THE PARTY
  by Patty Pat

DISCLAIMERS: Please bear in mind that English is only my second language and therefore you will find grammatical mistakes. Also, this little ditty is my first attempt at Avengers fanfic. I understand that my characters might not be quite what they are in the TV series, but somehow, I see them more as human than super-heroes, even if they are that, too.
I do not own the characters, although I wish I could have Steed for myself.. *g* No copyright infringement intended, no money made out of this either.
Enjoy the story! Patty Pat

1983 - England

The ballroom was full of activities, a small orchestra in one corner playing some soft dancing music and multiple fountains of champagne gurgling to the pleasure of all the guests. Mother had certainly gone through the deep end with this party and most -if not all- of the Agency's employees were reunited for one exceptional evening. Tonight was special, they all knew it. The end of an era at the Agency: the great John Steed was officially retiring from duties. No one ever thought that day would happen, but more that he'd die under fire during a dangerous mission. Nobody could imagine Steed not working. Yet, the great man had decided that he had done enough for The Crown and now aspired to a more quiet lifestyle. He's been thinking about it for a few years, since he bought Greylands in fact, but there was always one last mission that kept him going.. and another.. But not anymore. After being shot three times in the last two years, he had decided to stop risking not only his life, but the ones of his partners as well.

Mother made a surprisingly touching speech, the usually rather cold man feeling almost emotional when recalling Steed's career. Mrs. Catherine Gale, Ms Tara King also gave their own speeches while Purdey and Gambit did a joint one. The latter was very funny, grilling the guest of honor more than simply praising his talents, and everybody enjoyed it thoroughly, including the "victim". At the end, it was time for Steed to get on the podium and say a few words. Taking his champagne glass with him, he stepped on the stage to face the crowd. In the back of the room, a tall dark silhouette watched him silently.

"Well.. first of all, I'd like to thank you all for coming to this 'good riddance' party, it's nice to know that champagne is still popular nowadays," he chuckled softly. "Seriously, feel safe because I haven't prepared any boring speech and I won't be long. But let me thank you all for being here tonight, it's sincerely overwhelming. I also would like to thank those of you that I have been privileged to be paired with for so many missions. Tara mentioned me saving the day, but in truth it's often my partners who were the one protecting and saving my hides in more occasions than I care to admit. So thanks to you, I can today enjoy this fine drink and company. To you all, I make this toast."

He took a sip while the crowd growled a warm "hear hear" before doing the same. Steed's eyes scanned the room, unknowingly attracted to the corner where the tall person was standing in the shadow. A beam of light from the other room lit the area and Steed froze in shock. Emma! But it couldn't be.. if she had been here, Mother would have told him. And she surely would have took her turn to grill him too. Wouldn't she? Sensing the silence growing thicker, Steed realized that everybody was waiting for him to resume his speech. He cleared his throat before speaking again.

"And.. well, thank you and enjoy the party! Mother's paying, so go right ahead!" he smiled wickedly before jumping off the stage as if there was a bomb on it. He tried to cross the room to meet with the shadow of Emma, but people congratulating him kept stopping his progress. By the time he succeeded, the shadow was gone.

"Ah Steed," Tara called as she reached him, "what a nice party, isn't it?"
"Indeed. Tell me, did you see Mrs. Peel tonight?"
"Can't say I did, no. Is she here?" she asked with a hint of jealousy in her voice.
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I thought I saw her, but.. I might have imagining it. C'mon, let's have a drink," he said, forcing the thought off his mind.

If Emma was here, why would she hide from me? It doesn't make sense at all.. I must be getting older than I thought.. He shook his head and took another sip while smiling at the lively conversation between Tara King and Venus Smith, something about music but he wasn't totally sure.

"Hello Steed," a warm voice said behind him, almost making him drop his glass.

Trying to regain his composure, he turned slowly to face the woman behind him.

"Mrs. Peel," he smiled, "what a pleasure to see you here tonight."
"The rumor said that the old wolf was retiring, I had to check it by myself," she teased gently.
"And it is true, as you can see. Oh, pardon me for being rude," he excused himself to Tara and Venus, "Mrs. Peel, you remember Tara King.. and this is Venus Smith."
"How do you do," said Venus shaking hand with the second legend of the Agency.
"How do you do," Emma answered. "Of course I remember Miss King. By the way, even if Steed keeps calling me Mrs. Peel, I'm officially Ms Knight now," she smiled politely.
"Old habits die hard, Mrs. Peel," he chuckled. "May I offer you a drink?" he asked, hoping to get a few minutes alone with her.
"Certainly. If you'll excuse us.."

They moved toward the balcony and Steed grabbed two glasses on the way, offering one to Emma.

"Care to take a breath of fresh air?" he suggested.
"Why not," she agreed, following him.
"So, how have you been Mrs Peel?"
"Long and arduous divorce aside, I've been doing all right. I'm sure you read it all in the newspapers. The head of Knight Enterprises doesn't get much privacy in what should be private matters."
"Yes, I've noticed that," he sympathized.
"But it's behind now and things are looking up. What about you? What happened to get you to retire?"
"Nothing really, but I'm 61 now, the mind's still sharp -I think- but I am not as agile as I'd like to be. When you start becoming a responsibility and a burden for your partners, it's time to give up."
"I seriously doubt you could ever be a burden to your partners, Steed."
"You'd be surprised," he said thoughtfully. "I wasn't sure you'd be here tonight," he swiftly changed the subject.
"I wasn't sure until half an hour ago either," she admitted.
"What changed your mind?"
"I just couldn't stay away of a good party," she joked, avoiding a true answer. "This is a big day for the Agency. The living legend is leaving. Mother called me a couple of weeks back and I hadn't given any definitive answer."
"But you're here and I'm awfully glad that you are," he said truthfully.
"So am I, Steed," she whispered.

There was so many things he wanted to tell her, but his proud British nature couldn't just let him spill his guts to the lady. So the conversation remained mostly neutral, with the same banter they had between them so many years ago. The party was going well, despite the obvious absence of the guest of honor, until Mother sent Purdey to coach him back with everybody.

"Ahmm, Steed?" Purdey called gently, nervous about interrupting anything she knew was very important to Steed.
"Purdey," he smiled widely, "you know Mrs. Peel?"
"Ms Knight," Emma rectified, "how do you do."
"How do you do. Steed, Mother claims that he'll make you pay for the party if you don't show up in there for a while."
"Tell him that's fine, being with Mrs. Peel is worth anything."
"Steed," Emma blushed, "go on, your guests need to see you, too."
"You won't disappear from my life again if I do, will you?" Steed asked, seriously concerned.
"I promise I won't," she smiled.
"Purdey, you keep an eye on her for me, won't you? I'll be back soon," he said, reluctantly leaving the peace of the balcony to enter the noisy and smoky room.

An uncomfortable silence grew between the two women left alone.

"I'm glad you're here," Purdey finally said, deciding to go for the unsaid truth.
"Really? but you don't even know me."
"True, but Steed talks a lot about you and I know he misses you more than he'll ever admit it to anyone. And now that I've seen you two together, it's even more obvious. He's radiant when beside you. Not that he's not witty and smiling usually, but there's always a sadness lingering in his eyes.. That's the first time that I've seen that sadness gone since I've known him."
"How long have you been working with him?"
"Seven years now, but we see each other a lot when we're not in a mission, too."
"I see," Emma said icily.
"No you don't," Purdey said bluntly. "It's almost a father-daughter friendship we have."
"I wasn't.."
"Sure you were," the young woman smiled.

Shocked to have been caught and so obviously chastised, Emma remained silent for a moment.

"He said he's retiring because he's became a burden to his partners. I doubt that personally, but what's your intake on that?"
"Steed is a blessing and certainly not a burden, but he's not as physically fit as he was and he got shot three times in the last two years. I guess his pride got hurt, too.."
"You don't want him to retire," Emma understood.
"No, but I understand him I think. Beside, he has seen it all, this is not the same thrill for him anymore," Purdey said, forcing herself to not say too much. "You see him favouring his right side? that's the consequence of the last bullet. Because we had to carry him out of the trap we were caught in, he thinks he owes us.. while in fact.. I'm the one who owe my life to him because that bullet was aimed at me, but he jumped and took it in his hip.."
"Still the proud knight in armour, I see," Emma faintly smiled.
"Definitely. Working at the Agency won't be the same once he'll be gone," she added pensively.
"He's one of a kind," Emma agreed.

Gambit had made his way toward the two women and presented himself to Emma. He invited Purdey to dance, but she refused explaining her promise to Steed.

"Go on," Emma laughed, "I will go no further than the sandwich table, I promise. Beside, I think Steed already making himself sure that I'm still here."
"He keeps looking here, doesn't he," Gambit noticed tactlessly.
"Indeed. Go ahead and enjoy yourselves, it's not everyday that Mother offers such a big party!"
"You're sure?" Purdey asked wearily. "Steed will kill me if you disappear, you know."
"Fear not, for I shall not leave," Emma smiled sincerely amused by Steed's friends concerns.

Good friends Steed got there, she thought when they left to join the dance floor. At least, someone was there for him when I wasn't. She turned toward the buffet and went to get a couple of small sandwiches with a glass of champagne. She stood there, looking at John Steed busy being social and complimented by his peers. Emma, for the first time in years, took the time to observe the man she had always secretly loved. He looked older than she remembered, his hair more salt than pepper, the fine lines on his face  were now more defined, and he had gained some weight, but all in all, he hadn't changed much. Like the good vintage wine he liked, he had aged to perfection. Maturity befitted him nicely. Gosh I missed him, she sighed. As if reading her mind, he winked at her while pretending being interested in the current conversation. She raised her glass to him and smiled. After all this time, he still does that, like if he feels what I'm thinking, she smiled.

From the other side of the room, Steed's mind was all on Mrs. Peel, although whoever he was talking to at the moment wouldn't have known. Emma.. Emma came to the party.. That thought alone made him happier than he had been in years. Maybe there would be a chance for the two of them again. She was radiant, her physical appearance belying her fourty-seven years of age, and to Steed, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. All the man wanted at that moment was to leave the party to have a dinner in tête à tête with her, but he knew he couldn't do that just yet, so he patiently pretended to listen to his peers congratulations and gossips.

~~~~~~~~~

As the evening went on, the number of guests diminished and those left were more preoccupied with themselves than with Steed, finally giving him the opportunity to join Emma's round table.

"You're a busy man," she noticed while offering him a glass of champagne.
"Was, Mrs. Peel, I was a busy man. I'm glad you waited for me while I was stuck in formalities"
"That's quite all right, Steed. It is your party after all," she smiled.
"Yes, although I had especially told Mother I didn't want any. Mind you, know that you're here, I'm awfully glad that Mother didn't listen to me."

Emma blushed slightly as her eyes locked onto Steed's, drawn by their intensity of the feelings reflected in them. They looked at each other deeply for a few seconds that might have been an eternity, silently communicating their inner thoughts. Emma was the one shyly breaking the eye contact and reaching for her glass to regain some composure.

"Mrs. Peel," Steed croaked.
"Steed," she interrupted softly, "I'd really like if you'd stop calling me that."
"Ms Knight, I.." the words failed him and he quickly fell back on his feet by switching the subject. "I think I'll get more champagne, can I get you some?"
"Definitely," she answered, slightly puzzled by what had just happened.

Berating himself, Steed went to the bar while trying to get himself back together. This wasn't like him at all. Where was his calm and posed attitude when he needed it the most? He almost had told her too much! He certainly couldn't tell Emma the truth, it would be risking to loose the little friendship they were trying to rebuild. There was no way she would even consider going on in life with an old man like him. Was it?

From her vantage point on the dance floor, Purdey was looking at them with despair. What was wrong with them to be blind to the obvious? Someone had to do something or they'll be forever stuck in a status-quo that would keep them both unhappy and frustrated. Gonna have to do something, she frowned trying to think of a way to push them to admit their feelings.

"There you go, Mrs.. Ms Knight," Steed offered as he sat back at the table in front of Emma.
"Thank you. So what are you plans now that you're retired?" she asked, decided to remain on neutral ground.
"Taking it easy at Greylands and taking care of the horses. Maybe get some breeding program started. But I don't really have any big plans."
"I heard about your property," she continued, "it seems impressive."
"It is. You should come visit some day."
"I'd love that," she smiled.
"What about you? Does Knight Enterprises keep you busy?"
"Yes and no, I have mostly delegated all the management work nowadays. I just show up to some CEO meetings here and there, but mostly the company is doing fine without me. I'm glad to have some trusted assistants."
"I read the avionics department got a big contract this year."
"Indeed," she said, surprised that he knew what was happening with her company. "That will assure over 2000 jobs for the next three years, so we're all happy that we got that one. I always hate when we're near the point of firing employees."
"I can understand that," he sympathized.
"Could we go outside for a moment? I've quit smoking and really, right now, second hand smoke is getting to me real bad," she admitted.
"Oh my, but certainly. I didn't know you stopped smoking. Good on you, my dear," he congratulated her as they stood to go on the balcony.
"Thanks Steed. I was surprised actually, once I've put my mind on it, it wasn't so hard. Although I guess people around me would probably have a different opinion," she chuckled, followed by her companion.
"That's the result that counts," Steed noted as he grabbed two freshly filled glasses of champagne.
"I still have moment of nicotine fits, though.. like now.."
"Being surrounded by smokers can't help," he agreed.
"Not really." And being a nervous wreck either, she mentally added.
"Why don't we take a few steps in the gardens?" he suggested.
"Wonderful, it's a relatively warm night for this time of the year." Even to her own ears it sounded lame.
"Yes, Greylands' garden is still flourishing like if we were still in the middle of Summer. The horses don't complain and neither do I, though," he smiled.

While trying to have a neutral conversation, Steed realized that he had more to drink than he should have and that he felt a tad bolder than earlier in the evening. Still, the idea of loosing even the smallest friendship with Emma by telling her too much was haunting him. He drained his glass nervously as they walked amongst the rose garden.

Purdey was on the balcony looking in their direction, thinking that maybe she wouldn't need to interfere after all. She smiled and returned on the dance floor. Most of the guests had left already and only the younger ones were now dancing on the sound of a blasting jukebox instead of the string orchestra from the beginning. Even Mother had retreated in another room.

Emma and Steed sat side by side on a bench surrounded by fragrant roses. Emma was wearing Steed's jacket as he had noticed her shivering slightly, her thin silk dress not protecting her from the light breeze.

"Why," Steed started almost to himself, "are we so awkward with each other?"
"Are we?" she pretended not to have noticed.
"In the old days, you'd have leaned against me and I would've held you," he stated softly.

Without a word, she moved closer and laid her head on his broad chest, with his arms around her. Steed let out a contented sigh. It felt good, Emma admitted to herself. She felt not only loved but protected and safe. I've missed that.. so much.. she thought. How could I have left him for Peter? a wife's duty maybe.. or ignorance of youth.. So many years wasted now.. A tear formed in her eye as she savoured Steed's warm against her.

"Ms Kn.." Steed croaked then cleared his throat before starting again. "Emma.. I.. I've missed you, you know."
"Steed.."
"No, please, let me say it or I won't dare again.. I.. I highly value our friendship and I really hope we'll get it going again, but.. but if you're to disappear from my life again, you have to know.."  He stopped to took a deep breath. "Emma, I love you. I always loved you. Only you."

Emma's tear fell silently on Steed's jacket as he remained quiet after his confession, holding his breath and waiting for her reaction. She was immobile in his arm. Immobile and silent. Steed almost felt the world falling around him, his fear of rejection appearing suddenly awfully justified.

"I.. I'm sorry if you hate me for saying that," he concluded, certain that she was about to bolt away forever.
"Oh Steed," she sighed, melting closer to him if ever possible but avoiding to look at him. "It's not you I hate, John. It's me. I took a very bad decision some fifteen years ago and I never forgave myself for it."
"You did what you had to do then, Emma," he contradicted sadly.
"Maybe.. but once I realized it couldn't work with Peter anymore.. I don't know.. At least when I became Ms Knight again, I should have..."
"..or I should have," he said, emphasizing that they were both at fault for their lack of communication. "I knew all about it and I never dared to give you a call. I was.. afraid of your rejection."
"And I didn't because I didn't want you to think you were just a second choice." She turned around to look at him deep in the eyes so he would see the truth in her statement. "Because John, you never were second in my heart."
"Don't cry," he whispered, almost shocked to realize that they were both identically miserable. He brought her closer and hugged her tenderly.
"Steed, I.. I love you too," she finally confessed burying herself deeper against him. A mix of a chuckle and sob escaped her as she tried to lighten the mood: "I don't know what's wrong with me," she tried to joke, "I'm not usually so emotional."
"Shht, it's all right. I know exactly how you feel, for I share the sentiment. I feel like laughing and crying and screaming and.. gosh, I feel alive and it bloody feels good," he concluded energetically, making her chuckle.

They remained silent for a while, simply enjoying each other's company, rediscovering the sweet feeling of each other's arms.

"Ms Knight," he softly started, "would you allow me to court you from now on?"
"Yes, I'd be honored," she smiled, giving him a stronger hug.

Another comfortable silence.

"Steed?"
"Hmm?"
"Shouldn't the guest of honor show his face in the ballroom?"
"Probably," he answered without moving an inch. "Although by now, most of the guests left are mostly inebriated and haven't noticed my absence."
"As much as I'd love to stay like this, I know at least one person who must be wondering where we are."
"Mother?"
"No," Emma chuckled. "Purdey. You gave her a mission and I'm sure she intends to carry it through."
"Ah yes, you're right. Well I guess we should go and relieve her of her duties," he stated, still not moving at all. "In a minute."

The light wind had grown colder and Emma felt her companion slight shiver.

"Come on John," she smiled, extracting herself from his arms, "let's go inside before you catch a cold."
"That might not be a bad idea," he agreed, getting up and holding her hand to help her up.

They kept holding hands until they reached the balcony and once inside the smoky ballroom again, Emma gave Steed his jacket back. Purdey left a knowing smile grow wide. Well well.. looks like they won't need any interference after all, she thought. About time, too!

The party was going well and Steed's assumptions were almost right as many of the remaining guests were rather drunk, dancing and singing joyfully, if not particularly on key. Steed and Emma walked over toward Purdey who was waiting for them, still smiling.

"So here you are," she told him, "Mother was even speculating that you had left without saying good bye."
"How rude that would be," he gasped. "Where is Mother?" he asked, scanning the room without seeing him.
"In the other room, enjoying his cigar and brandy, surrounded by his telephones."
"I'll go say good night and be right back," Steed stated quickly.
"I'll get my coat and wait for you there," Emma said, answering his silent question. "Good night Purdey, nice meeting you."
"Pleasure was all mine, Ms Knight. Have a safe ride home," she answered, waiting for Steed to come back.

When he did a few minutes later, the blonde was still there.

"So Steed," she started, "did you enjoy your party?"
"Most definitely," he answered.
"Are things better with Ms Knight?"
"I didn't know things were bad," he lied, teasing her.
"Oh c'mon now, don't pretend with me."
"Yes," he chuckled, "things are better between us. Thanks for caring, Purdey."
"I hoped things would turned that way, you both deserve it," she stated sincerely. "I'll let you go, she's waiting for you."
"Am I the lucky man," he smiled dreamily. "Good night Purdey. I'll call you next week."
"You better not forget that. Good night Steed."

He joined Emma in the entrance hall where he grabbed his own coat and they exited the house. Mother had provided a limousine service for the guests so nobody would drive under the influence of alcohol. They didn't have to talk about it as they both entered the same car, the driver dropping Emma first, then driving Steed to his property.

As they traveled in a companionable silence, Emma leaned on Steed's shoulder, appreciating this renewed intimacy between them.

"Will you come over to Greylands for the weekend?" he asked her, hoping she'd accept his invitation.
"I'd love to," she answered without a second thought.
"I'll pick you up Saturday at 8am, would that be all right?"
"Sounds great, Steed."
"It's settled then," he concluded happily.

When the limo stopped in front of Emma's flat, Steed wasn't sure he was ready to let her go. Yet, he knew he had to.

"Good night Emma," he smiled tenderly. "I'll see you on Saturday morning."
"I'm looking forward to it, John. You take care and have a good night, too."

They looked at each other, each uncertain if the other was ready to take a step further. Locking eyes and seeing the same thought reflected in them, they slowly got closer and share their first kiss, soft and shy but full of promises for a better future.

"I love you," he whispered before letting her go.
"I love you too," she answered, pulling him for another kiss, deeper and more passionate.

She exited the car and winked at him a last time. "See you Saturday, Steed," she said before closing the door.

The limousine took off toward Greylands, a dreamy Steed smiling widely on the back seat. At last, something was turning up all right in his life.

THE END
 
©  Patty Pat 2002
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 me.. :o)  

 

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