Eggsy’s dreaming about the ocean again, as the plane rocks gently in the turbulent air, a tailwind catching them and throwing them forward and home. Merlin’s not sorry about conjuring the tailwind — he’s aware that it might cause some rainfall problems, but it’s not like the British Isles don’t get enough rain, thank you, and they have to get Harry home so that Merlin can use the power he can draw from the land to fix the festering hole in his head. He can’t do it here, so far from home.
It’s going to be a complex spell. He doesn’t relish the work, but he relishes the thought of completion — of Harry restored to him, out of pain, all right.
In the meantime, he’s got Eggsy’s ocean dream to carry them back, gently rocking, salt-spray and the swish of the waves. The boy has no idea that he projects his dreams, or, indeed, why he dreams of the sea; finding his skin is going to be one of Merlin’s priorities when he gets done with Kingsman training for the new recruits. V-day has rather got in the way. Still, it’s a pleasant dream; Merlin takes the time to create a small conduit from Eggsy to Harry, who will probably appreciate the warm water and soft sea air.
He can’t leave piloting to an untended spell for much longer, so he takes in the two men asleep in the fold-down beds for just a few more minutes, and then returns to his place in the cockpit, the plane rolling like the deck of a ship, all three of them able to taste the iron and brine in their minds’ eye.
Eggsy’s shocked to see Harry up and about only days after the rescue mission from America — he’s up and about, and he’s got an eyepatch on, but he’s not. You know. Sick. Only, Eggsy could swear that the exit wound had been fucking enormous, and that there’d been infection spreading from the raw flesh of Harry’s brain. Merlin said that they’d all been lucky, that Harry had a thick head and the bullet had bounced, skidded off his temple.
Merlin looks like shit — flying over to get Harry and then back in the one day has really taken it out of him. He has this sort of greyish look, like a zombie or something. Harry’s being real nice to Merlin, too, like, bringing him tea and telling everyone Merlin’s got a migraine, and Merlin’s just letting it happen, so Merlin must have a fucking migraine, because Merlin ain’t one for being looked after.
“Galahad,” says Merlin, when Eggsy checks in. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
“Oi, that ain’t right.”
“Harry’s back, so he gets his name back.”
“Harry’s Arthur.” He feels stupid as soon as Merlin says it, of course Harry’s Arthur now. Merlin puts a hand on Eggsy’s shoulder. “He wanted you to have his codename. Keeping up traditions and all.”
“I couldn’t even kill me dog.”
“You killed the old Arthur. I think that covers it.”
Merlin really does look like shit. He’s shaking a bit, and his lips are a weird pale bluish colour.
“You all right?” asks Eggsy.
“I will be.”
That’s not good enough. Merlin’s the one what kept them together when Harry died, when they had to get out there on the job. Merlin was fierce, he didn’t give up, but right now he looks like he’s close to collapse.
“Sit down,” Eggsy instructs. “You can give me my mission sitting down.”
“The country isn’t stable.” Merlin sounds very tired. “There’s been too much upheaval, too many people killed. People are taking advantage.” He pulls up a map on his screen, and then taps it twice. A web of lines shows. “There’s a plan to detonate a car bomb at the Queen’s big speech later today. I need someone to disarm it, and Roxy’s in the airport wrangling idiots.”
“I can do it,” says Eggsy, but he’s more worried about Merlin. “Merlin, you all right, mate?” He puts a hand on Merlin’s wrist. “Can I help?”
“Nah.” Merlin smiles wryly. “I’m just tired. Been a long week.” Eggsy hears Harry come into the room behind them — his shoes click just like that, like posh shoes always click on hard floors. “Arthur. I’m sending Galahad to deal with the bomb.”
“Good choice,” says Harry. He stays in the doorway, clearly surveying them. “Merlin, you look terrible.”
“Funny thing, that. Might have had to stretch myself to my limits, these last few days.”
“And before you leave, Galahad.” Harry looks at Eggsy, soft with love but hard as fucking nails. Moves to takes his shoulders, so that they make eye contact. Eggsy wants to climb him like a tree, but Merlin’d probably get all fussy about it. “You have this.”
Eggsy had cried and cried when he’d seen Harry get shot in the head — he’d not realised how much Harry’s regard meant to him until Harry had been so angry with him when he’d refused to shoot JB, and the thought that Harry was dead and they’d never made it right had eaten at him. Harry’s confidence in him means the goddamn world.
“I do, sir,” he says, and Harry’s smile gets even more tender, if that was fucking possible.
“Do me proud,” he replies, and Eggsy will, Eggsy fucking will.
It’s hours before Merlin can relax — Eggsy brings off the mission with flash and competence, gets himself a selfie with the Duchess of Cambridge, and then goes home to his horrible grubby flat, because London’s a warzone post-Valentine, and he wants to protect his family.
Harry hovers, watching Merlin watch the feeds, and he follows when Merlin goes up to his on-site suite. Merlin gave up going home ten years ago — he’s got the nicest flat in Central HQ, and he collapses onto the sofa with gratitude. They drink together to ease the tension, and Merlin rests his head on Harry’s lap, closing his eyes — healing the damage to Harry’s head took so much out of him that he’s surprised he made it through the day. Harry understands; Merlin knows that Harry understands, that’s why Harry’s comforting him.
He appreciates it, but not as much as he appreciates the fact that Harry is still alive. He’d flay himself five times over if it meant that Harry was alive.
“How badly was I injured, really?” says Harry.
“Badly enough,” Merlin replies. Harry’s petting him, ever so gently, and Merlin basks in it. “What do you remember?”
“I think I died.” Harry’s voice is steady, but his hand stutters in its movements over Merlin’s shoulder and head. “I’ve seen the shadowlands before, but never like this. It was so — it was real, Merlin.”
“You didn’t die.” Merlin’s sure of that. “I’m not a god, Harry. I’d have to kill someone to bring you back if you were dead.”
He doesn’t have to say that he would kill for Harry, without question.
“It was beautiful,” says Harry. Not many men would describe the shadowlands as beautiful, but Harry’s always liked dangerous things. “Never day or darkness. The sun was just below the hills — the shadows were so long.”
“You must have been right on the border of dying.”
“If you’d been dead, all you’d have seen was stars.” He sits up. “Is there any more vodka?”
“It’s not good for you when you’re like this.”
“Oh boo-hoo; it’s been a long day. Do you know how tricky it is to mend brain tissue with magic?”
“I know what it feels like to have it mended,” says Harry, and Merlin can’t stay angry with him. Can’t even get angry with him. He pours another neat vodka, drinks it quickly to feel the burn. Harry puts a hand on his back, rubs a big circle, gentle and kind, and Merlin knows he’s going to have to break the moment. The sooner he tells Harry, the sooner they can begin to prepare.
“Harry,” says Merlin. “The Wild Hunt’s coming up.”
Harry’s brow furrows. “I don’t understand.”
“Arthur’s dead. Someone has to lead it.”
“Chester used to lead the Hunt?” Harry looks aghast, but he doesn’t pull his hand from Merlin’s back. “Good grief.”
Merlin had hated Chester leading the Hunt. It had become a shadow of its former self in these last years — wallowing and soft, the hard edges blurred off by the modern world. They ran the Hunt every month to sharpen the magic of the land, to make it strong against the heavy press of modernity, and Chester had let it almost go fallow. It would not do to miss this month — they’d never get it back.
There’s so much he’s never told Harry. Harry knew enough for back then, but now he’s walked along the borders of the shadowlands. Harry needs to learn more, quickly.
“That’s how someone like Valentine got into the world,” says Merlin. “We need someone strong to lead it, or worse will creep in from the edges, now that Valentine’s opened the door to misery and violence.”
“Will you go?”
“I can’t lead the Hunt. I’m not allowed.”
Harry’s got fear in his eyes. “What are you saying?”
“Arthur’s dead,” says Merlin. “Roxy’s too young, and Eggsy’s fae, although he doesn’t know it. The others…I don’t trust anyone but you, Harry. Someone who began as mortal needs to run with the Hunt. It has to be you. You’re the new Arthur.”
“You’ve forgotten that I have no magic.”
“That’s not true anymore.” Harry flinches. “Harry. You walked the border between life and death. That changes you.”
Harry’s unwillingness is surprising. Merlin’s given him potions and scrolls before, rods that could be activated with a word. He’s given Harry magic arms and armour. He knows that Harry isn’t afraid of magic. And Harry’s gone out to ride with the Hunt before — it’s the last test of loyalty for a Kingsman, to ride with the Hunt and not be distracted, not wander into the fae kingdom and become lost forever. Harry’s got no shortage of self-esteem, either — it’s not a lack of confidence.
“I can’t.” Harry’s trembling. “I can’t lead the Hunt.” Merlin waits, pours himself another drink. Eventually, Harry will talk; Merlin puts a hand on his knee, and they sit in silence. The points of connection between them are grounding, reassuring. He needs this, and he knows that Harry does too.
“Were you watching me in Kentucky?” Harry asks, after a long, close silence.
“Yes.” He tightens his grip on Harry’s knee, runs his thumb along the warmth of his leg.
“I liked it. I’ve always liked it; I liked fighting without thinking, I liked being wild, I liked the blood, I liked — if I lead the Hunt, I won’t be able to control myself.”
“You will,” says Merlin. “Valentine brought that violence into the daylight world; it needs you to lead it back into the night.”
“And then what?”
“And then do what you do best,” Merlin replies. “Enjoy it.”
Eggsy gets in early, on the secret underground car thingy, because it’s fucking cool, and early because Merlin’s been making snide remarks about lateness and he really can’t be fucked with that. As is, he’s here and in the weapons testing bunker with Merlin just before eight, and he’s pretty fucking happy.
“Eggsy,” says Merlin, inclining his head a little. “Good of you to be on time.”
“I beat Roxy?” Eggsy’s impressed with himself. “Aiiiii."
“Mmm,” is Merlin’s reply, an unimpressed hum. “I’m sure Harry will be pleased to know you’re not upholding some traditions from his time as your mentor.”
“So, he’s Arthur, right?” He’s been itching to know if it was confirmed.
Eggsy chews his lip. “Was there some vote or something? Or it just happens?”
“Oh no,” says Merlin. “I had an agreement with the people who select the new Arthur. This time it was my candidate. My choice.”
Oh fuck, so Merlin’s actually the man? Eggsy’s impressed again — clearly this getting up early thing does wonders for the mood. “Who’s this agreement with?”
“Wait for Lancelot. I’m not explaining this twice.”
Roxy arrives after ten minutes; in the meantime, because Merlin’s a fucking taskmaster, he makes Eggsy show him his form with four different guns, from paintball to pistol to shotgun to something that seems to shoot lasers. He’s happy to show off a bit, preening under Merlin’s firm tutelage and gentle praise as Eggsy shoots the shit out of a paper target.
“Show-off,” says Rox, when she gets there.
“If you weren’t late, Lancelot.”
“I’m not late, I’m precisely on time, Galahad.”
“‘M not Galahad, Harry’s Galahad.”
“Harry’s Arthur, you wonk.”
“Oi, Merlin, she’s picking on me!”
“Children,” Merlin says, and to Eggsy he sounds only a little exasperated, because he’s gotta know they’re playing. For instance, Eggsy answers to Galahad at all other hours of the day. “ I need you to pay attention.”
“Pay attention to what?”
The burst of magic — because that’s what it has to be — is as surprising as it is gentle. Merlin waves a hand through the air, and it’s followed by lights that twist and dance in its wake. Eggsy’s heart feels like it’s gonna explode, something in him reacting like this is right, this is all so right.
“That’s magic,” he says, before he can think better of it. “Holy fuck, Merlin, you’re like, fucking, Merlin the magician.”
“Correct,” says Merlin. “I am Merlin the magician. The current incarnation of Merlin.”
“Rubbish.” Roxy’s got her arms folded. “There’s no such thing as magic.” Merlin waves a hand, and Roxy’s suddenly in a dress, like Cinderella or something. She scowls. “If you think that’s going to change my mind, you’re wrong.”
Something unnamable in Eggsy is eager, like JB pawing at his leg for a treat. “Do me!”
Merlin’s got an expression that’s something like indulgent laughter in his eyes. “Certainly, master Eggsy.”
The dress Merlin puts him in is very sparkly. Eggsy feels the magic running over his skin, and it’s like a warm shower, but better, because he can feel something in it of Merlin’s affection and joy. He twirls, because Roxy’s laughing, and fuck, it is funny. He makes a good princess. Merlin closes his hand, and they’re back in their usual clothes.
“That’s epic,” says Eggsy. “That’s — when were you gonna tell us?”
“When you got to the correct clearance,” says Merlin.
“And we’re there now.” Roxy is still looking at him side-eyed.
“Things have progressed very rapidly,” Merlin replies. “We need to be moving with the times. We’re going to need everyone on deck and with all the information as the country — the world — recovers from V-day.”
Of course. Harry had had a big fucking hole in his head — he had been near death when they went to get him. And now he was walking around with an awesome scar, and Merlin had been pale and shitty with everyone for the best part of the last week. Merlin said Harry had recovered but he probably meant his head was remade.
“You fixed Harry,” says Eggsy, and yeah, so it sounds like an accusation, but fuck, how had Merlin not told them this? “I thought he was hurt worse’n that. You fucking fixed him. That’s why you looked like someone’d smacked you with a two-by-four.”
“Yes,” says Merlin. “I rather felt like someone had smacked me with something big, too. That sort of magic takes it out of you.”
“How much does it take?” Roxy’s rather sharp; Eggsy approves.
“A lot. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t lose any of the rods I’m about to give you, or botch learning how to use wands. I don’t much feel like fixing anyone else who has been terminally wounded for the next six years, give or take.”
“I thought something was going on, but I never thought…” says Roxy. “The suits. They’re magic, right?”
“Of course,” says Merlin. “You didn’t actually think that bulletproof fabric could be that elegant, did you? My work has drape.”
And then they’re laughing, because fucking what? Merlin’s the man, though. He sits with them and shows them some more magic — it’s electrifying, seeing him conjure a ball of light, and downright fucking exciting when he chucks the light ball against a wall and it explodes. Eggsy feels like his blood is on fire too, like he’s made of light himself; it’s something he’s only felt once or twice before, and he wonders if he’d felt magic bleeding into the world then, years ago.
He doesn’t realise for the stupidest long time that Harry and Percival have come to join them, standing in the doorway. Percy’s leaning on the doorframe, louche and long, whereas Harry’s standing tall and proud. Merlin spots them, and throws Harry something small and metallic.
“It’s a rod,” Merlin explains. “You break it and the spell works.”
Harry snaps it in his hands — Eggsy learns later that they’re colour coded, so Harry at least knows what it does — and he’s suddenly surrounded by a ball of… well, something. Percival takes advantage, and shoots at him; Eggsy’s halfway through crying out when he sees the bullet burn up harmlessly in the shield. The others seem to think it’s a great joke, but Eggsy can still feel the sick comprehension of what’d happened to Harry crawling around in his gut, the punch of regret and horror that had floored him when Valentine had pulled the trigger.
Merlin looks up and meets his eyes. Fuck. Merlin knows what he’s thinking, somehow he knows.
“All right,” he says. “I don’t have unlimited artefacts, and we don’t have all day. Roxy, Percival, with me. Arthur, you stay down here until that wears off — I’m not having you wandering around and knocking things off tables because you’re surrounded by a force field. Eggsy, do you mind packing up the guns?”
“Aye-aye, sir,” says Eggsy, half-relieved, half-dreading some time alone with Harry after just seeing him get shot at again.
He swears Merlin winks at Harry as he leaves with the others, but instead of wondering about it, busies himself with breaking down the weapons.
“So, magic,” he says, as Harry wanders, uses the force field to practice some jumps. Apparently it works as a cushion. Maybe Merlin’d been gonna bring one out in the parachute test? Who knows.
“It was rather a shock when I found out. It took years for Chester to give me clearance to know, and Merlin told me by turning Mr Pickles into a dragon for half an hour and watching me run around trying to decide whether to save him, kill him, or ride him.”
“And force fields.”
“They’re not permanent,” says Harry, and as if on cue, it dissolves. “Eggsy, something’s upsetting you, isn’t it?”
Eggsy feels his throat get tight. “Why the fuck didn’t you have one of those on you in America?” he asks, choking on the last word, voice cracking into brief yet noticeable tears.
He’s not prepared for Harry to draw him close, a strong hand bringing Eggsy’s head to his shoulder, another around his waist, clasping their bodies together.
“I’m sorry,” says Harry, softly. “I’d used it — I’d used it up in the first few minutes at the church.”
“I can’t believe you’ve got magic but you still got shot.”
Harry chuckles. “It’s better than getting blasted by a spell. Wait until Merlin trains you in that; you’ll wish you were dead.”
“Don’t wish that,” says Eggsy, the fervour with which he says it coming from somewhere deep inside. “Seriously, Harry, don’t. I’ve already seen you nearly fucking dead this month.” He’s clinging, he’s pretty sure he’s clinging, but Harry squeezes him too, still cupping the back of Eggsy’s head.
“Eggsy. I wasn’t thinking about how all this must be coming as a shock.”
“Not so much a shock as a revelation,” says Eggsy, into Harry’s neck. It’s nice all pressed up to Harry’s neck, Harry’s broad hands basically in his hair and holding him safe across his back. “You got shot and you didn’t die. More than once.”
“I suppose that’s right.”
“Will you teach me how?” He looks up at Harry — there’s not that much difference in their heights, but it’s enough.
“Of course, dear boy,” says Harry, smiling. There’s a pale, spidery scar where the bullet went into his head — Eggsy supposes that Merlin couldn’t fix everything. Harry brushes his cheek, just barely. “We have to keep you safe.”
The call comes in on Saturday night. Eggsy takes it, and then he’s shaking, pale and worrying at his cuffs, talking ten to the dozen, finally making it off the phone after half an hour and at least five separate arguments. He looks at Merlin, and dissolves.
“Me Mum’s dead. Shit. Fucking hell. Merlin—”
Merlin can’t restrain the flare in his equilibrium; on the shelf above him, four small spells squeak out of existence as his aura sparks. He reaches for Eggsy’s hand, and the boy lets him.
“What do you need?”
“I need to go to the police station and get me sister.” Eggsy squeezes a little. “But fuck, Merlin, I ain’t no father. What am I gonna do? And those animals are still out there, they’ll fucking get away with it, cops are overwhelmed…”
Merlin puts two and two together — a murder. Eggsy’s right, though; the cops are overwhelmed. Since V-day, the country’s been struggling back to rights — there’s a lot of crime, a lot of people using the chaos as a way to live out their nastiest impulses. That’s why they need someone strong to lead the Hunt — Merlin’s sometimes still weak and shaky inside from the patch job he did on Harry’s head, but at least he knows Harry’s whole, Harry’s going to be Arthur, Harry’ll look after them.
Harry’s perfect for this job.
“I’ll send Harry out,” says Merlin, soothingly, using his powers to search his screens whilst Eggsy shuffles in close and then clutches at him. A mugging. Fuck.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s all right,” says Merlin, even though he knows it isn’t. “I’ll send Harry, he’ll take care of it. You go and take care of your sister — unless you want one of us to come with you instead.”
“I’d fucking prefer you sent Harry out to twat them.”
“As you wish. Roxy will meet you in town.”
Harry’s anger, when Merlin brings him in, can barely be contained — it’s enough to make Merlin’s magic writhe under his skin, and he makes a decision. The Hunt isn’t tonight, but they’ve started getting Harry used to the spells and blessings he’ll need when he rides out. This will be a hunt, a chance to chase down a nasty quarry. Merlin unbuttons Harry’s shirt, smooths both palms over his chest. Eggsy’s probably half-way there by now — he’s glad he sent Eggsy off before bringing Harry in.
“What are you doing?”
“Fortifications,” says Merlin, which is only a little bit of a lie. He traces patterns in blue light onto Harry’s body. “A spell for good hunting.”
“You know I’ll murder them all.”
“I’m counting on it.” Merlin buttons the shirt again, puts a hand to Harry’s cheek. “Go on. The moon’s not quite full — show us what you can do.”
Eggsy goes out to the police station, and Merlin keeps half an eye on his feeds — and a whole eye on Harry’s. It’s a good thing that Eggsy’s in the station, because Harry clearly does take care of it; when he goes out to deal with the muggers the feed from his glasses is obscene. Merlin feels shivers under his skin — he would not like to be any murderous mugger who encountered Harry-fucking-Hart, especially not a mugger who’d hurt Eggsy, directly or not. He can see hidden eyes in the corners of the feeds — oh, they approve. The unseen watchers scent the blood, and they approve.
Roxy returns Eggsy — she says a few kind words, but leaves them to mourn. She’s a good lass, Merlin thinks, she knows when to retreat. Eggsy curls up in Merlin’s flat, and Merlin desperately wants to tell him — she wasn’t your real mother. She stole your skin. She stole you, when you were just a pup. She never told you what you are. But Eggsy has lived with her for years, and he loved her. Merlin can’t deliberately hurt him more than life has. Instead, he listens to what Eggsy has to say.
“I could’ve. I. I could’ve done something.”
Merlin doesn’t say anything to that, because anything he could say would be hollow and false. He settles next to Eggsy instead, sides brushing sides.
“I saved the fucking world, but I couldn’t save me own Mum.” Eggsy picks up the half-finished bottle of vodka, takes a swig. “We need to fix this country.”
“Yes,” says Merlin. “We’re on it.”
“Not fast enough.”
“No, not fast enough. But as fast as we can manage.” Merlin holds out his hand for the bottle, takes a burning mouthful before passing it back. “And your sister?”
“I ain’t gonna be given custody,” says Eggsy. He sounds devastated — Merlin puts a hand on his knee. “Gotta criminal record. She’s going to Aunt Sharon. I fucking got there to get her, bring her home with me, and it was all already in train.”
“What’s Aunt Sharon like?”
Eggsy shrugs. “She’ll do a good job, I guess. I got fostered out to her for a while, when I was a kid. I just — I thought she’d come to me.” He closes his eyes. Takes another swig. “But part of me knows I’d do a shit job, right? I mean, I ain’t Dad material.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” says Merlin. “However; if you want custody, I’ll arrange it.”
“What?” Eggsy’s alert, suddenly, eyes bright.
“Eggsy,” he says, meeting the boy’s gaze, “if you want custody of your sister, I’ll arrange it.”
Eggsy’s heart has sped up dramatically. He’s breathing fast, too, like he can’t believe Merlin would do it.
“How do you know I wouldn’t be bad at it?”
“I know you’d be excellent.” He does know, and if Merlin’s magic helps a bit, then Eggsy won’t have to know. But he knows that Eggsy can change nappies, select food, read books, play games, keep safe. The man isn’t a fool; he’s been a devoted brother since the girl was born, even if the girl isn’t his sister, isn’t even his species. But Eggsy doesn’t know that.
“Fuck.” Eloquent as ever.
“You don’t have to decide now.”
“I do; I won’t sleep if I don’t,” says Eggsy. He swallows air, wiping his eyes. He’s quiet a long time; Merlin rubs his back, and Eggsy doesn’t pull away, just leans into it. Eventually, he speaks. “For now — she needs to go to Aunt Sharon. But I get to visit. I can’t be here, I can’t be Kingsman and her dad. That’s not fair.” He chokes, suddenly. “Fuck, Merlin, fuck, I shouldn’t want this more than I want her, but I’m selfish and stupid and—“
“Easy,” says Merlin, pulling him close. “It’s all right.” He lets Eggsy clutch at him — again — and weep. “You’re not selfish. You’re not.”
She’s not your sister, he wants to say. She’s human. You’re not. But Eggsy doesn’t know he isn’t human, and until they find his skin, Merlin’s not inclined to let on — without his skin, he has none of his abilities, he has no memory, he has nothing. It would be cruel to tell him, and then not find the skin.
“If I change my mind later…” Eggsy says. “If things settle down. If I’m in a better place to—“ He isn’t ready to be let go.
“Eggsy? Merlin?” It’s Harry. Merlin beckons him in, ignoring the fact that there’s flecks of blood on Harry’s shirt cuffs. “Is everything…? What’s happening?”
“It’s his sister,” says Merlin. “Eggsy’s decided not to contest custody.”
“I should,” says Eggsy, because he’s stupidly loyal.
“We’ll watch over her,” says Harry, putting a hand on Eggsy’s shoulder. “And if she is unhappy, or suffering, or not growing to her potential, we’ll help her. But sometimes, we make sacrifices for the greater good. You’ll make the world better for her, even if you’re not there every morning, noon and night.”
“Harry,” says Eggsy, and Harry takes him from Merlin’s arms. Merlin’s certain that this outburst of emotion is about far more than his sister — it’s about his mother, his old life, the stress of the last few weeks all rolled into a ball.
“Dear boy,” says Harry, gentling Eggsy, tucking him in close. Merlin almost can’t believe that he was watching Harry seriously fuck up a couple of muggers only half an hour ago.
This is why Merlin decided that it was Harry who had to ride the Hunt. Harry’s strong, and fair, and he loves as deep as the ocean — he adores Eggsy, and he’s determined to be Eggsy’s firm place to hold onto in the storm of the world post-V-day. But Harry also adores killing, loves the thrill of the fight, the clawing determination to survive and say I am. It’s all here in Harry, right now, and Merlin smiles, vindicated.
“Come on, then,” says Harry. “Let’s get you cleaned up and into bed. I have a little mission out tomorrow, but you needn’t worry; you can stay here, and we’ll be home before you know it.” Yes, he does, because tomorrow is the full moon. Merlin doesn’t want the young ones to ride out until Harry’s had a month to get used to it; Eggsy will have to stay here and sleep off the grief. Merlin catches Harry’s eye, and Harry nods at him. “Thank you, Merlin.”
“I’ll sort out surveillance.”
“Thanks,” whispers Eggsy, as Harry leads him off.
Merlin hums under his breath as he deletes all evidence of Harry’s killing spree. Then he organises the oils and potions for tomorrow night, uses his aura to check in on Harry and Eggsy — curled up together in Merlin’s bed, he divines, a heartwarming scene but overall a little annoying, because where is Merlin going to sleep?
Finally, he decides to just sit up late and mix a sleeping draught, just to make sure that Eggsy doesn’t get up tomorrow night while Harry’s running with the wolves.
Harry is nervy before the Hunt — he takes the horn from the wall of the boardroom with shaking hands, and Merlin arms him, paints his face, blesses his body. He performs the fivefold kiss, and Harry captures him, locking their mouths together.
“You’d better not have done this with Chester.”
“Never,” says Merlin, as Harry kisses him again. “Never did this, either.”
“Good,” says Harry, tenderly. “I can’t bear to think of you on your knees for him.”
“I’d go willingly for you.” The words are out before Merlin can reclaim them; instead, he kisses Harry’s fingers, releases power into him so that the riders will recognise him — the new Arthur, not the old one. Makes a horse from air; it’s itching to go even while the last rays of sunlight burnish its coat. Harry looks at it — and at Merlin — in awe, but the magic is already working on him — he gets onto the horse with no difficulty, his eyes gone hard and feral.
When the sun slips below the horizon, they call the other riders, and Merlin lets Harry go. He feels it when the night court accept the new Arthur — the power rises under his skin, under the land. Overhead, an aurora sparks; Merlin’s never seen this before, not the crackling force arcing out of the land and into the sky, but he holds his vigil, holds his ground, waits under the moon until morning.
Arthur returns just before dawn; the horse’s flanks are steaming, the paint smeared, blood flecked across both horse and rider. The others hoot and call as they fade, but the power that’s coursing through Merlin doesn’t go with them as it usually does. What has Harry done? What has Merlin done, sending him to lead the Hunt?
As the sun rises, he dispells the horse, takes his Harry down and wraps him in soft furs, bundles him into the back of the car. Harry is asleep even before Merlin has taken the driver’s seat; he lets himself be stripped when they get home to HQ, washed and dried and warmed.
“Merlin?” asks Harry, eventually.
“You did well,” Merlin replies, because he can feel the thrumming of the ley lines, the magic rushing through him like the tide. Harry feels different too; his hard edges are harder, and he tingles with power under Merlin’s hands. His eyes, however, look lost.
“I don’t remember. Why don’t I remember? I’ve always remembered the Hunt before.”
“You never led it before. Your memory of it will improve as you continue as Arthur.” Merlin is soft, quashing his own worries that he’s finally pushed Harry too far in favour of stroking Harry’s skin, soothing him into relaxation. “Come now. Come on. It’s time to rest.”
Roxy will wake Eggsy — he’s left instructions. Instructions that he and Harry aren’t to be disturbed — he hadn’t known what the first night Harry rode would bring. Harry’s beautiful, when he’s exhausted. Merlin’s always liked caring for him.
Harry pulls him down into the bed, curls up around him before falling into a deep sleep, dreaming of fur and blood and the stretch-pull of muscle, the ozone tang of magic, the cries of the riders around him. It’s nothing like riding with Chester — perhaps, thinks Merlin, this is better. Harry clutches Merlin tightly — Merlin slides along the back of the dream and watches, because he won’t be able to rouse until Harry does, not with Harry holding onto him like this.
He really can’t bring himself to mind.
So, it turns out that Mum was hiding weird shit in the house. Merlin’s offered to help clean it out, and Eggsy accepts, while Roxy takes over his mission. Roxy’s brilliant — Eggsy counts her as a true friend, a brother in arms in more ways than one.
He’s put boxes of shit aside for Aunt Sharon, and a ton of boxes for the charity shop, and then a little pile for himself — family photos, jewellery for his sis, things like that. Eggsy gets his sister for weekends, when he’s in the country, and he’s glad of that much, glad Aunt Sharon prefers it all that way.
He finds the locked box under his Mum’s bed, pushed up against the wall. It rattles when he touches it, and Eggsy pulls it out. It’s warm, even though it’s been under the bed and the heating’s been off since Mum died.
The box feels like it’s iron and Eggsy’s a magnet — he can’t stop looking at it.
“Oi, Merlin,” he says. “What d’ya reckon this is? Is it magic or sommat?”
Merlin’s been sorting linens, mostly into the “for the bin” pile. He looks over.
“It’s got a spell on it,” he says. “Binding, I think. Open it.”
Eggsy doesn’t have any trouble with the lid — on the inside is a folded piece of paper, and something folded and furry.
“Dear Eggsy,” he reads. “If you find this, know that we are sorry. We never meant to keep it this long.” He looks at Merlin. “The fuck?”
Merlin’s come over to join him — there’s a secretive, interested look on his face. “So, pull it out,” he says.
“Said the vicar to the—“
“It’s a fur or sommat,” says Eggsy, pulling it from the box.
“It’s your skin,” says Merlin, all seriousness. He’s gone weird, his face suddenly stern. “By all that’s holy, Eggsy. You’ve found your skin.”
“What?" Eggsy's not in the mood for joking. “Unless you’re going all serial killer on me, explain. I got a skin. ‘M wearing it.”
It’s not like he wouldn’t blame Merlin for going all serial killer on them, but Eggsy’s never seen a fur coat like this one before and he reckons he’d remember being furry.
“Eggsy, did your Mum ever talk to you about being adopted?”
The bottom falls out of Eggsy’s gut and out his arse. “What?”
“Fuck,” says Merlin. “I’d hoped — I didn’t think it would just be here in the apartment. I thought we’d find clues as to where to find it.”
“You knew about this?”
“I’ve known what you were since we met,” says Merlin. “I thought you were fucking game applying to Kingsman, until I realised that you didn’t know what you were.”
“What am I, then?” asks Eggsy. “If I’m not me mum’s, then am I, what, some kind of fucking changeling?” He takes in Merlin’s expression. “What, I’m educated. I know about this shit.”
“You’re not a changeling,” says Merlin. “You’re a selkie. And if I’m right, you were stolen from your real family about twenty years ago.”
“I’m a fucking what?” Eggsy’s so unimpressed. Merlin’s a shady prick, but he could have mentioned this before.
Merlin sighs. “Take off your clothes and I’ll show you.”
“Strip. It’ll be more comfortable.” Merlin’s holding the fur. “Just trust me.”
“I think you oughta know you’re being well weird. This is like the beginning to the worst porno ever.”
“Eggsy. Take off your fucking gear and let me help you into your skin.”
Eggsy does trust him, though — he’s pulling off his shirt. Merlin’s well weird, but he ain’t a perv — Eggsy knows, he’s talked to Percy. Merlin don’t like that sort of thing. Merlin ain’t never fucked anyone, even when he was hit with some sort of sex drug. Or maybe it was a sex spell? Eggsy’s still getting used to spells.
Merlin wraps the sealskin around Eggsy, and it’s an ecstatic pain — he’s never felt anything like this, shit, fuck, he’s dying, he’s turning inside out, he’s in Merlin’s arms and they’re on the floor for some reason. And he’s not in his normal shape.
“There we are,” says Merlin. “There we are, I’ve got you.” Eggsy’s not sure how he ain’t noticed before, but Merlin’s got an aura a mile wide — he’s projecting safe and home and power, more power than a fucking nuclear plant. “There we are, Eggsy. Let’s see if you can take yourself back to human again. Feel my hand on your flipper.”
Flipper — the fuck? — flipper. Merlin’s holding him; Merlin could easily wreck him, if he wanted to, but he’s gently stroking Eggsy’s skin. His other hand is warm against Eggsy’s stomach, big and safe.
“Feel my hand. Focus on your hands. You can be human and not give up your skin.”
He can feel the sea, breathing under his skin — wait, his fur — his human skin — he grounds himself against Merlin, and it’s only now that he realises that Merlin is so, so strong. The sea is calling, faintly, from right inside his veins.
This is stupid, he’s barely even been to the sea.
“Come on, Eggsy,” says Merlin. “Come on, lad. You control the magic. It doesn’t control you.”
He grunts, thinks about it, and then he’s clutching Merlin’s hand. Merlin’s hand tightens a little as Eggsy becomes something — something almost human. It’s enough. He can stand, and he’s upright and it’s like he can breathe deeper, like he’s well again after a long sickness, something he didn’t even know was making him sick. The rotten grief and guilt of his mother’s death are replaced by a certainty that she wasn’t his mother — a detachment, a sense of turning a new, gilded leaf.
“Fuck me,” says Eggsy. “That was intense. So this is me, right?”
“It’s all you,” says Merlin. “I’ve been waiting for the right time to spring it on you, but I had to wait until you got your skin back.”
“Fuck me,” Eggsy repeats. “I’m fucking adopted.”
Merlin takes him to the beach before they go back home, boxes all taped shut and waiting for pickup. “You should get the salt water on you, now you can feel it properly,” he says, cheerful. He’s a bit creepy when he’s cheerful, like he’s going to fuck someone up, but you just don’t know who it is yet. It’s some crappy little beach, way too far away, nothing big or anything, but it’s the closest, and Eggsy’s never been to the beach before except one weekend holiday to Brighton when he was a kid, so he’s excited.
He’s even more excited when he realises that the tide is in — despite a chill to the air, he’s out of the car and into the water, leaving his things with Merlin in favour of being a seal. It’s wonderful. The water is like silk on his skin, and he bobs and rolls and plays in the waves as they come in. Merlin sets up a deckchair outta nowhere — magic? — and fetches a towel, and Eggsy loses himself in the bliss of swimming for what must be an hour or two, because it’s getting dark, and he doesn’t care.
Eventually, generous and comfortable exhaustion takes him in her arms, and he flips into human form as he leaves the waves.
Without looking at him, Merlin throws him a towel, waiting until he’s covered himself before checking him over.
“You liked that?”
“I wanna live here,” says Eggsy. “Just float about and sun myself on rocks and shit. This is brilliant.” He’s almost forgotten the sting of the revelation — he’s adopted. He’s adopted, and his adoptive parents kept this from him.
“Are you sure?” asks Merlin inclining his head, and oh. Oh. There’s Harry, coming to join them.
Harry’s striding across the sand, looking as calm and composed as he ever does, neat and unruffled. He probably doesn’t even have any grit sticking to his shoes. Eggsy’s not really wearing much — mainly a towel and his sealskin — and he feels exposed, naked under Harry’s appraising gaze. He likes it.
“Eggsy,” says Harry, his eyes alive. “Oh darling, look at you. You’re beautiful. Merlin called, and I had to — I had to see. Look at you.”
And all right, so Eggsy’s managed to be human, but the memories of the sea are thrumming through him — they mix with his arousal at seeing Harry, and he’s moving forward, and Harry’s letting him.
“Don’t you break him,” says Merlin, quietly, but it’s unclear whom he’s talking to.
“He’s definitely fae,” says Harry, stalking Eggsy like a big cat. “You know, I almost didn’t believe you when you said he was fae. Why has he never felt like this before?”
“I didn’t know if we could retrieve his skin,” says Merlin, defensive. “I didn’t want him to know but then be trapped as human.”
“What a terrible fate,” Harry agrees.
“So you’re telling me you’re all not human.” Eggsy is holding onto bravado, at least. He can feel his chest caving in, the shock of all this finally getting to him.
“I don’t know what Harry is,” says Merlin.
“Very fucking helpful.”
Then he’s crushed to Harry’s body, and he doesn’t know what to do other than hold on. Harry coos at him and praises him and pets him; he’s covered in light, downy fur across his back and neck, down his sides, but his face and chest are smooth. The fur feels wonderful when Harry strokes it; Eggsy shivers and snuggles unapologetically, and wonder of wonders, Harry allows it.
“We should celebrate,” says Harry, Eggsy still tucked close enough that he hears the words rumble in his chest.
“I give up on you both,” says Merlin, but it’s affectionate. “All right. I know just what Eggsy will enjoy.”
Eggsy takes to everything like a duck — or more properly, seal — to water. His memory of being fae is shot to hell, but his body remembers how to swim, and now he has his skin back, he’s unstoppable. On that first night, Merlin takes them all for sashimi, and Eggsy eats practically his own bodyweight in raw fish — he loudly proclaims that he’s never had it before, thought it was going to be too weird, and Merlin feels a whirl of satisfaction in his stomach when Eggsy gorges himself on his new favourite food.
Eggsy swims the Channel just for the fun of it, and a week later saves Roxy when she’s tied up with weights and shoved off a luxury yacht in the Bahamas; a terrorist group was using it to ferry stolen nuclear warheads until Harry, Eggsy and Roxy arrived. Harry fucking owns him — through his surveillance, Merlin sees Eggsy, in full seal form, rolling over on the deck of the captured yacht so that Harry can scratch his belly and hand-feed him little bits of fish.
They convince Merlin to come out sailing on the tail end of the Bahamas mission, despite the shitty situation at home in England; Eggsy and Roxy frolic happily in the water, twining around each other, splashing, playing. Eggsy catches some fish, lets Roxy cling to his furry neck as he dives to the coral, even chases off a barracuda that is eyeing off the pair of them, wondering if it could take a bite or two of tender human or plump seal. Harry joins them, after a while, but Merlin stays on board and guts the fish, setting some aside raw for Eggsy, descaling the others for dinner.
You ever stop working? It’s Eggsy, rolling around on the deck, still a seal.
“Never,” says Merlin, washing his hands. “I thought I’d put the fish on ice, so that it’s not wasted. It doesn’t do to waste a living creature’s sacrifice.”
I’m glad you came.
Merlin sits in one of the deckchairs, offering a hand to Eggsy. Eggsy flops to his side, gets a scratch on his furry head, and then turns human again at Merlin’s feet, wrapping himself in a towel and resting his temple against Merlin’s knee. Merlin’s learned not to be surprised about magic attracting magic — Eggsy’s affectionate nature is amplified when his innate magic interacts with Merlin’s. They both feel safe together, so their powers try to drag them closer.
Eggsy sighs, looking out to sea. Merlin follows his gaze — Harry looks like he’s teaching Roxy how to hold a position underwater without being detected.
“Why d’ya reckon my parents did it?”
Merlin doesn’t ask did what, or anything quite so stupid. He’s wondered the same thing, ever since he saw Eggsy and had the little electric shock of meeting fae blood in the daylight hours.
“I don’t know,” he says. “My suspicion is that you were abandoned, and they took you in.”
“That’s shit,” says Eggsy. “So my real parents left me somewhere.”
“It’s an odd thought,” says Merlin. “Because you can’t have been in your skin when you were left.”
“Why wouldn’t I have had it on?”
“If you want to be human, totally human, you’ve got to remove it. All of it, all vestiges, all traces. Then you’re human.”
“Fuck that,” says Eggsy. “I don’t wanna be human.”
“Good lad,” says Merlin, and Eggsy butts his head against Merlin’s thigh. Merlin strokes his hand through Eggsy’s hair, the softness at the back where it meets his neck, and his sealskin fur stretches over strong shoulders. He’s thought about this. Lee would have known what Eggsy was, but Michelle might not. He’d found a potential answer in old mission reports, back when the files were kept on paper, dot matrix printed, all that guff.
“I was wondering if maybe my parents were out, like foraging or something, and then Lee found me on my own. Do selkies forage?”
“They’re not seals,” says Merlin. “I’ve been back through the mission reports, and I’ve found a possibility. There’s nothing to say that the fae have to work for the government — they might work for the other team. Metaphorically speaking.”
“My parents were traitors.”
“Likely,” says Merlin. “We’ll never know why Lee Unwin adopted you and tried to pass you off as his own, but it’s very likely that your real parents were behind a very nasty sequence of bombings attributed to the IRA.”
“Lee woulda adopted me because he didn’t like the thought of a little kid being left all alone,” says Eggsy, morosely. “But I bet I woulda been all right if my seal family’d come for me.”
“There’s no way to know that,” Merlin replies. “Are you happy?”
Eggsy looks up at Merlin, big eyes and a hopeful expression. “Yeah,” he says, breathless. “I mean, I got it all now, don’t I? D’you know how big your aura is?”
“Yes,” Merlin replies, somewhat surprised that Eggsy seems to know. “You’ve really taken to magic. Or it’s really taken to you.”
“I think it’s being with you and Harry,” says Eggsy. “You bring it out.”
“Fine, believe what you want,” says Eggsy. “And I’ll believe what I want.” He smiles, nuzzling against Merlin’s leg. It’s really quite distracting, this closeness.
“Come on Eggsy!” That’s Roxy. “Get back in the water, you loaf!”
“Oi, me and Merlin’s having a moment!” Eggsy scrambles up, though, and grins back at Merlin. “You wanna?”
“You go,” says Merlin. He can see Harry treading water behind Roxy; the sun is just kissing the horizon, so this is their last chance for some swimming while the light is good. He’ll make them something nice to eat before they have to fly home, and back to all the responsibilities in the world. “I’m happy where I am.”
Merlin’s finally let them out on the Hunt, and Eggsy can hardly contain his excitement. It’s been a long month — the country isn’t quite in anarchy, but it’s not safe to go out anywhere at night, and Kingsman have been stretched thin just keeping order at home. The world is still off its axis — there’s whole states in America that never regained their equilibrium, and the night denizens of a dozen different places are starting to come into the day.
That hasn’t happened since the Dark Ages. There’s a reason they were Dark, according to Merlin, and it wasn’t because there weren’t no lights.
Thing is, Merlin takes Harry for three hours before the actual Hunt, for blessings and whatever weird shit wizards do. So the first time Eggsy sees him dolled up for the Hunt, he nearly falls off his horse, because what. the. fuck.
“Is that Harry?” asks Roxy, and her tone mirrors Eggsy’s complete disbelief.
“Holy buggering fuck,” Eggsy replies. “Fuck. That’s Harry.”
Harry is wearing brown trousers, probably leather. A blood-coloured cloak, which catches in the wind and billows impressively. A horned helmet; Eggsy wonders (a bit hysterically) how he fits in doorways wearing it, but whatever. And Merlin’s painted him — his eyes are shadowed and dark, and whorls play over his bare chest, which should not be sexy because Harry is old, right, but fuck it’s sexy. He doesn’t look remotely human. Standing in the stirrups, he is tall and weird, a force of nature in his own right. The huge black horse he’s riding comes to meet Eggsy and Roxy.
“Lancelot,” says Harry, his voice gone gravelly and low. “Do you ride with me tonight?”
“Yesssir.” Roxy’s dealt okay with all this magic shit, but it’s been easier for Eggsy. “Yes. Yes sir.”
“Good.” Harry’s fucking dangerous, he is. “Good. Percival. Do you ride with me tonight?”
“Aye, my king.”
“Gawain. Do you ride with me tonight?”
He makes his way along the line of knights, and then he returns to Eggsy. He leans in.
“Galahad,” he says. “You will ride with me tonight.” It’s not an invitation. It’s an order. There’s hoots and catcalls from the shadows of the sweeping drive to HQ, and Eggsy knows with great certainty that they’re not alone. Other creatures — other things like him — are in attendance.
“And if I say no?” He likes to push boundaries.
Harry corners him, still on horseback. “You’ll ride with me, Galahad, and I’ll have you any way I want you.” He kisses Eggsy, hard, nearly dragging him from his horse.
“Yes you fucking will,” whispers Eggsy, because fuck yes, Harry Hart’s mouth on his. It’s not quite Harry, whatever it is that’s possessing his body, but there’s enough of a gleam in those bright, intelligent eyes, enough of a taste to the aura to reassure Eggsy that Harry is in there, that Harry approves, that Harry’s desperate to bend Eggsy over and plunder him, so to speak. It’s in a haze that he remembers the right answer to being asked to ride. “I will ride with you tonight, my lord.”
Merlin drilled them for this, but it’s hard to remember when Harry’s just kissed him in front of everyone.
Harry turns and gives his horse its head, and that’s their cue to follow. The horses aren’t real — they’re like the rods, but each knight has his own and they’re a tiny little figurine, not for breaking. Merlin had let them choose, and taught them the magic words to turn the little metal horses into big breathing horses, and told them that they had to learn to ride and ride well. Not a problem for Roxy — she’d been playing polo since she was big enough to hop on a pony. Eggsy’s gymnastics training had served him well, particularly the part about how to take a fall — it seemed that seals weren’t supposed to get on horses.
“You’re not actually a seal,” said Roxy, when he whined at her. “You’re a selkie. You have hands, Eggsy. And thighs. You can grip; come on, up you get.”
He adores Roxy’s tough love. She’s looking at him now, like you idiot, as Harry takes his place at the front of the column of riders. They’re hooting and chattering, and the Kingsman knights fall in as one behind a motley group of creatures and people — Eggsy sees centaurs, a group of huge foxes wearing armour, a woman riding a cat.
“My dear friends,” says Harry, and the group hushes. It should be stupid, Harry calling all these people and foxes and cats and whatever dear, but it fits, like he really does think the world of them. The energy is high, despite the hush — Eggsy’s feeling a million miles tall. “Remember why it is that we ride. We ride to strike fear into those who would bring what belongs to the Night Court into the world of the humans. We ride to remind them that monsters exist. But above all, we ride to protect the innocent, be they on this side of the veil or denizens of the human world.” He raises a hand, and the rough music starts.
Eggsy doesn’t remember everything of the ride. He barely clings to his mount; he falls off as they ford a road, and it’s only Roxy’s quick thinking that saves him from smashing into the tarmacadam. She pulls him on to ride behind her, and his horse choughs off into the streaming hordes. Hounds pour past — big white dogs with red ears, black dogs and wolves chasing at their heels.
“Hold on,” she says, and Eggsy holds on, soaking in the magic, soaking in the fear and joy, soaking everything in as they pour through city streets. His mum were killed by muggers, and there’s been arseholes raping and looting all over the country each night since Valentine’s Day; Harry told them to spare the innocent, but there are few innocents out at night. A group of wolves snap and lunge at a man who has a woman pressed against a wall, knife to her throat and her blouse torn — she’s bleeding, terrified, until one of the armoured foxes bows and offers her a paw. Behind them, the wolves do their work.
The woman is swept up with the tide of magic, and lost to it — Eggsy can’t see her, but something in him knows that the others will care for her, will see her home.
They cover more ground than should be possible, traveling on lines made of light that trace the scenery, crossing roads and rivers and through buildings like they’re no more substantial than air, thin air. Eggsy’s entranced; he nearly forgets to hold on to Roxy, and she roars at him to keep hanging on. She’s making good time, good pace up to the leader of the pack. Harry. Arthur, who’s dressed in blood and paint, who turns to greet them with a naked, avaricious smile.
“Do you like the sport?” he asks, wheeling around.
Roxy keeps pace; she’s spurring her mount, and Eggsy forces himself to remember it’s not a real horse, even if its sides foam and heart jumps under them. She laughs, sudden and sharp, and Eggsy realises that yes, she likes the sport, she likes being on this side of night. They’d been warned not to stray from the pack — that the strength of the wolf, as Kipling said, lies there. Stray, and you risk losing yourself.
As the grey light of dawn starts to shine at the corners of the world, Arthur leads them home — back to HQ. Eggsy’s still got his arms around Roxy’s waist — he’ll leave bruises, probably — and he takes the chance to look around, see if he can see more of the fae — more of his people — as they thunder home. He’s disappointed. The riders are peeling off, leaving only the Knights — Percival’s got a sword from somewhere, Lamorak’s soaking wet. Merlin awaits, at the end of the run, and as the horses are dismissed into the first rays of dawn, Harry strides up the stairs of the big house to meet their wizard.
“Is it done?”
“It is,” says Arthur.
“Is the land safe?”
“Then return what you hold, and rest.”
Arthur kisses Merlin, and Eggsy feels Roxy stiffen beside him in shock. It’s sort of like seeing your teachers kiss, or something. Weird.
“Well,” says Percy. “Chester never did that bit. He always used to just hand over the crown and sword.”
“Crown and sword?” asks Roxy.
“Hush,” says Bors. “They symbolise the return of power to Merlin. There’ll be time to explain later.”
“My knights,” says Arthur, turning to them. “You’ve done well. Go in peace.”
For all that Arthur talks about peace, he’s got a sharp edge; he’s like a weapons stockpile, mutually assured destruction in the form of a man. Fuck with me and I don’t care if I end us both, his body says. Eggsy’s too busy admiring the lines of Harry’s graceful form to realise that Merlin’s beckoning to him — it takes a nudge from Roxy to work that out.
“He needs a squire, Galahad,” says Merlin. “Go.”
Eggsy bounces up the stairs to follow Arthur, following him in, wondering how far the man’s got. He doesn’t have to look hard — Harry swoops out from behind an arched doorway, still cloaked but antlers — if that’s what they were — gone. Harry’s got him, then and he’s taking everything Eggsy’s got to give him.
“Fuck,” says Eggsy, when they part, and then Harry’s hauling him up so that Eggsy’s legs are around Harry’s waist, and fuck indeed. Eggsy’s not even sure how they get upstairs, but he knows there’s a certain amount of skin and hunger involved, and then Harry’s got him in furs, and Harry’s got leverage, and the warpaint is rubbing off onto Eggsy’s body as Harry possesses him utterly.
After, exhausted, he sleeps and dreams of a churning ocean under a storm, lightning and waves crashing, Harry and blood and sex all wrapping around his soul and Eggsy loving every moment.
“Do you know what an avatar is?” asks Roxy, from the doorway to Merlin’s study.
“Hello, Roxy. Lovely morning, I agree,” says Merlin.
She did marvellously, Harry said, after he’d come down from the high of the evening. She did marvellously, kept her head, even spurred him to ride hard. Merlin’s so proud of their Lancelot — it’s never easy for someone non-magical to join the Hunt, and she’s taken it all in stride. Uninvited, she comes in and joins him.
“Merlin, don’t obfuscate,” she says. “I know what I saw last night.”
“An avatar is an incarnation of a deity. Harry’s not a god.”
“He’s King Arthur, though,” she says. “Isn’t he, Merlin?”
Merlin smiles. He’s only had to explain this a few times — most new recruits are awed enough by the Hunt itself to not ask any further questions — and he’s pleased that this time it’s Roxy asking. Lee Unwin had asked, although now that question looks strange in hindsight, knowing he had a selkie pup at home.
“Come and sit down. I’ll make some tea — we might be a while.”
She helps with the tea, adds lemon, and patiently waits for him to talk. He likes that about her, too — it’s not that he doesn’t enjoy Eggsy’s puppyish glee, it’s more that the morning after a Hunt is slow for Merlin, the magic still winding its way back into his bones.
“Kingman took over the duties of the Hunt when it was formed,” says Merlin, eventually. “The modern world was threatening to quash it; after World War One, the decision was made that a new Round Table was necessary, new Knights. That Merlin — whatever incarnation he may be in — would be part of this group. If you wish to talk about avatars, you must first look to me.”
“Do you remember what it was like to be the original Merlin?”
“No,” says Merlin. “The water you drink was once inside a dinosaur, but you don’t remember the dinosaur. The power I have was once inside the first Merlin, but I don’t remember Merlin-as-he-was.”
“And what about Harry?”
“It’s been the duty of the man who holds the position of Arthur to act as the leader of the Hunt,” says Merlin.
“You’re not going to tell me that Chester was like the Harry I saw last night.”
“No,” says Merlin. “He wasn’t.” He takes a mouthful of tea. “To be honest, Roxy, I don’t know what’s happening to Harry. It’s as good a theory as any that he’s taking on Arthur in more than just name.”
“And what about Eggsy?”
“What about him?”
“He’s my best friend,” says Roxy. “He’s also madly in love with Harry, and last night, it looked like…”
“It looked like Harry claimed him.”
“Was it Harry, or Arthur?” she counters. “They’ve been dancing around each other for weeks — ever since Eggsy found out he’s a selkie, Harry’s been more interested. Does he want Eggsy, or does he want what Eggsy is?”
And by all the stars in the heavens, Merlin realises that Roxy is delicately trying to give him — and by proxy, Harry — the shovel talk. And it’s not laughable, because loyalty is the foundation of everything they do, and Roxy has to know that Merlin could destroy her just by thinking about it, but she’s still standing up for the man she’s identified as her best friend.
“Power talks to power,” says Merlin. “Finding his skin made Eggsy powerful. Harry wouldn’t touch unless he knew that Eggsy could hurt him.”
“You think Eggsy couldn’t hurt him before? You think I couldn’t, now?”
“I think that throwing off his daylight self let Harry shed enough inhibitions to take what he wanted,” says Merlin. “And from what I’ve seen, Eggsy didn’t have any inhibitions to start with.” Roxy laughs, but then gazes at him, soberly. “This is difficult for you, isn’t it?”
“I’m beginning to understand how Eggsy felt when he first came to Kingsman,” says Roxy. “This is a world I know nothing about. At least during training we did things I understood.”
He squeezes her arm. “Talk to Percy. He hated it to begin with. And you did brilliantly last night.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“Have I ever given a compliment lightly, in your experience?”
Her eyes widen. “No.”
“Then take it. And talk to Percy.”
“Promise me you’ll take care of Eggsy?” she asks.
“I promise,” he says, and means it.
Eggsy wakes after the third night of the hunt, with Harry and Merlin. Harry’s on his back, Eggsy cuddled against his chest; by rights he should be sticky with dried paint and sweat and blood and everything else, but he’s clean and warm. Merlin’s snuggled in to Harry’s other side, a hand lazily stroking Eggsy’s arm where Eggsy’s spread it across Harry’s stomach.
“I’m sorry,” says Eggsy, automatically. “Shit, Merlin, I—“
“What?” asks Merlin. He sounds slurred, like he’s exhausted.
“But you’n Harry…?” Eggsy’s sure that he didn’t go to bed with Merlin in the bed. He’d been pretty spectacularly fucked, for sure, but he would’ve remembered Merlin joining in. Actually, he’d rather like Merlin joining in. They’ve all seen Harry kiss Merlin, so he didn’t even have the excuse that he didn’t know that Merlin ’n Harry…
“Not what you’re thinking,” says Harry, cupping the back of Eggsy’s head in his palm. He seems to like doing that, catching him so he can’t squirm. “Merlin’s married to the land.”
“That’s a terrible way to put it,” grumbles Merlin.
“So what, he’s cheating on the land with you?”
Eggsy’s got no idea what’s going on. Harry threads his fingers through Eggsy’s hair, a counterpoint to Merlin stroking his arm. Eggsy’s suddenly not sure he cares, if he gets Merlin and Harry petting him at the same time.
Harry yawns. “Oh, not really. I’ve shared him for years now.”
“And now you’re sharing with— with me?”
“If you want that, lad,” says Merlin. “But I don’t go in for all this fluids and fucking.”
And that sort of makes sense of why Merlin wouldn’t have been there at the start of the evening. Eggsy thinks about Merlin’s hand against the velvet fur of his stomach, though, and his magic holding Eggsy safe and loved, and he smiles, nuzzling back in to Harry’s warmth.
“That’s better,” says Harry, lazily. “We’ll sleep in, and then we can go for a swim in the river with Roxy and Bors. You’ll like that, won’t you darling?”
“Mmmm,” Eggsy replies. He will like that, he likes nothing better than swimming. Well. Maybe being petted and stroked and loved. That’s better than swimming. Merlin’s practically bathing them both in silent, magical adoration, and he wonders how he ever got on before they found his skin. “Can I have a fish for breakfast?”
“You can have as many fish as you like.” Harry sounds amused. “But brush your teeth before we kiss you.”
Eggsy smiles. We. “It’s a deal.”
It’s coincidence that Eggsy’s erstwhile stepfather is caught by the Hunt — Merlin knows it’s coincidence, because he didn’t manufacture it, and he’s the only wizard in the country powerful enough to conjure a coincidence that great. Harry tears Dean apart without remorse, without Eggsy knowing, although perhaps the man guesses once it’s all over, because he wipes the blood away with reverence, and then lets Harry bite his neck, bedding him with urgency and violence. Merlin can feel their pleasure wash to the corners of the room — while he doesn’t understand the need, he can still interpret it, like knowing bits and pieces of a foreign language.
After, he joins them for sleep, kissing the bites that Harry’s left on their selkie’s sweet little neck, deliberately not healing them so that the court will all see, will all know, will all understand Eggsy’s place at Harry’s side. The furs that Harry wants to sleep in, Merlin really doesn’t know how to manage, but he uses a swift cleaning spell on them, because there’s nothing he won’t do for Harry Hart.
Merlin’s not sure what to think about Harry. Something changed in Harry, the first night of the Hunt. He’s not as buttoned down; he knows his boundaries with Merlin, but he doesn’t always seem to with other people — the predator that’s always lived behind his eyes is no longer veiled. He’s trailing magic where he goes, but it’s not like Merlin’s magic, or the fae — it’s more a sense of certainty about everything, the world re-orienting itself to meet him.
There’s three nights of the Hunt whilst the moon is full. The agents join for the second, most months, and even though Merlin knows they’re all cowed by Harry, this new Harry, this Harry who lets his violent streak reign over him for three nights a month, he still lets them see everything it’s possible to see. He engineers the third month of the Hunt to show them Harry’s raw power, and he’s delighted when it pays off quite as spectacularly as it does.
Tonight, for the viewing pleasure of the night court, Merlin’s brought out Excalibur. The sword lies in stone again, placed dramatically in the sweeping drive before the pacing horses — Harry takes the hilt, and draws it from the rock. He’s not the first to draw it out — there’ve been others, during the world wars, during plague years, whipping up the great fire of London — but he’s the first that this incarnation of Merlin has seen.
Beside Merlin, Eggsy is swearing a blue streak.
“He really is fucking King Arthur. I seen the fucking sword in the fucking stone! Harry’s fucking—“
“Shut up.” That’s Percival, saying what everyone is thinking.
“Eggsy, for the love of God,” says Roxy. “This is supposed to be a formal occasion. Reverential, even.”
Arthur sweeps past them and tears Eggsy from Merlin’s side, pulling him into a bruising kiss. Merlin spots the others watching — they’re not above being jealous of Eggsy Unwin, especially now he’s got his skin back, now he can walk on this side of the veil without fear, now that it’s all too obvious who Arthur’s favourite is.
“You’re too far from the sea, little one,” Arthur says, with the ferocious grace of a predator. “You will ride with me tonight, and I’ll take you to the western shore.”
“Fuck,” says Eggsy. “Fuck, yes, H—“
“Arthur,” Merlin says, meaningfully, and he bows. “My liege.”
“Arfur,” says Eggsy, his eyes enormous as he looks at Merlin. Then he’s scrambling onto Arthur’s charger, right behind the man, and Arthur laughs, feral and terrifying, before letting the horse rear and thunder to the top of the column of riders, the hoots and calls of the Wild Hunt behind him.
Merlin isn’t shocked by Arthur taking Eggsy on his own horse. He isn’t even shocked when Arthur thoroughly debauches Eggsy in full view of the waiting court, although Roxy clearly is, from the strangled noises she’s making. It’s not like they’ve been subtle, but he supposes there’s a difference between hearing about Eggsy’s adventures between the sheets and seeing Arthur ravish him under a full moon.
He is shocked when the Lady of the Forests makes her way out of the crowd and moves to his side.
“Merlyn,” she says, tenderly. “This incarnation suits you.”
“My lady.” He bows low.
She laughs. “You’ve done well this time; if the choice had been yours, then perhaps Chester would not have been Arthur so long. My apologies for making you wait.”
He nearly stops breathing, because this is the Lady of the Forests apologising to him. Merlin might be the most powerful wizard in the country — perhaps the world — but he’s not a god. He’s not used to gods saying sorry.
“I didn’t know how good Harry would be.”
“He was no good at all, until you fixed him.”
“What did I do, when I brought him back from death’s borders?” asks Merlin. “The raw power he’s drawing with him…”
“He has walked in both worlds; he has gone into the Shadowlands and returned,” says the Lady. “He will always belong to both here and there. His blood remembers the first Arthur, and so the new Arthur he has become.”
Merlin knows that most people who can trace their lineage back in this country for any decent number of centuries probably have a little blood of the first king Arthur in them, but he hadn’t thought that such a diluted proportion could call so powerfully.
“Was the first Arthur like this, then?” he asks, because if anyone remembers, she will.
“By night?” she replies. “Oh, yes.”
The courts of Day and Night meet on Midsummer’s Eve, when the light bleeds late into the night and the gates of the palace become insubstantial as mist. Eggsy’s on his own mount, Arthur taking the lead again, Excalibur sheathed at his side. He dismounts, and walks the final distance.
King Charles walks down to meet them. His mother abdicated after V-day — she is, thankfully, alive — but he still carries himself with the posture of the son who never thought he’d rule. Eggsy remembers his first mission after V-day — the car bomb that would have scuttled the Queen’s abdication speech — and smiles. He’s a lot more comfortable in his skin, now.
The two men meet as equals of sorts, hands clasped to shoulders. At first Eggsy thinks that the King’s saying the “night king” of England, but it might be the “knight king”. Can you be a knight king? Isn’t the point that they’re different things? It feels like the whole city is watching, the sky is watching.
Still, the paparazzi that line the city streets won’t get photos of the two worlds meeting. Usually, the Hunt can’t be seen by mortals, unless they’ve agreed to join in, but on Midsummer the rules are different. It doesn’t matter. The red-eared dogs have chased the humans back; Merlin will have made sure that cameras flare and pixellate, the CCTV going on the blink for the evening. The people — the real people — who see this will return home, wondering if it’s fantasy or not. Some of them might stray into fairyland, never to return. Eggsy doesn’t blame them. Fairyland is beautiful.
“Brother,” says Arthur. “Will you join the Hunt?”
“For tonight,” says Charles.
“Galahad. Your horse.”
Eggsy dismounts, leading the bay forward. He bows — his court etiquette is so much better than it was — and steps back. The day king is helped onto the fairy horse by his attendants; Eggsy will ride with Roxy. She’s Arthur’s best and bravest knight, the only one he trusts with Eggsy’s safety in the twilight world of the fae.
Arthur calls the riders to attention, once, twice, three times — swings onto his horse — and then they’re whooping and riding and chasing down the dawn.
There’s rumours in London about the full moon. People going missing — the fairies are wreaking havoc and war upon those who would seek to destabilise and destroy, the people whose violence cannot be allowed into the daylight world. There’s no comment from the authorities, of course, and if and when someone is caught by the hunt, it’s a terrible tragedy, an accident, a missing person, nothing more. Despite this, everything is getting better — nights are safer, even safer than before V-Day. Miracles and wonders. Miracles and wonders.
It wouldn’t do to let the whole world know just how powerful Britain’s magic is. Not when some places are copping to it — when, devastated by V-day, they are forced to bring any power they can bear into the light. Apparently even China is on the verge of an announcement. Merlin’s just waiting for it.
Merlin putters in the greying dawn, using his aura to maintain awareness of Harry and Eggsy upstairs. He shivers a little with their pleasure — it’s not awful, when it’s secondhand. They’re always so urgent on a full moon, like Arthur wants to get grounded, but he’s picked a fae to ground himself with, which is like clutching a stripped electric wire to power down. Merlin waits until the urgency subsides, replaced with a luxurious stillness, a laziness that he can feel dragging at him even as he climbs the stairs.
Eggsy’s dreaming of the sea again. Merlin leans over Eggsy and Harry, mutters a warming spell, then tucks the furs of their nest higher so that bare skin is covered against the chill of the early morning. Furs. The things he puts up with for these two.
“Merlin,” mumbles Harry.
“Yes?” He’s rather more sensibly clothed than his king and the selkie, but he’s still cold up here with the window thrown open to the sky. A lark chatters outside.
“C’mere.” That’s Eggsy. Merlin sighs, pretends to be put upon, and then joins them. He won’t fuck under the full moon, because that’s not who he is. But he’s happiest when he’s watching over his men, when he’s warm and safe with them, when he can protect and keep them.
“My wizard,” says Harry, affectionately, wrapping an arm around him. He’s like a furnace. “We’re coming to an understanding with the Day King. We’ll keep the kingdom safe.”
“We will,” says Merlin, as Eggsy runs his fingers over Merlin’s skin. “Eggsy?”
“Damn right,” says Eggsy, grinning at him across Harry’s body. “We’re the fucking knights of the round table.”
“Language,” scolds Harry, but he’s smiling.
Eggsy burrows in, and Harry kisses his hair, turning to kiss Merlin open-mouthed. The warpaint is smeared on his cheek, and he smells of sweat, of man. Merlin’s mouth practically waters with it, Harry’s breath in his, pressed close.
“My Merlin,” says Harry, again, when they part, moving no further than kisses. He knows where and how to push, and where not to go. Merlin trusts him completely.
Merlin smiles, the last threads of the night and the night court clinging to them. “My King.”
“Oi, what about me?” Eggsy doesn’t sound too put out.
“Our darling,” says Harry.
It’s pleasant — no, that’s too weak a word. It’s more than that, more than the English language can express. Merlin closes his eyes, and fairly soon, Eggsy’s dreaming of the sea again and Merlin can feel it, can smell the salt-sharp air.
“You made the right choice.” It’s Harry, only it’s not. Merlin opens his eyes, heart thudding, looks at him, and Harry’s eyes are not his own — green-blue, heterochromatic. Harry’s normal eyes are brown.
“Arthur?” he breathes, and gets a broad hand stroked down his flank in response.
“Whatsthat?” Harry asks.
“Nothing. Get some sleep,” says Merlin.
Merlin lets Harry trace patterns like tattoos against his bicep, listens to the whispering water in Eggsy’s dream, sends his magic out to gather intel even as they’re resting here. Yes, China’s made the announcement — there are dragons in the Yangtze, and it’s spurred America into making their own magic known. Will the King of England follow suit? There’s a lot of snide commentary that England’s doing so well post-Valentine — either they knew something before everyone else, or…
Merlin sleeps. It’s been a long night, blurring into long days.
When he wakes, Eggsy’s gone. Harry’s there, though, and he brings Merlin coffee and toast, and then joins him back in bed.
“Where’s our Eggsy?” Merlin’s voice is morning-hoarse, even to his own ears.
“There’s been a spot of bother in Venice. He’ll be home by the weekend.” Harry smiles. “He was worried about not telling you; I think he eventually believed I’d convince you he was safe.”
“He’ll have a ball in the canals.”
“My thoughts exactly.” They’re quiet, then, happy in each other’s company. Merlin finishes his toast, and then settles back, leaning against Harry.
“How are you faring with this…” he begins, and he’s not sure how to end, “…this magic?”
“Do you mean do I mind giving over my body to a long-dead king?”
“That’s not how it works.”
“I know,” says Harry. “It feels like he was always part of me; I just had to wake him up. I thought —“ He falters. “I thought after America, that I’d done something fundamental to my sense of self by killing all those people. But I hadn’t, had I? I’d just put the key into the lock. And then you turned it by sending me out on the Hunt.”
Harry puts aside the breakfast things and hunkers down with Merlin, holding him in the shelter of his arms. Merlin closes his eyes, listens to Harry’s steady heartbeat.
Harry gets close, whispers in his ear. “And I’m loving every moment of it.”
“I wondered if I’d broken you, at first,” says Merlin. “You and Eggsy both.”
“You didn’t break me,” Harry replies, kissing him. “You didn’t break Eggsy. What you broke are the chains that were holding us back.”
Eggsy’s second time in a secret bunker with loads of important people is better than his first. For a start, there’s no-one shooting at him. For seconds, Harry’s alive and well and has a seat at the table. Eggsy’s making faces at Roxy whilst the Day King talks, and it’s only when she sends a message to make his earpiece give him a mild electric shock that he stops and listens to what’s being said.
“…yes,” says the King. “In light of the recent announcements by Germany, China, the US, India and Argentina, I can confirm that the magic of the British Isles has awoken.”
The clamour in the secret cabinet room is like seagulls flocking around a chip. Eggsy makes eye contact again with Roxy across the room. They’re ready to go if anything goes wrong — Merlin’s given her a charm bracelet full of spells, and Eggsy’s got a few defensive cantrips that Merlin’s taught him, taking advantage of his innate magical ability. He’s really good with water, can hold his breath for ages, can turn a bottle of spring water into a minor flood.
“And what form has that taken?” asks the head of MI6. He’s got four agents with him. The US Defence people brought twelve, and six of them have had to wait outside.
The King smiles. “King Arthur has returned.”
That shuts everyone up for thirty seconds. Then, a tentative voice asks, “Can we see him?” It’s like a levee breaking.
“Will you abdicate?”
“When did you find out? How long have you known?”
“The King Arthur? As in Monty Python, Sword-in-the-Stone King Arthur?”
King Charles holds up a hand for silence. Remarkably, they give it to him.
“There are two courts,” he says. “Two crowns. I will not abdicate.” He looks rueful. “Pray that you never see him hunt, or if you do, that he is on your side.”
“Are we going to tell the world?” That’s the Prime Minister.
“My friends,” says Harry. Eggsy can feel the magic fucking flowing from him, and from the looks of the others in the room, so can they. “I’ve always thought that real power came from showing, rather than telling. And we’re doing a rather magnificent job of the former, are we not?”
“Kingsman,” says the chief of MI5. He’s not as calm as MI6, not nearly as composed. “Look to who you’re calling friends.”
“Oh,” says Harry. “I certainly hope we’re not enemies.”
Everyone knows everyone post-Valentine — all the agents have had to get used to working together, Kingsman came out of the shadows, even the reclusive M has allowed himself to be seen by more than his agents. It’s sobering, that tragedy caused this coming together of ministries and agencies.
“We’ll be working with Kingsman on magical/non-magical co-operation,” says the King, as if that isn’t a fucking clue.
MI5 stands. “I’m not working with dilettantes.”
Eggsy’s got words on the tip of his tongue, and he can see Roxy playing with the charms on her bracelet, probably looking for the gun. This is a knife-edge — if either MI5 or Harry presses too hard, someone’s gonna get cut. Harry stands to join MI5, and everything stops. Eggsy’s fucking sure that Excalibur weren’t sheathed by his side when they came in — the metal detectors would’ve picked it up — but here it is now, all beautiful and glowy and obviously a magical fucking sword.
“I think,” says Harry, “that we all have the same purpose, even if we go about it in different ways. And I assure you I am no dilettante.” He’s all Arthur, in that moment, and Eggsy can see why people waited a thousand years for the bloke to return. MI5 makes no more moves towards him; Harry turns and bows a little to the head of the table. “Sire. My apologies.”
He sits. Showing rather than telling indeed.
The rest of the meeting passes in a blur — no announcement is to be made, but each agency is to send a representative for the next Hunt. After, Eggsy and Roxy sit in one of the grand front rooms whilst the two kings dine together, watching the interagency groups leave, the cctv cameras out the front deliberately turned away.
They haven’t gone public yet, but everyone knows. There’s whispers on the breeze, and sometimes, if a mortal strays too far from the path and ends up inside a fairy ring, a gentle hand will guide them back, or if they’re a bad person, then justice will be swift and with sharp teeth. And when the moon is full, all who know stay clear of the leys, those glowing lines of light — stay clear of the forests, and the standing stones. There’s magic in the land again; it’s not always clean and pleasant and beautiful.
Yet the risen King isn’t as capricious as his subjects, and the fae know how he wants them to tend to the humans.
“D’ya think it’ll work?” Eggsy asks, idly. “A new Golden Age?”
“I think it already has worked,” says Roxy. “It’s working.”
“Terrible fucking cost.”
She squeezes his hand. “Yeah,” she says. “But isn’t that how Merlin says magic works? You’ve got to give up something big to get something big?”
“Do you regret it?” she asks, as the double-doors open, and there’s Harry, just Harry in his suit. Arthur’s been and gone, lurking just beneath the surface. Eggsy loves Harry as Harry, and loves Harry as Arthur, and he couldn’t be prouder to stand by his side. Roxy smiles at him. He must look fucking besotted.
“I hope it’s not about regrets and looking back,” Eggsy replies. “I hope it’s about going forward.”
He practically bounds to Harry’s side, making contact, checking he’s real.
“We’ve decided to let them know,” says Harry, gesturing to the window, past it to the waiting cameras at the gates.
“You sure?” asks Eggsy. He brushes Harry’s cheek — Harry captures his hand and kisses his wrist.
“Not yet. Soon.”
“Fuck me,” says Eggsy, and he smiles up at Harry. “Rox, you hear that?”
“I heard it,” says Roxy, standing beside them.
And Eggsy doesn’t regret everything that’s happened, not really. It’s not better or worse than the time before magic came back; it’s different. He tries to snag Harry’s other hand, a point of contact between them, tries to communicate everything he’s feeling without saying aught. He misses his old life, but he couldn’t live without Harry and Merlin, without Kingsman and Roxy, without his magic and his skin and the feel of salt water.
Harry smiles, tangles their fingers tightly and brings Eggsy’s knuckles to his lips.
“Very chivalrous,” says Merlin’s voice through Eggsy’s earpiece, so he’s probably broadcasting to all three of them. How long’s he been listening for? Eggsy doesn’t really care. “Kiss him for me, will you?”
Harry obliges. Roxy rolls her eyes a bit, but it’s fond, and she’s his best girl, so whatever. Harry keeps their hands entwined, as they’re shown out by the palace guards, down to the waiting car, to the waiting worlds of day and night. The Hunt will be busy, once they add more agents to it. There’ll be pressure from all quarters.
“Any comment?” asks a man, through the tall fences. “We know there was a secret meeting in there today. They’ve chased almost all of us off, but you won’t keep the truth hidden for long.”
“Shall we?” asks Harry, that dangerous gleam in his eye, and Eggsy shakes his head, just a little. “Ah, I suppose you’re right.”
“Shall you what?” The guy’s scented blood.
“Perhaps next month,” says Harry, and the sunlight gleams off Excalibur’s sheath at his waist. Eggsy nearly laughs. Merlin’s gonna kill them.
Harry’s impulsive, and he’s hard not to just blindly follow, to blindly agree with simply because he’s Harry-fucking-Hart. Clarence House will be pissed off with them for even talking to a reporter, but who the fuck cares? Not Eggsy.
He hears Merlin murmur, and Roxy floors it, mortal and beautiful, leaving the daylight crown and all that comes with it in the dust.
“You heard Eggsy and Roxy talking,” says Merlin, much later that night, planning strategy for the next Hunt, what to show the world, what to keep for themselves. “Would you change things? Change all of it, or any of it?” It’s like a sore tooth — he can’t help prodding. “We’ll be in the open, once the daylight world joins the Hunt. We won’t be able to keep any of it a secret.”
“I’m not worried about that,” says Harry, his feet up on his desk, sword by the fireplace, tablet in his lap. He’s flicking through mission reports almost idly, signing them off electronically. “Does it bother you that much?” He stretches, putting the tablet aside. “Come on. Bedtime.”
It’s really not cold enough at nights yet for a fire, but Eggsy went swimming and came back chilled, so Merlin insisted. Eggsy’s asleep on the hearthrug, still in seal form, curled up with his pug. Merlin’s heart warms when Harry gracefully swings to his feet, moving to Eggsy’s side. Eggsy stirs, rolls himself over, and wordlessly, trustingly settles back down in Harry’s arms.
Merlin sighs. “I suggested you as Arthur. I didn’t know where it would lead us.”
It’s nothing like when Chester was Arthur, and it’s everything that Merlin’s ever wanted. Harry seems to know. He smiles, unutterably fond, and then scoops Eggsy up in his arms, ready to take him upstairs to bed. He’s easier to carry when he’s a seal — despite his smooth fur, he has a lower body mass. Eggsy cuddles in to Harry’s warmth, and Merlin’s surprised that the burst of affection that suffuses his own aura isn’t visible through the whole of HQ.
“I wouldn’t be happy if I had nothing left to challenge me,” says Harry. “Nor would you, or Eggsy, or Roxy, or any of us. That’s not why we became Kingsmen. This path may have been unexpected, but it wasn’t unwelcome.”
“It wasn’t?” Merlin’s not used to self-doubt, but he has to confirm it.
“Not at all,” says Harry. “I wouldn’t change things for the world.”