A pencil dragging across paper was the only sound in the otherwise silent office, its sole occupant so entirely absorbed in his task that he’d forgotten to turn on his iTunes and select a playlist of classical music, like he usually would. No, this time, Harry Hart worked in silence, hunched over his desk with a large pad of professional-grade paper and an artist’s set of pens and pencils. An image was fully-formed on the page, though it lacked color, which was Harry’s main focus at the moment. Watercolor pencils scattered around his desk as he replaced charcoal grey with dark blue without even looking up, but none fell to the floor in a noisy clang.
The image depicted a faceless man in a suit; a double-breasted jacket, long, smooth trousers, a navy-and-red-striped tie, and of course, a pair of black oxfords decorated the two-dimensional mannequin.
Just as he finished filling in the red lines of the tie, the door to his office was knocked upon three times. He said a quiet, but still audible, “Come in,” and soon, a bald man in glasses was entering through the doorway.
“Merlin,” Harry greeted, quickly returning to his work with a quick swipe of the black pencil. “I was just about to call for you. I’m almost finished with the collection- we can start making the pieces next week. I think the photoshoot can take place in a month or two. What do you-…” Harry trailed off as he realized Merlin hadn’t said anything. He looked up again and saw an exasperated expression on his personal assistant’s face. “Merlin?” he asked, now concerned. “What happened?”
“Hugo quit,” he said simply, voice roughened slightly by his accent. “Got a job offer from a foreign brand. He’s moving to Italy in a few days.”
Harry blinked. He set down his pencil carefully and folded up his drawing pad. “I… see. Which brand?”
Involuntarily, Harry scoffed. “Hmm. Well, that’s just fine. We can find a replacement model before the photoshoot. Call the agency.”
“I have, Harry,” answered Merlin, because if anyone at Kingsman could get away with calling the lead designer by his first name, it was definitely him. “They said they’ll have some headshots in by tomorrow morning.”
“Excellent,” he murmured, already moving to reopen his pad and start again on the sketch. “Do the others know that Hugo quit?”
“As a matter of fact, Rufus took it rather personally. Charlie and Digby are… consoling him now.”
“Consoling, as in…?”
“They’ve left for a pub.”
“Hn. And Roxanne?”
“She was never particularly close to Hugo. Or any of them, really. She’s fine.”
“Just as well. We’ll have a new model in soon, anyway, and it seems like it will be an easy transition.”
Harry nodded once; Merlin took that as his cue to leave the office. He’d closed the door behind him and Harry mused quietly over his almost-completed piece. Hugo’s resignation had only a minor effect on Harry, he would admit, but there were plenty of young men to take his place as one of Kingsman’s signature models. It would only be a matter of time.
An entire month passed by. No new model.
The finished collection was being painstakingly put together by Harry as Merlin contacted the modeling agency to ask for Hugo’s potential replacements. The next day, they received over twenty headshots of attractive young men. Harry thought they would be done by the end of the hour, a new face for Kingsman picked and sorted out, but unfortunately, his artistic sensibilities got in the way at the worst moment.
None of the proposed models seemed to work. By that, Harry meant that they were… lacking something. The headshots were photographed well, and their makeup and clothing weren’t an issue, but… Well, he didn’t know.
They sent back the headshots and apologized, but the agency wasn’t deterred and sent in twenty more the next day.
The same problem occurred, and they were sent back. By that point, Merlin eyed Harry suspiciously, but held his tongue until the third batch of headshots were received and rejected. That was when he decided to intervene.
“Any particular reason you’re being so difficult?” he asked, glaring at his boss through his glasses. Harry only shrugged.
“It’s more difficult than I imagined it would be.”
“Harry,” Merlin groaned. “You’ve looked at over thirty pictures! Surely one of them is good enough?”
Harry leveled his assistant with a pointed stare. “Merlin, you and I both know ‘good enough’ is not enough for this business.”
At that, Merlin reluctantly nodded. He knew. “Nonetheless… There had to be somebody that stood out to you. What about the models some of our signatures suggested? Some of Charlie’s choices were rather pretty. That Edward fellow even looked a bit like him.”
“I think that’s just it. They were too similar.” Harry sat up in his chair, his face serious. “Merlin, what do all of our signatures have in common?”
The assistant blinked. “I… I suppose they’re… upper class?”
A nod. “And?”
“Also true, though not my point. What else?”
Merlin frowned, unsure of where Harry was going with this. “They model for Kingsman,” he said dryly, intending it as a joke.
Harry, the jerk that he was, only nodded once more, solemnly. “Indeed. Rufus and Digby have worked for us since the start of their careers, and even Charlie had only one other brand before us. Roxanne worked several women’s labels, but all of them were designer. None of our models have known failure, Merlin.” Which didn’t make them bad people, he added in his head, if only to relieve his conscience. “And it shows on their pictures. They’re… haughty. Arrogant. Superior. That’s not the image I want Kingsman to be known for.”
Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Arrogant? A bit harsh, Harry. Roxanne has always struck me as a level-headed young woman.”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” he amended. “But even Roxanne, for all her level-headedness, is a woman used to success. And I notice you didn’t mention any of the other signatures.”
His assistant shrugged. “I prefer Roxanne.”
“Do you now?” his tone was teasing.
“Oh, not like that, you prick.”
Harry was laughing at Merlin’s expense when a knock came at the door. When granted permission, a young man slipped into the office. He was very handsome, with dark wavy hair and a pointed nose.
“Charlie,” said Harry, quickly schooling his features back to neutral. “How may I help you?”
“Mr. Hart,” greeted the model with natural ease. “I was just wondering how the hunt for Hugo’s replacement was going.”
“It’s not,” said Merlin, before Harry could speak. “Apparently we need a loser.”
“I… beg your pardon?” Charlie asked flatly. He looked at Harry for confirmation.
“I didn’t mean that, Merlin,” the designer grumbled. “I simply meant that… Well, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt the brand if we tried something different.”
“Different, Mr. Hart?”
“No offense to you or the others, of course. But even you must have noticed how bloody snobby some of our more recent shoots have come out.”
Charlie stared at him for a few seconds before an overly-practiced expression of total understanding came to his face. “Oh, yes, Mr. Hart. I was going to say something myself, but…” a shrug. “It’s a shame, really. Did you… have any suggestions?”
Harry smiled wryly. “Unless you know a model of a different caliber than our usual sort, I’m afraid we’re sunk on this one.”
Charlie nodded, affecting a thoughtful expression now. “Different caliber… Well, Mr. Hart, I can assure you that I’ll tell the others. Perhaps we can find the perfect candidate then?” He smiled radiantly, charmingly… It failed to appeal to either man, but to his credit, Charlie was undeterred.
“Perhaps,” agreed Harry, who now felt very tired. He watched as Charlie excused himself and walked out the door. Merlin waited until the door clicked shut to turn back to Harry.
“Yes. But he’s a good model.”
“How long until you finish the collection?” he asked, changing the subject rather abruptly.
“I’m almost done, actually. I just need the last model. I can’t make his suits if I don’t know his measurements.”
There was a long pause wherein silence reigned supreme. After a few moments, Merlin nodded.
“I’ll request more headshots tomorrow.”
A few days later, Charlie found Harry and Merlin once again, this time with an even more arrogant smirk on his lips.
“I believe I’ve found your man,” he declared. Merlin raised an eyebrow, as did Harry, so he continued. “I have this… former acquaintance. I think he might be just what you’ve described, Mr. Hart.”
A raised brow and drawn-out sigh were his answers. “Oh, really? His name, then?”
A beat passed before Harry said incredulously, “’Eggsy’?”
“His real name is Gary,” shrugged Charlie. “But he prefers ‘Eggsy’ for whatever reason. It’s the name he’s listed under at his agency.”
“And what makes you think he’s what Harry’s looking for?” That was Merlin.
“He’s definitely not of Kingsman’s usual caliber. In fact, he models streetwear.”
“Streetwear?” repeated Harry, who had to try and hide the disdain in his voice. Obviously, a designer of fine suits and formalwear didn’t think very highly of such… casual clothing. A lot of it didn’t even make sense to him. Why did the youth of today insist on low-slung jeans and insanely-clashing patterns?
Merlin had been tapping away on his tablet from the moment Charlie uttered the (completely ridiculous) name ‘Eggsy’, and he gave a small noise of pleasant surprise from beside Harry. He turned the tablet towards him. “I have to say, he’s fairly decent.”
Harry took one glance at the photo now displayed on Merlin’s tablet, still caught up in his internal ranting about street clothes. Then he did a double-take, staring more closely at the image, which was a simple headshot. The man depicted through millions of tiny pixels was young, though perhaps only a few years younger than Charlie or the other signature models. He had an impressive jawline, square and sharp, and a slight twist to his lips that made it seem like he was always on the verge of grinning. His hair was blond and short, though it was thankfully a relatively normal style, compared to what he’d seen on some other streetwear models. And his eyes… A startling shade of blue (that Harry sincerely hoped wasn’t the product of photo enhancement) sparkled back at him, full of life and teasing.
Eggsy Unwin was more than ‘fairly decent’. He was gorgeous.
He must have been staring for a while, since Merlin cleared his throat and removed the image from his line of sight. This brought Harry back to reality, and he quickly recovered his composure before addressing Charlie.
“And, erm… How do you know this man, might I ask?”
Charlie had the decency to look a little embarrassed. “Well… If you want complete honesty, Mr. Hart, Eggsy and I have… a history.”
“You used to date,” Merlin deduced automatically. Charlie grimaced.
“Yes. Obviously it didn’t work out, but I’m confident we are both professional enough to work together without personal feelings interfering.”
Harry leaned back against his chair, mind reeling. Partly because he was still affected by how unexpectedly beautiful Eggsy seemed, and partly by the knowledge that Charlie used to date a streetwear model. He looked up at his signature model. “Have you spoken to Eggsy about this opportunity?”
“I wanted to get your opinion on him first, Mr. Hart,” answered Charlie. “Well…?”
The designer bit his lip, a habit he’d thought was broken by then, and relented. “Very well. We’ll have to look at more of his previous work, of course, but if we approve, approach him about the job. I’ll give you my final decision in a day or so.”
Charlie’s conceited smirk returned to his features. “Excellent, sir.”
When he left, Merlin spoke in a subdued tone.
“Are you sure about this?”
Harry was quiet. Then, finally, he talked. “Bring me Eggsy Unwin’s portfolio, Merlin.”