Disclaimer: I'm working on building a cybernaut so I can program it with Emma and Steed's heart rhythms. Until I'm done they are not mine. Sigh.
Spoilers: Can you spoil someone for a show that ended 35 years ago? Mentions of Return of the Cybernauts, Small Game for Big Hunters, The Joker, and Forget Me Knot
A/N: With much love and thanks I offer this to bunchofgrapes who poked at me until I watched an episode of The Avengers. She said I'd love it and she was right. Thanks, my friend. And much love to cattylizzie for the superb beta'ing.
Steed gains a new partner, Emma meets an old friend
When a thunderous knocking from downstairs wakes you up on a Saturday morning you don't need to look at the clock to know that it's too early. You look anyway, squinting your eyes in an effort to focus on the numbers. It isn't yet seven am. Someone, it seems, has no sense of decorum. After wrapping yourself in a silk robe and belting it firmly you make your way to the front door.
"This had better be a matter of life and death," you mutter to yourself. "Or better yet a wine distributor." You don't bother to check to see who it is before yanking open the door.
"Oh good, you still live here. I was afraid you might have moved." The man standing in the hallway is a stranger, though there is something familiar about him. You can't quite put a finger on what it is. Without preamble he walks past you and into the flat.
"Why don't you come in?" you comment mordantly as you shut the door and turned to face the interloper. You find yourself looking him in the eye, literally, as you and he are the same height. He's not quite as broad at the shoulder as you are, though.
"Sorry about that, but manners haven't been uppermost in my mind these past few days. I need your help, Mr. Steed." He almost spits out the last words, as if they leave a slightly bitter taste in his mouth.
"Really? What kind of help?" There is a brandy decanter on the top of the wet bar and you pour yourself a few fingers in a cut crystal glass: your own version of the breakfast of champions.
"It's my wife. She's missing, and I'm afraid..."
"You have the wrong person, sir. John Mead, downstairs in apartment one, is a private detective who specializes in spousal problems. Why don't you knock on his door and wake him up. I have a rather wonderful dream to get back to." You're not averse to helping a person out, even when the Ministry doesn't ask, but you have no interest in domestic cases, it's not what you do. You start walking to the door, hoping the man will take the not so subtle hint.
"My wife did not, as you insinuate, leave me for another man Mr. Steed." His anger is understandable, but for some reason it feels like he's aiming it directly at you. Nonsense.
"I'm sure every husband thinks..."
"I am not naive, but I do know that if she wanted out of our marriage she would be honest enough to tell me so. I'm almost as certain that if she left me in that respect you would be the first person to know."
"What?" You are thrown by the man's complete certainty, and even more confused about the innuendo of his words. You would be the first to admit that you have an eye for pretty ladies, but you are always honorable enough to stay away from the married ones. There are some boundaries a gentleman just doesn't cross. "Now look, Mr..." You pause when you remember that you have no name to address the man by.
"Peel. Peter Peel," the stranger supplies.
Your glass falls through your fingers and crashes to the floor. Suddenly everything makes a frightening kind of sense.
"How long?" You left Peter Peel to go upstairs and change into a grey twill suit, feeling less than at your best while wearing jimjams. When you came back down Peter had brewed a pot of tea. Now you both sit at the kitchen table with a tea service between you, stirring your cups. It seems quite civilized in a macabre sort of way.
"Almost two days. Emma was going to spend Thursday morning at the library doing some research, then meet an old friend for lunch. When she didn't come home that afternoon I though that she had simply lost track of the time catching up with her friend, but then she missed dinner. When it got to be bedtime and she still wasn't home I called the police, but they haven't found anything useful out."
"So you came here." You take a sip of your tea as you ponder the situation. It was two years ago that Emma's husband returned from the depths of the Amazonian rain forest, two years since you stood in this very room and said goodbye to the woman you never told you loved. In that time the only communication you've had received from her was a card on both Christmases and a box of chocolates on each of your birthdays. So why, exactly, are you the first person Peter came to; because of your profession or is it something more personal?
"I had thought to hire a private investigator, but I finally admitted to myself that if anyone has a chance of finding her it's you. I will go to any length to find my Emma." You wonder if he realizes how much emphasis he puts on the word 'my.'
"And find her we shall," you declare. You refuse to entertain any other possibility. Looking across the table at Peter's blue eyes you can see that his determination matched your own. If sheer force of will is enough to succeed than she's as good as found already. You know it will take more than that. "Now tell me everything you know."
"May I speak to Samantha Patterson please?" you ask politely when a grey haired woman answers your knock on the door. When Peter insisted that he be involved in the search for Emma you weren't surprised. After all, no one would be able stop you from searching for her. You're in no mood for company, though, least alone him and so you sent him to the library she was supposed to have spent the morning at while you go after the old friend Emma was to have met for lunch.
"I'm sorry; she's not in right now." The woman doesn't open the door all the way, but peeks out threw a crack a few inches wide.
"Can you tell me when she's to return? She left her gloves at the restaurant yesterday, and Mrs. Peel asked me to see them returned." The lie slips though your lips with ease; a talent you rely on often. A well told lie is more usually more effective than red cards and the use of your official title.
"Yesterday? But that's quite impossible, young man. Samantha's abroad on a business trip. She left more than a week ago."
"What?" That can't be right. Why would a women plan to have lunch in England if she was planning to be out of the country? Unless Samantha wasn't the one who made the date; an idea you don't like at all. If it was someone else using Miss Patterson's name as a lure for Emma than her kidnapping was methodically thought out and it will be even harder to find clues. Fleetingly the name Max Prendergast occurs to you, as he pulled a similar trick once, but the man is dead. "Was it a last minute trip?"
"Oh no, dear. It's been planned for months. Samantha asked me more than a month ago if I would come up to town to watch her flat while she was gone. She has cats, you see."
"I'm sure you are taking good care of them. I'm sorry to bother you." With a nod of your head you dismiss her, taking care not to let the unease you feel show on your face. You thought this was a better lead than the library, but now you hope you are wrong. You're tempted to drive over there, because you don't know enough about Peter to know if he is a talented amateur or simply an amateur: after all it did take him four years to find his way out of the Amazon rain-forest. For the moment, however, you'll give him the benefit of the doubt and meet him back at your flat as planned.
You're the first to return, and when you consider watching for him at the window you deliberately sit down on the couch. The first time- only time- you've seen him before was from that point of view, and it's a memory you've spent two years trying to block out.
You don't have long to wait. It's only a quarter of an hour before you hear footsteps on the stairs, and by the time his silhouette appears at the glass you have two glasses of brandy poured.
"Any luck, old chap?" you enquire with a casualness that you don't feel as you offer him one of the drinks.
"I don't know if I had any luck, but I did confirm that she was there. One of the librarians recognized her from the picture I had." He drops the photograph, along with an assortment of papers, on the low table in front of the couch. You recognize it; it's one of the portraits she had taken when you were investigating Togetherness Inc. You wonder if Peter knows of its origin, wonder how much Emma has shared with her husband about the two years you were teamed together. If you had to make a guess you would say not much; after all she told you very little about Peter, and although you weren't presumed dead you might as well have been.
"Do you know what she was researching?" You look over the papers, not reading them for detail, at least not yet, but skimming them in case anything leaps out.
"Anthropology. Something about the Kalayan people learning to govern themselves after so many years under British rule."
"More interesting to study how the British cope without the Kalayans," you say with a chuckle, remembering poor Colonel Rawlings. Peter, of course, doesn't get the joke.
"Have you been to Kalaya, then?"
"Oh, I popped over there for a few hours once. The heat was a bit hard to take but it was the bugs that were murder." He opens his mouth as if to argue, maybe to remind you of geography and the impossibility of your statement, but seems to change his mind and takes a drink instead. You continue to skim through the neatly written notes. A few words, like Shirenzai, jump out at you but nothing that would explain why Emma had disappeared. That is, not until you reach the last page.
She stopped her note taking in the middle of a sentence, as if interrupted. That's not what has your attention. It's the hastily scribbled not in the margin, almost illegible, that turns the worry you've been feeling since Peter arrived into alarm. It says simply '9 letter wo...' and then degrades into a single line that falls off the edge of the page. You can almost hear her voice in your head telling you to cast your mind back.
"A nine letter word beginning with C," you say aloud. Peter looks at you in expectation, hoping you will explain the cryptic remark. You don't.
"If you would excuse me for a moment I need to make a call." There's a phone less than five feet from you but you walk up the spiral staircase to the bedroom and use the extension there. It takes two calls, one to the department and one to a high security private hospital, to learn that what you feared is true. Paul Beresford, after two years in a coma, disappeared some months ago.
"Another return of the Cybernauts," you mutter to yourself. Somehow you're not even surprised.
"It's because of you, isn't it?" Peter demands when you come back downstairs. He's stalking the room, pacing from the window to the couch, the couch to the bookcase and back again. "Whatever's happened to Emma, the reason she's missing, it's because of something she helped you with."
"It's possible," you prevaricate, though you know Peter's right. Emma was the first to meet Paul, an innocent introduction it seemed at the time. You know better now. He only befriended Emma to get at the both of you on behalf of his brother, and Emma was only involved in Armstrong's death because of you.
"A nine letter word. What does that mean?" He's holding the page of notes now, his pointer finger tracing the oblique message. Not for the first time you wonder why she chose that wording. If she had written cybernaut anyone at the department could have reviewed the case and filled Peter in on the history of Armstrong and Beresford. This was something only he could interpret. Was someone watching her, who would have destroyed the paper if she had been so obvious or did she know, even after all this time, that he would be the one looking for her.
"C-Y-B-E-R-N-A-U-T," you spell out with ease, feeling almost as if you are in a child's spelling bee.
"And who in damnation is Cybernaut?"
"It's not a who, it's a what. Didn't Mrs. Peel ever tell you about the cybernauts?"
"My wife and I had our own life to get back to. We did not spend all our time rehashing what had happened when we were apart." He sounds defensive now, and you know he hates that you share something with his wife that he doesn't. It appears that you were right in your guess about Emma's taciturnity.
"A cybernaut is a rather advanced sort of robot, capable of performing almost any task a human can do, if programmed correctly. They are particularly good at karate chops and kidnappings."
"You think one of these things kidnapped Emma?"
"No," you shake your head. "I'm sure if there had been a human-shaped hole in the library door or tables snapped in half you would have said something. Cybernauts are not known for their subtlety. Besides, Paul doesn't worship automation in the same way his brother did. He probably paid some unscrupulous man a large sum of money to kidnap Mrs. Peel."
"Who is Paul and what does his brother have to do with anything? Give me a straight answer, damn it."
"Sit down, relax. Your pacing is giving me motion sickness. I'll pour another pair of drinks and explain everything." You sigh, and motion to the couch. This is going to take some time.
The life of a secret agent is not all about fighting and car chases. The next hours are spent making more calls, trying to find out where Paul might be hiding out and who might be assisting him. When you still haven't learned anything of importance by tea time you send Peter home. There's nothing he can do to help you, and his ceaseless insistence that he be given some sort of task is wearing on your nerves.
You breathe deeply as you close the door behind him. If you had had to hear one more 'my wife' or 'my Emma' you might have forgotten that you were a gentleman. You know that Emma is his, as much as a woman like Emma Peel could ever belong to another person. You've know it since that first meeting when you commented on the ring on her left hand and had noticed the dark flash in her eyes when she introduced herself as Mrs. Peel. You called her that always, even if she was Emma in the privacy of your own thoughts, because it served as a reminder that she had given her heart away long before she met you.
You return to the phone, making more calls until enough time has passed that you are sure Peter Peel was safely tucked in at home. When you walk out the front door you study the street around you anyway, to make sure he isn't hiding somewhere intent on tailing you. Emma would have known that you intended to go out that night.
The only people on the street are a young couple pushing a pram. You jump in your car and take off down the road. There are people you need to speak to that don't have phones and wouldn't speak freely over them if they did. Disreputable souls that you need to look in the eye to be sure they are telling the truth.
It's after midnight when a visit to a smoke-filled pub yields the information you are looking for. Frank, a scrawny man with a talent for picking locks, accepts a ten pound note and tells you that his buddy Vince is working for a 'crazy old bloke' that paid him a pile of money to grab a woman for him. Another ten buys you an address. A few words, spoken low and casually but full of promise, guarantee that he won't try and warn his friend.
You consider making the hour long drive to the remote address alone, but your damnable conscience insists that you go to the Peel residence first. On the more practical side you remember that Emma once mentioned Peter being a boxer when he was at University, and if there is fighting another pair of hands would be useful. You stop by your own home first, to change into an outfit more suitable to skulking around at night and to pick up the gun you rarely use.
The home of Peter and Emma Peel isn't the same flat you last visited. It's a proper house in a quiet part of town with flower beds lining the walk. The doorbell is a simple thing, no name written above it in elegant script, and the door is solid oak with a peep hole smaller than a pence. A maid answers the door and that throws you; you can't imagine Emma employing someone to wait on her. The hall inside is dark and sedate with stained mahogany wood, lurid patterns of wallpaper and oriental carpets. It's not until you nudge at a mostly closed door with the tip of your brolly and find a room filled with books, beakers and a microscope that you get any sense of this being Emma's home.
"Did you find out something about Emma? You must've, if you're here." Peter's running down the stairs, buttoning his shirt as he goes. The maid is right behind him with a coat in one arm and a bowler in her hand. Considering the way his hair is sticking out from his head the bowler is a good idea.
"Would you care to take a drive in the country with me?" you ask calmly, as if your destination was a picnic on a warm summer morning rather than a dangerous rescue in the middle of the night.
"Has anyone ever told you how infuriating that smug smile of yours is? Where's Emma?" He's fully dressed now, his arms crossed as he waits at the bottom of the stairs.
"It's possible she's being held at a manor house out in the country," you say, deliberately widening your smile and delighting in his responding scowl. "Shall we go find out?" Peter mutters something under his breath that you can't quite make out, but you're sure it's less than flattering.
The drive that should have taken more than an hour takes forty-five minutes thanks to clear roads and a heavy foot. It takes all your concentration to keep the car on the road. Conversation is limited to a few brief comments, a fact you are grateful for. You stop the car a quarter-mile from the house so anyone on guard duty won't hear it. The moon is barely a sliver, so you aren't worried about surveillance cameras catching sight of you.
"Come along." You nod towards the house and start walking towards it, not waiting for Peter to catch up with you. A few of the windows were shining with light, a good sign that someone was home. Whether said person was Paul or an innocent had yet to be seen. You look over your shoulder to see if Peter is following, and what little ambient light there is glints off the metal in his hand. You frown at the gun. "Please do put that away. I'm not in the mood to deal with bullet holes, either on my personage or yours."
He holds still for a moment and you wonder if he's going to listen or if you are going to have to take the gun from him. Finally he lowers it, slipping it into the waistband of his pants. You hope the safety is on.
The first window you look into is a wine cellar, and the light is dim and falling onto the floor in a rectangular shape, like an open doorway. You creep along to the next window, your hand trailing the brick wall and Peter right behind you. At least the man knows how to move without making much noise. The second window is blocked by something made of wood, but through the few cracks the light is brighter. Number three's the charm. This part of the basement has been transformed into an elegant bedroom with thick carpets, walls covered in paintings, and a large four poster bed decked out in silk. Sleeping in the middle of the bed is Emma Peel.
"I'll have to remember to buy Frank a drink the next time I see him." You stay at the window until the rise and fall of the blankets convince you that she's breathing, then you move to the side to allow Peter to look. He opens his mouth and worried that he'll call out you elbow him in the side. "Discretion is the better part of valor," you caution.
"We'll go in through the kitchen. It should be the entrance closest to the basement steps," you whisper. You move towards the back of the house, stopping at the corner to peek around carefully. The lack of guards is perplexing. It could be as simple as Paul not expecting anyone to come looking for a man in a coma, or it could be something much more sinister. The path to the back door seems clear, though, and you have no other option.
The door opens without a sound, the hinges well oiled. The room is almost pitch black, and when your shin hits against something hard you remove a lighter from your pocket. It doesn't help much but you don't dare turn on a light. You move around the room in an anti-clockwise circle, Peter close enough behind you that you can almost hear his heart beating. The first door you find turns out to be a pantry. The only other door leads out into the hallway, and you wonder how many more handles you'll have to turn before finding stairs leading downwards.
"I'll check on the doors on the left, you get the ones on the right." There is a click and a flame appears. Peter, holding his own lighter, nods in agreement. You've only opened two doors, the second one leading to a library, when a sharp intake of breath tells you that Peter's found something. You hope it's the stairs but somehow doubt it. You turn, and find yourself staring past Peter to the figure looming in the doorway. Even in the dim light you can see the unexpressive face and the silver shine of metal.
"Back up, Peter," you warn, but it's too late. A single swing of the cybernaut's arm and he falls to the carpeted floor. When the thing steps over Peter's body you turn to run, but you're not fast enough. The last thought that flickers in you mind before everything goes dark is 'not again.'
The pounding in your head when you wake is all too familiar. It's like a hangover without the pleasant memories. You open your eyes slowly, keeping your head down in order to learn as much as you can about your surroundings without anyone knowing you are awake. The room is well appointed, and art is tastefully arranged on tables and hung on the walls. It seems that Paul hasn't lost any of his appreciation for the finer things. You don't see Peter at first, but a low moaning to your left tells you that he's alive. You don't turn to look at him, though, because standing in front of you is the reason you are here.
"Paul, old chap, how are you? It's been a while." You raise your eyes to meet his gaze and give him the smile that people mistakenly think is amiable.
"Funny, it doesn't seem that long ago to me." His physique says different. His hair is pure white, his shoulders stooped, and there is a grey cast to his pale skin. He's aged decades since you last saw him. The suave man who, despite his flirting with Emma, you liked until he tried to turn you into a living cybernaut is no more. The man in front of you is but a shell of Paul Beresford.
"What do you say we catch up over a glass of sherry? I seem to recall you have a rather sophisticated taste in wine." If you can get him talking, keep him distracted, you might be able to work your way free of the ropes that are keeping you bound to the chair.
"I don't have any sherry, but I do have a Château Briand that you should appreciate. I haven't opened it yet as none of the blackguards I've been forced to surround myself with know the difference between a fine vintage and jug wine." He relaxes slightly and you can see a shade of the man he used to be.
"It would be a shame to waste a good bottle on such people. Why don't we open it tonight?" You cross your legs, drawing attention away from your hands as you twist your wrists to better get at the knot in the rope.
"This isn't a bloody party, Steed. What do you think you're doing?" Peter's woken up, it seems.
"Forgive my friend, Paul. He doesn't have much in the way of patience." Mentally you caution Peter to be quiet.
"And who is this gentleman you brought with you? I don't recall ever seeing him before, and I did a thorough investigation into your background after you killed my brother."
"Just a casual friend, no one of importance. You live such a long way out of town that I thought some company on the drive would be pleasant." You hope Peter gets the hint. You don't know what Paul will do if he discovers that his extra prisoner is none other than Emma Peel's husband.
"You should have said no." Paul turns his head briefly towards Peter and makes a soft tis-king sound. "Now I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you."
"Bastard," Peter growls.
"It's nothing personal, and I do promise I will make sure it is as painless as possible. Nothing like Steed's death is going to be." His attention is back on you now, and his eyes narrow. "Your death shall be as slow and painful as I can possibly make it."
"Now that's hardly friendly, Paul. I hope I at least merit a glass of that Château Briand you mentioned first. Last requests and all that." You dig at the knotted rope and finally it begins to give. Another minute and you'll have your hands free.
"Would that really be your last request, Steed?"
"What does a man need other than a glass of wine, a good cigar, and a beautiful woman? I don't recall you ever possessing a humidor so I'll have to forgo the cigar but I do believe you have a beautiful woman on the premises." This time you do dare to look at Peter, rolling you eyes back ever so slightly and wiggling your fingers so he can see that you are almost free. He is, quite literally, biting his lip to keep from speaking but he nods slightly in understanding.
"Oh you can have your wine, Steed, but Emma is mine. I shall have to have some way to entertain myself while you are dying. I've spent years dreaming of just what I would do to that beautiful body of hers once I caught her again." He smiles and it turns your stomach. You've seen that look before, when Emma was wearing a watch and he was speaking of possessing the ability to make her do anything he wanted her to do. You remember the room down in the basement and Emma lying defenseless in the middle of the bed. You yank at your hand and the rope burns but you are free.
"Think again, Paul." Before he can react you lunge at him. Both of you fall to the floor but you're on top and he doesn't put up much of a fight. He's frail, more so than you realized, but he does have enough breath to call out for help. A moment later his eyes flutter closed. You don't waste the time to figure out if he's still breathing.
You can hear the heavy thud of footsteps coming closer, and know that someone heard Paul's summons. Peter's still tied to his chair and you look around the room for something to cut him free. You alight on a jeweled dagger hung on the back wall, and are relieved to find the blade is sharp enough to cut the ropes just as four thugs come running into the room.
"Would you prefer the two on the left or the right?" you ask politely.
"This is just some game to you, isn't it?" Peter accuses as he scowls at you. His hand is curled into a fist and you almost think he's going to hit you, but he takes a step to the side and throws a punch at goon number one. He doesn't move with the same grace that your partners usually do, but he seems to be able to hold his own so you concentrate on your own blocks and punches.
"Would you happen to be Frank's friend Vince?" you ask the tall blond man as you step over the unconscious form of your first foe. The question surprises him and the brief pause is enough that he doesn't react when you clip his jaw with an uppercut. Three down, not counting Paul, and Peter's doing well enough with the last one that you don't feel that you are abandoning him when you run out of the room. You exit into the same hallway you were in earlier, and after two attempts you find the stairs. They let you out into the wine cellar. You don't stop to check any of the vintages.
The door at the end of the wine cellar is locked and dead bolted. You came prepared for anything, and have a lock pick, but your patience is worn thin. You kick the door twice in just the right spot and it flies open. Emma's still in the bed, and at first you wonder how she is still asleep after the racket you caused breaking in, but then you notice that the muscles along her jaws are tense and her lips are pressed together. You've seen Emma asleep often enough to know that she's faking it now.
You're only a step away from the edge of the bed when she shoots up into a seated position, the arm raised above her head clutching a brass candlestick. You know that if you had been Paul she wouldn't have hesitated to use the makeshift weapon. Perhaps, if the timing had been a little different, she would have been the one to rescue you this evening. Two years melt away and everything is as it should be. It takes only a heartbeat for recognition to flood her eyes and the candlestick falls to the bed with a soft plonk.
"Steed." Tension melts away from her muscles and she's smiling at you with that look of relief and affection you still see in your dreams upon occasion. You offer her your hand.
"Mrs. Peel, fancy meeting you here." You help her from the bed, keeping a firm hold on her hand but not allowing yourself more of an embrace. "Paul isn't quite the gracious host I remember."
"Oh Steed, I really m..." Intent on studying the woman before you for any injuries you don't see anyone enter the room but you do hear the telltale click of a gun's hammer being pulled back.
"I'm sorry to hear that you are disappointed in my hospitality, Steed. I worked so hard to get everything ready for you." Paul is leaning wearily against the door-frame of the bedroom and he's pointing a gun at you and Emma. Your gun, to be precise. He must have found it in your inside pocket after the cybernaut knocked you out.
"That's hardly sporting, old friend." You hold up your empty hands, palms out, to accent the fact that you are unarmed. Trying to appear casual you look around the room trying to find something you and Emma can hide behind. Nothing in here would shield you from bullets.
"You don't want to shoot us, Paul," Emma says in that cool tone you know she uses to cover up fear.
"That wasn't my original plan, but it will do. The most important thing is that you'll both be dead."
"What about this beautiful artwork you've collected? It won't look so pretty splattered with blood." She turns to gesture to the painting right behind you, and you can't help glancing away from the gun to look at it, too. An impressionist piece, not quite your taste, but then you've never agreed with Paul when it came to art. It looks vaguely familiar, and you remember a report you read a few months ago about a heist at a museum. You'll have to make a few calls, if you survive tonight.
"It would be a sacrifice worth making, if it avenges my brother's death." He straightens, stepping away from the door, his right hand steady. Your hand tightens around Emma's and you ready yourself to push her aside or throw yourself on top of her; what ever is necessary to keep the blood on the painting from being hers.
Instead of the gunpowder and pain you are expecting the crash of glass and the heady smell of wine fills the room. Paul collapses to the floor, the gun falling from his hand. Peter is standing behind him, the broken neck of a wine bottle in his hand.
"Oh God, Emma." He runs across the room, wrapping Emma in the hug you didn't dare give her earlier. "Em, I was afraid I'd never see you again."
Emma doesn't say anything, but her hand goes limp in yours and you let go. Crossing the room you kneel down next to Paul's body. This time you intend to be sure that he's not coming back.
This time when the knocking on the door wakes you up you've only just fallen asleep. It's a quarter after midnight, and though you took a nap after taking Emma and Peter home this is the first real sleep you've had in two days. You contemplate ignoring the door but you can't. It's a case of deja vu as you knot your robe while walking down the stairs. You pad to the front door, turning on the light before twisting the handle. Somehow you're not surprised when the person standing in the hall turns out to be Emma.
"You didn't say goodbye, Steed." It's not an accusation, but almost a question.
"I'm not terribly good at goodbyes." The car ride home had been even more quiet than the ride out to the country. If it had been him and Emma alone they would have made jokes or speculated about the artwork downstairs and who it really belonged to. They might have pretended that it was just a pleasure drive, and waved at the churchyard full of people they passed or laughed at the cows that mooed when he honked his horn. He would have suggested a meal, and despite their exhaustion they would have dined on crepes and champagne before he took her home. But it wasn't just the two of them.
"You didn't even stay long enough for me to thank you."
"You know that's not necessary. Rescuing friends in the middle of the night is just what I do." She's still standing in the hall and you wrap your fingers around her forearm, tugging her gently through the threshold and closing the door behind her.
"You haven't lost the knack." She reaches up, her fingers playing with the tousled bit of hair that's fallen across your forehead. "I missed the bowler, though. You really oughtn't to go against diabolical masterminds without wearing it."
"I was in a bit of a hurry." Her fingers brush against your skin as she pulls away, leaving you feeling bereftYou watch, slightly perplexed, as she moves through the room. She disappears into the kitchen, emerging with a bottle of champagne in one hand and a pair of glasses in the other, and you grin.
"Share a celebratory drink with me?" Emma invites as she sits down on the couch and works the cork free from the bottle.
"What are we celebrating?" You settle down next to her, thighs touching, and accept the glass when she hands it to you.
"Being alive, for one. New beginnings, for another." She tips her glass against yours, takes a sip.
"New beginnings?" You try to stifle the hope that the simple phrase brings. She could be speaking of so many things.
"After you left Peter and I had a long talk. We've let too much go unsaid between us, things that neither of us dared to say, going back to the day he came back two years ago. These past months, especially, we've simply been going through the motions of a marriage. And then this happened..." She rubs absently at her wrist where a rope burn is her only visible injury. "It's been forever since I've been as scared as I was this week, but it made me realize how long it's been since I've felt that alive too."
"Adrenaline will do that to you," you joke, because you can't trust yourself to say anything else.
"It wasn't that. Being kidnapped by that ruffian, learning Paul was alive, being held down in that basement; if I could have wished myself back into my safe life with the endless socials and the horrid wallpaper and the maid who scolds me for staying up too late working on experiments I would have in an instant. But then you were there and everything in my world was right again. It was like..."
"Like a piece of you had been locked away, and you had just found it?" you venture to ask.
"Precisely." Her glass is empty and she sets it down on the table. "I love Peter, but I knew a week after he returned that I was no longer in love with him."
"Mrs. Peel I..."
"You called me Emma the last time we were in this room." Though your own champagne isn't gone she takes the glass away fro you, sets it next to hers.
"Emma," you say slowly, as if testing it out. "Emma." You can feel the grin growing, couldn't stop it even if you wanted to.
"So you don't object to a new beginning?"
"Not at all. However, this time let's forgo the cybernauts."
When you kiss her she tastes of champagne and promises.