Anatoly had reached the middle of the stairwell before he came to his senses.

He slapped his palm against the handrail and sat down in the middle of the step.

There was no doubt in his mind that he had overreacted. Just as there was no doubt in his mind that Svetlana knew that.

But that didn't make it any easier to stomach the fact that he'd hurt her.

The thought that he might have injured her in some way drove him to his feet and up the stairs, but he paused as his hand made contact with the door handle.

Unsure what to expect on the other side, although self-aware enough to know that only he could fix this.

He needed to let her know that she wasn't the cause of his dour mood. To express what he was thinking and feeling, and to make sure she understood that he didn't blame her for things working out this way.

The thought that he was taking her for granted rose in his mind, but he pushed it away ruthlessly.

It was easier to believe that her love for him was so unconditional that she would let any behavioural faux pas slip under the radar. That nothing would ever change between them – no matter what he did or said, didn't do or didn't say.

Abject fear gripped him for a moment.

Fear that one day he would overstep his boundaries and she would be gone.

He couldn't contemplate being surrounded by people who didn't care who he was, so as the fear stabbed at him again he took a deep breath and let himself into the apartment.

Svetlana stood by the big window overlooking the streeet, her head resting against the casing; her right hand raised to her mouth.

"Sveta .." he began tentatively.

She didn't move.

As he approached he realized that she was not crying, as he'd first thought, but holding something to her lips as though she were kissing it.

Something crunched underfoot and a sick feeling swept through him as he looked down and realized what it was.

He vaguely remembered snatching the cup from her, but had no recollection beyond that.

He knelt down and started to pick up the pieces, in the hope that he would be able to at least glue them back together for appearance's sake.

Flashes of conversation from happier days ran through his mind as he did so.

The tea set had belonged to a paternal aunt or great aunt, he seemed to recall; an heirloom handed down through several generations.

The final piece lay close to where Svetlana was standing, and as he reached for it there was a small splash on the tile by his left hand.

He didn't need to look up to know what it was, and as she made to walk away from the window, and from him, the pain in his heart made him reach up for her.

Wrapping his arms around her waist he buried his face in her abdomen; holding onto her as he begged silently for a forgiveness he wasn't sure she would give.

Svetlana placed her hand on his head and ran her fingers through his hair.

"It's just a tea cup, Anatoly," she said as she freed herself and started walking towards the bedroom.

But it wasn't just a tea cup.

He suddenly remembered that the set hadn't come from an aunt, but from her grandmother. Something rare and precious which she had cherished, and treated with infinite love and respect.

Something which he had stripped from her in a heartbeat.

He put all of the pieces onto the table and followed her into the bedroom with a heavy heart.

She was lying on her side in bed. In the late afternoon light the hair splayed across the dark pillowcase looked like spun gold, and as he reached out to touch it he thought back to all the hurt looks on her face over the past few weeks as he'd focused solely on himself and his issues.

He removed his clothes noiselessly and slipped into bed next to her. Propping himself up on an elbow so that he could be as close to her as possible.

Deep idown he knew that an apology wouldn't do anything - and yet he had to make things right before they deteriorated completely and he had nothing left to call his own.

"Sveta .." he whispered. "You are the sunlight in my life."

She didn't answer, but patted the hand resting on her forearm a few times.

It was more comforting than he had any right to expect.

Eventually she turned in his arms, and the unequivocal love in her eyes sent shame ricocheting through him.

He had no doubt that his eyes were as glassy as hers when he placed a kiss to her mouth and said, "you are my life."

"And you are mine."

Svetlana had just wrapped her arm around his neck when her phone went off.

"Sergei!" she said as she leapt off the bed and went in search of her handbag.

The conversation was brief, but just long enough to prove that Sergei had been true to his word.

"What is it?" Anatoly asked as he walked out of the bedroom and found her opening the combination to the safe.

As he watched her look through passports, driver's licences, and other documentation, the stress began to fall away from him.

He was being given a chance to redeem himself. He wasn't sure he'd ever know what strings Sergei had pulled or who had been pulled off the upcoming job so that he could have it – but he didn't care.

"Something big?"

Svetlana smiled as she heard the eagerness in his voice.

"I think so .."


Author's note:

That's our baseline. These two characters are now ready to enter the main storyline, as needed. Although I will say that Svetlana will be in one of the three epilogues.