Author's note: Knowledgeable readers will recognise that this plot bears a distinct resemblance to Requiem. Before you all jump on me, I haven't seen this episode and only discovered the similarities when looking through The Ultimate Avengers to make sure my plot hadn't already been done. My actual inspiration was the Protectors episode, Thinkback, although I later discovered this was virtually a rewrite of Requiem.

As this story isn't highly witty I've invented a drinking game instead:

Award yourself a bottle of champagne for every Avengers reference you spot.

Award yourself two bottles for all the ITC references you get.

Library people should be able to spot several other references to other things. No champagne for getting these, just a promise to be a model pupil.

 

REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE FIRST OF SEPTEMBER
  by
Young Avenger


CHAPTER ONE

At two o'clock on Sunday morning, a time when passers-by could be relied on to be fairly unobservant, the sound of breaking glass could be heard coming from The Cane School of Cake Decorating and Sugarcraft. Shortly afterwards, a figure clambered through the evidently non-burglar-proof window and into the building. His luck failed to hold out, however, when he tried to go through one of the internal doors. An alarm rang out which was guaranteed to raise not only the sleepiest resident but also to alert the authorities. The intruder decided that he did not want to test their response time and hurriedly departed the scene.

***

Mrs Peel loved the summer. The sun started streaming in her bedroom window at four o'clock and by six o'clock was so bright that she felt compelled to get up and enjoy the day. This particular morning was no exception, dawning fine and clear with the promise of a long hot afternoon. Washing and dressing, she mused that rising early had the added advantage of giving her a few hours to herself since Steed rarely surfaced before eight and could therefore be trusted not to appear until nine. Not that she didn't relish the prospect of his company, she reflected, but he had an annoying habit of preventing her from carrying on with the more mundane aspects of life such as running a business and writing papers.

Half an hour later, having breakfasted and cleared up, Mrs Peel sat down to her desk with the intention of writing some more of her latest article. Just as she was about to begin, her eye was caught by the date on her desk calendar. It was still showing yesterday's date so she flipped it over. Only today's date did not read "August 26". Instead, those familiar words were printed:

Mrs Peel...
...We're Needed.

With a sigh, Mrs Peel abandoned any hope of finishing her article.


CHAPTER TWO

It was not until they had been in the car for half an hour that Mrs Peel finally turned the conversation to the subject of their journey.

"Where are we going today, Steed?"

"Here," he replied, pulling off the leafy road and into a driveway.

Emma looked at the sign. "The Cane School of Cake Decorating and Sugarcraft?"

"To be precise, Department S. It was felt that this provided a good cover for the Department because so few people would inquire inside. Anything unusual would be automatically discounted on the grounds that nothing could possibly be amiss in a school which purported to teach how to maintain a steady hand for that superlative squiggle."

***

Head of Security Roger Wilde was waiting for them and took them straight to the site of the break-in.

Finishing her survey of the area, Emma stood up and turned towards him. "Do you have any idea who the intruder was?"

Wilde seemed reluctant to speak so Steed answered for his colleague. "Our burglar was one Colonel Dobtcheff, their top spy. He was spotted when he entered the country yesterday, but we decided to see what he was up to before picking him up."

"And you think this is what he was up to?"

"It seems logical; his tail lost him just before the incident and he hasn't been seen since."

"Well, at least we know who was doing the taking," commented Mrs Peel dryly. "Do we know what they were trying to take?"

"The most likely target would be the Forget-Me-Not files."

"The plant?" inquired Mrs Peel in surprise.

Steed shook his head. "The agent - formerly of the Floral Network, now in charge of the Root Network. All the files on it are kept here as it would be too dangerous for him to store them."

"Do you think Dobtcheff will try again?" asked Emma.

"Of course," replied Steed, astonished. "He can't go home without them."

Wilde decided that Mrs Peel had heard enough background. "The plan is for you and Steed to each take half of the documents and hide them. It doesn't matter when or where you do it but you should make sure that there are plenty of false trails in case you're being watched. Once they're safe, you can go about your normal lives until Dobtcheff is caught, at which point you can return them."

Mrs Peel nodded her understanding. Then a thought struck her. "If the papers disappear when we leave then it will be obvious that we have them."

"Not at all," responded Wilde. "I've taken care to ensure that nobody knows you are here and I shall hide some imitations so that it looks as if we still have them."


CHAPTER THREE

Some days later, Mrs Peel had allowed herself a lie-in, wallowing in the knowledge that her article was finished and that there was nothing she had to do. Consequently, she wasn't quite ready when Steed rang the doorbell at nine o'clock.

Steed rang again and peered through the eye. "Come on, Mrs Peel. It's nine o'clock on a Saturday morning, the sun is shining, the air is fresh..."

Mrs Peel opened the door in mid-sentence. "And some of us were enjoying the peace and quiet," she pointed out, pretending to be annoyed.

Steed continued as if he hadn't heard. "Just the weather for a trip to the coast. We could borrow some horses..."

Mrs Peel's face lit up. "...Take some food..."

"...Take some wine..."

"...Have a brisk canter along the shore..."

"... Then picnic on the beach..."

"Mmm, wonderful. I'll get my things."

Not ten minutes later they were ready to leave her apartment. As they were walking out, Steed noticed that the desk calendar needed flipping over. With the tip of his umbrella he revealed the new date: 1 September.

***

On their way out of London, they went past Department S. Reminded of their visit, Mrs Peel asked for a progress report.

"How's the hunt for Dobtcheff going?"

"No luck, I'm afraid. He's dropped out of sight completely."

Emma smiled at him. "Well, the papers are safe so there's no particular hurry. They'll probably catch him when he has another go. Either that or he gives up and goes home."

"He won't give up. Did you know they call him 'The Axe'?"

Emma raised an eyebrow.

"If one angle fails he tries another."

"Then it will be up to us to limit the angles."

Before Steed could reply, they came up to a blind bend and he had to devote his attention to his driving. There was another car behind them so he hooted continuously to make sure there was nobody round the corner. There was no reply. It was with some alarm, therefore that he came upon the stationary tractor immediately past the bend. It had halted so the cows could cross the road. He slammed on the brakes, noticing at the same time that the car behind had accelerated round the curve. His efforts were to no avail. The car behind hit them at high speed, shunting them forward into the back of the tractor. In the silence after the crash, the mooing of the startled cows seemed very loud.


CHAPTER FOUR

Emma took several minutes to come to consciousness. She lay still in the bed, trying to work out where she was. A quick survey of the room didn't reveal much. The curtains were drawn and there were a couple of chairs, one of which was occupied by a nurse. A nurse. She must be in hospital. Emma sat bolt upright. Or rather she tried to sit up. Nothing happened. She tried again. Abandoning her attempts to sit up completely she raised herself slightly on her arms and opened her mouth to speak. This time the noise she made attracted the nurse's attention. The nurse pressed a button by the chair then came over to the bed.

"Hello, Mrs Peel. How do you feel?"

Emma ignored the question. "Why am I here? What happened?"

"Lie down, Mrs Peel. The doctor will be along shortly. In the meantime, you've had a nasty shock and need to rest." Emma allowed herself to be pushed back down onto the pillow, her mind working busily.

***

Emma didn't have long to think as the doctor arrived quickly. He picked up the chart from the end of the bed and looked at it. The nurse propped her up with some pillows. "Good morning, Mrs Peel..."

She cut him off. "Why am I here? What happened?"

"You were in a car crash. Do you remember that?"

Mrs Peel frowned in concentration, then shook her head. "No. How did I get here?"

"The people in the car behind pulled you out and called the emergency services. You were immediately transferred here, to a Ministry hospital. I've been looking after you since you arrived. I'm Dr Sinclair and this is Nurse Hopkirk."

"When can I go home?" she asked, impatient to be back in familiar surroundings. Something was nudging at her mind; there was something she needed to know. What was it?

"Not for some time, I'm afraid. We can't find any injuries but something seems to have affected your spine. It will be some time before you can move without assistance."

That would explain why she couldn't move, Emma thought. She fell silent as memories of the accident came flooding back. Suddenly she knew what she needed to ask. "How's Steed? He was in the car with me. What happened to him?"

Dr Sinclair glanced at the nurse, who promptly filled a syringe. Alarmed by their silence she repeated the question more forcefully. "Where is Steed? He was driving."

The nurse came to stand beside her as the doctor spoke. "Steed is dead, Mrs Peel."

Mrs Peel blinked and turned away. Her mind reeled.

Worried by her silence, Sinclair moved to sedate her. Mrs Peel pulled herself together and stopped him. "No, wait. How?"

He sighed. "The car blew up. Steed was still conscious when the people from the car behind got to you. He ordered them to take you first. They had just moved you a safe distance when the petrol tank blew. He didn't have a chance."

Mrs Peel thanked him and turned away again. She could hear the doctor and nurse talking quietly but she ignored them, the doctor's words repeating in her mind. "Steed is dead. Steed is dead." Then the words got mixed up with those of another doctor. "Peel is dead. Steed is dead. Peel is dead. Steed is…" Something pierced her arm but she didn't care. With these words whirling round her head, she sank into drug induced oblivion.


CHAPTER FIVE

Steed awoke with a start and automatically scanned the room to see where he was. It didn't look familiar; it wasn't his bedroom. His bedroom was... He frowned. What did his bedroom look like? He couldn't remember. Suddenly he remembered a voice. "I'm going to start again, Steed. Who are you working for?" Steed, he thought. My name is John Steed. I work for the Ministry. Then another voice came to him. "Alright, what happened?" What indeed? As he couldn't remember anything, he returned his attention to the present, hoping it might give him some clues. The room he was in looked bare and sterile. Then he saw the button next to the bed. There was a little notice above it: "Press for help." Well, I certainly need help he reflected and promptly pressed the button.

A few minutes later a nurse entered. "Good morning, Mr Steed," she smiled. "It's nice to have you back with us. The doctor is with another patient at the moment but he'll be along shortly. If you'll just take your medicine..."

Nurse, doctor, medicine. He must be in hospital. It was a logical place to be since he seemed to have lost his memory. Returning his attention to the nurse, he saw that she was holding out a glass. "If you'll just take this and have a nap, I'll wake you up when the doctor is free."

Steed shrugged mentally and swallowed them. Whatever had happened, he wouldn't gain anything by staying awake and worrying. Within a few minutes he was fast asleep.

***

As she had promised, the nurse woke Steed up when the doctor came in.

"Good morning, Mr Steed. I'm Dr Tony Sinclair and this is Nurse Hopkirk. We have been looking after you since your transfer."

Steed came straight to the point. "What happened? Why can't I remember anything?"

"You were in a car accident. We think the trauma has caused temporary amnesia. You may never remember the details of the accident itself but other things should start coming back to you. Don't expect too much just now though as you only woke up at nine o'clock this morning. You'll probably find that odd things trigger off memories for you."

Steed ruminated for a few seconds, absorbing the information he had been given. Nine o'clock this morning. Why did that sound familiar? As if on cue he heard himself saying, "Come on, Mrs Peel. It's nine o'clock on a Saturday morning, the sun is shining, the air is fresh..." Mrs Peel, where was she? "Does Mrs Peel know I'm awake? I'd like to speak to her."

Dr Sinclair scrutinised him carefully as if judging whether he could stand the answer. Eventually he replied. "She was in the car with you. She died instantly. I'm sorry."

This time Sinclair didn't give his patient a chance to ask any questions. Before Steed could recover himself enough to speak, Nurse Hopkirk had lain him back down and inserted a needle into his arm. Within seconds Steed was asleep.

***

Having imparted his news to his patients, Dr Sinclair went to get a drink in an attempt to calm down. Coming back, he heard Nurse Hopkirk answering his 'phone.

"Hello, Dr Sinclair's office. Can I help you? No, I'm sorry but he's not here at the moment. He's just gone to coffee. He'll be back soon."

Guessing who was on the other end, he hurried in. "I'll take that, Nurse," he said peremptorily, dismissing her with a wave of his hand.

"Hello, Sinclair speaking."

"Have you told them."

"Yes."

"Move on to the next stage then," ordered the voice.

"I can't; it's too soon; they'll get suspicious."

"It's your job to make sure they don't get suspicious. Don't leave them awake long enough to think about things."

"No. It's not fair, not when I've just told them the news."

"Steed and Mrs Peel are strong - they will cope. This will be their weakest time. The longer you leave it, the more trouble you will have."

"Please," pleaded Sinclair. "Give them a few days."

There was a pause. "Aren't you strong enough for this, Sinclair? Am I going to have to find someone else?"

Sinclair capitulated.


CHAPTER SIX

The drugs and shock kept Mrs Peel asleep for almost twenty-four hours. When she finally awoke she was glad to see that she was alone. She didn't want Nurse Hopkirk hovering over her solicitously while she tried to come to terms with the situation. Unfortunately she wasn't to be left alone for long. Presently Dr Sinclair appeared in the doorway. He seemed hesitant, as if he wasn't quite sure what to say.

"I'm quite alright, Dr Sinclair. Your news just came as a shock to me," she said reassuringly. "Would you mind if I asked you some more questions?"

Sinclair appeared relieved. "Of course, Mrs Peel. The need to know what has happened is an important part of the healing process." He propped her up on her pillows then sat down next to her. "Now, how can I help?"

"When will the funeral be? I'd like to go."

There was an uncomfortable pause. "You were unconscious for a long time, Mrs Peel. Two weeks in fact. The funeral took place a week ago."

Once again Mrs Peel fell silent while she dealt with this information. She changed the subject. "Can someone please pick up some clothes from my apartment. It looks as if I'm going to be here for a while and I'd be much happier if I had my own things."

Sinclair acquiesced quickly. Having found out everything she wanted to know, Mrs Peel didn't feel inclined to prolong the conversation and turned her face to the wall to indicate that he should leave. To her surprise, he stayed where he was. Eventually he spoke, "Umm, Mrs Peel?"

She turned back to face him. "I'm sorry but I've been told by the Ministry to ask you the location of some documents." Mrs Peel raised her eyebrows at his request. "I was reluctant to ask you so soon but I'm informed that it's urgent."

"Has Dobtcheff been caught then?"

He looked at her blankly. "Dobtcheff?"

"Unless I know that Dobtcheff is no longer a threat I can't give out any information. Let me speak to someone from Department S."

Sinclair looked flustered. "I'm afraid I can't do that. I don't think you should have any visitors for a while, certainly nobody who worked with Steed."

"Then tell them they have to prove that Dobtcheff isn't on the loose."

Sinclair decided to withdraw rapidly. "I'll see what I can do. Now, I'm afraid I have to leave you. I have other patients to see."

Mrs Peel watched his retreat curiously. If she hadn't known better she'd have said that he was nervous. She sighed and looked around for something to do. Maybe there were some books in the bedside table. She stretched down to the bottom cupboard. It was just out of reach. She had another go and this time succeeded in opening the door. The cupboard was empty. Frustrated, she lay back. As she cast around for something to think about, she suddenly realised what had happened. She'd moved her legs.

At that moment Nurse Hopkirk rushed in. "I'm sorry I'm late with your medication, Mrs Peel. I didn't notice Dr Sinclair leaving. I'm just going to give you some tablets. They won't send you to sleep again but they'll help your legs get better..."

Mrs Peel swallowed them obediently then tried to tell her the good news. "I just..."

"Now, I've brought you the newspapers so settle down with them until lunch time." Before she could say any more the nurse had hurried away.

Mrs Peel frowned. Why was everybody so eager to leave her?

***

As soon as he could get away from Mrs Peel, Sinclair made a phone call. "Mrs Peel is asking for proof," he said agitatedly.

The voice at the other end laughed. "I rather thought she might. I expect Steed will too."

"And who is Dobtcheff?" he demanded. "You have to tell me more, I can't play my role completely blind."

His employer's mood changed suddenly. "All you need to know is that Dobtcheff has been caught so it is safe for them to do as you ask."

"But she wants proof," cried Sinclair frantically.

"And proof she shall have," came the answer. "Enough of Mrs Peel. Have you dealt with the other matter?"

"Yes, but..."

"I will remove the body when you have given me the necessary information." The voice laughed nastily. "Is that a good incentive?" he finished, slamming the 'phone down.

Sinclair put his head in his hands.

***

To all intents and purposes, Steed was lying inactive. Mentally, however, he was very busy, straining to remember. He had managed to fill in most of the gaps but the last few weeks remained elusive. He also had a question for Sinclair.

As if on cue, Dr Sinclair entered the room. After going through the civilities, Steed turned the conversation round to his question. "When will the funeral be?"

Sinclair looked grave. "I'm afraid the funeral took place last week. Remember..."

Steed raised his eyebrows pointedly. Sinclair had the grace to look embarrassed before continuing. "...You were unconscious for two weeks."

Steed moved on quickly. "Can you tell me something of what happened while I was out of action. An explanation of what I missed might trigger some memories."

Sinclair thanked fate for this lead in. "Well, I've been told to tell you that Dobtcheff has been caught. Does that mean anything to you?" Steed shook his head. "I'm also informed that you know the location of some papers which can now be returned."

Steed continued to look blank but inwardly his mind was racing. Dobtcheff, papers. It all sounded familiar but how did it fit together? Why was he being asked about them so soon after waking up? He decided to stall. "I don't remember anything of the past few weeks."

"I warned them that might be the case. I've been given instructions to hypnotise you if you can't recall where you put them."

This raised Steed's suspicion. Surely the Ministry could wait until he recovered his memory. If only he could remember what he had been working on "I'll need proof that it's safe for me to be hypnotised."

"Of course," agreed Sinclair. "I'll arrange for proof to be sent over."

After a few more words, Sinclair made his excuses and left. On his own again, Steed took the opportunity to investigate the contents of the cupboards. He had just discovered that they were filled with a selection from his wardrobe when Nurse Hopkirk entered.

"Hello, Mr Steed. It's time for your medication."

Smiling at her, he got back into bed. "And what will these do to me?"

"They'll send you back to sleep. The doctor says that only rest will help you remember."

Steed suddenly felt tired of sleeping. He wanted to stay awake, to know what was going on. He beamed at her again and took the tablets she was holding out. "Down the hatch like a good boy," he said, subtly palming them.

"You've been a very good boy so far, Mr Steed," she smiled. "An exemplary patient."

"I try to please," he responded, inclining his head graciously.

It wasn't until Steed started to fake sleep that the nurse actually left him. It was almost as if she had orders to make sure he wasn't left on his own too long. As he lay there pondering the events of the day, other memories started to drift back. He frowned. Things were beginning to fall into
place.


CHAPTER SEVEN

Mrs Peel put the papers aside with a sigh. Even though she'd read every article and done all the puzzles, she still had hours to go before lunch. Then she had a thought. Now that she had got some movement back she could try to get up. No sooner had the idea occurred to her than she tried to sit up. Nothing happened. She decided to see if she could repeat her earlier efforts and reach the bedside cupboard. It remained just out of reach. Frustrated, she lay back and thought. What had happened in the past hour that could have reduced her to her original state? The only thing she'd done was...take those tablets. It must have been the tablets. But why would it be to anyone's advantage to keep her immobile? Obviously she couldn't wander about and poke her nose in where it wasn't wanted but what was the point of that if she was in hospital? Unless she wasn't in hospital.

Before she could get any further, Sinclair arrived with a letter. "The Ministry assure me that this will reassure you that Dobtcheff is out of harm's way."

Emma read it. The axe that was threatening Forget-Me-Not's roots has been destroyed. Her incarceration was beginning to make sense. Time to delay. "Nothing would please me more than to get rid of those papers but I can't tell you where they are."

Sinclair looked nonplussed. "Why not?"

"You can't expect a girl to give up her hiding places. I keep several other important, personal items there. I'm afraid I'll have to get them myself. Even if you have to send me out in a wheelchair, I refuse to tell other people where I keep my private papers." In her indignation, Emma's voice rose higher and higher until Sinclair started to get alarmed.

He hastened to soothe her. "Alright, Mrs Peel. I'll tell the Ministry that they'll have to wait until you can use a wheelchair. In the meantime, just relax and calm down. Excitement won't help."

Inwardly grinning, Emma allowed herself to be pacified and settled down with some more reading material. Within a few minutes, however, Nurse Hopkirk had returned with yet more tablets.

Emma groaned. "Not more medicine, Nurse."

"I am sorry, Mrs Peel but it's doctor's orders. Now, Doctor Sinclair is worried that you're getting overexcited and wearing yourself out so you're to rest for a few hours after I've gone."

"I am feeling rather tired," admitted Emma, doing her best to look exhausted.

The nurse nodded sympathetically. "I'm sure you are. If you'll just take these I'll leave you alone."

Emma quietly submitted then closed her eyes until the nurse left. As soon as she had walked out of the door, Mrs Peel spat out the pills she had pretended to swallow and waited for the effects of her previous dosing to wear off.

***

Sinclair arrived just as Nurse Hopkirk was taking Steed's dinner tray out. He came bearing a letter from the Ministry that stated that it was safe for Steed to undergo hypnosis to discover the location of his half of the files. With only the urgency of the request on which to base his suspicions, Steed decided to agree. Shortly, Sinclair was satisfied that his subject had gone under and started questioning him.

"Where are the papers, Steed?"

"I don't know," came the murmured reply.

"Why did you hide them?"

"Apparently an agent named Dobtcheff was trying to steal them."

"Now, think. You took them away with you. Where did you take them?"

"Don't know, can't remember."

Sinclair kept trying for half an hour but Steed professed not to remember anything. He turned to Nurse Hopkirk. "His medication is too effective. Don't give him his next dose of tablets. We'll try again later when his last dose has worn off a bit more."

Speaking once more to Steed he ordered him to forget everything that had happened then wake up.

Steed opened his eyes. "Hello. Did you find out what you wanted to know?"

"No, the trauma must be deeper than we thought. We'll try again later." With that, he stalked out of the room, Nurse Hopkirk in his wake.


CHAPTER EIGHT

By evening, Emma was fairly confident of her ability to walk. Having avoided taking any more medication and practised her walking assiduously, she had discovered that the only thing wrong with her legs was that they hadn't been used for two weeks. She was still being put to sleep at seven o'clock so she had at least twelve hours to herself, undisturbed by Dr Sinclair and Nurse Hopkirk. To be safe, she stayed in her room for an hour until she heard Nurse Hopkirk call goodbye to Dr Sinclair. Judging the coast to be clear, she changed into one of her catsuits and made her way out of her room.

***

Luckily for Steed, Dr Sinclair's orders had meant that he had a relatively undisturbed afternoon in which to summon up his memories and decide what he was going to do. His refusal to take his medication had had a miraculous effect on his memory and the events prior to his "accident" were crystal clear. After dinner he charmed Nurse Hopkirk into not noticing that once more, he hadn't swallowed the sleeping pills she gave him, then pretended to sink into a deep slumber. After an hour or so, dressed in his usual attire, he was ready to explore.

***

Her room was the only one that looked like part of a hospital, decided Emma. The hallway was covered with plush carpet and paintings adorned the walls. All in all, it looked more like a private residence than even the most exclusive hospital. A glance into the next room confirmed her suspicions. It was quite evidently a bedroom, complete with fireplace and en suite bathroom. Going over to the window she saw that it looked out over a quad with a flowerbed in the middle. Lights showed in some of the rooms but the building was mostly in darkness. Deciding there was nothing more to be learned here, she moved on.

***

Steed struck gold when he left his room. Although the first few rooms he came to seemed to be bedrooms, he quickly found an office. A quick search of the desk didn't reveal anything, but the cupboard yielded a very interesting object. A corpse, who used to go by the name of Dobtcheff. Steed came to the conclusion that no further purpose would be served by staying where he was. It was time to leave.

***

When the phone rang, Sinclair picked it up immediately. "I can't do this. Steed can't remember anything. I'm never going to get it out of him."

"You will do this, Sinclair. You're being paid a lot of money to get that information out of Steed and Mrs Peel," snapped the voice.

"If I keep pushing, they'll suspect, they'll wonder why nobody has come to visit, why they can't go home."

"As long as you do your job properly, they won't suspect a thing."

"I tell you," cried Sinclair desperately, "It isn't working. Mrs Peel is cracking up, getting hysterical. She can't cope. I can't cope."

At this the voice became angry. "You're a fool, Sinclair. You've made them suspicious. They're stalling. I want that information by tomorrow and I don't care how you get it. If you can't do your job, Steed and Mrs Peel will have a passenger in their next car crash."

Before Sinclair could reply, the receiver was slammed down. Frightened by the threat, he sat in his chair and tried to come up with another way of getting the information out of his patients.

***

Emma's corridor seemed to go on forever. She had checked all of the rooms but they were all empty. Reaching the corner, she heard somebody coming towards her. Moving quietly, she flattened herself against the wall beside a conveniently placed cabinet.

***

Steed's investigations had revealed that the house appeared to be built around a large quad, but he was yet to find any doors that led to the exterior. After what seemed an interminable walk, he finally reached a corner. He had only gone a few steps round it when some sixth sense warned him that somebody had plans for his neck. He ducked instinctively so that the blow missed its target then immediately threw his attacker. As she flew over his shoulder he blinked, hard. It had looked like Mrs Peel.

Mrs Peel lay on the floor looking up at her opponent. "Steed!"

"Mrs Peel!"

For a moment they remained as they were, stunned into stillness. Steed was the first to break the silence. "Well, ghosts don't jump people."

"And gentlemen don't throw ladies," she retorted.

"I am sorry," he said apologetically. "Let me give you a hand up."

So doing, she stood up and held onto his hand. They looked at each in silence.

After a while Steed spoke. "Let's go home."

Mrs Peel nodded wordlessly then glanced over his shoulder. Sinclair had just come through a door behind them. She prodded him. "Steed."

He turned round to see what she was looking at. "Will you do the honours or shall I?" he asked.

Mrs Peel didn't bother to answer but simply advanced on the surprised Dr Sinclair. He backed away from her until his back was against the wall. Realising that it was now or never, he lunged wildly at her. Catching his arm as it went past, she used it to throw him. Steed stood back and watched with interest. Shaking his head slightly to clear it, Sinclair got up and they started fighting again. Although he wasn't a trained fighter, he did have an advantage in that he'd been active for the past two weeks rather than the past two hours. Somehow he managed to land Mrs Peel on her back. Steed decided it was time to step in.

He tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me."

Sinclair turned round in surprise. By chance, the action brought his face close to Steed's impeccably timed right hander and he collapsed on the floor with a groan.

Emma smiled up at him. "My knight in shining armour."

"I'll give you a lift home on the old horse." Steed held out his hand to her and they made their way out.


CHAPTER NINE

By the time Steed and Emma got back to his flat, it was nearly dawn. Emma flopped down on the settee. "Being dead certainly takes it out of you."

"I'll second that," agreed Steed, handing her a glass of champagne. "Here, this will make you fell better."

"Ah," she sighed with pleasure. "I've missed this."

Steed sat down opposite her. "Now, the question is, who hospitalised us?"

"Sinclair couldn't have been working on his own."

Steed shook his head. "No, there must have been somebody else, somebody who had access to all the facts."

"But nobody knew we had the papers," said Emma, puzzled.

"One person did," said Steed, jumping to his feet. "Come on, Mrs Peel, it's time to catch a rat."

***

When Wilde entered his office that morning, he found Steed twirling round in his chair. He looked surprised for a moment before recovering his composure and moving towards him. "Steed, how nice to see you. May I offer you a drink?"

"No thank you, Roger. I'm here on business," declined Steed politely, getting up and standing beside him.

Mrs Peel quietly locked the door then came to stand on his other side. "We've been thinking about the break-in."

"It occurred to us that it was a bit suspicious..." continued Steed.

"...Dobtcheff managing to avoid triggering any alarms when he entered the building..."

"...Yet not being able to disable the alarms on the internal door."

"A suspicious person would think that he wanted us to know which papers he was after." Mrs Peel looked at him guilelessly. "But why would anyone want to do that?"

Steed clucked at her. "He couldn't have been working on his own, Mrs Peel. There would have to have been somebody on the inside, somebody to make sure that the right alarms were turned off."

Mrs Peel looked astounded. "But that would mean there was a traitor here, somebody who couldn't risk his job by just walking out with the files, somebody who went as far as to arrange an elaborate scheme to protect himself. I wonder who it could be."

Fear flickered across Wilde's face before being concealed by his usual blank expression. "I don't know, Mrs Peel," he said coolly. "We concentrated on catching Dobtcheff and keeping the papers safe, not on the details of his entry."

"And did you? Did you catch him?" interjected Steed sharply.

Wilde looked from one to the other, trying to judge what answer to give. He suddenly realised that his pause was its own answer and made to flee.

Steed and Mrs Peel waited calmly for him to realise that there was no exit. When the door wouldn't open, he stood still for a few seconds then turned round. A gun appeared in his hand. "What a pity," he said sourly. "I shall have to kill you here instead of making Sinclair do it." He looked regretful. "Then I suppose I'll have to kill him too."

"How untidy," interjected Mrs Peel flippantly.

Wilde nodded gravely then brightened up. "Of course I'll get a lot of credit for killing you and Steed, especially if I say it was done in revenge for Dobtcheff's death. That plus the completion of his task can be my passport home."

Steed looked thoughtful. "There's just one problem. How are you going to leave the country?"

"I shall have killed Dobtcheff in revenge for your deaths. Unfortunately he will have hidden those papers where they cannot be found. After a time I shall go on holiday in Europe..."

"And never come back."

"Quite right, Mrs Peel. Very astute." Wilde moved towards her. "Throw the key on the floor." She didn't stir. "I said, throw the key on the floor."

She looked at Steed then complied, throwing it down on the floor a metre away. As Wilde bent down to pick it up, she kicked out in a balletic arc, the tip of her toe catching him in the face. When he started to straighten, the top of his head met with Steed's down-coming bowler and he clattered to the floor.

Steed dusted off his bowler ceremoniously then replaced it on his head. Mrs Peel limped over to him, ready to leave. He looked at her in surprise. "Are you alright, Mrs Peel?"

She gave him a wry grin, then winced as she inadvertently jarred herself. "I forgot I'd need to warm up after my recent rest."

Steed looked sympathetic then lent her his arm. " Never mind. Lean on me Mistress Peel, as much as you like."


CHAPTER TEN

Flinching, Mrs Peel manoeuvred herself into her chair then lent back with a sigh. Just then the doorbell rang. "Mrs Peel?" called Steed brightly.

She pulled a face at having to get up again then decided to stay where she was. "The door's open, Steed. Come in," she replied. Steed appeared, wheeling a tea trolley. On top of the white cloth was a large iced cake and a bottle of champagne.

"Mmm," she said appreciatively, sitting up gingerly. "What have we here?"

"A present from Department S," he responded, handing her the champagne bottle. "It was delivered to my door first thing this morning but bearing in mind your fragile state, I brought it over."

"There's a note." She read it aloud. "With thanks for all your work. As a token of gratitude, please find enclosed our very own guide to the celebrated art of cake decorating." She looked up at Steed. "What guide?"

He frowned then disappeared under the cloth. Scrabbling noises came from the second shelf. After a while he surfaced triumphantly with a book and some tubes of icing. "This one." His face lit up. "Does this mean we can decorate it?"

Emma nodded. "What message are you going to write?"

Steed flicked through the book. "Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, Congratulations on your engagement…" Emma shook her head at him reprovingly. "Get well soon?"

"Well…" started Emma thoughtfully.

"I know!" he interrupted, wheeling the trolley away so she couldn't see his efforts.

Mrs Peel poured the drinks and sat back to wait until he had finished, refusing to be drawn into following him. After a while she couldn't ignore the exclamations coming from his corner of the room. "Steed?" she asked, limping over to him.

"Nearly finished, Mrs Peel. Just adding the final touches…ah." With a flourish, he spun the trolley round to face her. Curious, she bent over to see what he had drawn.

There on the cake, resplendent in gold and silver icing, were two glasses of champagne.


©  Young Avenger 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 the author.. :o)  

 
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