Eggsy's voice seems far away, even for a phonecall; it takes far too long for Harry to realise he's holding his phone upside down, and then he feels stupid.
"Mmm," he says when he's got it the right way up, then frowns because that's not what he meant to say. He tries again and manages, "Good morning," with his voice dry and croaky with interrupted sleep.
"Yeah, sorry, bruv, I know it's like the fucking crack of dawn."
"Not at all," Harry tells him after groping blindly for the glass of stale water beside his bed and taking a quick sip to unstick his mouth. He tries opening his eyes but the blinding morning sunlight knifing in between the crack in the curtains is the most offensive thing he's ever seen and he drags his duvet up over his head, resisting the urge to groan. "Is something the matter?"
"Look, I have to ask you this fucking huge favour, alright? Merlin's called me in, emergency, I gotta leave like right now."
"On your first weekend off in months? Hardly seems fair."
"Yeah, well, get a ouija board and tell it to Richmond Valentine. World's still a fucking mess, innit, Rox just got sent off to some arsehole end of Siberia and she's literally just come back last night from mopping up the riots in Crete."
It's ridiculous, really, to feel guilty, but Harry feels it anyway, amongst a whole tangled mess of other things: useless, old, impatient to get back to training, frustrated at Merlin pulling rank as the acting Arthur and telling him no, sometimes with a finger pointed in Harry's face that would get immediately broken if he were anybody else in the world. He gets a bit of a pass, considering the stress he's under, but the world still feels like it's burning in far too many scattered pockets amongst the uneasy peace considering how long it's been since V-Day, and it's impossible to tell when it's all going to end, or how many friendships are going to remain intact by the time it's over.
"Swear down I wouldn't ask if there was anyone else, I know you don't need no more hassle when you're still getting better."
"Nonsense, I'm as good as new." Almost. Sort of. Not counting the rainbow of painkillers he keeps in his bathroom cabinet now for his shiny new migraines, or the twisted silvery web of scarring reaching from his eye to his temple where the bulletproof glasses couldn't quite live up to their name at such close range, or this new need to be sleeping for at least ten hours every day when he was used to scraping by on four. "I'm entirely at your disposal. What is it you need?"
There's a knock on the front door then, and again Harry groans, dreading the thought of throwing his covers down and facing the sunlight at this unholy hour of the morning.
"Eggsy, can you hold? I think the milkman might be at the door."
"Yeah, no, that's me."
Oh. Well, that probably makes slightly more sense than the milkman, given that it's not even 6am yet. "Just a moment," Harry tells him, then taps the screen to end the call and rolls clumsily out of bed, managing to get his slippers on the right feet on the second try and stumbling to the stairs.
"Morning," Eggsy says with a big apologetic smile when Harry cracks the front door open and squints at him. He's holding a brown paper bag in one hand, printed with the logo of the coffee shop down the main road and smelling like rich espresso and maple pecan pastry heaven, and his other arm is cradling his sleeping little sister against his hip. "Mum's on shift already. Can you look after Daisy?"
What. "I'm not sure I'm qualified," Harry says desperately, trying to think of both a good excuse to get out of it, and someone, literally anyone, who might be available to do it instead.
"You think I know what the fuck I'm doing? You survived getting shot in the fucking face, you can manage sixteen hours with a child. I bought you breakfast," Eggsy adds hopefully, like that's enough to tip the scales, thrusting the bag under Harry's nose.
Harry makes his mouth go tight to show how unhappy he is with the arrangement but still grumpily takes the bag, opening the door wider and waving Eggsy inside.
"Merlin," Harry says urgently, turning on the communications link in his glasses.
"Yes, what it is?" He sounds like he's on the edge and half a second from flinging himself over it. "Can it wait?"
"How do you stop a baby from crying?"
"Depends on why it's crying, I imagine. Did you take something from it? Hit it with your bicycle? What's the context?"
"I have absolutely no idea why she's crying, she just woke up screaming."
"Maybe I'm missing something and there's a really obvious answer," Merlin says in that fake-casual voice he saves especially for his more sarcastic comments, "but why the merry hell is there a baby in your house?"
"Well, there wouldn't be if you hadn't sent her brother to Glasgow."
"Oh." He sounds vaguely apologetic when he speaks again, which is a start at least. "How old is she?"
"For fuck's sake, Harry, that's not a baby, that person can probably speak in sentences. Ask her what she wants. I have to go."
"No, don't g—" Too late.
He hovers there awkwardly in the doorway for a while longer, looking helplessly at Daisy's tiny shaking sobbing back, before taking a deep breath for courage and going over to sit on the edge of the spare bed where she's tucked in tightly so she can't fall out
"Good morning, Daisy," he tries. She just howls louder, peeking at him through the blonde hair falling over her eyes before twisting to hide her face in the pillow. "May I get you a drink?"
"I want Eh-heh-hegsy," she wails, stuttering the name into a domino fall of sobs that would almost be funny if it weren't so horrible and piteous.
"So do I," Harry says, because he's too frazzled to think straight. "Perhaps you'd like something to eat?"
"I want a wee."
"Merlin," Harry says, desperately fumbling the line open again, "help."
There's a wobbly, suspicious sort of truce between them and it feels as brittle as the pinky wafers Harry finds languishing in the back of a kitchen cupboard.
"Listen," he tells Daisy, folding up like a concertina to sit cross-legged on the living room rug beside her, "it's far too late for elevenses and far too early for lunch, but time is a man-made construct and really doesn't mean a thing, so let's eat biscuits."
"Eggsy likes these," she informs him. "He eats them like this—" and she grabs one from the decorative little plate and shoves it sideways into her mouth, pressing her cheeks out from within so she looks like Wallace and Gromit. "He can put a Wagon Wheel in his mouth. A whole one. And it don't even break."
The impressive size of Eggsy's mouth and his interest in stuffing things into it is not information Harry needed to hear from a three year old, but now it's there and he's not sure he'll ever get away from it. He looks back at the television to distract himself, trying to figure out what on earth is going on. "What are we watching?"
"That's Flora and Fauna and Merryweather," Daisy says confidently, shoving another wafer in her mouth and spraying pink crumbs when she talks. "They look after Briar Rose now but her name ain't Briar Rose really cos it's Aurora and she's a princess but Maleficent put a spell on her so she's gonna die but Merryweather put a spell on her so she won't and now she lives in the woods so she can't hurt her finger and in a bit there's an owl and he pretends to be a prince then she meets the prince and his name's Philip then Flora and Fauna and Merryweather make her go home to the castle and she ain't very pleased about it then she gets stabbed in her finger and she falls asleep and everyone falls asleep and Maleficent kidnaps Prince Philip and then Flora and Fauna and Merryweather rescue him and he goes and there's thorns and Maleficent's a dragon and he stabs her then Aurora wakes up and they get married I think but you don't see that bit."
"Good lord," Harry says in surprise, staring at the screen where a cartoon birthday cake is collapsing into a heap. "Do we even need to finish watching it? You appear to have it memorised."
Daisy gives him a black look and furtively slides the remote control under the edge of the sofa behind her.
"Fine." Harry raises his hands in surrender and leans back against the sofa cushions, settling down to watch the first Disney animation of his life. "Bloody hell, this is Tchaikovsky."
"And don't say bloody hell."
"Like this," Harry says, lunging forward with the makeshift sword he formed from a rolled-up broadsheet and some sellotape. Daisy shrieks and hops out of the way, giggling, and Harry's face aches from trying not to laugh as well. "No, stand your ground," he insists, gesturing at the television where Basil Rathbone and Tyrone Power are dancing around each other flinging debonair witty quips in between the singing of their blades. "Look at Zorro, see how he—"
Daisy roars like a freight train and races at him, battering him around the kneecaps and backside with her newspaper sword, and Harry completely forgets his own advice and drops his weapon to flee for escape.
"You're supposed to be Zorro, not William Wallace!" he calls back over his shoulder as he's vaulting the coffee table and making for the safety of the stairs. "Style, not force!"
"Force," Daisy tells him defiantly, and despite her tiny stature there's a glint in her eye that's genuinely rather terrifying before she shrieks out a war cry worthy of an orc army and charges for the staircase.
Harry found colouring pens in the backpack Eggsy brought with him and Daisy's engrossed in a picture, all her abandoned previous attempts completely covering the coffee table and half the living room floor. Harry's trying to pretend he's not watching in case that's some kind of abhorrent breach of etiquette – he has no idea what's allowed and not when it comes to children and their strange ways – but Daisy seems satisfied that he's reading his book and doesn't notice the way he's watching her draw. There's a blob of a person that must be Eggsy, considering the hideous black and yellow thing he's wearing, a smaller blob in blue with a large daisy for a head, a blob that's smaller still with a few brown dots beside it ("that's JB and JB's poo," she explains when she finally catches Harry looking – is that a normal thing for a child to draw??), a triangle with a head and long blonde hair, and then a figure that's three times taller than all the others and formed of about eighty percent spindly legs and twenty percent huge Elvis Costello glasses.
"How do you spell Harry?" she asks, and he puts his book aside, too delighted that he's been included in this family portrait to do anything except grin like an absolute fool.
She selects an orange pen and carefully draws a squiggle that looks like a four-pointed star.
A crooked square in green with a cross in the middle. Her tongue is sticking out the corner of her mouth in concentration.
In purple, a wavy line like a snake, then she looks up expectantly waiting for the next letter.
In the same purple she draws another wavy snake, this time crossed through with three straight little lines.
"Last letter, Y."
That one's a bright red circle, with a smiley face added like an afterthought. Daisy carefully puts the lids on all her pens then slides the page across the table to him, looking pleased with herself.
"Daisy, it's tremendous," he tells her seriously, because it truly is – vibrant and funny and completely, wonderfully charming. "May I keep this? I'll hang it in my office at work next to my Picasso."
She looks suspicious, like she's not too thrilled at the idea of competition. "What's a Picasso?"
"Come up here." Harry pats the cushion next to his own, and opens Safari on his tablet to show her some pictures. "Look. Aren't they superb? Your colours remind me of them."
She studies them for a while, scrolling down through the Google thumbnails and tapping some for a closer view, finally reaching the assertive verdict: "Mine's better, though."
Harry starts laughing quietly, he can't help it. "Yes, it absolutely is. It's spectacular. I love it dearly, thank you very much."
"Can we watch Sleeping Beauty again?"
"Anything you want."
Harry jerks awake about half an hour later, immediately panicking in case Daisy's managed to go and gas herself in the kitchen or wander into traffic while he was out – but she's still there beside him, glancing up every now at then at the cartoon but mostly pouring all of her concentration into her new drawings.
"What," Harry starts to say, sleepy and slurring. He rubs his fingertips into his eyes to clear them, then vaguely realises the other arm is trapped and looks down, confused, to figure out why.
"Tattoos are cool," Daisy informs him, finishing the last careful petal of a daisy on the back of his hand in black Sharpie. His shirt sleeves are still rolled up from washing their sandwich plates at lunch and he squints at his right arm, the doodling lines and vaguely comprehensible pictures covering his skin.
"Is that JB?" he asks, half-convinced he's still dreaming as he taps his forefinger against a fat little circle near his wristbone, and Daisy nods proudly. "In which case, I suppose that's JB's poo."
"Yeah," she says, in the sort of tone of voice that suggests he's stupid for asking.
"Are you cross?"
"No. God, no, of course not. In fact—" He gets up then and moves to the cushion on the other side of the middle one she's taken "—I don't believe in starting a thing one doesn't intend to finish. May I have tattoos on this arm as well?"
A look of such surprise flits over her face that it makes Harry's heart clench with how much she looks like Eggsy sometimes, like he's the one she learned all her expressions from.
"Yeah, alright," she tells him after a moment, beaming. "Sit still, yeah, I'm gonna draw Maleficent."
It's the faintest whisper in his ear, a tickling little breath. Harry wrinkles his nose up, yawning wide without bothering to open his eyes, and brushes at the intrusion like a dog batting away a fly, but it comes again, no louder than before but more, somehow, like it's closer.
"Hey, Harry. Sleeping Beauty, wake up."
"Sleeping Beauty don't wake up without a kiss," Daisy says. She's a heavy weight on Harry's chest where he's stretched out across the sofa, then he feels little hands on his cheeks and little fingers slipping beneath his glasses, trying to pinch his eyelids open.
"No, Dais, don't do that, wake him up gentle. Give him a kiss on the cheek if you think it'll work, yeah."
"Not me," she says scornfully, "you."
"Oh. No." Eggsy's laughing, quiet, self-conscious. "I ain't sure he'd like that, babe."
"Maybe I would," Harry murmurs, struggling lazily to open his eyes then giving up and just staying exactly where he is, cosy and languid, waiting to see what happens – then holding his breath carefully at the feather-light touch of lips on his cheekbone, trying to resist the urge to lean into it.
"There," Eggsy says, still speaking in a secret little whisper; Harry can hear laughter hovering somewhere behind the words, and something like a promise or a challenge, warm and wonderful and utterly unexpected curling close around his heart and gently squeezing. "Wake up, you idle fuck, I just had to pick the lock to get in cos I seen you two sleeping through the window."
"Don't say fuck," Daisy tells him crossly. When Harry finally opens his eyes the first thing he sees is the cringing look of oh shit on Eggsy's face where he's kneeling beside the sofa, and Harry can't stop himself from laughing, or the ridiculous slow explosion of fondness he feels tickling a shiver of goosebumps right down his spine.
"Daisy, you're gonna get me in trouble. Don't tell Mum. I'll buy you a Skylander."
"Say bye to Harry."
"Bye to Harry."
"Little smartarse," he mutters under his breath. His eyes land on Harry's and stay there, considering, for a long moment before the curl of a smile touches the very corners of his mouth. "Go and get your shoes on, yeah?" he says to Daisy. Then, leaning back in to Harry, he drops his voice to that quiet little whisper and tells him, "I'm taking her home to Mum and coming straight back and if you're asleep there's gonna be trouble. Understood?"
Eggsy finds the Sharpie and a small bare patch of skin inside Harry's forearm, and signs his name there between the swooping curves Daisy intended to be a dragon. "Good," he says with a mischievous wink, and lifts Daisy up on his back to carry her home.