See DISCLAIMERS. More over the top romantic melodrama while I try to find the end to this thing.
NOT LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE
Katja clasped Denna’s hand as they exited the apartment together. The peace that came from finally touching didn’t make the conversation any easier, but Katja relished in the sensation and considered it a victory.
She did find it interesting that they’d both chosen boots that made little noise on the hardwood floor.
“Why is this place so empty? I haven’t seen a soul here other than you.” Denna’s voice was low and quiet in the dark hallway. The walls were white, but the trim and floors were a dark, almost black wood, and only a few lamps lit the way.
“That’s because I’m the only person here.” Katja spoke in the same tone.
She could feel Denna’s surprise. “In the whole building?”
Katja nodded. She could see more questions in Denna’s eyes, but then they reached the elevator and Denna turned her head forward.
“Well, that’s one way to control the surveillance.”
She had no idea. Katja had swept the entire block. She’d learned a few things from Penelope over the years, but now she’d tacked on what she’d learned in her ongoing virtual battle with the woman by her side.
And Denna was perhaps the best in her field.
By unspoken mutual agreement, they let go of each other’s hands when the elevator door opened to the first floor. Denna pulled the hood of her jacket over her head, and Katja did the same. Though Rayner had claimed that the Falcon was on safe terrain here in the city, it was possible that the feds were running gait analysis to find her. Still, it would take longer to sort the data and find her location than she’d be in this area. It was one of the reasons why she was constantly on the move.
Katja let Denna take the lead, curious what she had in mind for dinner. Washington surveillance was the best in the country, and most of the nightspots happily surrendered their data if it meant that political celebrities would frequent their establishments.
That meant that Katja and Denna couldn’t exactly go to a romantic restaurant and stare into each other’s eyes without ending up on someone’s radar.
Denna seemed to have somewhere in mind. She walked the sidewalks with purpose, and Katja was content to observe. Denna moved through the evening crowd like Katja did – the nature of the way she held herself caused people to move out of her path, her weapon hand was always clear and she seemed to intuitively choose the path least likely to land her on surveillance cams.
Had all of these experiences over the last year changed Denna, or merely exposed the woman who’d been hidden all along?
They approached a park that was lively despite the darkness and the cold. Several food trucks were parked nearby, and Denna headed directly toward one. Katja raised her eyebrows, incredulous.
“Grilled cheese?” Katja couldn’t help but laugh. “Seriously?”
“Don’t knock it ’til you try it.” Denna didn’t smile, but her eyes lit up like the holiday lights framing the vendor window.
So Katja did.
Sandwiches in tow, they found a dark spot to perch beneath a portable heater and watched the antics of some street performers nearby. Denna seemed content to eat without conversation, and Katja found herself pleased by how relaxed the whole affair was. She couldn’t remember ever having done something like this with a…with a lover.
Just like normal people.
After the sandwiches were done, Denna tipped her head in question, asking if Katja wanted to resume their walk. Once again, Katja signaled for Denna to lead the way.
They walked along the dark city streets, the steam of their breath marking their trail as they navigated side by side, sleeves just barely touching.
Katja had never allowed herself to open up like this to anyone. She’d certainly gotten laid over the years – she wasn’t a nun. Far from it. But those had been mere dalliances, if that. Hook-ups, nameless encounters in clubs – she hadn’t had one emotional attachment to a lover since…well, never.
This, with Denna, this was completely different. Even after everything they’d been through, this what it was between them felt like a good thing, a strong thing, something to reach for no matter what the cost.
Would it be worth it in the end? Or would she live to regret the whole thing?
It was a long walk in the dark open, but despite the cold Katja was in no hurry for it to end. She had no place in particular that she needed to be, and she was only in Washington to see Denna anyway. As long as they were together, she didn’t much care what they did, though she did hope they might end up somewhere warm.
She was aching to touch Denna again, but she would wait as long as she had to. As long as it took for Denna to want the same thing.
The traffic had thinned out but that only meant the cars were traveling faster. It felt like it might snow later.
They paused halfway across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, staring down for water Katja couldn’t see. Katja was surprised how warm she felt inside with Denna pressed alongside her, despite the dropping temperature. Such a foreign feeling.
Denna blew into her gloved hands, trying to warm them, then turned to look at Katja.
“Have you been to DC…a lot, then?”
Katja could hear the hesitancy in Denna’s voice, reluctant perhaps to ask for any details about Katja’s life. They’d never had simple conversations, not in all the time they’d spent together. Little details like their pasts or hopes for the future were too trite considering the greater challenges between them.
She didn’t like that sound of hesitation – not from this one woman – and found herself answering the question.
Wasn’t this how normal people got to know one another?
“Several times over the years. I don’t like it as much I like New York.” DC was too full of people obsessed with their own self-importance, and packed to the gills with people who would never taste the power dangled in front of them like a treat for their good behavior. “I think the city has changed a lot. It’s different from the way it was when Gregor and I first came here.”
And then Katja caught herself, stunned by what had just happened.
“Gregor?” Denna asked.
The soft question nearly undid her and it took a moment for her to respond. Katja hadn’t spoken his name out loud to anyone but Penelope in years. The fact that it had tumbled across her lips at all was a testament to the safety she felt around the woman beside her, no matter what Denna’s job was or who she’d worked for. Katja wondered again how dangerous that might be, to trust someone like this.
Not that she had a choice anymore.
“My brother,” Katja said, and swallowed against the lump that rose in her throat.
She could still picture him so clearly – the dark hair he styled like the pictures he saw in fashion magazines, the lopsided grin that still managed to look unhappy, and the stolen designer clothes he wore everywhere. They’d been so very young, and though they’d feared everything and nearly everyone, they hadn’t thought any of the madness on the streets could actually touch them.
“You have a brother? I didn’t know that.” Denna sounded vaguely betrayed, as if she thought Katja had been hiding yet another detail from her.
“Renault killed him.” Katja knew her voice sounded flat, but it was the only way to get the words out at all. She still seethed with the resentment at Roux that she hadn’t been the one to kill Renault herself. She knew in her heart of hearts that she’d let Gregor down. Would it have mattered to him, though? She’d never let herself wonder what Gregor would think of the woman she’d become. “Years ago, before the Falcon.”
She could almost hear Denna mentally adding that information to what she already knew.
Katja sighed. “Penelope and Gregor were together at the time. That’s how we met, Pen and I, back when we were all on the streets.”
Would she regret sharing this much? What could Denna do with the information that she couldn’t already do without it? If Denna had wanted her in custody, Katja would already be in prison. Or dead, since she wouldn’t allow herself to be taken alive again.
The sound of the rush of water below carried to her ears despite the traffic behind her.
Denna put a hand on her arm, but then pulled it away.
Katja looked at Denna, and what she saw nearly made her gasp.
Denna blinked away tears. It wasn’t pity – Katja had seen enough of that in her life to recognize it easily. It was something else.
The moment stretched long between them, and the steam of her breath clouded between them.
“I have tried, Katja. I have.”
Katja didn’t know what was coming next, but her heart started to race.
“I have tried to put everything else ahead of this, to try to convince myself that it’s impossible, that no good can come from it, that I’ll only end up a fugitive myself, or worse.”
Denna pushed herself away from the railing, hands clasping it tightly. “I’ve even tried to tell myself that it’s you, that what you do is untenable, that I’m a horrible person for being able to forgive you for it.”
Her voice sounded tight. “None of it matters. Not one damned bit. Everything I’ve tried to tell myself, over and over, for months, is all meaningless. Even if it’s the truth, it’s not the truth that matters. Not really.”
She looked up again.
“I can’t lie to myself about it anymore,” Denna said. “I love you, Katja. I love you, and I’ve discovered that I can forgive you anything. What kind of person does that make me?”
There were tears in her eyes, though she blinked them away.
Was she unhappy with the knowledge? The truth that she’d discovered about them? Katja knew how she felt, but it wasn’t a thing to be prioritized, scrutinized or absolved. It just was. Surprising, yes. Shocking, even. But not ever a bad thing. Katja had always thought she’d die with a gun in her hand, and be forgotten by everyone but Penelope. Now she knew that wasn’t the case.
Denna sniffled and wiped her tears on the sleeve of her coat. She stepped away and walked back the way they’d come. Katja followed.
Once they were off the bridge, Katja stepped once more to Denna’s side and leaned a bit to look at Denna’s face.
Denna was no longer crying, but her face still looked sad. Not sad. Resolved. She managed a small smile, one that stretched into her eyes and made Katja feel warm again despite the cold.
Katja wanted so much to kiss her then, but they were out in the open. She couldn’t risk it.
Not like normal people after all.
All rights reserved.