The team are in the air en route from Seville to San Antonio when V-day hits the world.
SHIELD had Richmond Valentine flagged as a suspect in the string of mysterious celebrity disappearances even before the carnage of V-Day; between that and the fragments of microtransmitter Fitz and Simmons manage to fish out from what’s left of the US Senate, it doesn’t take long for Coulson to form a working hypothesis. It’s probably lucky, Phil thinks, all things considered, that 1) Fitz is extremely possessive of their tech, and therefore all their devices are fitted with the SIM-cards he designed, and 2) that the Bus happened to be over the middle of the ocean at the time, out of range of any errant signals. He can only imagine what damage May might have inflicted on an unsuspecting populace, let alone an out-of-control Skye.
Still, seeing the scope of the reports coming in, it’s a small mercy at best. With so many heads of state having literally lost their heads, the governments of the world are in shambles. Most military forces decimated themselves from the inside out within the first five minutes of the transmission. The espionage community, with their closed networks and isolated bases, came out a little better, but even so there have been casualties - the whole Berlin division of Mossad is gone thanks to one agent’s addiction to Tumblr.
Phil marshals up every agent he can, calling in decades-old favours to get every last pair of boots on deck, and sends them around the world on firefighting missions. Bobbi and Hunter fly to South America to handle the warzone where Rio used to be; Skye and the Koenigs take the chaotic mess of Western Europe, while May and her mother head to Shanghai. Simmons goes to New York to covertly check on Doctor Banner and reports, to Coulson’s relief, that JARVIS was apparently able to shield the inhabitants of Avengers Tower from most of the signal, the only casualties a couple of windows and a particularly ugly desk ornament.
Phil investigates Valentine’s sprawling Silicon Valley headquarters personally, bringing Fitz along to run comms for the hodgepodge of military personnel, SHIELD agents and private security who responded to his call for assistance. He’s picking his way carefully through the tangle of mechanical wreckage on the manufacturing floor when he hears the faint crunch of broken glass beneath a booted foot and whirls around, gun up.
He’s not expecting to see a familiar face.
Or most of one, at any rate.
‘Galahad,’ he says neutrally. ‘I wasn’t expecting any of the Kingsman agents here so soon. It’s a pleasure to see you again.’
This last is not entirely true; Phil’s heard by now, through the fragmented scraps of intel he’s managed to gather, that a couple of high-up Kingsmen were instrumental in Valentine’s machinations. He likes Galahad, and he’d prefer to think his sometimes-ally isn’t the type for something like this, but he’s learned not to take things like that for granted.
‘Agent Coulson,’ says the impeccably-dressed man standing in front of him, his own weapon up and trained unwaveringly between Phil’s eyes. ‘This is rather a surprise. The last I’d heard, you were reported killed in action. Stabbed though the heart.’
‘I could say the same,’ Phil retorts evenly. ‘The report on that church in Kentucky came by my desk, the day before everything went to hell. Said an unidentified operative in a bespoke suit took out most of the congregation and almost escaped the area before someone shot him in the head. I didn’t get a name, but the surveillance footage looked a lot like you.’
‘Yes, well,’ says Galahad, touching the white bandages wrapped around one side of his head with his free hand. ‘My good luck that squeamish megalomaniacs aren’t the best of shots. Cracked the skull and caused quite an impressive amount of bleeding, but failed to damage anything vital. And yourself, Agent?’
‘I’m going to give you the short version and just say ‘aliens did it’,’ Coulson says. ‘By the way, Galahad, it’s Director Coulson now.’
‘Oh?’ The other operative raises his eyebrows. ‘Well, I believe congratulations are in order, then. Incidentally, it happens to be Arthur, not Galahad. Bit of a shake-up at the upper levels, what with recent events.’
‘Welcome to the club,’ says Phil, because everyone in the espionage community knows about the shit-show that has been SHIELD and HYDRA in recent months; a brief flicker of sympathy crosses the other man’s face, and Phil drops his guard just the tiniest fraction.
Which is, of course, exactly when Phil hears a familiar voice say ‘Jesus fucking Christ that’s Coulson down there, what the fuck,’ over his comm, and he bites back a sigh because of course of all the disaster zones in the United States this would be the one the Avengers decided to hit first.
‘Bloody buggering shit,’ says another new voice behind him, and Phil turns his head slightly to see a young man in the double-breasted suit and glasses of a Kingsman staring at G- at Arthur like he’s seen a ghost. He’s white as chalk and the hand not currently aiming a pistol at Phil’s temple is shaking.
‘Eg- Galahad,’ says Arthur placatingly, making calming gestures. ‘There is really no need for-‘
‘Harry?!’ says the young man who must be Galahad’s replacement incredulously, and Phil sees the older Kingsman wince at having his name inadvertently revealed.
‘I realise this must seem a tad confusing right now-‘
The young man laughs sharply. ‘Confusin’ don’t even begin to cover it, mate,’ he says, his accent thickening as his agitation increases. ‘I saw you get shot in the fuckin’ head with my own eyes, Harry! We all thought you was dead! An’ then you turn up here like nothin’ happened, cool as a cucumber? You bastard. You absolute fuckin’ tosser.’ He shakes his head violently. ‘Oh, incident’ly, Lancelot says she’s got a clear view of some psycho with a bow an’ arrow on the roof who’s aimin’ at you, and if he don’t put his weapon down within the next thirty seconds she’s gonna put a round right in ‘is ear-’
‘I wouldn’t count on that,’ Phil hears Natasha say coolly as she materialises behind the new Galahad, a combat knife suddenly appearing at his throat. ‘The moment her bullet goes through his skull, my knife goes through your jugular.’
Both Phil and the new Arthur give identical, exasperated sighs; they glance at each other in surprise, exchange a half-smile, and lower their weapons.
‘Stand down, all of you,’ Coulson says. ‘I think some explanations might be in order all round.’
It takes Roxy maybe fifteen minutes to get herself down off the rafter she’s on and find her errant colleagues; this is, apparently, enough time for them to have finished catching everyone up and started airing their grievances, since she walks right into the middle of four people having two versions of the same argument in three different accents.
‘-you absolute fucker, Coulson, you let Fury make all of us think you were dead-‘
‘-first off, I was dead, and then you were in combat with the Chitauri-‘
‘-you giant sodding wanker, Harry, I thought you was gone and you didn’t say a fuckin’ word-‘
‘-you’ll have to forgive me for being unconscious in hospital with a head wound, and by the time I’d recovered you were already on your way to confront Valentine-‘
‘-you are obviously very fucking much alive now, asshole, so give me one good reason you let me go on mourning you for months, and don’t you dare say ‘it was for the good of the team’ or ‘national security’ because I am done with that bullshit-‘
‘-it was for the good of the team, Barton, the Avengers obviously needed something to unite them-‘
‘-so what, you couldn’t find the fuckin’ time to tell anyone after, you just thought ‘Hey, I’ll ‘ave Merlin tell Eggsy the new Arthur needs backup, see ‘is face when he turns up-‘’
‘-you’d have discovered I was the new Arthur as soon as you’d wrapped this mission up in any case. Besides, Merlin would have told you if he had felt it necessary-‘
Roxy sees Eggsy shoot a look of betrayal at Merlin, who’s disembowelling some oversized piece of machinery in the corner with a frankly adolescent looking SHIELD agent; he glances up briefly, says ‘You called me a valet,’ as if it explains everything, and returns to his animated discussion with the SHIELD tech, both of them brogueing so thickly she’s not sure they’re speaking English.
Clearly there is no semblance of sanity to be found on that side of the room either.
Roxy gives up and slouches against the wall next to the only other woman there, a redhead who’s idly spinning a knife around her fingers with disturbingly impressive skill.
‘Men,’ she says with a disgruntled huff, and the redhead glances at her and laughs.
‘You can say that again,’ she says, catching the blade one-handed and holstering it smoothly. ‘Natasha Romanov. Call-sign Black Widow.’ She offers a hand to Roxy. ‘Sorry about threatening your colleague. I don’t take people aiming at my friends well.’
‘Roxanne Morton, codename Lancelot,’ says Roxy, shaking it firmly. ’No hard feelings, it’s good for him, reminds him to watch his six. Too cocky by half sometimes, that man.’
They watch their feuding co-workers in companionable silence for another few minutes, until the older American agent finally snaps out ‘Barton, did you ever consider that perhaps I didn’t tell you what was happening because you’re no longer a good fit for SHIELD?’
The man with the bow and arrow flinches as if he’s been struck, and then draws himself up, a look of mixed fury and hurt in his blue eyes. ‘Maybe you’re right, sir,’ he says, biting off the words. ‘I mean, no one wants to work with agents who’ve been compromised before – how many SHIELD agents turned out to actually be HYDRA, by the way-?’ and now it’s the man in the suit who looks like someone just ran over his dog.
Natasha’s eyebrow twitches violently and she straightens up, a glint in her eye that sets off a whole series of discreet alarms inside Roxy’s head.
‘So,’ Natasha says to her in an elaborately casual tone, just loud enough for the other agents to hear. ‘How long has your partner been hopelessly smitten with his boss?’
Across the room, Eggsy suddenly chokes on nothing mid-rant.
‘Well, popular opinion is that it began when Harry bailed him out of jail, but personally my money’s on shortly afterwards, when he first saw him elegantly kicking arse in a tailored suit,’ Roxy says in an equally offhanded tone, watching Harry’s ears slowly turn an unflattering shade of red. ‘How about your two, then?’
‘Similar sort of story, really,’ says Natasha. ‘Well. Except replace ‘jail’ with ‘circus’.’
‘The circus?’ Roxy laughs. She eyes the man’s arms speculatively. ‘What was he, an acrobat? Strongman? Contortionist?’
‘Trick archer,’ Natasha says smugly. ‘His stage name was ‘Hawkeye, the World’s Greatest Marksman’, and he used to do his shows dressed in a headband and a slit-to-the-navel purple minidress.’
‘You’re having me on.’
‘Never. I have photos, I’ll show you later.’
Hawkeye makes a strangled noise. The older SHIELD agent smiles faintly.
‘His mentor was doing hits for the mob on the side, and Clint got sort-of-inadvertently dragged into it,’ Natasha continues, ‘When a rival gang came after them, Coulson –who happened to be monitoring the local mafia - took them all out and gave him a choice; join SHIELD or be charged as an accomplice.’
‘Funny, my mother always told me not to follow strange men to unfamiliar places,’ Roxy says.
‘Well, apparently Clint’s mother neglected that bit of his education, because he’s been following Coulson around like a lovesick puppy ever since,’ says Natasha. She sighs theatrically. ‘Daddy issues do such terrible things to impressionable young men,’ she says, and casts a glance at Eggsy, who looks beyond mortified. Agent Coulson’s faint smile is becoming slightly fixed; Clint looks rather like he wants to crawl into a hole and die.
‘I like you,’ Roxy beams at Natasha. ‘Finally, someone else who’s had to put up with being the sounding board for nights of drunken rhapsodising on how gorgeous their SO is and how amazing his arse looks in a bespoke suit-’
‘-while they completely fail to notice the way their boss stares longingly at them when he thinks no-one’s looking and practically walks into walls whenever they bend over in their uniform.’
‘Don’t forget the endless bloody pining over how of course their one true love will never look their way because they’re too far out of their league-’
‘-oh God, the pining, the number of times I wanted to smack their heads together till they got it through their stupid thick skulls - and then the noble suffering in silence because they don’t want to burden the object of their affections with knowledge of their unrequited feelings-’
‘-and then the endless angst when their mentor dies and they never got the balls to confess to them -’
‘-while said mentor decides to hide the fact they’re actually alive because they think their protégé is better off without an old man weighing them down.’ Natasha grins back at Roxy, wide and bright. ‘What do you say we ditch these emotionally-constipated man-children and go have a drink while they sort out the enormous tangled mess of their feelings?’
‘Only if you show me how to do that trick with the knife.’
‘It’s a deal.’
The room is dead silent for a moment after the two women leave, until Harry breaks it with a small cough.
‘Charming and…..perceptive woman, your Agent Romanov,’ he says, and it’s such a completely Harry response that Eggsy just fuckin’ loses it.
He doubles over, torrents of hysterical laughter bursting from him, the blaze of hurt and anger that was clawing at him earlier completely doused by the sheer mortification of Natasha and Roxy’s little chat and replaced by the overwhelming, incredible relief that Harry is here and safe and alive. He laughs and laughs until there are tears running down his cheeks, and he tells himself they’re tears of mirth ‘cause he’s not crying like his little sis over his dead boss coming back to him. He’s not.
‘Eggsy?’ he hears Harry’s voice nearby, concerned, and it feels so ridiculously fuckin’ good to hear that smooth voice say his name again – his name, not the code name that still feels like he usurped it from Harry’s ghost.
‘I thought you was dead,’ he gasps between huge, heaving breaths. ‘I thought you was dead in a shithole little town in Kentucky and the last time I ever saw your face was gonna be you lookin’ so fuckin’ disappointed in me for bein’ a failure-‘
‘Oh, my boy,’ he hears Harry breathe in sudden understanding, and then Harry’s arms are wrapped round him tightly and Eggsy is sobbing harshly into his chest, and he’ll probably get hell for ruining Harry’s suit later but right now he doesn’t fuckin’ care.
‘I was never disappointed in you,’ he feels Harry say softly into his hair. ‘I was disappointed in the choices you made, certainly – but that is because you are exceptional, Eggsy, I have always known that, and all I wanted was for everyone else to know as well. And you acquitted yourself so splendidly, against Valentine, where I failed – you proved yourself a true Kingsman, and I could not be more proud of you than I am now.’
Eggsy lifts his head up slightly at that, and Harry is so close their noses are almost touching, a soft, fond look on his face. And Eggsy thinks of words unsaid, thinks of wasted chances, thinks fuck it and grabs Harry’s tie hard, pulling him down until their lips meet.
The kiss is soft and warm and lasts for all too brief a moment before Harry jerks his head away, a look of trepidation in his one good eye. ‘Eggsy,’ he says, a catch in his voice. ‘You don’t – just because Lancelot was…joking about you caring for me, you don’t have to-‘
‘No, don’t you fuckin’ dare,’ he says, holding Harry’s tie in a death-grip so the older man can’t pull away any further. ‘I-I love you, Harry, a’right? I didn’t have the stones to say it last time, ‘cause I thought, what’d a posh gent like you want with a little council-estate shit like me anyway? But then you were gone, and y’know what, it hurt more never gettin’ the chance to tell you than it would’ve findin’ you didn’t feel the same. And if- if Rox is right, and there’s a chance you love me too-‘
‘Damn it all, of course I do,’ he hears Harry say hoarsely, ‘how could I not, you gorgeous, cheeky little bastard-’ and then Harry’s mouth is on his again, warm and wet and even sweeter the second time round, and he’s clutching Eggsy to him as if he’s afraid the younger man will disappear if he lets go.
‘This doesn’t mean I’m not still well pissed at you, just so y’know,’ Eggsy says when they finally separate, words muffled against Harry’s shoulder. ‘I swear if you weren’t still injured an' all I’d punch you in the fuckin’ face for playin’ dead the last few weeks.’
Somewhere off to the side he hears Clint say ‘Hey, there’s an idea,’ and he lifts his head just in time to see the archer slug Coulson right in the eye.
The older agent staggers back with the force of the blow, and in the split second that he’s off-balance Clint grabs Coulson by the lapels and drags him into what looks like a truly punishing kiss, all teeth and tongue. Coulson freezes up completely for a second and Eggsy feels mildly concerned, but then he seems to snap out of his daze, ‘cause now he’s giving just as good as he gets, his hands fisting in Clint’s hair and at the nape of his neck.
‘I can’t believe you left me behind because you thought you were holding me back,’ Clint pants into Coulson’s mouth, punctuating his words with hard, bruising kisses. ‘You fucking idiot, how did you not realize, I’m nothing without you watching out for me - do you even remember what I was when you found me -‘
‘Of course I do,’ Coulson says, a little breathlessly. ‘You’d just seen me take out a dozen armed thugs and instead of running like your mentor did you faced me down, bow drawn and fire in your eyes. Most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.’
‘I was skinny, mouthy and half-feral,’ Clint says, tugging at Coulson’s shirt, ‘and you kicked my ass all the way into becoming the best fucking marksman SHIELD ever had. How did you ever think I was gonna manage on my own-‘
‘You’re still mouthy,’ Coulson says, with a laugh that turns into a groan as Clint’s hands wander south. ‘You’re not that kid any more, Clint, you’re a hero in your own right and you deserve the world knowing who you are, what you can do – that’s why I thought the Avengers would be best for you, they can offer you so much more than the mangled remnants of a corrupt spy agency-‘
‘Since when,’ Clint demands, ‘have I ever cared about what’s best for me, you goddamn idiot, oh my god-’ and he picks up the other man bodily and stumbles into the nearest office.
Yeah, Eggsy thinks they’re gonna be just fine.
‘Do you think they’ve gotten to the ‘kiss and make up’ stage yet?’ asks Roxy, trying Natasha’s knife spin for the fourth time. She fumbles the catch and drops the blade with a sound of annoyance.
‘If they aren’t, they’re even denser than I thought they were,’ says Natasha, idly flicking through the photos of Duchess the poodle on Roxy’s phone.
‘You realise, of course, that this won’t stop them from talking incessantly about each other,’ Roxy says, setting her jaw and trying yet again. The knife flicks in a neat figure of eight around her hand before she catches it in a reverse grip and smiles victoriously. ‘They’re just going to be disgustingly soppy about it instead.’
‘I’ll take smug, frequently-laid ramblings over unresolved man-pain any day,’ says Natasha, taking a swig from the bottle of gin she’d scrounged from somewhere before passing it back to Roxy. ‘To clueless boys and their poor communication skills.’
‘I’ll drink to that,’ says Roxy, and does. ‘Let’s find another bottle, I think we’ll be here for a while.’
It is, as a matter of fact, close to four hours before their errant colleagues finally stumble their way back to the jets, hair wild, buttons missing and ties askew. Phil has a black eye and Clint has an enormous, dopey grin splitting his face and hickeys dotting his jaw, and Natasha, while justifiably smug, is genuinely happy that for once in her partner’s amazingly fucked-up life, he seems to have gotten something right.
This doesn’t stop her from mocking him relentlessly all the way back to New York, of course. He doesn’t seem to mind.