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sang the sun in flight

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There are nights where it is impossible for either of them to sleep.

They couldn’t if they wanted. Instead, they lie in the dark on the duvet for hours, hands frisking bare skin or pushed into each other’s hair. Harry kisses Eggsy and holds him tight, most of the time so tight that Eggsy complains that he can’t breathe and bites at Harry’s nose until Harry relents. But Eggsy clutches back at him as well, mumbles I love you against Harry’s mouth and Harry says it back — they take it in turns to say it and for the briefest of moments, it almost feels enough.

Then one of them will nod off first — it’s usually Eggsy, but sometimes Harry drifts away and wakes to salt streaks under his eyes, their fingers bunched together and Eggsy curled against his chest, warm and breathing and alive.

Most nights, he stays awake with his hand at the back of Eggsy’s neck, where it refuses to stop trembling no matter how hard he tries, and he thinks it until either morning or sleep takes him: please don’t make me go through this life without you.

***

It’s the coldest March on record.

Harry keeps the house heating on high and brings him hot water bottles and thermal blankets and socks to warm feet that Eggsy cannot feel. He makes him breakfast in bed and kisses him awake every morning, without fail. In return, Eggsy kisses him over poached eggs and asks if he can have caviar with his cereal, and the laughs they share are long and loud, carrying on the cold spring air.

Two months left at most, an expiration date that keeps creeping closer and closer. Eggsy won’t live to see autumn leaves falling, no question about it. It’s only mornings like these that gets Harry out of bed in recent days, keeps him from going out to the rooftop balcony where Eggsy won’t hear him at three a.m and screaming up at the empty sky.

There’s nothing you can do. Harry knows this. It’s why he can’t look at his own two hands anymore, not even when they’re holding on to the pair that the disease have yet to ravage, hands that Harry would now be able to find out of a thousand by touch alone.

He picks up fifty pounds worth of beluga caviar from the deli on his way home, one day. The absolute finest they have, no exceptions.

***

They’ve just gotten through a mind-blowing round of sex when Eggsy presses his lips to Harry’s ear and whispers, “You know, if you end up meeting someone else —”

“Never.” Harry’s reply is immediate. Absolutely out of the question. He can’t even begin to fathom the thought of sharing his bed with anyone else other than the panting, glorious boy lying next to him. He strokes Eggsy’s softening cock with his fingers, slippery come smearing down his palm. “My dear Eggsy, how could there ever be anyone, after you?”

“See, that’s the problem,” Eggsy groans, turning onto his back to look up at the ceiling. “Harry, you know I want you to be happy, don’t you?”

You make me happy.” It breaks his heart, that it even needs to be said. But Harry has to, because he’s not the one who’s going to be dead in less than three months and the time for figuring out what brooks saying and what doesn’t is long past. He buries his nose in Eggsy’s neck and kisses his collarbone, listening to the sigh that follows.

“I’m just saying, if,” Eggsy reasons, “There’s another bloke you happen to fancy, and he fancies you back, then. Just go for it, yeah? Life’s too short to be holding back from these things, innit?”

Like Harry needs to be reminded of that. He holds the final proof in his arms every waking day of what’s left of their time together. “I’m an old man, Eggsy,” he murmurs instead, “I hardly think anyone would be willing to have me as I am.”

“Come off it,” Eggsy chuckles, thumbing at the corner of Harry’s mouth. “You’ll have the pick of the lot, I just know it. Guy as gorgeous as you, they’ll be queueing all the way up and down the block just to take a look.”

Harry doesn’t reply. His breath shakes and he’s hurting with how much he already misses this, misses Eggsy, who’s kind and unselfish and brave and deserves more than the world, for how much it feels like Harry’s is going to end the second Eggsy is no longer in it.

He says, “I don’t know if I can,” and it’s true. Years from now he’ll cry out Eggsy’s name in his sleep and it would be selfish to foist that onto someone else. Harry has seen enough of people living with ghosts to know what becomes of those who get too close to be weighed down as well, how grief and pain infects everyone all round like radiation creeping through a fallout zone.

“I’ll get you Grindr,” Eggsy tells him, smiling with his eyes full of adoration, they way they always are when he looks at Harry. “See if that helps. But you’re not to use it until after I die, though. Got that?”

He misunderstands. Of course he does. Harry would expect nothing less of him. He smiles and kisses Eggsy with the back of his throat burning and gives himself over to Eggsy’s lips, Eggsy’s tongue, if just to stop himself from breathing the words into physical being, it’s too soon.

*** 

On Sundays they go to the park together. Harry brings Eggsy in his wheelchair and sometimes Vivian gets to come along, curled up in Eggsy’s lap and mewling as Eggsy strokes her ear.

When they’re not going in laps, Harry pushes Eggsy to a bench and sits next to him and they look at everything around them. A couple of joggers, the gardener tending the shrubs. There’s an elderly couple that walks by, holding hands, and Harry has to look away even as Eggsy comments on how it would be nice if he could still do that with Harry, at least.

This far into spring, the first flowers are already bursting into bloom. Eggsy’s hand shakes as he points them out. Neither of them have it in them to put it down to the cold. He says, smiling, “Harry. Hey Harry, check those out. They’re beautiful.”

Harry nods, but he’s not looking at the flowers. Haloed in the noonday light, Eggsy’s profile seems to glow, warm colour in his cheeks, hair edged golden with sun. He looks just like a prince, Harry realises. A king in waiting. This is how he will remember him, now and forever.

“Yes,” he says quietly. “I know.”

 ***

The email doesn’t quite come out of nowhere, but nobody is expecting it when it arrives.

It’s from a small research team in America, NIH, Neurological Disorders department. The last time they replied to the open solicitation from the Kingsman medical division was in November, three months after Eggsy had been diagnosed. Like all other responses, it’d been short and polite, expressing modest interest in Eggsy’s case but offering no promises for how little was understood about his condition at the time.

A number of doctoral fellows have been rotated around since, their credentials tacked on to the end of the email, which is the longest and most detailed out of anything they’ve received. Merlin forwards it to Harry five minutes after he finishes reading through it, a few choice lines highlighted in bright yellow.

All of a sudden, the disease has a name.

*** 

Traumatic primary disseminated myelitis. Later on, Harry will repeat those four words to himself in his car, say it to mirrors and windows and anything capable of holding his reflection so he will never forget. For now, he listens to the woman on the other side of the conference call with Merlin beside him, hearing everything and only understanding a little, enough to dare to believe the same small hope in his chest that had unfolded when he read through the email the third time round.

“Can you help him?” Harry ask.

The woman — Professor Chang, her name badge reads — neither nods nor shakes her head. “It’s a very new therapy,” she offers instead. “We’re looking to conduct Phase Two trials, which is why we were hoping you could help us with that.”

“Can you start immediately?”

Professor Chang nods. “Ready whenever you are.”

“What does the therapy entail?” Merlin asks, and Harry trusts that he will understand, interpret it for him afterwards.

He does, once they’ve finished conferencing and can talk in private: an intensive course of drugs, one cocktail after the other, over a time period of two months to knock out atrophying nerve cells and effect the growth of new ones. Whether or not that will cure the disease is anyone’s guess — as sound as the theory is, the treatment is too recent to predict a percentage chance of success, much less survival curves after that.

But it is something. Merlin hasn’t even stopped speaking when Harry finds himself nodding. “Do it.”

“He’ll have to agree to it himself,” Merlin says. “Are you sure this is what he’ll want?”

It’s clear what he’s referring to, but Harry replies without thinking. “Yes,” he says, and hopes along with a rising crest of selfishness that Eggsy won’t ask after it too much.

***

Except of course, he does.

“Will it hurt?"

Harry hesitates before he answers. “They’ll have to discontinue your medication before administering the drugs,” he says, “At this stage, the pain…”

It’s easy enough to fill in the things Harry can’t bring himself to say for fear of jeopardising the only opportunity he now has to grow old with Eggsy beside him. “I see,” Eggsy says softly. He can’t seem to meet Harry’s eyes. “Is that all there is to it?”

Harry thinks back to the long list of potential side effects that Merlin had rattled off whilst explaining, how it had made him feel sixteen again when his mother was dying of liver cancer and he’d stood by and watched her wither from the combination of drugs and disease. “No,” he says truthfully.

“No,” Eggsy says back at him, his voice firm, and Harry’s heart clenches.

“Why not?” Harry demands, and Eggsy finally looks up at him, eyes blazing.

“Because it’s already bad enough that I’m dying, Harry,” he snarls, “I don’t want to do it screaming my head off, thanks.”

"Are you — is it the pain? Is that what you’re scared of?” Harry asks, dumbfounded. "You’re throwing away the only chance we have because of that?”

“How long did you say the treatment would take, again?”

It’s cruel, the things Eggsy will say and do to get his point across. “Two months,” Harry repeats.

“Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” Eggsy laughs without an iota of humour behind it. “Probably won’t even last long enough to see if it works or not.”

Anger buzzes like fierce static in Harry’s head. “You don’t know that.”

“No, but I know you’re going to have to watch. You might be okay with that, I’m not. You promised me, Harry. You said you would end it before it came to that.”

Harry gets down on his knees so he’s at eye level with Eggsy, a position from which to rightfully beg. He takes him by the shoulders and waits until Eggsy faces him before he speaks.

“I cannot lose you,” he says, the words choking him as they rise, “I won’t. Don’t you understand that?”

This should be enough, but Eggsy looks away from him and says nothing else, his mouth pulled into a thin, unhappy line.

***

It’s four in the morning when Harry rouses to Eggsy prodding him gently in the side.

“Okay,” Eggsy mumbles, and then Harry’s fully awake in an instant, kissing him and holding on like this is all it will take to keep whatever life that still remains in him, in him.

Before the sun can rise over London, they’re on the fastest jet Kingsman has, bound for Maryland.

***

Eggsy usually takes his medication every eight hours, and with his usual morning dose skipped he begins to show signs of discomfort halfway through the flight. Another hour, and he’s visibly shaking with the effort of not crying out. Harry forces his way into the cockpit to ask Merlin to go faster, to which he receives a strongly-worded reprimand about flight safety and airspace speed limits, and then, exactly what he wants.

They arrive in Bethesda an hour and a half ahead of schedule. Even so, in the jeep ride over to the institute Eggsy’s breathing is ragged and he can’t keep his eyes on Harry’s face anymore, squeezing them shut as he pants through teeth gritted so hard that Harry fears he might chip them.

By the time they’re at the research facility and have proper medical staff attending to him, he’s writhing in agony. Harry follows him all the way down the corridor on the gurney, holding his hands throughout even as Eggsy rakes deep red lines into his knuckles and wrists. He can barely breathe from start to finish, and only can manage brief whispers of air long after Eggsy has disappeared into the depths of the hospital, leaving Harry standing alone in the hallway, beads of blood dripping down his empty palms.

***

The treatment wards are two floors down from where the visitor’s room is, but when it gets quiet and Harry listens closely enough, he can almost hear the screams drifting up through the varnished linoleum.

The single toilets they have at the hospital aren’t as soundproof, but after Harry slips in with his eyes burning and locks the door, he puts his face down in his hands to stifle what follows afterwards.

***

Eventually, he’s allowed to see him.

The ward is dark and silent when Harry’s led in by one of the nurses. Eggsy is the only patient they have there, occupying the single bed in the centre of the room with a curtain pulled around him. When the nurse draws it back, Harry feels his mouth tremble. Eggsy lies still and grey with his eyes shut, already not looking like himself at all. He’s attached to several monitors and a thin plastic tube runs in his nose. IV lines have been stuck in the back of both his hands, which are tied to the railings with leather restraints.

“He wouldn’t stop fighting,” the nurse whispers when Harry asks furiously, insofar as it is possible to be furious in a hush, and then he just deflates. Always the fighter, his boy, Harry thinks. So very brave. Almost too brave. He tells himself that this is how they’ll get through this, even if it’s hard to believe it for the moment.

There’s a chair by the bed, and Harry sits in it. He waits for the nurse to leave them before pulling it closer. Then he waits some more, listening to the beeping of machines and the soft sounds of Eggsy’s breathing. He reaches for Eggsy’s left hand and clasps it with both his own. It’s too cold, and he puts his mouth to it as he tries to gently massage some measure of warmth back into it. His fingers are barren — they’ve removed his wedding ring. Harry looks about and finds it on the bedside table. Carefully, he slides it back onto Eggsy’s finger, making sure not to disturb the needle taped to his hand as he does so.

Ensconced in the relative quiet of the room, Harry holds on to Eggsy’s hand and thinks. He thinks of the first time they kissed, their first night sleeping together, the first time he found out what the nape of Eggsy’s neck smells like — sandalwood and honey and sweat, a combination of scents that he’s long committed to memory. He thinks, and then he misses. Misses the taste of Eggsy on his lips, misses his smiles in the morning, misses the way he’d pinch Harry’s arse mischievously while being carried up the stairs. He misses the times where it felt like nothing could ever hurt them both, not disease nor bombs or bullets, and above all, misses him, terribly.

The barest movement alerts him to Eggsy’s rasping, “‘Arry —”

“I’m here,” Harry says, lips brushing over his knuckles. He kisses him there, and oh, he’s missed this too; it’s been too long, being able to love this boy in whatever way he can.

Eyes heavy with brittle sleep find his, and the sheer intensity of pain in them is unmistakable. “Please,” Eggsy moans, his voice far away and hoarse from shouting. His lips are bloody and raw, like he’s been trying to bite them off his own face. “Make it stop, Harry, please…”

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispers, at a loss for anything else. He presses his mouth back to Eggsy’s feeble, twitching fingers, wishes he could climb into his skin and weather himself what he’d sooner tear the world apart than have Eggsy go through for a second.

“I’m sorry,” he says, again. His tears fall onto the back of Eggsy’s hand, seeping under the golden band around his ring finger.

***

The very next day, they get the first round of drugs into Eggsy’s system. Harry doesn’t know exactly what it is they’re pumping into him, but it’s essentially chemo if the immediate results are anything to go by. An hour after the drip starts, he’s steadying an emesis basin in front of Eggsy and holding him up by the shoulders as Eggsy empties the contents of his stomach into it. When there’s nothing left to throw up, Eggsy makes retching noises until he falls back whimpering, Harry dabbing at his mouth with a damp washcloth. This is what the tube in his nose is for, Harry recalls: like this, swallowing or keeping food down will be next to impossible for him. Eggsy will have nothing by mouth for the next week or so, up until they can start him on the next, longer phase of treatment where they’ll attempt to stimulate his dying nerve cells to regrow.

But they still are doing just that, dying, and when Eggsy isn’t vomiting he’s curled in on himself, spasming from the pain that he now has to bear around the clock. He loses feeling in his hands, his wrists and knees, and towards the end of phase one he can no longer move his limbs. Nurses have to start turning him over in bed periodically so he won’t develop pressure sores, a task that Harry performs himself more times a day than necessary, rubbing gently at Eggsy’s stiff joints while doing so.

Before the week is done, Eggsy’s hair starts falling out from his scalp in wisps and clumps. Harry helps him shave his head, and after Eggsy, in one of his rarer light moods these days, complains about looking like Merlin, he takes the electric razor to himself in one of the hospital toilets. When he returns to Eggsy’s room afterwards, the look of stark horror he gets is immediately worth it.

“Harry,” Eggsy gasps, “Oh my god, what?”

“What?” Harry sits next to him and smiles. “Is there something on my face?”

“There’s nothing on your head, you tit. Oh my god, Harry,” Eggsy laughs softly, “That was like, the third best thing I liked about you. You didn’t have to.”

“It’s just hair, it’ll come back,” Harry says, thinks, but you won’t.

Eggsy just looks at him, then works his chapped lips into a small grin. “My phone’s in the drawer.” He gestures with a tilt of his head, because his arms don’t work anymore. “You know my passcode, don’t you?”

Harry nods. “What do you have in mind?”

“Gonna Snapchat Merlin.” Eggsy smiles, the widest he’s given Harry since they touched down in Bethesda. “Just wait till he gets a load of us.”

Harry acquiesces, following Eggsy’s instructions, “The little square box with the yellow bell, Harry — no, not that one, that one,” and, “Tag Roxy too; ooh, oh, and Mum and Daisy,” and then when the photo of them together has been taken, captioned wish u were here, and sent off, Harry leans back down to kiss Eggsy on the mouth and his now-bald forehead, laughing as though there’s nowhere else in the world he’d rather be, because there isn’t.

***

At the beginning of April, Harry’s in the room when he notices that Eggsy’s chest no longer rises or falls. The beeping that they’re both too familiar with beeps faster, and when he swiftly looks at Eggsy’s eyes, they are wide and filled with a mounting panic.

Medical staff bustle in seconds afterwards, drawing the curtains and ushering Harry from the room. Outside in the hallway, a nurse explains to him what he already knows.

Eggsy has lost the ability to breathe on his own.

***

When he’s next allowed to see Eggsy, the boy has another thicker, plastic tube in the hole they’ve cut into his windpipe, leading into a new machine that stands next to his bed and does his breathing for him. The way it whirrs and hisses means nothing to Harry. The crushed look in Eggsy’s eyes means everything.

Harry holds his hand and talks to him for as long as it takes for Eggsy to fall asleep, and then slips out into the hallway where he collapses against a wall and lets the sobs quake him apart under the dim fluorescent lights.

***

Weeks pass. They start the second phase of treatment, and it somehow turns out to be worse than the first. No less than four different IV bags feed into Eggsy at any one time, dangling over his bed grotesquely like Christmas ornaments. There’s no vomiting or hair loss, not that Eggsy has much in way left of either, Harry supposes. Instead, he shrinks and wastes no matter how many extra calories Harry bullies the nurses into giving him, growing so lean that the bones seem to stick out of his cheeks and hands, paper-thin skin pulled tight over them.

He’s rarely awake, nowadays. Half the time Eggsy can’t even muster the energy to open his eyes, and it’s really a matter of time before the disease takes that away from him as well. He can only lie in bed and blink at Harry slowly, unable to speak or react otherwise, and Harry can’t decide if this is worse than if he were still screaming.

He does all that he possibly can, reading to him — books, the news, magazines — and keeping him up to date on what’s going on back home — Roxy’s taking care of Vivian, Mum and Daisy send their love, and Tariq’s busy living up to the legacy that both of them left behind in their time as Galahads. One night when Eggsy’s too exhausted to remain conscious, Harry pulls Professor Chang aside when she comes by with her research team to run tests and take samples, and asks about anything that could possibly be done to expedite the treatment process.

“We have to maintain the integrity of the clinical trial,” she explains, and Harry could just about explode at that, he really could, but then, “And it wouldn’t be safe for the patient besides if we strayed from the preset dosages. You have to understand that your husband’s overall wellbeing is as much a priority for us as it is for you, Mr Smith.”

Patient. His husband. Eggsy. Harry looks back at the figure lying under the sheet behind him and the angry words die in his throat.

“He doesn’t look like he’s getting better,” he eventually manages. Facts are a language these clinical types speak, he’s aware; observations, they can relate. Not that Harry would say anything different if it were another person he was talking to. How could anyone else understand that he would willingly tear himself down if it meant Eggsy would live, that if he could rewrite the universe it would be him on that bed with half a dozen tubes in his body and literal poison coursing through his veins?

“It just takes time,” Professor Chang tries to reassure him, and Harry can find no reassurance in that. For having come this far, whatever time they used to have feels like it ran out a long while ago.

***

Eggsy slips into a coma the night after Easter Sunday.

A representative from the clinical team takes Harry into a small room with two chairs and a coffee machine and talks with him there. Or at him, rather — the research associate, a man in his mid-forties named Professor Goldstein, says quiet words and Harry listens to them, gripping his cup until the skin of his palms burn.

An hour later, Harry calls Merlin. It’s eleven p.m in Bethesda and edging close to four in the morning in London, but all the same Merlin picks up on the second ring.

“Arthur,” he says quietly. “Harry, is everything alright?”

Anything, Harry remembers Merlin had said the day he dropped them off. If anything happens, don't hesitate to call. Nobody had specified what he meant by anything at the time — they held that word like a mortar shell between them, ready to detonate at any given moment.

This is the moment. Harry can feel it scorching his insides like acid, he’s choking on it and can barely see through the tears as he holds himself on his feet, his left palm bracing the edge of the toilet sink he is overly familiar with. He tries to say something and can’t even begin to catch his breath, can only produce the same keening noise that had emerged from his mouth the day Eggsy was sentenced to die.

“I’m coming down there,” Merlin says, and because he’s a gentleman, hangs up before the wails begin, leaving Harry with the dignity of drowning in the privacy of his own grief.

***

Twelve hours, at most. This is how much longer Eggsy has to live. It takes five of those hours for Merlin to pilot the jet to Bethesda again, and he doesn’t come alone. Roxy and Michelle trail behind him in the hospital reception, where he pulls Harry into a hug and murmurs in his ear, “Oh, Harry. I’m so, so sorry. Truly am.”

“We shouldn’t have come,” Harry croaks, because he knows about everything that Eggsy deserves and dying in his own bed, in the comfort of the home they have made for themselves over the the last six months, is one of them. “We shouldn’t — I shouldn’t have made him come.”

Merlin pulls back and shakes his head. “I would have tried anything, if it were me. It would have been worse not doing anything and thinking about what could have happened if you had, you know that.”

God, Harry does. He knows it to be true with every shred of his being. And yet.

And yet.

Roxy hugs him next, then Michelle, who whispers, “Thank you. For trying,” and Harry has no reply to that. When they pull apart, there’s a young woman in a white lab coat waiting for them.

“Are you Mr Smith’s family?” she asks.

“Yes,” Merlin says, nodding and stepping forward to take charge of the situation. No one else dares. “May we see him now, please?”

The woman smiles kindly. “Professor Chang would like to have a word, first.”

***

“Axonal cell growth has actually progressed a lot faster than we predicted,” Professor Chang says. They’re all holed up in the same room that Harry had been taken to not six hours prior, untouched cups of coffee strewn between them. “We’ve just taken some samples of spinal tissue for testing — the degeneration has been arrested completely along central nerve fibres. At this rate, further growth and regeneration seems entirely possible, provided that we continue the therapy.”

Harry doesn’t understand. This is not what he’d been told. “But he’s still dying,” he says. Those words, he has held on to them for months, allowed them to burrow between his ribs where they puncture his lungs like nails beneath his skin. They still do every time he thinks or says them.

Professor Chang nods. “It would seem that hepatotoxicity was a side effect of the treatment that we did not account for.”

“You’ve destroyed his liver,” Merlin translates.

“We’re terribly sorry. We’re doing everything we can for him at the moment.”

It’s not fair, Harry thinks. Just when one thing stops killing the love of his life, another crops up to take its place. What were the last two months for, then? Two months they could have spent together like they always have, loving each other to bits, now lost to suffering that Eggsy could’ve been spared if not for Harry’s own selfishness. Maybe this is punishment for that. Maybe things were always going to be this way.

“I assume you’re looking on the donor registry,” Merlin says.

“There’s not much time left, but yes,” Professor Chang replies, “If we come across a match and they arrive in time, we can operate at once.”

“I’m his mother,” Michelle interjects suddenly. She hasn't spoken since they came up from reception. “Could I donate mine?”

Professor Chang looks at her. “It’s very unlikely, but possible. We’ll have to run an antigen matching test first.”

“Test me, too.”

Everyone in the room looks at Harry. He clears his throat and says, steadier than he’s sounded in weeks, “We have the same blood type.” He knows this because Eggsy had told him once, joking about lugging Harry along on missions just in case he ever got stabbed and needed a transfusion.

“Antigen testing isn’t the same as blood grouping,” Professor Chang says, “It's a bit more complicated than that. But we can test you together.”

“Can I get tested, too?” Roxy asks, and Professor Chang nods.

“Oh, what the hell,” Merlin groans, “Let’s all just go for it, alright?”

***

Four finger sticks and another precious hour later, Harry’s phone goes off as they’re having lunch in the hospital cafeteria.

“Mr Smith,” Professor Chang says when Harry picks up, her voice urgent, “Are you still in the hospital?”

***

Later —

“Fuck me,” Merlin breathes.

Harry doesn’t. He can’t even move. Next to him, Michelle has burst into tears and Roxy looks like she’s on the verge of joining her as they clutch at each other.

Professor Chang just raises her eyebrows and sighs disbelievingly, flipping through the results in the clear plastic folder she’s holding.

She says, “Mr Smith is a very, very lucky man indeed.”

Harry agrees, just not with which Mr Smith he knows she's referring to.

***

In the operating theatre, they wheel Eggsy in and Harry lies next to him and holds his hand as the surgical team mills around them.

He holds it for as long as he can, mouths I love you over and over again once the needle in his own starts to tingle and he doesn’t let go until he falls asleep.

***

When Harry opens his eyes again, it’s to a dull ache below his ribs and the hospital blue of a recovery room. He turns his head to look beside him and finds Merlin first, sitting by his bedside and reading a book. Merlin looks up at him, then grins and indicates the framed picture on the bedside table — Harry's favourite one from his wedding day: Eggsy kissing him, both their faces radiant — before shifting aside without saying anything to reveal the occupant of the bed adjacent to Harry.

It's Eggsy, who’s still asleep and gaunt and pale, but —

The hole in his throat has been plugged. He’s breathing, a slow lifting and sinking of his ribs that Harry can see even from his own bed.

Harry doesn't stop looking at him, waiting for the moment where Eggsy stirs in his sleep, ever so slightly. His fingers, so long since Harry saw them move, brush against the fabric of the blanket covering him from the waist down.

As Merlin smiles, seeing the same thing he does, Harry closes his eyes. He pictures that part of him that lives on inside Eggsy now, belonging to him like how Harry never once imagined he could — the thought sparks something in his chest like relief, like love, and he breathes easy for the first time that year.

He dares to think it, we’ll be okay.

***

And they are.