Genre: Man from UNCLE - slash
Rating: PG- 13
Prompt: Threecee- I would like a combination of two of your MFU series: Foothills and Working Stiffs. I'm thinking of a pension and benefits specialist from UNCLE needing to meet with our retired agents in the Foothills. And from psyche53 - a story prompt for Christmas. Maybe something in Abba/Foothills? I love, love, love that series but you knew that,
For those folks who are unaware, I have two long standing series. One is The Working Stiffs, which follows the people behind the scenes of UNCLE.
The second is The Foothills series. It is a slash AU in which both Napoleon and Illya have left UNCLE and now run a Wine Boutique – Vinea (Napoleon) and a successful restaurant –Taste (Illya).
Because this is a combination of the two, I have switched Pov from first to third and back to try and keep them seperate. Hopefully, it won’t be terribly confusing.
Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides they are going into finance. I sure didn’t. It’s just numbers made sense to me when very little else did. Math was a comfortable blanket of reassurance while English remained a perplexity and anything physical just didn’t seem to be in the cards. In college, I sort of gravitated towards business classes and the next thing you knew, I had a degree in it and was a CPA.
Trust me when I say it doesn’t get you invited to a lot of parties. Girls didn’t look at me twice, not that there was much to look at. My mom said I was handsome, but I think she was paid to say that. I would get up in the morning, go to work, eat lunch at my desk and come home. The nights were spent in front of the TV watching whatever my mother picked before she fell asleep. Eventually she would wake up, shut the TV off and go to bed. Weekends were a little different. I would take her shopping or visiting. Sunday was church and the whole thing started again.
It sound boring, but the reality was that I was okay with it. All the time I was doing this, my money was growing and compounding interest. When I decided to leave home, it would be with a sizeable nest egg.
Then Mom passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly. You might have thought things would change, but they didn’t. The only difference was that I would pick the show that I would fall asleep during.
One day my co-worker and good friend, heck only friend, stopped by my desk and handed me a sheet of paper. His nephew had been approached by an organization. It promised job security, benefits, a good pension and world travel.
“I’m going to apply, Shawn. I mean, the answer is always no unless you ask.”
“And then it’s always no, Donny.” I scanned the requirements. “They don’t want us, buddy. They want young men. Smart, sophisticated, good looking guys”
“Shawn, we’re not old. As for the rest, let God figure that out. Come on. Come with me? You don’t have to apply if you don’t want to.”
Part of me did, but part of me, the playing it safe part held back. “What about our pension here?”
“It’s laddered and it’s ours, no matter what. I’ve already checked. What have we got to lose?”
As it turned out, very little. We applied, got patted encouragingly on the head and sent away. Donny went to drown his sorrow in some beer, but I headed home. It’s one thing to know you are a loser, but to be told it sort of hurt. I found a bottle of wine that I’d gotten as a Secret Santa gift and opened it. I was halfway through the second glass when the call came.
The next morning I thought I’d dreamt it, except I hadn’t. I’d been hired, so had Donny and that was our introduction to the world of UNCLE.
Napoleon Solo twisted himself around, trying to gain that last critical inch that he needed to reach an elusive bottle of wine.
“Just a moment, please. I’m busy.” He didn’t look at the speaker. He needed to get this bottle for a customer. He’d saved it especially for her.
“We need to talk.”
“Just a moment, please,” he repeated. Napoleon Solo loved Christmas. Around the middle of November, the decorations would start finding their way out of storage and the odd Christmas album would find its way to the stereo. His head would start filling with delightful thoughts of how he would decorate the home he shared with his partner and lover, Illya Kuryakin, as well as that of Taste and Vinea, their respective businesses.
However, what he didn’t enjoy was the impropriety that came along with some shoppers. They had no intention of waiting their turn, slowing down to enjoy the goodwill of their fellow beings, or even letting the odd ‘Merry Christmas’ escape their lips. For them, it was all about deadlines, shopping lists and timetables.
“We’re from UNCLE.”
“I don’t have an uncle… oh.” Suddenly the world tilted a bit to include a past he often forgot. Both he and Illya had been enforcement agents with UNCLE. They had been, in fact, the top agents in the organization. Then Napoleon made a mistake, a stupid, instantly-regrettable mistake and because of it, Illya vanished. It was as if the world had opened up and swallowed him. Napoleon, with the help of his aunt’s estate, left UNCLE and went searching, finally finding his partner, now a chef, running a restaurant. That was ten years… or was it twelve now?
He got purchase on the bottle and pulled it out carefully. He stood and faced the men. They were younger than he was, about the age when he’d left UNCLE. Napoleon gestured to a wine bar. “I will be with you in a moment. Until then, please enjoy some refreshments.”
“I’m sorry, but.” Again he gestured to the counter and he left them.
My world hadn’t changed all that much since coming to UNCLE. I had a nicer office with a secretary I shared with Donny, the money was good, but it was still the same routine - go to work, go home, sleep, and go back to work. At least now, I was able to spend much of my time with Donny. We shared an office and even went out to lunch together at the canteen. While looking at women left my mouth dry and my stomach aching, I could spend hours with Donny and not even notice the time passing. It was great.
I was working on an account for Section Three and adding up a long column of figures in my head when Donny came in and plopped some files down in my ‘in’ box.
“Hey, Shawn, you up for a road trip?”
“You mean over to the Boardwalk? Jersey?”
“We have been tapped for a special project.” He held up a file and I read a faded name.
“Illya N. Kuryakin. Never heard of him.”
“That’s because about fifteen years ago, he just vanished one night. His partner went crazy looking for him, but never found him. When Mr. Waverly told him to come back to work, he disappeared, too. Two spooks *poof*”
“It’s a little late in the year for Halloween, isn’t it?”
My Halloween-loving partner laughed. “Never, Shawn. Anyhow, they finally found them.”
“Yeah. Come to find out, they are alive and well and living in California.”
“They found each other, good for them.”
“Waverly never took them off the books, Shawn. This is their pension and benefits.”
“Whoa,” I gasped when I saw the figure. “What the hell were they?”
“Section Two’s Golden Boys.”
“Okay, I thought that was just a story.”
“Well, we are going to find out. They want us to go out there and meet with them. HR wants them off the books.”
I didn’t blame them. Just the interest of one of the accounts alone was more than half my yearly salary. “But travel now?”
“Yup, UNCLE is flying us out to sunny California. I may never come back.”
I knew how he felt. The snow, cold, and misery of being alone at this time of the year wasn’t an enticing picture to me, either. “When do we leave?”
The woman Napoleon Solo was helping was looking a bit anxious. He came up to her and offered her the bottle with a flourish. “Margaret, my sweet, serve your guests this and they will never want to leave.”
“It’s my son-in-law and his brother… I’m not keen on them staying too long.” Margaret studied the label. “This does sound good, though.”
Napoleon, without missing a beat, turned and pulled another bottle off the rack. “Then try this one. It’s good, but not too good. Save that one for when the ladies come.”
“You are sweet, Napoleon, thank you.” She added the bottles, along with four more to her little cart. “What would we do without you?”
“Drive sober?” Alfred, his head clerk, murmured softly and Napoleon slapped him gently in the stomach. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.” He reached into a pocket. “I need about three more cases of the Sobon Coyote Zin.”
“If this keeps up, we’ll be out by Christmas Eve.” Napoleon smiled at the thought. There was nothing he didn’t both love and dread about making that sort of call. Loved because it made the vintner happy, dreaded because he feared, ‘that’s the last of the wine’ phrase. He watched the pair pick their way back toward the wine bar. “Do me a favor and keep those two occupied for a few minutes when I take care of business.
“You got it, Boss.”
I had to admit, Solo had moxie. Nothing seemed to matter to him besides taking care of business. And there was a lot of it. The front of the shop was packed with people checking out this bottle of wine or that one. Towards the back were some tables and a half bar. There were several bottles lined up and people seemed to be enjoying a sip of various wines.
A young man spoke with him for a few moments and then he headed back towards us.
“We’ve picked up a babysitter,” I murmured to Donny as we sat down at a small table.
“He’s been out of the business for a while, but he’s still cautious. Where do you suppose Kuryakin is?”
“Probably in the back, sighting us in his rifle scope. Did you read that guy’s file?”
“Do you think it’s all true?”
“True enough.” The man approached them.
“Hi, welcome to Vinea. My name is Alfred. What can I start you with?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you prefer red or white wine?”
“No idea.” Donny said. “I most drink beer.”
Alfred smiled. “Then I have just the wine for you. And you, sir?
I shrugged my shoulders, my attention distracted from Solo by a young woman carrying a tray of something. “What are those?”
“I believe cucumber circles topped with a scallop and then there’s smoked sliced beef filled with a mixture of egg yolk, horseradish, mustard and mayonnaise. Finally there’s house smoked venison sausage topped with pate of fresh mint, Mandarin orange and pine nuts.”
“I don’t know what half of that stuff is. What sort of an expense account do we have?” I murmured to Donny and Alfred smiled as he motioned to the woman.
“Not to worry, sir.” The tray was lowered for their inspection and Alfred produced two small plates out of thin air. “This is all compliments of Chef and Mr. Solo.”
“Chef?” Donny lifted one of each canape to his dish.
“Chef Kuryakin. They decided early on that if people were going to wine taste, they should eat a little, too.” He smiled and bowed, “Now if you will excuse me, I’ll be right back.”
“Oh my go… Shawn, try that.” Donny took a bite. “Wow, Solo’s really pouring it on.”
Except he wasn’t. Anyone who sat down was given exactly the same careful service. I didn’t know half of what I ate or drank, but all of it was heaven. I couldn’t believe I’d lived this long and never tasted food like this or wine as good as what I sampled. The fanciest wine I’d had before this was Boonefarms Strawberry Ripple or Riunite.
Before Solo made his way back, I felt like I’d eaten my weight in canapes and had more wine than ever before in my life. It was wonderful. The Christmas music cheered me and I felt so at home… and in a place I didn’t know existed twenty-four hours earlier.
It took Napoleon nearly forty minutes to make it from the spot he was standing back to the wine bar. The representative from UNCLE had found themselves a small table and sat, their jackets off, their cheeks stained a pleasant rosy red, and a glass of wine in front of each other them. There was evidence of considerable hors d'oeuvre sampling from the stack of small plates.
“Find something you like, gentlemen?” Napoleon pulled up a chair and sat with them. It was a godsend to his feet to have the weight off them. He wiggled his toes happily in his shoes and took the glass of wine one of his employees handed him, along with a couple of tiny popovers with shrimp and dill filling.
Napoleon sniffed, his eyes closed, focusing on nothing but the aroma. “Hmm, some berry, a little chocolate and pears.” He sipped, drawing a bit over his palate and tongue. “Very nice. You wouldn’t go wrong with a couple bottles of that for Christmas dinner.”
“I’ll probably just be at home with a Swanson TV dinner. What pairs well with that?” one man admitted. He offered Napoleon a hand. “I’m Shawn Phelps and this is my colleague, Donald Camacho.”
“Absolutely nothing pairs with TV dinners and you are both from UNCLE.” Napoleon helped himself to some crab and avocado toast, small squares of perfectly toasted bread topped with chunky avocado and a healthy chuck of crab.
“That wine would go better with these,” the server turned the plate so he could take a tuna and red pepper mousse toast as well.
Napoleon tried both and nodded. “You are right. The crab goes better with the Grenache. My compliments to the kitchen on both.” Two people came up to him, giggly from wine, and confessed that they were having dinner at Taste that night and could they buy him a drink later.
“Mr. Solo,” Shawn Phelps sounded a bit exasperated. “Is there some place quiet we can go to talk? We aren’t leaving until we do.”
“Am I that transparent?” Napoleon stood, still holding the glass of wine. “All right, come with me.”
Illya Kuryakin carefully folded the eggs whites into the batter, ignoring the mayhem of the kitchen. The nice thing about being the head chef and owner, he could delegate the regular day-to-day stuff and give himself time to play. He was working on a poultry mousse on baby artichoke bottoms as an amuse-bouche next week and he hadn’t gotten the consistency to his liking yet.
More than that, he kept going over and over in his mind what to get his staff this year. They got the week between Christmas and New Year’s off with pay, but he wanted to do more. The more he thought, the less he came up with.
“Chef, Vinea is send compliments over and wondering if we have any more of the venison sausage.”
“I think Matt prepped three more trays in the walk up.” He waved his hand over his shoulder and spotted Roxanne. The hostess had entered and was standing quietly by the door, out of the way. He loaded an artichoke bottom with the mousse and plated it atop a swirl of blackberry puree. He carried it to her and held it out. “What do you think?”
With a smile, she popped it into her mouth and chewed. “Mmm, the mousse is like velvet. I love my job.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear.” Illya grinned. “How’s the service for tonight?”
“Healthy for the first seating, a few openings left for the second and a party in the back.”
“Matt’s been working on that all day.” Illya turned to go and Roxanne added. “Chef, I saw Mr. S going into the house with two strangers.”
“Okay, and you are telling me this because?”
“They had a weird look to them. I just have a bad feeling. Maybe check on him?”
“Okay and why don’t you invite Milt over for a glass of wine, too?” Milt was their sheriff and what passed as law enforcement for Jackson.
“You got it, Chef.”
Illya started to pull off his chef’s coat, then stopped. It was stained from berry juice and the mousse prep. Granted he wasn’t the fighter he used to be, but he was still strong from his time in the kitchen and a little extra help didn’t hurt.
“Let everyone know where I’ve gone. If I’m not back in fifteen…”
“We’ll come running.”
Squaring his shoulders, Illya slipped out of the kitchen door and headed home.
He hesitated by the back door and then let himself in quietly. He could hear voices coming from the living room. That was a good sign, but there was music playing and he remembered that music was a good cover up for the sounds of a fight.
He walked quickly over to the knife block and pulled out his favorite chef’s knife. It gleamed in the setting rays of the sun and he drew a breath.
He pushed his way through the swinging door and into the main room of the house. Three men sat the dining room table. “Hey, Napoleon, I’m getting ready to sharpen knives. Do you have--?”
Solo led us out of the shop and across a car packed lot, waving at the various greetings he received.
“Does everyone know you?” Donny asked, looking just a little dumbfounded. Most of the folks we worked with didn’t ever recognize us enough to nod on the street.
“That’s life in a small town. Everyone knows you, knows your business, and knows your troubles” Solo laughed. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. It took me moving here to see just how impersonal New York really was.”
Five minutes later we were seated at a large table, Christmas music playing softly in the background and a glass of wine at our elbows and a platter of cheese and fruit nearby.
“We need to talk to you about your pension.”
“Pension? I have a pension?” He seemed genuinely surprised at that.
“So does Mr. Kuryakin.”
“But he quit.”
I smiled. “Mr. Waverly didn’t see it that way.” I opened my briefcase and took out some folders. Solo put on some seriously ugly black rimmed glasses and flipped open the top one. “Why, Mr. Kuryakin, I do believe I’m in love.”
Then a swinging door opened and I could feel the blood drain from my face at the sight of Kuryakin in the living and breathing flesh and remembered all the stories, all the horribly magnificent stories about him and I figured we had about five minutes to live.
“Hey, Napoleon, I’m getting ready to sharpen knives. Do you have--?”
“Yes, because I frequently use knives to open wine. That’s Rocky’s specialty. Illya, I was just going to call you.” Napoleon pulled off his glasses and gestured to a chair. “Sit down.”
“Who are your friends?”
Then apparently the gears started to turn, grinding, pulling mostly forgotten memories and Kuryakin’s face relaxed slightly. “Oh, that UNCLE. What do you want?”
Both men looked rather anxiously at the knife in his hand.
“Illya, why don’t you put that away and take the load off. I’m sure Taste can live without you for a few minutes. These gentlemen are pension and benefit specialists.” Napoleon smiled, wryly. “Apparently, we both have a generous pension coming to us.”
“I don’t. I quit.”
“You may have left, but Mr. Waverly never saw fit to terminate you. You were merely listed as missing.” The closest man pushed a piece of paper towards him. “This is your pension amount and the benefits due you.”
Illya didn’t look. “I don’t want it, not if it mean being entangled with UNCLE again.”
“Will you stop being so stubborn and just listen? I’ll call Joe Monty to look at the paperwork.”
“Why now? Why not ten years ago? Five years ago?” Kuryakin was still suspicious.
“You’ve only both just come of age. And we’re trying to make it right for all that you did for us and the world.”
Solo reached out and took Kuryakin’s hand, squeezing it slightly. It seemed so small a gesture and yet so intimate. “Illya, it’s okay.”
“Hey, Chef, I was wondering what Saturday looked like.” Milt walked through the front door without knocking. “Hey, Napoleon.”
“You called Milt?” Solo seemed dumbfounded. “You didn’t think I could take care of myself?”
“Chef, we need you. The dish machine is gone and Matt’s crashing and burning because his citrus rub is too tart.” A group of seven people poured out the kitchen door and another five came in the front.
“What the hell, Illya?” Napoleon was on his feet now. Then he took a deep breath. “I think we’re going to need more chairs and glasses..
“The cavalry,” Illya said, smiling at us. “I just had a thought. May I talk to both of you in private and I promise no knives.”
Napoleon flopped back against the pillows, the smell of their intermingled semen still in his nose. “It seems to me that it used to take a lot more time to get from point A to point B a few years ago.”
“A few years ago, we still had stamina.” Illya took a few deep breaths and tried to slow his heartbeat. “A few years ago, I’d take you at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, now it’s an occasional dining al fresco.” He looked over at his lover and partner for a moment before bringing the man’s hand to his mouth and kissing its fingers. “However, it seems to taste twice as sweet now.”
“You’re right.” Napoleon smiled, then started to laugh. “I still can’t believe this afternoon. They were all ready to put their lives on the line for us.”
“We work with some incredible people. That’s why I want to take care of them.”
“I think setting up a pension fund for them is a great idea. Taste is doing well now and by deferring money into a pension fund, you’ll also be getting a tax break. I thought using your own pension as a seed was generous.”
“I didn’t have that money yesterday and I was fine. You can’t miss what you never had. And it’s time that I give back. Not just to my staff, but our community. They have been very good to us.”
“They have.” Napoleon sat up and stretched. He plumped his pillows and again leaned back. “I suppose we need to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a crazy day. When will you tell them that they all have a retirement fund to look forward to?”
“The Christmas party tomorrow. It’s only right that we honor Christmas past and present with a rosy future, not just for us but for them as well. I wish those two kids would be the ones to administer it. I really like the vibe I get from them, but I guess New York is even farther than San Francisco. And I had an idea.”
“What did you do, Illya?”
“Planted a seed. It might not come to anything, but who knows?”
“Love you, Kuryakin.” He opened his arms and Illya nestled back against him.
“Back at you, Solo.”
And both settled down for a long winter’s nap.
“That was some kinda meal. I don’t know when I ever at that good. A man could get used to this.” Donny patted his stomach. Even though snow was feathering down, it wasn’t cold, not by New York standards. The streets were decorated with bright lights and glittering garland. It was like a wonderland of long ago.
We were walking the short distance from the restaurant to our hotel and I paused by a building, looking at it. “You know, Kuryakin was telling me that there are no financial advisors in the area. Everyone has to go to Sacramento or San Francisco.”
“That’s a long drive if you just want to see how a bond is doing.”
“Donny, I’ve been thinking..”
“Shawn, I’ve been thinking…” we said, simultaneously.
It was the best decision we ever made. Within the week, we’d gotten an office, a house, and our first three accounts. And once people discovered that Napoleon Solo came to us for advice, it seems the whole county and those surrounding it were knocking on our door.
Best of all came the invitation from Napoleon and Illya, for that’s how we knew them now, to join them for Christmas dinner. We came to the town as strangers and ended up with not just friends, but also a family.
How cool is that?