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After Rain

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13th November 2016.

 

This day began with another job for Tachanka. He was going to regain the control of a weapon facility in Murmansk, and Sledge, Glaz, Kapkan, Buck, Frost and Echo were with him. Tachanka supposed that one possible reason the squad was selected was for their resilience to the cold Arctic weather.

 

Although Sledge was appointed as the leader of the team, he gave Tachanka a guidance role to benefit from his local knowledge of the Russian military complex. It was the most pleasing decision to him, as the Russian believed the team should put more trust to him considering his experience – despite Six and Ash disliking this idea. Right, Russia was not a part of NATO, and from the first waves of White Mask attacks (which mostly took place in America and West Europe), some critics believed Russia was behind it -- thank those stupid and greedy Ukrainian nativists. However, the later terrorist assault to Kafe Dostoyevsky, the cultural landmark of Moscow proved them wrong. And this was the second time the white plague did harm on his dearest motherland. He won’t allow it to happen.

 

A requirement of the high-stakes mission was keeping it clean and low-profile to avoid raising outside attention like press report. To Glaz and Echo, it was like their speciality, as the sniper was so used to live in shadow, and the Japanese’s special drone “Yokai” featured an active camouflage so it could scan the whole building without being detected. The team quickly stormed the complex, located Colonel Fadeyev (the commander of the facility) and the attackers escorted him out for further questioning. Tachanka noticed Glaz’ eyes when cuffing the colonel looked even more threatening than ever as if telling how wrong he had done to betray his country. If his chilling stern could kill people just like what Smoke joked about, the man would be already damn dead now.

 

And the only task left for the defenders was to protect the complex from White Mask reinforcements. Tachanka already deployed his RP-46 Degtyaryov Machine Gun on a spot facing the gate that should ideally keep them from entering the building. Kapkan and Frost installed their traps to cover all other escape routes, and Echo set his Yokai on the ceiling to watch the entrance. How could anything get wrong?

 

One minute after the escort team went to the extraction zone, the reinforcements came. The shower of bullets from Tachanka’s LMG mercilessly penetrated the terrorists even before they could react. Seconds later, the first wave seemed to be gone, so did the LMG’s first magazine. Tachanka quickly changed it into a new one and waited for the next wave.

 

“Tachanka, watch the hatch.” Echo’s voice popped up from his headset, “I’ve seen hostiles coming from the second floor.”

 

The closest trap door was at his left side. He knew it because he reinforced it, and normally no one couldn’t destroy it and go down in this way. But if they had hard breaching technicians who worked similar to Thermite or Hibana, things could go bad. His LMG was unable to cover such a broad angle so he must unmount it to avoid being flanked by hostiles coming from there. Of course, if the hatch broke, it would produce large noise so he would notice. He decided to stay still and keep watching the gate which still appeared no one. He could feel his hand slightly sweating. Perhaps it was the first time he had gone nervous for so many years.

 

"Listen Sasha, this weapon never failed me and it's the reason I'm here alive today."

 

Tachanka recalled the story told by his dedushka Pyotr, a Red Army veteran who participated in WWII in his young age. When he remembered the black-white picture featured his grandfather in his young age, the Red Army soldier in a rough, face-concealing steel helmet, Tachankla thought it somewhat resembled the MASKA helmet he was now wearing. Pyotr’s experience had become the Senaviev’s legend; therefore, all his sons followed his step into the army, included Viktor, Alexandr’s father who was brilliant and eventually promoted to General of the Ground Forces. Alexandr knew how many times his father reminded him Pyotr’s effort led the country’s victory and prosperity as well as his family’s stable life. It was the reason he followed his dad and granddad’s steps, and he put all his trust in his long-service companion nearly had a hundred years of honourable history behind it.

 

In a flash, a cracking sound came from above Tachanka’s position, but it was different from a breach charge. It was more like a knocking sound of Sledge’s hammer. He looked up and found a rupture on the ceiling, exposed the frame and the view of the upper floor behind it. When he saw a White Mask’s face and his gun pointing toward him, it was too late. A cracking sound of a bullet hit his helmet hardly was the last sound he heard before falling unconscious.

 

«Дед, папа, Леонид… Простите, Я потерпел неудачу.»

 


 

7th February 2017.

 

Ash sat in the common room nervously. On her left side sat Twitch, and IQ at right. A world map was on the table under their arms, with some pins on it. They glared at each other as if defending their opinion and not giving in any way to each other.

 

Well, if someone else saw it, they might consider the two women were having an argument about their missions until they began speaking –

 

“I would say,” Twitch pointed at the map, “Italy is the best for them, historical and beautiful view there, like Roma. Every girl would like to visit Roma at least once in their lifetime. Don’t you agree, Eliza?” She turned to Ash, eager for her answer.

“It’s good, I don't doubt, but…” Ash replied uncertainly.

“Silly, it’s too popular. I don’t like seeing crowds and crowds around my sight. I would suggest a wild choice, like Bolivia,” IQ pointed at another side at the map, “I visited there once, the Salar de Uyuni after rain looked like a borderless mirror, I couldn’t describe how fantastic it was!” She looked at Ash more aggressively, as if forcing her to accept the option.

“Well, it sounds nice, too…”

“And you can visit Antofagasta in Chile, a port city not far from there. Not many travel books describe it though, it’s a hidden gem to me! I love the coastline and beach there.” IQ continued, “What haven’t I said? Oh, alpaca! I remember a local family let me touch an alpaca cub they kept. It was so cute!”

“I appreciate your suggestion, but I would…” Ash raised her hand to sign the German to pause her speaking.

“So, which one do you prefer?” Suddenly, their faces got even nearer to Ash, so near that they almost touched her. Ash subconsciously leaned backwards.

“I already said,” In a flash, Ash stood up, voice filled with irritation, “Can’t you just let Seamus and me decide the destination of our next vacation? Moreover, we don’t know when it will be. Maybe we’ll never have it until we deal with those damn White Masks!”

 

Meanwhile, Frost, Valkyrie, Caveira and Hibana came into the room – Ash didn’t know if it was coincidence or planned, but all female operators in the international team had gathered up at the same space now. IQ turned to them and asked, “Hey, girls, I want to collect your opinions. If you’re all going to have a vacation, which place is your first choice?”

 

“Me?” Frost answered, “Not so sure. Maybe Baffin Island? Can go hunting foxes, see the glacier, and aurora.”

“God! There’s terribly cold! But well, you Canadians must be most comfortable there, I understand.” Twitch exclaimed.

“I fancy Phuket,” Valkyrie commented excitedly, “Great for scuba diving!”

“You said this just like a real SEAL.” IQ chuckled.

“I would just like to go home in Nagoya to see my family.” Hibana scratched her head, “I know we went to operation there not long ago, but it feels different. And I know how much my papa and mama expect the day of my wedding. I wish it can come true.”

“Then you must become more enthusiastic. Jack’s a silent boy, after all.” Valkyrie patted Hibana’s shoulder and stated in a half-joking tone, “And stop Jordan from keeping hanging out with him!”

“Not your business.” Hibana stuck out her tongue.

“So, how about you, Taina?” Ash questioned, “where will you go for a vacation?”

“What a stupid question,” Caveira cocked an eyebrow, “fine. If you really want my answer… I will go to Barcelona.”

“What’s the reason?” IQ continued asking.

“Isn’t it obvious? Barça -- one of my favourite clubs is there.”

Hearing the Brazilian’s answer, IQ and Twitch gazed at each other for a second, then laughed together, “Why didn’t you tell me you’re a football fan!” delight busted out in IQ’s voice.

“I usually watch it alone, sometimes with Capitão. So, I didn’t think I should tell you.” Caveira replied coldly before walking away.

“Still a spiky girl,” IQ shook her head with a wry smile.

 

“CQB session in 15 minutes. You all better prepare.” Just before the girls began another conversation, Sledge’s reminder crushed the party mood. The crowd made a slightly disappointing sigh before spreading away but left Ash alone on her seat. “Still considering the place for vacation?” Sledge’s voice softened in front of his girlfriend and sat opposite to her.

“Monika and Emma believe they can give me some ideas about it,” Ash answered honestly.

“I can see,” Sledge replied, “But no rush, anyway, we don’t know when we will have time to go.”

“Time will tell.” Ash sighed, “so, where will be your first choice?”

“You mean vacation?” Sledge thought for a few seconds before pointed at a chain of island in the Mediterranean Sea close to Spain. “Ibiza. I’d like to visit there.”

“I see. Aiming for the summer clubs there?” Ash made an implying glance.

“I know the clubs are nice there, but not my main reason.” Sledge explained, “The first time I heard the name was in my 16, from one of my rugby teammates. He described his family trips there excitedly, saying how beautiful the sea and sunshine looked, like a living painting. He even tried jetski which he claimed it was the most enjoyable thing he ever played. I envied him so much and made a secret wish that I would bring my family for a vacation there one day.”

“And you still haven’t been there for once?” Ash questioned.

“No. My family was not so rich to take such the trip. After I enlisted, I lived frugally and finally saved enough to take all of them aboard, but I still don’t have enough days free to do so.”

“You’ve been too busy.”

“True. I’m not upset despite it. I love my work and know how much effort I should do to live up to the head person of SAS.” Sledge stood up, “okay, it’s time to go training, my lady.”

“Ibiza,” Ash rolled up the map on the table and followed the Scotsman, “good suggestion. Maybe we’ll visit there someday.”

“Well,” Sledge chuckled, “you’re welcome.”

 


 

Director’s office.

 

Six and Sweeney were looking at a map on the large pinboard, surrounded by newspaper clippings, photos and stick-it notes. “Specialist Ramírez’s intel mentioned a recruiting and training base of White Masks in Ibiza.” Sweeney put a pin on a small island off the eastern coast of Spain, “the Spain mainland has reported terrorism activity, too.”

“We must act fast and with the collaboration of GEO.” Six nodded, “where’s Pandey?”

“On his way back here from Heathrow, but he said there’s a traffic jam so would be a bit late.” Sweeney reminded, “didn’t you check the message?”

“I just forgot it.” Six sighed.

 

“Hey, Aurelia, Kevin, how do you do here?” The door opened and revealed a slender, intelligent but soft-looking man in a beige safari suit with black hair, scruffy beard and black-rim glasses, and a large briefcase, “Good news first. Specialist Ramírez and Álvarez accepted our offer. They’re the best hands in their field and exactly who we need.”

“Harry, you always make the same comment regarding every operator who is going to join.” Sweeney reminded.

“Do I? Well…” Harry turned to Six and continued, “And another news is, the upgrade you requested for Senaviev is almost done.”

“It means the Russian can go back to the field,” Sweeny commented, “after it goes through proper safety test, of course.”

“To make such the antique weapon work to fight terrorists in the 21st century is certainly a big challenge,” Harry remarked delightfully, “Nevertheless, I believe the man is important to the team even more than what we think. I don’t think those Spetz guys could keep in such the wonderful morale if without him.”

“You mentioned good news,” Six asked, “so, what’s the bad one?”

“It’s more like—well, do you know Operation Blue Orion?” Harry launched carefully, “I have the report of it and says the rivalry Álvarez developed with Cohen ‘needs to be observed’. In Madrid, I asked Álvarez what happened, but she didn’t give a clear response but just giggling. Maybe she didn’t mind about it so much, however…”

“You have a concern that Ash still has grudges.” Six added.

“Correct.”

“You should leave the issue up to them,” Sweeney suggested as if already figured out what Harry was thinking, “you just can’t force them to work along smoothly like magic. People need time to get used to others. I trust they’re professional enough to get over whatever issue they have.”

“You’re on the point,” Harry seated on his desk and retrieved the Spanish operatives’ files and looked to them, “I’ll keep an eye on it, just like always.”

 


 

The multimedia room.

 

It would be considered a rare case with only Spetsnaz operators in the room. They were contacting Tachanka, who was recovering from his injury and participating in the upgrade of his LMG along with Mira in Madrid.

 

Glaz was using a computer to launch the video chat, with Fuze and Kapkan leaning behind him to watch the screen. Suddenly, the window appeared Tachanka’s head which still wrapped some bandages and his upper body which also had patches. The background showed a workshop which seemed like the place he worked on his gadget, and his tools and components scattered around. The oil stain on his hands -- even a bit went to his Multicam sleeveless undershirt. His face scrunched up, unsure if it was due to the pain of the injury or his bad mood.

“Pardon that I might move frequently. I’m still working on that old bastard,” his face displayed unpleasant, “I needed to craft a foothold for Mira’s shield, and most of its parts required replacement. Certainly, I must make many of them by my own hand since the antique’s original components are hard to find.” He took the flash hider he just shaped and stood up, revelled his lower body only in an army-green pair of boxer briefs.

“Where are your pants? Exchanged for the ballistic shield?” Kapkan remarked sarcastically.

Козёл! I just don’t bother to put it on. I slept over here last night and started working since I woke up.”

“Did you have breakfast?” Glaz asked.

Tachanka then showed a half-eaten bocadillo in a plastic container. “Ryad got it for me. But well, you know I tend to eat less when concentrating.”

“Just don’t overwork and exhaust yourself, okay?” Glaz expressed his care. “You're not fully recovered yet, anyway.”

“Nah, I’m fine, really. Except for the modification strangling my brain.” Tachanka snorted while installing the new components on his Mounted LMG, “But I think I’m close to finishing it. The only thing left now is Mira’s shield.”

 

In the meanwhile, the door of the multimedia room opened, and three Russians looked at there almost synchronously. There was only Sledge dropping in, “Hi, lads,” he made a casual greeting and sat down beside them, “I’m asked to check on Alex’s status. But it seems like you’re already calling him?”

 

“Yes, we are.” Glaz answered in a friendly tone and turned back to the screen, “Alex, Seamus wants to speak to you.”

“Just him?” Tachanka felt a bit confused, “Well, fine. Plug him in.”

Sledge moved in front of the webcam, while other Russians left the room with the tacit understanding that what Sledge requested was a one-to-one talk. “So, Alex, how’s things going in Spain?”

“Nothing special. Mira and I keep working on our gadgets, and Jackal collects intels. Besides, as I don’t have anything else to do, I ask them to teach me Spanish.” He took the sandwich and bit it down with an odd frown, “I even bought a book so I can learn by myself if they are both busy. You must think I’m becoming a nerd now.”

“You keen on learning new things, it’s good.” Sledge chuckled, “Just want to remind you to take some break. You’ve done good jobs, and we all have your back, so don’t push yourself too hard.”

“I know how much I fucked up.” Tachanka shook his head, “don’t try to comfort me.”

“May I know the reason that you keep using such an old weapon?” Sledge asked cautiously, “not offending, but I think even in Russia there’s no one using it, as it’s already replaced with RPK.”

“Nah, you have a point. It’s quite strange, huh?” Tachanka chuckled, “And I’m not always an ‘old-fashioned’ soldier. In fact, I’m one of the earliest in the army adopted Kord machine gun when it developed in 1998. Of course, you know it’s too heavy for any Rainbow operation. In one hand, I just love old weapons, and I have confidence and the knowledge about them.”

“What’s on my mind is if there’s any story behind it to make it so special to you.”

 

Tachanka made an amused face at Sledge’s comment, while touched his LMG gently as if it was his child. “It’s all from my grandpa’s war story he told me when I was a boy.” He raised his hand, “bring Maxim and others back here. I guess they’d be interested in it, too.”

 

When other Russians returned with confused expressions, Kapkan particularly felt oddly sentimental in the air. “Sasha, you’re strange today.” He called Tachanka by his nickname, which would normally make him mad and retort back, but instead, he slightly laughed and began the story, “so, everything starts from about I was a six years old boy. Hearing my grandpa’s story was my favourite, so did my older brother, Leonid, who’s just one year above me.”

 

“I can still remember how excited grandpa was telling his story in Eastern Front. He was a true hero to us by defending the frontline just 40 kilometres away from the centre of Moscow with the Degtyaryov machine gun. He stated that he was fortunate to have the weapon to keep him alive. We both admired him, especially Leonid, who was already determined to be a soldier like him and use the good old machine gun to defend the motherland.”

 

“How about you?”

“Believe or not, but I was not so enthusiastic like him. And one day I found a firearm encyclopedia in papa’s study and saw an article saying it was replaced by newer guns like RPD after WWII. I showed it to Leonid and claimed that ‘it’s too old so you’re not able to use it anymore’, he refused to believe and insisted on touching it even just for one time.”

“So, you’re not into it from the start?”

“Nah, I was occupied by another thing. Because my mother decided to send me to a ballet school. I was a naughty and hyperactive boy who could barely sit still for 5 minutes, so she thought it could use up my energy as well as cultivate my mind.”

“What?” Sledge exclaimed, while other Russians gazing at each other on the shocking fact.

“How could a tough guy like you do ballet?” Kapkan snorted.

“Surely, I no longer do that after I enlisted, and I don’t need to tell you how much such many years can change people.” Tachanka chuckled, “apart from that I still do stretching every morning and night as I can’t give up the habit. So, my body is always flexible, unlike yours which is hard like a stone.” He performed a front split to prove what he said was true, while Kapkan glaring at him with a sour look.

“And my biggest dream was to act the prince of The Nutcracker, on the Christmas show in Kirov Theatre. To a Russian male ballet dancer, it was the highest glory.” Tachanka continued while transforming into a sad face, “Papa didn’t support it because he believed that dancer was not a job I – the son of an army General should do. More precisely, he wanted Leonid and me both to become officers like him. But mama, Vera – my elder sister, Leonid and even my grandpa all approved. My grandpa once told me that –

 

‘Just like I fought on the frontline, defended the country from German invaders with the machine gun; if you do well in dancing and spread the value of Ballet Russe across the world, it was also a big contribution to our motherland.

 

Therefore, I kept learning and challenging more advanced movements with his words in heart, until sixteen.”

 

“Okay. Leonid aspired to join the army, and you were a ballet nut. Then what happened?”

“Leonid,” Tachanka lowered his head like sobbing, “died in a car accident on his way back from school.”

“Oh,” Sledge and other Russians exclaimed at the same moment.

“Therefore, I decided to give up ballet and enlist in his place.” Tachanka raised his head, “grandpa also had a severe illness and passed away just a month before I left home. He didn’t talk much before then but just told me to be a good man and do good things no matter what. I think they’re the reason that I always favour Degtyaryov machine gun despite there were many newer and better weapons. It has my grandpa’s memory and Leonid’s dream. When I’m on it, I always feel like I’m not fighting alone because I can feel their souls at my side to make me powerful and invincible.”

“Now I can see how meaningful this weapon to you. Thanks for the story.” Sledge nodded.

“I think Six and others already had a kind of sense of that it’s growing a part of me, too. So, they decided to upgrade it rather than make me replace it.” Tachanka laughed again, “after all, I won’t be the ‘Tachanka’ you like anymore without the good old machine gun, am I right?”

“Agreed.” Sledge followed the laughter, while the sound of Tachanka’s phone broke their mood.

 

Blayt, have we talked for too long?” Tachanka picked his phone up, “Mira is calling me for lunch. Better put on my pants and get out soon. You should hurry up to the canteen, too. Bye!” He picked up his trousers from beside before the chat shutting off.

 

----

 

This afternoon, Mira invited Tachanka to “go for a spin” with her. She even half-forced him to put on a new set of men’s casual clothes God knew where she got -- a sky blue short-sleeve button-down shirt, a pair of khaki chino trousers and white sneakers. The clothes, in fact, fit him perfectly and comfortably. However, it didn’t release him from doubts about what she was up to, considering they still had tasks to finish.

“Just be quiet and go with me.” Mira stared at him while getting in her Land Rover, “I have something to show you.”

 

After the car ran for a while, the street view became crowded with buildings and people. Apparently, they were at the downtown of Madrid.

“So, Elena,” Eventually, Tachanka couldn’t hold his nervousness and asked, “where will we go to?”

“My father’s shop,” Mira replied, “there’s my home, too. Just on the main street of Latina district, we’re almost there.”

“What are we going to do there?”

“Not a big thing. Just seeing my father before we go to the action tomorrow.” Mira looked back, “don’t worry about your LMG. You’ve done a great job, and I’ve already finished working on the ballistic shield. Just do some tests, and we’re all good.”

“Okay. So, I’m seeing your father, right?” Tachanka asked, “Will we see any other of your family?”

“No. There’s only my father and me at home. And some staff in the shop. I have aunts, uncles and cousins too, but they live in other houses.” Mira answered while glimpsing back at him quickly.

“Anything I should pay attention when facing him?”

“No. Just be normal yourself is fine. He speaks English, too.”

 

Víctor! It’s me!” Mira yelled as soon as she stepped into the shop, and Tachanka followed. He then realised a common point they shared – their father’s first name. But there was no one there, apart from a Volvo SUV in the middle of the garage, probably in the maintenance.

“Elena, you’re back!” A grey-haired and slim old man - who wore a navy-blue polo shirt with orange collar and sleeves appeared like the store’s uniform, grey work pants and black-rim spectacles- opened the door to the office (Tachanka guessed it was since the sign wrote “Sólo personal autorizado”). “I’m still working on the car. But I nearly finished it.”

And a young, black-haired and a bit thicker guy followed him out. He dressed mostly the same as the old man, but added a red cap with an emblem likely belonging to a sports club. Tachanka could see he was one of the staff in the shop. “Elena, ¿quién es ese tipo duro a tu lado, tu nuevo novio?” The young guy pointed at the Russian with a broad smile. He spoke too fast for Tachanka’s elementary ability of Spanish to grasp what he said.

“Elena, what did this guy say?” Tachanka whispered.

“Oh, Manu believes you’re my new boyfriend,” Mira explained relaxedly.

“No!” Tachanka exclaimed, “I mean… Solo soy un amigo ordinario. (I’m just a normal friend.)” He emphasised the word “ordinario” strongly that made others laugh.

“Such an amusing guy!” Víctor patted Tachanka’s shoulder, “Can I know your name?”

“Alexander,” Tachanka answered, “just call me ‘Alex’ is fine.”

“Good, just get rid of the car and today’s work is over.” Víctor continued the repairing task from installing the new rear bumper. “Do you like Tapas?

“Tapas? What is it?”

“In this country, it’s a set of small dishes of appetisers served in bars, mostly with drinks,” Mira explained.

“Oh, so it means we’re going to drink out.” a delightful smile burst on Tachanka’s face, “You know that I’m always in.”

“Great, I know a fabulous bar nearby. I usually go there after work.” Víctor turned to his daughter, “Elena, I’m sure you have many things to tell me, too.”

“Yes, I do.” Mira glanced at the Russian quickly, “if Alex isn’t afraid of hearing us talking in Spanish, which sounds like a machine gun shooting non-stop, after all.” Tachanka couldn’t make any reaction but nodding with a wry smile.

 

Spanish bars looked way different from the ones Tachanka was familiar with in Russia or England. When the magnificent and delicious view of a row of Jamón serrano hanging above the bar struck him, he already felt his belly began rumbling. The atmosphere was all bright and cheerful over the power of tasty foods and wines. If by seeing bars one could see the country’s culture, Spanish ones were indeed what he liked. Tachanka immediately decided to take a plate of tapas featuring sliced Jamón serrano on slices of baguette with grilled bell peppers and green olives as toppings. The perfect chromatic combination of hot pink, yellow, crimson and green were appealing enough.

“Alex, wanna try some Sherry?” Víctor half-filled two copitas with goldish brown liquor, “It’s my favourite brand. On my treat.” He handed one to Tachanka.

“No, no, I can pay for it,” Tachanka raised his hand nervously.

“Hey, el jefe normally doesn’t treat anyone unless he believes you’re important,” Manuel whispered to Tachanka’s ear in English, to the Russian’s surprise. “You better take the treat.”

“Really? Well,” Tachanka decided to receive the glass and sipped a bit. “Hmm, good wine!” He poured the content into his mouth in just a second, then excitedly picked up a piece of bread with topping, also consumed it in a flash. “I like the ham in this country, too.”

“You eat too fast, Alex,” Mira chuckled, “although it seems reasonable. You barely ate earlier this day.”

“So, Alex, where are you from?” Víctor asked.

“Me? Russia.” Tachanka picked up another piece from the tapas dish. “My home is at St. Petersburg.”

“You come from so far away,” Víctor looked like thinking of something. “Elena mentioned you once to me. She said you’re now her colleague. Are you a police officer, too?”

“No. I serve in the army.” Tachanka answered shortly.

 

“It’s what I’m going to tell you.” Mira moved closer to her father, “We’re now working at an international team; therefore, I will have many days away from home. It’s all I can say.”

“Oh, I see… It must be an important work. Just stay safe and call home when you can.”

“Y encontrar un buen chico para establecerse. ‘Ocupado’ no es una excusa! (And find a good guy to settle down. ‘Busy’ isn't an excuse!)” Manuel interrupted.

“Manu, I’m nearly forty. Don’t you think it’s too embarrassing saying this?” Mira turned at him with pursed lips.

“I know your job is important, but so is the shop!” Manuel turned to Víctor, “you also need a man to inherit the business along with Elena, right?”

“My younger brothers can also take care of this, don’t worry about it too much.” Víctor made a beaming smile.

“I know it’s an option, but I don’t like them.” Manuel shook his head, “to me, it’s always been yours and Elena’s shop. I worked at the shop for so many years since I was 18, and Elena is like my big sister. I can’t imagine one day you two not being there.” He then turned to Tachanka, “so, how about your mechanical skill? I know Elena would never pick a guy not good at it.”

“I repair weapons mostly, sometimes vehicles.” Tachanka snorted, “hey, what do you think this is? A marriage interview?”

“Manu, enough of the joke,” Mira kept chuckling, “we only have a professional relationship so far, nothing more.”

“Alex, try the tortilla de patatas.” Víctor paused the topic by handing a pie-like dish with alluring golden colour and smell of fried egg. “it’s my always choice when coming here.”

“Ooh, I love it already,” Tachanka bit it down and the taste immediately grasped his heart. He became low-key envious of how those Spaniards could make such the perfect combination of egg and potatoes. “I think I can eat this for all days. A small piece is totally not enough.”

“It means you can have many more different foods, as well as a comfortable moment with beer, wine and friends, it’s the spirit of tapas.” Víctor’s hospitality expressed out, “how about this one? Ensaladilla rusa. It’s in fact…” He picked up another dish while winking to his daughter, “one of Elena’s favourite foods.”

“Hey!” Mira knocked her father’s elbow jokingly.

“Does it mean Russian salad? Why does a Spanish bar serve it?Tachanka received the small bowl of salad topped by some black olives, scrapped eggs and a layer of mayonnaise. It was hard to figure out what content was inside the bowl unless flipping them up. He picked it up with a fork, put it into his mouth and recognised the familiar taste of boiled potatoes and tuna, “oh, I see. It’s салат Оливье (Olivier salad). A traditional Russian dish which plays a key part at the dinner on New Year’s Eve.”

“So, it really comes from Russia.” Víctor tasted the salad in his own dish, “I’ve always thought it’s a metaphor. The mayonnaise looks quite like a layer of snow; hence I believe it inspires people with the image of Russia.”

All other burst into loud and hilarious laughter in unison, “Papá, you sincerely think this way? Aren’t you kidding?” Mira didn’t contain herself as not minding gazing from others.

“Geez, only old people think so! I’m going to make a post about it on twitter.” Manuel took out his iPhone and began texting.

“Does it sound so strange to you all?” Víctor’s face mixed with confusion and amusement.

“The snow in my country doesn’t look like this for a bit,” Tachanka murmured in a low voice while shaking his head.

 


 

On around 20:00, Mira and Tachanka took their way back although Víctor suggested they could stay. The upgrade of Tachanka’s LMG was almost finished. Mira took out the ballistic shield he had been waiting for. “Nice shield.” Tachanka knocked it gently as if checking its hardness.

“I believe you’ve done a lot of work these days too.” Mira checked the LMG which appeared clean and new considering the years in service. “It now looks quite like a new gun.”

“Yep, changed a lot of components, and the biggest modification is that it can now move the aiming up and down. Not for a large degree, and the overall recoil has increased for the change, but I guess it’s enough for an improvement.”

“It’s far more than enough.” Mira laughed slightly and took the shield. It fit the foothold perfectly, and she fixed it with screws. Finally, she flipped the side panels out, “How does it look? Seems like ready to take those bad guys down anytime?”

“Good. But it looks a bit lacking in ‘decoration’. I’d put a red star on it.” Tachanka followed with a peal of louder laughter.

“Or something else.” Mira began thinking, “Your British teammate, Seamus called me a few times. I still remember his humorous comment on how you behave like an emperor in the base.”

“Don’t believe him. He particularly loves to joke about me. So does James – well, although that guy generally likes to do that to everyone.”

“I know that, but he spoke a thing I felt convincing. He said that you play the role of the Russian teammates’ emotional supporter as well as the catalyst of morale in the whole team.” Mira commented seriously, “at the start, I thought you’re just a Slavic army dickhead, but now I know how terrible I was wrong. You have good hands, and are more careful of your work and your equipment than I imagined with my first impression.”

“If I didn't take care of my guns properly, I wouldn’t be alive at now,” Tachanka responded neutrally.

 

“And you get along with my father so well.” Mira continued, “after joining your team, I will have to deal with the terrorism around the world instead of just in Spain, right? I’m alright with that, but I have a concern about my father. I don’t want him worrying about me too much, so I initially intended to reject Six’s invitation. However, when Rainbow requested me to make a shield for your LMG, I had a chance to have a brief knowledge of how the team work out. I think Six’s ambition inspired me quite a lot.” She then raised her head with a certain look, “you’re a key to my decision, too.”

“I’ve always thought you were already going to join us when making my shield.”

“Six’s advisor, Harry, gives me a lot of room to consider it. He knows it’s a big thing and wishes me to make up my mind before accepting the offer. For a psychologist working a long time for MI6, it’s rare thinking.” Mira chuckled. “Anyway, my father would be at ease after knowing who I will be working with first. Ryad is dependable in action, but he’s too introverted. I brought him to see my dad once before and he barely talked a word. He tends to get too nervous around new people.”

“Really? I think he’s quite a nice guy. He bought me a sandwich, and even taught me some Spanish.” Tachanka felt curious.

 

“Because I told him to treat you a bit more nicely!” Mira laughed when extending her hand, “looking forward to work alongside you in the future, Alex.”

“Me too, Elena,” Tachanka answered politely when shaking hands. He then discovered that he was still in the casual outfit Mira got for him. “By the way, do I have to return the clothes? Don’t know who owns them, though. Neither Ryad nor your dad seems likely to fit these. Perhaps they belong to Manuel?”

“No worries. They’re now yours.” Mira smiled, “Ryad picked them for you, actually. He has a hidden skill that can measure a man’s size just by eyes observation. And I think you should learn how to dress up more ‘amiable’. If you showed up to my dad in your uniform, he might get a shock.”

“Ha, it’s true,” Tachanka grinned, “I’ll say thanks to him later.”

 

“Oh, on the decoration thing,” Mira took out her design drawing of the shield, “how do you think of putting a word on it? Like a Russian word. Which word do you like to use to describe a ‘lord’?”

“There are several different words to say. You can even just transcribe it into Cyrillic alphabets. Like this.” Tachanka opened his notepad and wrote the word “Лорд” on it.

“Looks good, I’d take this one.” Mira nodded while starting to revise the design drawing and depict the letters on the left side panel in detail, “this would show them who is in control!”

“Oh yes! I can’t wait to show it to everyone.” Tachanka commented humorously, “I already love you. You know, if you can come up with the method to add wheels for the LMG and make it a real Tachanka in modern times, I’d marry you.”

“Maybe we’d think of it later in the free time,” Mira laughed wholeheartedly when looking at the upgraded weapon and the result of their collaboration, “as I’m starting to like your antique, too!”