This story copyright © 2004 Mia McCroskey
Characters from The Avengers and other sources are the property of their respective owners.
[an error occurred while processing this directive] people have read this story since April 2004
Steed looks for the true cross
Emma paints a swath
"Steed?" Emma Peel shut the front door to her partner's apartment and surveyed the sitting room from the top of the stairs. She was bold to come in without being invited, but he had given her a key, and she felt that their partnership -- admit it, Emma, you're in a full-blown relationship with the man -- was at a point where they could enjoy free access to one another's spaces. Besides, he might be in trouble and need her help. That's a convenient justification she smirked at herself.
There was evidence of a guest in the sitting room -- glasses on the coffee table, a dessert plate with a fork and some crumbs. Out of habit she gathered them to carry with her into the kitchen.
He was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of steaming coffee in front of him and a section of the morning paper in his hands. He was wearing his rich, deep red silk dressing gown over his equally rich dark blue silk pajamas. It was one o'clock in the afternoon.
"Good afternoon Mrs. Peel," he said pleasantly as she set the glasses and plate in the sink and poured herself a cup of coffee.
"So you do realize it's after noon, then?" she asked pointedly. "Honestly, Steed, carousing all night and sleeping until noon -- at your age!"
He cocked one eyebrow at her abusive words, although they had been delivered without malice in a chiding tone, as she pulled out the other chair and sat down.
"I have been up since eight o'clock this morning, Mrs. Peel," he said haughtily as he passed her a section of the newspaper folded with the crossword puzzle on top. She smiled warmly at him, teasing forgotten in the face of his thoughtfulness. How amazing that he knows me so well. She could not imagine Peter, her deceased husband, ever saving out the crossword for her -- and Steed hadn't even been expecting her. He'd just done it because she might turn up -- or perhaps because he hoped she would. As she looked across at him she felt a familiar rush of warmth beneath her stomach. The notion of his hard body loosely sheathed in the soft fabric of his pajamas and robe was intensely erotic. Everything about him as he relaxed at his kitchen table spoke of bed, of indolence, and of carnal pleasure. In the middle of a Thursday afternoon.
"I was awakened by the telephone," he added meaningfully, passing her a pencil.
"Oh?" she asked, averting her eyes from him as she set the pencil aside and opened her small handbag to remove a ballpoint pen. Don't think about his body.
"Show-off," he said, watching her pick up the crossword holding the pen ready. She cast him her best self-satisfied smile and filled in the answer to one across. "It was an invitation of sorts," he went on. "I hope you are available for the next few days."
"In fact, I'm not," she replied, disappointed that she had to deny him even if she tried not to show it, and annoyed with herself for placing his business so high in her priorities that she regretted missing it.
"But Mrs. Peel," he began to argue. She raised one eyebrow at him and he stopped.
"I stopped by to tell you: I have an invitation too," she explained. "A weekend junket."
"You too?" she asked, filling in six down before allowing herself to look at him again. She fought a random urge to get up and run her fingers through his uncombed hair by forcing herself to wonder why if he was awakened at eight a.m. he had not dressed himself by one.
"A cruise on Sir Hamilton Jones's private yacht," he said, watching her reaction. Her rueful smile confirmed his hope. For her part, Emma was not surprised at the coincidence. In her experience with Steed she had learned that there were no coincidences.
"And did you arrange for my invitation too?" she asked, although she'd received hers two days ago. He shook his head and from his expression she knew he had not.
"We received a tip last night," he said. "There is going to be an assassination on board Sir Hamilton's yacht this weekend."
"Is he the target?"
"We don't know."
"Why not have him cancel the cruise?"
"We want the assassin."
"More than you want to protect the victim?"
"Last year in Hungary an Sionnach -- ‘the fox' -- killed three cabinet ministers. He killed a Mexican senator two years ago and the Argentine minister for trade four years before that. An Sionnach is a master of disguise. Witnesses have described him as tall, medium height, fat, thin, balding, a redhead, bearded, and cleanshaven. Just about the only description not in the file is that of a woman. What we do know for sure is that he has a tattoo of a celtic cross on the inside of his left wrist. If he is successful this time, even if his target is a lesser personage, it will not reflect well on the ministry."
Emma looked back at her puzzle. "There are to be several notable guests," she said and he knew she did not include herself among them, although she probably should. He also knew that he could count on her assistance. He watched her concentrating on the crossword, or appearing to. Her milk and honey complexion glowed; her glossy auburn hair fell forward in a shimmering sheet from her slightly lowered head. She was avoiding his gaze and he hoped he knew why. They had been apart, both busy with their separate lives, for several days. He'd felt the tug of desire when he'd first heard her call his name. It was why he'd stayed in the kitchen and waited for her to find him -- if he'd met her at the door he would have had to struggle with his impulse to guide her right into the bedroom.
But now that pleasantries had been exchanged, that a plan for the next few days was laid, no matter how vague, he could allow himself to follow his body's whim. He hoped he was right that she shared his growing arousal.
He stood up and came around the table, reaching down to pull her to her feet as well. How can he read me so well? She wondered as she placed her hands on his warm, firm chest, making a show of resistance although her entire being wanted to melt into his arms.
"I have plans for the afternoon," she said, hearing how breathless she sounded and knowing there was no conviction in her protest. His hands slipped to her waist and he leaned close, his lips just brushing the delicate skin of her neck. "The dry cleaners. The framers," she said, all the while allowing her hands to slip around to his back and caress the hard muscles there. "The bank," she went on as his hands slid up her sides beneath the short, loose jacket she wore over her silk blouse, pausing tantalizingly near her breasts. "The chemists," she added, barely a whisper as she felt a familiar, delicious nudge against her belly.
"Finished?" he asked, his breath in her ear fanning the flames in her loins.
"Yes," she sighed. His eyes met hers, showing her his own desire coupled with amusement at her inability to resist. He tangled his fingers with hers and led her to the bedroom.
Having given in, she easily surrendered to her basest desires, opening his pajama top to stroke and kiss his warm flesh. He undressed her with equal enthusiasm, dropping her shed garments to the floor in a tangle with his own so that soon they were gloriously naked, limbs intertwined beneath the sheets of his previously unmade bed. They reveled in the illicitness of their mid-day encounter, gasping with pleasure as fingers, lips, and even toes incited sparks of excitement that coursed through their bodies. Their joining was as indolent as Steed's appearance in the kitchen had seemed to Emma. They enticed each other slowly from warm, burning need to a conflagration of desire. Rolling across the bed, first one on top, then the other, they consumed each other, filled each other, and, ultimately, became one magnificent, blazing being for a moment before sliding into mindless, sated repose.
"You're an addiction," Emma said after a while. She lay molded to him, one of her legs between his, her thigh draped across his beginning to cut off his circulation, although he didn't care. One of her arms lay possessively across his chest, the other was folded under herself. She lowered her face to press a kiss to his chest, then looked into his serene grey eyes. He smiled, stroking the delicious curve of her lower back with one hand and playing with a lock of her hair with the other. He felt content, whole, at peace with the world with her there in his arms. It was a delicious sensation he'd only known since becoming her lover. He was still not accustomed to it. It made him feel like the luckiest man alive.
"One could develop worse bad habits," he said. She scooted up his body a few inches -- just enough to kiss his lips. He kissed back, cupping the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her hair. He felt himself smiling against her mouth: she wouldn't be leaving anytime soon, not, in any case, before they made love again.
"You had company last night," she said, abruptly distracting him from his plans for the next hour or so. He peered at her through hooded eyes, wondering if she could possibly think he'd been with another woman. No, she would not be in my bed now if she did. They had never spoken of monogamy, but that didn't make it any less expected. It was another sensation he had never known before -- such fulfillment with her that he rarely desired another woman and easily ignored it when he did simply by comparing the other woman to his glowing mental image of Emma.
"An old friend -- Kevin Wykoff. He's with the Foreign Service posted to Egypt. He's only in London for a few days," he explained, realizing that he sounded like he was making excuses.
"You enjoyed catching up," she said, guessing that at least some of his good mood had to do with the previous evening. He closed his eyes and pictured his old friend, his long, animated arms and legs leading his whole body in gestures and imitations as he related his tales of life in the Middle East. Kevin had a unique ability to draw Steed out, and he'd learned more about Steed's feelings for Emma than anyone else had -- including the lady in question -- since the partnership had begun. Steed was selfishly glad that Kevin was going back to Egypt this evening.
"Yes," he said, realizing that much as he preferred to conceal his feelings toward Emma -- for his safety and hers -- he had enjoyed sharing just a little bit about them with someone he could trust.
"Reminiscing? Remembering wild days and nights abroad?" she prodded. He opened his eyes to look into hers, surprised at her persistence. She's jealous at having been left out, he realized with a start. It was too tempting to let lie.
"And in school, yes. We had some good times, Kevin and I," he mussed, adopting a singularly pleased smile that he knew would drive her mad with curiosity. But his strategy backfired as she prompted him for first one story, then another, until he became enthusiastic about telling them. Before he knew it another hour had passed and she was stretching her feet toward the floor where her clothing lay. He reached for her, never intending to give up making love in favor of telling stories.
"The dry cleaners, Steed," she said, sounding far more determined now than she had earlier. "The bank, and the framers."
She was on her feet, bending to gather up her clothes and his pajamas. He flopped back with a disappointed sigh, watching her sort out her clothes from his.
"What time shall I pick you up to meet the boat?" he asked.
"I think my date might object," she said.
"Your date?" He pulled himself up in bed, his expression growing remarkably stormy all of a sudden.
"Sir Hamilton," she said, watching him closely. She knew that once his initial annoyance at being jilted a second time for the same weekend passed he would see the advantages to the arrangement. Often enough they had to work at finding separate routes to infiltrate an organization. "He likes my paintings," she added, just to irritate her lover. Steed's annoyed expression turned into a smirk and he lay back again. Having laid her clothes over her arm and left his on the bed, she turned toward the bathroom.
"That's hardly enough to build a friendship on," he called out as she shut the bathroom door.
When she came out fully dressed she found him at his writing desk wrapped in his dressing gown studying a file with Sir Hamilton's picture clipped to it. He had combed his hair, but she supposed he was waiting to shower before finally getting dressed. Sensing he was still a bit out of sorts, no matter how misplaced his emotional response was, she placed her hands on his shoulders and put her face next to his.
"It is, you know -- enough to build a friendship on. But you and I are far more than friends, Steed. For what we have one must start with a great deal more than similar tastes in art. In fact, that doesn't seem to be necessary at all!"
He grinned, turning his head to press his lips to her cheek. He was, after all, her resilient John Steed.
"I'll see you on the boat," she said, returning his kiss, then making her escape before he could try again to convince her to stay.