"Where is he?"
The woman at the door hesitated only momentarily before stepping back into the entry. The dark haired man who entered nodded, somewhat apologetically, in an effort to stifle the inevitable disapproval of the matronly guardian.
"He is resting Señor Solo, you should take care to not disturb him."
But Napoleon hadn't driven all the way out to the wilds of Connecticut to be turned away by the over protective woman who now stood watch over his Russian partner.
"Doña Leticia, por favor… I drove all the way from New York City to see him. Please, I promise I won't wear him out with too much talk or make him anxious with business… Please?"
That last please was accompanied by a look so patently Solo that it should have had warning signals attached to it. The stern countenance on Doña Leticia melted into a smile that reflected the one on Napoleon's face, just as he had hoped it would.
"Un poco de tiempo solamente…'
Napoleon was nodding, yes just a little time…
"He is still very weak, Señor Solo. Madre de Dios, what do you mean putting such a sweet boy in so much harm?"
Napoleon had learned recently to be very solicitous of this woman. Her vehemence concerning the welfare of Illya Kuryakin would no doubt turn away Thrush, let alone a well-meaning friend.
"I promise you señora mía, I want to see him strong and healthy again. My visit will cheer him, and you… puedo hacer sonreír."
And she did smile, again.
"Come, he is outside on the terrace. For only a little while longer, it will get too much cold for him soon."
Napoleon followed the little woman through the living room and out onto a wide terrace that was in the path of the last rays of sunshine. The day had been unseasonably warm, but shadows were bringing with them a chill that would chase most people indoors.
Illya was sitting in a chaise, dressed in pajamas and wrapped completely in a large blanket that threatened to swallow him within a tartan of undetermined origins. The depth of the colors only heightened Illya's seeming lack of any, his skin and hair more pale looking than normal to Napoleon's eyes.
Illya looked up at the sound of voices. He had been out here for what seemed like hours, and had probably not held onto one solid thought during the entire time. He had become uncharacteristically comfortable with idleness during the past few weeks, a sure testament to the injuries he had sustained.
Napoleon was encouraged to see his friend smile when he recognized his visitor. There had been days and nights when no one was certain of Illya's recovery. Too long without any air had been the fear, and warnings were issued about loss of memory or worse… something that Napoleon willed could not happen. It was unacceptable for Illya to not be … Illya.
Now, looking at his partner in the fading light, he was grateful beyond words for the sight of him. Pale and looking almost fragile as he sat wrapped in that monstrosity of a blanket, Illya's expression was one of recognition and anticipation.
Things were going to be all right.
"Say tovarisch, tell me how I've worked all day and driven all this way to see you, and you're still not dressed?"
Illya ducked his head shyly, the realization of his state of undress a sudden one, as though he hadn't really thought of it yet. Napoleon saw it, saw the smile fade a little and then cursed himself for saying anything.
"Sorry, had I known you were coming I would have made an effort…"
Napoleon was next to him now, sitting at the foot of the chaise, shaking his head.
"No, I was only joking, Illya. Save your strength for more important things. You'll have plenty of days for wearing a suit when you get out of here."
Here was the convalescent facility for UNCLE's injured agents; those who required longer term care than Medical could handle. Tucked into the Connecticut countryside, Lonehurst Sanitarium was reserved for those agents whose recuperation could not be accomplished in an UNCLE Medical ward, or in their own homes.
Illya's injuries had been severe. Mad scientists were not unusual when battling Thrush, but the one who had kidnapped Illya two months ago was not only mad, she was in love with the Russian. When the obvious rejection was finally realized, she had buried him alive, and in typical Thrush fashion, been unable (or unwilling) to let the action pass without gloating about it to Napoleon. She sent him notes containing hints to Illya's whereabouts, never expecting the Chief Enforcement Agent to figure out her cryptic messages.
When he did, it was almost too late. Illya had breathed the last of his air supply, an almost cruel accommodation for a man who wasn't expected to survive. He endured a coffin like prison for three days before the air ran out. It was either Solo's Luck or some divine grace, and no one was asking which, that had brought Napoleon to the exact site; the box prison in which Illya lay was excavated and opened within a few minutes of the oxygen supply vanishing.
No one was able to say whether or not Illya had sustained brain injury due to lack of oxygen. It was nearly three days before he woke from a coma, and another two before he could translate his speech from Russian to English. That had been cause for real celebration, and not only because the nurses could now understand him. Illya was going to get better.
The Russian agent was still weak, however. Not only had his body endured the strain of that horror, but he had been pumped full of drugs even as food was being withheld. While the Thrush scientist had entertained romantic notions about Illya initially, she was Thrush, and therefore almost certifiably mad. She conducted several experiments involving pain and physical abuse; rejection had come early enough for her to enlist aid in her acts of retribution. Illya may have regretted not obliging her fantasies, but he had found himself unable to yield to her affections. He had little memory of it now, even though a broken pelvis bone had been a punishment for ignoring the smitten scientist; a last act of meanness.
He remained keenly aware of that.
"Have you brought me something to wash down my boredom, Napoleon? I may drift back into that coma for lack of excitement."
The American chuckled, he was glad to hear something like humor coming from his friend. It was getting cold, and Napoleon decided it was time to get Illya indoors. A hint of night blooming jasmine began to infuse the air, a testament to the approach of warmer weather. Just as the American thought of announcing the need to move, Doña Leticia was coming through the double doors with a look on her face that said it was time.
"You come inside now, it is becoming already too cold for you, querido."
Illya rolled his eyes. One woman would try and kill him with love and another treated him like a child. This woman was a saint, but she seemed to think he might break. Well, too late for that.
Napoleon read Illya's mind, but he agreed with the attentive Doña.
"Our lovely Leticia is correct, Illya. It's pretty cool out here."
Napoleon reached down to steady his friend as Doña Leticia brought the wheelchair closer to the canvas one in which Illya sat. It was a slow process these days, moving from one chair to another; changing positions to try and ease the agony of the healing pelvis bone, the still sore muscles beneath formerly bruised skin.
Looking at the surrounding gardens, the barely discernible signs of a fading winter not quite past, Illya was reminded of a day, perhaps a year or so ago, when he and Napoleon visited a similar setting. That garden had been full of color, bursting to the treetops with spring blooms and the first bright green leaves of the season.
Thinking of that made the Russian smile, a twinge of hope that cut through the pain and melancholy that had nearly overwhelmed him, and had to some degree defined his life these past weeks.
The name was practically whispered, the effort of moving a strain on body and mind.
"What is it Illya? Did I hurt you?"
Napoleon still woke up some nights in a cold sweat, a recurring image of his friend inside the fiendish coffin. He had not been sorry when that deranged woman dared him to shoot as she brandished her own weapon. It had been worth it to endure Waverly's admonishment about losing the information, his lack of self-control where Mr. Kuryakin was concerned.
Napoleon hadn't cared at all. Illya was alive. The woman was dead. It was as it should be.
Now, seeing the strain on Illya's face as he was moved into the wheelchair, the sound of whispered words when his breath was consumed by the pain in his body, Napoleon found it difficult to remember how it had been before, when Illya was whole.
Illya shook his head…
"I am fine. I was just remembering…"
The blond invalid winced as he was lowered into the chair, the pressure against the injuries issued a reminder that he didn't need.
"I wonder if this garden will be as beautiful as the one we saw last year in … I do not quite remember where. Do you remember, Napoleon?"
Napoleon tried to conjure an image, a memory. His heart ached a little as he watched Illya try and put a location to the picture he was seeing. It was one of the lapses in the Russian's recovery, these missing bits of information.
"Oh, I think we were in France, at the beginning of spring… pictures of something…"
Napoleon remembered then. Illya's usually impeccable memory was sorely missed by both of them.
''We were in Giverny, searching for a missing Frenchman. I believe we stopped in at Monet's Garden, because the man we were after was an art forger. Do you remember that, Illya?"
The blue eyes took on the color of the darkening sky, his loss of memory somehow causing the normally bright color to be covered over by a more tumultuous shade. Illya Kuryakin was not a man given to imperfections, and this test of endurance had been one too many, he thought.
Slowly, carefully, he nodded his head just a little. Illya did recall their visit to the famous home of the French Impressionist painter. Perhaps he would see it again.
Doña Leticia opened the French doors and stood back as Napoleon wheeled his partner back into the warm house. The lengthening shadows raced with the setting sun as the doors closed. Each one of them felt a sense of relief at being indoors, and Napoleon was grateful that he would be spending the night here and not driving back to the city.
It would be a nice evening, spending it with his partner and looking forward to the days ahead when this winter's horror would yield to better health and healed bones. Neither man liked going into the field without his partner, and this stretch would be one of the longest that one or the other of them had worked alone for quite some time. As though reading Napoleon's mind, Illya was speaking again.
"Napoleon, do you think we can get an assignment in France? I expect to be better very soon, and Paris really is quite lovely in the spring."
Napoleon smiled at that. Optimism; it wasn't what usually came to mind when thinking of the blond Russian, but he was glad to hear it now in his attempt to make plans to be back at work. Napoleon missed his partner; he missed his friend.
"You know, tovarisch, I think perhaps you'll be healed up and ready to get back to work just about the time the flowers start to bloom in Giverny."
With that promise, Illya felt his body lend itself to a cooperative spirit, as he began to will his bones to heal. He had been through similar trials, and reckoned that more would come sometime in the future. For now, though, his sights were set on being back to himself and to the life he had claimed as an UNCLE agent. He wouldn't give up any of it willingly, and he knew that stubbornness and a single-minded vision would get him through this current setback.
Nature is steady in its course, but men and women do what they will, changing the course of another man's seasons in life. Illya would not allow his course to be altered. His life was with the U.N.C.L.E., working beside his partner Napoleon. This season would indeed change to the next, but not with negative repercussions. Illya was determined that when this was over his life would still hold the promise that was attributed to spring. Renewed, healed and ready to embrace whatever good could come into the world in which he lived.
Somewhere in the background a song was playing. Napoleon heard it the same time Illya did, and both men responded internally to the truth it conveyed, perhaps especially for men like them. Life would go on, and this season would turn over and yield to the next.
For everything … turn, turn, turn…
There is a season… turn, turn, turn…
And a time for every purpose under Heaven.