This story copyright © 2003 Mia McCroskey

Characters from The Avengers and other sources are the property of their respective owners.

Steed gives a gift

Emma struggles with choices

“One should never take a man for granted, but one does,” Emma said, reaching under the piano bench to retrieve her small white suitcase. She grinned at Steed as he gestured for her to precede him to her apartment door. She spent only a moment thinking about how all those flowers would be wilted by the time she returned. It didn’t matter – a weekend in Paris with Steed was far more important.

Steed watched her climb the stairs onto the airplane ahead of him and thought about the other body she’d briefly inhabited. Certainly Lola had lacked Emma’s beauty and grace, just as Basil’s body had felt awkward to him. But he’d found himself powerfully attracted to her, even in that other form. Which, he believed, only reinforced the depth of his affection for Emma. He was willing to admit that her physical appearance was important to him, but he would love her in any form. If only he could tell her.

The flight was uneventful and they were soon exiting the taxi outside of the posh, discrete hotel where he’d booked them a two-bedroom suite. A silly precaution, but appearances did matter in the society where they both circulated.

“Dinner reservations are for nine,” he said when the porter had left them. Emma had drawn open the curtains to look out at the street. “What would you like to do until then?”

“This is Paris, Steed. Walk. Drink wine. Walk some more,” she stepped closer to him as she spoke. As if reading from his mind his idea for the intervening hours, she twined her arms around him and smiled into his hooded eyes. “That,” she said, “will come later.”

He smiled in defeat and satisfied himself with holding her close for a moment and then kissing her – a clear declaration of his ungentlemanly intentions. She returned the kiss with enthusiasm, but broke it off just before he was thinking he should press his case after all.

“Come on,” she said, pulling free of him and taking his hand to lead him to the door. He followed, a happy little smile curling the corners of his mouth.

They walked and drank wine at a sidewalk cafe and walked some more, looking in the windows of shops that they could easily afford, but not stopping to shop. They watched children riding a carousel in a park, attentive parents looking on and calling out encouragement to the timid ones. Emma slipped her hand into Steed’s and he felt himself stiffen. Children were the subject of subtle teasing between them, never, ever a serious topic. Sensing his discomfort, Emma pulled him away and they walked more, dodging the deposits left by Parisian dogs.

They returned to their hotel to bathe and change for supper at a favorite restaurant in Monmartre. Steed marveled at how Emma had simply known to bring a perfectly appropriate dress. But then, he frequently marveled at how well she seemed to know him and to anticipate his actions. What will I do without her? He thought, and realized that he had come to accept the inevitable. She was going to leave him. Maybe not right away, but soon. The look on her face in the park as they watched the children had repeated the silent message he’d been hearing for a few weeks now. She was growing restless. She wanted more, and she knew he could never give it. He suspected that she only stayed with him because of the work – because she was addicted to the intrigue, adventure, and danger. For a while now he’d believed that if he could fill their lives with it that he could keep her. But the grim truth was finally sinking in. She wanted a husband and a family. He was not the marrying type. Or am I?

When they were ready to go Steed took a flat, square box from his bag and held it behind his back as he approached her.

“What do you have behind your back, Steed?” She asked, since it was clear he wanted her to.

“Pick an arm,” he said. Smiling, she tapped his left arm. He handed her the box. “Happy birthday Emma,” he said. My love.

She looked at him, her mouth quivering with unspoken words, and took the box. “The trip was enough, Steed – certainly enough to outstrip all the flowers from the others.”

Steed felt himself bristle at being included among all of the agents who’d sent her the flowers for her birthday. Then he caught her wry smile and knew she’d been baiting him.

“Open it,” he prompted with a nod. She opened the hinged jewelry box with both hands and sucked in an appreciative breath.

“It’s beautiful, John,” she whispered, stroking the three sparkling rubies with one finger. They were set simply in platinum on a platinum chain. He thought the elegant necklace suited her perfectly.

“Will you wear it?” he asked. Smiling at him, she lifted the chain from the box and handed it to him to fasten around her neck. She went to the mirror by the door to examine herself and he followed.

“Thank you, John,” she said, looking at his reflection in the mirror beside hers. He put his hands on her shoulders and bent his head to kiss her neck where the chain rested on it. “I love it,” she added, stroking the stones again.

“I’m glad,” he whispered into her ear, knowing his breath made her skin tingle. If only such gifts would bind her to him. But he knew he would be unhappy if they did. Emma could not be bought.

Dinner was as fine as ever, and they drifted through Paris’s dusky streets afterwards, strolling to counter the effects of the rich food. His hand found hers as they paused at the apex of one of the bridges crossing the Seine.

“One shouldn’t take a man for granted,” she repeated softly, turning to face him and placing her other hand on his lapel. “But I’m terribly glad that I can,” she added, raising her eyes to his. He felt his head bending to hers and did not stop himself. Her lips were soft and moist, her breath scented with the cognac they’d sipped after dinner. I’m wrong. She’s mine. She’s not leaving me.

“Let’s go back,” he said and she nodded ever so slightly.

In their sitting room he slipped his arms back around her and found the top of the zipper on her dress. She put her arms around him inside of his jacket, one caressing his buttocks, the other exploring the ridges of his spine. He unzipped her dress and easily unhooked her brassier while she pressed herself against him in a delightfully suggestive manner.

He undressed her, all except for the necklace, then allowed her to undress him, exchanging impatient kisses and caresses all the while. Stretched out on the crisp white sheets of his bed, she took his hand and kissed his fingers one by one, then pressed it to her chest over her heart. He felt her pulse, quick and strong beneath his hand.

“Emma,” he whispered, unsure what he was going to say, but desperate to express how he felt before it was too late.

“Shhhh,” she whispered, rising up to straddle him, her fingers of one hand on his lips, the other over his heart. Don’t say it, not now darling. Please not now. She moved over him, felt his genitals stir beneath her. She shuddered with tingling anticipation, bending to kiss his lips and his throat, then his small, hard nipples. Once she had been desperate to hear him tell her he loved her. But he never had, and she’d come to understand that what was unspoken was more deeply felt than any casual declaration. So she’d played by his rules, always cool, always discrete, and so passionate in their private moments that she frequently spent whole days in her own bed recovering from the blissful hours in his.

He wrapped his arms around her and drew her down against his chest, covering her face with searching kisses. She stretched her legs out along his, letting him support her full weight until he rolled her into a side-by-side embrace. She ran her hands up and down his back and enjoyed the warmth of his skin against hers. In these moments, when he was tender and loving, giving her everything, taking all she offered, she knew that she would always love him.

But love – Steed’s brand of love – would not support a long-term relationship. She’d know it when it began more than two years ago, and she’d never tried to convince herself that it could be any different with him. He was a spy, would always be a spy, and when she tired of being one too it would be up to her to end it.

But she had not expected the conflict she had begun to feel these last few weeks. She was not tired of being a spy, but she was beginning to need more. Commitment, a more traditional life, a family. She knew, rationally, that she could not combine all of these things. And she knew she could not ask them of Steed.

And so in recent weeks she had begun forcing herself to think of each night with Steed as their last. As an exercise. And each morning the pain as she thought about being without him was a little easier to bear.

She gasped as he rolled her onto her back and entered her with short strokes designed to stimulate her most intimate places. They worked, as always. She drew her legs up to his sides, tightening her abdominal muscles to curl herself toward him. He thrust deeper, a little moan escaping his throat through parted lips. She reached up and pulled his face down to hers, consuming his mouth so demandingly he stopped moving within her.

Don’t say it now, John. Not now.

Eventually, in a few weeks, or maybe even a few months, she’d be able to do it. She would end their partnership, and walk away in search of a new life. She’d leave London. Leave England. It would have to be a long time before she returned, if the parting was to be final. She needed to begin planning.

She released his mouth at last as she felt him move sharply within her. Her own loins surged with a fiery orgasm and Steed felt it, thrusting faster and harder as she clutched at him. He would make her come again before he was done, they both knew it. She sucked in a long, deep breath and slid her hands along his back to squeeze his buttocks. He lifted himself up, hands on either side of her head, and ground into her, his face filled with a combination of pleasure and concentration. Their eyes locked.

“Stay with me, Emma,” he whispered, his thrusts increasing in speed and urgency.

“I’m with you, John,” she replied, contracting internal muscles to squeeze him as he thrust. She closed her eyes and felt her body explode beneath him again as his own orgasm wracked him. He shook his head sharply in a trembling shudder, then sucked in a breath and pressed into her once more. She squeezed again, feeling him already shrinking within her. He held himself up for a moment longer as he breathed deeply. Then he lowered himself, staying inside of her, pressing his face to her neck. She slipped her fingers into the hair at the back of his neck and sighed contentedly.

“I’m with you,” she repeated, hating herself for intentionally misunderstanding. He knows. He must. But if we cannot talk of love, then we will not talk of leaving.

“Emma Peel,” Emma wedged the telephone receiver between her head and shoulder as she rotated the chess board and looked again at the notes in an open magazine on the table.

“Emma? It’s Paul Croft.”

“Paul!” Emma sat up and took the receiver in hand, chess game forgotten. “Where are you? I mean, are you in England?”

“No, but I soon will be. I’m coming home.”

“Paul, that’s wonderful. When?”

“Next Thursday. I was hoping to see you – I’m reluctant to admit that I’m a bit apprehensive about fitting in again. Will you help me?”

“But of course, Paul. You can count on me. Now give me the details. You must be flying in. I’ll meet your flight.”

Emma jotted down the details of her old friend’s itinerary and they rang off before the long distance charges mounted too high. Then she went to a bookcase and took out a large hand-bound album. She settled back in on the sofa and began paging through the scrapbook.

Some time later her doorbell ringing drew her back to the present. She got up and opened it just as Steed was about to buzz again.

“Good evening Mrs. Peel,” he said cheerfully, strolling into her apartment without pausing to be invited. She shut the door and followed him in. “I’ve come round to take you to dinner, if you’re willing,” he said, setting his hat and umbrella on a side table and noticing the open scrapbook on the sofa. “What’s this, then?” he asked.

Emma returned to the sofa, sitting down and pulling the book into her lap. Steed sat down beside her. “I had a call a while ago. An old friend of mine is returning to England after years in the foreign service. Major Paul Croft,” she explained.

Steed nodded, looking at a photograph mounted next to a handful of dried daisies. Two youngsters hung by the knees from the limbs of an apple tree, one with long hair dangling beneath her head. Steed smiled.

“This is him?” he asked, pointing to the other youngster. Emma nodded.

“We were rather a wild pair, I suppose,” she said, turning the pages. “Although I don’t remember it that way.”

Steed studied the pictures and memorabilia as she paused on each page. Glancing at her face he could see great affection. A pang of envy shot through him. How he wished he’d met her earlier in both their lives. How different things might have been. He forced himself to ask her questions about her old friend, and gradually grew interested in the answers. It seemed that Paul had made a name for himself in the service. Emma was already speculating about what he’d turn to next. It made Steed feel just a little sorry for the man – she might well have plotted out the next stage of his career by the time he landed.

In a way Emma did spend the next week thinking about her old friend’s future. But it was in the context of her own. Paul was, remarkably, still single. He was a gentleman and a gentle man, fond of horses and a simple life. And she had always been very fond of him. Never mind that he lacked the wild streak that had attracted her to Peter Peel, or Steed’s dashing charm. She could make a life with Paul. A normal life. As the day of his arrival approached she grew more excited at the possibility of setting a course for her future.

And somehow knowing that Paul would soon be back in her life made it easier to think of Steed differently. He was slowly but surely slipping into the realm of friend, albeit very good friend. But then, in the middle of the night before Paul’s return, she awakened to feel of Steed’s breath on her neck and his arm around her. This was new, this contact while sleeping. He was holding on to her in every way he could, and her heart broke at the idea of rejecting that grasp. She rolled over to face him, her lips seeking his so that he stirred in his sleep. He kissed back without waking and she slipped her arm around him, pressing her face into the pillows to blot the uncontrollable tears that were sliding down her cheeks.

“Paul,” Emma whispered, swallowing hard as she looked at the corpse of her dear friend. She had to turn away. Her heart, so hopeful and open to him since he’d stepped off of the airplane that morning, hardened into a solid lump. Her actions after that were almost mechanical, fighting the residents of Little Storping, resisting their water torture for as long as she could. What did it all matter anyway? Paul was dead.

But her survival instincts were finely honed. They wouldn’t let her make any more sacrifices today. When the villagers offered her the chance of a phone call, she automatically contacted the only person she could always depend on. When they’d hung up she was confident that Steed would come. And she was miserable at the notion that she had been thinking of leaving him.

At first Steed had thought it a bit of a lark when she left the helmet on for the drive home. He’d insisted on driving her, promising that someone from the ministry investigation team would bring her car home later. As they rode silently along he realized that she was wearing it to conceal her tears. Her need to hide her feelings saddened him. He had realized how fond she was of Paul Croft – it had sparked the usual flash of jealousy that he had squelched out of habit. She was his Emma. This Paul was only a friend. A good friend. Of course she was grieving over his death. He wished that she would let him comfort her. But the helmet stayed on, the visor down, as she thanked him for the ride and promised to call him tomorrow before the ambassador’s party.

“My knight in shining armor,” Emma said, giggling. “Here, have a drink.”

“Don’t be difficult, Mrs. Peel,” Steed said, spitting out the straw that she’d poked through the helmet visor. She giggled again and turned to his tray of tools.

“What did you use to get it off of me, exactly,” she asked. Steed lifted the visor so that he could see.

“The big screwdriver,” he said. Her hand hovered over it, then landed instead on the can opener. “That could cut me, Mrs. Peel.”

“Yes,” she drawled, studying the helmet’s closure.

“I should hate to bleed on this suit,” he added, sounding a bit nervous. She tapped the helmet with the can opener. “Ouch! That’s rather loud in here!”

Out of his line of vision, she grinned mischievously. How I adore him, she thought as she put down the can opener and pressed the spot on the side of the helmet that released the hinge. She had discovered it shortly after arriving home with it on. She had only put it back on outside Steed’s door as a joke. She was sure he didn’t really think she’d been wearing since yesterday.

“Ah,” Steed inhaled a breath of freedom as she lifted it off of his head. “Thank you my dear.”

“I think I like you much better this way,” she said, stroking his bare cheek. He smiled, his cool grey eyes probing hers for a moment, then he caressed her cheek and leaned close to kiss her lightly.

“No knight? Just a man?” he asked. She nodded, eyes locked with his.

“My man,” she said almost wistfully.

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