Summary: Where did Lady Penelope get her pug? Perhaps during her training with Kingsman…
Fandoms: Kingsman: The Secret Service and Thunderbirds Are Go!
Characters: Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, Roxy (Lancelot), Sherbert
Original publication date: September 27, 2015, edited for publishing here, June 1, 2016.
Disclaimer and notes: This is a cross-over between Kingsman: The Secret Service and Thunderbirds Are Go!, the 2015 animated reboot of Thunderbirds. In the reboot, Lady Penelope has a puppyish-looking pug named Sherbert. No one knows how she got him but this is my own take on the matter. Published first at my Tumblr account on September 27, 2015, and beta’d by Jolyn Anderson for subsequent posting here.
Penelope tugged down the tweed jacket she wore. “So gauche. Not at all stylish.” She brushed off a bit of non-existent lint from each cuff and then fingered the neatly coiled braid at her neck. “I’m sure I look a fright.”
A soft whine sounded from around her ankle. The wrinkled, worried face of her pug, Sherbert, met her downward glance.
“I know, boy. I know. Won’t be a minute.” She straightened her shoulders, muttering, “Better get this over with,” before rapping a brisk tattoo on the mahogany-paneled door.
A voice within called, “Come in.”
With a deep breath, she plastered a pleasant expression on her face, wiped the perspiration from her palms, and turned the crystal handle. By now, scanning a room for potential weaknesses and defenses was second nature to her. The mahogany paneling, huge portraits, and heavy dark furnishings reminded her uncomfortably of her father’s study. Her assessment ended as she heard her name called.
“Ah, Penelope.” The distinguished older man rose to his feet with a smile. “A pleasure to see you again.” He indicated the leather armchair beside him. “Please, sit.”
“Thank you, Arthur.” She inclined her head, gracefully taking the proffered seat while fighting the urge to sit back and cross one knee over the other. Sherbert settled onto his haunches beside her, alert as any faithful dog could be.
“You have a pug.” Arthur peered at the dog, his smile turning into a puzzled frown. “He doesn’t look right somehow.”
Penelope nodded. “Merlin is not sure why he still looks like a puppy. She suggests a possible recessive gene hidden by the breeder.”
“I see. I will take it into account and find another breeder.” Sitting back, Arthur folded his hands over a trim waist. “I had a pug, you know, when I came here for training. Named him J.B. after my favorite spy.”
Arthur shook his head.
Penelope assayed another guess. “Jason Bourne?”
He chuckled. “No to that as well. Someone you may not recognize as he was well before your time. An American television spy: Jack Bauer.”
“Ah, interesting. You are quite right; I had not heard of him.” She angled her body toward him, both feet flat on the floor, working hard to keep her inner discomfiture under wraps. “May I ask why you have summoned me? I am sure it is not to discuss pugs, admirable as they are.”
“Direct and to the point, just like Agravain.” Arthur paused as if summoning his next words. “As you are aware, Penelope, your training is complete. You are one of three candidates to make it this far. This final test may very well determine if you are the next Gaheris.” He twisted, reaching across his body to the small table on the far side of his chair. When he turned back, he held a semi-automatic pistol in his hand, pointed at her. A long cold moment passed before he offered it to her, hammer first, a finger looped in the trigger guard. “Go ahead. Take it.”
Cautiously, she obeyed, laying the weapon in her lap. Its metallic chill seeped through her trousers; its weight—literal and figurative—pressed down.
“As you can feel, it is loaded.” He motioned toward Sherbert with his hand. “Shoot the dog.”
Penelope’s wide-eyed shock folded down quickly to a thoughtful frown as she eyed first the gun and then her dog. Turning her attention back to Arthur’s expectant face, she asked, “Why?”
“Because it’s the last hurdle, the final test.” He motioned again, his tone more insistent. “Shoot the dog.”
Penelope glanced back to study the gun in her lap. “Hm. Your orders are to shoot—not to kill. Very specific. Most would think one word meant the other. However, my training taught me a Kingsman agent does not knowingly take innocent lives.” A slight smile touched her lips as her gaze slid back down to the pug sitting at her feet. “There is none so innocent as a dog.”
She turned the gun over in her hands. “To ensure that ‘shoot’ does not become ‘kill’, there must be a safe way to do one and avoid the other. A blank cartridge, perhaps.” A glimpse at Arthur’s face revealed nothing but a stony visage. Breathing deeply, she again gave Arthur her full attention. Her voice was steady, her face serene. “I will not shatter the trust I have built with Sherbert. Even if the round in the chamber is blank, I will not risk his life or health. I will not shoot my dog.”
“Is that your final answer?” Arthur’s voice was full of warning; a quirked eyebrow promised fierce, scowling condemnation.
She gripped the muzzle, returning the gun to him. “It is.”
He took the gun by the grip, his gaze never leaving hers. She swallowed heavily, touching her unadorned lips with the tip of her tongue. Still, her back was straight, feet flat on the floor, ready for action. She folded her hands in her lap to control their trembling.
To her surprise, he huffed out a chuckle. A slight, crooked smile brought out a deep dimple on his cheek.
“I didn’t shoot either.”
As he leaned over to place the gun on the table, a shot echoed through the mansion, followed a split-second later by another. Penelope couldn’t help but jump. Arthur just glanced over his shoulder.
“Well, I don’t know which of the others shot first, but whoever they are, they passed the test.” Turning back to her, he said, “I am afraid you, my dear, have not.”
“As I suspected.” Penelope’s relief was palpable. She relaxed, her shoulders dropping slightly as she settled back into her chair, finally giving in to the urge to cross her ankles. Cocking her head to one side, she said, “I admit I am confused. You said you did not shoot your dog, yet here you are, at the head of the organization. Did you pass the test or not?”
“I did not.” Arthur stood, visibly stiff, and limped his way over to a sideboard, where a decanter and several glasses sat. He poured two fingers of Scotch into a glass, glancing over at Penelope and hefting the crystal bottle to wordlessly offer her a drink.
She shook her head. “No, thank you.”
Once he was settled back down in his chair, he repeated his reply. “As I said, I did not. I wasn’t able to connect the things you so ably explained and was ignorant of the blank cartridge—excellent deduction, by the way—in the gun handed to me.” He took a sip, sighing with pleasure. “My handler was furious, not only because I refused to shoot J.B., but also because I stole his boss’s car.” He pointed at her, remaining fingers still wrapped around his tumbler. “I doubt you’ll be following my stellar example.”
“I assure you I won’t.” Her thoughts turned briefly to the classic roadster her father brought up the day before—a gift, he said, for finishing her training. He returned home in one of the family’s Rolls Royces with Parker at the wheel.
“In any case, my handler was killed in action, the Arthur of that time turned traitor, and I found myself saving the world.” He tossed back the rest of his drink. “After that, I took my handler’s spot until recently.” Setting the glass down, he leaned back in his chair, wincing. “The Merlin of my day, being senior, became Arthur, but on his retirement, I was offered the position as head. I would have declined it had I not been injured badly enough to take me out of action.” He grinned, the dimple reappearing deeper than ever. “Like Agravaine, I prefer an active life. However, better to serve in reserve than to not serve at all.”
“Indeed.” She leaned forward to pat Sherbert on the head. “If I may ask, why do you—why does the organization continue with this … barbarous tradition? Surely there must be other ways to test a finalist’s mettle?”
“Barbarous, you say?” Arthur snorted, a mulish frown on his face. He shifted in his chair, a slight grunt signaling his discomfort. “I agree. If I were in control, I should have made a change long ago. But as my own novice experience proved, it is sometimes dangerous to have a single man responsible for an entire organization. The position I hold is accountable to others now. They have shown a dogged determination to keep this particular rite of passage.” A smile brought out the creases around his eyes. “No pun intended.”
A knock sounded. Penelope signaled for Sherbert to remain where he was as she got up to open the door. A middle-aged woman peered in. She was trim and muscular, and her golden hair sported few, near invisible, silver strands. She acknowledged Penelope with a nod before turning to Arthur.
“Devlin is ready, Arthur. Merlin has sent Southern home.”
“Very good, Lancelot. Penelope and I are nearly done here.”
Lancelot nodded and withdrew, closing the door behind her. Arthur steepled his fingers under his chin as Penelope motioned Sherbert to her side.
“I am sorry to see you go, Penelope. You would have made a fine Gaheris.”
“Devlin will be even better, I am sure.” She smiled, an expression that lit up her blue eyes. “Besides, I believe I am a poor fit for Kingsman. I like my designer fashions far too much; a suit, however well-tailored, would ill-suit me.” She put her fingers to her lips to cover her snigger. “Oh, dear. Another pun. Please forgive me.” She sighed, her smile fading. “I must also admit I did not relish the idea of working with my father. We are too much alike, he and I.”
“Yes, I can see the resemblance. I will suggest to Agravain that he tempers his outrage at your failure—which is no failure considering you came away with the most important lesson of all.” He rose from his chair slowly, offering his hand. She shook it.
“You may rely on my discretion, of course. My father and I may not get along at times, but I do love my Mama.”
“I know. So does he. Goodbye, Penelope, and good luck.”
“Goodbye, and thank you. For everything.”
Penelope allowed him to open the door for her. There was no one in the hall, but she was sure Lancelot and the new Gaheris lurked somewhere near.
She smiled as Sherbert trotted along beside her. Because his legs were much shorter than a normal adult pug’s, she had learned to slow her walk to match his. Once at the stairwell, however, she stopped.
“Sherbert, seeing as I—as we—are no longer in training but are now free, carrying you will speed things up a bit.” She scooped her dog up into her arms. “A good thing, too. You’ve waited quite long enough to go outside.”