In the grey morning, Percival unlocked the Saville Row entrance to Kingsman tailors, stepped inside, and smelled death. The shop was empty. The dining room was not.
At first he thought Arthur had been shot, but the head wound was incidental, post-mortem, and had been made with his pen- which was empty. As were the brandy glasses.
Percival had toasted to Galahad from a distance. They all had. Arthur had left no time to get to the shop in person, even for Percival, currently was the only other active Knight in London. He'd planned for a few weeks between missions while Roxy completed her candidacy. Then Harry-
And now Arthur. Percival retrieved a body bag, and transferred Arthur to the rearmost portion of Dressing Room 2- the cold room. It had been a long time since Percival last stashed anyone in the tailor-shop morgue.
His calls to the country HQ went unanswered, and when he stepped from the train, the lower levels were deserted.
Percival moved cautiously. Roxy should have been there. Merlin should have been there.
He was in Merlin's space without him, and it felt strange, foolishly, to an agent trained and long-practiced in infiltrating offices and information systems. Merlin's space was different because it was familiar, he had to deliberately shift his perception to see it otherwise.
He searched for the perimeter logs, for records of entry and exit. The entry log for the mirror in Dressing Room 1 made him pause. 'Gary Unwin. Status: Candidate- Failed. Access denied.' And then, minutes later: 'Access overwritten. Authorisation: Merlin.'
Harry's boy had killed Arthur. And then Merlin let him into headquarters, and then they- and Roxy- took a plane and disappeared. There was no record of contact with other agents, nothing but feeds of Galahad's mission, and Percival had not enough data to know how it was connected. If it was. He thumped the desk, fist tight and ineffectual.
Was Unwin a plant? It wasn't unheard of for failed recruits to attempt harm on the Kingsman, but Percival had thought Harry's judgement, however odd, to be better than that. Perhaps it hadn't been. Or else Harry's death itself had prompted the murder, if the boy were attached and held Arthur responsible.
But Merlin left Percival stymied. In none of the scenarios he might imagine could he conceive of Merlin aiding Arthur's murderer. Merlin was the man Percival trusted- had trusted to keep him alive, safe, successful, for 18 years of his life. Merlin was the workings of Kingsman, if Arthur was the head.
Roxy... would have made the best call she could with the information she had. Percival could only hope it had been the right one.
Above ground the morning deepened. The plane had been gone more than three hours when Percival fielded a call from the USA Eastern Branch Headquarters. He pushed aside Merlin's congealing mug of tea to take down the details longhand.
"What was Agent Galahad doing in Kentucky?" the American agent asked. "We should have no need to remind you that actions on US soil are to be run via coordination with the main office." Percival made a noncommittal noise, and could hear the exasperation in her response. "Yes, that's exactly what he said. Could you please send someone to collect your agent? He disapproves of the aftershave in our medbay."
"Of course." Percival's ears were buzzing.
No, his head was buzzing.
On the other end of the line, there was a gunshot. Something falling. Further shots. Percival was angry, distantly, that the woman on the phone had people to fight. There was no one within Percival's reach. He would have to go and find them.
In the hallway, gun drawn, Percival blinked, and flicked the safety back on. What was –
The world buzzed, and Percival was subsumed once more.
The footage was almost too much to process. London. New York, Berlin, Paris, Buenos Aires, Cairo. Percival had shot a wall, one of Merlin's computers, and the glass of the observation window. If he had been in London proper... it didn't bear thinking about.
Percival kept moving. The next hours blurred together.
Thomas called him to the tailor shop, where two bolts of cloth were still smouldering, and the door of Dressing Room 1 had been blown from its hinges. Through the front window - the reinforced glass holding despite the chaos - Saville Row bore no resemblance to the street Percival had walked down that morning. Somewhere farther off, a car alarm shrieked and blended with the howling of the emergency response vehicles.
A harassed looking policewoman ducked her head through the door, and Percival reassured her. Kingsman had suffered no serious injuries, no fatalities, nothing to require police intervention. We're all fine, here. Now. Thank you. How are you? Percival twisted his mouth into a frown to keep from laughing.
Percival had put the word out for all agents to call in, and tried to ascribe the silence to damaged equipment. Injury. There were plenty of reasons for delay, and no reason to assume the worst. When the first call did come in, he answered at once, and only registered the call-sign of the plane when Merlin's voice washed over him. God help him, but he could feel his heartbeat slow and tensed muscles relax at the sound.
The explanation was long, and Percival let Merlin give it to him away from the younger agents. Both had families to check in with. They held their debriefing in front of the computers, while Merlin fielded call-ins from the other knights. Percival marked off the names in his head, in the shape of a table. Some of the chairs stayed empty.
It was ridiculous beyond belief to be affronted that Merlin and Roxy hadn't trusted him. He'd spent the morning wondering if they were traitors. There was no high ground to be had. Arthur- Chester sodding King-of-us-all had sold them up the river.
"I think my instincts need to be recalibrated."
Percival shook his head, lack of answer rather than negation. The street outside the shopfront lingered in his head, the look in Thomas' eyes at the self-wrought wreck of his work, the slump of Chester's body over the table.
Merlin handed him a mug of tea - solid and warm and smelling like everything he needed in the world. He held it in both hands and let the steam rise, the heat sink in. He drank. It was an Irish blend, and heavy with sugar.
"Thank you. I think I'd break good china, right now. And it might not be accidental."
Percival lifted one hand. "You needn't."
"Luke. I'm sorry we left without you. And I'm sorry as hell we couldn't trust anyone."
"...I believe I'll elect to blame Chester for that. Go back to the point where you blew up half the members of Parliament and the President of the United States."
Merlin looked faintly embarrassed. That was Percival's tipping point. The world had tilted away beneath him, and the last familiar thing in the universe was the expression on Merlin's face when he'd got himself caught playing with trick weapons.
Percival laughed. There was nothing in the bloody world that wasn't funny right now. His tea sloshed over the side, and he had to set down the mug. He pressed his hand over his mouth, but couldn't stop.
"Breathe, you tosser."
Merlin's hand was on his back. He breathed, forced his lungs to expand slowly, to hold it a four-count before laughing it out again. King Laugh, he come.
Harry would love to see Parliament's heads explode.
Percival gripped Merlin's wrist. "When that sound started, I was at your desk. American branch called. I don't know who will be left to answer, but you'll want to call them back." Percival looked at his watch. "As of this morning, Galahad was still alive."
As it turned out, the US branch had been hit badly, but the medbay itself was shielded against cellular reception, to prevent equipment interference. Harry was patched through, bandaged but intact, and demanding everything they knew. Percival had run out of words. He reached his hand out to the camera, and after a moment, Harry did the same. Merlin leaned closer, hand spread across the small of Percival's back, just above his holster.
"We'll tell you everything when we get there, Galahad. It's taken care of. Valentine's dead. Would you like to speak to the agents who saved the world?"
Merlin called in Roxy and Unwin, and watched Unwin blossom like an extremely ridiculous flower at the sight of Harry, literally bouncing in the remains of his tattered suit.
Roxy's hand stole into Percival's, and he squeezed it. "You should tell Thomas what kind of cloth you'd like. Lancelot." She lit up from inside, until her eyes shone with it. "I'm proud of you." Her fingers held his tight as Eggsy talked.
Finally Merlin pulled him away, and ended the call. "Eggsy. Shower. Roxy, you're the senior agent." Percival watched her spine straighten.
"The other knights?"
"Aren't here. And Percival will be with me retrieving Galahad."
Percival watched her, watched Harry's boy, and wondered if every last one of them who'd been trained by Merlin would lean so easily into his command. The thought felt reassuring, rather than worrying.
Roxy closed the door behind them, and Merlin turned to Percival, brought his hand up to cup the back of Percival's neck. Percival's eyes fluttered shut at the touch.
"Come with me?"
Percival nodded. There were words, low in his chest, but they were waiting to be spoken to Harry, too. He slid into the co-pilot's chair beside Merlin, and began his instrument check.
Ahead of them was the whole world, however damaged.
Behind them, the savior of said world put his sneakered feet up on the table.