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 don't own The Avengers, either, or any of its characters. They belong to Canal+ (Image) International. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.
Timeline: Takes place late in season one, in the autumn of 1976.
Author's Note: The second of three stories, the first of which was "The Offer", that will ultimately feed into my next Arc story, albeit somewhat tangentially. This story can also be read as a standalone, though it started life as a few scenes of the aforementioned Arc story, but I had so much fun with it that it grew into its own separate, multi-chapter piece. Hopefully it'll make for some enjoyable summer reading.
For more information about the Arc, please see my profile.
Mike Gambit heard the tumblers in his front door lock click into place with a certain amount of resignation. He pulled his sheet farther over his head in the faint hope that his visitor would take the hint and come back at a more humane time, when his head didn't feel like it was ready to explode. Sadly, the door swung open, and the footsteps that followed beat an unerring path straight for his bed, where they stopped. Gambit could sense their owner waiting expectantly for him to rouse.
After a moment with no further developments, Gambit sighed resignedly, and pushed back the sheet. "All right, Purdey, I'll take you to lunch if you promise to come back at a decent time—oh!" He was cut short when he caught sight of the woman staring down at him, whose face, while undeniably attractive, was definitely not the one he'd expected.
"That's very kind, but I've already eaten," the one-time Emma Peel said lightly. "Although you look as though a fatty breakfast and several cups of coffee wouldn't go amiss."
"You're not wrong." Gambit propped himself up on his elbows. "You know, I'm not opposed to beautiful women letting themselves into my flat, but I wish they'd do it when I wasn't half-asleep."
Emma raised an eyebrow and cocked her head to one side. "Does this happen often?"
"More often than you'd think."
"Perhaps more often that you'd think." Emma sauntered over to inspect one of the illusionary pieces of art on the walls. "You ought to stop giving away keys. Or at the very least change your locks."
It was Gambit's turn to arch a brow. "I don't remember giving you a key."
"You didn't." Emma swung around with one of her trademark lopsided smiles in evidence. "I provided my own." Her hand emerged from one of the pockets of her fashionable long coat and brandished a lockpick.
Gambit clucked his tongue. "Naughty."
"That makes two of us," Emma quipped, strolling back over to the bedside, taking in Gambit's puzzled expression. "I was slightly concerned that my finding my way in might attract the wrong kind of attention. But your neighbours seem to find the sight of a woman breaking into your flat to be very unremarkable."
"Really?" Gambit smiled wickedly. "I can't imagine why."
Emma's lockpick rested lightly between her teeth as her gaze lightly danced over Gambit's bare chest. "It's definitely a mystery."
Gambit's eyes glinted wickedly. "Is there a reason you dropped by, or did you just want an excuse to practice your lock-picking skills?"
Emma's lopsided smile returned. "I do have a favour to ask. Are you free?"
"For you? Always." Gambit sat up. "There's not much on at the Ministry right now, and I have some leave stored up. But let's get going before Purdey finds you here and I have to explain!" He waited for Emma to offer to quit the room, but despite the fall of the sheet revealing that he had nothing on underneath the linen, Emma seemed disinclined to defer to his modesty. "Er," he began, as Emma regarded him coolly, "as I've told Purdey before, I'm not wearing any pyjamas."
Emma splayed a hand melodramatically across her forehead. "Oh, spare my blushes!" She made her way into the kitchen with graceful, elegant strides. "I'll make the coffee. You make yourself presentable."
Gambit realised that she wasn't going to leave, sighed and started gathering his sheet around him in a makeshift toga. "You're taking liberties this morning."
"I think the gentleman in question will survive," Emma said lightly, charm personified. Gambit grinned in spite of himself as he hurried his sheet-draped form toward the bathroom. Emma did what she liked and normally had little trouble in getting everyone else to follow suit, all without a hint of annoyance directed her way. No wonder Steed liked having her around, even if he'd probably fallen prey to her particular brand of charm just as often.
When Gambit re-emerged, showered and dressed, twenty minutes later, Emma was already sipping coffee and idly reading one of his books on probability. She nodded at a second cup and saucer steaming on the countertop next to a file. "That's why I interrupted your beauty sleep," she explained.
"Mmm." Gambit took a sip of his coffee and flipped open the file. "Looks like some sort of research into a new aeronautical component."
"It is," Emma confirmed, closing the book. "Only I have a theory."
Gambit grinned at her over the rim of his cup. "You always do."
Emma returned his smile in kind. "I think there's something they're not telling the government- something they're hiding from the authorities."
"And you want to find out what it is?" Gambit hypothesised.
Emma regarded him expectantly. "Did you clear your schedule?"
Gambit nodded. "I phoned in a day of leave."
"In that case, do you fancy a little corporate espionage?"
Gambit made a moue. "I'm a little more experienced in the brand where there's a foreign state on the other side."
"Then it'll be good practice. Expand your horizons," Emma declared, leaning forward to flick the file shut. "My car's outside."
Purdey whipped the last page of her report out of her typewriter triumphantly. She'd fallen behind on her reporting due to their heavy caseload in recent weeks, and the people in records were starting to fill her staff mailbox with tersely-worded memos 'kindly' asking her to catch up on her paperwork. She'd responded by smiling cheerily at them whenever she saw them, which only made them look more pinched. Purdey rather prided herself on keeping up with her duties, but bating the administrative staff, who seemed to look for opportunities to powertrip the agents at every turn, had turned it into something of a sport in the Ministry corridors. Gambit was particularly adept at getting under the skin of officialdom when it was hampering his ability to do his job. Purdey suspected they also liked to pick on him because he wasn't of the 'stock' normally allowed to wander the hallowed corridors of Whitehall, which only gave Gambit more reason to give them a hard time. Purdey suspected his 'two fingers to the establishment' attitude was starting to rub off on her. No wonder they were getting snippier with her. Not that she was going to back down.
Purdey stapled her typed pages together with the requisite forms and slipped them into a file. She rose from the desk she'd been occupying in the Ministry's mixed typing pool/workstation space, and weaved around the desks, out the door, and down the corridor to where she had to officially file her paperwork. There would be an inevitable snide comment when she did, she knew, but Purdey was known to be pretty cutting herself when the situation called for it. She allowed herself a private smile and picked up the pace. Nothing like a bit of verbal jousting before lunch.
It was Steed's voice, coming from over her shoulder. She stopped in the corridor and turned around, saw him striding toward her. "Hello, Steed," she greeted. "Is there something wrong?"
"Not at all," Steed assured, reaching her, "but if you could see your way to meeting Adams this afternoon, it'd be much appreciated. He's finishing up his report on that business last week, and he'd like to compare notes with you, since you found the body. I told him it shouldn't pose a problem."
Purdey shook her head. "No, that's fine. I've just finished the last of this paperwork, and then I'm off to the target range with some of the others. But my afternoon is free."
"Excellent," Steed enthused. "I'll tell him you'll see him at 2, shall I?"
"That's fine," Purdey confirmed, then crinkled her forehead slightly. "Have you seen Gambit? I was going to ask him if he wanted to join us at the target range. He usually has some new toy he wants to try."
Steed snapped his fingers. "Ah, I knew there was something else. Gambit called, said he was taking the day off."
Purdey's frown deepened. "A day off? Gambit never takes time off. What for?"
"He said he needed to catch up on some things. And we have been quite busy lately."
Purdey snorted. "You make it sound as though he's doing his taxes."
Steed chuckled. "Perhaps he is."
"Steed." Purdey levelled her gaze at him. "It's very sudden. Doesn't that worry you?"
"To be perfectly honest, it'd worry me more if he never took any time off at all. I've been telling Gambit he ought to take some leave for some time now. It keeps the mind sharp and gives the body a rest. I'm pleased he's finally taken my advice."
"And Gambit taking someone's advice doesn't worry you?" Purdey pressed.
Steed laughed at the remark, but still seemed unfazed. "He is entitled to a life outside of the job, Purdey," he reminded. "You can ask him what he was up to when you see him tomorrow, if you like. Not that he's under any obligation to answer. But regardless of what he gets up to, he's only away for one day. Even if something were wrong, how much trouble could he get into?"
Purdey pursed her lips into a thin line. "I have an idea."