by J. Ferguson a.k.a. Timeless A-Peel

Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, and John Steed. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises, and this story is for entertainment purposes only.

Timeline: Sixth in a series. Takes place in late February/early March, 1977, near the start of the second season, probably shortly after the events of Hostage and the year-later bits of Gnaws and The Last of the Cybernauts...? It is strongly recommended, but not essential, that you go back and read the previous stories in the arc, Aftermath, Dance With Me, The Anniversary, and Merry Christmas, Mr. Gambit.

Author's Note: Inspired by one throwaway exchange in Angels of Death, this is the piece I completed most recently. Meant to explain a few things that went on in the show's second season, it also sets up the rest of the arc in terms of the characters. All the other fics have been fairly plot-light, more or less character studies. I have fun doing character sketches. What can I say? But this one's got a bit more going on in the background, and it sets the tone for the next few stories, a bit darker than I've been posting thus far (nothing too terrible though). Also, this one's long. Really long. Really, really long. And I'm trying to edit it with what little spare time I have. So expect to see this one updated for months as opposed to weeks. I hope you enjoy it.

For more information about the series, please see my profile.

Purdey could hear the phone long before she woke. She incorporated it into her dreams, as is common of external stimuli that are not strong enough to bring about full consciousness, but too invasive to ignore. It didn't take long for her to make the transition—a ringing telephone was rather out of place in a dream about dancing "Swan Lake" before a large audience. But the fantasy was real enough to leave Purdey disoriented upon waking, and it took a moment of staring at the ceiling above her bed to realise that she no longer danced, had cut off her hair, and the last man to enter her bedroom, if not her bed, was not Larry Doomer, but Mike Gambit, even if it hadn't been upon invitation. She honestly didn't know why she bothered having a door anymore. All of London seemed to ignore it and dropped in as it pleased. She often wondered if her request for an unlisted phone number had somehow been confused and ended up as a full page advertisement listing her address with the greeting 'All welcome.'

None of these musings was getting the phone answered.

Purdey groaned and reached for the receiver on her bedside table. If it was Gambit, she'd see to it that he received four a.m. wake-up calls for the next month.

"Hello," she greeted groggily.

"Miss Bryde? Purdey Bryde?" a woman's voice inquired briskly.

Purdey winced involuntarily. Nobody used her surname anymore. Steed had had it struck from all but her most intimate personal files when her own attempts at persuading the Ministry brass had proved unsuccessful. It was just as well the senior agent had succeeded—the name reopened old wounds associated with her father's untimely death, and the publicity that had surrounded his demise compromised her cover. Whoever was on the other end of the line either didn't know this or didn't care.

"Who's calling?" she wanted to know, letting a certain degree of annoyance seep into her voice.

The question was ignored. "Miss Bryde, you are to report to McKay's office immediately. An appointment has been made for you. Nine o'clock. Do not be late."

Purdey was fully awake now—and outraged. "Just a minute," she exclaimed, bolting up in bed. "Steed's meant to contact me on business, not McKay. I don't even have confirmation that you're with my department."

"These orders come directly from McKay," the woman informed her. "He overrides John Steed's authority, certainly?"

She had her there. "Yes," Purdey agreed reluctantly. "But it's very unusual. I'd like to know what this is about."

"Then I suggest you keep your appointment, Miss Bryde. Good day." The woman rang off, and Purdey was left staring at the receiver in puzzlement. She was used to sudden calls to arms at all hours, but not from someone besides Steed or Gambit, and on the rare occasion someone else made contact, he certainly wouldn't address her as anything other than 'Purdey.' Her mind ran through the possibilities as she placed the receiver back in its cradle, gazed absently out into the living room. A new girl, perhaps? A secretary who was unaware of her alias? Unlikely. Such a person wouldn't have access to the right files. And why circumvent the normal chain of command? Purdey hated to admit it, but by virtue of experience, she was at the bottom of the heap in terms of authority when it came to their little threesome. Gambit's days in the field had given him seniority, even though for the most part he gave her equal status as a partner, only pulling out the seniority card when it suited him, or if he was feeling smug that day. Purdey usually shot him down rather quickly.

All of this meant that McKay would only be the one to arrange an appointment if Steed or Gambit couldn't make contact. The prospect made her gut twist, but it was possible. If Steed and Gambit had both been injured or—heaven forbid—killed, then McKay's use of a secretary to contact her would be an easy way of deferring the inevitable emotional upheaval that would surely occur when he gave her the news. Steed and Gambit weren't working on anything as far as Purdey knew, but in their business, Purdey was all too aware of the fact that you didn't need an assignment to end up dead. Many men had met their ends stumbling across something quite accidentally. Purdey didn't know what she'd do if she lost two more men she cared about to this line of work. Think. There must be other explanations.

A trap. That made sense. It could explain the unusual mode of address, and Purdey knew it was entirely possible for her files to be compromised. If the caller was laying a trap, she obviously wouldn't be able to use Steed, Gambit, or McKay to make the call. Even if she'd somehow managed to capture her colleagues, Gambit and Steed certainly wouldn't agree to help guide Purdey to the lion's den. Hostage wasn't a pleasant idea, but it was better than death. And easier to confirm. Purdey reached for her receiver with the intention of calling Gambit's flat. If the call did turn out to legitimate, it was entirely possible that Mike may have received one too. At the very least they could compare notes. If he was there. Purdey swallowed hard and started to dial the number, but a sudden thought stayed her hand. If it was a trap, her phone could easily be bugged. And if Gambit did answer, there was no guarantee that he would be able to speak freely. Someone could be there with him, a gun to the dark curls. The same could be true of Steed. Purdey put the receiver down hurriedly. She was working herself up with half-formed conspiracy theories, and it was getting her nowhere fast. She glanced at the clock. There was time, still, for her to get ready and make the trip to Gambit's flat before the meeting. If Mike was in trouble, then she could do something. If he wasn't, then she could enlist his help in analyzing the strange call.

It was the start of a plan, at least. Purdey climbed out of bed and made for the bathroom.