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
Timeline: January, 1977, just before the start of season 2.
Author's Note: New Year, new fic. Yes, I'm still here, but I know I haven't posted anything in awhile. Life has been busy and not left me a lot of time for writing, I'm hoping I'll be able to change that this year, so we'll have to see what happens. Rest assured, I still have lots of ideas that I want to put to paper, so there is more to come, especially in the arc. Until then, enjoy a bit of fluff to shake off the January blahs.
The flat's buzzer shrilled loudly, shattering the mid-morning calm that had settled, thick and heavy, over the living area.
"Go away," groaned the lump in the middle of the retractable bed.
"Mike Gambit, it's 11:15. If you don't answer the door this instant we're going to be late."
"You'll be late. I'm staying here. Go away," the lump retorted, voice slightly muffled by the blankets heaped over the speaker's head.
"Gambit, don't make me come in there," the visitor warned.
"I'm not. That's why I'm telling you to go away."
"All right, if you're going to be like that." There was the sound of a key in a lock, and then the flat door swung open, disturbing the fine cloud of mist that hung in the air throughout the flat, courtesy of the humidifier sitting on the bar. The visitor pulled a face, waved some of the sodden air away before closing the door behind her and setting off toward her goal, the bed. Immediately, her nostrils were assailed by the sweet, minty tang of eucalyptus and menthol , the odour strengthening with each step. She picked her way over the carpet of used tissues scattered over the floor, and hoped the scent wouldn't cling to her clothes when she left. Finally, she reached the bed, and its lumpy occupant, who had concealed himself in a critical mass of sheets and blankets, all of which were in the sorry, wrinkled, rumpled state of linens occupied long past their sell-by date. She leaned forward and shook the lump until it roused, stirring from its cocoon. The blankets rose and heaved like a swamp monster rising from the deep, and one lone eye poked out at her from within the dark cavernous depths.
"How did you get in?" the lump wanted to know, voice still muffled, and even through the gap in the sheet, the visitor could tell the speaker was hoarse.
"I used a key," the visitor stated matter-of-factly, shifting a Kleenex box off the arm of the couchr so she could perch on it instead.
"You forgot your key here last week."
"I used a different key."
"Your landlord. He was most obliging."
"He shouldn't be. I told him to not let anyone in without my permission."
"And I told him I was your girlfriend."
The eye's accompanying brow raised. "And he believed you?"
"Why not?" the visitor said with a jaunty shrug. "With your revolving door of conquests, the poor man can't be expected to keep track of every woman who turns up at your flat."
"My turnover's not that high."
"High enough," the visitor countered brightly.
"Not because of lack of satisfaction, I promise you," the lump declared, with a touch of smugness in the until-now flat tone. "Now that you've proved your point, you can go."
"I can't," the visitor disagreed. "Not unless you come with me."
"Purdey, look at me!"
"I'm trying, but at the moment I'm having a conversation with your right eye."
"And that's all you're going to get," the lump proclaimed huffily, pulling the blankets back to conceal the eye once more. "Until I'm better."
The visitor shook her head. "You have to be there for the exchange. Steed was adamant."
"Steed can..." The next few words were gruff, muttered, and definitely not polite. "And if you're not gone in the next five seconds," he finished, " feel free to join him."
The visitor tsked and shook her head. "Gambit, language! And with ladies present..."
"Ladies don't break into blokes' flats," the lump shot back. "And torture them once they're inside."
"I'm not torturing you. I'm asking you to do your job."
"And I'm asking to suffer in peace. It's my reward for serving my country."
"And you will have it just as soon as you get up and serve."
"I'll have a death certificate, that's what. Piss off."
The visitor sighed and got to her feet. "Well, if you're going to be like that, you leave me no alternative..." With that, she reached out, got a good grip on the mass of blankets, and yanked, hard. The lump within tumbled out of their embrace and sprawled untidily on the mattress. It blinked blearily up at the visitor as she tossed the covers to the floor and regarded him, arms folded. She arched an eyebrow at what she saw.
"I thought you didn't wear pajamas," she commented.
The lump, now transformed into the shape of Mike Gambit, tugged self-consciously at the blue-striped shirt and trousers. "My aunt sent them for my last birthday," he muttered. "And I was cold."
"I see..." The visitor, a very amused Purdey, savoured the image and committed it to memory. Someone in the Ministry was going to hear about this very, very soon. Someone who talked. "Well, you'll find it even warmer in the shower. Come on. You can wash off the smell of the Vicks. Or at least the outer layers." She wrinkled her nose at him. "Is there any part of your body you haven't slathered in it?"
"No," Gambit snapped, hugging himself moodily. With the mussed hair and the pajamas, Purdey thought he looked rather like a stroppy child who hadn't gotten what he wanted on Christmas morning. She'd never seen him pout before, either, and between that and the dark circles under the eyes, and the general pallor, he was almost unrecognisable. Her heart twinged with mild maternal sympathy. He really did look unwell. But Steed had said to bring Gambit, and bring Gambit she would.
"Soap should cut the worst of the grease," she told him, then caught a whiff of the sheets. "And the sweat. And if you turn off that thing—" She pointed accusingly at the humidifier. "—you might be able to get reasonably dry when you finish."
"Purdey, I need that," Gambit protested. "For the same reason I need the Vicks and the 200 lozenges I've eaten this morning. I. Can't. Breathe!"
"You can shout," she pointed out mildly.
"And...that's...why...I'm...panting," Gambit wheezed. The wheeze turned into a cough, which turned into a spasm, and then a decidedly unattractive mucousy sound. Gambit, by now in the fetal position, groped around for the box of Kleenex, and Purdey, out of mercy, handed them to him. When he'd expelled whatever it was from his lungs into the tissue, he waved it at her and glared with dark eyes. "See?"
"It's nothing," Purdey minimised, trying to ignore the particularly vibrant green smeared against the white. "Just a case of the sniffles."
"Sniffles! Do you want me to show you what else I came up with this morning? If you think it's bad, you should see what came out of my sinuses!"
"See? A stuffed up nose. The sniffles."
"And a headache, and a productive cough, and chills. Purdey, I'm running a temperature. I haven't eaten in two days. My head's ready to split open. My nose is chaffed from all the blowing. I can hardly stand up. Does that sound like a case of the sniffles?"
"All right. A cough and sniffles. But honestly, I think you're making a fuss over nothing."
"Nothing," Gambit muttered. "Right. Nothing. I'll bet that's what they said about the Plague."
"Tuberculosis. That was nothing. Until people started hacking up their lungs."
"Gambit, really. Don't be so dramatic."
"Dramatic? Dramatic takes energy, and I'm fresh out."
"Find some, then."
"I was trying to. Until you barged in." He sighed and flopped sideways onto the bed. Even talking took the stuffing out of him. "Purdey, I'm sick. I can't make the exchange. You'll have to find someone else."
"Everyone else is otherwise engaged," Purdey informed, and it wasn't a lie. Steed wasn't so heartless that he'd send Gambit out with a virus rather than call in a substitute. But it seemed that with the New Year came new diabolical masterminds and political doings, and the Ministry was quite literally run off its feet. They needed every man they could get, able-bodied and otherwise. "And anyway, you've been on this assignment from the start. It would take much too long to brief someone new."
"If you take me out there," Gambit moaned into his pillow, "into the cold January air, you'll be taking a body bag back, and it won't have Collins in it. The pneumonia will get me."
Purdey pursed her lips in exasperation. "You're a very exasperating man, Mike Gambit, and you leave me no choice. I'm making you my Uncle Elly's home remedy. It should transform you into something reasonably human until this is all over. Then you can come back and ruin another set of sheets. From the smell, I think these have had it."
"I haven't been able to smell in three days," Gambit grumbled. "And I'm not drinking any remedy created by you or anyone in your family. I'd rather let the virus take me."
"Oh, quit moaning. It'll make you feel like a new man." She considered that statement, and added, "I hope he's a little more amiable."
Gambit glared at her. "For the last time, Purdey, I'm not drinking anything!"
"Orange," Gambit muttered an hour later, as the trio huddled outside an abandoned warehouse. "Why is everything orange?"
"It is the seventies," Purdey pointed out, crossing her arms against the cold. "That particular colour scheme has been fashionable for some time now."
"I mean," Gambit reiterated, "that everything is orange, not just bad curtains."
Steed, peering around the corner into the depths of the warehouse, swivelled his head around like a bemused owl to regard his colleague. "Orange?" he repeated incredulously.
"Orange. Ever since I drank Purdey's remedy—"
"Uncle Elly's remedy," the blonde corrected.
"—Purdey's Uncle Elly's remedy," Gambit amended, "all I can see is orange."
Steed frowned and turned the rest of his body to align with his head. "When you say everything you can see...?"
"Orange cars, orange trees, orange houses..." His eyes settled on the senior agent. "Orange Steed." He looked to his right. "And orange Purdey."
Steed observed him for a moment, took in the slightly glassy eyes, then leaned forward until he could meet Purdey's gaze. "Orange?" he inquired, with just a hint of a reprimand bordering the single syllable.
She bristled. "Don't look at me. I don't know what he's going on about. Uncle Elly's been using that remedy for years without any problems..." She trailed off suddenly, and her eyes took on a hint of worry. "Unless..."
Gambit's head snapped up, and he immediately regretted it because the orange world jarred horribly. "What d'you mean, 'unless'?" he demanded, wishing the throbbing in his temples would go away.
Purdey bit her lip. "Well, it's just that, sometimes, on occasion, if the remedy is taken while there are drugs in your system, there can be...reactions." She looked up at Gambit with widened eyes. "Gambit, are you on anything?"
Gambit's laugh was much too high and much too hysterical for a man fully in possession of his faculties, and completely off the mark for Gambit himself. "Am I on anything?" he repeated between peals of laughter, which soon dissolved into coughs. "Purdey-girl, I told you, I feel like death warmed over."
Purdey bit her lip. "So you've taken something...?"
Gambit extended what, to him, was an orange hand, and started to count the medicines off on his fingers. "For the headache, for the congestion, for the cough..."
"All for a case of the sniffles?"
"I told you, it's not just the sniffles! And anyway, I haven't got to what I took to get to sleep last night. I'm sure some of that's still sloshing around."
The tips of Purdey's fingers brushed her mouth. "Oh, dear."
"Never mind. I'm sure I'll be fine," Gambit said, looking from one orange-tinged colleague to the other. "A sick, drugged, half-delirious man in charge of a gun on a takedown operation." As if to hammer home the point, he reached into his jacket and removed his Smith and Wesson from his shoulder holster, took out the chamber, spun it cheerfully, then locked it back in place. He grinned madly. "What could go wrong?"
Steed arched an alarmed eyebrow. "Purdey..."
"You told me to get him here no matter what the circumstances," the blonde defended, bright blue eyes wide with indignation.
"If I'd known the circumstances were this, I would have rephrased the order." He looked Gambit up and down. The younger man was braced with his back against the wall and appeared to be having difficulty focussing. "Gambit, are you fit?"
"No," he said bluntly. "But I tried telling Purdey that, and look where it got me." He wiped his dripping nose on his sleeve. "I feel like hell, but I'm here now, and there's no time to back out."
"There is," Steed countered. "Purdey and I can handle things."
"Just the two of you. No." Gambit shook his head. "Even I'm not that delirious. If you're going to bring in Collins and the man who's been paying him off, a third set of hands can't do anything but help."
"Unless you shoot one of us in your drug-induced stupor," Purdey said dryly, huddling more into her coat.
"You'll just have to stay out of my line of fire, then, won't you?" Gambit said brightly. "Oh, and never wear orange. Either of you. Trust me. It doesn't work."
Steed sighed in resignation. "I suppose there's nothing to do be done about it at this point," he agreed. "Except to watch out for friendly fire."
"I'll do my best, sir," Gambit told him, executing a sloppy salute before starting to cough again. Steed shook his head and leaned across to Purdey.
"Now remember, if Collins gets away, it's likely he'll head for the river..."
"The Thames, or the one trickling out of Gambit's nose?" Purdey quipped.
Gambit pulled a face. "Ha, ha. I'm still armed, you know."
"It's not the sort of thing I'm likely to forget."
"Shh," Steed hushed, jerking his head in the direction of the warehouse door. "They're here."
They were, sure enough. Purdey and Gambit crowded over to Steed to peer inside, and were able to make out in the dim January light the outlines of two figures, locked in conversation. Eventually one extracted an envelope from inside his coat and handed it to the other. That was their cue.
"Collins." Steed's voice was low, but the name echoed throughout the cavernous, empty space, even as Steed strode inside, Gambit and Purdey close behind. Both figures froze, the envelope held between them. Collins' hand darted toward his jacket, but the barrel of Gambit's gun followed the movement, and he froze once more.
"You won't kill me," Collins told the three. "Not now. You'll want to know what I've told them first."
"You're right, Collins," Purdey agreed. "We won't kill you, but that won't help you. We are bringing you in. You're trapped."
Collins shook his head. "No. I'm not going anywhere."
"You are," Steed said firmly. "Three agents are dead because of your treachery. You're going to be held accountable."
"And you three are going to make me?" Collins laughed. "You can't touch me. None of you have the guts to take down with a gun, and I can outrun any of you. Yes, even you, Purdey. I know McKay must have ordered you to bring me in alive. You won't shoot. Your hands are tied."
"Don't push us, Collins," Steed warned, but Collins was already backing away, still clutching at the envelope.
Gambit, meanwhile, was desperately trying to hold himself together. The world still displayed itself with a gaudy orange tint, and his head was pounding. His nose was still running, too, and the sensation was irritating enough to threaten a sneeze. Gambit shook his head and tried to ward the feeling off. If he could wipe his nose it wouldn't have mattered, but in his state, and given the situation, he didn't dare take one of his hands off his gun. He needed both to keep it steady. And yet, the sneeze was building...
Just then, Collins broke away and made a run for it. Steed barked Gambit's name, and Purdey took off after the fleeing man. With all the commotion, Gambit's self-control broke. His nose rebelled, and he sneezed. In a pure reflex action, his finger squeezed the trigger, and the gun went off. The bang was deafening in the warehouse, and before Gambit could scream a warning, the bullet had sailed through the air toward Collins. Gambit squinted through watery eyes and caught up with its trajectory just in time to see it hit the envelope Collins had clutched in his left hand as he ran. The envelope, stuffed full of thousands in pound notes, exploded into a thousand scraps of paper. Collins flung himself sideways instinctively, collapsing in a heap as pieces of paper rained down from above. Purdey caught up with him before he had a chance to recover, removed a pair of handcuffs from her deep coat pockets, and set to work. Somewhere off to his right, Steed had subdued the paymaster. Gambit tucked his gun away and went to help the girl pull Collins to his feet. She looked up as she approached.
"Mike Gambit," she began, as he bent to hook a hand under Collins' arm, "you have no right to be that lucky while suffering from the sniffles. You could have killed him!"
"But I didn't," Gambit pointed out, hoisting the man to his feet.
"But you might have. And you could have just as easily hit me."
"Purdey, you know I didn't mean what I said earlier..."
"It doesn't matter what you meant, Gambit. You sneezed and pulled the trigger. Anything could have happened."
"Don't knock it. It worked," Gambit pointed out. In his poor, drug-addled brain, something occurred to him. "But do you know something?"
Purdey frowned. "What?"
"That may be the first time someone almost died from someone else's sniffles."
Purdey's groan was loud.
Three days later, Mike Gambit walked into Purdey's flat, bag in hand. "Hello?"
"In here," a strangled voice replied. Gambit followed it into the bedroom, parting the beaded curtains as he went. He found Purdey lying in bed, propped up with half a dozen pillows. She was wearing what appeared to be a shapeless nightgown in soft pink flannel, her blonde hair was in disarray, and her nose glowed bright red. She was surrounded by a mass of used tissues.
"Hello, Purdey-girl," Gambit greeted cheerfully, perching on the edge of the bed. "I was feeling better today, so I thought I'd come and see how you were holding up."
"Awful," Purdey grumbled. "Everything aches. My head's so stuffed up I can barely think, much less breathe, and my chest hurts from coughing."
Gambit nodded sympathetically. "Sounds like the sniffles."
Purdey growled but with her stuffed up nose it came out as more of a gurgle. "Sniffles! It's the flu, and you gave it to me, Mike Gambit!"
"How could I? According to you, all I had was the sniffles. Can't pass on what I don't have, can I? Unless, of course, you're willing to admit that you were wrong, and that you dragged me out of bed, feeling just as awful as you do now, fed me some hideous concoction that turned everything bright orange, and then had me catch double agents in the January air."
Purdey scowled. "It's not kind to berate a sick person."
"I'm not berating, I'm stating facts. But I will mention that when I was sick your bedside manner left something to be desired," Gambit pointed out. "But never fear, because I didn't drop by just to prove you wrong. I come bearing gifts." He reached into the bag and extracted a covered container with something sloshing about inside. "This," he told Purdey, holding it up so she could see, "is my Aunt Katie's chicken soup. It'll unclog your sinuses, and it's guaranteed not to turn anything orange, purple, or any other colour."
"Oh," Purdey sniffled, eyeing it hopefully. She had to admit soup sounded very appealing at that moment. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome," Gambit replied. "That's what friends are for."
"It won't work."
"Trying to make me feel guilty about dragging you out of bed sick. It won't work." Purdey took out a tissue and blew. "Steed made me. It wasn't my fault. I would have let you sleep otherwise." She discarded the tissue and looked imploringly at him. "I'm not that heartless."
"I know." Gambit smiled at her. "I think I've made my point. I'll go warm this up, and then, if you're very good, I'll put my healing hands to work and help you slather more Vicks on your chest." His eyebrows waggled mischievously at her.
"I think you're offering more for my sake than yours," Purdey said dryly, "but thank you all the same."
"You're sure? I've had a lot of practice."
Purdey shook her head. "One of these days, Mike Gambit."
"I know. I'm looking forward to it," he replied, following the script as he rose. "But not in the near future, eh? You've got the Thames coming out of your nose."
She threw a pillow at him.