AWOL

Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, and John Steed. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

Timeline: Takes place post-series, Fall, 1977, after the arc story 'Til Death. For more information about my "arc" series of stories, which thread throughout the series' timeline, please see my profile.

Author's Note: I've mainly been writing non-fiction in the past year or two, but I want to make a concerted effort to write fic again. I still have plans for another arc fic, but I thought that writing a shorter piece might be a good way to ease my way back in. Unbelievably, the tenth anniversary of the passing of Gareth Hunt, the actor who played Mike Gambit in The New Avengers, was last week-we lost him March 14, 2007. I thought a story where Gambit's absence was keenly felt would be fitting, so here it is, just over a week late, but at least I managed it. Hope you enjoy.


Purdey first notices the absence when she wakes, the lack of warmth from the other side of the bed the first clue, no comforting arm draped over her hip the second. It's only reinforced when she turns over to find the thrown back covers and dented pillow. She sits up, calls "Mike?" but there's no answer. She slips out of bed, through the beaded curtains, pads out into the kitchen. There's a note on the kitchen table, and the faint aroma of coffee hangs in the air. She picks up the note. It's written in Gambit's expansive, slightly artistic scrawl. It had surprised her the first time she saw it, before she knew he sketched in his spare time. Before a lot of things. She reads it: Steed called. You slept through it. Thought you needed it, so I didn't wake you. There are boiled eggs in the fridge. I can't make stealth omelettes. See you later. Mike.

She smiles, folds the note, tucks it into a drawer with others like it. Mementoes to keep her warm when he's not here, by accident or design.

There's still condensation on the bathroom mirror when she goes in, water puddled on the floor of the shower. She can smell the faintest hint of shaving cream, and the towel drying on the rack carries his scent. She steps inside the stall and swipes some of the moisture away with her hand, turns the tap, and tries not to think about the water raining down washing the remnants of him away.

She arrives at the Ministry and finds Steed in the radio room. "Three of our agents haven't checked in. They all went dark at the same time, but they were on unrelated assignments. Someone is using their call signs, but it's certainly not them. I sent Gambit to Files to see if he could find a connection. Join him and see what you can find. I've made some notes on the transmissions." He tears a sheet off a pad, then does a doubletake. "I'm terribly sorry. These are Gambit's notes. He must have taken mine. Oh well." He hands them over to Purdey. More familiar scrawl, another message by proxy.

She goes down to Files, finds a desk with papers strewn about, an empty coffee cup, and more scribblings, but no Gambit. She asks ultra-efficient File Guardian Cynthia Wentworth-Howe where he's gone, and receives a prim response. "He had a telephone call. Someone found a body."

Purdey follows up with the switchboard, gets the location, tells Steed and then drives out. She arrives in a field in the middle of nowhere, muddied from the recent rain. There's already a clean-up crew at work, and a sheet covering a recognisably human shape. She walks over to the site of the carnage and prepares herself for the bad news. A fellow agent is more than willing to give it to her.

She looks down and spots a pair of footprints in the mud: Cuban heels, toes pointed outward, a sailor's wide stance to go with the rocking gait. She can picture Gambit, hands in pockets, elbows jutting out, his usual pose, looking down at the body with a tight jaw and eyes that don't quite disguise the flicker of emotion that he's trying to suppress. She steps her boots into his prints, stands there and exists for a moment, exactly where he did, ponders the strangeness of occupying the same space but slightly out of time.

Somewhere in the distance, she hears the crackle of a radio, and her ears prick up as distinctive clipped tones, belying the faintest hint of cockney, drift toward her on the autumn breeze. She abandons the footprints and darts across a field like a gazelle, chasing the unintelligible words even as the wind scatters them hither and yon. They spin out elusively, preventing her from getting a fix, and she lurches to a halt, whirls on her heel in frustration and kicks the ground like an angry colt. Then she catches it again, over her left shoulder, spots one of their people in the distance leaning over his open car door, handset in hand. She makes a beeline for him, but arrives just too late. The voice fades to nothing. She turns her attention to the man with the radio. "Gambit?" she gasps, all she can manage, winded as she is from her run.

The agent shrugs. "It was. You just missed him. We lost the signal. But he said to tell you he was heading back to his flat later."

Purdey nods her acknowledgement, doesn't bother to reply as she turns to trudge back the way she came. The agent will assume she's annoyed that she missed Gambit because it interferes with the case, and she's perfectly happy for him to think so. She doesn't feel like explaining her slightly discombobulated state of mind.

She feels like she's following a ghost, drifting in Gambit's wake, sometimes close, achingly close, close enough to sense him but never to catch him. It's reassuring and frustrating at the same time. She wants him by her side, likes it better when they work on things together. There's always been a certain synchronicity to their relationship, and it's deepened now that they're involved. She doesn't like this, being one step behind him. It feels wrong and her mood sours as a result.

One lightning quick drive later, she darts out of the lift and hurries to his flat, determined not to miss him this time, but the second she opens the door she knows she has. The dishes in the drying rack still have droplets running down them, and the counter is warm to the touch. She checks the fridge and finds a sandwich with a bite out of it, sitting forlornly on a plate, abandoned by its owner in a fit of haste. Purdey narrows her eyes slightly, then grabs it and takes a big bite. If Gambit isn't going to grace her with his presence, he may as well buy her lunch.

She goes back to the office, checks in with Steed. The news is better than that morning's. The other two agents have been located, tied up but unharmed, the perpetrator caught. Gambit followed up on some of the leads Purdey pulled out of the files, he tells her, and they set their investigation on the right course. Steed offers to debrief the rescued men if Purdey writes the report. Gambit's handling the site and clean-up, and won't be back until late. Purdey smiles ruefully and says, "Of course he won't," to Steed's bemused expression, but doesn't bother to elaborate.

She goes home defeated, completes her evening rituals, stretches at her barre, watches a little telly. She has a shower to wash off the workout, and when she steps out, the phone is ringing. She makes a mad dash for it, towel clutched around her dripping frame, but snatches up the receiver a split-second too late. She has no proof, but somehow she knows it's Gambit, can feel it with that sixth sense that Steed's always telling them to cultivate.

Thwarted, she gets ready for bed, punches her pillow with a little more feeling than is strictly necessary. She shuts her eyes, but knows she won't sleep. There's a sense of unfinished business, a failure to clear accounts.

It's then she hears it, the soft opening and closing of the front door, the gently rocking footsteps that make their way back to the bed they abandoned 14 hours before. She feels the mattress sag slightly with his weight as he settles down beside her. "Are you asleep?" he asks in a whisper.

"Yes," she replies, not moving or opening her eyes. "I'm having a lovely dream."

She can almost hear his smile. "Am I in it?"

"Yes," she confirms. "But that's not necessarily a good thing. You don't know what kind of dream it is." She rolls onto her back, lets her hand flop onto the pillow beside her head. "What are you doing here?"

He's a dark silhouette above her, but she can make out the sparkle in his eyes and the curve of his mouth. "I heard you were looking for me."

"I was. You left me with the paperwork."

Gambit snorts in amusement. "Sorry. Something came up."

"It always does where you and paperwork are concerned."

He leans down a little closer, and the streetlight outside illuminates his face. "Did you miss me?"

"I missed having someone to fill out the forms," Purdey replies tartly.

He ducks his head apologetically. "I know. Like I said. Sorry." He regards her hopefully. "Want me to make it up to you?"

"I already ate your sandwich," Purdey pointed out. "But you can buy me a proper dinner later."

"Ah, yes, I thought about hiding it, but I know better than to get between you and food." He regards her with mild disbelief. "Anything else?"

It's her turn to cock her head. "You act like I'm annoyed with you."

"Are you?"

Gambit shrugs. "I was gone all day."

"We've established that."

"I thought you might have missed me…"

"Did you miss me?" she cuts in.

He smiles again, this time softer. "Of course I missed you. And not just because I spent most of the day standing in muddy fields with only a clean-up crew for company."

"I hope you haven't tracked mud all over my nice clean carpet."

"I think I left the worst of it in a hallway at the Ministry. They'll need a clean-up crew there now." He regards her with mild bemusement, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "So you're not mad?"

She has no reason to be mad, really—the job is the job and all he's guilty of is doing it. Her sour mood is unreasonable in the circumstances, but Gambit always takes her unreasonableness seriously and with a spectacular level of equanimity, rather than discounting it. Except when he doesn't, and tells her that she's being ridiculous. Somehow he always knows exactly which course of action is best, and it's the former more often than not. This time is no exception.

She takes a deep breath, ponders for a moment, considering what will best sum up her state of mind. "I don't like being without you, Mike Gambit," she says finally, because that's really what she feels, at her core.

He beams ridiculously wide, not even trying to disguise how pleased he is at her admission, and she doesn't tease him about it because she's pleased that he's pleased. After all the near-misses, it's nice to be on the same page for a moment. He leans down until their faces are inches apart. "You don't have to be if you don't want to," he tells her, a fact that's painfully obvious but one that she somehow managed to ignore for the better part of two years

"I don't want to," she confesses.

"I hoped you'd say that," he murmurs. "I didn't fancy going back to my flat. There's no food left."

She elbows him gently, but that doesn't stop him kissing her, or make him leave. And when she wakes the next morning, the covers are in place, the arm is draped over her hip, and she can feel the warmth of his breath on the back of her neck. Purdey smiles.

End