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The King's Thief

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Two men looked at each other across a dimly-lit hospital room, neither of them knowing what to say or how to say it. A vase of lilies wilted forlornly on a small table. A clock ticked relentlessly in a corner. The air felt crowded with tense and unsaid words, choking out the potential for spoken ones.

At last, one of them mustered up all his courage, if not his intelligence.

"Your right eye's gone," Eggsy said inanely.

Harry remained expressionless. "Yes, I know." There was an uncomfortable pause, in which Eggsy looked as if he wished the ground would open up and swallow him, until Harry added, deadpan, "And all my beauty with it."

Eggsy barked a laugh, visibly relaxing. "You could wear a monocle," he suggested.

"You could bugger yourself," Harry replied, not missing a beat.

Eggsy laughed again, more freely this time. "I've missed you, Harry."

"I've missed... everything, apparently," Harry said, with some regret.

"Don't worry," Eggsy essayed a tentative grin, "I cleaned up after your mess. Did a bit of my own saving the world and that."

"Valentine?"

"Dead."

"Well done," said Harry, closing his eyes briefly. "I'm very proud of you."

Eggsy waved him off. "I'm just glad you're back," he said.

Harry wasn't sure he shared the sentiment, sinking into his own gloomy reflections. The miserable silence threatened to descend once more. Eggsy, however, valiantly refused to give up.

He said with false solemnity, "Although, you know, I had written a very lovely eulogy for you. I was all prepared to give at your funeral. And since I won't have the opportunity to deliver it, I might as well say it to you now. Listen — it was very touching — I slaved at it for days. It started like this:

Here lies Harry Hart,
A man with his hair in a part.
He named his dog Pickles,
had it stuffed for a nickel,
and now I stare at it whenever I shart.

"And the second verse—"

Harry was laughing now, laughing genuinely for the first time in weeks, all uncertainties forgotten. "You little shit," he managed.

Eggsy treated Harry to a real grin, one that would have charmed the wings from an angel. "I'd keep going, but I didn't actually write bugger all, and I've reached the limits of my poetic creativity. Also, Merlin said I could only pop in for five minutes."

He stood up to go and suddenly squeezed Harry's hand. "I mean it, Harry," he said quietly. "I really am glad you're back."

Eggsy was almost at the door before Harry was able to find his voice. "Eggsy," he called hesitantly, "what I said before— before Kentucky. I was wrong. I apologize."

The ease with which Eggsy's returning smile came hurt Harry's heart in an undefinable way. "Water under the bridge, Harry."

And then he was gone.

 

———

 

Harry's next visitor was far less welcome.

"We need you to become the new Arthur," Merlin said, sitting down unceremoniously.

Harry grunted in disgust. "I haven't been awake for a full forty-eight hours, and you're already barking down my damn door."

Merlin refused to be distracted. "Half our agents are gone, Harry. Either they turned with Chester King, or they've gone rogue. We need someone to look up to. We need a leader."

Harry half-turned away, his face twisted into a scowl. "And you want the agent who got you into this mess to be that leader?"

Merlin was relentless. "I want our most experienced agent, with the Kingsmen's longest track record of successful missions, to be that leader."

"Ask Kay, then."

"Kay's dead, Harry."

He flinched.

"And before you ask, so are Bedivere, Ywain, and Gareth. Erec and Pellinore are off the grid, no trackers and no bodies found."

Harry drew a deep breath. "How? Four of our best agents, corrupted? How?"

"They followed their leader," Merlin answered simply. "You know perfectly well how, as well as why. The dog test is what it is because we demanded unquestioning loyalty, not unquestioning morality. We need a leader who deserves that loyalty."

"The dog test needs to change, then," Harry snarled.

"Is that your first command as Arthur, sir?"

"Piss off, Merlin!"

"Can't blame a man for trying," Merlin shrugged. "Look, Harry, we wouldn't ask this of you if the situation didn't call for it. But Bors is starting to question why we haven't promoted a new Arthur, starting to suggest that maybe it should be him."

"Let him, then, if he wants it so badly."

"Harry, you know Bors. He doesn't have just a stick up his arse, he has an entire forest. He might dismiss Eggsy's legitimacy as a Kingsman."

Harry stiffened.

"Bors is a good agent, don't get me wrong," Merlin amended hastily. "But Harry, he's not the Arthur we need. Besides, we can hardly afford to lose an active Kingsman right now."

"Pick a broken agent so you don't lose a real one, is that it?" Harry said bitterly.

Merlin's eyes narrowed to slits.

He was sitting on Harry's bad side, but even so, Harry's arm shot up instantly, gripping Merlin's approaching fist like a vise.

He blinked in mild horror at the pen that was mere inches away from his remaining eyeball.

Merlin simply raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly from Harry to his entrapped wrist.

Harry eventually released his death-grip on Merlin, knocking the pen to the floor in disgust. "Alright, you've made your point, you sadistic bastard."

Merlin remained completely unmoved at the imprecation. "And your answer?"

Harry glared. "As Arthur, and your superior, my first order is for you to get the hell out of my room."

Gracious even in victory, Merlin left without protest.

 

———

 

Eggsy stopped by again not long after, sprawling into the visitor's chair like a dog by a fireplace.

"I heard you're the new Arthur," Eggsy said, as blunt and to the point as ever.

"Yes." Harry wasn't sure what else to say. I didn't want to be sounded childish and petulant. I'm sorry sounded entirely idiotic.

Eggsy remained quiet for a bit, before looking up and treating Harry to another one of his brilliant smiles. "Well, for what it's worth, I think you'll be a damn good one. An' I promise not to poison or stab you in the neck like I did the old Arthur."

Harry was quite touched.

"So does that mean I can start calling you sire and Your Majesty?" Eggsy added, immediately destroying any goodwill he had earned on Harry's part.

He levelled the boy with his sternest frown. Eggsy grinned wider, unabashed.

"...Not in public," Harry finally conceded, still glowering.

Eggsy cackled unrepentantly, "As Your Majesty wishes," and fled the room just as Harry was looking around for something to throw.