Life on Mars

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

Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, and Larry Doomer. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended

Timeline: Seventh in a series. Takes place in July, 1977, immediately after the events of the episode "Obsession." It is strongly recommended, but not essential, that you go back and read the previous stories in the arc, Lost Boys, Aftermath, Dance With Me, The Anniversary, Merry Christmas, Mr. Gambit, and Brazil.

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

Author's Note: Yes, a new fic! Although there are three of you hanging about who have already read this (you know who you are), I'm conducting some fairly major rewrites in places, so there's new stuff to be found even if you know where it goes in the end.

Now, a little background. I wrote this fic from late 2006 until summer 2007, so it's a bit old, older than several of the other stories in the arc. I'd long wanted to do a story along these lines, and around that very same time I discovered a certain television series by the name of Life on Mars. A lot of you will have probably seen it (the British original, hopefully, and not the US remake of which I have nothing nice to say, and won't say anything at all). I'll be straight with you--I love the show. After the Avengers, it's my all-time favourite series, and the adventures of Sam Tyler inspired me to try a few ideas of my own. If you haven't seen the series, I urge you to rectify that--a region one DVD release is imminent. You won't regret it.

But to be clear, this is not a crossover. It's set in the TNA universe, it ties in which the series timeline and my arc, and there will not be any cameo appearances by Sam, Gene, Chris, Ray, Annie, or anyone from Ashes to Ashes, either. You don't have to know anything about Life on Mars to understand the fic. If you have seen it, you'll encounter one or two similarities, but mainly it just gave me a kick to do something I'd wanted to for years but never been able to do right.

Like so many TNA fics, this one deals with the aftermath of the episode "Obsession." The appeal is obvious--like "The Forget-Me-Not," it's an unusual emotional departure for the series, full of angst and glimpses into Purdey's past, winding up with the incredibly tragic death of Larry Doomer, Purdey's ex-fiance, at the hands of Gambit, who takes Purdey's reaction hard. There's so much going on with the Purdey/Gambit relationship here, it's impossible for a writer not to want to explore it, and if you do a quick browse through my favourites you'll see several excellent examples. This is my addition to the list, but I've played around with the concept and done a few things with it. You'll see what I mean soon enough.

Like "Brazil," I'll be editing as I go, but much more heavily, and that may mean delayed chapters at times. Hopefully it'll be worth it.

Anyway, first chapter a bit short, but I wanted to get a start. Enjoy!

"It's like everyone's moved to Mars." From The New Avengers episode, "Sleeper"

Purdey walked. Walked away from Gambit. Away from Steed. Away from the body, and the smoking remains of the Rover. Just away. She didn't want face them, face anyone. She was so confused, so angry. All these years she'd been trying to forget Larry, to move on. And now he'd walked back into her life, and upset everything in an instant, thrown her life into disarray just as he had all those years ago. Couldn't the past leave her alone, once and for all? She had a new life now. It worked. She had people who cared about her, a job that she loved, a beautiful flat, and a loving extended family. Everything had been just as she wanted it. It wasn't a conventional life, true. Not the one she'd imagined all those years ago. But it was hers, and it worked, and for the first time in over a decade, she had been content.

But that was all gone, now, her sense of well-being steadily chipped away ever since Steed had shown her the picture of the emir, and finally blown to pieces with the Range Rover and the collapse of Larry's lifeless body. Now all the old wounds were bleeding, and she'd been cut a few new ones. And this time there was collateral damage. This time Gambit was paying for it. Oh, Steed had been there. Was still there—in fact, he knew more about what was going on than Mike did, which somehow made it worse. Hell, how could she look him in the eye now? She'd screamed, and squirmed, and he'd tried his best to help, to console, to understand what she was feeling, to make her understand why he'd made the choice he had. She could still see his face when she closed her eyes, the way he'd looked when she left him, somewhere back in all the sound and fury. She should have told him she understood, but she hadn't been able to, literally incapable of putting thoughts to words, or even making sense of her thoughts. Hysterical, and irrational, and hurt, and frightened, and angry, and, and…She couldn't even think of any more emotions to pile on. All of that, all the death, and her life falling down around her, overwhelming every sense, every cell, every fibre of her being, drowning her. All on the site of the dream house. How ironic. How bloody appropriate. She'd been here, with Larry, a million years ago, not long before he had bestowed that life-changing slap, the one that had driven Purdey Bryde to never, ever play victim again. It didn't matter, though, did it? She was still hurting, just as much as she had then, and to make matters worse, Gambit was the latest victim, even if only by proxy. Larry had pulled him into the whole mess as surely she had her. Even unintentionally, Larry had made a real mess of things in ways he never could have imagined.

She was running out of field to walk, but she was also running out of energy, and that compensated for it. She felt so tired, now that everything was so far behind her, if only by physical distance. So drained, so numb. Her eyes were swollen from crying and her chest ached from the sobs wracking her body. She just wanted to stop, collapse, and let sleep take her, let exhaustion whisk her away to a place where there were no nightmares, no tears, no old lovers or hurt friends, just eternal, peaceful void. Come get me, Mike, she mentally pleaded, barely aware she'd thought it for a moment. All she knew was that she was tired, and Gambit's arms had felt so nice and strong and safe a moment earlier that she thought they might be able to carry her when her knees finally gave way. And she wasn't adverse to having the owner around, either.

What are you waiting for? Well, she knew the answer to that one, didn't she? After he little screaming tirade, he probably thought she wanted space. Which she did, to be honest, but she also wanted someone to take the initiative for a change, because she certainly wasn't feeling up to it. And somehow, when she finally felt like talking, not collapsing, she thought it would be easier to pour her heart out to Gambit, even if she'd deflected his gentle prodding earlier. Steed had been her support system thus far, but she hadn't really told him about Larry so much as he'd deduced the man's significance in her life, and she wasn't sure she could unload her muddled thought processes on him. Gambit, at least, was a peer, and he'd had enough experience with her eccentric conversation patterns. And besides, he'd drawn his own conclusions at the party, so it wasn't as if he was completely ignorant of her connection to Larry. It hadn't felt right, anyway, going over Mike's head with vague references to Berlin and scaling metaphorical walls. It would be better to fill in the information gap, would make things easier for all of them if they were all on the same page.

It would have been even easier if Gambit had been involved from the start, she realized belatedly, as she continued to trudge along. Maybe he would have been enough to deter Larry when she saw him at the airbase. Steed hadn't driven him away, but there was something about Gambit that made other men a little leery about approaching her if they weren't one of the Ministry's mob, and therefore well-aware that Gambit was only her colleague. Purdey was more than capable of fighting off unwanted advances, but on the odd occasion she wasn't in the mood, dragging Gambit along was the easy way out. Most people jumped to conclusions, anyway, particularly if they engaged in a little harmless bickering, at which point everyone started looking for wedding rings.

If Gambit had tagged along, she might not have felt so vulnerable, might not have started unraveling as she summoned up the courage to look Larry in the eye for the first time in…what? Seven years? Seven long years since he'd struck her. Seven years since she had fled across that field, choking back sobs as she made her way blindly for her car, driving non-stop from the scene of the crime to her uncle's. Colonel Elroyd Foster had called her mother, and the next day Purdey had stayed home with her step-father while Elroyd and her mother made the trip to the flat she shared with Larry with the sole purpose of picking up a few of her things, the beginnings of her inevitable move, her new life. Plans were called off, wedding arrangements cancelled. People were sent off with a cover explanation—something about Larry wanting to travel too much, about Purdey being unable to help him reach his goals. Little did they know…

Larry tried to make contact on numerous occasions after that, but her mother always intercepted him and politely turned him away with ice in her voice and steely eyes. But Acacia could do only so much to protect her daughter, and Purdey feared the day he finally dared to show his face at the Royal Ballet.

In the end, she didn't fear for long. The first few weeks after "the incident" as it came to be known, he seemed to know better than to show his face. Shortly after, the call came, quickly followed by the meeting in the head office, with the instructor, and the trainers, and the financiers. She'd been on the edge of dancer specifications for some time, but in recent months she'd experienced a devastating growth spurt—only half an inch, but at her height much too much. 5'8", and it was too difficult for any male lead to give her a lift. Furthermore, her legs weren't always content to toe the line—she'd given her fellow dancers more than a few bruises when a pirouette went wrong. Someone had muttered something about her long legs being "deadly weapons." Purdey took that would-be insult to heart when she joined the Ministry, a place where her high kick wasn't considered a liability. Coupled with her recent personal crisis, her performance had suffered terribly, and she knew it.

But it hurt. It still hurt, even today, to be exiled from what one loved, to pack up the leotards and take her leave with as much dignity as possible, as other girls looked on with sneers or pity.

Next had been the damned Times columnist who had seen fit to resurrect the story of her father's untimely death. There'd been renewed attention in her surname after that. It was the last straw, and pushed her to make her decision. To leave. To disappear. And when Larry's inquiries became too much, her father's friends had seen to it that Purdey Bryde disappeared without a trace. So she'd packed her bags, desperate to get away and try to sort out her life. A refuge, an escape, a chance to learn and broaden, to hone the languages she'd always had a natural affinity for, see the great sights, to think. All alone.

Deep down, she'd known that last part was a mistake. She could have used a companion to lean on, someone to listen to all her hopes and fears while she tried to put her life back together.

She'd needed a Gambit, just as she did now. Just as she had the moment she'd heard Larry call her name on that airfield, a million years ago--yesterday. Gambit would have known how to handle it, she knew. He wouldn't have pushed her to try and make amends, as Steed had done. If he'd come.

But Gambit had declined, she remembered. That morning she caught up to him in the Ministry corridors, and he told her jauntily that he was running something on his own, and that surely she and Steed didn't need his help to sort out something as mundane as a fire:

"It won't take too long, will it?" she asked. " I mean, Steed's party is coming up."

Gambit shook his head. "Just one or two things that need clearing up," he told her cryptically, but there was something else behind the words, and the blue eyes had taken on the greenish tinge that stirred something deep inside her. "Which means I had better be getting along," he added, leaving her in the empty halls as he backed into the door, easing it open even as he raised the hand and closed it. "Ciao."

She mirrored him almost automatically. But now that she thought about it, there had been something distinctly wrong about the whole scenario. Gambit had been much too cheerful, laying on the cocky grins and rattling off the mission particulars in a way that had brought her antenna up. He was definitely leaving something out. She had pondered the problem all the way to the base, only half-listening to Wolach and Steed, and it had settled uneasily next to reawakened thoughts about Larry and the emir, and the vague realisation that last time she had seen Mike before the hallway encounter, she had been shrugging off his friendly arm as she turned down the 'plum job,' and walked away even as he called after her. And then there was Larry, and in all the excitement, she'd forgotten about Gambit, who had reappeared without anything near the doppelganger scenario rearing its head.

Doppelganger! That was it, Purdey realised, what had felt so wrong about the exchange, brought on the surge of déjà vu. Because last time Gambit acted that way, he had a suitcase with him, but the circumstances were the same. Gambit may not have been lying through his teeth to her, as he had the day he left to become Terry Walton, but it still felt wrong, the way Gambit's ignorance about Larry felt wrong. Because the last batch of secrets, the ones Gambit and Steed had kept from her, justified as they may have been, had found her sure that she was alone again, and weeping over visions of her colleague's corpse. She felt puzzlement squeeze itself in beside the other emotions clamouring for her attention. She would have to ask Gambit about his odd behaviour, but it could wait. Now she only wanted him here, now, the way she had needed someone all those years ago.

Gambit wouldn't push, though. Of that much she could be certain. At least, do what he thought of as pushing. She knew for a fact that the only reason he had been brave enough to grab her earlier was to stop her from running straight into the rocket. Otherwise he wouldn't have dared to take physical control. But it had felt nice to have someone hold her together as she went to pieces. Being liberated was well and good, but all the liberation in the world couldn't replace that comforting shoulder she had screamed into, damning him for doing what she could not.

The most admirable thing was the was he had taken it—quietly, without so much as an angry or scolding word. Just held her without passing judgment. Even after the explosion, after she'd picked herself up, he'd been the one trying to justify himself. Him. He hadn't shot out Steed's tyres. He hadn't been ready to stand idly by while Larry took aim at her. And he was the one trying to make her understand that Larry would have hurt her, to make her see that he had been trying to do the right thing, the logical thing. He was the one who could see Larry for what he was.

Damn it, Mike, come here and say it again. Someone's got to be objective, because I'm certainly not up to the job.

She wished he would, would put those arms back around her and give her his shoulder to cry on. Of course, she could always go back, ask for the support. It was as easy as turning around and trekking back down the length of the field, where everyone was doubtless still watching her retreat. He'd be willing. But she couldn't muster up the courage to do it herself, especially with Commander East there making it a crowd. And she was still so tired. She just wanted to be found, and for Gambit to just be while she screamed or cried or said all the things buzzing around her brain like angry bees. For him to just listen in that quiet, reassuring way that never made her feel self-conscious.

But she felt so foolish at the moment--too foolish to ask for help. Already her logical mind was overcoming the shock, running through the day's events and encapsulating them in short, easy-to-digest factual statements. Larry was going to kill her. Gambit had stopped him. The man was mad, not hurt. Violent, angry. Violent. She needed to remember that, that fact that she had always known. And yet, she had admitted to Gambit that she wouldn't have known what to do if Larry had taken aim at him. No wonder he was leaving her alone, after a confession like that. She'd shot out Steed's tyres. She'd betrayed them both. How was she ever going to look either of them in the eye?