With the exception of nature’s babbling and Eggsy’s pointed whines, Harry heard nothing but echoes of Guinevere and Merlin’s reunion. He avoided thinking about the conversation that would follow once they find out Roxy’s true motivations for unearthing the three men from her mother’s past. He was quite fond of where his body parts were at the moment.
“Come off it, Bo,” Eggsy whined, lips pouting in a way Harry endeavoured to ignore, “Hazza. Hare. Reese. Potter.”
“Please refrain from referring to me with those nicknames,” Harry replied wearily as he pushed a branch aside. The last thing he wanted to hear as they made their way out of the forest were nicknames he thought he’d shed in university.
In university, where he sent pathetic poems describing his time with Gwen to Merlin and James.
The two men who dismissed his literary efforts before sending their own rubbish after meeting mysterious women of their own.
Mysterious women who, as it turned out, were a single woman.
A single woman named Guinevere.
“I swear I didn’t mean to give you a coronary,” Eggsy tried again as he followed Harry through the trees, “Roxy said she wrote about all of you bein’ her da in her invite. Gwen barely mentions anything about her life before Rox was born, so Rox was right pissed when she found out about all of you.”
“Considering Guinevere’s independence and pride, I believe that anecdote wholeheartedly,” Harry answered.
“Gwen’s a softie when it comes to Rox-”
“- I’ve witnessed enough to confirm that-”
“- she only gets cross at rude and inconsiderate people-”
“- The confrontation below your bedroom confirmed that as well-”
A crash made Harry turn around and hurry forward to help Eggsy, who had somehow managed to trip and tangle his rucksack in a nearby bush.
“Are you quite alright?” Harry asked as he lifted Eggsy up.
“Yeah, yeah- did anyone clear out anything in the room?” Eggsy asked hurriedly.
Harry untangled Eggsy’s rucksack from the greenery to spare himself from looking at the young man. “We were only able to inflate our beds before Guinevere found us.”
Eggsy took his rucksack and sniffed. "Right."
Minutes later, they were clear of shrubbery and had made it to the dirt road to the town proper. Eggsy hazarded a glance at Harry and said, “Meant it when I said didn’t mean to say all of that.”
Harry softened his expression. He believed Eggsy. The young man spoke plainly even when he was within his rights to lie and send Harry off his trail. “Roxy wouldn’t hear anything about it from me.”
Eggsy grinned at him and Harry ignored the dimple on the young man’s cheek. “Cheers, Haz.”
Mercifully, Eggsy stopped deploying inane nicknames afterwards. He instead played the role of a tourist guide and pointed out what changed in town since Harry’s last visit to town.
At points, Harry interjected with memories from his trip. Eggsy listened and laughed at his poor jokes, trading barbs as if they knew each other longer than the hour that passed from the cove to the town.
The good humor they’ve fostered disappeared as quick as it formed when they saw Gwen throwing luggage at Merlin and James at the villa’s gates.
“And stay out!” Gwen shouted, ignoring the fuming looks Roxy was shooting at her.
“James has got a yacht!” Merlin shouted as James rolled his eyes and gathered their bags. “We’re staying there until the wedding.”
“Fine!” Harry had no idea how Gwen could appear incensed and soft at the same time as she turned her attention to Roxy. “This will have to do for now, dear.”
Roxy pursed her lips and shot forward. Harry stepped backwards, alarmed, but Eggsy remained still as she grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled. The younger man’s expression reminded him of his own reaction to Gwen’s sudden bursts of violence: resigned and terribly fond.
“We’re fixing you and Harry’s room,” Roxy half-shouted as she pulled Eggsy into the villa.
“Roxy, I just mended Eggsy’s shirt last week!” Gwen called after her daughter. She smiled at her before refocusing the full power of her fury at Merlin, who refused to back down. “Go on, then. Shack up in your little sailboat and never darken my doorway again.”
James pouted and put his bags down. “You’re being a little too unreasonable, dear.”
Gwen narrowed her eyes at him.
“You’re quite right,” James amended smoothly and picked up his bags once more. “We’ve not attempted to contact you in years. It’s ill manners to expect your hospitality so casually, despite your kindness. We should at least earn it by performing some chores for the wedding.”
“Thank you for volunteering, James.” A dangerous smile appeared on Gwen’s face. “I’ll see you and Eames tomorrow to clean out the pig sty.”
James and Merlin visibly blanched.
“I don’t expect you to clean up with them. You, I can trust with cleaner chores,” Gwen told Harry over breakfast the next day.
Harry told himself that he was not disappointed that Roxy and Eggsy was not dining with them that morning. It was expected that Roxy would stay somewhere else after having a row with her mum. It made more sense to take Eggsy with her. He had no idea what made him doubt the logic of that choice, and why he associated it with the draftiness of Eggsy’s room.
“I shudder to think what they would say back in London if I didn’t participate in their suffering,” Harry replied.
Gwen pouted. “If you insist. Wait until they’ve cleaned the pig shelters. Re-filling it is cleaner and easier. Don’t let them drag you through the mud.”
That was why he showed up at the pen in his wellies and hour and a half later than agreed, to the disgust of Merlin and James.
“Grand of you to join us, Mr. Hart,” James said tersely before tossing a shovel at Harry.
Merlin chose the low ground and remarked, “You are an utter, fucking twat.”
Harry smirked. “If you’d remain calm, Gwen would’ve let you and James stay in the villa.”
“She threw a water jug at my head!”
“A wine jug, if we were to be specific. It was a nice vintage too-”
“Make like a monk and shut your mouth, you slag-”
A few pigs squealed and scattered as James tackled Merlin into the mud. Harry thought of filming the spectacle for all of a second before remembering that James was a client and Merlin could make his team’s e-mail a spam filter for the entire bank. He instead busied himself with filling a wheelbarrow with straw and wood shavings for the pig shelter.
Though neither men had stepped foot in a sty or a shelter outside primary school trips, Merlin and James had done a fine job cleaning the shelters. All that was left for Harry to do was to scatter the new flooring and make sure it didn’t clump around odd areas.
Manual labor, as it turned out, was absorbing enough to distract Harry from noises he normally would have noticed. It took him a full minute to realise that the choking sounds he was hearing came not from his friends but from Eggsy, who had perched himself on one of the shelters.
“Kind of you to take the piss, Eggsy,” Harry said, voice flat as he ducked into a shelter to rebed it.
“Mate, you have never done manual labor in your life before.” Eggsy wiped mirth-induced tears from his face and leapt down to the mud. “Figured as much. Not a lot of bankers willingly dive into physical muck.”
“As opposed to the muck tabloids gleefully expose?” Harry tutted at Eggsy as the man used a hand to wipe at the mud on his shirt. “A charming young woman who interned for me a few summers ago was the first of her family to finish university. Her entire family raised cows in Taiwan before she moved to London.”
Harry didn’t miss the way Eggsy rolled his eyes. “I’m not discrediting what your she did, but where I lived, the only sums you learn are the quid you earn from ‘errands’. Not everyone gets out of cleaning out shit for a living, Haz.”
“The nickname, Eggsy. And what errands were these?”
“It ain’t nothing you lot don’t read off the papers.”
“Be that as it may,” Harry said as Eggsy took some straw from his wheelbarrow, “I’m not quite sure Gwen will approve of you helping with our penance.”
“Got marching orders from Roxy and the Countess. Said I should try to get at least one of you in the taverna for lunch or they’ll make me work through the night.”
Harry considered Eggsy’s words as they bedded the last few shelters. Gwen had given him a vague abstract of the man’s childhood in lieu of Roxy’s while eating supper last night but never went into concrete details.
Gwen had told him that Eggsy’s father passed away in a traffic incident when he was little. The tidy sum left for his education was spent by his stepfather on drugs and other vices; what was left after Eggsy’s mum divorced the lout went to his half-sister’s trust fund upon his insistence.
Unlike him, Harry’s brush with illegal substances in his youth was entirely voluntary and never quite colored his future the same way it did with Eggsy’s. What it did leave him with were anecdotes Eggsy might find amusing.
Or at least, Harry hoped Eggsy might find them amusing.
“I was almost caught selling smokes by coppers while in Eton.”
Eggsy nearly hit his head on a shelter’s ceiling.
“You’re having a laugh,” he said, awed.
“He’s not,” James said from where Merlin had him pinned down on the mud.
Merlin added, while he stopped James from bucking him off, “A Harrow clipe grassed on him when he tried trading them for blues from a Radley prick to impress a bird from St. Mary’s.”
“Shame how we weren’t able to process his bail when he was arrested for smuggling drugs through his company’s imports last year,” Harry said, sighing as if it truly bothered him.
Eggsy looked torn between admiration and incredulousness. “With respect, gentlemen,” he started, “You’re all minted spivs.”
James winked at him before he flipped Merlin over, causing the man’s glasses to fly across the pen.
“And so near the pig shit too,” Harry said dryly.
Eggsy laughed, eyes crinkling the way it did in the cove yesterday. Harry pointedly did not remember his half-dressed state, nor the urge he had to wash the sand that had stuck to his chest.
It struck Harry then how odd it was for him to tell a story about his past. He reasoned with himself that it was a way to return the situation to good humor. Humor was the first resort of uncomfortable British men and nostalgia was an even friendlier refuge.
He, a fifty-year-old man, certainly didn’t risk an uncomfortable just to make his potential daughter’ maid of honor laugh.
“I think your father likes Eggsy.”
Roxy sighed as she handed a napkin to Eggsy, who spat out his wine at Amelia’s accusation. “One of my fathers. And what made you think so?”
“My cousin’s had Harry over for dinner once,” Amelia explained as she ignored Eggsy’s menacing glare, “Witty and acerbic, charming, is how she described him. Never speaks of himself. Very private.”
“And what, a story about him dealing at some posh school means he fancies me?” Eggsy said after he coughed out one last bit of greenery.
“He does have a point,” Roxy said, earning Eggsy’s gratitude. “And what if the Harry your cousin’s had over for dinner is not the same as our Harry? Who might be my father, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“He’s a banker. My cousin is obsessed with his inheritance and has the number of half of England’s banking institutions. Would you like to see their pictures?”
Eggsy groaned and looked around to see if Harry and the others were coming back. Percival had fetched them as soon as they finished with the pig sty. They made it ten feet from the taverna when Roxy ran out to have them shower back in the villa.
He regretted his decision to return without the others. The accusations Eggsy was bearing on Harry’s behalf was the reason why he regretted his decision. It was not at all due to the time he could’ve spent talking to Harry while the older man dressed at his room.
He, a man in his late twenties, was not lamenting his decisions because he found one of his best mate’s possible fathers attractive.
Roxy’s investment in her potential father allowed Eggsy’s internal crisis to fly under her radar. “It’s still too far-fetched to think that Harry fancies Eggsy.”
“My gaydar is superb,” Amelia answered with certainty borne from an aristocratic upbringing. “Why do you think I was able to pick you out in university-”
“Her stunning cheekbones and devastating eyebrows?” Eggsy answered, eager to divert attention away from Harry.
“- and Harry and Eggsy’s preference for men?”
“Or preference for men and women, in Harry’s case. Either way, he and Merlin are nowhere as prolific as James.” Amelia wrinkled her nose. “James’ exploits has its own tag on the Daily Mail and Sun. Would you-”
“No,” Roxy and Eggsy answered urgently, both for self-preservation and the appearance of the man in question in the taverna’s entrance.
“I heard my name and Daily Mail in the same sentence,” James said as he approached them, “That never leads to a civilised conversation.”
“It doesn’t,” Roxy agreed hurriedly as Merlin and Harry appeared at the entrance.
Amelia managed to say “Is Harry into E-” before Roxy and Eggsy kicked her under the table.
“Why yes, our Harry is into everyone,” James answered, misunderstanding and therefore saving everything in the process.
“Not to James’ extent. Never to James’ extent,” Merlin said, a little irritated as he dusted flakes of mud off the back of his head.
“I’m afraid Gwen off the water before Merlin could fully wash up,” Harry explained as he sat beside Roxy. Eggsy tried not to feel slighted by that.
Apart from a contained explosion from Merlin about the shower, their lunch was uninterrupted. Eggsy felt better about having the purity of his thoughts towards Harry doubted by the time they got to pudding, courtesy of Percival and the random security detail pulled in to cover for him and Roxy’s shift.
“Now Roxy, I was thinking about the entertainment at your wedding,” James said after he winked at an unamused Percival, “Amelia here’s told me that some of Eggsy’s mates agreed to play at your reception. But if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to invite a few of my friends to perform at your wedding.”
“Just make sure it isn’t yourself that you’re inviting,” Merlin interjected as he swallowed a spoonful of semolina custard.
James gave him a thoughtful look. “Roxy, did your mother ever tell you that Merlin here used to sing for a band that we three had in Year 12?”
Merlin and Harry groaned while Roxy and Amelia made matching noises of glee. Eggsy laughed and surveyed the table, taking care not to linger too long on the exasperation on Harry’s face.
Amelia may be in the middle of negotiations with politicians and similar bloody-minded fools, but she would never pass up a chance to prove that she was right, especially when it came Eggsy and his decisions in life.
He thought it was a poor way of showing her appreciation for being the one to make her and Roxy realise that they were in love with each other in the first place.
“- and Harry played the guitar-”
“Pardon?” Eggsy mumbled, his mind returning to the present at the most relevant time.
“Harry Hart was a punk, in all senses of the word,” Merlin answered him as he knocked his glass of wine against James.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Said the man whose haircut made prefects despair.”
“That was easily concealed. Your appalling penchant for eyeliner and tight trousers made James here a saint in comparison.”
Eggsy did his best not to think of Harry Hart as a young man and as he was now in tight trousers. He took his glass and drained it of wine when he failed.
“Eggsy plays the guitar,” Amelia said suddenly, not bothering to feign innocence as she nodded at him knowingly. “Maybe he could catch Harry up in time for the wedding?”
“That,” James intoned, solemn as he held up a finger to Merlin’s protests, “Is a singular idea.”
“Hold on, you wanker, we haven’t agreed-”
As Roxy refereed over Merlin and James’ dispute, Eggsy risked looking at Harry and was rewarded with an equally-subdued look.
“It seems we are in the mercy of our friends once again,” Harry said. He smiled at Eggsy and unknowingly destroyed the man’s attempt at finding him platonically attractive.
Eggsy shrugged as if he didn’t feel silly for feeling silly about finding the other man completely stunning. “At least we’re together again.”
He refused to acknowledge the unintentionally seductive undertones of his poor word choice.
The older man seemed to have done the same. “As they seem set on our performance, would you mind terribly if you do give me lessons? I’m afraid I can only remember the basics.”
Eggsy shrugged less casually to convey to himself that he is at peace with feeling silly for feeling silly about finding Harry attractive. “I don’t mind. I’m free whenever I’m off my shift.”
Dousing himself with boiling water seemed to be less painful than staring at Harry’s answering smile, which almost had the same effect of permanently burning his skin with its warmth.
Never had Eggsy doubted Roxy’s choices in guests and wife as hard as he did now.