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.
Things got worse for Steed after Neesby, and he knew it. It seemed that he found no surcease from his nerves and his internal tension except at his office, or investigating a case. His stomach was in a perpetual knot, and he had unconsciously taken to keeping his hands in his pockets or holding onto to something to hide their shaking. Sometimes he would just stare at his hands as if they were someone else's and had just been transplanted onto his wrists; they were foreign to him, not part of his usual body that he had trained and fashioned into efficient and powerful tools under his stringent command. His hands had become strange appendages with little motors in them he couldn't turn off; he began to wonder if they'd ever stop trembling.
A little over two weeks after the Neesby affair, an even more sleepless Steed, with Purdey and Gambit, were assigned to discover what had happened to four agents who had each gone off investigating a mysterious place near Dartmoor that had been implicated in the disappearance of several children of the aristocracy. None of the agents were ever heard from again. The three had gotten help in their investigation from a vicar of a church near the area who told them of strange doings at Denton Hall, up until six years ago a deserted manor on the northern edge of the moor. Then the manor had been bought by a Mr. Smith, and very secret and extensive renovations gone on inside it; when they were done three years later, people started disappearing, a few here, a few there. Locals at first and then visitors from all over Britain. The agents tracked down a brother of one of the disappeared local people in a pub. He related that he had followed his brother, worried for his welfare after he had received an odd letter in the mail inviting him to visit the house for reasons that would be benefit him financially. His brother had needed the money, so he had gone. The man, in-between chugging shots of whiskey, related he had seen his brother enter a pub in Exeter; he met a stranger there and then was driven to a house near Dartmoor. Once his brother entered it, sheets of steel had covered all the windows and doors and his brother had never come out. He had brought the police there, but some fellow answered the door and denied everything, and his brother had a bit of a police record for theft, and the man's story sounded too fantastical to be true, and the inspector had no evidence and so he didn't do anything. He didn't care.
Steed and Purdey arrived at the large, ivy-covered, grey stone house first --Gambit having checked out another lead-- and as they stood at the innocuous looking wooden front door, it opened on its own. Purdey heard Steed mutter "Remak," a reference she was ignorant about. She had a bad feeling seeing Steed standing so close to the portal and when he drew her attention away to Gambit turning into the gravel drive, she was horrified to hear the door slam closed after Steed walked through it. Purdey darted forward but was met by sheets of steel slamming down over all the windows and doors. She futilely kicked and punched the steel over the door. When Gambit joined her, he had never seen such a mixed look of angst and anger in her eyes.
They called the Ministry, asking Research to dig up information on "Remak," and learned about the booby-trapped building Steed had encountered during his years with Tara King. Hanging up the car phone, they stared at what Steed had carelessly walked into, and Purdey cursed to bring shame to a sailor. They waited for hours, until twilight, more Ministry back-up arriving though as helpless as them to do anything --like blowing a great hole in the wall of the manor with rockets-- for fear of risking injury to Steed inside. Much debate was held trying to figure out what action to take when they were terrified to see the building implode in three great explosions, left side, middle, right side, the stones and tiled roof falling inwards to clump in a deep hole in the ground releasing a mushroom cloud of dirt and smoke into the sky.
After everything had settled, Purdey and Gambit ran to the edge of the deep pit covered in everything from stone to furniture to metal gadgets and were relieved to not see arms and legs added to the catastrophic wreck. At the sound of a creaky hinge, they turned right and saw, about twenty yards away, a boulder being pushed up off the ground by an arm sporting the fine blue linen shirt Steed had worn that day, a flat round disk of ground underneath the large, and apparently fake, rock raising too. The boulder fell over, leaving an opening in the ground, and Purdey and Gambit stared open mouthed as Steed climbed up a ladder coming out of the hole dragging three men behind him, their hands tied behind their backs with rope that was then tied to the main lead Steed pulled them by. A dazed and disoriented youth also came out of the hole, tailing after Steed so closely he bumped into the agent when Steed stopped and saw his colleagues, throwing a brief wave their way.
The Ministry back-up crew spoke briefly to Steed as he handed over the reins of the criminals to them and the perplexed young man, who pointed at Steed and exclaimed over and over, "He saved me! He saved my life! It was crazy in there. Crazy! A panther! He protected me from a panther! And deadly machines! And booby-traps! He saved my life! He saved my life! Deadly machines!... " Steed left the muddled youth as he was having a sleeve rolled up for a tranquilizing shot, and wandered over to Purdey and Gambit, limping a bit on his right leg. He was basically fine though had lost his jacket. He had several claw marks through the back of his right trousers leg slicing into the skin; he had tied his Eton tie around the bleeding wound. There was pitted marks of him having been splattered with some sort of acid which had eaten through his waistcoat and shirt on his right flank. A swollen bruise on his forehead was lightly blue-purple.
"Well, that was--" Steed began, but Purdey cut him off.
"Are you insane, Steed? What was that about? Why would you just enter the house knowing it was so dangerous? I can understand our other agents going in there; they didn't know what it was about. But, you did, and you still went in! Have you developed some sort of death wish? Does Emma know how recklessly you're behaving? What is the matter with you?!"
Steed stared at Purdey; she had never spoken to him like that, and he didn't appreciate it at all. Yet, he was in two minds about her outburst --he had felt so alive in the house, his nerves so properly channeled and focused, his sense of place so right and sure; but, also, he knew deep down that it had been a very stupid thing to do. Reckless. He had put himself in unnecessary danger because lately that was when he felt the best. That by no means made it right.
"Well?" Purdey asked, her hands on her hips.
He looked between Purdey and Gambit, who's eyes, though full of homage were also tinged with disapproval. But he could no more discuss anything with these two people he trusted his life with daily, than he could with his Auntie he had known all his life, or his wife, whom he loved as much as life itself.
"The case is closed," he said. "Someone didn't like the upper crusts, but did like sick games."
"No, it's not bloody closed," Purdey continued. "First the helicopter antics and now this. You haven't forgotten that your wife is pregnant with your child, have you? You do want to be around to see it born, at least, don't you?"
"Purdey, you are over-stepping your bounds," Steed said. It was an odd thing for him to say, to feel; he had never, in over four years of very close partnership grown annoyed with Purdey before, never had had to use his authority over her in such a pointed manner.
"I'm not the one acting like a reckless rookie."
"Enough!" Steed ordered. "In case you missed that lad's display, I did save his life. And I do not have to justify my actions to you." Silence fell between them, the silence in which so many unspoken words are smothered into death. Steed added, though much more quietly and gently, "Alright?"
Feet shuffling and diverted eyes claimed all three. Steed ended the torture of their confrontation by saying, "Gambit, take Purdey back to London. I'll drive by myself."
Steed turned abruptly and left his two colleagues standing upset and a bit lost behind him. On the long drive home Steed relived his feeling of control in the lethal home, how his nerves had settled, how his mind had narrowed into sharp-edged focus, undisturbed by fatigue or nightmares. But, looking back on it he was able to see how reckless his entrance into the house had been. If it had been a momentary impulse, it had been a very dangerous momentary impulse. Yet, again, he had done a good thing, finding and protecting that terrified youth, getting him through all the traps, capturing the engineers who had designed the house to kill off the heirs of the aristocracy one by one, and then activating the bombs to, once more, like Remak, destroy the murderous manor. He had revenged those killed; he had prevented more deaths of innocents. That was what he did.
Couldn't people see how valuable it was to the country, to innocent people, the job that he did? Protecting them from madmen who would kill them, on a homicidal whim. There seemed to be an endless supply of evil men out there developing mutated insects, building houses that kill, breaking down doors in the middle of the night, burning people with cigarettes
He stopped at his apartment in London where he cleaned up and put gauze over his leg where the panther had clawed him as he had shimmied up a rope after the lad. By the time Steed arrived home, near midnight, he looked his dapper self except for his bruised forehead and the exhaustion that had finally caught up with him. After kissing Emma hello, he went to bed immediately. He got almost five hours of sleep before being blasted from the sleep he desperately needed by a nightmare, another nightmare. His endless nightmares.
He was a physical wreck the next day, sore from his exertions and wounds garnered at Denton Hall, fatigued and lethargic from lack of sleep, and once more beginning to feel nervous as Emma hovered over him, asking how his leg and head were.
"Fine," he said, resting on a sofa in their large and spacious living room, his head leaning against the top of it.
"Then why are you limping?"
"The leg's a little stiff, that's all."
"How much sleep did you get last night, Steed?" Emma asked, sitting down next to him.
"I don't know. Five hours."
"And then you had a nightmare?"
"Emma, must you ask all these questions?"
"Yes. Look at you. Exhausted. I wonder if being so terribly fatigued is why you were injured yesterday."
Steed felt like a mountain lay on top of him, pushing him down into the sofa, making it hard to move or breathe. "Emma, a leg scratch and a bruise on my forehead are just minor wounds of no concern whatsoever. Let's not discuss my work, please. It just makes things uncomfortable between us."
"So, then, let's discuss your nightmares."
Steed lifting his head off the sofa and looked at his wife. "Don't do this, Emma," he pleaded.
"Well, what should we discuss then? There's your work, your lack of sleep, your nightmares. We hardly go out lately because you're too tired or just not interested; you've lost five pounds due to a noticeable lessening of your appetite; you are spending more and more time at your office, and less and less with me. Who is doing what to whom, Steed?"
Steed listened to his wife and knew that she was right. The last three months of his life summed up in a four sentence tirade. Emma's words were both accurate and annoying to him; it seemed that everywhere he turned, people were yelling at him. He just wanted to be left alone. Things would pass, things would get better, the nightmares would go away, he'd get more sleep, his nerves would settle down. Wouldn't they? But Steed, as if he was in the engine of a train watching it hurl towards broken track, was beginning to realize that maybe, really, things would not just straighten out on their own. That maybe, just maybe, he was really going to crash.
"Well, Steed?" Emma repeated, just like Purdey had, pushing too soon, he wasn't done thinking, needed more time to figure things out. It was difficult already holding himself together without everyone picking bits of him apart. Work was stressful enough without being able to find some recuperative solitude in the comfort of his home. His mood darkened like an eclipse of the sun, and words came out of his mouth unbidden by his conscious mind.
"Leave me alone," he said.
Emma flew into an outrage. "Leave you alone? You dare say that to me? I happen to be your wife, carrying your child, watching you and our relationship fall to pieces because you just can't talk to me. Me! Who has never given you cause to not trust me. Who has always been there for you."
Wasps flew out of Steed's mouth each carrying a bitter word that painfully stung Emma. "Are you talking about before or after you left me for Peter?"
Emma's mouth dropped open. Whispering, "How could you?" she burst into tears and ran from the room.
There Steed, now you're alone, he told himself, sarcastically. Feel better? He felt appalling. He had just said the most odious thing in his entire life, directed at his wife Emma, that perfect, golden woman who had descended from the stars to gift him with her presence in his empty little life. Steed felt sick, as if he had just crushed a rare bird in his fist. He was filled with regret, believing he had damaged his relationship with Emma as carelessly as some company dumping industrial sludge into a pristine river. If being able to say such terrible things to Emma was the result of his immense fatigue, then it was time to figure out something to do about it. He went after her, finding her in her study, but when he approached his wife she shied away from him.
"Just go to your damn office!" she yelled, the tears still streaming down her face.
Steed stood helpless for a minute and then went, finding a little solace in the Ministry environs. He returned in the early evening carrying flowers, chocolates, and a diamond brooch, accepting the blame for their previous argument, answering a question that made his soul cringe by assuring Emma he didn't hate her for having left him those long years ago. He apologized over and over again, sincerely, earnestly, desperately.
Eventually, Emma dove into his arms, and he held her as if they had been born affixed at the waist. He didn't know how she could feel so right, smell so right, taste so right, and yet things still seemed all so wrong between them.
Steed had another full fledged panic attack when he was at a family gathering celebrating his brother Edward's sixty-fifth birthday two days later. Steed and Edward did not like each other, but since his entire family was attending, Steed and Emma went under the burden of familial obligation. The party was held at the Savoy Hotel, and a few minutes after sampling some hors d'oeuvres Steed experienced a wave of tingling course down him, and as it passed through his whole body became charged with fear. Life-threatening fear; fear that screamed at him if he didn't leave, he would die, or worse, he would lose control, here in the room, in front of everyone, his relatives, the children, Aunt Greta, Emma, he would lose control and do what, he didn't know, scream, hit someone, fight for his life
He went to Aunt Greta and tried to use their interaction as a cornerstone for him to rebuild his equanimity, and it helped, he was able to throw a fence up and keep the fear at bay; but it was there tearing at the wall, clawing the stones into shards, demanding to be set free. Steed spent twenty minutes talking with her, his heart pounding, half of him paying attention to her and responding properly, and half of him constantly adding mortar and new stone to the barrier between him and the rampaging fear.
He had a desperate obsession to go to Whitehall, to his office, as the panic was not relenting. He noticed Auntie Greta stare at him full of curiosity.
She asked "John, you've turned rather pale. Are you well?"
Aunt Greta, with whom he had a favorite aunt-nephew alliance, knew him well. They had had a brief falling out several years ago after his experience in Wales, when he was recuperating, but they had healed that unfortunate rendering of their mutual affection and had, since then, been as close as ever. Steed was not surprised that she had surmised something was not quite right with him. He thought a quick egress from her intuitive sense would be best, and mastering his thirty years expertise of controlling his outward appearance he calmly bowed his excuse to her, and removed himself from her presence. He went to Emma and bent over her ear as she spoke with a couple of second cousins whispering, while pressing the car keys into her palm, "Emma, something came up. I've got to go to the office. See you later at home."
Before Emma had a chance to even turn and ask him to elucidate, Steed was already ten feet away and strolling from the room rudely striding by without acknowledging a few people who raised their arm to signal him over to join their conversation. He took a cab to Whitehall, silently ordering the cab driver to go faster, go faster.
In his office, his small, sparsely decorated office, after the door was closed and locked Steed felt his panic dissolve away, yet this time he was not really that relieved. He sat down in his chair and put his elbows on his desk, resting his forehead in his hands. Something was terribly wrong with him, he could no longer deny it.
Agents lost their nerve all the time, but the odd thing was Steed's nerves when working were fine. What he had apparently lost were his resting nerves.
A very awkward idea came to Steed --that he should go see Dr. Silver. He had never on his own impetus sought advice from a psychiatrist; he had just seen them when such a decision had been mandated to him. After Nee San, after his first dreadful trip into Berlin, after events that were judged to be of a potentially mentally disabling risk factor. He had not ever felt the need to seek counseling on his own.
But now, what could it hurt? There was always the chance he would be demoted from active status, but that took considerable evidence against the agent, and there was none of that. Purdey's accusation of recklessness filtered into his ruminations, but he dismissed them. That wasn't enough to for him to be deactivated.
However, everything else needing addressing somehow. Maybe Dr. Silver could prescribe a gentle sleep aid, something to break the cycle of dreams he had fallen into then he could sleep, not have dreams, the fatigue would go away, his nerves would settle down, and he would never again say something caustic to Emma.
Yes, a sleep aid would be good. That was all he needed. He hated having to do it, and knew it would be difficult for him, but he left his office to seek the basement and the good doctor Dr. Silver.
Dr. Melvin Silver stood by his bookshelf taking a few moments from writing reports on several agents who had come in for their yearly psychiatric evaluations to enjoy rereading a few pages from Freud's "Interpretations of Dreams." A brief sigh of displeasure escaped his lips as he heard someone knock on the doorframe of his open door. He put the book back on the shelf and grabbing his cane hobbled about to face the visitor. It was, of all people, John Steed.
"May I come in, Dr. Silver?" Steed asked, as he slowly entered the room. He shut the door behind him.
Dr. Silver rolled his eyes to the moon. "Steed, please, really, I have enough nuts to feed a thousand squirrels breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a whole month. Do go play your childish games on someone else today. I'm very busy."
The psychiatrist was a bit taken aback when Steed said nothing, just stood there, his face blank. Shockingly lacking his usual witty repartee, Steed simply answered, "I don't have any nuts on me."
The doctor moved to his desk, which he leaned against, folding his arms together. "The boy who cried wolf, eh, Steed? I believe you left three pecans, two in the office, and one in my pocket, the last time you uttered that declaration."
Steed's face remained unreadable. "Look, I know in the past I may have been a bit too over-zealous in making fun of you, but--"
"A bit too over-zealous? Is that what Torquemada said on his deathbed? Sorry, I was a bit too over-zealous about that Inquisition idea?"
Steed's lips curled up in a one second smile that never touched his eyes. Dr. Silver knew that smile; his smile of discomfort. It dawned on the doctor that something important was going on here with Steed, something very important, and he was being a complete dolt about it.
"Right. Sorry to have bothered you, doctor," Steed said as he turned and opened the door.
Dr. Silver grabbed his cane and darted across the room much quicker than one would have expected he could move on his thin and under-developed left leg. Reaching over Steed's arm, he pushed the door back closed.
"Steed," he said quickly, "I'm sorry. Truly sorry. Forget the stupid nuts. Forget my comments. Come on in. Let's have a chat."
Dr. Silver stood by Steed's side, seven inches shorter and two stone lighter than the lean and muscular agent. He had never been this close to Steed, and was amazed to sense the latent power in him underneath his refined and stolid bearing. If Steed wanted to, if he got angry enough, he knew Steed could pick him up by his throat and kill him in seconds. Yet he also knew a more gentle, decent man was hard to find. Dr. Silver marveled at him --What a life the man had lived; what things he had experienced; what growth he had attained; what expertise he had developed; what respect and admiration he fostered. He was, indeed, the best England had to offer. If he needed some sort of help, Dr. Silver would consider it an honor to be the one to offer it.
"Steed, please, come and sit down," he asked again, placing his hand on Steed's solid forearm, Steed's hand still gripping the doorknob.
Steed released the knob, and taking a short yet deep breath turned into the room and began pacing around it. It didn't surprise Dr. Silver that he avoided sitting down, but the psychiatrist was just glad he had stayed. Knowing that Steed would feel better with a little distance between them, Dr. Silver went around his desk, sitting down in his leather reclining chair. With Steed still standing that gave the agent the superior position in the room, which Dr. Silver knew would make whatever he had to say easier. If he would ever say it. Minutes went by with Steed examining the two plants in the room, pulling out, going through, and putting back no less than six different books, then studying the paintings on the wall as if he was going to write a doctoral thesis on the brush strokes, and picking up each little knick knack sprinkled on the bookshelves and the two small tables in the room. Dr. Silver waited patiently; patience was the basis of his work with agents. Besides, there weren't that many items in his office. When Steed finally did run out of diversions, he leaned his strong back against the far wall and spoke.
"A thousand squirrels, you say?" he asked.
Dr. Silver played this game better than anyone. Years of working with agents who hated talking to him made him know all the various ploys they initiated in their roundabout attempts to communicate with him. "Give or take fifty."
Steed nodded to a picture on Dr. Silver's desk. "How's the wife?"
"Very well, thank you. How's Emma?"
Sometimes not showing any emotional response is the equivalent of screaming at the top of one's lungs. Dr. Silver noted Steed's impassive face, the face of someone hiding his feelings.
"She's very well, as well," Steed said.
Dr. Silver decided to call Steed on his obvious prevarication. "No, no, she's not really, is she, Steed?"
Steed pushed himself off the wall and walked back to the books. He took a volume out, thumbing through the pages. "Ah, pictures," he said, before changing the subject. "I've been having a few problems sleeping of late."
"What sort of problems?"
"Oh, waking up. Can't get back to sleep. That sort of thing."
"Are you having nightmares?"
Steed put the book back on the shelf. He glanced around the room finding nothing of interest, and so, resigned, he sat down in one of the chairs facing the psychiatrist. "I wonder if you might prescribe some sleeping pills."
Since Steed had come to Dr. Silver of his own volition, he was not under the same regulations to answer all the questions the doctor asked him. However, anything the agent did say had to be the truth. So, agents not wanting Dr. Silver to know the answer just ignored the inquiry; but, ignoring an inquiry was a very clear response to the astute physician.
Steed yawned, covering his mouth with the back of a hand.
"You are missing sleep, aren't you?" the doctor asked.
Steed shrugged. "Can I have a few pills to try out?"
"Are you having nightmares? I don't just like to hand out prescriptions when I'm not clear as to the problem the pills are trying to solve."
"I always have nightmares. You know that." Steed raised his eyebrows high for emphasis. "I'm infamous for them."
"Yes, but are they happening more frequently than just your usual 1-3 times a month? Are they still occurring nightly?"
Steed glanced toward the door; Dr. Silver changed tactics, not wanting to lose him. It was then that he noticed the subtle shaking of Steed's left hand, which Steed shoved down into his trouser pocket. Steed was in trouble, Dr. Silver was sure of it. Just as he had predicted. He would arrange to talk to Purdey and Gambit later in the week, and maybe ring up Emma himself.
"They are happening," Steed said. "Look, this has been a barrel of laughs, but I think I'll just--"
Dr. Silver wanted to stay on Steed's good side, so he would feel comfortable returning to him.
"I'll give you that prescription," the doctor said quickly. "Just for two weeks, though. If you need more pills than that then I'll want to have a formal session with you, alright? Is that fair?"
Dr. Silver wrote on a prescription pad, then ripped the top sheet off and handed it to Steed as the agent stood up.
"Cheers," Steed said, as he sauntered out the room, swinging his umbrella.
Dr. Silver made a note to contact Purdey and Gambit later that week.
Purdey saved Dr. Silver the phone call. Two days later, a case that had been simmering on the Ministry's back burners for a few months came to a boil, and Steed, Purdey, and Gambit found themselves at the private plane area of Gatwick airport arresting two Palestinian men who had organized terrorist activities in England, Ireland, and a few Mideast countries.
Purdey and Gambit held the men at gunpoint as one of them scoffed that they would never discover the other hiding places of their fellow anarchists; that information would all be blown up in thirty seconds with their plane, and you English pigs would never learn it from them. The terrorist pushed a radio-controlled button tied to his ankle with his other foot, his hands handcuffed behind him. The plane, a Lear Jet, was sitting forty feet away, and as Purdey lamented the loss of that knowledge, and began corralling the men further away from the doomed craft, she saw Steed throw his umbrella and bowler to the ground and take off at a full sprint towards the plane.
"What?--" she said, surprised, then she yelled out, "Steed, no!"
Even Gambit stood aghast, saying, "I don't believe it."
As Purdey clocked him on her watch, Steed ran to the plane, leapt up the stairs and through the open door. A few of the longest seconds of Purdey's life passed as the seconds ticked away and Steed didn't reappear. With only a nerve-wracking six seconds to go, Steed was at the door briefcase in hand, jumping down the steps five at a time. Dashing back towards them, the plane detonated in two tremendous explosions. Steed was still close enough to be lifted up and thrown forward off his feet, hitting the hard cement tarmac on his shoulder and rolling a number of times before coming to a stop on his back, the briefcase skidding away from him.
Purdey was quickly there kneeling over him and as Steed lifted an arm to have her help him stand she reached down and grabbed him by his lapels, lifting him up and shoving him back down to the ground repeatedly in cadence with her angry spewing.
"What do you think you were doing?! Are you insane? Who cares about the stupid terrorists? There will always be more! Have you completely lost your senses? You were almost killed!"
Finally Steed, stunned by his roll on the ground, Purdey's outburst, and her battering him recovered enough to grip her forearms and yank them off his jacket.
"Stop that, Purdey! What are you doing? You're hitting my head on the ground."
She stood up fuming, saying nothing.
Once more Steed held out a hand, "Help me up."
This time Purdey looked at his palm as if he was handing her a bag of rotting garbage, but she roughly helped him to sit and then stand. Steed rubbed the back of his head, grimacing, and there was a little blood on his fingers when he looked at them.
"You're supposed to be on my side," he complained.
"I am on your side, damn it. I just don't think you are any longer."
Steed moved stiffly to the briefcase, rubbing his shoulder, and slowly bent over and picked it up.
"Steed, I'm I'm going to report you."
That got Steed's full attention, and Purdey didn't like the narrowing of his eyes. It drained her of half of her ire, replacing it with feelings of betraying Steed, being intimidated by him, and worst, the sense that she had just contaminated an ideal friendship.
"Report me for what?" Steed asked. "Getting those terrorist locations will be a boon to many countries, and will save a good number of lives. It was a tight race, but I made it, and no one, including myself, was injured."
Purdey ignored his explanation standing her ground against Steed, against a man who had been her lover, against a man she still loved as deeply as she could platonically. If she had to make Steed hate her to prevent him from killing himself in some stupid rash act, then so be it. Something was the matter with him, lately, and she didn't know what it was. She only had his endless coffee drinking and his recklessness as clues, and they would be enough to report him. The end justified the means, however much she had to fight back tears.
"I'm reporting you for recklessness in the line of work."
They stood close to each other, used to the closeness, usually fond of it, usually very comfortable with it, but this time it brought chills to Purdey's skin as she stared at Steed, watching his jaw clench. Neither blinked their eyes.
"As you wish," Steed said, and walked away from her.
Consummate professionals they were, they got the scene taken care and then Steed drove home. Purdey talked to Gambit and he reluctantly agreed to accompany her to see the Ministry's psychiatrist. Dr. Silver was quite surprised to see them show up at his office swearing they had no nuts on them, and then immediately sitting down to talk about Steed.
After they left, Dr. Silver tapped his pencil on his desk a few times. He decided to maintain his recommendation that Steed be active and just wait the two weeks to see if the sleeping pills worked for him. It was fairer to give the man the benefit of the doubt and hope that he was just having a bout of insomnia like everyone did at one time or another, and that it was impairing his judgment a little. After all, he had survived his three close calls, had not brought death to another agent or civilian; it would not stand upon review to remove his active status now. The Heads hated deactivating their agents, and needed unimpeachable evidence to justify it. If Steed came back for more pills, or if he continued to put himself at such life-threatening risks, Dr. Silver committed himself to taking a much more proactive stance in figuring out what was going on with Steed.
Remarkable Steed, he thought. What is going on with you?
The pills didn't work; Steed woke up just the same. Like a tidal wave crashing into a shore, Steed finally became drenched with fatigue. It brushed aside his caffeine intake, ate holes in his bones and muscles, making him weak and unsteady. It seemed the nightmares had filled all the convolutions in his brain, and that no matter what he tried to think, some scene from some nightmare was there --usually the thunder and cigarettes-- lurking in the background, every so often able to jump out and hijack his mind forcing it to go in directions that were far from his normal thoughts. It took all Steed's notable meditative focus to drive the image away, and sometimes he just didn't have the energy to do it, letting the dreadful nightmares transform into dreadful daydreams. He was too tired to go anywhere socially, and had no motivation along those lines anyway. He hadn't trained at Hal's in weeks, and knew that he couldn't afford to slack off like that and maintain any semblance of athletic fitness. He wanted to sleep but the sleep brought nightmares, the nightmares lack of sleep. It was a hopeless circle.
Steed retreated into inveterate silence, spending most of his time either slowly wandering the house, or in a state of complete enervation on the sofa or even laying on their bed. Emma stopped inviting guests over and turned down all invitations that came their way. Things slowed down at the Ministry, but Steed still wanted to go there, still felt better there. But he wasn't feeling that good anywhere.
He was too tired to make love. His anxiousness at home was consistent, and he felt like he was in a pool of quicksand, being slowing pulled under the thick viscous sand, with nothing to grab hold of, no purchase near him to save his life.
Purdey met with Emma for lunch several days later, and told her, without mentioning the classified specifics of the cases, how Steed had been acting. Emma thanked Purdey, hiding her dismay and anger as best as possible, her resolve to act drastically hardened into the steel she was associated with.
Emma came home bristling with irritation, throwing her coat down on a sofa across from Steed on a chair, whipping her gloves on top of it. She stood by Steed, her arms akimbo.
"Steed, we have got to talk, now."
Steed moved to put his hands in his pockets.
"Oh, for goodness sakes, Steed; I know you shake all the time. You've been doing it a month, two, at least. Stop playing games."
He said nothing.
"I know that you've been acting recklessly at work."
Steed perked up at that and sat up straight in his chair. "What do you mean?"
"I mean what I said. You've been careless, reckless, and foolish at work. It's one thing to keep working, to protect the innocent; it's another thing to use it as a sort of modified suicide attempt, don't you agree?"
Steed quickly put the facts together. "Purdey."
Steed frowned. "She shouldn't have told you anything. I haven't hurt myself or anyone else. Just gotten some nasty problems out of the way."
"But, your actions were reckless. You could have been killed."
"Emma, you know by now that I'm a good enough agent to survive dangerous situations. I rarely miss. And I didn't miss any of those three times."
In her growing irritation, Emma blurted out, "You missed with that punch to Craig, enabling him to hit you hard enough he dislocated your jaw. If he had been a professional, you would have been dead."
Steed, who had been looking at Emma, blinked his eyes rapidly as if their fanning motion would blow away the lingering sounds of what Emma had just said, so that he could relegate it solely to his imagination. Emma covered her mouth with her fingers for a couple of seconds, and then, angry, removed them and stared at Steed not denying or apologizing for her admittance of uncovering the supposedly secret events that had occurred to him in Scotland.
While not Emma's intellectual equal, Steed was distinguished for his quick and penetrating mind. "Purdey, as well or Finster?" he asked.
Emma, her backbone battering ram firm, said, "Finster. I knew you wouldn't tell me, so I encouraged him to give me a duplicate report to read."
"Encouraged, hmm? On threat of "
Not asking you to stop working. Which she had done numerous times, feeling justified in breaking her verbal vow. "That's my little secret."
"You know everything about that episode?"
For a second, Steed was her old Steed again. He sat back nodding his head, not fuming at her chicanery, not reprimanding her, just being her understanding, patient, calm, easy-going husband. The only thing that marred her love for him was seeing his trembling hand under the cloth of his pocket.
Emma sat down in the matching chair next to him, holding his arm, her attitude changing from wrath to kindly concern. "Steed, I love you, but this is not working for me. I can't keep competing with your nightmares, your past. I can't hear that you are putting yourself at unnecessary risk at work. You do miss sometimes, especially when tired and weak, both of which are you right now. It makes me frantic knowing that you are accelerating your chances of injury, or worse, by being reckless. I can't just sit by and watch this all occur. Things have to change. I'm not willing to deal with this for much longer." She paused. "We haven't made love in over a week."
He closed his eyes. "I know."
She kissed his forehead. "John, you've got to get some help. Talk to somebody else, if not me. You're stuck in the past and need to get out. I don't know why this has happened now, but you're mired in a rut so deep you can't climb out on your own. Don't you see that?"
It took him an eternity to answer and when he did, it broke Emma's heart. "Yes, I do."
"So then talk to someone."
He turned away from her. "I can't." He covered his face with his hand, "You don't understand. I just can't." She would have gotten mad again if she hadn't seen the wetness in his eyes. So, instead she moved her chair right next to him, and wrapped her arms around him, letting her genius formulate a way to help Steed. Her mind went back to the party where Giles Fitzpatrick has attempted to seduce her; how Steed had jokingly said she might need shock therapy.
She decided it was the very treatment Steed might need himself. Something to shock him back into the present, out of his silent rut, back into their marriage. She began to consider a frightful idea, letting it roll around her analytical and devious mind.
Several nights later Emma woke up to Steed crying out in his sleep, as usual, but this time he said something that chilled her like she had just fallen through the thin layer of ice on a lake into the freezing water underneath.
Steed called out, "Vivian! No! NO!"
He repeated her name and then his eyes opened widely as he came awake. After a few moments he turned to Emma, who was sitting up looking down at him. This might be the key, she thought, a brilliant revelation coming upon her as her vision took in the "VS" on Steed's chest. Could the "V" stand for "Vivian?"
"Who's Vivian?" she asked, softly. "What happened to her?"
She swore she saw Steed's heart actually thump against his chest wall. Then the most disturbing thing Emma ever witnessed in her life happened; Steed staggered out of the bed and stumbled into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. She could hear him vomiting into the toilet bowl.
When it ended, Emma got out of bed and called through the door, "Steed?"
"Go back to bed," he said, he said, hoarsely.
The Motto of their Marriage.
Steed stayed in there a long time, long after the retching stopped, doing what, thinking what, Emma had no idea.
She just knew one thing. She was done with her husband's nightmares, his silences, and his unknown past. She was through being just a passive observer as his health, their relationship, their marriage and their future tumbled down around her. She could bear it no longer and would not just sit idly by, a patient partner in their disintegrating relationship . If Steed couldn't help himself, then she would do what was necessary to fix this situation. She would take over now, and put all the responsibility in her lap.
The next day, as Steed left to train as best he could at Hal's, she called Dr. Silver and Auntie Greta. The three of them met privately for over three hours that afternoon at a restaurant, discussing the entire situation of Steed from all possible angles, trying to decide on the best course of action to initiate. When they were done, and were all in agreement, Emma's decision to leave her husband Steed was all set and ready to go.
His head tilted uncomfortably over onto his right shoulder was the impetus for Steed to awaken aching with fatigue and stiffness, his left neck and upper back muscles spasming. Steed massaged those area as he took in the bleak view of another overcast day seen through the window in his bedroom. February in England was not a holiday playland.
Awoken by a dream around 2:00 a.m., which one he even couldn't remember in his grogginess, he had moved to the window and at some point fallen asleep again during the night in the chair. He felt like he was waking up from a drunken stupor, mentally and physically.
"Emma?" he asked over his shoulder, in a voice like an low off key piano note. When there was no response, Steed scooted the chair around a little until he was able to see the bed. It was empty of her wife. His hands started shaking.
Steed lay back in the chair, rubbing his eyes with his palms for a few seconds until he flopped his arms over the chair arms hanging out to the side. No, not drunk; like he was set on only one-quarter speed.
Pushing himself up out of the chair Steed stood, momentarily a little light-headed, and then walked into the bathroom, standing at "his" sink in the long two sink white marble counter. He stuck his head under the faucet and after running cold water over it, Steed began to feel more alert. Drying his face and hair with a monogrammed towel, Steed looked in the mirror at himself, careful to not let his eyes fall beneath his collarbone: his morning stubble, brown and grey; pale face; dark circles under his eyes; and in his eyes, was it really that obvious that they looked so haunted?
Well, if so, they were only telling the truth. He was haunted. By ghosts from his past.
Too lazy to shower properly, Steed cursorily brushed his hair in place, shaved, and then dressed in dark trousers and heavy dark top. His pants did seem a little loose; maybe Emma was right that he had lost some weight. It would make sense; it was hard to put much food in a stomach that was already so full of nerves. His appetite had noticeably decreased.
Steed went down the short curving staircase to the first floor and found his wife, a plateful of toast crumbs and a cup of herbal tea in front of her as she sat in the light airy kitchen reading the newspaper. Emma looked up as he wandered in, and Steed had an uneasy sense that she studied him as if he was an experiment she was researching.
"Good morning," he said, bending down to kiss the top of her head.
"Well, it is morning, anyway. How good, remains to be seen. I made some coffee for you."
Steed saw the coffee pot was full and he poured himself a cup. Emma's greeting had been a little tactless, and it set Steed on edge even more.
"You've already eaten, I see," he said. To make her happy, he popped a piece of whole wheat toast in the toaster. He really wasn't very interested in food.
"Yes. It's 9:00 a.m. I've been up a couple of hours and still get a touch of nausea if I don't eat early."
A touch of nausea because she was pregnant with their child.
"Have you thought of any names, by the way?" Steed asked leaning against the kitchen counter, stifling a yawn with his hand as silently as he could but, unfortunately, as if Emma was equipped with fatigue radar she turned to him at that exact moment and noticed it.
"Well, if it's a boy, I've thought about 'John Steven.' You know as a memorial to his father, who was killed in the line of duty at work before he was born. Whether from recklessness or fatigue the Ministry investigators never really discerned."
Ouch. What little appetite Steed thought he'd be able to muster to get the bread down was replaced by the spear of her verbal attack entering his guts. The toaster popped up and he ignored the warmed bread.
"That was rather nasty, Emma," he said.
"Do you think so?" she asked turning back to her paper. "Or just realistic? It's been three months since you've had a decent night's sleep. And you haven't asked the Ministry for a medical leave of absence; which you could do, if you wanted to. If you had the sense to." She paused, substituting her verbal knives and arrows for a nuclear attack she casually launched at Steed. "If it's a girl, we could name her 'Vivian.' That's a pretty name."
For a moment, an old case of theirs entered Steed's shocked mind; when they had encountered those Duplicates being made by an off-branch research unit under the Ministry of Defense. It came to him that Emma had been replaced by a Duplicate of herself over-night; his wife, so wonderful, so dear, so loving, would never ever have said something so awful to him. So very, frightfully awful.
But, she had.
A riot of emotions ran destructively through Steed, setting fire to his composure, shattering his reserve into shards. Uttering some inarticulate sound he fled the kitchen for his study, closing the door behind him and guzzling a large glass of scotch as his morning repast, which he forcefully threw against a paneled wall when he was done drinking. That calmed Steed down a little, and when he was able to pick his way through all the shame, guilt, rage, disbelief, confusion, horror and the other feelings parading inside him like hoodlums looking for trouble, when he was able to push all those aside what lay at the end, at the back, at the core, was his dismay at how cruel Emma had been to him. The idea of her being so upset at him that she would talk to him like that filled Steed with angst. Had he driven her that far away from him? It couldn't just be her unstable moods as a result of her pregnancy. He must have driven her that far away.
He hadn't told her who Vivian was. She had not brought up Vivian's name again after his incident of two nights past. Vivian, whose name he had unforgivably spoken in his sleep, whose name Emma had heard, and had so sweetly and softly enquired about. The shame had come erupting up out of him at her question, and he was thankful only for the fact that he had made it to the toilet in time. But, what a dreadful thing for him to say what a dreadful mystery for Emma what a dreadful thing for her to say
Everything was spinning way out of control.
Steed knew that Emma was far too intelligent to not have connected the "V" marking his chest was the "V" of Vivian; the fact he was sure she intuited that made it feel like a hundred weasels were running around inside him she must know how disturbing that name was to him.
So, to insouciantly suggest they name their child after her he had never experienced the brutal pain that words could impart, till now. He wasn't really angry at Emma, he just shuddered at the idea that his recent behavior had been so disturbing to Emma it had brought forth such crass and hurtful statements.
There was a knock on his study door. "Steed?"
He downed a bit more scotch in a second glass,
and then crossed the room and opened the door. Emma, beautiful Emma, her cheeks a bit rosy in her pregnancy, her auburn hair the color of a summer sunset, stood there, sorrow in her eyes.
"Steed, I'm sorry," she said. "I'm just not handling this whole mess well anymore. That just came out of me inexcusably."
"Not so inexcusably I suppose," Steed qualified. Her eyes softened at his allowance of her previous vitriolic statement.
"Steed, you're the man of action hereabouts. What are you or we going to do about this?"
Do. Do something, Steed. That's what you are, who you are, what you do. He opened his mouth to start sharing about Vivian, to tell his wife of his past, and it was as if his vocal cords solidified into thick cables; he couldn't move them, couldn't make them work. He could feel his lips conforming themselves to the words that needed to be spoken, but nothing could come out. He closed his eyes and after a full breath opened them to the face of his wife, his love, his anchor.
"I don't know what to do," he said.
"That's not acceptable, anymore," she said.
"So what are you going to do?"
He stood there, helpless.
They spent some time apart, and then Steed found her sitting on one of the sofas in the morning room at the back of the house. He sat down beside her, holding her hand; she neither pulled her hand away, nor seemed to welcome his touch. They sat without speaking, hearing the patter of the rain against the windows, yet there was a perceptibly distance between them that kept their lips from touching, and their hands from exploring. Steed glanced over to Emma here and there and saw she was off in her head, deeply thinking. After a half hour, the phone rang and Emma stood up and walked over to it picking the receiver up. From the conversation, Steed could perceive it was Auntie Greta calling them to invite them to visit her at her cottage in Cornwall. Emma accepted for them both, ignoring Steed's head shaking back and forth, and his pouting frown once the phone was hung up.
"I don't really want to go all the way to Cornwall," he said, nodding toward the window showing them the grey, windy, rainy day outside.
Emma shrugged. "You don't have to. I'll call her back and tell her you can't make it. I think it'll be a nice change of pace for me, at least."
"But, I'm not too keen on you being there and me being here."
"What difference does it make, lately? Besides, you told me you wanted to be left alone a few weeks ago. I'm sure you still feel that way, don't you? Maybe this would be good for both of us for awhile."
Steed studied Emma and wasn't too at ease with what he saw; a petulant stance, an edgy look. "Look, I've said some things recently that I shouldn't have. I deeply regret that. I really don't want us to be apart."
Emma spoke softly, her voice tinged with regret. "Steed, face it, we're apart already. I hate to say it, but it's true. At least Auntie Greta can hold a conversation with me." Suddenly her manner stiffened and she poured acid on Steed. "Think of all the quiet time you'll have to nap on the sofa, with no one to bother you when you wake up from a nightmare, badgering you to explain it. And no one from whom you'll have to hide your shaking hands."
Vicious. That was the word that came to Steed's mind, and it hurt. Her words were turning more and more mean-spirited as the morning wore on, and Steed grew defensive. "Then go."
Emma stared down at him, arms folded, her loose top scrunched between her forearms and her chest. "I will. Will you be going as well?"
"It sounds like you'd rather just be solely with Auntie Greta."
Emma sat down next to him again, putting her hand on his thigh. "I'd rather have you share your dreams with me. Tell me about your scars. Stop being reckless at work. I'd rather have our marriage be the way it was three months ago. That's what I'd rather. I'm telling you, Steed, how much longer is this going to go on?"
Steed said nothing.
Emma waited a minute and then the room, her last words being, "I'm packing and going."
Steed sat immobile on the sofa, thoroughly chastised. He couldn't fault Emma for her attitude, or her words, however much they lacked finesse, subtly, and gentleness. Maybe if she had a couple of days alone with Auntie Greta she would regain her equanimity, and maybe he would what? You would what, Steed, he asked himself. Stop having dreams? Stop being nervous?
It wouldn't happen. Nothing would change. He was, as she had said, stuck in a rut, and he didn't know how to get out; what sort of ladder could he use to climb out? He had no idea. If he could just tell her, tell someone but every time he wanted to, every time she looked at him across the room, every time he was stupid enough to tell her to just go back to bed, every time he opened up his mouth to speak --and he had tried to, over and over again he had tried to-- he froze, paralyzed by the same shame, guilt and anger that had plagued him his whole life, turning him mute, turning him helpless, turning Emma away.
Yet, he dreaded being in the house without her. Even if he hadn't been able to show it, her presence was still the brightest star in his sky, a breath of fresh air in his stagnant hole. He may have been lax in telling her how beautiful she was, even when she was just sitting and painting; how sweet she smelled, even after practicing yoga; how much he loved and needed her even though he left her side and their bed nightly to languish in his private, unknown angst; but the feelings were still there, still true, still deep. He hated the idea of them being separated.
Steed didn't begrudge Emma her intransigence, nor her biting words. He knew he had been very difficult to live with, knew that she had tried to aide him in so many ways, and understood her frustration and aggravation with him. The fact that she was more emotionally labile because she was pregnant was understandable, too. Steed couldn't fault Emma for the changes that were occurring in her as a result of carrying the blessing they shared. If he could only find some key to unlock his lips, to cover-up the shame, guilt, anger that guarded his past like Cerberus guarded the gates of Hell but what that key would be, he had no idea.
Maybe it would be better for Emma to go away alone for a couple of days. She got on quite well with Auntie Greta, who, at seventy-three, was one of his dwindling numbers of surviving aunts. Auntie Greta had a lovely flat in London, not far from where Emma had once lived in Primrose Hill, but kept the cottage in Cornwall as a retreat for herself, friends, and relatives. She could be found there at any time of year, depending on when her whims brought her to that western shore of England. Tall and thin, like many Steed women, she was nonetheless robust and very opinionated and forthright. Steed sighed. It would be a better environment for Emma; all this stress couldn't be good for the baby to experience either.
Emma came down from their bedroom a half hour later, carrying two large suitcases, and a carryall. She was dressed in a more practical and warmer outfit of trousers and long sleeve shirt with a wool sweater over it, and comfortable walking shoes. Very oddly, Steed's danger tickle acted up at the sight of her, and he scratched his neck to stop it.
"Quite a lot of luggage, that, for just a couple of days in Cornwall," he commented.
"One never knows what the weather will be like," Emma answered.
His tickle acted up again. Rubbing his neck, Steed looked out the square window again to the large and beautifully landscaped back lawn. The pretty white curtains draping the window lay in direct contrast to the gloom outside. It was England, it was winter, what changes in weather was Emma expecting?
"I imagine you could leave your shorts and bikini at home," he smiled.
"Yes, well, have you decided if you are coming with me?" Emma asked, sitting down next to him on the sofa.
"I think maybe it would be best for you to spend some time with Auntie Greta alone. I fear I wouldn't be such good company. How long do you think you'll be away?"
That tickle. Steed rubbed his neck back and forth against the top of the sofa.
"What are you doing?" Emma asked, her tone gentle, her caring evident. Steed stopped and looked at her, grateful for small favors.
"That danger sensation. It's acting up, oddly enough. I wonder if a cybernaut is lurking around outside. Or maybe there's a leak in the roof."
Emma had the strangest look on her face; Steed found it impossible to read. Her lips pressed together, yet her brown eyes were open and tender. Her eyebrows raised, yet her jaw was solid. Sympathy, anxiousness, determination, a profound mixture of soft and hard expressions, of need and resolve.
"Are you alright, Emma? I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sure there's nothing untoward going on."
Now did her eyes seem to be misting? Did her lower lip quiver just a little? He raised his trembling hand to her cheek and she closed her eyes at his touch.
"Steed," she whispered, leaning over him, opening her eyes and kissing him on his lips, "I love you."
Steed pulled her to him and hugged her tightly, "Emma, I love you, too. So very much. I wish it could always be like this. I'm sorry."
Emma sat up, a thin line of tears flowing from each eye. She wiped her cheeks, and then stood up, running her hands through her hair.
"I better be going," she said.
Definitely more emotional since becoming pregnant, Steed thought. But it's good at moments like this. He stood up.
"Let me carry out your luggage for you," he said.
"No, I can do it."
Steed smiled. "I know you can do it, my dear. That has nothing to do with the fact that I will lose my doctorate degree in Being a Chivalrous Gentleman if I allow you to do so." He reached for the luggage and carried them to the door to the front door, where they both put on coats for the weather. Emma opened an umbrella over both their heads, and they walked to the three car garage, where Steed loaded up the luggage in the boot of Emma's Lotus, as she shook the brolly off and placed it in the car.
"You never said when you'll be back," Steed said.
Emma turned to him. "I I'm not sure yet. At least a few days."
"Well, give the dear old biddy my regards."
They kissed, Emma wrapping her arms fully around Steed, and he eagerly returned her passion. Then just as Steed began to think that he had the energy to lift her on top of the car boot and have his way with her, Emma broke from him, dove into the car, closed the door and drove off in a dash. Steed stood for awhile watching her, his stomach in knots more than usual seeing her depart, his hands shaking visibly, and his neck tickling like a whole hoard of ants was practicing a dance class on his skin.
Steed patrolled the grounds of his homes, checking around the hedges, the bushes, walking through the stables, getting wet and chilly without any sort of hat, but not caring. He searched for an enemy and when he found none, he went back inside the house, shook himself dry and searched every room and the cellar of the house. There was nothing there; everything and everywhere was empty of an opponent, yet he still felt the tickle. With a dread that sickened him and set his heart racing, Steed began thinking that maybe it was the emptiness that was the real danger to him. Maybe that was the real enemy.
The phone rang, breaking Steed out of his thoughts.
"Steed," he said, lifting the receiver to his ear.
"Steed, hello, it's Dr. Silver," the physician said. "I'm afraid I have to ask you to come in and speak with me in a formal session today. I've gotten a few comments about you that I'd like to discuss. Would 1:00 p.m. be alright?"
Steed had been expecting this phone call at some point, guaranteed to make everything worse. He imagined Purdey had told Dr. Silver about his reckless behavior, if she had told Emma. He wondered if Dr. Silver had even spoken to Emma about him. Steed sighed. Dr. Silver was the law at the Ministry. Steed had no ability to disobey his directive, but he didn't have to like it or make it easy for the physician.
"Is this really necessary?" he asked.
"You know it is. 1:00 p.m., I'll be expecting you."
Steed grumbled an acceptance and hung up the phone. It was already near 11:00 a.m., and it took over an hour to get to the Ministry from his country manor. He needed to shower and change from his slacks and sweater into a suit. His darkest blue suit seemed the right color to him; no bright shades today. Actually, he felt like wearing black, but he didn't like the mourning connotation.
He dressed in darkest blue.
At 1:00 p.m. promptly, Steed stood at the open door of Dr. Silver's office. His nerves a wreck, he had no idea how he had managed to drive his Jaguar into town without swerving into a tree or winding up in Edinburgh "by mistake." He dreaded this meeting more than he had dreaded anything since, well, the return of his interrogators in Wales. The only good thing about it was that it had gotten him out of his home, once his haven, once bright with love and joy, and now empty and tomb-like with Emma gone. He hoped she wouldn't be gone for long. But, he could worry about her arrival date later; now he had to worry about himself.
Dr. Silver looked up from his writing at his desk and motioned Steed in. "Come in, Steed. Right on time."
It took another couple of seconds, but Steed finally entered the carpeted office, closing the door behind him. He circled around the back of it like an eagle looking for a mouse to dive down and snatch.
"For heaven's sake, man, have a seat," the good doctor cajoled in a pleasant tone.
Steed smiled a rapid fire smile and then sat down, crossing one leg over the other knee. Holding the bottom of his umbrella, the body of it angled up Steed's torso, the wooden handle sticking up over his shoulder. He kept his bowler on, and hid his left hand in his trouser pocket.
"Steed, you know why I've brought you in here today, don't you?" the doctor began, his hands clasped in front of him on the desk.
"I have an idea."
"I'm sure you do. I've had complaints from Purdey, with Gambit reluctantly, though nonetheless, agreeing with her reports of your recklessness, and I've had a nice long chat with Emma about you as well."
Steed didn't comment.
"Why haven't you come to me on your own accord?"
"For sleeping pills, yes. But not to discuss what has been happening to you."
"You've had nightmares before; as you said, you're 'infamous' for them. But never like this; relentless, constant, debilitating, haunting." Dr. Silver picked up papers from his file. "Turning you into a nervous wreck, by Emma's accounts, and into a reckless daredevil, by Purdey's."
Dr. Silver put the papers down, and adjusted the glasses on his face, pushing them up into place.
"Why should this all happen now? Let's analyze things a little, shall we?"
"What events interposed themselves in your life at the same time, triggering your descent into these months of nightmares?"
"Hmm? Come, come, Steed, help me out here. It's for your benefit, not mine. I'm not the one with the shaking hands."
No comment, and narrowed eyes.
"Alright, allow me to keep my monologue going. Feel free to jump in at anytime. You are kidnapped by people who come out of the blue, attacking you, surprising you, and overtaking you easily. You barely escape with your life. You return home and are told by your wife that she's pregnant. She nudges you to retire, but you refuse to. Not long after that, the dreams begin, with an intensity that has enabled them to take over your entire life, upending it and putting it in terrible turmoil. Correct so far?"
"Ah, Steed, that question I must insist you answer."
"It has a touch of truth about it."
"A touch. Like the 'touch' of Craig's fist against your jaw, perhaps?"
"Very droll, doctor."
"Yes, well, let's go on. As the dreams continue, you start developing clear symptoms of anxiety; your hands shake, your appetite decreases, you're restless. Emma thinks that you feel more comfortable at your office in the Ministry than at home. Is that true?"
That annoying vow. "Yes."
"Alright, we'll come back to that. Tell me, did the anxiety ever escalate into a full fledged panic attack, when you were overcome by unreasonable fears?"
"What did you do to feel better then?"
"Came to my office."
"Interesting. I see." He spent a few moments scribbling things down on a piece of paper.
"And then you started acting recklessly at work. By the way, what does it feel like to hang off the skid of a airborne helicopter?"
"It's a bit windy."
"Yes, yes, I'd think so. Why did you hang from the plane, enter that house alone, run to a plane set to blow up in thirty seconds?"
"It's my job to do so."
"Well, not really. But, I understand your point. It's your job to stop malefactors threatening the peace and security of Great Britain, right?"
"And that is very important to you, right?"
Dr. Silver drifted off into a thought and then like a high power telescope refocused his view onto Steed. "Steed, tell me this. How did you feel when you were acting recklessly?"
"That I was doing the right thing."
"No, that's what you thought. I want to know what you felt? Anger, fear, anxiety, peace ?"
"A little nervous."
"Ah, just like you've been feeling when you've not been at work?"
"No? No how? What does that mean?"
Dr. Silver sighed heavily, took his glasses off and laid them on his desk. Reaching behind him, he grabbed his cane from where it was leaning against the wall, and pushing off the desk, he stood up and began limping around the room. Steed could hear him going back and forth in back of him and then finally the physician sat down in the chair next to Steed. Looking at Steed earnestly, Dr. Silver began to speak.
"Steed, listen to me. I have been working at the Ministry for twenty years; longer than you. Before the Ministry I worked for M16; before M16, for military intelligence. I have spent my whole life, just like you have, working for those agencies that are solely designed to protect the people of our nation from grave and serious harm. If I had two strong legs like you, I would have leapt at the idea of being an agent, an active agent. My God, until I got polio when I was twelve, being a spy was all I thought about. Who knows if I would have been any good, if I would have had the courage, resilience, the mental and physical durability to spend year after year in danger I'll never know. I never had the chance. You did, though, and you've excelled at it. In my own way, I transformed my dream of being an agent into working with active agents, supporting them, helping them to maintain their mental and emotional health so that they could go back out into the world again and again, saving the lives of the people of the country, people who do not even know they exist, or are aware of the incredibly valuable and dangerous work they are doing. And, let me tell you, without becoming maudlin, working in that capacity has made me feel that at least in some way, I am being an active agent of some sort, just like I wanted to be once, by keeping the true heroes strong and healthy.
"I don't know what it is about long-lived active agents; there aren't very many of them. What makes them, you, so able to handle the unimaginable stresses of being an agent? It intrigues me to no end. Killing others, having others try to kill them, being the victim of violence in so many appalling ways, seeing plans fall apart, being betrayed, having fellow agents killed, dealing with the most fanatical of people, over and over again. Truly you and your colleagues are a unique and mysterious group of human beings, oftentimes exhibiting the best that man can be. And when, at times, the stress does get too great, the nerves of steel do bend a little, then I feel honored stepping in and helping agents to heal, process the trauma that eats at them, so that they can return into the fray again at their top form.
"I am proud of what I do, Steed, and damn good at it. But, I need just a little help from the agent I am working with. I need him, or her, to realize I am not the enemy. I am not the threat. Oh, sure, I can recommend an agent be deactivated, but the whole point to my work is to try to ensure that doesn't happen. I never want to do that; I've been hired here to strive to make that the rare Ministry occurrence, not the common one.
"Steed, out of all the innumerable agents I've ever met, analyzed, and worked with over the years, I can say without a doubt that you are the most remarkable of them all to me. I hold you in the highest esteem; I may be so trite as to say I consider you a true hero, in the knightly medieval sense of the word. The kind of man that maybe Earth sees once a century. I need you to understand that no one, and I mean no one, is on your side more than I am. I am begging you to cooperate with me, to talk to me, so I can help you, help ensure that this problem you are having ends, finally and completely ends. You deserve it, your relationship with Emma deserves it, and your country needs it to end."
Throughout the doctor's speech, Steed sat stock still, not giving him eye contact, but evidently raptly listening to his words. When Dr. Silver finished, he patted Steed's immobile forearm and then struggled up and hobbled around his desk, sitting back down in his reclining chair, and placing his cane once more against the wall.
Steed felt conflicting emotions --he couldn't deny being touched by the sincere and revealing disclosure of the doctor, yet he couldn't just wipe away thirty years of silence in one fell swoop. But, he could try to change tactics to work with Dr. Silver as much as his reticent, private self could. A certain little trust had developed in him for the psychiatrist, and trust meant everything to Steed.
Steed took and deep breath and exhaling, said, "About the nervousness. The nervousness at work seems right; the nervousness otherwise feels wrong. Unfocused."
Dr. Silver eyes widened at Steed's more complete explanation. "Thank you, Steed. Thank you very much. So, you are telling me that you feel better at the office, or at work, even being a bit reckless, then being, say, at home, or at a party? And by better, I mean that your nerves, lately always excited, seem to be better served by working, than by trying to relax."
"Alright, I am beginning to clearly understand what is going on here. Very interesting. The only missing piece is your dreams. Am I familiar with all the dreams you have been experiencing these last three months?"
There was that inconvenient vow, but now, it was tempered by the trust he had in the doctor. "All but one."
"Oh? A new dream?"
"A very old one."
"The one that contains 'Vivian?' Dear me, you've gone quite pale. Yes, Emma mentioned your vomiting episode to me. Tell me about that dream."
A vise encircled Steed's throat and squeezed tightly; he couldn't even s
allow, let alone speak. How air got through he didn't know. But, after a minute, he was able to stammer, "I can't." Then, before he could prevent himself from sharing more, Steed added, "That's the problem. I can't. It's locked close. I just can't Not to you, not even to Emma."
"Can you at least tell me when the event in the dream took place?"
He could say that. "During the war."
"But, I have all your war records."
"I never mentioned this to anyone. It wasn't ever recorded."
"You've kept what happened to yourself all these years."
"You've had nightmares about it before, occasionally, but only lately have they come and stayed. Is that correct?"
"And you just can't talk about it."
Steed shook his head back and forth.
"Even though you know that not talking about it has caused immense strife between you and Emma?"
Steed closed his eyes and pursed his lips for a moment. Glancing again at the psychiatrist he covered his mouth with his fist and said, "Even so."
"Steed " Dr. Silver hesitated, "tell me this hmm did something dreadful happen to this woman Vivian which you feel responsible for?"
Steed's heart pounded in his chest. A cricket ball lodged in his throat, gagging him. The room seemed to darken, his vision blackened. He wasn't able to make any word, any sound, but from far away he heard Dr. Silver ask a second, worse question.
"Was Vivian pregnant with your child when the terrible event occurred?"
Steed was on his feet and out the door of the office before he even realized he was moving. He made it to the men's room, and would have vomited if there had been anything in his stomach, but he hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before and only a small meal then. He was pulling himself together by splashing cold water on his face when Dr. Silver entered the bathroom.
"Steed, I'm sorry. Occasionally, I am too good a psychiatrist. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have been a detective, instead. Are you alright?"
Steed stayed bent over the sink, his hands on the side, his straight arms holding him up. Water dripped off his face and beaded in his hair. He stood up, ripped pieces of paper towel from the box containing them and dried his face and hair, all the time avoiding looking at the doctor.
"Is the session over?" he finally asked.
"No," the doctor answered, softly. "Not yet. I'm sorry." The doctor lifted Steed's bowler from off the shelf under the mirror and held it out to him. Steed reluctantly took it and his umbrella, hanging from the shelf.
"After you, doctor," he said.
Back in the office, the two sat silently for a few minutes, the doctor formulating all the information he had gathered into his agile and insightful mind whilst Steed regained his composure. The only sound was the ticking of the clock on the side wall and Dr. Silver turning papers over as he read and reread his file on Steed.
Finally, ten minutes later, Dr. Silver broke the silence. "Steed, there is obviously a connection between what happened to you and uh, the woman during the war, and the set of circumstances that occurred to you lately. Those recent circumstances we know about --you were surprise attacked, almost killed, escaped, came home and discovered your wife is pregnant, and she urged you to retire. That retirement factor threw me for awhile; what impact would that have on you? But, of course, let us say that devoting your life to protecting people, innocent people from, well, forgive the simplistic descriptive, bad people, has been your driving impetus to work ever since the war and the unknown incident involving Vivian occurred. Being asked to stop working, to stop protecting people, when all these other things were occurring in your life was just too much for your subconscious mind. Therefore, it released, from where you had effectively stored it for years, that war-time nightmare, the core reason you are who you are, and do what you do, to create enough unease in you work became an utter necessity. Does that make sense to you? I know it is psychological claptrap, which you hate, but does it make sense to you anyway?"
It was psychological claptrap, and Steed did hate it. He could barely understand it. Yet, from what he could relate to, it seemed that there might be some truth to it. He rubbed his chin with his index finger, "I suppose so "
"Good. Now, I think, all we have to do is get you to share that story, however horrible it is. Purge it from your subconscious so that it can be let go. But that is the problem, eh? What was the term you used? 'Locked.' Very metaphorical. We just have to find the key to unlock it." He paused and his eyes softened like twilight. "I can't even imagine how bad it must have been for you, what happened back then. And you would have been so young."
"Well, let's let that rest for a moment, shall we? Tell me, how is Emma?"
"Only 'okay', eh? Things have been rough between you two lately, haven't they? She was rather upset when she spoke to me."
"Things have been better."
"What did she think of you coming here today?"
"She doesn't know."
"Oh? You didn't tell her?"
"She wasn't there."
"Where is she?"
A pause. "She's gone to visit my aunt in Cornwall for a few days."
"Oh," the doctor said, drawing out the syllable too long for Steed's comfort. "I see."
"You see what?"
"Well, Steed, honestly, I think things are worse between you and Emma than you may realize. Dear me."
Steed's nape began tickling. He wanted to use the end of the handle to scratch his neck, but Dr. Silver knew about his sign of danger and Steed didn't want to give himself away any more than his words did. Since this change of topic, Steed's sense of trust had been shoved aside, replaced with his usual need for absolute privacy. Sharing about himself was one thing; discussing his relationship with his wife was something entirely different. Yet, Dr. Silver's grave manner made his hands tremble.
Steed felt compelled to explain things to Dr. Silver. "I was invited to go, you know, to Cornwall. But chose not to."
"Yes, but you wouldn't be expected to want to go, would you?"
Steed mind seemed concealed in a cloak of dread, and couldn't see through it to comprehend the physician's cryptic interpretation of his and Emma's earlier interaction. "What do you mean?"
"Tell me exactly what happened this morning."
Steed reluctantly did, but only from their time in the morning room until Emma drove off.
"Dear me," the doctor repeated, when Steed was through.
"'Dear me' what?" Steed asked.
"Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Steed, but, I mean, isn't it obvious that Emma has left you? That the invitation to Cornwall was just a ruse to throw you off track and enable her to depart without setting off any warning bells in you that would make it so much more difficult for her to leave? It was all arranged, don't you see? The convenient call from Auntie Greta, Emma's immediate acceptance of the offer, and your expected demurring."
Warning bells. His danger tickle. A gallon of adrenaline was released into Steed's system, and he sat up straight in his chair for the first time since the session had begun.
"You're wrong. You may have some insights into my past, and my nightmares, but you're dead wrong about that."
"Tell me," the physician asked, "what kind of luggage did she take, for merely a few days in Cornwall?"
Luggage. Two large pieces and a carryall. "One never knows what the weather will be like" Steed finished off the implied meaning of Emma's vague sentence in his head-- "if one is going to Paris, or Rome, or Greece, or "
Steed's heart leapt around erratically in his chest. No. She wouldn't leave him. She wouldn't ever leave him. He had been sleepless, silent, curt, reckless, but still, she wouldn't leave him. She wouldn't. Not again She wouldn't leave him again
A voice filtered in through his fevered mind.
He looked at Dr. Silver, his eyes wide in fear. "She wouldn't do that."
"Steed, Emma is pregnant and her husband is not living with her now, happily planning their future together, but he's stuck in the past, living in the past, with another woman she knows nothing about. As a result, he's putting himself at risk and negatively impacting on their relationship on an everyday basis. She has tried reasoning with you, supporting you, yelling at you, crying, just letting you be, and nothing has worked, nothing is getting better. Granted, she's very emotional right now, but, still, such an atmosphere is very traumatic for her and for the growing baby. Steed, I think it's obvious Emma has left you; at least to move in for awhile with your Aunt Greta. But, I fear that was just subterfuge and she actually has intentions of going much further away."
There was not a drop of water in Steed's body; he felt dry as the Sahara, dry as a long dead bone. It made sense --her luggage, her tears, her quick exit, his sense of danger She had left him before and it had not been his fault, just the cursed Fates tearing her away. But, this time, he had to take some blame; even though she had promised, "till death do us part," he had to take a lot of blame.
What was his life without her? Nothing.
What was his work? Nothing.
What was he? Nothing.
The world was nothing without her.
Steed stood up, true and real panic suffusing him. "I have to go," he said, and then was out the door in flash.
If he had bothered to turn around just for a moment, he would have seen a satisfied and contented smile on Dr. Silver's face as he settled back comfortably into his recliner.
London to Bude, Cornwall, a distance of two hundred miles, generally took Steed about three and a half hours to drive, if the traffic flow was amenable to steady progress. Driving now at speeds considerably higher than normal, Steed had every intention of making the trip in under three hours. The worst part was getting out of London itself; every light seemed against him, turning red and cranking up his tension a notch or two. He would have thought that English people would have learned by now how to drive faster in the rain; their cars crawled through the street, and Steed tapped the top of his steering wheel in impatience.
It had been just after two when he had tore open the door of his Jaguar, lunged into the driver's seat and peeled away noisily from the kerb. It took thirty minutes of fighting the city traffic to be out on the highway heading west, and all that time Steed's mind was in chaos: random words surged forward, then veered off to be replaced with other ones. Nightmares, Emma, Subconscious, Leaving, Protecting Country, Surprise Attack, Vivian Pregnant, Emma, Emma leaving, Emma's left you, Steed
By the time he was cruising down the highway at eighty mph, Steed had recovered his clear-headed thoughts and began processing everything he had learned with Dr. Silver. Steed was not very proficient with psychological philosophies or ideology, but he was an intelligent man, and where his intelligence ended, his astute analytical abilities and mental perspicacity stepped in. He reviewed the session he had had with Dr. Silver in his mind several times and then began fitting all the disparate pieces together in a way he could truly understand. He was not a naturally introspective man, but he could do it if he had to. And now he had to.
His experience with Vivian was really quite parallel to what had just come together in his life --the surprise attack (but only on him this time, thank God); the barely escaping with his life; both had caused chest scars, in the same area (Dr. Silver had missed that connection); they had occurred whilst he was living with a woman he loved who was pregnant. It wasn't exactly similar, but it was close enough. And apparently what had tipped him over the nightmare edge was the pressure on him to retire, to give up his work. Work, his obsession, his great need. To expiate his guilt, shame, and anger over being responsible for Vivian's death, he had made it his commitment to prevent as many other deaths as possible. It had been the guiding light of his life; the only light for over thirty years. At Emma's suggestion to have him stop working, with his life coincidences so comparable to what happened during the war that began his obsession, all the shame, guilt, and anger he had hidden for so long just bubbled up from deep inside him, and took over. Drastically. Completely. Making him a nervous, sleepless, reckless, fatigued wreck. Stuck in a rut; his throat locked up with no key in sight. Unable to talk. Unable to share. Just languishing in the past.
Until he had driven his wife away. Killing his relationship with her as effectively as he had killed Vivian; coming a full circle around in ruining what he loved best. Steed had to get her back. Had to get Emma back, redeeming himself this time, redeeming their marriage.
Emma; the key to unlock his muted throat. However much his subconscious had ruled his life these last few months, now his conscious mind was on the case, and his subconscious didn't stand a chance. If it was to be a fight to the death, Steed had the mental strength to overcome real, and subconscious, enemies. Including thirty year old lovers who needed to be finally put to rest. Vivian was long gone, his young love for her was long gone; and he no longer had the need for the shame, anger, and guilt. He had spent his life expiating Vivian's death, and had no further need to prove himself a selfless man.
He only had need for Emma. His true love. His wife.
Steed clenched his jaw and stepped on the pedal a little harder.
He couldn't believe that she had left him. He ran last three months over and over in his head. Had he been that bad, had being with him been that bad? He knew she had been frustrated, angry, annoyed, aggravated and irritated at him; but underneath it all he had seen the love, the caring in her eyes, and her touch had remained so soft. Was it the pregnancy? Or had he really been so awful? Steed knew the latter was much more the implicating factor than the former. But whatever the reasons, she had gone away. Maybe just to Auntie Greta's; she wouldn't go further than that, would she ?
They had said, "till death do us part." He had meant it; they had been the holiest words he had ever spoken. The words of creation --his life with hers, their life together.
His life without her would be nothing.
Passing car after car, surprised yet thankful that no policeman came after him. He was armed with his red card which would save him from a ticket, but didn't want to be stopped from his rushed journey for even a few minutes. Steed drove on to Bude, the windshield wipers ticking away regularly. He did not notice the scenery.
Bude, a seaside resort in northwest Cornwall, was generally a place that Steed very much enjoyed visiting. Known as "the liveliest peace of Cornwall" it was renown for its perfect combination of natural delights exemplified in its rugged coastline and beautiful countryside. Auntie Greta and her husband had purchased a cottage on the north edge of town towards Poughill, the next village up from Bude way back in 1938. After her husband died, and she was left widowed and childless, Steed had spent many a fun day when he was young accompanying her when she left Hertfordshire for the seclusion and majesty of an impeccable view of the Atlantic ocean pounding the shores west of her small yet comfortable home. He had also lived in her cottage for months to finish his recuperation months after being released from the medical clinic following his experience in Nee San, relaxing in the warmth of the salt air and the friendly atmosphere of the town. For the first time in his life, Steed drove up the narrow road to his Auntie's cottage without his usual sense of shedding the travails of the city and his work; his coat of tension was buttoned firmly around him. He arrived at his Auntie Greta's cottage a little after 5:00 p.m., having had to slow down from his 80 mph speed on the narrower roads in the country, and because the rain had worsened, filling the pavement with water.
The cottage was a whitewashed two story building, though the second floor only made up the front half of the cottage, evidently added after the first floor had been completed. It was neat and tidy, with hedges leading up the path to the front door, other bushes all around the front of the house, and a few trees, spindly and bent from the wind coming off the ocean spread here and there on the property. As Steed approached the cottage lights shined out from the whole first floor, visible two hundred feet away as yellow specks of hope illuminating the growing dark. Yet, when Steed pulled into the square graveled patch that made up the parking area, Auntie Greta's Volvo was there, but he was dismayed to see Emma's Lotus absent from the spot. Maybe his mind grasped for options they had gone to town to dinner or, even better, maybe Emma had turned around and gone back home to him
Steed turned the engine off and ran to the front door, opening it up without bothering to knock. Auntie Greta never locked the door.
"Emma?" he yelled out as he came into the living room. He strode throughout the room towards the kitchen. "Emma?" At the entrance he almost bumped right into his Aunt, coming out to greet him, holding a cup of steaming tea, a knitted shawl around her thin shoulders, her long grey hair up in a messy bun.
"John! Hello. You gave me rather a fright there." She leaned forward to kiss his cheek, an old greeting she had performed since he was four. By sheer blind habit, Steed bent towards her and was pecked firmly.
Recovering himself he asked, "Where's Emma? Has she been here?"
"Now, John, after such a long drive, don't you want a nice cup of warming tea? I've just made a pot. And there are some raspberry scones. Store bought, true; I so dislike baking nowadays. But good, nonetheless."
Steed looked at her pointedly. She wasn't a daft old biddy. Eccentric in certain ways, sure --what Steed wasn't?-- yet she wasn't the stereotypical oblivious elder Englishwoman that wouldn't notice if her clothes were on fire as she sat reading a book. She was sharp as a tack. Steed hadn't phoned he was coming. He had just rudely burst in the door calling out for his wife. Auntie Greta knew what was going on. She was stalling. Steed had no time for this.
"Auntie, stop acting this way. Where is Emma? Was she here? Where did she go?"
The old woman, in slacks, tennis shoes, wearing no jewelry at all, motioned to the cushioned rocking chair in the room. It was a favorite chair of Steed's since his childhood, and she had had it recovered just for him to keep using. "Have a seat, John."
"I don't want to sit. Just tell me where Emma is."
Only a few people in the world could command Steed so aptly, and Greta was one of them. Steed sat down in the chair. His aunt sat next to him in her high-backed seat that firmly supported her slightly arthritic back. She put her teacup down on the small wooden table which sprouted a tall lamp out of its middle.
"John " his aunt began, "she's decided to go away for awhile."
Steed turned his head away, and ordered his eyes to stay dry. They didn't comply entirely, but enough that he felt sure that he wouldn't openly weep in front of his aunt.
His aunt continued. "Emma came here very upset. Weeping. Spent half the time declaring her love for you and half the time explaining how unhealthy things were for her and, therefore, for the baby. Told me she had tried everything with you, from being a passive observer, to begging, yelling, and being hurtful, and nothing had snapped you out of your state of mind. Which, by the way, she described to me, and I am quite concerned about."
Steed waved her on. "I'm better. Go on."
"I had a session with Dr. Silver, the psychiatrist at the Ministry today. He helped me to clarify all the turmoil I'd been experiencing. I understand things now. I know I'll be able to talk about what I need to talk about. But, I need Emma to do that. Where is she?"
Auntie Emma hesitated. "Emma went back and forth between staying and going and then, well, I'm sorry to say that she made the decision to leave. She rang a travel agent from here and got a reservation on a plane tonight, leaving from Bristol."
Steed sat forward, his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands. He remained there, shaking his head back and forth. He had let her go once before, and had spent so many years regretting it. He felt the poison of abandonment weaken him, make him sick. Like when he was a child hiding from some imagined monster, he had a brief impulse to just go to bed and pull the covers up over himself for the rest of his life. But this monster was real. And he had grown into a man of action, not a quitter. He was a survivor. And to survive now, he had to go to Emma, convince her not to leave him.
He sat up. "What airline? What flight?"
"You're going after her?"
"I'm going after her."
"I should have known. That's the Steed fighting spirit. Wait one moment, she wrote down that information in the kitchen."
Aunt Greta left the room and was gone longer than Steed would have thought necessary, but maybe Emma had left the information in an unusual area. Steed could hear her talking to herself as she searched; Greta had developed that tendency years ago, after having been a widow for so long. Finally, just when Steed was going to help her look around, his aunt came around the corner, flapping a piece of paper in the air.
"Here it is," she exclaimed.
Steed stood and took it from her; British Airlines, Flight 244, leaving at 7:40 p.m. from Lulsgate Airport in Bristol, going to Paris. Steed looked at his watch; it was 5:25 p.m. Just over two hours to drive one hundred miles in the dark, in the rain, on secondary roads.
He would make it. He had to.
"Gotta go, old girl," he said. His departing reflex kicked in and he leaned forward to receive another peck on his other cheek. Welcome right, good-bye left. Auntie Greta's ritual. She kissed him and he was gone.
Auntie Greta made a quick phone call, and then allowed a broad smile to reach up to her ears.
Steed drove like a demon, actually skidding around a couple of tight corners, until his common sense reasserted itself and he slowed down enough to drive without risk of killing himself. It was odd how as each mile passed, Steed grew more frantic, not less. He glanced down at the clock display in his dashboard every ten seconds.
Emma, he thought, just give me one more chance. I will set the past aside for you; I will make our present and our future my life, not live in a terrible moment thirty years ago. The word "healing" came to mind; it was a bit meretricious for Steed's taste, but he knew it was the phenomenon that was occurring in him, and, he desperately hoped between him and Emma. How she had made the decision to leave him, again, he didn't know; didn't really understand. It hurt him more than anything in life he had gone through; more than Vivian, more than cigarette burns, more than Nee San, more than Wales. More than the first time she had gone and left him in a fetid cesspool of loss.
He had to stop her from going this time. He just wouldn't survive it.
Steed practiced in the car telling the story of Vivian. He opened his mouth, expecting to feel a clamp around his neck, a stone lodged in his throat, but he perceived nothing but his need for Emma, for his wife, to kiss, hold her, and take her home with him.
"Vivian," he said, expecting nausea, expecting shame, anger, guilt, and it was there, still a little, inside him, but it was so overshadowed by his aching desire to see Emma that the old, programmed reaction to telling that story didn't impact on him at all. "Vivian. They shot Vivian to death and it was all my fault."
Nothing. No clamp, no stone. "She was pregnant with our child. I wanted her to stay, and got her killed instead."
He could say it. He had to say it. He knew he would say it. And then what he really needed to say came pouring out of him, in the dark car, on the near empty road. "Emma, I love you. Don't go. Please don't leave me."
Steed arrived at the small airport at 7:05 p.m. He parked in the short term car park and then dashed into the departure area of the airport. Scanning the read-out for British Airways, he found the gate number to the 7:40 p.m. flight to Paris and took off down the concourse, lithely running around people, and leaping over any luggage that lay in his path. He waited in the slow-moving line at the security counter, but when he checked his Rolex and saw it was already 7:18, he pulled out his red card from his wallet, and breaking a major Ministry rule, used it for his own personal benefit. He stepped in front of everyone ahead of him, dodging quickly through the metal detector, holding it up for the security people to see. They let him go through, and when the officer on duty asked him if there was trouble at the airport Steed assured him he could handle it alone and then sprinted off to the gate.
He reached it at 7:29, just in time to see one of the stewardesses preparing to close the door to the tramway leading to the plane. Steed barreled his way through the door to the stewardess's surprise and ran to the plane, leaping through its door.
"Excuse me, sir, but you can't just come barging onto the plane. We're completely full. Do you have a ticket?" the stewardess asked.
Steed looked down the aisle to the seats. She wasn't in first class. "No," he said, beginning to walk towards the coach section. The stewardess grabbed at his shoulder, but he shrugged her off, ignoring her calling to the captain. Steed walked slow and steady to balance out the explosive beating of his heart, and to calm his respiration. He heard solid, heavy feet behind him.
"Excuse me, what do you think you are doing, sir?" a male voice asked. Several more clomping feet came down the aisle. The whole cabin now silent and watching, Steed stopped sweeping his eyes left to right to face the people behind him. He expected the Captain and Navigator, both uniformed and professional, but not two security men. He supposed he hadn't assured the duty officer rigidly enough that he could handle the situation without any help. Steed, not caring at all how much trouble he got in with the Ministry, held up his red card to the four men.
"Government security. Everyone, go back to the cockpit. I'll handle this on my own." His tone and his face make it clear enough that questions were not welcomed.
The men meekly complied. Steed was left alone in the aisle, the hush of a solitary cell settling over the plane. He started walking again, scanning his eyes left and right and there, in row eighteen, aisle seat C, she sat watching him approach, so beautiful, so wide-eyed, so perfect.
Steed came up to her, and all his professional resolve fell away. He hadn't believed it until this moment, until this sight, this truth she had been about to leave him. A brief smile fluttered ineffectively through his lips, like a bird with clipped wings hopelessly trying to soar away.
"Emma " he said, softly, kneeling by her side. He felt his eyes moistening, and blinked them rapidly until they were under better control. "Don't go."
Steed knew he was in public. He knew that as many people as possible were listening in. He greatly disliked being effusive about anything in public, but at that moment it didn't matter. Illegally using his red card didn't matter. Only one thing mattered. The woman in front of him. Convincing her to get off the plane with him. Only that mattered.
"John," she said, careful not to use his last name in public, "I have to. Nothing's changed, and I can't stay with the way it is."
"But something has changed. I have."
She raised her eyebrows at him. "You have? You can talk about things?"
"Yes, yes, I can. I will. Emma, don't go. I need you to stay."
"You'll share with me?"
He nodded. "I'll share."
She smiled, replacing an errant piece of hair back properly on his head. "Then, I'll stay."
Now Steed really had to call upon his long English heritage to maintain his steadfast nature. He stood up, and holding onto Emma's hand helped her to stand. He popped open the overhead compartment and took out her small luggage case.
"After you, madam," he said, gesturing for her to walk first.
She smiled and complied. At the entrance to the plane, one of the security men said, "Do you need us to take over from here?" as he reached for Emma.
Either they hired idiots for the job or the man was so bored at being relegated to a no-risk airport that he wanted anything to be important. Steed stopped the forward movement of his arm with a substantial grasp that the security man sensed could quickly intensify into real pain.
"As I said, I can handle the situation," Steed intoned. He followed Emma out of the plane, the security men following him, rather contrite and disappointed.
Soon Steed and Emma were out of tramway and back in the airport. They stopped off at the British Airway luggage area to report Emma's luggage leaving on a plane she was no longer on, and were assured the cases would be back tomorrow morning, when she could pick them up at her convenience. They left the airport then, not talking much as Steed lead her back to his car. Steed opened the passenger side door first, letting Emma enter, and then closed the door. After he was in, he put the keys in the ignition and went to turn them, when Emma held his hand from doing so.
"First, Steed, tell me about Vivian, about the dream."
"Here? In the car? In the car park?"
"Here, in the car, in the car park."
Close to the airport, Steed finished silently, so that if you can't talk to me, I can just go back in and catch the next flight out
She wouldn't take that flight. Steed took the keys out and put them on the top of the dashboard. It was dark in the car, and rather deserted in the car park, and the rain was merely a light drizzle now. With their coats on, both wearing scarves and gloves, they would stay warm enough in the unheated vehicle. Steed pulled the lever at the bottom of his seat to push his seat back so he had more room and could almost straighten out his legs; it would take a quite a bit of time to tell his story. Emma did the same.
He took hold of her hand, kissed the black leather glove, and then held it on his thigh.
"It's a long story, from start to finish."
She gently pulled his head over to her and kissed him on the lips. "We've got time."
We. We've got time. Never had a plural pronoun sounded so good to Steed.
One deep breath. Then, he began. "I left Eton early, at eighteen, and enlisted in the navy "
He spoke for a couple of hours, mostly in a low monotone, mainly looking straight ahead or at his lap, sometimes turning away from Emma. It was not a very smooth story-telling, like his party anecdotes floated so effortlessly and animated from him. He paused at times, closed his eyes at times, stumbled at times, choked up at times, felt the nausea rising at times; occasionally, the shame, anger and guilt attempted to block him from his relaying his traumatic past. When that happened and he grew silent for too long, Emma was there for him, keeping him on track, keeping the story going. Little by little, she had scooted over until she sat right next to Steed, leaning her head on his shoulder, resting her free hand on his chest, or running it through his thick hair, kindly encouraging him to continue. As much as he was able, he made an effort to share how he felt, explaining his actions as a result of those feelings, the feelings that had never gone away, just been pushed down, and that had finally escaped. He ended his tale as he was travelling to Turkey, still so raw from the war, committing himself to being a master swordsmen, a master fighter, devoting himself to helping and protecting others.
He struggled, successfully, to tell Emma about his session with Dr. Silver, and the insights he had gained from his time with the psychiatrist, the revelation he had had when Dr. Silver had told him she had left him. He told her about his danger tickle when he had seen her with her luggage twelve terrible hours ago.
When it was all over and Steed stopped talking, Emma turned his head until it faced her and whispered, "Thank you, Steed. Thank you so very much. I can't imagine what it was like, going through that war. Your experiences so amazing, courageous, and so very tragic. To have suffered so much at such a young age. My god, to have witnessed her death like that. To have felt responsible. No wonder it has haunted you for so long. I always wondered what drove you so hard. Now I know. Now I understand." She paused, then added, "Sometimes I think you really are too good a man, too kind, too decent, too sensitive even, to have spent a lifetime in the work you do."
"Well, maybe next life, if I have one, I'll be a kindergartner teacher instead. Nap-time always enamored me."
Banter. Steed retreating from the seriousness of the moment with his usual light-hearted ripostes. As much their stamp of affection as their love-making. Emma hugged him, but he didn't hug her back.
She pulled away, and asked, "What's wrong?"
He looked down at his lap. "You you were going to leave me. I never thought you would," and he couldn't keep himself from adding, "again."
"Oh, Steed," she said, tears trailing down her cheeks, "I would never leave you."
He lifted his head and looked at her. "Emma, you were on a flight to Paris."
"Yes, yes, but that was all, well, don't be mad, but it was all a set-up."
Steed grew confused; a rare mental state he patently disliked. "A set-up?"
"Dear God, yes. Steed, you have to understand this; I will never leave you. Ever. Do you remember that morning, the morning of the night you were kidnapped, when I said "I love you even more than that'? It's true. I meant it. I couldn't live without you."
She gently put her hand to his mouth. "Please, let me finish. This was all a plan, shock therapy, devised by Dr. Silver, Auntie Greta and me, to shock you out of that nightmarish rut you were in. To give you a catalyst to open up about that dream that was haunting you, that was making you crazy. We choose to use--"
"Yes. Me. Hoping that with Dr. Silver having an enlightening session with you, combined with the idea that I was --how horrible!-- leaving you, that you, amazing you, would be upset enough to reason through your subconscious with your conscious mind, to keep me here, to keep us together. "
"We had faith that you would be so upset over the thought of me leaving you, that it would pull you out of your rather Pavlovian response to even attempting to share. That the power of your rational mind would be able to supercede you subconscious. And we were right. It worked."
"Yes, apparently it worked." A pause. "Draconian methods, to say the least."
"Yes, but Draconian methods were needed. Don't you see, Steed, nothing else had worked. We kept you moving quickly, giving you enough time to put things together, to process what you needed to, but lending an urgency to the situation that would exacerbate it for you. " She paused. "I think the worst thing of all was having to say all those cruel things to you this morning, setting the stage for you to think I'd actually be upset enough, mad enough, to leave you."
Steed nodded his head. "But, you had purchased a ticket. If I hadn't shown up on time, you would have taken off."
"Yes, but we had everything arranged so that you would show up on time." Emma reached over the back of the seat and pulled her carryall up onto her lap. Opening it she pulled out a handful of tickets, and began to go through them. "6:40 p.m. to JFK; 7:00 to Boston; 7:20 to Dublin; 7:40 to Paris; 8:00 to Amsterdam; 8:20 to Paris; 8:40 to Jersey, 9:00 to Guernsey."
Emma looked up at Steed, smiling, "Don't ever want to wind up in Guernsey, but there aren't that many places to fly to from Bristol. We didn't want to have me go back to London, as you might have passed me on the way to Cornwall, and besides, things would get chaotic in the mobs of Heathrow or Gatwick. We had estimated that it would take about one and a half hours for you to drive from Auntie Greta's to Lulsgate, so Greta had to figure out the flight that was most likely to conform to the one you'd arrive in time to meet, based on when you got to her cottage, and when you decided to leave for the airport. Then she called me, telling me you'd just left. If things got too close, then Dr. Silver had arranged with Administrations to have someone at the airport hold the plane I was on, keep it from departing, if necessary. I put sent my luggage through to further convince you that I actually had decided to fly away. Administrations also arranged it so that you weren't stopped by a policeman on your, we anticipated, extremely hurried drive to Cornwall after your session with Dr. Silver. We even had the Administrations agent come by train, so that he could drive my car back, as we figured I would just go back with you. He already has my keys."
Steed was stunned listening to her. "Quite an operation."
"Well, you're quite a husband, quite a nephew, quite an agent. Everyone wanted this to succeed for you. Everyone needs you to be back to normal. Everyone needs you. Especially me. And it did work. It worked flawlessly. Because of you; your insightful, resilient and powerful mind. Because of us; our love for each other being stronger than a horrid old dream, and an appalling past event that is time was let go. Permanently."
Steed didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.
Emma's hand traveled over Steed face, his torso, his arms, his shoulder. "Steed, are you mad at me? Do you hate me for what I did? For what I put you through?"
He looked at her, and this time let the misting of his eyes occur without trying to stop it. "No. No, I'm not mad. Just very, very grateful. I feel, if I may be so melodramatic, rather purged, borrowing a word from Dr. Silver. Lighter. Free." He opened up his arms and she fell into them, their hugging merging the two of them back into a solid whole.
"Promise me," Steed said, when they relaxed their grips, "that no matter what happens in the future, you will never act like you are going to leave me again. You don't know how much despair I felt. How lost. You were all correct in your assumptions; it was infinitely worse than anything I felt about my past with Vivian.
Emma started crying again. "It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life, bar none. I loathed even the idea of it, but I saw no other way out for you. I promise. Never again."
Finally Steed broke away, and arched into a stretch his arms shooting out behind him. "I am extraordinarily tired of sitting in this car, and am going numb in a certain area of my anatomy. May I take you to a hotel, lovely lady, before the numbness possibly spreads and ruins all my intricate plans for the rest of the evening?"
"I've already set up a reservation for us at The Bristol Arms."
Steed stared at her as he started the car. "I don't suppose you would consider rejoining the Ministry? You are still rife with low cunning, my dear. Either that, or I am much more predictable than I ever imagined myself to be. I dare say you would make the proverbial mincemeat out of any diabolical mastermind who was unlucky enough to wind up your case responsibility."
"No, thank you. I will leave the Ministry to you. I have a baby room to start decorating and furnishing."
He heard clearly, but didn't draw attention to her allowance of him to continue working. "Ah, yes," he said instead, "little Emma, the polo star. She shall need a pink room with horses prancing about the wallpaper."
"No, little John, the astrophysicist. He shall want blue, with books in his crib."
They bantered the whole way to the hotel; it was food for their starving souls, water for their parched love. They never did get back to the airport the next day to pick up Emma's luggage, nor, actually, the day after. Cleaning women raised their eyebrows as the "Do Not Disturb" sign never left their room's door knob in the hotel hallway, and room service waiters fought to deliver food to their room as the tips were frankly outlandish. Between Steed being able to once more experience wonderfully uninterrupted sleep, and Steed and Emma having wonderfully intense sex, they just never managed to leave their hotel room, considering it a sort of two day holiday. Laying in each other's arms, one by one Steed softly told the story of whatever scar on his body Emma ran her finger over, looking at him questioningly. They called both Auntie Greta and Dr. Silver and relayed the success of the stratagem. Dr. Silver assured Steed that he would not be charged with improper use of a red card, a very serious infraction.
When they checked out on the third day, dressed impeccably in the same clothes they had arrived in, it was obvious to the concierge that neither of them had any spent time in their clothes once they had entered their hotel room; and, of course, he was right. They picked up Emma's luggage, and drove back home, where Emma's Lotus was already parked in their three car garage.
Once they were upstairs in their bedroom, Steed put the luggage down and sat on the bed. "Home," he said.
"Home," Emma repeated, sitting next to him.
"Does it seem fresh and new to you as well, or is it just me?"
"It's just you."
Steed kissed her. "I'm sorry I made life so difficult for you."
"It wasn't your fault, Steed. Sometimes I wonder how you've kept your sanity after the life you've lived. Anyone could understand the rearing up of such an nightmare, considering how similar the circumstances were. And remember, it was me who was so insistent on you stopping your work that was the real inciting factor. I should apologize to you."
She emphasized her repentance by kneading him through the zipper of his pants. It took only seconds for him to grow to his full, solid size under her touch. She knelt down in front of him, between his legs, and unbuttoned and unzipped his pants; a little lift to his hips and his trousers and briefs were around his ankles. Holding, caressing, licking, engulfing, sucking his shaft she brought Steed to a stupendous climax, knowing it was just the beginning of another lustful day for the two of them. But, she was wrong.
It was the beginning of a lustful week, where they made love repeatedly in their bed, and when they eventually left it then in the kitchen, the shower, on sofas in the living room and morning room, against the wall of Emma's study, on the desk in Steed's, in the Jacuzzi in their bathroom, in the hay of the stables, over and over again, in all positions, in all ways, until they both cried uncle, finally sore, finally sated, finally so happy again.
It was a testament to the true nature of their compatible and avid love how quickly and easily Steed and Emma reestablished their relationship as a constant expression of the epitome of marital bliss. Steed kept working, Purdey and him as close as ever, and he began, just naturally, and without much thought, to take over more of the managing of the Ministry, assuming the role of vice-Director, as well as still working actively in the field. His hands never shook again. Emma began showing. Steed could not seem to take his hands off her growing tummy, which was fine at home but not at social events. Not so delicate kicks to his shin encouraged Steed to properly differentiate between the appropriate and not-so appropriate times he could hold and touch her abdomen.
They ran into a bit of difficulty deciding how to decorate the large room they choose as their baby's bedroom. Steed thought they should just do exactly one half in pink and horses, and exactly one half in blue and books, but Emma, not yet prone to exhibiting the Steed eccentricity, even though she had married into that odd gene pool, at great length convinced him that a well-meshed admixture of the two colors would look less garish than his suggested clearly demarcated separation. Steed, anathema to anything garish, reluctantly agreed. The room was tastefully wallpapered, and Emma had to stop Steed from buying any and all baby related items he came across when they went shopping together.
"We already have a crib, Steed."
"Maybe we should have a different one for each day of the week. Put a little bit of the traveling spirit in Emma from the get-go."
"John will prefer the security and stability of having just one crib, which he can study and become familiar with, setting him up for a lifetime of research and experimentation."
"John sounds like he will be a rather boring chap, I'm sorry to say."
"Under your guidance, Emma will probably develop into the neighborhood delinquent."
Compromise is the bond of marriage. They bought (only) two cribs. Emma wouldn't have minded all the toys Steed bought and had to store in a whole room, if she didn't find him there himself so often, "Just practicing," kicking the balls around, or juggling them, setting up the army or navy figures into mock battles, or playing with the large and complex train set he had rigged on tables all over the middle of the room. One Saturday, having gone hoarse calling for Steed, she found him --again-- in the toy room, sitting in a chair next to the model train display. Emma entered it shaking her head back and forth.
"Steed, I am only supposed to be giving birth to one child."
"But, look at this train set-up. It's quite fantastic, if I do say so myself. See here, the whole village is laid out. Stores, the pub, houses. Isn't this a pretty little park? Over here, the railroad crossing guard comes down, stopping these cars --look, there's little people in them-- as the train goes by. Now, watch this." With that, he put a car directly on the track that crossed the road disconnecting the wire to the crossing guard. Placing the train on the track, he started it moving and, undeterred, it plowed right into the car, shoving it aside into a tree. The train then progressed around a turn and approached a train draw bridge in the upright position. Steed let it stay up. The approaching train progressed up the bridge an inch or two and then rolled over on its side, falling off the tracks and crashing down four inches onto the painted blue water of the river that coursed around the village model.
"Now," Steed said, "what we have to figure out is why at the same time railroad crossings and bridges are malfunctioning all around Devon. What evil scientist, perhaps an astrophysicist, is wreaking havoc all over the county? The Ministry is called in to investigate."
How or where he got it, Emma had no idea. But, there Steed was, pushing a little 1928 racing green Bentley into the train model town. Bending closer and squinting, she saw one figure seated in it --a bowler hatted man with an umbrella by his side.
"Mrs. Peel, we're needed," Steed grinned, handing her a tiny blue Lotus, being driven by an auburn haired woman wearing a black catsuit.
Emma couldn't help herself. She pulled another chair up and drove her Lotus into the village. Much to Steed's disapproval she was the first to imaginatively figure out how and why the polo player had been controlling all the county's train systems. He was even more upset when she placed his car on the tracks over the road where the other vehicle had been smashed, declaring, "the bad guy knocked you out." As the train approached around the bend, she used her car to gently push his Bentley out of the way at the last minute, saving his life.
"Ah, just like old times," she said as the train roared passed their two metal cars.
"I wasn't always knocked out, you know. You didn't always have to save me," Steed complained.
"That's right, dear," Emma said, patting his hand in a completely patronizing matter, and then seeing his puffed out, insulted face, she burst into laughter.
She beat him with the naval figures at a sea battle, too.
Winter blossomed into a wet then glorious spring followed by a warm and heavenly summer; the country rich with the lush beauty of the burgeoning flora made all the previous rains worthwhile. Trees, bushes, and flowers all came to life. Steed and Emma rode horseback, picnicked, went for long walks, and travelled to France, spending several weeks at Emma's chateau in Libourne. Steed played cricket and polo; Emma maintained her writing and guest lecturing schedule, and also opened up a new computer electronic line at Knight Industries. Steed was active in the Ministry; taking over more directing duties, yet still going out into the field. It was a very busy life, full and productive each in their separate ways, but much sweeter when Steed and Emma were together. Birthdays came and went with loud lawn parties and cakes decorated with innumerable babies.
Steed's nightmares still occurred but less so and with less intensity. When he woke with one, if he had awakened Emma too, at her urging he told her which dream it was. The nightmares waned enough, though, by Emma's seventh month Steed slept with his arm draped over her round stomach not having one bad dream all month. And very rarely after that. It was unbelievable to for him to realize he just slept through the night like, well, normal people. In fact, he had to rework his training schedule to fit it in during his waking hours.
The aristocrat's son he had saved at the house by Dartmoor had been the Duke of Carstar's son, close family friends to the Queen. The Queen requested information on the man who had saved the lad's life, and she was astounded to read of all the innumerable (declassified) services Steed had performed for Great Britain his whole life. As a result of her Majesty's gratitude, Steed was formally knighted Sir John Steed, O.B.E., at the end of Emma's eighth month. He asked for it to be a secret ceremony; although the knighthood touched him deeply, he had no desire to have it be publically known. The Queen, honestly impressed with Steed, respected his wish, and had it arranged as a private affair.
Emma stayed indoors mostly in July, her eighth month, as the heat was too much for her pregnant body to handle. She got a headache and grew weak when in the sun too long. Steed became masterful at whipping up a delicious herbal ice tea drink and would serve it to Emma, wherever she was in the house, on a silver tray with a white cloth over his forearm.
They interviewed twelve nannies before agreeing on one.
Emma went into labor at 6:00 p.m., August 3rd, 1974, and Steed, man of action that he was, took her to the hospital in his Jaguar, not even noticing how fast he was going until Emma warned him that if he didn't slow down, fear for her life would make her have the child right there in the front seat.
Steed slowed down.
It was an uneventful birth, the labor relatively easy and lasting only seven hours. Although Steed loathed being in hospitals, he sat by Emma's side the whole time, which he was told by the head nurse "was not really allowed." Answering, "Is that so?" he stayed exactly where he was, and the glint in his eye, the breadth of his shoulders, and the muscles evident under his clothes, were enough to dissuade anyone else from approaching him on the topic, including Emma's male obstetrician.
When the baby starting coming out, Steed, man of action that he was, grew wide-eyed and very pale. Perspiration broke out on his forehead.
"Uh, maybe I should wait outside," he said to Emma after she finished pushing down once more.
"No, stay," she pleaded, holding his hand.
Steed's heart was pounding, his mouth was dry, he couldn't believe it was happening, a baby was being born, their baby a miracle was occurring in this hospital room. More grunts and groans from Emma, more pushing; Steed wiped the sweat off her forehead, amazed, astounded, in awe
And then, there it was, pink, wet, tiny, crying, it's light brown hair plastered all over it's tiny, crinkled face, it's arms and legs jerking up and down; it was healthy, it was perfect Steed felt like he had left his body and was just two eyes hovering ghostlike in the room, watching a paradise being formed in front of him.
Then Steed, man of action that he was, reincarnated as himself, feeling faint, and having to sit down. Someone put a cup of water in his hand and he drank it down. He heard Emma ask as the baby was washed in a little tub, "Is it a boy or a girl?"
"It's a girl," the doctor grinned, handing the swaddled, crying baby over to Emma. In Emma's arms the baby settled down.
Steed eyebrows rose to his hairline. A baby girl. A little baby girl. He was a father. Of a baby girl.. "Danger tickle wins," he declared to Emma, kissing her cheek. "I knew it. Our polo player. World famous spin bowler. Champion jockey. World traveler--" He wasn't aware of the stares being sent his way by the doctor and nurses.
"Steed, do you want to hold her?" Emma asked, sitting up in the bed.
"Hold her?" he repeated, shocked right out of his insouciance, as if she had ordered him to put on a dress.
"Yes, you know, hold her. Your daughter."
"My daughter," he repeated, softly, the fact finally, truly, sinking into him.
Emma held out the baby to Steed, and he stood up, his arms --arms that had hung from a helicopter, swam the sea, thrown rocks with unerring accuracy-- seemed helpless to him now as he held them out lamely. He was ashamed to admit it, but he mumbled, "I don't know how."
Emma told him what to do as she laid the child in his strong arms. "Keep her head up and supported in the crook of your elbow, that's right, cradle your arm along her body, yes, just like that."
He stood still as a statue, motionless, not daring even to breath, staring at his child, at the fulfillment of a dream birthed in an younger life, a previous life, given up as lost so long ago he had forgotten how important the dream had been to him once. The dream of living with his true love, and of having a child with her, having a family. Shuffled off into the nether regions of his mind for thirty years, now here his dream was, wrapped in white cotton cloth, with microscopic fingernails, and skin as smooth as marble. Here that dream was, resurrected, material and real, a life birthed of his and Emma's love. The importance of all the work that Steed had performed in service to his country for thirty years, all the reasons he had fought to stay alive over and over, to protect his country, paled in comparison to this moment, this child. His life had been lived for this blessing, the love of his wife and his daughter.
Emma laughed at Steed's immobility, snapping him out of his reverie. "Steed, for heaven's sake, relax. Rock your arms a little."
He did, slowly, and was awarded with a lovely little cooing sound coming from the baby. He swung his arms with a bit more confidence and began strolling about the room. When the baby began to cry, though, he panicked and brought her right back to Emma, who held her and, lowering one side of her hospital gown she gave it a breast to suck on, of which the baby avidly partook, her crying ceasing immediately.
"Amazing," Steed said, whispering in Emma's ear. "That always settles me right down, too. Like father, like daughter, I guess." As Emma rolled her eyes, Steed paused for a minute as he watched his daughter feeding. "So, er, since I feel rather overwhelmed from all the emotions of this splendid event, would you mind if I also just " he began to slowly lower the other half of her gown as if to expose her unoccupied bosom whilst his mouth descended near it.
Emma's blushing was noticeable across the room, a red neon light of mortification, and she threw him an exasperated look.
He laughed and pulled his head away, lifting up the bit of gown he had drawn down showing her shoulder. "Not much shin-kicking ability from a hospital bed, eh, my dear?" he further teased her, kissing the top of her head.
"Knock it off," she mumbled to him out of the corner of her mouth, briefly smiling at the nurse watching them with a perturbed look on her face, "or my post-partum loss of libido will last until our daughter is at University."
That got Steed's attention, and his face fell as he responded way too loudly to be anything near a whisper, "What post-partum loss of libido?"
Emma "Shh'd" him as the nurse came to take the baby away to the neonatal area. "Did you decide on a name for her?"
Surprisingly they had. One night in June, they had agreed to act like responsible adults and choose the names for either their upcoming son or their daughter. Emma had bought a couple of books replete with all sorts of names, and they each thumbed through one, slowly turning page after page. Cautioning Steed that they had resolved to treat the matter seriously, Emma had mandated he was unable to offer up "Kasmira" or "Esmeralda" and so forth as suggestions. Steed faithfully complied, a rare concession. Exchanging ideas, it had surprised them both that it had not really been that problematical for them to settle upon the choice of Christian names. They wondered if they were finally getting the hang of concurring about things babyish.
"Yes," Emma said. "Elizabeth Anne Steed."
Steed repeated the name as if he was reciting a sacred litany, "Elizabeth Anne Steed. Elly, for short."
"Beth, for short," Emma corrected.
Steed and Emma grinned at each other. They obviously still had a few other specifics to work out, but they knew that they would spend their wholes lives happily working them out together.
© 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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