A Private Kind of Purgatory
Even through the cacophony of gunfire and human chaos I still heard the sound. It was only a single pained cry one voice amid all the confusion but it assaulted my senses like an echo trapped in a steel structure. My partner was down.
I hesitated, flinching, a wave of panic screaming along nerves already worn raw, but after a few moments of emotionally-charged indecision, I realized I had a job to do. It hurt. God, it hurt as if I were the one who'd been shot, but that clever mistress, Reason, wouldn't be ignored. I had a fire raging unchecked through laboratories filled with highly combustible substances and a Thrush testosterone brigade breathing down my neck. Both effectively prevented me from helping him. The latter was my own fault, of course; it had never occurred to me that semiautomatics might be standard issue for Thrush scientists. This wasn't the first time my aprioristic assumptions had backed me into the proverbial corner, and I doubt it will be the last. Despite the desperate tug on my heart, all I could really do was pinpoint my partner's general location and hope the price of my miscalculation wouldn't be too costly.
Much to my dismay, it took a full twenty minutes to secure the situation. Our backup finally arrived, carrying enough firepower to send Thrush's best running in all directions. The fire had spread more quickly than expected, though, forcing me to backtrack through several maze-like corridors before I found him. The sight that greeted me completely unsettled my equilibrium. I grabbed blindly for a wall to steady myself, swallowing hard.
It's funny how one's thoughts turn surrealistic at the most inappropriate times. The first thing I noticed was how brightly his hair shone, catching the brilliant colors of the encroaching blaze. I had admired that golden mass many, many times, ever-thankful that he was a vain nonconformist when it came to hairstyles. It always seemed to fall right back into place no matter what the circumstances; like now. Every lock had settled perfectly, despite his awkward position and the pool of blood in which he was lying.
Reality slammed back into me then. My legs moved of their own accord, instinct telling me I didn't have much time, but it was as if I were in slow motion. "Illya!" I yelled, though it came out more like a harsh whisper. God, there was so much blood...spattering on my boots and clinging to my hands...so wet and cold. He looked so pale. Lifeless. A pulse! Yes, I found it there, beating a gentle, steady tattoo against my fingertips. Relief flooded me, blurring my vision, and the sharp splinters that had been tearing at my heart began to recede. Everything would be okay. It had to be. Please, Illyusha...
I started to fight when someone grabbed me from behind, but as soon as I rose and spun around, dizziness overtook me. There were so many faces...people dressed in black, watching. I vaguely recognized the two men who checked on Illya and then hoisted him off the ground, but their names just wouldn't register. Someone guided me forward then, firm hands keeping me upright. They were all shouting gibberish as we made our way through the complex. Where were we again? Indiana? Or was it Madrid?
The air outside was cold and crisp, its acrid tang lingering on my tongue. I choked loudly, smoke seizing my lungs, but those hands at my back were insistent. I kept moving. The helicopters came from nowhere, and before long I remembered what it was like to fly. It was all very loud. Loud and confusing and dark—so dark that I only caught a glimpse of Illya's blond hair when those orange and yellow lights danced across us one last time; a final caress. Yet, their flickery fingers couldn't touch like mine could, sinking deep into that golden softness, cradling and comforting and loving as I'd done a hundred times before under very different circumstances. The sight of him lying on the floor, bloodied and unmoving, was burned into my retinae like some ghostly afterimage, but the warmth beneath my hand kept fear at bay. My partner my lover was alive. In the small pinpoint of reality that had become my world, it was all that mattered.