Harry's in Dubai when he gets the first message. He's in the middle of working a possible informant, and he never gets around to listening to it.
The second message comes while he's en route on an Emirates flight to Shanghai; Harry knows enough about aviation, cellular signals and whatever tech Merlin's put on his phone he never bothers to put it in flight mode. Still, he's sat next to a particularly wet eyed schoolgirl on this flight, and it just seems safer to sleep the whole time.
The third message isn't a message, proper. It's a text from Bloody Cousin Bertie, bane of Harry's childhood and idiot kinsman he'd been happily well shot of as soon as he'd joined the marines.
Abdicating. Sorry, Hars. Bertie.
Harry's been informed by Control that texting during meetings will result in summary dismemberment. Also, the country's better off with Bertie removed from the line of succession in any context, even if he's being unnecessarily dramatic, so he waits until he's at dinner later that night — it's steak, nearly raw, and very good cognac — to text back, Well done then, Bertie. - H.
In reality, Harry doesn't get the message until almost a month after the sortie in Dubai. He's freshly returned from Turkey, where he'd had a series of unsuccessful interludes set in Hagia Sofia. Everybody's being relentlessly, infuriatingly coy, and when Harry shores up back in London it's directly to Control's office and then directly to his silver drinks trolly for a tumbler and the Macallan 18.
"If you're planning to rake me over the coals, you needn't bother," he assures C, who lounges behind the mahogany beast of his desk with all the patience of a jungle cat. "Merlin booked me an economy return flight from Istanbul, leaving me sufficiently punished for any number of perceived transgressions."
C just continues to stare, flat, watches Harry fill his glass, and waves affirmation when asked if Harry might take a seat.
"You're being unusually quiet," Harry says, once the Macallan is warming him from the stomach outward.
"You've not been following the domestic news, have you," C says, but it's not a question, so much as confirmation.
Harry raises an eyebrow. "I've been occupied."
"Yes, of course," C allows, but now he moves, leans forward to rest his elbows on the desk and his palms flat. He looks grim and dutiful, and Harry sets down his tumbler, puts it aside and braces himself for whatever is coming — whatever must be done, as he has for years now, since he made his oaths. "Harry, do you remember the discussion from your recruitment?"
There had been many discussions around Harry's recruitment, borderline unusual as it had been.
"I've had a lot of head injuries since then, C," Harry prevaricates.
"Many of which you've childishly concealed to avoid medical treatment, even, so I'll indulge it," C replies, arch, and laces his fingers together, stares down his beaky nose at Harry and says: "Harry — we've had word from the palace."
Harry has to grab for the tumbler again, mutters, "Christ," and chases it down with the rest of the single malt, breathes around the fireball in his throat and the growing panic in his belly. There had been a number of discussions around his recruitment, true, but over the years they'd fallen away — the early promises to keep him limited to lower risk intelligence work, the asinine attempts to make opportunities for charitable projects. Harry had grown up out of the spotlight and never wanted for it, and it had seemed foolish, increasingly unnecessary, to cling to those absurd caveats of his service. He'd survived his tenure in the Royal Marines and come out of SAS training as any other young man who volunteered to be waterboarded in arctic conditions would. To maintain the illusion that some accident of birth and bloodline precluded him from the sacrifices and duties of his colleagues and peers was unconscionable — especially —
"King George is dying," C says, with a softness that betrays how little he must know of Harry's dreadful childhood in drafty country estates, the absentminded tending from nannies, how he'd loathed his grandfather's bloody temper.
"So I'll owe my condolences to the queen and my well-wishes to David and Clarissa," Harry grits out.
"The Duke and Duchess of Hampton were killed, three weeks ago, in a motorway accident on the M25," C says. "You know they left no issue — and the Duke of York — "
"Shit," Harry snarls, and goes for the bottle again, his heart thrashing in his chest.
" — has confirmed he will abdicate, when the time comes," C continues, relentless.
Only excruciatingly good breeding keeps Harry from drinking directly from the cut crystal decanter. He has a sudden, vivid memory of being six, wearing short pants and a navy jumper at Bloody Cousin Bertie's party, feeling deeply grateful even at such a tender age that feudalism was past and that Bertram Hart, Earl of Wessex, had no estate that relied upon his good judgment. It was not an opinion that had shifted much in the subsequent three decades.
"I'll abdicate, too," Harry says, staring down at the decanters.
Underneath the Huntsman bespoke, the starched white shirt and braces, Harry's body is a history of his work where no other record must remain. There's the ugly exit wound scar from Colombia, a decade ago, which had gone untreated and then poorly treated, and which now is a knot of glossy white and mottled tissue low on his back. There's a long lash from a serrated short blade in Cambodia. There's the the shrapnel scarring — pieces of jagged tin can and scavenged metal garbage — from improvised explosive devices. All his life he'd been careful, no tattoos to mark him lest they give him away, but it hasn't mattered. Harry's a map of his experiences, writ large across the marked flesh and reset bones — all of it meaning so much more than where and to whom he was born.
"And doom our country to endure Charles Mayweather as our head of state?" C scoffs.
"You can't possibly be serious with this line of inquiry," Harry argues. "In what way am I an acceptable monarch?"
"You are of sound mind and body," C begins, eminently and irritatingly reasonable. "You were top of your classes in university, in the Royal Marines and your service with the SAS was exemplary. During your tenure with MI6, your contributions to this nation and the world at large have been innumerable — what is a king if not a leader ready and able to ride out in England's defense?"
Harry clutches the tumbler closer to his chest in defense. "The last English monarch to ride into battle was Richard III, C."
"They located his remains, Harry, and his scoliosis wouldn't have been too noticeable in armor," C says, with a total lack of sympathy.
Harry stares past C, to the massive wall of windows that comprised the majority of his office. Beyond the tempered, reinforced glass, London appeared in watercolor sketches, drenched by October rains and gray with mist.
"All my life, the possibility had been raised in the abstract," Harry murmurs, to the city, to the green countryside beyond it, to the hills and crags and moors — to C. "But as much as I dreaded and resented it, I thought I was safe."
C stands from behind his desk, and when he takes the decanter from Harry's hands, it's kindly — and kindly too is how he refills Harry's tumbler.
"I made promises, too, Harry," C says to him, and now his voice is low and tired. "And one of them was to surrender you to the crown should the occasion ever arrive."
Harry says, "Fuck," and empties his glass in a single swallow.
Getting fired from MI6 at Harry's level of seniority is usually deferred to the gentle handling of wetworks. So it's an odd thing to find himself traveling the so-familiar floors and levels for maybe the very last time. Very soon, his face will be very famous, and so many carefully cultivated inroads and lines of communication will die along with his life of well-loved anonymity. He's been debriefed — drunk — by C himself. He's been handed a medal for his years of unflagging service, and Harry finds himself thus: a 50 year old man standing in the wreckage of his office, an empty box he can't fill with personal effects as he has none. Everything in the overflowing space has a story and a secret attached. To take it would be tantamount to treason.
He leaves with his medal, his umbrella, and he doesn't look at anyone, any of the junior agents that quietly line the halls in silent respect. He can't bear to look at them. How can he deliver them into someone else's handling?
Merlin has escaped from Q branch to lurk in wait for him in the lift. Seeing no obvious means to kill himself effectively to evade the inevitable, Harry gets on with it.
The doors are barely closed before Merlin snatches Harry's umbrella away and says, "Watch, first — then gun, phone, and however many terrifying daggers you have hidden around your person."
Harry surrenders the watch, carefully doesn't look at the well worn leather and think of how he's relied upon it this past decade, carefully kept it in working order, repaired it and changed the batteries, updated the field-issue neurotoxins stored in the buckle for emergencies. He gives up the gun dispassionately, and produces for Merlin a trio of knives, which he feels sufficient to throw Merlin off the scent of the fourth. He hands over the phone in the end, retrieves it from his trouser pocket, and Merlin exchanges it for a phone that looks entirely identical.
"All your contacts have been ported in," Merlin informs him.
Harry stares at him.
"Excepting the classified information," Merlin goes on, rolling his eyes with exaggerated weariness. "I also included a few additional apps to help you transition to civilian life."
Biometric unlock reveals a home screen with all the iPhone standard applications, appended with Grindr and Tinder.
"I see now why you took away my weapons first," Harry says mildly.
"Q branch prides itself on foresight and innovation," Merlin replies, but he says it quietly.
Harry met Merlin the first time almost two decades ago, both of them young men trying to find their places within the hierarchy of the organization. Harry was was still sun scorched from an SAS mission that had ended with a relative lack of disaster, and Merlin freshly acquired from the Glasgow Home Office. Harry has no idea when or how they became friends, but he suspects that the affection between them had developed depth along with Merlin's profanity and threats of violence whenever Harry returned from the field having lost or destroyed his equipment.
It's bewildering to think that Merlin may never scream bloody murder at him again.
The elevator is closing in on the ground floor, and once there, Harry will be escorted by military police to his car. He'll be searched — politely, but thoroughly — and he will be sent on his way. He has a 4 p.m. appointment at Kensington. A very posh and very young woman has called twice to secure his cooperation.
"You should start with Grindr," Merlin advises. "More immediate gratification."
Harry closes his eyes so he doesn't see the numbers on the elevator display tick lower. "Fuck, shit," he says, the words escaping from behind his carefully gritted teeth, molars scraping together to entrap the scream coiled in his throat.
"Here," Merlin says, and Harry opens his eyes to see Merlin offering — a watch.
The face is white, with a rose gold chronograph and alligator band. It's weighty when Harry takes it into his nerveless fingers, ticking quietly, continuously against his palm.
"It's not Q branch quality, of course, but I've made some adjustments to keep my hand in," Merlin says, too casually.
"Thank you, Merlin," Harry says, with a gravity that feels at once out of place between them and wholly necessary in these circumstances.
The elevator doors open and as predicted, he's searched by the MPs with commendable thoroughness and professionalism. They say, "We're bloody sorry to hear it, Mr. Hart," and they wish him well, watch him get into his car and behind the wheel, wave like lost children as Harry begins to drive away.
Harry has every intention of driving straight to his home — his private house — appearing for his 4 p.m. summons, and handling this matter in the measured, adult way in which he'd lived the majority of his life.
Somehow, he fails to do any of that. He drives for hours, circling London so many times he passes the same cabbie ferrying Canary Wharfers home three times, at which point the poor man makes the universal, "You going mad, mate?" hand motion through the windscreen and Harry's forced to unearth his courteous, perfectly sane smile. The driver's expression telegraphs that it is less than convincing. At five past 4 p.m., the posh young woman from the palace starts calling him at 3 minute intervals, and Harry thinks it's a shame she's selected a career among the royal family when her true calling was clearly torture and interrogation. He turns it off at half-five, considers hurling the phone into a canal, reconsiders at the probable rare earth metal poisoning he'd be inflicting on the local population of flora and fauna. When Harry goes to shut it up in his glovebox, he finds an ancient tube of slick from before Jim left him and a bottle of awful gin from when Jim had been been leaving him, cleaning his things out of the house, and Harry had sat in the car drinking like a coward until he'd finished. Fitting, Harry thinks. He ends up well south of the river, parked in some desolate patch of London poorly lit by flickering street lights and almost zero foot traffic.
At this point, drinking seems like the only possible course of action.
Dean's having a properly rank night.
Eggsy'd come home from, you know, wherever, and found him sat on the tatty sofa angrily smoking his way through a pack of Pall Mall Super Kings and clawing at a bottle of malt liquor watching Top Gear on the telly. Fuck.
He'd done a quick look through the flat, yeah, and no Daisy and no Mum, which was a relief, and he'd managed to get back out the door mostly without incident. Dean might threaten to throw bottles but it was still half full — he might be a fucking drunk but he wasn't a wasteful one.
Jamal was at some shite work placement stroke indentured servitude, and Malcolm was in Newcastle with some other group of mates for a stag do so they were right out. That left Eggsy pacing through Burgess Park as it got colder and fucking wetter, hands shoved into the pockets of his jacket as he haunted the length of the football pitch and wondered if he should go down round the pub. On the one hand, Dean's thugs were just as likely as anybody to be there. On the other hand, the barman at the Black Prince was still soundly fucked off with Eggsy over the Incident.
Safer to sleep rough among the sport buildings, really, Eggsy had decided, and so that's how he'd ended up here: staring at — a fucking Bentley parked at an off angle in the dead end of Loncroft Road.
This area, this late at night, there's no fucking reason for it to be here at all, and Eggsy feels weirdly, stupidly shy to be standing here, staring at this fucking car. It's beautiful, a deep, dark-colored Bentley with a gleaming silver grill and coy, 1950s curves. Eggsy's only ever seen cars like this on television, driven by twats, and he looks at it curled sleeping like a cat in the dim lamplight and just wants to put his hands on it.
The windows are all some kind of tinted, silvery-gray and beautiful, so Eggsy thinks he might be able to see inside closer, or at an angle, or summat. Either way, he looks left and right and sidles up close so he can admire the sleek curve of the car's body, the little wings round the B on the boot. The front windscreen is tinted the same, so the inside's a mystery. Butterscotch leather or darker, Eggsy wonders. Are there bucket seats? Eggsy paces the car whistling a little to himself, trailing his fingers down lines of her until he catches the driver's side handle and tugs, just for fun.
And it falls open — soft — at Eggsy's hand.
Eggsy whispers, "Shit," to himself, but it's a sign from the universe, clear as day, and he thinks he'll just peek in. He'll just have a look.
Inside the little minx of a vehicle is equally stunning: soft leather bucket seats and a beautiful walnut dash, all those old-timey gauges and readers set inside of it — polished to gleaming. Eggsy runs his fingers over the the circular face of the speedometer, carefully touches the tabs of the radio, and he can feel his smile getting bigger, stretching out across his face. He'll just sit down, just for a minute, no harm done, and this way if someone comes and tries to lift the car they'll bugger off to see him in it, he tells himself while sliding inside.
Jesus, the leather's like butter, and Eggsy groans as he sinks down into the driver's seat, curls his hand around the steering wheel to feel the lovely solidness of it, the rivets on it. When he draws the door closed — carefully — the inside of the car is perfectly, gorgeously silent, and Eggsy examines all the buttons and switches and dials and wonders what they do and how they operate and —
His hand brushes over something soft, rolled up between the seats. When Eggsy reaches for it, he comes up with a rolled-tight tie: navy with red and white stripes: weighty and silk in his hands, and Eggsy wonders who owns this car and where they are. Why they've left this beauty here untended. What they might look like, wearing the tie.
"Glovebox," he whispers to himself, afraid a little to break the quiet. It takes some aggressive groping around the dash, which is no problem at all, but when he tugs on the metal handle all he finds inside are registration papers and an iPhone, powered down, some unmarked plastic bottle.
Eggsy stares at the tie and the phone, at the gorgeous car and the shitty estate over the park and down the road and wonders and wonders.
"I'll consider it fair comeuppance if you decide to steal the car," comes suddenly from the backseat. "But would you mind terribly helping me out of this car before you take off with it?"
Eggsy would like to look back on this later and say that he took stock of the situation, recalled his brief training with the marines, and returned something appropriately tarty.
Actually what he does is scream bloody murder in a pitch he hasn't reached since his testicles descended, hurl himself out of the car, and end up tumbling half to his knees on the rain-slick pavement, staring back into the darkened abyss of the Bentley's interior.
Once Eggsy manages to get his heart back inside of his fucking rib cage, he clasps at his overwrought chest and hunches over his knees, gasping and trying not to wonder if the car is haunted because it's too stupid even for the privacy of his own mind.
"Shit," he says to himself. "Jesus. Shit."
"I do apologize," the car says to him. "I've had — a rather emotional day."
Eggsy feels fucking faint. "Fuck me," he whispers, and louder he calls out, "W-Where are you?" because "Are you a ghost?" is too embarrassing.
"Backseat," the car answers, and Eggsy watches the back wheels rock a little, someone moving around in there, before the voice adds, "And please do come back inside — it's beginning to rain quite hard."
It is, one of those nasty autumn downpours that comes on the tail of a day-long drizzle, and it's starting to soak through the collar of Eggsy's jacket and through his hat and sooner or later it'll soak through his trainers but Jesus H. He takes two steps closer and stops again, and at the hesitation the Bentley calls out:
"If you get much wetter I'd be loathe to have you get inside and ruin my seats."
And then, Eggsy's eyes must finally adjust to the dark, because he sees in the darkness of the car's interior a hand clasping at the passenger seat headrest: long fingers, trim nails, a signet ring on the pinky finger — as human as anything. It's both reassuring and kind of a let down because while he's glad not to be dealing with a fucking haunted car, he's a bit disappointed he's not dealing with Knight Rider, either.
"Yeah, all right," Eggsy mumbles, and clambers in, keeping his body at a careful angle so he can see who's been sacked out in the backseat. "Who are you, anyway?"
The man in the backseat, when Eggsy finally sees him, is exactly the sort who owns cars like this — if not the kind that parks them hereabouts in Southwark. He's middle-aged, beginning to go a bit gray at the temples, wearing an expensive suit that's creased to hell, tie loose at his throat. Eggsy swallows — hard. Also, he's gorgeous, soft eyed, with a curl loose from his otherwise neat hair, and he looks so posh and so slightly, attractively disheveled that Eggsy instinctively, reflexively blushes. Shit.
"Harry Hart," the man says, and motions at the still-open car door. "How do you do."
How do you do, Eggsy marvels, and drags the door closed. In the new quiet of the car cabin, he says, "Uh — Eggsy. I mean, Gary. Unwin. How do you do. Too."
He seriously considers getting out of the car again, walking into Burgess Park and drowning himself in the pond.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Eggsy," Harry tells him, and he says it like he's sincere, offering a hand. Now that the rain and wind aren't billowing, Eggsy can smell the booze on him, but Harry Hart doesn't look like Dean, deep in his bottle, he looks mild and soft-edged and flushed — what's that word? Harry Hart looks languid, and it just makes Eggsy's blush go darker.
"Right, nice to meet you, too, Harry," Eggsy says. It's an awkward handshake — weird angle — but it's a nice hand: cool and strong and Harry sweeps his thumb down the back of Eggsy's hand in a way that makes him shiver.
When Harry lets go, Eggsy's sorry for it.
"So," Harry says, casual as you like and settling comfortably into the backseat, so that Eggsy has to look at the long stretch of him folded up — imagine what must be long legs and broad shoulders, eating up the space. "What brings you around at such a late hour?"
Eggsy boggles. "What brings me around — are you taking the piss, mate?"
Harry just arches an eyebrow, raises his other hand — clutched tightly around a bottle of Beefeaters — and says, "No, I hadn't intended to."
"Better question is, why are you here?" Eggsy retorts. "This ain't exactly your neighborhood, bruv."
Harry's sigh is philosophical, long suffering, nihilistic. His head rolls back along the bench seat and Eggsy stares and stares at Harry's Adam's Apple and does not think about how it might feel under his mouth, to suck at his neck.
"It's been awful, Eggsy," Harry confides. "They won't stop calling me."
Unbelievable, Eggsy thinks. "Just go home and grovel, mate. It ain't worth it."
"I beg your pardon," Harry says, sounding torn between confused and offended.
Eggsy reaches over and grabs the phone he'd seen earlier, holds it out. "Here."
Harry scowls, and when he takes the phone, all he does is hurl it into the footwell of the car, where Eggsy can hear it thump to a stop.
"Oh, that's nice," Eggsy says. He thinks about his mum, the way she gets red-eyed when she can't get hold of him, how Daisy screams and screams and how she clutches at him the way no baby should, scared she'd never see him again. It churns into a rock in his throat, the way he's picking between going home to Dean's fucking fists or leaving his mum and sister to them all the time every time. "Don't be like that — they're probably worried about your stupid arse."
Harry barks out a noise that might be a laugh if it wasn't so angry. Or drunk. "They are," he allows. "Not because they care about me."
He lifts his head, and stares at Eggsy — too focused for the rat-arsed toff he is.
"And you?" he asks, suddenly precise.
Eggsy stares at him. "Me?"
Harry smiles, just a little thing around the corners of his mouth. He says, "Yes, Eggsy — why are you here?"
"Maybe I was lookin' to boost your ride, yeah?" Eggsy tells him, mostly because he thinks it'll make Harry laugh — and when Harry does, it zings through Eggsy like champagne bubbles, makes him smile back, automatic and fucking embarrassing. "Um, I live round here, actually. The estate over the road."
Harry doesn't say anything like oh, or of course you do. He raises an eyebrow and says, "And you're out here in the rain instead of over the road in your cozy flat because?"
Eggsy looks at his hands first, where they're fisted in his lap, shrugs, because he feels fucking embarrassed just thinking about it. And the shadows in the car and the noise of the rain make the inside of the Bentley feel secret, different, a nook in the world where Eggsy's not who he is and Jesus, he'd rather talk about Harry.
"S'not interesting," Eggsy says finally. "Not like you. Not like this car, yeah."
And Harry's whole answer is to stare at him, with a soft look on his face and in his eyes — amber colored from the orange of the street lamps. Eggsy thinks that if he knew Harry better, if he could read the way his mouth is slanted, the way his shoulders are set, how Harry's hand is clutching at the back of one of the front seats, he'd be able to read everything Harry's not saying out loud. Maybe that's a good thing, even, because Eggsy thinks that he's only known Harry five minutes, and he's made Harry laugh and he'd rather that's what Harry remembers of him later — tomorrow — if he remembers anything at all.
"Eggsy," Harry says finally, after a million years have gone by, "do you know how to drive?"
Dean didn't start out bad.
The first time Eggsy's mum had brought him round, Dean had come with a little toy car, and he'd let his cigarette go to ash, hanging out the corner of his mouth as he and Eggsy'd raced around the track of the sitting room rug. Dean always had swank cars, was forever getting them clamped and swearing high heaven about it, and for Eggsy's 12th birthday Dean'd said, "It's our secret, eh?" and put Eggsy in the driver's seat, let him drive it stop — start — stop — start round the estate while his mum had been at work.
And after everything, after the drink and the first bruise his mum had tried to hide and the first time Dean'd shoved him into a wall, threatened to put a fag out on Eggsy's hand — after all of it, Eggsy still fucking loves cars.
The Bentley's a fucking revelation. It idles like a purring cat under Eggsy's hands — he can feel the six cylinder rumbling through the body of the car — and when he shifts gears the whole car moves with him. It tilts into every turn and Eggsy feels like he's part of the car, that his hands and feet and his body extend into the leather and steel, that the roads of London are under the soles of his shoes.
"Christ, this is fucking gorgeous," Eggsy moans, and Harry — sprawled out and smiling in the passenger seat — just says:
"I had work done, some years ago, on the car: its top speed is 125 miles per hour."
Eggsy whips round to stare at him, at the way Harry's grinning at him and the backdrop of London after midnight's blurring round them in the windows of the Bentley. He looks longer than he should, given that he's driving at a very reasonable 30 miles per hour, but Eggsy can't help it. He says, "You're havin' a laugh."
Harry just tips his chin toward the front windscreen. "We're headed toward Bishopsgate and I know for a fact they're changing shifts now — no time like the present to defy the City of London police on a major thoroughfare."
"Shit," Eggsy says, and he knows he sounds wild and too excited. "No shit?"
Harry's grin goes wider, stretches out into a smile, blissful, and he leans back against the headrest.
"Eggsy," he says — and it comes out like the engine, it comes out like a purr — "drive."
The rain's stopped, and Harry's rolled down the windows so the wind's billowing into the Bentley and sending his carefully done-up hair wild with brown curls. Eggsy's face is hot from the rush and cold from the wind, and he lets out a bloody scream of joy as he breaks 90 going past Monument — steaming down the deserted streets and over London Bridge, over the fucking river.
Eggsy goes down the back alleys and small streets, the narrow passes. He must drive through 100 different amber lights, and the first time he stops at a red, Harry fucking smirks and puts his hand over Eggsy's on the stick to shift it back into gear.
"You're fucking mental!" Eggsy tells him, shouts it over the wind, over the roar.
But he can hear the way he's laughing that he's gone on it. He's fucking shattered by the way Harry's laughing back at him, by the wrinkles around Harry's eyes and the glint of road lights off of his heavy rimmed glasses. By his mouth and his hair and the way he's loosened his tie and undone the top button of his collar — so Eggsy can see his throat and how he swallows, how his breath catches. They must look crazy, they're going to be arrested if they don't get themselves killed tonight, and Eggsy thinks this is the most fucking gone on a person he's ever been.
They end up parked on the dead end T of Cringle Street, in the shadow of Battersea Power Station. The view over the river is just the nondescript orange-white blitz of lights, and Eggsy ends up sat on the hood of the Bentley — shivering from the cold, off his head from the driving — watching Harry light a cigarette, staring at the profile of his lovely face and feeling an ache starting to grow in his gut.
"You must be running from some mess, bruv," Eggsy says. He doesn't exactly whisper it, but it feels like a whisper. It feels secret, for Harry and no one else.
Harry lets out of a plume of smoke, the orange tip of the cigarette going ashen, and he makes a noise that's not a yes or a no.
"Putting off the inevitable, I suppose," Harry murmurs, and he glances back over his shoulder, back to Eggsy, that wry smile back. "Thank you, Eggsy."
Eggsy looks down at his kicks, where's scuffing them in the dirt, that shyness back, overwhelming. He's not felt like this in ages, since he wasn't old enough to know better, and Harry's smile and his long legs and his fucking cigarette are like a fist to the stomach, knock all the air out of Eggsy.
"I should be thanking you, for lettin' me drive that beauty round like a maniac," he says in the end, because it wouldn't do to say, can I kiss you? I've always wanted to kiss someone like you.
"Nevertheless," Harry says, and really, it's ridiculous how gorgeous he is, standing limned in the building lights, north of the river.
Eggsy doesn't know that he has a type. Maybe his type is posh blokes who look — standing here, right now — as lost as Eggsy feels all the time. Eggsy looks at Harry's fingers on the slim body of the cigarette, looks at his long legs and the tired slump of his shoulders. Eggsy wants to go over to him, stretch out his arms and sort out Harry's curls, to comb them back into order. Eggsy wants to touch Harry's jaw and be allowed, to feel always like this: breathless and unmoored, skin buzzing from driving a Bentley at 100 miles per hour through London's enclosing darkness — the entire night a vast, sprawling secret, something cupped close between two hands.
Eggsy bets Harry — tonight aside — knows exactly what he's doing. He's bulletproof, Eggsy bets. Every day, when Harry's not drunk in South London and handing over the keys of his car to strangers, Harry's probably untouchable.
Tonight though, tonight, Eggsy wants to chivvie Harry back into the car, to drive him far away somewhere safe. Just cos Harry doesn't need protecting doesn't mean Eggsy doesn't want to do it anyway, to shield him — deflect whatever drove him out here tonight.
He can't really, though. He can't do any of that. All Eggsy can do is ask:
"So what's next then, bruv?"
Harry presses his fingers to his mouth, a physical comma on the conversation.
"I suppose tomorrow morning, I shall have to go and grovel, as you suggested," Harry says, after a long beat. "For tonight though — my life is still my own."
Eggsy hears his own smile more than he feels it, going wide on his mouth. "Yeah?"
Harry makes a humming noise in his throat and looks down at his watch, a weighty, gorgeous thing on his wrist. "Six hours remaining it looks like," he says mildly.
London's exhausting sometimes, but it's not New York. It's not open 24/7, the lights of Time Square blazing. After midnight, once the Tube goes dark, so do entire neighborhoods: the City falling quiet, Hampstead's last restaurants turning off their lights. Eggsy thinks that he could ask if Harry wants to hit up the bars and dancing in Hoxton. He could ask if Harry'd like to go get a pint in SoHo, stand around on corners clutching their glasses and smoking pack after pack of cigarettes — anything to extend the hours, make the night stretch long past morning.
"Got anything you want to do with your last night of freedom?" Eggsy asks.
"Do you know, I have no idea," Harry laughs, like he's never thought about it, like his days are so full and every hour so occupied he's barely considered it, the possibility of it, of whatever he wants to do. That's so fucking strange — it's all Eggsy can bear to think about: where he'd rather be, what he'd rather be doing, where he'd go that's anywhere but here, fucking stuck with Dean, run away with Daisy and his mum.
"You got six hours, mate," Eggsy pushes. "You got a willing driver — we could go anywhere. Just pick your poison, yeah?"
Harry looks thoughtful and puts out his cigarette, turning on his heel to sidle up to the car again, settle down on the bonnet next to Eggsy. Maybe he says things, but for a minute Eggsy only hears the noise of Harry's suit swishing against his track jacket, the heat and solidness of Harry's thigh pressed up against his own.
"In the last six months, I've been to a dozen countries," Harry tells him. "When I landed back in London, two days ago, the only thing in my house was a tin of beans that were three months past the expiry date — "
Eggsy bursts out laughing, he can't help it.
" — and I had unopened mail from July on the table in the front hall," Harry continues, smiling. "I don't know that going somewhere is what I need to do, truthfully."
Eggsy can't help it, Harry looks so dear like this. He leans over, bumps his shoulder into Harry's, says, "All right, then — we could just stay right here then, live off of Tesco Finest Sandwiches and Magners and never grow old."
Harry bumps him back, and Eggsy doesn't bother to hide how it makes him delighted.
"It's far too late for me to avoid growing old," Harry scolds, but his mouth is twitching as he does it. His face is red, too, from the bluster of the autumn wind and maybe the last of the alcohol.
"You ain't old," Eggsy tells him, automatic. "Not to me."
"And how old are you?" Harry asks. "Eighteen? Twenty?"
Harry's too close, his voice too near for Eggsy to be offended, for Eggsy to feel anything other than lightheaded, hot all over for breathing in Harry's cologne.
"I'm twenty-four," Eggsy says. "I ain't no kid anymore."
"No," Harry murmurs, and Eggsy gasps when he feels Harry's hand — heavy, fingertips cold — close over the back of his neck, thumb brushing through the short hairs. "But you are terribly young, Eggsy."
Eggsy has to suck in a breath, he's so dizzy, and a noise escapes his throat in the process: soft and high and begging. It's fucking terrible, it's so fucking terrible, and Eggsy can feel how red his face must be, how red his throat must be, how red the skin must be under Harry's palm, his long fingers, the rough pads of his fingers.
"I'm old enough," he croaks, and Eggsy reaches out — fucking terrified to touch and terrified not to, too — and clutches at Harry's shirt, through his open jacket, pressing his thumb into one of the buttons. "If you want?"
The hand on Eggsy's neck tightens, warning, and Eggsy gasps. The fist in Harry's shirt goes tighter, and Eggsy wants to drag Harry closer, to feel the weight of him, how Harry might lay him out on the bonnet of this gorgeous fucking car. Harry's face is mostly in shadow, but his eyes are gleaming and dark and dangerous, all sharp edges. Eggsy thinks he should be scared right now, that there's something in the angles and shapes of Harry's face, the line of his nose and the wrinkles around his eyes, that should make Eggsy back the fuck off, get some air between them. But Eggsy feels like he's falling from a great height, buffeted by screaming wind and his heart racing, and he's never felt more alive than right now — right here.
Harry's voice comes out like a scrape against Eggsy's spine, sends shivers running down his arms and legs. He says, "I think you like the car, Eggsy."
"I like you, too," Eggsy tells him, feeling silly — hopeful.
Harry smiles at that, small and secret and just for Eggsy, and he murmurs, "You are very sweet, you know," leaning in close enough that Eggsy's heart nearly bursts from the fluttering fucking hope of it, before Harry tilts away — just enough — and presses their foreheads together, till the tips of their noses touch. It's less than nothing and still enough that Eggsy lets out a shaky breath at the feel of Harry's skin on his.
"Jesus, is that a fucking no?" Eggsy asks, trembly. He's glad he's sitting.
"That's, 'you're very sweet,' Eggsy," Harry answers, and now he pulls away enough so that he can — aw, fuckin' hell — press a kiss to the corner of Eggsy's eye, lingering. Eggsy's well past imaginary dignity now, so he lets himself lean into it, to clutch a little more desperately at Harry's shirt, make sure he puts some wrinkles into it, so that in six hours, when Harry goes back to his real life, that Eggsy will have left some mark on him, that some little piece of him will remain.
"Sounds like 'no' to me," Eggsy mumbles, but it comes out soft, no fight in it, because Harry's stroking his hand down Eggsy's back now, soothing, and he can't be angry like this — not if Harry will let Eggsy press his forehead into the curve of his neck, into his wrinkled, wilted collar.
Harry's chuckle, felt through the solid mass of his chest, is even better than just listening to it, Eggsy thinks furiously. What the fuck.
"Come on then," Harry says softly, "time to go back, I think."
The drive back is awkward, terrible and crushingly silent.
Eggsy just takes Harry's keys away from him, mumbling something about him being too drunk, still, to drive, and climbs behind the wheel. But all the joy's stripped out of him: he doesn't take the turns too quickly or blow through red lights; he yields every time it's requested of him. Harry doesn't remember what route Eggsy takes or indeed the streets around them, whether the earliest shift of London's workers are starting to dot the pavements.
He just slumps there in the passenger side feeling old and angry with himself — for taking liberties, for not taking enough liberties, for not letting his mouth trail from the lovely rise of Eggsy's cheek to the lush pout of his mouth, earlier that night. Eggy would have opened up for him as sweetly as he seemed to do everything else, Harry imagines. Eggsy would have clutched at Harry's shirt, made those lovely, desperate noises, and Harry could have chased that gorgeous pink flush down the line of his throat, followed it down Eggsy's chest, scraped his tongue down the boy's sternum.
But Eggsy had asked, if you want? without any guile, without knowing what a rare and marvelous treasure he was, and Harry had felt — suddenly, sharply — his own age and predatory instincts. If Eggsy hadn't been so lovely. If he hadn't been so sweet. If.
Harry slants his gaze to Eggsy's profile, the sweet line of his nose and pout of his lip.
Eggsy must be furious — and understandably so — to be thought of as so young. From his vantage point, twenty-four being the oldest he's ever been, it must be massive, to be nearly a quarter of a century on the planet, to have been a child and an adolescent and to have grown into his beautiful long limbs and lovely face.
Harry is twice his age and weary, feeling the world beginning to close dramatically in on him. Harry's been a child and an adolescent and when he was twenty-four, he held a man for his dying breaths the first time. Six months later, the kick of his weapon had left a bruise on him, and Harry had looked and looked at it and wondered if it wasn't a cosmic reminder he'd killed someone that day — that he'd extinguished the life of someone's brother or husband or son. He'd grown older and more quiet, started finding gray hairs and wrinkles, and he'd covered it all up with the flawless affectations of his excruciating German (in)breeding and bespoke suits and a position in the intelligence community that had him out of the country more than he was ever in it. Harry never minded living with his choices, so long as whomever wielded him as weapon pointed him in the right direction.
If everything wasn't as it is, then he might have given in — might have tipped Eggsy's face up and kissed him, sealed their lips together pressed into his mouth, possessing. Harry would have loved to kiss him and kiss him, until the boy was hot and breathless, tearing away with a gasp and a pleas for air, and it would have been perfect, then, to sink his teeth into Eggsy's gorgeous throat and leave a mark there. Harry could have stolen him away, like so many state secrets, tumbled him into bed and kept him there, tied a wrist to his bed frame with a silk tie and worked him over, opened him up. Harry collects butterflies and beautiful things, and how marvelous it would have been, to keep Eggsy, to kiss him lushly, dizzyingly into silence, to leave him bruised and sweet and languid — to make him toast and tea lace their fingers together.
But everything is just as it is, Harry thinks, and blinks, looks away, realizes there's rain streaking the windows now.
"So where to, bruv?" Eggsy asks him, eyes fixed straight ahead. He sounds so terribly flat and level it must be killing him to maintain it.
Come home with me, let me keep you, Harry doesn't say.
"The park is fine," is what he does say, in the end.
Eggsy scowls, but doesn't glance away from the windscreen. "You ain't sleepin' in the park tonight — not even in this car, mate."
"I'll drive home once you've been safely returned home," Harry says, and he's aware how priggish and ridiculous he sounds, what a transparent bid it is to extend his time with Eggsy this is. But as discussed extensively, it's his last night of freedom; if he desires to use it being pathetic and embarrassing himself, he will.
Now Eggsy's disapproval is severe enough he deigns to frown at Harry, which is also embarrassingly delightful.
"You are still lashed," Eggsy tells him with the certainty of a boy who's never been trained by Her Majesty's finest in how to operate a vehicle while under the influence of high levels of narcotics.
"I'm quite sober now," Harry protests because he is, truly.
Eggsy rolls his eyes, but he sets the indicator, and when he says, "When you get done for drink driving don't come complaining at me for bail, then."
Harry should be gracious and polite, keep a discretionary distance here. He should let this more comfortable silence flourish until he's seen to it that Eggsy's returned safely back to his flat, and then he ought to go home and sort himself out. He should prepare an apology for tomorrow and throw out the Bentley's stock of lubricants and hard liquor, both of which are clearly enticements to foolish fucking decision making.
Instead, Harry teases, "You'd let me languish in jail, then?"
Eggsy's mouth twitches, almost a smile. "Shut up with you," he says, but it comes out as playful as Harry feels.
"Cruel," Harry says. "And after I encouraged all of your joyriding tonight."
"Yeah, well," Eggsy replies, more quietly now, a bit sadder around the eyes. "This whole night's been an aberration, hasn't it."
There's nothing to say to that, Harry knows, but he wishes he could articulate the conflict in his throat — the argument he's holding close, tucked underneath his tie. But neither can Eggsy end this evening and vanish thinking he's been sent away unwanted; the thought's unconscionable. Harry can hardly provide a candid overview of how his desire must be secondary to his duty, not to a boy who has navigated the streets of London and handled Harry's car with such unselfconscious happiness — let it spill over and suffuse Harry's weary resignation, if only for an evening.
The trip back — without the tangents and delirious joy of earlier — is short without the daytime traffic of London, and too soon they're back in Southwark, in the shadow of Aylesbury Estate.
"Park?" Eggsy asks.
"Block of flats," Harry rejoins. "What if it starts raining again?"
Eggsy huffs. "Then I'll get a damp collar, yeah?" he says, impatient, tapping out some kind of nervous beat on the steering wheel. "Still think I'd best drive you home."
He says it, but lets the car come to a stop, shifts gears. Harry listens to the engine idle, watches how Eggsy's fisting his hands in his lap, and still he doesn't know what to say — finds all the diplomatic consolations unsuitable for this moment.
Fuck it, Harry thinks, and like the rest of this night, does exactly what he wants and not what he should.
He reaches over, collects Eggsy's right hand into his own and drawing it near, so that Harry can press a kiss into the palm — drag his lips to the pulse in Eggsy's wrist, lingering.
Eggsy gasps, he whispers, "Shit," and Harry smiles at that, into the boy's skin. He curls Eggsy's fingers closed now, into a loose fist, so that he can mouth a kiss along the knuckles, murmur:
"You deserve better than what I would be able to offer, Eggsy."
Eggsy doesn't say anything for a long time. He touches Harry's face instead, with his free hand and uncertain, but then he's hooked his fingers into the silk of Harry's tie, clutching at him in a way that's both terribly sweet and terribly provoking.
"Ain't that my call?" Eggsy asks, his voice unsteady. "Don't I get a say?"
It's a mistake, an awful error in judgment, but he looks up at the way Eggsy's voice is aching only to find his expression worse. Eggsy's eyes are too green and too bright, and the way he's biting at the plush softness of his lower lip telegraphs the anticipation of being disappointed — of knowing mostly "no" in his life. Harry looks at the gorgeous flush of Eggsy's cheeks, the wrinkle of his brow, and wants to kiss that expression off of Eggsy's face, to spoil him in perpetuity, give him everything he wants.
"Harry," Eggsy whispers, leaning closer in little fits and starts, "please."
That's when the driver's side door to the Bentley's jerked open, and Eggsy dragged out of it by the back of his hair, by the collar, by rough and searching hands.