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By Another Name

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"I don't go by that name any more."

 

"I know, but you'll always be Mrs Peel to me."

 

Emma ran her fingers across the keys before her, and settled into the piano solo from Mozart's Sixth. The bright red lacquer of the piano was a little chipped in places now, but she wouldn't have replaced it for the world. She'd updated the apartment to reflect the changing decade, of course, but she'd kept what she liked. The Seventies were turning out so brown.

 

The piano still played sweetly though, recently re-tuned. Mozart was a longstanding favourite, and when a knock came at the door she did not leave the stool. Instead she reached up, playing one-handed, and turned the page. Written above the stanza, between forte and crescendo, was signora peel. Her eyes skimmed along the notes, but there was no corresponding siamo necessari.

 

The knock came again. Emma finished the movement before rising to answer it. He'd just got back from France, she knew. With... who was it? Gambit and Purdey. It had been a long time since he'd worked with another man. Emma supposed Mike Gambit must have made a very good impression. Steed might not have been given a choice, technically, but he'd always been so terribly persuasive. Well, it looked like Gambit was as well.

 

"Mrs Peel."

 

"Steed." Emma smiled, and stood aside to let him enter. "I thought I'd told you."

 

"And I told you, you'll always be Mrs Peel to me." He hung his umbrella and hat on the stand, as he always had. The years have been kind to you, Emma noted. A decade wasn't long, but in their line of work it could be a person's whole life. "Back at Primrose Hill, I see."

 

"It was always my favourite.” And closer to work now. “And you're farming, now?"

 

"Stud."

 

Though she already knew that, it still startled a laugh out of her. "Why am I not surprised?"

 

She settled herself on the couch and waved for Steed to join her. His smile was as warm and charming as always, but he chose the armchair in the other corner of the room. His pose was casual, but her trained eye caught a tightness around his shoulders.

 

"You're tense," she observed.

 

"I was shot in France. I'm trussed up like a turkey under here."

 

"But Saville Row have yet to let you down. The line of your suit is perfect, as usual."

 

"Cordings, Mrs Peel. Outdoor wear for outdoor pursuits."

 

"Including pursuing elderly Russians?"

 

"Precisely."

 

"You called me Mrs Peel again."

 

"You'll a-"

 

"I know, Steed." Emma leant forward in her seat. "You'll have to do better than that."

 

"That's not the main- no, sorry, it's not the only reason I came." Steed's smile slipped away, and his face took on a seriousness Emma had rarely seen. "The Ministry have asked us to go to Canada."

 

Emma let her lips curl upward. "Toronto, I believe. Steed, you don't honestly think I've fallen that out of touch? I'm not longer a talented amateur, that's all."

 

"I always considered you far more than that."

 

"You always considered me for everything, in more ways than one." She sat back again, crossing her legs and propping an elbow on the arm of the chair. She gestured with her raised hand. "There's a little something in the kitchen I thought you might enjoy. Something for out little leaving party. Our pre-travel tête-à-tête."

 

Steed rose. He was stiff, Emma noticed, more than he would have been a decade ago. She supposed he didn't do so much of the running around now, not with two partners instead of one.

 

"Tell me about Purdey," she called out.

 

"Tall. Blonde. Studied ballet." Steed popped his head around the kitchen door. "Perfect choice, Mrs Peel."

 

"Purdey?"

 

"Bubbly. What a year! What a vineyard!"

 

"You rubbed off on me. Tell me more about the ballet dancer."

 

"She reminds me of you."

 

Steed walked back into the main room, a teatowel over his arm and the ice bucket in one hand. He offered her a champagne flute with the other. "Would ma'am care to try the champagne?"

 

"Merci beaucoup."

 

Steed poured for both of them, and sat beside her this time. He took a long, appreciative sip of the champagne, and turned to look at her.

 

“Don't tell me-” Emma raised a disapproving eyebrow “-'beautiful body'?”

 

“It's champagne, not port,” Steed said. “I would have said 'delicate', perhaps, or 'truly effervescent'.”

 

“But neither of us are that any more, really.”

 

“Really?”

 

Emma smiled again, but it felt strained even to herself. The fun was still in it for Steed, and he had Gambit and Purdey now. Peter had gone his own way now – he was no more Mr Peel than she was Mrs – though she found it hard to miss him. She thought more often of Steed.

 

“I've spent too long behind a desk recently,” she told him. “I'd love to come to Toronto with you.”

 

“Why don't you?” There was genuine enthusiasm in Steed's voice, but genuine surprise, too. “What's keeping you here?”

 

“It's funny you should ask that.” Emma drained her flute and held it out. Steed refilled it, sensing that the conversation was coming to a head. “You are, in a way.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Steed, who do you speak to at the Ministry these days?”

 

He raised his eyebrows. There were creases in his brow that had not been there before, but his visage was still pleasing. One has to have, Emma had always thought, a particularly broad forehead and wide face to really suit a bowler hat. They were long out of fashion now, but Steed's sartorial devotion was unchanging.

 

She glanced down at her catsuit. She supposed her tastes hadn't changed much either.

 

“Agents, mostly. After what happened to Mother – the other Mother – the new one is kept well under wraps. There's a move to refer to him just as M now. I suppose I shall be S, and Purdey P and Gambit G.”

 

Emma chuckled at his tone. “Oh no, Steed, we much prefer numbers. We have no intention of limiting ourselves to only twenty six agents.”

 

“'We'?”

 

“Yes, Steed, 'we'. I told you I had a desk job now.”

 

“And you told me it wasn't Mrs Peel.”

 

“You said you knew.”

 

Steed wasn't a man to blush, but there was something in the way he creased his eyes and knitted his brows.

 

“You lied!” Emma accused. “Oh, Steed, you had me completely taken in. I thought you knew. M, Steed. M for Emma.”

 

Steed poured himself a large glass of champagne. “I thought you were Miss Knight again,” he admitted.

 

Emma took the bottle from him and poured herself another before answering. “Now, I didn't know you knew that.”

 

That remarked smoothed Steed's brow and brought the twinkle back to his eye. “My dear Emma, what did you think was my main reason for coming?”

 

He raised his glass, and she hers. They met with a subtle clink.

 

“Chin chin, Emma.”

 

“Chin chin.”