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The Benefits of Asset Acquisition

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After the job in Istanbul, Waverly manages two more missions, in Karachi and Tokyo, before the CIA and the KGB start sending inquiries after their agents and demanding their recall.

Waverly composes a thoughtful reply. The agent in question is currently involved in a top secret mission and will not be available until his objective is completed. Meeting to discuss?

In other words, Go fuck yourselves.

He is not so crass as to meet his American and Soviet counterparts in a public bathroom. He suggests they meet at the Demel in Vienna, because he happens to like cake and, in the absence of opium and alcohol, allows it as his one indulgence.

The cafe is half-full when he arrives. At least three are his (Berkley’s hand is twitching, a tic that he should correct before his next assignment), but Waverly suspects that the young tourist couple in the corner are Sanders’, and the young man chatting with the waitress about his childhood in Döbling is speaking High German, not the local Viennese dialect: probably Kuznetsov’s.

Haben schon gewählt?” the waitress asks him.

He orders a Sachertorte and Earl Grey with lemon. He’s a traditionalist.

Sanders, as per usual, is early.

“Alexander,” Sanders says, shaking his hand.

“Adrian.”

“Would you care to order?”

Sanders shakes his head. “The missus is making sure I watch my diet.”

“Well, we mustn’t disappoint Mrs. Sanders,” Waverly says. The door swings open again. “Oleg.”

“Gentlemen.” Kuznetsov sits down. He waves off the waitress with an impatient flick of his hand. She scurries into the kitchen with the other staff. They are now alone, but for the presence of their subordinates. Waverly adds the lemon to his tea. Kuznetsov removes a cigarette from the holder in his breast pocket and lights it.

“So,” says Sanders, getting straight to the point, “you have Solo.”

“Agent Solo is on a mission for my organization, yes,” says Waverly. He takes a sip of his tea. It’s the perfect temperature.

“With my agent?” asks Kuznetsov.

“Agent Kuryakin is also on that mission,” says Waverly. “Along with one of my agents. You might remember her: she was present during the Vinciguerra affair.” The one you blundered into, he pointedly does not say.

He looks over the rim of the cup at the two men seated opposite. Sanders is carefully relaxed; Kuznetsov is turning a deepening shade of red.

“And after this mission,” Kuznetsov says, “when may we expect them to return to their duties?”

“I don’t anticipate them returning to their former positions,” Waverly says. “At least not for the foreseeable future.”

“Excuse me?” says Sanders.

“What I mean to say,” says Waverly, taking another sip of tea, “is that I believe both of your agents would benefit from a continued partnership within UNCLE.”

“And UNCLE would benefit from having them, is that correct?” asks Kuznetsov.

“Well, yes, I suppose you could also put it that way.”

“You can’t use our agents to prop up the little Model U.N. you have at NID,” Sanders says. “At the end of the day, you have your people, and we have two of the best spies in the world-”

His teacup is empty, as is his reserve of patience. “No, gentlemen,” he says calmly, “what you had were two of the best spies in the world, whom you misused egregiously, which is why they're mine, now."

Misused?

“Yes, misused,” Waverly says bluntly. “Tell me, Mr. Sanders, how precisely did you intend to keep Mr. Solo as an asset after his sentence was up? Surely you didn’t mean to let one of your best retire so early - did you deliberately allow him to continue his criminal operations so that you could sentence him to more years in your service? How long, exactly, do you think he would have tolerated your blackmail before he defected with vital intelligence?”

He lets Sanders splutter and turns his sights elsewhere. “Of course, Mr. Kuznetsov, your mishandling of Mr. Kuryakin is even more stark. You’re aware that he has a debilitating mental illness, something that makes him a liability in the field and on more than one occasion has put a mission in jeopardy, but instead of treating him for it or putting him in less volatile situations, you- you encourage him to fly into rages. You provoke them. Is that merely poor spycraft, or do you find some kind of sick enjoyment in tormenting him?”

His teacup is rattling in its saucer. He puts it down with the utmost care, folding his hands to disguise their shaking. “Your collective mishandling of two of the finest agents I’ve ever seen,” he says, with deliberate slowness, “is not only a threat to world peace, but to their personal wellbeing. I will not allow it to continue.”

“Won’t allow it?” Kuznetsov says incredulously. “Our governments-”

“-will see no reason to disapprove of an international task force to fight crime and chaos,” says Waverly. “I suppose you could tell your superiors that you fear your agents might be compromised, working together, but then, you both already approved of that, didn’t you? In fact, if I remember correctly, you two were the ones who suggested the partnership in the first place.” He looks at them both with a practiced nonchalance. “Rather awkward, to have to explain why you’re now revoking approval of something you helped to create.”

Sanders’ face is a telegraph of emotion, all barriers to his thoughts dissolving like paint in water. Oleg’s face is an impressive beet color, his cigarette quivering between his fingers.

“I will return your agents when I see fit,” Waverly says. "At the moment, neither of you can be trusted to treat such valuable assets with the respect they deserve."

Kuznetsov gets up from the table, knocking into it as he stands. Sanders' agents leave with him - Waverly was right, the tourist couple was his - but not without a final threatening look. Waverly picks up his fork, breathes deeply, and takes a bite of his cake.