Fandom: The New Avengers
Timeline: shortly after the series - the three are back in England after their adventures in France and Canada.
Rated: K+
Type: General
Cast: Purdey, Gambit, Steed
Summary: In which the penny finally drops for Purdey and Gambit doesn't quite get it.
Disclaimer: The only thing here that's mine is the story idea - though it might not be entirely new to some ... Everything else belongs to those wonderful chaps who came up with the Avengers and the New Avengers, Sydney Newman and Brian Clemens.

"I've got it!"

Gambit, who had been deep in thought, jumped when Purdey suddenly snapped her fingers and called out.

"Got what?" he asked. "Do you know where we can find Smith?"

Purdey frowned at him. "Don't be silly, Gambit. I figured that out about an hour ago."

"You figured -" Gambit gaped at her. "Then why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I had more pressing things to worry about." Purdey gave him one of her trademark sweet smiles. "And besides, I thought you'd like to find out for yourself. It's not terribly difficult, after all."

Gambit had been trying to do just that for quite some time now. He stared at the slip of paper lying on the table before him, and the column of letters written on it which were supposed to reveal Smith's whereabouts. However, he found it terribly hard to concentrate with Purdey sitting next to him on the table, watching him with interest, still with that insufferable smile on her face that all screamed "I know something you don't know."

Finally, he gave up.

"All right, Purdey," he said finally, looking up at her, "what did you figure out?"

Purdey beamed at him. "Steed."

"Steed?"

"Yes."

Gambit straightened and leaned closer to her. "You mean you've figured out why he's been behaving so strangely lately?"

"Yes."

"Demonstrated by the fact that he doesn't seem very interested in this operation?"

"Yes."

Gambit knew full well he ought to make Purdey tell him where she thought they would find Smith. He also knew that he wouldn't have peace of mind until he had heard what Purdey had to say about Steed. Even if he knew he wouldn't like it.

"So what about him?" he asked.

"Well, we've always thought we were Steed's partners, didn't we?"

Gambit frowned. "But we are."

Purdey shook her head. "No. We aren't. We never were."

Gambit blinked. "Purdey -"

"You know the way agents are paired off", she went on as if he hadn't said anything. "They either go on solo missions or they work together in pairs. But there are never three of them. Never. So - why us?"

Gambit waited for her to answer her own question - since she obviously knew the answer already - but she just kept looking at him. Waiting for him to say something. He shrugged. "Because it's Steed? You know how he can bend the rules. He wanted to work with both of us, not one or the other."

"Yes, but why?"

Gambit shrugged. "Well, I guess he wanted to work with me because I'm good. And as for you -" He grinned. "Show me one straight guy out there who wouldn't love to work with you and I'll show you someone who's not in their right mind. Really, with Steed's reputation for picking the prettiest girl in town as his partner …"

He shot a meaningful glance at the three pictures of Steed's previous partners.

"That explains me but not you", Purdey insisted.

"I was working with Steed before you joined the team", Gambit reminded her.

"So?"

He shrugged and Purdey sighed, giving him a look that made it clear she thought he was being thick on purpose.

"Sorry, I don't follow."

"I'm surprised, considering it was you who put me onto it in the first place…" she told him.

Gambit raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I did? When?"

"Paris."

"Paris?"

"Yes."

Purdey watched him expectantly while he tried to remember what the devil he might have said then that could explain Steed's odd behaviour now, or could have given Purdey the impression they were not Steed's partners.

"Sorry, Purdey-girl. I don't know what you mean."

She let out an exasperated sigh. "You remember when we thought Steed had been shot dead?"

Gambit nodded. Oh yes, he did remember that. He wasn't likely to forget it anytime soon. It had only lasted for a moment. They had found out soon enough Steed wasn't dead – he had been saved by the cigarette case in his breast pocket. But a nasty moment, all the same. Made even nastier by what he had caught himself thinking when he saw Steed lying on the ground, apparently dead. He had, to his chagrin, thought that, as bad as it was to lose Steed, he was still glad it was him and not Purdey.

Obviously, he was taking too long to answer. Purdey shifted into a more comfortable sitting-position beside him.

"You said," she reminded him, "that Steed taught us everything we know."

"Ah yes." He remembered now. He frowned. "And that led you to deduce that we're not Steed's partner?"

"Yes."

Gambit considered this for a moment. It still didn't make any sense to him. "Sorry, but you've lost me again."

Purdey shook her head. "Really, Mike Gambit. If I didn't know better I'd say you're as thick as -"

"Enlighten me, then", he snapped, cutting her off. He wasn't in the mood to play games. They didn't have time for this. They had to find Smith. The sooner she got this revelation off her chest, the better.

Purdey rolled her eyes at him. "He taught us everything we know. Everything he knows, in fact. Every trick in the book, and quite a few that aren't in any book. Thanks to him, we're probably the best agents in the Department. Because of what he taught us. Do you understand now?"

Gambit was about to say that he still didn't, when suddenly, he began to see. Steed had indeed taught them everything. Almost like -

"Almost like a teacher", he murmured.

Purdey sighed and nodded. "Finally."

"You mean we're not his partners because we are -"

"- his successors, exactly. The ones he wants to take over when he retires."

They looked at each other for a moment, saying nothing. All that could be heard was the low ticking of the living room clock. Now that Purdey had said it, Gambit could see it, too, in all clarity. It also explained why Steed was acting the way he was. Because he wanted to see whether they could do this on their own, without his help.

"So you found me out at last."

They both jumped and whirled round to see Steed standing in the doorway, clad in his riding gear. Gambit wondered how long he had been there without them noticing.

"Steed." Purdey slid off the table, beaming at him. "I'm right, am I not?"

Steed nodded, returning the smile. "Perfectly right."

"So you want to retire", Gambit said.

Steed laughed. "Not anytime soon - not if I can help it. But Purdey is right. I'm not getting any younger. One day, I'll be too old for field work."

He made a gesture to cut them both off when they started to protest.

"That's the way life goes. But as long as I have you two to take over from me, I have nothing to worry about."

Purdey went over to him, took his hands in hers, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Gambit got up from his chair. He shoved his hands in his pockets, trying to get rid of the lump that suddenly had formed in his throat. He had known Steed relied on him but not that Steed held him in such high esteem. Steed's successor. Together with Purdey.

"Guess that makes us the new Steed and Mrs. Peel, huh?" he quipped.

There was silence again, disturbed only by the low tick-tock of the clock, as they stood there, looking at each other. Gambit could feel the gravity of the moment. A good kind of gravity, but he still wished someone would say something, would break the silence before it grew too overwhelming. Unfortunately, he couldn't think of anything to say.

It was then that Purdey frowned and shook her head. "If you two don't mind, I'd rather be the new Cathy Gale." She gestured at the three photos. "I really don't want to have to dye my hair."

Steed laughed and gave her hands a slight squeeze. "As far as I'm concerned, you can be whomever you like. But I'd prefer if you stayed Purdey."

Gambit grinned. "Guess I'll forego the bowler-hat, then."

Steed raised his eyebrows at him as if it occurred to him only now that Gambit being the new Steed might also include him wearing a bowler.

The sound of a car pulling up outside the house saved them from further awkwardness. Steed let go of Purdey's hands.

"Ah, that will be Sarah. Excuse me please." He pointed his chin at the table. "If I'm not mistaken, you have important business to attend to as well."

He turned and made for the front door.

"I second that, I'll have you know," Gambit said, hands still in his pockets.

Purdey raised her eyebrows at him in a silent question.

"About you staying Purdey." He returned to the table and grabbed the slip of paper with the letters. "As for Smith - how the heck did you figure that one out?"

"That's actually pretty easy when you know what you're looking for." Purdey moved to join him. "You see all those letters, don't you?"

She pointed at the column.

"Yes I see them and yes, I also realise they're some sort of code."

Purdey nodded. "It's triple-coded, actually. Now, all you have to do …"

-- End --