She was there when he arrived. He would have preferred to have time to remember his home first, to remember how things had been. To try and recall how to be the person he should have been: the husband, the father…the man.
He didn't deserve that luxury. He had left her. It was his turn to feel the pain and discomfort that he had caused. So when he stepped off the plane and she was there, he squared his shoulders and walked over to her.
A weak smile, an attempt at an embrace. Her reply.
"Don't touch me," she snapped, turning away from him.
He dropped his hand instantly, accepting the rebuke. They walked side by side out of the airport to the awaiting car, the government escort skulking in the shadows.
The car ride was tense and awkward, but Anatoly was glad he didn't have to fake the meaningless conversation. 'How are you?' and 'Long time no see' and 'How was it leaving the woman you promised to spend a lifetime with?'
No, the tense silence was certainly much preferable to that.
He stared out the window, more for somewhere to look where she wasn't than any actual interest in the scenery. Everything looked the same, but yet, it was all different. He was different.
It was almost robotic, how he slid out of the car and opened the door for Svetlana. They walked up to their door and both reached for the handle simultaneously.
She let him grasp the knob and pull the door open a little, but then her hand few up to shove it open all the way. She stalked through, leaving Anatoly to walk in behind her and close the door quietly.
He barely had time to turn around before his arms were full of two little girls, grasping him and trembling with excitement. "Папа! Папа!" they chorused, smiling and burying their faces in his stomach.
Anatoly crouched down to their level, hugging them tightly. There was no way to make up the time he had missed with them; it would always be a hole in their family that couldn't be patched. "I've missed you all so much," he murmured, kissing the tops of their heads.
Alyosha looked up at him with wide eyes. "Are you going to leave again?"
"Not anytime soon," he assured her softly. "Not if you don't want me to," he added, looking past his little girls to where his wife watched, leaning against the doorway.
"Will you play with me, Daddy?" Natasha asked sweetly, tugging on his hand.
"He will, in a moment, after Мама and Папа talk," Svetlana cut in, crossing her arms, her body language leaving no room for argument.
The girls scampered off, leaving Anatoly to pull himself up off his knees to retain some semblance of his pride. Svetlana watched him coolly, as if contemplating what to say. He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze for a few long moments before mustering his courage to say, "Just say it, Sveta. I deserve whatever it is you have to say."
"Let's get one thing straight," she began immediately, stepping up to him and drawing herself up to her full height. "I have not forgiven you, and I do not intend to anytime in the foreseeable future. I'm trying to make this work for the girls' sake, and that's it. I do not care about Russia or chess," she spit the word with venom, "or Molokov, or even you right now. I care about our family." Svetlana took a deep breath, meeting his eyes for the first time full on. "And if that isn't your first priority, then you had better turn around and walk straight out that door and start making other plans, because there is not a place for you here."
Their eyes locked for a fierce, tense moment that Anatoly knew he would never dominate. He reached out a hand to place it on her arm, but dropped it as he recalled the previous rebuke. "I swear to you that you, Natasha, and Alyosha are the most important thing in my life. I will do whatever it takes to be a family again…to make this work."
She surveyed him for a long moment before declaring, "I will be holding you to that, Anatoly Sergievsky. Now, go play with your daughters. They've missed you." She turned to walk out of the room, but paused in the doorway. "Oh, and Tolya?"
He looked up, allowing hope to seep into his emotions. Perhaps she had a kind word to say to him after all. "Yes?"
"We have a couch. I expect you to use it."
The clicking of her heels and the shutting of the kitchen door constricted around his heart with a deafening finality.