Keeping Warm by rabidsamfan

Disclaimer: This is fanfic. I own neither the characters nor the setting, alas, and mean no infringement upon the rights of those who do.

By dawn the storm had settled in over London, bringing snow and winds of near-record proportions to the city, and glee to the weather-watchers who had read the signs aright. For hours the flat grey clouds unleashed legions of tiny frozen myrmidons, snowflakes that hissed against the windowpanes and piled up quickly into drifts. They muted the light of morning nearly as efficiently as they muted the city noises that would normally rise to a certain flat from the street five stories below. A car spun its wheels now and then, but other than the intermittent scrapings of snow shovels the only sign that the city outside was more awake than the occupants of the wide bed inside was the muffled wail of sirens, somewhere off in the distance.

The telephone rang twice before an arm snaked out from under the covers to retrieve it. It waved around for a moment helplessly before a tousled blonde head followed. The owner of the arm peered peevishly at the nightstand, which was singularly unequipped with any telephonic equipment, and then remembered why. She nudged the lump beside her. "Wake up... it's your phone," she muttered and dived back under the blankets.

"Izzit?" The barely coherent grunt was followed by the appearance of another arm. This one fished in the opposite direction and came up with a telephone receiver, which it promptly drew under the covers as well. "'Lo."

"Gambit, have you seen Purdey about?" The voice at the far end of the line was painfully cheerful. "She's not answering her phone."

"Steed... right... Do you need her?" The mumble was unenthusiastic about the possibility.

"No, I just wanted to let her know that they've postponed the meeting with Murphy. He refuses to fly over until the weather clears."

"So you don't need her." The mumble gained a little enthusiasm. "Or me, I take it?"

"That's right. Gives you both a chance to sleep in after all that bother last night... or it would, if I could locate Purdey." The tone of Steed's voice changed slightly. "You did see her safely home, didn't you?"

"She got in all right. I told you I meant to make sure of it."

That reassurance set off a round of giggling from the other half of the bed. "You meant to make sure one of us got in, anyway."

The sotto voce comment didn't appear to have been picked up by the phone. "But if she's not answering..." Steed persisted.

"Come on, Steed. You know Purdey. It was snowing sideways when we started back to London. I'm quite sure that she's in bed with the covers over her head."

"Perhaps I ought to check on her."

"I shouldn't if I were you. The roads were pretty sloppy last night, and I can't imagine they're in any better shape this morning. Tell you what Steed -- I'll see to Purdey and you see to your horses. That way all of us can go back to bed with a clear con--science." The magnanimous offer was somewhat spoiled by the squeak with which the last syllable was delivered.

"Are you all right?" Steed's voice had lost none of its concern.

"It's nothing. Nothing! I'm just getting up. Got to tend to Purdey haven't I? Talk to you later, Steed, goodbye!" The blankets were heaved off the bed abruptly, revealing two people still dressed in rumpled clothing as the owner of the telephone made quick work of pressing down the contacts and then stashing phone and receiver into the nightstand drawer. "Purdey! That wasn't cricket!"

"Oh, I don't know. I found at least one ball... and a bat!" The slender blonde bestowed an impish, if still sleepy smile upon the tall man beside her. "Anyway, you could have just told Steed I was here."

He grinned unrepentantly and propped himself up on one elbow to face her. "Wouldn't want him to get the right idea."

She snorted. "Not that it would matter. Nothing happened except for you falling asleep."

"Me? You were the one who dropped off first. I got back from the bathroom and you were already out like a light."

"I was just resting my eyes!"

"You were snoring!"

"Who me?" She put on an air of wounded innocence, and then grinned. "It was after three in the morning."

"Closer to four." He yawned and craned up to examine the bedside clock that was on her side of the bed. "And it's not much after nine now."

She tugged at the disarrayed covers. "And it's nearly as cold as it was last night. Get back under here and warm me up."

He raised an eyebrow. "What? In this outfit?"

She took hold of his lapels and pulled him under the covers. "We can mend that."

An unbiased observer might have taken interest in keeping track of which items of clothing were ejected from under the heaving blankets first -- particularly in the singular failure of the second sock of the pair to appear. An unbiased listener would also have a good bit of fodder for contemplation...

"Wait, wait, not the wallet, I'm going to need a..." soft crinkle of foil

"Like to stay prepared, I see. What did you think we were going to do in Yorkshire, jump into the nearest set of bushes?"

"Wrong season for bushes-- a snowbank maybe, if we'd had to stay another day. Where can I put this till we need... oh, that's not fighting fair!"

"Whyever not?"

"I meant for your bra to be one of the first things to go!"

"Think of it as incentive. And move your arm so I can get this sleeve..."


"Sorry." sound of a kiss "Does that make it better?"

"Let's try it my way." somewhat noisier interval "Mmmm. yes, that is better. Why do you have so many buttons? And why are they sewn on so tight?"

"Rip this dress and you'll regret it."

"I'm not ripping anything, I'm just... careful with that, we won't be able to play if it gets damaged... I was just going to try to see if I could undo them with my tongue and teeth, but I don't think it will work when they're sewn on so... ohhhhh..."

much rustling of cloth, followed by the appearance of a silk dress from under the covers "Much simpler, don't you think?"

"Acres and acres and it's all fuzzy."


"Never mind. I didn't know that they made woolly knickers that color -- or that shape come to think of it. You weren't wearing anything like that at Christmas."

"I'd thought very carefully about how to wrap your Christmas present -- and it wasn't like we'd spent Christmas eve chasing baddies across the moors. Come on now, it's your turn."

"What? Oh..." more rustling of cloth, signalling the departure of a waistcoat "This would be easier if we... weren't... under... the... oh bother I forgot to undo the cuff button. Could you...thanks..."

"Don't you dare pull back the covers. I don't think your heat's come up."

"Oh, yes it has!" a shirt dribbles inelegantly off the edge of the bed

"Not out there it hasn't. And just when did you start wearing a woolly vest?"

"My granny gave me one when I was small. But it's nice and warm. Here, put your hands under it and you'll ...ah! ooh! Yes... your hands do need warming up, don't they?"

"I told you so. Maybe if we nudged up..."

"MMmmm...yes... but you know what they say about hypothermia -- it's skin to skin contact that really works best."

"We'd best get rid of those trousers then." an interlude of much wriggling and giggling, whereupon the trousers -- and one sock -- make their debut to the larger world, followed quickly by several woollen unmentionables

"Warmer yet?"

"Nearly. The friction is definitely helping."

"Here, tuck up nice and close and I'll rub your back... Hmm. Hadn't thought of that..."

"Hadn't though of what?"

"The effect of lace rubbing up against things."

"It seems to be a good effect."

"So far, but still, that bra has got to go before I end up getting chafed or I'm not going to want to put that woolly vest back on later."

"Best cool the sore places down then."

"What are you do... oh! oh! yeah... um... okay, you can keep on doing that."

"I plan to. Oh, look! Another red spot down here..." the lump under the cover rearranges south -- a bare leg appears, waves around for purchase, brushes toes against the metal frame of a nearby chair and is withdrawn hastily. "Oh, bugger!"


"It's really cold out there. Are you sure the heat's on?"

"Purdey, it's mid-January. Of course the heat is on."

"On what? Vacation?"

"Look, couldn't you just keep on keeping on... Purdey?"

"I think I've got frostbite on this toe!"


"Look at this gooseflesh! I barely had my leg out there for a second!"

"Purdey." sigh "Oh, all right..."

The covers were flung back again, this time revealing a good deal more pink, and the tall man swivelled to put his feet (one bare and one be-socked) on the rug while behind him his companion quickly tucked the edges of the blankets down around herself in a kind of protective cocoon. He started across the room toward the thermostat and let out a yelp when the bare foot came into contact with bare floor two steps away from the bed. The rest of the trip was made to the accompaniment of a string of oaths from him and unseemly hilarity from the bed. He stood flamingo fashion on the stockinged-foot as he peered at the thermostat and whacked it on its side in the time honored fashion of impatient repair begun by the first man ever to use anything more complicated than a knobbly club. "Come on..."

It was clear from the rapidly diminishing evidence of his own person that the lady had been quite correct about the temperature in the room, and after another couple of whacks he gave up on the thermostat and darted to the kitchen, somehow contriving to touch the cold floor with as small an area of the soles of his feet as could be managed. He filled a roasting pan with water and put it in the oven, cranking that thermostat over and jittering impatiently until he was certain that the heating elements were beginning to glow.

"Right..." he vanished for a moment up the hall and came back with a bedspread of virulent orange which he lofted over the bed before climbing back in. "That should help."

"I told you so," his companion said, not in the least triumphantly. "Does this happen often?"

"Never has before..." He blew on his hands, and then reached into the drawer for the telephone before sliding under the covers again. The lump beside him nudged up obligingly. "Oh... thanks..." he said, through teeth that were trying to chatter.

"You're an icicle!"

"Well you'll have to help me warm up again, won't you? 'Cause at the moment an icicle'd probably be of more use."

"So I see... poor Mike. Such a noble sacrifice. Here let me blow on it and see if that helps."

"JJsejaswja... uh... maybe you should ... save that thought... until I've... ahem... made this phone call." On the third try his voice came down to nearly its usual register.

"I'll see about warming up your feet then, shall I?"

"No fair tickling... Not while I'm calling anyway."

the soft snap of fingers "Darn it, and just when I was hoping for a bit of fun."

"I'm too cold for fun yet." the sound of dialling "Hello, Jerry?"

"It's Mr. Gambit isn't it?" came the brisk feminine reply. "Calling about the heat are you?"

"Oh, hello, Mrs. Porter, yes, that's right." If there was a faint note of resignation in the agreement, it didn't seem to matter.

"I thought so. Got in late again, did you? We tried to call last night along with the rest of the tenants when the boiler went but you wasn't to home. Two in the morning, it was, and nothing Jerry tried would work and so we had to call a plumber in. The man's on his way back to fix it: had to go fetch a part he did, and the roads are that bad. Fifteen inches of snow already some places they say, and I believe it. Jerry's been shovelling every hour and you can't hardly tell for all the wind. He's out there now, if you want to have him call you back when he comes in."

To the sound of the running commentary, the lump under the covers began to rearrange itself again, as one of the inhabitants swapped head for toe, being very careful not to let any bits extend beyond the edges of the covers, and then shifted again to crouch over the other person's legs.

"Um... uh... no... No, that's not necessary. Any estimate about when the heat will be back on?" The note changed from resignation to something a little closer to desperation, but the landlady's loquaciousness didn't seem to be the cause.

"Two hours, maybe three. But there's no need to be up and about. The radio's telling everyone to stay to home and most all the stores are closed. You just stay abed, Mr. Gambit and keep yourself warm. At least we've got the electricity, and that can't be said for a lot of folks. Outages here and outages there -- the wires they can't take it, the radio says, and..."

The lump was moving gently, back and forth, and a soft, pleased hum was coming from somewhere near the foot of the bed.

"I think that's a very good idea, Mrs. Porter," came the strained interruption. "I didn't get much sleep last night at all and I'm sure Jerry will have everything working just fine by the time I get up. Wake up. Again. I mean. Goodbye, then. Tell Jerry not to work too hard."

"I'll do that, and..." But the clatter of the receiver on the hook cut off any further commentary. A hand appeared long enough to drop the phone back into the nightstand drawer, but its owner quickly withdrew it again.



"Get up here."

"Not yet. I've nearly got your ankles warm. Knees next, I think." The lump moved, curving upwards, as if the person under the covers had arched their back and then scooted their knees closer to the headboard.

"I hope you mean to be waving your nethers in my face. Reminds me of the Miller's Tale."

The arch under the cover collapsed, as the owner of the back responsible fell into giggles. "Gambit! This is no time for literature."

"Oh, I don't know. There's always rude limericks. Here, you arch up again while I scoot down a little, because if you keep going that way your feet are going to end up out from under the covers."

"And what are you going to do once you've... Oh!"


"I'm not sure that's the nether eye that Chaucer meant."

"No, I believe it was this one." a brief pause


"Did you like that?"

"I'm still considering. I'd probably like it better if you hadn't just raised Chaucer's ghost. Makes me wonder if I might end up raising the ghost of last night's dinner."

"I hope not. It's a bit cold for airing things out."

"Did you like it?"

"Well enough. I like the response it got. Though I can see why it was a less popular option in the days when soap and running water weren't readily available."


"Sorry, ma'am, I'm just a poor sailor."

"Who reads Chaucer."

"In translation. I tried the original, and it was interesting to see which words have survived fairly intact, but I got lost pretty quick. Luckily the ship's library had a copy in slightly more recent English. Victorian, I think. The poetry was done a bit forsoothly but the stories weren't expurgated."

"Something to think about on the long night watches?"

"Inspiration to delve deeper into the realms of English Literature. Want me to try it again?"

"Not just now. And you'd best have found a more romantic author to cite if you mean to kiss anything netherward in future."

"Herrick, perhaps, or Donne? So what am I allowed to kiss while I'm netherward -- here? Or maybe here...?" longer pause, affirmative response "Yes, here seems to be working rather well. Speaking of which, weren't you doing something down there?"

"Mm? Oh, yes, yes I was."

"Lost your place?"

"Yes, but I've found the bookmark now."

"So you have..."

The next few comments were far too muffled to be heard outside of the blankets, though by the rhythm, and the giggling response, it was clear that the culmination of the discussion was a limerick, and probably quite rude.

"I think we can get rid of this bra now..."

"Definitely. Here, give me the condom."

"Don't you think I know how to apply it?"

"Gives me something to do while you shift round."

"You take care of the bra, I'll take care of the condom."

"Yes, ma'am." the lump begins to rearrange "Ooof. You've got sharp elbows."

"Sorry. Here..."

"And knees!"

"Well, I don't want the covers to come off!"

"Just let me hold them up then..." the blankets rise from the bed, as if someone underneath them has extended arms and legs -- a small gap appears on one side "Oops, there's a draft." one leg is brought down a little and the gap vanishes

"You look really silly, you know that."


"With everything sticking up like that."

"If you don't get a move on, there won't be anything sticking up!"

"Now that would be a shame. Just let me get this out of the wrapper..."

"Speaking of getting things out of the wrapper." a scrap of lace and elastic joins the other scattered garments on the floor as the lump rearranges yet again "Ah, better. Hello there."

"I thought you had better manners than to speak to a woman's cleavage."

"Well we did just meet at Christmas. It's only right to improve the acquaintance."

"Keep doing that..." inarticulate, but not displeased noise "...ah... blast it I dropped the... oh, there it is."


"It's slippery."

"Be grateful I got the pre-lubricated kind -- the ky jelly in the drawer is probably the chillier than the butter in the cooler. Here, I'll do it. You lie back and get the pillows how you like them."

"Aye aye, Captain Bligh."

"You're not planning on mutiny are you?"

"Not if you get a move on. Here, wait... my turn..." The arms and legs supporting the blankets this time aren't quite as long, or their owner is more careful to keep the edges low as the lump rearranges. "Ah, that's better." When gravity takes control of the covers it's clear that the double lump has become a single lump and only a few minor adjustments are still necessary.

"Just let me get... positioned... here... good?"

"A little lower... there... Just let me... Drat it..." The blankets ruck up, showing feet. The sock is nearly off now, sliding off of toes facing downwards, but it is the other pair of feet which is pulled up . "Can't you pull the covers down?"

"Wrap your legs around, that'll keep your feet warm."

"What about your feet?"

"They'll be plenty warm once we get a bit of exercise."

"As long as you're su...ooohhhh..."

"Going to break into a chorus of 'Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life, then?"

"Ballet, not operetta, remember? Just stay there a moment, though. I want to try something."

"Ghghaha? What are you...?"

"Kegel exercises. Do you like them?"

"Yes. I think. As long as nothing gets pulled off. Wow."

"I've been practicing."

"And practice makes perfect. But hold that thought or I'll come before you've even left the gate." the lump begins to move in an even tempo

"What no poetry?"

"Easier to keep time with music. Last Saturday night young Nancy laid sleeping, Last Saturday night young Nancy laid sleeping,And into her bedroom young Johnny went a-creeping, With his long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to his knee." The giggling response that the song got seemed to encourage the singer and he went on for several verses, becoming rather syncopated as he reached the end of the song. But by then coherence had fled the room, making way for inarticulate exclamations of pleasure.

The theoretical observer would certainly have deduced from the sequence of the exclamations that while the participants reached their destination separately, they both most certainly went the distance, dislodging the awful orange bedspread in the process, and very nearly losing the rest of the covers as well. It wasn't until things had calmed down that someone made a desultory attempt to tug the blankets back into position.

"I think the sheet's pinned under you."

"Sorry." things shift around "Warm enough now?"

"Lovely... Wait, where are you going?"

"To clean up."

"Stay and cuddle."

"I'd like nothing better, beautiful, but if I wait till things dry enough to get sticky and clogged I'll end up pissing sideways. Best take care of it now."

"Oh you would mention that. Now I've got to go too."

"Give me a chance to warm up the porcelain first."

"No need for chivalry -- I've been in enough nightclub loos to learn the "crouch and hover" technique if I need it."

"I wasn't going to sit on it. Here, you take the duvet and I'll use the... where did the bedspread go?" There was a brief flurry of activity, which ended up with two vertical cocoons (one of them bright orange) mincing across the floor.

"If you aren't going to sit on it, how are you going to warm it up?"

"I have an evil plan!" The tall man's arm appeared out of his wrapping long enough to lob the knotted condom at the wastebasket near the table with commendable accuracy. "Score!"

"Stop boasting and hurry up, you. Or find my shoes."

"Use my boots -- they're by the stereo."

While the lady co-opted the boots, her companion went to the oven to retrieve the roasting pan he'd filled with water earlier. This was complicated. The bedspread lacked any fastenings, and his first attempt to use the sides as heating pads sent the rest of the cloth falling off his head and shoulders, revealing a face still flushed with effort and dark curly hair just the wrong side of damp with sweat for the current temperature of the room.

"Oh, sweet ..." He shoved the roasting pan back into the oven so hastily that it slopped over and his reactions weren't quite quick enough to completely avoid the splash. "Oh no."

"What's wrong?" She clumped over to see.

"It's meant to be warmer than that." He bent to look into the oven more carefully as he drew the bedspread back up over his shoulders and tried wrapping it around in different ways. "The oven's gone off."

She tried flicking the nearest light switch. "So has the electricity."

He settled for something that looked like a muumuu just under his arms and picked up the pan barehanded. "The water is warm enough for a quick wash. And the pan is still hot enough to warm the pot."

She followed him toward the facilities. "Your hospitality is most admirable, kind sir."

"Don't I wish! Nothing's working!"

She caught him by the toga and leaned up to give him a kiss. "I thought the important bits worked just fine."

The imminent sulk gave way to a much different expression. "You would do that when I haven't got my hands free."

"Cleaning up, remember? Not that I believe it would ever get so sticky you would really piss sideways."

"Oh, yes it would! I nearly got myself in the eye one morning." At her howls of gleeful disbelief he added, "Well, I was only a kid and I hadn't had much practice. Stilll, something like that looms large in a young man's life, believe me."

She laughed some more and took the lead. "Come on, then, before you have to deal with superglue."

He shuddered, dramatically, "Don't even think about it."

After a brief interval they came wandering back, in an amicable, and increasingly yawny silence. She made for the bed and sat down to pull off the boots, while he stopped off to drop off the now empty roasting pan and fetch a couple of glasses of water.

"I suppose we really ought to get dressed and head over to your place."

"I probably don't have any electricity either. And I don't feel like digging out those 21 steps down to the front door."

"Yes, but you probably have heat."

"It's a basement flat, Gambit. Even when I have heat it's never toasty."

"We could go to Steed's."

She tugged on his wrapping. "We could just climb under the covers again."

"You sure you'll be okay?"

"As long as you're under here with me."

"Well, in that case..." Between them they got sheet, duvet and bedspread arranged, and were about to vanish from view again when he paused. "Wait..." He sat up and dug into the nightstand, coming up with a small foil packet.

"What's that for?" she asked as he joined her under the covers. "And why are you putting it in the pillowcase?"

"That," he answered with a yawn, "Is because heat always rises, sooner or later."

She laughed. "That it does. Now nudge up and keep me warm."

The apartment was quiet for quite some time, except for an occasional snore and mumble from under the pile of bedclothes. Gradually the light shifted as the storm outside eased off and a gradual brightening indicated that the sun might possibly make a brief appearance before nightfall. At some point the clock on the nightstand clattered itself back to noon, and then restarted the slow flip of panels to change the numbers as the minutes advanced. The heating element in the oven glowed bright again, vainly attempting to reach its goal with the oven door still standing open to the rest of the apartment.

There was no reaction from the bed to any of these developments, however. Nor was there any response when the buzzer by the door gave a soft chattering death gurgle, its internal mechanisms maladjusted after the deprivations of the long cold night and morning. The doorknob turned, after a moment, and tall figure engulfed in a parka slipped into the flat. It paused just inside the door and brought one mittened hand up to push back the fur-edged hood, revealing an older man with cheeks bright as a Punch in a puppet show from the outside cold and bright blue eyes both tired and wary. He began a quiet, cautious recce, but when he saw the bed, with its lumpy orange covers and the corona of scattered garments around it, his shoulders relaxed. He noted the telephone cord vanishing into the nightstand drawer and smiled.

Still quietly, but with much less wariness, he made his way to the end of the bed and lifted the edge of the bedclothes long enough to count toes and assure himself that the feet the toes were attached to were pink and healthy. He chuckled when they twitched a little as the cold air hit them. Tucking the blanket back down, he went back to the entrance and opened the door long enough to retrieve a pair of rime-encrusted snowshoes, which he propped against the wall.

That done, and the door closed, he considered his options as he studied the steampuffs of his own breath hanging in the air. Retracing his path was out of the question. Ice had formed on the strings of his mukluks and the wool of his trousers was sodden to well above the knees despite mukluks and snowshoes, mute evidence of a long slog through wretched conditions. His less than immaculate chin bespoke a day that had stretched the limits of even a notable resilience, and the furrows that were fading from his forehead indicated that he'd spent much of the day more than a little worried. But his worries, at least, were set to rest. And as for resting the rest of him...

The rattle of the windowpanes from a blast of cold wind outside made the decision easier. "Tea," he asserted softly, turning towards the kitchen. Everything was always better with a cup of tea.

Fortunately, the gurgling of the electric kettle was echoed shortly by a series of indignant clanks and rumbles as the pipes in the baseboard heaters readjusted themselves to an influx of hot water from the bowels of the building. The wakeful visitor chuckled and stripped off his gloves gratefully as teapot, oven, and the renascent heating system combined to make a pool of gathering warmth around him. He rummaged in the cupboard for bread and jam and made himself up a plate of sandwiches before taking tea and sandwiches along in search of a good book and a comfortable chair. The rising heat in the flat soon penetrated everywhere, driving the visitor to doff his parka after a chapter or two, and making him nod and yawn over the pages.

The change in temperature was also inciting odd stirrings from the bed. After a time a foot poked out and was not withdrawn, and then a hand that didn't match the foot. A mumble was greeted with another mumble, and then soft laughter. The observer, no longer theoretical but sufficiently somnolent not to have quite yet caught on to the change, stirred a little in his chair but didn't raise his head.

"Do you always wake up a girl like that?" came the amused question.

"Only sometimes. Lying asleep between the strokes of night I saw my love lean over my sad bed..."

"I didn't think the bed was very melancholy."

"Hush, I'm being romantic. Pale as the duskiest lily's leaf or head, Smooth-skinned and dark, with bare throat made to bite..."

"Don't even think about it. I'm not in the mood to explain a hickey to anyone."

"Sorry, that's just the way the poem goes. And I've got better things to do with my mouth anyway."

"Mmm... indeed you do. Oh!"

The squeak at least penetrated the visitor's cocoon of semiconsciousness. He set aside his book as the orator continued the poem with pauses to indicate when his mouth was otherwise occupied.

"Too wan for blushing and too warm for white, But perfect-coloured without white or red. And her lips opened amorously and said -- I wist not what, saving one word -- Delight."

Recalling the rest of the text, the observer rose and beat a soft-footed retreat to the kitchen, grinning as he took down a pan to place on the cooker and began to clatter things together as a subtle announcement of his presence.

The otherwise preoccupied parties didn't seem to notice, for the poem went on, and with it the delighted laughter of the lady.

"And all her face was honey to my mouth, And all her body pasture to mine eyes;"

"Pasture? Does that mean you're going to make cow eyes at me? Where did you find this poem anyway?"

"Wait... I'm just getting to the best part. The lithe arms and hotter hands than fire,"

"Your hands are pretty warm too."

"Yes, well, I think the heat's come up."

"I can see it has."

"The quivering flanks, hair smelling of the south, The bright light feet, the splendid supple thighs..."

"Splendid supple thighs?"

"Definitely splendid. And glittering eyelids of my heart's desire."

"And what does your heart desire? As if I can't guess."

"Where did that pillow go..."

A resounding clang from the kitchen interrupted the proceedings.

Bedclothes flew everywhere as two highly trained sets of reflexes propelled their owners toward the possible threat. If the man hadn't skidded in a puddle of icemelt from the intruder's mukluks he might have been the first to realize who was standing behind the counter, holding two potlids like cymbals. As it was he was still catching his balance as his former sleeping companion squeaked and dived back to retrieve the nearest large piece of cloth.

Her retreat distracted him a moment more, but his hands had already come up into a defensive position and his feet were set for battle even as he took his chance to look and see.


"I did try to call," the older man averred. "Would you like bacon or bangers with your breakfast?"

"Bangers," the lady asserted, coming up behind and swirling the orange bedspread obligingly over the naked man's bare shoulders. She'd wrapped herself in the sheet, and if her cheeks were still pink from blushing as she addressed the visitor her voice at least was steady. "How long have you been here?"

"Not very," was the answer, in spite of the puddle of evidence to the contrary. "I stopped by your place to see how they were coming with that broken water main."

The younger pair exchanged alarmed glances, but their senior went on as if he hadn't noticed. "I was relieved to see that Gambit's car wasn't among the lot that got caught, but it took me a while to get through to your apartment. Totally awash, I'm afraid. You'll need to have to arrange to have it pumped out."

"Totally awash?"

"Six inches deep, at the very least. Good job Gambit went over to pick you up. Though I take it the two of you had to deal with hypothermia when you got back here."

There was another quick exchange of glances. It was a dubious straw, but it had been offered...

"Something like that. And my heat had gone out, so..." Sometimes half an explanation could be a better choice than details.

"Well, since Purdey's apartment is temporarily uninhabitable, and your block is having problems, I've got good news," the visitor began to crack eggs into a bowl. "The pair of you have got got some travelling to do, once you've had a bite to eat."

"Travelling, in this weather?"

"When? Now?"

"Steed, we just got back last night," the lady protested. "We haven't even had a chance to empty our suitcases yet!"

"It's not like you haven't had a chance to rest up all day," the older man smiled relentlessly. "But you can sleep on the way there if you like."

"On the way where? And what are we doing?"

"Meeting with Murphy. He's under a time limit and he really needs to get Purdey's report in person, wants her to meet him at the halfway point."

The man wearing the orange bedspread groaned and sank into the nearest chair. "Greenland? No wonder you're togged out like an Eskimo."

"Not quite. London was enough of a challenge for me, so I'm going to stay here and see to Purdey's flat. You'll have to play bodyguard on your own this time, Gambit."

The younger man perked up at that prospect. "Just the two of us? Might be fun."

"Not if we're dressed for Greenland," the lady pointed out sourly as she began to collect clothing bits from the floor. "You could have at least told Murphy to hold off until we'd had a chance to clean our clothes."

"I tried to call," the older gentleman said again. "And that was hours ago. And your flight is set for ..." he checked his watch "... two hours from now, so there's no time left for laundry. But surely you can buy anything you really need in the shops."

"Shops? In Greenland?" She glanced out the window. "Well, I suppose I could set a new fashion in anoraks."

The egg mixture was ready, and the pan needed greasing, so there was a small delay before the cook answered. "Well, no actually. Murphy's travelling a different direction entirely. He's on his way to Argentina. So the halfway point he suggested is in Aruba."


"Oh, yes. After two weeks in Yorkshire I thought you two might like to go somewhere that you could... Purdey? Gambit?" He watched the wild flurry of activity as the other two made short work of finding their clothes and dashed off in the direction of the shower, then smiled and turned back to the pan, pouring in the eggs. "Right then. I'll just keep your breakfast warm, shall I?"

The song may be googled: by looking for "Alan Lomax songs seduction knife window" and the poem is by Algernon Charles Swinburne and is called Love and Sleep.