"A Midsummer Day's Dream"

An Avengers Fanfiction

The sixteenth in a series of adventures designed to bridge the year and a half between broadcast episode 3.26, "Lobster Quadrille" (Cathy Gale, March 1964), and episode 4.01, "The Town Of No Return" (Emma Peel, September 1965)

Disclaimer: Some copyrighted characters have been borrowed

Emma goes for a ride. Steed lives up to his name.

June 1965

A warm summer breeze caused the moored boat to bump gently against the bank in the green rushes of Surrey. The Thames' current was slow here; mild enough for punting, and several lovers were taking advantage of the sunny afternoon. Emma Peel leaned back and stretched lazily on the blanket under the shade of two large willows, watching the boats drift by. She was wearing lavender-silk Oriental lounging pajamas; they were thin and lightweight, but still covered enough skin to prevent sunburn. Emma extended her arm outward and waggled an empty wineglass in one hand.

Steed reached across the picnic hamper and filled the glass with Chablis, then set the empty bottle nearby. He had towed the wine alongside the boat so that it would be at the perfect serving temperature. The meal had been flawless, as well: seasoned beef and chicken broil. Emma watched as Steed carefully removed dessert items from the hamper. He was dressed in white ducks and a blue-and-gold striped jacket; on his head he wore a jaunty straw boater. Very dapper.

"You've certainly dressed nattily," she commented.

"I didn't know you'd met Natalie," Steed teased.

Emma frowned at the bad pun. Steed reclined beside her and offered her a cucumber sandwich; she delicately nibbled it from his hand and made an "mmm" sound as she sipped at the last of the wine. The sudden clatter of a cargo boat being unloaded in the distance almost caused her to spill a drop.

"It's getting harder to find places around London with pastoral settings anymore," she declared.

"Industrialization has reached even here," he agreed.

"I blame James Watt."

"Blame him the next time you watch the telly."

"I'd rather curl up with a good book."

Steed raised an eyebrow. "Tess of the d'Urbervilles?"

Emma wrinkled her mouth. "Newton's Principia."

"How risqué."

"It moves me," she said wryly.

Steed munched a biscuit as he leaned back on his elbows and gazed at the sky.

"A Ferrari 375," he announced.

"Where?" Emma perked up. There wasn't any street in sight.

"Up there." He pointed far above the southern horizon. "That cloud."

"It's merely a random collection of water vapor held aloft by thermal currents due to solar heating."

A grin tugged at the corner of Steed's mouth. "Of course, Mrs. Peel."

She shouldered next to him and studied the sky in companionable silence for a few moments.

"The open-cockpit Spyder version," she said finally. "With the headrest and fin."

"What happened to a 'random collection of water vapor'?"

"Doesn't mean it can't have a shape."

"How do you know so much about cars?"

"I have a close friend who's interested in vintage automobiles."

Steed smiled. "Anyone I know?"

Emma smirked back, silently inverting the wine bottle in front of him and shaking it to emphasize its emptiness. "Your currency has run out."

He snapped his fingers. "I have an idea." Jumping to his feet, he pulled the wooden pole about twice his height from the soft mud and headed for the punt.

"Back in a jiff!" he proclaimed brightly.

Emma smiled. She had already guessed his scheme. A few hundred yards back, at the last crossing, there was an off-licence shop. Steed had probably gotten the idea when they drifted past. He could bank the boat on the grassy slope and nip up for a bottle of chilled champagne. Its taste would be excellent with the aged cheese that remained in the hamper. Maybe he would be clever enough to buy some fruit juice, and they could have mimosas. She threw a casual wave in answer to his as he poled away, then nestled back against the willow tree to wait.

The drone of insects and the occasional river noise were the only sounds in the midsummer heat. Emma watched a single butterfly make an erratic flight across her field of vision. She sat in stillness for a full minute, mesmerized by the impossible motions that kept it airborne. The sky had turned an unusual shade of yellow—the afternoon was still early; it must be some sort of temperature inversion, she thought.

Suddenly she realized her distraction, and her senses went on alert. She held her breath as she slowly turned her head to scan the area.

Barely visible behind the other willow tree, a man peeked out from concealment. His face was covered by a chessboard mask.

The banks of the Thames. That's where he'd disappeared from, after being swept off the train.

She leaped to her feet and took off after her nemesis at a dead run. The man was a step too quick for her; he reached a wall of shrubs less than thirty yards away. Without slowing down in the least, he plunged into the hedgerow. When she arrived a second later, she was forced to stumble to a stop. The bushes were an impenetrable tangle of juniper and blackberry. How had he gotten through?

Carefully walking in either direction along the obstacle, she looked for an opening, but found none. Just as she was about to tear into the branches with her bare hands, the insistent braying of hunting horns sounded in the clearing.

She tossed her auburn head and turned towards the noise. Was the man in the chessboard mask already being pursued?

A fox with reddish hair emerged from the low brush across the way and headed for her with an easy lope. Its gait was most curious—it wasn't just running, it was prancing. The horns came even closer.

The activity wasn't a manhunt, she realized—it was a foxhunt. The fox stopped and winked at her before diving into the hedgerow. The brambles just seemed to swallow up the animal. She performed a close-up examination that once again showed no means of entry. She pursed her lips in thought.

That was strange. Foxes didn't usually wink at her.

With a thundering of hooves and paws, a group of mounted hunters and a pack of hounds burst into the clearing. She stood back and gave the party a wide berth; they completely ignored her and headed for the wall of shrubs. The hunters were in the same boat she was—they couldn't penetrate the foliage, either. They hesitated for only a second before continuing along the path parallel to the hedgerow. She briefly debated calling them back to hack through the shrubbery to pursue the man in the chessboard mask, but that would betray the fox.

The clamor of the hunters faded in the distance, and soon the only noise in the clearing was a leisurely clip-clop sound. On the other side of the glen, a pure white stallion wearing a bowler hat between his ears was bringing up the rear, riderless. The horse headed directly for her along the stone-paved path, and when he was only a few feet away, he extended a leg and bent down on one knee in a graceful dressage bow.

Not knowing exactly how to respond to such a greeting, she decided to return the bow. Her head was almost level with the horse's withers before she noticed that she was ventilating her chest. She had on a white satin halter dress, and the thin fabric had billowed from her neck to her waist, exposing her.

"I don't remember wearing this," she said aloud. "I usually wear something with a bit more coverage." She was cinching up the fabric closer to her torso when the horse suddenly spoke.

"Don't talk to me about coverage," he said. "All I have is the hat."

Her eyes widened in amazement. "You can speak!"

"If I have something to say," the horse replied as he rose back up. "I think your dress looks very regal," he added. "Scanty, but regal."

She folded her arms. "They're leaving you behind. Shouldn't you be chasing after the Fox?"

"Too much like work," the horse answered glibly. "Mind you, her fur is a gorgeous shade of red."

"They'll be miles ahead of you by now."

"No worries. I know a shortcut. But I have to make it look good, or the other horses will know I've cheated." He moved close enough to fix her with his gentle, dark eyes. "What's your name?"

She pulled a strand of auburn hair back from her face. "I—I don't know."

"Think now," the horse prompted. "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear—"

She sighed. "It's just not coming to me." She unfolded her arms and ventured a tender touch to the horse's muzzle. "How about you? What's your name?"

The horse cocked his head. "Come to think of it, I don't know mine either."

"Happy birthday to you," she began singing, "Happy Birthday—"

"Don't be silly," he interrupted. "Horses don't have birthday parties."

She gestured to the hedgerow. "I was chasing a man in a chessboard mask."

"Well, now, that does sound rather interesting."

"He vanished into the bushes. I can't get through."

"There might be a spot down the row," the horse offered. "I have some time to kill. Hop on."

She withdrew her hand uncertainly. "Without a saddle? In this dress?"

"You could always ride side-saddle."

"It's easier just to perform some alterations." She reached down and starting ripping the dress upwards to her waist, stopping when she reached her thighs to make sure she had on underwear before going any higher. She did; white nylon. It puzzled her that she didn't remember getting dressed that morning.

The horse obligingly knelt to allow her to throw one leg over his back, and she firmly straddled him, sweeping the two lower halves of the dress back from her waist. The horse rose up and turned his head sideways to speak to her.

"I'll call you Ryder," he announced.

"I'll call you Steed," she said politely.

The Steed proceeded to do a quick test loop once around the clearing, starting at a slow canter before speeding up. She held on to his mane with both hands, balancing her weight against the motion.

She hadn't ridden bareback since she was a girl. Somehow, that memory was clear. Now that she was an adult, the experience was completely different. She reached down with one hand and tugged at her panties. In addition, she usually wore considerably more than a single layer of nylon between her and her mount. As the Steed galloped around the glen, she felt the rhythmic slap against her most delicate area. While it might be painful for a long trip, the sensation wasn't entirely unpleasant. She briefly wondered how Lady Godiva accomplished her ride without alternately crying out in pain and cooing in ecstasy. She decided she could tolerate it for a chase of short duration.

The Steed slowed to a trot, his surging back muscles massaging her between her thighs. For a second, her breath caught. The horse noticed.

"Miss Ryder? Everything okay?" he asked. "Not too uncomfortable, is it?"

"No. This feels... right." Miss Ryder pressed her knees into his warm sides and rubbed her bare feet against his ribcage.

"Well, then," the Steed said jovially, "off we go!"