The Boat
  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 Eleven

In the morning Steed was still sick and miserable, but firmly requested that he be washed and shaved before traveling. Emma took him by wheelchair into the bathroom and there helped him sponge himself clean, shampoo his hair, and shave him. Dr. Kinney had told them to not touch the bandage and wrapping around his chest; the bullet wound was not allowed to get wet at all. Back in his bedroom Emma had to help Steed dress, which Steed wasn't happy about, though he acknowledged his weakness and the limitations of movement his strained back muscle caused him. Emma put two sweaters on over his shirt and was reaching for a third when Steed held up his hand and shook his head that two was enough.
They made their good-byes to Dr. Kinney, satisfied in the knowledge imparted by Finster that the good doctor would be well compensated by the Ministry for his tending Steed. Stoner stayed behind to organize the retrieval of the bodies and the boat, while the rest of them drove back to the helicopter. Gambit, as pilot, flew to Inverness where they boarded a plane which Gambit also flew, landing on the Ministry's airfield. Through-out his travels, Steed lay bundled up wearing a coat and scarf, chilly, tired, and stiff, sleeping most of the way, his head resting either against a window or on Emma's shoulder.

When they finally arrived north of London in the early afternoon, Finster went back to the city while Purdey and Gambit took Emma and Steed to their home. They arrived there and saw two shadowy figures sitting in a dark car parked in their driveway; until the Ministry was assured from its research on the case that Steed was absolutely in no more danger, two agents were stationed outside Steed's house to protect him twenty-four hours a day. Steed could walk from the car to the house, but barely.

Emma, Gambit and Purdey were able to drag Steed upstairs and sit him on the bed in the master bedroom. He croaked his thanks and Emma shook their hands and they left.

Emma turned and stared at her husband, wrapped in a coat, scarf, two layers of clothes, breathing heavily, and evidently exhausted. He looked up at her.
"Finally," he said, smiling, his face years younger from palpable relief even in his illness. "Home."
"Home," she repeated.
Steed didn't even bother struggling to take off his attire. He just held out his left arm to her.
"Sorry to be such a burden, my dear, but would you mind removing some of these clothes? I've decided to call off the trip to the arctic."

Emma smiled. It was so good to hear his bantering, even if it was through a voice rough and hoarse. She came to his side.
"Maybe we should just leave you in them and have you sweat it out."
Steed raised his eyebrows. "I should very much like it to sweat out on its own. It's hot enough in here to poach an egg."

Emma ran her hand through his hair and then helped him out of his coat, his scarf, his two sweaters, his shirt, shoes, socks and trousers. She noticed the bandages around his feet and wondered again how he had cut the bottom of both of them. She helped him into his own pair of pajamas and then opened up the bed. He lay down on his side facing her and she covered him up.

"Should I get the electric blanket from the closet?" she asked.
"No. But a bowl of soup, a cup of tea, and thee would be very nice. Not necessarily in that order."
"Right," Emma laughed. "I'll be back with the food and drink in a moment."
"I'm quite sorry you've descended to the arduous role of nursemaid. I hope to recover quickly now that I'm home and return to my robust and independent self."

Emma looked at Steed tenderly. She knelt by his face touching his forehead; Steed closed his eyes at the contact. "Steed…" she said, then leaned over and kissed his brow. "I don't mind playing nurse with you, if you promise--" Promise. That promise to come home to her. He had come home to her. Her breath caught for a moment at the stark nature of the terrible last two weeks as they relived themselves inside her, and then she forced herself to joke, "if you assure me that you'll play doctor with me when you can."

Steed opened his eyes, the most intense longing pouring out of them. He reached out with his left arm and held her shoulder, "Emma… if you only knew how much I yearn for that… can't think of anything else… oh, I will play doctor with you as soon as I can, you can be assured of that. Oh, yes indeed."

She thought she heard him cackle in anticipation. "Oh, dear! Sounds like I had better check with a solicitor about malpractice insurance."
Steed's eyebrows raised high. "I say, there will be no 'malpractice' about it!"
Emma laughed and lightly ran her finger down his nose. "I'll get you that soup and tea."

She returned twenty-five minutes later with a tray on which sat a tea pot, a bowl of soup and slice of bread, and something that made Steed's eyes narrow suspiciously.

He pointed with an out-stretched arm as she neared him. "Is that one of those disgusting green drinks that Hal feels compelled to give me? I'm trying to recover here; being poisoned won't help."

Emma rolled her eyes as she put the tray on the night table beside him. "Stop being such a big secret agent baby. You know they work wonders on you. Honestly, you've taken them for years; one would think you'd just take them quietly by now." She held up the glass near Steed's crumpled face. "Got the recipe from Hal himself, but added something to make it a bit more palatable." She pushed it towards him. "Trust me."

With a sigh of resignation, Steed sat up in the bed placing pillows behind him. Taking the dark green beverage from his wife, he smelled it then looked at her warily and asked, "Are you sure it's safe to drink?"

Emma said nothing as she stood scowling with her arms crossed in front of her, tapping her foot. Steed affected an abashed attitude and saying, "Yes, dear," he sipped on the drink, self-initiating the act of gagging, yet, he didn't gag.
Confused, he examined the glass and said, "Hey, this doesn't taste that bad. What's the special ingredient?" He switched from tiny sips to great gulps.
"Brandy," Emma said, putting the tray's legs down and then placing it over Steed's lap.
"Brandy! Why didn't Hal ever think of that?" He put the empty glass down on the tray and hit his chest with his fist "Ah!," then raised a finger in the air. "Publican! Another, if you please."
"Eat the soup and drink your tea, and then we'll see. I don't think becoming plastered is what Dr. Kinney meant when he told me you should 'see your general practitioner' as soon as you got home."

They smiled at each other, so delighted to be back together, to be having fun, engaging in quick and silly repartee. An ambience of peace and gratitude surrounded them, an aura of love and joy encircled them, an essence of adoration and companionship entwined their hearts together, making them unbreakable, unable to be severed by anything or anyone.

"Emma…" Steed said. "Lovely lady…"
"Eat," she nodded at the food. "Get well. I love you."
"A pre-meal toast if ever I heard one," Steed said, lifting up his spoon over the soup, "Hmm, minestrone."

Emma fed Steed two health drinks a day, not deigning to "just leave out the greenery and leave in the brandy" as he requested. He had a small appetite which she fed with soups, mostly, and baked potatoes and some fish or chicken occasionally. She gave him herbal teas and the herbal capsules that Hal had stocked their drawers with in case of cold or flu. Steed still mainly slept trying to recover his strength, let his bruises lighten, and his abrasions heal. He was weak, though his state of utter exhaustion gradually remitted. Emma changed the bandages on his chest daily, conscientiously refusing to show any dismay over the fact that Steed had come so very close to being shot to death. If the angle had been just one degree less…

His feet healed well. She massaged his strained back muscle daily, working over the layers of bandaging circling his torso to keep his bullet wound gauze in place. He enjoyed the heat packs she placed over the sore muscle. Soaking in a hot bathtub once or twice a day, protecting his chest wound from getting wet, greatly eased Steed's stiff and sore muscles and bones. A couple of times Emma found him asleep in the tub, and she stood there staring at Steed for several minutes, unable to get her fill of seeing him alive, before she gently woke him and helped him get out and dry off.

Steed's Ministry physician visited him, did a thorough examination, and then just encouraged them to keep doing what they were. It was a virus that had infected Steed, he diagnosed, and just had to run its course. He brought a bag of blood in a cooler and a stand and gave Steed a pint of blood, which Steed believed made him feel better. Steed's dentist made a house call, too, and examined the empty socket in his mouth and his jaw, telling Steed he'd need to get in to his office when he felt better to have a bridge inserted where his tooth was gone.

"I hope you've been chewing on the other side of your mouth," he said. "Don't want to set up an infection in there."
"I have," Steed assured him. "Hurts too much to eat on the left side."
"Yes, no doubt. Well, let's see, what is that? Your second tooth knocked out? It's not so bad, you still have thirty to go," the dentist said and then coughed uncomfortably when Emma and Steed's response to his quip was heavy silence combined with steely eyes. He assured them that it would take a number of weeks before Steed would be able to fully open up his mouth, but that no serious damage to his jaw joints had occurred with the dislocation, and then left, hurrying away awkwardly.

Emma spent the next several days calling everyone and sharing the good information that Steed was home, alive and well, though he had caught a flu. He was too tired to receive visitors. Frankly Emma wasn't interested in seeing anyone, either. She thrived on it just being the two of them, quietly alone, and friends and relatives, knowing their frequent need for privacy, courteously stayed away.

Steed's fever broke on the fourth night, in a soaking sweat that drenched his clothes and woke him up complaining "Ug."
Emma stirred next to him. "What is it, Steed?"
"My fever's finally broken, in a very wet manner. I have to change my pajamas. Go back to sleep."
"Need any help?"
"No. I can manage." And he could. However much he decried the odious taste of Hal's little concoctions, Steed could not deny the strengthening effect they had on him. His legs were stronger, well, at least strong enough to get him to the bathroom --where he dried himself off, waiting to bathe until the morning-- and back into the bedroom without him sinking to the floor. He put on dry pajamas, and returned to bed laying on his side facing his wife's sleeping form, letting his hand lightly follow the contours of Emma's naked body. Soon, he hoped so very soon, he would be able to… Steed sighed. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Whoever had written that knew the meaning of the frustration coursing through Steed; but he just had to be patient with his body. It had saved his life, and been put through the wringer in the process. He was older, his body was older, his recovery time was slower; it was a fact that bothered him a great deal. But, with his fever over his appetite would return, and he would gain back the weight he had lost. Therefore, he would regain his virility quicker and once he healed down there... he would be able to make love, sweet love, to Emma. Right now his groin was still so very sore… too sore… and still swollen and bruised… it had been a very long time since Steed had been kneed in the groin that hard… he hoped that was the last time… he hated how it prevented him from joining with Emma…
Yet, Steed Hmm'd to himself, there were always other options…

Looking at Emma, her beautiful face in perfect repose asleep, feeling her soft and fine hair, running his hand down her spritely figure, Steed couldn't stop himself from kissing her deeply on her lips as his hands caressed her smooth body. Emma woke up a second time to Steed kissing her cheeks, her forehead, her neck, her lips, thrusting his tongue into her opening mouth…

"Steed?" she said, excited, breaking away, a look of avid expectation on her face.
"Not yet…" he replied. "But, I think I ought to tender a heartfelt apology for waking you up, twice now, tonight. If you don't mind."
Emma smiled. "I don't mind at all, but what about--"
"No 'buts' in the bedroom."

Steed brought his mouth to her breast, licking, sucking, biting, his hands moving all over her body. After some time, Emma had no idea how long, lost in the sensations Steed engendered in her, Steed moved to her other breast and repeated his stimulatory actions. After bringing his head back up to Emma's face they shared a round of ardent kisses, and then Steed slid lower down her body, his tongue scouting a trail of passion which Emma eagerly followed. As he reached between her legs, he spread them apart and then licked, bit, sucked, and thrust his tongue over her clitoris and as deeply inside her as he could go, slipping a finger inside her at times as well. When Emma's squeaks of impending climax grew he stopped, causing her to settle down a bit, and then he brought her an even higher peak again, stopping again, until the third time she held his head in place, her hands directing him to take her to the ultimate of pleasurable zeniths.

Emma arched her back and shook as she orgasmed, her moans loud and urgent, and Steed kept licking and thrusting, drawing out her response over and over. When Emma was finally done, Steed kissed her pelvis and returned to her side in the bed.
"Do you accept my apology?" he asked Emma as she launched herself on him and kissed him a hundred times, hugging him as deeply as she was able to, for as long as she was able to, making sure she didn't encircle him around his wound, and fighting her tremendous urge and her hands' natural inclination to enter the front of Steed's pajama bottoms.

"Yes, yes, of course I do. Now, wake me up in an hour and apologize for doing so again, okay?" she asked.
"As you wish, my dear," he agreed and they fell asleep, a jumble of limbs wrapped around each other.

Research found the boat that Steed had been a prisoner on was registered to Mrs. Gladis Pittsworthy of Stromness, Orkney Islands. Espionage sent a man up to her rural home to pay a visit on the pretence of being a visitor from Australia just wandering around, having lost his way on the road. Lonely, she let him in, welcoming his youthful, fresh-faced company. He offered to help her with some of her farm chores for a meal and she agreed. He stayed two days, long enough to draw out her conversation about her grandchildren and "the important business she had raised them to do in London." She was so proud of them. Skillfully he probed her story, and learned about her daughter and the scientist in jail. He agreed with her that it was terrible they hadn't been able to be together… (the scientist had been rich, she said)… he agreed that the authorities sometimes meddled unnecessarily in people's private affairs, causing dreadful unhappiness… he nodded when she avowed her would be son-in-law was just a scientist and didn't need to be arrested by that horrid man. That terrible man. Well, her grandchildren had been taught to take care of… she paused, and then added she should be hearing from them any day now. He smiled back when she just stopped talking and poured some more tea. Later, he held her hand and patted her shoulder when she wept for her poor daughter. He tsked-tsked over the fact that she was now alone herself, with no family in the world except her grandchildren. No, she had never told the story about her daughter to anyone else, people being such nosy busy-bodies, but he seemed like such a nice man… and was so helpful with the chores.
He left on the third day, and when the neighbors didn't see her for several days, they investigated and found her dead in her bed, of an apparent heart attack, the almond smell of cyanide no longer on her lips.

He returned to London and reported all the information he had gathered--the names of the daughter and the scientist, and the names of the children. Research tore through that information looking for any other possible threat to Steed, but none at all was found. With the grandmother's unfortunate "heart attack," and the scientist in prison suffering a almond scented sudden heart attack as well, the case file of Steed's Unknown Factor experience was closed. He was safe again, and would be welcomed back to the Ministry as soon as he returned from medical leave. The protective agents outside his house were called off permanently.

After the fever broke, Steed spent some part of each day walking around the house, climbing up and down the stairs repeatedly until he grew fatigued and returned to bed to rest. Emma cajoled him to the dentist and he got his bridge inserted in one marathon visit. The dentist had to deeply anesthetize Steed to perform the dental work because that enabled the dentist to open Steed's mouth further than it could go without causing him considerable pain. The stress to his healing jaw put him back in bed for two whole days with ice packs over both sides of his face, and his strongest pain pills swallowed willingly. Aside from that, Steed's appetite did improve and Emma gladly served him larger meal portions. During the nights he began to suffer from nasty dreams --waking up choking in fear of drowning, of being lost forever in the grey-black, of dying of cold with Emma just a few feet away from him; and, seeking comfort, Steed roused Emma from sleep and then proceeded to sincerely apologize to her.

Ten days after Steed and Emma had returned home, in the mid-morning, with Steed still in bed slumbering, Emma answered the doorbell. It was Finster, slightly bowed and nervous, with two manila envelopes in his hand. He held them out to her.
"Irregular. Very irregular," he said as Emma took the parcels.
"Thank you, Mr. Finster," she replied.
"Give one to Steed, mind you. He'll need to check for accuracy."

Finster looked at Emma with surprisingly firm eyes as he spoke, "Mrs. Steed, we at the Ministry feel that it would be best for Steed to not know that you read this report. That would make him quite irritated with several department Heads, which would not be… conducive to the Ministry's best interests. We would appreciate it if you would burn the papers after reading them."
"I had no intention of letting Steed know. I'll take care of it."
"Also, we expect you to live up to your side of our little bargain. You shall not attempt to sway Steed from remaining at the Ministry. No matter what you discover in the report. Do please remember that this last episode had nothing to do with Steed's present work, but was an odd and unforeseeable act of revenge by people so unknown and so far on the periphery of a past crime that it was impossible for us prevent its occurrence. However much that pains us to say. The likelihood of any other such attack on Steed is incalculable, as determined by Analysis. He is invaluable to the Ministry, should be running it in the next few years, and you did promise not to interfere."
"Right," Emma said curtly, just wanting the man to go.
"So, you do agree, Mrs. Steed?"

Emma wavered a moment, wondering what type of appalling story she held in her hand. But, then she realized she really had no ability to make Steed leave the Ministry, anyway… well, at least she didn't think she did. Throughout all his injuries and nightmares since they'd been married, Emma had rarely brought up the subject, and had never attempted voraciously to convince him to part from his work. And this episode wasn't a fair reason to push Steed down that retirement path, anyway; it had been three ghouls from his past, probably related to an arrest he hadn't even given a second thought to once it had been over. Emma had married him knowing who he was and what he did; if she turned grey early because of it, she could not fairly blame Steed. However, on the other hand, if she was pregnant… she noticed Finster staring at her, and just to get him to leave she nodded once and answered.
"I agree," she said.

Finster left and Emma went back upstairs to check on Steed, placing one of the sealed manila envelopes on the night table. He was still asleep, his wavy hair all mussed, his blue cotton pajamas covering the body she longed to caress; if he didn't wake her up and apologize to her in the middle of the night, he probably wouldn't need to sleep so late in the day. But who was she to complain?
The thought passed through Emma's mind that he was probably first waking up in the middle of the night due to nightmares, and then waking her to ease his mind, but she didn't pursue that line of reasoning.

Emma returned downstairs and went into the large and clean kitchen, decorated in yellow and white, where she brewed a pot of herbal tea, thinking that if she was pregnant maybe she should avoid coffee, and toasted a couple of pieces of bread, buttering them slowly, every now and then looking at the large envelope sitting on the kitchen table.

When the tea was steaming in her cup and the bread was cooling down, Emma bit her lower lip and brought her food and drink to the table. She sat down and pausing for just one more moment she withdrew the papers from the envelope.
It saddened her that she had to be so clandestine regarding Steed, reading his report behind his back. But of all the things Emma loved about Steed, there was one thing she hated yet bore with a stoicism derived from sheer necessity, and that was his silence about himself. About his scars, his past, his work, experiences like this. He would never tell her; not out of rudeness or embarrassment, she knew. But because he just… couldn't. Thirty years of keeping secrets had made him a very secretive man.

One time, just after they had made love when colleagues, so many years ago, she had lain next to his naked body and traced her finger along one of the three long, thin scars cut across his chest.
"Steed," she had asked, "how did you get these scars?"
Steed had looked at his chest, his peaceful post-coital mien transformed into one of far-away thought, and Emma had seen, or imagined, his soft grey pupils drift off unfocused into a haunted past.
"Er, uh, a long time ago," he had stuttered.
Emma had been surprised by Steed's stammer, his speech normally as smooth as silk. "Yes, they do look old. But, how did you get them?"

Steed had looked at her, his mouth moving slowly like a fish, but no words had come out. Then he had looked away, and closed his eyes. "Nee San," he had said and then had gotten out of bed, wrapped a bathrobe around himself and descended the curving stairs to his kitchen. Twenty minutes later he had come back up with a tea tray with teapot, cups and scones.
"Tea?" he had asked, and Emma saw a pleading in his eyes.
Emma had answered the only possible word there was to answer. "Tea," she nodded.

And she hadn't asked about his scars again. Or his past. Oh, she knew quite a bit about his childhood (his siblings had been helpful there as well as his own anecdotes). She knew Steed had been in the war, and had done… something illicitly after the war… and then had rejoined British Intelligence in his late twenties. She knew he had been captured by the Chinese and had spent a hellish time in the prison compound Nee San before returning home. Then more years in British Intelligence overseas, mostly, until he returned to England when he was about forty. She knew he had worked with Dr. Keel, Mrs. Gale, then had joined the Ministry and worked with herself, Tara King, and now Purdey and Gambit.
Sketches. Outlines. That was what she knew. Very little was filled in, colored in, complete.

Gradually she had had some little success with Steed telling her about his dreams; oh, not the exact specifics of the subject matter, of course, but slightly informative statements like "I was back at Nee San," or, "Someone betrayed me," or "That time I was shot three times," or "Naval battle in the war," or just the one word edict "Wales." It wasn't much, but it was enough, enough to have her feel a part of his life and try to comfort him, and enough for him to feel that in some important yet trivial way, he was, for once, not shoving his dear wife aside due to his need for privacy.

It was a compromise that worked for both of them. If it was all Emma could expect, she would be content that at least it was something. The rest, though, was silence.

She knew it was an agent's wife's lot to live with silence, but even still… sometimes it was just too quiet…too still… like a marriage built on an ancient battlefield.
If he would share with her what he could, he would find he had nothing to fear from her.
He would never tell her about the last ten days.
Emma let a deep breath out and began reading.

She kept reading until she was done with the whole report: Research's explanation for who the people involved were and how the whole scenario had been planned; what the drug was the kidnappers had kept Steed insensible with; Analysis's description of the psychological portrait of the mother, her daughter, and her three grandchildren; and Steed's very clear and detailed account of all that he had been through.
All that he had been through.

Steed. Kidnapped from the wine shop. Drugged for four days without food and hardly any fluids; four days! Then coming so near to being killed on the boat. Swimming the sea in a storm; he swam the sea! The rocky wall, where his face was bruised and abraded, climbing up and then sitting out a horrible night on the outcropping, that's how he had torn his feet, pulled his back muscle… his sinking under the water… he had come so close to drowning… so close…
Emma read of his struggle up the hill, pushing himself in a mindless urge down the dirt road to reach the far cottage with the light shining through the window…
She read of the kindness of the Donleavy's and their report of caring for Steed. How they found him… banging his head against the door, against the floor, frozen stiff.

Banging his head against the door… Oh, God…
Emma's stomach became a lump of clay, clogging up inside her. She read on.
Steed's walk to Lochinver in the terrible weather… because he had been unable to wait to call her and tell her he was alive… that danger tickle saving his life, enabling him to turn out of the way of the fatal path of the bullet… getting angry and killing the two youths…
Steed had finally gotten angry… He must get angry sooner than that, Emma thought, if it ever happens again… Please don't let it ever happen again…

Steed's confrontation with the large youth… the terrible blows to his groin and his jaw… Bastard, Emma thought… and the fight by the cliff edge… saved by a grouping of cricket ball sized rocks and Steed's gift of unerring aim… or his luck… Steed pulling his dangling self back up over onto the ground… his collapse in the cold wind and rain…

She had been warm at home, then, on her comfortable sofa… and he had been out fighting for his life…
Emma kept reading.

Steed's fuzzily recalled walk to Lochinver, and the MacDoran's story of them finding him, twenty feet from houses… from help… collapsed on the ground… bloody… hypothermic… once more so close to dying…
His body just finally gave out, she thought… reached its limit… it had a limit… he was physically durable, he was mentally strong, but he wasn't indestructible, wasn't immortal… he had reached his limit… he could have died, he really could have died…

The papers then covered Dr. Kinney's medical charting of Steed's condition when he was brought in and during the next two days until Emma arrived to reclaim her husband and take him home…
Home. He had promised to come home. He had used his anger. He had turned her dirge into a love sonnet. It had taken everything he had, everything, but he had done it.

Emma read the papers a second time. Her tea, unsipped, and her toast, untouched but for a preliminary bite, sat unnoticed before her.
Emma read it all a third time, her outstanding and retentive mind committing the entire report word for word to memory, then she lit a match and burned the papers in the sink, washing the ashes down the drain. She stood at white tiled counter, looking out the window onto their large green lawn; she saw a rabbit huddled by a far stand of hedges. The sky was blue with large clouds moving quickly across it.

Just another late autumn day, Emma thought. Steed is back and safe. Time to put it all behind. Move on. He's done it before, so many times; I've done it before. We've done it before. We'll just have to do it again. Let the healing of his injuries and my fears erase all the pain, accept all the silence, and in that way we will rekindle our happiness, that joyful warmth burning away the chill of the sea, the chill of the rain, the chill of a bed empty of an absent Steed…

Emma wandered upstairs to their bedroom and sat at the table by the large window, staring at Steed, still sleeping, still weak… yet alive.
He shouldn't be alive, Emma thought. Even with the luck, the fairy dust, his iron will, his fierce determination to survive, his powerful anger, his remarkable level of fitness… he shouldn't be alive. He should have died somewhere: killed on the boat, drowned in the sea, shot in the chest, tossed over the cliff edge, frozen to death…
He shouldn't be alive.

But he is. He survived; against all odds, exhausted, injured, frozen, he survived, as he's done all his life. Because he's lucky, because at birth he was sprinkled with fairy dust, because he is what can only be termed a truly amazing man.
A truly unique and amazing man. One in a million. No, one in a nation.
And he was hers.

She loved him so much, and to see him hurt, to read of his dire struggles to live, caused her insides to shrivel into a wrinkly mass of vicarious pain, poignant sympathy, and relentless worry, modified only by her tolerant acceptance that she had sworn to love Steed knowing full well this risk existed. The risk that he might be killed any day, by a host of enemies that if written down would fill a phone book. Emma had known the rules of their marriage at the start, and didn't really have the right to insist that the rules needed to be changed.

She hadn't yet told Steed she believed she was pregnant. Her period should have begun two days ago, and it hadn't. The nausea was still there, not too bad, merely a bit of gastric upset with and an unpleasant metallic taste in her mouth. Nothing she couldn't ignore. She could still eat, and hadn't vomited at all.
She had made a doctor's appointment for Thursday, four days away. She wouldn't tell Steed until her suspicions were positively confirmed.
And then?

Steed, able to adapt to any situation in a nanosecond, allowing him to survive so handily the threats of a drugged stupor, drowning, nasty attacks, gunshots --what would he say to adapting to fatherhood? And if he did greet that news with a wide smile of delight, would he then adapt to and survive the next mad scientist, the next deranged criminal, the next act of revenge long enough to even see his child grow up? And if he didn't greet the news with a smile…?
Emma wanted to keep the baby. She wanted to be a mother, carry her and Steed's child and raise that wonderful proof of their love. And she wanted to raise the child in tandem with Steed.

She had known when they had gotten back together that Steed would stay working for the Ministry, even though any need for the Ministry's very considerable paychecks had become entirely superfluous. Steed's investments, begun early in life from money earned mysteriously via, as he had told Emma, "rather rewarding youthful indiscretions," had, over the years in the capable hands of his family's financial advisor, grown to a substantial portfolio that had made him a rich man and easily able to support his home and elegant lifestyle. Until he had returned to England around thirty-nine years old, Steed's life in the field had put very little drain on his investments and they had swelled considerably even by that time, allowing him to return to Britain and begin a life of fine suits, champagne, and car collecting. Now, fifteen years later, his accounts even healthier, Steed had no financial need to work at all. Besides, Emma was a very wealthy woman in her own right; their combined estates ensured they could live out their lives without a monetary care in the world.

So, why did Steed still work for the Ministry? Why did he still claim field agent status five years over the normal age most field agents desisted from such strenuous commissions? It required Steed to train regularly and with an intensity he hated to pass the every six month physical exams; and it was dangerous, very dangerous work. Getting injured at times was inevitable, and Steed acknowledged it was so much harder and time-consuming to recover. Where other men Steed's age, and certainly with Steed's station and wealth, retired and spent their days smoking cigars and getting fat, Steed was set on breaking all the age barriers previously established at the Ministry. What his resistance was to just taking over running the whole organization, like they wanted him to, and letting others toil in the field, she just did not know.

Once Emma had actually spoken to Steed about his work. She had asked him earlier this year as he lay in bed, after he had sprained his back and couldn't bend forward or back for a couple of weeks, why he didn't just… give it up. The question had sprang out her mouth before she even realized it.
"I don't want to 'just give it up'," Steed had replied.

Emma persisted, knowing it was a role of devil's advocacy, but just needing to hear Steed's fervent commitment to his job being renewed. "But, you've served your country, Steed, for almost thirty years. No one would fault you for retiring now."
"Emma, "serving my country" as you say is not just what I do, it's who I am," he answered. "You knew that about me when we first met, and it is no different all these years later. I plan on working as long as I am possibly able. It's just too much a part of me to up and quit."

Emma had turned her head away and said nothing. Steed's words were dialogue she could have written for him if this had been a play, she knew him that well. She had expected no less from him, could have expected nothing else, yet, a tiny part of her hadn't been able to deny her dissatisfaction with his decision. Steed's voice had floated over to her.

"Don't hate me for this. It's what I do. It's who I am." Then he had added, a bit softer, "I don't work everyday. There's still plenty of time for us to be together. That's important to me, too, you know that."
Emma had turned back to him and smiled. "I know, I know. But I don't always have to like the fact that you are still with the Ministry, and your work is so fraught with danger."

Steed had reached for a glass of water on his night table, grimacing at the stretching of his injured low back. "I don't always like it myself." Then he had redirected the conversation as he did so masterfully, so naturally. "However, you don't see me asking you to give up your guest lecturing at colleges and universities on subtracting fractions, or whatever advanced mathematical subjects you discourse upon."
"My lecturing is not quite as dangerous as facing diabolical masterminds."
"So you say. That chalk dust is deadly to the lungs. I'll be out collecting odd and deadly inventions and inventors a long time after you develop emphysema, my dear."

What could she say to that? She had laughed, kissed him and let the subject go.
It's who he is, Emma repeated to herself. His work, his silence, it's who he is. They had both gotten used to the uncertainty of working as colleagues. Figuring out when one or the other had run into some sort of trouble when they had parted to investigate different aspects of the case, immediately acting to ensure the other's safety had been nerve-wracking, but exciting. They had endless confidence back then, so sure of themselves, of each other, of their guaranteed success. Somewhere along the line, nine years later, Emma had lost that innate sense of assuredness. Maybe she was older and had seen more of life to know that things did not always work out; maybe she was tired of seeing Steed occasionally come home achy, fatigued, bruised, injured; maybe she was tormented by Steed's frequent nightmares, the constant terrifying proof that the painful and dreadful experiences he went through affected him much more than he'd ever admit to anyone; maybe she just acknowledged her love for him was so encompassing she could never be so cavalier anymore about what he did and the risk it put him at.
How Steed still had his assuredness, Emma just did not know…

If she had her way Steed would stop working, would retire from the Ministry; at least from being a field agent. He was flirting with time anyway; if he wasn't so damn good and, frankly, inspirational, he'd never been able to continue active status. How much longer the Ministry would allow him to be out investigating bizarre doings was anyone's guess. Maybe she'd just have to put up with him working like he did for just another year or two. At some point they'd have to insist on him leaving the field, and though Emma looked forward to that day for her selfish purposes, she feared the effect on Steed. Maybe by then he'd be happy to just sit at a desk all day, directing Ministry operations from the heart of their covert Whitehall establishment. She hoped he would soon find fulfillment serving Queen and Country solely within the corridors of Whitehall.
She hoped he'd be happy doing that, but she doubted it.
She hoped nonetheless.

And maybe, just maybe, if they had a child, he could channel "who he was" away from secret agent, to… father.
Especially since they were actually going to have a baby.
Steed was going to be a father.
Emma looked at Steed, his facial bruises resolving into ugly yellow green confluent patches, his slow easy breaths putting her into a meditative state of relaxation.
Would he be a good father? Make his child a priority? Put his hobbies and club on hold to spend time at home with his family? Would he take extra care in the field?
Then Emma's mind, to relieve the tension of her serious cogitation, took a turn to the absurd. Would Steed faint if the baby threw up on his suit? Would he stroll down the road pushing a perambulator? Would he change a nappie? Would he be able to calmly handle baby food spread out all over his immaculately clean kitchen floor?

Steed was marvelous with children, she had to admit that. All of his nieces and nephews thrived on his company, always had, and his grand-nieces and nephews as well. Steed was every child's mystifying, intriguing fairy tale figure: tall, handsome, strong, silent, mysterious yet kind, playful, silly, understanding, and wise. Instinctively children knew he would and could protect them. He was approachable. Children generally adored Steed, and she knew he very much enjoyed that, was rather prideful of the fact, honestly.
But, then after a couple of hours at the social gathering, Emma and Steed would leave the children and return home to their own lives. How would Steed do around their child twenty-four hours a day?
She just didn't know.
He would be fifty-two years old when the baby was born.
She would be thirty-eight.

Old for sudden, unplanned parenthood. But they were both healthy and they had the capability to offer a child a marvelous upbringing.
Emma reviewed the report again in her mind's eyes, seeing each paragraph, itemizing every part of Steed's ten days.

She wished he would stop working. She wished he would retire. She hoped she could maintain the agreement she had made with Finster, and now regretted her acquiescence. Maybe just a little touch of pressure, something subtle and barely perceptible to have Steed consider retiring would be alright. After all, Finster and the Ministry weren't married to him, weren't pregnant by him. It was clearly, blatantly unfair to keep her committed to a vow made solely to read about what had happened in her own husband's life. Maybe she'd just toss the question out to Steed once more… they would never had to know..

But, if he didn't retire, and he wouldn't, she'd be there with him, making the most of their life together, their long life together --she reassured herself-- because she loved him so very, very much. Her man, so kind and gentle, so tender, easy-going and friendly, so silent, and so deadly.

She hated what he did, how it affected him, haunted him; but she loved him so very much.
Whatever happened, whatever choices were made, they would always be together. Their love would keep them together.

Emma got up from her chair and tiptoed to the bed. Kicking off her sandals, she climbed into it still dressed and scooted under the covers. She pressed herself tightly against Steed's back and delicately slithered one arm under Steed's torso; draping her other arm over him she hugged him as he slept, laying her leg over both of his. After a few minutes Emma couldn't help herself and she began kissing and nibbling the nape of Steed's neck and his ear. That had the expected result of waking Steed up, slowly and pleasantly, and he grabbed hold of Emma's clasped hands in front of him, lifting them to his mouth and kissing them.
"I hope you're my wife and not the maid," he murmured.

Emma drew her arm out from under Steed and pushed him down onto his back. She smothered him with a kiss, thrusting her tongue deep inside his mouth, which opened as widely as Steed was able to move his jaw, running her hands over his face, under his pajama top, and, mischievously lightly, so lightly over his groin. Then holding his wrists down by the side of his head, she bestowed his face with kisses before returning to his mouth again, her tongue skimming around his lips then reinserting itself deeply into his mouth as her lips crashed down on his.

She maintained that embrace for over a minute and then broke away. Steed's eyes were rather glazed over. When they refocused and he saw Emma laying over him he said, "Yup, you're my wife."
"And don't you forget it," she playfully warned.
"Fear not, Emma dear, it is emblazoned on my heart and soul, and I've written it in a little notebook I keep in my study desk, just for backup remembrance."

Emma smiled down at him and then lightly placed her hand under his pajama bottoms resting her palm on his briefs over his groin. "Heal up quicker," she pleaded. "I want to wake you up and apologize. This one-sided exchange is just not fair."
"Well, I want to…" Steed answered, putting his mouth up against her ear and whispering in it exactly what he wanted to do, how often, and in what positions.
When he pulled his head back, their eyes were glowing. They kissed and then Steed rolled Emma over onto her back, lifting her top up over her head and unsnapping her bra and removing it.

"What are you doing?" she asked Steed.
"Apologizing," he said, as he pulled her pants down and off her legs.
"For what? I've been up for hours, Mr. Sleepy Head," she laughed.
Steed pursed his lips together in thought as he dropped her underwear to the floor. "For…" and he smiled and lifted his eyebrows high as an idea presented itself to him, "not healing quicker."
"That is a grievous sin," she agreed, as he lay over her and began kissing her small breasts, her nipples suddenly raised and firm.
"Indeed. Inexcusable. Perhaps though, I can atone for such a reprehensibly slow recuperation."
"Oh, I don't know if I can forgive --Ooh--" Emma said, as Steed's mouth engulfed her breast and his hand began caressing and probing between her eagerly spreading legs.
"On second thought…" Emma panted.
Some rapturous minutes later, amid a fervent cacophony of moans and gasps, Emma forgave him wholeheartedly.

Chapter Twelve

Emma returned home Thursday in the late afternoon thankful that she had not driven off the road or into another car in her dazed mental state.
She was pregnant, no doubt about it. Her doctor appointment had finally arrived and the blood work and his examination had confirmed it.
She was pregnant. She was going to have a baby. She was pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant.

How Emma had noticed stop lights, how she had found her way back home, she had no idea. She had no real memory of driving, but then there she was, parked in their driveway by the front door, car turned off, home.
Home. Steed was home. She had to tell Steed she was pregnant. She was pregnant. They were going to have a baby.

Emma sat in the car for some minutes until she brought herself out of her distracted astonishment. She looked in the small rear mirror and used her fingers to brush her hair into place. A few wrinkles, she thought, around the eyes, but I'm not too old, not too old to have a baby. A baby. With Steed. Emma smiled, her even row of white teeth reflected back to her. Getting out of the Lotus, holding her hat in place to protect it from a sudden gust of wind, she walked over the gravel of the drive to the front door and let herself in. Calling out "Steed" she wondered where he was.

"Hello, lovely lady," Steed answered, sticking his head out from his study. "You left early this morning."

Emma hung up her coat and hat, smoothed out her blue dress, and then walked down the hall to her husband, dropping her handbag on a step of the stairway. Steed had still been asleep when she had left the house. They kissed and then Emma said, "Yes, well, I had some errands to attend to and an early appointment to make."
"Appointment? What sort of appointment? Look, I found these tickets to the symphony tonight. Do you want to go?"

Steed had been home two weeks, and he looked remarkably better from when he had first arrived. His face was almost entirely healed, though his jaw was still considerably restricted in its opening. The skin on his feet was whole, and the bullet wound was scarring over thickly as it healed. His energy was growing daily, and he had taken to getting dressed each morning in trousers and shirt and sweater, walking around for awhile outside, if the weather wasn't too inclement, sometimes leading one of his horses. His back muscle was much less painful.

"Are you sure you have the energy? It would be a late night," Emma asked, glad for the respite of having to figure out just how to tell Steed her news. She had not brought it up before to him, wanting to be certain first.
"Yes, I think I'll be fine. Not too strenuous listening to…" he studied the tickets, "Mendelssohn and Vivaldi. Now if it had been a Wagner or Bartok night…well, that would have been a different story entirely."
Emma smiled. "Alright then, let's go. A return to culture will do us both good, no doubt."

Steed put the tickets on top of his desk and then walked out to the hallway. "So, what was this appointment you had?"
Emma panicked. "Er…"
Steed gently stared at her, smiling in his patience. When Emma didn't say anything else he eventually asked, "Er…what?"
"Well, er, I went to the doctor, actually…"

I have to tell him, Emma thought. And now is as good a time as any. Yet, her larynx seemed frozen, a lump of ice down her throat. So she took a lesson from her husband and changed the conversation. "You know, I could use a cup of tea," she said and turned on her heels heading for the kitchen.

Steed brought his eyebrows together in concern and dutifully followed his wife into the kitchen. "You went to a doctor? Why?" he asked.
"In a moment, Steed, I'm dying of thirst," she said, filling the tea kettle with water, thus putting off the moment as long as she could. "Have a seat in the living room. I'll be right there."
"Steed, please, I'll tell you just as soon as the tea is ready." This was not going at all how she wanted it to.
Steed took a step away and then turned back. "Your health is fine, isn't it?"
Well, nothing like being able to give yet not receive silence, Emma thought, breathing deeply. Yet, Steed had been through enough in the last weeks to not need to uselessly worry over her health. "Yes, yes, I'm fine." She smiled at him. "Go on, you, into the living room. I'll be right there."
"I don't like this," Steed mumbled and left the kitchen.

Emma made the tea, thankful for the few more minutes before she had to tell her husband they were going to have a baby. When the tea was done, which she didn't really want anyway, she brought it out to Steed, who was pacing around the room nervously, hunched over with his hands in his pockets, and put it on a side table next to the sofa. Emma poured tea into the two cups and held one up for Steed.
"Tea? It's peppermint."
"No. Answer," he replied.

Emma left the teaware and sat down on the edge of sofa. Holding her arm out she nodded for Steed to come over. He eyed her warily as he walked to her but when she glanced down to the sofa he held her hand and obediently sat next to her.
Steed spoke first, "Emma, I'm sorry to say, but I just don't have the nerves for this… Will you just please tell me what this secretive doctor appointment of yours was about? I'm not convinced you're healthy. Why else would you be so circumspect?"

Emma could see the anxiousness etched into Steed's face. She reached up and held his cheek.
"Steed, really, don't worry. I'm fine. But, I do have something to tell you…"
"What is it?" he asked softly.

Seconds passed, long seconds. Steed leaned his head nearer to Emma as she sat there, her mouth open to speak but nothing coming out.
"I'm sorry, but my telepathic powers are at the dry cleaners today. Could you try to use regular old speech to communicate?" Steed asked, repeating, a bit more forcefully. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Just tell him… "I'm pregnant," Emma blurted out.
Steed's whole body turned to stone except for his eyes, which wandered all around their sockets until they finally settled again on Emma, who was biting her lower lip.
Steed turned an ear towards his wife. "You're…?"
"Pregnant," she answered, shrugging her shoulders quickly, and then forcing an uneven smile upon her lips as her eyelids raised high in worried consternation.
Steed sat up straighter, his eyes staring blindly for a few seconds, stunned thoughtless. Then his mind turned back on and he looked at his wife. "Pregnant? As in… baby?"
Emma nodded repeatedly. "Pregnant. Baby." Then she rapidly fluctuated between pointing to herself and Steed. "Parents."
Steed's eyes widened. "Parents!"
Emma, still nodding, confirmed, "Parents."

Steed slowly turned and slouched against the sofa, his hands in his trouser pockets, speaking as if he was hypnotized. "Pregnant. Baby. Parents."
Emma continued nodding her head.
Steed glanced at her. "The last time we made love before I was kidnapped?"
Emma nodded.
"Hadn't been on your Pills?"
Emma nodded and then switched and shook her head back and forth. "Forgot."
Now Steed nodded his head and sat speechless for a minute, then asked, softly, "So, what are we going to do?"

It was then that Emma loved being married to a secret agent, a man of action, who was programmed by nature and thirty years in the field to put aside the reason why something happened, to not endlessly blame and point fingers, but just adapt to each new situation he found himself in, realizing well, here he was now, this was what was going on, and let's try to figure out what had to be done about it. A few brief, non-accusatory inquiries just to understand what had happened and that was all; then Steed's basic personality kicked in and it was time to make a decision. To act.

Emma placed a hand on Steed's chest and spoke at three hundred miles an hour. "Steed, I'm sorry. This wasn't quite how I imagined telling you, but… okay, I've told you. I'm pregnant. Remember when I was so busy that week, about a month ago, going to Cambridge and then having to zip down to London, leaving in the morning and returning so late at night, well, somehow I forget to take my Pills. I don't know how, it just happened. I know, I know, you'd think after thirteen years I wouldn't ever forget, but I did, unless somehow, truthfully, I wanted to forget, wanted to become pregnant, on the subconscious level or something, but I can't say that for certain. Anyway, remember that morning we made love, the morning of the day you… disappeared… it was so wonderful, and I accused you of cheating at those games, which you do, except I guess for chess, and since I hadn't taken the Pill for four days, because somehow I had forgotten to, it just amazes me still to think I forgot them, but I did, anyway, I got pregnant. I'm sorry, I really am, but I'm also so happy, I really want to keep the baby. I've always had dreams of being a mother, you know that, although I know we're both old to start raising a child, we've talked about it here and there in the past but never made a decision. And here it is in front of us. I'm pregnant, and we could do it, be good parents, if you, if you really want to, if you want to be a father."

Steed listened to his wife with a growing amusement on his face. When she was done he smiled briefly, kissed her on the forehead, and stood up.
"I think I'll have a cup of that tea, now," he said, but he walked to his liquor bottles and poured himself a brandy instead. Then he crossed to the living room window and stood by it looking outside in a sort of reverie. After a few minutes, Emma came and stood beside him. He was a silent man, her husband, but not now, it wasn't okay now; she needed to hear him share his view on this most important of matters.

"Steed?" she asked, "what are you thinking?"
A long pause. Steed sipped on his brandy, finishing it. He put the glass down on the curio cabinet next to him, and then put his hands back in his pockets. Still looking outside, Steed began to speak.

"Do you know, Emma, I had given up ever marrying and having a family so long ago it seems like it was another world, like another life when I had those dreams inside of me. And, really, in some ways it was. Another world. A different life. A different me." Steed put a hand up and touched the window. "Sometimes even now I can't believe I'm married to you, that it really happened, it truly occurred. That it's not just an old, ancient dream from long ago I've imagined, a fantasy reality I've entered…" Steed turned to look at Emma. "But I haven't. It's real. You're real. Our life together is real. That long dead dream of mine rose like a Phoenix from ashes so dry and cold I thought they had all blown far away… the day you said you'd marry me…"

He paused and looked down at the floor, somewhat embarrassed. "I'm not making much sense."
"You are," Emma said, touching his arm. "Go on."
But all the rare poetical prose Steed had uttered was gone and he was empty of anymore introspective accounts of himself. There was only one last thing to say.
"Now that this… gift… is right in front of us… for whatever reason I don't know, but… well… Emma, I…I would love to have a child with you. As the cliché goes, it would be a dream come true," he said, and his vulnerable countenance was full of so much adoration for his wife that Emma flung herself into his arms and they stood hugging each other for a long time.

Steed, then suddenly pulled back from their embrace. "The doctor said that it's safe for you to carry a child, didn't he?"
Emma smiled. "You mean at my age? Yes, he did. Oh, I'll be thirty-eight when I deliver our baby, but I'm in very good health, and if I eat right and take care of myself, he assured me I should do just fine."
Steed looked at Emma very seriously. "Emma, I'll be fifty-two. Old, and set in my ways."
She ran her hand through his lush hair. "A young fifty-two. And we'll just make up new ways for you to get set in."
"Ah, pregnancy and wisdom becomes you, my dear."

They kissed deeply, their arms wrapped fully around each other. Then they nuzzled their cheeks together.
"It will change our lives a great deal," Steed said.
"All for the better."
"I suppose we'll have to hire a nanny."

Emma was quiet, letting Steed drift off into his meandering thoughts.
"We've got plenty of spare bedrooms --one could be for the baby to sleep in and one could be a toy room. Or, maybe two could be used toy rooms. No need to not spoil the little one as much as possible."

Emma thought, Finster and the Ministry be damned; the hell with that agreement. Ignoring her guilt for breaking the pact, she spoke her foremost concern, "Steed, will you keep working now?"
Steed look at her in confusion. "Why wouldn't I?"
"Because it's so dangerous. Because I want you to be here to raise our child," Emma hated herself for espousing her views as she was doing, knowing the futility of her wish that he would quit. "Can't you just give up working in the field? Now?"

Steed returned his gaze out the window for awhile saying nothing.
"Steed?" Emma asked.
Steed strode away from the window, his hands once more in his pockets. Across the room from his wife he turned. "Emma, of course I plan to keep on working. We've discussed this before."
"But, I wasn't pregnant before."
"The wonder and beauty of that fact doesn't affect my decision to keep working. I'm sorry."
"I am, too."
"Does this ruin everything for you?"
"No, it's what I expected. I just don't like it. I don't like it at all."
"I know you don't. But it will be okay."
"Will it?"
Firmly. "Yes, it will."
Emma looked at Steed, "I guess it will have to be."

They were both silent then, lost in their own thoughts, until Steed held his arms out to her. "One more hug, if you please."
Emma came to him, enfolding herself into his strong body.
"I'm very good with children, you know," Steed said. "They like me."
"I know. I know they do."

They stayed together, rubbing their hands up and down each others' back. Steed then suddenly pulled back from their embrace a second time, and bore his eyes into Emma. "But, er, just because you're, er, that doesn't mean that we can't, can't, uh…"
Emma, bringing her eyes together in feigned innocence, asked, "Can't…?"
Steed stammered like he was completely tongue-tied, "Can't still, uh, I mean, uh, just because you're pregnant, uh going to have a baby…"
Emma said nothing, allowing her husband to verbally fumble around the question she know he wanted to ask.
"…it doesn't mean you shouldn't still be able to…uh…"
Emma hated herself for taking advantage of Steed like this, but the opportunity was too wonderful to pass up. "to… play croquet? No, no, not at all. Perfectly safe for me to play," Emma said, clenching her teeth to prevent from laughing out loud.
"No, no, not croquet. To, er, be safely able to… well…"
"Ride a horse? Perfectly fine."
Steed narrowed his eyes at her. "You know what I mean."
"Go to an art museum? No problem. Enjoy an evening of dancing? That's fine."

Steed's compressed his lips tightly together. "Before you make an entire mockery of me, let me just show you what I mean." With a swift and graceful movement, Steed swept his wife off her feet until she was laying in his arms. Emma's heart thrilled with the knowledge that Steed had finally healed enough for them to make love, but still she wasn't going to allow this moment of playful teasing to end so quickly. It was too ripe with potential indignity and was just what they needed to break the tension around Steed still working.

As Steed began carrying her to the stairs, Emma asked, "to… go on a picnic? I asked and the doctor says it's okay."
Steed began ascending the short curved flight of stairs to the second floor, carefully stepping over his wife's handbag. "Great."
"to… travel to the Lake District and take an all day stroll? Could do it every weekend."

When they were nearing the top of the stairs, Emma grew very serious. She put her hand on Steed's shoulder and said in a steady, pointed tone, "However, Steed, there really is one definite danger that I must absolutely avoid."
Steed stopped short on the stairs, his apprehensive face that of a sky diver whose chute did not unfold. Very gently he asked, "What is it?"
Emma, in the most painful deadpan of her life, said, "I am not allowed to be in the same room with you if you ever decide to try and fix a toaster again." And then she burst out into what could only be called an explosive guffaw.
Steed's cheeks bulged out as his face reddened. "For goodness sake, Emma, are you ever going to let me live that incident down? Will you never stop referring to it? Stop telling people at parties about it?"
Emma giggled, "No. No. And no."

Steed began climbing the stairs again, this time with much more urgency. "One little mechanical error over eight years ago…," he grumbled, then added in a purely sinister tone, "Then you shall pay for it, my dear. Oh, yes, I shall make you pay for it over and over… and over again."
Emma's eyebrows lifted in delight. "Really?" She kissed his neck and then repeated like a mantra. "Toaster, toaster, toaster…"

Steed remained quiet until he rather unceremoniously dumped Emma onto their bed. Emma's body prickled with electricity as she saw Steed begin to undress with a lustful leer pinned to his face.
"To think I recovered my virility only to be the recipient of your mischievous and humiliating sense of humor…" he said, as he dropped his sweater and shirt to the floor and began removing his trousers.
"No, you recovered to be the recipient of this," Emma stated once he was naked, and she grabbed Steed's arm and yanked him onto the bed, where he landed on his back. Emma lay over him, still fully clothed, marvelling that Steed's whole, muscular lean body was finally hers to touch and excite. He had kept his promise, he had come home to her, he was alive, and finally, finally, they could make love. Emma was almost giddy with joy.
"The recipient of what?" Steed asked, pulling down her zipper.
"Of my apology," Emma said. And with that she quickly disrobed and then as Steed sat up to take her in his arms, she pushed him down on the bed again. "First things first."

Emma lay fully over Steed kissing him here and there all over his face, wanting to go slowly, arouse Steed gradually, taking him in her mouth and building him up to a precipice of heat before she brought him over the edge. But knowing that they could make love, and it had been too long, and he had almost died but he hadn't, he was here, alive, sturdy, handsome, the father of her child, and already feeling Steed raised and hard between her legs rubbing against her clitoris, his hands caressing her back, her buttocks, his hips already lifting rhythmically with the aid of his bent knees, hearing Steed groaning in need, Emma grew very moist, very urgent in her need, and she sat up straddling his hips.

"Emma…" Steed croaked as she maneuvered herself over his penis and then grabbing hold of it, lowered herself so that it entered her fully.
Emma lay down on top of Steed kissing him deeply. Their tongues entered each other mouths like snakes darting into ground holes seeking prey. Steed clasped the sides of her pelvis in a sure grip, directing her down and up as the movement of his hips drove himself in and out of her as quickly as he could.

Emma sat up and took Steed's hands in hers, placing them down by his ears as she independently began the opposite matching of his rhythm; her sinking colliding with his rising, his sinking combined with her rising. Up and down they went again and again, the minutes passing at the speed of light, their hearts racing, inarticulate utterances accentuating their approaching climaxes. As Steed jerked and spasmed with ever increasing frequency he pulled his hands from Emma's grasp and placed one thumb over her clitoris while the other cupped a breast.

Both their breaths shortened and quickened, moans and grunts emitted with their curt exhalations. In a delirious rush Steed gasped, "Emma, I can't…" and at that moment Emma felt that glorious wave of pleasure flow through her body, from deep in her womb flooding out to surge throughout her whole system, her blood, her bones, her skin. She planted her hands firmly on the bed, and held herself up with straightened arms as her body was wracked with ecstasy. Steed joined in his wife's release, and his body formed a U-shape as he thrust inside Emma as far as he could go and bent his chest up, holding onto her, thrusting again and again, until his buttocks were almost off the bed and he shook and cried out loudly.

They both fell back to the bed, Emma collapsing on Steed's chest and if it hurt his bandage hidden bullet wound, Steed didn't show it at all. He hugged her tightly, pressing his lips to hers and flipping her over onto her side. They rolled around the bed completely tearing it apart, touching, caressing, stroking, with a hunger, a need, that neither had felt for a long time. They were rough and gentle at the same time, scratching, licking, holding, rubbing, stopping only to catch a breath and smile at each other before beginning again, diving into each other's body with an energy that soon grew their spent passion into first a smoldering heat and then a fiery demand for consummation.

"John," Emma gasped as they faced each other, her hand reaching down to his long penis, once more erect and solid. She ran her palm from its base to its top, spending several seconds spreading Steed's early semen over the head, but before she could bend down to take him into her mouth, Steed turned her onto her back and with an swiftness that in and of itself made Emma tingle, Steed angled himself between her spread legs and entered her once more.

Emma could see that Steed tried to go slow, to gradually bring them both back to that peak of rapture, but that being inside her, feeling her warmth, her moisture, plastering his lips onto hers, onto her breasts, smelling her perfume and her perspiration, seeing the look of pure love in her eyes which she shone on him like a laser, he couldn't contain himself and he sped up his thrusting by leaps and bounds, first holding himself up by his straight arms, then resting on his elbows, then back up on his rigid arms, his arm and chest muscles magnificent in their definition as they supported his weight, his rapid tempo never halting, never lessening, his sweat dripping from his chest onto her heaving breasts. Emma's legs wrapped around his low back, her hands grasped his flanks, and she begged him to continue, to never stop, don't stop, don't stop, oh, God, Steed, keep going, keep going…

Steed drove into Emma harder than he had in ages, and both their worlds narrowed down to their genitals, his thrusts, their love. Like a jackhammer he moved in and out so very hard Emma's torso jolted up with each deep entrance, Steed becoming a sculpture chiseling their ardor bit by bit into a piece of priceless art. Steed grew so near, Emma could see him struggling to continue, could see the bliss of this merging beginning to fill him as he began to slow just slightly and his grunts resonated throughout their bedroom. Emma needed just a little more time, so very near to erupting herself. She closed her eyes and even in his extremity she urged him to "Keep going… a little bit more… just keep going… Steed… please, just, ooohhh, yes… yes!"

They came together, exactly, and neither heard the other scream through their own boisterous cries. Steed thrust inside Emma once last time, trying to reach her spine, to pierce her entirely with his love, and Emma's body curved upwards in a spasm that began far inside her and then claimed her whole torso, her hands finding the rounded hills of Steed's long back muscles for purchase as even her arms joined in her orgasmic cramping. Steed arched forward, his face a grimace of bliss, and one hand finding the top of the headboard of their bed and the other grabbing whatever sheets he could, he convulsed a number of times before he finally ended his orgasm. His hand slipped off the headboard and he fell, floppy and loose like a jellyfish of spent passion over his already slack and pliant wife.

"Wow, when you heal, you really heal," Emma said after awhile of recovery. "That was fantastic."
"We aim to please, madam," came a muffled sound from Steed's mouth as he lay facedown on the tussled bed.
Emma grinned and pulled her husband's flaccid head up and then pushed him over to her side so that he was now next to her on his back.
"Thank you," Steed said. "The air was running out."

She kissed his nose, and he ran his hand over her cheek, brushing back her hair from her eyes.
"I hope our daughter has your silky auburn hair," Steed said.
Emma answered, "I hope our son has your tender grey eyes."
"How about you change all her nappies, and I'll teach her to play polo."
"You may help me with his nappies, and I'll teach him astrophysics."
"It will be a girl."
"No, a boy."
"A girl, I'm sure of it."
"How can you be so sure?"
"That danger tickle of mine. Warning me that I'll soon be living in a household with two strong-willed women!"
Emma laughed. "Well, I'm sure it will be a boy."
"Oh, and how do you know that?"
"A mother knows," she said, patting her tummy.
Steed bent down and kissed her flat tummy, moist with perspiration, then looked back up at Emma, "Have you told anyone else yet?"
"No, just you."
"A baby… Little Emma…" Steed nestled against Emma, his fingers absent-mindedly rubbing and delightfully pinching her breast and nipple.
"Little John…"

Steed abruptly clamped his hand to his jaw, holding it closed while his mouth seemed to demand being allowed to open up. When his mouth stopped doing that, he warily removed his hand.
"Those yawns! Very painful if they happen," he complained.

Emma reached down and pulled up the bedcover and pillows they had, in their tossing and turning, sent crashing to the floor. She yanked the blanket and top sheet back from the bed, pushed Steed under them, then arranged the covering over Steed and placed a pillow under his head. "Here, get some rest. If we're going to the symphony later you should take a little nap first. I don't think walking around holding your jaw closed to prevent yourself from yawning will go over well with the symphony set. Besides," she added, reaching down under the covers to caress Steed's retracted groin, "you've earned a bit of rest. One thing bothers me, though."

"What's that?" Steed asked as he settled himself down to sleep.
"I haven't yet apologized to you."
"My dear, priorities, priorities. There will be time in the future, one is hopeful that it is the near future, for you to apologize to me. I'm rather counting on that apology, actually. I'd be happy to receive two of them even. One for teasing me unmercifully and one for… Hey, perhaps you could break the replacement Ming vase, too, and then apologize for that again. Ha!"
"Will you never let me live that down?"
"To quote from you earlier: No. No. And no."
Emma grinned, leaned over and kissed Steed and then headed for the shower, calling out, over her shoulder, "Toaster."
When Steed heard the shower door close he mumbled "Ming vase," and fell asleep.

Sometimes Emma, in her moods of low cunning, wondered if Steed realized that people took advantage of his gentlemanly code of conduct. Tonight, for example. Wasn't it just so coincidental that as soon as she and Steed had walked into the lobby of the Albert Hall, bedecked in their formal symphony finery, Mr. and Mrs. Percival Swanson just happened to notice them and come swooning over to introduce them to their guests, the Coltons, the aged parents of their daughter-in-law, visiting from Chicago? Yes, yes, they said they just had to bring their guests to the Albert Hall to hear the famed London Symphony Orchestra; too bad they had only been able to buy tickets far up in the balcony, where their elderly American relatives would have trouble seeing and hearing the performance, as they themselves did…

Yes, too bad, Emma said, trying to separate her kind, decent, and accommodating husband from the Swanson's before he offered to exchange tickets with them…
Too late. Steed offered to switch tickets; their perfect main floor center section seating for seats up in the unappealing attic.
Emma saw the look pass between Percival and his wife, Claudia --a devious glance indicating their so-called innocent machinations had been successful. How lucky we ran into you Steed, they said…

Emma contemplated kicking Steed's shin, but the tickets changed hands before she could cock her foreleg back for a telling strike.
As they climbed the stairs to the balcony, Emma asked Steed, "Didn't you see that the Swanson's were waiting for you to arrive? Probably praying they hadn't missed you because they knew you'd be an easy mark?"

"Yes," her benevolent husband answered, "but the Swanson's premeditated stalking of us, of me, is not the point, Emma. Helping the elderly Coltons enjoy the concert is what's important. The Swanson's methods may be disingenuous, and have the machinations belonging to a Shakespearean play, but nevertheless, their cause was worthy. You did notice that both the Swanson's have hearing aids, so they need their own good tickets themselves. And thank you for not kicking my shin."
Emma moped. She hated being that predictable. And she sometimes hated Steed's generosity and pragmatic view of helping people, mostly when it impacted on her enjoyable evening.

Their seats would only have been worse if they had been assigned chairs in the street outside the theatre: they were located midway up the furthest right section in the circular balcony layout, the seat against the wall and the one next to it. Upsetting Steed by not allowing him to take the inferior seat, Emma walked into the short row and plopped down in the chair next to the wall. The balcony was sparsely populated, which was unusual, but no doubt the absolutely biblical downpour that had begun in the early evening and had continued besieging the earth with slate walls of rain contributed to the absence of the normal plethora of musical aficionados. In fact, there was no one else in their row, just two people in front of them, and just two people behind them, both sitting in the aisle and first in seats.

Emma squinted her eyes at the distance to the musicians warming up their instruments on the stage, and made tubes of her hands resting them in front of her eyes as if they were binoculars.
"Land Ho!" she said. "Captain, there, some miles ahead, I believe there's a shoreline of musicians."
No response from her side.
Emma put a hand to her ear, "Are they warming up, Steed? I can't quite hear anything."
Steed studiously ignored her as he took up reading the program.

Emma sighed and brought her hands down to her lap. Of all the men she had to be madly in love with, it had to be some knight errant who went around slaying dragons and exchanging excellent tickets for terrible ones. Emma still could have a wisp or two of steam rise from the top of her head when she remembered Steed giving, just giving, their invitation to the Duke of Cumberly's three day grand party for his son's twenty-first birthday to Sir Norris after he had pleaded with Steed that he had to go so he could be formally introduced to the Duke's daughter Marion, with whom he was completely infatuated.

And whom he had married as a result of that first meeting, Emma thought, but that was not the point. The point was, sometimes she wondered if people thought Steed was a pushover because he was such an Edwardian gentleman; she was sure the Swansons had been specifically waiting for Steed and her to arrive. She remembered once when they had been waiting for forty-five minutes for a table at a restaurant Emma was eager to try, and the newly married daughter of friends of theirs and her husband had come up to them, explaining that they had just returned to town from a holiday, Steve was a diabetic and needed to eat quickly, they had no food in their house, this was the closest restaurant to where they lived, the waiting list was now up to one and a half hours… Steed had given them their reservation, which had then been called immediately. To appease his wife, who had begun to sputter lava like a newly active volcano, Steed had quickly driven her to one of their favorite restaurants, and paid the maitre d' fifty pounds. They had a table in minutes, Steed embarking on being his most charming and witty a conversationalist to duck the arrows coming out of Emma's eyes. It had worked; Emma had calmed down, and they had had a wonderful meal.

Still, Emma began seething about it being a real possibility that all of London knew that Steed was a cinch to manipulate, no matter the nature of the inconvenient request, when she realized Steed was looking at her, his honest and open grey eyes melting her ire away. What a truly noble and good man he was.
"You're not still mad at me, are you?" he asked.
"No, I'm not," she answered, her irritation being completely eradicated by his handsome face and his concern that things were tranquil between them. Emma paused before adding, "They take advantage of your accommodating nature, you know."
"Everyone doesn't. Some may."
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"That's your department," he smiled. "I'm the affable, easy-going member of this partnership."
Emma stuck her tongue out at Steed as the conductor came onto the stage.
Steed lifted his finger and waved it back and forth tsk-tsk-tsking at her. "Honestly," he said, "I can't take you anywhere." Then he leaned forward and kissed her. "I'm sorry for the seats. I love you. I didn't want to upset you."

Sometimes so much loved poured out of her heart for Steed that Emma was surprised it didn't leak out of her chest and spill onto the floor, releasing the aroma of roses and vanilla before it transmogrified into a pool of gold around her feet.
"Oh, Steed," she said, kissing him back, lamenting that the world had only sprung forth one John Steed, that it could use so many more ideal men such as him. Then Emma was so very thankful that if there was only one, then out of all the women in the world, many with less of a temper, she had been the one blessed by Fate to marry Steed, to love him and be loved by him.

Suddenly the music began, but Emma's mind was soon elsewhere.
She sat to her husband, decked out gorgeously in his dinner jacket, his full head of dark brown hair perfectly coiffeured, his musky cologne wafting over to her receptive nostrils, his excellent posture complimented by his broad shoulders and lean figure, long legs, and his… crotch.

Throughout the whole first half of the concert Emma constantly reprimanded herself, demanding she listen to the music, it's quite lovely, flowing and vibrant. Flowing and vibrant --just like Steed's thrusting earlier that afternoon….
Emma smoothed her black gown, and crossed her legs to try to stop herself from becoming too moist… listen to the symphony, Emma…

She watched the conductor's arms waving up, down, pointing to the violins, lifting up to bring the force of the music to a more intense pitch… and then her eyes subtly strolled to the left and down to view Steed's crotch again.

It's his fault, Emma thought, for being such a wonderful man, for being so damn handsome, for almost dying and then coming back to me, for giving me the chance to finally be a mother, for being such a wonderful lover, for giving me such excellent orgasms… for making me want him again and again… How can he just sit there so placidly, enjoying the music? This was a mistake. We should've just stayed home, in bed, tonight…

Since the beginning of the concert Emma had not been able to pay attention to the music, barely hearing a few bars of music before she pictured Steed's naked, aroused body, the cut of his muscles, the solid line of his penis, perpendicular to his body, a large hot flagpole waving a joyful banner of lust…

Emma gave up all pretense of trying to focus on the music and just turned her head staring at Steed, sitting next her, his eagle eyes aimed at the musicians fingering and blowing their various instruments. Her eyes took in his masculine physique, his strong jaw, his flourishing pile of luxuriant hair --that gorgeous hair!- -his long legs, and his zipper, and under the zipper that bulge she could espy, that bulge she knew by heart, by feel, by yearning, she could imagine his genitals exactly, how they lay relaxed in his briefs, how they looked when Steed was rigid and entering her… when he was thrusting in and out…

Emma, growing warmer by the minute, fanned herself with her program; that got Steed's attention and he smiled at her, reaching to hold her left hand in his and resting both hands on his thigh… so close to his groin…

Mind the music, she castigated herself as she once more blankly gazed at the symphonic display, the music and the musicians not registering in her mind at all. You like Mendelssohn; not very complicated, just easy gentle music… easy gentle hands caressing her breasts… Oh, for goodness sake Emma, settle down, it's not like you and Steed are illicit teen-age lovers in the throes of puberty… yet, earlier that afternoon… such frenzied need… oh, that orgasm…
Warm, it was decidedly warm in the theatre…

Emma's hand lay enclosed in Steed's. His hand, so rough with callouses from his training, yet so smooth over her skin… so strong, he could throw such a punch, yet the most courteous and caring of husbands, of men, of lovers... he knew her body as she knew his…Emma's pupils descended once more to his crotch… mid-way down his long body… made up of his long…
Fanning, more fanning…

The movement ended and as if possessed by netherworld minions Emma allowed her innate impishness to impulsively come springing out of her unbidden of any of the social graces that usually kept her from misbehaving in public. No doubt the dearth of the typical assortment of formal and stately couples around them to witness her impropriety contributed to Emma's daring and dastardly whims. Leaning into Steed on the pretext of whispering some remark about the performance, Emma unhitched her left hand from his grasp and brought it up over the back of his ear, and then launched a very naughty double attack on her husband's composure.
Steed noticed her tilting towards him and bent his head slightly to her, politely enabling her to easily murmur something in his ear; instead she licked it, slowly and sensually several times, and then nibbled on the lobe, whispering just how she planned to apologize to him later, as her other hand came around the front of Steed and proceeded to massage his groin under his trousers with definite lascivious intent.

Steed stiffened up, his eyes opening as if he had just seen the Queen walk naked onto the stage. A tiny sound, an "aah" spilled out of him. As the musicians readied themselves to begin the final movement before the intermission, Emma was cruelly pleased to feel Steed's genitals harden under his trousers.

"Emma," he whispered, uncomfortably, a forceful yet pleading tone in his voice, as he lifted her hand off his zipper and pulled his head out of the reach of her tongue, casually glancing around to see if anyone noticed. Assured no one had, Steed reset his shoulders back, reestablishing his elegant appearance, even though Emma could still see a certain round tenting up of the zipper in his black trousers.
Emma switched offensive tactics as the music swelled into the melodic grace of the fourth movement. Moving the hand that had hid her tongue from the row of people behind them, she placed it on the nape of Steed's neck, one of the most intensely erogenous zones on his body, which seemed to have a direct communication link to his penis. Once there, under the perfectly barbered hairline, she began to casually rub and stroke his neck, travelling across the whole of it in a light waving motion, just naturally as a wife might do so that no one behind them would think it odd or unacceptable, yet, so softly she could feel the individual fine hairs on his skin stand on their ends… as the tenting elevated up just that much more…

Steed, his respiration increasing quite a bit, cast Emma a look of irritated despair, and nonchalantly grabbing her left forearm he wrapped his right arm around it once more holding her hand, a bit more surely this time, coming to rest on their shared chair arm.

He leaned to her and spoke out of the side of his mouth, "Knock that off, please. It's not really the time nor place, don't you think? Have some social graces."
Emma bit her lips to keep from snickering. She did think it was the time and place. She was good for two minutes, long enough for Steed's crotch to almost completely regress from it's full tumescence, but then, forswearing any care of maintaining a public persona of refined heiress --besides there was no real public surrounding them-- she leaned onto Steed, resting her head against his shoulder. Steed tensed suspiciously and lifted an eyebrow at her, but then when Emma progressed no further, he relaxed, turning his head back to the symphony. That was Emma's sign to subtly bring her unencumbered right hand over and ran her finger up the inside of Steed's thigh from his knee to his genitals, another erogenous zone, with a light touch, yet very perceptible under his trousers and very stimulating to him. Steed's grew erect under his clothes, and removed her right hand from his leg with his left hand.

It was then that Emma began to run her left foot up and down Steed's right calf. Steed closed his eyes tightly, trying to breathe normally. Releasing Emma's right hand briefly, he calmly bent down to pick up the program that had fallen to the floor; Emma was quicker and nabbed it first, sitting back up to fan herself with it.
Steed's imploring look touched her and she leaned back on him, her head resting on his shoulder as she handed him the program; he eagerly took it and arranged it over his rounded crotch. Emma meanwhile, in a dexterous one-two act of sedition with her free hand, skillfully unbuttoned one of Steed's shirt buttons and reached into his shirt rubbing a nipple. Steed's mouth opened wide but soundlessly, and he pulled Emma's hand out, buttoned the shirt, grabbed her hands and held them both in a steel trap grasp of iron.

Both members of the couple seated over and front of them turned to look at Steed and Emma frankly disapproving whatever was going on in back of them, and it was all Steed could do act natural, frankly blushing in his mortification, praying that the program fully hid his erection from their sight.

Emma went back to his calf with the toe of her high heel, trying to get underneath his pants as much as possible, lifting them up away from his polished shoe and black sock…

And the musical piece was over. Before Emma could even think of applauding, if Steed would release her, Steed stood up, liberating one of her hands so he could hold their program in front of his bulging mid-section. Still clutching her hard enough to almost crush her bones with his other hand, he wrenched Emma out of her seat, barely enabling her to grab her handbag, and before the other people had even stopped clapping he was tearing through the balcony aisle, up to the main aisle exiting from the theatre at maximum speed. They were the first to enter the upstairs lobby, and the first to leave it as Steed dragged Emma after him down the stairs, through the downstairs lobby and around a hallway, down another set of stairs, and down one hallway, down another, until they were alone with locked office doors on either side of them.

Steed stopped almost all the way down the hall at an office and dropping the program to the floor he pushed Emma up against the wall, kissing her with a passion that ignited her ardor, his hands in her hair, crushing her breasts, grabbing her buttocks, pulling her as close as possible to his bulging groin.

"You devil," Steed croaked, "you utterly, nasty devil."
"You're the horned one," she gasped. "Steed, I need you now."
Steed broke from her, and took a set of picks out of his breast pocket, squatting down and inserting a couple into the lock of the door, shaking in his need to enter both the room and his wife. Emma squatted down behind him, her hands sliding in front of his body to unzip his pants again and clutch his hard, distended penis.

"Emma, can't concentrate…" Steed complained as he fumbled at the lock.
"Concentrate. Get us inside that room," she ordered, not really aiding Steed in fulfilling that directive as she dipped her hand down the front of his pants under his briefs, feeling the hot sweat of his aroused member.
Steed fell to his knees on the floor, and Emma wrapped her other arm around his torso, kissing his neck.
"You're not helping… ahhh… come on, come on, come on… stubborn lock… come on, come on, click open… click open… come on…" Steed rattled off, maneuvering the picks skillfully in the lock, as Emma rolled his early drops of semen around the thick head of his penis. "Ohh… Emma… that's so… ooh--"
Amazingly, there was a click.

Steed and Emma paused, shocked at that sound, and then they were standing up frantically as Steed opened the door and they dove into the room, closing and locking the solid wood door behind them and flicking on the light switch. They flung themselves into each other's arms, twirling around the room as their tongues exchanged residences, their hands urgently trying to get to the skin beneath the clothes. Steed lifted up Emma's dress and his hand went under her underwear and nylons, his fingers curving up into her vagina, already moist, yet with his digital stimulation it soon poured out lubrication as the force of their kissing almost merged their two faces into one head. Emma removed Steed's cumberbund, and lifted his shirt out of his pants.

Once he felt Emma's state of acute readiness, Steed lifted his wife up by her upper thighs so that her legs wrapped around his hips; darting to the wide desk at the back of the room Steed in one wide arm motion swept away all the items he could reach, scattering pens and pencils and date books, coffee mugs, family pictures all over the floor. Then he put Emma down on the edge, carefully lifting the back of her dress out of the way to lay flat on the desk. He ripped off her shoes, nylons and underwear, tossing them carelessly behind him.

Unbuttoning his trousers, Steed pushed them and his briefs to the floor and in one fluid movement he bent over his wife, his quivering erection in hand and, after inserting himself into the front of Emma's vagina, he went in halfway slowly. At Emma's urging "Now, Now" he forcefully drove himself the rest of the way in. Emma lay down supine on the desk, her knees bent back so far that they were at her shoulders. Steed swiped a few errant desk accoutrements he had missed out of her way, and as he grabbed hold of the sides of the desk, and Emma grabbed hold of him, changing to wrap her legs as high around him as her agile and limber body could, Steed began thrusting in and out of her with piston-like regularity and enough force that after the first few rhythmic surges Emma was scooted several inches up the desk. Steed switched handholds to the top of her shoulders to end any further progression away from him and his innermost access to her hot and tight genitalia.

It was frenzied, fast, wild sex, urgent, frantic, without any kissing, any words of love or affection, just the growing pleasure in their groins, building from deep inside them like the growing roar of thunder before it wrought a deafening crack of power over the land. That was what they needed, no kisses, no words, just that roar, that release, that connection, that bliss, and Steed pulled his hips back like a crossbow and jammed into Emma like a bolt shot at a hundred miles an hour, again and again and again, until it was coming, that release, it was nearing, for both of them, and their moans and groans and grunts merged into one chorus of impending massive climax. Steed's thrusts grew slower, but more powerful, that last approaching surge of stimulation needed to overwhelm both of them… coming, coming, nearer, nearer… nearer…

It took Emma first and Steed two seconds afterwards, that burning rapturous orgasm. Like a supernova exploding into the universe it shot from their mid-centers to encompass their whole beings, their minds, accompanied by intense shaking, yelling, and the warm projectile spurting of Steed's profuse semen. It seeming to last a lifetime, yet, gradually, after several orgasmic aftershocks darted through their systems, it ended, and as Emma lay on the desk with her eyes closed, sure she was in Heaven, she felt Steed slide out of her. She lay there for another moment or two and then opened her eyes expecting to see Steed resting on his elbows above her, but she saw no Steed, no Steed at all.

Curious, she struggled to a sitting position, for the first time noticing the hardness of the desk, and looking over where her legs now hung down off the piece of furniture she saw her husband, on the floor, slouched against the desk, his randomly scarred naked legs and his deflated genitals exposed languidly in the air, rather lessening his image of dandified, dignified gentleman.

"Steed?" she asked, rubbing her hand through his hair, amused by the sight of her husband, "are you alright?"
"Aren't we ever going to make slow, sweet love again? I really am not twenty years old anymore. All this spectacular sex is beginning to weaken your middle-aged husband's knees," he replied, weakly, from below her.

Emma jumped down from the desk, and lowered herself to the floor next to Steed. "I think I could handle slow sweet sex, next," she agreed.
"With some words of endearment thrown in?"
"Oh, yes, definitely."
"Good. Then I'm game. Though, uh, maybe we'll wait until tomorrow. Or the day after. I may not really be that healed up."

Emma laughed. Then she looked around the room. "Intermission should be just about over. We'd better hurry up, clean ourselves up and straighten up this room. By the way, I don't remember you always bringing picks with you to the symphony."
"I don't always. These were in my jacket from my last case, and I just was too lazy to take them out."
"How lucky for us."
"Yes, indeed. Now, before we return to the balcony, I want you to promise to never, ever engage in that sort of reprehensible behavior regarding your dear, devoted husband again. I imagine the couples below and above us must think we had some sort of itchy rash develop over our entire bodies during the last movement. In fact, I'm sure we were noticed by, and disturbed, the entire balcony section. I just hope no one really figured out what was going on. The thought of that truly alarms me. I would have to move to New Zealand to save face."
"I don't want to promise that," Emma complained. "It was fun."
"It was not fun for me, let me assure you. Now, promise me."

Time was passing and it would look bad if they came back too late. After all, Emma had told prim and pious Loretta Fortescue that she'd chat with her during the intermission while they were heading towards the balcony stairs after having their tickets stolen by the Swanson's, and now had been woefully absent from that tete a tete. Just not returning to their seats after their blatant fidgeting would set tongues to wagging, especially if people they knew had seen Steed whizzing past everyone just about dragging his wife by her hair behind him.

"I promise," Emma said, hiding her crossed fingers behind her back.
Steed kissed her and reaching behind her undid her fingers. "Good," he said.
They made it back to their seats, somewhat wrinkled and with a few strands of hair just not willing to return to their proper, untousled places, only missing the first movement of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Perceiving a peremptorily warning look from Steed that could have melted an iceberg, Emma was very well behaved the whole second half of the concert, even though Steed made to lean over twice to whisper to her in-between movements, but instead just squeezed a breast.

Chapter 13

Steed and Emma sat up reading in bed, yellow triangles of light from lamps on their night tables the only illumination in the room. Emma lifted her head from her book and just like a week ago, when she had first told Steed she was pregnant, without warning, she threw the same question out into the room like she'd pulled a trap and sent a clay pigeon shooting into the air above them.

"Steed, I'm sorry to bother you about this, but is there no way at all you would consider deactivating as a field agent?"

It sounded like a shotgun blasting aimed to blow a clay pigeon out of the sky, but it was just Steed, in a rare moment of pique, slamming his book closed. Right after that loud sound reverberated throughout their dark bedroom, startling Emma, Steed regretted his rash and very uncharacteristic action. Yet, he couldn't deny his state of irritation at once more being asked that very unwelcome inquiry, nor could he entirely hold back his stern tone as he confronted his wife.

"There is no way. Period. That's it. And I would very much prefer not being asked about it again. The subject is closed."
Emma pressed on nonetheless; since she had broken her word for the first time, she had decided that she might as well continue to illustrate her concerns. "But, why are you so inflexible? Can't you see that other, more important, things are entering your life now? I've never known you to be so intransigent before."
"You've never demanded I stop working before."
"I'm not demanding. Just--"
"--trying to pester me into retirement?"
"--wishing you wouldn't put yourself at risk when we have so much to look forward to together."

Silence hung heavy over them, both saddened and frustrated at each other's position, turning their harmonious relationship into one of discord.
"Look, Steed, I only meant--"
"Oh, enough, Emma," Steed said, climbing out of bed. "I really don't want to talk about it any more."

He donned his bathrobe and without another word left the bedroom. Emma heard him stepping heavily downstairs. He hadn't returned by the time she was too tired to read any further. She clicked off both the lamps and lay down in bed, the emptiness of his side of the bed reflected inside her. Running her hand over where Steed would sleep, she heard him softly come back into their bedroom. He slipped off his robe and slid under the covers. There was a second or two of anxious hesitation, and then just naturally, like they were pieces of human mercury, they merged completely into each others' arms.

What tore Steed out of her warm embrace hours later was a terrible, horrible dream. He gurgled to a sitting position, too wild and chaotic to be able to form a yell, his arms flailing about savagely, Emma so horrified she could do nothing more for a second than cover her mouth with her hand and stare at her husband. Then he was back in the present, back in their bedroom, back safe and sound, back from whatever level of Hell he had sunk to in his dreamworld. Emma sat up and reached out to his chest, feeling the salty sweat layered under his fine chest hair, feeling his heart pounding up against the palm of her hand…

"My God, Steed, what was that about? It's the worst dream you've had in ages."
Steed turned to her, and it scared her to see his eyes still so wide, so lost, so anguished. He opened his mouth to speak, his jaw moving up and down, his lips rounded to form a word, but nothing came out. He just put his hand up to his throat, and then got out of bed, shaky, bending over to place his hand on the bed repeatedly as he walked around it. He went into the bathroom, where Emma heard him run some water in the sink, splashing it over himself.

Emma following her husband, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, watching him dash cold water on his face and then drink some. He stood with his head bent over the sink for a moment more, his hands firmly planted on the counter holding himself up, and then dried his face with a towel.

"Steed, tell me what that was about. Was it Eldon and his siblings?"
"No," Steed said, walking passed his wife. He put his bathrobe on.
"Well, what was it, then? You usually tell me."

Steed tied his robe in front of him, and then looked at his wife tenderly. Again that ineffective movement of jaw and lips, and he surrendered to his inability to speak. "No. I can't. I'm sorry. Please just go back to bed. I'm okay."
"Maybe I should stay up with you."
"No. Please, Emma, just go back to bed. I'm fine."

Reluctantly, she did. She fell asleep watching the motionless outline of her husband slouched in a chair looking out the window, wondering about the dream, and hoping Steed never had it again.

But, he began having it just about every night instead. Never lessening in intensity, never able to speak about it, never going back to bed after it. If she woke with Steed, Emma begged him to tell her about it, but he never did; that made it worse for her, as she had greatly appreciated that one inroad into his silences she had been allowed. Emma needed to feel closer to him now, being pregnant, not further apart.

The dark woods of France, a house, a bed… thunder in the distance, getting nearer and nearer, it has a name, the thunder, "Schumacher;" an evil force of nature. The drum roll of "Schumacher" booms throughout the woods; he should do something about the thunder, he needs to do something about the thunder, it's dangerous, very dangerous, but he just waits a little too long because it's warm and soft in the bed, she's warm and soft in the bed, can't he wait just a little longer? But the goose steps of the thunder get louder and louder, and still he does nothing, it's bad, so bad to do nothing. He's surrounded by fingers pointing at him, "guilty, guilty" they say. The noise grows and grows until it deafens him, and now he knows it is too late, way too late, the thunder is at the door, striking the door; the wood crashes in and they are carried away by the thunder and there's blood and screams, not his, not his, but hers…

"No!" Steed cried out, sitting up in bed, covered in sweat, paralyzed by fleeting images of his dream, steadily panting until he took conscious control of his breaths and slowed them down. As the images disintegrated Steed was able to fully reclaim his body; he turned and was relieved to see Emma was still sleeping soundly, peacefully, sailing through each night unbidden of the past.
That was not Steed's way of sleeping.

That was not his way at all. Especially in the last three weeks, since the first time he had breathed life into this old nightmare, expanding it once more into its full and awful strength. Why, he didn't know. It seemed that he had been journeying innocently through life on a known and frequented trail and somehow, in someway, had awakened a beast whose den he didn't even remember stumbling into. And now was chasing after him with murderous intent.
It was a dreadful dream.

No, Steed's way, begun so long ago in his life, had become so ingrained in him Steed had ritualized his habitual awakenings.

Steed carefully left the bed, leaving Emma undisturbed, put on his bathrobe and walked into the bathroom to run cold water on his face and drink a large glass of cold water. Ritual number one. Then he walked to the large window and stood watching the night, the neutral night, neither good nor bad, just a darkness that covered up people to supposedly let them get some soothing sleep. Steed stayed there for awhile, mostly watching the sky, finding repose in the stars and the moon. He thought about the nightmare, an old nightmare, so old it was the very first one. One he hadn't had for so very long he had thought that he was done with it.

Surprise. Here it was again.
A very bad dream. The worst of them all. That was a dubious distinction at best.
Steed's dream were as forthright as the events that caused them --he was in the Chinese prison Nee San, he was in Wales, he was back in the War, he was killing a traitorous friend, he was running for his life from pursuing enemies, he was being interrogated, he was swimming for his life, fighting for his life, being shot…
Or he was watching someone else be shot… and killed…
Because he had waited too long…

Steed suddenly felt dreadfully nauseous as he fell into that putrid, fetid memory. He leaned over the table and swallowed the saliva that poured into his mouth with the sensation of needing to vomit, a light cold sweat covering him.
So raw, why was that dream so raw? It had happened so long ago. He had been free of it for so long.

Why had it come back now? Steed desperately hoped that it was just a fluke, that the images had surfaced like the mythical Nessie once every thirty years, the ancient animal then sinking back beneath the dark and impenetrable sea to swim in waters never welcoming the presence of man.

The nausea abated slightly and Steed stood up and looked around at Emma. His heart swelled at the sight of her, his friend, his love, his wife, his second chance. He never believed he would have been given a second chance.

It would be difficult, now, to have that dream frequently. He would just have to let it go, like he let all of them go. Steed turned back towards the night sky and meditated on the moon for several minutes, focusing his mind on the fuzzy orb, hidden behind clouds, that flew across the heavens, bringing light to ease the fear of the dark.

Let it go, Steed, he told himself. And as he had done for thirty years, he did at that moment, releasing the dream, releasing the physical associations it elicited in him, until he opened his eyes and felt his peace of mind reinstated.
Ritual Number Two completed.

Then Steed dressed, removed his pillow from his side of the bed and put it in a chair by the large table, the code to Emma that he had left to go to Hal's in case she woke up before he returned. Leaving the house as silently as a cat, Steed walked down his driveway to the country road, then strolled the mile to his friend's house, the night chilly but dry. It was the height of convenience that Steed had found a house to buy so near Hal's, his private training center for almost thirteen years, replete with the remnants of Hal's fitness obsessed grandfather's collection of athletic equipment: there was a large gymnasium filled with exercise and weight machines, individual weights, boxing bags, as well as a quarter mile track on the back lawn, and the new, enclosed swimming pool. Steed let himself into the gymnasium with the key he had to begin Ritual Number Three --training, to take his mind off his nightmare and to keep himself in the best possible condition whilst he maintained his dangerous career. Changing into gym clothes he spent two hours working out on the weights, the rowing machine, the boxing bag, and practicing fencing sword work. Then he swam for a half hour. When Steed was done, it was still before dawn. He showered and changed back into his casual clothes, met an early rising Hal at the back door as he was leaving, drank the nasty green drink Hal thrust at him --ghastly Ritual Number Four-- slapped Hal on his shoulder in a show of bonhomie and walked back home.

Steed liked the quiet of the night. Oftentimes, when he had been a bachelor living in London and had driven to Hal's, upon his return to his London apartment he would have parked his car and then spent some time roaming the streets of the city. Every rare now and then he had come upon some crime and had intervened in stopping it, but generally he had just enjoyed the quiet peace of the city, the major metropolis of the nation he held so dear and had spent his life defending and protecting.

Now, as Steed walked back to his home he thought about being a father. Like any other middle-aged man it was somewhat an intimidating prospect, a portent to such a tremendous change in his upcoming life it could be blatantly frightening. But Steed was a man who thrived on change, who could instantly adapt to any new situation he found himself in. True he had fashioned his personal life when off a case to be an anchor of stability and comforting repetition, but, as Emma had so sagely said three weeks ago when she had first told him of her pregnancy, together they would mold and weld a new anchor for their lives to float above. That anchor would be caring for a child. Their child. A daughter. A son.
His second chance.

Steed stopped walking and looked up at the stars. Like any other child when young he had wished upon them, the first one seen on any given night, asking to be granted one favor, endowed one distinct dispensation. When had he stopped doing that on a regular basis? When had he forsaken that innocent belief in a benevolent and caring… power… above in the sky, watching mankind struggle so mightily to get through their difficult lives, every so often pointing a finger down at one chosen, special person to send a magical benefaction into their life?
A very long time ago.

Then unbeknownst to Steed some finger in the sky had pointed at him and given him back Emma Knight, filling a hole so large inside him that in the years they were apart, much of his spirit had leaked out bit by bit, evaporating into the past, gradually transforming him into an aging man, an aging agent, on the outside stolid and secure, on the inside growing, cynical, lonely, and weary. When Emma had returned to him she had sealed that hole with her freely given love. She had renewed his animated vitality as if she had come back to him carrying a enchanted hose, sitting him down and sticking the nozzle into his soul, pressing the lever and holding it, smiling at him, running her hand through his hair, until his joyful spirit was raised back up to full. Once that was taken care of, Emma had removed the nozzle and tossed it to the side, no longer ever needed.

Steed still didn't believe it at times, over two years after their marriage. He had her back in his life. She was his wife. Emma was his wife.
He had, one night soon after their marriage, laid in bed awake as Emma slept next to him and glanced out the window seeing the stars in the sky outside their home, not his home, their home. To no one in particular, and nothing in particular, Steed had whispered, "Thank you."

Now Steed stared up at the stars once more and imagined a fingertip, large as the moon, the mellow light in the dark sky that always comforted Steed, he imagined an immense index finger, perfectly groomed, pointing down at him, for a second again, giving him a child to share with his beloved wife.
Giving him a family, after all this time; a brilliant dream long thought dead was truly rising from the gray ashes of his tumultuous life.

Steed, staring at the sky and momentarily overcome with emotion, spoke to no one in particular, and nothing in particular, whispering, "Thank you," and then continued on his way home.

Emma was still sleeping when Steed returned to their bedroom. He sat for awhile in a chair staring out the window, watching for whatever he might espy, letting a layer of tiredness coat him once more until it prodded him to returning for a few more hours of sleep. Ritual Number Five. Steed didn't mind that people thought him slothful and indolent in the morning, when actually it was common for him to spend from one to two hours three to five times a week training, mostly in the middle of the night, frequently because he was awakened by a nightmare, but by now he was awakened just by sixteen years of habit as well. This way people didn't know he was so fit, and didn't know where he trained; that they thought him lazy and self-indulgent was of no concern to him. The less people knew about him the better Steed liked it.

Around dawn Steed felt his eyes growing heavy again, and he stood, undressed, grabbed his pillow and returned to bed, nestling his naked body next to the gentle curves of his naked wife. He inhaled over her neck, smelling the barely discernible delicious essence of her perfume mixed with her own sweet natural body scent, then planted a delicate peck on her head, and let his hand rest so lightly on her lower abdomen, over their baby. Proud of himself for not waking Emma, although just pressing his flesh against hers caused him to grow firm, Steed sank his head down into his pillow and fell asleep again.

Later that morning as they sat in the kitchen, Steed and Emma cast glances of affection at each other as they chewed on buttered toast and eggs and tomatoes, those looks the last lingering remnants of their earlier slow morning love-making. Emma was dressed casually in slacks and a cashmere sweater, whilst Steed was formally arrayed in his usual impeccable grey three piece suit.

Emma stood and brought her plate to the sink, running the water over it to remove the few remaining bread crumbs. Putting it in the rack on the side, she dried her hands on a dish towel then turned to face her husband.

Steed had been watching her, and knew what she would say.
"Today?" she asked.
He put his coffee cup down and nodded. "Today."
"Are you sure you're ready?"
"I'm sure. Now I just have convince Analysis."
"Maybe you should wait just a few more weeks. Your back muscle is--"
"--Fine. It's fine, Emma." Steed moved his right arm in a large circle. "See? Full range of motion."
"Your jaw?"
Steed opened his mouth as wide as possible, pointing at it.
"And your energy?"

Steed smiled and stood up. He had been home from Scotland for five weeks, healing, recovering, and growing strong again, and he was now ready and eager to return to work. He held his worried wife in a hug and was happy when she clasped her hands behind him. "You didn't think there was anything the matter with my energy an hour ago."
"I can only imagine that you might require a bit more stamina chasing after diabolical masterminds than that. Considering I was on top, doing all the work," she grinned.
"Ah, but I tendered a considerable paycheck, my dear, wouldn't you say, for all the work you did?"
Emma grinned. "Egotist."

They kissed.
"I hate you going to work," Emma said resting her head against Steed's shoulder and holding him even tighter.
"I have heard you say so quite a bit lately. And you have heard my reply. It's what I do--."
"--Who you are, I know, I know. But, I just don't like it."
"I asked you not to bring it up again."
"Yes, I am turning into a bit of a nag. I'm sorry. Alright, I won't mention it again. I promise."
"Thank you very much." Steed released his embrace but Emma didn't. "Emma, I really must be going."

She still didn't release him. This was becoming a bit awkward for Steed as he held his arms out high in the air. He had no intention of pushing his pregnant wife away from him, anathema to a gentleman if anything was!, but he needed to be getting a move on to Whitehall. A growing suspicion claimed Steed's concern; if he thought about it, he wondered if Emma was… changing… somehow, of late. The way she had cried at the movie they had seen the other night… almost sobbing… he hadn't been able to stop staring at her. Her becoming upset at his cousin Horace for some perceived slight she had felt he had sent her way at one of the endless Christmas parties they attended lately. And finding her a week ago snacking on the appalling culinary combination of shortbread cookies with vinegar liberally sprinkled on top…
And now… this rather excessive display of clinginess.

Maybe at some point he should ring up Auntie Greta and ask her a question or two since the whole family had been told of Emma's pregnancy… but for now, he had to leave for the Ministry.

Steed rested his hands on Emma's shoulders as his natural inclination to change the subject when uncomfortable asserted itself. "I say, Emma, how do you propose to spend your day?"

Success!, Steed thought as Emma lifted herself off of his shoulder, unwrapped her arms from his torso and brushed her hair back from her face, hopping to the table to pick up his plate and cup and bring it to the sink for rinsing. Emma's sudden change was startling and confusing to Steed but nonetheless helpful. He nonchalantly stepped a few paces back to be out of hugging range.

"I rather fancy I'll spend some time at Excalibur Ten, helping to catalog some new items. Sales have been very good this holiday season."
"Oh, lovely. Well, I best be going. Good-bye," Steed said as he inched his way around the kitchen table.
"What? No good-bye kiss?" Emma said, turning at the last minute, just as Steed set foot in the living room.
Steed stopped and faced his wife, smiling. "Of course, my dear."

They both stood still waiting for the other to walk across the room. Finally Steed strode to Emma, grabbing her upper arms with his hands to prevent her from embracing him again; he leaned forward and kissed Emma firmly on her lips, and then turned to leave the room.

"Steed…" his wife plaintively called from behind him.
Garnering his almost, but not entirely, unlimited patience, Steed took a deep inhalation and turned once more to his wife. Exhaling at the rate of one air molecule a second, he said, "Yes, Emma?"
"Do take care."

For the first time in his life with Emma, Steed was unsure how to reply to a comment of hers. Flippantly? Seriously? Unconcernedly? He wanted to say what was right, but he really had no time to spend forever wondering what was the best avenue to take.
"Er, yes, of course I will, Emma. You can depend on it. See you later. Bye!" he uttered in a spitfire verbal burst, fairly running from the kitchen, putting on his coat and exiting the house in under a minute with umbrella and bowler tightly in hand.
As he climbed into his new Jaguar, his old one not yet found if it ever would be, Steed told himself imperatively that he would make that call to Auntie Greta.

No one treated Steed's arrival with any spectacular hubbub, a nod here and a smile there all that the clerks and department workers afforded him, except Gambit shook his hand, and Purdey kissed his cheek. The general lack of effusive welcome suited Steed to a tee, so when he opened up his office and balloons galore floated out into the hallway and everyone broke into unrestrained applaud and a few champagne corks popped high into the air, Steed sighed and then handled it with his usual aplomb. He pushed his way into his office through the multi-colored balloons, the air scented with the large bouquet of flowers on his desk around which were scattered innumerable boxes of chocolates.

Steed didn't eat many chocolates anymore, as they made his old injured joints ache badly the next day, but he had been quite a consumer in the mid-60s, and so he wasn't surprised to see the boxes wrapped in bright ribbons festooning his desk. It was considerate of his fellow Ministry colleagues to tender him such an affectionate return, but Steed wondered how he could be an agent at the Ministry for, what, just about fifteen years, and still not have people understand he was a man who preferred to have his life remain in the undercurrents and not emblazoned for all to see. That he had been kidnapped and had fought desperately to survive was true; that he was returning to work was true; that people were glad to see him was nice. A handshake would have sufficed. Or one card signed by everyone. He knew he was looked upon with utmost esteem by most everyone in the Ministry, generally understood to be the next Director, but a display like this was very discomforting to him.

Steed stood in his office, smiling officiously, and allowed the hubbub to continue as it needed to, surprised to see even the Heads mixing about here and there. He took a glass of champagne that was offered to him, but didn't drink it; and put the chocolate that was pressed into his hand on the window sill behind him. He cast a glance at Purdey who held her palms up and shook her head back and forth, disavowing any responsibility for this affair. Then she cocked her head out the door to Gambit, chatting with a pretty young lady in the hallway. Gambit, Steed grumbled.

Finally, people stopped milling about and wandered their way back to their own desks or offices. Balloons were popped and kicked and thrown about, yet a carful of them still paraded about Steed's office. As Gambit courteously escorted the fair lady back to her desk, Purdey closed Steed's office door, leaving them alone in his office.

"Well, just the way you didn't want to return, eh?" she asked.
"Exactly so," he agreed, hanging his coat on the stand next to the door, and putting his bowler and umbrella on his desk.
"Don't be upset, Steed. You have no idea how much you're looked up to here. People really were glad to see you again. Especially me."
Steed smiled at her. "Yes, well, may I offer you a box or eight of chocolates?"
Purdey held her hand up. "Sorry, no. Clive keeps me well stocked in that area. Perhaps Emma would want some? Or is she more interested in pickles and ice cream lately?"

Steed, who had been throwing out the chocolate he had placed on the window sill, snapped his head around to Purdey. "You know?"
She smiled widely. "I know. Emma called and told me weeks ago. Congratulations."
"Ah, well. Thank you." Then Steed ran his hand over his chin a few times; maybe instead of Auntie Greta, Purdey could help… They were still very good friends after having been lovers before he had met up again with Emma. Purdey was one person he felt he could trust implicitly.

"Uh, Purdey…"
"Yes?" she asked watching him closely, actually too closely for Steed's comfort.
"Er, um, oh, never mind."
Purdey laughed. "Is Emma really eating pickles and ice cream?"
These intuitive women who knew him too well; it was unsettling. "Well, uh, shortbread cookies and vinegar, actually."
"How awful for you, Steed! It must have made you queasy just watching her."
"You know, between you and me, I did feel a certain propriety in allowing Emma her privacy whilst she was enjoying that unusual repast."
"Spoken like a true Edwardian gentleman. Any other changes occurring aside from her choices of food?"

The fact that Purdey even asked brought a rush of relief to Steed; the hushed discussions of pregnant women undergoing various changes he had been privy to occasionally at his club over the years was not fiction at all. Yet, far be it from him to share Emma's other recent emotional peccadilloes, even with Purdey. "A few, I guess."
"You guess?"
Steed sighed. "A few."
Purdey laughed. "Well, buck up, Steed. Only seven more months to go!"

Before Steed could really register that proclamation, a harbinger of untold adjustments yet to come, there was a knock on the door. Purdey opened it and they were greeted with the personage of Analysis.
"Steed, are you ready?" the department Head inquired.
Analysis was not known for dallying.
"Of course," Steed replied. Looking gratefully at Purdey, who held her finger up over her lips and giggled "Mums the word," he grabbed his umbrella and left the room, following Analysis down the hallway to the elevator that lowered them to the Head's basement domain.

The department of Analysis was in charge of gathering the information regarding an agent's mental, emotional, and physical health. Field agents were tested twice a year in these areas, and whenever any type of trauma or major injury occurred to one, they were required to be screened by Analysis workers before they were cleared to return to work.

Steed was given a complete physical, everything from blood pressure and temperature to eye exam, reflexes, neurological tests, and the usual poking and prodding from head to toe. His new chest scar and the new partial plate in his mouth was duly noted on his long list of identifying marks on his body. Particular attention was paid to ensure that the injuries he had suffered in the course of his kidnapping were all healed and he repeated his arm circling and jaw opening just as he had for Emma. He was then given a fitness stress test, where he walked a treadmill with all sorts of electrodes stuck to him. Even though he had already expanded a great deal of cardiovascular effort in the middle of the night, Steed easily passed the test, his heart strong, his athletic fitness impressive.
He scored a hundred at the indoor gun range.

Steed disliked the physical and weaponry aspects of Analysis's information gathering, but he absolutely despised what came next, after he was showered and dressed again.
The psychiatric evaluation.

Steed loathed talking with Dr. Melvin Silver, and Dr. Silver knew it. Again, just like filling out paperwork, Steed knew he fit right into the cliché of active agents resenting and disclaiming the need to sit and… share about themselves. How they felt. Talk about their dreams.

Field agents analyzed situations, not themselves. Their minds worked towards uncovering the villain, not uncovering their inner needs and wants. They questioned what would be the best and most effective way to capture their target, not questioning their motives and their choices in life. They focused their attention on the present and learned to bury the past inside them. They hated being questioned, being interrogated. They hated being in the basement of buildings, without windows, without being able to see outside, being questioned about things they didn't wish to discuss.

That's why Analysis chose to use the basement; to add just a little more stress to agents being processed for active duty release.
Steed, the most experienced and silent of the active field agents, led his colleagues in hating and dreading basements, hating and dreading any meeting with Dr. Silver. Yet, these were the hoops he had to jump through to get activated off medical leave. So, he knocked on Dr. Silvers door frame with the handle of his umbrella, the door being open already.

Dr. Silver was standing by his bookcase, which took up an entire wall in his large office, stuffed thick with medical books and journals. He was reading a tome that he held open in his hand, his somewhat short and thin figure erect as he stood. His thining curly brown hair with streaks of grey running through it still covered his whole head. His ebony black cane with a silver handle, remnant of a bout of polio as a child, rested against a bookshelf.

Dr. Silver looked over towards the door at the sound of Steed's knocking, his face and stance unreadable. Steed disliked not being able to gather information from a person's affectation.
"Ah, Steed, I hope you are not the bearer of more nuts." He pointed to an almost over-flowing bowl of nuts on his desk, with a nutcracker resting on top of them. "I'm rather full up at the moment."

Steed smiled. Active agents when not on duty were a disobedient and prankish lot. How many dares did they make with each other when the boredom of enforced inactivity grew too great: Reset Big Ben, I dare you. Bug the Prime Minister's study, I dare you. Paint a jet fighter pink, I dare you. And more often than not, those dares were achieved by the bravest, most resourceful, most audacious, and best trained agents in the country, much to the Director of the Ministry's dismay, as he was the recipient of the telephoned ire of whatever government or military official was affected by the latest successfully accomplished challenge.

Dr. Silver, though not the victim of any great adventurous assault, was solely the endless beneficiary of bags and bags of nuts, a juvenile signatory of his psychiatric medical specialty: raw nuts, roasted nuts, salted nuts, peanut butter, peanut brittle, nuts still in their shell, mixed nuts. His desk had become a regular depository of nuts of all kinds, and nuts had been hidden in his pipe tobacco jar, in his books, in his coat pockets, his hat, everywhere in his office. Steed, who had started the routine years ago, had never outgrown contributing to Dr. Silver's collection, and adamantly claimed pecans for his own.

To the psychiatrist's credit, Dr. Silver had never handled the unwanted and possibly insulting gifts with anything but good humor.
"I'm nutless," Steed assured him, patting his pockets. "Just reporting in for the required head shrinking."
The doctor rolled his eyes in a long-suffering look, and waved Steed into his office.
"Yes, well, I'm able to compress a skull down to the size of an apple now."
"Golden delicious or Granny smith?" Steed asked as he sauntered in, walking about the spacious office twirling his umbrella --his teddy bear, Dr. Silver had once termed it, to Steed's unsmiling face-- ostensibly avoided sitting in either of the two large and comfortable straight back chairs. He stayed far away from the sofa as well.

Dr. Silver ignored Steed's quip and closed the door to his office then limped around behind his desk, sitting down. Steed by this time had taken a book off the shelf and was perusing it, turning the pages quickly. Suddenly he smacked the book closed and replaced it on the shelf.
"Got any with pictures?" he called over his shoulder.
"No. Steed, come and have a sit down. We might as well get this over with."

Steed kept looking at the books, although he didn't see the titles. A certain anxiety came over him having to sit and answer questions. But the sooner the interview began, the sooner it ended, the sooner he could get out of the windowless basement, the sooner he could regain active status. Steed had no worries that he wouldn't pass with flying colors, well, he knew he hadn't always passed with flying colors, but at least he had always passed… in flying black and white, if nothing else. Not good to show hesitation, Steed, he told himself, and with that Steed turned and strode to a chair and sat down in it, putting his umbrella on the seat next to him. He had left his bowler in his office.

As expected, Dr. Silver tried to claim the superior position by taking some little time reading several papers, probably Steed's report of the whole ten day affair of his kidnapping. That gave Steed the opportunity to take a pecan out of his inner jacket pocket and, coughing several times, he reached for a tissue from the box on Dr. Silver's desk, adroitly putting the nut inside after he removed a tissue.
Secret nut deposit. First round --Steed.

He placed the tissue in his pocket as Dr. Silver looked up and took his glasses off. "Right, Steed," he said, tapping the papers with his spectacle, "I've read what you went through. Tell me how you feel about it now."
Feelings. Not Steed's strong point, but he had had enough of these reviews in the last fifteen years to remember which earlier answers had appeared to be acceptable.
"I'm glad it's all over," he said.

Dr. Silver "hmm'd". Reviewing some other papers affixed in a file, no doubt Steed's personal mental health folder, he said, "You know, Steed, you've been 'glad it's all over,' verbatim, for the last four times I've spoken to you about the last four incidents that sent you down to me. I wonder if you might not try to encapsulate your feelings in some new catch phrase."
Caught. Second round --Dr. Silver.

Steed scratched his not itchy jaw, then ran a finger back and forth in front of his cleft chin for a few seconds. "I'm… relieved it's all over," he finally said.
Dr. Silver wrote a few words, "That's better, Steed. A little originality spices up the interview, don't you think?"
Steed reached over for his umbrella, telling himself that no matter what Dr. Silver did to taunt him, he would leave the sword inside.
"Ah, needing your teddy bear, already?" the doctor asked as Steed placed the umbrella over his lap.

He's supposed to push your buttons, Steed. That's his job. Can't have agents going off and killing people just because they got cut off in traffic or had too wait too long at the cash register check-out or someone made a obnoxious remark to them.
Steed sat silently, his lips curved just slightly upwards in a smile.
"So, Steed, tell me, have you had any dreams about what happened?"
No matter how much Steed hated being in the psychiatrist's office, he had sworn a pledge to the Ministry to always tell them the truth. And aside from whether he was carrying any nuts on him, Steed honored that vow with all his being. His never-ending nightmares, recorded for posterity in his folder, were the stuff that his psychiatrist's curiosity was made of.

"Yes," he admitted.
"Tell me about them," Dr. Silver instructed, and he leaned on his desk clasping his hands together.
Steed twirled his umbrella about a few times, and then gave abbreviated versions of his nightmares regarding the youths and his recent kidnapping. He never gave a full rendition.
"Do you wake up panicked?"
"I wake up."
"Yes, but what do you feel when you awaken?"
Panic. Fear. Horror. "Somewhat out of sorts."
Dr. Silver stared at him. "Very 'out of sorts'?"
"For a moment or two, yes."
"How often are you having nightmares, lately?"
That galling vow. "Nightly."
"Every night, you mean?"
"That's a lot of nightmares, even for you. Are they all about Eldon and company?"
That inconvenient vow. "No."
"What else are you dreaming about?"
A shrug. "A few odd things. Nee San, Wales." Steed didn't mention that dream; Dr. Silver hadn't asked him to relate every single dream he was experiencing, just other ones he was. He hadn't specified Steed be inclusive.
"I see. Don't you think that's a bit odd, having a bad dream every night?"
"It doesn't matter what I think."
"It just happens anyway, um? So, every night for how many weeks now?"
"They were a bit sporadic at first, but now nightly for about three weeks."
"Hmm, wonder why they got worse instead of better." Dr. Silver scribbled on a piece of paper, then asked, "Are you feeling anxious or fearful in general?"
"Are you tired from your loss of sleep?"
"Not really."
"You're rather used to losing sleep here and there, aren't you?"
"It comes with the job."
"And as a result of the nightmares that come with the job, as well, I suppose. Have you returned to Fowler's Fine Spirits, yet?"
"Not yet."
"I should like you to do so and report back to me. Are you having any recurrent thoughts that someone else might kidnap you suddenly?"
"That someone might kidnap Emma?"

The worst possible thing Steed could ever think. He just didn't ever allow it to enter his mind. "No."
"How are you and Emma doing, by the way?"
The subject matter displeased Steed but was nothing that he couldn't handle. "Fine."
"How is she doing after that terrible affair?"
"Oh? Well, Emma Peel always was made of steel, eh, Steed? That was a dreadful time, when she left you for Peter, wasn't it? You recovered from your severe depression with stalwart courage, I must say, even if you weren't quite the same buoyant man you were before she left."

Steed stayed silent and motionless, sitting in the chair like a one hundred and seventy-five pound granite idol that superstitious worshippers would have deemed a vengeful god.
"Oh dear, a delicate topic, I see. Alright then, shall we just stick with you and Emma? Getting along well, you said?" the doctor asked.
The statue spoke, "Very well."
"Anything new or different between the two of you?"
That bothersome vow. A pause. "Emma is pregnant."
"Pregnant! When did you find out?"
"Three weeks ago."
"Uh-huh, uh-huh, I see. I see. Oh, congratulations," the doctor absent-mindedly mentioned as he scribbled furiously on a paper. What was so important to him about Emma being pregnant, Steed did not understand.

Dr. Silver looked up at Steed. "Have you had any new dreams since you've found out?"
The return of an old dream was not a new dream. "No." He had never told anyone about what happened that night, had never shared that dream.
"Did you plan the pregnancy?"
"We've talked about it in the past."
"But, had you specifically wanted her to become pregnant now."
"Not really."
"Steed, what do you feel about Emma being pregnant?"
"I'm…very happy. Thankful, actually."
"That's it? Nothing else? No other concerns?"
Steed shrugged. "That's it. What else do you think I should feel?"
"Still planning on working for the Ministry?"
The question of the month, apparently. A sigh. "Yes. That is why I'm here."
"Of course. How does Emma feel about it?"
"Do you mind telling me what all this has to do with me being granted active agent status?"
"Yes, I do mind. Please answer the question."
Flexing one's power position. Round three --Dr. Silver.

That vexatious vow. "She wishes I would retire. Or, at least, stop working in the field."
"Of course. That's very understandable. But you have no intention of doing so."
"Why not?"
"Why should I?"
"Ah, no Steed, I ask the questions in this office, if you don't mind. So, why not retire?"
"Because I want to work."
"You've been working for almost thirty years. You're financially sound. You've got a lovely wife who will soon bless you with a child. Why keep putting yourself at risk?"
Clenched teeth. "It's what I do. Protecting people. Protecting the country." Steed began to sound like a broken record to himself.
"Can't you do something else? Hobbies? Interests?"
"If I wanted to do something else, I wouldn't be here seeking to obtain active agent status."
"Quite true. Quite true." A pause. "Tell me this, Steed. When you think of yourself nowadays, what is the first association you make --agent or husband?"

Steed fought his urge to stand pace around the room. It never got easier, being questioned. It was like walking on broken glass in one's bare feet; one would get cut no matter how careful one was.

That annoying vow. He didn't answer. What kind of peculiar inquiry was that?
Dr. Silver tapped his pen against his writing pad. "Steed?"
He had to say something, he supposed. "I…see myself as both."
"Ah, but if you had to choose just one."
"I would choose both."
"So, you don't see yourself as husband first."
"I see myself as both, equally."
"Really? Somehow I don't really believe that."
"That is your prerogative."

More scribbling. Steed began to sense that there was something more going on here than he was aware of… that somewhere in his terse statements Dr. Silver was uncovering unknown aspects of him of which he himself was unaware.
He didn't like that.

"What do you feel when Eldon, Mary, or Craig come to mind?"
Feelings. What was so important about feelings? "Nothing. I'm… relieved that they are dead."
"Very funny. Have you told Emma what happened?"
"Why not? She's your wife."
Steed blinked several times. "I don't talk about my work to her anymore. She no longer has security status."
"That wasn't really your work. It was an event that was outside the Ministry proper. You could have told her about it without breaking any security laws. You know that. So, why didn't you?"
"I…" Steed faltered, and shifted in his chair.
"You… what? Why didn't you tell Emma what happened? Since you are equally her husband as well as an agent."
Twisting Steed's own words around to put him on the spot. Round four --Dr. Silver.
"I don't… talk about things like that."
"Things like what?"
"That. Being kidnapped and escaping."
"Well, to your wife, anyway. You were very open with Stoner and Finster. Are you sure you and Emma are getting along well? Don't you think it's odd you don't feel comfortable talking with her?"
"We're getting along fine."
"Tell me, Steed, have you shared any of your past with her?"
"Of course. She knows I was in the War, knows I was in Intelligence, knows about Nee San."
"Does she know specifics, or just that you were in the War, for example?"
"She knows enough."
"Enough for you or her?"
"Perhaps you should ask Emma these questions, not me."
"Do you tell her about your dreams?"
"Yes. Usually."
"The whole dream, or just, say, the title, like" --he spread his hands apart-- "'Nee San' or 'Wales'?"

He was good, Steed had to give him that. "Mostly, as you say, the titles."
"Uh-huh. Have you told her how you've come by your scars?"
Steed thought of how two or three times Emma had asked about a scar on his body, tracing her finger along it, and how he had never deigned to tell her about even one of them. He just… couldn't. She had stopped asking, but not stopped tracing her fingers along them.
"You've known her about nine years and never discussed your scars?"
"Steed, I'm not trying to upset you, but I must say I find this very interesting. Tell me this, why won't you tell your wife about your past?"

Steed kept his face as blank as possible, trying to hide whatever it was that was telegraphing to Dr. Silver he was upset. He wished he knew what it was he should hide, what the doctor could read about him.
That aggravating vow. "Because… I just don't."
"But 'just don't'… why?"
"I prefer to be silent."
"Because... that's…" Steed fumbled with the answer.
"You? Who you are?"
"What I've been trained to be."
"Yes, but this seems to go beyond that. Isn't it also just who you are?"
A sigh. "Yes, that's who I am."
"Because it's painful to bring up the past? Better just to keep it all hidden away?"
That impossible vow. A long pause. "Yes."

Quiet fell over the room for several moments, broken only by Dr. Silver's comment, "Dear me, you are a silent man."
Steed hated that his eyes wandered all over the room, avoiding the gaze of the psychiatrist. He hated showing his weaknesses, he hated answering questions.
Dr. Silver continued, leaning back in his chair and placing his fingertips together. "Yes, well, being silent has been who you are up until now, Steed. And perhaps it has worked for you well so far. However, I think that both your wife's pregnancy and her desire to have you give up your work may be creating enough stress in you that you may need to consider transforming who you've been up until now into a new you. A more loquacious you. I believe that if you choose to do so sooner it will save you being forced to do so later. Will save you from more pain later."

Nine languages. Steed was fluent in nine languages; none of which seemed able to translate what Dr. Silver was saying into anything intelligible to Steed. But sensing the closing of their session, Steed knew better than to ask him to elucidate.
"I'll heed your words, doctor," Steed replied.

"Good, Steed, do that. And go to Fowler's and buy a bottle of wine, reporting back to me about your emotional experience there. In the meantime, I have no reason to not grant you active agent status. However, I want you to know that I will be keeping my eyes on you very, very closely over the next few months."
"Yes, well, then, do tell me if my polo stroke is off," Steed said, standing up. He exited the room without a backwards glance, thinking, Ending insouciant gibe. Round five --Steed.
Final Tally: Steed, 2; Dr. Silver, 3. Dr. Silver was in the lead, so far.

Dr. Melvin Silver yanked a tissue out of his tissue box on his desk to wipe his glasses clean and pursed his lips in a grin at the sight of a pecan flying into the air as the tissue left the box.

For all his putting Steed on the spot, Dr. Silver liked the man immensely, and had a immeasurable amount of respect for him. Up until now, Dr. Silver had had the confidence that for all of Steed's renowned silences, he was the most well-adjusted agent in the Ministry, and very likely one of the most well-adjusted people in the nation. To have lived what he had lived, been through what he had suffered through, and yet still been able to transform so completely through his own mettle and initiative from violent rogue to pacifist gentleman, from anti-authority trouble-maker to inspirational mentor, from promiscuous bachelor to devoted husband and now grateful soon-to-be father. To have matured and mellowed so impressively after a lifetime of such recurrent pain, fear, and anger.

Steed was indeed a remarkable man. A silent, remarkable man, with such a horde of ghosts in his closet no wondered he padlocked it closed, even disallowing his wife entrance.

Dr. Silver stood up grasping his cane, and began limping around the room, his thinner left leg supported by the black wooden staff with the silver sculpted head of Sigmund Freud as the handgrip. It helped his interpretive powers to progress through problems better when he was physically moving as well.
He was worried about Steed.

To have been kidnapped like that, unexpectedly from a place of safety, and have had to fight for one's life so tremendously over and over again against three unknown attackers and the forces of nature. Amazing. Traumatic. Combine that with a still relatively new wife. A pregnant wife. Who wanted him to stop working. Dr. Silver fretted that it all boded ill for Steed's generally rock solid mental state.
Dr. Silver was intimately familiar with Steed's entire recorded past history; he was fascinated by Steed and made him a special area of study. He therefore knew as much about Steed as Steed did, and on an psychological level, no doubt more.
Dr. Silver considered him to be a rare and extraordinary man.

Dr. Silver opened up the book Steed had been looking at when he first entered his office and found what he had expected, a pecan denting the pages. A rare and extraordinary and occasionally puerile man. Shaking his head like he had at his misbehaving children, Dr. Silver removed the nut and put the book back on the shelf, continuing his ruminations.

Steed, who had been an agent for almost his entire adult life, was now facing either the slow ending of his career due to his age, or the quicker ending of his active career due to the pressures of his wife and upcoming fatherhood. Steed, who's entire life had at its core his being an agent of his government, faced the inevitable future of losing his field agent status. Dr. Silver believed very adamantly in the strength of Steed's mind to stay balanced after a harsh life event; usually he had a few weeks of bad dreams that ebbed into occasional nightmarish wisps of recollections, and then he was fine. But Steed seemed quite tense today, had been having relentless nightmares, and he had more than one stress preying on his mind: that dreadful kidnapped alone would scar most people for life; let alone adding in his concerns for his wife; her pregnancy; and her wishing him to stop working. To stop being who he was. To lose his whole personal identity.

Even Steed's tremendously well-balanced brain could tilt just a little off center if he was pushed enough down this multi-factoral avenue, Dr. Silver believed. Dr. Silver rolled the pecan around in his hand, committing himself to helping Steed in whatever capacity was needed, whenever he was needed.
Until then, however, he marked Steed's file as being accepted for active agent status, 17/12/73.

Steed went straight to Fowler's after the interview. Hesitating only briefly, he took a deep breath and opened the door, sauntering into the shop as if nothing amiss had even happened there, though a his heart beat faster each step further he strode into the shop. He was given an excellent and expensive bottle of Merlot gratis from the sheepish and chagrined owner and left, avoiding looking at the spot on the floor where he knew he had fallen unconscious. He went back to Dr. Silver's office, shrugged nonchalantly when the doctor asked if everything had gone well, then handed the Merlot to the psychiatrist, slipping a pecan in the man's jacket pocket at the same time --Round Six--Steed. Steed was happier having their session end in a draw. Steed rode the elevator up to his floor whistling and met Purdey and Gambit in his office, nodding at their inquisitive looks of his reinstatement. They were a team again.

Continued in part 4

©  Mona Morstein 1999
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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