When Eggsy was a little kid, he loved fairy tales.
For the most part, he thought of his life since then as having drummed that well and truly out of him. True, few of the more famous fairy tale characters had a much better beginning than he did- but it was difficult to live as Eggsy had and still believe that everything would come right in the end. But apparently somewhere, way in the back of his mind, there remained a tiny piece of Eggsy that still believed in happily-ever-afters- or at least believed that saving a princess from a tower and getting a kiss (and more) for his trouble might be close enough to serve.
Eggsy blamed Harry for that. He had found that piece and made it grow into something big enough to be disappointmed when- as awesome as Tilde was- that didn't feel like much of a happily-ever-after at all.
And now he was gone.
* * *
"Is your family settling in well?" Merlin asked Eggsy one day.
Merlin had taken Arthur's position at Kingsman's weird rectangular Round Table but refused to take his name. He wouldn't let Eggsy do the same, though- so Eggsy took his place in Galahad's seat and tried not to droop too much under the weight of Galahad's title. He was supposed to sit like a gentleman, after all.
He was drooping a little now, though. He had just attended his first proper Kingsman briefing and Merlin had asked him to stay on after. Once all the other knights had filed out Eggsy finally allowed himself to ignore the disapproving Harry-voice in the back of his mind. Normally Eggsy was happy enough to listen to it- it kept him on the straight-and-narrow, and anyway it was all he had left of Harry- but he was tired and it was just Merlin. They had saved the world together; Merlin could take seeing him slouch.
"Pretty well, thank you, sir," Eggsy said.
Merlin looked uncomfortable. He had always had a fair bit of power, of course- according to Percival and the other knights who had taken it upon themselves to be kind to Eggsy in Harry's honor if for no other reason, Merlin had always been in charge in everything but name- but it seemed like he was no more accustomed to being The Boss than Eggsy was to having one.
Eggsy tried again: "We're fine, Merlin."
It was the truth. Eggsy had had to chase Dean and his goons off a couple of times in the early days, but they hadn't bothered him in weeks. His mum was still getting used to the space in their new house and the size of Eggsy's new salary. But she seemed happy, if a little reluctant to trust their good fortune.
Kingsman only limped along for a bit longer than Eggsy's little family had, but they seemed to have gotten back to something like business as usual at last.
"It's a new beginning for you all," Merlin said, awkwardly. That sounded more like something Harry would have said, and though neither of them mentioned his name it hung in the air between them all the same.
Maybe that was what made Eggsy's, "Yeah," feel so hollow on his tongue. Made his gracious smile feel pasted on and... off, somehow. But Eggsy thought that he could probably fake it until he felt it.
Ever since he was a kid who loved fairy tales but couldn't afford to anymore, he had been good at that kind of thing.
* * *
Eggsy's little sister loved fairy tales too, of course. As the weeks after V-Day turned into months he read them aloud perched on the edge of her little bed, and with her fitted against his side on the couch, and sometimes even over the phone and time zones away during a too-long mission. He wished he could be in her life more than he was (being a Kingsman was great, but the schedule could be brutal) and it was a good way to feel close to her, so mostly he loved the stories just as much as she did.
Daisy's favorite was East of the Sun and West of the Moon- because in that one the princess did most of the work. It wasn't like Sleeping Beauty or The Little Mermaid or Cinderella, told so often and so similarly from one collection to the next that it didn't vary too much anymore. The princess didn't really have a name; a lot of the time she wasn't even a princess.
That was what Eggsy wasn't so sure he liked. This story of a girl who had nothing until her prince came along and changed everything.
He told Roxy about it once. They were huddled close together, waiting for an extraction from a rickety shack in the middle of a blizzard, and it was as good a way as any to pass the time.
“There’s just one thing she’s gotta do, right?" Eggsy said. "One promise she's gotta keep. But she fucks it up, all because she doesn’t have... faith or whatever. And just like that she loses it all.”
"And Daisy likes this story, does she?" Roxy asked. She had her teeth firmly gritted to keep them from chattering and her arms crossed tight against her chest. “It sounds awful to me.”
“Well,” Eggsy said, “it’s all right in the end, innit? Because while she’s out there wandering through the wilderness barefoot she meets a good fairy or a witch or some shit. And the fairy says she can have it all back, including the man she loves, if she just... does all this stuff.”
Roxy said it still sounded like a terrible story.
Eggsy didn’t completely disagree with her. How could he? Eggsy thought that if in the story the good fairy told the princess-who-wasn't-always-a-princess that she could have the fine house and the steady income from the awesome job, but she couldn’t have him because he got himself shot in fucking Kentucky, no one would like it very much.
Eggsy could walk the world with no shoes on a thousand times over and it wouldn’t bring Harry back, because fairy tales weren’t real.
Except every once in a while, when they- just maybe- were.
* * *
Eggsy was in New York, crouched low on an abandoned floor of a skyscraper and getting a magnificent crick in his neck as he watched his target through a sniper's scope.
"Shit," he heard his handler mutter through the glasses.
"What's up?" Eggsy's eyes flickered all over the scene- his target was currently snogging the girl he had brought up to his flat with him and had been for nearly an hour. "You seeing something I'm not?" Possibly Eggsy had let himself get too bored; possibly he had dozed off for a second and missed something.
"Yes and no," she said. "It's on my end. Merlin's headed toward me and he looks like he's on the warpath."
"Uh-oh," Eggsy said. He and Merlin were still pretty tight, but he appreciated that most of the handlers had cultivated a healthy fear of him. Like most Kingsman agents he had a handler only rarely- primarily on long, late missions like this one where they stayed on the line to keep the agent awake as much as anything- and he didn't even know this one by name, but he liked her. He hoped she wasn't in any trouble.
Eggsy kept one ear on their conversation. He could hear Merlin's voice on the other end, dismissing her.
There was a distant, "Yes, sir," followed the scraping of chair legs along the floor.
Then Eggsy heard Merlin say, "You're moving out, Galahad."
"Why?" Eggsy asked, careful not to move despite his shock. He might have been the newbie, but he had been around long enough to know that this was weird. "What's going on?”
“Kay’s on route,” Merlin said. “He’ll pick up surveillance on your target in the morning.”
Eggsy frowned, confused. "Well," he said after a while. "It ain't like he's done nothing all week." The handler had been all assurances that things would get interesting any minute now, but so far that hadn't happened. Eggsy would kick himself forever- and Merlin surely would too- if they finally did while Eggsy and Kay were switching positions. "What if-"
"This is low priority now, Eggsy. We're unlikely to miss anything vital during the transfer, and I need you in Kentucky.”
The use of his name in the field brought Eggsy up short- and the mention of Kentucky was like a slap in the face. "What about the leave I’ve got coming up?" Eggsy had been planning to spend some more time with his mum and sister, and though he would normally put it off a while longer if asked (exactly why it had been so long since he'd seen them in the first place) he did not want to go to Kentucky. "Why can’t I just finish here while Kay-”
“I will give you all the leave you want after you finish this," Merlin said. "It could be that some homeless man had picked it up or something- but someone from a Kentucky hospital just called the shop about a John Doe wearing one of our jackets. He had been shot in the head.”
Eggsy felt numb as he disassembled his rifle and stretched out muscles that protested fiercely after having been so long in one position. “So we finally know where Harry’s body is.”
Merlin was right to send him, Eggsy decided.
It had taken that hospital such a long time to figure this out (Eggsy knew V-Day hit America hard, but months to start looking into those who had passed through?), but even so Eggsy didn’t want Kay to go get Harry. He had to be the one to do it.
“Eggsy,” Merlin said. “The man she called about is still alive."
Eggsy... stopped. At first he couldn't speak, but finally he managed to say something. What he managed to say was, "Oh."
Merlin continued, either oblivious to Eggsy's shock or kind enough to ignore it. "There isn’t much they can do except keep him that way, but Kingsman contracts with some of the best doctors in the world. If it’s him, we might be able to-”
“Yeah,” Eggsy agreed faintly. “If it’s him.”
* * *
It was him.
Eggsy spent most of his time in Kentucky in a daze. There was much to do- paperwork to fill out, arrangements to make- and Eggsy managed to do all of it without really thinking much. But once he got Harry back to HQ, he ran out of things to do. Everything that had happened- and somehow, miraculously, not happened- hit him all in a rush.
He stood by the sink in one of the medical wing's bathrooms and stared at his reflection like it was a stranger's. Alive, he told his shaking hands, his wide and bruised-looking eyes, his shoulders which had always seemed far to narrow to carry everything on them. It was all he could think for a while- he's alive.
Eventually, though, that sank in enough to give way to- what now?
Eggsy held Merlin to his word. He asked for those vacation days, and he got them- but he spent more than half of that time still at HQ, watching over Harry. He felt- in a way he hadn't all this time- like his world had stopped turning when Harry was shot and would only start again when he woke up.
If he woke up.
One of the rare nights he spent at home, Eggsy read Daisy The Little Mermaid. It was the cheerful Disney version, of course- but the next morning Eggsy felt strangely brittle as he put on his suit for the day. He caught himself thinking that maybe the version where the mermaid fails, and is turned to sea foam for her failure, would have been more appropriate.
What if this second chance turned out to be no second chance at all? What would become of him then?
* * *
Eggsy could normally be found sitting by Harry's bedside of a day, and it was there that Roxy found him.
"Come out with Percival and me," she said, tugging on his sleeve.
Eggsy hesitated. He was tired, so tired from doing nothing but sit and think all day, and he wanted to go out and see her smile. But though he did leave Harry's side all too often, it seemed wrong to go for such a frivolous thing. It seemed like tempting fate, like Harry would melt away if Eggsy kept his vigil at all incorrectly. "I don't want him to wake up alone."
Roxy's face contorted faintly. It was in this moment that someone would normally remind Eggsy that Harry probably wouldn't wake up for a long time. That he might not ever wake up. But Roxy just shook her head faintly and said, "He wouldn't dare."
Eggsy laughed. He hardly recognized the sound, but it was something. He went to the pub with her.
* * *
After Eggsy's vacation ended, he asked to be put on light duty instead of going back out into the field. Merlin just looked at him in silence for a long time, and then he finally said, "I'll see what I can do."
They had lately lost a Kingsman to heart failure of all things, so Merlin put Eggsy in charge of the trials.
Harry spent most of the next month being shuttled in and out of surgery. Eggsy was reminded of Harry's coma after his encounter with Professor Arnold. When he first found Harry- alive, he's alive- shocked joy had prevented the sight of Harry all unkempt and covered in tubes from being too horrible. But as time passed Eggsy thought back on the helplessness of those months more and more often. Eggsy still spent very minute he could spare at Harry’s bedside, and Harry still looked all wrong- too weak and horribly vulnerable- lying in that hospital bed.
Really, only one thing had changed: now when Eggsy left Harry’s side for an exam he was administering- rather than taking- it.
Eggsy read to Harry a lot, especially later when all the surgeries were complete and the doctors finally said that they had done all they could and the only thing left to do was wait and see. At the end of Sleeping Beauty, Eggsy looked at Harry’s face- the paleness of his skin a sharp contrast to the beginnings of a salt and pepper beard- and thought what the hell.
He set the book on the bedside table and bent, slow. He closed his eyes and took a second just to breathe in. Harry smelled antiseptic like everything else, and Eggsy closed what distance remained between them and pressed his mouth to Harry's. Those lips were dry and chapped but still soft. Eggsy didn't know how anything could be that soft and still feel like a knife going into his chest.
He pulled away sharply. "Stupid," he muttered to himself, viciously.
At first, he couldn't get out of that room fast enough- but then he caught his shoulder on the door and abruptly ran out of energy. He slumped against the jamb and slid down to the cold floor. Right there in the doorway he curled in on himself, with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees.
He was like that for less than a minute before he heard a faint rustling. He looked up and saw Harry looking back at him. Heard Harry, bandaged and bearded and oh-so-weak, say, "Eggsy? You don't look altogether well."
“Jesus, Eggsy,” Roxy would say hours later- after Eggsy had been summarily banished from Harry's room.
They were sitting together in a booth at what had become their usual pub, and Eggsy was attempting to drown his astonishment while Roxy sat beside him and watched.
“If you knew you were a fairy tale character, why didn’t you just kiss him sooner?”
* * *
“Why doesn’t the girl have shoes on again?” Harry asked.
“’Cos she didn’t have any on when it happened, I guess,” Eggsy replied. He picked at the spine of the story collection in his hands. He was glad Harry was awake, of course he was- but reading to him had been a lot easier when he was unconscious. "It's... symbolic, or whatever." A lot of things had been easier for Eggsy when Harry was unconscious- like believing he belonged here, answering to a code-name that should never have been his.
"Symbolic," Harry repeated. "Of what?"
Eggsy shrugged, frowning down at the pages. He shouldn't have picked this story, that much was clear. Not this story, that he felt closer to than any other for some reason. “Dunno. Penance, I guess.”
Harry frowned too, long fingers twisting in the sheets of his hospital bed. He looked like he thought Eggsy was trying to tell him something with this story, and he was embarrassed by how slow he was to puzzle it out. Just a few words, and Eggsy knew Harry had come to altogether the wrong conclusion. "I did apologize, didn’t I? For-”
“Yeah, Harry,” Eggsy said. He managed to keep his voice from cracking, but only by a narrow margin indeed. “We talked about this already. I was being a dick that day, and you just- look, it doesn’t matter, all right?”
“All right.” Harry didn’t look convinced, but he subsided all the same.
Harry had been awake for a week, and he had had clearer days than this- usually he could remember all their conversations, usually he was nearly his old self. He had also had murkier ones. Ones where he had no idea who Eggsy even was.
The medical staff insisted that this wasn't permanent, that Harry would eventually be fine. But sometimes Eggsy looked at Harry, and Harry just didn’t seem to be in there, and it was hard to believe it.
“I gotta go- okay, Harry?” Eggsy said, reaching out awkwardly to pat Harry's hand. "And it might be a while before I come back.”
Still frowning, Harry nodded.
“I’m gonna make you proud, okay?”
Eggsy wished he had gone back into the field earlier, wished he had thought to part with Harry on one of his better days. Wished Harry could have been present enough that when he said, “I am,” Eggsy could believe him.
* * *
Daisy had a lot of questions about True Love.
Whenever Eggsy read her one of those stories, she asked how the people involved knew True Love from... not. And whenever she did that, Eggsy wondered if she was thinking of her dad- of all his sweet words and apologies and promises that were never ever kept.
Eggsy liked to think that one day Daisy wouldn’t be able to remember her first few years of life. She would remember the nice house a few doors down from Harry’s, and the good school Kingsman already had a place saved for her in, and all the gifts many of the agents had taken to spoiling her with like her own personal fairy godparents- and she wouldn't remember anything that would make her doubt that all her dreams could come true.
But for now she had her questions, and Eggsy didn’t always have answers.
He wasn't completely sure there were answers, at least not good ones. Cinderella supposedly found True Love with a prince who couldn’t tell her from any other woman in the kingdom. Their entire future had been staked on the notion that two women couldn’t possibly have the same shoe size.
Eggsy wondered how you knew love was real himself sometimes, or at least he had. From the pub at least he had felt a huge amount of something for Harry Hart. Gratitude- that Harry came for him, saved him, listened to him even he wasn't being entirely complimentary. Hero worship- which, after the display with Dean's goons, who could blame him? A little crush.
He spent a good few months believing all that, even as he bit his tongue around Charlie for Harry, even as looking at Harry lying in that hospital bed made him wish he had gotten blown up instead for Harry, even as he jumped out of planes and refused to talk even with a train bearing down on him (he was no grass, but he also liked living) for Harry.
But then when they fought, and then when he watched Harry walk away, the true extent of what he felt became horribly, painfully obvious. Eggsy realized that everything was slipping away from him and it wasn’t the job or the prospects that he was most scared to lose- it was Harry. He hadn’t known what exactly Harry meant when he said he’d sort it all out; he almost hadn't cared. He still wanted to be a Kingsman, but he would give it up in a heartbeat just to win Harry's regard again. He thought he would give up almost anything for that.
Honestly, Eggsy supposed he could stop wondering about love. He had probably felt the very worst of it when Harry never came back.
I’d rather be with Harry, Eggsy had told Chester King when he offered him a position of power in his new world. It was just something to fill the silence, but it was also entirely too true. Eggsy would always, always rather be with Harry- but that didn't make 'with Harry' where he belonged.
The first place Merlin sent Eggsy once he was back in the field was Hong Kong. Eggsy finished the assignment in record time and everything went like clockwork. Eggsy wondered if it was enough.
He took the twenty-four hours off that Merlin pushed on him right where he was, and then asked to be sent on another mission right away.
He went to Rome, then Brussels, then Washington D.C.
“It’s time for you to go home, Galahad,” Merlin finally told Eggsy, refusing to send him anywhere else.
“Harry’s Galahad,” Eggsy said, though he knew from Merlin's tone that such arguments would do no good. It sounded like the clock striking midnight in one of Daisy's stories. Eggsy had his bullet proof suit, his rainmaker, his ring- but underneath it all he was still just the kid who let Harry down, and when he came back they’d all have to face that.
“Harry’s Arthur,” Merlin said. “Report to him when you get back. Don’t make me ask again,” he added, and Eggsy wondered if Siberia was nice this time of year.
But he didn't make Merlin ask again.
* * *
Harry sat behind the desk in Arthur's office. It had been Chester King's, and then Merlin's for a while- but, from the moment Eggsy saw him sitting behind it, it became so perfectly Harry's. And Harry looked almost painfully good, with his chin shaved clean and his hair trimmed and his suit all neatly pressed and perfect again. The pale scar on his temple was the only sign that anything had happened to him at all, and he listened to Eggsy’s report like he was any other knight. Before the church, Eggsy had had fantasies of them reporting side by side. Eggsy couldn't say this was just as good, but it was... something. When Eggsy was finished, he waited to be dismissed.
“You reported to medical already, Galahad?” Harry asked instead.
“Then you’re off the clock?”
"Then leave the sir, for fuck's sake." That startled a laugh out of Eggsy, and the impassive look on Harry's face cracked. He closed his laptop. "Will you stay a while, Eggsy?" he asked. He gestured toward the couch to one end of his office. Under the veneer of cool professionalism, he looked so tired. “It's not an order," he added.
Eggsy swallowed. He didn't want to leave, but he felt that he should. He also didn't want to give Harry the impression that he didn't think they could be friends anymore. Sometimes he was afraid it would come to that, but they weren't there yet. "Sure, Harry," he said. He sat.
Harry smiled, something loosening in the line of his shoulders. He went to the sideboard and filled two glasses. His back was to Eggsy when he sighed and said, "I know why Merlin dropped this job like a hot potato."
Eggsy hesitated. "...Sorry?"
"It's all right." Harry gave Eggsy's his profile, a wry smile tugging at his lips. "Everything's worked out for the best, I hope." He crossed to Eggsy and handed him a glass. "You know, when you told me you’d be gone for a while, I didn’t think it would be this long.”
“Um.” Eggsy’s breath stuttered faintly as their fingers brushed. “Sorry?” he tried again.
Harry sighed again and sat down beside him. “It’s your prerogative, Eggsy- although I wouldn’t recommend antagonizing Merlin to quite that extent in the future.”
“Just wanted to make you proud,” Eggsy whispered.
“You have never not, Eggsy. I swear it.” Harry held Eggsy's eyes for a long moment. When his gaze finally snapped away, Eggsy felt like they had taken his lungs along with them. He couldn't breathe for a second. Harry sipped his drink "You know, Merlin refused to give me any information about you. I had to be well enough to requisition your mission files myself. I might still be in bed otherwise.”
“Uh.” Harry had said it so off-handedly. Eggsy didn't think he could have done that. He wasn't sure he could have said something like that at all. He took a drink of his own, hoping to calm his suddenly racing heart. The liquor burned going down.
Harry set his glass aside. “My point is that you aren’t the only one who felt he had a long way to go to get back what he lost.”
Eggsy remembered their last conversation and swallowed heavily. "Oh."
"Oh," Harry agreed, a gentle smile on his face.
"But you're..." Eggsy hesitated again. "You're okay, now?"
"For the most part. It is tiring, this job, but I like to think I could do some good in it. I... never planned on being your boss, you know. I suppose that's what I meant to say a moment ago."
Eggsy wasn't sure he understood. "That doesn't matter, Harry." Harry being back was what mattered.
Eggsy definitely didn't understand. Harry must have been able to read that much on his face because he let out a long breath and turned away.
He slid open one of the drawers in the stand next to the couch and produced something. “You left this in my room,” he said. He handed Eggsy his book of fairy tales.
“Thanks,” Eggsy managed. He had wondered where it went.
“And I wanted to ask if it was at all possible that you wanted a little more from me than just my pride.”
Eggsy coughed around his next sip, almost choking, and finally set his own glass aside with a clink. Harry's expression was difficult- no, impossible- to read. “Like what?”
“True love, happily ever after, that sort of thing.”
Without Eggsy's meaning it to, his tongue flicked out over his lips. And the way Harry’s eyes followed it made him think that just maybe... “What would you do if I did?”
"Well." Harry leaned closer and reached out, his fingertips playing with the short hairs at the back of Eggsy’s neck, his faintly calloused palm cradling Eggsy's throat. “I would say that I heard you kissed me while I was sleeping, and I was rather hoping you might do it again. While I was awake this time.”
Eggsy grinned and leaned into Harry's hand.
Their noses rubbed together as Harry drew him closer, and their teeth clacked as they kissed. It wasn't perfect- it was shy and yet messy, too gentle and yet too rough at the same time. Harry tasted like liquor and he smelled like the room's faintly musty furniture, and Eggsy didn't think that he would ever, ever get enough of it.
"We'll figure it out- you being Arthur and all," Eggsy said, when the kiss was over and Harry's lips had just the faintest sheen to them. Then, "Want me to do that again?"
"Yes, please," Harry said. And, "Regularly, if at all possible."
Eggsy thought he could manage that.
* * *
Daisy loved Harry. Eggsy hadn't worried that she wouldn't, not really- he firmly believed that anyone would love Harry if given enough time (a very great deal of time, in his mother's case)- but it still made him so happy to see it. It made him happier still the first time she pressed a book into Harry's hands and asked him to read to her.
They had just had dinner on an evening when Eggsy's mum was out with friends. Eggsy had dishes to wash and straightening up to do- but he decided to leave them for later and he curled up on the couch with his chin on his palm, just as rapt as his sister was. Harry had glasses- real ones that he needed for reading- perched on his nose. His face grew so animated as he searched for the right page. Daisy had requested her favorite, and Eggsy couldn't wait to hear it, if for no other reason than because Harry's voice was made for that shit.
Before he had even properly gotten started Harry caught Eggsy staring and cut himself off mid-sentence. "What?" he asked Eggsy, blinking.
Daisy nudged him hard and pointed to the book. "Keep going."
Harry didn't once take his eyes off Eggsy, though.
Eggsy waved him off, saying, "It's nothing."
Harry searched his face for a moment that- for Daisy at least- might have stretched for years. Finally Harry's lips ticked up into a smile. He looked back down at the book. "Where was I now?"
Daisy gave a half growl and pointed again.
Harry laughed softly. "Right, of course. Once upon a time..."
It wasn't nothing, though. When Eggsy heard Harry reading those words, it felt like something that had been missing for a long time slotted back into place inside him. Something that was all hope.
It really felt like a new beginning, now- and Eggsy couldn't wait to see what came next.