We did it, Roxy thought incredulously, sinking to the ground on shaking legs as she detached herself from the parachute. We actually fucking did it.
The energy and focus that had sustained her on her mission to destroy the satellite was waning fast, leaving her feeling light-headed and somewhat giddy now that she was, thank god, back on solid ground. She took a few deep, gulping breaths of air and felt her heart rate slow for the first time since she’d hit the ignition button on her jet packs and gone up with the balloons.
I can’t believe we actually fucking did it.
She was trembling, riddled with adrenaline, and a bit too strung out to feel really, truly happy, but relief from the stress had her smiling as she pulled out her mobile to call Merlin and arrange her extraction.
She was incredibly grateful for her training, to which she ascribed the success of her performance. She’d been unsure that she’d be able to pull off her part -- even after the fact, now that it was done, it still sounded like absolute insanity to fly into the upper atmosphere without a plane of some kind. But she’d pulled it off, somehow, without panicking, without choking. She felt like a professional for the first time. She felt worthy of the code name Lancelot.
And Eggsy… Eggsy had done so unbelievably well despite his final test with the dog, despite Harry… despite everything. She was so unbelievably proud of him, and of Merlin, too. Of all of them. Yes, the losses had been staggering, and the global cleanup would take ages, but there was still a human race to clean up for, so she was going to consider the day a win, overall.
“So, Merlin,” she quipped once she got him on the line, trying to keep her voice cheerful and steadier than it felt, “it’s been fun, but I’m just a bit knackered. Think you might be able to give me a lift home?”
“I’d be delighted,” he replied with more warmth than he usually let show in his voice. The stress of their day was clearly getting to him too, if his no-nonsense, professional veneer was cracking -- he sounded almost playful. “But we’ll need to hold on and wait for Eggsy. He’s a tad occupied at the moment.”
“What with?” Roxy asked, confused. She thought he had successfully completed the mission five minutes earlier. Was there something left undone?
She could hear the laughter in Merlin’s voice as he replied, “Ah… Let’s just say, diplomatic relations. He’s… negotiating some terms with Sweden. At any rate, I’ll ping you when we’re en route.”
After a few minutes her phone rang. It was a call from Eggsy’s mother, who was still semi hysterical and sobbing with some combination of confusion and relief. Michelle thanked Roxy profusely for saving her baby’s life, and Roxy was glad to be able to assure her that Eggsy, too, was safe and sound.
Happy to have somewhere productive to focus her attention, she took the time to arrange with Benjamin, the doorman for the West End building where her own flat was located, to take in Michelle and Daisy and have them spend the night in her flat. Benjamin was rather geriatric and entirely uninterested in owning a mobile phone, and had thankfully managed to get into his safely locked office during the worst of the chaos. He assured her that the madness in the building had subsided and checked to confirm that her door was still securely locked and undamaged. Roxy explained that Michelle and Daisy were the family of her good friend, who needed a safe place to stay since their own home had been damaged in the disaster. After another phone call, which involved a second round of tearful thanks from Michelle and a promise from Roxy that she’d send Eggsy to them as soon as she was able, she sent them on their way.
Still no sign of Merlin and Eggsy.
Where are they?
She waited impatiently for the plane, putting her helmet back on and pacing to keep the cold at bay, trying to keep her mind off of the fact that, so far, she’d been unable to reach her parents. She knew that they had planned to spend the week at their country home up north (they almost never came into the city anymore), but she had no luck reaching them there on the landline, nor their mobiles.
By the time the plane landed to pick her up, she had confirmed Michelle and Daisy’s safe arrival to her flat in a Kingsman operated black cab, called and texted each of her parents seven times, and played two games of chess on her phone. She had been resolved to give Merlin and Eggsy a little piece of her mind for leaving her out in the cold for hours, but all of her irritation dissolved as soon as she saw them approach. She couldn’t recall a time she had ever been happier to see an airplane. So what if they were a bit late? Her friends were safe, and they were all going home.
Merlin opened the hatch and her heart skipped a beat. She stood for a moment frozen in place, smiling up at him as unexpected tears stung at the corners of her eyes, and realized abruptly that she had never expected to see him or Eggsy again. She hadn’t even let herself hope that they would all actually live through this ordeal.
He looked back down at her for a long moment with a curious sort of half smile on his normally stern face, before reaching out an arm and beckoning her onto the plane. She blinked, snapping herself out of the moment and began to jog towards him with a huge, grateful smile.
“Took you long enough,” she said with more bravado than she felt, relieved that her voice didn’t tremble and give her away.
“Well you can blame your hotshot classmate for the delay, I assure you,” Merlin quipped, reaching down to help haul her up, in the absence of stairs. Each gripped the other’s wrist and he pulled her up as she jumped, just as she’d done countless times during training. The action felt oddly familiar, compared to everything else she’d done that day. Merlin steadied her arm to help her find her footing once she’d safely landed inside the plane, and so they found themselves standing face to face.
His wrist felt warm and strong and alive, even through her glove and the thick wool of his blazer. She found herself reluctant to release his arm, and she noticed that he wasn’t letting go either.
“Good work, Lancelot,” he told her in a clipped, polite, teacher-y tone which was belied by the grip he had on her forearm. She suddenly got the feeling he may have been as uncertain as she had been, earlier, that they would live through the day. How on Earth must that have felt, she wondered, to know that of all the trained spies and secret agents that the world has to offer, the only two people you can trust to help you save the planet are two green agents barely out of training. The fact that they had succeeded was a miracle.
“I learned from the best,” she replied with a crooked smile. He smiled back. She wanted to hug him, suddenly, but repressed the urge, afraid to behave in any way he might construe as childish or inappropriate. But they stood there for a few seconds longer, strangely comfortable in their silence, until a voice bellowed out at them from the main cabin of the plane.
“Oi! We planning to get back to London today, or what?”
She laughed as Merlin snorted, and the quiet calm of their shared moment was broken.
“Patience, Eggsy,” she singsonged, finally releasing Merlin’s arm as she removed her helmet and gloves again and began to unfasten the zips and buckles of the protective suit. “You certainly made me wait long enough out in the damn snow.”
Merlin straightened up, all business once again, and started back towards the cockpit muttering under his breath about, “Honestly, he turns the head of one princess and suddenly he thinks he's in charge here, is that it? Well I’ve been saving the world since you were in nappies, young man, so don’t you think you’re impressive now...”
“Still,” Roxy called after him, as she secured her equipment in storage for the flight, “At least he’s all in one piece. It will be best to get him back to his Mum before this high he’s riding starts to fade. He hasn’t even begun to start grieving for… well… all of it. “ She didn’t want to say Harry’s name out loud.
“That I know,’ Merlin said sadly, looking back at her for a brief moment, “and he’s not the only one.” He turned away again, but not before Roxy saw the flash of grief in his eyes. Harry had been his closest friend.
On the way back to the Kingsman compound, Roxy caught Eggsy up on the details about his family.
“I sent a driver to pick them up from the estate. I never thought I’d ever be so grateful that Kingsman issues all of our employees company-owned phones. I’m told that almost all of our support staff who were at the mansion are safe and sound. Anyway, Dean was nowhere to be seen -- it was total chaos on the estate. I told her your mother when we spoke that you were my friend from work and that I could give her and her daughter a safe place to stay. Benjamin - the doorman - won’t let in a damn soul who isn’t on my list and I warned him to keep an eye out for that bastard Dean in particular, so he can’t touch them while they’re there.”
Roxy didn't know much about Michelle's husband. But she had heard enough.
“You are absolutely fuckin’ amazing,” Eggsy told her with a grateful hug. “I owe you. Big time.”
“You don’t owe me a thing,” she replied honestly. “You saved us all, Eggsy. We couldn’t have done this without you, and you were absolutely incredible. Please, go be with your mum and sister. Stay there with them as long as you need.”
Eggsy blushed and looked away, uncomfortable with the praise and generosity. She punched him in the shoulder to lighten the mood, and they both laughed.
“And what about you, Lancelot?” Merlin asked, eyebrow raised.
“Where will you stay, now that you’ve given up your home to the Unwin clan?”
“I’ll figure that out after I track down my mum and dad,” she told him. At Merlin and Eggsy’s inquisitive looks, she added, “I want to stay wherever they are, but I still can’t reach them. The house is in the middle of nowhere and has dodgy signal, at best, and I know that some power lines were destroyed in the violence so… yeah… I’m trying not to worry too much.” she swallowed hard.
“You’ll find ‘em,” Eggsy said, putting a warm hand on her shoulder. She looked at the ground and blinked to keep the worried tears at bay.
“I’ll take you myself,” Merlin said in a reassuring tone, dropping his ‘teacher in charge’ persona once again just enough that she could see the warmth in his dark eyes. “We’ll go together after we drop Eggsy off. Straight away.”
She smiled gratefully and tried not to sound as anxious as she felt when she thanked him. She was a Kingsman agent now, after all. And Kingsman agents held it together, even when things were stressful. Kingsman agents certainly didn’t cry because they wanted their Mum and Dad. She could do this.
They landed the plane back at the compound and Merlin handed Eggsy the keys to a sleek Triumph motorcycle in black and chrome, which he had parked in the small garage attached to the tailor’s shop in London.
“Take the bullet train to town. Take the bike from there. And be careful. The roads are still chaos, and people are still scared and acting out.”
Eggsy threw his arms around Merlin’s neck. “Thank you, Bruv.” he murmured, voice cracking.
“Thank me when you’ve returned it,” Merlin said in a voice that was only pretending to be annoyed, if the flustered blush on his face was anything to go by. “That’s my favorite bike you’ll be driving. Don’t you dare bring it back with so much as a scratch on the chrome, or you’ll be sure to learn exactly how much I learned when I was a trainee about ancient Chinese torture methods. I was top of my class.”
Eggsy just laughed at Merlin’s blustering and moved on to Roxy, enveloping her in a tight embrace as the tears threatened her eyes again.
“You’re amazing,” he told her again. “I wanna be on your arse kicking team any day of the week.”
“Right back at you,” she said, returning his hug with ferocity and dusting off his shoulders before she released him. “Don’t forget your helmet.”
And then he was gone.
This author has been unspeakable awful to you and she is very sorry. She will try to make up for it, in later chapters. She promises.
Merlin couldn’t remember a day in his life that had ever seemed as long as this one. He stifled a yawn and popped a caffeine pill after he and Roxy secured the plane in the hangar, letting her know they were heading straight out again; he was sure that if he got so much as a glimpse of his quiet office with its comfortable, overstuffed sofa he wouldn’t be able to muster the will to leave.
The kids (he really needed to stop thinking of them like that) had done well. They had performed far better than he could have possibly wished for on their first time out. But they had still, amongst the three of them, been doing the work of a full tactical squad of six or seven agents and handlers. ‘Exhausted,” didn’t even begin to cover how he felt.
“How will we get there?” Roxy inquired softly as she followed him through the aisles of planes, cars, and armoured tanks.
“It looks like it’s only about thirty five miles away,” he replied, checking his GPS for the address she had given him, “so I believe we will drive.”
They stopped in front of a sleek, grey, refurbished, 1973 Porsche 911 and Merlin smiled, saying, “And after the day we’ve had, I think we deserve to drive in style.”
In the car, Roxy’s anxiety was palpable. Merlin tried to engage her in conversation to pass the time.
“So, you’re an only child?” he asked. “Just you and your folks?”
“You know that from my dossier, Merlin,” she said with a small smile, realizing (of course) that he was hoping to distract her. “But yes. It’s just me. Do you really think my parents would have allowed me to come to Kingsman if a brother was an option? Or even a male cousin? Mum threw a fit as it was! She’s a bit old fashioned and didn’t think it would be an appropriate career choice for ‘a young lady of my pedigree.’ But, in the end, social connections are everything to her, so…” she trailed off and shook her head. “I don’t think they ever expected me to win, and I haven’t even had a chance to tell them, yet. I wonder what Mum will have to say about that…”
Merlin smiled. She wasn’t the first candidate for field agent whose family had underestimated them.
“I quite enjoy training young women,” he remarked. “That chip on your shoulder you came in with, the one that comes from fighting against all of the sexism and misogyny to get to where you are, I’ve seen before. It gives many of you a drive to succeed that we generally have to beat into the male candidates... Being born with nothing but wealth and privilege on all sides is a great advantage, to be sure, but I do feel the lack of perspective can do a disservice to one’s character, from time to time.”
She nodded and turned to face him, failing to entirely push away an annoyed expression at being told she had a chip on her shoulder, despite the fact they both knew he was right.
“Women aren’t the only ones who work hard here because they feel like they have something to prove,” she pointed out.
“No,” Merlin agreed, allowing his mind to drift back to Eggsy's performance earlier in the day, “they aren’t.”
“And it isn’t hard to have more character than Charlie.”
He snorted, trying and failing to repress a laugh. She smirked and glanced at him sideways. Her smile was mischievous and warm.
Roxy appeared to grow thoughtful after a moment.
“How is Eggsy?” she asked. “You know, since… since Galahad.”
Merlin took a deep breath and let it out slowly, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he considered his reply.
“Manic,” he told her. “Truth be told, I’m not looking forward to the crash. He hasn’t dealt with… anything, really. Hasn’t had time to mourn Harry. Not to mention the fact that he killed a lot of people today, for the first time in his life.”
Merlin didn’t say anything to Roxy, but he wasn’t actually sure about which of those things was going to be harder for Eggsy to process. The boy was a trained assassin, no matter how green. He knew that killing people was a part of the job description, and he had signed up anyway. But his attachment to Harry bordered on hero worship, at the very least. Merlin suspected it might be something more, whether Eggsy realized it or not -- he’d seen it happen often enough, with new recruits. But regardless of the nature of his feelings, his inevitable crash from the high of completing his first successful mission was not going to be pretty.
Roxy stared at him for a long moment before stating, decisively, “You should give him a job. He deserves it.”
Merlin couldn’t help the quirk of his lips that betrayed his smile when he replied, “Aye, Lancelot, he does. We won’t turn him away now. Especially not with Galahad…” he trailed off, unable to make himself finish the sentence.
“Yes, of course,” she replied softly, as though to spare him having to say the words out loud.
Harry’s dead, you imbecile, he thought to himself, angry in his grief. The fact that you won’t say it doesn’t make it less true.
They fell quiet for a while, and Roxy switched on the news on the radio, listening to report after report of destruction and death until they made the sharp turn into the long winding driveway that led through the gates and up to the modest chateau that was her parents’ country residence. Merlin sighed heavily. There was so much work to be done… so much damage control. Merlin hadn’t been in contact with any agents yet, who were out in the field. Galahad was dead, Arthur dead and a traitor, and they had no idea whether he was the only traitor... He was overwhelmed just thinking about where to start.
He and Roxy silently surveyed the grounds as they approached the house. The electricity seemed to be working; the lamps along the road were lit, but no lights warmed the windows of the house itself. Roxy began to grow more visibly agitated as they drew closer, clearly anxious to get inside. Merlin’s sixth sense tingled. Something was definitely not right here, that much was certain.
“Maybe it would be best if you let me--” Merlin started to say as he parked, but Roxy was already unbuckled, out of the car, and sprinting for the door, keys in hand.
“Lancelot!” he barked after her, “Roxy, don’t!”
But she had already done it. By the time he made it into the house behind her, he found her frozen in shock, standing in a doorway off the foyer, white as death, apparently unable to comprehend what she was witnessing. And as he glanced around his stomach sank and a sick, miserable feeling crept in to take residence with the weariness he already felt.
The house was a bloodbath. There was arterial spray down one wall of the foyer, along with a shower of glass from a large, broken mirror, and the contents of an upended table -- plants, books, a stack of unopened mail.
When he came up behind her to see what had stopped her in her tracks, Merlin swore violently under his breath. The entire family and their staff dead was dead on the kitchen floor, a blood-spattered tableau of limbs and innards. Roxy's mother had been badly beaten and, from what he could see, cut in several places with a serrated knife. He couldn't tell from looking which of the injuries had ultimately killed her. Her father had been shot several times at close range with the twenty gauge shotgun he saw clasped in the butler’s hand -- his torso was utterly demolished, almost entirely detached from his pelvis. The cook and a maid appeared to have brutalized each other largely with their bare hands, before being felled by the shotgun as well. The butler had been bludgeoned with something blunt, hard enough to crack his skull.
Every death had been brutal and horrifically violent. And Roxy was just standing there staring at it all, trembling in silence, barely even breathing.
He yanked her into his arms without thinking, pulling her around to face him and holding her head against his chest. He tried to shield her from the carnage with his body until he could move her out of the house and back into the foyer, wishing furiously that he had an amnesia dart on hand that he could use to pluck the sight from her memory forever. Trained Kingsman or no, she was quite young, this woman who had helped save the human race not three hours ago. It was highly unlikely that she had ever seen violence on this scale in person, ever before. He loathed the idea of her carrying that sight around, haunting her and weighing down her memories for the rest of her life. No one should ever have to see such a thing happen to their own family.
She was still quivering in shock, and when she looked up at him she was still as pale as a ghost.
“I can’t…” she began, then trailed off, choking down a sob and shaking her head frantically. “We should… the bodies… I can’t...”
Merlin wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her gently out of the house, back to the car.
“You don’t have to,” he promised her, in a voice that he hoped was kind, yet left no room for arguments. He couldn’t do much for her, but he could take the responsibility of dealing with it away from her. “Not alone, and not today. You’ve had a long, impossibly hard day, and this is an unimaginable shock. You need to rest. Tomorrow, I am going to call in a team to take care of this. For now, I’m taking you home.”
“I can’t go home,” she reminded him unnecessarily, her voice growing slightly hysterical as he guided her gently to sit back in the passenger’s seat of the Porsche. She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. “Eggsy --”
“My home,” he clarified, bending down next to the car so he could see her eyes as he spoke. “Is that alright?”
She dropped her hands into her lap and looked up at him for a long moment with a combination of misery and curiosity on her face. Whatever she had been expecting him to say, it clearly wasn’t that. He was relieved when she nodded her acceptance.
“Okay then,” he said, closing her door and walking around to his own side of the car. “Off we go.”
By the time he was seated with the keys in the ignition, Roxy was crying silently, jaw clenched and face turned towards the window.
She saw him looking at her in the reflection in the glass, and her features twisted in misery.
“God, I’m so unprofessional…” she muttered, embarrassed.
Merlin sighed, and wished she would be less hard on herself.
“You already did ‘professional’ today, Lancelot,” he replied softly, taking care not to sound like he was lecturing her. “And you helped to save the world. But you’re also human, and what’s back there would have overwhelmed the hardest heart among us. There is nothing wrong with crying. It’s a natural part of the grieving process. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
She nodded, understanding, but still kept her face turned away, frozen in stillness as silent tears streamed down.
Merlin switched off the news and flipped through a few classical music stations, eventually landing on what sounded like one of Mahler’s more bombastic symphonies. Perfect -- just what the situation called for: a distracting, intriguingly complex piece with rich melodies and no words (because song lyrics in any genre were a minefield for the grieving, always full of references to loved ones who have left or been taken away).
He put the Porsche in gear and drove on without speaking again, knowing all too well that there were no magic words he could conjure to ease this brand of pain. He was grateful to look over at her ten minutes later to see that she had drifted off to sleep, utterly overwhelmed and exhausted from the exertions of the day.
When he finally pulled into the garage attached to his building, he laid a hand softly on Roxy's shoulder to wake her up.
"Lancelot," he said, gently urging her awake, "we're here."
She opened her eyes slowly, and Merlin watched her face move through a kaleidoscope of emotions, ranging from surprise, to confusion, to horror and realization, before finally settling on resigned misery.
Merlin squeezed her shoulder in compassion and climbed or of the car, coming around to open her door for her as he said, "I've got an eighteen year old bottle of Macallan Sherry Oak Scotch Single Malt inside with our names on it, Lancelot. What do you say?"
"Dear god, yes," she replied, taking his proffered hand and allowing him to pull her to her feet.
She followed him up the stairs to his front door, which he unlocked, gesturing for her to enter.
"After you," he told her with a slightly awkward smile. He didn’t have house guests often. Young, female house guests were even more of a rarity. And a young, female, house guest who had been his student up until two days ago was entirely unprecedented. Merlin had no idea what proper, gentlemanly manners were, in such a situation. Should he keep his distance? Should he be more relaxed and familiar? He felt uncertain. He was not accustomed to feeling uncertain, and he didn't much like it.
Luckily, he supposed, it appeared that Roxy had been too bowled over by the events of the day to even notice he was less than at ease. Once inside, she paused to take in her surroundings, which he knew were nothing the sleek, white, modern lines of his lab at Kingsman headquarters, nor the traditionally posh, old-fashioned style of the tailor's shop. Merlin’s apartment was modern, stylish, and comfortably lived-in. It seemed remarkable homey, to belong to someone who spent so many hours at work, but he had worked hard over the years to make sure that it was so. This was his sanctuary.
The grey walls of his living room were obscured by several floor-to-ceiling bookcases, overflowing with a wide variety of fiction and poetry, as well as reference materials on every subject he’d ever studied. His walls and tables were decked in artwork from every time period in history, including a real, ancient Greek vase (under glass) and an authentic Kandinsky painting against the back wall. A well-appointed kitchen with a marble counter top and sleek, chrome trimmings overflowed with brightly colored French cookery and a block full of fine, Japanese knives. A large, slate-colored, sectional sofa took up most of the space in the living room, accompanied by antique ebony end tables and a complementary (but not matching) coffee table. His entertainment center was sleek, state of the art, and well stocked with games, DVDs, and a remarkable, multi-genre vinyl collection.
For no rational reason at all, Merlin realized he was hopeful that Roxy would like his home. He found himself disproportionately pleased when, despite her current emotional state, she managed a thoughtful smile.
Looks like she's not the only one who needs rest, he told himself. You’re being absolutely ridiculous.
“So,” she teased, “you do have a home, after all. They told us that you just lived in your office at the compound.”
“Ms Morton,” he replied with a very serious, conspiratorial tone, “I can assure you that there are still quite a few things that Kingsman doesn’t know about me. It is important for a gentleman spy to maintain somewhat of an air of mystery, after all.”
Roxy grinned at him briefly, until her eyes suddenly welled up with tears, presumably due to a fresh wave of horror at what had become of her family. She tried to blink them away.
Merlin stepped away to pour them each a drink, and to give her space to compose herself.
When he returned he handed her a glass of scotch, a double, on the rocks, from which she took an impressive swallow without so much as flinching.
Then he gestured to his sofa, where they sat down and each bent to unlace their boots. It was a strangely normal, almost domestic moment to share with a colleague from work. Roxy curled up with her feet tucked underneath her, holding onto her tumbler with both hands and staring down into the rich, amber liquid.
"How are you holding up?” he inquired.
She shrugged helplessly.
"Indeed," he replied, as though she had spoken. He understood well enough.
"I think a shower, some dinner, and then some sleep, yes?" he asked next, not really expecting an answer. “Let's get you situated.”
He took a long sip of his own glass of scotch and stood, heading to the bedroom to see if there was anything at all in his wardrobe that might fit Roxy. Settling after some deliberation on a soft, cotton blend, Henley style shirt and a pair of running shorts with a drawstring waistband, he brought the clothes out to her along with a towel and a flannel, and put the whole stack in her arms.
"The clothes will be laughably huge on you, I'm sure," he said with a hint of amusement, "but they should serve well enough, for sleeping.
Roxy smiled, tearing up yet again.
"Thank you," she whispered. "I don't... I don't know what i would have done without you there earlier--"
"And you'll never have to know, because I was there. So let's not dwell on any what-if’s or might-have-been's. We've got enough on our plates with reality, right now. No need to worry about hypothetical situations."
She nodded, still smiling though her lip was trembling, and vanished into the bathroom.
Merlin took another drink from his glass, called in a delivery order from the Chinese place down the block, then flipped open his computer to start to assess Kingsman's situation.
Things were not, in fact, as bleak for them as he had initially feared. Firstly, all of the staff who had been working at the compound when the whole situation had gone down were totally fine. Merlin found himself echoing Roxy's earlier sentiment of gratitude that Kingsman provided specialized mobile phones to everyone on staff and not just the field agents. The thought of what might have happened if four dozen, crazed doctors and lawyers and office workers had been rampaging around the mansion with full access to the garage, kennels, and armory was absolutely chilling.
The field agents were also okay, for the most part. Lancelot was all in one piece, at least physically speaking, and Eggsy (who would most certainly be staying on as a full Kingsman) was fine as well. Kay, Gawain, Bors, Tristan, Bedivere, Lamorak, and Gareth had all checked in, in full health and ready to mobilize whenever needed. Gaheris, Kay, Hector, and Lionel had all made contact, but had been severely injured during the disaster and were all now recovering at safe houses or in hospital. Merlin shuddered to himself at the idea of them caught up in the madness sparked by being too close to a civilian bystander's mobile phone... he was not looking forward to learning how much damage the injured Kingsman had done before being put out of commission, considering what he'd witnessed on the video feed in Kentucky.
Geraint, Pellinore, Leodegrance, Percival, Agravain, Dagonet, and Mordred were still dark. Still, that was well-over half of the team of field agents who had already been in touch. Not bad, and the rest would certainly follow suit within the next forty-eight hours.
Merlin sent out an encoded message to all the Kingsman agents, outlining Harry’s demise and the details of Chester King’s treachery, announcing Eggsy’s battlefield promotion to agent, which would be made official in short order, and explaining his temporary assumption of leadership. He then set a date in six weeks time, for the whole team to assemble and elect a new, permanent Arthur. He let everyone know that he would be reaching out to them individually with updates, new missions, and next steps within the next thirty six hours. And then he made himself keep working, reading over the files for all current, active projects to begin to wrap his brain around the scope of the work he was taking on, until Roxy emerged from the bathroom, with damp hair, cheeks rosy from the heat, and eyes red from crying.
She was barefoot and wearing his shirt. Presumably she was also wearing the running shorts he had given her, but the shirt fell more than halfway to her knees, so he couldn’t see them at all. She rolled and pushed the over-long sleeves up to her elbows as she returned to her spot on the sofa, smiling shyly at him as she pulled her feet up underneath her and pulled a blanket from the back of the sofa over her shoulders. Merlin found himself fighting a highly-unexpected urge to gather her into his arms and hold her to his chest to keep her safe. Mentally slapping himself, he shoved the thought away. Roxy wasn’t some damsel in need of protecting -- she was a highly skilled spy and a trained assassin, for pity’s sake.
What kind of cad would you be, he chastised himself, if you took advantage of her grief and exhaustion like that, just to have a chance to make yourself feel like a big, manly hero. Shame on you!
Merlin redoubled his resolve to treat Roxy with the professional respect she deserved as his colleague and a fully trained Kingsman, and pushed away all of his inappropriate thoughts, dismissing them as the products of an unbelievably stressful day.
She looked a little calmer now, at least. No doubt the shower (not to mention a long, uninterrupted cry behind the privacy of a closed door) had done her good.
He poured her another scotch and retrieved a small, white pill from his medicine cabinet. She sipped this one much more slowly, taking time to savor the flavors, which Merlin considered a good sign.
Still, better safe than sorry. He held the white tablet out to her.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Diazepam,” he replied. “For anxiety… it helps with the nightmares.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You have a prescription for that?”
He raised his eyebrow right back. “No.”
She chuckled. “Hmmm… handing out controlled substances without a prescription? That’s illegal, you know. For a teacher, you’re an awfully bad influence.”
Merlin grinned. “Aye, lass. You can call the authorities tomorrow, and have me locked up, then. But for now just take the pill. You need sleep more than anything, and I want to make sure you’re able to get some.”
Roxy obeyed, washing down the pill with a sip of her scotch.
“Still a bad influence,” she teased.
“Maybe so,” he said, “but at least remember that, as of yesterday, I am no longer your teacher. We are colleagues now, Lancelot. So you can't accuse me of abusing my authority.”
He winked, which made her smile again, and he couldn’t help but return it.
“I like the sound of that…” she told him.
They watched the news in companionable silence until the food arrived, then switched the channel from the unrelenting stream of horrors to a stupid cartoon, while they ate. He shared the news of the team, then switched the channel again to discover a marathon of the 1980’s Sherlock Holmes series.
“Oh!” Roxy exclaimed softly. “Leave it, please? These were my favorites. I used to watch the reruns with my gran.”
Merlin was entirely gratified to see her eyes shining as she spoke.
“Of course we’ll leave it,” he said warmly. “These are classic. I could watch them all night.”
They weren’t even halfway through the second episode before Merlin glanced over to see that Roxy had curled up fallen asleep on the sofa.
She looked softer in sleep. Not like an elite spy who knows twelve ways to kill you without standing up. Just a lovely young woman like any other young woman, exhausted after a long day.
He stood up to prepare for bed himself. Before he went, he lifted her head gently to slide a pillow underneath and arranged the blanket she was using to cover her properly.
Roxy woke up slowly, sluggishly, coaxed from her benzodiazepine-induced sleep by the unmistakable sounds of breakfast preparations and the enticing aroma of sizzling bacon. Disorientated, she briefly puzzled over where she was, before the image of her butchered family flashed through her mind, leaving a cloud of nausea and dread in its wake.
Right, she thought. Saved the world, became an orphan, had a small mental breakdown. And that brings us up to now, where I'm sleeping in Merlin's flat, of all the unbelievable places...
For a few moments she laid still, eyes shut, as the events of the previous day came to rest like a physical weight on her solar plexus. Her body ached from the demands of the adrenaline-fueled mission they had completed. Her heart ached at the loss of her family and household. But mostly she felt wrung out. It was as though she had run out of tears to cry. And perhaps, for now, she had.
It was small comfort, but, at least she had the satisfaction of knowing that those responsible for the deaths of her family had died painfully and fully aware that they had failed in their mission, because Roxy and her team had thwarted their plans.
The spark of anger flashed inside of her and she grabbed onto it. Anger was comfortable. Anger was familiar. It was why she’d wanted to join Kingsman in the first place -- to make the world safer from people like Richmond Valentine. And she had already made a difference.
Just not soon enough to save them...
She shook her head and pressed her palms against her closed eyes, willing the hopeless thought away.
Use your anger, she told herself fiercely. Use it. Let it warm you up where you are numb and let it keep you moving. That’s how you’re gonna get through the next few days and weeks. You've got a lot of work to do before you get to rest. So remember your training: everything you have and everything you are is a tool in your tool box. Anger and grief are no different. You just have to figure out how best to use them. You can do this. This is a tool, and it can be used.
She held that thought in her mind like a mantra as she stretched her sore, stiff body and opened her eyes, dragging herself into a sitting position where she was greeted with the incongruously delightful sight of Merlin, her severe, dour trainer and teacher, moving comfortably around his own kitchen, looking entirely at ease, and at least momentarily unaware that he was being observed. Roxy found herself charmed by the sight.
It seemed that cooking numbered among the seemingly infinite list of tasks at which Merlin was effortlessly competent. He moved calmly and gracefully, a small smile on his face as he worked. It was strange to Roxy to see him so casual, barefoot and clad in a tight, thin, black, v-necked shirt over a loose fitting pair of flannel pajama bottoms that rode low on his hips. This ensemble did a much poorer job than his typical work clothing at masking the defined musculature of his strong, military-fit body. Not for the first time, Roxy found herself inconveniently aware of how incredibly sexy he was.
She had that bastard Harry Hart (may he rest in peace) to thank for this particular (entirely inappropriate, she reminded herself) schoolgirl crush. That particular day in training would probably be burned indelibly into her memory for the rest of her life.
Merlin had called in Galahad to work with the trainees for a week after he had sufficiently recovered from his coma, to review tactical seduction and prepare them for the upcoming unit on Honeypot missions. Galahad was (she had learned from Percival, her mentor) apparently the undisputed expert on the topic of seduction, and still boasted a 95% success rate on his own missions of that variety, the highest percentage in the entire organization despite the fact that he was one of the older agents who still took missions in the field...
“Seduction is one of the most useful tools in your arsenal," he lectured to the group, “because it is generally non-disruptive. Do not dismiss or undervalue it.
"A successful seduction leaves very little evidence behind, both because you will typically have full cooperation from your mark throughout the engagement, and also because the vast majority of people prefer to keep their clandestine indiscretions a secret, so the marks end up doing most of the work to obscure your involvement in their lives all on their own.
"It’s a clean, non-violent, discreet way to open doors and gain access to all sorts of information. And all you have to do is be clever enough to give them a reason to want to know you, or flatter them enough to turn their own ego against them. I make it a point never to use a fist, when a kiss will do the job.”
Then, he called on her, to her surprise.
“Roxanne, please come forward. It would be helpful at this point to have an example to discuss with the class. Please, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to seduce Merlin.”
Roxy, who had already stood up to comply with his request and begun to walk to the front, slowed to a complete stop as heat flooded her cheeks.
Christ! He was speaking as though he was asking her to sharpen a pencil for him, or do ten push ups... not... seduce her direct superior. Her eyes darted over to Merlin, who was seated at a table in one corner of the classroom, to gauge his reaction.
Merlin was regarding Galahad with a curious raised eyebrow -- evidently he hadn’t been expecting this any more than she had. Then, shaking his head in apparent amusement, he set aside his tablet, then stood up to pour himself a scotch from the decanter on a nearby table. From here he took a seat on a Victorian, velvet couch at the front of the room, presumably intending to appear more casually approachable, and less like a teacher taking notes. So he thought this was fine and normal enough.
At least ten different emotions were battling for control of Roxy's brain, and something irritatingly close to panic started flutter in her belly. How intimately would she be expected to behave in this classroom?
“Seduce…. how? Ah… Right now?” she asked, then mentally winced at how stupidly inarticulate she must sound.
Galahad chuckled and nodded, saying, “Yes, now, Roxy. No time like the present, after all. Please, feel free to take a moment or two to consider how you’d like to proceed. Your objective is simple - establish a connection, a rapport. You are unsure of whether he will be useful in the grand picture, but it is important to lay some groundwork that you can come back to later if he proves to be a valuable contact. You may begin whenever you're ready.”
Nothing... physical, then. Thank god.
She took a few more steps forward, then paused again, an unwelcome thought springing to mind.
“Agent Galahad, Sir,” she began deliberately, “if I may…”
He looked at her expectantly.
“It's just... Why me, sir? I hate to even think... but I have to ask... Is it because I’m the only female candidate? Because I have to say, I find it rather uncomfortable to be… observed... like that by the others, if it's only going to be me, under scrutiny."
Galahad smiled in kind understanding, and suddenly she understood why he was so successful at these types of missions. It was a radiant, infectious smile, and she immediately felt comforted, like he truly understood her and wanted to help.
His charisma is absolutely insane, she thought incredulously.
“This is a part of everyone's training,” he explained, “and I'm sorry if that was not perfectly clear. In order to move on to the next unit, everyone in the class will be expected to acquire at least a base-level proficiency at flirting for reconnaissance purposes with any requested mark, regardless of gender. My only consideration in calling on you first is that the agents who plan to assist as test subjects for this unit were delayed until tomorrow, which leaves me with only Merlin and myself as potential marks, today.
"I’ve read all of your files, and I know that the majority of these young men self-identify as heterosexual. I’d be willing to bet that most of them have never tried to artfully flirt with another man, and I was frankly hoping that they might learn something from you.”
He winked at her conspiratorially and this time she couldn’t help but return his brilliant smile.
“They can try,” she said, satisfied and mollified by his answer.
“It’s okay, Morton,” Charlie joked from his seat at the table. “Once we get to the ladies, you can take all your notes from me.”
One of his cronies laughed at that, and Eggsy made a gagging face. Galahad's face seemed carefully, deliberately neutral and Merlin appeared to be ignoring them all.
Roxy repressed a snicker as she turned to face him. “I’ve managed just fine with the ladies on my own so far, actually... I mean, at least I've never had any complaints. And while I appreciate the...ah... generosity of the offer, I confess I'm somewhat at a loss to understand what you could possibly have to teach me?"
At that, Charlie gaped for a moment before scowling and falling into a sullen silence. Roxy restrained the urge to roll her eyes and provoke him further. Eggsy laughed and blew her a kiss, while Galahad seemed to be repressing a smile of his own. The other candidates seemed to be stuck on the idea that Roxy might sometimes choose to date women.
Ugh, she thought, how predictable.
Galahad thankfully quieted down the rowdy group with an annoyed eyebrow and a wave of his arm. She was grateful -- this was going to be hard enough to handle without their juvenile commentary running tediously in the background. She tried to return her focus to the task at hand.
Once she reached the front of the classroom, she took a deep breath and looked again towards Merlin, who was thumbing through a book that had been left on the coffee table, evidently setting the scene for her by pretending that the rest of them were not present.
“In front of everyone, then?” she asked Galahad, hoping she sounded less shy and nervous than she suddenly felt.
“Absolutely, yes,” he told her in a kind but firm voice. “You shall never, ever be sent on a Kingsman mission without surveillance equipment and a handler online to monitor your movements. The safety of our agents is paramount, you see, and there’s no room here for pearl-clutching and unnecessary modesty where your life is on the line. Therefore, you must learn to perform these sorts of tasks and all others under close observation. Understood?"
"Excellent," he affirmed. "Please, proceed whenever you’ve collected your thoughts. Remember, the objective is simply to establish a connection, put him at ease. Get yourself in a position where he would want to get to know you better later, so that your job would be easier if pursuing him as a line of investigation became necessary. Make him like you.”
With that, Galahad walked to the back of the room to observe, leaving Roxy alone with the task at hand.
First, she took down her hair and unbuttoned the top two buttons of her coveralls. He had said, "seduce," after all, not, "befriend," after all. This wasn't the most sultry ensemble, to be sure, but there was nothing to be done for it.
She took a moment to take a few deep breaths and observe Merlin, looking at him for the first time simply as a man, rather than her imposing teacher and an authority figure. It turned out that he was attractive, actually, when he wasn’t busy scowling at them while he made them run miles upon miles of laps and diffuse bombs with one hand cuffed to a wrought iron fence. Sitting there, at ease on the couch, he looked far less severe, and, when she paused to consider it, he was really quite handsome.
He was impressively tall, with a quiet, stoic air about him. His high cheekbones and strong jaw made his angular profile seem regal, rather than hawkish (which is how she thought of him when she was fed up and frustrated with a particularly punishing task during training). The faint lines around his eyes and mouth belied the perennially grumpy demeanor he always presented to the class; she had never looked close enough before to realize that they were the lines of one who spent more time laughing than scowling.
She could see that he was in excellent physical condition under the buttoned up layers of the crisp white shirts and wool jumpers he always wore. He had lean, toned muscles which indicated that he was able to comply with all the organization's rigorous physical fitness requirements (compulsory for any and all staff that ever went out into the field).
For a moment she let herself imagine what it might be like to approach Merlin at a bar, out in public. The thought was strangely pleasing. He wasn’t her typical ‘type’ (the age difference wasn't a big deal, it just seemed that he was far, far too long-suffering and buttoned up for her tastes), but she had to admit, he was strikingly beautiful in his own way.
Roxy considered for a moment whether she should adopt a false persona, but abandoned the idea as overly elaborate for the task she'd been asked to accomplish.
He's just a man, she thought to herself. You can talk to a man, right? Of course, right. Men are easy. Here goes nothing.
She walked up to him slowly, with what she hoped was a sweet smile on her face.
“May I join you?” she asked, ignoring the way her pulse leaped when he raised his eyes to meet hers, curiously inquiring.
How had she never noticed before? He had absolutely beautiful eyes -- deep and intense, the sort of eyes poets write about drowning in.
Roxy tried to crush that insane thought as soon as it left her mind. Her mouth suddenly felt dry. Good grief, this unit was going to be harder than she thought if she couldn't even handle looking at her attractive teacher without waxing poetic.
“By all means,” he said amicably and apparently unaware of her inner turmoil, gesturing politely to the seat next to him.
She intentionally sat slightly closer than was professionally appropriate, smiling as she leaned slightly farther into his space to inspect his glass.
“Mmm,” she hummed approvingly. “What is this… it's a Balvenie, am I right?”
He raised an eyebrow, clearly impressed. “Aye, indeed it is, with a Portwood finish, 21 year. It's a personal favorite of mine."
"You have incredibly discerning taste," she replied warmly. And it wasn't just flattery - that was an excellent glass of whisky he was holding.
"And it seems you have an incredibly discerning nose on you, Ms Morton." He took a moment to study her in silence for a few seconds before going on to say, "So tell me. What’s your preferred poison?
“From Balvenie, or in general?"
"How about both?"
""Hmmmm..." she hummed thoughtfully, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth, pleased when she saw that the movement had attracted his gaze to her mouth. Suddenly she wondered whether he was letting her see his natural reactions, or whether he was playing a part? It bothered her that she couldn't tell.
"Well, I'm a wine-lover first and foremost. But I do also know my way around in the whisky world. From Balvenie I tend towards the Doublewood, 17 year, usually. It’s my father’s favorite, for everyday use, so I’ve inherited a bit of a taste for it. But I've heard the 21 year is absolutely divine, and I do love the way the port wine finish rounds out the flavor of a good whisky. I certainly wouldn’t turn down something so lovely if the the opportunity to enjoy it were to present itself.”
Merlin seemed genuinely pleased that she'd surprised him with her taste and knowledge on the subject.
“Indeed. I confess, Miss Morton, I am quite impressed. I had no idea you were such a whisky aficionado." Roxy found herself glowing a bit from the praise, and the smile she flashed him then was entirely earnest, her assignment momentarily forgotten.
But only momentarily. Roxy knew the point of this engagement was to establish an interest in more intimate contact. She needed to step up her game, now, and move into more flirtatious territory, rather than feeling like a student simply trying to impress her teacher.
"Thank you, Merlin," she replied after gazing into his eyes for a moment too long. "That's a wonderful compliment, especially from someone whose opinion I value as much as yours. And, well... I hope you can see that I’ve always been able to... appreciate... the complexities of a perfectly aged vintage.”
As she spoke, she raked her eyes slowly and appreciatively over his entire body before bringing them to rest again on his face.
At that, out in the classroom, Eggsy clamped a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. Roxy barely noticed, though. She was starting to enjoy herself. It had been a bold and cheeky thing to say and she knew it, but she figured that in a classroom setting, an excess of timidity would be a greater crime than taking a chance.
“Is that so?” Merlin sounded entertained by her brazenly flirtatious subtext.
“That is so,” she affirmed, grinning and catching her bottom lip between her teeth again. “So, are you offering?”
She let her eyes drift to rest on his lips and lingered there, allowing her own imagination to wander at the thought of leaning forward to taste them.
Merlin blinked a few times in surprise. “Excuse me?”
She winked at him as she reached over and took the glass from his hand, ensuring that her fingers brushed lightly against his as she did so. The simple contact felt unbelievably intimate in the moment. Her cheeks felt warm. She hoped to god she wasn’t blushing… she was supposed to be in control of this situation, after all. And so she schooled her face into the picture of innocence, looking up at him and smiling sweetly as she slowly repeated, “are you offering?” this time raising the glass she had taken from him. “I’d love to try a sip, if that’s alright.”
Merlin’s eyes were dancing with amusement and he let out a quiet, genuine chuckle. “By all means,” he responded, gesturing to the glass.
I caught him off guard, Roxy realized , and he hadn’t expected me to be able do that. He’s not pretending right now. He’s actually interested in this conversation. The thought made her feel a little giddy. Merlin was almost certainly the cleverest man she had ever known. He was brilliantly intelligent, incredibly focused. How marvelous would it be, to be able to hold the attention of such a man, even for a short while? The possibility was absolutely intoxicating.
Feeling slightly out of her depth, Roxy took a grateful sip of the scotch, feeling the smooth heat rolling down her throat, warming everything in its path. It was absolutely superb.
“Oh…” She let out a soft gasp of appreciation that she knew bordered on pornographic, far too low for anyone else in the room to have heard. And she looked him right in the eye as she took a second sip, letting her tongue dart out to catch the last drops on her lips. “This is wonderful,” she told him, low and soft. “Better than I expected.”
“I know what you mean,” Merlin replied, raising an eyebrow and just... looking at her... like she was some sort of fascinating new species of tropical bird, and oh, god, if she wasn’t blushing before then she certainly was now. Her cheeks suddenly felt like they were on fire. Something unspoken shifted between them in that moment, and she wasn't sure what it was.
Holding her gaze, he angled his body subtly to face her a bit more, turning to rest more against the arm of the couch and leaning back in a pose that Roxy knew was expertly, deliberately crafted to appear casual and unaffected, yet interested and inviting. As though he were the one trying to charm her, rather than the other way around.
Suddenly she felt like the prey, rather than the predator, she realized. That's what had changed. She’d been ordered to seduce him, but he was taking control of the moment away from her. Her pulse leapt into her throat as his lips quirked up into a mischievous half-smile and his eyes sparkled. He knew he had her, and he knew she knew it.
Silently he extended a long-fingered hand to take back his drink. She held the tumbler out to him and nearly gasped aloud then she felt his cool, calloused fingers brush against her own hand, mirroring her own gesture from moments before.
How was he getting to her this way? He was barely even speaking, for god's sake. And that was when Roxy realized that there was a secondary purpose to this lesson: she was supposed to learn what it felt like to get played by a master. She was supposed to understand how little she knew about flirting. She was supposed to study the subtleties of the craft.
My god, she thought, He's playing cat and mouse with me. It was a disturbingly erotic thought.
An involuntary shiver ran up her spine. It was subtle, but she knew he had seen, when his eyes darkened and his smirk widened, just a bit. He was enjoying this. Oh god, she hoped he was enjoying this as much as she was.
Roxy sat there, staring into his eyes with her pulse racing, until she felt like she absolutely had to break the tension, lest it kill her.
“Thank you for sharing,” she murmured, trying and failing to ignore the sudden frisson of arousal that coursed through her body, coming to settle low and hot in her belly.
He was staring at her lips as she spoke.
“I assure you, the pleasure is mine, Ms Morton,” he replied with a warm, full smile. Had she seen him smile before? Like, really smile? It was absolutely beautiful.
Merlin beckoned her with a lazy hand, and she leaned in, feeling drawn towards him as though by a magnet. He opened his mouth and moved forward so that she thought he was about to whisper something in her ear. The heat of his breath against the side of her neck made her gasp as her skin erupted in goosebumps. She felt a hot dampness spreading between her thighs, and she could have sworn she felt his lips graze her skin when suddenly Harry’s cheerful voice came ringing clearly across the classroom, jarring them both out of the moment and causing Roxy nearly to jump out of her skin in shocked confusion.
“Thank you Roxy," Harry said brightly, "that’s very well done! Feel free to return to your seat whenever you please."
She turned quickly towards him (away from Merlin) and nodded her understanding, not trusting her voice at the moment. She wasn't sure she could stand up -- she was so turned on she was utterly distracted and her legs felt like jelly.
Thankfully, Harry was already moving on with the class, drawing their attention away from the couch and up to the white board where he was scrawling notes.
"The conversation we've just witnessed gives us a few very good examples of tactics we can use to foster familiarity and build trust. Roxy has a lot of good instincts here, and we can do well to learn from then. One: it was a very well-considered idea to start in on the topic of the whisky. It was already present in the scene before she joined him, which is good because it doesn't feel contrived, and also she knows from the intel available to her that it would be a topic that her mark enjoys discussing... ”
Roxy shook her head a few times to try and clear it. She was almost afraid to look at Merlin, terrified that he would be perfectly calm and collected and then see how deeply he had affected her. But when she did steal a glance in his direction she saw that he had knocked back the final sip of his scotch and set down the tumbler on the table, and was now running both hands over his slightly flushed face.
It really is a beautiful face... she thought, shortly followed by, Oh... I am so fucked.
Merlin looked up at her then, studying her face for a moment as he straightened his posture and the open, playful expression on his face faded back into the gruff, stern tech wizard she had come to know over the weeks.
"Alright?" he asked her quietly, moving to put a professionally appropriate amount of space between them on the couch.
“Ahhh... yes of course," she lied. "Should I... ” she cocked her head towards the table where she had been sitting next to Eggsy at the start of class.
“Hmm? Oh yes,” he replied, his voice growing crisper and more teacher-like with every syllable. “You're free to go back to your desk, naturally. Thank you very much, Roxy. That was well-done indeed.” He cleared his throat and picked up his tablet of of the table, then went immediately to open it before glancing back up at her.
She couldn’t be sure -- his persona was so armour clad that there was no way he’d ever even give her a sign, but just for a moment she hoped it hadn’t all been an act, and then hated herself for even thinking such a thing. She wasn't a cow-eyed schoolgirl, and there was no place in her training for an infatuation with her direct superior, for fuck's sake. She opted to end the moment on as confidently casual a note as she could manage.
“I assure you, the pleasure is mine,” she replied, pointedly mimicking his words from mere minutes ago, before Harry had snapped them out of the moment.
He glanced up at her sharply, the same amused and delighted look flashing across his features as when she’d been teasing him with her double entendre. It was just a flicker, less than half a second, but Roxy saw it and smirked.
He glared at her.
“You. Desk. Now,” he barked testily, the familiar frown firmly in place once again. She knew it was an act this time, though, because his beautiful eyes were smiling.
“Yes sir, Agent Merlin!” she responded with no small amount of sass, before standing and sauntering back to her desk.
Roxy was startled out of her memories by the sound of Merlin's voice.
"Ah! Lancelot," he greeted her cheerfully, smile lines crinkling around his eyes, "you're awake! Coffee or tea?"
Okay, I know it would be nearly impossible to name a specific brand of scotch by smell alone. But it's not even remotely the least realistic thing that happens in the Kingsman universe, and I just love the idea of her being such a connoisseur, so just roll with it, okay? <3
Apologies for posting slightly behind schedule, friends! I had the flu last week and I was entirely useless. <3
If you'd ever like to say hello, feel free to reach out on Tumblr! I'm always happy to meet new friends. (@orchisailsa there as well.)
Roxy was startled out of her memories by the sound of Merlin's voice.
"Ah! Lancelot," he greeted her from inside the kitchen, small lines crinkling around his eyes as he smiled at her from the other side of the bar, "you're awake! Coffee or tea?"
“What? Oh! Either is lovely,” she replied. “Coffee, usually, first thing in the morning.”
She stood and padded in her bare feet from the sofa to the stainless steel kitchen counter where Merlin was buttering several thick pieces of hearty, multi-grain toast. He pointed her towards a bag of coffee beans and a coffee grinder. “If you don’t mind…. I didn’t want to wake you. That thing makes an awful racket.”
“Of course,” she replied. “Thanks.” She ground the beans and dumped them into a filter which had been set up in a lovely, glass, pour-over carafe. When Merlin finished with the toast he moved to switch on the kettle.
Roxy shook her head. The entire scene was so domestic and, well, normal, that it seemed positively surreal.
“You’ve got good timing,” Merlin remarked. “Breakfast is almost ready.” As he was plating the food, he directed her to the place settings he’d laid out at the bar.
He seemed so relaxed and at ease. Roxy had never seen him like this. She didn’t quite know what to make of this ‘casual’ Merlin, with no glasses and light stubble along his jaw and his sleeves rolled up to the elbow, but she was intrigued.
Breakfast consisted of perfectly blistered roasted tomatoes, bacon, and poached eggs with buttered toast. It was divine, and the coffee was absolutely amazing.
“My god, Merlin,” she told him between mouthfuls and small, appreciative, humming noises, “this is the best breakfast I’ve had in months, easily.”
He looked genuinely pleased and flattered by her praise before he schooled his face into a parody of the stern, no-nonsense expression he wore at work every day.
“What, is the food in the Kingsman cafeteria not up to your standards, Agent Lancelot? You know a good applicant wouldn’t complain.”
“This is better,” she replied, flashing him a grin before punctuating her words with an enthusiastic bite of toast. “And I will remind you that I’m no longer a applicant.”
“True, that,” he acknowledged. “And I confess, I’m glad to see you have an appetite. How are you feeling this morning?”
Angry. Numb. Still half-convinced this is all a horrible dream.
“I’m… okay. Or, I will be.”
“They say time heals all wounds.”
“Yeah, well. They are a bunch of know-it-all aresholes and no one cares what they say.”
The corners of his lips quirked up into a tiny half-smile. “Quite right.”
He laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder, just for a moment. She closed her eyes and let herself lean into the touch, enjoying the comfort of human contact through the soft fabric of her nightshirt. (His nightshirt.) A warm rush of gratitude spread through her, and when he removed his hand, her shoulder felt cold in its absence. She tried not to focus too hard on why that might be.
“We can talk about it if you need to,” he offered.
“I’d rather not,” she pleaded, honestly, feeling weary at the mere thought of delving back into the emotional maelstrom of the day before..
“Thank god,” he replied, obviously relieved. “I don’t make a very good counselor.”
She laughed despite herself. “It did always seem like you’d rather throw us all off a moving plane than speak to us about feelings.”
“Aye,” he agreed with a mock-serious expression, his eyes dancing with amusement. “I have considerably more practice with the former. At least I know I can do that one safely.”
They ate in comfortable silence for a while, until Merlin’s tablet signaled that someone was calling.
“It's Percival!” Roxy exclaimed when she saw the caller ID, relieved beyond measure to hear from her mentor.
Merlin set the tablet in a small tripod on the counter top, and answered the call.
Percival looked a bit worse-for-wear, his normally pristine suit slightly rumpled and his hair uncharacteristically tousled, but he looked generally healthy and was definitely all in once piece. Roxy felt an indescribable rush of relief as she moved closer into the frame so that she could wave a ‘hello.’
“Merlin, my good man,” he was saying, “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see your face. Oh! And Roxy? Oh my goodness… I had no idea.” He more than a little surprised to see her.
No idea? No idea about... oh… She realized all of a sudden what it must look like, to find her early in the morning in Merlin's apartment, wearing his shirt as a nightgown, coffee mug in hand, sitting at the breakfast table.
Judging by the slightly alarmed look on Merlin’s face, he had just come to the same realization.
The two of them made eye contact briefly before looking hurriedly away. Roxy stared down into her coffee mug and let Merlin try to speak.
“I-- You--” he stammered, more discomfited than she had ever seen him. It was honestly rather endearing. But it wasn’t helping Percival’s perception of the situation.
She took a deep, slow breath through her nose and met her friend’s eyes on the screen.
“It’s fine, Merlin,” he was saying now, “It’s none of my concern what two consenting adults choose to--”
"Andrew, shut up,” she told him, willing herself to sound casual and hoping that her face looked less flushed than it felt. “What a presumptuous insinuation. It's nothing like that!"
Percival gave her a pointed look, clearly unconvinced. "Is that so? You can't blame me for making assumptions, Roxanne. I mean, look at yourself, with your bedhead and your penchant for older men."
Merlin nearly choked on his coffee, and for a split second Roxy could have sworn he was blushing.
“Oh it’s true,” Percival said lightly to Merlin, the wicked smirk on his face making it clear that he was enjoying the chance to embarrass them both. “I’d have assumed you would have had that in her dossier already. Older men and younger women. She’s a menace, to be sure.”
Merlin made a small, nervous sound at the back of his throat. He seemed to be uncharacteristically out of his depth. Under other circumstances Roxy might have found his discomfort amusing, but she was too busy being annoyed to focus on that at the moment.
She looked daggers at her friend and mentor. "Andrew, if you weren’t the closest thing I had left to family right now I would murder you. Do you even hear yourself? Merlin was in charge of the Lancelot selection process! As if I would ever do such a thing during my training; I’ll have enough horrid, old men whispering behind my back, saying I slept my way into a seat at the table without providing them evidence to support their claims. Merlin took me in last night because I had nowhere to go. My parents..." she trailed off, her irritation quickly fading as she tried to figure out how she could possibly sum up the horror she had witnessed the day before. "My family… ah... didn't make it.”
"Oh my god, Roxy, no..." Percival's face went pale in horror and every trace of teasing suddenly vanished at her stilted words.
"Afraid so," she agreed sadly, moved by the strength of his reaction. She felt halfheartedly as though she wanted to cry again, but found herself too weary to muster up the tears, so she swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. “And Eggsy's staying with his Mum and sister in my flat to keep them safe until he can get rid of the utter monster he calls a step-father. Merlin took me in and fed me and put me to bed when I was so tired and upset that I clearly wasn't going to be able to care for myself. I'm honestly not sure what I would have done without him. He was… wonderful."
She turned to meet Merlin’s eyes at the last, reaching over to squeeze his arm as she did, enjoying the warm, solid feel of his muscles through the fabric of his shirt. He looked back at her warmly, flattered at the unexpected praise. He wasn’t smiling, exactly, but she could see that he was touched.
“It was,” he murmured quietly in response, “the only gentlemanly thing to do.”
Roxy tried not to focus on the tangle of emotions that surged up in her chest at his words.
She smiled at him, a small, private smile like the ones he had given her, trying to convey the depth of her gratitude in some way, since no words she could muster seemed adequate. He continued to hold her gaze, and all of a sudden she felt as though she were drowning again in his eyes, absolutely intoxicated by the feeling of having his full attention, not unlike that day in training so many weeks ago when he had playfully turned the tables on her attempts at seduction.
He’s not trying to seduce you now, Lancelot, she chastised herself firmly. But a hot tendril of arousal bloomed low in her belly anyway, despite her sadness, despite her grief, despite everything. Her fingers felt hot against his arm, and --
“Good man, Merlin. Thank you.” Percival’s earnestly grateful words jarred her out of the moment.
Roxy took a quick, sharp breath and pulled her hand back from Merlin’s arm as quickly as she could without looking as though she were trying to escape, breaking their intense eye contact. She moved to take another sip of her coffee, staring down into the dark liquid and gripping the mug with both hands because she didn’t know what to do with them, all of a sudden.
“There’s no need to thank me for that,” Merlin insisted. “She’s ours now. We take care of our own.”
Roxy let her eyes flicker over to Merlin as he spoke. He was regarding her curiously, as though she were a puzzle to be solved. He could clearly tell something was on her mind, she just hoped he hadn’t figured out what. This was no time for silly, girlish crushes.
“And now?” Percival asked next, turning his attention from Merlin back to her.
“I'm.... okay, so far, today,” she told him, and was pleasantly surprised to realize she wasn’t lying. “Today I’m steady. Yesterday, not so much… but I’m a bit better now.”
“What can I do?” he wanted to know. He and Roxy had grown up as neighbors together, and though he was quite a bit older, she knew he thought of her as a sibling or a close cousin. She felt the same.
She sighed, trying to collect her thoughts. She’d managed not to think about any of that yet, but she needed to deal with the bodies, and start the funeral arrangements and--
“It’s done,” Merlin said quietly.
“What?” she asked, forgetting her awkwardness of moments before as she turned to him for clarification.
Merlin looked slightly uncertain all of a sudden, as if he were unsure of how his next words would be received. He cleared his throat and told her, “I had a team dispatched to clean up the house when I woke up today. We retrieved your parents' wills, and all of the documents involved with their funeral preparations. It’s all been handled according to their wishes."
“But those were in a locked safe…” she began.
Merlin gave her a sharp, affronted look.
Oh. Right. Technical genius with all the resources of an elite spy agency at his fingertips. She held up both hands in a gesture of apology. He smirked in response.
“You,” Merlin said to Percival, “can bring her to the funeral in one week’s time. You know the family, after all, and she shouldn’t have to go alone.”
“Of course,” Percival agreed gravely. “I would be honored to be your escort, Roxy. And I would want to go to pay my respects, in any case.”
Roxy nodded absently at Percival, but her gaze stayed on Merlin for a moment longer.
"All the arrangements are made? Really?"
Merlin nodded slowly and added, "I hope you don't feel I was overstepping any boundaries. Funeral homes everywhere are already being overrun with business after.... well... after. I didn't think it fair for you to be in limbo for months, waiting to lay them to rest. You helped put a stop to the violence. You deserve a little peace."
"No, Merlin," she replied softly, suddenly wanting to tear up all over again. She'd been so convinced that she would be handling every single thing on her own. "You’re not overstepping. That was... very, very kind."
Her heart swelled again with gratitude. Unable to resist the overwhelming urge to reach out and touch him, she laid her hand on top of his where it rested on his thigh, under the counter. It was cool to the touch, but warmed quickly under the heat of her palm.
Roxy almost missed his quick intake of breath, a noise of surprise, not quite a gasp.
She suddenly realized that she had never felt his bare skin before, aside from a few quick brushes during training exercises. The reassuring gesture seemed shockingly intimate, in the quiet moment. She didn’t move her hand.
Merlin’s lips parted as he drew in a breath to speak, and she found she couldn’t look away from them.
“Think nothing of it, Lancelot," he assured her, his voice quiet and almost shy. "It is my honor to be in a position to help ease the weight of your troubles." He caught her gaze again with that same not-quite-smile on his face. His dark, expressive eyes were warm and shining, full of comfort and what Roxy could have sworn was a warm, unspoken invitation. She had to restrain herself then from leaning in closer. She wanted to fling herself into his arms. Her face felt hot and flushed, but she couldn’t look away.
Be professional, Lancelot.
And then, all at once, as though he had heard her inner thoughts, he was entirely back to business. He blinked a few times before turning to Percival and asking in his terse, measured brogue, "Now, Percival, to the matter at hand. What, exactly, is going on in the world? That is, presuming you didn’t call just to say hello.”
Roxy let out a long breath of relief and disappointment as the tension of the moment broke.
What the hell are you doing? She asked herself. You’re a guest in this man’s home. He is your coworker and, until the next Arthur is installed, your superior officer. He has never expressed an interest in you in that way, outside of a class designed to teach seduction. Calm down and do your job, agent. There is work to be done, and you can’t afford any petty, silly distractions.
She forced her attention back to Percival’s face on the screen.
Percival, it turned out, was en route to Kentucky, aiming to complete his most recently assigned mission: to clean up from the church incident. While stateside he hoped to be able reconnect with two of the field agents, Agravain and Geraint, who were stationed in Toronto and Caracas respectively and had yet to check in, following V-Day. The plan, if they were to be found, was to bring them home to regroup in London with the rest of the team. He had secured himself a seat on a plane belonging to MI6, thanks to a contact he knew who worked with the organization. Percival wanted to know if Merlin, as acting Arthur, might be able and willing to call his contact there and set up a mission or two that the government needed Kingsman’s particular brand of clandestine help with.
"Why on Earth would MI6 need us?" Roxy wondered aloud. She had heard they were the most outrageously well funded and equipped intelligence organization in Europe.
"We have more freedom than they do," Percival explained. "And more anonymity. We're not officially part of the government, not in the same way the military is, so we have fewer masters to answer to, at the end of the day."
Merlin nodded his agreement and added, "and that means much, much less paperwork."
It pleased Roxy to think that she worked for the agency that MI6 called on for help, and it worried her that they were in so deep over their heads that they needed it.
“It's a good plan,” Merlin told Percival, as they talked through all of their initial thoughts. “I always prefer a concrete course of action if we can find one; achieving results is good for morale -- especially at a time like this. And working together with MI6 gives us more resources while we are spread thin. Send over the fine print for me to review, and be sure to use your private encryption codes rather than Kingsman standard. With Chester a traitor and so many agents still unaccounted for, we can't yet trust that our normal means of communication are properly secure."
“Will do,” Percival agreed. “And with that, I’m afraid I must sign off. I’m headed out now to the airstrip.”
“Take care of yourself out there,” Roxy told him.
“Always do,” he replied. “I’ll see you in a few days, Rox, Merlin.”
He nodded to each of them in turn.
“Keep us updated as you’re able,” Merlin ordered. “And bring our lads home.”
They ended the call.
“I’m so glad he’s okay,” Roxy said quickly, wanting to fill the silence before she was tempted to touch Merlin again, or do anything else to embarrass herself.
“You two are close, then?”
He seemed genuinely interested, reaching for the coffee carafe and topping up both of their mugs..
“We are. Andrew was my neighbor in London growing up. After his dad died -- I’m sure you know he was also with Kingsman -- we took holidays together. I think he’s been priming me to join up since he got his seat at the table, honestly. He’s the reason I started taking judo as a child, and the one who convinced me to study Russian and Chinese as well as French. I always wanted to impress him, so I basically did everything he ever suggested.”
“Had a crush on him, did you?” Merlin accused with a teasing smile.
She chuckled. “Of course I did, back when I was a teenager, but it never went anywhere. He’s family now, so it never would. He’s like my brother, honestly, hence the teasing bit earlier. He didn’t mean anything by that, incidentally.”
“He called you a menace,” Merlin reminded her with a raised eyebrow.
She scoffed. “He’s just jealous that I stole his date last Christmas. She was too young for him anyway. I was doing him a favor.”
Merlin laughed aloud, and the sound warmed the entire flat. Roxy couldn’t help but smile at his delight. She wanted nothing more on Earth in that moment than to make him laugh like that again.
You are so fucked, Roxy Morton.
After breakfast Merlin downloaded all the reference materials forwarded by Percival, and after a cursory review he reached out to initiate a meeting with their contact at MI6, sending along a contract to be signed that amounted to something like a temporary truce and confidentiality agreement between the organizations.
“But we’re on the same side…” Roxy murmured as Merlin explained the nature of the document.
“Yes well, it’s standard procedure. They’ll be expecting it. Two intelligence organizations rarely work well together because they're always trying to spy on each other. It makes for quite the paranoid workplace. We need to set all that aside for the time being, and we will all breathe easier with a few assurances in place."
“That makes sense I suppose,” she said thoughtfully.
“Ah, well as long as you agree that our standard operating procedures make sense, then I suppose I can get on with it then? Unless you have some policy changes you’d like to effect, based on your hard-won wisdom and long years of experience on the job, Agent Lancelot?”
“Oh, honestly.” She rolled her eyes and pushed him away from her gently. “You know I didn’t mean anything by that.”
He arched an eyebrow imperiously at her, but she could see the amusement dancing in his eyes. His face was remarkably easy to read, once you knew what to look for, she decided.
“Why don’t you check in with Eggsy,” Merlin suggested, “while I review the last of this paperwork? I’d like him to meet us at HQ in two hours.”
Roxy agreed happily and left the room to make the call.
“Roxy! Oh my god it’s good to hear your voice,” Eggsy sounded relaxed and well rested, much to Roxy’s gratification. “Your place is fuckin’ amazing, woman! And you’re a gem for lettin’ us crash. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“You’re very, very welcome, Eggsy. I’m really glad you’re well. Can you get away for work, though? Merlin wants us at the mansion in two hours.”
“Of course! I’m dying to know what’s going on.”
“Great. Oh, also -- can you also grab me a change of clothes? My suit’s still at the shop, waiting for my final fitting -- anything work-appropriate is fine. And any shoes without a high heel.”
“So you’re not at home, then?”
“Yeah… no. My family’s house was… ah…. Not good.”
“Oh, god. I’m… I’m so sorry. Do you need--”
“No, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Right. Fine,” he accepted immediately, not even pressing her for a moment. He was a good friend. “So… where are you’re staying?”
“I slept at Merlin’s flat.”
“Get out! He has a flat? I thought he just lived in that office of his.”
“Ha. I told him the same thing. He’s got a great one, actually. And he can cook.”
“That is absolute madness. I can’t wait to hear all about it."
She started to reply when she heard a commotion on the other end of the line.
"Well look, Rox," Eggsy said apologetically, "I gotta go help my mum with breakfast for Daisy. But I’ll see you soon. And I’ll have those clothes for you, too.”
“Thanks, Eggsy. If you get lost in the closet perhaps you could ask your mum to lend a hand. I bet women’s clothes are somewhat of a mystery to you,” she cringed for a moment at the thought of Eggsy’s own fashion choices, “and my clothes probably aren’t exactly your style.”
Eggsy laughed softly and agreed, then they said their goodbyes and both hung up to go prepare for their day.
Good grief, this chapter was a challenge. And it's not even a long one! Merlin didn't want to talk to me about his feelings, y'all. Not one bit. But we did eventually get there... and I hope you enjoy. xo
Get ahold of yourself, man, Merlin scolded himself mentally as soon as Roxy left the room to call Eggsy.
It was entirely unlike him to let an agent’s gentle teasing fluster him the way that Percival’s just had. Merlin had been entirely taken aback by his colleague’s casual insinuation that he was sleeping with Roxy, and deeply irritated by his apparent amusement about the entire situation.
You’re an elite spy, you idiot -- a good one. Your job is to track and manage information so sensitive it can topple governments and you barely lose sleep at night. And yet you can’t handle a gentle, teasing joke about your sex life without turning into a babbling fool? What the hell is wrong with you?
He knew exactly what, if he was honest. He was upset because he knew he had been imagining exactly the same thing, and he knew precisely how inappropriate it was. The fact of the matter was that he seemed to have developed, quite against his will, an inconvenient infatuation with Kingsman’s new Agent Lancelot, and he couldn’t even pinpoint when it had started.
It wasn’t as though he had ever been unaware that she was attractive, objectively speaking. The dossiers they put together on every cadet were extensive. He knew before she even walked in the door for her first day of training that she was brilliantly clever, agile, beautiful, creative, and strong. He had test scores and report cards and medical records of all kinds to prove it, and he had studied them all. And in person she had been even more impressive. He’d had the pleasure of seeing her keen mind and sharp wit at work, as her training had progressed, and enjoyed watching her achievements throughout. She was one of the most capable young agents he had ever had the pleasure of training, not to mention charismatic, and undeniably sexy...
And of course there had been that day when Harry, the bastard, had practically thrown her into his lap during the seduction workshop. That certainly hadn’t helped things -- and there was a fair chance that Harry had done it on purpose, the meddling pratt. He always did know immediately when Merlin’s interest in a colleague was toeing the line of what could be considered ‘professional curiosity,’ and had a healthy contempt for anyone who tried to bring up the mere notion of anti-fraternization regulations.
“Kingsman may be able to tell me that I must shag someone in the name of duty,” he had once opined dramatically to the entire round table, “but you bloody well can’t tell me I’m not allowed to shag another consenting adult for our mutual pleasure. I risk life and limb for this organization every day. That should be enough.”
Honestly though, it didn’t matter when Merlin’s attraction had begun and it didn’t matter how he felt. Roxy was, until the new Arthur was elected, his direct subordinate. While Kingsman saw its fair share of relationships between employees (Harry had made a very good point, after all), those that involved such a power imbalance were still widely frowned upon, for good reason. And that was that. So, now that he had identified his feelings, he knew he should start to put the whole thing out of his mind.
And he had been prepared to do so. Until, well… It had certainly appeared as though Lancelot was... flirting with him, earlier, hadn't it?
Which was clearly an error in your own perception , he thought harshly to himself.
He had to be imagining things, because the alternative seemed absurd. No doubt Roxy was merely trying to express her gratitude to him for helping her out the day before. And she was drawn to him because they had been through an ordeal together, along with Eggsy. Nothing strengthens bonds between agents as quickly as a shared experience as intense as the Valentine mission had been. He knew that. He’d seen it a thousand times.
Still. Merlin prided himself on his excellent observational skills, and, like many at Kingsman, was an avid student of human behavior. Something in the way she looked at him, the way she had touched him was... different, somehow.
Or maybe you just want it to be different.
He crushed the treacherous thought down as soon as it formed. He was old enough to be her father, after all -- and she was freshly traumatized. Of course she was searching for comfort in human contact -- it was simply an instinctive reaction and he shouldn't read anything into it. The past night hadn’t been a casual sleepover between friends; she was only staying with him because she had nowhere else to go, and her family had been slaughtered.
It wasn't personal. She was just upset and he was present, willing, and able to provide comfort.
But perhaps… his brain refused to let the feeling go, worrying it like a sore tooth.
Why, if he had come to a rational, obvious conclusion about the whole matter, did he feel so dissatisfied? Why did his mind, normally at the peak of efficiency and rationality, keep looping back to ask the same questions again and again? Why was he so eager to reject this hypothesis which makes so much sense?
You know why. It isn’t brain surgery. She’s a brilliant, capable, stunningly beautiful woman. Of course you are attracted to her, you disgusting old man.
He ran his hands over his scalp as though he had hair to pull.
Clearly it had been too long since his last clandestine liaison, because it was entirely absurd that he should be feeling as flustered as he currently was over the mere presence of a desirable woman. Sure, he was no heartbreaker like Galahad, but he had certainly had his fair share of romantic entanglements over the years. He should be able to acknowledge an attraction without feeling and behaving like a stumbling, awkward teenager. And yet here he was.
He had awakened with the sun that morning, despite his exhaustion of the day before, and the first thing to filter through his awareness other than the sunlight through his window was the presence of Roxy Morton in his apartment, and an overwhelming compulsion to do whatever he could possibly do to make her day better than the disastrous evening before. Before he had even gotten himself out of bed he called up Bedivere and Gorlois, Bedivere’s preferred handler. He assigned them to oversee a clean-up crew which he dispatched to the Morton estate, requesting that they procure all of the documents that Roxy would need to arrange the funeral, in addition to retrieving the bodies and cleaning up the horrific mess.
By the time he had gotten through his basic morning exercise routine of stretches, push ups, pull ups, and crunches, showered, checked his inbox (Pellinore and Dagonet had checked in during the night, thankfully) and brewed a cup of tea, the team had obtained the details of the funeral arrangements and Merlin was able to contact the undertaker, after forging the relevant police paperwork in order to avoid any need for autopsies. (It wasn’t as though there was any question of what had caused their deaths, after all.)
That taken care of, he set about preparing a decent breakfast. No matter what fresh challenges awaited them today, he told himself, they would almost certainly be easier to handle on a full stomach. He insisted to himself that this was just common sense, and had nothing to do with mother hen-ing Roxy out of worry for her wellbeing. And when his breakfast took on a much more elaborate presentation than normal, he told himself that it was simply what any host would do with a guest in his home, not an attempt to impress her with his culinary skills. There was nothing untoward at all going on here.
Breakfast had been nearing completion when he had looked up to see her gazing in his direction with a slightly dreamy look on her face. Unguarded and rather disheveled from sleep, she looked sleepy and slightly lost. Also beautiful. Always beautiful. And... for a moment, as she was lost in whatever early morning thoughts had captured her mind, she didn’t look sad. A wave of affection washed over him, and Merlin was suddenly glad that the distance between them prevented him from acting on the urge to reach out and run a hand through her thick, glossy hair and comb the errant locks out of her face.
Breakfast itself had been pleasantly tranquil, until Percival’s interruption. There weren’t too many people in Merlin’s life with whom he shared such easy silences. He had found himself enjoying the companionship of her warm presence in his home, and had almost managed to put his desire for her out of his mind, until she touched him.
Now he couldn’t think of anything else -- the stunned look in her eyes when he’d confessed to handling all of the funeral arrangements, the rosy blush of her cheeks as she thanked him. And when she’d reached out to touch him, the gentle warmth of her hand seemed to burn his skin like an electric shock. He’d been entirely unable to control his body’s reaction, which set his pulse racing and sent a sharp, sweet ache of desire trilling down his spine to settle in his groin.
He felt vulnerable, open and exposed under the intensity of her gaze. Part of him wanted to pull away from the sudden and startling sense of intimacy, but another, greedier part of him instantly craved more, and was overwhelmingly happy that she didn’t immediately move her hand, prolonging the contact between them.
He could see that she felt it too, this magnetism between them.
You cannot do this, he chastised himself harshly. Not ever, and especially not now, with Percival watching.
“Think nothing of it, Lancelot," he managed to say after too long a silence, hoping that his voice sounded steadier than he felt. "It is my honor to be in a position to help ease the weight of your troubles."
As he looked down into her eyes, glittering with gratitude, he wanted to pull her into his arms, to feel more of her warm, soft skin against his own. He wanted to hold her and shut out all of the horrors they had both seen and make her smile like this every day of her life. He wanted to kiss her, god, he wanted to kiss her. He felt the pull towards her lush, warm lips like a physical ache in his chest. But he couldn’t and he shouldn’t and so instead he just sat, entirely still, gazing down into her eyes, until he could drag himself back to the matters at hand and force his attention to the agent on his tablet’s screen, rather than the one sitting at his side.
Get it together, Merlin , he chastised himself again, shaking himself out of his thoughts as Roxy emerged from the bedroom dressed in yesterday’s clothes, ready to head to work.
He already missed the sight of her in his shirt.
Unsure of what to do with himself, he was particularly taciturn on the drive to headquarters. Luckily for him, Roxy was lost in her own thoughts and didn’t seem to notice overmuch.
As he parked the Porsche in the hangar, Eggsy came running towards them. Merlin's heart warmed in an entirely different way, then. From the expressions on Roxy and Eggsy's faces, he knew they felt it too. There really was a special bond that formed between agents who had been through so much together. Merlin looked on fondly as Eggsy scooped Roxy into his arms in a vice-like hug, whispering words of comfort and apology and love. Eggsy met his eyes over Roxy's shoulder and Merlin nodded his approval. This was the kind of comfort she needed, now. Not the confused attentions of a lecherous old man.
"And how are you feeling this morning, Eggsy?" He asked, forcing a cheerfulness he didn't really feel into his tone.
The younger man's smile faltered and he got lost for a moment behind his eyes.
Ah, yes. There's the emotional crash we've been waiting for.
"You know me, I'm always alright," Eggsy responded with an ease that spoke to years of practiced lies. Merlin felt suddenly enraged that the younger man’s past had forced him to become so adept at hiding his emotions, even to his friends.
"It's okay if you aren't okay, you know," Roxy told Eggsy gently, as though reading Merlin’s mind. "I know I'm not."
"Indeed," Merlin agreed, a swell of pride blooming in his chest at how well these two were caring for each other. They reminded him of himself and Galahad, he realized suddenly, after their own training days had been completed. The thought simultaneously cheered and saddened him as he felt a sharp wave of loss for his dearest friend. He swallowed hard against it.
"On we go, then," he said abruptly, breaking the moment before he could go any farther down that particular road of grief. "We've got work to do."
You are all beautiful, wonderful, glorious and inspiring readers and I appreciate you!! Thanks for taking such an interest, and for keeping me motivated with your comments and kudos. xox!!!
"Oh my God, Eggsy,” Roxy wailed from inside the bathroom attached to Merlin's small office suite, increasingly mortified as she went through the bag that Eggsy had brought her from her flat, “I asked for something work appropriate!"
"And I fuckin' heard you, mate,” Eggsy retorted testily. “What's wrong with those clothes?!"
She didn’t even know where to begin.
"What’s wrong-- I just…." Roxy tried to master her frustration. What had she expected, honestly, asking Eggsy and Michelle to pick her out an outfit?
"It's... fine,” she conceded after a few deep breaths, speaking to Eggsy through the door. “I wasn't specific enough. Thank you for bringing me clean things. I just... don't really dress like this, usually. At least not since uni."
She pulled on the dark jeans, skin tight and low-rise enough to leave several inches of her lower abdomen visible below the hem of the soft, pink, silk blouse. She actually quite liked the top, but it was far too low-cut for work, the cowl neck draping low across her breasts and leaving much of her chest and collar bones bare.
She sighed heavily, zipping up her Kingsman-issue black leather boots over the jeans. This was the sort of thing she would wear out to a club on the weekend - very flattering, yes, but entirely too revealing.
Ah well, you can’t hide in the bathroom all day, Lancelot.
As she emerged from behind the door, she felt suddenly self conscious as she met Merlin’s eyes for a brief moment, then let her gaze flicker away.
Roxy didn’t quite know what to do about Merlin, or how to act around him. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the strangely intimate and almost tender moments they had shared at breakfast, and at this point keeping steady eye contact seemed almost too personal -- too revealing, on both sides.
Merlin, at least, seemed to be similarly afflicted. When she stepped out into the room his mouth dropped slightly as he gaped at her, and then snapped closed again as his stern work persona snapped into place. She could have sworn she saw a blush creeping out of his shirt collar.
“I don’t know what your problem is, Rox,” Eggsy insisted, thankfully unaware of the tension between his colleagues. “You look right fit.”
“I look like I’m on the pull.” she muttered irritably to Eggsy, though she kept her eyes on Merlin, distracted by his reactions. There always seemed to be so much he wasn’t saying, if you bothered to pay attention. It was enthralling.
That’s not your business, agent,” she scolded herself for what must have been the hundredth time. Especially not now. Until a new Arthur is elected, he’s still your damned boss.
She didn’t really care, though, despite having learned that he was going to continue to be her direct superior for the time being, despite knowing all of the very good reasons she had to rebuild and maintain the professional boundaries between them, she couldn’t make herself let it go.
Like a moth to a flame, she thought, disgusted at how dramatic that sounded in her own head. Jesus Christ, listen to yourself. You’ve become a walking clich é.
Merlin, who had recovered from his momentary lapse in composure and had re-assumed his impassive, professional attitude, took a moment to look her very slowly up and down, and she felt herself flush again as a pang of desire sparked deep inside her belly as she tried to hold still and keep herself from fidgeting under the scrutiny of his gaze. The weight of his attention was intoxicating. She couldn’t help but crave more.
And she suspected he knew it. She could see it in his eyes when he looked at her. Whatever there was between them, however inappropriate they knew it to be, at least they both felt it.
We both feel it and we both know we shouldn’t do a damn thing.
That thought made her want it even more.
“I don’t know,” Merlin remarked in a light, teasing deadpan that was entirely at odds with the heat she saw shining in his eyes, which seemed darker than their normal hazel, and more intense. “You look a damn sight more professional right now than Eggsy usually does.”
Eggsy gave them an affronted gasp, shoving Roxy away when she laughed at him.
The tension dissipated slightly after that, and Roxy managed to push the constant current of attraction she felt for Merlin to the back of her mind as they all turned to review the work at hand.
Merlin caught Eggsy up on the news from Percival, and outlined their plan to join MI6 for a mission or two, while they were short handed. All of the Kingsman agents who had been in touch with Merlin so far were being assigned as contract workers to various ongoing MI6 missions in Great Britain which had suffered extensive casualties. They would work there for the next several weeks until Merlin had taken an extensive look at the late Arthur’s records and felt confident that there were no other traitors or ticking bombs in their midst.
“Once housekeeping is done,” he told them, “we’ll call our lads home and resume work as usual. But I won’t feel confident moving forward with any Kingsman projects until I can trust again that we’re all on the same side.”
Eggsy and Roxy nodded their understanding.
“Now, most of Kingsman has already been allocated to the list of ongoing projects that Agent Percival helped his contact to compile. There is one brand new mission, however, which is time sensitive at this point and which seems to be well suited to you two, since you physically resemble the MI6 agents who were previously assigned to the case: infiltrating and disabling a human trafficking ring known to us only as the “Byzantine Group.”
MI6 has been tracking them for roughly the past five years. They specialize in abducting young women from war-torn countries and other disaster-afflicted areas where political chaos keeps their disappearances from being noticed until the trail goes cold. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to either of you why this particular issue is extremely relevant right now. They’re having a field day, post-V-Day.”
Eggsy and Roxy both nodded again, growing solemn at the horrifying thought.
You two will pose as staff of Basil Franklin, a fictional billionaire that MI6 invented whose family ostensibly made its fortune investing in oil in the Middle East a few generations back. “Basil” has been itching both to invest in this human trafficking ring as a professional endeavor, and also acquire some…. Merchandise… of his own. We’re sending in his right hand man -- that’s you, Eggsy -- as a buyer to broker the deal. Roxy will be your arm candy, for the most part -- women in these situations tend to be dismissed out of hand and ignored, which will give her more mobility within the compound, but her character has also distinguished herself over the years as the most valuable girl in Basil’s harem, and it’s her job to ensure the quality of the goods. She knows what Basil likes, and he trusts her to make choices on his behalf.
We’re asked by MI6 to do basic recon of the compound while we’re inside -- summarize floor plans, security systems, and so forth, to prepare for the upcoming raid. But the primary objective of this mission is to clone the data off of the locally run file server which contains a list of all of the Byzantine Group’s known buyers -- because even if we break up the ring, without this list there is no hope of ever getting any of the girls back home who have already been sold off.
The team MI6 hoped to assign hasn’t been found since the disaster with Valentine and is currently presumed dead. We will move forward with preparations for this one tomorrow, with me as your handler.”
“Just the three of us again, then?” Eggsy asked brightly, clearly pleased.
Roxy felt her own heart warm at the thought.
“He just wants to spend more time with us after the Valentine mission was such a success,” she teased.
“Well,” Merlin said gruffly, rubbing the back of his neck with a hand. “You’re still new. It’s important to keep a close eye on you.”
“Hmmm I think you just know we make you look good,” she prodded further, wanting to get a rise out of him.
He glared at them then, as though daring one of them to challenge his motivations. Roxy was amused to deduce that her comment had hit home -- he really did want to keep working with them, he just felt silly admitting it.
She regarded him thoughtfully from where she sat across the table and considered that he very likely wanted to “keep a close eye” on them for their own safety. He wanted to protect Eggsy because he owed it to Harry’s memory and he was clearly fond of him besides, and Roxy because… of reasons she wasn’t prepared to examine right now.
“Any other questions?” Merlin asked testily.
Roxy shook her head ‘no,’ repressing a smile.
“I mean… Well… Don’t people need us?” Eggsy wanted to know. “You know. Like, regular folks, and not just other spies. Every country in the world is desperate for help right now. Shouldn’t we be rebuilding?”
Merlin opened his mouth to respond but Roxy was already speaking.
“The advantage of not being answerable to a government entity is that no one will be calling us in a panic,” she explained. “We can and should remain cool-headed, and pick our missions carefully based on the resources available.”
She then turned to Merlin with a sheepish smile. Eggsy had been speaking to him, not her. “Sorry… you were saying?”
“You’re right,” Merlin said with an approving tone. “We want to be acting, not reacting. There’s a big, important difference there. And you two are going to be able to start helping very quickly, I think, regardless. I’m going to be leaning heavily on you for this MI6 collaboration because I know you’re alive and I know you weren’t on the wrong side of this mess. Which brings me to my next point...”
“Eggsy, we’d like to officially invite you to the table. Your work yesterday was amazing. You have demonstrated beyond all doubt that your loyalty is above reproach. I’ve cleared it with all of the other agents who have been in contact and the agreement has been unanimously in favor.”
Eggsy looked a bit shocked.
“But, don’t I have to… I mean, I failed.”
“You completed the training,” Merlin insisted, “and surely you can see that the task you undertook yesterday completely supersedes the results of that one single test.”
Eggsy considered for a moment, then suddenly swallowed hard, going slightly pale.
“And what seat… who…. What name will I …?”
Merlin’s face went deadly serious. Roxy felt dread creeping in the pit of her stomach. There was only one open seat at the table, so far, and they all new it. It was clear what Eggsy was asking.
Roxy and Merlin exchanged a concerned glance. They hadn’t really had time to assess Eggsy’s emotional state, following the events of the week.
“You will be code name Galahad, Eggsy,” Merlin confirmed quietly. His voice was gentle, but Eggsy’s eyes snapped shut as though he had been slapped. He shook his head silently.
They all sat in tense silence for a few moments, then Roxy extended a hand to touch him gently on the shoulder.
He flinched and stumbled away.
“Eggsy, it’s what Harry would have wanted,” Merlin told him, speaking softly, as though to an injured animal or terrified child. In a way, Roxy supposed he was both.
Eggsy was trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears, and his breathing grew shallow and reedy.
“I need to… I can’t be here right now.” And with that he was gone.
“Well that went about as well as I expected,” Merlin grumbled, massaging his temples briefly with the thumb and middle finger of his left hand.
“We should go after him,” Roxy told Merlin, concern flaring up for her friend. “He shouldn’t be alone.”
“You go,” Merlin told her, closing their case file and dropping it in his inbox as he reached for another. “He needs a friend to confide in right now, not a stuffy authority figure.”
“You know what I mean, Lancelot,” he said with a weary tone. “Don’t argue. I need to prepare for my meeting with MI6 this afternoon anyway, and I have a small mountain of paperwork to process before I can even begin to confirm these assignments with the agents and assign their support staff.”
Roxy took a step towards the door but then hesitated, finding herself reluctant to leave. He sounded like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. She couldn’t imaging the pressure he must be under. Merlin’s presence had grounded her through the turbulence and misery of the past day. Surely there was something she could do to help support him, in turn.
She turned back towards him and found him already looking at her thoughtfully.
She wanted to reach out, to touch him again as she had in the kitchen, but she knew she shouldn’t. Instead, she leaned up against the door frame to remind herself not to close the distance between them.
“Go to Eggsy,” he reiterated her after they had stood in silence for a brief moment. “Take the day. You’re supposed to have down time after a mission like yesterday, as a part of our general protocols, so take a few hours to decompress. I’ll reach out later, when I’m done with these MI6 prats. And please don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.” He tapped a few times on his tablet and then gestured towards her phone, which buzzed with a new shared contact: Merlin’s mobile number and personal email along with the address of his flat.
“And... tonight? I think that Michelle and Eggsy--”
“I had supposed you would be staying at mine for a few days,” he interrupted, looking down at his tablet as he spoke. “You don’t have to, if you’d rather be somewhere else.”
“No, no… I do. I just...don’t want to be in the way.” She ran a nervous hand through her hair, feeling awkward and unsure.
Merlin actually rolled his eyes at that.
“Stop being daft,” he barked, “and go take care of your friend.”
She smiled, and he winked at her.
She left his office with a lighter heart.
Roxy found Eggsy in the hall, sitting on the floor with his face buried in his hands, and dragged him outside to walk around the running track while they talked. She mostly listened to him as he talked to himself and vented his insecurities, his sense of inadequacy, his crippling grief, only stepping in when his comments got too self deprecating.
By the third lap he was calmer, shifting from his initial panic to defeated sorrow.
“It’s just…. I can’t be Galahad,” he whispered. “Harry is Galahad. I can’t possibly compete. Harry is just… amazing. He’s just… he’s noble and smart and caring and clever and elegant and refined and… I can’t do that justice. He don’t deserve that, to have his legacy mucked up by someone like me.”
Does he realize, Roxy wondered sadly, that he’s absolutely in love with him? Or does he still think this is a normal level of regard to hold for your mentor of a few months?
“If it’s not you it would just be someone else,” she reminded him aloud. “Someone who didn’t know and care for him. Wouldn’t you rather the name live on in you? You’re the only one who can keep his memory alive. And I agree with Merlin. It’s what he would have wanted.”
Eggsy sighed. “Yeah. I know. I know you’re right. I just… it’s just so much all at once. I just… I can’t even really make myself believe he’s not coming back.”
Roxy sighed, pulling him into a hug that was as much for her benefit as his, as her mind strayed again to the sight of her parents’ broken bodies.
“Yeah it’s too much,” she said. “For me too. But we’re going to deal with it, because we don’t have a choice, and because we’ve got lives to save. We’ve got to go be heroes, tomorrow.”
Eggsy made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob, and hugged her tighter.
They ended up at Harry’s place and spent the entire day together. Eggsy’s belongings were still there in the guest room, where had been staying when Harry left for Kentucky. They kicked off their shoes and curled up on the bed fully dressed, chatting about nothing while fighting over the remote control for the television. Roxy thought it would have been lovely to grow up with a brother like him.
She texted Merlin to let him know that Eggsy had come around a bit and was planning to accept the seat at the table.
He thanked her that she was welcome to stay there for the remainder of the day and do as they pleased, as long as she and Eggsy read through their mission briefings and could be ready to move forward with the Byzantine mission the next day.
They did so, quizzing each other on information and learning how to become Tom Davies and Violet. Roxy was horrified to learn that no last name given for her persona, as she had ostensibly been purchased for the odious Basil Franklin as a young child and groomed to serve him as she reached maturity. Violet didn’t remember her last name, anymore.
“I cannot wait to take down this horror show,” she growled, feeling murderous. “These monsters deserve to die in pain, if this is the sort of backstory that would make us fit in with them.”
Eggsy agreed, his mouth set in a grim line as he read about all of the horrifying things that the fictional Tom Davies had done to distinguish himself in Mr Basil Franklin’s employ.
After they couldn’t stomach any more, she dragged him out shopping for an appropriately sleazy suit -- he needed to look expensive but not classy for this mission, and made him help he select a dress for her, “since you already seem to enjoy dressing me like a sex worker,” she teased.
“You are an ungrateful cow,” he told her with a grin. “Next time you need clothes, see if I bring you anything at all.”
She flipped him two fingers, but returned the smile, happy to see him joking a bit through his grief.
When they were done with their purchases Roxy announced that she was famished, and dragged him out to a pub. They took up residence at a booth in the corner, ordered sandwiches and chips, and drank gin martinis until they were both able to forget, for a little while, how sad and angry they both were.
How strange , she thought, that I’d rather be here with Eggsy than with any of my friends from before my Kingsman training.
But it wasn’t really all that strange. How could anyone else understand? The things she’d seen, the things she’d done… the things she’d have to do tomorrow. These weren’t the sort of experiences her other friends could ever really comprehend.
She had Eggsy, though. And Merlin. And she felt safe, and supported, and cared for. And in the face of all the tragedy they had seen this week, that was pretty damn wonderful.
“Here’s to us!” she announced, raising her glass and hoping that Eggsy didn’t notice the slight slur to her words.
“To us!” he agreed enthusiastically, clinking her martini with his own glass hard enough to slosh gin over the edge. “The best damn secret agents in the world.”
Roxy laughed, knocked back her drink in one sip, and gave him a sloppy, affectionate kiss on the cheek.
“The best damn secret agents in the world,” she agreed. At least, that’s how it felt today.
Apologies at the long silence, lovely readers. I promise I haven't forgotten or forsaken you! The thing of it is that I just found out I'm pregnant (!!!!) a few weeks ago, and I've been navigating all of the nausea and fatigue of a typical first trimester. Such symptoms are not particularly conducive to writing angsty, sexy tales of romance... but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and I promise I'm not going to wander off and forget to finish this for you.
In the meantime, let me try and make it up to you with a nice, long chapter including some of Merlin and Harry's backstory, a lot of angst, and the first of the smut. Thank you for sticking with me! I hope you enjoy.
Merlin finally switched off his array of computers and displays for the evening with a satisfied, if slightly exhausted, sigh.
It had been hectic but now, at the end of the day, he was feeling much better about the Post-V day situation at Kingsman. It looked like they would be up and running again in a matter of a few weeks, which was a much better timeline than he had initially anticipated.
He was already receiving completed ballots with bids for the new Arthur. Bedivere was the current favorite, which Merlin agreed was a satisfyingly appropriate choice. Bedivere had been retired from field work for years, after a knee replacement surgery in the late 1990’s, but had kept himself consistently active and involved -- he had great energy despite his advanced age, and was definitely not planning to resign any time soon.
Hoping to close the loop on a few other staffing issues, Merlin had touched based with all of the Kingsman satellite offices and (among other snippets of important intel) confirmed that Geraint, Dagonet, and Mordred were all alive. Leodegrance and Pellinore, however, had not survived V-Day. Their seats at the table would be filled after the new Arthur was installed (along with the new Arthur’s former code name), so that Merlin could be free to train the recruits.
After his extensive agenda of conference calls and meetings had wrapped up, Merlin spent the last hour or two of his workday studying the plans for Roxy and Eggsy’s MI6 mission, making his own notes to compare to the existing documentation, and came up with the inventory of tech that he intended to deploy to complete the operation.
All in all, it had been a very productive day. But it hadn’t been productive enough to keep him from being maddeningly distracted by the memory of a well-proportioned, curvaceous body in painted-on jeans and what he could only assume was a pink silk pocket square disguised as a blouse.
Jesus Christ, but Roxy shouldn’t be allowed to look that good. More than once throughout the day he had found his thoughts wandering to the way her hips and arse looked in that skintight denim. It had been positively mouth watering.
He had briefly tried to convince himself that his admiration for her was just professional. She’s going to be a great tactical asset in the field, with an arse like that, he told himself. It’s been a long time since we had a sexy young woman on the team. Longer still, since we had a young woman with training scores as high as hers.
Honestly, though, who was he kidding? This had nothing to do with Kingsman. Yes, Roxy excelled at her work -- all aspects of it, not just the parts that involved her physical charms -- but he wasn’t being distracted by thoughts about her professional aptitude.
He just wanted her, god help him, despite his best efforts to keep her at a respectable arm’s length. It would be useless to try and deny it.
It was out of the question, of course, to do anything about it, even though he had come to suspect by the end of breakfast that she might feel at least some kind of attraction for him as well. For starters, there was the impropriety factor. He respected her as a person and as a colleague, and wanted to support her professionally in the manner that she deserved. Beyond that, she was still adrift in grief for her family, and he couldn't deny the likelihood that any attachment she felt for him right now was just based in gratitude for the help he had given her.
But all of his respect and self control didn’t temper his desire, he grudgingly admitted to himself as he grew increasingly annoyed at his unruly body’s persistent interest. His good intentions didn’t stop the sharp spark of arousal that jolted down his spine whenever he allowed his mind to linger on the soft, plush shape of her lips... the swell of her breasts under that pink blouse... the intensity of her gaze. No, his body had no doubts at all regarding how he should handle his attraction to Roxanne Morton. Roxanne Morton, who was coming back to his home again, tonight.
Whose brilliant idea was that, again?
Merlin should have told her to go home when they had spoken earlier, and found new accommodations for Eggsy’s family. In the moment, however, he had managed to convince himself that it would be cruel to force Michelle to move again so soon with the baby. In retrospect that seemed like a transparently flimsy excuse, even in his own head.
He wanted Roxy to stay with him because he enjoyed her company. Even putting his attraction aside (something he was clearly unable to do), the fact of the matter is that he was grieving too, and he didn’t want to be alone. The loss of Harry had been a deep cut, and Arthur’s betrayal had felt so personal -- Merlin had worked with these men for more than half of his life, and to lose them so soon after they lost the previous Lancelot was intensely disheartening.
He and Harry had come up through the training program together. Merlin had been twenty three, Harry twenty six, when they had met. He’d looked up to the older boy -- so much more collected and refined than the other applicants that year. They had formed an unlikely friendship together -- the rough lad from Scotland who was much cleverer than he seemed, and the rosy cheeked rich kid who was as ruthless and unyielding as iron behind his deceivingly wide eyes.
Merlin smiled to himself. Perhaps he saw a bit of their past selves in Eggsy and Roxy. That would certainly help to explain his personal investment in their success. At least part of it.
Without Harry, he may never have been Merlin. Harry had beaten him out for the Galahad spot, but had been quick to put in a word for him at the round table, insisting that Kingsman would be foolish to squander a brain like his. Merlin had ended up in the research labs, and managed to impress the aging quartermaster before a month had passed, with his technological prowess and knack for creative inventions. Before the year was out, he was being groomed to follow in old Merlin’s footsteps. He suddenly had the job of his dreams, and he owed it all to Harry.
They were each other’s closest friends and only family. “Shield brothers,” they had called themselves once, waxing poetic at the bottom of a bottle after a particularly harrowing mission. For a time Merlin had fancied them a modern Achilles and Patroclus, Harry the shining, golden, deadly example of a perfect Kingsman agent, and Merlin his devoted attending shadow. They had spent a number of youthful nights in each other’s arms during those years, seeking human connection and moments of solace from the insanity of their lives, trying to fuck away the violence and the horror of the secret wars they waged every day for Kingsman. Eventually that youthful ardor had cooled, sped along by Harry’s vow to avoid all serious emotional attachments and Merlin’s persistent attraction to the fairer sex. But the bond between them had lasted through it all and, if anything, had only strengthened over the years. Merlin believed he probably loved Harry more than any other person he’d ever known.
And now he’s gone.
Alone now in the privacy of his office, Merlin finally allowed his grief to bubble to the surface. His throat ached as he swallowed hard against the pain. Hot, sharp tears burned his eyes, spilling silently down his cheeks when he closed his eyes against the sting..
Why did you have to go like that, you old fool? he thought wearily. Don’t you know better than to leave me to clean up your mess like this? And with these two to look after...
He felt as though it was his duty to protect Eggsy, especially after having seen the look on Harry’s face when the unlikely young applicant had passed the loyalty test with the train. Merlin hadn’t seen Harry look at someone that way in years. Harry had never allowed himself any kind of personal entanglements -- no family, no serious romantic liaisons, no close friends outside the organization. In his youth, Harry had insisted that such relationships were only potential weaknesses that an adversary could turn against him. He believed that being solitary would make him strong. But Merlin knew that he had come to regret those choices to a certain extent, as the years wore on. While Harry probably didn’t even realize it himself, the pride and devotion and longing Merlin had seen when he looked down at Eggsy tied to the train tracks had been unmistakable. The boy had clearly been special to him, and so Merlin would protect him, with his own life if necessary, always. For Harry.
And then, of course, there was Roxy… Merlin worried that his motivations were too selfish, that he was protecting her for his own sake rather than her best interests. All he knew was that he was taking more of an interest than he should, and he couldn’t make himself see sense and let it go.
Nothing good can come of this , he warned himself knowingly, for what felt like the hundredth time. You need to get over it, and move on.
He was normally quite good at making intelligent choices based on logic and clear thinking rather than impulsive desire. He was disciplined and methodical, and he prided himself on those traits. Now that he had acknowledged his attraction for Roxy for what it was, he should set it aside and move on. But... for one of the first times in his life, he just couldn’t seem to make himself give up the infatuation; it was too new, too interesting. It was too sweet not to savor. Honestly, he was simply enjoying it too much.
The stab of desire, the elevated heart rate when she was near, the sweet rush of arousal when he allowed himself to consider what it might be like...
I suppose you’re never too old to enjoy the temptation of the forbidden…
Merlin was jarred from his thoughts by the ringing of the phone.
Speak of the devil.
It was Roxy, obviously intoxicated, letting Merlin know in carefully enunciated words that Eggsy had left to go back to his family, and that she was ready to head back to Merlin’s if the time was right.
“How much have you had to drink today, Lancelot?”
“I had some gin!” she replied cheerfully, if not helpfully. “Martinis!”
“How many martinis?” he prodded, amused despite himself.
“I don’t know, maybe four? What does that matter?”
“I'm coming to get you,” he told her, chuckling at the slight slur of her words.
“You could just send a cab,” she pointed out.
“Book a Kingsman cab to deliver an intoxicated, half dressed young agent to the acting Arthur's residence, late in the evening? No, I think not.”
“Ha! I will have you know, I am entirely dressed,” she argued.
“You’re not if you’re still wearing the same shirt from earlier,” he retorted.
She laughed, throaty and unselfconscious, and the sound warmed his heart.
“Suit yourself!” she declared. “I’ll be here…”
Shaking his head in amusement, Merlin shut down the rest of his office and headed for the hangar.
By the time he reached her, she had closed her tab, but had evidently enjoyed at least one additional martini. The handsome, young bartender seemed extremely keen on her company, and was less than happy to see Merlin approaching to retrieve her.
Merlin didn’t like him either, he decided suddenly and for no reason. (No reason he was willing to acknowledge.)
"Hello Mer--Michael!" Roxy stammered for a second over the fake name, but was clearly pleased with herself that she hadn't slipped and called him 'Merlin' in public.
"And hello to you, m’dear," he smiled charmingly, taking on a familiar and slightly affectionate tone so that no well-meaning observer would question his removing her from the bar in her intoxicated state. "I got your text, and since I was in the neighborhood I was wondering if I might offer to escort you home."
The bartender scowled. Good.
"Oh! That would be absolutely smashing," she said, standing up quickly and then grabbing the edge of the bar to steady herself on her feet. Merlin tried very hard not to laugh at her as she found her balance. Why did he even want to laugh? He shouldn’t find this endearing. There was clearly something wrong with him.
He offered her his arm, and Roxy beamed up at him with an unguarded, slightly blurry expression. "Take me home, handsome man."
Merlin felt a shiver of arousal run through himself at her words, which intensified when she looped her arm through his and the scent of her skin wafted up to his nose. Under most circumstances, if a woman were to say that to him, there would be very clear expectations about what he was taking her home to do… And while he knew intellectually that this would not be the case here, it seemed that her mere proximity seemed to be enough to affect and distract him. “As the lady wishes,” he replied, hoping he sounded much less flustered than he felt, and led her out to the car.
Outside the bar she stopped suddenly and threw her arms around him.
Merlin made a startled sound, hands flying up of their own accord to rest against her rib cage.
"Thank you for taking care of me," she murmured quietly into his ear, resting her cheek sleepily against his shoulder. “And I’m sorry that I’ve needed so much taking care of. It’s just been so utterly mad, this past few days. I swear I don’t know where I would be without you.”
Merlin found himself touched by her gratitude. He was also struggling to maintain his composure with her standing so close against him; it was hard to tell whether she was trying to get a reaction out of him, or was simply just tipsy and unaware of the effect she was having on him. Whatever the reason, it was certainly having an effect. In that excruciating moment, all he wanted in the world was to wrap himself around her, to lean down and kiss her, anything that would bring them closer. It was like he wanted to consume her. He felt an uncharacteristically animalistic urge to lean down and bite her -- to lay claim to her, and mark her as his own.
She’s not yours, though, he reminded himself sternly, though his cock was half hard now, and the desire coursing through him was making that fact a bit difficult to remember. She isn’t yours, and she’s been drinking. Absolutely not. You may not do this.
And so, reluctantly, he disentangled his body from hers, and helped her to pour herself into the passenger seat of the car he had parked in front of the bar. He closed the door behind her and took a moment to collect himself before walking to his own side of the car.
If he couldn’t pull himself together, it was going to be a desperately challenging night.
As they drove Roxy let him know that Eggsy had gone back to his family feeling a little bit better about his Galahad appointment.
“By the third drink he finally opened up a bit, thank god. I actually got him to admit that even if he’s not sure what his feelings were for Harry, at least he knows it was big and complicated.”
That was definite progress in the right direction, Merlin agreed, nodding his approval.
“And how are you feeling?”
“Drunk, a bit. Bloody furious. This world is a shit hole. People like those animals who practice slavery are alive and my own mother isn’t? What the actual fuck.”
“That’s why we’re here,” he reminded her. “We’ll take the bastards down.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she murmured, looking at him thoughtfully. “Thank you, Merlin. Thank you so much for being here.”
He didn’t quite know how to respond, and so he just smiled quietly and drove on.
After a stop at the neighborhood chip shop for some fried food to mitigate the gin in Roxy’s stomach, they returned back home to Merlin’s place and went to get changed into their pajamas again.
When she emerged from the bathroom, Roxy was clad in a simple tank top and a pair of joggers retrieved from the bag Eggsy had given her, earlier in the day.
He preferred seeing her in his shirt.
Seated on the couch, they picked at the chips and curry with a couple of flimsy plastic forks, and Roxy looked up at him and asked, “What about you, Merlin? How are you feeling?”
Exhausted. Angry. Powerless. Overworked.
“I’ll manage,” he told her with a flat tone he couldn’t even find the effort to make convincing. “I’m not the one who lost my family yesterday.”
“But yes,” she argued, “you did.”
He blinked at her, unsure of what to say.
“I’m a spy, Merlin. Trained by the best.” she winked. “And I’m sort of a genius. Which you don’t have to be, to see how much Harry meant to you.”
He stared at her in shock. How easily she could read him…
“Grief isn’t a contest,” she continued. “You don’t have to be okay because I’m not. We could be not okay, together.”
He looked away in silence.
Roxy stood and made them each a generous martini from his bar. He didn’t think she needed another one at all, after her evening with Eggsy, but his fingers itched for a glass his own, and he had no inclination to drink alone, so he didn’t stop her.
Ten minutes later he had picked up his tablet to review emails from the satellite office in Shanghai, which was still mid-business day. He looked up to find Roxy studying him.
"You're very handsome," she observed, smiling.
"You're drunk,” he dismissed her with a roll of his eyes, ignoring the heat that suffused his face under her scrutiny.
"No! I think so all the time. I'm just too proper to say as much when I'm totally sober."
"You'll probably regret this conversation tomorrow, then," he warned her. What was her end game here?
"They say you regret the stuff you don't do more than the stuff you do, when you're old."
"We probably won't live to be old," he muttered, knocking back the rest of his martini in one sip.
"All the more reason," she smiled impishly.
"Reason for what?"
She looked at him for a long moment without responding, eyes unreadable, then took the empty glass out of his hand and set it on the coffee table as she leaned forward and kissed him.
For a moment, Merlin sat perfectly still, totally in shock.
The kiss was soft, but not timid, a gentle press of lips that felt curious and savoring.
After a moment of stillness, he allowed her to coax his lips apart with her own, and she moaned softly as her tongue met his.
His body lit up like fire at the sound, and he couldn’t help but nip at her bottom lip with his teeth. Her hands flew up to grab fist-fulls of his jumper, and his own came to tangle in her hair. The smell of her flooded his nostrils, sending a frisson of desire down his spine to settle hot and heavy in his groin.
The pressure of her lips against his felt like water in the desert. The way her body trembled as his hands tightened in her hair pulled a soft groan from his lips. As far as first kisses go, it was utterly perfect: slightly messy, uninhibited, and artlessly charming.
And it should not be happening, he remembered, all of a sudden. Not now, and not like this.
Reluctantly he pulled away.
"We can't do this, Lancelot,” he gasped hoarsely, staring into her lust-darkened eyes.
"Roxy," she corrected, tongue darting out to lick her swollen lips. "And yes, we can."
She leaned in to kiss him again, and he turned his head away. If she kissed him again he was certain he couldn’t stand by his convictions.
She made an offended noise at his evasion, then, undeterred, leaned in to nip at the soft, sensitive spot behind his ear.
A spike of arousal shot through him strong enough to take his breath away.
“Roxy,” he protested again, almost desperately, “we can’t do this.”
She stilled, breathing deeply against his neck, inhaling the scent of him. Her perfume and the scent of her skin flooded his nostrils again, stoking his desire. His hardened cock strained against the seam of his trousers in eager response to her onslaught.
Dear god, he had not been prepared for this.
Her hands slid under his jumper, and she raked her nails up his sides over the fabric of his cotton shirt
“Why can’t we do this?” she demanded, and her voice came out in a low purr.
“It’s against the rules.”
“I don’t fucking care.”
“It will jeopardize your career. You said it yourself. They would all accuse you of sleeping your way to the top.”
“Let them talk.” she pulled his hand up to cup her breast, and the silky fabric of her shirt (the glorified pocket square) felt like heaven against his calloused fingers.
“You don’t mean that,” he insisted, finding the strength of his resolve in his words. He knew he was right. He removed his hand and pulled back, holding her at arm’s length by her shoulder, reaching up with his free hand to brush the hair out of her face. Her lips were swollen and red with desire, eyes black, chest heaving with breath.
“You want this,” she insisted defiantly, glancing down hungrily at the visible line of his cock through his clothes.
Oh god, yes he did.
"My God, Roxy any sane human would,” he conceded, “but that’s not the sort of choice I’m going to allow you to make for both of us when you’ve been drinking.”
She scowled at him and his body echoed her anger, screaming at him for making her stop. His cock ached, hungry for her touch.
“We should talk about this tomorrow, when you’ve had time to sober up properly,” he went on to say, unsure of whether he was trying to convince her or himself.
“But I bet you won’t,” she countered bluntly. “And besides, tomorrow I’ll be too much of a coward.”
“There’s nothing cowardly about respecting your own impulse control, Lancelot. You won’t act on any of these feelings tomorrow because you know it isn’t a good idea. You’re just not thinking this through.”
“I do. And so do you, when you’re sober.”
“I’m not even that drunk,” she insisted with a roll of her eyes.
Did she even realize what an overplayed cliche this conversation was becoming?
“The world is in shambles,” she continued, her anger seeping into her tone as she spoke, “and my family is dead. Surely Kingsman wouldn’t begrudge me the chance to let off some steam for the sake of my mental health.”
As she glared up at him, annoyance battled with arousal for control over his brain. Was that really how she was choosing to frame this?
“I am not a therapy tool for you to use at your convenience. Lancelot,” he told her with a scowl, embracing his irritation to try and distract himself from the sharp, insistent heat of desire.
But even as he did so, he felt a sudden, powerful urge to grab her and kiss her until he stole her breath, covering her mouth with his, to stop the flow of her idiotic, argumentative words.
What are you doing? This might be your only chance to have her, a dark corner of his mind insisted.
But, no. He didn’t want her like this. Not really. He could not and would not let himself get dragged down to the level where she was. He couldn’t get caught in the whirlpool of her grief and anger; his own was still threatening to consume him.
And so he stayed his course. He dragged himself to his feet, stepping away from the couch and putting some much-needed distance between them.
“I’m going to bed, Roxy,” he declared firmly. “You should too. We have a lot of work to do, tomorrow.”
She sank back on the couch, looking hurt and a little confused.
“I feel like an idiot,” she murmured. “I thought… it seemed like… I thought you were in this, too. I thought you felt... something.”
What was he supposed to say to that? The truth felt too bare, too exposed.
I won’t be your self-pity fuck, Roxy, because frankly you mean too much to me and I’m not sure I could get over it if you ended up resenting me for hurting your career.
And so he said nothing.
They stared at each other for a tense, heated moment before he saw the fight gradually seep out of her.
Slumping in on herself, she sighed wearily. “Good night, Merlin.”
“Good night, Roxy,” he replied, voice tight from the strain of not going to her to comfort her, not giving voice to his emotions. And then he retired to his room and shut the door.
For a few minutes he paced back and forth like a caged animal, then sank back into the bed, stripping off his t-shirt before lying back against the feather pillows. He was wound as tight as a bow string, trembling with unsatisfied arousal which had been intensified by the heat of their argument. That didn’t surprise him. The “fucking” and “fighting” wires had always been a bit crossed, in his brain.
He found himself caught in a storm of contradictory emotions. On the one hand, he wanted to surrender to his physical desires, to flee back to the living room, to wipe the disappointment off of her face and give her what they both obviously wanted. His aching cock was pleading with him to abandon his moral high ground and give in to her. He wanted to shout at her for trying to use him as a coping mechanism, a pleasure object to dull the ache inside of her. He also wanted to just let her use him, to find his own blissful numbness in subjugating himself to the cruel whims of her pleasure. He didn’t care how, he just wanted to claim her. To let her claim him.
But he didn’t move, except to reach down and shove his pajama bottoms down far enough to take his cock in hand, squeezing it firmly at the base while a collage of fragmented fantasies of Roxy danced against the back of his eyelids, ranging in tone from tender and sensual to angry and nearly violent.
His erection was almost painfully hard as he began to move his hand in tight, twisting strokes, eyes closed and brows knit together. The flesh was hot to the touch, red and swollen in anger being denied the tight heat of Roxy’s freely-offered body.
He drew in a shuddering breath, shocked at how quickly he felt the telltale approach of his orgasm tingling on the horizon of his awareness. He felt sharply ashamed that he was fantasizing about a woman who was most likely still awake and just on the other side of the door. His shame only aroused him further, blending with the heat of his desire and pushing him closer to his limit. He ached to kiss her and comfort her, to see that earnest and grateful smile directed at him again, to feel the warm swell of her breasts and the curve of her arse pressing against his palms as she arched into him. A sadistic, dominating part of him wanted to slap her across the face for objectifying him and trying to take advantage of him, to feel the sting of her cheek under his fingers. His body thrilled with the wrongness of the idea, imagining the shocked look of outrage on her face at his audacity. He wanted to feel her nails digging into his back, drawing blood as he sank into her, filling her hungry, aching cunt with the hard, throbbing cock that was now leaking precum over the edges of his fingers.
But what finally pushed him over the edge, surrendering to the earth-shattering impact of a shuddering orgasm, was the image of her coming on his cock, head thrown back, crying out, flushed and lost to the sensations coursing through her body as the walls of her pussy spasmed and pulsed around his hard, swollen length.
Merlin came with a shaky breath and a desperate moan muffled only by hastily shoving a white-knuckled fist against his gaping mouth. He erupted over his own fist and white ribbons of cum splattered against the flat, tensed planes of his torso.
Gasping, chest heaving and glistening with perspiration, Merlin searched around the bedclothes until he found his hastily discarded shirt. He mopped up the mess quickly, without allowing himself to stop and bask in the afterglow, willing himself to sleep quickly, immediately, before he came to his senses and started to consider the emotional implications of what he had just done.
Heyyyyyy.... I'm... ... back? :: ducks and hides in shame at a year long absence ::
I won't bother you with the details but suffice to say that the past year has been one of the most challenging of my life. Rewarding, yes! And I'm a mom now! And my kid is AWESOME! But the combo of pregnancy, childbirth, housing uncertainty, money uncertainty, and family stress was challenging, draining, and sucked every ounce of creativity from my soul.
I won't promise you regular updates because I have no idea how my energy levels will be, going forward. But I will promise that I love this fic and I am committed to finishing my work.
Thanks for your patience, darling readers. I appreciate you all so much!
CW: Derogatory language towards sex workers, attempted sexual assault.
As soon as she had awakened, Roxy had fled.
She woke up slowly to find Merlin preparing breakfast again, looking absolutely devastating in a well-worn Henley and low-slung joggers, but she was so humiliated that she couldn’t even think of eating, let alone sharing a table with him. Hot faced and avoiding eye contact, she had stammered an awkward apology for her behavior the night before and then practically bolted out the door without even stopping to listen to his response, mumbling a promise that she would see him on time that afternoon at the mission briefing.
She called Eggsy, gave him a brief, self deprecating rundown of the night’s events, and let him know she'd be coming by her apartment to get clean clothes again, having abandoned her overnight bag at Merlin's. Hung over and emotionally wrung out, she accepted gratefully when he looked her over and offered to take her out and buy her breakfast.
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Eggsy insisted through a mouth full of his Full English.
“You’re bonkers,” She grumbled into her coffee. “I acted like an immature, unprofessional floozy.”
“You acted like you were stressed out and had a few too many. You’re human, Rox. Also, nothing happened. It would have been worse if it had, with you too smashed to make proper choices. You know that.”
She ran a fidgety hand through her hair. She did know that, but still...
“I shouldn’t have put myself out there at all," she muttered grumpily. "Now it’s ruined.”
“Now WHAT is ruined?” Eggsy asked with an interested raised eyebrow.
She paused, trying to figure out how to respond. She had never spoken to Eggsy (or anyone) about her.... crush? Infatuation? She couldn’t find the right word.
“Oh my god, you fancy him.” He was staring at her with joyful disbelief.
She opened her mouth to deny it, but found that she couldn’t. Damn it all to hell.
“Nothing was ever going to come of it,” she sighed, running her hands over her face and into her hair in embarrassment at Eggsy’s delighted cackle. “But it was... fun. The... attraction between us. The flirtation, I guess. But now... god I don’t even think I can look at him. And I’ll have to be completely correct from now on, behave perfectly. He turned me down. I have to accept that with grace.”
Eggsy rolled his eyes. “Don’t be an idiot, he turned you down because you were drunk, and you're probably not..." he looked uncomfortable for a moment before going on, "you're probably a little extra emotional because of your parents, yeah? I know I'd feel wrong accepting someone's drunk advances under those conditions.”
He was a lot smarter than he looked. She hated that he had a good point. But in the end his point, wasn't the point.
“Eggsy I have to... I can’t keep holding on to this. It's best for me just to put it behind me. You weren't supposed to notice, but you did. That means someone else might, too. I don't need all of Kingsman to pick up on my schoolgirl crush. This is my job. I worked too bloody hard for it to go and get tangled up in stupid workplace gossip and drama like a cow-eyed teenager. I want to be taken seriously as an agent.”
The words sounded good to her ears, felt good to say, even if Eggsy looked unimpressed. She knew what she had to do. If she could just buckle down and get through this next mission successfully, like a professional, maybe she and Merlin could just sweep the whole embarrassing night under the rug and move on with their lives.
She needed to stop fretting and focus on the mission, end of story. She could do this.
In the end, she had a solidly productive morning. She'd gone to the tailor's shop after breakfast to have her clothes for the undercover mission altered, taken a five mile run to finish sweating out her hangover, and spent an hour at the shooting range before settling down in her office to review and memorize her dossier. By the time the time for the mission briefing arrived, her embarrassment and anxiety had diminished to a dull irritation in the back of her mind, rather than the pulsing, screaming misery she'd awakened to that morning. Her hangover had gone too, so life in general seemed substantially less bleak.
She arrived a few minutes early to Merlin's office, and when she knocked it only sounded a tiny bit more timid than she might have liked.
"Enter," came the familiar, stern voice from the other side of the door.
Taking a deep breath, she did.
"Hello, Merlin," she murmured softly, feeling her cheeks flush in spite of herself, as he lifted his head to see who had come in. She could feel her traitorous heart rate speeding up under the weight of his gaze, and she cursed silently.
He looked startled to see her, somehow, even though she had been expected.
"Lancelot," he greeted her cautiously.
Best to just get on with it. Don't tiptoe around like a child.
"Are we.... Is everything okay?" she asked with only a small tremor in her voice. "I behaved deplorably last night, and now I feel like I’ve screwed everything up, right before this mission. Please tell me what I need to do to make things right again." She snapped her jaw shut so that she wouldn't start rambling, and tried to stand tall, chin up.
He stared at her for a long, agonizing moment, and she couldn't get a read on him at all -- not one clue as to what he might be thinking. Against her will she found herself shifting her weight and dropping her eyes to stare at the floor, uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
"The mission will be fine, Lancelot," he finally said, his usually gruff voice uncharacteristically gentle. "You have no amends to make. Please don't worry about last night. We both said some harsh things--"
"That’s not true," she interrupted with a mirthless laugh as her insides twisted in a vice. She couldn't stand here and listen to him dismiss her bad behavior so easily. His kindness just made her feel more ashamed. "But it’s... it's good of you to try and make me feel better. I just... I wanted to say, I’m sorry. And I don't want this..." she made a vague hand gesture between them, "incident... to ruin our work together Can we... can we please just forget this ever happened?"
Her throat ached as she forced the words out, as if they had been hanging on to her physical body, resisting being said.
Merlin’s eyes were sad and kind, and still totally inscrutable. She felt a brief pang of longing for the openness she'd come to enjoy on his face this week.
This is for the best, she told herself again.
“Of course, Lancelot," he quietly assured her, speaking as though she might spook and run away like a wounded animal, "if that’s what you want.”
It was not at all what she wanted. But, what she wanted was to throw herself into his arms for comfort. What she wanted was to kiss him without the haze of alcohol that colored all of her memories from the night before. What she wanted was totally inappropriate. And so she nodded and answered him with confidence she didn't feel at all.
“Please. I’m frankly mortified. Let's... let's just get through the mission, like professionals. Unless... if you need to speak about anything that happened, or if I made you uncomfortable, I would listen, of course.”
He gave a mirthless chuckle, then nodded his agreement. "If you want to forget it," he told her, "consider it forgotten."
His voice sounded even more distant than it had when she walked into the room. It shouldn't matter. She should be relieved. Why, then, did she still feel so miserable?
Merlin looked at her for a long moment, then gestured for her to sit, and silently handed her an iPad with the floor plans of the Byzantine Group's London headquarters, where the mission would be taking place. He took care not to brush her fingers when he passed it to her. Then he turned his attention back to his computer.
Get over it, she chided herself sternly, and focus on this mission. You can wallow later and weep into a pint of ice cream when you've taken out these opportunistic, white slavery peddling bastards.
Her rage helped her focus. Her righteousness gave her clarity.
She set her jaw and put her personal regrets out of her mind, shoved on to the back burner along with her grief about her family. When Eggsy entered the room a moment later, she greeted him with a smile, and they got straight to work.
The initial meeting with the kidnapping ring could have gone better. Their cover stories were flawless, their intel detailed and in depth, but in the end the head of the Byzantine group, Callum Sonderling, simply would not negotiate with Tom Davies.
"And when will Mr Franklin arrive?" Sonderling had asked them superciliously across his mahogany desk.
"We've been authorized to conduct business on his behalf," Eggsy assured him smoothly.
Sonderling laughed, cruel and cold. "I don't make deals with whores and lackeys. Get him here, or get out and stop wasting my time."
"Damn MI6!" Merlin hissed into their ears from his spot in the surveillance van. "This should have been in the file." He made a disgusted noise. "Fine. Agree to their terms. If they want Franklin, we will give them Franklin."
How? Roxy blinked in code, into her glasses.
"Just stall for time," Merlin replied into her ear. "I'll do it myself."
It was the best they could do with no notice, and they knew it. Merlin wasn't out in the field too often, but he had definitely seen his fair share of action over the years. And they simply weren't sure who else they could trust, right now.
Roxy spoke up and agreed to Sonderling's terms, explaining that "Mr Franklin" would need at least an hour or two to make the trek to London from his current appointment. (This would buy Merlin enough time to get suited up, explain the change of plans to MI6, and make the needed changes to the mission files.)
Eggsy would be leaving to cover surveillance in the nearby van and be their eyes and ears. He was inexperienced, but had been trained on all of the required equipment, and Merlin wanted Roxy on the ground; Sonderling's dismissal of women as decorative objects would make it easier for her to do the job right under his nose.
The plan was now for her to get into Sonderling's office while Mr Franklin met with him and the other investors that evening after dinner. Roxy was to clone the files they needed -- a full directory of names and bank account information for all of the key players in the Byzantine Group, both investors and customers, off of Sonderling's personal computer.
The files were not accessible by any remote means, and the complex didn't even have internet access, to reduce the danger of discovery, so the data transfer must be performed in person. After the meeting, if the data had been secured, Merlin and Roxy would take their leave and be gone before MI6's raid the following morning. The documentation they gathered would be proof enough to put all of the slavers and their criminal customer base in prison, whenever they could all be tracked down. As missions go, it was fairly straightforward.
For now, Violet and Tom Davies were sent to wait for Mr Franklin in a sumptuous guest suite to which their bags had been delivered, where they chatted idly in character for a while, for the benefit of the surveillance equipment hidden in the light fixtures, and then settled in to rest for an hour -- Roxy with a book and Eggsy with a downloaded podcast -- before Merlin appeared.
When Basil Franklin arrived in his vintage Bentley, one of Sonderling's henchmen came to retrieve them from their suite, instructing Roxy to go wait in Sonderling's office while he escorted Eggsy off the premises.
Roxy had a brief moment to take a look around the office and inspect the computer where the files were stored, when the door opened and two skeevy looking blokes in expensive but ill fitting Italian suits sauntered in. From their conversation she could easily tell that they were Mr Sonderling's other investors. She could also tell that they were both drunk.
They both ogled her appreciatively when they saw her, in a form fitting wine colored skirt suit that was cut too far above the knee to be proper, with nothing but a flimsy, black lace camisole peeking out from underneath the lapels to frame her breasts.
"And who are you, then, luv?" one of them asked, licking his lips as she backed up a step to put distance between them.
"She's the entertainment, Bill," the second drunk said, coming up behind her to pinch her arse as he spoke.
Roxy's blood boiled. She wanted nothing more than to murder them both on the spot. It would be so easy... and satisfying, but not satisfying enough to blow their cover. And Eggsy hadn't had time to get to the van to provide any remote support if things got out of hand. Instead of engaging, she tried to evade.
"Gentlemen, it's nice to meet you. My name is Violet. I work for Mr Basil Franklin. He's here for a meeting with Mr Sonderling."
"You work for him, eh," the man named Bill repeated, mocking, stepping closer to her again. She could smell the gin on him. "How about you work for me instead, sweetheart?"
"I'm sorry sir," Roxy said, trying to stay in character as she stepped away again, only to be trapped in the second man's arms. "I don't think that would be appropriate. I'm only here for Mr Franklin."
Bill didn't pay her words any mind, sliding one hand up under her skirt to trace the edge of her stocking where it attached to her suspender belt.
His friend was breathing heavy against her neck, fumbling from behind with the buttons of her blazer.
She was now sandwiched between them, with no way to get out that wouldn't out her as an imposter and almost certainly ruin the mission.
Fuck. Her heart started pounding in earnest. She had to get out. This was not a time when she was prepared to 'lie back and think of England.'
She was about to throw caution to the wind, formulating a story in her head about the men becoming enraged and attacking each other to explain the wounds she was about to inflict, when the door to the office creaked open.
Roxy couldn't see who walked in, at first. But she would have recognized the voice anywhere.
"Get your hands off my property." he spoke softly, and coldly, but his eyes were on fire with rage.
She didn't have to fake her relief as she fled and threw herself into Merlin's arms, where he stood in front of Sonderling, his assistant, and two body guards. She knew he was acting, but the feeling of his large palms pressed against her back as he briefly embraced her nevertheless sent a shiver up Roxy's spine. She stepped away after a moment, but Merlin kept a hand wrapped around her wrist, keeping her close to his side. She tried not to think about how amazing he smelled.
"What, exactly, is the meaning of this?" Merlin hissed at Sonderling in the high brow accent of his vicious, entitled persona.
The assistant went as white as a sheet, and Roxy suspected he had most likely been the one to send the two drunkards into the room unsupervised.
Sonderling had the grace to look mildly uncomfortable at least, though Roxy knew his deference had everything to do with the multi-million pound business deal they were trying to broker and nothing at all to do with her besmirched 'honor.'
"I did not send my girl in here to be defiled and tainted by another man," he growled, turning to glare at her assailants when Sonderling remained silent. "She belongs to me."
Now, Roxy was no damsel in distress, and she normally hated possessive behavior; in most partners it was a sign of terrible insecurity, and the implication that she belonged to anyone but herself absolutely rankled. But Merlin's protectiveness, in the guise of his character, was doing things to her insides. She needed to get away from the heat of his body and his expensive cologne.
"We were just having a bit of fun," Bill's friend insisted, seeming unrepentant but slightly wary of Merlin.
"She's the one that started it, after all," Bill lied with a lazy, confident smile. He knew that if it came down to her word against theirs, she stood no chance.
Merlin tensed beside her, absolutely murderous. That wouldn't do...
"Basil, darling," Roxy murmured into his ear, "we've only just arrived, and your meeting isn't until tonight. Let's not wear out our welcome so soon. I'm sure this was all just a simple misunderstanding, wasn't it, Mr Sonderling?"
Focus on the mission. She held the thought in her head like a mantra.
Sonderling looked at her appraisingly, then raised an eyebrow and nodded his agreement.
"Naturally, Mr Franklin. Your... companion has the right idea."
"A misunderstanding, yes," Sonderling's assistant added immediately with a too-wide smile at Merlin. "One we will ensure does not happen again. And in the meantime, Mr Franklin, we will have a bottle of champagne delivered to your room as an apology for your trouble."
For his trouble. Of course.
"And now that all of this unpleasantness is settled," Sonderling said dismissively, looking directly at Merlin and ignoring Roxy entirely, "let us adjourn to the dining room. I, for one, am famished."
Merlin squeezed her wrist gently in reassurance. No one apologized to her. No one even looked in her direction.
Roxy fought to keep her face neutral. She was going to enjoy destroying these men. It is good to love what you do for a living.