In the weeks since their return from Cambodia, Merlin had spent more of his nights awake than asleep; the deaths of your friends and colleagues of some twenty years, as well as the spontaneous realization that one of them that you’d thought was dead was, in fact, alive, did that to you.
Merlin had released a deep, weary sigh of relief when Harry had touched him for the first time since regaining his memory, putting his hand on Merlin’s back the way one did with a more intimate acquaintance rather than a colleague, standing close enough that Merlin couldn’t mistake it for anything else.
“This may sound odd, coming from a man who’s only just recently regained his memories,” Harry had mumbled into his ear, his voice achingly familiar and soothing, “But I’ve missed you terribly.”
Merlin had leaned in and let their heads bump together, shutting his eyes. He was aware that they weren’t reliably alone in the Statesman complex, but after the last few days, he didn’t have a single fuck to offer them, or the world at large. “I’ve missed you too, Harry.”
Merlin remembered that moment, and so many like them before that, as he finished his rendition of ‘Country Roads’ and then took his foot off the landmine.
Everything after that was blurry.
Blurry, and painful as fuck.
When he woke up in the Statesman facility about a week later, sans both of his legs from the knee down and covered in bruises and gashes, Ginger was kind enough to explain why he wasn’t as dead as he should have been.
“Well,” She said, casting a quick look to Eggsy and Harry, who stood nearby, “Apparently these two came up with the bright idea to use the Alpha gel technology to tourniquet your legs. It wasn’t perfect, but it kept you alive in the short-term.”
Eggsy was grinning, and Merlin wasn’t at a hundred-percent, but he thought he could smell alcohol on him. Harry looked exhausted, like he hadn’t slept since he’d gotten his memories back (he probably hadn’t).
“We’ll get you legs like Gazelle’s,” Eggsy drawled, and yeah, he did sound a bit drunk. A lot drunk, actually. “Next time Harry’s late for a meeting, you can slice his tie off with your foot. Nobody will ever take your clipboard again.”
“Not a half-bad idea,” Merlin rasped, cocking an eyebrow at Harry, who didn’t smile. When Ginger and Eggsy left them, Harry shook his head slowly.
“Never,” Harry spat, “Again. You’re alive because that mine was a dud. That’s the only reason.”
“I guess that’s why I’m not allowed in the field.”
Merlin reached out an unsteady hand to take his, and Harry squeezed it with one hand and rubbed his temple with the other. He got splitting headaches when he was incredibly upset about something, and Merlin had always theorized the headaches were only as bad as they were because he didn’t allow himself any other bloody outlet for his grief and pain, even in private.
Later, when he’d had a chance to look at them properly during a bandage-change, Merlin cringed to see the state of (what was left of) his legs. Ginger and her team had done fine work- indeed, that they’d managed to salvage anything below the waist was a miracle in and of itself- but the staples holding the grafted skin to the damaged stumps of his legs were a jarring sight. He still had his knees and about a quarter of his shins beyond that, but everything below that was gone.
Apart from the legs, he’d taken a piece of shrapnel to the chest that had pierced his lungs, and breathing was a bit of a difficulty. He woke up periodically in the night because of the coughing, or because he wasn’t taking in quite enough air. Merlin wheezed a little when he did anything more strenuous than sitting upright in bed, and felt dizzy the first time he was assisted into a wheelchair.
It didn’t help that, at nights, Merlin found himself once more in the moments before he took his foot off that mine, belting John Denver and totally prepared to die for Harry and Eggsy. He woke up almost completely unable to breathe, and Harry, who’d been camped out at his bedside since he’d woken up, would have to calm him down before he could asphyxiate.
Merlin would gasp into Harry’s shoulder, the smell of the same cologne the man had been wearing for the last twenty-five-fucking-years seeping in and calming him with its familiarity even if it didn’t necessarily make the act of breathing any easier. “Shh,” Harry murmured, fingers squeezing into Merlin’s skin. “Shh.”
Harry didn’t seem to sleep much, and Merlin figured well enough why that was.
Eggsy’s appearances in the medical wing became progressively less frequent over the next week. As time went on Merlin noticed that the young Kingsman had lost some weight, and started looking increasingly paler, sicker. “It’s not you,” Harry assured him, when Merlin off-handedly, not-quite-jokingly suggested that Eggsy was put off by his legs (or lack thereof). “I’ve been seeing less of him too. He’s been spending a lot of time with Agent Tequila.”
“Oof,” Merlin half-chuckled. “Tell me it’s not what I think it is.”
“Bloody hell, I hope not,” Harry mumbled darkly, dragging a hand through his less-than-perfectly-coiffed hair. “That would be like dropping a lit match into a barrel of firecrackers.”
Merlin nearly choked to death laughing when he remembered that Harry hadn’t been told about the incident between Eggsy and Tequila, that had indeed involved an open flame and Eggsy’s whiskey-soaked trousers.
Harry didn’t seem nearly as amused when he told him.
As it was, Merlin didn’t have too much time to dedicate to Eggsy’s developing relationship with the Statesmen’s “local bad-boy”. He was a little too busy trying to cope with the fact that he no longer had any bloody legs below the knee. The phantom pains were bad enough, but the fact that he was still pretty much entirely immobile for the time being- at least, without the aid of a wheelchair, which he only used when forced- was driving him mad. He wasn’t accustomed to being still for extended periods of time; he was always, always moving.
“One more week and we can try to fit you with a temporary prosthesis,” Ginger told him as she examined the healing (but still ugly as sin) skin of his stumps. “I’d like the swelling to go down a little more before I have you irritating the area.”
“I hear you’re the new Whiskey,” Merlin said, only a little wheezy today; his lungs were healing faster than his legs.
Ginger grinned, straightened up a little more. “That I am,” She said, proudly. “Voted in unanimously this time.” The pride, the smile, faltered, and she became sober. “I know why Jack didn’t want me in the field,” Ginger said, dropping eye-contact with Merlin. “I reminded him too much of his wife, Lela. She died a pretty bad death. He never got over it.”
“So I’m told.” Harry had filled him in on that bit. “It can be hard, watching someone you care for get…” Merlin glanced towards the chair Harry usually occupied. Ginger had shooed him out for the examination, and he’d meant to track down Eggsy and see how he was. “I watched… I saw Harry get shot, from the feed on his glasses. Saw the whole bloody mess. I’ve lost agents before, but that one… That one was the worst.”
He didn’t say that it was because he and Harry had a more intimate relationship than Merlin had ever managed with another agent, mostly because he didn’t know if Ginger knew about them already, and he wasn’t the sort to kiss- or fuck- and tell.
Then again, the fact that Harry had been glued to his side for the last two weeks probably spoke for itself.
Ginger squeezed his shoulder. “Well, you’re both alive now, right?”
Merlin nodded wearily. “In pieces, but yes, alive we are.”
The idea of prosthetics brought home the realization that no, Merlin’s world would not continue in the dull, white, sterilized theme that it had had ever since he’d woken up; now he would have to move. He would have to learn to walk again. He would eventually, maybe, come to a point where he could look down at his legs and not feel the sharp, startling impulse to weep at the fact that they were no longer whole.
But the nightmares, those would probably stick around.
The whole business of coming to America and finding Harry alive and (mostly) well had reignited some of the nightmares that had come after Harry’s death a year earlier. He saw the massacre in the Church, heard the crack in Harry’s voice when he realized he’d killed so many people, saw Valentine and his men and the gun pointed right at (Harry’s) face and then-
Merlin gasped and coughed as the surveillance room in Kingsman headquarters became the dimly-lit medical room, and his brain scrambled to regroup and figure out what the hell was going on.
Those moments when he couldn’t parse out what his current reality was were the worst. It usually went something like this:
Have the nightmare, wake up screaming or gasping or crying, and then,
Relief: It’s okay, it’s just a nightmare.
Depression: No, it’s not, Harry’s dead.
Relief: No, wait, Harry’s alive now!
Depression: Oh, right, everyone else is dead, and I’m legless from the knee down.
Hands slid over his shoulders, and another head pressed against his own.
“I’m awake,” Merlin managed, even though ‘awake’ and ‘coherent’ weren’t exactly the same thing.
“You want me to get in with you?” Harry murmured against his head.
Merlin nodded. If he had any fucks to offer the world right now, he might have been embarrassed how eagerly he’d done it. “Yes.”
“Right.” Harry started to climb in, on Merlin’s left-hand side, and then hesitated. “I’ll get in on the other side.”
Harry didn’t respond, and it wasn’t until he was lying down that Merlin realized: If Harry was lying on Merlin’s left, with Harry lying on his side, facing Merlin, his damaged eye would be more obviously visible. Lying on Merlin’s right, the damaged eye wasn’t as noticeable; in fact, Harry seemed to be tipping his face towards the pillow deliberately, trying to obscure it from view.
Frankly, the sight of Harry’s eye was still a bit jarring, just like the sight of his stapled skin had been after the surgery. When Merlin saw it, he was reminded of Richmond Valentine pointing a gun at the camera, at Harry’s face, and the awful crack of the gunshot and every ugly feeling Merlin associated with that sound. It would probably become easier to look at over time, especially once they were home, in private, and Harry didn’t feel the need to wear his glasses all the time.
In pieces, but yes, alive we are.
Merlin curled his arms around Harry’s shoulders, pulled him in close, and Harry seemed grateful for the chance to further hide his damaged eye. “It won’t hurt if I bump you, will it?”
“Nah,” Merlin mumbled, crashing down from the brief adrenaline rush the terror of the dream had brought him. “‘S not that bad- just itchy and a bit sore.”
“And your chest? You’ll still be able to breathe like this?” Merlin had pulled Harry’s arm to rest on his chest.
“If it’s not, I’m sure my lungs will let me know before I suffocate.”
“That’s not fucking funny and you know it.” Harry said it in the most dull, unaffected tone possible. “I’ll be the one having nightmares if you talk like that.”
Harry rarely had nightmares before the bit with Valentine; the man slept like the dead (a euphemism that Merlin felt nauseous associating with him now). If he’d had them, Merlin had never noticed. That being said, being shot in the eye and watching a man you’ve loved for nearly two decades nearly get blown to Kingdom-fucking-Come could be a touch rattling to some people, so maybe things had changed for Harry.
“You won’t hurt me, Harry. Just go to sleep.”
And when the nightmare crept forward, the memory taunting him from the darkness, threatening to reveal itself in full, Merlin would become just unsettled enough to edge near waking, and he would feel Harry beside him, a tangible, deep reminder that whatever else had gone to hell, at least he still had Harry.
In pieces, but yes, alive we are.
Those words were going to drive him mad.
A few days later, Harry stepped out to use the toilet.
The next thing Merlin knew, a familiar, booming voice was calling, “Hey, y’all, I need some help here! Now!” Merlin perked up, recognizing Agent Tequila’s particular drawl of a voice. He leaned over, tried to see as the door to the medical wing opened and closed and footsteps rushed around. There wasn’t a huge number of staff on at Statesmen- their facilities and assets were larger than Kingsman’s in many respects, but Ginger said they valued keeping the staff small and less likely to leak or turn rogue.
In light of Charlie-mother-fucking-Hesketh, Merlin could hardly blame them.
As it was, Merlin couldn’t see into the medical bay proper from where he was. And really, whatever was going on outside probably wasn’t any of his business anyway; maybe an agent had had an accent of some sort. Nothing Merlin needed to prod his nose into. He settled uneasily back against the pillow, into the familiar indent he’d left in it, and reached for the book he’d set down.
For a few minutes he heard scurrying in the main medical wing, but nothing to suggest a major crisis. It really probably was just a-
What? That was Harry.
Merlin hesitated, wanting to call out, but then stopping himself.
No. No way.
He wasn’t going to yell until someone decided to come pay attention to him. Not a chance in fucking hell.
There was, however, a wheelchair next to his bed.
“What happened? Are you alright?” That was Harry talking very urgently to Eggsy, who was apparently hurt in some way.
Merlin broke. After a moment of consideration, he slowly, carefully edged himself to the side of the bed where the wheelchair was.
Christ, that drop was further than he remembered.
He really hadn’t used the wheelchair all that much yet; the few times he’d sat in it, he’d been wheeled around by someone else (usually Harry, and if not him, Ginger). Beyond that, the limited physical therapy he’d had thus far had been small things, like stretching and rolling and accustoming himself to moving with the new state of his legs. Ginger said that part of his therapy would involve learning to maneuver into a chair, wheeled or not, on his own, but they hadn’t done that yet because she was still worried about the damage to his lungs.
You’ve had your legs blown off, amongst a thousand other things during the years, Merlin thought, digging his fingers into his thighs as he glared down at the wheelchair. If you fall, what’s the worst that will happen? A little pain, that’s all.
But it wasn’t just the pain. If he fell, he wasn’t one-hundred percent certain he’d be able to get back up again, or drag himself into the wheelchair from the floor, didn’t know if it was even safe (or feasible) for him to balance on the stumps of his legs just yet so he could maneuver about a little. Which meant that he might be stuck on the floor until someone came to help him, and humiliation was considerably more intimidating a prospect than pain.
Harry had moved further back now, away from where Merlin could hear him clearly, but he was still talking, and Merlin could discern enough of the tone to be considerably concerned now for Eggsy’s well-being.
Well, Merlin had stepped on a fucking landmine for the boy, hadn’t he? Getting into a wheelchair for him was nothing by comparison.
It took a moment of careful positioning, gripping the armrests of the chair before taking a deep breath and hauling himself off the bed and into the chair.
As it was, the worst of the pain came and went within seconds; it wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d been anticipating. If anything, his body just seemed discontent to move after being stationary for so long. His ass in particular was fucking sore from being sat on so much; he needed those damn prosthetics.
Once he was seated properly, Merlin checked to see what sort of chair he was dealing with, and saw it was one he would have to push manually. Shit. He was already gasping a little from the effort of getting into the chair; to think he’d been fit enough to run a marathon a few weeks ago, strong enough to go marching through a bloody jungle and head-butt some gun-wielding goons.
Still, there were no other options now, no getting back into bed; push the chair and tire himself out, or stay where he was an slowly go mad wondering what in the hell was going on with Eggsy, either way he was fucked, so he might as well be fucked whilst trying to do something about it.
So Merlin pushed at the wheels. He promptly realized that the brakes were still on to keep the chair from rolling, and spent a good few minutes trying to figure out how to shut them off (not only was he in bad physical shape, but apparently his mind had deteriorated to a point where he couldn’t operate a simple piece of medical equipment). Once he’d managed to undo the brakes, he began the painstaking process of rolling the chair into the other room.
It was a long and arduous trip, mostly because it was the most exercise his arms had gotten in weeks, as well as the fact that his chest was still in terrible shape. It didn’t take long for his breathing to become strained, and that was what announced his presence in the room when he finally entered it. Merlin was wheezing up a storm by the time he’d rolled himself over to Eggsy’s bed. It was the farthest he’d pushed himself since the day he’d played Pop Goes the Kingsman with Poppy Adams’s landmine (Get it? The song ended and everyone ended up springing into the fucking air like a goddamn jack-in-the-box. At least Merlin came back down alive, which was more than he could say for Poppy’s goons).
“Aye,” Merlin heaved, unable to bring enough oxygen in to form the words properly. “Thas’ me.”
Harry put a hand on his back, crouched down. “Merlin, do you need a doctor?”
Merlin shook his head. “No,” he coughed, and looked up at Eggsy properly for the first time.
If Eggsy had looked like shit before, he looked like death now. He had an IV in his arm, and- to be perfectly frank- looked completely dead inside once they made eye-contact. He looked completely horrendous; and it had been a week since Merlin had seen him, so he’d gone downhill fast.
“Eggsy, what, what, what the hell are you, you d-doing here?” Merlin dipped his head to lean against the mattress, and he caught his breath before finishing. “And why do you look like you’ve lost a bloody boxing-match with the grim-reaper?”
Eggsy shrugged, and Merlin was reasonably assured that he wasn’t physically injured in some way. Harry gave him a pointed, glowering sort of look that Merlin had been on the receiving end of more than once. “Can’t say I’ve been looking after myself all that well,” Eggsy muttered, toying with the edge of his blanket.
“He passed out,” Harry said. “He’s been eating too little and drinking too much. He’s dehydrated and undernourished.” He intensified that dark look at his young protégée. “And that’s going to stop. Immediately. I can’t say I’m fond of this effect that Agent Tequila has had on your-”
“Don’t go fucking blaming him!” Eggsy snapped with more aggression than he should have been able to muster, given his state. “He didn’t put a gun to my head and make me drink, Harry, he was just someone to do it with.”
Merlin raised an eyebrow at him. “Does that mean you’ve forgiven him for setting your dick on fire?”
Eggsy gave him a look that rivaled Harry’s. “What do you think the alcohol was for in the first place, Merlin?”
He was exhausted and needed fluids and nutrients, but beyond that, Eggsy was in no danger- beyond, of course, what Harry would do to him if he saw his young charge with so much as a drop of alcohol in the coming weeks. Harry and Merlin stuck around by his bedside until he fell asleep, and once he had, Harry took the chair by the handles and wheeled Merlin back to his own bed.
Once more, Merlin was struck with the feeling that this bed, this room had become the beginning and ending of his world, his cocoon protecting him temporarily from the larger realities of the world. The limitations were driving him mad, but the mere inkling of what would be required of him once he left this room, once they left America and returned to England, was exhausting beyond belief and he wanted nothing more than to go comatose, just for a few days.
“I’m going to bloody kill him,” Harry said with the same flat affect that he’d had when he’d insisted that Merlin not joke about suffocating. “I fucking swear, I’m going to kill him.” He helped Merlin into the bed, and Merlin was surprised to find that the stumps didn’t hurt nearly as bad as he thought they would; they ached, certainly, but the pain wasn’t of the alarming variety.
“Tequila or Eggsy?” He asked, a little breathless.
“Eggsy. Tequila. Both of them.”
“He’s not wrong, you know. Eggsy’s a grown man, and he chose to do what he did. You can’t blame Tequila for that.”
“That’s childish, and you bloody-well know it.”
Harry didn’t respond, but his hand did come up to press against his temple, eyes squeezing shut. Another repression-induced headache, it seemed.
Harry was half-blind, brain-damaged, and emotionally repressed; Eggsy was spiraling into depression and alcoholism; and Merlin was missing the lower halves of both his legs and wouldn’t be nearly as quick about his business as he used to be until he had the appropriate therapy and prosthetics.
Kingsman was fucking doomed.
Merlin didn’t sleep so well that night; no nightmares, just restlessness and half-sleep that left him staring aimlessly into the dark. Harry slept with him again tonight, his head on Merlin’s shoulder, face turned so that his damaged eye wasn’t as visible.
Everything was just fine, until it wasn’t.
Harry snorted in his sleep, and Merlin assumed he’d been snoring. It was only when the twitching turned to thrashing that he realized Harry was in the midst of a nightmare, and tried to wake him up. “Harry, Harry!” He hissed, squeezing Harry’s shoulder in an attempt to restrain and comfort. As he’d promised before, when Harry’s flailing caused him to hit Merlin’s stumps, it barely hurt anymore than it would if his legs were still attached. There was something disconcerting about that, that his body could heal so well in relatively little time.
Harry snapped awake, jerking upwards so hard that he might have fallen off the bed if Merlin hadn’t been holding him. He panted in the dark for a moment as Merlin pulled himself up to sit beside him.
“Merlin?” Harry whispered, sounding uncertain.
“Right here,” Merlin responded, pressing a kiss to Harry’s shoulder.
Harry shuddered, and then seemed to deflate beneath Merlin’s touch. “Fuck.” He always sounded so bloody elegant when he swore, but right now he sounded weak, overwhelmed and exhausted by whatever it was he’d just dreamt about.
“What was it?” Merlin mumbled, running a hand up and down Harry’s arm.
“Everything,” Harry responded with a flat, hopeless sort of voice. “Everything. Being shot in the head, killing a room full of lunatics, drowning in a room full of water, Eggsy stepping on a mine, you stepping on a mine…” He shook his head. “Everything. My bloody brain is quite happy to throw it all at me at once.” Harry lowered himself so that he was lying down again, a hand pressed to his temple.
The drowning bit inspired a deep, ugly sort of guilt in Merlin. “Harry,” He mumbled in a voice too small and mild to be his own as he laid down beside him, “I’m sorry about the water.” Merlin winced. “And the bull. And the horses.”
Harry scoffed and rolled his eyes, rolling to resume his previous position, with his head on Merlin’s shoulder. “I’d say that quite literally getting blown up for Eggsy and I quite makes up for yours and Ginger’s bloody tests. In any case, you were only trying to help, and had I any of my necessary faculties at the time I would have known that you weren’t going to hurt me.”
“But you didn’t know at the time.”
“Of course not. But I know now, and I can contextualize your behavior accordingly.” Harry slid a hand up and down Merlin’s chest. “You were quite desperate not to hurt me, or frighten me too badly. I was rather cross with you when I was without my memory, but even then, I could still tell that you didn’t like what you were doing. You looked rather heartbroken over it all.”
“I was,” Merlin croaked.
Harry blinked up at him, and much like with his legs, Merlin suddenly felt compelled to weep at the fact that Harry was missing his other eye. Harry’s eyes were warm and familiar, and the fact that one of them was gone now made him ache the way it did when he realized his legs were still gone. It was a loss of familiarity, of some… Unnamable thing that made Merlin sick to his stomach to consider.
“I think you still are,” Harry mumbled, and leaned up to kiss him.
It was the first time they’d kissed good and properly since they’d gotten the real Harry back, and Merlin’s chest tightened with the emotion of it; a year. Over a bloody year it had been since they’d been together like this.
Harry pushed himself up, hovering over Merlin to deepen the kiss, and Merlin’s sleeping-pants began to tighten with something else.
“Well, thank God this wasn’t blown off,” Harry drawled as he slid his hand into Merlin’s pants, and Merlin couldn’t help the mad, slightly panicked giggle that escaped him; thank God indeed.
It can always be worse, I suppose.
“I’ve also still got my knees,” Merlin suggested breathlessly. “Those’ll be useful too, I expect.”
“I’ll give you some time to recuperate before I expect you under my desk.”
Oh, but that was a pretty picture, and Merlin ground his teeth together and tried to keep quiet as Harry gave him the sort of attention he’d been missing for the past year. He had to cover his mouth when he came, muffling the groaned exclamation that was Harry’s name.
“I love you,” He said afterwards, when Harry was curled beside him again. “Oh God, I fucking love you, Harry.”
“And I you,” Harry mumbled into his ear.
“Don’t get shot again. I’ll fucking die of it this time.”
“Only if you promise me not to get blown up again.”
They both slept, and thank God, they were spared the nightmares for the remainder of that night.
If Merlin had a choice between:
Going back to England and rebuilding Kingsman, which would require coping with the deaths of his friends, colleagues, students, and coworkers, as well as the loss of his legs and having to navigate his home and life in a pair of temporary prosthetics (courtesy of Ginger and her crew),
Getting into an enclosed space with a rabid alligator who’d just been given a hot-sauce enema and then poked in the eye,
Merlin would have chosen the bloody alligator and been happy for it.
Alas, there were no alligators in England.
(“You’re thinkin’ of Florida, man. Do yourself a favor: Never go to Florida.”)
Tequila was coming with them. He was going to be the Statesmen rep in London, the one who would be onsite to help set up a new office there so Statesmen and Kingsman could be further united. Merlin was vaguely curious as to why such a born-and-bred country-boy would be interested in running off to England until he happened upon Tequila and Eggsy sitting beside one another in the conference room; Eggsy’s hand was resting comfortably on Tequila’s knee as they talked. The gesture spoke of familiarity, intimacy, and the fact that Tequila didn’t even seem to notice that it was there said more than anything else.
“It has been quite the adventure, men,” Champ said, raising a glass (prompting the other Statesmen, present and not-quite, to follow). “Saying goodbye doesn’t feel right, since we don’t intend to truly part ways… So I suppose we should say good luck in your future endeavors, and if and when you need us, give us a call. Arthur, Merlin, Galahad- it’s been fine working with you.”
Harry, Merlin and Eggsy raised their glasses accordingly; and Harry didn’t so much as blink at the fact that he was, they had agreed, going to be the new Arthur of their reestablished Kingsman. There would be auditions, a casting-call for the remaining agents, but Harry was now the most senior Kingsman agent, entitling him to the role of Arthur; Merlin, who was still Merlin and always wanted to be Merlin (hell, he preferred his codename to his real name at this point), would remain as he was; and Eggsy, at a spritely twenty-five, would be in charge of the more physical aspects of training recruits, along with Tequila.
“Good luck,” Ginger, who was called Agent Whiskey officially but still called Ginger by her colleagues the same way Merlin liked to be known as Merlin, whispered into his ear as she hugged him goodbye. “And if you need any help with the prosthetics, I’m only a call away.”
“Thank you, Ginger.”
“I’m also here if you need someone to give Tequila a verbal ass-kicking from across the pond. He responds well to threats.”
Merlin snickered. “I’ll remember that.”
Balancing on the temporary prostheses that Ginger had made for him was tricky, and for the time being Merlin was relying on crutches and wheelchairs to keep him from falling on his ass and hurting himself. He and Harry worked on an almost completely wordless symbiotic relationship: Harry pushed the wheelchair, assisted Merlin with the crutches, and offered an arm to grab if he needed help balancing himself or standing up; Merlin, meanwhile, spent the duration of the flight home tapping out plans and instructions on his pad, then handing it to Harry for approval and tweaking and touching up things that needed to be changed.
It was a strange sort of bliss, to be with someone who knew him so well that they didn’t need words.
It was dark when they landed at Heathrow, nearly midnight by the time they dropped Eggsy and Tequila off at the hotel. Merlin had offered to let them stay with him and Harry at his home until one or both of them could find something more permanent, but they’d insisted.
“I’m sure they’ll appreciate the privacy,” Harry had said, dryly, as they’d driven away from the hotel.
“You dirty thing, you,” Merlin snorted.
“As if they’ve been subtle,” Harry scoffed.
They might have talked more, but Merlin was strangely transfixed by the sight of the familiar London streets passing them by. When he and Eggsy had left England, he hadn’t considered the possibility that they might not return; but now it hit him that he came very close to not returning at all, dying in a foreign land only to be brought home in a body-bag and buried accordingly.
And when Harry parked the rental car outside of his home, Merlin’s chest grew strangely tight.
“I’ll get the bags,” Harry volunteered distractedly, not noticing Merlin’s subtle change in demeanor. “Would you like me to help you in first?”
“Sure,” Merlin said, faintly. Harry was grumbling something about ‘bloody rentals’, and he helped Merlin get his balance, stood nearby as he hobbled his way up the steps, and then unlocked and opened the door for him.
Merlin entered his home feeling as though it had been years since he’d been inside, not two months. The furniture was untouched; there was still sugar on the kitchen counter from when he’d been making tea the night of the attacks, and a kettle half-full of now thoroughly stale tea still sitting on the cold burner.
I’m home, he thought.
Harry popped out to get the bags. They didn’t have much- Harry even less, since it was his house and all his possessions inside that had been destroyed when Eggsy was targeted- so unpacking wouldn’t be difficult. They would probably be able to get to sleep within the hour.
Merlin slowly lowered himself into a chair at the kitchen table, observing the untouched remnants of his life before Poppy Adams. The only sound was the clock on the wall making its maddeningly familiar, muted tock, tock, tock. He was overcome with the same horrendous, difficult-to-define feeling that he felt when he looked down and saw the prosthetics instead of his legs, the same thing he felt when he looked at Harry and saw one eye instead of two.
Everything that was his, everything that had been before the attack, was unchanged. The clock still kept time on the wall, his possessions still stood where he’d left them- everything reeked of the normalcy he’d known but a few months ago. Everything was exactly the same as he’d left it, but he had come back irrevocably changed. He had, quite literally, had pieces of his body blown off of him, but the clock? Oh, the clock’s just fine, those batteries will last a long time, and of course there’s sugar on the counter, he spilled some the night the missiles hit and he thought ‘Oh, I’ll just get it later’ without any real consequence because that was the time when Kingsman and all its members were still around and he still had his legs and Harry might have been ‘dead’ so the world wasn’t perfect, but at least it hadn’t been turned on its fucking axis.
In pieces, but yes, alive we are.
In so many bloody fucking pieces, but alive.
At some point Merlin had started weeping, but he didn’t fully realize it until Harry was curling his arms around him from behind. Having him so close, embracing him, only made it worse: Merlin wasn’t sure if this was just pent-up grief or if he was experiencing some sort of panic attack, but it took a solid fifteen minutes before he was calm enough to speak again.
“God, Harry,” He croaked, pulling off his glasses and wiping at his eyes with shaking hands. “I dunno what’s wrong with me.”
“We should go to bed,” Harry said quietly. “Get some rest. We can handle this in the morning.”
Merlin nodded, replacing his glasses. Sleep had never sounded so good, and God willing, things might look better in the morning.
Harry helped him upstairs, and the familiar motions they went through to get ready for bed nearly had Merlin sobbing again; it didn’t help that he could recall, vividly, making his bed the morning of the attack, kneeling on one side and stretching out to pull the sheet up. He might be able to do that now, but his balance would be perilous, and even if he didn’t waver, it wouldn’t be the same without feeling his shin pressing into the coverlet. But he busied himself with removing the prosthetics, and once he had, he stayed perched on the edge of the bed, head turned away from Harry as he tried to stave off another breakdown.
But it was never easy to hide these sorts of things from a man who knew you well enough, and Harry’s arms found their way around his shoulders again. “Come on,” He murmured, gently pulling Merlin back until he was settled on the bed properly, pulling back the covers so they could slip under. Merlin made a few choking noises when he recognized the smell of the detergent he used to wash his sheets.
I’m at home, in my own bed, with too many of my friends and colleagues dead, and without my fucking legs.
“It will get easier,” Harry whispered into his ear after he’d turned out the lights, pulling Merlin to his chest. “It will get easier with time.”
But I have Harry. I have Harry and Eggsy, and I’m not dead.
That would have to be what got him through, then: It was bad, sure, but it could always be worse. Even if God had been ugly enough to allow the destruction of Kingsman, he’d been kind enough to give them back Harry; and the landmine was a punch in the fucking gut, but if Merlin had to go back and do it over, he would rather lose his legs than lose Eggsy the way they’d lost his father. They weren’t alone, either: They had Statesmen, and even if she was a field-agent now, Merlin had a friend in Ginger.
There was a lot to be grateful for, and Merlin knew that, even if he was too miserable to really appreciate it at the moment.
He slept, and thank God, it was dreamless.