Harry Hart’s thick, lace curtains did little to muffle the sounds of the overtly-expensive cars passing by the sitting room of his home in Mayfair. Harry tried to add to the noise, but Lucy and Skipper made the sounds he couldn't make: excitement, confusion, and a generous amount of apprehension.
"How did her daughter find out where I lived?" Harry said out loud as he re-read the letter in his hands.
"From what you've told me, sir, Ms. Guinevere always had a knack for keeping track of her friends. It stands to reason that her daughter would have the same aptitude," his housekeeper responded.
"But after twenty years?" Harry muttered in disbelief, "And on her wedding day?"
Harry read the letter in his hands once again and rubbed his temples. Guinevere’s daughter, Roxanne, was holding her wedding in a villa at Kalokairi, Greece in a month. It was the same villa Guinevere took him to when they met as undergraduates in Paris twenty-six years ago.
He contemplated the odds her owning the Kalokairi property decades after she vowed to buy it and thought, ‘Well done, Gwen.’
"Should I tell Rodney to get the car running, sir?" his housekeeper asked.
A brief list of tasks immediately composed itself behind Harry's eyelids. Ms. 20-pairs-of-Le Chameau’s transfer needed signing, and his staff needed another loan officer to handle MP £15-per-cuppa’s son's newest conquest.
Should he avoid his habit of showing up to meetings ten minutes after they began, he should have plenty of time to travel to Greece.
Harry’s housekeeper took one look at the resigned expression forming on his face and bustled off to do whatever she did to keep his house intact.
"You best talk to your staff now, sir. You know how they get when you don't ask them for help," she said, popping back in the sitting room to recover Lucy and Skipper.
Harry watched his housekeeper ferry his dogs away before picking up his phone.
Impressive memory aside, it was odd that Guinevere would resume communications now. Decades of radio silence made it seem like what transpired between them was a mere memory he could look back on in his twilight years. Odder still was her daughter initiating the contact instead of herself.
He thought of how Guinevere would bite the nearest object in her vicinity when she got irritable and glanced at the crested scar on the back of his hand.
“Is this wise? Am I letting nostalgia cloud my judgement?” he wondered aloud as his assistant picked up.
“Harry, the day you let petty things like emotions get the best of you is the day the sun rises on time,” his assistant quipped.
“Thank you,” Harry replied dryly as he stood from his armchair, “Now, I’ve had a rather emotional morning and I’d like to finish a few things before I have a pint of Guinness.”
“Drinking?! In the middle of the day?!” his assistant gasped. Harry heard his other staff mimic the noise in the background and rolled his eyes.
“Eavesdropping is awful manners,” Harry admonished even as a smirk formed on his face.
“Not everyone grew up posh, guv,” his assistant said , “Got anything you want us to do?”
When Harry had finished instructing his staff, he had his call transferred to IT.
“Have you tried turning it on and off again?” greeted the voice on the line as the call pushed through.
Harry paused, halfway through the doorway to his bathroom, and blinked.
“I said, have you- Oh! Oh god, I’m sorry Mr. Hart, I didn’t notice your number,” babbled the person.
“Breath,” Harry advised genially. When the other person’s breathing returned to normal, he asked, “May I speak with Mr. Muir?”
“Mr. Muir's out. Said he wanted to go to Greece for a vacation. Left us his mobile and took a few burner phones with him, says he didn’t want any calls ‘less it’s an
Harry frowned. Merlin rarely left his cave, a 14th storey office shrouded by heavy curtains and humming servers, without leaving detailed instructions to his various underlings. Rarer still was one Merlin Muir in the act of relaxation outside London; Harry had joined his old friend on his leaves at times and he could count the number of times they’ve gone out of the country on one hand.
“Are his parents doing well?” Harry enquired concernedly.
“Oh- yeah, yeah, they’re fine. I think Merlin’s gone off for something else. He almost ran out the door when he got this letter. Didn’t get to see what it was, but it was important enough for him to skive off building a software update.”
“I see. Thank you,” Harry said, dropping the call as he unbuttoned his shirt.
At least he didn’t have to justify his vacation to his friend. Harry hadn’t told Merlin any names or locations, only giving him the overarching details needed to convey how his time in Kalokairi had had affected him. Merlin had done the same for him with his own mysterious journey during his gap year.
Both had agreed that whatever memory they had was best suited for reminiscing and needn’t any pondering.
Harry stepped into his shower, contemplated the work ahead of him, and stepped out. If he were to rush a month's work in a weekend to travel leisurely, he would do so arseholed on stout.
"Do you think Michelle will lend me her Abba collection?" Roxy shouted cheerfully over the din of the taverna, her ponytail swishing as she swerved her way back to the kitchen.
"Pretty sure mum told Jamal and Ryan to wrap ‘em up as your wedding gift," Eggsy hollered back as he settled by a table full of giggling old women.
One of the women began speaking in Greek as Eggsy put their orders in front of them. When she jabbed a finger towards Roxy, Eggsy paused to parse through her chattering.
"She asked if that was the young lady getting married to Countess von Courten," her companion translated for a curious Eggsy.
Eggsy grinned at them both and proudly declared, "Yes, that is the lovely young lady whom the Countess is lucky enough to marry."
The old woman speaking in Greek cackled and raised her thumbs up to Eggsy. She was not the first, or last, person to have gone to the taverna to glimpse at Countess Amelia Grafin von Courten's fiancé; half of the taverna's customers in the past month had been nosy tourists and locals looking for Roxy.
Most had been well-wishers and the few crooks who could not take a hint were dispatched with pointed glances and even more pointed heels.
Guinevere's offer to take her daughter's shift was firmly rejected by Roxy in favour of letting her work out the tedious details of the wedding. Eggsy wisely avoided Gwen after that. Calling fifty different flower shops for specific arrangements didn't appeal to him as much as waiting in the taverna, nor did spending time with the mother of the woman who conscripted him into a disastrous con.
When the last batch of gossips left, Eggsy sidled up to Roxy and asked, "They gonna pop in sometime soon?"
"You’ve only sent the invitations a few days ago.” Roxy straightened out the bottles in the bar and smiled sweetly at her friend.
Eggsy wagged a finger at her and replied, “Don’t put this all on me. ‘Sides, post’s quick enough most of the time. D’you remember mum’s jumpers? Sent me a text in the mornin’ an’ it showed up all lumpy that afternoon.”
“You’re exaggerating. It took five days for the jumpers to arrive and it took us another day to figure out if they were blankets or one of her costumes from the Eighties.”
“Still, ‘is been long enough,” Eggsy grumbled.
He worried his lip as he observed his best friend. Roxy had cheered up significantly since sending the invitations to the three men. She found her names in her mother’s old journal and was convinced that one of them was her father. Eggsy cautioned against drastic actions; the bite mark on his arm manifested her response.
Roxy set the bottle of limnio she was polishing on the counter before turning to face Eggsy, her questions posed in the form of an arched, finely-plucked eyebrow.
“I ain’t grassed on you!” Eggsy sputtered, offended that his best mate would even suggest that the pressure of lying to the woman who took him in despite having a criminal record and no experience in the service industry finally got to him.
A slight pursing of the mouth had Eggsy retorting with, “Ain’t no way in hell that Gwen would let those blokes stay at the villa, especially if you tell her that you told them that one of ‘em is your da. Amelia can’t lend them her flat neither, her publicists went mental tryin’a keep paparazzi off the island.”
Roxy pouted and turned back to the drinks shelf.
“She doesn’t need to know that they’re in the villa,” she argued, “Or that I think that one of them might be my father. They could stay at the shed loft. It’s your room and you know how mum gets about your ‘safe space’.”
Gwen did value giving Eggsy and her daughter a place they could keep to themselves in. Eggsy never bothered telling Roxy that her mother’s particular attention to his room was due to the second drawer in his bedside table.
“Tell you what, Rox. Help me get in my room without your mum seeing me and I’ll have the room ready ‘fore your dads arrive,” Eggsy offered, suddenly perceiving a danger he never thought he’d have to face again.
Roxy clapped her hands together, alarming Eggsy, who learned to associate the gesture with trouble, and said, “You are a saint, Gary Unwin.”
“And you’re pure evil, Ms. Roxanne Morton."
“That’s Ms. Roxanne Morton-Courten to you.”
Eggsy and Roxy turned to the entrance of the taverna, where their guest was grinning at them.
“Amelia! I thought you were in London!” Roxy shouted. She vaulted over the bar to run to her fiancé, who promptly picked her up and spun her around.
“Do I get to have a go?” Eggsy teased as he neared the two women.
“No, but you do get new shoes,” Amelia answered as she tossed a box to Eggsy.
Eggsy caught the box, opened it, and pulled the winged trainers out of its papery confines. “You know I have to wear this at your wedding now.”
“Wear it with your Jeremy Scott jacket, see if your mum would let you ‘dress like a chav in front of lords and ladies’,” Roxy mimicked the same words Eggsy’s mum told him in a phone call when Amelia invited her to the wedding.
The three walked back to the bar, chatting about Amelia’s trip to the mainland. Gossip rags were still fussed about Amelia and Roxy. Headlines like “Trouble in Lesbos” and “Pauper Rakes Through Royal Carpet” were still the norm, but more respectable publications restrained themselves with “Oxford Countess Seen Shopping for Cambridge Brogue”.
Some royal cousins and celebrities expressed interest in “celebrating equality” and “the triumph of true love”, but cancelled their appearance at the last minute due to sudden appointments that had surely nothing to do with Amelia’s ban on personal photographers.
“Suppose they heard about Jamal and Ryan’s photos. Can’t blame them; have you seen the shots from your engagement shoot?” teased Eggsy as he tested out his new shoes, jumping from bar stool to countertop with practised ease.
“You’re scrubbing that up,” Roxy mumbled, lifting her face from Amelia’s neck to glare at Eggsy.
“Did you know that your mother’s tasked them with finding original, first-print vinyls of her Abba collection for our wedding?” Amelia remarked, “I think they’ve resorted to trading headshots with the boys on Smith Street for the rarer prints.”
Eggsy shrugged and asked, “They’re still comin’ in with mum and Daisy?”
“A week before the wedding, yes. Ah, speaking of new arrivals, I believe the ferry just left two middle-aged men at the port. The captain told me one of them shouted something about being a guest for the wedding- Why, have I said something wrong?” Amelia stopped, confused at the horrified look on Roxy’s face.
Amelia and Eggsy could only watch as Roxy leapt off her fiance’s lap and ran out of the taverna, shouting, “Cover my shift for me!”
Eggsy shrugged at a confused Amelia and said, “She probably thinks they’re her dads.”
“I was about to tell her that I’ve put Percival on the case,” Amelia sounded out, confused. She paused and added, “Should I-”
Eggsy cut her off with a firm shake of the head. He considered asking her to distract Gwen so he can clean his room out of any incriminating evidence before remembering that Amelia was the only other person who knew about the second drawer in his bedside table.
Delays in paperwork and a systems disaster only possible in the absence of Merlin lead to this: Harry Hart, in a ruined suit, running after the last boat heading for Kalokairi for the week as it drew away from port.
"Stamatíste!" Harry shouted, waving his one free hand frantically at the departing boat.
The boat did not halt for his pleas and chugged along the bright, blue ocean, leaving Harry with his mouth agape on the dock.
"Bugger," Harry muttered, leaning against his luggage as he watched the boat behind his sunglasses.
"My sentiments exactly," drawled the man beside him.
Harry nodded his assent, staring at the boat for a few seconds before whipping his head around to stare at the man who agreed with his sentiment.
The man, a bald fellow with clear clubmasters, froze mid-curse and slowly returned Harry’s gaze.
"Merlin," Harry said in disbelief.
"Harry," Merlin replied in similar tones.
Both men held their gaze briefly before clapping their hands together in a handshake, confused at the coincidence.
"I didn't think you were on vacation, and on Kalokairi no less," Merlin stated.
"I could say the same to you," Harry returned, "Outside our morning jogs, I could honestly say I've never seen you voluntarily near so much nature."
"Hypocrite. What was it you told Jonathan the other night? ‘English, middle-aged men only have two uses for their legs: to get to the car and to the desk.’"
Harry chuckled. "So I have."
Like Harry, Merlin didn't have the luxury to experience the outside world as often as the younglings under their management. With their senior positions, the most they've seen of greenery or naturally-occurring water was on business trips or the odd jog around the park if young adults had colonized their gym.
Seeing Merlin bathed in sunlight instead of his computer's glow comforted Harry somewhat, but he didn’t know what to make of the other man’s presence. Kalokairi was certainly not the obscure island it was twenty years ago, but he didn’t think it would be his friend’s first resort for a vacation.
“If I knew you were going on vacation, I’d have thought you’d fly to Cartagena. You’ve been harping on about it since you got back from Colombia,” Merlin said as he set his bags down.
“Cartagena is still a priority, but I’m afraid my business here’s rather more urgent.”
“Too bad neither of us are getting to Kalokairi now.”
Harry hummed in agreement. The island was a little too far for a swim, even with his not inconsiderable physique. He turned to Merlin to ask if they had a mutual acquaintance they could borrow a ship from when a loud blare startled them both.
“Is that Harry Hart and Earnan Muir I see, or has my age finally caught up?”
Harry and Merlin turned to the source of the noise and saw a man standing proudly on a large yacht approaching the dock. He was sun-kissed, bare-chested, and entirely too happy to see them despairing on port.
“James?” shouted Merlin, squinting as he shielded his glasses against the glare of the sun.
“Said a decibel louder than necessary, but it is me,” James preened. He pulled a lever to put his boat to a stop. “The real question is if you’re truly our Merlin. Last time I saw you near the sea was in Cannes, micromanaging your minions in the cabin of Lancelot here.”
“Somebody had to keep the boat from capsizing while you were drinking your arse off.”
“Pot and kettle. Who emptied my reserves of Macallan after we lost the wi-fi?”
“You mentioned going on a sabbatical yesterday,” Harry interfered before Merlin could summon a response.
James smiled and said, “I am! I was on my way to a charming little island when I saw the sun reflecting off Earnan’s head over here.”
Merlin, never one to let a slight pass him, overcame his natural instinct to bit him and asked, “Were you going to Kalokairi?”
“As a matter of fact, I was. I suppose you chaps were too?”
“Bloody captain won’t stop for us.”
“Then hop in, both of you.”
Harry thought Merlin would protest, but the other man surprised him by meekly thanking their benefactor and hurrying him aboard Lancelot. He had no time to ask Merlin about it as all three men prepared the yacht to sail to their destination, turning the mainsail this way and that until the boat was moving across the water.
James was technically a client of theirs now, though their professional relationship took a backseat to their time as schoolboys in Eton and pen pals when they split off to different universities. Unlike himself or Merlin, their sleek-haired friend went into acting and stuck to the outdoors as much as his work allowed him to. A role nearly a decade ago left a permanent love of the sea on him and led to the commissioning of Lancelot, a financial decision that Harry only forgave now.
“Cartagena seemed like such a sure thing for you, Harry,” commented James as he leaned against the wheel.
“Urgent plans upset that arrangement, I’m afraid,” explained Harry, sighing as he tightened the mainsheet, “Merlin here was pulled from his den by his own emergency.”
Merlin, who had been silent until then, snorted and changed the topic, “How’s the wife, James?”
James groaned and replied, “She’s not my wife. She’s a good girl, but our agents have it in their mind that we’d look good together, never mind that her boyfriend would skin me alive if I so much as laid a hand on her.”
“I suppose the Yank refrained from doing you in when he saw that your hooded bandit featured more heavily than his lass.”
“Saw anything worth your while?” James gave Merlin a saucy wink which earned him a v. “But I did have to call in a favour with our director for that. The boyfriend’s equally as mad about how much skin the poor girl shows in her flicks.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t scared or seduced the man out of the girl’s life, you gommy scrote. The only thing you hate more than good roles is letting go of a potential doggin’,” Merlin observed as he opened the icebox near the mast.
“The good Scotch is in the cabin. And believe it or not, my dear wizard, I am not the egregious flirt you make me out to be.”
Both Harry and Merlin looked up to the sky in search of clouds.
“Amusing,” said James dryly, “There’s something comforting about you berks finding my capacity for decency miraculous after more than twenty years of tolerating each other’s existence.”
It was near noon when they saw Kalokairi rising in the horizon, the old lighthouse still painted in the same candy cane spire Harry remembers as a young man. James had taken a break from interrogating Merlin about his chatroom girlfriends to stare at the edifice.
“I made love with a beautiful woman in the balcony of that tower once,” James sighed wistfully, a sweet smile stretching across his face, “She was the love of my life, but she was never fond of being in the limelight.”
“Only you could give up true love for a chance to have your bollocks on the front page of The Sun,” Merlin carped, though he had the same misty-eyed look as James.
The actor looked away from the lighthouse to retaliate with, “Remind me who was caught by their lass in a dive bar while supposedly on a plane to Zurich?”
“He did have a scholarship to ETH Zurich. But the dive bar was quite unbecoming and confirms that he’s been a bald twat even without our influence," Harry corrected.
Docking and taking out their luggage was made easier by Merlin throwing their luggage off the boat and onto Kalokairi’s port.
Harry consulted the instructions he copied from the invitation on his phone while his friends argued over their luggage. James had been wary enough of the police boats they’ve seen while approaching the island that he took Harry’s advice to head for the lighthouse port, though his adventures on the oversized beacon helped.
The silence made him uneasy. The only silent memory he had of Kalokairi was leaving the island, Gwen, and a thicket of poison ivy that may have begun his departure before he was aware of it.
He turned to check on the squabbling men behind him when a flash of movement near the lighthouse caught his eye. Harry looked closer at where he spotted the motion without turning his head, his sunglasses concealing his eyes, and saw an unnatural shadow by the base of the tower.
“James, are you quite sure you didn’t blab about this trip on social media?” Harry whispered, “There’s a fellow watching us.”
Merlin acknowledged the warning with a few taps on the handle of his suitcase and carried on arguing with James. Harry was about to continue observing their uninvited guest when James yelled, “If you’re here to take my photograph, move to the other side of the dock; my right side’s more flattering than my left.”
Harry felt justified in letting Merlin roll a suitcase over the actor’s foot.
The figure behind the lighthouse lingered out of sight for a few more seconds before it stepped away from its hiding place. It turned out to be a man in a suit, off-the-rack and yet flattering on his slender figure. He approached them quietly, his leather shoes making no noise on the wooden planks of the dock.
“Lady Courten heard about your mishap at the docks, Mr. Hart and Mr. Muir,” he stated. “It’s fortunate that Mr. Smith offered help when he did.”
“While we appreciate the sentiment,” Harry began as James opened his mouth, “I’m afraid we haven't been introduced.”
The man held out his hand as he spoke, “Percival MacIntyre. Lady Courten’s fiancé requested me to check all the island’s docks for your arrival.”
Harry shook his hand and stood aside to let Merlin greet Percival. He gently pushed James back to prevent him from attempting his brand of friendliness on their new acquaintance.
“I only wish to make a new friend,” James whined, voice unbecoming of a man in his early forties.
They began moving off the port when a deep roar startled them to a stop.
“That would be Ms. Roxanne,” Percival said, lip twitching vaguely upwards.
Ms. Roxanne, whom Harry belatedly realised to be the same Roxy in Gwen’s letter, was running with the grace of a trained sprinter down the slope that lead to the docks, elbows tucked and pumping in time with her legs. When she had finally reached them, she showed no hints of exhaustion but for the blush on her neck and the sweat on her brow.
“I’ll get the jeep started,” Percival muttered, pulling a few cases with him as he passed Roxy.
Roxy nodded and looked at the three men at the end of the docks, eyes widening as she took in their befuddled looks. Harry worried that she may actually be more exhausted than she looks and stepped forward to catch her, only to be knocked backwards by a tackling hug. Roxy dragged Harry forwards to draw Merlin and James in her absurdly tight hug.
“Mum’s going to love all you toffs. You all look like you haven’t seen the sun in twenty years,” Roxy murmured as she hugged them.
The three men looked at each other and silently agreed that she was, indeed, Guinevere’s daughter.
Amelia lasted all of thirty minutes before she kicked Eggsy out of the taverna. She argued that he fidgeted too much to look after the few customers that wandered in to ogle at her. He tried to argue back, but a passing reference to his room convinced him to take the rest of the day off.
Eggsy trudged his way out of the marketplace, past white-walled townhouses and open gates, cars shaded by half-foot balconies, walls garlanded with bougainvilleas, and branches of creeping trees. A few of the taverna’s regulars and those who knew him from the villa waved at him as he passed. He greeted them back even as he hurried off the main road and sneaked through side-alleys afforded to him with a little freerunning on unguarded roofs and fences.
A few leaps across flat, clay roofs landed Eggsy on the branches of a young oak edging the backyard of a three-story and the forest. He shimmied down the tree and set off on one of the many paths to his cove.
He called it his cove because only he seemed to have found the stretch of beach hidden in an alcove of white cliff, pines, and oaks. The only visible corridors into the bay were a hundred kilometre swim from the nearest beach or a day-long climb up a steep cliff face with barely any holds. A thorough check of the rock and an unfortunate accident with a bush helped Eggsy find a hidden entryway into the lonely niche in the form of a fissure hidden by a curtain of ivy.
The beach was blessedly clear of leaves and driftwood and still had the chairs Eggsy had set up outside his shack the week previously. He hauled his bag onto one of them and his shoes on the other, contemplating whether he should dig a fire pit now or recall whatever it was that was nudging him in the back of his mind.
On the one hand, Roxy and Amelia loved bonfires and six years of masturbation jokes could happily end with him revealing where he ran off to on his off days. But there was an urgent, worrying thought nagging at him that felt like it would turn to regret if he let it go by. He knew it was important and had something to do with the villa, but his brain couldn’t be arsed to remember what specific worrying thing it was.
With one last attempt at remembering the errand, Eggsy took the shovel beside his shack and began digging the pit.
When he found the cove, it only had leaves and branches from nearby trees to adorn the sand. Years of scavenging replaced debris with a shack and a small lawn, though he had yet to figure out how to run a sewer line to replace the latrine.
By the time he finished the hole, the sun had fallen a little closer to the sea and baked Eggsy enough to turn his shirt into a sodden rag. Eggsy tugged the cloth over his head and threw it aside with the shovel before falling backwards into the sand. The manual labour exhausted him enough that the nagging feeling at the back of his skull that may have something to do with his room disappeared.
“Bollocks to this,” Eggsy murmured before arching his hips upward to remove his shorts and pants, “I need a bloody swim.”
“What is it?” Merlin asked, alarmed as Harry slammed the bedside table close.
“Nothing,” Harry replied immediately, his face impassive and stony.
In of itself, what he found in the second drawer of the bedside table was not so strange. To have it in a room in Gwen’s villa made it less peculiar. Yet its presence in a room in the proximity of two normal if quirky people and James was not a pleasant situation to dwell on.
Merlin raised a brow and stepped forward, but Harry waved him off and sat on top of the table containing the object that had so offended him.
“Roxy, whose loft did you say this was?” Harry enquired, glancing at the young lady pumping air into mattresses with James.
“Eggsy’s. He’s my maid of honour. We met in London in my gap year six years ago,” Roxy explained as James refitted the air pump into another mattress. “He stocked the shelves and I had the till at Peacock’s. When my year was up, I took him back home and mum gave him a job at the taverna.”
Merlin chuckled and completely missed the mortified look on Harry’s face as he said, “Did you know that your mother also took me home while she was on vacation? It was in Islington, a few months into her gap year."
“’89, was it? I’ve met Gwen around that time too,” James said, “I believe I took a detour to Kalokairi on the way to Athens for a shoot. She offered me some of her homemade wine after she found me loitering outside the villa.”
“Did she give you the amorgiano or the retsina?” Harry pushed away from the table with interest.
“The amorgiano. Very light and smooth; it went well with the peaches she filched from her neighbour,” James recalled fondly. He caught the smirk on Harry’s face and chuckled. “What are the chances of me drinking your swill nearly thirty years apart?”
Merlin snorted. “No drink’s grotty enough for your drunk arse.”
Harry observed Roxy, who paused to watch them bicker over their appalling drinking habits. He mellowed his smirk as he observed the young lady laugh and take jabs at both men.
It bothered Harry how well Roxy received them. It was pleasant to have a warm welcome, yet it was clear that Gwen never told her daughter about them. If this was true, how could she have known their addresses? More importantly, how did she know who they were and did Gwen even know that they were here?
“Time for an early supper. The taverna should be empty around this time,” Roxy offered and took the rag hanging limply from Harry’s hand.
She threw the rags down the loft ladder before descending. Harry turned to the trapdoor to ask her questions when she shouted, “Amelia and Eggsy should still be there. You could meet them before-”
“Roxanne?” James called out seconds after Roxy fell silent.
He shrugged at his companions before climbing down the ladder with Merlin, who shouted, “Roxy, what’s wrong-”
When they too went silent, Harry silently walked across the inflated mattresses and craned his neck down the loft entrance to check what hushed the three.
Only a supreme amount of control and sense of self-preservation stopped him from falling down the hole at what he saw.
Even upside-down, with his glasses slipping up his forehead, Guinevere cut a stunning figure in overalls. Her bleached white power cut had given way to golden curls that drifted past her shoulders and her £100 silk blouse was replaced with a cotton-polyester blend, but there was no mistaking the posture she affected. This was Gwen at her most formidable state: commanding, self-assured, and incandescently furious.
“James. Earnan,” Gwen said in a tone that suggested that they were unwelcome surprises.
“Guinevere!” James greeted cheerfully. Knowing the man, Harry knew his enthusiasm was likely spurred by the woman’s frostiness. “Still a queen after all these years.”
“I could say the same to you.” Gwen ignored James’ pout to stare down Merlin. “Did Roxy invite you two?”
“Mum, it’s my wedding. I can invite whoever I want without your veto,” Roxy spoke petulantly, mirroring her mother’s posture.
Harry didn’t miss the way Gwen’s eyes softened at her daughter. “I understand that dear, but these men are some of the most repulsive creatures ever to have crawled out of the earth.”
Merlin balked at the abuse and adopted the pose which Harry had taken to calling ‘Pissed-Off Terrier’. Gwen, in return, shifted into a stance that he had only seen once used on a perverted old man who groped her on their way to the port one day.
Harry pulled his head back out of the loft door and padded his way to the ladder leading to the ceiling’s trapdoor. He told himself that he was not leaving an innocent soul and James to the mercy of two volatile creatures, but was, instead, giving two long-separated friends time to reminiscence with the supervision of a neutral third party and James.
Merlin and Gwen’s reunion began in earnest just as Harry climbed out of the roof’s trapdoor. Closing it did little to stifle their articulate conversation, which only served to motivate him to give them a wide berth.
He spent a few fruitless seconds wondering if it was possible to arrange a direct flight back to England from Kalokairi when the sound of a water jug shattering reminded him of a place where Guinevere never sounded like a Fury out to exact vengeance.
Thankfully, the path to Harry’s sanctuary hardly changed in twenty years.
The white-washed walls and terracotta roofs of buildings older than he was still lead his way out of the villa. Greenery of various shapes, sizes, and color sectioned weathered stone. Iron fences demarcated balconies he used as private alleyways in his youth. Only the models of parked cars, the styles of clothing on clotheslines, and the asphalt on the roads leading out of town marked the passage of twenty years.
It took him a few minutes to locate the mark he left on a tree as a waypoint some ways off the road, as bark nearly covered the deep “K” he carved on its trunk. It was Gwen who suggested the letter over their initials. Weeks before they parted, they already knew that their memories of the island would last longer than they would.
The trek from the tree to the cliff face, still white and mottled by lichen and dirt, was made easier by familiar landmarks. Miraculously, the fissure in the wall of rock that separated the forest from the sea was clear and allowed his girth with space to spare.
To his delight, the cove that he and Gwen discovered while swimming around the island was as blue and pristine as they have left it. The afternoon sun shaded the Aegean Sea and made the white sand sparkle. Under the sun, the deck chairs seemed an enticing alternative to sitting on the ground and shucking out grains from one’s swimming trunks.
He swept his eyes around the beach and blinked again.
There were deck chairs in the cove.
There was also a massive pit in front of the chairs and a shack in the back. The three, when seen in congruence, formed a retreat of sorts. The deck chairs formed a lawn and the pit was deep enough for firewood. Upon closer inspection, the shack even had potted succulents and tiny tomatoes growing on trellises nailed to its back wall.
Harry didn’t know what to make of any of it. It crossed his mind that this was Gwen’s, but the workmanship of the shack didn’t hold up to her standards. The shack had no indications of ownership outside and it looked too lived in to warrant an unsupervised inspection inside.
Frowning, he walked back to the deck chairs and noticed the bag in one of the chairs. He contemplated riffling through it when he heard the water rippling behind him.
Harry turned around and whipped his head back as soon as his eyes processed what he had seen.
What he had seen was a man.
The man had blue eyes- that was the detail Harry chose to latch on to instead of his obvious nakedness. He had blond hair still parted to the side and blond hair on his chest, arms, and legs. There was also a long, jagged scar on his hip, a detail Harry accidentally took notice of while noting his perfectly admirable bone structure. The very same hips with the jagged scar was also the good fit for the boxer shorts he belatedly realized was sitting at the bottom of the pit.
The proper thing to do in this situation was to excuse himself. However, the way the man paused on his way out of the water indicated that doing so would be a rude and fruitless venture.
“Bugger,” Harry muttered.
“A bit too mild for this innit, guv?” Harry waved behind him instead of replying, not wanting to risk a glance at the young man.
“I apologize. I didn’t realize there was another person in the cove. You have my assurance that I did not intend to peek.”
“That’s a shame.”
Harry blinked and almost turned around before realizing that the young man has yet to put his shorts back on.
“Almost got you to look.” Harry couldn’t tell by his tone if the young man was taking the piss. “I ain’t never seen a suit like that before, but I know it ain’t one of local tailor’s”
“I found this cove while exploring the island with a friend in my youth.”
“And you found it again with what, your memory?”
“That and a marking on a tree near the cliff face.”
The movement behind Harry ceased. “That was you? Get off it. That K’s ancient. Can’t have been you.”
“I hate admitting this, but I’m not as spry as you make me out to be. I am quite, as you say, ancient.”
“Yeah, but you’re right fit in those trousers.”
Though Merlin would argue the opposite, Harry was, by nature, reserved with his affections. Certainly, he’s liberal with compliments when the need strikes him, but age tempered his formidable libido. His charms were, as of late, employed on clients of a certain age or love of men of a certain age with money older than themselves or their preference.
Therefore, it was with great horror that Harry found himself saying, “From what I’ve seen, young man, I daresay you’ve outstripped me in that respect.”
Fortunately for him, the young man laughed instead of running him out of the cove.
“My name’s Eggsy, by the way,” the young man said.
Harry’s eyes widened. He turned his head to the side to hide his expression from Eggsy, who still noticed the abrupt change in his mood.
“What’s wrong?” Eggsy asked over the rustling of his shorts.
“Nothing, the erosion on the cliffs merely distracted me. Where did you say you were staying?”
“I work at the taverna near the big villa in the middle of town. Me best mate’s mum owns them both. We’re setting up for my mate’s wedding right now,” Eggsy answered, “If you’re still in town in a month, you can probably get yourself in the party.”
Harry remembered the contents of the bedside table in the young man’s room and rubbed his eyes. He briefly debated sleeping in James’ yacht before a hand on his shoulder brought his attention back to the present.
“Something’s on your mind,” Eggsy teased. Even with his clothes on, the young man was still distracting.
“You’ve put deck chairs on the beach,” Harry blurted out.
Eggsy laughed and took his hand off Harry’s shoulder to pick up the bag on one of the deck chairs. “Sometimes, a bloke just wants to sleep outdoors, yeah?”
Before Harry can propose going their separate ways, Eggsy surged forward to squint at his face. Harry blinked. “Is there something wrong?”
“Are you…” Eggsy hesitated before continuing, “Is your name Harry Hart?”
Harry leant back, startled. “Why do you know my name?”
Eggsy’s eyes grew comically wide before a loud, startled laugh escaped his lips. Harry thought it was charming until the young man said, “You’re one of Roxy’s dads!”
That was the last thing Harry expected for the young man to say. It must’ve shown on his face as Eggsy’s mouth fell open in abject horror.
“Roxy said she wrote about it in her invites,” Eggsy whispered, “Please don’t tell her, she would kill me.”
Harry, who still couldn’t comprehend the words that came out of Eggsy’s mouth, stiffened his lip and marched out of the cove.