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the parting glass

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Save the world, get the girl, be home in time for tea.

That's the dream, innit? At least, it always was for Eggsy, who'd grown up with Jack Bauer and James Bond and Mission: Impossible. Any kind of shoot-em-up with a badass and a sexy leading lady, really. That's what the basic happy ending boiled down to, according to Hollywood: the glory and the girl.

He knows better than anyone that this ain't that kind of movie.

This is the kind of movie where he only sort of gets the girl, who's not even the person he really wanted to see at the end of it all, and gets none of the glory because being a spy apparently means he can't go to the local and tell all the drunks that he's just saved the fucking world, and you're all welcome. He's definitely not home in time for tea, because he's passed out on the Kingsman jet, completely knackered and drooling onto a tartan throw pillow.

(He does, however, find and rescue a majority of the British royal family from the prison cells in Valentine's doomsday bunker, which is pretty surreal. And after escorting the bloody Queen herself back to her private jet, he's then fucking knighted . For real knighted, not Kingsman knighted, where everyone just gets a codename and access to mission files and bulletproof suits. It's fucking fantastic, and it makes Merlin unbelievably sour, so he goes around HQ insisting everyone calls him 'Sir Eggsy' for a solid week.)

He moves his mum into their new house and grins when she bursts into happy tears and hugs him sporadically and for long periods of time while they tour the rooms. He definitely laughs out loud at the noise she makes when she sees her en-suite bathroom, complete with claw foot tub.

“My love,” she whispers, cupping his cheeks and staring up at him with eyes brighter than he's seen in years. “Thank you. Now take your bloody shoes off before you get marks on the carpet.”

He laughs straight into her face but he obeys, because he loves her, and he's absolutely buzzing about finally being able to provide for his mum and sister in the way he's always dreamed.

Five months pass.

Eggsy darts in and out of London for five months, sent to the arse end of the earth to hunt down the spindling tethers of Valentine's web of fucking insanity. The world is completely tits up, all the major dignitaries and leaders having lit up like fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night, and anarchy and hopeless confusion abounds throughout the nations most desperately affected.

Eggsy may or may not feel slightly responsible. Depends on the day, really, and if he's had his Coco Pops for breakfast.

He spends his time infiltrating, gathering information, and ultimately snapping more than a few necks, and when he comes back to London he spends as much time with his mum and sister as humanly possible. He makes sure Dean knows fucking well never to come near him or his ever again, lest he wants the thick crystals of a splintered pint glass lodged in his brain.

He ignores the ache that comes with living in the house three doors down from
Harry's.

He and Roxy see each other at Kingsman, and she's ever the immaculate spy, and there's no doubt in his mind she'll be a kickass Lancelot. She's definitely much too smart to not check a chalet for other enemies and wind up split down the middle, so he thinks she's already got a leg up on her predecessor.

He ribs her good-naturedly, winks and flirts and doesn't mean a word of it, and she indulges him with a roll of her eyes, black patent Brogues slipping noiselessly against the hardwood floors. They see each other outside of HQ as well, in the muddled and multicoloured lights of a hazy club, commiserating over vodka-lemonades. Eggsy usually settles into the lush booth where he sits, watching out of the corner of his eye as all types of blokes try to pull Roxy. Her smile is lethal and the dig of her heel into their foot may as well be, for all that their yelps are always audible over the thumping bass.

Sometimes she indulges her libido, writhing on the dance floor with whatever piece of arse has caught her attention. Amelia makes a sheepish appearance one night, but her faked death is never brought up. Roxy's clearly forgiven her, if the way they end the night with tongues in each other's mouths is any indication. Sebastian, one of the first of their round of recruits to go, makes an appearance one evening and spends most of his time blushing under her attention, stammering as Roxy's hand creeps further and further up his thigh. There's yet another night when he finds her pressed into a corner with that posh girl from their NLP mission, and he's admittedly very impressed by Roxy's prowess. He'd ask her for tips, sometime, because, well.

Eggsy never pulls.

He also never even tries.

Roxy confronts him about it over chips one night while they're seated in the dimly lit shop across from the club, plucking at her meal where it's nestled in greasy newspaper. Her hair is slightly damp with sweat from the heat of a hundred bodies in an enclosed space. “Have you even fucked anyone since you bummed that princess?” she asks, with all the subtlety of a bomb. Eggsy knows from experience just how subtle a bomb can be, and Roxy's a damn dirty one.

Eggsy chokes on his battered fish. “Fuckin' 'ell,” he rasps, thumping a fist into his chest. “You don't mess about.”

She raises an eyebrow in lieu of responding. Eggsy rolls his eyes and waits until his throat is suitably cleared before, grudgingly, giving her an answer. “Nah,” he attempts at casual, and the effect is somewhat ruined by the slur in his voice. “An' for the record, I didn't bum no princess, neither.”

Roxy scoffs. “Oh, please. You forget Merlin sees all of the feeds, and has a surprising penchant for gossip considering he's a. Well. You know.”

Eggsy lets out an aggravated grunt and drops his head into his hands, cradling the rough fabric of his flatbill cap. “Fuckin' shit bastard,” he mumbles into the calloused, dry palms, feeling far too drunk for this conversation. “I would have, right, I fuckin' would have, she was bloody gaggin' for it,” he explains hurriedly, feeling his reputation as being ace in the sack slipping quickly away. “Offered her arse up and everything, but s'not like Valentine kept rubbers and lube in his prison cells, and I don' give a flying fuck if she's a princess or no, I ain't sticking my cock anywhere strange without wrappin' up, first.”

Roxy looks vaguely stunned, hands frozen midair. “That's...oddly considerate of you.”

“Oi,” Eggsy says irritably. “I'm rough, not a fucking shitheap.”

The truth of the matter was: he'd pressed her thighs together, close and tight, and rutted between them while his hand was buried in the crux of her legs, letting friction and deft fingers do all the work until she'd come at least twice and he'd been spent. Then they'd pulled themselves together and, with a kiss bestowed upon his cheek, she was running barefoot down the hallway and was gone, gone, gone.

“You're full of surprises,” Roxy teases, popping another chip into her mouth.

Eggsy's heart lurches in his chest and his answering smile is weak.

Harry's reflection glimmers in his mind, all suave and gentle smiles, and everything in Eggsy aches like the ghost of a lost limb.

 

ooo



The thing is, see, the thing is: Eggsy knows how to keep a secret. He's never grassed anyone, right, no matter who's asking, and he's always prided himself on how tight he can keep things locked up. He never squealed on his bruvs, never told Dean the truth about Harry even when that meaty git had a hand twisted around Eggsy's throat. He didn't even think for a second about ratting out Harry or Kingsman when a train seemed ready to splatter him across the tracks of the Underground.

Eggsy knows how to keep a secret.

Which is why he's never told a soul about the way Dean would appear in the doorway, glowering and greasy, and beckon Eggsy forward. Never said a fucking word about the way two crumpled twenty pound notes would pass hands and Eggsy would be shoved forward, hauled away, and then pushed down to his knees.

He's never told anyone about how he endured being smacked around, having spunk splattered onto his face, his throat bruised and raw from brutal thrusts, and the taste of latex sour on his tongue, all because Dean had threatened him, “'f it ain't you, boy, 's your mum.”

Eggsy would rather be spitroasted by Dean's nasty lot than let them get a hold of his mum, so he keeps his mouth shut (except for when it's being forced open) and keeps Dean's wallet fat and happy.

He gets a few funny looks from the birds and guys he's shagged when he staunchly insists on condoms, no matter what, but as far as sexual standards go he doesn't think he's being unreasonable. With the way Dean volleys him about from shithead to shithead, he's taking no chances with anybody's health.

So when Tilde offers up her arse, all heart shaped and pale and fucking perfect, Eggsy swallows down the hefty temptation she presents and asks after condoms and lube. She gives him a confused look and wiggles her bum backwards enticingly, trying to persuade him to make do without.

There's only one person in the world Eggsy would've trusted to go bare, and he's not the one sprawled across satin sheets. And he never will be, because he's—

Eggsy puts his foot down with Tilde and doesn't explain himself, just ruts between her thighs and tries not to think of a lithe body in a bespoke suit.

(He thinks Harry knew. Harry knew everything God damned about him, probably had a dossier on every single shit Eggsy ever took, so it wouldn't surprise him if Harry knew about the time he's spent on his knees, gagging on cocks and his shame, considering the throwaway comment in the pub about finding another rentboy was what set him off. He thinks Harry knew, and never said, and Eggsy misses him and his fucking discretion.)

He keeps his secrets.

 

ooo

 

Five months.

For five months, Eggsy and Roxy and all the other Kingsman agents disperse themselves across the world, going wherever society is crumbling the fastest. He's only twenty-four years old, he's not even officially a Kingsman, and some days he feels weary down into his bones; wonders how Harry did it for so long. Understands, if only in a distant way, why the former Arthur was ground down until his faith in humanity was brittle, and why he was so quick to fall for Valentine's silver tongue.

There's no denying the feeling he gets when he knows he's kept the world from falling apart, at least a little bit. It almost drowns out the voice in his head that sounds like Dean, cursing him and telling him he's worthless, that he'll fail, that he's the reason Harry was gunned down outside a church in the States.

Almost.

He develops what Roxy and Merlin refer to loudly and scornfully as a 'death wish.' Which is just ridiculous, because it's not like he's taking unnecessary risks to his own life. He's not throwing himself into danger without crafting a careful plan, without calculating the odds and taking the ones best in his favour. He kicks arse and takes fucking names, him, and he's fucking good at it.

He's maybe a bit more careless about the wounds he sustains than he used to be, but it's not as if he's running towards death, it's just—well.

He'd rather be with Harry.

At the end of it all, it'd be worth the pain of dying if he got to see Harry again.

Which doesn't mean he's trying to get himself killed (thanks a lot for that vote of confidence, Merlin), it just means that the prospect of dying isn't as scary as it once was. All he wants, honest, is Harry by his side and in his ear and in his bed—

If wishes were horses, his mum used to say, tutting at him. So Eggsy nuts up and goes to Washington, to St. Petersburg, to Mexico City, even escorts a handful of very famous and disoriented celebrities back to Los Angeles and Malibu, and does his job and keeps his mum and sister safe and secure.

So, yeah.

Five whole bloody months.

That's about how long it takes for everything to go to shit.

It starts when Merlin calls him to the dining room, gesturing for Eggsy to follow him from the front of the shop. His shoulders are unusually tense and his spine is straight, so Eggsy follows without complaint or question, despite the look he throws to Roxy over his shoulder. She manages to convey a shrug with just the twitch of her eyebrows, and he's going to have to ask her how she does that, one day.

He saunters into the room behind Merlin, who comes to a stop in front of the mirror, hands tucked around his clipboard. “Eggsy,” he says, voice calm and brogue thick. “Please, close the door.”

The door locks into place with a quiet 'snick' as Eggsy pushes it shut. Merlin sweeps a hand outward, open palm stopping to point at the chair to the right of Arthur's. “Have a seat.”

Eggsy grits his teeth together. His limbs feel heavy and locked into place, but he manages to manoeuvre them into the Galahad chair. He sits down slowly, legs sprawled apart and shoulders slumped, but his body feels tense and coiled, ready for a brawl. “What's going on, Merlin?”

Merlin's fingers splay open and clasp closed again, drumming against his clipboard. It's a pique of nerves that he rarely displays, for all that is face is cool and collected. Eggsy sits up a bit straighter in the chair.

“A new Arthur has been appointed,” Merlin states. “One decidedly less likely to attempt poisoning you, I'm sure you'll be pleased to know.” His eyes go out of and back into focus quickly, and his lips give a small quirk upwards. “But perhaps such unfortunate past events are best left forgotten.”

Eggsy blinks at him, face twisting in confusion. “I thought you was gonna be Arthur?”

Merlin lets out a surprised chuckle and tilts his head with a modest air. “Not exactly my area, Eggsy, and I've no doubt the newest King will lift the mantle back to its former glory. Currently unable to join us, I'm afraid, but he has requested that I make a slight change in roster.” His fingers twitch again. “It's fitting to note that though your father never survived long enough to become Lancelot, in traditional Arthurian lore, Galahad was Lancelot's son.”

A deafening white noise has washed over Eggsy, and he can only watch with sick apprehension as Merlin approaches and lays a hand upon his shoulder.

“Welcome to the Round Table,” he says, eyes glinting suspiciously behind the lenses of his glasses. “Galahad.”

Ain't that a kick in the balls.

Eggsy's body, already tense, locks up completely as all of the air in his lungs leaves his body without so much as an exhalation. He's staring sightlessly up at Merlin, lips trembling where they're pressed tightly together. He can't fucking breathe, can't possibly shoulder the weight of Harry's legacy when the last thing he ever did was let him down. The way he'd deserved the disappointed turn of Harry's mouth, the harsh bite of his words, and how they were the last things Harry ever gave to him.

It haunts Eggsy every fucking time he shuts his eyes, even just to blink.

“Galahad?” he manages to choke around the bile rising slowly in his throat.

Merlin's smile is gentle, unwavering in its understanding, and his hand is an anchor. “You must know,” he says softly, “that Harry would be so proud of you.”

The way he says it is full of quiet confidence, as though he's no doubt of the truth or the weight his words hold, and Eggsy barely manages to keep his shit together.

He squares his shoulders even as the tears bite, hot and shameful, at the backs of his eyes, and he stands. Merlin's hand slips easily from his shoulder. “Thanks for the thought, bruv, but if there's one thing I learnt from Harry before he—” He can't finish the sentence, can't put the reality of it into the world, and so he lets it wither in his throat. He licks his lips and forges on, an attempt at a smirk twisting up his mouth. “It's that Harry weren't ever proud'a me.”

Something in his eyes (probably the fucking tears, Christ) gives him away, because suddenly Merlin looks taken aback. “Eggsy, surely you—”

Eggsy bows his head and turns his body toward the door. He wants to leave this conversation, leave the fucking room, get as far away from this place as he can. “I'll see you at 0800 tomorrow, guv. Need to celebrate with me mum, and all.”

“Eggsy,” Merlin tries again, and only because he respects the wanker so fucking much does Eggsy bother turning back around. The tech agent looks as composed as ever, but there's a pitying look in his eyes that makes his stomach lurch. “Galahad. Make it 0930.”

Eggsy tips his head and exits, hands clasped tightly behind his back. His nails bite into his palms. He nods to Gawain as they pass in the hall, murmurs a farewell to Leodegrance and Kay where they stand in the store front discussing the latest kevlar upgrades, and holds the door open for the elderly woman who delivers their supply of pocket squares.

The temperature outside is shockingly mild for mid-February and actually quite lovely, the sun peeking out in steady measures from where it's nestled between the clouds.

He manages to get off of the street and into a small alley before his stomach revolts and he's sick all over the wall and part of a rubbish bin. “Fuck,” he gasps, pulling in ragged breaths. Coco Pops are fucking awful coming back up. His palms scrape and cut open when his knees give way and he catches himself against the rough stone of the brick. “Fucking, fucking fuck,” he sobs, pulling his glasses off and pressing the bloodied heel of his palm against one eye. The frames clatter to the ground, somewhere by his knees.

There's nothing he's ever felt before quite like the rolling, bitter ache deep within his gut. Everything within him is screaming out about how wrong it is, to be given Harry's place when it's a spot that belongs to Harry, to sit at the Round Table and know that he's disappearing beneath the shadow of fucking ace espionage that Harry's cast over him. He curls into his knees, digs his shaking fingers into his hair, and muffles a scream into the costly fabric of his trousers.

Who knows how long he crouches there, feeling agony bursting in every nerve, but eventually there's the quiet swish of feet on pavement as they approach.

“Stand up,” Roxy tells him, bracing one hand on his bicep and another between his shoulder blades. “Come on, then, up you get. Leodegrance is going to murder you when he sees the state of your trousers.”

“Lancelot,” he bites out. “Roxy, they—Galahad.”

“I know,” she whispers, and steps forward to hug him despite the grime of the alleyway, despite the smell of vomit on his breath. “I know, Eggsy.”

“I miss him so much,” he says, fists clenched at his sides as to avoid smearing blood and dirt across the grey of her suit jacket. “'e's fuckin' dead, and I miss him so much.”

Roxy, bless her, stands there and holds him even as if feels like the last vestiges of his sanity are dripping through the cracks of his fingers and dirtying the pavement further. Eventually, she whispers Come on, let's get you home, and leads him to a taxi that patiently waits outside the tailor. He's exhausted, gutted right down to his bones, and allows the embarrassment of being escorted around like this.

She leaves him in the company taxi with one last squeeze to his arm as she hands him his glasses, and then the busy streets of London are blurring by, colours dull for all their abundance, and Eggsy just barely reminds himself to breathe.

The cab pulls up outside of his house.

He exits. Waves goodbye to Ector. Stands on the curb and watches the tail lights twist around the corner and disappear.

His feet carry him to Harry's house.

He still has the key he'd nicked before he'd gone to confront Chester King, eyes hot and burning and mind screaming at how fucking unfair it was that Harry was gone. Its weight is warm and solid in his injured hand, and it still turns in the lock.

He opens the door, and nearly collapses in the foyer.

Harry's sunk into the walls, the air, utterly and completely.

Eggsy trails his fingers over the framed displays of butterflies, pinned with their wings spread wide. Runs his eyes over the kettle still perched on the stove, waiting for its owner to use it once again. Rolls his eyes at that creepy fucking dog that was perched above the toilet and stifles a laugh, because only Harry was mad enough to stuff a dead pet and leave him in the shitter. As a reminder.

In the toilet.

He avoids that red room, the one splattered with gossip rags, because he still hears the crack of a gunshot when he so much as glances through the doorway.

He wanders throughout the house, smiling at the strange collections that Harry seems to have had, wondering why, exactly, he owns Star Trek collectible plates and put them next to his authentic, original sketch of Winnie the Pooh.

That's a first draft drawing of the famous 'Pooh Sticks' scene,"  he imagines Harry telling him, standing warm and close against Eggsy's side. “E.H. Shepard is so vastly under-appreciated in comparison to that ghastly animation the 70's brought about. I loan it out to Sotheby's every now and again, for viewings.”

Eggsy smiles. “And them plates? Never took you for a Trekkie, guv.”

Ah,” Harry would say, peering closely at the tableware in question. “Well, naturally, I own those because, dear boy, it was a fucking spectacular series. I suppose I will always be disappointed that I never met a Vulcan.”

“Ol' Chester boy doesn't count?” Eggsy asks. He forgets himself and turns his head, fully expecting to see those warm brown eyes glinting down at him, to get a waft of the spice of Harry's aftershave.

There's no one there.

He's just waiting on a ghost.

He shakes off the disappointment and curls a hand over the bannister, making his way up the stairs. He knows that to the right is the spare bedroom. Eggsy remembers falling asleep between the sheets in that room not too long before the entire world went arse over teakettle; he remembers quietly wanking in that bedroom, covers thrown off and skin sweat-slick, biting his lip to hold in the moan and thinking about Harry, just down the hall—

Just down the hall.

He gravitates to the open bedroom door, the one room in this house that he's never before entered. He stands in the doorway and drinks it all in.

Harry's room is a study in blue, white, and beige. The walls are a warm navy colour where the sunlight spills across them, reflecting across the numerous and inexplicable portraits of birds that line the wall behind his headboard. A plush looking armchair sits to the right, all taupe and tartan, with a magazine flipped halfway through still spread across the seat. There are small tables on either side, but only one of them has an empty glass long since forgotten, a remote for the telly, and a small bottle of hand crème.

Eggsy lets out a hard breath through his nostrils, and crosses to the left side of the bed. When he sits, the mattress depresses beneath him but doesn't bounce, and Harry had never really struck Eggsy as a memory foam type of guy.

Come, now,” he imagines Harry saying. “I'm hardly as antiquated as you're imagining. I do in fact live in this century, and I thank Christ every day that it's a century with phenomenal bedding. The pillows are the same, in fact, and they provide an excellent curvature support for your neck and shoulders.”

Eggsy shakes his head hard, willing the voice out of his brain, and then lets his gaze continue to wander. There's a large chest of drawers nestled between two floor-to-ceiling bookcases across from the bed, and that's also where the fucking amazing telly is mounted on the wall. It's the only blatant extravagance in the room, though he wouldn't put it past Harry to have a number of first edition novels scattered about the place.

Also, the drapes manage to make themselves look rather posh.

He stands up, knees wobbling only slightly, and shuffles over to the dresser so that he can run his fingers over the brass handles and the smooth polish of the wood. He pulls open the drawer that's second from the top and finds himself staring down at an impeccably folded and colour coordinated assortment of tees.

“You mad fuck,” he murmurs sadly, affectionately. His gaze is drawn to the battered and worn, but still utterly recognisable, RAMC insignia that stares up from the top layer of shirts. He pulls it out and finds the fabric to be threadbare and incredibly soft, and imagines Harry wearing this shirt as he pads around his house; underneath his posh suit while he's kicking the shit out of a drug kingpin; late at night when he's lying in bed, drinking tea and listening to the news and reading a book, or maybe one of those trashy newspapers he collects.

Eggsy holds the shirt up against his chest. It seems to be about his size, if only a bit tight across the shoulders. He hesitates, but his hands are already moving of their own accord.

When he brings it up to his nose, there's the faint bite of Harry's cologne, and it nearly makes his knees give way again. He leans heavily into the dresser, making the bottles of aftershave and the small pot of loose coins rattle around. That's where he stays, propped up by the sturdy presence of a chest of drawers, until the heat of his breath against the shirt becomes stifling. His arms fall, and after another moment of running his thumb over the insignia, he makes a decision.

He grabs one of the bottles of cologne and uses the shirt to wrap it up safely, and leaves the house as quickly as he can, all the while fighting the sensation that a ghost is following him out.

If he falls asleep that night in Harry's shirt, surrounded by the smell of Harry's cologne, and hugging onto a pillow like it's someone long since out of reach, well.

That's really none of anybody's fucking business.

 

ooo

 

The days pass, as they tend to do, and about a week after his promotion he's sent off to a small village in Costa Rica with Gawain (who was remarkably good looking with his dark skin, bright green eyes, and with the easy confidence of someone who knows it.) Older than Eggsy but still young at only thirty-three, he never fails to promise violent retribution every time Eggsy refers to him as 'old man.' He's handsome enough, Eggsy supposes distantly, but there's also the chance that his standards for attraction have been set too high in light of his most recent heartache. Still, they get on like a house on fire, and the easy snark and quick jabs help Eggsy's emotional equilibrium balance out a bit.

(It helps significantly that Chester King had apparently despised Gawain, the racist and classist old coot, and that the feeling had been more than mutual. It's a sentiment that Eggsy finds he appreciates in a fellow agent.)

Currently, they're mucked up to their elbows in the red clay of the rainforest, shrouded by the detritus of fallen trees as Eggsy peers through the sight of a sniper rifle and carefully tracks the movements of their last target; a man at the top of the exotic meat black market with a penchant for hunting down big cat cubs and selling them to “adventurous eaters” and the occasional megalomaniac as 'security measures.' It's a bit out of their normal purview, but apparently Kingsman had credits that extended towards whatever bizarre favour the client needed doing. So, five head-shots and seventeen arrests later, here they are.

“I'd say I can't fuckin' believe there's a black market for jaguar cubs,” Eggsy murmurs to Gawain, “but I've seen way too much shit on this job to think there isn't a market for everything.”

Gawain hums in agreement. “It does get a bit dodgier when you consider the drastically declining jaguar population here, since the mothers tend to get poached as well. Made into fur coats and throw rugs, all that sort of ugly indulgence.” He peered up at Eggsy over his spotter's scope. “As I recall, there used to be quite a number of panthers in Costa Rica, as well, but I suppose demand outweighed supply in that instance.”

“Should take 'im back and make him into a rug for the new Arthur,” Eggsy says, smirking. “A nice welcome present, yeah?”

Gawain tuts at him. “I don't believe he'd much appreciate that, Galahad. Inspired idea, though. I heard he once wrestled seven tigers and a shark, all at once.”

Eggsy can't contain his snort. “I heard he made the ol' Iron Lady cry.”

“Piloted a single man shuttle to another dimension just to punch an extra-terrestrial.”

“The real reason The Beatles broke up,” Eggsy says, dangerously close to laughing out loud and blowing their cover. “Yoko Ono's just a myth.”

“Gentlemen,” Merlin's voice cuts in over their comms, effectively bringing the conversation to a swift death. “Might I remind you that not only are you on a special assignment as a favour to the President of Costa Rica, but that I am, in fact, still here, and that Arthur will be appraised of this transmission when your objective has been completed? While I'm sure he would appreciate the...confidence you're displaying in his assumed skill set, do try and keep if off my bloody mission report.”

Gawain clears his throat and stiffens his shoulders, far more likely to subside under the glowering countenance of Merlin than Eggsy will ever be. He supposes saving the world together builds a bond that transcends normal agent hierarchy, since Merlin's never called him out on the way Eggsy tends to bite back. “Affirmative, Merlin. My apologies. Galahad, mark at 500 meters, wind speed 2 miles per hour with a north—no, north east drift. Fire when ready.”

“Solid,” Eggsy says, waiting for the poacher to clear the line of trees. His index finger lifts and hovers over the trigger, and once he has a clear view, the poacher's head in the open, he takes the shot.

The crack of gunfire echoes all around them and is accentuated by the explosion of brain and skull that mists red and pink onto the foliage and forest floor. Eggsy wrinkles his nose. “Rank,” he complains, and rids the rifle of the shell casing. “Sorry about the 'Arthur' thing, Merlin,” he adds, tapping a finger against the frame of his glasses.

“Not to worry,” Merlin says, voice prickled with static from where the dense forest obstructs their signal the tiniest amount. “Though for what it's worth, lads, Arthur does currently have over two hundred and thirty kills accounted for under his solo missions alone, so perhaps it's best to keep your idiocy to a minimum?”

Gawain looks so thoroughly chastised, it's as though he's been given a good tongue lashing by a school governess, and he busies himself with tidying up their area and removing any trace of their existence. Eggsy, however, whistles low as he breaks down his rifle. “Two-hundred thirty? Fuck me.”

“Your approval will be noted and, I'm sure, vastly appreciated.”

Merlin sounds amused, maybe more than is really warranted, but he won't let Eggsy in on the joke no matter how much he pokes and prods.

“You'll find out soon enough,” he promises.

Eggsy isn't sure he likes the sound of that.

 

ooo

 

It's a mild Tuesday afternoon near the end of March when things go spectacularly straight to hell.

The day starts off decently enough, with Eggsy and Roxy standing on the stairs that lead out to the back-gardens and the exercise track, watching the recruits for the Lamorak and Bedivere positions try and navigate the grounds with reluctant puppies in tow. JB, perched and panting happily against Eggsy's leg, gives howling little barks every time the gaggle of potential Kingsman jostles past.

Roxy's dog, Churchill, is perfectly poised and silent, eyes bright and attentive, and it's only when his head swivels to the side that they even realize Merlin has joined them. “Lancelot,” he greets, “A moment of your time, please.” His gaze flickers over to Eggsy for the barest of seconds before he trains his eyes on his clipboard. “I'm certain Galahad can handle sole supervision of the recruits for the time being.”

Roxy pulls a face at Eggsy when Merlin turns back to the door, shrugging her shoulders when he raises his eyebrows at her in question. She tilts her chin up and, spine straight, strides after Merlin.

She never returns.

The newbies finish their three mile jog, looking disgruntled and red faced, breath puffing into misty clouds around their hears. A few of them look as if they're going to collapse, and there's one girl who's slung her puppy around her neck like a scarf because the poor little beast is nearly wheezing. “Not bad,” Eggsy allows, putting on an air of nonchalance. “Though all of you need to shave off at least three minutes from your times. Marta,” he directs towards the girl with the corgi puppy panting into her collarbone. His mouth twitches up, thinking of a pocket-sized JB nestled tightly in his body armour. “Good thinking, working around the rules without breaking them despite coming across a problem.” He can't resist the urge to wink at her, and revels in the violent blush that takes over her otherwise stoic face.

Nineteen sets of eyes all redirect their gaze to a spot over his shoulder, almost simultaneously, and Eggsy becomes aware of a presence looming behind him. It's Merlin, looking tired and withdrawn, and he still won't meet Eggsy's gaze, pretending instead to be occupied with his clipboard. “Galahad,” he rasps. He clears his throat. “A word. As for you lot,” he says to the recruits, “consider yourself thoroughly dismissed. Well done,” he adds, then turns and strides brusquely through the doors once more.

Eggsy's gut is churning with worry and anticipation and it makes his chest feel tight in a way that he doesn't particularly enjoy. He nods a farewell to the recruits and follows Merlin through the sprawling manor, breaking into a half jog just to keep up with the magician's loping gait. Their footsteps echo in the empty halls, portraits of British royalty the only witnesses to their walk.

Merlin doesn't say a word, and the knot of unease grows larger.

They come to a stop outside of two large, ornately carved wooden doors. Merlin grips the French style door handles and holds, but doesn't make a move to open. He shuts his eyes tightly and tilts his head over his shoulder. Eggsy can't help but track the frown lines that carve their way next to the down-turn of his mouth, the unhappy clench of his eyelids.

“For what it's worth to you,” Merlin rumbles, voice hoarse and low. “I'm sorry about this.” He throws the door wide open and—

And.

There.

Sitting at the head of a large, circular table with his hands folded neatly in front of him.

Harry.

Eggsy draws his gun between one breath and the next, thumbing quickly at the safety and levelling the weapon at the seated man. “What the fuck is goin' on 'ere?” he demands, the natural rough of his accent slipping into his voice in his distress. “Merlin, what the fuck , who the fuck are you?”

The imposter's mouth thins. “Eggsy—” he begins.

“Shut the fuck up,” Eggsy orders, beginning to move forward with caution. “I asked you a fuckin' question, mate. Who. The fuck. Are you?

The man wilts in his chair, shoulders turning just like Harry's, and Eggsy is going to find whoever sent this motherfucker here and he is going to shoot their fucking kneecaps out before garrotting them, because this bastard is too good, too believable, and it's ripping his heart out. “Please, Eggsy, I—”

“How do you know my name?” he snarls, coming to a stop five feet away from the man. “Ain't nobody but Roxy and Merlin know that name. You been watchin' me, yeah? Finding my weaknesses, yeah?” The visage of Harry is blurring and bright around the edges, and Eggsy can't even concentrate long enough to be embarrassed about the tears gathering quickly in his eyes. “I don't know who the fuck you think you are, bruv, or what you got on me and Kingsman, but this shit ain't funny.”

An arm suddenly winds its way around his throat and pulls him back, pushing down onto his windpipe. He almost drops the gun like a fucking amateur, but it's plucked easily from his grip and he hears the quiet 'snikt' of the saftey being switched on again.

“Eggsy,” Merlin soothes into his ear. “You need to calm down. Breathe, boy. In and out.”

He's hyperventilating, Eggsy realizes distantly, chest heaving and lungs catching and he's scrabbling at Merlin's toned forearm like it's the only thing that can possibly ground him in reality. He thinks he might be embarrassed by all of this, later. He takes sharp, shaking breaths in through his nose and they punch back out through his mouth until the tremors leave his body.

The imposter in the chair is gripping at the armrests, knuckles white, like he wants to get up and cross over to Eggsy and it's taking everything in his body to keep from doing so.

“It's him, Eggsy,” Merlin tells him softly, laden with regret.“It's Harry. DNA will confirm it, but you have my word. For whatever that may be worth to you now.”

He buries his face quickly into the cashmere of Merlin's jumper. “But I saw-!” he protests, voice raw and muffled.

“You saw him take a bullet to the head, that's true,” Merlin agrees. There's a pressure against the back of Eggsy's head, like he's laid his cheek against it. “Luckily for Kingsman, our surveillance glasses are heavily bulletproofed. He was wounded, but he never died, Eggsy. But it was imperative that Valentine believed he had.”

Eggsy takes a few more gulping breaths before he shoves at Merlin's arm. Its grip loosens immediately and Merlin steps back, hands still outstretched and eyes wary, as if Eggsy is a bomb needing to be defused. Eggsy forces his gaze back to...back to Harry.

Harry, whose mouth is still tight and unhappy, his eyes large and slightly damp, looking the least composed that Eggsy has ever seen him. One eye, his left, is milky white and scarred, a line of puckered and recently healed tissue trailing along the outer corner and over his temple before disappearing into his hairline.

“Your eye,” Eggsy says shortly, not knowing what else to say.

“It seems even bulletproof glass is affected at a range of less than two metres,” Harry says, fingers drifting up to rub self-consciously at the scar. “The glass absorbed much of the impact but the proximity to my eye had some...unforeseen consequences.”

“Impact damage to the cornea, conjunctiva, iris, and pupil,” Merlin rattles off from behind them. “Miraculously, with no notable damage to the optic nerve, meaning we'll be able to cosmetically reconstruct the outermost part of the eye without risking permanent blindness.”

“You can do that?” Eggsy asks. He doesn't take his eyes off of Harry.

Merlin scoffs. “We're Kingsman. Of course we bloody can.”

There's an internal wail of sirens going on in Eggsy's head at the moment as he continues to stare at Harry, so he can't bring himself to respond to Merlin beyond a non-committal hum. The rage is ebbing in its wake, resignation settling in and dulling the screaming panic.

When he asks Merlin, “How long have you known that he's alive?” he doesn't turn to face him. The answer will be painful enough without having to see the expression on Merlin's face as he gives it, Eggsy's sure.

There's a heavy pause, and then: “Since the moment he was shot.”

Eggsy feels his shoulders lose their straight line, curving forward with weariness. He doesn't want to even look at Harry, doesn't want to have the betrayal of trust so blatantly seated before him. But God help him, he doesn't want to look anywhere else, for fear that Harry will disappear into the ether yet again.

“Guess I wasn't important enough to know, yeah?” he asks.

Harry's mouth parts briefly before compressing back together. “Have a seat,” he requests quietly, gesturing to the spot to his right.

Eggsy fights the sigh that wants to escape him, fights the way his entire body is aching to collapse into a puddle on the expensive rug beneath his feet, and squares his shoulders back and takes a seat. His spine aligns with the back of the chair and he twists his fingers together, tightly, in his lap as Merlin comes to stand behind Harry's shoulder.

“Eggsy,” Harry begins, looking at him with those mismatched eyes. It's unnerving, for more reasons than the heavy scarring, to have all of that attention laid so thoroughly upon him, so Eggsy trains his eyes to gaze through the two men standing before him. “You must know how truly sorry I am for the deception, for allowing you to think that I—”

Eggsy can't listen to this. He can't. “I understand,” he interrupts smoothly, allowing the shock of the words to silence Harry mid-stream. “It was a delicate matter that needed to be handled with the utmost discretion, sirs. I apologize for my inappropriate outburst, and for drawing a weapon on you, Arthur, sir.”

There's a brief moment of silence, then Merlin goes into a drawling spiel about what Eggsy can expect from Harry as the figurehead of Kingsman, sliding papers across the large oak table for him to sign and swear to, aligning himself permanently with Harry Hart, alias 'Arthur.'

He listens, but the words don't register. He reads, but the letters blur. He drags the pen across them in an approximation of a signature, barely comprehending the stipulations of the contract. It's not as if they can fuck him over any worse than he has been already, he figures.

Harry lets out a small sigh through his nose, regarding Eggsy with those too-keen eyes. Even half blind, he can still see through Eggsy's bluster and bullshit, and it's been so long since he was underneath that watchful, knowing gaze that it's as if all of his nerves are on fire.

When all the T's are crossed and all the I's have been dotted, he stands as quickly as he'd sat down, tugging at the lapels of his suit. His left arm drops and his fingers press into the table, giving him something sturdy to balance against. “Gentlemen,” he intones, voice flowing more smoothly than he thought it would. “If you'll excuse me, I'm afraid I'm going to require a few days off. I find that I'm...” He lets his eyes focus on Harry's for the first time in nearly an hour. There's a level of impropriety he's displaying that he knows, were he any of the other Kingsman agents, would be unacceptable. “Emotionally compromised. Unsuitable for active duty, as it were. I'm sure you understand.”

He pivots on the heel of one Oxford, all of his muscles tensed for flight, but gently calloused fingers slip against the delicate skin of his wrist. Eggsy freezes in place as Harry murmurs, “I was hoping for a word in private—”

He pulls his arm sharply to his side, ripping himself away from that tender touch. He's going to be sick, he can feel it rolling in his gut and threatening to churn into his throat, and he needs to get out of this fucking room as quickly as possible. He strides to the doors, pausing when he's got the handles gripped between sweat-slick palms. He glances over his shoulder, eyes and voice horribly, terribly cold when he says, “That won't be necessary.” He throws open the doors and slips through.

When he turns back around to pull them shut, he glances at Harry, who's standing now with a defeated set to his shoulders and a stoniness to his face.

He can't resist one last petty shot, and he allows all of the malice and hurt he's feeling to seep into the word he leaves them with.

Arthur,” he sneers.

The doors slam shut.