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Moscow, URSS, December 1987

There was no such thing as a snowstorm like this in Washington DC. She had missed it; the freezing breeze sneaking through any crack in a window frame or the space between a door and the floor. Her body was warm, her entire system was warm, the air in the room was deliciously warm. So little time in here, still she felt like no time had passed in her memory; the nights like this were still the same. She was grateful for that. They arrived and many things were still the same. The room in the gloom, the blinds open (because she insisted), and the curtains withdrew, enough for her to catch the snow falling delicately on their terrace. 

Beside her, there was a discreet movement. She turned to catch the outline of his silhouette finding a new position beneath the sheets. A glance at the clock told her she wasn’t sleeping well: four thirty-two in the morning. “It’s the stress”, said Arkady. “It’s been too long. Years. Your system will probably need another couple of years to re-adapt.” 

A rather heavy blow of breath took her attention. She turned backward, once again, to find him rather awake this time. His eyes were barely lit by the moonlight entering through the windows. “Are you ok?” he asks, the usual protective tone coming out. 

“Yes”, she replies, low and simple. He looked different now that he lets his beard grow, but she likes it better, and she’s getting used to it. With his hand, he caresses her hair, slow and careless, like their life nowadays. They won’t need anything, the bosses said. They will have everything for as long as they live, they don’t have to keep working if they don’t want to. They’ve earned it… national heroes. Used as models and examples in the academies all around the country. They’ve been asked to speak to the newest classes of aspirants, the newest recruits about to leave to the US. They said they would love to, but they needed some time. This was a 180° flip, and they wanted to settle and adapt first. “Of course”, said the director. “Whatever you need; tell me when you’re ready.”

“I can’t sleep”. She spits, a bit of wrath in her tone.

“You will… give yourself some time”, he whispers. “Come.” he holds her head and pushes himself closer, resting her head against his neck. 

 

Washington, Virginia, December 1987.

The blood flows through her veins and arteries with a power that made her feel better than she’s ever felt in years. She likes this.

The woods were beautiful, quiet, and mysterious, and every day she felt like she could encounter something different. Last week, she saw a squirrel hiding tiny pieces of branches inside a tree trunk. In her ears, ‘We Built This City’ pumped her steps faster and faster. She was very grateful to Stan for bringing her these new cassettes they confiscated at the unit.

Trees, and branches, and lawn… she loved the power of running in here. No one else came to this spot, and she loved it. She was going to be great at this. When reaching a clearing with no trees of about 75 yards, she knew she was close to her last post. She hoped she was doing better than last week because she feels like she is. Just a bit more.

When the trees appeared in her sight again, she caught Stan’s blond hair at the side of the road, sitting on a branch. She slowed her pace progressively and started with the deep breaths. In front of her, Stan sees her and automatically pressed the button on his watch. She stares, she’s waiting, she wants to know but she can’t talk yet. 

Stan grins. “Seventeen minutes, twenty-six seconds.” DAMN YES. Two minutes less than last week. “Excellent, kiddo.” says a smiley Stan.

“Thanks.” she manages to muster. “You think I can make it?”

“Totally.” You still have three weeks left, and you got better by two minutes in only one week. You need to do it in fourteen, so I say you’re in. 

“Good.”

“Let’s go, it’s almost noon”, he says, and she nods. She gets on her final stretching, and they get into his car. When they get in, she takes off her navy blue sweatshirt with the initials FBI. She still doesn’t have her own, but Stan borrowed her this one. She likes the feeling.