Disclaimer: None of the Avengers from Dr. Keel to Gambit belong to me. Sad fact, that
Spoilers: Faces and Obsession
A/N: I never thought I would write a fic about Gambit. I wasn't even sure if I liked Gambit at first. Steed I loved already, and I fell for Purdey right away. Gambit, however, snuck up on me and surprised me by being so likable. He's rough and wears a glib mask but underneath he's a very good bloke.
My thanks to Bunchofgrapes for her beta'ing and encouragement, and to Sharon for her wonderful review.
"A ballerina?" Gambit looked at the man who, for the past six months had been his boss-cum-partner, and waited for the punch-line. It didn't come. "This is a joke, right?"
"Not at all. She was a ballerina until four years ago, but now she's an agent. A very well trained one, I can assure. The department has its standards, as you well know." Steed leaned back in his chair and observed the agent pacing the length of the room. "You don't object to working with a woman, I hope?"
"Of course not. I like women." He loved women. The way their curves filled out their clothing, the way they smelled, the demure looks they gave him during dinner and the not so demure looks later in his flat when... He liked women, he just wasn't sure what it would be like to be partnered with one, let alone a former ballet dancer. You had to be dainty and soft to be a dancer, didn't you?
"Good. She should be here in time for lunch." The matter settled, Steed returned his attention to the pile of files on his desk, leaving Gambit to his own devices.
Gambit decided that a walk around Steed's extensive grounds before lunch would be a good way to deal with his restlessness. He wasn't really one for the country, preferring the noise, action and lights of the city, but sometimes it was nice to take a walk and not have to worry about cars running him over or too crowded walkways. He spent an hour outside, making sure to avoid the field where the horses grazed. He didn't care much for the beasts, despite Steed's riding lessons. He cared even less for the idea of manure on his shoes.
When he returned to the house he found that the new agent had arrived.
She was sleek and sophisticated, dressed in some sort of gauzy blue thing that seemed to float around her. Thirty years ago she would have been a pin-up girl, a good luck charm to the men that painted her on the nose of their planes. When she laughed Gambit thought she was less like a ballerina and more like a singer in a small and smoky jazz joint; her voice was melodious but just a little husky.
"Gambit," he said, walking up to her and holding out his hand, not waiting to be introduced. "Mike Gambit."
"I've heard stories about you, Mike Gambit." She ignored the proffered hand and lightly bussed his cheek.
"Stories? Should I be worried?" He glanced at Steed who lifted a single brow in amusement.
"Not unless you're less proficient at karate than they say you are. I'm looking forward to a little sparring." She pressed her palms together, bowing slightly, before demonstrating a high kick. Gambit whistled softly- he didn't know it was possible to get one's foot so high above the head.
"So am I." He managed to keep most of the innuendo out of his voice.
"And regarding the other rumors, Gambit?"
"Other rumors?" He knew perfectly well what other rumors she might have heard. He might have even started one or two of them himself.
"I don't date my coworkers."
"You... I..." Gambit didn't know what to say.
"Good girl." Steed laughed, patted Purdey on the shoulder, and pointed them both towards the kitchen where lunch was waiting. "Now that the introductions are out of the way we can discuss the Stenloff case."
"There's this party on Friday. A birthday bash for a friend of mine, and I thought..." They had been working together for a month now, but other than a teasing invite the first day he hadn't tested her statement about not dating.
"No, Gambit." Purdey crossed the small flat to the kitchen and opened the freezer.
"Lots of food, lots of free drinks. We've been working for two weeks solid, don't you...'
"No, Gambit." She returned with a bag of frozen peas in one hand and a beer in the other. The peas went on Gambit's knee, which was starting to swell thanks to a run in with a two by four.
"Peas?" he asked, looking askance at the bright green bag.
"Were you planning on having them for dinner?" She handed him the beer, then opened up a bottle of aspirin and gave him three pills.
"No." He hadn't even been aware he had any vegetables in his flat. The contents of his freezer were usually limited to steaks, ice, and bottles of Stoli. "So about that party Friday?"
"Gambit, if you don't shut up I'm going to let them push you off the bridge next time." There was no malice, and only a hint of exasperation, in her voice. "Now I'm calling out for Chinese. What do you want?"
"So this dating rule of yours." Gambit leaned his elbows on the window sill, binoculars held up to his eyes. "Does it have to do with a bad experience or is it a girl magazine thing?"
"A what?" Since it was Gambit's turn to keep watch, Purdey stood in the middle of the room with one leg propped on the back of a chair and stretched.
"You know, those magazines like iVogue/i with fashion tips and interviews with celebrities and articles like 'Ten Reasons dating the boss is a bad idea.'" More than one girl he'd dated had quoted those articles. A few had even tried to get him to answer the questions in the quizzes. He always said no; his mother didn't raise a fool.
"Are you saying you think I should date Steed?" Exhaling slowly, she bent forward and touched her outstretched toes.
"You know I'm not." Gambit dared to look away from the window for a moment. "You wouldn't, would you?"
"I told you, I don't date coworkers." Purdey did a few pliés before lifting her other leg onto the back of the chair and repeating her stretches. "But if I did..."
"Did you date a male ballerina and get burned?" Gambit asked quickly. He did not want to hear about the potential date-ability of Steed.
"There is not such thing as a male ballerina, Gambit. Ballerinas are women. Men are called danseurs. And no, I never dated one; I just know it would be a bad idea. Call it woman's intuition."
"Women are no more intuitive then men. That's an old wives tale." Though if he worked with her much longer he might start believing it - the woman had an uncanny knack for picking up leads when trails were supposedly cold.
"And I don't read iVogue/i," she said as she took the binoculars from him, not caring that the strap was still around his neck.
"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Finely, Gambit thought. He took the justice of the peace at his word and kissed the woman in white standing at his side. The kiss had barely begun, in his opinion, when she pinched his arm.
"It only has to look real," Purdey muttered.
"Where's your sense of adventure?" Gambit teased.
"If the plan works you'll have plenty of adventure soon." Purdey smiled sweetly to the justice, thanked his wife, who had been one of their witnesses, and turned to walk down the aisle.
"Congratulations." Steed sat in the last row of chairs in the small chapel. "Such a lovely ceremony."
"Aren't you going to kiss the bride? It's considered good luck."
"I'd be delighted." Steed chuckled.
The fact that the kiss Purdey gave Steed lasted longer than the one she had allowed a few minutes ago was enough to make Gambit scowl. Sham or not, this was his wedding.
"So where are you two love birds off to on your honeymoon?" Steed asked.
"Someplace exotic. Tahiti, Greece, the Easter Islands." It would be nice to go somewhere warm and quiet, even nicer to take someone with him. To bad it wouldn't happen anytime soon.
"The room upstairs," Purdey answered. "The last three couples all stayed here right before they disappeared.
"Spoilsport," Gambit sighed.
"I don't like him." Standing in the corner of the room, a ginger ale in one hand, Gambit tugged on his bow-tie and silently cursed their current assignment. He didn't like monkey suits, didn't like being at parties and not being allowed to drink, and he really didn't like watching his partner dance with a tall, dark, and charming millionaire.
"Anything in particular you don't like?" Steed looked much more at ease in his tux - the blasted thing had probably been tailor made for him, not rented for the night like Gambit's own. "Nothing came up on the background check."
"I don't know." At that moment the man laughed at something Purdey said, and he had to remind himself not to squeeze his glass so tightly, because it would hurt if it broke. This was the third time they had danced together. Gambit knew that protection detail meant she had to stay close to him, but there were limits.
"Just a feeling I have." Jealousy was a feeling, after all. Not that he was jealous, exactly. Purdey's boyfriends lasted about as long as his girlfriends did, whereas they had been partners for over a year now. Most days he was even glad for her no dating policy- it was fun to flirt and tease and not have to worry about where it was leading. Really, it wasn't jealousy so much as worry. Friends worried about each other.
"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about," Steed said confidently.
Steed, uncharacteristically, was wrong. Two hours later, when all three of them ended up chained to a wall in the basement, Gambit was almost relieved. He had been right to dislike Purdey's dance partner, who happened to be planning to blow up number 10 Downing Street. It had been instinct, and not something foolish like jealousy. "Purdey, if you can lure your boyfriend over here I've got my legs free. I'll get him in a scissor hold and Steed can get the keys to unlock us."
Lolita. When Steed had given him this assignment it had seemed like a lark. The Irish accent, the sob story about being down on his luck, acting like a lush- it had been like being back in the school play. He'd considered taking up acting once, for about a week when he was seventeen and just out of school. Even the three days of solitary confinement as he 'dried up' hadn't been bad, and pretending to learn to speak like himself had been a wonderful game. But then they brought iher/i in. Lolita.
"My mother liked the movie. Said it reminded her of my dad."
He had a hard time not wincing every-time she spoke. Her voice was harsh and coarse, and when she wasn't talking she was chewing that infernal gum. She was loud, dull, uneducated and made crude comments. Her hips moved too much when she walked.
She wasn't Purdey, but they were going to shape her into Purdey, and then they were going to kill his partner.
"Just how much do you have in common with your namesake, Lolita?" He trapped her between a wall and his body and licked his lips suggestively. The real Purdey would have kneed him in the groin.
"Doncha wish you knew?" She slithered down the wall and under his arm, circling around him and whispering in his ear. "Too bad you ain't gonna find out."
It was even harder when Lolita began to change, the new hair, softer clothes and lighter touch with the makeup making her look close enough to be Purdey's twin. If she kept her mouth closed even he might be fooled, and that scared him. There was only one Purdey in the world, and if this plan succeeded there wouldn't be any, just a wolf in Purdey's clothing.
"You can take the girl out of the cathouse, but you can't take the cathouse out of the girl," he said the first time she succeeded in getting Purdey's accent just right.
"Bastard," she spat back at him.
"Now then, I won't 'ave ye casting aspersions on me sainted mother like that. She was married more 'n nine months afore I came along." He caught her arm, pulling hard enough that she flinched. Part of him was glad - he was hurting, it only seemed fair that she was too. The other part was appalled - he'd never purposely hurt a woman, not unless it was required for the job.
"I told you you weren't no gentleman. Not like Mike Gambit is."
"Maybe Gambit's not the gentleman you think he is. He's no Steed, after all." Steed always treated women like ladies. If he was the one here he would have Lolita charmed and working for their side by now, not alienated and planning to assassinate his partner. "Maybe Gambit deserves having you as his partner."
Lolita threw a box of bullets at his head and stormed out of the room without comment.
"You were wrong." A week later, with the better part of a fifth of Jack Daniels drunk by the two of them, he and Purdey discussed the time they had spent with each other, each thinking the other was a stranger. He tried to apologize for the way he had treated her, but she wouldn't let him. "Mike Gambit is a gentleman."
He didn't quite agree, but that night she slept in his bed and he took the couch so maybe she had a point.
"Give that back, Purdey." He tried to snatch the black leather book out of her grasp, but she twisted and ducked and ran to the other side of the room.
"Just one peek first. I want to satisfy my curiosity."
"It's just names and phone numbers. What's there to be curious about?" It had been a mistake to leave the thing out on the table, but he hadn't known Purdey was going to be dropping by today. It had been even more of a mistake to let her know the book existed, but he hadn't thought she was herself at the time.
"I want to see how you arrange them. I have a wager with myself that they'll be alphabetical by first name." Purdey scanned through the pages and grinned when she saw that she was right. Some entries were simply first names and phone numbers, some included addresses or birthdays, and many included notes about favoured perfumes or restaurants.
"Spent a lot of time thinking about this, have you?" When she handed him back the book, he shoved it in a drawer. It wasn't fair; he didn't paw through her purses, there was no reason she should make free with his little black book.
"Yes, Gambit, I spend all of my free time thinking about your dating habits," she said dryly. "Now hurry up. We don't want to keep Steed waiting."
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Gambit grabbed his coat as he followed Purdey out the door. So much for making a date for tonight; even if he was back early enough to go out it would be too late to call anyone. Girls did not appreciate being called at the last minute.
"Why did you think they would be alphabetical by first name?" he asked as they waited for the lift.
"You don't always bother with learning your conquests last names."
She was not entirely wrong, and he was entirely uncomfortable knowing that she knew. It was akin to having your little sister know where you hid your playboy magazines. Jessica had held that knowledge over his head for years.
"You don't have to answer that, do you darling?" It was three in the morning, and the woman's voice was thick with sleep. They had gone to bed at midnight, but only turned off the light an hour ago.
"Sorry, luv." he fumbled for the phone without bothering with the light. "Hello?"
"I didn't wake you up, did I?"
"Purdey?" Gambit sat up and reached for the lamp. "Do we have a case?"
"No. I was calling for a favour. I've run into a bit of a problem." It was a little hard to make out what she was saying; there was a lot of background noise.
"Are you in trouble? Where are you?" He ignored the pouting lower lip of his bedmate and bent down to pick up the pair of pants on the floor.
"Nothing I can't handle, but the party's gotten a little wild, my date's run off, and I left home without enough money to call for a cab. There's only so many times you can sit and listen to a room full of drunk people sing "Stand By Me" without going mad, you know."
"I'll be right there, just give me the address."
He scribbled down the address of the all night cafe she said was half a block away from the party. "I'll meet you there."
"Embarrassed to have me meet your friends?" he teased.
"Worried you'd join in the celebrating," she fired back with a laugh before hanging up.
"Who is Purdey?" His date for the evening- Shelia? Sharon? no, Shayla- sat up, not bothering to use the sheet to cover herself.
"Someone I work with." He didn't see the shirt he had worn earlier - probably in the other room - so he took a clean one out of the closet.
"You're going out in the middle of the night to pick up a coworker?"
"She's also a friend. A close friend." Friends, partner, family. After three years there wasn't really a label for what Purdey was to him.
"Still, you're going out in the cold night when you could be here, with me?" Shayla threw back the blankets, and Gambit took a moment to admire the beautiful woman in his bed. Under most other circumstances he would have undressed faster than he had dressed and ignored anything else. But Purdey was waiting for him.
"Sorry, luv," he said for the second time in the space of minutes. "You stay warm and go back to sleep, and I'll be back as soon as I can."
Purdey was waiting inside the cafe when he arrived, two mugs of coffee on the table in front of her. "I'm too wired to think about sleep. Would you like to order some pie? The sign out front says that their apple pie is world famous."
"Two pieces of apple pie," he called out to the waitress behind the counter.
The sun was already up when he and Purdey finally left the cafe. His flat, when he returned after dropping Purdey off, was empty.
"...still love you. I still want you."
Gambit didn't mean to eavesdrop, but when he heard voices he paused just shy of entering the room. He had been searching for Purdey, to ask about her strange reaction to Larry, only to find that the very man in question was declaring his undying love. He might have backed away quietly if it hadn't been for the telltale sound of a slap.
"Everything okay?" he asked, pasting a false smile on his face as he intruded into the room. He was relieved to see that Purdey's cheek wasn't red. Gambit didn't think he could have restrained himself if it was, and Steed probably wouldn't have appreciated a man sized hole in one of his windows. "Purdey?"
She insisted things were fine, brushing past him with a tray of champagne in one hand. He let her go. Larry Dumas didn't escape quite so easily. He caught the man's arm, holding it tighter than was strictly necessary.
"I'm a friend of Purdey's. A close friend." The last time he had used the words they had been an explanation. This time they were a warning. When Larry pulled away he let him go, but not before he had seen that his words were understood. Gambit didn't wait more than a few seconds before following Larry to the main part of the house; he wouldn't leave Purdey alone with the man again. It was a relief when Dumas left the party, and Gambit had almost been able to relax and begin enjoying the party again when General Canvey's assistant showed up and Purdey took off on her bike. He wanted to catch up with her, to offer her a ride, but Steed shook his head.
Purdey's dream house. If things had gone differently years ago this would have been the site of a house, complete with a woofly dog in the front yard and rose bushes lining the walk instead of an empty field with a burning car and a dead man. Purdey would have traded in her ballet shoes to become a wife and a mother, not an agent for the MoD, and he never would have known her. He was almost glad Larry Dumas had turned out to be such a crazy bastard. Almost. But then he remembered the look on Purdey's face when she stared as Dumas' body, and the anguish in her voice when she said that he wouldn't have hurt her, and he couldn't be glad.
"How about we stop at the closest pub?" Gambit suggested after he hung up his car phone. A clean up team was on their way out to deal with the destroyed car, the remains of the nuclear device, and the body.
"I'd like to go home, please." Purdey sat completely still, her gaze fixed on some unknown point out the car window.
"But...." Gambit started to protest. Steed stopped him.
"We'll drop you off first," he promised.
"Thank you, Steed."
No one spoke for the length of the ride. Purdey refused help getting her bike out of the back of the car, and disappeared into her flat as soon as possible.
"I don't like this." Gambit watched the closed door as they drove away.
"You made the right choice," Steed reassured. "It was the only thing to do in the situation."
"I know that and you know that, but Purdey..."
"Purdey knows it too, up here." He removed one hand from the steering wheel briefly and tapped the side of his forehead. "It's just going to take a bit of time for her to admit that it's true. After all, she's..."
"I know, I know. She's a woman."
"She's human," Steed corrected. "And no matter what he did, she loved Larry Dumas. It's not easy giving up someone you love, even when it's necessary."
"Voice of experience?" There was something in Steed's voice, under the 'teacher to student' tone he adopted at times like these. Not for the first time, Gambit wondered about the people in Steed's past.
"Something like that." He had it tucked away now, whatever ghost it was that had made an appearance. Steed's voice was full of cheer, and when they stopped at a streetlight he turned to look at Gambit and smiled. "Now about that drink?"
"I think I'd best be going home too."
Gambit spent an hour moping around his flat before deciding that he needed to do something to keep his mind off of Purdey and the potential repercussions today would have on their friendship. The gym seemed like a safe bet, and he spent most of the afternoon beating a punching bag into submission, lifting weights, and practicing his karate. Instead of hailing a cab he went for a walk after leaving the gym. He didn't give much thought to where he was going, but wasn't surprised when he wound up in Purdey's neighborhood.
The windows to the flat were dark when he arrived. He knocked anyway. "Purdey?"
There was no answer. He tried knocking again, and calling out her name. He peered in the windows, but the blinds were turned up and he couldn't make out anything. Resolute, he sat down to wait. Either she was out and would let him in when she returned, or she was home and was ignoring him. If the second was true hopefully she would take pity on him at some point and let him in. After the sun set it would get pretty cold, and he hadn't brought a jacket. "I'm not going away," he called out for good measure.
Almost an hour passed before the door swung inward. "You might as well come inside before a neighbor calls the police and you get arrested for vagrancy."
"Nice to know you care, Purdey." She was still wearing the same clothes from earlier in the day, minus her shoes. There was only one small lamp turned on inside the flat, but otherwise things looked normal. He was mildly surprised that there was no alcohol out; if he had been in her places he'd be thoroughly soused by now. "Or are you just worried about posting bail?"
"I was about to go to bed, Gambit. The phone's over on the table if you want to call a cab." Purdey spoke slower than usual, almost as if simply speaking required too much work.
"Thanks for the offer, but no." He'd left her alone the first time, but couldn't make himself do it again. "If I leave who's going to tuck you in?"
"Gambit." There was no bite in Purdey's words, only exhausted resignation. When he wrapped his arm around her she leaned into him.
"I stayed at my aunt's house one summer when I was a lad. She lived out in the country on a farm, and for a city boy like me it was a place full of strange noises." Gambit led her through the flat to the bathroom, snagging a pair of red silk pajamas from the end of the bed as they passed it. He handed them to her and stood just outside the bathroom door, his back turned. He didn't even try to catch a glimpse of her changing, simply continued his story. "The first night I woke up and ran screaming from the room, certain that a monster was waiting for me just outside the window."
"Practical Gambit, believing in monsters?" Purdey came out of the bathroom in the pajamas with her face scrubbed clean. It made her look younger, but sadder too.
"I was all of seven or eight; I believed in Santa, Neverland, and babies being delivered by storks too." Gambit turned down the blankets on the bad.
"I bet you were a sweet little curly haired child." Purdey tripped over the edge of the carpet, but caught herself. She flopped onto the bed with little grace. Gambit pulled the blankets up over her.
"I was, as my mother told me repeatedly, a little hooligan. That's why I was spending the summer with my aunt." It probably had less to do with his childish pranks, and more with the constant fighting between his mum and da, but Purdey didn't need to know that; or the fact that his da had been gone when he had returned. "To get back to the story though, I was certain that a monster was trying to get me. My aunt caught me in the hall and carried me back to the unfamiliar bedroom, telling me the whole time about the cows in the barn and the wind in the reeds along the bank of the river, both making noises I never heard before. She tucked me back into the bed and held my hand until I fell asleep."
"I never have nightmares, Gambit." She was fighting to keep her eyes open.
"You're a lucky one, then." He hung his jacket from the corner of the bed and settled into a chair to keep his vigil.
"It wasn't your fault. Today... I know what I said but..."
"It's alright, Purdey. I know." There were still things that he didn't understand, and probably never would. But he knew enough. "We can talk in the morning if you want. Now's the time for sleep."
"You're not staying there, are you?" Her eyes gave way to the weight of exhaustion, and closed.
"I'll let myself out in a bit, after I call a cab." After I'm sure you're well asleep, he added silently.
"Chair's not comfortable," Purdey muttered. "There's room on the bed if you'd rather sleep here."
"Are you sure?"
"Just don't steal all the blankets."
Gambit toed off his shoes and slipped into the bed, but it was a long time before he was able to sleep.
He woke up the next morning when a pillow hit his face. "Purdey?"
"Wake up, lazy bones. Steed's picking us up in half an hour." She threw another pillow at him - this one he caught in his hand - before crossing the small distance to the kitchen area. Gambit could see something cooking on the stove top, but more importantly he could smell coffee.
"We have a new case?" His shirt, once he stood up, was hopelessly wrinkled, but the jacket covered the worst of it. He stopped in the bathroom for a minute to use the loo and wash his face, running damp fingers through his hair to tame the stray bits.
"Steed didn't say. I guess he'll fill us in when he arrives." Purdey paused in her pancake flipping to hand him a steaming mug. Gambit accepted the drink with a grin, knowing without asking that she would have already added two sugars, just the way he liked it.
"So it's business as usual?" Gambit opened the closest cabinet and took out two plates, setting them on the end of the counter that served as a dining space. There was orange juice in the refridgarator, and he poured them each a glass.
"Business as usual," Purdey confirmed with a smile. She put a stack of pancakes on each plate and smothered them with syrup but didn't move to eat any of hers. "About yesterday..."
"You don't have to say anything if you're not ready." With a day's distance yesterday was beginning to seem like a horrible dream.
Slowly Purdey shook her head. "I need to say this. If it had been him or you, I would have done what you did." She looked him in the eye for long moments before breaking away nad stabbing at her pancakes with a fork. "Now hurry and eat. We'll have to stop off at your flat; that shirt looks you've lived in it for a week."