Napoleon Solo brought his car to an abrupt stop with a squeal of the brakes and protesting tires as he pulled into the nearest parking space to the entrance of the hospital. Nearly mowing down a man on crutches at the entrance, he rushed to the reception desk thankful that one of the hospital volunteers was still there at such a late hour.
"I understand you have a patient named Kuryakin admitted here," he stated.
"Are you a relative, sir?"
"No, this is official business." He pulled his U.N.C.L.E identification card from his wallet and presented it to her.
"Yes, sir, let me check for you!" She had heard rumors of the mysterious patient that had been admitted and wondered what type of trouble he was in since a policeman was here to inquire of him. She checked her Rolodex to find the patient's name and location. "Here it is. According to our records he was admitted a week ago. You will find him in the critical care burn unit. Take the elevator to the fourth floor and go to the east wing. You'll have to check in at the nurses' station, I'll call to let them know you are on your way up."
Napoleon caught his breath and stared at her blankly for a few moments. He knew Illya had been found in the wreckage of a car, but no one said anything about him being badly burned.
"Sir? Are you okay?"
The volunteer's voice brought his attention back to her.
"Ah, yes. Thank you." With a slight bow he turned and ran to the elevator bank.
As he waited for the elevator car to arrive, Solo reflected on the events of the last couple of weeks. His partner, Illya Kuryakin, had been on an assignment in northern Colorado where a known THRUSH satrapy was developing highly advanced computers capable of breaching security protocols of several governments, enabling access to sensitive information about weaponry and financial data of the larger world powers.
Napoleon wasn't able to be with Illya for backup. He had been in France working on a problem out of U.N.C.L.E.'s Paris office. Upon his arrival to the New York headquarters he was instructed by the receptionist to report immediately to Mr. Waverly. That was not unusual as his commander often wanted a personal debriefing face to face, before an official report was submitted.
As the receptionist pinned the security badge with the number 11 on the agent's lapel her eyes teared up. "I am so sorry, Mr. Solo."
A cold knot formed in his gut as he walked through the steel security doors leading into the inner offices of U.N.C.L.E. headquarters and hurried to Mr. Waverly's office. The prickling of the hairs on the back of his neck accompanied that cold knot in his gut when his superior motioned for him to sit down. He got right to the point foregoing his usual routine of fiddling with files or attempting to light his pipe.
"Ah…Mr. Solo, I regret to inform you that Mr. Kuryakin has been missing the last six days and must be presumed deceased."
Napoleon felt sucker punched. Illya Kuryakin was not only his partner but also his best friend. Drawing in a breath he looked at Mr. Waverly waiting for more information. "What happened, Sir?"
For the next 12 hours, Napoleon Solo pored over all communications and orders pertaining to Illya's assignment trying to find clues that may lead to his partner's whereabouts. Exhausted from his trip back from Europe and from spending every moment trying to find clues since Mr. Waverly's announcement, the head of Section II dropped his pen, leaned back in his chair trying to ease the kinks in his back. Scrubbing his face and eyes with his hand he realized that it had been more than twenty-four hours since he had freshened up. He needed a shave and shower. Bleary eyed, he reached for his mug of cold coffee. His hand knocked it over and it spilled over a pile of newspapers from northern Colorado. Cursing, he reached for a paper napkin to clean up the spill when his eyes focused on a small headline on the fifth page of the front section: CAR ACCIDENT SENDS RUSSIAN TO FORT COLLINS HOSPITAL. As he read the article, the familiar intuition or sixth sense he had when it came to Illya nagged at him. He picked up the phone and had the travel section reserve a seat on the next plane to Denver.
Napoleon watched through the observation window as his friend lay unmoving in the hospital bed. The only part of Illya that was not bandaged was his left forearm and hand where several IV drips had been established. Even his friend's face and eyes were swathed in the thick gauze bandages.
Dr. Roberts, head of the burn unit, stood next to Solo. "The rescuers pulled him from the burning car just before it exploded, Mr. Solo. Your friend has suffered terribly from the burns."
"What's his prognosis, doctor?" Napoleon couldn't take his eyes off of the scene before him. My God, Illya! What the hell happened?
"He's dying, Mr. Solo. He has severe burns over ninety percent of his body. If he were to survive, his life would never be the same. His eyes were burned and his face, as well as the rest of his body, are grossly disfigured." He paused watching the grief wash over the agent's face. "We have him heavily sedated to ease the pain. The only thing we can do now is try to keep him comfortable." He looked back at his patient. "I'm sorry, I wish we could have done more."
Napoleon closed his eyes tightly and tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. "How much longer does he have, Dr. Roberts?"
"It's hard to say, but I would be surprised if he made it through the night."
"I would like to stay with him," Napoleon tried to keep the shakiness out of his voice as he released a shuttering breath.
"I'm not sure that is that's a good idea. Mr. Kuryakin won't even be aware that you are there. Besides only family members are allowed in the critical care section."
Solo turned to Dr. Roberts. "Illya doesn't have any family. That man in there is my partner, and the closest thing to a brother I have. We are family in every sense of the word. He has pulled my ass out of the fire more times than I can count and I've done the same for him." He stopped and took a deep breath before continuing in a barely audible whisper. "Doctor, please understand. I don't want him to die alone."
Dr. Roberts placed a hand on the agent's shoulder. "Very well, Mr. Solo, go to your friend. I don't know if he will be aware but perhaps your presence will benefit both of you."
Napoleon looked up into the doctor's eyes. "Thank you, doctor."
Before Napoleon could say another word the sound of multiple alarms broke the relative silence in the burn ward. Both men turned their attention back to the observation window and the patient beyond. He was in a full blown seizure for a brief moment. Before Dr. Roberts could react, Napoleon watched his partner's body still as the graphs on the heart monitor flat lined.
"Stay here, Mr. Solo." Dr. Roberts rushed into the room to join the other medical personnel responding to the emergency where he checked his patient for a pulse. Turning towards the observation window where he knew the UNCLE agent was waiting, he slowly shook his head before turning back to the body in the bed and pulled a sheet up over its head.
Napoleon slowly entered his partner's room devastated by the realization that his friend was no more. Holding back a sob he approached the bed and sat down in the chair provided for visitors. He could barely look at the gauze wrappings which reminded him of another affair long ago when a crazed scientist tried to mummify Illya.
"I'm sorry my friend. I thought I could get here sooner. If I had maybe this wouldn't have happened."
Napoleon, even though he realized his friend was gone and beyond pain, carefully took Illya's unbandaged hand and held it between his own. "I'm so sorry, but I promise I will catch the bastards that…" He stopped. Something wasn't right. He studied the hand he was holding more carefully. Abruptly he rose from the chair and rushed to the door, flinging it open.
"Doctor! Dr. Roberts!"
A nurse and the doctor came rushing down the hallway. "What's wrong, Mr. Solo?"
Pointing to the room he had just left, "The man in there is not Illya Kuryakin!"
"Of course it is." Dr. Roberts took Napoleon by the shoulder and tried to lead him to a chair. "Mr. Solo, you are distraught. Sit down and take a moment to calm yourself."
"No! This man's hand is chubby compared to my partner's."
Patiently, Dr. Roberts explained, "His hand looks like that from the edema. It is not unusual for burn victims to have swelling in their limbs."
"Dr. Roberts, this man's hands are smaller than mine, even with the swelling. Although he is smaller in stature than I am Illya's hands are larger than mine. And look, the thumb on this man's hand is straight. Illya has hitch hiker thumbs, the tips bend back and there is no sign of scarring on his wrist where there should be!"
"Are you sure, Mr. Solo?"
"As sure as I ever have been about anything, doctor!"
Solo turned on his heel and hurriedly left the burn ward. In the elevator he opened his communicator and informed Mr. Waverly of his discovery. After briefing the Old Man, Napoleon recapped his communicator tucking it into his pocket. While still extremely worried about his partner, Napoleon had a renewed sense of hope. He left the building and rushed to his illegally parked car. Having backed it out of the parking space he threw it into gear and stomped on the accelerator. With the squeal of the tires the car surged forward.
"Hang on, Partner. I'm coming!"