The Fire
  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.

Spoiler warning: Story happens right after "Two's a Crowd"

Chapter One

"You could have trusted me!" Emma Peel yelled at Steed, her finger stabbing her own chest for emphasis.
"Yes, I know I could have trusted you, Mrs. Peel; I have done so many times before," Steed answered. "But having you convinced that Webster was real put a great deal more veracity into my pseudo-double's performance, which was needed to uncover PSEV."

It had been a hard case, but enjoyable at the time; Steed had been told to uncover the spy mastermind PSEV who had just made another trip to England, no doubt with nefarious actions in mind. Steed had hatched the idea to create a lower class doppleganger of himself called Webster, which he believed would--and had in fact--attracted the other side into hiring Webster to impersonate himself to gain vital intelligence information. Steed had staged his death using Webster as the murderer, to convince the other side that Webster was trustworthy. He had been entirely successful with the whole plot; all the random threads that could have spelt disaster had been controlled and manipulated masterfully. The four spies who together made up PSEV were uncovered and arrested, quite a feather in his Ministry cap. However, to lend an authentic air to the whole charade, he had chosen to keep Emma Peel, his partner, in the dark about the reality of him being his double. Steed was quickly realizing that his decision to do so had been a very big mistake.

Emma Peel continued her sharp pacing of her living room, until Steed became dizzy watching her.

After PSEV's little plane had bombed their own compound and the four spies were out of commission, Ministry back-up had arrived to begin operational clean-up. Steed and Mrs. Peel had left, going for a ride in Hampstead Heath. There, walking and trotting along the tree-lined lanes, Steed had explained the intricacies of his plan and how he had maneuvered everyone with such finesse into following his outline. Except, that was, for Major Carson, who had been in on the whole scenario with him. Rather proud of himself, Steed had expected Mrs. Peel to ladle praise on him for his ingenuity. Instead she had inexplicably grown increasingly morose, and then at one point suddenly turned around to return to the stables and end their ride prematurely. She had been mutely unresponsive to Steed's earnest attempts to revive her good humor as he drove them to her apartment, and once in her flat had immediately begun venting her outrage at Steed's use of her. It was certainly not the way they usually interacted and Steed was greatly surprised and taken aback; was it the first time Mrs. Peel had actually been truly mad at him in over two years of having her as a partner? Steed didn't like it; it brought up many uncomfortable emotions inside of him. True to form, instead of stopping to
uncover all of them, and realize why they made him so uneasy, he retreated behind his gentlemanly barrier of self-control and casually sat on the sofa, assuming a defensive stance of maddeningly calm detachment, that only served to rile Mrs. Peel even more.

She stopped right in front of Steed, fists firmly planted on slim hips. "This is what I was warned about by Cathy Gale. This is the worst of working with you."
That stung. When had she and Cathy discussed him? Blinking innocently, Steed replied, "Oh, and what, pray tell, is that?"
Emma leaned over him, "You blithely using your partners, without any regard of them. Being secretively manipulative behind their backs, no matter how it affects them. Just focused on the case and being successful no matter what nasty machinations you employ."

Her words bit at his skin like a snake. But, direct confrontation was no longer the way Steed liked to deal with a tempestuous situation; he preferred stepping around it and defusing it. Take a subject and twist it. Turn the topic to a closely related one. Verbal subterfuge. Steed was very good at that generally.
Skipping her references to his actions, Steed asked, "Tell me, do you and Mrs. Gale meet regularly?"
"We've met a few times. She's very informative."

That was news to him, and it sat inside him as well as an intestinal flu bug would have. Who he had been with Cathy was not who he was with Emma; he had made deliberate and concerted efforts to change and had been, he felt, overwhelmingly successful. He didn't really appreciate Cathy putting old views of him into Emma's mind; perhaps he hadn't been close friends with Cathy, but he never expected her to inveigle her way into his relationship with Emma to harm their partnership. And, even if Cathy had chosen that rude and unwelcome course, he was surprised that Emma seemed to place so much emphasis on Cathy's words and not on how he actually behaved when he was with her.

"Well, let's leave Cathy at her museum, where she belongs, shall we?" he said.
"The point here is that you are upset over me not taking you into confidence with my plans."
"That's not the point. The point is your actions were unconscionable. I thought I deserved better than that, but apparently not."
Steed was truly at a loss. "What on earth was so unconscionable?
"If you don't know, far be it from me to tell you. It's a question of trust, Steed, yes, but so much more than that. Consideration, for one thing. I really don't know if I can work with you anymore. I can't stand not being trusted. Nor being callously played with. I could have easily acted as if Webster was a real person; you should have shared your plan with me. I refuse to be manipulated like a puppet for your fun."

Out of all that Emma Peel had just said, not working with him anymore jumped to the forefront of Steed's attention. Steed suddenly took this discussion very seriously. Making amends seemed very pertinent. "Now, now, Mrs. Peel. You weren't a 'puppet for my fun'; you were instrumental in the whole application of my plan. I'm sorry for the way I set-up the investigation to uncover PSEV. It wasn't fair to you, I admit. But, really, this one time is the only time I've done something like that with you. There's no reason for you to mention not being my partner anymore…that's absurd."
"It's not absurd. I think I have a very good reason for doing so. I never imagined you could be so…utterly thoughtless."
"That's just your feminist blood speaking. Yes, it was thoughtless of me to run the operation the way I did. I apologize for that. Now, let me take you to a lovely dinner, in Monte Carlo, to assuage your irritation at me."
Mrs. Peel narrowed her eyes at him in a picture of severe condemnation. "Don't patronize me. I can't believe you still don't get the point."

A brief frown lowered Steed's lips; he took great pride in his ability to quickly unravel unclear situations. Yet, he just couldn't seem to penetrate Emma's focus of irritation nor, therefore, modify her foul mood and return her to her usually amiable, bantering self. Steed didn't like being on the receiving end of a bad position he was failing to turn to his advantage. He didn't like how compressed his gut was becoming.
"What point is that, Mrs. Peel?" he asked softly.

She shook her head back and forth in disdain and disbelief. Steed felt like he was a child back in the third form, who had just related to his disapproving teacher an incorrect answer to a most obvious question.
"Here's a clue," she fairly spat at him. "I was tied up in the radio room this afternoon whilst I was their hostage."
Steed's eyebrows furled upwards in confusion. "But, I tossed the glass into the fireplace, shattering it, to give you a method of escape."
"Missed the point again."

Frustration finally broke free of Steed's English bearing. "Look, do we have to make this so hard? Why don't you just tell dense, obtuse me what exactly you are so very upset about?"
She spoke softly, but with enough acid to cut a hole in the floor. "You bastard. How could you not know?"

Emma Peel intimidated many people, male and female. Very often she affected a rather cool and inaccessible attitude, which, combined with a high intelligence she was not averse to demonstrating, and her somewhat icily temperamental tendencies, often made people stand back and give her all the space she required. Steed had never been intimidated by her previously, but now, with her unprecedented use of an expletive in conversation with him, and her erecting a wall of unforgiving judgment of his actions, he began to feel a certain unease around her he had never experienced before. It was like he was in a plane spinning out of control, and he could not seem to reverse the spiral threatening to crash him down to earth.

He spun his mind as quickly as he could through the clue she had just given him of being tied up in the radio room. The radio room…
"You heard the transmission of my supposed death!" he exclaimed. "That's what's upsetting you so much, isn't it?" Steed leaned back on the sofa resuming his playful air, as he waved a hand about. "I must say that I'm very flattered Mrs. Peel, but don't you think our usual way of ending a case might best express your relief that I am alive, rather than this contretemps?" The usual way being sharing several glasses of champagne and several sessions of passionate love-making.
"No, I don't. Get out."

Even though Emma was standing ten feet away from Steed, he felt like she had just punched him in his chest. He sat forward again, his smooth voice losing a noticeable measure of force. "I'm sorry?"
"I said, 'Get out.' Leave. Depart. Go away. Cathy was right about you; I didn't see it for a while, but now I do. In some ways you haven't really changed at all." She used her head to point to the door of her apartment, her eyes glaring in her resolution.
Steed looked up at her. Suddenly the world seemed to have shrunken down into a very small place, and he disliked and feared enclosed spaces. "Now wait just a minute, Mrs. Peel. Don't you think you're taking this a touch too far? I appreciate your concern over thinking I had been killed but--"
"My concern," she scoffed, repeating his words. "Get out."

He couldn't believe his ears; he couldn't believe this was really happening; he couldn't believe their brilliant relationship was turning so murky, so ugly…
"Really?" he asked, lightly, delicately, as if any more volume would shatter some innate part of his being he was just beginning to realize existed inside him. "But, if you were a bit upset over my supposed death, let's just be happy I'm not, and let it go at that."
"No. It's not that easy, Steed. Now go. Can't you take a hint?"

Steed stood up, tilted his head to the side and said, smiling, "Mrs. Peel…" as he made to approach her but her inflexible stance and look of stern ire kept him back. He held up his hands to her. "Look, I know you're angry, and righteously so--"
"No more talking. No more words. There is nothing more to be said." Her next words rang out as solidly as a carpenter hammering nails into his coffin. "Get. Out."
Their eyes locked onto each other's face; Steed's pleading eyes left her grim visage first and he silently collected his bowler and umbrella. His back to her he put on his hat, angled just so, and tapped it into place. He straightened his shoulders, and then turned and strode to her granite figure.

"Good day, Mrs. Peel," Steed said as he walked past his colleague, his friend. He hoped that in his last glance at Mrs. Peel he'd see a broad smile indicating she had been joking, but her scowl of implacability disheartened him. Without slowing down he opened her door and left her apartment feeling an unfathomable heaviness overcome him, as he left, it seemed, all the lightness in his life behind him.

It was unmapped territory that Steed sailed through over the next couple of weeks, full of warnings reading "Here Be Dragons." He had never had to succor a woman back into his life before. When a relationship grew tempestuous, either he broke up with her or she with him and that was that. He merely went on to some other woman; there were always other women for Steed to meet and bed. But, it was different now. He didn't want to begin dating again, he wanted to get back together with Mrs. Peel. This need to reconnect and resolve their separation was new to him and seemed very important. He took the usual steps he assumed a fellow did in affairs like this, and each one was shot down by Emma with unerring accuracy, frustrating Steed and leaving him confused. He first sent flowers to her and was told by the delivery service that the expensive bouquets had been refused at her door and sent back to the florist. Phone calls he made to her, if answered, ended in her hanging up on him after his cheery hello. Once he even went to her apartment and spent several minutes knocking on her door, imploring her to open it, holding sensibly at bay an urge to use the spare key she had given him to unlock her door and barge in. No doubt she had probably changed the lock, which made him them contain his desire to finagle his way in with his ever present picklocks.

Following five minutes of standing in front of her unmoving portal, he was regaled with an "Excuse me, Sir," from behind and was summarily escorted from the building by the security guard Emma had called. Quite disconcerting.
She didn't want any contact with him.
She didn't even want to talk to him. What had she growled? "No more words. There is nothing more to be said."

His flowing command of language had indeed failed him miserably with Mrs. Peel, then, and he wondered if he would ever get the chance to say anything more to her. It seemed there was a growing world of vital words floating through him he needed to impart to her, even if he couldn't precisely bring them into clarity in his mind.

Steed just couldn't believe it. One hundred times, two hundred times he went over the PSEV case in his head, reworking it with Mrs. Peel being told he was play-acting Webster. He instinctively knew that she could have acted the part of believing he and Webster were two separate people, and repeatedly denigrated himself for not having allowed that scenario to occur. It had been a mere whim on his part to leave her out, to lend veracity to Webster's existence. Nothing more than that. He could have done it with her knowing. He reviewed the case in other ways too, thinking that he could have demanded as Webster that Mrs. Peel be taken from the radio room. He had immediately found the umbrella with the radio transmitter Ambassador Brodny had planted in his umbrella stand when the short, bumbling, but agreeable Russian chap had left his flat after his short visit. He knew they would be listening in for confirmation that Webster had killed Steed and Major Carson. If Mrs. Peel had been moved elsewhere she would not have been privy to so graphically hearing his realistically faked death; that would have allayed her concerns for him. If they had told her he was dead, probably it wouldn't have affected Mrs. Peel that much, having confidence that Steed knew how to survive against even pretty remote odds. She probably would not have been so irked he hadn't trusted her, Steed pondered, if she hadn't heard the gunshots.

Before he could send a fourth batch of flowers and chocolates over a week after she had dissevered their relationship, he was assigned a case in Norfolk and, after receiving another hang-up from Emma, went on it on his own. When it was over three days later he came back to his apartment and celebrated the end of the harrowing case alone, popping a cork out of a bottle of cold champagne whilst he nursed a long, aching swollen bruise in his back, the result of a blow from a club that he would not have gotten if Mrs. Peel had been there watching out for him… Steed didn't begrudge Mrs. Peel her absence, he just missed it, and that seemed to hurt in some ill-defined way more than the purple-blue discoloration of his back. Half his mind told him he would have to adjust to being a solo agent again when it came to fighting miscreants; he had relied on Emma's martial art skills so much in the past he had been caught off-guard from behind. The other half said he had to get her back into his life. That being solo, in life, or on his cases, was much worse then being struck with a club.

He missed her.
It was lonely in his apartment. And Steed, really, had rarely experienced loneliness. For so many years when he had been an agent mainly working overseas, he had needed no one, no one at all, therefore when he had been alone it had been fine by him. When he had taken the post with the Ministry, and created a life mostly spent in England, he had instituted many avenues for socialization that he had regularly enjoyed: his club acquaintances, his many women contacts, his polo and cricket associates, and the multitudinous social events he was frequently invited to that brought him into contact with people he liked and who liked him. He had lived an active, busy professional and personal life that brought him into so many different spheres of life--from the best to the worst--all of which he found very satisfying, and so when he was finally alone in his flat, it was a bit of a haven for him, then, a place to relax, recoup, heal.
Then he had met Emma Peel.

Now being alone in his flat seemed to be a sentence to solitary confinement in some unjust gaol term, and made him feel tense, out of sorts,…wounded. Inside, deep. Where he never had had to probe for an injury before…where there was no way to bandage his pain…where it seemed too far imbedded in him to possibly heal…

Steed paced his flat holding the champagne growing flat in his hand. He could go to his club, attend Colonel Stanford's party, call up any one of a myriad of women who would welcome him back in their life and their bed, even if only for the night. He sighed…all those options seemed a waste of time and energy.

He sat down on his long, square sofa. He couldn't get Mrs. Peel out of his head. She was the only person he really wanted to see, to be with, and coming to that blunt realization was a bit of an shock. When had his life narrowed down so momentously to her? How had that happened? Why was it only now, with her cleaved from him, that he realized how much she meant to him, not just professionally, but personally as well? He had not, he allowed himself honestly to acknowledge, taken Mrs. Peel for granted; he had just, well, assumed, that she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her. Because they were such good partners, because they were so good in bed together, because it felt so good to simply spend time, any sort of time, with each other. It had all been so frivolous, so amiable, so fun; they had been so compatible, so in sync with each other. He had never met anyone who he meshed with so perfectly and so easily. When had it gotten so much more serious than just sharing a good, sexually active friendship? When had she become so important to him? When had she become the whole focus of his thoughts? When had all that happened? How had he not realized it before?

And, now, he couldn't even talk to her. "No more words."
So she had heard his apparent death. Why not then be happy to see him alive?
A certain little nausea arose when he wondered if the worst possible future would unfold and they would never get back together…No, of course they would get back together…it was fatuous to think otherwise…silly…ridiculous…wasn't it?
Steed leaned the nape of his neck over the top of the sofa. The wood border was smoothly cool, like her hand was on his cheek after love-making; he dreaded to think that it was an apt description for her heart as well. He knew the gossip about her from ignorant quarters who were intimidated by and judgmental of her rarefied intelligence, her wealth, her looks, her invisible wall of impenetrability, her CEO competence, her freezing intolerance of stupidity or injustice. Yet, from the first he had seen, touched, sensed a mutual attraction in Emma that had--hadn't it?--lifted them both above the microscopic societal views of who and what Emma Peel truly was, and who and what he truly was.
Which was not Cathy Gale's John Steed.

He had wondered, once or twice--when she lay sleeping curled warmly on his torso, her hand splayed across his abdomen, her foot touching his--if her sleepy words of sweet affection as she dozed off really were the truth. He had never asked her when she was fully awake, but had hoped and believed that maybe it was so. Now, ending their relationship over the first fight they had; what sort of affection was that? He must have been mistaken…he had heard such words from many other women, and they had been meaningless, in reality, too. But, those women had meant nothing to him.

He wondered what he might have ever said to her in that moment when he was the first to mellow into slumber. Engaging in the hardest act of honest, introspective analysis of his feelings over the two weeks Steed had been kept forcefully apart from Mrs. Peel, Steed doubted his phrases would be very different at all from what she had sometimes said. And he knew then he had no cause to doubt the truth of his own mumbled sentiments.

Chapter Two

Steed had another case in Berkshire a week later. It was, like all his usual cases, an odd little mystery that he was able to deduce the answer to in an admirable fashion, though, innately he knew it had taken longer without Emma Peel to aid his ratiocinative abilities. He brought in another male Ministry agent to help him bring the offenders to justice, as two of them had handguns, and by reflex engaged in various quips during the arrest of the four troublesome criminals, which sank like the Titanic on his colleague's ears, and left Steed feeling somewhat foolish. And sad, if he was truthful, as if the whole idea of speech had been soured in his mouth.

When Steed returned to his apartment at 5 Westminster Mews in the early afternoon, he entered and descended the short flight of stairs to the main floor and then, feeling the quiet and the emptiness surrounding him, he turned around with the intention of leaving and going anywhere else where he would have people all around him. He needed to keep his mind active so it didn't dwell on his hated singleness. At that moment the phone rang.

"Steed," he said, picking up the receiver.
"Mr. Steed, I'm so very glad to have reached you," the authoritative voice said. "I'm Deryk McKinney, Senior Financial Executive and board member of Knight Industries. We met last year at the company's Christmas party."
"I remember."
"I'm sorry to bother you, but, if I may be quite blunt, there seems to be a problem with Mrs. Peel."
"Oh?" Steed asked, intrigued. The blatantly idiotic idea that McKinney would say "She misses you" flitted embarrassingly through his head and he shook it to chase the notion away. "What sort of problem?"
"Well, there was a very important planning and investment meeting yesterday afternoon that she didn't show up for, and she missed the quarterly review report today. We've called her apartment several times since this morning and cannot get through."
"Perhaps she's gone on a sudden holiday." Without me, he thought, then added, chastising himself for his juvenile silent comments, Stop it, Steed. Just listen to the man.
"Well, actually, no, she hasn't. We…just received a ransom note. From persons unknown--"
"A ransom note?!" Steed repeated, suddenly totally attentive to the phone call.
"Yes, a ransom note…it says she was abducted her from her flat yesterday morning--"
"--I'll call you from there!" Steed said, and hung-up the phone. Grabbing his umbrella and hat he was out the door in seconds.

He broke every speeding limit on his way to Emma's apartment, skidding to a stop at the entrance to her building without taking the time to properly park his Bentley. He took the lift to the penthouse floor, anxiously tapping the point of his brolly against the floor. When the lift opened, Steed flew down the hall and, inserting his spare key futilely wiggling it, discovered indeed that she had changed her lock--a fact that struck him like a bullet. He dropped the key to the floor, took out his picklocks, bent over and after a few minutes heard the victorious click of the bolts falling into place. Standing up, he opened the door and entered, flipping on the light switch by the door.

The room was in dire disarray.
"Mrs. Peel!" Steed called out urgently, stepping a long leg over a sofa cushion and striding into the room. "Mrs. Peel!"

There was no answer. He checked the bedroom, bathrooms, kitchen and study. He returned to the living room and circled around it, staring at the upturned chairs, the broken knick knacks, the phone off the hook; it was obvious that Mrs. Peel had put up quite a fight against those who had come for her. Steed was fully cognizant that he wasn't the only person adept at picking locks, and assumed that was the way the people had entered her apartment covertly. Steed smirked at the thought of her kidnappers finding out just how dangerous the lithe and slight Mrs. Peel could be… his smile dissolved as he espied the bottom of the wall to his left, on which was smeared a dark red blood stain on the floorboard… and laying on the floor by that awful spot was the broken Murano glass penguin he had bought her on a trip to Venice they had gone on together after their one of their earliest case. The cracked pieces were stained with the same dark blood…

A blow to her head; hard enough to crack the solid glass, hard enough to make her bleed… and fall to the floor, stunned, probably unconscious, helpless prey for those who carried her out somehow… had to be at night… to avoid the stare of neighbors… and to have taken her by surprise… otherwise, she would have used the gun he had given her and which he found, unused, in her study drawer where she kept it…

If he had been any other man he might had needed to sit down, might have felt dull or faint. But, Steed had seen more distressing things in his life than a battalion of soldiers, and so was able to calmly lift the phone up off the floor, put it back together and then when he had a renewed dial tone he called Knight Industries, getting routed to Deryk McKinney's office.

"Steed. What did you find?"
The words stuck in his craw for a second. "She…apparently indeed has been kidnapped. I'm coming over to Knight Industries right now. Have you informed the police? Scotland Yard?"
"No, the note specifically told us not to on pain of Mrs. Peel's death. Naturally, given the…well…unusual relationship you have with her…we decided to call you on this matter."
"Right. I'll be there in twenty minutes."

He hung up the phone and instead of dashing out the door, Steed squatted by the dried blood stain on the wall and lightly touched his fingers to it. It was the worst way possible Steed could ever have imagined being brought back into Emma Peel's life.

Chapter Three

The note was typewritten and detailed exactly what the kidnappers wanted in exchange for Mrs. Peel's life, which they emphasized they would have no compunction at all of ending, if the information they were demanding was not forthcoming. They gave Knight Industries three days; some time during that third day they would give explicit directions on where the packet of secrets was to be immediately delivered. If any mistake was made, or any fact withheld, or any law enforcement agency alerted, or any attempt made to locate her hidden whereabouts, Mrs. Peel would be killed.

Steed, Deryk McKinney, three other board members, and Colonel Adam Seavers were sequestered in McKinney's office. No one else had been told of Emma's plight. Unlike Steed and the Knight Industry employees, who stood clustered around each other, the impassive, uniformed Colonel stood quietly off in a corner, staring at the proceedings, but saying nothing.

McKinney read a report from the entrance guard on the first floor. The note had been given to him just at closing time last night by a man in hat, beard, and dark glasses, about medium height, medium weight, covered entirely in a long trench coat. Addressed to Mr. McKinney, the guard had dispatched a messenger to bring it to him directly. However, McKinney, to his regret, informed Steed that due to the insignificant sort of individual who had delivered the message, he put it on his desk unopened in a rush to attend his daughter's piano recital after work and had just opened it this morning. He had thought it a sick joke until Mrs. Peel missed her second meeting in two days; an inexplicable event. That was when he had called Steed.

Steed interrupted the background material. "Did the guard notice any identifying marks on the man?"
"Well, actually, Mr. Steed, he did," McKinney answered, looking up from the paper. "If you'll let me finish…"
"Go on," Steed directed. Why couldn't people read faster?
"The guard noticed a birthmark high up on the man's neck; a brown spot in the shape of, well, Italy." McKinney returned his gaze to Steed, shrugging. "That's it."
"Italy, hmm…" Steed remarked. He know who that was, though the name escaped him for the moment. In that way he was able to after years of private meditation practices, he put part of his mind into the task of remembering the man's name, and then focused the rest of his attention on the kidnapper's demands.
"What exactly do the kidnappers want, and why do I get the feeling that you have no intention of handing it over to them?"

McKinney, a tall, precise, thinly mustached man, took off his wire reading glasses and glanced at his fellow board members. He placed his glasses on his desk and then sat on its edge.

"If it was up to me, Mr. Steed, I would turn over the information they want immediately, if not sooner. However, we just do not have that option. What those blackguards want is our plans for the metal alloy siding of the new tank that the Army is planning to make their cream of the crop military attack vehicle. We have signed enough papers assuring confidentiality no matter what happens that you could stack them to the moon. And, we did take the liberty of contacting our primary Army liaison, Colonel Seavers, who tells us in no uncertain terms that we are not allowed to release that information. It would ruin our infantry advantage for years to come if it was sold to our enemies."

As a group, Steed and the four board members turned to Colonel Seavers. The young, black haired Colonel held their accusatory glances and stated, "That information can not be handed over to anyone. A charge of high treason would be dealt to anyone who knowingly allowed that to happen, including you, Steed. I've heard of you, and I have to say that although I regret the situation Mrs. Peel is in, and acknowledge the anguish you all must be experiencing, as the official representative of the Army in this regard, I am, and will stay, adamant that the kidnappers demands shall not be met."
"Even if it causes the death of Mrs. Peel?" McKinney asked.

A pause. "Even so, I am sorry to say," the Colonel stated. "Gentleman, sometimes the life of one is not worth the life of many. Our ground force's defense and offense will be so enhanced by this new technology that it out-weighs the life of a single person."
"And what if they kill Mrs. Peel and then just kidnap the rest of us, one by one?" a board member, Dillson, asked.
"I don't think that's likely," Steed answered. "They know that you all will have the intelligence to post-haste hire security guards to protect you and your families, until either they get the information, or I track them down." Steed turned to the Colonel. "I take it, Colonel, that you have no objection to me pursuing this further, as I have every intention of doing."
"Of course not, Mr. Steed. As I said, I've heard of you, and very impressive things, too. I fully support your investigative efforts. Gentlemen, please understand that I do not wish any harm to come to Mrs. Peel; I am quite horrified that she is in peril. However, I can only reiterate that no information will be given out without life in gaol or death being the penalty to whomever does so. I am sorry to state that to prevent that temptation, given the respect and high regard that rebounds around Knight Industries and"--he looked directly at Steed--"out of it for Mrs. Peel, there will be Army security stationed in Knight Industries for the next three days to ensure that no copies of those plans are made. Please forgive this imposition, gentlemen, but the military must protect the interests of the nation."

At that the Colonel nodded his good-bye and left the room. Silence settled down among the remaining five men.
Steed spoke first. "By the way, where do you keep those metal alloy plans, Mr. McKinney?"

McKinney stared at Steed, but Steed's face was so firmly fixed in a blank guilelessness that the Financial Officer smiled and said, "Well, you didn't hear it from me, do you understand? But, they are locked up every night in a safe in a locked room at the end of a locked corridor. Light beams are used for security devices."
"Where's the corridor from here?"
"Look, Mr. Steed, if you take those plans, or copy them, we'll all be imprisoned or killed for treason!" Dillson argued.
"Yes, that's true. Now, where is the corridor from here?"

McKinney pointed in back of him and explained how Steed could get there.
Steed raised his bowler in thanks as the part of his mind devoted to pulling out innumerable files on innumerable national and international criminals suddenly struck gold and identified the note deliverer. The locked corridor, room and safe was an option, but right now he wanted to pay a visit to a certain Louie Woodward, a rather uninspired criminal known by the brown, Italian-shaped birthmark at the top of his neck. If Louie didn't work out, he would hurry back and copy all the plans.

Chapter Four

Louie was rather renown as the sort of fellow who would do anything for money as long as it wasn't violent. That elevated the otherwise slimy fellow in Steed's eyes, so Steed had introduced Mrs. Peel to him on a case where they had broken an illegal importing business of cognac spiced with a drug that made a person temporarily very susceptible to suggestion before fatally poisoning them. A number of house and business sales, and new wills had sprung to life (even though the cognac drinker had unfortunately soon died afterwards), signed and dated, before Steed and Emma had put an end to the group of women in charge of the tainted alcohol. Louie had been instrumental in pointing them to the correct warehouse where they found two large crates of altered cognac. Steed had mentioned to Mrs. Peel that it was too bad the drug wound up killing a person, or else he might have slipped a little bit to her, his very delightful suggestions already figured out… he remembered her bemused grin… and her willingness, later, to conform herself to those suggestions without any chemical inducement…

Steed entered the Rotting Robber Tavern, not far from the Whitechapel area, with a rough and broken interior that equally matched its cheery appellation. As it was only late afternoon, the seedy place was still relatively empty, and Louie was not present either in the bar or the restroom. Slipping the barkeeper ten quid, Steed was given Louie's most recent address; the man moved about more often than a housefly. Louie had an arrangement with the barkeeper, though, to have him send anyone interested in supplying Louie with a paying errand to his flat, and Louie would then give the barkeep a percent of his earnings. A small percent, true, but it was money nonetheless for a rather small bit of direction.

Steed walked two blocks to a dingy, rundown apartment building. It was dark inside and the stairway was littered with trash and the unmistakable stench of old urine. Steed climbed up three flights and stepping over some empty boxes he found his way to 4B. He used the bamboo handle of his umbrella to knock on the door, keeping his sixth sense of danger on high alert. After all, he probably had more money in his wallet than the collective residents of the floor made in a month; and most of it he was sure they garnered in illegal activities or by collecting unemployment benefits.

Louie cracked the door open a couple of inches, a reddened eye squinting; when he saw it was Steed, he smiled and spread the door wide, waving Steed in to enter. It was just a one room flat with a small bathroom; the paint was chipped, the furniture was barely usable, and boxes of instant food littered the tiny kitchen counter. Louie, a nervous man with teary eyes and a few days greying stubble, was dressed in trousers and shirt that fit, but were threadbare at his ankles and cuffs.

"Steed, come in, come in. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" He went to his kettle and lit the flame of a burner. Turning back to Steed he asked, "Tea? I've got some fine Darjeeling for a chap like you."
"No, thank you. Answers will be fine," he answered curtly.
Louie noticed Steed's serious face. Turning off the burner, he lit a cigarette and sat down on his sofa, avoiding the place where the spring popped through one of the three cushions.
"Sure. Ten quid a question."

Steed took out his wallet, put five bills on a rickety wooden table, and said, "Fifty pounds."
Louie's eyebrows raised high, and he smiled. "Ask away, my good man."
"I want to know about that message you delivered to Knight Industries offices today."
Louie took a long puff of smoke and exhaled the bluish vapor out into the room as he shook his head back and forth. "Sorry mate, don't know anything about no Knight Industries gig."

Steed took two steps to Louie, lifted the shocked man up by his shirt, and thrust him up against a wall. Holding Louie that way, he then took a moment to stamp out Louie's fallen cigarette. "Don't want a fire, now, do we, Louie?" Then he roughly lifted Louie's body up off the floor.
Louie held onto Steed's strong forearms, fear creeping into his eyes. "This isn't necessary, Steed. Okay, I'll talk. Just tell me what you want to know."
Steed smiled and released Louie, patting his chest. "Good lad. I want to know who hired you to deliver that message."
Louie bent his head to the floor. "He said he'd beat me if I tell."

Steed, standing six inches taller than Louie, put his hand back on Louie's sternum, painfully pinning him up against the wall. "And I'll break your arm if you don't."
"Alright, alright. Let me go. Let this be on your conscience, Steed. It was a fellow named Ashley Squire. Came to me yesterday and told me to deliver the note. I've done a few errands for him before. He's not a bad chap generally; usually stays clear of the violent stuff like me. So his threat to hurt me was odd, but I needed the money and so agreed. I didn't read it, mind you, the note. It was sealed shut, and I had no opportunity to steam it open beforehand, so I've got no idea what it was about."

Steed was in no mood for trivial digressions; he knew what the note said. "Where can I find this Squire fellow? What did he look like?"
"Well, he's tall, like you, but a bit stockier; greasy blond hair; had a mole here (he said, pointing to his left cheek); and rather full lips. I reported back to him at a bar over on Fitzpatrick Place, The Golden Rabbit, at 11:00 p.m. last night. Said I did the delivery just fine and that was that; he paid me the other half of me money and I left."
"If you're lying to me, Louie…"
"Look, Steed, I'm not. That's the truth. What's it all about, then?" Fellows like Louie thrived on knowing whatever information they could gather.
"Don't tell anyone I was here. If someone wants to pay you to talk about me, let me know, and I'll pay you double to stay silent. Do you understand?"
"Because if I find out you did talk about me, I'll break both your arms."
"Okay, okay. You know, sometimes you don't seem all that gentlemanly, for walking around dressed just like a Bond Street toff."
Steed smiled a cagey grin. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, insulting my charming personality." He looked disapprovingly at Louie frayed shirt sleeves. "Is that the thanks I get for giving you fifty pounds? Which by the way, I suggest you use to buy a few new shirts," he said. Then Steed was clutching his brolly tightly and flying out the door.

Later that night, at 11:00 p.m., Steed drove his Bentley to Fitzpatrick St. and stopped in front of The Golden Rabbit. He walked into the bar, which was filled with working locals who didn't appreciate him, in his fine, expensive suit, bowler hat, and thinly furled umbrella, strolling so confidently into their private environment. Steed spotted Ashley Squire in the back right away and as he took quick, steady steps in his direction, Squire put down his beer, stood up and darted out the back door of the establishment. Steed dodged around men and all the legs that suddenly stuck out from under tables and was out in the alley in back of the bar in a flash. Squire led him on a chase around several streets, but Steed was quicker, and just after Squire took another turn into another alley, Steed tackled him from behind. Even though Squire was Steed's height, his few extra chubby pounds proved he was not in fighting shape and a brief and futile struggle on Squire's part left him laying on the ground with a split lip and a darkened eye. Steed hauled him to his feet and as all of Squire's resistance left him, Steed threw him into a garbage can, which tipped over from Squire's weight; the man wound up sitting in a puddle of water with trash all around him.

Steed straightened his tie and pulled his cuffs down into place. He picked his bowler up, wiped it clean with a forearm and then replaced it on his head. He retrieved his umbrella and then stood in front of the captured Squire, leaning on it.
Squire held his hands up over his face. "Don't kill me. I've got me mum to look after."

Steed raised his eyebrows high. "I haven't killed anyone all month," he said. "I'm looking for information, nothing else."
Squire looked at him anxiously. "Really? That's it?"
"That's it."
The man put his hands down. "What sort of information?"
"I should be very grateful if you would tell me where I might find Mrs. Emma Peel," Steed said.
Squire held the back on his hand to his bleeding lip. "I don't know. I never heard of her."
'I don't know' is not a good answer for your health," Steed said, taking a step closer to the man.
The man held up hands, "Wait. Stop. I really don't know. Who is she?"
"She's the owner of Knight Industries. And a friend."
"Knight Industries? Oh, that bastard Louie ratted on me. Well, I'll fix him--"
"If you fix him, then I will fix you, so can we all please just conduct ourselves in a civilized manner? Or do you like sitting and bleeding in a pile of trash? I can arrange for it to be a nightly affair for you, if you enjoy it."

The man stared at Steed for a few seconds, and wasn't comfortable with the stern bearing he read in the handsome face. He sighed. "Alright, I'll leave Louie alone. I mean I don't owe the other fellow anything. The hell with his threats. And Louie is a reliable errand boy. Okay, here's what happened. An anonymous fellow sent a message to me yesterday at the Golden Rabbit; everyone knows I hang out there. The message told me to meet a fellow in a room not far from here. So, I did. He paid me to have a message delivered to Knight Industries; mentioned that leaking any information out about it was a death sentence for me. I didn't quite like that, and so with me nerves a bit jangling over the assignment I got Louie to do the delivery, all disguised, for a cut. Told him to keep quiet about it or else. Fool must have left some sort of clue, though, eh?, for you to have found him. Anyway, the fellow told me to watch out for a man who looked and dressed just like you do; said you'd kill me if you found me. I don't know anything about him, except he had a strong North Riding accent, like me uncle had up by Wensleydale, and said he'd be out of town for the next several days."

"Did you see his face?"
"A bit. The room was dark, only light was from a window in another room. He kept his face turned away from me, but after we agreed to me doing the delivery, I followed him a few minutes and was able to chance a good glimpse of him. You know what--" Ashley said conspiratorially, leaning forward and lowering his voice to a murmur "--I even heard him tell the driver of the car he got into to 'head up to the north'".

Steed suddenly held out his hand. "Up you go," he said, as Squire pulled himself to his feet using Steed's arm for leverage.
"What are you going to do with me? You aren't going to kill me, are you?"
"Kill you? Perish the thought. I'm taking you to art class," Steed said, leading the willing and curious man away.

Chapter Five

It took several hours, but finally the Ministry's best criminal portraitist had captured a likeness from Ashley Squire's initial descriptions and then constant recommendations for better facial similarity. Squire took a initially slow interest in how the Ministry artist was able to draw a face that so closely matched his verbal profile, and it was only Steed's imposing presence that got him to depict as much as he did. But, as the picture assumed ever changing dimensions that more and more closely approximated the face he had seen, Squire grew more excited at the whole process and engaged in it with a great deal of exuberance.

After heartily slapping the artist on the back following the man's perfect rendition of the wide nose, beady eyes and bushy eyebrows of the fellow, Ashley called out, "Brilliant!". Steed allowed himself a slight grin. Within another half hour the composite was complete and Steed bid Ashley Squire good-bye with enough pounds in his pocket to seal their mutual satisfaction with meeting each other.

Steed skipped getting any sleep and after three cups of strong coffee, drove all the way to the North Riding of Yorkshire, arriving just after dawn had broken, when most taverns would be opening up offering large country breakfasts. He had contemplated making a few copies of the rendering and getting several agents he knew he could trust implicitly to be covert, discrete, and subtle in helping him in his quest, but decided against it. It would add a worrisome hazard that the kidnappers would discern they were being investigated, and then kill Mrs. Peel precipitously. He knew he was taking a large risk--it now being the second of the two days the kidnappers had allowed them--as the North Riding was a large place, larger than one man could search, but he hoped he had the target area more finely located. Besides, Steed had gotten so used to being a solitary operator over the years that his confidence level about working alone was well established, as was his consistent success rate with his work.

Although not normally a breakfast eater, Steed took advantage of one of those egg and bacon breakfasts at the first open pub he came to--The Duck and Boar--which was part of an inn, as he knew he would be too busy later during the day to stop and eat another meal. He checked himself in to spend the night and have a place to receive messages from anyone who might need extra contemplative hours to decide if they wanted to give Steed some valuable information after learning of Steed's inquiries. He phoned Deryk McKinney at home to tell him the number he could be reached at. He and his thickly laden wallet then spent a full day travelling all over the territory, going from bar to tavern to pub in village after village, pulling over the barkeep, covertly putting ten quid into his pocket and showing the composite picture to him, while inquiring if the good publican knew of the man in question. It was a poor area of the country, and he made it known that any helpful information would be hugely rewarded. He received a great deal of concerted staring at the picture, and an equal amount of honest yet discouraging head shaking in response.

Steed covered a fair bit of the northwestern old mining country that made up Wensleydale and the surrounding villages, but was unsuccessful. On any other autumn day Steed would have appreciated the lovely scenery of the country spaces: the uncrowded, rolling meadows and broad village greens, interspersed with high fells and open, barren moorland which were grazed by hardy northern sheep. Isolated field barns dotted the land and everywhere dry stone walls stretched up high into the fells, still mostly in good condition even though old and weathered. Not so far to the west lay the Pennine Mountains, on which Steed had spent time hiking the south to north trails. And meandering through the dale was the river Ure, famous for its stunning waterfalls, particularly by Aysgarth, whose two pubs Steed stopped in, not taking any extra time to admire the several fabulous cataracts nearby. He stopped in Askrigg, Bainbridge, Carperby, Hawes, Woodhall, Nappa, Castle Bolton, and other villages one after the other, hard-pressed to follow a steady pattern of investigation in the winding roads of the area. He expanded his search into Swaledale, and other surrounding counties which shared a common speech pattern. He worked through lunch and dinner, wanting to cover as many taverns as possible and too anxious to eat anyway. All sorts of doubts and self reprimands began filling Steed's head as day turned to twilight and twilight turned to night: he should have had more men helping him even given the jeopardy and his solo work preferences; he shouldn't have jumped to the conclusion that the man Squire had seen had come back to the North Riding; he should have stolen the Army plans right then and there and turned them over to the kidnappers as what were military advances compared to Emma Peel…

Steed visited pubs until they closed. He had been up for over forty hours. He drove thirty miles back to the pub he had checked into frustrated with his body for its need for sleep; frustrated with himself for having upset Emma enough she had severed their relationship and been alone when the kidnappers had attacked her; frustrated with Emma for having kept them apart; frustrated with the kidnappers; frustrated that spending over three hundred pounds in over thirty taverns had achieved nothing; frustrated that he only had until noon tomorrow to save her life; frustrated with the Army and their secret plans; frustrated that he had ever met Emma Peel and allowed her to so completely enchant him…

In his little inn room, Steed set his travel alarm clock for 7:00 a.m., giving himself just five hours of sleep. He took three deep draughts of brandy from his hip flask, and then climbed into bed. The alcohol burned his empty stomach and made him a little light-headed, but it did help to relax his contracted muscles and unclench his teeth. Even so, Steed was frustrated with the brandy. With the alarm clock. With the small, cold inn room. With the fact that he had had no messages. He was mostly frustrated with the empty half of his bed when he finally fell asleep.

Chapter Six

Steed was downstairs at 7:20 a.m, dressed and ready to go. A couple of cups of coffee and three scones wolfed down and he was out the door. He told Mr. Durston, the owner of the inn, that he would call in frequently during the day checking on messages. He then left and went on about visiting every pub he could in all different villages, this time swinging down more the way of Reeth, Ripon and Thirsk. He checked in at the Duck and Boar and also with Deryk McKinney every half hour.

It was 10:00 a.m. when everything began travelling at light speed. Steed called the inn as usual, hiding the growing shaking of his hands from himself. Durston answered and told Steed he had received a message; it had just come in not five minutes ago. Steed's heart leapt like a pogo stick as he requested Durston read it to him. Wasn't nothing to read, Durston relayed, just a note from a pub owner in Carperby, at The Lord Raglan, saying that he wanted to talk to Steed again.
Steed hung up and took out his notebook in which he had recorded every pub he had visited in every town, the pub's owner, and the phone number of each pub. He found The Lord Raglan in Carperby and placed a hurried phone call, frustrated that he missed a number and had to waste time redialing.

"The Lord Raglan," the voice said in loud hello.
"Mr. Smittering," Steed said, recognizing the short fellow's baritone bellow. "Hello, it's me, John Steed."
Smittering's voice strength dropped like a rock and Steed had to strain to hear him speak, "Can't talk over the phone, Mr. Steed. Come on over and it'll be worth your while to do so."
"Mr. Smittering, it will take me forty minutes to get back to Carperby. Can't you just tell me--"
"No, not over the phone. Got to be in person. 'Sides, your fellow's around here, anyway. Gotta go, now," he said, quickly and before Steed spoke more than an urgent "But--!", Smittering hung up.

Steed leapt over his Bentley door and took off like his car was powered by a jet engine. The roads, however, paved though cracked, were not made for high speed travel through the rural land, and often having to slow down or risk flipping over during turns, or slow down to wait until he could pass an even slower vehicle or, once, a couple of horses, meant that it took Steed that forty minutes of travelling north to reach Mr. Smittering's establishment. 10: 40 a.m. He slid to a stop in front of the square brick two story building, and darted inside. Smittering, a white and blue apron over his trousers and flannel shirt, was putting down a plate of rashers, eggs, and beans for a fellow and Steed casually strode to the bar. When the pot-bellied, red-cheeked Smittering stood up wiping his hands on his apron, he and Steed exchanged looks and Smittering nodded his head for Steed to follow him up the stairs at the back of the main room, which Steed did, after allowing a minute to pass after Smittering's departure.

At the top of the first floor, Smittering grabbed Steed by his forearm and lead him into a small bedroom, closing the door behind him.
"Smittering, what is all this? What's your information?" Steed asked.
"I know who that man in the picture is," the man said.
It took all of Steed's effort to control his temper and not punch the plump barkeeper. "Why didn't you tell me that yesterday?" he asked.
"I was afraid to. He's a hard man, and wealthy. Well, was wealthy, anyway. I didn't want to go against him for fear of his retaliating."
"And what changed your mind?"
"Money. My wife came home last night from the doctor here and found out she needs an operation, in York. Some specialist. She'll have to travel there, and I'll have to hire someone to look after things while I'm there by her side. You offered me a thousand pounds. Is that the truth?"
"Yes, yes, it is. My word is good. Now, who is the man? Where does he live?"
"His name is Clive Glentworth and he has an estate outside Darby; Darby doesn't have a pub in it, being almost uninhabited, so you likely didn't stop to ask anyone there about your picture. They're an old family and never well thought of--a bad, black streak runs through their veins. The women have been bereft of morals and sympathy; for the men, villains and drunkards are rampant in the bloodline. They made money mining and then when that industry ended, they went into textiles in Lancaster. Young Clive is the head of the household now. He lives there with his sister, a recluse, who they say is touched in the head in some nasty way. The rumor has it that he has lost quite a bit of money in bad investments, and odd, strange folk with foreign accents have been visiting them lately. If you think Glentworth did something criminal in cahoots with those foreign folk, I would believe it, no matter what he is accused of, for general opinion is that the Glentworth's of Bainbridge are only surpassed by the Devil in delighting in wicked sins. But, he was here when you just called forty minutes ago, mentioning he and his sister, the witch, were off to the Continent, thinking of moving to whatever country they fancied."

Steed stood patiently listening to Smittering's narrative of the unsavory traits of the Glentworths; it was good to know one's enemies. No doubt the "foreign folks" were Russians, convincing Glentworth to get involved in abducting Mrs. Peel thus being paid well for helping them acquire British military information. Well paid indeed if they were fleeing the country to set up a life elsewhere. Steed realized that there would be no compromising or negotiating with the remaining Russians; he was right to have put a gun in his glove compartment, and extra bullets.

Smittering told him exactly where the Glentworth estate was--about twenty-five minutes away further north. And then he off-handedly tacked on a greatly pertinent statement.

"Glentworth just had a little wooden shack built on his property, about a hundred feet from the main house, surrounded by a ring of low trees. He hired some local lads to build it, but for what purpose Mr. Glentworth wouldn't say. He used enough wood the wee shack is just about three times as thick as usual for those sort of buildings. It's thick as a fortress. He's got a large barn and two other out buildings to store things in, which he hasn't used up yet, so the lads didn't think it would be for storage, but it didn't have no windows in it, so it wouldn't be fit space for a person to live in. A right mystery, that shack, I tell you."

That was it, Steed knew instinctively. The shack where Emma was being held. He had found her. He could rescue her. She would be happy to see him then. They could be back together soon…
Steed allowed himself a rare concession of informality and friendliness, and shook Mr. Smittering's hand heartily, assuring him that the thousand pounds would be in his hands by tomorrow and then asking to use his phone to make an 11:00 a.m. call to London. He had missed the 10:30 a.m. call to McKinney and was eager to check in with Emma's Knight Industry colleague.

The phone call was portentous and Steed felt McKinney's words surge through the phone connection all throughout his body.
"Repeat that, please," he requested to McKinney.
"I said, I got a note from the kidnappers saying that if they didn't receive the plans by noon today, they would kill Emma." The man's voice was trembling, as he continued on with new information, "They gave me directions where to put them. Right at 11:55 a.m. I'm supposed to hand them to a passing motorcyclist in front of Knight Industries; he'll be wearing a blue helmet with a rose on it. Once he gets the plans, and sees that they're official, he'll make a call which will stop her death from occurring and she'll be returned safely tomorrow. Steed, by the way, the Army placed two armed guards outside that corridor I told you about an hour after you left, so you couldn't steal the plans now."

Now. He couldn't steal them now. He could have that first day. Right after the Colonel had left and before the guards had arrived. He should have. He would if any situation like this ever came up in the future. Sometimes one person was more important than national military advantages, even to a man as patriotic as himself.
"Hand the man on the motorcycle a package with papers in it; any papers," Steed instructed the nervous board member. "That will at least buy me a few more minutes instead of just not offering him anything."
"I'll do it. Do you know where Emma is?" McKinney asked
"Yes, and I'm going there now," Steed said. He hung up the phone, having to take several deep breaths before he felt strong enough to move.

Chapter Seven

Steed arrived at Glentworth's estate at 11:35, parking his Bentley a quarter mile down the road from his house. It was a large square estate, with some signs of decay to the roof and stone work, but generally in good repair given the three hundred years Smittering had said it had been inhabited. It lay twenty yards back from the road, surrounded by a brambly hedge and dotted occasionally with short trees with branches bent to the east, away from the wind blowing down off the Pennines. Steed took the gun and extra bullets and an axe he had borrowed from Smittering from the car and proceeded quickly to Glentworth's property. Avoiding the dark and seemingly empty main house seemed the best idea. Smittering had not known if there would be any hired hands about, or "foreign folk," so Steed decided that covertly invading Glentworth's domain, even with the owner out of town, made the most sense. He didn't wish to waste valuable minutes fighting minions, although he had to admit he looked forward to tracking down Glentworth and his sister later, arresting them for abducting Mrs. Peel. Steed scurried through the brush to the back lawn looking for a row of low trees that hid a wooden shack. Turning the corner of the house the shack came into immediate view.

Steed checked his watch, 11:43 a.m., and although it was a cool day, he was already covered in a light sheen of sweat. It was quite an involved and confusing and ominous set-up: the wooden shack, about 8 x 10 feet, sat in the middle of a circle of low trees covered with what appeared to be asbestos cloths. The grass all around the shack was wet--even though it hadn't rained in the two windy, grey days Steed had been in the North Riding--as if someone had deliberately watered a five foot area around the building. A wire traveled from the top of the estate thirty yards away and connected to a pole at the top of the shack, but what sort of wire, Steed didn't know. Encircling the structure, Steed was dismayed to find that the only entrance to the shack was a door cut into the wall of the side facing the back of the main house, and it contained three thick sliding metal bars in it, each bar locked in place with a large padlock that could have been used to guard the Queen's crown jewels. Steed was an expert lock picker, but this task daunted him, given the woefully inadequate time left. Fear begin intensifying in him. He was renown for thriving under pressure, and he couldn't deny the Ministry whispers behind his back that he was addicted to risk and dramatic skirmishes that required all his finely honed wits to surpass deadly obstacles; like a drug addict needed regular injections of heroin, Steed knew he needed regular doses of danger. He loved over-coming great odds in his hazardous line of work as he solved a case or came back over the Berlin wall after some secret, perilous affair, but suddenly the pressure around the shack seemed to be crushing him, not enlivening him.

He ran to the wall of the shed and placed his hands on it. "Mrs. Peel!" he called out. "Are you in there?"
"Steed!" he heard her reply, muffled but still clear through the wall. "I knew you'd come. Yes, I'm here. I've been here for days. I was unbound until just a few hours ago, but now I'm tied up too tightly in a chair to move. I must say, it's rather uncomfortable."
"Don't worry, my dear, I'll get you out," he said, closing his eyes at the sound of her voice, so melodious, so welcome to his ears.
"Hurry," she said. "They brought a bomb in here hours ago, a couple of sulky Russian fellows, which is set to go off in less than fifteen minutes. Steed, it looks very similar to that incendiary bomb you showed me how to construct last year."
"A bomb?" Steed mumbled, and then realized she couldn't hear him through the wall. A bomb.

Steed suddenly felt like the ice planet Pluto, orbiting way too far outside the sun at the center of his galaxy.
"A bomb?" he repeated, louder.
"Yes, a bomb! An incendiary bomb."
"There's a wire to the shack, do you know what it's for?"
"They put a light bulb in here so I wouldn't be in the dark. Courteous of them. Must be the electrical line for that. Steed, hurry up and get me out…I'm scared," he heard Emma say, and he could feel the honesty of that frank admittance vibrate through the thick pieces of wood.

"I will, don't worry, I will," he assured her, wondering how well he hid the fear in his voice from her. "Hang on a minute." If the wire just fed the light bulb, and the bomb was self contained, then the kidnappers had lied about making a phone call and stopping the bomb. The Glentworths had gone to the Continent, and the house looked entirely deserted. If men had been in the mansion, they certainly would have seen Steed at the shed, with obvious intentions to break into the shack and ruin their plans; he was wide open to view. They would be coming out to attack him. Yet, glancing about the yard, he saw no one. All the kidnappers had fled. Therefore, there was no one around to open up the shack, saving Mrs. Peel. He felt his stomach lurch: they had never had any intention of letting Mrs. Peel survive… the bomb would burn all the evidence to ashes… would burn her…

Steed attacked the locks with his picks first, glancing at his watch every thirty seconds, and giving up on getting them open with his picks after two minutes. The picks weren't the right size for the job. He stood up, strode to the side of the front door and aimed his gun at the locks, firing off all twelve of his bullets at them. That ruined the bottom and top locks, but strangely didn't even dent the middle one. He ripped the two ruined locks off, slid the bar mechanisms back and pushed against the door for all he was worth, but the door stayed tightly closed, impeded from movement by that untarnished middle section. Steed then picked up the axe and swinging with all his strength over and over and over, grunting roughly with each strike, he attacked both the middle lock and bar, sparks flying off from each powerful blow. Yet, again, no damage occurred to those middle pieces; they were impervious to both bullets and blade. Still, again and again Steed swung the axe, until the blade was clearly blunted. It was futile, a waste of precious time. He rested for a moment and through his rapid panting, he heard Emma's voice yelling at him through the wall.

"Steed! There's only four minutes left!"
Mobilized immediately into action, Steed swung the axe repeatedly at the wood of the wall, using all his impressive, well-developed muscles, which he usually hid under his debonair insouciance and his three piece suits, to chip away bit by bit at the thick timber. Sweat rolled down his forehead, drenched his back, his chest, made his hands slippery. As the minutes rolled by and Steed's back and arms began to burn from the nonstop strenuous effort of his rapid smacks, he began yelling loudly with each blow of the axe, driving himself faster, furiously, ferociously, his heart pounding, and frantic thoughts tumbled around in his head… he was getting nowhere, doing nothing, saving no one… he should have rammed his car into the shack, he should have stolen the papers, he should have brought all the men he could muster from the village to the shack… he had done it wrong, done it wrong, done it all wrong…

He could sense the time passing, the seconds ticking away, the horror nearing…
"Steed, ohmigod, Steed, get me out, get me out, there's only thirty seconds left!" he heard Emma urgently shout.
"I'll get you out! I'll get you out!" he screamed back, swinging the axe so hard he couldn't pry it free from the chipped wood it entered. He put his leg on the shack… he had pulled apart the lift preventing the detonation of the nuclear bomb in the basement of Pinter's department store in the last seconds… he had jerked his wrist from the iron grip of Beresford's cypernaut in the last seconds… he had saved Emma from Prendergast in the last seconds… he had mastered last seconds… he always won in the last seconds…

But in those last seconds Steed's leg slipped and came down breaking the handle of the axe held so firmly and therefore so unyielding in his hands. When the handle snapped, Steed stared at it, at his hands, at the shack, and for the first time in twenty years he stood frozen, not knowing what to do. Not able to think.
There was no time left. In the shack. For her life. For his heart.

"Steed! Dear God! Steed!" he heard her scream. "Three seconds! It's going to go off--!"
"Emma!!" he exclaimed, his hands flying to the wall of the shack, when he heard and felt an explosion inside the structure, and suddenly the wall of the building grew warm under his fingers and there for a few seconds he heard a harsh shriek of pain and death…

Steed went berserk. He pounded on the timber, mindless of the increasing intensity of the heat, screaming out Emma's name once, twice, how many times he didn't know, and then ran to the remaining padlock, grabbing it in his hands, yanking, tugging, pulling it, putting all his vaunted strength into ripping it out of the door, heedless of the burns his palms developed as the metal quickly conducted the searing heat of the interior fire through it. The lock still didn't budge an inch. He punched and kicked at the door until his knuckles were bloody. He used the stump of the axe against the structure in a futile act of final desperation. But by then the wood was fully on fire, and soon the flames and smoke--arcing out the roof and various cracks in the structure--drove Steed staggering back as the building was entirely consumed by the intense conflagration. Sooty, bloody, perspiring, Steed wound up twenty feet away, still close enough to feel the red hot heat on his body.

He stood and stared at the building burning to ash like he was also made of solid wood: immobile, bloodless, mindless. He watched the scene but registered nothing mentally. He had simply become the living embodiment of despair and just one word quietly fell from his mouth to acknowledge that reality--"…no…" Spoken weakly, in a cracked voice, and accompanied by something Steed had not experienced in more years than he could remember: two small tears, slipping quietly out of his eyes to descend in neat thin lines down his dirty face.

"…no…" he repeated, to no one, to nothing, it just leaked out, that one word the final emptying of himself, the rest of him--bones, blood, heart--already dark voids.
Minutes passed, though how many he had no concept, and through his blurry vision, Steed saw the shack collapse inwards, the fire masterfully contained to it, not spreading to the asbestos trees or wetted grass beyond. Steed's knees trembled and then collapsed with the building, and he sank down to them in the grass, having no idea what would ever give him the impetus to get back up again… He wanted to vomit, he wanted to reverse time, he wanted to lift up his arms and protest to the sky, he wanted to die… horribly… like she had…

…and then at least he might be with her… somewhere… together again…
The building burned quickly, the wood crackling and popping loudly; he stared trance-like, a look of hollow despondency coating his face underneath the smoke that blew his way stinging his eyes and blackening his skin, before rising up to where? Heaven? If there was a Heaven, he hated it for claiming her so early. He could see remnants of metal through the slanted boards and perhaps, there, did he see the white of a bone…?

He felt very, very sick inside, and on his limber knees he settled down sitting onto the backs of his ankles, his forearms on his thighs, and he hung his head way down, his heavy, guilty, cursed head…

He had never fully understood what he had had, what he had found, what he had been given --until now, when there it all was, in front of him, destroyed under red hot embers. He had had it all, everything, the pot of gold, the cornucopia, and now he had nothing. His work, his friends, his family, his money, his horses, his clubs, his looks, his health… he still had those… but it was all nothing… nothing… without her.

And he had never really understood.
And he knew he would never have cause to understand again.
Sometimes, he had learned in his hard, precarious and eventful life, certain opportunities were only given once. Steed knew, now, Emma Peel had been such an opportunity. And losing her he would stay as dead as she was now, even though he continued, in other ways, to live. Steed closed his eyes and sank his head lower. He always wound up continuing to live, and not for the first time did he question why --why him and not people much finer, much worthier than him. He despised the Fates for his relentless survival…

He should have done everything differently.
He stayed kneeling on the grass, as if before an altar praying to some archaic power that survived solely on the death of innocents; as if Emma had just been the offering in some hellish rite and Steed the ministering priest…
He ran through all the mistakes he had made in his unforgivably failed rescue of her, knowing the rest of his life would be devoted to running through those errors over and over and over again…

It came from nowhere, one single sob. One single sob of immeasurable grief erupted from Steed's throat, and then an energetic tapping bounced upon his shoulder, and Steed heard a word trickle to his ears through seven layers of disbelief.

"Steed," was the word. Emma's voice spoke it.
He looked up slowly, and turned his head to his left--there, above him, alive and smiling, in a blue cat suit, pushing her hair away from her face, was Mrs. Emma Peel.

She could not have survived the fire. Therefore, she must not have been in it. That was as far as Steed's reasoning got before he was on his feet gripping Emma in a hug so tightly, she was rendered motionless by his arms.

She put her arms around him lightly. "Not much fun, was it," she said to him evenly, as his grip didn't waver an iota, "thinking I was dead."
Steed's face was buried in her neck. "No," he whispered back, "not much fun at all. I get your point. I get your point."

Emma smirked, knowing her complicated ploy had been successful. After the normal length of time they usually hugged, Emma made to pull away from Steed, only he would have none of it. She had expected and been prepared for him to hug her shyly, briefly and awkwardly in public--the way he always touched her outside their bedrooms, so different from his sure, confident, and competent private caresses--and then pull away with a witty, emotionally controlled quip. Or, Emma had even considered that she would be the recipient of an understandably irate outburst or withdrawal into silent seething. A quite rare reaction for Steed, true --unlike, perhaps, for herself-- and one that only a few criminals had ever warranted him expressing, but possible nonetheless given his realization that her death had been nothing more than an outrageous bit of faked stage work. But this, she had never expected this. She wasn't prepared for this.

"Emma," Steed murmured, pressing her firmly to him, one hand lost in her hair. "Dear Emma. My Emma."

It was then that Emma Peel realized that something far more important than just her teaching Steed a lesson was going on at that moment; that something infinitely more special and wondrous was being offered to her by Steed, openly and wholly, without any pretensions, disclaimers or reservations. Astounded by her comprehension, she wrapped her arms around his back squeezing desperately, receiving that gift with joy and then offering it equally to him as well.

"That was what I felt in the radio room," her hushed voice explained. "When I heard the gunshots I was… frozen… lost. I kept thinking, I should have left the party and phoned from somewhere else so they could not have captured me; I should have kicked Webster in the groin then impaled him with the pole at the corner of the fireplace when he bent down to speak to me; I should not have waited around all night to see what happened, but should have escaped and convinced you, warned you; but, I had done nothing… nothing at all… and now… now you were dead. Dear Steed… My Steed… I thought that you were dead…"

He hugged her even tighter. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I had no idea," he said.
"When I put the gun against your neck… I… was not yet sure it was you… I was not sure I wouldn't shoot. You should have mentioned a memory just the two of us shared. Thank God that plane fired on us… persuading me…"
"Emma, please forgive me. I'm so very sorry."
"It wasn't right, what you did. It wasn't right. That's why I did this."
"I know. I know that's why. It wasn't right at all."

They stood there embracing, cementing a solid bond between them they had never before made the conscious effort to acknowledge, finally, tenderly, parting to hold hands and seal that commitment with gazing eyes that glowed with an endearing recognition and, last, a lingering, fragile kiss.

"You'll kill me for sure, though, if you ever pull another stunt like this," he said, smiling, nodding his head towards the smoldering fire.
"And you me, if you repeat having me ignorant of a phony radio transmission of your death," she answered.
"I'll never do anything like that again, I promise," he avowed. "I'll never again leave you out of my plans."
"Then I promise, too," she responded, and they kissed once more.

The divinely radiant moment was broken in a flash when Emma's mind registered through her fingers the blistered burns covering Steed's palm and his swollen, torn and bleeding knuckles. She lifted up his hands and saw his left hand curled inwards, unable to straighten out because of the second degree burns covering the palm and flesh of his fingers. His right hand was much less affected, but still reddened, his fingerprints five blank pads as the skin there was completely smoothed out in first degree burns.

"Oh, Steed, I'm so sorry. I went too far," she said, biting her lip in her concern.
"No," he said, gently, pulling his hands from hers to grip the sides of her face as he lowered his lips to kiss her forehead. "You went just far enough."

Chapter Eight

They were mostly silent on the ride home, simply because there was little need to talk, not because words were held back. Once the fire was completely out, with Steed's hands injured, Emma drove the Bentley back to the Duck and Boar where Steed paid his bill, and got some ice wrapped in a towel to hold and help soothe the sharp pains of the burns. When his hand was thankfully numb, Emma opened up the little travelling medical kit Steed kept under a seat in his car, and wrapped his left hand several times with a roll of gauze using adhesive tape to keep it in place. Steed shook his head at her motion to wrap his right hand as well, saying it wasn't necessary.

They called Deryk to tell him Emma was safe and sound. Then Emma drove them all the way back to London, relaying the whole story of her vivid escapade. She told Steed she had thought the whole thing up from when they returned to the stables to when they arrived at her apartment building. When he hadn't understand just how painful it had been for her to hear him get shot to death over the radio, her resolution to enact her plan had been ironed into place. She mentioned how she had hired Woodward, Squire, and Smittering for their services rendered, telling them exactly what to do and say to him when he encountered them. There had been no mysterious man Squire had met; that had all been made up, as the composite drawing was of no one in particular. She had made use of a compliant family friend's estate to build the shack. Sometimes having a great deal of money was very handy; much could be done quickly if funded well. She had built the incendiary device herself, remembering his instructions implicitly, setting it to go off at noon today, confident that he wouldn't be able to break into the shack. The middle metal padlock and bar had been made a couple of months ago as testing pieces from the metal alloy that the army was going to use on the sides of its tanks.

She had covertly removed them from the high security storage facility they were housed in and installed them in the door. The metal was able to withstand a direct hit from a high explosive missile, so bullets and axes were useless against it. The wire from the house was an electrical line that powered a microphone hidden in the overhang above the front door, and two speakers in the shack. Emma had been be able to see, hear and respond to Steed from a room in the house. A few bones from the local butcher thrown into the shack before locking it up completed the charade. Oh, she had had her private physician draw a tube of blood from her arm, which she had then spread over the floorboard and the broken penguin pieces.

Deryk did indeed think she had been kidnapped; he wasn't in on her ploy. Emma added a reassurance that she had had a lunch or two with Cathy Gale, purely out of curiosity. Cathy had shared her not always so fond memories of what Steed had been like several years ago, but upon hearing from Emma what sort of man he was to work and be with now, Cathy had grudgingly admitted that she knew Steed had evolved into a different individual from other sources she had inquired into, and was now a person she respected. Emma added that she found Cathy to be a hard and tense person--no doubt difficult to work with herself--and not really very likeable. After just a couple of lunch dates, Emma had seen no reason to continue meeting with her. At the close of her account, Emma fell silent.

Steed had figured out most all of that on his own once the shock settled down. It was clever, brilliant, and more than a tad cruel. He marveled at her machinations. His plan --worked out with Major Carson's aid-- had been a little complicated, but only a genius like Emma could have organized her much more involved plot on her own during a short ride home after a case. So much to organize, so many variables to work out, so many personalities to analyze, correctly predicting their specific behaviors at every step. Sometimes her intellect seemed weirdly supernatural and perhaps a pinch frightening. He had followed her leads exactly, behaved exactly as she had anticipated he would do. He had enacted her brutal script, responded to every cue, been unknowingly directed to act his fearsome part by a female vixen named Emma Peel. Only the information regarding Cathy Gale was good to hear and brought him relief. He felt somewhat justified to learn that Emma had found her to be a rough woman to socialize with and hadn't taken Cathy's views of him at face value. When Emma fell silent and the miles ticked off as they headed back to London, Steed felt a swell of anger rear itself a couple of times when he thought of how viciously awful Emma's whole plan had been, but it was immediately dampened down as he allowed that his plan had been unspeakably cruel to her as well. As he remembered how tightly she had hugged him back by the ruins of that accursed shack. As he recalled her saying she had felt as overwhelmed as he had when she believed him to be dead. And, best of all, as his memory repeatedly brought to mind her saying, "Dear Steed. My Steed."

His anger began dissolving away.
A remnant of shame persisted for his having, in actuality, unconsciously fallen back to the type of man he had been with Cathy Gale in his creation of his PSEV scheme. He had played Emma like a puppet for his fun, he now realized. But, he knew he had finally been fully purged of that objectionable residue of his rogue self, and would never, ever, make the same choices in the future. A future that suddenly looked very bright, incredibly bright, putting a lump of gratitude in his throat.

He thought of those occasional times when Emma muttered sweet, affectionate words as she drifted off into sleep; he hadn't made a mistake at all. He believed them, now.

In all the horror and terror, something grand had happened today, and in his natural good-natured manner, Steed allowed the beauty and tenderness of their mutual realizations to swallow him entirely, so that no further bitterness or irritability at Emma's methods surfaced within him. He had no right to be angry with her, he understood. He was happy in his knowledge that she was no longer mad at him, either.

He sat silently, content, and put his hand on her leg as she drove. A few smiles passed between the two of them, and elation shined from their faces.

It was evening when Emma pulled the Bentley up to her apartment building, expertly parking the bulky car in a space and applying the hand brake to keep the vehicle from rolling. She woke her sleeping companion, and wrapping her arm around his, led him up to her apartment, which, when they entered it, was pristinely orderly and scrubbed as a result of Emma's cleaning woman having made a special effort to tidy up her previously messy living space.

Steed glanced to his lower left, to the spot where Emma's blood had decorated the floorboards in that macabre display of impending doom.
"Talk about unconscionable," he said.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry," she replied. "But you know me, always have to do things with a bit more panache."
"Yes," he agreed, looking at her as if she was a treasure he had searched the world to find, "I finally know you."
"Oh, Steed," she said, melting into his arms and lips. When they broke apart she lead him into her bedroom. He then made to move to her bathroom, but she held him back.
"No, don't shower. Please. Not yet. I want you just as you are."

Steed understood that it wasn't the soot and the smoke and the sweat she was referring to, but everything so openly and honestly illustrated underneath those external manifestations of his adoration of her. They undressed and opened up the bed, and then Steed sat down on its edge and pulled Emma to him. She sat on his lap, her legs wrapped around his waist.

"Emma. Dear Emma. My Emma," Steed said as he smiled, running his hands, his painful, injured hands over her cheeks, her shoulders, her pert and firm breasts. Emma ran her fingers over his muscular chest, leaning over to smell and lick his skin as he enfolded her between his arms, lightly scratching her back in the way he knew highly pleasured her.

She kissed his neck, his closed eyes, his forehead, his lips, dancing her tongue over them before merging with them again. He engulfed a breast with his mouth, taking all the last seconds in the world to slowly explore every inch of it, and then explore it again, sojourning for a while on her nipple, which he gently teased into the rigid hardness of excited womanhood with his tongue and teeth. And whilst he began delighting her other breast, his hands constantly running up and down her back and legs, kneading her buttocks, her thighs, Emma brought his penis into a fully aroused state with the masterful use of one hand as the other caressed the nape of his neck. Sometimes, that double attention to his most intense erogenous zones made Steed reflexively pause from his attentions to her and voice a long and low moan. When her other breast was completely satisfied with Steed's technique, they kissed, still tenderly. All of it was tender, slow. They opened their mouths to share tongues, hands entering hair, then moving all over each other bodies.

They pulled apart, and put their foreheads together, their eyes closed, their respiration speeding up. Steed's right hand traveled down Emma's abdomen to her pubic triangle of auburn, curly hair. Brushing his nimble fingers through it, feeling it, lightly scratching it, he lowered his thumb to her vulva and felt the ocean of lubrication that covered it, which always sent a thrill and a shiver of anticipation through him as he noted the sopping truth that she wanted him as badly as he wanted her. She leaned her hips back a little to enable him to find her clitoris, and as she nibbled on his ear, he rubbed that sensitive nob in a circling motion. Within a minute, though, Emma moaned urgently and, she brought her legs around so that she was kneeling on the bed. Lifting herself up she placed Steed's fully erect penis under her and then came back down to his lap, both of them exalting in the sensations that intimate contact sent charging through them.

She began to move up and down and he grasped her bony hips. "No, not yet," he said. "Just stay… on me… here… with me," he urged.

She remained stationary, and hugged him, losing herself in feeling his well-developed back muscles, his spine, his shoulder blades, his warmth, his virility, his affection.

It was so… extraordinary, being inside her, Steed thought. Over three weeks he had waited for it, wanted it, missed it --this superb tightness, this heat, this moistness. She surrounded him like no one else ever had, ever would, she took all his length, his width, as if she had been made for it. Even though he knew that soon his body would demand that glorious building of friction commence, right now, he just wanted to revel in the pure truth of being back in her life, and being back in her, not just as a good friend, but as so much more than he had ever expected to admit.

"Dear Steed. My Steed," he heard filter into his ears, and whilst he first thought it was just his memory calling up what he had heard earlier today, Steed then realized it had been Emma, once more treating him to the finest four words in the English language.

It was the last stimulus he required to begin a sure, steady grinding of his hips, thrusting himself just increments more up into her, and then down, but what fine increments they were. He felt the tip of his organ strike the very end of her vagina, and where it had sometimes brought pain to other women, Emma merely groaned with raw need, and once more raised and lowered herself in perfect concert with his motions. At some point that position grew too confining for Steed and he rolled them around onto the bed, Emma on her back with him on top of her. He lifted her knees up the side of her body wanting a higher angle of entry, and she eagerly complied, wrapping her forelegs around the middle part of his back. He placed the bruised knuckles of his hands on the bed and with straightened arms moved down into her and up out of her from that more vertical position, leaning forward to ensure her clitoris was rubbed by the base of his penis. He wanted to have a clear view of her beauty as they made love, as she now seemed transformed, ethereal, angelic. He wanted to take her to a tremendous height of passion. He wanted to make her scream in a rapturous orgasm, to erase that other appalling scream he had heard earlier that day that still haunted his psyche.

It didn't take long for either of them to near the ultimate peak of release, Emma pleading "Steed, yes, yes" in ever increasing erratic tones, matching Steed's ardent grunts.

Cry out, Emma, he silently begged, maintaining his posture though his arms were shaking, as he increased his momentum to her approving nods. Scream something much sweeter for me to have floating through my head. Once more sweat dripped from his face and body, landing on Emma's abdomen and rolling off onto the sheets, and he was getting so close… Please go that high, Emma…

She tightened her grip on his flanks and suddenly arched backwards as her lean yet strong thighs clasped him like a clamp. Yelling out loudly she thrust her hips up and up wanting him deeper, harder. Encouraging her climax with forceful thrusts, watching her lovely countenance's blissful contortions, her body's trembling, Steed took in every note of her outcry, happily imprinting it in his mind, and it did indeed replace the other one that faded into a nightmare he had woken up from, so glad, so glad, to realize it had only been a dream.

As she approached the ending point of her long release, Steed came himself in a shudder that drove the fantastic culmination of their love-making throughout his body, and as he collapsed onto his elbows, emptying into her in surges that drained all the torment of this momentous day from him, he felt more filled and complete than he ever had before.

He lay to the side of her and they nuzzled their cheeks together, then parted to smile and brush hair back from each other's face.
"You didn't have to break the penguin," he said, pouting like a child, as they snuggled up closer together and she ran her hand through the sweat wetting the sparse brown hairs centered on his chest. "That was my first real gift to you. There were other breakables about you could have used instead."
"I did it deliberately," she said, kissing his nose. "So you would take me back to Venice."

Steed lowered his eyebrows at her. "You are a dangerous, cunning and evil woman."
"Oh, indeed. And you are…," she paused, and looked away from him.
"Yes? I'm what?" he asked, suspicious of her answer.
"You are…a perfectly wonderful man," she said, tossing a look of anxious vulnerability at him as she repeated her statement, changing just one, significant word, "My perfectly wonderful man."
Now Steed looked away. "A perfectly lucky man," he said, "to have found you."

When their abashed hesitations ended, they glanced at each other again and their candid eyes spoke as clearly as if the mystical words of ultimate devotion were written on their pupils; "I love you" they each saw on those windows to their souls. Laying on the bed curled together, holding hands, fully awake, they fell silent again, as there were no more words that needed to be said.


©  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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