The Paint Gun
  by Mona Morstein

Author's warning: Mona Morstein adamantly states that any reader MUST be over 18 years old to read her stories and if someone DOES read her story they are agreeing to that point and ARE over 18. If you ARE over 18, ENJOY; if you are NOT, then
other authors have stories you can read and enjoy.


Chapter One

She shot Steed. She shot him. A small blotch of red burst forth on his right chest, on his fine expensive suit. Stumbling backwards to the wall of the balcony, he cast Emma a look of horrific confusion and shock and toppled over it, falling to the concrete porch below.

She laughed, drunk on wine, surrounded by chuckling friends who applauded Steed's dramatic acting and his athletic grace, to take being shot with a paint gun to such an extreme.

Afterward, when questioned by Gambit about the man who had brought it to the party, no one had known who he was, no one had ever seen him before, but he had fit in so well. Friendly, jolly, like he had been a close friend for years. He was well-dressed, and wore thin black gloves for some reason that no one bothered to enquire about. There was very light security; people were admitted who had invitations, but occasionally they brought others with them. It was, after all, Steed and Emma's sixth anniversary and the kids were at her cousin's. When things turned silly due to an en masse over-imbibing of alcohol, in the drawing room upstairs the man had pulled out of his the briefcase he carried a paint gun, which they had heard of but never seen. They were all childishly enchanted. Emma allowed the man to shoot a vase --she had a whole team of cleaners scheduled to come the next day to address the debauchery of the party. Splat! A round red mark of paint disfigured the fine white ceramic vase.

They passed the gun to each other one by one, and then Gloria Wimble, Emma's oldest and dearest friend, whispered in Emma's ear to shoot her husband John, just to see his face when red paint erupted on his finely tailored suit, cut to superbly outline his lean form. Gloria later reported through her tears that the man had told her to tell Emma to do that.

A nodding Emma agreed. She could never pass up an opportunity to poke gentle fun at her easy-going, long-suffering husband's expense. The man gave Emma the second of the two exactly similar guns he had, as the first one he had shot was now out of cartridges, he reported.

Emma, smirking in juvenile mischief mode, egged on by those around her, a bit woozy from alcohol, snickered and raised the paint gun aiming at her handsome husband's broad back.

No one had seen the man slip away at that moment. But, he had, silently slinking out of the room, toting his briefcase under his arm.

Emma saw her husband through the open glass doors leaning over the top of the marble railing wall. He was talking with someone fifteen feet below on the porch. As she leveled the wide barrel with her outstretched arm, he stiffened up a little as if his danger sense alerted him to a real weapon being aimed at him. Emma supposed that Steed was getting sensitive enough that even fake weapons pointed at him made his neck hairs tingle. Slowly and deliberately he turned around.

"Don't move, Steed. I've got you covered," Emma ordered, in her best police voice.
The gun did not look real. The enlarged barrel and other parts gave it away.
"A paint gun?" Steed asked, taking a step forward, his eyes squinting questioningly. "That's odd, it's setting off my--"
"Don't move! Not a step!" Emma interrupted more forcefully, giggling.
A brief flurry of emotions ran around Steed's face until he settled on a trusting smile. He put his wine glass down on the low wall and raised his hands. "Don't shoot. I'm innocent."
"Innocent? You?" Emma and her cohorts exploded into laughter. "Of what? Doing the laundry?" Another round of hearty laughs.
"Look," Steed said smiling, "please don't shoot the suit. It's my best blue suit."
"The better to get you out of it, so I can do a thorough search of you," Emma said, adding, seductively, "very thorough." A chorus of "Oooh!"s twitted out of the people around her. Such a risqué thing to say!
"Well, in that case," Steed drawled, narrowing his eyes lustfully, "have at it."

She cocked back the hammer and going over it a million times later --as she sat beside his hospital bed, praying constantly for Steed to survive-- she remembered the reality of what she really hadn't processed seriously through her drunken haze at the time. That at that moment of the hammer's click into place Steed's playful mien had vanished, turning momentarily blank as it did when he was processing those extrasensory signals of danger he could feel more and more easily as he aged, and then his face opened wide into a look of raw fear.

"Emma! Don't--!" he started to yell, when she pulled the trigger and the gun fired.
"Steed and his suits," someone joked beside her.

There was a quiet puff, and more of a kick than Emma would have expected from the paint gun. Steed, what an actor he was. He flung himself backwards clutching at the railing wall, his knees even shaking a little. Then, that look he had sent her --"Masterful!" someone called out, applauding-- before he dipped over the edge and fell to the porch below. Everyone clapped then, and patting Emma on her back, told her how wonderful a chap Steed was. Always could take a joke, Steed could. And to flip over the edge; what an athlete at his age!

Only there were screams from below and for some reason Emma developed a horrible sensation inside her. She went numb for a moment, and then tingled as if she wore a gown of needles.

A voice came up to them from the porch as they moved through the doors to the railing to lean over and compliment Steed. There was some spots of red on the marble wall, and someone laughed at the paint, touched it and circled it on her husband's cheeks like a clown blushing. Later, that man would spend half an hour washing his face cleaner and cleaner.

"Steed! My God! What happened! Steed!" cried the voice. It was Purdey's.
They all looked over the railing. Steed was lying on his back, coughing up blood, squirming on the patio, fighting for breath, panicking and reaching for Purdey, trying to speak, but unable to. Purdey and Dr. Kitchener were undressing him and Emma could see in the late afternoon sun as they opened up his waistcoat and shirt there, in the middle of his right chest, a little hole trickling blood. Purdey and the doctor leaned him over to fully disrobe his upper body and Emma saw a great deal more blood spilling out of Steed's back, as Purdey covered it with a handkerchief, holding onto Steed's hand.

Emma was in a daze. The paint gun was still in her hand when Gambit burst into the room, both hands on his handgun, searching for the shooter.
"No one move! Hands up!" he shouted.
Emma turned to him and held up the gun, and he stared at her, total bafflement on his face. "Emma…?" he asked.
She couldn't talk for a few seconds.
Beside her Gloria said, "It was a joke."
Emma spoke slowly, "It's a paint gun." Gambit came and took it from her, examined it and sniffed the barrel.
"It's a real gun, with a silencer, made up to look like a paint gun, and… it's shot Steed."

The truth suddenly hit Emma like a fist in her gut. They weren't play-acting on the porch. Steed really was shot. She had shot Steed. It had been a real gun disguised as a paint gun, and a real bullet had ripped through his chest to exit out his back. Her alcoholic daze disappeared in a flash and muffling a scream, she tore from the room and ran downstairs, flying out the back of their house onto the porch.
"He can't breathe. We've got to get him to a hospital now. The bullet on one side; multiple broken ribs on the other, and possibly one of those entered his other lung. He's losing too much blood!" Dr. Kitchener said, as he and Purdey worked on Steed.
Emma went hysterical. She yelled out "Steed! Steed!" and had to be held back by people to keep her from diving onto her husband; they told her to let them work on him. Steed was fading away and Purdey kept screaming at him, "Stay awake, Steed! Fight! Stay awake!"

Emma elbowed someone in the throat and ignoring his choked gag, yelled, "Let me go to Steed!" She ran to his side as a car appeared on the back lawn. Steed was lifted up and placed onto the back seat. There was no time to wait for an ambulance to arrive. Purdey and the doctor crowded into the back whilst Emma dived into the front, not noticing who was driving. Gambit stayed behind to begin an investigation into what the hell had happened.

Emma leaned over the seat and grabbed one of Steed's hands, holding it tightly. Steed's chest rose and fell erratically as it fought to get air inside him; blood kept bubbling out of his mouth, as he gurgled and wheezed constantly. Dr. Kitchener compressed his bullet wounds as much as possible while Purdey kept his torso elevated to aid his breathing, imploring him to fight to live.

"Steed! It was an accident! Oh my God! Steed! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Emma cried out.
She had shot Steed.

He wasn't aware of her words, of anything, as his body sagged more and more lifelessly on the car seat. It seemed like her life became a movie then, and all she could recollect were abrupt scene changes: Scene one-- arriving at the Ministry's secret, extensive country clinic, thankfully not far from their home; Scene two-- Steed's gurney disappearing behind swinging steel doors, his limp hand torn from hers; Scene three-- existing in the limbo of a waiting room; Scene four-- sitting by Steed's hospital bed.

She had come a little alert there. She was sitting by Steed's hospital bed, his Auntie Greta by her side. Purdey had gone home, her clothes stained sickeningly red. Emma had been there a long time.
She had shot Steed.

His long fall to the patio had broken five of his ribs on the left side of his chest, and one had pierced the lower lobe of his left lung, collapsing it. The bullet had collapsed the middle lobe of his right lung, and nicked an artery. How he had survived getting to the clinic the doctor couldn't explain; he had lost a great deal of blood. Just his excellent physical conditioning, the doctor supposed. Steed had survived thoracic surgery to sew up the lung and his bullet exit wound. Now, he lay on the bed, a ventilator tube --attached to a machine on the side of Steed's bed-- regularly and gently bringing air into and taking carbon dioxide out of his lungs. Thinner tubes stuck out of both the right and left sides of his chest, to help the collapsed lungs recover; they were taped tightly against his skin. There was a catheter tube inserted into his bladder. Another catheter was implanted into a large vein under his right collarbone with two ports attached to it. From them he was receiving blood and fluids, and morphine and Valium for pain and sedation. IV antibiotics were being put into him from a last tube in the back of his left hand. Electrodes on his chest recorded his heartbeat on a machine above his head.

She had shot Steed. The unknown man had fooled her. With 20/20 hindsight she reviewed over and over what in her slightly incoherent inebriation she had ignored. Steed had felt the truth of the weapon when it was first pointed at his back, but had ignored his sense of danger to trust instead that his loving wife would never actually endanger him. Yet, when the trigger had clicked back, the extrasensory fact of the extreme peril to him had elicited that reflexive cry of "Don't!", which she, like her friends, had misinterpreted as being associated with his sartorial fanaticism, all of them too caught up in the playful moment to take his warning seriously.

His loving wife had endangered him. Had almost killed him.
She had almost killed Steed.
Only those awful tubes kept him alive.

Yesterday, the morning of their anniversary, they had woken up and made love. Such sweet love. Such perfect love. To touch him, kiss him, have him over her, in her, adoring her, and her adoring him… oh, what a magnificent morning. She had gotten up then to deal with the kids, allowing Steed to shower first. When she came back in, she found him in his briefs standing in front of their full-length mirror examining his clean, trim, and muscular body. Now, Steed was a very vain man, but not to the extent of posing in front of a mirror nearly naked.
"What are you doing?" she asked, standing next to him.
He grinned in embarrassment, crossed his arms in front of him and turned away from the mirror. "Nothing. It's silly. Sorry. The bathroom's yours now."
"No, tell me," she said softly, well used to his need for encouragement to share something important about himself.

He smiled and reached for his trousers on the bed. Emma grabbed them first and hid them behind her back.
"Tell me or no trousers."
"That shan't go over well with the caterers," he joked. Then, he sighed and returned to studying his body in the mirror. "If you must know, I was merely… looking at my scars. So many of them. Too many. Too much pain. And, I was just, well, rejoicing a bit that from now on, I shall never receive another. I'll never be hurt again. Or have to hurt or kill anyone else. This is it. My body can rest from now on. This is all there will ever be. It's over. Done. I'm fifty-six. I survived."
Steed had resigned from active field work two days previously to their anniversary. It had been his gift to her for the occasion. The best gift possible.

Emma had no words for Steed's little speech; she simply threw herself into his arms. "No more pain," she finally said. "Only love."
"Only love," he whispered back, wrapping his arms tightly around her.
And that evening Emma had shot him. And he had fallen over the balcony wall.

They were searching the files of The Ministry for any of Steed's enemies that were out of gaol, who would not have been noticed entering their house by the two experienced Ministry agents whom the Ministry had demanded Steed allow watch for such threats to him, and who had fooled Emma into shooting her own husband. Who would have enjoyed such a devious and appalling trick.
They had no leads.

Emma would find that man and kill him herself if she had to. If the Ministry did not bring the man in themselves.
A blue gown covered Steed's body. A simple exchange of clothes for Steed-- Bond Street blue suit for Ministry clinic generic blue gown. A simple exchange of life for near death.
They had told her to go home. Emma had not gone home.

She had shot her husband. She would stay by his side. She didn't think she ate or drank anything, but maybe she did, though she didn't remember doing so. Yet, sometimes it seemed that there was less food on the tray the kindly nurse put in front of her when she picked it back up later to take it away. A few times she found herself responding to something Auntie Greta said, but she didn't know what words issued from her mouth. She knew time had passed but not by hours; just that it had grown dark outside, and then was light, and then was dark again.

Nurses came and went regularly, checking equipment, checking Steed, emptying things, changing things. They recorded information in his chart. A respiratory therapist examined Steed and the ventilator settings. Occasionally Dr. Harrison, Steed's internist for years, or Dr. Carlyle, a pulmonologist, came in, looking serious and grim. It all seemed like a bad novel to Emma, a fantasy. This couldn't be real, it could not have happened. But it had. It had. It had. She touched Steed's unconscious arm; she watched his chest rise and fall in response to the ventilator's directions; she saw the tubes keeping him alive.
It had.

This vital man, so energetic, so active, so healthy, who moved so gracefully, was so full of strength, stamina, vigor; her vital man lay connected helplessly to tubes, tubes that were the only thing keeping him alive. He would be dead without those tubes. Dead…
He still could die.

In the late morning of their anniversary, Emma watched Steed cradle five year old thick, curly haired Elly in his strong, confident arm, having her sit in front of him facing forward whilst he leapt them both over a couple of hedges on his young, eager bay; then he had done the same with tiny three year old Eddie, both children screaming their delight into the quiet air of summer, and begging to do it again and again. She never worried when Steed did that; she trusted his arms more than almost anything in the world --arms that held so tightly, but always so gently.
After the horse was stabled, Emma strode happily next to him as he carried Elly and Eddie in his arms, one per side, Elly just about too tall to be able to do that comfortably anymore. They hugged him firmly as he walked to the house, all three of them hungry for lunch. After the meal the children would be picked up by Emma's cousin Charlotte and taken to the London Zoo with her three children, and then driven back to her home at the edge of the Lake District. Their nanny had been given a couple of days off.

"I'm starving," Steed said, as they came through the front door.
"Me, too" Elly cried out.
"And me," added in their auburn haired Eddie.
"I think we should have fried rhinoceros steaks for lunch," Steed said. "With some camel soup."
"I just picked that up the other day," Emma casually mentioned.
"Rhinoceros!" Elly yelled, impressively pronouncing the word correctly. "Really?"
"Really?" Eddie asked, as well. He was in a curious stage where he religiously mimicked his relatives, and they all were good-natured enough to allow it.
"Sure. Why not?" Steed asked.
"Daddy, people don't eat rhinoceroses!" Elly declared.
"People don't eat them," Eddie repeated.
"I suppose some people might, sometimes."

Steed had been reading them books on animal names at night teaching them about various species. Emma noticed he was careful to not choose any animals for meals that would upset the children, such as monkeys, which they had thought very adorable creatures.
"People from Mars, maybe!" Elly said, having seen that planet through Emma's telescope as she proficiently learned the night sky constellations. "We're not from Mars. We're from Hertfordshire."
"True, however, I'm always willing to try Martian food," Steed said. "Besides, I think the animal lives in Africa."
"That's far enough away to be on Mars," Elly declared, rather astutely Emma and Steed thought as they passed bemused looks between them.
"But, I want a tuny fish sanwich," Eddie said. "Not rhinosos."
"Tuny fish is good, too," Steed agreed, as they entered the roomy, white kitchen. "But, one must experiment in life. Try new things. Why, just the other day I had raccoon tail for a snack."
"Raccoon tail?" Elly asked, anxious disgust suffusing her face.
"Yes, raccoon tail. But one wouldn't wish to eat an entire meal of it, as one can of rhinoceros or hippopotamus. It's a bit, well, bitter."
"I personally don't really like hippopotamus; too chewy," Emma said, opening up the refrigerator as Steed placed one child at a time in a chair, kissing each on the forehead as he released them from his fatherly clutches, and receiving a kiss back from both on his lips.
He stood up and faced Emma. "Well, that's because you haven't ever slowed cooked it for three days, as one must to render it delicious! With a touch of alfredo sauce on a bed of linguine… magnifico!"

"Oh, dear!" Emma said, moving things around here and there in the fridge.
"What is it?"
"The rhinoceros steak and camel soup. They're gone. I wonder if your horse trainer ate them." Henry Pippins was allowed to eat lunch at their expense during the days he was there full-time working Steed's horses.
"Hmm," Steed said, rubbing his chin. "Could be. Remember the last time we had that aardvark pudding? Henry went through that pretty quickly."
Emma looked up at Steed, sighing heavily. "I suppose it will have to be tuny fish, then."
Steed nodded. "I suppose so." He glanced at his children. "That is all right, isn't it, with you two?"
Two small heads nodded quickly, relief flooding their faces. "Yes!"
"Tuna fish is fine," Elly said.
"Yes, fine," Eddie agreed.
"With some pickles, please," Elly added.
"Yes, with pickles," Eddie said.
"You don't like pickles, Eddie," Elly said, protectively. "They're too sour for you."
There was a pause. "No pickles, please, mummy," Eddie said. " Too sour for me."
"No pickles for you, Eddie," Emma said, grinning.

Steed opened up the freezer section of the refrigerator and looked inside. "My goodness me! There's no more rattlesnake ice cream, either. I shall have to speak to Henry about his appetite. We do have some regular old ice cream, though." He turned to his children, still staring at their parents wide-eyed. "Will that do, then? Chocolate almond swirl for dessert?"
"Yes!" they answered together again.
"Right, then, that's fine," Steed said, setting the table for the kids as Emma carried food items from the refrigerator to the countertop.
"You and mummy wouldn't really feed us rhinoceros and camel food, would you, daddy?" Elly asked.

Steed kneeled down beside her as Emma opened up a couple of cans of tuna fish. "Don't you want to try it?"
Both her and Eddie shook their heads vehemently back and forth. "NO! Yuck!," Elly said, Eddie right afterwards saying "Yuck!," too.
"Okay, then. No, rhinoceros or camel meals shall be served."
"Promise." He ran his finger down their noses then stood up and went to Emma's side as cheers of happiness erupted behind them, along with a boisterous "My goodness me!" from Eddie. At that hilarious exclamation by their skinny little son, for a moment both Steed and Emma clenched their jaws tightly shut to keep from erupting into laughter.

"You might give them a complex some day," Emma whispered to Steed, recovering her equanimity as she slapped his hand away from sneaking a piece of sliced tomato.
"Oh, yes, years of psychoanalysis shall be needed by them as a result of not being forced to eat what they did not want to."
Emma laughed. "That's not what I meant."
He kissed her cheek as she washed some lettuce, and then said, very, very softly, "You look ravishing today. After the children leave, can I throw you over my shoulder and carry you back upstairs to our bedroom?" His hand rubbed her back. "I'm in a rather caveman-ish mood, I dare say."

"With everything to do before our guests arrive?" she asked. Although that was mainly a devil's advocate type of question. They had both been very busy lately at their respective work places for the last several weeks and with kids at home they hadn't quite had the time nor the energy to be as sexually active as they both preferred. A hour of mutual nakedness in-between children leaving and guests arriving was a very stimulating thought, as there was not much more for them to do to prepare for the guests, anyway.
"Uh-huh. We have a little time before the caterers and musicians arrive." He then set about whispering to her what specifically he had in mind to do with her.
"I'll think about it," Emma said, teasing him, a shiver of anticipation running up her spine.

"How soon before I get to eat something?" Elly interrupted, banging her fork on the table. Eddie began following her example with a spoon.
"Elly, my question exactly," Steed said, turning around to his daughter and receiving a kick to his shin from his appalled wife for his reply.
"Sssh, that's terrible, you're so naughty," Emma giggled.
"I'd rather be naughty in bed," he mumbled.
Another kick to his shin. He darted out of the way of a third and sat down at the table, picking up Elly's spoon, joining in with his children's noisy, utensil pounding anthem. "We want to eat!"
Emma could not have rolled her eyes any further up without looking out the back of her head.

An hour later, after a riot of kisses and hugs between parents and children, a chorus of "I love you"s, "Good-bye"s, "Be good!"s, and "We will!"s, and a shoulder breaking attack of furious waving, their youngsters drove off with Charlotte, overnight bags stowed in the car's boot. Steed actually did attempt to pick up Emma as soon as the door was closed, but she laughingly pushed his hands away and simply raced up the stairs herself, her fourteen year older husband at her heels the whole time. He soon proved to her that being fifty-six by no means meant he lacked the vitality and the energy to satisfy her every need, by word, mouth, hand and thrust. Her every need. As she lay beside him afterwards, rubbing her hand over his flat stomach and slightly hairy chest, reveling in the passage of the tremors that had ruled them as they held each other in their glorious throes of release, seeing Steed's handsome face relaxed and a touch sweaty, his eyes shining brilliant love upon her, Emma wondered at the life she had been blessed with: what a gift she had received, what a godsend, what a husband, what a father, what a man. Her every moment with Steed sent joy coursing through her soul.

Then, a mere six hours later… their heavenly bliss was puffed away by a silencer. By a silencer she had triggered.
She had ripped his vitality from him. She had almost killed him.
Only those tubes kept him alive.

Emma's distraught mind wandered over to concern for their children, and putting down Steed's hand and saying another prayer, she left the room to call her cousin and make sure they were all right. Auntie Greta had brought them more clothes as they would be staying with Charlotte until mummy and daddy were back home, if daddy did return home...
Daddy had an accident, they had been told. Mummy was with daddy.
Mummy had shot daddy.

Steed began waking up when Emma left the room and Steed's 73 year old grey bun-haired, tall and slim auntie Greta stood and came to his side, taking the hand that Emma had placed so lightly on the bed. His eyes blinked over and over until they opened, his head moving slightly back and forth from right to left. He moved his lips to speak, but the tube was between them and there was no air for his voice.
"John, it's all right. You're in a hospital," Greta said, her hand rubbing his forehead. Steed's eyes opened wide, too wide, they didn't seem to be seeing anything. Unfocused, they didn't seem to perceive his auntie, or where exactly he was or what was happening to him. He bore a look of fear, intense and terrible.

Steed reached up for the tube in his mouth, and began trying to pull it out. Greta now panicked, and grabbed his wrists, attempting to soothe him. "John, John, it's all right. Don't do that. You need that to breathe."

Steed's heart monitor took off racing; his heartbeat speeding up well over a 100 beats per minute. He began to flail about on the bed. Greta held up a pen and paper in front of him.

"John, what's wrong?" she asked, trying to put a pen in his hand. He swatted the pen and paper and they flew to the floor. He then renewed his attack on the tube.
"Help!" she yelled as her long, bony hands desperately tried to keep Steed from ripping out the tube by holding his wrists. "Help!"
A nurse quickly entered. "What's wrong?"
"Get some help! He's trying to rip out this tube!"

The nurse darted out of the room and very soon two male orderlies came in carrying restraints. Nudging Greta aside, one went on each side of Steed's bed, grabbed hold of a forearm and forcefully yanked it to his side. Steed's heartbeat climbed higher as he fought being immobilized and he began twisting around on the bed. However, his injuries had weakened him and the two muscular men were able to wrap the restraints around his wrist and then attach them to the upraised railings on the sides of his bed.

Steed went berserk. His head slammed from right to left, and one leg bent up, released a solid kick into the chest of an orderly, who fell over a chair and hit the floor. He was rattling the sides of his bed with all his strength. He used the same leg to kick the other orderly in the nose. He struggled against his restraints in a mindless vortex of fear. Auntie Greta held her hand over her mouth and just as she was about to run from the room looking for Emma, Emma rushed in with Dr. Harrison and the nurse. They noticed Steed, out of control in his bed, sweat pouring out of his face.

"What is going on-- Christ!" Dr. Harrison said, taking in the room in a glance and seeing Steed's restrained hands. "Who the bloody hell authorized that?! Emma, undo his hand," the doctor said, as he worked on the restraint on his side of the bed. Emma ran around to the other side. The orderlies stood to the side, one holding his nose, the other rubbing his sternum.

Rushing as fast as they could, Emma and Dr. Harrison undid the restraints. Steed, awful in his mute terror, immediately put his hands back up to the respirator tube to remove it. Dr. Harrison put his hands over Steed's and yelled for the nurse to go get a shot of Valium. Reaching over with one hand, he increased the rate of the ventilator to match Steed's higher heartbeats.

"Steed, it's Dr. Harrison, stop this. The tube has to stay in," the physician implored. He saw Steed's legs getting ready to kick and he had no choice but to tell the orderlies to hold them still. Now, restrained again, but more fully, Steed's heartbeat rose to 120 beats, as his eyes closed and his head went back and forth frantically on the pillow.

Emma stared at this scene in horror and then dove to her husband, caressing his face, holding his cheeks tightly to keep his head stationary so she could kiss his moist forehead, his nose, and whisper in his ear, "Steed, love, I'm here. It's alright. Steed, sshh, it's safe, I'm here." She was not surprised this had happened. It was a combination of many bad factors: Steed handled anesthesia very poorly, had been shot by his supposedly loving wife, woke up with a very uncomfortable tube down his throat and in a great deal of pain, couldn't speak, and then was restrained. All the ingredients needed to give her husband a top notch bout of panic. At first nothing happened, and the nurse entered with the syringe.
"Into his upper arm," Dr. Harrison directed.
"No," Emma said. "Not yet. Let me try some more."

Dr. Harrison watched his struggling patient, his hands fighting the motion of Steed's wrists. "Alright, but just another minute or two. He could tear something inside with his violent movements or throw a blood clot or aspirate into his lungs. He must calm down somehow soon."
Emma bent again to her task, desperation filling her, yet she kept her voice calm, cool and rational. "Steed, it's me Emma. Relax, I'm here. Steed, ssh, it's okay. You're safe. I'm here. Steed, my love, my life, I'm here."

Her words miraculously seemed to begin penetrating into Steed's mind as he turned his head to her, opening his eyes to search for the female owner of the voice he heard.
"Steed, love, I'm here, Emma, I'm here, I'll protect you, you're safe, it's okay, sshhh…"
His legs stopped jerking. He tried to focus his eyes. His heartbeat began slowing.
"Keep going, Emma, it's working," Dr. Harrison said, delighted.

Emma continued caressing his face, kissing his cheek, his nose, his neck. She rubbed her hand through his hair, still brown with gray strands appearing throughout, completely mussed and hanging over his forehead in areas. She deliberately replaced one strand on the right side of his forehead that she had pushed back onto his head a thousand times before. "Steed, Steed, I love you. I love you. I'm right here beside you. I'm right here. Relax. Relax. You're safe. I'm here. You're safe."

Now his arms loosened and Dr. Harrison moved them back down to the sides of his body. Steed could see Emma, now, really see her, and he looked nowhere else, concentrating on her face. Tears filled his eyes and spilled out down his face, wetting the pillow underneath him. Emma had never seen him cry before, ever, and it tore her soul to pieces.

"Mercy me," Greta said, greatly relieved at his calming down. "Thank God."
"Where's the pen and paper?" Emma asked.
Greta retrieved them from the floor and handed them to her.
"John," Emma continued, using his Christian name, as she only rarely did to make a point of affection, "you've been hurt very badly" --now tears filled her own eyes, too-- "and you must keep that tube in you for another few days to help you breathe. You can "talk" with these."

She crossed around the bed so that she was on his right side. She put the pen in his hand as he stared at her, and put the pen on the pad of paper. Since he was positioned at an elevated level, he could see his hand. She wiped his eyes of tears so he could see what he was writing. Dr. Harrison dismissed the orderlies, less angry at them than at first since he had seen the need to restrain Steed himself, and then allowed the nurse to go back to her other duties. He stayed in the room, the syringe in his pocket, just in case. He lowered the ventilator's rate of artificial respiration back down to where it had been originally.

"John, talk to me. What are you thinking?" Emma asked.
His eyes. Like a child's. So innocent. So lost. So sad. Steed scribbled slowly in a pain-staking, barely legible manner, tears once more flowing from his eyes.
Emma was just able to read it. "You shot me. Real gun. Why? Why? I love you."
She burst into tears. And in a jerky, near hysterical manner, Emma told him what had happened at their anniversary party. How she had been fooled by that unknown man. How she had shot him. How, if he had died, she would have shot herself.
And she would have.

Steed scribbled again. "Accident? Enemy?"
"Yes, yes, exactly. Someone using me to kill you."
More writing. "Then you still love me?"

Damn the man who had ever made Steed, even for a moment, wonder if Emma had stopped loving him; wonder if she had betrayed him like so many people he had known and cared for and trusted in his life. Emma would not only damn him, she would send him to burn in hell herself.

"Yes, yes, my God I love you. So much so you are me. It was an accident. Oh, God, John, I was drunk. I thought it was a paint gun. I love you. I love you. I'll find the man who made me do this. I'll find him and kill him. I love you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." She collapsed on the bed, her head on her arms, sobbing. She felt something against her arm, and looked up. Steed pointed the pen down on the pad of paper scratching out several words.
"One more kiss...please…"

She flew on top of his abdomen hugging his stomach, well away from his wounds. She kissed his face, again and again, hugged him, kissed him, repeatedly. There was another note. It was obvious the writing was tiring him out.
"Stay. Need u. Pain bad." Tears fell again from his eyes as he finished writing, his hand too weak to move the pen any longer. "More pain…"

More pain. Another scar. Oh, poor, dear Steed. More pain… more healing… His tears were worse for her than his injuries. She had seen Steed injured many times before and he always handled it with a shrug of his shoulders and a certain tolerant acceptance. This depression, this weeping, this craving for affection, for assurance of her love for him showed just how deeply this new and terrible injury had struck into Steed's body and psyche, truly traumatizing him.
And she had struck that blow.

"I'm staying here, don't worry. Right here beside you. I'm not going anywhere," she assured him, squeezing his hand tightly, encouraged when she felt a tiny, weak squeeze back.
With her caresses and kisses Steed's agitation and dismay eventually dissipated and he grew more and more relaxed. After some long minutes he fell asleep. Emma kissed his forehead one last time, a few last teardrops from her own eyes mixing with the wetness on Steed's cheek. She stood up off the bed. She looked at Dr. Harrison.
"Fix up a room for me. I'm moving into the clinic."

Chapter Two

In any other hospital, Emma's decision would have been gently but firmly denied; however, this was a Ministry clinic and Steed, essentially, was the Ministry. That powerful, secret intelligence organization was run by Steed, and was very dependent on his experience, wisdom, and knowledge. He was trusted and respected by everyone in the upper echelons of the government, the military, the other intelligence agencies, and the police. He was the core of the Ministry, and the Ministry was the core of British intelligence. If it would help Steed to survive and recover quicker, and keep his wife happy, then accommodations for her unusual request would be granted.

The room next door, unoccupied, became Emma's bedroom. She sent Greta to their home to pick up changes of clothes for her and some toiletries, and she, meanwhile, stayed by Steed's bed as long as her eyes could stay open. Then, when sleep overcame her extreme resistance to rest, she allowed herself four or five hours away from Steed, to spend in restless sleep from which she woke with weepy eyes. As soon as the blur of sleep passed, she dashed back into Steed's room, to make sure he was still alive.

Steed struggled to live. Dr. Harrison increased his dosages of Valium and morphine to keep him from waking up again; they did not want any more incidents as what had already occurred. Besides, it was for the best anyway, as his pain if awake would be terrible. Dr. Harrison thought he was reassuring Emma when he said he doubted Steed would even remember his waking episode, but that just made things terribly worse for her. If Steed didn't remember what had occurred when he was awake for those brief minutes, and if he died, he might die thinking Emma had really betrayed him. Had shot him deliberately. It was, after all, the first question he had asked her.

Emma developed a case of dreadful nausea, and could barely eat at all.
Every now and then Steed's eyes opened briefly and his head lulled about in a lethargic stupor that kept him ignorant not only of the pain wracking his body but also of his body's fight for survival. Then he would fall back deeply unconscious.
Emma was not at all ignorant of Steed's desperate battles.

They tried to wean her husband off the ventilator the second day in the hospital but after awhile the respiratory therapist noticed his increased breathing rate, and his low oxygen levels. They took a chest x-ray and Dr. Carlyle approached Emma.
"We've got to put him back fully on the ventilator for another 3-5 days. His lungs are filling up with fluid. It's very common for this to happen with injuries like he has."

With injuries like he has --did that many wives almost fatally shoot the man they loved most in the world?
"Is it serious?" Emma asked, seated next to Steed. It sounded serious. It sounded very frightening.
"Well, yes, it is," the doctor answered, his hands hidden in the pockets of his white medical coat. "But, we hope to take care of it effectively. Steed is in good shape even though he's older --that is, he's not that young anymore."
He was young enough for Emma.

"He's got a fifty percent chance of getting better, Emma, and we'll do the best we can to see that indeed he does."
Fifty percent chance to live. Fifty percent chance to die.

They blew up a balloon into Steed's right lung artery via the catheter by his collarbone. They put him back fully on the ventilator. They stuck a tube down the respirator tube and swabbed his lung and cultured it. Steed slept through it all. They put an IV line in his elbow to give him the medicine they no longer could through the collarbone port that now contained the balloon. He looked like something a diabolical mastermind was attempting to create --man merged with machinery.

He was growing whiskers; she'd have to shave them off. He hated whiskers. She'd have to remember to ask for a razor.
Emma bit her fingernails and chewed on her lower lip until she actually tore the skin a little. It hurt. But not, she knew, as badly as being shot through the chest.
There was a steady stream of medical professionals coming in and going out of Steed's hospital room; it almost made her dizzy. She had a headache, but it didn't hurt as much as five broken ribs. The nausea gave her a stomachache, too. But, it didn't hurt as much as thinking one's beloved spouse had become an enemy and tried to kill you.

Purdey was there and then left; Gambit was there, and then left; Steed's brothers showed up then left. Greta showed up and then left. On and on it went people coming and going, checking and fixing, recording and changing, talking and praying.
Emma stayed still by Steed's side. She called her children; they were fine. It was fun being with Cousin Charlotte and her kids, Elly said. They were playing all sorts of fun games and she had read two books so far. Eddie had skinned his knee and cried but, Elly told Emma, she had kissed it and put a band-aid on it just like mummy and daddy would have done and he was laughing again and riding a tricycle all over the place. How was daddy? When could they see him? Daddy didn't cry when he got hurt, like Eddie did, I bet, Elly said. He was big and strong and brave. Eddie was so tiny!

Emma reassured her daughter by lying --Daddy was fine. He was getting better and better. They would see him soon at home. No, silly, of course Daddy hadn't cried…
It took all Emma's effort for her not to begin weeping herself. She spoke to Eddie next, briefly, and didn't remember what she had said to him by the time she hung up the phone.

On the third day a nurse noticed Steed had a temperature. They took another chest x-ray and discovered he had developed pneumonia.
"But, he's been on an antibiotic the whole time," Emma said when told of that by Dr. Carlyle.
"Yes, but, it wasn't the right one, apparently," she was told. "We're changing the antibiotic to something stronger."
"Are you sure this is the right one?"
A pause. "Fairly certain, yes."

And what percent chance of recovery did he have now? She wanted to ask, "Can he live, with those injuries, with fluid in his lungs, with pneumonia?," but she had to believe of course he could live. Of course he would live. It seemed too much for a body to handle, but Steed had spent a life-time over-coming odds no one had ever believed he could. Of course he would survive this. She nodded her head at the physician, as the nausea worsened and made her light-headed. She sat down as soon as he left the room and picked up Steed's floppy hand. His fingers were not overly long, but they were solid, strong as was his whole hand. She felt the bones, then his warm brow. He had a fever. Pneumonia. Fluid in his lungs. Collapsed lungs. Broken ribs. A bullet wound. Emma wondered what would go wrong next.
They tried, on that third day, to feed Steed through a tube in his nose down into his stomach --those endless tubes!-- but he couldn't digest the whitish fluid, his intestines were paralyzed, so they put the food through his collarbone catheter instead.

"It's common for intestines to do that when someone is badly injured, but don't worry, they'll recover fine," some voice floated over to Emma, as she stared at Steed. A physical therapist came in and put Steed's legs through some movement exercises and then massaged them to keep his muscles as strong as possible whilst he lay there blank and motionless.

"Please be careful with his right knee," she mumbled in a gravelly voice full of fatigue, not turning to face the woman she was addressing, not remembering if she had mentioned this to the woman before. "It has a touch of arthritis in it."
"I'll be careful, don't worry," the woman responded softly, with such kindness in her voice that Emma's eyes filled with tears. No one had accused her of being a stupid, guilty, mistaken, drunken fool; responsible for nearly killing not just her husband, but one of the most important men in the country, a living legend that had kept Britain safe for thirty years. Everyone looked at her and spoke to her gently and with compassion. It was more than Emma felt she deserved. Yet, there was a decided sense of unfairness in what had happened. Emma had not been drunk for years. Both she and Steed drank minimally at this point in their lives, too caught up with their careers and having children to drink with the frequency they had when they had been partners. Besides, there was also a mature acknowledgement that their ages demanded a more healthy caring of their bodies. So, on their anniversary, with the children gone, and her not having to work the next day, and with their friends celebrating their happiness with them, Emma had allowed herself to indulge in fine expensive white wine, becoming slightly drunk, slightly fuzzy headed. And, as a result, she had shot her husband. She had been a fool. She should have wondered about the peculiarity of a man bringing a paint gun to their party. She should have examined the gun. Innumerable "shoulds" filled her mind, each one dumping more and more guilt upon her. Then other questions created havoc inside her. Would evil always dog them? Would they never be able to enjoy a secure sense of peace? Was Steed destined to be the victim of enemies for the rest of his life?

He deserved peace. He needed it so badly. His little speech about never getting another scar --decades of accumulated fatigue had coated his words. After all the good he had protected in his life, a little good should fall his way from now on.
It wasn't fair at all.

She stayed by Steed's side until she was so tired, a nurse had to help her walk back to her bedroom next door where she fell on the bed clothed and entered a deep and troubled sleep. She dreamed there were eyes and mouths watching her, following her, whispering about her --an ancient dream she had not had in over ten years.

As she woke, she was forced by Auntie Greta to shower, put on some new clothes, and eat something, although Emma still felt nauseous. She was back by Steed's side after that, Greta knitting behind her. A glimmer of hope entered Steed's hospital room; on that fourth day nothing new and awful happened. The stronger antibiotics seemed to be working. The fluid was slowly beginning to clear out of his lungs and they were beginning to slowly wean him from the ventilator again. She blessed his body; his remarkable, durable body, masterful with both pleasure and pain. Maybe, just maybe, the crisis was ending, even though the routine of nurses, respiratory therapist, physicians, and physical therapist maintained a near constant parade in and out of his room.

In the afternoon Purdey and Gambit arrived and smiled after hearing the encouraging news about Steed. Emma asked them both to go into her room next door.

"What have you discovered about the man?" she asked.
An awkward silence followed, with Purdey and Gambit exchanging contrite glances. Finally one of them had to speak.
"Actually… nothing, Emma," Gambit said.

Lava was building up inside Emma, on the verge of erupting through her mouth, but she was able to keep it checked for the moment. "Nothing? What do you mean, nothing? Have you searched The Ministry files for suspects? Checked the gaols? Investigated foreign enemies? I know it's only been a few days but you've got the resources to do that." The Ministry had the right to tap into any intelligence agency file, to ask the police, the gaol system to open up their files, to probe any British organizations' overseas agents or Interpol looking for any leads or information that it needed for any particular case.

"We've done all that, to the best of our ability. Emma, the entire Ministry, just about, has been put on this task --to find out who targeted Steed. But, we've come up against blank after blank. You have to understand that The Ministry's department to track malefactors released from prison has been upgraded to a very high level. They are sure that no one Steed put away escaped or was released from gaol in the last year. They can account for the doings of those released and their friends and families in the last ten years; they assure us that no one was of a threatening nature. They would have alerted Steed immediately. The Russians, Germans, and so forth, they all stridently assure us, as well, that they were not responsible, and we believe them. There's a rule that we just don't go into another country and assassinate known agents. They follow it too, or pure chaos would result. Besides, it's funny, but they respect Steed almost as much as we do; he's fair to them, forgiving, calm. They want him to continue to be the Head of the Ministry. We've put the man's description into every Scotland Yard office and he's not come up as any known criminal. We've visited every paint gun shop in England and described the man with no luck; one shop had sold five paint guns, but the man paid cash and the salesman couldn't give any sort of valid description of him. Because of the gloves he wore, there were no fingerprints on the paint gun we have, so we can't trace him that way. We've checked with every police department and no one has mentioned getting a report of a stolen gun for us to track back to its owner."
"So dig further."
"We don't know where to dig further," Gambit said, bluntly, hiding his eyes from Emma's irritated gaze.

The lava spewed complete with agitated arm waving. Her agitated speaking voice became a high-pitched yell. "You don't know where to dig further? Steed is laying grievously injured next door and you don't know where to look further? The Head of The Ministry, the most important intelligence agency in the country, has been attacked, almost killed, and his multimillion dollar organization, with the most technologically advanced computers, the most highly trained agents, the most insightful and brilliant analysts and no one can figure out who made me shoot Steed? What a bunch of bloody useless incompetents the lot of you are!"
Purdey stepped in then. "Emma, my God, don't you think we want to find out who is responsible for this, too? Don't you think that all of us at the Ministry are doing the best we can to find the bastard?"
"Well, if you are, your best is not very good," Emma said caustically.

Emma Peel had a pendulum swing in her usually amiable personality to fire or ice more so than any other person Purdey and Gambit knew. Whilst she most often was charming and friendly and witty, when she was emotionally undone by events --which did not occur frequently, but did occur-- she could either withdraw into her genius, secluding herself to write a brilliant article on thermodynamics, or she could become human napalm, verbally burning everything in her path. Steed, mellow Steed, never complained about those equally opposite and undesirable aspects in his wife; they were part of Emma, he loved Emma, and that was that. Purdey, having had to adjust her own love for Steed once he married Emma into thinking of him as a idolized mentor, not potential husband, had learned when dealing both with criminals she despised and Emma's rare moods to temper her own excitable nature by incorporating Steed's eternal equanimity as a valued role model.

"No, at the moment, it really isn't, I'm sad to say," Purdey agreed. "Steed means everything to us and we feel dreadfully useless that we haven't found the man."
That took the power out of Emma's eruption, as Purdey had hoped. Emma realized she was being unfair and unreasonable in her fatigue and dismay. The Ministry was doing it's best, of course; the fact that the man was such a mystery was not their fault. And, it had only been four days; interminable in the hospital sitting by Steed's unconscious side, praying for him to live, but a very brief period outside in the world where information took time to gather.

Emma rubbed her forehead with her hand, much like Steed did when he was tired. So many things they had absorbed from each other --love, happiness, facial expressions, even little gestures. "I'm sorry," was all she was able to say.
Gambit spoke again. "Emma, the security people we placed at your cousin Charlotte's to watch your children have reported no untoward or suspicious events. The children haven't noticed them."

Emma had a faint wisp of a memory of being told in the waiting room that security people would, from now on, be assigned to continually watch her, Steed, and their children; at least until this man was found and dealt with. "That's good," she said. The energy she had put into her unnecessary tirade had drained her. She wanted to return to Steed's side. "Thank you. Please keep me informed."

She turned to go and was stopped by a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned back around to her husband's dearest friends and colleagues.
"Er, there's one last thing we need to discuss. Have you seen any newspapers since you've been here?" Purdey asked.
"Well, even though we impressed upon your guests to keep all this hush-hush, someone talked, as we unfortunately figured they would. It spread throughout your social circle that Steed had been shot by you and we weren't able to clamp down on all the papers before 'The Guardian' printed a story about it."

Although Great Britain deeply believed in the idea of a free press, there were a few times that The Ministry and a few other organizations had the right to shut down a story and keep it from the public, so that a general panic wouldn't occur. Such as when mechanized cybernauts were wandering around London killing people, or when a nuclear bomb had been planted in a department store, or when a man was in London who was so full of diseases he could kill people almost immediately by just touching them. These were things the public had no need to know and by applying the Secret Acts Subsection - Censoring the Press, The Ministry had been able to maintain public peace of mind and prevent mindless panic whilst continuing to fight diabolical masterminds. This inability to contain the story of Steed's injury merely proved that gossip in the upper classes was the most powerful force infiltrating Britain at any given time, more powerful than even The Ministry.
Emma felt like vomiting. "What did it say?"

Purdey pulled the cut out article from her pocket and skimmed through it. "Oh, it mainly said that a wealthy man in Hertfordshire, John Steed, a high-level government employee, had been mistakenly shot by his wife, Emma Steed, nee Peel, the CEO of Knight Industries, at their home during their sixth anniversary celebration. Some unknown man had sneaked into their house, given her a real gun disguised as a paint gun, and she had shot her husband with that as a supposed joke. Steed was taken away to an unknown hospital. The man escaped and was described as 5'10, medium height and build, dressed in an Armani brown suit, thin dark brown hair, blue eyes. The paper asked for anyone having any information on this outrageous crime to report it to the police." Purdey paused. "They also, as a related article, wrote quite an exposé on you, your past history, detailed at length your taking over Knight Industries as CEO at such a young age and making it the thriving, successful corporation it is today, and your story book marriages to Peter Peel and then to Steed. I know that the last thing you wanted on top of all this was for your innocent mistake to be made public and for yourself to be paraded around in public. I can guarantee that no more articles will appear. But, maybe we will get an anonymous lead from someone who reads it."

In the meantime, everyone in Emma's social and business circles would know what had happened. A old, old childhood feeling returned to Emma, one that she hadn't felt for years. Her nightmare dream --eyes and mouths surrounding her. Prying eyes, staring eyes, silent eyes. Eyes that had been awed by her genius and innumerable athletic abilities as a youth; eyes that leered at her beauty as she matured into a young woman; eyes that had focused on her as she took over Knight Industries after her father's death; eyes that judged her in board meetings; eyes happy yet jealous over her marriage to air ace Peter peel; eyes that sympathized with her reentering life after being widowed --narrowed eyes, eyes that attempted to see through her, to gauge her, to figure her out. Eyes that expected constant perfection in everything she did, and then showed envy and a touch of resentfulness when she was perfect. Only Steed's eyes had always been so welcoming, so safe for her. Only his eyes combined humor with adoration, trust with pride, acceptance with respect. Only his eyes always showed he wasn't jealous of her, didn't begrudge her wealth or looks --only his grey eyes demonstrated intelligence and kindness and a very sexy strength. Just as his colorless eyes took on any number of colors depending on the light of the room, so they always beamed to her a rainbow of friendship, awe, and a healthy, energetic lust. She had even caught Peter at times, staring at her as if he owned her, as if she was a status symbol, as if he was analyzing her clothes to see if they showed her off well enough for his tastes. But, Steed, never had she seen anything like that from Steed's heavy-lidded eyes, that seem too indolent to perceive much at all, but in reality, saw everything.

And then there were the mouths. Young mouths teasing her for her intelligence, for her height. Relatives' and friends' mouths whispering about her at her mother's funeral, her brother's, her father's, her husband's. Mouths that had suddenly hushed as she entered a room, and then began to speak again as soon as she left; or that whispered as she strode passed. Female mouths left silent by her genius, by her stunning looks, by her wealth, by her accomplishments, only to discuss all of that cattily as soon as she was not in hearing range. Male mouths uttering pretentious egotistical claptrap, know-it-all blather, or stuttering nervously, or dripping with poorly hidden desire to bed her, own her, wear her as they wore their sapphire rings and Rolex's. Knight Industries mouths that tried to undermine her decisions, that tried to vote her out of being CEO. Even Peter at times had been caught frowning at her a few times after she shared some newly attained goal. Only Steed's mouth had always sincerely smiled when he saw her, and knew how to chat easily and wittily, and to always say the right things to her, and praised her for being who she was, even if it was, at times, a bit higher than he could go himself. Only Steed's mouth had mentioned to her that when she was discussing her brilliant observations and knowledge, she didn't have to protectively cross her arms in front of her; at least, not when she was instructing him. He very much welcomed and valued her input, in all things, at all times.

Emma hadn't even known she had developed that arm-crossing habit.
Mouths and eyes. She had dreamed of them, now and then, surrounding her, haunting her, and then had strode through life confident, capable, and seemingly impervious to all she confronted. She was Emma Peel --cool as can be, hard as a rock, but always and forever a very attractive woman. Still, unbeknownst to the world, she had dreamed of them, those floating, twisted, distorted, judgmental eyes and mouths, through her achievements, through her scientific papers, her becoming a grandmaster at bridge, through her increasing Knight Industries profits year after year, through the random dating she did before she met Peter and after he had crashed… through-out it all, that recurrent dream had appeared several times a year. It hadn't disappeared… until she met Steed. Until she had a man who fully enjoyed all aspects of her, who never felt threatened by her, who was confident enough in who he was to not mind that she might be smarter, she might be wealthier, she might rescue him. He brought into her life a harmonious balance, so that what might occur when he wasn't near her --what eyes and mouths might have circled her-- when she was with him, it all faded completely away, it was all shown to mean nothing and be nothing. Steed had rescued her many times when they were colleagues, but never so much as when he gave her unconditional love and acceptance. Then and only then had the dreams stopped. Then and only then had she really escaped from the aura of other people's judgments upon her.
She had never told Steed about those eyes and mouths.

If he lived, she decided she would. In the meantime, with this newspaper article out, and Steed incapacitated, she once again dreaded the mouths and eyes --who would not stare at her now, who could not whisper? She had shot her husband and everyone knew. Emma felt eight years old again.

She was not a woman who functioned well being out of control. Now everything it seemed was beyond her ability to direct and maintain the status quo just a few days ago she had been master of and thrived upon.

"Thanks for telling me, Purdey," Emma sighed, hiding very well her dismay at the article coming out. "Is that it? I want to return to Steed."

There was nothing else, so the three of them reentered Steed's room and Emma took her place by the side of the bed, holding Steed's hand as Greta and Purdey and Gambit exchanged greetings. She looked at Steed's closed eyes; soon, soon, those soft grey eyes, sparkling with life and yet tainted with a dark depth of sadness that showed --more than the scars on his body-- the effects on him of having spent thirty years in a career riddled with death and violence, soon they would open shining never-ending love to her that cleansed and lightened her like a summer shower. And his thin-lipped mouth; so very English. As he was so very English. But, when he smiled, as he did so often, though muted in expression, it was like sunbeams danced off his whole face, lighting her up equally so. She desperately needed those eyes and that mouth to once more chase away all the other eyes and mouths surrounding her, haunting her.

"Steed," she whispered, too low for the others behind her to hear. She kissed his hand. "Wake up and rescue me."

Chapter Three

He got better. Miraculously he got better. Although he was still kept unconscious from the sedatives, Steed's chest improved by the end of his first week in the hospital to the point that on the seventh day he was able to breathe on his own, and they slowly extubated him, removing the awful but life-saving ventilator tube from his chest. They were able to stop using the central lines and just relied upon IVs into his arm. They removed the electrode pads from his chest and the catheter from his bladder. The infection responded completely to the new antibiotics and was resolving nicely. The fluid had drained from his lungs. He was, Dr. Carlyle and Dr. Harrison assured Emma, going to live.
He was going to live.

Now that the tube was out of his throat, his lungs could heal even better and within the next week they could remove the tubes from his chest and then, well, then he could go home.
Then he could go home.
He was going to live. He was going home.

Emma nodded her thanks to the doctors, too choked up to speak any words. Her vigil had taken a toll on her --she had lost a few pounds, and looked pale, and her hair had lost some of its bounce. The dazzling energy and stunning attractiveness that she usually exuded, her very presence filling a room with flair, electricity and admiration was terribly muted beneath a layer of sleeplessness and guilt and worry. But, now, with Steed on the mend, she would start caring for herself again.
The doctors decided to reduce the levels of Steed's sedative in the morning, and he groggily arose from his week long sleep by late in the afternoon. In preparation of that grand event, Emma had showered, put on fresh clothes and make-up and had forced her face into smiling, something in and of itself it seemed to have entirely forgotten how to do. She was in his room all day, refusing to allow Steed to become alert without her by his side, to ease his wakening with her love and explanations. In the late morning, she shaved him with the help of a nurse holding his head steady. She had promised herself that he would wake without whiskers, and was committed to that being the case.

It seemed to take forever for Steed to shake off the drug stupor; he lulled his head about, blinked his eyes numerous times, and then slowly, so very slowly, began to become aware of his surroundings. It was then that Emma leaned over him, kissing his lips, tubeless and warm.

"Steed, love, can you wake up? I'm here, by your side."
Steed heard her and turned his head to his left; Emma saw the fuzziness of Steed's vision reflected in his dazed look and then saw it sharpen into the eagle-sharp perfect vision for which he had been known ever since the War. He saw her, above him, and said nothing as he stared. He left her face for a few seconds to look around the room, seeing the hospital setting and the tubes in his chest and arm.

He closed his eyes, resting his head on the pillow and spoke, whispering in a thick, raspy, harsh voice, a temporary remnant of irritation to his larynx from the ventilator tube. "A hospital… again." There was a decided sense of defeat in his tone, of unbearable hopelessness and even a glimpse of despair.
"Yes, a hospital…," Emma answered, gently, touching his shoulder.
"My second home," he murmured.

Steed looked back at Emma, with dull eyes that had lost their normal sparkle. Emma waited for him to speak again as her eyes filled with tears. He attempted to move his body, but a loud, long groan of severe discomfort stopped him immediately. "Ooh," he said, grimacing.
"I know. I know," Emma said. "You're very badly injured, but getting much better."

He didn't speak for a long time, and then said, "Wasn't supposed to have this happen again," in a voice, extremely enervated, and monotonous.
No more pain, only love, they had told each other.
"The pain will diminish soon, the doctors say," she tried to assure him.

Steed frowned in reply. Then a certain clarity returned into his eyes and he seemed to suddenly remember what had happened. He stared at Emma with the same look of innocence and fear he had when he had first woken up. "Did you… shoot me?" he asked, soft inquiry rising sharply at the end, emphasizing his confusion.

One tear rolled down her cheek. "Yes, I did. By mistake. It was a horrible mistake." She clasped his hand, and put wrapped her other fingers around the side of his face, bowing her head next to his. "My God, Steed, I love you. I've been frantic this whole week, praying every minute for you to survive."
"Week? It's been a week?" His eyebrows furled, trying unsuccessfully to remember the passing of seven days.
"Yes, you've been out that long. There were complications, but those have settled down."

Steed didn't care about complications. "Tell me about the shooting. I remember you pointing that gun at me. Why did you do it? What happened?"
She raised up and told him again all about that nearly fatal event, ending with a question she had to have answered. "You woke once, briefly, though, earlier in the week; do you remember that?"

The whole event and the state of his injuries was a lot of information for Steed to have to process in his drug-addled brain. He merely shook his head no to Emma's inquiry.

He didn't remember. He would have died believing Emma had stopped loving him, and had betrayed him.
"Do you have any questions? Anything to say? The doctors think you should be able to leave the hospital in another week. Unfortunately, The Ministry hasn't been able to find the man who gave me the gun, but of course, they're still looking." She thought that it was be best to not mention him winding up in the newspaper right now.

Steed was silent, staring at the ceiling, seemingly deep in his head or maybe having trouble holding his thoughts together. It was hard to read his eyes, to tell whether he was trying to recall something or merely drifting away.

"Steed?" Emma asked.
"I remember," he said, finally, in his scratchy voice, "yelling for you to not shoot. But, you did anyway. You didn't hesitate. You just did it." His eyes suddenly bored directly into hers, frantic desperation leaping out from them. "Emma"-- he grabbed hold of her hand and she covered it with her other one-- "I can't think straight and I don't remember most of that night, but I do remember that. Tell me… tell me you aren't part of the… House of Cards, are you?"
"House of cards, Steed? I don't know what you mean." Emma had not yet reunited with Steed when he had worked on a case years ago filed under the title "House of Cards," whereby Russian agents who had been in England for twenty years living as natives had suddenly been activated to kill Ministry agents.
Steed explained, "A sleeper agent. A foreign spy. Suddenly activated to… kill me." His face distorted into a grimace. "I know it's stupid, fatuous for me to wonder that, I know it is, but tell me, tell me, anyway. Please."

He wasn't crying, he wasn't demanding affection, as he had when he had first woken up a week ago. But, Emma could see in Steed's face and hear in his urgent words the immense need to be assured she still loved him. Hatred burning in her for that unknown man, Emma held Steed's face in both hands, making him gaze only at her, as she attempted once more to convince her beloved husband that she was guiltless of wanting him dead. "Steed, listen to me. I know this is awful for you, terrible, but you have to believe me. I am not a spy. I did not want to shoot you. I love you with all my heart, my soul --you are my whole life. I don't know what I would have done if you had died, if I had killed you. I might very well have killed myself. Listen to me, I had nothing to do with that man, that bastard, except to be the innocent deliverer of his sick wish to bring harm to you." She kissed his forehead, his cheek, his lips. "Please say you believe me."
There was a slight pause and then Steed answered, his voice fading, "I believe you."

The pause travelled through Emma's bones, chilling her deeply, but she let it go. This was no time to get into a long discussion with Steed.
"Can I get you anything? Are you hungry, thirsty?" They had been able to feed Steed through a tube into his stomach since yesterday. His gut was coming back to life with the rest of his body. Emma knew they would let Steed try some soft foods orally, if he felt up to it.
"Some water would be good. My throat feels like it's been rubbed raw."
She got him a glass of water and handed it to him. He lifted the edge to his lips and took a sip, but upon attempting to swallow it he immediately coughed and spit it all back up.
"What's wrong?" Emma asked.

Steed tried again and the same thing happened. He clenched his jaws in aggravation and closed his eyes, the hand holding the glass trembling a little. Emma would have sworn Steed was harnessing his emotions as best as he could to not throw the glass across the room. After a few seconds he opened his eyes and gave the glass back to her.
"I can't swallow," he said, matter-of-factly, as if there was nothing unusual in that.
"You can't swallow?"
"No." Short, curt, abrupt.

Suddenly a nurse came into the room. Emma turned to her and told her that Steed couldn't swallow any water.
"Oh, that's to be expected. It's very frequent that after a patient has been on a ventilator he needs to be retrained to swallow. I suppose that the muscles involved with swallowing are a bit weakened or uncoordinated if the tube is in more than just a day or two. I'll notify the doctor and he'll send a speech therapist to Mr. Steed. A day of practicing some simple exercises and he should be fine."

She attended to her duties and then left the room.
Steed lay silent on his bed, hardly glancing at Emma.
Emma smiled, "Just a few exercises and you'll be okay, Steed."
"A few exercises and months of hard work."

Yes, Steed was familiar with what needed to happen to convalesce fully from a dire injury. With what he would be forced to do to recoup his strength, to build up his muscles, to return him to the man he was before he was shot. Emma studied her husband and recalled the brief conversation she had had with Dr. Melvin Silver, the chief psychiatrist of The Ministry, who had dropped by to discuss what she could expect Steed's reaction to be regarding his being injured again. He had warned her of the possibility of irritability and real depression --two very rare moods for Steed to exhibit-- and so far, she had to admit that Dr. Silver seemed to know her husband very well, indeed. He was displaying both and although she could understand and accept it, on the other hand Emma couldn't deny that it hurt her very much. What she needed was them to bond again, to stand up against the evilness in the world and triumph together, as they had done so many times before. She would just have to be patient, and allow time to bring them together as it healed up her husband's body and mind.

The speech therapist came in a few minutes later. Emma stood by the windows as the therapist persisted in engaging a very reluctant and uncooperative Steed in the exercises he would need to perform regularly for the rest of the day to ensure he was swallowing normally by tomorrow. Finally, coaching him patiently, a grouchy Steed had the proper techniques down and the therapist left with a friendly wave good-bye that Steed did not return, but Emma did.

He watched her return to his side. "Where are the children?" he asked.
"At Charlotte's. They're doing fine; I speak to them once or twice a day. The Ministry has security watching them."
"Do they know?"
"Just that you had an accident. I told them you had a fall, and I've been with you ever since."
"An accident," he repeated and then fell silent again.

It was odd how he didn't look at her much, preferring the ceiling or worse, resting a forearm over his eyes, hiding half his face from her.
"I can sneak some champagne in to you, if you want," Emma smirked playfully, trying to lighten the uncomfortable mood in the room.
"There's not really much to celebrate, is there?" Steed answered.
Emma wouldn't let that go. "Yes, there is something to celebrate. You survived; you beat the odds again. We're still together, overcoming the evil that enters our lives and tries to rip us apart. You're still the husband who fills my soul with joy and I'm still your adoring wife."

He lifted his arm off his eyes and stared at her, his face blank and unreadable. It was like his eyes saw clean through her out the wall in back of her and for a thousand miles more. He stayed like that for a few seconds, and then, like a switch had been turned in inside him, Steed finally rescued Emma.

Smiling at her brightly, his eyes suddenly sparkling, he said, "Yes, that's something to celebrate, isn't it? However, you better wait until I can get the stuff down into my stomach; no need to waste fine champagne by drenching one's hospital gown with it."

Emma's heart swelled with joy. An attempt to banter. To laugh at the world that so often tried to hurt him.
"I love you," Emma said, kissing him again. She felt him kiss her back.
"I love you, too," he said.
And all the eyes and the mouths surrounding Emma dissolved away.

By the second day off the ventilator Steed was able to eat and drink again, and another tube, his nasogastric tube, was removed. The air leak in his left lung had healed and that tube sticking out of his chest was removed. Since he could swallow, they removed his IV line and began giving him oral antibiotics and painkillers. Only the tube sticking out of his right chest was left; it would take the lung a few more days to heal enough from the gunshot before that tube could be removed. Steed was still confined to bed, and Emma took over from the physical therapist working with Steed's legs to help keep them strong and mobile, without spasms setting in. She wondered if her massaging his legs might set off a sexual response that would elevate her husband's mood; normally, of course, it would, especially as she lightly ran her fingers around his upper thighs. She was not surprised that Steed did not become erect in the hospital room now, as she knew that the insertion of a catheter made his penis sore for a week or so after its removal, but yet, in a way, she was decidedly disappointed. A couple of times in the past, Emma had made a brief hospital stay for Steed much more pleasurable for the both of them than they ever imagined it could be.

Now, he didn't do anything but lie on his pillow with his eyes closed during her techniques rising his head to look at her and thank her for her attention to him when she was done. She knew she had to be patient. He was older, and hadn't been almost fatally shot since he was forty. And then, he hadn't been shot by his wife, but by enemies in Berlin. She had to allow his body's weakness and his obvious depression to resolve --neither very helpful for promoting a libido.
Steed was immensely bored, and still a bit withdrawn and irritable. The touch of bantering he had employed with Emma in their first conversation was not his consistent way of speech with others after that; more often he was terse and withdrawn. Dr. Silver came and visited Steed and met with absolutely no cooperation in discussing his emotions or what his generally silent mind was thinking. He got no more than five or ten words out of the agent and then was essentially and rudely ignored. An extremely active man both in his career and in his personal life, time was something Steed filled in innumerably ways, yet there was very little to do in his hospital room. He spent the passing hours in an antsy, fidgety manner, too sore to move much at all. He flipped from television channel to channel with the remote control; glanced through magazine after magazine; read a few pages of a book and then put it down; desultorily picked at his food and sometimes asked the nurse bring an entirely different meal to him; and showed almost no interest in any visitor or discussion they attempted to initiate. Steed was overall a passive and non-complaining yet very sulky patient.

Yet, there were quiet times when he was alone with Emma in his room and she kissed his face, his lips, declaring her love for him; when she placed her hand over his groin and whispered for him please to get better; when she helped him shave; when she washed him tenderly, that he smiled back at her, or he leaned forward just enough to rest his head on her chest as she hugged him, or he reached over and cupped her face in his hand, or told her how lovely she was, that Emma allowed those tiny crumbs of affection to become full course meals. For now. She would need much more later, but it was a cornucopeia now. She knew that he was trying as best he could to process this almost fatal fiasco.

Finally, they gave Steed access to a phone, and allowed Ministry personnel to visit him. The fact that the first phone call to him was from a very concerned Prime Minister did not escape the gossip rounds of the clinic staff; just as the Get Well card from the Queen was placed front and center on the table designated for those items sent to a recuperating Steed. There weren't many baskets of flowers as most people didn't know where Steed was staying, so had no idea where to direct such a symbol of their concern, but his siblings had brought arrangements, and many of his associates had arranged for Purdey and/or Gambit, on one of their frequent visits to bring their little display of affection. The various roses, and carnations, and irises, and tulips, lent a delightfully sweet, natural air to the otherwise antiseptic room.

Being able to do some work settled down a good deal of Steed's dissatisfied fidgeting. Emma, seeing him busy and distracted, allowed herself to move out of the hospital room next door to Steed and finally return home, bringing her children and their nanny with her. She knew she had to return to Knight Industries in the next day or two, to finalize their take-over of another electronic company, Targill Inc. In her absence guidelines and directives she had instated had begun, but Emma knew that the next weeks would be crazy at their business as she attempted to balance caring and helping her injured husband get strong again, assure her children that everything was going to be just like it always had been, whilst she completed a deal that was, Knight Industries hoped, the beginning of an expansion that would solidify Knight Industries place in the growing computer and electronic age.
It was a lot to ask of any woman, and most women would have been daunted by the responsibilities of the next month; Emma Steed was enlivened by it and fully confident that she would do it all, and perfectly so.
Including, if necessary, finding an unknown man and killing him.

Chapter Four

Desmond Donald Kipner, researcher for Targill, Inc., sat at his home in the London borough of Weybridge, rereading for the 100th time 'The Guardian' newspaper article reporting that John Steed had been shot by his wife Emma. A gleeful snarling smile of his thick lips made his generally mildly unattractive face become unassailably ugly. The too bushy eyebrows covered eyes constantly bloodshot, as if Kipner was always in the throes of a hang-over, when indeed, the man drank modestly at best. Kipner's ungainly face was a microcosm of his life as a whole --his head was a touch too small; his skin a touch too pale and freckled, even for a man with Irish blood; his fine brown hair a touch too balding; his supposedly authoritative mustache a touch too anemic. It wasn't so much that any one part of Kipner's face was displeasing, but all told, it came together in a way that the weak points fed off each other, making the whole an ill-favored mess.

Such had been his life as well. It wasn't that he was totally socially incompetent, just enough to warn women that he lacked flair and polish; it wasn't that he was totally annoying, he was just moody and contrary enough to have caused bad feelings in most of his coworkers; it wasn't that he was brilliant in his field, he was just smart enough to have risen to a job he was competent to do and very much enjoyed knowing he had no hopes at all of ever attaining a higher position; it wasn't that he dressed poorly, he just wore his off the rack suits with the tie not quite aligned, with his cuff a bit too long. All it all, no one part of Kipner's personality and appearance was all that bad, but all told, when he came together as a man, people seemed to usually come into contact with his weakest, most displeasing aspects, which left him basically friendless and often inured to his solitude. As a researcher at Targill, Inc., he had worked overtime regularly not only out of devotion to his field, but also because he had no reason to go home. His wife had left him long ago, even though he had put up with her weight problem and health problems for years. He had no interest in dating again.

Holding "The Guardian" article in his hand, Desmond let his mind wander again back three weeks ago… to his thoughts then… when all of this had started…

He remembered he simply wanted to be left alone so he could work. It passed the time, he did a fairly good job in the laboratory, it paid the bills. He wasn't a star employee, but he'd fit into the place he had fashioned for himself in the research department. He wasn't brilliant, but he was a very capable technician that could take the ideas that others proponed and attempt to bring them to life. He dabbled, uncovering enough information so those smarter than him could fine tune their theorems into actual workable prototypes. If people didn't exactly like him, at least everyone was used to him, and didn't bother him anymore. He had been satisfied, content, settled. It wasn't much of a life, but he didn't ask for much and he had long ago grown used to the idea of continuing with Targill, Inc. until he retired. He had already worked for Targill, Inc. for sixteen years; he was forty-seven years old, set in his ways, and not desiring any change.

He had been made redundant one month ago. By Emma Steed, CEO of Knight Industries, who had taken over Targill, Inc. and released from Targill those employees who were no longer needed as her own company had employees that could function in some of the Targill jobs. Twenty-eight people had been shown the bloody door. And probably more would follow once the dust settled and all the executives drank to the merger.

The only thing he had for him in his miserable life --his job-- had been taken away. By a woman who had everything. Unfathomable wealth. Unbeatable looks. Incredible intelligence. Ownership of a leading company in Great Britain. Handsome, equally successful husband, who everyone liked and admired. Two adorable and well-behaved children.

She had everything and had taken away his only thing. Oh, sure, they had recompensed him with a large amount of money he could live off of comfortably for a year, giving him plenty of time to find another job, and even travel. And, they had written out a lovely letter of recommendation.

He doubted another company would ever hire him. Desmond was a very poor interviewee. And, when he was nervous, all the wrong things about him seemed to collect and magnify, making him seem even less attractive and useful than he normally exuded.

Why did people like Emma Steed get to have everything and people like him got nothing? It just wasn't fair.
A lifetime of hidden rage and despair came bubbling up out of Desmond as he sat in his house, alone and unwanted. Too many people had taken from him, too many people had left him with a meaningless, empty life. He should have struck back at them. He should have punched his father back. He should have told his teachers to not ignore him. He should have told the other kids to leave him alone. He should have demanded his wife return to him.
But, he hadn't. He had never struck back.

The most original idea Desmond ever had popped into his head so suddenly, he was sure it was delivered to him from God. This was what it must be like to be able to create, to be able to invent. It was… glorious. It made him tingle. It made him feel the most alive he had ever felt in his life.
He would strike back this time. Against Emma Steed.

How? Desmond forced his brain to keep working, feeding it, as he figured thinkers did, with alcohol. What could Desmond take away from Emma Steed? Not Knight Industries. Not her children. Not her wealth. Not her intelligence.
He could take away her looks --he could disfigure her. But, then again, she had plenty of money to have all the cosmetic surgery she needed to repair any damage he could do. Besides, then her husband might seek revenge against him; Desmond had seen pictures of her and her husband in the society pages of several newspapers. There seemed to be something potentially menacing underneath his casual air of elegance and his fancy suit and silly bowlers. It didn't seem like a good idea to have him angry with Desmond. Desmond thought more, another blinding flash of insight almost making him dizzy. He could take away… her husband… like Desmond had lost his wife. He could kill him.

A third epiphany struck him, more powerful than the other two combined. Emma Steed's love for her husband was well known; their story of being together as a couple, then being torn apart by her husband's return from Brazil, and then finally getting back together was a fairy tale that still enamored the public.
What if instead of living happily ever after… Emma accidentally killed him? At the huge anniversary party they were having soon? In the midst of her utmost joy would come devastating and irreversible tragedy. Yes, there she would kill her beloved husband, father of her children. That would bring her to her knees. That would destroy her. Desmond was sure of it.

Now Desmond just had to figure out how. And he did. Knowing that his second uncle Theodore owned a handgun he now kept in a box in his garage and never thought about, as a result of his being retired from his career of gem importer, Desmond took the train to Boscastle, Cornwall and broke into Theo's house one night wearing leather gloves, stealing the gun and escaping without detection. He knew his second uncle would never even discover the gun was gone. Traveling to Glascow the next day with his brown hair dyed black and his mustache shaved off, he bought five large paint guns and returned to his home. There, he wasted three of them taking them apart and experimenting with figuring out how to actually enact his plan. He figured it out and with the fourth implanted the real gun into the innards of the paint gun. He left the fifth paint gun alone, filling it with only one cartridge.

He bought an Armani suit and spent a whole day in his house acting as if he was of the upper class, refining his walk and his personal gestures. He had his hair professionally cut; his fingernails manicured.

He re-entered Targill headquarters to "retrieve the last items from his desk" and after searching several executive offices as the men and women met for the normal Wednesday morning meeting, stole an invitation to the Steed's party from Targill President Lord Robertson's desk; they were not labelled with individual names. He imagined the President would assume it was misplaced and ask for another invitation to be sent. And, as the light security of the party had demonstrated, no doubt that was exactly what had happened. No one had been expecting a dangerous interloper.

He went to the party three hours after it began, carrying the paint guns in a briefcase. And there, like magic, Emma had shot her husband.

Desmond's mind came back to the present. His plan should have worked perfectly. He had easily escaped in his car. But, somehow, Desmond didn't know how, Emma's fifty-six year old husband had survived a bullet directly into his chest and a fifteen foot fall to a cement porch. He hadn't cracked open his head. He hadn't bled to death.

The man had survived. It was unbelievable. John Steed must carry around four leaf clovers and horse shoes in his pockets. No one could be that lucky. Bastard. What was with those Steeds? Had come they lived such a charmed life? It just wasn't bloody damn fair.

Desmond sat drinking whiskey out of the bottle wondering what he should do now. The good news was that they had no idea who had perpetrated the shooting. The bad news was, Emma Steed's husband had survived, therefore, so would Emma Steed. He would have to think of some other way for her to try to kill her husband. Yes, then even if he survived again, he probably would never be able to trust her again. How many times can a man allow his wife to almost kill him? Either way, one more Mrs. Steed initiated injury and John Steed would up and leave her. Either by death or divorce --Desmond didn't care one way or the other.
He needed, however, to think up a second way for Emma to kill her husband and not have it be traced back to him. He gulped another swig of whiskey, a habit of drinking a little too much he had recently developed, and waited for heavenly inspiration to strike him one last time.

Chapter Five

By the end of Steed's second week in the hospital his right lung had healed itself of its air leak and the tube in his chest was removed. He was taken off the antibiotics and given a prescription medicine for pain to be taken if necessary. A rehabilitation therapist came to him and handed Steed sheets of paper with the sorts of exercises he should do daily to help strengthen his lungs and regain his fitness level.
Most of them were familiar to Steed. He had a very childish urge to crumble them up and throw them to the floor, but he controlled himself and attempted to look like he was at least paying a little bit of attention to the therapist demonstrating this or that breathing exercise and then instructing him as to how he should begin a walking and stretching routine to begin gaining back his strength and stamina.
He didn't really pay attention at all.

Steed was able to extend a nod good-bye to the well-intentioned man, and then frowning, he placed the papers on the table beside his bed. It hurt to do so. Five broken ribs certainly had a tendency to make themselves known. Dr. Carlyle had not taped his ribs, preferring to allow Steed to breathe deeply and prevent another episode of pneumonia from developing. That freed up his movement, but movement hurt. And made him tired. And that made him irritable.

He couldn't believe it. He had been shot through the chest. He hadn't been shot so seriously in almost twenty years. He never imagined he would have been shot again. Once or twice he had examined his chest and there, on both sides, new scars, one long and a couple other small and puckered, deformed his skin.
New scars. He couldn't believe it.

When he had been lying on his patio, he remembered just barely that the blackness had come over him so quickly, as had the numbness and the bone-soaking cold. And the fear. He couldn't get any air into his lungs; he couldn't seem to breathe. He really thought he was going to die. He briefly remembered screaming, movement, coughing up blood… and that was it…

He had woken up a week later in a hospital. One week of his life gone. Vanished. Wasted.

Steed wondered if he would ever be able to escape from the violence that had plagued his life since the War. He was so very tired of violence --delivering it and receiving it. Committing violence bothered his mind and soul; being hurt bothered his body. He needed more peace in his life, now. That was why he had resigned fully and completely from field service. It was time. He had lasted six years longer than recommended by the Ministry, and that was long enough. He wanted only to run the Ministry and keep it the effective, efficient, respectable Intelligence organization it was. He wanted to change some of its archaic ways and promote more technology. He wanted to encourage the hiring of agents that were not thinking that all the glory of protecting Great Britain lay in the gun they carried or their well-trained fists. He wanted to coordinate The Ministry better with other agencies not just in Britain, but in other Western countries. He wanted ensure a quick capture of any malefactor threatening to harm in anyway the inhabitants of the land he loved. He had big plans as Head of The Ministry and he was fully confident then he would be able to see them all achieved.

And then, he wanted to go home to his beautiful wife, wonderful children, magnificent horses and the peaceful, bucolic country life that he not only thrived on, but desperately needed to soothe his soul. To erase all the sights he had seen in his life that sometimes appeared before him out of the blue, filling his mind with a sudden view of some disturbing past moment, making him work to clear his mind and continue to enjoy the symphony or the picnic in the park. He had miraculously been able to create such a home. Then, giving up his job, he had expected his whole life to be personally violence free.
Yet, violence had followed him home.

In the form of an unknown man, an unknown enemy, and… his wife. It had been a brilliant plan of revenge, Steed had to admit, guaranteed to take him by absolute surprise. The attack occurred on his home ground, at a non-Ministry party, when he and his guests --and his wife-- were probably a little inebriated, acted out by an unknown person no one knew or could place or could connect to Steed's known enemies, in an extremely unique way. Steed had thirty years in the field and was the most experienced and successful agent presently alive in Britain --he had never encountered before such a bizarre yet effective scenario attempting to kill someone with fifty people all around him. He almost respected the man who had thought it up. What a way to kill him…
By using his wife to shoot him.
Emma had shot him.
It hadn't been her fault.
Emma had shot him.
It hadn't been her fault.
Or, had it?

She was so lovely and Steed loved her so much. And love was a truly strong emotion to Steed, one he had hid deep inside for so many long years, Steed had believed he was unable to even consider experiencing such a feeling for some woman.

And then, Emma had come into his life. An angel floating down from heaven to save him from his lonely life as a secret agent. And, at some point, quite surprising to Steed, he had been forced to acknowledge he loved her. It had only enhanced their time together, even if he had hardly even mumbled that declaration to her. When she had left him for her husband, returned from his years in the jungles of Brazil, Steed had gone on without her, a different man in some ways --certainly a very sadder man-- but still the same capable agent he always was.
She came back to him three years later. Fighting off his fears, Steed had risked trusting Emma again, risked devoting himself to her as loyally as he did to his country and they had flourished as man and wife, conceiving two children, two little Steeds that he never imagined, never ever imagined he would be blessed with.

Then, at their party, Emma had been drunk, accepted a paint gun from some man she didn't know and had shot it at him.

She should have known. After all their cases together, after all the ones with Purdey and Gambit he had told her about since they had become a couple, she should have known. Odd things are frequently bad things. There are enemies out there. Always be careful. Always think. Always be sure. He had sensed the realness of the weapon; he remembered that. He remembered yelling for her not to shoot…
She had fired off the gun.

Steed hated the way his thoughts ran regarding this. He should be thankful he was alive. He should be grateful the children hadn't seen him injured, or hadn't been the targets themselves. He should be grateful that Emma hadn't been attacked. He should merely shrug this off, as he had shrugged off so many other injuries in the past. He didn't know what was the matter with him.

Something small and bitter was eating at him inside. Love was not the only emotion that ruled Steed; in fact, it was third in importance to him, if he was so rational about it. Trust and loyalty --those emotions ranked the highest with him, those were what he hung his ideals upon and what held the most weighty significance in his life. He needed trust and loyalty to be intimately involved with any and all of his relationships, no matter if it was with his tailor or the Prime Minister. He loved Emma with all his heart and he was touched by Auntie Greta telling him how she had so loyally stayed by his side the whole week, sleeping only a few hours in the room next door each night. But, as Steed sat there waiting for the nurse to enter his room, bringing a wheelchair to roll him to the front of the clinic, where Emma was picking him up in his spacious Jaguar, Steed hated the rest of that thought, hated what he felt. There was something eroding inside him, an ulcer cutting deeper and deeper inside him releasing a growing pool of fear as the hole widened. Steed knew what that erosion was --it was the engrained response that any long-lived agent would have to someone who had seriously harmed them. And Steed was a very long-lived agent. It was the question of whether he would ever be able to trust Emma, his dear wife, again.
That scared him more than anything in his tumultuous life ever had.

Chapter Six

They kept Steed in the hospital another two days watching him begin to walk around and making sure they felt comfortable that he was able to return home, where his serious convalescing would begin. Dr. Harrison wanted him to stay at home for another month and not go daily to his large office at The Ministry, although the physician was willing to accept that Steed would work from his study in his mansion, instead. After all, the Ministry was a vast and important organization and needed Steed's guidance on a regular basis. Finally, Monday arrived and Steed was granted the ability to officially go home.

Steed hated the wheelchair ride to the front of the clinic; it made him feel so powerless and weak, even though he was dressed in his usual suited way, and strong enough to go home. But he understood it was the standard method of discharging patients. He would have leapt from the chair as it arrived by the parked car outside the building if he had had the energy to do so, but he didn't, so he settled for a slow, stately, dignified rise and a confident entrance into his Jaguar, driven by his smiling wife. The other occupant of the car was a fully armed security guard silently on alert in the back seat. Next to the guard had been placed multiple colorful bouquets removed from his hospital room.

They arrived home in the late morning, and Steed, standing outside the car, was greeted by his two children running out from the house, calling out loudly, "Daddy!" He knelt down and they flew into his chest, almost knocking him over in his unsteadiness. He grit his teeth against Elly hugging his left side, compressing his broken ribs, but made no comment to have her stop her avid display of affection, and decided to focus on all the kisses the two of them were lavishing on his face, a far more enjoyable sensation.

Finally, they pulled back. Steed's legs were trembling from his squatting position and he was forced to either stand up or fall down sitting on the ground. He choose the former course of action and stood slowly, a bit light-headed, but smiling widely at his children. The children then swarmed upon Emma, who kissed and hugged them, too. Afterwards they stood before their parents and everyone looked with brightened face upon everyone else. Auntie Greta came out of the house; Steed kissed her cheek and Emma hugged her. She bid her good-byes while Steed and Emma thanked her warmly and sincerely for picking up the kids from Charlotte's house and caring for them until Emma and Steed had arrived home, and then she drove away. Steed directed his full attention back to his children, smiling down at them.

"Well," Steed said, "that was quite a reception!"
"Daddy! We're so happy to see you! Are you feeling better?" Elly asked?
"Yes, I am," he answered.
"Mummy said you fell down from some place high and got hurt," Eddie said. "I fell down, too, when my tricible tipped over. I skinned my knee." He pointed at his healed up right kneecap below his shorts. "But, it's all better, now. Did you skin your knee when you fell?"

Emma came over to Steed and put her hand on his shoulder, offering silent support. Her presence felt good next to him.
"I didn't skin my knee. I broke a bone!" Steed said, dramatically.
"You broke a bone?! Which one?" Elly asked. Both children ran their eyes up and down his body. "I don't see a cast."
"There's no cast," Eddie repeated.
Steed pointed to his rib. "This bone. They don't put a cast here."
Both children stared at his chest and said "Ohhhh."
"Did it hurt much?" asked Elly.
"Did it?" asked Eddie.
Steed smiled. "A bit. Not so much now. But, for a month or so, I shan't be able to carry both of you at the same time."
Elly stood up straight. "That's okay, daddy. You can carry Eddie, as he's so tiny he's almost weightless. We should tie a string to him to catch him if he starts to float away."

Steed and Emma shared a grin. Elly did come out with some amazing statements.
Elly continued, "I'll walk next to mummy holding her hand. Then we'll be together as a whole family."
"Elly, that is a most excellent idea," Steed agreed, bending over slowly to kiss the top of her head.
"That's very sweet, Elly," Emma nodded.
"Will you carry me into the house now?" Eddie asked, holding his arms out in front of him.

Steed knelt down again, slowly, and allowed his under-height and underweight son to grasp hold of his right chest; he stood with his strong right arm wrapped firmly around him. He stood up again slowly, holding in a grunt of effort that almost slipped out.

"Will I always be so tiny, daddy?" Eddie asked, as Elly and Emma held hands and they all walked along the driveway to the house. The security guard stayed outside in front, in walkie talkie contact with the guard posted in the back of the square white three-floored Georgian mansion. He had told Steed in the car he'd bring the flowers inside.

"No, I doubt it. I was your size at your age and look at me now."
"Eddie wants to be ten feet tall," Elly said.
Steed's eyebrows rose precipitously. "Ten feet?"
"Ten feet!" Eddie yelled.
"Yes, ten feet tall," Elly confirmed. "That way, if you fall down from somewhere high again, he can catch you so you won't be badly hurt."
"You won't be badly hurt," Eddie said, nestling his head against Steed's broad shoulder.

Steed and Emma glanced at each other, their open faces sharing an acknowledgement of heartfelt agreement on that issue; however, Emma turned her head away, guilt and shame closing her eyes. Finally, after some silent seconds, Steed closed his eyes too, and gently kissed the top of Eddie's head, lingering for a few seconds in the scent and feel of his little boy's fair auburn hair.

Continued in part 2

©  Mona Morstein 2000
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)  

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