It's uncomfortable in the mud, regardless of what people think about spa treatments or wrestling. I don't like mud, never have and hope to never be in it again. That doesn't seem like a demand that will have any impact on my life's work.
The current situation, however, requires sitting...no lying down in the mud soaked ground outside of a Thrush installation that my partner and I have been observing for around three hours. We're both covered in the stuff, and while I don't have any delusions about still looking like the man about town that I usually am, my partner looks a little like the boy who got caught playing in his Sunday best. The blue eyes are almost eerie in his new shade of greyish brown, and the blond hair is no longer blond. It's going to be a task to get out all of that dried muck.
"Are you quite certain that this is the best possible location for us to be?" I have to admit that my choice may have been premature, as Illya is more than willing to point out to me. From our vantage point we can see another spot that is completely devoid of mud, and yet seems to be in a perfect location for our purposes. How was I to know...
"Yes, even though that looks advantageous...over there'...I pointed to the other better mudless place...
"this is obviously going to serve us the best. I mean, they'll never think to look here if they do suspect they're being watched. Who would choose all of this". Gesturing to the mud and scrappy folliage around us, even my dour Russian had to admit that no one in his right mind would choose this over the relatively comfortable alternative.
"Yes, well I suppose you're right about that. Still, must we continue to stay here? I've seen enough to make a move on this place. If we've figured this correctly, the next change of guard is going to take place in...' Illya checks his watch again to calculate his schedule...
"ten minutes from now. I suggest we get ready to move in when they exchange places".
He's right, and we have no reason to wait any longer.
Checking our weapons and Illya's arsenal of explosives, we start to inch our way towards the opening, careful to stay low to the ground. Our mud darkened figures hardly make a dent in the scenery as the sun is already down below the jungle's shrouded horizon. Only the occasional glint of light catches the few strands of Illya's hair that aren't covered in mud, making me wonder momentarily what he had looked like as a child, and whether or not he had played in dirt and mud. Considering how often he ends up covered in something filthy, or soaking wet, it only figures that he gained his familiarity with the untidy elements of life early on.
As I am speculating on that he turns back to look at me, his blue eyes like neon against his mud soaked skin as they zero in on me, a finger to his mouth indicating quiet...
A lone guard is wandering what must be the perimeter of their duty line. He seems to be looking in the bushes, out past the low line of scrubby trees and jungle growth. He doesn't see us beneath the loose cover of that sparse foliage, the mud having done its job to create the camouflage we now need beneath his gaze. Then I see it. A look from the guard that indicates he has seen that small strand of blond that peeks from the mud soaked head of my partner. He hoists his rifle to his shoulder and starts to shout something, but Illya is up and takes him down in the same instant the man thinks to fire. It's like watching a big cat springing from a hidden lair at an intruder; something to be plundered for his next meal. At times, my partner scares me with his skill and...coldness. I am highly skilled and...shall we say talented at what I do. But this Russian of mine...
The guard is history as we head stealthily to the opening to this installation. The other guard sees us and is instantly down, Illya on the prowl for unwitting prey now. It's as though some guiding entity is ushering us through this enemy camp, and one by one they fall to us. Now we're working in a type of rhthym, and the Thrush are appearing like the ducks in a shooting gallery at the carnival. It's an almost unreal feeling the way we're striding through this place, the men appearing out of doorways and then...chink!...they're down. I swear I'm going to find a carnival and compare our course with one of those shooting galleries. Illya is in the lead still, and I can spot at times a real dread on the faces of the men we've downed as they get a look at the blue glare that approaches them. Like I said, sometimes Illya is a really scary guy. He's made that wierd transformation from the little boy playing in the mud to a killer whose blue eyes are like a beacon searching out the target. I am eternally thankful to be on his side.
When we reach our destination, Illya begins wiring the place for the eventuality for which we've come: a big explosion. We're going to wipe this place off of the map and then head back to our jeep and out of this country. In less than five minutes he's done, and I'm still scanning the halls for any other guards. We've gotten them all, it seems. And then something creeps into my line of vision...a child. I think I sort of gasp at the sight of him, this little frail looking boy with blond hair and blue eyes...and then he's gone. I have to rub my eyes to check if I'm awake or have fallen asleep standing guard at the door. But, he's gone. It was as though...
I turn my head to check on my partner and then I see him again, and I think I must be hallucinating...maybe there was something in the mud. But, standing next to Illya is that little boy, or at least a sort of wavering image of him. Okay, now I know there's something going on, but I can't figure out what it is and then, in an instant, he's gone again. It's just Illya there, finishing his wiring and looking around at me with questioning eyes at my own gaping mouthed expression.
"What's wrong, Napoleon? You look like you saw a ghost".
His concern is real, so my expression must be relaying more than I think. Sometimes it's difficult to hide what I'm thinking, especially when I'm seeing things that shouldn't be there.
"Uh...nothing...just wondering if you're done..."
But I know there's a lingering expression of disbelief on my face, because Illya is raising his eyebrows in a questioning way, wanting but never needing the explanation. He never needs anything. He's always resigned to what comes his way, although he's not really in control of it. He only looks like he's in control, I think, because the alternative would be to need something, or someone. And, unlike me, Illya never does.
"Ok, that's it. Let's be on our way, shall we".
He's up and we're heading out the door. For just a second I wonder where that child is and whether or not we should go and find him, and then I realize he's right in front of me. I don't have an explanation for how he appeared as he did, but I know for a certainty that he's safe now. Because, my partner is safe with me, and I'll never abandon him or leave him unprotected...not if I can help it. For whatever reason I saw that little glimpse of who Illya Kuryakin is, deep down I know that both the child and the man are operating as one. My job is to keep them both safe. And then I wonder if God is out there, and if he gives us our friends...our soul mates. And, if He does, and if Illya and I are that for each other, I think that God must be laughing, because we have to be the most unlikely pair of friends He's ever put together. And you know what, unlikely as we are, I'm thankful in more ways than I can say that God has a sense of humor.