A/N: Better late than never - part five for your viewing pleasure...enjoy!
Gambit sprinted as hard as his ailing body combined with the unpredictable terrain would allow him to. Thick brush whipped at his legs, threatening to trip him along with sporadically positioned, gnarled tree roots underfoot. His earlier concussion had him weaving more unsteadily away from the house than he would have liked. His ribs protested with each heaved breath and although moving his shoulder was agony, it was absolutely unavoidable in the essence of speed.
The desire to give up and put a stop to the punishment he was dealing out to his aching body was frustratingly high and growing with each laboured stride. However, hearing pheasants squawking not too far behind, he knew something large was on his tail and stopping to catch his breath didn't seem like a tempting option after all. So much for the rest and relaxation part of the evening. He hadn't even been quick enough to avoid being shot. Any other day, he would have evaded the bullet. He'd have probably been quick enough to make a smart retort before gracefully sliding out through the doors, rather than crashing ungracefully through the damn things. Sloppiness did not become him. He hissed a curse as a low lying branch brushed roughly against the wound, as though it were mocking his own self-loathing.
Still running, Gambit tore off a section of his suit jacket, trying desperately not to slow his pace. He had no chance of shaking off the canine posse unless he could plug the throbbing hole in his arm. The bullet had gone straight through, but the bleeding refused to stop.
Using the already sodden material, he wiped off the majority of blood that had gradually trickled down his arm, cursing as it slicked against his palm. Flesh wound or not, he couldn't afford to be sending out a fresh blood trail for his pursuers to follow. Unless...unless he could use it to his advantage somehow. Knowing he had precious little time to spare, Gambit fumbled through his inside pocket for his hip flask, mentally thanking both Brinkley for not thoroughly searching him, and Purdey for concocting the dreadful drink in the first place.
He'd slowed his pace, but he dared not stop, not even for a second. Even as he unscrewed the lid, he could feel the alcohol burning his nostrils. Gambit held onto hope that the ridiculously potent stench would mask the smell of his blood, temporarily at least. With any luck, he thought it would at least make his pursuers eyes water long enough to slow them down. Although not what it was originally intended for, Purdey wouldn't mind that it was being used as a potential weapon. He only needed to get past the gate, wherever it was. Hopefully, Purdey was already there warming up the car. Hopefully...
With a groan he couldn't repress, he poured the vile concoction into the seared flesh on his upper arm before swiftly tying a makeshift tourniquet from his shirtsleeve. If Steed had reservations over his appearance before, he was going to have a heart attack over this. Not only dishevelled, muddy, bloody and sweaty, he was now totally sleeveless on one side.
Picking out a particularly dense bush, Gambit tossed in the baited jacket sleeve he'd used to mop up the worst of the blood and prayed it would give him the extra few minutes he so desperately needed to find the gate. If the dogs were on his scent, leading them into attacking the thick bush would buy him precious seconds in his effort to seek out the gate and escape.
Momentarily disorientated, the running man slowed to a jog, only to check his position under the stars, and was caught by surprise by a hand that appeared on his shoulder, pushing him forward. He stumbled a couple of steps before rounding on his assailant. "Purdey!" The whispered exclamation spoke volumes of the relief he felt in bumping into an ally. Truth be told, he'd rather her by his side than warming the car up. Plus, he knew he couldn't have taken on Brinkley or Zephyr. He wasn't even sure he could take on Ginny at that particular moment.
"Come on, Gambit!" Purdey hissed, getting his feet moving once more, "this is no place to stop."
The welcome words of encouragement, intended to drive him on with renewed vigour, failed to give him a second wind and it took him a second or two to get back into a jogging rhythm. "How long have you been shadowing me?" He chanced another look up at the sky and altered his course.
"Long enough to see the terrible shape you're in," Purdey replied. She still had a hand on his shoulder, pushing the injured agent. She couldn't tell if her partner was intentionally slowing for her, or for the pain and fatigue. Through his soaked jacket, she could feel him trembling. Although, whether it was through adrenaline or exhaustion, she simply could not tell. Purdey wished she could see her partner's face through the darkness to at least give her an idea of the state he was in. "You've been weaving around all over the place," she gently scolded.
"Well, you could have warned me," Gambit grumbled, sounding every bit as spent as he felt. Running through an unkempt garden with sodden clothes and a catalogue of niggling injuries was not conductive to good conversation.
"I had thought about it," Purdey said, tongue firmly in cheek. "But then you would have been worrying about me keeping up." To her delight, Gambit choked back a laugh; trust Purdey to continue to use his twisted logic against him. Something told him he'd soon regret trying to leave her behind, especially when she realised he'd been shot. He'd never hear the end of it.
Pushing though a thicket of brambles, Gambit lead them into a clearing, finally spying the heavily shadowed wall lit by moonlight. For a sickening moment, he imagined they had taken a wrong turn and the gate to freedom was the all the way over the other side of the huge garden. His luck certainly hadn't been very forthcoming lately. Pessimism was definitely building and Gambit barely resisted the urge to swear, colourfully and at full volume.
Fortunately, the moment of doubt passed as the clouds thinned and revealed their exit thirty yards or so away to the left. Gambit made a mental note to never again doubt his navigational skills. They just might have saved his life, yet again.
Rustling nearby spurred the agents on as fast as their legs would carry them. It wouldn't do now to get mauled before they could warn the ministry what exactly they were up against. No way Steed was aware of what Zephyr had in store for his top security team.
They managed to reach the gates, Gambit pulled them open, relieved that Brinkley had not bothered to lock them. He'd obviously intimidated the henchman enough during his initial undercover operation for him to forgo undertaking such a menial task. Glancing back, the agent saw a monstrous pair of silhouettes bounding their way through the clearing. He quickly ushered Purdey through and pulled the heavy wooden gate to behind them with seconds to spare.
Gambit shuddered, hearing their pursuers scratching at the strong wood. It still didn't feel safe. He took the briefest of moments to listen to the beasts trapped in the garden, his ear pressed against the gate. To his surprise, they didn't bark. They only growled softly, sensing him the other side of the gate. They weren't even the best of the pack and yet they weren't out of breath. No doubt Zephyr had taken the strongest, fastest dogs with him, leaving whatever dogs were left to hunt the two agents. Maybe a little luck had been on their side then. A more powerful dog certainly would have cut them down before they could escape. Ultimately, Zephyr had underestimated Gambit, and that would be his downfall. Even if Gambit was having a bit of trouble believing it at that precise second in time.
"Gambit?" Purdey called back to him through the woods, eager to get out of the area while they still had their limbs relatively intact. After a moments pause, Gambit took after her, trying to forget the size of the shadows that had been chasing them. If they could run that far without even getting breathless, then they would have no trouble making their own way into London. Zephyr was right, they didn't even need to be at the scene of the crime. The dogs could be dropped anywhere within a certain perimeter and would almost certainly get through the Department's tight security. While he and Purdey had fled through the woods to their car, who knew how far towards the capital the gang had gotten with their own rabid army...
The race to London was officially under way.