Eggsy fucking ached. Deploying Roxy’s parachute at three hundred feet left him feeling like he’d crashed another car – with the same euphoria as nicking Dean’s mate’s ride, come to think of it – and then he’d fallen on his arse again when Merlin pulled Eggsy’s bloody chute at zero feet. Now, he was spread-eagled on his military-precise bed, trying to ignore the ache in his legs and staring at the ceiling. He felt like he might sleep forever, if he could just nod off. It wasn’t happening.
Charlie was already getting his beauty sleep. Charlie was one of those obnoxious early risers who liked to ponce around at the crack of dawn being all superior with his hundred push-ups, six-stage skincare routine and that “artless” hair he spent twenty minutes sculpting, not giving a fuck about other people who were still asleep when it was, to normal people, still night-time.
Eggsy had never been a morning person. He could deal with late nights and early mornings and not a lot of sleep if he had to, but it had better be for a better cause than Charlie’s exfoliating.
When she came back from the shower, wet hair dripping down her shoulders and her camisole, Eggsy saw Roxy wasn’t doing much better than he was after the jump. He could see the bruise blossoming over her shoulder and the top of her arm where she’d bounced off the target as she dried off her hair with a towel.
Eggsy heaved himself upright against the wall with a wince, startling JB out of peaceful slumber. Roxy and Charlie’s dogs were in their own beds but JB was such a bloody softie – or maybe Eggsy was – that JB had been peacefully snoring into Eggsy’s armpit. Disgruntled by his displacement, JB rearranged himself against Eggsy’s hip.
“Hey, Rox,” Eggsy said, scratching JB behind the ears in apology. Sensing weakness, the dog wriggled onto his back, legs in all different directions, presenting his belly for rubbing. Eggsy obliged. “What did you mean when you said you’d done that before? Before the jump?”
“Keep your voice down,” Roxy hissed. “You’ll wake Charlie.”
“Oh, fuck him. He won't try nothing without his boys,” Eggsy said with a grin. “He’s fair game now, the wanker.” Eggsy did as she asked though, and he clocked her hiding a smile with her towel.
Roxy swapped her damp towel for a dry one from the end of her bed and flopped down onto the end of Eggsy’s, knocking his legs aside to sit cross-legged. JB whined again as he adjusted to another position.
“It’s not an interesting story,” Roxy said.
“Embarrassing, yeah? Go on, I bet I’ve got worse.”
Roxy just shifted her legs and started drying her hair again, looking at the wall behind Eggsy’s head.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s swap. You tell me that story and I’ll tell you one, yeah?”
“Oh, alright.” Her lip twitched as she bit back another smile. “I imagine I’ll get the better end of that arrangement.”
“Heh, yeah, maybe, if you pick the right question. But you first.”
“It really wasn’t anything special.” Roxy hardly met his eye as she spoke, instead looking at JB or around the room. Her momentary mirth had evaporated again. “I was an air cadet years ago, and they used to select a handful each year to go parachuting, and I applied like everyone else. I was good enough that I got to go, and then when we were in the plane, I freaked out – really freaked out – and that was only five thousand feet. But I didn’t say anything and I jumped anyway.” She closed her eyes. “I had never been so terrified in my life; I wasn’t sure I could even pull the chute. It’s silly. It’s just heights, I don’t know. I… I think everyone is allowed one thing to be irrationally afraid of. That’s mine.”
“Yeah,” said Eggsy. “I s’pose, although there’s nothing crazy about not being keen on jumping out of planes. That’s pretty rational. And we did good today, yeah? Better than those other bellends. They’re all bravado, innit? But you’ve got courage, and they’ve gone home and we’re still here.”
“Yes,” Roxy said. “Yes, I suppose.” Her smile started to creep back, ever so slowly, and she was looking at JB instead of the wall. Eggsy was beginning to feel pretty chuffed until she asked her question. “I know we're not meant to talk about it but I'm really curious: how did you end up here? I mean, how did you know one of the Kingsmen?”
Eggsy’s face must have been a picture, because Roxy clarified.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think I see whatever he saw – you’re a great candidate, Eggsy, really – but I can’t think how you got the opportunity.”
Eggsy hedged. Of all his fellow candidates, Roxy was the only one whose respect he wanted or, he hoped, had earned. “He owed me a favour,” he said. He told himself he was only playing at defensiveness but, if he was honest, he was a little affronted. Roxy had been the only one not to write him off based on her own assumptions until now. “How'd you think I got here?”
“I don’t know. I was just wondering how you knew him. They didn’t say we couldn’t talk about that. You know, maybe I didn’t get the better deal. Your answer was as underwhelming as mine.”
“We’re working on being spies, Rox – of course we’re not going to spill all our secrets in bed with a rival. This ain’t that kind of story, yeah?” He grinned. “Is it?”
Roxy kicked him right in his aching shin. Eggsy and JB both yelped at the kick and the jolt but, serve her right, Roxy hurt her own toes too. All the moroseness dissolved for an instant as Eggsy stretched out his maligned leg and Roxy rubbed at her toes.
After a moment, Eggsy said, “Well, how'd you get here? How'd they get you?”
Roxy flexed her toes and stretched her legs out parallel to Eggsy’s, JB between them.
“I was raffling cakes at my village’s open gardens, the same as every summer, when my uncle offered me the opportunity. He was staying with my family for a bit, the first time in years. We left within an hour and I’m not looking back.” She sighed. “I love my family, really, but I don’t want to live in their world.”
“This is the same world though, innit? With the money and the manners and the fucking upper-class twat uniform of chinos and blazers and tweed and tailoring. I mean, it’s still a world full of blokes like Charlie, right?”
“It doesn’t have to be, if people like you and I can make it to the top. Can’t you see, we’re changing things just by being here, the working class lad and the girl? I know it’s hard, but is there literally anything else you could do, with what they expect of you, and have a life like this one? The exhilaration, the adventure–”
“And a shit-ton of planes to jump out of. Seriously, I mean, no parachute, what the fuck?”
“They’re only playing games with us, Eggsy. Merlin showed you that. Can’t you see?”
“What about Amelia?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “But… army psychology, remember? I think it was just a trick, meant to scare us. These are games, for now. We just have to play to win. Nobody’s going to die. Not here, not yet – not just as a candidate.”
“That ain’t true,” Eggsy said. He studied JB while he put his words together. The stupid creature had its legs in the air again, vulnerable and aching for a bit of love. Eggsy scratched at his belly and the dog wriggled. Eggsy wondered if his dad had had a dog too, and what had happened to it.
“My dad was a candidate too. Did you know that? But he died when he was a candidate.” Eggsy looked at Roxy. “That’s the favour Harry owed me – or at least how he repaid the debt. He got me here, gave me the same chance my dad had.”
“Oh,” Roxy said. She put a hand on Eggsy’s leg, below his knee, and held his gaze. “Eggsy, I’m sorry. What happened?”
“I dunno,” Eggsy said. “Harry said he missed something, and dad died. He told mum it was classified, and I never asked. But there are stakes, Roxy. They’re not fucking about with us. Yeah, maybe they’re not actually out to kill us, but it’s not like it can’t happen. You’re right though, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here.”
Roxy offered him a smile, but said nothing.
“You know, Rox, I think you might be the first person I’ve told about my dad – the truth, I mean. Like, my mates know he was a marine, right? And that he didn’t come back? But nobody knows he was nearly a Kingsman. Harry knew ‘im, and Merlin, and the others, but it’s not the same, you know? You’re the only person who knows him like I know him.”
“Like a myth, a legend, but not concrete?” Roxy paused, flexing her toes and setting JB off wriggling again. “I do know what that feels like a little. My grandfather was a war hero and my uncles used to tell these tall tales of daring and heroism, but he died long before I was born and all I have are photographs and these stories. I don’t have any brothers or sisters or cousins or anything, so the rest of my family knew him but I don’t, and when they talked about him, compared me to him… I know it’s not the same, but…”
“But it’s shit, yeah. This thing you’ve got to live up to, but you don’t know nothing about.”
“Families,” Roxy sighed.
“Fucking nepotism,” Eggsy grumbled. “Fuck me, you’ve got me sucked up in this shit too – you’re your uncle’s candidate, I’m here for my dad. We’re not even fresh blood, are we? It’s all one giant inbred family. Fuck.”
Then the atmosphere cracked right back into laughter, as it always did. Roxy tried to shush them both again with a wave towards Charlie, but that didn’t help matters. It was the kind of mirth that’s self-sustaining; any attempt to subdue only inflamed.
“Seriously though,” Eggsy said, when he got his breath back. “I got you, Rox – whatever happens. You know that right?”
“Yes,” she said. “And remember, for the most part, they are just fucking with us. Things can go wrong, absolutely, but… You need to keep your head, alright? And I’ve got you too.”
Roxy clambered back to her own bed with less grace than Eggsy had ever seen her move in front of other people. They’d both be bloody stiff in the morning. Eggsy lifted JB down to the bottom of the bed – the mug still wouldn’t sleep on the floor – and lay down himself. JB arranged himself at perfect ease on Eggsy’s warm foot.
“You know, I'd kill for a hot bath,” Roxy said, a few minutes after the lights went out.
“Or a cold pint,” Eggsy said, turning to face her.
“God, it wouldn't even have to be cold.”
Eggy snorted. “Too fucking right.” He adjusted JB again so he didn't wake up with dead feet, although the weight on the covers between his feet was strangely comfortable. “‘Night, Rox.”
“Goodnight, Eggsy," she said.
It only took a minute. Eggsy slept like the dead.