Rough Diamond

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 Sapphire and Steel, nor the characters of Sapphire and Steel themselves. They're the property of ITC Entertainment Group story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

Author's Note: A few years back, I watched Joanna Lumley's Sapphire and Steel, and quite enjoyed it. I ended up writing a S&S crossover with TNA, a story with a fairly ludicrous premise called "Carbon Copy" as a result. It was a fun fic to write, and I thought I might play with it again one day. I got another idea for it an age ago, this one a multi-chapter work instead of a one-shot, and somehow managed to finish writing it at some point. It's been sitting on my harddrive for about half an age since, so I thought I may as well post it since I have a chance. I have no idea what the traffic's like in the Avengers crossover section (the majority of the handful of entries are based on the comic books and erroneously posted in this category), but if you've found your way here, I hope you enjoy it. You may want to read "Carbon Copy" first, if you haven't already, as this one sort of follows on from it. I haven't watched S&S since I wrote the first fic, so hopefully I've done the show and characters justice from memory. I thought this would be a good way to get myself posting in 2013. And a bit of sci-fi is always fun...


"Hello, Mr. Gambit."

The voice came suddenly, without warning and near his ear. Gambit felt himself freeze, felt the shiver run down his spine. He knew that voice, knew it in some ways better than his own, but also knew that it was wrong, how it was wrong. He turned to face the speaker, knowing who he was about to see, but still feeling the lump rise in his throat when he came face-to-face with her.

"Sapphire," he identified, and the blonde woman with the unearthly blue eyes smiled at the fact that he recognised her. She was wearing a different dress than the last time he'd seen her, this one with diaphronous sleeves and a sash tied at the waist. It didn't matter much—it was still blue, and it still clung to her familiar figure in exactly the same ways it would another woman he knew very, very well...

He felt something clamp down hard on his right arm, and he turned his head to see a man in a gray suit, with equally gray eyes boring right through his skull. He was shorter than Gambit, blonde, and his face was handsome but humourless, the expression cold and detached. "I see you brought a friend this time," Gambit observed, glancing back at Sapphire. "Is he another—what did you call yourself? Time agent?"

Sapphire's smile broadened. "Yes," she confirmed, nodding at the man. "This is my partner, the one I was attempting to locate when we met. He's called Steel."

The man's grip was vicelike, and seemed to be sapping the warmth from Gambit's bones. "I'd never have guessed," he quipped, flashing Steel a humourless smile that lasted a microsecond. "So, whose face did you nick?"

Steel frowned, although his expression was already so unfriendly it didn't make much of a difference, clearly bemused by the comment. The gray eyes flicked to Sapphire in search of an explanation.

"He has a friend," she provided, and Gambit noted that Steel's sour expression seemed to have no effect on her. "I used her as a template when I chose a form."

"I see." Steel's voice was crisp and clipped and unyielding, just like the rest of him. He regarded Gambit with what approached mild interest. "I trust her take was an improvement?"

"You know how it is," Gambit replied levelly, meeting the man's eyes and refusing to blink. "You can make a carbon copy, but it'll never live up to the original. Argh!" Steel's grip tightened, and Gambit felt the bones in his arm bend alarmingly.

"Steel." Sapphire's voice was soft but firm. "You gave your word you wouldn't hurt him."

"I agreed that it was better to bring him in alive, nothing more," Steel contradicted, but loosened his grip on Gambit's arm nonetheless. "He's a time traveller. He doesn't deserve our kindness."

"Ah, so she's told you about me," Gambit managed from between gritted teeth, resisting the urge to clutch at his wounded arm.

"Yes," Steel confirmed, looking him up and down. "I've never encountered a time traveller before. Speaking freely, I was expecting more."

"You're a real prize," Gambit muttered, looking to Sapphire and jerking his head at Steel. "Where'd you dredge him up?"

"I was assigned," Sapphire said simply, regarding the pair of them with more than a measure of serenity. She looked as though she was enjoying herself.

"That figures," Gambit said with little enthusiasm. "Well, if the two of you just came to stare, you've both had a good look. Now you can skip off to whatever you lot use for a pub and regale all the other time agents about your find."

"We plan to leave very soon," Sapphire confirmed. "But you are coming with us."

"Come again?" Gambit looked from one to the other in disbelief, before settling his attention on Sapphire. "Hang on, I'm not going anywhere. Not with you, definitely not with her."

"You don't have a choice," Steel said flatly. "You're a threat to the continuum, to the very fabric of time itself. Your...kind." He spat the word with disgust. "You cross centuries on a whim, burning holes in the corridors of time, admitting all manner of beings that were never meant to cross over into this universe."

"You fix them again, don't you?" Gambit defended. "Or at least that's what she said you do." He jerked his head at Sapphire. "Anyway, if I'd known I was letting...things...in, I would've stopped. I will stop. There, does that make you happy?"

"Whether I am happy or not matters very little," Steel told him. "But even if you were to keep your promise, it would matter very little. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, like you, all of them causing the same damage as you, creating endless holes that need mending."

"But if we could understand how it is you travel," Sapphire put in, moving to join them, "we might be able to put a stop to it."

Gambit set his jaw grimly. "So that's it. I'm a specimen. A lab rat, that your people can study, and use to capture the rest of us. Thanks, but no. I'd rather not have a part in a time traveller genocide."

Steel's hand tightened its grip, and this time his scream echoed around the walls of his flat. When he opened his eyes again, Sapphire was standing very close. She reached out and stroked his cheek, her palm gliding smoothly over his flesh.

"We were betrayed," she told him, blue eyes drawing him in. "Someone, higher up, trapped us. They wanted us out of the way. We cannot return without something that will make it impossible for them to dispose of us again."

Gambit nodded in understanding, jaw set grimly. "So I'm the bait, peace offering, bargaining chip—whatever you want to call it."

"Please understand," Sapphire said serenely, but there was just a touch of sadness in her voice. "If there was any other way..."

"You wouldn't use me to save your own hides," Gambit finished cynically. "I'm sure you have the best of intentions—"

A sudden knock at the door had them all whip round in surprise. "Gambit?" a voice called out cheerfully. "Are you in there?"

"Steed!" Gambit hissed, looking from one of his captors to the other. "Listen to me, you can take me, that's one thing. But don't you dare touch him, do you hear me? He has nothing to do with this."

More knocking. "Gambit?" The sounded worried now, and Mike knew he didn't have much time.

"Look, just push off and let me handle this. I'll get rid of him, and then we can finish this, but this isn't his fight. No one else needs to get hurt. Please."

Sapphire and Steel exchanged glances, and Gambit knew that there was some sort of unspoken communication going on between them. Suddenly, he felt the grip on his arm loosen. "We'll be watching," Steel warned, and disappeared without a trace.

Steed was beginning to wonder if his colleague was in trouble, and he should force Gambit's door, when it swung open and an almost painfully cheerful Mike Gambit was revealed.

"Hello, Steed," he greeted. "What brings you here?"

There was something off about Gambit's tone, but Steed couldn't be certain what it was. Until he knew, he wasn't going to show his hand. If someone was listening, it could very easily be the death of Gambit.

"Business, I'm afraid. Very minor, but it needs taking care of." He arched an inquiring eyebrow. "Do you mind if I come in? I'd rather not discuss it in the corridor."

"Oh! Oh, yes, of course." Gambit looked both chastened and reluctant, but stepped aside to admit Steed. The instant he crossed the threshold, Steed discovered that he wasn't Steed's only visitor.

"Purdey!" he exclaimed. "I didn't know you were here."

Gambit, closing the door behind him, stiffened and whirled round. "What-?" he began in surprise, then stopped when he followed Steed's eyeline.

The leggy blonde was seated on Gambit's couch, but she rose when Steed saw her, and moved to join him. She was clad in a figure-hugging, knee-length dress.

It was blue.

"Gambit, why didn't you tell me Purdey was here?" Steed wanted to know, as Gambit moved hurriedly to where he stood, as though racing Purdey to the finish line.

"It, uh, hadn't occurred to me," Gambit said vaguely, meeting Purdey's eyes as though he were trying to convey some message to her telepathically. Purdey stared back, gaze unwavering.

Steed looked from one to the other in bemusement. "Have I interrupted something?" he hazarded.

"No," Purdey asserted, and there was something slightly off about the timbre of her voice, just as there had been about Gambit's, though not in the same way. "I just dropped in." She said it as though she were challenging Gambit and Steed to disagree, though Steed didn't have the foggiest idea why. "Didn't I, Gambit?"

"Yeah. Hoping I'd take her to lunch," Gambit replied, and when Steed looked at him, that same odd, taut smile was on his face as it had been when he'd answered the door. "You know Purdey. Always looking for a meal, especially if she can get someone else to pay for it."

Purdey chuckled at that, but there was something eerie about the sound. It seemed to echo on long after it should have died away. "He's proving very stubborn this time, though," she commented.

"Well, I've built up a few reserves over the years," Gambit replied. "Anyway, Steed, what was it you needed to tell me about?"

Steed was distracted. Aside from the laugh and the voice, there was something strange about Purdey's eyes, too. They seemed to be a deeper blue than he remembered. "Hmm? Oh, yes of course." He tore his gaze away from Purdey's visage and refocused on Gambit. "McKay wants us present when they interrogate Collins. I don't think it's strictly necessary, but he insists. He's in one of his particularly stubborn moods."

"Well, we'll to do it then, won't we? Because the only person I know who's more bloodyminded than you is McKay." Gambit's eyes twinkled with a little of their usual spark at that, and Steed relaxed. Maybe he was imagining all the tension between them.

"Even I'm not foolish enough to argue against that," Steed quipped back. "It'll mean coming in on a Saturday, I'm afraid."

Gambit sighed theatrically. "I'm sure we'll survive somehow. But I'll need to feed Purdey first if we're going to survive 'til then."

Steed chuckled as Gambit started to see him to the door. "I won't keep you, then. I'll see you Saturday. Good-bye, Purdey."

Purdey smiled. "Good-bye, Steed."

Only when the door was closed, and Steed's footsteps had retreated, did Gambit turn away from the door. Just in time to watch "Purdey" shimmer before him and turn into someone else entirely.

VVVV

As Steed was pulling away, he noticed a figure out of the corner of his eye, walking up to the front of Gambit's building. When he turned to look at it full-on, he realised it was Purdey, a silhouette he'd recognise anywhere. Only it wasn't Purdey as he'd just seen her. This was another Purdey, wearing a completely different dress, and quite clearly only entering the building now. There was no way she would have been able to get all the way back down to the street level so quickly, not without passing him along the way, and he would have noticed. But if that was Purdey pushing the door to the building open, who was up in the flat with Gambit...?

Steed swung the car round and cursed when he realised he'd have to go around the block before he could park again. Something was very wrong here, and he was going to get to the bottom of it, come hell or high water. He only hoped he wasn't too late...