Who comes to visit the patients in UNCLE's Medical unit? Not the family of wounded agents; unmarried men and women don't have spouses or children to cheer them back to health.
Not even good friends are savvy to the work of the UNCLE agents who lie within the grey walls of that facility. Most operatives don't actually have a social life outside of the relationship they share with their fellow agents.
So, who is there at the bedside to watch and wait, maybe offer up a prayer, when one of them falls to the enemy?
The man in the bed was breathing easier now, his chest rising and falling without the earlier wheeze that had signaled lungs that were filled with fluid. After three days and two worrisome nights that had seen doctors and nurses scurrying through doors with tubes and monitors, trays laden down with medical paraphernalia and faces drawn with concern, Napoleon Solo was finally stable.
His left arm was held in the safe cocoon of a soft cast and a sling, no longer at risk of further damage it seemed. The overwrought lungs were no longer a container for the water he had inhaled while attempting to save another innocent who had wandered into the middle of a Thrush ambush. Illya had been the subject of the attack, and yet it was Napoleon here in the hospital bed, only now beginning to show signs of recovery from the broken arm, a concussion and a near drowning.
The innocent had been a boy of about twelve, tall for his age and remarkably similar in both build and coloring to the Russian UNCLE agent. Illya had been poised to walk into the ambush after receiving information that Thrush lay in wait for him; it was all part of the plan. The boy, however, was not part of the plan, and Illya didn't know he was present until his partner had shown up just in the nick of time, grabbing the young blond and tumbling with him out of harm's way and into the water that filled the little inlet.
Napoleon Solo was not a naturally gifted swimmer under the best of circumstances. That was Illya's specialty, and most of the time he was charged with carrying out underwater tasks when they were necessary. This particular stunt had been an impromptu act of heroism brought on by the boy's appearance, and Solo didn't hesitate to act. It was a minor miracle that he hadn't been killed; as he entered the water his body hit a concrete structure used for storing Thrush treasure. The boy was unharmed, but Napoleon struck it with enough force to fracture his left arm, knocking him unconscious after breathing in a substantial amount of water. In a return of favor, the young boy he had saved gathered the older man into a hold and started swimming for the surface. Illya, in the meantime, had dispatched justice on three Thrush guards and was frantically searching for his partner, ready to dive in when he saw two heads pop up.
Napoleon was out cold as the two figures drew up next to Illya. He grabbed Napoleon around his chest and pulled, only vaguely aware that the other person, the boy, was able to easily haul himself up onto the landing. Illya administered CPR, pumping Napoleon's chest and breathing into the slack mouth, hoping for signs of life as he calmed himself into doing what was necessary.
With a jolt, Napoleon coughed and heaved, spewing water and something else as Illya pushed him onto his left side, not willing to let his partner drown in the bile and river water. He called in their location and asked for a helicopter to be dispatched immediately.
Agent down, medical aid needed.
That had been three days ago. Napoleon had been unconscious, comatose, for all of that time. His lungs were now completely clear, his breathing unaided and regular. The arm would heal.
What remained to be seen was whether or not the amiable CEA of UNCLE Northwest would regain consciousness today, or tomorrow…ever. Illya had been bedside for nearly the entire episode, leaving only when called upon as the now acting CEA. He was sleeping in onsite agent's quarters, utilizing the kit he kept in his gym locker for grooming needs, and had sent a courier to pick up a clean set of clothing.
As Illya sat now in the last dregs of the day, the remains of a canteen dinner on a table by the door, he wondered why they did this to themselves. Alone and without family, nor even friends to speak of, he and his fellow agents risked life and limb, sanity and hopes for a future…for what? Thrush was still out there. The boy Napoleon had saved turned out to be runaway juvenile delinquent, evading the police and child welfare after stealing money from his foster parents, and escaping via the same route the agents had taken to make their appointment with Thrush. To his credit and of benefit to him in light of his petty crimes, the boy had not abandoned Solo when he easily could have.
It was a type of insanity, this life they lived. Illya heaved a sigh that was worthy of his Russian soul. Was it fate, he wondered, to be here like this? In spite of the globe trotting and hours spent in foreign lands, his world was very small. When it got down to it, he was looking at the better part of his world right now. Napoleon Solo was his link to life in so many ways. Friend and brother, partner and… what else did he really need?
Women came and went, most of them unable to enter any farther into his life than what it took to learn their names and how they liked their love making. He had needs. Sometimes he even had desire.
What he wanted now was to see Napoleon open his eyes. Illya felt shackled by a dread, once again, of what life might be without his friend. The anchor to the life he had in this country, in this organization, was the presence and friendship of Napoleon Solo. Without that, he wouldn't last long here. At times like this, he would begin to plan for an escape from all of it, and wonder whether or not it would succeed.
Illya was beginning to nod off around midnight, the upholstered chair that had been brought to this room a more comfortable one than the usual plastic variety. His head jerked in an effort to keep itself upright, and a soft chuckle accented the movement.
Illya roused himself from the lethargy of his post, rose and crossed over to the bed where his partner was watching him, smiling just like he was expected to do.
"Illya, why are you still here? It must be really late."
Illya smiled, his hair askew and his eyes brighter now than they had been for days.
"And where else would I be, my friend. I sensed that you would wake soon, and so I remained here to challenge you to the task."
Napoleon looked tired, with deep circles beneath his brown eyes. The lighting caught the flecks of gold, making them appear lighter than normal.
"I'm glad you followed that feeling. It's good to see you too.'
Then, as memories began to emerge, he asked about the boy.
"What happened to him? Is he safe?"
Illya rolled his eyes heavenward, and not wanting to break bad news, he merely shrugged.
"He will be fine. I will explain it all to you later, after you're rested and alert."
Napoleon was satisfied with that. He trusted his partner to have made everything turn out right, and in spite of only just waking up, he felt sleepy again and thought he might just close his eyes and…
Illya saw the eyes close reluctantly, his voice only a whisper as he tried without resolve to coax his partner back to wakefulness. Better than he should rest some more, sleep until he was completely well.
Illya reckoned that sleep was something he should get as well, now that Napoleon was back. All of the earlier thoughts and complaints tumbled into the little holes from which they emerged only at times such as this. His job was to fight for the right, and to subdue that which was not right. Simple.
"Live to fight another day…"
And with that, Illya headed for his apartment and the first good night's sleep since his vigil had begun. He wondered again about visitors and family, the lack of them all and the constant reminders that the world in which he lived was one of his own design. He chose to not let anyone else in, and knew that sometime in the future there would be a very real price to pay for that decision. In the meantime, he had sleep to look forward to, a job waiting in the morning, and a friend who would recover and soon be at his side once again.
His job. His world. His friend.