No Face, No Name
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: April, 1969, therfore very pre-series. Possibly AU, depending on how you want to read it.
Author's Note: Another little idea that I popped in my head, begging to be written. Delving into characters' pasts is always good fic fodder. So this a little piece about missed chances, and second chances. I hope you enjoy it.
I'd like to dedicate this one to the memory of Gareth Hunt, who would have celebrated his 69th birthday on February 7. Here's to you, Gareth.
It was half past eleven when the Royal Ballet's stage door creaked open, casting a pale pool of light into the already dimly-lit alleyway. A girl, tall and slim in silhouette, stepped through the opening and closed the door behind her, proceeded to lock it. She smiled at the poster pasted to its surface, announcing an upcoming production of Cinderella. In among the tiny, lesser credits was her name—'Purdey.' Just Purdey, for reasons that went far beyond a desire to set herself apart in the world of showbusiness. She tapped it jauntily with a fingernail, still unable to completely believe that she actually was a member of the troupe, something she had dreamed of ever since she was a little girl. Of course she was still a minor background dancer, but with hard work she hoped she could change that. It was only 1969, after all, and her 21st birthday wasn't for another month. Soon it would be a new decade, and Purdey was certain that it would bring great things. She'd gotten this far. All she had to do was work and bide her time.
It was late, much too late for rehearsals, and everyone had gone home ages ago, but Purdey had stayed on, practicing until her body could take it no longer, intent on perfecting her moves. Now her legs ached, and her toes were raw, but she was satisfied that she had accomplished a great deal for her troubles. The others would be surprised tomorrow, especially her instructor.
Smiling to herself, Purdey turned to descend the steps leading from the door to the street. She was tall, perhaps a little too tall to be a dancer, a fact that had not escaped her, but one which she refused to let sabotage her career. That was why she needed to practice so hard, to ensure they never found a reason to hold it against her. They couldn't criticise her fitness. She was slim and toned, curves and muscles in all the right places. Her large blue eyes and full mouth made her lovely to look at, always an asset for a performer, and her long blonde hair, liberated from the tight bun she had put it in for practice, flowed effortlessly down over her shoulders. She was clad in a pair of brown knee-high leather boots and a tan overcoat, her small leather purse slung over her right shoulder and her duffel bag, packed full of leotards, tape, and ballet shoes, clutched in her left hand. She would have to do some laundry before she turned in, no matter how bone tired she was feeling. She knew for a fact that she'd put it off for too long, and she had nothing to wear to rehearsals the next morning. She sighed resignedly as she came to the bottom of the stairs, and turned to trudge the three long blocks to the tube station.
The man came out of nowhere, melting out of the shadows and slamming her into the staircase railing with such force that the breath was knocked from her body, and her duffel bag fell from her nerveless fingers. "Hello, sweetheart," an oily voice greeted, and in the dim light, she could just make out the flash of eyes and glint of teeth. "Out for a stroll, are ya?" Purdey was too shocked and stunned to reply. Her lungs burnt for air, and she could already feel a collection of deep bruises forming along her spine. She could also feel the creep's fingers dancing up the strap of her purse. That was what he wanted. Money. A common old garden variety mugger. Purdey felt annoyance bubble up in spite of herself. It may be the middle of the night, and she may have been a solitary female, but that didn't mean she had to just hand her worldly possessions over to the first scumball who chose her as his mark. Her father had taught her a thing or two about self-defense in her teen years, and she hadn't forgotten a bit of it. It made her feel braver than she knew she had any right to be, but at this point she didn't care. She just wanted to go home, and he was in her way.
"I was," she snapped, hoping he could sense her lack of fear from her tone since he couldn't see her face properly. "Until I was so rudely interrupted."
"Sorry, sweetheart," the creep cooed, slipping the purse strap off her shoulder. "I'll leave you alone just as soon as I get me some bus fare. You don't mind, eh?"
"As a matter of fact," Purdey said tartly, lifting her foot and bringing it into position, "I do." She punctuated the words with a hard stomp on the creep's instep. He howled in pain, and she followed it up with a knee to the stomach. "And don't call me sweetheart!" she added, for good measure, as he staggered backwards wheezing. Feeling happy with her handiwork, she bent to retrieve her bag and made to sprint from the alley. Sadly, her assailant proved to me made of sterner stuff than she had assumed. She hadn't gone half a dozen steps before he tackled her from behind, slamming her facefirst into the brick wall. Purdey cried out in spite of herself, lost her bag for the second time in a matter of minutes. It hit the ground with a muffled 'whump' even as the creep grabbed both her arms and pinned them behind her back.
"You're a feisty one, sweetheart," he hissed in her ear, foul breath stinging her nostrils. "I like that in a woman, but you hurt me, yeah? So I think you're going to pay me back for that, right now. How's that sound?"
Purdey struggled against his grip, but he was too strong for her. Without her arms, she only had her feet to rely on, but the creep was a fast learner, and had placed his own feet in such a way that there was no chance of her repeating her party trick. With her back to him and her balance off, she couldn't kick properly, either. For the first time since their encounter had begun, Purdey felt afraid. And so she resorted to the one option she had left.
The creep laughed at her scream, a harsh cackle that assaulted her eardrum. "Ain't no one going to hear you, sweetheart," he chuckled. "Big city and no one wants to get involved. Fresh out of white knights out here. No, it's just you and me, and you're not going anywhere until I'm finished with you..."
Purdey felt a hard knot form in her stomach. Was this it? Were her fellow dancers going to find her here, tomorrow, dead? She didn't want to die. Not now. She had only recently reconciled herself with the death of her father. She had so much left to live for. She started to tremble.
"Please," she begged, trying not to let a sob enter her voice. "Don't..."
The creep laughed. "Oh, now you're sorry, eh? Bit late for that, sweetheart. Not in a forgiving mood. Now then. Let's get—"
The sentence was cut short abruptly by a scream, and suddenly Purdey's arms were free. She wheeled around in surprise, just in time to see two figures go down in a tangle. The second, newer one regained his feet first, delivered a devastating blow to the creep's jaw. Her would-be assailant sprawled back onto the ground, but managed to kick the newcomer's feet out from under him. He went down hard with a grunt, and then the creep was on him, slamming his head against the cobblestones. The was a cry of pain, but the newcomer somehow managed a stomach throw that sent the creep sailing over his head to sprawl onto the street. Then the newcomer was on his feet and going after him. Purdey watched, frozen to the spot, as the newcomer delivered a series of expert blows with the blade of his hand. Purdey knew enough about the martial arts to recognise him as an expert, and someone she would have no chance of beating if he proved to be less than friendly. She knew she should run, should get away while they were both occupied, but her feet wouldn't move, and she found herself rooted to the spot.
The creep was really getting the worst of it now. The newcomer was too skilled, too self-assured. The creep knew he was outmatched, and at the first opportunity he squirmed away, got to his feet, and ran for it. The newcomer didn't give chase, bending at the waist to rest hands on his knees. She could see his shoulders heaving as he recovered. Then he straightened up, turned to look at her, a tall, slim silhouette framed in the glare of the streetlight behind him. It was too bright for her to make out his face.
He started to walk toward her, and Purdey remembered that he could be no better than the creep, slipped her purse off her shoulder and readied it to swing round when he got close enough. Seeing what she was doing, the silhouette raised its hands defensively.
"It's all right, miss. I'm not going to hurt you." The voice was decidedly working class—Cockney, though diluted, whether by design or living away, she couldn't tell. She decided now was not the best time to work it out, kept her bag at the ready.
The newcomer neared her, bent to retrieve her duffel bag, then held it out to her, being careful not to get too close. She eyed it suspiciously, but he made no other move to approach her. "It's all right," he repeated. "Really. I'm not one of his lot."
"Then why did you come?" Purdey wanted to know. Maybe they were competitors, working the same turf. How did she know?
"I heard you call for help," he said simply, and something about his voice made her trust him. Keeping the purse at the ready, she reached one hand out and snatched the duffel bag away. He didn't seem to take offense, simply lowered the hand. "You okay?" he inquired.
"Yes," Purdey agreed, clutching both bags with an iron grip. She could bludgeon him with both if need be. "Bit shaken, that's all."
"Good. I was worried he might of, uh..." He ran a hand through his hair uncomfortably. At this new angle she could just make out the general contours of his face, though still not enough to see him very well. "He didn't...do anything to you, did he?"
Purdey snorted derisively, feeling a little of her earlier bravado returned. "He planned on it, but you didn't give him a chance."
"Oh, good. Good." He stood there awkwardly for a moment, then looked back up the alley where the creep had disappeared. "Do you want me to call the police?"
"That won't be necessary," Purdey said tersely.
"Right. I'm making you nervous. I can leave. I promise I won't lurk about and follow you or anything." He turned and started to move away, silhouette swaying gently against the streetlight's glow, as though he were compensating for a surface that should be moving.
Purdey felt bad, a wave of guilt washing over her. This man had quite possibly saved her life, and she was being snippy with him. He really didn't seem to be a bad sort. Considering the fighting skills he had displayed earlier, it was more than likely that her handbag wouldn't prove much of a problem for him, and yet he hadn't tried anything. He was going to leave her alone, without so much as a 'thank you' to send him on his way.
"Wait!" she called out, the words coming out before she even knew what she was doing. He paused and looked over his shoulder at her, revealing a profile with a bump in the nose and a full bottom lip. He retraced his steps, came back to her. "I'm sorry," she told the shadow when they were as close to being face-to-face as was possible in the near dark. She dropped her duffel bag to the ground, made a show of 'disarming' her purse. "I'm very grateful. Really. I just...I-"
"You don't know if you can trust me," he said matter-of-factly. "I don't blame you, love. 'Specially after meeting him." He nodded in the direction the creep had fled.
"Yes," Purdey agreed. "Yes, but all the same, I owe you a 'thank you'..."
"Don't owe me anything, love. I'm no white knight. Just a bloke trying to do a good turn by someone else. Do the decent thing. " He shrugged. "What I'd want someone to do for me."
"Of course," Purdey nodded, then noticed a strange, glistening blotch on his forehead, realised what it was in a flash of clarity. "You're hurt!"
"What?" He reached up and touched the space above his eyebrow, obviously felt the stickiness and cursed silently to himself, then seemed to realise who he was with. "Sorry. Ladies present."
"Never mind that. You're bleeding." Purdey was digging in her handbag.
"It's nothing. He got me when he pushed me down, that's all."
"You've split your forehead open," Purdey countered, removing a clean white handkerchief. She stepped forward automatically and started to dab at the wound. So close she could see the glitter of eyes, sparking with what looked like pleasure. She felt herself flush and looked away. Now was not the time to fall for strange men whose faces she couldn't even see properly. She was unattached, and meant to keep it that way until the right man came along and swept her off her feet. And that never happened with rogues in alleyways. Did it?
He winced and she apologised automatically, but he shook his head, took the cloth from her and tended to it himself. She was grateful for the release, stepped a comfortable distance away. "You can have it," she told him. "It's the least I can do."
"Thanks," he replied, pulling it away to squint at the dark patch in the dim light.
Purdey fiddled nervously with her fingers while she watched him dab at the wound. "Could I buy you a cup of coffee or something? In thanks?"
She could just see the curl of his lips as he smiled. "No, love—sorry, I never thought if it was all right to call you that."
"It's fine," Purdey said hurriedly. "Anything but 'sweetheart.'"
"So I heard," he laughed, a not unpleasant sound. "But whatever I call you, I can't linger. I'm sort of between jobs at the moment, but I'm off tomorrow to enlist."
"Enlist? In the military?"
"Army, actually." He pulled the handkerchief away and put it in his pocket.
"What did you do before?"
"Crashed into things," he quipped mysteriously. "But anyway, I've got an early train. I should be in bed already. Otherwise I'd go for that coffee."
"Yes, of course. I understand," Purdey replied, feeling disappointed, and not entirely certain why. At the very least she was hoping to see her rescuer in the light, put a name to the face and form. She supposed she could ask him to step out into the streetlight, but that would be presumptuous, and he'd want to know why, and she didn't have an answer. And anyway, he'd probably read something into it, when there was nothing to be read. She wanted a nice, stable, gallant knight in shining armour who'd give her the house in the country, and the dog, and the children, and the life she so badly wanted. A gentleman. Not someone who seemed unsure about his future with a past he wouldn't speak of. He probably didn't have two pence to his name. Just because he'd saved her life didn't make him perfect. For all she knew he drank, gambled, and womanised his life away, though something told her that wasn't quite right, that she was being unfair, that if she only gave him a chance, he could surprise her...
She shook those thoughts away, squared her shoulders. She'd lingered long enough. "I had better let you go, then," she said, bending to retrieve her bag for what she hoped was the last time. "Thank you again."
"Oh! Oh, yeah, right." He sounded surprised, but he made no move to stop her. "I really should be getting on. You going to be all right to get home?"
"I think the odds of two assailants in one night are fairly low. And anyway, it's just across the street to the station. Once I'm on the tube, I'll be fine."
"Of course you will," he murmured. "Take care, miss."
"You, too," she returned. He nodded, once, then turned on his heel and walked away. She watched him go, a voice in the back of her mind screaming at her not to let him slip away, not with so much left unknown. The practical part screamed back. She was a professional. She had a career and a life to build. She didn't have time for dalliances with every mysterious stranger she stumbled across. She set her jaw and started out of the alley as soon as she lost sight of him. By the time she was on the street, he was gone.
Mike Gambit sat with one hip hitched on the edge of Steed's heirloom teak monster of a desk, left leg swinging idly. Any moment now the senior agent was going to walk in and gently reprimand him for sitting on the furniture, but he found he didn't care. He'd found something interesting in his breast pocket.
He'd meant to bring a clean handkerchief, but in his haste to get out the door that morning he'd reached into the drawer without looking, and brought this instead. It was also a handkerchief, but it hadn't been laundered. He'd been very careful not to clean it, even though it could have used it. The spots of blood had long ago faded from bright red to a muddy brown; the dirt he'd wiped from his hands had left the once-pristine white linen a dull grey. But when he held it to his nose, he could still smell just a hint of her perfume. Her. The girl in the alley.
He'd hid in a doorway and watched her go into the tube station, just to be certain she made it all right. He'd had half a mind to follow her, though he didn't have a face or a name. Just a scent and a voice, and the gentle touch of her fingers when she saw to his wound. He'd known so few people who had cared enough to be that considerate to a complete stranger. He could tell she was trying very hard to keep the mask in place, to not let him in, and he couldn't blame her considering what she'd been through, but he had the feeling there were more layers to her than she let on, that she wasn't as proper as she made out, that she hid the fierier parts of her personality behind the mask. He'd found himself wanting to know what other surprises she had in store. But he'd never had a chance. All he ever saw was a flash of golden hair when she passed through a streetlight. Blonde. Blonde and slim. And somehow, perfect.
He traced the embroidered 'P' on the handkerchief and wondered if that was what it stood for—'perfect.' Which brought him back to another ideal woman, and he couldn't help but wonder if there was a connection.
He looked up with a start. Purdey was standing in the doorway, one eyebrow arched as she took in his position. "You're very, very lucky I'm not Steed."
"I couldn't agree more." He stuffed the handkerchief in his pocket as she crossed the room, pulling a face in the process.
"Not that. You know how he is about the furniture. You've been parking your posterior on his Aunt Penelope's antique." She stopped and put her hands on her hips.
"I'm sure Auntie Penelope wouldn't mind," Gambit said mildly, sliding off the surface as he did.
Purdey's eyebrow canted up again. "You seem very confident."
"You never know. Maybe I'm her type." He winked at her, and she tsked and rolled her eyes expansively.
"You, Mike Gambit, never fail to amaze me. Your ego knows no bounds." She shook her head in exasperation, and turned to leave again. "Steed's decided to have our meeting outside on the veranda. He wants to take advantage of the sun after that drizzle we had all last week."
"And my presence is requested?"
"Actually, he wants you to bring the drinks. But if you were to come along and do some work as well, I'm sure that'd be a pleasant surprise for us all."
"That's what you say. I'll bet you came yourself, just to get me alone."
"In your dreams, Mike Gambit."
"More often than you know. Come on, then. I can't carry them all myself."
She sighed but trailed behind him while they went to the sideboard holding the crystal decanters. Gambit lifted the stopper off the Scotch and poured himself a healthy measure. It was going to be a long meeting.
"Have you ever had one of those moments where you connected with an absolute stranger?" he asked conversationally, and Purdey looked up from pouring herself a gin with bitters, frowned.
"That's a strange question."
"It most certainly is. Why do you ask?"
Gambit shrugged with practiced casualness. "Just remembered it today. There was a girl."
Purdey smirked. "There always is."
"Not like this. It was years ago. There was something about her. We couldn't have talked for more than five, ten minutes. Never did get her name. Or a good look at her, to be honest." He looked up from his glass and met her eyes. "I still wonder if it was right to let her go."
Purdey held his gaze, but her blue eyes were somewhere else. "It was probably for the best," she murmured, with something less than conviction. "Anyway, it probably wouldn't have worked out even if you had. Especially if you were looking for something different at the time." She sounded as though she were trying to convince herself that what she was saying was true, and it wasn't working. She realised she was staring at him, and averted her eyes.
"Who was he, then?" Gambit inquired, sipping his drink.
Purdey's eyes shot up to meet his again. "Who was who?" she demanded, a little too shrilly.
"Your mystery man, Purdey-girl. Don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about. I can tell when you're lying."
She set her jaw, clearly annoyed at that piece of information, but didn't comment. Instead, she said, "He was just a passerby. He came to my rescue."
"Sounds familiar..." Gambit teased, but Purdey ignored him.
"I never knew his name, either, and I only had half an impression as to what he looked like. I don't know what it was about him that struck me. Just one of those things, I suppose."
Gambit was studying her. Somewhere, behind the blue eyes, was a younger, more vulnerable Purdey, and she was making her presence known. "What was he like?" he asked quietly. Purdey took a deep, steadying breath, and met his gaze.
"He was...wonderful. In a way that I still can't describe."
Gambit nodded thoughtfully, accepting that answer. "Too bad you never got to know him better," he offered.
Purdey was looking at him oddly, brow furrowed in concentration, as though she was trying to solve a problem that could only be resolved by studying her features. "Yes," she said distantly. "The same for your girl."
"Yes." They stood there for a moment in silence, eyes locked. The clock on Steed's mantle ticked quietly, providing the only sound, then chimed to signal the half hour.
Purdey tore her eyes away, spell broken, and looked at the glasses. "Steed will be waiting," she said lightly, forcing a smile. "Pour him a brandy, and come along."
"Right," Gambit agreed, watching her bustle out. He poured the drink and picked up both glasses. It was probably folly to make the connection, his imagination running away with him. But still, he couldn't help but wonder...
He went after her this time, just in case.