Chapter 1: How It All Began
I couldn't tell you how it happened. I mean, I could. I can. It just seemed so…sudden. And I still don't know what triggered it.
But I'll start at the beginning.
I'll be honest. I've always been interested in Purdey. Understatement of the century. Every man in the Ministry is "interested," and they make sure she knows it. But I get to work with her every day. You'd think that would give me an unfair advantage.
Well, all right, it did. I mean, I ended up closer to Purdey than anyone. You risk life and limb with a person day in and day out, you can't help but get closer. Death has a way of stripping away all the layers and making you admit things you never would under any other circumstances. That's the job, for better or worse, and I know that, of all the people in the world, Purdey and Steed are the only two I know as well as I know myself. That doesn't mean we know every little background detail. I don't know where Steed had his sixth birthday party, or the name of Purdey's next door neighbour's cat. But I know the really important things. They've got secrets. We all do. I know I've got a list a mile long and I'd have to go on a three-day bender before I even thought about mentioning item one. But I know who they are, underneath it all, where it counts. And they know me. No one else could ever understand what we've seen together, what we've done.
Maybe that's it. Maybe that's why.
But I'm going on tangents again, aren't I? I'm getting as bad as Purdey. That's the other side effect. You start picking up each other's habits. One of these days I swear we'll wake up and it won't be "Gambit, Purdey, and Steed" anymore, just…"Gampureed." Or something. Hell, I hope not. Sounds like a noxious weed. Purdey'd be able to come up with something better. I'll ask.
More tangents. Bloody hell.
I remember when Purdey and I met. Much what you'd expect. I liked what I saw, and I don't think I'm over-extending my ego if I say that she had the same opinion. But there was always something different about Purdey, and not just because she turned me down flat. She did it with a smile, for one, which meant she wasn't necessarily offended—maybe even interested-but she also wanted me at arm's length. Bit of a dichotomy. And so began the mixed messages…
At first I thought she wanted to be chased. Some girls do. Just to draw things out a little, have some fun. But then there were the days when one of the others would try his luck, and I think I was the only one to see the weary look in her eyes. The chase wasn't her game. I'm good at respecting boundaries, and there were days I knew she wasn't up for it. I was always all right with that. If she pulled away, I wouldn't push. Pushing isn't fun for anyone. It takes two to play, and I don't mind being friends most of the day. Good friends…
I'm not saying we never had our moments, though. There were days…The doppelganger assignment comes to mind. Purdey nearly pushed me through a door when she found out "Terry Walton" was just Mike Gambit with an accent and a shaving phobia. I teased and she did her best to piece her pride back together, but at the end of the day we had both been terrified, and we knew it. She was sure I'd been murdered, and I was sure "Lolita" was going to drop by Purdey's at any time and return the favour. If I hadn't been so exhausted after supervising the Mission shutdown, and Steed hadn't sent her off to handle the admissions paperwork for Praetor…well, sometimes I wonder what the fallout of Terry and Lo would have been. But we were both too well-rested when we saw each other again.
The curare was another close call. There are dozens when you think about it, lots of opportunities. Was there ever going to be a particular time that had all the right ingredients? Something intangibly different that made it "right"? That's what puzzles me. Always has. Because we've had lots of close calls. But there was that day…
The 19th Special Commando. I was in under cover. It was all going pretty well. Maybe I'd have been able to call in and sabotage their planes if I hadn't heard the whistling. My favourite bird call—the yellow-crested Purdey. Maybe it was a bad idea to send Purdey in to that pub to begin with, when she was already known to some of the men. But Steed did, and it wasn't her fault they recognised her and dragged her off to the cells. I'm just thankful they never got a chance to start in on her. All those mercenaries…I know men like that, and I know what they do to prisoners. It still makes my skin crawl.
But I got Purdey out. And then she got me out. Of trouble, that is. Three on one is never a good situation at the best of times, less so when they're all commandos. Good thing Purdey has the kick of a mule, because we actually got out and made a run for it. I don't think I ever told Purdey I actually was in the army at one point, that the "major" title was genuine, not just cooked up for the files. But she seemed to know to let me lead, anyway. She was wearing red, of course—a worse colour for camouflage she couldn't have chosen. But we did pretty well for ourselves. I kept us out of the 19th's way, and she stayed behind me. I can still feel her hand on my back. We're not a hand-holding bunch, but that was just as good. She was always touching, probably to let me know she was there, still behind me. But when I'd stop, and she'd just about slam into me… Was that when it was? I can still feel her fingers tangled up in the sweater, hanging on. There was something surprisingly intimate about it. And it wasn't just because she somehow managed to get her bra off in record time and offer it up for the armoury.
Double-barrelled slingshot. The woman's a genius. So why the hell did she decide to play distraction? That was the other hint. I mean, I know why she rolled me over—to distract me. She knew Mike Gambit was a sucker when it came to her no matter what was going on, and if she gave me a bit of a shove and leaned over me, she knew my brain would stop working long enough for her to make a run for it. But she could have done it a few ways. Hell, she probably could have pointed the other way and said "Look! Over there!" and I'd have fallen for it. But she didn't. And she wasn't willing to stand by while I went in. I know Purdey's capable, but if it's a choice between me or her going into the fray, I'll put my hand up every time. I don't know if she wanted to prove herself after letting me be in charge all afternoon, or if she just couldn't stand sitting by and watching me, let's face it, probably get shot full of holes, or at least get captured and put through the gun cannon treatment. But whatever was going on in that brain of hers, she ran for it.
And ended up in that damned mine field.
I can still see her. Little red slip against all that green, jogging toward me. I know she must have had a few words to say about me when I started shooting at her, but I was desperate, and when the mine went off I swear my heart jumped up my throat. And when Miller offered a deal: Purdey's life in exchange for the rifle, and, in turn, the right to go on instigating World War Three…Well, it was probably the wrong decision as far as the world was concerned, but it was Purdey. Huddled out there, pulling her skirt in, as if that would help. I could have wept. But I couldn't just leave her there…
Thank goodness Steed showed up when he did. Steed's always been good with timing. I think he does it to show off a little. He knows just when to ride to the rescue in a blaze of glory. I don't mind. He came up aces that time, and I was glad to see him lift Purdey out. The champagne was just showing off, though. And I have to admit it rankled a little. I mean, I kept us alive for quite a while. Steed showed up at the end and stole the glory—and the girl. I know, I know. Chauvinistic. But there she was, dangling from the helicopter like it was the most natural thing in the world, like some sort of red-clad angel from heaven, and I was stuck on the ground with a bunch of crooked soldiers. I felt shafted. I'll be honest. But life goes on. We rounded up the soldiers. There was no World War Three—not that time, anyway. And at the end of the day, Purdey offered me a lift home in her car.
That should have seemed weird at the time. Or not. I don't know. It's all been coloured because of what happened later. I mean, we don't live too far from each other. And we give each other rides all the time. For that matter, we offer each other a drink each time, too. But we don't usually ask the host for it first. And Purdey asked. So I offered.
We got upstairs, and she had Scotch, oddly enough. Purdey's more of a gin lover, with a splash of bitters and ginger ale if you can manage it. Scotch is my tipple. But we cracked open the new bottle together. Maybe she wanted my drink before she had my…
No, that's stupid.
Doesn't matter now, does it? I know she must have made a decision when she mentioned the beating I'd taken earlier. Well, three blokes on one doesn't do much for your chances, particularly when two hold you down and the third does the fun stuff. But I've been hurt lots of times, and sometimes she tells me to find someone else to play nurse, and sometimes she does it if I really make a nuisance of myself. But this time she actually offered. Before I'd had a chance to grunt and groan. And I wasn't really feeling it just then, so I hadn't had a chance to play wounded hero. But I wasn't going to complain, was I? Particularly when she started to undress me…
Well, that makes it sound more romantic than it was, because that sweater put up a fight. She pulled and I struggled, and one of my arms got tangled at one point. Army sweaters are officially the hardest things to take off I've ever come across. It made me look more helpless than anything. She laughed. I remember that. I could hear it through the wool. And then, naturally, there's another shirt underneath, but she was pretty quick with that one. All those buttons. I think that's when I knew that she knew what she was going to do.
I suppose it could have been spontaneous, her reasoning. It could have been the Scotch, although she'd only had half a glass. Could have been the uniform, but that would be corny, and Purdey hates being corny. Could have been my poor battered torso, which was bruising rather nicely by that point, but Purdey's seen worse battle scars than that in the line of duty. So something else must have been going on in her mind when she kissed me.
I know she kissed me. It wasn't the other way around, or both at once. I wouldn't have dared, not even at that point, shirtless or not. I've been that way around her before, and it hasn't gotten me particularly far. But when she pulled away and turned those big blue eyes up at me, I knew I'd just been given a go-ahead, even if I didn't have the foggiest idea why. So I kissed back. And it sort of went from there.
I'm human, so I'll take a moment to brag. It was fantastic. I can't deny it. I don't think she could deny it, either, and she sure as hell didn't to me. I know. I was there.
Just to rub it in.
Maybe it was the threat of World War Three that got her going. Or maybe she felt safe following me around on the field and wanted to recapture that. I certainly didn't hear say anything like "My hero" in the process, but then I was saying a few things of my own, and maybe I drowned her out. All I know is what she did, and that when we fell asleep she was curled up so close she was nearly on top of me.
She was gone the next morning. I was ready to put it down to the best dream ever, but she had left the coffee on, and she fed Charlie so he wouldn't wake me up. And her lipstick was still on the Scotch glass. I looked at it for a long time, reassuring myself it was her shade. I'm surprised I didn't bag it for evidence. Probably because she left a note.
"I took my slingshot back."
Naturally, we had to work that day, so I didn't know quite what to expect when I got in. Steed was in fine form, chatting away to Prentice about toy soldiers in his office when I'm sure they were both meant to be doing something important. And Purdey was there, too. Because Steed was there, and I doubted she'd told him, I sort of looked her way for some sort of clue, anything that would tell me how to act. But she just smiled that secretive little smile of hers, and went back to her report. When I finally caught up to her at lunch, it was business as usual. Sure, she flirted a little, but we always flirt a little, particularly at lunch. I know we were at the Ministry, and we had to be discrete, but she could have said something, anything to acknowledge what we'd done, because we'd done quite a lot, if you catch my meaning. But no, flirt, flirt, flirt. And then she went home. On her own.
Well, I thought. That's interesting. I went home and went through it all again, to see what I could have missed, but nothing came to mind. I finally decided that Purdey had decided to sate her curiosity. Maybe she'd heard something really exciting from the typing pool about me and decided it sounded too good to miss, in which case I hoped I'd delivered. After all, it was just a matter of time, wasn't it? We had to have our turn at some point. I'd always hoped it would be a little bit more…permanent. But I wasn't going to push. I don't push. Definitely not with Purdey. So I figured that was that. And it was.
The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth, to be honest. I have no idea how long they held her without feeding her, but it must have been awhile. That made me angry enough, that and the fact that they'd been using her to get to Steed. But Steed made me even angrier. Because the bastard didn't tell me someone had Purdey. He told me that he was instructed not to, because I'd "rush in and get her killed." I could have hit something. I could have hit him. After all, he'd already done me that favour. He'd tried to tell me at the end, true, but by then, with all the evidence stacking up, it just looked desperate. But he could have told me from the start. If anyone wasn't going to get Purdey into trouble, it was me. I can be discrete. But no, he had to do it all on his bloody own, and after I had six kinds of stuffing kicked out of me to "get back my confidence," he was the one who got the hug, too. So I was a bit miffed with Purdey as well. But Purdey's one person I can't stay mad at for long. Particularly when she smiles at me that way. And she got Suzy or whatever her name was all placated, so all's well that ends well.
And I got to take Purdey home.
To be fair, I offered to take her back to her place, but mine was a bit closer, and she said she wanted to call her mother, let her know everything was all right after I explained I'd checked in. And that phone at Spelman's had konked out not long after Suzy had hung up. So she phoned and I went grocery shopping, because if I know one thing about Purdey, it's her appetite, and after being starved for who knows how long, I knew my larder couldn't take it.
I was right, because by the time I got back she was already raiding the fridge, not too successfully from the looks of things, and she just about attacked me when she saw the bags. We made something between the two of us. Don't remember what it was. Does it matter? All I know is the saying stops at "Kiss the cook." I don't remember any aprons embellished with the follow-up parts.
This time I made sure to wake up before her, but it didn't matter much, because she seemed to want to stay that time, anyway. She told me what Spelman and his goons had said, what they'd done to make Steed out to be the traitor. She also told me she hadn't lost hope, not in me, not in Steed, because we had a habit of coming through in the end. She couldn't quite believe I'd accepted Steed had turned, but when I told her how things looked from my end, she seemed to understand. Wish I did. We didn't really talk about the fact that we were having this conversation in bed. We could have had it at the pub, or at the kitchen table. But we didn't. And she didn't leave until noon, and only then because her mother was coming down to see her. I didn't ask if there was going to be a next time, and she didn't tell. But I hoped.
Hope must work, because Kane came back from the dead. Not that I was glad. Steed told me he was ready to finish Purdey just when he got in, and that made me walk a little unsteadily for a bit. And when Steed had Kane lifted out, he went with him, and left me with Purdey. I think that was the first time we actually both planned for it to happen. We didn't say it, not out loud, but her place was trashed, and I don't think she wanted to be alone. I watched her pack, and halfway through she started to shake. I couldn't blame her.
I held her. She stopped, eventually, or maybe because I was shaking, too, we cancelled each other out. And that time I kissed her.
And then I took her home.
It occurred to me after she'd fallen asleep that things had been a little different ever since the whole hostage incident. And by "things" I mean Purdey, of course. Looking back over the past few weeks after Steed's birthday, there'd been little signs that things had shifted. The first that sprang to mind was when she was tending my poor bruised and broken hand, the one I'd made the mistake of trying a chop on a cybernaut with. For one thing, she offered to tend to it, just the way she did with my war wounds from the Special 19th. But she'd been extra tender this time round. "Poor clever little fist," she cooed, and kissed it. That was two strange things—first, Purdey doesn't "coo," except when imitating a dove, and second, before our pair of liaisons, she certainly hadn't made a practice of kissing anything of mine. Ever. Well, except that night when we dropped her off before the S-95 incident, which kept me grinning for a month. But other than that, never. And here she was fussing over me and praising my efforts in the fight—"You dented him, Mike. You actually dented him!"—and offering up kisses. And of course, I didn't appreciate it at the time—in fact, I was downright chippy with her, and she didn't even bother being acerbic back. Well, except for that dig about my piano playing, but that's mild for Purdey. No, she just kissed and cooed and tended and bandaged me up. I would have noticed it earlier if my thoughts at the time hadn't consisted of "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! I hate my job. I hate my job. Hate, hate, hate."
I know. Ingrate.
But the more I thought about it, the more I noticed. Or at least, the more I analyzed. When she caught me "lurking" outside for Steed, and said I was looking for a massage, was she offering? And when I said there were others who would be happy to do the job, well, she said they didn't have her "agreeable nature." Did that mean she was jealous, or hinting that I could get something more from her? Did she think I was hanging about because I was hoping she'd invite me inside for go number three? And when she found out I wasn't wearing pajamas, what did that smile mean? "Oh, how cute, you still care. You know I've seen the important bits?" Or was she remembering the last two nights fondly? Or am I just reading too much into…everything? Wouldn't be the first time.
I started torturing myself with the guessing game pretty regularly after that. Was that a suggestion or just a casual quip, was she flirting or signalling? It's always hard to know with Purdey, but this just made things harder. All I wanted to know was why, why she'd chosen to start this up when she had, and why she only wanted to indulge occasionally. What was it all supposed to mean? She seemed to treat me differently sometimes, other times it was like the old days. She flirted with the other Ministry boys, too, and after a pretty healthy debate, and no more action on the Purdey front, I decided this meant we weren't exclusive. So when Penny Redfern happened by, well, I wasn't going to say no, was I? Besides, Penny was a great girl. A lot like Purdey in some ways, which probably explains a lot, but she was wonderful on her own terms. In fact, if there hadn't been a Purdey, I think I would have spent a lot more time with Penny. If there are alternate universes, Penny and I have probably been going strong for a year now, and she's got me taking her out for end-of-term dances. But there is a Purdey, and I couldn't just focus on Penny, and I think she knew that. Well, it would be hard not to. Before I met her, I'd been teasing Purdey a little during our bout in the gym, telling her about the date I had that night, which was pretty inconsequential, actually, but I wanted to see how she'd react. Well, all that about womanhood and purity—was that disgust or was she actually jealous? She didn't seem too annoyed when I got her between my legs—there's a sentence I don't get to say very often—but then she'd just been telling me about how she'd invited herself into Steed's for a nightcap, and I'd already gotten the feeling she was cozying up to Steed that night, right up until they found out his place had been trashed. That hurt a little, I'll admit, but I'm a big boy. Three times doesn't mean much, and I hadn't exactly been a good boy—when Mulford called us up and sent us off on that damned plane, I wasn't alone, and it wasn't the first time, either. But Purdey had always had a thing about Steed, and that made him harder to compete with than any random Ministry boy. I think that's half the reason I turned down her offer of another Purdka (the other half being that I don't want my liver to fail just yet, and I actually was thinking about Steed and the vandalism). But I don't think my attaching myself to Penny wasn't totally unrelated to what was going on with Purdey and Steed.
Which turned out to be nothing, in the end. Strange, but true. But I didn't know that, not at the time, so you can imagine how surprised I was when Purdey burst in unannounced. "Gambit, I need to talk to you—" That was as far as she got. Let me rephrase that last sentence. We were all surprised—me, Purdey, and Penny. Purdey figured out two things in record time—one, we definitely weren't exclusive, and two, she needed to learn how to knock. Because Penny and I were in a pretty compromising position. One that didn't leave much to the imagination. You know that old fib about "getting a splinter out of a girl's eye"? That works for stolen kisses in the corner. At no point does splinter removal also necessitate the removal of any article of clothing. If you know a way, I'll be glad to hear it for future reference.
So there we were—me, Purdey, and Penny, who of course had no idea who the mad blonde woman staring at us was. She'd heard me talk about Purdey, of course—in fact, sometimes Purdey would phone me in the middle of the night when Penny was there, and, well, I had to tell her she was my coworker, at the very least. I think Penny always knew there was more than that, though, because every time I'd hear Purdey's voice I'd scramble out of bed in record time, as though I was guilty of something. Which I wasn't. I mean, I couldn't be, could I? But the way Purdey was looking at us, I sure felt like it.
And the odd thing was, Purdey didn't make a quip, or scream, or laugh, or cry, or do much of everything, except say "Oh," and close the door as quickly as she'd opened it. This left me in a bit of a pickle. If I left Penny halfway through to chase another woman, that looked bad, not to mention really bloody insensitive, and I don't think I'm that much of a bastard. But on the other hand, it was Purdey, and everything else aside, I have to work with her every day.
And, on top of that, Penny told me to go.
I caught up to Purdey in the hall. I expected her to scream at me, or something. But she didn't. She was completely calm, and that was even worse. "It's none of my business, Gambit," she said, and kept saying it no matter how many times I tried to get a word in edgewise. The most unPurdeylike phrase in the entire English language. "None of my business." Everything's Purdey's business. It's one of her best and worst qualities. But she kept saying it until she backed into the lift and the doors closed. I should have been glad she was respecting my privacy, but it only made it worse.
By then all the neighbours in the other flats had come out to see what the fuss was about, and when they saw Penny waiting by the door, they drew their own conclusions, not unjustified by what they'd seen before, nor what they'd seen just now. Two girls, one big mess. They didn't need the details to get the picture. I slouched back inside to apologise to Penny.
She was waiting for me on the couch, wrapped up in my sheet. Against all odds, she smiled at me. I don't know what I would have done in her place, but it would have been a hell of a lot ruder than that.
"So that's Purdey?" she said, as though we'd run into her at the store or something else inane.
"So are you."
She smiled, but I meant it. I really did. Penny Redfern is pretty much everything I could ask for in a girl-beautiful, smart as a whip, compassionate, wicked sense of humour, just as happy to stay in as go out, not needy. In fact, if she has any failing, it's one that can't be helped.
She's not Purdey.
And she knows it.
"She's your colleague, isn't she?" Penny asked, as I went over to sit beside her on the couch.
"Yes," I said. "And friend." It sounded so pathetic saying it that way. We both knew that I wouldn't have chased Purdey down the hall if we were just good mates. But I couldn't bring myself to go any farther, because I'm still not certain what we are. How many times do you have to sleep together before you're actually lovers? And don't you have to actually acknowledge it in-between? "Close friends," I modified.
"I can tell," Penny said with a smirk, and I winced. She reached out and took my hand. "Mike, there's no point in dancing around it. I know you'd never set out to hurt anyone, and I certainly don't think you meant for us to end up this way."
"I'm sorry." There wasn't much else to say.
"You can't help how you feel," Penny said with a sigh. "I won't say I'm not disappointed. I don't know about you, but I enjoyed every minute. I haven't had this much fun with anyone in a very long time." She leaned in. "But all good things come to an end."
I think I'll always be thankful to Penny, because she seemed to understand, and pretty much told me to go after Purdey. She understood. I knew she would, somehow. Like I said, Penny's a great girl. She deserves better than me, someone not in my business, someone without a complicated relationship with someone else.
So I dressed, and I left. And I haven't seen Penny since. I knew I wouldn't. And the thing is, that made me sad.
But the idea of not going to see Purdey made me sadder.
Chapter 2: Love Among the Insults
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, and Penny Redfern. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended
Timeline: Takes place from the end of the final season one episode, "Dirtier by the Dozen," all the way through the entirety of season 2.
Beta by rabidsamfan.
Purdey had gone straight back to her flat, thankfully, and after I knocked long enough for half the neighbours to peer through their windows at me, she opened the door. She let me in, too, because they were starting to come outside to see the show. Everyone in the neighbourhood knows me by now. I'm turning into a fixture. The fixture that carried her out in her slip. I think half of them are fascinated with me and half want to see me arrested. I don't think they're necessarily different halves, either.
"Your friend will get the wrong idea if you keep coming after me," Purdey said.
"Right idea," I replied. "And I think she got it a long time ago. I wouldn't mind getting it myself."
"What do you mean?"
"Come on, Purdey." I was actually feeling a little cross with her. I mean, I'd just let Penny go, and she knew why. "We both know what's going on. Time to lay down the ground rules."
"I wasn't aware we needed any."
"Well, I've been flying blind, so I could use a few. You were upset just now, in the flat, no matter what you say. And you were surprised to see Penny. Nothing permanent was decided between us. We've never even talked about it. And I'll admit, nothing's happened for weeks. But you're upset and I'm upset. So come on, Purdey. What's the score? Are we or aren't we?"
"Are we or aren't we what?"
"Exclusive. Or want to be."
"Clearly you don't, if what I saw was any indication."
"You're angry. Admit it."
"All right. Maybe I am. That doesn't change anything."
"It sure as hell does." I was angry. I was also confused. I needed to know where we were. "You don't have the right to be angry. You've never said it was supposed to be just you and me."
"Did it ever occur to you that maybe I didn't want to say it?" Purdey yelled, going from cool to fiery in a split second. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I wanted to see what you figured out on your own, without being badgered into it because you felt guilty? I wanted to see what you'd choose, Mike Gambit. And I have."
"That's not fair," I countered, jaw clenched. "You haven't let us talk about this seriously. Not once. I never knew what page we were on. I'm always being thrown off-balance."
"Well, I know where we are now, and so do you. So why don't you go back to your little red-headed friend." She turned, and started to walk away. I couldn't let her do that.
"Dammit, Purdey, I only went with her because of you and Steed!"
That got her attention. She went stock still, and then she turned round, very, very slowly, like a car on one of those rotating platforms.
She actually looked puzzled this time. "What about me and Steed?"
"Well," I said, shifting a little uncomfortably, "aren't you and he…?"
"What?" She walked toward me, stopped a few inches away. "Sleeping together? Is that what you mean?"
I swallowed hard. There was nothing else to say. "Yes."
Purdey's frown deepened. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
I actually laughed that time. It was probably the wrong reaction, but the question seemed so silly I couldn't resist. "Purdey, come on, you're not going to tell me you haven't been cozying up to Steed? Hanging around his house all the time."
"I've always done that."
"Not this often. You've become an installation ever since Crayford..." I trailed off. I didn't really want to think about what Crayford had planned for Purdey, nor what would have happened if Steed hadn't walked in just in time. I still kicked myself for coming in late. Not only did it make me feel a damn fool, but it made me question my timing. I was so sure I'd make it to the top of that tower in time. If it had been down to me to save her, Purdey would be dead. Not a happy thought, and I've been trying harder since then. But I suppose if it had just been down to Steed when Purdey had been held hostage by Spelman, it would have been it for both of them. That's why it's better to have two of us—Steed and me—I suppose.
And therein lay the problem.
"I have not!" Purdey said indignantly, but she didn't say it like she believed it. "And even if I had, it proves nothing."
"Proves nothing? That's all you've been doing these past few weeks. Chasing after Steed whenever he's in trouble, running assignments with him, just the two of you. Nice and cozy."
"That's my job!" Purdey snapped.
"And I suppose the nightcap was, too?"
"Night-? Oh." She looked down, chastened. "That."
I felt bad bringing it up now, because she looked so sheepish, but I have eyes, and really, when she came right out and told me that they'd gone into Steed's place with no immediate plans to say good-night, what did she expect me to think? "Yes. That," I murmured, trying to be a little gentler this time round.
Purdey walked over to the couch and collapsed on it, putting her head in her hands as she sighed. "That one I can understand, sadly," she said, voice muffled by her hands. "Look, it's been hell ever since the new year. I got kidnapped, then we were in the plane crash, then you almost got your head lopped off…" She dropped the hands and straightened up. "I felt vulnerable," she said simply. "I just wanted to be with someone I knew I could trust. Someone safe."
"And I'm not safe?" I shouldn't have said it, but it stung. She'd slept with me already, more than once, and the world hadn't fallen down. Didn't that make me someone she could trust with her reputation, her body, her emotions? Her?
Purdey slapped her hands on the couch cushions on either side of her, and actually laughed. "You're too safe, Mike. That's the problem! Ever since we slept together, things have changed. I can't flirt with you without feeling something more."
Now this was interesting. "Like what?"
"Oh, I don't know." She got up and paced around. "As if…the brakes were off, and if we got a little too raunchy, we might get a little hot, and if we got a little hot, there wasn't anything to stop us going all the way. Not even me." She put her hands on her hips and faced me. "Do you understand?"
"I think so," I confirmed. "Is this why you've been keeping your distance the last few weeks?" It made sense, now that I thought about it. But I'd put it down to her wanting to be with Steed instead, and I'd decided my place wasn't to interfere, but to carry on. And I did—with Penny.
"Yes," she said miserably. "I'm not objective anymore, Mike. I used to keep us in line. That was my job. I was good at it. But I can't anymore. I've lost whatever reserves I had." She ran a hand through her bob, and the bangs flopped back into place untidily.
"You've been hiding it well." It was true, too. I hadn't suspected a thing.
She smirked ruefully. "Well, I'm a better actor than I thought, then. But I look at you and I weaken. So I thought, maybe if I was with someone else, it would get better. A sort of reset button. I'd move on, and you'd move on, and we'd go back to normal. There were plenty of contenders, but I knew I'd be safe with Steed. And maybe, the flirting would feel the same again. Because it'd be different between us."
I stuck my tongue in my cheek and shook my head in faint amusement. "Twisted logic." I winked at her. "Sounds just like you."
She snorted. "Not enough, apparently. We were interrupted because of the damage Crayford did to his house, but I don't think I would have had the nerve in the end. We never did go through with it."
"Not even last week?" I wanted to know, even though I was feeling the better for her denying my worst fears. "The clinch," I clarified when she looked puzzled again. "You and Steed. The maze. I came in and you couldn't spare me so much as a glance, even the way I was bleeding all over the floor."
"Oh, that," Purdey said disinterestedly, as though I were asking her how yesterday's cricket match had turned out. "I'd only just told him we'd slept together. And I said sorry for leading him on, because I did, really. I think Steed's suspected all along, but I thought he ought to hear it. Honesty in death, you know."
"That's what you were going to tell me," I deduced. "Just now. Back at my flat."
"Yes," she confirmed, flopping back down on the couch and stretching those amazing legs out in front of her, pondering her knees. "And that brings us back here."
We sat there for a minute, trying to figure out just where to go from here. Purdey played with the hem of her skirt. I scratched behind my ear. Somewhere outside Purdey's flat, the traffic was just starting to hit the afternoon gridlock. Not a good time to drive home. But I had plenty of reasons not to do that.
"What's so terrible about different?"
Purdey looked up quickly, dropping her skirt in surprise. "What?"
"You said things have changed between us," I repeated. "And that's why you went for Steed. How is 'different' a problem?"
Purdey squirmed a little in her seat. "Well, I don't know, it put me at a disadvantage."
"It shouldn't. You know you don't have to feel that way around me."
"I don't properly know what I feel," Purdey said in exasperation, throwing her hands in the air angrily. "And that scares me."
"I can understand that," I said thoughtfully. "I mean, I am pretty irresistible, and once you know what you're missing, I can imagine it's tough to think straight with me around."
Purdey started to laugh, long and hard. "I don't believe you sometimes, Mike Gambit. That ego of yours must be made of titanium. Nothing dents it."
I shrugged and grinned. "Just stating the facts."
"Oh yes?" Purdey flung herself up from the couch and stalked over. "Well here's another one for the record. It has absolutely nothing to do with you in particular. It's—" She broke off and started to flush. I arched an eyebrow in interest.
"Well, it's been awhile for me," she sputtered. "I'd feel the same way about any other man if it had been him."
"But it wasn't any other man," I pointed out. "It was me. Face it, Purdey-girl. Everyone has her breaking point. Yours just took a little longer to reach than most." I was only teasing, and she knew it, but she turned a very pleasant shade of pink anyway. Purdey's fun when she's indignant, particularly when it's over something inconsequential. Her fists clenched until her knuckles were white, and I could see her shaking with annoyance.
"You, Mike Gambit, are impossible. You really do think you're God's gift to womankind, don't you? Well, I have news for you." She jabbed one perfectly-manicured nail at his chest. "You're not anywhere near as irresistible as you make out. There are plenty of men out there who are just as good-looking and don't make bad jokes, or have affairs with fictional Russian countesses, or sleep in bloody retractable beds, or, or carry the entire female population of London's phone numbers around in their breast pockets. They're called gentlemen. And you could learn a thing or two from them about how not to make a girl feel like a notch on the bedpost."
"I've never made a girl feel like that," I snapped back, because that last one hurt. "Did you feel like that? And while we're on it, you're not innocent yourself when it comes to playing around with people."
Purdey blanched. "I beg your pardon?"
"You know exactly what I mean. That's your hobby. Wind me up and wind me down. You string me along just for fun. One day you're practically fluttering your eyelashes at me, the next you're ready to drill me in the shins. It's infuriating. And you love it! You delight in it. You flirt with anything in trousers when I'm around, and wait for me to pop. But if I so much as smile at another girl, you get all frosty. You did it when you saw Penny, and you did it a week after I met you. It's not fair."
"Fair? Fair? And it's fair that you went for the first redhead you saw, just because you thought there might be something between Steed and me? You couldn't have asked before you jumped in bed with her?"
"I didn't think it was any of my business. You may have heard of something called privacy? I respect yours. You don't seem to think I have any right to expect the same."
"I never butt in on your affairs. I have better things to do with my time."
"That's a laugh. You're obsessed!"
"Obsessed? Me? This coming from a man who never leaves home without a condom."
"And how would you know that if you weren't so bloody nosy?"
"You know what? You're right. Maybe I am nosy. Maybe we're both so incompatible that we just can't get along. Maybe that's our problem. After all, we're always bickering."
"We're from different backgrounds."
"Chalk and cheese."
"Apples and oranges."
"Explains a lot when you think about it."
I paused. "I mean, if it wasn't for the physical attraction…"
"Well, we can't deny that, can we?"
"Of course not. You've got the best legs I've ever seen."
"And you've got that wonderful curly hair, all black and shiny. I could run my fingers through it all day."
"Big blue eyes that I could swim in."
"Blue eyes that turn green when I watch."
"And your top one is bowed. I've always liked bow lips…"
"Not to mention your figure…"
"You're entirely too well-built for someone so slim."
"But it doesn't change anything."
"Not at all."
We both kissed each other that time, meeting in the middle and hungry for more. Don't lie—you were expecting it, weren't you? Two people sparking off each other, denying that they were in any way compatible, except maybe physically. No prizes for guessing that the physical bit is the one that is always going to spur things along, especially when there's a bit of bickering to get us started. We hadn't had a really good debate in ages, not since I'd become convinced that Purdey and Steed were investigating more than the assignments, and I think we were both going through some weird sort of withdrawal. We don't usually yell at each other when we argue, but maybe we were making up for lost time.
We sure as hell were now, if you catch my meaning.
I don't know if you've noticed, but all of our trysts up to that point had always taken place at my flat. I don't know if that was coincidence, but I tend to doubt it. I think Purdey came to the conclusion that it would be easier for her to leave than to shove me out the door with a cup of coffee. She was probably right, too. But we were in her inner sanctum now, and she didn't seem to care. Although I felt a bit bad myself, because the first thing you encounter when you come into my flat, other than the bar, is my couch. Whereas Purdey actually has a bedroom, and there's an awful lot of furniture between there and where we started off, halfway between the kitchen and the living room.
Oh, well. I'm pretty sure you can fix the coffee table, and that those porcelain figures are only a few quid at Marks & Spencer, so I don't think I caused too much damage. And we did get to try a few new things with her barre. Maybe I like the ballet after all.
"We're not doing very well, are we?" Purdey said when we'd finished, wiping the beaded sweat off the top of her lip.
"That's a matter of opinion," I replied, hoping that if I focussed on Purdey's ceiling, my heart would finally slow down. "I think we did very, very well, to be honest."
"Not that," Purdey snapped in exasperation. "I meant keeping the brakes on. That's what we should be doing, and we managed it for longer than I thought. But now…"
"Unstoppable force meets immovable object," I quoted, turning my head so I could wink across the pillow at her. "And I made you move."
She arched one perfectly-curved eyebrow. "How do you come up with that conclusion?"
"Well, I sure as hell didn't stop," I pointed out, and she actually laughed.
"All right. Maybe you're right, just this once."
"I don't believe it."
"Well, if you admit I'm right, then Hell must have frozen over. And I had it down for the new millennium at the earliest."
She shook her head. "Mike Gambit, you are impossible."
"Since we seem to be on the topic of impossible events," I said thoughtfully, "could I make a suggestion?"
Purdey flopped back on the bed resignedly. "There's not much point in trying to stop you, is there?"
I slid across the bed so I could be closer to her. Purdey has silk sheets, which weren't nearly as slippery as I would have thought, but they did cut down on the friction. Maybe I should buy a set for the sofabed.
"I know it's completely against the grain of our relationship," I began, when those big blue eyes were looking up at me, "but why don't we try being conventional for once? You know, have a go at a proper relationship. You and me, actually acknowledging what's been going on here, and try following that trend."
Purdey frowned. "Mike Gambit, are you offering to be monogamous?"
"Hard to believe, isn't it?"
"I should say so," she laughed, but I don't think she meant it. She quieted down after a moment and looked at me. Really looked. "It does seem a bit conventional for us, doesn't it?"
"I think we can survive on bit of conventionality," I replied, and touched her cheek. "How about it, Purdey-girl? You and me, a proper little unit. It doesn't have to be serious. We can do what we want with it-still go to the disco, laugh, have dinner. Or shag ourselves rotten until we're both sick of each other."
Purdey laughed her wonderful laugh. "That sounds…like you, actually. I like it." She nodded. "All right. Let's give it a try."
"Good. Because I think you need it."
"Because if what you said is true, you've been depriving yourself for much, much too long. You need someone to make you feel special again."
Her smile was sweeter this time. "You always make me feel special, Mike. That's why I've always hated the other girls—they cut down on the one-on-one time. Who else was going to call me 'Purdey-girl' and talk with me about old movies?"
"Well, that's another reason to go for it, then. I'll clear my schedule." I winked at her. "I'll be yours, only yours, if you'll have me."
"All right," she laughed. "Now come here and seal the deal."
I did so, eagerly, but before I could really settle in, I needed to know something.
"Did I really make you feel like a bedpost notch?"
"Never," she assured. "I didn't mean that. I don't think you're capable of that, Mike Gambit. You make every woman feel special. It's one of your best qualities."
"Some are more special than others, though," I murmured, and put actions to words.
And so began what I can honestly say were the happiest few weeks of my life. In some ways nothing changed at all, except for the fact that we got back in our old groove from 1976, before the whole Steed debacle. We started working together better, got more in sync. But then we'd always run around finishing each other's sentences—and lunch—so when we were on-duty there was nothing terribly unusual about what went on. It was the off-duty activities that made a change.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking we didn't get out of bed from Friday night to Monday morning. And you'd be wrong. We had to eat sometime. No, not really. I'm just bragging. In fact, we spent a lot of time together that wasn't confined to the bedroom at all. We just enjoyed each other, the way we always knew we could, but had never been able to, not with Purdey always "putting the brakes on," as she said. We seemed to be laughing all the time, or at least smiling. It was just so much fun. And the longer things carried on, the funner it got.
And I fell in love.
Truth be told, I think I've always been in love with Purdey, but I could never, ever really admit it to myself, mostly because things never seemed particularly hopeful, and I had to keep myself sane somehow. After all, here was a girl I saw on a regular basis, flirting with other blokes right in front of me. If I'd gotten really maudlin, I'd have been a puddle on the floor, and there's nothing attractive about that. But now, with the walls down, I could let myself feel…everything. And that included love. And I felt a better man for it.
And I know it sounds soppy, but I think I was good for Purdey, too. She had always been a great girl, but there was this little corner of her that was perpetually locked away, a place where she would hide away and fend off everyone else. But as time went on and things kept getting better, she opened up, as though this dark little corner of her mind had finally let the light in, and she was better for it. And I couldn't help but feel that I'd done that, that I was the reason she started unleashing fewer putdowns and defense mechanisms. She was always going to speak her mind—I wouldn't have it any other way—but she wasn't doing it just to hurt anymore, only when there was a reason for it. We really were sickeningly happy. I don't know what I would have done if we'd carried on that way. Maybe something mad like propose. But I'll never know, because about six weeks after we made our little agreement, the proverbial spanner was thrown into the works, and screwed everything over very, very badly.
Chapter 3: Love & Death
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, and Larry Doomer. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended
Timeline: Takes place from the end of the final season one episode, "Dirtier by the Dozen," all the way through the entirety of season 2.
Beta by rabidsamfan.
It started off as just a mild glitch. One beautiful June morning, Steed rang me and said he had a special surprise planned for Purdey, and asked if I wanted to be in on the presentation. He knew what Purdey and I were up to, and anyway, we were a team, and all celebrations are better with three than two. So I got dressed and headed for the stud farm, where Steed described the prize: the "plum job," one of those cushy Ministry assignments that were more play than work. He outlined the itinerary, and I had to admit, if I were 29 and female, I'd go for it like a shot. All she had to do was hang about sipping champagne and keeping an eye on an Emir while getting her nails done. Sounded pretty good to me. I thought Purdey would be ecstatic, and I even promised to let Steed do the honours and break the news. After all, I didn't have to squeeze out reasons to get Purdey to hug me anymore. Chances were I was going to be celebrating with her later regardless of who broke the news.
I can still see her coming in the door. "You're very, very happy," she observed, smile tugging the corners of her mouth. We were all grinning pretty good, to be honest. "You're so happy because you're glad to see me." That was aimed at me, I know.
That was probably the last thing she said to me before everything started to fall apart.
Steed went over to her, and we gave her the spiel. She was excited, I could tell, chewing her lip with anticipation. That is, until Steed showed her a picture of the Emir.
At first I thought she was frowning because she thought it was going to be a tougher job than she thought, so I went over and put my arm around her and assured her that no one would be able to get within ten miles of His Nibs without his security men picking up on it. But then she dropped the bombshell. She turned it down. And she left. She shrugged Steed off, and, to make things worse, she shrugged me off.
"I don't want to do it."
Steed told me to leave her alone, but I just couldn't do that. I knew there was something very, very wrong, and it ate at me. Maybe I should have listened, but I went straight on to her flat after I left Steed's. Maybe that was my first mistake.
I opened her door and peeked in. She was sitting at the kitchen table. There was a picture in a frame sitting in front of her, and she was staring at it, completely oblivious to my existence, which was odd in itself, because Purdey's instincts are good enough that she should hear a door open. But I had to say something before she so much as glanced up.
That got her attention. She slapped the photo face down hurriedly, and her eyes were bright with anger and…fear?
"Can't you knock?" she snapped, which was odd, because we'd been wandering in and out of each other's flats without knocking for weeks, so why she thought I'd start now…
"Sorry," I said anyway, closing the door behind me. "I was just wondering…I mean, you seemed upset back there. Anything you want to talk about?"
"No," Purdey said firmly, hugging herself tight.
"You're sure? I know that look, Purdey. What's wrong?" I started to walk toward her. I was really starting to worry. She was awfully pale, and I knew she hadn't been that way when she walked into Steed's. But she didn't seem interested in talking. "What's the picture?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"No!" she screamed, slapping her hands on top of mine just as I touched the frame. I pulled back, more out of sheer surprise than anything else.
"Purdey, what-? What is it? What don't you want me to see?" I made another move for it, but she got up like a shot and intercepted me, hands thrusting me away.
"You can't!" she yelled.
"Purdey, I know you're hiding something. Let me see the bloody picture!"
"You CAN'T!" Purdey really screamed this time, and pushed with all her might, hard enough that I staggered back and ran into the counter.
It didn't hurt, really. It hurt more when she pushed me into that door after she found out Mike Gambit and Terry Walton were one and the same. But I was so surprised that she'd shoved me that hard that I guess I may have looked as though I hurt, because Purdey suddenly got whiter, if that was possible, and looked as though she was going to be sick as well. She went from angry to repentant in one second flat.
"Oh, Mike, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean—oh, what have I done?" She was touching me now, anxious, worried hands scurrying all over my face and body. "I'm so sorry." She must have said it a hundred times, alternated with my name. "Mike, please, I didn't mean it."
I reached out and touched her cheek, and I could feel she was shaking. "Purdey," I said, caressing her jaw, trying to calm her down. "What's wrong?"
"I didn't mean it—"
"I know you didn't. What's wrong? Why did you turn down the job?"
Her eyes darted around frantically. "I…I can't tell you that."
"Why not? Is it me? Did I do something wrong?" I couldn't think what I could have done to hurt her so badly, particularly in the last two hours.
"No, it's not you. It's never been you. It's me. It's always been me. Please. Just go. I need to sort this out for myself."
So I went. I don't know if she knew it, if she could see the way things were inevitably going to turn out, but that was the beginning of the end.
I went home and spent the day beating myself up over whether I'd handled it all wrong, whether I'd gotten too pushy with Purdey just because we'd gotten so close those past few weeks. The next day, Steed called and told me Purdey had requested that the pair of us run separate assignments, just for awhile. He asked me if we had a falling out. I said no, it hadn't been quite like that. Hell, what did I say? Something about space, or a breather. I don't even remember now. Too many other things happened too quickly. All I know is I made up my mind then and there not to bother Purdey again, not to impose myself unless she actually asked for me. Maybe that was the right decision, maybe it was the wrong one. I'll never know, because shortly after that, there was a fire on a RAF base. And Steed, naturally, could only bring one of us to investigate. I think we both agreed Purdey needed some reason to get out of her flat, so he chose her. I figured that, if she couldn't talk to me about whatever was bothering her, maybe she could talk to Steed. Again, it's handy having two of us where Purdey is concerned.
I wasn't expecting to hear much more about it, other than a call from Steed for a rundown on the details of the file, and maybe how Purdey was doing, but I certainly didn't expect the knock on my door, nor who I'd find on the other side. Purdey, dressed in a white pantsuit, moodily pondering the floor. She looked up when the door opened, and her blue eyes were uncertain. I guess she didn't know how I'd react after what had happened earlier. But I wasn't going to be anything but understanding and supportive.
"Purdey…" I didn't quite know how to open, so I tried the obvious. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"No, I don't suppose you were." She looked down again. "Can I come in?"
"Of course." I stood aside to let her. "How did the fire investigation go?" I asked, thinking the assignment would be fairly neutral ground.
"I don't want to talk about the fire," Purdey snapped quickly, shoulders tensing up.
"All right." Clearly nothing was a safe topic for conversation. "What do you want?"
"I want a drink," she declared.
"Coming up." I knew how to do that, at least. I went behind the bar and started finding the ingredients. "Gin. Bitters. Ginger ale. Am I on the right track?"
"Like a bloodhound." She threw her purse carelessly on the counter and climbed on to one of the stools, watched me mix. The ritual was soothing for both of us. "Do you know you always get the proportions exactly right?"
"Well, I've had a lot of practice. And maths always was my best subject." I felt brave enough to wink at her, so I did, and she actually smiled back, which was encouraging. I slid her drink across to her and put the caps back on the bottles while she had a healthy pull. I didn't know why she was taking the fire so hard, so I assumed it was me that was making her nervous. I leaned forward and put my arms on the counter. "Anything you want to talk about? I promise I'm the most discreet bartender in town."
She ran her finger along the rim of her glass. "I don't doubt you'll listen," she said quietly. "But I don't feel like talking about much of anything at the moment."
"What else don't you want to do?" I asked, then elaborated when she looked confused. "I'm sensing a trend. Maybe if we find everything you don't want to do, we can eventually narrow it down to something you do want to do."
"I don't want to go home," Purdey volunteered, eyes coming up to meet mine, dark and anxious.
"You don't have to go anywhere," I assured her. "You know you can stay wherever you like as long as you like. In the guest room, on the couch, without me. Your choice."
She smiled and ducked her head again. "Thank you. I knew you'd give me a choice. You always do. Not like…" She paused, swallowed, and I can see she was thinking of someone else. "Not like some of the other men I've met."
"Well, we can't all be gallant, although I have to admit, my reasons aren't always pure." I smiled at her, and she smiled back. It was so good to see her smile at all.
"They're pure enough for me," she said, reaching out to touch my cheek. "Really."
"Well, I'm glad you think so." I moved around the bar and came to stand behind her. "Anyway, whichever bed it is you want, I can make it up, and you can sleep whenever you like. I'll keep quiet, and—"
"Gambit," she said suddenly, breaking my train of thought.
"You did say you wanted to know what else I don't want?"
She slid off the bar stool, and stepped in close. "I don't want to be alone," she whispered.
In retrospect, I knew there was something horribly wrong, even during the sex. There was something in her eyes that told me this was going to be the exception, not the rule, but I didn't want to see it, so I pretended it wasn't there. I wanted to think about Purdey, and how I was terrified I was going to lose her a few days before, and how everything seemed to be righting itself again. But this wasn't any ordinary encounter, and I think we both knew it, deep down. Which was probably why I said what I did, because I know I wouldn't have under ordinary circumstances, certainly not that soon.
She was lying in my arms, quiet, holding me tight. And out of nowhere, there was my voice.
"You know I love you."
It was the truth, but I certainly hadn't been planning on saying it at that moment. But for some reason, I thought it was important she knew. Just in case I never got another chance to tell her.
She snuggled closer. "I know you do," she whispered
I don't think I actually expected her to say it back. Purdey was very careful about the love issue, and I'd come to the conclusion she'd been burned in the past. I had no idea how right I was, but I was willing to wait for her to come around. After all, I'd waited this long to get this far. Patience is a virtue. I didn't say anything more about it.
The next day we woke up and she seemed a little more cheerful, and I took that as a hopeful sign. She relaxed, started smiling again, teased me a little, and we had one of those comfortable days hanging around the flat, eating, reading, watching telly, and generally enjoying each other. The only time she seemed to deflate was when I talked about Steed's party, which was planned for the next day, and even then she bounced back pretty fast when I started asking her what she was planning to wear, and whether my jaw would be on the floor. She said something about me having a one-track mind. Fair enough. I like women, I like well-dressed women, and I really like well-dressed women named Purdey. She laughed, but I know she took it as a compliment.
Looking back, I don't know how she managed to be so lighthearted, considering what—or should I say, who—was going to be showing up at Steed's the next day. Maybe she pushed him from her mind, and just focussed on me instead. Maybe that was why she didn't go home, so she didn't have to think about it. Maybe she thought Larry wouldn't show, or that it wouldn't be as bad as she thought. All I know is, we both managed to delude ourselves right up until the last few minutes before the guests arrived, and I got a little fresh on Steed's veranda while she poured the champers. That spill on the tablecloth was all my fault, but neither of us seemed too worried about it.
She was good once the party started, too. Steed had inevitably roped her into serving, meaning I was on idle chitchat duty. General Canvey and a handful of other friends and higher-ups. Not my favourite group of people, but pleasant enough, and Purdey was always wandering by to offer up full glasses, so it wasn't as though I was completely deprived of stimulation.
Then he showed up.
"Berlin," Steed murmured in her ear, and I broke off from Canvey and went over to investigate. Purdey was standing stock still, but I couldn't figure out just who she was looking at before Steed muttered something about it being a couple of towns in Germany, and steered me off to speak to some ambassador about my time driving in the States. Race car enthusiast he was, I wasn't able to keep tabs on Purdey, my number one fan always managing to stand in my way and block the view. By the time I broke away, Purdey had disappeared backstage, to the veranda, and a man in a grey suit had followed. I figured he was a guest wanting to top up his drink. That theory went out the window the second I stepped outside.
"Everything okay?" No, it sure as hell wasn't okay, not if Purdey's frigid expression and stiff posture was anything to go by. I was on my guard immediately and walked right in. This was the angry Purdey from the photograph business, the one that had dropped by my bar.
"Everything's fine. Larry and I were just reliving old times."
Reliving? She knew him? And judging from the way she flounced out, "old times" hadn't equalled "good times." That made me really look at him, look at this man who had obviously done something awful to Purdey. My Purdey. I don't often go in for possessiveness, but I didn't like the man in the grey suit, and I wanted to make sure he knew that messing with Purdey meant messing with me as well. He could have done himself a favour and introduced himself when I did, but he didn't. "I'm Mike Gambit, friend of Purdey's. A close friend." I don't know if he made the connection, if he automatically thought I was a good friend, or a jealous lover, but the message was clear enough: stay away. Stay away, or I will make you. I made sure I never let him out of my sight again, not through the whole rest of the party. Purdey made a joke about sunbathing au natural, and seemed to be doing all right, so I relaxed a bit. And when Larry Doomer left, thankfully, I relaxed even more. After all, he didn't make any moves on Purdey when she went over to check on him after he dropped his glass, and believe me, I was watching.
Naturally as soon as the guests were gone, I went back to see what it was all about. Not that I didn't have some idea. That frosty, that angry about "old times," a boy and a girl? Not exactly rocket science. I tried to be as gentle as I could while I watched her put the bottles away. "An old friend? Except you didn't look too, uh, friendly." Snap. "Childhood sweetheart. You used to go for that type, eh?" Used to being the operative word. Because now she didn't go for men in grey suits. She went for slim blokes with dark curly hair, about six feet, Irish on their granny's side. She was past all those old flames. She had me now.
"Look, Gambit, as you're so interested, I will tell you. It's none of your business."
And then Canvey turned out to be missing and we all got distracted. Or Purdey distracted us.
Sometimes I wish I knew what I do now, so that when Larry asked Purdey "Belong to someone here?" I could have walked over, put my arm around her, and said "Yes," and made him go away right then and there. But that wouldn't have stopped the missile, wouldn't have saved all those lives.
But it would have spared Purdey's heart. And mine. And I feel selfish enough some days to wonder if it was a fair trade.
Steed knew everything, of course, because when Purdey wants to talk, and she can't tell me, who does she go to? Steed. Steed knew…well, not all; that's not fair. But a hell of a lot more than I did, and I was the one sleeping with her. That sounds selfish, too, but I really wish she had told me. Of course, Steed knew that. He knew I'd try to protect her from Larry. To scare him off. To keep her from scaling the wall. Maybe that would have been wrong of me. But I think he could have given me a little credit, because I've been over the wall a few times myself. Steed took three bullets and a fractured thigh. I took three bullets and left half my blood in East Berlin. If I'd gone back over, the next bullet would have been in my brain, because they've had me on their watch lists ever since. All I'm saying is, sometimes you do need to face your fears to survive.
But sometimes it's just suicide. And I really do wonder if Steed got it right that time. Working from the same information, I wouldn't have done the same thing. And with the rest of the story, with the knowledge that Purdey had suffered more than a standard broken heart, I think my idea would have been better.
But we'll never know, will we?
Because Doomer died. I killed him. And a little piece of Purdey died right in front of me.
I've replayed that scene in my head a thousand times, and each time I see her, standing there, gun pointing at Doomer, hands shaking. And I see Doomer, matching her point-for-point, gun pointing right at her, finger on the trigger. His hands aren't shaking. He's going to fire. I know it. I know he'll shoot Purdey dead if I don't do something. So I do. I make a choice. I shoot. I kill. For her.
But she runs for him.
"You shot him! You shot him! ARGH!"
She screamed it, right in my ear, as loud as she could. It hurt, but the words hurt more. I grabbed her, held her as tight as I could, listened to her scream and sob until the missile blew the Rover to bits and drowned it all out. She was calm after that, but I'm not sure I liked it much better.
"What if it had been me, Purdey? What would you have done?"
"I don't know. God help me. I don't know."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for me versus Larry, is it? But I wasn't thinking about that just then. I was thinking about Purdey, and how small she looked, bowed, walking across that field. I would have followed her, but Steed stopped me. I suppose he was right. It was probably best to leave Purdey alone, but it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, just let her go, let her walk away. Steed made me walk back to get my Rover, since his had been blown to bits, and there was no way for him or East to leave or contact a clean-up crew. That must have been the longest walk I've ever had, because I couldn't see half the time for the tears and I kept stopping and straggling off course. By the time I managed to get the Rover and drive back, Purdey was gone, and so was her motorbike. "She's gone home," Steed said simply, and he made sure I stayed there long enough to give her a head start. He didn't need to tell me to leave her alone—he knew I knew what he was going to say. But he also knew that there wasn't much he could do to stop me, short of handcuffing me to the steering wheel of my own car the way I had Kilner and Morgan. But he could delay me, and he did that very well, kept me busy seeing Doomer's cronies into custody, and providing a statement. The one thing he didn't make me do was have anything to do with Doomer's body. He had been Purdey's past, but Purdey was my present, and that was too close a connection. I'm grateful to Steed for that, grateful for understanding. Steed does a lot of understanding. Sometimes I wonder if I'm worth it.
I gave him a lift back to the Ministry. It was the least I could do. He had a car there, and he wanted to clear up a few things first, namely Purdey's sabotage of the Rover's tyres, and what Commander East was going to say about it. He told me to get some sleep and to try to not beat myself up over the whole mess. He knew that was a pretty tall order, but I told him I'd try. Turns out neither of us believed it. We both know me better than that. And so I wasn't terribly surprised when I found myself parked at a curb outside Purdey's flat, rather than mine. It was probably wrong, and stupid, and intrusive, and selfish, but I couldn't help it. I couldn't just go home and sit and think about what she was doing, what she was thinking. I went down and rang the bell. I felt sick, felt as though I was going to throw up all over my shoes, felt like I was going to pass out in Purdey's stairwell. I was so sure she was going to scream, or slam the door in my face, or give me a high kick under the chin or, or…I don't know. But not be glad I was there. And I don't know that I was totally in the wrong. Purdey wasn't in any shape to be happy about anything when she answered. Her face was red and streaked with tears, and every time she breathed it came out as half a hiccup, and her whole body shook. She took one look at me with those red, wet eyes, and said one word.
And threw her arms around my neck, buried her face in my chest, and started crying all over again.
I don't know how long we stood there. Long enough for the neighbours to start peering at me again, and since I was pretty much a fixture by that point, you can imagine how it looked. Awful bastard ladies' man Mike Gambit has broken the heart of local lovely Purdey, the nice young woman who waved at everyone and asked after their relatives. I didn't really care what they thought of me, but I didn't really want to have the police called over it. So I gave Purdey a little nudge, and she nodded and took me inside.
"Purdey, I can go…you don't have to…"
"No, it's better you're here," Purdey choked, wiping away more tears. "I-I have to tell you about Larry."
"Purdey, no, it's none my business."
"It is. It was your business the instant I agreed to try conventionality with you. And I should have told you what was going on right from the start. You need to know why."
And she told me. Oh, the things she told me. Some of them made me want to start crying again myself. Some of them made my blood boil. But she told me everything, told me the story of a very different young woman, a woman broken by the death of her father, with only her love of dance to sustain her. And she told me about a man, a man named Larry Doomer, who took care of the young woman and promised to protect her and make her happy. She fell in love with him. And she took his ring.
It was so hard to believe. Purdey. My Purdey. Liberated, beautiful, strong, tough, no-nonsense, mad, practical, flirty, funny, wonderful Purdey. And she hadn't just had a summertime romance with Larry Doomer. "Childhood sweetheart." That was my guess. I never imagined…I don't think anyone had imagined that once-upon-a-time Purdey had only wanted to wear white and marry the man she loved, move into a dream house, buy a dog, and bear the children of the man in grey. That man—Doomer—had been her life, her hopes, her dreams. She wasn't supposed to be here, with me, pouring her heart out. She wasn't supposed to be racing around the countryside shooting people with a couple of blokes who were just as likely to pick up a couple bullets as take her out to dinner. She was supposed to be cooking dinner while two or three kids ran around her feet, chasing the dog. This wasn't the Purdey that she had intended to be. This was a woman forced to be this way because of what had been done to her.
Oh yes. What he'd done. I remember the red filling up my vision when she told me how Doomer had…I can't even think about it. The thought of anyone raising their hand to a defenceless Purdey made the bile rise in my throat. The first thing I wished was that Doomer wasn't dead, that I hadn't killed him, so I could grab him by his throat and throw him up against the wall, and ask him how it felt to be thrown around by someone else, ask what he thought gave him the right to slap women around, and then…
I'll stop now, because my fantasies get pretty damn graphic. But just as quick, I knew that in a sick, twisted way, I had Doomer to thank. Because he made Purdey. He moulded her into the woman she was today. Every playfully defensive put-down to keep me and every other man in her life at arm's length could be traced back to him, every flash in her eyes when some unfortunate sod managed to hit her, every skill she had picked up to make herself self-sufficient, all of it was a direct result of what Doomer had done, combined with the death of her father. It was him. He had created her, and he had thrust her into our arms, directly or indirectly. If it hadn't been for his quick, violent temper, I never would have met the most wonderful woman on the face of the planet, wouldn't have laughed with her, danced with her, fought with her, loved with her. And that was just it. I loved that Purdey, the one he had made. And because of that, she had started to show me the other Purdey, the vulnerable one she had buried so many years ago, but never been able to completely smother. It was that Purdey that had been surfacing in recent weeks. She had opened up to me, shown me all. Even that little dark corner had started to crack open. Now I knew the truth about it. Because Doomer had taken his creation away again.
Larry Doomer was the little dark corner. Purdey had let me in, and he'd locked me out again. I know you're supposed to have rivals and face-off for the hand of your paramour, but you're not supposed to literally kill them, not in this day and age.
But that's what I'd done. And something else had died with him.
"Purdey, Purdey, I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault. None of it."
"All the same. Please, don't hate me."
She shook her head, tears pouring down her face. "I can't hate you because of Larry, Mike. I never could."
"But…?" I knew there had to be a but. Her face told me as much. I felt sick again.
She sniffled and looked away. "I can't hate you because of Larry, Mike. But because of him, I can't love you, either. Do you see?"
The world went a little spinny when she said that, I have to admit. I hadn't expected her to address what I'd said a few days earlier so soon, and for it to be so…so raw. I thought maybe, maybe I could convince her otherwise when she seemed undecided, but then I thought we'd have more time, and less…Larry.
But this was the end of time. For us.
"Purdey, I know you're upset, but aren't you—"
"There's nothing left to be said, Mike. I can't change the past, but the past changed me. This just proved that I was right all along. I'm sorry you had to be dragged into this. I'll understand if you hate me."
"Purdey, I can't hate you. I—you know why."
"I do. And that's why I have to let you go. I'm so sorry, Mike. I'm sorry I dragged you in."
"Please, Mike. Go. I can't think about this anymore."
I didn't want to leave. I wanted to throw myself at her feet and beg her to take it all back, to tell me it was going to be all right. I wanted to tell her I wouldn't leave until she did. But I know when I'm beat. And I can be a gentleman, a man, when I have to. I can switch off, at least for a short period of time. So I did. And I went. Went home to the emptiness in my gut, my head, my heart.
I wanted to die.
Chapter 4: How To Deal
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, Dr. Jeanine LeParge, and Larry Doomer. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended
Timeline: Takes place from the end of the final season one episode, "Dirtier by the Dozen," all the way through the entirety of season 2.
Beta by rabidsamfan.
The first thing I did when I got home was crack open the Scotch. I know, I know. It doesn't solve a thing, and, as Purdey would be quick to point out, I always wake up with a headache and a hangover afterward. But right at that moment I didn't want to do the sensible thing. I wasn't even thinking straight. I didn't know what was best when the whole world had been torn out from under me. All I knew was I wanted to be numb, and that was my best way to get there.
Contrary to what some people like to say, I can hold my liquor. It's true, Purdey does even better with a fraction of the body weight, but I'm not exactly tipsy after two cocktails. But by the time the doorbell ran I'd had a lot of time alone with the Scotch. Eight, nine, something like that. I was drunk. Sloshed. Plastered. Fill in your own word for it. They all fit. I hadn't been that shit-faced in a very, very long time. I don't make a habit of it anymore, not the way I did in my navy days when it was almost as intoxicating to just be getting away with downing a few at the tender age of 14. I don't find I enjoy it as much as I used to. I'm getting to like remembering the night before more and more.
I must be getting old.
Anyway, this meant in spite of how much liquid courage I had sloshing around in me, I somehow managed to answer the door. It took a little longer for me to figure out who it was, though. Everything kept swinging back and forth with the alcohol in my stomach. I was lucky it wasn't an enemy agent, because I would have been dead before I knew what was happening. I was in no shape to defend myself, and I wasn't even sure at that point if it was worth the effort.
Luckily for me, it was Steed.
Unluckily for Steed, he got to deal with me.
"Gambit." I could focus enough to see his frown, and he winced when he smelt me. "I'd ask how you are, but I won't make you state the obvious."
"Good." I turned sloppily and staggered back inside. "Whaddaya want?"
"I was on my way to check on Purdey, but I thought I'd stop in on you first." Steed closed the door behind us and made his way over to the bar, where my almost-empty bottle was sitting, waiting for me to visit it again. "It seems it was a good thing I did. You smell as though you've been fermenting in a barrel."
"I know." I staggered over and collapsed on the couch. "But don't worry. Purdey wasn't drinking."
Steed arched his eyebrows in alarm. "You went to see her?"
"Yep." I nodded clumsily, but that made me dizzy, so I stopped. "She tol' me everything."
Steed looked even more concerned. "Everything?"
I smiled up at him sloppily, but there were tears in my eyes. "She left me. Or I left her. Her flat. Y'know." I scrubbed at my face. "Said she can't be with me, after Larry."
"I see." Steed said quietly. "That's that then."
I got angry then. Really angry. That was it? I'm sorry? After all I'd been through? After all Purdey had been through? And now it had all been torn apart, and Steed was sorry? The rage bubbled up in me, fuelled by hurt, and I directed it at the man who seemed easiest to blame.
"You should have told me."
Steed was obviously distracted, but he snapped back from whatever he was thinking to focus on me.
"Told you what?"
"About Larry. What Purdey told you."
"She hardly told me anything. I deduced. And I think she wanted to keep it under wraps. She knew how you'd react if you found out she had encountered an old lover. I knew. It didn't seem the best course of action. And there didn't seem to be any pertinent reason why you should be involved."
I sat up straight, fists clenched. Anger was overcoming alcohol, and I was having flashes of sobriety. "Of course I'd react! I'd be right to react! Purdey was facing him all on her own, and she should have had someone to support her. That's why you should have told me. We were together. I should have known about him. I should have been there for her, not stumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out what the hell I'd done wrong and how to fix it."
Steed shook his head. "She needed to face him without you getting in the way of things. She needed to do it on her own."
"She shouldn't have done it at all! Look at the way things turned out. She was dragged through hell and back today."
"We had no way of knowing what Doomer was planning," Steed said levelly. "But Purdey needed a chance to get past him on her own terms. It's the only way to heal."
"No, it's the wrong way to heal," I snapped back. "It wasn't healing at all. Maybe you felt better going over the wall again, but there are times you should just leave the bloody wall alone, or at least take someone with you for back-up."
"She didn't need your help! She was doing just fine on her own. She didn't need you rushing in and making things worse."
"I have never made things worse. Do you honestly believe what Spelman said? That I'm so rash I'd rush in and get her killed? Do you have that low an opinion of me? Because I would do anything in the world to see to it that Purdey wasn't hurt—not by anyone, including Doomer."
"You may not have meant to hurt her, but you would have made things worse by interfering."
"Worse? WORSE? How?"
"By keeping her from making peace with Doomer. To prove to herself she could do it, she needed to do it on her own."
"Just because it's difficult doesn't make it wrong. You have to stop protecting Purdey when she doesn't need it."
"He hit her, you bastard!"
Steed's eyes were surprised, I don't know if because of what I called him, or because I'd screamed, or what I'd revealed. Probably all three, but I think the latter more. I was drunk and hurt, and I think he knew I wasn't thinking straight, that it was the Scotch and pain talking. But the last bit? No excuse there.
"She was engaged to him," I choked, everything pouring out like a wave. "They were a few weeks away from getting married. She was going to settle down, build a dream house, have a couple of kids and a dog. Then his father was killed and he went off the handle, tried to kill the emir. Purdey stopped him, and he slapped her around for it." I wiped my nose with my sleeve. "I don't care what you say. Putting an abused woman with her abuser isn't a way to make her brave. It's torture."
Steed looked genuinely disturbed. "If I'd known…"
"Now you know how it feels. The reason Purdey needs protecting, the reason she can be so vulnerable, is because of Doomer. Do you know that's why she's been so reluctant to be with me? Because she was terrified of getting hurt?"
"I didn't." Steed actually looked sorry now, but I was too tired to care.
"Well, you do now, not that it matters. Like I said, she's broken things off. I was the first man she'd been with since Larry, and from the looks of things I'll be the last." I sniffled. "And that's the last you'll see of us."
"If that's true, I doubt it. There must be something more, something stronger than anything Doomer can destroy. Why would Purdey take a risk with you if you were someone she could leave so easily?"
"That," I said, "is the million pound question."
Steed must have got me to bed, because I woke up tangled in the sheets, with a splitting headache and a liver about to explode. I spent the rest of the morning in the loo being sick. Keith Richards, eat your heart out.
We spent a few days moping around in our flats, until Steed finally got sick of us and decided that, when there seemed to be a chance to catch the Unicorn, Steed's old French nemesis, Purdey and I were going to help him do it. He came by my flat and issued an ultimatum—buck up and work with Purdey, or take a desk job and resign from field duty, and he wasn't going to let either of us do the latter quietly, so we both agreed. All I asked was that, when Steed decided two of us should go to collect intel and one should stay behind to track the Unicorn if he fled, that Steed take Purdey with him and leave me at home, just so I could buck myself up again. He agreed.
It made things easier. I could work, get back in the swing of things without worrying about Purdey. And by the time I did see her, on the plane to France, we were deep into the assignment and making plans, and there wasn't much time for us to stare at each other awkwardly and make inane comments. Although the first time I saw her, how thin and tired she looked, and saw the way she looked at me, all wrung-out and weary, we both had a moment's pause, and sort of gaped at each other. What had we done? More importantly, what were we going to do? But Steed had us both at work pretty fast.
We were a little cruel to each other at first, I think, mainly because we were both hurt, and we knew the other was hurt, and we sort of blamed ourselves for it, and when we're angry at ourselves, we tend to lash out at others. Which was probably why Purdey needled me when she knocked the Unicorn out, and when I protested that I had him, she told me sarcastically to finish my "brilliant victory." Also why she called me a "cheat" when she caught me with an extra gun. Why I teased her about the merits of French girls. But at the same time, I couldn't be totally angry with her. I still loved her. I knew it, and she knew it. And when the Unicorn, even chained up, started to work his charm, reached out to touch her, I walked between them, to keep him from laying a hand on her. Jealous? Protective? Probably all that and more. Because in my head, she was still…mine. It wasn't logical, but that was how I felt. He was a slimy git, anyway. I wouldn't have wanted him near her no matter what was going on. It was a pain he ended up dead, though, because then we got to spend much, much more time together guarding the body. I'll tell you this—dead bodies don't make for pleasant-smelling roommates, and it was amplified by the fact that none of us had a change of clothes. We couldn't trust someone to bring us any, because there might have been some sort of bugging device sewn in, and we couldn't risk that. We didn't want to go outside if we didn't have to, either, just in case one of us was grabbed. We sent Purdey on one grocery trip, in the end, but she had to keep it quick. There was a shower, so we could keep clean at least, but still, anyone's trousers would get a bit ripe after spending three days and nights in them. But the smell seemed tolerable compared to being locked up with the woman with whom you've just broken things off. We did try to keep our minds off things with the assignment, but there was still downtime, and that meant we had to find ways to avoid each other, hard in a cramped space. There were only two bedrooms. Steed and I took one, Purdey the other, and we traded off guard duty, watching the body to make certain no one found out our precious cargo was dead. I had night watch the last evening we were there. I still remember sitting there looking at the Unicorn under that rug, and hearing footsteps, bare feet, on the floor behind me, turning to see Purdey, looking waiflike in her tights and t-shirt, having gotten rid of that awful vest. Not one of her best sartorial statements. I always think Purdey herself is gorgeous, but her clothes this time, less so. Couldn't see them as well in the dark, thankfully—colour combo was enough to blind me. Now I was only focussing on how thin and small she seemed.
"Can I join you?"
"If you like. Company's not up to par, though." I pointed my chin at our late lamented Unicorn.
"The living company is," Purdey said quietly, settling down on the floor beside me. "Gambit, we can't go on like this. I don't want you to hate me."
"I don't hate you," I said simply, eyes straight ahead. "Might be easier if I did. But I—well, you know how I feel."
"Yes. Mike, I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
I sighed. "I know. But it does hurt. Still, it's not your fault. Larry wasn't your fault. But I still miss you."
We sat in silence for a moment. Purdey fidgeted. I stewed.
"Maybe, someday, I'll be able to let you in again."
I turned to look at her for the first time. "What?"
"Maybe someday I'll be able to come back," Purdey explained. "To you. I miss you, too. I miss….I miss turning over at night and feeling you beside me." She looked down. "I miss you in the morning."
I was shaking, full of hope. "Are you saying…? Do you want to…?"
"I don't know," she said quickly. "Not now, anyway. Don't get your hopes up. In fact, I want you to carry on as if I'm never coming back. Go out with girls. Lots of girls. Have a life. Try to find someone. Enjoy yourself."
I laughed, but it sounded more like a sob. "Never thought I'd hear you say that."
"Neither did I, but I have to. I can't let you wait any longer. You were right. It's not fair of me to hold you back just because I don't want anyone else to have you, even though I won't have you either. Forget about me, Mike. I won't interfere, I promise. Not unless I'm truly ready to come back to you."
"And that could happen?" Her mouth was inches from mine. I wanted to kiss her, hold her, carry her off to bed, make love to her, remind her what she was missing, urge her to come back, beg her. But I wouldn't, I couldn't. Because Purdey is her own girl, and no matter what I did, she could never come to me except on her own terms. I think that's part of the reason why I love her. So I settled for hopeful eyes.
"Maybe. Someday." She was holding my gaze, and I swore she could read my mind, all the things I wanted to do. I think she may have wanted to do them, too, but she got up and left before our discipline could break down. I was left with our dead friend.
The next day I was so distracted by our little conversation I kept getting Purdey's lift instructions backward, doing the opposite of what she wanted. I had hope with Purdey now. She said 'maybe.' 'Maybe' meant there was a chance we could salvage things. And that meant it was easier to work together in the meantime. Hope works all kinds of miracles. I took Purdey's advice and joined Steed in the red light district to celebrate. She went on to the ballet without us. But she was smiling when she left. She was all right. I was all right. We were all right.
By the time we got back to London, things were approaching "normal," a new sort of normal where Purdey and I could actually talk to each other, joke and flirt, without worrying about hurt feelings and old wounds. It was almost as though we'd hit the reset button and gone back a year, before things had gotten complicated. It was a relief. I think I was little giddy with it, making the odd quip about her legs and so on. I mean, there was always the possibility Purdey would decide to pick things up where we left off, but until then, we could still have a good time together, could still work well with Steed and each other, still get the job done and go out for a celebratory dinner afterwards. And I remembered what Purdey had said, about me carrying on without her, having a life. We found ourselves back in France soon enough, and there was always the promise of French girls. It was a strange assignment—cold storage Russian soldiers, suddenly popping up all over, shooting up old targets, and then keeling over from old age, almost instantaneously. We started to accumulate these quick-aging bodies, and that meant we got a whole morgue to ourselves, and I was the one who got to visit the coroner about his findings. Her findings, as it turned out. Dr. Jeanine LeParge was very French and very attractive, and very interested, so I thought, why not? Nothing like a little Anglo-Franco relations to keep diplomacy running smoothly. We should collaborate more often, if you catch my meaning. And Purdey had given me free rein, so…
All the same, when Purdey and Jeanine crossed paths, I winced a little. "Hello Mike!" Jeanine said, oh so perky and in her lovely accent, and I jerked my head toward Purdey, who was looking a little pinched. Jeanine must have noticed, too, because she quieted down, and started sizing Purdey up. Watching two women compete over you can be fun, but not when one's Purdey, because inevitably I end up getting the worst of it. "Total degeneration," Jeanine explained, indicating the dead soldiers. "Gambit's speciality," Purdey quipped. Thanks for that, Purdey-girl.
It didn't stop me taking Jeanine out once she got off-duty, though. I wasn't going to let Purdey go back on her word and push me around. She had promised after all. We had a whole afternoon planned…well, afternoon that reached into evening. We planned ahead. Jeanine was an organized girl.
We'd just finished lunch and were on our way to the cinema, but I thought we'd drop by the café where I knew Steed and Purdey were having lunch. Just to be friendly. All right, maybe I wanted to see how Purdey would react to seeing me with another woman, too. I know, I know. It sounds petty. But I still had hope that maybe Purdey wasn't as convinced we couldn't work out as she thought. I hoped I could get a rise out of her.
Well, it worked. Sort of. No sooner had we stopped by the table, but Purdey had gotten up, plopped Jeanine down in her seat, and grabbed my arm to drag me off.
"She's with me," I protested, as Purdey led us past the cafes toward the street.
"Steed's a gentleman," she declared.
"That's debatable." Steed was too much of a gentleman-that was the problem. He could gentleman himself right into Jeanine's flat, where I was supposed to be. Still, Purdey had clearly dragged me off. She'd gotten rid of Jeanine, and was holding my arm very possessively. And she had said she wouldn't interfere with me and other women unless she wanted me back. It seemed like all my wishes were coming true.
I said something about Paris finally having got to her head, put my arm around her, and gave her a quick once-over. "You're finally going to let me…"
"Work." I froze. I was going to say "back in," but from Purdey's expression, this wasn't just some new euphemism for what we could do in the bedroom.
"Work?" I was scowling and I knew it, voice gruff.
"Work to do," Purdey confirmed, and explained how we had to stop Steed worrying. I suppose she had a point. I mean, there were some strange things going on with that assignment, and Steed did seem exceptionally concerned, so Purdey's motives were honourable, I suppose. But I can't deny I felt cheated. Misled. Manipulated. Annoyed. Of course, things got busy and I couldn't sit around and sulk—Purdey held at gunpoint, Steed nearly killed, the French president almost assassinated, and I managed to pick up two bullet grazes, one for each hand. Steed took one in the arm in the end, making it one of the worst assignments we've ever had for damage, and I was so giddy at having everyone make it through alive that all I could do was drink champagne and laugh when it went up my nose. And anyway, Purdey had hugged my arm again when we were walking home from the girly shows. Things weren't that bad.
It was three weeks later that the doctor phoned, and after I managed to pick up the receiver, he told me I could come in and have the bandages taken off. I told him I could take care of them myself, but it took me forever just to get the kitchen drawer open and take out the scissors, let alone try to cut them off. I could only get two fingers in the handle, and all I managed to do then was jab the other hand. I was cursing under my breath when I heard a snicker, and looked up to discover that Purdey had let herself in while I was preoccupied.
"Mike Gambit, I've seen you try some things, but this…" She indicated my current position, one hand flat on the counter, the trying to grip the scissors and twist them sideways. "Is this some new form of training I haven't heard about, or are you thinking of becoming a contortionist?"
"I'm thinking about committing murder with the scissors," I retorted, a little embarrassed. "The bandages are ready to come off, but, well, I'm long on persistence but short on manoeuvrability."
Purdey chuckled. "So I see. You shouldn't be allowed near sharp pointy objects when you're in one of your moods. Here, I'll cut you free."
"Thanks," I muttered, handing the scissors over as best I could. I knew I was going to stab myself if I kept up like that, and Purdey was my best hope.
I sat down on one side of the kitchen table, and Purdey sat across from me, took my left hand in hers and started to cut away at the layers of bandages.
"You could have gone to the doctor's," she pointed out. "Would have been much easier."
"You go to a doctor for one reason, and you end up staying for six. I've got better things to do with my time, especially when I've got a nurse on hand."
Purdey chuckled. "Well, I don't have the uniform—"
"Which may be your only flaw…"
"—but I do have experience with the patient, so maybe it's just as well." Purdey set my left hand down and moved to my right. "You and Steed had quite the time in France, didn't you?"
"Picking up bullets, not girls, sadly. But look at it this way—Steed will be needing your healing touch next."
"I thought you were the one with the healing hands?"
"They need to heal themselves before they can start spreading their gift. And these are stiff." Purdey had cut all the bandages away and she put the scissors to the side. "Hope I'll be able to shoot again soon."
"You'll be fine," Purdey said knowingly, taking each of my hands in one of hers and massaging the stiff joints. "Or you had better be. I'm not transcribing any more of your reports. I'm not your secretary."
"And here I thought we were having fun roleplaying."
"We've already played that game," Purdey reminded, looking down at my hands, not me. "I shouldn't be so cruel, though. This one did save my life." She took my right in both of hers and started rubbing harder. "That was still the stupidest, most ridiculous, most beautiful thing I've ever seen, you deflecting that bullet with the handle of your gun. How did you manage it?"
"No idea. I'd been taught it could be done, but not often. I was lucky."
"I'm grateful all the same. Poor, clever little fist," she cooed, and kissed it, once on the knuckles, then the back, then farther down on to my fingers. Gently. Carefully. The way she had the day I'd dented the cybernaut. The gesture I was certain was meant to convey more than simple admiration of my technique. Well, that technique, anyway. Was Purdey trying to signal her interest? She certainly seemed to be enjoying herself. I felt encouraged. Take it slow, see what happened.
"What about something for the fist's clever little owner? After all, it was only obeying orders."
"I've done plenty for him," Purdey said pointedly, smiling against my knuckles.
"All right. Then what can he do for you?" I reached my left hand, the one she wasn't holding, up, and ran it along her jaw. She stopped massaging, and her eyes followed my hand.
"I thought it was stiff."
"I'm exercising it. Carefully. Starting with gentle curves."
"Mike…" The blue eyes were bright with regret, and awkwardness. I froze.
"I've gotten it wrong again, haven't I?" I murmured, feeling both humiliated and hurt. I was so sure. It just showed I still had hope.
"I think we may have gotten our wires crossed," Purdey agreed, cheeks heating.
I looked at her hands around mine. "I just…I thought…I mean, the way you were carrying on…"
"I wanted to thank you," she cut in, not unkindly, "for saving my life. You were my hero that time. I wanted you to know that, know I appreciate everything you do for me."
"So you don't want to…to go conventional again," I said bitterly, chastising myself.
"Mike, I told you—"
"You did. It's just me being stupid." I pulled my hand away from her face, extracted the other from her grasp. "I've got to go. Thanks for cutting me loose."
"Mike." Purdey rose as I did, eyes searching my face worriedly. "I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd put so much stock in it."
I put on my best devil-may-care smile and winked at her. "No harm done. You know me. Always looking for an opening."
She put her hands on her hips impatiently. "Mike Gambit, I'm not stupid. I could see what you were doing. You were—"
"I was doing what I always do. Flirting. That's how it goes, Purdey-girl. I set it up and you knock it down. Just like old times. I'm used to the rejection." In more ways than one.
She looked really worried now. "Mike." She reached out and caught my arm. "If you're really that upset about it, we should talk."
"Nothing to talk about. You're taking it all too seriously, Purdey-girl. Don't look at me like that. I'm fine. Everything's fine. But now I have to go." I grabbed the car keys and opened the door. "Lock up when you leave," I told her, and closed it before she could protest, hurrying toward the lift in case she gave chase, taking deep breaths all the way. I was never going to fall for that one again. Purdey, despite what she had said in France, was never coming back. I had to get used to that, had to get used to the old status quo where we flirted like there was no tomorrow, but never did anything about it. So no matter what she did, what she said, I promised myself I wouldn't let myself fall for it, even when Purdey seemed to be signalling. My heart couldn't take it, and neither could my pride. I would keep myself sane and never let her know the full extent of what she'd done to me. I nodded to myself. It was a plan.
To Canada. Our contact in England was murdered before he could tell us who top agent Scapina was, and Purdey was shot in the process. Thank goodness it was only a graze in the arm is all I can say. Not my favourite assignment in the world, probably because I spent a good chunk of it in a cell. I've had better times than being locked up and forced to listen to bad Bond jokes from some halfwit member of the OPP. I don't know what Canadian law enforcement has against me. Purdey says it's my face. I told her never to go into comedy.
She wasn't laughing when she figured out Scapina was actually the Canadian security building, which she just so happened to be in, less so when said building took it upon itself to try and dispose of her. That really was terrifying, for all of us, knowing she was sealed inside, and we were stuck out there, and there was no way to reach her in time. If Steed hadn't come up with the smoke idea to set off the fire system, she probably would have suffocated. As it was, she only got wet. And, her outfit being made of white floaty stuff, it turned see-through. I offered her my jacket, for cover if not warmth, and when we got back to the hotel, she tried to take it off and give it back.
"Keep it. You're not dry yet." I nodded pointedly at where her top clung to her torso. Purdey looked down and shrugged, laughed a little.
"Nothing you haven't seen before," she quipped.
"No," I agreed, quite seriously. "But it's not something I have the right to see now." I turned quickly, and opened the door. "You can return it before dinner."
I shut the door before she could answer, and let out a long breath. She just didn't understand. I couldn't see her like that, not casually, not now. I know I was always looking for an opportunity to see more of her before, but that was before. Now all I saw was a girl that I once had and lost. I was coping as best I could, pretty well I thought, but that meant I had to think of Purdey as a friend and only a friend. Her tempting me, even inadvertently, just made things worse. I needed to avoid it every chance I got. I had made myself a promise, and I was going to stick to it.
I did, too. That assignment with the car—Emily. Who names a car Emily?—I spent most of the time in the back seat with Purdey, and even with her incredible shrinking outfit, I didn't quaver once, not even when I admired her legs. Same went for driving her around when we investigated Sminsky's lot, not even when she reached in my back pocket to take out my ID and show it to the police. In fact, we were getting on pretty well, and I was starting to feel like my old self again. But if it's not one thing, it's another. Isn't that how it always goes?
Chapter 5: Ghost From the Past
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, Tommy O'Hara, Peters, and Larry Doomer. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended
Beta by rabidsamfan.
O'Hara. In all my years I never thought I'd see him again. It might sound ridiculous, but in some strange way I'd forgotten all about him, the way I'd forgotten about that chapter of my life. Or tried to. I'm not proud of my mercenary days, and I try to think about them as little as possible. Being paid to kill people isn't really an honourable profession. I know you could say what I'm doing now isn't much different, but it is. As an agent, I only kill when it's absolutely necessary, and while it's always possible I'll have to end a life, there are just as many assignments where no one dies by my hand. The point of the assignment is to save lives, not end them. But as a mercenary, it gets turned on its head. The objective from the outset is always to kill. You go in knowing it's a certainty that you'll pull the trigger at the end. And you do, over and over and over. I quit because I couldn't take it anymore. Not because I broke down at the crucial moment, something that happened to some of the other men I knew. No, I didn't break down. In fact, I was the exact opposite. I was brilliant at it. I could shut all the other parts of my brain down, and make the kill, calmly, coldly, clinically, without choking, without turning away, without caving in. And that was why I had to leave. Because I was too good at it. And that can't be a sign of a normal, healthy individual.
Granted, the blokes I killed weren't exactly shining pillars of the community, and they deserved everything they had coming to them, just the way the enemy agents do. But that doesn't make it better on the long lonely nights when you start questioning your own morality. Since I joined the Ministry, I haven't been thinking that way. I think about the assignment, or how nice it'll be to have a break. And I think about Steed, how he's a good friend and a good man to have on your side, because you sure as hell wouldn't want him against you!
And more and more, I think about Purdey. In fact, Purdey's pretty much crawled into my brain and set up a homestead, particularly since we…well, you know.
But even Purdey couldn't block out O'Hara, and the way he sneered at me when we went back to collect him. O'Hara had been a rival mercenary, another killer for hire. The difference between him and me is pretty easy to mark out—I killed…well, it wasn't just for the money. I think I felt a bit the vigilante, to be honest. But O'Hara, O'Hara killed for fun, because he enjoyed it. I'm not surprised he teamed up with Sminsky. Not for the cash, although I doubt it hurt, or the glory to be had from sabotaging the intelligence services, but for the chance to learn 101 new ways of hurting and killing people, and the chance to put theory into practice. It sounds straightforwardly evil, so different from what we do, but O'Hara was always surprisingly good at getting under my skin, and he didn't fail this time, even handcuffed in a secure cell.
"You're no different than me, Gambit. You're in it for the thrill, the chance to put your life on the line. To fight. To win!"
"I'm doing it because there's scum like you around, and I've had enough experience dealing with people like you that I can make a difference."
"For Queen and Country, then? That's it? Ha!" He glanced at Purdey. "You're telling me you don't do it for the thrill? Because you can drive your car fast and shoot and prove that that black belt of yours isn't just for show? You don't do it to impress the girls?" He looked Purdey up and down, and licked his lips suggestively. "Not that I'd blame you if you did…"
"Shut it!" I don't raise my voice very often, but O'Hara just wouldn't stop looking at me with that smug grin on his face, or at Purdey like she was the evening's supper, to be chewed up and spit out when he was finished with her. I knew what O'Hara was like with women, and I doubted he'd changed much. In fact, women were the reason we'd bashed heads to begin with. Without getting into the gory details, O'Hara just wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, no matter how many times the barmaid said it. And when he followed her into the back room, I just couldn't turn my head and go on pretending I hadn't seen a thing when I knew very well what was going to happen to her. I knew O'Hara was a bastard and a killer, but I steered clear of him because I didn't need an enemy, and anyway, he was killing the same quality of character I was, so it wasn't as if anyone who mattered was getting hurt. I know. I hate the rationalisation almost as much as I do my ability to come up with it.
But that girl wasn't a crimelord…
I'm tall, but I'm not husky. Much flexing in the mirror at 14 left me with the conclusion that I was never going to be the next Johnny Weissmuller or anything. And really, I don't mind being "lean and lithe," and that my muscles get wirier the stronger they get. But O'Hara's a big bloke, and sometimes it would be nice to be a bit bulkier if only because size can sometimes speak louder than words. I don't think it would matter with O'Hara, though, but I did feel a little sick when I called him off and he turned my way. I only managed to figure out that I'd come in before any damage had been done. That's about when O'Hara did a damage to my nose. As in broke it.
I honestly couldn't tell you to this day how I beat him, but by the end he was on the floor, and I was so bruised and battered that I couldn't see for the sweat and blood. The police dragged O'Hara off, half-conscious and almost foaming at the mouth he was ranting so hard. I knew he'd get out sooner rather than later, because people like him always do, and this wasn't the most law-abiding town on the African continent. And I knew when he did, he'd come after me.
And he did.
He was clever about it, too. Figured out who I was meant to kill, and did it first. Then he waited for me to show up. I honestly don't know why his blow from behind didn't break my neck, or at least crack my skull. I don't know how I managed to get away when he had his foot on my windpipe and everything was going black. All I know is I came to, and I had my knife to his throat, and I was snarling like…I don't know what. I don't think I've ever heard even an animal make a noise like that.
And I was ready to kill him, I really was. Maybe even in a nice, slow way, so I'd enjoy it, and he'd pay for all the suffering he'd caused. And the thing was, O'Hara looked scared. O'Hara wasn't scared of anyone, certainly not me. All he wanted was my head on a spike. I don't know how I must have looked then, but it must have been terrifying because O'Hara was definitely frightened. And if someone that twisted was that afraid of me, I knew something was wrong, and that if I didn't want to take over for him, I couldn't kill him.
So I ran for it. I told him I was getting out. I told him not to follow me, not to so much as show his face anywhere near where I was. I told him I wouldn't be so merciful next time.
And do you know something? I meant it.
So when O'Hara made one last disgusting comment to Purdey, exactly the way he had to that barmaid, I lost it. I don't remember what he said, or much of anything. But suddenly O'Hara was thrown up against the cell wall with a bloody nose, and Purdey was screaming for me to stop, and I felt….I felt…
Dammit. I felt alive. I admit it.
And O'Hara spat blood and looked at me through blackened eyes, and asked "You gonna keep your promise, Gambit?"
I was horrified, I really was. I hadn't thought I could lose it like that, not again. That was a characteristic from another time, another place. Another man. I like to think I'm pretty disciplined, that I can rein in my temper when I have to.
But when it comes to Purdey, I guess I'm not as rational as I'd like to think.
"Mike." Purdey's hands were on my shoulders, and I could hear yelling from outside, and people flooding in through the door. Steed, and Peters, and probably two or three RCMP, all talking at once, the officers screaming for me to step away slowly, and Steed trying to step in on my behalf, not entirely successfully. I have a really bad record with the Canadian police after all those assignments. I doubt they'll ever let me back in the country again, which is a bit of a shame, because there are one or two pubs in Ottawa I'm a bit fond of.
But I wasn't thinking at all that point. All I knew was I wanted out—out of that cell, away from O'Hara, and Purdey's eyes, wide with shock, and all the yelling. Away from my past.
I went back to my hotel room, and got through half a bottle of Scotch with all the lights out. Getting to be a habit, I know, but then I'd never been quite right since Doomer died. By the time Purdey found me I was curled up in a bottle in the far right corner with my head in my hands. I knew it was her the instant she stepped inside. I know her perfume, and I know her gait, and I could hear the way she moved, even on the carpet. And when I felt the fingers pry my hands away from my face, there couldn't be any doubt. Those fingers have touched me a hundred different ways, and I still marvel at how elegant they feel, how strong and sure they can be one time, how light and caressing the next. I can't fight them, just the way I couldn't fight her voice when she told me to open my eyes, and I saw those bright blue pools almost glowing in the dark. She was kneeling in front of me, and her dress flowed onto the carpet and disappeared into the dark. She looked like some sort of ethereal forest creature, here to help the lost traveler who had strayed into her domain by accident, and now didn't know how to leave. I didn't know what to say, what to do. The Scotch had kicked in by this point, and I wasn't thinking too clearly. So I said the only words that came to mind.
She frowned. "For what?"
What did she mean, for what? "For losing it like that," I explained, as though it were obvious, because it was.
But she just smiled, and shook her head. "He deserved it, the way he was going on, and from what you've told me about him, he should have gotten it a lot sooner."
"He did," I mumbled, trying to force my brain to focus. I used to be able to drink more than that without getting that mixed up. Seriously, I must be getting old. "I did that to him before. Why do you think he tried to kill me?"
Purdey actually laughed a little. "I see you haven't changed."
I winced, so hard that Purdey quit laughing and put her hands to my temples, started massaging away the tension. "Mike, what's wrong?"
"That's the point," I told her, closing my eyes against the headache, and putting my hands around her wrists for something solid to hold onto. "I haven't changed. Years ago…I lost it, as bad as I did just now, and I thought…I thought I was better than that. But I wanted to kill him just now, just the way I did all those years ago." I sighed and let my head fall back against the wall. "He's right. We're the same. I've been lying to myself all this time."
Purdey scrunched up her face in annoyance. "Is that what's been bothering you all this time? You think you're like O'Hara?"
I scowled at the ceiling in response. Purdey made an annoyed sort of 'tsking' sound, and shook her head.
"Mike Gambit, do you honestly think that you're like Tommy O'Hara for the simple reason that you lost your temper with him?"
"No, I think I'm like Tommy O'Hara because he was right. I do like the thrill, and I can lose it and kill someone and…and maybe even enjoy it. I wanted to kill him, Purdey. I did."
"But you didn't," Purdey reminded. "Not now. Not all those years ago. You do this job because you want to serve, and yes, because you get a thrill out of it. We all do. Steed, me, everyone. Doing something worthy and enjoying it doesn't negate the worthiness."
"But I wanted to do him in so badly. I wanted…"
"Mike, listen to me," she said quietly, and I obeyed. "I know you're a good man. You're nothing like O'Hara. Do you understand me?"
"How? How do you know?"
She reached out slowly, carefully, and slid her hand between my jacket and my shirt, to rest right against my heart. It was pounding and I could feel it press against her palm. I looked in her eyes.
"I know," she went on, "because Mike Gambit has a heart of gold, and he'd never hurt anyone without good reason, would never kill unless it was absolutely necessary, would never lose control to the point that he started doing more harm than good. I know what's in here, Mike."
I shook my head. "No one can know everything about a person."
"I know enough," she countered. "I've worked with you. I've danced with you. I've made love to you. If I knew you any better, I'd be you. And that would be awkward. I hadn't been with anyone since Larry, and you were the one I finally trusted in the end with my heart and my body. That must be worth something."
"Yeah," I agreed, feeling a bit better. "But there are still better men than me out there."
"Maybe," Purdey agreed. "But I haven't found them yet." She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. "You're a good man and a gentleman, in every sense of the word. Don't let O'Hara drag you down to his level. You're better than that and he's not worth it." She rose and turned to leave.
She turned back, met my eyes.
She smiled. "Any time." And then she was gone. And I put the Scotch away.
I didn't think anything of what had happened, not in terms of Purdey and me and our failed romance. I saw it as a good friend bucking up another good friend when he needed it most. Even when she touched me, I hadn't found myself reading more into it, trying to convince myself that she was trying to signal for me to make the first move. I was so proud of myself, proud that I was getting past it. I couldn't change how I felt about Purdey—I never could. But I was able to carry on without turning into a complete wreck every time she said or did something to remind me of what I'd lost. All through the Forward Base assignment, I found myself settling easily into the status quo, companionable conversations and even more companionable silences. Purdey and I worked and gelled and got along brilliantly, without so much as a hint of sour romance ruining the fun. Well, I did push for the "lovers on the bridge" cover at one point, I'll admit, but it was more a bit of fun than anything. Maybe I did want to remind myself of how Purdey felt in my arms, but I was in control of myself, my body, my thoughts. Maybe part of me wanted to see if I could take it without cracking. I did. Purdey seemed a little more discombobulated by it, but I thought that was because I hadn't given her much warning and she'd been wrongfooted by it all. We forgot about it soon enough, either way, and I managed to show up just after Purdey stepped out of Forward Base—the concealed peninsula—holding the Russians at gunpoint. Steed had the Canadian navy in, and I'd called RCMP Security Service not long after I'd heard my man's confession, so we had plenty of back-up, and we didn't have to stay long for clean-up, either.
By the end of the day I was exhausted. We'd done a lot of running around, following threads since early in the morning, and much of the assignment had taken place over the course of only one day. Not only that, but I was fighting a mild bit of jet lag, and I hadn't been able to catch a decent night's sleep the past few days. I settled down on the bed in my hotel room with a paperback after dinner and decided I'd read until my eyes got too tired and I fell asleep and stayed that way out of sheer exhaustion. I was two chapters in, and things seemed promisingly drowsy, when I heard a knock. I was already nodding off, and it jerked me awake with a start.
"It's me." Purdey's voice filtered through the door. I yawned and stretched, wondering what she wanted. Oh well. Better now while I was still reasonably lucid.
She opened the door a crack, peered inside, and looked at me, I suppose to see if I was decent. Or alone. When she saw I was still wearing my shirt and trousers, and my only company was Fleming's You Only Live Twice, she opened the door the rest of the way and came in, closing it behind her. She leaned back against the wood, looking at me. I looked back.
I waited a minute, and nothing further came. I raised an eyebrow. "If you came for conversation, then I get the feeling neither of us are living up to out halves of the bargain."
She smiled slightly. "Well, that's all right. I had a particular conversation in mind, so you won't have to be terribly creative."
"Oh good. I'm starting to have trouble with Fleming, so I'm clearly not firing on all cylinders." I brandished my book as she approached, and she smiled as she settled onto the edge of the bed.
"I thought you'd had your fill of Bond. You've read them all."
"I like escapism."
"What escapism? You live like Bond every day."
"I like escapism I can relate to." I put the book facedown, open, so as not to lose my page. "What can I do for you, Purdey-girl?"
She swallowed nervously and started to pick at the blanket. "I wanted to ask you something," she said quietly, but with a certain force that made it sound as though it was a struggle for her to say it.
"All right," I said carefully. "Ask."
She looked up and her eyes met mine. Serious eyes. "Did you mean it?"
I frowned. "Bit short on the details. Did I mean what?"
She looked exasperated. Or was it embarrassed. "You know what—the argument," she said impatiently, but more as though she were impatient with herself for being unable to spell it out better.
My frown deepened as I thought. Argument, argument. I should know this one. There's always a method to Purdey's madness, a clue somewhere along the way to what she ends up referencing, especially if it's personal. "Ah, the one from last Tuesday?" I could tell by her expression I was right. Score one for Gambit. "What about it?"
"Did you mean it?" Serious eyes again. Tread carefully, Mike.
"Just in general, or did you have a particular bit in mind?"
She flushed a little. "I did, as it happened. You said no man would up and leave a woman, not if he really cared about her. Do you really believe that?"
"Does it matter if I do?" I queried, sitting up a little straighter against the headboard.
"It does to me." Anxious hands, worried hands, hands twisting at each other. She really was upset about something. But why this? The argument? It didn't seem like enough.
"Is that really why you're here? Just to ask me that?"
"What about the other part?"
"That depends on what your answer is."
"All right." I shrugged. I didn't know what was going on her head, and it was useless to try and figure it out. The best thing to do was be honest and play it as it went. "I meant it. I don't think any man could just leave a woman, no matter how tough or unpleasant things got. Not if he really loved her. He may have thought he loved her, but if he can just walk away, then he's been deluding himself. Love means taking the good with the bad, and carrying on when it'd be easy to walk away." She was looking at me really hard, and I went back to her original statement. "All right. I answered your question. Now it's your turn. Why are you really here?"
She was looking at me with a sort of awe. "That's really what you think?"
"That's really what I think."
Her eyes softened, and against all odds, Purdey grinned. "Well, in that case, I'm here to seduce you."
Chapter 6: The Answer
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, and Larry Doomer. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended
Beta by rabidsamfan.
I blinked. "Come again?"
"That's the general idea," she said huskily, crawling up the bed toward me. My jaw dropped as I watched her, as I felt her straddle my lap and watched her hands plant themselves on either side of the headboard. I didn't know what to think, what to say. My mind was spinning and my body was shaking, but Purdey didn't make me wait too long for an explanation.
"Purdey, what are you-?"
"I made a mistake," she said simply, looking deep into my eyes. "A horrible, horrible mistake."
I swallowed hard. "You did?"
"Yes. Mike, those few weeks we had together were some of the best of my life. I don't know when I've been so truly happy. Certainly not since my father died. And that was because of you. You were the reason I got up smiling every morning. You were the reason I started to really relax and let my guard down for the first time in…well, it may sound overdramatic, but it's been years."
"So I was right," I said quietly. "I thought—I thought we were good together, good for each other."
"We were," she agreed. "We are. And like an idiot I walked away from it all and let you go. And I've been regretting it. I thought I could get past it, get over you, the way I forced myself to get past Larry, although I don't seem to have done too well in either case, have I?" She looked down, eyes bitter with self-recrimination.
I shifted uncomfortably, not sure how to react. Was Purdey looking for me to put the brakes on, or did she genuinely want me back?
"Are you saying you want to try again?"
Her head snapped up excitedly, eyes bright with hope. "Yes, Mike. That's exactly what I'm saying. I want our little bit of conventionality back. I miss it terribly."
"What about Larry?" I pointed out, not unkindly. It was a fair question. After all, he was the one who tore us apart to begin with, made it so hard for us to get together the first time around. "You said…you said you couldn't…be with me, because of him." I couldn't say "love." Her words still hurt too much, even paraphrased.
She shook her head. "Larry's already taken enough from me—youth, happiness, confidence. I can't let him take you, too. One of the best things that's happened to me in years." Her eyes went soft, and she leaned in to kiss me, but I turned away, reaching up to grab her wrists and pull her hands off my face, push her away.
"I can't do this," I said quietly, gentle but firm.
Her eyes were huge and moist, blinking at me in disbelief. "What…?"
"Purdey, you can't do this to me. I don't know if you noticed, but I didn't take our last parting very well. You broke my heart, Purdey-girl. I know you didn't mean it. I know you had your reasons, and I respect that. But it's taken me months to not let my imagination run away with me and get my hopes up every time you look my way and smile. It's taken me this long to be able to enjoy you as a friend again without wanting scream about what we lost. I just got over you as best I can, Purdey-girl, and it nearly killed me. If we start up, and something happens to ruin it all a second time, I don't know if I can survive it."
She gaped at me for a moment, then shook her head and started to laugh, although there wasn't much humour behind it. "I can't believe it," she half-chuckled, half-sobbed. "We've switched places. I used to be the defensive one who couldn't let her guard down, and you were the one who was always ready to go at the drop of a hat. Now I'm here and you're putting the brakes on. How ironic! It'd be funny if it didn't make me want to cry."
I felt sick, but I couldn't help what I felt. "I'm sorry, Purdey-girl. Like I said, you broke my heart."
"So now you're going to break mine? Tit for tat? Is that it?" she asked angrily, tears spilling down her cheeks.
I can't win. I really can't. "You know it's not. Purdey, look at it from my point of view. You know how I feel. I'm just trying to survive."
"I never really got over you, either," she shot back. "I tried. I told you to go with other girls, but I took one look at Dr. LeParge, and I knew I couldn't stand it. But the real moment of truth was the argument from last Tuesday. You were right. It had to happen one of these days. No man would up and leave a woman he cared about. And you didn't. After Larry, the easiest thing to do would have been to run away and leave me to stew, but you didn't, did you? You came back. You stayed, and you held me, and you listened. And at the end of it all, I left you. That's when it came to me. You've done everything right. You've been…perfect. Or as near as you can get with our relationship, and I've been hiding. I hid when my father died and I hid after Larry. Hiding kept me away from you. And now you've finally decided to follow my lead, but you've no idea how wrong it is. It doesn't work. Hiding only makes you sad and lonely."
"Maybe that's my lot in life," I said miserably. "Maybe we were never cut out to be together. Maybe we're one of those star-crossed pairs who were fated to be apart forever. Maybe we're not meant to work."
"Yes we are!" Purdey screamed back angrily. "I know it!"
"How? How do you know it?" I shot back, feeling angry myself.
"Because I love you!"
She froze. I froze. We stared at each other for a moment, trying to digest what had happened. Then:
"You do what me?"
She remembered the reference, bless her. The target range. Me being an "old mother hen," as she called it. And she laughed a little.
"Love," she said finally. "I may need to be committed for admitting it, but I do. I don't blame you if you don't believe me. I mean, I didn't exactly give you much reason to, the way I responded."
"Purdey, it's all right."
"No, it's not. The only reason I never said what I felt was because I was afraid. Because I was a coward." Her mouth twisted bitterly, angrily, with self-recrimination.
"Hey." I put my fingers under her chin and turned her head toward me. "You're not a coward. You're one of the bravest people I've ever met, and that's saying something. You've got more balls than most of the Ministry's agents combined."
She actually laughed that time, really laughed, and I pulled her into a hug, because I thought she needed it.
"You really do beat all, sometimes, don't you, Mike? And here I thought you had no instinct for metaphor."
"I have my moments," I murmured in her ear.
"Don't I know it," she replied, and her voice was a little husky that time.
"Anyway, metaphor or not, just because you were hurt and don't want to be hurt again doesn't make you a coward. You're a great girl, and you deserve better than that."
"I don't know that I deserve much of anything," Purdey said quietly. "But I know what I want." She pulled away from where she'd buried her face in my shoulder, and met my eyes. "You."
What are all the clichés about moments like this? My heart stopped? My mouth went dry? The world spun? I couldn't breathe? Can we say "all of the above" and move on, because I'm not terribly good at waxing lyrical, particularly when it makes me sound like an idiot. All I'll say is Purdey saying she wanted me was something I'd only dreamt about, tried my hardest to reach, but never had much hope in getting there. But there she was, dead serious, and I knew I couldn't just turn her down because I was feeling a little bruised and battered. She was all I really wanted. I knew that. There was no point in trying to resist.
"Well, I'm a big believer in giving you what you want…"
She smiled, one of her best, brilliant smiles. "What I really want is to try again, without either of us being afraid this time. That would make me happy. But it all comes down to you. What do you want?"
"I think it's safe to say our wants coincide," I told her, and I kissed her. Properly. For a long, long time.
And then I made sure to remind her of all the lovely perks that come with the Mike Gambit package. There's a good selection, if I do say so myself. And I think the customer was satisfied.
All right, so maybe I have some fond memories of Canada after all.
And that's how it's been. We flew back to England and we've been having an indecent amount of fun ever since (I'll leave it up to you to figure out whether the emphasis is on "indecent" or "fun").
But I have to admit, despite how good everything is-how happy I am, how happy she is—there's still one little question that hasn't been answered, and it keeps nagging at me. Won't let me alone. And while it may not matter much in the end, I still want to know the answer. That's why I'm here, staring at Purdey's front door, waiting to knock. I'm going to ask. You're welcome to listen in. If she gives me one of those roundabout answers of hers, I may need help decoding it.
Here goes. I'm knocking.
She's home. I know she is. I saw her car out front, and her bike's in the shop. She's being slow, though.
Wait, here she is. The door's opened. Ah, she's in her leotard. I've interrupted her workout. Damn. Should have thought of that.
"Gambit!" She smiling. She doesn't look annoyed, but you never can tell with Purdey.
"Hello, Purdey-girl. Sorry to barge in like this, but, uh…have you got a minute?"
"I've got two. I'm feeling generous."
"Right. I don't need to come in. I can tell you're busy, so I'll ask what I want to ask and get out of your hair."
"All right." She crosses her arms and leans against the doorframe. "Ask."
"Right. Ask. Um, this may sound silly."
"I'm used to your questions, Mike. I doubt you can top yourself."
"Thanks ever so."
"Well, go on. Before we both die of old age."
"All right, all right." Deep breath. "Why did you decide to sleep with me, that day after the Miller assignment?"
Purdey smiles. "Why not?"
"That's not an answer. That's another question."
"You never specified how I had to answer." Cheeky grin. She really is infuriating sometimes.
"Well, I am now. Come on, Purdey. We've been in danger dozens of times, and I never got farther than a peck after dinner. There must have been some reason you decided to try me on."
She sighs and lets her head rest against the doorframe with a gentle thunk. She's looking down. Not at anything in particular. Just down. I know that look. She's thinking it through. How to answer. If she should answer.
"I think," she says suddenly, slowly, quietly, as though she's trying out the words, gauging what they say. "I think it was because that was the day I realised you were my hero."
Erm, what? "Come, again?" Maybe I'm being thick, but more likely she's jumped ahead on me again, and she's going to have to backtrack. If I don't tell her to, then who knows where we'll end up.
She doesn't look annoyed this time, though. She smiles, looks up again. "Oh, I know it sounds corny, but it's true. You saved me that day."
"I don't mean this to sound boastful, but I've saved you plenty of times. Never seemed to make much of a difference."
Knowing smile. "Ah, but this time was different. This time…well, it started when you got me out of the cell—"
"Half out. You finished the job when I started getting the stuffing beaten out of me."
She's shaking her head. "It doesn't matter. I wouldn't have known where to go even if I had gotten out on my own. After all, it was you who led the way. You who got us away from Miller. And I think you may have even been able to capture him without a distraction. Even if you weren't, you never would have let me play decoy, would you? You told me to stay where I was."
I swallow hard. I don't like thinking about how I let Purdey roll me over and play me like the predictable idiot I am, so she could run off half-cocked.
"I should have listened." Purdey's sounds upset now. Not sad, really. Just…emotional. "When you started shooting at me I could have sworn you'd lost your mind. But when that mine went…" She shudders. "I swore I was going to die out there. All it would have taken was one step to the side, or someone else to shoot at me and set one off. Maimed or dead. That was what was going to happen to me."
"I get the point." I don't want to talk about the minefield more than we have to. That little slip of red. Blood red. Against army green.
"Do you? I may not have been able to hear, but I could see. You handed your gun over. You made a deal."
"Yes." The wrong deal. The irresponsible deal. But I didn't care. I still don't care. I'd do it again in a minute.
"You were going to trade yourself and the world for me. World War Three. And they would have killed you. All for me."
I swallow again. "It seemed fair at the time…" I try, but my voice is shaking.
"You saved me."
"No." I shake my head. "Steed saved you. Saved us all. He got you out."
"Steed had the cavalry. It's not that I'm not grateful. Of course I am. But Steed had everything. You had nothing. And you gave what little advantage you had for me anyway. You saved me for me. You were willing to sacrifice yourself, and you never asked for anything in return."
"Neither did Steed. He's saved you loads of times."
She laughs. "I didn't say it had to be logical. When have I ever had to be logical?"
She has a point.
"Besides, I didn't love Steed." She's smiling again. "It wasn't an epiphany or anything of the kind. It was more that I couldn't ignore how I felt any longer. If what you were willing to give up for me didn't prove that you actually cared, that you weren't going to hurt me, nothing would."
"Then why did you leave the next morning? Why didn't we talk about it properly way back then?"
She shrugs. "Still scared, I suppose. I had to buck myself up to do what I did, and I lost my nerve the morning after. Too many old wounds. But whenever I felt vulnerable again, you were there, and the way I felt about you…I felt safe." She brushes hair out of her eyes self-consciously. "You know the rest. That's the whole story. That's the answer to your question. Satisfied?"
Am I? "Yes. I think that's the biggest compliment you've ever paid me."
She snorts a little. "Is it really? I would have thought it would be something unprintable, but I suppose we all have hidden depths."
I smile. She knows I mean it. I know she meant it. I'm happy. She's happy. We can do things properly for a change. It's going to be brilliant.
"As you're here," Purdey goes on, "you may as well come in. I was just about to break for lunch."
Come to think of it, I'm hungry myself. Been too distracted to notice until now. "Sounds good. There's a pub just around the corner."
"Lovely. Just let me change." She turns and heads inside, leaves me to close the door. This is as far as you go. Purdey's changing. I have to protect her honour, don't I? That's my job.
I'm glad for it.