Best Laid Plans
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.
Author's Notes: This is a little piece written in honour of what would have been Gareth Hunt's 76th birthday on February 7, 2018. It's unbelievable that it's already been eleven years since he celebrated his final birthday with good friend, and New Avengers co-star, Joanna Lumley. He passed away just a few weeks later. Here's to you, Gareth. Gone but not forgotten.
It was January 31, a dark, bleak day in the calendar with little to redeem it, situated as it was in the dead of winter, with Christmas and New Year's now a distant memory, and spring an exercise in wishful thinking sometime off in the future. It was a day built for sleeping in, its grey, characterless skies offering nothing to the early riser, except a reminder of how nice bed had been. It was also a Tuesday, a day that didn't even have the distinction of being the first day of the week, and therefore wasn't even a good candidate for gratuitous grumbling and general bad feeling. Everyone with any sense was still trying to squeeze every second of sleep humanly possible out of the morning, right up until the responsibilities of the work day kicked in. Those individuals included Mike Gambit among their number, who was still dozing the morning away. The same could not be said for his bed partner. Purdey was lying on her back, wide awake and staring at the ceiling, eyes sharp and alert as she took in the contours of the room in the early morning light. She sat up suddenly, as though struck by inspiration, and nudged Gambit's sleeping form "Mike, wake up."
"Mmm, what?" came the bleary response. "Is it time to get up?"
"No," Purdey said derisively, as though the idea of waking Gambit up for work was patently ridiculous. "We should start planning something for your birthday."
There was a pause. "My birthday?" Gambit muttered disbelievingly into the pillow.
"It's only a week away," Purdey went on, seemingly oblivious to Gambit's lack of enthusiasm for the topic. "You're going to be thirty-five. It's a milestone."
Gambit lifted his head off the pillow just long enough to slant a jaded eyebrow in her direction. "Are you calling me old?"
"I'm calling you ill-prepared," Purdey clarified. "You haven't so much as hinted what you want to do to celebrate."
"Did it ever occur to you," Gambit muttered into the pillow, "that I don't care?"
"Of course you care," Purdey bristled. "Everyone cares! I care."
"I know you care," Gambit told the pillow. "Which is why Steed and I are already planning your thirtieth out of sheer self-preservation. But I'm happy to let mine come and go quietly."
Purdey bit her lip and considered that for a moment. "You're sure you won't mind if you don't have a surprise party or something?"
"No, Purdey," Gambit drawled, turning over, an arm draped over his eyes.
"You're not saying that you don't want a surprise party as a way of telling me that you actually want a surprise party?" Purdey pressed.
"No, Purdey," Gambit repeated. "That's something you'd do."
Purdey looked taken aback. "I wouldn't!"
Gambit lifted his arm long enough to regard her with a healthy dose of scepticism. "Wouldn't you?"
"We're talking about you, not me," Purdey defended, neatly sidestepping the question. "Anyway, I'll think on it," she declared, more to herself than Gambit. "I mean, we ought to do something for your thirty-fifth. There must be loads of things we could do."
"You do that," Gambit mumbled, already drifting back into a somnolent state. He would later deny speaking those words, no matter how many times Purdey assured him to the contrary.
"Why don't we have your family over?" Purdey exclaimed later that morning, poking her head around the bathroom door. Gambit barely managed to avoid gashing his cheek, steadying his shaving hand with the razor resting just shy of his jugular.
"For what?" he asked in bemusement, taking the opportunity to rinse his razor under the tap, which also, conveniently, moved it out of throat-slitting range.
"For your birthday, of course," Purdey said with a withering look, silently chastising him for being slow on the uptake. "We could have dinner, open a bottle of wine. I'd invite your cousin over, and your aunt."
Gambit shook his head, turned slightly so he could see his cheek better in the bathroom mirror. "Sara's working out of town, and my aunt's on the Isle of Man visiting some old friends." He ploughed another furrow through the shaving cream next to the first, leaving shorn skin in its wake. "It's a nice thought, though."
"Oh." Purdey bit her lip, looking annoyed at being thwarted. "Maybe next year."
"Maybe." Gambit smiled to take some of the sting away. "We really don't have to do anything, you know."
"I know," Purdey confirmed, noticing Gambit's state of undress for the first time. She took in the curly hair, still damp from the shower, the well-toned muscles of his bare chest, and the towel wrapped around his waist, just skimming the top of his hip bone. She watched Gambit clear another strip across his cheek, then saw him glance her way. "At least coming in here wasn't a complete waste of time," she said just a little breathily, making sure Gambit knew she'd been looking, and rather enjoying herself. She could see Gambit's wicked grin even beneath the shaving cream, and slipped away without another word. Gambit turned back to the mirror.
"Not a waste at all," he said to his reflection, and set about finishing the task at hand.
"We could go on a trip," Purdey suggested, just before a bullet ricocheted off the plaster of the wall she'd pressed herself against, sending up a cloud of fine white dust in its wake.
"A trip?" Gambit repeated distractedly from the other side of the doorway, spinning the chamber of his gun and snapping it into place.
"Yes, for your birthday," Purdey went on, sounding quite pleased with herself. "Somewhere special. Paris or something. For a week. Sort of an extended party. Think about it. We'd eat the most delicious food, see the sights, stay in a luxurious suite, preferably at the George V. It'd be perfect." She looked expectantly at Gambit, awaiting what she assumed would be his enthusiastic response.
Gambit looked heavenward for a moment. "A week in Paris does sound nice," he admitted as another bullet whizzed between them, exploding a nearby vase into a thousand pieces as it went.
"Well?" Purdey pressed, nudging as close to the doorframe as she dared without getting herself shot.
Gambit turned to Steed, who was sitting beside him on the floor busily trying to defuse a bomb. "Steed, do you think Purdey and I could book some time off next week?"
Steed smiled in spite of the concerned crease between his eyes as he focussed on the task at hand. "That rather depends on what this terrorist cell decides to get up to. You can ask them for their schedule, if you'd like."
Gambit made a moue. "Probably should have done that before I shot one of them."
Steed clucked his tongue. "Well, you can't win them all."
Gambit shrugged apologetically at Purdey. "It was a nice idea," he praised. "Have you finished rewiring the detonator? Only I think Steed might need it."
"Of course I have," Purdey said glumly, as though preventing an explosion was secondary to her scuppered travel plans. "But it's very delicate. I'll have to walk it over."
"Aye, aye ma'am," Gambit responded, and set about laying down cover fire.
"We could have something with friends," Purdey suggested, between inhaling puffs of air.
"Wha?" Gambit gasped, keeping pace with Purdey as they sprinted at full pelt across a field.
"At a restaurant. If your family's out of town, you could invite some friends for dinner after work," Purdey elucidated, neatly skirting around a rabbit hole without slowing down.
"What happens when we wind up working late," Gambit panted, "the way we have every day this week, and we have to cancel?" He took a deep breath and added, "Knowing my friends, they'd drink themselves under the table and leave us with the bill."
Purdey didn't bother to hide her amusement. "I should have guessed."
"We're going to lose him," Gambit warned, eye on their quarry.
" 'We', Gambit?" Purdey echoed disparagingly. She gave him a look just before she engaged some heretofore unknown gear and pulled away, eating up the ground at a rate that would make an Olympic sprinter jealous. Only Olympic sprinters didn't usually go in for knee-high boots and mid-length dresses for their running kit. Gambit watched her catch up with their man in no time at all, then fling herself at him the moment he was in range. They went down in a tangle and Gambit winced in sympathy as the man broke Purdey's fall with his back. He put on an extra burst of speed in hopes of reaching them before their quarry did something really foolish and wound up with a broken nose.
Purdey craned her neck over the top of her computer monitor. "If not a restaurant, than why not here?"
Gambit took the pencil from between his teeth and looked up from the probabilities he was calculating. "In the computer lab?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Purdey chastised. "I meant at the Ministry. We have Christmas parties here. Why not a birthday party?"
Gambit slanted an amused eyebrow her. "Do you remember last year's Christmas party?"
"Of course. I—oh." Purdey bit her lip. "Oh, dear. I see what you mean."
"I'm not taking responsibility for the entire intelligence service going down for the count," Gambit said wryly, reaching out a hand even as his eyes returned to the monitor. "Pass the handbook. I want to really put this thing through its paces."
Gambit opened his eyes in surprise, but, more importantly, his karate master did as well. He stared uncomprehendingly at the blonde woman kneeling on the mat next to where his student was currently practising deep breathing exercises. Gambit looked from one to the other and sighed resignedly. "This is Purdey," he introduced, in the voice of the weary.
Purdey reached out and shook the bewildered man's hand. "How do you do?"
"How did you get in here?" Gambit's karate master managed, gaping at the blonde as though she were a particularly vivid mirage.
"Oh, it wasn't terribly difficult. Your doorman is very charming. And very persuadable."
"I see," the karate master murmured faintly.
Gambit resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands. "Couldn't this have waited until I was finished?"
"I didn't want to forget," Purdey said simply, taking in his karate gear. "My, you do look nice."
"Thanks. I'll remind you that you said that when I get home."
"I'm sure you will," Purdey said knowingly. "Now listen, the reason I came by—"
"Was to ask if we could have a party here," Gambit predicted in a monotone. "At the dojo."
Purdey looked surprised. "How did you know?"
"Lucky guess. But I have the feeling he-" Gambit pointed at his still-stricken karate master. "-won't be best pleased with the idea."
"Wait a minute," said karate master exclaimed, as though suddenly catching up with the events of the past few minutes. "You're that Purdey?"
"Oh, you've heard of me, have you?" Purdey preened slightly. "Gambit, it's not like you to be so indiscreet."
"It's hard to keep him in the dark when you keep answering my phone," Gambit pointed out.
"Oh, yes, I remember you now. Hello, again." Purdey flashed one of her most charming smiles. "Do you think you could see your way to hosting a birthday party for Gambit?"
"Young lady, this is a dojo, not a community centre," came the incredulous response.
"What a pity," Purdey sighed. "The people there might have been more helpful. Oh well. Seeing as I'm here." She rose to her feet and toed off her high heels. "I may as well have my technique critiqued by an expert. Usually Gambit does the honours, but I think he might be biased."
"Never," Gambit scoffed, mock-offended.
Purdey stretched and executed a flawless bow. "Whenever you're ready."
The karate master was aghast. "Miss, I'm right in the middle of a lesson."
"That's all right." Gambit had settled back to watch the show. "It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. I have a feeling this will be very…instructional."
The karate master looked from one wicked grin to the other and felt his heart sink in trepidation. "Oh dear…"
Steed found Gambit in the break room, leaning against the counter and gingerly sipping from a Styrofoam cup of coffee. "Finder said I might find you here. I went to the file room and you were nowhere to be found."
"Sorry." Gambit twisted his arm so he could read the watchface on the inside of his wrist. "I'm just taking a quick break. I'll be back at it in a few minutes."
"There's no hurry," Steed demurred, leaning against the counter next to Gambit. "I'd never begrudge a man his mid-afternoon cup of coffee." He peered over the rim of Gambit's cup and sniffed derisively at the contents. "Even if I use the word loosely."
Gambit treated him to a wry grin. "You stop tasting it after the third cup."
"It's the first two cups that worry me," Steed quipped. "And speaking of being worried, should I be worried about Purdey?"
Gambit managed to look quizzical around a mouthful of hot brown brew. He swallowed the steaming liquid a little too quickly and regretted it immediately when his esophagus protested at being scalded. "No, why?" he wheezed.
"I'm not entirely sure," Steed confessed, regarding Gambit with a touch of concern. "She seemed very keen to find out if it were possible to adopt a dog at short notice."
"Oh, that," Gambit said flatly, sufficiently recovered to regain the power of speech. "She's made it her personal mission to do something for my birthday."
Steed's face dissolved into a warm smile. "It is your birthday today, isn't it? I'd almost forgotten since I celebrated mine early last month." He shook his head in mild astonishment. "Strange how my birthday and yours fall on consecutive days. I'm sure it all means something on some cosmic scale."
"Don't tell Purdey that," Gambit warned. "She's had her fill of that sort of thing after that business with Victoria Stanton."
"Whatever it means, if it means anything at all, Happy Birthday," Steed wished his colleague, patting him congenially on the shoulder.
Gambit toasted him with the Styrofoam cup. "Thanks, Steed."
Steed eyed the cup and a mischievous twinkle appeared in his eye. "I've nothing by way of a gift with me at the moment, but—" He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a flask. "—I do have a rather nice scotch whiskey that you might enjoy. Unless you've irretrievably damaged your palate with that terrible coffee."
Gambit held out his cup without hesitation. "I'm sure that'll repair the damage."
Steed chuckled, and poured a healthy measure into the cup, then took a small nip himself. "Cheers."
"Cheers." Gambit drank his coffee with rather more enthusiasm than he had a minute or so earlier. "Purdey'll wonder why my cheeks have so much colour in them."
"Attribute it to the flush of youth. You're thirty-five years young." Gambit laughed uproariously at that. "But I feel rather badly that you've been working so hard today."
Gambit shrugged and drank off the last of his spiked coffee. "It's just a Tuesday. Diabolical masterminds don't wait for you to open your presents."
"Very inconsiderate," Steed commiserated, as Gambit tossed the now-empty cup into the rubbish bin across the room with commendable accuracy. "Perhaps you'll hold it against them and not me when I tell you to get back to work."
"I'm not in the mood to be annoyed with anyone. Not with that stuff in me." Gambit performed an elaborate salute. "But if Finder finds me passed out under the 1930s files, I'll tell him to have a word with you."
"Is it self-preservation?" Purdey said suddenly, while rifling through the Minister's desk.
"Is what self-preservation?" Gambit replied, looking up from flicking through a filing cabinet.
"Your determination to let your birthday slip by without so much as a peep," Purdey clarified. "As a man who is a little too familiar with his own mortality, I would have thought getting another year older would be cause to celebrate the miracle of life." She cocked her head thoughtfully. "Then again, your advancing age must be very hard on your ego."
"You make it sound like I'm pushing ninety," Gambit said dryly.
"So I'm right!" Purdey said triumphantly. "You don't want to be reminded of your inevitable dotage."
"I'll be happy for a dotage, if I'm lucky enough to get one in this line of work," Gambit contradicted, sliding the filing cabinet drawer shut. "Anyway, who's to say I won't age well, like a fine wine?"
"Steed's aging like a fine wine," Purdey opined. "You're more of a Scotch man."
"I'll take what I can get."
Purdey straightened up. "If it's not self-preservation, then what? And don't tell me it's just because you're too mean mean mean to throw yourself a party."
Gambit worked his jaw a little. "I guess it is self-preservation, but not the way you think." He shrugged at Purdey's bemused expression. "There was never a lot of money for things like parties when I was growing up. You got something small if you got anything at all. That made whatever you did get special." He pulled open the next drawer down and went back to work. "I've never really needed much more than that for a birthday since."
"Oh." Purdey bit her lip self-consciously. She had a tendency to forget that Gambit's childhood had been very different from her own. "Sorry."
Gambit flashed her a quick smile. "No harm done. Which is more than can be said for what'll happen if the Minister catches us."
"We could just have an evening out," Gambit suggested as he fed bullets into the chamber of his gun.
"Mmm." Purdey was nibbling on a blade of grass she'd plucked from the lawn and seemed more interested in feeling the sun on her face than Gambit's shooting prowess on the outdoor target range.
"Tonight. For my birthday." Gambit punctuated the point by spinning the revolver and snapping it closed. "Go out for dinner, maybe some dancing afterwards."
Purdey waited until he'd loosed off three shots before answering. "But we could do that any night."
Gambit shielded his eyes against the glare so he could see where the shots had hit the target. "So?"
"So it's not special enough." Purdey took the gun from him and handed him the blade of grass to hold instead. "And anyway, I thought you didn't care about celebrating?"
"I don't. But, well, you seem to. Seems a shame to let you down when you've spent all week trying to think of party ideas."
"I've started to come around to your way of thinking," Purdey admitted, popping out the chamber and spinning it experimentally.
Gambit looked surprised. "Really?"
"Yes, really." Purdey snapped the chamber shut, then pursed her lips. "Don't let it go to your head. Or your ego." She aimed and squeezed the trigger once, then paused to admire her handiwork.
Gambit let out a low whistle. "Right in the heart. You're merciless, aren't you?"
Purdey slipped silently into Gambit's darkened flat, toed off her heels before padding softly over to the retracted couch-cum-bed. Gambit was stretched out on his side, eyes closed, dead to the world. Purdey watched him sleep for a moment, amazed, not for the first time, at how impossibly young men looked when they slept. All the bravado, the posturing, the worries and cares, all smoothed away, leaving behind a visage that was vulnerable, serene, akin to that of a little boy.
He must have felt her eyes on him, even in slumber, because he stirred suddenly. "Purdey?" came the greeting, thick with sleep. "Izzat you?"
"Yes," Purdey whispered. "I didn't mean to wake you."
" 'S all right," Gambit managed around a yawn, beckoning for her to join him.
"Are you certain you're not upset?" Purdey asked, as she crawled onto the bed beside him and curled up close.
"About what?" Gambit murmured sleepily into her hair.
"About not doing anything for your birthday."
Gambit chuckled throatily. "Purdey, I have you. That'll do me for this birthday and a lot of others to come."
Purdey shifted slightly so she could see his face. "Do you really mean that?"
"Yes," Gambit said flatly. "Right here, right now, I can't think of anything I've ever wanted more."
"Oh." Purdey seemed to consider this. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"You should. Besides," Gambit added, "I think you gave me my present early when you took down my karate master. I still can't get over the look on his face."
"Mike Gambit!" Purdey exclaimed, but couldn't help chuckling in spite of herself.
Eventually the laughter subsided, and they lay in one another's arms in companionable silence. Gambit began to slowly drift back toward sleep, but Purdey had other ideas. "Does that mean you don't want your actual present?" she teased.
Gambit's head popped up, now fully awake. "I didn't say that. Is it here?"
Purdey threw back her head and laughed at his boyish enthusiasm. "I left it by the door. Let me up and I'll get it."
Gambit pouted, much to her delight. "Difficult decision. Which do I want more: you or the present?"
"You'll have both if you're patient." Purdey patted his arm soothingly, then added, with a wicked smile, "I didn't say you were only getting one present, after all."
Gambit arched an eyebrow in interest. "Oh yes?"
"Yes." Purdey's smile was broadening. "But first things first. Otherwise it'll be the day after your birthday before we get out of this bed."
Gambit's smile was wicked now. "You know me too well."
"I should think so," Purdey said pertly. "Now close your eyes or you'll ruin the surprise."