"Good morning Mrs Cohen."
Judith Cohen looked up, from scrubbing the steps in front of her building into the melancholy face of her favourite neighbour. With his helping hand, she got to her feet and allowed him to step past her.
"You're up and about bright and early Mr Kuryakin."
"I believe you have a saying here," Illya Kuryakin said, as he walked down the steps. "There's no rest for the wicked."
Illya smiled, causing Mrs Cohen to recall emotions she hadn't felt since she was a teenager. The young man, with his blue eyes and blond hair, reminded her so very much of her beloved, departed husband. She had to admit that this resemblance was one of the reasons she had a soft spot for him. The other was because of the deep sadness she could she in his eyes. Though, given his age and place of birth, that was hardly surprising to her. Happily, his sadness wasn't the only thing she could see. There was also a keen intellect and a mischievous sparkle. She had a feeling that Mr Kuryakin knew well enough how to have fun.
Mrs Cohen had no idea what the young man did for a living, but knew it was probably dangerous. He was often away for long periods and sometimes returned with nasty looking injuries. A couple of the other tenants postulated that he was a spy for the Soviet government, but Mrs Cohen dismissed the idea. He was probably just a security guard or something.
"You have a good day Mr Kuryakin," she said to him as she waved him off.
"I shall endeavour to so Mrs Cohen," he answered, with a small wave of his own.
Maggie smiled as Illya stepped into reception. Given the choice between him and his partner, she would take the Russian any day of the week. Her heart fluttered as he smiled back and wished her a good morning. Maggie couldn't understand why everyone accused him of being surly. Admittedly, he could be a little distant, but she always found him to be friendly and polite. She handed him his badge, and as he pinned it on, she relayed his message to him.
"Mr Waverly wants you to report to his office straight away," she told him. "Mr Peters asked me to tell you that your new special is ready and I would like to know if you'd like to see a movie with me."
She hadn't meant to say it out loud and clapped a hand over her mouth. The surprised look on Illya's face was priceless, and she thought for a minute that he was going to yell at her. Then his features softened and he dazzled her with a Solo-esque grin.
"I would love to see a movie with you," he told her. "But only if I can take you to dinner beforehand."
She nodded meekly, her hand still over her mouth.
"As soon as I am back from my next assignment, we shall make the arrangements."
He offered her a small bow, before entering the building proper. As soon as he'd gone, Maggie was straight on the phone to her friends in the secretarial pool.
Ben Higgins was in a very bad mood, it wasn't made any better by him turning a corner and slamming into the little commie bastard. He hated Kuryakin. It wasn't just that he was Russian, and Waverly's pet project, but because he was so full of himself. Okay, so his shooting range scores and assault course times were better than anyone else's, but that didn't give him a right to be so arrogant. Ben also blamed Illya for him not getting into Section 2. Kuryakin had been his assessor for a position in the section, but had decided that Higgins was too hot-headed.
"Watch where you're going," Ben growled.
"I believe it was you who walked into me," Illya asserted calmly, his tone infuriating the other man even more.
He shoved Illya out of the way, just as Napoleon Solo entered the corridor. He stalked up to the two men and demanded an explanation. Illya informed him that there had been minor misunderstanding, while Higgins simply grunted 'nothing'. Solo accepted his partner's answer, knowing full well there was a lot more to it, and went him to Waverly's office. Ben sneered at Kuryakin's back, knowing that his word would never be believed over the Russian's where Solo was concerned. With him and Waverly watching over him, Kuryakin was untouchable.
Alexander Waverly nodded a greeting to his top two agents as they breezed into the office. As they sat down, he turned the conference table until each man had a file in front of him. The Old Man smile inwardly as Solo immediately opened his and started reading, while Kuryakin waited for leave to do so. There was no reason for him to wait, but throughout his lifetime he'd gotten used to waiting for instruction from his superiors. Waverly was aware that it was a habit he was endeavouring to break. Kuryakin had proved himself more than capable of acting without instruction, but when it came to being in this office, old habits seemingly died hard.
He would never admit it out loud, but Mr Waverly was immensely proud of the way the young Russian had conducted himself since his arrival in New York. It was never going to be easy for him for many reasons, yet Kuryakin had managed to deal with any problems with ease, and there'd only been a few minor altercations. Waverly himself kept his distance, not wanting to give any tormentors further ammunition.
"Your assignment gentlemen won't take you far," Waverly stated as he opened his copy of the file, noting Kuryakin followed suit, after putting on his reading glasses. "Intelligence tells us there is a THRUSH nest four blocks from here. It is hidden behind a dry cleaning business. You are to infiltrate and neutralise."
He didn't need to say anything else to these two men. They had all the information they required to begin the assignment. As his agents left, Mr Waverly once again marvelled at the chemistry between them. Their partnership simply shouldn't work. Solo spent his army career fighting communists and now had a partner who was one. The American was suave, outgoing and made decisions instantly. The Russian was quiet, studious and took more time to weigh up any options. Somehow though, they worked. For a while he had been concerned about the strong friendship they had developed, but soon realised that it made them an even more powerful team.
Leopold Roden looked down at his captive with utter disdain. The U.N.C.L.E. agent had been beaten mercilessly by Roden's men and was now curled up on the floor shaking with pain. Between beatings, Kuryakin had been interrogated but the stubborn Russian had refused to utter a single word. It seemed that the reports Roden had heard about the man were true. He was not impervious to pain, as some of the more fanciful rumours had it, but he could take a lot more than most men. Unfortunately, Leopold was losing patience. With his foot, Roden pushed Illya onto his back, and then viciously kicked him in the side. The prisoner cried out and tried to turn away, only to find his captor's boot planted on his chest. Roden held the man down and once again began his questioning.
After several minutes, his frustration grew greater as not one of his questions was answered. It took every ounce of Roden's willpower not to kill him outright. He was under strict instructions to interrogate him thoroughly, but make sure he was still alive when a higher up from THRUSH Central arrived in the morning. Even more infuriating was the look of amusement Kuryakin gave him just before he spoke his first words.
"Behind you," Illya rasped, unable to get a proper breath.
"Do you honestly believe I'm going to fall for that?" Roden spat back at him.
"I would if I were you," said a voice from behind him.
Roden twisted round and came face to face with the Russian's partner. Before he even had a chance to open his mouth, a bullet smashed into his forehead.
Napoleon Solo had sat vigil over his partner many times, and Illya had done the same for him. Each time he wondered if this would be the last time. The medical assessment hadn't been too bad, but it hadn't been overly positive either. Illya had several cracked ribs, a broken cheekbone, a broken wrist and severe bruising over most of his torso. He would be out of the field for a while. Luckily, he appeared to be head injury free. THRUSH seemed to be learning that you can't get much out of a man whose head his smashed.
Solo watched the steady rise and fall of Illya's chest, and thanked God for another survival. The information they'd been given had turned out to be a lure. THRUSH wanted to trap an agent or two and had been fortunate enough to be presented with U.N.C.L.E.'s finest. Illya, being Illya, had once again sacrificed himself so that his partner could get away. Napoleon had taken longer than he had hoped locating where Kuryakin had been moved to. The famed Solo luck got him to the right place, but not soon enough to prevent the blond agent from being beaten.
Why did he always get the worst of it? Solo thought to himself. The man's life had been one long struggle from day one, and though he was more comfortable and better off, the fates still seemed to have it in for Illya Kuryakin. A groan from the bed brought the CEA's attention back to the present. He smiled as bleary blue eyes were finally revealed.
"Hey there Sleepyhead."
Illya returned the smile and promptly went back to sleep. Now that he'd seen his partner wake, Napoleon relaxed. He would remain in position for a while longer yet, at least until he heard coherent speech. Until then, we would get some sleep of his own. He slid down in the chair, lifted his feet up and rested them on Illya's bed.
Despite his protestations, Illya was helped into his apartment by Napoleon.
"I can walk, therefore I'm fine," he snapped.
"I promised the doc I would make sure you got through the door." Solo replied. "Unfortunately, I can't stay as Waverly wants me back. If you need anything Tovarisch, call me."
"Forgive me for being so irritable Napoleon."
"Not a problem, I'll be back later with chinese food."
With that, he was gone.
Illya made his way to the bathroom, and with a bit of a struggle, removed his jacket and shirt. He stared for quite some time at his battered torso. His recently acquired bruises were very much in evidence, but at least there were no new scars. Illya began to wonder if there was actually something wrong with him. What sane person would deliberately offer their life, body and sanity in this way?
Going back into his bedroom, he was reminded why. On his bedside table was a very battered old photograph of his parents. It was the only picture he had of any of his family. He father had sacrificed himself in the fight against evil, and his mother, along with his sisters and grandmother, had been taken by evil. They were why Illya endured what he did. He had to ensure that no-one else suffered losses like his.