Where a Man's Got to Work Out Which Side He's On

Disclaimer: I don't own The Avengers, or any of its associated characters. They belong to Canal+ (Image) International. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended. See the end of the story for further disclaimers.

Timeline: Early 1962, Dr. King era.

Author's Note: This was inspired by a comment by Frankymole on The Avengers International Fan Forum. It gave me a fic idea, so I ran with it. Thanks, Franky! Just a bit of Avengers noir from the show's grittier days.

And yes, the title is a lyric from Tony Christie's "Avenues and Alleyways," even though I have yet to watch The Protectors.

I don't own The Avengers, or any of its associated characters. They belong to Canal+ (Image) International. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended. See the end of the story for further disclaimers.

Dr. Martin King froze mid-stride when he heard the first groan, but it was only when he stopped, listened, and heard the second that he could be certain his imagination wasn't playing tricks. He glanced around, searching for the source. The third groan emanated, quite clearly, from the alley a little ways ahead and to his right, and he crept forward cautiously to peer around the corner. It was early evening, and therefore dark, even at this time of year, but the streetlight illuminated the brick corridor just enough for him to make out a pair of legs sprawled untidily on the ground.

King's ever-present physician's instinct kicked in, and his first thought was to hurry to the aid of a fellow human being in distress. However, his association with Steed had forced him to start exercising a measure of restraint in these sorts of situations. Instinct told him that the moment he'd come into contact with the undercover man, he'd instantly appeared on the radar of some unsavoury sorts, the type who wouldn't care if King's spy work came second to his day job. Whoever was in the alley wouldn't be the first poor sod to be beaten and mugged in this city, but he also wouldn't be the first to play hurt in order to act as a lure to draw in a potential mugging victim, either. Given where he was heading tonight, King couldn't rule out the possibility of a trap, but he also couldn't walk away from the scene in good conscience. Gripping his bag a little more tightly, just in case he needed to use it to hurt rather than heal, he stepped cautiously into the alley, eyes and ears open for anything suspicious.

He picked his way around the rubbish bins and the assorted bits of detritus whose origins he didn't particularly care to know. At one point, something dark darted across his path, but the eyes glowing yellow in the night told him it was nothing more than a stray cat. As it was, he made it to the pair of sprawled legs without incident. "Hello?" he ventured, and glimpsed some movement in the dark as a head snapped up. "Are you all right?"

The legs drew up hurriedly. "Who's there?" came a voice, hoarse and wary.

"It's all right," King assured. "I'm a doctor. I heard you as I was passing. Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine," the voice said stubbornly, but King's practiced ear could hear the pain in it. "Keep walking."

King frowned. He was used to reluctant patients, but they always grated a bit. "You're not," he said brusquely, knowing it was safe to disagree on that front. "And you'll stay that way without medical attention. Here, I've got a torch." He retrieved it from his pocket, where he'd started keeping it after his first 'adventure' with Steed. "I'll toss it over, and you can have a look at me. Then maybe you'll trust me enough to let me fix you up."

He threw it in the general direction of the other man's upper body, and, when he didn't hear it hit the ground, assumed he must have caught it. There was a pause, then a sudden bright beam of light upon his face. King raised a hand to shield his eyes, then lowered it when he realised that would rather defeat the purpose of giving it to the man in the first place. He squinted at the figure holding it, but couldn't make out much more than a dim outline beyond the glare.

There was a long moment while the other man considered his offer, and King began to wonder whether he'd have to wrestle his would-be patient into a surgery, but then the beam dipped, and a long, resigned sigh emanated from the darkness. "Okay," said the voice. "Suppose you can't do much more damage."

King let out an impatient snort, and strode over to the other man, taking the torch and pointing it at his new patient. For the first time he saw him properly, and was mildly surprised. He was a man, but just barely. Back propped up against the wall, he was tall and lanky, no more than nineteen or twenty, with jet black, wavy hair cut short. Between the hair and his clothes, King quickly inferred that he was a sailor, probably on shore leave. The voice had sounded older, but the face was definitely young. Or at least what he could see of it. Whoever had worked him over had taken pride in his work. One of his eyes was blackened and swollen, and there was bruising on his left cheek to accompany the bloodied nose and the split lip. He was clutching his right side, and King immediately made that his priority, kneeling in front of the man, oblivious to what the alley floor would do to the knees of his trousers.

"What kind of doctor are you?" the youth-King couldn't help thinking of him that way, regardless of how old he was-wanted to know, eyeing the doctor suspiciously.

"The licensed kind," King shot back, waggling his bag at him impatiently before setting it down and opening it. "Lucky for you, I've got my equipment with me."

"Handy," the youth muttered through clenched teeth. "On your way to a house call?"

"Something like that," King replied, already digging through the bag. He extracted a pair of surgical gloves and proceeded to tug them on. "Were you mugged?"

The youth laughed mirthlessly. "Would've been less painful."

"I don't follow," King said distractedly, tipping a bottle of alcohol onto a cloth.

"I did," came the reply. "I was minding my own business, when I saw three blokes and a girl come down here. Thought something didn't seem right, so I went after them…"

King pursed his lips, getting the picture. "And when you tried to stop them, they did this."

"You're quick. No wonder you got into med school."

"You don't need to be a doctor to work that one out." King nodded at the youth's hand. "Move that. I'm going to have a look."

The youth opened his mouth as if to protest, but then shut it again and did as he was told. King pulled the shirt from where it was tucked into his trousers, then took the torch from between his teeth and shone it on the exposed flesh. It glistened red with blood. King balanced the torch on the top of the bottle of alcohol, then looked to his patient. "This is going to hurt," he told him, brandishing his cloth.

The youth nodded and braced himself. King set to work.

He swore, rather appropriately, like a sailor as the cloth made contact with the wound. King worked quickly and efficiently, cleaning away the blood so he could get a better look at the injury in question. A thin, surfacey wound, King could tell it hadn't hit anything vital, though it had bled a lot.

"How's it look?" came the query, and King turned to fetch some lint and a plaster.

"I've seen worse."

The youth chanced a look. "So have I."

King smiled wryly. "I imagine you have, if you make a habit of taking odds of three-to-one."

"I wasn't doing too badly," the youth defended, as King affixed the lint over the wound with the plaster. "At least, not until one of them got the knife out. Once I started bleeding, they got scared and made a run for it."

"And the girl?"

"Got away when they laid into me." The youth closed his eyes tiredly. "Thankfully."

"You should be just as thankful you came out of it without organ damage," King opined, turning his attention to the youth's face. "The cut's very shallow. Treat it properly, and you might not need stitches." He cleared away the blood and inspected the bruising. "And neither will your face, I'm surprised to say."

The youth grinned, despite it setting the split in his lip bleeding once more. "You should see the other three."

"I wish I had," King lamented. "I'd have had them charged. Did you get a good look at any of them? I could take you to file a police report."

"No!" A hand gripped a handful of his jacket, hard. "Please," he pleaded. "My shore leave's up at midnight. I can't afford to be stuck in a police station all night. My captain'll throw me overboard first chance he gets."

"All right, all right," King soothed, and the younger man's grip loosened. "Relax. I won't get you into trouble."

"I didn't see anything, anyway," the youth added, the tension leaving his body. "Just the blokes and a knife. They're long gone by now. Just like I'll be in a few hours."

King nodded, repacking his bag. "Then I suggest you get yourself to bed, and rest as much as you can. Any sign of infection, see your ship's doctor, even if it means you get in trouble with the captain. Being thrown overboard won't matter much if you're flat on your back pumped full of antibiotics."

The youth nodded smartly. "Right. Thanks, doctor."

"Good." King got to his feet, offered a hand to the youth, helped him upright. "Can you find your way back to your ship? No head injuries, no disorientation?"

The youth put his hand back on his side, but he shook his head. "No, no, I'm okay. Just hope no one else needs my help on the way back." He offered a lopsided smile, and King felt a touch of admiration for him. He'd taken the beating while trying to help a complete stranger, simply because he thought it was the right thing to do. After all of the ne'er-do-wells that King had mixed with as late in Steed's company, that sort of selflessness was incredibly refreshing. It gave him hope for humanity.

"Listen, it's only an offer, but—" King pressed a card into the youth's hand. "—if you're ever in London, and you need help, go to this address. I promise I won't ask questions."

The youth looked genuinely surprised, and gratitude flickered across his features. King had a sudden sense that the boy hadn't received many offers born of genuine kindness in his short life. It made King suddenly, indescribably sad.

"Thanks," the youth said, and his face told King he meant it. "Dr., uh…" He consulted the card. "Dr. King. I'll remember that."

"See that you do, Mr…?" King extended his hand, and the youth hesitated a fraction of a second before he took it.

"Gambit," came the reply. "Mike Gambit."

"South London?" King hazarded, trying to place the accent.

There was a flicker of a smile. "Battersea. But not for awhile now."

King nodded, but didn't pry regarding where Gambit had been in the interim. "Well, take care of yourself, Mr. Gambit. Wherever you may be going."

"I'll try," Gambit said tiredly. "But I make a habit of this sort of thing." He shrugged apologetically and nodded at King's bag. "I'll let you go to your house call. Hope I haven't made you late."

King smiled wryly. "Oh, don't worry. He'll keep."

A quarter of an hour later, King entered a noisy, smoky pub. He scanned his surroundings for a moment before spotting a familiar figure seated at the bar. He made his way through the crush, and shouldered his way up beside a dark-haired man who was serenely blowing smoke rings, unaffected by the people chattering around him. At his elbow on the bar lay a bowler hat, an umbrella hooked onto the edge nearby. King set his bag on the bar beside him with a resounding thunk, and the dark-haired man turned and greeted him a beatific smile.

"Dr. King!" John Steed exclaimed cheerfully. "There you are. I was about to ring your surgery."

"I was delayed," King replied, rummaging in his bag. He hadn't been able to repack it properly in the dark of the alley, and he set about putting it back in order.

"Trouble?" Steed inquired, peering over the edge of the leather and catching sight of the bloodied gloves inside King's bag.

"Nothing to do with you," King retorted, snapping the bag closed with conviction. "For once."

Steed tsked. "My dear doctor, if you strike out on your own, you'll put me out of a job."

"Given the way trouble follows close on your heels wherever you go, I somehow doubt that," King said irascibly. "But it was worth it to be reminded that there are still decent people out there."

"As I've told you repeatedly, I'm on the side of the angels."

"Then I really must pay more attention in church."

Steed feigned hurt. "What's happened to your sunny disposition?"

"I had one before you came along," King shot back, settling onto the bar stool next to Steed's. "Now, what sort of nasty business do you have in store for me this time?"

Steed turned serious. He leaned forward conspiratorially. "It concerns a suspected arms dealer, only he's gone rather upmarket and gotten himself a location on the high street…" He pulled his face into an expression of exaggerated consternation. "Would you believe he's also a raving hypochondriac?"

King smiled tiredly. "Of course he is."


Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor any of the associated characters. They belong to The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.