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Accidental Kidnapping

Chapter Text

All I want, Satya thought to herself as she sat in the toilet stall at the club she’d dragged to by Sanjay and the rest of her coworkers, is to go home, take a shower, and enjoy some peace and quiet!

She understood they wanted to celebrate. They’d just landed a major contract, and her work on the proposal for the new hospital complex had been highlighted as a key part of the reason Vishkar’s bid had been chosen, but she’d also worked for nearly four days straight to achieve that, and being dropped into a loud, chaotic, overcrowded, poorly lit club had finally pushed her past the limit of her endurance, even with the hearing protection she’d worn in an attempt not to become overstimulated.

The drinks that had been practically forced on her to “help loosen her up” had only made matters worse.

Satya had dashed into the bathroom at the first opportunity and locked herself in the stall so she could try to ground herself, then pulled out her phone to open the Uber app.

Once she felt her phone vibrate with the confirmation that a driver was on the way, Satya shoved her phone into her purse, took a deep breath, and started heading for the doors.

“Satya!”

She didn’t turn around.

“SATYA!”

A hand came down on her shoulder, and she froze.

“Where are you going?!” Sanjay’s voice had already begun to slur with drunkenness. “You haven’t even been here an hour, come on!”

Satya slowly took a step away, shifting her shoulder out from under his hand. “I’m tired, Sanjay, and I have a headache. I really want to go home.”

“Stay, please! Just get another drink with us, I’m sure it will help.” Sanjay gave her a frown that was almost a pout. “Aren’t you happy Vishkar got the contract? Don’t you want to be part of that?”

“I am happy the company got the contract,” Satya assured him, though she felt a bit of guilt in her stomach. “And I will be part of it as the head architect on-site. Tonight, though, I just want to go home, and rest.”

Sanjay seemed like he was going to try to insist, but before he could say anything else, or try to touch her again, a small group of women going to the restroom together came between them, a short, spiky haired brunette bumping his elbow as she passed and making Sanjay spill the drink he’d been holding over the front of his shirt.

“Oh,” the brunette cried in a bright voice, “I’m so sorry, luv! Here, let me get you a napkin or something…”

Satya didn’t want to see Sanjay’s reaction, taking advantage of the disruption to turn and head out of the club as quickly as she could, pulling her earplugs out and putting them away once she’d left the building.

The sight of a dark blue sedan with an Uber placard waiting at the curb made a palpable wave of relief wash through her, and Satya let out a long sigh as she settled into the back seat...which turned to a confused “Ah…?” when the front passenger door opened, and a Latina woman with bright purple hair and a matching dress slipped into the car and buckled up.

“2600 Libby Drive,” the woman said, and their driver punched the address in her phone before putting the car into gear and pulling away from the curb.

Once they’d moved into traffic, their driver looked over, her voice a rather pleasant alto. “You guys made an early night of it?”

“Yeah,” the Latina said. “Went out with a friend and her girlfriends, but I just wasn’t feeling it.”

Satya finally cleared her throat, lingering anger and her frustration pushing past her surprised shock. “Excuse me, but this was my car...and I live in the opposite direction.”

The Latina blinked, as she pulled out her phone, then laughed. “Oh, shit! The guy who was supposed to pick me up was in a black car!”

Satya caught their driver wincing in the rear view mirror. “I just got on the freeway, and there is no way I can turn around easily to go back to the club.”  Her eyes shifted to the passenger. “If I get you home, are you willing to pay her back for the ride?”

“Yeah, yeah, no hay pedo, I’ll cover whatever.”

Satya nodded and sat back in the seat. “It seems the least you can do for abducting me.”

“...abducting you?” The Latina turned around in the seat. “You’re taking this a little seriously, aren’t you?”

Their driver coughed, but Satya could catch the amusement in her eyes. “We are technically driving her to the wrong side of town.”

“That’s not kidnapping, though! C’mon!”

Satya sighed. “I suppose it was a...misunderstanding.”

The Latina sighed with relief. “Oh, thank god. If you’d called the cops, Ami would never let me live this down.” Grinning, she extended her hand. “Sombra.”

The manners and courtesy drilled into Satya by years of boarding school required her to return the gesture, even if this woman’s antics had made a bad evening worse. “Satya Vaswani.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Sombra smiled at her. “You single?”

Satya gave her a glare. “Yes, thank you.”

Sombra shrugged with a laugh. “Had to try!”

Fortunately, Libby Drive wasn’t far, once they were off the highway, and before long they were pulling into a pleasant looking apartment complex.

Satya pulled her phone back out, and checked the app once their driver had ended the ride. “Eighteen dollars.”

Sombra pulled a twenty out of her wallet. “Here you go. Don’t worry about the change.”

Satya nodded, tucking the bill into her purse. “I appreciate that. Have a good night.”

Sombra blew her and the driver a kiss, unbuckled her seatbelt, and disappeared into the apartment building.

“What a... colorful ...person,” Satya deadpanned.

That got a soft laugh from the driver, who was signing out of the driver app on her phone. “Your ride home is on me, OK? It’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you, that’s very kind of you.”

The driver turned around to smile at her, and Satya couldn’t help but smile back. She had a pleasant face with a narrow chin and a nose that might be politely called ‘hawk-like’. Her dark hair had been parted on either side, and she had twinkling golden hair beads worked into two front braids.

“I’m Fareeha, by the way.” She gestured to the now vacant passenger seat. “Want to move up front?”

Satya considered that, then nodded. “As long as you don’t mind that I may fall asleep on you - I had a very long week.”

Fareeha laughed. “Oh, I’ve had worse, believe me. Want to give me your address before you move up front?”

“Of course. 1543 Dunedin Lane, in Wilshire.”

Fareeha nodded, typing the address into her phone while Satya moved to the front seat, then waited for her to buckle up before pulling back into the late evening traffic.

“So,” Fareeha asked kindly, “a long week, huh?”

Satya nodded. “I was preparing a proposal for a client for my firm, and it took a great deal of effort to bring it together.”

Fareeha gave her an impressed glance. “You’re a lawyer?”

Satya shook her head. “Not that sort of firm. Architecture.”

“Oh, that’s even better,” Fareeha grinned. “I went to school for engineering.”

Satya’s eyebrows rose. “Truly? Then why…?” She trailed off, stopping herself as she realized she had been about to insult the woman giving her a free ride home.

Fareeha laughed. “I do this as a side job, mostly. It’s interesting, I get to meet all kinds of people, and the money’s usually decent.”

Satya hummed thoughtfully as she considered that, but before long her eyelids were drooping shut, and the noise of the road and the smooth ride of the car lulled her to sleep.


Fareeha couldn’t help but blush a little at the sight of her sleeping passenger.

God, she’s pretty and she looks adorable like that.  

She felt a pang of guilt - even if Satya had said she was single, that didn’t mean she liked women, and Fareeha had made a point of not being a creep to anyone she picked up.

Really, she ought to be apologizing more - if she’d checked if the other girl had been with Satya and who was supposed to pick her up before she’d pulled away from the club, this wouldn’t have happened, and Satya would have been within her rights to tell her to pull over, let Sombra out, and then report Fareeha for her screwup.

She’d dodged a bullet. Fareeha would happily take that.

She pulled into the driveway of a pleasant looking house and put her car in park. Satya hadn’t stirred. “Hey,” Fareeha said in as soft a voice as she could manage, “Satya? We’re here.”

Satya murmured, but didn’t really stir.

“Satya?”

Nothing.

Carefully, Fareeha reached out to gently tap her shoulder. “Satya? Uh...Miss Vaswani?”

Satya’s eyes fluttered, and Fareeha had to make an effort of will to keep from biting her lip. “Mmm...hm?”

“We’re at your house.”

“Oh.” Satya shook herself slightly and unbuckled her seatbelt, then picked up her purse. “Thank you.” She reached inside, and pulled out the bill Sombra had given her. “Here, please…”

Fareeha held up a hand. “No, no, that’s ok. I told you it was on me.”

“You still burned quite a bit of gas.”

Fareeha smiled. “That’s really sweet of you, but it’s alright, I promise.”

Satya hesitated. “If you are certain…”

Fareeha nodded, and after a moment Satya reluctantly closed her purse.

“Very well. Thank you for the ride home.”

“My pleasure. Have a good night!” She waited for Satya to make it to her door and go inside, then slumped back in her seat. “Oh my god.” At least she hadn’t made a complete ass of herself. “I think that’s enough driving for tonight. Who knows what else might happen?”

She was almost to the freeway before she noticed that Satya had tucked the $20 bill into the passenger side cup holder.


Even though she’d only driven seven passengers the previous day, not counting Satya, Fareeha always took her car in for a wash and vacuum after driving, using the cash Satya had left to cover the “VOLCANO DELUXE!!” wash instead of the usual economy rinse and shine.

Fareeha had noticed a soft buzzing sound halfway through her journey through the wash, but had put it down to some of the fancier car wash gadgets (what did the “Lava Shine Shield” even do? ), but the sound had come back while she was pulling into a parking space by an open vacuum, and suddenly she had a horrible feeling about what it might be.

“Oh, no …”  

Her fears were confirmed when she opened the backseat to vacuum it out, and saw the distinct glow of a phone screen shining up from the footwell.

Groaning, Fareeha stretched over to grab the phone, slipping it into her pocket before she got back to vacuuming. “Must have dropped it when she told that other girl how much the ride had been…” The phone started buzzing again, and Fareeha sighed. “Well, I guess we’d better get you home too, huh?”

Good thing I’ve already got her address. I hope she doesn’t think I’m a stalker or something…

Chapter Text

Satya normally woke precisely at 6:00 every morning thanks to the alarm on her phone, even on the weekends. On weekdays, the time was vital to help her prepare for the day and make it into the office or job site on time, and on the weekends it allowed her to make productive use of her day.

To her dismay, it became clear Satya had slept in quite a bit later than that when she woke to the feeling of sunlight on her face.

Satya groaned and shielded her eyes with one hand, then slowly turned over, reaching for where her phone...was not.

Frowning, she sat up in bed and looked at her nightstand. The phone was still not there. Clicking her tongue, she looked around the room until her eyes settled on her dresser, where her purse sat at a drunken angle against the side of her jewelry box.

Crossing the floor, Satya opened the purse and frowned as she began to go through the contents. Her wallet was in the proper pocket. Tampons. Hairbrush. Makeup. Keys. Hand sanitizer. Tissues. USB cable.

No phone.

Her chest felt tight and the slight headache she’d had after she’d woken up began to intensify.

Satya started to tap her fingers against her thumb, then realized what she was doing and forced herself to stop. Even knowing she was at home, and alone, the spark of panic began to grow into a flame.

The windows are open. Someone could see. You must have quiet hands when someone can see.

Satya closed her eyes and tried to focus on her breathing. Slow. Deep. Even. Breaths.

Her hand slowly stroked down the silk of her nightgown, and she let herself have that. She let her focus drift to the texture of the fabric beneath her fingers, the contrast of the stitching at the hem.

The ache in her chest slowly began to recede. The headache was still there, but the pounding roar dulled to a grumbling sort of thud.

Satya took another breath.

“I will shower, get dressed,” she told herself, “take an aspirin, and eat something. Once that is done, I will apply myself to the phone problem.”

She let herself run her fingers along the hem of the nightgown one last time, and then pulled it over her head before she deposited it into her hamper on the way to the bathroom.

The shower helped.

Satya settled on one of her favorite ‘casual’ blouses in a deep orange, highlighted with dark purple accents, a pair of black jeans, and brushing out her hair.

Aspirin, almond milk, and egg bread toast helped her headache considerably, and she’d just finished washing her dishes when there was a knock at her door.

“Who could that possibly be?”

Frowning, Satya went to her door and opened it, then blinked in surprise at the sight of the woman standing there.

Fareeha was wearing a pair of abused looking jeans, an open black jacket over a white tank top, and a rather adorable nervous expression.

Satya’s eyes swept over her, brows knitting in confusion before she realized with a shock that Fareeha was holding her phone.

Fareeha raised her free hand in a nervous wave. “Ah...hi. I don’t know if you remember, but my name is -”

“Fareeha,” Satya interrupted her. “Yes, you were driving the car last night. Is that my phone?”

“Right, yes! Yes it is.” Fareeha held the phone out to her, her cheeks darkening with a blush. “I found it under my back seat while I was cleaning my car, and I normally would just reach out to the support office to try to get the phone back to you, but I realized I still had your address in my maps and I didn’t want to be creepy but I...figured you would want this back.”

The phone vibrated in her hand, and Fareeha’s eyes flicked to the screen. “Also, I don’t know who Sanjay is, but it seems like he really wants to talk to you.”

Satya sighed as she took the phone. “He’s…” An ass. “A co-worker…” She looked down at the notifications, and winced at what she found.

 

SANJAY KORPAL

9:01 AM

Satya, why did you leave so early?

You missed a wonderful night!

 

9:23 AM

Satya? Are you asleep?

 

10:10 AM

I don’t understand why you didn’t want to stay at the club with us. It was very rude of you to leave like that.

 

10:23 AM

I feel like I’m being ignored. Why? What’s going on?

 

11:10 AM

Satya, please, if this is about making you have a drink I apologize. I was buying them for everyone to help people relax. We just wanted you to have a good time!

 

11:24

Satya, why won’t you answer me?

 

Satya pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation. “I appreciate you bringing my phone back. It seems I need to give him a call.”

Fareeha nodded. “I thought you said you were single, last night.”

Satya frowned, not sure what she meant by that. “I am.”

Fareeha coughed. “I don’t want to pry, but...does he know that?”

Satya looked down at her phone and wasn’t sure what to say, so she fell back on protocol. “I’m sure he understands I would never want to be involved with a coworker. It would be rather...inappropriate.”

Fareeha looked like she wanted to say something else, but after a moment her expression settled into something a bit more neutral, and she nodded. “Right. Very inappropriate.” There was a flash of something in her eyes that Satya couldn’t quite identify, and then she slipped her hands into her jacket pockets. “Well...ah...glad I could get your phone back to you.”

“Yes,” Satya pushed away her reservations about Sanjay’s behavior and did her best to smile. “Thank you, I do appreciate you bringing it back to me.”

She’d been about to tell Fareeha goodbye and go inside to decide if she wanted to attempt calling Sanjay, or simply to tell him she’d misplaced her phone and that she would see him at work on Monday, when a flash of light off a car window caught her eye.

A silver BMW had pulled into her driveway, blocking Fareeha’s car in, and a moment later Sanjay got out of the driver’s side door, walking up to her porch with agitated little strides.

“Satya!” Sanjay’s voice was an odd mix of relief and frustration, and something about it put Satya immediately on edge. “What is wrong with you?! I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for hours!”

Satya didn’t miss the way Fareeha bristled at his tone, turning towards Sanjay with a frown, but didn’t want to make the situation any worse. She stepped forward and raised her phone. “Nothing is wrong with me, Sanjay. I dropped my phone by accident in the back of the car I took home last night. The driver was just returning it to me.”

Sanjay stopped short as he looked up at Fareeha, who had nearly a half foot of height on him. “Oh. Ah. I...see.” His eyes flicked back to Satya. “You really did miss a great evening. Everyone was disappointed you left so early on.”

Satya crossed her arms protectively in front of herself, and looked down at the concrete of her patio. There were weeds starting to grow near the edge of the slab. She would need to remove them later. “I told you that I was not feeling well - and the drink you insisted I have did not help.” She looked up, not quite meeting Sanjay’s eyes. “I have my phone back and as you can see, I am fine. We can continue this discussion in the office on Monday.”

“There’s no need to wait,” Sanjay offered in a kinder voice. “I thought perhaps I could take you out to lunch to apologize? I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Satya shook her head. “I’d really rather not. I have some things to attend to today.”

Sanjay took a step forward, putting his hand out to her. “Are you sure?”

Fareeha cleared her throat sharply and stepped forward, putting herself between them. “Sir, I think she’d really prefer that you go now.”

Sanjay’s eyes flashed as his face darkened. “I don’t see how that’s any business of yours.”

Satya tensed, considering if she ought to put a hand on Fareeha’s shoulder or perhaps say something else to Sanjay when the other woman took the situation in hand.

“I don’t know how you were raised, Mr. Korpal,” Fareeha said with just a slight emphasis to make it clear she knew his full name, “but my mother taught me to say something if I saw a man trying to put pressure on a woman who has already said no to him twice.”

Sanjay flinched as if she’d slapped him. “I don’t think I appreciate what you’re implying. Satya is my coworker and my friend, and she understands that I’m just being friendly. You are a cab driver, and you have no idea what is going on.”

Fareeha stood her ground. “Oh, I think I do.” Her impressively flinty glower turned into a little smirk. “Besides, you’re blocking my car in the driveway. So if you really want me to leave - please, you first.

Sanjay turned to look at the driveway, realized his blunder with the cars, and deflated with a frown. “I...see.” He stared daggers back at Fareeha for a moment, then looked over to Satya with a slightly less aggressive look. “I suppose we’ll have to continue this discussion later.”

“As I said,” Satya shook her head, “I will see you Monday, at the office. Good afternoon, Sanjay.”

“Yes. I’ll...see you at the office. Cheers.” Sanjay turned on his heel and headed back to his car, irritation obvious in the way he slammed his door and gunned his engine before backing out of the driveway.

Fareeha waited until his car had disappeared around the block before she turned around, slumping slightly as she reached up to rub the back of her neck. “I’m sorry, I hope that wasn’t too forward.”

Satya frowned. “I...no, thank you, I appreciate it. Sanjay’s behavior was…”

“Predatory?” Fareeha suggested. “Offensive? Sexist?”

Satya laughed softly. “I think I was going to say ‘rude’.”

Fareeha’s smile was infectious. “I think you might be a nicer person than I am, Satya.”

“I don’t know about that…” Satya looked up at Fareeha, examining the depths of her eyes, and caught herself when she realized she must be staring. She turned towards the door, gesturing inside. “I...would you like to come in?”

The offer seemed to take Fareeha by surprise, making the taller woman blink for a moment before she replied. “I...yeah! Yeah, sure, that would be great!”


Fareeha couldn’t help but look around the living room of Satya’s house and feel impressed.

From the outside it didn’t appear to be terribly different from the homes around it, but once they’d stepped inside…

“This is amazing, Satya! Did you remodel it yourself?”

Satya ducked her head slightly. “I wanted a more open floor plan. I removed the wall that separated the living room and kitchen, vaulted the ceiling, and had a skylight installed.”

“It’s very peaceful.” Fareeha found her eyes drawn to a set of prints along one wall, following the lines of the bright blue geometric shapes and patterns against the white wall. “It makes me want to sit down and relax.”

Satya smiled. “I prefer a calm environment at home.” She put her fingers on the marble top of her kitchen island and Fareeha followed the graceful movement of her hand. “Would you like some tea?”

Fareeha wasn’t sure exactly how this had happened, but she wasn’t complaining. “I would love some.”

The tea Satya made was wonderfully fragrant, and went well with the spicy, crunchy snack mix and nuts that she brought out in a small serving dish.

“I thought I had some biscuits,” Satya said apologetically as Fareeha took her first sip, “but I must have finished them while I was working on the proposal.”

“No, no, this is amazing, thank you!” Fareeha tried not to get too excited as their fingers brushed together when they both reached out for a bit of the crispy fried noodles at the same time. “Honestly, this is great. I wasn’t expecting anything.”

Satya shrugged before she took another sip of her tea. “Between last night, returning my phone, and your willingness to defend me, it was the least I could do.”

Fareeha couldn’t help her blush. “I...yeah. That’s...not going to cause a problem, is it? You did say you work with him.”

“As I said before, if he behaves inappropriately at work, I will...address it through the proper channels.” Satya looked away, and Fareeha realized after a moment that her eyelids were fluttering as she blinked rapidly. “In any case, he is on the project proposal team, but his role will be finished when the contract is officially signed. I will be in control at the job site, and he should not be there unless the client needs to have something clarified from our bid.”

Fareeha set her cup down and nodded. “That’s good to hear.” She considered a change of topic. “So...have you worked for your firm for a while, then?”

Satya looked back and nodded, relaxing as the discussion moved along. “I was able to go to secondary school and university on scholarships they sponsored, in exchange for working as an intern. Vishkar was pleased enough with my work to offer me a permanent position, and I’ve been there since.”

“That’s really impressive, Satya! Your family must be really proud of you.” Fareeha’s heart sunk at the way Satya’s face closed up, and suddenly realized she’d hit another sore topic.

“I wouldn’t know,” Satya said flatly, “we have not spoken in a very long time.”

“I’m sorry,” Fareeha apologized immediately. “For what it’s worth...my mother and I aren’t on good terms either.”

“Oh.” Satya’s bearing softened again. “I am sorry.”

Fareeha shrugged. “We had a disagreement about my choice of careers, and there were some things said that neither of us could take back very easily. It happens.” She laughed softly. “Stubbornness is an Amari family trait.”

“Fareeha Amari,” Satya said slowly, as if she was testing out each syllable. “I hadn’t heard your last name before.” She smiled, and Fareeha felt like she might combust. “It is very pretty. It suits you.”

“You’re really pretty, too.” Fareeha knew she was blushing, and this time, from the way Satya’s eyes widened slightly, it seemed that she noticed it. “Your name, I mean. I like...your name is beautiful.” Oh my god, you stupid, stupid idiot. She couldn’t bear to try to look at Satya after making a fool of herself like that. “I...um.” She stopped herself, and stood up. “Is there a bathroom that I could use?”

Satya seemed just as awkward and taken aback. “Oh. Yes, yes, there is. Down the hallway, second door on the left.”

Fareeha coughed into her fist. “Thanks. I’ll...just be a minute, ok?”

Satya’s face was unreadable again. “Of course.”

She walked down the hallway, so lost in dragging herself for completely blowing this unexpected chance that she didn’t realize she was opening the wrong door until she heard Satya’s sudden, almost terrified voice.

No!”

Fareeha stepped inside, confused by why Satya was upset by what seemed to be an empty, windowless room that had been pitch black until she found the light switch.

“Sorry,” she tried to apologize as Satya ran out of the living room. “I wasn’t thinking...uh…” She stared at the look of raw panic on Satya’s face. “Are you OK?”

That room is private,” Satya hissed desperately. “Please don’t...please turn the lights back off.”

Fareeha turned to face her, confused. “...I don’t understand. There’s nothing wrong with having a little dance studio in your house.” She tilted her head. “Or is it for yoga? I took a few classes…”

“NO!” Satya seemed to realize she was shouting. “I...that’s not...I do dance, but it is not just for that.”

Fareeha tried to understand what was so wrong as she moved to turn the lights back off, and then noticed the low table next to the door, where a fidget cube, spinner, a small roll of bubble wrap, a ribbon, what looked like a little dodecahedron covered in buttons and sliders, and a few other stimming toys rested in a neatly ordered row.

Oh,” Fareeha breathed softly, and she turned out the lights as Satya had asked. “Is that...is it a safe space for you?”

Satya put her hands together, and Fareeha frowned as she realized that she was holding onto her hands so tightly that her fingernails had begun to leave little crescent marks in her skin. “It. Is. Private.”

“I’m sorry,” Fareeha apologized again. “I understand that, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You don’t understand!” Satya swallowed hard. “I’m not supposed to...I was taught to be invisible. I have to be quiet. You aren’t supposed to see.

Fareeha was torn between wanting to reach out and give Satya a hug and to assure her there was nothing wrong with her, and wanting to find whoever had abused her so badly and beat them with a tire iron. “You don’t have to hide that, Satya. You shouldn’t.”

“That is very easy to say,” Satya hissed furiously, “when you are normal.”

Fareeha felt like she’d been punched in the chest, and then had a moment of realization. Rather than answer in words, she reached up to pull the hair she normally let fall to either side of her head back, gathering it into a rough ponytail that she could hold in one hand and giving Satya a clear view of the hearing aids she wore.

“Actually,” Fareeha said softly, “it can be harder than you think.”

Chapter Text

Satya gaped as she looked at Fareeha’s ears, and the thin tubes that extended out of both of her ear canals and looped behind the shell of her ear, where each tube merged with a boxy gold colored device that appeared to be made out of plastic.

She realized that she must have been staring, and flicked her eyes down to the floor as she shut her mouth, making an effort to compose herself after she’d nearly been engulfed by her panic and shame.

“I am sorry,” Satya finally murmured at the floor. “I...I should have…”

There was a rustle as Fareeha let her hair fall. “No, Satya, you didn’t know.” Fareeha seemed to wait for her to reply, but Satya was sinking into a mortified, painful silence that was made worse by her growing urge to move.

“Satya,” Fareeha asked gently, “do you feel like you can talk right now?”

Satya closed her eyes and shook her head.

“OK.” Fareeha kept her voice low and soft, and it felt like a cool blanket being settled on Satya’s frayed nerves. “Would it be easier for you, right now, if I left?”

Satya wanted to apologize, wanted to give herself a chance to find her center again, wanted to breathe, but she didn’t want Fareeha to go, she realized. She opened her eyes and looked up to where Fareeha was watching her, and shook her head.

Fareeha smiled bashfully. “I...actually really do need to use the bathroom, so what if I go do that, and if you need a few minutes alone...I can go back to the living room and wait for you there?”

Satya slumped with relief as she nodded.

“I’ll see you in a bit, then.” Fareeha gave her one last reassuring look, then disappeared into the bathroom, and once she had shut the door Satya let herself back into her “studio”, shut the door, and turned the lights back on.

She considered taking a fidget toy or using the bubble wrap, but the crashing, overwhelming, chaotic feelings in her needed a larger outlet.

Satya took off her flats, then finally let her hands move and arms shake, letting herself follow her urges until the movements of her body finally allowed Satya to bring order to her mind.


When Satya returned to the living room, Fareeha had produced an elastic from somewhere to put her hair back, and had taken a seat.

“I thought it might be easier if I wasn’t trying to hide anything,” she explained, “even unintentionally.”

Satya nodded and sat down across from her on the couch. “May I ask…?”

Fareeha grimaced. “IED.”

Satya’s brows knit. “You said you were an engineer.”

Fareeha straightened up. “I am - but I got started as part of the Corps of Engineers in the army.” Her eyes unfocused slightly as she leaned back in the chair. “We were rebuilding a power station that had been bombed out a few years before. Once we had it back online, the plan was to help with roads and a new school but things didn’t get very far after that.”

Satya shook her head. “I...I am sorry. How bad…?”

Fareeha reached up to touch the side of one hearing aid. “I’m on the border between ‘moderate’ and ‘moderate severe’ hearing loss. I was about ten feet from where it went off. It could have been much worse.”  Carefully, Fareeha removed the tube from her ear and unclipped the hearing aid so Satya could see what it looked like.. “Without them...I can hear loud noises. Bass notes. I know people are speaking but don’t always understand the words. I miss phones ringing, or stuff on vibrate. I need an extra loud alarm clock…”

Satya nodded. “With them?”

“It’s not the same,” Fareeha admitted as she put the hearing aid back in. “It never will be. But it’s a lot better with them than without them. I can understand pretty much everything I hear, go to the movies, watch TV…”

“Drive, obviously.”

Fareeha smiled. “Yeah.”

Satya tilted her head slightly. “But you hide them.”

Fareeha sighed, looking down at the coffee table. “Yeah. Sometimes. Especially if I’m driving.” She looked down at the coffee table. “At first I didn’t worry about it...but so many people would shout at me like I couldn’t understand them, or talk incredibly slowly. Act like I was stupid.” Fareeha shook her head. “I got sick of being treated like I wasn’t really an adult.” She reached up to touch one of the sets of gold beads in her hair. “I wore these before I got hurt, sometimes. I realized that between the beads and brushing out my hair a bit more, my bangs would cover the hearing aids up, and it became a habit…”

Satya looked down at her hands. “I can understand that.”

Fareeha looked at her sympathetically. “Do you...would you like to talk about it?”

Satya didn’t, exactly, but at the same time...Fareeha had shown her an incredible amount of understanding and vulnerability… “I...was born to a very poor family, in a very poor city. Scholarships and awards were the only chance I had to be anything. But I needed to be...I had to be…”

“Normal,” Fareeha murmured softly, pain in her eyes.

“Yes,” Satya answered, her voice tight. “I could not draw attention to myself, or be seen as...disruptive. My mother would force me to be still, when I was at home or in public. Once I began attending better schools, she sent money so I could see ‘specialists’ who did much the same.”

Fareeha’s throat worked as she swallowed. “Which is why...your room...needed to be private.”

“Yes.” Satya’s stomach was working itself in knots, but she forced herself to stay calm. “I was only ever allowed to…” She trailed off, unable to find the right words, and gave a shake of her hand in an attempt to encapsulate it all. “It had to be where no one else could see me.”

Fareeha looked as if her heart was breaking. “Even now? You’re not in school anymore, you’re out on your own.”

Satya shook her head. “Vishkar is a very...traditional company. If I had asked for special compensation, I am sure I never would have gotten my internship, let alone hired. Once I began having to work with construction crews and clients...I knew I had to maintain an appearance.”

“That’s...incredibly cruel to you, Satya.” Fareeha’s eyes were filled with so much sympathy and concern that it hurt to look into them. “It sounds like you’re torturing yourself for the sake of your job.”

“It is not cruel, or kind. It simply is.” Satya shrugged. “I have lived this way my entire life.”

Fareeha looked like she wanted to argue, but stopped herself with a sigh. “I’m sorry you’ve had to...hide part of yourself from everyone.”

Satya felt the tension in her ease slightly. “I appreciate your concern, and your...discretion, earlier.”

“I sort of wanted to give you a hug,” Fareeha admitted slowly, “but I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about being touched, or if you…” Her cheeks burned, and she coughed as she stopped herself.

“If I what?”

Fareeha grimaced. “If you...liked girls. It could have been taken the wrong way, and I’d made you uncomfortable enough.”

Oh.

Satya knew she should say something to that, but she couldn’t put the words together properly. She finally was able to mentally walk back to the first thing Fareeha had said, and focused on that.

“In that moment...it would have been too much to be touched. By anyone.”

Fareeha sat up a bit straighter. “OK. And...the other thing…?”

“I’m not sure,” Satya answered honestly, “we’ve really just met. But...I think I could. Like you.”

Fareeha grinned. “I think I could like you, too.”


“So, how have you been?”

Fareeha couldn’t help the smile on her face as she answered her therapist’s question. “Good. Really good, actually.”

“Oh?” Emily raised an eyebrow. “The last time we met you were having some concerns about work.”

“That has been better,” Fareeha admitted, “I had a talk with my boss and we worked out a few things. But that’s not what I was thinking of.”

Emily took a sip of her tea, then smiled. “I’m very glad to hear you took the time to speak with him instead of letting things bottle up until they popped. That’s a great step forward for you.”

Fareeha reached for the bottle of water that Emily always put out for her when they had a session. “Thank you.”

“You did the work, I’m just giving you proper recognition.” Emily leaned forward in her overstuffed chair with a smile. “Now, I’d really love to hear about what else is going on.”

“I met someone,” Fareeha said, and she grinned at the look of surprise and delight that Emily gave her. “The weekend after our last session, actually.”

“That's wonderful! Congratulations, Fareeha! Who are they? How did you meet?”

“Her name is Satya. She's an architect who works at a firm downtown.” Fareeha shifted nervously on the couch. “I...uh...met her because I was giving her a ride home.”

Really,” Emily drawled. “I seem to recall someone telling me she wanted to drive to make a bit of extra money, not because she wanted to meet girls.”

Fareeha’s face felt like it was on fire. “I wasn't trying to! It just...happened. It was kind of an unusual situation.”

“I'm sure it was,” Emily agreed with a piper’s smile. Then, her face grew a bit more serious. “How did she handle learning that you’re hard of hearing?”

“That got awkward,” Fareeha admitted, “but it wasn’t...really her fault.”

“Oh?”  Sometimes Fareeha really liked working with Emily, and sometimes she really hated how she could raise her eyebrow and silently convey volumes. In this case, a rather pointed Do go on…

She took another pull of her water before she answered the spoken and unspoken questions. “She’s on the spectrum, and she grew up constantly being told not to show any signs of stimming or being different.”

“Ahh,” Emily murmured softly. “Yes. Unfortunately that sort of ‘treatment’ wasn’t discredited until relatively recently.”

Fareeha grimaced. “I sort of accidentally found a room in her house where she keeps some things to stim and fidget with. She was...really upset. I tried to tell her she didn’t have to hide that from me.”

Emily frowned, but didn’t interrupt, just made a little encouraging gesture.

“She was upset because she thought I was judging her. That I was talking down to her. Because I was  “normal.”” Fareeha made air quotes with her fingers as she went on. “So I pulled my hair back so she could see my hearing aids.”

“How did she react to that?”

“I...sort of overwhelmed her.” Fareeha looked down at the table. “Wasn’t my finest hour. I realized I’d gone a bit too far, so I asked if she wanted to have some time alone before we tried to talk about it.”

“De-escalating. That was very smart.” Emily picked up her tea again. “I’m really pleased with how you showed respect for her feelings and needs, and your awareness of overstepping her boundaries.”

Fareeha ducked her head with a chuckle. “I guess I just didn’t want to treat her the way I’d been treated.”

Emily didn’t let her play it off. “You were still practicing empathy, Fareeha. You’re allowed to be proud of yourself for making progress, and taking credit for successes.”

“I...yeah.” Fareeha made eye contact with Emily and sat a bit straighter. “I am happy I did it. I’m happy we talked through it.”

Emily smiled as she sat back in her chair. “And now?”

“Well,” Fareeha gave a pleased sigh, “we’ve had two dates. I took her out to the beach, she made me dinner. We’re texting a bit. Work keeps her pretty busy, but it’s...it’s really nice.”

“Wonderful.” Emily put her teacup down on the saucer. “Though I do need to caution you - if she has had bad experiences with stimming around others, don’t press. Don’t try to ‘fix’ things. You are not responsible for her coping or recovery. She has to do that work.”

Fareeha nodded. “I’m trying not to ask if she wants to stim around me. I’m letting her decide what she’s comfortable with, and following her lead.”

“Good. I wish you both the best of luck - and if you ever want to bring her in to sit in on a session, that’s fine, just please let me know so I can expect her.”

Fareeha considered that. “I honestly don’t know if she would be comfortable with that or not, with the experiences she’s had. I think I would need to talk to her about that before I made a decision.”

Emily gave her an approving smile. “Very good. So, shall we move on?”

Fareeha sighed as she put down her water bottle and raised her hands. Fine, she signed. Sick of this.

Emily frowned as she shook her head. Practice important. Sign important. Sign slowly OK, practice help. Then, her eyes lit up with an idea, and her smile turned more than a bit evil. Practice or tell girlfriend.

No! Fareeha stuck out her tongue. Practice more. Promise. Girlfriend not sign anyway.

Teach girlfriend, Emily suggested. Learn slow. Practice, help both.

Maybe. Thinking. Fareeha conceded, and their session went on from there.

Chapter Text

“No,” Satya said firmly as she crossed her arms. “Absolutely not.”

The representative from their electrical subcontractor rolled his eyes as he stood on the other side of the desk in the trailer she was currently using as an office. “C’mon, lady! This saves us time and saves you money! What could be bad about that?”

“Installing those conduits ‘in advance’ means you will be trying to work before the subfloors and bracing have been properly inspected,” Satya countered, “and even if I was inclined to allow it - which I am not - that is a decision for the main contractor to make. I will not undercut his authority - and I strongly suspect that you are trying to get my approval because he has already told you no.”

The electrician’s face darkened with frustration, but Satya wasn’t finished.

“And while you are working for Vishkar on this project, you will address me as Miss Vaswani, or I assure you that your company will not be working with us for much longer - or ever again.” That made the electrician flinch.

“Sorry, ma’am. Miss Vaswani. Uh….won’t happen again.”

Satya leaned forward and wrapped her fingers around the edge of the desk, her fingertips lightly tapping at the underside of the desktop. “Thank you.” She pointedly turned her attention to some of the shop drawings that had been sent over. “I need to review these.”

The electrician took her dismissal for what it was, and gave her a nervous nod before he left the trailer.

Satya had only reviewed a handful of the updated plans that had been sent over from some of the other subcontractors before there was a knock at the trailer door as Sanjay let himself into the office.

Satya frowned. “You should be wearing your hard hat. An OSHA inspector could stop by at any time.”

Sanjay gave a dismissive wave. “It’s not a problem. I have it in my bag, see?”

Satya sighed with frustration. “Where it will do you absolutely no good should something happen. There is a reason they are called accidents. They do not occur on a schedule.”

Sanjay’s laugh was infuriating. “OK, OK, I’ll skip the lecture, Miss Vaswani.”

Satya’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you here, Sanjay?”

“I got a call from Chase, the rep from TK Electric.” Sanjay smiled at her. “He said you were a bit...harsh, when he tried to propose a cost saving measure.”

“He was asking me to overrule our main contractor’s decision, disrespected me, and his ‘cost saving measure’ would have put his workers at risk for a dubious benefit.” She shook her head. “It was unacceptable.”

Sanjay frowned at her. “We do a lot of work with TKE.” He slowed his speech and changed his tone of voice, as if speaking to a child. “I have a very good relationship with them, and it’s important to helping to bring in a competitive bid.”

“Substandard work will not help Vishkar get additional contracts,” Satya argued, “no matter how low the bid is.”

Sanjay shook his head. “I’m not sure you understand. They are a very important partner.” He came around the desk and put his hand on her arm. “Let me take you out to lunch, and I’ll try to explain this for you.”

Satya stiffened under his touch, and her fingers dug into her palms. “I would rather not. I have quite a bit of work to do, and I was planning to go back to the office when I finish here.”

Sanjay smiled, and the only word Satya could think of for his expression was oily. “That’s no trouble, I could just drop you off when we’re done.”

“I drove myself,” Satya disagreed, “and I would need my car. Please let go of me.”

Sanjay scoffed. “Are you going to call your cab driver?”

Satya felt herself flush. Her arms were starting to ache from the tension, and her chest felt as if someone was slowly tightening a winch inside of her. “I do not need to call a cab, Sanjay, but if you do not leave the trailer immediately I will call for security.”

Sanjay’s face went from disbelief, to shock, to anger before he finally released her arm. “Fine,” he spat. “If you want to be ungrateful, that’s fine. After everything I’ve done for you? That Vishkar has done for you?! Fine!”

Sanjay stormed out, slamming the door to the trailer behind him so hard that the calendar fell off the wall. Satya shuddered, choking off a sob, and slumped against the desk until she could catch her breath, then went to the door and locked it before she pulled her purse out of her desk.

 

FAREEHA AMARI

11:13

 

Are you there?

Yeah, I just got out of a meeting.

Can you take lunch?

Let me check - are you at your office or the hospital?

Hospital.

Traffic may be a problem.

Please.

Are you OK?!

No

I’ll take the rest of the day off and I’ll be there as soon as I can.

 

A wave of panic rose up in her, and Satya fumbled for the phone app.

“Hey,” Fareeha answered on the second ring. “I’m just letting my boss know I’m leaving.”

Satya shook her head even though she was on a phone call, her voice shaking. “I didn’t want you to miss work because of me.”

Fareeha’s voice was full of concern. “Satya...Satya, no, this is important - you are important. I can tell you’re upset. I have vacation days, it’s OK.”

Satya went quiet until she realized Fareeha had called her name again.

“Satya? Should I meet you at the hospital site?”

“No,” Satya finally replied after a few more seconds of racing thoughts. “Do...do you remember where we had lunch last week?”

“The Sushi place?”

“Yes,” Satya nodded. “It will…it will be quiet. I need that.”

Fareeha’s voice was heartbreakingly gentle. “OK. I’ll see you there soon.”

Satya had to sit in the chair for a few minutes after Fareeha hung up the phone, but being able to drive to the restaurant in relative silence had helped her try to re-order her thoughts.

Unsurprisingly, she’d arrived first, so Satya had asked for a quiet booth and ordered a cup of hot tea for herself while she waited. Fortunately Fareeha wasn’t far behind, and arrived not long after Satya had finished her first cup.

Fareeha was dressed in slacks and a royal blue polo shirt with a golden helix logo on the breast, and she stopped just before she reached the booth. “Is a hug OK right now?”

Satya stood, and answered the question by hugging Fareeha herself, shaking as Fareeha returned the embrace and ran a hand gently up and down the back of her suit jacket.

“OK,” Fareeha murmured softly, “I’m here, it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK.”

Satya let Fareeha guide her back to the booth, and once they were both settled and they placed their orders, Satya explained what had happened. Her meeting with the electrician, Sanjay’s arrival, and his behavior.

The corner of Fareeha’s jaw jumped when she described the way Sanjay had grabbed her, but she waited for Satya to finish explaining what had happened before she spoke. “I think you should talk to your HR department. Not only is he harassing you, it sounds to me like he’s taking kickbacks from that contractor.”

Satya nodded slowly. “Something certainly seems suspicious there.”

“Did you still want to go back to your office?”

“I...think I should visit Human Resources, yes. I don’t think I will stay afterwards, though.”

Fareeha put her hand halfway across the table, but didn’t go further. “I’ll go with you, if you like. I can wait in the lobby, whatever you need.”

Satya looked at Fareeha’s outstretched hand, then put her own atop it, lightly squeezing it. “I think...that would help me a great deal.”

Lunch was a quiet affair, and afterwards they walked to the parking garage where they had both left their cars.

“I’m going to have to pay for parking anyway,” Fareeha suggested, “so why don’t I just ride with you over to your office?”

Satya considered that, then nodded. “We can get your car when I am finished.”

Fareeha let her hand rest on the center console, and Satya found herself occasionally reaching out to stroke along her forearm or hold her hand for a few moments until they had reached the garage for the building where Vishkar had their offices.

As they rode the elevator up to the 14th floor, Satya tried to keep herself calm, struggling to keep her hands from shaking.

“You’ve got this,” Fareeha murmured softly, “and I’m right here.”

Satya nodded and leaned against her shoulder for a moment. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” Fareeha promised. The elevator chimed as they reached the floor, and Satya lead them into a the nicely appointed lobby.

The receptionist looked up with a smile. “Good afternoon, Miss Vaswani.”

Satya nodded back politely. “Good afternoon. I need to speak to someone in HR. Can my...friend get a visitor badge, please?”

“Yes, of course.”

Once Fareeha had signed in, Satya swiped her badge to go deeper into the office. “I suspect you will need to wait while I speak to someone, but at least this way you can be nearby.”

“That’s fine,” Fareeha reassured her. “I’m just glad to be here for you, Satya.”

She appreciated that Fareeha wasn’t doing anything which might out her, simply appearing to be a supportive friend, but at the same time...even as part of her knew this was the best way to act, part of Satya dearly wanted to take her hand.

Left, down two rows of desks, right, two more rows of desks, past the bathroom...to the door with HUMAN RESOURCES printed on the nameplate. Satya put her hand on the door handle, looked back to make sure Fareeha was still behind her, then pushed the door open.

The small waiting area had a few low chairs, a small table covered in various pamphlets and brochures for benefits and similar programs, and a second door that lead into a small set of offices.

A chime announced the door being opened and shut, and a moment later a smiling woman in glasses came out of the offices. “Good afternoon.”

Satya nodded to her, while Fareeha gave her a little wave. “Hello. I...have a matter I need to speak to someone about, urgently.”

The HR associate nodded, her face growing serious. “Of course. It’s Satya, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” To her embarrassment, she couldn’t remember the HR associate’s name, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by that.

“OK, Satya. Does your visitor need to come with us?”

Fareeha shook her head. “I’m here as moral support. If you need me to stay outside…”

“For the moment,” the associate looked over to Satya. “Is that OK?”

Satya nodded. “That is fine.” She looked back to Fareeha, giving her a grateful smile. “I’ll be out when I am finished.”

Fareeha gave her an encouraging smile, and sat down. “I’ll be right here.”

The associate lead her back into her office, then shut the door before taking a seat. “What can I help you with today, Satya?”

Satya sat, linking her hands in her lap, and then took a deep breath to calm herself before she spoke. “I have been receiving harassment from the project manager who I worked with on the Mercy Hospital proposal...and he made some comments today that make me believe he has an inappropriate relationship with one of our subcontractors.”

“That’s Sanjay Korpal, correct? What you’re describing is a very serious accusation,” the HR associate noted, but her tone of voice didn’t express skepticism or doubt. “Could you please explain what’s been going on?”

Satya squeezed her fingers together, and reminded herself that Fareeha was in the next room. You are doing the right thing. You are safe. She is here for you.

“Yes,” Satya confirmed, “Sanjay has been...sending me text messages. Attempting to get me to go to lunch, or dinner, or for drinks after work. I went on one occasion with the entire team after we were celebrating the bid for the hospital being accepted, but I have otherwise told him no. He continued to ask, and also began sending me text messages asking why I wouldn’t come out to ‘have fun’ with him.”

The HR associate had begun taking notes on a legal pad. “I see. And this escalated?”

Satya nodded. “Three months ago, he came to my home uninvited and attempted to get me to go out with him again. A friend was there, fortunately, and was able to get him to leave.”

“The same friend who is outside?”

“Yes,” Satya confirmed. “Her name is Fareeha Amari. She works for HSI Engineering.” Satya paused. “In the interests of full disclosure…” She trailed off, awkwardly.

The associate looked up from her pad. “Anything you tell me right now is confidential, Satya, and will not leave this room unless it is required due to an investigation or discipline proceedings.”

Satya looked down at her hands, then locked eyes across the desk. “Fareeha is my girlfriend. I am not...out.”

To her relief, the associate just nodded, her eyes warming. “I understand. I don’t see any reason why that would affect things, but thank you for trusting me. Please, go on?”

“I have been trying to avoid him outside of our work duties, but he’s continued to make advances. Today…” Satya bit her lip. “A representative from TK Electric tried to push me to sign off on work I felt would be unsafe and substandard. I refused. Shortly after I asked him to leave the project office at the construction site, Sanjay came to see me.”

The associate took more notes, her mouth turning to a slight frown. ‘He normally wouldn’t need to be at the job site while construction is underway, would he?”

Satya shook her head. “He said that the electrician I spoke with had called him. Sanjay told me that he had a ‘very good relationship’ with them. He said that they were a very important partner for bids, and that they helped him bring in lower bids for contracts.” Satya’s mouth felt dry as she attempted to recall everything Sanjay had said, repeating things word for word wherever she could. “After I told him that I would not overrule the general contractor or approve their proposal, Sanjay took my arm, and told me he wanted to take me to lunch so he could ‘explain this’ to me.”

The associate looked up from her notes. “He touched you?”

Satya nodded. “I asked him to let me go.”

“Did he?”

Satya shook her head. “Not until I threatened to call security.” She felt the same winching tension in her chest that she had in the trailer. “He called me ungrateful for everything he had done for me. Ungrateful for everything Vishkar had done for me. He told me that was ‘fine’, and then he left the office, and slammed the door behind him.”

“That was obviously very inappropriate, and you were right to come speak with me,” the associate assured her. “I need to type this up so there is a written record, and to have you sign the statement. Would you like me to bring your girlfriend back to wait in here with you?”

Satya closed her eyes and nodded.

“I’ll be right back.”

Satya could feel her legs shaking and didn’t know if she could stop them. Fareeha would be coming back. The HR associate would be coming back. She felt as if an iron band had been cinched around her chest, and it was drawing tighter…


“Satya?” Fareeha settled into the chair next to her, trying to keep her voice calm as she realized her girlfriend was in the middle of a panic attack. “Satya, breathe. Just breathe, OK?”

Satya nodded, her eyes still tightly shut, but Fareeha could see her sit up slightly and take a deep breath.

“That’s good,” Fareeha encouraged. “That’s good. You’re doing amazing. Just keep breathing. Deep breath, hold it, then let it out.”

Satya followed her instructions as the woman from HR sat at her computer and began to type things up, staying quiet and obviously trusting Fareeha to handle things.

“That’s really good, Satya.” Fareeha kept her voice warm and reassuring, trying to let Satya know she was there without getting too physical. “This is going to pass, OK? I know it’s hard for you right now, but it’s temporary. You’re going to be OK.”

After a few more deep breaths, Satya opened her eyes and turned to look at her, her expression still a bit overwhelmed.

“You’re safe,” Fareeha promised her. “I’ve got you. You’re doing great, ok?”

Satya nodded, but still seemed like she was struggling as she looked around the office.

Distraction, Fareeha realized. She needs a good distraction. She coughed softly, drawing Satya's focus back to her. “What did you think about the sushi we had for lunch?”

Satya blinked, obviously trying to figure out why Fareeha was asking her that, but started to answer after a moment. “I liked the Fantastic Roll. I liked the avocado. The Ruby Roll was too crunchy. I like all of the things in it, but not together like that. I think I would like to try the Kamikaze roll next time, instead. It had the tuna and cucumber without the fried shrimp or the bits of tempura batter.”

Fareeha nodded, noticing how Satya's breathing had gotten a little easier as she spoke. “Did you like the seaweed salad?”

Satya grimaced. “They put too much sesame oil in the dressing. It was better last time.”

Fareeha smiled and ducked her head. She'd thought so too. “Want to get ice cream after this? My treat?”

Satya bit her lip and shook her head. “Maybe later.”

Fareeha took note of how Satya’s leg had stopped shaking, and how her hands had begun to relax. “OK, that's fine. Later works.”

The HR lady asked for Satya to confirm a few dates and times for the complaint, and after a few minutes her laser printer spat out several pages that she bound together with a paperclip before handing them over to Satya to review. “Could you read this over, and if everything is accurate, sign at the bottom of the last page?”

Satya took the papers, carefully running through everything until she reached the final page, then signed on the appropriate line, just above the HR Associate’s name and signature. “Thank you, Pamela.”

The HR lady (Pamela, apparently), smiled to her. “No, Satya, thank you. It took a great deal of courage to come forward about this...and I think under the circumstances you can call me Pam.”

Satya’s answering smile was a bit weak, but Fareeha was relieved to see it. “Pam.”

“I’m going to need to speak to your supervisor and Sanjay’s, and possibly also someone in accounting to check on some things with TK Electric.” Pam looked at Fareeha, and then back to Satya. “I am going to tell your supervisor that you’ll be out the rest of today and Friday. Please go home, try to relax, and enjoy your weekend. If anything comes up that I need to discuss with you, I’ll call you, and otherwise I’ll touch base with you on Monday.” The silent message to Fareeha was pretty clear: Look after her.

Fareeha could handle that.

Satya still looked a bit shaky as she stood up, but her voice was even when she spoke. “Thank you again.”

Once they’d left Pam’s office, Satya looked over to Fareeha as they walked down the rows of desks and offices. “Would you like to see my desk, while we are here?”

Fareeha titled her head slightly. “Do you really want to do that right now, or would you rather get home?”

Satya stopped walking, turned around, and gave Fareeha a guilty look. “Home.”

Fareeha smiled and did her best to silently let her know that was OK. “Maybe next time I’m here, then.”

A blush rose on Satya's cheeks, and Fareeha felt like she'd just won the lottery. “I...I would like that.”

Once they were on the elevator and heading back down to the parking garage, Satya half leaned, half slumped against her, and Fareeha brought her hand up to support her with a reassuring squeeze.

“Let’s go back to your place,” Fareeha suggested. “I can get my car later.”

Satya looked up at her. “The parking fee…”

Fareeha decided to be a little more bold than they usually were in public, and kissed her forehead. “You’re worth it.” She smiled as Satya’s arm came up around her side. “Maybe you could give me a ride over to pick it up in a little while.”

When Satya had finished driving them back to her house, the last thing Fareeha had expected was for her to lead her down to what Fareeha had silently dubbed Satya’s ‘stim studio.’  “Wait here for a moment.”

Fareeha looked around the room. “Is...are you OK with me staying in here?”

Satya nodded firmly. “Please.”

After she’d left, Fareeha looked around the spotless polished wood floor and decided to step outside to take off her shoes and socks, leaving them outside before she settled on the floor.

When Satya returned, she had taken off the sober suit she’d been wearing and had changed into a white t-shirt and a pair of soft blue yoga pants.

Fareeha smiled at her, and Satya nodded back, her lips quirking up before she took herself to the center of the room.

Satya closed her eyes. Her fingers began to shake, and her hands to flap. Her arms slowly swung back and forth, and she began to spin in place.

Fareeha sat, mesmerized, and watched the most beautiful woman she had ever seen dance.