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Find Me Uptown

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A meaty hand wrapped around her throat and slammed her down. She grunted at the harsh impact of her back meeting the surface of a table so hard, it had the glass top fracture into web-like cracks beneath her.

With a growl, she slammed the side of her wrist against his thick neck. At first, he barely flinched. But within seconds, the gauntlet hidden under her sweater sleeve activated, and shot a tiny scarlet capsule. The capsule latched onto the bottom of his jaw, instantly releasing a bolt of electricity through his system. The voltage wasn’t one of her strongest, but it was enough to wrack his body with minor convulsions. Enough of a distraction to get her legs up between their bodies and kick out into his midriff, effectively forcing him off of her.

She wasted not a second once she could breathe again. She rolled off of the table and raced for the entryway of the control room, shouldering through the double doors. Out in the hall, she had to dodge a few individual fights that had broken out between the other SHIELD agents and the random cronies that had seemingly shown up just to raise hell.

Knowing it was only a matter of time before the small handful of SHIELD agents present decided to call in reinforcements, she swerved away from the main elevator at the end of the hall. Instead, she went for the window around the corner. It opened for her easily, and she slipped through to get to the fire escape outside the building.

Not wanting to spend a moment longer than she had to around the building, she hooked the metal carabiner clip attached to her belt to the edge of the railing. Upon checking that it was securely attached, she leapt over the side of the grated metal.

She was weightless for the four floors she fell past. Then, she was stopped with a hard jolt against her waist as the cable attached to her belt clip suddenly pulled itself taut when she started to gain too much momentum. She promptly unhooked the other end of the cable from her belt, allowing herself to drop the few feet left between her and the cement sidewalk below. As soon as her boots met solid ground, she took off running.

It was about six blocks later that she felt confident that no one had followed her. Nevertheless, she ducked into the nearest alleyway to make a longer path to the apartment building she was stationed at.

As she slowed to a brisk walk, she reached into the pocket at her thigh. Pulling out the burner phone there, she pressed it to her ear. She was still catching her breath from the fight and her subsequent escape, and she didn’t bother to mask her heavy panting as she pressed the necessary speed-dial number. In fact, she hoped the other woman could hear the exertion she had gone through tonight.

The other end of the call picked up after four rings. And Valentina was gratingly chipper for it being nearly two in the morning. “Y’ello. What can I do for you?”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me there were other people after this damn thing?”

Valentina scoffed. “Oh, come on, now. You couldn’t possibly think you were the only one after a client as high-dollar as one of the Avengers? Least of all one who’s only a defense is a couple of circus tricks and hiding behind your sister.”

If they had been speaking in person, Yelena was certain she would have bitten the other woman’s head off. For the moment, though, she settled for grumbling through gritted teeth. “I want that raise already.”

“Oh, trust me, you got one. You just don’t realize it, yet.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, no.” Valentina chuckled haughtily, as if catching Yelena in the act of something. “You’re not gonna get anything out of me until I’ve gotten something from you. So, did you get the drive or not?”

Annoyed, Yelena forced her fingers into the thick neck of her sweater, rifling under the black cotton until she could feel the short stick of metal crammed into the tight fabric of her sports bra underneath.

“Yeah, I still have it,” she reported flatly, pulling her free hand out of her sweater.

“Good girl!” Valentina praised, her tone of voice going higher, like that of someone speaking to a dog. “Well, then, that means you’ve got some homework to do. I’ll leave you to it, and check in to see where you’re at later in the week, alright?”

Before Yelena could answer, she was ending their conversation herself. “Alright, then. Work hard, tsarina!”

Yelena scowled as the line went dead. She returned her phone to its pocket at her thigh, mumbling under her breath, “Suchka.”

By then, she had reached the other end of the alleyway, which had led her to the edge of a residential neighborhood. While cradling what was likely to be a bruised rib, she turned right on the sidewalk and followed the line of homes towards her temporary apartment. Every step she took was lined with exhaustion, and sometimes even a sharp pang of jealousy towards the families inside those homes, sleeping blissfully unaware of the malevolent agents hiding in plain sight amongst them. Agents like herself.

It had taken only two days of staying in New York City for Yelena to not only complete the data mining portion of her mission, but to also settle into something of a routine for herself in her downtime. And to pinpoint places near the apartment building where she was stationed that seemed trustworthy in terms of getting quick food and supplies. And also, to determine that she wanted to leave.

It wasn’t enough that the job, itself, was mentally taxing. She’d had targets that were difficult to track before, but this was an Avenger. Even when she did locate him, she would have to get creative about avoiding any detectable connection to such a public figure. But there was the matter of when she let herself technically off-duty, as well. Having to navigate the crowded streets, and learn to tune out ceaseless noise, and ward off nosey neighbors, and only finding solace in what was probably the shabbiest home that Valentina could find for her.

She knew the poor conditions had their purpose; Valentina liked to keep her charges uncomfortable, so that they would have incentive to carry out their missions faster, so that they could leave. The apartment Yelena, in particular, was staying in was little more than a hole in the wall. It was one room, with one bathroom and closet, and it had cramped walls, weathered doors that needed to be kicked a certain way to close properly, and mismatching furniture from previous owners who hadn’t been bothered to claim anything there as their own.

And yet, coming back to it at the end of that second day (technically third, seeing as it was nearly two in the morning) in the absolutely exhausted state she was in made that dingy old apartment seem like the grandest, most luxurious home that side of the country. She didn’t even remember actually falling asleep once she had finally, drowsily stumbled her way into the glorified box. All she was aware of was being woken up a few short hours later, when the sun was barely peeking through from between the other buildings in the area.

The only person who could possibly rouse Yelena from such an unfulfilling sleep was in fact, not a person. She was a dog. A dog that would rather unceremoniously shove her cold, wet nose against Yelena as a form of getting her attention. Having changed into a loose-fitting tank top the night before that had writhed up in her sleep, the bare skin over the spy’s bruised rib was exposed and evidently, game for prodding from a well-meaning Fanny.

Yelena grunted, jerking against the hard back of the couch she hadn’t had the energy to fold backwards into a proper bed last night.

“Alright,” she groaned, pushing herself to sit up. Cradling the now aggravated abrasion beneath her skin, she blinked blearily through streams of sunlight to see Fanny now sitting before her, tail sweeping back and forth expectantly. “Alright, I’m up. I’m up.”

Fanny was ecstatic, springing to her paws and bolting for the door. She paced back and forth in front of it, occasionally glancing over at Yelena as if for encouragement.

It was encouragement that was very much needed. Yelena didn’t have much energy to spare after such a long, harrowing night. But she did feel for her dog, who had been cooped up in this cramped space that whole time. Living the way Yelena did, as a freelance assassin and spy, she knew Fanny had grown used to inconsistent schedules, and even more unpredictable free time to be spent together, letting her stretch her legs outside. Regardless, Yelena tried to make up for it whenever she could. So, as Fanny continued to less-than-subtly urge her outside of their apartment, Yelena couldn’t help but oblige her.

“Just let me get changed, first,” the spy reasoned, standing to begin her search for some suitable, civilian clothes. “And we’re only going to be out for a few minutes. Thirty, tops. Alright?”

Fanny’s ‘thirty minute-long walk’ actually wound up being twice that. And still going.

It wasn’t anything Fanny did to stall. Rather, it was more Yelena’s realization that she enjoyed the unrushed time outside just as much as her dog did. Despite how much she loathed the crowded bustle of the city, she did find some comfort in being able to roam senselessly. Freely. For as long as she pleased. No other agenda besides bonding with her dog.

What she liked most about just having Fanny was that she was a very low maintenance companion. Where she saw other dogs get excited or anxious around so much stimulus at the heart of the city—passing cars, other animals, people, food vendors—Fanny was wholly unbothered. Likely desensitized to most everything given how much she had traveled with her owner. The only reason Yelena kept her on a leash was because of a sign demanding as much in front of the park she had been interested in exploring the day before. Usually, Yelena didn’t give a damn about such rules put in place by people she didn’t even know. However, her being there as part of an indefinite mission stakeout meant she had to keep a low-profile. Which meant abiding by the rules.

“Huh,” Yelena remarked as they made their way under an iron archway. The unofficial entrance of the park. Immediately, she spotted a handful of other people milling about. Mostly lone figures in brightly-colored exercise wear that looked like it had never seen a drop of actual sweat, and the occasional one or two-person family pushing past with a stroller of tiny children. The further she drew into the park, the more Yelena could see of the neighborhood that stood on the other end of it. From the looks of it, the towering apartment buildings looked like everything her own wasn’t; spacious, creatively-designed, and well maintained.

“Hmm. Snob Hill, huh?” she told Fanny.

Her companion only huffed, as if unimpressed, and continued to sniff along the pavement beneath their feet. That left Yelena to keep an eye on the path ahead of them. She felt a sharp pang of sympathy pierce through her at the lack of other dogs around for Fanny to interact with. So far, there had only been a pair of short-faced little bulldogs in a stroller and one chubby Rottweiler who, despite being almost twice Fanny’s size, shied away in fear of her. Fanny usually got along well with other dogs, yet the two of them never stayed in one place long enough for her to form any set routine, let alone have any positive socialization with others of her own species.

Eventually, another dog did appear along their path, trotting contentedly at its owner’s side in the opposite direction as Yelena and Fanny. The dog looked friendly enough; one of those perpetually cheerful golden retriever types, about the same size as Fanny. Although, between him and his owner, there was only one working eye actually on the path ahead of them. The owner was on her phone, looking focused—and a little exasperated—by whatever she was reading.

Then all of a sudden, the one-eyed dog darted to the side, practically pouncing on a distracted Fanny as she passed by. Fanny reeled back on instinct. Yet upon seeing the other dog was only looking to play, she lunged at him in return, offering an excited yip Yelena had never heard from her before.

The other dog’s owner also looked taken aback as the leash around her wrist began yanking her forward. “Oh!” she exclaimed, gently pulling the leash back. Her dog was just as insistent, bowing in front of Fanny and circling around her.

“Shit—I’m sorry!” the owner said as the two dogs began to tangle their leashes together. “He’s not usually—he just gets excited meeting other dogs.”

“Right,” Yelena returned awkwardly, her attention more centered on untangling Fanny’s leash from the other dog’s. Fanny, for once, was being wholly uncooperative with her parent. Apparently, the thrill of finally having another dog willingly interact with her was more important.

Ultimately, the other walker was the one able to get her dog’s leash unhooked from around Fanny’s. Her fingers briefly brushed over the back of Yelena’s hand as they both pulled their respective dogs backwards, making a light flush of embarrassment bloom in the other woman’s cheeks.

“Sorry about that,” the other dog’s owner muttered as she finally managed to get her one-eyed dog to step away. “Come on, Lucky!”

With nothing more, they continued on their way. Yelena paused for only a moment after they did, waiting for Fanny to settle down after such excitement before heading along their own path again.

Without realizing it, she also chuckled to herself. A dog who had lost an eye being named Lucky. It seemed cliché, but also…

“Cute,” she mused aloud.

Her walk with Fanny was the most Yelena saw of the outside world these days. Now that she had the USB drive she had been hunting for over the course of the past few days, the rest of her time was now dedicated to camping out in her temporary home, combing over the files on it for clues on what the Avengers’ next projects were, and which of their bases were likely to be in use for it. If she put the right pieces together, she would be able to track down where Clint Barton had been recently. And where he was going.

There was a shit ton of old mission reports to wade through first, though. Yelena was glued to her laptop screen for hours on end, reading, and only sometimes processing. Sometimes her eyes would skim over words only to realize she was reading the same sentence four times in a row. Only then would she allow herself a break. Only short ones though; just long enough to get some sort of microwaveable meal in her stomach, or soothe a restless Fanny. Then it was right back to her ‘homework.’

She continued on that way well into the next day. Ever since an enhancing serum was injected into her veins during her time in the Red Room, there hadn’t been need for as much sleep as the average human being. It wasn’t until Fanny began pacing beside the door, pawing at the frame, that Yelena even entertained the notion of taking a proper, long break. She relented to the idea, of course, knowing that her companion needed the space to stretch her legs and relieve herself. Not to mention, a crick was starting to form in her own back, so she probably needed to stretch her muscles just as much.

With her mind still at home, mulling over everything the Avengers had been assigned to do—and had even tried to do off the books, apparently—in the past five years, Yelena’s feet travelled on their own accord, tracing the same path she and Fanny had taken before. She was still wary of what went on in their unfamiliar surroundings—an occupational hazard for assassins—but for the most part, she was very much walking half-asleep.

For that reason, it took her by a sharp surprise when Fanny suddenly lunged forward with enough force to audibly strain the black nylon of her leash. Yelena gasped on instinct, gently pulling her back. Her every muscle went tense, unaccustomed to Fanny getting this worked up over just anything.

That is, until she followed Fanny’s line of sight to the next dog that was about to cross their path. Usually other dogs didn’t faze her, but when the other dog was the first to initiate interest, evidently, Fanny was game. Especially when the other dog was familiar to her.

Even from yards away, there was no mistaking that scruffy, golden fur or missing eye. Lucky was his name, wasn’t it?

He froze in place upon seeing Fanny trying to run to him from across the ways. His owner stopped with him, apparently walking just as mindlessly at her dog’s side as Yelena had previously been. She was on the phone again, this time with the device pressed to her ear.

“No, no, I’m sure he would tell me if I sucked at—whoa!

Just like Yelena, she was caught off-guard when her dog suddenly started in a new direction, equally as determined as Fanny to stretch as far as his leash would go. Although unlike Yelena, she heeded her dog’s insistent ways, following his pulling towards the other pair.

“Yeah? Did you find your friend again?” the owner asked in amusement, hastily pocketing her phone. She chuckled as she and her dog finally drew close enough for him and Fanny to sniff at each other, their noses nearly brushing against each other’s. In just a few heartbeats, Fanny’s curled tail began gently waving back-and-forth in excitement.

Yelena was begrudging in letting the two dogs prance around each other again, Fanny yipping happily. She knew she wasn’t half as entertaining to her pet during mission postings like this. She was always either away, fighting someone or stealing something, or had her eyes attached to research for the mission, like she had that day and the day previous. Perhaps she owed this to Fanny.

After all, she knew what it was like to be the child of spy work.

Just the same, being still in such an open, public space made her uneasy. And it was made no better by the owner’s attempts to pass the time with small talk.

“How old is he?”

Yelena hesitated, unused to giving out information about herself so easily, even if it was for a cover.

But Fanny wasn’t her, was she? She was only a dog. One these two likely wouldn’t encounter ever again, especially after Yelena finished her current mission and left the city.

“She’s a few years,” she said eventually.

At least, that’s what the shelter estimated at the time Yelena rescued her.

“Oh, she,” the other dog-owner corrected herself. “A sweet young lady, aren’t you? Huh? Hi.

The other woman positively beamed as Fanny shifted her attention to her, nose pointed at her face as the dog sniffed around her curiously. No doubt trying to prolong her time there, so she could keep playing with Lucky.

“Hi,” Lucky’s owner echoed affectionately, holding out her hand for Fanny to smell. Fanny didn’t hesitate to shove her snout against the offered palm, her tongue rasping over the wrist.

Traitor, crossed Yelena’s mind at the sight.

“What’s your name, huh?”

She was asking Fanny, though it was obvious Yelena was meant to answer. The spy hesitated again in doing so, agitation stirring in the pit of her stomach over whether that act of being so reticent to answer such innocuous questions was suspicious in and of itself.

“Fanny Longbottom,” she answered.

The other dog owner snorted at that, much like Yelena had done when she’d read that on a fake ID amongst her late sister’s keepsakes. As she chuckled to herself, the woman’s gaze stayed fixed on the mutt in question, who was still incessantly nuzzling her hands when she offered them to her. “I like that.”

Yelena hummed in acknowledgement.

“This is Lucky,” the other woman went on, pulling away from Fanny for just a moment to stroke her own pet’s head. “He’s a few years old, too. Or so we think. He was kind of, um…well, he was one of those…side-of-the roaders, you know?”


Yelena let her gaze wander to the one-eyed dog in question, seeing him stare up at her with his one good eye squinting against the sunlight behind her. His tail was wagging just as vigorously as Fanny’s was, though he seemed more cautious than she did about approaching a new person. That being said, the way his tongue lolled out gave off the impression that he was smiling up at her. With his missing eye, it looked like he was winking, too.

“Hi, Lucky,” she said simply, feeling the corner of her mouth quirk upwards before she could stop herself. He was pretty cute. “I like that name.”

“Thank you,” the dog’s owner murmured. Yelena only glanced up at her briefly, though it was enough for her to notice a faint red painting her cheeks. What she could be embarrassed by at the moment, Yelena didn’t know.

“It suits him,” the spy added, pulling Fanny back by her leash when the other woman began to do the same with her dog.

“I know, right?” Lucky’s owner replied around a fond chuckle. She ran her hand down his head a few times, seemingly calming him as he spotted something elsewhere that also caught his interest.

“You good here, bud?” she asked him as he began pulling his leash in the new direction. Straightening her stance to meet Yelena’s eye, she added more seriously, “I guess we’d better let you guys go. Thanks for letting him meet with her! He really loves it.”

“No problem.”

The other woman offered a grateful nod. Then her eyes darted down to Fanny, who was still cozying up to her side. “Nice to meet you, Fanny!”

Fanny only grumbled as the woman began to step away, Lucky leaving with her. Then her distress manifested into a whine, walking as far as her leash would let her after them. Neither of her potential friends so much as looked back at her as they continued on their way without her.

Yelena knew how that felt, too.

“I know,” she said aloud, her solemn tone making Fanny look to her with ears pricked forward in intrigue. Then, as they continued down their own path, Yelena added a final, “I know.”

The rest of the day went on much the same as the previous one had. Yelena worked, breaking only in short intervals to eat, sleep, or take care of Fanny. The day that followed saw even more of the same routine, complete with a proper break only prompted by Fanny’s urging to be let outside.

However, unlike the day before, Yelena led their walk down a new path, in the opposite direction to the park they had been visiting thus far. The new path took them down an array of busy streets and crowded shops, but this time, no one stopped to visit with her or Fanny. A few dogs tried to interact with Fanny, but each one was quickly pulled along by their owner.

It wasn’t that she was trying to avoid that one friendly dog walker (and Lucky) from the park. Truly, she intended to change up their daily path for her own security. Being unpredictable made for someone that was more difficult to track by any potential enemies nearby.

Unfortunately, Barton seemed to think the same way. Three days of reading everything she could find about the Avengers’ most recent whereabouts and projects, and barely any of it had mentioned Barton. It was like the Avengers hadn’t been able to keep track of their own.

Honestly, that didn’t surprise her.

It was aggravating to no end, though. It meant she would have to start going out at night again, investigating the Avengers’ team in person. It was a riskier way of doing things, and would mean staying at her current posting longer, but it was doable. It would just be a shit ton of work.

It was on her fourth day of reading that these ideas began to cross her mind. It was on her fifth day that she began to surrender to the notion that the new course of action would most likely be necessary. It left her frustrated, and in a bitter mood when it was time to walk Fanny. Or more accurately, Fanny walked her that day. Given her mood, and her mental preoccupation with how exactly her plans for the near future were going to change, she didn’t have much headspace left to route their walk. Fanny dragged her along in the right-hand direction of their apartment, and with that, their path for the day was set.

They would be going through the park outside of the uptown neighborhoods.

The longer they went, the more Yelena did finally let her head clear a little. As they made it through the park itself, she found herself actually taking stock of the environment around them for the first time since their first visit there. There were a few trees in places she didn’t previously remember, their leaves shuffling in the summer wind. A lot more trash cans than she remembered were scattered about, each one encased with the same metal fence. A lot more families, particularly those with young kids that pointed out Fanny whenever they passed by her, like the mere sight of a dog made their whole day.

There still weren’t many other dogs. At least, not dogs that were Fanny’s size. There were mostly small dogs, who more often than not travelling in their owner’s arms as opposed to actually walking on the pavement. With the walkways as blistering hot as they were under the touch of the summer sun, Yelena didn’t hold that against their owners. Although, it did make her feel for Fanny, who now passed by every other dog with a yearning whine, as if expecting them to engage with her like Lucky had.

In her sympathy, Yelena relinquished to Fanny’s urging as the dog began pulling them towards a particular cluster of trees. Hopping about between them was a single squirrel, staring rather boldly at Fanny as she approached. It wasn’t until Fanny was a mere two or three feet away from it did the little bushy-tailed creature decide to flee, scampering up the trunk of the nearest tree just high enough to be above Fanny’s head.

Fanny jumped up, forepaws braced against the tree trunk as she watched the small animal climb even higher out of her reach. She even whined in disappointment, eyes and snout following the squirrel as it darted across the branches of the tree.

Yelena hummed, as if sharing her dog’s disappointment. However, as she also looked up to watch the squirrel run off, she couldn’t help the amusement that bled into her tone as she said, “Hmm. Almost had him, malyshka. Almost.”

Fanny snorted, dropping back down to all fours.

Yelena chuckled a little at her expense, beginning to pull her back towards the main walkway behind them. “I know. Believe me, I know it’s frustrating—”

She was suddenly interrupted by her own startled gasp as something large barreled right into Fanny. The spy and her pet were both quick to recoup, though, first for recognizing the other being as a dog looking to incite play. Then, for recognizing the dog to be none other than the one-eyed playmate Fanny had encountered their last two times visiting this particular park. Fanny made short work of reacquainting herself with him, sniffing along his muzzle before springing around him like the squirrel had around the tree trunk.

Caught up in her dog’s excitement, Yelena chuckled fondly, “Hi, Lucky. Where did you—hey!

She interrupted herself again as the two dogs got a little too caught up in their activity, circling around Yelena to the point of Fanny’s leash winding around her body, binding her arms to her form as well as limiting the amount of free-reign Fanny had to move on her leash. It wasn’t until then that Yelena noticed Lucky wasn’t on a leash of his own, nor was the woman usually on the other end of it anywhere in sight.

As if on cue, a familiar young woman with long, dark hair and an oversized shirt and jeans hurriedly jogged up to them, reaching for the retriever’s loose-fitting leather collar.

“Sorry! M’sorry about him!” she said, breath coming in short pants, and tone slightly clipped, like she was tired of apologizing for things like this. She nodded slightly at the trees above them, which still had branches bobbing under the weight of the same, daring squirrel of before. “I just let him off leash for a moment to chase after the squirrel. But, I guess he thought…”

She trailed off, visibly relaxing as her eyes skimmed over Fanny, recognition loosening the tension in her shoulders. “Oh, it’s you, Fanny!”

Yelena’s initial reaction was a mix between surprise and distrust to learn the stranger had remembered her dog’s name despite the fleeting introduction she’d had to her days before. Although, she quickly forced it down, reminding herself that it wasn’t so unusual. After all, she still remembered the other woman’s dog, as well.

“It’s good to see you again, too, Lucky,” she remarked, partially distracted as she encouraged Fanny to unwind her leash from around her body.

Lucky’s owner chuckled nervously. Her apology was more sincere this time as she replied, “I really am sorry about him. He likes other dogs, he just…forgets how to act around them sometimes, you know? He doesn’t really get a chance to see them that much.”

Yelena nodded her understanding. “It’s fine. Besides,” she added with a scratch between Fanny’s ears, “she can take it.”

As if to prove the spy’s point, Fanny suddenly ducked down in a second-long warning before pouncing on Lucky, herself. The two rolled around each other for a bit, tails wagging in a show of benignness despite their rough-housing. Yelena didn’t consider it worth interrupting until they began to chase each other, wrapping their leashes around Lucky’s owner this time.

“Oh! Oh, no,” she exclaimed good-naturedly, chuckling a bit as she wriggled to get them to stop long enough for her to pull them back around her.

Yelena stepped forward to help (and was also partially pulled forward by Fanny’s attempts to keep playing). In trying to get their respective dogs to cooperate, she bumped arms a few times with the other woman. After some maneuvering, she was able to step back with Fanny at her side again, muttering an apology for the trouble.

“It’s fine,” the other dog owner assured. “I can take it.”

Yelena smirked with a barely-there laugh, recognizing those words.

While awkwardly nodding a bit, the other woman stepped back, gently tugging a now tired Lucky along with her. “Well, thanks again for letting him play. I think he missed his friend.”

There was a sharp twist of uncertainty in Yelena’s gut over how to feel about this stranger noticing they hadn’t been to the park in the past couple of days. She had to consciously remind herself to breathe, that it didn’t necessarily mean someone had been looking for her, per se, but rather for her dog.

“Lately, I’ve been thinking,” the other dog-owner was saying, “of taking Lucky to the smaller park a few blocks over. I’ve heard it’s more dog-oriented. If you’re ever interested in it, maybe we’ll see you around? I mean, you—you know, just…to give them a chance to run around like this for a bit. Off-leash.”

“Yeah, sure,” Yelena suggested, solely to be polite. In reality, the recent developments (or lack thereof) in her mission had rendered her even more unsure than before as to how long she would even be in the city, let alone available to entertain a new friendship of any kind. Including one between her dog and someone else’s. Although, she obviously couldn’t disclose that with a simple civilian. So, she settled for offering whatever she knew the other woman wanted to hear, instead.

“Cool!” Lucky’s owner remarked, looking just as eager about the prospect as he did, his plumy blonde tail wagging vigorously even as he began to be pulled away. “If you’re ever there around this time of day, we’ll keep an eye out. Or, you know, um…you can just ask around for us. If you want! I’m, um…we’ll be Kate and Lucky.”

Yelena dipped her head in acknowledgement.

“OK, then. OK! Bye, Fanny,” the other woman dismissed cheerfully. “And thanks again…”

It took a beat for Yelena to realize the stranger was waiting for her to supply her name. Caught off-guard by the sincere intrigue in her expression, a half-truth spilled out of Yelena.


“Lena,” the stranger said in completion to her previous thought. “It was nice meeting you.”

Yelena didn’t respond. She merely watched the other woman continue on down the walkway, and mentally kicked herself for giving something so close to the truth about her identity to someone she didn’t know.

Fanny whined beside her, tail slowly swaying back and forth as she watched the other dog and owner leave. An inadvertent reminder that the pair weren’t complete strangers. At least one of them was a friend. And his equally sociable companion seemed sincere enough in her intentions. She had even offered just as much about herself as she had asked of Yelena, finally giving out her name.