Epilogue to the episode:
THE MASTER'S TOUCH AFFAIR
When UNCLE is protecting a defecting THRUSH leader, a rival enemy kidnaps Illya to distract Napoleon. Illya is drugged and unable to escape. Napoleon mounts a daring, one-man rescue.
THE MASTER'S RESIDUE
Napoleon Solo leaned over and straightened the black tie of his companion. "Doing okay?"
"I am fine, Napoleon."
Smiling at the hint of exasperation from his friend, he fastidiously brushed an infinitesimal speck of foreign matter from Illya Kuryakin's tuxedo lapel. "Just checking." He winked. "This isn't that important --"
"It is an obligation. Which I am perfectly capable of fulfilling. Now, shall we get going?" he shot out, spinning sharply and walking away from his friend.
Solo released a quiet sigh and followed. Their footfalls echoed loudly in the nearly empty UNCLE garage as they walked from Solo's sports car to the black limousine waiting in one of the stalls. Kuryakin opened the back door and Solo scowled.
"You are taking your role a little too far, aren't you?"
"All part of the service." The Russian gave a slight bow.
Hesitating, Solo stared at him for a long moment. "You don't have to do this. I think it's classy and everything, but not necessary. There is no obligation --"
"There is," Illya cut in sharply, sternly, leaving no room for argument. "We are going to be late." He swept an arm toward the interior of the car. When his partner didn't take the hint he pushed on Napoleon's arm. "Let's not keep the lady waiting."
Scowling, Solo gave a nod and slid into the luxury car.
He watched the scene on the doorstep of the apartment with growing amusement. Snickering, Illya could easily interpret the conversation of the elegantly dressed man and woman bathed in the pale glow of the porch light. She was thanking him politely for an exquisite evening and delivering a chaste kiss on his cheek. He, slightly annoyed and surprised at the brush-off, accepted the obvious conclusion of the date with faintly wounded pride. Being ever the gentleman, however, Napoleon Solo gave Leslie a fractional bow and a continental kiss to the hand in farewell.
"You just never give up," Kuryakin quietly commented to himself with a rueful chortle as he read their lips. "She's not your type, but you can't help yourself."
Gold-diggers were not Solo's usual subjects of pursuit. He tended toward just the opposite since he had no interest in being tied down to any one woman at all. And he certainly had no wealth, no worldly prestige, nor fame. He did, however, have a sense of the chivalrous, and thus he had talked Mr. Waverly into a night on the town -- expenses paid by UNCLE. It had been Illya's idea to check out a limo from the car pool and provide chauffeur services. To Napoleon he left the wining and dining.
Thoughts of motives brushed a sober curtain over his festive mood. Just days before he had been a captive of THRUSH kingpin Stephan Valandros. Drugged, interrogated, abandoned in a cell inside a THRUSH compound, where he was to rot until execution. Worst of all, his stupefied condition had left him completely helpless. A mental vegetable. His end would have been indescribably horrific -- able to see death coming without the ability to fight back and do anything to save himself.
Then came the rescue. He remembered all of that, too. Incapable of doing anything to aid his own escape, he had literally been dragged from the cell by Solo; his own personal one man commando-rescue squad. With his usual skill Napoleon infiltrated a top THRUSH base -- solo -- and pulled him out of harm's way. Again. All in a day's work for the American, it seemed, but incredible to the partner who had lost faith that he would live to see the sunset.
After the deliverance there had been the agonizing moments when Illya did not know if he would ever return to normal. Who was there with him then? When he was secretly, silently aware of his imbecility -- afraid of what he might permanently become -- who was with him? His partner, as always. Helping, supporting. Gradually recovering, Illya had insisted on participation in the final kill -- the conclusion of the operation -- and Napoleon had dragged him along, shepherding him, escorting him through the conclusion of the nasty affair.
How did one repay such a ransom? What price could be put on saving him from a fate worse than death? By driving his friend around on a date? Well, it was a humble start. What could he do to put into actions the gratitude and devotion that would never be spoken? He could never -- even with Napoleon -- be so honest and forthcoming as to reveal the depth of his thankfulness. His profound relief and humble appreciation that Solo was committed enough to their partnership and friendship that he would risk everything. That he would go into the enemy's heavily armed camp and bring out someone who -- for all Napoleon knew -- was already dead.
This token payback was something that he should have started years ago and this was just the beginning, Illya vowed. He was going to make up for what he'd taken for granted all this time, he decided. How? That was something he would have to ponder. And in the future it would probably not be so obvious. But he would do it. How did you thank someone for saving you -- not just this time, but routinely? He still didn't know, but he was going to work on it for the rest of his life. Certainly there would be opportunities where the life-guard duties would be exchanged and Kuryakin would gladly risk his life to save his friend. They did that all the time - all too frequently. Such expected behavior just wasn't good enough anymore. He had to do better than that for payback.
Napoleon Solo stretched his legs out full length and arched back until his shoulder blades sank into the plush upholstery of the luxury sedan. This was life at its best. While it lasted. It was a temporary perquisite following a particularly nasty mission. The bitter with the sweet. He appreciated these pleasant epilogues after a rough assignment, always considering them the life he would like to grow accustomed to, but would probably never get the opportunity. Grateful for the little extras in the aftermath of some missions, because he never knew if or when the rewards would come again. Such a lifestyle had forced him to appreciate how to live and love for the moment. In this precarious business, there was no telling if there would be a tomorrow, so living for today was accepted as the norm.
He stared at the back of the blond head in front of him. Illya had volunteered to act as chauffeur to Solo and Leslie for the evening. "He saved my life. I try to repay him as I can," Kuryakin had told the woman.
Since when did Illya feel they needed to keep track of rescues? There were too many sacrifices on both sides to count now. The comment, the attitude had disturbed Solo for the rest of the night. So distracted, he hardly remembered the dinner, the idle chitchat of shallow activities of the date. And he was hardly fazed when she gave him the brush off at the door. Peculiar for him, especially since Leslie was a beautiful, if vacuous blond. His usual type actually, but he would never see her again. Even if she had wanted a second date there would have been none. There was no way to look at her and see only her beauty. He would always be reminded of her association with Mandor and Valandros. With Illya's capture and subsequent torture.
Illya. The experience of his partner's capture and abuse still made his skin crawl. The Russian could have been left mindless -- similar to that episode a few years ago when drugs had transformed his friend and Illya had been a cowering vegetable. [episode - The Quadripartite Affair] The memory left him with an illness in his stomach like a creeping spider trailing dread through his insides.
"I thought you would have enjoyed the evening more."
Kuryakin's quiet comment brought him back to the present and Solo met the blue eyes in the rearview mirror. He responded to the bland comment with an enigmatic shrug of his shoulders under the expensive tuxedo.
Illya grinned mischievously. "Your jaw muscle has been twitching at intervals all evening. Obvious boredom, Napoleon. I thought Leslie was your type." The tone could not have been more arid. "A company car, a driver, dinner with a stunning blond -- all on the expense account. Have you become so jaded that you've lost your appreciation for such capitalistic excesses?"
Attention was momentarily distracted as they pulled into the UNCLE underground garage. Solo was spared from a counter-comment to the rhetorical question. When they emerged from the car Solo leaned against the hood and waited as his partner locked up. The Russian stopped a few paces from the car, alert now to the silence. His eyebrows arched in mute inquiry.
The dark-haired partner addressed his own doubts instead of his friend's inquiries. "Since when do you need to pay me back? Since when do we keep count?"
Kuryakin walked back to the car and leaned against the trunk. Solo moved to stand next to him, arms crossed, contemplatively staring at the oily, concrete floor.
"Since Valandros." The Russian's intense blue eyes were fixed to the opposite wall, but clearly his thoughts were caught by events days before. "I was drugged beyond any hope of escape and marked for death." He turned to stare into his friend's eyes. "I was -- completely helpless," his voice dropped. "It was -- most -- unpleasant."
Solo had his own distasteful memories of the terrifying state of imbecility in which he had found his partner. During the escape Illya had been unable to offer any assistance at all. He had not even remembered his own name. As the end of the mission unfolded Illya had slowly regained his normal mental state.
Many times since then Solo had wondered what he would have done if Kuryakin's mind had not been restored. Death was one fear all field agents accepted. Disability -- a far worse spectre to most of them. That Kuryakin's brilliant, agile mind could have been destroyed -- the alarming tragedy was more than Solo had been able to comprehend. Fortunately that painful fear was stopped when Illya returned to full mental activity.
There had never been a question about going to rescue his friend. When he had learned Illya was a ploy -- the two THRUSH leaders toying with the UNCLE agents -- Solo had vowed to get his friend back. Going through the formidable defenses of enemy soldiers had been tricky, but not a deterrent.
"Illya -- you were in trouble. I had to get you out. You don't owe me anything." He tempered the gentle rebuff with an affectionate grin, giving a squeeze to the back of the blond's neck. "But thanks for the thought."
Kuryakin shrugged, sincerely responding, "Acting as your chauffeur seemed a proper token of repayment." He smiled. "And the only thing I could think of at the time."
Returning a favor. So close to repaying a threat, as Napoleon himself had done. The defecting THRUSH leader Mandor had set up Illya's capture by the rival criminal Valandros and had correctly assumed that Solo would go after Illya -- rescuing the UNCLE agent and killing Valandros in the process.
' "I'm going to repay you for this. Personally." ' Solo's heartfelt, dire threat to Mandor. It had not worked out quite that way, but both THRUSH leaders had ended up dead. Never had revenge tasted so sweet. Repayment -- no, not exactly. Revenge which assuaged some of Napoleon's anger and hate? Yes.
With a skip in his heartbeat Solo thought back to the pitiful muddled friend he had to drag through the entire escape sequence. The normally intellectual and witty Russian had been reduced to an addled helplessness -- degraded -- humiliated -- to a mental vegetable. There could never be repayment for the fear and helplessness both the partner's had known on that mission. Within their own code of justice vengeance had been satisfied.
"I suppose I could have just said thanks."
"The chauffeur bit is much classier," Solo admitted with a grin.
Kuryakin straightened and with hands in his pockets walked toward the security doors for entry into HQ proper. After only a few steps he stopped and turned back. "No one else would have come for me."
Only a dedicated comrade would take a life and death risk for his partner. They had risked everything so many times for each other; no danger, no gamble was even a surprise anymore. Even Waverly accepted it grudgingly. Solo had never doubted his response to Kuryakin's capture. In the end their only insurance -- the only certainly in their spy-lives -- was the partnership -- their personal guarantee against helplessness and hopelessness.
Kuryakin gave a self-conscious shrug. "Thank you, my friend."
It was more than they usually acknowledged. Perhaps it was time for acknowledgment to be more obvious. Spoken. The true gratitude was in the sincerity of the tone, the softened expression, the warmth in the eyes. Patting his friend's shoulder, Solo's fond smile appeared automatically, then brushed away when he offered a casual salute.
"You're welcome. But you would have done the same for me."
Rare sentimentality accredited, Kuryakin gave a nod. "Of course."
Solo headed for his car. He was whistling a snappy little tune by the time he slid into the sporty convertible. It had turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening after all.