by J. Ferguson a.k.a. Timeless A-Peel
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor any of the associated characters. They belong to The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. I don't own The Avengers, either, or any of its characters. They belong to Canal+ (Image) International. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.
Timeline: Part of the arc continuity, somewhere in the early parts of 1977/season 2, between Merry Christmas, Mr. Gambit and Brazil. I suppose you could call it part 5.5 in the arc series, a little detour off the arc's usual beaten path. No prior knowledge of the rest of the series required for this one, though a knowledge of the early episodes of season 2 would give you a little context. If you're new to the whole arc series, please see my profile for an explanation (and more reading material, if you're interested).
Author's Note: Hi there. Remember me?
Awhile back, life got interrupted in all sorts of ways, good and bad, and I got out of the habit of writing regularly. The ideas were there, but the motivation wasn't. I've been meaning to get back into the swing of things for awhile, but it hasn't been easy. I feel rusty, quite frankly, and I'm sort of working my writer's muscles back into shape using a couple of ideas that have been sitting unfinished on my hard drive. Hopefully it'll prime me to get into writing again, and motivate me to finish some stories that I've wanted to write for years. Fingers crossed...
In the meantime, this is the first of those "exercises," both of which took much longer to put together than they had any right to. Bit of a different dynamic in this one, hatched from an idea I had last summer. Hope you enjoy.
The clank of cutlery against dishes mixed with the chatter of enthusiastic diners as the restaurant's lunchtime crowd made the most of its noontime break, however long or short it was destined to be. Seated in the midst of it all, but somehow managing to blend into the melee, Mike Gambit reached out without leaning forward, picked up his glass of Scotch, and took a sip, eyes fixed on the restaurant's entrance all the while. Truth be told, it was a bit early for his favourite tipple, but he couldn't bring himself to order anything more substantial until his lunch 'date', if she could be called that, put in an appearance, and ordering a drink was the only way he could think of to fend off the wait staff, who clearly wanted to evict him from his table. He swallowed the dark amber liquid, then allowed himself a quick glance at his watch. She was coming up on fifteen minutes late for a meeting she herself had arranged. Not desperately tardy, but if she didn't appear soon, he'd be forced to surrender the table, either because the waitstaff demanded it, or because his lunchbreak was up, and he had to return to the Ministry. He sighed and pondered the possible ramifications, reputational and otherwise, that would come from drinking a second Scotch on an empty stomach, in the middle of the day no less, when a flash of distinctly-shaded hair caught the corner of his eye, and a moment later she swept in, the blush of exertion tingeing her cheeks, but still perfectly composed and impeccably put-together. He rose to his feet to greet her, and she leaned in to give him the briefest of greeting pecks on the cheek, lips barely brushing his skin in her haste. All the same, he felt the eyes of at least a half dozen of their fellow diners swivel round to fix on them.
"I'm sorry, Mike," she apologised with sincerity, setting a satchel on the floor next to her chair. "There was a meeting I was certain was going to wrap up in plenty of time, but the last proposal by one of our researchers ran twice as long as scheduled."
"That's all right, Emma," he assured, returning to his seat as she settled into her own chair. "I'm just happy not be stood up in front of an audience." He nodded at the huddled group of waiters silently fuming and cursing their luck. "I held the fort in the meantime."
Emma Peel, as she had once been known, graced him with one of her infamous lopsided smiles, and brushed a strand of rich auburn hair back from her face. "They are quite enthusiastic here, aren't they? I'm surprised you haven't turned the table over and barricaded yourself behind it."
"That was my next move," he quipped, and Emma's smile broadened. Technically, she was Emma Knight now, but after knowing her as the legend that was Emma Peel for so long, that seemed like the wrong thing to call her, but 'Mrs. Peel' was now off-limits to all but a select few. Calling her 'Emma' sidestepped the issue entirely, with the added bonus of making her seem more of a person, and less of an entry in a Ministry-sanctioned training manual.
"Then I think it's only right that we put their minds at ease and order," Emma suggested, casting a cursory glance over the menu. "Do you know what you want?"
Gambit froze with his glass halfway to his lips, and levelled his gaze at her over the rim. "I have a pretty good idea," he murmured, voice dropping an octave.
Emma's perfectly-gauged reaction consisted of a solitary arched eyebrow, and widened eyes. "I'm afraid this lunch is going to be more business than pleasure, Mike," she told him, even as she indicated for the waiter to attend their table. She cast him an inquiring glance. "Disappointed?"
"I have two scotches in me to cushion the blow," Gambit reminded. He'd expected to be rebuffed, but being rebuffed by Emma Knight was an experience in itself, or at least it was when she did it to him. He expected it would be infinitely less pleasant if he was in her bad books. "I've been turned down before. I'll survive."
"Not that often," Emma corrected knowingly, just as the waiter arrived. They ordered, and when he departed, she added, "I'd like to ask a favour."
"I'm not doing in any more of your jealous lovers," Gambit deadpanned.
Emma's smile was broad this time, involved both halves of her face, and was accompanied by a little chuckle. "Don't worry, I have my own ways of dealing with those kinds of problems."
"I'll bet you do," Gambit replied, eyes glittering. "All right, what do you need?"
"I need you to find someone," Emma declared, reaching down to retrieve her satchel from the floor.
"Anyone I know?"
Emma extracted a file from the satchel and answered, without looking up, "Peter."
"Peter?" Gambit repeated, wracking his brain for a face to go with the name in the world of espionage. "Peter who?" He paused as one possibility occurred to him, felt his eyes widen. "Not Peter Peel?"
"Yes," Emma said simply, returning the satchel to the floor.
Gambit was a bit unsure as to how to react to this take this news, and decided to tackle the questions whirring around his brain head-on. "Is a miraculous reconciliation in the works?"
"Much to the disappointment of the gossip columnists, no," Emma said firmly. "But it does concern our marriage, at least tangentially."
Gambit settled back in his chair. "I'm listening."
Emma began to explain. "Early on in our marriage, Peter helped Knight perfect a new type of airplane engine. The specifics don't come into it, but he received partial ownership of the rights to the engine for his trouble. Knight's been using it in its products for years, but we've recently struck a deal to have our engines placed in another company's planes, and to do that..."
"You need Peter's permission," Gambit finished, seeing where this was leading. "But you can't find him."
"No," Emma confirmed, lips pursed in annoyance. "I've made enquiries." She handed the file across the table to Gambit, who took it and opened it up on the tabletop. "I tried his house, but there was no answer. He's taken a leave of absence from the company he's been working for, and he left instructions that all communications and other inquiries were to be sent to his lawyer."
"And you called the lawyer?" Gambit inquired, skimming the first page of the file and lifting it to peruse the second.
Emma nodded. "Several times. All he'll do is take a message and give it to Peter when he returns. I've told him it's urgent, but he refuses to tell me where Peter's gone, or to give me a contact number. He won't even confirm whether he's in the country or not. It's as though he's dropped off the face of the earth."
"And you want me to find him." Gambit lifted the folder off the table so the recently-arrived waiter could replace it with a plate.
Emma nodded, then added, once the waiter was gone, "I thought your connections would take you farther than my inquiries."
Gambit closed the file, laced his fingers, and leaned across the table. "Don't take this the wrong way, but your connections might be just as good as mine. Why don't you use them?"
Emma pursed her lips. "I left the Ministry a decade ago, Mike, and you know as well as anyone that I haven't kept in touch. Besides, things have changed. They don't approve of amateurs any longer, and they certainly don't want them poking around in their top secret files. You need all the right clearances and IDs, and I'm sadly lacking in those."
"But you're still Emma Peel," Gambit pointed out. "No matter what you're called now. That's got to count for something."
"It might," Emma allowed. "But I'd attract attention if I went through the proper channels, and I'd prefer that the whole of the Ministry remain blissfully unaware of my business. You, on the other hand, can make much subtler inquiries."
"Even if I do find Peter," Gambit said slowly, "how do you know he'll agree to sign the papers?"
"Why wouldn't he?"
"He's your ex-husband. You tell me."
"The divorce wasn't acrimonious," Emma declared, propping her elbow on her chair and letting her head rest against her thumb and forefinger. "We both eventually came to the conclusion that there wasn't a relationship left to salvage. It had an almost depressing inevitability about it. Neither of us have anything to gain by making life more difficult for the other, and Peter's not childish enough to stoop to that level even if he did. He'll sign. All we need to do is find him."
Gambit arched an eyebrow. "'We'?" he repeated.
"Well, presumably you will check in on occasion and tell me what you've found. And we can—"
"Put our heads together?" Gambit finished knowingly, a ghost of a smile on his lips.
"Yes," Emma confirmed. "It's the least I can do, especially since you're granting a favour. Unless, of course, you think you can work it out on your own."
"I could," Gambit said jauntily, and Emma arched an eyebrow at the unexpected burst of male hubris, "but that would mean no more lunches, and I try to create as many bright spots in life as possible."
"Mmm-hmm," was Emma's non-committal reply, but her eyes were dancing at the compliment. "I hate to be a dark cloud, but I won't have time for another lunch in the next few weeks. We may have to choose another rendez-vous."
"Don't worry. I'm nothing if not flexible." Gambit's eyebrows waggled wickedly. "I'll poke around and call you in a day or two. Okay?"
"That will do nicely," Emma agreed, looking relieved. "Thank you, Mike. This will be a great help."
"It's my pleasure," Gambit dismissed, glancing at his watch. "And I'd better finish this before I go back. If I take it with me, it won't survive Purdey..."