Tinker: 2001 (1937, 1960)
She was an old woman now. An old woman with far more time than she had ever had before in her life and yet somehow not enough of it to even consider the idea of ever writing anything. She was not only currently involved in setting up the yearly memorial, but was constantly busy visiting her family and babysitting Michelle, taking care of her dogs, being in charge of the refurbishment and reorganisation of the agency archives, and still on a regular basis giving talks to the recruits and junior agents. Hell, even a good number of long-time operatives came to hear her speak, a fact which she supposed gave credibility to of the idea that future generations might want to know more about what she had experienced.
But a memoir of all things! It seemed very much like blowing one's own trumpet, she had grumbled several times to herself and to others when asked whether a comprehensive summary of her life might one day come about. It would never happen, she had promised Harriet and later Michelle many times. And yet here she was, sitting in front of the first blank sheet of paper and wondering who would sincerely want to read her little tinkering attempts at writing anyway.
The reason for this was that she had stumbled across her own name whilst going through the archives the other day. It hadn't surprised her, but still, it had felt surreal to imagine that those words – many of them written in her own hand – had actually happened to her. She had read through them, remembering everything that had happened in coloured detail. The ‘43 mission that had set it all in motion, the Merlin scribbles from the early ‘50s, and the two-month-long slew of logging that she had had to do in 1962 after the end of the Valentine case. That of course had sent her back to her old diaries, the snippets of news stories that she had kept over the years, and her own, still excellent memory.
Somehow it had felt like a good idea up until only a few minutes ago to finally acquiesce to everything telling her to collect all of this into one place. Now however, she wasn't entirely sure. Still, she liked to finish any job she first had set her mind to, so she may as well begin. But where? Though she could write it out, most of it was highly classified, so she would have to do some heavy editing once it was done.
She meticulously sharpened a pencil, sipped her tea, and checked her watch. Five hours until Harriet and Michelle were coming by with their parents for dinner. Enough time to make a start.
She could decide for herself what broke confidence after she was finished. Change the facts a little.
Just a first draft then, in which she could sort her thoughts out and include everything that she remembered. The good and the bad and all the things that she had never told anybody about.
Where to start?
She lifted the pencil and began to write.
To begin with, the organisation was called Kingsman. And she had been a Kingsman agent. She took centre stage, for now still bearing the name Roxanne “Roxy” Morton until an adequate pseudonym could be found. Next to her stood Percy, who had started her on her journey.
Percy was Roxy Morton's uncle. That was the only reason that she’d had the chance in the first place. Well, that and her excellent record. Girls in the army weren’t as uncommon as people would later imagine, but they were too often delegated to fetching, carrying, fixing, or secretarial jobs. Hidden in the background in their dirty uniforms and overalls and not prominently displayed on the postwar posters of proud servicemen who had done their bit.
She hadn’t accepted that. What good was being an aristocrat if she couldn’t use some of her connections to make sure that she was where she belonged: On the front line. Army training first. Preparation for a war that her uncle had told her was definitely coming. He always knew about these kinds of things long before they were speculated about in the press. Then on to training for intelligence work, coding and decoding, encryption, blending in, withstanding interrogation, evading capture, all strange things for a girl in her mid-teens to be doing, but then again, so was preparing to go to university if you were a girl, even if Oxford had opened its doors a few years ago. At home Percy drilled her even more rigorously when he wasn't on his business trips.
Roxy had decided from the moment that she had first started to live with Percy that she was going to fight when the moment came for it and, just as Percy had promised, it eventually did, although not as she had expected.
Percy returned from home from work one day in 1937 and she instinctively knew that something had happened that would change her life. At first he didn't tell her what it was and she resisted asking him all through the day and into the evening. She still remembered how intensely he had watched her while she studied, during their meal times together, whilst supervising her as she went through her training routines, not saying a single word. She had suspected it then and knew later that he had been assessing her, but she hadn't known that he was also questioning his own motives for asking her what he was preparing to ask her.
Over a cup of tea before bed he sat her down and told her in that plain, humourless way of his that he was part of an organisation that operated under the highest secrecy. He was offering her a chance to join him. Would she be willing to become his proposal for the opening that the job currently held?
The next day, aged 17, Roxy Morton found herself leaving the house that she had lived in with her uncle for four years of her life and entered a tailor shop on Savile Row.
Percy walked beside her, exuding pride that she had never heard him speak out loud, before taking her to the secret lift and into an underground train of the likes that she had never seen before or imagined could be real. She had later learnt that travelling by this method was meant to be strictly prohibited to agents only, as possible candidates shouldn't be allowed to know how to reach HQ, and had always felt grateful to Percy for instilling this wonder in her before she had even reached headquarters. She was fairly sure now, that he had never doubted that she would get the position.
He guided her past the hangar and through a set of smaller hallways, before finally leaving her at a door. A moment of awkwardness, a shake of the hands, and a soft “good luck,” before he left her again.
She turned the handle and into a room walked Roxanne Morton.
Eleven pairs of eyes stared at her from almost identical dully pale, male faces, as though they weren't sure if she was supposed to be fetching them tea. She had been instantly sure that she would beat them from the moment she saw them and therefore paid them little notice beyond the obligatory courtesy instilled in her by her parents. Twelve beds lined the walls, at the end of which stood an open toilet and shower area with a large, suspicious mirror that faced out to the room.
Upon taking her place in their ranks she cleared all notions from their heads as to why she had entered the barracks, although not quite their disbelief that she was meant to be there in the first place. She didn't care, although throughout the process she was glad that they weren't allowed to discuss who had proposed them, or else she was sure that people would point out at any given time the nepotism of her candidacy as the reason for her even getting this chance. The only reason that this tiny, sweet-faced girl was allowed amongst those big, strong men. On the other hand, the strain of aristocracy that ran through most of the organisational members made it clear that favouring the sons of families who funded Kingsman's work was a vital piece of the decision-making of who could be nominated in the first place. In that sense she was no different to the rest of them, if slightly shorter and with longer hair. Her ability to make people underestimate her was only a plus in this line of business.
She later often ruminated on the fact that Kingsman had always been somewhat behind the times, despite being more technologically advanced than MI5 and more secret than SIS. It came with the way that it was founded, she supposed. Made it easier to keep it a boys club if no women knew that it existed to complain.
She became Lancelot two years before the second world war officially broke out. Surprisingly, the majority of their missions back then had had nothing to do with the war itself. Most of the secretive part of the world seemed to be aware of the existence of world war two before even the politicians themselves – certainly long before the people.
No, Kingsman was more interested in looking into their allies than their enemies. Apart from the occasional collaboration with MI5, SOE and OSS, who were investigating and codebreaking German warfare tactics and training guerrilla forces in France and the Balkans, she was mostly interested in stopping world war three before the second one had even begun.
She had also been in charge of the rescue and recruitment of one Eggsy Unwin a few months before their previous Galahad had died, unfortunately embroiled in a double-crossing of the radio network in Paris that had burnt the entirety of its operatives and ended with him getting a bullet through the head. Roxy had only been lucky that she hadn't found herself in that mess as well, but it seemed that fate had intervened in pulling her out just in time to start looking for Eggsy, who had gone missing during the war, presumed dead – another story, really, and one that Eggsy could tell far better than herself.
She put the pencil down and frowned at her work hitherto. It was a little dry: too many facts about organisations and assignments that were irrelevant – although she liked the part about being better than the boys. She’d keep that in. Maybe she ought to start somewhere else. Describe the people some more. Merlin, obviously, the rest of the knights. Arthur. Harry. Elizabeth. Anjali. Eggsy. Tilde. M. Connie. Daisy. Michelle. Jim. Victoria.
There would have to be a part about that no matter how much she dreaded thinking back on it.
It began in Paris, 1943. Roxy had been tasked with communicating with a possible future contact, codename Gazelle. The city had been tense and jittery with hidden life and resistance. The café had been dark and empty but for the woman waiting for her at one of the tables. A raid on a nearby jazz-club was about to be underway and the air had seemed to carry the weight of impending violence with it.
Was it an old woman's fancy or had there been a fluttering of fate to accompany the slight jingle of the bell as she had opened the door?
She was no longer sure now what had been more important: the files that she had been sent to get or the meeting itself. Both had tied into what would happen nearly twenty years later.
She sighed heavily. This writing business was even harder than she had thought. But despite her former grievances she had to admit that she was enjoying looking at the past. And it did feel important. Somehow. The memories of an old woman by request of two young girls, who – she grumbled to herself – would probably not be interested in it in the end anyway. It had been a passing fancy. However, now that she’d started, it didn’t really matter if anybody cared to read it or not.
She checked her watch. Two hours until they were here. She sighed and got out of her chair with a lack of creaking that revealed how well she still took care of her body, stretching as well as she could still manage. A beginning of sorts she supposed. Perhaps once she had finished making dinner and entertaining the girls she would be through with this passing fancy and leave the rest of the past alone. Hopefully her sudden itch to re-explore it would disappear now that she'd given it an honest try.
She returned to her table with great surprise some hours later, the Unwins having left and her giving an unexpected promise that she would finish it now that she had started. (She mentally reminded herself to keep her mouth shut around children. They always took your words to heart.) She still doubted that the girls would think this anything but a bit of overblown fiction, although it was oddly gratifying to know that somebody wanted to know about all this – if indeed, they hadn’t just been humouring an old woman who had told them far too many bedtime stories.
The few pages that she had already written lay before her, disorganised and rambly. She should really go to bed, she had been advised by her doctor that she ought to take greater care of her sleep patterns. Not that she listened to the doctor much. She had never slept much in the past and wasn't interested in starting that habit now that she was closer to the end than she had ever felt before. She sat down and looked over her work.
It was a beginning. Maybe the sort of beginning that was a little too messy and sounded as though she had no idea where to actually begin, but a beginning of sorts was far better than no beginning at all!
Maybe she should make a list... No, that wasn’t how people wrote things, was it? They wrote things as though they knew exactly what to write and like they knew that it would be good.
“Yes,” she said to the empty room. “This is going to be good!”
The statement made her feel better, although she had for some reason expected her voice to sound like it had done then. Softer, higher. Unassuming and pleasant. Instead it came out as old as she was. Eighty-one. Scratchy, but not ancient. A good record played many times.
Okay, where else to start. Perhaps she should just skip the war. Head straight to the story she knew she wanted to tell: 1952, the beginning of Kingsman's downfall. It was a slow, unnoticeable decline that ended with a loud crash and several fatalities. But Roxy couldn't bring herself to begin with that. She knew that she was circling the inevitable, painful subject, but for now she was content to reminisce about times before that.
Being a spy was not glamorous. Apart from the times that it was. During WWII you couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of excitement when you were walking down enemy streets in your nicest dress, speaking German while being entertained in an underground jazz bar, or smoking a cigarette at a British Embassy while passing over critical information.
There were all the dirty parts, the secret passing through country-borders at night in the back of vans with enough people in them to make you think that the smell of desperate sweat would never leave your body; the hiding out in dark, dank buildings while you desperately evaded enemies; the relocating every hour for weeks; the fear of capture.
She’d communicated with Didi Nearne, codename Rose, more than once before she had been detected in 1944. At the time, Roxy had been on an altogether different mission and hadn’t heard about it until after her release. By then Roxy had found out quite a bit about the concentration camps, had had a vague idea of what Didi had gone through and had visited her a few times after the war had ended. Didi had never recovered from the war. Roxy knew too many that had never recovered. Several who had never returned.
So that was being a spy.
The ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s were another kettle of fish altogether. The colours of those times were different. Everybody suspected everybody and you could be the head of counter-espionage at the SIS and still be reporting to the KGB or the CIA. Just because you were allies didn’t mean you trusted one another.
It hadn't been until the 1960 that Roxy had found out what had happened to her predecessor. The previous Lancelot had died a rather brutal death, although nobody knew then who had instigated it. He had been sliced in half in 1937 while undergoing an undercover surveillance mission. Top to bottom, then sown back together like a grotesque doll. His picture had been sent to almost every spy agency in the world – except for Kingsman. Kingsman didn’t exist. They saw it though, via their contacts in the agencies and the picture was still intact in agency databases. It had been a warning maybe, or a question. Whose is this? There had been no answer of course. The body had never been recovered.
Kingsman started their new recruitment process straight away. Percival had immediately suggested his niece – she was was already training for special forces and she had always been his favourite family member ever since she had become as big a disappointment to Percival’s sister and husband as he was. She was a little on the young side and a girl, yes, but she made up for that with sheer talent, dedication, and training.
Roxy imagined that Arthur may have raised an eyebrow or two when Percy had proposed her as a candidate – might have raised more if he’d had more to raise, and the doubts would have been easy for all to read on his face, even after reading her record. But it wouldn’t do to look less progressive than their sister-agencies, so there she was in that line-up, confident that she was better than everyone standing with her.
Then Merlin entered and everyone immediately stood to attention.
“Gentlemen,” he said, with the kind of command that made Roxy almost forget to want to mumble ladies under her breath. “Lady,” added Merlin after a pause. “Congratulations. You are about to embark on the most dangerous job interview in the world.”
Roxy was relatively sure that she was the only one who saw through his intimidation tactics. There was only so much warning you could give people of their imminent deaths before it started to sound ham-fisted. She made a point of telling him as much after she beat out the other contestants over a series of gruelling months, and he responded with a shrug and a, “that's how I knew that you were going to be the next Lancelot. You weren't afraid of anything.”
It was a rare praise that she wasn't sure if was real or meant to cover for the fact that she had hit a nerve over the way he liked to present himself, but she took it all the same and saved it in her mind alongside the remaining few times he smiled at her or congratulated her on a job well done. She still had all those times fixed in her memories like precious stones.
Over the wartime years she managed to do more than prove that she was worthy of the joint legacy of her uncle and the former Lancelot, even managing to impress Arthur, who was otherwise generally pleasantly, patronisingly chauvinistic towards the female staff. Even Connie and Anjali, who were known as Merlin's partners and confidants, never warranted much acknowledgement of their genius, despite everyone knowing that without them the agency would never have persisted past the war and certainly not past Merlin's alleged defection and death in 1952.
When Roxy had first started working she had unconsciously wanted Merlin's praise, a habit that had been at war with her otherwise somewhat reckless nature. After 1952 what had kept her going was a different impetuous determination to not believe in his guilt, and later to prove his innocence. And after that... she had yet again begun on another story.
The point was that in a strange kind of way Merlin had kept her alive from the day that she first set eyes on him until now. She wasn't sure, looking back, if she had ever said thank you for that.
Roxy had known Merlin and considered him a friend years before she met Eggsy and Harry. Without her realising it, he had even become family. It wasn't until many years later that she was sure that the feeling was mutual and never by his own admittance. It was years after he was shot in the back in Hungary. Still, the knowledge had always meant as much as if he had been able to tell her himself.
But now she was getting ahead of herself again, even if she had finally found the story that she wanted to tell.
It began in the rain.
Firstly thank you so much to obfuscatress for betaing, it's saving me so much grief
Secondly, Didi Nearne was a real spy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eileen_Nearne
I went down such a rabbithole for this fic, and there were so many awesome women spies in WWII that all deserve their own movies tbh. you can start your own journey with Noor Inayat Khan (muslim princess and spy and pacifist)!
Kudos/Comments are super welcome!!!!
Chapter 2: Tailor
Rain, annoying conversations, reminiscing, and the thickening of a plot!
Again, thanks so much to Obfuscatress for all your help, all remaining mistakes are my own.
Merlin's boyfriend: http://www.heyuguys.com/images/2010/02/63.jpg (because A Single Man is everything).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tailor: February, 1960 (1951, 1952)
Roxanne Morton, ostensibly working at Kingsman Tailors, was on the verge of being middle-aged, although her face still seemed to be as timeless as that of any particularly daunting movie actress. She was also as able as one to change herself at a moments notice from meek, to intoxicating, to dangerous, to angry enough that she may have been able to spit fire at whoever or whatever had caused the outburst.
Tonight she was merely attempting to unobtrusively move as fast as possible through a thin crowd in her thankfully flat Oxfords. She was proceeding east from Shadwell through the pouring rain, gripping a satchel filled with top secret files – some official business about the rise of mass murder-suicides around the world that she for the moment had no interest in and a few, loose sheets of paper that at first glance made no sense, but for the fact that they had been written by-
Her bespoke coat had managed to retain rather than repel moisture, and she appeared for the moment to be incredibly young and vulnerable as she uselessly wrapped it closer around her, shivering and willing away the cold that she knew was inevitable at this point.
Roxy was at once fuming and thoughtful, a rare combination of emotion that made her irritation more obvious than she usually let herself be and would have meant an uncomfortable experience for anyone who might have decided upon first impressions that she was an easy target. In fact, she almost invited an attempted mugging on this particular evening.
The tube-ride from Westminster had been filled with commuters just as dripping wet as herself, and so she had resorted to glaring at anyone who looked in her direction in order to feel better about being unable to vent her frustrations in any other way, but now that she was out in the rain again she had another twenty minute walk home in order to get her mind in order.
Her first thought was of an annoying conversation that she had only managed to escape after the evening rain had already begun. It was with one Martindale, a prick without any real sway in office, but who worked in foreign affairs as a glorified paper-pusher and had once assisted in code-breaking during the war. As she was the official liaison with MI6 and therefore doubling as a PA to the top, she occasionally had to frequent standard meeting places in order to seem like a normal employee. Tonight she had been unlucky and stumbled across his pleasantly awful manners and constant insistence that she should have dinner with him at The Club.
Martindale was the kind of person who liked to feel that he knew more than he did, and as such, whenever they spoke he would ram his conspiracy theories down her throat whilst she nodded and agreed and hmm'd and paid absolutely no attention to anything besides her internally ticking clock as she wasted minutes of her life on being polite.
This evening however, was a surprisingly ill-chosen subject: that of the disappearance of the spy who never existed. “Codename Ellis. Splashed across the front page like a blemish to the British Secret Service, except of course he didn't belong to any of our organisations. You remember? The Hungarian press was very keen to pin that one on us.”
“I remember,” said Roxy.
“Well, you would, you and M are on intimate terms I've heard. Probably even know her name, eh?” When Roxy didn't answer, he continued. “One wonders, of course, about all the rumours and conspiracies that circulate around our parts of the world...” ( our parts, you were a spy for a measly ten minutes), he paused, importantly, “... But that one. The Hungarian. Whoever unravels the mystery of that one would be a king, or queen, of information.” he nodded graciously to her.
“If there were anything to the story, of course,” she pointed out.
“Oh, we all know there was. Don't be so boring,” he grumbled, annoyed that she wasn't playing along. He quickly recovered, however. “It's obviously all linked to that secret secret organisation. M knows, of course she does. That's why she's in charge. I bet she doesn't know who the agent was or why he was allowed to be killed so publicly, but someone must. I bet you could sort it; you're quite a bright one I've heard around the office.” He winked.
She tried not to groan.
She managed to escape, at last, an hour later, after rebuffing every attempt at trying to discover if she knew anything and utterly ignoring any and all probable flirtations. It was strange to exit that conversation and at last be allowed to consider the one that she had been involved in prior to her bad chance encounter, held at a secret location in Chelsea. It almost made her feel better to imagine how Martindale would react if he could know even half the secrets that she kept. He might implode, she imagined happily.
It wasn't until she got on the tube that she realised that she had left her book at the club in her hurry to escape. Nothing to distract her from her churning thoughts and the relentless existence of other drenched human beings, just as eager to escape the torrent and now regretting being stuck inside the equivalent of a tin of damp sardines.
Her other thought, as she closed on Limehouse and the beginning of her final walk home, was of the Christmas Party of 1951.
The annual Christmas dinner was the only event of the year that included those outside the firm – wives, husbands, girlfriends, and Jim. The tech department was there, along with actual tailors and partners of the legitimate business. It was an event during which nobody was allowed to speak business, spy-related or otherwise. It was also the number one bottomless well for gossip and rumours.
In 1951, Arthur coarsely complained about the punch as usual, and it mysteriously went from weak enough to be served at a children’s party to rather quickly causing massive drunkenness amongst the guests. The music was upbeat and the noise endless and happy.
Roxy tracked Eggsy down to a corner of the large room, where it seemed that the loud drunk-infused festivities had been dampened by a nigh-impenetrable bubble of sullen disinterest.
“You’re looking cheerful,” she said, handing him a drink.
He took it, nodding his thanks. “Dunno. Not in the mood, I guess…”
“Your Christmas spirit just can’t be lowered, can it?” she smiled, leaning against the wall next to him. “I suppose you're missing Harry.”
In lieu of an answer, Eggsy downed half of his beer. “Merlin promised I only had to stay a couple of hours,” he muttered. “Didn’t say nothing about being happy about it.”
Merlin was whispering something in Jim's ear, on the verge of slightly too drunk to be appropriate in the way he was touching his thigh. Roxy nodded to them. “That can’t make you lighten up a little?”
Despite himself, Eggsy smiled. “Didn’t think I’d ever see him out of acting sergeant mode ‘til I saw the two of them together. Can’t believe we let that sorta thing go on in our upstanding organisation.” He finished the rest of his drink.
Roxy tutted. “Shameful, really.”
“What about you?”
“Bringing any shame to the noble knights of Kingsman?”
Roxy let out a snort. “Yes, I’m drowning in about as many women as you are.”
Eggsy sighed heavily and put his drink on the floor, before extending his hand to her. “Alright, I promised I wouldn't get smashed and I’m gonna have some fun before I'm off. Dance?”
She finished her own and took it. “Yeah, alright.”
An upbeat, popish version of La Mere began to play , and they danced.
Percy stood talking to a couple of the other agents, but turned to observe them, a small smile on his usually expressionless face as Eggsy had her twirl, both of them laughing as though completely alone.
The party itself marked a change, although barely anybody in the room was aware of it at the time. It wasn’t much different from last Christmas, apart from the underlying arguments of the year that were swept under the table for the night. Men and women and knight’s were covertly attempting to hide their true natures, but the alcohol made them looser, more honest, showing who their affiliations and who their enemies were.
Lancelot and Galahad on the floor, always free in showing their adoration for each other, but also taking in the layout of the room, ever the spies. Percival now returned to dutifully smiling with his teeth and avoiding small-talk where possible as he clearly counted the seconds until he could leave and go home to his numerous pets. Kay muttering a small word to Merlin, causing him to stand and purposefully dance with somebody’s girlfriend, Lamorak glaring angrily in his direction – it was his girlfriend, and Merlin was showing to be a far more attentive and elegant partner.
Over on the other side Arthur aggressively bared his teeth into a dominant smile, and clapped a palm overbearingly over Bedivere’s shoulder, the smaller man visibly nervous but trying to seem bigger than he was, both physically and mentally. Gaheris was drunk and leering at women who weren’t his wife. Gawaine and Geraint were flirting with five secretaries, always overreaching. Bors and Gareth were the only two that were happily married, although Gareth wouldn’t be much longer, with the way his wife and Lamorak had been sneaking off throughout the evening.
Anjali was trying to drown out some of the animosity that inevitably came with parties by drinking a little more of the awful punch than she wanted to and grimacing when somebody playfully nudged her and said “Arabs, you can rent one, but you can’t buy one, eh?”
She faced the man. “I'm English, you ponce,” and looked two seconds from hitting him in the face. Then Jim stood and walked to her side before anything could get out of hand. They danced as well and things were better. Not perfect, but better. Connie and the rest of tech cheered them drunkenly on, ascribing to the stereotype that they were too nerdy to know how to dance, which allowed them to not make as much of a fool of themselves as most of the agents did.
All in all, the evening was never going to be perfect, but there were a few drinks and a couple of laughs and after Eggsy had snuck out to return to Harry in Kensington, Roxy joined her tiny group of friends and ignored the rest, but for the usual cursory knowledge of where everyone in the room was. Percy even joined in, although he left early as well, just before a drunk Father Christmas in a Lenin mask took to the stage to lead a mockery of the Soviet National Anthem that most of the party-goers happily joined in on.
The dramas that occurred at Kingsman were always hidden behind deceptive smiles and petty revenge and were never obvious to the naked eye, but for those trained in being able to see beneath the veneer of friendliness. A few real trusting bonds developed amongst the ranks of its employees and those lasted a lifetime.
Roxy spent the night at Anjali's and the following week of holiday with Michelle and Daisy, for the entirety of January blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. Michelle had long ago decided to unofficially adopt her as a thanks for saving her son during the war and Roxy never felt calmer than with the two of them. Daisy was often at friends rather than at home, but Michelle didn't mind her being gone as much as she might have done eight years ago when Eggsy was presumed dead.
Eggsy himself alternated between the house and the place he shared with Harry and Roxy noted that there was a general change about him after New Year's that she numerous times tried to bring up, but he always brushed her off with a smile and a distraction. He had always been good at downplaying his problems, to the point that even Roxy, Michelle, and Daisy sometimes believed him. He was a far better spy than some who took him at face value gave him credit for. They had that in common. Still, Roxy would always feel a pang of guilt that she hadn't been more insistent in trying to help.
Roxy still remembered asking Daisy once about how she and Michelle dealt with Eggsy's long, strange work-related absences after he had joined Kingsman Tailors'.
Daisy had smiled and shrugged. “We miss him, but it's not like he's getting into trouble making suits.”
Daisy had been young and not quite as adept as her mother and brother at telling a lie, but Roxy had still noted that natural affinity that the three of them possessed in shrugging off something so convincingly that nobody would believe that anything was wrong. It ran in the Unwin bloodstream apparently and even a professional like Roxy couldn't see through it. This was the first time though that Roxy had been sure that Michelle and Daisy knew what she and Eggsy did for a living. Roxy always wondered from then on whether their excited hugs and smiles upon seeing her weren't always flavoured with a hint of relief that she wasn't dead yet.
In between the faux and the real festivities and the cold wars both within and without the offices of Kingsman, although nothing would ever be perfect, the week was good. Michelle always lamented how little she seemed to be eating (true) and that she never seemed to be getting enough rest with all the work she did (technically true), which meant that in January she was happily force-fed the remainders of the Christmas biscuits, as well as used as an experiment for every new dish that Michelle wanted to try before going back to nursing duties.
When everyone dispersed back to their respective lives it seemed that a bomb that had been waiting to go off for a long time finally detonated.
After that, nothing could be said to have been truly good again for a long time.
Roxy sneezed again and cursed whatever God had decided to remove all taxis from the earth, for a moment allowing that to overshadow her thoughts of that party and all that came after. It had been a vague sadness for almost ten years now, with no answers as to why everything had changed so suddenly. As though life all at once had decided to shatter the tentative peace on earth once again, but with only a small handful of victims to witness the explosion.
Eggsy had quit shortly before Merlin was shot in Hungary, and shortly after Harry's illness got much worse. He and Harry had moved to the countryside. After Hungary it had been impossible for Jim to stay in the country. With his dangerously socialistic openness and the whispers that were going on about Merlin being a double agent, he had known that he was close to being convicted of communism and extradited anyway. Better to return to America freely than in handcuffs. Idealism wouldn't have helped Merlin now anyway.
As far as Roxy knew he was still teaching in LA, but she hadn't spoken to him since that year. She had rationalised since then that it had been survival stopping her from reaching out to him, stepping hard on all thoughts of cowardice. Anyone suspected of having a deeper connection to Merlin was under suspicion of treason after all. Communicating with a gay socialist was as good as a confession to some of those paranoid conspiracy-theorists at Whitehall, not to mention those residing in Kingsman.
Roxy had spoken to the agents she trusted, and managed to convey a little information to Eggsy as well, now that he no longer had security clearance or much time to leave Harry alone. For awhile it had been touch-and-go with him.
In between the split at Kingsman – those who had believed that Merlin was dead, and those who believed that he had defected – Elizabeth II had been crowned queen of England with the official death of King George.
Harry Hart was now more than a second identity, it was the only name belonging to a wealthy man who resided in the countryside for his health. Not a king, just a man very rich in funds and connections, apparently non-existent according to the registry, who lived out of the public eye with the former bodyguard to the king, Eggsy Unwin, as his personal protection.
Arthur had promptly utilised Merlin's untimely departure to divide the offices. Four Kingsman agents and several technicians were pulled under his wing to begin a new pet project, a gathering of Soviet information that hitherto hadn't been possible, because of Merlin's interjection that the information was suspect and that Lamorak – who had discovered the source – was a complete idiot who wouldn't know intelligence if it stripped naked and covered itself in Kremlin stratagems.
The project was called Witchcraft – “In honour of our late friend and wizard,” tittered Lamorak, inspiring a dirty look from Kay from across the table as it was announced to the entirety of the Kingsmen knights. A strictly need-to-know basis operation, that received intel from a mole in the inner circles of Moscow. That was all anyone was told, and immediately a new table was set – one for Kingsman agents, and a separate for those involved in Witchcraft.
Arthur had never called Merlin's unofficial co-leadership weak, but it lay simmering beneath the surface after that meeting that anyone who questioned the changes might as well leave. A few did. Roxy had stayed and watched Witchcraft – Lamorak, Bedivere, Gaheris, Gawaine, Arthur – begin to make more of the decisions, whilst the rest of them now mainly handled grunt-work and black-ops, signing up defected agents, coordinating with MI6, running the scalphunters... Roxy had by now lost count of the amount of need-to-know Witchcraft stamped files she had been handed, half of the words blacked out and no information beyond the targets and places for her to deal with. Kingsman had once been a joint venture, but had now transformed itself into the monarchy that the namesake of its chairman had always implied it to be.
And with the memories of a winter of happiness and betrayal fading into a springtime of new duties and forgetfulness, nothing was the same for close to nine years.
Roxy stopped writing again and checked her clock. It dully read 03:21. She sighed and gave in to the urge to put down the pencil, let the dogs out one last time and then get ready for bed. Whilst she brushed her teeth and changed, she again wondered if she was going about this the right way. She had been trying her best to stay a neutral third party, but recalling it all… surely the incident deserved more than a few lines and yet... would Merlin have appreciated it? It was already next to impossible for her to remain unaffected, to figure out what to put down and what to leave out. As so often happened when she allowed herself to dwell on any event from her past she wished that she had done more, despite the years of assurances that she had done her best.
Dead or defected. Those had been the two options.
Only those who had betrayed him had known the truth.
She got into bed with far too much creaking and at last felt what she usually denied to herself and her doctor. That she was too bloody old to go on as she had in the past, but too stubborn to do anything else. Maybe one day soon that would finally be the thing to finish her off, but she had managed a good amount of years, to her and many others' great surprise. Anything after that was a nice bonus, but not necessary. She had felt for awhile now that she had nothing really important left to give and it had merely been a matter of staying busy whilst the clock counted down to its end. Except now it seemed that she did have one or two last marks to make. It actually made her feel more excited than she had been in years.
She spent a few minutes uselessly tossing and turning before sitting up and grabbing the nearest bit of paper, mentally telling her doctor to sod off.
On the evening on which Roxy Morton was returning to her flat in a usual London downpour, the truth had finally come out. What was known, at least. She finally reached home, unlocked her door, and shook out her coat before hanging it up to dry. There was something roiling inside her that protested the legitimacy of any of this when the rest of her world appeared as ordinarily dreary as it had done these past eight years – from the dullness of being forced to endure Martindale, to the persistence of the sluggish London rain. And yet, she thought, as she gingerly pulled the papers out with damp hands and looked at them again.
Her earlier meeting today had been with none other than the queen of England, a rarity in and of itself, but the secrecy and content of it still left her almost dizzy. She was amazed that she had even managed to sit down with Martindale, never mind have an entire conversation with him whilst this occupied her thoughts. The papers that she had been given had been found in an old house in Kensington and they revealed what Merlin had apparently been trying to tell everyone before he had been shot, eight years ago.
There was a mole in Kingsman.
Next chapter: The return of old an old friend/enemy/lover and a few past secrets revealed!
kudos/comments are always welcome.
Chapter 3: Soldier
Past lovers, present allies, and future enemies
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Soldier: March, 1960 (1933)
Roxy said the name and was surprised that somehow the world hadn't spontaneously combusted, but even so, it felt as though something had irrevocably changed and she needed a moment to remind herself that this was all real. She recollected herself, hoping the pause might have been construed as weighty rather than weak. “What ties does your organisation have to the business mogul known as Richmond Valentine?”
“If you're asking what I know... there's a little bit of a rumour that's going around,” said M, a mysterious shadow-figure from MI5 who had no other name or title, but ran the entire operation and unofficially also had her own little gang of super secret agents on the side, although technically nobody knew anything about the double-0s. Thankfully, it seemed that M had not noticed her slip of composure, but it was hard to tell, as her face tended to remain eerily stern whatever the occasion, always putting in Roxy's mind the image of a particular constantly unimpressed headmistress that she had once had. “Maybe it's a small myth by now. That there was a mole-hunt in the most secret of the British Secret Services, connected to Valentine in some way. In fact, it's been quite the hilarious little dinner party conversation for a few years. Naturally only amongst us few in the know of your existence and without any proof to go with the tale. Whether of course that actually ties into the kind of dealings that Valentine has...” Roxy's face gave away nothing. M, likewise might have been carved of marble. She continued, “I have recently had some trouble with one of my own.”
“We heard about that,” said Roxy. “Caused a bit of a fuss.”
“Mmm,” said M, and finally frowned slightly. Not a complete automaton then. “Hopefully not too much. I wonder if it's a coincidence that our little... bother coincides with your question. First you said that you had something for me though?”
Roxy had been chosen as liaison between Kingsman and MI6 for two reasons: The first was that, as a woman, it was felt that she would have a better connection to the stern, elder member of her sex via the mystical bond that it was clear that all women instinctively shared. The second was that everyone was not-so-secretly terrified of M and wanted to avoid any communication with her at all cost. Roxy on the other hand got on with her in a formal sort of way and had a handy ease of access for times like right now when she needed to see her as soon as possible and wanted to avoid official channels when seeking her out.
Roxy nodded. “Strictly off the table. If you would be so kind as not to mention me in any way, this is… not exactly sanctioned.”
“And what would you be expecting in return?”
“A little more information on that agent of yours. Defected, you said?”
“I never did.”
Both waited a few moments, staring each other down. Then Roxy cleared her throat. “I suppose I ought to go first.” M nodded her agreement. “I'm guessing you've heard of Witchcraft – don't deny it, I know that Whitehall's been chomping at the bit to find out who the informant is. I don't know the source, and in any case, that would be far too much for what I'm asking; and probably treason...” so was this, maybe. Certainly Arthur would make a fuss if he knew about her extracurricular activities, but since Witchcraft didn't exist in official channels… best not to think about it. “I can give you information sourced by Witchcraft though. If you're interested, that is?”
“And what exactly are you looking for?”
“The name of the agent and a complete report of the incident in question.”
M stared her down for a full ten seconds before nodding, almost imperceptibly.
Roxy opened her briefcase and slid a slim file across the table. “This is… very hot. Enough that I'd suggest you wait a few days at least, and please find a viable source for it, I rather like my job.”
The murder-suicides' case that every Kingsman had received a copy of two weeks ago was going to lead to a number of minor and major missions in the near-future, and with only a little illicit snooping Roxy had discovered that MI6 were just as interested in what was going on as Kingsman, and much further behind on their investigations.
The deaths had recently started taking on a highly organised pattern – at first limited to scattered insurgent and guerrilla groups that were looking to fight specific regimes that the UK and US had interests in preserving, they had now expanded to larger terror cells, cults, and various protest-groups. There were no obvious ties between them and they were spread globally, but that just meant that someone had a very long reach. So far MI6 had assumed that it was somehow to do with sending a message to the West, whilst Kingsman was more interested in the means used to cause the incidents. Where they both agreed was that this spread was most likely dangerous to their interests and needed to be quelled.
M didn't move while she skimmed through the papers. Then she shifted slightly, enough so that Roxy guessed her surprise. “Is there something about my own agent that I don't know? I dislike not knowing what's going on in my own department.”
Roxy hesitated. “I can't state any facts as of yet…”
“Well. You'll be sure to pass on any information to me.” M waited until she had nodded and then made a brief phone call that Roxy somehow couldn't focus on, after which she turned back to Roxy, who was furiously refusing to break into a cold sweat. “I have a sneaking suspicion that you and I will be working very closely in future, Ms Morton.”
Roxy returned to a shabby room that she had rented for privacy with files not just on her current target, but on several MI6 agents who had gone missing over the years following WWII.
She threw a cursory glance over the papers that had led her to M in the first place - they had been sitting patiently in a locked box for eight years until her meeting with the queen had revealed their existence to her. She compared a name to the one on the file that she had received today. Not that it was necessary. Every piece of information was etched in her memory after hours of analysing and re-analysing it.
“Thank you Merlin,” she said softly to the empty room.
Outside it started to rain.
She poured herself her third glass of gin of the day, downed it, and began to read the report of their latest defector, scrawling down a few notations along the way: Agent, last name Hunt. On a mission involving the sabotage of several nuclear facilities and mass death of the employees at the sites. Was shadowing multi-billionaire pacifist Valentine, after a trail leading to one of his business partners died with said partner. Last known location was scouting a new potential contact. A woman.
No information on her.
She looked at the name and crossed it out. Then rewrote it. She was, after all, Valentine's closest ally that Roxy knew of.
When had they last met? Eggsy had still been a Kingsman and she had kidnapped him. Well, technically they hadn't met then, but Roxy had almost felt her presence as she had slipped from their grasp, like a ghost that refused to leave her. Gazelle had officially gone underground since then, no more seen at public sightings with her partner Valentine arguing for anti-warfare politics. She might even be dead.
Roxy poured herself another glass and began to reread, unable to discount the similarities between this case and Merlin's, but not finding enough to properly link them into a coherent narrative. She sighed.
She would need help with this.
Roxy called the one person that she could trust in the end. Eggsy.
“You what, mate?” he spluttered. “I’m not exactly low-profile.”
And that was that.
She told him what it was about later. She told him about Merlin’s investigation into Kingsman, a task begun in 1947. There had been a mole, he had been sure and he had been trying to find out who for five years until someone had lured him to Hungary in 1952 in order to set him up – somebody had found out what he was doing. She and Eggsy were going to finish Merlin's task.
The information that she had received at the beginning of her mission had been eight years old, two lists of names, and a poem.
Sailor: Gazelle, real name unknown
Rich Man: Arthur
Poor Man: Arnold
Thief: Richmond Valentine
There was no reference to it anywhere else in her so-far scarce research, nor had she ever heard of it being used at Kingsman before. She could only assume that it had been code for something involving Merlin's search, but whether it had been for a now missing report, a communication's device with an unknown ally, or some other, unknown purpose, she didn't know.
The lists provided a little more information. The first was of some highly recognisable faces, Kádár, Castro, Khrushchev… it went on, royalty, politicians, artists, scientists, but had clearly been cut off, pages missing. Someone had tried, and failed, to get rid of it. Or someone had grabbed what he could before it was too late and hidden it for her to find. She hadn't been able to recognise the names on the second list, although a couple had seemed strangely familiar.
In the end she had gone to Anjali with it, claiming the case was need to know, which was more or less the truth. Anjali had found the common denominator. They had all been spies, working for various intelligence agencies across the world. No one from Kingsman, but a few from MI6. They were all cold cases, the agents completely blacklisted and no other information available. Deniable operatives, most likely.
With the information garnered from M, she had learnt that some agents were directly traceable back to Valentine in some way or other and she was sure that the remaining few must have been involved with him in some way, perhaps set up like Merlin was for getting too close.
She had started out by checking into her room at a “so-called” b&b that stood somewhat off the beaten track and had grimy windows that looked over even grimier streets. A no-questions-asked landlady had given her a key with an assurance that all non-marital dalliances were kept under strict confidence. It had been ideal for her purposes of not being noticed, although to be even safer she had copied out the lists in a code that – as far as she was aware – only two people knew of: Herself and Merlin.
The thought of spying on her own agency weighed on her, but if there was anybody whose memory was worth stabbing her coworkers and boss in the backs, it was his. Thus far into proceedings her little investigation had caused her to break enough rules that if Arthur ever found out, she would be, if not outright arrested or assassinated, at least fired. She wasn't entirely sure which of the three she would prefer.
Still. She was working with Eggsy again. All things had their silver linings.
“And why didn't you get this list earlier?” asked Eggsy during a sneaky pre-mission beer.
“I asked Liz the same question,” said Roxy.
Eggsy snorted into his glass. “You call her Liz? Even I don't call her Liz and I've been to tea with her. Eight times, she never asked me to call her Liz.”
Roxy shrugged and smiled mysteriously. “Do you want to know or not?” Eggsy nodded glumly, but perked up when she began to speak again.
“She recently reopened a town-house, which had been closed for quite a few years. Since nineteen fifty-two actually. Thing is it used to be a secret hideout for the royal family; no one knew that it was owned by them because it was under a pseudonym, Harry Hart. He had to, sadly, very suddenly vacate it when he moved to the countryside, address unknown. In fact, Harry Hart himself is impossible to find on the register. Now, Merlin had hidden his information in a locked box at Victoria Station -”
“Why there?” interrupted Eggsy.
“I don't know,” said Roxy, lying smoothly. She wasn't sure... Merlin had always been a very private person, but she had done some digging, unable to help herself. “I guess it's just a good hiding place. Provided they don't replace the boxes or someone jerks them open, although I did find out that Merlin's particular one is actually a steel box. Couldn't leave it to chance and petty theft, I suppose.” Eggsy laughed and she felt safe to continue without him asking again. “The key to this box was sent along with instructions to give it to me and a message written in code. A code he happened to teach me a long time ago, which when solved told me where to go. Guess who he sent the key to?”
“Well not you, obviously.”
“I think that Merlin knew he was being framed and didn't want to drag anyone else down with him, hence why he wouldn't risk it going to someone known to be affiliated with him, like me or Jim. Since he couldn't give it to anyone for fear of being monitored and had no time to go directly to Liz while she was preparing for the coronation, he sent it to someone who officially didn't exist, but who used to own a very lovely town-house: Harry Hart. The problem was, he no longer lived in said address by the time the package arrived and was impossible to find. So it was returned to the postal service and kept in their care until Hart decided to return to his property.”
“...Are you telling me the fucking thing got lost in the post for eight fucking years?”
She continued in a satisfied tone of voice at his expression. “After you and Harry left, no one owned the address where he stayed and no one would have been able to find his new one since he's basically a ghost. Apparently it's been lying around the post office like a mystery package until the house was opened again, officially under the name of Hart, and someone thought to finally give it to its rightful owner. Completely by chance I'll have you know, Liz was looking for a nice town-house and since this one's already owned by her family...”
“... Christ. I need to tell Harry.”
“Tell him after we've solved this please. I am attempting secrecy.”
Eggsy rolled his eyes. “You say that and then you go on top secret missions with the front page of every newspaper in nineteen forty-eight.”
“The ex-king's supposed gay romance is yesterday's news. The real question is, do you think I could seduce the queen?”
Eggsy laughed on and off for half an hour, while Roxy thought back to when she had been standing at Victoria station, key in hand.
At first she had simply thought that it was a spy thing. Spies always hung out at train stations, so this was Merlin's idea of light-hearted comedy. But for some reason she had wondered about it, about Merlin who always had an extra reason for everything and was always a few steps ahead of everyone else, using a public place to house vital secrets. And she'd called Jim from a payphone and asked, her tone belying her nervously beating heart at hearing the sound of his voice after so many years.
“Yeah,” he'd said. “Yeah, Victoria was... where he met me when I'd first moved to England. Knocked me over accidentally on my first day and bought me a coffee, and uh... we spent every year in this shitty café there to celebrate. Wonder if it's still there. It was... it was stupid. My idea. He never complained. Why?”
Roxy'd cleared her throat. “Um. Nothing. It was just. He sent me a letter and it got lost in the post. He mentioned you in it. And that he was going to miss celebrating your anniversary.” Another lie.
Somehow she'd been sure that Jim knew that it had been a lie, a split second before he'd said: “Well, there was no one at work he trusted more than you. Thank you Ms Morton.”
After standing in silence at Victoria station for a few seconds, she'd snorted.
Who would have thought that Merlin was such a romantic after all.
Eggsy continued to occasionally giggle like a schoolboy until they reached their destination, at which point Roxy nudged him until he was finally ready to take this mission seriously.
With Eggsy’s help Roxy had dug into a set of buildings that all belonged to Valentine under a set of dummy corporations. In the last few years, and with the blessing of the government, he had been expanding his network into the country like insidious spiderwebs. Since M's research had suggested that numerous of the missing, presumed dead or defected agents had been on deep undercover missions relating to this name, it seemed fair to start wreaking some havoc in his business to see what she could dig up. Roxy had been waiting a long time to reacquaint herself with its owner and his possibly deceased partner.
After several searches they were now in what appeared to be Valentine’s main base in the country, going by the sheer size of the production factory itself and the amount of time Valentine had spent here during his last UK tour. In Manchester, which, after ruminating on why it was there, Roxy had wasted valuable time only to discover that Manchester City was his favourite football team and Valentine, despite being a technical genius, also seemed to have the mind of a twelve year old with far too much money to spend.
Roxy was rummaging through his private office and Eggsy was keeping lookout at their entry-point.
“You got anything, Rox?”
“How about I tell you when I do and we maintain radio silence in the meantime?”
Eggsy huffed in her ear. “I thought my voice was relaxing?”
“Annoying, is what I said.”
“Nah, you said relaxing.” Eggsy grinned. “All warm an’ snugly is what you said.”
“I never asked, how's the new Galahad? Girl, bloke?”
“He is a bit dull if I must be honest. Nothing much else the matter with him, I suppose. Still sure that the last test was rigged against my candidate, but don't tell anyone.”
“Secret's safe with me. Unless I feel like I'm missing the gossip mags.”
She let a soft, amused sound escape her despite herself. “Yes, you did love those.”
“So you got anything yet?” he repeated.
“No, I –“ she opened a cupboard, stuffed to the brim with files haphazardly placed like the only person who tended to look in here was the man who owned the place. At the top sat one that appeared to have been recently read. She looked through it. A picture was attached to the last page of a man she recognised. She had never met him, but everybody who worked at Kingsman knew who he was. “… I’ve got something,” she said.
Eggsy gave a whispered victory whoop. “Right, let’s get the fuck outta here, before – shit!”
“Eggsy what is it?” Roxy hastily hid the file on her person and stood. “Do you need backup?”
“Yeah, that’d be – “ his voice was punctuated by gunfire - “anytime!”
Roxy hurried down the hallway, turned left, and continued until she drew close to the fight. By the sounds of it there were only two shooters left. She drew her gun and turned the corner to see Gazelle dodging a bullet and coming in close to effortlessly disarm Eggsy. He ducked her kick and slid out of the way, scrambling to pick up another gun from one of the bodies around him before she impaled him.
“Galahad!” Roxy yelled, and both of them looked at her, momentarily causing a cessation in the violence.
Gazelle smiled. “If I’d known he was your friend, I might have been much nicer to him the last time we met,” she said. “I’ve been following your work since you started looking into us. I’m very flattered to be at the centre of your attention again, after all this time.”
Roxy looked at Eggsy, but carefully kept her in her line of sight, two predators warily keeping a distance. “You alright?” she asked him. He nodded from the floor and made a move to stand, but Gazelle transferred her gaze to him, with a silent promise that she would kill him if he moved.
“Shoot her?” he suggested meekly.
“I won’t kill him if you let me go,” Gazelle offered.
Roxy shook her head minutely at Eggsy. “We need her alive.” She reached into her jacket and pulled out the file, throwing it in Gazelle's direction. “Do you recognise this man?”
She picked it up, flicking casually through the papers. “I killed him. Another one of yours?”
“He got too close. Nothing personal. He killed some of ours as well.”
“Too close to what?”
Gazelle shrugged, scattering the papers on the floor. “You should hurry, this place is scheduled to blow up at any second. The usual precaution when we have intruders. I wouldn't usually have warned you, but it would be a shame if this all ended now. Of course, if you disagree you can shoot me.”
Eggsy nodded in agreement with that idea.
Roxy didn’t move. “Leave,” she said in a soft voice. “I’ll see you again.”
Gazelle took a few steps back, placing the threshold of the door between her and the line of fire. “I hope so,” she said and was gone before Eggsy could pick up the gun to follow her.
He turned to Roxy. “What the fuck?”
“She would have killed you before I got her,” she explained, as though it really were that simple.
To Roxy's relief Eggsy didn’t ask about any of Gazelle's veiled comments, but picked up the discarded file and looked at it. “Oh,” he said.
Roxy arrived back at HQ an explosion and a five hour drive later, having discovered nothing else of importance in the hurry to get away. At the back of her new file was yet another list of names that had been subtly handed over to Anjali for analysis upon return. Roxy took the destruction of the warehouse as a bitter minor victory and her formal declaration of her intentions towards Valentine, even if she was still covered in the dusty debris and dirt, as well as scrapes on her hands and knees from having been thrown across a car-park when the explosion hit.
After a brief physical and psychological check-up, the agents were all gathered for a debriefing and a memorial. While Roxy’s mission remained a secret and she had lied about how she had retrieved it, the information that she had gathered at that warehouse could not do so. Out of respect.
Lancelot had died over twenty years ago by now, but nobody had known until this moment who had been guilty of his death.
“As… irregular as it is,” said Arthur, “we will raise another toast to our fallen member as an official closure to his departure.”
Percy disappeared the moment the meeting had ended, not checking in with Roxy. Strange, she thought. Usually he coddled the living daylights out of her after a mission. A family misfortune she had to endure, or – as she felt now that he wasn't there – a tiny privilege that she was missing out on, on a day she really needed it.
Arthur met up with Lamorak, Gaheris, Bedivere and Gawaine behind closed doors to discuss Witchcraft. The hierarchy – and their informant – was still firmly in place and the agency back to normal after Roxy's tiny ripple of disorder had been dealt with.
Roxy waited around for Arthur to call her in to a private meeting and sure enough, after two hours she was sent in to him.
“Ms Morton. Sit.”
He poured the two of them a drink. She dutifully sipped hers.
“I would like to thank you, Lancelot, for bringing this case to a close once and for all.”
“Close? We don't know why Gazelle killed him yet, we don't-”
“We won't be able to find the instigators at this point,” said Arthur firmly. “It's a cold case, as old as your being installed here.”
“I am aware, sir.” She waited for him to continue.
He looked at her. “How are you these days? Not married yet.”
“Not in the cards with this job, I'm afraid.”
“A shame. Too busy, it's understandable. Recently you haven't had anything assigned to you though, am I right?”
“Just smaller cases, sir. Nothing out of the country.”
“Maybe we should sort something out. Thank you, Roxy, that was all.”
Roxy finished her drink, and left. Not at all what she had expected, but maybe Arthur wasn't planning on openly accusing her of selling secrets to MI6 and going rogue just yet. She heaved a sigh. Job still intact, for now.
Roxy had first met Percy at the age of twelve. He had been the scandalous black sheep of the family – her mother’s brother. She had met him for the first time at an obligatory family dinner at which everybody had steadfastly ignored him until she had gathered the courage to find out what all the fuss was about. At first glance he hadn’t appeared much different to the remainder of her stern-faced, emotionless aristocratic bunch, but she’d swallowed her disappointment and tugged at his arm.
“Why does mummy hate you?” she had asked. Maybe he was, like her own brothers, a prat. Then again, anybody her parents didn’t like was bound to be good company, no matter how proper they looked.
He had shrugged. “I like men,” he had said without an ounce of self-consciousness.
She had always liked how he was honest towards her in all things. It wasn't something she had encountered much of in the rest of her life.
One year later she had moved in with him after the disapproval and removal of her first girlfriend had culminated in her parents wanting to send her to a European finishing school for The Etiquette Of Accomplished Young Ladies.
He was the one who had taught her that shocking and proper could very easily go hand in hand.
She came home after her meeting with Arthur to find him blackout drunk on the living room sofa. She had never seen him drunk before. Hardly ever seen him drink unless the situation required it. She placed a blanket over him and cleared up the bottles and then – just in case – placed a bucket next to where he lay. Then she went to pour herself a few drinks and tried to get to sleep.
In the middle of the night she heard him use the bucket.
The next day she made him breakfast and didn’t ask. He looked decently shamefaced at last night’s display, although she didn’t really mind.
“Where is Eggsy?” he asked. Of course he knew that he had been with her whilst she conducted her unsanctioned investigations.
“Staying with his mum for the weekend. You know how it is for him after missions…” she placed the food in front of him. “He’s fine.”
He groaned. “I smell indecent.”
They spent the next few minutes in silence while he dutifully did as he was told and she sipped on a cup of tea that did nothing for her own hangover and waited for him to want to say more.
He didn’t speak to her until long after he had done the washing up and drying after breakfast, taken an indulgent shower, and made himself look presentable again. She let him take his time.
When he finally joined her, he did so with the expression of a man who had made a decision and with a photo-album in his hand. “I was with James for quite a few years,” he began. “Until he died.” He opened the album and showed her the pictures of a man she felt she knew although they had never met. He was smiling widely at the camera, while Percy kept his usual composure, but something about the picture suggested that he was about to break into something resembling an outward display of emotion.
“I see,” she said. “I’m sorry I brought it all back.”
Percy smiled softly. “It was quite a few years ago now. We soldier on.” He showed her a few more. The former Lancelot on the Kingsman grounds, the former Lancelot with what she presumed was his dog, the former Lancelot in this house – the date showing that she had been living here at the time, but Percy had never introduced them. Had he intended for Kingsman and her to be separate once upon a time? James clearly used to smile enough for the both of them, even though there was a glint in Percy's eyes that she had barely ever seen in all the years that she had known him.
“It’s just… a little strange,” continued Percy, as though there hadn't been a lull in the conversation. “The title of Lancelot always did seem cursed. I looked it up, after he died. It’s the Kingsman title with the highest death-rate by far. I don’t know why, if it just attracts reckless people somehow. I knew all of this when I asked you to pick it up. Rationalised that you’re hardly reckless. You’re… more like me. I spent a long time being invested in the man who bore the title and after he died I became very protective of it... like it belonged to me somehow. I saw you as the natural heir to him so that I could stay invested, somehow. In Lancelot, instead of in you. I’m sorry. It was disloyal of me.”
Roxy thought about it all. About the former Lancelot, about Gazelle, about Percy, about herself. She allowed herself her own pang of guilt at her past decisions… she and Gazelle had… but she hadn’t known then that she had killed her former namesake. Her uncle's partner. Her guilt turned to anger. Next time she wouldn’t let her go.
“There’s nothing to apologise for. This is my life and I wouldn't exchange it for anything in the world. I’m not going to die because of you.”
Percy still looked miserable, his body-language telling her that she couldn’t make that promise. She stood and hugged him, hard, holding his resolutely still body to hers.
“I’m going to kill them,” she promised instead.
No beta on this one, so all weird mistakes are my own, proud creations. Sorry for the wait, I am trying this thing called consistency and it's not my strong suit.
Next chapter: Did I say slowburn? Yeah, no, it's not anymore. A wedding, an objectively unwise decision, and a birthday with friends and family
Chapter 4: Sailor
Weddings and Birthdays
This chapter contains all my own mistakes (and if you look very closely you can see me blushing whilst writing THE MILDEST smut ever - but hey, we all start somewhere, and I like starting with enemies-with-benefits-and-swords-for-legs)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Roxy returned with the dogs, taking the time to unravel her scarf, remove her gloves, and hang up her coat. She hated to admit it, but she felt the Autumn cold intensely these days and was always stiff and slow when entering a room after being outside. She had learnt to mask it as intentionally not being in a hurry, but it was just another in a long list of petty annoyances that reminded her that she was getting older.
She put on the kettle and spontaneously decided that it was time to make another concentrated effort to move the story forwards. It had been over a month since she had started her draft on this. Occasionally she had managed a few pages in one go, but mostly it was scribbling here and there, trying to sort out the relevant dates of the '60s, to figure out what came after she had found out about Lancelot, after Gazelle. The investigation had ground to a halt, because Arthur had sent her on a lengthy, supposedly easy, cushy overseas job “as a reward for helping out with the former Lancelot case,” which had ended in a body-count somewhere in the thirties, if she remembered correctly. Most of them had not been people she would waste a thought – let alone a tear – on, but a few allies had been amongst the casualties as well. It had been an interesting holiday. She distinctly recalled having to jump out of a plane without a parachute, something for which she still felt she deserved a medal far more than anything else she had done in her life.
She hadn't continued on her molehunt or seen Gazelle until February of the following year- Ah! She thought, pouring the tea and getting settled in. That would be the place to continue, wouldn't it? As much as she had avoided it... now was the time.
It was a full church. The Unwin’s had after all been ingrained in Kingsman since the forties and they knew many of its members personally, both from the official business and its covert affairs section – of course, without knowing what Eggsy's job really entailed. Many of the Kingsman staff had come along without a proper invitation, simply keen on a wedding and a party. The groom's side of the church seemed surprised that the bride had such a wide and eclectic circle of friends, considering that the Unwins themselves appeared to be a largely reclusive family.
The atmosphere was the kind of expectant happiness that any bride deserved, the groom’s family and friends a pleasant lot; all of whom Eggsy had secretly checked up on to make sure that they were safe a long time ago when Daisy had first met him. Roxy had never spoken with any of them outside of a couple of forced get-togethers, but they seemed ordinary to the point of dullness in her opinion, which was good.
Percy's eyes were suspiciously wet, Anjali held Roxy’s hand, Michelle and Eggsy were completely unabashed in their crying. Even Arthur was there to pay his respects.
As Daisy moved up the aisle, Michelle – never one for subtlety – leaned in to ask Eggsy where Harry was.
“He couldn’t make it, mum. He’s very sorry,” he mumbled.
“Hm,” she huffed, but didn't press the point.
Roxy took his hand in her free one just as his sister slipped the ring on her husband’s finger, squeezing gently.
“Hard not to cry at weddings,” she muttered to him.
After the party Eggsy went back to the countryside and Roxy returned home alone. It had been a long year since she had first discovered the information about Merlin and her first instinct was, as usual, to go to her b&b and sort through her information. She resisted the urge and instead bought herself a bottle of vodka, found a woman at The Gateways, and went back to wherever she lived. At five in the morning she called a cab and went home whilst the other woman still slept in order to avoid waking up to the horrifying scenario of someone making her breakfast, and finally collapsed onto her own, not-often-used-these-days mattress.
Despite herself, she missed a body next to hers, the stillness of her life in between work making her breathing feel too loud, but at last the drink and the energetic activities from earlier drowned out the melancholy enough that she must have slept, because the feeling of waking up to the hangover of the following morning still seemed to haunt her forty years later.
Something happened after the wedding of Daisy Unwin. Another change like the one at the Christmas party over nine years ago. After this event something, for better or for worse would be different, the air seemed to say. In later years Roxy privately cited this as the end of the period of mourning and apathy that had begun in 1952. She couldn’t say if she’d felt it then, although looking back it did seem like it. But maybe that was just the benefit of hindsight of everything that would happen after the wedding playing tricks on her memories. She couldn’t have known, not in her calm, restless loneliness, that everything that had been torn down in 1952 was about to be avenged.
Roxy stopped again and briefly imagined Merlin and Jim. They would have been there too if they’d been able to. In fact, in the revised version she would put them there. No point in writing fiction if one wasn’t allowed to make it more cheerful. Change around some of the timeline, put the wedding somewhere else so that they could have seen it. Harry too, would have overcome his scruples about being recognised at a public event like this, been the one to squeeze Eggsy's hand instead of her having to do it. She sighed.
Two days after the wedding there was an attempt on the queen's life. The knights were all gathered in Arthur’s office, with the exception of Tristan.
“I’m afraid,” said Arthur, looking incredibly downcast, “that I have some very distressing news about one of our own. Tristan has been providing us with false information from Istanbul for weeks after being turned by the Soviets. He has killed two of our operatives in the country and defected.” He took a deep, steadying breath. “It is likely that he is also involved in the attempted assassination of her majesty. There is evidence that he was in contact with the men who attempted to carry it out. The queen has formally requested a liaison from Kingsman to watch over her from now on, and I have appointed Bors with that task. I have received news that Tristan might be returning to the country. I cannot at this time tell you what his motives for returning might be, but you are instructed to approach with extreme prejudice.”
Roxy frowned, not paying attention to the mutters around her. She would have thought that her investigation would have led to him in some manner, even if they had been put to a halt since going on her long-term mission to Czechoslovakia.
She knew Ricki a little. Not achievement hungry or imaginative enough for her to pin him down as a double agent, nor capable of constructing a plot to assassinate the queen. He was on her list of suspects of course, but so was the entire organisation, with the exception of Percy, Eggsy, and Anjali. He stood relatively low, compared to most of the men she shared a table with.
It was time to conduct some more illicit digging into Kingsman's affairs. She had not involved Eggsy in her molehunt since they had discovered the former Lancelot's fate, nor did she plan on asking him for any more help unless there was no other alternative. She still felt slight pangs of guilt at dragging him into this in the first place.
However, she would need an ally.
She went down to The Bunker speak with Anjali to ask her about the mission Ricki had been on. Anjali was generally referred to as the new Merlin these days, although never to her face. She’d overseen both tech and the handlers for nine years, occasionally complaining to Roxy over a drink that they needed to reinstate somebody to one or the other job before she died of lack of sleep. She was the best though and finding someone else to take over seemed an impossible feat.
She found her with her face buried in what appeared to be a normal pen. What made Roxy pause was the fact that Anjali had found it necessary to don heavy goggles and gloves whilst handling it.
“The pen is mightier than the sword?” she asked from the doorway.
Anjali gingerly put the pen into a steel compartment and removed her safety attire. “You might say so. It's experimental, look -” she picked up one that looked just like it. Roxy resisted the urge to remind her that she was no longer protected; Anjali had a habit of seeming scatterbrained when around her toys, but Roxy had learnt over the years that she was careful, both when handling tech and when handling agents . “This is going to be filled with a lethal toxin that you can secretly disperse into somebody’s drink. It's one of my own design – odourless, tasteless, and completely harmless. Unless you flick this -” she demonstrated on the pen-clip - “in which case you'll activate the components. It can be activated at any time until the toxin is dispelled from the body and it's got a pretty good range. It almost works. Sometimes everything... explodes. Haven't figured out why yet.”
“A work in progress then,” Roxy smiled. “Had lunch yet?”
“That's why I keep you around. To remind me.”
They went out to a pub about half an hours walk from Savile Road. Neither mentioned the obvious – that anything discussed this far from the shop was not something to be shared at the table.
Roxy paid for the first round.
“Okay?” she began.
Anjali shrugged. “As much as is possible these days. It’s not important.”
“You need a holiday.”
“We all do. Ask me again in a few years.” She smiled and sipped her beer.
Roxy waited until Anjali was ready to broach the subject. After a couple of minutes in which they circled the subject with small-talk and office gripes, Anjali finally glimpsed around briefly and then leaned in a little closer. “So. Ricki.”
Roxy nodded. “I’d rather not judge somebody without any information. I’m assuming you have records of his assignment.”
Anjali grimaced. “You know I usually adhere to company policy, and this is need to know. But to be honest, I think Arthur isn’t always… as interested in the facts when they don't align with his world-view. And I like Ricki. I think benefit of the doubt would be prudent in this case. Or else nobody is going to trust each other again.”
Roxy snorted. “Nobody does anyway. Especially not since Merlin…”
“... I sometimes think Eggsy might have got out just in time.”
Roxy bit her tongue and nodded. Eggsy's having worked with her was definitely need to know, even if she did decide to officially indict Anjali into the entirety of her little scheme, something she was heavily considering doing today. But Roxy would protect Eggsy, if possible, from anybody knowing of his involvement. There had after all been a reason that he’d left – not to mention that what she was doing was, if not completely illegal, then very frowned upon by her immediate superiors. Better safe than suddenly finding oneself with a one-way ticket to Hungary.
“Thank you for your help,” she told her instead.
“Be careful,” said Anjali, her tone suddenly worried. She took Roxy's hand.“You know that you're being watched.”
Roxy nodded. “I know. Gawaine keeps leaving bugs in my office, it's very rude of him.”
Anjali laughed. “Ah, I almost forgot. You never remind me, so I'm forced to somehow figure it out on my own. And you know I hate being in charge of remembering important dates.” She slid a small, neatly wrapped package across the table to her.
“I don't like celebrating,” said Roxy.
“I'm not celebrating. I'm allowed to give you a present though.” Anjali winked. “Don't even have to open it now and steel yourself to pretend you like it, although I know you will.”
Roxy smiled and put it in her purse. Then she bit her lip. “Can I ask another favour?”
She was in her b&b again. The room was basically a sublet now, the landlady seeming to think that she was a drunk, depressed writer, an impression that suited her just fine.
Today Valentine had announced that he was giving out free TVs to the masses. A noble sentiment that made no sense to Roxy other than perhaps as a ploy to make the public trust him more. Roxy had simultaneously been monitoring celebrities since last year, to see if there was any clue as to what the names on Merlin's list might mean and had noted that recently the princess of Sweden had been kidnapped, and several others gone missing. With the attack on Elizabeth, it all seemed connected. What it all added up to though, she had as much of a clue as she had had last year, or nine years ago.
Her thoughts moved from one end of the mystery to the other, buffeted by seemingly random pieces of information that somehow connected into a whole – hopefully clear – picture. She was a sailor in a storm, looking for a port: Famous names. Names of spies. The former Lancelot. Gazelle. Tristan. A mole. And now this free TV scheme of Valentine's. Almost a year gone by and another dead end, probably soon to be followed by another lengthy mission to put her plans on halt. Maybe she should just launch an assassination on Valentine, except that wouldn't solve her mole problem, and possibly only set his plan in motion. She didn't believe he wouldn't have a fallback in case of such an event. She sighed and poured herself a drink, lamenting her lack of contacts in the USSR. Did they have stories of agents seemingly dead or defected or just plain disappeared into the west without a trace? What little Anjali had found on Merlin going to Hungary was frustratingly unhelpful. He had been going to meet a source, was all anyone seemed to know. What source?
Roxy had already made an assumption that it had had something to do with the mole, and that Merlin must have suspected that he was being doubled-crossed, but he had gone of his own free will. Sanctioned by himself. It looked… well, it looked like Merlin had engineered his own defection to the Russians and covered it up by pretending to get shot. Except these days anyone who ever mentioned him – and it was hardly anyone who did – agreed that he was dead. So perhaps the source had been a lure, although Merlin had clearly known that he was about to get caught and taken precautions to keep the investigation going.
What had Merlin been doing before that, according to public record? Anjali had helpfully supplied some of his surviving logs, although it had been surprisingly difficult. Almost as though someone wanted the organisation to forget about him. Probably Arthur, and for a brief moment Roxy lingered on him. He was a prat yes, and old-fashioned and chauvinistic, and he had the means, but so did so many others here, and it didn't sit well with her, condemning the leader of the organisation based on disliking the man. Kingsman might topple if its head sold it out, and if there was one thing that Roxy knew, it was that Arthur loved Kingsman. Removing Merlin from the collective consciousnesses of his employees did seem a very Arthur-esque way of keeping up company morale. Still. He wasn't off her list of suspects.
Merlin and Witchcraft. It had been public knowledge that he had disliked the project… she wrote down Witchcraft and circled it, then rubbed her temple and had another drink. Witchcraft? A long shot. Just because he hadn't approved of the idea didn't mean that it was a bad one, nor that it meant anything more than what it was: a group of higher-up tossers in a super secret boys' society. Not much of a difference to her usual life.
She decided to go home. This room wasn't good for thinking or for staving off incoming headaches. And besides, she thought dully. She was meant to be celebrating. The bottle was coming with her though.
Someone had broken into her flat.
She lived in a small place, not far from the Thames docks or the remains of the East End slums, but comfortable and familiar. Kingsman offered free Kensington estates and country houses to all its employees, but Roxy had lived here after she had first moved out of Percy's and it had stayed faithfully upright throughout the Blitz, the council attempting to take it over for numerous over-population-solving schemes, and a large amount of previous break-ins. She had always had something familiar to return to after a strenuous day or mission.
Today was different from her usual stock of vandals and petty thievery. Usually it was just a busted-open door and embarrassingly bad attempts at rooting through her cheap trinkets to find hidden treasure. Today the door was locked and without a scratch around the keyhole. The single hair that she had placed between it and the wall, however, was no longer in place.
She placed her hand on her concealed gun and entered casually. Gazelle sat at her tiny dining room table, a small moue of distaste and a cocked eyebrow aimed in her direction. No immediate weaponry in sight, other than the obvious.
“I'd have thought something better, from you. You always seem so...” Gazelle hunted for a word to describe her.
“Posh?” asked Roxy, closing the door after her. Outwardly casual, just like the other. Both tensed for something to happen.
“Elegant,” offered Gazelle. “And rich, yes.”
Roxy shrugged. “What do you want?”
Gazelle didn't say anything for a few seconds, looking her up and down. “You look tired. Work stressful?”
“No more than usual.”
“Anything I can help the birthday girl with?”
Roxy needed a few seconds this time. Setting aside the pointless question of how she knew it was her birthday, her thoughts turned to the past. This woman had killed the previous Lancelot. Had twice tried to kill Eggsy, and at least partially been behind Merlin's disappearance in some form or other. It was hard, somehow, to gather the anger that she knew she should be feeling, had promised Percy to unleash. Righteous revenge felt a little melodramatic right now, particularly following the words birthday girl. “Would you like something? Tea? Top secret information?”
“No thank you. The English excuse for tea is disgusting, and I have already looked through all your hiding places.”
Roxy raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure you didn't miss a couple?”
“I'm very thorough,” promised Gazelle, a hint of another sharp smile appearing. Roxy put on the kettle and shrugged off her coat, hanging it over the chair. She carefully kept herself from turning her back to Gazelle. After she had brewed to her satisfaction, Gazelle tapped one pointed tip of her blade to the floor. “I was wondering then, where you're keeping your work these days.”
“At the office,” lied Roxy casually. “Safest place.”
Roxy sipped her tea. “What exactly do you think I'm working on?” It was jarring that the person before her knew who the mole was. One mouth away from knowing the truth. And it wasn't a bad mouth either, she knew from experience. She shook her head slightly. Merlin, James, Eggsy, who knew how many other lives she had tried and succeeded in ruining. Fraternisation was only an acceptable tool when one could get something out of it and Roxy knew neither would get anything from this exchange. But Gazelle wouldn't be here if she didn't think otherwise. Maybe this was the moment that she had decided that she was simply tired of allowing Roxy to continue her investigation and that it was time to get rid of her. Maybe she was about to be captured and tortured for information.
Hell of a birthday.
Gazelle inclined her head. “I can see you thinking. This is purely a social call. It's my day off, you see, and I thought I'd come and see how you were doing on this very special day.”
Roxy allowed herself a snort of disbelief. Not lady-like, came her mother's voice from somewhere deeply repressed inside her.
Gazelle leaned forwards. “I really don't want you to overwork yourself. Not when you should be celebrating.”
Roxy bit her lip. Thoughts of a wartime dalliance continued to spring unbidden to the forefront of her mind, toying seductively with it. It had been a one-off, if the best sex she had ever had. Besides, this woman had hurt Eggsy. She had hurt Eggsy. She had...
“I thought we could release some tension,” continued Gazelle, as though anything about their relationship was normal. “A… momentary cessation of gunfire, before the end. I want something to remember you by.”
Roxy sipped her tea once.
Then she nodded.
During their last, short, affair they had been in a glamorous hotel in Paris with no known history between them to taint the night and a feeling that they all might be dead come morning anyway. Roxy's present unmade bed was a different kind of inviting than the king they had toppled into that last time and times had changed, but the sensation of death still lingered.
As they had then they undressed in a perfunctory, guardedly slow manner that managed to give each of them time to fully look over the other's skin as it revealed itself, a shirt being unbuttoned, a shoulder strap lowered, garters unhooked, skirt kicked aside, weapons put down in full view. This time Roxy wasn't in a suit, something she almost felt sad about. There had been something satisfying about removing the masculine exterior, remembering a flicker of enjoyment that had appeared on Gazelle's face as she had revealed what she looked like beneath the layers.
This time they allowed themselves to stand naked in front of each other for a heartbeat or two. Then Gazelle kissed her and Roxy pushed against her, feeling up and down, and found that she'd missed the touch of Gazelle's hands on her, remembering far better than she thought she would where Gazelle liked being touched in return. Roxy pushed her against the wall and slid down on her knees, sucking down her chest and stomach, torturously slow, down to her hips. Then she hesitated for a moment.
“Having second thoughts?” said Gazelle from above, sounding less like teasing than Roxy thought she might have meant to, already breathing a little heavier.
Roxy bit her thigh in response and then, finally, began to mouth at her. Her cunt was the same as well. She wondered why she'd been afraid that she'd forgotten it, forgotten what she liked. Her fingers joined her tongue, and soon Gazelle was writhing above her, fingers pulling her hair, leg over her shoulder. The blade lightly cut into her back and she pushed back against it, chasing the sharp edge as she chased Gazelle's release.
Suddenly – too soon – she was pulled off with a violent yank that made her yell, and found herself on her carpet, Gazelle over her, sucking at her lip, her neck, her nipple. Roxy knew that since Paris she had a new scar under her left breast from a knife wound and when Gazelle found it with her mouth and kissed it, the shiver was as much from pleasure as from the knowledge that Gazelle remembered how she had looked the last time, was taking the time to acknowledge that she appreciated the ways in which she had changed.
Then she stopped thinking as Gazelle's fingers found her and pushed, moving, and Roxy pulled her head up to kiss her again.
They eventually found their way to the bed, Gazelle not even taking the moment to remove her legs like last time. Roxy immediately pulled her down to ride her face, her heavy weight and smell making her dizzy and eager. Her own fingers went down to herself, with no rhythm or aim. She knew herself well enough to focus on how her moans made Gazelle shake harder above her until finally she came. Then she moved down Roxy's body again, putting her mouth everywhere she could, Roxy feeling light-headed with something like happiness.
The dizziness continued for the rest of the night, whilst she and Gazelle returned to plains unvisited since the war, this time with an intimacy that left them almost as breathless as the acts themselves. When Gazelle ran her leg over Roxy's, leaving a shallow, stinging slit just short of her inner thigh Roxy almost came again from the high of the pain alone, but managed once Gazelle gently licked over the incision, her clever deadly fingers moving over her clit.
“Christ,” managed Roxy afterwards. “Do that again.”
But first she had to return the favour by wiping Gazelle's grin off her face with a hard bite to her lower lip. The warm rush tasted as good as she was sure Gazelle thought she did, because she felt another nick placed higher and deeper this time.
It felt even better than the first one.
At last the both of them were too exhausted to do much more than lie next to each other, idly running their fingers up and down and in. They must have slept, because Roxy remembered half-waking up to Gazelle softly fingering her as she gazed at her almost tenderly, as though she was making sure that she wouldn't forget what Roxy looked and felt like. Roxy leaned up and kissed her, drawing her back down, content to not do much more than that for the moment.
“I brought you a cupcake, darling” said Gazelle later. "That's the sort of thing one does, right?"
“For your birthday. It's on your counter. You missed it earlier. I promise it isn't poisoned. Not my style.” Roxy snorted, head pillowed by her arms as she lay on her stomach. Gazelle was touching over where she had cut her lower back earlier. A dozen more marks were splayed over both of their bodies, although Roxy's had borne the worst of the accidental and purposefully creative uses of Gazelle's blades, with one particularly insistent one just under her belly button currently being tickled by the sheet. Gazelle had paid a lot of attention to that one. “You know,” continued Gazelle slowly, “forty is a young age to die when you will still be beautiful at fifty, sixty, seventy...”
Roxy said nothing for a short while. “You've done too much for me to let you go. You're going to do too much.”
“You could walk away,” Gazelle said, like an afterthought to their evening together.
Roxy held back another snort. “I thought we weren't allowed to talk about this sort of thing.”
“... I take that as a no.”
“If that's how you planned to sell it to me, then no.”
“And if I offered to tell you everything. All you would have to do was come with me. Agree to do as I asked. I wouldn't even ask you to join us, I won't do you the discourtesy. Just make sure you are far away until it's over. If you keep looking, you won't like what you find, trust me.”
Roxy didn't turn to look at her, didn't ask the questions that she knew she wouldn't get an answer to – why are you doing this? Who are you? Would you give in if I asked you to? “I'm going to have to try to stop you. And you're going to try to stop me. And if you succeed in whatever you're planning and I survive, I will kill you for it. You know that. So you have three choices. You can tell me right now what you're planning, you can kill me, or we stop talking about this.”
Gazelle stopped tracing her fingers over her. “Why do you care so much?”
“... I made a promise.” To Merlin. To Percy. To Eggsy. To herself.
“And you cannot break it, I take.”
The silence spoke for her.
Gazelle sighed and placed a light kiss on her shoulder-blade, before lying down next to her and wrapping her arms around her like it was going to be the last time. Roxy, despite herself, felt safer than she had done in years and fell asleep not long after.
The next morning, Roxy woke up alone in a tangle of sheets that smelled like Gazelle and ate the promised cupcake on her kitchen counter without thinking about yesterday. Afterwards she went for a quick breakfast that Percy had prepared before he left for an assignment, and then took a train to the countryside to meet Eggsy and his family for a post-birthday weekend that she'd promised to go to. She wore the earrings that Anjali had bought for her. The marks on her body were all capably hidden beneath a suit, which she thanked her own style sensibilities and the dress-code of the agency wouldn't seem a suspicious choice of wardrobe. A dress right now definitely wouldn't do.
Eggsy came to meet her at the station – a nice car and a kiss on her cheek immediately erasing some of her strange mood. He drove her to the house, where Michelle, Daisy, and Harry were waiting for her, and despite very earnest protestations insisted on feeding her the majority of a homemade cake. It was the kind of afternoon that one looked back on in brighter colours than other memories, as though it hadn't been quite real, but more of a happy dream. Eggsy played the piano, whilst Daisy told her at length about her degree and marriage and Michelle tutted over the three of them as though Roxy was just as much hers as the other two.
Harry was silent for much of the day, content to watch Eggsy play and then to listen to the others speak. Roxy took the time to study him. He was an older man now, but there was something beautiful about his face at sixty-five that she knew would never leave it, even at ninety. He was still regal and had retained a full head of lightly curled, now grey hair, having gained laughter-line-wrinkles around his mouth and eyes over time. Harry probably saw all the telltale signs of old age in the grooves and furrows, Eggsy, she knew, saw only the persisting beauty.
Roxy managed three jabs over the course of the first day about how Eggsy was more likely to go bald before Harry did; “not” – Eggsy would grumble – “that baldness is a bad thing anyway.”
Harry used each time Eggsy was spoken of as an excuse to become incredibly sappy and Roxy was sure that he indulged him far too much, but she couldn't help but love being in their vicinity; vicariously living their relationship was enough for her to not think about her own string of failed romances whenever she was with them.
The Unwins' had a tendency to occasionally retreat into a little bubble whenever the three of them saw one another and Roxy decided to leave them to it after dinner, preferring to go over her files and see if her new location brought with it any new clarity to her case.
With everything that had happened recently she had the feeling that it would all soon be coming to an end one way or another and she didn't even know what it was, when it was happening, or how Merlin and the mole were involved. Somewhere a small gust of wind was needed to propel her towards some kind of harbour, but she didn't even know from which location the answer would finally hit her.
She startled when she heard someone step into her bedroom behind her, hand instinctively going to where her gun was holstered.
“I didn't mean to surprise you,” Harry said when she turned towards him. “Rude of me, really, to leave the downstairs gathering without announcing it, but...” Harry also favoured withdrawing when he wasn't included in the family talk, but Roxy could see that it was more than that today.
“I'm sorry. About last year,” said Roxy. Eggsy had seemed fine when they'd parted ways after the Gazelle reunion, but she knew that he still had times when the past was harder for him to forget than he wanted. He had insisted that nothing had been wrong, but her life had kept her so busy that she hadn't been able to take the time off to see whether that was true or not.
“It's fine. Eggsy makes his own decisions, I'm sure you've noticed.” A rueful smile touched his lips, before he ran his tongue over them and shook his head slightly. “He told me... about everything you're doing to help Merlin's memory.”
Roxy was aware that Harry and Merlin had known each other for a long time. Longer than any of them, really. From what she knew of Merlin, his family had consisted of Kingsman, Jim, and Harry. Harry was the first on that list that Merlin had loved, long before it had even been suspected that he might one day become king.
Roxy suddenly couldn't bear to look at him. “I would have done it sooner, if... but I just... I didn't know...”
“If I'd been around to pick up the bloody post, yes, I heard about that too.” For a moment there was nearly a laugh there. “You know, Merlin and I developed that code together. I was pleased to hear that you were his successor in learning it.”
“Oh. I didn't know. I... don't suppose he said anything to you at the time he was investigating?”
Harry regretfully shook his head. “I wasn't particularly well then. I suspect he was trying to spare me the added stress. Prat.”
Roxy almost smiled.
“I only wanted to say thank you. And to give you this.” He handed her a small box. “Happy birthday.”
She opened the box to find a small pair of cufflinks in the shape of an intricately patterned crest.
“It's an old heirloom,” said Harry. “I wanted you to have something from the family.”
The surprise finally burst through her carefully placed walls and she gasped. “They're beautiful!” Before he could protest, she had wrapped him in the kind of hug that a former king could only slowly give in to before awkwardly patting her shoulder in admittance of defeat. In some ways Harry Hart hadn't changed at all.
Roxy of the present carefully reread the two pages of her birthday that involved Gazelle. She had never told anyone about their trysts and conversations. Not even Eggsy. Especially not Eggsy. Nobody had ever needed to know. She was steadily beginning to realise that nobody would be reading this, at least, not until nobody was alive to care any more. But she couldn't deny to herself that she had never forgotten a single detail, nor would she ever want to, even with everything that came next.
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/43/e2/a9/43e2a92a27d7a1d996a7b918a64e1c09.jpg - the cufflinks that Harry gives Roxy.
Next chapter: Supposed traitors, old letters, dates, and fights
Chapter 5: Rich Man
Hey I'm back. So is Conspiracy! Betrayal! Fighting! Brain-matter! More Twisty Turns!
All mistakes are my own. Don't ask me how almost-finished this fic has been for the past year or so, the answer is almost-finished.
Sailor: Gazelle, real name unknown
Rich Man: Arthur
Poor Man: Arnold
Thief: Richmond Valentine
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
First week of March, 1961
The call was made some days later from a payphone. It was Tristan. I have information on the mole within Kingsman. Anjali came straight to Roxy, then waited for as long as possible before she told Arthur. By the time he found out, Ricki Tarr was already in London.
Roxy had another pint with Anjali, who told her that the records of his mission had disappeared from the official databases and library. The need to know of Tristan’s mission was too secret to be put on company record.
Roxy knitted her brow into a frown. It was an annoyingly permanent fixture on her face these days.
“Don’t do anything…” Anjali looked for a word that wasn’t illegal or stupid and came up empty.
“I won’t,” lied Roxy obviously.
“You have an assignment coming up, by the way. Prep begins in two days. America.”
Roxy frowned slightly. “Know what it's about?”
Anjali shook her head. “Some religious nutheads, the Americans were asking for help. Nothing big, you'll be back in no time.”
Roxy sighed. “Just don't want to be gone too long. Not after last time.”
“Off the record, it shouldn't be a long one. You'll be officially told about it tomorrow, but it looks like an easy in and out. Not sure why they gave it to you to be honest. Thought you were above that sort of thing, with your experience.” She shrugged.
“You mean I'm getting too old,” smiled Roxy and went to buy her another beer.
Anjali came home with her that night. The two of them listened to the radio and wondered aloud whether they were all about to get blown up by the communists or the Americans.
“I feel guilty,” Roxy said. “Don't ask how your personal life is going these days.”
Anjali let out a sarcastic ha! and drank some more. “What personal life? The one where I spend ninety percent of my time running Kingsman business or the other ten percent where I run yours?”
“If you want out...?”
Anjali slowly shook her head, then drunkenly asked, “you remember back in '43, right before you went out to find Eggsy? That mission in Germany...”
“Yes?” said Roxy. How could she forget that one. Especially after her birthday.
“The files you brought me were all on nuclear warfare… was thinking, you know… Valentine and that... with the political climate as it is...”
“That file still there?” asked Roxy. “I somehow thought with everything related to Merlin's investigation being destroyed, all the Valentine info would be too.”
“Paper archives. Too much information there to remember off the top of your head though, and I don't know how you'd go about illegally logging it out...”
Roxy scoffed. “Think I'll manage.”
Anjali looked at her. “I don't want to know, do I?”
“Need to know,” said Roxy and kissed her cheek.
“Think there might be a clue there? That this goes all the way back to the war?”
“I don't know,” said Roxy, seeing the puzzle-pieces swimming above her eyes, like she might be able to reach up and pull the truth out of thin air. Instead she drank more beer and they ended up fully clothed and wrapped around each other – neither of them spoke about it in the morning.
The next night, Ricki turned up in her apartment with a gun. “Hey Roxy,” he said. He was the kind of man who never seemed to be completely still, always exuding the air of someone keeping a secret badly, which was an odd trait for someone meant to be in the spy business. Now he jittered with nerves and lack of sleep.
“Hello Ricki,” she answered, unfazed. Another broken hair, another break-in. She had suspected it might be him. “Would you like to sit down?”
He glanced at the armchair she'd nodded to and then quickly back to her. The gun in his hand shook slightly. He sat. Roxy pulled out a chair opposite him.
“I -” he began and breathed for a moment. “I'm not a double-agent.”
“I never thought that you were,” assured Roxy. “Why did you call me specifically?”
“It's something to do with, -” he leaned in closer, “- what you and Merlin were looking into. The mole.” Roxy shifted slightly and the gun was immediately trained on her once again. “Look,” he continued, “I don't think I was going to be framed, I think they wanted me out of the way while they looked into you.”
“And how did you come to the conclusion that I - or Merlin for that matter - was looking for a mole?”
“Put it together from the information.” He sounded very smug for a man with a death-sentence over his head.
Roxy considered asking if he wanted a cup of tea, but didn't. That could wait until after Ricki's story. He was in too much of a state for her to trust him to keep talking if she distracted him now. “Continue please.”
“... I was in Istanbul, looking into some possible defecting Russian delegate. Except we start to recognise our own, don't we? So a complete dead-end. Was gonna come back, but he had this wife, you see. Called Irina. And she seemed like she might be keen to get out of whatever arrangement she was in, so I let it look like a holiday romance, you know, to see what she knew. Good kid, and look... I could smell gold on her... there was something. Cancelled my flight home and changed my hotel.”
“Did Arthur know about this?”
“Hell no. Made a mistake once of walking into a honey trap. Knew they wouldn't listen this time around, so... reckoned they wouldn't miss me for a few days, and then eventually... Irina told me she had some information. Regarding a double-agent at the heart of Kingsman. I mean, she'd known from the get go I was an agent, she told me.” He let out an impressed huff of air, fondly reminiscing for a moment. His gun had been lowered onto the armrest.
“Did she say who she was talking about?” asked Roxy. Her voice betrayed nothing.
“No, wanted to hand that information over personally, once she had her immunity here in England. I told them then, reported straight to Witchcraft from one of our Istanbul offices, that this might be something for them. Figured a promotion or something, right?” He scoffed. “Fucking stupid of me. Next thing I know they're all dead. The office, her husband. Smoothest clean-up operation I've ever seen. I tried to find Irina, but she'd disappeared. Last I tracked her was to the docks and then nothing.”
“And she told you nothing more? Just that there was a mole here?” The frustration was creeping in now, unbidden.
“She told me that her husband no longer worked for the KGB. Just pretending to. He'd been working for some third party, a private contractor of some kind.”
Roxy leaned forward. “Who is it?”
“She didn't say. She just said,” - he added quickly at her flash of disappointment, “- that they met a woman. She never said her name, tall, dark hair -”
“And her legs?” asked Roxy.
“Anything about her legs?”
“She… didn't say anything about that.”
“American, dressed like a secretary or something.”
Roxy sat back. Not Gazelle, just another knot to unravel. “An American woman. Nothing else?”
“Just… that it wasn't the Americans. She said that a few of theirs were reporting to this woman, like a club within the Kremlin.”
Roxy sighed. “And no names again I suppose?”
“There was an Englishman, but she told me she didn't know more than his initial, professor A. She didn't know what he was doing there.”
“A?” Something unravelled somewhere. Something vital.
Roxy sat in silence for a minute, obviously trying to remember. Ricki didn't disturb her, but couldn't help his continued fidgeting. Finally Roxy shook her head. “It's… something.” She looked at Ricki. “You look exhausted, do you need something to drink? Tea, food? A bed?”
Ricki hesitated. “Yeah. Do you know if there's a safehouse I can hide out in?”
Roxy handed him an address in Paris. “Do you still have an id that isn't burned?” Ricki finally stopped pointing his gun at her and nodded. “You've done very well Tristan.”
Kingsman archives were harboured at a separate location from their main base, although it was reached via the same unassuming tailors that masked their main entrance and had a system for quick delivery of paper-files, should they be needed by head-office. Whilst ostensibly allowed to be there, Roxy had concocted a story to back her up in case anybody asked.
The 1943 file itself required her to check it out for official review and receive a slip, which would be marked by Sal, a plump, sporting girl who ran a youthclub in Chiswick and was a judo blackbelt. “Break any good necks this weekend?” Roxy asked, helping herself to a green requisition slip and leaving her bag at the wardrobe. No personal items allowed inside.
“Couple. How about you?”
“Quiet night in.”
After officially being allowed to look at it Roxy would have to return it to its designated shelf, the slip held onto by one of Sal's subordinates, who would make sure that everything was returned to its proper place at the end of the day.
She nodded at Sal and continued down a hallway. Pushing open the far door, she entered the main hall. At the centre an old lift like a miner's cage carried files across the bodies of Kingsman. Two bleary Juniors were feeding it, a third stood by to operate the winch. Roxy moved slowly among the shelves, reading the fluorescent number cards.
E stood for Extinct and was used for dead operations only. They were all wrapped in pinkish folders, with bright red stamps on them, like a brand of irrelevance. As all investigations against Valentine seemed permanently on-hold these days – clean as gold was the official verdict, even more so after the Merlin business – all prior cases related to him that were still on-file were marked E, including the one that she had been sent to retrieve in 1943.
She found hers easily enough. For a moment it almost made her nostalgic. This was the year that she had met Eggsy and his family, met Gazelle... her first steps into the twisted maze of Valentine's plans, whatever the were. She took it down and walked to a desk, where she sifted through it, seeing if anything worthy of her time sprang out. Too much information. Too much secondary information, links to other cases that appeared similar, names everywhere that were tied to the nuclear arms program in some form or other. Too much to notice what was important and what wasn't at a glance-through.
She flitted through it quickly, stopping at the last page. There, in the corner, mentions of an attached file: Merlin, 1949-1952. It was still here, not far down the aisle where she had picked up her own mission report. What to do? She had only planned for the theft of one piece of organisational secret.
She picked up the file again and nonchalantly walked back to the archives. Don't look at anyone. You're allowed to be here. Down the rows and rows of missions throughout the years, back down the aisle that she had been at a few minutes ago, past where she had picked up this particular assignment, and there-
It was much thinner than hers. Perhaps only a couple of papers inside it, not enough to see them in the folder if you didn't actually pick it up to look inside. Going by the dust it had been a long time since anyone had done that. She glanced around under the pretence that she wasn't sure if she was in the right place. Nobody there.
Quickly, she opened the folder – careful not to disturb the dust too much – and pulled out papers unmistakeably in Merlin's hand. She carefully added them to her own '43 mission. Nobody would notice. Nobody would open it to check whether they were still there. She hoped. Otherwise there were a few people who could place her in this area, enough to be a suspect. Never mind that now, she hadn't successfully stolen anything yet and she was on a tight timeframe.
She walked back to her desk in as unhurried a manner as she could fake and resisted the urge to check the time. Nothing more suspicious than awaiting a phonecall that you weren't meant to be expecting. Don't look at the phone in front of you either. She opened her own file again, careful to keep it on a page that wouldn't reveal Merlin's stuck in between. Surely someone would see how it was burning her fingers not to turn the page and begin reading it immediately. Two pages. She could just read it now and put it back. But no. Not enough time, not sure enough what would be in there, and... it was written in Merlin's hand. It felt as though it was meant to go her, like a last will.
She recognised his handwriting from years of having to discern it off of important debriefs and from poring over his incomplete information on the missing spies over and over again, and that poem... Maybe this was the final piece that she needed. Perhaps this one would mean nothing unless you had the parts of the puzzle that only she possessed. And in Merlin's hand. Almost like he had come back from the dead to tell her something new when she was beginning to think there was nothing left for her to learn about this whole mess.
She breathed carefully whilst she pretended to read, every out-breath giving her one of the clues. Professor A. Nuclear. An American. Double-agents. The mole. Valentine. Gazelle.
Sal walked in. “Morton, a phonecall. Says they want to talk about your flat.”
Roxy grimaced. “Bad timing, eh? Put them through.”
The shrill ring would have made her jump if she hadn't been ready for it. The voice on the other end sounded official, told her all she needed to know about last weeks robbery, and asked for her insurance details if they were to do anything about lost or broken property. “One moment please,” she said, putting the receiver on the table and walking towards the front desk. “Sal,” she said. “I need my bag.”
For a heartbeat Sal might have been about to argue. Then she left for the wardrobe and fetched her the bag.
Roxy winked and turned back to her desk, pulling out her details in a folder. The phonecall wasn't strictly a lie. People had been breaking into her place with alarming regularity lately. More likely than not Kingsman was monitoring her place as well, which made this call as innocent as a lie could get.
While she went over her details with the voice over the phone she surreptitiously replaced the papers with her '43 report, sounding believably annoyed and upset at her recent misfortunes, before ending the call and carelessly returning it back in her bag. She then stood up, walked to the returns shelf, and put back the fake files, willing her fingers not to tremble.
As she reached the front desk again and handed the slip back to Sal, a voice suddenly rang out behind her.
“Roxy! Fancy seeing you here.” Bedivere. Damn.
“Toby,” she answered politely, purposefully not glancing down at her bag.
“Pleased to have caught you, head office would love a word if you have time.”
Obviously he hadn't been here by accident either. She deliberated for half a second whether to leave her bag and have it sent over to her flat, but with the way everyone seemed to be going through her stuff when she wasn't keeping a grip on it, bringing a smuggled file and an illicit report written in Merlin's own hand to a meeting with Arthur seemed the safer option. She smiled.
The table was a full house of Witchcraft members. Everyone turned to look at her as she followed Bedivere into the room. It felt very much like an ambush. Somewhere deep inside her head was the ludicrous thought that if she tipped over her bag right now and pulled out Merlin's file the mole would reveal himself in the kind of way that villains in films couldn't help but undo themselves with dramatic monologues. Her more rational self tried not to think about the contents at all, not sparing her bag a second glance as she put it on the floor, before sitting down in the chair indicated politely by Lamorak.
Arthur looked at her. “Tristan's back in the country.”
“Oh?” Roxy's face was carved of marble.
“Yes. Off the map, which means he's found someone to help him out. Highly likely to be one of our own.”
“I see,” said Roxy.
“I don't suppose you've seen him lately?” asked Arthur, pleasantly.
“Yes, we had tea the other day,” answered Roxy, just as pleasantly.
“Poor Tarr. Well, if you do see fit to return him to us, I would be willing to grant him a pardon. You too, naturally. I've always liked you, Ms Morton. I would have loved to have had you with me on Witchcraft, with your talent. However, your affiliations...” here he trailed off, letting everyone's imagination run wild as to how affiliated she and Merlin had been. “He must be in some emotional state. He has a daughter, hasn't he?”
“Yes. With his ex-wife. Danny.” Roxy's face was as bland as a cucumber sandwich.
“And is he fond of her? Why are you shrugging at me? Don't you realise what you're being accused of?” His voice rose in anger suddenly.
Roxy's stayed perfectly calm. “I am aware. So I'd suggest you stop playing games with me and get off my back. It isn't very gentlemanly.”
At once the tension in the room dissipated. Everyone knew who was winning. Lancelot had followed the rules better than Arthur, despite his attempts to needle her into an outburst. A woman was at a disadvantage and she had been expected to admit her guilt by raising her voice, but the rules of engagement were clear: whichever agent lost their cool first, lost the match.
Lamorak coughed politely. “I think it's time to move on? Lancelot, you're here officially to be told that you need to pick a candidate to fill the late Tristan's seat.”
Roxy glanced at Arthur. He didn't seem happy at the interruption. Nobody else appeared bothered though. Strange, watching Arthur losing his power to an upstart like Lamorak. She didn't approve of him in a position of power. He had none of the panache or leadership skills that Arthur possessed. But now was not the time to look a gifthorse in the mouth. “I'll have someone ready before I leave for America.”
“Good, and... do greet Tarr next time you see him for tea.” Lamorak tittered and half the table dutifully half-laughed at his joke as though he was already sitting at its head.
“I'll be sure to keep an eye out for him,” said Roxy.
Arthur made a noise in his throat and the attention was returned to him. “Do you have everything ready for your assignment?”
Roxy nodded. “Take-off in three days. Anjali has given me all the relevant information.”
Arthur nodded. “Good. And don't forget your membership proposal. Try to pick a suitable candidate.”
Roxy stood. “With respect, Arthur, you're a snob.”
“The times are changing. There's a reason aristocrats developed weak chins.”
She left before she could hear any of their reactions, although Gawaine definitely stifled a snort. Petty, really, but even she was allowed to let off steam on occasion. And with the tide changing as it seemed to be, well... it didn't matter. The file was burning a very illegal-looking hole in her pocket, but she already knew where to go once she had deposited it with Anjali for her to comb through.
There had been a name at the bottom of the 1943 report, next to the proposal to link this investigation to Merlin's papers: Connie Sachs, formerly queen of tech, now disgraced ex-employee of the agency. She had left as a Merlin loyalist, but as in all of this, apparently there was more going on there than met the eye.
On her way she read Merlin's report. Pages were clearly missing. How many or where they had disappeared to, she had a feeling she might never know.
Tinker. I leave this to you to hopefully find and complete my investigation, having hidden it where it will least be suspected – at the heart of the agency. I have faith that you will eventually be led back to your report and through it find this. I was hoping to smuggle it out, but I'm being watched. Even now, I'm not sure if the rest of my findings haven't been discovered and destroyed, which leaves this. If anything else is left, I will try to get it to you somehow.
I am aware that I have been betrayed, that Arthur has been betrayed, and that Kingsman has been betrayed. I cannot yet say by whom, but I have faith that with your stubbornness you will eventually find out the rest, and perhaps exonerate my name, as I know it is about to be tarnished.
There is more I wish to say, but I have no time.
Give J my love.
Day 1: Utilising Tinker's report, have reason to believe that there is more to Thief than has been officially decided upon. Tinker's findings, and the kidnapping of Soldier, have the makings of a wider conspiracy. Have made my intentions clear of conducting own investigation. Official reports will be sporadically given to prove the legitimacy of findings, if any are to be forthcoming. Have decided to utilise handles as security measure.
Day 7: The initial report indicates an interest in nuclear weaponry – the prediction of (and possible influence over decision of?) US forces instigating at least one attack on Japanese soil to deter Russia from launching over US. Further digging of Thief affairs reveal affiliation with multiple failed corporations with interest in nuclear armament.
Day 32: Am looking for Tailor. Have decided that without this missing link this cannot make sense. I hope that I am wrong.
Day 49: Preliminary findings are inconclusive. Have however made contact with Poor Man after the kidnapping that was linked to Thief, but which led to Poor Man being suddenly returned, as I have seen in a number of other cases. However, Poor Man is the easiest to approach and one of the last to have been in contact with Sailor. It seems that there is more to this story than meets the eye, as Poor Man is clearly living in fear. Must approach with caution.
Day 102: Tailor is closer than first expected. Poor Man speaks of meetings with Sailor and Thief, as well as several other high-ups in government who have diplomatic immunity. Poor Man isn't telling everything.
Day: 139: Rich Man and Beggarman have argued. The proceedings are now going to be restricted. Rich Man knows something?
Day 399: Original assessments must be re-evaluated. The nuclear angle makes no sense. Neither do the strange disappearances that are linked to Thief. Some of them reappear, others remain gone. Unclear if all or any can even be directly attributed to Thief. Past kidnapping of Soldier linked to former king, was at the time suspected to be the real target. If so, will the future queen be one?
Day 450: Beggarman approached Moscow sources. Inner sanctum closed off to agents. Push for Witchcraft seems suspicious in light of recent events, as well as versions thereof appearing in other agencies. If Witchcraft is a conspiracy, anyone involved in it would be a main suspect.
Day 580: Poor Man has been relocated. Rich Man has discovered that the investigation is still underway. Avenue was pursued before without findings, compelling evidence to suggest that there is nothing to look for. Tailor does not exist.
Day 643: Rich Man was right. There is nothing to be found. Visiting Poor Man in Hungary to officially terminate investigation.
Anjali looked tired.
“Are you going to parties without me?” asked Roxy, smiling as she brought over their drinks.
“I wish I was. I don't have a social life any more, and neither do you for that matter.
Roxy sat down. “I'm... I've got something. I think. Ever come across an A?”
“Nope, doesn't ring a bell.”
Roxy resisted the urge to drink. She had this, this something. Something made sense. “You know, I met Connie yesterday.”
“Connie? I heard she was a private tutor of some kind these days.”
“She told me to give her love to you. Hoping you're doing a good job in her absence. I told her you were.”
Anjali looked a little relieved, a little uncomfortable. “She didn't, I mean... I wasn't throwing her under the bus. She knows that, right? I haven't been able to see her, confidentiality and ex-members and the like. I don't know if she expected me to leave with her, but I just... I stayed because, well... this is my life. I'm not going to find a better one out there.”
Roxy knew that feeling.
“She didn't leave. Says she was kicked out. And she's pleased you took over. She told me you're the only one from the tech-bunch with a brain, all good stuff.”
“But... why would Kingsman do that? Especially after Merlin...”
“She started to hunt down the mole. After it happened, she became a little obsessed, turns out she discovered the link between Valentine and Merlin's death a lot sooner than we did and without any of his help. A bunch of reports were chucked out in which she claimed that Valentine had deep ties to several officials high up in several countries' defence programs. Nuclear. So she dug some more and discovered our double-agents, the ones tracked down by scalphunters who were working for a third party. Some of them had talked about a base of some kind.. They were all shredded, and she was fired for being delusional. Lost her sense of proportion, or something. Surprisingly easy to shut someone up without killing them, she was half dead from alcoholism when I came to see her.”
Anjali looked at her drink. “Been hearing a lot about that mysterious third party recently, haven't we.”
“And we know who that third party is. Trouble is we don't know how to get to him or where his base is. Or anything that fits together enough to actually stop what's about to happen. It's going to happen soon, I know it is and I'm almost... I feel like it's all there for me to work out and we have definite proof now, we weren't the only ones to put it together. Connie agreed with Merlin on the nuclear angle, but I don't understand...” She drank some more.
Anjali frowned. “Hold on… I looked over the case, you know, '43 France. There was a name there, connected to the research involved in production of weapons of mass destruction, a Professor Arnold. He'd been kidnapped around the war, but was brought home. You know how they throw in every link that could possible be relevant, he wasn't much more than a sidenote. But it doesn't make sense. He's publicly spoken up against nuclear warfare. So has Valentine for that matter. The assignment that you were on located a number of hidden military testing bases that were running nuclear programs, but several of them had been sabotaged. Since then, several more have been shut down. It sounds like the opposite of either of them having anything to do with nuclear war.”
“Yep. Why, that tell you something?”
“I think… I think that's the man Merlin was going to see when he disappeared. He was the source. He might be the man that Tristan was talking about. Does it say who got him out, during the war?”
“Shit!” Roxy raised an eyebrow at Anjali's shocked face.
“I think that's the first time I've ever heard you swear.”
“I need to talk to this Professor Arnold, and then to Bedivere. And then... I can't be sure. But I'm close. I'm so damn close.”
Anjali looked worried.
“That's usually when they get to you…”
“Ricki said the same.”
“Which means you're going to be careful.”
“As careful as Merlin.”
Anjali's was unimpressed. “You're an asshole Roxanne Morton, and one of the only people I really like in this organisation, so please...”
“Cross my heart and hope to die.” She finished her drink and laughed when Anjali swatted her arm.
“I'll go visit Connie,” said Anjali after another drink. “When all this is over. If we're not all dead before.”
The streets were dark and foggy as she walked home, rain hovering in the air, but not quite falling. She pulled the lapels of her coat up, wrapping her arms closely around her. The night felt like it was one big secret, on the verge of being spilled with a gasp after having held its breath for too long.
“You look like a spy,” came a voice from within a shadow.
Roxy turned sharply. “Gazelle?”
The woman herself stepped out with a razor-smile, like the world's most beautiful monster to Roxy's Red Riding Hood. “I thought there was an unspoken agreement last time.” With Gazelle's insinuations about wanting to remember her, Roxy had expected the sky to already be falling, but still, it hadn't boded well for her survival time frame.
“There was. I will be leaving this evening. But we have a couple of hours left.”
“Enough for dinner and a movie?” asked Roxy.
To her delight, Gazelle was surprised. Probably an elicit fuck followed by a short fight to the death had been on her mind. “Why?”
Roxy shrugged. “We never went out properly. It seems the sort of thing that people do when they're attracted to one another.”
The expression on Gazelle's face morphed into a blinking hesitation that Roxy had never expected to find there and wished she had a secret camera with which to immortalise it forever. It sadly didn't last, but she was gratified when Gazelle, against all expectations, nodded and took her proffered arm. They were quickly swallowed into the fog, another clandestine meeting to add to the millions that the world would never reveal.
Dinner was a hotdog stand, which Gazelle submitted to after wrinkling her nose, but Roxy insisted with a sly smile that it was absolutely in keeping with the usual conduct of two people out for the evening before a show. They spoke in low murmurs, as though being watched, once allowing their furtiveness to be broken when Gazelle made Roxy laugh and then quickly returning to the status quo that no listening device or suspicious individual behind a newspaper could overhear. It slowly began to rain.
By the time they reached the movies and bought tickets for a late run of The Misfits, it had turned into a downpour, which they both out of habit had used as cover to escape any possible prying eyes, and as a consequence they were wet through. They dumped their coats in the bin. In the dark of the movie theatre they held hands and exchanged opinions on Marilyn Monroe, whilst flicking popcorn at the droopy couple at the front when they weren't watching. At the end of it Gazelle gave Roxy a sweet, short kiss on the mouth.
"Careful. You don't know what's coming."
“You leave first,” said Roxy and sat back, squeezing her hand one last time before letting go, and then turning to watch the black screen as people filed past her. She was the last to go. When she got out, the rain had stopped, the fog had cleared, and the stars even managed to peak through the darkened London streets.
It was late when she reached her apartment that night, her head buzzing with crumbs of information that were beginning to look more and more like a string, something tangible and connected all leading to the truth. Had Valentine been planning this since the war, she wondered. Yes. As early or earlier than when she had first met Gazelle. And whatever was being planned was reaching its end. There was still so much she didn't know though. Why wait with putting a nuclear war in motion when the pieces seemed to have been in place for over ten years? Why the lost agents and the list of famous names? Why did the mole begin to work with them? She was so damn close.
As she walked she remembered Martindale and the club from last year, when all this had begun for her. Whoever held the most information was king. Or queen of course. Richer than monarchs. She sighed. No good if one didn't know what to do with it all. Thinking right now wasn't going to do her any good. She had a plan for tomorrow. Right now she needed another drink to drown out this entire day. She needed to never remember it again.
She noticed it again when she arrived. Another uninvited visitor. That was three in so many days, the last two friendly enough. Three out of three was a bit too much to hope for though, and she opened the door carefully with her gun drawn, staying under cover .
A figure was waiting in the dark, and immediately she ducked forwards behind her kitchen counter as the sound of a shot rang out. She edged towards where it had come from, and saw it. A shadow, deeper than the others, and a faint glint. She raised her own gun, and immediately the shadow swung at her. It was fast, but she managed to block most of the attack before it swatted the gun out of her hand, almost numbing her arm for a moment with its force. She ignored the beginnings of pain and grabbed at his raised arm in turn, almost managing to break her attacker's hand as she yanked the gun away and sent it crashing somewhere after hers.
She rolled out of the way and turned on the light.
The man was much bigger than her, big enough that he could probably crush her skull with his hands if he got to it, even though she could see that she had done some damage on the one side. A sprain, maybe, enough to make him favour his left. She grabbed a kitchen knife off her counter. She liked her odds. He came at her like a bull, trying to force her into a corner. She neatly sidestepped and cut at his Achilles-heel while ducking under a table, missing, but every lost drop of blood counted. He appeared not to notice and upended the table against the wall to get at her.
My bloody crockery, thought Roxy, resisting a wince at the sound of crashing vintage tea cups and immediately avoiding a punch, before following his arm back. She feigned a slash at his face, making him raise his arms in defence, and then put all her force into a punch to the solar plexus. He went down with a gasp and she gripped his head and pulled his face towards her knee. Blood spurted from it like a burst hose, and she finished him off with another blow to the head.
Then she breathed.
Roxy picked up their dropped guns, checking his for any signs of identity and predictably finding none. She went back to him, searched his pockets, and again came up empty. Then she washed her knife and set the now three-legged table right, before sitting down at a safe distance on her thankfully surviving armchair, pointing one weapon at him, the other neatly laying beside her on the armrest, and waiting for him to get up. His gaze flickered from one to the other, weighing his options. He was still groggy, his nose broken, cuts to his arms and legs, his breath shallow and uneven. His options were not good.
“So...” she said after a short while. “Do I talk first?”
He said nothing.
“Well, firstly, stay on your knees or I'm going to shoot you in the kneecaps. Secondly, only answer when I ask you a question. If you don't answer I'm going to shoot you in the kneecaps. Got that?”
He said nothing and she sighed, raising the gun.
In that second the man's head exploded. Roxy almost fell off the chair in shock as brain spattered her walls and remains of the table, and the great body fell with a loud, pitiful thud to the floor. Roxy stared at it.
“Shit,” she said, for the second time that evening.
Hey anyone who's still here or just started. I make no promises other than the one to myself that I want to upload this consistently until the end from now on out and I think I can do it! Cross your fingers for me
Chapter 6: Poor Man
Discovery! Unmasking! Breakdowns! All in a day's work.
First week of March, 1961 – continued
Professor Arnold worked at imperial college, where Roxy was innocently waiting, ignoring all thoughts of a decomposing body in her bath. The man had been somebody that she had seen before. One of the missing agents from Merlin's list. It seemed that he had switched sides to Valentine. Why, she still had no idea. For that matter she had no idea what to make of the chip that she had found when cleaning brain-matter from her walls, floors, kitchen counter, hands. Anjali currently had it in her possession with the promise to get back to her on anything she found out.
So now it was Arnold's turn to have a little conversation. Unbidden her heart beat irregularly with anticipation and nerves. This was possibly one of the last men to have seen Merlin alive, and he had been under her nose the entire time, for ten years.
She studied his chalkboard, attempting to understand various calculations on the nature of nuclear physics, but she was barely a layman at this. She knew everything she needed: it made bombs that blew things up and made vast areas of lands uninhabitable for years on end. Not a power that she felt comfortable giving to anyone.
The door behind her opened and she turned to see Arnold, who was every professor stereotype rolled into one small, roly-poly man. He looked downright cuddly. Not the kind of man she would have pegged instinctively as a traitor, but then again, her work taught her to look beyond the veneer.
“Oh, hello, can I help you?” he said as he entered.
“Yes, I have some questions regarding the various uses of nuclear fusion.”
“Oh, really? Well, it's actually quite fascinating-” he tottered down the stairs enthusiastically, meeting her halfway. Quick as a snake Roxy grabbed his ear and yanked him down, hard. He yelped in pain.
“Merlin was killed when going to meet you, so I suggest you tell me who framed him and where to find your boss!” Her years of pent-up frustration finally spilled into her snarl, and caused the man to whimper
“I have no idea what you're talk -” Roxy slapped the whimpering excuse out of his mouth, and he gibbered in pain. “He's not dead!” he squealed. “She – a woman, they took him away, he was alive!”
“An American?” asked Roxy, her grip tightening.
“Yes,” he gasped, “She -” he suddenly started to writhe in her grip, crying.
“Oh, for God's sake, I'm barely touching you,” Roxy said, exasperated and angry and hopeful.” Oh man up -” and she realised what was happening, saw the telltale glint on the side of his neck and jumped back just as his head exploded, this time managing to cover her in brain and blood.
Dazed, she looked around just as two armed men entered the room, and she ducked down, drawing her gun and firing off a few shots before making a quick and painful exit through the window. She got a cab back to the tailors' – mercifully empty of costumers – and collapsed in fitting room three.
“Blast,” she muttered to herself.
Bernard, the shop's ever-polite and discreet front-man, knocked and entered a polite and discreet minute later, having given her time to calm down and breathe.
“If I might suggest a shower and a change of clothes, Ms. Morton.”
Roxy nodded, and then said in an ordinary voice: “Is Bedivere around?”
“He will be returning from his assignment within the next five hours.”
“Tell me when and where. Thank you.”
“Very good. I'll leave you a suit here for when you're done.” He left. She allowed herself another five minutes and then stood, pulling down one of the hangers on the wall to reveal a secret entrance into a larger back room. It was stocked with stationery, tech, various weapons, and shoes. It also contained a medicine cabinet and a handy shower. She soaked for over half an hour, still feeling the gross, sticky, well-cooked brain-matter on her skin and in her hair. She threw away her clothes, refusing for now to think about her conversation with Professor Arnold. Not until she had the final pieces. But beneath her automatic preparations, a buzzing under her skin grew steadily more insistent.
Merlin might be alive.
Two hours after a man's head had exploded in front of her for the second, and hopefully last time, she was at one of Kingsman's airstrips, watching Bedivere's plane landing. He noticed her as he stepped out, a short wave as he climbed down the steps. Roxy had taken a few detours to get back here. Clearly she was being followed more closely than in the past, going by the men at the university, so she had avoided heading back to the b&b for her notes or to call Tristan. With any luck, he would be too smart, or scared, to go anywhere until she had sorted this.
“Lancelot,” he greeted her, cautiously.
“Toby,” she answered, and began to walk with him.
“What's this about?”
“I want to talk about loyalty, Toby. My predecessor recruited you, a few years before he died. He found you starving in a museum in Vienna, a wanted man. Lancelot saved your life, I heard. Strange I've never heard you mentioning him the entire time I've been here... Merlin, though, you were always very vocal about being on his side, and yet, when the time came... when it came to picking sides between him and Arthur, you didn't hesitate. You joined Witchcraft as though you'd been planning on doing it all along... it's understandable, perhaps, with your war experience. You survived this long I suppose because of your ability to change sides, to serve any master.
“I don't understand...?”
“It's about which master you've been serving.” She interrupted him before he could answer. “Who is your contact, Toby? Witchcraft's contact?” she asked, her tone neutral like they were in an interrogation room.
“Excuse me?” he answered. Always a blusterer when he was covering up. Such an easy tell. “Have you gone mad?”
“I'm not interested in our usual chit-chat avoidance, nor do I believe that you're the man I'm looking for. Not directly, anyway – no, don't interrupt!” - she was short, but so was he and her step towards him would have caused a much larger man to cower. “I've been working on this for too long, and I am tired. I may not know how it all fits together yet, but I think your man -” an intuition caused her to add: “- or woman, will be able to fill in the blanks. What if I told you that Merlin was alive?” She had him cornered, his back to the plane, his expression guilty when faced with her onslaught. But the Merlin-information she was certain he hadn't heard before.
“Wh-I... I never heard, when-?”
“Alive, and held by the people you're giving our information to. Who suggested Witchcraft originally? Not you, you've never been a leader, you're a sheep. Out of the five of you who run it, you're the least insidious, if only because you have no bloody backbone. Now tell me: Who suggested Witchcraft?”
“I.. I don't know-”
“Who sent Tristan to Istanbul? Who sold him out?”
“Who did you think that you were selling information to?”
“The Russians! I thought... I was turned by the Russians a long time ago, before I even started as a spy for Kingsman, but I...”
“Who told you that this was an operation run by the Russians?”
“My contact, an American woman. She was a go-between us and her contact.”
Roxy didn't allow her voice to change. “Where is the meeting point?”
“Come now. I have enough evidence to turn you over to any agency I wish, although I think M over at MI6 in particular is going to be pleased to know how this organisation has been run for the past nine years. She'd enjoy getting this information out of you far more than I will.”
He flinched. “I'll show you.”
Roxy breathed. And breathed again. So this was it. A London house. Nothing all that special about it.
Anjali, Eggsy and Percy were with her. Ricki was the bait, he would be contacting Kingsman from Paris about knowledge as to the mole's identity, and hopefully it would lead said mole straight here, to warn the American woman that their line was closing. The American woman, whoever she was, had seen Merlin. So far, she was the link in the chain that had seen him last. She might be able to tell her definitively if he was still alive. Roxy continued to breathe.
She had infiltrated the house several hours earlier and prepared everything. Listening and recording device set up and manned by Anjali. Eggsy outside with a sniper. Percy on-watch further down the street. Herself, upstairs, waiting for them to arrive. Breathing.
It seemed such an obvious trick to her now. The mole would see it for what it was straight away, her entire operation would end tonight, she would never know what happened, what was about to happen. She would either be caught or go to America and the tenuous thread would be lost. Still... there was no guarantee for the mole that Ricki didn't know, hadn't been told by his brief romance in Budapest. Irina had clearly known, otherwise why disappear her? Why put out a kill order for Tristan? Roxy didn't hold out any hope for Irina still being alive, despite having told Ricki that they would get her back after this. She could scarcely believe that Merlin might be saveable.
The mole would want to discuss with the American what the best way to trace and destroy Ricki would be, his apparently sound information going to the grave with him, or maybe even entertaining thoughts of turning him. Valentine clearly liked collecting agents. Ricki was brash, naturally. This would be exactly the kind of stunt that he would pull, even without Roxy there to pull the strings. And the mole would know this, would know that he could be lured out on the promise of including him in the plot, of his inner hope that he might be able to take down the traitor himself, of saving a damsel in distress. It was impossible to tell, with Ricki, which side he'd be on if Roxy didn't keep him firmly on a leash. But that was true of most of her co-workers in her opinion. Any one of them could be manipulated into new ideals, as long as they were still getting paid.
Christ, it was getting late. She had miscalculated, misjudged the situation.
No one was coming.
The doorbell rang.
The old lady who lived here on Kingsman's payroll and whom Roxy had threatened on behalf of the queen and MI6 to let them perform the operation opened the door, her dog barking madly. Another thing that could go wrong, she might warn whoever was entering that they weren't alone. She might be a traitor in her own right. Two pairs of footsteps. Whoever had knocked entered the living room and sat down. All seemed well. Now all that was missing was the second guest.
She kept breathing softly, not a sound coming from her room. Right beneath her feet sat either the American woman or the traitor. This meant that something had gone right, that at least one of the sides believed in Ricki's threat and believed that he could be dealt with. She had argued they maintain radio silence, otherwise she would have contacted Eggsy and asked him who he could see through the window. Eggsy had eyes on the target. He might know who had betrayed them ten years ago, continued to betray them for all this time. Eggsy himself had nearly been killed on a mission that involved Valentine a long time ago, when he was still a Kingsman. Had he also been sold out then? She ignored her racing body and focused on breathing.
The doorbell went off again, along with the dog. The old lady went to the door a second time and opened it. Another person entered the living room and beneath her feet she heard a dull buzz of conversation. Anjali would know as well now, but Roxy couldn't distinguish the voice from up here. She pulled out her gun and snuck down the stairs in her socks.
The drone became words, indecipherable over her heart, but clearly American. The woman was speaking. Roxy stood just outside the door and waited a few seconds, to be sure that they hadn't heard her closing in.
“What is our cover in case we're disturbed?” The American asked. A murmur answered her. “Where should we regroup? What is our fallback? Have you anything on you that you would prefer me to be carrying during our talk, bearing in mind I have diplomatic immunity?” Roxy could not make out the voice that spoke in response to these routine questions. The American was clearly a spy in her own right, or had been. Maybe she was on Roxy's lists of blacklisted CIA operatives. Maybe she had been a free agent, somebody who had wormed her way into high government, never clearly on any sides.
"What will you drink?”
“Scotch,” said Arthur. “A bloody great big one.”
With a feeling of utter disbelief, Roxy listened to the familiar voice reading aloud the very telegram which she herself had drafted for Tarr's use only a few hours ago.
She knew, of course. She had always known. Gahaeris and Bedivere were weaklings, possibly Russian plants, but not capable of anything as bold as this. Lamorak merely wanted the seat an Gawaine... she still wasn't sure, it might have been him, but for a gut feeling that he was essentially loyal as of this moment. As for the technicians, those with barely a seat at the table, it could have been one of them, yes. But Arthur... somehow it wasn't allowed to be Arthur and that was what had continued to stop her investigation. Maybe that was what had tripped Merlin up all those years ago. He had, after all, confided in Arthur about the mole, even though Arthur couldn't have been above his suspicion.
She rounded the corner, gun raised. In one chair sat the American woman, neat and dark-haired, pretending to be politely confused at her intrusion and the gun pointed at her face. Opposite sat Chester King.
“Ms Morton,” he said, as though he had expected her. “Have a drink, please.”
She didn't lower her gun.
“You have my word that nobody in this room will shoot you if you lower that gun and take a seat.”
“Your word doesn't seem worth much right now,” said Roxy.
“Please. Don't be vulgar.”
Roxy lowered her gun and sat, but kept it in hand. “Scotch.”
Arthur poured her a drink, placing it next to his own.
The American lit a cigarette.
“And what about out there -” she pointed to the window, and both Arthur and the American turned to look, ""-I don't suppose there's a sniper out there waiting on your orders to take me down?”
Arthur chuckled like they were sharing a private joke and turned back to look at her. The American puffed and let the smoke circle around the air. The scotch in the glasses moved almost imperceptibly. Roxy didn't look at them. “You have your fancies, Ms Morton. Although, a healthy paranoia is good when you're looking into a mole I suppose. I have to admit, you were getting to be more of a hassle than I expected you to. Your next assignment in America was going to be, well...”
“A last resort.” He sipped his own glass.
Roxy did the same.
The American pointed a gun at her, but Arthur shook his head minutely. “No need for unpleasantness. Ms Morton though, if you would hand me your weapon?”
Roxy hesitated, but did so, giving off the convincing air of someone who had walked into a trap with no more cards to play.
“How many operatives were you planning on killing before this is over? Merlin, Tristan, me; it paints a picture of your running of the agency when so many employees start dying. And I wouldn't have been the last.”
“No, you wouldn't.” Arthur put her gun where the drinks had stood. Easily within reach. Almost like bait. She purposefully didn't allow her gaze to flicker towards it, but sipped again. “But this whole business will be over with in two days. It wasn't meant to be, but... our hand has been forced. It will be impossible to save all the lives we had hoped. I'm afraid your investigation has done more damage than good.”
“Valentine's going to release those bombs, isn't he?” Roxy's voice was steel, but only because she gripped the glass as hard as she could to steady herself. “And you're nothing but a war-profiteer. You always have been. I knew it was you, I just... I didn't want it to be you. Merlin didn't want it to be you.”
“Oh, Roxanne,” said Arthur, sounding like a benevolent (but steadily growing more impatient) father speaking to his unruly child. “It's much more simple than that. Once he explained, I understood. You see, we're on the verge of destroying this world. The nuclear threat? It's going to become a reality, whether we want it to or not. If we don't reduce the earth's population ourselves, we will find a way of killing us all. Sometimes, a culling is the only way to ensure that the species survives. And history will see Valentine as the man who saved humanity from extinction. The man who ended the nuclear arms race.”
Roxy grit her teeth. “How could you do that to Merlin? To this agency, James, Christ, what about Eggsy, Connie, Ricki, me. You're exactly the kind of man you've been claiming to fight against your whole life.”
Arthur, faintly annoyed, pulled out a pen. Anjali had told her how it had been completed and immediately confiscated not long ago. “Do you know what this is?”
“Yes.” Roxy had felt her voice break a moment ago, but now schooled it back into indifference. Nothing more than if they had been discussing the weather. “Anjali told me about them, in the developmental stage, you flip the switch and I die. Or we both explode. I thought the scotch tasted awful.”
“Clever girl,” he said.
“I assume it was you who attempted to assassinate the queen?” said Roxy, Arthur's jibe rattling off her like the weak bit of patronising bullshit it had been .
“Good heavens no.” Arthur took another sip. “I may have exaggerated the incident, it was meant to be no more than a pick-up, as it was felt that the queen would not adhere to Valentine's plan without some... persuasion. It didn't go as well as we had hoped and ended in several casualties. As it stands now, we have made a formal decision to let fate decide if she survives the next stage of events. We will need leaders once the world rebuilds itself.”
“Naturally,” said Arthur, as though her even asking was preposterous. “Someone who can galvanise the people. Not a group of power-obsessed politicians who can't agree on breakfast. The days of politics as you know them will thankfully soon be behind us, and the strong can take charge.”
Roxy smiled humorlessly, letting her eyes do her talking for her.
Arthur continued in a softer tone of voice. “We're not so different, you and I. We've both spent our lives looking for the weakness in peoples systems. Don't you think it's time to recognise there is little worth on your side left saving?”
“Oh, fuck off,” snarled Roxy, unable to remain calm. “You've been helping Valentine squirrel away anyone he deems as worthy to save for his cause, whilst those who didn't fit his criteria were going to be left behind to die. At least I'm trying to save lives.”
Arthur shrugged. “It isn't that simple. Look out there, Roxanne” He pointed to the window. “This world is poised on the brink of self-destruction. All it needs is a nudge from the right person and those bombs will fly, sooner rather than later. Valentine recognised humanity's destructive tendencies a long time ago, and has been preparing for this moment, monitoring the world's nuclear programs, insinuating himself into them. He won't be dropping any bombs, unlike those power-hungry governments who don't care about our futures. Nothing that will harm the earth itself, just people. And he'll be saving those that can lead us into a new age. And Merlin, well... he'll understand. In time. He's a vital cog to our machine, we couldn't let him just die. Anyone innovative, clever, anyone who can build, they must be preserved.”
Roxy resisted the urge to scoff. “Anyone you think is worthy... you're saving them. And your rich friends. Never mind the collateral.”
Arthur looked at her for a long time. “...And you. Roxy, you're very admired. The man at your apartment, America... you must understand that those were unwillingly done on my part. The first wasn't even condoned by myself, a knee-jerk reaction on the part of my associates. Trust me... we would have avoided eliminating you, if we could. In fact, I was rooting for you to survive America, and be returned to the fold with a new understanding of the main kind of people we want to eliminate with this purge. But now that I can, I'm offering you the chance to come with us instead. In Merlin's honour. There's no one he trusted more than you. Nobody he trusts more.”
Roxy thought back to it all. Her organisation had been rotten from the moment she had entered into it, over twenty years... nothing had been real. Everything she had fought for, countless missions that she had gone on without question, which ones had helped lead to this moment? Nothing was real. Except for Percy, Daisy, Michelle, Anjali, Connie, Merlin and Jim, Eggsy and Harry. Her family. The people who had helped her. She trusted them.
“I'd rather follow in Lancelot's footsteps. Thanks,” she added in the most sarcastic tone she could muster.
He sighed, - “So be it,” - and flicked the switch.
Nobody moved for a few seconds. Then Arthur coughed. Roxy raised an eyebrow and leaned in close. “Kingsman's taught me a lot. But sleight of hand? I got that from Eggsy. He sends his greetings.”
Arthur spluttered. “You... fucking... bitch...” he managed before falling gracelessly off the chair. In the corner of her eye Roxy saw the American move, and lunged for her gun – too late. Suddenly there was a crack and Roxy fell to the floor.
The American gasped.
Roxy breathed. “Thank you, Eggsy.”
The American slumped down, grasping her stomach. She would live.
Roxy pulled herself to her feet and walked to Arthur. Dead he looked pathetic, old, weak. Then again, who had she been following all these years if not somebody that she could respect? She didn't think about it, instead kneeling down to check his neck. There... a barely perceptible scar from where the other two explosions had happened. She picked up his poisoned pen from the floor and used its tip to open up the skin, grimacing as she did. Behind her she heard Percy and Anjali entering with the old lady.
They were discussing what to do, their voices seeming muted as she dug around - there! A small device, metal. Wires attached to a square plate like feelers. “Anjali,” she said, noting the ceasing of conversation and footsteps walking over to her. Somehow she still couldn't discern voices. “This is the explosive device. See if there's anything valuable to find on it and be careful, it may still be active.”
Anjali took it away and Percy approached her next. The old woman was patching up the American. His voice sounded like a buzzing. She began to speak so that he wouldn't know that she couldn't hear him. “We need to contact M, let her know we've found our mole. And... Arthur spoke of an event, it'll happen in two days time. We need to find out where it is, so I will be in charge of interrogating the suspect. Wait, no,” she dug her knuckles in her eyes, “we can't contact M. she may be in on it. We can't... can't trust anyone outside our circle. We'll take her to a safe house, interrogate her there. Dart the old lady and put her to bed, then sort out clean-up. I don't want her to remember this. Then you can coordinate between Eggsy and Anjali, we need surveillance, dig through any files that seem important, anything you can find. Keep me updated.”
She dimly heard something, but luckily it didn't appear to be anything that required a response, because then Percy left the room.
Roxy spared a last glance at Arthur before she stood and walked out of the house, surprising herself with how easily not caring all of a sudden seemed to come to her.
Outside everything suddenly came rushing to her like a crashing return of all her senses at once after being submerged underwater and unable to breathe. Her breaths came out ragged and desperate and difficult, as though she couldn't remember how breathing was usually done. It had felt like this during fights in the past when assailants had managed to get their hands around her neck. This was almost worse, because there was nothing that could free her from it. Her ears rang and her eyes watered and she doubled over, trying not to retch.
A set of hands gripped her arm. If she had been able to she would have attacked whoever it was, but right now she had no strength to do anything but barely manage to keep herself standing. If those hands decided to strangle her right now she wouldn't have felt a difference. However, rather than break her neck the hands moved softly over her arms and back, soothing her back into reality. After a few moments – or maybe a couple of hours – she suddenly found herself able to hear again over the crashing of her own heartbeat.
It was Eggsy. “... got you Rox. You're okay. Been here a thousand times myself, hell, think every agent's had to stick their head between their legs a few times. I've got you. You're okay...”
She began to right herself and to her relief he kept his soft grip on her arm and around her waist. She wasn't sure how much strength her own body possessed.
“There you are,” said Eggsy. “You alright?”
“It's been a strange year,” she managed, her voice only slightly betraying how wobbly she felt.
Eggsy laughed. “Been a strange fucking life. You, uh... want me to stop touching you?”
She shook her head and then leaned it against Eggsy's warm, stable chest.
He wrapped his arms more firmly around her and kissed the top of her hair. “I've got you Rox. When you're ready you tell me what we do next.”
She straightened slightly, although still kept Eggsy's arm around her. “Now we find out where Valentine's hiding.”