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The Vinegar and Honey Affair

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“Yet another job well done, chaps," Waverly says after Tokyo. "I believe we've hit a breakthrough."

"What kind of breakthrough?" asks Miss Teller. She's sitting rather stiffly, and Waverly makes a mental note to have Medical check on her again, more thoroughly this time.

"From the information you got from this mission, we now know the name of the international organization the Vinciguerras were a part of, as well as some idea of its structure." He gestures to Conrad, who puts in a slide. "THRUSH. Primarily a criminal organization, but their tastes are decidedly fascist. Killing the undesirables, enslaving the weak, that sort of thing. And since neither the United States nor the Soviet Union support fascism, UNCLE has been officially authorized to deal with THRUSH. Which is excellent news for me," Waverly says, "because it means you three will stay on indefinitely."

They sit in stunned silence for a moment.

“So… I am no longer KGB?” Kuryakin asks.

“No, no, officially you’re all members of your respective organizations,” Waverly says. “UNCLE is international, so you are all technically on loan. But unofficially, you belong to me–my organization, rather.” He looks at three identical surprised expressions. “Your superiors have all agreed, you needn’t worry about being recalled,” he says. “If something does come up, believe me, I’ll be first to contest it.”

“What about the team?” asks Solo, and isn’t that interesting, that he’d be the one to say it.

Waverly raises his eyebrows a fraction. "I think you all are perfectly suited where you are, don't you?”

“So we would not…” Kuryakin looks first at one partner, then the other. “Is not liability, our… association with each other?”

“On the contrary,” Waverly says, “I believe it is a valuable asset.

“Now, for some housekeeping. Section One is upper management. I will be Number One of Section One. You three are now the heads of Section Two.” He passes them three identity badges across the table. “Mr. Solo, you are Number One of Section Two; Mr. Kuryakin, you are Number Two. Miss Teller, you are Number Three. I expect there will be times when we’ll ignore the numbering system when it comes to hierarchy. If anything, Mr. Solo, you should expect to take your orders from Miss Teller, so don’t let the number go to your head.”

He gives them one of his customary grins, then sobers. “Your next mission, then, will be in the Republic of the Congo. We have reason to believe that THRUSH is taking advantage of the situation there to smuggle weapons and other goods, possibly including uranium, through the country. You leave tomorrow at 0800. You will need quite a lot of chloroquine, as our intelligence indicates their compound is located in the jungle. In the event that you contract malaria, you may not drink any gin and tonic, medicinally or otherwise." He directs this last remark at Solo and Teller (Kuryakin, thankfully, does not drink on the job), who return matching innocent smiles. Cheeky.

Napoleon doesn’t ask why he’s in Waverly’s office. Even before Sanders, before he’d shown them just how good he could be, he’d get a periodic office summons reminding him just how long his sentence was and how, should he step out of line, they had the means of lengthening it. The name of one of his fences in Prague. Testimony from patrons of certain exclusive clubs. Little things that were always in reserve, just in case.

Waverly motions for Napoleon to sit. “Mr. Solo.”

“Director Waverly.”

“I’ve something to discuss with you,” he says. “What do you think of this?”

He passes a manilla envelope to him across the desk, and Napoleon picks it up, already expecting the worst. Photos from his trip to San Francisco. A paper trail leading from him to the Matisse, maybe. He picks it up carelessly, with no more weight than he would give an airplane magazine. Whatever it is, it’s not going to-

It’s a mission dossier.

“Well,” Napoleon says slowly. He looks at it again - something to do with chemical warfare - without really reading it. “I- is this our next mission?”

“Well, yes,” says Waverly, a crease appearing between his brows. “What did you- ah.” He looks oddly disappointed, though not, Napoleon thinks, with him. “Did you anticipate a different conversation?”

Napoleon nods wordlessly. He’s angry, for some reason, though it’s a distant anger. Gloating over the terms of his contract, he expected that, he was prepared for that. There’s nothing he hates more than being caught unprepared.

“Yes, well, I’d hoped to discuss minor irrelevancies after we’d discussed more vital matters pertaining to the mission, but I suppose we can get them out of the way beforehand,” says Waverly. He leans forward a bit, resting his elbows on the desk. “The truth is, Solo, that I only have you as long as the CIA has you, and the CIA has you only as long as your prison sentence lasts.” Napoleon nods - that much he could have figured out for himself.

“But I see no reason to continue to harp on something we are both well aware of,” Waverly says. “As far as UNCLE is concerned, the only important thing is your current performance, not your past record. You have, shall we say, free rein, provided that it’s not a detriment to that performance. Though I should hope,” he adds, looking Napoleon directly in the eye, “that you are sufficiently compensated for your work such that you feel no need to supplement it elsewhere.”

Message sent and received: no more grand larceny. Well, that’s reasonable, at least, and he hasn’t stolen anything since he joined UNCLE, anyway. “Yes, sir,” Napoleon says, without a trace of insincerity.

“Good man,” Waverly says. “And I’m sure this goes without saying, but should your sentence run its course and you wish to continue your work, there will always be a place for you here.

“Now, about this mission, I was thinking that Miss Teller would take point…”

Occasionally, Gaby misses East Berlin. Not because she feels nostalgic for the Stasi and the ugly clothes, or because she’s deprived of work she loves, but because the men in the shop respected her. They might have told off-color jokes in her presence or teased her with offers of marriage (“Hmm, you or this Trabi,” she’d say, gesturing to her latest project, “which would be more work?”), but they were never dismissive.

“Your job,” her second official contact had said, after she’d asked too many questions for his taste, “is to stay where you are, do what we say, and be quiet.”

Waverly and Illya and Napoleon don’t treat her like that, like a china doll that’s meant to look pretty on a shelf. But occasionally she runs into people who think she’s some secretary, or meant only for honeypot missions.

Or, in this case, someone whose job it is to bring coffee.

"Sir," she says, trying not to lose her temper. "I am not–"

“Did I not make myself clear?” says Mr. Three-Sugars-No-Cream. “I have an important meeting with Mr. Waverly, and he won’t be pleased to hear that you–”

“Ah, there you are, Agent Teller,” Mr. Waverly says from behind him. “Oh, I see you’ve met Reginald already, excellent. I was hoping you’d help His Lordship–”

“She hasn’t been very helpful so far,” the man says, interrupting him.

“–with the details of your latest deep-cover mission,” Waverly says. “Miss Teller was personally responsible for preventing the bombing of Parliament two weeks ago,” he says, turning to Reginald, Lord of Coffee Orders. “And the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister."

"Ah," says Reginald.

"I'm of a mind to tap her for my replacement, given her impressive record."

"Hmm," says Reginald.

"I should think congratulations are in order," Waverly says. "Job well done and all that."

"Yes," says Reginald through clenched teeth. "Congratulations."

"Now, Reggie, I'm a bit behind this morning, so if you could wait here for a moment while I debrief Miss Teller? Can I offer you something while you wait? Tea, coffee?"

Reginald opens his mouth to speak. Waverly makes a dismissive gesture. "Just tell Julia how you like it and she'll get it for you. When she gets off her break, of course. Miss Teller?"

He opens the door to his office and ushers her inside, closing it behind her.

"Miss Teller," he says, "if anyone asks you to do anything not within the boundaries of your duties as an agent, you have my permission to tell them precisely who you are and where they may stick their demands. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," she says, biting back the urge to giggle.

"And I did mean what I said to Lord Wainscote," he says. "You have, by far, the most impressive record of any of my agents. Though there won’t be any need for you to eye my job for a while yet, I should hope.”

“No, sir,” she says, and hands him the debrief file.

Illya stands at attention in front of Waverly’s desk, feet angled just so, hands at his sides, looking straight ahead. The pull of his position on his slapdash stitches is painful, but he ignores it. The longer debrief will happen later, when Napoleon and Gaby are out of Medical, but for now he simply waits until Waverly has read the debrief dossier with the evidence they were able to find.

They had been doing well in their investigation of a THRUSH arms manufacturer until Napoleon was recognized by an old contact from his thieving days and his cover was blown. They’d tried to break into the manufacturing plant anyway, and had walked straight into an ambush. They’d escaped with only a fraction of the evidence they’d wanted, minus their communicator and with a bullet in Gaby’s leg. That they got out at all was sheer luck–a powerboat had been left unattended with enough fuel to get them fairly far up the Adriatic coastline–and even then, Napoleon had again not buckled himself in and had been tossed into the sea for a heart-stopping several minutes before Illya had fished him back out again. The entire mission had been a disaster from beginning to end, and as Illya had been the point man, it is his fault.

The question is not whether he’ll be disciplined–of course he will–but the method used. He reasons it won’t be public, as they are the only ones in the office, but that is not a guarantee. More than once his handlers had postponed punishment until all the agents were assembled, so that all would understand the lesson. And while Waverly can’t threaten him with the gulag like his old handlers, he has other methods he could use.

Waverly gives the dossier a thorough read, then peers at Illya over the tops of his reading glasses. “Well done, Agent Kuryakin. Exceptionally good work. You’re a credit to the organization.” He taps the papers against the desk to straighten them, then sets them down.

“Sir,” Illya says, and his hands are shaking, “I don’t– I’m prepared to accept responsibility–”

“You saved the lives of your teammates,” Waverly says in an even tone, “and escaped with vital information. I’m hardly going to discipline you for one poor decision.” He turns back to the paperwork and begins signing clearance forms.

Illya realizes that he’s been dismissed, but can’t move. He can remember two, maybe three times he was thanked for his work after a mission. Never if he had made any sort of mistake–only if he’d done everything perfectly had his performance been praised. He can feel his face going red and his eyes, to his horror, are threatening to water.

“Ah, can I offer you something, Kuryakin?” Waverly asks, concerned.

Illya shakes his head. “Nyet, spasibo,” he says, and turns to leave before he embarrasses himself further.

Spetsial'nyy agent?” Waverly says. Illya hadn’t even realized he’d been speaking in Russian. “Idite v lazaret i dayte vracham osmotret' etu kolotuyu ranu.” 

They get the notice a week in advance: a coalition of world intelligence will be touring UNCLE HQ. Officially, it’s simply an inspection, to oversee operations and check on their progress.

Unofficially, it’s a shakedown.

“Adrian,” Waverly says, shaking the man’s hand with all the warmth he can muster. “How lovely to see you again.”

“Alexander,” Sanders says. “Oleg.”

“Adrian, Alexander,” Kuznetsov says. “Nina sends her regards.”

“I’ll pass them on to Evelyn. When will you get yourself a wife one of these days, Alexander?” Sanders asks.

“I’ll get around to it one day, I suppose,” he replies. “At the moment, I’m rather married to my job.”

“True, true,” Sanders says, looking around the facility. It’s small but functional, with more offices than they had the year before, and far better tech. “Care to give us the grand tour?”

Waverly looks around: the UN officials are with Kate, and the gentleman from Mossad is examining their Technology Division. “Of course,” he says.

He leads them through the Medical wing, then through the different Sections. When they arrive at his own office, Solo is there to greet them, with, Waverly notices, a fresh tea service on the desk. Waverly doesn't let his surprise show on his face: he wouldn't have blamed the man if he'd made himself scarce today.

"Director Waverly," Solo says, passing him a file. "The notes on last week's mission, sir."

He's perfectly relaxed, neither deferential nor insubordinate, and Waverly has the brief realization that Solo trusts him, and he is demonstrating that trust in front of his old handler. Waverly allows himself a small smile–that's right, you show those bastards precisely what they're missing–before taking the folder from Solo. "Thank you, Mr. Solo," he says. "Debrief tomorrow at 0900."

"Yes, sir," Solo says, and he returns to his desk without even looking at the rest of the convoy.

Waverly chances a look back at his touring party. Sanders' eyes are wide and his jaw appears ready to drop at any moment.

"Waverly," Sanders says, "what exactly do you put in the water around here?"

"Nothing," Waverly says. "Mr. Solo has been nothing but professional since he arrived here."

"Well, he was never like that for me," Sanders says.

"And where is Kuryakin?" Kuznetsov asks.

"Mr. Kuryakin is unavailable right now," Waverly says. He doesn't think it's appropriate to mention that Kuryakin is, in actuality, attending a therapy session as part of treatment for his volatile personality disorder. "Though if you're wondering if he shows the same level of integrity and professionalism as his partner, the answer would be 'yes.'"

"I don't know if I can believe it," Sanders says. "What did you do to him?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Do you have something new on him?" Sanders asks. "Something to keep him leashed?"

Waverly assumes his blandest expression. "I've found treating my agents like human beings works wonders. Can I offer either of you gentlemen a cup of tea?"

He comes to his senses slowly, but he does, eventually, wake up. Opening his eyes feels impossible, and he has the distinct impression that he’s attached to a ventilator.

“Sir? Sir, can you hear me?”

That’s Solo. He tries to say yes, but all that comes out is a vaguely affirmative noise.

“Okay,” Napoleon says. “That’s good, that’s really good.”

Clearly it’s not good, if he’s in hospital and apparently paralyzed. He tries to communicate this by facial expression alone.

“Just trying to stay positive, sir.”

If he had the strength to do so, he’d roll his eyes. Instead he says, “What?”, which he’s rather proud to articulate fully. Not that he’s capable of the entirety of the sentence, which would be “What happened to me?”, but apparently monosyllables are enough.

“Someone managed to poison you,” Napoleon says. “Botulinum. Neurotoxin. Fairly fast-acting, and not in the usual poison lineup like cyanide and arsenic. Gotta give THRUSH credit for deviousness.” His voice hardens. “Don’t worry, we found the guy. He’s been taken care of.”

“My work?” Waverly tries to say. It comes out as “Merk?”

“Gaby is handling that. Everyone below our security clearance has been told that she’s your secretary. You’re at an important meeting and can’t be interrupted, but could they reschedule? Oh, looks like the next available slot isn’t for another couple of weeks. So sorry.” Waverly can hear the other man’s grin. “On an unrelated note, she’s also coming along nicely with her forgery skills. We’re working on signatures right now.”

He wishes he could laugh. He manages a facial twitch in the direction of a smile.

“And Peril is just outside,” Solo continues, anticipating his next question. “Just in case THRUSH has any more bright ideas in the next couple of weeks. Yes, weeks,” he says, to Waverly’s look of alarm. “You’re going to recover, but it’s going to take a while. And we don’t want anyone trying to take advantage between now and then.”

Waverly is fairly certain that he does not need two of his best agents playing nursemaid. “See here, Solo,” he says, or at least tries to say.

“It’s not a problem, sir,” Napoleon says. “We don’t mind, really.”

He would argue, but he’s so tired.

When he’s able to open his eyes, Gaby is there, reading.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Awful,” he says. He’s graduated to two syllable words now.

“Okay,” she says. “Do you need anything?”

He frowns.

“Okay,” she says. “Would you like for me to read to you?”

“That would–” He’s run out of energy. He nods.

“Okay,” she says, picking up her book again. It’s a book of Russian fairy tales. Her accent is atrocious. He doesn’t care.

When Illya is there, he is silent with his gun within reach. He looks like he hasn’t slept or shaved recently, but he sits facing the door with rapt attention.

“You should… rest,” Waverly says.

Nyet, spasibo,” Illya says, and turns his attention back toward the door.