The sun was just beginning to set, high above Yaroslavl.
The Anti-Volkov group walked away from the court building together, yet in stunned silence, still overwhelmed by their victory. After everything they had been through, all the struggles and all the lives affected by this, it was over. And all they could do was bask in the feelings of tired, numb, but somehow still brilliant triumphant. It was like a beautiful end to a long, hard day. But multiplied thousands of times over.
And no one wanted to be the first to speak, lest they ruined that feeling and this moment. They walked down the steps and along the drive without a sound, Sof wandering in front, Nadezhda hanging off her mother's arm behind her, with Katya walking on the other side of Nikolina. Somewhere off to the side of them, Sasha and Maria walked along, hand in hand. Others spilt past the family and gathered around them, a silent crowd made up of those citizens of Yaroslavl who had been abused, imprisoned and hopeless for so long, but now, finally free, didn't know what to say or do next.
Eventually, the still, soundless evening was broken by a small chirp. Sof stopped, people crashing into her or swerving around her. Her hand flew to her pocket and she pulled out her phone, the source of the sound. After a few moments, a grin spread across her face, then she broke into laughter. "This is the second-best news I've heard today!" She announced joyfully.
"What?" Nadezhda peered over her shoulder curiously.
"I got into engineering school!" The other young girl told her, practically bursting with happiness.
"That's great!" Nadezhda congratulated her friend, genuinely pleased that, now the whole Volkov business was behind them, Sof would have something else to dedicate her energy too. She had been a great leader for them, she had such energy in everything she did, always giving it a hundred per cent, so Nadezhda knew she simply wouldn't be happy doing nothing.
Some small part of her felt a little sad then, though. Despite this day being a great victory for them and a step forward in her friend's life, she had just realised that she wouldn't be around anymore to see Sof take that step. Now that everything was resolved, surely she and her family would be returning home?
She would have to find a way to keep in touch. In school and in general, she had been more or less on the outside, without close friendships. She had acquaintances and people who were sort of friends, but she had never made friends as she had on this trip. Nothing like risking your lives together to bring you closer, she guessed.
Then Sof interrupted her thoughts again, "I know! And the best part is...It's in Moscow! I don't have to stay here anymore, I can move on properly now and put all this behind me," She smiled, glad that she could finally say she felt truly ready to do this.
Nadezhda's face lit up, though she could scarcely believe it. She wouldn't have to leave her friend after all if Sof was moving to her home city! "Wow, that's awesome! We could be neighbours," She grinned.
"Yeah!" Sof nodded, "I've got to sell my house and get some money for somewhere else to live first though. But soon, I'll be moving," She told her.
Sasha wandered over at this point to join in with their conversation, "Well...If you don't need your house anymore, I'll buy it off you," He offered.
A surprised Nikolina cut in before Sof had a chance to answer, "You're moving out here?" She questioned.
Her brother blushed slightly, glancing over at the watching Maria, "Ah, well, I've...We've been talking about it. The law enforcement out here could use some help, so I'll have plenty of work and..." He left that sentence hanging, but it was clear what he meant.
Ekaterina stepped in first, "That sounds great for you, bro, go for it!" She encouraged.
Nikolina nodded, "Yes...Well, why not? Do what is best for you," She agreed, though she sounded a little more subdued.
Sasha smiled, "Thanks, you two. And don't worry, I'll still get out to visit!" He assured them, getting a smile from Nikolina for his trouble.
Then her smile faded, "You drove us out here though, how are we getting back without you?" She asked.
"The house sale, if Sof's fine with that," Sasha began, pausing and looking over at Sof, who nodded in agreement, "Won't be instant, so I can still drive you back. And I'll need to sell my house..." He added, starting to consider the details.
Sof paid attention here too, "You have a house in Moscow? Couldn't we just swap?" She suggested.
Sasha considered this, "Well...I don't see why not," He nodded.
"That makes things easier for you two to be where you want to be," Nikolina nodded, "Today really has been productive in the best possible way," She declared, "But we ought to get on and leave."
There were some agreeing nods from the crowd and they set off again, starting to disperse as they reached the end of the driveway. The Moroz family, with Sof and Maria in tow, set off back in the direction of Sof's house. A gaggle of journalists intercepted them, suddenly emerging from the car park of the courthouse with cameras at the ready, but Sof barged past them, still too high on all the day's successes to give them a second thought, and the others simply followed after her.
Soon, Maria broke away from them and headed to her own home for the night. The others made their way to Sof's place, and everyone just fell straight into their beds that night, having spent a long day defeating the Volkovs and busily planning the aftermath.
The next day, however, they were straight back to planning for their future. Nikolina sat down with Sof and Sasha to draw up the legal details pertaining to the house swap. Ekaterina was visited by Maria, with whom she spent some time whispering in a corner. A mystified and slightly lost Nadezhda decided to satisfy herself with packing, ready to leave.
There wasn't much to pack, but that didn't matter, because before she was even half-way done, Katya and Maria appeared. She looked up at them curiously, "What are you two up to?" She asked.
The two women traded glances, then Maria stepped forward and handed her a box, "Here. Your Aunt told me you lost these. So during the raids...I had a look for them. I hope everything's there." She told her.
Nadezhda took the box carefully and opened it. Inside, Daria's diaries, the music books and her father's journal were neatly stacked together. On top of the books, the photo of her parents' wedding was resting neatly. She blinked away tears, moved by what they had done for her. Seeing all these things, all she had of her father after she had closed the book of his legacy behind her, finally got justice for him...
She looked back up at the two women and smiled, "It's perfect...Thank you."
"Hey, I'm your Aunt, it's my job to get you whatever you want. Even if your mother would say no," She commented with a grin.
Maria just settled for a "You're welcome." But both made Nadezhda smile, grateful for the family she had always had but never truly appreciated and the new friends she had made and looked forward to spending more time with.
It wasn't until a few days later that they finally returned to normality again. With the house-swap completed, Sasha gave Maria his new keys and access to the hotel room he had had during his time helping Sof since she had agreed to help him move in. While she was moving his things, he drove his sisters and his niece home, with Sof hitching a ride as well. It was just as well that the others had little other luggage, as she crammed his car full of everything she was moving into her new house with her.
Consequently, the long drive wasn't very comfortable, but once they got there, there were happy moments, sad moments, but overall, normal moments, at long last.
Happily, they got to see Sof run up the drive to her new home, dragging luggage behind her, and unlock the door for the first time, ready to move in. She stood in the doorway with a grin a mile wide, wearing the brand new Moscow engineering school hoodie they had sent her as a gift when she had been accepted.
On a sadder note, the family gathered in Nikolina's apartment to say goodbye to Sasha, who had another long drive ahead of him. There were a lot of hugs exchanged, Nadezhda witnessed the rare event of seeing her mother cry, and Sasha hesitated about leaving for as long as he thought he could get away with. But ultimately, this had its happy moments too, with promised visits and admissions of love pointing out that finally, the family were truly back together. And they were 'reassured' by Ekaterina's comment that Maria would 'look after' Sasha for them.
And then he was gone, and since Katya had disappeared home as well, quiet reigned in Nikolina's apartment again. Nadezhda went to her room and sat quietly, just like she had on all those lonely afternoons before when her mother had been at work and it had seemed like there was just her. This time it was still the same room, and the same still silence. But it was different somehow. Different because she knew her mother truly cared, different because she had her family and friends so much closer to her now, and perhaps different because they had won.
She took the picture that had changed her life out of the box and set it on her bedside table, vowing to frame it one day. She opened her drawers and slipped the diaries that had told her the true story of her life into them. Then she took the song her father had written for her mother out of the music book and smiled, getting up to go and give it to Nikolina.
She paused in the doorway, looking back over her shoulder at her bedroom... Perhaps, most of all, it was different because she wasn't nobody anymore. She knew something about her family, legacy and her own identity that she hadn't before.
And there were no more hidden little family secrets to get between her and her loved ones.