Annual Check-up

They are standing in the corridor of HQ, just outside Waverly's office.

"Sir, whether through my fault or not," he says, "whether directly or indirectly, I'm responsible for that girl being there. Illya's a volunteer; he know the risks. But not that girl."

His superior's bloodhound countenance alters ever so slightly. The tone is tight, formal; the Old Man is not pleased. "Are you an operative in this organization, Mr. Solo? If not, may I have your credentials, please?"

And how do you feel at this moment? a voice inquires calmly, soothingly. Tell me. It sounds like it's coming from inside his own head.

I feel sad. Angry. Confused. Humiliated. Disappointed. Frustrated.

A pause. Yes.

But resigned?

And what will you do now?

Get some coffee.

Are you sure?

Another pause, a bit longer. Then, finally, a grudging, Yes.

Very good, Mr. Solo. Now, when I snap my fingers, you will remember nothing of this session or my questions. You will feel refreshed and invigorated, as if after a long nap.

And then the fingers snap and Solo awakens, blinking, his vision adjusting to the harsh overhead lights of the infirmary.

"That's it?" the agent asks with a yawn. Dr. Lazarus, goateed and silver-haired, nods, his expression benign but determinedly neutral. "That's it," he agrees, scribbling on the pale blue form attached to his clipboard. "You're free to go. Have a nice day."

Two hours later, that same blue form, along with a sheaf of others tucked away in a folder labeled with red letters, is deposited on a large circular table. Soft late morning sunlight streams in from the office's bank of windows, the only ones in the entire complex.

"Any signs of battle fatigue?" Alexander Waverly asks absently as he picks up the folder.

"We call it acute stress disorder now, Alex," replies Dr. Lazarus.

"I stand corrected." The U.N.C.L.E. chief thumbs through the folder, casually perusing the contents. "No problems, then?"

"Nothing of note. I would guess he's suffering from bad dreams now and again, and occasional bouts of hyper-vigilance, but that's to be expected. There's no evidence of any persistent addictions, debilitating depression or anxiety. There may be some mild desensitization and a normal struggle with emotions, but, most importantly, no indications of questionable or conflicted loyalties. His blood pressure never went above 120 over 80 throughout the hypnosis."

"And the other scenarios?"

"Passed them all with flying colors."

"Good," Waverly says, satisfied, and tosses the folder on a pile of others. The doctor watches, bemused. "No further questions, Alex? I must say, I'm flattered by your trust in my expertise."

For the briefest of moments, Waverly's bushy eyebrows knit together. "What I trust, doctor, is that you understand the consequences of Mr. Solo making the wrong choice as well as I do. It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that the safety of the entire world as we know it depends upon it."

"But why the corridor?"

"Because ..." Waverly says, hesitating. "Because I saw something in his eyes that day."

The chief reaches for his pipe, signaling the subject is closed. Dr. Lazarus moves on to the next order of business. "Kuryakin is scheduled for later this afternoon. Shall it be the airport or the desert canyon scenario?"

Waverly chews on the stem of his pipe, considering. "The airport, I think."

Lazarus suppresses a knowing chuckle. "Something in the eyes again?"

"No," Waverly replies matter-of-factly. He reaches for a match to light his tobacco. "It was in his voice."