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make a true believer

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Harry leaves a hole in the world when he dies.

At least, that’s how it feels to Eggsy. He barely has time to register the pain of it in the days immediately following Valentine’s attack; Kingsman are being worked too hard to brake for anything but the most pressing of injuries. The beauty of Valentine’s little SIM card trick is that it worked on so many levels – there’s nothing quite like trying to meet your neighbour’s eye in the street a few days after you’d tried to brain them with a biscuit tin at the local coffee morning, and blowing that up on a global scale makes for a mess the likes of which Kingsman hasn’t seen since the Cold War. Every country that can go on the offensive in a serious fuck-off kind of way immediately does, and those that can’t immediately start lobbying for protection from those that can. Merlin brushes the dust off about a dozen old alliances with other agencies, government-mandated or not, and sets them all to work, although it clearly doesn’t sit well with him. Shockingly, Kingsman and MI5 don’t exactly get along during peacetime.

‘Too many egos the size of small continents, by any chance?’ Roxy asks and when Merlin laughs, Eggsy makes an effort to smile. It’s the sixth day after V-Day. They’re sat in Merlin’s office making up a list of Kingsman staff killed in the line of duty; they need all the laughs they can get.

‘Still haven’t heard from Gawain,’ Merlin sighs, running a hand over his head. Eggsy makes eye contact with Roxy, who nods.

‘Might be time to put him on the list, then,’ she says gently.

‘Not until we know for sure,’ Merlin sighs. ‘And that’s not me being sentimental, it’s just – he’s a resourceful lad, if anyone might still turn up after weeks, it’ll be him.’

‘But if he hasn’t made contact by now, if he is still alive, Merlin – surely that indicates that he might have been one of Valentine’s men?’ Roxy says. God, Eggsy’s so grateful she’s here. He doesn’t think he’d have the stomach to raise that with Merlin today.

‘You’re right,’ Merlin says. ‘But there’s still the chance he’s lying unconscious in a ditch somewhere and he’s not a traitor, so,’ he trails off, staring blankly into his empty coffee cup.

‘So we’ll wait a bit longer,’ Eggsy fills in the blank, trying to look encouraging. Merlin nods, then gets an urgent call from the tech team in Brazil over his headset and turns away, already tapping on his laptop.

It’s like that all the time, days broken down into scheduled attempts at recovery. Eggsy flies to twelve different countries in three weeks on a string of black ops missions while Roxy plays the diplomat, hiding the strain behind pretty words and even prettier dresses. Eggsy waves him off when Merlin thanks them for going above and beyond. He assumes it’s different for Roxy but from where he’s standing, nothing feels like too much anymore; his baseline for horror got reset on bloody Kentucky tarmac, and he doesn’t have room for any more negotiation. Several vital parts of him seem to have shut up shop completely, with just enough still working to keep him breathing, talking, functioning like a passable replica of a real boy.

On the twelfth day Roxy catches him on a flying visit to the base before he sets off for Seoul and she leaves for Paris, and hugs him for a bit too long.

‘Hey, Rox,’ he murmurs, stroking the back of her head.

‘What,’ she sniffs into his chest.

‘D’you reckon Merlin used to have hair before he joined Kingsman? Or he was like born bald and he was like this weird bald kid in school? ‘Cause –’

‘I can hear you right now, you know,’ Merlin says loudly over Eggsy’s glasses. ‘If you’re going to joke about me, at least make it an actual joke.

Roxy’s muffling her laughs into the material of Eggsy’s jacket, so he counts it as a win.

He powers through the missions put in front of him and helps Merlin out whenever he’s back at base, and sometimes when he has a few hours free he goes over to his mum’s and plays with Daisy, who’s just starting to talk in actual toddler sentences, although she still refers to him mostly as ‘Egg’. He hasn’t bothered looking for a place of his own, reasoning that he’s not been in the country enough to bother about it yet, and the only time it’s ever come up his mum looked so conflicted he started to worry about her blood pressure. That’s another inspired side effect of Valentine’s whole operation that none of them had seen coming; is it better or worse to have your loved ones close, knowing from first-hand experience what you’d be capable of doing to them if someone twisted your brain chemistry just right?

Eggsy pushes that particular mindfuck right out of his head and focuses on reeling from one day to the next without falling down. He feels like he’s made up of nothing but directionless momentum, winding himself tighter with every mission and terrified of running out of fuel. He doesn’t sleep for days at a time and when he does his dreams are all Harry, cruel and sweet and short like a handful of holiday snapshots thrown down on a kitchen table – Harry laughing at his bad manners, smiling at him over a whiskey glass, Harry’s hands moving as he fights, a perfect clockwork dance. Sometimes when Eggsy wakes up he lies to himself about Harry being on holiday or a long undercover mission and it’s easier, for the space of a breath, to bear his absence. He thinks about how Harry would be in the sun, sleeves rolled up, laughing, the tip of his nose peeling with sunburn.

‘How are you getting on, Eggsy?’ Merlin asks on the eighteenth day, and Eggsy hears the question underneath it. He’s asking about Harry in the way that he does about a hundred times a day, looking over to check on Eggsy, squeezing his shoulder in solidarity when Eggsy can’t dodge it anymore and finally buckles up to write the report on what happened with Arthur. He doesn’t really need to ask but he does anyway. Eggsy gets the feeling Merlin doesn’t have a lot of people left to lose.

‘Golden, Merlin,’ he smiles and it probably doesn’t even look fake. He’s always been a good liar when he puts his mind to it and he doesn’t want Merlin to worry, the poor bloke’s got enough on his plate as it is. What would he even say? He was in Pamplona this morning and now he’s in London, and soon he’ll be in Oslo or Amsterdam or Monaco, shooting bad guys, trying to stop civilisation collapsing, with a hole in his chest big enough to put a fist through. He could be anywhere in the world, and when he gets back Harry will still be gone.

---

It happens on a Thursday, three months and sixteen days after Valentine’s attack.

Eggsy comes into work with dark circles under his eyes. Daisy’s teething again and he’d volunteered to stay up soothing her while his mum finally got some bloody sleep, and got all of about two hours of it himself for his trouble. He buttoned his shirt up wrong three times this morning, his hair’s a fucking mess, and he hasn’t had any coffee yet. He is sleeping for at least six hours tonight if he has to kill a man to do it.

The moment he sees Merlin he can tell something’s gone on – for a spy, Merlin is genuinely crap at keeping his feelings off his face.

‘What,’ he says. His heart’s already pounding, always hovering on the knife-edge of panic these days. His mind darts to Roxy, supposed to get back from a surveillance operation in Slovakia this morning. ‘What’s wrong, what –’

‘Eggsy,’ Merlin starts and then looks like he doesn’t know what to say – Merlin, whose job it’s been to deliver bad news for months, so how fucking bad can this possibly be?

‘Merlin,’ he says urgently, ‘just fucking tell me what –’

‘Harry’s alive,’ Merlin says, and the bottom drops out of Eggsy’s stomach.

‘What,’ he says, then stops. ‘Harry – what.’ Merlin is suddenly a lot closer and trying to hand him a bottle of water. Eggsy’s fingers mechanically close around it. His voice cracks. ‘When did you –’

‘I found him in Cuba, in one of the safe houses,’ Merlin says. Eggsy looks down at the water bottle, then back up at Merlin.

‘What,’ he says again, and the corner of Merlin’s mouth twitches like he’s trying hard not to smile. Eggsy registers dimly that he looks brighter, more animated, almost close to mirth again after so long in the dark, because Harry’s – Harry’s alive.

Alive. The word reverberates in Eggsy’s head until it feels meaningless, incomprehensible.

‘The bastard survived the gunshot, Eggsy. He woke up in a hospital in Kentucky with little memory of what went on at the church, then managed to get himself out of the country and sequestered in the safe house. God only knows what kind of favours he had to call in. I wouldn’t even have known he was there if I hadn’t been running a routine equipment check on the CCTV and found out he’d disabled it months ago.’

‘But why didn’t he – did you know? Did you know he was alive, all this time?’ He blurts, heart hammering. It doesn’t make sense – Merlin looks as if he’s still ticking it over mentally himself, adjusting to this new world that still has Harry in it – but no one gets this far into Kingsman without being a bloody good actor, and back when they were organising Harry’s funeral it had been Merlin’s assumption that Valentine had taken care of Harry’s body that led to them burying an empty coffin. Eggsy still visits the grave sometimes. He was there last weekend, putting down a fresh bunch of lilies and scraping the first suggestions of moss from the headstone.

‘I found out about half an hour ago, but thanks for the vote of confidence,’ Merlin says, running a hand over his head. His eyes still have that faraway, wondering look. ‘As for him – well, he found out about the situation with Chester pretty fast when Gawain turned up and tried to kill him. Roxy was right, as it turns out,’ he shrugs wearily, rubbing his temples. ‘Gawain was playing both sides – he knew about Chester and Valentine but held off on getting the chip. He could be a bit funny about blood,’ Merlin says, and goes silent for a long moment, clearly swallowing something painful before he clears his throat and finishes, ‘And obviously once Harry realised there was corruption in the ranks, he decided to stay put until he could figure out who was still loyal.’

Eggsy’s stomach swoops. Harry thought Eggsy might not be loyal, he – he didn’t want Eggsy to know he was alive.

Harry’s alive.

‘So what, he’s,’ Eggsy says, words rasping out, ‘he’s on his way here? He’s coming here now?’

‘He’ll be here within the next few hours, yes,’ Merlin says, watching him. ‘Lad, do you need to sit down?’

‘I’m not a fucking invalid, Merlin,’ Eggsy snaps, then runs a hand over his face. ‘Sorry. Sorry. I can’t – I don’t understand why he wouldn’t have said, I don’t.’

‘Well,’ Merlin hesitates, still eyeing him, ‘I’ve got a fair few questions myself. I’m sure he can explain it to us in a bit more detail when he gets here.’

When Harry gets here. In a few hours. After having let Eggsy think he’s dead for months.

Eggsy swallows. The sick roiling feeling in his gut is shifting, morphing from shock into something infinitely more dangerous. He feels lighter than he has in months, almost dizzy with rage.

‘Come and get me when he gets here then,’ Eggsy says, avoiding Merlin’s eyes as he sets the water down gently on his desk. ‘I’ll be in the gym.’

---

He tries for hours to shift the tension bunched at the top of his spine, trying to make his shoulders drop, whaling away on the punching bag until he can barely see from the sweat dripping into his eyes.

Harry’s alive. Maybe Eggsy spent too long telling himself that when he knew it was a lie, but he can’t believe it now, can’t even look directly at the thought. He flicks frantically through the last few months instead with the benefit of this bright new lens, looking for any signs he might have overlooked of Harry trying to get in contact – missed calls or unrecognised numbers, a stray blank postcard, a fucking carrier pigeon – but there’s nothing. Harry didn’t call, didn’t write, didn’t try and get in contact. He had been real, alive, moving around in the world for every second of Eggsy’s grief. What was Harry doing when they were compiling Merlin’s list of the dead? Was he sleeping? Was he awake, thinking about the mess he’d left behind him? What was he doing when Eggsy was standing in front of his empty grave, numb? Did he have friends in Cuba, people he could trust? Did he treat it like a fucking holiday? Was he still hurt? Is he still hurt now? Did he – did he know what it must be doing to Eggsy, all this time, to think him dead?

He punches the bag so hard it splits and just stands there, shaking, while the sand spills out over the floor. He’d forgotten what it was like to be this angry at someone you loved.

He doesn’t notice Merlin until he’s stood basically close enough to count the sweat drops on Eggsy’s skin, and then he jumps a fucking mile.

‘For fuck’s sake,’ he says, dropping his head into his hands for a moment.

‘Harry’s just arrived,’ Merlin says, holding his clipboard to his chest like a shield.

‘Yeah, I got that, thanks,’ Eggsy says, and starts unwrapping his hands as he takes a deep breath and heads towards the door.

‘Maybe you should take a moment before you –’

‘No,’ he says loudly, grabbing a vest from his bag and pulling it on as he heads out the door.

‘He’s in the sick bay getting checked over,’ Merlin calls after him, and Eggsy can’t help it, starts to run.

---

He bangs through the double doors to the sick bay. Harry’s sat there on the bed, blood pressure cuff around his arm, smiling at the nurse tending to him like he’s just told a joke, before he sees Eggsy and the expression on his face changes entirely.

Eggsy just stands there for a moment, eyes darting to catalogue physical changes, registering the new scar that decorates Harry’s left eyebrow with a dull thud of recognition. He’s lived inside the memory of that moment for so long it rushes back to him with no struggle at all – Valentine’s grin, plastic glasses frame cracking as the bullet hit, sharp static.

‘Eggsy,’ Harry says, the weighted way only Harry has ever said his name, and it knocks the words loose from Eggsy’s throat.

‘I cannot fucking believe you,’ he says. He sounds almost breathless. Everything feels blurry, like just seeing Harry is enough to throw every other sense off-kilter. The fluorescent lights are pressing down on him, distant beep of a heart monitor worming its way into his ear.

He steps closer until he’s close enough to reach out and touch. He vaguely registers the nurse stepping away at Harry’s raised hand and the distant closing of a door. She’s left the blood pressure cuff on Harry’s arm though, which means Eggsy can still use it to strangle him if he runs out of things to shout.

‘What the fuck is wrong with you? I cannot fucking believe you let us think you was dead for three fucking months, Harry, I, how did you – did you know we –’ he stops, a thousand endings to that sentence climbing up his throat. He can’t stop talking, he shouldn’t stop or he’ll give Harry an opening and Harry will run with it. He’ll make everything sound so simple and clear, and it’ll be the most beautifully done up lie Eggsy’s ever heard but that won’t make it any more true.

‘Christ, it’s good to see you,’ Harry says, bringing a hand up to Eggsy’s face, thumb on his jawline, fingers brushing along his pulse point, and Eggsy is shocked into letting him have it for a moment, pinned under Harry’s touch.

Then he wrenches himself away and runs a hand over his face, not surprised to feel it come away wet. He stares at the ground for a moment.

‘Eggsy –’

‘Oh no,’ he says, looking up, and his voice is hoarse but he doesn’t give a single shit. ‘No you fucking don’t, Harry. You’re not getting away with it that fucking easy, you got some explaining to do.’ He swallows hard. ‘Why the fuck didn’t you tell anyone you were still alive?’

Harry shifts in his seat and looks about a tenth as repentant as he should do. ‘As I’m sure Merlin’s already explained, I couldn’t be certain who within Kingsman might have defected to Valentine’s cause, and I was still very –’

‘You thought I might have gone over?’ Eggsy asks, hating the way his voice wavers, eyes catching on Harry’s scar so he doesn’t have to look him in the eye for the answer. ‘There wasn’t even any fucking time for that, Harry, I –’

‘Not you, Eggsy, but –’ Harry stands abruptly and starts unfastening the blood pressure cuff with fast, economical movements. ‘Look, I’m afraid I really don’t have time to discuss this at present, I’m due for a de-briefing –’

‘You can’t just leave, we’re –’

‘Eggsy,’ Harry interrupts heavily, ‘I am still rather weak, as you can see. I’d rather not have to undergo two interrogations in one day.’

‘Tough shit,’ Eggsy says, scowling. ‘I reckon they’d let you off on de-briefing if you asked nicely. You could get out of just about anything right now, you’re like the fucking prodigal son.’

Harry just watches him warily.

‘You’re just scarpering because you got no excuses left,’ Eggsy says. He waits for Harry to tell him he’s wrong, but he can already see by the way Harry’s jaw is tightening that he’s not going to. ‘You could have let me know, and you didn’t. You let me go through that, three months grieving for you, because what? Felt like testing my loyalty a bit further, yeah?’

Harry doesn’t say anything. He just stares at Eggsy, cuff hanging forgotten in his hand, something hard shifting behind his eyes.

‘Guess it worked,’ Eggsy smiles bitterly. ‘They got me to take Galahad, Harry, and you weren’t even fucking dead,’ he says, his voice finally breaking, and he has to bury his face in his hands for a moment and breathe in and out deeply, feeling suddenly, violently sick.

‘Eggsy,’ Harry says, softening, and Eggsy can’t fucking hack that voice, woven into the worst of his nightmares, the ones where he wakes up feeling safe and loved and then remembers all over again. He throws himself back and bolts for it, shoving through the doors. Harry doesn’t call after him.

---

Roxy finds him two hours later, five shots and three pints down in The Black Prince, doggedly knocking back the end of another just as she walks through the door, tight expression on her face. He frowns when he sees her. Honest to God, he can’t handle being in another fight today, and every time Rox makes an entrance like that, she’s usually gunning for one.

‘What,’ he says tonelessly when she sits down opposite him, critical stare running over the collection of empty glasses littering the table.

‘Oh, Eggsy,’ she says, and she sounds so fucking sorry that Eggsy has to swallow hard and look away.

‘Don’t, Rox, I’m fine, I just –’

‘Clearly,’ she says, eyeing him. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’

‘No,’ Eggsy mumbles, drawing a star in the condensation on his empty glass.

‘Thank God, I had no fucking clue what to say,’ she says. Eggsy tries to laugh, but it comes out a bit more like a sob and he can’t do that here, which is one of the reasons he came, so he scrubs a hand over his face and when he looks up again Roxy’s taken hold of his other hand across the table, her face uncertain.

‘What do you want to do then?’

‘I wanna get drunk,’ he says. ‘So drunk, Rox. Like, absolutely fucking plastered.’

‘We can do that,’ she nods, ‘we can definitely do that.’ She hesitates. Eggsy waves her on and she rolls her eyes but concedes. ‘Will it really make you feel better, though?’

‘I don’t think I can feel worse,’ he says, and he knows it comes out too honest from the way Roxy blinks a bit and squeezes his hand.

Without his permission Eggsy’s brain momentarily flashes back to that first jarring glimpse of Harry sitting still for the nurse. Harry was so good at looking calm, so composed you wouldn’t even recognise the banked threat until he swung for you. Eggsy had seen it for the first time outside the police station, Harry propping himself against the wall like he owned it, the glint in his eye at Eggsy’s rudeness. Eggsy could have told him for nothing how that only made him want to taunt Harry more, watch him get riled up with the challenge.

‘How was Slovakia,’ he blurts. Roxy’s watching him closely and he needs to make that stop. He feels edgy with drink, like if anyone is nice to him right now he might shatter into a million bits.

‘Full of twats,’ she says and leans back against the seat, a little tension flowing out of her. She lets go of his hand to rummage in her bag. ‘Look, can’t even keep hold of their wallets.’ She throws a couple onto the table, coins spilling out of one and circling, gleaming in the light. He spots a few pounds among the currency he doesn’t recognise.

‘Rox,’ he says, eyebrows raising, sitting up a little straighter in his seat. This is good, this is easy, he can do this – just be one of the lads again for a while. So long as she doesn’t ask him about Harry. ‘You been practising?’

‘Got a bit bored,’ she admits. ‘Plus this one tried to feel me up at the airport. Come on, I’ll get the next one on –’ she checks the ID of the closest wallet ‘– Lukas here, and then can we go somewhere that doesn’t smell like wet dog?’

‘You’re such a snob,’ Eggsy says, and laughs when she gives him a two-fingered salute.

---

‘What I still don’t get,’ Roxy ponders three hours later as they’re sat absolutely rat-arsed on the curb outside a club waiting for their taxi to arrive, Eggsy with his head jammed between his knees trying not to be sick, ‘is why he didn’t contact you.’

‘Yeah,’ Eggsy says, trying to take deep, even breaths. Roxy pats his knee. She gets this kind of dreamy-eyed look on when she’s drunk and it’s really sweet but he’s never wanted to shove a sock in anyone’s mouth more. He doesn’t feel angry anymore, just lost. He keeps thinking about Harry’s house. It’s been empty for months because no one could bear to discuss what they were going to do with it, so he’d go there sometimes just to sit, just to be around Harry’s things. Once when he’d got back from a mission gone spectacularly, wrenchingly wrong and he couldn’t make himself go home yet, he’d slept over. He hadn’t been able to go into the master bedroom so he’d slept in the same bed he’d stayed in before. When he woke in the morning he’d had a nightmarish Technicolor flashback to having breakfast with Harry, whose mask of decorum had broken into a wide grin when Eggsy had bolted his food in about five minutes and started asking questions about honeypot missions.

‘Because you were obviously, you know, special to each other,’ Roxy continues, jarring him out of the memory, and Eggsy groans in horror.

‘Rox, don’t, it’s not – wasn’t like that anyway –’

‘It was,’ she scoffs.

‘Alright then, not for him,’ Eggsy says.

Roxy starts to say something else but she must notice how the line of Eggsy’s shoulders has gone rigid and tense, because after a moment she closes her mouth and starts rubbing circles into his back instead, the warm pressure of her hand easing the chill of the wind.

The taxi doesn’t come for another twenty minutes and he falls asleep on Roxy’s shoulder, but when he wakes next morning there’s a box of paracetamol and a glass of water on his bedside table and a text on his phone that says don’t forget we’re training the new recruits in the morning :)))))

He rolls over and groans into his pillow.

---

He’s watching the new recruits taking their seventh lap of the jogging track a few hours later, clutching the travel mug full of coffee Merlin had wordlessly passed him on his way outside. If there was ever a day to call in sick it would have been this one, but one unfortunate side effect of Kingsman losing so many agents is that Merlin’s getting the newbies in on training supervision these days, which is only ever any fun when the whole sorry lot of them are about to get dumped in a river in the middle of Yorkshire without a map or a phone. Even Eggsy and Rox don’t get quite as much enjoyment out of this as Merlin though, who commentates gleefully on the recruits’ progress like he’s watching Wimbledon.

Eggsy’s too busy squinting to see if that blur in the distance is a fight breaking out to notice Harry appearing next to him without warning.

‘Jesus,’ he says, nearly spilling coffee all over his jacket.

‘I do apologise,’ Harry says, looking at him sideways. Eggsy thinks this is probably a lie, but then he doesn’t know what Harry sounds like when he’s actually sorry about something, so he could be wrong.

He takes a sip of his coffee and stares straight ahead. He’s been successfully distracting himself from this fucking nightmare situation all morning and he’s not ready to stop now.

‘What do you want?’ he says.

‘I was wondering if we could have a chat.’ Harry hesitates. ‘We didn’t get a chance to finish our conversation yesterday.’

‘And whose fault was that,’ Eggsy says, not really a question. He’s surprised when Harry laughs and he looks around on pure reflex, just like he had during training every time Harry stopped by, at the upturned corners of Harry’s mouth, barely a smile at all.

The absolutely stunning thing is, if Eggsy wasn’t so angry, if it hadn’t come about like this – if Harry hadn’t been lying to him, hiding from him for months – the thing is, even after all that, the chance to see Harry smile again is still a gift of an impossible calibre. Just for a moment, Eggsy marvels in it: he lets himself luxuriate in Harry standing next to him, the plain indomitable fact of him, hands stuck in his pockets and cheeks flushed with the cold wind, living proof that Eggsy can finally relinquish the cold stone of grief in his chest. 

‘I am sorry, you know. For the way I behaved yesterday,’ Harry says, and Eggsy realises they’re staring at each other. He would have given anything he could steal or borrow to see Harry looking at him like that a few months ago. ‘And for not getting in contact sooner. I – I never meant to cause you any pain.’

Eggsy is too incredulous to even laugh. It’s not really funny anyway.

‘We had a funeral,’ he says instead. ‘Loads of people came. It wasn’t just me you hurt.’

There’s a beat while Harry stares down at his shoes. Eggsy clenches a hand into a fist. He wonders how many times Harry’s actually had to hold himself accountable for ridiculous spy shit like this, but then Harry never married, never had any children. Maybe he’s never had to make reparations, which is why it’s so difficult for him now. Maybe even just coming here, seeking Eggsy out, is Harry’s way of trying to give him something in recompense for what he’s done.

That doesn’t mean Eggsy has to accept it.

‘I know that,’ Harry says after a moment. ‘I would never have kept it from any of you, Eggsy, if I thought – I didn’t think there was any other way.’ The line of his mouth is thin and sad. The pleading in his voice reaches Eggsy as if from very far away.

Eggsy stays silent for a long moment.

‘Merlin asked me to give a eulogy,’ he says eventually, and hears Harry’s harsh intake of breath. ‘And I spent so long trying to figure out what to say about you, writing it out and throwing it away. There was so much we hadn’t ever done or talked about, but I wanted to, Harry, I wanted –’

Harry raises a hand, as if to reach out to him, but then drops it, his face haggard. Eggsy watches him, jaw tight. He has no idea what he’d do if Harry put a hand on him now.

‘I kept thinking about how you’d said –’ he coughs out a hoarse laugh ‘– you’d said you’d be right back, basically, which everyone who’s ever watched a film knows is a fucking rookie mistake, Harry, and – then you weren’t right back at all, obviously, you were fucking dead, and I couldn’t, I had to back out, I –’

‘Eggsy, I had no idea, Merlin didn’t –’

‘No, you don’t have any idea, because you weren’t fucking here!’ he bursts out.‘And you don’t just get to swan in after three months of everything going to shit and fucking decide that I have to forgive you because I  don’t fucking owe you anything, Harry, not anymore.’

Harry stares at him and Eggsy has to swallow against the pang of guilt in his throat but he doesn’t take it back. He’s almost savagely glad to have had an effect; to finally see the great Harry Hart struck dumb.

‘I got work to do,’ he says, turning his eyes back to the recruits, numbly tracking their course. He doesn’t even flinch when Harry leaves without another word, doesn’t even blink.

---

Harry sends him a message nearly a week after he comes back, addressing him as Galahad, and asking him to meet Harry in the conference room as soon as he returns from his current mission.

‘Do I have to?’ he asks Roxy, because he’d already asked Merlin and the conversation didn’t go to his liking. ‘He’s not my boss yet, is he?’

‘Technically no, but everyone knows he’s going to be the next Arthur, so it might be wise not to fuck it up before Harry actually starts signing your payslips.’ She squints down the scope of her rifle and sighs in exasperation. ‘She’s moved again, can you try from your angle? I still think you’re wrong about Harry, anyway.’

‘Nah, there’s like five people in the way over this end. And I’m not wrong. And I don’t –’

‘– don’t want to talk about it, yes, I am aware, and yet! Look which one of us brought Harry up. Again.’

Eggsy shifts uncomfortably on his elbows and conspicuously doesn’t say anything. There’s a triumphant sound from Roxy’s end.

‘Got her! Right, last one back to the plane gets to tell Merlin we used up all the grenades.’ Eggsy rolls his eyes. ‘And all I’m saying is, alright, maybe he did fuck up really quite monumentally but also, he probably didn’t know his arse from his elbow for the first month of it. He had just been shot in the head.’

‘And the other two months?’ Eggsy says quietly, not moving from his spot just yet. The grass is soft here, the breeze cool on his heated skin. The constant burn of his fury doesn’t seem quite as urgent.

‘You’ll need to ask him about those,’ she says. ‘My armchair psychology only extends so far, you know.’

Eggsy smiles back unwillingly, even though she can’t see.

---

‘Arthur,’ he greets Harry coolly as soon as he gets through the door and sits down, back straight and hands clasped in his lap. Harry is sat at the head of the table and Eggsy sits on his right, in the chair where he killed Chester, hoping Harry knows all about that and it makes him bloody uncomfortable.

‘No need to stand on ceremony, Eggsy, I’ve not even been officially appointed yet,’ Harry says, and Eggsy isn’t looking at him but he knows Harry is smiling from the way it curves his words.

‘Might as well get used to it,’ Eggsy says briskly. ‘What did you want to discuss?’ His voice has gone hard and crystal like the posh tone he uses on missions, his body tightening up against Harry without his permission.

Harry shifts in his chair for a moment and doesn’t say anything. Eggsy still doesn’t look. He can play silent treatment all fucking day if Harry wants to.

Harry sighs. ‘I finally got round to reading your account of Chester’s demise.’

Eggsy stills, thrown a little off his guard. Well, he wanted Harry to know. He hopes he’s not about to be told what a good job he did though, it’s a bit late for a pat on the head. Nothing felt good that day anyway, every moment after seeing Harry get shot like a slow wade through tar, racing a realisation he couldn’t overtake.

‘I had no idea he was so far gone. Or that he would make an attempt on your life even after you were no longer a candidate.’

‘Yeah, well,’ Eggsy says, clenching his hands around his knees, wrinkling the fabric, trying not to give Harry anything. ‘Reverting to type just like me, I s’pose.’

Harry just fixes him with a level look and Eggsy stares back, unrepentant. Harry sighs.

‘Alright, well if you will be glib – I wanted to ask you about your statement. Every other line you’ve printed exactly as it happened, or so I assume. But when Chester asked you to join him, you haven’t specified your response, only that you refused. I wondered if you might enlighten me. I wouldn’t normally be so finicky, but this report has to go before a rather more, ah – difficult to please – board of directors than I, I’m afraid.’

Eggsy goes still. He didn’t write that part down, not exactly. He’d written the rest of it up in a sharp caffeinated binge, remembered every line of dialogue like it was a movie after all, but he couldn’t get that bit to stay on the page, kept deleting it every time, I’d rather be with Harry, thanks, God, they’d think he had a death wish. Better he kept that one locked up tight with the rest of the nightmares.

‘Why do you need to know?’ he hedges, trying to calm the manic beat of his pulse.

‘The passing of Arthur can’t go unacknowledged, nor uninvestigated, especially when it occurs at the hand of another agent. I’m sorry, Eggsy, but I must ask you to be candid with me.’

‘Is that why you asked to meet me here?’ Eggsy asks, heart twisting at the thought. ‘Trying to jog my memory?’

‘My office is being renovated before I take on the role of Arthur,’ Harry says. Eggsy can feel his eyes running over him cautiously. ‘And I thought it suitably private. We can remove to one of the other offices if you’d prefer.’

Eggsy stays silent.

‘I apologise if it’s making you uncomfortable, Eggsy. Are you quite –’

‘I said,’ Eggsy says slowly, ‘I’d rather be with Harry, thanks.’

There’s a pause.

‘What,’ Harry says in a blank voice.

‘That’s what I said, when he asked me to join him. Do you want me to write it down for you? Or we could re-enact it, we’re even sat in the right places.’

Harry doesn’t say anything. He looks like he’s about to be ill. They stare at each other, tension stretching out between them like unspooling piano wire.

‘Eggsy, I –’

‘I know, I know, I’ve heard it, remember? You’re sorry, I know you are.’ He slumps a little in his chair, hands balling into fists out of reflex. It’s not like trying to keep his dignity intact has worked particularly well so far. All he needs now is to be back in the fucking tartan onesie for this conversation.

‘Well, then thank you for telling me,’ Harry says, his voice raw. Eggsy waves a hand irritably. He doesn’t know what panel of judges Harry has to go before to sort this all out but they better appreciate what he’s fucking brought to the table. He feels like he’s been punched.

‘Even if you won’t take any more apologies, then you must let me say one thing,’ Harry says, and then he actually waits for Eggsy to nod before he continues, for fuck’s sake, ‘I want you to know I was remiss in what I said to you before I left for Kentucky, Eggsy. I should never have –’

This is one too many for Eggsy. He stands up fast, legs of the chair scraping along the floor.

‘Alright,’ he says. ‘Got it. Anything else you need?’

Harry shakes his head, mouth a thin pale line. Eggsy gets the fuck out of there like he’s fleeing the scene of a crime.

---

Harry’s due to be officially sworn in as Arthur his third Tuesday back in the land of the living, literally about ten minutes after he’s cleared by an agency mandated psychiatrist, which demonstrates the kind of breath-taking lack of basic caution that Eggsy should really expect from Kingsman by now.

‘He’s not fit for field duty anymore,’ Merlin says bluntly. ‘He’s the most experienced. Nobody else wants it. He can’t possibly do a worse job than the previous Arthur. How many reasons do you want?’

Eggsy doesn’t want any; he just doesn’t want to have to go to the ceremony. He hasn’t spoken to Harry since the disastrous meeting in the conference room. He was on his way to see Merlin the other day and caught Harry laughing at something Roxy said, his expression clear and unguarded, fluorescent light glinting off his perfectly combed hair, and had to duck into an alcove to calm himself down before he could walk past them without shoving Harry into a wall. If someone had told Eggsy three months ago that he’d spend the first fortnight of Harry Hart’s return avoiding him like the plague, Eggsy would have laughed. Well, he probably would have punched them first, then laughed, all while crying.

‘No can do, you have to be there to witness,’ Merlin says, not even trying to sound particularly sympathetic. ‘There isn’t a sick note in the world that could suffice, so don’t bother trying.’

Eggsy shifts on the balls of his feet for a moment, trying to shove the question into the box in his mind where all his thoughts of Harry go, but he can’t quite manage it. He knows this feeling, and knows it well, learned it from an early age: just because he’s still angry, can’t see Harry without his hands clenching into fists, doesn’t mean he doesn’t want Harry safe and whole and in the world for Eggsy to be mad at. It’d all be for nothing if Harry’s – if Harry isn’t alright now.

‘Spit it out,’ Merlin says, not looking away from the screen of his computer.

‘Why isn’t he fit for field duty anymore? What’s up with him?’ he asks, struggling not to add ‘don’t tell him I asked’ mostly on the basis that Merlin would probably do the exact opposite out of spite.

‘That’s confidential,’ Merlin says.

‘Who am I gonna tell?’

‘Roxy.’

‘Well yeah, but she don’t count, she’s like fuckin Fort Knox – and anyway, since when do you give a shit about rules, Mr ‘Did you see me steering that quad bike with my feet’?’

‘That was once, and I was just letting off steam,’ Merlin says, taking a sip of tea.

Eggsy fidgets some more, trying to make his voice sound tight and unhappy on the off chance Merlin’s feeling particularly maternal today. It doesn’t take much effort. ‘Shouldn’t someone else be taking Arthur though? Not very safe, is it, if Harry’s still sick? He looked alright when I saw him. Is it his eye or like –’

Merlin sighs and gives up the pretence of actually paying attention to anything on his screen, swinging round in his chair to look at Eggsy. He’s fiddling with a pen lid, presumably not from one of the poisonous ones.

‘For someone who professes daily not to care if Harry’s head gets blown off, you’re awfully curious about his health.’

Eggsy’s jaw tightens. He’s fallen into parade rest without realising it so he lets his arms hang loose, tucks his hands into his pockets, tries not to meet Merlin’s knowing gaze. ‘Not good for Kingsman if the head of the table’s off his rocker, is it?’

‘How conscientious of you to be so concerned for the agency’s welfare,’ Merlin says. ‘Well, you’ll be pleased to know Harry is just as sane as he’s ever been.’

‘And his eye and that?’ Eggsy asks, not missing the way Merlin dodged the question but willing to let it go. Nobody’s sane at Kingsman, not really; ‘lunacy’ falls just under ‘wilful lack of self-preservation’ in the job description.

‘He’s fine, Eggsy. Well, as fine as he could be, under the circumstances.’

‘What circumstances?’

‘The church, Eggsy?’ Merlin prompts with a glare. ‘Kentucky? Minor massacre? Ringing any bells at all?’

Eggsy swallows, remembering how Harry’s voice had sounded when he mentioned Kentucky. ‘But he knows that was Valentine and everything, doesn’t he?’

‘In theory.’ Merlin sighs. ‘Can’t say he’s not been told, but whether he’s internalised it is another matter.’

‘So he’s not fit for field duty because he feels guilty?’ He rolls the thought around in his mind, trying to fit it around the image he has of Harry from before he came back, blithely beating Dean’s goons to a pulp, fearless and assured and ruthlessly pragmatic.  

Merlin rubs his temples. ‘Ask him yourself, Eggsy. I’m sure he’d be willing to explain.’
Eggsy snorts.

‘God,’ Merlin says. ‘Alright. I don’t care, obviously, but you might want to rethink that oversized grudge you’re lugging around. Did it occur to you that Harry might not have wanted you to see him after he remembered what happened in the church?’

‘It don’t make no mind to me what he did, I –’

‘Well, obviously I know that, but just think about it from his perspective for a moment – it took him months to gain back the sight in his right eye, quite a painful process if truth be told, he was alone for every moment of it, he was forced to terminate a rogue agent shortly after arriving in Cuba, and the last thing he remembered doing was completely losing control over his own body and slaughtering dozens of people for no good reason.’

Merlin lets that sink in for a moment. Eggsy swallows and has to drop his gaze, and Merlin sounds much too satisfied when he speaks.

‘And my work here is done.’ He swivels back round to the screen. ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on your way out.’

---

Despite what Merlin might think, it’s not as simple as all that. Eggsy can’t just lurch back in time to how he felt when he first knew Harry, like he was pressing his whole heart into Harry’s hands every time they spoke. He needs something bigger than a simple apology to trust Harry again, and if Merlin is right and Harry couldn’t hack the idea of Eggsy rejecting him after what he did in Kentucky, then they got more work to do than even Eggsy knew. No way he’s letting Harry go around thinking he can make those decisions for the both of them; Eggsy has a lot of faults, but no one’s ever accused him of being a pushover.

He goes to Harry’s swearing in, wariness hanging around his eyes. He sits bolt upright the entire time with every intention of not meeting Harry’s gaze because he’s trying, at least, not to let this affect their work more than it has to. But this is the first time they’ve been in the same room together since Harry asked him about Chester and Eggsy’s still ticking over everything Merlin said and his gaze keeps drifting against his will, especially once he notices everyone else is staring at Harry too. It’s like being handed an agency-mandated excuse to do the same, one he can’t make himself ignore.

Eggsy lets himself look, registering Harry’s surprise before he wrenches his attention back to the contract in front of him. He finally lets himself study the way Harry looks now, sat up with his back unbowed under the weight of leadership, the scar tissue scattered across his brow, hair threaded with a little more silver. There are bags under his eyes but he’s still so beautiful it makes the nerves in Eggsy’s hands ache.

Eggsy doesn’t even notice the bulk of the ceremony passing until Bedivere stands on his foot under the table and pointedly shoves the contract into his hand when Eggsy glares at him. He skims the document but barely takes anything in; it’s all legal gibberish anyway, and it doesn’t seem half as urgent as an in-depth study of Harry’s broad shoulders.

Eggsy swallows and scrawls his signature numbly. He needs to get out of here; never mind not trusting Harry, he can’t trust himself.

Harry snags him just as everyone else is milling about and blocking the door, hand catching on the bend on his elbow. Harry just looks at him, opening his mouth like he’s about to say something before Eggsy can get any words out.

‘Not yet,’ Eggsy blurts, which isn’t really what he meant to say but at least the tone is one up on their last interaction. His stomach lurches at Harry’s proximity; he can feel Harry’s touch like a brand and it’s throwing him right back to Harry’s hand on his jaw in the hospital room, soft against the throb of his pulse. He used to dream about Harry’s hands on him all the time, woke up most mornings aching for the hot press of Harry against his back, used to get distracted and tetchy thinking about the wrap of Harry’s fingers around his wrist, holding him in place.

He tried to – not think about it. When Harry was dead.

‘Not yet?’ Harry repeats, brow furrowing. Eggsy looks around at the few stragglers eyeing them and scowls, trying to project fuck off vibes. Roxy, absolute gem that she is, clears her throat and starts basically shepherding people out, making loud comments about whose turn it is to inventory Fitting Room 3, which gets them all moving. Eggsy sends a grateful smile her way and turns back to Harry.

‘I need more time. I mean, I’m still fucking mad at you,’ he clarifies, trying not to let the words tumble out too fast. ‘But we could talk, yeah, just – not yet, I need –’

‘More time,’ Harry says, and Eggsy nods. Harry still hasn’t let go of his arm. ‘But you’re alright? You’re – you’re getting on with everything alright?

‘Yeah,’ he says. Harry’s eyes are running over his face over and over, like he’s trying to commit it to memory. ‘Look, I’ve gotta go, I promised I’d meet Jamal and Ryan for a drink and it’s already nearly seven.’

‘Of course,’ Harry says, and releases his arm immediately. Eggsy hovers for another moment, fighting the impulse to grab Harry back, needle him into getting into Eggsy’s space. His skin feels too tight; his hands are shaking.

He swallows it down and gives Harry one last look before he slips through the door, closing it with a quiet click.