Odd Man Out
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. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended. Tony Ashcroft is mine, but I'm not guarding him terribly jealously.
Timeline: AU. Anytime post-Dead Men Are Dangerous. Could be during season 2 or post-series. There isn't much of a need to be more specific. It's AU, and thus doesn't fit into the arc, so I'm not too hung up about it.
Author's Note: The first fresh story of 2010! Strictly speaking, I've been working on this one, along with a few others, for awhile, but I decided to sit down and focus on this one after the holidays. One of those ideas that wouldn't leave me alone, it began, like all AU's, out of a desire to look at the characters a little differently. In this case, from an outsider's viewpoint. I won't say much more than that for the moment, but I'll be interested to see how it goes down.
Now, read on...
The first time Tony Ashcroft saw Purdey was at a party. It was an all right party, not the best he'd been to, but strictly speaking it was a party for his best friend's wife, Caroline, and Tony had only gotten an invitation so his friend would have someone to talk to while Caroline mingled with her own friends. In the end Tony's friend hadn't had much time to talk, forever being swept off by his wife to socialise with people he didn't know, leaving Tony at sea with only his champagne to cling to. That was until he spotted her, the tall slim blonde with the short hair, bright blue eyes, and mile-wide grin. Tony was instantly captivated by her, by her line, the graceful, effortless way she moved, by the animation with which she spoke. After watching her for an hour, he finally worked up the nerve to approach her when she went to the buffet to refill her glass. Even then, all he could do was watch as she helped herself to some smoked salmon before she turned and flashed him that brilliant smile.
"Hello." Her voice was like cut glass, sharp and clear in all the right places, with an underlying pluminess that made Tony's heart beat a little faster.
"Hello," Tony managed. He thought madly about something else he could say, gestured vaguely at the crowd of people behind him. "Nice party."
She nodded in agreement, smile widening. "Yes, I haven't seen Caroline in ages. We went to school together, and we fell out of touch this past year." She paused and sipped her champagne. "She's expanded her circle since then. I'm afraid I don't know many of these people."
Tony felt a burst of relief. Someone to commiserate with! "Nor I. I'm a friend of Freddie's. I came for moral support more than anything."
She laughed, a delightful, warm sound. "Ah, so that's why you've been eyeing me up all evening. Looking for someone else a bit at sea."
Tony flushed. "I haven't been watching you…" he began.
"I didn't mean it in a bad way," Purdey cut in sweetly. "I'll have you know I've been watching you, too."
"Really?" He felt his flush deepen. "Well, any port in a storm, eh?"
"Oh, I'd say it was a very nice port," Purdey quipped, eyes flashing coyly. Tony's heart skipped a beat. She was interested! What luck! He couldn't let this pass without making a move. He stuck out his hand.
"Ashcroft," he introduced. "Tony Ashcroft."
Her hand was soft and smooth in his own, but the shake itself was firm. "Purdey."
He felt vaguely unsure of which name she had offered, decided to make a guess. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Purdey."
She laughed again as she released his hand. "No Miss. Just Purdey. Enigmatic, I know, but I have my reasons."
"I love a good enigma," Tony said with a wink. "So, tell me, 'just Purdey,' what do you do?"
Her eyes flickered for the briefest moment at the question, so briefly Tony wondered if he'd imagined it. But then she was smiling again. "I'm in the civil service," she told him.
Tony couldn't disguise his surprise. "Civil service? A lovely lady like yourself?"
"It takes all types," Purdey replied with a grin. "What do you do?"
"I'm in real estate," Tony told her, with a hint of dread. She'd probably think him terribly dull and brush him off. But to his surprise, her smiled reappeared.
"Really? What sort? Do you like it?"
"Oh, yes, yes I do, as a matter of fact," Tony said in surprise. "Older homes, mainly. Often I have to see to it that the owner's able to sell and that the buyer is aware of any responsibilities that may come with a heritage house…"
She listened to him all evening, and never once did Tony feel as though she were humouring him.
Not even when she agreed to go to dinner with him…
The first time Purdey received a phone call during one of their dates, they were horizontal. Purdey struggled out from underneath and grabbed the phone beside her couch despite his protestations. He didn't hear the person on the other line, but he saw Purdey's face go grim. "Right," she said with determination. "I'll be there soon."
"What is it?" Tony murmured as Purdey hung up the phone and dragged herself up off the couch.
"Work," Purdey told him, already disappearing into the bedroom. "I'm so sorry, Tony. I need to go in."
"At this hour?" Tony squinted at his watch. "Doesn't the civil service close by this time?"
"This is an emergency," Purdey replied, shrugging on a long jacket and trading her heels for a pair of knee high boots before pushing the beaded curtains aside. "I wish I could say no, but they really do need me." Her face revealed her regret. "I promise I'll make it up to you."
Tony picked himself up off the couch and went to her, kissed her gently. "I'll hold you to that," he told her with a grin.
Purdey grinned back, put a finger to his lips. "I'm very good at keeping my promises," she told him, before darting out into the night.
"Nice of you to join us," Gambit commented when Purdey trooped into Steed's living room. He looked up from loading his Smith and Wesson and regarded her with mild annoyance. "We've been trying to reach you every half hour."
"I was busy," Purdey snapped back, looking to Steed. "What's it all about?"
"A little late-night reconnaissance," Steed explained. "You're familiar with the file on Withers?"
"We've been chasing that one for weeks," Purdey exclaimed, looking from one to the other. "What's so urgent that it couldn't wait until morning?"
"We found his bolt hole," Gambit said flatly, returning his gun to its holster and standing up from Steed's couch. "And we've managed to arrange for him to leave it for an hour or so."
"I want us in and out with as much intel as we can gather," Steed informed. "We're going in now while we have the chance."
Gambit picked a miniature camera up off the coffee table and tossed it to her. Purdey caught it automatically and turned it over in her hands. "I thought Gambit was the resident photographer?" she quipped.
"We're going for quantity, not quality," Gambit pointed out, pocketing his own device. "Besides, you don't take bad pictures yourself. Especially when you're the subject."
Purdey smirked. "Flattery will get you nowhere."
"Don't I know it," Gambit said ruefully, crossing the room to meet her. "Are you kitted up for climbing in windows?" He glanced down at the hem of her skirt sticking out from underneath her long coat, then travelled up her figure to meet her eyes again. His eyes flashed knowingly. "Well, you're kitted out for something, anyway."
"I don't know what you mean," Purdey snapped defensively. Steed looked up from where he was equipping his umbrella with some new gadget and frowned.
Mike didn't elaborate, just flipped up the hem of Purdey's coat to reveal the frothy creation she was wearing underneath. "You're dressed up for a night on the town, and it wasn't with one of us," he deduced, eyebrows rising with interest. He let the hem drop. "Who's the competition? Anyone I know?"
Purdey scowled at him. "It's none of your business," she snapped.
"Ah, so there is someone?"
"I'm allowed a social life," Purdey countered. "Outside the pair of you. I know you don't exactly spend Saturday nights alone with the crossword."
Steed grinned in spite of himself. "No, the crossword has always been a group effort for me. Mike?"
"Never have much time for reading," Gambit quipped back, eyebrows waggling madly. "You've been holding out on us, Purdey-girl. Did you need someone else to keep you fed?"
"What part of 'none of your business' don't you understand?" Purdey almost roared, and Gambit stepped back, chastened.
"Easy, Purdey. I don't mean anything by it." He waited until she seemed to calm down before continuing. "Is he in the business?"
Purdey swallowed her rage, feeling silly for the outburst. "No," she told him. "He isn't. He's a civilian, and that's why I like him. I never have to worry about him coming home with more apertures than he left with. And we were having a very nice evening until you stuck your oars in." She shot meaningful looks at both of them, then turned on her heel and flounced out. "Come on, let's get this over with."
Gambit looked to Steed, who widened his eyes and whistled softly. "Wide berth," he advised.
Gambit nodded in agreement. "Definitely," he agreed.
Tony hadn't thought much of it at the time. Everyone got called away to work once in awhile, and, after all, Purdey was probably engaged on important government business, and sometimes things had to be hammered out in a hurry. But the longer he knew her, the more time he spent with her, Tony found himself starting to get suspicious. Purdey seemed to have days off at the strangest times. Mornings with no need to go in until noon, weekends that were off-limits, but weekdays free and clear. She never elaborated on her work, and always carefully steered the conversation away from her occupation whenever Tony brought it up. Once he'd seen some files on her kitchen table, and she'd hidden them away as soon as she realised he was looking at them. "For my eyes only," she'd joked, but Tony could see seriousness behind her smile.
Finally, one day, when Purdey had been called away from a lunch date on a Saturday, Tony could suppress his curiosity no longer. Despite feeling like a cad, he waited until Purdey climbed into her TR7 and sped away. Only then did he hurry out of the restaurant and get into his own car to follow her, trying to keep a discrete distance between her car and his. She led him to a large, imposing concrete government building in London. Her car disappeared into an underground car park for which she had to show some sort of ID. Tony parked across the street and watched the entrance. The building was unremarkable, and Tony may have thought nothing more of it if it hadn't occurred to him that there was no sign proclaiming just what department it was meant to house. No indication at all. Tony was still puzzling at this and why it bothered him so much when he saw Purdey walking along the sidewalk in front of the building, clearly heading for the entrance. There were two men conferring in front of the door, and Tony watched with interest as they turned to acknowledge the approaching Purdey. She joined them and they exchanged words. At one point they all laughed. Tony frowned, felt a twinge of jealousy. He was too far away to see the men very well, but they were both tall and dark-haired. One wore a bowler and carried an umbrella. The other eschewed accessories, but cut a tall, slim figure in his suit. Purdey spoke to them both as though she knew them well. Eventually the trio turned and entered the building. As the door swung closed, obscuring them from view, Tony bit his lip. Clearly they were coworkers of Purdey's, although neither man had looked anymore like a paper-pushing civil servant than she. Still, what did he know about these government departments? Who knew what the government was up to half the time? He looked up at the rows of soulless office windows and chastised himself. What was he doing here, spying on his girlfriend?
Feeling extraordinarily silly, he drove off.