by J. Ferguson a.k.a. Timeless A-Peel
Beta by rabidsamfan
Note: Just a short bit I did awhile back
Disclaimer: I don't own Steed, Purdey, Gambit, or The New Avengers. The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises retains those rights. This story is for entertainment purposes only.
Gambit stretched and started to tap out a tattoo quietly on his armrest. Purdey looked up from her magazine in annoyance. "Do you have to do that?"
"No," Gambit replied, and kept on tapping.
"Then would you mind stopping?"
"Not much else to do. The in-flight meal's not due for another hour."
Purdey sighed in exasperation. She leaned forward to look at Steed. He had his bowler pulled over his eyes, and the rhythm of his breathing suggested that he was dead to the world. He was going to be no help at all.
They were flying back from Paris. The Unicorn caper was through, and the Ministry had sent a message to their agents that politely asked them to stop bloody well drinking at the girly shows and come back to do your job. Now they were seated--first class, of course--in a set of three seats. Both Steed and Gambit had gallantly let Purdey have the window seat. She appreciated it, but was already dreading the inevitable required bathroom break, when she was going to have to devise some method of shimmying past two sets of long legs with dignity.
Until then, Gambit wasn't being too helpful.
"Don't you have something to read?" she asked irritably.
"Not anymore." He tossed a rather thick tome onto her meal tray. "Finished it."
Purdey wondered briefly why Gambit was reading ancient Greek philosophy, but then thought of that pretty French doctor. Extra education. Damn.
"Well, if you're going to be like that, borrow one of mine."
"What've you got?"
Purdey rummaged in her carry-on and extracted a thick sheath of fashion magazines.
"Ah, intellectual reading," Gambit muttered, selecting one. "Red's the new black. I never would have guessed."
"No need to be sarcastic. If you don't like the articles, do the quiz or something."
Gambit flipped through and found the right page. He raised his eyebrows.
"No wonder you haven't been responding. If I knew this was what you wanted, I would've changed my strategy a long time ago." He held up the magazine for her to see. Purdey blushed. She'd forgotten that quiz was on the racy side.
"Try something else," she said, a bit desperately. Gambit pulled out another glossy issue.
Some sort of retrospective of past cover models. He shrugged. At least the pictures should be interesting.
He flipped through for a bit, and finally came to a black and white photo of a young woman, late teens perhaps, with a full head of long blonde hair and large eyes. She looked awfully familiar…
He did a double-take, then looked at Purdey. She looked back at him and smiled.
"Sorbonne," she said simply. "What, did you think a nineteen-year-old girl wouldn't visit Paris?"
Gambit blinked, then looked back at the page and squinted a bit.
"It's still me," Purdey confirmed.
Gambit quit squinting, and turned the magazine sideways, brows knitted.
"I said it's me. What are you looking for?" Purdey asked, a bit impatiently.
"I've heard they doctor these things before they publish them. Now I've got a point of comparison, I'm making sure they haven't replaced your nose or something."
"What?" Purdey exclaimed. "I'll have you know that the nose and every other part of the face is unquestionably mine."
"You do look a bit different, though," Gambit went on. The magazine was upside down by this point.
"It's the hair," Purdey grumbled.
Gambit shook his head as he brought the picture rather close to his nose. "No, you had the long hair when I met you."
"I was nineteen," Purdey put in. "It's been a decade. People change a bit. I grew up."
Gambit looked happy with that explanation, examining the picture at a regular distance now. "So you did. The right bit, too." He caught Purdey's frown. "Not that you weren't beautiful back then," he added quickly. "I mean, ten years ago I would've gone for you ten years ago."
"How nice to know you haven't changed," Purdey said with mock sweetness. "I'd like to see what you looked like. I've a feeling our relationship wouldn't have turned out much differently."
Gambit raised an eyebrow. "Shouldn't you see the goods before you make your verdict?"
Purdey snorted. "I wouldn't have gone for a sailor. I was a nice girl."
"All the nice girls love a sailor," Gambit told her, eyebrows waggling madly as he grinned.
Walked right into that one, Purdey mused.
"Anyway, I was out of the Navy by that point."
"Doing what, then?"
"Crashing cars," he told her simply.
"Ah, how nice. You could come home with a concussion, I could help you remember your name."
"Domestic bliss, eh?"
"Only on the days you were comatose." But she said it with a smile. "Anyway, what did you look like? I've never seen any snaps around your flat."
Gambit shrugged. "Like now, I suppose. Only skinnier. And with less hair."
Purdey's mouth dropped open, and she eyed the top of Gambit's head. "But you're not…"
"They make you cut your hair in the military," Gambit elaborated. "It hadn't grown out yet."
"Oh, yes. Of course." Purdey blushed a little, feeling foolish.
"Anyway, back to this cover girl stint. How'd that come about?"
Purdey shrugged. "Oh, it was all an accident really. I went to Paris with a friend for the day, and she was doing a bit of modeling, so I tagged along. The photographer said I had that je ne sais quoi."
"He couldn't put it to words?"
"Not English ones, apparently."
"I could," Gambit offered, shifting a bit so he was leaning toward her.
"So," Purdey went on, giving Gambit a look so sharp he slumped back in his seat resignedly, "I did a few poses, he took a few shots, I got a few francs out of it, and the next month I found myself at the newsstands."
"And that didn't bother you? Him using them like that?"
"Not really. I mean, I did it for a lark. It was fun to show the other girls at school, and then I forgot about it."
"I wonder if the boys at the Ministry know about this?" Gambit said quietly, half to himself.
Purdey whirled on him. "Don't you dare."
"True. Why share when I can have you all to myself. There someplace I can get this blown up?"
"I'm always looking for art for my flat. Walls are looking a bit empty."
"Well, I'm not going to be the one to fill them. Hand it over."
Gambit held it out of reach. "I'm not finished."
"Oh, you'll be finished all right, if you don't hand that over right this instant."
Gambit leaned away from her, magazine at arm's length.
People were staring now, turning in their seats to get a better view. This wasn't unusual. Purdey was used to getting stares. One woman accompanied by two men was a bit unusual. People were always trying to work out the relationship. She could call all the options to mind at a moment's notice. Steed was her uncle/Gambit's uncle/her lover, Gambit was her lover/her brother/her husband/her cousin. Then all the surnames came up different, and they gave up. Except that one woman who swore they were the cast from some sort of television show… Honestly, just because when you went to a restaurant and ate off each other's plates and tasted each other's drinks, and just because Purdey had followed Gambit and Steed into the loo that time because the ladies' had been locked and she couldn't wait, people jumped to all sorts of conclusions. Purdey unbuckled her seatbelt and tried to lean across Gambit, reaching for the periodical.
There was a sudden bump.
Purdey lost her balance and pitched forward across Gambit and into Steed's lap.
Steed woke up, and pushed his bowler back onto his forehead. He looked down at Purdey blearily, and without surprise.
"The in-flight movie's coming is it?"
"Not yet," Purdey told him, as casually as was possible from her current position.
"Ah, well, wake me when it does. I've a soft spot for The Thin Man." He pulled the bowler back down again.
A stewardess passed by, and stopped by their row.
"Excuse me, miss. You'll have to return to your seat. We're experiencing a bit of turbulence."
"I noticed," Purdey grumbled, hauling herself back up to the point that she was seated in Gambit's lap, clear of Steed's.
"You'll have to go to your own seat, miss. Only small children are allowed to travel in other passenger's laps."
"Pity," Gambit lamented. Purdey chose that moment to whip the magazine from his grasp before returning to her seat.
"I'm never loaning you reading material again," she told Gambit. "You can count the dots on the ceiling for all I care."
Gambit was grinning. That wasn't right. By all rights he should look defeated. A thought sprang to mind. She frantically opened the magazine, searching in vain for the right page. It was gone.