Clearance

From the Maybe HEA contest.

Thank you sooooooo sooooo sooooooooooo much to Fran for betaing this story!

Enjoy!

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Now

Her

I stare at the wall, thinking of the way life has turned out; where it was, what it became, how it might end.

What a perfect place to start: The moment I decided, he needed to die.

He was the perfect man, once the stabilizer of my clumsy life and unbalanced world. I was a traditional girl, but he respected that; even went out of his way to meet Daddy and get in his good graces before asking for my hand.

I married him right after college, when I was full of ideals, dreams, and ambitions, and I loved him passionately for all I imagined him to be. It was almost too perfect, and maybe I should've taken the hints that fate was tossing me, but I was too focused on rainbow skies, China patterns, and wallpaper.

Someday, we could've taken the world apart and put it back together with our eyes closed, but we never had the chance. It was all a lie, a façade I never knew I was part of until the very end.

"Bella," he pleaded. Anger and fear and frustration filled his eyes as we stood on the wooden dock, sirens screaming in the background, alerted by anyone who'd heard the gunshot and struggle—but they would be too late. He was bleeding for me, literally … from where I had sliced the flesh during the fight in Daddy's kitchen only an hour earlier. His words were of love, beseeching forgiveness. Too little, too late, so they say; not after what he did. "Please don't do this. We can get away, we can get out. All I want is you, Bella. You're everything. Think of the baby."

"I am thinking of the baby!" I screamed. How dare he bring our unborn child into this. Was he fucking kidding me?

"We can fix this. My government … they'll fix it. People like us, we're survivors, babe—"

"Don't you dare call me that again." My words were punctuated by the reverberation of a .357 caliber bullet leaving the barrel of my Smith & Wesson Magnum.

—-

Then

Her

January 3, 1984

"Bella?" My husband called from the front door. Our house was brand spanking new in a great little development at the end of a cul-de-sac. Smiling out the window, I had tall ideas of handsome boys who were little replicas of their daddy, running around and playing street hockey out in the driveway. Hmm. Maybe someday soon. We'd only been married four months, and though I was ready for kids, I hadn't pushed the subject.

I hefted another box onto the kitchen island before answering, "In here, honey." My voice echoed through the mostly empty house. Thankfully, the moving guys would be bringing the furniture the following day because I couldn't wait to see it all come together.

Emmett smiled and raised an eyebrow as he entered the kitchen. I loved my handsome, ginger-haired man. He was so dashing in his suit. "You got a lot done, Bella."

I nodded and lifted my arms to display my handiwork. "Did you have a good day at the office, sweetie?" I asked, taking his briefcase and setting it down before pouring a glass of wine for him. I knew his routine well in the four short months we'd been married, how he preferred to unwind after a long day at work.

He appraised my efforts before winking at me. "Happy to be finished. What's for dinner?"

I loved when he asked me simple things like that; I loved that we existed in this sweet little place in time. Housewife and hard-working husband. Next on the agenda: babies. We'd begun discussing this, sparsely tossing it into casual conversation, as one would add pepper to soup—sparingly, to avoid overcomplicating the flavors of early marriage. Well … I'd begun the discussion; he would rather have avoided all mention of the b-word like the plague. But, not to worry. I knew my husband was a tough nut to crack, and it was a good thing I bought nutcrackers for the utensil drawer.

We were living the American dream, just as we were supposed to. Daddy raised me to know this is what I was meant to do. There was nothing quite like having a U.S. General for a father. He'd taught me my place in life, as well as getting Emmett a job at a private firm, contracted to the Pentagon. Family connections were the best.

"There's a meatloaf in the oven," I answered, jolly and at ease, pulling ketchup from the newly stocked refrigerator. "And homemade French fries are cooling."

His smile was as perfect as I knew him to be. "Fantastic."

—-

Him

I wish I could have loved her the way she loved me. I watched her try so hard to make me happy, and maybe in some other place and time, or maybe in another life, it could have worked. Nevertheless, I did't have such a luxury in the time permitted me—not in this world.

Because I am not who she thought I was.

To her, I was Emmett Daniel McCarty, the son of a coal miner and seamstress from a backward place called Kentucky. To my wife, I was a private contractor for the Pentagon. To her, I was Prince Charming.

But I wasn't really any of those things.

I was Edward Kulakov, and I was damn sure not a good, all-American boy. I was born in Stalingrad and raised in Havana, the son of two Soviet nationals, and a product of my papa's return from destroying the Germans in Berlin. The government sent him and Mama to Cuba to raise and prepare me for infiltration; it was all I've ever known; the only air I'd ever breathed.

When I went to my new home office after dinner, it wasn't to finish the paperwork from my day but to package and prepare the intelligence I'd gathered for the pick-up later that night. There's a strict, thorough schedule we adhered to, and the hive was nothing if not precise. I knew my orders, and I followed them, even if it meant leaving my wife in a cold bed at two in the morning.

She was the perfect objective; my government did well. The only daughter of the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff. It scared the hell out of me when they first told me my target and my mission, but then I saw her. And heck if my wife wasn't a beauty. I couldn't have asked for anything better from Moscow, and yet there was no sign of happiness in me.

She wanted to start talking about kids, and the very idea terrified me. Unfortunately, she had no idea that her mission was in line with that of her own enemy. Moscow had mandated I begin to procreate immediately; as such endeavors could throw off a tracker easier than any hairpiece or disguise. People wouldn't expect a Soviet spy to marry a general's daughter and make his grandbabies.

People didn't expect said General's son-in-law to be plotting the assassination of him, either.

Expectations can go to hell.