For We Are Bound By Symmetry
by tahlia

The child sleeps through most of Russia. She sleeps on the floor in the back of a stolen army vehicle, tucked under a rough tan-colored blanket, with her head on the folded jacket that belongs to the sergeant that guards her. Katya rides up front with a young corporal, still dressed in her uniform, and they clear the checkpoints outside of Moscow with ease.

There is a doctor, too, Viadro, who rides in the back. Katya doesn't trust him at all, doesn't believe that there are only simple sedatives and light pain medications in his black bag. It is her sister that trusts Viadro, not Katya. Each time the child begins to rouse from sleep, the doctor will reach into his bag and fill another syringe. In private, she reminds the sergeant to keep his weapon loaded.

They are free to travel day or night, under the protection of poor communication and the rank on Katya's uniform. For days they drive along narrow roads that wind along the coast of the Black Sea. At night, when the corporal sleeps, the sergeant drives, and Katya watches the little girl sleeping on the floor. Once, when they are just outside Bucharest, she opens her eyes. She's not frightened at all. Viadro has nodded off, and the girl looks up at Katya, asking earnestly in Russian: "Are you my mother?" But then the sergeant hits a bump and Viadro wakes up, and she is given her shot to sleep again.


The last image Katya had of Irina was a brief kiss on her forehead and a stern reminder to watch Elena while she was away. Katya was fifteen, and Irina's long beautiful hair was recently cut to brush her shoulders. She was not afraid. (Later, when Elena asked if Irina was really going to school in Moscow, Katya pre-empted their father's drunken admonishment of Elena and told her to clear the table. In the kitchen, she reminded her sister to never, ever ask that kind of question. But they both knew.)

Now, almost fifteen years later, she barely recognized her sister when she appeared in her apartment. Still, she could tell that it was Irina there, lurking in the shadows. When she tried the light switch, nothing came on.

"I need your help. I can't stay long."

In her Russian, Katya detected the faintest traces of an American accent.


In Bucharest, they take two tiny rooms above a dirty pub. The sergeant stays with the doctor and the girl, and the corporal stays with Katya. She doesn't sleep, but lays awake and thinks about the things that the corporal told her about himself. Next to her, he snores. About how he wanted to be an artist, how he has never fired a weapon. In the morning, she twists on the silencer and shoots him while he sleeps. He was easy to recruit, but would have been just as easy to break.

At the train station, the doctor asks after the corporal, but Katya ignores him. There are two men in uniform coming down the platform; the girl slips her hand into Katya's, and she holds the fingers of her sister's child tightly without thinking. The men pass without notice. The child doesn't let go.

Only she, Viadro, and the girl board the train to Vienna. Their cabin is in the last passenger car, near the back, and consists of a tiny compartment lined with uncomfortable benches. Viadro draws the curtain on the door and prepares another syringe. Katya watches her staring at the countryside through the window. Calm, as serene like a child should be; detached.

Katya catches Viadro's arm. "Is that really necessary?" she whispers brusquely, but the girl does not turn her head.

Viadro presses his lips together. His Russian is not that strong, and his Italian accent seeps into every vowel when he speaks. "The elixir, it was too strong for her. Already she could have permanent brain damage. See?"

He nods to her hand on the glass. It is twitching-- tapping a series of constant intervals, Katya realizes.

"When she is awake, she fights it. When she is asleep, not so much."

Reluctantly, Katya releases him. She must pick her battles, and this is not one of them. Her eyes linger on the tattoo above his thumb, but she says nothing.

In Vienna, the child requires official papers for the second half of her journey. When she belonged the Russian government, she had no name. Without hesitation, Katya writes her own mother's name. Nadia. The child's birthday becomes the day that her grandmother died.


When Irina briefly explained KGB procedure to her, Katya pretended to be interested. She let her sister lecture on about suspicions and failures and debriefs and that prison in India because there were some secrets she needed to keep. Katya didn't tell her that she already knew the whole story.

"But why, Irina?" She was prompting her. "You are not a traitor. You have served your country well."

The emotion was plain on Irina's face, and she was surprised that her sister didn't even try to hide it. "There was… another."

Irina's meaning took a moment to process in Katya's head. Her eyes widened; perhaps she didn't know the whole story after all. "Another child?"

Irina nodded. "A daughter. I saw her once, when she was born. Cuvee took her away."

The pieces began to fall into place in her mind. She was never privy to the details of her sister's imprisonment after returning from America, told only that her intentions were suspect after such a long undercover operation. Katya didn't say aloud that that was to be expected, that a child born in Russia whose father was an American CIA agent, could be anything but a security risk. That Irina was compromised, weak, too emotionally attached. That she had betrayed more than just her country. Instead, she just shook her head as if she couldn't comprehend the reasons.

"Where is Papa?" Irina asked suddenly.

Katya sighed. "Dead."

Irina's gasp was small, but audible. "When?"

"Years ago." To her own ears, she didn't sound very sympathetic.

"And Elena?"

But Katya only shrugged. It was to be expected that Irina would feel sorry over the death of a terrible man. She was, after all, his one and only favorite.

"I miss Momma," Irina said quietly.

Katya put a hand over her sister's, and Irina smiled, not sensing her seething anger just below the surface. "I will help you find her. You are not the only one with contacts now, you know."


Their accommodations on the train to Milan are more spacious than before; the train moves faster over smoother tracks, and the trio stays hidden in their compartment, with its plush-lined seats, by a lock on the door. An attendant knocks politely on the door to inquire after their needs, but moves along without concern when no one answers.

Nadia sleeps as the train bends around the Alps at night-- sleeps not from a shot, but because she is tired, though it's difficult to tell now if the two are mutually exclusive. She lays across the seats across from Katya and Viadro, mumblings in her sleep and squirming. But Viadro only smiles, as if her restless sleep is something to be proud of. "She dreams again," he says in Italian, as if Katya couldn't understand him. She betrays nothing.

When they have crossed the border into Italy, Nadia's eyes bolt open.

Milan smells like rain and wet dirt. Katya has Nadia's hand in hers, and the girl tugs at her firm grasp as they exit the train. Here, there are colors and sunlight and people smiling, and Nadia takes them into her mind for the first time. Katya reprimands her in Russian, but Nadia's head does not turn. In that moment, she has begun to forget her previous life.

In an alleyway, a van is waiting. The door slides open and man climbs out, immediately reaching for Viadro's hand to shake and then pulling him into a hug. The man grins at Katya, too, but his smile is oily and disingenuous.

The man crouches to Nadia's height and asks her name. Nadia turns to her aunt, whose hand is still grasping hers tightly, and Katya tells her that it's all right. He tells her that her name is pretty, but Nadia does not smile back.

Viadro tosses his black bag into the van and reminds them that it's getting late. When he lifts Nadia up, she turns to Katya, expecting her to follow, but her aunt remains still. She is only five years old, but the child understands what is happening to her. She begins to cry.

Viadro says casually to Katya that her sister will take good care of Nadia. Katya tries to believe him. Only he remains behind when the door slams shut. Inside, she can hear the child wailing.

He pushes up the sleeves of his sweater and flexes his fingers. "No hard feelings." His Russian was sloppy, but his English is impeccable.

Katya's back straightens in preparation. "I understand. Try not to leave a mark."

She shuts her eyes and waits for his fist to collide with her face.


Katya waited until the morning to make the necessary phone calls. There was a pay phone outside of their father's favorite pub, and she decided that the irony was entirely appropriate.

In the background, she could hear children wailing and music playing softly. A maternal type was not what Elena had ever seemed to be. "When is this happening?"

Katya glanced down the alley at two boys on bicycles. "Two days from now. Irina has a place in Paris. I'm supposed to come by next Saturday."

"My God," Elena marveled. "The one, yes, that makes sense, but two. You'd think they sent her to America to maintain the population statistics."

Elena thought it was funny. Katya kept her tone light, but forced. "I've seen his file. It's understandable."

Her sister laughed. Katya could never lie to her sister for very long, and Elena understood betrayal as much as anyone. What Irina had done was inexcusable. "You would. He seemed more your type."

"Even still." Now, she could tell, now Elena was deliberately pushing her buttons.

There is a pause. Faintly, she could hear Elena shouting reprimands in Spanish. The language almost became her. Almost. "It's true, then? About the child. I've heard the rumors."

Katya considered her words carefully. The eagerness in her youngest sister's voice was not new, but only disconcerting when not used in a discussion of hundred-year-old clocks and dusty pieces of manuscript. This was a child, after all, another human being. Innocent of her mother's sins. "Yes. I've seen it myself."

Elena murmured in satisfaction. "I will send a man tomorrow. Don't worry. I trust him."

Katya found this hardly reassuring, and hung up.


In Paris, there is a small hotel off the Rue du Montagne, where a simple Alice has signed the guestbook. Katya leaves a note with the old man behind the desk and slips back out the door.

At the fountain, around three o'clock, she spots Irina's red umbrella and the delicate woman seated on the beach. Katya does not miss the way her eyes glance beyond her-- over her shoulder, hoping for a companion. She does not know when her sister became delicate, but thinks it's probably related to that change in her accent.

"I'm sorry," Katya begins, but there is nothing after that. There's no need. Irina's entire body begins to shake with the realization.

It was an ambush, she explains. Armed men at the hotel in Milan. Men that smelled of cigars and spoke poor Russian; Cuban, perhaps. She was blindfolded; she could hear Nadia crying. It's not hard to lie; she had been rehearsing it since they left Vienna. She does not draw attention to the bruise below her eye, letting Irina find it herself and then cover her mouth in grief. Inside, Katya is disgusted. She doesn't know when her sister became this easy to manipulate.

Irina's voice is small. Defeated. "I won't give up. She is out there, Katya. I can't stop looking."

"She could be anywhere," Katya reminds her.

"She is my daughter! I won't give up."

There is an awkward silence. Katya remembers that first dinner after Irina left, and the sound of her hand on Elena's cheek when she brought her into the kitchen. Disciplining that child was not supposed to be her responsibility.

Quietly, Katya gets up and walks out of the park.


The slap across Elena's face made a sickening crack. There was a servant scrubbing dishes in the sink, and when she turned her head at the sound, Katya ordered her to leave.

"Don't you ever ask that again, Elena. Is that clear?"


"Is. That. Clear?"

The face of her eleven-year-old sister curled up in disgust. "Now that Irina left you in charge, you're going to be taking his side, too?"

Irina's reminder rang in Katya's ears, taunting her. She grabbed Elena by her shoulders. "This is not about sides, you stupid little girl. If you keep asking questions like that, what makes you think Papa won't send us both to boarding school?"

Elena squirmed out her sister's grasp. "And how would that be a bad thing?"

"At boarding school, there's no sister to repay shop-owners for all those stolen watches, Elena."

That made her sister pause. She looked genuinely surprised.

"What?" Katya continued. "Did you really think it was Papa who paid them off?"

"I--" She was silent. "Thank you."

"And it was Irina who took care of most of it, so I suggest you remember that the next time you're going to shoot your mouth off about her schooling in Moscow."

"But she's not in--"

Katya cut her off with a look that was not to be argued with. Elena attempted to move past her sister, but Katya blocked her escape from the kitchen. From the dining room, their father was complaining loudly to the servant Katya had ordered out of the kitchen. The words were beginning to slur together.

"We stick together, Elena."

Unexpectedly, Elena wrapped her arms around Katya and hugged her.

This was the beginning.


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