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: And here, finally, is the last chapter. I've only just realised it's been four months since I started posting this story. I really hadn't meant to drag it out quite this long, but that's how it works when life won't give you time to update. Starting tomorrow, I'll be uploading something in keeping with the season. Further notes follow the end of the chapter.
Purdey stood outside Steed's vestibule, barely sheltered from the pounding rain beneath the small chamber's overhanging roof. The thick, heavy drops fell to earth with noisy, wet splats, missing her nose by mere inches. Purdey crossed her arms and hugged herself against the evening chill. She hadn't bothered to put a coat on before she ventured outside, and the three-quarter length sleeves of her slate-grey sheath were hardly adequate to offer much protection from the cold. She knew she could retrieve something warmer at any time, that it was just a matter of turning around, going back inside, finding her coat thrown randomly over one of Steed's chairs, and coming back out again. She probably wouldn't miss anything in the interim. At this point, she was almost certain she wouldn't, if the singular lack of activity in the past half hour was anything to go by, but at this point she had convinced herself that to let her eyes leave the distant point that represented the start of Steed's driveway would be to invite disaster. Purdey didn't like to think she was superstitious, but there was something about the performing arts that instilled a certain degree of belief in the power of things like ritual, concentration, and sheer will, and the consequences that would follow if any of those were broken. She knew too little to do anything of consequence, anything that would affect that evening's outcome. All she could do was wait, and will, and she was determined to do those things to the best of her ability. And if she put a coat on, she'd be admitting to herself that she might be waiting out here for much, much longer than she'd hoped she would have to, possibly forever, and that would never do. So she'd come out here at 5:25 pm, and she wasn't going anywhere until she heard the crunch of gravel under tyres, and glimpsed a flash of a red Jaguar behind bright headlights.
She heard a click over her right shoulder, and Steed emerged from the house, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her just outside the range of the rain. Purdey chanced a quick glance his way—he hadn't put a coat, either, braving the elements in his suit. Purdey allowed herself a lightning-quick smile at their mutual stubbornness and inability to accept a long wait.
Steed spoke. "You really ought to wait inside, Purdey. You'll catch a chill if you stay out here much longer."
"I'm part Scottish. I have a strong disposition," Purdey quipped, trying to disguise her worry behind a carefree lilt in her voice. "Anyway, I'm not going to be waiting much longer, am I? Gambit said he'd be here at six. And it's five minutes to six now. I won't catch a chill in five minutes."
"No," Steed conceded. "Not in five minutes, but possibly in thirty-five, and almost certainly if you stay out here much beyond that."
Purdey's head snapped almost-violently in his direction. "What do you mean? Is he going to be late? Do you know something?"
Steed shook his head. "Nothing that's of any use in this particular situation. But you must be realistic, Purdey. There are other factors to take into account, things that could delay him. Trains, traffic, the weather—"
"A bullet to the brain?" Purdey cut in tersely, letting Steed know she didn't appreciate the implication Steed was driving at. "No, Mike promised he'd be here at six. Promised me. And Mike doesn't break his promises."
"Then you have nothing to worry about," Steed said evenly.
Purdey sighed and hugged herself tighter. "Always," she repeated, as though assuring herself. "But..."
Steed arched an interested eyebrow. "I didn't imagine there'd be a 'but' after that."
"There isn't," Purdey agreed. "Well, not usually. But you know Gambit, Steed."
"I'd like to think so."
"Then you know what he's like. Sometimes he doesn't think he needs help, and he doesn't ask for it, even though he should." She bit her lip. "What if he needed help, Steed? What if he made a promise and honestly thought he could keep it because he thought he had everything under control? But what if he didn't? What if something went wrong, and-"
"Speculation," Steed interrupted. "All of it. And at the moment it doesn't do us any good at all, because there's nothing we can do until he either arrives or doesn't arrive. If he does, then there's nothing more to be said. If he doesn't, we'll have to decide how long to wait. Only when we've waited longer than we know we should have to does speculation come into it. But until then, we wait, and we expect everything to go to plan."
Purdey looked at him hard. "Do you think he's going to come back, Steed? What does your instinct tell you?"
"To trust Gambit," Steed said truthfully. "For better or worse. Regardless of what happens."
"Something is going on, then," Purdey said, almost bitterly. "He is doing something he shouldn't be."
"I never said that."
Purdey's mouth crinkled in annoyance. "But you just said—"
"I said we should trust Gambit," Steed reiterated, turning level grey eyes on her. "That could mean trusting him to not be involved in anything at all, or trusting him to make the right decision if he is involved in something. Either scenario calls for us to do the same thing, so it doesn't particularly matter what Gambit is doing, or isn't doing." He arched an interested eyebrow. "Unless, of course, you don't trust him, in which case you might have to rethink your plan of action."
"Of course I trust him!" Purdey shot back, outraged. "I trust him to do the right thing. Always. But the right thing doesn't guarantee that he'll walk away from whatever he's done unharmed."
"No, but his promise should," Steed reminded. "And Gambit never breaks a promise. Isn't that what you said a moment ago?"
Purdey shook her head, gazing out into the grey haze summoned by the rain. "He doesn't. But that doesn't mean he can't be wrong, that he can't miscalculate the odds and end up the worse for it. And you know how stubborn he is about asking for help..."
"That reminds me. I had a call from McBain this morning," Steed said conversationally. "He wanted to know if there was anything out of the ordinary occurring within my team, particularly where Gambit was concerned." He paused, then added, in measured, neutral tones. "I did manage to fob him off, but he'll be watching all of us, especially Gambit, carefully for the next month or so, so we had better hope if he is up to something, it is over tonight." He regarded her with mild disapproval. "You shouldn't have involved him, Purdey. Not before you had more of the facts."
"I had all the facts I was ever going to have," Purdey defended stubbornly, but he could see the guilt in her eyes. "I thought Gambit needed help, and if I was going to help him, I needed someone to help me work out what he was doing. You, McBain. Looking back, I suppose I should have gone to you before him, but I thought Gambit might be involved in something that went beyond you. I needed to rule it out."
"To help Gambit?"
To her surprise, Steed smiled slightly. "And in most circumstances, that would be the correct course of action, and I do hate to sound like the proverbial broken record, but sometimes trust involves not acting at all, not even to help, even if every fibre of our being tells us to do otherwise. Sometimes doing nothing can do more good than doing anything at all. It can be difficult, but also surprisingly easy once you've committed yourself. Knowing when to do nothing and when to do something, that's the tricky part."
Purdey sighed. "I know I sound as though I'm saying one thing, and thinking another. I do trust Gambit. I do. But he's been acting so strangely lately, even before these past few days. It's as though he's been gradually pulling away—from me, from you, from the team. There's this gap between us. Have you noticed how many solo assignments he's been running? And there's this chasm between us, as though he's trying to keep us apart—mentally, emotionally, I don't know. I don't know why it's there, but I do know it's been growing, and has been for the last month or two." She bit her lip and looked down at her shoes. "I worry he might disappear completely one day," she said quietly. "And with that pink and purple pass, I'm terrified he might have finally managed it. Might go from emotionally distant to physically gone, and we won't even know why." She stared at Steed, willing him to understand. "Doesn't that terrify you?"
"In theory, yes," Steed agreed. "But I don't think things have quite deteriorated to the point that we need worry about Gambit floating off into space just yet." He nodded out into the gloom, and Purdey turned back just in time to see the first flash of headlights as they cut through the fog. She felt her heart catch in her throat as they drew nearer, felt relief seep into her bones when she glimpsed the flash of red that followed in the lights' wake, despite being numb with the cold. Eventually the familiar silhouette of the XJS was completely visible in the pouring rain. It pulled up to the vestibule with a crunch of gravel, and a tall, slim figure alighted from the vehicle. Purdey watched his approach, waiting for a last-minute twist that would dash all her hopes. But no, eventually the figure resolved itself into Mike Gambit, who came to a stop just before the single step that would take him up to join them on the vestibule, and stood there, rain drenching his tightly-belted mac.
They stood there, Gambit with water cascading from his sodden hair into his eyes and dripping off the end of his nose, Steed and Purdey unmoved from their vantage point, still dry, separated by a narrow wall of water. It was as though Gambit was waiting for their permission to seek shelter, waiting to see if he truly was an outsider now, if he had severed the bonds between them in a last-ditch effort to prove they still existed.
Purdey's eyes met Gambit's. He could see there was annoyance there, and fear, and confusion. But there was also relief, and Gambit soon felt that same sensation sweep over himself.
Suddenly, Purdey's shoulders relaxed, and her crossed arms went from a tight embrace to folded in an expression of her annoyance, and said, "You'd better come in before you catch a chill. I'm not doing your paperwork if you take ill." And with that, she turned on her heel, and strode, unconcernedly, back into the house.
Gambit grinned, and stepped up to join Steed.
"It's good to have you back," Steed said as the younger man emerged from the rain. "I'd presume I speak for Purdey as well, but I've found it never pays to presume where Purdey is concerned."
"I'll drink to that," Gambit agreed with a chuckle.
"I should think so, after that drenching. There's a very good brandy inside that ought to warm your bones. Very fitting for a homecoming."
Gambit snorted gently. "Homecoming? I was gone for 24 hours."
"Officially, yes," Steed said mildly, not bothering to vocalise the unspoken half of the statement. He didn't need to. Gambit knew what he meant. Unofficially, Gambit knew he'd been gradually pulling back from the team, under the mistaken belief that he was intruding. He'd thought Steed hadn't noticed, hadn't cared. He realised he should have known better.
"I assume there won't be any more unforeseen absences in the future," Steed went on, in a tone that left no doubt that Gambit's grace period was officially over. If he was going to 'go rogue' again, there were going to be consequences.
"Not that I know of," Gambit said truthfully, allowing himself a small smile. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you and Purdey missed me."
"As I said, I can't speak for Purdey," Steed reminded. "And as I said, it's good to have you back." He indicated for Gambit to step through the door. "After you."
And with that, Mike Gambit came in from the cold.
Author's Notes: I know a couple of people were hoping Emma would put in an appearance at the end of this story, but there were a couple of reasons I thought it was important that she never cross paths with Steed and Purdey. The first, most important, one was that this story was really meant to be about the team dynamics in the early part of season 2, after Patrick complained about "being put out to pasture", and ended up with his screentime increased at the expense of Gareth's. Onscreen, it begins to look as though he and Purdey are shutting Gambit out, and Gambit's sort of off doing his own thing. Given how loyal he is to both Steed and Purdey, I don't think Gambit would ever actually say anything about it to either of them, just gradually phase himself out, even if it hurt. Purdey, and even Steed to a degree, do have a tendency to take him for granted, despite all the times he pulls their fat out of the fire, so if they got an inkling that Gambit might be in over his head, it might act as a wake-up call, though they both deal with it in their own respective ways. Hopefully after this chapter, Purdey's actions throughout the fic make sense. Anyway, the upshot is I wanted the focus to be on the reunion of the team, and having Emma there at the end would have made it more about her.
The other reason to leave Emma out at the end was simply for reasons of my own continuity. Since this story fits within the confines of the Arc, I've already dealt with Emma's reunion with Steed (and first encounter with Purdey) in my fic "Brazil." So if anyone's interested in Emma playing a more active part in the proceedings, I'll point you in that direction.
Anyway, thank you once again for all the lovely reviews, and I hope you enjoyed the story wrap-up. As promised, I'll start posting something seasonal starting tomorrow. Stay tuned...