Illya Kuryakin was bored. He sat next to his partner, Napoleon Solo, listening to the dulcet voice of Clemency McGill, the so-called clairvoyant whose THRUSH-originated insights had sent him from a bullring in Madrid, to a pub in Seville, to finally, a castle in Transylvania. Clemency sat directly across from Solo at a table in the UNCLE commissary spooning up the ice cream atop her fourth ice cream soda while the three men had long-ago finished their coffee.
Mr. Waverly, who occupied the seat on the other side of Napoleon, seemed pleased with both the outcome of the mission and Clemency’s company and the two dominated the conversation. “Yes, I doubt that Mr. Transom will not be heard from for quite a while.”
Clemency half-nodded in agreement. “Well, I surely am grateful for that. I never did like that man.” She tilted her head to the side and mused: “Now, of course, if I never met him, none of this would’ve happened and I would’ve missed out on a powerful lot of excitement.” She grinned.
Illya was less than enthralled. “So would I.”
Clemency looked at him apologetically, “Oh, you do forgive me, don’t you, Mr. Kury-a-kin?”
“Well, I’m very tolerant. Why don’t we go somewhere tonight and discuss it?” It could be a reasonably enjoyable evening, he decided. If nothing else came of it, he was, at the very least, going to get her to stop mispronouncing his name. That faux pas was becoming less endearing each time she did it.
To his surprise, Mr. Waverly jumped in with his own suggestion. “I was going to suggest Miss McGill go to a concert with me this evening. I’d like her to have the advantage of some of the city’s cultural benefits.”
Clemency smiled coyly. “Well, I purely am grateful to the both of you, but well, Mr. Solo has been kind enough to ask me out.”
Both Illya and Waverly looked at Solo, who had a slightly smug expression. “Oh?” they said, almost in unison.
Before Napoleon could begin to elaborate, Illya turned away. He should have known it would end this way—it nearly always ended this way. Solo was going to show her a night on the town and he was going to spend the evening typing up the report. Somehow, he always seemed to get the short end of the deal, both with physical injury and getting the girl in the end. Usually, it didn’t bother him; this time he was annoyed.
Mr. Waverly stood up to take his leave. “I hope you two have a pleasant evening. Don’t keep Miss McGill out too late, Mr. Solo.”
Napoleon smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
Illya cringed inwardly. Of course, his partner wouldn’t dream of it! He didn’t have to—the girl would ask him to stay once he had gallantly escorted her home. He was feeling more than a bit envious and he wasn’t even attracted to this one—! He sighed heavily and also stood. “Well, I feel a report coming on. If you’ll excuse me.” He turned to leave, but his superior’s voice stopped him.
“I need a moment of your time, Mr. Kuryakin.”
“In my office, ten minutes.” The head of UNCLE, New York, left the trio for the door.
“I wonder what that’s about,” Solo said, looking up at Illya.
“Well, don’t look at me. I haven’t the vaguest idea what it’s about.”
The pair then turned to Clemency, who was staring into her ice cream soda. She looked up. “What are you looking at me for?”
“I thought perhaps you had an idea about Illya’s appointment with Mr. Waverly.”
“It’s probably nothing, Napoleon,” Illya said. “Or maybe he’d like my opinion on that cortical stimulator.”
“You know something, don’t you?” Napoleon said to the honey-brunette.
“I know we won’t be going to the Purple Unicorn if I say anything,” she said dejectedly.
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“Let it go, Napoleon,” Illya said with a small snort of disgust. “Take the lady out dancing. Everything’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned away from the pair and retreated to the door.
“Okay, Clemency. Tell me what’s going on, or the only place we’ll be going is back to the hotel.”
“Well, I don’t really know anything,” she said carefully. “Mr. Waverly’s just going to make Mr. Kuryakin do something he doesn’t want to do.”
“I don’t know what. He just isn’t going to want to do it, that’s all.”
“All right, then. I’ll take you back to the hotel for you to get changed and pick you up at six.” He smiled. “I think you’ll find something in your closet perfect for the occasion.”
Clemency looked up at the handsome man standing over her and smiled sweetly.
* * * * *
Illya stepped through the doorway and stood before his superior. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
Waverly stood at the window of his office, actually the only real window in the entire headquarters complex, looking out over the darkening sky. “It’s not so much that I want to see you, Mr. Kuryakin, but that Medical would like to see you. I understand that you managed to evade them at the Budapest office.”
Illya answered stiffly, “I didn’t see any purpose for it, sir.”
“That seems to be your standard answer, Mr. Kuryakin. As a matter of fact, the only time we do not go loggerheads over this point is when you are unable to come in under your own power.”
“I believe you’ll find that I am not the only one who questions Medical’s need to unnecessarily poke and prod us after each assignment. Sir.” Kuryakin’s tone of voice was becoming noticeably more resistant.
“I want you to report down to Medical, Mr. Kuryakin. That’s an order.”
“I will as soon as I finish the report.”
“Now, Mr. Kuryakin.”
Illya stared at his superior for a moment, wondering why Waverly was being so extreme about a regulation that nearly one hundred percent of the Section Two agents bent until it resembled a pretzel. “Sir, I don’t understand the urgency. My injuries were minimal.”
“Would you rather have a Section Three escort?”
The blond-haired agent sighed in defeat. “No, sir. I am quite capable of delivering myself.”
Waverly pulled his pipe from a jacket pocket. “See that you do, Mr. Kuryakin. I will be verifying that you arrived.”
Utterly confused, Illya turned towards the doorway and walked slowly out of the office.
As the steel door closed, Alexander Waverly murmured, “Sorry, son.”
* * * * *
Kuryakin was in no hurry to catch the elevator to the sublevels and the medical division. Like most Section Two agents, he hated the indignity, the libations and the forced inactivity a trip to Medical usually meant. And right now, he was not too fond of the man who ordered him there.
As he stood, waiting for the elevator, he heard his name from behind him. The doors opened, but he did not enter. “What are you doing here, Napoleon?” he said quietly. “I expected you and Miss McGill to be planning out your evening.”
“She’s somewhat put out with me at the moment. I asked Wanda if she would take her to her hotel while I looked into something that was niggling at the back of my mind.”
“And what would that be?”
“Something Clemency said after you left. She said Mr. Waverly was going to make you do something you didn’t want to do.” He had his confirmation in his partner’s raised eyebrows.
“And I thought to myself, what would the Old Man make you do that you wouldn’t want to do? The answer wasn’t that hard. You’re going down to Medical, aren’t you?”
The answer was terse and clipped. “Yes.” And he stepped into the elevator.
Solo slid in before the doors closed. “Why?”
“I was given a direct order to report.” Illya sighed, clenching his jaw. “And he will be verifying my arrival.”
“Did he tell you why he wanted you to go to Medical?”
Another sigh of anger and frustration. “‘Ours is not to reason why—’” he said, quoting from Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade.
“Surely, you must have some idea. Do you feel okay?”
Illya looked up at his partner. “No, I feel singled-out, under duress and very, very put-upon.” The doors opened onto the medical floor. “Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go swallow my dignity and drop my trousers. Have a fun evening with Miss McGill.” He strode through the opening and towards a white-jacketed doctor holding a clipboard.
Solo hadn’t seen his partner this angry for a long time. If he didn’t administer some gentle restraint, the Russian was liable to take off a head or two, perhaps quite literally. He followed Illya and took a stance two steps to his friend’s right and out of arm’s length. The blond agent looked over glaring, but said nothing.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Kuryakin. And quite punctual, too.”
The glare transferred to the doctor. “You may tell Mr. Waverly that I have arrived, Dr. Webster.”
“He already has been, Mr. Kuryakin.” Dr. Webster turned his attention to Solo. “I wasn’t expecting to see you, Mr. Solo.”
“Ah, yes,” Napoleon said, and tilted his head towards his partner. “I’m here to see that Mr. Kuryakin doesn’t burn a hole through your chest with his gentle stare.”
The blue eyes turned again in Solo’s direction accompanied this time by utterances in Russian that raised the senior agent’s eyebrows. “Careful, Illya. I may have to ask the good doctor to wash your mouth out with soap.”
Kuryakin took the admonishment to heart and sighed heavily. “All right, let’s get this humiliation over-with. Where do you want me?”
“For today, in that room,” he pointed, “and for about ten minutes. Tomorrow, the decision will be yours.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let’s go in the exam room where it’s a little more private. We have some things to discuss. Mr. Solo, you come, too.”
The three men went to the nearby room and the doctor closed the door. “Take off your jacket and sit up on the table if you would, please, Mr. Kuryakin.”
Reluctantly, the Russian agent obliged. If the doctor was menaced by the shoulder holster and gun now revealed, he didn’t show it.
“Unbutton your cuffs and roll them back.”
The uncovered forearms revealed dozens of red scratches.
“Remove your shoes and socks, and roll up your pants legs.”
The red scratches were half-way up the calves.
“That’s a nice collection of scratches you’ve acquired. From some time spent in a cage with bats, I believe?”
“Count Zark has a rather peculiar sense of humor. I was not amused.” Illya replied stiffly.
“What do you know about bats, Mr. Kuryakin?”
“You mean besides their endearing appearance? More than I care to.”
“Did the bats seem normal?”
“They weren’t normal. Zark had altered their vocal cords so their echo-location would interfere with man-made radar.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Why don’t you say what you mean, doctor?”
“Mr. Kuryakin, bats are known repositories for rabies.”
Illya did not change expression, except for a slight widening of his eyes, but blanched to the point where Napoleon thought he might pass out. “R-rabies?” he stammered softly.
“How many bats were there in the cave?”
“I don’t know—hundreds maybe. Surely, you don’t believe—”
“The incidence is fairly low, about half a percent for free-flying bats in nature. There are no figures for confined animals as in this case. Did you see any dead bats?”
“I wasn’t exactly looking for dead bats, doctor. I was trying to keep them off me. They were South American vampire bats and they thought I was dinner.”
“You have a difficult decision to make. There are scratches and bites on your ankles and forearms. There are also a significant number on your face and neck. If it were just your ankles, I’d advise you that your risk is low. The forearms increase your risk a little more. The neck bites worry me.”
“You want me to consider the vaccine.”
“Yes, Mr. Kuryakin. If you’re infected and don’t take the vaccine, you will die from the disease. I’ve never seen a case of human rabies, but from what I’ve read, it’s a horrible way to die. The incubation can be as short as one-to-two months or it could be years, but once the symptoms begin there is nothing we can do.”
Solo was stunned. “What about the vaccine?”
Illya responded as if he was reading from a textbook. “The series is fourteen to twenty-one injections, one per day, given subcutaneously usually in the umbilical area.”
“The stomach,” Solo said anxiously.
“Yes,” Dr. Webster said and looked up at Illya. “Are you allergic to eggs? Particularly, duck eggs?”
“I don’t think so.”
“That’s good, but you may still have a reaction to the vaccine. Most patients have some kind of reaction.”
“Allergic reaction at the injection site is most common. More serious is anaphylaxis or allergic encephalitis. We can manage both of them.”
“How long do I have to consider my options?”
Napoleon spoke before the doctor could open his mouth. “There are no options, Illya. You have to take the vaccine.”
Kuryakin looked up at his partner and friend. “Are you pulling rank and ordering me to submit to this, Napoleon?”
“If I have to, I will. I can’t believe you’d consider any other alternative.”
“Mr. Solo, you need to understand something here. This is a painful, potentially dangerous treatment.”
“That may not be effective or even be necessary,” Illya finished. “I know what my choices are.”
Solo stared at the doctor in disbelief. “Is he right?”
“I’m afraid he is. He may not have an immune response even after twenty-one injections.” He handed the blond agent his coat. “I want to know your decision within three days, whatever you decide.”
Kuryakin nodded respectfully. “I will give it to you in the morning. Thank you.” He put on his coat and opened the door.
After his partner had left the room, it was Napoleon’s turn to glare at the doctor. “Call Mr. Waverly and have him order Illya to take the treatment.”
“I can’t do that, Mr. Solo. He has the right to decide for himself. If Mr. Waverly took that away from him, he’d be no better than the Soviets from where Mr. Kuryakin came. Your partner knows exactly what he is facing whichever way he decides.”
On Kuryakin’s insistence, Napoleon fulfilled his obligation and took Clemency to the Purple Unicorn and felt guilty the entire evening. Not even the Russian’s quip about monopolizing his time later on seemed to soothe the sense of impropriety gnawing at his insides. He was sure Clemency wondered about his forced jovial mood or perhaps she didn’t; her “knowing way” supplied all the answers she needed. Unfortunately, she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) supply the answers he needed. He questioned her several times during the evening until she told him to stop or she would ask to be taken back to her hotel and Mr. Waverly would hear about it in the morning. Never was he so glad when she told him at eleven-thirty, she was “completely tuckered out” and ready to leave. She was angry about his abbreviated goodnight kiss at her hotel room door, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Later, in his apartment, he wondered why he had been so anxious to have the date end early. He had nothing to do but sleep and he was far too keyed up with concern over his friend to retire. Several scotch-on-the-rocks helped him into a sleep-like stupor, but it was far from a good-night’s sleep.
It was not often Napoleon Solo came into the office before nine o’clock if duty did not warrant it however, on this morning, he found himself walking the steel-gray halls at seven a.m. He found his partner behind his desk proofing his report from the mission.
“Did you even go home last night?” he asked.
Illya looked up and smiled enigmatically. “Of course, I did. I needed to pack a few things for my stay here.”
“I take it, then, that you decided to go through with the treatment.”
“I thought I made my intentions clear last evening. There really is no other option for me but to take the treatment.”
Napoleon sat on the corner of his partner’s desk and folded his arms. “And you decided that last night, too? Why, then, did you let me make a fool out of myself, trying to talk you into it?”
Illya stood up, pushed his chair in, and handed Solo his report. “Because, Napoleon, you do it so well.” He walked past his friend to the door. “I’ll be down in Medical for about an hour. And I left a note for you on your desk spelling out my wishes for the next twenty-one days.”
Napoleon looked up. “Your wishes?”
Kuryakin paused at the door. “You’ll see. After Medical, I’ll be in the lab if you need me.” Then he was gone.
Solo looked at the empty doorway. You’re awfully cavalier about this, my friend, he thought. But I know you, and you’re scared as hell.
Solo went to his office and found the piece of paper neatly folded on the center of his desktop. On it were written two words in classic State-school-trained script, instead of the hurried scrawl that was his partner’s usual handwriting:
Napoleon sank down into his chair, a lump forming in his throat from the implications of those two carefully written words which meant volumes if he chose to consider them. Illya only occasionally spoke Russian to his partner at length, even though Solo considered himself fluent in the language. However, his knowledge of Russian and of one Russian in particular, he found sorely lacking the first time he heard himself referred to as “zadushevny” by his partner. He finally traced the meaning of the word and was shocked by what he learned. To Illya, he was not just a friend, a partner, a brother-in-arms; the word meant “one behind the soul” and as he came to understand exactly what that phrase meant, the intimacy of what it implied humbled Napoleon to his core.
The second word suggested how Illya was identifying himself in this situation. The diminutive forms of his partner’s given name never passed between them, but here he was, referring to himself in the diminutive, as would a parent. Illya was completely surrendering himself to the care of the person he trusted more than anything in the world or beyond, but it was also a trusting that he, Napoleon, would know when to exercise the power he had been given.
Napoleon stared at the words, and suddenly found himself needing to blink fast to keep decorum. “You never cease to amaze me, my friend—” My brother—he thought. If only my language had a word that encompassed what you mean to me.
The elevator door opened onto the Medical floor of the UNCLE complex and with a deep sigh of resignation, Illya Kuryakin stepped out and presented himself to the nurse in charge. Dr. Webster greeted him, and took him to his office for briefing.
“Before we begin, do you have any questions?”
“I don’t believe so, but I do have a few requests, if I may.”
“I thought you might. We’ll try to accede to your wishes, if we can. What are they?” Dr. Webster nodded slowly as his patient began to speak. As expected, Kuryakin wanted to be confined to Medical only when he decided that any complications of his treatment had become unmanageable, no visitors save his partner and if he became unable to express his wishes for treatment, his partner would speak for him. “We’re going to monitor you for the development of antibodies to determine how long we’ll need to inoculate you. If you’re showing signs of antibody production, we might be able to stop at fourteen days instead of running the full twenty-one-day course.”
“As one who has had more than their share of having needles stuck into them, I would have little argument against that.”
“Agreed. So, are you ready to begin? We’ll need you to remain about thirty minutes after the injection in case you have a severe allergic reaction. And, you do plan to remain at headquarters overnight during the course of treatment. ”
“I’ve already made arrangements for overnight accommodations. I’m ready.” Kuryakin followed the doctor to an examination room where a syringe had already been prepared.
“Lift up your shirt, Mr. Kuryakin.”
Illya gazed at the device in the doctor’s hand (especially the size of the needle) and grimaced slightly. “Did I mention how much I detest needles?”
“I think you said something about it.” He stuck the needle, full length, into the flesh just above his navel at a forty-five degree angle. Several phrases, not unlike the ones he had heard directed at Solo the day before, forced their way from his patient’s lips. “Do I want to know what you just called me?” Dr. Webster asked as he withdrew the needle.
The Russian sighed heavily and lowered his shirt. “No, I don’t think so.”
“I’m sorry it’s necessary for you to endure this.”
“It’s all right, doctor. The words I have for the THRUSH who put me in this situation are much worse, believe me.”
“Take a seat behind the nurse’s station for half-an-hour, then you’re free to go.”
“No offense, but it won’t be a moment too soon.”
Napoleon stopped by the lab at lunchtime with a sandwich and drink for his friend. “I thought you might prefer to take your meals in, shall we say, more private quarters during your confinement.”
The blond Russian chuckled. “You make it sound like I’m pregnant.”
“You might find it to be every bit as challenging a time as if you actually were.”
“This is a very strange analogy you’re pursuing, Napoleon. And quite impossible, I might add.”
“You’re the one who brought it up, my friend. So, how do you feel?”
Illya shrugged. “Fine, though the injection itself is very uncomfortable. Large gauge needle and all that.”
“And in the stomach, yuck.”
“I know, Napoleon, I was there, remember?”
“Eat your lunch.”
“Yes, mother.” Illya looked up as he caught the movement of Solo turning to leave. “Was this just a delivery?”
“Yeah, Mr. Waverly has given me orders to clear up the case reports that have been languishing on my desk for the last two months. I can let them languish a little longer if you need me.”
“Well, no, it isn’t really necessary.”
“I got your message, my friend, and I will be here for you for however long you need me.”
“You need to see to your own duties. I am fine here.”
“Lab rat,” Solo said with a smile.
“File clerk.” Illya responded in kind.
The blond agent grinned. “Procrastinator.”
Napoleon’s smile turned fond. “Brother—”
Illya nodded. “Yes. Brother; and more. Would you be up for a game of chess after dinner?”
“You’re on, tovarisch.”
“You seem to be tolerating the vaccine fairly well, Mr. Kuryakin. Day nine and a mild rash is all you’ve reported.” Dr. Webster administered dose number nine.
“I wish I could say the same for the injections. Are you sure you aren’t filing off the points on those needles?” Illya grumbled, catching his breath when the needle entered him. The area of skin above his navel was an angry rose color.
The doctor smiled. “Do you feel all right otherwise?”
Illya sighed heavily. “I’m really tired today; maybe because I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
“Why is that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I kept waking up, restless. Do you have a bed for me yet? I might lie down and try to take a nap.”
“Sure. The nurse will take you. Take it easy today, Mr. Kuryakin. Your body is working hard to build up these antibodies. We don’t want to overtax it.”
By the time Illya was taken to his room, the rash on his stomach had begun to itch and hurt at the same time. He lifted up his shirt to reveal a blistering, fiery red rash.
“Oh, my,” the nurse said. “You’re having a reaction. Those are hives. We’re going to have to get you some diphenhydramine for that.”
Kuryakin lay down on the bed, while the nurse went to get his medicine and tell the doctor about the new development. By the time they both returned to the agent’s room, the rash covered his chest, arms and neck, and his face was slightly swollen. The doctor decided his patient needed epinephrine as well, and went to get it while the nurse injected the first medication.
“I don’t understand why all of a sudden, I’m having a reaction,” the Russian agent murmured.
“It can happen at any time. I’ve seen people with no reaction to penicillin all their lives suddenly have a reaction.”
Dr. Webster returned with the epinephrine. “How are you doing, Mr. Kuryakin.?”
Illya shook his head and closed his eyes. “Quite unwell, doctor.”
The doctor injected the epinephrine. “This is a small dose, just to keep things from getting worse until the diphenhydramine starts to work. It will probably make you sleepy, so don’t fight it. You need rest right now.”
“I tend to agree with you. I’ve felt better after being tortured by THRUSH. Am I going to have a reaction like this again tomorrow?”
“Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. But we can give you the medications before the vaccine to see if that will stop the reaction from happening.”
In five minutes, the effects of the epinephrine and diphenhydramine were beginning to make the rash and the swelling tolerable, and at the same time, he was becoming increasingly drowsy.
“I think the best thing for you right now is to go to sleep, Mr. Kuryakin.”
“Sound medical advice,” Illya mumbled. “Wake me for lunch, would you?” A moment later, he was asleep.
“Well, I don’t like this little development,” Dr. Webster said. “He still needs at least five more injections. I need to make a few phone calls.”
It was dark and they were all around him; he could hear their squeals and he felt the brush of their membranous wings as they skimmed by in their flight. Though he couldn’t see them, he sensed that there were innumerable swarms of them, all intent on feeding on him, on his blood. Attempts to swat them away were fruitless; they were replaced by more and more still until he was completely covered by them--
Illya awoke with a start, but the false sensory apparitions had caused his heart to pound in his chest, duplicated in his skull. Suddenly, his body broke out in a cold sweat and he began to tremble. Where was he? The trappings of the room suggested an infirmary but his body and especially, his head, were telling him that he had been drugged. And, more times than not, it meant that THRUSH had him and they were trying their nefarious potions to ream information from him.
It seemed curious that he had not been restrained in any way, but it wasn’t always easy to decipher their methods. He slipped quietly out of the bed and in prowling the room, he found his Special in a drawer still in its holster. That was definitely odd, but he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. If they were baiting him to see if he would try an escape attempt, he was going to take the bait.
He was again surprised at the unlocked door, but figured they had their motives and it would become apparent when he opened the door. The hallway was clear, strangely enough, and he crept along it, ready for anything that came to challenge him. A moment later, a nurse entered the hallway and stopped short when she saw him.
“Oh! Mr. Kuryakin, what are you doing up? I thought you were asleep.”
“I’m sure you did,” he said with a hard edge. “I’m afraid I’ve over-stayed my welcome, so I’m leaving.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
He lifted his gun. “I’m not interested in your opinion. But you will make a very convenient hostage.” He reached out and grabbed her arm to pull her towards himself.
“Illya, what do you think you’re doing?”
“First name is it now? Too bad we don’t have the time to get better acquainted. Let’s go.”
He dragged her along the hallway until they entered the central reception area. The pair of nurses behind the desk jumped up as he approached with his hostage. “Mr. Kuryakin, what are you doing?” one said loudly.
“Calling for reinforcements won’t help. If you don’t allow me to leave, I’ll kill her.”
The nurses tried to reason with Illya, while Dr. Webster, who had been alerted by the turmoil, made a phone call. The phone rang once and a male voice answered: “Solo, here.”
The doctor spoke quickly. “There’s been a development in Medical. Code yellow. He’s got a gun.”
Napoleon did not hesitate. “I’ll be right down.” He hung up the phone and reached for his suit coat on the back of his chair. Code yellow meant trouble and he knew exactly who was involved. What no one else knew was that Illya’s gun was not loaded. At least, there was a good chance things wouldn’t get deadly.
Dr. Webster went out into the reception area and confronted his patient. “Mr. Kuryakin. Why don’t you lay down the gun and we’ll talk?”
“Ah, the inquisitor. No, I think I’m quite satisfied with the status quo, for the moment. Your concoctions didn’t work as well as you expected, or you wouldn’t have made it so easy for me to get this far.”
Dr. Webster shook his head. “They worked well enough. But they had some side effects, which you’re experiencing right now.”
“I’m just fine, thank you. And I’ll be even better when the elevator comes. If one of you will be so kind--” He gestured with the gun for one of the nurses to push the “up” button. Almost immediately, the doors opened, but the car was not empty. Napoleon stepped cautiously from the car and stopped two feet from his partner. Illya’s mouth opened in surprise and a look of confusion crossed the features. “Napoleon—? What—? How—?”
Solo smiled and put his hands in his pockets with an air of composure. “I know you don’t like Medical, but this is a little extreme, don’t you think?”
Illya continued to stare and Solo thought he saw a hint of panic in his friend’s eyes.
“Let me have the gun, my friend. These nice folks are a little jumpy and we mustn’t antagonize the people who are trying to help us.”
Illya shook his head, conflicted. “I—don’t understand—”
Napoleon took a step forward and held out his hand. “Ilyusha, give me the gun,” he said quietly.
Eyes still fixed on Solo, Illya released the nurse and lowered his weapon. Napoleon reached out and took it from his partner’s unresisting grasp.
“You don’t look so good, tovarisch.”
“I don’t—what—?” His head throbbed and he raised his hand to his head with a groan. “My head—I can’t think—” he moaned.
“I think you need some rest. Let me take you to your room, okay?”
Kuryakin allowed Napoleon to lift his arm and pull it across a shoulder. “Napoleon,” he asked softly, “did I just do something really stupid?”
The dark-haired agent smiled fondly. “Not any more than usual, zadushevny. Every-thing’s okay now.” He began to walk his partner back the hallway to his room but Illya never finished the trek under his own power. His head fell forward as his knees foundered and Napoleon ended up half-dragging, half-carrying him the rest of the way.
Doctor Webster gave his patient a quick exam. “He’s spiking a fever on top of everything else. This is not good, Mr. Solo.”
“Can’t you suspend the treatment?”
“We need to run an antibody level on him to see what the level is, but if they aren’t high enough we’ll need to continue. I’ve got some calls into some of the best immunologists in the country. Until we have answers, we’ll have to continue the treatment.”
“Put restraints on him then. You can’t have him running about thinking he’s on a mission.”
“I didn’t know he had his weapon with him. Our personnel are not accustomed to having one of our own people point a gun at them.”
“And Illya didn’t know that I put an empty magazine in his gun. There was minimal danger.”
“It would have been nice if you had shared that information with me.”
“I didn’t want anyone to try something foolhardy knowing the gun was empty. We are quite capable of killing barehanded. I couldn’t take that risk. For his protection and yours, put restraints on him. He won’t like it, but he’ll understand.” He looked down at the sleeping figure on the bed. “At least, he will when he’s in his right mind.”
The doctor ordered four padded leather straps and he and Napoleon secured Kuryakin’s wrists and ankles to the bed frame. “Sorry, my friend. We need to keep everyone safe here.” Solo looked up at the doctor. “Turn on that monitor and call me when it looks like he’s waking up. I want to be here when he does.” Solo turned his back on patient and doctor and headed for the elevator.
Hours later, Kuryakin awoke with a groan. Solo leaned over from his seat by the bed and laid his hand on his friend’s arm. “Welcome back, little buddy.”
Illya opened his eyes, and squinted against the light. “Am I dead?”
“I think you’re a little too animated to be dead.”
“The way I feel, I could be convinced that I’m dead.”
“If you mean you feel awful, you’re definitely not dead. You have to be alive to feel awful.”
“What time is it?”
“About four in the afternoon. You’ve been pretty much out of it the whole day.”
“I remember now. I was having a reaction to the vaccine and they gave me something—I don’t remember the name. It made me sleepy. I’ve been out all this time?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Suddenly, another level fog lifted from the Russian agent’s brain and he realized his wrists and ankles were bound to the bed. “Napoleon, what happened—what did I do?”
“You were a little confused from the medication and fever. We thought it best to put you in restraints.”
“What did I do? Tell me—”
“You tried to escape. We didn’t let you. Everything’s okay.”
“Oh, Napoleon, tell me I didn’t do anything really dumb—”
“You didn’t, my friend.”
Illya looked down at his leather-bound wrists. “I don’t think I believe you.” Then he laid his head back down on the pillow. “I need to talk to Dr. Webster.”
“He’s doing some research and he’ll be in to see you a little later.”
“He told me that the next injection would probably cause the same reaction or maybe even worse. I need you to make sure I don’t hurt anyone if I’m delirious.”
“Even if you have to use force on me.”
“I have your word on that. You’ll protect them from me.”
Solo smiled. “I always do, my friend. It’s one of the things I do best.”
Illya gave him a sarcastic look. “Of course, it is. It’s right up there with getting captured, and putting your foot in your mouth—I’m so relieved.”
“Hmm. You know, I think I liked you better delirious. You seemed to make more sense.”
“You are sooo lucky my hands are tied, Solo. Otherwise, I’d wipe that silly grin right off of your face.”
“I think I’ll get the doctor. You need to be sedated.”
“You do that, and I’ll still wipe that grin off your face.”
They were still bantering when the doctor came.
Illya listened to Dr. Webster’s findings without expression. Though his blood was showing the beginnings of antibody production, the level was not high enough for the doctor to feel that the injections could be stopped. The best they could do was to continue and try to manage the adverse reactions. Dr. Webster did not downplay the seriousness of the situation: while nothing was absolute when it came to the complexities of how the body worked, he was certain a full anaphylactic reaction would occur if Illya continued the injections.
“Then, I will have to trust that you will have the means to help me survive what I will not be able to control. If I discontinue the treatment, what I have endured so far would have been useless.”
“We’re going to make up some emergency epinephrine syringes for you to use as you feel the symptoms start. We might be able to keep things from progressing further than what happened today.”
“I hope so and I apologize for the chaos I seemed to have caused.”
“No one was hurt, and in retrospect, it was probably a good training exercise for us all. So, Mr. Kuryakin, if you feel that you are in control of your faculties, we can remove the restraints, and see about getting you some supper.”
“That would be a great relief. I really need to use the bathroom. Meanwhile, I think I’ll let Napoleon procure some dinner for the both of us. Luigi’s—the usual. With a side of spaghetti and meatballs.” Illya grinned up at his partner. “I missed lunch.”
The next several doses of the vaccine produced a reaction similar to the one given on day nine, but the staff was prepared with medications to ease the symptoms. The patient was also weathering the sedative side effects of the diphenhydramine better and did not spend the greater portion of the day in a drugged stupor. Napoleon brought his work down to Medical and the pair worked their way through the mountain of finished mission reports. Illya was glad for something to focus on and Napoleon was glad for the second pair of eyes.
The day usually culminated in several games of chess, sometimes attended by the medical staff when the two agents became loudly competitive. Occasionally the insults became rank and competitive in their own right, though none of the audience was aware as they were delivered via various languages and neither agent seemed to take offense.
However, none of the staff, or Napoleon failed to notice the energetic toll the vaccinations were taking on the patient. Illya slept soundly at night because he was exhausted, but he did not wake rejuvenated in the morning. And they all knew better than to suggest he sleep more during the day. It was apparent that Illya was staying awake because his partner was there; it was also apparent that he was enduring the treatment mentally, because his partner was there. The staff was not going to tamper with something that worked.
Dr. Webster administered the daily dose of vaccine and smiled at his patient. “The results from the tests yesterday look promising. I think we’ll be able to stop after dose fourteen.”
Illya sat down on the edge of the bed and the nurse took his vital statistics. “It will be a great relief to be finished with this nuisance. If I never see another needle, it will be too soon.” He chuckled softly. “But considering THRUSHs propensity for vile concoctions, I can’t see that happening any time soon.” He wrinkled his nose as the nurse injected him with diphen-hydramine.
Napoleon entered the room and all eyes turned his way. “Good morning.”
“Did you bring breakfast?”
“I’m just fine this morning, Mr. Kuryakin, thanks for asking.”
“You didn’t bring breakfast.”
Solo held up a bag. “Croissants and butter. Tea with strawberry jam.”
Illya grinned. “I knew there was a reason I put up with you.” He took the bag to examine the contents while Napoleon wheeled over the portable table with the chessboard on top. “I’m white today,” Illya said and began to arrange the pieces on either side of the checkered board.
Solo also sat on the bed opposite his partner. “You never seem to get tired of being tortured, do you, tovarisch?”
“Apparently not. I’ve been thinking of a new tactic and want to see—” He stopped talking abruptly, frowned a little, then looked up at Napoleon, a hint of alarm in his eyes.
Solo leaned forward. “Illya?”
The Russian drew a difficult breath. “Get the doctor—quickly,” he panted. He pushed the table away and hastily reached for the syringe in the kidney dish on the table by his beside. It held the correct volume of epinephrine to counter-act the allergic reaction that was rapidly constricting his airway. Damn, that was quick—he thought briefly and popped the cap. He expressed a drop through the needle and then jammed the point through the cloth of his pajamas and into his thigh, pushing the plunger down as he did. Okay, now, work, he told the solution in his leg. Moments passed and the swelling continued. Work, dammit--! Work!
He looked up as the door flew open and Dr. Webster ran in, followed by a nurse and his partner. “Is it working yet?” the doctor asked him as he took the syringe from his hand.
Illya shook his head. “It’s worse—” he rasped.
“We’ll dose you again, but I want to do a tracheotomy to keep your airway open.”
Kuryakin nodded. He didn’t move as the nurse injected his other thigh but when the doctor attempted to push him back onto the bed, he quickly countered by grasping the doctor’s wrist, as if to push him away.
“Illya, we have to do this right away, don’t you understand?” The grip on his wrist only tightened.
Illya laid his other hand on the doctor’s shoulder and fought to push air from his lungs to speak: “No—” He looked up at Solo, pleadingly.
“I don’t understand—”
“Na—po—le—on—ex—plain—I—can’t—” Illya’s fingers curled to make a fist on the doctor’s shoulder.
“He wants you to wait to do the tracheotomy,” Napoleon said softly.
“Wait? For what?”
“Until he passes out.”
The doctor turned to look at Napoleon. “But, why? There’ll be some pain but he can handle it.”
“It has nothing to do with pain. He doesn’t want to take the chance that he might hurt you. If you cut him now, he will instinctively fight you. We are trained to do this. You have to wait.”
The doctor turned back to his patient, whose hand still grasped his wrist and saw affirmation of what Solo had told him. “I don’t believe it—you’re essentially suffocating and there isn’t even panic in your eyes. Do they train the fear out of you, too?”
“No,” Napoleon said, “they train us to channel it into productive action.”
“How long are we going to have to wait?”
With his left hand, the Russian held up two fingers.
“Two minutes!?” Dr. Webster exclaimed.
Solo snorted a quiet laugh. “He’s just trying to impress you, doctor. He can’t hold his breath that long.”
Kuryakin transformed his earlier gesture by rolling down his index finger. Then, the hand trembled as a shutter went through his body from the diminished oxygen. “Soon—” he whispered and leaned forward until his forehead rested against the doctor’s waist.
To Dr. Webster, it seemed an eternity before the hand grasping his wrist loosened, and the body slumped forward pressing its dead weight against him. He lowered the limp form back onto the bed. “Let’s get this done,” he said, tonelessly, and the nurse laid a tray of equipment beside Illya’s body. Within minutes, the doctor had made a vertical incision below the Adam’s apple and inserted a flexible tube through the opening to allow air to pass. A squeeze from an Ambu bag stimulated the breathing reflex and Illya began to breathe on his own through the tube in his throat.
The doctor checked that the swelling in the upper airway was subsiding, and dressed the tracheotomy incision. The Russian agent began to stir as the doctor and Solo manipulated his body into a more comfortable position on the bed. “I think I’m beginning to understand Section Two agents a little better. I was under the impression you guys didn’t like Medical because it was a macho thing.”
“Actually, it’s the feeling of being vulnerable that Medical conjures up. I’m going to sit with Illya for a while, see if I can’t get him to sleep.”
“I doubt he’ll argue with you.”
Solo smiled. “Well, not vocally, anyway. Thanks for helping my friend.”
“Your friend is a brave man, Mr. Solo.”
“No, doctor, he’s an UNCLE agent and one of the best.”
“Spoken like a true partner. Stay as long as you like.”
Napoleon sat down beside the bed and reached for his friend’s wrist. The touch made Illya open his eyes and turn his head. “You certainly like causing excitement, don’t you?”
Kuryakin opened his mouth to speak and realizing that nothing was coming out, touched the tube at his throat. He pointed at Solo, his temple and then himself.
“Yes, I do know you, and I know you’re not going to be happy about this, but the doctor and I want you to take the day off and sleep in. You’ve earned it.”
Illya covered the opening in his trache-tube. “Will you stay?” he said raspy.
Napoleon smiled. “I promised to keep you out of trouble, remember?”
“Are you—sure this—isn’t—some elab—orate THRUSH—torture?”
“We were hoping you wouldn’t find out. Sleep, my friend. I’ll be here when you wake up, I promise.”
“Well, Mr. Kuryakin, the tests show that you now have a satisfactory level of antibody in your blood. You can rest easily.” Dr. Webster was pleased and relieved.
“I’ll rest easily when you’ve signed the release for me and I can leave this antiseptic prison.” Sitting up in bed, Kuryakin was pale and noticeably thinner with his blue eyes haunting from the dark shadows encircling them. The last days of inoculations had been draining as the staff fought to keep him from going into shock and total body systems collapse. The Russian spent most of that time in various stages of unconsciousness. He still felt horrible and he was annoyed that everyone kept asking him how he felt.
“I’m going to keep you at least until tomorrow, and if I’m happy with your vitals, you can go home. I can probably field certify you in a week—if you behave yourself.”
“You’re just like Napoleon. Always qualifying your statements.” He crossed his arms.
They were interrupted by Solo’s cheerful baritone. “I see my partner is feeling better. He’s being obstinate.”
“I get like this when I’m hungry, Napoleon.”
“Well, it just so happens that I brought something special for you today. Mrs. Waverly baked you some scones, and Mr. Waverly insisted on delivering them personally.”
Illya looked up, his eyes widened and he struggled to straighten his slouch. “You didn’t need to go to all that trouble, sir. You and Mrs. Waverly, but thank her for me, please.”
Waverly smiled at his agent and handed him a bag. “I will, Mr. Kuryakin. Mr. Solo has been keeping me informed of your progress. It seems ironic how something as small as a virus can wreak the havoc they do. How are you feeling?”
“Not one hundred percent, sir, but I should be fine in a day or two.”
“I have no doubt of that. Do you think you can spare Mr. Solo for a short mission?”
“Absolutely, sir. He was always available if you needed him.”
“He was exactly where he was needed, Mr. Kuryakin. I wouldn’t have allowed it if I didn’t see its value.” He looked up at both Solo and Dr. Webster. “You did not hear what I just said.” His expression strongly suggested that it was not a request.
“I hear and obey,” Napoleon said without expression, but his eyes were dancing at Waverly’s uncharacteristic sentimentality.
“Well, you recuperate quickly, Mr. Kuryakin. You’ve been sorely missed.”
“Thank you, sir,” Illya said quietly.
After Waverly had gone, Kuryakin opened the bag of scones. “These look delicious.”
“Mrs. Waverly always did have a fondness for you,” Solo said. “I brought some tea, butter and jam. And a knife. We can make a party of it. I know a few nurses that would love to spend some quality time eating scones with a certain blond-haired Russian.”
Napoleon was gone on his mission for nearly a week and Illya tinkered in the labs while he recuperated. They happened to catch each other in the cafeteria on Solo’s second day back. Napoleon found him in the back of the room, alone, immersed in a large bowl of steaming soup.
“Hey, I didn’t see you around yesterday,” Solo said.
Kuryakin shook his head.
Illya looked up. His eyes were teary and his nose was chapped and red.
“Good, God, what’s happened to you? Don’t tell that after all you went through the vaccinations didn’t work!”
The Russian stood up, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. He stared sourly at his partner. “I caught a cold—!”