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 14

Steed sat in the chair by the window, his bathrobe covering his nakedness. It was a cloudy night, without stars or moon, and he could hear the light patter of rain better than he could see the drops falling to the ground. Steed didn't train every night, and on the nights he rested from those exertions but had a terrible dream he mainly just sat up looking out a window, losing sleep, trying to regain his peace of mind. He had lost a lot of sleep lately and could feel fatigue settling in his bones. Four more weeks of almost continual nightmares, mostly of that house and the crashing down of the door and the bullets; so graphic, so brutal. He had thought he had forgiven himself of that a long time ago, but Steed couldn't help but notice a rising sense of shame, anger, and guilt surfacing in him at the thought of that appalling incident. He had been so young… and had made such a grave and fatal error. Steed closed his eyes and cleared his mind --let it go, let it go… the wash of emotion gradually receded and Steed renewed his vigil out the window.
A few times lately in his dreams he had found himself back in the grey-black of the drug stupor, so lost, wanting to get out of it but not knowing how; or falling from the sky like Icarus, one of his two winged arms having changed into a human arm instead of melting, the sudden transformation meaning he couldn't keep on flying as he had been used to doing for so long, and he crashed to the earth in a spray of feathers and blood.

Seven weeks now, almost two months, since the dreams had begun. It had been a very long time since he had had such unremitting nightmares. Getting only four hours of sleep a night did not work for Steed anymore, and he had been too busy at the Ministry lately to pop over to his club and catch a little nap in the afternoon as he occasionally did to make up for lost sleep at night. Steed was amused at the fact that several club members worried that he was anemic or suffered from poor circulation, as a result of his habitual hour of slumbering in a chair in the reading room over the years. Once, if fact, he had been awakened by Dr. Dawson listening to his heart with a stethoscope, a few of Steed's acquaintances standing behind him with anxious looks on their faces.

Steed smiled at the memory. If his naps at the Aetheneum created more obfuscation of who he truly was, the fitness he was truly in, and what he truly did for work, well more to the better.

Steed was glad the Christmas and New Year celebrations were over; the extra stress of the holiday seasons had worn him out more. People talking about Emma's pregnancy, telling him his whole life would change… staying up too late, drinking too much alcohol… at least now their lives were once more settled down.
It was not good having so many bad dreams. It concerned Steed. It seemed it must mean something, but what, he had no idea. He had told no one about them; that just about nightly he was waking up in a dead fright, a few times even scrambling out of bed to fall on the bedroom floor caught up in the sheets and blankets before he realized where he was. He was used to having random nightmares after dreadful events, like Wales, or this recent business with the three youths, but they were usually sporadic and quickly tapered off. Steed generally had a laconic acceptance of traumatic experiences he was put through; a few dreams, a few nights to let it all go, maybe a holiday somewhere, and he was reading, mentally, emotionally, and physically to resume his normal life. Such events were par for the course of an agent's life; one just had to let them go.

It was odd, this, what was happening. Steed, if he was honest with himself, and if he could attune himself to his emotional state long enough to interpret his feelings --not an easy thing for him to do-- had to admit that he felt, over the last months or so, a growing sense of unease, a tightening in his stomach. He was getting restless, fidgety, and had noticed, shocked, that occasionally his hands would tremble. Why that was happening, what it meant, he had no idea. He felt best being at the Ministry and involving himself in an investigation, and luckily a couple of light cases had sprung up needing his, Purdey and Gambit's attention. No doubt being in the field was beneficial because it took his mind off… well, off… whatever was making him uneasily. But, Steed didn't know what that was. Probably just the dreams and his heavy sense of fatigue, which he had been able to hide from people so far. But, if he didn't start getting some good sleep soon… What did it mean, those dreams? Everything in his life was fine. Everything else was wonderful.

Yes, he was just a little tired, that was all, that was why he felt uneasy. When the nightmares abated, which they would probably do soon, he would get more sleep and feel fine. Steed nodded to himself when he heard a rustling in the bed behind.
"Steed?" Emma asked, her soft voice a little husky and groggy, coming from the bed. "Another nightmare?"

He was not in a talkative mood. It was best for him to be silent and just allow his thoughts to dissolve away. "Yes. Go back to sleep, Emma."

Never one to blithely do what others suggested, Steed instead heard Emma slip out from under the covers, put her bathrobe on and come around the bed to the table and chairs. She pulled the other chair next to Steed's side and sat down beside him. He glanced at her briefly, a smile just evident with his lips, and then turned back to his view outside. Emma reached over and took hold of his hand, kissed it, and then placed it in her lap.

"Do you want to tell me what it was about?"
"Was it that one?"
Steed shrugged. "It's not important."
"I think it is. If you keep having nightmares, particularly that one, and keep losing sleep, then you'll be tired and lose some sharpness. That'll put you at risk..." Emma caught herself.

At work, Steed finished. Emma had been considerate for the last seven weeks, since she had promised at breakfast not to bring up her desire he retire, not mentioning work to him, and he had been very grateful. Yet, here it was being obliquely referred to again.

He didn't comment and they both let the subject matter pass.
"Well," Emma said, changing the subject, "there must be some reason that you're having so many nightmares lately."
"There's no reason. They just come and go randomly. Let's not talk about it, please."
"But, I think we should talk about it, Steed. How long have you been having them? Goodness, is it about two months?"
More or less. Seven weeks from the beginning of that dream.
"Maybe talking about them would help make them go away," she said.
"I don't think--"
"I know you don't think so, but you've never tried this, have you? Have you ever shared in detail one of your nightmares with anyone? Steed, you know you can trust me."

Unlike the work topic, they had had this conversation a number of other times in the past four weeks, and they all ended the same; Steed really didn't want to talk. He couldn't anyway; his larynx lost all power to communicate if he tried. His vocal cords disappeared. He just wanted to listen to the rain, concentrate his mind, and try and let the dream go. The dream of the house, the thunder, and watching someone be killed. He had never told anyone else, and never would. Never could. Even, and especially, Emma. Emma, beautiful Emma, lovely Emma, carrying their child. Steed's heart filled with love for her, this special, perfect woman, his wife, his second chance.

Steed turned to Emma, and her concern for him was plain to see. Leaning over he tenderly held her face with his hands and kissed her on his lips. "Love, please, let's just let it go," he whispered, sneaking his hand under her robe to slide across her breast. Her shiver of arousal was earnest but she was not so easily pacified.
"Steed, you're not going to ward me off that easily, this time," Emma said. "You need to talk about your dream. We need to talk… I'm getting nervous and concerned about this…"

Steed responded by kissing her again and letting his hand drift through her pubic hair, onto her inner thigh, brushing over her clitoris, back up leisurely through her curly pelvic hairs and then rubbing over her stomach, which sucked in as his hand lightly glided over it in circles.

"Oh, no you don't," Emma attempted to dissuade him, grabbing hold of his forearm.
Now, bending a bit awkwardly, Steed brought his mouth to her breast, his extended tongue dancing over her nipple, which stood at rigid attention immediately. Easily overcoming her unenthusiastic attempt to restrain his forearm, Steed pulled Emma's hand with him as his hand descended down again until it found the nib of her clitoris and began moving it back and forth. Emma released her hold on him.
"We'll talk some other time, okay?" Steed asked, his voice barely discernible, beginning to feel Emma growing moist beneath his fingers.
"No, no now--"

Steed entered his wife with two fingers, rubbing that blissful spot just inside and at the top of her vagina as he maintained his concentration to her clitoris with his thumb and her nipple with his mouth.

"--Okay, yes, yes, alright, some other time, damn it," Emma agreed, reaching down in-between Steed's robe to fondle his erect penis and attack him with a bevy of kisses all over his face. That was enough for Steed and he withdrew his fingers, lifted Emma up and carried her back to the bed. Setting her down lightly, Steed untied her gown, which Emma quickly dropped to the floor as Steed took of his, letting it fall on top of Emma's.

He lowered himself over her and they wrapped their arms around each other as they gently kissed. It was a long, slow love-making, Steed using tongue and hand to gradually and delicately stimulate and enjoy her breasts and her genitalia, while Emma lightly scratched his back, caressed the nape of his sensitive neck, and ran her hands through his thick pile of hair. When Emma was fully lubricated, Steed pulled himself back up the bed to her and as they stared at each other with undying affection, he maneuvered himself by her opening and entered her in numerous little pushes that moved him forward inch by inch until he was as far into her as he could possibly go, patience being rewarded with ecstasy.

She was tight, moist and hot, and as Steed lay down on top of Emma, not yet thrusting, just enjoying this perfect joining, Emma wrapped her legs around his low back and contracted muscles inside her that already began the building process of release in Steed. His penis jerked at times from the squeezing and that concurrently elevated Emma's pleasure.
"Emma…you feel so good," he murmured in her ear.
"Push deeper," she said, her voice, though more awake, was even huskier.
Steed, arched his spine up and tried to drive further into his wife, planting his toes into the bed, as she scratched his back harder, close to tearing the skin. He could feel the end of her so far inside, hitting the tip of his organ.
"Yes, oh, hold it there, stay there," she begged him, lifting her hips up.

They did this sometimes, just merged as one and then stayed there, holding the connection, two individuals becoming one body, one thought, one still life picture of love. How long they stayed that way neither knew, seconds, minutes, but at some point it grew impossible to stay stationary anymore, and like a bear awakening from a comfortable hibernation to start it's active quest for food, it's power and strength striving to renew itself, Steed began his quest to bring out in Emma and himself the power of their love and used his thrusts as the energy to do that.

He began slow, deliberate thrusts, pulling back just a couple of inches and then moving forward deeply, his coming into contact with the softness of Emma's cervix a sensatory thrill for both of them. This was love-making they climbed in long steps, Steed thrusting repeatedly and in a uniform rhythm for some time until there was a jump up one stair to a slightly higher state of pleasure, followed again by a long plateau of wonderfully enjoyable yet static delight, until, inevitably, one chance thrust took them both up a step nearer to the peak of their loving experience. Step by step, their breaths and groans always synchronized with the level of their passion, they rose, their hips breaking away and melding together perfectly, again, and again, and again.
" Steed, yes, just like that," Emma gasped as she climbed another step, biting his shoulder lightly.

Steed kept the short thrusts going, the lack of full penile stimulation made up for by the delicious direct contact of his manhood's head with the far wall of Emma's soft and heated vault. It was prolonged, unhurried sex, accentuated with kisses and smiles, and it wasn't until they had climbed up near the top of their passionate stairway that they both instinctively began moving faster, with jerking hip motions that enhanced the depth of Steed's penetration. As they grew closer and closer, Steed pulled back further and further, Emma overflowing with moisture smoothing his thrusts, loudly smacking from the sweaty, lubricated force of their contact. His straight arms held up his body, straining from the force of Emma's arms tightly wrapped around him almost pulling him back down to her.

At the top of the stairs, at the zenith of their ardor, Emma came first and Steed jabbed inside of her again with those short thrusts which adding additional bliss to her spasming uterus, to her spasming body, her hips thrusting her low back forward and up off the bed, trying to push her vulva all the way through Steed's body. His rock solid penis was an orgasmic pole inside her, stopping her forward motion while enhancing the waves of pleasure undulating all throughout her body. When Emma finally relaxed, lowering her spine onto the bed, Steed fully withdrew and entered her urgently several more times and then he came, his strong arms giving out as he fell first to his elbows and then clasped his arms around Emma's back, holding her as he arched upwards, shuddering in his release, his eyes closed and his face distorted, his grunts low and primal as his semen came shooting out of him far, far inside her.

When it was over, Steed stayed in Emma; she uncoupled her legs from his back and rested them on the bed. They lay sweaty and sated on their sides, in each other's arms, every now and then kissing or moving a hand to caress whatever skin it lay over. After a few minutes, Emma fell asleep laying almost fully on top of Steed, wrapping all her limbs around him as she had lately begun to do. In the gentlest of movements, Steed pulled out from under her not disturbing her slumber, leaving her on her side. He covered her with the sheet and blanket, kissing her forehead, kissing her lips, kissing her cheek, and then stood and put his bathrobe back on. Crossing the room once more, he sat down in the chair by the window, looking out at the cloudy, moonless night. Hearing the patter of the rain falling he tried to let go of his dream.

Later that morning as Steed was dressed and ready to go to work, he stood holding the phone to his ear listening to his Auntie Greta regale him with her concerns for his safety, now that he was to become a father.

"No, Auntie Greta, I do not intend to stop working, and I should very much appreciate it if you would take out an full page advertisement in the Times to that effect so that people would stop asking me that question. I am finding the topic to be rather like drinking mud, unnecessary and hardly palatable."

Steed's tone was light but his clenched teeth underlined his sentiments. As his Auntie continued to discuss her concerns of him working "in whatever hush-hush job he did for the government" Steed drifted off into the investigation he, Purdey, and Gambit where beginning on some unusual births of deformed animals around Nottingham. When enough silence graced his Auntie's side of the phone conversation, Steed said, in reflex, as he had said innumerable times in the last couple of weeks, "Right. Good points. I'll think about it. Sorry, must be going. Good-bye."

Steed rather rudely hung-up the phone. Although Auntie Greta had always been, and still was, his favorite aunt, he was somewhat aggravated by her phone call. He stood at his study desk drumming his fingers on the fine marble top for a minute before he hit the desk harder with a fist in determination and went to find his beloved wife. Emma was sitting upstairs in her study, at her desk, enclosed in a fortress of thick, hardcover books on physics. She looked up from one such tome as Steed came in and pulled a chair up to her deck, sitting down facing her.

"Steed, I thought you were off to the Ministry," she said.
"Yes, well, I had a bit of a delay," he said.
Emma put her pen down and waited for her husband to say what was on his mind.
"Emma…" Steed began again, "I just got off the phone with dear old Auntie Greta."
"I hope you extended a "hello" to her from me."
"No, I didn't, actually. I was a bit too busy telling her I was planning on continuing to maintain my 'hush-hush' position. As I have lately told my brother Phillip, my sister-in-law Amy, your cousins Irene and Felicity, your friend Sir Egbert Wilkins, a few other assorted mutual acquaintances as well as the tinker, tailor, baker and candlestick maker. Is this of your doing, or have they each independently decided to implore me to quit my job demonstrating some very odd coincidence that would defy all laws of probability?"

Emma affected a momentary pout studying her notebook in front of her and then looked back at Steed. "I may have mention to them that you were going to keep working…"
Steed nodded a couple of times. "And…"
"And, nothing. I certainly didn't specifically ask them to discuss the matter with you."

Steed said nothing, believing his wife. Yet Steed also knew that Emma's years of running Knight Industries so successfully among all the power mad egomaniacs in the upper executive echelons of the company had borne in her a remarkable diplomatic ability to get across specific instructions to people without necessarily having to bluntly verbalize them, thus skillfully avoiding putting herself directly in any returning firing line. He had no doubt that Emma had been able to influence a conversation to her wiles so that it was understood that she wanted the other person to talk to him about retiring without her ever having actually clearly said that.

A mixture of feelings sprang up one at a time inside him like emotional jack-in-the-boxes: a touch of irritation, a touch of compassionate understanding, and there, the worst, some odd sense of anxiety, that unease that was festering in him like a boil. He felt his hand begin to shake, and put it in his trouser pocket.
Steed looked at Emma, worry etched all over her face for his reply. He smiled at her and stood up, suddenly in somewhat of a rush to get to his office. He walked around her desk and put his other hand on her shoulder.

"Could you, please, call off the hounds? It's rather disconcerting to me."
Emma stared up at Steed and then said, "I'll… make a few phone calls."
"Only a few? Good. I was worried there'd be eighty-three more."
"Eighty-two, actually. But, I've set up a phone tree with one of them to call their twin."
"Ah." He leaned down and kissed her. "Thanks."
As Steed left the room to head to Whitehall he was conscious of the fact that Emma had not said, "You're welcome."

In his new Jaguar driving to the Ministry Steed yawned widely and thought about Emma's growing desire to have him talk about himself, and her desire to have him retire. He wondered why now of all times those aspects of him were turning into such an issue for her; she had known him for so long and had seemed content with his silences and his being an active agent. She had accepted them as she had accepted him. Why was she so insistent that he change; was it just because she was pregnant, because they were going to have a child, and would be parents? That was glorious, wonderful, but Steed couldn't possibly stop working just because of it.
He hoped Emma really did tell people to stop asking him to retire. He had to keep working, had to keep the criminals, the masterminds, the evil, sick people away from the innocent. He had to protect the innocent. What was so hard to see about that? If he didn't do something and something bad happened… like it did once…
Raging emotions swept through Steed like a tornado… shame, anger, guilt. Old, ancient emotions that seemed to be infecting him like some flu bug. Tell me what you dreamed, Steed, Emma had asked him, beautiful Emma, lovely Emma, perfect Emma.

Emma was just being a bit emotional, that was it. Pregnant women get that way. If he just patiently put up with her changes, her demands, it would all pass, it would all return to normal. His dreams would go away, Emma would stop asking him to talk about them, stop wishing he would retire, he would get some calming sleep and everything would be fine.

A flash of his dream came to mind, the thunder and the bullets and a voice screaming…
Steed slowed down and breathed the dream image away, though his heartbeat was pounding. No, no, he couldn't stop working. He had to stop the criminals. The mad scientists. They came out from under rocks and wanted to take over the country, hurt the country, hurt people. They had just come for him, but he had survived. Again. He knew how to survive; could struggle hard enough to survive. He had to protect those that didn't. Or else someone could get hurt, someone could be killed…

Killed… someone had once been killed, and he had done nothing… had been able to do nothing… Steed's stomach contracted into a tight ball of nausea. Thirty years… so long ago, and for so long a dead memory; a dead memory of a dead woman… his wife… Why was it so raw now?

The road seemed to dissolved in Steed's vision, becoming an house by the edge of a forest in France, and Steed had the presence of mind to turn his car off onto a dirt track that lead into across a field. He drove about a quarter mile down and then stopped and turned the Jaguar off. A maelstrom of memories suddenly overtook his organized, structured and well-balanced mind, and Steed was helpless to prevent their release. Leaning his head back against his headrest, Steed closed his eyes and as if he had crossed some magical portal between reality and dream worlds, he found himself back in the War…

He was eighteen when he entered the navy. He was made a sub-lieutenant, becoming a navigation officer on a destroyer, mainly escorting merchant ships and patrolling the English Channel and Atlantic ocean for submarines. For several months the only foes they had fought had been the rain and wind and high seas, but Steed's early bouts with sea sickness had soon been eradicated with a somewhat regular though non-excessive alcohol intake that was the first and foremost officer recreation on his ship. He made a good friend First Lieutenant Wilson Evans, of communications.

They had been on patrol with another destroyer on Oct 12, 1941 when two German planes came out of the sky in early evening, bombing and strafing the boats. Chaos erupted as bullets flew into the ships and bombs dropped all around them, several directly hitting the other destroyer, which cracked midway down and began to sink. On Steed's ship bullets entered crewmen and the fuel supply and the resultant explosion tore through the ship. He saw Wilson Evans sail past him right into the sea…

Somehow he made it to the guns at the sides of the boat, the twenty mm shells and the machine guns. The gunners were dead and he pushed them to the side as men dove into lifeboats, pulling whomever they could to safety. The boat began slipping beneath the waves and time seemed to slow down as Steed --so single minded he no longer heard or saw anything aside from the planes and the gun he fired-- shot the planes out of the sky, using the machine gun first, and when the bullets ran out for that weapon he used the shells of the other gun to unerringly strike the planes.

More than half the boat was under water then and when he broke out of his attenuated focus, Steed saw Major Evans in the water trying to stay afloat, one of his arms gone near the shoulder. Steed dove into the chilly sea and dragged him to a life raft, where the crewmen huddled for several disconsolate hours until a Cruiser picked them up. At some point in the rubber craft someone reached over and pulled a long, sharp piece of metal out of Steed's back that Steed hadn't even noticed was in him.

Steed was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that night and while on leave with stitches in his back, Steed was approached by two men from the Secret Intelligence Service, and asked if he would be interested in joining their ranks. They had heard about his deeds, were impressed, and wanted him to become a spy and aid the French Resistance. Even though he was young, they liked his verve, his concentration, his ability to rise to the occasion, his courage, and they knew he spoke fluent French and German, which Steed did, having what one could only call a gift for languages. Those subjects, along with history and classical literature had redeemed him from the boredom and disinterest he had shown in all his other studies at Eton.

The allure of being a spy claimed hold of Steed immediately and he readily agreed.
He spent a number of months being quickly trained by the SIS in all manners of spy surveillance, as well as explosives, weapons, hand to hand combat, survival techniques, and resisting interrogation. Towards the end of his schooling, in one class, he met with some already established Resistance operators. But there was only one of the operators Steed could pay attention to --Vivian Laborteau. Twenty-five years old she was several inches shorter than Steed, being around 5'7", but she carried herself with such an air of confidence and competence that she seemed taller, and as strong as an man in the room. Her thick brunette hair hung to her shoulders in long curls, and her face, smooth and without any make-up, was almost angelic in its sensitivity but was held from reaching that ideal by the sadness that ringed her eyes and brought a seriousness to her look. Her figure was of a slim build, yet her firm breasts and wide hips brought forth her womanhood and made Steed's skin tingle. Steed was seated in the back of the room, as Vivian, another woman and two men in the front described the operations they had already coordinated, the others they were planning, and their network of safe houses through-out France. Steed couldn't take his eyes off of Vivian, even when she wasn't speaking in that seductive, rich voice…

When he noticed her eyes fall upon him, her pupils not moving from him either, all ability to comprehend the lecture melted like snow under the spring sun… he later had to borrow notes from his good friend Bill Swain sitting next to him. They had dinner together, the twenty British SIS agents and the four Resistance fighters, and Steed maneuvered himself next to her at the table, struggling to impress her with his conversational flair, and failing miserably he knew, fumbling and stumbling uncharacteristically for one who was rather renown for his ease of dealing with women. It was only when he suddenly felt her hand lightly land upon his thigh under the table that he realized he had succeeded at something deeper and better than being a delightful raconteur…

Whether it had been chance or arranged by her Steed didn't know, but soon after first meeting Vivian, in the spring of 1942, not long after he just turned twenty, he and Swain were assigned to work with Vivian and Louis Dubois. All four were air-dropped from Hamelin Air Force base over Orleans. They made their way to a safe house and joining four other Resistance fighters they planned their first act of sabotage on a railroad depot. After they had ironed out all the details, Steed and Vivian went for a walk outside, each armed with pistols and knives, hands clasped behind their respective backs, yet before they knew it, before they had any idea it was going to happen, they were in each others arms. Hidden in the woods they lay down and made love, the first joining the creation of something dear and beautiful neither had ever anticipated could have been built in the horror of an invaded land.

It was a harried, desperate, fearful time, their lives divided between avoiding detection from the Germans while causing as much damage to their enemy's infrastructure as possible, as well as reporting their military movements. Not everyone came back from their assignment, though Steed and Vivian did, Steed telling her they were gifted by the Fates and filled with mystical charms. Vivian, more pensive than Steed, never overtly agreed, but did allow a tiny smile to grace her pale and thoughtful face. They covertly hid their relationship from everyone making love as often as possible --which was not really as frequent as either would have wished-- in the woods, fields and barns around their numerous safe houses, and sometimes, if they arrived back first and the house was empty, they splurged and made use of a bed. They knew if they were caught, they would be separated. They were brilliant at hiding their infatuation under the guise of friendship and a mutual appreciation of Resistance skills.

It was the blackest and brightest of worlds to Steed --split so equally between the death and destruction of a world at war, and the joy and infatuation that poured from his heart for Vivian, and from her to him. He had begun to believe that he even loved her.

Over time Vivian opened up more to Steed, talking about her childhood, her doting parents and her tall and brave younger brothers, both fighting in the war, and her pretty little sister who still collected stuffed animals. She shared with Steed the letters she sent to her parents, regretting that she had no address to which they could respond. She spoke of her dreams when she was young, of a handsome husband and large family full of children, her home the haven of the town. When they had time to relax she would point out the names of the trees and the flowers, imagine figures in the clouds, and walk barefoot in a creek. Steed's blood flowed to the beating of her heart, enjoying her youthful vitality brightening up a wasteland of darkness.

Although Steed would return to various air force bases here and there in Britain, reporting in, getting brief breaks from the intensity of field work, he always ensured he was reassigned to his same unit, a very successful unit, Vivian's unit, and dropped back into France, or smuggled in a boat, to continue his Resistance work.
It was in the spring of 1943, after midnight, when four of them, Steed, Swain, and two Frenchmen were returning from destroying a set of train tracks. They came upon a safe house that was fouled with six Gestapo agents tearing it apart for information, the couple and their two adult children who had allowed Resistance fighters to stay there dead on the ground in front, bullet wounds pocking their lifeless bodies.

It was crazy, it was stupid, it was against orders, but Steed and the others snuck up on the Gestapo and killed them. They stripped their bodies of their uniforms, took their weapons and papers, buried their bodies deep in the ground, buried the couple and their children, and drove the German's car into a lake so that it too was buried, but by water. They carried their stolen supplies twenty-five miles to another safe house and radio'd notice that the old house was no longer to be used and warned everyone to definitely put guards out at the others.

A week later Steed was rejoined with Vivian, who told him she was pregnant. She wondered if she should leave and return to her family near Toulouse, as her mama didn't want her in the Resistance anyway, and she was carrying a child now, but Steed said no, not yet, they were just about to embark on a rash of sabotages activities around Reims, and she knew the area the best. That really wasn't the reason Steed asked her to stay. Truthfully, Steed wanted her around him for as long as possible, wanted to hear her laugh at two squirrels playing, wanted to see her look with reverence at a rainbow, and wanted to feel her hands upon his body. Selfishly, he just wanted her near him for a bit more time, yet. He believed they were lucky and cunning enough to avoid the Germans, and so justified to himself his convincing her to stay. Vivian acquiesced, demanding of Steed one thing in return. She brought him to a local Church and then, with Bill Swain as best man --Swain had figured out their relationship long ago and remained silent about it-- Steed and Vivian were secretly married. It was a short service, neither had a ring to exchange, and there was no honeymoon, just more sabotage to come, but they were man and wife and had forged out of the rubble of the war a new union happily signifying everything they were struggling to achieve in the war. For the first time they said they loved each other, perhaps actually feeling it, but also needing to as an joyous explanation for their impulsive actions and decisions.

The month of hectic activity went by, and then another, and another, Steed torn between knowing that Vivian had to leave soon and wanting her by his side. Vivian was no more resolute than he was, and so they just allowed the days to pass. They knew that as soon as she began showing, she certainly would be taken out of field action by the commander of the group, so they understood it would be better for her to return home before that occurred and their illicit connection was uncovered. Mama and Papa would be so proud to meet him, Vivian would say, her eyes shining. They would approve of him, how he took such good care of their little girl while she was in the Resistance. They would move to Toulouse to be with her family, it was so beautiful there, and they would be so happy together. Do you think I should leave now?, she would ask. Steed knew she should return to Toulouse, knew he was being careless, but just to hold her took all the horror of the war away, just to kiss her made his body feel so alive, just to have her intelligence and her competence by his side encouraged him to do his best. He knew she was carrying their child, and saw how lovingly she held her hands over her abdomen when she thought he wasn't looking. But, he wanted her to stay with him as long as possible. Just one more day, he kept telling her, just one more day together. It turned out to be just one more foolish, stupid day too long.

Vivian never got to show. It was a night that Steed, Vivian and Swain were the only ones in one of their safe house, aside from the couple that put them up and fed them; Steed and Vivian slept in the same bed, although there was much less sleep than passionate sex. Good-hearted Swain had volunteered to stay on watch all night long, thus enabling Steed and Vivian to spend rare time together under the sheets and covers of a marital bed. Even their young bodies grew sated after awhile, though, and they fell into a peaceful repose so physically entwined one could not see where one body ended and the other began. A lightning storm birthed booming thunder that regularly crashed in the sky that night. Steed, listening to the rumbling, remembered his last guilty thoughts before the release of sleep settled over his eyes --I have waited too long. Enjoyed her too long. This week I shall send her away.

Good-hearted Swain fell asleep at the window, his rifle leaning against the wall, missing the mass of men scampering down the lane oblivious to the noisy, yet rainless storm. The chaos that severed their deep slumbers was worse than on the destroyer, was more frightening, more direct, more personal. The Gestapo crashed the door down and poured into the house, dragging fully dressed Swain outside, dragging the couple outside attired in nightgowns, dragging a naked Steed and Vivian outside. Who was yelling what Steed never could clearly tell; the couple pleaded for their life, he yelled for Vivian, Vivian for him, Swain cursed the Germans. All the wide world shrank down to him, held between the arms of burly Gestapo men, and his wife, who he had never sent back home to her beloved parents, who he had just wanted to savor for one more week, one more day, one more kiss. Vivian was held like he was, and she struggled and screamed his name frantically as the man in charge, Colonel Heinrich Schumacher, pointed at the couple, who were summarily shot and killed, and then pointed at Vivian, who was summarily shot, in her abdomen and chest, and killed, her body landing on its side on the ground where it twitched once or twice and then laid still. Steed felt his insides solidify into a ball of thorns that jabbed him everywhere and in an animal rage he twisted, fought, bent forward and back, kicked out, tried to break free to kill Schumacher, to kill the Gestapo, to kill the world, to kill himself, but he couldn't, they held him too tight, he didn't have the expertise to break free. Finally the rifle blows began to register on his body, so many blows, and Steed fell to his knees until one more nasty blow hit his head and he pitched forward into an abyss, a purgatory of hate and remorse, his arms still held too tightly for him to reach out to his wife.

Unlike his yet to come torments in China, being tortured by the Gestapo in Paris him didn't really bother Steed; he wasn't really there in the room, wasn't really sitting on the floor against the wall. He was just an empty shell, the ball of thorns in his intestines having evaporated into air and spread to his mind, leaving just a blank stare and a man seemingly impervious to pain, to beatings. The Gestapo commandant who interrogated him over and over was a chain-smoker and enjoyed stamping out his cigarettes on his prisoners' bodies. In the most nonchalant manner possible he told Steed, as he unbuttoned Steed's prison uniform top and crushed another lit cigarette into his upper chest, that he was scarring Steed's skin in the pattern of a "VS," signifying "Vivian Schumacher" so he would never have a chance to forget the death of the woman, and the man who had killed her. The skin was already red and infected, pussy, but Steed just blinked and allowed a tear to fall from his eyes as the rotten smell of burning flesh wafted up into the room.

The Commandant hated Schumacher, despised him, and tried to use that hatred to open up Steed, to join them together in a shared cause. Steed felt hate as well, but said nothing. The Commandant sometimes had Steed put back into a chair and wrapped in a blanket, where he invited Steed to play a game of chess. He used all his urbane manner to attempt to break through the thick wall Steed had bricked up in front of the void of his self, to have Steed see the logic of giving him the names of his fellow Resistance fighters and the location of other safe houses. Steed played chess, but said nothing.

With a sigh, the Commandant would signal the torture to begin again.
Steed cried out in a yell from the pain occasionally, but not often, and he didn't tell them anything, he was mute as a mime, and after awhile, bored, the Commandant would have him taken back to the dark, damp cell he shared with Swain. Forty-six year old Bill Swain wasn't tortured because he had a heart arrhythmia, and they had a youthful Steed to work on instead. Swain cared for Steed, using rags to wash him off, giving him some of his own sparse rations to supplement Steed's diet, putting him on the better mattress, covering him with the cleaner blanket, talking to him softly and encouraging him to use his inner strength to frustrate the Gestapo bastards, and apologizing to him over and over for having fallen asleep. Steed never answered back, knowing that Vivan should have been gone back to Toulouse months ago. He didn't blame Bill; he knew he only had himself to blame. Even if Bill had been awake, and woken them up, they would have been far too outnumbered by the Gestapo forces anyway.

After a few hours, a day, maybe a few days, it was very random, the guards would come back for Steed and push him down the hallway back to the Commandant. Eventually, after several weeks, they needed to drag him.

Unaffected by the passage of over thirty years, Steed remembered with brilliant clarity that moment his arms were wrapped around the necks of two guards as they dragged him down the hallway one day, when the clacking of approaching boots made him look up from the uneven stone tiles of the floor. His bruised face unrecognizable, he saw walking towards him a tall blond-haired man, with a scar from his lower lip to his chin, a severe face complete with black, evil pupils; the name tag on his chest read "Col. H. Schumacher." Schumacher, Steed recognized him, the murderer of his wife. Steed remembered feeling the purity of the anger that filled his empty being so long ago, replacing all his bones, his blood, his organs with solid ire. He remembered seeing red, feeling a fire of hate burn his old self away and replace it with something new, something foreign, something ugly, something fierce, a permanent change, an irrevocable change.
Schumacher strode passed Steed without noticing him, without giving him a flick of his eyes.

Steed had surprise on his side, and the powerful impetus of wrath at his command. He lifted a bare foot backwards into a guard's groin and as the guard stumbled forward onto his knees, Steed ripped his hand free and punched the other guard in the nose as hard as he could. As the guard's head snapped back and his knees buckled Steed pulled the handgun from his holster and screamed out "Schumacher!" The Colonel turned at the commotion and at the sound of his name, and Steed, crack marksman Steed, shot him first through his heart, then in the middle of his forehead, then in an eye. As Schumacher slid dead down the wall to the floor, the guards jumped Steed, ripped the gun from his hand, and beat him senseless in the hallway.

He awoke on the floor of the Commandant's office. The Commandant sent his minions out of the room and explained to Steed that Steed had done him a great service by killing Schumacher, who had been after his job, his career, and who had friends that would soon have ensured the Commandant's reassignment to some hellhole prisoner of war camp in Germany. The Commandant liked Paris; the food was good, the women were beautiful, the artwork magnificent. Torturing people was mundane and repetitious, yes, but he had comforts here in Paris that made the tedium bearable. Steed had certainly done him a valuable service. As he put out his cigarette on Steed's chest, he told Steed that unlike Schumacher he was not an unreasonable man, nor an ungrateful man, and that in exchange for this reprieve Steed had given him, he would offer Steed a similar reprieve from more interrogations. Of course, first, he had to make an example of Steed; after all, surely Steed understood that he couldn't have prisoners killing Gestapo officers without any punishment. That would look very bad on his record. If Steed survived this last session, then he would not be tortured anymore, would get some better food, and he and his friend would be sent to a prisoner of war camp instead of executed. That was fair, nein? the Commandant had asked, lighting another cigarette.

In that way that people can block out traumatic events in their lives, Steed remembered nothing of that last session, and very little of the next couple of weeks when he lay completely prostate in his cell. Swain set and braced his broken arm with pieces of wood the guards threw into the cell, wrapped his broken ribs, put his mattress on Steed's to make a softer bed for all his bruises, tried to help the infected burns heal, fed Steed his rations, and most of Swain's own. Swain noticed that the ration portions were larger, and one day, an extra set of clothes was thrown into their cells, two new blankets, and a few more rags. Steed didn't care. He just wanted to die.

He didn't. Slowly over the next months Steed recovered, was able to sit up, then stand, then walk around leaning on Swain, then by himself. They had no sense of time passing in their cells. Once every so often they were taken to a bathroom and allowed to shower and shave, and they always had a bushy face to razor. Steed kept his eyes above his collarbone so he wouldn't see the branding of his guilt scorched into his chest, a three inch high grouping of round, red scars --"VS"-- in the mirror.

Steed barely spoke. Eventually, Bill stopped apologizing after Steed just mumbled, "It wasn't your fault." The anger burned in Steed like a match held to his heart; now that Schumacher was dead, the anger was directed at himself. It flamed in concert with other, worse emotions, the crushing sense of dreadful, irreplaceable loss, a suffocating weight of guilt, a pressing weight of eternal shame. He felt heavy and doomed, sinful and despairing. He was a poor cell companion, lost in his own mind, replaying Vivian's death over and over until it seemed that he had never had a different thought in his head his entire life and never would again. Once he spoke to Swain, another full sentence.

"Bill, promise me you'll never tell," he whispered, during what they believed was the night.
Bill had known exactly what Steed was referring to, and answered, "I won't tell, John."
"John," the named brought tears to his eyes, his name, what she had whispered joyously as she had fallen asleep in his arms that last night; he couldn't bear to hear his Christian name spoken.
"Steed, call me Steed," he had said.

Bill lay down to sleep and Steed lay down to dream of thunder, screams, and bullets; of cigarettes and the smell of burning skin; of him being in a huge crowd, someone seeing the scar on his chest and everyone then pointing at him calling him "despicable," "selfish bastard," "wife killer," "baby killer." Steed awoke crying out, and occasionally retching. Bill had tried to comfort Steed at first, but Steed refused his caring ministrations, so Swain reluctantly left Steed to his own nightmarish devices.

At some point they both developed coughs in the damp cell, deep hacks that racked their chests and greatly irritated their throats. Steed hoped he'd die of pneumonia, but the cough neither got better nor worse. Steed decried his bad luck.

One day their cell door opened and coats and boots were tossed into the cell. A voice in German told them to put them on. Once outside they found it was winter. The snow on the ground would have made the world look innocent, if the world above the snow hadn't been so filled with depravity. Steed and Swain were put into a truck and taken to a train station. They were herded into a boxcar with twenty other men and the train rolled on the tracks for an hour until it stopped again and they were ordered out, to stand in line on the platform until another train came to take them into Germany. It was the middle of the night. Steed and Swain stood in line perfectly still, next to each other, facing the station, armed guards patrolling in front of them. They both coughed a great deal, but Steed was weaker and one hacking paroxysm so enervated him he sank to one knee in the snow. He thought since he was inevitably going to die of pneumonia in some compound in Germany, he might as well die now and save himself an uncomfortable journey. It was sticky snow. Steed made a snowball and standing up he tossed it at a guard temporarily turned away from him, solidly striking the back of his neck. He could feel Swain staring at him wide-eyed, and turned a moment to raise a hand good-bye. The guard swung around incredulous, his hand on his neck picking snow out of his collar; an officer had seen Steed's actions and beating the guard to his rifle, lifted up his own handgun and shot Steed.

Steed remembered the flash of light as a bomb went off in his head, and the comforting thought that he was falling off the platform to his death.
He awoke, later, alone, among some trees, his head throbbing, his face and neck covered in blood. He was dizzy, nauseous, and very frustrated. He was still alive. He brought his hand to the top side of his head and felt a swelling and a gash; the bullet had just nicked him. Enough to knock him out, cause a lot of bleeding, but really just a minor wound.

Steed sat up; he could see the lights at the station a hundred feet away, although it was now pitch dark outside. He'd been dragged off the tracks into the woods and forgotten, believed to be dead. Steed struggled to his feet using a tree to pull himself up, and then held onto it when the world turned upside down for a minute. He looked at the station and there was a train there; the men were being loaded onto it. Steed began stumbling towards the train; he hadn't saved Vivian, but if he was cursed to be alive, he would save Bill Swain.

Steed crept near the slow-moving train as its wheels began to roll. It was a short train made up of only five boxcars and the engine. Four boxcars had chicken wire nailed over the small windows high up in the cars, and one didn't; that meant there were four prisoner cars, and one for the guards. No German saw him leap onto the train between two boxcars as no one anticipated him, and as soon as the train was leaving the Germans immediately moved towards the warm station and their vehicles.

What Steed did was very simple. He climbed up to the roof of the boxcar, lightly padded over them, jumping one to the other until he reached the boxcar nearest the engine. He climbed down, and went around to the cab, surprising the two Germans in it, whom he knocked unconscious with a handy shovel, then kept hitting until it was clear they were dead. He tossed them out of the train. Those were the only men who could have seen the back of the train. Steed jammed the gear into a moderate pace, climbed back up to the roof, hopped over the first cab, and then lowered himself and unhitched the last four sections from the guard section.

Gradually the engine and boxcar traveled off into the distance as the four prisoner cars decelerated and eventually stopped. Steed climbed down off the train, unhitched the bar across the door of the first boxcar then pushed it open. No one was in there. He opened up the second, and no one was in there, either. However, in the third and fourth cars were forty allies, French, American, and British, including Bill Swain, who nearly fainted when he saw Steed, pale, shaking, coughing, bloody Steed.

After hearty handshakes and thanks the men split up to make the search for them as difficult as possible. Steed and Swain and four British RAF pilots joined ranks and made it somehow to a Resistance safe house and from there, after radio contact, they were picked up in an air lift. They were taken back to England. Steed and Swain collapsed from their chest conditions, and spent a month recuperating in a hospital ward. Word of Steed's deeds became known and he was awarded another medal. When asked why his Gestapo interrogator had chosen to write "VS" Steed merely shrugged his shoulders, lying by saying "Viktor Schumacher, the man who had captured us." Vivian and the couple were already known to be dead from the reports from the other Resistance fighters; neither Steed nor Swain shared about Steed's relationship with Vivian, or Vivian's unknown pregnancy. Swain, his nerves shot, was sent home from the war.

Steed stayed and volunteered for the most dangerous missions the SIS and military intelligence could think up. He was always successful, earning a reputation for recklessness along with growing respect. Once, his unit was placing timed charges on a bridge that a company of Germans, complete with a tank, was believed to be approaching. The Germans arrived early, and instead of running and hiding --as the other men in his group did-- Steed came out from under the bridge where he had been affixing the last charge. Strolling casually toward the enemy, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief, waving at the Colonel heading the movement of troops and equipment. In impeccable German, Steed showed his faked papers, and explained he was checking the bridge for bombs, scouting ahead of the company, under orders of General Schumacher. This bridge was clear of charges he assured the Colonel. Steed then went on explaining to the officer some information he made up on the spot regarding the placement of allied forces ahead.

Steed began walking away nonchalantly, checking his wristwatch to notice that the bombs would go off in nineteen seconds. He suddenly broke into a full run and had just cleared the river-spanning edifice when the dynamite went off, destroying the bridge and sending men and tank to the rocks and water below.
Steed remembered thinking that some alert German could have shot him in the back.

Another time Steed and four other SIS men, returning from a scouting mission behind lines, came upon a unit of English troops bogged down under the spray of a machine gun nest on a hill two hundred feet away. The blockade, a round metal hut with long rectangular holes, half buried in the dirt, protected by sandbags, was in Steed's path, so Steed grabbed a machine gun and some grenades and went up the hill, stepping over dead men, and somehow, as sixty men watched him with mouths agape, he got close enough to drop five live grenades through one of the holes of the German barricade. The explosion rained dirt on him, and then he put the barrel of the machine gun in the hole and fired it all around with one arm.
When Steed was positive all the Germans were dead, he strode back down the hill, returned the machine gun to the soldier he had taken it from and then waved his unit on. He won the Military Cross for that. Steed remembered thinking that some machine gun bullet should have killed him like those other men who had tried to storm the nest.

In England, at the air force bases, he fostered a reputation for hard and heavy drinking. That he was a very angry young man was obvious; alcohol pacified him, though, and generally he was a jolly fun fellow to socialize with. In seemingly odd, quirky behavior he avoided the local ladies at the bars, ignoring their flirting with him. He was actually seen to push women away when they sat on his lap or ran their fingers through his irresistibly lush brown hair. The thought of being with another woman turned Steed's stomach. Once, for a joke, since he didn't seem to like the women, the other men paid a local lad to sit in Steed's lap and run his fingers through his hair. Steed shoved the boy away so hard he fell to the floor and then Steed stood up with malice in his eyes. When one fellow said it was only a joke, Steed decked him. That was the birth of the phrase, "Take heed with Steed." They stopped teasing Steed about his reticence for female companionship and Steed, when drinking, became a well known playful chap.

At night his nightmares woke him, when he wasn't passed out from excessive alcohol consumption, and he rose and wandered around the base. Once he ran into a man practicing swordplay, a Russian insomniac named Igor Kissorsky, who helped the British establish Turkish contacts. He befriended Steed, and was the best swordsman Steed had ever seen. They fenced regularly as everyone else slept, the forty-four year old man always beating the twenty two year old. Kissorsky told Steed that if he ever wanted to truly become a warrior, then after the war, if he survived it, he should look Kissorsky up in Turkey, where he had a training academy.

Steed had no desire to survive the war, but he did, elevated to a major, with a paper bag full of medals he never bothered to wear, and held in high esteem from all his superiors. For a brief time after the war he served on a military panel convicting officers discovered to have been involved in illegal wartime activities and then, not knowing where else to go, he decided to return home. He had almost visited Vivian's family near Toulouse, but couldn't bear doing so. They didn't know about him specifically, though Vivian had written that she had married a man, an Englishman, calling him simply John. He thought, Let them think I am dead, that gentle family he had brought such grief to; and in truth, the man Vivian married had truly died with her.

Steed, an Englishman who had been born and bred to be a chivalrous gentleman, to protect and honor women, to be noble, dignified, and courteous… had been lustful, selfish, foolish, stupid, so stupid, so appallingly stupid. He had not protected her at all. He should have protected her. Steed cringed in shame at even the thought of Vivian, the pain of her death still fresh four years after it happened. Sometimes when he was alone he thought he heard her yelling out to him. Or heard the thud of the bullets as they entered her body. That brought a sheen of cold sweat to his skin. He didn't visit her family.

He left the service and returned to England in March 1946, angry and bitter that he had survived, after all his efforts to put himself in the most dangerous situations possible. His family welcomed him home, his silence and heavy spirit siphoning away a bit of their relief at seeing him. He would not speak of his years in the war; when they pressed him to, he left the room, the party, the house. He hid his scars from them. He was entirely disinterested in the women they introduced him to. He refused to converse with them, refused to walk with them. How could he ever earn the right to be with another woman, when the one that had loved him, had been carrying their child, lay dead, naked and unburied, because he hadn't protected her, had just coveted her? He had abnegated that right by not sending Vivian home to safety.

Steed's family wondered at him practicing sword work in the middle of the night on the back lawn, but said nothing. They arranged for him to acquire an entry level position at brother Edward's bank as a loan officer. Steed put on a suit and spoke to people without money trying to rebuild their lives after the horror of the war. He wanted to help them all. So, bucking authority, Steed fudged each applicant's paperwork assuring that every individual who applied to him was deemed a safe investment and was given a loan. This was uncovered after a month, and the bank officers were not pleased. They sat Steed down and surrounded him, asking him question after question about those incidents, not noticing Steed getting increasingly discomforted. When one of them lit up a cigarette Steed bolted from the room, knocking over two vice-presidents in his haste and, for spite, deliberately pushed a fine crystal lamp crashing onto the floor.

He was fired. His brother Edward was furious. His family decided to allow Steed more acclimation time before setting him up in another career.
Steed spent his time in pubs, drinking. One day in October, Steed was in The Duke of Greenleaf on his second beer. Some men began teasing a barmaid. She didn't like it and asked them to stop, and when they didn't, and began to grab her, Steed stood up and brained two of them with his stool. The other two charged him and he broke a bottle over the head of the third and then punched the other in the stomach and the nose, kicking him a couple of times once he was down. The barman tossed the four men outside and gave Steed a warning glance that blanched to hopeful pacification when he saw Steed's look of outrage.

Later that evening as Steed walked the five miles home, the four men, bruised, bandaged, and stitched, accosted him by surprise and all together they were too many for him to overcome. They struck him some blows and would have hit him a great many more if in their roughness his shirt hadn't been pulled open and his chest scars exposed. That sobered the men up and they let him go.

Steed decided at that point that if he was destined to live, then he would become that warrior Kissorsky had talked. That would ensure he would be able to handle ignorant fools like those four men, and whoever else crossed his malevolent path.
Two weeks later, to his family's regret and dismay he left for Turkey, and there he learned to become a master swordsman, learned to channel and hone his anger, to maintain his silence. He used his skills profitably for himself for some years and then rejoined the ranks of British intelligence, committed to protecting his country and the innocent inhabitants that needed men like him to watch over them and keep them safe. That is what he had devoted his life to; it hadn't brought back Vivian, but maybe, just maybe, other Vivians had not been killed because of his efforts. When it had become a true, driven obsession, Steed didn't know. He could not explain it to people more than by saying he just had to work; until he was put out to pasture, until he was killed, he had to protect his country.

Although eventually he had allowed himself to once more be sexually active, whenever he thought of having a serious relationship with anyone, his shame made his mouth taste bitter, his anger twisted his stomach into knots, his guilt made him dash away from whoever he was involved with. If for a moment he wished to stay with the lady to have someone to hold for one night more, when she began to urge formal commitment, a maelstrom of emotions he couldn't ignore would suddenly come blaring into his head and he would leave the woman, oftentimes suddenly, usually without any explanation at all. Or, if there was an explanation, its feebleness would often get a door slammed in his face, until he had learned how to end his relationships with gentle tact and caring gestures.

Ten years after Vivian, for a brief time, he had felt the beginning of feelings for a woman in Hong Kong; but she betrayed him to the authorities there and they sent him to the prison camp Nee San, where he rotted for a year and a half.
When he got out he made a vow to himself that he would never risk caring for anyone again. Never.

And he hadn't, for another ten years, until he met Mrs. Emma Peel, and for once, his feet wouldn't go away from her, glued to her like his heart was, and everything about her allowed him to trust her completely. Somehow she enabled him to contain the shame, the anger, the guilt so that he could stay with her, foster their togetherness, allow love to sparkle between them. She had been the only woman who engendered strong enough feelings in Steed he could break from his bitter hold to his past, and commit himself to loving her, and being with her forever. He loved her desperately for that alone, let alone for all she was, and she was so very much. She was everything to him. She was the first woman he had known, truly, he really did love.

But even Emma couldn't eradicate those old feelings, burnt into his psyche like the "VS" was burnt into his chest. How many years had passed before he even allowed himself to look at the scars? He had never told anyone about his time with Vivian: not her family, not Dr. Silver, not any of the innumerable women he had dated throughout his life, not his family, not Hal, not Emma…no one, no one knew. No one. The thought of telling someone made him panic; he couldn't. He just didn't know how. The horrid emotions related to Vivian were still there, just held in check; Steed had come to realize as he aged that those emotions borne after Vivian's death were much more intense in truth than his young love had been for her, his young lust, his young need. That supposed love, once thought so vital, so important, paled in comparison to his relationship with Emma, to the eternally true love he had discovered with her. Was it the early death of his ill dear aunt, and then his mother in that accident; the shock of having his pleasant late teen years decimated by the unfettered madness stalking the world; the knowledge that life had become a cheap commodity during the war; the playful breaking of rules of fraternization; the last remnant of trying to be young and innocent in an old and violent world --what was it that had driven him into the willing arms of Vivian, that had fostered their impossible attachment in the harshest of environments? Oh, there had been a definite physical attraction between the two of them, that was undeniable, and Steed knew he had been as infatuated with her as ardently and as earnestly any youth had ever been with a beautiful woman. He had married Vivian with the notion of doing the honorable thing like in a fairy tale story book; not, really, he knew, out of love. It had been fun, when fun had all but been extinguished from the planet, and he had been enamored with fun when he was young. Vivian should never have been his wife; it had all been so foolish and ridiculous, a game with impossible odds that had guaranteed disaster. He had always won on the playing fields of Eton, and had brought that idiotic confidence to the killing fields of Europe. He had been a naïve youth then, had believed in naïve emotions, and had acted like a naïve youth; and the consequences of his mistakes had been fatal for his equally naïve wife and unborn child. And deep inside, Steed knew that Vivian had definitely loved him, trusted him, put herself selflessly in his hands, to his lasting regret. Reviewing his past, Steed recognized that he hadn't ever known what true love was until Emma Peel had mistakenly driven into his car. Hadn't known how two people could be so independently dependent, could so equally trust, respect, admire, learn from, and hold each other in the highest esteem. Hadn't know that when mature, unadulterated virtuous love appeared, selfishness disappeared, and one naturally exhibited one's highest potential of growth and selflessness. One didn't keep one's partner from seeking safety from an approaching storm, just to soothe one's own insecurities, just to kiss her one last time… one's lover more important than anything else, most especially one's own selfish needs.

Steed felt like a pound of moldy cheese was sitting in his stomach.
True, actual, heavenly love he was blessed with sharing with Emma. Yet, still he couldn't talk about that scar, about any scar, they all seemed melded together somehow. He couldn't talk about the dream of Vivian, of that night, that night thirty years ago that had set him on the path of his life. For thirty years he had been silent; it was so ingrained in him that he had no voice to give that story. He was still as mute as he had been facing the chain-smoking Commandant. He was still wracked with shame and anger and guilt whenever that dream, and Vivian, sweet and wonderful, entered his mind. It was irrational, problematical, but it was so acute to Steed to this day that his nausea was real, his retching was real, his throat closing up on him, hiding the worst he had ever been, was real. So selfish then, so stupid, so naïve, so mistaken, accruing such unforgivable repercussions. A dead wife. A dead baby. Who would that child have been? To satisfy his own needs, Steed had cause the deaths of two dear people: a graceful, tender woman, and an unborn infant whose existence had been stopped even before it had a chance to begin. He had murdered them, really; not Schumacher. He had been their executioner. He had killed them.

No, no, he could never share that with anyone.
Besides, as soon as the dreams settled down, and this odd anxiousness disappeared, everything would be back to normal and there would be no need for him to tell someone he had killed his pregnant wife…

Once everything returned to normal, no one would ask him to talk about his dream. No one would expect him to talk about his scars. No one would suggest he retire. This was just a rough patch he was going through; a gauntlet through a hedge of brambles, cutting him a little, causing some drops of blood. It wasn't serious, he would wind his way through it as he always had before, and the dream would go away again.

As the images of his past faded, Steed opened his eyes and checked his watch, trying to disregard the fluttering butterflies dancing around his stomach, spreading a nervous commotion throughout his body. He stared at a tree and coordinated his breathing to focus on it, reduce everything to the tree, block out anything but the tree, let it all go… become the tree, solid, steady as an oak…

Steed achieved success in replacing all his memories in the storage room of his brain, rarely unlocked and opened, but was not able to cease the internal shaking and worry that was really beginning to perturb him. He started up his car, turned it around and drove back to the road where he continued on his way to the Ministry. Once there, in his office, he was again pleased to feel a sense of calm serenity descend on him, bringing his normal charming self to the fore.

Steed spent the morning with Purdey and Gambit, reviewing reports they had uncovered of a rash of deformed foxes and cats found within a five mile radius of Langford Grange, home of the sixteenth Earl of Neesby, Morris Neesby, an amateur entomologist of some renown, and a very private man who had a reputation for screaming abuse at his staff. There were enough five legged foxes and four eared cats that the Ministry felt they should go up and investigate. First, though, they had uncovered through the entomologist's brother that the Earl had plans to attend a party given by a Colonel White at his large country home in nearby Derby. It was solely for Navy veterans of WW II and their relatives, and it was decided that Steed and Emma would attend the affair to give Steed the opportunity to chat with the earl and get early impression of him analyzing the level of danger he portended to the country. Since Colonel White had gone to Eton with Emma's father, there would be not problem having the Steeds procure an invitation. Purdey and Gambit would be there as food servers, for back-up if needed.

The affair was the next night, so, as things were on hold until then, the three of them separated to do paperwork and study Neesby's file, memorizing all the information Research had garnered on him and believed might be useful for the case and for Steed's cover. At about 2:00 p.m. Steed's stomach growled loudly, and satisfied he was replete with Neesby knowledge, he decided to head to his club for a bite to eat and a nap.

Although the sky was entirely overcast with large grey clouds hanging low in the sky, when Steed left the Ministry the drizzling rain had abated and he decided a brisk walk in the fresh, well, in the city air, would do him a world of good. Buttoning his coat, tapping his bowler firmly onto his head, and swinging his unfurled umbrella he set out down the street, the Atheneum a fifteen minute walk from the Ministry building, the floors the Ministry used being misleadingly listed as belonging to The Apollo Firm, Architects.

Steed was strolling down the street in his normally lively gait when he suddenly felt a very curious sensation flow through his body from head to feet; a tingly wave, as if cold air had just blown through the layers of his skin and swept into his body. That was not so bad in and of itself; what made Steed stop in his tracks was an over-whelming attack of fear, of panic that accompanied it. His heart sped up and Steed had the dreadful sense that he was going to die, that there was danger, that he had to run away, get away…

Steed turned in a circle on the sidewalk, his wide eyes finding no threat at all. He saw a few people minding their own business, walking with collars turned up or umbrellas held high, a few cars splashing drops of water as they passed, the drivers not even noticing him standing there…

Steed tried to rationally address the fear, telling himself to relax, settle down, there was no cause for what was happening inside him, he felt no tickle of danger, there was no threat… but it did no good. The fear just grew like antediluvian mountains erupting from the core of the ancient earth, bursting through Steed's well-developed equipoise.

He took off at a light jog, some remnant of his usual equanimity able to prevent a full fledged sprint, and made it to his club quickly, leaping briskly up the stairs and dodging inside nimbly to ascend the inner stairs to the reading room. Once there he immediately ordered a large brandy, "and hurry." Placing his coat and bowler into a chair, he paced the room, unable to contemplate sitting and quietly waiting for the drink.

It was twenty-five years of intelligence work, and a mind trained to deal with fear, that kept his emotional state hidden from the few early afternoon club members who sat in the room, luckily none who Steed knew, crackling their papers as they read them, and sipping on a glass of port or whiskey. Steed stuck his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking, and when the brandy finally arrived, he grabbed hold of it and took a seat way in the corner, where he had a full command of the room and no one could attack him from behind. He drank the brandy quickly, and was relieved to feel the fear decrease a little.

Fear. You know fear. You understand it. Get it under control.
Yet it was hard to do because Steed had no focal point to direct himself to; there was no reason for the fear, so there was no action to be taken to counteract it. There was no gun pointed at him to wrestle away from his would-be killer, there was no sea to swim, no torturer to keep information from; there was no one to fight, no situation to overcome, no one to save. There was just him, here, in his club, afraid.

If there was no reason for the fear, then Steed turned his attentions to fighting the fear itself. He slowed his breathing into regular deep breaths and pictured his heart beating at its normal sixty-four beats a minute. He pictured himself laying on the beach under the warm sun in the Caribbean, on St. Thomas, Emma by his side. He imagined himself riding one of his horses…

To Steed's dismay he realized it wasn't working. He was trembling, and was horrified to consider that people might see him so agitated. He needed privacy to deal with this, not being in a public arena. Slamming his brandy snifter down, Steed stood up, put his coat and bowler back on, and grabbing his brolly he left his club and quickly strolled back to the Ministry, running up the stairs instead of calmly taking the elevator to his floor. Ducking into his office, he shut his door, and leaning on it with his eyes tightly closed he felt… blessed relief. The shaking abated, the fear drifted away, his heart slowed down. The perceived danger had passed, whatever the danger had been.

Steed knew he should report that event to Dr. Silver, but, of course, he had no intention of doing so. Just need a little more sleep, he told himself. A bit touchy with all the nightmares, Steed, old boy, that's the simple explanation.

Steed poured himself a brandy from his office supply and drank it down, a bit more slowly than he had at his club. He was still hungry but the thought of leaving his office to search out some food unsettled him. Finishing off his brandy, he sat in his chair at his desk, and leaning back decided that getting some sleep would benefit him more then eating. As the fear left him, Steed tilted his head back and let himself sink down into a dreamless sleep.

He was awoken one hour later by a knock on his door. Brushing sleep out of his eyes and straightening his tie, Steed opened the door and smiled at a young new agent team who wanted his advice on how to progress on the case they were working on. Steed invited them in --this was something he commonly helped with-- and the three of them spent an hour devising a brilliant strategy that would trick the known perpetrator into clearly proving his guilt. The two agents left profuse in their gratitude and regard for Steed's plan. With nothing more to do, Steed decided to go home.

When Steed left the building for the second time that day, a fist of anxiety clamped around his stomach, not as bad as the raw fear he had experienced earlier in the day, but enough to once more crush his peace of mind and have his heart flitter in his chest. It was bad but it was manageable, he could hide this, work around it, keep it deep inside where he kept everything else.
No one had to know. He could hide this from everyone.
He just needed more sleep, that was all.

Steed drove home, and if Emma noticed his appetite was a little low, and his concentration during their chess game faltered a few times, and it took just a little longer than usual for him to attain an erection, and that once he was hard his ardent need for her took her breath away, she didn't mention it to him. She just allowed him to embrace her tightly, repeat how much he loved her, holding her as she rested against his strong body, his arms enfolding her, his chest hairs tickling her cheek just a little and making her giggle. That usually delighted him, but it didn't that night. Steed was too confused by the fact that their love-making and Emma happy by his side didn't reinstate his serenity as he had expected it would. Steed was glad that Emma slept serenely through the night, and although he wished he could hold her in his arms all night long, just to be safe, Steed rolled Emma back onto her own pillow when he felt himself sliding into sleep. It was a good idea. That way, when he woke suffocating from fear at 3:00 a.m., lifting his arms up to protect himself from the jumbled threats that had tormented him in his sleep, thunder, bullets, cigarettes, bombs, machine guns, he didn't awaken his wife and so was able to sit undisturbed at the window in his bathrobe until dawn came, trying to appease his rattled mind, and loosen the fist that compressed his stomach into a trembling ball.

Chapter Fifteen

Steed spend the next day at home with Emma. It was another rainy, dreary day --what January day in England wasn't?-- but instead of him just sitting and calmly catching up on some pleasure reading, he paced throughout the house like a cat seeking a band of scurrying mice. The strange anxiety, having more sway over him now, made him move from room to room, unable to concentrate for long on any specific activity --he shot some billiards, paid his bills, read a little, paced, watched some TV, put on a Mozart concerto, paced, had a drink, stared out a window, and then reached for his pool cue again. He feared that if he just sat, expending no physically energy at all, he would begin to visibly shake. The idea of going to his office at the Ministry kept coming to mind --he seemed to feel better in that environs-- but there was nothing to do there, and it should have been grand having a day home with his wife. That used to make him feel better than anything. A vague sense that something was truly wrong with him made Steed's skin tingle, but he blamed all his unease on lack of sleep. He thought of trying to nap, but didn't want to risk the development of the shaking as he lay still, or even worse set the stage for another nightmare to torment him.

Emma, after spending several hours on the phone with her Knight Industry associates, sat relaxed on the sofa in their living room sewing a quilt, followed her husband in his odd perambulations with her eyes, the rest of her body staid and involved with her needle and thread. Finally, after he came down the hallway to the front of the house, then retreated once again to the back of the house, only to return just a few minutes later and begin climbing the stairs to the second floor, Emma asked, "Ants in your pants, Steed?"
He stopped on the stairs, and faced her. "Spiders," he smiled.
"Oh, dear. I hope not of the poisonous types."

Steed looked at Emma, in a long, loose dress, so comfortable in her domesticated pose. Her auburn hair, shorter than when they had first met and without the bottom curls, shined even in the dull light from the overcast sky. He wanted to keep moving, but some movements were infinitely more enjoyable than others.
"Come upstairs with me," he said, knowing that sex hadn't really relaxed him the night before, but nevertheless willing to give it another try. "We can play some cards, or something…"

Emma cast him a smirking look that revealed she clearly knew what that "something" was he had in mind. "I am at the moment preparing a quilt for our son, as you can see. We don't want him to lay uncovered at night in his crib."
"We still have six months until our daughter is born. If the quilt isn't done by then, due to pleasurable diversions culling you from your sewing, we can just cover her up with weeds and grasses, or maybe some open books. Something warm, like Dante's Inferno."

Emma grinned. "I see you've been reading up on Good Parenting Skills."
"Of course. I am taking the concept of being a father very seriously."
"Yes, extremely seriously."
The bantering unraveled Steed's nerves a bit. "Don't forget to knit her a polo outfit."
"Right after I crochet him a set of test tubes and beakers."

Steed laughed and pointed upstairs, "Can't get you to change your mind, then?"
Emma shook her head, smiling, "In a little while. I do want to finish this corner."
"Alright then, if the mountain won't come to Mohammed…" He walked around the back of the sofa and pulling a chair up sat and began massaging Emma's shoulders as she thread the needle through the pattern. Emma straightened up to afford Steed better access to her upper back muscles. Her little groans in response to his expert kneading and the way she swayed her neck in little circles was very arousing to Steed. He told himself to just continue the massage; Emma wanted to sew. Yet, her skin was so soft, and she smelled of the rose scented shampoo she had used that morning. He began to grow hard.

Steed leaned over and asked, "What length of time, precisely, were you referring to when you stated 'in a little while'? I shall set my watch and my, uh, well, my watch by it."
"I should be ready to take a break in an hour."
"An hour! The world could end in an hour! Thirty minutes."
"Two hours."

Steed sat silent for a few seconds, though his hands never ceased massaging. "Have I ever told you how much I dislike the way you negotiate? It seems to miss the whole principle of compromise."
"You're right. My father taught me how to bargain. Wasn't keen on the idea of compromise."
"Obviously. Fifty minutes."
"Four hours."
"Four hours! An eternity! Three hours."
"Ha! Got you to give in!" Steed declared triumphantly.
"Yes, but you still wound up two hours over my initial offer."
Steed opened his mouth to speak several times, but couldn't think of a witty rejoinder.
"However," Emma continued, "if you keep massaging me, I will reduce the agreement to two hours."
"It wasn't really an agreement," Steed moped. "More like a tyrannical dictate. However, I find your offer tempting. How long would I need to massage you to decrease my wait from three hours to two."
"One hour," Emma snickered.
"One hour! So then we would make love just one hour later?"
"No, massaging one hour would just decrease your wait for sex to two hours."
"But, if I massage you for one hour, and then have to wait two hours, I'll be, in fact, waiting the same three hours."
"Yes. Do you agree?"
"No, I don't agree! What kind of a deal is that?!"
"Just think how grateful I'll be to you for massaging me for a whole hour."
"Oh…I see…hmm…" A long pause. "What areas can I massage?"
"Neck, upper and middle back, upper arms, feet, lower legs."
"No, er, middle parts?"
"No middle parts. I do want to sew."
"You'll be very grateful?"
"Exceedingly grateful. You can set your watch, and your, uh, well, your watch by it."
"It's a deal."

Emma held up a hand behind her to shake, but Steed shook a different part of Emma's body.
"I said no middle parts, Steed," she said, wryly.
"I hadn't begun the formal massage yet. Now, I'm beginning it."

For the next four hours Steed's nervousness was kept under partial control through the stroking of his wife's body, their playful and loving dialogue, and her twice illustrating her gratefulness for the massage. The anxiety was there, always, in the background, his stomach dancing about in a polka, but Emma was there, in the foreground, not asking him to talk, to share, just being with him and loving him, just what he needed. Although their love-making was not the complete panacea for his jaded or over-whelmed nerves that it usually was, it was still a calming balm that tempered his escalating emotions. He was glad to realize that while the dreadful trepidation tossed him about constantly, Emma --devoid of retirement or dream-telling demands-- was a gorgeous, glorious anchor that could, at least, keep him from capsizing.

Later that evening Steed and Emma arrived at Colonel White's country manor in Derby. It was a Georgian edifice, embellished inside in Grecian décor, with friezes and statures of ancient Grecian and Roman Gods and myths, and ionic columns spread throughout each room. Emma noticed that Steed's peculiar fidgeting and restlessness decreased markedly as they entered the manor looking for a probably enemy to the country. Her quick and retentive brain filed that observation for later reflection. She hadn't mentioned to him that she had noticed his nervous jitters and anxious pacing for over a week; she hadn't known what to make of it. Steed naturally was negligent in discussing it with her. Combined with his dreams and lack of sleep, Emma was seriously starting to worry about Steed health. To have him settle down here, in this house, where safe in his own he was so agitated, sparked Emma's brilliant analytical mind and she resolved to give the topic much more thought when she had the chance to work through all the psychological permutations. In the meantime, she walked with her arm wrapped around Steed's, delighted to be by his side.

The house was full of mostly retired naval officers, with gray bushy sideburns, faces wrinkled from the salty sea air, cigars and walking sticks in hand. Well-dressed wives flitted about, with dyed hair, nails perfectly polished, and hair perfectly set. There was a noticeable dearth of young adults, as of course there would be since this was an affair honoring WW II veterans, and the war had been over for thirty years. Relative were allowed, but many of the younger generation just weren't interested in attending.

Steed and Emma mingled separately in their old habitual manner begun when they were colleagues hiding the closeness of their relationship. They spoke to different people and wandered about the rooms of the manor independently. Steed had described Neesby to Emma, and she kept an eye out for him.

An hour or so after their arrival, by chance, Steed and Emma found themselves standing near each other though conversing in different groups. Emma's couple spotted some old friends across the room and excused themselves from her; before she had time to take a step to join Steed a rather youngish fellow, in his early thirties, a bit tipsy, sidled up in front of her.

"Hello," he said, bowing slightly. "How do you do? You're a bit out of place here, with all the uniformed colonels bedecked with medals and their garishly attired wives. Come with your father, did you?"

It was a fact of life that as often as women regularly stood way too close to Steed, men invariably were far too forward with Emma. She held up her left hand, brandishing her wedding band. "No, my husband."
"Your husband?" the man exclaimed. "Why, he must be some years older than you."

Emma faced Steed's broad back, and she noticed his head turn just an inch or two as he heard the man's comment. Emma decided to have impish fun at Steed's expense. Ruffling his gentlemanly feathers was one of her most favorite hobbies. Besides, that's what he deserved for eaves-dropping, anyway. And he had seemed much relaxed during their witty banter earlier in the day.
"Oh, yes, he really is quite a bit older," she confirmed.
"I never understood why nubile young women would marry older men. He's probably rich, isn't he?"
"Well, he is somewhat well-to-do."

The man nodded forcefully a few times. He spoke too loudly in his excitement, as the slightly inebriated often do. "I knew it! Jewels, clothes, and traveling all make up for having to live with a fat, grey, wrinkled, balding, impotent old man."
Steed's head snapped up like he'd had a whiplash. The other members of Steed's group were also privy to the man's statement and Emma saw them staring at Steed as their own conversation screeched to a sudden halt. Emma bit her lip and took a deep breath before ensuring she could speak without giggling.

"He did give me a lovely necklace the other day," Emma said, truthfully. Steed really was the most generous of men. "Emeralds and diamonds. And it wasn't even my birthday."
"Exactly my point! Buying your affection, eh? You poor dear, stuck with an impulsive decision made not knowing the full extent of your future. Even with his wealth, it must get tiring living with a man who wheezes after walking half a mile."
Emma assumed a thoughtful, faraway look. "Well, he can walk a bit further than that, on sunny days, when there's not any wind blowing, and he's had a good breakfast…"

Steed's head nodded up and down in slow deliberation of her remark, plotting, no doubt, Emma imagined, the most insidious revenge upon her. He turned his left ear entirely to the side to clearly catch any more of her outrageous utterances. The other three people around him stood with their mouths partly open.
The lad leaned forward a bit, essence of wine flavoring his breath. "Does he carry a cane?"

Perfect, Emma thought, thoroughly bemused. "No, he uses an umbrella instead."
By the measurement of Steed's chest expansion, his inhalation removed half the air from the room.
"Is he, you know, getting a tad senile?" The man tapped his temple for emphasis.
Doubly perfect, Emma silently exalted. "Well, one time he tried to fix a toaster, and the resultant explosion was almost life-threatening."

Steed swallowed the rest of his drink in one large gulp. Emma couldn't see his face, but it must have been a sight for his fellow conversationalists took a concerted step away from him.
The fellow lowered his voice a little, and sympathetically placed a hand on her arm. "You poor, poor dear. I say, I have rather a naughty suggestion you might find interesting."

That was enough for even the most easy-going and tolerant of husbands. Steed pardoned himself from his group, and turned to face Emma. He squinted his eyes at her and gave her the evilest look his face could attain, which would have wilted an orchard of flowers. Emma put her hand up over her mouth to cover her burgeoning smile. Steed stood behind the man, several inches taller and wider than him. Not removing his look of disdain from his beloved wife, he tapped the man on his shoulder.

The man brushed Steed's hand away, continuing to proposition Emma. "Perhaps you would like to hear what I have to say in some secluded room--"
Steed tapped a great deal harder, in rather sensitive shoulder spots.

The fellow winced and turned to Steed. "Do you mind? I'm having a talk with the lady."
Steed smiled, moving his glance to the fellow. "Yes, I see that. However, I should like to cut in."
"Well, I don't want you to. I was here first."
"Nevertheless, I feel very adamantly that I have first chatting dibs with her." He cocked his head towards Emma.
The fellow assumed an air of indignation. "Oh, and why is that?"
Steed's eyes narrowed; he was a wolf glaring at helpless prey. "Because I am the lady's fat, grey, wrinkled, balding, impotent and senile old husband."

The man looked up at Steed, tall, lean, with muscular shoulders, a full head of thick, healthy hair, immaculately attired, devastatingly handsome, a feral strength pervading his picture of robust health.
"Oh," the man said, growing slightly red-cheeked.
Steed did not the release the fellow from the intensity of his gaze. "Very 'oh'."

A hush of silence fellow around the two men, as nearby people aware of the interaction waited to see what Steed would do next. A collective sigh occurred when Steed held out his hand, his demeanor once again becoming that of an amiable gentleman.
"Steed. John Steed. And you are…?"
The young man shook Steed's hand loosely. "A very mortified and impudent fool."
"That's quite a long name," Steed said. "Do you mind if I just shorten it to 'impudent fool'?"

Now the fellow launched into a full-fledged blush. "Fitzpatrick. Giles Fitzpatrick. I really am terribly sorry. Frightfully so. It seems I've made an utter ass out of myself."
"Yes, well, Mr. Fitzpatrick, don't be too hard on yourself. Certain women who have the affectation to be ladies are not always what they seem. You were misled down a twisted path by a Siren as devious as the one that nearly enchanted the Argo." They both looked at Emma, who elevated her eyebrows in innocence.
"Who, me?" she asked, placing a palm on her chest.
"You." Steed pointed at her. Steed whispered in Giles' ears, though certainly loud enough for Emma and a few straggling eaves-droppers to hear. "She does this more and more, you know. Her behavior is becoming quite a scandalous affair wherever she goes. Lying, misleading, prevaricating. All her psychiatrists are puzzled and none of the medications seem to work. Maybe the shock treatments they recommend is the only viable course of action."
The kick to his shin hurt.

"Then again, maybe not," Steed concluded quickly, leading Giles away.
"Gosh, she seemed so normal," Giles said.
"Yes, well, they always do. Tell me, are you related to Lt. Kiernan Fitzpatrick?"
"He was my uncle. Killed in the war. Did you know him?"
"Yes, I did," Steed said, casting a last look back at Emma, who stood with her arms crossed, her evil eye surpassing his previous one by a demonic hex or two. As Steed and Giles hurried away, Emma was in hysterics inside her affronted stance, although she worried that if too many more incidents like that occurred in public, people might start wondering about the true state of their marriage. Shock treatments! Where did he pull that up from? Well, she thought, never underestimate a man who has made a life out of thinking quickly.

Steed spent a half hour befriending the earnest Giles; he was a nice enough young man, if a bit boorish around attractive, married women. When Steed noticed Neesby enter the drawing room, however, he excused himself from Giles and wandered over to his target, standing next to him as they both took a glass of wine from the appetizer table. He was a bit nervous insinuating himself into Neesby's good graces, but this was a nervousness he understood. This was where he should feel slightly anxious; he expected it, could work easily with it. His eye caught Gambit passing out some little quiche squares and Gambit nodded back, signifying all was in place if needed.

Steed deliberately bumped into Neesby, causing the man to spill a little wine.
"I'm terribly sorry. How very clumsy of me," he said to the Earl.
"Think nothing of it. Just got a hand wet, that's all." Neesby was short, a touch pudgy, wearing black rimmed glasses. His thinning hair was still a strawberry blond, and his clean shaven face was round. His eyes were small and deep, his mouth was also small and precise. Added to his large forehead his face illustrated the traits of intelligence and a sense of aloofness.

Steed whipped his handkerchief out. "Here you go. Allow me."
Neesby ignored his offer. "That's not necessary. This napkin will do fine." The man's hands were surprisingly thin and delicate. He wiped his hand off and put the crumbled napkin back down on the table.
"I don't believe I know you," Steed said. "I'm John Steed, of the destroyer Nelson. And you are…?"

The man looked up at Steed, then back down at the shrimp cocktail, four of which he put on a little plate. "Morris Neesby, of the cruiser Valiant."
Steed rubbed his chin, "Neesby, Neesby." Steed snapped his fingers. "Lord Morris Neesby! I've got it. You were the author of that outstanding article on the feeding habits of the blunt-headed beetle I read in Entomology Review. Really, that was most insightful and very well written. To think several of them could attack a rain-soaked worm! I thought it should have been nominated for best research paper of the year, myself."

Neesby warmed at the compliment, and his lips curled into a smile that reminded Steed of an assassin he once knew.
"Are you an entomologist as well?" he asked.
"Me? No. Just an interested amateur. Pinning butterflies, developing a tiny camera to chart the winding tunnels in an ant hill, a bit of genetic playing with mosquitoes to see if I could breed one that didn't inject that itchy chemical before sucking out the blood. Nothing that is on your level, Lord Neesby. Have you read of Hakayima's experiments on moths? Breeding them to grow to twice their normal size?"
"Hakayima is a fool."
"I tend to agree, sir. Imagine the size of the moth balls that would be required to protect one's clothing. As large as oranges."

Steed smoothed his face into his most unassuming countenance.
Neesby ate one of his shrimp, chewing enough that Steed imagined he had entirely liquefied the appetizer in his mouth before swallowing. Neesby finally spoke, "I was referring to Hakayima's assertion that insects cannot be bred to insert any other substance than the one they evolved to inject."
Warning bells went off in Steed. "Oh. I'm not quite familiar with that. Do you mind elucidating on the subject?"
"I'm afraid I can't. Would give away my own research."
"Of course. I understand. Um, Lord Neesby, I wonder if I might impose upon you. I am adding another room to my house to set up a larger insect study area. Might I visit you at your home and see the laboratory set-up you have arrayed in your home, Langford Grange? I know this is very rude of me to ask, but you have been rather a role model for me, and to conform my humble little work space after your genius would be a great honor."

Neesby sniffed as all egotistical aristocrats do, flaring his nostrils widely, considering Steed so haughtily under half-lidded eyes that any other man but Steed could very well have felt intimidated.
"Very well," Neesby said, handing Steed a card. "Come tomorrow, at 11:00 a.m., sharp. I abhor tardiness."

Steed took the card. At the top it boldly declared "Expert Entomologist," then listed Neesby's name, his manor's name and address, and telephone number underneath. A bee poised ready to strike decorated a corner of the card.
Steed nodded his head in thanks. "I'll be there on the dot. Thank you."

Steed spent the rest of the evening in normal conversation with a non-kicking Emma at his side. Neesby didn't stay too long, so Steed was glad he had acted sooner than later. Although there was still more fluttering in his stomach than usual, it was easy for Steed to channel it to the investigation and make it perfectly acceptable to him.

At some point Steed pulled Purdey and Gambit over, and while munching the goose pate on crackers Purdey carried on a silver tray, he explained his interaction with Neesby and the appointment he had established with him for the next day. He directed them to go together as well in the morning, hiding their car near the house, and then spreading out in individual surveillance on the property. All three of them would have radios.

Steed and Emma left the party not long after that. Uninterested in driving all the way back to London, only to have Steed have to drive the two hours back up tomorrow, they had a reservation waiting for them at a hotel room in Nottingham. They had a nightcap in the pub area, and then retired to their hotel room where in the large king sized bed they snuggled and kissed for awhile. After a long embrace, Emma draped her arm and leg over Steed's body, using his chest for a pillow, and fell asleep. Steed was consoled by caressing his hand along Emma's back, feeling each vertebrae, the muscles over her ribs, the dip in the small of her back. He should have moved his wife off of him, but the weight of her limp body, warmly laying over him, put a welcomed damper on his shaking. He wasn't too keen on falling asleep, anyway; he'd had quite two months of negative feedback regarding that in the form of nasty dreams. But, even still, the lack of sleep over the last two months and the long, pleasant day took their toll on Steed's energy levels and before he knew it his eyelids closed and he entered the realm of Morpheus.

Thunder, broken doors, bullets. Steed couldn't get away from the Germans holding his arms and he twisted forward, back, sideways, struggling to free his arms before they killed Vivian…he cried out in his efforts, trying to pull his arms clear, ignoring the rifle butts hitting him again and again…

"Steed! Steed! Wake up! For God's sake, wake up!" Emma's words and jostling yanked him out of his dream, but he was startled and confused and sat up looking about in fear, sweating and disgusted with himself, his breath ragged, his heart pounding. The bed had been torn about by his thrashing and Emma sat up with her hand on his shoulder, looking at him full of concern. Steed closed his eyes shutting out the sight of his wife and wished he could just as easily shut his mind from the sight of the nightmare.

"Steed? My God, the way you were rolling about and screaming 'No!'; it was terrible. I'm sure anyone in the room next to us was woken up. What were you dreaming about?"

What were you dreaming about? The hated question that worsened everything.
"Nothing. It's not important. Just go back to sleep," he said, getting out of bed and padded to the bathroom where he washed his face with cold water and drank a full glass. Although he was far from Hal's home, maybe a walk, even in the drizzling rain, would be best. Get some exercise, some fresh air, and clear his head. Steed lifted his head up and saw his reflection in the mirror. His hair was sticking out all over, his face was drawn, eyes had dark circles under them, his beard was already showing. His pupils started to descend to study his chest, but Steed pulled them back up above his collarbone. There were things beneath the collarbone he didn't want to see.

He left the bathroom and put his bathrobe on. Emma was still sitting in the bed, but when she saw Steed stand at the window surveying a view of the hotel parking lot and the road beyond it, she climbed out from under the sheets and covers she had rearranged. She put on her robe, crossed the room and stood next to him, her hand grasping his.

"Steed. Tell me what you dreamed. Please. You can trust me. I know your past. You've nothing to hide from me."
Was it chilly in the room? Steed couldn't stop trembling. He said nothing, not knowing what to say. He released his hand from hers and ran it through his hair.
"Emma, no. I…it's…no. Please just go back to bed." His throat was so tight it seemed to be compressed to the width of a twig.
"I don't want to go back to bed while you stand here until dawn, losing another night of sleep, making you that much more tired. Tomorrow you'll have to face some dangerous criminal type on only four hours of sleep. That concerns me. This all concerns me. Steed, I hate you waking up yelling and thrashing about. And I don't understand why you just can't tell me what your dreams are about anymore. We share so many things, why can't we just share this?"

Steed heard her words through an emotional film of shame, anger, and guilt, that distorted what she said into an unreasonable demand upon him. Her relentless fascination with his dreams; her ill-feigned reference to his still working. If she would just leave him alone for awhile, he could complete Ritual Number Two and let the dream go. For tonight anyway. That would have to be good enough.
Once more he didn't speak, until the silence between them grew as large as a world-cracking chasm.

"Steed? Talk to me."
He shook his head back and forth. "No. Just go back to bed."
Emma threw up her arms. "Fine!" she yelled. "Fine! Stand here all night. Have nightmares every night. Yawn while some criminal you're after shoots you. Why should I care? Be obstinate. Be silent. Never get a good night's sleep again! What's it to me? When you wake me up scrambling out of bed in terror, I'll just ignore you and go back to sleep. Then we'll both be happy!" Emma would have kept up her disjointed tirade if she hadn't burst into tears and fallen into a chair resting her face on her hands.

Steed had never been the recipient of Emma's wrath before; he didn't know if she was so upset because of her pregnancy or because of him. It was probably a mixture of both, he decided. Steed came to her and knelt in front of her. "Emma, stop crying. Everything will be okay."

Her anger reasserted itself and she lifted her head up, her cheeks moist with tears. "Don't you understand? You are slowly falling apart. You can't sleep. You have constant nightmares. You're shaking all the time. You're haunted by something that you won't share. And you refuse to stop working. Nothing is okay, and nothing will be okay until you get some help. Preferably before you get killed. What is the matter with you? Why won't you talk to me?"

Steed stood up. Her words echoed in him, pinging through his mind like the ricochet of a bullet. He had the inclination to deny each of her statements one by one, but he knew most of them were true. Instead he just defended himself against the last lines of her blunt and pointed speech.

"You married me knowing there were some things I don't talk about. It's just who I am. I fail to see why you should expect me to change now."
Emma stood up, tears still falling, and stomped into the bathroom. "Right! Then just go and get yourself killed, you bloody, stubborn, sleepless fool!" The door slammed after her.

Steed stood in the empty room, quiet except for the sound of his wife crying behind the bathroom door. He was motionless; a man of action not knowing what to do. Her words had hurt, but he was clear-headed enough to realize they merely highlighted her concerns for him than any real judgment of him. A wave of panic flooded him and he had the neurotic compulsion to leave the room, run away. He looked down at his hands; they were visibly shaking. He looked at the door, with the thin streak of light slipping out onto the carpeting at the bottom. He wanted to go to Emma, hold her, kiss her, but he feared her asking him again about his dream.

Steed dressed quickly, suit and coat thrown on carelessly, devoid of all his usual sartorial care about his appearance. His insides falling down into his feet, he stood in front of the bathroom door, put his hands on it, and leaning forward, said loudly, "Emma, I love you." Before she could answer, he left the hotel room, left the building, and spent two hours walking in the damp rain all along the city roads and then out into the countryside. Eventually he was able to let the dream go, and eventually his fatigue wore down his hyperactive nerves and his shaking lessened. There was only one thing he couldn't stop thinking about, and that was Emma saying "You are slowly falling apart."

He couldn't disagree. Maybe, maybe he should go speak with Dr. Silver about this shaking, the anxiety, his endless dreams; but the risk there was removal from active agent status. Steed felt somewhat trapped, he had no clear options to choose; he couldn't talk about his dream, he couldn't stop working, he couldn't talk to Dr. Silver, or his wife… his lovely, perfect wife. He hated how he was aggravating Emma causing such strife in their relationship, but was as equally frustrated with her continual nagging of him. However, what he hated most of all was how such a wonderful day between the two of them had ended in the worst of all possible manners. An argument, and a door slammed between them.

Steed returned to the hotel so tired he seemed to be carrying a two hundred pound sack of potatoes on his back. He felt the shaking try to reassert itself as he crossed the threshold into their room, but he was so exhausted that it made little impact on him. He hung up his sopping wet coat and bowler in the closet and removed his shoes as he walked to the bed, where Emma lay, on her side facing away from his side of the bed, slumbering, still clutching a piece of tissue paper that she had used to dab her weepy eyes. Steed undressed to his briefs and climbed into bed, wanting to touch Emma, but not wanting to wake her. He scooted over next to her, stopping an inch or two from her body and lay on his back, allowing his hand to just lightly brush against her thigh. In a minute he was asleep, and it was blessedly dreamless.

Chapter 16

Emma Steed sat by the window in their hotel room in her bathrobe and slippers, her legs bent up and enclosed by her arms. She'd woken early, unusual since her pregnancy as an extra need for sleep had developed in the last months, but her unhappy mind had interrupted her slumber, waking her up in a weepy and irritated mood. She hated the fact that she had become so emotional lately, even though she understood it to be a common trait of pregnancy; yet the loss of control bothered her. Running away sobbing into a hotel bathroom was not exactly how she viewed her CEO self, nor did dressing down her the managing director at a board meeting last week exactly endear her to her coworkers at Knight Industries. But, she would deal with her tempers at work on her own. It was her company, and if she as boss had a bad day, people would just have to adapt to her. Even when she wasn't in perfect control there, she was still the controlling force of the company. It was very different, though, dealing with Steed. She wasn't in control with him, didn't have control, and she hated it lately as much as she loved him.

It was rather calming looking out a window at the world, in some sort of master observer role, not really feeling a part of it but appreciating the gifts of nature and wondering about the lives of the other people who passed within her sight, what were their struggles, what were their triumphs. She pondered how many of them were haunted by nightmares, by their pasts; how many of them woke up sweating and screaming on a regular basis. As did her husband Steed.

Emma remembered the very first time once she had been sleeping with Steed and he had a nightmare; the way Steed, so insouciant, gentle, amiable, charming and self-assured in his waking life, had twisted and turned in the bed, calling out in fear, lost in a traumatizing terror such that she knew she had never experienced, frightening her so much she hadn't even been able to move to shake him awake. When he had come bursting out of sleep like a bullet shot from a gun, sitting up, wild-eyed, searching the room for whatever horror had cowered him in his subconscious, his carotid artery visibly pounding out from his neck, she had been paralyzed by his cry, by his emotional repetition of whatever horrible event he was remembering from his hidden and painful past.

After a minute passed Steed had realized where he was and, worse, who he was with. He had looked at her out the corners of his eyes, anxiety and embarrassment obscuring his normally handsome face. She had whispered "Steed?," and then placed an awkward hand on his shoulder, watching him turn away from her and close his eyes, clench his teeth, and then climb out of bed, going into the bathroom when she had heard the water from the faucet run for a little bit.

He had come back out and put on his bathrobe and then walked to the window of his bedroom, standing at the window which held the sight of the empty and windswept street.
"Steed?" she had asked again.
Hands in his pockets he had said, "Sorry to have woken you up, Emma. Just go back to sleep. I'll be gone for a few hours, but I'll be back later this morning."
"But where are you going? What was the dream about?"
The silence of the sky between the lightning and the thunder --threatening, tense.
"I have these dreams sometimes. I go and train afterwards. It's nothing. Just go back to sleep."

His tone was succinct, terse, final. Although she hadn't known Steed that long, just long enough to know she wanted to know him so much better, she understood at that moment that his dreams, like his scars, both evil twins in Steed's personality, were a subject that he would not be forthcoming about. She had heard the lid slam closed on the topic as Steed's bathrobe rustled with him sitting in a chair. Her urge to get out of bed and go to him had been held in check by the invisible thick wall she could feel divided them.

"If you ever want to talk about them…," she had said.
The silence of a land emptied by a plague --haunted, chilling.
"Thank you, but no. They just… pass. Please, really, go back to bed."
It was so similar to the time she had first asked about his scars. When she had first learned of his silences. He still had those silences.

She had learned that the dreams passed each individual night, but not in any healing collective manner. They came, more often than anyone could possibly be expected to have to suffer through them, and night by night Steed let them go, aware that they would come back, like a wounded tiger, madder and nastier than before. Once or twice a month, sometimes a few times more, there they were, for a few minutes taking Steed's suave self and blowing it to pieces in the chaos of his unconscious. Steed took it all without complaint, having the dreams be as much a part of his life as brushing his teeth, and matching his bowler to his suit. Neither had made it an issue, and each had become used to them in their own individual ways. For as long as Emma had been with Steed, now five and a half years total, that had worked for him and them.

It wasn't working anymore. Not for Steed, getting so exhausted, so nervous, hardly eating, too obstinate to realize he needed some help from someone. And not for her, so worried about him, so hurt by his inability to share with her about his dreams, his scars, so fed up with his damned silences, his unknown past, hating the dissension that had, for the first time she had had known, crept into their relationship like a cobra spitting poison in their eyes, blinding them to figuring out how to solve this problem.

Emma felt out of control of the situation and very helpless; emotions that she so rarely experienced, rarely faced in life. She was intelligent, sharp, capable; so used to being the leader, so used to defining her circumstances and conforming them to her designs and ideas with little or no opposition, or at least no opposition she wasn't able to effortlessly overcome.

However, Steed wasn't conforming to her designs at all. So stuck in patterns that forged a clamp over his lips from the steel in his tortuous past. What experiences he had had that made up the bulk of his nightmares she could guess… abuse, torture, shootings… but it seemed to Emma that underneath the thick crust of all those horrific events in his past, lay the molten core of some unknown incident that was burbling and gurgling in his psyche. Which had been released in the last seven weeks for some reason and was spreading the hot, dangerous liquid all throughout his body and mind. Causing his nervousness. Causing the dreams.

Why now? He had escaped from those youths. He was healthy and back at work. She was pregnant with their child. Things should be going so well for them; what associations with those recent occurrences had triggered Steed into imploding so drastically? He knew, she was sure of it. On some level, Steed knew. She hoped he would tell her before he was killed at work, before he had a complete breakdown, before things just got too intolerable for her and she was forced to act…S he was not used to being a passive observer of situations that bothered her --in fact, it was the epitome of all she was not-- and she knew at some point, if things didn't improve, she would reach her limit and do something, whatever she reasoned would work, no matter how drastic, to cure Steed and return their marriage to the idyllic state it usually exemplified. She would have to do something.

The alarm clock on Steed's night table went off and Emma turned to see Steed put his hand on the clock and pat around it, clumsily trying to find the switch to turn off the alarm. After almost knocking the clock to the floor, he hit the correct button and the beeping stopped. Emma could palpably sense the tiredness in him with his slow, heavy pushing of himself onto his back, his arms flopping to his sides, his eyes still closed. He brushed his hands through his thick brown hair, then reached his arm to Emma's side of the bed, waving it over where she normally would have been laying. He opened his eyes at the realization she wasn't by his side and turned to blink several times before catching her by the window.

"Good morning," he said to her.
"Good morning," she answered back.
"Been up long?"

Emma watched him sit up, studying his body rippling through its movements. Steed had a beautiful body, even in his middle age and Emma never stopped marveling at it, its functionality, its sensuality. Tall, stocky with a lean edge and without any fat, the round bulges of his triceps and biceps were evident as he used his arms to elevate his torso, his stomach muscles constricted in vertical and horizontal lines, his pectorals were ribbons of strength on his flanks, and the clean lines of his thigh muscles lifting his legs up and over the side of the bed belonged in a picture book of artistic perfection. Mostly where Emma's eyes gazed, though, were the complex of scars interrupting and disfiguring the easy flow of his unblemished skin, otherwise free of moles, warts, and other unsightly growths.

Emma mentally catalogued Steed's scars: the new one from the bullet shot by Eldon, thick, running along in-between two middle ribs on his left side; three long thin white wounds in the center of his chest; the slightly reddish scar running horizontally under his rib cages across his abdomen; the "VS" burns, probably from a cigarette, in his upper right chest above the nipple; a narrow bracelet of raised tissue around each wrist; numerous six-inch welt-like scars on his upper back, evidence to Emma that at some point Steed had, of all things, suffered a flogging at someone's hands; various scars on his legs; and last, either puckered holes or short thicker cicatrices indicating bullets wounds, scattered randomly over his body --arms, shoulder, abdomen and back, legs.

His scars --the result of thirty years of working for the government in numerous capacities. They were the ugliest things Emma had ever seen, and although she had spent years being intrigued by them, now she was truly beginning to see them as the usurpers of her loving relationship with her dear, wonderful husband. She was beginning to hate them.

Steed stood up, wobbling a bit until he spread his arms out widely and stretched his whole body, Emma avidly noticed that his arch backwards accentuated and outlined the ample bulge in his briefs. Whether he did that deliberately, and Emma knew that might indeed have been his intention, or whether it was just a bonus view as her husband honestly needed to get his blood flowing and muscles limber to aid his waking, she didn't know. She didn't mind, either.

After he recoiled to normal form, Steed padded over to her yawning and sat down beside Emma, leaning forward to kiss her lightly.
"Are you still mad at me?" he asked, taking her hand in his.

Emma ignored her body's moistening as Steed sat so close to her, the full view of his very fit body, the hidden view of his very rapturous genitals, his terribly mussed hair, and his slight male odor emanating to her erotically. They had things to discuss, and getting lost in sex would detract from the importance of their divided loyalties, him to his privacy, her to his sharing. She focused on the darkish circles around his eyes, proof of his lack of sleep, to lessen her sexual response to him.

"I'm not mad at you. I wasn't mad at you last night. Just frustrated and hurt. And, yes, truthfully, I still am feeling those emotions. I don't understand what is going on with you, and I don't like it at all."

Steed sat back in his chair, silent, his jaw clenching briefly and, Emma noticed, his hands beginning to shake mildly. He gripped his chair arms to stop the trembling, Emma deduced.
"I'm sorry, Emma. I don't like… I don't want you to be upset…"
"But…" she said, a bit sarcastically, pouring salt into their fresh and raw wound, and mad at herself for doing so.

Suddenly, her idea of having sex with him changed to the exact opposite view. Steed, she thought, take me to the bed and make love to me. Bring us together perfectly as our love-making can do; matching us as two merged as one --like the sun in the sky, the land meeting the horizon, the sea rolling up to the shore. Two as one… not this, this two as separate two. Two continents, two solar systems, similar but so far apart, so distant. Make us one. It would merely be a bandage over a gaping gash, but what a healing, loving bandage…

Emma knew that Steed would respond if she initiated sex, but she held herself back, needing him to come to her, at least in this, if not with his dreams, his past.
Instead, Steed stood up, kissed the top of her head and said, "But… there's nothing I can do about it right now, love." He squeezed her shoulders, kneading the muscles for a moment or two and then crossed to the bathroom, closing the door. Soon she heard the shower running.

Join him in the shower, Emma, a voice inside her pleaded, the pregnant voice, the voice last summer when she had told Constance and the others that she and Steed never argued. Yet she stayed sitting, loathing the fact that things had progressed too far for her to just wipe it all away by the glorious joy of guiding Steed inside her.

She stayed at the window. Steed came out of the steamy bathroom, a towel wrapped around his trim waist. He dressed quickly.
"Would you like to join me for a cup or two of coffee in the restaurant?" he asked.
"Or four or five, Steed?" she replied, still sitting facing out the window. He had taken to drinking a great deal of coffee to keep himself going throughout the day. This was the first time she mentioned she had noticed.
"Or four or five. Though, you're drinking tea, now, aren't you? I'll call for room service, if you want. That way you wouldn't have to get dressed yet."

Her pregnant stomach was a bit nauseous for some food yet she didn't want to make the two of them suffer through more of this interminable discomfort. "No, thank you. I'm not ready for some tea."
A pause. Then words spoken stiffly, "Right. Then I'll just go to the restaurant and be off to work. I'll see you later."

Work! He was going off to work, his dangerous work; he could die, never come back, and she wasn't even looking at him… Before Emma knew it she had leapt from the chair and spun around to Steed, who was reaching for his bowler and brolly.
"Steed!" she began, and then the words mercifully died and their eyes shined radiant laser beams of love through the empty space between them, their hearts beat at the exact same rhythm, and before either was aware of directing their feet to move they were already in each other's arms, hugging so tightly neither could breathe.
"Oh, God, I love you. Take care. Come back to me," Emma begged him.
"I will. I will. I love you," he said.
A kiss, another hug, another kiss, rebuilding the bridge of affection between them, and then he was gone.
I should have joined him in the shower, Emma chastised herself, as soon as Steed closed the door behind him.

Sometimes Ministry cases were tremendously difficult, and took forever to come to a head, weeks, months, and sometimes they were simple and traveled at light speed. Steed drove the mileage the earl's country house, confident that his partners had split up as directed to reconnoiter the manor from different positions. As Steed traveled his anxiety was channeled into the case, his hand shaking minimal and not any sort of physical impediment. He met Lord Neesby at his mansion and after a cup of tea he was taken to the laboratory where he examined all the insects and bugs and scientific paraphernalia, commenting as eruditely as possible from his study of insects under the able care of Research. Steed was introduced to Rawlins, a rather slippery character, dressed in jeans, and leather jacket, ex-Air Force pilot, and apparent aide de camp to Lord Neesby, an odd choice given Rawlins obvious lower class origins.

When the phone rang and both Neesby and Rawlins left the laboratory, Steed wandered about quickly. He opened doors, entered rooms, found a walnut paneled study with two walls full of books and magazines from floor to ceiling, went to the desk putting his bowler and umbrella on top of it, broke the lock of the middle drawer with the sturdy letter opener, found several notebooks, opened them up, and skimmed through multiple pages reading enough to clearly discover Neesby's diabolical master plan. Flipping from explanation to chart and graph, Steed shook his head back and forth as it became apparent that Neesby intended to use his specially bred insects to inject a parasite into all the edible animals of Britain, and then in the world, which would excrete a toxin causing fatal deformities in any human to develop when those infected animals and their offspring were eaten. Steed saw the earlier research experiments that had been performed first on carnivorous animals, foxes and cats, before Neesby had been able to purify his tests to make a toxin that would just affect humans. Steed, soon to become a father himself, was outraged when upon further skimming he learned that Neesby was doing this to promote his pathological ideal of vegetarianism. Steed looked at the books and magazines on the shelves, many supporting the cause of vegetarianism.
It was times like this that Steed wondered if some insanity-inducing chemical was indeed in the water supply of Britain, attacking a few susceptible persons and turning them completely barking mad. He knew England was associated with eccentricity, but sometimes, people were just plain ridiculous.

Given the time he had spent reading the journals, and the tickle at the back of his neck, Steed was not surprised when Rawlins and Neesby caught him in the study, Rawlins aiming a rifle at him.
"I thought you were a suspicious character, Mr. Steed," Neesby growled.
"You should talk," Steed answered.
"Are you with the government, perhaps? Interested in my little plan? You can't stop me, none of you."
"Oh, well, I hope you don't mind if we give it the old college try, anyway," Steed said.
"I do mind," he replied.

Neesby motioned to Rawlins to shoot, giving Steed a clearly telegraphed signal to dive under the desk as the gun went off. He grabbed hold of the wooden legs of the chair and then stood throwing it at the ex-pilot. A second bullet hit the chair, and Steed leapt over the desk and engaged Rawlins in hand to hand combat, holding onto the long barrel of the gun as he surprised Rawlins with his strength and twisted the weapon out of the man's hands. He knocked Rawlins on the temple with the butt of the rifle; Rawlins sprawled back out of the room. He turned to Neesby and was greeted by a forceful vapor spraying out of an aerosol can Neesby held in his hand. Mace. The acrid mist struck his eyes and nose and Steed stumbled back into the bookcase, having the presence of mind to hold tightly to the rifle, but otherwise incapacitated by the noxious fumes. He sank to his hands and knees, his forehead almost touching the floor, his eyes watering uncontrollably, barely able to breathe, his nose running, his throat burning and constricting.

He managed to lift up the rifle from the floor and blindly fired off several shots, desperately hoping that would keep the men away from him while he was entirely unable to protect himself in any other manner. He was relieved to hear footsteps running away from him down the hallway, and was able to catch the word, "helicopter." Steed knew he had to radio Purdey and Gambit, but he couldn't talk, his whole head and throat was filled with mucous and tears, the tears irritating the skin as they flowed down his face. He gagged and gurgled, wiping the moisture pouring out of his eyes away with his sleeves, and just waited for the chemical to clear his system. It was the first time Steed had ever been maced and he prayed it was his last. It was worse than being hit with a club. It took twenty-five immobile minutes of misery for Steed to be able to crawl up the bookshelves to a standing position, his eyes red as a stoplight, his nose congested from swelling, his throat raw, sore and hoarse.

He put on his bowler and grabbed his umbrella, then moved through the house as he croaked into the radio informing Purdey and Gambit of the situation, telling them to capture Neesby when they saw him leave. They radio'd back that they had seen him just leave the estate with another fellow, taking horses from the stable and riding off in back of the mansion; there was no helicopter near the mansion that they had noticed. They had been carrying large duffal bags. Steed darted through the house, found the glass doors leading to the back lawn, and ran through them to the stable just a fifty yards from the house. He ran inside it and finding one horse left he saddled it in less than two minutes. Throwing his bowler to the ground he took off riding at a gallop through the drizzly rain. The horse was a stallion and undaunted by the damp weather or wet ground, its long and stable strides optimized by Steed's masterful control of its gait. Steed, leaning forward into the wind of the chase, turned around and was pleased to see Purdey and Gambit following him in their car, driving over the mostly empty lawn leaving tire tracks, and then following him into a large open field of low grasses. The land was bumpy though, and the car had to slow down losing some ground to Steed and his stallion, which sprinted over the uneven dirt as if he was running a race track at Ascot Downs.

Steed noticed a great brick enclosure at the far end of the field, remarkable for its lack of a formal roof; only a huge tarpaulin covered the top. As Steed urged the horse on faster, he saw the tarp being rolled to one end and was sure that Neesby's helicopter was in there. That would explain his need of Rawlins. The building was certainly large enough to store a helicopter.

Steed was aware that he could just call the Air Force himself, use his high ranking Ministry status to have them follow and bring down Neesby, but something in him wouldn't allow him to just stop his involvement in the case now. Something in him felt a peculiar sense of comfort with the fear he felt pushing the stallion over dangerous ground, as he intended to face the two men solely on his own again, with no weapon but his umbrella sword whilst they might be armed with another rifle. This was where his anxiousness fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, this was where he was allowed to shake a little, was allowed to feel trepidation.
As Steed approached the enclosure he heard the beginning whirring of the helicopter blades. He slowed the horse abruptly with a taut pull on the reins, leaving it to feed by the other two horses Neesby and Rawlins had ridden. He leapt from the saddle, pulled his sword from his umbrella dropping the empty shaft behind him and ran carelessly into the enclosure.

Purdey had been partnered with Steed and Gambit for just about four years. While she was friends with Gambit, she held Steed in such high esteem, respect, and honor it was unequivocally accompanied by the concurrent feelings of admiration and love. Steed had taken her as a partner, confident in her ability to quickly learn to work on his level, and when she had at first faltered he had, instead of incriminating her, he'd gently and without any seeming aggravation taught her how to excel at her chosen career. He was her hero, she was never ashamed to admit it, that dapper, charming, noble, good, decent, patient, witty man, amazing her both with his hatred of violence and his ability to effectively dispense it when needed. What he masqueraded as indolence was often slow caution; when he allowed villains to think he was effete and harmless he was tensing to strike like a scorpion. He was cunning, astute, experienced, yet did not lord his expertise over his less knowledgeable colleagues. He was infinitely easy to work with, willing to lead and or to follow as the situation demanded. Only one thing ever would make him mad at a fellow agent--recklessness. Recklessness killed individual agents, killed partners, and could even kill civilians. Strategy, caution, and cunning were what he fostered in Ministry agents; not free use of violence, not unnecessarily aggressive tactics against malefactors, and not recklessness.

Therefore, when Purdey and Gambit drove across the bumpy field, shaken as if on "liquify" in a blender, she was stunned to see Steed just dash alone into the building without even hesitating at the door to scan the inside layout of men and weapons. Then, she almost swallowed her tongue when she saw a helicopter rise out of the round brick enclosure a quarter mile from them, a long man hanging off the left landing skid of it. Instead of flying off, the craft spun in circles and zigzagged, attempting to shake the man from his handhold of the thick bar.

"What the hell?…" she said. "My God, Gambit, is that Steed hanging off the helicopter?"
Gambit took his eyes from the rutted dirt of the field and glanced up through the windscreen, his jaw dropping open. "I think it is." Gambit floored the car, not caring if the whole undercarriage fell off piece by piece in the jarring ride.
Purdey grabbed some binoculars out of a case by her feet and was struck dumb by what she saw. It was Steed on the skid of the helicopter, arms wrapped around it, but also, it seemed, holding onto the sword of his umbrella. She espied Neesby standing in the open doorway aiming a can of something at him. Steed was able throw a leg over the skid and twist, thrusting his sword upwards...the helicopter turned and Purdey lost sight of the confrontation.

"Damn!" she cried out. Gambit braked the car at the building and after a five foot slide it came to a halt. They were getting out of the car when they saw a man fall two hundred feet to the earth, striking the thick branch of an old oak tree before tumbling lifelessly to the ground. Purdey felt her heart stop and shrivel to the size of an atom, and the only thing that saved her from falling to her knees in horror was having the helicopter turn around again showing Steed crawling into the small passenger area behind the front pilot seating.

It was then that the craft took off like a missile, flying over the field and over the trees lining the edge five hundred yards away. Suddenly the helicopter made a turn back to the enclosure and then it completed a 360 degree circle and continued flying away from Purdey and Gambit at dangerously decreasing altitudes. About a half mile away, Purdey saw through the binoculars another man fall or leap from the low flying craft and then it disappeared from view and they heard a loud crash. A plume of black smoke rose above the tree line.

Purdey and Gambit stared at each other, and then dove into the car and drive furiously towards the trees; once there, there was no way to drive further through the small woods so they took off running through piles of leaves and between the defoliated birch, beech and larch trees calling out for Steed in their radios.
They cleared the woods in just a few minutes and were stopped by a large pond; on the opposite shore was the wreck of the helicopter, a few small flames flickering in it being slowly put out by the light rain.

"Steed!" Purdey yelled, cupping her hands around her mouth.
"No need to yell, Purdey. Ruins the enjoyable quiet peace of nature," Steed said ten feet to their left. They ran to him as he pulled himself out of the water, using a few bush twigs at the edge of the pond for leverage. "Of course," he continued, "so does a helicopter crashing, but one hopes the rabbits and squirrels didn't suffer too great a fright."

Steed stood soaking wet, a briefcase under his arm, innocently looking at his colleagues. He wrung his handkerchief out and then wiped his face off.
Purdey spoke first. "What the hell was that about, Steed?"
"Why, I was stopping the bad guy, Purdey. It is our job, you know." He glanced at the mangled mess of rudders and metal across the pond, little geysers of water jumping off the water as raindrops fell on it. "Left a bit of a mess, I'm sorry to say."
"Yes, I know it's 'our job,' as you say, but we could just have contacted the air force. You didn't have to risk your neck like you did."
Steed shivered. "The pond is rather chilly. Can we walk back to the car? Gambit, do you mind carrying this case; it's got all the notebooks our dear departed…he is departed, isn't he?…Lord Neesby wrote detailing his very fanatical idea of spreading the sin of vegetarianism."

Purdey gave up, although she would not forget this episode. She had never seen Steed act so recklessly and to do so now, of all times, when he was an expectant father, was entirely unacceptable. Hanging off a helicopter in flight! Purdey didn't like it at all, and she resolved to keep a close eye on Steed in the future.
"Vegetarianism isn't a sin, Steed," she sighed, allowing her happiness at Steed being safe and sound to lift her mood.
"It is so. Number three of the seven deadly ones, after mismatched socks and chewing gum."
Gambit finally spoke. "How did you bring down the helicopter?"
"I convinced the pilot to crash using my diplomatic prowess --I declaimed a lucid thesis on the nutritional value of a tender steak, convincing him of my unimpeachable point of view using the point of my umbrella sword, and a firm neck hold. Luckily I was able to see the pond from up yonder and directed his flight, well, collision path over it, enabling me to bid him adieu before his adieu became final. We should send some Research fellows over to make sure all Lord Neesby's malicious little insects that were being ferried to some other hide-out, probably, have batted their last wingy buzz."
Only Steed could relate a tale like that, Purdey smiled. No wonder Administrations dreaded his reports.

They drove back to Neesby's mansion and Steed, after filling them in on what Neesby had been planning, allowed Purdey and Gambit to organize the Ministry's clean up crew to take care of the smoldering helicopter and all the genetically altered insects, and the dead bodies, while he returned to his hotel room to change clothes.

Emma was reading a physics journal on the made up bed when Steed arrived, dry from the car heater, yet still one large walking wrinkle. However, he was healthy and uninjured, and grinning widely.

Emma stood up seeing him. "Successful day?"
"Successful day," he said, putting his bowler on the dresser. "The right to enjoy a nice chicken breast is once more guaranteed to all the fair citizens of Britain."
Emma knew that Steed wasn't really allowed to share his cases with her, and from the sound of that absurd sentence, she thought it best just to let the comment float off into the walls.
"It looks like you've gotten pretty wet."
"Yes, well, and I would like to get wet once more today, back underneath a nice hot shower. I uh…don't suppose you would be interested in joining me…?"
The view of Steed arching back into a stretch, his genitals pressing out against his cotton briefs… he was back, he was safe… they hadn't talked, he hadn't shared… but, she loved him so much…

"I'm sure I must have missed cleaning one or two spots when I showered earlier," she smirked, flipping the journal to the bed.
"I will ensure that no spots are missed this time," Steed said, removing his tie as he sauntered over to her, his graceful stride illustrating his limber joints. He was so damn sexy, Emma shivered in anticipation as he neared her. He didn't stop as he reached Emma but just kissed her, pushing her back to the wall, inserting his tongue far into her mouth, his hands covering her breasts. Emma unbuttoned his waistcoat and shirt and as she spread them apart Steed reached behind her, unzipping her shapely yellow dress. Steed whipped the dress up and over his wife, and then began pulling Emma over to the bed.

"What about the shower?" she asked.
"Let's make sure we really need one first," Steed murmured, nuzzling her neck as he removed her bra.

They took a very long shower, really needing one, and then drove home.
The rest of the day was very pleasant, defiled only when Steed woke up that night, yelling, his eyes seeing his past, obstinately refusing to tell Emma what he dreamed about as he climbed out of their bed to lose another night of sleep. Emma lay tensed on her side in bed, not liking that at all. Not liking it at all.

continued in part 5

©  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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