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Under the Endless Sky

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He sees her as he stands on the corner, waiting for the light to change. She's on the other side of the street, making her way past occupied bistro seats, her back slightly turned from him. The coffee shop she came out of is busy, but she finds an empty table in a far corner and sits down, drink in hand. She doesn't see him.

For a moment, Wolfgang feels as if he's in a dream. His heart beats loudly; he suddenly remembers to exhale.

It doesn't matter if it's been 5 years since he's last seen her; it wouldn't matter if it was 50. Wolfgang knows it's Kala. He'd know her anywhere. 

The light changes. People walk past him, but Wolfgang doesn't move, rooted to the spot by a flood of emotions: a voyeur into an ex-girlfriend’s life.

He's too honest to let the lie rest. She is more than an ex. She was always more.

He watches as a well-dressed, middle aged man walks over and talks to her. Wolfgang can practically hear it in his head: The asshole asks to sit with her, maybe keep her company, get her number. She's gorgeous, and she's alone.  

Kala says something. Wolfgang can tell from her polite smile that she's turning the ass down. But the man still stands there, and her smile disappears. Kala says something else; the ass finally leaves.

Wolfgang gives a sudden exhale. As if a part of him truly thought he could just walk over there and forcibly remove the man for her.

A light breeze blows a tendril of hair across Kala's face, catches on her mouth, and blocks her sip of chai. (Wolfgang imagines it's chai, because that's what she almost always drank.) She looks impatient, brushes her hair to the side with elegant fingers that no longer flash a wedding ring.

He'd almost forgotten: He heard she was recently divorced.

The middle aged man is barely dismissed before some younger man - a boy, for fuck's sake - tries his luck with her. Wolfgang watches Kala tilt her head and actually smile. She talks to him - Wolfgang can't believe she's giving him the time of day - and shakes her head before the boy leaves, too.

Someone bumps against him and Wolfgang looks up at the light again. He's been standing there forever, staring. Idiot. He's unsure whether he should just keep going or approach her and say hello: She'd probably pour the drink on his head and tell him to fuck off.

It didn't exactly end well.

Wolfgang frowns a little defensively: He's not the one that got married.

After he walked out on her.

He scowls. Kala married not long after he left the flat he shared with her. Even after all this time, there's a bitterness there that surprises him: She had said she loved him. 

But...He had left her without a word, and Rajan was there: persistent and wealthy and beloved by her family. Wolfgang couldn't blame her for marrying Rajan. Not really.

He stares a second or two longer before he makes up his mind.

He will say something to her, if only to give her the opportunity to finally tell him off after all these years. He owes her that.

It's certainly not because he wants to see her. Or because he misses her.  

Five years, though, is a long time. Wolfgang's jaw ticks involuntarily. They've had no contact, not even through mutual friends or acquaintances: He lost touch with most of them on purpose, not long after he returned to Berlin. He'd only heard about the divorce through some random tweet.

Maybe she'll look at him blankly, mouth some kind of platitude because he was a whole marriage ago and life goes on.

Maybe he is nothing to her but an awkward memory. She was married to Rajan, for 4, almost 5, years. Did they have any kids? He always pictured her with kids.

A little girl with your large, dark eyes and wild black hair? 

Or a little boy with your beautiful smile and silly, silly laugh? 

He doesn't examine why each of these images feels deliberately brutal. Why the thought of the life she built with Rajan, even short-lived as it was, makes him feel physically sick.

His gut clenches. Without really thinking, Wolfgang heads to her table.

...

Kala notices him almost as soon as she sits down with her chai.

At first, there is a moment of panic, when her head tells her to turn right back around, act as if she's changed her mind about sitting outdoors: It's crowded outside after all. But just as quickly, a defiant little voice tells her to stop. It is a beautiful day -- when was the last time it was this nice in Chicago? -- and she came out to enjoy it. She is not going to let him run her back inside.

Wolfgang Bogdanow. Of all people.

Kala wills herself to relax, enjoy the weather and pretend she can't feel Wolfgang staring at her from the end of the street. She wants to turn her head to look at him; see if he's changed a little in the five years since she's last seen him. She wonders suddenly if she is mistaken and it is not Wolfgang on the corner.

She sneaks a glance and inadvertently catches the eye of some man who thinks she's looking at him. Kala stifles a groan when he gets up and approaches her; he asks if he can join her. She smiles tightly, turns him down, but he doesn't go right away. He tries to charm her. She frowns and tells him she's waiting for someone.

Kala is annoyed she's resorted to that lame excuse: Now she's going to look like she's been stood up when she leaves alone. She grimaces into her cup. Who cares? Why does she even care?

The man goes back into the coffee shop, and she's irritated to feel relieved he'll never know she's by herself. She shouldn't care what anyone thinks. She blames Wolfgang for her distraction. At least, she thinks it's Wolfgang.

She still finds it odd when someone tries to flirt with her. She'd gone from dating Wolfgang to marrying Rajan with no space in between.  She was always with someone until this last year, and her divorce was finalized only a few months ago.

Kala brings her cup up to take a sip and almost swallows her hair in her absent-mindedness. She pushes it impatiently aside.

A young man comes up to her and it takes her a moment to recognize her friend's younger brother, just graduated from university and looking for a job. She exchanges a few pleasantries before inviting him to email his resume to her. She smiles at his gratitude, shakes her head, casually mentions she doesn't have much influence. He flounders at what to say next, suddenly reminded that she is no longer the wife of the CEO. He thanks her awkwardly before leaving.  

Kala gives a humorless smile. She stepped down from every honorary position she held as the wife of Rajan Rasal the week after she asked Rajan for a divorce. She tried to quit her job from the company as well, but Rajan wouldn't accept her resignation, not until she found another job.

Which she has. In Toronto. And she is going to start over.

Kala takes a long sip of her chai. She is going to discover what she is like without someone; be deliberately single and selfish and do things because she wants to do them, and not because someone else does or because she's on some brutal schedule.

She frowns and stares unseeing at the people walking by. She ticks off things she wants to do -- that she will do -- because she's free: frivolous things, like take a dance class or learn to paint; take a cruise with her mother or maybe go by herself somewhere. Move to another country. Kala gives a little smile: She is surprised to realize that it's been ages since she's felt this bold, this empowered.

And as she thinks this, she sees Wolfgang walk toward her, and it is him: maybe a little more weathered, certainly just as good-looking. Kala's eyes widen: The fight-or-flight response is almost overwhelming, but she doesn't move.

She won't move. She's been waiting for this moment for over five years.

And now maybe she can have closure.

......

(Six Years Ago)

He finishes lunch with another woman at an outdoor cafe. They talk leisurely, the meal already paid for, neither in any particular hurry. Wolfgang smiles at something his companion says, turns his head as he looks absently across the tables. And then he freezes, eyes abruptly widen. His smile fades.

Kala walks by the cafe. Her long, dark hair spills over her shoulder, partially covering a vibrant scarlet blouse. She wears an equally colorful teal pencil skirt that flatters lean legs and a well-shaped ass.

He watches her, rapt. She looks distracted, catches her bottom lip and furrows her brow. 

Maybe she feels him staring at her, but she turns her head just a little, and her eyes lock with his. 

It is such a cliché they will laugh about it, self-conscious and tentative, months later: their proverbial “love at first sight”.

But by God it's true. Time feels delicately suspended, hung on a breath, the moment their eyes meet. Kala doesn't turn away. She stares, too. Her eyes grow large; a flicker of recognition sparks between them.

It takes a second for her to register that he isn't alone. Her glance shifts to the woman sitting across from him: the woman whose face turns quizzically in the direction of her partner's stare. Kala blushes, hurries away. She crosses the street and disappears around a corner. Several buses are ambling in that direction.

Wolfgang follows impulse: He mutters an excuse and crosses the street after Kala, rounds the corner in time to catch a glimpse of a teal skirt get on the 151 Sheridan. He gets in just before the bus closes its doors, scrambling for exact change because he doesn't have a transit card. He sees her at the back of the bus, staring at him, wide-eyed. There are two vacant seats beside her.

His heart pounds. He chooses to put an empty seat between them, not wanting to frighten her, realizing too late that he might seem frightening.

Kala isn't frightened. She feels her face burn.

......

“Hey.”

Kala  looks up at him, arches an eyebrow, but doesn't smile. She doesn't look surprised. She says nothing, cradles her cup of chai loosely.

“Mind if I join you?”  Wolfgang tries not to let his anxiousness show. She's not particularly welcoming, but he didn't expect her to be anyway.

She pauses briefly. “If you want.”

He watches her, wary, even though he is the one to ask, and squeezes between the temporary plastic fences that separate the bistro tables from the pedestrians on the sidewalk. He sits on the seat across from her, folds his hands on the table, inches from where her own are, and fights the urge to reach for her, lay their palms together.

"It's been a long time," he says. He feels awkward, and there's a sadness in that thought when he remembers how it used to feel with her.

"Yes. It has," Kala agrees, peering into her cup. She opens her mouth slightly, catches the corner of her lip with her teeth in a gesture that is so familiar that it jolts him. How many times had he pried that lip loose with the pad of his thumb, kissed her worry away? Her eyes are downcast, brooding.

“I'm sorry to hear about your father.”

Whatever else she expected him to say, it wasn't that, and she looks sharply at him. He is startled, too: He hadn't meant to say that, even though he means it. “I saw the notice in the paper. He was a good man.”

“Yes.” Kala takes a breath, her voice tight. Her father had liked Wolfgang very much. They got along remarkably well for two people with absolutely nothing in common except for Kala. Her father died just this past winter, right before her divorce became final.

They stare at each other for several seconds. Wolfgang's gaze drops.

“Did you have something to say to me, that you are sitting here, now?” She's impatient. Kala’s finger absently taps against the cup; another telling habit he'd almost forgotten.

Wolfgang gives a half smile, somehow comforted to know he still recognizes these little things in her. He looks at Kala almost mischievously. “You look beautiful,” he finds himself saying. “I wasn't sure you'd say anything to me at all; I thought for sure you'd throw your drink at me. I guess you still can. But you haven't, so that's good, right?”

For a split second she's tempted to smile back at his audacity. He can see the quick uptick of her mouth. Wolfie, she'd say, exasperated.

But then it all comes back: Her face shutters, lips tighten. He knows the moment he's lost her.

Kala stares coldly at him. She feels a little light-headed.

She’d been on the edge of telling him what she thought, what she wanted to say to him; stating her peace so she can neatly tie the loose ends of her life. For closure.

But she can't have that conversation with him. Not here, when he smiles at her like everything is ok. Not when there is something unexpectedly raw inside of her, even after all these years.

Kala opens her mouth to tell him she has nothing to say, but her throat constricts and she is suddenly afraid that she will cry if she says anything at all. And she doesn't want him to get the wrong idea: These aren't tears of pain. They are tears of rage. Of fury. At him. At herself.

So Kala takes a deep breath. She powers through those first horrifying seconds, when she thinks she's going to cry. Then finally, she looks him in the eye and very evenly says: “Go to hell, Wolfgang Bogdanow.”

......

She is on her way to a family party.

After her initial shock, she asks him outright what he thinks he's doing. He tells her in all seriousness that he had to try.

“Try what?” she asks, wary.  

He looks a little surprised himself. Wolfgang shrugs. “Try and meet you,” he says honestly.

They talk for the next 20 minutes; he tries to convince her that he's a decent guy, despite appearances. She listens to him skeptically, eyebrows raised. He has the grace to look sorry, admit it probably doesn't look good that he chased after her.

“And abandoned your date?” she adds.

“She's a friend!” he says. “She's not a date.”

Kala looks doubtful; Wolfgang digs his cell phone from his pocket and offers it to her. “You can even call her!”

Kala doesn't take the phone, but his sincerity to prove his innocence thaws her a bit.

“You're ridiculous,” she murmurs.

“No,” he says, smiling back, dimples creasing his cheeks.  He holds his hand out. “I'm Wolfgang.”

She shakes her head but laughs a little at the cheesy joke, puts her hand cautiously in his. “Kala.”

He shakes her hand gently, the smile lighting his eyes to a piercing blue. He looks at her in a way that makes her flustered and hot. She's never been looked at like that before.

By the time he gets off the bus, she has his business card, his personal cell number hastily scrawled on the back, and agrees to call him that week for lunch. He doesn't ask and she doesn't give him her number.

When she arrives at the party, she polls her cousins whether they think she should call. They want details and flood her with questions. Yes, he was kind of hot. He has an adorable accent that she thinks is German. She laughs when she looks at his card and adds that his last name looks Russian.

Her cousins look him up on the Internet. Nothing negative: public profile confirms he works for a German import-export company. At least he isn't a convicted felon, they smirk.

She calls Wolfgang two days later, nervous that he's forgotten her. She laughs when he sounds relieved that she hadn't forgotten him.

They have a long lunch at a neighborhood deli that Wednesday. They talk a long time. Laugh. Overstay their lunch breaks. Kala would later insist it was their first official date. She agrees when he asks if she will go out again the following Saturday.

Five weeks after that, they move in together.

Seven months after that, it is over.

Chapter Text

Kala  gets up from the table and leaves Wolfgang to stare at the ceramic cup she left behind.

He stands abruptly, catches sight of her as she crosses the street. Kala looks around and raises her arm to hail a cab.

The same panicked instinct that drove him to chase her down nearly 6 years ago rears its unruly head. Wolfgang squeezes between the cafe fences, breaks into a sprint to cross the street against the light. He almost gets run over in his frantic effort to get to Kala. But as he edges between moving vehicles, he doesn't escape getting bumped by another car from the other direction, just as a taxi pulls up alongside her.

He's down on the street before he realizes it. Wolfgang blinks in surprise, his view of Kala obstructed by the taxi. All he can think is that he doesn't know where she lives anymore; he'll never find her again.

He gasps in pain as he sits up, the driver already out of her vehicle and frantically asking if he's ok. Someone is calling 911 on their cell. He presses a hand to his hip, winces as he tries to stand.

“You idiot!

And he looks up into her liquid brown eyes - anxious, angry, but relieved - and thinks fuck the broken hip; it’s worth it.

...

“That is not who I think it is, is it?”

Kala intercepts her sister before she flings open the curtain to check on her latest emergency room patient. Daya is staring open-mouthed at her chart, pointing at it accusingly. “It is,” says Kala through gritted teeth.

“‘Pedestrian accident’,” Daya says, reading the intake note. “Unless you're the one that hit him, there's absolutely no reason for you to be near That Man.”

Kala takes a deep breath. “I didn't hit him,” she says thinly, “but he got hurt chasing after me.”

“Of course he did,” Daya grumbles. “So you felt compelled to accompany him in the ambulance. And now you're here.”

"He wouldn't get in the ambulance otherwise." Kala can't meet her sister's incredulous gaze, dropping her own to the floor, to the nurse walking by, to anything but Daya. 

"But then you stayed!" Daya shakes her head, furious.  She finally walks past her sister, opens the curtain, and quickly swirls it closed behind her before Kala can follow. “Sorry, Tai,” she says from the other side. She calls Kala by the Marathi word for "elder sister". “HIPAA rules.”

Kala stares back at the white fabric, stopped by her own conflicted feelings more than any patient privacy laws. She thinks she hears Wolfgang say her name, but then the voices grow hushed: Daya asks questions in a low tone and Wolfgang mumbles his response.

Kala chews her lip and frowns. Daya is right. She really shouldn't stay; this was a bad idea.

She shakes her head, annoyed by her own reluctance, and turns from the curtain.

......

For their second date, they agree to have dinner and see a play. Wolfgang suggests they meet early, go to the Art Institute for the afternoon. Kala has errands first but agrees to meet him on the steps to the entrance after 12. Somehow, neither think this is excessive, to spend so much time together on a second date.

Wolfgang is there before Kala arrives. He paces a little. He’s in a gray linen shirt, sleeves rolled up, dark jeans, but he second-guesses his choice of clothes. Wolfgang doesn't bother with false modesty, but he broods that he doesn't look good enough for her.

He is uncharacteristically insecure. Kala enjoys his company, but she doesn't give a clue if she's as physically attracted to him as he is to her. 

He leans against the base of one of the famous lions that flank the entrance to the museum. His eyes are hidden behind mirrored aviator glasses, scanning the streets for Kala.

He finally sees her as she steps off a bus across the street. She waits at the corner for the light to change, eyes crinkling into a shy smile when she spots him. Her dark hair is piled loosely on her head, exposing bare neck and shoulders; she wears a yellow linen sundress that reaches her ankles. When she crosses the street, her movements swirl the skirt around her legs, and Wolfgang's jaw goes a little slack. His imagination already has them wrapped around his hips. He takes off his sunglasses and smiles when she reaches him. He feels intoxicated by her answering smile.

They wander through almost every collection in almost every gallery and exchange opinions although Wolfgang openly admits he just likes what he likes. Kala gives an impish grin.

“Yes,” she says. “Me too.” Then: “Look,” and she hurries down the corridor they'd been idly wandering in. He has to walk a little faster to catch up to her when she turns down a corner and into another room. He stands beside her as she stops in front of a very large painting:

     Oil on canvas. Modern. Francis Bacon."Figure with Meat."

She stares at it intently, as if searching for answers in the long pale face centered between the halved carcass of a cow.

Wolfgang tilts his head quizzically. “Huh,” he huffs, a laugh in his voice. “I thought for sure you like the Seurat best.” He moves to stand a little behind her and bends so that he's roughly her height, his chin almost resting on her shoulder. “I'm afraid to ask what you find so intriguing about this painting,” he says, genuinely curious.

She is very aware of him. Of his mouth by her ear, of his breath chasing along the bare column of her neck. It tickles the hoop earring resting against a pulse point.

He has such a presence. He is overwhelming.

She smiles, shifts her body slightly to put some space between them. “What intrigues me? All sorts of things,” she says. She wonders if she sounds slightly breathless; she doesn't dare to face him. “Maybe it's the colors. Or maybe it's the mood; it seems eerie, somber. And I don't pretend to understand the hanging meat. But I love this.”

She can feel him watching her face rather than looking at the painting. She purses her mouth, licks lips that have suddenly gone dry and gives a self-conscious laugh. “I'm not sure what that says about me.”

Wolfgang straightens himself, gives her a lazy smile. “Just that you have eclectic taste,” he says.

They finish the museum too early for their dinner reservation, so Wolfgang invites Kala to his place for iced coffee to pass the time. Kala looks at him suspiciously, and Wolfgang gives a wounded look that makes her roll her eyes; he insists it's just coffee. Delicious, amazing iced coffee. She agrees, still skeptical.They decide to walk the one mile towards the south loop.

They talk the entire way: about her job as a research chemist; about his frustrations working for his uncle. They share anecdotes, make each other smile. He takes her elbow and steers her away from broken cracks in the sidewalk more than once. At the last, his fingers glide tentatively from her elbow down her arm to take her hand. She side-eyes him, but she shifts her grasp, entwines their fingers instead. He smiles.

He lives in a building that was once, about a hundred years ago, a shoe factory. Now it's a trendy loft in a hip and expensive part of town, blocks from the lakefront.

“You have a nice place.”

Wolfgang’s condo is a corner unit with huge floor- to- ceiling windows giving plenty of natural light. It's exposed brick and oak beams, furnished minimally with mid-century modern pieces. It's beautiful, although a little spartan for Kala. (When she moves in, she will add color: orange and red and purple in art on the walls and fresh flowers from the Farmer's Market. But before her, it's blacks and whites and grays.)

She sits on a bar stool and leans against the white marble countertop while he goes about the serious task of being a barista. Wolfgang grabs cups and spoons from cabinets and drawers and opens more cabinets and a pantry to grab everything else that he needs.

They talk about Kala’s sister, Daya, whose crazy hours as a resident at a large hospital make Kala nervous; about Wolfgang’s brother Felix, who’s the only thing Wolfgang misses about Germany.

Wolfgang grinds beans and makes their coffee with a French press. Kala is skeptical when he suggests topping the drinks with whipped cream but accepts anyway. When she takes a sip, she raises her eyebrows in pleased surprise. The iced coffee is delicious, and she tells him so, flicking her tongue to catch a bit of the cream at the side of her mouth, just as he reaches over with his thumb to swipe it away. He inadvertently touches the tip of her tongue.

She merely smiles; doesn't comment at the flicker in his eyes she pretends not to see.

......

Daya examines Wolfgang with the sort of detached concern one would expect from an emergency room physician.

He's already in a hospital gown, shirt and pants removed. His side is beginning to purple with a contusion that grows along his thigh and pelvis. Daya presses along the marks with careful firmness, manipulates his leg to check for motion: She asks him pointed questions and notes where he's in pain. She doesn't think that his hip is broken but tells him that she'll order an x-ray; they need to be sure. “Hip fractures aren't anything to fool around with.”

“Daya,” he says.

Daya doesn't bother to look up from her computer pad. “Unless it's about your injury, I'm not interested.”

“Daya -”

“Not interested.” She  finishes her entry, stands back on her heels to finally look at Wolfgang. “And Kala's not either,” she says firmly, an edge to her voice. “We're not going to go through that again Wolfgang. She was a wreck after you left, and no way am I going to let you near her. I don't care if you throw yourself in front of a train.” She takes a deep breath, looks hard at him before she becomes the ER physician again. “The nurse will be here shortly to take you in for your x-ray.” She leaves in a swish of hospital curtains.

Wolfgang stares after her, waits half-expecting Kala to appear. But she doesn't.

He lies on his back, looks up at the ceiling tiles with unseeing eyes. He doesn't want to wait for x-rays. He's been in enough fights to tell that he's probably just bruised. He wants to leave.

He wonders how long he's been there, if Kala is still there too or has long since left. He shifts impatiently on the bed, feels a shooting pain rocket from his side and sighs in disappointment when the curtain opens and a nurse comes in. She tells him they'll be taking him in a moment, but there's some delay, so she makes him more comfortable by propping him up a little with the pillows before disappearing again.

Wolfgang stares after her. He picks at the bed sheet, wishes he'd thought to ask for his phone although he's not supposed to be on it in the ER.

He wonders why he's so frantic to see Kala again. He's been fine all these years: If he thought of her at all -- and maybe he did sometimes, when something reminded him of her -- it was with regret that they hadn't cleared things between them. They'd deserved that much.

Fuck.

He wants to tell her he did the right thing. After all, she'd ended up marrying Rajan. Pretty fucking quickly. Wolfgang frowns.

The curtain swishes open and Kala walks in.

Suesse,” he murmurs softly, surprised. His voice cracks.

Kala winces, annoyed by the endearment.

......

Their third date is salvaged from disaster.

It's over a week since they see each other: Schedules get in the way of meeting after work, although they talk a few times to make plans that get canceled at the last minute. They send each other messages throughout their days, pleased by these random communications that show mutual interest, definite attraction. 

They have tickets to attend an outdoor concert Friday evening, but when it rains all morning, Kala gives a frustrated huff and calls Wolfgang during a work break to suggest alternate plans.

She is on the phone with him when her sister calls from the hospital. Their father is there, in the ER. He had a heart attack.  

Kala doesn't have a car. Wolfgang isn't too far, so he insists on getting her from the lab and drives her to the hospital.

He is introduced to Kala's mother, Priya, in the waiting room. Kala’s father is already being prepped for bypass surgery.

Kala looks pale; Wolfgang helps her to a seat. He sits awkwardly next to her while she speaks to her mother in Marathi. He's not sure if Kala even knows she's clutching his hand in a death grip.

He stays with her during the long wait, even though half an hour in, Kala tells him he should go, that he doesn't need to stay. She looks fragile, haunted. He tells her he'll wait a little longer.

He's there when Daya comes out to speak briefly to her sister and mother; she nods at Wolfgang, whom she recognizes from the second date. He gives them privacy, brings them some food from the cafeteria when he realizes no one has eaten in hours.

He's still there when the doctor finally comes to say the bypass went well and that Sanyam is in the recovery room. Priya almost collapses in relief.

Daya comes back out to escort her mother to see Sanyam. Their father is not coherent, so she tells Kala it's better to come back in the morning. Daya works a double shift and says she will keep an eye on their parents.

Wolfgang asks Kala if she wants to go for dinner.  It's a shock to see that it's only 7 in the evening. She shakes her head, silent. They walk to the parking garage. He suggests just taking her home. She nods; her hands feel icy in his.

Kala changes her mind as he drives north toward the apartment she shares with Daya. She asks tentatively if they can go to his place for a little bit.  “Yeah, sure,” he says, changing lanes to turn the car around. She turns her face and looks outside the window, her profile haloed by warm sunset hues that he will always associate with her. The rain stopped hours ago.

She's silent the entire ride back and as they walk into his apartment. He follows behind her, doesn't bother turning on more than the ambient lighting, aware that she is brittle and exhausted. She walks to the sofa, sits carefully on the edge as he sits beside her. He hesitates for a moment before he covers her clasped hands in his, feels the tremble in them, rubs his thumb over knuckles that have gone white. She leans a little into him and he puts a tentative arm around her.

He holds her as she begins to cry; heaving, wrecking sobs. 

Chapter Text

"Thank you for staying.”

Kala frowns at Wolfgang, arms folded protectively across her chest. He is almost completely flat on the hospital bed, raised by a few pillows that marginally elevate his torso. 

She hadn't expected him to be undressed, in a hospital gown, a sheet covering him from the waist down. She'd hung back when he was brought in, as he was settled into the bed, curtains rapidly drawn around him.

Kala tries to ignore that she very suddenly and very vividly remembers his body: the feel of his skin, the weight of him pressed against her. 

“I only came back because I wanted to make sure you're ok,” she says, sharper than she'd intended, flustered. “Daya refused to tell me. She just wants me to go home.” Kala edges cautiously forward and takes in his appearance with deliberate indifference. “You look fine to me,” she says.

Wolfgang's mouth quirks up into a smirk. “Do I?” he asks suggestively. For a moment she's taken aback, because she'd forgotten how easily he can make even the most innocuous statement a double entendre. She is almost amused. But it's too close to the truth.

She feels the heat steal across her face and she's annoyed by a body that betrays her: reacts when it shouldn't react; remembers when it shouldn't remember. Kala schools her features and gives Wolfgang a disapproving glare. “Is there someone to pick you up from here? Steiner? Will?" She thinks she sees the laughter die in his eyes. Good.

“Yes,” he says. His hand balls up the edge of the sheet. "I have someone."

Kala nods. Of course. She tries to ignore the unexpected hurt. “Ok.” She pauses beside his bed, gives a faint sigh as she looks at him with eyes that suddenly grow serious: “Why did you follow me, Wolfgang? You could have been killed. What do you have to tell me that's so important?”

He looks back at her for a moment, brows furrowed. He's silent for a long time, and she can tell that he debates what he wants to say; but he finally shakes his head, shrugs. “I don't know,” he says at last. He looks away, gives a slight exhale. “Maybe it changes nothing. But when you left, before we could talk -- before we could really talk -- I was afraid, I guess, that I would never see you again.”

“You were?” she asks, and she can't keep the irony from her voice. She catches her lower lip, worries it before she can trust herself to speak. “I didn't go anywhere, Wolfgang. I've been here in the city this whole time. I'm not the one who disappeared. That was you. You left me.”

He shakes his head fiercely, hands clenching the sheet. “I never did,” he insists. "Not on purpose."

Kala's determinedly calm expression gives way to disbelief. “Are you serious?” she asks, and she doesn't bother trying to hide her outrage. “We had a fight. And then you disappeared without a word to me. Not a word.” She stops abruptly, furious that she allowed herself to be baited: that she's arguing with him and shows she still cares when it was ages ago. A lifetime, she reminds herself. 

“I left that night, but I didn't leave you, Kala. I wouldn't just leave you." He is agitated, insistent. His expression becomes suddenly still. “I had to go, and I couldn't tell you. But I came back, and you were already married." He is quiet, almost accusatory; he has the nerve to look hurt, as if she'd been the one to betray him.

As if she hadn't waited, sick with worry, for him to come home that night, and then the next, and then the day after that. As if she hadn't waited even after she was handed proof that Wolfgang was only partying in Berlin: even after she was handed proof that he was sleeping around. She'd waited for two months in their loft, alone, making excuses until she couldn't any longer. And still she waited after she'd gone home. 

“I came back,” he repeats. “I was gone a few weeks and you were fucking married.”

Kala watches his jaw clench, the flush that creeps up along his neck; remembers it only ever did so when he was angry.

She is almost trembling at his words: "Angry" doesn't adequately describe the firestorm churning inside of her. “A few weeks,” she repeats. “Why didn't you try to reach me while you were gone?” she asks. “You never even told me yourself that you were ok. You had Will tell me. You didn't have the courage to tell me yourself that we were over. I had to be shown. What kind of coward does that?"

Wolfgang shakes his head, his face contorting from one expression to another as he struggles again to put into words whatever excuse he's about to say. But before he does, the nurse returns with an orderly.

“Mr. Bogdanow? We're finally ready for your x-rays,” she announces, oblivious to the quarrel she interrupts.

Wolfgang closes his eyes briefly before fixing them again on Kala. “Will you stay?” he asks, as the orderly prepares to assist him. Wolfgang looks tense, exhausted. “This won't take long. I just want to talk. Please.”

But Kala shakes her head. Daya was right. This was a bad idea. “It doesn't matter anymore, Wolfgang,” she says, quietly. “This is ridiculous. It was a long time ago. We've moved on.”

“Kala-”

She turns and leaves, ignoring his protests, shutting her ears to the scene he's causing behind her.

She walks past Daya, who stares back at her but doesn't say anything; Daya's face softens at the expression on Kala's. They can hear Wolfgang. Kala hurries past.

She catches a cab back to her flat, not far from the place she'd shared with Daya. She lets herself in, takes off her shoes, throws her purse on a nearby table. She moves to the sofa and curls into the corner, grabbing the remote for the tv, turning on a station just for the noise it provides when it comes on.

She concentrates on the screen and ignores the feeling clutching at her chest, clawing like something desperate to get out.

......

“Thank you.”  Kala pushes gently away from Wolfgang and wipes her eyes with the back of her hands. She reaches into the pocket of her skirt and pulls out a tissue, blows her nose, and jams the tissue into her other pocket. She shoots Wolfgang an embarrassed glance. Her face is flushed, eyes puffy and red-rimmed. She looks beautiful.

“Thank you for what?” he asks.

She gives a quick smile. “For everything. For taking me to the hospital. For staying, even though you didn't need to. I'm grateful you did.” She looks down at her hands. “And for not taking me home right away. I just -” Kala shrugs, gives him an apologetic look.

“That's ok.” Wolfgang draws her back to settle against him, his arm around her shoulder. He hugs her gently. “Stay. I'll take you home whenever you want.”

She murmurs something he doesn't quite hear, but she turns a little to him, rests her head on his shoulder. She tucks an arm under her cheek and the other she drapes tentatively across his waist. When he doesn't object, she sighs, slides off her shoes, brings her legs up next to her. She settles against him.

They remain that way for a long time. He thinks she falls asleep.  

Wolfgang takes everything in: the stillness of the flat, the firmness of the leather sofa, the smell of Kala's hair. The arm she draped over his waist grows slack, her body warm, relaxed, curled trustingly beside him.

He smiles a little because Felix would never believe this. Wolfgang isn't exactly known for quiet evenings or giving platonic comfort. Frankly, he's not sure what to do.

But whatever instinct made him follow Kala to the bus is the same instinct that guides him now: makes him suprisingly content to simply hold her, give her some support because she needs it.  

As if to test him, Kala's hand slips a little from his waist. Her palm bridges the top of his jeans, her fingers are over the button of his fly, just shy of actually landing on his cock. Wolfgang gives a sharp exhale, graphically imagining slender, elegant fingers curving around him.

He draws his head back, closes his eyes: lets himself picture her stroking him.

Last time, he'd gone home blue-balled.

On their second date, after the play, he'd driven Kala to her apartment and walked her to the door of the three-flat where she lives.They'd flirted all day; by the time he was at her place he was physically aching to kiss her, hesitant only because he didn't want her to think any more poorly of him. At the door, he said goodnight and dipped his head uncertainly. She'd smiled up at him, laughed a little, and brought their lips together. They finally shared that kiss: chaste, close-mouthed.

Until his libido kicked in. Then his tongue had darted loose and had licked along the seam of her lips. She'd given a shudder, opened her mouth for him as his hands gently traced along her curves and settled on the swell of her hips, instinctively drawing her up to his own, grinding a little against each other.

Daya interrupted them, just coming in from work, loudly stomping up the walkway and rattling her keys.

Kala had gone red with embarrassment and given him a breathless "goodnight" as she'd gone back into the flat with her sister, who'd introduced herself with a smirk.

He'd gone home then, thinking about Kala, and so fucking horny. But he hadn't jacked off as if to prove to himself that he wasn't some teenage boy with no self control.

That didn't last long.

Kala stirs and moves her hand away. Wolfgang doesn't move; he wills himself to calm the fuck down.

“Wolfgang.”

He pivots his head slightly to look down at Kala. She watches him with eyes so dark and luminous that it takes his breath away. He can drown in those eyes, in that look. She smiles softly, brings her hand up to touch along his rough jawline, resting to cup his face. She draws her thumb along his bottom lip, eyes following the path, mesmerized when he lets out a soft exhale. He flicks his tongue against the pad of her thumb, watches her pupils dilate and a short breath escape her.

She looks back up at him and draws his head down.

......

Kala prepares for Daya's questions, but Daya doesn't call that night or the next day or even the day after that. She doesn't talk to Daya until three days after the ER, when Daya calls to make sure Kala is ok with dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant in Rogers Park. Since their father died, Kala and Daya carve out a weekend dinner with their mother. Sometimes they all go out to eat, try something different; sometimes Daya and Kala bring ingredients and cook a meal at the old house, watch an even older movie with their mother.

Kala agrees to the restaurant but stops her sister before Daya hangs up.

“What, Tai?” Daya asks. She lets the silence stretch, her tone is suspicious. 

“What happened after I left?” Kala finally says, deeply ashamed that she's even asking.

“What? You mean at the hospital? Surely you don't mean about Wolfgang?"

“Yes.” Daya is being deliberately difficult. “About Wolfgang. And do not dare to hide behind privacy laws and act superior because I want to know.”

There's a long pause at the other end of the line. “He's just bruised up,” Daya finally mutters grudgingly, as if each word is drawn by force.

Kala nods, relieved. “Good. Thank you,” she says. Then, to appease her sister, whose disapproval almost radiates from the phone, Kala adds: “I haven't heard from him since. I just wanted to know. For my own peace of mind.”

Daya gives a snort of disbelief. Kala hesitates for just another second before asking: “Did you see if he was picked up by anyone?”

Tai.” Daya is angry. “I'll see you Saturday,” she says, and hangs up.

Daya knows everything.

She was there when Will showed up at the loft, white-faced and apologetic, to deliver the message from Wolfgang. She was there when Kala was so numb and devasted that Daya had to stay to make sure Kala was taken care of. Daya was there to open the emails, click all 8 of the attached images: Dated pictures of Wolfgang in Berlin, at a club, at a bar. With women. With men. Kala couldn't bring herself to do more than scroll through the pictures quickly; Daya looked close enough to tell they weren't fake. And as Kala threw up her misery, white-faced and sobbing, Daya was there to hold her hair back and murmur words of comfort mixed with plots of vengeance. She'd finally wrung a smile from Kala.

Daya was there for all of it. And it was Daya who suggested marrying Rajan. “He truly loves you,” she says. “He will never treat you like Wolfgang did.”

And she had been right. So right.

......

It is the first time they have sex, and Kala takes the initiative.

She draws his head down to hers but doesn't kiss his lips. Instead, she turns Wolfgang's head slightly, kisses his cheek, drags her mouth along that impossibly chiseled jaw, runs her tongue to taste the soft spot at his neck, along his pulse point. He bares his throat, moans softly as she continues to explore with slow purpose.

“Kala.”

He turns his head, eyes hooded, and kisses her.

'Desire' is not a word that Kala ever associates with herself, or believes exists for her. Until this moment. With this man. She is on fire.

She responds to his kiss as aggressively as he gives it; her hands explore as freely as his. She arches her neck and has no thought beyond the feel of his mouth, mimicking the trail she'd explored on him.

“Kala.” Wolfgang stops kissing her long enough to fix her with a ragged gaze.

It takes her a moment to focus, understand what he's waiting for. “Yes,” she murmurs back. “Please.”

He sits up abruptly, and she gives an undignified giggle when he gathers her into his arms to carry her into his bedroom. She nuzzles against his neck, biting gently and earning a throaty groan.

For all his urgency, Wolfgang lays her carefully on the bed, settles himself beside her, and doesn't rush. (By the time they move in together, he knows she likes it like this: slow and leisurely, hands and mouths exploring each other, always seeming to find something new to drive the other crazy.) For now, their first time, he watches her face intently as he runs his hand over her blouse, slips it inside to caress a breast through the thin fabric of her bra. Kala's eyes flutter close. He resumes his exploration along her hip, under her skirt, palms caressing her thigh, parting her legs. He smiles softly at her short exhale of breath.

Kala stops him for a moment, just long enough to remove her skirt. She keeps on her underwear, watches his face as he takes in her long bare legs, dark against the white cotton bikini. He dips his head and kisses her deeply, stroking under her blouse, along her body, learning the feel of her skin. She gives a soft sigh when he breaks their kiss, moves his mouth lower to lick along her neck, at the exposed skin of her cleavage, moves down until he kisses along the jut of her pelvis, inching even lower.

At 28, Kala has had very few lovers; but she'd never encouraged them to do what she is desperate for Wolfgang to do. Her breathing grows shallow, and she falls back against his pillows and arches her hips eagerly to his mouth.

He moves one hand to cup her butt, raise her just a bit more as he drags sloppy kisses along the inside of her thigh, blows over the fabric of her panty so she feels the hot breath of his mouth along her folds.

“My god.” 

He lifts his head, watches her eyes close when his other hand reaches under the band and pads her clit with his thumb. He slides a finger inside of her, his own breathing growing shallow at the slick, warm feel, stroking broadly, slowly sliding a second finger as she draws a shuddering gasp of pleasure. She's too wet, too tempting, to ignore, and he takes her underwear off impatiently, replaces his fingers with his eager tongue. His eyes flutter close, capturing her essence: committing her smell, her taste, the sounds she makes, to memory, enthralled by her. He feels her muscles tense, close to the edge, and brings his finger to press against her clit. He opens his eyes and watches, painfully aroused, as she finally cums in a long, violent wave that leaves her gasping and murmuring his name again and again. He's never heard his name said quite the way she says it, in the throes of her orgasm.

She's still trembling when he gets up and strips, finds a condom on his nightstand, and rolls it on with fingers that tremble over his cock. He's barely back on the bed before Kala reaches for him, moves him so he is beneath her. He's surprised but grins his approval, eyes fixing her with a look that makes her hot. She smiles as she straddles him and takes a moment to appreciate his muscular body, running her hands over the unfamiliar feel of his naked chest.

“You're beautiful, Wolfgang,” she whispers, and she laughs at the blush the comment seems to cause.

He gives an awkward smile and reaches to undo the buttons of her blouse. “Danke, Suesse,” he says, fingers moving quickly but clumsily, eager to see her naked, too. “Isn't that what I should be saying to you?”

She helps him take off her shirt, leans in so he can undo the clasp of her bra through the curtain of her hair, and sits back up to remove the bra, throw it to the floor. His breath hitches. He looks at her in awe for several seconds before he cups her breasts; his hands finally coast around her waist, her hips, her thighs. “Kala,” he says, “you’re beyond beautiful. I have no words. None.”

She blushes then, tilts her hips a little, and guides his cock into her. Her eyes close at the newness of him. It takes her a moment to adjust herself, to the heavy feel of him, but she opens her eyes again at the sound he makes when she buries him slowly inside of her.

She watches Wolfgang as she finds their rhythm: at the deep blue of his eyes, hooded, entranced; at the beads of perspiration that trail down his throat, his temple, as he strains against the urge to climax too soon. She moves her hips, rises and falls with his thrusts, watches him until she loses focus herself. She hears him gasping, feels him tense and shudder as his orgasm rocks him. Kala tilts her head back and rides him a little longer, a little harder; her own body curling into the new tension at her core. She cries out not long after Wolfgang, nails clutching his shoulders.

She spends the night with him.

He drives her home before Daya returns.

Chapter Text

All that week, until dinner with her mother, Kala half-expects Wolfgang to reappear somewhere. It seems too coincidental, too contrived, that he ran into her at the coffee shop. She finds herself on edge, especially when she goes to work: He may not know where she lives, but surely he knows or can guess she still works at Rasal Pharmaceuticals. The company is no longer where it was when they were dating, but it's certainly not difficult to find.

When Saturday arrives, she's conflicted that he hasn't materialized out of nowhere: As angry as she would have been if he'd actually reappeared, Kala admits to herself that she wants to know: There's still a part of her that wants to believe he isn't a deceptive, lying ass. That wants to believe he really loved her as much as he said he did. 

Against all reason, she wants to hear Wolfgang explain why he left her: why he never even thought to let her know he was ok until 2 days had passed. Why he didn't bother to contact her at all, but sent Will almost 2 weeks later to give her a cryptic message and reassure her that he's fine. She wants to know why, if he really came back "a few weeks" after he left, he didn't return to their flat when she'd waited there for him. 

And she wants to know what he has to say about the pictures.

When Kala feels weak and sentimental, she reminds herself of those pictures and how they made her feel. Everything else might be explained away, but there's no excuse for the pictures.

She thinks of that often. Because lately, all she can think about is how much she had loved him, and what a huge disappointment he'd been.

......

Her father is in the hospital for a week. Kala visits him after work every day.

During one such visit, he tells her she doesn't need to put herself out so much to see him: He's well aware that the commute from her lab to the hospital is not ideal. Kala tells him it's ok; she gets a ride from her friend. The blush that crosses her face when she says that is enough to make Sanyam raise his eyebrows.

“Oh?” he asks, curious. Kala blushes even harder. “Next time your friend brings you, I would like to meet this friend.”

She's a grown woman, but Kala feels like a child when her father fixes her with that look. “Actually,” she confesses in a hushed voice. “He's coming in about an hour to take me home."

“He?”

“Yes.”

Sanyam nods, looks questioningly at his daughter. "Rajan?" he asks, and his voice is hopeful.

Kala shakes her head. "No Dad. Not Rajan."

Sanyam nods again, looks thoughtful before he smiles gently at Kala. “I'd like to meet your friend.”

She messages Wolfgang to come up to the hospital room when he arrives to get her. An hour later, he is there, nodding politely to her father. If Sanyam is surprised, he doesn't show it. Instead, he extends his hand; Wolfgang shakes it with gentle firmness.

“Thank you for bringing Kala here every night,” says Sanyam. His voice is strong, even if his grip is weak.

Wolfgang gives a quick smile. “It's no problem at all, sir.” He steps back a little, stands beside Kala. “I hope you're feeling better?”

Sanyam nods, openly assesses Wolfgang. Kala holds her breath. Her father looks as if he is about to ask all sorts of embarrassing questions: How did you meet? What do you do for a living? Are you dating my daughter? Kala can feel her face alternate between ice- cold fear and a burning humiliation.

But instead, Sanyam merely lies back against his pillows. "I'm feeling much better, thank you," he says, and smiles at her, eyes bright with laughter, fully aware of her discomfort.

“I'll see you again tomorrow, Kala?” he asks.

“I'll make sure to bring her,” says Wolfgang.

Sanyam glances back at him and smiles. "That is kind of you. Perhaps, when I'm better, you can stop at our restaurant so I can thank you properly."

Wolfgang smile back, and his sincerity is so obvious that Kala steals a glance at her father to see his reaction. Sanyam visibly relaxes. "I would love to do that, sir."

Kala has never been more grateful to her father, or been more enthralled by Wolfgang.

…..

Kala is of two minds before dinner with her mother: She wants to ask Daya about Wolfgang, even knowing her sister will be annoyed. She wants to know if he still lives at the loft they'd shared. She wants to know who picked him up from the hospital.

The Ethiopian restaurant is small but neat and full of character, its cheerful yellow walls covered by colorful local art. The food is also very good, and conversation is pleasant and lively, noting many similarities with Indian cuisine: Daya is already taking pictures of dishes to post. Their mother smiles, shakes her head: She'd never understood the social media interest motivating pictures of food, even as her children show her positive reviews of the Dandekars’ old restaurant, featuring beautifully plated dishes.The restaurant is now owned by a family friend.

During a lull in the conversation, Kala's mother asks if she's still thinking of leaving her job.

Kala hesitates for the merest moment, nods slowly, and admits she has a job offer from a company in Canada.

Canada?” Her mother purses her lips, looks accusingly at Daya, who stares back innocently, before she turns her attention back to Kala. “But why? Is it the divorce? Is Rajan making things difficult?”

“No.” Kala taps the edge of her cup. “Rajan has been very good.”

“Of course he has,” says her mother. Priya shakes her head, questions -- for the millionth time -- Kala's sanity in divorcing Rajan for no apparent reason: She doesn't understand what “irreconcilable differences” really means; there has never been a divorce in their family. Ever. She wonders what Rajan did, what Kala did, that was so horrible that they cannot remain married.

“You were so lucky to marry him after living with that other boy,” she says, her face creased with worry. Neither Kala nor Daya mention to their mother that they've seen, let alone spoken to, Wolfgang. While their father had liked Wolfgang, their mother does not, convinced that Wolfgang corrupted Kala. “Rajan was so understanding.”

“Mom,” says Kala, a warning in her tone.

“Maybe if you'd had children,” Priya continues, deliberately oblivious. “Children would have made things better.”

Kala stiffens, catches her lower lip with her teeth. Daya shoots her a nervous glance. It is not the first time they've heard this, and it is doubtful it will be the last. Their mother had been a vocal and persistent advocate for grandchildren from the beginning, even when it was obvious that both Kala and Rajan were uncomfortable discussing such a personal topic.

“Children would have made things better.”

Maybe her head is too full thinking about the past; her mother's comment usually brings about a respectful, but clipped retort from Kala.

But tonight, the words sting. Kala cannot shake off how the words make her feel.

A little girl with your large, dark eyes and wild black hair? Or a little boy with your beautiful smile and silly, silly laugh?

She can still hear the echo of those words, murmured quietly into the night. But they weren't said with Rajan.

Daya redirects the subject. Priya allows herself to let go of the sore topic.

Kala takes a deep breath, grateful for her sister's intervention.

After dinner, she doesn't bring up Wolfgang to Daya.

...

During the following week, Kala comes home from work to search the Internet for places she'll want to look at in Toronto. If she doesn't do that, she folds large boxes and begins to pack.

There's a lot of packing. She moved into her apartment almost a year ago, shortly after asking for the divorce. She'd always liked the old Lakeview neighborhood, even though Daya no longer lives there. Kala had thought she'd stay for awhile, so there are tons of personal touches she now needs to wrap carefully and put in boxes. Again. It gives her something to think about besides Wolfgang and why he's back. Or why he wants to talk now. Or why she's heard nothing more. Or why she's still obsessing.

On Friday, Kala resigns herself to the unavoidable and sees Rajan shortly before she leaves work. She tells him about the new job: She'd put off saying anything, knowing he will protest. But Kala feels a renewed sense of urgency to get on with it: leave the city like she should have done years ago.  

The meeting goes as well as expected: Rajan is aghast.

They're in his office, sharing the small corner sofa. It's been half an hour since she came in to tender her resignation.

Rajan hasn't stopped talking since she finished her rehearsed speech.

He tries to convince her to stay with the company. If she feels the need to just get away, he'll be happy to put in a transfer to any of their other labs. He even offers to pay for her relocation, concerned that she won't have enough money to do so on her own since she is not collecting any spousal support. (Her lawyer had been horrified by that. Kala had literally walked away from millions.)

Kala reaches to cover his folded hands in hers. “You don't owe me a thing, Rajan,” she says. “You've been more than kind. I don't need a transfer; I agreed to take this job because they made a very good offer.”

“Do you even know anyone in Toronto?” he asks, concern etching his face.

“No.” Kala sits back and laughs a little at his expression. “That's the point, Rajan. I'll be fine.” Her face softens. “And so will you.”

He frowns back at her, his dark eyes clouding.

He would have been perfectly content still married to her, even knowing she doesn't love him, not in the way he loves her: passionately, unconditionally. Kala spent many nights over the years trying to will herself into loving him like that; trying to be worthy of him because he'd taken her, knowing she couldn't love him back, at least not right away. She made him happy for a time. She tried her best.

“When will you leave?” he asks her.

“I don't start for two months. There are legal details to iron out, like a work visa or whatever the Canadian equivalent is, and practical things too, like finding a place to live. But I'll be leaving here at the end of the month.”

He nods. “Ok,” he says simply, finally, maybe a little convinced that she won't change her mind. Still: “But you can always come back.”

Kala gets up, smiles softly at him. “I know. Thank you.”

They've been divorced officially for only a couple of months, but she loves him in her own fashion, and she knows her continued presence here won't help him. It is time to set them both free; Rajan is too honorable to do it.

Rajan escorts her out of his office, past the covertly interested glance of his assistant. He asks Kala if she would like to have dinner. She  turns him down. It's late, and she just wants to go home. He offers to drive her, already following her to the elevator, but she insists she's fine. She has her own car. When the elevator comes, they both get on, but Kala gently pushes him out as the doors close.

She's still smiling when she gets off on the ground floor, swipes her key card to get through the turnstile, and says goodnight to the security guard on duty. But she pauses before exiting the glass doors of the lobby.

“Company must be doing ok. This place is big.”

Kala breathes deeply, composing her startled features into one of disapproval. She watches Wolfgang, who gets up from a bench by the automatic glass doors. He looks weary. She wonders how long he's sat and waited; she's later than usual.

“Look,” he says, walking slowly towards her. She notices a slight limp and frowns. “I've been thinking since last week. And I can't -” He shrugs, frowns back at her. She says nothing. “The problem is I can't stop thinking. After 5 years, it all comes back, and I don't like to know you think I just abandoned you. You've thought that this whole time. We need to talk. We should talk.”

She's afraid to ask what he means: “It all comes back.”

“Wolfgang.” Kala shakes her head, pauses. She'd been convinced she wouldn't see him again.

“Before you say anything,” he says, and his eyes are guileless, focused solely on her, “can we just have coffee or something? I know you don't want to see me, but what you said the other day, at the hospital...I don't get it. So. Let's have a coffee and just talk. Not long.”  

Kala stares back at him, arms crossed protectively over her chest. She vacillates between the old anger and the new curiosity.

Wolfgang shrugs, self conscious when she doesn't say anything after awhile. He draws back a little.“If you're too angry, then, I guess ...” He nods his head stiffly. “I'll leave you alone. I'll go away forever if you tell me you want me to. I'm just asking you not to. Not just yet.”

She should be upset that he's come to the lab, after all, but she isn't really. Because even though every rational thought in her mind tells her to stay away from him, that she will never forgive him for what he did, there's a part of her that stutters awake because he's back. Awake and alive for the first time in a long time. And because she doesn't lie to herself, Kala admits she wants to believe that what had been the headiest months of her life weren't all one-sided. She wants to know. All of it.

“Ok,” she finds herself saying. “There's a coffee shop just west of here. Did you drive?” 

He looks relieved. Wolfgang nods. “I'm parked outside.”

Kala walks outside with him, follows him to a newer car, black sedan but sporty. Foreign. Expensive. He unlocks the doors but she shakes her head.

“I'll pull my car around,” she says, taking out her own keys. You can follow me.”

Wolfgang hesitates, concerned she won't really come around, but Kala already walks away.

He watches her for a moment before he moves around to the driver's side and gets in to wait for her.

 

Chapter Text

Wolfgang doesn't wait too long before Kala pulls up next to him. She's in a small, dark green SUV that is easily recognizable on the road. He rolls down his window just as she rolls down hers to the passenger’s side.

“The coffee shop is about 10 minutes away. They close in an hour,” she tells him. “Just follow me.”

He nods; she moves up and waits for him to pull his car behind her before she drives ahead.

He follows her a couple of miles down local streets to a chain coffee shop that's still open. She gets out of her car when he parks in the spot next to her. Kala meets his gaze without any warmth and heads into the shop.

Wolfgang doesn't get out right away as he watches her disappear inside. A familiar weight settles in his chest: a certain longing. Guilt. Regret. He's lived with them for a long time. Only now, there's defiance, too: a feeling that he has every right to be just as angry when she's the one who didn't wait long to marry her rich ex-boyfriend. He'd been devastated. More than devastated. Furious. Gutted. Lost.

As quickly as it comes, his emotions tap out.

He wonders if she'll ever look at him the way she used to. He knows, after over a week of reflecting on it, that he can look at her the same way. It had not been difficult to remember after all. He'd never forgotten.

He takes a deep breath and gets out of his car.

…...

“Don't go.”

Kala turns off the alarm on her cell phone, blinks back sleep, and looks up into a hooded blue gaze staring softly back.

“I have to,” she says regretfully. Kala smiles as Wolfgang brushes aside a dark tendril from her face, fingers burying themselves in the thick mass of her hair. He draws their foreheads together, plants a kiss on her nose before his mouth opens over hers, demanding and assertive. She gives in with a languid sigh, her hand reaching for his waist before making a path to stroke his bottom, move up to insert itself in the small space between them so she can curl her hand around his cock. He's not completely firm, and she moves her hand lazily, kisses him deeper until he's moaning into her mouth, his penis hard and filling her palm, twitching against her.

He shifts his head back long enough to murmur “not yet”; she shifts her head back long enough to ask “why not”.  From the wicked smirk she gives, she knows neither of them are talking about leaving.

He gives a low groan. “Kala,” he says, breathless. “If you don't stop now...”

Kala says nothing, holds him in a grasp that knows where to pause just before she draws her hand down; where to place pressure just before she moves her hand up. She smiles into his kiss when she feels his wetness on her fingers; readjusts her grip to use it so he's slick with his precum. “Fuck.” Wolfgang thrusts into her hand, his tip oozes a little onto her belly. Kala gives a throaty laugh. She rolls a little so she frees her other arm, lets her other hand rest on the tense, hard plane of his stomach. She palms lower. He sucks in his breath.

“You think you're funny,” he says accusingly, even as he's panting at the things she's doing to him, things he's told her in the three weeks they've been sleeping together that he likes. That he loves. She's a fast learner. She teases him with her free hand, cupping his balls, running a finger lower still until he arches and moans.

Kala watches him with the same heated expression he has when he watches her, her lips curved into a smile that knows she drives him crazy. “I don't think I'm being funny at all,” she says, a hint of playfulness in her voice.

Wolfgang gives a low chuckle, closes his eyes and lets himself give in to her and her amazingly talented hands. Jesus. She can ask for anything and he'd do it for her. Anything.

She shuffles a little on the bed beside him.

“Kala. Fuck.

His eyes open just enough to watch her draw him deep into her mouth, lift her head to draw him back out. His hands are buried in her hair, and it's all he can do not to pull at her, not to thrust mindlessly into the wet heat of her. His entire being focuses painfully on sensation. But when she glides her tongue, sucks him firmly, his hips thrust up of their own accord and his cock slides deeper into her mouth.

He is utterly lost.

He drives her home and pulls up in front of her apartment, parks the car, walks her the few steps to the front door. Kala looks at him questioningly; he is distracted.

“Goodnight,” she says. She gives a quick smile. “Or should I say good morning?”

“Neither.” He looks back at her, his attention suddenly focused. “You shouldn't be saying goodnight or good morning if it also means goodbye.”

She smiles at that, relaxes a little.“Oh?” she asks. “What should I say? Is there a better word in German?” He always feels compelled to point out good German words that have no English equivalent. Sometimes she matches them in Marathi or Hindi.

“No,” he answers. He reaches for her, his hands bracketing her waist. He rubs absent circles, curves his hands around her bottom. Kala’s hips cant into his embrace, her arms reach up around his neck. “Don't say goodbye. Stay with me.”

She tilts her head up at him, unsure what he means. “What?”

“Move in with me, Kala,” he says, smiling a little at her. “Why not? You're over every day. I can take you to work in the morning.”

“It's out of your way, and I start much earlier than you.” Kala looks at him wide-eyed. Her hands slip to rest lightly on his chest.

Wolfgang shrugs.“You won't have to run home before daylight to get ready for work. We can start our morning together. Every morning.”

“Wolfgang.” Kala looks up at the night sky. This is the city, but it is starless and eerily quiet. She fixes her gaze at a bright round moon and doesn't meet his eyes. “Is it,” she begins, her face flaming and her voice quiet, “is it the sex? Are you asking me because of the sex?”

Wolfgang frowns, confused. “What?”

“Wolfgang, I'm not moving in with you because it's convenient.” Kala finally looks at him, and his puzzlement grows. She looks angry, pushes against his chest a little. “We've been together for a month, and we've never even talked about being -” her hands flutter. “Monogamous. Let alone moving in together.”

“Monogamous?” he repeats, and he feels baffled by the word because it never occurred to him before. “Aren't we?” he asks, surprised. In his head, from the moment he met her, he simply wasn't interested in anyone else. So he supposes he’s been monogamous without really thinking about it. And he'd presumed so had she. “We spend most of our free time together. I thought we were.”

When she merely stares back at him, he frowns a little: “Is there someone else? I mean...” He stutters to a halt, overwhelmed by emotions he never expected, none of which are pleasant. He suddenly feels like an ass, and his hands move back up to Kala's waist. “If there's someone else, or you're just not interested, it's ok. I get it.”  

Fucking. Karma.

The entire conversation feels surreal. How many times has he had it from the other side? The side looking back at the awkward partner with pity because they've confused a good fuck - and  sometimes it was an exceptionally great fuck - with something more meaningful?

He glares at the same starless sky she'd been staring at earlier, feeling foolish. He looks back down at Kala, schools his features to look casual: “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to surprise you. Forget I asked.” She looks at him closely, but she no longer looks angry, and even though she says nothing, he finds himself still speaking: “And if you're seeing someone else,” he shrugs, “it's not my business. We should have talked.”

Kala tilts her head again, her brows knitting. “You're ok if I date someone else? If I see other people?”

Wolfgang can't suppress a sound of disbelief: He was always shit for lying. “Fuck no,” he says. If she is surprised by the vehemence in his tone, so is he, but he doesn't care. “If it was anyone but you I wouldn't give a fuck. But from the first moment I saw you, I wanted you. And since we've been together there's been no one else for me.” He takes a breath, a little surprised by his own confession. “I don't do relationships. I'm not sure how one works. But I know I miss you when you're not with me, and yeah it's only been a month, but so what? I want to wake up with you and know you're already home.”

Kala's eyes take on a soft expression, but there's doubt and even regret in them too. “Moving in with someone is a big commitment, Wolfgang,” she says, laying her hands on his chest. “You haven't thought this through: You're asking us to both give up our lives away from each other. It's only been a month. How do you know we'll get along? What about privacy?”

He pauses because he honestly hasn't thought it through, but he smiles, gives a soft chuckle.

“Suesse,” he murmurs, bringing his forehead down to hers, “maybe you haven't noticed that when it comes to you, everything is impulse. You're the first thing I think of when I wake up. I miss you when you leave. The sheets smell like you- like us.” She gives an embarrassed giggle at that. “It's not just the sex. I miss you . I don't give a shit about privacy or anything else you think I give up. I just want you.” He can feel her uncertainty, lifts his head to smile gently at her. “But that's me. If you don't want to, if it's too soon, that's ok.”

She shakes her head, but she still smiles, too. “I miss you too,” she admits softly, suddenly shy. “No one has ever made me feel like you do.” She looks up at him almost challenging. "Does this mean we're monogamous?” she asks. “Just me? And just you?”

He chuckles because even though he brought it up, he thinks he should feel afraid: as if he can't breathe and the walls are surrounding him and all those cliche things he has felt before whenever someone talks commitment. But he doesn't. Not any of it. “I don't give a shit about anyone else. So yeah, it does.” His eyes grow a little more serious again.

She smiles up at him, touches his lips with tentative fingers. “Ok,” she murmurs carefully. “I'll think about moving in with you.”

He grins back at her, finally kisses her goodnight. “I won't pressure you. I won't ask again. Just surprise me and move in if you want.”

She laughs at that, shakes her head.

...

Daya is shocked when Kala casually mentions she is considering moving in with Wolfgang, but only because Daya doesn't think Wolfgang is a guy you settle down with. She likes him, thinks he makes Kala happy (“obscenely happy”), but believes his hotness works against him: Guys like that don't settle down until they're 80.  Kala merely shrugs, smiles and says that Wolfgang is different.

Wolfgang is true to his word and doesn't ask again. But two days later, he gives her keys to his flat and tells her she's always welcome. Three days later, Kala moves in with him.

Her mother doesn't speak to her for a month.

……

“Will you start by telling me why you left?”

Kala sits down across from Wolfgang, holding a cup of coffee. Black. He's surprised by that, never knowing her to drink the stuff. She also has a scone that she picks apart, eating the corners first.  The coffee shop is quiet; just them and one or two other patrons.

Wolfgang holds his own cup of coffee between his hands, turns the cup a few times, clears his throat.

“When I met you,” he says quietly, “my life was kind of fucked up.” He gives a rueful smile; Kala stares back at him. “I moved here because I had problems. In Berlin. I was running from those problems. But I couldn't run from them once I knew I was in love with you. Once we started talking about getting married. Having children.” He smiles a little at that. It had been so long ago.

Kala takes a careful sip. The coffee burns her tongue. “What kind of problems, Wolfgang?” She suspected as much, of course. He rarely spoke of Berlin, except to talk about Felix. He went on two  business trips there while they were together, but he dissuaded her from coming along. He'd looked so tense about it, she hadn't pushed; the trips were relatively short, anyway. Just a week.

He shrugs. “Legal problems.”  He gives a humorless chuckle. “I tried to fix things. But instead I made it worse.” He shakes his head. “That night we fought… No, before that…”

He stops abruptly, takes a sip of his own coffee. “Someone found out and said they'd help me. I just needed to do something in return. So I went to do it.”

“That night?”

Kala taps at her cup, patience wearing thin. He knows he's being evasive, cryptic, but he still finds himself nervous to tell her the truth, even though it shouldn't matter now. But it does. He looks away, stares out the window overlooking the parking lot and gives a low “fuck”.

Kala frowns at him, turns to see what he looks at, and gives a frustrated huff. ‘Dammit,” she says.

Rajan stands by his car, parked on the other side of Kala's, and finishes a call before he heads purposefully to the shop.








 

Chapter Text

Wolfgang dislikes Rajan on sight.

Kala knows this because Wolfgang volunteers the information almost as soon as they step outside the restaurant.

She side-eyes him, lifts her eyes as they walk back to their flat, hands clasped. “Why?” Kala asks, although she can guess the kiss didn't endear Rajan.

Rajan was having dinner at the same restaurant. He'd walked up to their table while they were waiting for their check: greeted Kala too effusively; taken both her hands and kissed her cheek before she had the opportunity to introduce him to Wolfgang, who'd watched the exchange with a slight tick of his jaw. Rajan had smiled a little too amiably, shaken Wolfgang's hand perhaps a little too long. They'd exchanged awkward pleasantries before the check came and Rajan finally left, wishing them both a good evening.

“He was cock blocking,” responds Wolfgang curtly, irritated.

Kala's brows arch even higher. “Mmm,” she says, releasing her hand from his so she can wrap her arm around his waist. One would have been blind not to notice the silent male exchange that took place. “Well it was ridiculous of him,” she says. “I'm with you.” They walk in silence. She waits for the next question; she can feel it.

“So he's your boss? And an old boyfriend?”

Kala winces a little at the bluntness. “Never my boss,” she says. “Rajan is in another division altogether.” She looks up at Wolfgang's brooding profile, and adds, after a moment. “We dated at university, but I had already received an internship with his father's company before I met him. I didn't even know he was the boss's son until I saw him at work, much later.” She gives a quick exhale. “And yes, he's an old boyfriend. The first, even.”

Wolfgang frowns as he looks back down at Kala. “And he just returned from India?”

“Yes.” Kala deliberately turns her attention back to their walk. “He's been gone almost a year. He was managing operations at a new facility.”

Wolfgang doesn't say anything, seems to think about this. “And that's it?” he asks. “You dated at university? But he's still acting like an ass about you?”

Kala feels herself flush. “We dated again before Rajan was sent to New Delhi.”

“You did.” It was a statement more than a question. “That explains it, then.”

“Explains what?” Kala frowns. “I ended it before he left.”

“Maybe not for him.” Wolfgang glances at her, notices the furrowed brow. “It's pretty obvious he's still interested,” he says evenly. “Is he why your mother hates me?”

Her mother?

Kala stops walking. Wolfgang has no choice but to do so too and face her. “You think my mother hates you?” she asks, and there's a hint of amusement in her voice. “Wolfgang, she doesn't hate you. She's upset with me. I'm the one that broke with tradition. I'm the one who moved in with you. But you're an easy target.”

He stares back into her eyes. They've lived together for almost three weeks. Daya has visited; they've eaten at her father’s restaurant on at least 2 occasions, once with Sanyam.

Priya is noticeably absent. Wolfgang is not so oblivious that he doesn't notice hushed phone calls in Marathi that Kala makes to her parents: Arguments translate no matter what language.

“What do you mean you broke with tradition?” he asks. “Moving in with me?”

Kala smiles humorlessly. “They wanted me to marry Rajan. I said no. They wanted me to stay at home until I married. I said no. They certainly were not happy I chose instead to move in with you, unmarried.”

He knows by “they” she means her mother. It didn't occur to him that moving in together would cause a schism. When he'd asked, he hadn't taken into consideration her family, her culture. She'd certainly not made an issue of it. He's silent for a long moment as they continue their walk. Kala steals furtive looks at him.

“If I were a better man,” he says after awhile, glancing back at her, “I'd tell you to move out; go back to Daya.” He steers her a little off path, toward the shadows. “But I'm not a better man,” he says simply, not the least repentant. "And I don't give a shit about anything but you. Us." He corners her against a tree and kisses her hard before they resume the walk home.

……

It takes Rajan less than a moment to find Kala in the coffee shop, and his expression sours instantly when he notices she's not alone. Rajan’s eyes bore straight into Wolfgang, who looks back with an equally displeased expression.

“Kala,” Rajan says tightly, glaring. Wolfgang leans back against his seat. “I saw your car and thought I'd join you. I didn't realize you were meeting Bogdanow, of all people!” Rajan nods dismissively at Wolfgang. “Did you just return? Or have you been here in Chicago all along?"

Something flickers in the back of Wolfgang's eyes, but he merely shrugs, doesn't answer.

A thought seems to occur to Rajan, and he looks back at Kala accusingly. “Is this why you haven't asked for anything?” he begins, voice tight. “Are you back with him? Are you going to Canada with him?”

“Canada?” Wolfgang's attention pivots abruptly to Kala.

She glances from one to the other, mouth thinning in aggravation.

“Rajan, I am not,” she says to him carefully. “I didn't even know Wolfgang was back. But now that I do, I came here specifically to speak with him, and I would be very grateful if you give us some privacy.” She is surprisingly direct; she watches Rajan expectantly. Wolfgang gives a faint smirk.

“Why?” Rajan's annoyance turns quickly into anger. “After five years. Now he shows up. And you are willing to listen? Why do you speak to him after what he did to you? I'd think you would rather see him dead somewhere after the shame-”

“Rajan!” Kala's face pales and she stares, taut as a bow, at her former husband.

Wolfgang’s eyes narrow, watches them both as if he is the one who has stepped into the middle of a private conversation, and not Rajan. The enmity vibrating from Rajan, the tension seeping from Kala: Just as moving in with him had caused an unexpected divide, he suddenly wonders if leaving her caused her even more trouble than he'd thought. More trouble than he was assured would happen.

“Kala,” he says, suddenly weary. “If I caused you more problems with your family, I never meant to.”

“You didn't mean to do a lot of things, Bogdanow,” snaps Rajan caustically. He takes a calming breath, looks pointedly at Kala. “I'm sure you have your reasons why you want to talk to him,” he tells her, “but you know it's a mistake.” He glares again at Wolfgang, takes Kala's cold hand and squeezes it gently. “You know you can always come to me if you need to.” He waits for Kala to nod before he leans over to kiss her; Kala turns slightly so that he misses her lips. Rajan straightens and takes his leave.

Kala and Wolfgang watch his departure through the window of the coffee shop; they say nothing as they watch him get into his car and finally drive away.

Wolfgang turns his head back to Kala, notices that she looks upset, distracted. She chews her lower lip, taps her coffee cup.

“Still cock blocking, I see,” he comments. “Asshole.”

Kala looks at him blankly for a moment. And then she chuckles.

Wolfgang smiles back.

……

They have a frank discussion about past sexual partners two weeks into their living arrangement.

It had not been planned.

They go to a bar to meet Wolfgang's friends, one of whom turns out to be the woman he'd been having lunch with when he sprinted to catch Kala at the bus stop. Kala would not have recognized her had it not been for the prominent blue streak in her white-blonde hair.

Riley laughs and confirms what Wolfgang had told Kala that first day: that they were only friends meeting for lunch. Kala is relieved; Riley is cute and eclectic and looks exactly what Kala imagines is Wolfgang's type. She tells her so while Wolfgang goes with Riley's boyfriend, Will, to get drinks from the overly crowded bar.

“Me?” laughs Riley. Even her laughter is cute, thinks Kala. “We met through Will,” she says, shaking her head. “I worked the club they used to go to, back in the day. Will started coming by himself. Finally asked me out. I was kinda surprised.” She gives a self- conscious giggle, leans confidingly toward Kala. “I didn't think he liked girls. I mean.” Her face takes on a mischievous look. She puts her hand on top of Kala's. “Look who I followed after! But we've been together a while now. And we're pretty happy.”

Kala feels her face grow hot.

She doesn't think she's misunderstood: Will and Wolfgang?

She is deeply shocked: struggles to process this information, reconcile it with the hyper-masculine way that she characterizes Wolfgang.

And the more she thinks about it, the more she sees how much it is consistent with him: His confidence, his blatant sexuality. She's never met anyone who so wholly exudes it.

“Were you and Will lovers?” she asks abruptly, when they return home. It's an early evening because even though it's a Friday night, Kala works in the lab the next morning.

Wolfgang is surprised. “Yeah,” he says, as if it's of no matter. He looks at her apologetically. “I guess I should have told you, but to be honest, I kind of forget. It was a long time ago. He's been with Riley forever. He'd marry her in a heartbeat if she ever says yes." He laughs a little at the idea as he shrugs his jacket off and throws it over a chair.

Kala looks distracted, gives him an odd look. “You should have told me.” She hangs her own coat, removes her shoes. She walks to the kitchen to grab medicine for her headache. The bar was loud and they'd gone to Riley and Will's apartment afterward. Kala didn't know how heavily Wolfgang smoked either. He'd had several cigarettes with Riley on the balcony, and they'd both reeked of the smell each time they came back inside. Kala finds the aspirin, gets water, and leans a little over the sink as she takes the pills.

“Hey.” Wolfgang reaches for her waist and draws himself up behind her. “Are you ok?” He sounds concerned. He wraps his arms around Kala and kisses her head.

“I don't know.” She turns to face him. His eyes are troubled. “You should have told me. We should have had this discussion much, much earlier.”

“About Will?”

“About your partners. That you've slept with men, not just women.”

His expression changes: He looks at her warily. “Does that change how you feel about me?” he asks, his face guarded. He holds her loosely, but she is pressed between him and the kitchen sink. She can feel his tension.

Kala's gaze drifts to the collar of his T-shirt.

Does it?

She's never known anyone who isn't straight, let alone dated someone who isn't. She winces at the thought of that coming up during a family dinner.

But does it change how she feels?

How does she feel? She's never doubted his sincerity, his honesty in their relationship. He's never made a secret of his promiscuous (at least by her standards) bachelor lifestyle, assuring her during one memorable moment that he's clean. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She'd always presumed he'd only meant women.

He makes no excuses for himself. He is enthralled by her; he tells her so. And he does, as Daya said, make her obscenely happy.

She gives a sudden, unexpected smile. “I'm not sure how I feel about you, Wolfgang Bogdanow, but if this is your way of making me say something I'm not prepared to, I see your tricks.”

He stares hard at her, not sure what she means until she cups his face in her hands and kisses him softly. “This does not change how I feel about you,” she says, giving a faint sigh, “but I think I just need to understand. I am so very sheltered.”

He smiles softly at her. His eyes look at her with an unguarded expression that makes her breath catch in her throat

“I'm in love with you Kala,” he tells her then. The first time. “I can't change what I am, but I hope one day you'll admit you love me too.”

She laughs shakily, surprised that there are tears. “I admit nothing,” she tells him, hands smoothing imaginary wrinkles from his shirt. “You must tell me if you have any more secrets.”

“That wasn't a secret,” he says. He kisses her deeply, and she doesn't even mind the taste of cigarettes.

It takes her another two weeks before she tells him she loves him, too.

…...

“Why are you going to Canada?”

Kala looks up from her mug.

“Why did you leave that night?” she asks.

The shared amusement is gone.

Wolfgang glances again out the window. “Because I wanted to marry you. Very badly.”

She stares at his profile, glares at him when he turns back to look at her.

“Stop saying that,” she snaps. It's the second time he reminds her, and she hates it: hates that she can still recall the last few months, the last few weeks, the last few days. They'd talked so much; planned too many things. “If that was true, why didn't you come back?” she asks. “Don't tell me about legal problems. Don't tell me about doing favors for someone who could help you. They don't tell me why you left. Or explain why you didn't come back.”

“But they do,” he says quietly. “I couldn't marry you until I took care of it.”

“And why is that?”

“Because I was already married, Kala, to someone very important to my family. And she didn't want to divorce me. Not without getting paid first.”

Kala sits back against her chair.

She is quiet for a long moment. He watches her face, the thoughts that race behind her eyes, the breath that escapes in involuntary huffs.

“That was your big secret?” she finally says. Her voice trembles. “Why didn't you ever tell me?”

“Would you have stayed with me if you knew I was married?”

She wants to tell him it would have made no difference: if he'd promised to take care of it, that would have been enough. They could have worked it through.

But would she have stayed?

It was difficult enough to stand up against convention and move in with him, but would she have done so knowing he was married? That was not her. It is still not her.

Would she have stayed?

“Maybe,” she says calmly, “you'd better start from the beginning."

 

Chapter Text

Kala sits back a little further in her seat. Her head throbs; there's a persistent roaring in her ears.

He was married.

“She's the daughter of one of my uncle's biggest clients. We met at a club. Maybe 12 years ago? I didn't know who she was.”

The entire time they were together - meeting her family, talking about their future, marriage, children - he was already married.

Kala concentrates, head cocked to one side, eyes narrowed. Her gaze drifts a little to Wolfgang's mouth, as if reading his lips will make sense of the words he's speaking. She concentrates harder.

“We kept running into each other. Went to the same parties. Drank at the same places.” Wolfgang gives a shrug, looks away. “She really had a thing for me, you know? I thought I was the shit because everyone in those days was just drawn to her. She was a fun girl.”

A fun girl.  Kala raises her brows: a euphemism for someone capable of the kind of loose-moral partying that she is neither capable of nor inclined to do. She feels an inappropriate flicker of jealousy and frowns.

“Anyway,” he continues, his eyes a million miles away, “we hooked up a few times.” The way he says that - the faint tick of his jaw, the tension to his posture - sets off warning bells, but still she is caught unprepared: “We weren't careful. I got her pregnant.”

Kala's eyes jerk abruptly up to Wolfgang. The roaring in her ears sounds even louder. Wolfgang meets her gaze, drops his own. His face flushes. “I don't have a kid I abandoned, Kala.” He sounds defensive although she says nothing. “We got married because her father insisted and my uncle liked the idea of a fucking merger between our families. Lila lost the baby at 5 months. Doing something stupid. I asked for a divorce the first time not long after.”

A baby.

A feeling very near hysteria bubbles up in Kala. She almost laughs. Of course.

……

“Hey.” She feels a bristled nuzzle at her neck, a kiss to the pulse at the base of her throat. “I'm sorry I'm late, Suesse.”

Kala smiles sleepily into soft blue eyes before suddenly recalling where she is. “What time is it?” she asks, voice thick with sleep.

Wolfgang was gone a week to Berlin. It's the first time they're apart since she moved in two months ago, and she misses him: She missed him the moment they said goodbye.

She planned a warm welcome. She made his favorite dinner and even found that dense German bread he likes so much but she questions jokingly is even really bread. Yesterday, she bought her first piece of lingerie ever: a wispy red confection of chiffon and satin and strategic lacing that pushes her breasts up and over while a matching thong (which she stared at dubiously for a good long time before actually putting it on) doesn't even attempt to cover her ass. Her pulse raced anticipating the look on Wolfgang's face when he sees her in it.

But even as she prepared for his homecoming, her cell phone buzzed with incessant delay notices from the airline: 40 minutes. 1 hour. 2 hours.

She gives up at the three hour delay mark.

The dinner she made is packed into the fridge: table settings removed; merlot returned to the wine rack; bread wrapped in the bakery bag. Kala grabbed a blanket and curled into a ball on the corner of the sofa, feeling disappointed and sorry for herself. She fell asleep watching late night television.

But now he's home.

“It's 1:30 in the morning,” Wolfgang murmurs. His lips are making their way across her throat, his tongue laps along the base, sucking gently at the hollow.

She raises her arms in a cat-like yawn that descends and tangles itself around Wolfgang's short hair. The blanket she'd dragged over herself falls away a little.

“What's this?”

It takes her a second to remember the expensive lingerie she's wearing instead of his t-shirt. “A surprise,” she says on a breath, neck arching into his mouth.

He lets out an exhale as he tugs the blanket further down. “Let me see it properly.” His voice is low, raspy, faintly desperate. It's not the voice he has when they talk about each other, about what they want when they make love.

It's the voice he has before he fucks her.

She disentangles herself from his arms, stands up, and steps far enough away that he can see her in the reflected flicker of the muted TV. He settles into the corner, legs parted, arms draped over the back of the sofa. His eyes meet hers briefly before they slide down.

She watches his face and feels herself blush at the carnal expression he doesn't hide. He is very noticeably hard.

Wolfgang lifts his chin, gestures for her to turn around. She arches her eyebrow at him. “Bitte,” he says, lips quirking into a smirk.

She turns around for him. And when she hears his breath hitch, mutter in strangled German, she smiles to herself.

……

“So she was pregnant.”

Despite herself, Kala feels a sudden stab of empathy for Wolfgang's unknown wife. “She must have been devastated to lose the baby so late in term.”

The look Wolfgang turns to her is one of utter incredulity. “ Lila?” he says. His voice holds a trace of amusement; he shakes his head. “Pregnancy was an inconvenience that didn't stop her from doing whatever the hell she wanted. Lila didn't care. Sounds weird, but you know, I did."

His voice holds enough bitterness that Kala feels the sting of it. She sits very still, worrying her lower lip.

She wants to ask what happened. How she lost the baby.

But she can't bring herself to ask, and she's unsure whether it's to spare Wolfgang or herself.

He finally takes a sip of his coffee, grimaces a little because it tastes like processed shit to him. “Anyway, Lila wanted to get married. She pushed for it. It got her out of her father's control. I didn't know.” He is silent for several seconds, distant, before he gives a shrug. “So. We did.”

The coldness of his tone, the hard look in his eyes, sends a shiver through Kala.

“We never should have gotten married.” Wolfgang suddenly turns his attention to her. “Did you have any kids, Kala?”

She is startled enough by the question to give a simple answer. She shakes her head. “No,” she says, and there's a sadness that settles in that single reply, a pain she doesn't remember to hide. Wolfgang gives an exhale. He looks back at her, and his expression is equally pained before his eyes shutter.

“I'm sorry,” he says quietly.

……

They don't make it into the bedroom.

His hands are all over her body, desperate fingers making quick work of bows and hooks and a completely useless thong. She's naked on the floor - top half on the area rug, bottom half on the wood floor - in record time. And there's something unbelievably hot about being that way when Wolfgang remains fully clothed, intent on devouring her.

But Kala is just as desperate.

She licks his mouth, bites as she wraps her legs around his hips, grinds against his cock. He bucks a little over her, dragging his mouth from hers to suck along her neck and down to a breast, tugging at the nipple. She feels the pleasure of it spiral to her core. She grabs for his shirt and scores his back tugging it over his head, taking it off. His hand coasts around her bottom and between her legs; moans at how wet she is and slides his fingers inside, his thumb on her clit. She gasps a little and tilts her hips, willing his fingers deeper, clutching frantically at his shoulders. She releases her legs from around his waist, reaches with shaking hands for his pants. He'd undone the top button and unzipped the fly at some point to relieve the heavy ache: Kala’s hands caress his ass before she slides her palms inside his underwear, tugging the boxer briefs down, catching his jeans. He scrambles impatiently to kick them completely off.

Kala wraps a hand around his cock; stroking as if he isn't already thick; rock hard and slick with precum. He gives a frantic huff, buries his head in her neck; his breathing is labored as he rocks into her hand while his fingers return to her body, finds the spot right above the nub that makes her writhe against him.

“Wolfie.” It's barely a whisper but he hears it, lifts his head and fixes her with eyes that burn all thought from her mind. Kala watches his face as she reaches for the hand that strokes her and laces their fingers together. With a final downward stroke of her other hand, she guides the tip of his cock to her entry, arches her pelvis to slide him slowly inside. His eyes widen, face tense, and in a single, mindless motion, he meets her hips and is buried deep in the heat of her.

His eyes flutter close. “God.” His voice is a husky croak. He is perfectly still for a mere moment, but she grinds impatient and urgent against him. “Kala.” They'd never had sex without a condom. Ever. He is religious about it. But tonight he doesn't give a shit. His hands grab her ass; he pulls her back, angles his cock almost completely out before he thrusts forcefully back into her.

Kala gives a soft cry that echoes in the open room.

His control escapes completely. The feel of her heat, the games she plays with the way she clenches herself around him. Wolfgang works his hips with growing urgency, bearing down hard, balls-deep, over and over. His hands grip Kala's bottom as she meets each thrust with her own frantic urgency.

She cums before he does, arms extended over her head, pushing against the base of the sofa; the noises she makes are somewhere between a wail and a cry. He curls into her and cums while her body trembles in waves of release, his own noises lower but no less frantic. She can feel him: the violent jerk of his pelvis, the gush of warm fluid that she instinctively cants deeper inside. He collapses over her, bodies still joined, sated, sticky with sweat.

They both breathe as if they've run a very long way. He rolls off of her before he feels too heavy on her small frame, gathers her into his arms. She turns to plant a kiss on his shoulder.

“I've missed you,” he sighs, moments from sleep.

“I've missed you too,” she murmurs, tangling her legs with his.

“I'm sorry I couldn't wait.” His voice trails. He sounds as if he's already half-asleep.

Kala smiles faintly. “I went on birth control, if that's what you mean.” She twists a little to see his face. His eyes open, soft, but remarkably unconcerned. He pushes hair from her face, kisses her nose.

“I wonder what our children will look like,” he says on a sigh. Her breath catches in her throat. “A little girl with your large, dark eyes and wild black hair?”

Kala laughs softly because for some reason, she is on the verge of tears. “Or a little boy with your beautiful smile and silly, silly laugh?”

“I don't have a silly laugh,” he protests before he kisses her.

He reaches over to the sofa, tugs off the blanket she'd had earlier to cover them both on the floor. They fall asleep, entwined, on the rug.

……

Wolfgang admits he didn't try very hard to make his marriage work: He'd been accepting of the situation while Lila was pregnant; he even tried to curb their partying. But after the miscarriage, he was full of resentment. He also wasn't interested in her or her family's business at all.

Which of course impacted his family's business.

“We separated. She didn't want a divorce. I'm not sure why it mattered. But we were still kids, almost. I volunteered to come here, help Steiner with the business since he was fucking it up, even though it meant I couldn't keep an eye on Felix.” Wolfgang takes another sip of his coffee. She knows he must have been desperate if he had to leave Felix. “The rest you know.”

Wolfgang meets Kala's dark gaze, and there's a bone-weariness to his face; a kind of fatalistic expression that settles in the back of his eyes.

It makes sense, suddenly; the wild partying he admitted to: the drinking, the drugs, the sex. Over-indulging in sensory experiences, waking up in places he didn't recognize with people he didn't know. Running from responsibilities. Oddly enough (or maybe it's not so odd when she thinks more about it), it is Will's calming presence that helps settle Wolfgang. Will might have been a long-forgotten name in a list of sexual partners if he hadn't also taken Wolfgang to the emergency room for alcohol poison and insisted on becoming a friend. Wolfgang would have died.

“Did Will know about Lila?”

Wolfgang shakes his head. “No.” He leans in a little, stares at his coffee. “Not until I told him, maybe a week before I left. I told him not to tell you or Riley. I told him I'd fix things. I'd asked Lila for a divorce a month or so before then. She said she wouldn't object if I paid some ridiculous sum of money. Otherwise, it would be war.” He frowns into his coffee. “She can be kind of a drama queen. I don't think she believed I really wanted the divorce.”

“And you said someone found out but was willing to help you come up with the money?”

He smiles, but it is without humor, a mere baring of teeth. “Oh yes. Someone just as interested that I marry you as I was.”

Kala's brows snap together in confusion. Her immediate thought is of her parents, specifically her mother. But while they were comfortable, they certainly did not have extra money lying around to pay anyone off a “ridiculous sum of money”.

Wolfgang watches her face and shakes his head, his expression ironic. “I'll spare you the drama,” he says. “Rajan's father found out.”

 

Chapter Text

Kala turns her coffee cup with restless fingers. Her shock is almost palpable.

“Rajan's father?” She shakes her head, brows drawn fiercely together. Distress makes her voice quiver. “That's ridiculous. It makes absolutely no sense.” But she stops abruptly, catches her lower lip, doubtless recalling an incident or two or three during her marriage, guesses Wolfgang. His eyes linger on her mouth for a bare moment before they rest on her face, momentarily averted, turned in the direction of the window. He watches as she struggles with a growing suspicion. The fight seems to visibly leave her. “I don't understand,” she says.

He feels almost sympathetic. “Don't you?” he asks quietly.

She is silent for several more seconds before her troubled brown eyes turn to his. “He was always very... civil to me.”

Wolfgang shrugs. “I don't doubt he was polite. His son loved you. Loves you still, I suspect.”

Kala’s face flushes. She doesn't respond. Instead, she schools her features to a semblance of calm. “How did Papaji find out that you were married? Why would he even care?”

He wonders much too late if he's doing the right thing, telling her: He'd been so intent on clearing his name; on convincing her he's not the demon she seems to think he is.

And for what purpose when they've moved on? Wolfgang asks himself.

Only, he hasn't. If this last week has taught him anything, it's that he isn't done with the past, and he is weary of pretending it doesn't matter, because it does. He wants her to know that he wasn't a bastard, that he's not the villain in this piece: He didn't leave her because of an asinine argument.

He let her think the worst because he had been hurt and furious, believing she'd rushed to marry Rajan. But things she had said at the hospital… Wolfgang puzzled over them until he realized he needed to tell her the truth. Or at least a version that doesn't hurt her as much.

He settles now on a compromise.

“Rajan’s father wanted him to marry well.” Kala's gaze focuses intently on his. “He knew Rajan wanted you, even though we were together. He was worried that Rajan's attention would turn your head.” Wolfgang pauses, because a part of him screams that it did. And from the challenging expression on Kala's face, he knows she knows what he thinks. He smiles a little, refuses to engage in that ancient battle. “So he hired someone to check on me. He found we were already discussing marriage, and he also found out about Lila. So he offered to pay her. To clear my way.”

Kala's hand shakes. She breaks off a piece of her scone, crumbles it absently in her fingers. She believes it. By God, she believes it. “What did he want you to do in exchange for the money?” Kala knows Rajan's father well enough to also know he wouldn't just give money to Wolfgang. Just as she knows Wolfgang wouldn't have accepted the money without offering to earn it.

Wolfgang leans back in his seat. “It doesn't matter. It didn't work out as planned. For any of us.” He gives a short laugh. “Except Lila. She got the money. I got the divorce. But by then it didn't really matter.”

……

Wolfgang gathers his suitcase from baggage claim and makes his way to the processing area for final clearance. While he should be exhausted, he is also anxious to return home: The week-long trip in Berlin had been his most stressful, but with any luck, he's done dealing with Sergei for the rest of the year.

Wolfgang's phone buzzes. He fishes it from his coat pocket, smiles when he sees the icon of Kala's profile, looking pensively at something he'd pointed to. He'd taken that picture right before he left. 

Three text messages pop up.

    Are you back yet?

    Too tired for lunch?

    Miss you.

He's bone-weary. He'd been on a 10-hour flight, originating out of Tegel shortly after 5 a.m., all so he can arrive in time for a promised lunch date with Kala. A part of him is amazed that he remains so bewitched by her, half-expecting that by now, they would be in a comfortable, if boring, pattern, just starting to pick at each other's annoying habits. But it has been six months since she's moved in with him, and while it's true they have settled into a rhythm together, it is bliss: His heart still races when he's with her; he misses her when she's not around. He slept restlessly without her. 

He swipes a quick message to Kala:

    At O'Hare. Not too tired for lunch.

    Miss you too.

He sends it and she responds almost immediately with a series of kissing emojis. He chuckles a little because her silliness is a rare thing. 

He recognizes other passengers from his flight as they bypass him on the way to customs. He scrolls through his cell phone quickly to make sure he hasn't missed any other messages. He walks absently toward processing, stands in line for another 15 minutes before he's finally released and exiting the international area. He is almost outside, pauses to order a ride, before he's stopped.

“Wolfgang?”

He turns around and schools his features to a polite facade. He recognizes Rajan's father almost immediately: Wolfgang doesn't like him for that single fact. But Rasal is also Kala's boss .

“Mr. Rasal.” Wolfgang nods at him, pocketing his phone. He shakes the older man's hand. “Just returning yourself?” he asks politely.

“No. I came here specifically to see you.”

Wolfgang's brows draw together into a frown, cautiously alert. “Oh?” They haven't exchanged more than polite greetings in the few times they've encountered each other, usually in the lobby of the office while Wolfgang waits for Kala.

“Yes.” Rasal gestures outside. “I can give you a lift back to your home.”

Wolfgang pauses, weighing his options before he decides to simply cut the shit: “What's this about?” he asks.

Rasal looks slightly taken aback but then chuckles appreciatively. “I think we can help each other, and I'd like to talk to you about it.”

Wolfgang feels a coldness creep through him. He deliberately turns his back, grabs the handle of his suitcase.

“I'm not sure what you think I can help you with,”  he says, beginning to walk away. “And I've ordered a ride, but thank you.”

Manendra Rasal shrugs and smiles. “I think you underestimate your value,” he says insistently, walking alongside Wolfgang, “but your wife certainly doesn't.”

Wolfgang stills. The coldness seems to settle deep in his gut. He wonders briefly if he should deny it, but throws away that option. “What do you want?” he asks instead. He stops walking and stares at Rasal.

“Let's talk in the car. On the way back to your place.”

Wolfgang assesses him quickly and nods, follows through the terminal to a car that pulls along the curb and waits for them.

Kala Dandekar is not good enough.

It takes Wolfgang a moment or two to understand this is what Manendra Rasal is really concerned with.

Rasal sits in the backseat of a private limousine with Wolfgang, seemingly relaxed, reminiscing about his company and Kala as an intern, noting her success despite her humble upbringing. Wolfgang says nothing; suspicious of the relevance.

Rasal comments more than once that Kala's father is a cook, his tone intentionally vague until the final time, when it is openly mocking. Wolfgang’s neutral expression becomes grim. Rasal seems to rethink his tact and goes silent. He taps his finger against his knee, gives up on the false pleasantries.

“My son has been infatuated with Kala for a long time,” he begins, and the way he says it makes Wolfgang tense. “I am sure that had cooler heads not prevailed, she would be my daughter by now, making babies and not synthetic protease inhibitors.”

The thought of Kala dutifully making babies with Rajan hits a particularly sensitive nerve. “What does this have to do with me?” Wolfgang finally asks.

Manendra eyes him distractedly, as if musing out loud. “I thought sending Rajan to India would help him see that he needs a wife who is more… traditional. Instead, it's made him more certain about Kala. He talks about her as if the year did not separate them. As if she is still the girl he knew. And not a woman living with another man.”

Manendra smiles a little. “You may not understand, and I know you may think me old fashioned, but to be perfectly frank, I am concerned that when you're done with her, Rajan will have her.” He turns expectantly to Wolfgang, shakes his head when Wolfgang doesn't respond. “Kala is an asset to my company, but that doesn't make her an asset to my family. And frankly I dislike - I despise - the thought of Rajan settling for another man's leavings.”

It takes Wolfgang several seconds to reign in a sudden, visceral anger: to unclench his fist and control the urge to smash it into Manendra Rasal’s smug face. “So you're saying,” Wolfgang says in deliberately measured tones, “that Kala isn't good enough because you think she's damaged goods?”

Rasal shifts a little in his seat, his expression simultaneously aggitated and defensive. “You don't understand, but I can't ignore she's unmarried and openly living with you. Rajan can have anyone. And what would Kala bring to my family, really? Nothing of value.”

Wolfgang fully expected Manendra Rasal to smooth a path for his son: to buy Wolfgang's disappearance from Kala's life. Wolfgang was prepared to tell him to eat shit.

That Rasal is of an opposite mindset is logically welcome news. But illogically it doesn't feel welcome. “What makes you think she will have Rajan at all?”  asks Wolfgang, not bothering to hide his scorn.

Manendra scoffs. “She would be a fool if she didn't. He can give her everything she desires.” Rasal looks at him archly. “And from honest pay. I think you can agree that your finances are significantly less robust. At least, since you've tried to break away from your family business.”

Wolfgang feels his cool facade slip. It's clear Rasal dug deep if he knows the Bogdanows are rumored to have interests outside of legitimate enterprises. Wolfgang deliberately unclenches his fists, tries to calm his temper. “I don't know what you mean,” he says softly, “but as for Rajan, I don't suggest he wait for Kala.”

Rasal gives a huff. “He won't,” he says. “Not for long. He is already asking about you.” Rasal smiles a little at finally catching Wolfgang’s full attention. “Since his return, he's kept a deferential distance from Kala; she seems content to live with you, even though we don't doubt that eventually she'll demand marriage. Rajan doesn't believe you will offer marriage; he was willing to wait and see how long before Kala knows this herself. But now I'm not sure how much longer he will passively wait.” Rasal notices the hostility the statement causes and he puts his hands out in a conciliatory manner. “I'm telling you because I know my son. He is honorable, and I think the only way he'll truly look in another direction is if you're married to Kala yourself.” Rasal stares unblinking at Wolfgang. “So I want you to marry Kala. I'll pay you to do so.”

Wolfgang feels the blood rush to his head in a single whoosh. He stares blankly at Rasal. “What?” he asks. He gives a humorless laugh. “Even if I wished, you already know I can't.”

Rasal eyes him sternly. “You've been separated over 3 years. I've asked my lawyers. You can get a divorce in Germany even if your wife is unwilling to give it.”

Wolfgang remains impassive. There had been a time when he had counted off every passing day of mandatory separation like a prisoner awaiting release. “It's not that simple.”

“No. So I understood. She has something, doesn't she? She said you'd know.”

The cold that had settled in his gut radiates and seeps into every corner of his being. Wolfgang stares hard  at Rasal. “You've talked to her?”

Manendra Rasal gives an unpleasant smile. “To the lovely Mrs. Bogdanow? It's more accurate to say that she talked to me. Or rather, to my investigator.”  He gives a careless gesture. “So I know her demand.”

Before the three-year separation was over, Lila discovered that Felix stole diamonds intended for Steiner.

To be fair, Felix didn't know they were intended for Steiner. He'd stolen the diamonds because he'd needed the money and saw an opportunity. He managed to sell all but two before Sergei discovered the theft, gone apeshit, and put a bounty on whoever had the balls to steal from him. Felix hid the diamonds in what he thought was Wolfgang’s abandoned flat.

Of course, Lila found them. Although unsellable, she recognized their value as a bargaining chip: if Wolfgang went through with divorce, she'd give them to Sergei and tell him where she got them.  She enjoys being outside of her father's control; a married woman with an absent husband. She had no interest in divorce. Felix was scared shitless.

Wolfgang stopped asking.

But two months ago, Wolfgang asked again, and this time, Lila was willing to negotiate, maybe -finally- starting to tire of life with the Bogdanows: sell the diamonds and she goes away without a word to Sergei.

Lila managed to smuggle the larger of the two to Wolfgang several weeks ago, keeping the second as insurance. He wired the proceeds of its sale to her account, but she'd been dissatisfied and upped her demand: 25,000 euros and she gives him the smaller second diamond and doesn't say a thing to Sergei. Wolfgang was livid.

“I owe her shit,” he says at last.

Manendra Rasal leans over, eyes narrowed. “She says she'll give 'it’ to you for 25,000 euros. She's willing to let you go without any argument. I'm willing to pay that. And I'm willing to pay you, too. Another 5 thousand. Just marry Kala Dandekar.”

Wolfgang scowls, torn between a deep disgust of Rasal and an aching need to start a life with Kala. He thinks about the debt this puts him to Rajan's father; wonders how much the diamond can bring to repay the money. Somehow, repaying the money makes it feel less mercenary.

Wolfgang tells Rasal he'll think about it.

Almost two weeks later, he is back in Berlin, to file for divorce from Lila Bogdanow.

......

Kala sits, rooted to her seat. “This doesn't explain why you had to leave suddenly. Why you never reached out to me.”

Wolfgang shakes his head. “I didn't plan to leave right away. Our fight..." Wolfgang shrugs, runs a frustrated hand through his short blond hair. "Call it coincidence. Fate. Sheer bad luck. Whatever. The day of our argument, I found out from Rasal that Rajan hired an investigator. Rasal purchased a ticket immediately, said I had to leave on the next flight to Berlin. It would not take long for Rajan to find out about Lila. I had to at least get the divorce filed. A lawyer was already hired for me.” Wolfgang shrugs, finishes the last of his bad coffee and stares at the empty bottom. “You weren't in the condo when I went to pack.”

“No.” Kala's throat clenches. She clears it a little before adding: “Timing is everything.”

He smirks humorlessly. “Yes.”

…...

He accepts Rasal's offer a few days after it's made: Rasal tells him to plan on an excuse to return to Berlin the following week.

Wolfgang is on edge. The worry that Kala will discover his lie looms heavy.

They fight the entire week; the week that becomes their last.

They fight over little things, over nothing, really: laundry left undone; an errand forgotten; an unexpectedly late evening at work. Wolfgang can hear it. He can hear himself twist Kala’s words the way his father had twisted his mother's, and Wolfgang always stops the minute he hears that tone, the minute he realizes what he does.

And always, always , there is frantic, passionate, make-up sex afterward, with very little foreplay and a desperate sense of urgency: As if each time he buries himself inside of her, he can bind them closer together.  

The night he leaves, they have their first and only epic argument.

And the last thing Wolfgang tells her is to marry Rajan.

Chapter Text

It's almost 10, and one of the baristas approaches them, reminds them the coffee shop closes soon.

Kala looks down in surprise at the disintegrated remains of her scone. She sweeps the crumbs into her palm, throws the mess into her cup. Wolfgang gets up when she does.

They go outside and stop beside their cars, turn to face each other carefully.

“When you left and then didn't come home that night, I worried that something happened to you.” Kala’s face is impassive, her voice even. “It was two days before I even heard from Will that you were alive, and another two weeks before he came over with just a little bit of news. But I tried to reach you too. I called. I wrote. Why didn't you return my messages?”

Wolfgang shoves his hands into his pockets, rests against the trunk of his car. He has no excuse. He's not sure he can explain himself even now, but he takes a breath. He tries.

He stares hard at the rear tire of Kala's SUV, at his feet, anywhere but at her. “I should have called on the way to the airport, but I was too angry. I didn't think straight. You weren't at home when I grabbed my things, and I thought..." Even now, he's ashamed to admit the irrational jealousy that consumed him, picturing Kala turning to Rajan for comfort. Instead, he sighs loudly, averts his eyes. "By the time I landed in Berlin, my phone was dead.” He gives an apologetic shrug.

“I called you when I got to Felix’s place. When you didn't answer, I told myself I'd leave a message later. Always later. I was stupid and angry. And then I wondered what I would even tell you.” He drags his eyes reluctantly to hers. “You may not believe me, but it never occurred to me that you'd be anything but angry. I didn't know until I saw your texts that you'd really worry like that. And then, I couldn't call you. I couldn't.”

“You didn't think I'd be sick with worry?” Kala asks, her voice finally betraying incredulity. “Wolfgang. What else was I to think when you didn't come home? When you didn't answer me?”

He stares back and the words die on his tongue. He'd been ready for her anger: ready to listen to furious rants about storming off, messages raging about immature behavior, texts threatening him with dire consequences. Instead, Kala only asked if he was safe; if he was coming back.

He was gutted. And from that moment, he'd simply felt too guilty, too ashamed, to call her.

……

Wolfgang reschedules his flight for a third time and stares at his second message from Will in under a minute.

    What the fuck am I supposed to tell her?

Wolfgang gives a huff of frustration. Fuck if I know, he thinks to himself.

Flying impulsively to Berlin to beat Rajan's investigator was a mistake: Lila isn't even in Berlin, and now Wolfgang has been there over a week, waiting her out. If he leaves, Rasal takes back his money, sitting in escrow with the German lawyer hired to handle the divorce.

Wolfgang stares at his phone. Kala has stopped messaging him.

The first two days, Kala left anxious voicemails and multiple texts, asking if he's ok, wondering if he's alive. He was taken aback; it wasn't the tongue-lashing he deserved for being an ass. If he'd thought it through, he should have known this would be her reaction. But he didn't, and he's horrified that he's done this to her: that he's caused Kala a single moment of worry. He's not sure how to undo it.

So instead, he doesn't answer Kala. Instead, he responds to one of Will's messages, just to say he's ok, and asks Will to pass it to Kala. 

She is relieved that Wolfgang is safe,  tells him how worried she'd been until that message, and it makes Wolfgang feel even guiltier than before. Kala messages a few more times, finally sends him one more text, noting his missing duffel. She asks him again where he's gone, when he'll be back. Wolfgang is silent. Then she stops messaging. That was days ago.

A scratching at the door draws his attention and Felix comes in, a case of beer in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other. “Lila's back in three days.” Felix kicks the door closed and walks to the kitchen, depositing his purchases on the counter. He opens two beers and hands one to Wolfgang as he joins him on the sofa.

Felix feels guilty: He's felt guilty for years, ever since Lila used the diamonds he'd stolen as leverage to keep herself aligned with the Bogdanows. Back then, Felix offered to buy them from her; he had most of the money from the heist, after he paid off the guys who'd helped him. Their fee had gone up considerably after Sergei threatened to kill whoever took the diamonds. She refused to sell them but took almost all of his money -and kept her marriage- in exchange for her silence. Wolfie had been looking forward to getting rid of her, but Felix was desperate to escape Sergei’s wrath.

Felix takes a drink from his bottle, eyes his brother worriedly. Wolfie has sacrificed himself enough.

“How do you know when she's back?” Wolfgang asks. No one else but Felix knows he's in Berlin; he doesn't want his family to know what he's doing.

“I went to her place.” Felix smirks. “I talked to that cute chick who lives with her. She said Lila comes home from wherever Sergei sent her this Thursday. So three days from now.”

Wolfgang nods. “I hope you're right,” he says. He is haunted by mental images of Kala, of their last time together. He hears himself shouting at her to marry Rajan as he storms out the door. Wolfgang absently takes a drink.

“Hey, I know I'm right.” Felix looks at him confidently.

Wolfgang broods for a moment before taking his phone out and messaging Will.

    Tell her I'm ok. I'll be back.

    Tell her I need to take care of something first.

He hits “send”. He doesn't wait long before Will's answer comes back:

     Tell her yourself.

Wolfgang stares before he puts his phone away.

…...

Kala leans against the side of her SUV, arms folded. “Did Will know where you were? What you were doing?”

Wolfgang pauses, nods reluctantly. Her eyes flash. “He guessed,” Wolfgang says, as if this will placate her.

Kala scoffs. “If your goal here is to purge yourself of the past,” she says, “to tell me what happened so you can rid yourself of whatever guilt you feel, then do so, Wolfgang. Don't try and spare my feelings, because there is no point now. The damage was done long ago.”

She takes a deep breath, meets his eyes. “I was hurt that you didn't answer me, but answered Will. And now, although I still don't understand, the gods help me, I believe you. I believe you never intended to disappear like that.” She catches her lip and considers before forging on: “But after you told Will you'd be back, I waited for you at the loft, and you never came. When did you come back, Wolfgang? Did you expect that I would be there forever?”

Suesse,” he says, reminded of their talk at the hospital. “I came back as soon as the papers were filed, before there was even a hearing because I was afraid I'd fucked things up already. I came back but you weren't there.”

“When?” Kala crosses her arms. “Four months after you left? Six? A year?”

Wolfgang’s eyebrows furrow; he shakes his head and meets her skeptical glare. “I told you, it was a few weeks later. Maybe five.” He catches the look that flashes across Kala's face and frowns. “Didn't your mother tell you I spoke with her?”

Kala stiffens, “No,” she says. She swallows a little.“You came back a month later?”

“I'm sure not longer than five weeks later.” He shuffles a little, realizing how poor that still sounds. “If she didn't tell you… Well, I've always known she never liked me.” He's not surprised Priya didn't bother to mention his visit.

He expected as much.

……

It's the middle of the third week when Wolfgang finally sees Lila. He arrives at her apartment around mid afternoon, shortly after she returns from Tegel. She is amused by his return: She's expected him since she talked to some investigator a month ago. She tells Wolfgang so as she watches him over the rim of her wine glass, smiles at the news that Wolfgang has the money.

“I knew you'd figure out a way, Baby.” She leans across the table and sets her glass down, lays her hand beside his and casually lets her fingers trace lightly over his knuckles. “You sure you still want the divorce? We used to have so much fun.”

Wolfgang makes a grunting sound and draws his hand away from hers, presses it into the glass of the table as he leans in, irritated by her games. “I couldn't be more sure.”

Lila looks at him thoughtfully, takes a sip of her wine before she smirks at him. "She must mean a lot to you," she says. Wolfgang glowers but doesn't respond.

Lila gives a slight laugh and leans in, her face close to his, her smile unwavering. “Ok, then,” she breathes. “I won't oppose the divorce, and you can have the last diamond. But,” she says, a look of innocence settling on her face, “I'm your abandoned bride of almost 7 years, and I'm not giving up anything else.” Her hand reaches up to caress his jaw. “Baby.”

As simple as it should have been to divvy up property when they'd been separated for so long, Lila fights over almost everything Wolfgang claims as his own. Two weeks later, he's frustrated and doesn't give a shit anymore about his flat in Mitte. He signs papers, wires her the 25 thousand euros, and when his lawyer tells him the hearing won't be for another two weeks, Wolfgang decides to go home in the interim, to Chicago. To Kala.

He steps into his own place with his heart thudding nervously in his chest.

He's come up with an explanation for why he left so abruptly and why he couldn't call her: something vague to do with Felix that contains enough truth for Kala to believe. Still, he didn't call ahead to let her know he's coming back, and he thinks too late that if she's asleep, he will startle her.

“Kala?” The loft is eerily silent, lit more by moonlight than anything inside.

Wolfgang drops his bag by the door and glances at the empty sofa where he found her the first time he came back from Germany. He is nervous as he heads quietly to the bedroom.

Kala isn't there.

There's a moment of panic when he strides to the closet; it gives way to relief when he sees her clothes still hung in tidy order on her side. But he notices that one of her bags is missing, and he wonders if she's gone to stay with Daya while he's away. Wolfgang frowns at the neatly laid shoes, notices only one pair missing. He doesn't dare call to ask her where she is, and Will long since stopped playing messenger or Kala's keeper.

Wolfgang walks to the bed and pauses to stare at its neatly-turned appearance. Kala made the bed every morning, even though most days they ended up leaving it disheveled again before rushing out the door. It was perpetually unkempt. It looks foreign now, unused.

He takes his coat off, strips to his boxer briefs. He resigns himself to finding Kala tomorrow and lays down in the unfamiliar space of his empty bed.

In the morning he drives to the apartment she shared with Daya, parks his car, and walks to the door like a man to the gallows. The night brought him fitful rest, dreaming of Kala and waking to a bed she should be in but isn't. The sheets smell of her. He makes the bed before he leaves.

He rings the bell and waits. It's Sunday, and Daya is usually asleep until mid afternoon, when she gets up to start her shift. No one answers, and he rings the bell again, repeats the action 3 more times before he concedes no one is home.

He drives back to the loft, texts Will even though it's early and they haven't exchanged messages in a while. He waits over an hour before Will responds that he doesn't know where Kala is; neither he nor Riley have spoken to her in over a week.

At mid-afternoon, he drives to Sanyam's restaurant, hoping to speak to Kala's father, but the restaurant is surprisingly busy: A visit now, under these circumstances, would not be met kindly. Wolfgang drives away.

He doesn't return to the restaurant that evening. He stays home in a vague hope that Kala will miraculously walk through the door. There's a part of him that recognizes the irony in the situation. He drinks most of the beer in the fridge before crawling back to bed.

On Monday, he wakes to a message from his lawyer that his case is pushed up the calendar; he must be there by Thursday morning.

With a feeling of inevitability, he calls Kala at work. He's directed to a general voicemail box, and when he punches “0” to talk to the receptionist, he finds out that Kala is out of the office. She's not expected in at all today. There is no additional information.

With his heart pounding in his ears Wolfgang finally calls Kala's cell. In his head, he rehearses what he'll say, anticipates her reaction and his response. But really, he is desperate to hear her voice. It has been too long. Her cell rings multiple times before a machine tells him that her mailbox is full. He can't leave a message.

Worry begins to creep in his head.

A little before lunch time, he drives back to the Dandekars’ restaurant. It's not yet open but he knows Kala's father is in the kitchen and the doors are unlocked for staff. Wolfgang goes in.

Kala's mother stands at the hostess desk by the door. She gives a start before her lips compress in displeasure. Wolfgang nods at her. “Hello.”

She frowns back. “What are you doing here?” she asks.

He flushes a little under the guilt of knowing he deserves her anger. “Is Kala here?”

Priya’s mouth drops a little at the question. “No she is not. And if you're asking, you must not have seen her either.”

He shakes his head, brows furrowing immediately in concern, and she tuts back, hands busy folding napkins. “Does she know you're here?” she asks without looking up.

“No. I tried calling but she didn't answer and her voicemail is full.”

Priya stops mid-fold and looks at him with a grim expression. “Good.”

“Good?” He tries hard to contain his impatience. “Do you know where she is?”

“I know she's with Daya. And I know she is well. She is more than well.” Priya stops speaking, thinks for a moment before she goes on. “I will be honest with you, Wolfgang. I do not know what it is that happened between you and Kala, but it has woken her up. She has a chance at a good future -a bright future- with a man who can give her everything and who loves her as if the sun rises and sets on her whim.”

As if he didn't. As if she isn't that to him.

Wolfgang takes a step forward and just stops himself from shouting at her. “She has that now,” he says instead. “You know she has that with me.”

“I know no such thing,” Priya snaps. Her dark brown eyes - Kala's eyes - bore through him accusingly. “A man who loves her would offer her marriage. Not a ‘living arrangement’. He would honor her and her family. I don't expect you to understand, but…” She shakes her head angrily and gives a heavy sigh. “If you love her, let her go. Daya told me Kala agreed to marry Rajan. She says Kala is moving back with her, and then Rajan will tell his father, make it official.” She eyes Wolfgang evenly. “She was meant for Rajan. They were meant to be together. Surely you must recognize that.”

“She doesn't love him.” It feels as if he is floating outside of his body, watching himself talk while his mind tries to make sense of what Priya tells him. Kala doesn't love Rajan. Kala loves him. He swallows. “When you see her, tell her I came here. Please.”

Priya frowns at him and purses her lips.

He tries Daya's apartment one more time before he returns to the loft.

He leaves Chicago the next day.

The next time he is there, Kala's things are gone. Her paintings, her clothes. All color from his loft is gone.

……

“Did my mother tell you then that I was marrying Rajan?” There is an odd stillness to Kala as she asks the question.

Wolfgang lets out a breath. “Yes. She told me Daya said so.” He shakes his head, frowns  a little. “I didn't believe it. But then Rasal called me. And I knew it was true.” Wolfgang goes quiet. “I tried very hard to forget,” he says, and the look on his face is strained.

Kala looks up at the sky and releases a soft sigh. She is silent for a long time before she turns to look at him. Her eyes are luminous. “You got your divorce?” she asks.

He nods, smiles humorlessly. “In the end it felt like nothing.”

She smiles back, the same quiet, humorless smile on Wolfgang's face. “You should have called. You should have spoken to me after you spoke with my mother. Even after Rajan's father called you. You should have spoken to me.”

He stares at her and wishes he can reach out to cup her face. To hold her and tell her he's sorry for everything. To ask if it's too late for her to forgive him.

“Would it have helped?” he finds himself asking, watching her downcast face intently. “If I'd called you and explained everything, begged for your forgiveness? If I asked you why you were marrying Rajan when you know I love you more than life? Would it have helped?” He would have moved Heaven and Earth for her.

Kala says nothing, her face hidden in a curtain of hair that trembles suspiciously.

“Tell me something,” Wolfgang says, and for the first time, his voice betrays an unnamed emotion, “Did you marry Rajan of your own free will? Did you do it because of your parents? Because of your mother?” He'd known the pressure she was under. He'd felt it.

When Kala finally raises her eyes to him, they are bright, but she isn't crying. She breathes deeply, and when she answers, her voice is steady. “No, Wolfgang. I married Rajan because I wanted to.”

Wolfgang sits back against the trunk of his car. The breath that escapes him feels sudden, as if someone lands a punch he doesn't expect.

He didn't know until that moment how much he wanted to hear that she didn't willingly marry Rajan Rasal.

Chapter Text

The parking lot is empty except for them.

Kala watches the last two employees of the coffee shop drive away, staring curiously at Wolfgang and her.

There's a heavy silence that settles in the air, but she has no desire to examine it. Maybe it's simply time to go.

Kala closes her eyes, reflects on what Wolfgang told her; a revelation of facts and emotions that's both overly complicated and ridiculously simple. Too many miscommunications fueled by insecurity over the one thing they had both been so sure of. If they really loved each other as much as they believed, would any of it have happened?

Kala thinks about the pictures, deliberately recalls each painful image. But they seem muted now. In context, knowing he'd believed she was marrying Rajan, she at least understands them. Given his self-destructive past -- before her, before Will -- she suspects Wolfgang did even worse than what the pictures show, if he had loved her. If he had thought he'd lost her. 

And for the first time, Kala feels a sudden sadness. The pictures that had tormented her and been the source of so much hurt for so long suddenly reveal something else. Something painful.

If only Wolfgang had told her the truth. If only he'd called her. If only she hadn't told Rajan or confided in Daya.

If only.

“I’m glad that the choice to marry was your own.” Wolfgang breaks the silence. He doesn't look at her, and she knows he lies. “Were you happy?” He gives a soft laugh, shakes his head as he realizes how silly that sounds in light of her divorce. “At least, for a little while?” he amends. “Did he make you happy?”

Did he? She thinks of Rajan, of the many things he did for her, of the many moments that made up her life with him, and it would be disloyal and untrue to say that he didn't make her happy. There were moments of happiness, of joy, even. Certainly more moments of happiness than not. But she always came back to the difficult truth that she was unsatisfied and she was suffocating. And she would drag Rajan to suffocate with her if she didn't set him free.

“Yes,” she says, and she smiles gently. “I was.”

He bobs his head in an awkward nod, but when he meets her eyes, she sees they are gentle, too. “Good. You deserved to be happy.” And she knows he means it.

 ......

Kala is loading the dishwasher when her phone buzzes. She answers and lets out a deep sigh: She loves her mother, but conversations have not been easy since she moved in with Wolfgang seven months ago. She leans against the cool granite countertop, resigned, and listens to her mother try to convince her to come with them on a month-long vacation. Daya can't go; Kala really should.

“Thanks, but I can't take off that long, Mom,” Kala says in English. She catches Wolfgang's eye as he clears off the table and walks by her with the last of the dishes. He puts them in the sink and pauses to kiss the top of Kala's head before he goes back to retrieve her half-empty wine glass and his empty beer bottle. “I wish I could, but I can't go with you and Dad to India.”

Wolfgang lifts his brows in surprise as he walks by her again. He throws his bottle in the recycle bin and holds up her glass questioningly. She shakes her head. He drinks the rest of her merlot before putting the glass in the sink. “No, I'm positive. Not for an entire month.”

She starts a little when she feels Wolfgang's arms wrap around her from behind, his legs loosely bracket her sides. He slides a hand down to coast over her waist and feel the curve of her butt while her mother talks on the phone.

It takes all of Kala's concentration to focus on her conversation and not the trail Wolfgang leaves with his tongue along the back of one ear and down the nape of her neck. This is a favorite game of his: distracting her while she's on the phone. It's been awhile since he's done this, and she suddenly thinks how much she misses it.

“Mmhm. Yes.” Wolfgang’s other hand moves to cup her breast and roll the nipple through the fabric of her cotton dress. She gives a soft gasp.

“Are you ok?” Her mother asks the question in English and Wolfgang hears it: Kala feels the smile on his face as he nuzzles along her collarbone.

“I'm fine Mom. What were you saying?” She bats his hand half-heartedly when he hitches up her skirt to reach between her legs. In truth, she misses this, too: the random intimate contact. The last few times they made love it followed a silly quarrel. Kala shifts without even thinking, letting his hand palm her, rub teasingly over the cotton panty to find the sensitive nub. Another breath escapes her and she's apologizing again to her mother as Wolfgang openly chuckles into her ear, teeth tugging at her earlobe.

“Mom, I'm sorry. Can I call you back? I'm in the middle of something. I'll call back.”  She barely manages to hit the “end” button on her phone and put it down on the counter.

“Coward,” murmurs Wolfgang into her other ear, even as his hands retreat from their ministrations and rest chastely on her hips.  

“You,” she says accusingly, turning to face him, pulse still racing, “are indeed a demon.”

“Oh?” He smiles down at her, eyes teasing, and her heart leaps. He’s been acting oddly the last few days, his playfulness dimmed since he came back from his trip. She asked him just this morning if anything is wrong. He denied it. But she doesn't believe him. She misses this: the Wolfgang who is teasing and laughs with his eyes. She wraps her arms around his neck; his hands rub long circles along her flank.

Kala nods. “Yes,” she repeats softly. “You are a demon.” Her heart swells. “But you are my demon.”

His smile widens and his eyes are soft before he arches her hips against his, tilts his head to kiss her. “Forever,” he whispers.

…..

“Maybe we should leave.” Kala moves from the side of her car, her arms wrap around herself. “It's late.”

Wolfgang's gaze shifts to her. “Yeah. Sure.” She meets the bright blue of his eyes, regarding her with an intensity she didn't fully remember until now. She doesn't flinch under it. “I didn't want you to think I left you and never came back.” He pauses, somber. “I was so angry before. It didn't matter what you thought. And then I saw you at the coffee shop.” He smiles suddenly and tips his head at where they are. “What is it about coffee shops?” he asks. Kala’s mouth quirks into an answering smile.

He’s silent again before he continues, his eyes so unguarded her breath catches. “Over the years, I thought it didn't matter what you must have thought. If your mother never told you I came back, and no one else knew, and the last words between us…” He pauses, shakes his head. “Until I saw you again, I thought I didn't give a shit what you believe. It didn't matter. And then I talked to you. And it did. It did matter.”

Kala chews on her bottom lip, leans back a bit against her SUV. “Why now? Why didn't you tell me everything back then? when you heard from Rajan's father?” She's not sure why she prolongs this conversation. He will ask the inevitable next question, and she isn't prepared to give an answer.

Wolfgang's mouth quirks. He shakes his head. “If I'd done it sooner, if I'd found you after you married Rajan, feeling the way I did…” His voice trails and he is silent for several long seconds before he shrugs and says simply: “You would have been a widow, Suesse .”

…...

They have lunch with both her parents on a day off. It's a rare event when her mother is present with Wolfgang, and Kala is already anxious when her mother brings up the subject of vacation again.

“It won't be until February, when tickets are off season.” Her mother beams hopefully at her. Kala smiles back, but she shakes her head.

“Maybe a couple of weeks, but not a full month,” she says. “That's plenty of time to visit family.”

“Oh no.” Priya looks at her daughter archly. “We are not visiting family. We will be staying in Udaipur. This is about relaxing.”

“Udaipur?” Kala lets out a short laugh. “My goodness! For the entire month? That will cost a fortune!”

“Oh no!” Priya throws a quick glance at Wolfgang, who hasn't said much in an attempt to behave himself. “We have a place we can stay for free.”

It takes less than a second for Kala to realize that Rajan must have offered the use of his home. She knows he has a residence by one of the lake palaces.

“Mom,” she sighs. “Really?”

Wolfgang quirks an eyebrow at Kala, but it is Priya who answers his unasked question: “Rajan just heard about Kala’s father, and he offered the use of his vacation place to relax,” she says to him, a little too eagerly. “So considerate, don't you think, Kala?”

Wolfgang sits a little straighter in his chair. Kala reaches under the tablecloth and places her hand on his knee. He grimaces back at her. Lately, any mention of Rajan irritates him, and Kala wills him to bite his tongue. “That was nice of him,” she says lightly, “but unnecessary, don't you think?”

“That's what I said,” agrees her father, pointing his fork at his wife. “I've said over and over it's completely unnecessary. I am well. No need to trouble him at all.”

“It would be rude to refuse when we were already planning a trip home,” argues Priya. “And he said it was no trouble. Why would he say such a thing if he didn't mean it?”

“To impress you, of course.” Wolfgang smiles at her but there's no warmth in his eyes.

Kala blanches, grip tightening on Wolfgang's knee. He ignores it.

“Impress us?” Priya's laugh is brittle. “What for?”

"Isn't it obvious?”  Wolfgang places the napkin from his lap over his finished plate, leans in a little at the table. “He wants Kala back. He thinks you'll convince her to leave me.”

Kala's hands ball into fists under the tablecloth. “Wolfgang,” she says quietly, her face flaming.

“It's true though, isn't it Suesse?” He looks at Priya with a faintly curious expression that Kala recognizes masks his anger. “I may not understand Marathi or Hindi or Gujarati, but if you think I can't pick out ‘Rajan’ from all the little side-conversations you have, you must believe I'm dull-witted. And if you think Kala hasn't shared those conversations with me, then you don't understand our relationship at all.”

“Wolfgang.” Kala's voice is strained.

“Oh, I understand your relationship with my daughter very well.” Priya’s eyes flash coldly.

Sanyam casts a quick glance at Kala, flushed and silent, and eyes his wife. “This is not the time to raise this, my love,” he says quietly.

“When is it?” she asks. “Kala should be thinking of marriage. A family of her own. Not settling for -” She gestures with her hands, at a loss for how to say what she wants.

“A living arrangement that makes her happy?” supplies Wolfgang. He flashes an insolent smirk at Priya. “And I make her. Very. Happy.” Kala can't tell whether the audible gasp is from her or her mother.

“We'd better leave.” Kala gets up from her seat, ears ringing, even as she hears her father agree with her.

...

They sit in stony silence as Wolfgang drives them home.

The silence stretches until they arrive at the loft. Kala lets them in and deposits her purse on the hallway table. Wolfgang trails behind her.

“Are you not going to speak to me at all? Ever?” he demands.

“You,” she says coldly, toeing her shoes off and bending to pick them up, “behaved like an ass.”

He makes a derisive sound, throws his hands up in mock defeat. He walks by her and goes straight to the kitchen, opens the fridge, and grabs a bottle of beer. “I don't know what you expected me to say.”

“Nothing. I expected you to say nothing.” Kala walks into the bedroom, angry that he let her mother goad him into such childish behavior, humiliated that he implied… Her face burns even thinking about it.

She puts her shoes in the closet, walks into the bathroom and turns on the shower, as if the water will wash away her humiliation. She steps in when the water is hot and steams the glass door.

She stands under the shower head for a long time,skin flush with heat, before absently soaping her body. She wonders for perhaps the dozenth time why Wolfgang is so easily baited by the mere mention of Rajan. She replays the last few minutes of lunch over and over, cringes at what Wolfgang implied to her parents. She shuts her eyes, leans her forehead against the slate-tiled wall.

She's not surprised when she hears the bathroom door open and close. She feels a heaviness settle in her chest. Of course he's here. It's a pattern they've fallen into since he's been back from his trip, and it wears on her.

“I'm sorry,” he murmurs. His naked body presses against her, cool and hard along the wet warmth of her own. His hands course appreciatively up her arms, trace her shape, rest possessively on her ass, kneading. She feels his cock already hard against the small of her back. He rolls his hips against her and she's almost amused at how quickly her body responds. She gives a low moan, feels the slickness between her legs that has nothing to do with the water.

Part of her wills herself to simply enjoy this: The inevitable sex that follows their arguments. But another part of her wants to stop this cycle: ask him why they are like this at all. It can't continue. "Wolfgang," she says, but her breath catches, her concentration scatters.

His hands arch her hips gently back, tilt her bottom as his fingers slide firmly into her core, causing a soft gasp that is between pain and pleasure. She clenches him inside of her and shivers as his fingers work until she's moaning over the sound of the water. His cock, stiff and needy, jerks against her ass, rubs in synch with the rise and fall of her hips riding his fingers. She hears him moan as the friction grows unbearable, his breath labored.  He shifts their bodies, slides his fingers from her so he can use both hands to run along her thigh, her hip, to finally lift her onto his cock.

She surfaces from a haze of sensuality.

“Wolfgang. Stop.” Kala barely whispers the words, but he pauses, and she knows he heard her. “Stop.”

His hands drop slowly from her body. He pulls away from her, and she opens her eyes, turns to face him. He stares back, eyes wide with frustrated desire. “This isn't right,” she says softly. “Something is wrong, and this is not the way to fix it.”

He stares blankly, as if unable to understand what's happened. He leans in, but her hands come up, press against his chest. He pauses; takes a steadying breath before he leaves the way he came in.

Kala feels her heart racing. She turns off the shower, grabs a towel to wrap around her, and follows him. He paces, nude, impervious to the chill against his damp skin, as water droplets mark where he stands. He stops abruptly when she nears.

“Wolfgang, what is happening?” she asks. “What is wrong?”

“The only thing wrong,” he says, voice raised, “is that I finally grew tired of ignoring your mother. That's all.”

“No!" She is emphatic; knows it's not the full truth. “No. This isn't just about my mother. This is about us. About why I'm late from work and we fight. About why I miss your call and we fight. We fight and fight, and instead of discussing it, instead of fixing it, you just want -”

“To fuck you?” His voice is cold, a flush creeps up to his neck. “I thought you liked that. I thought you liked fucking me.”

“Stop that.” She grows angry at his deliberate use of the word to shock her. “Just stop that.”

“It’s the best part of an argument, Suesse,” he says, mocking. “Make-up sex.” He shortens the space between them, eyes blazing, and reaches for her, tone suddenly cajoling: “Come on, Suesse,” he murmurs, ducking his head to kiss the sensative spot behind her ear. “Come on. I'm fucking ready to explode, don't tell me no.”

Kala twists away, wraps her arms around herself. Her eyes are huge in her pale face. “We need to talk.”

He drops his arms, face grim. “Are you going to hold out until we do?”

Her eyes grow impossibly larger. She stares back at him in disbelief. “Are you trying to make me feel guilty because I don't want to fuck you at this very moment?” The word spills awkwardly from her tongue, but neither see the humor. “This isn't about sex. This isn't about anything but why we are like- this.”

He turns and walks to his dresser, rifles through his drawers and grabs a t-shirt and underwear. He throws them on impatiently. “This is about sex. And this is about your mother.” He picks up his jeans from the floor where he'd left them, puts those on, too. “I'm sick of being compared to fucking Rajan and found lacking. I'm sick of your mother throwing him in my face. Fuck her.”

“Don't say that!” Kala feels as if someone else inhabits Wolfgang's body: someone angry and coarse and destructive.

“Fuck her!” he repeats belligerently, loudly, face tinged red. “You want someone who will kiss her ass? Who owns a home in fucking every part of the world? Then fucking marry Rajan.”

“Don't you dare leave, Wolfgang!” Her voice finally comes to the fore, even as he's walking away from her, out of the bedroom. She hears the entry door slam shut a moment later.

And it is over that quickly. That suddenly.

It is the last time she sees him.

 ......

Wolfgang gives a rueful but infinitely gentle smile: the kind that used to make her heart swell with love; the kind he used to have in abundance for her. "It's been a long time coming," he says, "but I'm sorry for what I said that day. For walking out like that. For scaring you and not having the courage or decency to call you. I'm truly sorry, Kala."

Her breath comes out in a single sigh. She hadn't realized she was even holding it in. 

"Well…," she nods, at a loss at the unexpected apology. "It was a long time ago. But I'm glad you told me after all.” She fishes the car keys from her skirt pocket. “I appreciate your tenacity.” She smiles faintly, turns away to walk to the driver's side of her vehicle.

“Kala.”

She pauses, looks over at Wolfgang. “Yes?”

He takes a deep breath. “After I left,” he asks, “after you didn't hear from me, did you discover that you really loved Rajan?” He pauses, clears his throat. “Did you realize you didn't really love me?”

Despite herself, her expression softens. Kala shakes her head. “I really loved you, Wolfgang,” she says quietly.

He runs a hand through his short hair, thinks for a moment. “I spent a long time trying to forget you.” He shrugs slightly. “Everything reminded me of you. Of how I fucked it all up.” She makes a little noise of protest; he looks up and smiles faintly. “I know I did. But I consoled myself thinking you did the right thing, marrying Rajan. I only worried you did so because of your family.” He is silent again for a moment. “But if you didn't do it because you were pressured, why did you marry him so soon? You wanted to?”

“I did. I wanted to." Kala unlocks her car door. Her face is shuttered, guarded, but she turns to meet his gaze. “And I mean it, Wolfgang: I'm glad we've had this talk.”

She opens her door and gets in, almost shuts it behind her before Wolfgang's voice stops her.

“I wish,” he says, but he doesn't finish the thought, his voice wistful.

There's a faint smile on her lips. "I wish, too," she says. “Goodnight, Wolfgang.”

She closes her door, starts the car; she pulls away from the parking lot. When she looks in her rearview mirror, he still stands where she left him, staring after her.

 

Chapter Text

 

Kala lays in bed the next morning, eyes firmly closed because it's Saturday and it's 5:30am and she's only slept - if you can call it that - for three hours.

Every time she closes her eyes, Kala's mind fills with restless memories, revisited under a different light, a different perspective, even though learning why Wolfgang disappeared and what happened  to him while he was gone doesn't really change anything .

She thinks about the great irony in Papaji's involvement. Had he just left things alone, had he just let matters unfold, she would not have married Rajan. She would have learned of Wolfgang’s marriage, eventually. But it would not have led to marrying Rajan.

She turns to her side and wonders what would have happened if she'd been home when Wolfgang returned to pack, or when he came back to look for her. What would he have said? What would she have done?

Kala thinks too much about these things. She's bothered that she entertains these thoughts at all, because they make no difference to her present reality. She's divorced. She's moving to Toronto. She's starting a new job.

Knowing what happened to Wolfgang, why he did what he did, changes nothing.

……

Kala waits, brooding, for Wolfgang to come back. She turns on the tv, pays no attention to the show that's on while she watches the time go. She thinks about messaging him but decides against it, convinced they need to both cool down.

She is shaken by their argument. They'd never fought so bitterly before; he's never shouted at her like that, just as she's never shouted back with such anger.

When Daya calls, having heard of the disastrous lunch from their mother, Kala jumps at the chance to get out of the condo, meet Daya at the pastry shop down the street.

But by dusk, Wolfgang still hasn't returned, and Kala begins to worry. She finally sends him a message, but he doesn't respond. He still doesn't answer when she calls him at 10 in the evening.

An hour after that, she calls Will.

He barely keeps her from filing a missing person report. He tells her, in his Officer Gorski voice, that Wolfgang is a grown man, not unknown to disappear for a few days. Ok, maybe not since he's been sober. And maybe not since she's known him. But it's not unlike Wolfgang. Wolfgang is probably blowing off steam somewhere.

She doesn't believe Will. Wolfgang has never ignored her. But she defers. She's never seen Wolfgang so angry, but Will would know. She tries to sleep, convinces herself Wolfgang is fine. 

The next day, there is still no word from Wolfgang.

Kala barely sleeps or eats for two days until Will finally receives a text and calls her: Wolfgang is ok. She almost bursts into tears on the phone, asks if Wolfgang says where he is or when he'll be back. But  that's all Will knows.

It's enough for the time being.

Kala murmurs her thanks to Will. She gives in to relief and exhaustion and crawls into bed and sleeps.

...

The next few days, she finds it difficult to get up.

Kala lays in bed, relives the argument in a semi-permanent loop. She wonders each time whether she shouldn't have just given in, but knows that wouldn't have been right. She's certain something had been bothering Wolfgang, something that made him defensive and on edge. And always, there's the nagging fear that something happened, that she'll never see him again.

There are deadlines for projects but Kala calls in sick to work for three days. It is so unlike her that Rajan calls to make sure she's fine. Daya visits, but Kala refuses medication. Kala agrees to return to work and finally does so on the fourth day.

In the beginning, it's difficult to concentrate. She leaves messages to Wolfgang that go unanswered, and she wonders if they even reach him. She contacts his cousin Steiner, whom she has only met once and knows dislikes Wolfgang, but he gives her a vague, evasive answer, as if used to long periods of no communication. 

In an odd way, she finds this comforting.

Something Steiner says makes her think to look in the closet, and she notices for the first time that a small duffel bag - the one Wolfgang uses as his carry-on - is missing. Some clothes are gone, too, but since Wolfgang never brought his toothbrush or razors or other personal items when traveling, it never occurred to her that he could have truly left. But why? She sends Wolfgang a message, asking again when he's coming back, if he's ok. If he'll please answer. 

It's the last message she leaves for him.

Kala settles to a rhthym of uneasy days and fitful nights. She speaks to Will for assurance; he is steadfast in his belief that Wolfgang is alive.

A little over two weeks after Wolfgang disappears, Will shows up at the loft, in uniform, pale-faced and uncomfortable. Daya is already there, and Kala almost panics, thinking the worst. When Will only tells them that Wolfgang messaged him to say again that he's fine, and he'll be back after he takes care of something, Kala's initial relief quickly turns into hurt that Wolfgang has yet to contact her at all. She feels betrayed, slighted.

The hurt fans a little ember of rebellion. It motivates her to focus on other things besides worrying about Wolfgang. She throws herself into her projects like they're lifelines: She gets in early, works late, collapses every night to the loft where she lays in bed and sleeps for a few hours before getting up again. She is tired and sluggish with little appetite.

At the end of her first full week back to work, she goes to dinner with Daya but doesn't finish her salad. She takes a cab back, gets ready for bed, and watches the news for several minutes before she gets up to use the bathroom. She walks by the dresser, takes a package she purchased weeks ago from the drugstore but had been afraid to use.

A few minutes later, she is shaken but relieved to finally know for sure: She is pregnant.

…..

Kala is at work, eating at her desk, when Daya calls. Kala hesitates for a second before wiping her hands and picking up her phone.

“What's up?” she asks, glancing at her clock. “Are you cancelling this afternoon?” Daya is supposed to help her bring boxes of things she's not taking to Toronto to their mother's house. Daya is not on call and Kala took the rest of the afternoon off.

“He's here,” says Daya. “What do you want me to tell him?”

There's no need to clarify who “he” is. “He's where? ” asks Kala instead.

“I'm at the hospital.” Daya sounds guilty. “I wanted to check on a patient. An old man who's been there a few days with no family here and he speaks English but it's easier to speak Hindi. And he kinda looks like Dad.” Daya pauses, aware she's rambling. “Anyway. Wolfgang is here, at the hospital. They told him I'm not on call but that I'm expected. And he waited. He's been here since 9. He even ate at the cafeteria.” Daya sounds genuinely horrified. It's 1:30 in the afternoon.

Kala's heart feels stuck in her throat. She told a skeptical Daya what happened last Friday after work. By the end, Daya was looking weary and sympathetic. That was 5 days ago.

“What do you want me to tell him?” Daya asks again. “Should I just avoid him?”

Kala chews on her lip, thinks before she gives a resigned sigh. “No. Go talk to him,” she says quietly.

Daya is silent for a moment. “What do you want me to say if he guesses?”

Kala doesn't doubt he suspects the truth. “You can tell him to see me. At home.” She smiles ruefully. “I guess that means I'm cancelling this afternoon.”

Daya sighs into the phone. “Yup.”

……

It's Wednesday, and Kala's team has a presentation to make about preliminary results for a drug they're nurturing for FDA approval. She feels ill from the beginning, but when someone sits next to her at the table with a cup of black coffee, she excuses herself and makes her way quickly to the women's restroom. She dry-heaves into a toilet for several long seconds before she feels well enough to exit the stall. The face that stares back at her in the mirror as she rinses her mouth and washes her hands looks gaunt and fragile. She feels remarkably sorry for herself.

Rajan is waiting for her in the hallway. “Are you alright?” he asks. “I saw you rush in there. Are you ill?”

Kala shakes her head, meets Rajan’s concerned gaze, and something about the kindness in his dark eyes causes her own to well with unshed tears. He looks around quickly and guides her into a vacant office where she spends the next several minutes fighting for composure.

Rajan waits until she looks more herself before he asks what's wrong. “Is it Wolfgang?” he guesses gently.

She rubs her temples with unsteady hands. “I'm sorry,” she murmurs, face flushed. “I shouldn't be talking about this here, at work. I need to go back to the presentation.”

He waves dismissively. “I'm talking to you as your friend,” he says. He gives a sigh, reaches out and takes a trembling hand in his. “We've known each other since University, Kala,” he says. “Please. You haven't been yourself. You can tell me.”

She's not sure what possesses her to do so, other than her hormones and her self pity and the  fact that Rajan was always an excellent listener. But she finds herself unburdening to him: She tells him about the argument, although she doesn't give details. She tells him Wolfgang left, and that he's been gone for weeks. She finds herself confessing that she hasn't spoken to Wolfgang since their fight.

Rajan lets her talk, watches her face keenly. “Is that why you've been on sick leave so much the last few weeks?” he asks quietly.

 Kala's eyes meet his briefly. She mumbles a “yes”, gives a weak shrug. He nods his head, but presses forward delicately, “Have you been feeling a bit ill too? I mean-” Rajan stumbles, goes very red.

Kala meets his gaze directly. “Are you asking if I'm pregnant?” she asks, and watches with some interest as his face grows impossibly redder. “I am, Rajan.”

As dark as he'd been just a moment ago, Rajan pales. His grip on her hand tightens. “That bastard,” he says quietly, and Kala's eyes grow wide at the tone that comes from him. Rajan is furious, more furious than she has ever known him to be.

She shakes her head quickly. "No! No. It's not like that. I just found out a few days ago.” She gives a slight huff, suddenly irritated. “He doesn't know. How could he know when he won't talk to me?”

She grows silent. Rajan takes a deep breath, his face tense. “What are you going to do?” he asks.

“Do?” Kala removes her hand from his. She had suspected her pregnancy for some time. She had weeks to ponder “what if”: to picture the disappointment on her parents’ faces, the censure from family friends. She had time to contemplate how to continue a career and raise a child, maybe by herself, although she can't help but picture Wolfgang there, too. She comes to the same conclusion each time.“I want this baby, Rajan.”

He is surprised, sits back against his heels. “Are you sure?” he asks.

Kala nods. “Yes.” Her fingers link and unlink in her lap, but there is no hint of uncertainty in her voice. “I know how difficult this will be for my family, and I know how difficult this will be at work. I understand these things. But I'm 28, Rajan, a grown woman. Not some frightened teen. And a baby-” She can't explain the sudden welling of emotion. She can't. But it has been all she can think about, and she feels so very ready. “I would like it very much.”

Rajan nods slowly, puzzled by her determination. He looks at her closely. “What if Wolfgang doesn't want this baby?” he asks.

Her pale face grows a little paler, but she merely shakes her head, says nothing. Had it been two months ago, she would have laughed and been certain of Wolfgang's joy. Now, she's unsure, and the doubt she has feels like a physical pain.

“Kala.” Rajan brushes his hand through his hair, paces a little, eyes filled with concern. “How long are you going to wait for him?” he asks. “What if it takes months?” He looks almost frantic, and she understands. The scandal that will fall on her will do so at work. Many, if not most, of the employees at Rasal Pharmaceuticals are Indian, with traditional values that will undoubtedly censure her unmarried state. She thinks of her colleagues in the lab, knows exactly which ones will whisper.

Kala can't bring herself to care. But Rajan. She eyes him sympathetically.

“Kala,” he says, “marry me.”

……

Kala leaves the office at 3 and is home in less than half an hour, traffic being light. She parks her car, exits her side, and opens the passenger door to grab a box from the seat. Her framed degrees, professional accolades, photos are carefully stacked inside. A second box on the floor is filled with books and is too heavy to carry with the first box. She leaves it and locks the car, carrying her framed mementos to her flat.

Daya called a little over an hour ago. Wolfgang had guessed about the pregnancy. Daya couldn't confirm it; she gave him Kala's address and told him to see her.

“I never in a million years thought I would ever say this, Tai .” Daya pauses and finally gives a deep sigh. “But I feel sorry for Wolfgang.”

Kala has been trying to distract herself ever since. 

Kala sets her box on top of others in a corner for the movers to take. It's the only one marked “office”, and she stops, realizing that she's never worked anywhere else in over a dozen years. There's a faint panic before it settles into that familiar feeling of exhilaration. She can do this. 

Kala goes about the business of sorting clothes, separating things she'll donate and things she'll keep; what she'll put in storage and what she will bring with her in her car.

Wolfgang doesn't appear at her doorstep in the next hour. Or even two. By 6, she wonders if he's coming at all. She remembers the box of books and takes her keys.

His car is parked behind hers. Kala pauses at her doorway before she takes a few more steps on the stoop. Wolfgang sits on the stairs, his back facing her. There's a smell of cigarette smoke.

She walks slowly down the steps until she is on the street and turns to face him. He puts out the cigarette and turns his gaze to meet hers. They are almost level, and Kala's breath hitches in her throat. His eyes are raw; the carefully maintained stubble along his face, rough and overgrown. He looks lost: His short blond hair sticks out as if he's been running his hands through them haphazardly. He looks like shit.

“How long have you been sitting here?” Kala asks.

He gives a faint smile. “I don't know.” He shrugs. “It could be hours. It feels like days.”

She nods at that but frowns. She gestures up the stairs. “Why don't you come in, Wolfgang,” she says.

He lets out a breath, runs a hand through his hair and nods. “Yes,” he says, getting up. “Thanks.”

Kala leads him up the stairs, her box of books momentarily forgotten.

……

Kala tells Daya that she felt ill at work and ended up admitting the pregnancy to Rajan. Daya’s only known about the pregnancy for a day herself. She is shocked that Kala told Rajan, and even more shocked that Rajan proposed. Daya jokes that she will tell their mother this, just to get her off their backs. She marvels what would make Rajan do such a thing.

“He says he feels a little responsible,” says Kala, amused. Daya nearly chokes on the pizza she brought to the loft for their dinner. “He thinks if he hadn't left to take charge in New Delhi, this would never have happened.”

“Mmm,” hums Daya. “I can't tell if that's ego or true love.”

Kala laughs, but the words stick with her.

…..

“I think I have a beer left in the fridge, if you want it.” Kala lets Wolfgang into her flat and gestures to an empty chair by the television while she heads into the kitchen. He looks around at the neat stacks of labeled boxes and piled things and sits carefully on the old stuffed club chair that had been her father's.

He thanks her when she returns with a bottle. She holds a glass of water and sits on the edge of the ottoman nearby.

There's an uncomfortable silence that falls for several seconds before Wolfgang finally clears his throat. “Daya gave me your address. She said it was ok; she said to talk to you. I went to see her first, you know.” His voice is low, faintly raspy. His German accent, usually barely noticeable, is pronounced. “She said she couldn't tell me anything. Privacy laws.” He looks up and catches the faint smile on her face. He smiles back, but it fades quickly. “As soon as she said that, I knew I was right. Because what's to keep private if I'm wrong?”

He holds the bottle loosely but doesn't open it. He continues, almost to himself: “I was never as certain about anything in my life as I was of us, how we felt about each other. I didn't believe your mother that you were marrying Rajan. I didn't believe it until Rasal called me, when I returned to Germany.”  He looks back at Kala. “He wanted his money back. Threatened to put me in jail. I told him I'd tell his son what he'd done. He didn't bother me after that. But I didn't give a shit what he tried to do. I'd already lost everything because of him. You were marrying Rajan."

Kala finds she's wrapped both hands around her glass, fingers laced together. He shifts a little toward her, eyes steadily on hers. “All this time I blamed your mother the most,” he says softly. “I thought she'd turned you against me; made you realize you should be with Rajan, that you never loved me. But then you told me the other day that you really did." He searches her face, but she is carefully poised, silent. “Since then, I couldn't help wondering about it: if it's true. Because how could you marry another man so soon, then? Why would you? I only had one idea why.” He sits back, his eyes intense. “Kala, were you pregnant?”

For a brief moment, it occurs to her to lie. She doesn't know why. It serves no purpose. But it hangs in her mind for a second.

But Kala doesn't lie. She nods her head, says “yes”. "But not when I married Rajan," she adds.

Wolfgang is very still. His eyes dilate and flicker with emotions he doesn't bother to disguise, and she is unsettled by them, she doesn't want to see. Kala looks down at the water in her glass, catches her reflection frowning back at her.

“Kala?”

Her name sounds like a breath, and she finds herself looking back at him, at the unsettling blue in his weary gaze, at the flush that stains his cheeks. He licks his lips and her eyes dart of their own volition to his mouth. “Kala. Did you?” he asks softly.

It takes her a moment to understand what he asks, and her eyes widen; an ache, a shudder ripples in her chest. She closes her eyes shut. “Wolfgang,” she says, suddenly fierce. “I wanted that baby. I wanted that baby. But I lost her. On the day you came back, I lost her.”

…..

She knows something isn't right.

Kala wakes up late Saturday morning but decides she needs to go to the lab to catch up on her work. She feels weighted, as if she's moving underwater, and she's achy.

She is in the shower when pain radiates along her back, and something similar to menstrual cramps seizes her abdomen. She barely finishes bathing and has to pause coming out of the shower.

She is spotting; not significantly, but enough to raise concern. She cleans herself off and uses a pad. Instead of dressing for work she throws on a robe and lays back down in bed. She falls asleep for an hour before she wakes up again from the cramping. She checks the pad and notices the spotting hasn't stopped. She calls Daya, who tells her it's best to go to the emergency room of the nearby hospital; Daya will meet her there. Kala doesn't even have a doctor yet: Her Ob/Gyn is a friend of her mother's, and Kala didn't want her to know. 

Kala doesn't go to the hospital right away. She dresses, makes the bed, calls her supervisor to say she's not going into work after all. When she finally leaves for the hospital in a taxi, she is eerily calm.

Daya is already at the ER, on the phone trying to reach her. Kala barely acknowledges her sister when she approaches the admissions desk. She tells the woman behind the computer that she's bleeding. She's losing the baby.

The doctor tells her miscarriages are common in one of every ten women under the age of 30.

Kala's eyes never waver from the doctor's; she hums her understanding. But she feels numb. Colder than she's ever felt in her entire life. Lonelier than she's ever been despite the steady presence of Daya.

There is no reason why Kala can't become pregnant again and carry a child to full term. She is young and healthy; no bad habits.

Kala nods her head because it seems as if a response is expected of her.

The fetus had not been outside of the uterus, as they'd first thought, and the miscarriage had been complete. The examination shows no need for a “D&C”, a surgical procedure to ensure there are no remaining tissues.

Kala had shut her mind down during the examination, ignoring the invasive process to check and recheck that all signs of life are now well and truly gone. All she had wanted to do was lash out at the strange hands and wail her grief.

She had been seven weeks pregnant. She suspected the last three, known for certain in a little over one.

Her logic tells her she has no reason to mourn. But her heart…

She listens to the doctor, gives the proper responses, feels Daya's hand in hers. But she is bereft and she is confused and all she can think is how badly she had wanted that poor baby, and wonder why Wolfgang isn't with her, mourning their loss.

A little girl with your large, dark eyes and wild black hair?

She can't complete the thought.

......

“I spent three nights in the hospital, mostly at Daya's insistence. I should have been gone after one. I would have been at the loft when you came back.” Kala opens her eyes, clear and cutting. “But I'd lost a lot of blood. I had more complications." She takes a breath. Daya had been worried. "Daya brought me clothes, stayed with me, and then I went home, to the loft. On Tuesday. On the day you left.”

Wolfgang stares at her, and she notices that his face is aged, his eyes ragged. His hands are clasped tightly together, the unopened bottle on the floor, beside him.

"I called in sick to work and I spoke to Rajan. I told him he didn't need to marry me because I was no longer pregnant.” She smiles faintly, but there is no humor in the gesture. “He said it didn't matter. He still wanted to marry me.” She sighs, shakes her head. “I still held out hope that you'd come back soon, that you'd finish whatever it was that you needed to do. I had wanted to tell you about the baby. I loved you but I hated you for not being there.”

She stares at her glass, brows furrowing. “Then I received these pictures. Maybe they were from Rajan's investigator. I don't know. But they were of you, in a club and out in public.” Her face flushes a deep red. She finishes the water in her glass. “You were obviously having a great time. There were a few photos of you with - people.” She stops abruptly, catches her lower lip at the corner. “I felt sick to my stomach. I'd just lost a baby. And it looked like you were fucking half of Berlin. I was so angry. And still..." She shrugs, not sure what else to say. She is silent for a moment, but then gives a soft sigh. "I told Rajan I would marry him. It seemed right. He loved me. He was safe."

Kala looks up then from her confession, catches her breath in surprise. She's never seen sadness etched so profoundly on Wolfgang's face, never seen tears linger in his eyes until the first spills unheeded. Kala reaches impulsively to touch it; she makes a soft sound, cups his face.

Wolfgang weeps quietly into her hands, his fingers wrapping gently around her wrists. He tilts his head to place a broken kiss on each palm. He murmurs her name, whispers “I'm sorry”.

He had the hubris to believe he was the wronged party: that once she learned what happened to him, she'd understand he wasn't a villain. But instead, he learned he was the worst kind of villain. He was a coward. He had been too afraid to face Kala. He should have been with her.

It is several minutes before Wolfgang is able to look at her. Kala frowns a little, traces his jawline as if reacquainting herself with a memory. He shuts his eyes and breathes her in. "I'm so sorry, Suesse," he murmurs.

"Wolfgang,” she says gently, and when he opens his eyes he sees her watching him, sad but soft, “it’s okay. We weren't meant to be. We weren't meant to have -” she stops, because it is too much to admit now. But he suspects what she is about to say.

She brushes his hair back with her fingers, smiles fondly at the familiar cowlicks that stand straight up despite her effort. Her palms drag across his cheeks to wipe them dry. She is remarkably composed, even when his hands reach up to hold her wrists again, keep them to his face. His eyes ache and ache.

“Kala.”

She lets out a soft breath, doesn't protest when his hand reaches to the back of her neck, guides her head gently down so their foreheads touch lightly.

“Kala.”

There is a world of pain and regret and longing in his voice. She closes her eyes briefly, feels an ache in her throat.

“I wish…” he murmurs, his mouth close to hers.

“I know,” she says quietly. She brings her hand lightly to the nape of his neck and kisses him.

 

Chapter Text

Wolfgang is afraid to breathe, to close the space between them.

It has been forever.

And yet, he remembers the taste of her as if they'd never stopped being lovers. As if five years hadn't come between them to challenge impossibly heady memories of taste and touch and smell.

Kala.

He hardly knows whether he says her name aloud or if he merely thinks it. He hardly cares that his soul is bared for her in that single utterance. His forehead touches hers, his hand strokes the nape of her neck. He is finally holding her, and he is overwhelmed.

......

Wolfgang leaves work early. He tells his uncle he's sick and Sergei fixes him with a glare but otherwise merely waves him off. Since returning to Berlin, Wolfgang volunteers to work in the gray area of his family business. He’s proven himself a better boxman than his father, and Sergei is more than pleased. So if Wolfgang occasionally fails to show up at the office for legitimate work, or chooses to leave after putting in an hour or two, Sergei isn't complaining.

Wolfgang walks out of the office and pauses, directionless. He feels a need to get blisteringly drunk.

Goddamn Will Gorski.

After four months of silence, Will sent a message last week: Kala is marrying Rajan next Friday.

Today is Kala's wedding day.

……

Wolfgang's heart beats so loudly the roar of blood is in his ears. His mouth tilts a whisper from her lips, but he hesitates, so uncertain of her that he's left with nothing but “I wish ” inadvertently sighed into the silence. It hovers over them, as it did in the parking lot of the coffee shop, raw and strangely honest.

The one thing in his life worth fighting for, and he'd been beaten by shadows: all this time wasted because of him.

But Kala relaxes against him. “I know,” she says gently. And it is Kala who closes the gap between them, lifts her hand to lightly press against the back of his neck, and brings her lips to touch his, chaste and undemanding.

......

Wolfgang walks to his car, anger and frustration mounting with each step.

He had felt wild panic: There was still time. But time for what? What was he supposed to do? Fly the fuck out there and confess everything? Beg her to stop the wedding? He is in Berlin. He is back to a life not suited for marriage and a happily-ever-after.

Meanwhile, that devoted limp-dick probably shadows Kala like a puppy, showers her with everything she can want without fear of enemies looking to kill them. Wolfgang gives a bitter smirk, throws an angry punch at the hood of his car, leaving a faint dent, scraping his knuckles.

He thought Kala married months ago; Rasal had the balls to call and complain. Wolfgang had never felt so murderous in his life. He doesn't recall much of what he said to Rasal, but suspects he might have threatened him. Maybe Rajan. Likely.

After that, he spent a destructive few weeks getting Kala out of his blood; accept that she's married to someone else.

His gut twists painfully. To have to go through it again...Fuck Will Gorski.

Wolfgang ignores the batshit crazy idea that he's been given a second chance to fix things when he thought she was lost to him already. He can't.

He heads to a bar, watches a Dortmund friendly on tv while he steadily drinks. Felix meets him after work, sobers him up a little by ordering some food. They hang out until well past 9, drunk again after multiple shots. Felix for once is tired and wants to go home.

Wolfgang doesn't want to go home. He is shit-faced, but he drags Felix to a notorious club where it doesn't matter that it's only 10 pm: The crowd is already half-high and the other half is fucking in unlit corners. It suits his mood.

It's 3pm in Chicago, and Kala is getting married.

He loses Felix early on, disappears into one of those corners with a tourist who likes it rough, if the blatant groping on the dance floor is an indication. If Wolfgang feels a sudden hopelessness as he imagines what Rajan is doing at that very moment, he buries it in the tourist who doesn't care if he walks away with some bruises, souvenirs from his hot German hookup.

And if the sex doesn't completely erase the images in his head, or fill the void that threatens to swallow him whole, Wolfgang tells himself it's all he deserves.

......

Kala's lips touch Wolfgang's firmly; in that moment, he is shocked by how quickly desire shoots through him. He doesn't return Kala's kiss, mesmerized by the surrealness of the moment. Her lips lift slightly from his.

And then his hand buries itself firmly into her curls, catches her before she pulls any further away. His eyes sweep her face, and she looks back with a dazed expression that seems to understand his unspoken question. He leans in as he brings his mouth to meet hers. He tastes the salt of tears as he drags his tongue over her lips, slipping between them on her soft moan.

He tries not to be greedy, painfully aware of the fragility of the moment, but he is starved for her: He kisses hungrily, tasting everything she offers, restraining the urge to drag them both down to the floor.

Kala's tongue pushes against his, exploring his mouth as needily as he explores hers. He moans when he pauses long enough for her tongue to glide over his, slip to stroke the soft underside. Their hands touch boldly, skim over bodies that arch under the constraint of clothes. Wolfgang's mouth moves to her cheek, her chin, follows the curve of her tilted neck with his tongue and sucks on the sensitive dip at her collarbone.

He breathes her in and his senses are assaulted by the memory of her. He is drunk on the knowledge that he is finally home, with Kala. Where he's always belonged.

......

Kala's eyes dart around the crowded hall as she is carried down the aisle in an elaborate crimson and gold bridal doli.

There is a part of her that looks on in disbelief.

Four months ago, she moved back in with Daya, shutting the door both literally and figuratively on a life with Wolfgang. If anyone had told her then that she would be marrying someone else this soon, she would have called them crazy.

Rajan had not brought up the topic of marriage since her miscarriage. He offered her support and friendship in the days that followed, never pressing the idea of even dating again. So when Rajan formally proposed, Kala was caught by surprise. She rejected him out of hand, but he'd looked so hurt she agreed to think about it.

She didn't tell anyone for a week. When she finally told Daya, Daya had only sighed. “He truly loves you,” she said. “He will never treat you like Wolfgang did.”  Kala thinks about the pictures of Wolfgang, thinks about his betrayal. It was the most effective argument for accepting.

Kala sees her mother, already under the mandap with her father, bubbling over with joy. Her mother's astrologers insisted that the optimum time for the wedding, to assure much happiness and many children, is three months from the engagement. Kala suspects her mother agreed with a quick date because she worried that any later, and someone would call off the wedding.

Her father, however, watches gravely as the doli nears. He worries at her decision to marry Rajan so soon. He waited for her to tell him why, to assure him of her decision. But for the first time in her life, Kala said nothing to her father. She didn't want to talk about any of it. She doesn't ever want to talk about any of it. When Kala walks around the fire, her hand in Rajan's, and recites her vows, she does so with a determination meant to assure her father as much as herself.

She greets Riley and Will at the western style reception. They look at her with concern, but they kiss her and wish her happiness. If they heard from Wolfgang at all, neither tell her. She feels the sting of tears and smiles. If they notice that the smile doesn't quite reach her eyes, they say nothing.

......

Wolfgang murmurs something ridiculous, something achingly sweet, in her ear, when Kala suddenly breaks away. She brings her hands up from his bare abdomen, rests them against his chest while her own rises and falls raggedly. “ Wolfgang .”

His breath is labored but he draws his head back too. His eyes are dazed, dark, but he focuses on her, even as his hands slide from under her blouse to rest on her hips.

Kala catches her bottom lip, smooths his shirt down before meeting his gaze.

“Wolfgang,” she says again, her voice breathy, eyes troubled. “What are we doing? What do you want from me?”

He would smirk, make a flippant reply, if he isn't so aware of the importance of his answer. He wonders if she's startled by the immediacy of their physical reaction when a few weeks ago she'd rightly told him to go to hell. He's not put off: not in the least. It was always like this with her, for him. Always.

......

Her wedding night is the first time that Kala sleeps with Rajan since she ended their relationship nearly a year and a half before. She is nervous: She tells herself it's because of the miscarriage; because she is tentative of sex so soon. But if she is being honest, she is also nervous because it feels - awkward? different? - to sleep with someone other than Wolfgang. But it no longer matters: She is Kala Rasal, now.

There is something comforting and solid about being with Rajan. He was her first; they were each other's first, and she smiles softly as he takes the bangles from her wrists, the chains from her neck. His fingers are deft as he removes the pins and the delicate scarlet dupatta from Kala's hair and unhooks the embroidered choli to bare his new bride. Rajan exhales in appreciation, eyes alight. He murmurs her name gently as his hands cup her breasts and glide to the waist of her bridal lehenga. He unhooks the skirt to let it pool in a crimson and gold swirl at her feet. His hands splay across her body, his mouth trails kisses along her neck, her shoulders.

Kala doesn't close her eyes. If she closes her eyes, she thinks of different hands, a different mouth, and she's afraid it will be Wolfgang's name she will murmur in her marital bed, on her wedding night. So Kala forces herself to keep her eyes open so she remembers to whom it is she owes her loyalty: She deliberately watches her hands - intricately covered in mehndi - cup Rajan's head, run fingers through his thick, dark hair. She watches as his head moves lower, as his hands trail past her waist and touch her intimately.

And if there is a sudden, yearning sadness that she feels, she wills it away.

......

Wolfgang meets Kala's troubled gaze with gentle certainty. “I want you, ” he tells her, never more serious in his entire life, never so vulnerable as at this very moment. His gaze doesn't waver from hers. “I've been living my life pretending we were a lie. But pretending isn't a life, Suesse . I've never stopped loving you.”

Kala watches him breathlessly, eyes bright, but she shakes her head, brows furrowed. “No,” she tells him, dropping her hands from his chest. “No. You think you do, but it's just the emotions from today. From the past several days.” Kala withdraws slightly, sitting back on the ottoman, putting distance between them again. “You've romanticized everything. You don't really want me - us - again. You want closure. This is part of closure. You just want this.” Her hands flutter, gesturing between them; her cheeks flush.

“Is that what you think?” Wolfgang is startled by his own vehemence. He moves his hands to rest on her shoulders, dips his head so he can see her face clearly, to see for himself whether she truly believes what she says. Kala doesn't flinch from his gaze, her expression between defiance and longing; a war between logic and desire. He gives a huff and leans forward so she can't avoid his eyes, blazing a brilliant blue.

“I don't want just this, Kala,” he tells her. “I don't want to just fuck you and go away. I've known from the first moment I saw you that I wanted you. I knew it then, and I know it even more now.” He takes a breath, tries not to sound desperate or plaintive although he feels both. He lowers his voice. “Kala, it's always been you. I'm asking for another chance. Please.”

She is silent for a long time. A single tear escapes and trails along her cheek; she swipes at it quickly, impatiently. “I can't,” she says, quietly. “I can't.”

......

Kala and Rajan spend a month on their honeymoon: a week in Goa, another in Udaipur, before they head to Italy and Malta.

Rajan is attentive and eager to please. He takes his bride shopping and buys her beautiful jewelry, even though Kala would rather explore the places they visit. When they return to Chicago, he tells her she doesn't need to work; she has as much time as she wants to settle into their new home in the North Shore. The house is a difficult commute to the lab but near corporate offices, where Rajan works. Kala bites her tongue to keep from giving him a sharp retort. She ignores the voice that argues if he knew her at all, he would know she loves what she does.

She returns to work that week, despite the jet lag, despite the hour-long commute.

...

Rajan's parents and her mother ask regularly when there will be children. At first, the questions are teasing, but when a year, then two go by, the questions grow concerned.

Kala and Rajan deliberately wait before they try, but pregnancy eludes them. Kala is afraid that the miscarriage is responsible, and even though he doesn't say it, Kala knows Rajan thinks so too. They see a specialist who assures them that Kala is healthy and very capable of bearing children. The specialist makes intimate recommendations for her and Rajan that they follow diligently for a few months before Kala realizes she has had enough.

She stares blankly at her cell phone, reminding her that it's time to meet Rajan. She watches the alarm buzz until it finally stops on its own.

She wonders why she agreed to this. She doesn't want to meet Rajan for sex. She doesn't want to have children. She doesn't want to be bound irrevocably to a man she doesn't really love.

Kala is startled to find a tear land inelegantly on her phone, then another and another.  

She leaves her office and drives home. She tells Rajan that evening that she wants a divorce.

......

Wolfgang can't think clearly; his eyes burn. It feels as if a vise closes around his chest.

Kala crosses her arms and drops her gaze; it's too difficult to look at him. “I forgive you, Wolfgang,” she says softly. “I'm not angry any more. You've given me that. But that's not the same as wanting to be with you.” She frowns slightly, draws a steadying breath. “I don't know how I feel about you, but I know I’m not ready. I'm not ready to be with anyone, let alone with you. Especially you.”

The vise in his chest tightens; his throat constricts.

Kala .” He opens his mouth to speak but no words come. Nothing in English. Nothing in German. “ Kala." Nothing but her name and everything he feels.

“You cannot come back after all this time and ask to pick up where you left off,” she says, voice raised, “as if the years apart never happened. It's not fair. So much has happened.” She stands up quickly, knocking her empty glass on the floor. She takes a few steps away from Wolfgang. “I know what is going on. All this talk -- explaining what really happened and why you really left -- it makes you sentimental. Reminds you of happy times.” She paces in the little space she has, and Wolfgang finds himself remembering this: Kala pacing and talking herself through problems and ideas and situations while he lay in bed or on the sofa, watching her, enthralled, amused. There is nothing amusing about it now.

“And because it was over so suddenly, and I, for one, am at a crossroads in my life, there is nothing more attractive than trying to recapture those times we had.” She faces him with a triumphant expression, belied by a sudden sadness as she comes to her conclusion: “But it's illusory. We can't go back, Wolfgang. You think you want me because you know everything, now, and your emotions are raw. I've had time to think about this, and I know, when you have too, that you'll realize I'm right: that you were right the first time. What we were wasn't real. That kind of, of passion , that level of intensity, can't survive. It isn't meant to survive. And trying to recapture that is foolish.” She takes a deep breath, satisfied by her logic. “There's only closure left for us, Wolfgang. Just that.”

He shakes his head, stays silent for a long time. He tries to gather his thoughts, but the words spill on their own. “You’re wrong.” He gets up slowly, walks to face her. She takes an involuntary step back, stopped by a stack of boxes. The intensity in his eyes makes her catch her breath.

“I should have told you everything long ago,” he says quietly. “It should have been me with you at the hospital, not Daya. I should have stayed and never left your side. I should have flown back and begged you to stop the wedding. But I didn't do any of it. And so you married Rajan, and I stayed in Berlin.” His jaw ticks, face flush. “I came back here. With Felix. I told myself it had nothing to do with you. I miss it here. And I hadn't thought of you in years.” He watches something flicker in her eyes, and he's afraid that he's not doing this right, saying the right thing, but all he can think is that if there is any hope, he must tell her everything.

“But the truth is I never stopped thinking of you. Everything I've done -- good and bad --was because of you: to forget you, to spite you, to make you proud, to bring you shame. Even if you never knew.” His eyes lose some of their fierceness; they dim, soften. “You're in my blood, Suesse . You've never left me. And the only closure I want is an end to five years of being without you.”

She is silent, breath held.

He has never in his life exposed so much of himself as he does to this woman, who looks at him with large dark eyes, wary, bright with unshed tears. He does so freely, trusting in her, that she will know what to do.

Even if, in the end, she breaks his heart completely.

 

Chapter Text

There is an eerie sense of deja vu.

Wolfgang is back in Berlin, doing his uncle's bidding, occasionally breaking and entering, more often attending meetings representing the Bogdanows’ interest in the east. The official corporate records show his employment as “customer relations”.

When he's on his own time, he's partying too much, returning to the same places he used to frequent before Lila, and even after their marriage. He rarely, if ever, hooks up with the same person twice. He doesn't slow down, even after a year. Felix grows worried enough to ask if he's ok.

“What the fuck do you mean by that?” Wolfgang raises an eyebrow. He helps himself to some eggs Felix made and sits down at the small table while Felix watches him defensively. “If you're asking if I've caught any diseases yet, fuck you.” Wolfgang glowers over his coffee cup, annoyed. He is meticulous about certain things. Steering clear of STDs would be one of them.

Felix snorts. “You fuck anything that moves,” he grumbles.

“Doesn't mean I'm an idiot.” Wolfgang eats his eggs in silence, wonders why Felix asks this now. He doesn't wait long before Felix tells him: rumor is that Lila’s new boyfriend is one of the “kings” of Berlin who may or may not be making a move for another part of the city, possibly exacting vengeance along the way.

“I'm not scared,” chuckles Wolfgang, genuinely amused.

Felix shakes his head, worry etched on his long face. “She hates you,” he says. “She'll get you somehow. And the way you've been acting, it's like you don't care about anything: what your next job is, who you're fucking. You may not care what happens to you, but I do.”

Wolfgang grunts dismissively. “I'm fine.”

“Maybe you should quit working for Sergei. Work with me, instead.” Felix stopped working for Sergei not long after the disastrous diamond heist, afraid of coming under his uncle's attention. Wolfgang was the one with the talent, anyway; Sergei didn't care about Felix's retirement.

“At your shop?” Wolfgang asks, incredulous. Felix owns a modestly successful, mostly law-abiding, completely un-ironic, locksmith shop. Wolfgang shakes his head. “Not interested. No need to keep clean when there's no reason to do so. That's for men who want to settle down, find a nice girl; move to somewhere safe like Wuppertal.”

“It's not a bad life,” Felix says defensively, even as he flushes, embarrassed at what that implies. Felix is proud of his shop; proud of the independence it represents away from Sergei.

Wolfgang’s smirk softens. “Sorry,” he says. “That's not meant to insult you.” He is quiet for a moment. “It's just not for me,” he adds.

Felix stares hard, and Wolfgang drops his gaze, changes the subject because he's shit for lying and he can tell that Felix is getting ready to challenge him. "Don't worry about me," he tells Felix quickly, before his brother can say anything more. "I'm fine."

Eventually, Wolfgang almost comes to believe it.

...

In the end, there is no one moment, no traumatic event, no conflict with Lila that happens to make Wolfgang decide he needs to walk away. But as a year goes by, and another, he chafes against Sergei, the games he has to play, the pointlessness of it: Wolfgang's never been one to care for power; just enough money to live in comfort, support his vices. But he feels restless, static: As if the world moves on while he's left behind, doing much the same thing every day. Even drinking and fighting and fucking feel repetitive, with no relief from the brooding feeling that comes the morning after.

He wakes up after a particularly big night, groggy, in his bed, when his eyes focus and his heart stops for a moment before pounding rapidly. The woman with her back to him is dark; darker than any partner he's had since coming back to Berlin. His hand reaches out to touch her hair: long and wild, tumbling in a mass of curly black waves on the pillow, down her naked back. She doesn't stir. His breath catches in his throat.

Suesse?”

By the time he says that, he knows it isn't her. She is in Chicago, married, probably with kids by now. But he reaches for the woman anyway, throws an arm around her waist and pulls her to him before she can turn her head. He instinctively breathes her in, and whatever fantasy he'd hoped to indulge in disappears. She smells of sex and smoke and drink and some perfume, with no underlying sweetness - maybe jasmine, but mostly just her - evocative of Kala. He closes his eyes, inexplicably disappointed, as the woman curls up against him, still asleep. He rolls onto his back and throws his arm over his head.

It's the first time he thinks of her in ages. The first time he admits to thinking about her, anyway, and he's surprised by his own gut reaction.

Maybe he needs to really move on. The senseless jobs, the crass partying, bore him more than the idea of working with Felix. He hadn't been bored when he was running the business legitimately in Chicago. He'd had a full life there, even before he met Her.

Wolfgang feels a sudden pang of longing for Chicago. Maybe he should go back; try something normal and bring Felix with him before things get bad in Berlin, as they undoubtedly will. Maybe he should find a nice girl and settle down.

Wuppertal isn't so bad, anyway.

..... 

Kala's eyes are dark and bottomless and Wolfgang stares, drowning in them. She takes a shuddering breath.

“You're in love with a memory,” she says. “And memory is deceiving.”

“Really?” He frowns, moves a step closer. “How do you remember us, Suesse?” he asks her softly. “How do you remember me?”

All this time since his return, she's done nothing but remember their last two weeks together; the row when he stormed off; the pictures that had led her to give up. All that hurt and anger.

But.

Kala’s eyes grow gentle. She feels heat steal to her cheeks, knows Wolfgang sees it. “Did we both imagine that?” he asks her.

He was the man she would spend the rest of her life with. They talked for hours over nothing and everything: laughed and shared aspirations; wondered what their children would look like, and she had wanted to have children with him. She had been so in love.

Kala presses her hands to her cheeks, staves off tears she doesn't want to fall, sweeps under her eyes because they do, anyway. “When,” she laments quietly, “did my life get so confusing?”

He shakes his head, rueful, and when she leans a little to him, he brings his arms around her and holds her. He says nothing when he feels her tears fall on his shirt; his own throat constricts suspiciously, holding her in his arms, just like this, for the first time in years.

“Wolfgang,” she murmurs into his chest, her voice muffled, “I've never been like you. I don't know. I'm not sure. I need to be sure.” She looks up when she hears his sudden intake of breath and touches his face gently. She catches the pain flash in his eyes before he shuts them, and it twists at her, causes her to whisper the truth: “I'm afraid.”

His eyes flicker open. Of course she's afraid: He had left her. He had broken her heart. And here he is now, begging her to set it all aside: begging because if she doesn’t, he won't have the rest of their lives to spend making it all up to her.

He breathes out, helpless, because words escape him and all he can do is touch his head to hers, shut his eyes again so that she doesn't see he is so obviously hurting. He is quiet for a moment.

“Then don't answer me now, Suesse ,” he murmurs. He lifts his head to look at her, gives her a faint smile. “I can wait. Just tell me you believe me when I say that I love you. Because I do. I love you. Main tumse bahut pyar karta hoon. I love you.”

Her heart skips a beat. She had taught him that, aeons ago. He had said it often. I love you. In Hindi, with his German accent. She gives a choked gurgle of laughter.

“I do,” she tells him, smiling softly. “I believe you.” She sees the answering smile in his eyes, and she doesn't care if it's a bad idea, after all her protestations, but she tilts her head up to kiss him again.

Wolfgang draws back gently. “Kala,” he murmurs, breathless. His expression changes.

He doesn't disguise his desire: It's evident in the way his hands lay still at the crook of her back, at the discreet distance they put between his hips and hers; at the way he looks at her with an intensity that should frighten her, but doesn't.

The laughter dies in her eyes, replaced by a yearning she no longer feels she needs to hide. She wants this moment.

“Are you sure?” he whispers.

And when she nods, his mouth crashes into hers, and all thought, all logic, disappear.

.....

Wolfgang can't shake his dissatisfaction, his restlessness. He tells his uncle that he's leaving the business. He makes it clear what part of the business specifically he's leaving.

Sergei isn't happy. Wolfgang can break into anything faster than it takes to put in a code or use a key. And for all that Sergei has bigger, more physically intimidating men that work for him, there is an understated lethalness to Wolfgang that makes him very effective when dealing with problem clients. That isn't something you can learn; you can't get that kind of presence from just anyone. 

But lately, Wolfgang can't be relied upon, and it's not just because he's always been more difficult to control. Wolfgang simply no longer cares about anything. Not the money. Not the power. Certainly not the family. Even Sergei can't ignore how apparent that is. And on top of everything, the idiot Fuchs seems to have a personal grudge against Wolfgang, and it's starting to interfere with their alliance. Sergei is mindful that tensions among the Kings seems particularly high, and he needs Fuchs.

So despite himself, Sergei allows Wolfgang to leave, unchallenged, if Wolfgang agrees to stay completely out of Berlin.

Wolfgang agrees.

...

When he tells Felix that he's leaving again, Felix decides to come with him: Wolfgang suspects Felix worries too much, and somewhere along the way, Felix became the responsible one. They close the locksmith shop, grab their cash (Felix is impressed by how much his brother has saved, shutting his mind to the idea that any of it may actually be stolen), and leave Berlin a month later. Neither have any further contact with Sergei.

They bounce around for a little while because they have no real plans: Amsterdam. Brussels. London. They fly to New York, but after a couple of months, neither feel settled. Felix asks, why not Chicago?

Wolfgang pauses. Why not?

A few months later, they live in a house not far from where Will and Riley used to live. Will and Riley long since moved from there. Last Wolfgang heard, Will completed training at Quantico, trading in one badge for another. Riley went with him.

By the end of the year, Wolfgang has an idea for a new business. He meets with some old associates, finds some backing. He and Felix start their business in the early spring, two or three modest contracts already in place. 

One of Wolfgang's old contacts has a tip for some potential clients and sets up a business lunch to introduce them all.

Wolfgang drives to the restaurant, pissed that he's running late. He finds parking a few blocks away and has to walk quickly to be just a few minutes late. The weather is unseasonably warm, and everyone is out and in his way. He messages Felix that they may need to start without him.

Wolfgang maneuvers through the crowded sidewalks but gets caught at the light on the corner. He debates whether he should make a dash across the street.

He sees her coming out of a coffee shop.

......

Memory, it turns out, had been deceiving.

Kala gasps when Wolfgang lifts his head to drag his tongue down her throat, suck at her nape. His hands tilt her hips to meet his, dragging her leg up around his waist, the better to rub his hard length against her clit.

Memory had dimmed the immediate heat between them: had made her forget the full power of his mouth on her body, that he could make her achingly wet without even trying. She drops her leg to wrap around his thigh, moans when his hand grabs her ass and squeezes her closer still.

The angle is too much: She tilts against a box and it falls to the ground with a loud thud, stops them both from their frantic groping as they lose their balance. The boxes are already taped; a quick glance confirms nothing is spilled. Wolfgang's arms are still firmly around her. Kala smiles up at him.

“Maybe we should move to my bedroom,”she suggests, watching the pulse at his throat jump. He nods mutely, and she takes his hand, maneuvers him through a maze of boxes and furniture into her modest bedroom. She guides him to her bed, but he stops and tugs her gently back into his arms.

“I've missed you,” he murmurs, kissing her deeply, not giving her an opportunity to respond. His hands coast her back, run over her hips, curve along her ass. He moves his hands to push up against her shirt, help her as she pulls it over her head, breaking their kiss. She reaches behind to unclasp her bra as he takes his own shirt off. He puts a finger under the rosette between the cups and pulls gently, removing her bra and dropping it to the floor.

“Kala,” he breathes, admiring her breasts, his hands covering them, kneading gently as she hums her pleasure, eyes closed. He watches her face as he rolls a nipple between his fingers; she gives a gasp, her eyes meeting his briefly as he sees the fissure of need it brings. He dips his head to resume kissing her, his hands moving down to slide into the waistband of her pants, pull them down gently, dragging her panty with it. She steps out of them and reaches for the buttons of his jeans, but he captures her wrists and shakes his head. “I've missed you,” he says again, voice low. “I mean to make up for lost time.”

Kala's brows lift in a silent “oh” that disappears the moment his fingers travel her pelvis and slide between her legs. She is embarrassingly wet, blushes until she hears him give a throaty groan when he feels how slick she is even before he finds her clit, even before he parts her and slides his fingers inside. Her eyes shut tight on a gasp; she licks her lips and can barely utter his name.

He suddenly lifts her, lays her on the edge of the bed, feet touching the floor.

“Wolfgang.” She half-sits, propped on her elbows, watches with half-lidded fascination as he unbuttons his jeans and takes them off but leaves on his underwear. Her eyes flicker to his bulge, seeping precum through the fabric.

He kisses along her abdomen, kneels when he reaches her hips. His tongue laps her pelvis, mouth kisses her inner thighs, before his fingers make their way to her folds, parting her gently. His eyes lock with hers, echo her arousal as his tongue drags along her slit and slides inside.

Kala falls back against the bed, legs wrapping around his shoulders so she can tilt herself deeper into his mouth. Her hands reach down to bury her fingers in his hair; she whines softly as his tongue explores her, hits a spot that makes her buck against him. She remembers how quickly he can make her cum like this; how this was something she'd never craved until him. She writhes against his mouth, all senses focused on his tongue moving inside her, his lips gently sucking at her folds.

Wolfgang doesn't pause as he drops his hand to strip his underwear off; even the light fabric chafes against his sensitive cock. He wraps his palm around the head, drags down to ease the unbearable ache, and cants his hips into his hand, unable to resist the temptation to rock a little, too aroused by Kala, her taste, her smell. He moans, the vibration low in his throat, and sucks as his tongue presses up against her wall.

The tension inside her coils and tightens and she is gasping, begging. He growls and curses and uses both hands to stroke along the inside of her thighs, parts her so he can reach deeper, his tongue buried in the heat and the taste and the feel of her.

Kala can barely breathe. She makes loud, frantic noises, clutches his head between her legs. She feels his mouth, his tongue, his fingers; and then Wolfgang's thumb pads her clit, presses firmly at the nerve just above it. She suddenly stills. Everything breaks and shatters into a million pieces, leaves her wrecked and shuddering and calling his name over the waves of pleasure.

She's still trembling, weak-limbed, when she feels Wolfgang kiss up along her belly to her navel, lick and suck first one nipple, then another. She moans softly, just lucid enough to edge further up the small bed so he can crawl along and join her: Lucid enough to put a hand to his chest before he moves between her legs; lucid enough to turn him on his back and straddle him, his cock jutting thick over his abs.

He's surprised by her actions, but he gives her a lazy smile that makes her want to mount him right away. Instead, she takes her time: settles herself, looks down and presses her hands on his chest, feels the muscles tense beneath her fingers as she runs them slowly over him; his breath hitches when she tugs his nipples firmly. She trails her fingers down the center of his abs, traces the line from his navel to his wet cock.

She wraps a hand around his shaft, smiles when he mutters a profanity and throws his head back, body taut as a bow. He moans her name.

Kala scoots down just low enough to plant a kiss on the tip, nip gently at the foreskin before she pulls it back. His hip arches, and when she bends to take him into her mouth, Wolfgang gives a strangled gasp, quivers, barely holding on to a thread of control. He opens his eyes; he can't see past the curtain of her hair, but he feels her mouth move slowly over him, her tongue pressing lightly, her fingers fondling his balls. His hip jerks when she pauses, sucks firmly as she moves her mouth up, fingers moving lower. She stops at the head of his cock, tongue depressing into a lick as her fingers massage the tender skin of his perineum.

“Fuck.” 

He watches her head pull up, feels her mouth drag his shaft almost completely out before descending again, and he lets out a ragged groan. Wolfgang grabs her shoulders, dragging her from him and buries his head in the crook of her neck. “I need to be in you,” he gasps, his body on fire, shaking. "Now."

She wraps her arms around him, shifts her hips and finds his tip. He lifts his face and stares desperately into her eyes, pupils wide. She opens her mouth and kisses him, slides his cock slowly inside of her as he breaks the kiss to release an agonized moan that lasts until he is completely inside of her. Kala grinds a little against him, tightens around him, and he is undone. Wolfgang arches, thrusts into her mindlessly, vaguely aware that she's riding him with equal intensity.  His hands bracket her hips, keep her to him before his body convulses and heaves, folding into her as he comes violently inside.

They are silent, sticky with sweat and sex. Neither care. Wolfgang draws Kala firmly against him, breathes in her scent. His throat tightens; arm draws her closer. She gives a tired sigh. They fall asleep without saying a word.

He wakes up twice during the night, both times because she has moved away from him in her sleep. He draws her gently back each time, arm curling around her, and presses a kiss to her head.

Each time he tries not to think that this may be the last time he does so.

...

In the early morning they turn toward each other and make love like they used to: slowly, deliberately, rediscovering each other's bodies and the changes brought on during their separation. They kiss frequently. They’d forgotten how often they did that, how much they'd enjoyed the intimacy of it. It's some time before Wolfgang finally nestles between Kala's legs and thrusts inside, hips rolling to meet her upturned pelvis, drawing a leg around his waist to tilt in deeper. When they finish, they drift asleep, limbs tangled, and wake up an hour or so later, hungry for breakfast but too lazy to get out of the warm cocoon of her bed. Wolfgang nuzzles against her neck and they have quick sex instead.

Kala calls in sick to work. So does Wolfgang.

She questions her sanity in permitting herself to sleep with him when she will be gone in a month; when she knows she needs time to be by herself. She doesn't want to give him false hope.

“Wolfgang,” she says, lifting her face to his. His eyes are open, watching her with a soft expression.

“Suesse?

Kala bites her lower lip, gives a faint exhale, brows furrowing. She doesn't know what she wants to say.

He smiles back ruefully. “Are you trying to get rid of me now?” he asks, voice striving to be light. He sits up a little, propping himself by an elbow. “I get it,” he tells her. He smiles at her worried expression, rubs his thumb gently at the crease between her brows, moves a lock of hair from her face. “I'll go if you want me to.”

She reaches for his hand, laces her fingers with his as she shakes her head. “No. Not yet.”  She sighs. “I'm leaving for Canada in a month,” she tells him. “I took a job there. I'm under contract for a year. I took it because I need time away from everyone, Wolfgang. I don't want you to think…” She drifts off, squeezes his hand.

“You don't want me to think this changes your mind?” He smiles again, a little self-effacing, but his eyes still gentle. “I get it, Kala. I understand.”

“Do you?”

He nods, and the smile slips a little from his face.

“Will you come back when your contract is over?”

She nods. “I think so,” she says. “Are you staying here, or are you going back to Berlin?”

“Here.” He squeezes her hand. “We started a business awhile ago, away from Sergei. It's going ok so far. Besides, Berlin is no good for me, and Felix likes it here, too.”

Her face lights up at the reminder. “I've never met Felix!”

He smiles at her excitement. “You can meet him today if you like.” Felix has been dying to meet her for the last 5 years.

Her eyes soften. “That would be lovely,” she murmurs. She looks into his eyes and thinks how easy it would be to agree to let him stay, to ride out a second chance that she thinks will collapse under the stress of reality. He says he loves her. She believes he loves her.

But she is scarred by their past, by his abandonment. She had believed that phrase, “died with a broken heart”, was melodramatic bullshit: until Wolfgang left her; until she lay in that hospital bed, bleeding; until she saw pictures of Wolfgang being intimate with other people. And then she knew the saying was no exaggeration: The world continued to turn, people went about their lives, but she had felt broken.

She will not go through that again.

“So.” Wolfgang watches her thoughtfully, perhaps a little nervously. “Is it ok if I see you again, before you leave?”

She thinks about it for a moment, aware that seeing him will likely end like this, in bed. And while there's an undeniable attraction in that, she is keenly aware that this tryst hasn't left her sated: that if this had truly been closure, there is no sense of  finality to their relationship. It still feels unfinished. She nods, a little hesitantly, but she wants to see him again. “Yes.”

She can feel his body relax a little beside her.

They stay in bed the rest of the day.

...

In the month they have, they don't see as much of each other as she thought they would.

He helps her with moving a few things to a rented storage area; he makes her dinner one night at the place he shares with Felix, when Felix isn't there. They end up in bed both times.

She meets Felix at last. He looks nothing like Wolfgang, but it is evident they are cut from the same cloth. He is an outrageous flirt - even Wolfgang grows a little jealous at one too many casual touches to Kala's back - and he is ridiculously funny. She is sorry it's taken this long to meet him.

Wolfgang is there the last night she is in Chicago. It's a beautiful evening, the beginning of summer. They drive to his old neighborhood and have dinner at a restaurant they haven't been to before. They walk to the park, along the lakefront, pause to take in the breathtaking view of the city skyline and the lake and the vast, endless sky.

She tells him again that she's grateful he came back, insisted on telling her everything. He tells her again that he is, too. That he loves her, that he'll wait for her.

Kala smiles up at him, teasing. “You say that now, but I'll be gone a year.” Her eyes grow a little more serious. “I don't expect you to wait for me, Wolfgang. You don't need to prove anything.”

He smiles back, eyes soft. He shrugs. “Go and decide whether you want me or not,” he says. “Until you tell me to go, I'll wait.”

She shakes her head, mouth quirks to a skeptical smile. She can't picture Wolfgang celibate. He chuckles and kisses the tip of her nose. “Why does no one believe me?” he complains. She laughs a little and tilts her head up for his kiss.

He drives her home but doesn't stay. Daya is there to drive up to Toronto with her at 6 in the morning.

He gives Kala a chaste kiss, tells her goodbye: Main tumse bahut pyar karta hoon. My Love. She touches his cheek, gives him a watery smile.

He watches her go up the stairs, feeling as if a part of him is already missing. He sits for a moment, lets his thoughts settle.

She still loves him. He knows it. He feels it. And for once, he has faith.

He'll be here when she returns.

 

Chapter Text

Fall in Chicago is pretty, even if you can't count on weather being particularly fall-like.

Wolfgang detours his run along the lakefront to try a drinking fountain just past the yacht club. The city hasn't turned off the fountains for the season yet, and he splashes his face with water, cups his hands for more to run down his neck.

It's October, and it's 85 degrees Fahrenheit (his mind always calculates in Celsius, but it doesn't sound any cooler at 29). It's 7 in the morning, and there's already humidity in the air. Even though he runs shirtless, Wolfgang is already overheated at 4 miles into his run. He's got 1 more mile to go before he can turn around and head back. He breathes in, releases a huff, and continues on.

......

Kala loves Toronto. It isn't as big as Chicago, it's amazingly diverse with lots of things to do, and the people are friendly. She'll never get over how clean it looks to her, and how signs are in English and French, instead of Spanish. Her neighbors are helpful, her house - because she rented a small house near the lab - is in Scarborough, but she spends a lot of free time in the city center because she actually has free time. And while she's lonely at first, Kala makes friends quickly. She enjoys exploring the Toronto area with them.

She is there for four months when a colleague asks her out. He's around her age, maybe a little older; witty, charming, very handsome. One of her new friends tells her he's from a distinguished family, very well off, and a great catch.

Kala laughs. She turns down her colleague.

...

She talks to Wolfgang infrequently. He doesn't call or message unless she asks. When they talk, it's about safe topics: how her work is going, how he and Felix are, how their security consulting business is coming along. Wolfgang tells her they picked up some big clients - two German companies expanding in the U.S. - and it keeps them very busy.

“Too busy to meet anyone?” she asks him one night.

She can feel him smile over the phone. “No,” he admits, and the way that he says it gives her a sudden bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. “But I'm not interested in meeting anyone.”

“Good,” she says, before she can stop herself. He is silent at the other end of the line. She chews her lip, but she can't bring herself to add anything else. “Goodnight, Wolfgang,” she says.

He gives a faint sigh. “Nachti, Suesse.”

......

The run back always feels easier, and Wolfgang picks up his stride, glances at the device on his wrist. He's at a 7:18 pace for a 10 mile run and he  grins, pleased with himself.

Two miles from home, his right calf cramps.

Wolfgang lets out a string of German oaths, hobbles off the path and bends to massage the back of his leg. He walks around a little, tries to stretch it, and does a tentative hop.

“You were making such good time there.”

He turns around and recognizes the woman he'd run by earlier. It's hard not to notice her: She is in amazing shape, in a racing bra and tight shorts, and even with her hair in a messy ponytail and wearing no makeup, she's gorgeous.

She jogs up and slows to walk with him. “Training for the marathon?”

He shakes his head, face contorting at another muscle spasm. “Just running.”

She smiles at him and reaches in a side pocket to pull out a gel pack. “This will help with the cramp if you want it. You look like you need it.”

“Nah. I'm good. I'm not far from home.” He limps a little but knows he just needs to ride it through. He grimaces.

“Your accent.” She puts the pack away but continues to walk with him, smiles curiously. “Is that German?” At his affirmative, she nods knowingly. “I was just in Munich in the spring for business.”

They chat about Munich and Chicago until the pain to his calf eases enough where he can jog cautiously. She jogs with him, offers tidbits of information about herself, until they get to the South divide of the museum campus: She is heading towards the aquarium while he is going up to Michigan Avenue.

“Thanks for keeping me company. . . -" She drags the sentence to prompt him into giving his name.

“Yeah, it was fun.” He smirks at her, veers to the path on his right.

......

Kala attends an office party after work on Friday to celebrate the successful release of the company’s new product. She didn't work on the project herself, but everyone attends.

Mr. Perfect is there and heads immediately towards her. Kala's friends giggle like schoolgirls and disappear so she can have privacy. Kala smiles weakly. She spends the next half hour wondering why she doesn't find him more attractive, why her heart doesn't race when his fingers brush against hers, why she really just wants to be left alone.

Of course, she really knows why.

Kala leaves not long after a toast is made to the project team. She is home in less than half an hour. She showers, gets ready for bed. She picks up her phone and stares at it. She calls Wolfgang and curses when he doesn't answer. It's been three weeks since her slip of the tongue. She hasn't spoken to him since. She almost hangs up, but changes her mind and decides to leave a message.

“Hello,” she says breathlessly. “It's Kala.” She pauses to try and steady her racing heart, but it refuses to slow: “I'm sorry I haven't called. I don't know if it's too late to tell you that I would like very much to try again. With you. If you haven't found someone else already. If you have, then, mmm, it's ok.”  (IT. IS. NOT. OK. her mind screams.) “I told you not to wait.” She gives a huff, suddenly finds herself on the edge of tears. “I miss you.” She takes another breath. “Well, goodnight.”

She puts her phone down and waits for him to call back. She falls asleep with it clutched in her hand.

Wolfgang doesn't call on Saturday or Sunday. He's never not returned her call, and she wonders whether he really has met someone. She's kept him waiting almost half a year.

Kala frowns and pushes the thought from her mind, especially since it's just speculation on her part.

After lunch on Monday she finds a small bouquet of bright yellow sunflowers in a vase on her desk. She frowns as she picks up the card. There's no signature, but when she reads it, her heart leaps into her throat.

If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life. - Oscar Wilde

And maybe, perhaps, she cries a little.

......

Wolfgang lets himself into the townhouse and heads straight to the kitchen for some cold water. He drinks several glasses before he starts a pot of coffee on a timer, walks to the bedroom, takes a quick shower in the master bath.

He wraps the towel around his waist and walks over to the bed, smiles a little at Kala asleep on her side, the bed sheet wrapped around a leg and pulled under her chin, but her back half, including a temptingly round, naked butt, is completely exposed.

He takes off his towel and resumes his spot spooning her. He kisses her shoulder and she gives a little laugh but doesn't open her eyes or turn her head.

“You smell amazing,” she murmurs. “Back from your run and showered already?”

“Mmhmm.” He can't help smiling. “Guess who got hit on during his run?”

She makes a disapproving sound but still doesn't move. His hand strokes slowly up and down her side. “It's because you run half naked and you know you look hot,” she says. “Did you tell her that you're very happily married and to go away?”

“What do you think?” he asks.

Kala gives a long suffering sigh and turns her head at last to fix him with a stare. “I knew I should have gone running with you,” she says accusingly, but there is no heat in her voice. He looks at her as if the sun and the moon revolve around her, and it's difficult to ever be upset with him.

He smiles softly and dips his head to rub noses. His hand moves from her hip to slide under the sheet and around the very pronounced curve of her belly. “You would make us stop at every public restroom again, Suesse.

She sighs and turns her head back, dragging the bedsheet around the both of them before linking her fingers with his. “True,” she agrees, closing her eyes again. “I think I'm too big to run now. Max pushes against everything.”

Wolfgang chuckles and kisses the top of her head. "As if you ever have anything to worry about," he murmurs, his lips roaming lower until they're against her ear. He kisses a spot behind her lobe and smiles at the throaty sound she makes. "It's always been you," he tells her quietly. His voice is soft, solemn. "Always."

Kala smiles, eyes closed, content. "I know," she says simply. 

She is silent for another second or two.

“I love you, Wolfgang," she says sleepily, burrowing closer.

He smiles a little. He will never tire hearing her say that, no matter how many more years go by. 

He settles in to nap beside her. His hand tightens in hers, curved around her belly. Around their child. "I love you too."