In 26

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 Note: I had the idea for a series of New Avengers episode-related shorts awhile back, and thought I'd finally give it a go as a fun little side project. They won't be posted in particular order, but the plan is to have one piece per episode to make a complete set. Hopefully some of them will send you back to the original episode for a rewatch!

Tale of the Big Why

Purdey strode down the long, dreary-yet-ominous corridor with the confidence and ease of a model on the catwalk, seemingly unfazed by the bars that covered every opening and the armed guard at her elbow. She reached a barred door, attended by yet another guard, and dipped her hand into her purse to retrieve her ID. She flashed it at the guard, along with a winning smile. "I'm here on official business," she explained, with the exact mix of authority and vagueness that she thought would be expected of someone in her line of work. She hadn't had very many opportunities as of yet to wield her newfound authority. She pulled it off quite well, if she did say so herself, but then she had practised in the car on the way over.

The guard squinted at her picture, then her credentials, and nodded with satisfaction. He searched for a key on the dauntingly-full ring clipped to his waist and unlocked the door, standing aside to let both Purdey and her escort past.

Purdey was led into a large, cavernous room, painted the same off-white as the corridor, and populated with rows upon rows of tables and chairs. She made a beeline for the sole table that was occupied, at which a lone figure was waiting expectantly.

Halfway to her destination, Purdey turned to the guard. "Thank you. I'll be all right from here." The guard nodded briskly and retreated to man the door, leaving Purdey to continue the rest of her journey solo. She slid smoothly into the chair opposite the figure, set her bag on the floor, crossed her legs, and said, "Well, Mike Gambit, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had to visit you in prison."

Gambit regarded her from beneath hooded eyes. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Of course not," Purdey said unconvincingly, evaluating the figure he cut in the shapeless, utilitarian grey prison-issue suit, constructed of a coarse-looking fabric that made Purdey itch just by looking at it. Somehow, Gambit's broad shoulders still enabled it to drape flatteringly on his slim frame. "All right, perhaps a little," she confessed. "You must admit, it is a little funny."

"Hilarious," Gambit said dryly, crossing his arms expectantly. "Did you bring me anything?"

"Gambit!" Purdey bristled indignantly. "I would have thought my sparkling personality was reward enough."

Gambit looked rather tired. "You know I'm always happy to see you, Purdey. But I have a lot of hours to fill, and you're only here for a little while." A wicked smile crossed his features. "I don't think the warden will let me bring you back to my cell to play backgammon."

"That's just as well. You always lose at backgammon. Did Steed bring you something when he visited?"

"Steed, or dear old Uncle John as Brandon knows him, brought me a couple of paperbacks and a magazine. Oh, and some of his Auntie Penelope's rock cakes, but the prison staff confiscated them as deadly weapons."

Purdey looked heavenward in annoyance. "And who are you going to tell Brandon I am, pray tell? Or do I want to know?"

Gambit splayed a hand across his forehead dramatically, affecting the angsty disposition of a heroine in a bad romance movie. "You're the beautiful, steadfast, loyal woman who's stood by my side throughout my confinement, faithful to the end, sustained by your endless love and devotion."

Purdey smiled sweetly. "Is this a bad time to tell you that I'm emigrating to Canada?"

Gambit's eyes glittered. "Only if I can't come with you. I know all the best places."

"We'll test your status as a walking, talking tourist guide later," Purdey demurred, with a ghost of a smile. "What have you learned from Brandon?"

Gambit's smile disappeared instantly as he slipped smoothly into professional mode. "About as much as I had when I talked to Steed. Nothing."

"Nothing?" Purdey didn't bother to hide her dismay.

"Not a damn thing." Gambit shook his head in obvious frustration. "The man can't be tricked, sweet-talked, flattered, threatened, drugged, or bribed into saying what sort of information he has or where he's hidden it. All he'll say is that he has it, and it's something big."

Purdey bit her lip. "We're going to have to follow him, then."

"Looks that way," Gambit sighed. "Are you ready for his release tomorrow?"

Purdey's grin was madly confident. "Do you need me to answer?"

"No." Gambit shook his head again, this time in admiration. "Hopefully we'll have better luck on that end. Tell Steed I'm sorry I couldn't find anything."

His disappointment in himself was obvious, and Purdey softened at his downcast expression. "We knew it was a long shot when you went in," she reminded, reaching out to cover his hand, curled in frustration on the table top, with hers. "Brandon's kept his secret for this long, after all. He wasn't going to give it up now. There wasn't anything else you could have done."

Gambit smiled crookedly. "Thanks, Purdey-girl." He squeezed her hand. "You're a sight for sore eyes."

"I suppose after three weeks with only Brandon for company, seeing anyone at all would be a novelty," Purdey observed, withdrawing her hand to rummage in her bag. "No wonder you need to keep yourself occupied." She shot him a conspiratorial smile. "I did bring you something, as it happens."

"Really?" Gambit craned his neck to try to see in her bag. "Not a nail file to break out of here?"

"Better." Purdey came up with a small plastic packet, which she placed on the table and slid across to him.

Gambit picked the packet up and arched an eyebrow. "Marshmallows? Purdey, you shouldn't have."

"You might try sharing them with Brandon," Purdey suggested, slinging her purse over her shoulder and rising to her feet. "Maybe he has an irrepressible sweet tooth worth spilling secrets to satisfy."

Gambit smiled wanly. "It's worth a try. Heaven knows nothing else is working." His smile turned more genuine. "Thanks, Purdey."

Purdey didn't reply, but instead quickly rounded the table and bent to give Gambit a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said, and disappeared back the way she'd come, leaving Gambit clutching the marshmallows in one hand, the other pressed to his cheek, and a broad grin stretching his features. Now, more than ever, tomorrow couldn't come soon enough.