Gambit handed over the rifle, wishing desperately that Steed would come over the hill with the cavalry. Purdey was well-overdue for reporting in by now! But there was no sign of rescue – not yet.
"Sergeant," Colonel Miller nodded to his aide and the sergeant saluted. "See to him while I fetch her out."
"Right, sir." The sergeant turned on Gambit with a predatory expression and Gambit bit down hard on his impulse to go into a fighting stance. He held out his wrists instead, and let himself be tied, trying to take a crumb of comfort from the fact that his hands were tied in front of him and not behind.
It didn't take Miller five minutes to bring back Purdey. She'd been rattled, Gambit could tell, from her pallor and the lines around her mouth, but she had her head up defiantly as Miller led her out of the minefield, and there was fire in her eyes. "You okay?" she asked, when she got close enough, her eyes going just for a moment to the bindings on his wrists.
"Yeah. You?" he asked.
She nodded. "Nothing like a nice brisk run in the countryside."
He grinned. He couldn't help it. Nothing ever beat Purdey for long.
"Pleased with yourself, Major?" Colonel Miller said, an unkind smile curling his lips. "You shan't be for long. Insubordination, consorting with the enemy... A drumhead courtmartial won't give you long to concoct a defense."
"That's the trouble with you -- you don't think things through," Gambit drawled, with a confidence he didn't feel. "You just bull your way ahead and never mind the body count. You don't know anything about me. I could be an amateur horning in on your racket, or an envoy from a prospective employer, come to check out your operation. Or I could be your worst nightmare, a real professional. For all you know I've got fighter jets standing by, waiting for the signal to destroy your planes the moment they take off."
Miller glared at him, a muscle working in his jaw. Gambit smiled fiercely. "Mind you, if I were from an employer I wouldn't be taking back much of a favorable report. I could fight through any ten of this sorry lot in a row and still have enough to take you out, Miller. That is if you had the balls to take me on in an even match."
"An even match?"
"No guns, no knives. Just us. Not that you've got the guts. You're not a soldier, Miller, you're scum. I'll bet you lead from behind every time."
Miller laughed. "You'll not trick me into fighting you that way," he said. "My men know my quality."
Gambit looked around at the grim audience, several of whom were looking at Miller with uncertainty. "Do they?" he said. "I'll even add some spice to the pot. If you, or any of your ten best men beat me, fair and square, one on one, I'll tell you what you want to know."
"Gambit!" Purdey protested.
He waved her quiet. "What do you say, Miller?"
"It would hardly be a fair fight," Miller pointed out. "None of us could fight to kill – not if we wanted you to talk afterwards. You'd have no such restraint."
Gambit did look at Purdey then, for a long moment, before turning back to Miller. "If I killed one of you the deal would be off, wouldn't it? But if you'll guarantee you'll leave her unharmed, locked up but safe, when you go, then I'll promise you I'll only fight to submission or knockout."
Miller's single eye gleamed. "Done."
The soldiers formed a loose ring in the center of the parade ground. To Purdey's surprise one of them brought her a chair to sit on, but the comfort was tempered by the feel of the knife the sergeant-major rested on her shoulder as a warning to Gambit.
Gambit – allowed to come on his own, even if he was escorted by half a dozen men – came over to her while Miller was still arranging things to his satisfaction. "Very nice. Best seat in the house." he observed nonchalantly.
"This is stupid, Mike," she answered in a low voice. "Eleven of them?"
"Not all at once. I didn't manage to ride to your rescue on a gallant white steed," he said, "not in time anyway. Still, someone's got to teach Miller a lesson."
Time. Steed. She'd figured that much out – that Gambit was playing a delaying game. He hadn't done that well against the three he'd run into earlier, but she supposed it would be different fighting one at a time.
She sighed, wishing she'd been cast into a more active role than the girl who needed rescuing. The princess parts were boring, even in a play like this one. And she wasn't looking forward to being in the audience while Gambit played noble hero. But what else could they do against an entire army, except dance the dance as best they knew how? "I don't suppose they'll let you kiss me before they rearrange your face," she said, willing to play the role if it meant a few more moments of delay.
Something she hadn't expected flashed in Gambit's eyes at the question, and she found herself holding her breath as he looked to the sergeant for permission. The soldier blinked and then stepped back a pace. Still close enough to hear, still close enough to prevent an escape, but allowing the kiss. Purdey turned up her chin to meet Gambit's lips and closed her eyes against tears she had no intention of shedding. Gambit, given the license, took full advantage of it, and the kiss left her thoroughly warmed and breathing hard. She stared at him as he stepped back, wondering why she hadn't tried that one before. "Don't get killed," she ordered. "That was just practicing."
The nearest soldiers laughed, and she felt some of the tide of opinion switching over to Gambit's side. Better still she saw the cockiness return to his smile as he nodded to acknowledge her command.
"Major Gambit." Miller had finished his preparations. "Are you ready to begin?"
Gambit glanced over at the Colonel and shook his head, pausing to pull off the heavy sweater. "I'll give you this one for free," he said insolently. "Navy, not Army." He tossed the sweater to Purdey's feet and sauntered into the center of the circle of men. "Whenever you work up your nerve, then."
"Abernathy," Miller snapped, and one of the NCOs saluted.
"Take him down."
The soldier moved out toward Gambit, who waited, balanced on the balls of his feet, but motionless until his opponent took the first swing. He dodged, just by swivelling to one side, and caught the passing fist as the soldier began to draw back. In a moment Gambit had Abernathy on the ground, his arm drawn up behind his back and his face white with pain. He said something softly, but Abernathy had had enough, "Just let go!" he cried. "I concede!"
Gambit caught him by the collar and put him back on his feet, still chary, but Abernathy was too busy trying to see if his arm would work to try anything stupid. "Ice packs in your armpit," Gambit advised in a friendly way, "and heat on the shoulder. And don't lift anything heavy for a day or two."
Well, that didn't buy us very much time, Purdey thought, but as Abernathy offered Gambit a salute she realized that it had bought something else. The men of the 19th had lost a little confidence – they were watching Gambit with wariness as he saluted Abernathy back and waited while his erstwhile opponent made his way back to the ranks – but there was something like respect in their eyes as well.
Miller was icily furious. "Cornwall!" he shouted.
The bulky corporal who answered to the call was more cautious than Abernathy had been, for all the good it did him. Purdey could have told him that attacking Gambit from the front wasn't going to work. And trying to kick him in the balls would only make him mad. Gambit caught the offending foot and tucked it up under his own arm, advancing so that Cornwall had to hop backwards on his remaining foot to stay upright. That lasted until he tripped on a tussock and Gambit followed him down, twisting around the captured leg so that Cornwall had to flip onto his stomach to avoid having it broken. This time Purdey could hear Gambit's offer: unconsciousness or submission; and Cornwall must have chosen the former because Gambit karate chopped him neatly in the neck.
Having disposed of his second opponent, Gambit got to his feet and nodded to Miller. "He'll be awake in an hour or so, Colonel, but you'd best have him taken to the dispensary now so he won't get stepped on."
"He's a commando," Miller growled. "We have simpler methods of dealing with failure. Forrester," he jerked his head at one of the men nearby who picked up a bucket by his feet and went out to douse the unconscious man.
Gambit stood clear of the deluge. "He'll still need to ice the leg," he warned Forrester as the new man bent to pull Cornwall to unsteady feet. It was Gambit who offered the salute first this time, and Cornwall answered it automatically.
"Navy or not," someone muttered near Purdey. "He's a professional."
"Yeah," came the quiet answer. "Hope I'm not next."
"Sir!" the sergeant-major standing over Purdey called to Miller. "I believe Private Davidson would like a go."
Purdey looked off to her left and saw a red-headed youngster flinching even as he straightened to attention. From the surprise on Miller's face she doubted that Davidson had much of a reputation as a hand-to-hand fighter, but the boy took the inevitable order to attack Gambit with as much grace as he could.
Gambit must have assessed the situation, because he dealt with Davidson differently than he had the first two, more like a sensei in a dojo than anything else. He talked the youngster through the bout, advising him to keep his guard up, and critiquing the way he tried to strike. It was a lot more work to do things this way, Purdey realized, seeing the dark patches of sweat beginning to appear on Gambit's shirt, but it ate up a lot of time. Davidson evidently forgot what he was about, because he conceded the fight when Gambit only had him in a potentially dangerous hold, much as he would have done in a training bout, and Gambit released him unharmed.
Again, they exchanged salutes. "Good bout. Try back in a couple of years and you'll really make me work for it," Gambit told him with a grin, and Davidson returned to the ranks looking almost pleased with himself.
Miller wasn't happy.
"Goyle," he growled.
Goyle was an entirely different case from Davidson, an apparent Neanderthal with arms longer than the average and a way of moving that bespoke a lot of experience with the martial arts. He was also a cheater, Purdey realized, seeing the flash of metal in his hand as he charged Gambit.
"Knife!" She called the warning, but she wasn't the only one, and she saw the disbelief and disappointment on several faces when Colonel Miller failed to reprimand Goyle for the illicit weapon.
Gambit was forced to move around the fighting area while he avoided being skewered and tried to find a way through Goyle's defenses. He was starting to tire, too, Purdey realized, though she hoped that none of the rest of them could tell. He managed to kick the knife away eventually, but that left him open to a series of hits from Goyle, and it was only by rolling aside that he was able to break free.
He came up with grass and dirt clinging to his clothes and the bright stain of blood showing on one sleeve. That didn't worry Purdey nearly as much as the way he was pressing one hand against his side, and she remembered belatedly that he had already taken one beating today. Goyle seemed to take Gambit's posture as a sign of weakness and moved in for the coup de grace, but that was a mistake. Gambit brought up a hard knee and Goyle went down, unconscious even as he crumpled.
Gambit stood back, catching his breath and looking to Purdey before he turned to Miller. "Another candidate for pneumonia," he rasped. "Or have you run out of water?"
Miller strode forward, but only far enough to retrieve Goyle's knife. "Forrester, Rand, fetch Goyle out. He's under arrest."
Gambit waited, winding a handkerchief around the injured arm while Miller read his men a short lecture about dishonor being met with dishonor. Purdey could see several discontented faces though. If Miller had meant it, she thought, he would have called Goyle back before he'd ever reached Gambit. Still, the interlude gave Gambit a chance to rest, and that was something. And Miller ended his rant by offering his prisoner a chance to call off the deal.
"Not unless you mean to fight me now," Gambit said. "But I'll take a canteen of water, if you can see your way to it."
Miller hesitated for a moment. "What, and let you prove an idle boaster?" he answered. "Ten of my best, you said. That was only four." He looked around at the men, sensing their mixed feelings. "But of course you may have the water. Davidson, fetch him a canteen."
"Yes, sir!" Davidson snapped off a salute and vanished back through the ranks towards the barracks.
"And in the meantime?" Miller said, with a short, mad smile. "Harrison!"
The colonel strode back to his place by the sidelines while a wiry corporal came out to meet Gambit. He stopped a respectful distance back and nodded to Gambit's makeshift bandage. "Shouldn't that be tied off first, sir?"
Gambit raised a surprised eyebrow, but he answered, "Yes," and came over to Purdey, deliberately allowing himself to be back-first to Harrison as a sign of confidence in the man's honor. "Would you mind, Purdey?" he said, holding out the arm.
She made a neat knot, tucking the ends under the bandage so they wouldn't flap around. "Better?"
"Yes, thank you." He turned and went back out to where Harrison was waiting, and they each gave the other the formal bows of the dojo before stepping forward into the battle crouches of true black belts.
Harrison was really good, Purdey had to concede. And he wasn't tired, which was definitely giving him the edge over Gambit in the flashing interchanges of blows and blocks. She was tired, though, tired of being limited to spectator. She hated sitting by and watching any friend take a beating, and it was worse somehow when it was Gambit's own fault for volunteering to get pounded into mincemeat. Because that's what was going to happen if Steed didn't turn up soon. If only she hadn't got herself stuck in that minefield! They'd have got clear otherwise.
Gambit and Harrison went down in a tangle at Purdey's end of the circle and for a moment she thought that Gambit had lost, but then somehow he found enough leverage to reverse the situation and get Harrison into a scissors lock. "Ready to quit?" he asked between harsh breaths.
"No." Harrison squirmed, but Gambit just applied a little more pressure and the corporal went very still. Purdey wondered what was about to break.
"Come on," Gambit growled after a minute, having got more of his wind back in the meantime. "You don't deserve to get a bucket of water over the head."
"Why are you doing this?" Harrison asked. Purdey had to listen hard to hear them, but she wasn't the only one listening hard, and Gambit's answer came back low, but audible.
"Because I want to be able to spend the money I've got," Gambit said. "And if you lot go off to the Middle East and start World War 3 I won't have much chance, will I?" He shifted his grip a little again and Harrison went white. "Come on, concede."
Harrison swallowed hard, but called out, "I concede," loudly enough to be certain he was heard across the way where Miller was standing. Gambit released him immediately and the two of them got upright somehow without having to help each other. Purdey saw Gambit wince as he returned Harrison's salute, and he was favoring his left leg as he went back out to the center of the ring, but it was Harrison's reaction she was really interested in. He was quiet and thoughtful, watching Miller with worried eyes as the colonel waited for Davidson to finish his errand.
Gambit accepted the canteen with thanks and took a long drink before he closed it and handed it back to the private. "Have Purdey hold it, please," he said. "I shouldn't want anyone to bang his knuckles on it if I hung it on my belt."
Things weren't going the way Miller had envisioned, Purdey knew. He'd never expected Gambit to stay on his feet this long, and he certainly hadn't expected his men to treat the "spies" with anything more than disdain. But the chuckle that ran through the watching crowd told her that Gambit had won not only their respect, but a degree of liking as well. They were beginning to root for Gambit… at least for him to win through to his chance to fight Miller one-on-one… and Miller was having a hard time choosing who to send out as his next champion. An unscrupulous fighter would do more damage to Gambit, but would cost Miller respect as well.
She took the canteen that Davidson offered to her, smiling up at him. "Thank you, Private Davidson," she said, knowing that graciousness would make it seem that she was more of a guest than a prisoner.
"Don't worry, miss," Davidson blurted out. "The Colonel won't let him be killed."
Not until he talks anyway, Purdey thought, but she only nodded, smiling.
Miller had made up his mind. "Private Saunders."
The show would go on.
Saunders had come and gone, having got in a lucky punch that had left Gambit with one eye swelling shut before he was knocked cold. His successor had done more damage, mostly to Gambit's already bruised torso,and only a lucky blow with an elbow had bought Gambit the victory. To her surprise, the eighth man, an older sergeant who had been in quiet colloquy with Harrison before he was called to the field, spent half his time talking to Gambit, using a low growl that didn't carry well to the listeners. He seemed to be taunting Gambit, telling him what would happen to him, but Purdey noticed that Gambit was countering each maneuver, and when the sergeant finally went down to a karate chop Gambit was left in almost better shape than he'd been at the start of the round.
Which wasn't to say that he was in good shape. He stumbled over to her and took the canteen she offered, drinking without wasting time on talk. His hands were raw and bruised, and the sweat was pouring off of him, in spite of the brush of the cool breeze. If she'd thought she could touch him without hurting him she would have. "That's eight, Mike."
"Is it?" he said. "I'd lost count."
"Two more to go."
"Three. I still have to pound some sense into Miller." He touched the swelling near his eye. "More of a fair fight this way, I suppose."
"I suppose." She took back the canteen. "No point in telling you to be careful, then?"
"No, love," he answered. "No point at all."
She managed to keep from snorting at the endearment, but she couldn't help cocking an eyebrow and glaring. It was all very fine and well putting on an act for Miller's men, but at this rate Gambit would be patting her on the head next.
But instead of that he swept her an elaborate bow. "Doth my lady wish to tie her handkerchief 'round my joust?" he asked impishly.
"In your dreams, Mike Gambit," she retorted instinctively, grinning up at him.
But Gambit had the oddest look on his face – a smile that might have been more suited to some quiet evening playing Scrabble than this peculiar performance, and a look in the undamaged eye that she suspected was for her alone. "Shame," he said softly. "It's about the only bit of me that doesn't hurt."
Purdey felt her performance cracking. "This is ridiculous," she said suddenly. "Can't you just..."
But Gambit silenced her with a touch of cold fingertips to her lips. "Trust me. There isn't any way out but through."
She nodded, not trusting herself. If she spoke now it would be impossible to keep from saying something about Steed coming to the rescue, although she was beginning to wonder if he would. And if he didn't come... Purdey wrapped her arms tighter around the icy realization that had settled into her stomach. Gambit hadn't bargained for his own freedom if he won. Only for her safety.
"Mike Gambit," she whispered at his back as he walked back to the center of the battleground. "You're an idiot. A chivalrous idiot, but an idiot all the same."
Miller had begun to unravel. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet and muttering, with none of the manic glee that had characterized him before. His glare was travelling over the collected troops, seeking something that he wasn't finding, to judge by the deepening frown.
"What's the matter, Colonel?" Purdey drawled. "Run out of cannon fodder?" She hoped he had. Gambit might stand a chance fighting him now, and heaven only knew whether he'd still be on his feet at all after two more fights.
Miller transferred the glare to her, and suddenly smiled. "Sergeant-Major!"
"Sir!" Her guardian came to attention.
"Make him talk."
She could feel the hesitation, but then the knife was taken from her shoulder. "Yes, sir!"
Purdey wondered what it could mean. As far as she'd been able to tell, the Sergeant-Major was Miller's most devoted follower. And he topped Gambit by at least a head. There'd be no sympathy from this one, she realized, only now realizing what she'd seen the last man doing. She bit her lip and watched.
A few yards away from Gambit the Sergeant-Major broke into a run and flung himself forward in a tackle around Gambit's ankles. It worked, in spite of Gambit's attempt to dodge, and he went down on his back, bringing his arms up to protect his middle as the Sergeant-Major scrambled forward and applied a hard blow to Gambit's knee.
For the first time in all the fights Gambit cried out, a shout of pure pain that had Purdey on her feet before she realized it. Hands caught her before she could go forward, but didn't force her back into the chair. The Sergeant-Major pressed his advantage, using one hand to pin Gambit to the ground while he readied the other fist. "Talk!" he ordered Gambit. "Talk!"
Gambit spit in his eye. It didn't stop the Sergeant-Major from punching him, but it prevented him from seeing the blow that Gambit had readied – a clout across the ear that owed a lot more to the street-fights of small boys than it did to any karate dojo. That, along with a twist of his body knocked the Sergeant-Major enough to one side that Gambit was able to roll out from under and somehow come mostly upright. But he was bleeding from the mouth now, and his expression was dazed – Purdey knew that it would take a miracle for him to win this time.
Steed leaned forward in the bubble of the helicopter cockpit, studying the situation as Prentice maneuvered past the rows of barracks. They'd finally spotted most of Miller's men, gathered in the center of the parade ground, but so far there'd been no sign of Gambit or Purdey. Gambit definitely had cause for still being out of contact, he'd hardly have settled into his cover in a scant twelve hours, but Purdey was well and truly late reporting in, and given what she'd said about Miller pursuing an injured man across the artillery range, Steed felt he had good reason to be concerned.
As the helicopter neared the cluster of men Steed thought that it looked like nothing more than a gang of boys egging on a fight. A flash of red and a glimpse of blonde hair told him that Purdey was standing in amidst the forest of combat fatigues and berets, but like the others, she was focussed on whatever was going on in the open space at the center of the group. "Right over their heads," Steed ordered the pilot. "Right in the middle of that circle." Miller had to be there.
Prentice took him at his word, bringing the chopper in so low that it was only at the last moment that Steed caught a glimpse of the two men who had been battling for the amusement of the others. The shorter one had to be Gambit, though speed and angle and blood made it hard to be certain. And there, identifiable by the eyepatch even in this small sea of faces, there was Miller. Steed raised the microphone as the chopper hovered over Gambit. "Colonel Miller, we have you surrounded," Steed said, in his best no-sane-person-could-possibly-think-of-disregarding-such-a-gentleman voice. "Order your men to stand down. An armored division is coming in to collect you."
Unfortunately, it appeared that Miller wasn't sane. He snatched a pistol from the holster on his hip and aimed it at the helicopter. Prentice veered up and the bullet missed both him and Steed, but as Steed looked down through the cracked Plexiglas he saw Miller lowering the pistol to take a shot at a less mobile target.
Gambit went down, and the man he'd been fighting as well, even though one of Miller's own men had tried to knock his commander's arm up as he fired. In spite of the spin of the chopper, Steed could see Purdey dashing across the intervening yards. A few well-placed kicks and she had Miller on the ground, disarmed and probably unconscious.
"Stand down!" Steed ordered again, through the bullhorn. "Go to your barracks and wait. On the double!" He was a little surprised to hear the officer's rasp he'd thought he'd left behind after the war, but the tone obviously worked. About half of the soldiers below him turned obediently and started to walk back to quarters. Of the others, some panicked and took off in other directions and some drifted to the edge of the field to wait upon events. That left a bare dozen arguing over Miller's unconscious body and a handful turning with Purdey to deal with the two who had gone down under Miller's fire.
Steed checked the road leading into the compound as the pilot brought the helicopter level again, hovering much higher than they'd been before, and saw the incoming tanks and trucks of Elroyd Foster's division, coming to back up his hunch about Miller's activities. Foster's men would take control, no doubt, but with Purdey and Gambit still on the ground, Steed was worried that someone might think to use them as hostages.
"Take me lower," he told Prentice. He needed to see faces in order to assess the situation, not just worried blobs.
"Take you lower?" Prentice repeated incredulously. "And have them take more potshots at us?"
Steed raised an eyebrow and Prentice, grumbling, began to obey.
Purdey shoved the Sergeant-Major off Gambit, noticing with a part of her mind that the burly soldier was still losing blood from a hole in his neck. It didn't matter. The question she wanted answered was whether or not Gambit was alive.
He was. There was a long thin wound on the side of his head, probably from the same bullet that had hit the Sergeant-Major. He was bleeding steadily and he was unconscious, but he was breathing and for the moment that was all she cared about. She turned him onto his back, letting his head rest in her lap as she loosened his collar and tried to make him more comfortable.
"Purdey?" Steed's amplified voice sounded worried. She looked up at the helicopter and wondered how to convey that Gambit was alive, but most definitely not all right. "Should I send for a doctor?" Steed asked, and she nodded vigorously and then bent back to Gambit.
Gambit's eyelids were fluttering and as she wiped the blood off his forehead the unswollen eye opened and blinked at her.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"M' head hurts," he mumbled. There was so much blood it was hard to tell, but she thought his mouth was still bleeding too. "Where're we?"
"Still at the 19th Commando," she said, but the intelligence didn't seem to do much for him. "Do you remember?"
"No," he admitted. "Feels li' I g' hit by a car..."
"Do you remember who I am?" she asked, beginning to be worried.
He blinked at her for a moment but didn't answer.
Purdey frowned. "Do you remember who you are?"
His eyes closed again. "Mike. I'm Mike. Gambit. Eng'neer firs' class, Endeavor, out of Bournem'th."
Uh-oh. Concussion, at the very least. "Not lately. Come on, Mike. We work with John Steed. Remember?"
"He sent us to find General Stevens. You had those films from Travis. Remember." It was less of a question now, and more of a command, but she wasn't sure how much good it was doing.
"So that's why you're here," a low voice said and she looked up again to find Harrison standing beside a young soldier in a lab coat. "You came to find the General. Did he even mean it about World War 3?"
"He meant it," Purdey said, remembering the fear in Gambit's voice as she'd listened through the armory door. "I don't know the details. Something about Miller not being a political animal."
Harrison nodded. "That and 500 camel saddles." He dragged the other soldier forward. "Babcock is a medic. He's good at bullet wounds and bruises and broken bones."
She nodded permission for the man to try to help her, and he knelt alongside, opening a first aid kit. But she was still watching Harrison. "Why?" she asked.
Harrison straightened to a more formal pose. "For the honor of the regiment, Miss. I've been here longer than Miller has."
Gambit was getting agitated. He batted away Babcock's hands and tried to sit up. "Miller... G't t' figh' Miller."
"You can't fight Miller," Purdey said with asperity, holding him back, even while she thanked whatever gods might be listening that he'd remembered that much at least. "You're hurt and he's unconscious."
If Gambit heard her it made no difference. He started to struggle. Figuring that he'd hurt himself - and anyone trying to hold him - she let him attempt to get up, hoping she'd be able to catch him when his knee refused to hold weight. To her surprise he managed it, although he was definitely lopsided. "Wh're's Miller?" He peered dazedly around.
"Oh for heaven's sake." She put one of Gambit's arms across her shoulders and made like a crutch as she turned him in the right direction. "He's there, on the ground, unconscious. See?"
Gambit looked for a long moment. "D'I do that?"
"No, I did. He was cheating." She glared up at him as best she could from her awkward position. "Dammit, Gambit, don't you even know that you've been shot?"
"Shot?" Gambit looked down at her, seemed to see her for the first time. "Oh," he said, and fainted.
"Blast," Steed said, watching Purdey and Gambit go down in a tangle. "We'll have to fetch them out."
"We land this helicopter before Foster's division takes control and it's bound to be hijacked," Prentice pointed out. "That's not going to do anyone any good."
"We wait until someone on the ground decides that Gambit and Purdey will make good hostages and Foster's going to hesitate. She's his niece."
Prentice had missed that, somehow. "Oh. In that case..." He buzzed the field, forcing several of the soldiers to move back or duck to the ground. "Hope you can move fast."
Steed was already unbuckling his safety belt. "I'll do my best." The moment the helicopter touched the ground he got out and dashed to Purdey. One of the soldiers was crouched beside her and Gambit, but when Steed might have tried to chase him off, Purdey shook her head, and in the end it was three of them manhandling Gambit as Prentice hovered the helicopter a few feet off the ground and right next to them. Steed supported Gambit's weight while the soldier boosted Purdey into chopper, and then she pulled from above as the two of them lifted the unconscious man onto the floorboards. Steed put a foot onto the landing skid and grabbed for a handhold, turning to offer a hand to the soldier, who took it and got a grip of his own as Prentice gained altitude to avoid the approach of half a dozen less amicably-inclined men.
It took some effort to clamber inside with Prentice maneuvering to avoid a burst of gunfire from below, particularly since Steed was trying to avoid stepping on Gambit. At last he managed it, though, and settled into the co-pilot's seat, leaving Purdey and their unexpected ally to find ways to strap themselves and Gambit in against sudden changes in direction.
"Where to?" Prentice asked, over the engine roar.
"That little hospital we visited yesterday for now," Steed decided. It was only a few minutes away by air. Dr. Peterson had impressed Steed as a competent sort, spotting that tropical fever and all, and he didn't like to waste unnecessary time with Gambit bleeding.
"Right," Prentice said, and headed out over the trees.
Dr. Peterson had only two questions: "What's his name?" and "Who do we call for his medical records?" Steed made a mental note to find out whether or not he'd be interested in filling the vacancy left by James Kendrick's retirement the month before. It took a certain amount of sangfroid to deal with the things the department was likely to throw in a doctor's path. But Peterson was certainly on-the-ball. He and his assistants had Gambit on a stretcher and back into the hospital before the helicopter's vanes had quite stopped turning, leaving Steed and Purdey and the two soldiers to follow.
Prentice was eyeing the commando uncertainly. "Who's this then?" he asked.
"Corporal Harrison helped us," Purdey said, as she reached a hand out to clutch Steed's elbow and tug him after the stretcher. "And he can disappear into the wide world for all I care, now that Miller's been stopped."
"I'd like to ask him a question or two first," Steed said, standing his ground and giving the man a smile of gratitude. "If he doesn't mind?"
"I don't mind, sir," Harrison answered, stiffly. "I didn't expect nothing else."
"Then I think we'll be able to work something out." Steed said.
"I'll just go back and see how Colonel Foster's doing, then, shall I?" Prentice said, climbing back into the helicopter with the air of a man who didn't want to be officially aware of what might happen next.
"Hold fire a moment..." Steed retrieved the bottle of bubbly and the glasses he'd stowed in the chopper out of sheer optimism and dumped them into Harrison's arms. "Thank you, Prentice. I'll call later." He waved the Corporal toward the hospital doors and patted Purdey's hand as he allowed her to drag him after Gambit. He did want to get Purdey inside -- he wasn't entirely certain that all of the blood on her outfit wasn't hers, she looked a bit peaky to him. She wasn't moving as if she were in pain, though that didn't mean much if she still had as much adrenalin in her system as he did in his own. But rushing wouldn't make that much difference now, and a cheerful, confident facade would keep Harrison in the right frame of mind.