How can you lie so still? All day I watch
And never a blade of all the green sod moves
To show where restlessly you toss and turn,
And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees
Stiffened and aching from their long disuse;
I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
To take it’s freedom of the midnight hour.
Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
The very worms must scorn you where you lie.
from To The Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window
The aftermath of V-Day is a crushing atmosphere of silence that begins in the throats of cadavers.
They lie still beneath sheets, or in stacked piles of body bags, thrown into hastily dug desert graves, as they wait to be named. The war zones were hit the hardest. Places where guns and grenades are in better supply than bread and bandages; The Middle East. South America. North Africa. Every war in the world stops on February 15th while commanders and countries put down their arms to count their dead. The friendly fire deaths are immense. Military safe-zones and bases smolder and smoke, blown flat into blood-soaked microcosms of No-Mans-Land.
No treatise or official cease-fires are called. None are needed. There were nineteen minutes of insanity and violence on February 14th, and the simple truth is that by the next day, no one has the stomach for war anymore.
In civilian areas, medical tents are erected like small, ghost cities. Hospitals are completely over run and spill out into schools and town halls and the floors of shopping malls. Every medical professional still capable of walking straps on gloves and aprons, or plastic baggies when supplies run low, and begins the long task of patching up society.
In England, lists are read and updated by public officials every hour and aired by every news station and radio broadcast. Morning. Noon. Night.
Eggsy, Merlin, and Roxy watch the news together in Merlin’s flat, the only place they can be sure of total privacy. They sit in quiet, sleep-deprived hunches on Merlin’s couch, shoulder to shoulder, weary eyes fixed on the screen. Pillows and blankets are strewn about the room. Discarded cups of tea cover the coffee table.
"It’s strange, but I don’t feel any bigger," Merlin mumbles. He’s slumping slowly sideways into Roxy, or else Roxy is slumping sideways into him, it’s impossible to tell. Eggsy and Roxy look at him, puzzled. Merlin shrugs. "I’m a mass murderer now, technically. I just thought the feeling would be..." he makes a boneless, meandering hand gesture, "...bigger."
Eggsy lifts the dead weight of his arm over Roxy and pokes him in the shoulder.
"We," he says. "We is mass murderers, bruv. Was my idea to set them chips off."
Merlin turns his head to look at Eggsy.
"I’m making you Galahad," he says softly after a long pause. "There won’t be any tests."
Eggsy swallows down the sudden knot in his throat and nods. He’ll say thank you later, when he can bear to face the implications.
They fall back into their exhausted silence, eyes on the television. For today there is nothing they can do but listen for names they know, and wait.
One by one, the benefactors and department heads of Kingsman call.
Or they don’t.
Merlin makes a written list of the second category. When it’s complete, they memorize it together. Then they burn it and wash the ashes down the sink.
In England, at least, most of the civilian dead have been accounted for, and they’re not as staggering as Eggsy feared. The names of soldiers abroad will take more time while the military hierarchy dominos itself back into place and while friendly nations finish their own body counts. The numbers Eggsy hears coming out of the United States and Mexico are terrifying.
Some businesses reopen. Supermarkets and restaurants open their doors and either give food away or attempt to resume business as usual.
Merlin pulls together the skeleton of an inquiry committee out of the people they manage to prove were uninvolved with Arthur’s schemes. One or two of the benefactors are cleared and briefed. A few others show up headless. A couple more show up stabbed or mutilated, now proven innocent at least, but still dead.
Merlin begins another list of names. At the top of the sheet Eggsy sees him scribble "killed in the line of duty."
As the inquiry committee grows and gains momentum, the gears of Kingsman start to turn again. Reports trickle in from other locations. More living are found. More dead.
The first traitor with a heartbeat turns up. He’s brought to the mansion, and while Merlin and Eggsy are arguing about whether or not there should be a tribunal before they chuck him in a dark hole he can never crawl out of, Roxy shoots him in the head.
"We don’t have the resources to be keeping prisoners," she says.
Merlin looks at her with an expression halfway between shock and pride.
"You’re right," he says.
A third list is started, in Roxy’s hand. She sits down at Merlin’s desk while Merlin stands behind the chair looking unhappy and ill.
"We’ll make up something nice to tell their families," Roxy says. She pats Merlin’s shaking hand kindly.
Eggsy goes to Harry’s house that evening and stands in the ringing silence. There are words bottled up in the bottom of his lungs, but he can’t bring himself to choke them up. A million questions and apologies. Ten thousand confessions and accusations.
He goes into Harry’s study and sits down behind the desk, looking around, reading every headline tacked to the wall. He sits for an hour, doing nothing, thinking of nothing but Harry. The laptop is still there, lying face down against the wood. Eggsy doesn’t touch it.
Eventually, Merlin’s voice appears in Eggsy’s ear through the glasses they wear twenty-four seven.
"Eggsy," he says gently. "We need you to come back in for a few hours."
Eggsy stands up, fingertips brushing the surface of the desk.
"I miss him," he says.
"I know, lad," Merlin says. "So do I."
Merlin disappears for twenty hours. He tells no one where he’s going, or why he’s going.
He does call Eggsy’s cell, at four-fifteen in the afternoon, and then inexplicably hangs up when Eggsy answers.
When he comes back his face is drawn and pale. He won’t say where he’s been.
Harry Hart’s name appears in the paper for the second time. He never married.
The commercial airports reopen and global trade resumes at a three-legged crawl.
Eggsy is officially inducted as a Kingsman agent, codename: Galahad. There’s no ceremony. Kingsman has always been an agency more concerned with practical application than pomp and circumstance. Merlin assembles the agents, makes the announcement, and shakes Eggsy’s hand. Eggsy thanks him quietly and keeps it together for the rest of the meeting.
As soon as the feeds are cut and the other agents flicker to empty air, Eggsy’s knees hit the floor and he’s shaking, sobbing, one hand clutching the arm of Galahad’s chair. The sounds come up from the bottom of his stomach. They’re broken and ugly, punching the air from his lungs.
Harry’s dead. It’s been days and Harry is still dead. His house is empty, his chair is empty, and Eggsy has never felt this awful before.
Roxy sits down next to him on the floor and pulls him into her arms. Merlin kneels on his other side and puts a hand on Eggsy’s shoulder.
"Oh, Eggsy," he mumbles under his breath. "I’m sorry."
Eggsy holds on to Roxy and cries because the man he loves is dead.
If either Roxy or Merlin are surprised to learn what Eggsy felt for Harry—still feels, fuck that dickhead and his carelessness—they don’t show it. They stay with him on the floor until he can breathe again, and then take him out for Chinese.
Eggsy gets a house. It’s in a nice part of town, and within walking distance of the shop; painted daisy yellow. He stands on his front steps for a long time, looking at the mailbox with his name on it, and can’t believe how much his life has turned around in the past few months. Drugs and theft, Saturday nights in the back of a police car, they all feel like things that all happened to some other stupid, kid.
He goes to get his mum and Daisy. In Harry’s honor, he wipes the floor with Dean and his goons. He does feel a little bad about all the property damage done in the process, but if his new life is going to work out, Eggsy needs to draw the line right away. He needs Dean to know that there will be consequences if he comes after Eggsy’s family. That, when the divorce papers arrive, Dean’s job is to sign them immediately and mail them back without a fucking word.
"It’s that or I sees to it you go to prison, and me mum gets an easy annulment. Six a’one to me, dickhead," Eggsy says to Dean’s half-conscious lump on the floor.
Eggsy doesn’t have to drug the barkeep the way Harry did, because he’s known that sod almost all his life.
"You and your mum go on, Eggsy," Lloyd says. "I’ll call when you’ve gone and the coppers can mop this lot up."
"Thanks," Eggsy says. He steps over Dean and holds his arm out for his mom to take, a free, easy smile bursting out of his face. "C’mon, mum," he says.
She takes his arm, eyes still wide with shock.
They go pack their things and pick up Daisy from daycare. Then they go home.
Lamorak and Kay, confirmed by intel to be alive, are officially classified as rogue. They never answer their summons to UK HQ and vanish as quickly as they are found, submerging into the hazy underbelly of black markets and countries with no trade sanctions.
"We should send someone after them," Roxy says.
"I could go," Eggsy offers. Now that the worst of the rebuilding process is over, and they have time to do things like eat and sleep again, he’s feeling antsy.
"I have someone on it," Merlin answer cryptically. He’s leaning on his desk, cup of tea in his hand, frowning at his monitor. "I’m hearing the strangest things coming out Romania," he mutters, reading.
"Like what?" Eggsy asks.
"Two teenagers went missing just outside of Cluj a few days ago," says Merlin. "They turned up this morning on a bike trail in the Hoia forest. They’re eyes had been removed and they’d been... hypodermically bled to the point of acute anemia."
"...That’s fucked," says Eggsy. "Hope they catch the pyscho that did it."
"Unfortunately, given the current state of Romania’s government, I’d say that’s unlikely," Merlin says. He sighs and leans back. "Anyway, now that things are settling down, I think it’s high time you two had a few days off." He spins in his chair and smiles up at them. "Good job, saving the world."
"When’s your day off then?" Eggsy asks pointedly.
"Sometime next year, I imagine," Merlin answers. When Eggsy makes a face he says, "Believe me, I’m cashing in all my vacation days the moment a new Arthur is elected. But that moment is still months away. Until then, I’ll be alright. Now go. Both of you. You’re underfoot."
"Yes, Merlin," says Roxy.
"Eat some fuckin’ vegetables," Eggsy says over his shoulder as Roxy pulls him towards the door. "And get some fucking sleep."
Roxy shuts the door behind them and shakes her head, smiling.
"What?" Eggsy asks. She shrugs.
"I don’t know," she says. "I guess it’s just, when we met, I never expected you to turn out to be the knight that’s also everybody’s mother."
"Oh, shove it," Eggsy tells her. "Wanna go binge-watch Miss Marple wit me and Daise? She loves that show. Weird kid. I blame me mum."
A bomb goes off in Palestine.
One by one, the wars begin again.
Eggsy’s lying awake in his bed, wrapped up in blankets and shadows. His heart is racing and his breath is pumping in ragged gasps because he’s trying and trying but for some reason he can’t remember the sound of Harry’s voice.
He jumps out of bed and paces for a few minutes, face in his hands. Daisy’s baby monitor hums from the other side of the room and the little red light watches him.
He can’t get the timbre right. The oak and polish accent that matched Harry’s eyes.
He remembers those, at least.
"Harry," he mumbles. "Harry. Harry," like saying his name will bring it back. He just hears the buzzing background of a dead radio station.
Eggsy pulls on a pair of jeans and sneakers and walks to Harry’s place in the dead of night. He picks the lock, lets himself in, and locks the door behind him again. Eggsy sucks a deep breath through his nose. He kicks his shoes off by the door and walks barefoot through the hall and into the bathroom.
Mr. Pickle, at least, isn’t judging him.
Eggsy sits down on the floor and wraps his arms around his knees.
"Can’t you see that everything I’ve done has been about trying to repay him?" Harry’s voice, like a bell in his mind. Like a screw twisting into his ribs. Eggsy drops his head to his knees in relief.
Eggsy wraps himself in the sensations and fresh, painful memories of the last time he saw Harry. He makes himself small so that the ghosts have room to move. He watches them over and over again until they’re burned in the back of his eyelids.
Harry, severe and disappointed against the sink. And behind that, hard determination and calculations, trying to figure out the ways he can correct Eggsy’s fuck up, because he think’s that what he owes Eggsy. He thinks it what he owes Eggsy father.
You was so wrong ‘bout some things, Eggsy thinks. So wrong.
"I’m sorry, Harry."
"You should be. Now, you just stay right there. I’ll sort this mess out when I get back."
Even in the midst of the marrow deep ache in his chest, Eggsy feels himself slipping, tipping sideways onto the bathroom rug. He falls asleep with the echoes of Harry's bitter disappointment still ringing in his ears.
Lamorak’s name is added to the list of Terminated. Merlin still has the pen in his hand when Eggsy walks through the door. He looks exhausted, a little thinner than a month ago, troubled. He doesn’t even give Eggsy shit for entering without knocking.
Eggsy wonders if Merlin was as close with Lamorak as he was with Harry.
"How many do we think is out there?" Eggsy asks, moving to stand behind Merlin. He leans against Merlin’s desk and reads through the other twenty names.
"Difficult to say," answers Merlin, tiredly. "At most, we’ve calculated that the implants had a failure rate of about two percent. But, how many people may have gotten around them in other ways...we don’t know. Within Kingsman itself, and that’s our first priority, the number seems minimal."
"That’s good news, innit," Eggsy says without feeling. He puts the list back down on the desk, eyes wandering over to other list, Killed in the line of duty.
It grew longer every day.
Merlin calls Eggsy and Roxy to his office.
"Under normal circumstances this would be a much longer process," he tells them. "The breaking in of a new knight is a lengthy endeavor. It takes months. Usually new knights will be paired with the knight who proposed them for a time. It gives you field experience, allows bonds to form..." Merlin looks at Eggsy and his words trail off.
Eggsy swallows and looks down, viciously stamping down the blood-and-broken-glass memory of V-Day that tries to crawl its way up his throat.
Merlin hands each of them a file.
"But we don’t have time for green knights this year," he says. "So I need the both of you to rise into your full positions almost immediately, premature though it may be. Governments are toppling around the world. Civilized nations and third world countries alike are in bloody chaos. These files contain the history on your roles. Learn from them when you can. The rest you’ll have to pick up along the way, I’m afraid. It’s time the Kingsman knights took an active role in current events again. "
Eggsy takes the folder. It’s a rich, deep red color, two inches thick and bound with a gold silk cord.
"I’ll see you in the morning," Merlin says. Then, as Eggsy and Roxy are leaving, adds: "If either of you need to...to talk, or if you need anything else, you can call me at home."
Eggsy sees a flicker of something in Merlin’s eyes that he recognizes. A reflection of the same gaping chasm he feels beneath his own feet.
"You too," says Roxy on behalf of both of them.
Eggsy learns this from the file:
Galahad’s chair is fucking haunted.
It’s a notoriously bloody position in the Kingsman legacies. No Kingsman dies in his sleep (with a few, notable exceptions,) but where others are ventilated by armor piercing rounds, or splattered like a spaghetti stain across a wall, Galahad’s death is like a natural disaster. Furious. Red. Surrounded by casualties.
There were six Galahad’s before Harry. They all died in a bloodbath. Mathematically it’s not impossible for anomalous pattern to run that long, but Eggsy thinks about Harry and can’t stop the cold shudder that runs through him.
Realistically, he thinks it’s got more to do with the kind of men who end up with Galahad’s name. They’re reckless, like Eggsy. Fearless, like Harry. They always seem to have a long history of "nothing to lose."
He can all but feel the weight of their ghosts when he puts the file down.
He'll be one of them someday.
Merlin calls at eleven thirty.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing," he says.
"Dunno, bruv," answers Eggys honestly. "Not sure how to tell anymore. You?"
"Much the same."
They sit on opposite sides of the phone call for a few minutes in companionable silence.
"How’s Rox?" Eggsy asks, knowing Merlin would have called her first.
"She’s tired," Merlin answers. "But, I suspect, holding up better than we are."
"Ha. She’s a superhero, she is."
Another few moments of quiet. Eggsy hears the sound of a kettle beginning to boil on Merlin’s end. He reaches out and plays with the fraying ends of the rope that holds Galahad’s file closed. Runs his fingertips over the embossed name.
"Eggsy?" Merlin says.
"It won’t always be like this. I know it feels hideous now but...just hang in there, lad."
"You too, Merlin."
They hang up.
Eggsy dreams about the church.
He wakes up screaming himself hoarse and thrashing, vowing to slaughter a man that--he recalls as the soft shapes of his bedroom come into focus around him--he’s killed already.
Mum is banging on his door.
"Eggsy! Eggsy, open the bloody door! Are you okay?"
Eggsy takes a deep breath and tries to orient himself. He rolls out of bed and unlocks the door, opening it, trying to look calm even though his blood is still pounding so hard he can feel it in his teeth.
"Yeah, Mum. Sorry ‘bout that. Just a nightmare."
"Just a nightmare?" she gasps, looking him up and down. She has Daisy in her arms. Daise is crying, red-faced and terrified.
"Aww, shit, Daise I’m sorry, babe." Eggsy holds out his arms and Mum hands her over. Eggsy holds her against his chest and bounces, following Mum into the their kitchen. Daisy's cries crawl under his heartstrings and pull them up like carpet. "Shhh," he says. "Shh, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean ta scare ya."
It takes twenty minutes to calm her down. Another thirty to get her back to sleep. Afterwards, Mum stands in the dim light of the hallway night-light and looks at Eggsy, a worried frown etched in her features.
"Your father used to have nightmares like that," she says softly. "After his first tour."
Eggsy tries to tell her a good lie. Something reassuring. She walks him to work at the tailor shop most days, if he really put his stomach into it he could make it believable.
He brushes a length of hair out of her face and gives her a hug.
"Y’should get back t’bed, mum," he says instead. "Get some rest."
Harry’s house at night is full of sounds. There’s a grandfather clock in the living room that chimes on every hour. A pendulum clock in the kitchen that ticks so loud it can be heard from the office. The heat makes a sound like an ocean tide when it turns on (with the days turning warmer, and no one to keep warm on a regular basis anyway Eggsy hunts down the thermostat and turns it down.) A window that rattles in the wind.
Then there’s the other sounds. The ones that only Eggsy will ever hear. The ones he makes up.
The shuffle of slippers on carpet. Creak of soft footsteps coming down the stairs. The clink of spoons and teacups in the kitchen. A smooth voice, humming along to string symphonies that Eggsy doesn’t know the names of.
Those sounds are the reason he comes here in the middle of the night and falls asleep in Harry’s old armchair, curled up like some stupid, heartbroken kid waiting for someone to come find him and take him home.
At least here it doesn’t matter how loudly he screams himself awake.
He knows he’s being childish. Know’s he’s being stupid, clinging to the memory of a man more than twenty years his senior, who can’t come back now and save Eggsy no matter how much he may have wanted too.
In the long run, Eggsy knows he’s only hurting himself by refusing to let go. But, for now at least, he prefers to keep his fantasies. He’d rather live half his life behind his eyelids then go back to the bottomless drop he’d been living before he met Harry.
Eggsy breathes deep and drops off; dreams horrible dreams. Wakes up aching and cramped and shivering. He doesn’t open his eyes.
Harry breathes a soft sigh from the doorway. His suit shifts and rustles as he comes closer, brushes the fringe of hair away from Eggsy’s forehead.
"You did very well," Harry whispers. "And I’m very proud of you."
Eggsy smiles, tears breaching the edge of his composure. Then he drops peacefully back into his nightmares.
That old grandfather clock clanging out four a.m. pulls Eggsy out of the murky waters of his dreams. Pins and needles are eating up half his body.
He slides out of the armchair and limps up the stairs.
The stinging crusts of riverbeds are hollowed in his cheeks. He uses the bathroom in the master bedroom to rinse his face.
Then he crawls into the bed, breathes in the last vestiges of Harry’s presence.
He’s all out of pride. Too tired for shame.
He doesn’t sleep great.
But he sleeps alright.
More weird shit is reported out of Romania.
Fires have been breaking out in churches across the country, starting in the east and working their way west. There’s no pattern to the denomination of the churches. As far as Merlin can make out, it’s every church easily accessible off the major highways.
It gets so bad that people start abandoning the churches, leaving them void and empty, removing the iconography, carving whole paintings off the walls and storing them in barns and basements, when they think they might be next.
The first whispers of an urban legend begin. Merlin reads the news reports and rolls his eyes.
"The devil indeed," he scoffs. "One, little close call with an apocalypse and people lose all sense of reason." He looks sideways when Eggsy laughs. "Still," he admits, "best to keep tabs on our Romanian arsonist. It may be that he has bigger plans." He assigns some poor flunky in Research to monitor all the major Romanian news outlets.
He hands Eggsy the briefing packet for his own assignment.
Later, inside, among papers and photographs, Eggsy finds the key to Harry’s house.
Instead of wasting time, Eggsy stops pretending he’s okay, ceases all illusions of moving on and coping like a reasonable adult, and moves into Harry’s house.
It’s about more than Eggsy big, pathetic, broken heart.
Harry was the first person to ever believe in Eggsy, and the last person to give up on him. (As far as Eggsy knows, Harry never gave up on him, even after Eggsy had flunked out of Kingsman and stolen another car...) And it’s about how Eggsy has been building up his own towers of courage for years, erecting walls under skin and finding basements in his mind where he can feel safe. But in Harry’s presence, at Harry’s place, the safety was there already, waiting for him when he arrived.
And it’s for the best, if he does this. He can’t keep showing up at his mum’s house bloody and banged up, scaring the hell out of her and Daise. Can't keep ripping them out of bed with his nightmares every night.
But he has to explain it to his mom somehow, so when she asks:
"There's someone in your life, isn’t there?"
He says quietly,
"Yeah, mum." And tries not to fall apart when her face lights up with a smile.
The first cracks of Eggsy’s inevitable undoing are small.
He rises in the morning and smells Harry’s aftershave in the hall. It’s not the imagined, spectre of a sent anymore. He feels like he’s standing in a room freshly vacated. Like Harry only just walked out, seconds before.
He goes to bed, and in the middle of the night hears floorboards creaking in ways they never did before. He hears what sounds like careful footsteps, moving about the house with Harry’s gentle ease.
He hears them. They come on their own. He doesn’t imagine them to life.
He feels the ghostly brushes of Harry’s hands on his face. Harry’s hands on his back when he can’t take it anymore and breaks down into tears. Harry’s hands lifting him back up on his feet, Harry’s voice at his shoulder reminding Eggsy that there’s still work to be done.
Still so much work to be done.
Perhaps it’s the pressure of the job, more likely it’s the detached, unreal feeling of living with a ghost his mind has invented, but Eggsy goes out on a recon mission and somehow forgets that he can’t fly.
He’s running across a roof, gunfire like hail behind him, and when he runs out of rooftop he simply leaps, jumps right off a twelve story building without even looking first.
Merlin’s voice cracks through his ear in harsh panic, "EGGSY!" forgetting his role, forgetting codenames.
A smaller building, three floors shorter and twenty feet down, saves his life. Eggsy hits the fire-escape and rolls, tumbling down a flight of metal stairs before he’s back on his feet, jumping again. He swings his way down by the railings of the fire-escape, until his feet find pavement.
"Christ, Galahad," Merlin gasps in his ear when Eggsy hits the ground. "What the bloody fuck."
"Sorry, Merlin," Eggsy mumbles. But he doesn’t really mean it.
Bullets falling from the roof. Eggsy starts running again.
His reservations are tumbling, he can feel them peeling away like old paint. And underneath he finds he’s not that piss-scared, delinquent little fuck-up anymore. He’s someone else entirely.
He’s Galahad. And he’s fearless.