a pillow.

"Can I ask you something? I don't want to push you or make you uncomfortable." She sounded so hesitant and Katya immediately wanted to ease whatever was making her unsure.

"You can ask me anything Trix."

In the dark, she could just make out that Trixie was worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. "Earlier, when we were goofing around and I was on top of you, did that make you uncomfortable? I didn't even think, I just did it and I know you're still figuring out what things you're alright with right now, physically."

"No," Katya rushed to reassure her, not wanting her to feel like she had done something wrong. "Oh, no Trixie, it was fine. Really. I wasn't uncomfortable; my body had a momentary reaction when you grabbed my wrists, but it was a blip. And you know that I would tell you if anything you ever did make me feel that way. Open and honest communication, right?"

"Right." Trixie still seemed unsure, so Katya shuffled closer until they were face to face, and then she pressed a kiss against Trixie's lips and followed it up with a second one.

"I love you Trix. You have always been amazingly patient with me, through every up and down we've gone through, physically and mentally. I promise that what I am saying is how I really feel; you don't need to worry. Ok?"

"Ok. It's just sometimes, like earlier, I'll want to touch you or I get the urge to kiss you, like really kiss you, not like peck you on the lips, but I stop myself. Because I never want you to be in a position where you are uncomfortable. So I just follow your cues, like at the airport today. I know that everything between us is consensual; I do. But I think I'm afraid that I'm going to cross some line."

Katya took this all in, processing what Trixie was saying and trying to find words to express how it all made her feel. "I think," she finally said, "it all comes down to being completely honest with each other. Trusting that if there is some line that is going to be crossed, that we navigate it together, but also voicing what it is we want. Like right now, I would love it if you kissed me. Really kissed me. That would make me happy."

Trixie blinked; Katya could just make out her features in the dark, the soft roundness of her cheeks and the slow curve of her lips as she seemed to finally accept what Katya was saying. She was ready when Trixie finally pressed her lips against hers.

Throughout their almost 8 year relationship, Katya and Trixie had of course kissed many times. There had been kisses full of intent: lust for the other person, apologies for transgressions that were left unspoken, greetings after time spent apart. And there had been kisses that were reactions, almost habit during day to day situations. And the thing that Katya had learned was that with the right person, with your person, kissing is in itself a whole conversation that you would never have to verbalize.

This time, as Trixie started kissing her, slowly, languidly, she knew that what she was conveying was something along the lines of, 'thank you; I love you, I only ever want you to feel safe and comfortable.' And that when she returned the kiss, accepting the deepening of it and the hand that was now resting on her hip, she was saying, 'with you I never have to be afraid. I love you more than I can ever tell you.'

Eventually, soft, languid kisses turned into trailing kisses and wandering hands. And when Katya ended up on her back with Trixie brushing her lips across a part of her neck that she knew was particularly sensitive, and her own hands creeping up the back of her girlfriend's nightgown, she wasn't worried about any lines being crossed or them not being on the same page. She knew she could trust Trixie and that having that kind of trust was something to be cherished.

"Kat...can I...is it OK if I touch you? I wanna make you feel good." Trixie's breath ghosted against her ear, causing a pleasant shiver to go up her spine. "If it's too much…"

"Hmm, it's good Trix. Yes, I want you to touch me. Just…" Katya bit her lip as Trixie pulled back to look at her. "Go slow?"

Trixie nodded, and came back in for another kiss. "Slow is perfect. Tell me if I'm doing anything that you don't like or if you just want to stop. Promise me?"

"Ok," Katya sighed, as Trixie found her way back to her neck. "I promise." Her chest was full of emotion, her body brimming with not only want for the other woman who was touching her with the utmost gentleness, but with unadulterated gratitude that she was understood so completely.

If there was another moment, another crystal clear picture of their relationship that Katya would want to freeze and make last, it would be now. Here, safe, secure, loved.

For the first time in almost two years she could believe, with full confidence, that what had happened to her and what she had endured would not define her. That tomorrow would not beat her; that she would be able to meet the day and take on what it threw at her. That even if it got to be too much, she wouldn't have to work through it alone.

And that was wonderful.