Disclaimer: In a perfect world Purdey, Steed, Emma and Gambit are my friends. In real life I only get to see them when I turn on my DVD player. Sad.
Spoilers: For the New Avengers episode K is for Kill
A/N: This is the result of watching the New Avengers season two followed by Two Many Christmas Trees. Just a little something fluffy for the season. Love and thanks to lj user"chitowngal" for the beta.
"Oh, Christmas cards." Purdey picked up a large red envelope and held it up to the light. "How exciting."
"Let me pour you a drink and you can help me open them." The cards had piled up at an alarming rate this past week, but between assignments and holiday parties this was the first time he'd had a chance to sit down.
"I'd love to." With a glass of wine at her side Purdey attacked the pile of cards, reading them out loud, asking the occasional question. Most, she was not surprised to find, were from women.
"Mrs. Gale," Steed chuckled when she read one addressed from California. "Thirteen years and she still hasn't returned to England."
They were almost done when an envelope of pale blue yielded a single ticket to the ballet. The performance was for the following Friday. The card was unsigned.
"Are you going to go?" Purdey watched as he slipped the ticket into the inside pocket of his jacket, already knowing the answer.
"It could be a trap." A closer examination of the card revealed nothing; on the front a scene of Dickensian Christmas, inside a preprinted greeting.
"It could be," Steed mussed, unconcerned.
"The last time someone invited you to the theatre they were trying to frame you for murder."
"I hardly think that would happen twice in the same year."
"You should take someone with you, just in case."
"Take someone where?" Eschewing the open bottle of wine Gambit poured himself a scotch and joined Steed and Purdey at the table.
"Steed's been invited to the ballet by a mystery someone," Purdey explained.
"You should take someone with you. The last time..."
"You know I really am quite capable of looking after myself."
"I like the ballet." Purdey straightened Steed's bow-tie and smoothed his lapels.
"I know. We should go sometime." For the third time Steed checked to make sure he had the ticket. "But not tonight."
"It's bad form to bring company to a date, my dear."
"Is this a date?"
"I don't know."
"But you have an idea of who sent the ticket." She could read the truth in his eyes.
"And if I've been a very good boy this year Santa might prove me right."
"I hope so." Standing in the doorway, watching Steed drive away, Purdey was tempted to give him a head start and then follow. But Steed could take care of himself, as he'd proved a hundred times in the few years they had worked together and thousands of times as she had read in the files. Instead she locked the door and headed for Gambit's. If he didn't have a date she could talk him into taking her out to dinner. If he did have a date she still might talk him into taking her out for dinner.
Purdey might be right. It could be a trap, set by any number of his enemies. The cost of a single ticket to a show would be a small price to pay if someone wanted to lure him out. On a slightly more favorable viewpoint it might be one of any number of women simply trying to get his attention. He could name five off the top of his head that enjoyed the ballet and were fond of games. Susan had winked at him when they met at the market the other day and Monica had called twice this week.
An assassination or an assignation, he mused drolly.
There was no reason to think it was something else. No reason to hope. It had been years since he had seen her, almost two months since the phone call.
i I'm not Mrs. Peel anymore. /i
It was almost an hour until the curtain was scheduled to rise but he didn't linger in the lobby. An attendant showed him to his seat. Twelve rows from the stage, red plush, plenty of leg room. Like most of the theatre the seats on either side were empty. They remained empty for the next thirty minutes.
"I'm so sorry." The woman who tripped over his feet on the way to the seat next to him was beautiful, had rich auburn hair and smiled at him charmingly. She was also a complete stranger.
"You have nothing to apologize for." Habit had him smiling and making small talk until the flickering lights warned that the curtain was about to arise. His seatmate was either unaware of who he was or a wonderful actress. Given that she was a university student bubbling with enthusiasm for the ballet, he was almost positive she was what she said she was. The seat on the other side of him remained empty.
He waited until the ballet began, giving it a good fifteen minutes after the curtain rose before turning his back on the stage and heading for the exit. The attendant frowned at him as he pulled the door leading into the lobby open. He smiled politely and tipped his hat in apology.
If someone was going to kill him they had failed. If some had planned on meeting him at the performance...
"Hello Steed." In the middle of the lobby, standing completely alone, was Mrs. Peel.
"You're late." An hour. Two months. Eleven years.
"Really? I thought I was right on time." She looked very much the same as she had the last time he had seen her. Her hair still auburn, a little darker perhaps but not yet touched with the grey that coloured his own tresses. She was not quite as slender as she had been, but still thin. And if there were a few more lines on her face, well he was too much of a gentleman to mention them.
"Did you really want to stay and watch the show?" She held up her hands. They were empty. No ticket.
"Why the charade? You could have asked me to meet you anywhere."
"If I had asked you could have refused. I know you. You couldn't have resisted a mystery, and this way at least..." She shrugged, her head cocked slightly to one side.
"Did you really think I would say no?"
"A call to confirm the facts of a case is not the same thing as an invitation, Steed. I had no right to expect..."
"Emma." He closed the space between them, stopping only when they where a whisper from touching. "You only had to say the word and I would have come."
"I missed you." Her hand caressed his cheek, the same cheek she had kissed goodbye so long ago.
"No regrets, my dear." Her fingers were warm, her hand still fit in his perfectly. "Let's go get a bottle of champagne and toast to the future. The Bentley's parked just outside."
"Steed, that car was an antique before I met you. You're still driving it?" Emma shook her head but smiled when she saw the car gleaming under a streetlight.
"Only on special occasions." Steed held open the passenger door. "Beside, I'm loyal to my old friends."
"Steed." Purdey let herself into the house without knocking. "Steed, are you here?"
There was no answer, and a search led from one empty room to another. Frowning slightly Purdey walked up the stairs.
"Just thought I'd pop round, make sure no on killed you at the ballet last night." She floated through the hall, pausing outside Steed's bedroom door. She was about to open it when muffled words were followed by a rich laugh. She recognized Steed's laugh, even if it was more unrestrained than usual. The first laugh was joined by another, this one unknown but definitely feminine
Backing away from the door Purdey went back down the stairs, smiling to herself. Steed was alive, there was no doubt about that. There was, she was sure, more to the story of last night's ballet, but she would have to wait to find out. Tomorrow she would ring him up, inviting herself and Gambit over for lunch. Maybe if they were lucky the mystery woman would still be here and they would be introduced. Today she would leave a note on the dining room table letting him know not to worry about work, she and Gambit would cover any emergencies that came up. He deserved the time off.
If no calls came maybe she would treat herself to a night at the ballet.