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The Backup Plan

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Roxy is the backup plan.

Her brother, Edmond, is born with a weak heart and a predicted life expectancy of maybe fifteen years, tops. Her parents spend the first three years of his life trying everything they could to extend that countdown, then another two years trying for another child. Just in case.

Roxanne Morton is born when Edmond is five. She’s healthy, mild-mannered, and whipsmart since toddlerhood. She lives in a household full of held breath, of terse conversations, of expectations sifted down through her brother and onto her. Then her brother’s health improves, slowly but steadily, beginning from his twelfth birthday, and he gets older, and older. He bypasses his fifteenth birthday, then his sixteenth. He graduates Harrow and goes to Cambridge, healthy and proud and every inch the son that his parents love and cherish.

Roxanne is forever top of her class, star of the swim team, prodigy in fencing, and one of her tutor’s greatest violinists. Part of it is innate talent; a bigger portion of it is her staying up in the dark of the night, memorizing, practicing, pushing herself to her limits. 

She passes fifteen and it’s no big deal. Her mother kisses her cheek and smiles, her father embraces her briefly, and her brother tousles her immaculate hair, laughing, carefree in a way Roxanne has never learned to be. She grits her teeth and works harder, learns three more languages (Russian, Spanish, and Czech) in addition to her Latin and French, learns to play the flute, and takes up competitive ballroom dancing. 

It doesn’t matter. Her brother graduates uni and starts learning the family business, goes into training under their father so that he can take over the company some day. Roxanne is more or less unnecessary, unless Edmond dies before he gets married and produces an heir.

When she turns eighteen and goes to Oxford, she calls herself Roxy. Corrects everybody who calls her otherwise until that’s the only name she’s known by. She ditches the flute and quits ballroom dancing. She stops playing the violin too, because nobody really listens and she doesn’t remember how to love music anymore. She still swims because she’s good at it, because winning makes her feel useful, even if only for a little while. She still fences, because it focuses her anger, whittles it into a sharper, more lethal point. She learns German because she wants to swear in more languages, because sometimes the anger is too big to fit into English words.

She dates three boys and four girls, one after another, nothing too intimate, and brings none of them home. Slowly, over time, she stops going home, too. Stops answering her mother’s sparse calls, and her brother’s. Stops trying so hard to be the daughter they never needed in the first place.

She’s Roxy. She’s the backup plan. Better than the original one, even.

But even the best of backup plans are useless if the original works just fine.

-

After graduating with honors from Oxford, Roxy spends months traveling from country to country, on her own with only a backpack and sports bag. She sends clipped, short messages back home to let her family know that she’s still alive, and where she is, but that’s all she ever says. She doesn’t say when she’s going back—if she’s going back.

She’s in Turkey for less than three days when Alastair Warren slides into the seat opposite of her without warning, causing her to choke on her mouthful of kuzu tandir and rice. 

“How have you been, Roxy?” Alastair asks, nonchalant while she’s busy coughing her way back to the land of the living.

“What,” Roxy gasps, and takes a long drink of water before continuing in a more sedate tone, “the bloody hell are you doing here, Alastair?”

Alastair is in an immaculately tailored suit and has a clean pair of glasses perched on his nose. He looks alien, too put together on the sweltering backstreets of Ankara, and the sight of him sitting here has a leaden weight settling between her ribs, a dull sense of fear.

“Did something happen?” She asks, careful. Alastair is a family friend, in the way all rich little scions are pitted together to make nice and compete passive-aggressively and judge the less privileged with upturned noses in some odd flock mentality. The Warren family and Morton family have grown up in the same bullpen; Alastair used to tutor her brother in science and her in Latin and judo.

“Your family is doing fine,” Alastair says, his eyes intent on his hands. He looks a little weary, not like he’s been working too hard, but like he’s been sitting and staring out into the distance, sandpapered down to his bones. “It’s just—a colleague of mine died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Roxy responds, automatic. She’s not sure what else to say. She’s not even very sure what Alastair’s job actually entails, other than the fact that the investment company he works for sometimes takes him away for weeks and that he’s been working for the company since he was eighteen, straight out of sixth form. Other than that, she knows nothing.

Alastair sighs. His gaze remains resolutely on his hands. “Do you have any plans to come back to England?”

“None of your business, I think,” Roxy says. “And why are you here? I’m sure you didn’t track me down in Turkey just because your colleague passed away—and how did you find me in the first place?”

Alastair finally looks her in the eye. “You don’t have any plans, do you.”

“None of your business.” She starts eating her kuzu tandir again, ignoring him.

“You’re brilliant,” Alastair points out in a calm, measured voice. “You’re quick-witted and talented, and you’re a good person. But you don’t know what to do with yourself, other than to excel.”

“Shut up,” Roxy says, her face hot, her throat dry. “Just go away.”

“Roxy,” he says, and Roxy remembers when she used to be younger, sharply aware of the things she would never be, how Alastair had sat next to her during her brother’s eighteenth birthday and had commented with a sly smile, what a pity it is that he’s still not half the person you are, Roxanne. “I think you could be extraordinary.”

She looks up at him.

“I think,” Alastair says, “all you need is a chance.”

-

“A job offer,” Roxy says, incredulous. “Alastair, that’s kind of you, but I am not working in an investment company.”

“And why not? Why are you not coming home, Roxy?” Alastair is walking in the shade, subtly leading the way without actually stepping ahead of her. “You could stay in England and never see your parents again and still have a comfortable life. They’d let you have that.” That makes her grit her teeth. “What are you looking for?”

“What does it matter to you?” She asks, not angry, not yet. Just curious. “Why would you care?”

Alastair hums. “I think you want to be useful.” The words make Roxy’s insides freeze, Ankara’s heat forgotten, her feet immobile on the pavement. “To be needed.” He steps out into the sunshine, and when he looks back at her, his lenses have turned dark, obscuring his eyes.

“Roxy,” he says, his voice low and serious. “The world needs you.”

-

Once, when Roxy was very young, still little Roxanne, her brother had been hospitalized for severe kidney problems. The doctors had tested every member of the family and offered their suggestions. Her mother had taken Roxy’s small hands in her own shaking ones and asked.

Roxy had said yes.

The day before the surgery, Alastair had walked into them, his own arm in a sling, and he’d angrily spoken in hushed whispers with Roxy’s parents before kneeling down in front of her, covering her hands with one of his own.

You don’t have to do this, he’d said. 

And Roxy’d known that, even without being told so, but it had been nice to be offered an out. To know that someone had her back. The knowledge had settled her nerves, given her the courage to smile at Alastair and push the words out.

But I want to.

Later, in the recovery room, she’d looked at her brother sleeping on the bed next to hers and had thought this is what I was born to do.

-

Alastair magically procures two first class plane tickets back to London that leave within three hours and promptly refuses to elaborate on the matter of this supposedly incredible job offer he has for her. It’s pretty suspicious, and if this were anybody other than Alastair, she’d be pulling out the pepper spray.

Sadly, the only thing Roxy likes more than a good horror game is a good mystery, and Alastair is a pretty compelling one.

They touch down in Heathrow and take a cab to Alastair’s flat in Camden, and it’s only when she’s shuffling in through the door with Alastair behind her that she realizes something.

“Do my parents know you’re with me?” She asks, toeing off her sneakers and peering over her shoulder to glare at Alastair. “If this was some convoluted scheme to get me back home, I swear—”

Alastair cuts her off. “They don’t know. You may tell them what you want—or alternatively, not tell them, after you accept the job offer.”

“Confident that I’ll say yes?” Roxy asks, following him into the living room. It’s nice: modern, minimalistic, all soft greys and navy blues. 

“That, or you won’t remember it in the first place,” Alastair says. From anybody else, it would sound like a threat. “But you’ve always been the kind to enjoy a challenge.”

He motions her over to where he’s standing by an innocuous coffee table, and once she’s squatting down beside him, he undoes a latch just out of sight, and slides the top of the table to reveal a cache of guns, with two knives and a pen. And a lighter. 

“What the hell,” Roxy says. She stays very still as Alastair takes a gun and loads it, and briefly considers trying to run for it. 

Then he turns and offers her the gun.

“Please don’t tell me you’re a hitman. Or an arms dealer.” She still takes the gun anyway, because she’d rather have a weapon. Just in case. 

Alastair straightens up, and Roxy follows reflexively, not wanting to have him towering over her. “It’s not as boring as that,” Alastair chides. He moves to one end of the living room. “Go stand over there, by the dining table.”

“Not as boring as a hitman,” Roxy says, raising an incredulous eyebrow at him but following his instructions anyway. 

She’s a good twenty feet away from him when he says, “Now shoot me.”

Unbelievable,” Roxy says in exasperation.

“Not in the head, of course. Aim for the torso. Preferably my suit jacket, if you please.”

“You’re a complete nutter,” she hisses, adjusting her grip hesitantly. She’s never held a pistol before; it’s different from the shotguns she used for clay pigeon shooting, but the grip of it is almost familiar, and Alastair is laughably close to her. Suicidally close. 

This is some kind of test. Roxy doesn’t know what, exactly, but she doesn’t have to take it. She can walk out, leave this behind, pretend it never happened. She could go…somewhere. Anywhere. 

But—

-

There used to be a time when she used to be a little more infatuated with the quirk of his smile, when she’d felt outnumbered, outranked, second-best no matter how often she ran the same race. Her family had been too small for her to fit, a fourth person in a three-person home, and when she’d finally clawed her way out, looking for a world to fit comfortably in, Alastair had left her a scrawled phone number and a note saying if you ever need me.

She’d never called the number, not even texted it, but she’s never once doubted that he’d come for her if she asked.

-

“Roxy, do you trust me?” 

She’s spent the last decade remembering Alastair with an arm in a sling, on his knees, his hand warm on hers, offering her an out. She’s kept a phone number crumpled in her wallet for the past four years. Alastair is the uncle Roxy never had, the only person she’s never had to correct even once ever since she started calling herself Roxy.

“Of course I do,” Roxy says. Aims, and fires.

-

Alastair’s suit turns out to be bulletproof. Not exactly a hundred percent impact-proof, though, so she punches his arm hard enough to see him wince.

“You could have just told me,” she says, and her voice shakes just a bit.

“It seemed like the most convincing way,” Alastair says, pulling out a tablet and sitting beside her on the couch. He sighs and apologizes for the third time. Then says, “And I needed to make sure you could do this.”

“What, be trigger-happy?” Roxy asks.

“In a way,” he says, which is ominous. Then he starts a video. “Alright, do you want to know what my job is?”

-

A spy. 

An actual, legitimate spy. Not even MI6. Something so secret that she’s never heard of it before. Alastair is right, she wouldn’t have believed him if it weren’t for the bulletproof suit.

It’s dangerous; his colleague is dead, body unrecovered, only his blood smeared over the hardwood floor of some distant cabin, and Alastair can’t promise she won’t end up like that, if she gets the job. She’ll kill people, hurt them. Save them if she’s lucky, do worse things if she’s not. There’s a million subheadings under the job description and they nearly stay up until sunrise discussing them, but it narrows down to this: nothing will matter but Roxy’s wits and skills and the greater good, and if she becomes a knight, there will be no coming back.

“I can work with that,” Roxy says. 

-

After some sleep and a hot shower, she calls home and informs her parents that she’s heading to Ukraine—Alastair agreed to provide her an alibi for the next several months she spent as a candidate—and follows Alastair into a shop on Savile Row. 

-

“Percival,” Roxy says, testing the codename on her tongue. “They actually call you that?”

“It’s tradition,” Alastair sighs. “I didn’t have much choice.”

“Lancelot is a good codename,” Roxy says, testing the waters. Alastair looks a little stricken every time he mentions the previous Lancelot, so she’s taking care to tread carefully around the subject. She wonders if the two of them used to be good friends. “You still haven’t told me why you’re choosing me as your candidate, though.”

The lift in the dressing room slows to a halt, revealing what seems like a miniature version of the Tube. They both settle into the seats, sitting across from each other, and Alastair looks at her. 

“You remind me of him.”

Before she can ask him what exactly he means by that, their ride takes off, and the words lurch away from her mouth, tumbling back down her throat.

-

The man named Merlin takes one look at Roxy and frowns at her, which makes her stomach twist, because she’d been warned that Kingsman was a male-dominated agency and that she might face some prejudice, but it still stings a little until he says, “Are your eyes always this bloodshot?”

Roxy blinks. “No, it’s just a lack of sleep. And jetlag.”

“Oh, good.” Merlin nods at Alastair and beckons to Roxy. “You’re the first to arrive, so you might want to take a nap before the others show up.”

Alastair squeezes Roxy’s elbow and lets go. He doesn’t say anything, but that’s okay. Roxy already has everything she needs.

-

There’s only one other girl, Amelia, amongst Roxy’s fellow candidates, and it looks like there’s already a trio of wankers, oozing superiority from every pore. Digby has been leering at Amelia and Roxy for nearly an hour when the door opens and another boy walks in.

For the past thirty minutes, Charlie’s been talking to Roxy like she’s been reserved a seat at the bottom of the food chain that is going to be their group of candidates, possibly because Roxy is the smallest candidate in the room, most definitely because he’s a sexist little shit. 

The way his eyes light up though, that’s a sign that Roxy’s been bumped up to second-last in the food chain in favor of the new candidate. What a prick. 

Just in hopes of spiting Charlie, she introduces herself to the new boy—Eggsy, what a curious name—and is surprised to find that he has a friendly smile and absolutely no attitude whatsoever about her and Amelia as fellow candidates. 

With Amelia, and possibly Eggsy, Roxy might survive this recruitment phase without actually stabbing one of the asshole trio’s eyes out. That’s what she hopes, at any rate.

-

She writes Alastair’s name and personal details as her next of kin on the body bag, then raises her chin in a silent dare at Merlin when he comes by to check their body bags before lights out.

Merlin’s lips quirk up the slightest bit into an approving smirk, and he moves on without a word.

-

There’s only Eggsy to depend on to hold her back if she ever tries to break Rufus’s neck, now. Amelia is gone, zipped into her body bag and carried away, and Roxy wonders whose details were written on it. If Amelia’s parents or sibling or whoever she wrote down was going to have a cold body delivered to them, no explanations offered.

“You alright?” Eggsy asks under his breath as they make their beds and get ready for their first morning, whatever that entails. Hopefully not another dead body.

“If Rufus makes one more snide comment about Amelia, he won’t be alright,” Roxy mutters.

Eggsy bumps his shoulder against hers in understanding, his eyes wistful when he turns to glance at Amelia’s empty bed. 

She wonders if Eggsy thinks the same thoughts that occupy the back of Roxy’s mind, the ever-rising litany of what ifs. Roxy has four trophies for swimming tournaments, gathering dust somewhere back home, and she’d give them all up for a redo, to go back to last night so she could pull Amelia’s hand towards the showers.

-

Merlin tells them to pick a puppy and Roxy freezes. She watches Piers eagerly lift a pup and Rufus bicker with Digby over a yipping, energetic puppy, and it’s only when Eggsy’s nudging her that she remembers to move forward towards the cages.

Eventually, she picks the poodle because all the other remaining puppies shy away from her, and if the poodle seems a little disinterested in her, well. That’s a trend in Roxy’s family life that she’s gotten used to.

She names the poodle Meredith. It was one of the names her parents considered before they settled on Roxanne instead.

When she tells Eggsy her new companion’s name, he grins, already recovered from the revelation of JB’s breed. “So like, you can call her Merry for short, yeah?”

Roxy shoots him a dirty look. “Don’t even try.”

-

A couple weeks into training, Roxy is surprised by three things:

1. Hugo is an unexpected ally. He’s very quiet and soft-spoken, but at one point, when the dick trio makes yet another dig at Roxy’s gender, Hugo gives them a nasty look and a clipped you’re an insult to your mothers, which shuts the moron à trois up pretty quick. Turns out that Hugo has two very beloved sisters, which endears him to Eggsy almost immediately. 

2. Which leads to the revelation that Eggsy is one of the most maternal, protective human beings Roxy has ever met. He doesn’t look the part at all, but he spoils JB by letting him sleep on the bed with him, coos at Meredith more than Roxy even feeds her—she’s resigned to the fact that Meredith will wag her tail whenever Eggsy says c’mere, Merry—and he’ll talk nonstop about his baby sister to Roxy or Hugo whenever he gets a chance. It’s kind of cute and nauseating at the same time. 

(Roxy does not think about what it would be like, to have Eggsy as an older brother instead of Edmond.)

3. As protective and touchingly loyal as Eggsy is, he doesn’t have to defend Roxy at all. He’s got her back, as evidenced by how he never leaves a training exercise without her and how he smiles with his teeth whenever one of the Three Jerk-eteers make snide comments at Roxy, but he knows full well that Roxy can defend herself. 

Defending herself, Roxy finds out, is not very hard. Her three annoying fellow candidates are just that: annoying. They make lewd comments and imply many insulting things about both Roxy’s gender and her relationship with Eggsy, and aren’t above the occasional prank or two, but that’s really the gist of it. Once she tunes out their schoolboy antics, all that’s really left is their training, and nobody’s stupid enough to try sabotage anybody else on purpose when Merlin is watching their every move, just ready to send them packing. 

And Roxy is acing her training. 

“Where did you learn something like that?” Eggsy asks, wobbling back upright from the mat Roxy just threw him onto. They’re practicing hand-to-hand combat in preparation for tomorrow’s session, which Merlin promised would be a world of pain, and Roxy’s demonstrating how to flip a significantly larger opponent. 

Eggsy’s been trained for combat in the Marines, but he’s hardly ever put the training into use; it makes her wonder what kind of life he’s been living, because she’s seen the bruises on his torso, and someone who has the means to fight back but chose not to indicates something darker than just an impoverished background. There must be a reason that Eggsy talks about his sister all the time but never his parents.

“My uncle taught me,” Roxy says, because there’s no easy way to explain Alastair’s role in Roxy’s life. It feels accurate enough. 

“Was that your idea or his?” Eggsy asks, stretching his back. 

“Mine,” Roxy says, and pauses.

Roxy is doing well well in training. She’s top of the class for basic hand-to-hand and code-breaking. She’s second in marksmanship behind Eggsy, and she hasn’t failed a single task during the past month they’ve been here. Most of it is Roxy’s competitiveness spurring her on, but a small fraction of it is experience, of codes already learned and defensive postures in her muscle memory.

In hindsight, Roxy’s been preparing for this for a very long time.

-

“How long have you been planning to propose me as a candidate?” 

Alastair pauses, flicking the safety on for his firearm before lowering it and looking at Roxy. The firing range is empty, save for the two of them, and the ensuing silence is almost deafening. 

“You kept implying that I should know how to defend myself before I went to uni, then you dropped hints about how you knew judo until I asked you to teach me,” Roxy says. “You were the one who suggested my father take me clay pigeon shooting, when I was in secondary.”

“Are you suggesting that I groomed you for the job?” Alastair asks, and he has an amused look on his face, which means Roxy is right.

“You got me a book on code-breaking for my birthday and then communicated with me through code for six months,” Roxy points out. “I was fourteen. How long have you been planning this?”

“Roughly since around then,” Alastair says. “Took a while because we didn’t need to replace any candidates for the past seventeen years.” 

That’s, well. Huh. “So I reminded you of the previous Lancelot since I was that young?”

“In the sense that you both had more potential than your families ever could have imagined, yes.” Alastair sighs, like Roxy’s potential predecessor is still a bruise that aches to press his fingers to. “I thought you deserved better.”

That’s at least eight years. Eight years of trusting Roxy even more than she’d trusted herself. It’s a little astounding, and humbling, too.

“I won’t disappoint you,” Roxy promises.

Alastair flicks his safety back off. “I doubt you ever could.”

-

They’ve barely been at HQ for a month when Roxy discovers what Eggsy looks like when he’s forcing a smile. 

“Is something wrong?” She asks between memory tasks. Eggsy’s distraction is obvious in the way he falters and mixes items up, his scores dropping every round. Even more obvious is Merlin’s silence; he’s reprimanded Charlie’s unsubtle gloating only once, and hasn’t even said a word to bring Eggsy back to attention. 

“It’s fine,” Eggsy says. The upturned curve of his mouth is so strained that it hurts to look at it. “Don’t worry about me.”

After training, Roxy is following Eggsy out the room when Merlin says her name softly, stopping her. “The agent who proposed him is in a coma, and we’re not sure when he’ll wake up.” Merlin explains, gentle in a way she would not have expected him to be capable of. “Take care of the lad, will you?

“Of course, sir,” Roxy says. Like she even needs to be asked.

-

“Me step-dad used to hit me,” Eggsy exhales after eons of silence, his shoulder against hers, the stars bright above them. Her back feels damp from lying on the grass too long. “Still does. Me and me mum. And we didn’t even fight back, ‘cause he coulda hurt Daisy, and we didn’t have anywhere else to go. I could’ve hit him back, but the fallout woulda been hell.” He swallows, presses closer towards her. “I always was so fuckin’ angry ‘bout how useless I was.”

It’s strange, to hear Eggsy tell her about the broken parts of his life, the parts that people prefer to hide or masquerade as whole. It’s a little frightening, to know that Eggsy trusts her enough to give her this, when he still doesn’t even know that Roxy has a brother.

“But I’m here and, uh, the guy who proposed me said he’ll make sure nothin’ bad happens to me mum or sis while I’m here, and he’s the whole reason I got this chance, and, now we don’t know when he’ll wake up. He coulda died, and I woulda never thanked him for—fuck.” Eggsy scrubs at his face, with one hand. “I feel useless. I never felt so scared before.”

If Alastair were the one with a breathing tube down his throat right now, Roxy’d be terrified, too. She doesn’t know if Eggsy’s relationship with the man who proposed him is anything like the one she shares with Alastair, but the way Eggsy holds her hand like the world is about to fall apart, the way his voice trembles and breaks—

She squeezes his hand, holds on tight.

-

They’re allowed to contact their families whenever they want—they have Kingsman issued phones for the duration of their training, their own phones confiscated—though it’s obvious that all of their calls are monitored.

Eggsy calls his mum twice a week, lying his face off about how he’s gotten an internship outside of the city, even introducing Roxy as his fellow intern friend so that Roxy can assure the poor woman that Eggsy isn’t causing trouble and that she shouldn’t worry about her son. 

“If you die during a training exercise and your mum hunts me down for lying about this, I will bring you back from the dead and kill you all over again,” Roxy promises.

“Don’t think you’d know how to bring someone back from the dead, Rox,” Eggsy says, grinning. The strain’s gone from his smile, but Roxy knows he’s still worried. He disappears for an hour or so every once in a while, then reappears smelling like a hospital room.

“I bet Merlin would,” Roxy says. Eggsy shudders and nods in agreement.

Roxy rarely calls back home. She calls maybe once a month, goes through the perfunctory motions (hello, I’m fine, how are you, I’ll call you again later) and hardly spends ten minutes speaking with her parents. She always makes her calls when she’s alone, Meredith curled at her feet. 

So she’s caught off-guard when her mother says, “Edmond’s wedding is in three weeks.”

-

“I’m sure Merlin wouldn’t mind rescheduling your exam,” Alastair says. He’d been gone on some mission, nothing Roxy has the clearance to know about, but he’s back with a slight limp and tender ribs, judging by the way he’s cradling his side. “He’s more considerate than you think.”

“It’s part of the job, isn’t it?” Roxy looks back down, forces her shaking arms into another pushup. “We have to make sacrifices.” 

Alastair sighs, but he doesn’t disagree. “I’ll give them your regards,” he says.

-

The day of the wedding, Roxy gets a text from her brother. It just says wish you were here.

She types back, I’m sorry. Congratulations, Edmond. She doesn’t type I wish I were there, too because she doesn’t want to lie any more than she already has to.

-

Training gets harder, to the point where Roxy’s prior experiences and skills don’t give her a boost over other candidates anymore. She struggles through the advanced obstacle course—Eggsy and Charlie fight over first place for that one—and while she’s still placing within the top three for advanced hand-to-hand, waking up with screaming muscles and bruises everywhere is becoming more and more commonplace.

At one point, they spend three days learning different techniques on how to resist and deflect during interrogation.

On the fourth day, all the candidates are separated and locked into a room for another three days, each day a little more stressful than the last. It’s not anywhere near real torture—which is a rather frightening thought—but sleep deprivation, moderate starvation, and being alternately slapped around then sweetly coaxed at by someone she’s never met before wears Roxy’s nerves down considerably.

“I’m going to break one of your fingers now,” says the blank-faced young man who’s been wearing Roxy down for three days. “It’s something you’ll have to get used to, at any rate. Don’t worry, you’ll heal back just fine.”

And Roxy knows that she won’t die from this, because this is just part of their training, but she has no idea what the protocols are for smaller injuries, like dislocated joints or fractured bones, the things that will heal over eventually. He just might actually break all of her fingers today and it could be standard procedure, just another task to accomplish. It’s definitely illegal, probably unethical hiring practice—but hell, Amelia had died because of this, and Kingsman was an independent organization, unbound by law or any higher authorities.

Roxy could die right now, right here, and her parents would never know it happened.

The man starts bending her left middle finger back, and Roxy goes very still in the chair she’s tied to and pushes the panic down, starts counting in German.

She gets to acht and feels her hand being released, the man undoing the ropes around her wrists. “Well done, that’s all for your applied interrogation resistance course. Merlin will be waiting for you at the infirmary for a checkup.”

Roxy releases a shaky breath, rubbing at the red marks on her skin. 

“Sorry about that,” the man says, undoing her ankles as well.

She gives him a rather sore middle finger, the one he’d almost bent backwards, and he just laughs and helps her to the door.

-

“If Kingsman is an independent organization, doesn’t it mean that there’s no accountability?” Roxy asks, lifting her shirt up so that Merlin can check for any bruising that might indicate damage more than skin-deep. “It could easily become a corrupt organization without anybody to hold it accountable.”

Merlin hums, gesturing for her to lower her shirt back down. “In a sense, yes, though that goes the same for nearly any organization that doesn’t have its inner workings visible to the public. We just have the added bonus of having relatively little bureaucracy to deal with.” He frowns at the red marks on her wrists and turns to pull open a cabinet. “Sometimes bureaucracy is a corrupting factor.”

“Still,” Roxy says, taking the ointment he offers her and applying it to her sore skin. “How do you know that you’re making the right call when you don’t have to answer to anybody else?”

“If it’s the integrity of our organization you want to question, I can’t help you there. I could show you our past track record, but future corruption is always possible.” Merlin motions for her to roll up her sleeve, brandishing an empty syringe. “You either trust Kingsman or you don’t. That’s why your candidacy is so bloody long.”

“Wasn’t that because you want to evaluate us in detail?” Roxy asks, watching Merlin draw blood.

“It’s also a chance for you to evaluate Kingsman before you pledge the rest of your life to it,” Merlin says easily, like it’s obvious. “In the end, you have to choose to trust us, or there’s no point in you being an agent.”

Roxy mulls that over, standing from where she was perched on the edge of the bed. “Funny that you think I can evaluate an organization when we’re not even allowed to meet half of the staff.”

That earns her a smirk. “Then maybe you should start with trusting the people you know.”

-

Nathaniel apparently went home after he somehow failed the interrogation resistance course, which loosens some of the anxiety in Roxy’s gut with the knowledge that not everybody ends up like Amelia, so there’s another empty bed in their room now. 

“You look like shit,” Eggsy says, JB cuddled against his chest. He looks remarkably chirpy for someone who must’ve suffered a similar three day course of pain like Roxy—in fact, Eggsy’s the only person sitting upright in the room right now. Hugo’s huddled under his covers, and even Charlie’s just groaning softly, sprawled across his bed.

“Shut up,” Roxy says. “How are you even smiling right now, you dick.” 

“Been through worse,” Eggsy says with a shrug. Roxy thinks about Eggsy’s family life, decides that Eggsy probably deserves a hug, then resolves to hug him later when she feels less like she’s about to keel over and die.

She hasn’t been apart from Meredith for longer than thirty minutes at a time for the past three months. Meredith wags her tail, circling around Roxy, and Roxy’s never been happier to scoop her up—oh, her back just violently protested that—and collapse onto her own bed, snuggling the poodle into her chest. Now that she’s relaxed and not in danger of having cold water poured on her to wake her up, the exhaustion seeps into every pore of her body, weighing her down. “If I die, you can keep Meredith. And you better become Lancelot, or I’ll come back and haunt you.”

“I think Merry doesn’t want anybody else to take care of her other than you,” Eggsy says, and Meredith chooses that exact moment to lick Roxy’s chin. Roxy resolutely tells herself that it’s biologically impossible for her heart to actually melt from that.

-

NLP training is hell. They learn theories and scenarios and tactics, practicing with one another in pairs—Hugo joins her and Eggsy since their group is an odd number—and then learning how to adjust and improvise depending on the target. 

Which is how their first task is to practice their NLP skills on Merlin.

“He’s the same age as my dad,” Piers says, looking like he wishes the ground would swallow him whole.

Digby, being the raging homophobic prick that he is, keeps making very nasty comments, but for once Rufus and Charlie are ignoring him. Hugo, who admitted to being asexual a short while ago, seems determined to do well. Eggsy, on the other hand, looks much too excited about this.

“This is going to be fun,” Eggsy says, bouncing on the balls of his feet. 

“It’s going to be a disaster,” Roxy says.

-

All of them fail spectacularly.

Roxy wants to erase her memories of the entire day, except for the part where Merlin had actually laughed, warm and amused, before telling her I think you can do better than that.

Merlin is handsome when he laughs. Who knew?

-

Infuriatingly, Roxy receives poor scores for the next two NLP tasks, and there’s a larger seduction task scheduled for next week, so Roxy’s studying in the lounge when Eggsy bursts inside, JB pattering behind him.

“What,” is all Roxy manages before she’s engulfed in Eggsy’s tight embrace.

“He’s awake,” Eggsy says, and he’s shaking all over.

“Oh.” Then the words hit her properly and she gasps louder. “Oh. Did you see him? Is he alright?”

Eggsy laughs, hugging her tighter. “He’s okay. I can’t go see him yet, but Merlin’s gonna tell me when I can go say hi.” His exhale is wobbly, full of tears. “Thank fuck, he’s okay.”

They sit in the lounge together, Eggsy leaning into her side while she reads through her book, quibbling over how to best chat someone up until Eggsy’s phone beeps. He smiles wide, like the sun shining after a rainy week, then apologizes to Roxy before running off.

She’s starting to get the feeling that Eggsy’s relationship with his agent might be a lot less familial than the one she has with Alastair.

-

Eggsy’s good mood is infectious. She has no idea what happened when he went to talk to his agent, but it’s enough to keep him aggressively cheerful throughout the week. Rufus’s snide comments just bounce right off of him, as do Charlie’s sneers, and the collective failure of the annoying trio’s attempts to dampen Eggsy’s good mood does wonders for Roxy’s mood as well. She manages to outdo half the class for their main seduction task, with Eggsy placing second out of sheer bloody smiling willpower and Hugo taking first.

Even Merlin looks a lot less stern. Whether that’s because of Eggsy, or because he’s relieved that their agent is back, or if because Merlin is friends with the agent—well, it’s a good look on him.

-

Roxy’s mother tells her that Edmond’s wife is pregnant, already a month along, and asks her when she’s coming back. 

Rozy makes the same empty promises as usual: soon, perhaps next month, give me some time.

-

Merlin dumps a surprise task on them by dropping them in the middle of nowhere, in another country, then telling them to return to HQ within twenty-four hours. Anyone who doesn’t make it back within the deadline is automatically going home.

The fact that Roxy’s only wearing her underwear and the only other item she has is her Kingsman-issued phone is just the icing on the cake.

She gives Eggsy a call, because why the hell not. “I think I’m in Germany.”

“Fuck, I’m freezing, I think I’m in—is this Denmark?!”

“Good luck,” Roxy says, commiserating. She’s making a mental list of items she’ll need to cross back to England without a passport. Clothes would be a priority.

“You too,” Eggsy says, sighing, and he hangs up.

The stars are bright, the air isn’t too cold, and Roxy can read the road signs. Alastair didn’t suggest Roxy’s backpacking trip across the continent, but she’s prepared for this one all the same.

-

Roxy is the first one back in HQ. Eggsy is third, only fifteen minutes after Charlie, and he looks like he could use a good shower.

“You look like shit,” Roxy chirps at him, scratching behind Meredith’s ears.

“Shut up. I almost got arrested. Twice.” Eggsy sniffs at himself and scowls. “How the fuck did you get here so fast? You texted me two hours ago.”

Roxy gives him her best smug smile. “I’ve been through worse.”

Digby returns while Eggsy’s finishing his shower, and Hugo arrives shortly after, a little banged up but overall fine. Rufus makes it back four minutes before the time limit with a black eye, which is a disappointing confirmation that the moronic trio is still in the running.

Piers, who never made it out of Spain, is extracted and sent home, leaving six candidates for Lancelot.

-

Somehow, despite the fact that Eggsy was the one who had to sneak his way out of Scandinavia to the UK, Roxy is the one who ends up catching the flu after their twenty-four hour mission impossible stunt.

She’d complain about it, except she’s too busy coughing her lungs out and trying not to vomit all over herself every time she opens her mouth, so she settles for glaring at Eggsy and drinking another liter of water to convince her throat that she’s not actually swallowing glass, she just has a very swollen nodes. 

“Rox, I’m pretty sure you need to lie down,” Eggsy says, his maternal instincts switched up to eleven. “There’s no way you’re doing anything today other than staying horizontal.”

“I’m not going home,” Roxy says, and her fever must be higher than she thought, because her mouth keeps moving without her permission. “I hate home. Everybody doesn’t want me there.” Eggsy shushes her, pressing a cool palm to her forehead while she keeps mumbling, “I don’t want to go home and be useless again.”

“I don’t think Merlin would send you home just ‘cause you’re human and got sick,” Eggsy says. “If he does, I am havin’ words with him, you hear me? Okay, you’re burnin’ up, can you walk to—”

-

Roxy wakes up to find herself in the infirmary, tucked into a bed, and Meredith sleeping in a chair pulled up to the bedside. Her thoughts are hazy in her brain, like her head’s been stuffed with cotton, and she just stays curled on her side under the blanket, staring unblinkingly at her dog.

“You passed out earlier this morning,” comes a familiar voice with a lilting accent. “Eggsy wanted to stay, but I sent him to a training exercise. He’ll be back.” A pause. “He also told me to inform you that I won’t send you back home for this.”

Merlin comes into view, his eyebrows furrowed in what looks like concern. 

“You have a 39.4 degree fever, and trust me, if you were an agent I would have ordered you to be on bed rest instead of going out on a mission anyway. I didn’t send Charlie home for his gastritis last month. What makes you think I’d send you off just for pneumonia?” Merlin tugs her blanket up. “You’ll have remedial sessions once your health recovers. Don’t worry about anything else until then.”

All of Roxy’s insides loosen, like her ribcage had been constricted with some awful corset and suddenly the corset’s been cut off. She can breathe easier, the relief drowning her into dreamless sleep, and she could swear she feels a warm hand in her hair, cupping her forehead. Making her feel safe. 

-

It takes Roxy two days to start feeling like a human being with an appetite again, and another full day to be able to be approved of leaving the infirmary. Merlin checks on her fairly often, and Eggsy spends every free minute he has keeping her company, proving again that he’s the kind of friend that Roxy isn’t sure she deserves.

By the time Roxy’s back in their dormitory room, again ignoring Digby’s insinuations that the fairer sex is too fragile for this kind of job, she hopes that whatever the outcome of this is, whoever becomes Lancelot, she hopes Eggsy will still be her friend.

-

Eggsy is going to be Roxy’s best friend from now until the grave. That’s what happens when two people plummet towards the ground believing that they have only one parachute between them. That’s the kind of traumatizing experience that helps people bond for life. 

By the time Roxy stops shaking and feeling like she’s about to scream again, Eggsy’s joining her in the dormitory room, looking chuffed for someone who was so pissed off ten minutes ago.

“Merlin ain’t that bad,” Eggsy says, then his smirk widens. “Looks like Charlie has no friends now, yeah?”

Which is true, now that Roxy thinks about it. There’s only three candidates left. And Roxy’s pretty sure that the next person to go will be Charlie. At least, that’s what she hopes. 

That would leave her and Eggsy competing for one seat.

Not that she has reservations about it. Eggsy’s protective, but he’s also pretty competitive, and Roxy’s never had more fun trying to one-up someone than she has had with Eggsy. If Eggsy wins, he’d deserve the title of Lancelot. Of course, Roxy plans on taking the title herself, and she plans to do her best in whatever remaining tasks they have.

Having alternatives, however, is always important. Thus she finds herself knocking on the door to Merlin’s quarters, where he usually works while he’s at HQ. She hears him give permission for her to enter and walks in, question already lined up on her tongue.

“I was wondering, do you ever take candidates into different positions if they fail to become a knight?” She blinks and realizes that Merlin’s kneeling on the floor, wiping something away. “Is everything alright?”

Merlin grunts. “Spilled my coffee while I was overseeing your damn parachute task.”

“Got nervous about us, did you?” Roxy teases, noting the shattered mug lying in the center of the spill. “You did say we made a new record.”

“Thought it might be a record where I had to actually scrape two people off the lawn,” Merlin says, mopping up the last of the coffee and then turning to focus on her. “So what’s with the interest in alternative positions? I doubt it’s because you’re suddenly scared of becoming a knight.”

“Just curious if Eggsy and I could both work together,” Roxy says, her mind still caught over the jagged edges of Merlin’s mug, of the idea of unflappable, seasoned Kingsman magician Merlin dropping his mug because he’d been worried about Eggsy and Roxy plummeting to possible death. Merlin, who’s every bit as much of a paternal, protective human being as Eggsy is a maternal, protective one.

Merlin cares about them. Eggsy’s right; Merlin isn’t that bad at all. 

-

When Roxy wakes up tied to the train tracks, her first thought is Merlin would be so disappointed that I fell for such a stupid trap.

Her second thought is Eggsy.

Her third thought, with the train thundering closer and the raging anger that pulses through her as she squirms against the ropes, shrieking her fury at this man who’s demanding Alastair’s identity, is I hope Alastair doesn’t blame himself for this.

-

Her first thought upon seeing Alastair standing above her, smiling like he expected nothing less of her, is that fucking bastard

-

They spend twenty-four hours in Alastair’s house, Roxy quizzing Alastair about everything regarding Kingsman except for what the final task is. Alastair patiently tells her everything she wants to know, within what he’s capable of telling her.

Alastair’s grandfather was one of the founding members of Kingsman, which was founded roughly right after World War I. Alastair’s father was the former Percival, who had proposed his then-eighteen-year-old son as his candidate as soon as his Parkinson’s had raised its ugly head. Alastair had succeeded his father and became the youngest knight in the organization, and that was around the time they began the selection process for the new Lancelot as well.

After Eggsy’s father died—which is an unsettling subject even though Eggsy’s told her about it twice already—James Spencer inherited the title as Lancelot. Older than Percival by a few years, but the only other agent close to Alastair’s age, he and Alastair had developed a fairly close relationship.

“So you were friends,” Roxy hedges. She’s curious whether there was anything more to it than friendship, but even now, six months after the previous Lancelot’s death, it feels too soon to ask. She’s not sure she’ll ever ask.

“He was annoying,” Alastair says without bite. “But he was a good agent, and he made a good drinking partner.”

The previous Lancelot, it seems, was an upbeat, efficient professional in close-combat and a specialist in tracking people down. “Not that he was worth a damn in undercover,” Alastair grumbles. Undercover work is Alastair’s domain. “He’s just as bad as Galahad, always blowing covers because of impatience.”

Galahad. Eggsy’s agent, the one Eggsy looks at like he hung the moon and stars. The one who looks at Eggsy like he’s never adored anybody more in his life. Roxy asks, “So what’s this Galahad like?” 

She wheedles Alastair into telling her about Galahad, then Arthur, then the other current knights. She learns that Galahad is their oldest active field agent, one of the best agents in a firefight and apparently a wolf under sheepskin, and that Kay and Bedivere would most likely take a while before grudgingly accepting another female knight—the last woman who’d been a knight was the previous Tristan—while Arthur would be a misogynist prick but would probably have the manners not to be so in Roxy’s face.

(There’s a subtle set to Alastair’s jaw when he says that. It’s entirely possible that Arthur is a bit of a dick and Alastair doesn’t appreciate it.)

She also learns that once she becomes Lancelot, she’ll be assigned the previous Lancelot’s handler. Kingsman is very big on inheriting things, it seems.

“You’ll get along with her,” Alastair says. “You’ll be dead in the field if you don’t.”

Turns out that Alastair’s mother was his father’s handler, right up until she retired with him to care for him until he passed away a decade ago. “It really is a family business for you, isn’t it,” Roxy marvels. “You could continue the tradition if you ever had kids.”

“I have continued the tradition,” Alastair says in an even voice. There’s a hint of an upwards curve to his lips. “You’re the niece I never had, Roxy.”

-

Right at the end of their twenty-four hours, they part ways in front of the shop on Savile Row so that Roxy can return to HQ and Alastair can go do his work as Percival in some remote area in Belgium.

“This is your last chance to walk away,” Alastair says. “Choose carefully.”

Roxy smiles and bids him a safe journey. Takes a deep breath before entering the shop.

-

Merlin hands her a gun and says, “Shoot the dog.”

Meredith looks up at her, tongue lolling out, obediently sitting on the plastic spread on the floor. The plastic so that it’s easy to clean up after—

-

The thing is, even after her best attempts to grill Alastair about Kingsman and the people in it, she still doesn’t know if she can trust the organization. If she can trust them to give her the right orders and guide her through a mission while she’s blindfolded. Alastair says that it’s the kind of trust that takes time, the kind of trust you have to constantly reevaluate in their line of work, but Roxy doesn’t know if she can do that.

Merlin though, Alastair had mentioned, he would trust no matter what.

And it’s too early for Roxy to say she knows everything about Kingsman, to say she trusts her own life and more in their hands, but she knows Merlin. She knows that he doesn’t put up with bigotry or bullshit, that he will never sugarcoat anything or gloss over someone’s mistakes, but that he gives compliments that are deserved and he smiles warmly when he thinks nobody’s looking. She knows that Merlin has a deep belly-laugh, that his hands are gentle when they’re checking her temperature, that he panics at the idea of losing his candidates. 

Roxy isn’t sure about Kingsman, but she knows Merlin rules a good majority of the organization with an iron fist and that she can agree with Alastair on this count: if it’s Merlin’s voice in her ear, telling her where to aim and when to pull the trigger, she’d trust him not to give her an order that they’d regret.

This is her choice. She can choose to trust Merlin, choose Kingsman for the rest of her life, or she can walk away.

-

She makes her choice and pulls the trigger.

-

Later, when she remembers Alastair in his bulletproof suit, saying now shoot me, she’ll realize that she should have seen this coming. 

Now, though, she feels her breath shudder out of herself, the concussive sound of the gunshot still ringing through her bones, her knees buckling as she slumps to the floor. She opens her arms and buries her face in soft fur, her voice breaking out of her. “Good girl, Merry. Good girl.”

Thank god Eggsy isn’t here to make fun of her for caving in to shortening Meredith’s name.

Eggsy,” Roxy gasps, lifting her face, looking up at Merlin. “What about Eggsy?”

-

Eggsy is gone, JB in tow and without even so much as a goodbye, and that shouldn’t feel like a slap in the face, but it does. Because this means that Eggsy made his choice, refused to pull the trigger, and he’ll think that Roxy shot her dog in cold blood. 

Eggsy isn’t like that, she reminds herself, packing her things from the dormitory room to move into an official knight’s quarters. Eggsy is loyal, and he’s generous, and he might be an idiot sometimes, but he’s Eggsy. He’s the best friend she’s ever had. Just one gunshot shouldn’t be able to eradicate six months’ worth of friendship.

She pulls up Eggsy’s number, because he left with his Kingsman-issued phone—and a Kingsman-issued cab, for heaven’s sake—and stares at it, wondering. She thinks he’ll pick up if she calls, would even say yes if she asked to see him again. But the possibility that he might say no, that he might not even pick up the phone makes her insides freeze.

Eggsy isn’t like that, she repeats to herself. But it still feels like abandonment, like rejection. Like he doesn’t want to be her friend anymore.

-

When Eggsy returns after Merlin first informs her that Galahad is dead and then Arthur is dead, Roxy is on edge. She hopes Eggsy understands that she’s not holding a gun to him just because she’s pissed that he left without saying goodbye first.

“Shouldn’t we be contacting other agents for help?” Roxy asks, when they’re rushing into the jet with the equipment Merlin dragged out of a lab. HQ is relatively empty today, so they don’t run into anybody except a couple technicians who stare at them running by. 

“If Arthur compromised anybody else in the organization and we alert them, they might give Valentine a heads up. We can’t risk the countdown speeding up any more than it is.” They have roughly five hours and thirty minutes left on the clock. “Even if we confirmed who’s compromised or not, there’s no way anybody would make it to Siberia within the time limit. Not to mention that we’ll be the only ones with an invitation,” Merlin adds, tapping the dead Arthur’s phone.

“If we fail,” Roxy says, because she’s thinking about the dead Galahad, thinking about Alastair still in Belgium, unprepared and unaware. Eggsy sits with his teeth gritted and his cheeks flushed with anger, and Roxy knows the costs are too high, already paid with blood. “They’ll be blindsided.”

“It’s our job to stop it from coming to that,” Merlin says, prepping the jet for takeoff. “I have a plan, so listen carefully.”

-

As they set up the balloons so Roxy can go up to shoot down a satellite, Eggsy holds her hands and says, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Roxy mutters. “I’m the one who shot my bloody dog.”

“Rox, I don’t think any less of you for that.” Eggsy hugs her tight. “I just felt like a fool, I wasn’t thinking. Should’ve at least congratulated you before I left.”

“To be fair, I wouldn’t have done it if Arthur was the one who asked me to, either,” Roxy admits. 

Eggsy squeezes her tighter. “When we get back, drinks are on me.”

They’re still friends. Thank god. 

“I’ll be holding you to that,” Roxy says, and holds on for just a moment longer.

-

After Roxy regains the ability to breathe and sit upright like a human being, she keeps one ear on the comms to listen to Eggsy rushing his way back to the jet and starts dialing her parents. She wants to dial Alastair first, but Merlin said he’s already put some of his more trustworthy staff in charge of vetting Kingsman staff and sending un-compromised agents to safety, as well as working on alternative methods to prevent the global disaster.

Her mother picks up on the second ring. “Roxy?”

There’s no time for pleasantries. “Mum, I need you to do exactly as I tell you to.”

-

Her parents are hesitant but willing to indulge her for the next couple hours. Her parents don’t have Valentine’s SIM cards, so she tells them to leave their phones on but have the rest of the household staff turn their phones off for the rest of the day. She emphasizes the importance of this, and also tells them to lock down the house and to stay indoors for the entire day. 

“Where’s Edmond?” She asks, as she hears Merlin tell Eggsy that he needs to go back inside. 

“Outside with Irene. Harrods, I think,” her mum says, and Roxy’s heart sinks. 

“Try calling Irene and tell them to go somewhere private,” she instructs, her heart in her throat as she hears the sound of Eggsy wading back into a firefight. “I’ll call Edmond.”

She dials Edmond and counts every second, every gunshot that rings in her earpiece, and when Edmond picks up she can hear that the new satellite is already at twenty percent to completing the chain. “Hello? Roxy?”

“Edmond, I know this is sudden, but I need you to go somewhere private, right now.” He won’t even make it home before the satellite chain is reconnected. “Go to the nearest bathroom.”

“What the hell, Roxy, you call me up for the first time in practically a year and you want me to go to the bathroom?” Edmonds voice shifts from incredulous to angry. “You didn’t even come to my wedding because you were traipsing around Europe—”

“I know, I’m sorry, but Edmond, you really must—”

“—and I know you hate me and I know I deserve it a bit, but we’ve been trying to make it up to you for years—”

“—you need to go somewhere safe, please, listen to me—”

“—and you don’t care that you’re going to be an aunt, why did I even think you’d be interested? Look, can you just come home, for once? So that I can actually talk to you? Just, fuck, I’ll talk to you later.”

And Edmond hangs up.

“No,” Roxy hisses. She hits redial and is sent directly to his voicemail. “No, no.” She’s about to hit redial again when Eggsy’s voice comes over the comms, urgent and defeated. 

“Rox, I need a favor.”

-

She doesn’t know if Eggsy’s mum and sister are okay. She doesn’t know if Edmond and Irene are okay. She doesn’t know if Alastair’s okay.

She doesn’t know anything, really, except for the fact that they just saved the world and that they’ve ended up blowing up a lot of important people’s heads. That Merlin is proud of them. That they saved the world but not everybody in it.

That Eggsy is a shaking, miserable mess, bruised and bloodied and looking almost exactly like the man who used to sit in Galahad’s seat.

Roxy isn’t in much better shape.

They squeeze together onto a seat on the jet, Roxy half sitting on Eggsy, curled around each other, and they both ignore the world outside for a while.

-

Alastair is waiting for them when they touch down at HQ.

“Oh god, you’re okay,” Roxy says and throws her arms around him. “You’re okay.”

“Welcome back from your first mission,” Alastair says, his arms coming around her. “I’m proud of you, Roxy.”

Merlin and Eggsy come up behind her, and she hears Alastair greet them both before letting her go. She steps back and notices a slender Asian girl with a pixie cut standing off to the side, a tablet in her hands.

“This is Min SunWoo, the previous Lancelot’s handler,” Alastair introduces. “She’ll be your handler from now on, as long as you’re a good fit.”

Min smiles and nods at Roxy, then Eggsy. She looks just as tired as Roxy feels. “We have a status report for you,” she says, looking at Merlin. “And I have coffee waiting for you in the meeting room.”

“Oh, fucking hell,” Merlin mutters. Eggsy and Roxy look at each other and agree with the sentiment.

-

Kingsman casualties are shockingly minimal. Min and several other handlers at HQ, having been alerted of the situation by Merlin, had promptly looked into all of the previous Arthur’s interactions with other Kingsman members beginning from the moment Valentine had set foot on Savile Row, and had cleared all foreign Kingsman branches from suspicion and send out an alarm. 

None of the other knights from the UK branch had been compromised, though Ector had been in deep undercover and unreachable at the time. He was still off the radar, but Min expressed hope that he had escaped the situation unscathed, given the poor reception of the area he was working in. 

There had been an assault on Kingsman HQ, presumably orchestrated by the dead Arthur so that his betrayal would be less obvious, and there were nineteen injured staff members, only three of them critically wounded, and four deaths, one handler and three technicians. The dead handler, Bors’s, had been the only compromised individual in HQ and had assisted the assault until his head had blew up during a firefight.

“He was a good friend of Chester’s,” Merlin muses, looking disgusted. “Bors is a saint for putting up with him.”

“We tried minimizing damage in public areas by setting up signal jammers and also sent out as many helicopters as we could to drop all the stocks of tear gas and sleeping gas we had in crowded areas, but metropolitan cities were still hit pretty hard,” Min says. “Death toll isn’t that bad, from what we can tell so far, but we expect it to rise while people die from their injuries and at least one wave of suicides.”

“Stockholm division has been sent to pick up surviving missing persons from Valentine’s base and will be interviewing and debriefing with them,” Percival says. “The American branch is assessing how much damage control they need; they have the highest fatality rates and they just lost the core members of their government. They’ve also sent cleanup to Kentucky on our behalf.”

Eggsy clenches his jaw at that, and Roxy nudges her foot against his under the table, offering what comfort she can. 

“We’re hoping that organized crime has wiped itself out,” Min says. “Our analyst staff is looking into it right now. We’re also checking for any other associates of Valentine who might have survived and—sorry, call coming through.” Min taps the side of her glasses, listening intently, then raising her eyebrows in disbelief. “I’m connecting you to Merlin.”

Merlin blinks, his hand reflexively rising to his glasses, then he says, “Bloody fuck,” in a hoarse voice and stands up from his seat.

“What’s goin’ on?” Eggsy asks, wary, and Roxy feels herself tense, her mind automatically running over where the nearest weapon is, when Merlin laughs.

“Harry’s alive.”

-

Harry Hart, who is apparently not only shit at undercover but is also shit at dying like a normal human being would from a bullet to the head, is in recovery in a hospital near the South Glade Mission Church, unscathed by the four minutes of V-Day’s wrath because he was in surgery at the time. He’s apparently in stable condition, healing without a problem with minimal damage done by the bullet. What a lucky bastard.

Eggsy follows Merlin to the jet without asking, and nobody stops him.

“I need to sleep,” Min groans, taking her glasses off and rubbing her face with both hands. She sends a regretful look at Roxy. “I’m sorry, I really should go over mission protocol and stuff with you, but I don’t feel human enough for that right now.” She wobbles over to the sofa in the corner. “I just need a nap.”

“You can induct her tomorrow,” Alastair says. “We all need a break.”

“Oh god, you’re actually a great guy,” Min says, crashing down face-first into a cushion. “I take back all the times I told you I hated your guts.”

“That’s your sleep-deprivation talking,” Alastair says, and turns the lights out as he beckons Roxy outside.

“I think I could like her,” Roxy says, feeling pretty drained herself. She wouldn’t mind sleeping on the floor, right here. 

“She’s good at her job,” Alastair says, then pauses. He turns to Roxy with his lips set in a tight, white line. “Roxy, I managed to get in touch with your family before you came back.”

All of her drowsiness evaporates. “What happened?”

“Your parents are fine. Edmond is also unharmed.” There’s something Alastair isn’t saying, in the space between the lines, in the grim set of his mouth. 

“What happened?” Roxy asks, and Alastair looks away when he answers.

-

Alastair drives her to the University College Hospital and walks with her all the way to the closed door. The building is full of injured people, and it’s noisy and hectic in the hallways, but as soon as she opens the door, the din falls away.

It’s eerily quiet, save for the beeping of machines, and even though Alastair is standing right behind her, Roxy feels alone when she walks in to find her parents and brother sitting in plastic chairs, huddled around a hospital bed where Irene Morton, Roxy’s sister-in-law, lies under the covers.

Edmond’s knuckles are bruised, red and blue, just like how Irene’s face is bruised, like how the rest of her is beaten and battered. 

“Roxy,” her mother says, her face tearstained and weary, so much older than Roxy remembers. Her father looks older, smaller, shoulders sagging as he sits in his chair, nothing like the man she remembers trying so hard to be approved by. 

“I came back,” Roxy says, feeling like an outsider. An intruder.

Then Edmond looks up at her, his face crumpling, and when he reaches a hand out to her Roxy thinks of shattered mugs, of triggers never pulled, of trust that you earn only by giving it first. 

She makes her choice, hopes it’s the right one, and steps forward, wraps her arms around her weeping brother and says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

-

She tells her family that she’s been volunteering as a refugee helper, and that one of the refugees had alerted her about Valentine’s SIM cards. It’s the cover story Percival gave her, courtesy of Min who’d constructed it for her, and that she’s getting a job as liaison between the organization and a certain tailoring business that has a charitable side.

She knows she’ll spend the rest of her life lying to them, but they’re not a perfect family anyway. There’s too much history for that.

But she can at least have this. They can at least try to become a better family than they used to be.

-

Merlin and Eggsy return with Harry Hart, who’s in a coma again, and Eggsy sits with Roxy in the lounge while Kingsman’s medical professionals check over their agent. Roxy wants to ask Eggsy what it’s like, to love your family so much so that you can give up anything for them. What it’s like, to love a man constantly on the edge of death. 

What it’s like, to love someone even after being hurt by them.

“I was supposed to become an aunt,” she says instead, because she wishes she were just a little kinder, just a little more trustworthy. She wishes she could have made a difference. “My brother was supposed to become a father,” she says, and starts crying.

“Hey,” Eggsy murmurs. He tucks her head under his chin, wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug.

“They didn’t need me,” Roxy grits out. “I wanted them to, I wanted to be what they needed and they never—not until—I just. It’s not fair that I failed the one time they needed me.”

She’s hiccoughing through her words and rambling, twenty-two years worth of anger and hurt and helplessness finally surfacing in the wake of her sadness, and Eggsy doesn’t stop her even once. Just rests his cheek on the top of her head and listens to everything she says, rubbing her back every once in a while. About being the daughter nobody really wanted. About being second-best no matter what she did. About how she hated her family.

About how awful it was, to finally see them needing her, with her brother at his worst, and how she couldn’t feel glad about it at all.

“And we’re never going to be a real family,” Roxy says, quiet, her tears drying on her shirtsleeves. “We never were, and we never will be. Not after this.” She sniffles, just a bit. “Is it a bad thing that I’m not too cut up about it?”

Eggsy shifts so that they’re sprawled across the sofa, Roxy half on top of him with his back against the armrest. He sighs, fingers tapping against her back. “Rox, you know—me mum ain’t perfect. She made mistakes, and sometimes she made bad choices, and there were days when I used to be angry at her.” He takes a measured breath, tensing and then relaxing under Roxy’s weight, as if admitting this is harder than he’d like. “She wasn’t the best mum. And I wasn’t the best son. We had bad days. But I love her, Rox, and even on the bad days, I always knew she loved me. So, well.” He groans. “Okay, fuck, so what I’m sayin’ is that families are complicated shit. It’s okay for you to hate them. It’s okay for you to not wanna be the perfect daughter, or to want them to give a damn about you. It’s okay to care about them. It’s all okay, Rox.”

She takes a deep breath in, then lets it out in a shaky exhale. Something inside of her relaxes, a rattling sound that’s echoed inside of her for years finally quieting.

“Okay,” Roxy says.

-

They’ve been dozing like that on the sofa for an hour or two when they both wake to the sound of the lounge door opening. 

“Alright, we’re heading in for a meeting,” Merlin says. “Both of you, ready to meet the knights?”

“We were born ready,” Eggsy says, then lands face first on the carpet with a squawk while Roxy untangles her legs from his and smirks.

“Need a little help?” she asks.

“Shut up.”

After Merlin hands both of them pairs of glasses, they follow Merlin towards one of the rooms they’d never been allowed into during their recruits days, trailing behind him while trading whispers.

“I haven’t changed clothes for over twenty-four hours,” Roxy mutters. “Not counting my halo suit.”

“It’s literally been less than two days since we saved the world. I think we get some leeway,” Eggsy mumbles back. Easy for him to say; he’s still wearing his suit, sans tie. “Besides, you’re Lancelot. I’m not even supposed to be here.”

“You’re supposed to be here,” Roxy says. “You’re the only reason we’re all here.”

Eggsy shoots her a grateful look before Merlin pushes a door open, leading them into an opulently furnished room with a number of plush armchairs arranged in a half circle, already mostly occupied. There are two empty seats to Alastair’s left side, so Roxy plops into the seat next to him and Eggsy takes the remaining seat, while Merlin walks to the front of the room, facing the knights.

“Since we’re already in HQ, I figured we could conduct a meeting here rather have us all travel back to the shop. Cleanup crew is removing Chester’s body from the dining room today, so we might as well give it some time to air out,” Merlin remarks dryly, while Eggsy makes a small disgusted sound. “Ector has made contact with us, and he’s in one piece. We’ll have another meeting in a few days’ time when he’s back. Today we’ll be discussing the issue of replacing Arthur, our immediate plans for how to clean up Valentine’s mess, and any other operations we should prioritize along with damage control. Overseas branches are localizing their efforts, so we’ll be focusing mostly on first sorting out the UK first, then the rest of the world.”

“Have we made contact with MI6?” One of the knights—Bedivere, the display on Roxy’s glasses helpfully indicates—asks.

“We’re working on it,” Merlin says. He turns to the knight sitting opposite of Roxy. “Bors, we’re assigning Salinger as your new handler. He’s coordinating a plan with Interpol on how to deal with the majority of the UN’s higher ups literally losing their heads.” 

Bors nods his head with an amused slant to his lips, while a couple other knights cover up their snorts and chuckles with ill-disguised coughs. Roxy could swear that Merlin’s smirking under that straight-faced, tight-lipped look of solemnity. 

“Does Merlin actually run this place, or is it just ‘cause I killed Arthur?” Eggsy asks under his breath, leaning sideways into Roxy’s space. 

“Merlin runs this organization with an iron fist. It’s a dictatorship, ” Alastair confirms out of the corner of his mouth. Eggsy makes a worrying noise in his throat while Roxy strangles a giggle before it emerges from her mouth. At Merlin’s raised eyebrow, Alastair pastes a placid smile on his face. “Apologies. Please continue.”

“So before we get to the part about bickering over who replaces Arthur,” Merlin says, “we’ll need to decide what to do with Eggsy Unwin.”

Roxy feels Eggsy freeze.

“Galahad’s candidate for Lancelot, isn’t he?” Kay asks, eyes narrowed, slouching into his seat. “I heard he failed the dog test.”

“Considering that Chester stacked the deck against him and that Chester also tried to kill him, I dare say that failing the test was a bit of an inevitability,” Merlin deadpans.

“I’d say that saving the world more than makes up for it,” Tristan says, grinning. “And nobody gives a bloody toss about the damn dog test anyway. Give the boy a seat at the table. He’s more than qualified.”

Bedivere frowns. “The dog test is there for a reason.”

“Well it’s too late to squabble over that now. I say we give him a chance.” Bors nods at Merlin. “If Merlin’s willing to vouch for him, I’m all for having some young blood joining the ranks.”

Merlin glances at Eggsy. who straightens up and cocks his head at him. “I think it’d be a waste of potential to not make him a knight. And I believe I’m not the only one thinks that.”

“I think so too,” Roxy pitches in, making sure to make eye contact with each knight, taking note of how Kay is the only one who grimaces and looks away, and then glancing at Merlin. Emboldened by the approving look he sends her way, she continues, “I don’t see a reason to not make him a knight.”

Kay makes an impatient gesture with his hands. “We don’t have any available seats.”

“We could give him Galahad’s seat,” Gawain suggests. When everybody quiets and looks at him, he shrugs. “He’s not exactly awake and healthy at the moment. Even if he wakes up and makes a full recovery, he’s getting on in his years. Might as well retire the old chap and let his protégé inherit his seat. It’ll be cleaner that way.”

“I ain’t takin’ it,” Eggsy says immediately. “I ain’t takin’ Harry’s place. It’s his seat.”

Eggsy is loyal and fierce and protective, in a way Roxy will never be and will always admire, and Harry Hart better be grateful to have someone love him so much. 

Raising an impressed eyebrow, Alastair turns to look at Eggsy before clasping his hands on his lap and turning to Gawain. “I suppose you’re hoping to have Harry take Arthur’s seat, then.”

“None of us want it,” Gawain says. “And he’s the only one of us who actually has a chance at winning an argument against Merlin.”

Everybody cracks a smile at that, even Merlin, and when everybody turns to look at Eggsy, he deflates and gives in. “Fine, I’ll do it. Just have a backup plan for what’s goin’ to happen to me if Harry wants his seat back.”

-

Once they’ve established that Eggsy will be taking Galahad’s seat and that Arthur’s duties will be split amongst Merlin, Gawain, and Bedivere until either Harry wakes up or the crown of Arthur is forcibly thrust onto one of their active knights for diplomatic needs, they all agree that the stabilization of the government and an assessment of any remaining or upcoming criminal enterprises are Kingsman’s priorities. 

For now, all knights were to remain in near London until subsequent meetings were held and there was a working plan in place for them to coordinate with Kingsman’s overseas branches and other intelligence agencies.

“As for you two,” Merlin says to Eggsy and Roxy, “we’ll be inducting you officially in a couple days when the dust is settled properly. For now, you’ll go through orientation with your handler and we’ll get you both settled.” He looks at them both, the stern facade melting into something warmer, tinged with pride. “Welcome to Kingsman, Lancelot. Galahad.”

Roxy couldn’t stop the grin from spreading on her face even if she tried.

-

“I’m your handler for both of you,” Min says, shaking their hands. “Bit of an aberration, because we usually have one handler per agent, but the backup handler was assigned to Bors and we don’t have any others trained up yet. The previous Galahad didn’t have a handler for the past decade, mostly being under Merlin’s supervision if it was called for.”

“It’s not because he had some kind of knighthood tenure, was it?” Roxy asks. It’s strange that Merlin would allow any agent of his to not have a handler at all times. If she’s learned anything about Merlin in the past six months, it’s that first and foremost, he’s a drill sergeant that could make military men cry like babies. 

“Partly that. Partly because that man listens to nobody.” Eggsy actually laughs at that, his shoulders sagging a little, and Min levels a thoughtful glance at him before leading them into what looks like some kind of command center. There are nine stations, each equipped with computers and various other equipment, and there’s a larger screen and corner desk at the front. Min takes them to what is presumably her own station, the surface of her desk lighting up when she places her hand on it. “Anyway, I’ll be your primary handler for most of the time, and depending on availability and other criteria, other handlers will be pitching in or assigned to you for specific missions.”

“Neat,” Eggsy mutters. Roxy agrees. It’s like this room in HQ specifically was borrowed from twenty years into the future, filled with the kinds of technological innovations that you’d see in science fiction films.

There are two picture frames on Min’s desk. One of them is what looks like a family photo. Roxy taps that one. “You have a brother?” 

“Twin brother. He studies in Oxford, but he’s in London right now. He was hospitalized,” Min says, too busy unlocking her desk and computer systems to notice the look of horror Roxy shares with Eggsy at that. 

“Was it the SIM cards?” Eggsy asks.

“What?” Min looks up. “Oh, no, don’t worry. He had appendicitis the night before that whole V-Day thing happened. He slept through the whole thing.” She taps open a few files, motioning for them to drag over a couple nearby chairs and sit. “I’ve updated your personnel files, including information about your immediate families and your security clearances. Please let me know if there’s anything wrong.”

She hands two tablets—it’s theirs to keep, apparently—to them to peruse their personal information. There’s a whole slew of information there: birth date, list of residencies since birth, both part-time and full-time occupations, allergies, medical information, academic information, information on Roxy’s parents and her brother, even.

“How do you even know all of this?” Eggsy scowls. “Even I didn’t know some of these.”

“Hacking is a helpful skill for a handler to have,” Min says. “Now, I want to confirm your current residences. Would you prefer to remain at your current listed address or would you like Kingsman to set up a place for you?”

-

After Min makes a note of their preferences—a single-occupant apartment for Roxy and a nice flat for Eggsy to live with his mother and sister—and sends their requests to the HR department, they move onto setting up new bank accounts with amounts of money that have Eggsy’s jaw almost hitting the floor. Min also walks them through security measures and protocols, giving them a list of safehouses within England in case of emergency and her own home address, just in case.

“Or you can just come over for anything, really. I don’t mind. I live alone, so if you ever need a place to crash, well.” She shrugs. “I have a nice sofa.”

“Do all the agents live in central London?” Roxy asks.

“Everybody except Tristan. He lives in Birmingham with his wife.” Min pauses. “Which reminds me, are you two dating?”

“Oh god no,” Roxy says, while Eggsy leans back in his chair and mouths nope, with exaggerated facial expressions. “Not that Eggsy is bad dating material, but I’ll never see him like that.”

“We’re best mates, nothin’ else,” Eggsy supplies.

“Any other significant others? If you’re seeing anybody, you should really tell me right now.” Min taps her fingernails against her desk screen. “Even if it’s a casual relationship, it’s better for me to know just in case something goes wrong.”

Eggsy’s mouth pinches, a little, and Roxy finally decides to give him a nudge. “Eggsy, just tell her.”

“Tell her what?” Eggsy asks.

“Just tell her about Harry,” Roxy says, point-blank. 

Eggsy flushes bright red, his mouth dropping open. “What the hell, Rox?” he hisses. “Harry and I ain’t like that.”

“I’m not blind, Eggsy,” Roxy shoots back. “You two were basically on the verge of having sex on the train tracks. He was undressing you with his eyes instead of watching Charlie fail the test, I saw it.”

“What—no he didn’t—he did?” Eggsy’s eyes are wide with a mix of confusion and hope, the kind of hope that doesn’t belong to a person who’s already been shagging their mentor, and Roxy realizes her mistake.

“Wait, you two aren’t shagging yet?” Roxy’s not sure if she’s more appalled by the fact that she completely missed the fact that her friend and his mentor were not, in fact, in a relationship already or the fact that they are not in a relationship already. “Did you spend twenty-four hours with him after all that eye-fucking and not actually sleep with him?

“I thought he wasn’t interested!”

“As entertaining as this is turning out to be,” Min cuts in, “we’ve still got a lot of things to go through. Eggsy, are you currently engaging in a sexual or romantic relationship with the man who might or might not become our future boss?”

Eggsy groans, hiding his face behind his hands. “No.”

“I hope that changes when he wakes up,” Min says cheerily. “Don’t worry, there aren’t any rules against fraternizing within the organization.”

“You’re enjoying this way too much,” Eggsy grumbles.

“I haven’t had a date in two years. I have to get my fun where I can.”

Roxy frowns, looking at the second photo frame on Min’s desk. There’s an older man in the picture, smiling warmly with an arm around Min’s shoulders, his head tipping sideways to lean against hers. “Not a boyfriend, then?”

Min follows Roxy’s line of sight and smiles, a brittle thing devoid of joy, tight and mirthless. “No. That’s James. He’s your predecessor.” She clears her throat. “He was my best friend.”

“Sorry,” Roxy apologizes, looking back at the picture of the man who still makes the corners of Alastair’s mouth go tight. The man who was, if he was anything like what Eggsy is to Roxy, the person who had Min’s back and trusted her with his in return.

It sounds like Roxy’s got some big shoes to fill.

-

Turns out, being the new Lancelot is not as hard as becoming the new Lancelot. It’s grueling, definitely, but all the hardships that Roxy’s been embracing herself for don’t come crashing into her life. 

She stays in touch with her family, visiting them once a week, and lying about her job gets easier. They never suspect a thing. She moves into a spacious studio apartment in Chelsea and helps Eggsy move his family to a nice house in Kensington. Meredith adjusts to their new home and spending time apart from Roxy. She attends meetings, talks to the other knights, gets enrolled into a training regimen to prepare her for field ops, and practices working in tandem with her handler and other support staff.

Contrary to her expectations, her gender doesn’t become an issue. If anything, it’s an asset. She’s capable of entering and infiltrating places that men would look out of place in, and by virtue of being a woman, she’s underestimated constantly. (Merlin admits that half the reason Eggsy and Roxy share Min as a handler is because they’d be the best agents to send undercover as a couple, an opportunity that Kingsman will exploit to its fullest potential.)

Kay isn’t exactly over the moon about Roxy sitting at the table with the rest of the knights, but he never says a word against her, and Bedivere makes a single comment—“Well, the times are changing”—and never brings it up ever again. In fact, the majority of Kingsman seems to enjoy having a female knight.

(“Merlin’s always been good with recruiting people regardless of their gender or race or stuff, so there’s a whole mix of us down here,” Min explains while walking Roxy through the different kinds of weaponized accessories she’ll practice using for the day. “But the knights were a whole other deal, because Chester King was a rude sack of potatoes. We’re so glad to have a lady at the table. The girls from the tech department are going wild with weaponizing jewelry for you. You’ll love it. Oh, be careful with that purse. It releases a nerve gas when you press down on it.”)

Going through training exercises with Min until she can respond within half a second of Min’s directions and communicate efficiently over comms is challenging but enjoyable. Min talks fast and thinks faster, giving Roxy her options and often letting Roxy make her own choices until Roxy’s too busy to be making choices. According to Merlin, she’s one of the best handlers he has, and that’s a good enough endorsement for Roxy to place her trust in.

Min never compares Roxy to anybody else. Not Eggsy, who also goes through handler-agent familiarization training with Min and gets paired up with Roxy for joint-training. And certainly not the previous Lancelot, who Ector comments on being a ‘silvertongue who had a sixth sense for tracking people down.’ 

Nobody compares Roxy to her predecessor. Nobody says that he was better than her, or that she’ll be better than him. It’s not that nobody cares; Eggsy always offers to be friendly competition at the obstacle course and high fives at the end regardless of who wins, Percival often drops by when she’s at the shooting range to tell her that he’s proud of how well she’s adjusting, and Min is always very vocal about her high expectations for Roxy and how Roxy manages to exceed those expectations. It’s that Roxy is, for the first time in her life, not better or worse than anybody. There’s nothing or nobody to measure up to, no other name slotted next to hers in a sentence to compete against.

“I can’t really tell if I’m doing a good job,” Roxy says when Merlin catches her at the pool and compliments her backstroke. “It’s just, I don’t know what Kingsman’s standards are. It’s hard to know how good I am without any competition.”

Merlin squats down by the poolside, where Roxy’s crossing her arms on top of the edge. “You’re very good, Roxy. I think your standards are higher than everybody else’s.”

Any other words that might have emerged from Roxy’s mouth all vanish. Like all the doubts have been wiped away by Merlin’s steady hand.

“If it helps, then think of it as competing against yourself.” Merlin smiles with a  subtle uptick at the corner of his lips, like he’s got a secret and it’s the sweet kind, the kind that melts in your mouth. Roxy wonders if she could coax that secret out with her NLP skills, with her mouth and tongue. “Be better than you were yesterday. And if you’re not sure how far you should push yourself, you come to me and I’ll help you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Merlin.”

Merlin nods. “Good.” He straightens back up, and then offers Roxy his hands when she moves to pull herself out of the water. She accepts and lets him pull her out. He lifts her out effortlessly, his dry hands warm around her own, and in a surprisingly clarifying moment, Roxy realizes she’d trust Merlin with anything. Her life, her secrets, the parts of her she doesn’t even really understand. He already holds most of those things in his hands anyway.

Out of all the hardships Roxy expected to face after becoming Lancelot, developing feelings for Merlin was definitely not one of them.

-

It’s terribly ironic, but the first thing that Roxy realizes is Eggsy is never going to let me live this down.

-

Thankfully, Eggsy doesn’t really have much to comment on Roxy’s love life because Harry Hart wakes up. Roxy’s there to see Eggsy light up like the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve, his smile incandescent, while Harry slowly blinks and then looks at Eggsy with a look of sheer relief. Like he wasn’t sure if he’d ever see Eggsy again, if Eggsy’d ever smile again to him.

Merlin makes a disgusted noise at them both. Roxy agrees wholeheartedly. 

“I can’t believe they still haven’t shagged each other yet,” Roxy says while they walk away from the infirmary, leaving Harry and Eggsy to have their privacy. “They’re so obvious.”

“You’d think spies would do a better job at romance than that,” Merlin says, all snark and fondness, slanting a bemused glance at Roxy that has her flushing warm and tingly. “Hopefully we won’t have to put up with any more pining. I just might have to resort to drastic measures if they don’t get their act together.”

Merlin is ridiculously attractive when he’s making ominous statements with a conniving glint in his eyes. Roxy is in so much trouble.

-

Roxy’s first official mission is to go in as Percival’s backup during a quick infiltration mission in a fundraising gala hosted by the Chancellor of Germany, who was rescued from Valentine’s bunker a month ago. It’s a low-risk job intended for information gathering about a potentially budding criminal empire rooted in Munich. Roxy’s mostly been floating about, occasionally participating in small talk while keeping an eye out for potential threats. Hardly nerve-wracking compared to going to the edge of the atmosphere and firing a missile at a satellite. Alastair is doing most of the hard work—namely, befriending their target while setting himself up as a potential contact interested in weapons sales.

“Remind me to remind you to take another selfie before you take your makeup off,” Min says through the comms. “I’m so proud of what I did with the eyeshadow.”

Roxy glances at her hands, her left thumb rubbing a line across her right wrist as a nonverbal gesture for affirmative. The gala was turning into an excellent exercise for Roxy to practice communicating with Min in front of others and multitasking. 

“We’ve got a problem,” Nafissatou, Percival’s handler, patches in. “Somebody’s just tipped off the local authorities about suspicious characters in the building. ETA seven minutes.”

“Time for you to go home, Lancelot,” Min says. “Extraction vehicle should be ready at the side entrance in three minutes.”

Nafissatou makes a frustrated noise. “Eckstein isn’t going to let Percival go so suddenly—a little help?”

“Lancelot, get Percival out of there as naturally as you can,” Min says.

Roxy politely excuses herself from her conversation and makes her way towards Alastair, plucking a new flute of champaign from a passing waiter and studiously keeping her eyes averted to make it seem like she’s distracted. With deliberate care, she turns mid-step and bumps arm-first into Alastair, spilling half of her champaign on the front of his suit. 

“Es tut mir leid!” Roxy apologizes, affecting the attitude of a mortified socialite who had too much to drink. She offers to get him cleaned up and get him a new suit at once with an earnest face and fluttery hands, speaking in rapid-fire German that Percival’s cover wouldn’t be able to understand.

“The lady offers to get you changed,” Eckstein explains to Alastair. 

Alastair gives Eckstein an apologetic look. “I should take her up on the offer, I suppose. We could continue this conversation at a later date. How should I find you?”

“Local authorities ETA four minutes,” Nafissatou reminds them while Eckstein gives his contact information to Percival, hardly paying attention to Roxy standing there, wringing her hands and looking harmless. 

It takes another three minutes for Roxy to convincingly urge Alastair out with minimal fuss, feigning embarrassment until they’re exiting through the secluded side entrance and sprinting down the stairs to the nondescript car idling by the roadside. Alastair pulls the door open and lets Roxy slide inside, then follows her in and slams the door shut just as the sounds of sirens start echoing through the night.

“Good work, both of you,” Amelia says from the driver’s seat, directing the car out the back gate. “The tracker you planted on Eckstein is active and will last forty-eight hours.”

“If he gets arrested tonight, all that work would’ve been for nothing,” Roxy points out. 

“Not exactly,” Min says. “The address he gave Percival is a pawnshop owned by a Daniel Hoffman, who happens to be cousins with a Frank Hoffman, who happens to be on Kingsman’s watchlist since 2009.” Her excitement tangibly crumbles into exasperation. “Which means more research and paperwork for me. Brilliant.”

“We appreciate your sacrifice,” Percival says, his lips quirking up in fond amusement. It’s a look Roxy’s never seen on him before. Which, huh.

“I would appreciate a Red Bull mixed with vodka right now,” Min says, mournful. “Lancelot and Percival, get some rest and don’t miss your plane back home tomorrow morning. Nafi will be present at the debrief. I’ll be there if I survive the paperwork.”

“Good job today,” Nafissatou adds.

“Not so bad for a first mission, Lancelot,” Min says. “And send me that selfie later. Alright, I’m signing off for the night. See you guys later.”

Alastair raises an eyebrow after Min and Nafissatou cut off the comms. “Selfie?”

“Min did my makeup and wants to keep it for posterity.”

“A relatively successful mission is worth remembering,” Alastair says. Pats Roxy on the shoulder. “Good work.” There’s an infinitesimal pause there, as if he’s steeling himself, finding steady ground to stand upon. “Lancelot.”

-

In-between her exhaustion and the post-mission giddiness, not to mention the dizzy flush of pride when Amelia had told her I’m glad you’re the one who made it before dropping them off at their hotel, Roxy is a little sloppy and distracted as she takes a selfie and sends it, then readies herself for a good night’s sleep. Alastair’s already tucked into his own bed and fast asleep by the time Roxy crawls under her covers, and when she wakes up the next morning she hardly remembers the last fifteen minutes she spent awake before going to bed.

-

After the debrief—which Min shows up to with two large cups of coffee, both for herself—Merlin calls Roxy aside before she can follow the others out of the room. 

“Good job last night,” Merlin says, which he already said during the debrief, but it’s even better this time, because it’s meant for Roxy’s ears only and it feels more intimate. More personal. 

“Thank you.”

Merlin hesitates. “I was wondering what this was for, though.” He then holds up his phone so that Roxy can see the screen. In which she can see her own face tilted upwards towards the light, angled so that the camera can focus on her eyes.

It’s her selfie. From last night. Which she sent to Min. Which obviously was not Min, but Merlin.

“Oh my god,” Roxy says. “Merlin, I’m so sorry, I must’ve pressed your name instead of Min’s. She wanted to have a picture of what my makeup looked like. Your names are so similar, I mean—”

“Slow down there, lass.” Merlin pockets his phone, waving off her explanations. “It’s fine, you don’t need to worry.”

If this were maybe Eggsy, or Alastair, or even, hell, Harry Hart, this wouldn’t be as mortifying as it is, but sending that photo to Merlin is so embarrassing that Roxy could dig a grave and jump into it willingly at this point. “It won’t happen again.”

Merlin reaches over to give her elbow a reassuring squeeze. “I wouldn’t mind if it happened again.” He smiles, in that secretive way again, and then blinks, hand going to his glasses in response to an incoming call. “Well, looks like I’ve got to run. Take care of yourself.”

Then he walks away.

“What?” Roxy rubs her elbow, chasing the lingering sensation of Merlin’s touch. “What on earth?”

-

Roxy Morton does not fret. Fretting is not a Roxy thing to do. She doesn’t fret.

“Stop fretting,” Nafissatou says, pulling her long dreadlocks up into a ponytail before taking another swig of her beer. “You’re getting too worked up over this.”

“I’m not fretting,” Roxy hisses.

Min looks at her pityingly. “You are. Very much so.”

“I am not,” Roxy starts, then decides to drop the issue. “I’m not crazy, though. I didn’t just imagine Merlin flirting with me, did I?”

The three of them are having their own girls’ night out at the pub in a corner booth, suggested by Min as a mini celebration of Roxy completing her first official mission and having survived writing the action report. Roxy hadn’t intended to completely spill her guts about Merlin to them, but Eggsy wasn’t available because Harry’d finally been released from the infirmary and he was helping Harry settle back in at home. And possibly doing other things with Harry that were long overdue. 

Besides, she was still smarting from the fact that she was following Eggsy’s footsteps à la falling for her mentor.

“You’re probably not imagining it,” Nafissatou says.

“Well, if you’re interested in him, then you should just tell him,” Min says. “I would totally do Merlin, if he didn’t feel so much like a second father to me. To be honest, I thought he was ace or something because I never saw him be even remotely interested in anybody in the five years I’ve worked for him.”

“That might be because you’re a bit dense,” Nafissatou supplies.

“I’m not dense,” Min argues.

Nafissatou shrugs. “Oblivious, then. You don’t notice when blokes are conveying interest.”

“I noticed when Bors had that awful crush on you!” Min takes another gulp of her cocktail. “And by crush, I mean when you crushed his soul after he finally worked up the courage to ask you out for coffee.”

“It’s not my fault he didn’t know that I’m a lesbian,” Nafissatou replies. “And he was really obvious. Even Chester King picked up on it, and he was never in the same room as me because he never got over the fact that Merlin recruited a black immigrant as a handler. What a prick.”

“He was like the human equivalent of a soggy waffle,” Min says, fervent. “I would have walked straight out of Kingsman if Merlin wasn’t—oh for heaven’s sake, I need another drink. Budge over, Nafi.”

As Min weaves her way through the pub’s patrons to order another drink, Nafissatou leans in and says, “She’s clueless.”

“I don’t blame her. I didn’t even figure it out until last night.” Roxy sighs. 

“What is it with Kingsman and its clusterfuck of office romances anyway?” Nafissatou grumbles. “I’m surrounded by spies who can’t get their shit together and ask each other out on a date. No balls at all.”

“Are you including me in that? I have balls. Guts. Whatever.” Roxy picks up her beer. “I can prove it.”

“Prove what?” Min asks, sliding back into the booth with a new cocktail. 

Roxy finishes her pint. “That I can get my shit together.”

-

Eggsy’s back in the shop at Savile Row to be briefed for his first solo mission, takes a look at Roxy and squints at her. “You going somewhere?”

Roxy’s wearing midnight blue pumps with a matching dress that comes to her knees and sheer black stockings. Min, still hungover from the night before, had done Roxy’s makeup so that it looked just the right side of sultry. Roxy’d debated over whether this was overkill, but had ultimately decided that Merlin had left the ball in her court and he could cope with Roxy skipping over the tedious flirting and skirting around each other.

“I will be, if I’m lucky,” Roxy says. “How are you doing with Harry? Is he treating you well?”

Eggsy practically glows, his grin nearly splitting his face in half. “We’re takin’ it slow ‘cause he’s still in recovery and all that, and he’s a bit of a prat sometimes, but it’s fuckin’ amazing, yeah? He even lets JB sleep on the bed.”

“I see he’s spoiling you, then,” Roxy jokes, looking at Eggsy flush and bounce on the balls of his feet, oxfords shined and suit impeccable. He’s still Eggsy, of course he is, but he’s a much different Eggsy than the one she met on day one, shoulders hunched and jaw set in a defensive line as he entered the recruit dormitory last. He’s comfortable, relaxed. Happy. “I’m happy for you, Eggsy.” She takes a step forward to hug him.

“Thanks,” Eggsy says, wrapping his arms around her and hugging tight, lifting her off her feet for a moment before setting her down. “I’ll be happy for you, too. If you get lucky, that is. At least tell me who’s the lucky one?”

“I’ll tell you all about it when you get back,” Roxy promises, silently adding that any salacious bits will be edited out of her recount. “Good luck on the mission, Galahad.”

Eggsy beams. “Good luck to you, Lancelot.”

-

When Roxy drops by the command center in HQ to see if Merlin is there, she instead finds the place empty save for Alastair. Min had mentioned she’d be working from home today, and apparently all the other handlers are doing the same or are on vacation.

“…I suppose this means I’ll be having a word with Merlin,” Alastair says after a long silence in which he puts two and two together. “Not that I have any doubts about your ability to take care of yourself.”

“Thank you, Alastair,” Roxy says dryly. “I hope I can inspire you to follow my example and stop dithering.”

Alastair raises an inquisitive eyebrow at her, but Roxy isn’t fooled. She knows that he’s well aware of what she means.

“Is there a reason you’re not actually doing anything about it, or are you just.” Scared, is what Roxy wants to ask, but of all the words she could use to describe Alastair, ‘scared’ isn’t ever going to be one of them. “Are you going to just not do anything?”

Alastair looks at her, long enough for Roxy to wonder if she’s just crossed a boundary, when his eyes flit over to the side, to Min’s desk. There’s a new picture frame there, one of Eggsy and Roxy laughing and sweaty right after they’d finished their last joint-training task, but that’s not the one he’s looking at. The one Alastair’s eyes rest on is the one of James and Min. 

It’s strange, how Roxy suddenly remembers you remind me of him, the weary slump in his shoulders when she’d asked about the previous Lancelot, the millisecond of hesitation before he finally called her by her title and not her name. It’s not heartbreak, the way Alastair’s lips thin and his eyes go downcast. It’s guilt.

It’s not a good look on him.

“Did you know,” Roxy says, impulsive, “that I used to have a crush on you, when I was young?” 

Alastair blinks, raises his head. “I didn’t.”

“You were just, you meant a lot to me. Still do, though I promise I don’t have a crush on you anymore. I want you to be happy.” She takes a deep breath. “It’s okay for you to be happy, Alastair.”

“I know,” Alastair says in a quiet voice. He shoves his hands in his trouser pockets, heaving a heavy sigh, eyes glued to the floor. His mouth twists into a wry smile. “We were just colleagues. Friends, maybe.”

Roxy takes the plunge: “But you were almost something more?”

“Almost.” It’s like it pains him to admit that out loud. “Nothing ever happened, but if he were still alive—perhaps.”

“You’re making your life so complicated,” Roxy says, then hugs him. “Just try not to die before you get over him. And try to ask Min out before she gets a new boyfriend. If you lose her just because you’re feeling guilty about not having dated my predecessor when you had the chance, you’re only going to be more miserable.”

Alastair makes a disgruntled noise. “Look at you, all grown up and giving me relationship advice.” He kisses the top of her head and squeezes her briefly. “Now I’ll feel compelled to give you and Merlin my blessing.”

“He’ll say yes, you think?”

Alastair finally laughs, ushering her to the hallway. “If he doesn’t, then Merlin and I are really going to have words.”

She throws Alastair a mock-salute and makes her way to Merlin’s quarters, the clicking of her heels against the concrete steadying her heart’s pounding in her ribcage, measuring her breaths to the rhythm of her footsteps. 

-

When Merlin opens the door and looks her down and up, the way his eyes go dark and appreciative is everything Roxy needs to confidently follow him in and close the door behind her back, smiling up at him.

“I was thinking,” Roxy says, dipping her head a little and letting her teeth catch on her lower lip. She’s rewarded for that with Merlin taking a step closer, close enough that she could smooth her hands down his chest and feel him through his jumper, if she wanted to. “I could take you out to dinner, and then you could take me to bed.”

“I’d be honored,” Merlin says, taking her hand, his fingers tracing a hot line down her palm. He lifts her hand and kisses the back of it, smiling against her skin. “I wasn’t entirely sure you were interested.”

The idea that Merlin, the most scarily competent and fiercely protective man she’s ever known, was even the slightest bit worried about Roxy not being interested makes her feel safer. They’re in this together, and she already trusts Merlin with her life. It’s just one more step to trust him with her heart, too.

“You can always be sure about me,” she says, and pulls him in by the back of his neck to taste what kinds of secrets he keeps behind that smile.

-

“You and Merlin,” Eggsy says, dumbfounded. 

“Yep,” Roxy replies. She straps on another knife to her thigh, then smooths the skirt of her dress back down. It’s her first mission with Eggsy, who came back from a week in Capetown just yesterday and is now being shipped out with her to Paris for recon. “Now we’re both shagging our bosses.”

“Please remember that you’re being recorded,” Min’s voice reminds them. “Now, both of you, it’s time to make your boyfriends proud.”

-

During one of her visits to her parents’ home, Roxy tells them that she’s seeing someone. They ask about him, and she tells them that he’s a fair bit older, that he’s one of her superiors at work, that he respects her and that she even is a fair bit in love with him, though she uses vague words to express that particular sentiment.

“Does he make you happy?” Her mother asks. She’s getting better at asking the right questions, at accepting Roxy for who she is without question.

“More than anything,” Roxy says, honest in a way that question deserves. 

Her father says, “We should have him over sometime,” and the instinctive need to keep her partners as far away as possible from her parents never rises. 

“I’ll talk to him about it,” Roxy compromises.

A little later, Edmond arrives with Irene’s hand in his, his eyes a little shiny and voice choked. Irene smiles, a hand cradling her stomach, and Roxy is hugging her brother before she can even think about it. For the first time, it doesn’t sound like a lie when she tells him that she’s happy for him.

-

Roxy and Nafissatou are returning from lunch, bringing Indian takeout for Min so that she doesn’t starve while guiding Eggsy through his recon mission, when they stop at the doorway of the command center and see Alastair standing in front of Min’s desk. From their angle, it’s easy to see Min’s eyes going wide and her mouth dropping open a little when she nods, says something that has the corners of Alastair’s mouth going soft, full of affection.

“Well, looks like somebody finally got his shit together,” Nafissatou remarks.

When Alastair turns and sees them at the doorway, Roxy gives him a thumbs-up. He smiles the entire way out of the command center, brushing by Roxy with a quick squeeze to her elbow in a silent thank you

-

There are more missions. More days and nights spent with Merlin. More and more time that Roxy spends until Lancelot doesn’t feel like a secondhand name anymore. It feels like a part of her, like a second skin that she’s comfortable in. Kay starts talking to her without being condescending. Tristan and Ector invite her out for drinks from time to time. Harry sits in Arthur’s seat and assigns her to missions with Gawain and Bors or gives her solo missions, too.

Once, she’s invited to dinner at Harry’s place, Eggsy sitting across her and Merlin beside her, the four of them chatting about how the world is slowly and surely righting itself, healing from the wounds V-Day left behind. Roxy catches Harry kissing Eggsy against the kitchen counter and she’s so glad for the both of them, glad that they smile wider in each other’s presence.

Merlin turns out to be a stubborn, scheming workaholic who mostly functions through sleepless nights and not enough food with only sheer willpower to propel him, and none of this is surprising to Roxy. She cuddles him through power naps and lures him to bed when it’s getting late. She convinces him to eat out more, silences him with kisses that he likes to make slow and wet. He likes having her on his lap, she likes having him touch her hair, they both like waking up in the morning and having lazy sex before coming in for work.

There are harder parts, too. Some days Merlin sighs too much, the weight of trying to make the world a better place too heavy on his shoulders, or Roxy gets too testy, the self-doubt raging back and consuming the parts of her that know better. Sometimes Roxy comes back from a mission with a bloody nose or a laceration that requires stitches, and sometimes someone else gets hurt and Merlin comes back looking weary and worried. Sometimes Alastair comes back angry from the nightmarish things he’s seen on the job or Eggsy comes back upset because he still hates not being able to save everybody. There are days when lying to her family is harder, or when the mission goes badly, or Roxy doesn’t know how far to push herself and feels on the verge of going too far, tumbling down a cliff she can’t see, and the only thing keeping her tethered safe is Merlin.

Most days, though, Roxy’s glad to be right here. Most days are good days.

-

Roxy wakes up in the infirmary and doesn’t immediately remember how she got there.

“How are you, sweetheart?” Merlin asks, perching on the edge of the bed and leaning close, flashing a light into one of her eyes, then the next. He raises a finger and she automatically tracks its movements.

“Groggy, but otherwise fine,” she says. “How did I get here?”

“You were in Athens. There was a bomb.” Merlin cups her cheek, presses a kiss to her brow. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“I followed the target into the train station, and we were both at the platform.” Roxy thinks for a moment before the next memory slots in. “He jumped in front of an incoming train.”

“And then?”

Roxy looks at Merlin, drawing a blank until the memories rush back in at once. “Oh god, I walked into a trap. I had to jump out the window.”

“Looks like your memory’s intact, then.” Merlin taps something into his tablet and then puts it away. He removes his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose, sighing, and she recognizes it as a gesture Merlin only does when he’s genuinely distressed. “I was worried about you.”

“I’m sorry,” Roxy says, reaching to snag his wrist, urging him to look at her. “I’m sorry you were worried. I’m right here, Merlin. I’m alive and in one piece.” She glances down at the covers she’s tucked under. “I am in one piece, right?”

Merlin huffs a fond chuckle. “Yes, Roxy, you’re in one piece.”

The infirmary doors fly open as Min and Eggsy run in, skidding to a stop in front of Roxy’s bed. Alastair and Harry follow in at a much slower pace. “I told them to not run indoors,” Harry says with a shrug when Merlin raises an eyebrow.

Roxy takes a look at Eggsy and Min’s worried faces and offers a smile. “You look like shit,” she jokes.

“And you’re lookin’ too chipper for someone who almost got blew up,” Eggsy retorts, catching her hand and squeezing it. “We’re startin’ those freerunning lessons once you get the green light for strenuous activity again.”

“Sounds good,” Roxy says, squeezing back. She looks at Min. “No, really. I feel good. A bit sore, now that I think of it, but I’m okay.”

“I thought I got you killed,” Min says, wiping at her eyes. “I thought you were dead and it was all my fault, just like—” James, she doesn’t say but everybody hears, and starts crying in earnest. Roxy’s never seen Min cry before. It’s a hell of a guilt trip. “I’m sorry,” Min says between sobs. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” Roxy says. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Alastair pats Roxy’s ankle over the covers. “You missed out on seeing Ector level an entire laboratory building while chasing down the organization who did this to you.”

Roxy grins at that. “Please tell me you recorded it for me.”

“Of course we did,” Merlin says. 

“Nafi’s coming first thing tomorrow to see you.” Min attempts a watery smile, holds it there until it looks real. “She says she has a list of funny videos for you to watch while you’re still bedridden.”

“At least I won’t be bored.” 

They all talk like that, filling Roxy in as to what happened to the terrorist group she’d been trying to crack, feeding her small bits of celebrity gossip, and generally updating her on what happened in Kingsman while she’d been asleep during the past five days.

At one point, Roxy feels her jaw creak when she yawns, exhaustion permeating her bones.

“I think we should let Roxy have her rest,” Harry says. “It’s already dark out. Everybody, please go home.”

Eggsy leans in to give Roxy a quick one-armed hug. “I’ll bring Merry back from me place tomorrow. She’s been missin’ you.”

“You’re the best,” Roxy says.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Min promises. “Feel better, okay?”

“Let me know if you need anything,” Alastair tells her with a smile, ruffling her hair and then following Min out the door.

Harry claps Merlin’s shoulder. “Come in late tomorrow morning.” After receiving a grateful nod from Merlin, Harry turns to direct a warm smile at Roxy. “It’s good to have you awake again. Take your time and get better.”

“Thank you,” Roxy says, and watches him walk out to join Eggsy, who’d been waiting in the hallway. She hears Merlin sigh once the infirmary door clicks shut, and she immediately shifts gingerly to the side, beckoning him to climb in next to her. He doesn’t argue, just slides in under the covers and wraps an arm around her.

“I know you’ve been sleeping for the past several days, but try sleep some more anyway.” Merlin says, and the way he runs his fingers through her hair and the smell of medicine reminds her of when she was still a recruit, feverish and ill with pneumonia. Even back then, Merlin had made her feel safe.

“I think all the visitors tired me out,” Roxy mumbles.

“They’re a handful, alright.”

It’s true. Eggsy, Min, Alastair, even Harry. Nafissatou. The other knights. The support staff. Merlin. Kingsman is now full of people that Roxy can trust, some more than others, and every single one of them trust her to be Lancelot. Here, she’s Roxy Morton, Lancelot, and nobody second guesses her or compares her to someone else. Even when she’s someone’s backup in a mission, she’s necessary.

Here, Roxy feels like she belongs. 

“They’re my family,” Roxy says, eyes slipping shut, the drowsiness overtaking her. “You’re my family, now.”

Merlin presses his lips to hers, gentle. “Welcome back home, Roxy.”

And here, with the warmth of Merlin curled around her, the pine and musk smell of him and his deep voice easing her to sleep, burrowing into his chest feels just like that. Like coming home.