The court date had been postponed twice, each time for a month, by the judge who was hearing their case. During that time, they'd offered to pay for another rehab program for Michelle -- and it hurt Eggsy a bit that he was thinking of her as Michelle, rather than Mum -- talked to their solicitor about whether Eggsy would need an adoption order, too, and generally made certain every 'i' was dotted and 't' crossed for Daisy's legal status. Financial records, home visits, school visits, doctors visits, and psychologists were all part of their lives.
There was nothing pressing at the moment at Headquarters, so Arthur gave them some leeway. Other agents were taking down time as well, getting affairs in order or researching potential hot spots or just vacationing. Since they were in London, they remained on call for emergencies -- as did Sagramore in Jaipur and Galahad in Cape Town -- but this was really the first time since Valentine nearly four years earlier, that nothing big seemed to be brewing.
When the court date finally came, it was almost anti-climactic. The judge reviewed all the documents, asked Daisy a couple of questions, asked Michelle questions about leaving rehab for the second time, and questioned the Guardian ad Litem. Merlin and Eggsy weren't asked anything until the very end of the morning.
"Do you gentlemen still want to adopt the child Daisy Unwin as your daughter?"
They glanced at each other and said, "Yes, my lord," nearly in unison.
"I hereby terminate the parental rights of Michelle Unwin. An adoption order granting full parental rights is given to Daisy Unwin's half-brother Gary Unwin and his spouse Hamish McKnight." The judge smiled. "Congratulations, you're fathers. The paperwork may be picked up from my clerk this afternoon."
Michelle started trying to yell at the judge, but Eggsy took her shoulders and said, "Mum, he can hold you in contempt. That means jail or a big fine. You don't want that."
She looked at him. "Why did you have to take that job?"
"Because there's something more to the world, Mum. I found something I'm good at. It's nice that it pays well, but the part I love, 'sides Merlin, is that I'm good at it."
"You'll never be one of them poshos."
"Don't wanta be, Mum. Just want to show them I'm as good as, yeah?"
Merlin came over with Daisy holding his hand. "Michelle, if you can prove that you're not doing drugs, we'll figure out supervised visitation."
Michelle just looked at him. "You took them all away, didn't you? Lee, Eggsy, now Daisy. You ain't better 'an me just 'cause you grew up on some expensive estate."
Eggsy just laughed. "Where Merlin grew up makes our counsel estate look like Kensington Palace, Mum. He was a scholarship boy. Maybe I could've been. Don't know. I never tried. Not sure I knew there was such a thing. Harry, he was posh. So's most of the ones I work with, but don't take it out on Merlin, Mum."
Her face tensed up. "I tried to be a good Mum to you."
"I know you did, Mum. You was alone with me for a long time. An' I'm sorry that Dad died, that we didn't have anything better, so that Dean looked good." He moved to hug her, and she allowed it. "Listen to Merlin, please. We're not going to cut you out of Daisy's life if you're clean, got it?"
She nodded against his shoulder. "I got your phone numbers. I'll call you." She pulled back and wiped her eyes, putting on a smile. She leaned over and hugged Daisy tight. "Don't forget your old Mum, now. I'll try to see you soon, all right?"
Daisy kissed her cheek. "I'll see you soon, Mum. I know it."
"Yeah, well, I'll do me best." She glanced at Merlin. "Take care of them, right?"
"I will, Michelle. Please call."
She nodded and walked out of the court room.
Merlin smiled down at his daughter, "So, little one, where shall we have lunch?"
During the slow time, Eggsy made visits to the cities in his purview for long weekends. He met with informants in Ankara and Istanbul, checked out the sights -- and the KGB activity -- in Moscow and Saint Petersurg, and spent time in Kiev and Kurdistan.
When he was in London, he worked on honing his skills. Merlin was teaching him fencing, and he'd gone back to gymnastics to keep himself in shape between missions. He was also working with Lancelot, Sagramore, and Galahad on financial fraud. The project evolved out of the operation where he'd gotten shot in Baltimore. Conflict gems, not just diamonds, were being traded and used to fund drugs, arms and luxury goods shipments.
Van had found that papers verifying diamonds as conflict-free were going missing in South Africa. Jewels were being sold as antiques broken out of old settings. Under a loup, the techniques used to cut the jewels were clearly more modern. Roxy was checking out Antwerp and Amsterdam, Eggsy was working with Hatton's, and Daya was tracking down the supposed antique jewels as India was a major trade player.
Roxy poked her head into his office. "I think I may have found a lead in Laos. I'll probably end up in Hong Kong and may need to hit a couple of other places out that way. Tristan said he'd watch my back while I was there, and I'll stop with Daya for a little while on the way back."
"You two have something going?"
"Me and Tristan?"
Eggsy shook his head. "Hope not, Elaine wouldn't like it, and we like to keep her happy. I meant you and Daya."
Roxy smiled. "She prefers men, but doesn't seem to think I'm second best when I'm around. She asks after you."
"Well, we may get a chance to work together at some point."
Roxy smirked. "It's not your work she's been enquiring about."
"Tell her I'm married. So, why are you giving me your itinerary? 's not like you," Eggsy said.
"Because the doctors have said I'm medically clear. No more hormones in my system."
"And when you get back?"
"I thought maybe the three of us could begin that private project we've discussed."
Eggsy leaned back in his chair. "Come in and have a seat. Still want Merlin as the biological father?"
"Do you mind?"
Eggsy said, "Nah, I know my husband's brilliant. He's got a lot to offer genetically speaking."
"So do you." She sighed. "My biggest worry is the embarrassment of having to ask for the samples and having their viability analyzed."
"Leave that to us. They don't need to know you're going to be the mother. It would make sense for us to want a sibling for Daisy."
Roxy said, "Would you? It would be a relief for me."
"They may say that any procedure would have to be done here."
"Then, I'll walk in and lie on my back proudly. And if they're not viable, you don't mind being my back up plan?"
"No, Roxy. I'm all right with either option." He smiled at her. "Want me to bring it up with Merlin tonight? Or wait until you've headed out?"
"I thought maybe I could be invited to dinner, and we'll all talk about it?"
He put on his glasses and switched them on. "Merlin, how about fish and chips for dinner? I've invited Roxy." He listened for a minute, then said, "You want cod, plaice, or shrimp?"
"Plaice, I think."
He passed it along. "Thanks, my love." Eggsy switched his glasses off. "He'll stop and pick it up on the way home, if we'll get Daisy."
"See you at five then. I'll arrange the car, shall I."
"Please. See you then."
This chapter didn't go to the beta shop. I got antsy about posting something before the weekend was over.
“David?” His voice was hesitant.
“Merlin, what brings you to medical? We’re not expecting a downed agent are we?”
“No, we have some breathing space at last.” Merlin glanced at the chair and was motioned to sit down. “I’m here for a personal reason. I know we collect sperm samples on all Kingsman candidates. How long are they kept for?”
“We don’t dispose of them.”
“Are thirty year old samples likely to be viable?”
David thought for a moment. “Studies only go back twelve years or so. Essentially, we would thaw part of the sample, check motility, and review how long it stayed active in a neutral environment. At that point, it would have one of three possible outcomes. It’s either viable for artificial insemination, viable for in vitro, or not viable.”
Merlin nodded. “That’s about what I thought. What right of access would I have?”
“I assume you’re asking Arthur before creating test tube Kingsmen?”
Merlin chuckled. “Yes, I’ll have a formal letter to present when I make the request.”
“Which candidate? I can at least make certain the samples are still around. You know they’re filed by year and the name of the knight who proposed them?”
“I do: Galahad 1985. If you’re curious, I was Galahad’s candidate that year.”
David looked relieved. “Thank you. I know you’re my boss, but…”
“It’s an odd request. I understand.”
They weren’t furtive about it. Merlin had made the request for Arthur’s permission. David had done the tests and stated everything was fully viable.
Roxy had asked her doctor about where and when the procedure could be done.
Once everything was in place, both Roxy and Eggsy were sent on short term assignments, but two months after their discussion of logistics, they were ready to move forward. Her doctor gave Roxy the tests she needed to track ovulation, and she would be given an immediate appointment when the time was right. Doctor Graham had expressed some issues with using sperm from an unknown source but, once she determined it was properly stored, accepted the donor vials.
“Eggsy, I need to miss tea today. Doctor’s appointment.”
Eggsy smiled into the phone. “All right. Anything I can do?”
“Come with me? I mean, not in the room, but I’d like you to be there.”
“’Course I will. I’m going to be the only man there aren’t I?”
Roxy laughed, “Probably.”
“I’ll have to find a book with a really butch cover to read then.” Eggsy asked, “What time do we need to leave?”
“Half two. The appointment’s at half three, the last one of the day for this procedure.”
“I’ll remind Merlin he’s on Daisy duty this afternoon. I’ll meet you out front at half two.”
It didn’t work the first or the second time. Roxy was getting nervous, wondering if she’d need to take hormones after all. Six weeks after the third attempt, she performed a home pregnancy test and smiled.
The weekly meeting was over, and Roxy asked Arthur if she could talk to him on a personal matter. Eggsy nodded at her as he left the room.
“What can I do for you? I’m sorry I couldn’t give you permission to pursue that lead in Thailand, but Tristan is already in place.”
Roxy shook her head and said, “No, Arthur, I’m glad Tristan’s taking it. I’m going to need to be taken off the duty roster in a couple of months. And I’ll need to know the policy on maternity leave.”
Arthur’s eyes went wide. “This is definitely a first for the table. Although, Tristan and Caradoc both got time off for the births of their children. I don’t think Erec or Dinadan ever asked for it, although I know they have a couple of terrors each. Congratulations, by the way.”
She beamed at him. “Thank you, Arthur.”
Arthur thought for a moment. “You’ve been an exemplary agent, so I am relatively certain you’re not living with anyone as that would need to have been reported.”
“Are you asking if I have a significant other?”
He nodded. “I suppose I am.”
“No, I don’t. I am not planning to rear the child as a single mother, either. Um…”
There was a knock at the dining room door. Arthur said, “Come in.”
Merlin and Eggsy entered and Roxy smiled in relief.
“I hadn’t thought some of this through very well,” she said.
Arthur glanced among them. “I see. Or at least I think I see. Perhaps you gentlemen should join us. Lancelot?”
Eggsy went to his usual spot.
Merlin sat beside him and said, “I hope Caradoc’s gone. I’d hate to think I was sitting in his lap.”
“No fear,” Arthur said. “So who’s going to talk?”
Roxy said, “I am, mostly. I’d rather not make a general announcement until I’m safely in the second trimester. At that point, I would like to cut back on travel, at least to dangerous situations until afterward.”
“It’s a reasonable request.”
“I’ll let you know the due date, and once I’ve had it, I’ll want to take three months of maternity leave, if that’s all right.”
Arthur smiled. “You aren’t the first woman to have children while working for Kingsman. We have a policy of three months at full pay or six months at half pay for maternity leave.”
Roxy said, “Good. I’m fairly certain I’ll want the three month option.”
There was a long pause and finally Eggsy said, “What about parental leave for adoptive parents?”
“Ah. Well, I know that the others were allowed six weeks with each of their children.”
Merlin turned to look at him.
Arthur added, “But let’s say that each of you is entitled to three months within the first year after the birth. The only condition being you may not take it at the same time as Lancelot or as each other.”
Merlin said, “That’s very generous, Arthur.”
Eggsy grinned. “We also know that if the world is going to hell again because of a megalomaniac, things might change.”
“Good to know,” Arthur said.
Roxy and Eggsy stood to leave.
Merlin said, “I’d like a minute with Arthur, please.”
Once the door closed, Merlin said, “If you have questions, ask them now.”
“If this was planned, why didn’t you let me know sooner?”
“We weren’t sure it would work. Pregnancy can be elusive.”
Arthur said, “Are you sure?”
“About adopting Roxy’s child? Absolutely. We all three know what we expect and have drawn up legal documents.”
“Every once in a while, I wonder whether Chester would have survived having Eggsy at the table.”
Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Chester quite literally didn’t survive Eggsy sitting at the table.”
“Ah, yes, probably not the best phrasing.”
“But why Eggsy? He’s not the one taking maternity leave.”
Arthur said, “Because he’s the one who changed Merlin. You’re not the same man you were when he came to us.”
“Neither are you. Even if V-Day hadn’t created the issues it did, we’re three years older. You’re in a different professional role than you were. The changes would have come.”
“I suppose I’m feeling old today.”
Merlin smiled. “It happens.”
Dean attempts to kidnap Daisy.
It doesn't end well for him or his men.
Whoo boy. Some of this has been coming for awhile. As their family expands, so does their protectiveness.
Some of this came from a comment realpestilence/Pesti made on True where the potential for Merlin to be "a whirlwind of protective rage" was mentioned. In going to write it, I found that Merlin goes cold in rage.
Tristan was just getting home for the night when his glasses sounded.
"Are you somewhere private?" Merlin asked.
"Give me five minutes, and I'll be home."
"Contact me as soon as you've poured your gin and lime." Merlin disconnected quickly.
Tristan hurried into his building and up to his condo. He took the implied advice and poured himself a gin and lime before sitting down and pinging Merlin.
"First. Elaine will be fine. Second. She was shot. It was a through and through. Third. She's in the care unit here at headquarters. Fourth. Your daughter took that bullet to protect my daughter. I am in her debt and yours."
Tristan sipped his gin and lime slowly. "Will Arthur give me permission to come home to see her?"
"Do you have anything urgent on? If you do, we can send Sagramore to help cover it. Her area is fairly quiet."
"Nothing current. If anything changes, she can be pulled in quickly, and I can be back in two days or less. Patch me through to Arthur."
Merlin said, "Of course."
"Wait. Thank you for telling me yourself. How long ago did this happen?"
"It's been an hour and a half since we got the call from Daisy's school."
Tristan said, "Is your daughter all right?"
"She needs lots of comforting because she's scared, but Daisy wasn't injured. Elaine fought off the person who tried to kidnap Daisy. He shot at her as she was running to safety. The head of the school said that Elaine protected Daisy the whole time."
"I'm glad. It sounds like this situation could have been much worse."
"Yes, it could have been." There was a long pause. "I'll patch you through to Arthur."
He turned and saw Vivienne staring at him.
"Your next call will be to Beaumains, I assume," she said.
"No. His mission can't be completed before tomorrow night. He'll be back from Moscow in less than 48 hours."
"Merlin, I know it's bad policy to give people unsolicited advice on their marriages, but I'm going to do it anyway. Tell him now. He'll have enough time to come back from the anger and be a good agent tomorrow night. And he will. But if you keep this from him… In my experience, distrust is the biggest destroyer of marriages. Arthur and I… well, it's old history, but please listen to what I'm saying."
"You're right. It's bad policy." He turned his back on her and started monitoring the feeds.
When Eggsy checked in three hours later, Merlin took a deep breath. He took the whole report, which took less than five minutes and waited until Eggsy said, "So what do you have for me?"
"Daisy's here with me at Headquarters tonight. We'll be staying here until you get back. Someone tried to kidnap her today --"
"Fuckin' Dean --"
"Eggsy! Please, let me finish. She's absolutely fine. Elaine is in the care unit. She'll be fine, too, but she was shot."
"No. You're not. Because if you do, then you're not a Kingsman. We need the information you'll get tomorrow night. It will save a lot more people than just our daughter."
There was a long pause. "What's that line in Pratchett? 'Personal isn't the same as important?'"
"Daisy is important. But we have to decide that other people's children are just as important, mo chridhe."
"God, I fuckin' well know. I'm sorry, my love."
Merlin said, "I hadn't planned on telling you until you got back."
"Because you were worried that I'd just get on a plane and come back."
"What changed your mind?"
"I love you, and I never wanted you to have reason to doubt me." He could hear Eggsy crying, softly.
"I never would. But, yeah, I'd've been incendiary angry at you. Don't keep things from me. Trust that you'll always be able to talk me down from a bad decision."
"I've asked Arthur for time off as soon as you've debriefed. Roxy will be back from Paris by then, too."
Eggsy said, "Do I need to talk you down from a bad decision?"
"Mo chridhe, the only bad decision we made was letting him live."
"We'll talk when I get back. I love you."
"And I you."
Merlin went to the shop to participate in Eggsy's debrief with Arthur.
At the end Arthur said, "I know you've requested time off, Merlin. I assume you'll want to take some at the same time, Beaumains?"
"I will ask three things of you. The first is probably the hardest, but I need you to wait a week. Beaumains, you're an excellent analyst. I need you working with Galahad, Lancelot, and Caradoc on the African and South American connections. If we haven't gotten further in a week, we'll take it off the hob for awhile."
They glanced at each other. "Not a problem, Arthur," Eggsy said.
"The second… Merlin, I know you haven't asked for a single thing. I also know that your subordinates love and respect you enough that you have every camera feed that could possibly be helpful on the day it happened and probably full intelligence on where the kidnappers are hiding out."
Merlin didn't give anything away.
"Give Kingsman plausible deniability on anything you do." Neither man said anything, so Arthur continued, "Give me a heads up before you do anything. We'll cover for you in any way that we can."
Merlin said, "What I may or may not do is on my own conscience. I can't ask…"
"You're not asking. I'm offering. My conscience is clear on this."
Eggsy said, "Thank you, Arthur."
Merlin stood beside him. "Thank you."
They took a moment outside Elaine's room to compose themselves before knocking. Elaine was lying on her stomach and Daisy was on the bed beside her reading her book aloud.
"Eggsy!" Daisy got down from the bed carefully and then ran into his arms. She gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek as he picked her up and settled her on his hip.
He bent over and kissed Elaine's cheek. "Thank you."
Tristan came in and took the chair by the bed. "Daisy reads very well for a six year old."
"My girl's smart," Eggsy said.
"Dad and I have been talking," Elaine said, "I need to recover for awhile, maybe as long as a month…"
Merlin said, "My dear girl, take the time you need. Full pay, of course. You went far above and beyond normal nanny duty."
"Let me finish, Uncle Merlin. Dad and I thought I should go visit Mum in Cornwall. We have a couple of extra bedrooms. I thought Daisy could come with me for a week or two, while you're cleaning things up. You could join us for a week or so afterward."
Tristan said, "I've already spoken to Arthur about taking time to see my family. And my wife is pretty dangerous herself, if you're worried about Daisy's protection."
"More worried about Elaine's recovery, bruv. It'll be awhile before Merlin and I would come down. Arthur needs me to work on something this week."
Elaine said, "It'll be at least a few more days before I can travel. Even then I'll have to use padding to sit anywhere."
The glance between them lasted a little longer this time. Merlin said, "Daisy, would you like to visit with Elaine and her Mummy and Daddy?"
She seemed puzzled. "You'll come, too?"
"Not at first. We'll join you later."
Elaine said, "We have goats and horses and a cow."
"Can I ride the horses?"
Tristan said, "I think there's a pony that'll suit you."
"I'll go. But you'll come soon."
Eggsy smiled at her. "'Course we will, monkey."
Daisy had been very excited about getting to ride on the train with Elaine and her father. They'd made certain she had plenty of books and toys as well as the clothes she'd need before waving her off from Paddington Station.
When they got to the shop, they found Arthur sitting in the leather chairs in front of the tailor's table. He greeted them with, "I finally had the dubious pleasure of meeting Dean Anthony Baker. I informed him that I had no idea who Mister Unwin's geezer was, but that Mister Unwin was not at the shop this morning. He seemed reluctant to go, so we dialed 999."
"Arthur, look, I'm sorry my…"
Arthur held a hand up to stop Eggsy from speaking. "You are not the first agent to have someone unpleasant follow him to the shop. It's one reason the shop isn't headquarters. And, we are quite well defended."
Allen, the grey haired tailor who'd measured him for his first suit, smiled. "I was in the Paras before learning to sew."
"Ta," Eggsy said.
"As of an hour ago, he's already been released with a warning. We also were able to get a restraining order for the shop. I believe you both already have personal ones."
Merlin said, "No. We have one for Daisy, of course, and one for the house and her school."
"You'll have two weeks off as soon as the final arrangements are made for the Paris operation." He stood. "I have no compunction about using Kingsman's influence if it's needed. Though I hope it won't."
Merlin came in. "I can hear you all the way to my post. What's the fight?"
Roxy said, "He wants me to work comms and logistics for the Paris operation while you stay here and... take care of personal business."
Merlin walked right up to her and pushed her shoulder, hard. He'd telegraphed it enough that she could brace herself, but Eggsy still had to catch her so she didn't land hard.
Roxy looked bewildered. "How? I've been able to block that kind of approach since I was ten."
"You're pregnant, lass. Your center of gravity is changing."
Her eyes flashed anger for a moment. "I'm only just beginning the second trimester."
"Yeah," Eggsy said. "I'm the only one here been through this before and center of gravity's the least of it."
"Right now, reaction times'll slow down a bit. Might be tired a lot. Looked it up when Mum was carrying Daisy. Third trimester, you'll have a hard time seeing your feet."
Roxy rolled her eyes. They looked at her. "I thought I'd have longer before it started messing with my life."
Merlin said, "We're going to be protective, lass. But I know Eggsy and I have both held our tongues when we thought you were doing something dangerous because we wouldn't want someone telling us what to do."
"But now I'm a danger to others."
Eggsy said, "You can't take point, but there's no reason you can't do anything else you want. You'll know when you have to pull out of the field."
Merlin said, "It can't hurt to start pulling back a bit as things change."
"It's my family, too."
"Yeah. It is. And if I have to go to Paris, you two ain't goin' in without me. Not because it's personal -- it is and all -- but because I'm the one with the inside knowledge. 'F you go to Paris, things'll be taken care of by the time you get back."
Roxy nodded. "Best use of available resources. I get it. Don't get hurt."
Merlin hugged her. "Be safe yourself."
Roxy had left for Paris the night before. Merlin and Eggsy were preparing for their vacation which would start the next day. About an hour before they were due to go off shift, Merlin's relief arrived.
Peter said, "The Witches are waiting in the testing room. Told me to take over for you."
Merlin nodded. "Thank you. Have you seen Beaumains?"
Merlin checked the cameras in the building and found him on the shooting range. "If the Witches ask where I am, tell them I'm just grabbing him before coming up."
"Got it, Merlin." Peter turned toward the comms, then said, "Good luck."
Eggsy finished the round he was on and saw Merlin as the target came back to him. All nine shots were perfect third eye head shots.
"You're not using the Kingsman pistol."
Eggsy smiled. "Plausible deniability."
"The Witches want us."
Eggsy nodded and put it back in his holster.
They went into the testing room and found not just the witches but Jamal waiting for them.
Morgana handed them a file. "This is everything we have on the attempt to kidnap Daisy. We turned it over to the Met, and they were arrested."
Merlin flipped the folder open. Dean Baker was in a car while Rottweiler and one of Dean's other muppets were going after Daisy. There was a quick series of surprisingly high resolution screen captures from a local surveillance camera which included showing Rotti pulling the gun and shooting Elaine.
Eggsy said, "Good. Once he's convicted, I don't have to worry about him."
Morgana said, "They were all released without charge. We've inquired with several agencies. It seems Mr. Baker has been an informant and is therefore considered too valuable to convict."
Vivienne added, "Arthur's tried to call in several favors, but there's been no luck. To the point that we assumed there might be blackmail on Baker's part."
"I take it there was?" Merlin asked.
"Back of the file." Morgana glanced at Eggsy. "I'm that sorry, chook."
Merlin said, "Eggsy?"
"It's nothing you don't already know."
Merlin flipped to the back. "A backbencher, a high ranking officer in MI-6 who I know for a fact has recently been promoted, a high ranking civil servant, and..." He shook his head and slid the picture over to Eggsy.
"Ywain? Fuckin' 'ell, 's not like I ever really looked at their faces, but that's how he knew? He fucked me when I was fourteen. Paid for it, and I'm the one who weren't worthy because I was tryin' to put food on the table."
The Lady said, "He's dead now."
"Pity," Merlin said, "it was quick." He raised an eyebrow at the pictures, many weren't of Eggsy, but the alley was the same and the age of the young men was, too. "I'd have made it slow."
Eggsy said, "I thought you said that enhanced interrogation never worked."
"I didn't plan to ask him anything."
Jamal said, "Eggsy, why didn't you say nothin'? You know me dad woulda helped out."
"What take the food from you and your brother's mouth to put it into ours? I look after me own. 'Sides, there was many a day when I ate tea at your place an' your dad always gave me leftovers."
Merlin said, "Back to the matter at hand, why did you ask us here?"
"To give you the tools you need," The Lady said. "This operation does not have the imprimatur of Kingsman. But it absolutely has ours."
"Wha' about plausible deniability?" Eggsy asked.
Vivienne smiled and slid a small device to Jamal. "It blocks cctv cameras. Wait until you're in a heavy congestion area to turn it on, so it won't be linked to you."
Merlin said, "Why are you giving it to him?"
The Lady said, "Young Jamal here is taking a week off to masquerade as a taxi driver. We're using it to test whether he has 'the knowledge,' of course. We're lending him the cab to practice with."
"It's not your fight, Jamal," Merlin said.
"D'you know how many times I seen Eggsy with bruises or cuts since knowin' Dean. Dad e'en tried calling CFS once, but they didn't want to know. 'S my fight, too. Face it; I'm Daisy's favorite babysitter when Elaine's got the day off and all, guv."
"Yes, Daisy's very fond of you." Merlin tried again, "If something goes wrong…"
"Then I'm prepared for it. May not be a knight, like Eggsy, prolly won't ever head a department like the rest o' you, but I'm a Kingsman."
Eggsy grinned at him. "You are, bruv. Fuckin' brilliant one from what I been hearin'."
Merlin nodded tightly.
Morgana said, "My contribution is that folder. The very last page has an address. It's a warehouse near Camden Lock, less than a mile and a half from where you live. It's where Mr. Baker has been conducting business. And Eggsy, I was able to find that phone number you requested."
The Lady said, "Nothing will come back on you."
Vivienne added, "And Arthur will have his plausible deniability."
That night as they lay in bed, sated, but still clinging to each other, Eggsy said, "I ain't never asked you, but is this going to give you trouble with your God and all?"
Merlin turned the light back on and said, "Where did that come from?"
"We're planning to kill people, and I know it's something we occasionally have to do on the job -- but it's always taking one life to save others. And I know that guy I killed when I met Wolfie was a nasty bit of work, but I regret having to slip a knife into his head. 'Specially since we din't have to kill any of the others. But I don't think there's any great reckoning on the other side."
"I'd have thought you'd ask me about my beliefs before this."
"Don't have to talk about 'em if you don't want. I just want to make sure that you're all right."
Merlin said, "I'm all right. You know that 'thou shalt not kill' actually translates to 'you shall not murder?' There's plenty of permitted killing in the bible. There's even some that's demanded."
"Yes. Though for someone who never had any organized religion, I'm a little surprised you know as much as you do."
"Been readin' it. Mostly 'cause Daisy's started goin' with you and she asks me 'bout things. Figure it's better to look it up before I answer. Gotta say, Hamish McKnight, doctor of mathematics, I wonder at it."
Merlin kissed him softly. "I don't know whether there's a God. But I know that it's one of the few places in London where I can meet up with fellow Scots. I know that my kirk donated their pennies to help me go to Gordonstoun. I know that hearing the words I've heard more Sundays than not for over fifty years comforts me."
"C'n understand that. 'Bout the planning, though?"
Merlin said, "There's a few things. He brought this to us. If he were challenging us in the courts for custody, it would be annoying, but he's used violence against us. He's trying to take our child, and he's willing to use bullets to do it. It was sheer luck that Elaine's wound wasn't worse or that a bystander wasn't injured. If the British government weren't constantly letting him out of jail for giving up his confederates, we would neither of us be considering this. What he did to you makes my blood boil, but you're a grown man who's survived it."
"Yeah, and Daisy's a child who might not."
Merlin nodded against him and pressed a kiss into his hair. "Do you know why the Church of Scotland is different from the Church of England?"
"'Cause you all bloody hate the English?"
"Other than that" Merlin chuckled. "Offically, we believe in predestination. I don't. I was brought up that there's an elect who are predestined to go to heaven. You don't know who they are, but, and this is straightforward Calvinism, nothing they do can make them not part of the elect. God's mercy is necessary because we're all sinners."
"So the actual sins themselves don't matter? Someone else is goin' t'hell for lifting an Aero bar when they're a kid and some serial killer…"
"Might receive God's mercy. Yes."
"That's pretty hard core. And pretty rank."
Merlin said, "It's one reason I'm not sure that I do believe."
"So you're just living Pascal's wager?"
"You never cease to amaze me. Yes, I suppose on some level I am." Merlin pressed Eggsy back into the pillows and kissed him deeply. "Since you're asking, are you going to be all right?"
"Figure it's no different from putting down a mad dog." He pulled Merlin back for another kiss.
Jamal picked them up the in the afternoon and drove straight toward Savile Row. When they hit Oxford Circus, which was crowded with shoppers and cabs, he hit the interference Vivienne had provided and then hit a button on the dashboard.
"What's that about?"
Merlin answered, "He just changed our tags, I believe."
"'At's right, guv. Going to head to a few more real crowded intersections before taking us back toward Camden."
They were silent for most of the journey, just listening to the music on the radio. Jamal pulled up near some derelict looking buildings. At the end of the street was a brick warehouse. There were a few broken windows.
Eggsy pulled out his phone and checked the number Morgana had given him. When the line was picked up, he said, "Poodle. This is Eggsy. I think it would be a really good time for you to go out and get some food for the boys. Fish and chips. It takes a good long while and the good shop's a little further out of the way. I'm coming in five minutes. You don't want to be there."
The phone's sim card went into a little jar of acid. Merlin said, "Do you think he'll leave?"
Jamal said, "He's gonna warn Dean and we'll have to figure it all out again."
"Don't think so, bruv."
Merlin and Eggsy left the car and went to cover two of the three entrances. Jamal could keep an eye on the third one from the car.
He looked at the countdown and then said on the comms. "Poodle just walked out. Be careful, bruvs."
Less than a minute later, Eggsy and Merlin walked out of the warehouse. They got in the car and Jamal drove them back toward Savile Row. He changed the plates back and undid the interference the device provided.
Merlin and Eggsy spent the ride breaking the guns down to their component parts. When they finally settled into their seats, Jamal said, "He finally gone?"
Eggsy nodded. "Yeah. Rotti, too."
"Why'd you call Poodle? He can identify you."
Merlin said, "How? The sim card's destroyed. The phone was only used the once in any case. Poodle might try to turn us in, but we agreed that he'd have too many problems of his own if he tried."
"An' why? He weren't in any of the camera shots of the attempt on Daisy. He weren't a good guy, but once Harry -- Galahad -- had taken them down, he learned. Rotti and the rest still fought me, but Poodle sat down across from Mum and watched. When we took Daisy, Rotti came after me, but Poodle didn't make a single threatening move. Killin' him woulda been murder."
Jamal nodded. "I know if it coulda been done legal…"
Merlin said, "But it wasn't."
Jamal said, "Yeah."
"This going to get to you, bruv?"
"Best moment of my life was takin' Rotti down with that drug thing. Felt like the world made sense for a moment."
"Know what ya mean, bruv. Talk to the Lady if it does. Talk to me if you can. This ain't on you."
Jamal said, "It is and all. Accessory before an' after. An' glad to do it."
They pulled up in front of their house and got out.
Merlin said, "Would you like to come in for a drink?"
"Nah, your brass and all's in the back, yeah?"
"Lady told me not to touch anything, but to bring 'em in to headquarters. Then my vacation starts tomorrow."
"Say hi to your dad from me, bruv." They hugged briefly, and Jamal got back in the car. Merlin and Eggsy peeled off their gloves, and dropped them into the back, too.
They went inside.
The next day, they picked up the newspapers at Paddington before getting on the train. A civil servant, a backbencher, and someone high up from MI-6 were all helping the police with their inquiries regarding solicitation of underaged prostitutes. It was across all the front pages.
Their train was met at Newquay by Elaine and Daisy. They took turns holding their daughter close for the rest of the day.
A short vacation in Cornwall with Tristan's family.
"But Daddy has to come to breakfast."
"He will Daisy. Half an hour at most. I told him last night that he could have a lie in, so let me wake him, and you go on and talk to Tri… Mark."
Daisy said, "Why do you always call Mark by another name? It doesn't even begin with M."
"When you're as grown up as Elaine, I promise we'll answer your questions. Now you head in and get your hands and face washed. Half an hour."
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. "You're the best big brother."
He headed into the small cottage that Tristan -- and he had to remember to call him by his real name, Mark, while he was here -- and his wife had put them in. Daisy was staying with them and Elaine up at the main house.
Merlin was lying in bed reading. "I thought you might come back and join me."
"Promised Daisy half an hour. I'll shower with you though. Save water."
"I heard the shower going before you left."
Eggsy said, "Didn't know Daisy was going to show me how to milk a goat, did I?"
Merlin's shoulders shook with silent laughter. "Get in and sluice off before I join you."
"Not sure I'll let you. Laughin' at me predicament and all."
"The first time Mark invited me down, Elaine and her sister insisted on teaching me how to milk goats, too."
Eggsy grinned and got into the shower.
They had a hearty breakfast and washed the dishes as thanks. They headed into the front room and watched Daisy and Elaine lying on their stomachs in front of the hearth playing checkers.
Mark said, "Daisy won the first game, so they're playing best out of three."
"Winner plays Eggsy," Elaine said. Daisy nodded but didn't break her concentration.
"Winner should probably play me, first," Merlin said, "Then you'd have a chance."
Mark said, "You're joking. You're the best player at Kingsman."
"Backgammon, yes. Any variation on chess belongs to Eggsy."
"Eggsy plays black," Daisy said.
"Not true, my sweet," Eggsy said. "The winner of the previous game plays black."
"But Daddy never plays black."
Merlin said, "Not quite true. I'm getting better. I've won fifteen percent of my games."
Daisy sat up and looked thoughtful. "So if you and Eggsy play a hundred games, you'll play black fifteen times?"
"Excellent, little one. That's depressingly right."
Mark looked between them. "Merlin, a doctor of mathematics, loses at chess to…"
"Oh, please finish that sentence," Eggsy said with a smirk.
"Well, Elaine said you once made a crack about doing well on your GCSE. And I know you didn't go to university."
"I swear I'm going to ask for a three year sabbatical to go get my B.A. Maybe then someone'll think I'm good enough to be one of you."
Merlin laid a hand on Eggsy's shoulder.
Elaine just said, "Da. Really?"
Mark shook his head. "I don't believe it. Set up the chess board. I want to play you myself."
Daisy's piece hopped across a whole string of Elaine's. "King me."
Elaine said, "The board's free now. Daisy just won."
"I'll play black," Eggsy said. "Would you like the f7 handicap?"
Mark bristled. "No. I'm sure we'll be fine without it."
"Can I sit on your lap, please," Daisy asked Eggsy.
"You know the rules?"
"No touching the board or any of the pieces until the game is over," she said solemnly.
Eggsy pulled her on his lap and watched as Mark made his first move. He made his. For five minutes, the game opening went forward with Eggsy barely looking at the board before moving. Daisy tapped his shoulder and he let her down to go sit on Merlin's lap.
As they got to the middle game, Mark began taking more time with his moves, but Eggsy didn't. He had one of Mark's knights in a fork, had taken the other knight and a rook as well as clearing about half the pawns. Mark began playing more defensively. He castled his king as soon as he was able and got more aggressive with his queen. One of Eggsy's bishops took his queen. Two moves later, one of Eggsy's pawns had made it to the back row.
Mark looked at the board, and Merlin checked his watch. "You're slowing down Eggsy, it took nearly twenty minutes."
"Went for a showier game, din't I?" Eggsy watched Mark as he backtracked a couple of moves and tried to see where he might have created a different outcome.
"I don't think I've ever played chess that fast in my life before," Mark said. "How do you move so quickly?"
"Played speed chess to earn me spending money, didn' I."
Mark offered his hand across the board. "I owe you an apology."
Eggsy took it. "Accepted." He cast around for a more neutral topic. "How'd you meet Caya?"
Elaine and Merlin both grinned and Caya came into the room with 'levenses.
"Oh, I want to hear how it happened this time," she said.
Eggsy grinned. He'd only met her yesterday, but he liked her very much.
"It's Merlin's fault. When I was a candidate, I was dropped in Cornwall with ten pounds in my pack."
"'S ten pound more'n' I got."
Merlin said, "You got sandwiches and power bars. Everybody gets water, a blanket, and a compass. What else you get depends on where you're being dropped and what you've shown skills in."
"Where'd they drop you Uncle Merlin? And what was in your pack?"
"Didn't get a pack. I had a compass and a canteen. I added the blanket when I became Merlin. The Isle of Man."
Mark looked at him. "I thought I'd been hard done by."
"How'd you get back?" Eggsy asked.
"I was given ninety six hours. I worked two nights with a fishing boat and got put ashore in Liverpool forth two hours before the train for London was due to leave. I was dropped with a night's pay in my pocket."
Eggsy said, "Shouldn't that have been two nights pay?"
"No. If they'd dropped me in Liverpool the first morning, I wouldn't have had any money. The fee for ferrying me from the Isle of Man to Britain was a night's work. I asked if I could work two nights to earn enough for my ticket back to London. The captain said yes."
Mark said, "So having ten pounds and a waterproof poncho were the luxuries in my pack."
"Where'd you get dropped, Eggsy?"
"The Lake District. Took nine hours to walk to Penrith and got a train there."
"With no money?" Elaine asked.
"There are some very nice people in the world. I didn't run into any of 'em. But I hopped the train and managed to stay clear of the conductors until we got to Euston, and I walked to Savile Row from there. Called Harry, and he got me on the shuttle. If I'd known though, I'd've taken the High Barnett route."
"Excellent use of your wits," Merlin said.
Eggsy turned to Mark and said, "But we were talking about your orienteering test."
"Well, I got dropped about fifteen kilometers from here. I walked in entirely the wrong direction and stumbled onto Caya making cheeses. Once I convinced her I wasn't a lunatic…"
Caya snorted. "He hasn't convinced me of that yet."
Mark took her hand and kissed it. "I tried to get her to drive me to London. A chance to get to know her better, I thought, but she wouldn't. She bought me a ticket for Paddington and gave me five pounds for my tube fare so I could spend the ten pounds on food. I sent her a check as soon as I became Tristan. It repaid my ticket plus enough extra for her to buy a round-trip ticket for herself. I was lucky. She showed up at the restaurant on the right day at the right time. We've been together ever since."
"I was eighteen and thought it was romantic," Caya said. "Turns out it was."
The London paper arrived around lunch time. Elaine was looking through it and said, "Merlin, Eggsy, I think you'll want to read this."
Eggsy took the paper from her.
Elaine said, "Fourth page, top right, London news."
He read it over, nodded, and handed it to Merlin.
Mark looked over his shoulder and said, "Who's Dean Anthony Baker?"
Daisy said, "My father. But he's not my Dad. That's Merlin. The judge said that I never had to see him again."
"No, little one, you won't. The newspaper says that he died." He watched her closely and only saw relief on her features. "He tried to take me away from you. I didn't like him."
"'S all right, Daisy. I knew him a lot longer than you, an' I didn' like him either."
She climbed up on Eggsy's lap for a hug and leaned over to kiss Merlin's cheek. "Elaine said that I can help feed the horses, okay?"
"That's fine, Daisy," Merlin said. They watched her fondly as she ran to Elaine who nodded at them.
Mark said, "The paper says five men were killed and that a sixth found them when he came back from getting fish and chips."
"Prolly Poodle, he was always bein' sent on errands."
Mark looked between them. "We're none of us nice men, are we? Well done."
Over the next three days, they spent time working out as well as taking Daisy sightseeing. Tristan had joined them on the first day's exercise, but begged off for the following days. Merlin helped Elaine with her physical therapy, and they came up with some ideas for her to train more. She was excellent with a rifle as Merlin knew from hunting with the family when she was younger, but he promised to teach her small arms and get her a permit to carry it -- a near impossibility for someone outside of Kingsman.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, there was a call from Roxy asking if she could spend the rest of the week with everyone. Mark and Caya were happy to invite her, and Daisy joined her parents in the cottage to free up a room for Roxy.
They asked if Caya and Mark would look after Daisy as they wanted to talk to Elaine when they went to pick Roxy up at the train station.
Eggsy was driving. He said, "Merlin an' I been talking about some things. Wanted to ask you a couple of questions."
"All right," she leaned forward a little and said, "Go ahead, Uncle Merlin."
"The first is -- Kingsman is going to need a new knight at the table. Ywain is no longer with us. This Arthur is allowing us more time to vet our choices -- or I should say -- their choices. I rarely propose a candidate."
"Okay. I don't know much about how training works."
"No one does 'til they've been through it, love," Eggsy said.
Merlin asked, "Would you like to compete for the spot? You'd be Eggsy's proposal. I do the bulk of the training. I would be as hard on you as anyone else."
She leaned back obviously thinking. "Since I've been working for you two, I've learned a lot more about Kingsman. I mean, I'd pretty much worked out that Da wasn't just a tailor what with living in Singapore for months on end. You're spies, aren't you?"
"Yes. We're independent, non-governmental. We do our best to keep the world safe. Sometimes that means protecting the status quo. Sometimes, it means helping governments to change."
"If I say no, what happens?"
"Nothing. I find another proposal. We won't waste an amnesia dart, promise."
Elaine's eyes went wide. "That's reassuring."
Merlin chuckled. "You're part of our family. You protected Daisy. We didn't know if you were interested. Frankly, we'll be glad to have you as our nanny for as long as you want to stay."
Elaine said, "You two killed Dean Baker, didn't you?"
"Yes," Merlin said.
"I can't say you were wrong, but I can say that's not a decision I'm capable of making. I think that means I shouldn't be trying to join Da at his office."
"Fair enough," Merlin added, "That brings us to the second question…" They pulled into the train station and he said. "It seems it will wait until the ride back."
Roxy was already standing on the pavement. Eggsy pulled up in front of her and to her suitcase into the boot. She slid in beside Elaine who gaped at her.
Eggsy started the car again, and Elaine said, "I take it the fact that Roxy's pregnant plays into the question you were going to ask me?"
Roxy said, "Been telling tales?" Merlin and Eggsy shook their heads.
Elaine said, "I saw you two weeks ago. If you'd had plastic surgery to increase your bust line, you'd still have bruising."
"Oh. I thought I had a few more weeks before I needed to make an announcement."
"Don't haveta say a word until you're ready. If that's the day you go into labor, that's fine," Eggsy said.
Merlin said, "However, Elaine needs to know now. First of all, we don't expect you to cope with an infant. We'll hire someone else to handle the bairn until he or she is ready for nursery school. Secondly, you didn't sign on for two children. We'd hate to lose you, but it's completely your choice. Your references would be excellent."
"Thirdly," Eggsy said, "We don' want you to go. What we said earlier's true: you're part of our family."
Elaine said, "If you hire someone from my old school who specializes in unweaned children, I can take over from there -- say, six months to a year? Secondly, two children or a house full, I'd want to stay your nanny. The pay is great, and you two are good parents. Plus it helps that I love Daisy. Thirdly, you're family to me, too. So, how long have you known Roxy was pregnant?"
Roxy said, "Eggsy came with me to the doctor's office."
Elaine glanced among them. "This is planned?"
"Yes," Roxy said.
A question hung unspoken.
Merlin said quietly, "You can ask."
"Who?" She turned to Roxy.
"Merlin is the biological father," Roxy said.
Elaine smiled. "I'm that pleased for you. All of you. Just let me help pick out the short term nanny. It's all I ask."
"'Course we will," Eggsy said.
Sometimes it's hard to remember they aren't normal. Then someone reminds them.
Or how Merlin, Eggsy, and Roxy are perfectly nice and perfectly terrifying.
Merlin was making a list of something -- Eggsy assumed it was ways to thank Mark and Caya for their hospitality -- on the train home. They'd chosen to book first class and reserve a table in the Pullman car for breakfast. Since they couldn't have a table for five, they ended up with one for three and one for two. Elaine had asked Daisy to share with Roxy, so she could talk to her parents.
When breakfast arrived, Merlin put away his note pad.
Elaine said, "That offer you made me a couple of days ago. Do you still need a candidate?"
"Changed your mind?"
"Roxy asked me, too, but no. I love what I'm doing. We'll do the extra classes we discussed, but I don't want to be an agent."
Eggsy said, "Go on, then."
"A girl I knew at boarding school, Xiu Tin -- I guess, technically Tin Xiu, her English name was Grace -- she's the only one with whom I've stayed in touch, since I didn't go to uni. She did. Your old school, Merlin, Christ's College. She's a new graduate, was a member of the fencing club, but she also got together with a group from other colleges and they'd do parkour. I don't know if she's ever held a gun."
"That can be trained," Merlin said. "It helps if they've some experience, but honestly, I often have to get rid of bad habits with some of the experienced ones. Does she actually speak Chinese?"
"Cantonese at home, I think -- whichever dialect is spoken in Hong Kong. They left just before the handover when she was about five."
"Mandarin would be more useful. I assume the standard French and German?"
Eggsy said, "Standard for whom? I still get lost at Koln train station."
Merlin patted his shoulder. "Says the man who speaks Swedish, Russian, and Turkish. Do I have to pull another cord?"
Eggsy laughed. "All right, I just feel a bit out of my element when the toffs just assume things like French and German or that I don't know chess. But as me ol' gran would say, 'it's all sent to try us.'"
"I do know, mo chridhe. I had the education they all assume, and I still get judged because of the accent or because I was a scholarship boy."
"Don't change your accent, my love. It's dead sexy." Eggsy kissed him quickly.
Elaine glared at an older couple who were harrumphing behind them. "I could invite her down for the week. Her job in the City doesn't start until September."
Eggsy caught Roxy's eye, and she came over to their table, letting Merlin join Daisy, much to their mutual delight.
"Who've you got in mind?"
"No one, yet," Roxy said. "I have three that I'm mulling over. One's an ex-girlfriend of my brother Christian. I always thought she was too good for him. Both of the others are men. The thing is, I helped Daya vet her proposal, just as we did for the last spot. Her proposal's a woman."
"So, there's nothing wrong with three women competing for a spot. Nothing wrong with three women at the table."
"I know. Percival broke the precedent with me, but his last proposal was male and I think the next one may be, too."
"Don't just want the girls proposing the girls cause it would look bad. Never mind that the boys 'ave been proposing boys for nearly a hundred years."
Elaine sighed. "I'm pretty certain my father's proposing the son of someone at the Explorer's Club."
"Van's asked me to vet his proposal," Eggsy said, "It's someone we both knew from training. He left the service to do something in the City."
"All right, invite Grace to stay in the garden flat -- soon as she can get to London. If I like her, then Roxy and I'll do another of our proposal dinners to review each other's candidates before popping the question."
Roxy nodded. "Is there anyone else that you had in mind?"
"Yeah, Ezra Dixon. Someone I haven't seen in about eight years. He got a scholarship to St. Paul's when he was thirteen. Still hung around with us, until well, until I started my criminal career."
"University of London. Only reason I know is because his Mum ran into my Mum right around V-day and mentioned it. Don't even know what he studied."
Roxy said, "Athletic?"
"Don' know. He continued with gymnastics when I didn't, though, so I'd hope he kept something up. Was going to get Merlin to pull me a file on him. Also, Merlin might know someone he'd like proposed."
"Well, get me files on your Mister Dixon and anyone Merlin thinks is good. We'll find good candidates."
Grace was a lovely young woman. She and Daisy took to each other immediately and the conversations they had over dinners were always interesting and often filled with laughter. Roxy came by one night and put her stamp of approval on Ms Tin.
Once Merlin and Eggsy had tucked their daughter in, they asked Elaine to join them all for a nightcap. Roxy was muttering about not being allowed alcohol.
Elaine started. "This is an unusual household."
Grace raised an eyebrow and said, "Are you referring to the age difference between the partners, the fact that they're both men, Roxy's role in the family, your role in the family, or the fact that Merlin and Eggsy -- possibly Roxy, but I just met her tonight -- are in intelligence?"
Merlin chuckled. "Tell us why you think that."
"Two of the trips Eggsy mentioned coincided with major political operations in Turkey. You're a natural analyst, and I assume used as one."
"I'd say Eggsy is more of a natural analyst than I am. What I am is very well trained."
Grace said, "Are you admitting your government intelligence connections?"
"One does not need to be in intelligence to analyze."
Eggsy added, "Nor d'you haveta be part of the government."
Elaine said, "You know one of the reasons I went to board in Bristol was because my father was away so much. Just before I started working for Eggsy and Merlin, I found out that he is an agent -- independent, but usually called in by a government or governments when their own intelligence agencies might be compromised."
"MI-5 and MI-6 already tried to recruit me."
Roxy said, "As what? Because they tried to get me to sign on, too, while I was at uni. I joined the Army instead. Resigned my commission when a friend of my father's offered me the chance we're offering you."
Grace said, "The what was as an analyst. Merlin implied that's what you did."
"It's what I do. Elaine's father, Eggsy, Roxy, and seven other people are the agents I and my team support. Eggsy or Roxy is offering you the chance to interview to be a Kingsman agent."
"What does the interview consist of?"
Eggsy and Roxy both shared a look with Merlin.
Merlin nodded. "I run the training, and that's mostly what it is. We'll see how sharp your mind is, how strong, fast, and flexible you are. You'll learn combat, armed and unarmed, if you don't already know it. There are psychological exams, too. If you fail one stage, you're dropped. If you make it to the end, you'll start getting assignments, some close to home, some elsewhere until you decide where to make your home base and what your regional specialty is."
Grace looked at Elaine. "What's your father region?"
"The Far East. He's based in Singapore when he's not home in Cornwall. I only learned this about fifteen months ago myself."
Grace turned to Eggsy, "Turkey, I assume. Iraq?"
"Don't speak Arabic, love. I take anywhere with a Turkic dialect. Russia and Scandinavia -- not that we need a lot of Scandinavia -- are in my purview."
She glanced at Roxy. "Anywhere that speaks French, though I usually have someone assist me in predominantly Muslim countries depending upon the specific assignment."
"I know anything you tell me is classified, but can you tell me one thing you've done that will convince me you're the good guys?"
Merlin said, "Where were you on V-day?"
"On an airplane with all electronics off. When we landed, we saw the results of those five minutes -- five percent of the world's population just gone. And exploding heads. Ew."
Eggsy poured himself and Merlin another drink. He then put half a shot of Armagnac in a glass and handed it to Roxy.
"Thanks, Eggsy. Merlin, you tell it."
"Valentine wanted to get the world's human population to under a billion. It would leave only about fourteen percent of the population which would let the planet heal and save humanity. He put implants into anyone he spoke to who agreed with him and into some of the people who worked for him. I assume they were implanted willingly. It haunts my nightmares that maybe they weren't." Eggsy clasped his hand. Merlin took a sip and continued. "He also kidnapped anyone he deemed necessary who didn't agree with him. One of our colleagues helped us make the connection in time to prevent, we thought, V-day from happening. Roxy flew to the edge of the atmosphere and took out a satellite before parachuting back to earth. She's terrified of heights."
Roxy said, "I'll drink to that," and sipped her brandy.
"Eggsy had gotten us the coordinates. He impersonated someone who'd been converted to Valentine's side and got me computer access. The second he was out of danger, I had to send him right back in because Valentine used biometric security."
"I got trapped. So did Merlin. I asked if he could set off the implants. Yes, we knew they caused heads to explode. We did it anyway. I got to Valentine's main area, by that time he had a satellite in place. I managed to get him away from the computer for a minute or two. Then I ended up battling his second. I killed her and then him. Five percent of the world's population dead -- a surprising number of them through having their heads exploded and far too many of them were heads of government or heads of state."
Grace said, "May I have another?"
Elaine took her glass and poured her a double, then did the same for herself. "I didn't know," she said.
"No reason you should," Merlin said. "When we do our best work, no one knows except the people we've targeted."
"If I were to walk out of here and tell the newspapers, would I be the next target?"
"Amnesia dart," Roxy said.
Grace looked around. "I suppose I won't be allowed out of this room without giving an answer."
Merlin said, "If you need time to think, take it. But if you're positive your response is a no, then tell us. You'll lose about an hour of your memory and probably wonder how much you had to drink after dinner."
"Do you understand how terrifying you are?" Grace asked.
"Yes," Eggsy said.
"Elaine, I'm sorry. You've never known anything different -- even if you didn't actually know until you were an adult -- but this isn't a normal life. This isn't for me. And I don't want to lose my memory."
Roxy's dart went in perfectly. Eggsy lifted her and carried her down the stairs to the garden flat with Elaine opening the doors for him. He got her shoes off and asked Elaine to get her to bed properly. He put a glass of water and a pair of paracetamol on the night stand with a note saying that if her hangover wasn't too bad, he'd still love to free run with her.
As they came back up to the living room, Elaine said to them, "I'm sorry. She seemed more adventurous to me."
"'S got nothin' to do with adventure. I'm sure she's very adventurous. But, like Jamal, he ain't comfortable with makin' life or death decisions. Grace wasn't comfortable with a secret organization. Doesn't matter that we changed only fourteen percent left to only five percent gone. Doesn't matter that I regret every single person in that five percent. It just wasn't for her."
"What does the amnesia dart do?" Elaine asked.
Merlin said, "It puts you to sleep. I was one of the first test subjects. Even when I saw the feed from my glasses, saw what I'd done with my own eyes, I had no memory of it. It's been over ten years and I can remember seeing the feed, but I can't remember that hour as something I lived. There are a few people who lose up to a day, but it averages an hour and a half."
"What was the shortest amount of time lost?"
"Five minutes. We'll check on her. Make certain it took."
Eggsy smiled at her. "Nobody's going to kill 'er if that's what you're worried about. We won't risk Kingsman, but we're not going to waste a brilliant woman because she didn't accept a job interview."
Elaine's shoulders relaxed and she smiled at him. "I didn't think you would, but it helps to hear it." She turned to Roxy. "I would have slipped the dart in, you know."
Roxy grinned. "Of course you would have. She had her back to me. It made sense."
Elaine kissed Merlin's cheek. "Goodnight, Uncle Merlin." She looked at Eggsy who grinned and pointed to his own cheek which she kissed. "G'night, Eggsy." She gave Roxy a little wave and headed up the stairs.
"I hope by the end of the pregnancy, I get a cheek kiss, too," Roxy said.
Time passing, mostly.
elaine_ascolat asked a question. There's an answer in this chapter.
Eggsy ended up proposing Ezra Dixon. He'd gotten bored with his city job and "gentleman spy" sounded ideal to him. He made it through the first several weeks, much to Eggsy's delight. He saw Ezra occasionally when he went to headquarters.
Merlin had been appalled and then amused by the reactions Eggsy's candidate had gotten. There was at least one idiotic snob in every group and this one, Percy, had made a remark about Ezra's race as soon as he'd walked in the room. Since the training hadn't officially started, he didn't say anything. When one of the other people asked Ezra about his background, a pure flow of Jamaican with an estuary overlay had come out of Ezra's mouth. He knew the man didn't speak like that usually, so he let himself laugh quietly at his particular form of piss-taking.
Lancelot's candidate, Julia, was the last to arrive, though still well within the allotted time. He occasionally missed Harry, and moments like this -- knowing his candidate would have been at least fifteen minutes late -- reminded him so much of his friend, lover. He blessed Harry's memory and whatever instinct had led him to propose Eggsy before picking up his clipboard and heading in to give the "most dangerous job interview in the world" speech.
Before the cadre arrived, Merlin had been part of one of the agent's meetings. Even before Ywain's death, Merlin had sent out a short questionnaire asking the agents what had been important to them in training and which tests they thought were unnecessary. He also asked them to rank all of the tasks in order of importance.
He and Eggsy were the only ones who argued against the final test -- shooting the dog. At the end of the meeting, the order of the tests had been rearranged, one had been dropped (an endurance test as its results could be calibrated from other tests), and one changed. Thanks to Eggsy with vigorous support from the other young ones at the table, not only would the candidates run an obstacle course, they would be taught free running with at least one test to be run in a major city center. They were still arguing about which city, but London was entirely off the table as too many candidates knew it too well. Shoot the dog would be dropped when another test which tested the ability to trust someone else's judgment could be thought of. Merlin and Eggsy were reading every single psychology handbook they could find to come up with an alternative.
Flooding the room was still the first test. Amelia had checked in yesterday and spent the day either walking the grounds or playing billiards.
Eggsy and Roxy were by his monitor waiting for the last light to go off. The room flooded. Ezra had the bed by Amelia and noticed her, he grabbed Julia who immediately swam over and prepared two of the showers. Ezra got Amelia over, handed her one tube, and he and Julia buddy-breathed out of the other one.
Roxy and Eggsy grinned at each other. "Anyone fail, Merlin?"
"No, but your two are going to be at the head of the class. Poor Amelia, she's going to have to stick with the training for at least another fortnight."
Around the time they made it to the final six candidates, Eggsy had to take care of a diplomatic and financial issue in Kiev.
Roxy was in her office at the tailor shop when one of the tailors knocked on the door. "Miss Morton?"
"There's a gentleman downstairs demanding to see you and a Miss Julia Queisser. Says he's your brother, miss."
"Tell Eggsy -- never mind he's not here -- is Arthur around?"
"No, miss, he's lunching with Sir Harry at Simpson's in the Strand."
"Dear god, is it Wednesday?"
She thought for a moment.
"With your permission, miss, but perhaps Merlin could be of some help?"
She nodded. "If he's in the middle of an emergency, see if there's anyone else he can think of." She stood and smoothed down her suit. "Jeremy, I hope I've thanked you properly. Your maternity wear has been most comfortable."
"It was an interesting challenge, miss."
Roxy headed down the stairs with a polite smile on her face. "Christian, why didn't you let me know you were coming? We could have met for lunch."
He was bending over to kiss her when the shock hit his face.
"You're up the bloody duff? What's the pater going to say?"
"Probably to stop calling him 'pater.' It's no one's business but mine, frankly."
"Really? The daughter of an Earl is just calmly pregnant out of wedlock. This could affect the succession."
Roxy shook her head. "When did you become such a prig, Christian? And why are you here? Is there something wrong with Edmond or Guy? I assume father and grandfather are all right, or Mummy would've sent for me directly."
The door to dressing room one opened and Merlin stepped out. Roxy noticed that he'd added a suit jacket over his sweater and his demeanor was deferent. It was all she could do not to giggle.
Christian looked over at the new person and immediately dismissed him from his mind as a hireling. "You two aren't needed."
"Yes, they are," Roxy said, "They run the shop. We can go to my office. Will you join us, Doctor McKnight?"
"Of course, Lady Roxanne."
"We don't need a, a shopkeeper to listen in. Seriously, Roxy, I wonder at you."
Merlin had followed them up the stairs, and Roxy motioned him to a chair by her desk as she took the office chair. She waved her hand toward one of the leather guest chairs and said, "Oh, do sit down, Christian." When he sat, still glaring at Merlin, she said, "Now what brought you here? It can't be the scandal of my pregnancy. You didn't know about it until fifteen minutes ago."
"It's Julia. We quarreled a couple of months back. Well, about a year ago, she said it was over…"
"Good for her," Roxy said. "You were an abominable boyfriend."
"Just because I had a few indiscretions…"
"After you'd chewed her out for an indiscretion of her own? After swearing you were faithful? I'd have kicked you out long before."
Christian shook his head. "It was over, but we ran into each other about four months ago, and it looked like it might rekindle. Then she calls me and says she has a job interview for a buyer's position with the same fucking tailor's shop my sister works for and not to call her again."
"So I need to find her. I thought she'd get bored and call me back in six weeks, but she hasn't and I've been going frantic. Your operator said there's no Miss Queisser working here. I come by to see her and I'm told she's not here. I demanded to see you and that person at the desk, well, he twisted my arm when I started up the steps. Told me to wait and brought you back."
Merlin said, "Jeremy's about due a raise."
Christian glared. "Why does he need to be here?"
"Because, frankly, I don't feel safe with you in this type of a mood. Usually, I'd just smile and know I could kick your ass, but that's less comfortable pregnant."
"I never understood why you weren't more feminine. You're a bloody disgrace to the family, going into the army working as a shop girl. And now preggers. I don't know who's worse, you or Guy."
Roxy asked, "Is he pregnant, too?"
"Might as well be. He's come out of the closet, for god's sake. He should fucking well just keep his pretty boys on the side, but he has to lead a parade."
"Oh, is he marching in the Pride Parade? I might run into him," Roxy said.
Christian clucked his tongue. "This isn't a time for levity. Tell me where Julia is."
Merlin said, "Iceland. She's looking at some traditional wool patterns for our winter accessories."
"Well, call her back."
"No, Christian. Julia is a lovely woman who's working hard for Kingsman. As long as she continues to be good at her job and wants to work for us, we're glad to have her as part of our team. Isn't that right, M… Hamish?
"Miss Queisser has an excellent eye for quality. She will always reject the inferior goods." Merlin's voice was deceptively mild.
Christian lunged toward him and found himself with his cheek flat against the desk.
Merlin let his brogue get a little thicker and said, "None of that. The lady might get overly excited. Now, we're going to walk you out of the store. Please feel free to come back when you're ready to order a suit and when you can behave like a civilized person. . I shall warn Miss Queisser of your behavior. If you do anything like this again, then I'm certain Lady Roxanne will file a restraining order."
"Too fucking right," Roxy said. "Get out, Christian. Tell Edmond and Guy they're welcome to stop by or call. Give my best to Mum and Dad."
"Roxy, you can't be serious."
Merlin helped him up by the back of the neck and walked him out of the shop. "Please remember what I said."
The shop door closed.
Roxy was talking to Jeremy, "If he tries to come back today, call the police on him. If he behaves like this another time, call the police on him. I knew he was sexist, but I didn't realize it ran that deep."
"Did your parents not notice? Are your other brothers like that?"
"Edmond gets attention because he's the oldest. Guy gets attention because he's the youngest, and I get attention because I'm the girl. Poor Christian does get a bit left out, but that's no excuse. He's nearly thirty."
Merlin shook his head. "I don't understand men like that. You all right?"
"I'm fine. I just know the hormones make me overly emotional, and I didn't want to risk doing something stupid. Thank you for having my back."
"Any time, lass." He checked his watch. "I don't have anything going at the moment. Why don't you let me take you for a late lunch or afternoon tea as soon as Arthur gets back."
"That would be lovely, Merlin."
Eggsy came back from Kiev via Stockholm. Merlin met him at the airport and drove him home.
"What did Tilde want?"
Eggsy said, "Actually, I spent most of the time talking to her husband, Prince Floris."
"You know, at the wedding, I noticed he looked quite a bit like you. Taller, blue eyes, but definitely something in the shape of the face."
"Yes, he'd noticed it, too."
"I want to be looking at you when we have this conversation."
"One question: Did you sleep with them?"
"No, Merlin. I'd've told you before it happened. Tilde understands that I'm married. And she and Floris have agreed that the marriage won't be an open one."
"All right. Does that mean we stop at a restaurant or grab take-away?"
"Take-away. As soon as Daisy's in bed, we'll talk."
Merlin lifted Eggsy's hand to his lips. "Mo chridhe."
"Tilde sent along some good akvavit. I chilled it before supper."
Eggsy poured two shot glasses of it and handed one to Merlin. They knocked it back and Merlin put his arm out for Eggsy to snuggle under.
"I've missed this," Eggsy said, "the scent of you, the feel of you. God, I love you."
Merlin leaned down to kiss him. "I love you, too. What's troubling you?"
"Tilde's younger sister didn't survive V-day. One of her guards shot her. Neither did the cousin who would have been next in line for the throne, exploding head in his case. Floris can't father children. They tested Tilde six ways to Sunday, but never thought to run a sperm count on him."
Merlin huffed out his breath. "I think I see where this is going, since you and Floris resemble each other."
Eggsy nodded. "The problem is keeping it secret. If she goes to an insemination clinic, everyone will know."
"So they want you to do it the old fashioned way?"
"I said no. They asked me to think about it."
Merlin said, "Do you mind being the donor?"
Eggsy shook his head. "I know we're not going to want more than two. I was always careful sowing my wild oats, but it's not impossible that I got one out there. Though, I'd hope the girls woulda mentioned it."
"Considering your nurturing instincts, I'm sure any young woman would have." Merlin stroked Eggsy's hair. "What about Kingsman?"
"Don't understand what you're getting at?"
"Tilde visits London at least twice a year. We can fly over without anyone thinking twice about it. Have one of our doctors perform the procedure. They can keep their mouths shut."
Eggsy nodded. "Could work. You wouldn't mind?"
"I'll be honest. I'm glad you said no. But if the artificial way doesn't work, then I'm all right with your trying it the other way -- as long as Floris is okay with it, too."
"He's the one who suggested it to me. I think he's on board. But are you sure?"
"Let's suggest using Kingsman resources to help them. If that doesn't work, we'll revisit it. And just so you know this isn't me being stupidly unselfish, I really want to think you have a child out there. Genetically, you have so much to offer. I'm happy Roxy picked me, which may surprise you. But since Daisy's been a part of our life, I've felt… paternal. If it hadn't worked, I'd've been a little disappointed, but ecstatic that there would be a little Eggsy running around."
Eggsy checked his watch. "I'll send Tilde an email tonight and we can set up a secure call for sometime this week. Another akvavit?"
"How about we go upstairs and mess up the sheets and have emails and akvavit afterward?"
Eggsy pulled him close and kissed him deeply. "I want to choke on your cock tonight and then fuck you into the mattress."
Merlin smiled. "I think that sounds like a plan."
This chapter is mostly about Roxy and her family.
Roxy had taken herself out of the rotation after rescuing Van from an operation in Kenya. She'd just barely been able to get the harness on to pilot the helicopter. She'd gotten him to Mombasa through various means and put him on an ocean liner which would be stopping in Cape Town. He had contingencies in place for every stop in between Zanzibar and his ultimate destination.
Van's eyes had gone wide when he saw her and she'd said, "Week 18. I've been showing for about three weeks now."
"I assume this was something you'd planned for?" he'd asked.
"Then congratulations. Let me know when I need to send the booties and silver cup."
She'd grinned at him, and headed to their fueling stop before Mombasa.
"There's a gentleman to see you. Says he's your younger brother. I don't think he's the one Jeremy described to me. He seems polite."
Roxy managed to keep a straight face at the evaluation and said, "Tell him, I'll be down in a moment."
Guy was discussing fabric weights with Allen when she came down the stairs. He smiled and said, "Christian told us you were glowing."
She couldn't help it; she burst out laughing. "Yes, I suppose I am. It's good to see you, Guy."
He kissed her cheek. "And you, Roxy. Are you free for lunch?"
"Just give me a moment to change my afternoon plans." When he started to protest, she said, "It's weekly tea with a colleague. We'll either do it tomorrow, or we'll skip a week."
"Then where shall I take you?"
"Considering you're an impecunious student and I'm employed, let's call this my treat."
Guy said, "I warn you, my first question will be if you get an employee discount."
"Last time I checked, you were on your way to a first. Is that still true?"
"Unless I really bollix something up in the final term, yes."
"Then upon confirming your first, I shall treat you to a suit. Evening clothes or just standard, your choice." She kissed his cheek. "Now give me a minute to rearrange my day."
Lunch went well until Guy asked if he could be a godfather as well as an uncle. He was surprised that she was giving the child up for adoption and seemed upset by it.
"It's your choice, of course, but if it's worry about Mummy and Dad, then I'll stand beside you to face it out."
"That's sweet, but no. I knew that I wasn't very maternal from the time I tried to switch my baby doll with one of Edmond's action figures. You do understand?"
"I'm not certain I do entirely. Can I meet them? The parents? You said it was a private adoption."
Merlin said in her ear, "Seems that I checked your feed at the right time. Ask him over for dinner. Tomorrow or Friday whichever's better for him."
To Guy, she said, "Of course, dinner on Friday?"
He seemed taken aback by her quick agreement. "I… yes, Friday will be fine. Don't you need to ask them?"
"No. I usually join them on Friday's and Eggsy cooks enough to feed an army. Or orders in enough to feed that same army. I'm sure they'll be fine with it."
"You'll meet him on Friday."
He nodded and said, "Just text me where and when."
On Friday, Roxy answered the door to her brother. He looked around at the flat and said, "You seem very at home here."
"So she should be. Bring him into the kitchen, Roxy. I can't come out 'til I've finished the chopping."
The door behind them opened and the scrabble of nails against hard wood announced a dog had come in. There was another more measured clicking behind it, and finally the sound of a door shutting.
Roxy bent over to get the leads off the dogs, and Daisy ran to her and kissed her cheek. Daisy then ran through the living room to the kitchen shouting, "EGGSY!"
"Indoor voice, monkey. How was school?"
Roxy took the hand offered her to rise and smiled at Merlin. "Merlin, this is my brother Guy. He's much better than Christian."
"Sad to say, that wouldn't be difficult," Merlin held out his hand and Guy shook it.
They ended up in the living room and Daisy came running back. "Who're you?" she said.
Merlin said, "Manners, Daisy. This is Guy. He's Roxy's brother."
She held out her hand and said, "How do you do?"
"Quite well, thank you," Guy answered. He was pleased when Daisy grinned so wide he could see the gap in her lower teeth.
"I'm going to have a baby brother soon. Well, not very soon, but sometime near spring."
"If you need help being a sister, Roxy was a very good one," he said in a stage whisper. Daisy giggled.
"Merlin, my love, can you come get the vegetables? I'm just finishing carving the chicken," Eggsy called from the kitchen.
In a few minutes they were all at the table passing the plates to serve themselves. The conversation was mostly among Eggsy, Merlin, and Roxy with Daisy throwing in details of her week from time to time. They did their best to include Guy, but while he answered questions readily, he couldn't really be drawn into the conversation.
After dinner, Roxy helped to clear the table while Eggsy supervised getting Daisy into the bath and ready for bed. She was old enough to need her privacy, but young enough that she still needed to be checked that she'd scrubbed. Merlin washed dishes and then went up to read a bedtime story.
Roxy had Guy alone for a few minutes and said, "I've never known you to be so quiet. It was bordering on rude."
"I… Is that the Merlin that Christian met? Said his real name was McKnight?"
"How many people named Merlin do you think I know?"
He shook his head. "Um… first of all did Christian tell you that I came out to the family?"
"Yes. Should he not have?"
Guy said, "No. Of course, it's open to the family. I'm trying not to live my life in the closet."
"It's a good goal," Eggsy said as he walked in. "If you need this private, I can go listen to Daisy's bedtime story."
Guy smiled at him shyly. "No, you obviously don't have trouble with someone being gay."
Eggsy chuckled. "What do you want to drink, Roxy?"
"Grape juice," she sighed. "I never thought I drank a lot, but I must admit I miss alcohol."
He brought her a flute with sparkling grape juice and grinned when she did. "Might not be champagne, but why not make it the best." He turned to Guy. "What would you like?"
Eggsy poured him an Armagnac and then poured two single malts. He left the other one on the side board and sat down with them. "I interrupted, I'm afraid."
"It's just that it never occurred to me I could come to Roxy to talk about all the issues around realizing I was gay. I've been struggling with how and whether to come out to the family, Mummy and Daddy are good people, but it's not what they wanted in a son."
"They probably don't want a daughter who gives up her child for adoption, either. We have our own lives and the worst they can do is disown us." She shrugged. "I never thought you were mercenary."
"I'm not. I mean, I don't think I am, but it's nice to know that I can take a low paying job for a year or two without starving."
"Must be," Eggsy said.
Merlin came down and picked up his scotch. "Eggsy."
Roxy giggled. "It's a much smaller one, Merlin, you have to admit."
Eggsy said, "It's amazing how having enough to eat and job security and a husband can make life seem a lot better than it was on the dole in a council estate livin' with me Mum and Dean."
Guy said, "She told me that a good family would be adopting her sprog when I asked if I could be godfather, you see. I never thought that the parents would be two men or that Roxy would be so much at home here. It's lovely. Can I, occasionally, see my -- according to Daisy -- nephew?"
"So long as you don't bring Christian along. Didn't get the pleasure of meetin' him, but from what Merlin and Roxy say, I would've flung him through a window."
"It is a temptation with him," Guy said. "He's been horrible since I came out. He's trying to get Mummy and Daddy to disown me, which I'm about to graduate, I should be able to make my own way in the world."
"What's Edmond doing?"
"He's been looking after grandfather -- our mother's father," he explained to the others, "and generally learning how to run an estate. I don't think he cares if I'm gay. I think he may start seriously looking for a wife soon."
"Oh, good, it will get Christian off my back about this child."
Merlin said, "As long as you don't try to sue for custody or anything, you're welcome to get to know your nephew. At some point, he'll probably need to be told the biological relationships, but don't do it without our permission."
Guy looked like he was about to cry.
Eggsy grinned and said, "Roxy's been my sister since we started at the shop together. I don't mind adopting her brother as me own."
"You know, Roxy, I wondered why you decided to work in a tailor's shop. I think now I understand."
"It's time for us to head out. Guy's getting maudlin."
They said their goodnights and caught the taxi that was waiting out front for them -- which Roxy had surreptitiously signaled for about twenty minutes earlier.
"Evenin' Miss Roxy."
"Good evening, Jamal. My place, please."
"You got it, ma'am."
The ride was silent other than the classical music station Jamal had on. "Here we are, miss."
"Thank you, Jamal. Give my best to your father."
He pulled into traffic and Guy said, "You didn't pay him."
"I have a tab."
"Now then, little brother, what were you going to say before Eggsy came in?"
Guy said, "I was considering asking you if there was a job going at your shop or if you knew anything that was open somewhere else. Christian's our brother, but I don't want to keep butting heads with him."
"It won't be at the shop. We don't expect to have any openings for awhile, but I'll put out feelers. Does it have to be London?"
"No, anywhere in the EU is fine with me."
There was a long silence. Guy said, "Eggsy said husband?"
"You mean is he married to Merlin? Yes. I was his maid of honor -- Eggsy's I mean. Why?"
Guy blushed. "Merlin is…"
Roxy chuckled. "I had such a crush on him when I first joined the shop. He's a lovely man. Very sexy. And very much in love with Eggsy."
"Yeah, I got that. I nearly dropped to my knees when he shook my hand, though."
"Let me make some tea."
Guy heard her talking to herself in the kitchen. He checked the books on her shelves and the art on her walls until she brought a tray with the tea things out.
He sat across from her, noting her fidgeting. She finally said, "You can stay here tonight if you like, head back to Oxford in the morning -- or were you on hols?"
"No, I saw a friend off to Brussels for a research trip earlier today. It's the weekend. I don't have to be back to Oxford until Monday, but I'd planned to get a hotel. My bag's still in left luggage at Waterloo station."
"For heaven's sake. I have a guest room." She picked up the phone and made a call. Fifteen minutes later, Jamal was at her door. He took the luggage ticket and promised to bring back the bag within the hour.
Guy said, "Thank you."
"You mentioned family, I mean Eggsy and Merlin and Daisy becoming mine, in a way, earlier."
He sipped his tea. "I did."
"This can't get back to anyone else in the family, Guy. I will end you, if this becomes fodder for Christian's awful behavior or if Mummy and Daddy come down on me. Do you understand?"
"Don't tell the parents that you're happier than you've been in your life because you're part of an extended family through your work. I've got it."
She relaxed back in her chair. "In some ways, the adoption is moot. We're doing it to make certain no one can try anything where the bairn is concerned."
"Merlin. He gets very Scots when he's talking about family. The reason it's moot is that he's the biological father."
Guy said, "Oh."
"We want to be certain that Eggsy has full rights should anything happen to Merlin. He has the most maternal instincts of the three of us. I swear he's probably hand knitting baby clothes and hiding them from me and Merlin."
Guy nodded. "Yes, Mummy and Daddy would not be happy that the father was a man their age. I assume from what you're saying the baby was planned?"
"I'll keep mum, should probably say quiet considering the circs, but they won't find out anything more from me than they've already found out from Christian."
"Thank you. I knew there was a reason you were my favorite brother."
Guy said, "I thought it was because I was the only one you could order about."
Roxy grinned. "I'll never tell."
Names and schooling discussions
This is very short. I managed to fall yesterday and I have some issues which mean I probably won't be able to do much work on any story for several days or even a couple of weeks. So, this is my apology and promise.
“What was your father’s name?” Eggsy asked one evening. They were both reading, Merlin a novel and Eggsy a few files about a potential issue on Cyprus.
Merlin blinked. “Muir. His middle name was Chattan. Why?”
“We’re going to have a son. He’ll need a name.”
They smiled at each other. Eggsy had gone to the ultrasound appointment with Roxy and they’d sent the sonogram to Merlin as soon as it was over. Merlin informed him later that it hadn’t been necessary. He’d hacked the doctor’s office and watched the whole sonogram as it happened. (Eggsy had just rolled his eyes at the revelation.)
Merlin said, “Which do you think sounds better with Unwin?”
“What? His name’s going to be McKnight.”
Eggsy put down his files and leaned in toward Merlin. “Why not?”
“Daisy’s last name is Unwin. So’s yours. It makes more sense to me to have three Unwin’s and one McKnight.”
Eggsy thought for a moment. “I can see why you say that. But with Daisy’s adoption, she can take your name easily.”
“Michelle would come after my liver with a rusty spoon.”
“She might and all, but our dads were different people. If she took her father’s name, it would be Baker, and none of us wants that. You’re her dad.”
“We’re both her parents.”
Eggsy walked over to Merlin and cupped his face. “You’re her dad.”
“We didn’t talk about this before we were married, names. I want our son to have your surname, partially because you’re the bio-dad so it’s less confusing, but mostly because it will make your mum happy.”
“Don’t worry about my mam.” Merlin kissed his palm. “We could do like the Americans and hyphenate.”
Eggsy said, “No. It’s too big a mouthful, and it doesn’t really flow in either direction.”
“Maybe we should ask Roxy about names.”
“Not surnames -- throwing a Morton in adds to the confusion.”
“No, but for first names she should at least have the right of veto.”
Eggsy nodded. “I’d like Daisy to take your name. I thought about changing when we married, but me name’s the last bit I have of my dad.”
“Eggsy McKnight? Were you really thinking that way?”
“Yeah.” He shrugged. “Besides, if I changed, there’d be fewer documents involved. You’ve got two Ph.D.s to worry about in addition to all the usual bumpf.”
“Daisy McKnight? I know we’ve got another month or so before everything’s finalized on the adoption.”
“Never thought I’d be grateful that Mum appealed, but, yes, there’s space on the form if we want to make the change. No need for deed poll that way.” He noticed Merlin blinking. “Are you crying?”
“Trying not to. This isn’t just trying to tie me down? I have the ties, now. I promise you don’t need to worry about me.”
“‘Course I do. It’s in the husband job description. But, no, that’s not it. With a little brother coming, Daisy may have some adjusting to do. I think she’s less likely to be jealous if they share a surname -- your surname. Doesn’t stop me from being her big brother, and occasional dad, I guess.”
“We’re going to have a son. I know a little girl would be easier.”
Eggsy scoffed. “No mate. Girls ain’t easier, just different. And if what the books say ‘bout jealousy is right, it’ll probably be easier if it isn’t a daughter competing for your affections.”
“Mine’re more secure and all. She’s had me her whole life. She’s only had you what, two years? Nearly three since we brought her home.”
“She’ll be ready for year seven plus soon.”
“Her teachers say she’s ready now. She’s smart our girl.”
“Like her big brother.”
“Like her Dad. Doctor McKnight.” Eggsy kissed his nose.
“Do you think boarding school would make it easier on her?”
Eggsy stood up and poured himself a small scotch. “You want one?”
Merlin nodded. “Should I make sure you don’t have a pen handy?”
“Nah. Love you too much.” He handed the glass to his husband. “Boarding school will make it harder, not easier, my love. We’ll be sending her far away as soon as the bairn’s brought home? It’ll feel like rejection. I mean, how did boarding feel to you?”
“Like a necessity. Part of the reason I applied was to make sure my mam and sister had enough to eat. Of course, it also meant I had enough to eat. I still know a few boys from the Gorbals. Men now, in their fifties, like me. Most of them are much shorter than I am. Poor nutrition at a key time in their lives.”
“Fink that’s what happened to me?”
“Michelle’s slightly taller than average for a woman, but your dad was about your height. He wasn’t as broad in the chest and shoulders, but you are of a height.”
“Be interesting to see wif Daisy, then. I know Roxy’s hoping your height wins the genetic lottery on the bairn.”
Merlin nodded. “There are some psychological advantages -- effect on others more than personal ones -- to being tall.” He sipped his drink for a moment. “I don’t remember if I felt rejected by being sent away. As I said, for me it was necessity, but for some of my roommates, it was terrible. Less so the ones who came in at year eleven, and even less for the ones who came in at sixteen -- most of them chose to come away to school.”
“We’re not sending Daisy away. If she asks about it when she’s older, we can reopen the discussion, but for now, it’s closed.”
Merlin thought for a moment. Eggsy rarely demanded anything; he was usually the first to concede so they could reach a compromise. “It’s closed, mo chridhe. The topic of schooling isn’t, though.”
Eggsy sighed and nodded. “Our little flower’s smart. I guess you think we should be starting now rather than waiting ‘til eleven plus?”
“Yes. We don’t have to decide that she is going to a different school before she’s eleven, but we need to have the discussion.”
“Go ahead, then.”
Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have anything to say?”
“Not until I know what you’re proposing.”
“The school that’s widely considered the best in the country is a day school for girls. It’s in Edgeware. If you don’t like that one, there’s another top ten school in the City. More students and more activities at the City school and more personal attention with smaller classes at the Edgeware school.”
“She can apply to both. Maybe see which one she likes better?”
“Can we afford them?”
Merlin smiled. “Kingsman will contribute some every year. They do for every child at Kingsman. It’s not just because we’re, well…”
“Yes. I suppose that is what I mean.”
“Can we afford them?”
“Yes, mo chridhe. If Daisy’s as smart as I think, she may even be offered a scholarship. Even without one, we could afford it. We might not be able to put as much in savings as we do now, but our investments are sound.”
Eggsy looked at the ceiling. “Investments. When did I get rich?”
“When you inherited from Harry. Even without that, we make a great deal of money in our jobs. We’re well paid because we take high risks.”
“What about Mum?”
“Michelle is still getting a stipend from us. She’s using much of it to appeal our adoption of Daisy.”
“And your family?”
“I paid for my nephews’ and niece’s extra curricular activities. I offered, when they were children, to pay for their schooling, but was turned down.”
Eggsy said, “I’m never going to be entirely comfortable with it: having so much.”
“No, neither will I. But we pay our taxes, contribute to charity, and live within our means. We’re not extravagant.”
“But not every kid will have the chances we’re giving Daisy and the bairn.”
“It’s always nice to hear you and Roxy use that term -- a little funny with your accents, but very nice.”
Eggsy curled up against him. “I love you.”
“And I you. I’m sorry we can’t rescue every child. We can make Daisy aware of our pasts, with some judicious editing.”
“What? You don’t think she’ll want to know I got on me knees to put food on the table?”
“Not until she’s much, much older.” He brushed Eggsy’s hair back. “I thought we might call the bairn Lee.”
“It goes well with McKnight.”
“Yes, it does. I would be honored to have Daisy share my name, too.”
Merlin's sister comes to visit after the trip to Sweden from Winter Holiday.
Roxy finally poked her head out of the door to the garden flat. It was dark at 5:30 in the afternoon in February, and she couldn't believe that someone would just keep knocking on the front door of the house for over five minutes.
"May I help you?"
The woman at the front door said, "Is this the home of Hamish McKnight?"
"Why do you want to know?" Roxy made certain her gun was handy, just in case, though she couldn't imagine who'd send a woman in late middle age and somewhat frumpily dressed as an assassin.
"Am I at the correct house or not?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Doctor McKnight is my brother." The words passed her lips reluctantly.
Roxy placed her gun on the table near the door and said, "You're Laire? It's very nice to meet you Mrs. MacNab. I'm Roxy Morton."
"Is Hamish to home?"
"No, he's not." Eggsy's voice came from the walkway. "He'll be back in two days." Once he was at the front door, he let go of Daisy's hand and switch his grocery and umbrella to his left hand. He extended his right hand. "I'm Eggsy."
She blinked at him then shook his hand.
"An' this is Daisy. Say hello to your Aunt Laire, Daisy."
"'lo." Daisy decided she was shy today and hid behind his leg, peering around to see her.
"Would you care to join us for dinner, Mrs. MacNab?" Eggsy asked. "Just because Merlin's not here doesn't mean you're not welcome." He looked over the edge and said, "You, too, of course," to Roxy.
"When will Hamish be home?"
"Not 'til Saturday. You're welcome to stay in the guest room," Eggsy said as he opened the door. Daisy ran in and Eggsy held the door open for his sister-in-law.
"I didn't think. I just… Yes, of course I'll join you for dinner. Please forgive my manners."
Roxy had come up the stairs and walked in ahead of Eggsy. "I have fresh fava beans from the market."
"Please," Roxy said. "You never did answer what we're having."
"Whole wheat fettucine with radicchio in browned butter. Salad on the side."
"I think we still have some ice cream."
Roxy sighed. "It sounds lovely."
"Daisy, why don't you show your Aunt Laire your room?"
"Okay," Daisy said. She seemed more outgoing now that they were in the house. "It's upstairs." She took her aunt's hand and tugged a little. Mrs. MacNab followed her up.
Eggsy tapped his glasses twice. "Peter, can you patch me through to Merlin?" He filled the large pot with water, added salt, and set it on the boil. "Hello, my love. Your sister was on the doorstep when I came home tonight. We've invited her in for dinner." He listened, then said, "Yes, she knows you won't be back before Saturday. I've said she can stay in the guest room."
There was a longer pause as he listened and got the ingredients together. He began shelling the beans, inspecting them before dropping them into a bowl. "I love you. See you Friday night, then."
"His second meeting in Berlin was cancelled so he can leave Friday afternoon. Should be home in time for dessert if not supper."
Roxy said, "That's good. We'll be at the 'any time now' by Monday, the doctor said."
"He could come early, but Mum told me that first children are often late."
"Were you late?"
"Three weeks by Mum's reckoning. The doctor said similar, long hair and fingernails when I came out."
Roxy frowned. "How in the world did you find that out?"
"Merlin has all our medical records, of course. I asked him."
"That's somewhat disturbing. Is there anything I can do to help?"
Eggsy said, "Have a seat." He pulled a plastic container out of the freezer and set it to thaw in the microwave. He took butter out of the fridge and got a small bowl, a mortar and pestle, and a pan to put by Roxy. He handed her four apples, an apple corer, and a butter knife. Then he put cloves, long pepper, stick cinnamon, and allspice in the mortar and pestle. "All right, dessert is yours. Core the apples, leaving a little at the bottom so all the good stuff doesn't run out. Put them in the pan. Grind the spices add them to the… oops…" he took out brown sugar and put two tablespoons into the bowl before adding a teaspoon of ground ginger. "Add them to the sugar, mix it up. Half a tablespoon of butter and a quarter of the sugar and spice into each hole."
"I take it we're having baked apples, then."
He grinned at her. "I always knew you beat me at the intelligence tests." He set butter on the stove to melt and brown. The contents of the thawed containers went into a saucepan on low heat.
"Why are we having a starter?"
"Ekes out the main course for an extra mouth to feed."
Daisy came running to the doorway, but slowed herself before entering the kitchen. Eggsy smiled at her. "Can you set the table, monkey? We'll need soup spoons tonight, too." Her back straightened as she went to the drawer and got out the silverware.
Laire stood in the doorway and watched them cooking.
"Thank you for distracting her while we started dinner," Eggsy said. "It was a big help."
Laire bit her lip. "I… it didn't occur to me Hamish might not be here. I should have called down, but I was afraid he wouldn't see me if I did."
"Is there a problem with Alice or Dair? What about your husband?"
"No, no, they're all fine."
Roxy said, "Should these go in now?"
"Nah. We'll put 'em in the oven when we sit down to soup."
"What kind are we having?" Roxy asked.
"That carrot and chestnut you liked. Just need to add some cream and… Laire, I know Morag's t.t., but are you? I usually put a spoonful of sherry in the adults' bowls."
"No. Sherry would be fine."
Over dinner they heard about Daisy's school day and discussed whether Scotland was likely to vote in favor of dissolution on the new referendum. When they'd finished their baked apples and ice cream, Roxy offered to supervise Daisy's homework upstairs. Eggsy made tea for himself and Laire and served it in the kitchen as he finished cleaning up.
"Why are you here, Laire?"
"Mam never told me about you."
"Can't say I'm surprised. She only recently thawed toward me, and I'm well aware she could freeze again at any time."
Laire sipped her tea to collect her thoughts. "I'm a loyal church goer. We say grace before every meal. I'm neither sheltered nor stupid. I know I wouldn't be able to be where I am if Hamish hadn't gone away to school and helped with my expenses at uni."
"Those are two very different statements." Eggsy set the dishwasher to run at midnight and shepherded her to the living room.
"They're not. My brother… I don't suppose you have any concept of how much I idolized him growing up. He was so smart and brave. He was very handsome in his uniform."
"Got a picture? I've never seen one of Sergeant McKnight."
Laire said, "I do, yes."
"So you thought your big brother hung the moon. And?"
She shook her head. "I don't know what I expected to find here."
"Well, we try to limit our orgies to the weekend," he said dryly.
"Daisy's just a normal child."
"No. Or at least I hope most kids have a better first four years than she did. We feel lucky that she's come through it without losing her ability to be happy."
Laire said, "I wouldn't know anything about that."
"Imagine most of your life bein' the same, but instead of Morag going to secretarial school and working more hours than are in the day, she'd remarried someone abusive. Daisy's my half sister, and the man who fathered her was as close to evil as I've seen in the world. Merlin jokes that she's my half sister, half daughter which is probably about right." He went to get them more tea. "You still haven't explained your non sequitur."
"Hamish shouldn't be homosexual. It's a sin against God. The Church of Scotland is very clear about that."
Eggsy said, "They are. Though Saint Columba's been good about not giving Daisy any stick even though her daddy is living with her brother."
Laire looked up from her tea in surprise. "Hamish still goes to church."
"And Daisy joins him sometimes. I show up at Christmas because he asked me to."
"But you don't believe in God?"
Eggsy said, "I never saw him near my estate, and we could've used a miracle or two starting with a road to Damascus for me stepfather."
Laire gave a huff. "I could almost like you, and then you go and say something like that."
"If I understand this correctly, you somehow found out that your brother was married to a man…"
Eggsy just held up his hand to show his wedding ring. "That he's in the process of adopting my sister, and that we have another child on the way. And you thought what? You could come down here and bring him back to his senses? Make him fall in love with a woman rather than me?"
Laire put her empty teacup down. "I wasn't thinking, but, yes, something like that. I came into Glasgow to shop for a few things and see Mam. She was knitting a baby sweater with a Saint Andrew's cross in the back. The matching hat and booties were already done. I thought they were for a jumble sale. But then she said she'd been to Sweden with Hamish and his family. Well, you could've knocked me down with a feather."
"I know the feeling. I had something very similar when I saw you on the doorstep. I didn't know Merlin hadn't told you about us. We'll have words about that when he comes home, even if I do understand how difficult it is for him to come out to his family. Honestly, your reaction explains more than I ever understood before about why the older generation had closets."
Laire said, "I want to know I'll meet my brother in heaven when this life is done."
"From what Merlin's told me about predestination, I'm not certain either of you will make it among the elect."
She did a double take. "He talks to you about that?"
"I asked him." Eggsy leaned toward her and said, "I love your brother very much. He's been my rock. He didn't blink when we took Daisy in, just helped rearrange the furniture. He's a good man, a moral one in my opinion. I don't know why he said yes when I asked him out the first time, but I'm thankful every day that he did."
"I feel that way about my husband. Still. It's been over twenty-five years, and I feel blessed every day."
Eggsy let the pause drag on for a little while before he finally said, "What about your kids? I know Alice is married and has a family of her own now. Do you think she and Dair will accept us? Get to know their very young cousins? Or their uncle by marriage who's younger than they are?"
"If Merlin remembered their ages right, I'm three years younger than Alice and a year younger than Dair."
"I haven't told them about you. I'm certain Mam hasn't either, but they've had their own correspondence with Hamish since they were teenagers. He might have told them, even if I didn't know."
Eggsy nodded. "Merlin will be back Friday evening rather than Saturday. You're welcome to stay through the weekend. There's a guest room upstairs, though you'll need to share the loo with Daisy and her nanny."
"Why would you even offer that after what I've just said?"
Eggsy said, "Because Merlin loves you. When I first met your mum, I told her she needed to keep contact with him and offered to be away any time she needed to visit. 'Course we didn't have Daisy then. I can't make you that offer right now, but if you let us know you're coming, I can make arrangements. You're important to him."
Laire said, "I… yes, Robbie's not expecting me home until Sunday."
"Let me show you your room then."
Merlin called him just before midnight on the secure phone they used only for family. Eggsy apprised him of everything, including the upcoming argument over not having told Eggsy that he was still in the closet to his sister and brother-in-law.
"I don't mind that you didn't tell them about me. I mind that you didn't tell me. Do your niece and nephew know?"
Merlin's soft burr came through. "Dair was told while he was at University. He was upset about one of his housemates being gay and I cut him off at the knees by coming out to him. He told Alice. She doesn't approve, but she loves me. They both know that I have a family."
"Thank you. I'm sorry your family's been so difficult for you."
Merlin said, "But you're right that I should have told you. You never push me about things like this, and I sometimes forget that doesn't mean you don't have the right to know."
"Thank you. Send me an email when you have the chance and let me know how we're going to rearrange the weekend so you can have time with Laire."
"I will, mo chridhe. Tell me Laire at least appreciated your cookery skills."
"Well, she ate what was put in front of her."
The weekend was a little rough. Usually, when one of them came back from a business trip, no matter how wild or mild the business, they were able to take a few hours away from everyone and come together with all the passion they felt. Laire's presence was a constraint.
Eggsy took Daisy to her riding lesson in the morning and they met Roxy at Valerie's Pastry Shop for a treat, and to buy dessert for Sunday lunch which went home with Roxy, before going to the zoo in Regent's Park and picking up Turkish take away on the way home.
Merlin's smile at them was warm, but Eggsy could see the strain behind his eyes. They ate and played a game with Daisy before letting her watch Doctor Who in her pajamas. Laire was part of all of it, but she felt like a tiny splinter in a finger: just when you've forgotten about it, the sharpness makes itself known.
Even Eggsy made the effort to attend church on Sunday. Daisy invited him to Sunday school since he didn't like long sermons, but he just kissed her forehead and stayed in the pew.
"Doctor McKnight," the voice of Duncan Ayres washed over them as they waited in the church hall for Daisy's Sunday school to let you. "Mister Unwin. Is it Christmas already?"
"No, sir, but sometimes the effort should be made."
Merlin said, "Mister Ayres, this is my sister Laire MacNab down from Scotland for a visit. Laire, Mister Ayres has been the primary magistrate on our adoption of Daisy."
Ayres said, "She always looks bonnie and bright when I see her at church. You didn't mind, Mister Unwin?"
"Daisy wanted to see where her dad went on Sunday mornings. I'll answer any questions she asks, and she knows I don't believe, but I don't mind her knowing this part of her family."
Mister Ayres nodded. "I see you in two weeks, I believe, for the final decree."
Merlin said, "I hope it's final. I don't think Michelle Unwin has any more motions to file."
"I did notice that you filed new paperwork for the adoption. What's changed?"
Eggsy said, "Daisy's name, from Unwin to McKnight. I plan to use McKnight as my surname socially."
Merlin said, "I convinced him that it was better than having to change all his documents after a deed poll."
Ayres said to Eggsy, "In that case, Mister McKnight, I must congratulate you on bringing your family together."
"It's appreciated, sir."
Daisy came running to be picked up by Eggsy. "'Lo, Mister Ayres."
"It's always good to see you, Daisy. It was good to meet you Mrs. MacNab."
Laire said, "I really must get to Euston. I wouldn't want to miss my train."
"We're going to the train station?" Daisy's eyes lit up, and Merlin nodded.
Late Sunday night, after finally greeting each other properly, they lay next to each other talking in the dark.
"Laire liked you."
"One of the last things she said to me while you were amusing Daisy was how much she liked you, and how much she hated that she liked you." Merlin held his husband close to his chest. "It took me most of the day on Saturday to convince her of two things: that I'd been homosexual my entire life, and that Mam had really met the Queen of Sweden."
Eggsy squirmed until he could look Merlin in the eyes. "What's Tilde got to do with anything?"
"She was afraid Mam might be going senile. It's why she came here so impulsively."
Eggsy laughed quietly. "If we ever tell Tilde that, she'll laugh her head off."
"No doubt." Merlin stroked his face. "I believe we were going to have words?"
"We had 'em. Is there anyone else in your family who doesn't know about us? Is there anyone else in your family to meet?"
"No, lad, but there may be funerals or weddings in Glasgow and most of the people who knew me when I was a young man -- well, if they knew me at Cambridge or later, they know I'm queer as a three dollar bill."
Eggsy said, "What?"
"It's an old American phrase that one of my early lovers taught me."
"But if they knew you before then?"
"You'll be a surprise the first time they meet you. If Mam's become accepting, then she may start telling people, but…"
"Morag's plenty accepting these days. Did you see that second package we got? Little Lee's going to have hand-knit sweaters and socks right up until he starts school."
"Lee won't need them much from months three to six, but you'll appreciate having warm sweaters for him next winter."
Eggsy kissed his nose. "So will he. I love you, Hamish McKnight."
"And I you, Gary Unwin." Merlin turned him into a kiss, and they greeted each other all over again.
Chapter 10: Lee McKnight
It's a snowy time in late February when Lee decides it's time to be born.
Descriptions of labor and fatigue.
It had been snowing for two days, over 20 inches of snow, which never happened in London in late February. Eggsy was seriously asking if Kingsman could find ways to embarrass climate change deniers publicly -- he’d settle for just shooting them, but that would be messy -- so that someone, who wasn’t a megalomaniac like Richmond Valentine, would actually act on the issue.
The first day hadn’t been too bad. Daisy’s school was cancelled and, since not much big was happening at Kingsman, the shop was closed as well. People who could work from home did so. Among them, Eggsy, Elaine, and Merlin had distracted her with games and projects and homework. Today was the end of the second day, and a little bit of cabin fever was beginning to set in. They let Daisy go with them when they walked JB, but the snow was coming down too hard to make snowmen or even to make more than cursory attempts at clearing the walkway.
JB hated having to go outside in it and kept side-eying Eggsy who really wasn’t certain how he could be judged by a dog.
On his way back from JB’s 11 pm walk, he heard Roxy poke her head out from the downstairs apartment. “Eggsy? Merlin?”
“It’s Eggsy. Gettin’ a little stir crazy?”
She gasped and said, “Going into labor, actually.”
Eggsy chuckled. “Of course, you are. Just let me put JB inside, love.” He tapped his glasses. “Merlin, Roxy’s in labor. Please come downstairs. We’re going to need help getting her to the curb with the snow.”
Merlin came down and found them sitting on the sofa doing Roxy’s breathing exercises together while Eggsy ran his hands around her abdomen. “We’re not going to get her to the curb, mo chridhe. A state of emergency was declared about ten minutes ago. Only emergency response vehicles are allowed on the roads. We’ll have to call an ambulance.”
Roxy said, “‘Her’ is right here. Call the ambulance. Please.”
Eggsy glanced at Merlin and gave a minute head shake. Merlin took out his phone and dialled 999 anyway. There was some back and forth and they finally heard an exasperated Merlin say, “Not even the mother has given birth before.”
“Put it on speaker,” Eggsy said. “Please forgive my husband we’re a little fraught right now. I’ve helped deliver two children. I will need the name of a midwife or nurse practitioner who can advise me via telephone.”
Merlin’s eyebrows went straight up.
Eggsy motioned to Merlin to sit next to Roxy and hold her hand and took the phone from him. “Yes, my younger sister about six years ago and another child when I was on vacation in Russia two years ago.” He nodded and set it back to personal rather than speaker. He moved as far away as he could and said, softly, “It feels like the head is in the wrong place. I know there are ways to get it turned around, but I’m going to need supervision.”
Roxy cried out, and Eggsy checked his watch and said, “Contractions are lasting about a minute and are just under five minutes apart. I need that advice, soon.” He listened for a moment. “Thank you.”
He handed the phone back to Merlin. “Someone who’s never heard of us is going to call within the next half hour to help with the birth. Sorry it ended up being your phone.”
“I’ll charge it.”
Roxy said, “Did you really help deliver Daisy?”
“I did. There was trouble on the estate that night. Police and fire trucks blocking the routes in and no way to get an ambulance around them.” He glanced at Merlin and saw he’d turned white.
Eggsy said, “Merlin, why don’t you stay upstairs with Daisy and see if Elaine can come down and give us a hand.”
“I… I’ll go get Elaine.” He kissed Eggsy quickly on the lips and added, “Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“Are you ready to put up with all the parts of labor?”
Merlin winced. “No, but I feel like I should be here. And maybe Roxy shouldn’t be on the sofa? Upholstery.”
Eggsy pushed him back toward the door. “This is not the time for you to turn into a stereotypical interior decorating gay man. We can afford new upholstery, and she needs to be comfortable.” Eggsy kissed him. “I need you to let me be in charge on this. Do what I ask and stay out of the way. It’s your choice, but I will kick you out if I must.”
He handed Eggsy his phone and said, “Of course. Elaine and tea.”
When Merlin came back down, carrying Daisy and the tea caddy, Elaine was right behind him.
“Where’s the baby?” Daisy asked.
“He’ll be here soon, my little monkey.” He pointed to his cheek. “KIss?” Daisy grabbed around his neck and kissed it soundly.
While Merlin put the kettle on, Elaine went to walk with Roxy at the other end of the room.
Eggsy put Daisy down and knelt in front of her. “Auntie Roxy may make a lot of noise. It ain’t easy bringing another person into the world, but we didn’t want to leave you alone upstairs. So, I need you to look after JB and Daddy while Elaine and I take care of Roxy and Lee.”
Daisy grinned. “I’ll read to Daddy, so he doesn’t get upset.”
Eggsy chuckled, “You do that my little flower.”
“What’s she doing?” Merlin asked, handing him a mug of builder’s tea.
“I’m going to read to you and JB so you don’t get upset.”
Merlin smiled. “Thank you, my sweet. I think I’ll need that. Let’s get you settled in the other bedroom.”
When they left, Eggsy went over and talked to Roxy and Elaine. “All right, Roxy, I don’t know if you heard me, but I don’t think Lee’s where he should be. As soon as a midwife calls us, I’ll have my hands all over you, possibly with Elaine helping. Is that all right?”
“Is there no way to get me to the hospital? My birth plan included knocking me out about now and waking me up when Lee can talk.”
“I don’t think so love. I’ll call Headquarters and ask if they can get an ambulance to us, but I ain’t sanguine.”
Roxy bit her lip and nodded as another wave went over her.
Eggsy turned to Elaine. “What do you know about birth?”
“I had a health class in lower sixth.” Elaine shook her head. “Some of the nannies who train specifically to work with young infants or situations where there’s one and one on the way take some basic midwifery. Nowhere near enough to qualify, but enough to be a bit of help. In the movies, they always boil water.”
“Good point. I want a large pot of water boiling with as much salt as it can hold.”
The two women looked at him askance.
“The water ain’t to make tea. It’s to sterilize anything we might need to use. Once it’s boilin’, Elaine, I want the sharp heavy shears, two big serving spoons, and whatever you can think of to clamp the cord put into it. If I remember my field trainin’, twenty minutes should get it as near to sterile as something homemade can be.”
Elaine asked, “Anything else you need when I’m upstairs?”
“As many of the JB towels as you can grab. And that yellow set Merlin never liked. Bring down a bottle of cheap vodka, if we have any -- gin, if not.” He thought for a moment more. “The akavit out of the freezer, too. Anythin’ else that you think could be useful or that you know I forgot.”
Elaine nodded and headed upstairs.
Roxy said, “I don’t suppose I could have a bath?”
“It’s a good idea, actually. Not too hot. If you want I’ll put some herbs and oatmeal into a pouch to soften the water.”
“I have bath oil, Eggsy.”
“And you can’t use it right now.”
She blinked at him.
“Roxy, call me if you need help for anything, including get out of the tub, all right? I’m going to make you some of that herbal tea the doctor gave you.”
“Please. I had half a cup just to try it. It’s surprisingly good. Honey in it?”
“Of course.” He smiled at her until she left the room. He touched his glasses to activate them. “Hello, it’s Beaumains. Who’s on duty?”
Morgana’s warm Yorkshire voice came over the feed. “I’m here, Beaumains. Your feed says you’re at home.”
“Lancelot’s in labor. We can’t get her to hospital, and no ambulances are available. I don’t suppose any of the medical staff on duty remembers his or her obstetrics rotation?”
Morgana chuckled. “I’ll find out, chook. It’s a natural process. Roxy will tell you what she’s feeling and ...”
“I’m not being a panicking man about this. Lee ain’t my first delivery.”
“Someday, we’re going down the pub, and you’ll tell me the whole story over pints of bitter,” Morgana sounded delighted. “Also, I don’t have an ambulance here to send you. One’s out taking Dinadan to hospital and the other is being repaired. Should only have taken one day, but the snow…”
“I understand. And you’re buyin’ the first round.” There was a long silence. “Fiona, you got a couple of sprogs. Was any of ‘em breach?” He heard some of the other communications at the main desk activated. “My third was. It’s amazing I had a fourth.”
“Your Dennis is a braver man than I am, lookin’ after four.” He nodded at Elaine and watched as she trundled two bags of stuff to the kitchen. She put the akavit in the freezer before starting the water boiling
“If I’d been doing the looking after, we’d have stopped with two or possibly one. Honestly, pregnancy’s the easy part."
“Don’t think Roxy would agree, right now.”
Morgana said, “Doctor Trevelyan is coming to communications. She’ll talk you through things.”
“Will you stay available, too?” Eggsy asked. “I may need a familiar voice.”
“Of course, chook. There’s not much on tonight.” After a moment, she added, “Ask Lancelot what music she wants to hear. It can help.”
“Thank you, Fiona. I’m leaving the feed on passively. Have Doctor Trevelyan on standby.”
Elaine said, “No ambulance?"
Eggsy shook his head.
“Is the akavit for you?”
“Not right now. If the doctor says it’s all right, I thought it might help Roxy relax.” He made a cup of the birth tea. “I’m takin’ this into her. How much can you help?”
“Blood won’t bother me. I can keep my ‘nanny voice’ through nearly anything, too.”
“It’s a good superpower to have.” He took the tea to Roxy, knocking on the door before entering.
Merlin’s phone still hadn’t rung, but Doctor Trevelyan proved to be a godsend. She was polite and no nonsense, she used some setting on his glasses he didn’t even know he had (and that was a discussion for later with Merlin) to see the general position of the baby.
Eggsy also took Morgana’s suggestion and asked Roxy what music she wanted.
“It’s all right, Eggsy.”
He assessed her for a moment and said, “If you didn’t look so forlorn, I’d believe you. Whatever you want to listen to, you won’t embarrass anyone. What is it?”
“I want Christmas music,” Roxy said.
Eggsy smiled and said, “Yeah, I can see how that would be comforting. Let me find a playlist, and we’ll get started.” He gave her glasses to her and added, “Doctor Trevelyan might have some instructions you’ll understand better than I will.”
She nodded and took them.
The next half hour involved Roxy on her hands and knees, and Eggsy and Elaine pushing the the baby into position. In the middle of it all, her water finally broke.
“I’m sorry. The rug.”
Eggsy kissed her forehead. “Not a problem, love.”
Once Doctor Trevelyan was reasonably certain the baby was positioned, Roxy wanted to walk. Elaine made her another cup of tea, and Eggsy asked whether she could have a shot of alcohol if she wanted..
Her response was, “Don’t give her more than two, Beaumains, and they should be at least an hour apart, but yes, I think she needs something to help her relax.”
“What would you like?” Eggsy asked her.
“I think there’s some apricot nectar in the fridge.”
“Yes. You have expensive cravings. Want me to add vodka to it?”
She just nodded.
While he was in the kitchen, he spoke quietly to Doctor Trevelyan, “She’s exhausted. She didn’t call us until she’d been having pains for a couple of hours. “It’s been four hours, an’ I know first babies can take their time, but …”
“Eggsy,” Doctor Trevelyan’s voice was soft, “May I call you Eggsy?”
“Please, love. This ain’t somethin’ for the table.” He sighed. “Sorry ‘bout the ‘love.’ Just slipped out.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’re in this together, all of us. Her statistics are fine. If they’re ever not fine, I’ll let you know privately, and we’ll figure out the next steps. It’s nearly four in the morning. You could be doing this until this time tomorrow -- though I hope we’ll have hospital access by then, should it happen.”
“I may need the hospital by then.”
“Eggsy, listen to Roxy, keep her comfortable. I’ll be in your ear the whole time.”
“Eggsy, where’s my drink?” Roxy said from the living room.
“Comin’, love. Just taking a moment to make myself a cup of tea. Ask Elaine if she wants one, too.”
He took a tray with a cup of builder’s tea for himself, an herbal tea for Elaine, and Roxy’s spiked nectar out to the living room and got himself ready to face the next few hours.
Once Elaine had finished her tea, she went upstairs to grab some sleep for an hour or two. Merlin woke at his usual 5:30 and found Eggsy and Roxy standing in front of an open window breathing the cold air in.
Roxy smiled a little wanly, “I think I’ve walked more tonight than I did on that walking tour of Scotland I took at uni.”
Merlin touched her face and said, “How’s it going?”
“Tired. I’ve tried to sleep. Eggsy’s given me back rubs. I just feel exhausted.”
“Can you have a cup of tea or coffee? Would it help?”
He could hear the voice from Roxy’s glasses. “No caffeine. It will just tense you up.”
Eggsy said, “The good news, for the birth if not for Roxy, is that the contractions are getting closer together. Still only lasting between thirty seconds and a minute, though.”
“Is that bad?” Merlin asked.
Roxy said, “Not from my point of view, but apparently the length of the actual contractions is a good indicator of how close birth is.”
“And?” Merlin asked.
“At least a couple more hours,” Eggsy said.
Roxy turned to him. “Eggsy, Elaine will be back down at six thirty. Why don’t you go grab some kip. We’ll call if it looks like I’m near birth. Promise.”
Eggsy looked at Merlin. “You up for it?”
“I’ve just had six hours of good sleep.”
“I’ll be back in two hours, if you haven’t called. Elaine will be here in forty minutes.”
Merlin kissed him. “I can hold the fort for that long.”
Eggsy came back down at 8 having showered and breakfasted after his nap. He said to Elaine, “Merlin’s making a fry up if you’d like.”
Elaine said, “If there’s coffee to go with it, that would be heaven.” She turned to Roxy. “Can I bring anything back?”
Roxy looked a little green at the prospect of fried food, but finally said, “Toast. Plum jam. If you could bring the butter, I might or might not want it.”
“It’s yours,” Elaine said and headed out the door.
“Would you like some more tea or apricot juice?”
“I’ll have some tea when the toast gets here.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Rub my back?”
Eggsy got some plain massage oil and began rubbing circles on her lower back. He heard her sigh in relaxation and then felt her muscles tense up through a contraction. He checked his watch and time the length of the contraction. When it ended, he began to move his hands again, glancing at his watch when he felt the next contraction come.
“They’re getting closer together, and a bit longer.”
“Doctor Trevelyan said I could expect active labor in an hour or so.”
He kept rubbing her back, unobtrusively timing her contractions. Finally he said, “I think that toast and tea will be too late. Just from the timings, I think you’re beginning second stage.”
They heard the front door open and close.
“Elaine?” Eggsy called.
“One slice of toast and jam, light butter.”
“I know, but I’ve already got Doctor Trevelyan swearing in my ear for even letting you have that much. It may make you vomit.”
Roxy shook her head. “Don’t care.”
Elaine brought in the toast. “I guess I should go sterilize things.”
“Did you come up with a solution for the clamping the cord?”
“I got some of the metal binder clamps from the office. They’ll get boiled, too, I promise.”
“How long?” Roxy asked.
Doctor Trevelyan’s voice came over both their glasses. “Half an hour minimum -- it usually doesn’t last more than three hours, but… Enjoy the toast. No more food until the placenta’s delivered. If you get thirsty, you can suck on ice.”
Roxy said, “I want to walk some more.”
“Do whatever you need to,” Doctor Trevelyan said. “But first, we need to check if you’re dilated enough.”
Roxy shook her head. “Not my best side, Eggsy.”
“Trust me, it weren’t a way I wanted to see me mum, either.”
“You can walk or get into any position where you feel comfortable. Let Eggsy and me know when you feel an urge to push.”
Two hours later, just after noon, Lee McKnight came into the world and announced his entrance.
Roxy slept in the bedroom on the clean sheets Merlin had put on earlier. One of the rugs had been removed and would be taken to the cleaners as soon as London was up and running again. Daisy was graciously allowing Elaine to stay to look after Roxy and Lee until “his proper nanny” could join them.
Eggsy was nearly asleep on the sofa watching Daisy and Merlin feed Lee the second meal of his life. He blinked at Elaine. “You all right stayin’ here. I can sleep down here until Nanny Simms arrives.”
“You did the hard work.”
“Roxy did the hard work.”
“You did the rest of the hard work, then,” Elaine said. “Nanny Sims should be here within two days. I know you’ll all be around until you’re called back to work. All I really need to do is keep him clean and help Roxy either feed him or express milk so one of us can.”
Merlin said, “Both of you sleep. I can handle the bairn until someone wakes up, and I know Daisy will be good.”
“I’m tired,” she said, “Can I nap with Eggsy?”
“‘Course you can. Let me shower and you come up and get in your pajamas in about a half hour, all right, monkey?”
Elaine said, “I’ll bring her up. I’ll get my stuff and come back down for my nap.”
“That’s fine.” Merlin said. He held his son’s head as he moved him into position to burp. “I can’t get over him.”
Eggsy covered Merlin’s hand on Lee’s head with his own. “He’s beautiful, Merlin, just like his father.”
“Will he call you ‘Daddy,’ too?” Daisy asked her brother.
“Nah, that could get confusin’. Merlin’s ‘Daddy’ for both of you.” Eggsy kissed his husband, and then Daisy’s cheek. “I need sleep. See you in a bit, little flower.”
Daisy nestled against Merlin’s arm and looked at her tiny new brother until Elaine took her upstairs for a nap.
“It arrived today.” Eggsy handed Merlin a large envelope from the school in Edgware which they’d applied to for Daisy.
“You didn’t open it?”
“It’s an acceptance. They don’t send the big ones for rejections.”
Merlin said, “And?”
“We’ll have a few days to respond. Let’s wait and see whether she’s been accepted to the other school, too.”
“It’s Wednesday. If we haven’t heard from the City school by Saturday, we open this up and talk to Daisy about it.”
“An’ prob’ly give our answer on Monday.”
“Will you be disappointed if she ends up going here?” Merlin gestured toward the envelop.
“Nah. An’ I don’ like bein’ on the opposite side of you either.”
“We aren’t on opposite sides, Eggsy. We both want Daisy to be happy and get a good education.”
“Yeh, an’ I know both schools’re posh, but…”
“But we see her getting different things from school. It’s fine. I don’t plan to sulk if she picks the City school.”
“An’ if they don’ want her, it’s their loss.”
Merlin leaned forward and kissed him. “Let’s see what the mail brings.”
The second acceptance arrived on Friday and they opened both, reading over the requirements and limitations of each program. Elaine joined them after putting Daisy to bed and read over the literature and other information.
Elaine said, “All right. I’ll start with you. Eggsy, what makes the City school so appealing.”
Eggsy thought for a moment. “It starts in year three. At the other school, there will be a group of girls who’ve already been working together for several years. I just think cities are better. And I don’t want Jamal to be the only black person she knows.”
She nodded. “That last one is more persuasive than the others. After all, they double the classes in year three at Edgware.” To Merlin she said, “And you? Why are you so set on Edgware?”
“I like that it’s large and green. The fact that it’s considered the best school in the country for that age group is also a huge selling point -- not the best girls school, the best school. That’s impressive.”
“Are you willing to let her decide?”
Both men nodded.
“Then let’s wait until tomorrow.”
Merlin said, “Did you come away with a preference?”
“Yes,” she said. “I agree with Eggsy.”
“Why?” Eggsy asked.
“My school was in the country. I feel like I missed out on a lot. Edgware, their program, doesn’t get into London proper much.”
Merlin nodded. “Thank you.”
Right after her riding lesson, they put the question to Daisy and were surprised by her running upstairs.
About ten minutes later, she came back down looking a bit scared.
“What’s wrong, monkey?”
She looked between them and said, “I don’t want anyone to be mad.”
Eggsy grinned and gave her a wink. “No one will be mad. We want you to go where you think you’ll be most comfortable.”
Merlin said, “That’s true for us both.”
She climbed onto Eggsy’s lap and whispered in his ear.
He said, “No. Merlin and I don’t always agree, but that doesn’t mean that anything will happen to us. We’re a family.”
Daisy looked at him intently.
“Go tell Merlin yourself, my sweet.” He kissed her forehead and lifted her off his lap.
Daisy headed over to Merlin and said, “Daddy, I know you want me to go to the country school, but I like the other one better.”
“Why?” Merlin asked and got a raised eyebrow from Eggsy. “You’ll go to the city school. I promise. I just want to know.”
“Everyone will be new in the class, and… I just liked it better.”
Merlin pulled her close and hugged her. “Then that’s where you’ll go come September.”
She threw her arms around his neck and clung tight for a moment before climbing into his lap. “Can I ask a question?”
Eggsy said, “You can always ask, but there’s no guarantee of an answer.”
“The same for me, little one.”
“When will Lee be baptised?”
Eggsy’s jaw dropped. He said, “That’s something Merlin and I will have to discuss.”
“But if he’s not baptised and something happens to him, he won’t go to heaven.”
Merlin did a double take. He checked with Eggsy and saw real anger in his eyes. “Why would you think that, little one? Did anyone tell you that in Sunday school?”
She shook her head aware that the atmosphere was tense but uncertain as to why.
Merlin relaxed a little and said, “Look at me, please.” When she complied, he said, “Do you remember when I told you that not everyone believes the same thing even if they’re part of the same big group?”
“Denominations,” Daisy said the word slowly and carefully.
Merlin nodded. “Our denomination doesn’t believe that. Babies are innocent. Children are innocent until they’re old enough to decide on mischief rather than making a mistake. We’ll protect Lee as we protect you: to the best of our abilities. But even if the worst should happen, he’s an innocent baby. Do you understand?”
He could feel the tension leaving her as he spoke, and Daisy smiled at him in genuine relief when she said, “Yes Daddy.”
“As for baptism, I’ll find out when the next one is and we’ll ask Eggsy to join us for church. We’ll talk after that, all right?”
Daisy kissed his cheek, then ran over and hugged Eggsy. “Are you ready to go to the museum with Roxy?” He asked.
“I need to get my sweater and go to the bathroom.”
“Then you do that. She’ll be here soon. We’ll let the schools know on Monday.”
She nodded and ran back upstairs.
Merlin was already on his tablet. Eggsy just stared at him until he looked up.
“Baptism doesn’t mean that much to me, mo chridhe. I don’t know where she got it.”
“Don’t tell me you’re not tryin’ to find out when the next baptism is.”
“It’s not exactly something the church puts on its website. I just sent them an email.”
Eggsy nodded. “I’ll go see if Lee’s awake yet. You don’t know how lucky we are with him. When Daisy woke up, the whole estate knew it.” He kissed Merlin’s cheek and headed upstairs.
The following week saw Eggsy sitting next to Daisy and Lee’s seat between him and Merlin. They’d agreed that if he fussed, Eggsy would take him out to the vestibule unless it was the actual baptism, in which case Merlin would take him out.
The service itself was fine. The sermon, on the parable of the talents, was related both to the current political situation and to the promises the congregation would make during the baptism. When the children came back and stood at the front, Daisy turned and waved at him. The ceremony was brief, and Eggsy listened closely to the oaths the parents, godparents, and the congregation took. At the end, the children came back to their families, the final hymn was sung, and the benediction given.
Afterward, they stayed just long enough to congratulate the new parents and let Daisy say goodbye to her Sunday School teacher. They stopped at Valerie’s for a tart to bring home and Eggsy went into the kitchen to fix a quiet lunch.
The conversations were trivial until Lee was put down for his afternoon nap. Daisy clambered onto his lap and said, “Did you like it?”
“It was a lovely ceremony,” Eggsy said.
Daisy beamed. “When can Lee have his?”
Merlin said quietly, “There are things to talk about.”
She made a dismissive sound. “Like what?”
Eggsy fielded the question. “You do understand, that I can’t participate? I’m not sure Auntie Roxy could be godmother, either. Don’t know what she believes, but if she does, it’s more likely to be Church of England.”
“I listened to the promises everyone made. And I’ll say in my heart, that if I can do anything to make the world better for little Felicity, I will. But I can’t promise to be a good Christian ‘cause I don’t believe in God. It’s that simple. If it’s decided to christen Lee, I’ll be there, but not standing at the front. I can’t make a promise I can’t keep.”
Daisy’s eyes filled with tears, and Eggsy pulled her close to his shoulder as the first sobs came.
A minute or two later, he realized she was saying something. “Yes, my flower?”
“But you’re a good person.”
Eggsy chuckled and brushed the hair from her face. “Not everyone would agree with you. Try to be, though.”
She leaned against him again, but the storm of tears seemed to be over for the moment.
Merlin said, “What did you want from the service, little one?”
“I thought everyone would see that Lee was my brother and we’re a family and Auntie Roxy would be there and maybe uncle Jamal and his daddy and… cake?”
They all laughed a little at the last of these.
Merlin said, “A celebration, then, welcoming Lee to the family and publicly declaring him ours.”
Daisy thought for a few seconds and nodded.
“That’s easy, monkey, we can have a big naming party for him in a month or two -- when the weather’s warmer. Have it in the garden flat so there’s more room by usin’ the garden an’ all.”
“That…” Daisy thought a little longer before smiling at Eggsy, “I’d like that.”
“Will it bother you when I’m confirmed, join the congregation?”
Eggsy leaned back in his chair. “If I understand about that, you’ll be a teenager.”
“I certainly made my own decisions, most of them much worse, when I was that age.” For just a second, it was a cold, damp night and he was on his knees. That wouldn’t be part of Daisy’s life. He smiled at her. “If you make that choice, I’ll be there watchin’. Promise.”
She hugged him tight. “I love you.”
“Love you, too. Why don’t you pick out some quiet music to play?” She got down from his lap, ran over to Merlin and hugged him, before going to the cabinet and picking out some cds.
Eggsy smiled. “Someday soon, we’re gettin’ her a proper mp3 player.”
Merlin said, “The sound’s not as good.”
The music started, and Daisy flopped on the sofa with a book.
“Something troubled you earlier, mo chridhe. When you were talking to Daisy about confirmation.”
“Just thinkin’ that I’d been a prossie for a couple o’ years by the time she’ll be joinin’ the church as an adult. If she joins.”
Eggsy said, “Ain’t it enough? Still think it was better than dealin’ drugs woulda been, but … I’m that glad it’ll never be a choice she has to make, suckin’ cock to pay rent.”
“So am I. And I’m sorry that it came down to you to pay your rent that way.”
“You were lucky to have Morag as your Mam. Not that I don’t love my… Michelle -- can’t think of her as my Mum, not after findin’ her on drugs with Daisy -- an’ yet, I still love her.”
“Of course, you do. Michelle may not have had the resources that Mam had.”
“Thinkin’ ‘bout the baptism. I listened to those promises and I realized that your congregation in the Gorbals had lived by them. Recognizin’ you were smart enough to get a scholarship an’ take some of the load off your Mam an’ helpin’ to support you for a bit while she got a skill and could work. The estate didn’t really have a community like that. Some, yeah, like Kaspar and Ryan’s grandmother, an’ if Mum had tried a bit more, maybe… Dunno. I can’t regret keepin’ a roof over our heads or even gettin’ some money for food once Dean came on the scene, but I could wish it never happened, sellin’ meself.”
Merlin stayed quiet. Finally, in a low voice, he said, “No child should ever have to make that choice. And you were a child, my husband. I’m amazed every day that you’re as sunny and bright as you are because I’m not certain I could have survived it, or made that choice. Probably ended up an enforcer like Rottie and, let me tell you, that thought terrifies me, too. The violence of our lives, the violence I carry inside, I hope we can keep it from ever touching our children.”
“We can’t. We haven’t. Daisy’s already been shot at. The best we can do is love them and each other and try to build a better world.”
Merlin kissed his forehead. “You know most people would say something like ‘protect them from the world.’ You just want it to be better for everyone.”
Eggsy snuggled into his chest, sleepily. “‘Course I do. It’s not just our kids we gotta worry about.”
Merlin’s arms tightened around him as they both drifted toward sleep.
There was a string of warm days in early June and Eggsy and Merlin felt it was probably safe to invite everyone over on the following Sunday. They arranged catering so that no one would be stuck in the kitchen and invited about twenty people to welcome Lee McKnight into the world.
By the time there was cake, the party had become lots of conversations, with Vivienne and one of Morganna’s older children sitting on the floor and carrying on a very animated conversation with Daisy.
When the last of the guests left around half-four, Roxy said, “That went well.”
Merlin finished overseeing the clean-up and tipping the waitstaff. “It did. Guy seemed pleased to be one of the lad’s protectors.”
“He was. I think he needs better family.”
“Going to recommend him for the Caradoc group?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think he’d be any good. It’s not just that he’s soft hearted. It… I can’t see him at the table or even heading a foreign desk.”
Merlin nodded. “At least you think your candidates through. I hope the others will.”
“Daisy seemed happy.”
Merlin nodded. “I think so. I know she’s still a little disappointed that Eggsy didn’t say yes to a baptism.”
“Not at all.”
Eggsy stuck his head in the front door. “Can we close up down here, yet? Guy and Daisy are telling each other fairy stories, and you gotta hear ‘em.”
Merlin went and locked the garden doors and they all went up together.
There could be another chapter dealing with Tilde and that family, but no guarantee. I decided to leave it open rather than state a number of chapters, though.