by J. Ferguson a.k.a. Timeless A-Peel
Beta: rabidsamfan, Khell
Timeline: This story is alternate reality, and therefore not meant to fit into either the timeline of the show or my own story arc. It's all meant in fun! Don't take it too seriously.
Obligatory Disclaimer: It would be nice if I owned The Avengers and The New Avengers. Alas, I do not, and the characters of John Steed, Emma Peel, Mike Gambit, and Purdey are the property of Canal Image+ and The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is written purely for entertainment purproses.
"I need you to go down to archives," Steed told Purdey and Gambit, "to retrieve a file."
Purdey scrunched up her face. "Isn't that someone else's job? Archives has staffers, surely?"
"They do," Gambit confirmed. "And protective ones at that. They'll hold out on anything just to keep them in the room for a bit longer. You and I could collect our pensions and still not have heard back."
Steed nodded. "That's the case. However, if you were to go down and locate it yourselves, it'd speed things up considerably."
"Both of us?" Purdey objected. "For one file? That's overkill, isn't it?"
"It'll make the search quicker. Two heads…" Steed explained.
"But we don't know our way around archives," Purdey protested.
" 'We,' Purdey?" Gambit retorted, and elaborated at her frown. "I spent a good chunk of time in the file rooms when I was training. Quite nice, really. No one bothers you, and you're never short on reading material."
"Even archives?" Purdey pushed.
"Even archives," Gambit confirmed. "That's the other reason, isn't it Steed? You're sending me down because you know Cynthia's more likely to let me out without signing half a dozen forms."
Steed nodded as Purdey's face scrunched up again. "Cynthia?" she exclaimed. "Who's Cynthia?"
"Cynthia Wentworth-Howe," Steed explained. "She heads Archives. Gotten all the way to Button-Lip standing after all these years. She's very efficient, but very strict. I'm counting on Gambit to, ah, soften her up."
"If he hasn't already," Purdey muttered to Gambit's smug expression. "Now I'll have to go. I'm not letting him alone down there."
Gambit feigned hurt. "Why, Purdey, don't you trust me?"
"To save my life? Yes. Alone with a pretty girl? No."
"Who said she was pretty?"
"You don't smile like that for just anyone," Purdey said knowingly. "Which file?"
Steed scribbled a name on a piece of paper and handed it to the girl.
"We won't be long," Gambit promised, with Purdey in tow.
Purdey hated the lower levels of the Ministry, Archives included. They were filled with ominously dark corridors, lined with seemingly hundreds of equally dark doors that contained all manner of pieces of the department's significant past. Officially, it was meant to contain all the records and other odds and ends that weren't in normal circulation, and not helpful for the majority of assignments. But that didn't mean the contents were irrelevant or forgotten. In some ways, the powers that be were that much more strict about who got in to see what and why. The resulting atmosphere was one of suspicion, and the fact that some of the bare halls hadn't been inhabited by anyone in years made the hairs on the back of Purdey's neck stand up and stay on alert. Someone could just disappear down here. She suppressed a shiver, and moved a little closer to Gambit, who seemed quite comfortable with their surroundings. He raised a surprised eyebrow at Purdey's sudden chumminess.
"Did you want something?" he asked. "Because the chances of us getting caught down here are pretty slim. Of course, I could think of better places to, uh…" Purdey scrunched up her face in reply.
"I'm sure you could, but I'm not planning to find out," she told him tartly. "Doesn't this place bother you?"
Gambit shrugged. "Should it?"
"It does me," Purdey muttered, rubbing her arms as though warding off a chill. "It's all a bit bleak, isn't it?"
"Well, the decorator hasn't been down since '62—"
"Like all the old ghosts settled here," Purdey went on. She shook her head. "I don't like it."
"Then we'll make this quick." Gambit stopped at a door, obviously their destination, but how he knew she couldn't say. They all looked alike to her. He pushed it open, and indicated for her to go first. Despite her misgivings, she treated him to a half-curtsy, which he reciprocated with a bit of a bow. She grinned and strode through.
Purdey wasn't entirely certain what she expected from the file room. Certainly not the endless stretch of tall grey filing cabinets, lined up like a low-budget army straight out of "Doctor Who." There were several rows of them, punctuated by the occasional brown desk, manned by a standard-issue Ministry file clerk. One desk was larger than others, sitting in a place of honour at the front of the room. Its placard announced that it belonged to one Cynthia Wentworth-Howe, but the woman herself was AWOL. Gambit, however, seemed unperturbed by the lack of a welcoming committee. He sauntered over to the desk casually, and gave the small silver bell at the corner a jaunty tap with his palm. The accompanying 'ding' echoed throughout the entire room, and Purdey was amused by the way all the file clerks' heads snapped up in unison. After much craning, they seemed to recognise them for the outsiders they were, and from the sour expressions Purdey was getting, she deduced that Gambit was not welcome in their inner sanctum, and the same went for his friends. She looked back to Gambit, but he either hadn't noticed or didn't care. Probably the latter. After a moment of inaction, she poked Mike's arm.
"What are we waiting for?" she asked, and immediately wished she hadn't. Her normal speaking voice was amplified a hundredfold in the cavernous space, and Purdey couldn't help but wonder what the orchestra acoustics would be like, even as she winced at the sound.
"Button it," Gambit whispered.
Purdey blinked at the uncharacteristic reprimand. "I beg your pardon?"
Gambit pointed at a sign on the wall, on which these two words were proudly displayed. "We're in Button-Lip, Purdey. Silence is golden, and the next level up is tantamount to heaven."
"What could there possibly be beyond silence?" Purdey hissed.
"Come on a Sunday afternoon," Gambit replied knowingly. "They manage it."
Purdey was about to reply, but detected a movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned in time to see a blonde woman step from behind one of the large cabinets, and stride toward them soundlessly. She was blonde, in her forties, and rather attractive. A pair of glasses was perched on her nose, and her grey suit was tailored but business-like. She raised a well-tended eyebrow as she came to a stop next to them.
"Mike Gambit," she said knowingly, in a voice barely above a whisper. "I thought it might be you. Always so cavalier with my bell."
"Sorry," Gambit apologized. "But I can't resist the temptation. Anyway, someone needs to wake this lot up once a millennia, make sure their hearing hasn't gone from inactivity."
"Gambit has a lot of problems with temptation," Purdey added with a glance at the man himself.
Cynthia regarded Purdey with polite professionalism. Gambit jumped in to make introductions.
"Cynthia, this is Purdey, my colleague. Purdey, Cynthia Wentworth-Howe, head of Button-Lip."
"Hello," Purdey whispered in greeting, chafing at the use of the first name. Cynthia was attractive, as she had predicted, but in a cold, clinical way. Still, who knew what powers Gambit could exercise in the unfreezing process, if he had ever gotten the opportunity for some thawing…?
"A pleasure," Cynthia replied. "Mr. Gambit, what can I do for you?"
Gambit looked to Purdey, who pulled the piece of paper Steed had given her out of her trouser pocket, handed it to the other woman. "We've come about this file."
Cynthia read the name and arched that eyebrow again. "This is highly confidential. The paperwork for viewing should have been started three days ago. And I suppose you'll want to remove it, too?" It sounded as though Gambit made a habit of these sort of requests.
"I know," Gambit admitted. "But Steed was hoping, just for the day, we could borrow it. Unofficially," he added with a wink.
Cynthia's professional air cracked ever so slightly as a small smile passed over her lips.
"It's flying in the face of every regulation I vowed to uphold," Cynthia went on, but it was clear she was wavering under Gambit's charming smile.
"It's only for a few hours," he reminded, "and I won't breathe a word. This is Button-Lip after all—nothing outside these walls."
Cynthia nodded at Purdey. "What about her?"
"Oh, Purdey's wonderful at keeping other people's secrets—she collects them in fact." Gambit smiled to himself as Purdey's indignant sniff sounded from behind his back. He guessed the only thing keeping her in check was their silent audience and the fact that any recriminations would be broadcasted across the space.
"You do owe me a favor for that night I spent cleaning out the D-35's," Gambit reminded leaning a bit closer. Cynthia's smile put in another appearance, but quickly vanished as Purdey made a sort of gagging sound. The girl patted her throat and smiled innocently.
"Sorry. A tickle." Gambit shot her a look, and she returned it in kind.
Cynthia sighed in resignation. "It will take a moment. These files, even organized, span three cabinets. We'll all have to pitch in if we're to find them in any reasonable length of time."
"That's why I brought help," Gambit told her, grinning at having achieved his goal. "They'll all be together?"
"Two of them will. The third is in a restricted area. I'll attend to it personally. Section 9, row 6. You know the way."
"I do," Gambit replied, heading off to the east. Purdey moved to follow, with Cynthia in tow. The woman exchanged glances with the dancer. "Do you know who he's getting to be like?" she asked conversationally.
Purdey raised an interested eyebrow, curiousity overpowering jealousy. "Who?"
"John Steed. Ten years ago," Cynthia said wryly.
Purdey smirked. "Don't tell him that. He's still under the impression that background makes a difference."
They ended up at a pair of cabinets, and Gambit turned Cynthia's way expectantly. "You'll do the honours?"
At first, Purdey couldn't understand why the woman blushed, and why a smile was playing over Gambit's lips as he looked pointedly the other way. Purdey was about to comment, when Cynthia reached down and slid the hem of her grey skirt up her well-toned thigh. Purdey felt her jaw drop at the sight of the garter that was revealed, inside of which were tucked a vast array of keys. Cynthia wiggled one free, and with a great deal of dignity let the skirt drop back into place before striding over to first unlock one cabinet, then the other. Gambit smiled at her appreciatively, and the start of a blush crept over the woman's face.
"I'll see about the third," the Button-Lip girl murmured. "Let me know if you're successful. No sense in wasting time on a needless search." She nodded curtly to Purdey and took her leave.
Purdey waited until the blonde head had disappeared around a corner before turning to Gambit, one eyebrow arched dramatically. "Spent a lot of time down here, did you? And here I thought it was for the reading material."
Gambit tugged open one of the drawers. "Well, a few pictures to go along with the words never hurt."
Purdey snorted, quietly, and slid her own cabinet's drawer open. " 'Cleaning out the D-35's,' indeed. I can't exactly picture you wielding the feather duster round my flat."
Gambit grinned as he started to rifle through the files. "You've never asked."
Purdey shook her head, but the grin was infectious. She started on her files.
Gambit was the successful one in the end, and Purdey had to admit that he did seem to know what he was doing, the efficient flicks of the shapely hands making short work of the reams of paper. He held up the fruits of his labour as if to say 'success.' Purdey slid her drawer closed in response, and was about to suggest finding Cynthia when the woman herself appeared.
"No luck, I'm afraid, so it must…ah," she observed as Gambit opened the file up on the top of a cabinet. "Do you need the whole dossier?"
"No, no. Just a few of the pieces. Just as well. It'll be easier for me to smuggle them out in my pocket than the whole thing." Gambit spread out the contents, and Purdey joined him in picking out the pertinent parts. "What are the rules this time round?"
Cynthia glanced at her watch, which looked as efficient as the rest of her. "We have a break for tea at four. I think it would be best if you returned it then. It'll be locked down, but I can give you a spare, but you're not to give it anyone else. You can leave both on my desk. I'll return them. But if this file and that key aren't back when I return, I'll see to it that you're strung up."
"I'll do the honours," Purdey volunteered, and Gambit shot her one of his grim 'thanks a lot' looks before returning to Cynthia and smiling gratefully, folding the sheath of paper Purdey handed him, and tucking it into his inside-jacket pocket.
"Thanks, Cynthia. How's the fishing been?"
Purdey frowned, then realized Gambit was keeping the tone light as Cynthia's garter made another appearance for the spare key. She handed it to Mike, who popped it into his pocket with a self-satisfied expression.
"No salmon in Bond Street, if that's what you mean," she countered. "Tell Mr. Steed that he'll have to get you a red card if he means to keep sending you down."
"Maybe when he's older," Purdey quipped. "Come on, Gambit. Steed's waiting."
"Does she have seniority?" Cynthia asked him quietly as Purdey made for the front door.
"Officially? No. Unofficially? Well, that's a different matter," Gambit confided. Cynthia smiled a full smile this time.
"I thought as much."
"Does that mean you're not interested in dinner Saturday?" Gambit asked casually.
Cynthia pushed up her glasses primly. "The evenings we spent here seem to have given you the wrong impression," she told him. "But I'll think about it."
That was enough for Gambit. The grin came back, and he winked at her before joining Purdey, whose impatiently tapping boot heel was earning her more than a few dirty looks from the Button-Lip staff. It was only when he was gone that the slightly-less-frigid Cynthia Wentworth-Howe gathered up the remains of the file and fanned herself rapidly.
Gambit paused part way down the corridor on the way back, eyeing a door. Purdey stopped and backtracked to meet him. "What is it?"
"Storage," Gambit murmured, gesturing to the label on the door.
"Yes," Purdey said dryly. "I can read, too."
"No, I mean, storage. Archives storage. I've always wanted to take a look at what they've got socked away in there." He looked at Cynthia's key. "And I've a feeling this is my chance."
Purdey blanched. "You're not?" she hissed. "Mike, we don't have clearance for that sort of thing. Steed told us to get the file. He didn't mention a field trip."
"Just a quick look," Gambit minimised, sliding the key into the lock as Purdey moved to stop him. He blocked the key with his body. "I know you don't like it down here. You can go on ahead if you want. I'll be up in a bit."
Purdey snorted. "I know better than to leave you to your own devices, Mike Gambit," she said in that no-nonsense tone. "If you insist on acting like a twelve-year-old, someone has to play nanny."
"Oh, good. Then you're not going to tell on me," Gambit said with a grin, giving the key a turn and easing the door open. "After you."
Purdey shivered. "No, after you."
"Where's your sense of adventure, Purdey-girl?"
"We have more than enough adventures, Gambit. I don't like it down here."
"So you keep saying." Gambit stepped into the room, and switched on a light. The huge warehouse-like area was instantly illuminated, revealing a plethora of objects, all neatly arranged on the concrete floor. The spoils of hundreds--no thousands--of assignments from years past. Gambit let out a low whistle in awe. Purdey couldn't help but agree with him. The sheer volume of it all reminded her of just how old their profession was, and what a small part of it they really were.
"Come on," Gambit said to her. "Let's find the John Steed wing."
"How do you know he has one?" Purdey wanted to know.
"It's Steed. Steed has his own private corner of every Ministry archive. Just a matter of finding it." He set off down one of the many corridors, and Purdey looked about a bit before sprinting after him.
It didn't take long to find Steed's section. There were signs labeling eras all over. Gambit started poking around almost immediately. Purdey went over to inspect what appeared to be giant hour glass.
"Hey," Gambit called with his head stuck in a wardrobe. "Take a look." Purdey went over to him as he extracted what appeared to be a pair of pants, made entirely of some sort of transparent gauze. Purdey took them from Gambit and held them up for inspection.
"Harem pants," Gambit explained. "From Mrs. Peel's undercover stint to protect that Prince Ali."
"I see," Purdey said icily. "The 'cover' part seems to have been mislaid."
"Aren't you going to try them on?" Gambit asked hopefully with a huge grin.
"Pass," Purdey snapped, handing the article back.
"There's a top, too," Gambit added, as though this were an added bonus.
"Don't bother," Purdey told him. "Really, I thought Mrs. Peel was supposed to be emancipated."
"Oh, she was," Gambit assured. "Take this. I'd say you'd have to be fairly confident to wear it."
Purdey's jaw dropped as Gambit held out a black whalebone corset. She'd heard the rumours, but hadn't believed that it actually existed.
"Queen of Sin. Hellfire club. 1966. There's some boots to go with it. They don't seem to have retained the snake, though."
"Pity," Purdey said without much sincerity.
"It's quite sad, really," Gambit lamented. "I mean, Steed and his partners used to go undercover all the time. All sorts of disguises. Fought real Diabolical Masterminds."
"And frequently got captured for their efforts," Purdey pointed out. "Some have we."
"Oh, sure, they tie you to chairs," Gambit acknowledged. "But what about saddles? Or dentist's chairs? When was the last time you got put in a giant hour glass?" He pointed to the structures as he went. "Or a cage? Or ended up in a wine press? Not that I particularly want to see you in any of them," he added hurriedly. "But it all seemed quite exciting in the reports. And here we are, and yet I've never seen you in a corset."
"You'll survive somehow."
Gambit wasn't listening. "Slip, yes. Bodyshirt. A sheet. But it's not the same. And I didn't even know you were Lolita at the time."
Purdey snatched the corset from him and stuffed it unceremoniously in the wardrobe. "As much as I enjoy this insight into your fantasies, I'll remind you Steed is waiting."
"Just a few more minutes," Gambit delayed. Purdey sighed, and went over to sit on in the seat offered by a complex looking machine with helmet-like pieces above the chair, rather like a hairdryer. Gambit wandered around for a bit, then took the other seat in the machine next to her.
"Don't you think it's even a little interesting?" he asked.
"A little," Purdey allowed. "What do you suppose this is?" She indicated the machine.
"I'm not sure," Gambit admitted. "Although I feel as though I should." His brow furrowed.
Purdey was reaching across the control panel. "Do you think this is the on switch?" she was saying. Gambit was jerked from his musings.
"Don't touch it!" he barked, but Purdey had already flipped the switch. There was a sudden surge of light and sound, and Gambit could feel the helmet lower over his head. He tried to remove it, but his body wouldn't respond. He managed a look in Purdey's direction before he blacked out completely.
Purdey moaned. Her head hurt like hell. She opened her eyes and blinked blearily at her surroundings. Where? Oh, yes. She remembered. Gambit's damned curiousity. They'd gone and gotten themselves electrocuted or something as a result. She ran a quick mental check over her body. Everything seemed to be responding all right. She reached a hand up to rub her face. As it passed before her eyes, she noticed that it looked rather large. But the realization didn't fully hit her until she touched her cheek, and felt a slight roughness, what might result from a few days of not shaving her legs. Like stubble. Only on her face.
Purdey had a horrible sinking feeling at that. She looked at her hand again. There was the pinky ring, all right. But it wasn't hers. And now that she was awake, she noticed she wasn't viewing the room from the right angle. She looked down now, and found she was wearing a black dotted tie. And a pair of black trousers. And—Purdey swallowed hard—a pair of leather boots that were most definitely of the masculine variety. She reached up to her neck, and felt beneath the shirt. She could make out the slight bump that could only be the St. Christopher. That clinched it. Slowly, carefully, she turned her head to the right. What she saw almost made her faint.
There, slumped in the other seat, was her. Or her body, at least. It was odd seeing oneself from this perspective, blonde hair tousled, lips slightly parted. Hesitantly, Purdey stood, making her way unsteadily over to the unconscious form. The helmets had retracted on their own, it seemed, but she had to take care not to hit her head on hers. The added height made a difference. Standing in front of herself, she bit a lip. Presumably, her body was occupied, too. By Gambit. She felt a little woozy again, but held it together. She was going to have to wake him—her?—up. Slowly, she reached out and tapped what were now Gambit's cheeks alternately.
"Wha?" he said after a moment, and his eyes slowly flickered open. It took a moment for him to focus, but when he finally did, and saw the face of the person who had woken him, he nearly fell out of his chair.
"Gah!" Gambit yelled, and suddenly realized his voice was several octaves too high. He grabbed a handful of what had been his jacket and pulled until the pair of them were face to face. "What the devil is going on?"
"We're having an identity crisis," Purdey said as calmly as possible in Gambit's low tones. "Look." She pointed at her former body.
Gambit looked down very, very slowly, and took in Purdey's blouse and dress trousers for the first time. His hands moved to investigate, to confirm what his eyes were seeing, but Purdey grabbed them before he could actually start patting down his new torso.
"Hands," Purdey told his surprised face. "You might be visiting, but that doesn't give you free run of the place."
Gambit nodded dazedly, in too much shock to argue, and Purdey let him go.
He reached up and tugged on a strand of hair. "Blonde," he said quietly. "And I thought I didn't suit the fair look."
"You don't suit my look, period," Purdey clarified.
"This isn't happening," Gambit muttered. "I must be dreaming." He pinched himself. "Then again, you're usually you in my dreams, and wearing, erm—" He broke off at Purdey's glare. "Well, not this anyway. What happened?"
"Something to do with the machine, I'd hazard," Purdey replied. "That surge of electricity, it must have done something."
"Brilliant," Gambit muttered sarcastically. "I would've thought, after all those movies, you'd know better than to go around flipping switches and saying things like 'I wonder what this button does?'"
"Don't blame me," Purdey retorted, outraged. "You're the one who wanted to take the scenic route. I don't—"
"—even like it down here," Gambit finished, massaging Purdey's temples. "I know. I'm sorry."
Purdey bit Gambit's lip—it felt odd—and looked down at his boots. "So am I. We're both to blame."
"How democratic of you," Gambit observed, and Purdey grinned in spite of herself.
"Well, now that we've decided on guilt, I suppose we should try and discover just what we've had happen to us."
Gambit, deep in thought, finally latched onto the elusive piece of information that had been within reach before the swap. He snapped his—Purdey's—fingers in triumph, though not entirely successfully. The newly-acquired manicure got in the way. "Basil and Lola!" he exclaimed.
"Any relation to Fred and Ginger?" Purdey quipped.
"No." Gambit stood and made his way over to the machine between the chairs. "Basil and Lola. Enemy agents. Back in the sixties, they were involved in a plan to eradicate the Ministry's Flower Network."
Purdey frowned. "Flowers?"
"Flowers," Gambit confirmed, then paused to inspect his own face. "Does my forehead always crease between the eyes like that?"
"Hmm?" Purdey reached up and poked at the area. "Oh, yes. Well, only when you're very bemused. You'll have an '11' by forty if you're not careful. Why, haven't you noticed?"
"Not really." He shook his head as though to clear it. "Basil and Lola. In order to kill off the members of the Flower Network, they used a machine to swap bodies with Steed and Mrs. Peel. They were quite successful, too. A lot of good men were killed."
"At the hands of who they thought were Steed and Mrs. Peel." Purdey shuddered. "People they trusted."
"Right. Well, this machine looks to be the same one described in the report. The Ministry's tech boys tinkered with it a bit, with the intention of using it for undercover ops, but someone at the top thought it was too risky, shut the while thing down. I think you must have triggered some sort of pre-programmed function. They were working on it, so agents could swap on the go."
"Then it can be reversed," Purdey said hopefully, moving over to the control panel. "All we have to do is flip the switch the other way." She reached out, but Gambit caught her wrist. She looked up, and was slightly taken aback to see Gambit's grim expression transferred to her own face.
"I think we've mucked about with it enough, don't you?" The menace sounded odd with the cut-glass accent.
"Well, what do you suggest? Take up permanent residence? I don't know about you, Mike Gambit, but I quite enjoyed being a woman. The extras I have now are a bit disconcerting."
Gambit arched one of Purdey's well-tended eyebrows. "Anything you'd like to comment on?" he asked with a suggestive leer, which looked more than a bit out of place on Purdey's face.
"Not if you want to retain any sense of masculinity," Purdey answered sweetly, with a Gambit version of the big helpless smile.
Gambit scowled. "Well, we did get into each other's trousers at least," he said by way of consolation. "Although I didn't imagine it quite like this. But back to the problem at hand. Steed should be able to reset this. I mean, he obviously got swapped back."
"That means we have to tell him," Purdey pointed out.
"Better him then some backroom boy who'll spread it around the whole department," Gambit said with a resigned sigh. "We might as well get going. No offence, but I'd rather admire your figure from afar."
"I'll remember that next time you get a little too cozy at the disco," Purdey said with a slight smile. Gambit actually pouted, probably not intentionally, but Purdey's face interpreted it that way. He turned on his heel, secretly thanking whatever spirits had persuaded Purdey to wear trousers and boots for the day. At least it was a semblance of normality. He wasn't sure his ego could handle wandering around in a pair of stilettos and stockings with suspenders.
Purdey watched her retreating form with interest, but immediately noticed something was amiss. She ran after Gambit, amazed at the feeling of power as the long stride propelled her along. She'd never gotten to admire Gambit's physique quite this directly, and she had to admit he was in remarkably good shape. Every muscle toned and lithe. She caught up easily and caught Gambit's arm. He winced visibly.
"Careful," he chided. "You don't know your—my own strength." Purdey released him immediately.
" 'S okay," he replied, rubbing his arm. "What's wrong? Besides the obvious?"
"Your walk," Purdey told him. "I mean, I know you want to keep this under wraps, and I think someone might notice that I've suddenly started walking like a sailor."
Gambit actually blushed. "Oh," he said quietly. "I hadn't thought of that."
"You should. We both should. Someone's bound to notice. I know I would, if you started moving differently."
Gambit looked hopeful at that. "You would?"
Purdey nodded. "Well, you've got quite a distinctive walk, really. Rocking. And when you run, you do this sort of circle motion with your left hand." She demonstrated. "It comes from dancing, watching how the instructor moves. Don't you notice it?"
Gambit shrugged. "Just adapted to the ship," he said frankly. "But I've noticed your dancer's moves, although I'm not sure I can replicate them."
"I would've thought you'd welcome the opportunity to get in touch with your feminine side."
Gambit moved to cross his arms grumpily. "Hands," Purdey reminded, and he paused before dropping them back to his side, away from the chest. "But we'll have to fix that if we're not going to be discovered. Let's see." She made an attempt at what she obviously thought was a masculine walk, legs farther apart, and more of a swagger. She wasn't too successful. Gambit's expression told her as much. He screwed up her face in her own trademark look of disgust.
"What?" Purdey asked sharply.
"That's really how you think I walk?" Gambit wanted to know. "I'm not sure if I should be offended or amused."
Purdey crossed her arms. "Enlighten me."
Gambit obliged by pacing back and forth a bit. "You have to imagine the ground's heaving on you all the time," he explained. "And that you have to move with it if you don't want to end up on your face."
"Something like when you're drunk, then?" Purdey said brightly, and grinned at Gambit's scowl. "For me, it's the opposite. Control, precision."
"Like karate?" Gambit hazarded, and Purdey nodded.
"That should do. It's not as though anyone's going to ask you demonstrate." She looked down at her own feet, and made another attempt at walking like a sailor.
Ten minutes, and much watching of each other's feet, later they'd gotten the walks into a reasonable state, enough that no one was likely to stop them on the way back to Steed. As they made their way out of the storage room, Gambit reached in his pocket, only to remember that it wasn't really his. Purdey dug into her trousers, and extracted the key, waving it under Gambit's nose. There was something exhilarating about being this tall, and bigger than Gambit to boot. "Looking for something?" she teased.
Gambit made a grab for it, but Purdey held it out of reach. "Cynthia gave it to me," he reminded. "And I promised I wouldn't pass it on to anyone else."
"No, she entrusted it to Mike Gambit. And as far as anyone's concerned, I'm Gambit." She dug in Gambit's inside pocket, and extracted his wallet, pulling out his ID. "See?" she said.
"Only by a technicality," Gambit snapped.
"I've got the gun, and everything," Purdey went on. "All I need is a secretary and ten minutes of privacy." She gave a remarkable impression of Gambit's smug, self-satisfied expression, last glimpsed during the White Rat assignment when he'd been filling her in on the "undercover" gig. "What else have you got in here?"
"Nothing you'd be interested in," Gambit said hurriedly, but Purdey was already digging about.
"You really shouldn't carry this much money around with you," Purdey was saying. "Suppose you lost it? And what's this?" She extracted Gambit's driver's licence, and squinted at it. "They didn't do you justice, did they?" she murmured, looking at the picture.
"I'll bear that in mind. Lock the door, and let's get back to Steed." Purdey restored the licence to the wallet and tucked it away, locking the door, and popping the key back in her pocket.
Somehow, they managed to get to Steed's office without anyone stopping them. Steed was on the phone when they entered, and they closed the door behind them. Steed finished his call, and looked at them expectantly.
"Well?" he inquired. "Did you manage to get the file?"
Gambit looked to Purdey, who remembered the papers in Gambit's pocket. She reached inside his jacket and extracted them. Steed took them happily. "I expect they're on a curfew?"
"Four," Gambit supplied. "But there's been a problem."
Steed frowned. "Oh? Do tell."
"Purdey and I made a bit of a detour," Gambit explained, looking uncomfortable, and rightly so. Steed's eyebrows had gone up at the name.
"Don't you mean--?"
"What Gambit is trying to say is, we used Miss Wentworth-Howe's key to get into Storage. And there was this machine..." Purdey saw the light dawning in Steed's eyes.
"You don't mean...?"
"Basil and Lola," Gambit confirmed.
"You've been swapped? You two?" Steed asked. "Gambit?"
"Yes," in Purdey's clipped tones.
"Yes, hello." She waved a hand miserably.
Steed blinked, then his mouth twitched. "This is...unusual."
"It's not funny!" Gambit protested.
"No, no, of course not," Steed tried to soothe.
"Steed, you could be a bit more understanding," Purdey added. "I mean, you were swapped, too."
"Yes, and with enemy agents who were about to take up permanent residence," Steed agreed. "You two are lucky in that regard."
Purdey and Gambit exchanged glances. "No offence," Gambit said finally, "but I think I'd rather take my chances and forgo the gender swapping."
"I think I have to agree with Mike," Purdey added.
"Ah, but you've been given a unique opportunity, to see how the other half lives," Steed tried with an encouraging smile.
"I liked not knowing how the other half lived," Gambit muttered. "Kept the mystery alive. Besides, Purdey won't let me cross my arms."
Steed raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Would you?" Purdey defended. "Put yourself in my position."
"Why stick with the metaphorical?" Gambit grumbled. "Quick trip downstairs and he can see for himself."
"I mean," Purdey said pointedly, "it's Gambit's hands near my..." She gestured at her chest.
"I see," Steed murmured. "Well, I suppose we had better see about finding someone to switch you back if you find the arrangements unsatisfactory."
"You mean you can't?" Gambit exclaimed, a little too shrill. He calmed down, and went on, as calmly as possible. "I thought, since you obviously got swapped back..."
"That was Mrs. Peel's doing," Steed explained. "She was up on the technical more than I."
"So we're stuck?" Purdey said mournfully.
"Maybe not," Steed murmured. "I'm sure Mrs. Peel would be willing to assist you in your little, ah, identity crisis."
"I was sort of hoping to keep this between the three of us," Gambit moped.
"It's Mrs. Peel, or one of the technical boys, and I can tell you which would be more likely to exercise discretion."
"But Mrs. Peel...?" Purdey wasn't too keen on the idea.
"Not to worry Purdey-girl. For once, she won't be the competition," Gambit quipped.
Purdey snorted. Steed straightened up.
"I'll make the call," he told them. "And then I'll see about uncovering some of the files on the machine itself. There were more than a few modifications made to it after Basil and Lola used it, and I think a little extra reading would be to your benefit. Do you think you can stay holed up until I return?"
"Do we have a choice?" Gambit muttered.
"Not if you want to keep this under wraps," Steed pointed out. "I'll use the phone in the hall. No switchboard."
Gambit paced the office nervously, while Purdey perched on Steed's desk.
"How long do you think he'll be?" he asked as Purdey sighed.
"Not very. I mean, he's Steed. He should be able to get anything he wants out of the file rooms, particularly when it's his old assignments he's checking."
Gambit finally stopped pacing, and stared at the ceiling. Purdey looked up to see what had caught his interest, but other than a cobweb that the cleaning staff seemed intent on preserving for posterity, there wasn't anything particularly scintillating for his viewing pleasure.
"One hundred and twelve," Purdey said after a moment. Gambit blinked.
"One hundred and twelve. Tiles. On the ceiling." She pointed up and Gambit looked her way, before quickly averting his eyes.
"Fascinating. Any particular reason for filling me in, or are you just feeling helpful?"
"Well, you seemed awfully interested in the view, so I assumed you were counting tiles. I've done it twice, so I'm fairly certain that it's accurate."
"Wonderful. Except I wasn't counting the tiles, Purdey," Gambit muttered.
Purdey frowned Gambit's frown. "What are you looking at, then?"
"Anything," Gambit informed, keeping his gaze fixed upward, "but you, because you are me, and every time I look at me—you—whatever, I feel my brain starting to short-circuit." He reached up and massaged his temples. "Even that sentence is enough to break a man. How do you stand it?"
Purdey shrugged carelessly, then realised Gambit wasn't looking at her. "Well, there's no point in worrying over it now, is there? I mean, Steed's doing everything in his power to get us back. I see it as an opportunity. How often do you get the chance to look yourself in the eye?"
"I could have lived quite happily without that experience, thank you," Gambit grumbled. "Anyway, it's easy for you. You got the better end of the bargain."
Purdey sat up angrily. "What?"
"Look at it objectively. You got the height, the strength. I lost four inches and I'm not allowed to cross my arms."
"That's a switch, since you always seem to find my body so very interesting," Purdey snapped. "And someone has a very high opinion of his attributes. All I see is a better view of the ceiling, and I have to keep judging the height of doors."
"The hair's easy to keep," Gambit pointed out, then slapped his forehead. "What am I saying?"
" 'The care and feeding of Mike Gambit,'" Purdey quipped. "I'm sure it'll be a hit with the secretary pool."
"Very funny. Look, no offence. I just prefer you when you're...you."
"I know," Purdey sighed. "But in the end, we'll be happier with what we've got."
"I suppose you're—don't do that!"
Purdey blinked. "Do what?"
"Smile. Like that."
"Like what? This?" Purdey's big helpless smile stretched across Gambit's face.
"Yes, that," Gambit replied with screwed up eyes. "It's downright eerie. My face wasn't meant to stretch like that. Keep it up and it'll stick that way."
Purdey wandered over to the window and smiled at her reflection. She started, turned away, face pale. "That is eerie."
"Good eye," Gambit muttered, scrubbing Purdey's face. "I need a drink."
Purdey raised an eyebrow. "Do you think that's a good idea? The machine might not mix with spirits."
Gambit worked Purdey's jaw. "I hadn't thought of that. It wasn't in the report."
"That doesn't mean it wouldn't complicate matters," Purdey pointed out. "Anyway, last thing I need is you wandering around half-sloshed, damaging my sterling reputation."
"You mean your womanly honour?" Gambit said with a grin.
"Don't push me, Mike. I am bigger than you at the moment."
"All right, all right," Gambit surrendered. "If I go for a glass of water in the break room, will that keep your reputation intact?"
Purdey pondered that. "I think it might be better if we stay put. No sense taking chances."
"It wouldn't take long," Gambit told her.
"You should have thought of it sooner." Purdey was treating the matter as decided.
"Me? You're the one that's been letting yourself dry out. Don't dancers keep hydrated?"
Purdey huffed. "Of course, I would have had something earlier, but someone decided to take a detour."
"That's it. I'm going." Gambit was halfway to the door.
"But Steed—" Purdey tried to protest
"I promise I won't be gone long."
"If you're not back in ten minutes, I'm sending out the search party. I don't want to be stuck like this forever if you go missing."
"The feeling's mutual. Don't worry. You won't even notice you're gone."
He was out the door before Purdey could form a response.
Purdey realised suddenly that she was hungry. Obviously Gambit hadn't had much for breakfast. She pondered the pros and cons of popping out for a bite, decided that having both of them out of the office would be a bad idea. Instead, she could tide herself over. If Steed hadn't rearranged things…
Purdey stood and leaned across the desk, banging her head on the light fixture as she did so, and spent a moment cursing the Ministry's architectural design team, the lighting people, and Mike Gambit for being so bloody tall, all six feet and a pair of boots of him. She couldn't wait to shrink back down to size. Rubbing the dark curls ruefully, she hesitated for a moment, just to savour the thick dark waves in her fingers. It wasn't as though she were going to have another opportunity any time soon after they returned to normal. A pity, she mused. Gambit had quite a magnificent head of hair for fingers to toy with.
Inside the bottom right-hand drawer of the desk, Purdey found files. And under the files, sure enough, a half-finished bag of marshmallows. Purdey grinned Gambit's grin, and extracted the bag, pulling off the twist tie and popping a blob of sweet gelatine in her mouth. Heaven. She sat back down in her chair, and put her feet on Steed's desk, ankles crossed. She saw no reason that comfort need be sacrificed while she waited.
Gambit had gotten his drink and was heading back from the break room when he heard a sound from the other end of the hall that filled him with dread.
Gambit muttered a few choice words under his breath, and glanced behind him, realised that he had been much too kind in his earlier mutterings. Striding purposefully toward him was Larry, the one-time victim of the brain-draining machine, now fully-recovered and capable of following up on pretty young agents. Gambit had felt a little sorry for him when he'd had his mind sucked dry, but now that he was recovered, Mike found his supply of sympathy had dried up. He'd been a thorn in Gambit's side on more than one occasion, mostly because he made no attempt to hide his interest in Purdey upon her graduation from training. For a moment, Gambit weighed the pros and cons of bolting from the scene, putting Purdey's excellent legs to good use to put several miles between him and Larry. Unfortunately, this would constitute that odd behaviour he and Purdey were making such an effort to avoid, and so he found himself stopping and mustering up a hopefully Purdeyish smile before turning Larry's way.
"I'm glad I caught you," Larry said as he stopped beside her. "I've been meaning to ask you a favour, and I was hoping you'd oblige."
Gambit felt the smile waver. Oblige how? Just how well did Purdey know Larry?
"What sort of favour?" he asked, trying to keep the hint of suspicion out of his voice.
"Well, you know the get together that's been planned for the Minister's visit? I was rather hoping you'd come along as my date for the evening. I know it's just cocktails, but we could always go on to dinner later..."
Gambit would've laughed at the absurdity of it all if it wouldn't have blown his cover. Instead, he told Larry, rather smugly, "I'm sorry. I promised Mike I'd go with him, and then we thought we might have dinner at one of our favourite spots." It was true, too. Gambit, encouraged by the disappointed expression that now graced Larry's visage, decided to add a little extra, and sighed blissfully, and watched Larry's lip twitch slightly. "I'm looking forward to it."
Larry looked ready to blurt out something offensive, but he seemed to remember himself, and smiled wanly. "Really, Purdey, you shouldn't pin all your hopes on Gambit. I mean, you know as well as I that he's got a reputation. I know the type. Soon as he's gotten what he wants, he'll move on to the next girl." He leaned in, and Gambit found himself backed against the wall, trying his best to edge away. Larry pressed a hand against the wall to his immediate right, blocking his escape route. "I, on the other hand, can assure you that my intentions are much more honourable."
Gambit, who had been busy considering the consequences of bringing one of Purdey's lovely knees into Larry's solar plexus, snorted automatically. "I doubt that. In fact," he went on, face inches from Larry's, "I'd say Gambit's one of the few who actually respects, say, boundaries." He nodded at Larry's arm. "Last time I checked, he wasn't pinning me to any walls."
Larry seemed to consider this, then removed his arm, and Gambit breathed a little easier. He wondered if everyone was this pushy when it came to Purdey. No wonder she liked spending some evenings alone.
"Really, Purdey, I mean well. You spend altogether too much time with Gambit. It's not healthy. You ought to broaden your horizons."
Gambit felt his blood boil. Passes were one thing. Active sabotage was another. "And what do you think Gambit's reaction to your 'horizons' would be?"
"I imagine he'd look something like that," Larry replied, then frowned at the sound reaching his ears. "I say, are you grinding your teeth?" Gambit's jaw was well and truly clenched by this point. "Anyway, you certainly enjoyed yourself the last time we went out. And we could play another game."
Gambit felt his mouth drop open. He'd thought that quip of Purdey's had been brought on by the "Three-Handed Game"'s code name alone. He hadn't suspected that Purdey already had a scorecard with at least one previous entry under Larry's name.
"Er, not Monopoly, by any chance?" he asked nervously, not liking that knowing smile with which Larry was currently treating him.
Larry only chuckled. "If you'd like." But the way he said it, Gambit suspected Larry's version didn't involve little metal pieces shaped like hats and brightly-coloured novelty-money. And the phrase 'go to jail' took on a whole new connotation. Gambit felt his stomach churn and wished his imagination weren't quite so vivid.
"I think I'll be going now," he managed to mutter, as turned on his heel and set off down the hall. Larry watched his sudden departure with a mixture of shock and disappointment.
"For goodness sakes, Purdey, can't you see what's happening to you? Hell, you're even starting to walk like him!"
Gambit froze. Oh, no. The walk. He'd forgotten the walk.
Purdey, meanwhile, was still blissfully indulging in her marshmallows when a knock sounded on the half-open door, and McKay looked in. He saw Purdey, feet up on the desk, and spoke to the back of the dark curly head.
"He'll be back in a moment," Purdey replied, not bothering to look up from her bag.
McKay frowned, limped all the way into the room. "Who will?"
Purdey looked at her visitor for the first time, then noticed the way he was eyeing the position of her booted feet, and suddenly remembered she wasn't exactly herself. She pulled her feet down hurriedly, mind seeking a plausible explanation. "Steed," she recovered. "He just stepped out for a moment. I assumed he was who you came to see."
"Yes," McKay said carefully, eyeing Purdey with that appraising expression she knew so well. "I thought Purdey was the one who went for those, not you." He pointed his cane at the bag still in her hands.
Purdey looked at the bag guiltily, closed up the top hurriedly. "Er, she does," she said quickly. "But you know how it is with partners. You hang about each other enough, start picking up each other's habits." She suddenly realised she was grinning nervously, and cleared her throat as she attempted to emulate Gambit's characteristic stoic expression. She obviously didn't succeed, because McKay raised an eyebrow.
"Feeling all right, are you, Gambit?"
"Oh, yes. Of course. Kendrick checked me out last week. Gave me a clean bill of health."
"Did he?" McKay said thoughtfully. "I think we may have to reevaluate his standards." He turned to look out the window, as if that was a matter he didn't deem prudent to discuss with the young agent. "I passed Purdey on the way here. Is she waiting for Steed, too?"
"Yes," Purdey replied, feeling her brow furrow. "Where did you see her, exactly? She was supposed to be back a few minutes ago."
"She was talking to Larry, by the looks of things. Quite closely, too, the way he was leaning in."
Purdey blanched. "Excuse me," she said quickly, before dashing out the door. McKay turned to regard the empty room suspiciously. Something was wrong.
Purdey ran flat out, ignoring the questioning looks of the staff and agents she passed. If anyone asked, Gambit was getting a little light jogging in. She couldn't afford the time walking entailed, and the way she moved while running looked more natural to her current persona than a stroll.
Purdey rounded a corner, and caught sight of the pair. From the looks of things, Gambit had defended himself from Larry's advances quite well—a little too well, Purdey mused as she slowed down and approached them, taking in the way Larry was rubbing his shin while Gambit looked on, arms crossed, with an expression of smug satisfaction.
"Ga...Purdey," Purdey corrected hastily. "I wondered where you'd gotten to." She nodded to Larry. "What happened?"
Larry eyed the still-grinning Gambit with a mixture of disbelief and anger. "Purdey kicked me," he explained, "right in the shins."
Purdey looked to Gambit, ready to reprimand. "Mi...Purdey, you didn't!"
"My foot slipped," Gambit justified unconvincingly, examining one of Purdey's manicured hands with interest.
"Like hell it did," Larry countered, finally straightening up.
"Purdey, I think you had better apologise," Purdey said with a dangerous glint in her eyes, then noticed Gambit's pose for the first time. "And I told you not to cross your arms."
Larry leapt on the remark, even as Gambit remembered himself and pulled his hands away from his chest. "That's exactly the sort of thing I was warning you about," he said to Gambit. "Now's he gotten controlling on top of it all. Look, Purdey, I'm only looking after your welfare." He looked at Purdey a little oddly though, clearly puzzled as to why 'Gambit,' after months of snark, was suddenly defending him.
"Oh, no, I, uh, bruised a rib on my last assignment. Kendrick warned me to lay off crossing my arms until it healed," Gambit jumped in hurriedly, trying to keep his reputation intact. Purdey nodded in agreement, and Gambit decided that the little exchange had gone on long enough. Purdey nodded in Larry's direction, and Gambit sighed. Looked as though he wouldn't get away with his minor assault on Larry completely. He approached the agent and gave him a matey slap on the back.
"No hard feelings? You know these legs—sometimes it's hard to keep them in check."
Larry was looking at him with something approaching horror. "That's just plain eerie," he muttered. "You're even starting to smile like him."
Gambit ignored the comment, turned to Purdey, who seemed to be seeing the humourous side of things. "We really have to be going," she told Larry, and winked at the man right before Gambit seized her arm and propelled her down the corridor. They were passed by McKay, who joined Larry in watching them depart.
"Do they seem odd to you?" he asked once the pair were out of earshot.
"Always," Larry sighed. "But this time...was it me, or were they both walking oddly?"
Gambit and Purdey kept their composure long enough to get around the corner and out of sight, before letting out a pair of long-held breaths. Purdey looked to Gambit and smiled wickedly.
"Mike, here I thought you were jealous of Larry, the way you acted whenever I mentioned him. But all along you wanted him for yourself. No wonder you were so pinched."
"Not funny," Gambit muttered, remembering the slightly predatory look in Larry's eye. "I felt like a mouse being eyed up for a cat's supper." He shivered at the memory.
"Now you know how it feels," Purdey observed, and Gambit felt himself glance her way in surprise. A horrible thought suddenly occurred to him.
"Don't tell me they're all that pushy?"
Purdey shrugged. "Some are, some aren't. Some don't take the hint until I floor them in the gym."
Gambit worked Purdey's jaw nervously, debating whether or not to ask the next question. He managed half of it. "Do I...?"
"Look at me like the buffet?" She smirked at Gambit's sheepish expression. "A bit when we first met, I suppose. But then again, I wasn't much better when it came to eyeing you up. It always feels more appreciative than anything. You should be proud of yourself."
"But if I did, if I ever made you feel as uncomfortable as I did back there...you'd tell me?" Purdey couldn't help but smile at how tentative and worried he sounded.
"You wouldn't, but if you did, I would." Gambit felt a bit better after that.
There was a note in Steed's office informing them that he had returned in their absence, and instructing them to meet him in Storage. They took the back stairwell, dark but hardly used. Steed was there, as promised, but he wasn't alone. Pouring over a table covered in papers was a distinctive head on auburn hair, topping off a slim frame. She looked up as Purdey and Gambit entered, raised an interested eyebrow.
"Mrs. Peel," Gambit greeted with a little too much enthusiasm, and Purdey nudged him in the ribs. "It's an honour to finally meet you. Mike Gambit." He reached out a hand, and Emma shook it with faint bemusement. "This is Purdey," he added, gesturing over his shoulder. "Only temporarily, I hope."
"You're the victims?" Emma queried, so surprised she didn't think to correct her surname. She cast a glance at Steed's innocent expression. "Steed, you might have told me. I thought...well, I assumed it was the same circumstances as you and me."
"Not exactly," Steed allowed. "Purdey and Gambit took it one step further, I'm afraid."
"I see." Emma was trying to keep a straight face, and failing miserably.
"It's not funny!" Purdey snapped. "I don't imagine you were laughing when it happened to you. And suppose you and Steed had it happen?"
"That's true," Emma choked. "I'm sorry. It's a bit of a shock, that's all. Now, which one of you activated the device?"
"I did," Purdey replied, happy to be getting down to business. Gambit's face had lit up in admiration when he'd caught sight of Emma, and she found the idea of whatever Gambit was thinking impacting her own biological processes faintly disturbing. "I was sitting here, and Gambit was there." She pointed out the arrangements.
"And which switch did you hit, exactly?" Emma wanted to know, running a hand over the control panel.
"This one." Purdey pointed to a switch, but her finger wavered. "Or was it this one?"
Gambit snapped out of his pleasant daze and regarded Purdey with alarm. "You don't know?"
"Of course I do," Purdey retorted. "It's one of these two. Or three."
"Three?!" Gambit was nearly catatonic.
"No, I'm sure it was this one," Purdey went on.
"Positive?" Emma asked.
"Absolutely. Probably," Purdey added, and Gambit threw up his hands in helplessness.
"I've heard that before," he moaned. "That's it. I'm doomed to a lifetime of fending off the blokes I used to go to the pub with." He was too embarrassed to admit it, but another problem had occurred to him. Recalling his earlier glass of water, Gambit had come to the realisation that, at some point, that same glass would be making another appearance at the other end, and he knew that bladders could only be kept in check for so long before taking on a mind of their own. Which meant a trip to the ladies' that Gambit wasn't entirely certain he'd ever recover from. Certainly, the prospect of entering forbidding territory was tempting, but without the right equipment, the pleasure was easily outweighed by other considerations. Not to mention Purdey wouldn't be too thrilled by the idea. Gambit shuddered involuntarily, and only managed to drag himself back to the present with a great deal of discipline.
"Now wait a minute. Can't we try all of them?" Purdey wanted to know.
Emma shook her head. "We have no way of knowing the outcome of combined procedures. This device was being tested, remember, and those tests were shut down, incomplete. Your circumstance might not be in the books at all. I could kill you, or there may be irreversible brain damage. You need to be sure."
"All right. Give me a moment to think," Purdey murmured. "Gambit, stop making that squealing noise. I can't concentrate."
"I can't help it," Gambit snapped. "My voice is too high. I have a date tomorrow, and I think my voice is higher than hers."
Purdey snorted. "Maybe this will work out for the best, then. You could use some time on the shelf. Take up needlepoint."
"I'm thinking." She chewed a fingernail. "Maybe if we set the scene—recreated it as it happened. If I could see where I reached..." She looked to Gambit.
"Anything," Mike agreed, "if it'll get us back. Where do you want me?"
"Where I was sitting," Purdey instructed, already climbing onto her side. Gambit did the same, and looked to her for further instructions. Purdey closed her eyes, tried to replay the scene as it had happened. "Right, I reached to my right, stretched even."
"Did you bend your arm?" Gambit wanted to know, fingers hovering above the controls.
"No, no I was stretching as far as I could. Leaning even, but to the side, not forward. And you, you brushed my hand aside." She opened her eyes and copied Gambit's action as best she could. "Something like that, wasn't it? But I hit a switch. Did you touch any of them?"
Gambit nodded, pointed to a little silver number in a line with many others. Emma leaned forward and inspected it, pursed her lips and looked to Steed.
"It's not one of her earlier choices," Emma informed.
Gambit tipped his head back in defeat. "Perfect. Four possibilities, and we're not even sure of those."
"Fourth time's a charm," Purdey said with levity she didn't feel. "It must be this one. Those other three, they're not in reach."
"They could be," Steed pointed out, coming to stand next to Emma. "If you have the angles wrong."
Purdey got up, went around to Gambit's side of the machine, looked at it from her original angle. "It looks right," she confirmed. "I'd stake my life on it."
"You are," Steed reminded, expression serious. "Both your lives. Gambit, you have a say. What do you think?"
Gambit worked his jaw again, scanned Purdey's face. "You really think you've got it this time?" he asked carefully.
Purdey nodded. "I do. I really do. Mike, trust me."
Gambit let his head flop back again. "All right," he sighed. "I will. Do it."
"You're sure?" Emma wanted to know.
"I'm sure. If Purdey's willing to take the chance, that's good enough for me."
Purdey felt her lips quirk up at the sides in Gambit's smile. "Thank you..."
He leaned forward again, winked at her. "Don't mention it. Let's get this over with. Sooner I'm back to normal, sooner I can cross my arms again."
Purdey went back to her seat, nodded for Emma to continue. The other woman went back to the files, gleaned some piece of information, then returned to the controls. "Nothing else was changed?"
Purdey shook her head. "Nothing. Mike made sure of that."
"Right then." Emma started fiddling with a practised efficiency. "If this was the switch, this should work." Her finger hovered above a large button. "Ready?"
"Ready," Purdey and Gambit chorused.
"When I give the word, start counting." Emma hit the button then made a few more adjustments as Steed looked on. A high-pitched whine filled the room, and the helmets lowered themselves once more. "Now."
Gambit got to five before fading away. Purdey made it all the way to eight before she, too, closed her eyes and faded. They both went limp, and Emma looked to Steed with alarm. She and Steed had made the transfer without losing consciousness, but the machine wasn't the way it had been ten years ago. She bit her lip and waited for the process to complete before shutting the machine down. The helmets retracted. Purdey and Gambit lay very still.
"Are they...?" Steed let the question ask itself.
Emma shook her head, brow furrowed. "I don't know. Maybe you should call a doctor.."
It was then that Gambit—or whoever was calling Gambit's body home—moved his hand. He groaned, and his eyelids flickered. Slowly, carefully, he eased one eye open, then the other. He blinked at the pair of them.
"Gambit?" Steed asked carefully, praying his colleague was back to normal.
Gambit squinted at them. "Yes?" He heard his own voice, and hope dawned in his eyes. "Am I me?"
Emma treated him to one of her trademark lopsided grins. "You are, Mr. Gambit. You can reintroduce yourself all over again."
Gambit looked quite happy about that, turned to look at Purdey. She was still unconscious, slumped in her chair. Gambit's brow furrowed worriedly, adding to the '11,' but he paid it no heed. He got up and rounded the machine to Purdey, shook her gently. "Purdey-girl, wake up. Tell me you made it through."
She made an inarticulate noise, and then the blue eyes opened, regarded him with a combination of confusion and grogginess. "Mike...?"
Gambit nodded vigourously. "It's good to see your face."
Purdey's face split into a huge grin. "You mean I'm back?"
"Definitely," Gambit replied, looking her over with appreciation. "I've never been so happy to see your figure in my life."
"That makes two of us," Purdey agreed, fingering her blouse gratefully, before letting Gambit help her out of her chair.
Emma was already gathering up the files on the machine. "Well, that's my work finished. I suppose I had better be on my way."
"So soon?" The disappointment in Steed's voice was obvious to all, and Gambit got the impression that their plight wasn't the only reason Steed had for contacting his old partner.
"Why don't we go out to dinner?" Gambit suggested, ignoring Purdey's wrinkled nose. "All four of us? To celebrate. That file shouldn't take long, and I have to have it back by four in any case." He looked to Emma. "Mrs. Peel? At least give me a chance to get acquainted while I'm myself. And there's a pair of pants I'd like to ask you about." Purdey snorted and muttered something about inconsistent men.
Emma looked to Steed, one eyebrow arched, lips twitching toward a smile. "Shall I?"
"I think it's a marvellous idea," Steed enthused, offering her an arm. Emma accepted, and the two set off, chatting animatedly. Purdey and Gambit watched them go.
"Unless you mean to catch flies," Purdey said after a moment, "quit gaping and close your mouth."
Gambit scowled at her. "I wasn't—"
"You were two seconds from drooling. Honestly, Mike. No sooner are you free of me and you've moved on to someone else."
"That's not true," Gambit countered. "In fact, that reminds me." He leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on Purdey's lips. "Because," he told her surprised eyes, "I promised myself that, if I ever got back, I'd indulge just once, since it wasn't very well going to be the same thing with us swapped."
Purdey shook her head in cheerful disbelief. "And here I was certain all you thought about were file clerks and their key rings."
"I have a special day for those." He ran his tongue over his teeth. "Why does my mouth taste like marshmallows?"
Purdey patted Gambit's shoulder reassuringly. "Just a snack. Come on, they've got a head start."
Larry exchanged a look with McKay before taking a deep breath and knocking on the door to Steed's office. The man himself answered, smiling beatifically.
"Steed," McKay started in. "It's about Purdey and Gambit."
Steed looked from one serious expression to another. "Oh? What about them?"
"They've been acting rather strangely," Larry cut in. "It's got us worried—defection, perhaps, or some other sort of treason. Maybe even doubles."
"Really?" Steed opened the door a little farther, and Larry and McKay were treated to Purdey and Gambit's visages, to Steed's right, listening with interest.
"Doubles, Purdey?" Gambit repeated.
Purdey grinned. "What, again?" She had her marshmallows back, and pulled one from the bag, intending it for her own mouth, but changed trajectory at the last minute and popped it into Gambit's instead. He took it with good grace—after all, they had to allay suspicion somehow.
"There's something going on with you two," Larry accused. "You're hiding something."
Gambit pretended to look stricken. "Purdey, I think they know about that stapler you nicked."
"I was going to bring it back," Purdey defended. "Someday."
Larry's patience was wearing thin. "Don't play coy. You've been acting oddly all day."
Gambit's eyes flicked ever-so-slightly toward Purdey as if to say 'Odd? When isn't she odd?'
It was at that moment that a fourth face appeared at the door, this one accompanied by a hand holding a glass of brandy. She smiled winningly at McKay, took a sip. "Hello, Tommy."
McKay's eyes bulged in their sockets. "Emma!"
"Yes, she called ahead and said she'd be dropping by," Gambit explained, rubbing the back of his neck. "Purdey and I were a bit nervous about meeting her, I'm embarrassed to admit. We've been a little off all day because of it. And of course we were terribly excited." He nudged the blonde. "Weren't we, Purdey?"
Purdey pasted a smile on her face. "Yes, terribly."
Larry and McKay exchanged glances. It was well-known around the Ministry how Purdey felt about Mrs. Peel. Gambit's motives were fairly obvious, too. It would explain a lot...
"Well, if it was circumstances..." McKay began. "Emma, it is nice to see you again. Will you be here long?"
"We were just about to go out for dinner," Steed explained. "You're welcome to join us."
"I may," McKay allowed. "Sorry to interrupt."
"Not at all."
A collective breath was released as soon as the door was closed.
"I thought Larry would blow the whistle," Gambit muttered. "He wasn't going to let the walk go. Mrs. Peel, you're a lifesaver in more ways than one."
Emma raised her glass, eye twinkling. "I'll drink to that. Cheers."
Author's Notes: Another idea that spawned during finals. Ever since I saw "Who's Who?" ages ago, I wondered about the possibility of Steed and Emma swapping places with each other. Then, a few months back, I thought about it again, only with Purdey and Gambit, with whom it worked much better. So this is a bit of fluff, maybe even parody-worthy, so I was a little loose with the characters.
Cynthia Wentworth-Howe was in "The Positive-Negative Man," and she really was a fishing file clerk with aspirations to Button-Lip. And she was pretty, and kept all her keys under her skirt. Who else would Gambit go down to see, particularly after she'd achieved her dream? She'd be older, but she wasn't that old in the sixties, and as if Gambit's going to let a few extra years dissuade him.
Emma will be seen again. Here she's just to move the plot along, so I didn't really use her to her full potential. There'll be a proper meeting in my fic at some point.
This is totally alternate universe, by the way. It's not meant to fit into either the show's timeline, or my own story arcs. Just a bit of silliness.