"May depend on his state of mind."
"Kury. . .Kuryay. . .what is it?"
"Russian—one of U.N.C.L.E.'s".
"Shame. He could use a little moral support."
"I wouldn't worry too much. These guys are tough."
"Still. . ."
They don't know me here.
Must be in hospital, not infirmary at headquarters.
Remember, try to remember.
Shots fired. Agent down. Bailey? Baylor?
I must have been hit too.
Can't open my eyes.
Burning in my chest, radiating through me.
Beeping. Constant beeping. But when it stops. . .
Tired of this. Should be a scientist.
Why did they make me an agent?
Make me leave Paris, London, home. Come here.
Too good at it.
Polite to my face, but whisper behind my back.
Three months in this country.
Never get used to it.
Never get used to him.
Someone in the room. Hovering. Beeps come faster.
Pulse being taken. Nurse.
I go where I'm told. I follow orders.
But he doesn't need me.
He needs his mirror, that's all.
I wish I was in Kiev. The trees are budding out, like here. Spring is—
Someone in the room again. Close to me.
Gun. Where's my gun.
Scribbling. Writing on the chart. Walking away. Door opening and drifting closed.
Beeps slow again.
Anyone can get in. Anyone can put a silencer to my head.
C'est la vie.
I should have died long ago, with my family.
No time for sentimental foolishness.
Period of adjustment, that's all.
Steps in the hallway. Damn sedation. Stay alert!
Door is opening. Someone coming toward me.
Can't move. Can't defend myself.
Hand on my forehead. Rests there for a moment.
Cool metal on one finger.
"Hang on, Illya."
Why is he here?
I hear fabric swish on fabric. He's taking off his coat.
He walks to the left and stops.
Then to the door again.
Back and forth.
He moves a chair. He speaks quietly.
"When you're better, I'll get you a box of rogaliky." A pause. "The apricot, not the cherry, right?"
I sense him standing over me again.
He picks up my hand, holds it in his.
"One squeeze for apricot; two for cherry."
"Hmph," he says, "I could have sworn you liked the apricot."
He moves away and sits down between me and the door. I smell coffee. He must have taken the lid off a paper cup. There's the rustle of a newspaper.
"Go to sleep. I'll be here all night."
Perhaps I will get used to him.
Probably flirting with every nurse from the front door to the third floor.
I must be on the third floor. Post-surgical.
My left leg is throbbing. At least it's still there.
I remember. I was on the ground, stunned, eyes fixed on an overcast sky.
Helicopter appeared, blades creating a tornado that took the breath from me. Blew dirt in my face. Whipped my hair around.
Sometimes the rescue is worse than the wounding.
Where is Napoleon?
The door opens and I sense it's him.
After two years, I know his walk, his—
It's not a shuffle, but something's not right.
He's at my side now, and he whispers.
I groan what will hopefully be interpreted as a negative, even by Napoleon.
He rests his hand on my shoulder.
"This was a close one," he says, and adds in an offhand tone, "but I saved the day."
I attempt a snort, even though it's probably the truth. I'll put the pieces together later.
He takes his hand away.
He walks around to the other side of the bed.
Yes, there's something wrong. He's not moving smoothly.
He always moves smoothly.
A chair scrapes on the floor. He's arranging things so he'll be comfortable.
But first he returns and takes my hand in his, strokes my forearm with his other hand.
"Do you need anything?"
I have what I need.
"Are you smiling?"
I didn't realize.
"Must be a new innovation in drugs."
He squeezes my hand before he lets go, then returns to his chair.
I hear a grunt as he sits down.
He's strained his lower back again.
I constantly tell him to sit up straight, not to slouch.
I tell him to do exercises for his abdominal muscles. He says he will.
I tell him to do these things so when he has to lift something—
perhaps into a helicopter—
he won't injure himself.
God, it hurts.
There are no atheists in foxholes, nor in recovery rooms.
It feels like a knife is being slowly twisted in my gut, and it takes my breath away.
Someone is at my side.
"Mr. Kuryakin, I'm putting another dose of morphine and a sedative into your IV."
Seconds seem like hours until it takes effect.
But the strength has been sapped from me. I can't open my eyes.
How is it that one minute you can be at the top of your form—
throwing punches, sprinting like a track star, somersaulting away from bullets,
then suddenly you're flat on your back, helpless.
Well, it not the first time and it probably won't be the last.
At least Napoleon—
My heart skips a beat.
His absence is ominous.
We've been partners for three years—precious years. Where is he?
The joy one word can bring. One ridiculously common word.
The pain must have blotted out my sense of him.
But he's here, as usual.
He leans on the bed, and squeezes my leg with one hand, just above my knee.
"It's no picnic this time, huh, babe?"
It's a distraction, of course, him calling me something he calls his girlfriends.
I express my disdain with a growl.
He chuckles. "Sorry."
His hand strokes downward, over my knee and shin, then rests on my ankle.
"You'll be all right, tovarisch," he says, his tone affectionate.
The door swooshes open.
"Uh-oh," he whispers, mischievous.
I have no doubt that he'll talk his way into staying with me.
Or, if she's the rare bird who is resistant to his charms, he'll sneak back to the room later.
"Mr. Solo, get back into bed or I'll transfer you to another room!"
"Yes, boss," he says.
The performance is over now. I hear the strain in his voice.
He moves with difficulty, his breath catching as he turns and gets in the other bed. He's in pain.
The sedation is taking me away from him.
No. . . not yet. . . I want to know. . .
"Napoleon, you know that's against the rules."
"Ah, what rules are those?" Napoleon says in an innocent voice.
The nurse sighs. "You can't be in bed with a patient."
As I rest against him, I imagine Napoleon looking up at her and turning on his most winning smile.
"Now, Joanie, Illya's had a rough time. Why, he might even be dangerous. I'm only thinking of you and the rest of the staff."
He's been out with her a few times.
She's worried. "My supervisor will be here in a few minutes, and she'll have a fit."
"Nurse Ratchett?" Napoleon says with a scoff. "She and I are old pals."
"Napoleon, I know you love your partner, but-—"
He takes exception. "I beg your pardon?"
She's straightening the sheets, keeping busy. "Oh, you know what I mean, partner love. I've seen it a million times with you Section Twos. Here, put your shoes on."
He doesn't budge and his arm tightens around me.
"Joanie, would you mind turning off that light on your way out?"
She huffs in exasperation and turns off the light, and I hear the door open and drift close.
I snuggle against him.
"Aren't you asleep yet?" he whispers.
"You're as good as Thrush at depriving me of sleep."
I've actually formed a sentence.
"I'm not giving you a jolt every time you doze off."
That is, indeed, what they did to me. Just enough voltage to keep me awake.
After three days of that, my body remembers and I jump out of habit every time sleep approaches.
Napoleon thinks he has the cure by sleeping with me.
"Just relax," he says. "The collar is gone."
I let go of my fear and relax into a twilight state, only to jerk again, expecting the electric shock.
Napoleon puts his other arm around me and hugs me to him. "I'm here with you. Just let go."
I begin to doze again, but not before I hear someone enter.
Napoleon's hand leaves my waist and I manage to open my eyes just enough to see him throw a kiss to the head nurse, who smiles and closes the door again.
Thank heaven the lights are dimmed.
I hate waking to bright light.
I'll keep my eyes closed for awhile and just lie here, ignoring the ache.
There's movement in my room, but no need for alarm.
After six years of living the life we do, I know who it is.
I feel him close to me.
"How are ya?" he whispers, leaning over me.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Fine."
"For a spy, you don't lie very well."
My face is half-buried in the pillow and I turn it enough to reply.
"I didn't get any complaints last night about how well I lie. So to speak."
"No, no complaints," he says.
The sheet is being slid down my back. It glides over my buttocks, exposing them, bringing a tingle to my groin.
Napoleon strokes my skin, featherlight, down the cleft. I sigh at the intimacy of it.
He kisses me tenderly on the nape of my neck and nuzzles my hair.
His hand moves up my back, petting me.
"I didn't hurt you, did I?"
I turn and reach for him, drawing him down for an embrace.
"You only heal me," I assure him with a stroke to his hair. "You always have."