Eggsy didn’t understand why his mum was only talking to the cop who knocked at their door. He were just a uniform, and there were a man in a posh suit with him. She should talk to the man in the posh suit, on the telly they were the ones with all the answers.
Posh suit crouched in front of him. “Hello.”
“Hi,” Eggsy tried to shake his snow globe. He wanted to ignore his mum’s crying. The cop kept saying things like accident, hero, and all that. He just wanted snow to come. And his Da. He had a feeling one was more likely than the other.
“What’s your name?” Posh Suit asked.
“Eggsy,” he whispered.
“Hello, Eggsy,” Posh Suit said. He took the snow globe gently and gave it a wave and the snow moved all around. Mum was crying and screaming. “I’m sorry Eggsy.”
“What did you do? Did you break something?” Eggsy always had to say sorry when he broke something.
“Sort of,” Posh Suit answered. “I was late, not quite too late, but late enough, and things happened in a way they shouldn’t have. Your father’s last word was your name. You should know that. Being someone’s last thought, being so clear, so strong...well that is a powerful thing.” Posh Suit reached into his pocket and gave Eggsy a fob. “A gift. Hold this tight, and if ever you need a favour, a really big favour, call the number on the back. Can you do that?”
“Yes, sir,” Eggsy looked over and the cop had left and his mum was still crying and still not seeing Posh Suit. “Why isn’t Mum yelling at you?” Eggsy asked in a whisper.
Posh Suit just smiled a little. “Remember only when you absolutely must.” He stood up and walked out the door. “Oh and make sure you say, Oxfords not Brogues so that they know it is from me.”
Eggsy went over and hugged his mum. Eventually she managed to tell him his da had died, but he had figured that out.
Eggsy knew it would end bad, and at the last second he turned the car wheel hard so that it was him and not Jamal or Ryan that took the brunt of the crash.
Eggsy sat in the interrogation room and tried to act nonchalant. The filth in front of him felt different than other cops. There was just something...this wasn’t right.
“This isn’t right,” Eggsy said.
The man had a file folder and again it didn’t look like the usual. Eggsy had been this route a time or two to know. They weren’t usually black with symbols on the front. Wanker must have gotten bored and doodled or something.
The man just stared at Eggsy. “I wish this was an interesting case. But it isn’t. Look at what happened. I have a list of every offense that you’ve done.”
Eggsy snorted. “Yeah, right.”
“First offense, stole Missy Crawford’s pencil case, 3rd form,” the man intoned.
Eggsy sat up straight. “Wot the hell?”
“Unlikely, but perhaps,” he said. He began to list everything Eggsy had ever done wrong. It was taking a while. Eggsy could feel the room changing, it were colder, greyer, or just something.
He was fucking terrified.
“I want my phone call,” he said abruptly.
“There are no phone calls,” the man intoned.
“You have to give me my phone call, those’re the rules,” Eggsy said.
“There are no phone calls,” he repeated.
Eggsy reached under his shirt and pulled out the old fob and took it off the chain. He slammed it on the table. He had no idea why he was doing this, just that it felt right.
“Right here, I want to call the number on this,” he said.
The cop paled and there was even a small tremor in his hand. “Where did you get that?”
“Man in a suit gave it to me, said I were to call when I needed a favour, and I want to make that call.”
“I’ll process you quickly, get your through, a positive outcome,” he said quickly.
Now Eggsy was just curious. “I want my call.” Eggsy blinked, that phone hadn’t been on the table before had it? He picked it up and dialed the number. “Hullo?”
“How may I help you?”
“Um, things have gotten weird and I was told to call this number when I needed help, like big help.”
“Passcode please, to confirm.”
Eggsy frowned, trying to remember the phrase. “Oxfords, not Brogues?” he finally said.
“Thank you,” the voice calmly said. He was pretty sure the person meant to mute it before they said aww crap it’s one of Harry’s cock ups.
“Who’s Harry?” Eggsy asked.
The line cut out and when Eggsy blinked the phone was gone. And so was the man who had been interviewing him. Then the door opened.
Eggsy stared at it and wondered what to do. This had gotten far past weird.
He grabbed his jacket and left, the place was completely empty. No station was ever empty. He opened the door and stepped into the sun.
There were people again and it all felt normal, but he just knew it wasn’t.
And there was Posh Suit leaning against the wall all casual and certain and everyone was ignoring him. Not the way you ignored people, but honestly like they weren’t seeing him.
“I remember you.”
“I am rather memorable,” he smiled. “Or utterly forgettable.”
“You Harry then?”
“I am,” Harry looked at him. “A little gratitude would be appropriate now.”
“For getting me out of the filth, yeah thanks.”
Harry looked at him. “You haven’t realized?”
“Realized wot?” Eggsy stood there and glared at him.
“That you are...no longer of the mortal coil,” Harry said delicately.
“Huh?” Eggsy stared at him.
“You, Mr. Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, are deceased.”
“Right, you fucking nutter,” Eggsy said, ready to start yelling at the man.
Only someone walked through him without even stopping.
“Haha, very funny,” Eggsy snarled. “Some sort of mirror trick?”
“Help me police, this young man is attempting to rob me!” Harry called out. No one stopped or turned. Another person walked through Eggsy.
“Wot the fuck?” Eggsy shouted.
“Fancy a pint?”
Eggsy screamed as loud as he could and no one paid him any attention. His breath was a gasp, until he realized he wasn’t actually breathing. “Yeah?” he asked in return. “Where do ghosts get a pint then?”
“From a Booery of course,” Harry smiled. Eggsy stared at him, stunned. “Nothing? Huh, well you are still new to this. Come along Eggsy.” Harry began to walk down the street. He waited at the crosswalk.
“Bruv, if we’re dead why are we waiting?” Eggsy asked when the standard changed and they walked.
Harry looked at him in horror. “We’re dead, not heathens. Really.” He shook his head in disappointment. He walked to a pub and gestured for Eggsy to proceed him.
Eggsy reached out for the door and expected his hand to just fade through, but it was solid under his touch and he pulled it open.
“But -” Eggsy’s head hurt from trying to process everything.
“The Booery,” Harry joked. He followed Eggsy into the dim pub.
“Mr. Hart, always a pleasure,” the man at the bar said. “Usual?”
“Hmmm, a pint of Guinness does sound enjoyable, Eggsy?”
“Sure,” Eggsy shrugged and went and sat in a booth. “So he can see us? How does all this work?”
“It’s...complicated,” Harry said after a moment. “This is one of the select places in London where we are noticed. The gentleman behind the bar is in a unique relationship to us.” Harry smiled when the drinks were placed in front of them. He took a sip. “Ah, it does hit the spot doesn’t it?”
Eggsy stared at the glass in front of him and didn’t pick it up.
“So are you an angel then?” he asked, voice small, like he was a child again. “Guiding people into the light?”
“No, Eggsy. Wings seem like they would be very annoying. Feathers everywhere, itchy, molting. Grim Reaper is the traditional term I believe.” Harry took another sip of his pint.
“Where’s the black robe then?” Eggsy asked and crossed his arms.
Harry sighed. “We modernized some time ago, but if you prefer -”
Eggsy blinked and his jaw dropped as where there had been a posh man in a bespoke suit, there was now a hooded figure, the hint of a skeleton under the cowl, barely visible in the black fabric that seemed to absorb all the light in the room.
“Holy fuck,” Eggsy whispered. He grabbed his pint and in three gulps had it mostly drunk.
Harry returned to his clothes and face. “Now then, what shall we do with you?”
“Wot would you normally do?” Eggsy asked curious. “Eat my soul?”
Harry just gave him a look. “Movies, these days. Reapers are middle men, Eggsy. We help people move along.”
“The cop said he was processing me? Wot that mean then?”
“That was Purgatory, I guess you would say. You have a good soul Eggsy, but did some less than savory things. You were going to be difficult to place.”
“You vaguely subscribe to a Christian point of view, so heaven or hell with a stop in the eternal waiting room,” Harry said.
“I don’t believe in God.”
“If that was true, after you were reaped you would have just faded away,” Harry countered. “But you didn’t, and then you called. I admit I didn’t expect this call after you died though. Rather thought it would be sooner than that, you seem the impatient sort.”
“No going back.”
“I’m afraid not.”
Eggsy looked at him in horror. “Mum and Daisy.”
Harry shook his head. “I’m afraid -”
But Eggsy didn’t stay to listen just took off like a shot. He needed to get to them to let them know...something. He’d figure it out by the time he got to the flat. Only he was all of the sudden at the flat. He didn’t know how he got there. He had been running and then he just sort of was at the estate.
“Mum!” he shouted and he ran up the steps. He tripped and fell through the front door. Eggsy thought it would be like when his dad. Screaming and crying, and he didn’t know how he would make it better.
Only she were just passed out on the couch. Daisy was asleep in her basinett, and Mum...she didn’t even have tear streaks.
Eggsy sat on the ground in front of her. “Mum, can you hear me?” She didn’t even move. “Mum, please. Please see me?” Nothing.
Daisy fussed and Eggsy hurried over. “Oh, little one, it’s all okay, promise yeah?” She quieted and he smiled but when he blinked she was gone and it was a different day. “Wot the fuck?”
“The newly deceased who don’t move on, can be unstable,” Harry said all of a sudden beside him. “Time is difficult when you die, it is both meaningless and meaningful.”
“That sound less like crap in your head?” Eggsy tried to touch Daisy’s bear that he had nicked for her and his hand just passed through. “I can’t leave them. Can’t I like Patrick Swayze this shit up and make them feel me, jump into the body of someone and tell them I love them?”
“Eggsy, I have been dead for 100 years,” Harry reached out and his fingers also ghosted through the bear. “I had people who missed me as well.”
“What happens now?” Eggsy asked.
“I can help you move on,” Harry said. “Or…”
“Or you can come with me. I think that you would be well suited to the job, and we are about to start a new training session.”
“Job?” Eggsy was confused. “I’m dead and wot you want me to fill our human resources forms?”
“Don’t worry, they don’t tax the dead,” Harry’s voice is dry. “Tell me, Eggsy, would being a grim reaper be of interest to you?”
Eggsy stood in a dorm room and stared at the other...he guessed they were all ghosts. Most were dressed a hell of a lot more posh than him, though one guy was starkers and another was in pajamas.
Harry had done something and all of a sudden they were somewhere else, in the country, place seemed huge. He was handed off to a man with a clipboard and the two had whispered for a couple moments and then Harry just walked away with a vague, ‘good luck.’
Shit, maybe he should have chosen to pass on. But then he wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on Daisy. Though he had no idea how he was actually going to do that.
The man with the clipboard came into the room. “Hello ladies and gentlemen, I am Merlin. I will be training you for the next few months so that we can properly sort you to the right category of reaping.”
“And how many will be Kingsman?” a man asked.
Merlin ignored that. “Now then is anyone still having problems with time skips?”
Eggsy put up his hand. “You mean like blink and you’re in a different spot or it is hours later?”
“Aye, lad, how long have ye been with our side?”
“Three days? I think?” Eggsy said.
The man who had asked about Kingsman snorted. “He’ll not make the cut.”
“Oi fuck off, how long you been dead then?”
“Long enough not to skip anymore,” he answered back.
“Please,” a girl with a ponytail said, “No one here is older than 1.”
“Indeed, and skipping is nothing to be ashamed of,” Merlin’s voice was firm. He walked over to Eggsy and held out a hand. Eggsy went to shake, but Merlin’s grip was different. Merlin carefully put a watch on Eggsy’s wrist. “That will help keep ye stable until you can do it on your own.” He looked around the room. “And clearly if one of ye is still nude, you aren’t as masterful as ye think.” Merlin tapped on his clipboard like it was a tablet. He then waved a hand and all of them were in matching jumpsuits. “There. Your training will be rigorous, and…interesting. If you are not suited to being a reaper, then we will make sure you move on. Tomorrow I’ll begin with interviewing everyone. Any questions?”
It was all too much for Eggsy. “Yeah, can you do the black robe, skeleton thing, wot Harry can?”
There were a couple gasps and murmurs of shock from the room. Eggsy guessed that that was a rude question or something.
Merlin smiled a little. “Yes,” he said and left the room.
Eggsy snorted a bit.
“Cheeky of you, don’t you know who these people are?”
“Well actually, not really people are they?” Eggsy asked.
The guy got his back up. “And how did your death warrant this?” the man charged forward. “It takes a grand gesture, a sacrifice to be a reaper.” All of a sudden the guy smirked. “Although, in the old days it was criminals, a punishment. Let the reaper see a glimpse of the heaven they couldn’t have. That fit you?”
“Not like your Mum’s fanny does,” Eggsy said.
“You -” the man started to swing at him but was pulled away by a couple of the other posh looking wankers.
“Enough Charlie, he isn’t worth it,” another said.
Eggsy went over to a bunk and sat on. The girl came over. “He talks a good game, but that’s all it is. I’m Roxy.”
“Eggsy,” he looked at her. “Wot did he mean a grand gesture?”
“When you had your exit interview, and they gave you this as an option, what did they say?” she asked as she sat on the bed with him.
“Wot, you mean like the wanker cop who repeated every sin ever?”
Roxy bit her lip. “Your reaper, I mean.”
“I don’t -” Eggsy tried to think. “Look, one minute I realized the car was going to crash and angled it so I took the brunt instead of my friends. Next I’m being interviewed by what I think is the filth, only when I demanded my call and show him my fob, he freaks out, tries to pass me up the chain. And then Harry busts me out and we have a pint and now I’m here.”
Roxy looked at him stunned. “You had a Kingsman fob?”
Eggsy reached into his pocket and pulled it out. “Sure, don’t all of you, figured that’s how you got here.”
Roxy shook her head. “No, Eggsy. Those are...rare,” she finally said. “Death itself owed you a favour.”
“So like how this all work then?” Eggsy asked. “You seem to know a lot.”
Roxy shrugged. “Not really. At my end my reaper nodded to me and said that he had a job that would suit me but he understood if I wanted to go to my rest. But that I was very good at helping people and might want to continue on. I then sort of waited, I guess you’d say, until they were ready to train more reapers.”
“How did you help people?”
“Army medic, I died in the field after getting patients to safety.”
“Shit,” Eggsy said.
“I was collected by Percival, he collects Englishmen who die in service to the Crown.” Roxy sounded so proud.
Eggsy wondered who had collected him.
“Merlin said he was interviewing everyone tomorrow, it is a good idea to leave your questions for him.”
Eggsy nodded. “You leave anyone behind?”
“Mr. Unwin, please come in,” Merlin said when Eggsy knocked. Eggsy went in and look around. “Jesus that’s some NASA level crap,” he said in awe, staring at Merlin’s computers.
“I am in charge of sending out the Kingsman, there are a good number of souls that need collecting.”
“So you lot collect every dead person?”
“No, the Kingsman are more specialized.” Merlin poured some tea for them both.
“Wot is it with you and Harry and drinking. We don’t have to right?” Eggsy asked.
“Habit,” Merlin answered. “A cuppa in a situation like this is comforting. We are dead, it doesn’t mean we aren’t who we were.” Merlin smiled and added a biscuit to Eggsy’s plate. “We dinnae serve the whole world, that would be absurd.”
Eggsy thought about it. “Guess it would be a lot of work for one Grim Reaper wouldn’t it?”
“Indeed,” Merlin smiled. “Each country has its own system in place. And it really is run like a company these days. England has two branches - natural and unnatural. The Kingsman handles the unnatural deaths.”
“Roxy said she died saving lives,” Eggsy said. “Some bloke named Percival collected her.”
“Indeed, he handles people who die in service, army, police, peace keepers, that sort.”
“Doesn’t keep him super busy, I wouldn’t think,” Eggsy said.
“No, but the deaths can be...difficult so a handful a year is enough,” Merlin said. “Accidents, murder, anything that isn’t old age, cancer, or heart disease is on our plate. Perhaps 50-80,000 a year.”
“Seems like a pretty big number,” Eggsy said.
“We have the best reapers in the business,” Merlin replied.
“Bruv, you ain’t selling iphones, you’re collecting fucking souls.”
“No, people who die during sex mostly come under the natural category and are nae our business.” Merlin’s face was completely straight.
Eggsy laughed a little. “And you think I can do this job.”
“I think nothing of you right now. Harry thinks you can do this job,” Merlin explained. “Now then, let us begin the actual interview process.”
Eggsy swallowed heavily, the already intimidating man got even sterner and started asking questions quickly giving Eggsy no time to think about answers.
What is your favourite colour? Blue
What is your favourite movie? The Bourne Supremacy
Don’t lie, I’ll know. Mary Poppins
What are you afraid of? Spiders... Being useless.
What keeps your heart warm ? My Da used to tuck me in and boop my nose twice
What do you wish you had done while you were still alive? Got Mum away from Dean.
It seemed to go on and on forever just these rapid fire questions and every time Eggsy even fibbed a little, Merlin’s eyes almost glowed with fire. Finally when he lied about apples over pears and those eyes glowed, Eggsy snapped.
“Are you the fucking devil then?” he asked.
Merlin smirked a little. “Nae.”
“Then wot the fuck?” Eggsy gestured. “Wot are you?”
“Same as you,” Merlin said simply.
“Your Scottish, collecting the souls of the English and seem to be different than Harry.”
“I’m old Eggsy, very old,” Merlin said in a deep voice like he was in the Lord of the Rings. “And that is all I’ll say for now.”
“How old?” Eggsy pushed.
Merlin’s grin was wicked and his eyes were flames. “Old as balls. Now get gone with ye, I have to interview that fucking prat Charlie. Soon I can pass him over to natural deaths, the better.”
“So I’m staying here? I passed?” Eggsy didn’t want to feel proud, but he sort of did.
“Heavens no, ye failed miserably. But in such a way that intrigues me, I’ll be keeping ye here for a time yet.” Merlin waved a hand and all of a sudden, Eggsy was outside on the grounds.
He looked around, it really was beautiful here, but he didn’t understand how they just had run of the whole place. He watched as a van pulled up and tourists spilled out. A tour guide stood at the steps and was gesturing dramatically.
“It is the most haunted estate in the country,” Roxy said as she settled beside him. “The government owns it and it is used for tours, movie shoots, been a bunch of ghost hunters who filmed here.”
“How do you know that?”
“I use to love those sorts of shows. I remember an episode about this place. Only one that actually ever scared the crew. Guess we know why.” Roxy smiled, “How did your interview go?”
“I’m staying. I think,” he said.
“Same. Did he say who you would be shadowing?”
“Nah, said I failed impressively and kicked me out.” Eggsy tilted his head. “Is that a dog?” he pointed in the distance.
“Must be lost,” Roxy said with a shrug. “No animals come near this place, we create bad energy for them.”
But this dog kept coming towards them. And then Eggsy had a lap full of pug. “Hello there boy,” Eggsy said, laughing as the dog couldn’t stop wiggling.
“You’re touching him,” Roxy said. “That must mean -”
“Ghost dog,” Eggsy said cheerfully before he frowned. “Oh, no. No no no no. Does this mean dogs don’t go to heaven? All dogs go to heaven. They have to.”
Roxy stared at him, puzzled. He didn’t seem at all to suit the job, but a reaper selected him and Merlin was keeping him there. Something about Eggsy must matter. “I...maybe...I don’t know about dogs, I’m sorry. The manual didn’t cover them.”
The dog licked Eggsy’s face. Eggsy beamed. “Well, I’m keeping him.” Eggsy let the dog lick him some more. “Aw buggering shit, I didn’t get a manual off Merlin.”
“You should have been given it to read by your reaper while you were waiting for training to start,” she said.
“Didn’t exactly have time for that. It was hey you are dead, want a job, oh crap I’m late, training starts now. Good luck,” Eggsy explained.
Roxy handed him her small book. “Here, all you need to know about the afterlife.”
“Does this mean the movie Beetlejuice was pretty accurate?”
She laughed. “More accurate than some, anyways.” Roxy stood up, “Time for my interview, good luck with the dog.”
Eggsy waved her off already flipping through the small book. The pug ran around chasing bugs for a bit before settling down with a yawn. Eggsy gave him a scratch behind the ears and began to read aloud.
“ Hello and welcome to the journey of being dead . Yeah right, thanks for the cheerfulness. This book will guide you through your options of being one of the select who doesn’t move on This is a choice? Really. None of this makes sense, but here we are. Chapter 1. Hauntings and You. Chapter 2. Wandering Wraith Wait are wraiths and ghosts different? Chapter 3. Deciding later to move on a step by step process . Chapter 4. Grim Reapers or Soul Collectors . There we go,” Eggsy skipped ahead.
He kept reading aloud to the dog, it helped him process the words, and even then it still seemed unfathomable. Near as he could tell though, somewhere along the way collecting souls had gone corporate. Management and divisions, and quotas, and shit, this is what he was supposed to do now?
“Hello, Eggsy,” Harry said, strolling across the lawn. “I see you’ve made a friend.”
“Dogs go to heaven right?”
“They do, but just like people some elect to stay. Perhaps this one still had a few more balls to chase.” The dog woofed. “Indeed,” Harry settled onto the grass. “I hear you had an interesting interview.”
Eggsy groaned. “Harry what am I doing here?”
“Seeing if you have what it takes to be a soul collector.”
“A bloke said, it used to be for criminals, give them a glimpse of the heaven they could never have.” Eggsy touched the dog to soothe himself. “Before I called you, my list of bad were awful long that he was going through.”
“Once it may have been,” Harry agreed. “And some places it might still be the case. Not exactly yearly conventions that we go to.”
“Huh, way the book sounds, almost expected like the world games of grim reapers or something,” Eggsy said. “England wins most drowned in their tea, Italy most choked on food.”
Harry laughed a little. “You are a special case lad. You were going to be moved on, it was clear from your processing. You weren’t going to be offered the chance to linger. You were never to have seen that manual.”
“Only I demanded my call.”
“Only you demanded your call.” Harry looked at the estate. The tour group was leaving, some anxious, some thrilled. “Oh dear, the tour must have gone too close to Merlin’s office, and he caused a bit of a fright.”
“Harry, what am I doing here?” Eggsy asked softly. “The others, I’m really not like them.”
“You, Eggsy, are a young man who had a great deal of potential and died with it wasted. This is your chance to change that.” Harry looked at him, “It is an honour for as long as the job lasts.”
“For as long as it lasts?”
“People move on. Hard to say why or how, just one day you’ll realize that a person is gone.”
“Who reaps the reapers?”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t know. No one does, until it is time.”
“How long you been doing this then?”
“Since the war,” Harry sighed and looked in the distance.
“Which war? Been a lot of them.” Eggsy looked at him. “World War 2? One, Napoleon?”
“Do I look that old?”
“Bruv, for all I know when you say war, you could mean the fucking Boston Tea Party.”
Harry laughed. “The Great War, Eggsy. I died in 1917, in the trenches.”
Eggsy couldn’t say anything to that. Couldn’t even imagine it. “So what sort of crap do I have to do to become a collector like you?”
“Learn to look good in black,” Harry said dryly. “I’m not in charge of training. That is Merlin’s pervu, along with handing out assignments.”
“Hmmm,” Harry agreed. “Learn well, Eggsy.” Harry stood off and started to dust off his trousers before laughing at himself. “Some habits are dreadfully hard to break even after a hundred years.” He walked away whistling.
Eggsy looked at the small book in his hand and threw it as hard as he could.
The dog chased after it thrilled.
Eggsy lay back in the grass and tried to figure out if he regretted making that call.
“It’s an obstacle course,” Eggsy said, stating the obvious.
“Aye,” Merlin said. He looked down at his clipboard.
“What do we have to run an obstacle course for?” Eggsy asked. He dog woofed beside him.
“Because nitwit, we need to be able to travel distances at a moment’s notice?” Charlie fired back.
Eggsy rolled his eyes, bastard had passed the interview and was still around.
“Also because I need to see how you move,” Merlin said and something in his voice made Charlie quiet. Eggsy wished he had that skill, the fucker never shut up in the dorms.
“Now, step one, take the course as if it was a normal day in school or training,” Merlin smiled and held up a stopwatch. “Go.”
The ten of them who were left all ran the course and Eggsy was pleased when he came in fourth. All of a sudden they were back at the beginning of the course. Merlin tapped his board and the course seemed to change a little. “Now be creative.”
Eggsy shot him a feral grin and took off like a shot jumping and twisting and downright smug when he came in first. And again they were all back at the beginning.
“Interesting manouvers there Eggsy,” Merlin said. “But ye all misunderstood me. And are still thinking around and over and under. Think through. Now again, be creative.” Everyone started running again, but Eggsy paused. Roxy wasn’t running. She closed her eyes and just...the world got dark around her for a second and then she was gone. “Shit,” Eggsy said in awe. He had no doubt she was at the end of the course.
Merlin’s eyes were doing that fire thing again and his smile was sharp, pleased. Eggsy wanted that kind of look directed at him. He wanted to get this right. He tried to picture the end of the course, focus on just being there and nothing. He looked down at the watch on his wrist, the one that stopped him from skipping in time, maybe it was hindering his movement as well.
Eggsy took the watch off and flung it to Merlin.
“Eggsy, no -” Merlin called but Eggsy tried to picture the end of the course. To send himself there, he closed his eyes and focused.
He wanted to throw up. It felt like everything was bending and twisting inside him. It hurt. He was dead, things shouldn’t hurt. Eggsy opened his eyes and the first thing he noticed was that it was night.
The second was that he was not at the grounds anymore.
The Eiffel Tower was sort of a dead giveaway.
“What in the ever loving fuck?” Eggsy lay on the ground and stared up at all the steel and lights. “Seriously, how am I here?” He felt torn apart. “Harry?” he called out hopefully when he heard steps approaching.
“Sorry lad,” Merlin came walking up to him. “Harry dislikes France intensely.” Merlin lay down beside him. “It looks terrifying from this angle.”
“Why do you sound like that makes you happy?”
“I’ve always liked things that scared me,” Merlin answered. He stared at the lights and ignored the people who walked through him.
“Why does Harry hate France?”
“He died here. Some are fine with where they died, others are not. He comes in the latter category.”
“Wot about you then?”
Merlin smiled a little. “At this point, I am amused by my death.”
“How long that take?”
Merlin hummed a little. “I was always proud of my death. But amused? Two or three hundred years I guess? Not more than 400 because by then I had gone back and felt other things.”
“Jesus you’ve been dead for 400 years?” Eggsy rolled his head on the grass to look at Merlin.
“Nae. I’ve been dead for 700,” Merlin said.
“And you haven’t fucking moved on?”
Merlin looked at Eggsy and god the fires of hell were in his eyes. “I’m one of those punishment cases Charlie mentioned.”
“So what, you don’t move on because if you do you’ll end up...in a hot place?”
“Hell is nae so warm, Eggsy, it is cold. The absence of God’s love doesn’t burn but freezes ye.” Merlin’s eyes drifted back to normal. “But I don’t move on because I like the job, and I have nae fulfilled my purpose. I sent a great many to their death while I lived, to see them find their way after...it pleases me. The only reason to move on would be in case I would have a glimpse of Robert again.”
“Robert?” Eggsy looked at him. “Your…”
“My king,” Merlin said. “I loved him so, and killed many English to keep him safe. And the pleasure I took in those deaths is what rather got me in trouble.”
Eggsy put it together. “You fought for fucking Robert the Bruce?”
“Aye. The English thought me a witch, aiding him with dark magics and hung me after capturing me when I had killed 12 men without naught but a short blade.”
“No, but I’ve picked up some things since then,” Merlin laughed a little. “Like how to find wayward charges who end up in Paris three nights later than at the end of an obstacle course.”
“Three days?” Eggsy gulped. “Guessing that disqualifies me from the job.”
“Nae, because making it to Paris on your first jump is impressive. Roxy had to sleep for a day to recover from the end of the lawn.” Merlin held out the watch. “Control will come. Ye have potential lad.”
Eggsy looked up at the Eiffel Tower. “Was it painful when you died?”
“Very. And when I came to, finding out I had to reap English souls, that almost killed me again. Sending the fucking English invaders to a reward?” Merlin snorted. “That took almost 600 years to accept.”
“What happened then?”
“I met Harry Hart,” Merlin said dryly. “He tends to change things a bit.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure,” Eggsy agreed. “Can you take me to where I died?”
“I’m not sure that is a good idea lad,” Merlin said softly.
Eggsy strapped on the watch and laughed. “Bruv, haven’t you figured out yet, I’m pretty much only bad ideas?”
“Aye, and I am pretty sure that is why Harry wanted ye to join up,” Merlin stood and held out a hand. He waited while Eggsy thought about it. Finally Eggsy touched his hand. “Were ye worried it would just pass through?”
Eggsy shook his head. “Honestly, and I’m sorry, kind of feels a little like shaking your hand would be making a deal with the devil.” Eggsy learned that ghosts can in fact blush.
Merlin’s eyes fired up. “Well now lad, it really depends what sort of deal ye would like to make.”
Before Eggsy could even blink they were back in London on an empty street. Eggsy looked around. “I swerved to miss a cat, and over corrected,” he said softly and began to walk down the road.
Merlin walked with him and was silent. Eggsy stopped and stared at the wall. He could still see gouges, marks on the brick from where he slammed into it. The spot shimmered, seemed hazy. Eggsy reached out.
“Dinnae touch lad, the place is still too fresh, ye cannae tap those feelings again, nae so soon.”
But Eggsy didn’t listen and touched. He screamed as he saw it all happen, felt it all again. He fell to the ground clutching himself and screamed and screamed. He felt arms around him and managed to open his eyes. It was Harry there, not Merlin.
“Harry,” Eggsy began to sob and Harry held him close.
“See this is why I avoid France,” Harry said severely, but the hand he ran up Eggsy’s back was comforting.
Eggsy realizes they are no longer in the alley but back at the estate and Harry is tucking him into a soft bed. “I’m in the dorm.”
“For tonight, an allowance can be made, you’ve been travelling a lot,” Harry touched his forehead. “I’m so sorry.”
“You didn’t kill me, did that all on my own.” Eggsy yawned. “I’m dead, how am I so tired?”
“Shh, just rest.” Harry stayed until Eggsy was asleep and then sent himself to Merlin’s office. Merlin was digging through his files. “That shouldn’t have happened.”
“I know,” Merlin snarled and continued his hunt.
“He is only a few weeks old, he shouldn’t have been taken there,” Harry yelled back.
Merlin blinked at him. “That’s what concerns ye?”
“What else should concern me then?” Harry asked, voice showing how barely controlled he was. “Because that seems of a prime concern.”
Merlin spun in his chair and glared at Harry. For a moment he lost control and wasn’t in his sweater in glasses, but shirtless, tattoos writhing on his skin, eyes aflame. “That is a scarred place, Lieutenant.” Merlin forgot himself and referred to Harry by the rank he had when alive.
Harry paused about to shout back. He took a breath. “It can’t be scarred. He was in Purgatory, he was being processed. It can’t be scarred.”
Merlin collected himself and was back to his normal look. “And I am telling ye that it is scarred, it is screaming.”
“That means,” Harry swallowed in horror. “It means he wasn’t reaped. He died and was uncollected.”
“But he was in Purgatory, how could he have found his way there if he was unreaped?” Harry started to look panicked. “He should be stuck there, already turning to a -”
“I know!” Merlin roared. “And that is why I am trying to find answers. Because everything he is, shouldn’t be.”
Harry sat in a chair. “I’ll help you look.”
Merlin nodded and they went through the files and tried to find out what happened.
Only what they found was too much nothing.
“Control,” Percival stood in front of the group. “Control and patience. Those are key skills for a reaper.”
“We are given when the people will die, why do we need patience?” Charlie asked. “We wing over, they die, we collect.”
Percival looked at him calmly. “How long did it take you to die, Mr Heskith?”
“Almost instant,” Charlie answered.
“Ms. Morton, when I collected you, how long did you take to die?”
Roxy swallowed, a habit from living. “49 minutes, sir.”
“And when did I collect you?”
“I...just closed my eyes and you were there. I was so tired and so past pain I couldn’t even describe it.”
“Some stories suggest that the grim reaper marks you and then you die, but that isn’t quite the case. We know when whatever is going to kill you is going to happen. But what kills you, doesn’t mean you are dead,” Percival explained. “A collector waits by their side until the time is right and then guides their soul to its next stop.”
“Why not just pull them early, get it done with?” Digby asked.
“Because sometimes, a soul fights back - hard. And sometimes it wins.” Percival shrugged. “People occasionally cheat death.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen those movies, it don’t work out well,” Eggsy joked.
Percival sighed. “Do you read comic books Mr. Unwin?”
Eggsy blinked at the non sequitor. “Uh sure, who hasn’t?”
“He is closest. His woman, his Death, is the closest fictional representation of us there is. We don’t do this for revenge, or out of any feeling but love. A soul taken too soon, or left too long, there is no joy in that. We were here before the heavens were made, and we’ll be here after everything else ends.”
“Shit, that’s depressing,” Charlie said.
Eggsy thought it oddly beautiful.
“Today’s exercise is simply waiting. You will be taken into the city and stationed at various pubs or cafes and you have to focus on a person for one hour. That’s it, pick a person and stay with them for one hour. If after you can project yourself back to the estate, do so, if not you’ll meet me at Wellington’s statue in 90 minutes.” Percival nodded to Merlin who was standing in the corner. With a wave and a tap on his clipboard they were all in central London.
Percival pointed each to a location and then disappeared.
Eggsy looked at the bar and it just felt wrong. He walked a little and found a small patch of grass. There was a woman sitting there reading. He had to be there, he couldn’t explain why. He watched her read.
It was odd. He could feel the grass under him, even as his hand ghosted through the blades. He could smell exhaust and someone’s cigar and the small flowers in the corner, but he wasn’t actually breathing it in - he just knew all those pieces. He had thought it would be boring to just watch a complete stranger but it wasn’t. He found it oddly comforting.
Eggsy was surprised at how easily the hour went. He stood up and went over beside her. “Have a good day, yeah?”
She looked up and around like she had heard something before returning to her book.
Eggsy walked around the corner of the small garden and headed towards the statue. He tried to project himself there and was pleased when he made it about 8 blocks and it was still the same time.
He made his way to the statue and waved when he saw Percival and Roxy talking.
“Though you’d send yourself back to the estate,” Eggsy said to Roxy.
“Wanted to talk to Percival a little, plus...I didn’t make it the full hour,” she admitted.
“”Really, it was dead easy,” Eggsy grinned. He had slowly started to sneak puns in. Most people were unimpressed, but he swore he had seen Merlin stifle a smile once.
“Ha ha,” Roxy rolled her eyes. “And didn’t time move so slow?”
Eggsy looked at her. “No? So you know how we can feel everything while touching nothing? Time is like that innit? We can feel every second but then boom an hour is just done.” He flinched a little under the gaze of the two of them. “What?”
“So that’s why Harry brought you to us, interesting,” Percival smiled at them. “Charlie lasted only twenty minutes. He’ll be headed out soon I think, honestly not sure why he hasn’t been shuffled elsewhere.”
“How is he still here with how much you all hate him?” Eggsy asked.
“Because he was asked by someone more powerful than us, that is holding sway,” Percival looked sharply to the right. “We won’t wait for the rest, let’s go.”
“Why?” Roxy tried to look over but Percival was guiding them away.
“We just need to move along,” was all he said.
Eggsy didn’t like not knowing things. He easily twisted away from Percival’s guiding hand and turned. He saw Harry standing on a corner with two other men. Harry never had excess movement, but here he was so still, it hurt to look at him.
“Please Eggsy, it is too soon for you to watch this,” Percival said quietly.
They all heard the wail of sirens and Percival clutched their shoulders and they were gone just as the sound of breaking glass and a scream reached their ears.
They stood in front of the estate and Merlin was waiting. “I could nae help the timing, my apologies.”
“It isn’t your fault,” Percival said. “You cannot control other’s fates.”
“Did you get them away in time?”
“Yes, only, I had to pull them quick and -”
Digby arrived and immediately fell to the ground sobbing. “It was horrific. This is what we do? Oh god, we’re monsters. I can’t. I can’t.” He just kept repeating that over and over.
Merlin crouched down and touched his head. He leaned over and whispered something and Digby was gone.
Eggsy realized that he had seen Merlin do that with a couple of the other candidates.
Roxy went into the estate and Percival just faded away.
“So, you are the one to move us along then?” Eggsy asked curious.
“Nae,” Merlin paused. “Or, not quite? They move on to the head of the Kingsman who then switches them to natural causes or helps them move to whatever is next.”
“You aren’t in charge?” This information stunned Eggsy. “But you’re old and send everyone out and are in charge of training and -”
“And there is a gentleman who is older than I here and whom I report to. It is his job to assess, decide when a collector is ready to move on.”
“Who reaps the reapers,” Eggsy said.
“Indeed.” Merlin smiled a little. “How did you hour of patience go? I bet ye were restless. Ye seem like the sort who never stopped when alive.”
“Not alive now though,” Eggsy bent down as the dog ran to him. “It...how horrible is it that I like this more than being alive. That this is where I’m supposed to be? Who feels more at home in their skin, when they don’t even have skin anymore?”
“I understand, lad,” Merlin said quietly. “I think ye belong here. And iffen ye repeat that to anyone, then I’ll push ye so hard you’ll be trying to reap the souls on Jupiter.”
“You like me!” Eggsy called after the retreating Merlin.
“I like no Englishman,” Merlin shouted back. “To hell with yer imperial asses.”
“My ass isn’t imperial, but it is fantastic,” Eggsy called back.
Merlin turned and Eggsy’s knees went weak at the fire in the man’s eyes, at the way his shirt melted away and he saw the sword tattoo on his spine and the snakes swirling in endless circles over his skin.
He looked like a heaven sent demon.
Merlin’s grin could have killed him all over again. “In that jumpsuit I cannae confirm or deny, but perhaps I’ll see you out of it at some point and judge for meself.”
A blink and Merlin was gone.
Eggsy stood there stunned. “Wait, did that just happen?” he finally asked out loud. He looked around and realized night had fallen. He hadn’t time skipped, he had just been caught so off guard he stood there for hours.
Harry came out of the estate. “Good lord, Eggsy stop doing an impression of a statue and come inside.”
“I think Merlin just flirted with me,” Eggsy stared at Harry, still a little shook.
“Unlikely, he has not had a relationship in the hundred years I’ve known him,” Harry dismissed.
“Do reapers even have relationships?”
“Of course,” Harry answered surprised. “We form friendships, more. We have no body, we are all soul, Eggsy. We feel everything more purely than we did when alive. That’s what makes it so important a person be the right fit for the job, so that it doesn’t overwhelm them.”
“He made a comment about wanting to see my arse naked,” Eggsy looked at Harry. “And what the fuck is up with the moving tattoos?”
“He lost control enough you saw under the jumper?” It was Harry’s turn to be surprised. “That never happens with recruits.”
“Well I see his real eyes all the time but -”
“Not even that,” Harry tilted his head. “Not to recruits,” Harry’s smile was blinding. “He’s sure you’ll make it all the way and be a Kingsman. He wouldn’t let that much slip if you were going to be sent along. I knew I was right about you, just like your father -” Harry paused and if it was possible for a ghost, paled.
“Harry, what about my father?” Eggsy’s voice was small.
“Nothing. I have a job I need to go to,” Harry gave him a nod and disappeared.
“Harry!” Eggsy called out.
But he was gone, and Eggsy just knew he wouldn’t see the man for a while.
Merlin looked at the three left, and frankly it should have been two left, but Chester had sworn up and down that Charlie would shine when the time came. He should be teaching both Eggsy and Roxy how to reap by now, but still they were doing these training exercises that really added nothing to what he knew from the beginning.
At least they had finally reached the point where Charlie would show his mettle or be removed.
“Candidates, today we take the next step,” Merlin said. His voice was low and serious.
“Sir?” Roxy asked.
Merlin handed them a file. “This woman is going to die tonight at a club, ye three will attend, as she is reaped.” He watched their reactions. Charlie smirked and said about time , Roxy took a deep breath and firmed her jaw, and Eggsy didn’t really react at first.
“I know her,” Eggsy said.
“Personally?” Merlin asked curious how this would affect Eggsy.
“Nah, she were the one I watched during that test with Percival, felt I had to, couldn’t explain why,” Eggsy shrugged.
“That was a month ago,” Merlin said. “Interesting.”
“How is that interesting?” Charlie asked.
“No reason that is a concern of yours,” Merlin answered, but he made some notes on his clipboard.
“Guv?” Eggsy asked.
“Later,” Merlin promised. “Now then, it will be Tristan who leads you in this, as it is an accidental death, a straightforward one at that. It can be unsettling to witness your first reaping though, and ye will be able to spend some time as you like after, before we continue on. Good luck.” Merlin disappeared and Tristan arrived in a black suit, looking the closest to a grim reaper of all the Kingsman they had met so far.
“Let us away,” he said. He looked at their jumpsuits. “No, not appropriate for a reaping.” He waved his hand and they were all in simple trousers and a dress shirt. “You have not earned the right to wear the uniform yet, but a little decorum goes a long way.”
“Not exactly club wear is it?” Eggsy asked, “We look like shitty waiters.”
Tristan huffed and with a wave of his hand they were in club clothes. Roxy in a lacy black dress, Charlie in a suit, and Eggsy in a Packham track jacket he had always dreamed about. “Shit, you see in our heads like that?”
“A personal gift,” he said. “Come.”
The club was loud and Eggsy didn’t understand how they lost Tristan in the crowd. “He’s a guy who actually looks like fucking death, how did we lose him?” Eggsy shouted over the music.
“I don’t know, but there is the target,” Roxy pointed. “If we stick with her, it should be fine right?”
Charlie was restless. “The file said her accident would happen at 11:24 right?”
“Yeah,” Eggsy agreed.
“Because this is ridiculous, what does three more minutes matter?” Charlie asked. “She’s dead anyways, and I’m tired of just watching, let’s see if we can do anything. I was told how to do this,” he said.
“Wait, what?” Eggsy reached out to grab Charlie but missed.
Charlie kissed her forehead and dragged a hand over her face and stepped back, smug. He then paled as she choked on her olive. Her friends were screaming trying to help her but nothing was working.
But that was not what was bothering the three of them.
Roxy tried to move closer but flinched away. “Charlie, what did you do? She’s, oh god, her soul is screaming,” Roxy couldn’t stop a tear from falling.
“Help her, Charlie,” Eggsy yelled.
“I can’t! I don’t know what is going on,” Charlie said. He reached out to touch her again, but it just caused an angry red aura to appear around her. As the woman fell dead, her soul stayed standing and screaming in agony.
The clock hit the proper time for her reaping and Tristan stood beside them. “You are unworthy of the job,” Tristan said to Charlie and he began to reach out to the soul.
“Don’t fucking touch her,” Eggsy snarled and without thinking he stepped between Tristan and the woman.
“I will help her,” Tristan said. But he sounded defeated, like he couldn’t really help her.
“You won’t send her along, you’ll make a scar,” Eggsy said.
Tristan paused. “And what do you know of scars?”
Eggsy paused. “I...don’t know?” But he turned away from Tristan and to the woman. “Hello,” he said softly. “Shh, I am here.”
She just kept screaming, the red flashing and pulsing.
Charlie was swearing and Roxy was making him watch. Tristan was also watching but for a different reason.
Eggsy ignored it all, “Shh, I know it hurts. It hurts so much, it hurt me too, being reaped wrong,” Eggsy wondered how he knew that he had been reaped wrong, just that it had happened. “I’m here, just listen to my voice. I remember you. You read in a garden, looked like a good book. And this seems like a fun club. And your friends loved you, they loved you so much.” They could see her friends holding her hands, begging her not to be gone. “You were loved, darling, can you find that feeling. Hold to it? Shhh, just let their love fill you up. It’s okay, it’s all okay, I promise.” He spoke to her almost like how he would to Daisy, when the baby had had colic. He just kept talking and slowly the red pulsing stopped and her screams quieted. Eggsy took a chance and wrapped her into a hug. “There now, not so bad, right?”
“At least I looked good,” she said on watery laugh. “What happens now?”
“The tall creepy guy behind me is going to help with that,” Eggsy promised. “But it’s going to be okay, whatever comes next, it’s going to be okay.” He turned to Tristan and waited for the man do whatever it is a reaper does, but Tristan didn’t move. “Bruv, come on, she’s dead do your thing.”
Tristan shook his head. “You cannot fix a wrong reap, that is why the job is so important.”
“Fuck that shit, I was wrong and I’m fine, and she’s going to be fine too,” Eggsy said. He turned back to the girl. “Hey, luv, close your eyes and picture your happiest moment. Go all patronus spell on this yeah?” He lay his hand over her eyes. “Just hold that as fucking tight as you can.” He had no clue what he was doing, but it was just coming to him, natural, like this was the way it was always supposed to be. He kissed her forehead. “I’m going to hold you, but I want you to walk into that memory, okay. Just step forward into it.”
He had no idea if this was going to work, but it just felt right. And in a moment she took a breath and slowly faded away. Eggsy’s shoulders slumped in relief and he felt so tired. He looked at the other three who were staring at him in shock. He ached.
“I don’t think I can jump back to the estate,” he admitted to Tristan. He passed out, his last thought being surprised that a dead guy could still pass out. Which really shouldn’t be so surprising, since he had been doing it an awful lot.
Merlin and Harry sat in the bar, Merlin quietly waiting while Harry read Tristan’s report.
“That isn’t possible. Even you can’t stop once a scar occurs,” Harry said. “This isn’t done.”
Merlin drank some scotch. “Nae, in Russia there are rumours of one, in America too.”
“In America there are rumours they lasso the souls out of people,” Harry sneered. “Doesn’t mean Fixers are real.”
Merlin huffed a little. “Fixer is an appalling label. The correct name for them is the Eternal Heart.”
“Are you serious?” Harry said into the silence that fell.
“It the old tongue, in the witch’s kitchen fire, there were stories of not just reapers, but those who love so much, who are so suited to the job, people who can heal wounds left in the afterlife,” Merlin shrugged a little. “They carry it in their blood, their souls.”
“Fairy tales,” Harry dismissed.
Merlin’s eyes were aflame. “Harry, what the fuck are we then?”
“You are saying that a man who was a petty criminal in life, who was perfectly content wasting skills he had, dishonouring the way his father died, can heal scarred places, could even send the Wanderers on?”
Merlin’s tattoos flashed under his sweater. “And what does he know of how his father died, to know he betrayed anything? Because what I see is a reaper who will do an incredible job, once he realizes his full potential.”
“Which you’ll help him do,” Harry said.
“He needs more of the basics before what I can teach him,” Merlin said. “And he trusts you. Percival is training Roxy, you’ve nae had an apprentice before. Are ye ready?”
“I can be,” Harry answered. “But he’s going to wake with questions I can’t answer.”
“Can’t, or won’t?”
“I was there in the end. His father isn’t a scar,” Harry looked at Merlin. “I made it right.”
Merlin nodded and got that far off look in his eyes. “He awakes.” He finished his scotch and disappeared.
Eggsy could feel someone sitting near him, but it didn’t feel like anyone he knows. They were old, shit felt even older than Merlin. He had no idea how he could tell though. He also could tell that they felt a little bit wrong. Cold in a way no one else he had met had felt. And power, so much power.
Eggsy opened his eyes and sat up. It was a gent, wearing a suit like Harry, looked like he may have died of just being older but not ancient. “Hello, sir,” he said. His voice was a little hoarse.
“Mr. Unwin, it is a pleasure to meet you. I’m Chester King, I’m the one in charge of all this,” he gestured. He had a genial smile, that Eggsy damn well knew was fake.
“Merlin’s in charge,” Eggsy said. Oh, the old guy didn’t like that, did he?
“Of you and the others, but I am in charge of the larger picture. I am here to make my apologies to you,” he said adjusting his trousers as he shifted his legs.
“Don’t know you sir, can’t imagine what you have to apologize for,” Eggsy said.
“Hmmm, months and your words havn’t smoothed out, interesting,” he smiled. “You should try to copy Harry’s tone more, it is soothing to those departing.”
“Woman last night like it fine enough when I were fixing Charlie’s mistake,” Eggsy shot back. Eggsy flinched as the wave of power hit him and was immediately pulled back. He had to remember to not piss this guy off.
But then there was that fake smile again. “Indeed. I apologize because when Charlie had been reaped I thought him an excellent candidate for this calling. I thought he would grow into the job, but he didn’t and it was my error to push. He has...moved on.” The smile was less genial. “Now then, you will learn from us still for a while, though my gut says you’ll be more suited to natural causes, but we shall see.” Chester stood up. “Rest well, Mr. Unwin.”
“Sir, Tristan said what I did shouldn’t have happened, that it couldn’t happen,” Eggsy said but it was more a question.
“He’s young yet, he was mistaken. You are perfectly average Mr. Unwin, in all respects. Good day,” King disappeared and almost immediately Merlin appeared.
“You totally timed that so you didn’t have to see him,” Eggsy accused.
“Now, Eggsy, that would be incredibly rude of me, to avoid my boss like that,” Merlin’s smile was quite evil and a little smug.
“How could you leave me alone with him?” Eggsy asked. “He ain’t right.”
“I know he is off putting, but it comes from being dead for 1200 years,” Merlin said.
Eggsy shook his head. “Nu-uh, Merlin it’s something else.”
Merlin sat on the bed. “Tell me.”
Eggsy looked around the room. “Not here?”
Merlin held out his hand and Eggsy took it. Warm, for dead. Just like Roxy, and Harry. Not cold like King.
In a blink they were gone.
“Where are we?” Eggsy asked as they stood in the middle of a forest. It was grey in the dawn, and he could hear some birds, but it was still. Peaceful. And important. Not big important, like world changing important, but important.
Merlin smiled and the flames in his eyes danced. His sweater was gone and the tattoos moved slowly, like they were waking up. He looked even stronger than normal.
“The mistake some reapers make Eggsy is in being scared of where they died, being superstitious about it. They don’t realize how much power there is to be drawn from it,” Merlin moved forward and crouched by a tree. “These woods were so thin, this was the edge then.”
“This is the place, your place?” Eggsy whispered.
“Aye, this is where a group of Englishmen hung a Scot thinking him a witch. There was a good bit of torture first of course, trying to get me to confess. They hung me and I watched my guts spill out of me as I drew my last breath. And with that last breath that was full of blood, I damned them all to hell for being so stupid as to mistake science for black magic. And I offered my soul to the devil if he ended them.”
“I thought you weren’t damned,” Eggsy said. He watched Merlin’s fingers trace in the dirt.
“A thousand years reaping souls of the English was the price I was offered when I left this life. Reap and wait for,” Merlin let the sentence hang and Eggsy figured he meant wait for judgement. Merlin sighed a little, “And then...well then we shall see what happens won’t we? I like to think I’ve acquit myself well.”
“You’re the guv, and your eyes are fire and your tattoos move, I think you’re doing good.” Eggsy copied the patterns Merlin was making in the dirt and all of a sudden a ring of blue flames surrounded them. “What the fuck?” Eggsy fell on his ass.
“Now that is interesting, very interesting,” Merlin said. “You are full of surprises.” Merlin sat on the ground and leaned back against the tree. “Not the tree they hung me from, that died 500 years ago but close enough. The fire will keep prying eyes away.”
“You are a witch,” Eggsy said in awe.
“I am what time and a curious brain create. Can the dead be a witch?” Merlin asked, interested for Eggsy’s answer.
Eggsy thought about it. “I guess...we’re whatever we have to be right?” He looked at the tree. “I was what people needed me to be when I was alive, which was really not much. Punching bag, babysitter, fuck on a Saturday night. They need the same. Only this time, this job, the giving of yourself to them, well it’s good innit?”
“It is,” Merlin agreed. “Ye have the potential to be remarkable.”
“I’m just Eggsy, like King said, nothing but average here. Or like Harry said all wasted potential when I was alive.” Eggsy watched the flames shoot high and black. “Might want to tone it down, guv.”
“I love Harry,” Merlin said.
“They why you been flirting with me?” Eggsy asked, hurt.
Merlin gave him a look and Eggsy quieted. “I love him as a compatriot and a friend, but 100 years dead hasn’t dislodged the stick up his English arse.”
Eggsy snorted a little.
“He went to war for duty, to not shame his family, because everyone was. And god, to see what it does, what that war in particular did? Nae, Eggsy, death didn’t free Harry...it reinforced him and made him cling even more to certain aspects and traits that had mattered when he lived. He is just so very...English. The sort in a BBC special that Americans would swoon over.”
“You went to war, it wasn’t out of duty?”
Merlin gave him a small nod. “A different duty. He was fighting to keep the world whole, I fought to keep a man whole. Both were about borders and beliefs and all that shit that everyone talks about, but he followed orders and wanted to go home in one piece. I defied every command if I thought my idea was better and went into each battle excited to meet death.”
“You greeted death as a friend,” Eggsy said slowly like he was working something out. “It weren’t suicide, it were…” he looked at Merlin in awe. “In death you became who you were meant to be.”
“Everyone thinks their purpose is to live Eggsy, but some of us we were born to die.”
“Merlin, King’s...something’s wrong there,” Eggsy blurted out. “Like you know how we all feel neutral or even warm? He’s cold.”
“Ghosts leave cold in their wake,” Merlin said.
“Exactly, guv, ghosts do...only we’re not ghosts not really, so why doesn’t he feel like the rest of you lot?” Eggsy looked at him. “When was the last time he reaped? And not just reapers, but actual people?”
“His files don’t come to me,” Merlin admitted. “He says he does.”
“But you don’t know for sure,” Eggsy pushed. “What happens to a reaper who isn’t doing the job Merlin?”
“They forget why they do the job, they...we move them on before they can become a Wanderer.”
“Is that what we call ghosts?” Eggsy frowned a little. “The death handbooks talks about choosing to be a ghost, but this is different innit?”
“Aye, places where a collection went wrong or didn’t happen are called scarred and the souls who were failed, are Wanderers.” The flames around them changed to red, a dark blood red. “It is unkind to be left wandering, they didn’t choose it. Hell would be preferable,” Merlin said. “Because then at least you know. It isn’t a loop of memory, a confusion of lost time and places. To gaze on them is horrific for most reapers, the proof that we can fuck up what should be an unfuckable job.”
“I wasn’t reaped was I?” Eggsy shivered though he didn’t feel the cold.
“Nae, not that we can find and trust me Harry and I have looked,” Merlin opened his legs a little and once more reached a hand to Eggsy. Eggsy crawled into the space made and put his head on Merlin’s heart. One of the snake tattoos tried to lick his nose.
“What am I Merlin? King said I’m likely moved to natural causes.”
Merlin’s grip tightened, a band of steel, the flames danced closer caging them in hiding them. “He will nae take ye from where ye belong. Ye belong with us. Harry is going to train you.”
“Not you?” Eggsy adored Harry, but this left him bereft.
“Ye need more of the basics first, before my lessons begin.”
“Started that fire with you didn’t I?” Eggsy pouted.
“Aye, but belfire is nae so hard for ones such as us,” Merlin said. “If ye choose to learn”
“And what is that Merlin?” Eggsy looked up at him. “What am I?”
Merlin said something in his old tongue, words that didn’t even exist anymore.
“That sounded like chewing rocks. It mean anything?”
“Translation is difficult,” Merlin answered. “But ye Eggsy, were a reaper borne, an eternal.”
“Do I get some sort of badge?” Eggsy asked. “A fancy hat?”
“Nae, but ye will need a suit. A Kingsman suit, and Harry will help ye with that. Fashion is not a strength of mine.”
“I like the look, though. Tattoos and fire and perfect abs is a good look. But shouldn’t you be painted blue?”
“Fucking Mel Gibson, bullshit. I fought in the bloody woods half the time, why would I paint myself blue? Bloody English had shit all at hand to hand but were fucking good with a bow, wasn’t going to give them a target was I?” Merlin grumbled.
The tattoo that had been investigating Eggsy moved closer and Eggsy went very still as it crawled from Merlin’s chest onto his hand. It changed from a snake to a blackbird and flew up his arm.
“Well, looks like ye have a friend here, don’t ye?” Merlin teased.
“I have two, don’t I?” Eggsy asked.
“Aye my lad, ye do. We need to return,” Merlin said.
“In a minute,” Eggsy looked around. “You died in a good place Merlin.”
Merlin laughed a bit. “I did at that.” He waved the flames away and they watched the sun warm the woods before heading back to the estate.
“Eggsy, if you please,” Harry sighed.
“Why can’t you just blink me a suit?” Eggsy asked. He was restless as a man measured him. “Merlin tapped his board and waved his hand and whammo ugly jumpsuit.”
“Exactly, ugly can be winged up, style takes time.”
“Got the clothes for the club just fine,” Eggsy muttered and shifted again. The tailor jabbed him with a needle. “Ow!”
The tailor smiled. “My apologies sir, I’d imagine it would go easier, if you stayed still.”
“Sorry, bruv,” Eggsy said and forced himself to stand still.
“One, I regret to inform you, Eggsy, that track jacket was appalling. And two, that was plucked from memory and desire. This is a creation that is only being made now. Do you have a lot of experience with a bespoke suit?”
Eggsy snorted in response.
“Indeed, so we have nothing to pull from your mind. This is the last suit you’ll wear Eggsy.”
“Unless you are like Mr. Hart here and have eight,” the tailor whispered and Eggsy laughed.
“This is like the bar, one of those in between places, innit?” Eggsy asked.
“It is,” Harry explained. “For a while we all wore black suits but that was deemed a little too -”
“Showed up in too many movies didn’t it? Death in the suit.”
“Indeed. We created the look, and somehow others made it over done. Now we all choose, so long as we look professional.”
“I’m not choosing this,” Eggsy said.
“No, you will be given a suit to my specifications and if the job does become yours, then with time, you can alter it to suit your needs,” Harry traced a hand over Eggsy’s shoulders. “Stand tall, Mr. Unwin, don’t let the weight we carry bend your shoulders.”
Eggsy straightened a bit. “No one has actually said, did you just need more people or?”
“One of our brethren was moved along. Young, only on the job 30 years, but how this works is a bit beyond most of us. When it is your time, it is your time,” Harry dismissed. He looked at the tailor who nodded. “Close your eyes, Eggsy.”
Eggsy closed his eyes and felt a whisper against his skin, fabric dancing and smoothing against him.
“Good,” Harry said to the tailor. “Thank you, Andrew.”
“Of course sir, as always it is my pleasure to serve,” he said and disappeared.
Eggsy kept his eyes screwed shut.
“Mr. Unwin, it is only your death suit, take a look.”
Eggsy opened his eyes. “I look ready for a funeral,” he joked, the line ready in his head. But then he actually looked at himself. “Huh.”
“Well?” Harry was pleased with how the young man looked.
“I look like you,” Eggsy said. He twisted back and forth a bit.
“I admit my tastes were used as a model,” Harry admitted. “Like I said, you’ll have time to figure out your tastes.”
“Sweaters with a tie,” Eggsy blurted out.
“That’s attraction, not your tastes,” Harry said dryly. “Is it that you want it to wear, or just watch it be worn?”
Eggsy shrugged and played dumb.
“Hmmm,” Harry said. “Keep the romance to your personal hours. For now, I will show you a few old case files and talk you through some jobs I’ve done.”
A blink and they left the tailor shop and were in Harry’s office.
“So Percival is for those that die in service, Roxy said. And Tristan is pure accidents. Whatt are you then?” Eggsy sat in the chair Harry pointed to.
“Somewhere in between?” Harry replied. “I’m...complicated.”
“No shit,” Eggsy muttered. “Figured that out the day you gave me the fob.”
Harry smiled a little. “A person’s death isn’t known from the moment they are born, Eggsy. That would deny free will, something humanity is awfully fond of. Merlin gets the files from somewhere, not even he knows. And sometimes those require someone at the last minute. I handle those.”
“I don’t understand,” Eggsy said.
“A gunman robs a bank and a perfectly average person, never shown any courage before steps in front of other people. No way to know that. Merlin gets an emergency file and I get there in time to see them take a bullet meant for someone else.”
“Oh,” Eggsy bit his lip. “You collect heroes.”
“I collect people who make last second choices, against character, against logic. They may or may not be heroes. But they did something and I collect them.”
“Seems intense, aren’t you often late? What happens if you aren’t there on time?”
“In cases like those, the window is a little more flexible. I have been close to being late, very close several times. I’ve only missed the window twice,” Harry swallowed. 80 and 21 years ago the two, and they still hurt his heart.
Eggsy got up and went around the desk and hugged him. “When I figure it out, what I do, I’ll fix those first.”
“Dear boy,” Harry shook his head. “I know what tales Merlin is feeding you, but you can’t heal those wounds. Wanderers are sealed to their fate, no matter how we might wish it different.”
“Watch me,” Eggsy said. “I’ll make it right.”
“Of course,” Harry placated. “But first, you must learn the basics. Let us talk about a man who on the spur of the moment turned his car left in 1957.”
They spent hours pouring over files, Harry talking about what it felt like, how you know the right time to kiss a person and release their soul. He talked about watching them fade away or go into the light. And how sometimes, they went elsewhere.
“You’ve seen people go to hell,” Eggsy sat back in his chair. “Merlin said it isn’t hot, but cold.”
Harry poured a whiskey. “It is. It...demons don’t rise up and pull the soul to hell, there is no brimstone. It is just dark, the pure absence of light.”
Eggsy didn’t mention that was what Harry’s grim reaper robes had looked like.
“It is very dark, and very cold and they don’t fight it. I always thought people would scrabble, race to get away. But I suppose you rather know it is coming and inevitable and they just walk into the black ice and are gone.” Harry looked at Eggsy. “But we don’t judge them, ever.”
“If they’re going to hell, think we can judge them a little,” Eggsy countered.
“No, Mr. Unwin, we do not,” Harry said sharply. “We are just the in between, we bring them to the door and that is it. Judgement belongs to those far above and far below us.”
“That’s a bit literal.”
Harry shook his head. “Gods, heaven and hell? Those are other people’s games, and we don’t play games.”
Eggsy nodded. “We aren’t pieces, we’re the board.”
“Exactly so. Now how is your projection coming along?”
“Well I still overshoot, but like at most 100 clicks?”
“Better. And time jumps?” Harry asked. “I know that was a problem for you.”
“Only wearing it for show now, it’s lighter, power seems drained out of it.”
“If you no longer need the watch, you can feel free to return it to Merlin,” Harry said with a smirk. The look on his face only grew as Eggsy clamped a hand over the timepiece. “Though, it does suit you.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. No big right?” Eggsy was flustered.
“No big,” Harry agreed. “Now, meet me at Marcy’s Tip Top Chip Shop in Manchester,” Harry blinked and was gone.
“Dammit,” Eggsy groaned. He ended up in Liverpool on his first try, but at the right location on the second go. He breathed in the scent of grease and fish almost gone but not quite, a man who really needed a shower.
And someone who was very sick.
“Harry,” Eggsy said.
“Natural causes, not our division,” Harry said beside him. “But you can tell?”
“Yeah. Not today, but soon. Just this…”
“There is a grey aura to him,” Harry said.
“No, it’s a scent. That moment when fruit smells just so sweet, you know it is going rotten soon,” Eggsy said.
Harry nodded. “It depends on the reaper and how sensitive they are. Lamorak never notices any but the task ahead of him. Percival can jump to a daval boat and tell you who will die in the next six months. It took me until about 30 years ago to notice more than my charges. 72 hours I’d say, for him,” Harry went over to the man. “Go well, sir,” he said softly.
“That’s why I was pulled to that woman in the park. Because I knew her time was coming?” Eggsy asked when Harry came back.
“Or, you are a young man, and she was a beautiful woman who the light hit well,” Harry offered. “We can sense when soon they will be in our charge, but it is only a guess until the paperwork comes in. Most Kingsman have their files 24 hours in advance, I’ve been given a file and had 3 minutes.”
“Jesus, it takes me at least 10 minutes just to centre myself enough to jump,” Eggsy said in awe.
“And that is why you are not taking over my job,” Harry said dryly.
“No, I don’t think I’ll be moving on anytime soon,” Harry looked at the horizon. “It...this is my place.”
“So what am I being trained for?”
“Hard to say, the man who moved on dealt with innocent bystanders. But that has been farmed to most of the Kingsman, who’s to say it will be a permanent job again, or if you’ll be assigned something else. That is King’s decision.”
“He’s a right tosser,” Eggsy muttered.
“He is,” Harry agreed. “Come let us to home.”
Eggsy collapsed on a chair in the library. “Jesus Rox, I’m exhausted.”
“We don’t actually get exhausted you know,” she said. “We just think we are. Living is awfully hard to shake.” She sat across from him. “Have you been on one yet?”
“A reap,” she whispered.
“Nah, Harry’s had what 8 or 9. Merlin calls and he hauls ass with him dealing with the last minute ones. Said one of his crossed over with Percival,” Eggsy budged down into the chair more.
“He came back a little more solemn from that one,” Roxy said. “I guess the job still takes a toll, even when you get used to it.”
“If it didn’t, you’d be a shit reaper,” Eggsy said.
“Yeah,” Roxy agreed. “He said soon.”
“How is this different though, than what Tristan did with us?” Eggsy asked. He wasn’t paying attention and his hand began to draw symbols on the fabric of the chair.
“This, we are supposed to take part in, we are there to help? Eggsy, we give the kiss this time, Reaper hand on our shoulder. Sort of like a tandem jump, and then after that we do a solo reap with King watching and he decides where we belong.” Roxy looked at him. “I want to belong here.” She was about to continue but paused. “Eggsy what’s on your hand?”
“Higgins,” Eggsy said easily.
“What is Higgins?” Roxy asked nervous.
“Well clearly a blackbird,” Eggsy answered. “Hullo Higgins, got bored on my shoulder?” There was a flap of wings. “He used to be a snake when he were on Merlin, but likes being a bird with me.”
“That’s a living tattoo,” she said stunned.
“Eggsy didn’t you finish reading the death handbook I gave you?”
“Of course I did,” Eggsy said as he looked down at Higgins.
“Really? Then tell me exactly what it said about Cairn Wisps?”
“Is that Higgins’s proper name then?” Eggsy asked, proving he had not finished the book.
“He’s a demon!”
Eggsy covered the tattoo with his other hand. “Hush, you’ll upset him. And he’s not a demon,” he protested.
Roxy rolled her eyes, “Okay, technically he’s not a demon. But he is a Cairn Wisp. A Wanderer that is so old, so displaced, that it turns into smoke and and and...it’s bad that you gave him access to your heart. He’ll feed and feed and leave you a husk, turn you into a Wanderer yourself.”
“Nah, Higgins is just like JB, a pet,” he said happily. He went back to drawing on the chair and Higgins moved a little and Eggsy adjusted his pattern. Higgins flapped happily and the blue flames appeared. “Ha! I knew I could do it again.”
“That’s belfire,” Roxy stared at him. “Those are the fires of hell!”
“No, just sort of the fire that happens where heaven and hell meet,” Eggsy said. “Wait, how did I know that?” He looked at his hand. “Higgins, you helping me out there?”
“Eggsy, this is bad! Really bad. If King finds out, he’ll move you on.”
“Merlin does this stuff all the time,” Eggsy dismissed.
“Eggsy, these are powers that take hundreds of years to learn - and in fact shouldn’t even be learned.”
“Jealous that you don’t have a Higgins of your own?”
Roxy glared at him. “Power like that, Eggsy, it always comes with a price, even for us. What did you pay?”
“I didn’t pay nofin,” Eggsy answered back.
“Really? What was your last thought before you died, huh? A deal, a promise perhaps?”
He thought about what Merlin had said about cursing the English. He shook his head. “I don’t remember my last thought,” he said.
“I don’t.” He wasn’t going to tell her he hadn’t been properly reaped, then she’d really freak out. “I need to talk to Merlin.”
“Return the Wisp to him Eggsy. You are way too young for that, feeding off you.”
Eggsy walked through the estate and made sure to walk through the tour group, and laughed a little as a little girl swore she felt something.
He went to Merlin’s office and saw the man organizing pages and putting them in cubbies where they disappeared. “The day’s assignments Eggsy,” he said without turning.
“How’d you know it was me?”
“I can feel Kinnloch,” he said.
“Higgins, is your name Kinnloch?” he asked the bird hand over his wrist.
Merlin paused. “Apparently he prefers Higgins. And you as well.”
“How do you know that?”
“He just shouted, I’m not going back, Eggsy is my friend, and I like the dog,” Merlin smiled.
“I didn’t hear it.”
“Spend a couple hundred years with them, and you’ll hear their whispers easily enough,” Merlin put a few more papers in cubbies and then his desk was empty. “How can I help ye Eggsy? Harry is pleased with your training. Says you’ll be ready shortly for your first reap.”
“Is Higgins evil?” Eggsy asked.
“Does he feel evil?”
“He likes to fly over my skin and he likes to watch me play fetch with JB. He...he feels like a child.”
“He is. Or was, near as I can tell,” Merlin said. “I found him when I was on a collection about 300 years ago. It was a messy one, have a dozen of us needed at one scene. We finished the job and the others left but I stayed and walked there was something there that needed finding.”
“Them,” Merlin said. His shirt melted away and the two snakes still left slithered down his arm. “They are a family, from what I can tell. Died together, not reaped.”
“So why aren’t they Wanderers?”
“Eggsy, they died so very long ago. When I first understood them? It was Latin, ancient latin. They were slaves during the Roman occupation, killed in a skirmish, unreaped, and the things that tied them, long gone. They were feelings, nothing more.”
“Roxy called the Cairn Wisps.”
“Aye, that is what they are often called.” Merlin laughed a little. “I call them Kinnloch, Arcturus, and Delphinium. They were gone so long, they had forgotten their names.”
“Roxy thinks they are demons. Said I need to be careful.”
“Cairn wisps are as they are treated. When treated with affection and respect, they are just friends. Their lingering power could be absorbed, and twisted. But that would be a vicious thing to do. What we do is carry their souls, and they in return sometimes help.”
“Higgins helped me make the blue fire. Put an explanation for it in my head. I can’t hear him talk, just that all of a sudden I have this knowledge.”
“He does like the flames,” Merlin agreed. His snakes slid slowly across to his other arm and looked like they were trying to nudge. Merlin lifted his hand and his palm filled with the flames. He didn’t need to draw the pattern to achieve it. He shaped it into a ball and tossed it in the air. When it landed, it disappeared.
“Wicked,” Eggsy said.
“Not so very, just is knowledge and practice.” Merlin’s sweater reappeared on his shoulders. “I’m not a demon, and neither are they. We are just friends keeping each other company.”
“I wouldn’t care if you were a demon, you know.” He could feel Higgins settling over top his heart, felt an idea fill him. “Would you like to stargaze with me sometime?”
“I do enjoy the night sky,” Merlin said.
“Great,” Eggsy smiled. “Are you a demon?”
“No, Eggsy, I am nae a demon.”
“Are you an Eternal?”
“Nae,” Merlin said wistfully.
“What are you then? Because you aren’t like Harry or Percival,” Eggsy frowned. “Are you really just an after life witch?”
“Go finish your training and then we’ll see about some stargazing,” Merlin said. Out of nowhere a file appeared on his desk. He opened it and quirked a brow. “This one is for me, I must be off.”
But Merlin disappeared.
“No one here properly answers questions,” Eggsy muttered to himself. He really needed to go finish that death handbook.
“Harry, Merlin hands out the files, does preliminary training, and collects too. How does he manage all that? And do you know who he collects?”
Harry opened his mouth but then paused. “He manages it because he’s Merlin,” he said like that was explanation enough and perhaps it was. “And it has changed over the years who he reaps. He started with English on the battlefield. He was very busy during the War of the Roses from what he has said. Few other things across the way. Currently it is victims under 30. Murder, drunk drivers, that sort of thing,” Harry smiled sadly. “He often collects those who are young. It requires a delicate touch. And he is good with people who die terrified.”
“I wasn’t terrified,” Eggsy said. “So it wouldn’t have been him.”
Harry tensed. He had wondered if Eggsy had been trying to figure it out.
“And it was a series of events, not an accident so not Tristan. And obviously not Percival,” Eggsy sighed. “Don’t think about it much, but then it sometimes sneaks in.”
“It will do you no service to dwell,” Harry said calmly.
“I know, but still curious, yeah?”
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
“Good thing I’m already dead then.”
Harry smiled a bit. “Good thing.” He held up a file. “Now then I think you are ready for your assisted collection.”
Eggsy reached a hand out but didn’t touch the file. “Really, Harry?”
“I do,” Harry agreed.
“I actually think he’s ready for more than that,” King said appearing in the room. “After our discussion, Galahad, I think I will use this chance to observe Mr Unwin, and approve him for our ranks. The girl has already successfully passed and is taking over the position of Lancelot. But more help is useful. Come Mr. Unwin, it seems we go to Ipswich.”
“Can Harry come along?” Eggsy asked, terrified of being alone with King.
“That’s not how it is done son,” King smiled patronizingly.
Harry nodded. “I’ll be here, preparing a surprise for your entrance into our group. Remember everything you’ve learned. Make me proud.”
“Of course, Harry,” Eggsy promised.
Eggsy nodded to King and they both disappeared. They were in the middle of a charity shop, three women just chatting. No one smelled near death, but he thought maybe they were waiting for an arrival.
“Your charge is the brunette with the unfortunate teeth. Her death will be in 4 minutes, be ready. I will observe and make my conclusions.”
“Sir, all do respect, that’s not right,” Eggsy said. He looked at the women and just knew this was wrong. “Where’s the file? Maybe we are in the wrong place.”
“You have no need to see the file,” King said. “My word is enough. Now be ready to do the job.”
“And I’m telling you it ain’t one of these women. No way, they aren’t marked for death yet.”
“Oh and how do you know that?” King raised a brow. “Is an apprentice so well versed from seeing a few collections that he can just say to someone who’s been doing it for over a thousand years, that they are wrong?”
“If they are an Eternal, yeah, I’m guessing they can,” Eggsy snarked back.
Shit, Eggsy thought and for a moment, so brief he thought it a figment of his imagination, he saw King not as a collector, not even a Wanderer, but something else, decaying, rotting. It wasn’t hell, hell would never be that broken, but it was something that caused everything inside him to scream.
“Reap her now, or I’ll know they were all wrong about you and I’ll move you along,” King reached out a hand.
Eggsy could feel Higgins on his back trying to pull him away. He didn’t think just said, “No,” and forced himself away, he didn’t even think of a particular destination and when he could focus he realized he was somewhere in the Middle East.
It took a while for the chill to leave his skin, the horror to fade. He had no idea what would have happened if he reaped a soul before its time, but he couldn’t imagine it was good. And whatever King was playing at was even worse.
He had to go back warn Harry and Merlin.
It took more focus that he expected, but then he had shot himself farther than he had before and when he was back at the estate he was in the rooms Harry used. Harry who looked murderous.
“You created a scar?” Harry asked, voice dangerously deep. “You didn’t like the way King asked you to perform your duties and you created a scar. You were childish enough to force a soul into being a Wanderer? How could you Eggsy?”
“I didn’t. Harry you have to listen to me -” Eggsy began.
“Was it too much work, did you forget everything you’ve been taught?” Harry sneered. “Chester came by and reamed me out. You made me look the fool for all the faith I put in you.”
“You were right to do that, Harry, just let me -”
“Let me guess, an excuse, just like you had at the ready for most of your living life?” Harry asked. “Well then, enlighten me.”
“She weren’t -” Eggsy began.
“You couldn’t even get the target right? He was 90 and was going to accidentally trip and get hit by a car. How is that a hard case?”
“King told me it were a girl, in a shop,” Eggsy yelled.
Harry froze. “It was a man on the street.”
“He told me to reap her, no matter how many times I said it was wrong, and then he reached for me and I jumped too far. Took me a while to get back.”
“Eggsy,” Harry faltered. “I’m sorry.”
Eggsy frowned. “You act like you expected me to fail,” he said stunned.
“No. Of course not, you did excellently in your training,” Harry said.
“But blood will out, right?” Eggsy asked. “That’s the stuff your set says over billiards as they fuck us over.”
“This isn’t the time, what we need to figure out is why King was trying to trick you. Was it an extra test?” Harry was almost talking to himself.
“Harry I wasn’t going to let you down,” Eggsy swore.
“No, no, of course not,” Harry agreed. “King just...he twists your mind easily. He has a gift for sincerity. Why he was so apologetic when he made me almost late to reap your father.” Harry was walking out of his office and didn’t notice the look of shock on Eggsy.
Eggsy chased after him and they ran into Merlin running down the hall.
“All Call, Harry,” Merlin yelled. “Five minutes out.” Merlin waved a hand just as Eggsy touched Harry’s sleeve and they were all in central London.
“Eggsy this will be too much for ye, go back to the estate,” Harry said. Eggsy looked around.
“Harry -” Eggsy’s eyes widened. “How many are there here?”
“All of us,” Merlin answered. “Bus. The break line has been destroyed. We are looking at 30 deaths, most on us, but a few natural causes. We need to move hard and fast.” Even as Merlin said it, the Bus turned too hard and crashed into a light standard. The Kingsman moved forward and began to work and Eggsy just watched staying close to Harry and Merlin. When they split, he stuck close to Harry wanting to see how this many collections were handled at once. It was a beautiful dance, almost seamless. It seemed that the initial wave was done and they were moving around to the ones lingering.
“Go to Merlin, see what his assessment is, where we are all best needed,” Harry suggested as he kissed the forehead of a woman who had clearly tried to cushion another person. Eggsy was walking through the bus to where Merlin was waiting by the driver.
It felt colder all of a sudden and Eggsy wondered if this was going to be his first glimpse of hell. But there was something familiar about it. He turned and saw pure black, an actual robe and scythe behind Harry.
“Merlin what’s going on?” Eggsy asked and Merlin looked up from where he kissed the driver’s forehead.
Merlin jolted forward pushing Eggsy behind him. “Harry!” he yelled.
Harry turned and saw the reaper approaching, but there was no one right there to be reaped. He began to step back towards Merlin and Eggsy and Merlin sent out a bolt of energy that the reaper swatted aside.
Harry turned and tried to run and scythe ripped through his head. “Go,” he managed to say before his image just burned in blue fire and disappeared.
“NO!” Eggsy screamed and he tried to push past Merlin, but Merlin snarled and wrapped Eggsy in his arms and then they were gone, the reaper’s scythe missing them by inches.
Eggsy didn’t know where they were but he kept trying to struggle out of Merlin’s hold. “We have to go back. Harry, we need to -”
“There is nothing to go back to,” Merlin said, tightening his grip. “He’s gone.”
“He can’t be, he can’t,” Eggsy fought even more. “I can fix it. I can -”
“This cannae be fixed, Eggsy. It is beyond us.”
“Not you!” Eggsy shouted. “You do all sorts of crazy shit, you have your files and there is whatever the hell I do. We can find him.”
“There is no tracking down those who are moved on,” Merlin’s voice was thick and Eggsy stopped fighting and realized the man was near tears. And he remembered they had known each other for a hundred years. “Shit, Merlin.”
“Aye, but if it was his time -”
“You fucking know that weren’t his time. If it were he wouldn’t have, he wouldn’t have -” Eggsy choked on the words.
Merlin kissed him desperately. It was a hard and sloppy kiss not about their growing affection but confirmation that they were there together. Merlin broke it off. “My apologies.” He kept his forehead against Eggsy’s.
Eggsy kept his eyes close. “It was King.”
“You can’t know for sure.”
“Who else has the power to just take one of us down like that?” Eggsy thought about it. “Can you?”
“Yes,” Merlin said. “And so could you.”
“Because I’m Eternal, whatever that is.”
“Aye,” Merlin cast the fire around them, giving them some protection. “Ye don’t have the strength yet, but a couple hundred years and ye would probably be able to send any soul, Wanderer, or reaper on.”
“But you aren’t an Eternal,” Eggsy said. “You can’t help Wanderers, but you could send a reaper on. So what are you Merlin?”
“I am Merlin,” he answered.
“Yeah I get that, code name like the rest,” Eggsy said frustrated.
Merlin shook his head. “Merlin isn’t a code name, or at least nae how ye think. King doesn’t quite understand how it works, he thinks it was his idea to give our group names of myths that he saw arise. Merlin means teacher and guardian before Merlin it was Chiron and before that something else, since time out of mind. It also means man who waits a long ass time for an Eternal to arrive so that he can guide them, train them, protect them.”
“Wait how long?”
“The Merlin before me never met one. He was sure a few times one was near, but they had always moved on, before they could be brought into the fold. And I was given the mantle of Merlin 400 years ago, so waiting that long.” Merlin laughed a little. “I never told Harry that I had begun to agree with him, that they were myth. It was far too long to find one.”
“So what, we just appear, like a fucking unicorn?”
“No, it is carried in blood lines, families,” Merlin said. “For all we know your father -” Merlin paused. He slowly sat himself on the ground and Eggsy could feel Higgins trying to push him down.
“So that’s why he destroyed Harry,” Merlin said softly.
“I don’t understand.”
“You weren’t reaped, you should have been a scar, a Wanderer, and in theory that would have destroyed your abilities. Your father, he was a case of Harry’s.”
“Harry said my Da’s last words were about me, I remember that.”
“They were. Everyone’s last words go are in their file, and his were watch after my boy, my perfect Eggsy. Protect him. Harry could nae deny that. Not to a man who stepped in front of a bullet unexpectedly.”
“Is my Da a -?”
“No Harry almost missed the window but didn’t, he said after he wanted to bring him in for training, but Chester called him back in too quickly and Lee moved on,” Merlin thought about it. “Chester was the reason Harry almost missed it too. Why would Chester try to do that to your father and why would he kill Harry before you two could properly talk it out?”
Eggsy looked at him. “It don’t matter guv, all that matters is taking him down. You said you could collect him, and that maybe one day I could? I vote we go deal with the son of a bitch.”
Merlin shook his head. “You aren’t strong enough.”
“So make me stronger then,” Eggsy yelled.
Merlin looked at him. “I don’t think you are understanding what ye are asking.”
“Because nobody tells me a fucking thing,” Eggsy said. “Do you know how much bullshit and maybe Harry’s fucking death could have been stopped if he had said oh gee, sorry I almost cocked up collecting your Da, apologies. Here’s what happened and gee whiz isn’t it weird that you are both collections that went wrong? Almost like Chester is trying something. Because oh gee who else could make my file disappear if you didn’t, Merlin?”
Merlin looked at him. “Are ye done?”
Eggsy thought about it. “No. Just tell me what you are.”
“I did. I’m Merlin,” Merlin held out his hands. “My name before that has been burned out of me, stricken even from my file. I am a teacher and guardian and, I suppose, attack dog should it be needed. And handing out the collection files keeps me busy until the time that my charge arrives. In a more recent vernacular, I’m a Watcher.”
“I actually hate Buffy,” Eggsy said.
“Fine, Nick Fury, Dumbledore, I don’t know,” Merlin snarled. “I’ve been a little busy.”
“What about Mary Poppins?” Eggsy offered.
“Oh fuck off,” Merlin said. “See if I snog you again.”
“Nah, you’re going to. Heroes always get a kiss when they save the day, and that’s what we’re going to do, soon as you make me stronger.”
“I cannae just wave a hand and make ye stronger, lad, would that I could. Higgins joining you is the most I can from that perspective,” Merlin tapped his finger against his leg. “We have to go back to where ye died.”
“It knocked me out last time,” Eggsy protested.
“Then don’t pass out,” Merlin said, like it was simple. He held Eggsy’s hand tight and sent them back to London.
When they blinked into existence, Roxy was standing there. “Thought you might show up here,” she said. “King is on a warpath. All files have been temporarily handed over to natural causes until the two of you can be brought in for destroying Harry Hart.”
“You going to turn us in Rox?” Eggsy asked.
Roxy looked at them and flinched a bit. “Merlin?” She sounded a bit terrified.
“His chest is spectacular innit?” Eggsy knew without looking she would be seeing for the first time the Merlin he knew, the one of fire and moving tattoos, and shirtless, Merlin really liked to be shirtless.
“Not my type,” Roxy said. “Not a fan of demons.”
“Nae a demon lass,” Merlin said as he stepped in front of Eggsy. He reached onto his back and the tattoo of a sword that rested the length of his spine came alive and he held the weapon easily. “Never did like the scythe.” He drew the sword forward. “Roxy, we dinnae bring the end to Harry, and if ye don’t believe us, just step out of the way, because ye will nae touch Eggsy.” The sword burst into blue flames.
“Jesus,” Roxy breathed out.
“All sorts of hot, don’t you think?”
“No, Eggsy, mostly I’m thinking terrifying. I asked to be put here, and King agreed, because after how you responded to the place the first time, he was sure you wouldn’t come back. I know you’re bullheaded enough to return.” Roxy held up her hands in a gesture of peace. “I’m not...I trust you Eggsy, more than I trust him.” Roxy looked at Merlin. “I don’t know if I trust you.”
“All I need is for you to trust in him,” Merlin answered not dropping his sword an inch. “He’s an Eternal and I think that is why King tried to scar him. Why he made sure Eggsy was unreaped.”
Roxy stared at Eggsy. “But being Eternal, it didn’t work like he expected.”
“Eternal wouldn’t have been enough,” Merlin said. “But an Eternal who had the favour of a reaper in his pocket, who gave it because another Eternal used his last breath to create a protection for Eggsy, well then that is a bit different isn’t it?”
“He’s Mary Poppins,” Eggsy offered over Merlin’s shoulder. He had to step on his toes to do so.
“Pretty sure her umbrella never had blue hellfire,” Roxy said.
Merlin groaned. Save him from new collectors. “One, I am not Mary Poppins and call the Guardian of the Way that again and ye shall see how loosely I interpret the rules to protect ye from harm, and two, it is nae hellfire, hell has no fires. This is the fire that built the world. It is the fires of the big bang, nothing so simple as what ye understand, lass.”
“You’re the Guardian of the Way?” Roxy froze unsure of what to do.
“Why does she look like she wants to genuflect or curtsy or something?” Eggsy asked. He was tired of hiding behind Merlin and stepped to the side. “She’s not going to hurt me, put that away.”
Merlin frowned but put the sword away, the flames dying as it touched skin and became a tattoo again. “You really need to finish reading the death handbook.”
“It wouldn’t help much. All it says is if ever you meet a Guardian of the Way, get out of their way and pray they don’t notice you ,” Roxy said. “They...Merlin exists only for you now that you are here. His only responsibility if you are acknowledged as Eternal is to keep you safe? Or well, or I don’t know. I just know that he’s even more terrifying now.”
“Sure,” Eggsy said. “Whatever.”
“Not whatever Eggsy. If all this is what I think it is. You are the most powerful reaper in England, maybe the continent. And him, his job now is to make sure that you can do yours, no more handing out the assignments, all he does is serve you. Until the end of your time.”
“That lass, only happens if we put all the pieces together,” Merlin said. “Roxy let him touch the wall. He needs to remember what his last thought was.”
“But I don’t remember,” Eggsy said. “It is just spin the car and then in that office and calling Harry.”
“Higgins, help him,” Merlin said softly.
Eggsy felt Higgins settle over his heart and it was comforting. He stepped forward and Roxy moved out of the way. He could feel them at his back, both standing guard. He was terrified. This was in theory a scarred place. His scar, but it wasn’t because here he was almost a reaper, almost something that seemed unfathomable.
He stared at the wall. “I swerved to miss a cat. Just some alley cat, and I couldn’t kill it, not to get away from the filth. What criminal does that?” He crouched down a bit, he closed his eyes. “And there was something slick on the road and what should have been a swerve became a spin and they make cars like that for shit these days all flash, no structure, and I just turned the wheel even more, don’t even know why,” he said.
“Harry was meant to reap ye,” Merlin said sadly. “A last minute choice. To protect your friends.”
“No, or not really,” Eggsy shook his head. “I mean yeah that played a part of it, never would let harm come to them if I could stop it, but that wasn’t my last thought.”
“Then what was, Eggsy?” Roxy asked hovering close to him.
“Maybe I’ll find a place I belong in the next life,” Eggsy said, finally remembering.
“Ye belong Eggsy,” Merlin said. “Embrace your death, accept what you are.”
Eggsy reached out and touched the wall. It almost pulsed under his hand, but this time didn’t make him scream. He saw his death, lived through that feeling again. Higgins flapped against his heart rolling in the power that was sliding into Eggsy as he remembered everything. “It went black. I thought I just woke up in that office but I didn’t. It was just black and nothing and then pulling at all my sides, the accident playing in a loop, trying to wrap around me, and the black was pulling at me and I just thought, shit I’d rather be with the filth that were chasing me and then I was. And then Harry.”
“And then Harry,” Merlin agreed. “How do ye feel?”
“There is a Wanderer five blocks over, a woman, street walker from 19...no 1804, killed by a client, her reaper thought she deserved it, to be left,” Eggsy said. “Higgins hates the English too, and wonders if he can visit Arcturus and Delphinium who by the way just want to be called Arc and Del. And I can do this,” Eggsy just reached a hand into the air and a scythe appeared but then shifted into a sword, not the broad one of Merlin’s but a cutlass. Flames coiled around it. “I always had a thing for pirates.”
“I’ll train ye in proper use of that,” Merlin promised.
Eggsy looked down at the suit Harry designed. “Close but not right,” he said and waved his hand. The suit shifted to grey, slimmer, and a bit of a shine. He switched his shoes to the winged trainers he loved, because fuck it who was worrying about best dressed lists when they were dead.
He looked at them. “And I know why Chester stopped my Da from becoming a reaper, and why he tried to make sure I was a scar, and why he killed Harry before Harry could put all the pieces together.”
“What do we do then?” Roxy asked.
“Ye go to Percival, this is going to be a nasty fight, he has the strength to keep ye safe,” Merlin said.
“Oh the hell with that,” Roxy snarled. “I don’t have your strengths, but damned if I’m leaving my friend.”
“She can help,” Eggsy swore to Merlin. “You know how she was in training, no one steadier.”
“Eggsy Unwin, Eternal Heart, Reaper, I pledge my fealty to you, until the end of time. My soul’s existence now is yours and for you alone. I will walk with you, always,” Merlin said formally. “The Guardian of the Way has found his way.”
There was a thunder clap, loud, awe inspiring. “That was a coincidence, right?” Eggsy asked.
Merlin snorted. “Of course it was. An event larger than death itself happened for the first time since before Higgins was even born. Nature wouldn’t acknowledge that in any way.”
“Right, no big deal, I’m just apparently a big fucking deal, who sweats that?” Eggsy joked. Higgins swirled down his arm and squeezed his hand in comfort. “Thanks mate, just weird to find out you are like Death Harry Potter.” Eggsy felt something, too many things really. “We need to stop King,” Eggsy said after a moment to collect himself. “Because he was supposed to stop a long time ago.”
Merlin looked at Eggsy and the pieces slid into place. “Ahhh.”
“I don’t understand,” Roxy said.
“He was supposed to move on, move to what was next and didn’t. He’s been destroying potential Eternals before they could reach their proper role, because then they’d see how long past due he is,” Merlin answered. “The King of the dead is scared to die, or whatever you call it when we move on.”
“He’s been fucking with the natural order to buy himself time,” Eggsy said. “And Harry would have clued in, if he and I had a chance to talk. But he had to know that was only buying him a bit of time. So I’m guessing, he’s been preparing for us.”
“I always preferred a head on battle,” Merlin said. His eyes were fires and Arc wound around one arm and Del the other and his sweater and trousers was gone and he was in a chest piece and kilt. “I have missed the old gear I admit. I died to protect my king. I did it gladly. And I follow ye just as gladly, Eggsy, my Eternal.”
“Don’t call me that, sounds like a shite story, just stick with Eggsy.” Eggsy grinned at him. “But that look - we don’t end up deader, we’re keeping that look.” He frowned. “What is it called when a reaper is moved on? Dead again, deader, super dead?”
“Focus? Because if I am not mistaken, we have to help the strongest reaper in the country to move on?” Roxy said. “And it is move on, or continue on,” she couldn’t help but add.
“Okay, let’s fix this mess,” Eggsy said.
In a blink they were all at the estate. “Oh,” Eggsy said. “That’s not good is it?”
They stared at the beautiful estate, that looked like it was covered in black writhing vines. It was so cold, painful against their non existent skin.
“Still think me a demon, Roxy?” Merlin asked.
She quickly shook her head. “It feels...I’m going to be sick,” she said. “How did we not feel this off him?”
“He hid it very well, and I think it was probably easier to hide before Eggsy’s energy started to fill the building. The ripples of him, shook loose King’s covers.” Merlin snarled a little and swore in his old tongue. “How dare he defile our home?”
He could feel the anger pouring off of Roxy and Merlin, but seeing this, it only made him sad for the man.
“Rox, no way there are any other Kingsman in the estate, I can’t feel them,” Eggsy said. He tapped his chest and held out his palm. He watched Higgins manifest. “Can you help her?” Higgins giggled and chatted about wanting to play with JB. “Soon, little one. But now you need to be big and strong and help Roxy find the Kingsman and bring them home.” Higgins leapt from Eggsy’s palm and onto Roxy’s neck where he was now a horse. “He’ll guide you, Roxy. Find all our people and bring them here. They can help with all that,” Eggsy said pointing at the vines.
Roxy was scared of Higgins but nodded and closed her eyes. “Notthingham,” she whispered and was gone.
Eggsy and Merlin looked at each other. “I save the day I get that second kiss right? Always wanted to be a hero who got the big show ending kiss.”
Merlin’s grin was sly and the flames in his eyes danced. “We finish this well, ye can have whatever ye want, Eggsy. Whatever, and however.”
“Well then, I guess I’ll be saving the day then,” Eggsy smiled and held his sword. Merlin pulled his out. “Not intimidating at all by the way, the giant compensating sword, you know.”
“Not a compensation, and lovely for removing the body parts of the English,” Merlin said. He walked forward and through the door. “King,” he yelled. “Stand and be set free.”
There was no answer just more of the cold and black writhing shadows.
They walked through the hall towards King’s office and when they turned a corner there was a wolf standing in the hall. Mutated, and just wrong, it flickered in and out of existence.
“Oh,” Eggsy’s heart hurt. “That’s a Cairn Wisp ruined isn’t it?”
“Aye,” Merlin agreed. “Darlings,” he said softly and Arc and Del slid off his arms and turned into wolves themselves. They snarled and barked, and the almost completely destroyed soul charged. Del jumped first and got a swipe in but was bit by the wretched beast. Arc snarled and ran and buried his teeth into the neck of the creature.
Eggsy walked forward. “Let go, Arc, return to Merlin you two,” he said. The destroyed soul was whimpering and snarling and jogging in time. Eggsy reached out and said, “I’m so sorry you were betrayed like this. Forgive us our failings.” He kissed the wolf’s snout and the whimpers stopped and the wisp slowly disappeared.
“There will be more,” Merlin said.
“He is in such pain, and he doesn’t even know. He’s just like that soul. We need to fix this,” Eggsy stood up and his sword disappeared.
“Eggsy ye need to be armed,” Merlin said.
“I am. I have you,” the faith in his voice was unwavering.
Merlin’s sword was alight in flames. “I am yours,” he swore.
They continued forward. King’s door was lost under the black, the sickness of the man’s soul. Eggsy reached out a hand but it burned and his head filled with images, a millenia of soul collecting.
Merlin touched his shoulder. “Ye are stronger than this.” Merlin collected the flames in his hand and pressed it to the door and the emptiness dissipated a little. He pushed again and again, making a hole in the muck and horror.
Eggsy realized that the black on the outer walls was fading, stilling. “Shit, you are strong.”
“That isn’t me,” Merlin said, straining at the door. “That is Roxy and the Kingsman. King forgot, we do this out of love and only that. They are adding their skills to the fight. We collect together, as one.” Merlin swore in the old tongue and slashed at the black on the door with his sword and it finally dispelled the black.
Eggsy straightened his suit and knocked on the door. Merlin quirked a brow and Eggsy smiled. “We’re dead, not heathens,” he quoted from Harry.
They heard King bid them entrance and walked in, Merlin going in first to assess the room.
The man was disgusting, his masks all gone now, poured into the protections he had tried to create. He looked like a movie ghost, sallow, flesh hanging, eyes, sunken. He was wrapped in the old robes, and his scythe in his hand.
“Sir, ye have commit a great many crimes against our order, against who we are, ye will be moved on,” Merlin said.
“You don’t have the power to do that,” King said and waved a hand at Merlin, sure it would send Merlin at least back to his office, even in his weakened state. But Merlin’s feet just dug in more and he held his sword aloft.
“The Guardian of the Way doesn’t leave the side of his charge,” Merlin said. “How many did ye destroy, kill, in your bid for a few extra years?”
King laughed. “Some Guardian, you are. Did your death save your king any? He forgot your name easily enough. And not just a few extra years. 300. How many charges did you lose in there? Some guardian,” King sneered.
Merlin lunged forward with his sword, ready to send King along, but then Eggsy put a hand on his back. “No, Merlin,” he said softly. Merlin stopped a few inches from beheading King.
“Yes dog, down, be a good boy,” King said. He looked at Eggsy. “Your father would have been far better suited for the job than you, you know.”
Eggsy shrugged. “Probably, but I’m the one we’ve got. Aren’t you tired, King?”
“I’ve managed this long,” he answered. He reached out and tugged.
But it didn’t so much as make even Eggsy fade a little. King reached onto his arm and pulled off another wisp and said a few words and swallowed it whole.
“Don’t ye bastard, do nae crush another soul,” Merlin’s voice was both angry and devastated. “Ye were a reaper, ye helped people. And this? This selfishness?”
“I’ve seen too much of what is next,” King said. “You weren’t the only one who got this job as a punishment.” He coughed and then opened his mouth and threw up the black, the empty onto Eggsy and Merlin. It tried to claw Eggsy back into the emptiness of being a scarred reap, and tried to drag Merlin towards hell. Merlin could feel the cold of it and fought, because he knew he didn’t belong there. Maybe once he had, or had been convinced he had but he knew now that it wasn’t his end destination, because he was to be at Eggsy’s side and that boy was never meant for the absence of love.
For Eggsy it was a simpler fight, because the empty that the black wanted to drag him to, wasn’t for him. He focused on the things he had found after he had died. Higgins and JB. Roxy showing him how to jump and the death handbook. Harry’s smile as he taught Eggsy and Eggsy did well. And the fire that was Merlin. Like fuck he was giving up everything that he had found. Like fuck he wasn’t going to live the death he was meant to have.
Eggsy reached into himself and pulled the fires that Merlin taught him out and swirled them around himself until the burned the black away. It was elegant and stunning to watch as the fires continued to circle him. Merlin had been blunter and clawed and hacked his way through the black. He reached out a hand and Eggsy flung the fires to him and they grew between the two men until they flung out their hands and all the black was removed from the room.
They could hear the Kingsman walking down the hall.
“So, what happens now?” King asked. “You think you’ll be ready to move on when it’s your time? It’s a lot harder than you think, the longer you stay. You get used to it, like to hide in it. You’ll fail when your day comes, just as I did,” he sneered at Eggsy. “Like I said before, you really are just average with some parlour tricks.”
“You shouldn’t have destroyed Harry,” Merlin said. “I can forgive ye so much, but not the chosen destruction of your own, just to get the time to build these pitiful defences.”
“You let me live, I can tell you where I set him, I bet between the two of you, you could bring him back.”
Eggsy shook his head and walked around the desk. King lashed out and tried to stab Eggsy with his scythe but he was just too weak now and Merlin easily lunged and blocked it with his sword.
“I’d rather Harry was here, sure,” Eggsy said easily. “But, he would want me to do the job.” He crouched in front of King and put his hands on the man’s knees. “It is time to stop being tired.”
“Do you fucking pity me, ya bastard,” King said.
Eggsy carefully picked up King’s hand and lay a kiss on the palm. “Let go, old soul, it is time for you to find your rest. Just rest.” Eggsy focused inside himself and just thought, let go. He thought it again and again.
King tried to fight, to stay, but the floor around him grew cold and there was the creak of an opening. “I have served, I don’t deserve -” he tried but then he was sucked into the void and was gone.
The room warmed up and Eggsy was tired, so tired. He found it difficult to stand and Merlin helped him up. “Well, that was a thing, wasn’t it?” He giggled a little.
“Ye did it Eggsy. Harry would have been proud,” Merlin kissed his forehead. “I am proud of ye, and in awe of ye.”
“Guy saves the day, he needs a better kiss than that,” Eggsy yawned and sank against Merlin. Merlin swung him up into his arms and kissed his lips gently. “Better.” Eggsy passed out.
Merlin carried him out of the room and down the hall.
Eggsy never saw every Kingsman kneel for him as he was carried by.
“What do you mean I’m in charge?” Eggsy stared at Merlin in horror. “Nu-uh, can’t make me.”
“I’m sorry, but ye moved King on, that would put you in charge,” Merlin said.
“You should be in charge,” Eggsy said quickly.
“I’m your Guardian, I no longer take any role but that,” Merlin said simply. “I stand to your side, sir.”
“Don’t call me sir,” Eggsy begged. “That’s worse than the damn Eternal title.”
“My Eggsy, ye pulled the sword from the stone, if we stick with the metaphor of the Kingsman, ye are declared king. Long may he -” Merlin paused. “Well not live, but ye get the idea.”
“Who will do your job then?” Eggsy asked.
“Percival has been moved to it. Roxy is already reaping in his stead. And another reaper will be added to our ranks soon enough. Everyone is on the lookout.”
“What do I do?” Eggsy felt helpless.
“I train ye, help you hone your powers. You collect souls and help them move on, and when ye are able, ye help Wanderers. And maybe, if ye like we can do that stargazing you asked me about once,” Merlin said softly.
“Are you -” Eggsy fell silent, until Higgins pushed at his heart a bit. “Are you only wanting that because you are bound to me?”
“Eggsy I could be your Guardian without kissing you, that is just an added joy.” Merlin approached him. “I want to kiss ye, because I want to kiss ye.”
“I could use one of those right now,” Eggsy admitted. “This is terrifying.”
“You’ll learn,” Merlin promised. “And I’ll be here.” He cupped Eggsy’s face and kissed him. “I’ll be here beside you, until your time comes or until the door’s close on this world.”
“Okay,” Eggsy said. “Do I have a file then?”
Merlin nodded and handed him a file. “Tomorrow at dawn.”
Eggsy read the file and then leaned into Merlin and scratched at the snake head on the man’s wrist. He could do this. This was where he was always meant to be.
“I’m waiting for Mummy,” the little girl said to him.
“That’s a good girl,” Eggsy said. “If you think you are lost, it isn’t a bad idea to stay put and wait for her.”
“I was bad and chased my ball,” she whispered. “I usually don’t and then I did. But Mummy has been gone an awfully long time.”
“I know, little one, but I think I can help.” Eggsy sat on the ground beside her. “Mr. Harry Hart was supposed to help you find her, but he was too late. I am here to make his amends.”
“Do you know where Mummy is?” she looked hopeful. She then leaned into Eggsy and whispered. “There is a scary man behind you.”
“I know,” Eggsy whispered back. “But he’s not so scary and does magic tricks. So do I in fact.”
“I like magic!” she clapped.
Eggsy tossed the blue flames around a little to make her laugh. “Now then, little lost girl, I think we need to send you home.”
“I don’t know how to get there,” she said sadly.
“I do,” Eggsy promised. “I’m going to hug you close and I want you to think of your mum. Picture her singing you to sleep, okay? Just hold that as close as you can.” Eggsy reached into the girl’s thoughts and hummed the song that popped in her head. He kissed her cheek. “Go on, find her.”
The child faded away and the scar was healed.
Eggsy stood and put his hand in Merlin’s. “Promised Harry, I’d fix his two mistakes.”
“Ye are amazing,” Merlin said. He smiled. “Care for a walk?”
“Hmmm, that would be nice,” Eggsy agreed. Moving Wanderers on was still taxing, though he didn’t pass out anymore. “Take us to the woods?” Eggsy’s favourite place was where Merlin died. He didn’t examine that thought too closely. He kissed Merlin, “I like to walk with you, and you promised to show me how to change my appearance.”
“But I like your appearance,” Merlin countered.
“Come on, show me something new,” Eggsy teased. “Wot sort of guardian are you not showing me all sorts of tricks?”
Merlin kissed him hard. “I’ll show you something new then.” Merlin smiled at him as a man hurried through Eggsy to cross the street.
In a blink they were gone.