In the Stars

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. I also don't own Zodiac or the characters of David Gradley and Esther Jones. They're the property of FremantleMedia. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

Author's Notes: I really enjoyed watching a 1974 series called Zodiac late last year. It was created by Roger Marshall, the writer behind many iconic episodes of The Avengers, and starred Anton Rodgers as Detective Gradley and Anouska Hempel as astrologer Esther Jones. The pair of them solve the case of the week through a combination of detective work and Esther's astrological intuitions, in-between lots of verbal sparring and will-they-won't-they tension, and it's loads of fun. It's only six episodes (sadly), but it's available on DVD and I'd recommend it if you're a fan of ITC series. Naturally, being a fellow seventies creation, I started thinking TNA crossover. (Anouska Hempel shared the panel with Gareth Hunt on a 1976 episode of Whodunnit? aired a few months before TNA premiered, so there's that). Anyway, this is the result. I only wish there was another season of both Zodiac and TNA floating about!


"Did Steed tell you who had been killed?" Purdey wanted to know, as she followed Gambit through the seemingly endless maze of corridors that made up the manor house.

"No," Gambit replied, taking a left at the obligatory suit of armour. "Just to pick you up, get along here, and take the scene over from the police."

"You're charmingly obedient today." Purdey patted Gambit's shoulder as though he were a particulary amenable dog.

"He asked me to pick you up," Gambit pointed out, treating her to a saucy wink. "I don't need to be told twice."

"Are you certain your back could take the strain?" Purdey said sweetly.

"Definitely. I can't take you dancing if I'm in a body cast."

"I'm sure you'd find a way. If you had the right motivation." Purdey's smile had gone secretive, a particular brand of innuendo all her own.

Gambit regarded her with interest. "What kind of motivation?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Purdey pointedly looked away from his dancing eyes, leaving her true meaning oblique, as per usual. She wrinkled her nose as they passed an extensive collection of taxidermy. "Whoever our victim is, I'm not particularly enamoured with his décor."

Gambit clucked his tongue. "Shouldn't speak ill of the dead, Purdey-girl."

"I was commenting on his taste, not his mortal soul," Purdey countered. "Anyway, it's not as though a little criticism can do him any harm now."

"Maybe," Gambit conceded, leaning in conspiratorially. "Unless he was done in by his interior decorator."

Purdey came to a shuddering halt, wide eyes meeting Gambit's. "He wasn't, was he?"

Gambit shrugged. "Who knows?" he said with a slight smile, before continuing on his way. Purdey bit her lip and stood there for a moment, pondering that particular possibility. Then she hurried after Gambit before he disappeared from view and left her, lost and alone, in the maze of corridors.

Gambit knew he'd arrived at his destination when they came across a room cordoned off with yellow police tape. He lifted the strip of plastic and ducked underneath, held it up automatically so Purdey could join him. They weren't alone. The room was already occupied by a smartly-dressed man with neatly-parted brown hair, who was sombrely pondering a sheet-shrouded body. Behind him, a sleepy-eyed blonde wearing an outrageous wide-brimmed hat was draped on the couch, regarding the man with a mischievous smile.

"Do you want a hint?" the blonde offered, unaware of the new arrivals.

"No, thank you," the man said shortly, similarly obvious to his newly-found company. "I'm the detective. I'll get on with the detecting."

"Oh, really, Grad, that line got old three years ago," the blonde drawled. "I've helped you more times than you can count. Do we have to go through this dance every time?"

"Yes," the man said stubbornly. "Until you admit that I'm not completely helpless without you. I was trained to do this, you know."

"Maybe that's where you went wrong," the blonde opined. "There is something to be said for first impressions, you know. Your mind absorbs more if it comes into a situation unbiased, without a set framework of thinking in place. If you've already decided that something's unimportant, you're sure to miss a crucial detail."

"Cast all that in my horoscope this morning, did you?" the man snapped back. "'Keep an open mind. Welcome exciting new experiences.' Is that it?"

The blonde had slouched forward, chin propped wearily in her hand. "It could use a little embellishment. Even astrology doesn't make good copy if it's presented with all the flourish of a dead fish."

"Oh, so you're an editor now as well as a psychic?"

"I never claimed to be either," the blonde sighed, with more than a modicum of exasperation. "But I can cast a horoscope in my sleep, and I do write for a national paper, so yes, I do have a little more expertise than you on both fronts. Police reports don't exactly inspire creative prose."

The man turned away from the corpse to face her. "Shows what you know. I received excellent scores in English. All of my instructors thought I showed extraordinary talent."

"Maybe you should have stuck with it. That might have been your true calling." The blonde stretched languidly. "If you weren't so stubborn about milking that trust fund of yours for all it's worth, you might realise that. There are things in the world more important than money, you know."

"Oh, don't start all that," Grad groaned. "You sound like a fortune cookie."

"Ohhhh, don't mention food," the blonde moaned. "I'm absolutely starving. Are you sure I can't give you a hint so we can go to lunch?"

"I already said no, and anyway, we're not just waiting on my little grey cells. There are some government people coming. I can't go anywhere until I've turned the scene over to them."

Gambit coughed softly, and both the man and the blonde's heads whipped round in surprise. "I think that's our cue," Gambit said with a smile. "Mike Gambit. This is Purdey. We're the people keeping you from lunch."

The man was actually blushing a little, much to Purdey's amusement. He hurried to meet them, hand outstretched. "Detective Inspector David Gradley. Pleased to meet you." The blonde glided up behind him, regarded the new arrivals expectantly as she waited to be introduced. Grad sensed her over his shoulder and found his desire to identify her unfortunately outstripped what his brain had planned to say. "And this is my, uh, that is, well…" The blonde looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. "Esther Jones," Grad said finally, going from flustered to resigned.

"How do you do?" Esther greeted in that easy way of hers, shaking each of their hands in turn, completely unfazed.

"Do you work for the police?" Purdey wanted to know. She was eyeing Esther with that contentious look that Gambit knew so well. He only hoped she wouldn't let it get the best of her. The last thing they needed was to alienate the police. Interdepartmental squabbles had flared up over less. Steed would be less than pleased, that much was certain.

"Oh, no. I'm an astrologer," Esther informed, earning a hissed reproach from Grad. Esther returned it in kind, and the pair launched into a heated, whispered exchange as Purdey and Gambit stood by and watched the fireworks.

"Oh, no, not another one," Purdey groaned near Gambit's ear. "I thought we'd gotten away from all this flim-flammery after Victoria Stanton. Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I'm trying to remember the last time I heard you use the word 'flim-flammery'. I think this might be the first."

"Don't be facetious," Purdey chastised. "Just because I don't indulge these ridiculous people doesn't mean I'm unreasonable."

"That doesn't mean she won't be helpful," Gambit pointed out, enjoying being the one doing the winding up for a change, rather than the one being wound. Heaven knew he wasn't even close to evening the score where Purdey was concerned.

"Esther's here in an, erm, unofficial capacity," Grad managed around a grimace, reemerging from his verbal altercation while Esther looked on with a face like thunder. "A, er, consultant I suppose you could call her."

"Grad sometimes finds my theories useful in his work," Esther elucidated, gaze slanting sideways to prevent the detective from protesting further. "I could demonstrate, if you like."

"Oh, no," Grad groaned, looking heavenward for strength.

"Mr. Gambit, do you mind if I try to guess your star sign?" Esther was pointedly ignoring the histrionics of her compatriot and eyeing Gambit up evaluatively in a way that Purdey didn't like at all.

"Esther," Grad cut in, head in his hands, "I'm not sure these people would really appreciate—"

"I don't mind," Gambit interrupted, flashing a charming smile at the astrologer, earning a gentle, derisive snort from Purdey. "Go on, Miss Jones."

Esther canted her head to one side and considered Gambit's profile for a moment. The smile playing over Gambit's lips told Purdey that he was enjoying the attention, while her own crossed arms barely concealed her tightly clenched fists. Gradley, for his part, seemed to be waiting for the floor to swallow him up and save him from the abject humiliation of being laughed out of the force for annoying the intelligence services.

"An Aquarius," Esther declared finally, with a certain amount of conviction. "The water carrier."

"Try again," Purdey said derisively. "If you look in his flask, all you'll find is Scotch."

Esther ignored her and looked meaningfully at Gambit. "I'm right, aren't I? Born between January 19 and February 18?"

"That's right." Gambit looked impressed, which only fed the dark cloud hanging over Purdey's head.

"That's a very good party trick," she said cattily. "I suppose it must be good advertising for your column."

Esther rounded on Purdey with an intensity that startled the other woman. "And you. Classic Taurus."

Purdey pursed her lips as though she'd been insulted. "What do you mean, 'classic'?"

Esther looked to Gambit, knowing better than to try to pry information out of Purdey. "Born between April 19 and May 20?"

"Two for two," Gambit confirmed, inclining his head respectfully. "Not a bad record."

"I don't always get them right," Esther admitted, preening a little in spite of herself. "It's not an exact science, not when you're doing them cold. But I like to think I'm mostly right."

"I'm sure you do," Purdey muttered, sotto voice, then added in a more audible tone, "As fascinating as this is, we do have a murder to solve."

"Oh, yes, the dead man." Esther turned to the corpse. "I suspect the killer's an Aries—quick to anger, you know. It's a violent killing. And since the dead man's a Cancer-"

"Esther," Gradley hissed, having finally collected himself enough to dive back into the fray. "These people deal with these sorts of things every day. They don't need your theories."

"The way that you don't?" Esther said sceptically, then turned back to Purdey and Gambit. "Horoscopes aren't infallible. Neither am I, I'll be the first to admit. But they can be a guide. At the very least, it might be a start for your investigation." She cocked her head to one side inquisitively, seeming to see them as a unit for the first time. "How long have you been working together?"

"Almost two years," Gambit supplied, ignoring Purdey's none-too-gentle nudge in the ribs.

"We won't reach two years if you keep this up," Purdey muttered to herself.

"And you work together well?" Esther wanted to know, sounding vaguely incredulous.

"If we didn't, we wouldn't be alive," Purdey said tartly. "Is this all leading somewhere? Only we do have a murderer to catch."

"Well, normally Aquarius and Taurus aren't terribly compatible signs," Esther explained, seemingly too wrapped up in her theorising to respond to Purdey's jabs, which only served to annoy the female agent more. "They're very different sorts of people. But once in awhile, they connect extremely well and form a very strong partnership. Remarkably so."

"You don't say," Gambit murmured, arching an eyebrow in Purdey's direction, while the blonde looked coolly back. Esther was observing them both with a keen eye, while Grad stood by glumly, resigned to the fact that this conversation couldn't be undone, no matter how much he might want it to be. All the same, he looked ready to interrupt when Esther seemed poised to ask a follow-up question about Purdey and Gambit's astrologically-improbable dynamic, when a new player came on the scene—tall, dark-haired, wearing an impeccably-tailored suit and carrying a bowler and brolly.

"Good afternoon. I hope I haven't missed all the excitement?"

"Ah, Steed." Gambit's grin was irrepressible as he turned to greet the new arrival. "Have you met Miss Jones?"

Behind him, Purdey groaned. "Really, Gambit. How long have you been waiting to say that?"

"About five minutes."

"Another Aquarius," Esther murmured, clearly intrigued. She looked Steed over with interest. "Does your department seek them out, or is there a quota?"

Steed, characteristically, was unfazed by Esther's query. "Do you know, I've never had occasion to ask. Although if our department does base a certain amount of its hiring on the signs of the zodiac, it would go a long way toward explaining our high turnover."

"Miss Jones is an astrologer," Purdey told Steed, not bothering to hide the scorn in her voice.

"Oh, I see." Steed turned on his most charming smile and took Esther's hand. "How do you do?"

"Miss Jones assists Detective Gradley in an unofficial capacity," Purdey went on, still trying to undermine the other woman's credibility and looking about as pleased with Steed's reception of Esther as she had about Gambit's.

"Unofficial capacity?" Gambit hissed to Grad out of the corner of his mouth, as Steed effortlessly exchanged pleasantries with Esther. "I meant to ask, what did you mean by that, exactly?"

"Officially, she's nothing to do with us," Grad hissed back.

"And unofficially?"

"Unofficially, I can't keep her away, no matter how hard everyone tries. Including me." Grad sighed and rubbed his temple tiredly.

Gambit turned away slightly to hide his smile. Purdey was clearly unamused by the whole situation. Esther was looking from Steed to Gambit to her and back again with a knowing smile of her own that suggested she had the measure of their team dynamic rather more than Purdey would have liked.

"Well," Grad said suddenly, "I suppose now that you're all here, we ought to clear out and let you get on with it. I'll be pursuing my own lines of inquiry, of course, but I'll pass along anything I find."

"'You'?" Esther repeated sceptically, crossing her arms.

"Yes, me, thank you, Esther. I do have the badge, you know."

"And very shiny it is, too," Esther replied, with a patronising pat on his shoulder. "Lovely to meet you all."

"And you," Steed agreed.

"Good-bye, Miss Jones," Gambit said cheerfully, ignoring Purdey's poisonous look.

vvvv

"That's quite something," Esther mused, as soon as they were out the door and out of earshot.

"What is?" Grad asked distractedly. He was hoping against hope that the government agents wouldn't say anything to his superiors about Esther, her theories, or his conduct at the scene. Heaven knew they didn't need more ammunition to use against him and make his life hell.

Esther's mouth was turning up at the corners. "Well, at the risk of sounding like a cliché from a badly cast horoscope, it's not often a girl meets two dark strangers within a matter of minutes."

"Oh, do me a favour," Grad groaned. "Well, go on then, if you're so enamoured with them. We'll see how charming Mr. Gambit finds you once you've worked your magic on his case."

"Oh, I think Mr. Gambit's under someone else's spell already," Esther said enigmatically.

"Who?" Grad wanted to know.

Esther regarded him sympathetically. "Grad, for a detective, you're making it very hard on yourself. Purdey, of course. His partner. He's absolutely smitten with her."

"You wouldn't know it from the way he let you carry on. He was hanging on your every word." Grad tried to screw his face up into something that was more annoyed than jealous, but only managed to amplify both expressions.

"That's because he's very good with women," Esther said lightly, looking just a bit wistful. "Very good. You know what they say about Aquarians…"

"No," Grad cut in sourly. "And I don't want to."

Esther returned to the present with a sigh. "Your problem is that you only paid attention to the way he looked at me, and in the process completely missed how he looked at her. And then there was the way she was looking at him." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "They're an unusual pairing, like I said. But they have something special between them. Every once in awhile, that combination works perfectly. And they're the exception that proves the rule." She sighed again, this time a little dreamily. "They'll still be together fifty years from now, you mark my words."

"Bully for them," Grad grumbled, shooting his cuffs with a little more force than was strictly necessary.

"Now, Grad," Esther soothed, linking her arm through his. "Tall dark strangers are all very well and good, but like I said, it's very important to see what's in front of you, and I'm quite happy with my view."

"Oh." Grad perked up a little and straightened his tie. "Well, then."

Esther regarded him expectantly. "This is where the other person usually says something nice back."

"Right." Grad regarded her quite seriously. "Where do you want to go to lunch?"

"Oh, you do know how to flatter a girl, don't you?" Esther huffed, turning away in disgust.

"Don't act so hard done by. I'm paying," Grad declared, patting the hand on his arm jauntily. "All that trust fund money has to come in handy sometimes. Particularly when you want to treat someone."

"Oh yes?" Esther said with interest, suddenly looking quite pleased. "Grad, that sounds lovely."

"Mmm, just promise me you won't try to divine the waiter's sign, or we'll wind up being charged extra for the bread."

Esther clucked her tongue. "Charming."

vvvv

"Thank goodness. I thought they'd never leave," Purdey sighed in relief as the three agents fanned out to search the room, Grad and Esther's voices having faded into the distance.

"Oh? Why?" Steed inquired, bending to examine the body. "They both seemed perfectly agreeable."

"Detective Gradley, maybe," Purdey allowed. "But that Miss Jones, rattling on about astrology the whole time, acting as though it was relevant to our investigation."

"Did she?" Steed said distractedly, pulling aside the sheet to assess the damage for himself.

"You didn't hear her, Steed," Purdey went on, not letting Steed's disinterest discourage her. "Once she'd finished profiling Gambit and me, she started telling us who our killer was, astrologically-speaking. I half expected her to whip out a crystal ball and start telling our fortunes."

"And you would have objected to that?" Steed said mildly.

Purdey looked taken aback. "Of course! It's all a load of nonsense."

"Perhaps," Steed conceded, straightening up. "Perhaps not. But I've witnessed some very strange things in my time, and I've learned never to discount these things out of hand, not unless I've been given a very good reason to do so."

Purdey looked disappointed, as though Steed had revealed some heretofore unknown weakness. "You're saying that you'd believe her?"

"I'd at least listen to what she had to say," Steed clarified, crossing to a sideboard and examining the victim's drink selection with approval. "Particularly if her insights seemed useful. One can always consider the information whilst questioning the methods. As we did with Miss Stanton."

"But she was a fraud!" Purdey protested.

"Yes," Steed conceded, "but if we'd dismissed her out of hand, we may not have unravelled that case as quickly as we did." He looked up from examining an ornate box on a sidetable, and smiled. "Do you see?"

Purdey was pouting. "I still think she's ridiculous." She rounded on her other partner. "Gambit, you don't believe in that sort of thing, do you?"

Gambit looked up from the book he was paging through, eyes brimming with mischief. "Would it matter if I did?"

Purdey scrunched up her face sceptically. "Oh, come on. I know you can be deluded about your own attributes, but surely you're not so naïve that you'd chart your course based on something as ridiculous as the stars?"

"They're not so ridiculous when you're in the middle of the ocean," Gambit pointed out, tongue firmly in cheek. "I was a sailor, remember?"

Purdey tsked in exasperation as Steed tried to hide his smile. "You know what I mean."

"Sometimes. If I'm very lucky," Gambit quipped. "Anyway, you don't have to subscribe to the whole package. It's not all or nothing. You can acknowledge that there might something to it without deciding to run your life based on it."

Purdey cocked her head to one side. "So you do believe in it?"

Gambit sighed in mild exasperation. "I'm saying that there's probably a little more to it than you think. Most things that have lasted this long have at least a kernel of truth to them. Some sort of logical basis that makes them not completely ridiculous. So no, I'm not saying I'm going to start picking my horses based on what I read in Miss Jones' column, but like Steed I'm not going to ignore what she said. Not unless I have a very good reason to."

"You'll need more than the stars to help you when it comes to picking horses," Purdey fired back, quick off the mark as ever, but there was a frown line between her eyes that Gambit couldn't completely ignore.

vvvvv

"That Detective Gradley was a bit odd, wasn't he?" Purdey declared sometime later, as they filed into her flat.

Gambit took his cue, shrugging his suit jacket off with the weariness of the bone-tired. They'd found the killer of their dead man, but only after a lot of leg work, most of it performed by Gambit's own legs, and he was feeling it. "How so?"

"Well, he doesn't seem particularly enamoured with being a detective." Purdey observed. "And then he let that astrologer woman wander all over the crime scene. She had no business being there."

"Maybe. Maybe not," Gambit said non-commitally, draping his jacket over a kitchen chair with a certain amount of finality. He wasn't going anywhere if he could help it; he wasn't entirely certain he trusted his legs to carry him much further than the living room. "You have to admit, she pegged what sort of person the killer was."

"Could've been luck," Purdey said haughtily, stalking through the flat, skirt swirling indignantly.

"Luck?" Gambit's expression was incredulous.

"Anyone with a certain amount of women's intuition could work it out."

Gambit arched an eyebrow. "Like you?"

"I don't rely on luck," Purdey sniffed. "And anyway, stop trying to change the subject."

"What was the subject?" Gambit asked distractedly, unbuttoning his waistcoat one-handed while eyeing Purdey's coffeemaker with a certain amount of longing.

"Why Detective Gradley lets that woman into crime scenes. She doesn't work for the police. If we let non-agents swan in whenever they felt like it, we'd be out of a job."

"Non-agents? You mean like Emma Peel and Cathy Gale?" Gambit mustered up the energy to flash her a cheeky smile.

Purdey put her hands on her hips, clearly unamused by his attempt at humour. "You know that's not what I meant. Do you suppose he lets just about anyone traipse all over the place?"

Gambit treated her to an eyebrow waggle. "I think Miss Jones comes in for special treatment."

"Oh, you would say that," Purdey accused. "You're just as bad, forming attachments to women in the most inconvenient places. I'm surprised I've never tripped over one of your ex-girlfriends on the way to the morgue."

"You've never caught the one who works there when she's on-shift," Gambit said matter-of-factly, trundling into the living room so he could flop onto the couch. "Anyway, it's no mystery why he lets her hang around. She has a good nose for a lead, and he's obviously mad keen on her."

Purdey's eyebrows knit in a frown. "Do you think so? They barely seemed to tolerate each other. She was teasing him all the time, when she wasn't telling him how to do his job. It looked like she was driving him mad."

Gambit was regarding her with heavy-lidded incredulity. "Remind you of anyone?"

Purdey's frown deepened. "What are you…?" Realisation dawned. "Oh really, Gambit, they're nothing like us."

"No?" Gambit stretched his long legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankle and draping his arm over the back of the couch. "Not even a little?"

"Well, if you think so, it's no wonder you fancy her," Purdey huffed, moving to her barre and facing the mirror.

"She's pretty," Gambit admitted, watching Purdey execute a flawless plie with a mixture of admiration and desire. "But she's not you. And you," he went on, meeting her eyes in the mirror's reflection, "are the only girl for me."

"Now, maybe," Purdey said with that calculated casualness that told Gambit she was worried, but wanted to hide it. "But suppose we really are horribly incompatible?"

Gambit cocked his head slightly in bemusement. "Where did that come from?"

"You know very well," Purdey said tartly. "That astrologer woman."

"She does have a name, you know," Gambit pointed out mildly. "You really are jealous, aren't you?"

"I'm no such thing," Purdey exclaimed indignantly, then muttered conspiratorially at the mirror, "Esther Jones. I'll bet that's not even her real name."

"Esther?" Gambit predicted.

Purdey shot a withering look at his reflection. "Jones."

"Of course," Gambit said wryly, well-versed in Purdey's logical left-turns. "Anyway, what does it matter what she said? I thought you didn't believe in that sort of thing."

"I don't," Purdey defended. "I mean, not that our destinies are written in the stars. It's the idea that we're not compatible."

"You heard Miss Jones," Gambit soothed. "Even she believes that horoscopes are more of a guide, not to be taken that seriously."

"I don't give a damn, about the horoscopes or the rest of it," Purdey said forcefully, twisting to the side and performing a particularly violent high kick. "But that doesn't change the fact that we're very different people."

"I suppose," Gambit nodded in agreement. "Chalk and cheese."

Purdey straightened up and stared intently at his reflection. "And that doesn't that worry you?"

"No," Gambit said unconcernedly, gaze level. "Should it?"

"You were the one who said that you wouldn't dismiss what Esther said out of hand," Purdey reminded. "And if you believe she might have credibility in other areas, why not on this? What if she's right?"

Gambit could see where this was leading, and made a valiant attempt to head her off. "Purdey, we're not—"

"Gambit," Purdey interrupted, the firmness of her tone compelling him to remain silent. "Let me finish." She sighed, hands gripping the barre so tightly that her knuckles went white. "We spent all that time dancing around one another. I pushed you away because I was afraid of making myself vulnerable, because I didn't know if I'd be able to bear it if something happened to you. But what if, after all of that fuss, we just fall apart? Nothing dramatic or world-ending." She cast her eyes downward, and just a hint of a quaver entered her voice. "What if it just doesn't work because we're just not compatible?"

Gambit sighed and got to his feet. He came to stand behind Purdey in front of the mirror, and rested his left hand on top of hers on the barre. A few months ago she would have pulled away automatically, Purdey knew. But at that moment it felt so nice, so right, she couldn't imagine ever doing it again.

Gambit was looking at their hands, too, as if they contained a special kind of magic known only to them. "Purdey, do you remember the first time I asked you to go out with me?"

Purdey smiled a little in spite of herself, meeting his reflected gaze through her eyelashes. "It's rather difficult to forget. It was the first in a very long series of rejections."

Gambit grinned back ruefully. "You don't know how disappointed I was at the time. I was already in love with you, and I think you broke my heart a little." His thumb brushed gently over the back of her hand as he spoke, tenderly tracing patterns on her skin.

"I think you're confusing your heart with your bruised ego," Purdey said knowingly, watching Gambit's thumb move over her hand with an overwhelming sense of calm.

Gambit chuckled a little. "You didn't bruise it enough, because I spent the next two years trying to persuade you to give me a chance. But do you know something? I'm glad you turned me down at the start. Do you know why?"

"Because it allowed you to hone your masochistic tendencies to a fine art?" Purdey said wryly.

Gambit shook his head, the time for joking past. "If you'd said yes right away, we probably would have had fun. It might have led to something more. Hell, we might have speeded things up and wound up where we are now, only through the direct route. Or maybe it would've been a fling. We would have had our fun, and then gone our separate ways. Maybe you wouldn't have wanted to work with me because it would've been too awkward. Or maybe McKay or Steed or someone would have said it was bad idea. And we would've gone on with our lives with a few good memories and nothing more."

"Maybe," Purdey allowed, still looking at his hand, not trusting herself to meet his eyes. "But I still don't see how that's relevant to our compatibility."

"Because if you'd said yes, we might never have had these two years working together. And that would've been a shame, because we've learned more about each other in the field than most people do in a lifetime. We've been battered and bloodied and exhausted. We've lost people. We've been put through the wringer, emotionally, mentally, and physically. We've laughed, and we've cried, and we've screamed bloody murder at each other. We've fought for our lives side by side. And because of all that, we know who each other is, really, when all the layers are stripped away. The job does that." His mouth quirked up at one side, and he rested his chin on Purdey's shoulder, so she would meet his eyes. "And through all that, we've always worked. So if we were incompatible, Purdey-girl, we sure as hell would've figured it out a lot sooner than this. We'd be dead by now otherwise. Or at the very least we couldn't bear the sight of one another." He paused, then added, "And if that's not enough, you should know I've fallen harder for you every single day since we got together."

Purdey arched an eyebrow. "Even though I still drive you mad?"

"Especially because you still drive me mad," Gambit declared, turning his head slightly so he could kiss her temple. "It'd get boring otherwise."

Purdey smiled slightly at that. "I suppose you're right. For once."

"Sorry, what was that? It sounded like you said I was right."

"Don't let it go to your head," Purdey said crisply, leaning back against him, feeling the wonderfully reassuring, solid warmth of his body behind hers. "Sometimes," she sighed, her hand finding his cheek using their reflections alone, "you know exactly what to say."

"Thanks," came the grinning response. "I have my moments."

"Mmm. And logical, too. Perhaps your stars aligned today." The teasing was pure Purdey, and it was the best sign of all that she was feeling better. She turned around, stretched on her tiptoes to give him a quick kiss. "I suppose we're stuck with each other after all."

"Looks that way."

"Good." Purdey kissed him again, longer this time, doubts well and truly banished, then pulled away, heading for the coffee table.

"Where are you going?" Gambit wanted to know.

"To get the paper," Purdey informed. "I want to see if your horoscope explains why you pick such rotten horses."

Gambit groaned. "You're not going to let me forget that I encouraged Miss Jones, are you?"

"Not for a week or so, no," Purdey confirmed with a smile, returning with a thick sheaf of newsprint. "Now pay attention. Here are your lucky numbers."

End