Words of Wisdom
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, and John Steed. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended
Author's Notes: I wrote this as a short tribute to Patrick Macnee, the actor who played John Steed in The Avengers and The New Avengers. Patrick passed away on June 25, 2015 at the grand old age of 93. I hope it does him, and the character he played with such aplomb, justice. Thanks, Patrick. For everything.
"Steed?" Gambit's voice was hesitant. "Can I ask you something?"
Steed, perched on the edge of a crumbling stone wall next to his younger colleague, replied, "Unless it concerns the contents of the small shed on the outskirts of my grounds or my whereabouts in June of 1959, certainly."
Gambit tore his eyes away from watching Purdey off in the distance, picking her way through the debris strewn across the field courtesy of the explosion that had concluded their latest assignment with a literal "bang." She was on her way back from contacting the Ministry's clean-up crew. Steed and Gambit had been left "holding the fort" so to speak, but other than the wall on which they sat, their enemy's base now mostly consisted of a root cellar with half a dozen tied up and very angry heavies, meaning they were more or less left to their own devices. But when Gambit looked at his partner, Steed's eyes were fixed resolutely ahead. Gambit had a strong sense that the man wasn't joking about his ultimatum, and definitely wasn't going to entertain follow-up questions, so he smothered his newly-born curiousity and let it lie.
"How do you do it?"
Steed did look his way then, but this time there was a smile on his lips. "I can tell you've been spending rather a lot of time with Purdey," he opined, then elaborated at Gambit's bemused expression. "Your question scores high on succinctness but lacks something in elucidation."
Gambit grinned in spite of himself. "Guilty," he agreed, but the smile faded quickly. "But what I meant was, how do you keep carrying on when you lose so many friends and colleagues?"
Steed's expression was sympathetic. "The job has begun to take its toll, I take it?"
"Yes. Maybe. I don't know." Gambit sighed. "Maybe I'm getting maudlin as I get older. Or maybe I'm just tired."
Steed shook his head. "It would have to be more than that for you to bring it up at all." Gambit bit his lip and hesitated. "Speak your mind," Steed encouraged.
Gambit shrugged. "I don't know why it's weighing on me so much lately. It's not as though I've never lost anyone before. People I was close to. And I came into the job with my eyes wide open. I knew we were going to lose people. Hell, I knew it could be me on any given day. Still could. But…"
Steed raised an eyebrow. "But?"
Gambit let a long breath out through his nose. "But lately…I don't know. Too many people in too short a time. Too many to pretend not to notice. And then I started thinking about it—"
Steed nodded. "That's always when it hits you."
Gambit nodded. "Yeah. And then I started tallying them up. Probably a mistake, but I couldn't help myself. Terry, Ratcliffe, Spence. More people than I want to think about in my training class, and just as many in the batch that came after us. And I've only been in the service a few years." He pinched the bridge of his nose, as though staving off a headache. "I know it affects you, Steed. But you soldier on anyway. So how have you managed it this long and stayed sane?"
"You're assuming that I have," Steed said flippantly, but then sobered up at Gambit's alarmed expression and considered for a moment. "You don't ever get used to it," he said finally. "Which is just as well, because it isn't something a human being should ever completely take in stride, not if you want to retain any scrap of humanity you have left."
"Professionalism carries you farther than you might expect," Steed went on, eyes distant, mind clearly elsewhere. "Particularly when you're in the thick of things. As you said, it becomes more difficult when you're left to your own devices." He tapped his temple with the handle of his umbrella. "When no one is there to draw you out of yourself."
Gambit was regarding him seriously. "So what do you do?"
Steed looked at him now, really looked, and his smile was warm. "I consider whether I'd be willing to forgo the pleasure of knowing those I've lost in exchange for avoiding the unpleasantness of dealing with their deaths. More often than not the answer is 'no,' which means the good memories must outweigh the bad. And if that's the case, well, it would be rather churlish to only mourn their passing rather than celebrate the joy of knowing them, wouldn't it?"
Gambit smiled crookedly. "That's a good way of looking at it."
"Well, it has brought me this far," Steed said cheerily. "We all have to find our way in the world, and facing death is part of that. No one lives forever, after all."
"Legends do," Gambit said pointedly.
Steed laughed. "People and legends are very different things."
"Yeah," Gambit agreed, with a small smile. "But if anyone is going to be the exception to the rule, I think it'd be you."
Steed smiled at the compliment, may have said something in reply if Purdey hadn't arrived just then. She looked from one man to the other with interest. "You two are practicing your telepathy again," she pronounced, crossing her arms. "Gambit, you look almost misty-eyed. Has Steed been telling you the terrible prospects for that horse you bet on?"
Gambit shook his head. "No, just passing on words of wisdom."
"Amongst other things," Steed added.
"Well, whatever it was, you'll have to put it aside for now. There's another building, just there." Purdey turned and pointed off into the distance. "It wasn't destroyed by the blast. I think we ought to have a look before the clean-up crew arrives."
Gambit was regarding her fondly. "Whatever you say, Purdey-girl."
"We'll follow your lead," Steed concurred.
"Well come on, then." Purdey grabbed each of them by the arm and tugged, pulling them to their feet and off in the direction of the building. "Otherwise I'll wind up doing all the work. And if that's the case, I might decide to strike off on my own."
"You might," Steed allowed, "but it would be rather lonely, wouldn't it?"
Something about his tone made Purdey sit up and take notice. "Yes," she said softly. "I suppose it would." And as they moved away, Gambit knew he didn't imagine the way her hands tightened on each of their arms.