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Lagavulin and Guinness

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“Sh, sh,” said Eggsy, bouncing Daisy on his hip. She was wailing, the kind of loud cry that reverberated in the ear. Her face was red and blotchy, and she kept waving her fists, nearly smacking Eggsy in the face a few times. His mum was somewhere – Eggsy had no idea where, really – and Eggsy was stuck with the two-year-old. She was being extra fussy tonight, and there was only so many times that Eggsy could bounce her before his hip decided to give out, Kingsman or no.

“I’m going barmy from all that crying, bruv. What’s wrong with her?” Jamal didn’t look too inconvenienced, sitting next to Ryan while flipping through the channels on the telly. He grumbled when he couldn’t find anything worth watching, not even sparing Eggsy a second glance.

“Probably wants her mum,” Eggsy replied. “She’s just being finicky.”

“Could you buy something for it? Considering how filthy rich you are, now.” Ryan grinned at him from around Jamal, his trainers scuffing at the green carpet. Even after months, his mates were still a little overwhelmed with the relative richness of his new flat. It wasn’t much, all considering, but it was more than either of them had ever seen. Plush carpets, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and rooms that were definitively separated by walls. For them, it was a mansion.

“I don’t think she gives two shits about money.” Eggsy set Daisy on the ground and plopped down next to her, sorting through her toy pile to hopefully find something to amuse her with. “Plus, I’m not that stacked.”

“You’re a fucking tailor, mate. A tailor. I’m sorry, let me repeat that, you’re a tailor and you wear bloody suits. You’re officially better off than every other person coming from the estates.”

“And he only had to suck a couple of cocks to get that position,” said Ryan. Jamal and Ryan cackled together and fist-bumped, grinning and twisting around in place to see how Eggsy took the insult.

“Oi, not around the kid,” said Eggsy. He had long given up trying to convince them that he hadn’t cock-wrangled his way into a job. They knew he had to’ve done something amazing to get the job – well, really, a poor kid with no prior work experience suddenly scoring a gig at a posh tailor’s shop? Not in this world.

“Where’s your mum, anyway?” Jamal’s grin faded a tad. “She not with Dean, is she?”

“I dunno,” said Eggsy. That was quite the problem, wasn’t it? Things looked like they should’ve been solved real simple. He could afford a nice little flat now, one where Daisy could even have her own room, decorated with yellow flowers. His mum and Daisy had moved in quick once he gave them that invitation in the pub, but his mum never seemed to be at the flat. Eggsy suspected she was still with Dean, a suspicion he had shared with his friends in one of his alcohol-soaked moments.

The problem with abusive relationships was it was never as simple as moving to a new place. Eggsy knew this, because there were still moments he woke up at night to Daisy’s crying and felt his heart speed up, waiting to hear Dean’s footsteps and angry shouts at being roused so late at night, waiting to hear him heading to Eggsy’s room to take it out on someone easy.

He didn’t share those thoughts with his mates, but he knew that they would understand if he did. Ryan enjoyed coming up with far-fetched stories about where he got his black eyes – including one memorable tale involving three circus elephants and a clown – while Jamal was terrified of commitment because his mother had walked out on his family (not that he would admit it, of course).

Daisy finally seemed to be calming down, snapping Eggsy back to the present. She began to slobber on a rag doll that Eggsy had bought her with his second payday. Eggsy smiled, thankful for the distraction from dark thoughts, and patted her head.

“She better? Then come over here, bruv, and watch this fucking show. Pretty sure that lady is about to take her top off.” Ryan waved the remote control triumphantly.

“We don’t get those kind of channels, bruv,” laughed Eggsy, but he obediently walked over and sprawled on the coach, his legs nudging his friends over. They protested, pushing and shoving, until everyone had a (mostly) equal portion of the couch.

Eggsy’s cell chose that moment to ring. “Bollocks,” he muttered, standing up. That was his Kingsman ringtone. One non-perk of the job was being on call all the fucking time.

“Don’t answer it,” Jamal advised. Eggsy nodded and picked up the phone anyway. They all knew he would.

“Better be life or death,” was his greeting.

“Like I’d want to talk to you if it wasn’t,” scoffed Merlin. “Got a mission for you, Eggsy. Need you for it.”

“Why me?” Eggsy turned and signaled his friends. They sighed and began to rustle about, readying themselves to leave. Ryan began to grumble when he realized that Daisy was now drooling on his coat, awkwardly trying to maneuver around the toddler.

“Need you for a recon mission in East London.”

“Ah,” said Eggsy, bitterness in his throat. East London. Of course he’d be the only one cut out for a mission in the “poor” part of London.

“You’ve got thirty minutes to get here.”

The problem with cell phones, Eggsy mused, was he couldn’t even hang up angrily. He could chuck it across the room, but then it would just break. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – Valentine had made them all paranoid about technology now – but considering this was a Kingsman phone, he would be taking a good chunk out of his paycheck.

“It’s weird you gotta go in for emergency fittings this late at night,” said Jamal. There was no judgment in his or Ryan’s eyes. They knew something wasn’t quite right, but like the excellent mates they were, they weren’t gonna push the issue.

“People at the shop really bollocks things up sometimes,” shrugged Eggsy. “I gotta go. Oh fuck – my mum isn’t here to watch Daisy.”

There was a long, awkward pause before Jamal said, “Fuck you, Eggsy, you fucking owe me!”

“Thanks, bruv, I do owe you,” he said. He glanced down at Daisy. “She’s gotta be put to bed in about a half hour, if my mum isn’t home by then.”

“How the fuck do I put her to bed?”

Ryan shrugged into his coat. “I wish you luck, bruv. I ain’t gonna be no help. I’m out.”

Jamal swore and took a swing at him, but Ryan ducked away, laughing. He ducked out the door and Eggsy could still hear his laughter, even while he was walking down the street.

“You’re a lifesaver,” said Eggsy. “I gotta go, okay? I trust you.”

“What? Eggsy, I don’t know what the fuck to do!”

“You lay her in the bed!” said Eggsy. “Really, it’s quite simple. Gotta go, bruv.”

“Jesus, your mum better show me her tits when she gets home for this,” grumbled Jamal. Eggsy laughed and ducked out of the door too, hustling towards the tailor shop.

About halfway there his smile began to fade. It had been nearly six months since the world had almost ended. It had been a turbulent six months – at first, because no one quite knew whether or not Eggsy could still become a Kingsman after failing that final test but ultimately defeating Valentine, so they put him on clean-up duty while they debated his fate. For a heart-pounding two months, Eggsy went on missions designed to block corrupt leaders from taking over whole countries while Roxy got the exciting missions, like disarming bombs and dismantling terrorist groups. It was a nice chance to practice his posh accent, but otherwise, it was mostly just talking to people and pretending to care about politics.

Then, at month two, after an unnecessary amount of squabbling, they finally decided to give him the Galahad position, since Harry Hart was dead. They didn’t want to go through another selection process when they already had to find another Arthur.

This was made exponentially more complicated when, two weeks later, Harry Hart arrived at headquarters looking fit and fine, a new-looking scar splitting his face, but otherwise healthy. He sauntered into the round table room, smiling, and said, “I do believe I’ve used enough vacation time for this year.”

No one – not even Merlin – had been aware he was alive. Eggsy nearly shit his pants.

When Eggsy suggested Harry take the Arthur place, Merlin explained it to him. “That’s not how it works, lad. Arthur isn’t a field agent. He oversees the agents, deals with the finances, schmoozes up to our backers… Harry would kill himself in an instant.”

So, the Kingsman voted – again – about the Galahad position. Eggsy – surprise! – lost. He was, however, still a Kingsman agent. He just didn’t have a cool codename.

“We don’t just make up codenames on the fly,” said Merlin, rubbing the bridge of his nose when Eggsy whined for one. “We’ll just give you aliases. It’ll be fine.”

It was a weird dynamic. Eggsy was constantly left feeling like an extra, sitting in an extra chair at the table when all the knights met. What made the entire situation more surreal – if it could get that way, with a dead man striding through those dining room doors – was the commotion that the new Arthur was making in his life.

Eggsy met Victoria Willoughby the first time by accident. He was unaware of her recent hire as Arthur, and, at that point, he was just returning from a rather dirty mission.

Not in a sexy way. He was covered, head to toe, in soot. This was caused by an unfortunate need to escape through a chimney. His suit jacket had been torn to shreds by the brick and mortar, and his hair was a fearsome, messy nest. He was bee lining towards the showers, though he was technically supposed to debrief with Merlin first.

He was walking down the hallway, leaving black footprints behind him, when he turned the corner and nearly ran into her.

“Fuck!” he said, reaching out to steady her before aborting the gesture, since he would have gotten her crisp, tan blazer dirty. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m a little out of sorts, what with being a bit of a mess.” He gave her his best roguish grin.

Her mouth twitched, clearly disapproving. Here were the things that Eggsy noticed first about Victoria Willoughby:

She was tall, mostly due to the sky-high heels she had on. They weren’t trendy heels, but ones that looked like they could possibly kill someone, if the wearer could survive walking in them.

She had iron-grey hair pulled severely back into a French braid. The French braid, despite its austere nature, complemented her face well. What did not complement her face was the whore-red lipstick she had donned. The rest of her make-up was tasteful, but Eggsy had a hard time pulling his eyes away from her lips.

She was extremely, extremely thin, almost waifish, but waifish did not truly describe someone so tall.

The final thing he noted, on that first meeting, was her eyebrows. She had expressive eyebrows, which were then climbing into her hairline.

“And you are?” she asked, her accent clear like a bell and her voice the kind that you didn’t disagree with. It made Eggsy suddenly aware of his Cockney accent, but like Harry had said before, the accent doesn’t make a man. Though Eggsy’s posh accent was much more polished now, it took too much concentration to maintain on a casual basis. He stuck with what he knew when he wasn’t out on a mission.

“Eggsy,” he said. “Eggsy Unwin, ma’am.” He minded his manners and held out his hand, a smile still on his face, though he said, “I doubt you want to shake, ma’am, my hand is a bit out of commission.”

“Axley?” she said, a frown contorting her face. She ignored his hand, so he congenially let it drop, unconcerned. “Are you an agent?”

“No, Eggsy.” He emphasized the ‘s’ sound. He ignored her second question – he wasn’t allowed to disclose stuff like that to strangers walking about. Most of the techs and support staff knew who the agents were, so if she didn’t, there was a good chance that she was a guest of someone.

“Eggsy,” she repeated, and the eyebrows climbed higher. Her lips curved upwards, in an, ‘someone is having a joke at my expense’ sort of way.

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “Do you need some help? Directions or anything? Otherwise, I have to excuse myself. I’m dripping soot on the carpet.”

“Of course,” she said, stepping around him. Her eyes widened at the trail he had left behind him.

“I’ll be sure to clean it up later,” he laughed at her expression. “Ain’t fair to the cleaning staff, innit?”

“So you’re part of the cleaning staff?” she asked, almost hopefully.

He gave her a jaunty wave – he wanted the conversation to be over with, mostly because he felt unkempt and gross and was pretty sure there was some soot in his eyes – and sauntered off. He had other things on his mind and didn’t care about the grey-haired lady he had met who raised her eyebrows in such a disbelieving way.

The second time he met her, Merlin introduced her. Eggsy was elbows-deep in an automobile engine. He doesn’t know the first thing about cars – though he’s ace at driving them, thank you very much – but one of the mechanics had asked for a helping hand. Since he spent the first twenty-four years of his life overlooked and disregarded by posh assholes, he figured he owed it to every person to treat them like humans. Thus, helping out.

He hadn’t wanted to get his suit dirty, so when Mike asked for help, he hopped into a pair of jeans and a tank and started helping. Within minutes his hands were covered with grease, mostly because Mike kept directing him to hold such-and-such part while he made some wicked-looking repairs.

His hair, which had been perfectly coiffed that morning, now fell in his face. When Merlin said, sharply, “Eggsy,” he had to blow a few strands out of his face when he glanced up, laughing.

He saw that lady standing behind Merlin, now in a pristine white suit. He had never before seen a lady wear that color pantsuit, and he blinked, wondering how she possibly ate food in that getup.

“Hello ma’am,” he said, straightening up. He ignored Mike’s curses as he stepped forward. “I still can’t shake your hand, I’m afraid.” He outstretched his hands, grinning at their grease.

“Eggsy,” said Merlin, ignoring his statements, “this is Victoria Willoughby. The new Arthur.”

“Oh!” said Eggsy, surprised. Who knew that Arthur would be an old bird? “Congratulations, and welcome to the Kingsmen.”

“Charmed,” she said, her voice flat. Merlin, who was typing on his clipboard, glanced at her sharply. He looked between her and Eggsy – Eggsy, hands full of grease, Arthur, nose upturned – and blinked.

“You’ve met?”

“Just once,” she said, airily. She did not offer Merlin details.

Eggsy’s smile was beginning to sour. He did not like her attitude. He didn’t like authority figures in general, and she wasn’t making a good first impression.

“Are we to meet the rest of this department, then?” asked Arthur. She surveyed the floor, with mechanics scurrying around cars and the cleaning crew trying to get oil off of the floor, and her nose wrinkled again. She lifted her chin up, pursing her red lips, and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m just introducing you to Kingsmen agents, for the moment,” said Merlin, already back to making some sort of notation on his clipboard.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

Merlin, who never had time for people who needed told twice, had already moved on. “Eggsy, I have a mission for you, when you’re done here.” He tapped twice on his clipboard. “It’s one you’ll like – you might get to blow a few things up.”

“Brill,” he said, grinning. “I’ll be round shortly to collect that, yeah? Just gotta help Mike finish up.”

Merlin gave a sharp nod and turned to leave. Arthur stayed for half a second, staring, before she turned sharply on her too-high heels and clicked away.

The third time that Eggsy saw her was at a full Kingsman meeting. Those meetings happened quite often, actually, not just when someone dies. There’s quite a bit that the Kingsmen need to be fully aware of.

He strolled in. He was not the first, and was not the last. To fit all the seats in with Eggsy’s extra chair and to keep it symmetrical, they had moved the person at the end and instead squeezed them in on one the sides. Therefore, the only head of the table was now Arthur.

He took his seat, which was nearly at the other end of the table. Arthur didn’t notice him at first; instead, she was flipping through a green folder, her forehead creased in concern.

Eggsy was in full gear, this time. His hair was perfect, his glasses impeccable, his suit immaculate. He was fresh off of a mission, no injuries, and was more than ready for his next one. He nodded at Roxy, sitting in her middle seat, and winked at Harry, who looked debonair. Eggsy was fairly sure that he was using make-up to minimize the look of the scar.

Kay was the only other person who could be physically present, and he was the last to arrive, right on the dot. He took his seat next to Eggsy and pretended to be exasperated when Eggsy gives him a hello nudge. Kay had a soft spot for him, though. Eggsy could see through that spy exterior.

“All right, let’s get this meeting started,” said Arthur, shutting her folder precisely. Eggsy was politely looking at Arthur, which was why he caught it when her eyes scanned the table and she did a double take when she saw him.

Far from giving Eggsy satisfaction, he felt something ugly rise in his chest. He hated that double-take look, that surprised twitch when people realized that you were more than they thought. He hated it.

Arthur did not comment on the lapse, and no one called her on it. “I wished to formally introduce myself to the group of you. My name is Victoria Willoughby, though you will now know me as Arthur.”

She paused as everyone gave a small, polite round of applause. “Thank you. Now, I’ve been reviewing past missions, and there seems to be many that were unnecessary. Risks have been taken that needn’t have been. And, of course, the amount of injuries this group has sustained is unacceptable. We will be reevaluating the way we give missions and the protocol surrounding them. In addition, there appears to be a new position that has been added?”

There was a long, pregnant pause. Arthur wasn’t looking at him, instead fixing her beady gaze around the table, like seeking an explanation for why, exactly, he was here.

But since no one else seemed to be answering, Eggsy delicately cleared his throat and said – in his poshest accent – “Yes, my position was recently added.”

He saw Roxy, still a bit of a novice, hide her smile. His speech always amused her so. He knew the other spies were inordinately amused too, but they had the years of training that allowed their faces to stay stone still. Everyone knew his Cockney accent.

“Hm,” she said, flipping open the green folder again. Eggsy, with a start, realized it had to be his file. “Well, your position is terminated until further notice.”

Excuse me?” said Eggsy, anger now fully ignited. “Why the –”

Harry, ever the gentlemen, cut Eggsy off before he could start cussing. “I’m rather confused,” he said, blinking innocently at Arthur. “We spent two months deliberating over Eggsy’s addition to this team. I don’t believe we’ve regretted it yet. Is there a reason why you’re revoking a decision agreed upon by the vast majority of this table this early in your career?”

Dangerous, thought Eggsy. Harry was so dangerous. He was sitting, trim and at ease, his legs perfectly crossed, just blinking at Arthur like he could wait the entire day to hear her answer. But the real danger was in the words – why are you already challenging the Kingsmen?

Victoria Willoughby was many things, but an idiot wasn’t one of them. She scanned the table again, taking in Roxy’s tight lips, Percival’s failure to make eye contact, Caradoc’s politely raised eyebrow. And then her eyes landed on Eggsy, who was flushed with anger and his hands were gripping the armrests compulsively.

“I must have been misinformed,” was her only response. “I revoke my prior statement.”

“Oh, very good,” said Harry, lounging back on his chair. “I do hate miscommunications.”

“Moving on…”

Things had not improved since that day nearly a month ago, Eggsy mused, and he wasn’t sure what to do to change it. He always had on his best suits when he met with Arthur, affected his best accents. But her lip always curled when she saw him.

And now this, thought Eggsy, still headed toward the shop. A mission in East London. Again. He had been getting some truly terrible missions. They all required him in jeans and a hat, with his Cockney accent in full force. He had been given roughly thirteen missions since the new Arthur had been assigned. She was the one tasked with handing out missions, as it was an official duty of the Arthur position.

When Eggsy cautiously brought it up to Merlin, he simply shrugged. “She’s new, lad,” he said. “Give her time to get used to your skill set. Pretty soon she’ll realize your driving skills and calm head. Then you’ll be where you should be.”

“Fuck that, Merlin,” said Eggsy. “I don’t want to keep doing shitty assignments. I’ve done shitty fucking assignments from the start. I want some good ones now, yeah?”

“Get the chip off your shoulder, lad. You’re a green agent. And you’re lucky to even have this job.”

Lucky to even have this job. Eggsy would be bitterer if it wasn’t true. As it was, he was still obediently trekking down to the shop at nine o’clock at night, leaving his baby sister behind with a crappy babysitter (no offense, Jamal). What he’d really like to be doing is tracking down his mother and punching the shit out of Dean. But no. He was about to don a hat and jacket and pretend to be a tosser to get some fucking information.

There was no one in the shop when he arrived – a pity, he loved the chance to sit a moment by Dagonet and shoot the breeze with him, he was such an interesting man for someone who ran the front of the shop – and he headed straight for dressing room two. Minutes later, the bullet train was pulling in to the Mansion.

Eggsy had a terrible habit of getting sidetracked on his way to Merlin. People would pass him by, and of course he needed to ask after Scarlett’s sister – “Still in the hospital with that broken arm, luv? She doing any better? Give her my best wishes,” – or Daniel’s kid – “Already talking? Ah, man, my sister didn’t start talking till she was way older than that, mate. You’re gonna have a smart kid,” – and, when he saw Gawain slinking away from him, he couldn’t give up the opportunity to give him some good-natured ribbing – “Oi, I heard that you let a mark tie you to the bed and leave you there. Leave you there. Gawain, you’re an agent, not an actor in a bad porno,” – until, finally, he was outside the dining room.

Five minutes late.

“Cor,” he said, slipping into the room. “Sorry I’m late, guv. I don’t have an excuse.”

Merlin gave him a sharp, searching look while Arthur’s mouth twitched, presumably in disgust. Eggsy ignored it in favor of sitting in his usual place, adjusting his glasses on his face. “Mission? East London?”

“We’re reassigning you,” said Arthur, a slight hesitation in her voice. She did not look at Merlin, but Eggsy had the sudden sense that it had not been her idea.

“You’re going on a honeypot mission instead,” said Merlin. He typed something on his clipboard and a picture of a lady popped up on screen.

Could be worse, thought Eggsy, looking at the woman’s picture. In his experience – and from the stories of the other Kingsmen – honeypot missions were rarely with people who were actually good-looking. And, Eggsy thought slyly, he doubted that this bird would be tying him up and leaving him.

She had an abundance of orange, curly hair, with a concentration of freckles around her nose and cheeks. He could tell that the freckles continued down her chest. She had a gap-toothed smile, but kind eyes. Eggsy could work with it.

“Objective?” he asked, flipping open the folder Merlin slid over to him.

“She’s Diana Yates, the sister of Timothy Yates, a corporate mogul we believe is secretly a hitman. It’s suspected that he’s begun to target royalty, which is why we need to confirm that he is a threat and eliminate him accordingly. Your objective is to make a connection with her, using any means necessary – that does include sexual relations – and then mine data from her computer, in case she has any information on his activities. You are to mine the data without her realizing, as we intend to use your connection to later potentially target Yates himself.”

“Is she dangerous?”

“We believe that Yates may have taught her a few techniques, but we’re not overly worried,” said Merlin. “If you don’t blow your cover, that shouldn’t be much of a problem anyway.”

Eggsy inclined his head, still scanning the documents. “Sounds simple. I’ll do my best, guv. Where’s this gonna be at? I didn’t change into my suit because I thought I’d be in East London.”

“It’ll be at a higher-end club, so you’ll need your suit,” said Merlin. “Good luck, ‘Paul.’”

Eggsy flipped a page and discovered that, yes, his codename would be Paul for this mission. Paul Smith. Because that didn’t sound suspicious.

“Cheers,” he said, saluting the two with the folder before standing up. Merlin nodded in dismissal, already turning back to his clipboard. Arthur said and did nothing, simply staring at Eggsy until he retreated from the room in silence.

He took the opportunity before his ride got there to change into a new bespoke suit. Soft black with barely-there off-white pinstripes, paired with a crisp white shirt and an eye-popping metallic purple tie, and, as always, a pair of oxfords (no broguing). He settled his glasses on his face while he ran some product through his hair, smiling at his reflection. Not his best suit, by far, but he couldn’t help but love the feel of brand new suits.

Harry, he was sure, would wince at his tie. Harry preferred understated ties, often turning his posh nose up at Eggsy’s metallic colors. But, honestly, sometimes Eggsy had to wear them. Had to sneak something that wasn’t stifling into his wardrobe. His favorite was a rubber duck-yellow. Bit of an eyesore, but it was worth it for the look on Harry’s face when he first put it on.

A soft beep on his glasses announced the arrival of his car, so Eggsy gave himself one last wink in the mirror before setting off on his mission.

He reread the case file on the way over, mouthing through his alias and trying to commit it to memory. Roxy, he thought in a surly manner, was often given missions hours before she had to leave, giving her ample time to memorize necessary information. Not that she needed it – her eidetic memory often took care of that for her. But Eggsy was usually given the space of a car ride to get down what he needed. Without the convenient eidetic memory (though he was still brilliant, don’t doubt him on that!).

“All right, Eggsy?” asked Jeeves, his driver. When he had first introduced himself, Eggsy had said, “You havin’ me on, mate? What the fuck is your real name?”

But he had simply smiled and replied, “Jeeves.”

Eggsy was 85% sure it wasn’t his real name, and that he had a driver codename. But, until he learned otherwise, Eggsy called him Jeeves. He also knew next to nothing about him, which made conversations sparse and awkward.

Eggsy usually tried talking to him anyway, but, other than a mutual guilty love of McDonald’s (Jeeves was always willing to drive through, even if he harrumphed about it), Eggsy couldn’t connect.

“Yeah, mate. Just trying to get these details down. I’m supposed to be sugaring up some bird named Diane.”

“Ah,” said Jeeves, sounding disproportionately wise for only saying one syllable.

“You got a partner at home?”

Jeeves smiled vaguely in the mirror. “We’re almost to the club.”

“’Course, mate. ‘Course.”

Jeeves stopped in front of a building set slightly apart from the others on the strip. Painted a tasteful tan with a blue cursive sign reading Lavinia’s Lounge, there was a long line winding out the door and almost down the block.

Eggsy had a heart-stopping moment where he wondered how he was going to get in, before he remembered that his alias was on the VIP list. Old habits die hard, and he would never forget the time when he was twenty-two and ejected from a semi-posh club for having his hat “too askew,” even after waiting the majority of the night to get in. Ryan and Jamal had faithfully followed him out, but the night had been ruined, and Eggsy had sworn off clubs and lounges and stuck to bars instead.

“Good luck, sir,” said Jeeves as Eggsy left the car.

“Thanks, mate. I think there’s a McDonald’s nearby if you want to kip off for a bit.”

Jeeves smiled vaguely and pulled away.

Eggsy, feeling distinctly out of place despite his bespoke suit, put all of his bravado into his walk and sauntered up to the front bouncer. “Paul Smith,” he announced, his voice over-loud, and he gave a look to the two women standing at the front of the line like they should recognize him. They tittered, but otherwise didn’t engage him.

“Right this way, sir,” said the bouncer, gesturing to the door.

Eggsy took a deep breath and entered.

Despite calling itself a “lounge,” the place was clearly a club. Music was pounding, and Eggsy could feel the vibrations through his bespoke shoes. There were women in cocktail dresses scattered throughout the club, both seated at tables and relaxing on overstuffed couches. Almost all the men were in suits, except a few who were clearly drunk and had lost their blazers somewhere between buzzed and smashed.

It didn’t take long for Eggsy to spot Diane. Her hair gave her away rather quickly. She was also surrounded by the most raucous group in the joint. They kept cheering, encouraging each other to down shots, and occasionally would get up and dance frenetically on the dance floor.

Eggsy surveyed the group while he settled down at the bar area. He hated approaching huge groups like that – who wouldn’t? – and it was clear Diane was out for a night with friends, not to find companionship. But, judging on appearance alone (always dangerous to do), Eggsy could guess that she didn’t have too many male suitors attempting to take her home each night.

Eggsy tilted his head and ordered a martini. Salomea, his typical handler when Merlin was otherwise occupied, muttered in his ear, “Any idea what you’re going to do?”

“Fuck her,” said Eggsy succinctly.

“Well, yes,” said Salomea, laughter in her voice. “I meant, how are you going to get her in your bed? She’s out of your league. Like every other woman on this planet.”

“I resent that,” said Eggsy. “I banged a princess once, you know.”

“Everybody knows about your victory anal,” said Salomea. “She was clearly fucked in the head.”

“No, she was fucked in the ass,” said Eggsy, congratulating himself on his wit.

“Really?” said Salomea, but Eggsy could hear the reluctant laughter in her voice. “If you’re not careful, I’m going to invite everyone over to watch when you gotta perform.”

Eggsy shrugged. “Had worse, mate. Not much into voyeurism myself, but I dated this girl once that loved –”

“Don’t finish that statement!”

“Yes ma’am.” Eggsy saw his opening – Diane, standing up, stretching, preparing to go to the bathroom. She was with two friends, but Eggsy could work with a smaller number of them.

He moved fast – one moment he was at the bar, the next moment, he was bumping gently into Diane, spilling his martini on her shoes (not on the dress, he didn’t want to piss her off).

“Oi! What the fuck!” said Diane, in a surprisingly thick Cockney accent. It threw Eggsy for a loop for half a second, because the papers hadn’t listed her accent.

“Sorry, ma’am,” said Eggsy, politely. “Oh dear. Here, let me buy you a drink to make up for that.” He looped his arm effortlessly around hers, tugging her an inch away from her friends. Her eyes narrowed ominously, making it clear the manhandling was unappreciated. Instead of making a big deal out of it, Eggsy simply dropped her arm, smiling his best innocent smile. “I can grab you some napkins to take care of those shoes, yes? I hope I didn’t damage them. They’re quite lovely.”

Her eyes unnarrowed, just slightly. “Thank you,” she said grudgingly. “I’m drinking straight whiskeys, but for your fuck up, you get to buy me an Irish car bomb. And you gotta do one with me, because I ain’t doing one by myself and my friends are all fucked.”

Eggsy let his lips turn up, just slightly. “An Irish car bomb?” he said, like it wasn’t in his usual repertoire. The number of times he had slugged those back, Jamal and Ryan cheering him on…

“Never had one before? You’re gonna shit your pants, guv,” she said, smirking. “Make you regret spilling your foofy drink on my clean shoes.”

It was that simple. The next thing he knew, his head was tipped back as the beer poured down his throat, Diane next to him, doing the same. Her friends surrounded them, cheering and whooping as they slammed the glasses down in tandem.

Eggsy turned to Diane, planning on making some comment about making it through the car bomb, when he caught her expression. Predatory, looking him up and down, her intentions written right across her face… plus just a tad bit of insecurity, the insecurity that Eggsy had suspected from the start. The why-is-this-attractive-man-here sort of insecurity.

The rest of the night passed in a whirlwind, a blur of color, sight, sound, and sensation. There were highlights –

Eggsy, leaning towards Diane, slipping a skilled hand around her waist, whispering, “You’ve got a wicked sense of humor, dear,” and her corresponding smile.

Diane, pulling him aside, her smile lighting her face, saying, “You ain’t no gentleman, Paul, even if you’re pretending to be. You’re too cool to be posh…”

Walking to the bathroom, needing to piss rather badly, only to have been followed by Diane into the (thankfully) empty bathroom. Salomea’s shocked laughter when Eggsy took Diane right up against a stall door.

And, of course, the moment that Eggsy and Diane go back to Diane’s friends, both thoroughly messy, and telling them that they were quitting for the night, thank you, and see you guys later. They ignored their catcalls as they slipped out into the night.

Eggsy held Diane’s hand while they were in a cab, headed to her place. She kept leaving small kisses on his neck. Diane wasn’t really Eggsy’s type, but she had charm, and he had certainly slept with worse. People with no personality.

Plus, she was just so eager. It was wonderful to have such an enthusiastic partner. She kept panting into his neck, or letting out these breathy moans anytime he would do something pleasing. Her orgasm face, while a little over-the-top, made Eggsy feel like he was doing a spectacular job.

And Eggsy had to admit, the little gap-toothed smiles she kept shooting up at him were actually rather pleasant.

The taxi pulled up in front of a spacious, looming, three-story house. It was an imposing brick building, with an impressive gate surrounding it. Said gate creaked open when Diane peered out of the window and smiled at a camera, probably hidden. Eggsy was a little distracted, on account of Diane rubbing her hand on his balls.

They pulled in and the driver dropped them off at the front door. Diane threw some cash at the driver. Eggsy didn’t have to be a genius to know that she had overpaid, but the driver simply inclined his head in thanks as Diane pulled Eggsy up out of the cab.

“C’mon, baby,” she said, grinning at him. “Gonna rock your world.”

“Oh yeah?” said Eggsy. “You’re going to have to prove that, dear.”

Stepping into the front room, Eggsy didn’t have a moment to take stock of his surroundings. Diane pushed him, hard, against the now-closed front door, kissing for all that she was worth. There was a little too much tongue and not enough finesse, but Eggsy wound his hands through her crazy hair all the same, trying to give as good as he got.

“I don’t think posh fuckers kiss like that,” Diane said, leaning back to gasp for air. She drew in deep breaths, her eyes scanning his face like a shark scenting blood in the water. It was not particularly attractive to see that on a sexual partner’s face.

“Just wait till you see the posh fucker fuck,” said Eggsy. In his ear, Salomea chuckled.

“You’re so unbelievably sexy,” said Diane, her fingers digging deep grooves into his arms. “Fuck, I don’t think I’ve ever fucked someone with a face like yours. Fuck. The things I’m going to do to you, Paul, you don’t even know.”

Eggsy wasn’t sure what response Diane was looking for there, so he just leaned forward, capturing her lips again. In his ear, Salomea whispered, “Don’t forget the data, Paul. Get her asleep as soon as possible and then move on, yeah?”

Eggsy gave an affirmative sound as he ripped his lips away from Diane’s, like he liked what they were doing. He started peppering her jawbone and neck with light kisses, fumbling a little with her shirt.

“You wanna try something different?” Diane asked as Eggsy finally freed her from her shirt.

“Uh?” said Eggsy, distracted by a pair of perfectly good tits.

“I can put my feet behind my head.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. But I ain’t never had a one night stand before. You’re my first. Everyone else has been people I know, or keep seeing. So I can’t be adventurous, yeah? But you’re so fucking hot. And I’m thinking, why not try a new position with this hot fucking man?”

Eggsy considered this, and then figured there was nothing wrong with that. “Okay, yeah. I’m down for that.”

Diane’s face lit up. “Fuck yeah.” She pushed at his blazer demandingly, and Eggsy let it drop to the floor.

“We gonna make it to a bed?” he asked when his shirt also joined his jacket.

“Eventually,” said Diane. “I want to see your cock first.”

In a matter of moments, Diane had Eggsy completely naked. She swept eyes over him – top to bottom – in a way that almost made Eggsy feel self-conscious. But then Diane was toeing off her pencil skirt and throwing a pair of cotton panties at him. They weren’t even remotely sexy – they seemed like knickers that had been bought in a pack of six at Asda rather than selected for an adult – and they had childish purple flowers decorating them. Eggsy had to tamp down on the urge to laugh.

Diane, clad only in her bra now, reached out and petted Eggsy’s cock. Eggsy wished he could come up with another term to describe that motion, but literally – she petted it, almost like it were a dog or something. Her face looked feral, and Eggsy was beginning to wonder if there was something up with this girl when she grabbed his cock and began to tug on it, backing away.

Holy shit. This girl was leading Eggsy to the bedroom by his cock.

There were so many weird elements to this picture – Diane, still in a bra, Eggsy being led by the cock, and their clothes discarded nowhere near the bedroom. But Eggsy rolled with it. He was mentally flipping through past sexual encounters, desperately trying to find one that he could call weirder than this.

When they reached the bedroom, Diane finally released him. She sauntered over to the bed and unclipped her bra, throwing it somewhere across the room. She turned and cupped both breasts, grinning at him. “Like what you see?”

“Fuck yeah,” said Eggsy, no hesitation. Her breasts were easily the best part of her, excuse his indecency.

Diane grinned at him and scooted back on the bed. “Depending on how often you can get it up tonight, you can titty fuck me too.”

“I ain’t gonna say no to that,” said Eggsy.

“Huh,” said Diane as Eggsy crawled onto the bed and climbed over her. “Your accent changed a bit.”

“What’s that?” said Eggsy, pretending not to hear her. He felt his erection flag, just the slightest, at knowing he had slipped up. In his ear, Salomea sighed and said, “You’re getting too into this, Paul.”

“Nothing,” said Diane, unsurely. “Just thought… it’s nothing. Hey, how do you feel about spanking?”

It took several rounds of surprisingly kinky sex to finally wear Diane out. As her eyelids drooped, she splayed herself over his chest, making these tired murmurs. She let out a long sigh and said, “Hey, if you’re still here in the morning, we can have morning sex. I bought some anal beads the other day, never thought I’d use them on anyone but me, but… we can try them, if you want.”

Eggsy patted her head, still reeling from the other stuff they had already done.

Within moments, Diane’s started snuffle-snoring. Eggsy stared up at the ceiling, feeling – not traumatized, that’s not the word… perhaps off-kilter? He wasn’t sure how to describe it. Shocked, maybe. He definitely hadn’t expected sex quite like what Diane had provided.

Eggsy gave it about a half an hour before he gently extricated himself from the bed. Padding quietly out into the hallway, he eventually located his suit jacket. He got out the usb and headed back into the bedroom. Checking to make sure Diane was still asleep – she was – he stuck the usb into her computer and lounged while Salomea said in his ear, “Okay, give me a moment…”

It took five minutes for Salomea to give him the all-clear. He returned the usb to his jacket and then headed to the bathroom. Shutting the door firmly behind him, he was finally free to talk back to Salomea.

“So,” he said as he peed – handlers saw much worse, really – and washed his hands, “that was the kinkiest sex I’ve ever had.”

“I didn’t want to say anything in case that was what you were into,” said Salomea. “You were such a trooper, rolling with the punches. But I’m not going to lie. I almost shit my pants when she actually got her feet up behind her head. And I’m sorry, but what was that with the gag? For someone who’s apparently never tried any of that out, she sure had a lot of ideas.”

“Not saying any of that was weird,” said Eggsy. “Cause honestly? It wasn’t – I mean, I’ve had some pretty kinky birds and blokes before. Wasn’t sure if the situation was weird or if it was her, or just me maybe…”

“I dunno,” said Salomea. “But I think you should get an employee of the month award. Also, I’m so sorry, protocol broke a little there…”

“What?”

“Well, okay, you know the regular honeypot protocol. The handler is located at a station separated from the rest of the handlers, in order to protect your privacy. But you know there isn’t any guarantee that someone might accidentally see a thing or two…”

“Who saw?” asked Eggsy, his skin prickling uncomfortably.

Salomea was silent for a moment, before admitted, “Well, it was Gawain. I didn’t notice him watching at first. But then he called over Caradoc, and when I told them off, they weren’t really scared of me.”

“How long did they watch, the perverted wankers?!”

“Not long. They came in about halfway through the feet-behind-the-head thing, and they left sometime around the titty fucking.”

“Cor,” said Eggsy. “I’m going to get so much shit about this.”

“That’s what they were saying,” said Salomea, a little glumly. “Gawain was particularly triumphant. Something about payback for a bondage comment?”

“What a prick,” said Eggsy without any real heat, because honestly? He was kinda asking for it. He had given Gawain quite a bit of shit over a private honeypot mission.

“Eggsy, I’m so sorry,” said Salomea. “It was really inappropriate of them, but I couldn’t get them to leave, and I didn’t want to draw more attention to you or else I would’ve called Merlin over…”

“You’re fine. You did the best you could,” said Eggsy. Jesus. He had his glasses on the entire time they were fucking (Diane insisted, and official Kingsmen rules were that honeypot missions should be recorded as much as the agent is comfortable with, just in case they need the evidence). If they saw the titty-fucking, then they had had a nice, up-close view of Eggsy’s dick.

Kingsmen were close to each other by necessity. Even though he had only been working there for six months, he had already seen Percival, Bedivere, Lamorak, and – for some odd reason – Merlin completely nude. Roxy he got to see nude almost daily during training, on account of the complete lack of privacy in those close quarters. Yet, seeing them showering after a harsh mission is entirely different than being treated to someone’s erect penis sliding around a random girl’s tits.

Eggsy grimaced into the mirror so Salomea could see it before saying, “It’s whatever, bruv. I’m going back in there to get some sleep, yeah? I’ll have the morning sex – hopefully without the anal beads – and keep my rapport with this girl for future missions, and then I’ll report in tomorrow morning, yeah?”

“Beautiful. I’m online with you for the next five hours, and then shifts change. I think either Merlin takes over, or maybe Quentin?”

“Prep them either way,” said Eggsy. “Don’t want them surprised if they get treated to my anus tomorrow.”

“I’ll do my best to prep them,” said Salomea dryly, clearly aware of his double meaning.

“Night, babe.”

“Sleep well.”

The next morning Eggsy did have to contend with the anal beads, though they actually turned out to be a fairly enjoyable time. If he had Merlin cackling in his ear while it happened, then shit happens, yeah?

When he slunk into headquarters at seven in the morning, his suit rumpled and in need of a serious dry cleaning, he was hoping not to run into anyone. He was limping, just the slightest – he suspected that Diane had maybe got a little too enthusiastic with the beads, or misused them some way – but otherwise, the only outward sign he had had such a wild night was his disheveled clothes. Regardless, he was in desperate need of a shower. He stunk of sex and sweat. No one needed to smell that on him.

Of course, that was the moment that he ran into Harry and Arthur.

“Mornin’,” he said, giving a lazy salute.

Harry’s lips quirked into a grin. “Good morning, Paul. Successful honeypot?”

He was nothing but polite, but Eggsy hadn’t told Harry he was going on a honeypot or what his codename had been for the mission. So. It had already spread around. He was going to fucking kill Gawain.

“Got what I needed,” is all Eggsy replied with.

“In more ways than one,” said Harry.

“Fuck you,” said Eggsy, laughing. Harry could always be depending on to make sly, inappropriate jokes.

Harry opened his mouth, ostensibly to respond, but Arthur cut rather aggressively in. “I see you have kept Galahad apprised of your mission. I was unaware it was policy to reveal individual missions before actually going on them.”

Eggsy was thrown for a loop for long seconds. Thankfully, Harry, as ever, had a response: “I heard from someone else, actually. It was an accident it got out. I apologize for the breach in decorum. I had no idea that my lighthearted jest would make you so uncomfortable.”

Eggsy mentally cheered in his mind as Arthur blinked once at Harry before ignoring his statement entirely. “Well, Eggsy, this is perfect timing. We need to call an emergency Kingsman meeting. Come with us, please.”

“Oh,” said Eggsy, startled. “Uh, it might be better if I grab a shower beforehand, really, I’m a bit of a mess…”

“Nonsense,” said Arthur briskly. “To the room.”

Eggsy fell into step beside Harry, grimacing. The shit he would get from Gawain would be legendary. Or, well, at least the other agents. Gawain was fairly reserved. Kay might have a field day, though. He glanced at Harry, only to discover Harry poorly disguising a grin. Since Harry was a professional spy who had been doing sneaky work for years, Eggsy knew that he was letting Eggsy see him laughing on purpose.

Eggsy nudged Harry’s arm. Harry slanted a look at him, barely turning his head, and Eggsy had to clamp his mouth shut in order not to laugh at loud. Okay, so he had a weird mission with some kinky sex. But honestly? With Harry looking at him like that, he could only see the humor in the situation.

Even walking into the dining room didn’t take the shine off the morning. He sat down in his regular seat, before subtly adjusting so his ass wouldn’t ache so much. Kay, Bedivere, Roxy, and Harry were the physically present members. Kay – who sat next to Eggsy – doesn’t miss the motion, and says primly, “Rough night?”

The smile twitching across Kay’s face gave him away. Eggsy said, flippantly, “Bruv, you should’ve been there for the morning bout. I’m lucky my ass is intact.”

Gawain, in hologram form (he must’ve taken a mission in the morning), said, “You seemed to be quite enjoying yourself.”

Kay allowed a grin to spread across his face. “I’ve never heard of a honeypot quite as… flexible.”

“She was creative. Not creative enough to tie me up and leave me, though.”

Gawain frowned.

“What’s going on?” Roxy leaned forward. She raised one perfect eyebrow, eyeing his rumpled suit.

“Eggsy had a rather strenuous mission last night,” said Kay.

Holograms began to appear in Eggsy’s sight. Caradoc, from down the table, grinned at Eggsy and gave him a nod. Caradoc could always be depended on for a grin and chuckle; he was, without a doubt, the most easy-going of the Kingsmen.

Across him, Bedivere frowned. “I understand what you are insinuating,” said Bedivere, “and I think it is most inappropriate to discuss it in this manner.”

Eggsy, deciding the gentleman thing wasn’t for him today, said, “Bruv, I just had anal beads in my arse less than two hours ago. I literally cannot sit through your political correctness.”

Just as Eggsy said that, Percival’s hologram appeared. He blinked twice, and said, “Sounds like we’re all having a lovely morning.”

Roxy slapped a hand over her mouth. Caradoc, foregoing formality, tilted his head back and let out a long, belly-shaking laugh. Harry coughed delicately and schooled his face into a passive expression. Various expressions ranged across the other Kingsmen’s faces – the only two people missing so far were Gareth and Tristan – but mostly they were amused. After years in this business, it was hard to shock such a seasoned crowd, but they took enjoyment where they could get it.

There were only two people who looked unamused. Bedivere, who hated to be the butt of jokes (and, of course, hated Eggsy for a reason that Eggsy had yet to discern). And, of course…

Arthur frowned. “Mr. Unwin,” she said, her voice cracking like a whip. Instantly, the expressions slid off of everyone’s faces like magic, leaving everyone looking impassive and professional. “I request that you keep your interactions with fellow coworkers appropriate. We have yet to debrief on your most recent mission. This is an unacceptable broach of protocol.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” said Eggsy, conceding the point. Gareth popped into view as Eggsy turned to Bedivere and said, “I apologize for the inappropriate image of my arse that I put in your head.”

Gareth’s expression didn’t even change. These agents were good.

“Thank you, Mr. Unwin,” said Arthur. “We are now only waiting on – ah, yes, Tristan, welcome. I called this emergency meeting to address a communication we just received from MI6. Apparently, there has been a leak somewhere in our agency, and MI6 have been made aware of chatter about the Kingsmen.”

Immediately, any lingering humor in the room instantly evaporated. There was a knock on the door, and, with perfect timing, Merlin slid into the room.

“The chatter indicates that these people – whoever they might be – have little to no knowledge about what Kingsmen actually is, or what we do. However, they know of our existence, and they are under the impression that we are a covert intelligence agency. How they got this information is our primary concern.” Merlin fixed each agent with a beady stare. “As you are all aware, our organization was recently breached after the incident with Richmond Valentine.” Merlin gestured to the mirror, so Eggsy and the others adjusted their glasses accordingly.

On the mirror, Merlin had an image of Valentine projected, along with the late Arthur. “Our leak was taken care of. However, we aren’t sure if Chester King revealed our organization to other people, or if a new leak exists. We are informing you in case you come across any information – during any of your missions – that might indicate why or how this has happened.”

“We wish for you to keep an eye and an ear out,” interjected Arthur. “We cannot have aliases or covers blown. It is imperative that we bring Kingsmen out of the spotlight.”

“Have all departments undergone polygraph testing, to ensure that the leak does not originate with any hired help?” Percival asked smoothly, addressing Merlin.

“Yes, everyone underwent it this morning. We are also going to request that each of you undergo similar questioning,” said Merlin.

Polygraph testing was a required entrance exam to the Kingsmen, so this was not troubling to Eggsy.

“We also are going to request that each of you undergo psychiatric testing,” said Arthur. “Just to be sure that you are all emotionally and mentally fit to be in the field.”

Was it just Eggsy, or did Arthur’s eyes linger on him when she said “mentally fit”?

“Questions?” asked Arthur. When no one raised any, she said, “All right. Dismissed.”

The holograms promptly disappeared, ostensibly sending their likenesses off to complete missions. Harry stood from his chair immediately, while Kay and Roxy were slightly slower to move.

Merlin said, “Eggsy, if you have a moment? I’ll debrief you on your titillating mission.”

Kay, finally, full-out laughed.

By the time that Merlin finished debriefing him and Eggsy had completed the necessary medical tests (required after each honeypot to ensure no sexually transmitted diseases), it was nearly noon. Eggsy still had paperwork he needed to finish, but he slipped off to get home and change his clothes.

Walking into his flat, he was treated to the smell of burning food and human feces, along with the wailing of a child. Wrinkling his nose, he dealt with the first one: turning off a small pan on the stove that had once been making grilled cheese, but was quickly burning the sandwich. A few more moments and it probably would have been on fire.

The next source was clearly Daisy. He found the young girl, crying to the point of screaming, sitting on the floor in the sitting room. The telly was on, with some reality program on the screen. His mum was nowhere in sight.

It was old hat for Eggsy to swing Daisy into his hands and trot over to the changing station. It only took a few moves on his part to get her cleaned up and ready for the day. “We’re going to have to potty train you soon,” said Eggsy, but it was lackluster at best. Daisy was developing rather slowly. She was behind on both language skills and her walking skills.

The burning food and crying child did not prepare him for the sight of his mother.

“Eggsssy!” Michelle Unwin, grinning broadly, held out her hands for a hug when she stumbled out of her room. She reeked of alcohol and her hair hung scraggly in her face, unwashed. “My son! Where you been?”

“Work,” he said, testily. He dodged her outstretched hands, ignoring her resulting pout. “Where were you last night?”

“Last night?” She was slurring slightly and nearly stumbled as she began to trot over to the kitchen. “Oh, I was with a friend. Oh bollocks! My lunch is burned! Eggsy, why did you let my lunch burn?”

“When did you get in?”

“Just a few hours ago, I think. Your one friend was still here. Lovely boy, that Jared.”

“Jamal. You were out the entire night?”

“Eggsy,” said Michelle, finally cottoning on to his tone. “I don’t need a lecture right now, okay?”

“Are you still drunk from last night, or did you start this morning?”

“Excuse me?”

“Had’t’ve started drinking this morning,” pronounced Eggsy, eyeing his mum, “if this were still from last night, you’d’ve passed out by now. What happened, mum? Came home and realized you fucked up? Wanted to forget?”

“How dare you talk to me that way!” Michelle wobbled towards Eggsy, her eyes flashing. “I’m your mum!”

“What about Daisy, huh?”

“She was fine!”

“She was crying!”

“You fixed her!”

“Fixed? Fixed? Mum, you’ve gone mental! She ain’t a tool!”

“Listen, Eggsy,” said Michelle. She tilted precariously. Eggsy reached out to steady her but aborted the movement, suddenly hyper-aware of Daisy still in his arms. He bounced Daisy once, twice, before heading to her room. “Eggsy! Where the fuck are you going?”

“Putting Daisy down for a nap,” he snapped. “Give me a moment, and then we’ll talk, yeah?”

Once in Daisy’s room, Eggsy used the moment to strategically gather himself. Taking a few deep breaths, he tickled Daisy’s stomach while he ran through the facts. Michelle was drunk. Unfortunately, this wasn’t anything too new. Michelle had a propensity to get a little drunk or high, but Eggsy hadn’t seen her get this bad since they lived with Dean. And it had always been when Eggsy had been around to watch Daisy. Never once had Michelle gotten twisted when someone else couldn’t care for the child.

Eggsy had been suspecting for a while now that Michelle was still seeing Dean. Why, Eggsy himself couldn’t fathom, but the book on spousal abuse that he nicked from the library explained that the relationship was more tangled than that. So, it wasn’t too surprising Michelle was back him. Even if it did make Eggsy’s heart hurt a little.

Was Eggsy just not good enough? He had a job – a fucking awesome one – and he bought a flat for Michelle and his sister. He was the one going out and getting groceries. He was sitting down, like an adult, and paying all the bills and balancing the chequebook and taking care of things. He vacuumed the other day and wiped down the counters and organized Daisy’s toys by color.

Eggsy took another breath. Enough of that talk. He knew that it wasn’t that he wasn’t enough, he needed to stop thinking like that. His mum was just a little wonky, is all. Things weren’t all going to be fixed with the wave of a magic wand. He needed to be here, supportive, understanding. Yelling wasn’t going to fix this.

Making a decision, Eggsy liberated Daisy from her crib. She didn’t look too tired anyway. Collecting her things, Eggsy trotted out to the sitting room. He found Michelle, on the couch, nearly dozing.

“I’m going back to work,” said Eggsy. “I’m taking Daisy with me. I can’t leave her here with you.” Eggsy dumped Daisy on the floor near some of her toys – bought with Eggsy’s money – and headed to the kitchen.

“What’re doing now?” asked Michelle, leaning forward drowsily.

Eggsy didn’t respond. Instead, he opened up the liquor cabinet and took out the tequila. He dumped it in the sink.

“Hey, what’re you doing!”

Eggsy continued to ignore Michelle as he dumped out half a bottle of vodka next.

“Eggsy, those cost money! You’re pouring money down the sink!”

“Let me be clear,” said Eggsy, and wow, he had never heard his voice quite that cold before, “it’s my money I’m pouring down the sink. In my flat. There’s to be no more alcohol in this house, not around Daisy.”

“You can’t do that!”

Eggsy turned to the refrigerator. There were bottles of beer lined up that he pulled out, popping the tops and pouring them out too. “You’re not in a position to disagree. Go to sleep, mum. Get the alcohol out of your system. And you better be ashamed of yourself when you wake up.”

He heard a rustling and a long pause. When his mum spoke, her voice was thick with tears. “You can’t talk to me that way.”

Eggsy, finished now pouring out the alcohol (that he could see, but he doubted that his mum would have bothered to hide any), finally turned to look at her. She was blinking back tears, her mouth pinched and her hands wringing wrinkles into the hem of her shirt. She snuffled pathetically.

“I shouldn’t have to talk to you that way,” said Eggsy, quietly. “I don’t want to see you drunk around Daisy. Ever. Do you understand?”

“You can’t talk to me that way,” she repeated.

“Never again, mum. I’m serious. Daisy deserves better.”

Michelle sniffled once more. “I’m going to bed.”

“Good idea,” said Eggsy. “We’ll have this conversation when you’re sober.”

Michelle ducked her head as she stumbled away. Eggsy sighed before collecting Daisy again. He wasn’t sure he was allowed to bring his sister into work, but he didn’t have much of a choice. If this behavior continued, he was going to have to arrange for daycare. But that didn’t account for his missions after hours…

Eggsy pondered his predicament as he walked to Savile Row. Daisy was cooing as he walked, and he arranged her carefully so he wasn’t wrinkling her polka dotted dress. Thankfully, today he was only supposed to be doing paperwork after his honeypot mission. The downside that no one told him about being a spy is the ridiculous proliferation of paperwork after every mission. Every decision, every thought on a mission needed to be justified, explained, and documented. It was a bitch, especially for longer missions. Even the one last night would take a few hours.

The worry was that a mission would come in for Eggsy during the afternoon, and then what could he do? He didn’t have a babysitter. Michelle wasn’t employed, and in the past, it was always either him or Michelle looking over her. This wasn’t like JB, who could be left on his own for a day or two, provided that he had a stock of food and one of the other agents could swing by to let him out. Daisy was a human. She needed more attention than that.

Eggsy reached Savile Row. He hesitated for a few moments in front of the shop before sauntering in, like he was sure that bringing his sister to work was an acceptable thing.

From behind the counter, Dagonet looked up. His face didn’t change when he saw Daisy. “Bring family to work day?”

“Cheers,” said Eggsy, passing him by.

The great thing about the mansion was that it was so big that every agent got their own office. Eggsy had to admit, when he found that out and was led to his own office, he peed his pants a little. He never thought that he would have his own office, you know? He used to figure pushing drugs in a safer neighborhood was the biggest promotion he would ever have.

So maybe he went a little wild when he was faced with his own office. He researched office decorating ideas. Researched. Eggsy never researched anything before, not even when he was in school and required to.

He went out and bought an artificial plant, because a lot of websites noted that plants were common in offices. But, since he wasn’t going to be around to regularly water it, he figured fake was the way to go. He carefully put it on the windowsill, to make it seem like it was real. His window. With an awesome view of the countryside. He grinned when arranging his fake fern.

Another website recommended getting a scent diffuser. So he went around to various stores until he finally located one with a vanilla scent, because vanilla smelled excellent and wasn’t too girly. He plugged it in and set it to diffuse every half hour.

In case headquarters was ever compromised (it had never been in its history), it was discouraged against bringing in any personal affects. So instead of hanging pictures of him and Daisy, or him and his mates, he instead hung up pictures that Daisy had drawn for him. Still personal, really, but Eggsy figured it headquarters had been compromised then they probably already knew that he had a younger sister.

Finally, he brought in interesting knickknacks that he collected on missions. When he went to New Zealand, he bought a little kiwi bird keychain and a thimble that had a picture of Wellington’s cable car on it. He arranged these two things on the little shelves in the corner. After a mission in Chicago, he got a miniature sculpture of the Willis Tower (even though locals insisted it was still the Sears Tower). This went on the shelves, too. From Taiwan, he nipped into a ship in Taipei and came out with a fake calligraphic scroll that pictured Taiwan’s geography on it. This went next to the sculpture. Other places he went – Nigeria, Argentina, Tuvalu – also had similar souvenirs. These got placed, lovingly, on the shelves.

He knew that the other agents had books on their shelves. But Eggsy figured that he didn’t really have a collection, and he didn’t much want books anyway. He’d never read them while at work. But he could glance over to the kiwi bird and remember that he smooth talked New Zealand’s Acting Prime Minister into leaving their Parliament building, therefore avoiding his imminent assassination.

He tried to have other touches on his office, too. Things like a quirky lamp filled with seashells that he bought from a flea market down in the estates. He brought in a green stapler with a little dog cartoon painted on the top, because he figured every office needed a stapler.

Roxy, when she first walked into his office, took a long glance around. Eggsy was a little anxious – he tried so hard to make it real – but a little knot released in his chest when she simply raised one eyebrow and made a thoughtful, “Hm.” It sounded approving. Eggsy would take it.

Roxy hadn’t done anything to her office. When asked, she simply shrugged and said, “Don’t see the point. I don’t want to sit in an office, anyway.”

Eggsy took comfort in the homey nature of his office when he set Daisy down in it. He dropped her nappy bag by the mahogany desk and pulled out her favorite doll, which he had deliberately placed in the bag to make sure she was amused throughout the afternoon.

Daisy squealed when she saw the doll and made grabby-hands at it. Eggsy happily dropped the doll into her hands before retreating to his desk.

He quickly got into a routine – fill out paperwork, glance to Daisy, fill out paperwork, stop Daisy’s crying, fill out paperwork, change Daisy, fill out paperwork, feed Daisy, etc. It was actually a rather soothing routine.

“Hey, Eggsy –”

Gawain stopped, raising an eyebrow when he laid eyes on Daisy.

“A gentleman always knocks,” said Eggsy, pertly. He grinned at Gawain. “What’s up, bruv?”

“Wondered if I could borrow your stapler,” said Gawain. “Mine’s on the fritz.”

“Of course,” said Eggsy. He picked up his stapler and chucked it at Gawain, who caught it smoothly. Still smooth, he snapped some papers together before trotting to Eggsy’s desk and replacing it in its original spot.

“What’s with the kid?”

“What kid?” asked Eggsy, just to be contrary.

Gawain ignored him and scooped Daisy up. Daisy cooed and tugged on Gawain’s glasses. Gawain, who looked professional as always, simply plucked his glasses off his face and gave them to Daisy. She promptly put them in her mouth.

“Merlin’s gonna kill you, mate,” said Eggsy, finally giving up on paperwork for the moment.

“What’s her name?”

“Daisy.”

“Hello, Daisy,” said Gawain, seriously. “How are you today?”

Daisy giggled and waved Gawain’s glasses.

“I see,” said Gawain, like Daisy had seriously replied. “That’s lovely to hear.”

Eggsy smiled. He loved watching people interact positively with Daisy. It was always refreshing to get her some new socialization with good influences.

“You need someone to watch her for a bit while you finish up?” asked Gawain. “I can take care of her.”

“Sure, mate,” said Eggsy, not looking a gift horse in the mouth. “I already fed her just a bit ago, so she shouldn’t be hungry for a while. If she starts crying or gets to be a bother, just drop her by again, yeah? I’ll be here.”

Gawain nodded. He placidly collected Daisy’s doll before trotting out of the room.

Eggsy shook his head before returning to his paperwork. It took another two hours to finish everything up, because he unearthed some unfinished reports from a few earlier missions that he quickly knocked out while he was there. By the time he was done his back was twinging from laboring over the desk for so long, so he stretched, yawned, and gathered Daisy’s things, locking up the office behind him.

It didn’t take long to find Gawain. He was hunkered down in the tech department. Eggsy could tell immediately, because there were a circle of techs surrounding a madly giggling two-and-a-half-year-old. Eggsy could see Salomea in the pack, along with a couple of other handlers that he had worked with a few times. Merlin was hovering over one of the screens, bravely ignoring the group at his back, while a few of the techs working at the computers kept glancing over longingly, like they wanted to join.

Walking over, Eggsy could also see Lamorak in the group. He wasn’t sure how Daisy had attracted such a crowd, but she sat in the middle of everything, laughing. She was wearing a pair of glasses – a quick glance confirmed they were still Gawain’s – and she was surrounded by toys. Her doll was in the pile, along with a bunch of toy cars, a train, and (oddly enough) a stuffed parrot. She was currently pushing the cars around, making an incorrect whistling sound, while Gawain calmly pushed a car along with her and one of the techs pretended the train was cutting off their route.

When Daisy spotted him, she cackled and waved the car in the air. “Eggy!” she screamed. She stood up and took a few unsure, tottering steps towards him. While she was getting better at walking, she was a bit of a late learner and struggled to get the steps down.

“There’s my princess!” said Eggsy, sweeping her up into his arms easily. She squealed and pressed the car against his face, making the whistling sound as she pushed the car up his cheek and into his hair.

“Thanks for watching her, bruv,” said Eggsy, squatting down next to Gawain, Lamorak, and the techs, all of whom seemed absolutely enamored with Daisy.

“It was a pleasure,” said Gawain, and he sounded like he meant it. There was a level of warmth in his voice that Eggsy had never heard before. “If you ever need someone to watch her, let me know.”

“Thanks,” said Eggsy, a little thrown. “Oi, where did all these toys come from?”

“Well, I saw that she just had a doll,” said Salomea, a little shiftily. “And I figured that wasn’t fair. What if she wanted some other toys? All little girls should have some cars and trains, too. So I went out for a bit and picked a few up.”

Eggsy smiled. He did have a set of cars at home for her, but these looked much nicer. “Thanks, mate. I can pay you back –”

“Oh, no, it was bloody awesome just to see her playing with them. Really broke up the day.”

“Aight,” said Eggsy, letting it go. He turned his head toward Daisy, who now was running the car up and down his arm. “Did you have fun, princess?”

Daisy only knew about twenty words, but she grinned at him and said, “Eggy!”

Eggsy grinned. “Sounds like a wonderful day, yeah?”

“Eggy!”

“Wonderful,” said Eggsy. He grinned at the rest of them. “She behave herself?”

“She was an angel,” said Gawain. “She’ll be a real delight when she’s older.”

“That’s nice to hear.” It really was. Coming from the estates… He wanted to give Daisy more than what he had. He wanted her to be a “delight.” He wished he was a delight.

The group began to reluctantly shuffle, a few of the techs forlornly returning to their stations. Eggsy supposed it was a nice break for them, something innocent to interrupt the bloodbath that some missions turned into.

Lamorak walked over and peered into Daisy’s eyes. “You have a nice day, okay?” he said, patting her on the head.

Daisy gave him a happy grin and said, “Hi!”, another word that she knew.

“No, Daisy,” said Eggsy, beginning to bounce her lightly on his hip. “We’re about to leave. Can you say ‘bye’?”

Daisy’s smile began to fade, because she understood what bye meant. But she waved the car in the air and said, “Bye!”

“Bye, Daisy,” said Lamorak.

Gawain and Salomea also came over. “Bye, Daisy,” said Gawain, clearly.

Daisy stared at him. Her lower lip wobbled. She had clearly taken a shine to Gawain in the two hours. She didn’t want to leave him.

Eggsy bounced her. “What do you say, Daisy?”

Daisy sniffled.

Eggsy, sensing what was about to happen, said, “Ah, shit,” just as Daisy began to cry. He said to Gawain, “Thanks, again, mate.” He gave Salomea a jaunty wave as he jogged out of the tech room, so as not to disturb the techs with Daisy’s crying.

It took a good ten minutes to get Daisy to calm down. He spent that time on the bullet train to the store, rocking her and waving the stuffed parrot at her. It didn’t really work, but she finally fixated on Eggsy’s pocket handkerchief, which she mussed up and drooled on.

Eggsy arrived home at five on the dot. He could hear his mother’s snuffling snores from her room. Daisy had turned fussy, probably a result of missing her afternoon nap. He put her down for a bit, despite knowing she might have some difficultly falling asleep that night, and started work on a basic dinner.

By the time the spaghetti was ready, his mother had shuffled out into the main room, her eyeliner streaked across her face. She was a sight for sore eyes, and she was holding her head, looking unforgivably hungover.

“Good morning.” Eggsy gave her a snarky grin. “Glad to see you joining us.”

“Fuck you,” said his mum without any heat. “What are you making?”

“Spaghetti. Enough for both of us.”

His mum made a sound of approval as she rooted in the cabinet for a glass. She filled it to the top with water and began sipping at it, her face looking green.

“You gonna be able to manage it?” asked Eggsy, banging about for the strainer.

“I think I’ll survive,” said Michelle dryly.

The rest of the evening was awkward and stilted. Eggsy didn’t want to bring up what happened, and Michelle seemed grumpy and unwilling to talk. Clearly the wrong time to bring anything up. The only other highlights were Eggsy reading to Daisy before bedtime – he had watched a documentary when no other program was on about the importance of reading to kids – and sang softly to her when that didn’t seem to calm her down.

He also took JB on a walk around the block. The pug was quite delighted to be out of the house, and so he took an extra-long time snuffling at one of his favorite fire hydrants before triumphantly peeing on it. Eggsy didn’t want to admit it, but JB did have a certain charm to him.

At one in the morning, Eggsy received a call from Merlin. Time to go in.

Chapter Text

A couple of weeks passed without much ado. During that time, Eggsy was sent on the toughest missions he had ever seen. Clearly, the easy assignments were finally over – he had shed those posh party missions and moved on to some real cases. But he was more than qualified to do them:

He uncovered a human trafficking ring Malaysia, and ushered over fifty teenaged girls secretly out of the country to save their lives. He got stabbed three times in the left calf, an injury which medical quickly took care of. They had some wicked technology, almost akin to what Valentine had been using, and it made bruises and cuts fade faster than any other organization’s medical wing.

He discovered a trove of evidence against a politician in Denmark accused of bribery and blackmail. Along with it, he found over fifteen pounds of various drugs stashed in the boot of the man’s car. The politician’s security guards did not take lightly to Eggsy’s interference, and Eggsy received his first-ever bullet wound, a glancing blow that skimmed across the back of his neck. It bled like a stuck pig, but an unimpressed medical assistant simply smacked a bandage over it and told Eggsy to stop complaining and that it wasn’t worse than a small knife wound.

He did his second honeypot mission. His target – a twenty-year-old man who had more acne than face – woke up while Eggsy was securing the information and got the jump on him while his back was turned. He nearly strangled Eggsy to death. Eggsy was saved only by a lucky beep from the mark’s phone, which distracted him for a split second. Long enough for Eggsy to break his grip. Eggsy had a ring of bruises around his neck for days (medical only treated serious wounds), prompting “erotic asphyxiation” remarks from both Kay and Caradoc.

He came moments away from losing his life on a mission in Uzbekistan, where bad intel resulted in the bed and breakfast Eggsy was staying at getting blown up, along with the nice couple who Eggsy had made friends with. Eggsy returned from that mission shaking badly, necessitating a long talk with a therapist.

The most notable mission, in Eggsy’s mind, was one that required Eggsy’s specialized training.

Each agent, during their weeding-out process, receives specialized training. In between learning to fight, jumping out of planes, and shooting dogs, there were moments where the candidates were split up to be taught intensively in certain subjects that they demonstrated an affinity for.

Lamorak, before he even came into training, had a background in bombs from his duration in the MI6. The Kingsman supplemented this background by in-depth training, both in how to diffuse them and how to create them. Lamorak, currently, could turn nearly anything into a bomb. In fact, Lamorak was the one who came up with grenade lighters.

Kay was trained in weapons. He knew about every type of gun, the weaknesses of weapons, etc. He was what the Kingsmen call a “heavy-hitter” – he could take out rooms of men wielding weapons with very little of his own.

Harry, of course, was an expert in hand-to-hand combat. If they had to send any agent into a situation without weapons, Harry was the go-to man. He had an uncanny knack of turning anything into a weapon, and, if nothing avails itself to him, then his hands were weapon enough. Harry was also an expert at public relations. He was the one, if the mission might involve the press, to be sent into situations where he might be seen – because he was guaranteed to talk his way out of it.

Caradoc, to Eggsy’s ultimate amusement, was a beautiful artist. Missions would come in where glasses could not be used. During these, Caradoc was sent. He could then recreate portraits of suspects or villains from his memory.

Tristan was scary good at poisons. He could identify them, he could make them, he could slip them to any person and make it look like an accident. Behind his back people called him Toxic Tristan. When he first heard this nickname, he grumbled and began to mutter about the differences between toxins and poisons and seemed disgruntled that people had settled with alliteration rather than being correct with their terminology.

Every agent had their niche. That doesn’t mean that any agent couldn’t do the other’s job – Caradoc could do more than draw, come on – but specializations made it easier to assign missions. If, say, they thought a mission might end in an explosion, Lamorak was called. Or if an agent got poisoned on the job, they could call Tristan and ask him what to do.

Specializations were important, but they weren’t the end-all be-all. Plenty of missions exploded without Lamorak, but it just made the organization run a bit smoother.

Each agent was trained in at least three specializations, and Eggsy wasn’t even sure what everyone was trained in because no one really talked about it.

He knew, vaguely, that Roxy was trained in camouflage. He gave her shit about it. Roxy clearly wanted to give Eggsy shit back, but Eggsy was tight-lipped about his specializations.

Eggsy, during training, was specialized in three areas. The first was obvious: driving. The trainers who put him through courses were so impressed by his driving abilities that they began to teach him about other things. How to hotwire a car. How to drive trucks. Things like that. If the car broke down Eggsy was fucked, but he also knew how far he could push a car and what needed to happen to nurse a car along. If a getaway car was needed, if someone needed a car stolen, or anything like that, Eggsy was assigned that mission.

They also had an interest in his parkour. That, apparently, translated into hand-to-hand skills. Like Harry, Eggsy was trained in hand-to-hand combat (skills were not necessarily exclusive to agents; he believed, like Lamorak, Gawain was trained in bombs as well, but he wasn’t quite sure). It was unbelievably hard, because the training involved doing crazy fucking things like tying his hands behind his back and throwing him in a room with fifteen people with guns and requiring him to disable them all, without any weapon of his own.

The third, Eggsy figured, would be something else to do with his background. Maybe blending in with unsavory crowds?

“No,” Merlin had said, making a note on his clipboard. Eggsy fucking hated that clipboard sometimes. “You’re already proficient in blending in crowds. We have no need to specialize you in that area. No, we’ve noticed something else…”

Eggsy wasn’t sure what made them realize. Maybe it was his upbringing. Maybe it was other hints – Eggsy, sparring with Charlie, and punching him so many times in the kidneys that he pissed blood for weeks, and no regrets from Eggsy for it. Or it could have been Eggsy, looking up at Merlin, and saying, “I ain’t a snitch, aight? Snitches get stitches,” when it was suspected that Digby, Rufus, and Charlie had snuck off to the bar for a night without permission. He hated them, but he still wasn’t going to tattle on them, you know?

“You have high emotional intelligence,” explained Merlin.

“I don’t understand,” said Eggsy. He was so tired that he was struggling to keep his eyes open, his head lolling onto his shoulder. Merlin had put him in this room for what felt like days now, the lights on, and told him he wasn’t allowed to sleep. Just as he gave in to his body and began to nod off, a bunch of men stormed into the room, shouting. Eggsy had nearly shit his pants as they pinned him down, pulled out a wooden chair, and hauled him up on it. He was tied, severely, to the chair, still nearly dozing, as the men shouted and shouted and asked him questions and told him they would let him sleep if he just told them who Harry Hart was.

He didn’t.

They eventually left, letting Merlin in. Eggsy was so confused and so sleep deprived he could have cried.

“High emotional intelligence. You empathize well with people,” said Merlin.

“What the fuck, mate? What does this have to do with anything?” He wanted to sleep so badly, and, as terrified of Merlin as he was, he was about three seconds away from falling asleep while Merlin was talking.

“Your third specialization,” said Merlin, slowly, “Is going to be resistance to torture. And we’re going to teach you torture techniques.”

“What?”

“You’re to become proficient in torture. Both in receiving and giving.”

“What does that have to do with my emotional intelligence?”

Merlin smiled. It was not nice, not with Eggsy half-unconscious and listing drowsily in a wooden chair. “You love animals. And you connect well with children. Anything innocent, you have no problem defending. We’ll run into a problem if, during a mission, you need to endanger any one of those groups. However, you don’t view human beings as innocent in general. A result of your upbringing, I assume. You empathize, and you empathize well, but you also have amazing powers of disassociation. You can compartmentalize, and, in doing so, you can torture a person.”

“I… what?”

“You understand pain,” said Merlin, slower. “And you aren’t afraid to dispense it. To people you don’t view as innocent." Later, when training was over and Eggsy had killed Valentine, Merlin explained even more: "Even if you do view them as innocent, you disassociate and compartmentalize, though it becomes more difficult if you view something as completely innocent. You can live with yourself afterward. That’s why you can’t shoot a dog, but you have no compunctions about facilitating the deaths of hundreds of people via head-explosions.”

Hence: Eggsy able to punch Charlie, in the kidneys, multiple times, knowing what it could do to him.

Hence: Eggsy, unwilling to talk, because he had faced pain before and knew he could withstand it.

It did have to do with his background, yes. Eggsy came from a rough place. He knew this.

Michelle brought Dean home when he was twelve years old. Before that, there was Trevor. Trevor, for the first month, smiled at Eggsy sweetly. He would ruffle Eggsy’s hair when he got home from school and ask him about his day. Sometimes, he would pat the chair next to him and listen seriously while Eggsy talked about “the brill thing we learned today in school, wow, did you know that honey badgers are super tough?” And then Trevor would nod while Eggsy would say, “I wanna be a honey badger!” He would promise to help Eggsy in his quest to become one.

When, in the second month, Eggsy accidentally trod on Trevor’s foot, Trevor leaned Eggsy over the coffee table and belted him until he needed to go to the hospital. Michelle freaked out. She told Trevor to never come near her or her son again, and filed a restraining order against him. But Eggsy would never forget that terror or that feeling of helplessness.

Michelle then brought Dean home. Dean was much cleverer than Trevor. Eggsy didn’t like Dean at first – too greasy, unkempt. He still remembered his father, clean-shaven, always smiling. And he still remembered the pain from Trevor. But Dean was relatively nice for about the first six months. He bought Michelle pretty presents, he took Eggsy to the movies. He would buy Eggsy fries at McDonald’s and smile when Eggsy tried to mop up too much ketchup when them and spill droplets in his lap. Reluctantly, he told his mother that he approved, and Michelle glowed with happiness at finding a man who could help her take care of her son.

Around month six, he hit Michelle for the first time. Eggsy didn’t quite understand, but he yelled at Dean until Dean stopped. He apologized, got an icepack for Michelle, said he would never do it again. Dean sat next to her and held her while Eggsy looked on, anxious, and Michelle muttered, “It was an accident, our emotions were running high, it’s okay. He’s never, ever going to do that again.”

Eggsy believed her, because his mum hadn’t yet lied to him. He fretted about her for several days, but she simply patted his head, telling him that she would sort this.

This pattern continued for the first year – Dean hitting Michelle, apologizing, getting her an icepack, then hitting her again. He never touched Eggsy at first. It wasn’t until he was so deep in their lives and they no longer knew how to survive without his support that Dean finally turned his wrath on Eggsy.

Next thing Eggsy knew, Dean was alternating between whaling on Michelle and whaling on him. Eggsy became accustomed to patterns of bruises across his arms, his chest. Sometimes his legs, when Dean threw bottles and misaimed. When he tried to talk to his mum about it, he would hear all manners of explanations: “He was just angry, honey, he said he wouldn’t do it again”; “I deserved that one, I really did burn the dinner, and anyway, it barely hurt…”; “I know, dear, I know you’re aching, but if you were just a bit nicer to Dean…”; “He helps us. I love him. Please stop saying mean things about the man I love, Eggsy.”

When he was fourteen, he got his first taste of alcohol. It was dizzying, fun, and he and his friends stumbled home, laughing. When he slipped in the door, Dean pushed him down until his face was smashed on the tile. Dean yelled and yelled, screaming his mum wouldn’t like Eggsy drunk and he wasn’t going to be accused of being a bad influence. He hit Eggsy several times, resulting in purpled, mottled bruises on his back.

It was the only time Eggsy had ever seen Dean fear that Michelle was going to leave him, and it was because of Eggsy.

Eggsy kept steadily drinking, after that, because Eggsy had started to develop issues with authority. He didn’t want to listen to Dean. And he hoped that his mum would look at him and realize he was drinking and break up with Dean because of it. His issues with authority got worse. He didn’t like the way police officers looked at him as he walked down the street. He didn’t like the way teachers addressed him. He didn’t like the orders Dean barked at him.

So he didn’t listen to Dean.

Until he turned seventeen, Dean kept parodying a father figure. When Michelle was around, he would sit down with Eggsy and have “serious talks” about where his life was going and how he could help. Everyone knew they were parodies, that Dean was no real father to him, but it brightened Michelle’s tired face to see him trying to connect with Eggsy.

He was seventeen – very young – when he first sold drugs. Dean made him. There was a long, built up story to Eggsy’s decision, involving threats and beatings and terrifying moments. But it came down to he had to do it, because he was afraid that Dean was going to kill his mum to collect some insurance money, since they were so hard on cash at the time. So Eggsy started selling drugs.

When his mum discovered the coke in his room, she didn’t talk to him for two weeks. Then, one night, she slipped into his room and sat next to his bed. Her eyes were very dark as she said, “I want you to stop.”

And Eggsy patted her hand and promised that he would, and the next morning sold some more.

Eggsy learned some useful skills during that time. You see, he dealt to the darker parts of the estates. Dean figured he could handle himself, after all, though for the more dangerous jobs Dean reluctantly sent Rottie with him. But Eggsy would have a Glock hidden in his oversized jacket, and sometimes, when certain people didn’t have their money and were behind on payments, Eggsy had to…

Well.

It was gross, it was indecent. The first time Eggsy shot someone’s knees he went to the nearest park and cried all night, until a police officer came along and told him to stop loitering and get home. But Merlin was right. He learned the skill of disassociating really fast, out of pure necessity. Because if he didn’t shoot the knees of the drug addicts, then he knew that Dean would be the one shooting knees (either his or his mum’s). He couldn’t let Dean hurt his mum. He couldn’t, even if that meant looking down the barrel of a gun and telling himself that the person cowering there deserved it. It broke his heart to see his mother adorned in bruises rather than jewels.

And that was another deal Eggsy and Dean made: Eggsy would deal as many drugs as Dean wanted, and he would deal them to the parts that no one else wanted to enter, but he wasn’t allowed to hurt his mum anymore. Eggsy wasn’t sure if Dean kept his promise, but he stopped seeing bruises on his mum’s arms, so Eggsy counted it for a win.

Eggsy tried to join the Marines to get out of the dealing, but listening to his mum blubber over the phone, he knew he wouldn’t last too long. He threw himself into training, pretended that he wasn’t in withdrawal from the drugs that he shouldn’t be doing, and put himself at the top of his class. But then, one day, his mum admitted that Dean nearly killed her and that she was scared, and Eggsy dropped out.

So he went back to dealing. And if he sniffed a bit of coke here or there, no one was really watching. Dean thought it was funny. The only time Dean could seem to stand him was when he was high as a kite. Dean never hit him when he was high. So maybe he got high more than he should, but it was worth it, wasn’t it? No one was getting hit. He was safe. His mum was safe, thanks to the prior deal. As long as Eggsy kept dealing drugs and getting high, they were fine.

Then everything changed when his mum got pregnant and had Daisy.

The moment Daisy was put into his arms, Eggsy threw out the coke and told Dean he quit. He was black and blue for weeks, but he wasn’t going to be that sort of brother. He wanted more for that little girl than white crystals. He didn’t want Daisy to look at him and see a facsimile of Dean.

And it put another tired smile on Michelle’s face. That night, in their shitty flat, with Daisy held in Eggsy’s arms, they watched It’s A Wonderful Life even though it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas, pretending that they couldn’t hear Dean’s snores in the next room. And then they watched Casablanca, and then My Fair Lady, and then the Maltese Falcon, ending on High Noon, until finally it was morning and Dean was in the room demanding why the fuck they were still up. Eggsy still remembered the feeling of Michelle’s hand in his, sweaty, scared, as Dean glared at them. Eggsy trained his eyes on Gary Cooper’s face, the gorgeous visage of Grace Kelly in the background, as Dean grumbled about the “fucking noise they were making, fuck.”

Eggsy had squeezed his mother’s hand and got a return squeeze. He had never felt more connected to his mother than in that moment, like it was them three against the entire world.

That turbulent past fed into Merlin’s decision: Eggsy would never nark on anyone. So he was making sure that was true even under dire circumstances, where instant death wasn’t an option. And he was making sure that Eggsy could gather intelligence, even during missions where it wasn’t as simple as uploading a few documents. Basically, Eggsy was slotted for the dangerous missions, the ones where Eggsy could be captured in a moment, because he had lived in danger his entire life and knew how to balance it.

Training was the most brutal thing Eggsy had ever undergone. “If you’re going to be dealing out pain,” said Merlin, sternly, “then I want you understanding how it feels.”

And oh, they taught him so much. Roxy noticed during regular training, of course she did. At first she didn’t question it, because she was a real professional and she knew that it had to do with his specialized training. But there were moments, like when Eggsy was having trouble walking or breathing, that she reached out and brushed her fingers against his side, reassuring him just through her presence.

As training went on, she did vocalize once or twice. Small things – “Are you okay?” and “Let me get you some water,” when he didn’t want to move from bed. Roxy was one of his best friends, hands down.

They never enacted any lasting damage on Eggsy. And they taught him how to not enact any lasting damage on other people. And they also, scarily enough, taught him how to disable someone. How to make them permanently damaged.

After the first three lessons, Merlin pulled him aside and told him the protocol. “Procedure in these cases is always followed. Always. I don’t care if you’re trying to be brave, I don’t care if you think you’re going to be a manly man.”

Any agent who tortures – or is tortured – is required to undergo therapy. Merlin told him that there would be a standing appointment for him every week, and that the therapist would be on call at any time Eggsy felt he needed to talk. For four weeks after a torture mission, he would be required to undergo therapy every day. Otherwise, the weekly appointment would be there.

In addition, Merlin had told him, there weren’t actually that many missions that required torture. So Eggy shouldn’t expect to be doing this all the time. If Eggsy were unlucky, he would be sent on a mission that might result in torture about once every six months. “Never,” said Merlin, sternly, “are you to go on torture missions more than every six months. There will be some that might unexpectedly require it – but that’s different. I’m talking about the missions that we believe will inevitably lead to that conclusion. No more than every six months. Even that is excessive. Understood?”

Eggsy nodded. He accepted this. He could do this, if he had the right help.

Around lesson six, he broke down and dry sobbed on Merlin’s cardigan. Merlin patted his back awkwardly, mostly because Merlin was emotionally constipated on his best days, and did his damnedest to comfort Eggsy. Just his trying was a load of help, though he was a little ashamed to break down like that. He hadn’t in years.

“Stop it,” said Merlin, sternly, when he realized Eggsy was berating himself. “You’re undergoing specialization in arguably the most difficult skill of this organization. If you gotta cry, you gotta cry, and if someone makes a negative comment about it, then they should be shunned from society. Everyone copes differently.”

Each agent had a lesson on torture in a much smaller degree, since every agent was expected to be a jack of all trades. Especially since, if an agent was captured by an enemy organization, it was very likely that they would be harmed.

But torture was Eggsy’s specialty.

Could you blame him for not wanting Roxy to know? It was noted in his files, but only to those of high enough clearance (at his forceful request): only Merlin and Arthur knew. And Harry, of course, since Harry had proposed Eggsy.

“I can honestly say I did not expect that to be one of your specializations,” was the only thing that Harry said about it. It did not come up again.

Not even Salomea knew, as Eggsy requested Merlin be the only handler to view any missions where torture was a requirement.

Which brings it back to the present situation – the only mission, to Eggsy, that was worth remembering during those “boring” few weeks was his first torture mission.

The victim was a man, probably around forty years old, who had information on where ten kidnapped preschoolers were hidden. The situation was gross, and the man kept chuckling and implying that the children were being molested.

It was distressingly easy for Eggsy to slice his hand open and pick the bones out, one at a time, until the man was sobbing that the children were hidden in a warehouse in Wales.

Eggsy put a bullet in the man’s head.

When he was done, Merlin saying “Good job,” in his ear despite the contents of the mission, he was required to report to the psych ward and undergo a day’s worth of psychiatric evaluation and intensive therapy. Eggsy had a sinking feeling that his life was going to be an unending string of evaluations.

Once, after the mission, when Eggsy was feeling a tad bit vulnerable, he asked how often the other agents had gone on missions where they had to torture someone. “Not often,” said Merlin, gently. “They’re far and few between, lad. Harry has shot out his fair share of kneecaps… he’s rather good at disassociating as well, I believe. He’s probably had the most of any of them. It’s been years since someone’s specialization was torture. Not much need for it, thank fuck.”

Yes. Thank fuck.

Eggsy, thankfully, had no trouble sleeping after that mission. He almost felt guilty for not feeling guilty, but then he would remember that man’s smirking face and the relieved looks on those children’s faces… He couldn’t bring himself to think that he had done anything more than save the lives of impressionable children. What if it had been Daisy, out there, all alone, waiting for a savoir?

The phone ringing brought Eggsy to the present moment. Daisy, who was playing with her stuffed parrot (which had rapidly become her favorite toy, to Eggsy’s amusement), gurgled happily and said, “Eggy!”

Eggsy patted Daisy on the head as he passed her by. He left eggs cooking on the stovetop as he picked up his phone. “Yeah?”

“Mission for you, when you’re able,” said Merlin.

“I’m nearly ready to come in anyway,” said Eggsy. It was a little earlier than he usually headed to work, but Eggsy could rush his breakfast.

Merlin didn’t even reply. Shuffling his eggs onto a plate, Eggsy yelled, “Hey, mum, I’m going to work a little early. One of our clients is there for their fitting sooner than we thought. And I might have a late night – I’m thinking about catching up with some old friends from the Marines.”

A vague reply wafted from the direction of Michelle’s room. Eggsy scarfed down the eggs, dropped a kiss on Daisy’s forehead, located his wayward tie (a muted red today, nothing metallic), before sprinting out of the flat.

It felt like moments before he was standing in front of Merlin and Arthur, flipping through his newest assignment. “You’ll remember Diane,” said Merlin, dryly.

“How could I forget my first honeypot?” asked Eggsy, smirking.

“The intel that you got from her computer was astounding. We suspect she might actually be more involved in her brother’s business than we originally thought. She’s going to be at a gala tonight. We’re hoping you might score an introduction to her brother. Try to feel him out, make a connection.”

“That’s easy enough,” said Eggsy.

“While you wait,” said Arthur, suddenly. Her voice cut easily across the conversation, and Eggsy watched as Merlin gave two blinks, which was Merlin-talk for startled. Razor sharp eyes surveyed him and one eyebrow climbed up her face, like she was judging him for something that he had no clue about. “I have another potential mission for you.”

Merlin frowned. “I was unaware of any other missions.”

“This one just came in,” said Arthur. She inclined her head at Merlin. “You’re dismissed.”

Merlin didn’t move. “And who will be his handler? Someone needs to be apprised of this case.”

“No need to worry, Merlin, I know protocol.” And with a voice like that, all steel and no-nonsense, Merlin had no choice but to give a crisp nod before leaving the room, closing the door firmly behind him.

Arthur fixed beady eyes on Eggsy. He was more focused on her red lipstick, which she had worn every day since he had first seen her.

“Your file notes an affinity for torture,” said Arthur.

Eggsy had wondered if Arthur would ever mention it. “Yes,” he said, slowly. “I was trained both in resistance and in implementation.”

“You are the only current Kingsman highly trained in this area.” She had a look of regret on her face, like this was a great oversight. Eggsy felt sick. One agent was more than enough. It was a disgusting specialization. “With our current leak, we have several…” She tilted her head. “…leads. Let’s call them leads. We need you to gather information from them. Using any means necessary.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, sickness stirring in his stomach.

“I’m sending you on one such mission this afternoon. You should be back in time for the gala.” Arthur slid a folder – this time an unsavory blue – over to him. “It involves capturing a KGB agent.”

“Capturing?” He had never captured anyone before. It felt like kidnapping. It was a terrible word to use, as if he was going to net a butterfly, pin it to a corkboard, and display it in Harry’s bathroom.

“Yes. Capturing. And using your knowledge on him.”

Eggsy pretended his hands weren’t shaking as he opened the folder. This didn’t feel like he was saving anyone. How was he expected to get through this if he viewed the mark as a victim? “How highly trained is he? KGB agents aren’t easy to take down.” And Eggsy had other questions – didn’t he just go on a torture mission? What about protocol? He could get pickier – didn’t the KGB dissolve years ago? Didn’t Russia have a different intelligence agency now?

“I will be your handler in this case,” said Arthur, like that was an answer to anything. “I have the utmost faith in you, Mr. Unwin.”

No. No, she didn’t. Eggsy scrutinized her face for long, pensive moments. It was that moment that Eggsy knew something was a little… off. But Arthur’s face didn’t change.

“Okay,” said Eggsy, letting his voice come easily. He could handle himself. He could handle anything. “I’ll leave now, then.”

The KGB agent was currently staying in a hotel in London. It took nearly an hour to reach his location, giving Eggsy ample time to both study the schematics of the hotel as well as chat idly with Jeeves.

He had never done a capture mission before. He wondered, absentmindedly, how many of those Harry had gone on. As much as it made him feel sick, it also felt like a huge step, like he was really becoming an agent. He knew – logically – that he was already an agent, but it felt more real. Like he was being trusted with something secret. Classified. Eggsy was trusted, now, even if he didn’t have a cool codename.

Of course, there was also the fact that Arthur clearly didn’t trust him. Fuck. This situation was unnecessarily complicated.

Jeeves pulled up in front of the hotel. It was a simple one, only six levels. The windows were covered in ugly pea green curtains and the outside desperately needed a re-painting, giving off the atmosphere of cheapness. It was the kind of hotel that you stayed at for one night, listening to your neighbors either party or have wild sex, and then leave the next day regretful and aching for sleep.

Eggsy supposed the KGB agent was doing his best to lay low. The files noted that he was currently on a reconnaissance mission, though details were blurry at best. Specifics in general were missing – the file didn’t list the agent’s skillset or physical fitness. Eggsy felt like he was walking into the mission a little blind.

Eggsy strolled casually into the lobby. The carpet was worn and thinned, and there were a few couches by the concierge desk to suggest that this was a homey place. The only people there was the concierge and two older women who were nursing cups of coffee on the couches, their eyes jaded and hands shaking. Eggsy almost wanted to stop and talk to them, but he had an assignment.

His job was made much easier because they already knew the room number of the agent. He bypassed the concierge’s desk and entered the lift, adjusting his glasses as he did so.

“Remember,” said Arthur, an unwelcome voice in his ear. Eggsy wished for the accented voice of Salomea, laughing in his ear. “Knock on his door and take him out immediately. You’ll need to engineer an escape route with him in tow, because you can’t possibly torture him there. Someone will hear the screams.”

Eggsy didn’t respond, instead stepping out when the doors opened and walking, faux-casually, down the hallway. He spotted cameras dotting the hallway. It was a little surprising – a hotel like this? Cameras? But Eggsy supposed he shouldn’t judge. It just meant he needed to either hide his watch from the cameras, or he needed to be in the room. Blast.

“Arthur,” he muttered, still strolling casually. “Can you knock out the cameras in this hallway? I need the element of surprise and it’ll be easiest to just knock him out when he opens the door.”

“I can’t do that.”

Fuck. Eggsy tapped his fingers on his trouser leg, thinking. Merlin would’ve been able to take care of the cameras, but he supposed Arthur wasn’t used to being a handler. Whatever. He could do this.

He found the right door. Not hesitating, he knocked, knowing that later someone might review the cameras. He didn’t want to seem guilty.

There was a long, extended pause, before the door opened a crack. “Yes?”

“I have some information that might interest you,” said Eggsy, quietly. “You might want to let me in.”

Easiest to go with the classics, he supposed.

After two seconds, the door shut and then reopened widely. Eggsy stared into the face of a man roughly the same age as himself. He was ruggedly handsome, though his eyes were a little wide set. He had brown hair that curled around his face and almost fell into his hazel eyes.

“Come in,” he said.

Eggsy was suspicious. It shouldn’t be this easy, he thought. Unless this man was very strapped for information on his current case.

Eggsy took one step into the room. The door swung shut behind him.

Things moved almost too fast.

Eggsy ducked the fist coming his way, but wasn’t quick enough to avoid the knee to the gut. He stumbled back, his hand finding a decorative vase, which he lobbed at the agent to distract him. The agent batted it out of the way, but Eggsy was already lurching toward him, knife in hand. They grappled for long moments, the knife careening out of the fray and embedding itself into the rose-colored wall.

Somewhere during the tussle, Eggsy got stabbed with a pen the agent had on him, a clear reminder that anything could be turned into a weapon. The agent also got pistol-whipped by Eggsy, but Eggsy didn’t have enough force or momentum behind the hit to knock the agent out. It more made him angry after he stopped seeing stars.

It was dizzying combat, probably the fastest Eggsy had ever been in. Both combatants, heavily trained, fueled by desperation, scratched at each other. In his ear, Arthur muttered, “Oh, dear. Didn’t expect this,” in a tone that suggested that she had, in fact, expected this.

The action continued for interminable moments. The problem for Eggsy, unfortunately, was that he wasn’t familiar enough with the layout of hotel rooms. He had never stayed in one before – had never had any reason to.

So when he stumbled over some metal contraption – he would later be able to identify it as a luggage rack that the agent had set up near his bed – the agent took advantage and got in a lucky hit across Eggsy’s throat, making him gag for a moment.

Eggsy ended up flat on his back, a hot iron near his throat as a clear threat. It was close enough that Eggsy could feel the heat emanating from the bottom.

“Who are you?” The agent pressed the iron ever-closer, spittle landing from his mouth onto Eggsy’s cheeks. “How the fuck do you know about me? No one should know I’m here.”

“You attacked me, mate,” breathed out Eggsy. “I had information for you. Now I’m not so willing to share.”

“You have no information. No man with information would come to my hotel room.”

Yeah, he had Eggsy there. But Eggsy played stupid. “I’ve never done this before,” he said, betting that his age might fool the agent. “I thought… I thought this was the best place?”

“No,” said the agent. “You’re lying, I know it.”

“Wait,” said Eggsy when the iron moved closer to him. He squirmed, but his hands were locked in the man’s punishing grip, and he had no leverage to get out of the lock the man had him in. The man squeezed Eggsy’s wrists tighter when nothing else was forthcoming from Eggsy.

“Why should I wait? Why shouldn’t I burn your face off?”

Arthur, in his ear, said, “Thank goodness you know how to resist torture.”

“You’ll die if you do that,” said Eggsy, fucking desperate as all hell.

The man grinned. It gave his hazel eyes an unholy light. “You’re bluffing.”

“Am I?”

They looked at each other for long moments. Then the man tilted his head and said, “Yes.”

He moved the iron away from his neck, lightly pressed it to Eggsy’s shirt. With a sizzle, the high heat began to melt Eggsy’s Kevlar-woven blazer. It was an older iron, heavy, powerful, rather frightening for the situation.

“Fuck!” said Eggsy. But with the agent’s shift in position to reach Eggsy’s chest instead of aiming at his neck, and with the agent’s focus on the application of the iron –

Eggsy tore a hand from the agent’s grip. With a simple twist, he gave the agent a nice, punishing burst of electricity from his signet ring.

The iron dropped fully on Eggsy’s chest as the agent slumped over him. Groaning, Eggsy flung the iron off of himself and stood up, assessing the damage. His suit jacket was melted, and he could feel a stinging, painful ache in his chest. Great. The burn had gone through, and perhaps even melted the jacket to his skin. He would need to see medical for this.

Eggsy popped his head out of the room. There was no convenient laundry basket nearby, so instead he rolled up a rug near the bed with the unconscious body in it. It was too small to fully hide the body, but Eggsy was depending on no one paying him attention to notice two shoes sticking out from one end.

Eggsy’s mind raced as he wondered how this would work. He was a man in a suit, carrying out a rug… no one would believe he was just a worker changing the décor. Plus, his jacket was ruined. Even more suspicious, no?

“Arthur, some help,” said Eggsy.

“I’ve disabled the cameras,” said Arthur. “Other than that, you’re on your own.”

Now she disabled the cameras? Why could she do that now, and not before? Could she have avoided the entire situation?

No, Eggsy thought. Arthur wouldn’t sabotage a mission like that. She probably only now found out how to disable the cameras.

Still. Merlin and Salomea would never have left him on his own. They would have found him a back way out. But whatever. Eggsy marched towards the door, determined. He would get through this.

Maybe it was that determination on his face, but no one stopped him in the lobby. The two older ladies barely blinked, one even nodding pleasantly at him, while the concierge gave a look that screamed, “I’m not paid enough for this shit.” They let him leave, and he didn’t think that anyone noticed the feet from the rug. They’d remember him, though, if anyone came asking around. Fuck.

He threw the entire rug, plus body, into the back of Jeeves’s car and hopped in the front seat.

“Safe house, Jeeves,” said Eggsy, suddenly very, very tired. He wanted to go to medical. He wanted to see Daisy. He wanted to talk to Harry.

Fuck.

“Of course, sir,” said Jeeves, quietly. They sat in silence, only the slight rumble of the car breaking the monotony. Eggsy did not attempt to make conversation, and Jeeves seemed to sense something was off.

They arrived at the safe house. And then Eggsy did some very, very bad things.

“You’ve given us great intel,” said Arthur, who didn’t sound very happy about it, during their debrief in her office. She looked thoughtful at least, tapping her pen against her cheek absentmindedly while they went over the details. “Quite interesting. Our mole was Chester King himself, the former Arthur.”

What a huge surprise. Fucking Chester King just wouldn’t die.

“Now we know that Chester King had contacted some assassins to take out Kingsmen agents, and those assassins didn’t keep their mouths shut. If we can just discover those assassins, and trace the leaks…” Arthur scribbled something down on her yellow legal pad, biting her lip and inadvertently scraping off some of her red lipstick. Eggsy didn’t mention that she now had lipstick on the bottom of her front teeth.

Arthur began to chart something. “So. Starts with Chester King. Now some assassins know about us, and whoever they told. This is manageable, I think… They wouldn’t have told too many people, hopefully, because of the nature of the job…”

Eggsy nodded as Arthur kept talking. He felt numb. He wanted to sleep. He wanted Daisy. He wanted to talk to Harry. He wanted to casually brush up against Harry and pretend that it was an accident. He wanted to sit in his office and look at Daisy’s drawings. He didn’t feel right. The mission hadn’t felt right. He could only imagine the agent’s broken face, tears streaking through the blood, creating clean trails on an otherwise dirty face… He was nearly the same age as Eggsy…

“Mr. Unwin? Are you listening to me?”

“I apologize, ma’am. I’m afraid I need some rest.” Eggsy leaned forward slightly. “May I be dismissed? I rather fancy a shower.”

“Of course,” said Arthur, waving. “This mission is to be kept off the books, understand? At least until we have more information about the leaks.”

“Do you want me to report to the psychiatric department?”

“No, no need. They’ll want to know why you’re there, and I don’t want this to be official yet. You can report to medical, of course – get that little burn looked at – but you best hurry. You’ll need to be on the road for that gala soon.”

Eggsy started. He had forgotten all about the gala. “You still want me to go?”

“Is there a reason you shouldn’t?”

“I… Some rest might be… And therapy…”

Arthur’s lips twitched upward in a condescending smile. “Ah. I see. I forget, sometimes, that you come from a place unused to such work ethic.”

“Excuse me?” said Eggsy, dully. His emotions felt muted, like he couldn’t quite summon the correct emotion to respond to the situation. He might need to go to the psych ward regardless of Arthur’s pronouncement.

“Let me be clear, Gary Unwin,” said Arthur. “If it were up to me, you would not be employed at this institution. This is off the record, of course. But I’ve dealt with your type before. Lazy, arrogant, entitled. You believe because you had an upbringing in the estates that you deserve certain rights. Let me rid you of that notion right now. You will earn everything that you get here. I’ve seen the way you treat people, the way you make a mockery of this establishment. I won’t have it.”

Eggsy clutched the armrests of his chair. Ah. There were the correct emotions. Anger, bubbling beneath the surface. A dash of hurt, which Eggsy would never admit to. A dose of disappointment. But they were all still fizzing beneath his skin, which was feeling stretched too tight. He just felt… off.

“I don’t know how you’ve endeared yourself to some of the agents. Honestly, I have no desire to know, as I fear it might be illicit, and I would never want to suspect my superior agents of that. But I see you, Eggsy. And you won’t be getting away with any tomfoolery here. I have my eye on you. And I’m the one in power.”

“I’m the one in power,” said Dean, as he wrenched Eggsy’s arm back. “Hear me, boy?”

The similarity in tones startled Eggsy so badly that he simply stared at Arthur, mute.

Her mouth curled again. “Do you understand?”

“Earn my place here,” said Eggsy, stonily. “Got it.”

“Good,” said Arthur. “You’re dismissed. Get to medical and get to your next mission.”

Eggsy stood up, walked out of the room, and spent exactly seventeen minutes curled in the corner of his office, breathing himself through a panic attack and trying to shove away images of Dean. This was the first time he had ever had a panic attack. Images of Dean usually didn’t assail him this harshly, if ever.

Merlin had taught all of the agents how to deal with a panic attack, because PTSD was sometimes par with the job. He stuck his head between his knees and concentrated on his breathing, because occasionally panic attacks made people lose breath so badly that they passed out. He breathed in, out, in, out, in out, swore lowly, kept trying to breathe, realized it wasn’t working, swore some more, and then grounded himself by looking at Daisy’s drawings until the crippling feeling of anxiety had passed.

Eggsy knew, with a sinking feeling, that the panic attack was because of the combination of events that had happened today. It might happen again if he didn’t be proactive.

Or… said a treacherous voice in his head. Or… it could be a fluke. Best not to worry, right, mate?

Right, he thought, and went to medical to get his iron burn checked.

It wasn’t that bad, the nurse let him know as she spread a clear-looking gel with little beads in it over his burn. It reminded him of the exfoliating cream that his mother used sometimes in the winter, when Dean gave her enough money to buy some, that is. He knew it wasn’t quite the right thing to use on burns, but the nurse knew what she was doing, because within minutes, the burn lost its angry-red color and looked puckered and old.

She handed him a bottle of the gel. “Put this on every morning. You need to spread it over all the affected area, and then let it settle in and heal. You can put a bandage over it, but with this medication, it’s best just to let it air out.”

She affixed a bandage over it for the moment. “What’s your name?” asked Eggsy. Things felt like it was coming through molasses. He wasn’t sure why he was still feeling like he was an alien in his own skin, like the world was moving two beats too slowly.

She smiled at him, looking pleased. She must not get asked her name often. “I’m Ruby,” she said.

“Love your accent,” said Eggsy. “States?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m from Boise.”

“Boise? Where’s that?”

“It’s in Idaho.”

“Idaho?”

“Yes, it’s one of the fifty states.”

“I’m sorry, who names a state Idaho? It sounds like –”

“Yes, I know what it sounds like,” said Ruby, her lips twitching. “I don’t control where I come from.”

“I hear ya, mate,” said Eggsy, slapping her congenially on the shoulder. “If it makes you feel any better, I grew up in the estates.”

“Estates?”

“Yeah. It’s what Americans would call the projects, I think? I dunno. I dunno the comparison. I ain’t American.”

Ruby smiled and got out her stethoscope. “Do you have any other ailments?”

Yes. No. Eggsy felt like his skin was stretched over his muscles wrong, like his face was on backwards, like he could feel every pore drilled into the top layer of his skin. The lights were too bright. The room was too warm.

“Nah, luv, I’m good,” he said, hopping down from the paper-covered table. “You got anything else for me?”

“I can run you through a couple of tests,” she said, waving her stethoscope. “But if the burn is the only thing you came here for, I can let you go.”

“Cheers,” said Eggsy, grinning. “You have a nice night, okay, Ruby?”

“Sure,” said Ruby, already shuffling through some doctor-y looking paperwork. “And you take care with that burn, all right?”

“Yeah.”

Eggsy walked out of the room. He had to concentrate to make sure that each foot went in front of the other and that he didn’t trip. He felt itchy. He felt wrong.

He thought he might be in minor shock. Or perhaps his mind was just a little wonky. Either way, he had a mission he needed to go to. He needed to focus.

Somehow, someway, his feet led him to Harry’s office. Eggsy loved Harry’s work office, not even because it was filled with cool things (Harry had decorated his office with James Bond posters mostly because, as Harry once told him with a cool smile, it drove Merlin insane), but because Harry was there.

He knocked the door, his fist practically vibrating. He didn’t have long. He needed to leave for his mission in twenty minutes and he needed to change into another suit. He needed to talk to Harry. He felt wrong.

“Come in,” Harry called, and Eggsy shouldered his way into the room.

Kay was sitting in Harry’s office, his tie undone with a glass of scotch in front of him. Harry, too, had a glass in his hand and was swirling it around, almost thoughtlessly (if Harry did anything thoughtlessly). They both looked relaxed, which made sense – it was after hours. Eggsy was surprised Harry was even in his office, except for the fact that Harry was a workaholic (not that Harry would admit it).

“Eggsy,” said Harry, smiling. “What brings you here?”

“Leaving for a mission soon, figured I’d come and bug you while I still had a few moments,” said Eggsy, giving what felt like his approximation of a smile. It felt like he was pulling his lips back over his teeth, but Harry and Kay didn’t seem to notice. They didn’t even comment on his ruined jacket.

“Have a seat,” said Harry. Eggsy sat down in the chair, making sure not to slouch. He took the offered glass from Harry and sipped at the scotch, carefully not making a face at the smoky, strong flavor.

“What type of scotch is this?” asked Eggsy, setting it on the desk. Normal – act normal, Eggsy, don’t let on.

“Lagavulin,” said Harry. “Don’t drink it like a shot, it’ll burn far too much. Swirl it around the glass. It lets it breathe. There, like that. Then take a smell of it. It enhances the experience and flavor. Take a small sip, enough to coat your tongue, but don’t overwhelm your taste buds or else it’ll burn. There you go. And then take reasonable sips after. That’s how you drink a glass of scotch.”

“Is Lagavulin a posh drink, then?” asked Eggsy, swirling his glass a little more.

“The bottle is a pretty penny, depending on where you get it, but it’s not as expensive as some bottles,” said Kay. “Harry just prefers it.”

“It’s quite delicious,” said Harry.

Eggsy nodded. He disagreed, but then again, he tended to favor beer. And anything cheap. He wasn’t complaining; cheap tastes were better than having to shell out a hundred bucks for one bottle of booze. He just couldn’t understand people sometimes – alcohol was alcohol and the end result was the same, so why bother breaking the bank for it?

“You said you were going off on a mission?” asked Kay, suddenly.

“Yes,” said Eggsy. “Going to be talking to the bird from my first honeypot mission. Remember? The one with her feet behind her head.”

Kay smiled vaguely. “Why is your suit jacket burnt, then, if you’re about to go on a mission?”

Harry didn’t even blink, simply sipping his scotch and fixing his eyes on Eggsy.

“I’m fresh off a mission,” said Eggsy. Their placid expressions felt trapping, but Eggsy wasn’t sure how he was being cornered.

“Really? Usually agents are given an eight-hour break between missions,” said Kay. “Usually much longer when injured. It’s protocol.”

“And I was unaware you were gone on a mission today,” said Harry. “Merlin mentioned that you were going on one tonight, but said nothing about this afternoon.”

Eggsy’s world sharpened, just a little. He gave a vague smile identical to the ones Kay and Harry were wearing. He was a spy, too. “Interesting,” he said, calmly. “I thought you knew everything, Harry.”

Harry quirked a smile, like he knew what Eggsy was doing. “I’m not omniscient, I’m afraid.”

“Too bad,” said Eggsy. “With that, however, I better be off. Get a better suit jacket. Go on a mission. Have a nice night, yeah?”

He stood up, pretending he didn’t see the quick exchange of expressions between Harry and Kay. They were clearly going to talk about him when he left. They must’ve noticed he was acting a bit off, too. Fuck, it had been a bad idea to pop his head in there.

Or maybe not. His skin was settling, and things were sharpening up. He felt better. Still not great, like he was still a second behind, but better than before. He could do this mission.

He kept repeating that mantra as he shrugged into an extra suit jacket (kept in the locker room). He didn’t have time for a full shower, but he took a rag and wiped off his face and under his arms. He selected a new tie – black and silver stripped – and did a quick Windsor knot. It looked sharp against the pale blue of his new, crisp dress shirt. He changed into a plain black suit. He had a nice downy grey suit, but it wouldn’t go quite right with the pale blue.

Then he ran some product through his hair. It still looked a little mussed, but he figured Diane would go for that. Now it was like autopilot: sliding weapons into his jacket, his gun holster, his shoes.

Roxy was coming into the locker room as he was finishing up. “Hello, Eggsy,” she said.

Eggsy hadn’t seen her in quite a while. She had been undercover for the past three weeks. She had colored her hair, so instead of the light brown it normally was she had it dirty blonde with platinum highlights. She looked rather tired, with large bags under her eyes, but she smiled all the same.

“Nice hair,” grinned Eggsy. “You wanna grab a pint after my mission? Hopefully shouldn’t take all night.”

“Raincheque,” said Roxy. “I’ve got a date tonight. Tomorrow?”

“Ohhh,” said Eggsy, bumping elbows with Roxy like they were sharing a secret. “Some hot number, Roxy?”

“He’s a doctor,” she said, grinning. “Met him on my last mission. He thinks I’m a flight attendant.”

“Explains all the travel. How’d you meet?”

“I was casing out a coffee shop and he happened to be there. He’s only in London for tonight, though. He normally lives in Wales. That’s where I was for my mission.”

“Still, a doctor,” said Eggsy. “What kind?”

Roxy paused. “Don’t laugh. He’s a podiatrist.”

Eggsy laughed.

“Damn it,” sighed Roxy. “He’s still a doctor.”

“A foot doctor.”

“Hey, at least I have the balls to go for a civilian.”

“I fuck civilians all the time,” said Eggsy without missing a beat.

“No, I mean dating!”

“Rox,” said Eggsy, grinning. “I get it. I’m happy for you. Have a good time on your date, yeah? If you give him a blow job makes sure he eats you out, yeah?”

“You’re perverse,” said Roxy, whacking him on the arm. She looked like she didn’t want to be amused by his antics.

“Sorry luv,” said Eggsy. “Just making sure my friend has the best orgasms.”

“Stop talking.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Eggsy, teasingly crowding her up against the locker. He tickled her sides, prompting her to hide a laugh and backhand him. They startled grappling, teasing, and ended up with Eggsy flat on his back, staring up his ceiling, pretending that he had let her win the fight. (Roxy was a beast, though, there was no winning against her).

Roxy shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m admitting this,” she said as she helped him up, “but I think I may have actually missed you on my mission.”

“You don’t say,” said Eggsy, sitting his arse down on the bench. His glasses beeped, letting him know his ride was there, but he ignored it. Roxy never said sentimental shit like that. “You okay, Rox?”

Her smile faded, just a tad. “Just a little worried about this date. I’ve become so used to putting on a different face in the field that I’m worried I won’t be myself.”

“Ah,” Eggsy scratched his ear, considering that. “Just say what feels right, yeah? It don’t matter if you’re you or someone else as long as you feel happy and it works for you. If this guy has even a fraction of a brain, he’ll know that you’re out of his league and that he needs to do everything possible to keep you.”

“What if I like him?”

And that was when Eggsy knew that she was really worried, because if Roxy was throwing out what-ifs, then she was stressing hardcore.

“Then you like him,” said Eggsy. “And you go out on a second date. Hopefully, that means getting eaten out for a second time.” He manfully took the slap that Roxy bestowed upon his arm before continuing, “Mate, I wouldn’t worry about this. If things go well, they go well. And you’ll keep going out with him.”

“That’s the problem. What if we hit it off? I can’t sacrifice my career for him. I don’t want children.”

“Hello,” said Eggsy, a little amused. “This is a first date. If you’re already thinking about children, you may have fantasized about the size of his dick a little too much, yeah? Take it a step at a time. Start freaking out around the fifth date. That’s when you know that things might go farther.”

Roxy sighed. She didn’t look reassured. “Okay.”

“Listen,” said Eggsy. “If it goes well, you can call me and freak out. I’m sure I’ll be up all night anyway. And if it doesn’t go well? Well, I’ll be up all night. You can call me and freak out. Then we can get together after my mission and get drunk. We both need it.”

“Okay,” said Roxy, and the promise of alcohol seemed to finally cure her of her doubts. Her face smoothed out. Then she hit him on the arm again. “Tell anyone about this conversation, Eggsy Unwin…”

“I’ll get my balls chopped off, I’m sure,” said Eggsy, shrugging. “I got you.”

His glasses beeped again. “I gotta get going. Let me know how it goes, yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Roxy. “Get outta here.”

Eggsy winked and stood up, stretching. He headed down to the carpark, thankfully not meeting anyone on the way. He still felt out of sorts, and the interaction with Roxy had taken it out of him.

He slid into the black car idling in the carpark. Jeeves, in the front, looked in the rearview mirror. “All right, sir?” he said, quietly.

“Doing fine, Jeeves,” he replied.

“You looked a little banged up earlier,” said Jeeves. He sounded hesitant, like he wasn’t sure if he should say anything.

“All healed now,” lied Eggsy. “Medical is quite lovely.”

“So I’ve heard,” said Jeeves, the regular dryness returning to his tone. “To the gala?”

“I’ll go wherever you want to take me.”

“The gala, then.”

Eggsy grinned into the rearview mirror so Jeeves would see. “Thanks, bruv.”

He leaned back and looked out the window, thoughtful.

He could understand why Roxy was so freaked out about dating. It was hard to maintain a family, a relationship, while being a secret spy agent. What sorts of excuses could you use to justify why you were gone so often?

For Eggsy, it was slightly easier. It was hard to explain to his friends why he needed to leave suddenly in the middle of drinking at the pub, but they demanded no explanation and, while they knew something was slightly off, Eggsy figured they suspected drugs were the answer. Wouldn’t be the first time he was dealing. He was safe on that front.

And his mother…

Well, just yesterday Eggsy had discovered a half-drunk bottle of tequila under his mother’s bed while he was straightening up. He had also found a nearly-consumed bottle of cough syrup. Eggsy had been a drug dealer, once; he knew exactly what that meant, especially when his mum hadn’t been sick in months.

Eggsy rested his forehead against the cool glass of the window. His mum was so consumed with getting drunk or getting high that she didn’t give much thought to Eggsy leaving the house around three in the morning. She had only asked where he was going once, when they had first moved into his flat and her eyes had been a bit clearer.

He had told her that a friend needed his help. She accepted the excuse easily, and maybe even believed him. But after a while of living at his flat, her eyes began to dull and become bloodshot.

Eggsy wasn’t sure what it was. Why did she feel the need to do this? Was it Dean?

Eggsy’s thoughts were halted when the car slid smoothly to a halt in front of a posh looking hotel, a stark contrast to the one earlier. “We’re here, sir,” said Jeeves.

“Excellent,” said Eggsy. “Don’t wait up for me, Jeeves.”

“Of course,” said Jeeves, though Eggsy knew he would loiter in the carpark until notified otherwise.

That ride had been exactly what Eggsy needed: his skin had settled, and though he was still out of sorts a bit, he felt like he could tackle this night.

Eggsy left the cab and strolled up to the front door. There were some press there, though they weren’t interested in the unknown man walking with a cocksure grin up to the door. The doormen opened up the doors for him and he sauntered in, his mask already firmly in place.

He was directed to a ballroom, which was done up in glittering strings of crystal. In the entrance, a tasteful board proclaimed the celebration topic: some donor, a rich billionaire, had given an exorbitant amount of money to the London police department. Eggsy could see police officers dotted throughout the crowd, mostly because they looked uncomfortable in the formal clothes.

He could also see businessmen, schmoozing up to the high class of society. This seemed to be the place to be, Eggsy mused as he snagged a glass of champagne from a nearby tray. How wonderful that the rich celebrate themselves.

He scanned the room. Half of the room contained tables with silky-looking tablecloths, while the other half was cleared for networking. “Do you have eyes on your target yet?” Salomea said in his ear. He made a noise of negation. He couldn’t see Diane anywhere –

“Paul?”

He turned, not having to fake a surprised blink. “Diane?”

Diane’s face split into a huge grin. “Wow, I thought it was you!”

Her Cockney accent was scrubbed from her voice. She was wearing a glittering green dress that dipped so low that Eggsy feared – or hoped – her breasts would pop out of the bodice. Her wild orange hair must have had a gallon of product in it, and it was pulled back into a semi-sleek bun. Eggsy could see a few flyaway hairs sticking up here and there. She had on red lipstick that clashed a little with her hair, but was probably meant to make a statement.

“This is a beautiful,” Eggsy paused, letting his eyes linger, “coincidence. I didn’t expect to see many people I knew here.” He held out his arm, and with a happy grin, Diane slid into it, hugging him back.

“Didn’t expect to see you either,” she said. “I forgot about how posh you are.”

Across the room, the orchestra struck up a song. A few couples wandered out to the dance floor.

“Oh,” said Diane. “Would you like to dance? I love dancing.”

“Of course,” said Eggsy. She led him out on the floor – really, it should’ve been Eggsy leading, but who was he to stop her? – and he gathered her in his arms.

Etiquette lessons were included in the training process, but a very abridged version. It was assumed that, if they had been proposed for the Kingsmen, they already had an excellent grasp on decorum in high society. Charlie and the others had treated those classes like a joke. Eggsy had barely even passed, and had been one of the few times he had genuinely thought he would be eliminated.

Part of those lessons were dancing. Eggsy was passable at it, so he concentrated at swinging Diane around. It wasn’t graceful enough to attract an impressed audience, but he didn’t embarrass himself, thank God. Diane seemed to be enjoying herself.

For a moment, as he whirled Diane around in a modest spin, he appreciated the circumstances: here were two people, both clearly from the wrong side of the tracks, putting on a face for the high society of London. They were two performers, two fakers, two people trying to fit in where they weren’t wanted. Even though Diane didn’t know he was pretending, and would never know it, Eggsy couldn’t help but to be thankful for her presence. It made him feel like maybe, just maybe, he did have a place there.

Diane scooted closer to him, even though the song was a quicker tune and didn’t call for closeness like that. Eggsy slid his hands up her forearms, clutching the meat of her biceps, and nearly hugged her to him.

For that moment, he maybe even felt some genuine emotion for this gap-toothed girl, even though she was just a mark. Even though it was dangerous to feel that way for a honeypot.

And then the song ended, and Eggsy was jolted out of his thoughts. Diane ended up in his arms, looking glowingly up at him. She had two spots of pink on her cheeks. “That was lovely,” she said.

Eggsy tightened his grip on her arms. He knew how to play this. “You’re lovely,” he muttered, like a secret, like she was forcing it from him.

Her smile grew wider, more bashful. Eggsy tried not to stare at the gap in her teeth too much. “I want to introduce you to my friends,” she said suddenly. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all.”

He followed Diane across the ballroom, bypassing men in tuxedos and women in skin-tight “tasteful” dresses. They reached a table where several floozy-looking girls were tittering over flutes of champagne. As they approached, the girls put down their glasses and eyed Eggsy like he was a piece of meat.

“Beatrice, Tallulah, Mary. This is Paul Smith,” Diane said, pulling Eggsy forward with a flourish.

“Charmed,” said Eggsy, kissing the nearest girl’s hand.

All three girls looked shocked. They weren’t subtle about looking Eggsy up and down before giving Diane a disbelieving look. Diane smiled, sharkishly, before sneaking a possessive arm around Eggsy’s waist. Eggsy didn’t remove it, which made the girls’ eyes go wide.

“Wonderful to meet you, Paul,” said the nearest girl, who recovered first. “How is it that you know Diane?”

“Oh,” said Eggsy, smiling. “I’m afraid I was clumsy and spilled a drink on her during a social event. Next thing I knew, we had had a splendid conversation.”

Eggsy snickered in his mind. Conversation. Yeah, that’s what really stood out about that night. Salomea, like she read his mind, also chuckled.

“Paul is in business,” said Diane, now resting her other hand on his arm. Eggsy felt a little trapped, but it was clear she was showing off her eye-candy to her now-jealous friends.

“Which business?” asked one of them.

“Technology,” said Eggsy, giving his voice an arrogant, lofty lift. “It’s getting to be quite lucrative.”

The girls looked grudgingly impressed, except for one. “Oh, you’re not old money, then?”

“I am. My family has worked with the Crown for ages. But I wanted to branch out, try something new.”

Now all the girls were looking surly. Diane looked like she was five seconds away from shitting herself with pride.

“If you’ll excuse us, girls,” said Diane, her voice thick with triumph, “I’m going to show Paul around a bit. Introduce him to my brother.”

Diane tugged him away before he could properly say goodbye. She nearly dragged him across the floor. “I want to show you off… sorry, Paul, I meant, I want to introduce you to my brother before he leaves. His business requires odd hours of him, so I want to grab him before he leaves.”

“What’s his business?” asked Eggsy, casually.

Diane didn’t even hesitate. “He’s in technology too, but sometimes the systems go down late at night and he’s the only one who can fix them.”

“Hate it when that happens,” said Eggsy. “I thank God I’m not one of the ones who has to fix those problems.”

Diane flashed him a smile, but Eggsy caught the relief lurking behind those eyes. If he hadn’t known she was lying before, that would have confirmed it. She was glad that he wasn’t questioning the excuse.

She knew all about her brother’s activities.

Diane slowed to a respectful trot, before stopping altogether in front of a group of men. At Diane’s presence, they separated a little, allowing her a small break in the circle to fill in.

“Timothy.”

A man glanced at Diane. Instantly, every alarm bell in Eggsy’s head started clanging. This man was dangerous. He was dangerous.

He had slicked back, jet black hair. It was clearly dyed, since he had a smattering of freckles across his face. Probably a natural redhead like Diane. But the black went well with his paler complexion, making him look dark and foreboding. He had a sharp, intelligent grin, and pale, milky blue eyes.

He extended a hand to Eggsy. Eggsy reached out and gripped it. His handshake was tight, bordering on aggressive. He had all the callouses one associates with handling weaponry regularly. “Hello,” he said, his voice surprisingly deep and melodious. Letting go of his hand, Eggsy felt the brush of sharp, manicured nails against the meat of his palm.

“Pleasure to meet you,” said Eggsy, keeping his tone even.

“Timothy, this is Paul,” said Diane, nearly bouncing on her feet. “Paul is… Paul’s a friend.”

Every man in the circle noticed the hesitation and rightly assumed what she meant by that. Timothy’s eyes went a shade cooler.

“Indeed,” he said, sizing Eggsy up. Eggsy did the same to Timothy. Timothy, under his forgettable black suit (not bespoke), was clearly well-muscled and built.

Dangerous.

He had the movements of a graceful predator. But Eggsy wouldn’t exactly call the movements cat-like, because they were too sharp, too deliberate. Perhaps the grace of a swan with the bite of a snake, if he was poetic about it. This, undeniably, was a hitman, an assassin. A professional killer. Not a spy.

Diane was oblivious to any tension. “Timothy, Paul is in the technology business as well.”

“Are you?” said Timothy, clearly uninterested in this tidbit. “How spectacular.”

Eggsy let a practiced, arrogant smile slide across his face, like he thought his shit smelled like roses. “Indeed. I find technology fascinating.”

Salomea snorted in his ear.

“Technology is wonderful. Ah, but where are my manners. I should introduce my compatriots here.” Timothy went around the circle, naming each man and their occupation. Eggsy obediently shook hands.

Of them, only one struck him as a potential hitman colleague. Named Bruce, he nearly crushed Eggsy’s hand when he shook it, and Bruce’s eyes never left Eggsy’s face the entire time he was there.

Diane began to chat idly with one of the other men, clearly leaving Eggsy to have a tȇte-à-tȇte with Timothy.

“So,” said Eggsy, taking a polished sip of his champagne, “Diane never mentioned how she came to clinch an invite to this delightful soiree.”

“The man who donated the money is a beloved friend of mine. I was so glad to hear he decided to fund the police department.”

Eggsy tilted his head. “It’s wonderful to have more support to the sector that protects our citizens, no? Makes me feel safer at home.”

“Really,” said Timothy. He smiled, and Eggsy had the feeling that Timothy was laughing at him. “I’m happy you feel that way.”

Eggsy heard the threat for what it was, but he kept a vapid smile on his face all the same. “I only wish there were more generous donators who focused on our valiant protectors.”

Eggsy hated policemen, which probably meant he was in the wrong profession. Whenever someone brought up the police, all he could think about was the time that an officer threw him to the ground and roughly searched him for illicit materials. One of many times, really – Eggsy had had a lot of bad encounters with the police, and had been arrested his fair share of times.

He could feel the moment when Timothy deemed him a non-threat and lost interest in him. “Of course,” said Timothy. “If you’ll excuse me? I see a friend I simply have to greet.”

And then, sliding off in one of the most threatening manners Eggsy had ever seen, Timothy was gone.

Diane slid an arm through his. “Done chatting?” she said, her eyes glittering. “Is there anyone else you want to talk to? Because…” she leaned to whisper in his ear, “I can think of better things we can be doing, if you want.”

Eggsy finished his champagne. “Well,” he said as Salomea sighed in his ear, “I certainly can’t say no to that.”

Later that night, Eggsy huddled in the bathroom, his mobile pressed to his ear. “It went well then, Rox? Ah, I’m so glad to hear that. What was that? Oh, glad to hear that as well, Roxy. If a man doesn’t reciprocate oral sex, you know there’s something… What? What am I doing right now? Oh, yeah, I got pressured into sleeping with this girl a second time. Oh, no, not someone I like, a mark… Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, the feet-behind-the-head one. But you can’t really make fun of me for that anymore, considering your doctor has to have a foot fetish… What? He doesn’t? What sort of podiatrist doesn’t have a foot fetish?”

There was a knock on the door. “Paul?”

“Fuck, gotta go, bye.” He opened the door, still holding his mobile. Diane blinked blearily up at him, wrapped in one of the sheets from the bed.

“What were you doing?”

“A friend called, going through a crisis,” he said, waving the phone. “Didn’t want to wake you, dear.”

“Is she okay now?”

“He. And yes, he’s fine. He was being overdramatic.”

Diane’s face split into a relieved smile. “Oh. Okay. Wanna take a shower together?”

Eggsy halfway suspected that he had a cracked rib from one of the new positions they had tried, and he was definitely not feeling up to another round. He also had a convenient excuse. “Can’t get the bandage wet, love,” he said, patting his chest. “Shame that the computer system burned me like that.”

“Oh. We’ll just do another round in the bed, then! Or… have you tried having sex on a kitchen counter before? I’ve never done, but I hear it’s sexy…”

Eggsy sobbed a little in his head.

The debrief the next day was awkward, as Arthur grilled him on his decision to engage in sexual relations during a mission that didn’t require it.

“I figured I didn’t want to jeopardize my rapport with her,” said Eggsy, defensively.

“Now she expects more than a one night stand,” said Arthur, clicking her pen rapidly.

“She doesn’t even have my number. I didn’t give it to her and she didn’t ask.”

“There’s still some sort of expectation.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy. “Can I go to sleep now? I didn’t get much during the mission, and I’m about to collapse here.”

Arthur looked like she was about to spit nails. “We have another mission for you. You’ll need to leave at noon,” she said, pulling out another folder.

Noon? Eggsy checked his watch. It was already ten o’clock. He wouldn’t have much time for a nap, let alone a moment to get back to the flat and change and shower properly.

Salomea, since the handler had to be present during the debriefing, coughed quietly. “Agents are given at least eight hours rest after a successful mission, unless there are emergency measures enacted. This is to ensure that the agents are mentally prepared for their next missions. It’s protocol.”

Arthur’s face turned stony. “This mission is important.”

“Another agent can handle it,” said Salomea, still quietly.

Salomea was brilliant – smart, quick, great at assessing options and making decisions. But she was terrible at confrontation. It scared her. That was why she had never become a field agent.

In that moment, Eggsy had never seen someone be braver. He could see her shoulders shaking slightly and her hands wringing the hem of her shirt, her fingers digging into the fabric. Salomea, he knew, rarely went against the status quo and was easily intimidated.

Arthur assessed Salomea for long seconds. “Thank you, handler. You’re dismissed.”

For a moment, Eggsy thought that Salomea wouldn’t move. Then she stood up, her knees looking wobbly. She shoot Eggsy a comforting look before leaving the room.

“Right,” said Arthur. “Here’s the mission for this afternoon. It’s another capture mission.”

Eggsy’s mouth dropped open. “I’m not going on another mission like that without rest,” he said, firmly. Eggsy may have a death wish on certain days, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew he wasn’t mentally prepared. There was a reason these sorts of missions only came about every six months, at earliest, and they had already thrown that rule out once the day before.

“This is time sensitive.”

“Then contact Harry. He’s quite punctual.”

Arthur’s mouth tightened. Harry was famous for strolling in late to… well, everything.

“I do not appreciate your tone.”

“I’m sorry you don’t appreciate it,” said Eggsy, carefully. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to report to medical, and then go home. I’ll be in tomorrow.”

Arthur leaned back in her chair. “I’ll count today as a vacation day for you, then.”

Kingsmen were given few vacation days. It was the nature of their work, that they could be called in 24/7, so a vacation day was a godsend. Most agents hoarded them, and then went completely off the grid when they took them.

Eggsy grimaced. This was a fight he knew he wasn’t going to win. “No. No, that isn’t necessary. I’ll take the mission. Is Merlin handling me?”

“This is off the record. I’ll be your handler.”

Eggsy flipped open the folder. A face stared out at him, one he would be torturing in two hours. “Okay.”

The mission did not go well. Eggsy left from it with deep, purple-and-black welts on his back and three broken toes.

Worse, when he heaved his body into the car with Jeeves, he was hyperventilating. He couldn’t disassociate himself from the torture. He kept picturing the man’s face, going a putrid red, as he…

“Sir?” asked Jeeves, startled.

“M’fine,” gasped Eggsy. “Drive, please, drive.”

Jeeves, like the professional he was, started the car and began to drive toward the mansion. Eggsy laid down in the backseat, pretending he didn’t yip out loud at the pain from his back, and mentally walked himself through medical procedure:

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

“What can I do to help?” asked Jeeves, dryness completely absent from his voice.

“Talk to me,” said Eggsy, desperately. “I need to focus on something else.”

“My real name is Alfred, but I didn’t want any Batman jokes. So I ask everyone to call me Jeeves.”

That made Eggsy loose the rest of his breath in a wheezing laugh. “You’re shitting me! Bruv, that ain’t a bad name.”

“Alfred is a miserable name,” said Jeeves. He glanced in the rearview mirror. “And you won’t be telling anyone about it, will you?”

“Nah, I ain’t no snitch,” said Eggsy, his breathing beginning to come back now. “I’ll trade you secret for secret. My real name ain’t Eggsy.”

“No,” said Jeeves, sarcasm thickly coating his voice.

“Yeah. But mine’s worse. It’s Gary.”

“What’s wrong with Gary?”

“Bruv. Say it out loud.”

“Gary.”

“Yeah. That’s what’s fucking wrong with it. Doesn’t sound right. Do I look like a Gary?”

“Perhaps not,” admitted Jeeves.

Eggsy finally sat up, relieving the stinging in his back. Everything still felt wrong – his skin was on too tight again – but he could breathe, at least. “Thanks, bruv. That did the trick.”

“You’re welcome.” Jeeves eyed him in the mirror. “It was my understanding that agents didn’t go on so many consecutive missions like this.”

Eggsy’s mouth downturned. “That’s classified.”

“Of course,” said Jeeves.

“Sorry, mate.” Eggsy really did feel sorry. Jeeves – or Alfred, but Eggsy always respected what people wanted to be called – was a solid employee, and discreet, too. He deserved a lot of things.

Eggsy didn’t realized he had said that out loud until Jeeves said, very carefully, “We need to get you to the mansion as soon as possible. I do believe you’re going out of your head.”

“Thanks, Jeeves,” said Eggsy, putting his head between his knees. Keep breathing. “I’m not feeling too well.”

And then he puked, all over the back of Jeeves’s nice car.

He was barely cognizant as Jeeves hauled him out mere minutes later. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he realized that they shouldn’t have reached to the mansion that quickly – Jeeves must have sped – but he was too fucked up to fully understand in the moment.

All he was able to do was clutch at Jeeves’s sleeve as Jeeves wrapped a supporting arm around his waist, walking step-in-step with him as they tottering up the steps to the mansion. It was, blessedly, dark outside, so no one but Jeeves was around to see his shame as they opened the doors. Eggsy counted his blessings, because how embarrassing would it have been if –

“Ah, Mister Hart,” said Jeeves. “Eggsy here is injured and I’m afraid I’m getting a little too old to be carrying around agents. Could you please aid me?”

Fuck.

A moment later, a stronger arm wrapped around Eggsy’s other side. “I’ve got him,” said a smooth voice. Fuckity fuck, Eggsy couldn’t help but to lean into Harry’s warmth as Jeeves stepped away.

Eggsy lost track of Jeeves as Harry silently helped him to medical. Ruby was sitting at her desk, typing away at a laptop, when they arrived. She jumped up when she realized that Harry was supporting him and lent a hand as they got him into a bed.

“Twice in two days, Mr. Unwin?” she said, tugging at his shirt. “Are you able to take it off? I’ll cut it off, otherwise.”

“This is a bespoke jacket,” said Eggsy, appalled at the very thought. Then he laughed – out loud – because how posh did he sound then?

Harry didn’t say a word as he carefully helped Eggsy’s arms out of the jacket. They felt all tangled and wrong, but Harry expertly guided them through the material as Eggsy flopped his arms around.

Harry undid the buttons on his shirt, because Eggsy’s fingers were too clumsy to be of much use. “I’m really not that injured,” said Eggsy as Harry quickly popped open the buttons. “I’m just a little loopy, I think.”

“I’m sure,” said Harry.

Eggsy listed forward. “No, I’m serious. Just a little banged up. I think I’m just tired. And maybe in shock again.”

Harry said nothing, just pushed his shirt off his shoulders. Eggsy shivered in the cold air and thought, vaguely, that in any other capacity this would be an extremely erotic moment. Mostly, though, Eggsy was thinking about how nice it’d be to lay down.

Bad, bad idea, because he tried to lay down and forgot about his back and maybe screamed just a little and scared the shit out of Ruby and had Harry jumping and the whole situation was fucked up and he wanted to go home and sleep and why the fuck was he here –

“Calm down,” said Harry, putting his hand on Eggsy’s face. “Focus on me. Listen to my voice. Do you want to talk? Talking might help with the shock.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, scatterbrained. “What should I talk about?”

“Your mission? The gala must have gone quite wrong for this to have happened.”

“The gala? That was last night – Oh. Oh, yes, the gala. Crazy. Figured since it was just a bunch of posh high society blokes, there wouldn’t be much action, but let me tell you…” said Eggsy. “Let me tell you. There was action.”

Harry rocked back onto his feet, his eyes narrowed. “Really.”

“Really.” Eggsy wished that hadn’t come out half as lame and instead tilted his head and batted his eyes, hoping to distract Harry. But then he himself got distracted, because Ruby started doing something to his back and it stung like all hell.

Harry, like the secret superhero he was, sat next to Eggsy on the bed and nestled a little into his side, picking up his hand like it was the manliest thing to do. Eggsy was going to make a gentleman joke, he was, but it got lost somewhere in his head.

And, okay, maybe he was appreciating the moment a lot, too, and didn’t want to spoil it.

“What time is it?” he asked instead, because it had been dark outside and the last time he checked during his mission it had been two in the afternoon. He had lost a lot of time, somehow.

“It’s eleven at night,” said Harry, gently.

“What the fuck are you still doing here, bruv? Go get some sleep.”

“I’m fine,” said Harry placidly. “I was completing some paperwork I promised Merlin before the day’s end. I rather bit off more than I could chew.”

“You were here late last night, too.”

“That I was,” said Harry. “Job sometimes requires it, as you can see.”

“Yeah.” Eggsy didn’t have a good comeback for that one, even though Harry’s voice had a healthy dose of snark to it. “I’m glad you’re here.”

And then he was promptly horrified, because he didn’t mean to say that. At all. What the fuck, Eggsy?

But Harry just nudged his side slightly and said, “I’m glad you’re glad.”

Whatever Eggsy might have said to that – and he had no idea, he was literally worse than drunk right now because even drunk he didn’t say shit like that – Ruby interrupted. “Okay,” she said briskly. “I’ve fixed your back. There’s still bruising, but it was so tissue-deep that my medicines couldn’t take care of it. It’ll fade within a few days. Where else are you hurt?”

Harry plucked at the bandage on his front. “He looks hurt here.”

“No, that’s from yesterday,” said Ruby. “That’s his burn.”

“Burn?” said Harry.

“Not important,” muttered Eggsy. “’M fine,” said Eggsy as Ruby instructed him to lift his arms. That hurt, a little, as she palpitated a certain area. “Owww.”

“Up, Mr. Unwin. Considering the state you’re in, it might be best to give you a full work-up.”

“Nooo,” whined Eggsy, but he obediently went when Harry started corralling him toward the door with the x-ray machines.

Later, when Ruby was putting bandages on his back and Harry was thoughtfully undoing his shoes so that Ruby could fix his toes next, the door banged open, revealing a red-faced Arthur.

At first, Arthur didn’t see Harry, because Ruby was in the way and Harry was crouched down. So, when she said sharply, “Why aren’t you in debrief right now?”, she looked startled when Harry stood up, his eyebrows raised in a definitely unimpressed manner.

“When an agent is injured,” said Harry, his voice tooth-achingly polite, “they go to medical. I understand that you haven’t been employed here long, Victoria, but that should have been common sense.”

Eggsy slapped a hand over his mouth to stop any stray laughter. Harry was literally his hero. Literally.

“I… was unaware you were in the room, Galahad,” said Arthur, her lips pursed. “Very well. You’re right. I apologize. Maybe I speak to Mr. Unwin alone?”

“After he has been treated, of course you can converse with Eggsy,” said Harry. “Until then, however, I believe his health should come first.”

Arthur bobbed her head. She glanced at Eggsy and Eggsy could tell she was pissed off.

What Eggsy perhaps wasn’t expecting was that Harry was a little pissed off too.

“Would you like to have breakfast tomorrow morning?” he asked Eggsy, his usual calm face on. “I’m an excellent cook, and I want you to enjoy the eight hour break you’ve earned.”

“Oh,” said Eggsy, hearing the rebuke to Arthur in those words. “Uh. Yeah. I’d love to.”

“Jesus Christ, what did you do to your foot?”

Eggsy glanced down at Ruby, who had a horrified look on her face. His foot did look pretty bad. His first three toes were broken; they had been broken when the mark had got the jump on him (like the first mission, so similar, so similar), and had tried to extract information from Eggsy. He had whipped him with a belt for so long, but then he realized that wasn’t working, and took a hammer to his toes…

They were a mottled blue-and-black, and it was clear that they were shattered.

“You might have to have surgery on this,” said Ruby as she examined his toes. She got up and looked at the x-rays, shaking her head. “This isn’t good.”

“Ah, fuck,” said Eggsy.

“Fuck indeed,” said Harry, who was the best support system ever, seriously, what gentleman says things like that?

“I’m calling in a specialist,” said Ruby, picking up the phone. “We need a podiatrist here.”

Eggsy giggled a little immaturely. Harry shot him a look, and Eggsy censored himself.

“Is that really necessary?” said Arthur, who was still in the room. Jesus. Why was she still there?

Ruby didn’t even look at Arthur, instead saying coldly, “I wouldn’t be calling if I didn’t think it necessary.”

Arthur got that tight-lipped look about her again. She reached up and ran a hand over her French braid, looking a little pained.

“Is there something else you need?” asked Harry. “Perhaps your time would be better spent resting. Midnight is quite late for you to still be here.”

There was a stare-off between Harry and Arthur. Eggsy’s eyes bounced between the two; Harry, with his expressionless, calm face, clearly suggesting that to be polite and gentlemanly and not because he wanted her to fuck off (ha), and Arthur, her lips still pursed, clearly realizing that she was being dismissed.

“Well, we’ll debrief tomorrow morning, I suppose,” said Arthur. “As soon as you are able, Mr. Unwin, please come to my office.”

“Yessir,” said Eggsy.

Arthur gave another mighty frown and left the room.

The next few hours were a whirlwind. One moment Harry was looking at him warmly, the next, Ruby was pushing him down on the bed while a podiatrist – ha – was gently examining his foot. And then, suddenly, he was being prepped for surgery while he clutched Harry’s hand.

“If I die under anesthesia –”

“You’re not going to die. Your toes are being operated on.”

“Dammit, Harry, lemme be dramatic for half a second, okay?”

“Eggsy. If you die while your toes are being operated on, you will be forever known as the agent who died from toe-related causes.”

“You’re draining this situation of all its drama, Harry. I’m going in for surgery.”

“On your toes.”

Surgery.”

“On your toes.”

“Tell Daisy I love her.”

Harry smiled at Eggsy’s antics and patted his hand. “I will make sure to pass along that message. Anything words for your mother?”

“Nah, man, I’m just getting my toes operated on, no need to make this that serious.”

Across the room, Ruby gave in and laughed.

The surgery didn’t take long, and apparently – according to the podiatrist (ha) – there were no complications.

“It should be healed in two weeks,” said the surgeon.

“Two weeks? Don’t surgeries usually lay a person up for months?”

The podiatrist smiled indulgently at Eggsy. “We operated on your toes, sir. You should be walking around in a regular shoe in two weeks.”

“Damn,” said Eggsy. “I’m a lucky sonofabitch. I would’ve hated to be off work for longer than that.”

Harry, who was still being a superhero and was still there, patted Eggsy’s hand. “Perhaps it’s time for us to go home?”

“Hell yeah.”

Honestly, Eggsy was so tired – from the procedure, from fatigue from the mission – that he dozed against Harry’s shoulder as they travelled back to Savile Row. Eggsy had a ridiculous black boot that he was required to wear for the two weeks. Ruby had frowned when Eggsy left, muttering about further observation, but Eggsy wasn’t really having it. He wanted to sleep in his own bed.

Nix that. Harry’s house was closer, and that was where Harry was leading him anyway. He would sleep in Harry’s bed.

Wait. Guest room bed. Fuck, Freudian slip.

They didn’t actually get to sleep until about six in the morning, so it was unsurprising to Eggsy that he slept through most of the day. He woke up in the evening in time for Harry to make him some dinner – lasagna, yum – and then Eggsy proceeded to get very tired very quickly.

“I just slept a million hours,” yawned Eggsy, politely covering his mouth. “Why am I still tired?”

“Anesthesia will do that to you,” said Harry. “I always try to avoid it myself.”

Eggsy stumbled to bed and didn’t wake up again until five the next morning. He went down the kitchen to make some tea, and was soon joined by Harry, who was – surprise, surprise – an annoying morning person.

“Should swing by my flat. See about mum and Daisy,” said Eggsy.

“Excellent. I’ll come with you,” said Harry, sipping politely at the tea that Eggsy had made him. Eggsy thought maybe he grimaced a little, but when Eggsy raised his eyebrows, Harry simply smiled slightly.

“Are you sure, mate? My mum still doesn’t know I work with you now.”

“What better time to inform her,” said Harry, because Harry wasn’t scared of anything, least of all an angry mother.

Definitely a superhero.

Chapter Text

Harry and Eggsy both walked over to Eggsy’s flat (or stomped, really, in Eggsy’s case, since he had the boot on), as it was too close to require a taxi. Opening it up with the spare key (his regular keys were somewhere at headquarters), Eggsy slipped inside.

“My mum might still be sleeping,” said Eggsy quietly as he toed off his regular shoe and looked mournfully at the boot. “Lemme check.”

Harry, who was meticulously taking off his oxfords, simply nodded his assent.

Eggsy crept to his mother’s room and pushed open the cracked door, only to find –

Nothing. No Michelle.

“Weird,” said Eggsy. “Mum?”

No answer.

Eggsy trotted to Daisy’s room. She was sound asleep in her crib, drool slipping down her chin in a not-so-adorable way.

Harry, who had finally caught up, saw Eggsy’s concerned face. “What’s wrong?”

“I…”

Eggsy thought frantically. Where was his mother? Had she been abducted? Was something wrong?

“Let me make a call,” he said instead.

He stepped out of the room and into his own, pulling out his phone. It only took a few rings for Michelle to pick up. “Eggssssy! My son!”

“Mum,” said Eggsy, darkly. He would recognize that tone of voice anywhere. “Where are you?”

“’M at the pub, dearest. Where are you?”

“Home, now.”

“Oh, good. Daisy’s at home.”

“And you’re not. When the fuck did you head to the pub?”

“Last night! De – A friend called around midnight inviting me out. I thought I could sneak off, yeah? You was around to watch Daisy.”

“Mum. I ain’t been at home for three days now.”

“Oh, dear. Well, is Daisy okay?”

“Mum, are you fucking with me right now? It’s seven in the morning, what pub is possibly open?”

“Well, my friend managed to convince this manager to keep the bar open for us –”

“Shut the fuck up and get home, mum, I can’t believe this. I gotta go to work.”

“I’ll be home in a couple of hours, yeah? I’ll watch her then.”

“Mum –”

“Eggsy, I can’t leave right now, we’re having a good time!”

“Mum,” said Eggsy, his voice low and urgent. He checked the door to make sure it was locked behind him; it would be exactly like Harry to try and slip in to find out what was going on. Then he sat on the floor next to his bed, leaning against the bedpost, his eyes closed. “Mum. Please come home. I don’t want you out at the pub.”

“I can take care of Daisy later!”

“This ain’t about Daisy anymore, mum. I mean, maybe a little. But this is mostly about you. I don’t want you out there. Alcohol ain’t been good to you, and Dean ain’t been good to you, either.”

There was a long, extended pause. He could hear muffled laughter in the background, and the shattering of a glass. Then a small, “I know, baby, I know. I’ll try and fix things tomorrow, yeah?”

“No, mum, please. You always say stuff like that and you never fix anything. Start now? Come home. Please.”

“But, Eggsy, I’m out with friends. What would I tell them?”

“That you gotta look after your kids.”

There was a longer pause. The noise in the background faded a little, like Michelle had moved to a more private area. “I’m having a good time, Eggsy. I don’t have a lot of good times.”

“I know you don’t, mum, but please. Please. Please, for me. Come home.”

“You’ll be at work when I get there.”

“Have you been lonely? Do you need me around? Is that what this is about? I’ll quit my job. Give me the word and I’ll quit. You know I will, mum, because no job is worth having you stay out a second longer.”

“Eggsy…”

“Please.”

Michelle sighed. “I ain’t gonna ask you to quit your job, Eggsy. I got someone else who can take care of me, yeah?”

“Dean can’t take care of you. He hurts you, mum. He hurts you and he hurts me.”

“I know you don’t like Dean –”

“This ain’t about me disliking Dean, mum. This ain’t about me at all right now. I don’t care that he hurts me. I can deal with that every fucking day if it means that he don’t hurt you anymore. But I can’t protect you if you stay out, yeah? I can’t make sure Dean don’t do nothing. Please come back, mum. Please. My door is always open to you.”

There was another pause. Then, “I’m going to hang up, Eggsy. I can’t talk about this right now.”

“Are you coming home?”

“No, babe. I’ll fix this tomorrow, yeah?”

“Mum, please. Leave Dean. He ain’t good for you.”

“I love him.”

“No, you don’t.”

“What do you know about love?”

And then she hung up on him.

Eggsy swore, low and angry but mostly sad. He sat on the floor for another few minutes, breathing deep and collecting himself. He couldn’t believe it. He just couldn’t believe it.

His mum was right, though. He really didn’t know anything about love.

He lost his virginity at the young age of thirteen. There was a girl who lived on the other side of the estates that Eggsy would cross paths with occasionally. Once, when he and Ryan had been fucking around with some spray paint and an almost-empty wall, she turned the corner and saw them.

“Better be running,” she advised them, grinning a yellowed, snag-toothed smile. “Police ain’t liking that shit, and they’re in the neighborhood cause Mackie Potter been whaling on his kid again and someone phoned cause of the screams.”

He and Ryan gave a hurried thanks and rushed away, right in the nick of time too. Eggsy sneakily asked around about her - or as sneakily as a thirteen-year-old with a crush could, anyway. She was seventeen, a high school drop-out because she wanted to be an artist and thought education was tamping down on her inspiration. Everyone called her Sharpie because she had a habit of sniffing her namesake to get high, and she had bottle-dyed black hair reminiscent of said permanent marker.

She lived with her parents. Her dad did odd jobs while her mum spent her days sleeping off the previous night’s booze. She was scarily thin, and when they first had sex, Eggsy could feel the sharp knobs of her bones and the raised bumps of her spine.

Sharpie couldn’t be called pretty, not even close. She smoked too much – Eggsy privately thought that might be where the yellow teeth came from – but her voice was deep and husky and she had kind eyes. He adored the curve of her shoulder and the way his hands fit perfectly in the divot of her hips.

Eggsy didn’t last long his first time, but Sharpie didn’t seem to mind. She lit up a cigarette, threading her feet through his, and laughed. Eggsy still counted that, even now, as one of the most erotic moments of his life – the image of Sharpie, laughing her husky laugh, smoke curling around her face.

They had sex a few times after that, but their affair abruptly ended when Sharpie’s father found them in bed together. Eggsy had to pull on his trousers hurriedly and run while her father tried to locate his gun, yelling about “fucking hooligans.”

After that, Sharpie admitted that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to continue on their relationship, and told him he was too young for her anyway. Eggsy spent three weeks sulking over her, until Dean found out and sat down with him to have a parody-father chat with him about how he wasn’t ready for sex anyway, while Michelle flitted about in the background, nodding in tandem with Dean’s points. That rather ruined it for Eggsy.

His second partner was, oddly enough, Ryan.

Eggsy and Jamal had met in high school when they were both sixteen, when Eggsy had walked into the school’s bathroom and found four boys pushing Jamal around, saying some racist shit. Eggsy punched the biggest-looking one while Jamal ran away, and later, after Eggsy had peeled himself off the floor and gone to the nurses for the bloody nose, Eggsy found Jamal outside the running track. “You smoke, bruv?” Eggsy had asked, pretending he couldn’t see Jamal’s tears. When Jamal shook his head, Eggsy said, “We’ll be fixing that, then,” and their friendship was secured.

Ryan, though. He and Ryan had been mates forever. They had met outside of the nursery school that Eggsy had attended. Lee had insisted he go, and one day, when three-year-old Eggsy tottered outside for playtime, he had found Ryan crying outside the fence because he wanted to play too but his parents hadn’t put him in school. Eggsy threw some mud at him, thinking it would solve the problem, Ryan threw some back, and they had a grand time splashing about in a mud puddle until the minder came out and started yelling.

They became fast friends, Ryan appearing outside the fence every day, until Lee found out about their friendship. Instead of trying to separate them, he thought it a marvelous idea, and began to invite the young Ryan over for playdates.

They stuck together for years. It wasn’t surprising when, at fourteen, they wanted to experiment a little. Ryan was terrified – his father was terribly homophobic – but he thought that Eggsy, of all people, wouldn’t judge him.

Their first – and only – time was in Eggsy’s bed. They got undressed, so comfortable with each other that it wasn’t even remotely sexy, and then got under the covers.

“What do we do now?” asked Ryan.

“I dunno,” said Eggsy. “I ain’t never had gay sex before.”

“But I thought you wasn’t a virgin anymore?”

“With girls,” said Eggsy, rolling his eyes. “There’s a difference, cuz.”

Ryan snorted. “Dunno if that even should count, mate. You lost your virginity to a girl named Sharpie. Sharpie.”

“Oi,” said Eggsy, “at least I ain’t losing my virginity to a man named Eggsy. What’s worse, eh?”

“Oh fuck,” said Ryan. “I’m losing my virginity to a man named Eggsy. Fuck, what’m I thinking?”

They had a small argument about who would top. Ryan offered Eggsy three cigarettes if he would bottom, which Eggsy thought was a terrible deal. Then he suggested that maybe they should suck each other off first, to which Ryan said, “I don’t want your balls in my mouth, mate.”

It was around that point they abruptly realized that they didn’t actually want to have sex with each other. But they were already naked, so they both shrugged and Eggsy took the cigarette deal, figuring someone had to bottom and he might as well get something from it. They had some awkward, fumbling sex, but they both orgasmed, so they called it a success and promised to never talk about it again.

And Ryan never did give him those three cigarettes, that fucker.

After that, Eggsy had a string of men and women, none of which lasted longer than two months.

So. His mum was right. He knew nothing about love. But, he privately thought, even if he didn’t know shit, he still understood that what his mum and Dean had was a shadow of love. It mimicked it, but couldn’t quite be the real thing.

He sighed, shook off those thoughts, and stood up. Then he headed back to the sitting room, where Harry was politely lounging on the sofa.

“My mum got a call. She needs to head into work,” said Eggsy, shutting the door behind him. “She’s in there getting ready to go now. She didn’t hear us come in. She’s a bit frazzled, so I’ll reintroduce you guys some other time, yeah? I need to take Daisy with me today. Figure it’s okay, since I won’t be on missions for a bit.”

Harry tilted his head. “I’m not sure it’s wise to be bringing a child to a dangerous spy agency.”

“Yeah, well, I have more leeway in my job than my mum does.”

“I didn’t know your mother was working again.”

“Yeah, just got a new job. She’s eager to do well, so…”

“Interesting. Where?”

“Clothing shop.”

Harry blinked twice, a smile turning up the corners of his mouth. It was the kind of smile that said you’re-full-of-shit-but-I’m-too-fucking-polite-to-call-you-on-it. “A clothing shop. Really. Are you sure she doesn’t want to say hello?”

“Quite sure. Just give me a moment, I’m going to collect Daisy’s things.”

It wasn’t running away, Eggsy told himself, it was a tactical retreat. He slid into Daisy’s room. Grabbing her nappy bag, he threw some toys in it – mostly the toys the techs had got her, just in case they babysat her again – and some other bits and bobs. He gently woke Daisy up. She was a little grumpy, but seemed genuinely glad to see him. “Eggy!” she said, smacking his face a few times.

Eggsy walked into the sitting room. Harry was sitting exactly where Eggsy had left him, in the exact same position, but Eggsy had no illusions. He knew that Harry had peeked into the room and discovered not only no Michelle, but a room clearly intended for a twenty-four-year-old male. After all, Eggsy couldn’t exactly hide that it was his, yeah?

Harry, however, was playing the gentleman, as per usual. He even took Daisy’s bag from Eggsy as they headed toward Savile Row.

“Good morning,” said Dagonet as they entered the shop. “I see you have a lovely addition again, Eggsy.”

“She’s a bird magnet,” said Eggsy, grinning. “It’d be a waste not to bring her.”

Harry followed Eggsy all the way to his office in the mansion, where he dropped off the nappy bag. He chucked Daisy under her chin – Harry was a little awkward around children, but he really tried – and then turned to Eggsy.

“I wouldn’t keep bringing her in,” he cautioned. “Once or twice is fine… But if there’s a leak somewhere, then you could be putting her in danger.”

“If there’s a leak, then they already probably know about her,” said Eggsy. “I’m going to try and arrange some daycare, though. With mum working now, it’d be best to get her somewhere we know someone’ll be watching.”

Harry tilted his head politely. “I suppose the problems caused by your mother… working, could certainly be worse.”

Eggsy smiled vapidly at Harry. “Don’t suppose you have any daycare recommendations?”

“Ask Gawain. He has six children.”

“He has – What?”

“Yes. They’re all older now, but I would quiz him to see what he used to do.”

Eggsy shook his head. No wonder Gawain had been a saint with her. But six? Eggsy could barely take Daisy.

Harry eventually left, leaving Eggsy to set up shop in his office. He made sure the carpet was clean (he nicked the vacuum from the cleaning lady’s office, even though she whacked him a couple of times with a broom for it). Then he spread out Daisy’s toys. He knew it would occupy her only for so long, but he wanted her in his sight.

About halfway through the morning he ended up lying on the floor with her, filling out paperwork while Daisy built an unsteady block tower on his back (still bruised, but not enough that it was hurting him). She would giggle whenever it would fall over or when Eggsy would move enough that it would shift.

There was a firm single knock on his door, before it opened without Eggsy’s permission. The first thing Eggsy saw were those killer four-inch heels that still looked like potential weapons just waiting to gouge out an eye. Then he looked all the way up, taking in the pea-green pantsuit, the small yellow stain on one sleeve that he assumed was mustard, before locking eyes with his guest. Arthur stared down at him, both eyebrows raised. Eggsy, his face heating, scrambled up, knocking the blocks off of his back and causing Daisy to shout in alarm.

“Ma’am,” he said, trying to maneuver his foot for easier standing.

“I believe I told you to debrief after your eight-hour break.”

“Oh,” he said. “That. I had to undergo foot surgery, and then I spent most the day and night sleeping it off –”

“Convenient,” she said, coldly. “And your excuse for this morning?”

Any smile he was forcing on his face was now completely evaporated. “I’ve got Daisy with me today.” He gestured at Daisy who was still gripping the blocks, waiting for Eggsy to get back down on the floor with her. Daisy looked a little anxious, which Eggsy wasn’t sure was because of the startle from him standing up or because of the mood of the room. “You also watched the whole mission yourself. I thought…”

“We need to debrief. As I have been told numerous times, protocol is extremely important around here.” Arthur’s red lips twisted in what looked like the mockery of a smile, clearly bitter about Harry telling her off. “Be in my office in ten minutes.”

“All right,” said Eggsy, staunchly. “But I’m bringing Daisy with.”

Arthur looked like she was about to argue, but she blew out an impatient breath instead. “Very well. Where is her mother at, anyway?”

“Working,” said Eggsy. “It was an emergency or something. I figured I wouldn’t have any missions on account of my foot, so…”

“Never assume,” said Arthur. “We can still send you out on reconnaissance work.”

“Right,” said Eggsy. He gritted his teeth and ordered his authority issues to simmer down. “Of course.”

“Ten minutes,” she repeated, before slipping out.

Eggsy gathered up the necessary supplies – Daisy’s stuffed parrot, in case she started crying during the debrief, some diapers in case of an emergency – before he made his way to Arthur’s office. He didn’t meet anyone on the way. He thought, briefly, about dropping Daisy off with one of the techs, but he was feeling vindictive, like he wanted to tease Arthur with the attention-demanding, unruly near three-year-old.

Eggsy shook his head. His authority issues.

He knocked on the office door. Arthur’s “come in” echoed out, and Eggsy walked in, Daisy a heavy weight in his arms. Pretty soon he wouldn’t be able to even carry her. His mum had told him a million times to use her stroller and that he was spoiling her, but honestly, he loved Daisy so much that sometimes he just didn’t want to put her down…

“Ah, Mr. Unwin,” said Arthur. “Sit.”

“Yes ma’am,” said Eggsy, sitting in the indicated chair and arranging Daisy carefully in his lap. Arthur’s eyes swept over Daisy, who gurgled, and Eggsy had a sudden stab of regret for exposing her to this woman, before he ruthlessly squashed it.

The debrief began like normal: Eggsy, detailing what went on during the mission, Arthur taking notes and asking questions about his thought process, his options, why he did what he did. The interesting part was when they got to the information the man had.

“So he confirmed that Chester King contacted assassins. And he added that he contacted a total of three assassins he thought might be able to take out Kingsmen. Two of those assassins died during the Valentine debacle,” she said, writing furiously.

“Yes,” said Eggsy. “The third assassin the man couldn’t name. You heard the other two names, of course, through the glasses?”

“Yes,” said Arthur. “We’ve already checked them out. No known family or friends for them, so no leaks that way. It’s our third assassin who’s our leak.”

What was worrying was the final part of the information they received.

“The surviving assassin might still be after certain agents,” said Eggsy. “The reason those two men who I t-tortured knew about it was because he was enlisting help.”

“And why didn’t they know his name?”

“He didn’t tell them. He wore a mask each time, stayed in the shadows. They weren’t even sure if the voice they heard was real.”

“That KGB agent – do you believe the assassin had enlisted his help, as well?”

“Well, that was my impression. He just had a little less information than this one. It was probably just the assassin feeling out whether or not the person would be willing.”

“How many more leaks do you think we need to cover for the Kingsmen to be completely hidden again?”

“Well, you heard the man,” said Eggsy, absentmindedly bouncing Daisy on his knee, who was beginning to look sleepy. “He knew of the KGB agent, as well as another agent being contacted who hasn’t been on our radar yet. It’s that other agent who was the one who created the chatter in order to secure more information about our organization. That failed, obviously. Our leaks, as we know right now, who are aware of our existence, are the assassin himself, any family that he might have, that third agent who created the chatter, and the people who heard the chatter.”

“The people who heard the chatter have been contained,” said Arthur, a hint of brutality in her voice. “We have just this left to clean up.”

“We need to inform the other agents that they may possibly be targeted,” said Eggsy. “Since the assassin might still be going after them.”

“Would it make sense for the assassin to go after them?” asked Arthur, leaning back in her chair thoughtfully. She seemed to have forgotten, for a second, that she was talking to someone distasteful. “Now that Chester King is gone.”

Eggsy shrugged. “Does he know that?”

“Interesting, good point. We don’t have enough information to know for sure.” Arthur nodded, and then seemed to realize that Eggsy was the one sitting across from her. “Well, that’ll be it. I’ll be calling a Kingsman meeting later on today to inform them of this progress and let them know of the potential danger.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, still bouncing Daisy.

“You’re dismissed.”

Eggsy left the office feeling immeasurably tired. Talking about the mission had reminded him of – knocked out teeth red blood fingernails bones – of things he would rather not be thinking of. So he clutched Daisy harder and made it back to his office, where he found Roxy lurking outside.

“There you are,” said Roxy. “Merlin said you didn’t have a mission today, so I thought you would get here eventually.”

“Had a meeting with Arthur,” said Eggsy, setting Daisy down and rooting about in his suit for his keys.

“We haven’t talked since my date night,” said Roxy, her eyes a little hooded.

“We do need to catch up,” said Eggsy, finally securing the correct key and unlocking the door. He swooped Daisy up into his arms again – she had taken some tentative steps in the other direction – and made a plane buzzing sound, spinning her around a little as he entered the office.

“Why is your sister here?”

“Mum is at work,” said Eggsy. “No one else to watch her for today.”

“What about a babysitter?”

“Couldn’t find one. It was a last minute call-in for her.”

“Ah,” said Roxy, looking confused. “My parents had a nanny for me when I was younger.”

“Oh, no thank you,” laughed Eggsy. “They’re great and all, but not for Daisy.”

“Right. Well, I had my date.”

“And you got eaten out! Congratulations.”

“Dammit, Eggsy,” said Roxy, closing the door. Her cheeks were slightly pink, which amused Eggsy to no end. “I told you that over the phone in secret. Don’t go yelling it out.”

“You should be proud,” said Eggsy. “Every girl I eat out is damn proud.”

“Jesus,” laughed Roxy, covering her face. “You’re the crudest person I’ve ever met.”

Sometimes, Eggsy would be purposefully crass around Roxy just to see the look on her face. Roxy was a brilliant woman, ruthlessly perfect, but she had been raised in a posh society that sheltered her from certain things. The first time the recruits showered together, Roxy had had a solid set to her jaw that indicated that she had never been in such close quarters showering like that, but that she was going to be professional about it (even if Digby did keep making motions at her arse).

Roxy, to Eggsy’s knowledge, rarely swore. She was no blushing maiden, of course, both about profanity and about sex, but she wasn’t the type of talk about it with anyone. Eggsy called it blatant repression while Roxy called it tact.

Eggsy figured that was why Roxy always came to him when she got laid. People want to talk about their experiences, and if Roxy’s rich friends didn’t want to discuss the dirty act, then who else did she have to go to? It was Eggsy’s duty to provide as raunchy a commentary as possible both to make Roxy have that adorable blush and to make her feel comfortable enough to know she wouldn’t be judged.

He would be like the good brother who patiently explained that yes, cocks were a thing, and yes, they did like to be sucked. If a brother also ogled her breasts when she was wearing tight clothing, and sometimes appreciated her arse when she was bent over, because he was a human being goddammit and he couldn’t help himself.

Okay. Maybe he was nothing like a brother to her. But a very, very good friend with vaguely brother-like qualities, yeah?

“So, how was the sex?” asked Eggsy. “Didn’t really get the chance to ask. You sure he didn’t lick your feet while you weren’t looking?”

“Jesus,” said Roxy, which was clearly becoming her go-to word when around Eggsy, “no, he didn’t do anything with my feet. We… uh… we had missionary. And then I sucked him. And he did me.”

Eggsy whistled. “Two orgasms, good for you. Wait, just checking – he did make you come during the missionary stuff, right?”

“Yeah, he did this move with his hips that felt really good.”

Roxy’s face had moved on from pink to a full-out red. But she was grinning a bashful yet proud grin, in an oops-did-I-have-excellent-sex-the-other-night sort of way.

“Well, you deserve a good orgasm,” said Eggsy.

“He’s actually quite lovely. And very smart,” said Roxy, leaning against Eggsy’s desk and getting a far-off look in her eye. She looked a little smitten, which was refreshing to see on her. Typically, Eggsy either got to see the fierce don’t-fuck-with-me look with the complimentary blood-smears of her enemies, or the furtive look Roxy got when she was secretely listening to sixties music and didn’t want anyone to find out about her musical preferences. Eggsy only knew because he had stopped by Roxy’s flat once to feed her dog while she was recovering from frostbite in her lungs, courtesy of a psychopath who had locked her in a freezer for uncovering their “devious” plot, and had discovered a trove of Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, and Crystals albums. When he brought it up to her later, she smashed his face so hard against the floor that he had carpet burn on his cheek for a week, and made him promise never to tell anyone.

“You going out with him again?”

“Tomorrow night,” said Roxy, suddenly losing the smile. “A second date, Eggsy.”

“Well, you know he really likes you, because you put out on the first date. He already got the goods, so that means you were either ridiculously likable or you were a freak between the sheets and he wants more of that. Either way, good, yeah?”

Roxy swatted his arm. “We had a nice connection.”

“Like, cock-to-vagina connection?”

Roxy dissolved into giggles, clearly unable to keep her composure anymore. It was nice to see, since Roxy was usually so composed. But still unsurprising – he had heard her triumphant, “Yes, Eggsy!” squeal when he had successfully saved the world. She wasn’t completely expressionless on the best of days, and he loved her humanity about her the most.

“You’re saying all of this in front of your sister?” asked Roxy when she had finally collected herself and put her serious face back on.

“She don’t understand yet.” Eggsy had put Daisy on top of his desk, where she was playing with a glass paperweight that Harry had given him to christen his office. “She knows a good amount of words, but all she really understands right now is that we’re happy.” He leaned forward and made a funny face at her. “Isn’t that right, princess?”

“Eggy!” she yelled, smiling.

“I love that she calls you Eggy,” said Roxy, smirking.

“She can’t do too many syllables yet,” said Eggsy defensively. “My mum wanted her to learn my real name first, since it’s simple. But I ain’t about that.”

“Your real name? You’ve never told me what it is.”

“For good reason,” said Eggsy. “Don’t want you slipping up and calling me it, now do I? Terrible first name.”

“I could look up your records,” said Roxy.

“Don’t matter. I had Merlin change them in the system. Had to bribe him a pretty penny to do it, too. The only people who can see my real name are those with the appropriate clearance which you, obviously, don’t have.”

Roxy’s mouth dropped open. “You’re that dedicated to keeping it a secret?”

“I’d rather be called Eggsy.”

“How did that nickname come about?”

“It just did,” said Eggsy, unwilling to get into the story of how his father bestowed the name. Even now, approaching two decades later, he could still cry over the memory.

“Hm,” said Roxy. She dropped it. “So, what are you up to this afternoon?”

“Paperwork,” said Eggsy. He had three missions worth, enough to fill up the entirety of the afternoon and then some. “I’d love a break, though.”

Daisy started crawling across his desk, headed towards the edge. Eggsy picked her up before depositing her in Roxy’s arms, who promptly looked horrified.

“Oh, holy hell. Am I holding her right?” she asked, holding the baby out comically.

“Nah, mate. Here, support her butt, just like that. There you go. You don’t need to hold her head, she’s two and a half, she can hold it up on her own like that. It’s only younger babies that need that. Lemme know if she gets heavy, yeah?”

“She’s too heavy,” said Roxy instantly, looking like she would do anything to rid herself of Daisy, who was now taking an interest in Roxy’s earrings.

“You’re a Kingsman agent and you can’t even handle a young child?” asked Eggsy, beginning to collect paperwork in a pile and stuff it in a bag. “I’m thinking let’s go down to the tech department and hang out with them. They’ll love the chance to see Daisy again, and that way, I can pretend I’m doing something important. Here, I’m even bringing my paperwork, that counts for something, yeah?”

Roxy grimaced. “As long as someone takes her from me.”

Eggsy, just to be mean, made Roxy carry Daisy the entire way down to the tech department. Outside the door Roxy made Eggsy take her back, saying something about “don’t want to be seen that way,” and “sexism.” Eggsy didn’t much care either way, so he took the child back and went into the room.

Immediately, Salomea was at his side, taking Daisy from his arms. “I heard whispers she was here today!” she said.

Daisy, delighted, said, “Hi!”

“Hi, Daisy!” said Salomea.

It seemed like within minutes there was space cleared out on the floor and a sizable group of techs circling Daisy while she tottered about, playing with the cars that Eggsy was smart enough to bring again. Someone must have called Gawain, too, because he appeared out of nowhere and crouched down, cooing, when he saw Daisy.

“Ah, Gawain,” said Eggsy. “Can I talk to you for a mo’? Got a question for you.”

Eggsy tugged Gawain away from the main group. “What did you do for daycare while you were away on missions? The person who’s been looking over her has been a bit unreliable lately…”

“Well, my wife was home during the evenings,” said Gawain, “so we were only really concerned about the daytime. There’s a lovely place fairly near Savile Row that I can give you the name for. They’re all dedicated staff. Been there for years, I think it’s all the same people still from when I did background checks on them. Quite loyal. Since it was so near Savile, too, I could pick her up if I got off at five. Otherwise, my wife picked her up.”

“What would you recommend doing if… if it were really just me taking care of her?”

Gawain looked thoughtful. “Perhaps a nanny, or a live-in caretaker? It’s not ideal, and it can get expensive, especially if you want high-end ones…”

“I suppose I’ll do some research,” said Eggsy, glumly.

“I’ll get you some resources that we looked at,” said Gawain. He hesitated, before saying carefully, “If you want, I can also ask my wife to talk to you about this a little. She was the one who found the place and handled things like that. She’s also a nursery school teacher, so she’s an expert at everything young.”

That… that was an offer that Eggsy hadn’t expected. It meant a lot that Gawain was willing to expose him to his family. “I expect after six kids you’re an expert too,” said Eggsy, nudging Gawain congenially. “I’d love to meet your wife, bruv.” Eggsy knew that this was a huge step – Kingsman agents were tight-lipped about their families, for good reason.

“Perhaps dinner one night?” said Gawain. “You could even bring Daisy. I’m sure Kathy would love to meet her.”

“Sounds excellent,” said Eggsy, surprised at his luck.

At that moment, there was a small beep from both of their glasses, signifying a notification. Words scrolled across the screen – Full Kingsman meeting this afternoon, 2 p.m. – before vanishing.

“I wonder what that could be about,” said Gawain, frowning. “We’ve had an awful lot of those lately.”

“I have no idea,” lied Eggsy. “Could be anything, really.”

“I suppose that comes with new management,” Gawain sighed, before he wandered off to play with Daisy some more.

Around 1:45, Eggsy stood up from Daisy’s circle of admirers. “Would you be able to watch Daisy for a bit?” he asked Salomea. “There’s a meeting I gotta go to.”

“I wish,” said Salomea. “I gotta get back on the comms at 2:00.”

“But there isn’t anyone to handle,” said Eggsy. “It’s a full Kingsman meeting.”

“There’s still technology to wrangle,” said Salomea. “And Merlin is already a little pissed off at us that we’re all lounging about, watching Daisy.”

“Merlin could join,” Eggsy raised his voice, letting Merlin – sitting at a nearby station – hear him.

“No,” he called back. “I hate children.”

Eggsy shook his head. Addressing the rest of the crowd, he said, “Can anyone else watch her for a bit?”

It was almost comical how quickly the circle cleared out. Eggsy was left blinking incredulously. “Sorry, Eggsy,” whispered Salomea. “I think everyone likes doting on her, but no one wants babysitting responsibilities.”

Gawain, who was still sitting, said, “You could bring her to the meeting.”

“She’s gonna get cranky soon,” said Eggsy. “She’s been too well-behaved so far today, it can’t last. I don’t want her to cry during the meeting.”

Gawain shrugged. “You have to do what you have to do.”

Roxy, who was also still there, said, “I don’t think anyone will judge you for it.”

Eggsy sighed and swung her into his arms. “Aight. Let’s go to the meeting.”

Walking into the dining room, Eggsy was greeted with an extremely disapproving look from Arthur. No one else was there yet, not even any of the holograms. Eggsy settled down in his place while Gawain went across the table. Roxy settled down, too.

Next to him, Kay’s hologram popped up. “How’s it hanging?” asked Eggsy.

“Boring. I hate recon,” said Kay. “I see you brought a guest.”

“She’s learning to be a spy today,” said Eggsy, pinching her cheek. “She’s liking it so far, but that’s because Gawain kept sneaking her sweets.”

Daisy giggled. She was such a happy child.

A sentiment Eggsy almost immediately took back, because when he let go of her cheek she started looking a little grumpy. Fearing that she might start crying, Eggsy started up a game of peek-a-boo, a pastime guaranteed to keep her happy because she liked slapping at Eggsy.

He was still playing in the minutes before the meeting started. He was so involved he didn’t notice the amused looks that the people physically present – Gawain, Roxy, and Tristan today – were exchanging, nor did he register the looks he was getting from the holograms. Harry’s hologram popped into existence – when did he go out? – and the last person, Caradoc, popped up.

Eggsy stopped playing as soon as Arthur cleared her throat, refocusing his attention accordingly.

“We have new information on our leak,” said Arthur, her tone serious. “It behooves me to inform you not only of our new intel, but also give you a warning.”

Eggsy noticed that Daisy’s hair, which was in pigtails, was slowly coming undone. He undid her hair, snuck out a hairbrush from her bag, and carefully started styling it. Daisy, blessedly, remained silent. He redid the pigtails, giving one a slight flick that got a smile from her.

He glanced up, only to see half the agents look away like they hadn’t been watching. Arthur, for her part, had been ignoring him completely, still continuing with the meeting.

Eggsy’s eyes scanned the table. Everyone was present except for Gareth, who had gone in deep cover after their last full Kingsman meeting.

On his lap, Daisy began to shift in an antsy way. Uh-oh, thought Eggsy as he readjusted her. She started getting another grumpy expression on her face. Oh shit.

Her lip wobbled. Scooting his chair back, he thanked whatever god was looking out for him that the chair didn’t squeak. He swung her up and into his arms and started heading towards the door –

“Mr. Unwin!” said Arthur, suddenly. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Uh,” said Eggsy, turning around. Everyone was staring at him. “Well…”

Daisy choose that exact moment to cry, one of her loud wailing cries.

“I knew that was about to happen,” he said. “May I please be excused?”

“This is no place for a baby,” said Arthur, looking cross. “Tell your wife that she needs to take care of her next time.”

“Wife?” asked Eggsy, confused.

“Are you unwed?” asked Arthur, her eyebrows retreating into her hairline.

“Um.” Eggsy began to bounce Daisy, distracted by her crying. He made soothing shushing sounds at her. “Definitely not married, no.”

Arthur shook her head. “Well, take your daughter and go then.”

“Oh!” said Eggsy. Now he understood. “Oh, she’s not –”

“Mr. Unwin! Please stop interrupting this meeting.”

Eggsy could feel his face going stony, but he simply turned and retreated from the room.

Arthur would think that, he thought bitterly as he forlornly waved the parrot at Daisy. She thought Daisy was his, that he was some deadbeat father who knocked a random bird up. Because he was just rubbish on the street, a plebe, someone who still needed to prove their worth despite saving the world a gajillion times. It rankled at Eggsy, so much, made every nerve in his body spark like live wires.

But, in a twisted way, he also understood. He had lived in the estates, after all, he had seen some of the deadbeat people living there. Not everyone, of course – his old next-door neighborhood was one of the nicest people he had ever met, always willing to share their space in case Dean got a little too wild one night, and Eggsy was still more than convinced that, given the opportunity, people from the estates could outperform anyone with a silver spoon up their arse.

Eggsy just… he hadn’t been outperforming anyone so far, he supposed, so he needed to show Arthur that he could. That was all.

On the heels of that thought came the anger. How dare she make me doubt myself, thought Eggsy, hotly. He was a good person. Well, he used to be a good person – he wasn’t quite sure of that anymore with those recent missions. And the drug dealing thing. Fuck. Whatever. He did the best he could. He gave his mum and sister a flat. Got them away from Dean, even though his mum was a little messed up at the moment. He had a job. He was something.

Fuck it, thought Eggsy, and gathered Daisy into his arms for a hug. Daisy pushed against him, confused, for a few moments, before eventually accepting the hug. He buried his face against her small shoulder and took in her kid-scent. It was comforting. Here was his baby sister, the one he had saved from an abusive father, safe in his arms. That’s what he needed to focus on. Not all the other stuff. That stuff was unimportant.

Eggsy made the decision not to return to the meeting. Instead, he scouted out a rather large lounge area that had some squishy (though still formal-looking) couches in it. He stretched out, elevating his foot with the practice of someone who had had broken bones before, and laid Daisy on his chest.

Daisy giggled a little, winding her little fingers around his tie and examining the Windsor knot rather avidly. Then she grinned at Eggsy, her eyes lighting up in happiness.

He loved Daisy. He was convinced, with all his heart, that she was going to be the most beautiful woman on the face of the planet, and she was going to surpass him – easily – in the smarts department. She was going to be a million times better than him, without the shitty decisions he had to make throughout his life.

But sometimes, secretely – he would never admit this out loud, okay – he wondered if she was a little ruined already. She had his mother’s hair, his mother’s smile, his mother’s laugh… but she had her father’s eyes, and Dean had the cruelest eyes he had ever seen. Eggsy wondered if Daisy would have a mean streak just like him.

Maybe one of the hardest things to accept was that Dean wasn’t horrible all of the time. It always caused Eggsy a bit of pain when he was a teenager and he got back to the flat after school to find Michelle and Dean, slow dancing without music. And Dean’s humor was terribly crude, but he still managed to find ways to make Michelle laugh when she was feeling down.

Sometimes, Dean even tricked Eggsy into thinking he was good for Michelle. Like the time that Michelle was sobbing because one of her childhood friends had died, and Dean put both of his arms around her and stroked her hair and found Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the telly to cheer her up. Or when Dean would stumble in after a night out with his buddies, and Michelle would glare at him for staying away until the morning, and he would sheepishly pull out more milk from his bag because he knew that they were out.

But then he would sneak into Eggsy’s room and smash up all of Eggsy’s pictures of Lee, or he would be in such a rage that Eggsy would get scared and grab Daisy and walk around at four in the morning until he thought it might be safe, and Eggsy would remember why he hated him.

So. Was it really unreasonable that sometimes he got uncomfortable looking Daisy in the eyes? If he wondered that she would grow up and have the bad of her father in her? If he believed, sometimes, that she would become an adult and hate Eggsy, just like her father?

He told himself that he would teach her to be good, that he would show by example how to be a kind human. But then he would be struck by the thought that he wasn’t a good human, and then he would miserably wonder how he could be expected to raise this child to be better than he was when he couldn’t figure out himself how to be better.

Fuck.

Daisy finally released his tie, giggling before snuggling up to Eggsy. She was grumpy because she needed a nap, so Eggsy planned on giving her one. Better than stewing in his thoughts, anyway.

Eggsy dozed on and off for a while, losing track of time. He was aware of Daisy, first a gentle weight on his chest, then a heavier one when his body got tired of the weight. He didn’t care, though; he didn’t want to wake her up.

“Oh, that’s literally the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” he heard whispered.

His eyes snapped open. Roxy stood in the doorway, Tristan next to her. Roxy lowered her phone, which she had presumably used to snap a picture.

Eggsy made a face at her, but didn’t respond. He checked his watch – Daisy could still use another ten minutes of sleep…

Roxy trotted into the room, Tristan following. She had Daisy’s bag with her that he had abandoned in the meeting room when he went to take care of Daisy.

“Arthur nearly shit when she realized you weren’t coming back,” said Roxy, her voice pitched low so as not to wake Daisy. “Said it was grounds for dismissal.”

“I’m shaking in my boot,” said Eggsy, dryly.

“Yeah, I figured you’d say something like that,” said Roxy. “Apparently, it’s a worse process than training to actually get one of us fired, mostly because we know so much –”

Suddenly, their glasses issued a small ping.

Kingsman meeting it read. Please come to the dining room immediately.

“What the hell?” said Eggsy, jostling Daisy a little before sitting up.

Daisy opened her eyes, looking miffed about being woken up. Eggsy bounced her once or twice, confused.

“What could this be?” asked Roxy to Tristan.

“Nothing good,” said Tristan. “The only time emergency meetings are called like this… and especially after we just had one…”

He trailed off significantly. Roxy and Eggsy were both silent, thinking. Then Eggsy stood up, swinging Daisy into his arms. She made a discontent noise.

“Calm down, grumpy,” he said in a soothing voice. “Just one more meeting and then we’ll skive off, okay?”

He followed Roxy and Tristan to the meeting room. Gawain was already there, his face serious, as was the majority of the holograms.

Arthur didn’t even look at Eggsy as he sat down with Daisy. She was still sleepy, so she leaned against his chest, winding her small fingers around one of his lapels, and snuggled in.

The final few holograms popped into existence. Everyone was there again, except for Gareth.

“I have some bad news,” said Arthur. “I’ve just received word of the death of a Kingsman.”

Oh. Oh, no.

“Gareth was a good agent,” said Arthur. “But his deep cover was broken. It’s always tragic when moments like these happen.”

Her words felt like they were falling flat, and, judging by the looks on the others’ faces, they thought so too as well. Privately, Eggsy thought that this one might genuinely not be her fault – she simply hadn’t been there long enough to add an appropriately personal touch.

She had the decanter of alcohol in front of her, so she poured glasses for those physically present. The holograms also had alcohol in front of them – how, Eggsy wasn’t sure. Everyone chorused, “To Gareth,” before slamming back the glass.

Arthur let that settle for a moment before saying, “Please propose a candidate for his position by noon on Friday. That’s when the interview process will begin.”

Eggsy straightened. What? But he didn’t have a codename! It had been agreed when he had been voted into the Kingsman that he would take over the next available codename. It sucked now that it had actually happened – Gareth was a good guy – but it was still time for Eggsy to be made more than official.

Eggsy, for a moment, lived in a limbo. Did he bring it up during this time, when they had just lost a colleague? He didn’t want to seem selfish or inappropriate. But would it be too late if he brought it up later?

His decision was made for him, however, when Kay said, “We shouldn’t be going through the interview process. Eggsy will be the new Gareth.”

Eggsy had a moment of relief. Kay sounded so certain, like this was going to happen, that arguing with him seemed like a stupid option.

Then Arthur, with a twist to her mouth, said, “After deliberation, I and our donors have decided to add another position to the Kingsman. We have higher efficiency with more agents available to travel on missions. We will be searching for an appropriate codename for Eggsy.”

Eggsy was fine with having his own new codename rather than one inherited from a dead friend, but there seemed to be a catch. He waited for it, but that was all Arthur said.

“Why were we not informed of the decision to expand the Kingsman?” asked Caradoc. Caradoc, who Eggsy considered the most easy-going and happiest of the Kingsman, looked very cold in that moment.

“There is no specification in our charter or bylaws that dictate the Kingsman need to be involved in such a decision,” said Arthur, her voice similarly icy.

“No,” said Caradoc, slowly. “There’s no such specification. But this changes the dynamic of the team, and considering the nature of the job, that’s dangerous.”

“I disagree,” said Arthur. “And I believe it’s time for us to have a conversation about reasonable expectations.”

There was a ringing silence at the table as Arthur straightened and fixed them with a frosty look. “You are all accustomed to a very different Arthur. I understand, and I acknowledge that I am new at this. That includes a learning curve. However, I will not tolerate the disrespect that have been coming at me from select agents.”

Across the table, Bedivere was giving a slow nod, his mouth twisting in approval. Every other agent looked emotionless, which was probably one of the most frightening sights he had ever witnessed.

“If you disagree with a decision that I’ve made,” Arthur continued, “I want you to approach me after a meeting, not during. Public disagreements are distasteful. If I accidentally break protocol, the same logic applies. Many of you have been attempting to shame me because of my ignorance of certain rules. I will no longer tolerate this.”

It took every bone in his body for Eggsy not to leave the room. He let his eyes slid over to Harry’s hologram. Harry had this polite, attentive expression on his face, his eyes never leaving Arthur’s face. After so much time spent around Harry, Eggsy recognized it as his “I’m listening to an idiot” expression.

“I wish to remind you that I am, technically, all of your bosses. That gives me certain rights. If I send you a mission, that means you go on the mission without questioning why you were chosen. And your positions are not certain. Many of you have become comfortable in your places. I appreciate your loyalty and love that many of you have been working this job for decades. But if you make mistakes, you are not protected. I can fire any of you, policy or not. Keep this in mind during future interactions.

“That being said, I wish to remind you all of certain rules, as well as place new rules. First,” she fixed those beady eyes on Eggsy, “work is not an appropriate place for children. Either find a babysitter for your daughter, or take a vacation day to watch her.” Next, she looked at Caradoc. “Yes, this does change the dynamic of the team. But this is what is happening. We are under the purview of higher powers than just me, and they have decided to add another position. Make sure you propose a candidate by Friday at noon. Finally,” and now she looked at everyone, “I have seen some very sloppy work from select agents.” Her eyes rested on Eggsy for a few moments. “In the past, training after the initial interview period has not been required, though I am aware that many of you take certain measures to ensure that your skills do not expire. However, from now on, I am going to require a certain number of training hours from each of you to ensure that you stay in shape.”

There was a pregnant, tense silence in the room.

“Is that understood?” asked Arthur, an eyebrow raised.

Each agent gave a sharp nod. No other words were spoken from them.

“Excellent. Dismissed.”

The holograms popped out of existence. Eggsy began to get up, making eye contact with Roxy, but Arthur suddenly said, “Mr. Unwin. If I could have a word.”

“’Course,” said Eggsy. He handed Daisy off to Gawain as he passed, Gawain’s face completely inscrutable as he walked out of the room.

Arthur, probably to make him sweat a little, opened a folder – it had to be his – and began to flip through it, her lips pursed. Eggsy got up from his seat and switched to the one Harry typically sat in, nerves thrumming through his body. He was feeling a little fight-or-flight, but he forced himself to take a few deep breaths.

Couldn’t be worse than that heart-to-heart he had with the last Arthur. That one ended in his superior’s death. Hopefully, this time around, no one would die.

While Arthur was flipping through his file, he let his eyes scan the room, resting on the old stuffy portraits and musing about the hardness of the chair. You’d think that they’d spend a few extra dollars to have comfier chairs, especially considering the fact that Kingsmen agents get injured…

Speaking of injuries, his foot was itching something awful, but he didn’t want to twist down to try and itch it while Arthur was sitting next to him. Damn it.

Arthur sighed and flipped his folder shut, pinning him with her eyes. “I believe it’s time we had another chat.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, chanting calming phrases in his head and trying his best to tamp down on the urge to yell.

“At this point, you should be well aware of my opinion of you,” said Arthur. “So far, your performance has been underwhelming. When word came in of Gareth’s passing, I had to make a recommendation to our donors on whether or not you should be promoted. I chose to not recommend you. In fact, I put in official paperwork declaring that your position should be terminated.

“However,” she continued, grimacing, “our donors seemed to think that there was a reason why the Kingsmen agents elected to keep you on the team. In addition, our donors kept the Valentine incident in their minds. This does not mean,” she said with emphasis, “that you should feel your position is anything but tenuous right now. After a bit of debate, we have decided to put you on a probationary period. If your performance does not improve in the next couple of weeks, you will be officially released from your position. We will reassess your position after that.

“As to how you will be assessed, there will be a committee who reviews all the missions you have gone on, start to finish, and pass judgment on them. I will be on that committee, as well as two of our donors. Merlin will be invited to be on the committee, since he both trained and handles you. And our donors have insisted that one Kingsman agent also be on the committee.”

Please. Please be Harry.

“After some consideration, we decided to select the agent we believed to be most unbiased. Bedivere will be the agent on the committee.”

Fuck. The one agent who seemed to actively dislike him. It sounded like the deck was stacked against him – Merlin was the only friendly on the committee, unless the donors pulled through.

“How will I be assessed in the next few weeks if my foot is damaged?” asked Eggsy. “I assume I won’t be sent on any strenuous missions.”

Arthur smiled. “You will be sent on missions that do not require physicality, no. But you will still be sent on missions. Also, a fair warning. In the future, I expect you to conduct yourself in a manner befitting the Kingsmen. Up until this point, I have felt your demeanor and attitude have been that of a small child. I want you to begin to act professionally.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Eggsy.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

Oh, Eggsy had plenty of things to say. But he wanted this job. He wanted this job more than anything in the world, and he had somehow made an enemy of this powerful woman. So he gritted his teeth and said, “No. No questions.”

“Excellent.” Arthur shuffled through a few folders. “Here is your next mission. It’ll be for tonight. You’re to attend another gala and continue your relations with Diane Yates. I have a hunch that her hitman brother might be involved in this business with leaks.”

Eggsy took the folder Arthur offered to him. “Am I to be sleeping with her tonight?”

“If necessary,” said Arthur. “You’re dismissed.”

“Thank you,” said Eggsy.

He walked out of the room, feeling stretched wrongly again. Outside the room, Gawain stood, solemnly holding Daisy.

Eggsy was 85% sure the dining room was sound-proofed and that Gawain couldn’t have heard anything that just transpired. He couldn’t think of anything more mortifying than the idea of his fellow agents knowing of what was going on. He knew that they must already think he was street trash, so to have that opinion confirmed by an authority figure…

“Thanks, bruv,” said Eggsy, wishing his voice sounded normal and not muted. “She act okay while I was gone? She was a little cranky from her afternoon nap.”

“She was a pleasure,” said Gawain, transferring Daisy over to Eggsy. “It’s nearing five o’clock now. I called my wife; she’s making a meatloaf tonight. Would you like to come over?”

Michelle would be home. Eggsy needed to get there, to tell her that her behavior was more than unacceptable, that he was going to seek a caretaker for Daisy. He needed to get ready for the gala. But he felt wrung out, dry. And meatloaf with a nice family sounded lovely.

“Okay,” said Eggsy, easily. “I’ve got a mission tonight, though. I can’t stay too long.”

Gawain smiled. “Then we better get moving.”

Chapter Text

Eggsy followed Gawain from the bullet train to Savile Row, where Gawain walked in the opposite direction of his and Harry’s respective houses. Gawain’s home was only a few blocks away from the shop in a similarly posh area. His house was three stories – three! – compared to Harry’s two.

“I’m home,” he called into the house when he led Eggsy through the door.

“Oh!” he heard. Then a patter of footsteps, before a woman popped her head into the room. She had a head of uncontrollably curly brown hair and a warm smile. “You must be Eggsy. It’s a pleasure to meet one of Howard’s colleagues. He’s always mentioning you lot, but he never introduces me.”

Eggsy instantly relaxed. Gawain’s wife’s accent had a slight rugged edge to it, and that smile was the familiar smile of the down-to-earth. “He’s always talking about you, ma’am,” said Eggsy, feeling set at ease. “He adores you.”

Gawain ducked his head while his wife positively glowed at him. “We’re going on thirty years,” she said as she ventured closer to Eggsy. Eggsy could see that she had on a stained apron that read, I’m the Fucking Cook. “We’ve been together since our high school graduation. I’m shocked he’s still with this old broad.”

“Old broad?” asked Eggsy, extending his hand when she got close enough. “With all due respect, ma’am, you’re much too pretty to be calling yourself that.”

She blushed, rocking back on her feet and swatting at Eggsy’s arm. “Howard, you didn’t tell me he was a charmer,” she said, clearly pleased but trying to hide it.

“Well, I didn’t foresee him flirting with my wife.”

“No wonder you hide her,” said Eggsy, ignoring that statement entirely.

Now her face was full-on red. She pushed some curly strands behind her ear and beamed at the floor. “Well,” she said, shuffling her feet, “the meatloaf will be ready shortly. Are you hungry, Eggsy?”

“Starving,” said Eggsy. He followed her into the kitchen, Gawain padding behind him softly. While his wife hummed and bustled around the kitchen, Eggsy whispered to Gawain, “What’s her name again?”

“Kathy,” said Gawain, stealing Daisy from Eggsy’s arms and setting her on the little island they had in the middle of the kitchen.

“Right,” said Eggsy. He remembers Gawain mentioning that. “Who else have you brought to meet her?”

“Harry, of course. Caradoc, because the man is a force of nature and rather delightful to be around. And Kay. The rest of them I’ve never bothered to invite over.”

“Right. Hey, Kathy? Do you need any help?”

“Oh, no! I’ve got everything handled!”

“Now, don’t go letting me off the hook because I’m a guest,” said Eggsy, expertly worming his way into the process. He lifted a tray out of Kathy’s hands and began to arrange some vegetables on it. “I’m the one that’s about to eat all of your food.”

“Oh,” said Kathy, making a half-hearted attempt to steal back the tray. But Eggsy could tell that she was a little charmed by him. “You’re lucky I have to check on the meatloaf.”

“I have no doubt I’m lucky. You look tough,” said Eggsy. “If I’m not careful, you might take me down.” He liberated another tray from Kathy’s grasp, gamely ignoring her mighty frown.

“That’s right,” said Kathy. She began to whack Eggsy’s arm with a spatula when he didn’t give one of the trays back, which hurt a surprising amount, but not enough to change Eggsy’s mind.

Eggsy acted as if his arm wasn’t being reduced to jelly. “Will any of your children be joining us today? Howard mentioned you had a couple, but he didn’t go into details.”

“Most of our children are out of the house. We’ve got six – our two eldest sons are currently employed, living away from home, while we’ve got two daughters and a son in college. We have one left in high school right now. She’s on the debate team, though, so I’m not sure if she’ll be home in time for dinner.”

Eggsy grinned. Debate team. He had had an ill-fated run-in with debaters once, wherein Ryan had tried to tease one of them. They had given Ryan such a run-around that both of them walked away, dizzy with how they couldn’t keep up with the banter and insults. He hadn’t messed with them since. Of course Gawain would have a kid on the debate team.

On the other side of the room, Daisy cooed from where Gawain continued to play with her. Leaving Kathy for just a moment, Eggsy pinched her cheeks. “Don’t get too comfortable,” he warned her. “You ain’t going to stay here forever, no matter how much you like it.”

He wasn’t sure if he was warning Daisy or himself. And oh, did he like it there. Kathy was easy to talk to. Eggsy barely noticed when a half an hour went by because they fell into such a good conversation centered on Daisy. One moment Eggsy was juggling trays, the next they were halfway through dinner, Gawain’s youngest child sitting next to him in that sullen-teenager way, while Eggsy and Kathy continued to chat about Eggsy’s hopes for Daisy’s future, whether or not Eggsy should think about sending Daisy to nursery school (she was rapidly approaching three years old now), and how to develop her speaking skills.

Kathy spent a good amount of time complaining about Gawain while he sat next to her, a long-suffering look on his face. She groused about him “eating too much” as she put extra slices of meatloaf on his plate, and then she worried over him when he couldn’t finish it all. She also told Eggsy, with a serious look on her face, that Gawain “snored something dreadful, dear, I can’t sleep with him next to me. Sometimes I have to send him to the guest bedroom because he starts talking in his sleep. And it’s never interesting – always about the temperature of the house, or how many pieces of toast he can eat.”

She shook her head. “He’s such a dull man.” And then, when Gawain began to discuss the weather outside, she hung on his every word, looking fascinated by the fact that they had a 25% chance of rain the next day.

Their daughter looked positively sickened, and continually glanced at her phone, clearly wanting some way out of the house.

Somehow, they ended up in the sitting room, a game show on the telly, while Kathy wrote down recommendations for caretakers and daycares. Eggsy had been bullied into accepting a cup of tea, and he was lazily sipping out of a red-and-blue stripped chipped mug as Kathy tried to find a working pen.

“Where’s the mother?” asked Kathy, almost casually, as she scribbled on some paper to test out the ink.

Eggsy saw the question for what it was. “Daisy ain’t mine,” he said. He stroked Daisy’s hair, since she was currently dozing in his lap. “My mum got remarried after my dad died and had her a bit ago. My mum’s been a little busy lately, and since I’m working now, I wanted to make sure that Daisy was taken care of.”

Kathy glanced up from her writing, her face deliberately neutral. “That’s extremely impressive of you,” she said firmly, like she wholeheartedly believed it. “Not many people would go to such lengths to take care of their sisters when they’re so young themselves.”

“Aw,” said Eggsy, uncomfortable. “Family’s important. You do what you gotta do, you know? And I ain’t so young anymore.”

“And what’s your mother so busy with?”

“Oh,” said Eggsy, not wanting to lie to this spectacular woman. Across the room, Gawain shuffled his newspaper, lounging back in his easy chair. It was like the novels Eggsy would read when he was younger, where the main character had an average family who actually seemed to care. “Well, she’s just… she’s just been busy with things. Sorting out her life, and all that.”

“You mentioned she got a job today,” said Gawain.

“That was a bit of an excuse,” said Eggsy. His face began to feel a little hot, but Kathy was giving him such an understanding look. But no, no – he couldn’t tell them. Not this beautiful family who seemed to enjoy his company. He couldn’t ruin that by talking about his unhappy mother and abusive stepfather who his mother still hadn’t fully divorced. “But it’s nothing important.”

“You said you had plans for tonight,” said Kathy, still firmly. “Do you have someone to look after her?”

“I… I’m not sure, actually, I was hoping my mum would be home but she’s been a bit spotty lately.”

“We’ll take her for tonight,” said Kathy, finality in her voice.

“I couldn’t possibly impose upon you like that,” said Eggsy. “Not when I already ate your food and –”

“Eggsy. I have had six children, I think I can stand babysitting for a single night,” said Kathy. “I have to go into work at seven tomorrow. Would you be able to pick her up before then?”

“Well –”

Kathy’s mouth tightened. “Are you implying that I can’t watch over a young child?”

“Oh, oh, that’s not what I –”

“Because let me tell you,” said Kathy, looking fired up, “I am perfectly capable of ensuring her health and safety for one night. I was able to do it for years and years for my children. And if you want to say that I can’t –”

“That’s – wait –”

“Well?” said Kathy, putting her hands on her hips. “What do you say?”

Eggsy hesitated before giving in. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. I can pick her up before seven.” He was well aware that he had just been manipulated, thank you, but honestly, he wasn’t sure what else to do.

Gawain, in the corner, muttered, “That exchange was a lot like how she proposed to me.”

Kathy gamely ignored him. “Excellent. Be here before seven. Daisy is in wonderful hands.”

“Thank you,” said Eggsy. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”

“I think I do know,” said Kathy. “If there’s ever an emergency and you need someone to look after her, you call me, okay? I’m going to give you my mobile phone number. Here, give me your phone, I’ll just type it in –”

“You’re being too kind –”

“I would just let her,” said Gawain, still calmly reading his paper. “She’ll get her way regardless.”

Eggsy honestly wasn’t protesting too much. Kathy plucked his phone out of his hand, typing in her number. It made his heart ache, because he wanted something like this. He wanted a scene to come home to, where his mother made meatloaf and his father sat in a chair reading the newspaper. He wanted siblings his own age. He might have even had that, had his father survived.

Instead, he got Dean. Eggsy cynically thought that Dean might not even know how to read, let alone be motivated enough to pick up a newspaper. Not when the telly was just a few feet away.

Eggsy had to accept that he would never come home to anything like that. He was too old for those kind of thoughts, anyway. He was going to turn twenty-five soon, for chrissakes. He could be the one reading a newspaper soon enough.

And anyway. He had had this before. Not this, not quite, but he remembered small fragments of Lee. He couldn’t think of a time when Lee had ever read a newspaper, but he remembered walking into the kitchen once and finding Lee eating an onion like an apple. Lee, apparently, had had an unnatural love of onions, and his mother had walked in behind Eggsy and gave a gusty sigh before saying, “Again? I ain’t kissing you when you have onion breath.”

Eggsy remembered that Lee had laughed and chased a squealing Michelle around the kitchen, until he had cornered her and peppered her face with kisses. She had squeezed her eyes shut tight, trying not to laugh, trying to make a disgusted face. But eventually she gave in and kissed Lee back, just a peck on the lips, before pushing him away.

“Don’t fall in love with someone who likes onions,” she advised Eggsy, still laughing. Her entire face was painted with joy, even as Lee came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. Eggsy remembered Lee burying his face into her neck, joy painted on his face, too.

Eggsy remembered his young self saying, “Ew. You guys are gross.”

There were other moments Eggsy remembered. He knew his father was awful at making tea, but his mother always drank it anyway. He remembered his father making breakfast with him and trying to crack eggs, but fumbling with the shells and spilling the whites all over Eggsy’s hands. He remembered Lee laughing, saying, “Look, you’re all eggsy!” He remembered his mother walking into the kitchen and saying, “What’s this, now?” and his father guiltily saying, “Uh… it wasn’t me that got him all eggsy?”

When Eggsy’s lower lip trembled, his father swooped down and said, “Oh, but you’re my eggsy boy, really.”

He remembered other odd facts: his father was incapable of keeping his right shoe tied, he had an unparalleled love of mystery movies and regularly scoffed at Michelle’s black-and-white fare, he snored so loudly that Eggsy could hear it from his room, and he always put too much salt in any dish that he cooked.

Eggsy remembered all of these things. He wished he had more than those odd fragments, but they were enough. He had had a normal family, once. He had. He still didn’t know anything about love, but he thought that the memory of Michelle tasting a curry that Lee had made and smiling, even though it was so over-salted that it made the lips pucker, was something close to it.

Fuck. Memories.

“There you go, sweetie,” said Kathy, handing him his phone back and knocking him out of his thoughts.

“Thanks,” said Eggsy, stashing it in his pocket. “I need to get going now. Get cleaned up for tonight. What a lovely dinner, Kathy, and a beautiful house with a gorgeous woman in charge. Thank you so much for welcoming me here.”

Kathy beamed at him and enveloped him in a hug. “Oh, you really are a charmer. Get out of here, you.”

“Okay. If Daisy becomes too much trouble, call me, yeah? I’ll have my phone on all night, though I might not be able to answer it right away –”

“Shoo, shoo,” said Kathy, ushering him to the door. “You don’t need to leave me any instructions, I know how to take care of her. Get going! You don’t want to be late to your plans.”

“Thanks again,” he said to Kathy. He called over Kathy’s shoulder, “Thanks, Howard! Have a nice night.”

He heard Gawain grunt something before Kathy pushed him out the door. “Enjoy yourself!” she said with a smile, before gently closing the door.

Eggsy shook his head before heading back to his flat. He could see why Gawain married Kathy – what a firecracker. Eggsy wouldn’t mind going home to that every day, if he could.

His mum wasn’t in when he reached his flat, which officially made leaving Daisy with Kathy an excellent idea. He quickly got changed into more casual fare and headed out, mentally prepping himself for an encounter with Diane.

Seven hours later found him flat on his back on the floor, panting and seriously overwhelmed by the rambunctious threesome he was having with Diane and one of her friends. He couldn’t even quite remember her name. Merlin, who was handling him tonight, murmured, “Lucky,” when Diane first suggested it, but Eggsy was beginning to suspect that he might die from too much kinky sex before long.

“How was that?” asked Diane, nestling herself under Eggsy’s arm.

“You even need to ask?” Eggsy snorted, trying to get more comfortable. His hand hit the empty can of whipped cream as he shuffled around a bit.

Diane’s friend burrowed into his other side. “That was excellent. We should do threesomes more often.”

Diane popped her head up. “I think Paul and I are becoming friends with benefits, so I’m down for that. Oh, shit, everyone kept telling me not to put a label on this. I mean, not that I’m talking to anyone about what we’re doing, Paul. Well, maybe one or two people.”

On his other side, Diane’s friend snorted.

“What I’m trying to say,” said Diane, looking mortified, “is that I’m fine with friends with benefits. Unless you want something more?”

In his ear, Merlin said, “Play it cool.”

“Diane,” said Eggsy, letting some gravity into his tone, “I really like you. I’m willing to be whatever you want.”

“Oh.” Diane blinked at him, stars in her eyes. “Oh. Well then. That’s good enough for me.”

They exchanged numbers (Eggsy gave an official number that the techs would manage for him, since it would break protocol to give his personal cell). Diane seemed on cloud nine when Eggsy finally extricated himself at six in the morning.

“Leaving so soon?” she called, forlornly, though her eyes were sparkling.

“I need to go to work, luv. I have some paperwork to finish up that I didn’t yesterday.”

“All right,” she said.

As he walked away, he could hear what sounded like triumphant shouting coming from Diane's house. Eggsy couldn't help but smile.

“Not bad, as far as missions go,” said Merlin. “Didn’t get any new information, but you’re keeping up an excellent rapport with this girl.”

“I’d like my missions to go even better,” said Eggsy, flagging down a taxi. Jeeves was somewhere else for the moment, leaving him to navigate back to Gawain’s house on his own. Thankfully, he wasn’t too rumpled from the night, or else he would be ashamed to show his face.

Merlin was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “I was invited to sit on your probation committee a few hours ago.”

“Did you accept?” asked Eggsy, keeping his tone deliberately neutral.

“Aye. I did. I figure someone level-headed should be there to let them know what arses they’re making of themselves.”

Eggsy blinked twice. Coming from Merlin that… That actually meant a whole lot.

“I’m trying to keep this on the down-low. I don’t need the other agents knowing I’m on probation,” said Eggsy, finally sliding into the back of a taxi. “I know you’re the soul of discretion, but not even Harry knows, yeah?”

“I wouldn’t underestimate Harry Hart,” said Merlin. “He probably knows more than he’s letting on.”

“I’ve been pretty quiet.”

“Oh, son,” said Merlin, almost pityingly. “Harry has years of experience on you. I have no doubt that not only does he know, but he’s actively hatching some sort of plot.”

“I can handle this myself. I don’t need Harry,” said Eggsy.

Merlin, the fucker, had the gall to laugh at that. “It isn’t about you wanting him to help,” said Merlin. “Harry does exactly what he wants, whenever he wants. You have to remember, Eggsy, that Harry might be a good man, but he certainly isn’t a nice one. He’s willing to do what it takes to fix things, but he fixes them by his own definition of the word. And he doesn’t let anyone come in the way of that. Not even you. No one gets in his way when he wants something.”

Eggsy grimaced. “I think you’re underestimating me.”

“Maybe,” said Merlin. “But you’re underestimating Harry. And I’m warning you now, that’s one of the stupidest things you could do.”

That was the truth. Harry was a bit of a beast. Eggsy grunted.

Merlin continued, “What I don’t understand is how this came about. You spent two months on jerk-off missions while the round table debated your fate. And you’ve already proven yourself since then, time and time again. How is it that you’ve been demoted to this?”

“Dunno,” said Eggsy. Because Arthur was a snob and was discriminating against him because of the class he was born in to. Because Arthur didn’t like him, plain and simple. “I suppose it’s because the results of my missions aren’t awe-inspiring.”

“Bollocks,” said Merlin. “You’ve only botched one mission enough to cause civilian casualties, and you haven’t made too many mistakes. Roxy has already managed to make two go tits-up. You’ve made some missteps, but you’ve achieved every outcome with minimal damages. And you’ve been at it for six months. Most agents can’t go two without fucking up and causing major damage.”

“Yeah, but you said it yourself. A lot of those missions were jerk-off missions. And maybe it’s something else. I’m not exactly a gentleman, Merlin.”

There was silence for a bit. Then, Merlin said, his tone halting and awkward, “Eggsy. If I may. Well. I’m going to say it anyway. You don’t have a choice. Right, anyway. Yesterday, you came limping into the tech room with a boot on your foot from a mission that’s so heavily classified no one even knew you were going on it. Which is frustrating and I can’t even hack into it, seriously, what the fuck were you doing… but that’s not the point and I digress. Shit, okay.”

Merlin took a deep breath and began again, “You came limping in with your sister in your arms and paperwork in your bag, and you spent the entire time either baby talking at your sister to make her smile or asking after each tech’s family, friends, their fucking hobbies... You knew each of their names. I’ve been at this job for nearly thirty years now, and I’ve never seen an agent who sat on the floor, treated the techs like human beings, and ignored the injury that they got from saving the world only hours before. You want my opinion? Fuck being a gentleman. Fuck all that shit. You’re a goddamned hero. If not for saving the world, if not for being a spy, for stepping up and bringing your sister in when there was no one else to watch her.”

Eggsy wiped at his eyes. He wasn’t tearing up. No. Not him. No sirree. “I don’t think bringing my sister to work exactly qualifies me as a hero, Merlin.”

“Fuck you, Eggsy, fuck you. I’m not saying it again. It was hard enough the first time around, you fucking idiot. Just accept it and move on.”

“Merlin… Merlin, I don’t want you having this false image of me –”

“Stop. I’m not going to sit here and listen to you try and talk me out of what I already know. And this conversation has way too many emotions in it, I think I’m getting hives. I might have to turn things over to Salomea now because this conversation is truly botched and it can’t get much worse.”

Eggsy reluctantly laughed. “Thanks Merlin.”

“You’re welcome. Now go home, get some rest.”

“Yes sir!” said Eggsy, and finally flicked his glasses off. Pulling them off his face entirely, he watched as houses flashed by.

A hero? He didn’t think so. He appreciated the thought from Merlin, who was clearly trying to raise his morale, but that just didn’t fit with who Eggsy was. Eggsy was many things – a past drug dealer, an abused kid, a torturer. Heroes didn’t have that kind of baggage, didn’t have inflicted pain in their future.

No. Eggsy wasn’t a hero.

(But maybe he held that Merlin thought he was one very, very close to his heart).

When he knocked on Gawain’s door at 6:45, Kathy promptly opened it. “She was a joy,” before Eggsy could even ask. “I’d be happy to take her any night that you need it, okay?”

“That’s wonderful to hear,” said Eggsy gathering Daisy into his arms. Daisy seemed to be in a cheerful mood and glad to see him, chuckling and waving her parrot in his face. “How are you doing, princess? You enjoy your night away?”

Daisy giggled. “Yes!”

Eggsy dropped a kiss on the top of her head, because she was going to be a real heart-breaker when she got older. She was already making everyone around her fall in love with her. “Anything concerning that I should know about? She’s been waking up at two in the morning recently and I can’t figure out why, did she sleep through the night?”

“She was fine. If she did wake up she didn’t cry to get our attention, so as far as I know she slept through the night.”

“That’s great,” said Eggsy, feeling better. “Thank you again for taking care of her. I’ll leave you to work, yeah? And, oh, I’m sorry, I’ve never had someone look after her before like this, do I…?”

“I don’t need any money,” said Kathy. “It was a favor. Think nothing of it. Just keep her happy, okay?”

“I’ll do my best,” promised Eggsy, who was maybe a little in love with Kathy because of how awesome she was.

“I’ve also called that daycare we talked about,” said Kathy. “I pulled a few strings. They said that they had an opening there, and they’re saving the spot for you, just in case. They can’t hold the spot forever, so I’d swing by there as soon as possible, okay, honey?”

“Thanks, Kathy,” said Eggsy, fond. Kathy was a lifesaver.

That fond, fuzzy feeling faded when he got back to his flat. Walking in and throwing his keys on the counter, he could see Michelle’s shoes next to the door. There was also a little bag sitting by the counter, like it had been thoughtlessly discarded or something. “Mum? You here?”

There was a bang, like Michelle accidentally bumped into something, before her door opened a crack. She slipped through, her eyes a little wild, her hair a frightful mess. She looked like she was tripping out on something.

“Eggsy!” she said breathlessly. Her eyeliner had been smudged at some point, giving her a deep raccoon-like look. She also must not have had a steady hand when applying her lipstick, because there were splotches of the pink color at the corners of her mouth, as well as clinging to the bottom left of her lip. She ran a hand through her tangled hair, giving Eggsy one of the fakest grins he had ever seen on her face. “How are you doing?”

“I’m pretty fucking pissed off,” said Eggsy. “I got in trouble with my boss for bringing Daisy into work for a second time. Where the fuck were you?”

“Oh, Eggsy, I’m not sure now is the best time to fight,” said Michelle. She fiddled a little with her shirt, straightening it out, and re-buttoned a few of the buttons.

It clicked in Eggsy’s mind. “Is there a guy in your room right now?”

“…what? Eggsy, don’t be ridiculous.”

Eggsy started walking toward her room. Michelle stepped in front of him, avoiding his eyes and biting her lip. Her eyes were fixed on the floor. Eggsy tried to step around her, and Michelle shuffled into his way again, blocking his view. “Really, mum? You brought a guy back here?”

“I deserve happiness,” she said, feebly, blinking hard.

“You need to get your life together before you find that happiness,” said Eggsy. “You left Daisy on her own!”

“She was asleep! I thought you were here!”

“There was no reason to think I was here, mum, I had been out for three days! Why didn’t you check my room?”

“Yeah, let’s talk about you, yeah! What the fuck you doing out for three days, eh?”

“I had a business trip!”

“Since when do tailors go on business trips, huh?”

“Since we have clients in other cities who have remained loyal to our brand –”

His mum switched tact abruptly. “I can’t believe you’s a fucking tailor. Looking down on me, looking down on all of your friends –”

“My friends? I haven’t heard Jamal and Ryan complain, not that you can even be bothered to remember their fucking names.”

“I think you’re full of shit, Eggsy. I bet you don’t even have a fucking job. Are you dealing drugs again? Are you on coke?

“What?” Eggsy gaped at his mother. He knew, logically, that she was just throwing those accusations out to distract him, make him angry, and make him forget about the guy in her room, but this was ridiculous. “Mum, you know I haven’t done any of that sort since Daisy was born, it’s been nearly three years now! I’ve been completely clean!”

“I don’t believe you,” said his mum. In his arms, Daisy started crying. Eggsy began to bounce her, so thrown off by his mother’s statements that he wasn’t sure what to do. He tried to remind himself that she wasn’t completely sober, that she wasn’t in her right mind. She had to be high on cough syrup, maybe even drunk, which was a terrible combination, fuck. She wouldn’t be saying any of this shit if she wasn’t twisted. “You been acting so odd lately and getting injured all the time. How do I know you ain’t dealing, huh?”

“Because I ain’t, mum, I ain’t done any of that sort of shit since I was twenty-one and you fucking know it. And let’s talk about the dealing, huh? Who the fuck made me into a drug dealer? Who was it, you think, that nearly killed you over some fucking money?”

“Don’t bring him into this, Eggsy, you ain't appreciated anything that Dean’ve done for us since he got here –”

“Dean was worse than Trevor –”

“Don’t you dare compare them –”

“Michelle. Am I interrupting something?”

Silence fell over the flat. In the moments that followed that statement, Eggsy felt murder flowing through his veins, like a poison Tristan had cooked up and accidentally spiked his drink with. He took an involuntary step forward, Daisy still wailing in his arms.

Michelle closed her eyes, slowly. “Dean, baby. I asked you to stay in my room.”

Dean leaned against the doorjamb, his crooked smile spreading across his face. “When you discussing me out here, you ain’t serious if you expect me to stay in there.”

“You brought him into my house?” asked Eggsy, his voice sounding very, very cold. It hadn’t even occurred to him that the man she brought home might’ve been Dean, because he never thought she would’ve brought him here. He handed Daisy to Michelle, taking two steps toward Dean. “You ain’t welcome here. You ain’t ever welcome here. I don’t give two fucking shits if my mum invites you in. You ain’t to ever enter this house again, you understand me?”

“If your mum wants to bang me, I ain’t saying no to that. And if she wants to do it in your fucking house, then we’ll do it in your house,” said Dean.

Michelle suddenly screamed. Eggsy had a moment of confusion before he realized that he had pulled his Glock out of his suit jacket and was pointing it at Dean.

Dean actually cringed. Eggsy supposed he probably had a manic look on his face; once, during training, Merlin had said that when he gets into his “disassociated state,” that his face turns “fucking terrifying.”

“It’s like it shuts down,” said Merlin. “But the eyes say differently.”

He would’ve preferred the polite “fuck you” face that Harry got sometimes, but he would settle for scary.

“Let me be a bit clearer,” said Eggsy, enunciating each word, practically tasting them in his mouth. “I don’t want you in my house. I don’t want you near my mum. I don’t want you within five hundred meters of Daisy. I don’t ever want to see your fucking face again. And now? Now I have connections. I work at a tailor shop, and it just so happens that we outfit the police commissioner, among other important people. I’m pretty sure if I blew your goddamned head off that everyone would shrug and look the other way. And we both know I’m not afraid to do it. I’m not twelve years old anymore, Dean. You wanna fucking test me?”

“You’re bluffing,” said Dean, but his face was pasty white.

Eggsy cocked in the gun in a smooth, sure motion. “So you do wanna test me?”

“I’ll leave,” said Dean, finally leaving the doorway of his mum’s room. “But you better watch your back, Mugsy.”

Eggsy lowered the gun and stepped smoothly in front of Dean, blocking his way. He would never be threatened by this man again. Not when he could still hear his mother crying sometimes at night, even if she tried to muffle it by biting the pillow. Not when Daisy lay in her crib, needing a father and having to settle for Eggsy instead. Not when Eggsy could recall the way the bruises felt at fifteen, the way he could press a thumb into a bruise and feel the dull-sharp stab of pain, the way Ryan saw them and said, “Aight, cuz?” when it wasn’t fucking all right, it was never going to be all right, nothing was going to be all right.

Eggsy had been trained to be spy. He had killed hundreds, hurt thousands, impacted millions. He wasn’t going to be threatened by this man. Not anymore. Not even if it made his heart beat a little too fast and the sweat dot along the back of his neck.

“Need I remind you the last time we saw each other?” asked Eggsy, faux-casually, his fingers tightening compulsively on the gun. “I seem to recall kicking the shit out of you and your goons. Threaten me and my family again, and I’ll tear you a new arsehole. Literally.” He got close to Dean’s face, letting the sharp lines of his body speak for themselves.

“I ain’t afraid of you,” said Dean.

“Your mistake,” said Eggsy, softly. “I ain’t someone you can push around no more. I became something. You fucked up in making an enemy out of me.”

Dean puffed his chest out. “How would your tailor friends like to hear about you dealing drugs?”

“They know and they don’t give a shit,” lied Eggsy, taking the wind out of Dean’s sails. “I told ‘em about everything.”

Eggsy reached out and straightened Dean’s coat, patting him on the shoulder. “Lemme be even more clear, cause this still doesn’t seem to be getting through to that tiny brain of yours. Don’t threaten me. Don’t come to my house. Don’t go near my mum. Don’t go near Daisy. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t like. If you do? You won’t be living long.”

Dean finally seemed to get the hint. He scrutinized Eggsy’s face for interminable moments, while the gun stayed sweaty in Eggsy’s hands. In the background, Daisy continued to wail, and Eggsy could sense his mother rocking her, standing well away from the fighting.

And then Dean half-lunged toward Eggsy, a clear fake-out. He wasn’t going to do anything, or touch him.

Eggsy, who was holding the gun, who was in the position of power here –

Flinched.

He fucking flinched, his eyes automatically dropping down, the gun lowering. He fucking flinched, like he was fourteen again and dodging fists. It was an instinctive reaction, his shoulders bunching, his mouth tightening, fear flowing through his veins.

In front of him, Dean laughed. It was low, cruel, mean. “You ain’t nothing, Mugsy. You ain’t ever been something. You can front all you want, but in the end, you… why, you a scared little boy, aintcha?”

“Fuck you,” said Eggsy, trying desperately to regroup, but feeling so thrown off and out of sorts. He wanted to threaten Dean, but it was like his balloon had completely deflated. He was no longer a spy, trained to be stronger than the fictional James Bond; now, he was that young boy who cried when he realized that the man who was kind enough to bring him to the movies was also cruel enough to dig his fingers into Eggsy’s shoulder and leave finger bruises, one stark one by his collarbone, four dancing along his shoulder blade like a warped ballet.

Dean stepped around Eggsy, not looking at Michelle as he went to the door. “You’ll regret this whole thing,” he said as he pulled open the door. “I ain’t someone to threaten either, Mugsy.” He paused at the door, before turning around and trotting back to the kitchen counter. He picked up the bag that Eggsy had noticed sitting there earlier. Dean pulled out a carton of milk, probably gone bad from sitting in the heat, and set it on the counter. “Saw you were out,” he grunted. “Thought you might need some.”

Then he left.

There were so many things wrong with that statement. It meant Dean had been here before, but mostly, it enraged Eggsy, because Michelle looked so touched, like Dean had done some great favor.

Eggsy stashed the gun back in his suit before striding over to the milk. He picked it up, looked at it clinically, and then threw it – as hard as he possibly could – at the wall, where the plastic warped and and the pressure caused the cap to pop off. Milk sprayed everywhere – the floor, the counter, even splashing the refrigerator.

There was a long, pregnant silence, before Michelle burst into tears. Daisy, who had calmed down sometime during Eggsy’s threats, started looking upset again too.

“Fuck,” said Eggsy, because no other word seemed to fit the situation better. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

He turned and looked Michelle. She was burying her face into Daisy’s shoulder, smearing make-up and snot all over Daisy’s dress.

To Eggsy’s horror, he felt the shortness of breath he was now beginning to associate with a panic attack. The room was fuzzy, and it was like the dripping of the milk was louder than Daisy’s wailing, louder than Michelle’s sniffles, louder than the blood still pounding through Eggsy’s veins. Louder. Louder.

“Fuck,” said Eggsy again.

Michelle hiccupped.

“Tell me you haven’t brought him over before,” said Eggsy, quietly, ignoring her hysterics.

“I can’t believe you did that, Eggsy, I can’t believe you talked to him that way…”

“Mum,” said Eggsy, taking a deliberate step toward her. “Shut up.”

Surprisingly, she did. Her eyes were flickering over his face. She looked a little scared. Eggsy, feeling a little sick, took a step back. He didn’t want to scare her.

“Tell me you haven’t brought him over before,” said Eggsy.

“I…” Michelle hesitated. “I haven’t brought him over before.”

“Fucking hell, mum,” said Eggsy. “Lying doesn’t help. What part of ‘get the fuck away from Dean’ do you not understand?”

“I still love him, Eggsy,” said Michelle.

Eggsy shook his head. “I gave you a way out. I gave you a new home, a place for Daisy to be safe. You have everything you could want right now. You gotta be brave, mum. You gotta cut him loose.”

“It ain’t that easy, Eggsy.”

“No, it ain’t easy, mum!” And Eggsy didn’t know why he was suddenly shouting, but he was infuriated by everything. By his mum, by his job, by his fucking inability to take care of anything. Hero, indeed. And the damn milk was still dripping, why the fuck did he throw it, why couldn’t it just leave, why was it staying in their lives like fucking Dean. “But sometimes you just gotta do what’s right! Whether that means quitting the drugs, or… or leaving someone who’s been hurting both you and your kids, or…”

“Is this even about me?” cried Michelle. “Have you been doing the right thing, Eggsy?”

Eggsy fell silent. That hurt.

“Have you? You’ve been doing coke –”

“Are you still on that?!”

“And you’ve been a terrible influence on Daisy!”

“No I haven’t! I been taking care of her!”

“Don’t give me that shit, Gary Unwin! I know who you are! I raised you! I know you like your thrills right along with your self-righteousness.”

“Yeah,” said Eggsy. “Maybe you’re right. You did raise me. And maybe I’m just like you. But I like to think I have a bit of my dad in me as well. Maybe I’m not 100% fucked up like you are.”

“Oh, oh, that’s mature, is it? You’re nothing like your father. Your father never would have let any of this happen.”

This argument was spinning wildly out of hand. “Go fuck yourself!” Eggsy shouted. “You want mature? Yeah, yeah, I’ll give you mature! I fucking hate this! I fucking hate coming home knowing that I’m coming to a mother who can’t be bothered to sober up so she doesn’t accidentally kill her daughter! I fucking hate knowing I can’t go to work without worrying about my two-year-old sister who shouldn’t even be my responsibility! I hate it! I hate this! This ain’t right! You’re so fucked up in the head, mum, you’re so fucked up that I don’t even want to talk to you!”

“Leave! Just get out!”

“This is my house you bitch, you leave!”

Michelle rocked back like he had given her a physical blow. She scrubbed the tears from her face. Eggsy came back to himself, taking five deep breaths.

It had felt like temporary insanity, like everything was just spiraling so far into craziness it was like that black and white show his mum watched occasionally, what the fuck was it called, The Twilight Zone? It was all just too much, and Eggsy knew he had gone so far past the point of no return that he had lapped it several times.

“I didn’t mean that,” said Eggsy instantly. “I’m sorry, mum, I just said a lot of things that I didn’t actually mean.”

“I think you did mean them,” said Michelle, hollowly.

“No. You’re not fucked up in the head.” Already, Eggsy could see the damage that he had done right in front of him. Dean just made him so crazy, and he was so angry at his mum, and his entire life felt like it was in the shitter. His emotions just got too wild, fuck. “You’re doing the best you can, you’re just in a bad situation.”

Michelle blinked at him. Then she smiled, a very cruel smile. He had never seen that look on her face before. It was almost like the one Dean wore. “You may call me fucked up in the head, but I’m not the one pretending I’m moral. You’re a shame, and your father would hate who you are.”

Eggsy’s breath whooshed out of him. Michelle set Daisy on the floor, before turning and walking into her room. She shut the door with a bang. Eggsy stared at the shut door, feeling physically sick.

Well. That could’ve gone better.

Eggsy, like he was on autopilot, made a bit of breakfast that he did his best to feed to a now-fussy Daisy. He didn’t eat anything himself, his stomach feeling too volatile. When it got to be about 8:00, he put in a call to the daycare center that Kathy had recommended and started questioning them about daycare. Everything felt robotic – his joints felt like they needed to be greased, his eyes needed moisture, and at this point, he had enough experience to realize that he was in no real state to be talking to anyone. But needs must. His mum was in no state to be looking over Daisy.

He grilled them for a while – were the other children friendly? How late could Daisy stay there at night? Would she be given consistent punishments for wrongdoings? How much would it cost? – before admitting that they sounded like a solid place. He was still uncomfortable about it because he felt like he was out of his league, but they encouraged him to come in and look at the facilities.

Eggsy glanced at the clock. 8:30. He’d be a little late for work, but he had had a mission the night before. He technically had an eight-hour break, and if Arthur questioned him over it, he was just aching for a real fight.

He got changed into casual jeans, figuring he would put on a suit when he got to work. He just wasn’t in the mood to be full-out posh today. Maybe he would help Mike fix cars again, as long as Arthur didn’t give him another mission.

A half hour later, he had gathered Daisy’s things and (without saying goodbye to his mother) went to drop Daisy off at daycare.

The daycare center was in a squat, yellow building with a large, fenced-in yard. Eggsy could see picnic tables and umbrellas over the top of the painted blue fence. He knocked on the door and waited as a friendly-looking Asian woman opened the door.

“Hello, you must be Eggsy,” she said. Then, meeting Daisy’s eyes, she said, faux-excited, “And you must be Daisy!”

Daisy, who was usually excellent at meeting new people, clutched Eggsy’s lapel in an unexpected show of shyness. “Are you the one I talked to on the phone?” asked Eggsy.

“That’d be me,” she said.

“Could I have a look around the facilities? I just want to make sure –”

“No, you’re absolutely fine,” she said, stepping back to let him in. “I’m surprised that you already want to drop her off. Most parents spend ages looking for daycare. Months and months, really.”

“You came highly recommended. My friends, Kathy –” Eggsy realized, suddenly, he didn’t know their last names. He corrected, “My friends, Kathy and Howard, said you were excellent.”

The lady seemed to know who he was talking about, because her face lit up. “Oh, yes, they’re wonderful. Normally we don’t have spots open and we have quite the waiting list, but Howard has been such a pivotal benefactor of the place, we just had to clear a spot.”

“Right,” said Eggsy, a little uncomfortable with the connotation of “clear a spot.” “I just still have a few questions. Is there perhaps a trial period? What if, after a few weeks, I discover a place that’s closer to my work? Or…? I’ve really just started looking at daycares, honestly…”

“Not to worry,” she said cheerfully. “We’re fully aware of that, and we give you a grace period in case such a thing happens.”

“Excellent.” Eggsy felt like he was settling back into his skin. The walk over had calmed him immensely, as had feeding Daisy. He figured as long as anything else didn’t go wrong, he would be fine.

As Eggsy and the woman continued to speak, a man came out from what seemed to be a back room. He noticed them immediately; once he got his eyes on them, he beelined over.

“Ah, Mr. Brightsdale,” said the lady, smiling. “I was just showing around a potential new client.”

“Were you,” said the man, giving what Eggsy supposed was intended to be a smile. It was much too strained to really set a person at ease.

The lady didn’t seem bothered by this. Instead, she began the tour of the place, showing various rooms – an arts and crafts room, a nap room, a place for time-outs – and let him poke his head outside, where a few of the children were sitting around. She talked on and on about various things – cleanliness standards, the ratio of staff to child, things Eggsy didn’t realize he really needed to know before this.

Eggsy was still nervous, but his time was running out, so he finally gave in and decided to leave Daisy. He would ask Merlin at work to help him with some more research later.

“You’ll need to sign a few papers,” said the lady. “Nothing that obligates you to continue to return, not just yet. But we still need a bit of information about your sister before we can proceed.”

Mr. Brightsdale, who had followed them the entire time, just lurking at the back of the group, started. “Sister? She isn’t his daughter?”

“No,” said the lady.

“Is he the guardian? We’ll need parental consent.”

“He was referred here by the Talbots,” said the lady, frowning. “We can worry about parental consent when he commits full-time to this.”

Mr. Brightsdale frowned mightily. He scanned Eggsy up and down, his eyes lingering on Eggsy’s jeans. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll take care of the paperwork. Come this way, sir.”

Eggsy followed Brightsdale into that back room, feeling nervous. He sat Daisy down so she could play with some crayons in the corner of the office while he sat before Brightsdale’s desk, feeling like a small child called before the headmaster. He had to concentrate on not bouncing his knee or scratching at his boot.

“All right,” said Brightsdale, pulling a sheaf of papers from his desk. “These are the standard papers for the grace period. We do charge a small fee for this time, and afterwards our traditional fee is put in place. Were you walked through what our fees typically are?”

“Yes,” said Eggsy, who had had a small heart attack when the lady had explained it to him.

“Right,” said Brightsdale. “Well, you’ll need a payment plan to pay for all of it, then.”

Eggsy tilted his head. “Are there other options?” A payment plan, while ideal in most situations, was certainly not now, not with his profession. If a bill came while he was on a mission, or while he was injured, things could go catastrophically bad for him. There were contingencies put in place for that sort of thing, especially if an agent were injured, but details like that were known for slipping through the cracks at Kingsman. It would be better to pay for half now and half later, when he had enough in his bank account.

Brightsdale raised an eyebrow. “I think the payment plan will probably be the best option for you, sir.”

“Why?”

“Payment plans allow you to spread out the payments,” said Brightsdale, pitching his voice just a bit slower.

And just like that, Eggsy was offended.

There wasn’t any reason to be, he knew. Part of the reason was probably that he still felt like he had fire in his veins, like his breathing was earned rather than instinctual. Maybe it was his authority issues and having a man behind a desk speaking slowly, like he was stupid or something.

But more than that, Eggsy didn’t like this man’s attitude. He didn’t like the way Brightsdale was looking at him, like wearing jeans and having an accent made him lesser. He didn’t like the way Brightsdale was insisting on a payment plan. He didn’t like it.

Calm down, Eggsy told himself. This man has done nothing, said nothing, implied very little. And he probably didn’t even mean to imply anything.

“What are my other options?” asked Eggsy. His voice sounded firm. Good.

Brightsdale raised an eyebrow, like he was amused. “Well, you could pay it all in one lump sum. But usually the people who opt to do that…” he trailed off, like he didn’t want to finish that sentence.

Eggsy had had enough. This was a lovely place, beautiful, but he wasn’t going to leave Daisy here with this man.

Kathy and Gawain probably had never had this problem, thought Eggsy, standing up suddenly. Not when they were benefactors of the whole damn place.

“Sir?” asked Brightsdale, not looking surprised in the least.

“I apologize,” said Eggsy, suddenly using his posh accent. He gave the man his best I’m-superior-you-fuck look, raising an unimpressed eyebrow. “I believe I’ll be taking my business elsewhere.”

Brightsdale’s face drained of color. “Sir, I didn’t mean…”

“Good day,” said Eggsy, swinging Daisy into his arms and walking out of the office. He marched past the lady, who looked shocked, and out into the sun.

He made it one block before he had to stop in an alleyway. He set Daisy down carefully next to him before he sat down and stuck his head between his knees, the morning catching up to him. He counted his breaths, in and out, in and out, and kept one hand on Daisy’s shoulder, trying to stay grounded through the panic attack.

He had just stupidly walked out of the daycare. The man hadn’t even said anything bad. Maybe he wasn’t even implying things. Maybe Eggsy really did just have a chip on his shoulder. Regardless, Eggsy was now out a caretaker, his mum wouldn’t be able to watch Daisy, and he had just picked her up from Kathy, so she was out.

Who would watch Daisy?

Taking three deep, calming breaths, the panic attack slowly subsiding, Eggsy pulled out his mobile. The plastic felt foreign on his hands and the buttons didn’t seem to make sense, but he painstakingly dialed anyway.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Jamal,” said Eggsy, running his hand through his hair. He focused his gaze on a grease spot in the alleyway. “Don’t suppose you’re free?”

There was a long pause on the other line. Then Jamal said, apologetically, “I’m not, cuz. I weren’t planning on telling you guys, but… I got a job.”

“What?” said Eggsy, blindsided. “That’s great, mate! Why wasn’t you going to tell us?”

“Didn’t seem like a good time. Ryan’s been in a tough spot, you know how it gets with his dad, and you was trying to do good with your job…”

“Mate, that’s excellent,” said Eggsy, cutting through all the bullshit. “I’m so happy for you. Where at?”

“An auto shop,” said Jamal. “Helping fix cars.”

“Brill,” said Eggsy.

“Yeah. I gotta go, though. My break’s almost over.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy.

Shit. Shit. Shit. As happy as Eggsy was for Jamal, he was his last hope. Who else was he supposed to call? All the Kingsman agents would be working right now – like Eggsy should be, fuck – and Eggsy had no one else.

Well. Maybe not.

The phone rang three times before Ryan picked up. “Yo, whatdya want?” he said. Eggsy could hear Ryan’s sister yelling the background, something about someone stealing something.

“Hey mate,” said Eggsy. He could feel the panic creeping in again, blackness dotting the very edges of his vision. This wasn’t going to work. Ryan hated children. He ran away every time Jamal looked after Daisy. And what was Eggsy going to do, drop Daisy off with Ryan when he lived in such a volatile house?

“What’s wrong?” asked Ryan, more seriously. “You sound off.”

“’M not. Just have a question for you.”

“Okay.”

“Could you watch Daisy for today? It’s just… You know what, never mind, I just…”

“Mate,” said Ryan, in a firm tone. And then Ryan, who hated children, studiously avoided even looking at Daisy when he was in Eggsy’s flat, said, “Of course I’ll look over her.”

That was why Ryan was his best mate.

A half hour later found Eggsy in the estates, handing Daisy and her bag over to a terrified-looking Ryan. “Thanks, mate, I owe you a million,” said Eggsy.

“Nah, cuz,” said Ryan. “I owed from that time with Poodle, remember that?”

“Yeah, but that were payback from when I owed you with that time at the bar –”

“But that were for helping me with my grandma.”

“I helped you with your grandma because you got Jamal off my back when I was smoking too much.”

“Did that cause you got Jamal off my back when I peed on Benny’s house after he broke up with me.”

“Jamal really needs to stop nagging us,” said Eggsy.

“Seriously,” said Ryan. “It’s like he were our mum, or something.”

Eggsy nodded. “Got all you need for Daisy?”

“Yeah,” said Ryan. “Gotta get her before six. That’s when da comes home. Uh, say five?”

“I’ll be here,” said Eggsy. Then, despite feeling nervous as all hell, left Daisy with Ryan.

Thankfully, the panic he had been feeling that morning had receded to the background again. Because of that, when he got to work, he reported immediately for debriefing with Arthur and Merlin. The presence of Merlin seemed to temper some of Arthur’s more critical comments, especially since Merlin appeared to approve of Eggsy’s actions.

“And you couldn’t convince her to be more… tasteful about her sexual proclivities?” asked Arthur, wrinkling her nose when Eggsy started talking about the pegging.

“Pretty sure she would lose interest in me,” said Eggsy. “I can’t control what she wants to do in bed.”

Arthur looked like she disagreed, but she moved on quickly. The debrief was fairly painless, all considering, and Eggsy was just standing up as Arthur said, “Oh, one more word, Mr. Unwin.”

Merlin, who was nearly out the door, turned around with a suspicious glare, but Arthur simply raised her eyebrows until Merlin shut the door behind him.

“Right, I have another mission for you,” said Arthur.

“My eight hours aren’t up yet,” said Eggsy. “I got off my last mission at six in the morning and it’s only 10:30. I have three and a half more hours.”

“I’m sorry?” asked Arthur, raising another eyebrow. “I don’t think you’re in a position right now to be citing policy at me.”

“Right,” said Eggsy, taking care not to let the surliness in his voice. “What’s the mission?”

“You need to leave in an hour,” said Arthur. “It’s another capture mission.”

“Wait – what? I’m still in a boot, and will be for another week and a half! And the doctor said nothing too strenuous for another week after that.”

“You’re not going after a trained individual,” said Arthur. “This should be quick.”

“Is it in regards to the recent situation with the leaks?”

“Yes.”

Eggsy frowned. “Is it the third agent the assassin contacted? Because he’s probably been trained then.”

“It is the third agent. But he’s not highly trained,” said Arthur.

“Highly? But he is still trained?”

“No,” said Arthur, running a hand over her braid. “Here’s his location.” She handed over a single sheet of paper with only an address on it. “We’ve managed to arrange a meeting between you two, so you don’t have to sneak in or out. It’ll be in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of London.”

“Dramatic,” said Eggsy. “Where’s the folder with materials?”

“No need for them,” said Arthur.

“What?”

“No need. I’ve told you all the information you need.”

“No,” said Eggsy. “I can’t go into a situation without further intel. This is smelling like a suicide mission to me.”

“Need I remind you of your status?” Arthur stood up, her pantsuit looking crisp in the morning light from the windows.

Eggsy gritted his teeth. “And is this mission off the record, as well?”

“Naturally. I will be handling you while you enter the warehouse.”

As he got into the car with Jeeves, Eggsy felt anger boiling beneath his skin. He felt like he was being sent out to the firing squad. There was no way this agent couldn’t be at least a little trained. In a clunky boot and with light bruising still lingering around his body, Eggsy knew he would be seriously outmatched. It sounded like a training simulation from hell.

“Sir?”

Eggsy started. “Yeah, what’s up?”

Jeeves was staring at him in the rear view mirror. “Are you all right?”

“Just peachy,” said Eggsy, straightening up. “Off to my next mission!”

“Yes. Another mission,” said Jeeves. “Is this one heavily classified, as well?”

“All our missions are,” said Eggsy, wondering what Jeeves was trying to imply. His tone had a level to it that Eggsy had never heard before.

“Of course, sir,” said Jeeves. “Pardon me. This one seems to be so classified that you don’t even have your standard packet of information.”

“Other agents don’t study materials in the cars. Maybe I just already memorized the information.”

“Indeed,” said Jeeves. He sounded like he didn’t believe it. “I’m certain you have everything handled.”

“You gonna give me a hard time, too?” Eggsy leaned his forehead against the glass, feeling innumerably tired. “Because I’ve had a lot of lectures from a lot of people these past couple of days, bruv.”

“Certainly not.” Jeeves sounded affronted. “It is not my place to be lecturing you.”

Take a few deep breaths, Eggsy. Stop accusing everyone of everything. “Sorry for snapping at you there, Jeeves. Just having a tough week.”

They sat in silence for the rest of the car ride, Eggsy brooding, Jeeves thinking about who knows what. When they pulled up in front of a warehouse, Eggsy felt jittery nerves going through him.

As he gripped the door handle, he asked, “What are your orders, bruv? You sticking around or you got someplace else to be?”

“Arthur has recalled me to the mansion,” said Jeeves. “She said that she would be sending you another car in an hour.”

Eggsy opened the door. For a mission like this, it made more sense for Jeeves to wait. Eggsy wasn’t sure what Arthur was playing at. “I know she’s recalled you, but do you need to go back right away? Could you stick around for a few minutes?”

“She has me on assignment driving another agent to a location. I’m sorry, sir.”

“Oh,” said Eggy. “Oh, it’s no problem, mate.” He shot a grin at Jeeves. It must not have convinced Jeeves, for he hesitated.

“I could maybe stay for one or two minutes, but I might be late…”

“No,” said Eggsy. He knew that the very thought of being late made Jeeves uncomfortable. “I’ll wait the hour, yeah? I’m sure this mission will take that long.” He shut the door on Jeeves’s torn face, backing away and giving him a thumbs up. Jeeves hesitated a moment longer before slowly peeling away from the curb.

Eggsy felt like he was about to shit himself. Stop it, he told himself. He was a Kingsman. Maybe this was a little worse than having his hands tied behind his back and thrown into training, but he would be fine. Really.

He pulled out his phone and placed a call before he went inside the warehouse. It rang a few times before Harry picked up. “Hello?” he said, his voice curious.

“Ay-yo, Harry,” said Eggsy. He checked his watch – he had five minutes for this conversation. A smarter move would be to poke his nose around the warehouse a bit, but Eggsy suspected this mission wasn’t going to go his way.

“Hello, Eggsy,” said Harry, a tad warmer. “How are you?”

“I’m brill,” said Eggsy. “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well,” said Harry, before he politely fell silent to hear why Eggsy called.

“You done with your latest mission?”

“Just finishing up the paperwork now. I’m in my office,” said Harry.

“Ace. Listen, can I ask a favor bruv? I dropped my sister off at a friend’s house today and I’m a little worried my latest mission might go past five. Would you be able to pick her up if I’m a little late?”

“Of course,” said Harry. “Do you want me to drop her off at your flat? Will your mother be home?”

“Ah, this is just in case I don’t make it tonight. I’ll call you a little before then to confirm. But, uh… could you hold onto her until I make it back? Yeah? My mum might be working tonight. She didn’t really give me her schedule.”

There was a pause, before Harry said, “It would be my pleasure.”

“You’re the guvnor, Harry, seriously. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Listen, I gotta go. But thank you thank you thank you. I dropped her off at Ryan’s, do you need me to give you the address?”

“No,” said Harry. “I already know it.”

Eggsy let that settle. Harry was creepy as hell sometimes and did nothing to hide it. “Right. Well, thank you again.”

“Of course,” said Harry. “Be safe on your mission.”

“Will do. Cheers!”

“Cheers.”

Eggsy hung up the phone, feeling a million times better. If – when – he got back, he would sit down and arrange a full-time nanny. He would ask Merlin about it; as a Kingsman, he made a more than comfortable salary, but he had been planning on putting a lot of it away for Daisy’s university fund. Plus, he just genuinely didn’t think he could afford one on the salary. Maybe there was something that the Kingsmen could arrange… he would ask.

He would also file a restraining order against Dean, he thought. He would make sure Dean couldn’t come within two meters of Daisy. Yeah, he would do that.

When he made it back.

He walked into the warehouse right on the dot, his hands deliberately by his sides so the mark could see that he didn’t have any weapons prepped. He stood in the middle of the room. The warehouse was completely empty; just a big, echoing space, nothing but four gray walls and some doors to the outside. There were no nooks to hide. If it came to a shootout, there would be no cover.

There were also no convenient weapons to use, no use for Parkour. This would be a hand-on-hand fight, if it came down to it. Eggsy switched on his glasses. The mark had yet to arrive.

“As soon as he approaches you, remember to take him down,” said Arthur in his ear. “Understood?”

“Copy,” said Eggsy, standing stock still. His boot felt heavy on his foot. “Do you see anything on the surveillance outside? Give me some intel.”

“I don’t have eyes outside.”

Eggsy felt anger stir. Frustration loosened his tongue: “Then what use are you as a handler?”

“Excuse me?”

Eggsy, who had come to stand in the very middle of the warehouse, heard a creak behind him. He wheeled around to watch one of the heavy metal doors squeal open and a man slip inside.

The man was dressed in all black, head to toe. He was significantly taller than Eggsy (not necessarily a hard feat) and had a trim, hard body. He moved with the deliberateness of someone who had been trained in making each twitch, each small movement, count.

This, Eggsy thought, was a man who fought for a living.

“Arthur,” he whispered as the man prowled closer, “I won’t be able to take this man down.”

“You know your mission, Mr. Unwin.”

The man came to a stop in front of Eggsy. He could now see his face – the thin yet choppy scar livid across his jawbone, most likely from a knife wound. The split in one of his eyebrows, probably from a well-felt punch. The slightly crooked nose, which had to’ve been from it breaking once or twice. The man grinned, showing off a snaggle tooth and holes where one of his incisors and two of his bottom teeth should have been. This man was clearly seasoned.

“Hello,” said Eggsy, reaching out his hand.

“Greetings,” said the man, his Cockney accent thick. He ignored Eggsy’s hand, who let it drop.

The problem, Eggsy thought, with arranging such a meeting was any element of surprise was completely shot. And with a man like this, who looked like he cut up faces for a drug dealer as a living (Eggsy would know, he ran with those kinds of crowds once upon a time), the element of surprise would have been crucial. This wasn’t Rottie, who needed five men and a gun to take someone down.

“You have some information for me,” said Eggsy, when the man didn’t seem to be inclined to say anything else. He ignored Arthur’s whispers for him to take the man down.

The man raised a damaged eyebrow. “I was told you had a job for me.”

“Ah,” said Eggsy, who mentally swore at the lack of information he had. If he had been properly briefed, he would have known that. “Well.”

And then he struck – as quick as he had ever been taught, Eggsy let his right arm come up in what would have been a rather devastating sucker punch, if the man hadn’t immediately danced out of the way. Eggsy followed it up with kick from his good foot, but it missed both because of the man dodging and because his bad foot wasn’t good enough to support that kind of activity.

The man took advantage of Eggsy’s momentary lapse of pain to produce a switchblade out of nowhere, flicking it open. Excellent, Eggsy could work with that – he pulled out his Glock and aimed it between the man’s eyes.

“Don’t fucking move,” he said, when the man made a motion toward his jacket. “If you’re gonna bring out a weapon, mate, why the fuck wouldn’t you start with the big shit?”

With a thunk, Eggsy fell to the ground, fire-like pain throbbing through his skull. His Glock went skidding away, at least ten feet from him, while he clutched his head, completely thrown off.

“Mr. Paul Smith,” said Timothy Yates, grinning down at him from where he had snuck up behind him. He spun a pistol in his hand – he had literally pistol-whipped Eggsy while Eggsy had been focused on the other man.

“Mr. Yates,” said Eggsy, spitting out some blood. He had bitten his tongue rather badly. “I see you’re involved in all of this.”

“As soon as your organization made contact with Piers, I knew that I had been found out,” he said. He aimed the pistol deliberately at Eggsy’s face. “I suspected that you were a Kingsman with your presence at the gala, though I must say, Diane has been quite enamored with you. I haven’t quite had it in me to divest her of the notion that you’re anything but using her.”

“You’re the one Chester King contacted about taking Kingsmen out,” said Eggsy, just to confirm it.

“Yes, but you’re all rather slippery,” he said. “I was trying to target one of the older agents – I believe his codename is Lamorak? – but every time I got him in my sights, something blew up.”

“Ah, yes,” said Eggsy, trying not to grin. “Lamorak is good at explosives.”

“I did manage to get one of you,” said Timothy, grinning. “Gareth. Now, enough talk about what I’ve done. Let’s talk about you.”

“Wait,” said Eggsy, stalling for time. He just needed to think. “I don’t understand – why are you still doing this? Chester King is long dead now.”

Timothy grinned. “I’m a hitman, Mr. Smith. An assassin. And over the years, people have elected to forego my services to use other methods – such as secret agents. Your organization may be cleaner than others, but I have no love of spies. Plus,” he added, taking out a knife too, “I love a challenge. A way to lessen the competition and sharpen my own skills. And the final nail in the coffin – so to speak – is that Chester King gave me a very, very generous advance. More than enough to pay for the job and my expenses. I won’t get the end-of-job bonus that he promised, but I can still fulfill his request.”

“You’re not going to win,” said Eggsy, shaking his head. “You can kill me right now, but the Kingsmen know there’s a leak. They’ll find you.” Timothy also didn’t know that his glasses were transmitting his confession right back to Arthur.

“I don’t think so. I’m quite good at what I do. I don’t leave loose ends.”

Eggsy nodded to the man – Piers – quickly. “Is he the only other person who knows? Did you tell Diane about this?”

“Diane manages my business, of course she’s aware. And Piers is a beloved associate. Other than that, I’m quite discreet.” Timothy grinned again. “I heard you took out the others I told. Concerned that your organization will need to kill more?”

“I wish you hadn’t told Diane,” Eggsy said, quietly. “She had a certain charm to her.”

“You won’t need to worry about that,” said Timothy briskly. “Now, back to you, Mr. Smith. What’s your real name? And codename? Who else knows you’re here?”

“Oh, mate,” said Eggsy, laughing a little. “You chose the wrong agent to interrogate.”

“Everyone breaks somehow,” said Timothy. “Piers, tie Mr. Smith’s hands, would you?”

Piers took out a zip tie and crouched down next to Eggsy. “All right,” grumbled Eggsy, starting to bring his hands behind his back. And then, quick as he could, he jammed his signet ring into Piers’s neck and gave him 50,000 volts.

Timothy gave a shout of surprise, but Eggsy was already hauling Piers’s body to block the reaction shots that Timothy shelled out. A couple hit his exposed legs on his bespoke suit (he was still sitting on the floor, and it was hard to maneuver a human shield when on the ground), but Eggsy waited until Timothy had emptied his round before scrambling up and thrusting the body at Timothy.

Timothy caught the body, giving Eggsy the opportunity to fling a small dagger at the exposed part of Timothy’s face. Timothy jerked Piers’s body in front of him, embedding the dagger in the now very-dead Piers’s neck.

Timothy threw the body away, but this, Eggsy thought, is why the element of surprise was so important – he was already sliding on the floor toward Timothy, another gun out, shooting. Timothy jumped out of the way, flinging his empty gun aside, but he took one bullet in the leg (successfully evening out the playing field in Eggsy’s mind).

Or perhaps it was still uneven, because Timothy recovered like a champ and pulled out his own gun, swinging it to face Eggsy. Eggsy was still in motion, smacking his boot against the floor as a tool to haul himself up with pin-point precision.

But the boot wasn’t meant to be a tool: immediately his toes start protesting, and the boot nearly tripped him up. Timothy started unloading his next gun, and Eggsy took two shots to the chest and felt another one whiz by his ear. Timothy adjusted his aim higher, to Eggsy’s head, but Eggsy dove and tackled Timothy as hard as he could before he could continue the fire-fight.

Timothy had the advantage of both height and weight on Eggsy, but Eggsy had an edge of desperation to his actions that Timothy didn’t have yet. They grappled for a few moments, rolling around on the floor, fists flying but yet barely landing any punches because of the disorientatingly fast movements and the quick blocking of both of the men.

Eggsy got a handful of Timothy’s slick black hair and gave it a vicious tug, ripping away a good portion and leaving Timothy’s scalp bleeding. In return, Timothy got a solid punch to Eggsy’s sternum, making Eggsy gasp for air and forcing him to work through dizziness for a few moments.

Timothy nearly got the upper hand when he almost managed to pin Eggsy, but Eggsy again used the boot as a tool and managed to whack the boot right on Timothy’s crotch. Ignoring the screaming in his toes, he scrambled out from under Timothy and retrieved his Glock, which their grappling had brought them closer to.

But that gave Timothy the moment to bring out another gun, and suddenly they were at a stand-still, both of them pointing guns at each other.

“I underestimated you,” said Timothy, panting, his left handing rubbing his crotch. “When I saw your foot, I thought for sure that there had been some mistake. Surely the Kingsman wouldn’t have sent a gimp out to take Piers down? But now I see that you were never a gimp in the first place. Is that boot even real?”

“How’s the leg feeling?” asked Eggsy in return, seeing the blotch of red spreading across Timothy’s trousers.

“So,” said Timothy, “what now? We’re both too fast for these guns to make any real damage. Do we stand here until our respective back-up comes? Or do we fight it out?”

“Well –” started Eggsy, but then a shot rang across the warehouse and Eggsy felt an impact against his arm, barely absorbed by his suit. He immediately dove at Timothy, knocking his arm up when he pulled the trigger, the shot careening wildly into the ceiling.

The second shooter – how was Eggsy unaware of these things? This is why he needed eyes outside the building – was jogging towards them, but Timothy and Eggsy were back to grappling. Eggsy was deliberately tussling so as to make a shot impossible for the second shooter, unless they wanted to accidentally take out Timothy.

“Oh my God,” he heard.

He didn’t let the addition of the second shooter – who he now knew, by voice alone, was Diane – distract him from Timothy for one moment. He got a lucky punch in, right on Timothy’s throat, leaving Timothy gasping but still clawing at Eggsy’s face. How Eggsy’s glasses were still intact after all this hand-to-hand he had no idea, but he also figured that he better get a huge fucking medal for this mission if he were alive at the end of it.

“Timothy, what do I do?” called Diane. She sounded panicked, confused, out of sorts. Out of his periphery, Eggsy could see Diane aiming a gun at them, but she was trembling rather badly and wasn’t holding the gun even remotely steady.

Timothy grunted. Eggsy used the moment to sink an elbow into Timothy’s bladder, right above his crotch. He meant to aim for the stomach, but it was hard in the confusion.

There was a terrifying moment when Timothy almost had the upper hand again, when his weight was a heavy presence pinning Eggsy to the floor. One of his hands was digging brutally into his elbow joint, another with the thumb boring into the tender space connecting his other shoulder and arm. Both of his legs were pinning Eggsy’s together, a parody of a lover’s straddle.

Then, Diane screeched, “Timothy!” and Timothy loosened his grip for just half of a second, and Eggsy was able to get his arm up and gave Timothy a back-handed slap to his face.

Of all the moves that Timothy expected it clearly hadn’t been that one, and he reeled back, a surprised hand coming up to rest on his cheek. Eggsy got a flash of his startled eyes before he pulled out his final and third gun, pressing the muzzle into Timothy’s belly, and let a shot go.

Eggsy could practically feel the bullet tear through Timothy’s innards and explode out the back – he felt the hot spray of blood on his legs even through the layer of suit. Beside him, Diane started screaming, shrilly.

Eggsy pushed Timothy off of him. He was gasping and groaning, holding his gut and trying to stem the flow of blood.

They had taught Eggsy in training about wounds that kill. The movies got it all wrong – they seemed to think if you took a knife or a bullet to the stomach, there would be some magic recovery. Just a wave of a wand. But Eggsy knew that, if that bullet had pierced Timothy’s stomach – which it might have, though maybe Eggsy aimed a little low – that he had about fifteen minutes to live. If they got him to a hospital right this moment, they may be able to extend that for a few more moments. But not long. The most that would happen would be that they could wrap him in a clean blanket and pat Diane on the back while she cried.

Eggsy stood up, aiming for a mercy shot. But Diane cried, “No!”

Eggsy turned to her. She still held up the gun, her hands shaking. “It’d be a mercy,” said Eggsy. “He’s going to die.”

“I…” Diane’s face was blotchy with tears. “Paul… I don’t…”

Eggsy shot Timothy in the head. Diane wailed next to him, closed her eyes, and shot off a round of bullets. They all missed.

“Diane,” said Eggsy. He took a step forward.

She skittered back. She looked like a wounded puppy, her eyes wide, tears trickling down her face. “Was any of it real?” she asked. “Was it all just to get to Timothy?”

“You have charm,” said Eggsy. “You do. I’m sorry, Diane.”

In his ear, Arthur said, coldly, “Kill her.”

Eggsy’s face felt like it was carved from stone. Turning away from Diane, he held his hand up to his ear, signaling to Diane he was talking to someone else, and said, “I’m not your hired assassin. I’m a spy agent. I don’t kill for money, I save lives.”

Diane let out a hysterical laugh at his words, dropping her gun.

“Mr. Unwin, you are currently under review for poor performance in the field, so I don’t think –”

“No,” breathed Eggsy. “I do a lot of things, Arthur. Torture. Kill in the line of duty. Many, many things. But I’m not the one who’s going to clean up your collateral damage.”

He would not be the one to kill Diane. Not the girl who danced with him at the gala. Not the one who was so awkward but tried so hard.

Arthur began to speak in his ear, but he turned back to Diane instead. She took a couple of tottering steps toward him, tears still cascading down her face. “Paul,” she said. “I’m so… could you just… I feel just terrible, and I know you just killed my brother, but please… just hold me for a second? Let me pretend you care?”

“Diane,” sighed Eggsy, holding out his arms. Diane gave a strangled sob and closed the distance between the two of them, burying her face in his neck and giving him a tight hug that made his ribs protest.

Then Diane leaned back a little, staring into Eggsy’s eyes. She sniffled, once, then twice.

“Thank you,” she said, giving a tremulous, watery smile.

Eggsy gasped.

Diane stepped back, pulling the knife out of Eggsy’s stomach.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “I quite hated being under my brother’s thumb. It was a joy to see someone kill him.”

Eggsy put his hand over his stomach. Oh, oh dear. A stomach wound.

“I didn’t think you’d fall for the crying thing, but there you go. And I have to say, you were a bit of a surprise. When I heard about this Kingsman thing, I never suspected you were involved. I really should have, though. That first night – your accent slipped, didn’t it? But I didn’t give it much thought. I should have. That was my mistake. And no one keeps showing up so serendipitously like that. You’ve taught me a lot, Paul Smith.”

Eggsy fell to his knees, keeping his hands over his wound, stemming the flow of blood. There was an odd pounding in his ears.

“But you forgot the cardinal rule, Paul.” Diane smiled, wiping the blood from her knife on Eggsy’s suit jacket. “The sibling is the real danger. Usually I suppose we show up in sequels, but alas. This time, I was here to sting you before this particular story ended.”

Eggsy tried for a grin. “Well,” he said, the words coming painfully, “I suppose you’ve surprised me as well, Diane.”

She grinned back. “For what it’s worth,” she said, “you were a lot of fun. I really regret killing you already. You were an excellent lay, too.”

Eggsy didn’t laugh because it hurt too much, but it was a near thing. “A wonderful compliment before my death,” he said.

“I’d give you the same mercy shot you gave my brother. But the thing is – he was still family, for however much I hated him.” Diane began to back away. “I’m going to leave you to die here, Paul. We both know that wound is going to kill you. Kill you slowly, and painfully, as stomach wounds do. You’ll bleed out on the floor of this warehouse knowing that you won’t live to see the sun again.”

She grinned, a sharkish grin. “You have a nice next fifteen minutes.”

And then she turned and sauntered off. Eggsy watched her until she pulled open the door and left.

Then he began to talk to Arthur, who Diane must have completely forgotten about in her eagerness to kill Eggsy. “I need medical, right now.” Merlin, he knew, would have already had an ambulance on the way, but Arthur was unused to handling agents.

There was a small pause, before Arthur said, “Your entire interaction with Piers and Timothy Yates took a half hour. Therefore, your extraction ride will be there in another half hour.”

Another – Arthur, I’ve got a stomach wound, I’m bleeding out!”

“Well,” said Arthur, icily, “you should have thought of the consequences when you didn’t kill her.”

“I had no idea that she would do that, what are you talking about, a half hour will guarantee my death.

“I’ll prepare the toast for you then.”

“You could still save me!” cried Eggsy.

Arthur was silent for a few more moments. Then she said, with the utmost hate in her voice, “I loved him, you know.”

Eggsy, disoriented and confused, said, “Timothy?”

“What? No. My brother. I loved my brother.”

“That’s nice,” said Eggsy. “Really quite nice. Not sure what the fucking relevance is, but okay.”

Arthur ignored him. “I watched as my brother got into drugs as a teenager. Despite my parent’s utmost support, he could never get clean. He dropped out of school and became a deadbeat living in the estates. But he would always go running to my parents, draining them of their money. My parents… you know, they were new money, barely established. They already had such a hard time of it, and then he was there, just draining them.”

Eggsy gaped at the ceiling. “Are you giving me a monologue right now?”

“He was an entitled, spoiled little thing, just like every other rodent living in the estates. I watched my parents suffer and cry over him. I watched the shame they had to go to when their society friends would mention him. Every poor person has put themselves in that position, and any poor person who has managed to break that mold are either saints or cheats. You, Unwin, are clearly a cheat.

“You remind me of my brother. Lazy. Entitled. He died two months before I became Arthur of a drug overdose. It was all over the newspapers, and my parents nearly lost their fortune trying to help him and then trying to cover up the controversy. I’m not going to have another one like him in the world.

“I find you distasteful. I think you’re a disgrace. The fact that you’re in Kingsmen is a blight on the organization. I know Harry Hart views you as a charity case, but I won’t have that sort of mentality. Not under my watch. Now, I won’t save you, but I certainly won’t kill you. A car will be there in twenty-seven minutes now. If you can live for that long, then I will not deny you use of the Kingsmen medical facilities.”

His glasses crackled, then the line cut off from Arthur’s end, which Eggsy had never heard happen before. He said, unsure, “Arthur?”

But there was no response.

“Fuck,” he said, before fumbling in his suit for his phone. It was, miracle of miracles, unbroken and undamaged. He started pressing buttons, but his vision was getting shaky and he could feel himself fading fast. He might not even have fifteen minutes.

He let himself lay down to save bodily processes and clicked call. He didn’t even fucking know who he was calling. Holy fuck, if it went through and it turned out he had called his mum, or… or Jamal or Ryan, or… fuck…

“Hello?”

“Roxy,” said Eggsy, “Brill. What are you doing right now?”

“There’s a Kingsmen meeting in a half hour. I just got the notification, apparently it’s another emergency meeting. I’m preparing to go to it now, since today was technically my day off. Shouldn’t you be preparing as well?”

“Ah. Yeah,” said Eggsy. He pressed his hand harder on his wound, trying to ignore how slick with blood his hand was. Gross. “I don’t think I’ll make it there.”

“Eggsy? Are you okay? You sound peakish.”

“I’m currently bleeding out from a stomach wound in an abandoned warehouse. Up to saving my life?”

“Are you having a giggle?” But he could hear her speaking rapidly to someone in the background.

Eggsy tamped down on his smile. Of all the time for Roxy to finally use some slang… “Babe, I’ve already been bleeding for a good five minutes. I think I have about ten to live. Could you tell my mum and sis that I love them? And tell my mum… tell her that I’m sorry. That I didn’t mean those things that I said to her before I left the house. Could you tell her that? Oh, and Harry is supposed to pick up Daisy from Ryan’s tonight. Make sure he does that, yeah? But he’ll probably have to give her to my mum… Fuck, what a shitshow. This is an inconvenient moment for me to die.”

“Keep talking,” said Roxy, who now had her serious-business voice on.

“Okay,” said Eggsy, who felt like he was fading out more than a little. “Someone needs to adopt JB, too. I usually try to take him out on walks at night. Make sure he doesn’t eat too many biscuits. I think he’s getting fat because Daisy likes to give him treats, and it’s really hard to say no to a two-year-old, you know?”

“I do now. Keep talking.”

“Try to keep JB and Daisy together. Oh, wait… I don’t want my mum taking care of either… But who else is going to take care of Daisy… This is a very, very inconvenient moment for me to die, Roxy, I really hope you understand that.”

“Eggsy?”

“Oh, Harry! Wasn’t I just talking to Roxy?”

“You were. She handed the phone off to me. We just tracked your phone and we’re on our way to your location as we speak. We’re about ten minutes out – what’s your status? How is the pain?”

“I’m probably going to die in that time. I was just telling Roxy about Daisy.” Things were feeling seriously fuzzy. The grey ceiling of the warehouse was beginning to blur, and the world was feeling off-axis. It was like he was drunk without the feel-good, happy feelings that came with it. Maybe more like he was on coke and coming down from his high.

“That can’t be a good feeling,” said Harry.

“Woah. Did I just say that out loud?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. I definitely didn’t want you to know that I’ve ever done coke or sold drugs. Oh, fuck. Didn’t mean to reveal that either. I hope I do die at this point, because let me tell you, if I heal from this, I’m going to be seriously pissed off at myself.”

“Eggsy,” said Harry, “I have been under no illusions about your past. I haven’t known the extent, but I am well aware that you have had a difficult time living with Dean Baker.”

“Oh. I’m still going to be pissed off, though.”

Eggsy couldn’t grip the phone anymore because his fingers were so sweaty and they didn’t seem to be working properly, anyway. He set the phone on the ground and rolled slightly so his ear was still near it, trying to ignore the tremendous pain emanating from his stomach.

“I’m sure,” said Harry. “Keep talking.”

“Whatcha wanna talk about?” asked Eggsy. “I’m up for anything at this point. If I live, I’m not entirely convinced I’ll remember this conversation.”

“Okay,” said Harry. “Why don’t you tell me about the difficulties you’ve been having with Arthur. What are these missions that she’s been sending you on? Why are they so classified that not even Merlin can hack them?”

Eggsy grimaced. He didn’t know how to explain to Harry – who seemed like he hadn’t been discriminated against a day in his life – that the new Arthur kept giving him what amounted to suicide missions, and that he was currently bleeding out in a warehouse because of the deliberately bad intel she had given him.

How does one explain classism? Arthur might have had some bullshit reason with her brother, but when it came down to it, there was no real reason for it. That was the most frustrating part – that, in the end, people were willing to look down on others over nothing. How was Eggsy supposed to tell Harry that Arthur saw him as a lesser being? That she was using her brother as an excuse to tell others they weren’t important or their lives didn’t matter as much?

So instead, he said, “Has Merlin been trying to hack the missions?”

There was a pause, before Harry said, “Perhaps not the best conversation to have over the phone, after all.”

Eggsy let there be a pause in the conversation. He tried to adjust his legs – he couldn’t feel them – and the pain in his stomach intensified.

“Eggsy?” said Harry, sounding startled. Eggsy realized that he must have cried out.

“Nothing,” said Eggsy. “If you don’t want to have that conversation over the phone, then why ask me?”

“Honestly? You’re not lucid and this is the only way I’ll get any information from you. I just don’t want to give you information myself.”

“Some gentleman,” laughed Eggsy, who was now having a hard time hanging on to consciousness. The buzzing in his ear had grown ever-louder.

Harry laughed. Then he said, “Keep talking.”

“I’m not doing well,” said Eggsy, but that sentence came out all slurred, and if he hadn’t thought he seemed drunk before, now he definitely did.

“Keep talking, we’re almost there…”

“Thought you… thought you said… ten…”

“Roxy is driving like a maniac.”

“Don’t… get a… a… a… ticket… on… my account…” Eggsy tried to reform his thoughts. “’M always… a… a…. safe… driver.”

Harry laughed like it was punched out of him.

That was the last sound Eggsy heard before falling unconscious.

Chapter Text

Eggsy woke up in the medical wing of the mansion with Ruby leaning over him, adjusting some tubes in his arm. He opened his mouth to say something, but instead, a crackly sound came out.

“Oh!” said Ruby, startled. “You’re awake.” She picked up a sweating glass of water and held the straw to his lips while he took a few cool, soothing sips of the water. It tasted fresh, like someone had been kind enough to keep bringing him new glasses of water while he was incapacitated.

“What’s…” said Eggsy, his head lolling back down onto the pillow. “What day is it?”

“You’ve been out for four days,” said Ruby. “Not too long, considering the nasty wound you got.”

“How?”

“Lancelot and Galahad brought you in. Well, later. They brought you to a hospital near where you had been stabbed first, because you were so close to death that bringing you back here would have meant... You know. The other trauma unit stabilized you, and when it was safe, they had you transferred here.”

Eggsy thought that over for a few moments. He remembered, vaguely, calling Roxy, but the contents of that conversation kept slipping away from him. It was as if he had been intoxicated – he knew he had been there, had the memories, but he just couldn’t access them. “Do you know what happened to my sister, Daisy?”

“All taken care of,” said Harry, who chose that moment to walk through the door. He looked as debonair as ever, hair perfectly parted, glasses jaunty on his nose, his scar a silvery jagged line on his temple. Eggsy was still 75% sure that Harry was using make-up to minimize the damn thing.

“Ever heard of knocking?” asked Eggsy, snarkily.

“You’ve been unconscious for four days. I’m not going to knock and wait for a coma patient to answer,” said Harry, giving Eggsy a smile he recognized as Harry’s polite fuck-you smile. “I picked her up from your friend’s home and dropped her off at Kathy’s house. Kathy’s been taking care of her ever since.”

“Oh,” said Eggsy. “I didn’t realize you even knew that Kathy was helping out with Daisy… You didn’t try my mum’s place?”

“I did,” said Harry. “Your mother was…” he tilted his head, and said, carefully, “indisposed.”

“Oh,” said Eggsy, a shamed flush covering his cheeks. He glanced over at Ruby, who read the unsaid cue and slipped out of the room.

“I’m curious,” said Harry, “whether you’ve considered suing for guardianship of your sister?”

Eggsy stared at Harry. “Why would I do that? I ain’t no father.”

“You take care of her remarkably well.”

Eggsy shook his head. “Nah, I’m just helping where I need to help.”

“If you’re sure,” said Harry, patting his hand like he knew even mentioning guardianship was freaking Eggsy out.

“And Kathy’s been helping? Ain’t that taking advantage of her?” asked Eggsy, wanting to shift the topic a little.

“Nothing to worry about,” he said. “Kathy has been more than happy to help out. Gawain and I told her that you’re undergoing an emergency surgery for your appendix, and that you’re laid up a few days without someone to look after Daisy. She’s quite a lovely lady, that Kathy.”

“Tell me about it.”

Harry gave a calm smile. “It’s wonderful to see you making such connections with the other Kingsmen. Kay and Caradoc seem quite taken with you, as well.”

“You know me. Spreading smiles since 1990.”

Harry cracked a smile himself at that. Then he seemed to make some sort of decision. He leaned forward, capturing Eggsy’s hand in his. Eggsy felt a little butterfly-fluttering in his stomach and told his dick that he was far too injured for anything other than his heart to get interested, and also, Harry just grabbed his hand, his penis should not find that sexy and arousing and oh shit now Eggsy might be getting an erection just from Harry holding hands with him –

“Eggsy,” said Harry, “could you tell me about these missions that you’re being sent on with Arthur?”

Well. That killed the excitement.

“I was under the impression they were classified,” said Eggsy, choosing his tone, words, and facial expressions with care. This felt like a test, and Harry’s eyes were razor-sharp.

“They are. Merlin is unable to access them in the system. We’re just… concerned, is all.”

“Why.”

“Well,” said Harry, before he shot a look at the camera in the corner. Then he sighed. “A conversation for another time, I suppose.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, suspicious. Harry was playing some sort of long game, because there was no way he would ever bring it up in front of a camera if he didn’t have an ulterior motive. “You wanna stay with me for a bit? I’m probably gonna drop off to sleep soon, I think that’s how these hospital interactions usually go.”

Harry looked like he was trying not to smile again. “I’d be honored,” he said.

Eggsy noticed abruptly that Harry hadn’t let go of his hand. He felt that stirring again – not the one in his dick, the one in his chest and stomach. Like his heart wasn’t sure where it should be located, and decided that his throat was as good a place as any.

Eggsy and Harry chatted idly for a bit longer, mostly about Harry feeding JB while he was gone. Harry told him a rather amusing anecdote about JB being confused and scared at one of his own snorts, and Eggsy laughed, because JB was a special little dog and Eggsy loved him. Halfway through another story, this one about Merlin taking a break two days ago and going home, only to discover a raccoon had claimed Merlin’s house for its own because Merlin hadn’t been there in so long, Eggsy nodded off again.

When he woke, Harry was gone, and in his place was Bedivere, an inscrutable expression on his face.

“Hi there sunshine,” said Eggsy, just to be a dick, wiping the sleep out of his eyes. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Eggsy,” said Bedivere, dipping his head in greeting and ignoring Eggsy’s sarcasm.

“What can I do for you?”

“I’ve been invited to sit upon your committee.”

“Yes,” said Eggsy, taking care with his accent. Bedivere was one of those people who crunched up his nose when Eggsy’s words took on the roughened Cockney tones. Eggsy cared, yet he didn’t care. It was complicated and Eggsy was too tired to really parse through it all right now. “You accepted, I presume?”

“Yes. That’s not why I’m here.”

“I’m listening with baited breath,” said Eggsy, yawning into his hand and wondering absently if he could talk Ruby into giving him a cup of pudding before it was time for a meal. He still hadn’t gotten a handle on whether Ruby was one of those strict nurses who never let you get away with anything, or one of the ones that turned a blind eye to shenanigans.

“Galahad is going to try to make you talk to him about the missions that Arthur has sent you on. You can’t tell him.”

“Those missions are classified,” said Eggsy. “I wouldn’t have told him regardless.”

That seemed to throw Bedivere for a loop. He blinked a few times. “Really? But you nearly died. Arthur left you during that last one. That’s more than a breach of protocol, that’s cause for dismissal.”

“Yeah,” said Eggsy, “and I was gonna go through the proper channels to file a complaint. I wasn’t going to go crying to Harry to get him to take care of my problems.”

“That’s… that’s mature of you,” said Bedivere, who still looked thrown off.

“What did you expect me to say?” asked Eggsy sharply.

“I expected you to be making a bigger deal of this,” he admitted. “I came here to tell you why you shouldn’t.”

“Okay. Explain it to me,” said Eggsy, fixing Bedivere with a look. “From the beginning, please. First, how you know about those missions when only me and Arthur should. How much you know. Why you know. And then talk about why you’re here.”

“Arthur and I… we’re good friends. We go a long way back.”

“Okay, stop right there, I saw that look on your face, Bedivere. Spy or no, you get the same glint every proud bloke gets. You’re sleeping with the boss?”

Bedivere looked cross. “We’re friends.”

“Okay,” snorted Eggsy, rolling his eyes. “I totally believe you. Uh huh. Go on.”

Bedivere gave Eggsy a nasty look. “Victoria and I have been friends since we were young. Even to this day she still confides in me. That’s why she told me about the missions.”

“And she told you about her brother? And the way she’s been treating me?”

“Victoria is… she’s perhaps not the most rational when it comes to things that remind her of her brother. I’m well aware of that situation, and let me assure you, she has good reason to think the way she does.”

“Well, you’re not my boss, so I feel fine telling you that you’re a fucking idiot.”

Bedivere gaped at Eggsy. “Excuse me?”

“Your opinions. Arthur’s opinions. They’re stupid, and they make me wonder how you could’ve passed the intelligence test to become a Kingsman agent.”

Bedivere snapped his mouth shut. He gripped the armrests of his chair. Eggsy had no doubt that Bedivere was imagining wringing his neck right about now. “Regardless of our differences in ideology, Eggsy, Arthur has a point –”

“No, she doesn’t.”

Regardless. After the debacle with Valentine, we’ve had some difficulty with the Kingsmen. We have a wide variety of donors, but they’ve become nervous after the defection of Chester King. They’ve kept a stern eye on Victoria.”

“What does this have to do with anything?”

“It has to do with everything. It means that Victoria has had unbelievable pressure put on her to find the leaks and eliminate them. It also means that Victoria is expected to bring up our efficiency. The donors want her to streamline processes that Chester King was too set in his ways to streamline. Victoria needed to take action.”

“And who better to do it than the expendable plebe?”

Bedivere tilted his head. “No offense, Eggsy, but exactly. She didn’t want to spare a real Kingsman agent for those things. Plus, with your specialty being torture, she could ensure not only that we got information if you succeeded, but also that there wouldn’t be further leaks if you got captured instead.”

“How is any of this convincing me to keep my mouth shut? And where do you come in?”

“Victoria has been concerned with the way things were developing. I was her confidant throughout this process.” He shrugged, most likely downplaying his own role. “But here’s why you should keep your mouth shut.” Bedivere sighed loudly, finally coming to the part that he’d been clearly biting at the bit to talk about this entire time. “The donors are already worried about Victoria. If they find out about these off-record missions that Victoria has been sending you on, that are not only against protocol but also illegal… Well, that’ll be it for her. But it’ll also be it for the Kingsmen. Because if another Arthur fails, then the Kingsmen will be disbanded.”

Bedivere leaned forward, his shoulders coming up in a defeated shrug. “We need a cover-up. This whole thing has spiraled out of control. Everything that has happened needs to be hidden, or else there may be no more Kingsman.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Eggsy flatly. “I think you’re trying to cover your own arse.”

Bedivere flopped back into his chair. He looked floored.

“I appreciate that you’re trying to save the reputation of the woman you love,” said Eggsy, respectfully. “I don’t appreciate you insulting my intelligence.”

“I’m being serious,” said Bedivere, now scrambling to fix his mistake. “The donors are picky people –”

“If they’re donating to this cause, then that means that they believe in it,” said Eggsy. “I highly doubt that they would just let their pet project go, just like that.”

Bedivere frowned. “You’re missing the point, Eggsy. Even if the Kingsmen aren’t disbanded – which I genuinely think they will – then they will come under intense scrutiny. And how will that work out, huh? Everyone has something to lose.”

Eggsy heard what Bedivere was trying to say. “I don’t appreciate blackmail, either,” he said steadily. “What do you have on me, Bedivere? Or are you just bluffing?”

“Rumor has it that you’re trying to find care for little Daisy. It’d be a shame if that couldn’t be found.”

“That’s it?” Eggsy laughed. Of all the things – he could threaten to let leak his mother’s problems, Eggsy’s past dealing… and that’s what he came up with? Not a way to ruin Eggsy’s life, but targeting a two-year-old? “You’re going to stop my sister from going into daycare?”

“Sister?” Bedivere frowned. “I thought she was your daughter.”

“Again, we come back to you being a fucking idiot,” said Eggsy. “She’s my sister, you twat. If I can’t put her in daycare, then I’ll just have my friends look after her.”

Bedivere was starting to look a little stumped. And Eggsy was shocked that he was an agent, with his facial expressions so easy to read. “There’s things in Harry’s past,” he said. “You wouldn’t want us looking too far into him, would you?”

“I believe that’s Harry’s problem, not mine. Though, if you do blackmail him, I’d love to be present for that,” said Eggsy, imagining the way Harry would roast Bedivere alive. He shook his head. “Come on, Bedivere. What are you doing? Did you really think that this would work? Call me a nothing all you want, but at the end of the day, I became a Kingsman agent, just as you did. I went through the same damn process, but without the cash and without the blatant favoritism. And you know what?”

Eggsy leaned forward, grinning his best fuck-you grin. “My specialty is torture. I’m not that easy to break. I invite you to keep trying. It’ll break up the monotony. I need something to laugh at while I’m here.”

Bedivere grimaced. “Eggsy. Just… hear me out, okay? This is important. We have to do something to ensure the continuation of the Kingsman. Victoria may lose her job.”

“I have no loyalty to Victoria,” said Eggsy. “Just because I keep her secrets doesn’t mean I want to keep her in her position.”

“Typical,” muttered Bedivere.

“What’s typical?”

“This is the problem, right here,” said Bedivere. “You aren’t one of us. You don’t really understand what’s at stake.”

“I understand exactly what’s at stake,” said Eggsy, hotly. “And from what you’re saying right now, the only thing I have to be concerned about is Victoria being hurt from her own fuck-ups.”

“Eggsy,” said Bedivere, standing up and beginning to pace. He loosened his tie, looking vaguely uncomfortable. “Okay. Let me level with you. I like you, I really do.”

Eggsy snorted.

“No, hear me out,” said Bedivere, who was apparently adjusting his blackmail strategy on the fly. “I like you. And you speak very well, for a man of your circumstance.”

“For a man of my circumstance,” said Eggsy, flatly. He watched Bedivere pace – back and forth, back and forth – and considered chucking the damn water glass at him.

“Yes,” said Bedivere, not realizing he had insulted Eggsy. “And you’re actually quite intelligent.”

“Actually.”

“Yes! I just don’t understand why you aren’t seeing sense.”

“Because you’re a bloody prat,” said Eggsy. “You have no fucking clue, do you?”

Bedivere adjusted his tie uncomfortably. He was looking at Eggsy with a whole new light in his eyes. “I see you’re not willing to have a respectable conversation.”

“Come back when you have a little respect,” said Eggsy, coolly, “and we’ll see about having a respectable conversation.”

Bedivere made it nearly to the door before he hesitated. “I was being honest, though,” he said. “There’s a chance that the Kingsmen could be disbanded for this. Do you want your friends without jobs? Harry, Roxy? Gawain and Kay? Salomea? They have families to support. If you talk, and the Kingsmen are disbanded… That’s all on you.”

“Really. I rather think it’s on Arthur, who broke the law in the first place.”

Eggsy could practically hear Bedivere gritting his teeth as he opened the door. He paused for a fraction of a second, before he suddenly shut it with a sharp snap. He wheeled around and grinned. “I know your name.”

“What?”

Bedivere padded back to Eggsy’s bed. He had clearly found a new tact. “I know your name. That’s why we have codenames, Eggsy, because there’s always the possibility that someone might burn you. And what use is an agent that can’t have a cover-story? You’ll be fired. Not by Arthur, of course, you’ll have ruined her. And Kingsman. But do you think the donors will want you hanging around, especially when you went along with Arthur’s illegal plans, knowing full well that they were against policy? When they can’t even use you anymore?”

Eggsy frowned. “I… You’re full of bullshit, Bedivere.”

“They already don’t want you here. Victoria made sure of that. You killed the first Arthur. How do you think it’s going to look if you ruin the reputation of the second Arthur? Huh? You’ll be let go. You’ll be burned, useless in this industry. You’ll lose your job.”

Bedivere grinned, relishing his sudden strand of logic. “But you don’t care about that. Jobs don’t matter to you. It’s not the job that’s important to trash, but the money.”

“Excuse me?”

Bedivere waved a finger in his face. “Don’t tell me this isn’t a means to an ends for you. Where will you end up after this, huh? You’ll be kicked out on the street. How are you going to pay for that pretty little flat? What about that daycare you wanted? Huh? How are you going to keep food on the table? I’m sure going back to the estates is an option, but do you really want that after such a nice taste of what you could have?”

Eggsy felt the anger truly boiling. Before, he had thought Bedivere’s attempts almost amusing, albeit annoying and demeaning. Nothing he hadn’t heard before, really. Now, they were offensive.

“No one will hire you after this. Victoria and I will make sure of it. And you won’t have a savior. Lancelot has no useful connections yet. The other agents just don’t have strong enough feelings about you to intervene. And Harry?”

Bedivere leaned over the bed, putting a hand on either side of Eggsy’s body, getting his face awfully close to his. “Do you really believe that Harry will help you out? Again? After you botched the selection process, and then, given a second chance, botched it again?”

Harry, I’m sorry –

You should be.

“Think about all of that,” said Bedivere. “I think you’ve got a lot on your plate, now. You could bring Victoria to justice. But you might end up disbanding Kingsman. Ruining the lives of innocent people. And you know what? No matter what, you’ll be out of a job. And you won’t be able to provide for that little sister of yours anymore.”

Eggsy gritted his teeth and said, “Bedivere. You act as if I couldn’t find out your name, too. All I’d have to do is ask Harry.”

“Maybe,” said Bedivere, slowly. “But I don’t care if you burn me, Eggsy. I would do anything for Victoria.” And Bedivere got a fierce look in his eye, the kind of burn-the-world-down look, and Eggsy thought, well, that was what love looked like. He could almost respect it, if Bedivere wasn’t fucking him over at that moment.

“You don’t scare me,” said Eggsy, because it needed to be said. “Your blackmail means nothing.”

“Ha,” said Bedivere, softly.

Eggsy was silent, staring at Bedivere for a few moments. Maybe Bedivere would burn the whole world down for Victoria Willoughsby. Maybe Bedivere was right – about Harry, about himself. But Eggsy grew up on the lesson that if you didn’t defend yourself, than no one else would. Even if this was self-destructive, he wasn’t going to let this prick walk all over him.

So Eggsy grinned and said, “Piss poor attempt at blackmail, bruv. If you was gonna threaten me, at least do it well.” Eggsy did his best to sit fully up in bed, despite the screaming in his stomach. “And if you was gonna mouth off at me, come back with better insults, yeah? You ain’t worth half what you think you is.”

Bedivere grinned before backing away to the door. “I’ll leave you to your thoughts,” he said, like he knew that he had just won.

Because Eggsy hadn’t bought any of the shit that Bedivere had been shoveling up to that point. But that? That he could believe. He had no doubt that Bedivere wouldn’t have a problem posting everything he knew about Eggsy to every website on the Internet. He could believe some stuffy donors were uncomfortable with the idea of Eggsy being an agent. He could believe that they would just be looking for an excuse to get Eggsy out of there. What better excuse than he wasn’t usable? Or that he kept eliminating the Arthurs? It was a physical manifestation of authority issues, they would claim. How could he really function on such a team with an attitude like that, especially when he was a sitting duck?

And he would be out on his arse. Bedivere was right – he would be all alone again. And what qualifications did he have? He could put “tailor” on a line in his resume, but he didn’t actually have any experience at the job. And it would be the only line on his resume, other than finishing high school. He had no other experience, unless you counted the dealing.

So he would slink back to his flat, which he wouldn’t be able to afford anymore, and he would have to look Daisy in the face. Tell that little girl that all the things he promised her were gone. And then he would have to figure something out. Find a way to support them.

But he hadn’t been lying to Harry when he said there weren’t many jobs going around. With no qualifications, no connections… Without Harry’s help (because, Eggsy had to face facts, if Eggsy got booted then Harry would want nothing to do with him), Eggsy would be reduced to crawling back to Dean.

Dean.

Dean.

Fuck.

Eggsy buried his head in his hands for long moments before sucking in a deep gulp of air. Okay. The solution was simple, no need to worry. Just don’t squeal on Arthur. He had already planned on keeping his mouth shut, okay? He wasn’t a whistleblower. He knew it was wrong, and that there were certain instances that someone should stand up and say something… but he wasn’t about to go proving Arthur right and showing that he was entitled.

Maybe his mum was right. Maybe he was a failure. Maybe he was a shame. Maybe he should just quit, give up now, stop this nonsense and accept that his place in life was living in the estates, fearing Dean, and drinking with his friends.

It took half a second for him to think, fuck that.

Eggsy wasn’t a squealer. He was also no longer a quitter.

So he clenched his hands and gritted his teeth and decided to ride out this wave of hell. Because he was going to get his own fucking codename, goddamn it, even if that meant taking a few more of those suicide missions that Arthur kept lobbing at him. He would wear her down eventually and she would be forced to admit his worth.

He wouldn’t make his mother proud, or Harry proud, or Daisy. No. He would make himself proud, because that was what really mattered.

There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Eggsy called, letting his hands relax and lying back against the pillows.

Roxy slipped into the room. “Hello,” she said. “How are you feeling? You look a little flushed.”

“It’s because the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen just walked into the room,” said Eggsy without missing a beat.

“Speaking of,” said Roxy, bypassing his antics completely, “I just had a third date with the podiatrist.”

“No!” said Eggsy, delighted. “I missed the second one?”

“I meant to tell you about it, but it was on a night that you had a mission, and you were so busy the next day… and then, next thing I know, you’re calling me and dying over the phone. I just didn’t have a moment. Third date was last night.”

“Well, shit. I need to stop almost dying,” said Eggsy. “It’s coming in the way of our girl talks.”

“Shut up,” said Roxy. “I’ll tell you about the date in a moment. Seriously, how are you? What happened? I didn’t even think you were supposed to be out on a mission.”

“I’m doing okay,” said Eggsy. “It was just a knife to the gut, nothing spectacular. Almost died, but it could’ve been worse.”

“The fact that you say that concerns me,” said a voice from the door, and Eggsy looked up as Harry came in. Kay, stoic, followed after him.

“Ah,” said Roxy. “I think I should leave you three to it, yeah?”

“What?” asked Eggsy, suspicious. They were all acting oddly, all shifty with narrowed eyes.

“Talk to you later,” said Roxy over her shoulder as she swished out of the room.

“What’s going on?”

Harry sat down. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I got stabbed in the stomach. What the fuck is going on?”

Harry’s eyebrow went up. “We’re… discontent with the current Arthur.”

“You want this on camera?” asked Eggsy. “Because every other time you’ve stopped this conversation.”

“It appears that our monitoring system is down,” said Harry. “Rather fortuitous, if you ask me.”

Kay grinned and nodded.

“We do need to talk to you,” Harry continued. “We believe that Arthur has been breaking protocol, policy, and the law. We also suspect that she has been misappropriating resources for her own personal gain. However, we need some confirmation from you before we move forward.”

Eggsy wiped his face of all expression. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”

“Arthur has been sending you on classified missions. Unfortunately, that’s all we know. The time and date stamps on them are even classified. Have they been breaking the eight-hour rule? What have these missions contained? Has protocol been followed after each mission? Has Arthur acted inappropriately?” Kay fired off the questions, quickly. “I know we’re asking you to ignore your oath as a Kingsman, but you know better than most that sometimes those in positions of authority need to be questioned. And to do that, certain rules need to be broken.”

Eggsy listened politely to Kay before turning to Harry. Harry looked inscrutable behind his glasses. “I’m afraid that’s classified,” said Eggsy.

Kay’s face dropped. Harry’s didn’t change.

“Eggsy,” said Harry. “This is important.”

“Indeed. It is. That’s why the missions are classified.”

“Arthur called a Kingsman meeting the day you nearly died. She announced your death at the meeting before it was even official. Why?” asked Kay.

“She probably believed I was dead.”

“Who was handling you during these classified missions? None of the techs seem to know.”

“It’s classified.”

Kay let out an exasperated breath. “This is a terrible time to be loyal.”

“I don’t nark on anyone,” said Eggsy, coolly. “Even when asked politely.”

“It’s okay, Kay,” said Harry. He was looking straight at Eggsy, maybe even through him. Eggsy had a sudden shiver, and knew, with terrible certainty, that Harry had something up his sleeve. “We’ll find something eventually. If I may have a moment with Eggsy?”

Kay looked between Harry and Eggsy for long moments before shaking his head. He walked out the door, his back ramrod straight.

When the door shut behind him, Harry leaned forward. “I’m sorry about that, Eggsy. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine,” said Eggsy. “Should’ve known I wouldn’t have said anything, though.”

“Of course,” said Harry. He slipped his hand into Eggsy’s. Slowly, he let his thumb stroke Eggsy’s wrist, almost absentmindedly. It made a part of Eggsy’s brain short-circuit, and there was no way that he wasn’t turning a little pink from the attention. “When you get out of here, did you want to go to dinner?”

“Dinner?” asked Eggsy, still suspicious.

“As a celebration for your health,” said Harry. “You’ve been in here twice now, and I’m sure by the end of this stint you’ll be quite eager for some real food. It’ll be my treat.”

“I suppose I can’t argue with that,” said Eggsy, relaxing slightly.

“Excellent,” said Harry. “I’ll send Roxy back in, shall I?”

“Please,” said Eggsy, now a little amused.

As Harry walked out, he couldn’t help squeal like a girl in his mind. He was going out to dinner! With Harry! Never mind it was suspicious as fuck and Harry clearly had an ulterior motive, this felt like a date.

Roxy slid back into the room, her face inscrutable. “So, since you’re being secretive about your life,” said Roxy, claiming the chair next to his bed, “I’m going to tell you about my podiatrist. Because we’re planning a fourth date, and that’s really significant, you know?”

“Before you do that. Important things first: the sex still good?”

Roxy’s answering sheepish grin and flush was well worth it.

It took several days for Eggsy to finally leave medical. In that time, Ruby took the boot off of his foot (miraculously, he hadn’t set back the healing process during the fight). He probably should’ve stayed in medical longer, but Ruby eventually tired of him, releasing him on the promise that he wouldn’t do anything too strenuous and that he would go back for periodic check-ups.

During that time, he obsessively called Kathy to make sure that Daisy was doing well – “Yes, Eggsy, Daisy is doing well, though she misses you,” – and talked to Merlin about his options regarding nannies – “Do I look like a fucking personal assistant? Why the fuck are you asking me?” – and even managed to talk Merlin into arranging one for him. He started the process for a restraining order on Dean, for both him and Daisy, which gave him a thrill when he finally sent in the paperwork. Fairly productive, for being in medical the entire time.

He even enjoyed visits from various people. Salomea popped her head in, sighing, “I haven’t handled you in so long. I’m almost missing your lame jokes.” Tristan came along with an entire cherry pie, explaining that it was the only thing he knew how to cook (other than poisons), and then asked Eggsy if he would try out a new concoction he had made since he was already in medical. Caradoc came by and filled the entire wing with laughter for a good thirty minutes, and Kay came by again and taught Eggsy how to play poker. Others came by as well – two cleaning staff members, four techs, and Mike the mechanic – so overall, Eggsy called it a success.

The night he was released, he went to the pub with his friends, since Harry was out on a mission. “I’ll treat you as soon as I get back,” he had said, warmly, letting his fingers casually brush Eggsy’s hand. Eggsy had nodded.

It was nice, drinking Guinness with Ryan and Jamal. It felt like he rarely saw them anymore, since he was so occupied with Daisy and Kingsman. Plus, Jamal had his own new job, which made things even more complicated since Jamal’s hours were so scattered.

“Lemme tell ya, mate, Rottie’s been a blooming arsehole lately,” said Ryan, gesturing with his glass over to where Rottie usually sat and spilling a bit of beer in the process. “Bloody believes he owns the place, now, with you gone.”

“He thought he owned it before,” said Eggsy.

“True, but that weren’t as bad as now.”

Jamal shrugged. “Just stay away from him, cuz.”

“Talking of arseholes,” said Ryan, “who the fuck was that you sent to pick up Daisy?”

“Uh,” said Eggsy, not sure if Harry picked Daisy up himself. “What’d he look like?”

“Suit, just like yours. Pair of glasses. Introduced himself as Harry Hart.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Eggsy. “Harry’s a colleague.”

“Is he the one you’re fucking?”

Eggsy dropped his head to the table. “No, bruv, I ain’t fucking any of my colleagues.”

“Shame,” said Ryan. “Looked pretty fucking shaggable to me.”

“Ryan,” said Jamal, a little exasperatedly. “Let Eggsy shag who he wants.”

“I’m not shagging him!”

“Stop lecturing me,” said Ryan, ignoring Eggsy and looking churlishly at Jamal. “Lemme give him shit, aight?”

“And where you been, eh?” asked Jamal, ignoring that statement and raising his eyebrows at Ryan. “Ain’t heard lots from you lately, neither.”

Ryan muttered something into his glass.

Jamal said, “What?” while Eggsy said, “No way!”

“What just happened?” said Jamal. “I couldn’t understand what he said.”

“Congrats,” said Eggsy.

“Fuck you,” said Ryan, trying not to smile.

“This were forever in coming.”

“Fuck you.”

“Seriously,” said Jamal, “Clue me in. I ain’t been friends with you arseholes since I were three, so I need some help here.”

“Ryan’s got himself a boyfriend,” said Eggsy, grinning. “They been going on two months now, apparently, though why Ryan feels like he gotta hide from us, I dunno.”

Jamal, who Eggsy was only lending half an ear, said, “You got all that from a fucking grunt?”

“Fuck you,” said Ryan, again, but this time he couldn’t hold back the grin spreading across his face.

“Fuck yeah,” said Jamal, finally clueing in that they were celebrating, and he pushed Ryan’s shoulder. They devolved into a slight shoving match while Eggsy bought another round.

While Jamal and Ryan settled back down, Eggsy’s phone vibrated. “Fuck,” sighed Eggsy, pulling it out. Instantly his friend’s faces fell, knowing what that meant.

“It’s a Friday night, cuz,” said Jamal. “Tell them to bugger off.”

Eggsy waved his finger at them. “Hello?”

“Eggsy?”

“Roxy?” said Eggsy, frowning. “What’s up?”

“Where are you, right now?”

“Uh, Black Prince. It’s a pub. Bout thirty minutes from Savile Row, if you got traffic. Why?”

“Be right there.”

And she hung up.

“Uh,” said Eggsy. “Well, good news, I ain’t going in. But a friend from work’s coming here.”

“Who would be friends with you?” asked Ryan.

“You just insulted yourself, cuz,” said Jamal.

“I don’t count, on account of how handsome I am.”

They continued to banter for a while. Eggsy half-heartedly participated, mostly because he was worried. Something had to be seriously wrong for Roxy to do something like this. Even in emergencies she usually gave an explanation.

Fifteen minutes later, Roxy walked into the bar. She looked ethereal, stunning in an out-of-this-world way; she had straightened her hair with the ends curling just a little, and had that smoky-eye make-up on that she wore like a champ. Her lips were a muted magenta color, classy but not overbearing, and she was wearing a white number that had black swirls throughout. It was low-cut, but not overly. She was clearly toeing a line between class and outright sexy, and she was rocking it.

Speaking of toeing the line, she was wearing sky-high heels that even she was having a bit of difficulty walking in.

Jamal whistled when he saw her. “Whoa,” he said, and then straightened up when he realized that she was coming over to their table.

“Ay-yo, Rox,” said Eggsy. “Roxy, these are my best mates, Jamal and Ryan. Boys, this is Roxanne Morton.”

“Call me Roxy,” she said, nodding politely at them.

“Are all your colleagues fuckable?” asked Ryan, curiously.

“Ryan!” hissed Jamal. “That not right!”

“Alright, mum,” said Ryan, rolling his eyes.

Eggsy, for his part, was too used to Ryan’s antics to really care. Roxy didn’t seem to, easily sliding into the chair next to Eggsy and expertly ignoring the way nearly every single man in the place had their eyes trained on her. She wasn’t exactly dressed for a night at the Black Prince.

“What’s up?” asked Eggsy, sliding his half-drunk beer over to her and signaling for another. She looked like she needed one. She had a look of death on her face.

Roxy picked up the Guinness and slammed it back. Yes. Definitely in need of it.

“I’m single,” she said.

Jamal looked absolutely intimidated by Roxy. He clearly didn’t know what to say in response, choosing instead to busy himself with mopping up the bit of beer Ryan had spilled earlier. Ryan, who had faced down his father in a rage, wasn’t in the business of being intimidated by anyone else, and thought Roxy rather paled in comparison anyway. “Oi, broken up with?” he said, understanding.

“Yes,” she said. “Just happened.”

“We got a cure,” said Ryan. “Oi, barkeep! We need some shots and for you to keep the rounds coming. Put them on Eggsy’s tab, yeah?”

The bartender looked like he rather wanted to stab Ryan in the throat, which was a natural reaction whenever Ryan opened his mouth.

Eggsy patted Roxy on the knee. His first instinct had been to grab her hand, but for some reason, he thought of Harry and couldn’t do it. “He weren’t good enough for you anyway.”

“You never met him.”

“There ain’t going to be anyone good enough for ya, Rox, I can tell you that right now.”

That seemed to help, a bit.

Eggsy wasn’t sure how this night was going to go, since Roxy was from such a different side of the tracks than his friends. But, in true Ryan fashion, he was blasé, offensive, and simultaneously comforting, all at once, which oddly endeared him to Roxy.

Jamal, on the other hand, was rather hilarious. Intimidation of Roxy quickly turned into a puppy crush, probably right after Roxy got a bit drunker and demonstrated how to stab someone with her heel. He spent half the time offering to buy her drinks (despite the fact that the night now seemed to be entirely on Eggsy) and pretending that he wasn’t staring at her admiringly. He fumbled with the ketchup when they ordered fries and managed to knock over the salt shaker, all because Roxy had laughed. When they all stared at him, he nervously brushed the salt off the table and pretended it never happened. Eggsy felt a little sorry for him.

They drank steadily, a practice that brought people from all walks of life together. Roxy didn’t bring up her podiatrist again, and no one prodded at her. They had a good time ribbing Ryan about his new boyfriend, and they gave Jamal shit about buying black shirts for his job.

Ryan was halfway through an embarrassing story about an STD-scare Eggsy had had a few years back (told to Roxy, who Eggsy thought really didn’t need to hear about that), when the bell jangled. Instantly, Ryan fell silent, his finely-honed sense of danger ever-present.

Rottie trotted in, three thugs behind him. Eggsy sighed, because he had been doing so well at avoiding that lot since beating them up last.

Rottie eyed Eggsy as he passed to his normal table, apparently deeming him a sufficient enough threat.

Or maybe not.

“What’d you pay her?” he asked, nodding at Roxy as his boys started sliding in the booth. “And can I get a piece?”

Unfortunately for Rottie, he had no idea that Eggsy wasn’t the one to be scared of.

Roxy stood in one fluid movement. She took three confident strides over to Rottie, somehow making those damn heels work. The pub fell a little silent, watching, as Roxy tilted her head.

And then she geared her hand back and decked Rottie, slamming her fist right into his nose. His head snapped back, blood gushed forth like a goddamn well, and Rottie crumpled. He thudded onto the floor and didn’t get back up.

There was a deafening silence. Jamal whispered, “Did she just knock him out?”

Then Ryan, into that silence, said, “Well, boys. I think I were just turned straight. That was the hottest thing I ever seen.”

Roxy plunked into her seat. “That’s too bad, since no woman would look at you,” she said, sipping her Guinness. People in the pub slowly began to talk again.

Ryan eyed her. “Where you keep finding these people, cuz?”

“Tailors are interesting people,” Eggsy said. “We should probably get out of here.” Mostly because Rottie’s thugs were circling around Rottie, clearly uncertain of what to do, and any moment Dean was going to be called for clean-up.

“It ain’t even midnight yet,” whined Ryan.

“I know a place where we can dance,” offered Roxy.

They shrugged. Sounded good to them.

The night turned into one remembered in flashes –

He remembered grinding against Roxy in the nightclub she had led them to. He remembered dancing, dancing, dancing, while Jamal unsuccessfully hit on Roxy. He remembered Ryan’s laughter. He remembered taking shots. He remembered enjoying himself every second.

He remembered Roxy finally explaining what happened with her podiatrist. “He said I was too good for him,” she shouted over the music, blue-and-black strobe lights turning her face different colors. “As if I’m unable to decide for myself whether or not I want to be with him.”

“Ah, mate,” said Eggsy, enveloping her in a swaying, dancing hug. “He’s a fuck-up.”

“I really liked him,” she said, burying her face into Eggsy’s shoulder.

“Well, if you’re on the rebound,” said Eggsy, jovially, “I think Jamal is close to shitting his pants with both fear and adoration for you.”

“He is nice,” she said, considering. She had a familiar glint in her eye.

“Ah, cuz,” warned Eggsy, softly. “Careful there.”

“With what?”

“I see that self-destruction. I been there, done that. Don’t hurt yourself.”

“You ever been rejected like this?” asked Roxy, raising her eyebrows.

“Well, I ain’t ever been told that I were too good,” said Eggsy. He let his hands slide down her back, settling on her hips in a non-sexual sort of way. He wanted to make her smile. “But I’ll tell you what. My first relationship ended when the girl’s father found out. He wanted to shoot me but couldn’t find his shotgun before I ran out of there.”

It worked – Roxy laughed, loud and long. He wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or the story or something else, but it seemed to really amuse her. “You serious?”

“Yeah,” said Eggsy, smiling. “Her name was Sharpie.”

“Sharpie?” Roxy rolled her eyes. “What is it with you and nicknames?” And then her eyes lit up. “Jamal!”

“Yeah?” asked Jamal, approaching. His eyes hopped between Eggsy and Roxy, clearly questioning the near-embrace and closeness.

“What’s Eggsy’s real name?”

Jamal smiled. “I keep Eggsy’s secrets, no matter how angelic you are.”

“What the hell, Rox?” asked Eggsy, not really offended.

Jamal wandered off to find more alcohol. Roxy sighed, defeated, and began tugging Eggsy out on the dance floor. “Did he just call me angelic?” she asked as she threw her arms around his neck and began to dance.

“Bit of a sap, that one,” acknowledged Eggsy. “He’s also drunk. Wouldn’t’ve said it out loud if he weren’t.”

“Huh,” said Roxy, considering again.

“Hey,” said Eggsy, putting his mouth near her ear so she could hear. “It’s all well and fun now, but if you end up hurting him somehow, we’re gonna have a problem, understand?”

“Aren’t I your friend?” asked Roxy, though she didn’t look hurt. She looked thoughtful.

Eggsy smiled. “Fuck yeah you are. But Jamal’s my mate, and been that way for years. He’s had enough shit in his life, you hear me? Now, enough of this serious shit. Where’s our alcohol?”

It was one of those nights that would be remembered fondly later, even with the shitty events leading up to it. All of them were twenty-something-year-olds inept at dealing with their problems, so they had turned to their only known solution: alcohol. Later, when they had grown up a little, they would learn different ways to cope. But, for now, they dealt with it by forgetting it existed, not truly understanding that forgetting wasn’t the same as resolving.

Eggsy lost most of the rest of the night, but when he woke up on Saturday morning, it was to his sitting room ceiling. He blinked twice, not quite understanding why he wasn’t in his own bed.

He got up, stumbling over Ryan who was snoring like an elephant-dinosaur on the floor with no shirt on, and spotted Roxy in the kitchen.

“You insisted I take your bed,” said Roxy, who was cooking what was probably supposed to be waffles but was instead some sort of lumpy mash. She prodded at the waffle iron. “How the fuck do you use this thing? I keep trying but it’s not working.”

Eggsy glanced at it. “You don’t even have it turned on, mate.”

“Oh. Huh.”

Her dress had disappeared somewhere, along with the heels. She was barefoot and rumpled-looking, wearing what looked like an old t-shirt of Eggsy’s. It was long enough to go down mid-thigh, helpfully covering everything up.

Eggsy inspected the waffle batter. “What did you put in this? It looks rank.”

“This was my grandmother’s recipe,” said Roxy, looking affronted. “Like you could do better.”

Eggsy shooed her out of the kitchen and scrapped the mess she had made. While Eggsy was locating more eggs, he heard a shuffling coming from his room, and Jamal emerged, the impression of a pillow on the left half of his face.

“Oi,” said Eggsy. “You better not have shagged in my bed, cuz.”

“I wish,” said Jamal, not spotting Roxy now in the sitting room. “We just slept. We was both too drunk.”

“God,” groaned Ryan, “Shut the fuck up. I got the worst headache, fucking hell.” He sat up, and no one commented on the partially-healed bruises curving from his stomach, to the side of the ribcage, and around his back. Eggsy could see Roxy eye them for a second before opting not to mention it.

“It was probably those tequila shots,” said Roxy. Jamal, when Roxy spoke, startled and looked around. When he realized that she must’ve heard him say he wanted to sleep with her, he looked absolutely mortified and ducked his head, peeking out at her under his eyelashes.

“I don’t remember tequila shots,” said Eggsy.

“You was passed out on the floor in the bathroom,” said Ryan. “You got no tolerance anymore, mate.”

“Why are you all here?” asked Eggsy, pouring some batter into the iron.

“The ritzy dance club Roxy took us to were closest to your house, and we was all too pissed to be walking home by ourselves,” said Ryan. “You offered.”

“Hm,” said Eggsy. “Well. Waffles, anyone?”

It was halfway through eating waffles that Roxy said, innocently, “Eggsy, did you have a bong in your room?”

Eggsy muttered something into his glass of orange juice. Ryan laughed loudly while Roxy and Jamal weren’t sure what he said.

Thankfully, Eggsy’s rather brutal hangover was gone by the time that Harry took him out for dinner.

“Kathy can stand one more night of watching Daisy,” said Harry as he escorted Eggsy to the door of some posh restaurant. Eggsy fretted a little more about it at Harry – he had left Daisy with her last night, too, wasn’t that too much? And who knows where his mum was off to – but he settled down when the waiter handed them the menus. They were thick, bound in some expensive-looking leather. The script was not only fancy, but also entirely in Italian and the decorations looked like they cost more than five years of Eggsy’s annual salary, but he simply placed his napkin in his lap and pretended that he belonged there.

He ended up ordering the same thing as Harry because he didn’t want to butcher the Italian names. While Eggsy was nervously surveying the restaurant, Harry called for some wine. He poured Eggsy a half-glass, some glittery-looking white wine, saying, “This is quite expensive, Eggsy, so since I bought the whole bottle, don’t hesitate to drink as much as you want.”

The thought of alcohol made him feel a little sick after last night, but he took a few polite sips since Harry had shelled out so much money. He usually wasn’t a wine guy – give him a beer any day – though, admittedly, wine was better than the Lagavulin that Harry had tried to force down his throat that one evening.

This wine, though… This wine was simply superb. It almost tasted fruity and didn’t even really seem like wine to Eggsy.

He had slammed back two glasses of the stuff before he realized he was being rude. “Not at all,” said Harry, pouring him another glass. “It’s quite good, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Eggsy.

There were a few moments during the night that Harry’s foot brushed against Eggsy’s, almost sensuously. He kept dismissing it, thinking it a fluke. But he couldn’t ignore the way that Harry’s eyes lingered on him, or the way that Harry was laughing at all of his jokes, even the bad ones that would have him typically wrinkling his nose. It made Eggsy feel smart and interesting.

When the first course came, it was a simple salad that Eggsy could handle. But then the waiter put spaghetti with meat sauce in front of them, which was a messy meal that anyone on a maybe-date would have trouble with, let alone in such a restaurant, and Eggsy had a tough time sussing it out. Harry smiled when Eggsy tried to subtly dab away the sauce on his shirt and said, “Good thing I didn’t order the escargot.”

“The what the fuck?” said Eggsy, distractedly. Someone from across the room had spotted him wiping his shirt and was now giving him a judgmental look. “That English, bruv?”

“No, actually,” said Harry. “Don’t call me bruv.”

“Whatever.”

“You need to catch up on your popular culture. Escargot was a pivotal scene in Pretty Woman.

“I looked up the synopsis on that, by the way,” said Eggsy, pointing his twirling spoon at Harry. “You calling me a prostitute?”

“Entirely unintentional, I assure you.”

“Fuck you,” laughed Eggsy, just as the waiter came back. His step stuttered but he put the dessert dishes in front of them all the same.

They spent the rest of the time talking about Percival, who had worryingly gone off the grid a few days ago and turned up that morning missing only a shoe. He was refusing to talk about it, but Harry was guessing that something vaguely embarrassing had happened on the mission and Percival didn’t want people laughing at him.

“He’s quite sensitive to that,” said Harry. “He hates it when people laugh at him. I try to do it as often as possible.”

Harry also told an amusing anecdote about Merlin being humped by one of the candidates’ dogs in front of the old Arthur. Eggsy was sure that Harry was going to bring up the classified missions again at that point, but he didn’t mention anything, for which Eggsy was immensely grateful. Mostly because he was almost through with his third glass of wine and was beginning to feel a little drunk. Not even tipsy, because that had happened around glass two, but full-out drunk.

“Probably shouldn’t drink anything else,” said Eggsy, sleepily, as Harry brought him back to his place. “That food were great, but they ain’t portioning very generous, eh?”

“They never give enough food,” Harry agreed. “You sure you don’t just want one more?” Harry waved a bottle of beer at Eggsy. “Here, I’ll put it in a glass for you.”

“Oh, no,” said Eggsy, but Harry was already pouring the beer into a glass and setting it in front of him. He had a small moral dilemma over whether to actually drink it, but resolved to drink the beer as slow as possible, so as to not insult Harry.

“How are you feeling?” asked Harry.

“Wine makes me tired,” explained Eggsy as he began to sip at the glass Harry gave him.

“More than fine, Eggsy. I understand.”

“So, how’ve you been?” asked Eggsy. “We’re all so concerned about me all the time. I wanna hear about you.”

Eggsy leaned back and listened as Harry began to talk about himself, enjoying the smooth cadence of Harry’s voice and the (somehow) posh bobbing of his Adam’s apple.

“Another?”

Eggsy started when he realized that he had already finished off his beer. “Wow,” said Eggsy with a laugh. The room seemed to be spinning slightly. “I went through that quick. But that tasted really good, too. I didn’t realize a beer could taste fruity, just like that wine.”

Harry took his glass with a smile and came back with another.

“Oh, I shouldn’t,” said Eggsy. “I’m already reeling. I might have to sleep over here.”

“You’re more than welcome to sleep here,” said Harry.

“I – oh,” said Eggsy. His head felt foggy. “I’d love to sleep with you. Oh, that’s not what I meant to say. Shit. Um. Thanks?”

Harry laughed. It looked beautiful in the dim light of the lamps. “Finish your drink, Eggsy.”

“Okay,” he said, tipping it back and letting it flow down his throat. Now his head really felt weird. He usually didn’t get the room spins quite like this when he was drinking. The chair he was sitting on felt like he was on a boat, constantly moving up and down.

He reached up and prodded his cheek. His face was entirely numb. Cor, usually that only happened when he was really drunk. He pressed his fingers, hard, into his cheek, feeling the outline of his teeth as he tried to chase feeling into his skin.

Harry strolled over to where Eggsy was sitting and pushed his hand away from his face. He began to massage his shoulders. The pressure felt divine, Jesus, Harry’s hands –

“Eggsy,” said Harry, quietly. “Tell me about those classified missions that Victoria was sending you on.”

“They were regarding the leaks in the Kingsmen – oh, yes, right there,” said Eggsy, sighing when Harry dug into a particularly nasty knot. The room felt warm, maybe slightly too warm, and the dim lighting was beginning to look much brighter. But all Eggsy could really focus on were those sinful hands.

“Okay,” said Harry, easily. Eggsy loved how nicely Harry accepted some of things Eggsy said. Very polite of him, yeah?

Eggsy thought it might be a good idea to tell Harry that. “You know,” said Eggsy, and then he forgot what he else he was going to say, exactly. But he knew the gist of it. “You know, Harry, I’m kinda mad about you.”

Harry’s hands stuttered on his shoulders. “Pardon?”

“Yeah, Harry. I weren’t joking earlier when I said I wanted to sleep with you. I really, really like you, and it kinda sounds lame, but I’d love to go on a bunch of dates with you and have you hold my hand and maybe we can kiss sometime. Or do more. But mostly I just want to be around you.”

“Oh, Eggsy,” said Harry, and now he sounded guilty. Or, well, not guilty per se, since Eggsy didn’t think Harry truly felt guilt. Maybe frustrated? Why did he sound frustrated? Eggsy must have said that out loud, because Harry said, “I spiked your drink with a truth serum that Merlin and Tristan whipped up, but I never meant... We just needed to know about the missions.”

Eggsy felt, vaguely, that he should be angry. He told Harry that.

“It’s a side-effect. You feel like a happy drunk. It’s one of the reasons why the serum is best paired with alcohol – that, and the alcohol is what eventually activates it. Well. What’s done is done. Let’s not talk about that, I don’t want you saying anything more without your consent. Let’s talk about those missions.”

“That’s why you drugged me?” asked Eggsy, leaning his head back on the chair. It felt too heavy to keep up.

“Yes. Did Arthur break protocol during those missions?”

“Not just protocol,” said Eggsy, fuzzily. “She broke the law a couple of times, too, I think. Left me out there to die. Told me I’m street trash and entitled and that I wouldn’t be a big loss if I were gone.”

Harry’s hands stopped on his shoulders. “She said what?”

Even in this state Eggsy couldn’t help but shiver at the darkness in Harry’s voice. “Yeah, it’s true.” He shrugged his shoulders to remind Harry that his shoulders were still there, primed for a massage, but Harry didn’t move his hands. “And I’m on probation because she didn’t recommend me for Gareth’s position, and there’s a whole committee that are going to judge my missions and figure out if I should even still be in Kingsman. Except on the committee are Arthur and Bedivere and some donors, and they all hate me. Oh, but Merlin is on it too. He doesn’t hate me.”

Eggsy paused for a moment. “Well. I don’t think he hates me, but you know how Merlin is with his emotions.”

Harry was quiet for a moment before he resumed his massage. “How did she break protocol?”

“She’s sent me on a bunch of missions without the eight-hour break,” said Eggsy, his eyes officially falling closed. He was just so comfy in this chair. “She sent me on capture and torture missions, but told me I wasn’t allowed to seek psychiatric help afterwards because she didn’t want people knowing about the missions. She handled me on the missions, even though she wasn’t qualified. And her handling seriously fucked up some of the missions. That last mission she didn’t give me any information, just sent me into the field. There might be more. It’s hard to think right now.”

“What did she do that was illegal?”

“I think just leaving me to die and making me torture people without the proper procedure,” said Eggsy. “But when I talked to Bedivere when he was blackmailing me, it sounded like there might have been more.”

“Bedivere blackmailed you?”

“Yeah. Very unimpressive. He really could have done a better job. Well, he eventually made it stick. But still. His blackmailing skills need work. He should go back to training.”

“Duly noted,” said Harry drily. “Were you the one finding the information on the leaks, then?”

“What? Oh, yes. I found the leaks, eliminated them. All except for one. Long story, that, and a pretty bad one. I think Arthur’s pissed off about it.”

Harry stopped massaging his shoulders. “That’s all I needed,” he said. “I’m going to get you to bed now, okay, Eggsy?”

“We’re going to bed?” Eggsy opened his eyes blearily. “Okay, if you insist, but I don’t think I could get it up right now.”

Harry gave a strained smile. “I’m taking you to the guest room to sleep this off. You shouldn’t have any memory of this afterward, but if you do, we’ll have a long talk about this, okay? I’m sure you’ll be angry in the morning, if you remember. Please do not leave this house without talking to me.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy. And then he kissed Harry on the cheek, because it seemed like the right thing to do in the moment. Harry startled badly, but Eggsy stood up, wobbling, uncaring.

Harry reached out and steadied him. “I’ve got you.”

“Man,” laughed Eggsy, “I’m like my mum right now.”

“Sh,” said Harry. “No more talking, Eggsy. You’ve said enough.”

“Oh,” said Eggsy. “Okay. If you’re sure. But really, my mouth is the best part of me.” And then he gave Harry the dirtiest grin that he could muster, to be rewarded with Harry’s cheeks turning a little pink.

Harry tucked Eggsy into bed after handing him a pair of pyjamas and studiously turning his back while Eggsy struggled to get into them. “Remember,” said Harry as he pulled the blankets over Eggsy, “don’t leave the house without talking to me, okay?”

Eggsy nodded off to sleep.

When he woke up, he blinked up at the ceiling several times, reminiscent of yesterday morning. He stretched, yawned loudly, and padded out of the bed. He surveyed himself in Harry’s pyjamas in the door-length mirror before trotting downstairs.

“Good morning, Eggsy,” said Harry, calmly. He was reading the newspaper in the dining room.

“Morning, Harry,” he said. “What happened last night?”

“You had a bit too much to drink, I’m afraid,” he said. “How much do you remember?”

“Oh, everything,” said Eggsy. “Including the part where you fucking drugged me and forced me to talk. You bloody fucking arsehole.”

“Hm,” said Harry, finally folding his newspaper and giving Eggsy his undivided attention. “I’ll have to tell Tristan there’s a flaw in the mixture. He really was quite certain you wouldn’t remember.”

Eggsy had never felt quite this mix of emotions in his life. Anger, embarrassment, betrayal, hurt, shame… the list could go on. Eggsy couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that Harry – his mentor, the man he looked up to – had drugged him to make him talk.

“What the fuck,” said Eggsy, trying to find the correct words for the situation.

“I believe I owe you an explanation,” said Harry. He looked completely, utterly unrepentant.

“Yeah, I’d fucking say so,” said Eggsy.

Harry got up and walked into the kitchen to make some tea. Eggsy trailed behind, fuming. “As I mentioned last night, I drugged you to garner information about Victoria. Since her hire, I have been actively searching for a way to oust her from the position.”

“Surprised you didn’t just kill her, you psycho,” muttered Eggsy.

“I would have,” said Harry, lightly, “but I’d rather not start an all-out war with Bedivere. Bit messy, that.”

Eggsy shuddered at Harry’s casual cruelty and loose morals. Fuck, why was it so easy for him to kill people? Harry continued, unconcerned, “Several of the Kingsmen agents were uncomfortable with the decision to have Victoria Willoughby as Arthur. Victoria has a bit of a past, I’m afraid.”

Harry set up the electric kettle and began to rustle around in the cabinets, looking for mugs. “Kay, Lamorak, Tristan, and I all knew Victoria beforehand. And Bedivere, of course, but I’ll get there in a moment. Victoria was a MI6 agent for a brief period of time during her peak years. An untimely gunshot wound and a resulting coma put her out of the field because the coma lasted so long that her muscle mass deteriorated, and she could never quite recover her strength.”

The kettle began to whistle, so Harry picked it up and rustled around a bit, preparing the tea. After a bit, he had steaming mugs of breakfast tea, which he began to let cool. He finally turned around and leaned against the counter, giving Eggsy his full attention. “At the death of her career as a field agent, Victoria was understandably frustrated. Why, I have no idea, as she was never a very competent agent. She didn’t have the disposition for it.” He shook his head and tsked. “Anyway, Victoria was shuttled around to various departments. First she was thrown into the support staff to help with training recruits. Unsurprisingly, she did not connect well with new recruits, so she was then shunted off to a program that gathers intelligence without field work. She didn’t fit in with her colleagues there, either. She eventually settled into a position as a liaison between the MI6 and the Kingsmen, which was why she was proposed as Arthur.”

Harry added some milk and sugar before setting the cup in front of Eggsy. He took his own black. He sat down at the table, gesturing for Eggsy to do the same. Reluctantly, Eggsy sank into the chair and began to sip his tea.

“Very few people are proposed as Arthur.” Harry took a sip of his tea and made a face; it was too hot yet to drink. “The selection process is intense, even more so than the agent selection. Only five people are proposed; one candidate from the MI5, one from the MI6, one from the Joint Intelligence Organisation, and two from randomized sources. You can imagine that it’s difficult to find a leader for an intelligence agency that very few know exist.

“We liaise with those three agencies – that’s why we get candidates from them. But, again, our liaising is limited, and essentially what occurs is that those who know about us in those particular organizations get together and talk about who should be proposed, and then go ahead and submit their recommendation.

“The other two come from randomized sources. Though we’re not well-known, we are highly effective. You know how our donor system works, correct?”

When Eggsy shook his head, Harry tutted. “They really should begin teaching this in candidate training. Well, let me tell you.

“Donations typically come in from people who we’ve saved. They may not even know who we are, but after we’ve saved certain individuals, techs keep an eye on them and – if they seem like they may want to repay the favor – they are contacted discretely. For larger donors, this means revealing our identities, but you can imagine that it has to be a very sizable donation. For others, it means that they donate to what they believe is an anonymous charity.

“I told you before that the Kingsman Agency is highly endowed from rich families who lost their heirs in World War I. This is still true today, and we have many lines of funding open from those estates. In addition, our tailor shop is fully functional, as you know. However, it costs a lot to operate an organization on this level. We have branches in seventeen other countries, we have state-of-the-art technology, access to beautiful cars and impenetrable safe houses… Not to mention our salaries, which you are well aware is generous.

“This type of organization cannot survive solely on fortunes surrendered nearly a century ago. We’ve had to budget accordingly, and, in order to keep ourselves separated from the government, we need to rely on the generosity of those we’ve saved.

“Sometimes, when a donor gets… generous, and we let them know who we are, they demand a larger role in our organization. Make no mistake. We are autonomous. We are the Kingsman, and we are not controlled by outside forces.” Here Harry’s nose wrinkled: “Whatever Victoria may want you to believe.”

Harry began to sip at his tea now that it had cooled to drinkable levels. “Let me give you an example. Princess Tilde – the wonderful woman you saved, among other things – was very pleased to be let out of confinement. She paid us handsomely for it, and now has a seat on a governing board. We have several committees and boards we ask our donors to sit on. The majority of them are useless, but makes the donors feel important. There are some, however, that do hold roles in our organization. These committees are intended to ensure that the Kingsmen agents do not become power-hungry, and they’re meant to solve any bureaucratic snafus so the agents don’t have to worry about those in addition to field work.

“So, the other two candidates are typically proposed by the donors who are aware of our existence. In the past, we haven’t had to worry about using this selection process for Arthur, as the position was passed down in the King family.”

“What?” said Eggsy, startled. “Why?”

“The King family was one of the key founding families of the organization. That’s actually why it’s called the Kingsman – ‘King’s’ men. The original King was called Arthur King, and that’s how the delightful gimmick of our codenames came up. Chester King only received the position because his father had it before him, and his father before that.

“In fact, many of the codenames were traditionally passed from father to son. Gawain’s position was, though I believe Gawain is now disowned.”

“Whoa, stop. Why is Gawain disowned?”

“Well, after he got the position, he met a woman who would eventually become his wife. His father didn’t support the match. His father disowned him, but at that point, the damage was done. He already had the position and he didn’t need any money from his father.”

“I don’t understand. Kathy is aces.”

Harry shrugged. “Some people judge on currency rather than character. It’s not my cup of tea, but there you have it.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, his head spinning with all this new information. “Go on.”

“Bedivere’s position was also traditionally passed down – though, keep in mind, they still had to go through the candidate process. Gawain, I think, isn’t planning on proposing any of his children – he’s much too fond of them. Bedivere already proposed his son. I believe you met him. His name’s Digby.”

“Oh God. Bedivere gave that poor arsehole that godawful name?”

Harry smiled. “But our Chester King didn’t have any children. So five candidates were proposed. Into the pool came Victoria Willoughsby. She had several things in her favor – she knew the inner workings of the Kingsman, having liaised with us, she had field experience (though it was deplorable), and she was a distant cousin of Chester King.

“Ironically, the old Arthur quite detested her,” said Harry, smiling. “As did we all. She had an uncanny knack to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. She was also rather abrasive and refused to listen. Chester King often complained to the MI6 about her. Said that she was preventing realistic communication between the two organizations. Unfortunately, she had rich parents from new money who were desperate to be in power, and they exerted enough pressure on the MI6 that they had to keep her on in some position, and the Kingsman liaison was the only one where she had some measure of success. When it came time for her promotion to Arthur, the MI6 were only too happy to let her go.”

“Why was she chosen as the Arthur replacement if she was so terrible at her job?” asked Eggsy.

“This, again, was a result of her parents, I believe, as well as her tenuous connection to Chester King. Our donors know her family. I think they were quite enamored with the idea that they could replace Chester King with someone they could still connect to. They don’t want too much change. And the idea that it was still in the family… Well.”

“Hm,” said Eggsy.

“Indeed,” said Harry at Eggsy’s skepticism. “Quite thin reasoning. My personal belief is that the other candidates proposed were even worse. It’s as elections typically go – you have to choose between the worst possible candidates for a position of power.

“We would have accepted Victoria if she had proven herself,” continued Harry. “But Victoria acted exactly as we feared – she refused to listen to us. The lecture she gave us saying we were no longer able to disagree during Kingsman meetings, despite that being part of the purpose of a Kingsman meeting, was the final straw.

“We knew that something wrong was occurring, and that you were at the center of it. All one had to do was watch the interactions between you two to realize. You also kept dropping hints all over the place, though you did an admirable job trying to hide it. We could tell that she was breaking protocol, and you were behaving so strangely at times that we thought there might be something else there, too.

“But we didn’t have any proof or anything other than hunches. We knew that you would never tell. We were forced to accept Victoria until she did something to one of us, but we feared that she never would. Until…”

Eggsy leaned forward. Harry had a voice you had to listen to, even when you were ragingly mad at him. “Until?”

“Until Alfred – known as Jeeves – came forward and registered his concerns with me,” said Harry.

Eggsy sucked his teeth. Oh. Interesting.

“He’s an extremely loyal man. And you managed to cultivate a good relationship with him. When he was shuttling you to so many missions, and with you being injured or shaken up so often… He was afraid that something amiss was happening. But he didn’t trust the new Arthur. Hence coming to me.

“But the missions you went on were classified. Only Arthur could access them. Merlin couldn’t even hack them – though he’s still working on that. We’re holding out hope that we can get tangible proof, so it’s not just your word against Victoria’s. We needed something more than just Jeeves’s suspicions. That’s why I drugged you.”

“So,” said Eggsy, taking a sip of tea to give himself time to sort his thoughts, “the entire reason you want to get rid of Arthur is because you don’t like her?”

“That’s an oversimplification,” said Harry. “I don’t like her, yes. But even Chester King encouraged criticism of his techniques. Granted, it was limited, but communication is necessary in an organization like ours. This is also our livelihood. I have no desire to report back to a commanding officer who I feel I can’t even trust.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy. “That makes sense. What about Bedivere? You mentioned him. Where does he come in?”

“Ah, he supported Victoria’s bid for Arthur,” said Harry. “He was quite vocal about it. Bedivere and Victoria were childhood friends. Bedivere was initially friends with her brother, I believe, though if I’m not mistaken, there was some sort of scandal recently with the brother. Regardless, they entered into an affair during their teenaged years. Though they both came from rich parents, Victoria’s parents did not support the relationship because they fancied that Victoria would marry royalty. They weren’t thinking about her terrible personality, of course; no royalty would marry her when they had unending suitors who they could actually stand to be around. But alas, her parents pressured into her rebutting Bedivere. Despite this, they remained good friends and lovers throughout the years.”

“Why aren’t they married now?”

“I don’t think Bedivere’s wife would like that,” said Harry, his mouth twitching. “I don’t believe she has any knowledge of Victoria’s existence.”

“People are so fucked up,” said Eggsy, shaking his head.

“Indeed,” said Harry. He sipped his tea calmly.

“Let’s talk about the part where you drugged me and completely betrayed my trust.”

“You’ve heard my explanation,” said Harry. “My actions were reprehensible, but we can both acknowledge that you have never – how did you delightfully put it that day in the pub – you have never ‘grassed’ anyone up before. We suspected that this would extend to Victoria as well. And there would be no way to get it out of you, not with your resistance training. Though, I assure you, we never would have stooped to that level.”

Eggsy didn’t believe him, but okay. He nodded for Harry to continue.

“We got the idea for the truth serum after you were injured on your mission. You were babbling so much that we thought alcohol might loosen your tongue, but you also hold your liquor very well. That’s how we eventually settled on the serum.”

“You’re an arsehole,” said Eggsy. “I’m angry at you.”

But then Harry reached out and grabbed Eggsy’s hand. It was stupid, in all manners of the word, but he didn’t have the willpower to be absolutely furious when Harry rubbed his thumb over his pulse point.

But still. Eggsy said some very, very embarrassing things. So he could still find it in him to be mad.

“I’ve never pretended to be something I’m not,” said Harry.

“I know,” he said. “But you took advantage of me. And you were flirting with me the whole night – you knew exactly what you were doing.”

“I will admit,” said Harry, finally looking a bit frustrated (is that how Harry got? Was he frustrated his actions were wrong, rather than guilty?), “I had suspected your feelings toward me. You aren’t always quiet about your emotions, Eggsy. I thought a few extra touches might make you more amenable. I had no intention to make you confess the extent of your feelings, however.”

Harry stared at Eggsy earnestly. And that, right there, was a major problem. Eggsy couldn’t actually tell whether or not Harry was being earnest. Whether Harry actually cared that he had betrayed Eggsy’s trust in a horrible, gruesome way. It was frustrating.

It was extremely hard to stay angry in the light of Harry’s calm façade. It was the same as before – Eggsy had been angry for Harry steering that stolen car back to his house and yelling at him about the dog, but he eventually broke under Harry’s steady logic. This was more serious, by far, and Harry was clearly in the wrong. But Harry’s thumb was still rubbing across his pulse point, and his eyes were pretending to be honest, and fuck.

Eggsy leaned back in his chair. He considered his options. He could continue to be angry at Harry, but he was under no illusions and hadn’t been since the beginning. Harry was a secret spy agent. He wasn’t afraid to slap a tracker on the back of his jacket and listen to his step-father abuse him to confirm that he wouldn’t talk. Harry was morally dubious at best, and immoral at worst. Eggsy had known this from the beginning.

Harry was a sneaky fuck. Was Eggsy angry? Of course. But Eggsy didn’t doubt that Harry would have eventually found a way to make him crack, if only out of the pure force of Harry’s personality.

And Eggsy... he was just tired. Tired of worrying, tired of stressing over the relationships in his life. He just wanted something good for a change. He had already confessed his feelings for Harry. And when thinking about it, did he really have that much to lose?

So. Continued anger was a shitty option that would lead to a vicious, torn-up relationship between them. And he had enough negative shit going on in his life. His relationship with his mum was shot all to hell, his job was five seconds away from disappearing, and he wasn’t feeling too good about himself lately. He didn’t need a soured relationship with Harry, too.

Plus, he wasn’t lying. He was pretty mad about Harry.

“So,” said Eggsy, slowly. “What are you going to do to make it up to me?”

Harry blinked in shock once, twice. Then his eyes crinkled. “I should expect you to surprise me by this point,” said Harry. “I rather thought you were going to yell at me some more.”

“Ain’t no point, is there? You ain’t going to regret your actions, at least getting me to talk.” Eggsy scanned Harry head to foot. Sure, maybe Harry could see Eggsy’s feelings written across his face. But Eggsy wasn’t a fool, either. He got up and pushed Harry’s mug out of the way. Harry watched him, warily, as Eggsy slid into Harry’s lap. “You got the truth sitting in front of you, Harry, and you ain’t grabbing for it.” He lifted Harry’s glasses from his head and set them on the table. “So I ask again: what are you going to do to make it up to me?”

Harry smiled. Then he captured Eggsy’s lips with his own.

The first couple of kisses were chaste, entirely without tongue. It was more of an exploration, a memorization: what their lips felt like, tasted like, how to tilt their heads to click in just the right way. Then Harry touched his tongue to Eggsy’s bottom lip, asking permission, and Eggsy opened his mouth.

Eggsy could have made a gentleman joke. It was right there, on the tip of his tongue. But, what it really came down to, was that Harry didn’t kiss like a gentleman: Harry Hart kissed like Harry Hart. He knew exactly what he was doing, probably fueled by years of experience. He was confident, not giving a single inch, yet still allowing room for Eggsy. It was an intricate dance, just as complicated as the man himself. Eggsy had never kissed anyone like that before, not a single bird or bloke, and he could feel his dick getting real interested in the proceedings.

They must’ve sat there snogging for at least twenty minutes (or it felt like it, at least). Eggsy’s hands found their way to Harry’s hair, and he deliberately pushed the strands out of their careful hairstyle. In return, Harry’s hands rested on Eggsy’s hips, his thumbs slowly stroking circles into the small strip of skin exposed by Eggsy’s shirt riding up.

It was one of the most erotic moments of Eggsy’s life, and he never wanted it to stop. How, Eggsy thought, could a kiss like this make him pant like a bitch in heat when hours of back-bending sex with Diane made him only a little excited?

Finally, Harry pulled back with the smallest of groans. That noise made Eggsy’s erection, already half-there, stiffen up further. He leaned back and greedily took in Harry’s face. He was flushed, pink spreading across the upper portion of his cheekbones, and his eyes were dark. His hair was mussed, courtesy of Eggsy’s efforts, and he blinked languidly, the corners of his mouth turning up.

“Hello there,” said Harry, the corners of his mouth turning up further.

“Hi,” said Eggsy, wishing he didn’t sound so breathless.

“It says something about your psychology,” said Harry, softly, “that your reaction to me betraying your trust and circumnavigating one of the most fundamental aspects of your personality is to kiss me.”

“That’s a lot of big words, bruv,” said Eggsy, brushing his thumb against the corner of Harry’s kiss-bitten mouth. “You sure you wanna talk right now?”

For a long moment, Harry actually looked torn. He seemed to be in some sort of a moral crisis for a moment.

And then Harry smiled. “I do believe the kitchen table isn’t the best place for this sort of activity. Would you like to continue elsewhere, or…?”

“You can have me wherever you want me, Harry,” said Eggsy. “You could’ve had me for weeks.”

Harry gave a full-out grin this time, his eyes now taking in Eggsy’s face possessively. “Then may I suggest the bedroom?”

Eggsy scrambled up. The pyjama bottoms did nothing to hide how hard he was in his pants, but he figured Harry already knew how crazy about him he was. Harry certainly noticed the erection: his face didn’t change, but he pointedly glanced at Eggsy’s crotch, an eyebrow giving the impression of being raised without actually being raised. How did he do that?

“Like you ain’t hard right now,” said Eggsy as he started up the stairs. “I were sitting on your lap, I know that weren’t no hidden gun.” Then, after a pause, Eggsy turned and gave Harry a lascivious look. “Little too big to be a gun, I’d say.”

Harry smiled as they continued up the stairs. They were almost to the top when Harry reached out and pulled on the waistband of Eggsy’s pyjamas, taking a peek at Eggsy’s arse.

“Oi!” said Eggsy, stumbling and trying not to laugh. “We ain’t at the bedroom yet.”

“You can’t tease me by walking up the stairs in front of me and not expect me to admire you,” said Harry. “Very ungentlemanly.”

“I ain’t teasing you, I’m just walking!”

“Then you clearly don’t know how you look right now,” said Harry.

Eggsy laughed. Harry kissed his laughing mouth; that shouldn’t be hot, that should be gross because Eggsy’s mouth was wide open, but somehow Eggsy found it ridiculously charming and suddenly they were both laughing into each other’s mouths and Eggsy was finding it still so erotic.

They pushed open the door to Harry’s bedroom, now so focused on each other that they had a hard time making it through the doorway. The kiss got deeper, intense – still Harry was tongue-fucking him in that Harry-Hart way, but it was slicker now, more intent.

Eggsy thanked the lord that he didn’t have trainers on that he needed to pull off, while Harry could easily throw aside his house slippers. He had been wearing that red robe of his, but he shrugged it off while Eggsy nearly tore off the top of his own pyjamas. Harry, similarly, wormed out of his pyjama top, but he made the motion sinuous, snakelike. Eggsy’s mouth dried while he watched the top come off, exposing hard lines and bumpy muscles. Harry was well fit, thank you, and Eggsy looked forward to putting his mouth on that firm skin. Harry was older – shouldn’t there be wrinkles?

Harry seemed to realize exactly what kind of thoughts he was inspiring in Eggsy, because his hands went to his pyjama bottoms and he did this sort of rolling motion with his hips that made Eggsy think about thrusting into him, and Eggsy said, “Holy fuck, Harry.”

Hooking his fingers into the waistline of his pyjamas, Harry innocently said, “Yes, Eggsy?”

Eggsy made a wordless noise as Harry slowly, torturously, starting pulling down his bottoms. Eggsy had never seen someone pull down their pyjama bottoms so sexily before. He hadn’t even known it was possible and now it was happening, right there in front of him. Harry Hart was stripping for him and it was literally making Eggsy salivate.

When those bottoms finally got thrown aside, leaving Harry in tasteful light blue pants, Eggsy felt like he had already been fucked once or twice, he was that muddled. Harry strolled forward – Jesus how was he making his every motion so erotic – and pushed Eggsy back against the bed.

“You’re dirty,” muttered Eggsy as Harry skimmed his fingers lightly over Eggsy’s exposed chest. “Do the other Kingsmen know about this power? Jesus Christ, if they knew, I don’t think anyone would stop fucking you for a second.”

Harry hummed, letting his fingers scrape over one of Eggsy’s nipples. Eggsy made a sound that he tried to abort halfway through – there was no reason for Harry to know about how sensitive his nipples were, not this early.

But Harry, super-secret badass spy that he was, knew exactly what that sound meant. Giving a mild smile, he slid down Eggsy’s body, giving himself perfect access to Eggsy’s nipples. He reached out and skated his fingers over the right one again, scratching at it gently with his nail and flicking it a little.

Eggsy tried to suppress a whine, shutting his mouth and letting his head fall back against the pillow. He closed his eyes – if he watched Harry playing with him, he knew he would cream his pants, which he still hadn’t managed to get off because he had been so invested in watching Harry strip.

Harry seemed to take that as encouragement; he sealed his mouth over the left nipple, sucking gently, still scraping at the right now. Then, with just a ghosting of teeth, he squeezed his nipple and rolled it around in his mouth.

“Holy fucking lord, Harry,” moaned Eggsy, finally breaking. There went his self-control. Bye-bye.

Harry laughed, the vibrations hitting his nipples hard. Eggsy, who had his hands buried in Harry’s hair, tried to guide Harry back up his to his face, but Harry lavished more attention on his nipples, now getting a little rougher. He started pinching and plucking at the right nipple, the increased pressure feeling divine. Involuntarily, Eggsy could feel his hips give a small little thrust. Harry caught the movement, Eggsy knew he did, not just because of the smile Eggsy could feel against his nipple but also because Harry was currently pinning his lower half down and the thrust pressed against Harry’s stomach.

Giving his left nipple a final smacking suck, Harry popped off of his nipple with a grin. Harry took in Eggsy’s face – Eggsy was sure he had to look wrecked, he was panting like he had gone a couple of rounds sparring and he could feel drips of sweat working their way down his forehead – and then Harry grinned again, worming his way up Eggsy’s body, touching as much skin on his way as he could, and capturing Eggsy’s lips once more.

Eggsy whined into Harry’s mouth, feeling out of sorts and like he could come at any moment. “Harry,” he said as Harry leaned back. “I’m about to cream my pants, I swear.”

“Better get you out of them, then,” said Harry pertly. How the fuck was he so composed when Eggsy felt like he was being taken apart?

Harry slid down his body again, the motion graceful, and worked his fingers into Eggsy’s pyjama bottoms. Eggsy lifted his hips obediently, and Harry pulled the bottoms down – and the pants, even though Eggsy hadn’t realized that Harry had fingers in them too. Harry pulled the clothes midway down his thighs, and Eggsy’s cock obscenely popped free, standing at attention.

Harry made a sound – a hum? A sound of approval? Eggsy wasn’t sure – and reached out to give it a few strokes.

Eggsy swore again, lowly, the stimulation feeling divine. He tried to shift, but the pants were still around his thighs, limiting his movement and preventing him from arranging his legs.

Harry, the devious bastard, knew it. He put a firm hand on Eggsy’s stomach and said, “Don’t move,” in the most commanding voice Eggsy had heard from him yet. Eggsy’s hands flopped down to the comforter, twisting it, as Harry framed his hips with his hands and studied his cock with a sort of interested, scientific curiosity.

“Harry,” Eggsy said, half-begging.

“I know,” said Harry, not even glancing up at Eggsy. Harry ran his fingers over the sensitive skin around his cock, letting his index finger ghost across his balls meaningfully.

Harry,” said Eggsy, a bit more desperately.

Harry finally cupped Eggsy’s balls. He glanced up at Eggsy, blinking. “Is this what you wanted?” he asked, squeezing them.

“Uh,” said Eggsy, his wits flying out the window. His hips tried to thrust up into Harry’s hand, but Harry was still holding him down firmly, and he couldn’t get any leverage anyway because of the pants still around his thighs.

“Yeah,” said Harry. He spent an inordinate amount of time on his balls, rolling them, massaging with them, in general just having fun playing with them. Eggsy was sucking in sharp gulps of air by the time Harry had finally decided to move on.

Eggsy was sure he looked and sounded wrecked now, and he felt it. He hadn’t come yet but it was like he had been put through the wringer two times already – he felt sensitive, his skin buzzing, and he just wanted Harry’s hand on his cock and his dick in him.

But he was determined to give as good as he got. When Harry was distracted with locating lube, Eggsy pushed Harry – hard, because that was the only way to get him to move – onto his back. Harry, for his part, looked terribly amused, considering Eggsy still had his pants around his knees, but Eggsy leaned over him, grinning.

“Hi again,” he said. His fingers were guided by the franticness of arousal, courtesy of Harry driving him insane, but he wanted this moment. Even if Harry never even looked at him again, even if this was a wild fluke, he wanted this memory to last forever.

He leisurely explored Harry’s body. He found, with unmeasured delight, that Harry had these small little freckle-moles dotting his body. There was a smattering of them by the crease of his elbow, which Eggsy butterfly-kissed, and there were two on his inner thigh, perfect for running his thumb over.

Eggsy’s favorite by far, however, was the one right by Harry’s bellybutton. Eggsy smeared it with little kisses, worrying the skin around it with his teeth. Harry whacked him on the head a couple of times, clearly impatient and maybe a little embarrassed, but no. No, Eggsy would not be hurried in this moment, this moment when he could kiss the little freckle-mole by Harry’s bellybutton.

When he drew away, he grinned at Harry, who was finally looking just a little bit ruffled (but still not as much as Eggsy knew he looked, damn it). Eggsy let his eyes wander, memorizing the picture, cataloguing the things he loved about Harry’s body.

He loved the lines on Harry, because everything was so sharp and defined. He loved the wrinkle of Harry’s nose, he loved the shift of muscles when Harry moved. He loved the way Harry compulsively took deep breaths, like he was about to sigh, but then released it regularly, like the sigh was halted before it could hit completion. He loved Harry’s collarbone, because it was distinct and confident, like the man it belonged to.

But Eggsy had to remind himself that he didn’t know anything about love, not a goddamn thing, and that this line of thinking was dangerous. Dangerous.

Harry took the opportunity, while Eggsy was admiring him, to roll them back over. Now Harry was straddling Eggsy again, Eggsy’s pants still around his knees. Harry pinned Eggsy’s hands down, not powerfully, but confidently, like he knew Eggsy wasn’t going to disobey and try to move them and make Harry exert more effort than he needed to. It was bondage without the binding.

They kissed again, long, deep, intimate. Eggsy panted into Harry’s mouth and Harry grinned. Eggsy didn’t think he had ever seen Harry grin as much as he was doing now.

Harry leaned back, blinking down at Eggsy. Eggsy stared back at Harry, and something happened in that stare-down, some emotion sparked between them, but for the life of him Eggsy had no idea what that emotion was.

With a pop, Harry opened up a bottle (when did that get into his hands?!) and poured a generous amount of lube into his hand. Harry didn’t wait for it to warm up, and the dual sensations of warm hand and cool lube circling the rim of his asshole made him moan.

Harry slowly worked a finger in him, and Eggsy finally lost it. “Oh,” he said, “Oh, Harry, Harry, come on, give it to me, Harry…”

Eggsy was never usually too vocal in bed, but Harry was a master at this, he was playing with Eggsy’s body like he knew exactly what buttons to press and in what order. Eggsy kept up the litany while Harry worked a second finger into him. Then Harry, like he knew exactly where it was the entire time, deliberately pressed on his prostate, and Eggsy let out a sound that was not a scream, okay, he wasn’t a screamer, Jesus…

Harry laughed, delighted, and pressed again, and again, and again. Eggsy couldn’t stop himself from making that damn noise every fucking time, and damn it, he was never going to be able to look Harry in the eyes after this, not after this complete domination of his body.

Harry added a third finger, stretching, scissoring. Eggsy barely noticed the burn because he was too busy trying not to come.

Eggsy wished that he could make Harry fall apart just like Eggsy was falling apart, but when he deliberately clenched down on Harry’s fingers, Eggsy could see a tick in Harry’s jaw, and it was a revelation, okay, just a huge fucking revelation that Harry was just as turned on by all of this as Eggsy was, he was just trying harder not to show it.

Harry pulled his fingers free with a pop and wiped them on the sheets – the downsides of unexpected anal sex, but Eggsy was more than happy to take the downsides if it meant Harry was going to get his cock in him – before Harry sat up, his hands going to his own boxers. Eggsy watched, intelligence gone, as Harry shimmied out of his boxers, letting that cock of his bounce free.

Wow, thought Eggsy. Harry was… intimidating. He was one of those people that made their partners worry, perhaps rightfully, if everything was going to fit. Thankfully, Eggsy lived for a challenge, and Eggsy had no doubt that it was going to be a fun ride.

A thought that was confirmed when Harry snaked up Eggsy’s body again and pinned his shoulders down, staring into his eyes. Harry finally pushed Eggsy’s pants down to his ankles – the better to access him – and settled back in. Harry maintained eye contact as he worked his cock into Eggsy’s body with short little thrusts.

It was probably odd to stare at your partner during sex like Harry was doing, but Eggsy wrapped his arms around Harry’s back, his fingers slipping through the sweat that had begun to pool in some of Harry’s muscle divots. The eye contact felt like it was laying him exposed, like Harry could see everything inside of Eggsy and knew all of his dirty little secrets. But the soft look in Harry’s eyes said that he hadn’t been found wanting.

When Harry was fully seated in Eggsy, he paused a moment, letting Eggsy get used to the stretch. Harry still had iron-fisted control, baring a toothy smile down at Eggsy.

Eggsy thought that Harry should be much more witless at this moment. Eggsy himself could barely seem to form coherent thoughts. He used the pause to grope Harry’s ass a little – one of the perks of being on the bottom – and to take a few deep breaths, gathering the remains of his thoughts around him.

Well. If Harry wasn’t going to lose control just fucking him, then Eggsy was going to have to take drastic measure. He had no doubt that this seasoned man wouldn’t fall apart simply because of Eggsy’s body, and he wouldn’t coo over how pretty Eggsy was. Harry had banged and bedded plenty of men and women throughout the years. Eggsy knew, both because Harry had gone on honeypot missions, and also because the man was ridiculously attractive. There was no way he hadn’t been approached by partners before for a casual bang. And Eggsy was certain that Harry had had boyfriends and girlfriends in the past – he had heard Merlin once mention something about a Duncan that made Harry frown and brood for a half hour, and Eggsy had found a small photo album labelled “loves” that included both landscape photos and several candids of men and women.

So. Eggsy knew that the body wouldn’t work; Harry had had too many before. He was too experienced. No one fucked like Harry without lots of practice. But Eggsy had another weapon, one he knew no one was quite immune to.

“Oh, Harry,” said Eggsy, a touch too loud. He licked his lips, watching as Harry’s eyes tracked the motion. “Harry, oh, Harry, you feel so good inside of me, I can’t describe the feeling of your cock –”

Harry’s eyes went half-lidded as Eggsy started talking, using his mouth for nefarious purposes. Winding a hand through Harry’s hair, Eggsy brought Harry’s head down closer, giving Eggsy perfect access to whisper scandalous, naughty things into Harry’s ear.

While he was by Harry’s ear, Harry’s shoulders started shaking, and Eggsy thought, ha. Got you. You’re about to come.

But then he realized that Harry was laughing, which rather gave him a jolt.

“What’re you laughing at?”

“I’m terribly sorry, it’s not at you,” lied Harry, grinning a full-toothed smile as Eggsy slumped down on the bed. “It’s just that you’re quite terrible at dirty talk.”

What,” said Eggsy, because that was literally the last thing he thought Harry was going to say. Literally. Everyone always complimented Eggsy on his mouth, seriously, it was his not-so-secret weapon.

“You’re just so over-the-top,” said Harry. “It’s too much. You don’t have to try to impress me, Eggsy.”

“I’m not trying to impress you,” said Eggsy, a little surly, because damn it. Maybe he was. But this was supposed to be a mind-blowing sex experience. Why were feelings creeping into their damn sex scene.

Harry was still chuckling, and suddenly Eggsy was laughing, because whenever he had imagined them having sex, it was always this too-hot-to-handle moment. Like Harry taking him over a desk. He had always imagined Harry losing control, or fucking his face because he loved Eggsy’s mouth so much. He hadn’t imagined this.

But this was so much more preferable, this real, beautiful moment. Where they were both laughing and having fun. Where they were actually comfortable enough with each other to enjoy it, and Harry was comfortable enough telling him that he wasn’t enjoying a certain aspect of it. Eggsy would cheerfully take this over his imagined ribald scenes any day.

Harry suddenly pulled out, which scrambled Eggsy’s thoughts and made his fingers scrabble uselessly at the sheets. He slammed right back in, and Eggsy keened, closing his eyes.

“There you go,” said Harry. “That’s what I want.”

“Harry,” he panted, and he arched up, running possessive hands down Harry’s back. Harry flipped his head back a little, trying to get his mussed hair out of his eyes, and he looked down at Eggsy. He looked dark, like a supervillain admiring the success of a world domination plan. It sent shivers down Eggsy’s spine, because honestly, it felt like Harry was claiming him.

Eggsy keened once more, and Harry gave that toothy smile again. Eggsy couldn’t keep his eyes off that smile, because he so little saw Harry smile so widely. “There you go,” crooned Harry, winding his fingers in Eggsy’s hair. “Keep making those sounds. That’s what I want to hear.”

Harry set a snail’s pace, slowly pistoning his hips to work in his cock in small increments. It dragged along torturously, making Eggsy pant and whine and squirm, and nothing he could do seemed to be making Harry lose control.

Harry might claim that he was bad at dirty talk, but damn it, he could try. It was the only thing he could think of when he was being peeled apart like this, when Harry was opening him up and seeing everything he had to offer.

“I wonder how it would – ah – feel,” he panted, letting go of Harry’s hair and letting his fingers scramble for purchase against the comforter, “to have my cock in you, huh? The great, uh, the great, powerful Harry Hart, yesss, laid on his back, wet and sloppy and open, moaning like a two-bit whore while I… there, there, yes Harry… while I pound into you…”

Finally, that seemed to do something more. Harry began snapping his hips harder, unerringly hitting Eggsy’s prostate. His fingers pressed bruises into Eggsy’s hips, and he lifted them up, making Eggsy’s back arch. The change in angle made him go even deeper, and Eggsy made a sound that was not a scream because he wasn’t a screamer.

Harry threw his head back. This time, when he laughed, it was not an amused one; this laugh was full of delight, of discovery, of triumph.

Believe it or not, it was that fucking laugh that began to tip Eggsy over the edge.

Eggsy was gone. No more dirty talk, all he could do was moan like that two-bit whore he had painted Harry as, thoughts out of his head, skin hot, his eyes rolling into the back of his skull.

Harry leaned forward, and they made eye contact again. Harry’s eyes still looked dark, but Harry must’ve seen something in Eggsy’s gaze. Whatever Harry saw there made him lose his last vestiges of control and let out a little hn, an involuntary noise that escaped from clenched teeth.

Eggsy, with a shout, came, unable to hold back when Harry was making that kind of noise. Come painted his stomach and Harry’s, and Harry’s hip stuttered with the resulting clenching from Eggsy’s arse. Harry tipped over the edges mere moments after Eggsy.

When Eggsy came back to himself, Harry was lying next to Eggsy, one arm slung over his stomach. Harry had one eye open, lazily dragging a finger through the mess on their stomachs. His just-got-fucked face was excellent, and if Eggsy hadn’t just come he was sure that he would have got hard again in a heartbeat.

That had been beautiful. Enjoyable. The best sex Eggsy had ever had, hands down.

This was dangerous.

Eggsy knew he needed to warn Harry. Because this wasn’t going to go well.

“Harry,” he said, his voice fluttery from the orgasm, “I don’t know…” He wanted to finish that sentence with, anything about love. He wanted to warn Harry, to let him know that things weren’t going to go correctly if they tried this out.

But at the last moment, Eggsy realized he couldn’t say it. “I don’t know anything about relationships,” he said, settling on what felt like a better alternative.

Harry gave Eggsy a deadpan look. “Eggsy,” he said, dragging his thumb along Eggsy’s forehead to swipe away sweaty strands of hair, “I don’t give a good goddamn.”

Eggsy laughed, and a knot loosened in his chest. Okay. He didn’t know anything about love. But he’d give this – whatever it was – his best effort, just to get some more of Harry’s deadpan looks.

“So,” said Eggsy, conversationally. “So much for no strenuous activity.”

Harry laughed, burying his face in the pillow. “I completely forgot. Does your stomach hurt? Ruby did such a good job and the scar is already so faint from that gel…”

“I’m fine,” laughed Eggsy. “Didn’t even twinge during sex. Or maybe it did. I was too busy to notice.”

Harry grinned. “We have the whole day to properly get to know each other.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Eggsy, shaking his head. He glanced at the clock. “Holy fuck! We were at that forever.”

“Foreplay is an art,” said Harry, archly. “A gentleman understands the importance of pleasing their partner.”

“Oh God. And look at that – my pants still aren’t even fully off. How did you even manage that?”

“Talent,” said Harry, looking smug.

“Some gentleman,” said Eggsy.

Harry didn’t even argue, just stretched like a cat and yawned. “How about a nap before we try again?”

“And a shower,” said Eggsy, giving in to the impulse and snuggling his face into the crook of Harry’s shoulder. What a perfect resting place for his head.

“Lovely idea,” said Harry, sleepily.

Chapter Text

Afterwards, around noon, Harry and Eggsy finally emerged from bed. They cleaned up the now-cold tea from the kitchen and Harry began to fix them some sandwiches. It was nice, it was domestic, and it caused Eggsy to slip into the bathroom to have a panic attack.

There was no reason for this, Eggsy thought as he shook on the floor. He was directly under Mr. Pickle, so he didn’t have to stare at the stuffed thing and remember the last time he had been in this particular bathroom. Except that meant he was looking at the butterflies, which was its own problem.

It was easily the worst panic attack he had had up to that point. He stuck his head between his knees, tried to regulate his breathing, and thought about Daisy. Except then his thoughts wandered to his mum, and suddenly he was thinking about Harry again, and it was very, very hard to breathe.

See, here was the problem. Now that the endorphins had worn off, now that he was thinking a bit clearer, he had no idea why he thought sleeping with Harry would be a good idea.

Not that it was a bad experience. Quite the opposite, in fact. Very pleasurable. But… but Harry had just drugged him, hurt him. How could a relationship be based on that?

Calm down, he told himself, eyeing the tile on the floor. You don’t know anything about relationships. Calm down.

But he wasn’t calming down. He couldn’t catch his breath. Black spots began to dance around the edge of his vision, and he recognized the signs of impending unconsciousness. If he didn’t calm himself down…

Fuck, it was like the world was upside down. His head felt simultaneously filled with blood yet completely bloodless, he didn’t have the body awareness that Kingsman had trained into him, and there was a sour taste in his mouth. He pinned his head between his knees, letting his legs hold his head in place, but there was a pounding in his temples that made it feel like even his legs couldn’t quite keep his head up.

Fuck.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking that might relieve the overwhelming tension in his head, but he didn’t feel a difference. Shit. What did Merlin say to do if a panic attack came to this point? He couldn’t pass out in Harry’s loo.

“Eggsy?” Harry knocked on the door politely. “Are you okay in there?”

Eggsy opened his mouth to respond, but air got caught in his throat and a slight choking sound came out. He couldn’t speak.

“Eggsy?” Harry knocked again, but this time with a bit more urgency.

How does one speak during a panic attack? Eggsy had never tried before, and this was hard. His thoughts were scattered, his hands shaking where they were gripping his hair, and his throat felt like it was closing in on him. Fuck, it was like he was going into anaphylactic shock or something.

The doorknob moved ever so slightly, and Eggsy realized, even through the fog in his mind, that Harry was picking the lock.

“No,” he croaked out. Fuck, that would only worry Harry more. “No,” he said, louder, the small word cracking in the middle, cracking just like Eggsy was. “’M fine. Fine!”

“I don’t believe you,” said Harry, flatly. The doorknob jangled harder.

Eggsy wanted to say, don’t come in! Stop! Harry, no. But he opened his mouth again, and all that escaped was a wisp of air, air that Eggsy desperately needed.

And then the door opened. Eggsy didn’t look up, didn’t meet Harry’s eyes.

“Get your head down more,” said Harry, his hand settling lightly on Eggsy’s neck. He sat down next to Eggsy, nudging him slightly over so there was more room. “Focus on my voice.”

Harry began to talk, most likely understanding Eggsy’s need to focus on the external. He told a story about Eggsy’s father, of all things – of how one of Lee’s firearms had accidentally discharged during a training session and shot another candidate in the foot.

“The man Lee shot was similar to your Charlie,” said Harry, thoughtfully. “Still not entirely sure the discharge was accidental. Merlin certainly didn’t like the man, said he couldn’t complete training with a damaged foot. He released him, and then made your father run laps around the mansion until he puked. I was leaving the mansion for a mission in Vancouver. I remember it, even: I was investigating suspicious activity at the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Anyway, I walked out the front doors, and there Lee was, puking on the front steps. I stared at him, and he glanced up at me, wiping a bit of spit off of his face. Then he grinned and said, ‘Don’t tell Merlin, but I may have accidentally stuck my head in Arthur’s car and puked there, too.’”

Eggsy gave a weak laugh, wiping the combination of sweat and tears off of his face. His hands were trembling so badly that his nails skittered across his skins, avoiding leaving deep grooves only by luck.

“The Unwin men and their cars,” said Harry, and Eggsy could hear the smile in his voice, even though Eggsy had yet to look at Harry’s face. He couldn’t. He didn’t want to see the pity in Harry’s eyes.

“You drugged me,” said Eggsy.

“I did,” said Harry, squeezing the back of his neck. “I was rather surprised when you climbed on top of me. Not the reaction I was expecting. And now this…” Harry gusted out a sigh. “This is out of my league, unfortunately. Arthur or no, we need to get you to a therapist.”

“Fuck you, I don’t need a therapist.”

Harry was quiet for long moments as they sat there. The silence in the house was the ringing kind of silence, the kind that drills into your ears and you just don’t know what to say to break it. Eggsy wasn’t really concentrated on that, though. He may have gotten his breath back during that story, but the anxiety was still lurking at the edges, and Eggsy was trying to fight off another panic attack.

“Every time I leave the house,” said Harry, slowly. He sounded uncertain. Eggsy had never heard Harry Hart sound uncertain before. Then Harry continued, a bit more strongly, “Every time I leave the house, I have to check that each window is locked three times. I lock and relock them. When I lock the door behind me, I have to jiggle the doorknob no less than six times to ensure that it is locked. At the end of the night, I have to walk through the entirety of the house twice. I have tried not to do these things before.” He paused. Then said, “I have to do these things.”

“Harry…” said Eggsy.

“I never did this before becoming a spy. When it first started happening, I just thought I was becoming paranoid.”

Eggsy reached out and took Harry’s hand. He finally dredged up the courage to look at Harry, but Harry wasn’t looking at him. Harry’s eyes were fixated on the sink.

“Denial of an issue is dangerous, in our line of work,” said Harry, softly. He tore his eyes from the sink and looked at Eggsy. “I’ve never gotten panic attacks, but that looked bad. If Arthur refuses you psychiatric help, well.” Harry’s lips curved into something that wasn’t quite a smile – too vicious. “Refer her to me. I’d love to explain to her the importance of it. I’m sure she’d never forget the conversation.”

Eggsy sighed and rested his head on Harry’s shoulder. “What are we doing, Harry?”

“I assume you’re referring to what’s going on between us, rather than this conversation.”

“Yeah.”

“We’re two spies, looking for someone who fits our understandably jagged edges,” said Harry. “More than that, we’re two humans who have found a connection. Our relationship will never be perfect. You will always wonder after my motives, because it is in my nature to get what I want. And I will always wonder what secrets you are keeping, what you aren’t telling me, and if I can trust you.”

That blew Eggsy’s mind. Never had it occurred to him that Harry might be insecure about this relationship, that Harry felt he couldn’t trust Eggsy. It was like a paradigm shift at the worst possible time. The idea that it wasn’t the age difference that was the biggest contention, but rather trust… That Eggsy’s excellence at keeping his mouth shut was concerning to Harry…

“Harry…”

“Yes?”

Eggsy cast about for the right words. This moment was like a chasm gaping between them: Eggsy didn’t know how to fill the space, how to respond to the uncharacteristically revealing statements that Harry had just made, he didn’t know how to fit their jagged edges together. So Eggsy took a deep breath and said, “I shouldn’t have slept with you.”

“We both shouldn’t have done a lot of things,” said Harry, and that line really resonated with Eggsy for some reason, a tang of familiarity that he couldn’t quite place. “The question is, where to from here?”

“I do really like you.”

“And I you,” said Harry. “Will you be able to forgive for the truth serum? Or was that to be our only night together?”

Eggsy closed his eyes. He wasn’t lying, before. He wanted this with Harry. He wanted it, so badly. And it felt like every other aspect of his life was out of control. What he said here – he was in control of this.

And anyway. He had proof that Harry felt something for him. Oh, no, not in the words. Harry played fast and loose with words. But in Harry’s actions. Harry’s actions had always been the most honest part of him: saving Eggsy in the bar, teaching Eggsy manners even though he didn’t have to, demanding more from Eggsy because he knew Eggsy was capable of more. And the other honest actions, like revealing Mr. Pickle.

Right in this moment, Eggsy knew that Harry had to feel some sort of emotion. Because why else would Harry be sitting on the floor of a bathroom? He was getting his trousers dirty, and Harry was such a neat freak that he had to feel disgust over the implied germs.

Plus, Harry’s hand was still on the back of Eggsy’s neck, a comforting counterpoint to the panic attack.

Why would Eggsy throw that away?

“I can’t forgive you – yet,” said Eggsy. “But I want to be with you.”

Harry curled his fingers on Eggsy’s neck, letting his fingernails scritch across the sensitive skin. “I want to be with you too,” said Harry simply.

And…

They left it at that.

Eggsy chuckled. “You know, I could’ve been taking a shit in here. That could’ve been really bad.”

Harry began to make absentminded circles with his thumb on Eggsy’s neck. “Eggsy. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“What? You been spying on me taking a shit, bruv?”

Harry’s silence was disbelieving for a moment, and then he said, with a wisp of humor in his voice, “I got shit on both my fingers and my dick when we had sex this morning.”

“Oh, rank, you ain’t supposed to admit that stuff out loud. Oh, fuck, that’s gross, what the fuck, Harry! That’s not funny!”

“We’ll just have to clean better next time,” said Harry. “Or at least use a condom.”

“No, you just can’t move on from that, that’s fucking rank. Why would you say that? Fuck.”

“You asked for it.”

“I did not! Fucking hell, Harry.”

“I wiped up afterwards.”

“You still shouldn’t say that out loud!”

“You’re wildly overreacting right now.”

Suddenly, Eggsy was laughing a little. He buried his smile in Harry’s shoulder. Yes, of course they would be talking about shit right after Eggsy had a panic attack. Rank or not, Harry’s deadpan and inappropriate humor was exactly what he needed. “I didn’t think gentlemen brought up those kind of topics.”

Harry body vibrated slightly, and Eggsy realized Harry was laughing, too. “A gentleman does not shy away from reality.”

“You’re making this up as you go along, aren’t you?”

“I would never.”

And they sat on the floor of Harry’s bathroom, with Mr. Pickle silent above them, laughing until their eyes watered.

Eggsy ended up leaving Harry’s house later, partly because he needed space and partly because he was seriously beginning to stress over Daisy. He went to Kathy’s house to pick her up. When he got there, Kathy insisted that he eat lunch, even though he protested that he had already had a sandwich at Harry’s.

“Nonsense,” she said, cheerfully. “We have leftover chicken from last night. You’ll eat that.”

“Kathy, I swear I’m full,” he said.

Gawain popped his head in, saw his wife pulling out chicken, and hastily tried to retreat. “No!” she yelled when she saw his back. “You come back here!” She turned to Eggsy and shook her head. “He acts as if he has a choice.”

Gawain sulked into the kitchen, trying to make himself as small as possible. He avoided his wife’s eyes and leaned on the counter, wincing when Kathy plunked a plateful of chicken in front of him.

His teenaged daughter followed, though she didn’t seem to be scared. She began rifling through the refrigerator in search of sustenance so she could properly sequester herself in her room.

“We’re both tired today,” Kathy confided as she set a huge plate of chicken down in front of Eggsy. He goggled at it, unsure how he was going to eat it all and feeling suddenly sympathetic towards Gawain. “Howard came in smelling of smoke last night. I’ve told him forever that he needs to quit! So I sent him down to the couch, thinking it might straighten him out.” She shook her head again. “I do hate sleeping on the couch.”

“Wait,” said Eggsy, trying not to be amused. “You slept on the couch, too?”

“Well, I was in the bed, but then I got worried that he might get lonely,” she said. “I didn’t want to just leave him there.”

“She took up the entire couch,” grumbled Gawain. “Why couldn’t we have just gone back to bed?”

Kathy shook her head. “He just doesn’t understand,” she whispered to Eggsy.

Their daughter wandered over to Eggsy as Kathy began to bustle around Gawain. “Every. Fucking. Day,” she said through gritted teeth. “It’s so annoying. I’ll wake up and find them on the couch. Or I’ll come home at night and mum will be trying to read in an armchair and dad will just keep trying to fit into the armchair with her. Says he wants to be close to her. What the fuck is wrong with them? They’ve been married thirty years. This isn’t right.”

Eggsy half-nodded, mostly just to get her to stop talking. He had no sympathy for her. She plopped down in the seat next to him, tearing open a bag of crisps as she surveyed her parents.

As Eggsy tried to figure out what to do with all the chicken, Kathy whirled around the kitchen, speaking rapidly at Gawain. “We’re nearly out of milk, dear. Next time you go out, could you pick up a gallon? Oh, and get a haircut. You’re looking awfully shaggy, and it just won’t do when we go and see my parents next week.”

“I don’t want to see your parents,” said Gawain, a little surly. Eggsy wondered if Kathy’s parents had as much of a problem with their relationship as Gawain’s parents did.

Kathy, with the experience of years, ignored Gawain. “And don’t talk about the weather, dearest. It puts people to sleep.”

Eggsy hid a smile behind the chicken. Gawain sighed and said, “Anything else?”

Kathy shook her head, so Gawain took that chance to start fleeing the kitchen – but not before stealing a kiss from Kathy and murmuring, “You’re beautiful,” two words that were clearly not meant for Eggsy’s ears.

Their daughter gagged. “I’m out,” she said, storming from the kitchen.

“Don’t be fooled,” said Kathy conspiratorially to Eggsy before Gawain left. “Howard isn’t that thoughtful. He never changes the toilet paper roll after he uses the last bit of it.”

“How terrible of him,” said Eggsy, not able to suppress his smile.

“I know!” said Kathy. “And do you know, he lost his reading glasses the other day and claimed it was my fault! He searched the entire house, yelling, ‘Honey, where are my glasses?’, as if I keep track of where he puts them! He’s always losing things. Then he has the gall to claim that I move things around! He finally found them by the telly.”

“You do move things around,” said Gawain. He turned plaintively to Eggsy. “I’ll fill myself a glass of water. I’ll put it on the counter. Turn around for one moment, and when I turned back, it’s gone. I ask, ‘Kathy, where’s the glass of water I just sat down?’ And she’ll say, ‘That glass was sitting there forever! I dumped it out and put it in the dishwasher. It was practically growing mold.’ But I had just filled it. Or I’ll put my newspaper on my chair. Next thing I know, the newspaper has migrated to the kitchen. Don’t even get me started on the soap!”

Kathy fired up. “Oh, the soap!” she said, pointing a threatening finger at him. “Of course you would bring up the soap at a time like this!”

“Uh,” said Eggsy. “Should I leave?”

Kathy powered down. “Oh, no, dear,” she said, patting his hand. “Howard’s just a dick sometimes.”

Gawain sighed and said, “I can never win.”

Kathy nodded. “He’s never won an argument against me.”

“Well, except for one,” said Gawain, and Kathy blushed and giggled and they both stared at each other, grinning.

Eggsy was so confused and amused. He had no idea what had just happened in that whole interaction. Was that supposed to be a fight?

When Kathy handed over Daisy, she lingered for long moments. “I’ve noticed,” she said, slowly, like she was choosing her words with care, “that Daisy is walking a bit more.”

Eggsy brightened up. “She is! Her vocabulary is expanding, too. She might be able to form sentences soon.”

“And how old is she?”

“Nearly three,” said Eggsy. “Turns officially soon.”

Kathy hesitated again. “And… you’re aware that babies usually start forming sentences at two years? And that they should be able to run at two?”

Oh. That’s where this conversation was going.

“She’s just a late learner,” said Eggsy, holding Daisy a bit firmer. Daisy grumbled and squirmed, so Eggsy let up.

“I know,” said Kathy, like she was diffusing a bomb. “Children develop at their own pace. I just…”

Eggsy gusted out a sigh. Kathy was just trying to help. No reason to go on the defensive. “I took her to a doctor,” said Eggsy, an admittance he hadn’t told anyone – not even his mum. “They don’t think anything is wrong with her. They just think… I mean, it’s…” Eggsy closed his eyes and said, a little shamed, “They think she’s about a year behind because of the environment she grew up in. And… even when I took over, I haven’t been around too much because of the shop…”

Kathy stepped forward and put both hands on Eggsy’s cheeks, startling Eggsy a little. “It’s okay.”

“They called it a developmental delay,” said Eggsy. The silence stretched, probably less than Eggsy was thinking, before… “They also said she might have a disability,” Eggsy said, the confession rushing out like a dirty secret. He had papers upon papers hidden carefully in his room that the doctor had given him, signs and warnings that he needed to look for. So far it didn’t seem like Daisy was… but you never know…

When the doctor had first told Eggsy, his face serious, Eggsy had felt terrified. The doctor had listed the possibilities – learning disability, autism, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome… On and on the list had went, until the names had spun around Eggsy’s head, even the ones that he had never heard of.

Then the doctor had gently reminded him that it was too soon to really know. That she would have to grow more to be truly diagnosed. But that there was still hope that she was just developing slowly and there wasn’t anything wrong with her.

“Wrong” was a huge misstep for the doctor. Eggsy had yelled, loudly and for long minutes, after hearing that. “Even if she is disabled,” he had screamed, “there won’t be a fucking thing wrong with that. She’ll be fucking perfect, she is fucking perfect.”

Then he took Daisy home. That visit had been before he had noticed his mother’s erratic behavior, but for whatever reason, he still hadn’t told her. Instead, he had taken Daisy into his room and sat her on his bed.

“You’re perfect,” he told her, even though Daisy couldn’t possibly understand. “I don’t care what people say. You’re perfect, and never let another soul tell you any different, aight?”

He was brought back by Kathy squeezing his cheeks slightly. “Eggsy,” she said, “you’ve got a lot going on, but don’t let it get to you, honey.”

“I’m not.”

“Howard mentioned you’ve got some difficulty at work, too.” Kathy tilted her head, assessing, and then blurted, “The whole spy-thing can be hard. I can’t imagine doing it with a child and no support.”

“…what?”

“I’m just saying that I think you’re doing well,” said Kathy. She finally let go of his face and gave a tremulous smile. “I wish it were easier for you.”

Eggsy, unsure what to do with the praise, focused on the less important: “I didn’t know you were allowed to know about Kingsman.”

“Oh, I’m not,” said Kathy. “Really, I have no idea that you’re all secret spy agents. I have no idea at all.” Then she smiled and said, “Do you want some chicken for the road?”

Eggsy politely declined and left with Daisy.

When he got home, his mum was nowhere in sight. Eggsy sighed; this was becoming an all-too-common occurrence. He set Daisy up in her highchair and began to fix up some carrots for her to eat.

Unfortunately, it was one of those days that Daisy just wasn’t having it. The carrots went flying, and the little amount he could even get close to her ended up smeared across her face. Halfway through she began to wail, a sad sounding cry, and Eggsy was two seconds away from giving up when the front door opened.

Eggsy sighed, long and loud, and without even turning, said, “Please tell me you aren’t fucking drunk right now.”

“No,” said Roxy. “Did I come at a bad time?”

Eggsy startled badly. “Oh, fuck, sorry Rox.” Eggsy hadn’t realized that they were at the stage of friendship where she could walk in without knocking… Not even Ryan or Jamal did that. Then again, they had always courtesy knocked in case there was a situation going on with Dean inside, so…

“Should I come back?” she said, leaning her hip on the counter.

“Nah,” said Eggsy. He wiped his forehead and discovered uneaten carrot debris on his face. He chuckled. “Long as you ain’t minding my appearance.”

Roxy rolled her eyes. “I’ve become accustomed to the travesty that you call your face.”

“Hey,” said Eggsy, without bite. “Rude.” He picked Daisy up from her highchair and she whacked him in the face, now in full tantrum mode. “Motherfucker!”

“Can I help?” asked Roxy.

“I’m good,” said Eggsy. He started making soothing noises at Daisy. When that didn’t work, he swore again and gave it up for a loss. He grabbed a wet flannel and began trying to clean off her face, ignoring her wailing.

“Jesus,” said Roxy. “Does this happen often?”

“She’s a toddler,” said Eggsy. “What the fuck did you think they do?”

“I’m never having children.”

“She’s great, she just has her moments.”

Roxy shook her head, watching in fascination as Eggsy finally got the carrot off of Daisy’s face. Daisy seemed to calm down marginally after that, at least enough to stop crying, though she still had her grumpy face on. Eggsy put her down on the floor and she tottered away, clearly done with Eggsy.

“What’s up?” said Eggsy, grabbing another flannel for himself. He tracked Daisy as she went to the sitting room and plopped down, grabbing at her blocks.

“Oh, nothing,” said Roxy in a tone that clearly suggested something was up. “I just have a question.”

“Shoot,” said Eggsy, turning on the faucet and sticking his face under it. Nothing for it.

“Um,” said Roxy, her tone turning a bit amused. “Are you sure I shouldn’t come back?”

Eggsy resurfaced and blinked the water out of his eyes. “I know when you’re stalling, Rox. What’s wrong?”

“I got a call from Jamal,” she said, faux-casually.

“Didn’t know you exchanged numbers,” said Eggsy. “Jamal didn’t mention.”

“He’s a nice guy, that Jamal,” she said.

“Oh God. Are you about to ask me for relationship advice with Jamal?”

“Kinda? Um, he called me and basically had a meltdown over the phone. Said that he couldn’t commit to a relationship and that I’m a beautiful woman and I deserve someone better.”

Roxy paused, shaking her head. “We hadn’t even gone out on a date or discussed a relationship. Hell, we barely even flirted on Friday.”

“Aw, that’s just Jamal,” said Eggsy. “He does something similar every time he meets a girl he likes.”

“Why?”

“That’s for him to tell you.” Because there was no way that Eggsy was going to talk about Jamal’s mother giving him abandonment issues. Too personal.

Eggsy could just imagine Jamal making a phone call like that, too. Jamal was notorious for building things up in his head. By the time he finally made that call, he had probably envisioned an entire life with Roxy and had subsequently panicked.

“I don’t know,” said Roxy. “I mean, I hate it when guys tell me that I deserve better.”

“Then don’t pursue it,” said Eggsy.

“But I like him.”

“Then pursue it.”

“You’re no help!”

Eggsy threw up his arms. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Roxy! This ain’t something I can really help you with. You gotta take a step back and figure out what you want. Can you be with a guy who ain’t Mr. Right? Because I tell you fucking what, Jamal ain’t right. That’s not to say he ain’t a good guy, because when someone says ‘good,’ Jamal is one of the first people to my mind. But he nags like a mother hen, he has a tendency to find trouble like no one’s business, and he has problems with women. He can’t take a punch and cries like a bitch at the first sign of pain. He’s barely got a cent to his name and he only just scored his first job. He ain’t exactly the kind of man you take home to daddy. Neither am I, and neither is Ryan. But Jamal’s kind and caring and one of the best fucking men I know. He reads Shakespeare – shit, don’t tell him I told you that – and he secretly volunteers at homeless shelters. He don’t even know that I know, except me and Ryan got curious one day and followed him. And I ain’t even telling you the half of it, because it ain’t fucking easy, living in the estates, and I keep his secrets, just like he keeps mine. He ain’t perfect. You can’t walk into a relationship with him thinking it’s going to be easy, because let me tell you…”

Eggsy pointed at her. “Let me tell you, Rox. If you focus on those kinda details, then ain’t no guy gonna be good enough, because every guy puts their foot in their mouth at some point. You just gotta tell them they’re fucking stupid and move on. Every guy has about a million flaws. Same with girls. And Jamal has more than most. Can you put up with that? Because, Rox, you deserve a perfect man, you really fucking do. Are you going to wait for perfection, or are you going to love what’s real?”

Roxy looked immensely frustrated. “You don’t get it, Eggsy. I’m just… I’m trying so hard. Dating isn’t easy for me.”

“Is dating easy for anyone?”

“Eggsy –”

“No, I’m serious. I don’t know anyone who finds dating easy. And if they do, they’re damn lucky.”

Roxy looked upset. Even when she and the podiatrist had split on Friday, Eggsy hadn’t seen that much distress on her face.

Eggsy broke. He sighed, gathering Roxy into his arms. “I ain’t the best person to come to for relationship advice,” he said. He rubbed her back comfortingly, like his mum used to do for him when he was a kid. “My longest were two months, and it were barely a relationship. It were more mutual fucking when convenient.”

“Yet you always say what I need to hear,” said Roxy, melting into his arms. “I don’t know why I’m stressing about this so much.”

“Because it’s hard, opening yourself up to someone else,” said Eggsy.

“I still don’t know what to do about Jamal.”

“Do what feels right,” said Eggsy. “If you decide not to go for it, no hard feelings. Jamal’ll have a crush on you, but you can still hang with us. Ain’t no harm. He won’t be hurt, especially since he’s the one who called you. And if you decide to go for it, well. You’ll go on a couple of dates. It either works or it doesn’t.”

Roxy leaned back and grinned. “Careful, Eggsy. Someone might actually think you’re intelligent.”

Eggsy snorted. “Give a girl advice, and she gives you sass.”

“You have carrot all over your neck.”

“Fuck, I swear –”

Roxy ended up staying most of the night, only leaving when she realized she needed to let her dog out.

The next morning, Eggsy called Ryan and bullied him into babysitting again, this time at Eggsy’s flat. “You can eat all my food,” Eggsy said, and Ryan grumbled and swore and promised to be there.

Eggsy met Harry outside the shop on Savile Row, and they got on the bullet train together. When they got off the bullet train, walking smoothly into the mansion like they hadn’t just been making out the entire way there, they were met by an irate Merlin.

“Where have you two been?” he demanded, as if they were late. Which, okay, they were, but it was impossible to be on time when Harry was with you. “I need to talk to both of you.”

They followed after Merlin, who led them to what initially appeared to be a janitor’s closet. He opened the door and ushered them in. It was a bit bigger than a closet, enough for about five people to stand comfortably, which was why it was awkward with the people already in it: Kay, Lamorak, Tristan, Harry, Merlin, and Eggsy were one person too many, and so they awkwardly shuffled, trying to make sure no one accidentally elbowed another.

“We couldn’t have this meeting somewhere else?” said Lamorak, a little crossly.

“Considering we’re talking about a coup, no,” said Merlin. “This room was specially created for this type of situation. No cameras look at it, and I’ve altered the time stamps on the recordings so it seems like we all went through this hallway at different times.”

“Why would someone specially create a room for coups?” asked Eggsy.

Merlin gamely ignored this. Eggsy had a feeling it was because Merlin secretly loved his dramatics. “We’re in a tight spot, boys.”

“Literally,” Tristan muttered.

“We have Eggsy’s testimony,” said Merlin, “but it doesn’t look like that’ll be enough. We need harder proof or else this case will just be thrown out. We know her defense will say that her mistakes were just born of inexperience, so we need to show some malicious intent.”

Eggsy had one of those moments where he wasn’t sure what to say. On one hand, he didn’t want to offer any more details on the situation than what Harry had already managed to extract from him. On the other hand, he had already spilled the secrets.

What a fucked up situation – Eggsy could honestly say he had never been forced to make a decision like this before.

Tristan, breaking the thoughtful silence, said, “I could always poison her.”

“That wouldn’t work, with the scrutiny the donors are placing on us. And anyway, let’s not start a war with Bedivere, a civil war within the Kingsman is not what we’re going for here,” said Merlin.

He said that at the same time Lamorak muttered, “Toxic Tristan, striking again.”

Tristan expanded like an insulted puffer fish. “Toxic Tristan is an inaccurate representation of what I do –”

“Really?” said Kay, unamused, to Lamorak. “This rant lasts for at least four minutes. You really had to bring that up?”

Eggsy said cautiously, quietly, “She’s admitted a couple of times to me that it was malicious.”

“Really?” said Merlin, focusing on Eggsy.

“Yeah. Couple of times. Once on a mission, twice in meetings. At least.”

“- There is a difference between toxins and poisons. Now, if you were to call me Poisonous Tristan, it would be fine –”

“Were you wearing your glasses each time?” asked Merlin, ignoring Tristan with experience.

“Yeah… I don’t think I had them on for the meetings in her office, though.”

“That’s fine, lad, the glasses automatically record. Typically anything after 5 p.m. is thrown out unless it’s during a mission, but if it was between nine to five hours we might have a copy of it…”

“- Toxins originate from the natural environment. A toad could be toxic, for example. Do I look like a toad? Poisons, on the other hand –”

“It was,” said Eggsy, aiming his comment at Merlin. “Both times.”

“Excellent,” said Merlin. “But she probably has those locked down. We have all the evidence we need, we just need access to those files…”

“How long until you get access?” asked Harry. Harry took advantage of the small space to lean into Eggsy a little, settling his hand on Eggsy’s arse without the others noticing. The innocuous nature of it – Harry just casually spreading his fingers across the material covering his bum – made Eggsy flush a little.

“- Just because it has clever alliteration doesn’t mean that you should call me Toxic Tristan, really –”

“That’s the problem, I’m afraid,” said Merlin. “We might be in for the long haul. It might take weeks to break down the security surrounding those files. You know that the King family put in place all sorts of protocol to defend the integrity of Arthur’s cyberspace, to ensure no leaks. And if I even manage to break through that, I’m not entirely sure it’ll be admissible in court.”

“Are we taking this to court?” asked Eggsy, startled and disquieted.

“Not in the way you’re thinking,” said Harry. “The Kingsman have a series of checks and balances in place to make sure that no one person has too much authority. If we decide that Arthur is not doing her duty, then we can convene a tribunal that includes agents, donors, and outside neutral parties to decide whether or not to impeach her.”

“Sweet,” said Eggsy.

“- When that nickname first came up, I suggested Affliction Agent, just because I know you guys like your fucking alliteration. But did that stick? Well, clearly not, because –”

“But for all intents and purposes, it is a legally binding procedure,” said Harry. “That means official lawyers with official paperwork. We need to make sure everything checks out.”

“We might have to wait for her to commit another act,” said Merlin, “and have someone else catch her in the process. That way, we can hit her with a subpoena and demand access to her records.”

“You can’t do that now with my word?” asked Eggsy.

“ – I mean, really. Do I call you something stupid, like Gun Lamorak? No! Because Lamorak works with bombs, and guns and bombs are inherently different, despite superficial similarities!”

“That nickname doesn’t have alliteration,” Kay pointed out drily.

Tristan hissed like a cat.

“No!” said Merlin, sternly. “Don’t work Tristan up any more, Kay, Lamorak. And Tristan – seriously, shut the fuck up. This is an important conversation and you’re distracting from it. If you want to whine about your nickname, go and cry to Arthur and have her put in a memo that we’ll all ignore.”

Merlin took a deep breath and refocused on Eggsy. “Unfortunately, Arthur has the donors on her side. And we need donor support in order to go ahead with this. The donors aren’t exactly likely to believe your word, Eggsy.”

“Right,” sighed Eggsy.

“We’re playing a waiting game,” said Merlin. “But we’ll get through this.”

“What can we do?” asked Kay.

“Keep vigilant,” said Merlin. “And make sure you have witnesses for any interactions with her.”

Everyone gave sharp nods, except for Tristan who was mumbling to himself about nicknames. “Anything else?” asked Harry, pertly.

“That’ll be it,” said Merlin.

“Let’s move then, shall we?”

As they were filing out of the room, Tristan caught Eggsy’s elbow. “A word, please?”

“I’ve already heard your speech, bruv,” said Eggsy. “I respect you not wanting to be called that nickname, I promise.”

“No, it’s not about that,” said Tristan. “Well, if you could tell that to Lamorak or Kay, that would be wonderful. Really, remembering the difference between toxins and poisons could save your life one day –”

“Um, did you want to talk about something?”

“What? Oh, yes. I wanted to ask if you’re okay.”

“Me? Why?”

Tristan stared deeply at Eggsy for a long moment. The annoyance at his nickname fell away, and something pensive stole across Tristan’s face, reminding Eggsy that Tristan was an agent. A very good one, very skilled at killing people without them ever knowing the culprit.

“The truth serum,” said Tristan, softly. “Well, I mean, technically that isn’t the correct term for it, no matter how colloquially Galahad and Merlin referred to it. It’s more of a hypnotic, cut with sodium thiopenthal, scopolamine, and some mild sedatives. Rather hard to get the dosage right, and I’m still marveling that the alcohol works as the binding agent. The mixture really shouldn’t exist or work as it does, it definitely needs further study. And it’s not really a serum per se. If I were to name it, I guess I’d –”

“Tristan.”

“Right,” he said, clearing his throat. “Sorry. These things are interesting.”

Eggsy could understand. Tristan was just insanely passionate about his work, boring as fuck though it was.

Tristan gusted out a sigh. He put his hand on Eggsy’s shoulder. “I’m trying to ask you if you’re okay, mentally,” he said quietly. “Physically, too, I suppose, if there’s any side effects that I should know about. But I’m concerned about you. When Galahad told me his plan… Well, I was a little dubious, but I knew if I didn’t go along with it then he would just find another, perhaps more unsafe way.”

Eggsy understood what Tristan was trying to say – in his own warped, unreal way, he had actually been trying to protect Eggsy. Tristan knew his compound was better than anything else out there.

That did not absolve him from what he did.

“I gotta say, bruv,” said Eggsy, “feels a bit like a betrayal from my end of things. I appreciate you were helping in your own way, but you could’ve warned me.”

“A piece of advice, son,” said Tristan, seriously. “Never get in Galahad’s way. He’s… We’re lucky to have him here, because he would’ve made an excellent villain somewhere along the line. I never would’ve tried to double-cross Galahad like that, and it’s best that you never try, either. He’ll win in the end.”

“Harry isn’t that cruel,” said Eggsy.

“I’m not calling him cruel. I’m calling him efficient.”

Point to Tristan. Harry Hart was nothing if not efficient, whether that was in forcibly extracting the truth from Eggsy or killing hundreds of people in a Church.

“That’s not to undersell me,” said Tristan. “I keep spare arsenic in my office, just in case. But Galahad doesn’t need arsenic. All Galahad has is that smile of his, and next thing you know…” Tristan shook his head. “But I digress. I understand you’re hurt. I hope one day we can overcome this.”

Eggsy clapped Tristan on the shoulder. “Someday, bruv, I probably won’t even remember it.”

Tristan gave a cautious smile.

The day passed by quickly after that. Eggsy had a huge pile of paperwork to get through, so he focused on knocking it out. The only interruptions were Roxy – she called Jamal and told him they were going out on a date, which made Jamal panic and flail about on the phone – and Harry, who Eggsy took the opportunity to snog a little and mess up the clean lines of his suit.

By the time five o’clock rolled around, he was more than ready to go and relieve Ryan from Daisy-sitting duty. It was also the start of worm-like nerves in his stomach. Merlin said he would be sending over the Kingsman-approved nanny that night. When Eggsy asked if he was supposed to interview her or anything, Merlin had snorted and said, “You’ll like her, don’t you worry.”

Eggsy slipped into the flat and tidied up a bit, worried about procedure and decorum. How does one talk to a nanny?

Merlin, the life-saver, had arranged for a bed to be sent to his flat, and the workers had already set up the new bed in Daisy’s room. Eggsy wasn’t sure if the nanny would like that, but Eggsy would be more than happy to give up his current room if the nanny’s wasn’t to her liking.

Eggsy poked his head in his mum’s room while he was cleaning. She wasn’t there (where had she been this weekend?), so Eggsy optimistically figured that she was out and about with friends. He made a nice little dinner – extra, in case the nanny wanted any – and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long. There was a loud knock on the door, which Eggsy answered after wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers. Standing there was a willowy woman, two suitcases clutched in her hands. She was fairly young, probably in her late twenties or early thirties, with dark eyes and darker hair. It was swept back into a loose braid, showing off rather large ears.

She smiled at him. Her teeth were crooked and bent, which, for whatever weird reason, comforted Eggsy greatly. “Hello,” she said, her words overly-enunciated in a way that suggested she was overcompensating for an accent. “I’m Lydia. I’m the nanny?”

“Hello, Lydia,” said Eggsy, stepping back to let her in the door. “I’m Eggsy.”

“Nice to meet you,” she said politely. Eggsy liberated the suitcases from her.

“Let me show you to your room,” he said. He led her down the hallway and pushed open Daisy’s – and now also Lydia’s – door. “This is where Daisy lives. This is a three-bedroom flat and me, my mum, and Daisy all live here. Oh, Daisy is the child you’ll be taking care of. But I thought I’d put you in her room? If you’re not chuffed about sharing, though, I can switch around and give you my room. Or Daisy’s room, I can move Daisy to my room…”

“This is more than fine,” she said, stealing her suitcases back from Eggsy and setting them on the floor. “This is a wonderful set-up, thank you.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy. “Um. Did you want to get settled in, or did you want to meet Daisy, or…?”

She smiled at him. He had a feeling that she was laughing at him. “You ever had a nanny before?”

“No,” admitted Eggsy, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly. “You can tell?”

“You look like you’re about to shit your pants,” she said, and Eggsy promptly fell in love with her. Merlin was right.

Eggsy left Lydia as she was pulling out Stark Trek bedsheets, figurines of Wonder Woman, and box sets of Sherlock. He figured she needed time to settle in. After about a half hour, she wandered back into the sitting room, so Eggsy got up and showed her around the flat. “Not much to it,” he said. “Three bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen, dining room – though we don’t really use it much…”

“It’s lovely,” she said, and looked like she meant it.

“Great. Okay. Well, I gotta go over a few things with you. Um, here, sit,” he said, ushering her into a chair in the sitting room. Daisy, who was playing with some blocks, was eyeing her interestedly.

Lydia perched on the couch, giving him a polite look as he sat down, flustered. “Um, I don’t know how much you know about my job…?”

“Everything,” she said. “I nannied for a few years for Nathaniel’s child.”

“…Nathaniel?”

Lydia smiled again. “Geraint,” she clarified, who was a knight who was so often away on deep cover missions that Eggsy had never actually seen him in person.

Which also brought up – Geraint had children, along with Gawain. How many other knights had families, children? Eggsy thought that this was a more solitary profession. He wouldn’t have expected any of the knights to be homemakers.

“Okay,” said Eggsy, like his whole worldview wasn’t shifting.

“Yes. They vetted me quite aggressively. They thought it would be better if I knew the nature of his work, in case something happened. I would understand why he was away for days,” she said. “I was younger, then, of course. Only twenty-one. I’m a bit more seasoned now.”

“I see,” said Eggsy. “Well, that’s good to know. Okay. So, here’s the deal. I live with my mum, who believes I’m a tailor. In the past my mum has taken care of Daisy. Lately, she’s been…”

Eggsy struggled to find a word for it. Lydia waited patiently.

“Drunk,” Eggsy finally settled on, bluntly. Here went nothing – he had never told another soul willingly and sober. “She’s in an abusive relationship. I’ve been trying to get her out, but it’s not working. She’s been drunk and she’s also been going after cough syrup to get high. I can’t leave Daisy with her anymore.”

Oh man. That was heavy. But Lydia just blinked again at him, like waiting for him to reach his point.

“Let me be clear,” said Eggsy, getting on a roll. “You answer to me, not her. You can fulfill certain requests she might make, but only by your discretion. The only orders you actually have to follow come from me.”

“Are you Daisy’s guardian?” asked Lydia, curiously.

“No,” said Eggsy. “That’d still be my mum. But I pay your cheque.”

“Duly noted,” said Lydia, nodding sharply.

“Right,” said Eggsy. “If my mum is acting inappropriately or endangering Daisy in any way, call me immediately. There will be times I won’t be able to answer. In those cases, act accordingly. I’ll give you the phone numbers for a woman named Kathy, as well as Harry Hart, who’s my current boyfriend. They should be able to help in an emergency.

“You are also not to allow Dean Baker around Daisy,” said Eggsy, pulling out a photo of Dean and passing it over to Lydia. “Dean is Daisy’s father, and he’s the one my mum is in a relationship with. They’re going through the divorce process but it’s a bit messy right now. We’re also in the process of getting a restraining order on him, for Daisy. Hasn’t gone through yet, but it will. Dean is not allowed in this house. If Dean is here, call me immediately. If I can’t answer, call Harry before you call anyone else. If Harry doesn’t answer either, call the police.”

“Okay,” said Lydia, looking like she understood the gravity of the situation. “I understand.”

“Okay, good,” said Eggsy. He trotted over to Daisy and picked her up, putting her in Lydia’s lap. “This is Daisy. Say hi, Daisy!”

“Hi!” said Daisy. She placed a block in Lydia’s lap. “Block!”

“She’s going to be turning three soon,” said Eggsy. “Just in a couple of weeks, actually. Wow. Haven’t really thought about it. Been telling everyone that she’s two and a half for so long that it snuck up on me. Uh, her language skills are still a little underdeveloped, but she’s picking up walking real fast. She’s been sleeping through the night, though sometimes she wakes up around two. She can eat solid foods but it’s slow-going, because she’s convinced the food looks better on my face.”

Lydia had a bit of an off-kilter smile. “Where are her language skills right now?”

Eggsy hesitated. “She might be able to form sentences soon?”

Lydia blinked. Eggsy got the sudden impression that that might be how Lydia communicated – in blinks. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll help with that. Can she run yet?”

“No.”

“How often do you hold her?”

“Um…” said Eggsy, who had never actually thought about that. “Pretty often, I guess…? Yeah, actually. A lot.”

“Stop, unless you have to,” said Lydia. “It’ll encourage her to walk more.”

Eggsy first instinctual response was to petulantly say that he wanted to keep holding her. She was his little flower. But that made sense. “Okay,” said Eggsy. Though he didn’t quite appreciate that it sounded like the whole walking-thing was his fault. “I can stop.”

Lydia smiled. She flicked Daisy’s nose. “Hello, Daisy.”

Daisy squealed happily.

“I have a serious question for you, and maybe it’s a little early for me to be asking this,” said Lydia. “I probably shouldn’t make suggestions yet. But have you considered suing for guardianship?”

“What?” said Eggsy, almost dizzy now. Because Lydia was giving him a straightforward, no-bullshit type look. She seemed like a straight shooter. Normally that was good, it was a quality that he liked, but…

“It’d make things easier,” said Lydia. “It would put you officially in charge. It looks like you are, anyway. And that way it makes legal things go more smoothly. Your mum wouldn’t be able to make any decisions any longer, unless you let her.”

“I… don’t know,” said Eggsy. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that sort of responsibility.”

He had given it some serious thought after Harry had brought it up in the medical wing. But every time he thought about it, he got a shivery feeling. Who would trust Eggsy with a child, really?

Lydia was silent for a moment, before asking quietly, “Again, I’m sorry if this isn’t my place… but don’t you already have that responsibility?”

“I’ll think about it,” said Eggsy, mostly just to stop talking about it. It was bad enough that the thought started infecting his mind when he laid down to bed at night, there was no reason why he should have conversations about it.

There was a nudge at his feet, and he looked down to see JB, panting wetly against his ankle. “Oh! And this is JB, my pug. Could you take care of him too while I’m gone?”

“Of course,” said Lydia, her face lighting up with laughter.

“Brill,” said Eggsy. “Do you have any questions? Anything I can do for you? I made dinner. It’s sorta cold now, but I can warm it back up.”

“I ate before I came over here,” said Lydia, kindly. “I’ll be fine, Eggsy.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, just in time for the front door to open wildly, careening against the wall with a smack. Michelle stumbled in, her hair wild and a wide grin on her face, clearly put there by some sort of substance.

Lydia didn’t react, just placidly gathering Daisy up.

“I would introduce you,” said Eggsy, staring as Michelle bent down drunkenly to take off heels, “but I don’t think she’s in a good state right now.”

Lydia gave a sharp nod. “I’m going to take Daisy to her room.”

“Okay. My mum and I are going to have a discussion. Pop your head out if you need anything?”

Lydia gave another sharp nod before retreating into Daisy’s room.

“Who’s that?” asked Michelle poking her nose around the dinner that Eggsy had cooked.

“Mum!” said Eggsy, ignoring the question entirely. “Wonderful to see you again. It’s been a good five days. Surgery for appendicitis went well, thanks for asking, I know that you were really concerned when I went to the hospital. Oh, and glad that you took care of Daisy while I was away!”

The high-smile faded from Michelle’s face. “Daisy weren’t here,” she said. “I ain’t stupid, Eggsy.”

“No, just high. How’s Dean?”

“That’s enough,” said Michelle, but she looked ashamed, her shoulders slumping. “He got served with those damn papers, by the way.”

“For the restraining order?” asked Eggsy, padding over the kitchen and putting the dinner in the microwave to warm it up for his mum. “Yeah, our court date is in two weeks. I’ve filed on my behalf as well as got a civil restraining order for Daisy.”

Michelle shook her head. “I want Daisy to be able to see her father.”

“I don’t,” said Eggsy, bluntly. “Her father is abusive. Her father is a bad influence. Her father keeps getting her mother high.”

“Eggsy,” said Michelle. “You don’t understand. I love him. He supports me unconditionally. And you know what? It’s you I haven’t felt like I’ve got much support from lately.”

Eggsy glanced around the flat that he had bought his mum, looking at the food he was warming up for her. “I’m not sure what you expect,” said Eggsy. “I’ve done everything I can for you, mum. You’re the one dragging your heels.”

“Listen,” said Michelle, taking a deep breath, “I’ve been thinking. Maybe Daisy and I should move out and live with Dean.”

“No.”

“Hear me out. You’ve done enough to take care of her already. I don’t want to burden you anymore. And Dean loves having me around.” Michelle paused for a moment, and said quietly, “He don’t act like I’m a burden.”

“No, he doesn’t love you,” said Eggsy, ignoring that last sentence. “He loves banging you. He tolerates Daisy because you make him. Pretty soon, he won’t care about that, and he’ll beat her like he beat me.”

“Are you on about that again?”

“Mum,” said Eggsy, beginning to feel tired. “I don’t want to argue with you. I served Dean with a restraining order. I’m hoping it gets granted by the court. I understand you still want to see him. Well, I don’t understand, but I’ve tried my best to separate you, and now the only thing left is for you to help yourself. I can’t do anything more. It is what it is.”

Michelle picked up the plate from the microwave and began to eat the food. “Well,” she said, faux-casually, “I don’t want Daisy to have a restraining order. I’m going to put in a counter-order to make sure she doesn’t get granted one. Or whatever they’re called; Dean was telling me that it was my right as the mother to prevent her from getting one. He’s her father – I want her knowing her father.”

“Mum, you’re acting crazy. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

Michelle stabbed the fork into the meat and glared at Eggsy. “Daisy is my daughter. I know what’s best for her.”

“Mum, come on –”

“And you know what?” said Michelle, squinting her eyes at him. “I think we just might move in with Dean after all.”

Eggsy rocked back on his heels. “Don’t make any rash decisions,” he said, carefully. “I’ll stop the restraining order.”

This seemed to mollify Michelle. “Okay,” she said. “It’d be a shame to leave this flat, anyway. Dean only has a one bedroom flat, now.”

Eggsy watched as Michelle finished up her dinner before she stumbled into her room, her door clicking shut behind her. Then Eggsy picked up his phone. It rang twice before Merlin picked up.

“What?”

“How difficult is the process to sue for guardianship of my sister?”

The next day, Eggsy actually felt good about leaving the house. He made everyone breakfast, including his mum and Lydia. His mum didn’t even question Lydia’s presence, which made Eggsy wonder if she just didn’t care or if she was figuring that Eggsy was letting a friend stay over.

He made two takeaway cups of tea and headed to the shop. Harry was waiting for him on one of the couches, and Eggsy handed him the mug. He accepted it, slowly sipping on the fast-cooling liquid. He made a weird face, which Eggsy sent him a curious look for, but Harry’s face smoothed out like nothing had happened.

“I hear you’re going to be suing for guardianship,” said Harry.

“I just told Merlin last night, Jesus Christ.”

“You’re not making a rash decision, are you? You’ve thought this over?”

“Actually, yeah,” sighed Eggsy. “It’s been brought up a couple of times. I just haven’t wanted to do it because I know it’s going to get really messy. My mum is going to be devastated.”

“When will she be served the papers?”

“Merlin said that he was able to pull a few strings to make the whole process move a bit faster. So she should be served them today.”

“Do you have a plan in place for how you’re going to react in case she attempts to take Daisy to Dean after being served the papers?”

“I gave Lydia strict orders that Michelle ain’t allowed to do anything without me there. There’s not too much I can do, to be honest.”

“Have you thought about killing Dean?” asked Harry. “It would solve a lot of problems.”

“Okay, first, I’m not a murderer.”

“There are certain perks to our job –”

“Stop right there, you psychopath. And second, it would solve some problems, but it would just create more. Because my mum is messed up regardless of Dean’s presence. It’d be a Band-Aid solution.”

Harry inclined his head in agreement. “Well. Would it make you feel better if you bent me over my office desk and fucked me?”

“Um,” said Eggsy. “Yes. Yes it would.”

The call came in near the end of the day. Eggsy had been on tenterhooks because he hadn’t heard a peep from Arthur since the day at the warehouse. He hadn’t even debriefed with her. His stress levels were ratcheting up, what with the situation at home and the Arthur ordeal, and so when his mobile rang and Lydia’s voice came through he nearly sobbed that something was finally happening.

“Michelle is in hysterics,” she said. “She’s talking about leaving with Daisy. Get here.”

Eggsy didn’t even hesitate, throwing his shit into his bag and racing out of the office. The bullet train felt like it took far too long, and even jumping down the stairs three at a time at the shop didn’t get him out of there fast enough.

When he reached his flat, he raced in, panting wildly. Lydia stood near the door, her face inscrutable, holding a crying Daisy in her arms. Eggsy felt a little sorry, because it was only Lydia’s second day, but she was certainly earning her stripes.

Eggsy could hear banging from his mother’s room. He could also hear crying. “Take Daisy to the park,” said Eggsy. “Please.”

Lydia seemed to be waiting for that – she picked up a bag she had packed and trotted out the door, looking almost serene as Daisy wailed in her arms. The door clicked shut, and Eggsy was left with Michelle.

He wrenched open the door to Michelle’s room and stood in the doorway. The room was a disaster – clothes thrown everywhere and a single suitcase sitting open on the bed, a huge pile overflowing over the sides as Michelle chucked more items to be packed. She didn’t have room for any of it.

“Got some bad news, mum?” asked Eggsy, quietly.

“You fucker!” she screamed. Her face was red and blotchy, her hair wild. Oddly, her eyes were clear – Eggsy was having this conversation with a fully sober Michelle. “How dare you try to take my child away from me!”

“It was okay when it was just me,” said Eggsy, still quietly. “I could handle it. I could handle Dean beating the shit out of me. I could handle his thugs laughing at me. That was all okay, because you were happy and protected, even if you were getting pushed around a bit too. Better than Trevor, right? But then you had Daisy. Things changed. I can’t let you take Daisy back to that.”

“Dean is a decent man!”

“No.” Eggsy shook his head, almost surprised by the confidence in his voice. “Dean is a pathetic man. You already lost a good man, mum. That would be my real father. You replaced him with... something else.”

“You’re full of shit,” said Michelle, clearly overcome with emotion. She dropped her head in her hands, wiping away snot and mascara. “You’re so full of it, Eggsy. You think you’re better than me now, huh? That you’re better than Dean? Just because you got some high-class job?”

“I know I’m better than Dean. I knew that when I was twelve. Dean is a child-abuser and a coward. A slug is better than Dean. It has nothing to do with my job.”

“You’re going to take her away from me,” sobbed Michelle. “And I can’t do anything, because you’ll have lawyers and resources and contacts. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you! How could you do this to me, Eggsy? To your mother?”

“Honestly, mum, I won’t be taking her away from you, because you never took care of her. That was always me. This is just making that official.”

“Fuck you,” said Michelle, but the wind seemed to be completely out of her sails. She blinked blurry eyes at Eggsy. “You’ve changed, Eggsy. You act so differently, always wearing suits and talking in new accents and going out with people I don’t know. How am I supposed to fit in all of this, huh? Where am I supposed to be? Every time you look at me I see the shame in your eyes, I know that you think I’m a mess.”

“Mum…”

Michelle abandoned the bed area. She angrily wiped more tears away, making her cheeks smudged with mascara. “When you were young, we were in this together, yeah? We used to sit and watch Citizen Kane and we knew it was us against the world. But now, I feel like you’re ashamed of me. No, I know what you’re thinking, that you are ashamed of the way I’m acting now – but you were ashamed of me long before the alcohol. It was right when we moved in here, when you looked around at your nice flat and realized that your trashy mum didn’t belong in this new dream.”

Eggsy gaped at her, because never once had he meant to make her feel that way. But Eggsy didn’t mean… okay, well – maybe, once or twice, he had looked about him and wondered why his mum wasn’t trying to improve… but that didn’t mean that he was ashamed of her. It meant he wanted the best for her!

“I don’t know what you want from me,” said Michelle, fresh tears beginning to trickle down her face. “I just… It just feels like I’m a duty you need to check off a list. Got your mum out of the estates? Check. Looked over Daisy? Check. I’m barely even a person to you, anymore. I’m just another way for you to pat your back and congratulate yourself for becoming better.”

“I’ve never thought that way,” said Eggsy. “I thought I was genuinely helping.”

Michelle shook her head. “Maybe that’s so, Eggsy. But I think a bigger part of you just wanted a person to save, so you could call yourself a savior.”

“That’s not… No…”

“But I’m not going to be that person for you, honey,” said Michelle. She seemed to steel herself, straightening out her shoulders and sniffing once or twice. “I don’t need you to save me. I can do that myself. I’m taking Daisy and leaving.”

“You’re welcome to leave,” said Eggsy, who felt the whole damn situation was out of control, “but Daisy is staying. I’m not letting you take her to that sick fuck just because you want to prove some convoluted point. And, mum… I… I don’t want you to leave. My house is always open to you. I love you.”

“I love you too,” said Michelle. “And I loved your father. You look exactly like him, you know? Just… exactly like him. And I can’t fucking stand it.”

“Fuck,” said Eggsy. “Fuck, mum.”

“I’m leaving.” She somehow forced her suitcase shut. “I’m leaving, but I’ll be back. I want Daisy.”

She pushed past Eggsy and went out the door, slamming it shut behind her. The silence in the house was ringing.

The next two weeks were the most brutal Eggsy had ever faced, in terms of playing the waiting game. He healed – completely and utterly, no more worries about the injuries from Timothy Yates – and eventually had that debrief with Arthur, who kept a poker face the entire time and didn’t say one word that could be construed poorly. Eggsy had a feeling that she had got wind of the impeding coup and was playing it safe.

Eggsy went on a few lackluster missions, nothing too dangerous or crazy. He went on his first team mission, which was him and Lamorak visiting a beach resort in Suriname to check out a corrupt gold mining industry. The mission was solved within hours, so Eggsy spent the rest of the day swimming about in the ocean while Lamorak unashamedly read Fifty Shades of Grey on the beach despite Eggsy’s teasing. Lamorak accidentally sunburned his back when he got too into the story, which caused even more teasing from Eggsy. Lamorak was completely unrepentant. They mutually complained about how overkill it was to send two agents on the plane ride home, though neither one of them was really upset about the mission overall. Eggsy brought back a preserved starfish to commemorate the mission, and proudly placed it on his shelves in his office.

His probation committee was dragging along, and Merlin kept giving him positive updates about the entire thing. It looked like it was going to take more than the few weeks that Arthur had promised; it seemed to be turning into a months-long enterprise.

More importantly, however, he faced harassment from Bedivere. Eggsy hesitated to call it that, since he hated labelling anything as harassment, but it seemed every corner he turned, Bedivere was there, glaring dully at Eggsy.

Eggsy would be in one of the lounges, the one with the snacks and tea, and he would be pouring himself a cup when suddenly the hairs on the back of his neck would stand up. Glancing over his shoulder, Bedivere would be leaning in the doorway, watching him. Or Eggsy would be doing paperwork in his office and he would be able to hear Bedivere pacing outside, slowly walking back and forth outside the door. Eggsy would stare at one of the pictures Daisy had drawn him, still taped up on the wall, with his hands clenched.

Eggsy knew why Bedivere was doing this, because Bedivere himself had told him. “I’m watching you,” he said one time when he caught Eggsy’s arm, “to make sure you don’t tell. And I’m waiting for you to mess up. I want something to report back to the committee.”

It was easily one of the stupidest things Eggsy had ever heard. He knew that Bedivere was bound and determined to protect Arthur, but this just seemed… It just wasn’t logical.

Eggsy’s incredulous attitude was compounded by the fact that he now knew Bedivere’s last name was Barker from Harry’s innocent comment about Digby being Bedivere’s son. When he mentioned this, Bedivere was uncowed.

“I won’t let you hurt her,” he replied.

Eggsy hated that Bedivere felt that he needed to follow Eggsy around, but he supposed desperate times called for desperate measures from Bedivere.

And anyway. Eggsy could play that game. Eggsy had lived years dodging a man he didn’t want to see and taking actions to ensure that that man didn’t want to talk to him. So once, when Eggsy heard Bedivere creeping after him, Eggsy slipped into Harry’s office. Eggsy knew that Bedivere was still lurking outside, so Eggsy gave Harry a truly spectacular blowjob. Harry was rather quiet in bed even without being at work, so Eggsy doubted that Bedivere truly knew what they were doing, but it was the thought that counts.

Surprisingly, Harry was not affectionate toward Eggsy at work. For some reason, Eggsy expected Harry to throw him over every surface and have his way with him. Or Eggsy expected Harry to be possessive. And he was… Just not at work.

“You’re facing enough troubles,” said Harry, when asked. “I don’t think you need to be accused of sleeping your way up, too.”

Point.

So Harry was handsy as all hell when they were away from work, and extremely discreet when at work. They still fooled around a little, but Eggsy doubted any of the other agents knew what was going on between them.

Which was good, mostly because Bedivere was keeping such a close eye on Eggsy.

Eggsy had other methods – a few twists and turns and he easily lost Bedivere, or sometimes he would just not go to the mansion and instead conduct his work out of the shop, lounging on the couch while Dagonet primly stood behind the counter. Bedivere never seemed to want to come to the shop so it worked well. Eggsy didn’t much appreciate being driven out of his office, but he figured things couldn’t continue like this forever.

Things came to a head after those two weeks when Arthur pulled him aside, sitting him formally in her office. Merlin supervised, standing in the corner with his clipboard and writing something down like he wasn’t avidly listening to every word.

“I’m here to tell you about the results of your committee hearings,” she said, stiffly. She was studiously avoiding looking at Merlin. “After reviewing your missions, certain people on the committee seem to believe that you are an effective agent. However, there are also other members who are worried that your methods and results are skewed.”

“Skewed?”

“You may not be able to keep up this kind of quality.”

“What evidence do you have of that?”

He could tell by her frown that there wasn’t any evidence, that she was just grasping at straws and taking advantage of the fact that the committee was composed mostly of people who hated him. “Due to these considerations, you are still on probation until further notice. We will be forming another committee,” here she grimaced, “with entirely new people that will be reviewing your missions and actions. With luck, they will have assessed your eligibility for this role within three weeks.”

“It’s a bunch of bullshit,” Merlin told him later. “The donors knew what Arthur and Bedivere were doing, but they just went along with it. I was the only sane person on that committee, and I insisted that you not be fired.”

“Thank you,” said Eggsy, who was trying his best to pretend that he didn’t actually care about the results. Harry sat next to him, his legs primly crossed, listening politely.

Merlin waved off the thanks absently. “Thankfully for us, Arthur overplayed her hand. When we couldn’t reach a decision, protocol demanded that she form a new committee with new people. She couldn’t break that protocol, not with me sitting there. There’s no way that you won’t get passed by another committee.”

“Unless she stacks that one with biased people, too,” said Eggsy, glumly.

But Merlin shook his head. “She already enlisted all the donors who were biased against you for that committee, I think. She even had a donor that was fairly neutral about the whole thing. And Bedivere is the only Kingsmen agent who is actively against you. Any other agent is going to sit on that committee and find it ludicrous, if not offensive. You have a fighting chance, lad.”

To celebrate – even though Eggsy didn’t quite feel like it – Harry took him out for a proper date. Harry took him to a Chinese place, and Eggsy struggled with the chopsticks, rejecting Harry’s help at first before sulkily admitting defeat when he couldn’t pick up any rice with them.

Afterwards, Harry took him back to his house and tied him up with one of Eggsy’s metallic ties. He gave him three orgasms over the course of the night and made Eggsy beg on two separate occasions.

Harry was such a damn tease.

Along with the committee problems, Eggsy found that the guardianship battle was well under-way. Thankfully, his mother never came back for Daisy, which meant that Lydia had an easy time taking care of Daisy while Eggsy was gone (well, as easy as taking care of an almost-three-year-old was).

Merlin helped Eggsy hire a lawyer who sat down and asked him a bunch of personal questions, saying that he was likely going to be asked some very difficult questions in court and that they needed to prepare now. Eggsy, in halting words, told her about dealing drugs and Dean’s abuse. She had a neutral expression on her face the entire time, but there was no way that Eggsy could talk about it while not feeling judged.

After the two dragging, hellish weeks, things began to come to a head. It started with a party.

“I think we should throw Daisy a birthday party,” said Lydia, giving Eggsy the sort of look that meant one was expected to agree and not argue.

Eggsy blinked at her where he was vegging on the couch, feeling sore from some sparring that he and Harry had done that day. Harry was a fucking beast, and always handed Eggsy his arse on a platter (and not always in a sexy way). Jamal and Ryan were both sitting on the couch with him, both of them also tired. Jamal was exhausted purely from his job - while it wasn’t physically strenuous, he worked long days. Ryan, on the other hand, had no good reason for being tired. When asked, he said, “Stayed up all night playing video games,” and then blushed a little. Jamal elbowed Ryan and whispered, “Boy problems, mate,” at Eggsy when Ryan’s back was turned.

So. They were sprawled on the couch, beers in their hands, while Lydia stood with her hands on her hips. Jamal instantly said, “What a bomb idea, mate,” because he was secretly afraid of Lydia and would agree with anything that she said. Ryan gave a murmur and picked up the remote control, starting to flip through the channels.

“A birthday party?” asked Eggsy. “I’ve never thrown her a birthday party before.”

“There’s your problem,” said Lydia. “Birthday parties are great for little kids. They won’t remember it, but everyone comes and brings presents. You’ll be set for clothes and toys and stuff for her for quite a while.”

“Ace,” said Jamal, communicating with his eyes that he was terrified.

“I dunno,” said Eggsy. “I ain’t never thrown any kind of party before. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “That’s why you hired me. I’ll set it up. Get a venue, because your flat isn’t big enough, get snacks, drinks…”

“Do I know enough people to invite?” asked Eggsy. “I don’t want just one person showing up.”

Lydia gave him a look like he was an idiot. “Invite your colleagues,” she said, meaningfully. Oh. Duh. Eggsy did have a lot of friends at work.

So Lydia and Eggsy poured over the guest list to Daisy’s birthday party. They went to a little party shop and bought paper plates, napkins, and forks, all with the theme of dinosaurs. Eggsy had to admit that the cartoon dinosaurs were rather endearing. They also bought a huge pack of invitations that they both sat down and painstakingly wrote out and addressed to people.

By the time they were done with the invitations, Eggsy had a stack much larger than he thought. He had invited nearly everyone from the tech department, of course, because they seemed to love Daisy so much. That was twenty people right there. He invited the other Kingsmen knights (even Bedivere), so there was another ten (it would’ve been twelve, but Gareth’s position had yet to be filled and Geraint was still in deep cover). He invited Mike the mechanic, because sometimes he sat with him and caught up about life. He invited three other mechanics that he sometimes talked to as well. He invited thirteen of the support staff, which included the lady who cleaned the mansion, because Eggsy enjoyed sitting in his office talking to her when she came to clear out the rubbish bin, and she adored Daisy’s drawings on the wall.

Then he branched out slightly. He invited Kathy and her teenager. He invited a few of Daisy’s friends, because Lydia had been determined to get Daisy playmates and had found her a group. He invited those friend’s parents (Eggsy was kinda paranoid, so he subtly vetted Daisy’s friends and their families, which meant he knew them all rather well). He invited his mum, of course, though he highly doubted that she would show up. Then he invited Jamal, Ryan, and a couple of his other friends from the estates. By the time he was done, he was nearing one hundred invitations.

“Holy shit,” he said, shocked. “Since when do I know this many people?”

Lydia smiled. “See? I knew it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Since they couldn’t fit one hundred people into Eggsy’s tiny flat (“Though not everyone will be able to make it,” Lydia reminded him, “that’s why they need to RSVP, though I’m sure half of them won’t,”), Lydia arranged to have it in a nearby park. There was a huge pavilion area filled with picnic tables, as well as a playground for the children who came. Eggsy knew that Daisy would enjoy the swing set, because she always begged to be pushed when Eggsy took her to parks.

He snuck around the mansion handing out invitations two weeks before the party. He placed one, addressed, at each tech’s workstation. For the support staff and the mechanics, he just handed them an invitation when he saw them in the hall, since they didn’t have a designated space. He slid one under each door for the knights. The rest, for his friends in the estates and Daisy’s friends, he sent by mail.

He was surprised by the response; by the end of the first day, he had had four techs knock on his office door and let him know that they could make it. Salomea was practically glowing, and told him that she was going to make her famous seven-layer dip, which Eggsy had never heard her mention before (how could it be famous then?). Mike said yes immediately upon opening the envelope, and asked if he could bring his wife and kids too. Kay even popped his head in and told him, barring a mission, that he would be “delighted” to attend the party.

Lydia let him know that her phone (which they had listed for the RSVP number) had already been called numerous times; a few techs called in to say no because they were scheduled to work that day, but others had called to say yes.

It made Eggsy jittery and nervous, because he had never thrown a party before. He had gone to them, of course; in primary school he once went to a bloke’s party where there was a clown. He remembered he had gotten a shooting star painted on his face. It was actually quite fun. But his mum had never bothered to throw him a party.

When he mentioned his nervousness to Harry, asking if he had had parties when he was younger, he wasn’t expecting the response he got.

Harry, against all logic, hadn’t actually been born into a wealthy family. “We were lower middle class,” he said, absentmindedly tracing designs on Eggsy’s stomach as they lay in bed. “My parents did the best they could for me, but it was always a near thing. I got into Oxford on strength of academics alone and took out so many loans that I thought I would never pay them back. I met the then-Lancelot at a reception for some award banquet, where I was nominated to receive some award for outstanding research in the humanities. I didn’t get the award, but I did tell Lancelot that he needed to hide his gun better. Then I insulted his taste in ties. He was so impressed that I had noticed his gun and had the balls to insult him that he decided I had promise, and kept in contact with me throughout my last year. When I graduated, the Galahad position opened up, and that’s when he decided to nominate me.”

Eggsy listened, undeniably fascinated.

“So, to return to your original question,” said Harry, smiling sheepishly. “Yes, I have had birthday parties before. When I was younger. My parents did the best they could for me.”

“I’m surprised,” said Eggsy. “Isn’t Hart an old English name?”

“Well, yes,” said Harry, “but Hart isn’t my real surname.”

“…what?”

“I got rather badly burned when I was in my younger years. It was my mistake; I had trusted someone unwisely.” Harry was silent for a moment before saying, “I’ll never do that again. My identity was so compromised that Kingman decided to completely start over. They erased all my records and gave me a new identity – Harry Hart. In the system, I have no siblings, and I’m an orphan. They wiped everything else. I have no past.”

“Is Harry your real name?”

“Does it matter?”

Eggsy reeled. His mind was blown. The name ‘Harry Hart’ seemed to fit Harry so well – the idea that it wasn’t actually his name…

Harry sighed. “Eggsy, I’ve gone by that name for over a decade now. I like it. It fits me. Just as ‘Eggsy’ fits you. And the name doesn’t change who I am.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, off-kilter.

Though, now that he was really thinking about implications, if Harry had been burned and was still an agent… that meant if Bedivere burned Eggsy…

Thoughts for another time. Eggsy refocused on Harry. “Do you have any siblings, really?” asked Eggsy, interested to hear about this part of Harry.

“Yes. A brother and a sister. My brother moved to the States when he was thirty and is some sort of important CEO over there. I haven’t seen or talked to him in years. It wasn’t a bad break; we were just never close, and didn’t keep in touch. My sister is married and lives in Glasgow. She’s a corporate lawyer. We still talk from time to time, though I haven’t seen her in years either.”

“Are your parents passed, then?”

“My father is still alive. He lives in a nursing home. He gets confused easily and sometimes doesn’t recognize me, so it’s painful to go and visit. I visit him about once a month, if I can, though sometimes it’s less than that.”

“Huh,” said Eggsy. “I just assumed you didn’t have any family.”

“Everyone always assumes that spies don’t have family,” said Harry, amused. “I’m sure it shocked the techs the first time you brought Daisy in.”

“I’m worried I’m going to botch this party,” admitted Eggsy. “What if I do something wrong? I don’t want to ruin her birthday.”

“Eggsy,” said Harry, stopping his absentminded movements and adjusting to look Eggsy in the eye. “Just the fact that you’re throwing her a birthday party is an accomplishment. You’ve taken the responsibility that you shouldn’t have had in the first place and you’ve done much more than required.”

“It was Lydia’s idea,” said Eggsy, uncomfortable with the praise.

“Hm,” said Harry, taking the opportunity to nibble at Eggsy’s ear. “If you insist.”

“You sound like you don’t believe me. It really was her idea!”

“Okay.”

“Damn it, Harry, at least pretend to sound like you believe me.”

Harry smiled and tugged at his earlobe. Eggsy sighed and dropped it, because Harry was a cunt who was going to do, say, and believe whatever he wanted, regardless of anything Eggsy might do. It was both annoying and endearing to have such a confident lover.

By the time the day of the party rolled around, Lydia reported that there had been fifty people who had reported that they would be coming, twenty who wouldn’t, and the other thirty hadn’t responded. They got a taxi over to the park, shuttling coolers of drinks and snacks that they had spent all night and part of the morning laboring over.

The day was absolutely gorgeous, with blue skies and a few grey-white clouds rolling around. It was a little windy, but not enough that they had to worry over-much about plates blowing away. Eggsy and Lydia spent an hour setting everything up while Daisy sat at one of the picnic tables, coloring a portrait with some new crayons that Eggsy had bought her for her birthday.

The first guest to arrive, surprisingly, was Harry. Eggsy figured that Harry would roll in a half hour late, since he was perpetually late for everything else, but Eggsy found it oddly touching that Harry had made a point to be early.

Harry dropped a kiss on the top of Eggsy’s head while Eggsy swore over some too-sticky saran wrap on a vegetable platter. Harry was wearing what he called a “casual suit,” which was still bulletproof but made of some sort of material that Eggsy had never heard of that was supposed to be lighter and made for informal gatherings. Eggsy thought it was rather bollocks, but Harry had frowned when Eggsy told him that and said sniffily that Eggsy needed more lessons.

Eggsy himself had stressed for days over what he was going to wear. He decided to forgo a hat and instead ran some product through his hair, but he opted not to wear the suit, since they were going to be at a park. At first he had jeans on, but then he got worried that that was too informal for a party he was hosting and instead got into some nicer slacks. Then he worried that those were too nice for a park, and pulled on some dark wash jeans. The problem was finally solved when Lydia stormed into the room, took one look at him, and told him that they were going to be late if he kept fretting and to wear the dark wash jeans with a button-up shirt.

For Daisy, Eggsy had painstakingly outfitted her in a green dress decorated with purple-and-blue flowers. It went well with the auburn-blonde hair, and her hair was now long enough to give her a little braid, so he did that too. Lydia, who was supervising Eggsy (Eggsy would never admit that Lydia maybe had him a little whipped), nodded approvingly.

“How’s the set-up going?” Harry politely asked Lydia. “Anything I can do to help?”

“We’re good now,” said Lydia, standing back and admiring their work. “If we get more than a hundred people, we’ll run out of food and drinks fast, though.”

“There’s no way we’ll get more than a hundred,” said Eggsy. “I only invited, like, ninety people.”

“You aren’t thinking about families,” said Lydia, shaking her finger at him. Eggsy scoffed.

Ten minutes into the party, and Eggsy was beginning to sweat a little, because already fifty people had shown up, many of whom hadn’t RSVP’d. Eggsy got to meet Mike’s family, and he spent a good ten minutes talking with Mike’s wife and ten-year-old daughter, who he learned quite hated cars and was looking forward to becoming a dentist instead.

The techs all seemed to show up at once and practically deluged Daisy, playing with her and passing her around. Salomea was especially enthused, and stole Daisy to push her on the swings when Daisy asked.

Caradoc showed up with a gorgeous blonde woman who looked like a model and spoke with an American accent. She was wearing five-inch heels that allowed her to tower impressively over even Harry, and was so stick-thin that Eggsy was surprised when she ate a chicken wing, demolished a good portion of Salomea’s dip, and drank some craft beer that Caradoc had brought. It was a good reminder not to judge on first appearances. Caradoc introduced her as his wife, and Eggsy couldn’t help but whistle and say, “Nice.”

Caradoc looked understandably smug.

Lamorak put in a quick appearance, having to leave for a mission right after. Gawain came with Kathy and their sullen teenaged daughter, who sat at the corner of a picnic table and texted while people chatted around her. Eggsy immensely enjoyed talking with Kathy and thanking her for the help she had given him.

Eggsy was beginning to feel overwhelmed, because he was constantly greeting people and talking and walking around. He kept half an eye out for Daisy, but Lydia was being a superstar and hovering, just in case something happened to her.

All thirteen of the support staff showed up, including the woman who cleared out Eggsy’s rubbish bin. She handed Eggsy a yellow card as a gift and gave him an impressive hug. She also brought along her family, who Eggsy also enjoyed meeting.

By the time they were two hours in, they had well over one hundred and fifty people. The park, which looked so big and expansive when they first arrived, was now packed with bodies and children playing on the playground.

Bedivere even showed up at one point, towing along a sour-looking wife who fixed an angry gaze on Eggsy like it was his fault that she had to be with Bedivere. Bedivere stayed for an uncomfortable ten minutes before taking off.

Some of the Kingsmen agents didn’t come – Eggsy didn’t see Percival anywhere, and Roxy didn’t show up because she was out on a mission – but Eggsy was touched by the response to the party. At one point, he pulled Harry aside, pushed a bunch of money in his hand, and requested that Harry make a snack run.

Harry looked undeniably amused by it all, especially when Eggsy promised him a nice blowjob if he helped out.

The pile of presents for Daisy, which they designated one picnic table for, grew ridiculously large and started overflowing onto the floor around the table. Lydia took a picture of it, grinning, and said, “See? This was an excellent idea.”

Eggsy’s friends even showed up. Jamal came by, having taken a half day off of work for it. Ryan showed up as well, a livid bruise decorating his lower jaw, seeping into his neck, and trailing off into the collar of his shirt.

“Ryan,” said Eggsy when he saw it, both sharpness and sadness in the word.

“You wouldn’t believe how I got this,” said Ryan, grinning, nearly bouncing on the heels of his feet. “So, I were at this party, right? It were a real rager, lots of women. This one girl, she gives me this look, yeah? So I follow her out. And motherfucker, her mouth were like a goddamn vacuum, you know what I’m saying? She ain’t giving out no regular love bites, this girl. So she sucked the ever-loving fuck out of my neck, and now I got this badge of honor.”

Jamal, behind Ryan, shook his head slightly, shrugging.

“You’re gay,” said Eggsy, flatly.

“That reminds me,” said Ryan. “This here’s my boy toy, Alfie.” He grabbed a squirrel-y looking boy around the shoulders and pulled him up next to him. Alfie grinned at Eggsy, looking congenial, and stuck out his hand.

“Hi,” he said. “Ryan don’t stop talking about you.”

“Alfie’s a liar,” said Ryan. “I ain’t never mentioned you. Not once.”

Alfie had a thick Cockney accent and was rather short, but he had nice eyes and a sharp sense of humor. Ryan spent the most of the time following him around like a lost puppy while Alfie conversed with the other guests, comfortable in his own skin around people wearing suits.

“So,” said Jamal, faux-casually to Ryan while Eggsy and Alfie lounged next to them at a picnic table, surveying the party. “Which one of them suits do you think Eggsy is fucking?”

Eggsy dropped his head into his hands.

Alfie and Ryan squinted at the Kingsman agents. “How do we know he’s fucking a suit?” asked Alfie.

“Because Eggsy wears suits and works at a ‘tailor’ shop,” said Jamal, making air quotes. “Gotta be one of those blokes.”

“How bout that one?” asked Alfie, nodding to Kay. “Looks like he could be kinky.”

“It’s a possibility,” said Jamal, “but I think it’s him.” He gestured at Gawain. “He’s got that nice-guy good-dad vibe going on. Eggsy goes for that shit.”

“No,” said Ryan, his voice filled with calm certainty. He gave a head tilt toward Harry. “It’s him.”

“Him?” Jamal raised his eyebrows. “Too old.”

“Eggsy ain’t never cared about age,” said Ryan. “Remember Sharpie?”

“Yeah, but Sharpie were four years older. That guy’s gotta be thirty years older.”

“And anyway,” said Alfie, “that guy don’t look very nice. Something bout his smile.”

Ryan leaned back, contemplative. “That’s the point.”

Eggsy said, a touch too loudly, “Actually, that’s my mentor. Would you like to meet him?”
He led a startled-looking Jamal, Alfie, and Ryan to Harry. Harry shook Jamal and Alfie’s hands politely, and they quickly backed away, both a little intimidated by Harry’s well-kept demeanor.

Ryan held out his hand. Harry shook it, then raised his eyebrows, giving a significant glance to their clasped hands. Eggsy, slightly panicked (because now it was apparent that this was clearly a bad idea, introducing Harry to his friends), realized that Ryan was squeezing Harry’s hand.

“Eggsy ain’t told me yet,” said Ryan, steadily, unfearing, “but I know what’s going on. Don’t hurt him.”

“Duly noted,” said Harry.

“No,” said Ryan. “You ain’t understanding. Don’t hurt him.

Harry lips curved into a smile, and he flicked his eyes over to Eggsy. “I’m not perfect. There’ll come a day when I hurt him.”

“And that’s why you and I’ll never get along,” said Ryan.

“Ryan!” hissed Eggsy. “You don’t even know him!”

Harry looked at Ryan, and Eggsy realized he was looking at Ryan with respect. They dropped hands, and Harry gave a smile with too much teeth. “Pleasure meeting you.”

Ryan rolled his eyes.

Eggsy pulled Ryan aside. “What the fuck, mate?”

Ryan shrugged. “I known you for all my life, cuz. I know why you with him, even if you don’t.”

“And why the fuck is that?”

Ryan clapped his shoulder. “Some other time, mate. When it ain’t Daisy’s birthday, you hear me?”

And then he wandered off to find Alfie, leaving Eggsy gaping after him.

The party continued on. Some of Eggsy’s other friends from the estates ended up coming, even though Eggsy hadn’t talked to them as much as Ryan and Jamal since getting the job at Kingsman. They mainly sat in the picnic table area, looking overwhelmed by the amount of people.

The party lasted several hours. At one point, Eggsy leaned against Harry subtly, surveying the crowd. Screaming children were playing on the playground, with Daisy among them. Thick groups of people stood around talking. Someone had thought to bring some lawn games, so someone had set up a tournament which Tristan and Gawain, as a team, were staidly and calmly winning.

It was a success.

They brought out the cake when the air started growing a bit cooler and the sun started to sink. Lydia had insisted on buying an enormous sheet cake – “Better that we have leftovers than not enough” – and everyone got a piece of marble cake. Daisy nearly started crying when Eggsy held her to blow out the candles because she was confused at the singing, but Eggsy helped her along and she gave a reluctant giggle at the smoke curling from the candles.

Then, it was time for presents. Eggsy sat with Daisy in his lap while half the party watched (the other half still fighting over lawn games, or playing on the playground). He guided Daisy along, showing her how to open presents (which he had an odd moment about; he knew, realistically, that he had’t’ve opened presents before when Lee was alive, but he didn’t remember it, so it felt like it was his first time).

Daisy received a wide variety of gifts. Clothes, toys, stuffed animals, anything and everything. Some gifts were a little odd – some of the techs bought her things “for the future,” like how-to guides and tech manuals, and the Kingsmen agents had odd ideas about what a three-year-old could reasonably handle (Eggsy had to carefully put away the chemist set that Tristan got her) – but overall it was great. What really floored Eggsy was opening all the cards Daisy got in lieu of gifts and the huge amount of money that was in some of them. Some, like his friends from the estates, put in a fiver, while Lamorak had given him a card with two hundred in it. He appreciated both of them, but he held those fivers special in his heart because he knew what that kind of money meant to his friends.

Lydia stayed by, calmly, and wrote down who gave what. She told him later that it was because Eggsy was going to write thank-you notes, which Eggsy had never before done in his life. Gawain also pulled Eggsy aside to give him some advice.

“I know you just received a lot of money,” he said, looking completely comfortable despite discussing finances. “My recommendation is to put all of that in a bank account for her future. Don’t buy toys or anything with it. It’ll give her a little cushion to figure out her life, if she doesn’t immediately go to uni.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Eggsy, floored. He appreciated it.

Eggsy was not present for the drama that occurred during the party. That was because Daisy had grabbed his hand and led him over to the slide, where Daisy squealed while Eggsy held her in his lap as they went down. They did this several times before other kids demanded their turn, and then Eggsy ended up coloring a little with Daisy and the other children, amused parents looking on.

Over by the picnic tables, however, something else was happening, and a conflict came to a head. Eggsy heard about it later from Harry.

Harry censored the story rather heavily.

What really happened was this:

Harry, Caradoc, Kay, and Gawain all were sitting at one of the picnic tables, playing poker while Gawain’s teenager stressed over not bringing her charger for her phone. Kathy was watching, amused.

Harry took stock of the environment. There were other people at the tables around them – Ryan was still there with his boyfriend, along with two of Eggsy’s friends from the estates, and Mike the mechanic was talking to his wife. Otherwise, most people were grouped around the lawn games or spread about on the grass. There had been a huge exodus of people after the presents were opened, and now it was getting later, so quite a few people were slowly trickling home. Only about twenty people remained, not including the children.

The agents themselves were rather involved in the game of poker. They were betting pence pieces, since Kay was still recovering from his gambling addiction. Gawain had cautiously suggested not betting at all, but Harry rather liked giving Kay a hard time. He firmly believed that Kay deserved it, because when Harry had been trying to give up alcohol decades ago, Kay had been a right bastard about it and kept stashing bottles of alcohol where he knew that Harry would find them.

Kay was easily Harry’s best friend. Harry was the oldest agent in Kingsman, with Kay hot on his heels. Kay had been accepted into Kingsman only a year after Harry had been, which was a year before Merlin would start training as a handler.

Back then, they had been a decidedly unwelcome duo, mostly due to their wildness in their youth. They used to have competitions over who could make the then-Arthur (Chester King’s father) grit his teeth more.

That competition ended after they took it too far. Kay lost $500,000 American dollars on a mission in Las Vegas, and Harry showed up drunk to a Kingsman meeting. The only reason they didn’t lose their jobs was because Kay counted cards in Monaco and got the money back, and no one realized Harry was drunk until three-fourths of the way through the meeting (Arthur had to grudgingly admit that Harry’s acting skills were too superior to fire him).

Kay was formally reprimanded for his stunt, while Harry got off with a warning. Harry still enjoyed lording that fact over Kay.

In his twenties, Harry’s love of alcohol had skirted the edge of addiction. But he was youthful and he bounced back fairly quickly from hangovers, so no one called him on it. In his thirties, he tipped over that line, and his love of alcohol became alcoholism, replete with day-long hangovers.

He swore off alcohol, but evading addiction was never that simple. And, of course, Kay made it difficult, often sitting in his office and sipping Lagavulin – Harry’s favorite – while Harry shivered from withdrawal.

Harry fucking loved Kay, because Kay was the only person who didn’t tiptoe around him while he tried to quit.

Harry never did manage to quit completely, and to this day, he probably drank too much. He was still in a better position than Kay currently, because Kay was struggling with gambling debts. So Kay had decided to quit.

Which, currently, led Harry to add a couple more pence to the pile in the middle of the table, and smile sweetly at Gawain’s sigh.

Kay, for his part, had a rapidly twitching eyebrow, a sign he was trying to restrain himself. Harry helpfully rattled the pence on the table.

“Wanker,” said Kay, squinting at his cards. “I hope you get alcohol poisoning.”

Gawain sighed again.

“Rude,” said Harry. “A gentleman does not wish misfortune on others.”

Caradoc won the hand, sweeping the pence over to himself. He grinned, triumphant, and said, “Do you two need a room?”

It had been a running joke in Kingsman for years now that Harry and Kay were fucking. It was entirely untrue; Harry was more interested in Kay’s sister than in Kay (not that he would tell Kay that), and Harry had never heard Kay mention attraction to anyone. Either he was asexual or he was exceptionally good at hiding his tastes. Both were equally likely, but Harry didn’t much care, as long as they continued to be friends.

And hopefully Eggsy wouldn’t find out about the rumor, Harry thought, his eyes sliding over to where Eggsy was playing with his sister. Harry didn’t want more conflict in their relationship.

Harry idly watched Eggsy for a few more moments. He was twirling Daisy around, a makeshift dance to no music. Lydia was nearby, her sharp eyes on Eggsy to make sure he didn’t drop his sister – as if he would, Harry scoffed. Eggsy was a mess of contradictions and paradoxes, both kind yet capable of great acts of cruelty, insecure yet firm about who he was. It made Harry want to take Eggsy apart, rather like a butterfly, to see past that beauty into what lay beneath.

Harry loved mysteries. It was why he became a spy. And that was what Eggsy was – a mystery, always keeping Harry guessing. He never knew what Eggsy was going to do or say next. For a man who had seen too much of the darker sides of life, that spark of life wrapped in an enigma was fascinating.

Caradoc began to deal the cards, bellowing out a laugh. Caradoc was the youngest, not including Eggsy or Roxy. He had only joined the Kingsman five years prior, after the then-Caradoc retired. Before that, Caradoc had been a professional ice cream taster. Harry still didn’t know how Caradoc was proposed, or how ice cream tasting built such a great foundation for a spy agent. But there Caradoc was.

Harry was jolted out of his thoughts when a car pulled into the carpark. He noticed it because it was quite beautiful looking, but he guessed that perhaps another tech was coming, since they were handsomely paid.

In reality, that was the first sign of trouble, because Rottweiler got out of the car and casually strolled around a bit. Harry did not immediately recognize the boy in track pants. One of Eggsy’s friends, he guessed?

Harry tracked him with his eyes, because he thought he looked suspicious. Next to him, he could tell that Caradoc and Gawain were doing the same, well-trained as they were. Kay’s eyes were still on the game. All of the other agents had gone home.

Though Harry may not have known who Rottweiler was, Ryan certainly did, along with Eggsy’s other friends. “Oi!” called Ryan, but not too loudly. Harry could tell that Ryan didn’t want to make a scene. “What’re you doing here?”

Rottie didn’t look too concerned about being caught.

“Oh, nothing,” he said, grinning. That was when Harry recognized Rottie: he was the man from the pub, who he had stunned with his umbrella. Harry calmly laid his cards down. Caradoc and Gawain followed suit. “Just checking things out.”

Rottie backed up and got back in his car, revving the engine a little before driving away. Ryan shook his head, muttering, “Fucking wanker.”

“He was looking to see how many people were still there,” Harry would tell Eggsy later. “I’m sure if there had been more left, he would have told Dean not to come. But since so many people had gone home, he thought it would be okay.”

Harry, Caradoc, Kay, and Gawain sedately went back to playing cards. About ten minutes later another car pulled up, also nice, and parked near the spot where Rottie had parked. Michelle Baker stumbled out of the passenger seat, completely plastered. Harry could identify it immediately, both from experience, and from the way she had difficulty shutting the car door. It took her several tries because her purse kept getting caught in it, which she found hilariously funny.

On the driver’s side, Dean slid out, a greasy smile on his face. Harry didn’t recognize Dean at first either. Dean was wearing a grey hat, and Harry had never actually seen him in person, so the only problem he registered was Michelle’s intoxication. He set down his cards again, the two other agents following suit. Kay blinked, confused.

“Oh fuck,” said Ryan, craning his entire body around to search the remaining crowd for Eggsy. Ryan was well-aware of the problem even as Michelle began to stumble up to the picnic area with Dean at her back.

“What is it?” asked Harry, almost absently, as he tracked Eggsy’s mother.

“What?” said Ryan. He gave Harry a deeply suspicious look. “Nothing, bruv.”

Harry sent Ryan a sharp look, but there was nothing for it. Michelle was nearly upon them. Her eyes skimmed over Harry, the bloodshot gaze skipping around the various people to find Eggsy. When she realized that Eggsy wasn’t in the pavilion, she made a motion to continue on.

Harry knew that Michelle didn’t recognize him. He knew this from when he went to drop Daisy off at Eggsy’s flat and found Michelle high as a kite, talking on the phone with a few of her friends. It had been too long ago, and she had barely taken in the man who announced her husband’s death. She had more important matters on her mind.

Michelle might recognize him as the one who insisted that she not look after Daisy that night, though. Nothing for it. Harry smoothly stood up and said, “Ms. Baker.”

Ryan, who was halfway out of his seat to go find Eggsy, stopped. He knew that tone of voice: every boy from the estates knew it. That was danger. Smart boy, Harry thought darkly as Ryan sat back down to watch.

“Allo,” said Michelle, listing to the side rather dangerously. She was in wedge heels and her ankle bent slightly, promptly her to stumble and snatch onto a bench. She sank down onto it, gratefully, while Dean put his hands in his pockets and slouched, sullen.

“A lovely day,” said Harry. “What brings you here this fine evening?”

“It’s my daughter’s birthday party,” said Michelle, her words slurring slightly. “Eggsy sent me the invite.”

Near him, Kathy gave a shocked little gasp, having put together the pieces. Gawain reached out and picked up her hand, giving it a small squeeze.

“I see,” said Harry. He didn’t want to escalate the situation, so he calmly said, “Might I have a word with you in private?”

Michelle nodded, but then Dean stepped in. “Oi, we ain’t here for no chit-chat,” said Dean. “We just here to see the kid.”

Harry fixed his gaze on Dean. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” he said. He stuck his hand out. “My name is Harry Hart. You are…?”

“Dean Baker,” said Dean, contemplating whether or not to shake Harry’s hand. His dilemma was solved when Harry instantly dropped it in a shocking lack of decorum on his part. Harry saw, out of the corner of his eye, Caradoc and Gawain instantly tense at the out-of-character impropriety. Harry had just delivered a serious insult to Dean, and Dean would never know or understand.

“I don’t believe that you were invited,” said Harry, frostily. “I believe that there is a restraining order pending that prohibits you from being within five hundred feet of both Eggsy and Daisy.”

“That’s bullshit,” said Dean, puffing out his chest and staring Harry down. Perhaps Dean thought that Harry wasn’t threatening looking. Maybe it was because Harry was older, or because he was wearing a suit. Regardless, Dean looked to be underestimating Harry Hart.

How comical.

“I would happily grab Eggsy for you,” said Harry, “but I'd rather not ruin his good time. Instead, may I escort you back to your car?”

“No, you may not,” said Dean, mocking Harry’s accent and taking a few steps forward to stand chest-to-chest with Harry. Harry looked down at Dean, raising one perfect eyebrow, as Dean bared his teeth. “We was going to see our daughter.”

“I believe that term loosely applies,” said Harry. “Eggsy has been more of a father to Daisy than you have.”

“That’s untrue!” said Michelle, reeling up. Her face went pasty white for a moment and Harry rather feared that the abrupt movement would make her vomit, but she controlled the impulse after a few moments and some color returned to her face. “Eggsy ain’t done nothing but create trouble.”

At this point, when Harry would tell Eggsy the story later, he would cut out the rest. He summed it up for Eggsy: his mum threw around some insults, Dean threw around some insults, Dean pulled out a gun, and Harry did not appreciate that. He let Dean know. Dean became very aware that Harry was dangerous about the time that Harry broke his arm in three places.

That was true, but Harry, Eggsy knew, cut out some details to spare his feelings and simply wouldn’t tell. When Eggsy called Ryan and asked what they were, Ryan refused to say. That scared Eggsy: what had been said that even Ryan wouldn’t tell Eggsy?

This is what happened:

“I believe Eggsy has been adequately ensuring Daisy has been taken care of,” said Harry, still maintaining a polite, even tone.

“Eggsy is a fucking prick who doesn’t know when to shut his mouth,” said Dean disparagingly.

Gawain stood up, smoothly, and stood next to Harry, providing his presence as back-up. Kay began to shuffle the cards. Ryan would mention that later – “Jesus, Eggsy, he shuffled those cards and I really thought that he were going to use them to take Dean out.”

“You were not welcome to begin with, and now you are wearing on my remaining goodwill,” said Harry, his voice now ice.

“You can’t get rid of us,” said Michelle. “I’m Daisy’s mother!”

“I think that term is loosely applied as well.”

“Fuck you,” said Michelle. “You don’t know nothing of what I’ve been through, okay?”

“I know some of what Eggsy has been through, and a good portion of that has been directly influenced by your actions.”

“Fuck that,” said Dean, making an ugly face. “He’s a fucking failure, that’s what he is. Did he try to convince you otherwise? Don’t let him fool you.”

“Eggsy is a respectable gentleman who has done his best to provide for his mother. I recommend you reconsider your words.” Harry marveled at the lack of intelligence of the man in front of him. Behind him, Gawain was practically vibrating with tension because of the dangerous undercurrent in Harry’s words, but Dean didn’t seem to have picked up on the nuances of his tone.

Dean laughed. “Eggsy ain’t capable of anything but getting high. Only time I could stand him, really.”

This was going on for too long and getting progressively more personal and messy, Harry thought. So he took a step forward, shuffling Dean back a few paces. “It is time for you to leave.”

“Eggsy ain’t good with Daisy, either,” said Dean, “no matter what Eggsy says. He’s always so fucking possessive and telling Michelle here that she can’t take care of her. He’s probably some sort of fucking pedophile, just a pervert waiting for the right time to take advantage of Daisy.”

“That is the grossest accusation I have ever heard,” said Harry, “and this is the last time I’m asking you to leave before I force you.”

Dean whirled around, putting a possessive hand on Michelle’s shoulder. “Michelle’ll tell you. C’mon, Michelle, we was just talking about this.”

But Michelle looked sick. Harry wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or if Dean had gone too far, but he got his answer when Michelle skittered away from Dean’s hand. She stood up, unsteadily tottering a few paces away in her wedge heels, looking nervous. “Dean…”

“Michelle,” said Dean, and there was an undercurrent to the tone that had Harry bristling.

“Mr. Baker.”

Dean stopped, looking up at Harry. Harry focused on Dean, doing his best to ignore Michelle, who had put out a hand to steady herself and seemed close to crying.

Before Harry could say anything, Michelle suddenly came forward. “You can’t say that about Eggsy,” she said, blinking rapidly. “I ain’t going to have it, Dean. That were too far.”

Dean opened his mouth, his expression rather terrible.

But then Ryan was worming his way in the middle.

“I gotchoo, Mrs. Baker,” he said, winding his arm through hers with ease. He patted her arm and smiled at her. “Let’s get you sitting, yeah? ‘Scuse me, Mr. Baker.” And Ryan brushed Dean off, who was gaping, leading Michelle to one of the picnic tables a little further away. “Alfie’s got a car, Mrs. B., if you was thinking of going home.”

“I gotta talk to Dean,” she said, swaying. “He can’t be saying that about Eggsy. I won’t let him. Not anymore.”

“Okay,” soothed Ryan, unconcerned about everyone watching him. “But why don’t we get you home?”

“Oi, boy,” said Dean, “you ain’t taking her fucking nowhere, you hear?”

Ryan straightened up, giving Dean an unimpressed look. “With all due respect, sir,” said Ryan, his tone even, “you can go fuck yourself.”

Dean tried to take a step forward, but was easily blocked by Harry. Dean peered around Harry and said, “Don’t think I won’t be having a conversation with your father, boy.”

Ryan went milky-white.

Dean gave a considering glance at Alfie. “I think he’d be interested to hear what you’ve been up to. Or, suppose I should say, what’s been up you.”

All of the boys from the estates who were still there hissed, angry. It wasn’t hard for Harry to figure out why – that bruise on Ryan’s neck spoke for itself.

Ryan stepped in front of Michelle, hiding her from Dean’s gaze, and simply said, “I’m Eggsy’s friend.”

Harry rather liked this Ryan fellow.

Dean opened his mouth, but unfortunately for him, Harry was done.

“You are a terrible person, and a terrible father,” said Harry. “I have asked you to leave enough. You lost your chance.” And then Harry reached out and grasped his arm in a pincer-like grip, making him shout with both alarm and pain.

“Oi, you can’t touch me like that!” said Dean, lurching forward and taking a sloppy swing at Harry.

“I invite you to try to stop me,” said Harry, ducking the awkward swing.

There was a click, and suddenly a gun was pointed at Harry. “Let go of me, and let me see my fucking daughter,” he said, aiming the gun unsteadily at Harry’s chest. “I don’t even know why Eggsy wants her, anyway. Pretty sure the girl is fucking retarded, right along with Mugsy. Probably hit him once too much as a kid.” And then he laughed, a sick chortle.

Harry looked at Dean for several dark seconds before he struck, serpentine: he wrenched Dean’s arm out, and then brought his other fist down on Dean’s ulna. With a sickening crack, Dean’s arm broke and Dean shouted, a combination between a pained gurgle and a plea for help.

The gun dropped limply to the floor. Gawain, who had a docile, calm look on his face, stooped down and picked it up.

“Let me reintroduce myself,” said Harry, since he always did have a love for theatrics. “My name is Harry Hart. I’ve never met you in person, Mr. Baker, but I have met several of your friends. We had a delightful encounter in a pub. You and I have also talked before, but it was over microphone. Do you remember me now?”

For a moment, Dean clearly had no idea what he was talking about. Then his eyes cleared. “You!” said Dean, clutching his arm.

“Ah, you do remember that instance,” said Harry. “I urge you to remember my words as well. I am not a man to cross, Mr. Baker. Quite the contrary. And, unfortunately for you, Eggsy Unwin is no longer a man to cross either. Now, let me escort you to your car.”

Harry reached out and gently put his hand on Dean’s broken arm. His fingers found the point of one of the breaks and dug in, punishing. Dean gurgled but didn’t struggle, looking terrified.

“Gawain,” said Harry, quietly. “Could you please escort Ms. Baker back to Eggsy’s flat?”

“I’ll take care of her,” he said. He turned to his wife, giving her a peck on the cheek. “I’ll be back.”

“Excellent,” said Harry. He guided Dean away from the area, his fingers still burrowing into the breaks on Dean’s arms. He shoved Dean into the back of his pretty car and slid in next to him.

“What are you doing?” asked Dean, clearly freaked out.

When Harry had been in training, the then-Merlin had tapped his clipboard thoughtfully and said, “It would be logical to have one of your specialties be torture. But I think a concentration in it wouldn’t be good for you, mentally. You’re already…” he struggled for the words. “Well. We’ll train you in other things, and give you the basics for torture.”

Harry dug his fingers into Dean’s arm. Maybe he wasn’t specialized in torture.

But Harry wasn’t too concerned about it. He didn’t need a specialization to understand how to make Dean regret.

When he got back out of the car, he strode over to Kay and dropped Dean’s keys in his lap. “Could you take care of that for me, please?” he said, sweetly.

Kay sighed, beleaguered. “You’ve got blood on your collar.”

“Oh dear,” sighed Harry. “Dagonet will be most displeased.”

“Is he dead?” asked Kay, lowering his voice so the others couldn’t hear.

“No,” said Harry, with regret. Eggsy hadn’t wanted Dean dead.

Kay shook his head and got up. “Tell Eggsy it was a lovely party for me,” he said, and then headed to Dean’s car.

Eggsy, who had missed the action entirely, chose that moment to enter the pavilion. Michelle was long gone at that point, and Kay was just sliding into Dean’s car. Eggsy glanced around, sensing the tension. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m going to make you treacle pudding,” said Kathy. “That’s what we were talking about.”

“What?” said Eggsy, confused.

“Mate,” said Ryan, “never turn down pudding.”

“What the fuck?” said Eggsy. “I didn’t say I were going to turn it down.”

Kathy bustled up to Eggsy and enfolded him into a hug. “You deserve a million treacle puddings, but you’ll have to do with just one,” she said.

Harry grinned.

When Eggsy later found out about the conflict, no one would tell him exactly what went down. He only got Harry’s censured version. Even Mike the mechanic was mum about it. Eggsy shrugged and figured Dean must’ve said something pretty bad, though he figured he could’ve handled it fine, really.

And when he got back to his flat that night, his mother was gone. No note, no message, nothing. Eggsy’s stash of cash, which he kept in his room for emergencies, was gone, as was a picture of Lee and Daisy’s favorite blanket. Eggsy had no explanation for his mother’s actions.

Eggsy wondered if he would ever see her again.

But he didn’t have much time to worry about that. Because that next Monday, the London mansion was attacked.

Chapter Text

Paperwork really sucked.

That was what Eggsy was thinking at 1:32 p.m. on Monday in his office, unaware that two minutes previous a gas canister had been thrown into the tech room by an unknown source, rendering the techs and handlers useless through disorientation.

In the past few weeks, Eggsy’s office had become even more decorated. He had needed to find another set of shelves for his knickknacks, since his original ones were now groaning under the weight of so many little souvenirs. He had also pinned up new drawings from Daisy, as well as guiltily framed a picture of him and Harry.

He knew he wasn’t supposed to have personal touches like photographs, but it wasn’t like the mansion was going to be compromised. It was practically a fortress. And anyway, it was a small picture – it was a selfie Eggsy had taken while he and Harry had been watching the telly. Harry was giving the camera a politely vapid fuck-you smile – he fucking hated selfies – and Eggsy’s hair was sticking up all over the place because Harry had been aimlessly playing with it while they watched the news. Eggsy loved that picture, so it got a place of honor next to the “Fuck you” button Jamal had gotten him when he first found out that Eggsy was employed. It was for, as Jamal explained, “The times your colleagues make you want to kill something.” Every time he pressed the button, a computerized voice said, “Fuuuuuuuuck you.” It was great.

At 1:36 p.m., Eggsy was mechanically stapling together some papers for a mission report, his thumb running thoughtlessly over the cartoon dog picture on the top of the stapler. He was on autopilot, because he was starting to think about Harry – again. Harry had offered to bring Eggsy to meet his father, despite his father being only semi-lucid at best. The thought of meeting him terrified Eggsy.

At that exact minute, though, Roxy was sitting on the toilet, blinking blearily at the stall door. She had just finished up her latest mission in Yemen, which had been a total shitshow. Someone had gotten a lucky hit in that had really fucked up her knee, so she was limping all over the place. Ruby had mentioned that the only thing to cure it would be rest. Yet, Roxy hadn’t rested in over 36 hours. She had only stopped by the mansion because she wanted to get the debrief out of the way, see Ruby, and gather up the appropriate paperwork so she could work out of her flat the next day as a well-deserved reward.

She was practically dozing while she reached toward the toilet paper, finishing up and pulling up her pants. She stood up, opened the stall door, and received a powerful blow to her face. She did not get the chance to see her attacker, because the blow instantly rendered her unconscious, making her fall backward and crack her head on the toilet bowl.

Eggsy had no idea. He had no idea that at 1:42 p.m., the hangar – which housed the majority of the workers at any given time – was locked down. The power cut out. Many loud, angry voices were heard, and then gunshots.

Eggsy got up, stretching, and meandered over to the window. He leaned his forehead against the glass, blinking. His thoughts were mostly aimless, rapidly moving between guessing when Roxy would get back from her mission, to wondering why he hadn’t heard from Ryan in the past couple of days, to remembering Lydia sitting him down and explaining that he needed to stop swearing around Daisy. He wondered what he would eat for dinner. Maybe a chicken burrito. He hadn’t had Mexican food in quite a while.

At 1:47 p.m., Bedivere heard an odd sound outside of his office. It sounded like footsteps rapidly shuffling in the hallway. He reached under his desk and brought out his extra gun. He wished, as an afterthought, that he was trained in non-traditional weapons like Percival was – Percival stashed a war-hammer by his desk, which Bedivere suspected came in handy during suspicious situations. He aimed his gun at the door. Unexpectedly, a gas canister burst through his window, belching forth yellow-purple gas. He screamed, “Fuck!” and kicked the canister back out the window, but the damage was done. The room spun around him, and he had to sit down, his center of balance so thrown off that up seemed like it was down.

At 1:49 p.m., the door to Harry Hart’s office was roughly pushed open. He was not there.

Eggsy, at 1:50 p.m., unaware that he and Harry were the only other targets active in the building, heaved a sigh and plopped back down into his chair. He was spinning it around and around, looking up the ceiling, considering maybe painting it a different color other than white, when he heard a soft thump out in the hallway.

Tensing up, because that sounded ominous, he ducked under his desk, peering out around it and staring at his open door. There was a long, drawn-out silence, before the door to his office slowly swung open. A moment later, a man cautiously peered around the doorjamb, dressed in riot gear and holding a gun.

Eggsy wasn’t sure if this was a training exercise for the Gareth candidates, but there was no way Merlin wouldn’t have given him a heads up if that were the case. That meant he needed to act – now. He didn’t give whoever it was the chance to see him; he jumped up and threw a dagger at him, the short knife hitting the joint between shoulder and arm.

The man gasped, staggering back. Clearly not Kingsman-trained, then, because not even a candidate would react that dramatically to a small stab wound. Eggsy vaulted over the desk and leapt at the man. Whoever it was also poorly informed, because he seemed genuinely surprised that Eggsy was on the attack rather than just being reactive. The man swung his gun up again, but it was too late. Eggsy took him down by grabbing his head and smacking his face on his knee. The glass to his riot helmet broke, cheap shit, and Eggsy kept smacking his face until he finally was unconscious.

He leaned down and inspected the helmet. It was clearly bulletproof – he aimed a shot from his Glock at it, confirmed – but the connection between the helmet itself and the glass looked like it was faulty. So, shots wouldn’t do shit, but with the right application of force near the juncture, the glass would dislocate from the helmet and potentially crack off…

After spending a few more precious moments examining the riot gear – clearly poorly made – he got up and poked his head around the corner. No other attackers were in the hallway, though the woman who changed the rubbish bins was lying, inert, in the middle of the carpet. Eggsy crept over to her and checked her pulse; unconscious, not dead, mostly due to a dart in her neck. They weren’t shooting to kill, then.

Even though he felt bad about it – he had just been discussing her bad back with her the other day – Eggsy dragged the woman into his office. He did his best to make her comfortable before leaving the room and cautiously proceeding down the hallway. He didn’t see anyone else – was that supposed to be a test, or something? What the fuck was going on?

He couldn’t imagine that the mansion was compromised, not when Kingsman had been a successful secret organization for so many years. Even Valentine hadn’t known of them, or their name. The president of the United States didn’t know that they existed. How could they be under attack?

But the hallways were eerily quiet as Eggsy crept down them, and he didn’t come across any other agents or support staff. This wasn’t right. It felt like the silence was echoing, ringing from posh wall to posh wall.

First things first. Eggsy needed to regroup. If headquarters was really under attack, that meant that he needed to see what kind of back-up he had. The other agents were in and out of the mansion, depending on their missions and paperwork. On an active day, there would be maybe five or six agents in the mansion, but that was a lot. Sometimes none of them made it into the mansion.

An attack also meant he needed to take stock of the mansion. There were a lot of questions that needed answered: Were the candidates for Gareth’s position in their dormitory? What about the tech department, how were they faring? Was Arthur in her office, and did she need to be protected?

Of course, the most important question to Eggsy was how Harry was doing.

Eggsy worked his way to Harry’s office, but the door was shut, and when he pushed it open, it was clear no one was in there. He continued to creep down the hallways, heading toward the tech room now. They would be able to tell him what kind of support he had, if they weren’t already compromised.

His way was barred about halfway there by ten men in riot gear.

Eggsy jumped into immediate action. None of the men saw him coming, so he used that surprise to his ultimate advantage. Before they had even registered he was there, Eggsy had smacked one of the men in his riot helmet with the butt of his Glock.

The problem with riot gear, Eggsy thought, was that it was notoriously tough to get past. But it was Eggsy’s (relatively) lucky day. It had to be some type of knock-off riot gear because it had weak points: the glass on the helmet was easy to break off and knives went through the joints with the correct application of force.

That didn’t mean it was easy. Any shot that he aimed at the men was blocked by the tough Kevlar weave, which made his job actively harder. It meant he had to take each man down through close combat, wasting valuable seconds.

Unfortunately for the men in riot gear, Eggsy was trained specially in hand-to-hand combat. He didn’t need riot gear to win – fuck, his bulletproof bespoke suit was a million times better anyway.

He became a one-man wrecking crew, jumping over and under baton sticks, swiping the legs out from underneath some of the men. He took advantage of every joint in their armor, every weak spot on their outfits. It took him longer than usual because of the armor, so about halfway through the fight, he was physically exhausted. It was hard to crack helmets, which took several tries per person, and then even when the helmets were broken he still had to find ways to incapacitate them.

Perhaps the men realized that they were wearing on him. When there were about six of them left, they rallied, getting over any remnants of surprise and panic and instead pulling out Tasers. Dodging those while still being on the offensive was a bitch to maintain, so Eggsy dropped a few feet back, panting and wiping rivulets of blood from his face. There was a small cut by his hairline – someone must’ve got in a lucky punch while he was working.

Eggsy eyed them while they rallied. These men had clearly never fought together before. They did not move in tandem, and rather seemed to be in each other’s way. When one man moved forward to fight, there was yet another that was cut off from what would have been a truly spectacular shot at Eggsy. It was a dance of primary schoolers rather than professionals.

He felt a little off-footed, like something just wasn’t sitting right with him about the whole thing.

Okay, then, Eggsy, assess what you know:

He was attacked in his office by only one man, which meant that they were either ill-informed or were underestimating him. They were not shooting to kill, and considering how many darts had been misaimed at him, Eggsy doubted that they had live rounds. They were also poor shots, had inferior fighting skills, and possessed no ability to fight together. Despite that, they had Kevlar armor and bulletproof helmets, both of which were impairing Eggsy’s ability to fight them, knock-off or no.

The mansion was quiet, meaning that they must have gotten to any support staff already in the building. If the support staff had been compromised, that meant the techs and handlers had to be, too, because if a single tech had remained standing then some sort of resistance would have been mustered.

Unknown elements:

Who was doing this. Why. If the other agents were compromised. The status of the Gareth candidates. How an army of incompetents in knock-off riot gear had gotten into the mansion. How they knew about the mansion.

Fuck, thought Eggsy as he dodged a dart, thinking time was over.

The men still had some skills. One of them almost got in a lucky shot with the Taser. Only Eggsy’s quick reflexes, which dropped him to the floor, allowed the Taser’s prongs to sail overhead and embed uselessly into the wall. Eggsy was already taking advantage of it; the man who shot the Taser, trying to recover from the misfire, had his feet swept out from under him as Eggsy used his lower position to seamlessly swipe at him. He hit the ground, hard, and Eggsy quickly snagged a dagger from the body of a fallen man, using that to stab the closest body part to him. That just so happened to be the man’s hand, which Eggsy stabbed through to the floor. The man gave an ugly scream, tugging at his pinned hand and making sounds like he was crying.

Eggsy was already up, off the floor, while the man whined. The next attacker jumped at him, brandishing a gun. Eggsy kicked it out of his hand fairly easily – Jesus, who the fuck trained these guys, and why did they think that they could take on Kingsman this way?

He got his hands on one of the batons that the attackers had been using. That made the glass-smashing go faster, and within minutes, there were only two attackers left: the man crying on the floor and a bigger, bulkier one who had been nimble on his feet and professionally dodging all of Eggsy’s attacks.

Eggsy crept around the crying man, his eyes trained on the nimble, uninjured attacker. Eggsy still had the baton clutched in his slippery palm, beads of salty sweat stinging his eyes. He blinked once, twice, not willing to blink them out more lest he give his attacker and advantage.

The man’s shoulder twitched, a clear tell, so Eggsy was prepared when he sprung himself at Eggsy. Eggsy was already in motion – he bent backwards, neatly sliding under the man’s right hook, and brought the baton up. It cracked across the man’s chin in an upwards motion, stunning the man and knocking the helmet clear off of his head. What kind of riot gear didn’t have the helmet forcibly attached?

The attacker blinked the stars out from his eyes and grimaced at Eggsy, blood on his teeth. Must’ve bitten his tongue, Eggsy thought vaguely.

“Who are you?” asked Eggsy. “Why are you attacking?”

The man didn’t even bother with a reply, instead pulling out a baton identical to the one that Eggsy was clutching. He spun it around, still grimacing at Eggsy, his fingers deftly manipulating the baton to make it spin faster.

“Let me guess,” said Eggsy, quirking his mouth into a smile. “Baton twirling? High school band? Must’ve been hard on you, bruv.”

“Gonna be worse for you,” said the man, his voice surprisingly high-pitched.

“Oh, mate,” said Eggsy, using his best condescending-arsehole voice. “That voice. And the baton thing. You had’t’ve been teased so bad.”

The man didn’t appreciate that. He launched the baton straight at Eggsy’s head. Eggsy dodged it easily, using his momentum to swipe at the man’s exposed face.

The attacker knew it was coming, and with shocking strength, he caught the baton in his hand and wrenched it down, throwing off Eggsy’s balance. Taking advantage of this, the man following up with a knee to Eggsy’s gut.

That hurt. Eggsy stumbled away, coughing and seeing spots, both hands pressing on his stomach. For several dizzying moments the wind was completely knocked out of him, and until he regained his equilibrium, he was useless.

His attacker, rather than pressing his advantage, used this moment to arrogantly bring out a walkie-talkie. A walkie-talkie. Like they were still in the nineties, or something. “I’ll be bringing in one of the agents in a few moments,” he said. “One of the younger ones.”

The radio crackled, and a female voice said, “Copy that. Bring him to the tech room. That’s where we’re keeping the hostages.”

Eggsy smirked. He loved it when enemies were overconfident. The man dropped his radio and grinned at Eggsy; Eggsy grinned back.

Then Eggsy pulled out his Glock and shut the fucker in the face, since his helmet was lying uselessly on the floor several feet away.

Eggsy stood there, panting, for several moments, coming back to himself as the adrenaline began to fade slightly. In the eerie silence of the hallway, surrounded by dead or maimed men, Eggsy felt like he was in some sort of fucked up video game. It just didn’t seem real that the mansion was being attacked.

Wait. Eerie silence. What happened to the crying –

“Fuck!” shouted Eggsy as a glass vase cracked over his head. He could feel blood trickling down his face as he blinked at silvery-blue chunks of priceless vase now dotting the floor around him. There had to be glass shards embedded in his fucking head now, great Eggsy, great for completely forgetting about an attacker…

Eggsy turned around. The final attacker was panting just as badly as Eggsy, cradling his hand. His world narrowing a bit, Eggsy pulled out his last dagger. “Come at me, bruv,” said Eggsy, cackling. He knew Harry would disapprove – the first time Eggsy had shouted that at an enemy, it got around the table, and Harry sidled up to him and told him that gentlemen do not tease – but Eggsy couldn’t help it.

And let’s be honest, here. Harry did a lot of teasing. It just happened to be in bed, when most of the world couldn’t see it.

The man said, “Oh, no thank you,” and scuttled back a few steps.

That brought Eggsy up short. “What?”

“I’m only getting paid, like, a thousand for this job. I just wanted to pay rent this month, yeah? I don’t wanna die or nothing. I got a family, mate.”

Eggsy frowned. “Really? We’re only worth a thousand? You’ve been cheated, bruv.”

“I’ve noticed. And it ain’t fair. You mind if I skip out? I ain’t about to stay here, where all those guns are waving.”

Eggsy grimaced. “How ‘bout you shoot yourself with one of those sleep darts? I can’t just let you walk away.”

“Fair enough,” said the man, and shot himself in the neck. As he slumped over, Eggsy shook his head.

“Wackos,” he muttered, stepping over dead or unconscious bodies. Now he almost felt bad about blowing the baton-twirler’s brains out, except he didn’t do the logical thing and knock himself out. Stupid henchmen, fighting against superior opponents. And then radioing in when they’re in the middle of a fight!

But it served Eggsy’s purposes. Now he knew that the tech room was the attacker’s base of operations. They had hostages; probably a portion of the techs themselves.

Eggsy wiped some of the blood out of his face. Oh, he felt a little woozy. Either he was hit harder than he thought, or one of the cuts was letting out a little more blood than was medically recommended. But it didn’t matter which one it was, because Eggsy needed to keep moving.

Eggsy crept down the next hallway, his gun extended, not that it was being particularly helpful today. Taking in a deep breath, he poked his nose down the next hall – clear. He crept down that one too, taking care to keep quiet in his oxfords, though the carpet was doing a beautiful job of muffling his footsteps –

“Eep!” said Eggsy (which he would deny later) as a strong hand grabbed him and pulled him into a room. His first instinct was to hit the grabber, but they pinched him, hard, on the neck. Only one person could be that ballsy, so Eggsy let his gun drop to his side as he rolled his head, looking up at Harry.

“Couldn’t you have just said, ‘Hey, Eggsy, come here?’ Did you really need to scare the ever-loving shit out of me?”

“Don’t be an arse,” said Harry in clipped tones.

“I’m not the one who just Vulcan-pinched me!”

“Would you like some tissues to help with those tears?” asked Harry, pertly, and fuck did Eggsy adore this man. Gentleman indeed.

“I hope you have a better idea than me what’s going on,” said Eggsy, glancing around the room they were in. It appeared to be another agent’s office, one that Eggsy had never been in. Curious, he wandered over to the desk, where a wooden plaque was sitting. It simply read, Geraint.

“Think I’m ever going to actually meet this guy?” asked Eggsy as Harry peered out the doorway.

“Not if you keep talking so loudly.”

“What are you doing in his office?”

“I possess the ability to pick locks, and not just because I’ve made a career of nicking things that aren’t mine.”

Eggsy grinned and put the plaque back down on the desk. “And ain’t nobody thinking someone’s in Geraint’s office. Good thinking, bruv.”

“I do enjoy the ability to think critically. You should try it, sometime.”

Eggsy plastered himself against Harry’s back and snuck a kiss to Harry’s sweaty neck. Harry could act all calm as much as he wanted, but Eggsy knew him too well to know that this was anything but bravado. And some of it was real confidence, too, but honestly, that sweat was a dead giveaway.

“I don’t believe this is the time,” said Harry, but Eggsy could hear the reluctant fondness lurking in the background of Harry’s disapproving voice. As much as he wanted to chastise Eggsy, Harry had a special place in his heart for Eggsy’s antics.

“We could die today,” said Eggsy in an over exaggerated tone of voice. “What if we die without ever having fucked?”

“We have sex all the time.”

“What?” Eggsy pressed his face against Harry’s neck, letting Harry feel his eyelashes as he blinked against him. “Harry. This is an outrage. We need to do it once more. And let it be memorable this time.”

“Memorable?” Eggsy could hear the lilting smile in Harry’s voice, like Harry was quaintly amused. “Last night you seemed to think it was memorable. If I remember correctly, you started screaming when I got my cock in you.”

“I’m not a screamer,” said Eggsy, genuine surliness in his voice. He wasn’t, he was certain of that. Harry just had the tendency to push the right buttons. It was more a manly exclamation of happiness, anyway. Not a scream. “That sound isn’t a scream. It’s… you know what? Let’s do it right now so we can figure out that sound.”

Harry sighed. “As much as I would love to fuck you on Geraint’s desk while our organization is being overrun, I do believe that we might want to save the world first.”

“You got your priorities fucked up, mate.”

Harry tensed under Eggsy’s arms. Immediately, Eggsy let him go, palming his gun again – and not the sexy one.

A man in riot gear passed by their room. Sleekly, Harry stepped out into the hallway. “Excuse me?”

The man skidded to a stop, turning around. In a brutally efficient movement (that Eggsy did not get hard at, okay, he didn’t have a danger kink, he just happened to think everything Harry did was hot), Harry made a savage twisting motion with his wrist that propelled a knife under the glass mask and right into the man’s eye. Eggsy was left gaping.

“I’ve had to break their masks to get at their faces. How the fuck did you just do that?”

Harry pulled out the knife and wiped it on the now-dead man’s riot gear. “Experience, I suppose.”

“You gotta teach me that.”

“Sometime later.” Harry began sauntering down the hallway like he wasn’t sex on a fucking stick, glancing over his shoulder when Eggsy remained still. “Coming, Eggsy?”

Eggsy followed Harry, because that was what he did. “I know they’ve made the tech room their base,” said Eggsy, hoping to be helpful.

“Of course they have,” said Harry. “It’s the most logical place. Plus, taking out the techs is the most important part anyway. They’re dangerous.”

“And we’re not?”

“You’re currently bleeding from wounds that still contain small shards of glass. I can see them.” Harry gave him a pitying look over his glasses. “You don’t exactly inspire fear right now.”

“Fuck you.”

“Later, later,” said Harry, waving a hand at Eggsy. “We have a nefarious plot to foil.”

Eggsy tried to squash the grin on his face. “You sure you don't wanna be fucked? I can totally ride you.”

“Eggsy,” said Harry, but Harry’s shoulders were giving these little tremors. Ha, thought Eggsy. You lose. I know you too well. That disapproving tone of voice did nothing when Eggsy knew that Harry was secretly laughing. “This isn’t quite the time.”

“Why? You got a headache? Something to do in the morning? You tired?”

They turned the corner and ran into five men in riot gear. Immediately, Harry and Eggsy went back-to-back, Harry pulling some more of those sick maneuvers, Eggsy focusing on what he knew: breaking riot masks and shooting at faces.

The men were down in two minutes flat. It was much easier with someone at your back, Eggsy mused as they proceeded down the halls. “Where we going, bruv?”

“Don’t call me bruv. There were four agents in the mansion today: you, me, Lancelot, and Bedivere. Both Lancelot and Bedivere have been captured already.”

“What? Roxy got captured? But she’s so fucking competent! How did she get captured before me?”

“They got her in the toilet.”

“Oh. Bet she’s gonna be pissed off.”

“Indeed,” said Harry. “Bedivere was the unlucky victim of a gas attack. He’s with the others, tied up in the tech room.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“Merlin reported it all to me before he was captured as well.”

“Merlin’s been captured?”

“To his dismay, yes. He would have told you all of these things, too, but you don’t have your glasses on.”

Eggsy blinked. Wow. He didn’t have his glasses on, did he? No wonder he felt weird fighting those goons back there – he always went on missions with his glasses. Now that he realized, Eggsy could imagine right where his glasses were sitting: on his shelves, right next to the keychain of a kiwi, because Eggsy had taken them off to carefully arrange his newest knickknack. Of course.

“Sloppy work, Eggsy,” said Harry, but Eggsy saw the small twitch of the lips. He didn’t mean it. Or, well, he did mean it, but in a more light-hearted sense.

“Thanks, Galahad,” said Eggsy. “I appreciate the honest criticism. It warms the cockles of my heart.”

“Cockles?”

“Never heard of them?”

“I have, but you make it sound like an innuendo.”

“Harry Hart. Do you think just because that word has ‘cock’ in it that it’s an innuendo? You need to get your mind out of the gutter, mate.”

Harry gave him a pained look and continued moving through the hallway. Harry had clearly decided to ignore Eggsy’s come-ons, probably the best decision he had made so far that night. “The candidates for the Gareth position are still in their dormitory. There are seven of them. They’re a rather tough bunch this time around and Merlin hasn’t been able to weed a good portion of them out yet.”

“Seven? But if there’s thirteen agents who propose including Arthur, then that means that a good six of them have already failed out. It’s been a month or two, ain’t it? Ain’t that average?”

“Only ten candidates were proposed.”

“Oh. That’s different. Why just ten?”

“Geraint didn’t propose someone because he wasn’t around, so he didn’t feel comfortable because he couldn’t properly mentor someone. Lancelot didn’t because she’s too new, and she said she didn’t know who to propose. Doesn’t have enough connections yet. And Percival decided not to propose anyone this round. Almost every candidate that he proposes tends to win, and he said that he wanted to give the other Kingsmen agents a chance.” Harry rolled his eyes, and Eggsy knew that he was a little bitter about that. Percival and Harry had a not-so-secret rivalry sometimes.

“You proposed one?” asked Eggsy. For some reason, he had thought Harry wouldn’t have.

“Yes. I met a rather remarkable woman on a mission a few months back. She was able to identify me immediately as a secret agent and actively helped me to achieve my goals. I think she’s a shoo-in for the position.”

“Brill. I like the diversity you’re trying to add, bruv.”

“Diversity?” asked Harry, absentmindedly. He nudged open a door and peered inside, before backing out again and continuing down the hallway.

“I mean, yeah. Getting a plebe in the Kingsmen. And then proposing a woman. Roxy’ll be happy if another girl gets through.”

“I don’t much pay attention to that sort of thing,” said Harry, which was the most blatant lie that Eggsy had ever heard him tell. “And if anything, people won’t be saying she’s diversifying the Kingsmen because she’s a woman.”

“Oh?”

“More likely because she’s black.”

Eggsy grinned. “Chester King must be rolling around in his grave.”

“Indeed.”

“How come the tech department is so diverse but the agents ain’t? Salomea’s black. We got some techs from other countries, too.”

“Chester King was quite controlled about the agents,” said Harry. “But he didn’t discriminate against competence in our tech department. Mostly due to Merlin’s insistence on hiring the best.”

They came across the men that Eggsy had downed earlier. Harry stepped over them with a small wrinkle in his nose.

“So where are we going now?” asked Eggsy.

“To regroup with the recruits, if they’re brave enough to face this,” said Harry. “That’s what Merlin recommended. He thought they might be strong enough to actually be successful at this.”

“Wait. Are we literally turning the invasion of the mansion into a training stimulation for the candidates?”

“I wouldn’t phrase it quite like that. That implies that we aren’t taking this seriously,” said Harry, in a tone that suggested he wasn’t quite taking it seriously.

“Two agents have been downed!”

“But not killed.” Harry paused, then added, “That we know of.”

“Bruv.”

It happened very, very quickly: Harry whipped around suddenly, pinning Eggsy to the wall. His eyes were dark, scary-dark, and there was a grimace on his face. Eggsy gave a choked-off noise, startled and a little freaked out.

“Eggsy. We’ve been dating near two months now. If you continue to call me ‘bruv’ and ‘mate,’ I will remind you what it feels like to not orgasm for months. I hate those terms. You know I hate those terms. I don’t call you ‘Gary,’ now do I?”

“No,” admitted Eggsy. He wrapped his hand around Harry’s, feeling the corded muscle and sinew of his impossibly-strong hand. “So what do I call you when I don’t wanna say your name?”

“You can try a term of endearment.”

“You know I’m going to come up with something ridiculous, right?”

“Anything is better than bruv.”

Harry finally released Eggsy, trotting down the hallway like he hadn’t just been choking the life out of his already-injured boyfriend. Eggsy decided to treat the situation with the same levity, still following after Harry.

Even if he was a little shaken up by it.

Just a little.

He wasn’t on the verge of a panic attack.

Nope.

Not him.

Never.

Anyway, that was a good thing. Harry was calling what they were doing dating. Eggsy had been referring to Harry as ‘boyfriend,’ but never to his face. That meant that Eggsy could reasonably call what they were doing that. Ha. Joke was on Harry.

Right?

Right?

Eggsy deliberately focused on his breathing as they continued forth. They reached the dormitory fairly quickly after that. None of the men in riot gear seemed overly focused on the basement, which was where the recruits traditionally stayed.

Harry strolled into the dormitory, looking solid and calm, like there wasn’t the imminent possibility of death. “Good afternoon, candidates.”

Seven people glanced at Harry. There was one guy in the shower, rinsing shampoo out of his hair. He grimaced a little at the fact that he was caught bare-arsed in front of a stranger. The only woman – had to be Harry’s candidate – sat up on her bed, blinking sleep out of her eyes. The other five had a card game going by the telly.

“Hello,” said one of the braver ones, standing up. “Merlin said this was our day off. Are we to do another training exercise?”

“Not quite. I am Agent Galahad, to those of you who don’t know me. I am one of the Kingsmen. Our headquarters has been compromised by enemy agents today. I’m here both to warn you and to enlist your help. You have two choices: you can stay here, and quite possibly be attacked. Or you can come with me, and do the attacking.”

There was a pause. The shower squeaked as it turned off.

“Is this a test?” asked one of them.

Eggsy, who had been lurking by the door, stepping fully into the light. “My head is fucking bleeding,” he said, a little cross that they didn’t instantly trust Harry and not willing to extend the empathy that they probably deserved for being rightfully suspicious. “Does it look like a fucking test?”

“This is Eggsy,” said Harry to the gaping recruits. “He’s another agent. One with a delightful vocabulary.”

Eggsy was tempted to tell Harry to go fuck himself, but he didn’t want it to look like there was in-fighting among agents. So instead he tapped his foot and stared at the recruits. “Well? Gonna help us save the world?”

All the candidates scrambled up. The one from the showers quickly put on a pair of pants and trousers, still damp, while Harry’s proposed cast about for a bra, since she had been napping without one.

“Excellent,” said Harry.

There was a bigger group now, which complicated things.

“Eggsy,” said Harry, giving a critical eye to the recruits. “You take those three. I want you to do a perimeter sweep of the mansion. I think most of the attackers have now retreated to the tech room, but I want to be absolutely sure. You have the responsibility to dispatch any stragglers. The rest of the candidates and I will first come up with a plan of attack, and then we will storm the tech room.”

“All right,” said Eggsy. It was easy to take orders from Harry. “You heard the man!” he said to his candidates: the still-damp man from the showers, a baby-faced man no older than nineteen who had ridiculously red lips that spouted one of the poshest accents he had ever heard, and a man with owl tattoos all over his arms. He wondered who proposed them. “Chop, chop, move your arses!”

They canvassed the basement first. It was clear there were no attackers down there. At first he kept his gun out, but when he realized that the recruits didn’t have any weapons on them, he forked it over to one of the others. He would do better with hand to hand in this situation, anyway.

It wasn’t until they reached the first level that they came across attackers. There was a group of three milling about in the entranceway. Eggsy directed two candidates toward the one on the left while the recruit with the gun got his own goon, on the right. Then Eggsy sprung himself at the middle man.

Eggsy, focused on just one attacker, was able to down him rather quickly. But it was apparent the candidates were still early on in their training, because they were struggling to pierce the riot gear. They didn’t understand how to break the glass from the helmet, and were actively stumped by the Kevlar weave armor.

Eggsy helped the single candidate first. Their combined efforts, focusing mostly on the joints of the armor, quickly took down the attacker. Then, without fail, the final combatant fell after all four of them jumped him.

“That was wicked,” said the recruit with owl tattoos, stars in his eyes. “You’re a fucking beast, man.”

“Who, me?” asked Eggsy, who always got a little squirmy when people complimented him. “Eh, you’ll be at my level by the time training gets done.”

They canvassed the rest of the first floor, then the rest of the mansion. They didn’t bother with the grounds or the hangar – that would be too much area to cover. Other than two more men, they came across no one.

“This stinks something foul,” said Eggsy, leading the candidates back to Geraint’s office to hopefully regroup with Harry before the charge. Knowing Harry, though, he might’ve gone ahead without him. “There should be more men, yeah?”

“Not if they took out everyone else in the mansion,” said the candidate with red lips.

“Could be overconfidence,” chipped in the shower candidate.

“We should think of a plan of attack.”

“Or discuss what their motives might be.”

“Thank you, overeager candidates. This is not a test.” Eggsy led them down another hallway, stepping over fallen men. He led them to Geraint’s office – their meet-up point – but the room was empty, no ridiculously attractive fifty-year-old in sight. Quite disappointing.

“That means he’s gone ahead with…” Eggsy paused, staring at the desk. The edge of it was covered in blood, little drips working their way down the grain of the wood. “Oh,” he said. “They’ve been captured.”

“How do you know?”

Eggsy gestured to the desk. “Blood on the edge. But no body. That means it wasn’t an attacker, because Harry would have just left the body where it was. I wonder how they got captured?”

“Dunno,” said Owl Tattoos. “Surprise attack?”

“No one surprises Harry Hart,” said Eggsy. The one time Harry had been surprised and tricked he had nearly died. Eggsy didn’t need to think about the Church, not right now, not when they were under attack.

And shit, what if Harry really did die? Eggsy couldn’t even remember the last thing he had said to Harry.

“I think we’re being watched,” said one of the candidates.

“What?”

He gestured out the hallway. Eggsy poked his head out and trained his eyes on the camera, which was aimed straight at them.

“Of course,” said Eggsy, feeling insanely stupid. “They’re in the tech room. They’ve known all our movements this entire time. That’d be why they didn’t send more men… they’re all grouped in the tech room, because they need the numbers to take us down.”

But wait. If that was the case, then why didn’t the men attack when it was just him and Harry? Why leave the candidates alone?

Something was wrong.

“So what do we do?”

“We play into their hands,” said Eggsy, dragging a finger through the blood on the desk. Odd feelings were beginning to bubble in his stomach. Not a panic attack, not quite… Not the state he got when he was disassociated, either. Was he scared for Harry? Was it that simple?

Whatever it was rising, whatever he was feeling – someone was going to pay if his Harry was hurt.

“Just like that?” said the candidate with red lips. “We play into their hands?”

“In our own way,” said Eggsy, smiling. If it could be called that – Eggsy had a feeling that it was too vicious.

It took them no time at all to get down to the tech room, and even less to open up the door and walk in. Eggsy and the two recruits had their hands up as they entered. There were at least forty guns trained on them as they walked in, which made the tech room seem infinitely smaller than it was. The normally spacious, echoing room was packed with riot gear-clad bodies.

Only one person, other than the hostages, looked different.

Diane grinned at him. “I hope you didn’t forget about me.”

Her hair was pulled back into a severe ponytail, probably to keep it out of the way. She was sitting in one of the tech’s chair off to the side, smiling her gap-toothed smile. Her outfit was clearly Kevlar-lined too, but it looked much bulkier on her. Behind her was Merlin’s typical station, the monitors showing the cameras of the mansion.

Eggsy gave something of a smile to Diane. “Hello,” he said, calculating.

Assess, Eggsy:

His eyes flickered over the men in riot-gear. Almost exactly forty men, give or take one or two. Same gear as the men in the hallways – cheap, knock-off gear, weak points consistent.

The men in riot gear were blocking his view of the hostages. He couldn’t confirm Harry’s status, or Roxy’s, or anyone’s, really.

He noted possible weapons in the room.

“Oh, Paul,” said Diane, not quite completely knocking Eggsy out of his thoughts. His mind was still ticking along, thinking, assessing, calculating, moving. “So overconfident.”

“Is that so,” said Eggsy, calmly. His fists were sweaty where they were clenched above his head. But, inexperienced, none of the men in riot gear told him he needed to show the palms of his hands. Just as Eggsy had predicted, had gambled. They saw his arms in the air and assumed. Overconfidence… Well. It did work wonders.

“So, I started wondering, after you killed my brother,” said Diane, standing up, her moments clearly hampered by the Kevlar, “what your real name is.” She moved closer to him still, her boots clomping on the ground – hiking boots, not anything army-issued.

She stopped several feet from him, almost bouncing on the balls of her feet. She was waiting for him to respond.

Okay then.

Eggsy lobbed the lighter grenade into the crowd of riot gear. It exploded, and men went flying. He heard Diane scream, but he was quicker than she could react – he grabbed her, thrusting her to one of the recruits.

“What the fuck!” she screamed, but the recruits were now using her as a shield as the men in riot gear started shooting. The candidate with red lips wrapped both of his arms around her, preventing her from moving, while the shower candidate crouched behind, avoiding fire.

Eggsy, on the other hand, vaulted into action.

Ten men had been taken out by the explosion, which was significantly more than he had hoped. Usually for that kind of blast six, seven would be taken out, but they had been standing so closely together because of the tight quarters that it had affected more of them.

Still, thirty men was nothing to scoff at, and Eggsy charged them. He plowed through three of them quickly – using Harry’s upward twisting motion, he plunged his dagger into two of the men’s eyes, leaving it in the third when he couldn’t pull it out efficiently.

Then he used their numbers against them. They were inexperienced, hired guns, with no movement in-sync and mass confusion at what was happening. Eggsy could use that – he could more than use that. He was trained in hand-to-hand combat. He had never quite faced a situation like this before, but Merlin had once said he was supposed to be able to engage this amount of people with nothing but his bare hands.

He could do this.

To use their numbers against them, he had to pit them against each other. Easy. The fourth man Eggsy grabbed his arm and jerked him around, the man stumbling against his compatriots. It knocked three more of them off-kilter, and Eggsy took the opportunity to literally kick the man in the arse to make them all fall on the ground.

Someone came up behind him; Eggsy was already moving, chopping down on the hand coming toward him. The man dropped the baton he was using. Eggsy caught it before it hit the ground, using the motion to fluidly arc upward and crack the baton against the bottom of the man’s helmet, both breaking the glass and knocking it clean off of his head. Eggsy smacked the man in the face with the baton, breaking his nose, before ducking when another man behind him shot three darts in succession. All three darts embedded themselves in the man’s now-exposed face, two to the forehead, one high up on his cheekbone. He fell over.

They still weren’t using live rounds.

Fourteen men down.

Eggsy twirled, cat-like, sweeping the feet out from under the man shooting. He gave a shout, stumbling and trying to get his feet back, but Eggsy brought the baton up during the man’s clumsiness, cracking across his groin and shattering the cheap cup he was wearing. The man let out a scream, and Eggsy snatched the gun from his hand, abandoning the baton to use the grip of the man’s gun on his helmet. The glass immediately shattered off, and Eggsy gave the man a dart to the face.

Whirling about, he did a backbend to avoid the prongs of a Taser and did a complicated twist of his body, grabbing another man’s arm and wrenching it up, before throwing his body over his shoulder at four men who had regrouped to reengage Eggsy.

Two more men were diving at Eggsy, so Eggsy did a high kick to the first man’s face. It didn’t break the glass, but it clearly stunned him for precious seconds. Eggsy used that moment to use that twisting motion to get under the glass and get a dart in the attacker’s face.

Sixteen men down.

The next went down in a similar fashion; now seventeen were laying on the floor, out of the fight. Three more, who had been stupidly waiting patiently for their turn, stepped forward to test their luck.

They were the most inexperienced yet; within moments, Eggsy had liberated a knife from one of them and tore a hole into the shoulder of his riot gear. A perfectly aimed dart landed right in the rip, and now eighteen were taken care of.

The knife went into the eye of number nineteen, and number twenty got the glass of his helmet shattered with the gun. When Eggsy realized he was out of darts, he used the grip of the gun to bash twenty’s head with three hard knocks, creating a bloody mess and an unconscious body.

Twenty men down, half of the original number, and now Eggsy was growing tired. He was aware of his wounds, his still bleeding head, in a surreal way: he knew about it, but it seemed unimportant, like the pain belonged to someone else.

Yet, now, his blood was singing in his veins, the adrenaline was making the world tunnel and focus entirely on the situation, and he had never felt more concentrated in his life. This, this right here, this was a life or death moment. Eggsy planned on rising to the occasion.

In the background, he was vaguely aware of certain things – Diane screaming, “Take him down, you incompetent fucks! What are you doing? He’s one man!”, the recruits, barely holding onto her as she squirmed, and the groups of techs, shivering and scared. It was one thing to view the violence through a screen, where you could calmly give orders without the fear of the moment. It was another to watch as a spray of blood narrowly missed your face.

But those were ancillary concerns. More relevant to Eggsy was another four attackers, finally communicating with each other, deciding to run at Eggsy from each side. Easy – he started running at one of the men, too. The other three adjusted course, shocked that he wasn’t startled by their attacks (where the fuck did Diane find these incompetents?) and Eggsy vaulted over the man, using the man’s shoulders as a lift. The other three men skidded to a stop as Eggsy jumped, and he engaged a fifth man, using his momentum to literally tackle him.

The man screamed as Eggsy tore off his helmet and, using a vicious move, plunged fingers into both of his eyes. He kept screaming, screaming, screaming, as some sort of jelly coated Eggsy’s fingers and then blood was spurting out, sickening.

This officially freaked out several of the men – two of them dropped their weapons, raising their hands, and yelled, “Fuck this!” while a third shit his pants. Eggsy knew, because he could smell it.

He sprung away from the eyeless man, who wasn’t dead yet, but was definitely taken out of the fight. Eggsy would mercy kill in a moment – there were still plenty of men who were now gritting their teeth, determined to take him out. A vendetta against him.

Spinning around, there were three men running at him. Eggsy was acting on pure instinct at this point, rational thought so far out of the window that it was like he was an animal. He dove at them, but at the last moment, executed a slide, smoothly going between their legs and out the back. There, he saw the emergency ax (in case of fires) in a glass case, near the door. Eggsy ran to it, ducking some wild shots, and punched through the glass.

He turned around with the ax, and he could smell when another man pissed himself. Someone else dropped their weapons. Twenty men down, three definitively out of the fight, and two with soggy pants. Eggsy was doing well.

The ax was sharp and well-prepared. Its edge went through their shoulder joints like butter, and someone’s arm went flying, careening into another man. The man held the arm for a moment, not entirely understanding what he was holding, before it registered. He screamed, flung the arm from him, and dropped his weapons.

The ax finished off the one-armed man. Twenty-one down, four out of the fight, two with soggy pants.

From across the room, three men raised their weapons, aiming them at Eggsy. Their shot was completely clear. Loathe as he was to lose a weapon of this caliber, Eggsy had to act. He hurled the ax at the group, watching as it bowled through the air, rotating end-over-end, before it implanted itself in the face of the man in the middle. The two men on each side dove to the ground, scared, terrified, that it was going to somehow hit them too.

Twenty-two killed, and Eggsy was out a weapon, and breathing hard.

Eggsy was already moving on from the loss of the ax. He threw his body at the nearest attacker, batting away the gun in his hands, and pushed the man to the ground. He was distracted for a moment – another attacker coming at him – and the one on the ground got a hand around his ankle, pulling Eggsy’s foot out from under him.

Big mistake for the ground attacker. Eggsy rolled with the motion, using one hand to springboard off the floor, and wrapped his free leg around the man’s neck from where he was craning his head to see if his maneuver had worked. It hadn’t; once Eggsy had got his leg around his neck, Eggsy gave a sharp pull on his knee, and with a crisp crunch, the man’s neck snapped.

The one coming at him from above hesitated for a fraction of a second, which Eggsy took advantage of. In that second, he got a hand up, wrapping his fingers around the guy’s knee. His grip punishingly tight, he yanked hard, bringing the man down to his level. The man fell flat on his arse, yelling in alarm, and Eggsy scrambled to stand up. Kicking off the man’s helmet, Eggsy stomped on his face, once, twice, until the cartilage from his nose jammed into his brain.

Twenty-four killed, four out of the fight, two embarrassed attackers who still weren’t sure what to do about the soggy pants issue.

The two surviving agents from the ax incident had recovered, standing up. There were still other men standing around the room, some hesitant to attack, others about to spring at Eggsy. Including the men with soggy pants (as they hadn’t dropped their weapons quite yet), Eggsy had eighteen men left to go. Just a little bit ago he had forty, so it was a marked improvement.

Five attackers came at him at once, this time much more coordinated. Eggsy could tell these would be men difficult to take down – they had been standing back, observing, waiting for weak points.

One brought his gun up, and Eggsy fell to his knees, avoiding the path of the gun and bringing his palm up sharply. It knocked the gun aside, three bullets hitting the riot gear of another. They did not harm the man (the riot gear finally good for something, it seemed). There was a fallen man near Eggsy, and, still on his knees, he smacked his palms against the floor and used both momentum and gymnastics training to perform a rather tricky handstand, which quickly turned into a flip. He got his feet under him and snagged the baton from the fallen man, brandishing it at the five men.

The baton broke the glass on one of their visors, but they pressed their advantage of numbers. One of them managed to grab the baton in his hands, a lucky grab, and he and Eggsy tussled over it for half a second before Eggsy realized that it was giving the other men easy openings. He let the baton go, the man stumbling back a few steps, and Eggsy, improvising quickly, grabbed a big shard of glass from where someone’s helmet glass had shattered.

This shard of glass was quickly thrown at the man’s hip, meeting its mark devastatingly well. The man groaned, clutching at the wound, and Eggsy kicked the hands covering it, implanting the glass deeper.

But Eggsy had focused on that man too much. Another got in a lucky hit, smacking Eggsy in the side of his head with a baton. For a long moment (too long) Eggsy saw stars, and the attackers pressed their advantage, advancing on him. One of them shot their Taser, while another swung the baton at him again.

Eggsy dodged, his movements edged with desperation. The Taser missed, but that put him right in the path of the baton, and it cracked against his ribcage, near his kidneys. In the back of his mind, Eggsy knew he would be pissing blood for weeks, but it was still life or death. Eggsy couldn’t spare his mind for more than the half of a moment that thought took to worry about it.

Time to be impressive, then. He dove at one of the attackers, and, in a physics-defying movement, managing to get his legs around the man’s shoulders. His weight bore the man down, and Eggsy used the man’s falling motion to piston his body to the left, avoiding more Taser prongs.

Unluckily for the man now without glass on his helmet, because the problem with more numbers was that, in the confusion, friendly fire was a possibility. The Taser prongs hit the man’s neck and buzzed, and suddenly, luckily, twenty-five were down.

One of the men who had dropped his weapons picked them up again, encouraged by the two hits they had got in on Eggsy. Eggsy still had eighteen to go, then.

The man who had shot the Taser dropped it, looking dismayed and guilty. Eggsy used that emotion against him, taking the opportunity to kick upwards and knocking his helmet clean off of his head. He grabbed a nearby baton (his legs still around the other man’s head, even though they were now on the floor) and chucked it at him. The throw was half-blind, because his angle was fucked, but miraculously it smacked him right in the forehead. Down but not out, the man rubbed his head and looked stunned.

The man whose Eggsy’s legs were still around decided now was the perfect time to fight back, and out of nowhere, a knife slipped into his lower back. Ouch.

Unfortunately for that man, that knife was now Eggsy’s knife. Eggsy plucked it out of his back, acting like it didn’t hurt (it did), and twisted that knife right into the guy’s eye.

Twenty-six.

Eggsy could work with a knife. That’s how twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and twenty-nine went down. Thirty was almost comical, because it was the man who had shit his pants, and Eggsy gave him a kick to the arse. The man started crying, ashamed, and Eggsy took pity on him and merely knocked him out.

Thirty down. Three with their guns down. Just one conscious with soggy pants. Eggsy had eight left, including piss boy.

But the panting had turned into wheezing, and his head was throbbing. The hit to the head had really hurt, especially when he already was bleeding from the vase. There was also a dull throbbing near his kidneys. Eggsy estimated it was just a deep tissue bruise, nothing broken, but the adrenaline was leaving his body after such an extended period of time. It left him feeling broken, slower, sloppy.

It made him aware of other things:

“WHAT THE FUCK HOW IS HE STILL GOING ONE OF YOU TAKE HIM DOWN YOU FUCKERS,” courtesy of Diane.

“Eggsy, stop playing around, just knock them out already!” courtesy of Merlin.

“I feel useless,” courtesy of one of the candidates.

“This is the most badass thing I’ve ever seen,” from the other candidate.

But Eggsy couldn’t give them more thought than that, because one of the attackers had pulled the ax out of the guy’s head and was now waving it at him. It was clear the guy had never even held an ax before, really, what kind of grip was that? But still. Man had a weapon.

Eggsy threw the knife at the man’s hand. With a yip, the man dropped the ax, clutching his hand, where the knife was now embedded. Clearly, there had been no protective padding on his glove. He made a move toward the ax when he saw Eggsy coming at him, but Eggsy had already swiped the ax from the ground and swung up, the ax hitting the bottom of the man’s chin. If that hadn’t killed him, the resulting force that broke his neck backwards would have.

Thirty-one. And now Eggsy had an ax again.

He almost felt like Harry, back at the Church. Yet not really, because these men were wearing riot gear, and he was very limited with how he could take them down. Just scanning the downed men revealed so many broken helmets, or any iteration of that.

One of the men had a clear shot at him while he was thinking about that and got off three darts. Eggsy lifted up the ax reflexively and two darts embedded itself in the wood of the handle, just centimeters from his hand. The third…

Had hit Eggsy’s bulletproof suit.

For a wild moment, Eggsy thought that his suit had stopped the dart. That the bulletproof bespoke had worked. But no, Eggsy felt a swoop of dizziness come over him.

One more, Eggsy thought, and gave another toss of the ax.

Thirty-two down. Three with their weapons on the floor, but they were picking them back up. And piss boy was now grinning.

Eggsy quickly figured out that though the dart was affecting him, clearly the dart hadn’t pierced his skin enough to release enough poison to completely knock him out. It was enough to make him woozy and sit down, dizzy, but not enough to make him pass out – unless it was deliberately diluted?

“Finally!” screamed Diane. “Now someone get over here and take care of the rest of these fuckers!”

The two candidates threw their hands up again, not even bothering to try and take on the remaining eight. They hadn’t been trained to engage that many people yet.

The remaining eight men led the candidates over to where the rest of the techs were sitting. Now that Eggsy was through fighting, he could take better stock of the room (even with it spinning rather wildly, even with nausea rolling around in his stomach).

The techs were gathered in clumps of five. They were wired together, big loops of wire both tying their hands securely as well as wrapping around their bodies. Eggsy watched, feeling drained, as they did the same song and dance with the two candidates.

There were ten techs in total, including Merlin. Merlin was situated in a group with Bedivere, who was passed out cold, and Roxy, who had one of the nastiest split lips that Eggsy had ever seen and an extremely pissed off expression on her face. Her hair was matted with blood and a truly spectacular black eye was beginning to blossom. Also in that group was Arthur, who was a pasty white and looked about five seconds away from becoming the second person to pee their pants.

Harry was there, too, along with four unconscious candidates. They weren’t tied up; rather, they were all slumped together in an inelegant heap. They had all darts somewhere on their bodies. It must’ve been a surprise attack on them in Geraint’s office. Eggsy could see blood congealing on Harry’s head, perilously near his scar.

Eggsy, though he felt mostly drained, exhausted, and dizzy, now also felt the stirrings of anger. The duality of emotions was complicated, complex; it made his heart beat faster yet his brain move slower. Fuck.

Harry better be okay.

Eggsy took a breath and tried to refocus. There were also support staff there – cleaning staff, other employees, etc. They formed another clump of five. In total, there were four clumps tied up, the fifth group (Harry’s) untied. Glancing at the computer monitors which were showing the video from the security cameras, Eggsy could see that they had also overtaken the hangar with all the cars and planes and stuff. There must’ve been another ten men patrolling in there separately, with clumps of mechanics and anyone else who must’ve not fit in here. They had probably strategically split up the groups.

God. Eggsy forgot, sometimes, how big this fucking mansion was. Eggsy and the candidates hadn’t even bothered canvassing the hangar.

Eggsy’s attention was drawn by Diane, who suddenly appeared in front of him. “Tired?” she asked, grin firmly in place.

“It’s hard work to take out most of your men,” Eggsy replied. Then he tilted his head toward Harry. “Not dead, I hope?”

“Concerned for a fellow agent?”

“Let me rephrase,” said Eggsy, emotion curling his words. “You better hope he isn’t dead.”

Diane threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, Paul, that sense of humor.”

“I’m not laughing,” said Eggsy. It was true. He wasn’t.

“I am,” she said. She clicked her fingers twice, and two men came over to Eggsy. They hauled him up and slammed him down into one of the computer chairs. There was a comical moment when the back rest tilted back and the chair nearly flipped over, causing the two men to scramble to right him.

Computer chairs weren’t the best for tying up hostages.

They brought out zip ties and strung Eggsy’s hands together, tying them so tight that they almost cut off circulation.

“So,” said Eggsy, conversationally. He needed to kill time now. “Why’d you decide to attack headquarters, Diane? Seems silly to me. You could’ve gone underground, sold off the knowledge of Kingsman to someone interested. Why attack?”

Diane came closer to Eggsy. She trailed glove-clad fingers over his shoulder and up his neck, stopping at the cut on his temple. She pulled out a piece of vase from his head, making him wince at the feeling of fresh blood trickling from the wound.

“My brother wanted to be the best hitman in the world,” said Diane, examining the piece of vase with the sort of eyes that said she wasn’t actually taking in the sight. “Funny, really. He never knew it was me that catapulted him to fame.

“We came from rather bad circumstances, you see. It wasn’t that our parents didn’t love us. They did. They just weren’t good parents. No understanding of how to connect with children. When I was fifteen, Timothy got involved in drugs and alcohol.” Here Diane rolled her eyes. “It was so stupid. He was throwing away his potential.

“I’ve never been that great at being the face of an organization,” said Diane. “I knew that from the beginning. I don’t have the ability to inspire people. I’m either too awkward, or too confident, people are either intimidated by me, or they don’t respect me. I’m either too much or too little.

“But my brother… He could inspire fear. And me? I was the clever one. The sharp one. The one who knew what she wanted. So when Timothy didn’t pay back some debts and the sharks came to collect…”

Diane gave something like a smile. She dropped the vase shard, turning back to Eggsy. She let her hand rest on his shoulder. Then she swung a leg around him, straddling him, an awkward weight for a computer chair.

“They agreed to train him, show him the ropes. For the first few years, Timothy didn’t understand how to be tough. He was so emaciated from the drugs that he had no muscle on him. But he started bulking up, began to understand fighting techniques. Lucky him – I was starting to think I’d have to cut him loose and start over. During that time, I learned how to do other illegal activities: robbing, hacking.

“When Timothy finally got good enough to go at the business alone, I was there for him, helping him, guiding him. Everyone knew I was the real danger of the organization. Timothy was only ever the muscle.”

Diane dragged a thumb over Eggsy’s bottom lip. Eggsy wasn’t sure if she was going to have sex with him right there, in front of the techs. He wasn’t sure if voyeurism was one of her kinks. Would it count as rape if she tried anything right now? Eggsy privately thought it would.

“About a year ago, Timothy started getting arrogant. He began to cut me out of deals. He started establishing business connections that I had no access to. But what really made me angry,” she said, her eyes darkening, “was when he began to tell people that I was the incompetent one. He began to ruin my name.

“I began to take countermeasures. Things to ensure that I would survive after I killed him. And then you came in, Paul.”

Eggsy did nothing, said nothing. Diane was immersed in her memories. “To take over this business, to reestablish my good name, I needed to do something amazing. Something that had never been done before. Like take out an entire intelligence organization.” She grinned and tilted her head to the side, finally snapped back to the present.

“But in order to do that, I need a little information. There are only four agents here, and I know that there are more. I don’t know how many or where they are. You’re going to tell me.”

“Ah,” said Eggsy. He felt a smile beginning to tug at the corner of his lips.

“I can’t hack into your files,” said Diane, looking a bit sour about that. “Too well protected. And my source, though he could give me the initial Intel that got me to this point, couldn’t provide everything. That means I need you to help me out.”

“I invite you to try and make me.”

Diane smirked. “You’ll be singing in five minutes.”

She gestured at one of the men, one of the ones that Eggsy had pegged as dangerous when he was fighting. He pulled off his helmet. With a start, Eggsy recognized him – he had been at the party with Timothy Yates. He was Timothy’s friend. Eggsy had even thought, at the party, that he was the most likely of the friends to know about Timothy’s business. Bruce, right?

Not that it mattered. He would now be Bruce in Eggsy’s mind.

Diane reluctantly got off Eggsy, her fingernails lightly scratching the sides of his neck, leaving trails of goosebumps in their wake.

And Bruce stepped forward.

Bruce started soft – a few punches to the face, pausing to let Eggsy regroup and spit blood out of his mouth. Amateur, thought Eggsy, derisively. You’re in an enemy compound with no idea when the other agents might be back. You don’t know how much time you have. Why start slow?

Plus, Eggsy had already proven himself a seasoned agent. He had training. Couldn’t the man postulate that that training might have included torture resistance?

Not that Eggsy was complaining. He liked it easy.

Punch.

Eggsy took his time turning his face back to the man.

Punch.

Slowly, now, like you’re dizzy and can’t move well.

Punch.

Even tied to this fucking chair and Eggsy was playing them like a piano.

Punch.

No imagination, thought Eggsy. Was he just going to punch his face all day? Other than some loose teeth and a bruised cheek and eye, Eggsy wasn’t sustaining much damage. Why should he feel threatened right now?

Punch.

This was slightly funny, though. Eggsy was literally critiquing this guy’s torture technique. While being tortured by him. Ha, ha.

Punch.

“Are you ready to talk?” asked Diane. The man stepped back, letting Diane prowl around Eggsy menacingly.

Except Eggsy wasn’t scared. Diane wasn’t going to do anything behind him. She wasn’t even the one torturing him. The psychological scare was entirely ineffective.

A slight movement on the computer screen caught his attention. Time to escalate. He needed all eyes on him.

“You know,” said Eggsy conversationally, letting his head loll a little (the head wounds, the drug, the punching… Eggsy wasn’t about to force himself to keep his head up). “You know, you have really great tits.”

Diane gaped at Eggsy. Timothy’s friend stepped forward and pulled out a knife. Ah, finally. Finally, something that maybe Eggsy could cringe a little at.

Merlin had stressed, over and over, during torture resistance training, not to taunt the captors. “It means that they’ll get angry. All the more likely they’ll kill you faster, and doesn’t actually help out your pride. If there’s a chance for rescue, you want to stay alive as long as possible. If not… that’s when you taunt them. And don’t play the hero, either. Scream. Cry. Don’t hold back. Torture can be like playing a chess game. You’re in it for the long haul, lad. Don’t waste your energy on not crying, because that might mean you break five seconds sooner than you would have otherwise.”

Eggsy had to eschew this advice, unfortunately. He had a plot to move forward.

“Overcompensating, much?” he asked Bruce, raising an eyebrow. “If you’re trying to impress Diane, don’t even bother. She’s not that great in bed.”

Bruce pressed the knife into the point of his chin, slowly dragging it downward to his collar. It was a shallow cut and barely registered, what with Eggsy’s other aches. It was more of a threat.

Eggsy also had the realization that the man didn’t know what to do with Eggsy’s clothes. He had a knife, but he didn’t want to ruin the jacket. He was, honest to God, being considerate of Eggsy’s potential nudity. The man was more than an amateur – it seemed he had never dealt with torture in his entire life before. It was hilarious. It meant that Eggsy was just going to get hit a few more times, instead of sustaining any cuts on the rest of his body.

Sure enough, the man pocketed the knife and laid a hefty hit on Eggsy’s stomach. Once, twice. A third time. Diane watched with greedy eyes.

The movement on the cameras was more obvious. But Diane and the man weren’t looking. Neither were the other attackers, because they were studiously looking away, instead examining the captives. Eggsy let Bruce hit his stomach, again and again and again…

“Are you going to talk?”

Eggsy tracked the monitor. And then grinned. “Are you going to realize that I was stalling?”

Diane stared. “What?”

And then the third candidate with the owl tattoos, who had split off from Eggsy’s group, burst into the room. In his hands were guns with armor-piercing rounds, courtesy of Dagonet at the tailor shop.

Before he confronted Diane, Eggsy had gathered the candidates, assessing. He knew that there were secret stashes of weapons somewhere in the mansion itself, but he had never been made aware of where. And they were being watched. So Eggsy decided to send one of the candidates to the tailor shop, where he could select weapons designed specifically to break through riot gear. While he did that, Eggsy would distract Diane and take out as many of the men as possible.

No one, Eggsy knew, would care that one candidate split off from the group. No one cared about the candidates at all. If they had, they would have been targeted too. But they had been deemed a non-threat from the beginning, and Eggsy and the candidate with owl tattoos had staged a dramatic little tiff in front of a camera, with the candidate making it clear he was too scared to continue.

But just that one candidate. Going without all the candidates would have been too obvious. How he had dodged the men in riot gear in the hangar Eggsy had no clue, but Eggsy supposed he wasn’t a candidate for nothing.

And of course no one had noticed him moving on the monitors. Not with Eggsy taking out so many men right in front of them.

The candidate, foregoing dramatics, began to shoot the remaining men. The men scrambled for their weapons, yelling, but the candidate was wearing an off-the-rack bulletproof suit with a Kevlar vest over the top of it, a caution that stopped all darts from piercing his skin. Eggsy made a mental note to thank Dagonet.

Down the men in riot gear went, one after another, until only Diane and Bruce remained.

Diane screamed and dove behind Eggsy’s chair. Bruce didn’t have a chance – the bullets ripped through him, splattering blood all over Eggsy.

Merlin yelled, “Don’t kill the girl! We need information from her!”

“Are you fucking serious?” Eggsy yelled back.

And then Merlin said, “All of us are currently wired to bombs, you fuckstick. She’s the one who knows how to undo them.”

It clicked into place. That’s why they were shooting to stun, not kill. They were going to torture people until they got their information, going through as many people as necessary. And then they would have blown everyone up, erasing all the evidence.

“Untie me,” Eggsy snarled at the candidate. Diane scuttled back, shivering and shaking, cowering in the corner where she belonged. With no protection, no muscle, and no way out, she was at a loss of what to do.

“Um,” said the candidate.

“Untie me!” Eggsy said, louder, and the candidate quickly did so.

Eggsy rubbed his wrists. He stared down the candidate. “Go take out the other guards,” he ordered. “They’re in the hangar, you must’ve seen them. Go take them out. I’ll deal with her.”

“But –”

“Do I look like I want an argument?” asked Eggsy, striding over to where Diane was still cowering, now curled in a fetal position.

Before he did anything, he took one quick, darting glance at Harry. He lay motionless still, completely inert. He needed to protect Harry. He needed to. Needed to.

It came over him easily. Like taking a drag of a cigarette after years of abstinence, like tasting a dish remarkably like the home-cooked meal of a mother long gone, like sinking into a hot bath after a cool day: It was an old friend, a familiar but foreign sensation, a comforting dulling of nerves.

His mind clicked, stuttered, and smoothed the edges.

His disassociated state was wonderful.

He moved like he was having an out-of-body experience.

Eggsy pulled Diane up by the hair and half-dragged her to the chair, which he slammed her down in. He could feel his muscles strain and bunch from the motion, but it was an afterthought. An echo of effort that didn’t matter.

The candidate still hadn’t moved. “But… but how are you to get the information?”

“Can I borrow that gun?” asked Eggsy. The candidate handed it over, still confused. Eggsy turned back to Diane. “Are you going to talk?”

She shook her head, wiping at her face. Eggsy hadn’t even bothered to tie her hands together.

“All right, then,” said Eggsy, and shot out both of her knees.

The candidate startled rather badly behind him, while the techs had a range of reactions – most closed their eyes, while some looked near vomiting.

Eggsy couldn’t bring himself to care.

Eggsy handed the gun back to the candidate. “Don’t need that anymore,” said Eggsy. He scanned the floor and found a knife. “This, now, this’ll help.”

“You’re going to torture her?” asked the candidate.

“Yes,” said Eggsy, and he recognized that voice. Brutal. Efficient. Goal in mind. He knew what needed to be done. He got that tone while torturing people. He got it back in the estates, blowing out knees, just like Diane’s. “Either you can stay and watch, or you can save lives by taking out those guards. Your choice.”

The candidate left the room. Eggsy knew he would.

“I do have permission for this, yes?” asked Eggsy, considering Diane critically.

Merlin said, “Of course. Get a move on. Don’t know how much time we have.”

This was the stuff of Eggsy’s nightmares. It wasn’t the whole organization, but ten techs and some support staff were going to witness him brutally torturing a woman. Worse, Roxy was sitting there, her eyes wide.

Yet…

The thoughts were like syrup in his mind, moving slowly, sticking in the wrong places. They were afterthoughts. He needed to protect Harry first. He needed to make this situation right, he needed to show Diane that she was wrong to try and take from Eggsy.

Nothing for it.

Eggsy moved in front of Diane, the knife clutched in his hand. “Let me explain this to you,” said Eggsy, lowly. He didn’t have time for anything too psychological – he was on a schedule. To business. “I was trained specially in torture techniques and tactics, both for resisting it and implementing it. It’s something I’m very, very good at.” He pressed a thumb into one of her shattered knees, and she jolted out of her shock, taking great gulping breaths. Her hands came up, as if to grasp at Eggsy, and he swiped her knuckles lazily with his knife, making her recoil. “I’d recommend telling me about that bomb. You’ll get radically hurt, or else.”

“A gentleman like you?” asked Diane, as if her knees weren’t shattered, as if Eggsy hadn’t fucked her because he was ordered to, as if Eggsy wasn’t about to make her forget her own fucking name through pain if she didn’t tell.

So Eggsy smiled, and he knew it was a nasty one, because Diane shrunk back into her seat. He grabbed her hand, the one with slit knuckles now, and began efficiently popping off her nails – thumb, index, middle…

Diane began to scream, thrashing. Her other hand came to beat down on Eggsy’s head, but her hits were so weak because she was in so much pain that he brushed it aside like it was a gnat. Ring finger, pinky, and then he dropped it, snatching her other hand out of midair.

“Stop!” she screeched. “No, stop!”

Eggsy paused. “My information?”

Diane made a wild motion with her head, a mix between nod and no. Tears were gushing down her face, and she curled her damaged hand close to her chest. She didn’t say anything else.

Eggsy didn’t have fucking time for this. He popped off five more nails, stepped back, considered what might be most effective, and then lifted up an arm. He made a precise slit, from shoulder to elbow, much deeper than the cut still dripping from his neck. Then, with the point of his knife resting on the elbow joint, he asked, “My information?”

Diane sobbed.

Eggsy punctured the elbow slowly, drawing it out. Diane wailed, louder than anything Eggsy had ever heard (and really, he lived with a three-year-old, for chrissakes), and tried to get her arm back. Eggsy held it in his grip, keeping the knife impaled in her arm.

“My information?” he asked, now surprised she was holding out this long.

She shook her head.

Eggsy frowned, stepped back. He cocked his head, still considering. A thought floated across his mind – impressed. He was impressed that Diane was holding out like this. Later, when he’d snapped out of the mode he was in, he’d probably regret doing this. He’d look back and realize that Diane was strong, made of tougher stuff. She deserved better than this.

And hell. Eggsy could have been her, if his drug dealing had taken a different turn. Maybe he’d even have ended up selling for her or her brother, or something. He didn’t know.

She deserved better than this, the girl who danced with him at the gala. Who grinned, gap-toothed, when Eggsy cracked a shitty joke. Who was confident yet awkward, who smiled so damn hard when Eggsy told her that he liked her.

But.

Unfortunately.

Harry was hurt.

Eggsy tilted his head. Ideally, at this point, he’d start in on her torso – maybe her stomach, he knew how sensitive her sides were. But no – he had an audience. He was already going to have ruined relationships because of this, but he didn’t want them to think him a sexual deviant as well, or some sort of danger to women. Anything with her torso was off-limits.

Okay then. He pulled off one of her shoes, and Diane closed her eyes. Obviously she thought he was going to peel off the nails of her toes, too, but that hadn’t worked before. Time for a new angle, yeah?

With a brutal and strong chop, her big toe separated from her foot.

Diane made an unholy sound, a sound no human should make. “No, no, no! I’ll tell, I’ll tell, leave me be!”

Eggsy stepped back. He waited.

“The bombs are tied to a detonator that’s located on Savile Row, near your fucking tailor’s shop. It’s…” Diane had to take several gulping breaths of air, her words punctuated by sobs, “It’s manned by another friend, he might be hard to take down. It’s set to detonate in fifteen minutes now if I don’t give him the signal, because we wanted to at least take out a portion of the Kingsmen to make a point… oh… god,” she squeezed her eyes shut, “God, that’s it, I swear. There’s a key by the detonator. You need to both turn the detonator off and get the key here. The key will unlock your friends. If you don’t get the key in the lock in fifteen minutes, then they’ll blow. It was a safeguard.”

“Anything else?”

“No.”

Eggsy knocked her out with a powerful blow. He didn’t even bother to regroup with Merlin – no time. He ran from the room as fast as he could to get to the fucking detonator.

It wasn’t easy. His head was spinning wildly. The drug was still in his system, and the Earth didn’t feel right. It felt like he was on a bad trip. He needed to stop, take a breath, regroup.

Plus, his head was damaged from the attackers, and his stomach and kidneys were badly hurt as well.

But he was the only one who could get to the fucking detonator. Fuck. Why did he send off that recruit?

The bullet train took five minutes to get to Savile Row, he knew. Five minutes. Three minutes to the train, if he was fast enough. Five minutes back to the mansion. Three minutes back to the tech room. There was sixteen minutes already, and fuck, she had said a shop near the tailor’s… He would need at least four minutes to locate and incapacitate whoever was guarding it. That was twenty minutes.

No, said an impossible part of him. He wouldn’t let his people die.

The bullet train seemed slow as he skidded into it, mashing the buttons down. He used the five minutes wisely, assessing his injuries, reorganizing himself, getting into the right mentality. As soon as the train skidded to a halt, he bolted out of the train, nearly falling down as he went the quicker way up the stairs to the top.

Dagonet stared at him, shocked, as he sped past. He was out the door – one glance around Savile Row, and then he saw someone duck out of sight in a window diagonally across the street. Moron.

Eggsy ran, full-tilt, at that shop. He burst in – it was a clothing shop, and he heard a woman go, “Why, I never!” – as he took the stairs three at a time. He kicked down a door, revealing a man, panicked, holding what had to be the detonator.

Eggsy dove at him, knocking the detonator away. “Argh!” yelled the man, but unlucky for him, he was not wearing riot gear. Two strong punches to the face and he was out cold.

Eggsy simply picked up the detonator and put it in his pocket (it was a small thing). He patted the man down and produced a key. Perfect.

Eggsy bolted down the stairs. The woman was at the bottom, her mouth opening to chastise Eggsy, but Eggsy pushed her out of the way. She screamed, but Eggsy banged the door open, still running.

He passed by Dagonet again, who was ushering some customers thoughtfully out of his way. The customers gaped as he slammed into dressing room four (the location of the stairs) and tripped his way down. He hopped into the bullet train, hitting the buttons an unnecessary ten times like that would make it go faster. It didn’t.

Eggsy checked his watch. It had taken him two minutes to reach the bullet train, five on the train, an extraordinary two minutes to get the detonator. Five more on the train. He would have one minute to get the key to them.

He deactivated the detonator in the train, stowing it safely in his pocket afterwards. The train slowed down, and he stood by the doors, vibrating with tension. They were barely open when he ran out, so fucked up on adrenaline that he didn’t feel how his shoulders whacked into the doors.

He had never run so fast in his life.

He skidded into the tech room – everyone was still alive, but shouting – Eggsy stuffed the key into one of the locks – fuck, there were multiple ones – each group had one – he shoved it into another – and another –

There was an ominous click from the last group –

Eggsy dove at the group –

The key went into the hole –

And nothing happened.

Eggsy fucking collapsed, just collapsed, holding his heart and panting. He had no fucking wind left in him. Fuck him, fuck him, fuck him, he was done.

From across the room, Merlin said softly, “Well done.”

Arthur said, acidly, “You nearly had us killed. This is entirely your fault.”

There was a ringing, awkward silence in the room. Then Eggsy said, “You’re getting untied last, then.”

“Oi,” said Merlin, “I’m in her group!”

Eggsy began to work on one of the tech group’s wires, his fingers trembling and struggling to listen to his mind’s commands. “Sorry mate.”

Then, like it had been waiting for him to calm down, the pain in Eggsy’s body rolled over him.

“Oh,” said Eggsy, sliding to the floor again. “Oh, oh, okay. Someone else might have to come and untie you. I’m a little beat.”

Then Merlin said, “Oh, fuck. The hangar. Were they tied to bombs as well?”

As one, everyone looked at the monitors. The hangar looked fine. The candidate was there, surrounded by ten dead men, and he was untying the hostages.

“Thank God,” he said. “She decided to use simple rope for them. Figured our blast would probably take out the entire mansion anyway.”

“Brill,” said Eggsy, who was now half-dozing against a tied-up tech. He could tell they were uncomfortable from how they were tensed, but Eggsy couldn’t give half a shit right then.

“Eggsy?” asked Merlin. “Your job isn’t done.”

“It definitely isn’t,” said Arthur, anger now fully coloring her voice. “Get over here and untie us this instant! This is your mess, clean it up!”

“Ain’t my mess,” said Eggsy. “This is your mess. Moron.” He added on the last word as an afterthought, because it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Excuse me?” she said, affronted. “I won’t be talked to that way!”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, his eyes closed. He snuffled lightly against the tech. Head wounds were tricky that way; he could feel himself being drawn under.

“Mr. Unwin!” said Arthur, loudly. Eggsy gave her half an ear (though even that may have been an overestimation). “Untie us!”

“Okay.”

“This is ridiculous!” he heard, vaguely, in the background. He was falling asleep – everything seemed like it was far away. “How dare this loser, this nobody leave us like this, probably wants to make us suffer –”

And then he was out.

Chapter Text

When he woke up, he was lying in the medical wing, the white walls of which were rapidly becoming a familiar sight. He felt like shit, the kind of bone-achiness that was sharp enough to constantly keep your attention but not quite enough to warrant pained sobbing. Excepting his lower back, of course – fuck, he had gotten knifed there, hadn’t he – and his head, which felt like ground meat. Clearly someone had done their job poorly, because he was definitely not on painkillers.

“Good evening.”

Eggsy turned to find Harry sitting next to his bed, reading a newspaper. He had a white bandage wrapped around his head (which was mussing his hairstyle in a slightly comical way), but was otherwise unharmed.

“How long has it been?” asked Eggsy.

“Four hours,” said Harry. “Not bad, considering how much your head got knocked around.”

“Where are the painkillers?”

“Unfortunately, no one can have them,” said Harry, true regret in his voice. “Merlin and the techs were able to whip up a counter to the drug, but adding other medications to the mix might have a bad effect. We’re doomed to no chemical treatment for 24 hours.”

“Fuck that,” said Eggsy.

Harry gave a quiet sigh in agreement. After the smallest of pauses, Harry said, faux-casually, “Quite a bit has happened in that four hours.” He rustled his newspaper, the very corners of his lips beginning to turn up.

“Oh?”

“Arthur had to call the donors and let them know about the attack on headquarters. She claimed it was all your fault.” Harry flipped a page in his newspaper, not even looking at Eggsy. “The donors were quite unimpressed. Fortunately for us, Arthur was quite vocal to everyone in that room about her opinions on you. Publically. Both to the techs and handlers, as well as to the donors. This is what we’ve been waiting for. We will be convening a tribunal to potentially impeach Arthur, and we have officially submitted subpoenas for her classified missions.”

Harry put down his newspaper and gave Eggsy a kind smile. “We’ve got her. There’s no way Arthur is escaping from this mess.”

“Ace,” said Eggsy, and reached out for Harry. Because he was a fucking superhero, Harry climbed into the bed next to him instead of giving him the hug that he was seeking, and he began to pepper Eggsy’s face with close-mouthed kisses, curling his arms around Eggsy’s body.

“You did wonderfully well,” said Harry. “Merlin told me what you did after the fact. Excellent idea, using the candidate to run and get some armor-piercing rounds. Beautiful. No one was paying attention to the number of candidates. And I hear you took out over thirty of the men yourself.”

“Thirty-two,” said Eggsy. “I ain’t bragging or nothing. I just kept count while I was downing them.”

“Splendid,” said Harry. “Merlin was so impressed. He thought he was going to die. He didn’t think you’d make it back in time.”

“Nearly didn’t,” Eggsy admitted. “Thought for sure they’d be goners. And what happened to you, eh? How’d you get knocked out?”

Harry grimaced. “It’s rather embarrassing, I’m afraid. They saw us go into Geraint’s office and sent ten men after us. It would have been okay, but one of the candidates panicked and pushed me while I was about to retaliate. The attackers took advantage and hit me with a dart. That’s all I remember, but apparently I fell and hit my head on the desk.”

“Oh, Harry,” said Eggsy, grinning. “You have the worst luck sometimes.”

Harry sighed, because Harry knew this. Eggsy was getting rather tired again, so he closed his eyes, only to have Harry kiss his closed eyelid.

“Oi, I’m not up to anything,” said Eggsy.

“I know,” said Harry. He intertwined his hand with Eggsy’s. “Want to be near you.”

“I want to be near you too,” said Eggsy, and the words felt super-charged, like they were saying something even more significant. Harry rested his head in the comfortable space between collarbone and shoulder, absentmindedly rubbing Eggsy’s knuckles. Their legs crossed together, and Harry’s other hand rested on Eggsy’s stomach, right over the bellybutton.

They laid like that for ages. Eggsy dozed on and off. He woke with a start once to realize that Harry was watching old reruns of the 1969 version of Scooby-Doo on mute, because Harry was a not-so-secret mystery lover and Scooby was easily his favorite. Eggsy had never been into Scooby himself, but when he mentioned that fact to Harry, he was subjected to a fifteen-minute monologue about why Scooby was superior to… well, anything else. And Eggsy kinda regretted asking after that.

Eggsy watched as they unmasked a villain, same as every other episode, and wondered what the appeal of this show was. But Harry seemed to be enjoying it, chuckling a little at parts that he seemed to have lines memorized for, the freak, and Eggsy couldn’t help but enjoy Harry’s enjoyment.

Eggsy just basked in the quiet moment.

Finally, the episode ended, and Harry pressed his face into Eggsy’s shoulder again.

Eggsy bit the bullet and asked. “What do the techs think of me now?”

“Hm?”

“The techs. I literally tortured someone in front of them. They know about my specialization now.”

“They’re taking it as well as can be expected.”

“Wait. What can be expected? Harry, that’s such a vague comment, you’re being a dick.”

Eggsy felt the curve of Harry’s lips against his shoulder, and resented the rush of fondness that flooded him.

“Relax,” he said. “Some aren’t taking it well, but that’s more because someone was tortured in front of them. Most of the techs are just glad you saved their arses.”

“Oh,” said Eggsy. “So none of them hate me?”

“That I know of. And if they hate you, it’s for other reasons. Perfectly valid ones.”

“You’re fond of me for those exact reasons.”

“Certainly not.”

“You’re a liar, Harry Hart. A bad one.”

“A spy agent is never a bad liar.”

Eggsy couldn’t take this conversation seriously anymore. He turned his head and pressed a kiss to Harry’s head.

The doorknob rattled. Eggsy blinked. “Did you lock the door?”

“I wanted to be alone with you,” said Harry, slipping out of bed. Eggsy took the moment to admire Harry’s lines. Even with the stark white bandages on his head, even with small blood stains dotting his suit, Harry looked amazingly put together.

Harry undid the lock, revealing Roxy at the door. “Why was the door locked?” asked Roxy, suspicious.

“Harry and I were about to have sex.”

Roxy rolled her eyes. “Right,” she said. “Stop being perverse.”

Eggsy tried to hide a smile. Harry didn’t even bother, just chuckling and appreciating Roxy’s casual dismissal.

“The tribunal date is finally set. It’s going to be next week tomorrow,” said Roxy, taking Harry’s vacated chair. There were no other seats, so Harry leaned against the wall, crossing his arms.

“Are we talking about the tribunal?” Kay popped his head into the room, and, when he saw that Eggsy was awake, trotted the rest of the way inside. Uncharacteristically, he wasn’t wearing a suit. Instead, he was in a sweater that screamed nonagenarian and a pair of black slacks with loafers.

“Oi, hey Kay,” said Eggsy. “Coming back after all the action?”

“All agents were recalled,” said Kay, grinning. “Both because of the breach of security and because we’re required to be present for the tribunal proceedings. All employees with high enough clearance are required to be at it. I think the mechanics who have the clearance are all pissed off. They don’t see why they should be bothered with it.”

“Why are the employees required to be there?” asked Roxy.

“Protocol, mostly,” said Harry. “But also because they may have evidence that they didn’t recognize was relevant to the case. If that occurs, the hope is that they’ll come to the realization while the proceedings are happening and notify the board accordingly. Mostly, however, it’s because this is their career, too, and they deserve to have a say.”

“Geraint is getting in in three days,” said Kay. “He’s majorly pissed off. He’s managed to swing it so this break fits into his deep cover, but he’s worried that it’s jeopardizing his position. Says he can only stay for a week, so if the tribunal takes more than two days, he might just leave.”

“Surely that’s okay?” asked Eggsy. “Will anyone mind if he leaves? He hasn’t really been involved.”

“That’s the point,” said Kay. “He’s been asked to sit on the judging committee. There’ll be two donors, two agents, two techs, and a neutral outside party. Our two agents are going to be Geraint, because he’s never even met Arthur in person, and also Degore.”

Eggsy jolted. “Degore? Who the fuck…?”

“He’s the one who sits to the left of Arthur,” said Roxy. “You’re kinda far from him.”

“Have I met him?”

“Three times in person. He just happens to have a forgettable face. It works for him.”

“Huh,” said Eggsy, impressed.

“You invited him to your party,” said Roxy, amused. “You’ve had conversations with him.”

“I dunno,” said Eggsy. “I can’t even picture him.”

“He’s a professional,” said Kay, which, okay. Still weird as fuck, but Eggsy would accept it.

“The techs are two people you’ve never worked with,” said Harry. “Basically, the committee will be composed of virtual unknowns for you. Other than Degore, of course, though that seems to be a non-issue.”

“But seriously,” said Eggsy. “Is he even real? I’d think if he were going to play an important role, he’d be mentioned before this.”

“Real life doesn’t foreshadow like that,” said Harry, patiently.

“Yeah,” sighed Eggsy. “I guess you’re right. It’s not like we’re in a story.”

Caradoc popped his head in the room. “Is this where the party is?”

“I wish this were a party,” said Eggsy, a little glum. “Could use some alcohol and fewer injuries.”

“Sorry, son,” said Caradoc, wandering further into the room. Gawain followed him in. “I hear we’re going to be impeaching Arthur.”

“We better be,” said Kay, darkly. “If all goes well.”

“Could be worse.” Caradoc trotted to the foot of Eggsy’s bed and sat down. “We could’ve had Galahad here as Arthur. Could you imagine? That’d be fucked up.”

“Galahad would make a good Arthur,” said Roxy. “It makes logical sense.”

“No way,” said Caradoc. “He’d be a fucking dictator.”

“Getting back on track,” said Harry, primly. “I was just explaining to Eggsy how the tribunal works.”

“Explain it to us all, grandpa,” said Caradoc.

Harry just looked at Caradoc. He didn’t frown, but his face gave the impression that he was frowning inwardly. “It’s a legally binding impeachment process. Victoria will have her own lawyer there, while there will be a lawyer representing the Kingsman organization. The panel of judges, of which there are seven, will deliberate over the evidence and decide if Victoria is guilty. If she is, she will be fired and replaced. If not, there will be an internal investigation of Kingsman, both agents and other employees. The logic is that something had to have sparked this hatred of Victoria, and so an outside consulting agency would come in, assess, and make recommendations. Regardless, this is a bit of a clusterfuck that is going to reflect poorly on Victoria, as we’re having to reveal Kingsman to many outside parties. It’s a disaster, to be quite honest.”

There was silence in the room as everyone absorbed that. Gawain said, quietly, “Victoria isn’t going to recover from this.”

“No,” said Harry, just a hint of smugness in his voice. “No, she’s not.”

“What if the seven judges are biased? How are they selected?” asked Kay.

Harry shook his head. “I’m not familiar with that process, I’m afraid. Merlin would know. But it looks like the seven that were chosen will be fair.”

Everyone nodded.

Eggsy may have dozed off at that point, because he started awake, and he was alone in the room except for Roxy.

“Hey,” he said, sleepily rubbing his eyes. At what point did he fall asleep?

“Survival tactics, camouflage, seduction, and animals,” said Roxy. “That’s what I’m specialized in.”

Eggsy focused on what was clearly most important. “Why are you specialized in animals? I’m better with them than you are!”

Roxy let out an exasperated huff. “I understand them better, moron. I get sent on missions that might involve rabid or exotic animals. I have a lot of knowledge on the way to calm them down or treat them.”

“Hmph,” said Eggsy. “And why do you get four specializations?”

Roxy shrugged, making the motion look effortlessly elegant. “You can be specialized in more than three.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. Driving, hand-to-hand, and torture. Both resistance to and implementation.”

Roxy leaned forward and patted his hand. “There, see? Now you don’t have to be such a…” She searched for the word for a moment. “Such a bitch about it. Yeah?”

“I wasn’t being a bitch,” said Eggsy, affronted.

“You were being so careful to hide it, both during training and during missions. You were so worried about it. This way, you don’t have to sneak around and act like me knowing will actually change anything.”

“Did you know about it?”

“I had no idea. It’s not what I would have guessed for you. I thought weapons, for sure.”

“That’s what Harry thought, too. But Merlin says I’m really good at disassociating. Compartmentalizing. Someone has to do the tough jobs.”

“I know,” said Roxy, softly. “I saw your face when you were doing it. That didn’t seem like it was Eggsy to me at all.”

“It weren’t,” said Eggsy. “Well, I mean, it was. And I’m really good at it. But it’s not me. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I think I do,” she said. “Eggsy, if you ever need…”

“Now you’re the one being a sap,” said Eggsy.

“Speaking of saps, Jamal called me again. Said he didn’t want a second date,” said Roxy.

“Sorry to hear that.”

“No, it’s okay, actually. When we went on our date together, things weren’t… Well, he was very cute, you know? He opened doors for me and pulled out my chair, and he even tried to pay for the bill. I didn’t let him, and he got a little confused when I started pulling out chairs for him, but he tried.”

“So what went wrong?”

Roxy paused thoughtfully. “I couldn’t imagine kissing him.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Literally no sexual attraction. I just couldn’t imagine kissing him. He did everything perfectly, but I just… I don’t know how to explain it. The spark wasn’t there.”

“Did he feel a spark?”

“Honestly? I think he was too scared of me to feel anything other than anxiety.”

Eggsy inclined his head. Fair point.

“But we parted amicably,” said Roxy, lightly. “He apologized for everything. Said he’d like to take me out for drinks one night, but just as friends. Maybe invite Ryan along. Left you out, because you’re lame.”

“Hey!”

“Just kidding,” said Roxy, grinning at him. “Jamal adores you. So does Ryan. Anyone can see it.”

“I don’t really deserve them,” said Eggsy. “They’re too good of friends.”

Roxy ran a hand through her hair, blinking. “Really? Because I think you’re an amazing friend.”

“Rox…”

“Actually, no. Shut up, Eggsy Unwin, and let me say something.” Roxy abruptly stood up, crawling into Eggsy’s bed while shoving him over a little. Sitting cross-legged next to him, she picked up his hand and squeezed it, glaring at him. “I don’t pretend to know everything you’ve been going through lately, especially with Arthur. I don’t. I’ve never faced that myself. But Eggsy, you’re a kind person.”

“Kind people don’t torture others.”

Roxy squeezed his hand in warning. “It’s not your turn to talk. I don’t care what you’re required to do for your job. Do you remember Hugo?”

“The Lancelot candidate? Yeah? Why?”

“Do you remember when he came down with pneumonia after they flooded our dormitory?”

“Sorta, vaguely. It was a long time ago.”

“Well, I remember it. I remember it really well, because you spent half of your time training with Merlin, and the other half refilling Hugo’s water glass and bringing him wet flannels and making sure he got food in him. And Hugo hated you. You knew he hated you, but you cared for him anyway.”

“I… don’t see your point.”

“My point, Eggsy, is that you’ve made some hard fucking decisions in your life. But you’ve come out on the other side better for it. Do you hurt people? Yes. But you hurt people to help people.” She squeezed his hand. “There’s a lot of people who would call you a hero for that.”

“Oi, Rox, ain’t nobody gonna be calling me a hero anytime soon.”

“I think you’re a hero,” said Roxy, softly. “You are to me. And you can try all you want to convince me differently, Eggsy, but in the end? You’re a big softie.”

Eggsy squirmed uncomfortably.

Roxy let go of his hand and straightened up. “I’ll let you think about that. I’m going to grab a cuppa. You sleep, okay?”

Eggsy would do his best. But he had a lot of thinking to do.

Hours later, Merlin visited. He looked harried and stressed, deep bags under his eyes.

“Been going through lots of glasses footage,” he said in response to Eggsy’s raised eyebrow. “I’m trying to find all those moments with Arthur.”

“So whatcha doing here, bruv?”

“Visiting you.” He settled in the chair next to Eggsy’s bed and turned on the television. When another episode of Scooby-Doo started to play, he gave Eggsy an extremely judgmental look and changed the channel.

“That weren’t my choice!”

Merlin snorted and shook his head. “I know whose choice that was. Wait until you find his Agatha Christie book collection.”

“He has an Agatha Christie book collection?”

“Hidden behind his outdated encyclopedias.”

“Dear lord.”

“Tell me about it,” said Merlin, looking beleaguered.

“So, you’re more in-the-know with the techs. How do they feel about me?”

Merlin was nothing if not blunt. “You lost some friends,” he said. “Most understand. And if they’re being dicks about it, then fuck them.”

“Amen to that.”

Merlin hummed and began flipping through the channels.

“Do we know how Diane got into the mansion? What’s the details?”

“We don’t know much,” said Merlin. “When Harry woke up, he shot her in the head before we could question her further.” Merlin shook his head. “I swear, Harry is perfectly controlled right up until you harm him. Think he was a bit angry about you being unconscious, too.”

“Jesus,” said Eggsy, feeling a little sick. He had liked Diane, torture or no. It shouldn’t come as a shock that Harry had done that… and official procedure usually dictated that after torture, people had to be put down so there were no possible vendettas against individual agents… But. Still.

Felt like a waste. Felt like a mostly-good, just misguided, person had lost their opportunity at a second chance. And Eggsy didn’t even know too much about Diane.

“From the beginning,” said Merlin. “At 1:30 p.m., Diane threw a gas canister into the tech room. It was some sort of special poison or toxin, so it didn’t knock us out, it just disoriented us. We have no idea how she got into the mansion to throw the canister. She had to have some inside source, but unfortunately, we’ve got no leads on that end, and the footage looks tampered with. The gas canister contained some sort of ingredient cocktail that confused us to the point we couldn’t even move, giving them the chance to tie us to those bombs.”

Merlin gusted out a great sigh. “It was like my body wasn’t even listening to my commands. Effects only lasted a bit – that’s why they had to knock out Bedivere in the end to get him to the tech room – but still.”

He continued, “She sent her lackeys after the hangar, and after you, Roxy, Bedivere, and Harry. They took Bedivere out with a gas canister, though they knocked him out after they disorientated him. Roxy… Not quite sure how that one went down. Diane must’ve sent Bruce after her, or something, because Roxy had no indication that someone else was in the bathroom with her. Harry, of course, caught on that something was wrong, as did you.

“She spent some time hacking into my workstation,” here Merlin looked pained, “and was able to call the cameras up just after Harry choked you. Yes, I saw that – I’ve been looking over all the footage, remember? No one else has seen it.”

Eggsy said slowly, “Okay,” because something seemed… off, with the explanation. Not with Merlin, but like something was niggling at Eggsy’s mind.

“Any more questions?”

“Nah. I’m just surprised I made it in fifteen minutes.”

“You didn’t,” said Merlin. “Fifteen minutes was an estimation from Diane. You took sixteen and a half, including the time it took to untie us.”

“What?!”

“It’s not a criticism,” said Merlin. “Let’s be honest here, Eggsy. I wouldn’t be alive right now if it weren’t for you. This organization wouldn’t still be standing.”

“Whatever.”

Merlin began to shuffle around, getting up and stretching. “With that, lad, I need to get back to sorting through footage. I’ve only got a week before the tribunal.”

“Okay.”

Merlin began to head towards the door, and it finally clicked in Eggsy’s mind. “Hey, Merlin?”

“Yes?”

“The gas canisters. Has Tristan looked at them yet?”

“It’s a weird thing,” said Merlin, “but yes, he has. Says he doesn’t recognize them.”

“That’s odd. That Tristan, who specializes in poisons, wouldn’t recognize it.”

Merlin tilted his head, looking at Eggsy for long moments. “It is, isn’t it?”

Something else was niggling at Eggsy’s mind.

He didn’t want to ask.

So he just gave Merlin a fake smile as Merlin walked out of the room.

He was released the next day. Ruby was reluctant to do it – Eggsy had sustained deep tissue bruising to his stomach, a knife wound in the small of his back, bruised shoulders, and plenty of head wounds. His face was pretty tender from the beating from Bruce, though he had technically only sustained superficial bruising and some loose teeth. Other than the head wounds and the knife wound, none of it was terribly threatening, and she didn’t have much excuse not to release him.

“Though it is nice having you in here,” said Ruby. “I know I shouldn’t say that – I hate you being injured – but… You’re the only one who talks to me like I’m a human.”

“I’m sure some of the other agents do, Ruby.”

“Well, yes. But they’re not really connecting with me, you know? They go through the formalities, the ‘how-are-you’s’… but it ends there.”

Eggsy resolved to get Ruby some nice flowers to brighten up the medical wing.

There were no missions leading up to the tribunal. Instead, everyone was grounded until further notice. Eggsy used that time to catch up on any remaining paperwork, as well as to have a few furtive dates with Harry.

One night, as they ate tiramisu at some Italian restaurant, Harry said, “You’re going to be on the stand, you realize. Along with most everyone else. They’ll all be talking about you.”

“Ain’t nothing new to me,” said Eggsy. “I got a guardianship battle coming up in court in two weeks, too. And this ain’t my first rodeo. You’re dating a bad boy, Harry Hart.”

Harry sniffed, because he was a snot like that sometimes. “They may ask after our relationship. We haven’t yet told anyone. Shall we continue to keep it a secret, or…?”

“Harry, we both work for a super-secret spy agency,” said Eggsy. “I’m sure someone has noticed us making eyes at each other. I’m almost certain Merlin knows. I don’t want us getting caught out for lying. Let’s just own up if they ask, yeah? If they don’t ask, we don’t mention it.”

“Okay,” said Harry, agreeably. “And you realize they’ll ask you tough questions, yes?”

“Of course, sugar,” said Eggsy. He used every skill in his super-secret spy arsenal to keep his face straight while Harry, only through the force of his hard-earned decorum, didn’t drop his spoon. Instead, he slightly fumbled with it before setting it down, giving a hard blink.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s your new nickname. Sugar. Since I can’t call you bruv or mate. Or what about honeybun? Butterbutt?”

“Butterbutt?”

The look of not-so-polite incredulity on Harry’s face made Eggsy start laughing. He covered his face with his hands, almost embarrassed that he was chortling, and suddenly Harry started laughing too.

Later that night, Harry tied him up and teased him until he begged for it. Kept bringing him close to the brink before backing off, once, twice, three times. Eggsy legitimately felt tears welling in his eyes after the third time, and he’d been tortured before.

Needless to say, he promised never to call Harry any of those. He wasn’t entirely sure a promise under such duress should be binding, but ah well. He’d think up something equally embarrassing.

He wasn’t really complaining, though. Afterwards, Harry walked through the house twice, and Eggsy dozed lightly in bed, listening to the house settle and creak around them. He came fully awake, but muzzily, when Harry settled in bed behind him, playing the big spoon.

Harry must’ve thought Eggsy was asleep. He muttered something – Eggsy almost started in surprise when he realized it was endearments – and he coiled himself around Eggsy. Eggsy felt…

Felt…

Safe.

It was oddly contradictory to what he had been feeling around Harry lately. He could feel the strength in Harry’s arms, hidden slyly in his aging body, and Eggsy knew that Harry held so much power in his every movement.

Eggsy had put off thinking overly much about their relationship. But things didn’t seem…

They weren’t quite…

Fuck.

Eggsy couldn’t even phrase it in his thoughts.

Eggsy knew he didn’t know anything about love. But this, what he was feeling right now – he wanted that. He wanted to feel Harry’s hot breath against the back of his neck. He liked having Harry’s chest pressed against his back, expanding slightly with his every inhale. It was invigorating to go to Harry’s house at the end of the night, or have Harry come to his place. Eggsy felt like he could wrap his arms around Harry and Harry wouldn’t let him go.

Eggsy could be Eggsy around Harry. He didn’t have to pretend. He didn’t have to be the “good son,” like with his mum. He didn’t have to play-act a father figure, like with Daisy. Roxy was a great friend, easily one of his best, but even around her he had to make sure that he didn’t cross any lines.

Harry… Harry knew exactly who Harry Hart was, and nothing Eggsy could do could threaten that. Harry was unshakeable. Stable. And Eggsy could be Eggsy around Harry, because Harry wasn’t going to give a fuck if Eggsy was rougher around the edges.

But more than that…

Harry understood the dark parts to Eggsy. Eggsy could have tortured Diane for hours in front of him, and Harry would have calmly watched. Harry accepted those dark bits, because Harry was darker than Eggsy could ever hope to be.

And though Harry understood the dark parts, he seemed to actively cherish the good parts to Eggsy, too. He knew Eggsy was a rounded person, that there was more to him than just spy or father or son or drug dealer.

Yet.

Yet.

Harry had pinned him to the wall. He had drugged him. He had said that Eggsy should be sorry about wanting to protect a dog. He had listened to Dean abuse him.

What did it mean?

Was Harry good for him?

This was too confusing. Eggsy wanted to be with Harry. But he couldn’t ignore the feeling of fingers around his neck.

“Eggsy,” sighed Harry against his neck. “I can practically hear you thinking right now. What’s wrong?”

Eggsy didn’t want to actually tell him what was going through his head. So, instead, he said, “Wanna do dinner at my place next time?”

Two days before the tribunal, a Friday night, Harry came over to Eggsy’s flat. It still startled Eggsy, even now, that Harry came over. For some reason, he imagined that he would spend most of his time over at Harry’s rather than the reverse. But they shared fairly equally. When asked, Harry simply said, “It’s unfair to ask you to spend so much time away from your home and Daisy.”

It was a loud night. Harry was cooking a stir fry in his kitchen, politely whining about Eggsy’s lack of aprons. Somehow, somewhere along the way, Roxy had also appeared, and Kay seemingly showed up out of the blue as well, muttering about food.

Kay and Daisy were playing cards – Daisy didn’t really understand, but Kay was patiently teaching her how to fan out cards with her small hands rather than put them in her mouth – while Roxy was chatting with Lydia. Eggsy himself was standing behind Harry, criticizing his cooking technique.

“Jesus fucking Christ Harry, that’s a lot of onions,” he said as Harry dumped what looked like a truckload into the stir fry.

“I like onions,” said Harry, completely unapologetic. “I’ve never tried, but I could probably eat one like an apple if I wanted.”

“Don’t try,” said Eggsy, trying to subtly hide any more onions from Harry. “That’s rank.”

Harry couldn’t quite hide his grin, and Eggsy found himself grinning back.

And then his cell phone rang.

“Weird,” said Eggsy. “Only Merlin calls me. We’re grounded, right? No missions?”

“Could it be a friend of yours?” said Harry.

“They only text,” said Eggsy, picking up his phone. The caller ID read Jamal.

Eggsy frowned at it. Why would Jamal be calling him?

He picked it up. “Hey cuz,” he said, settling the mobile in the space between his neck and shoulder. Harry motioned for Eggsy to take a taste of the stir fry. He did; absolutely delicious, just wonderful, though maybe a tad too much onion.

“Eggsy...” Jamal's voice was thick with something - emotion? Tears? Eggsy couldn't tell over the phone. “It's... I don't... I'm so sorry. It's Ryan. Um, apparently Dean called Ryan's dad...”

Eggsy frowned, his shoulders tightening at the unexpected situation. Harry tensed, setting down the wooden spoon and watching him carefully. Kay and Roxy hadn’t noticed yet, but, aware of his audience, Eggsy backed away, stepping outside his flat and shutting the front door firmly behind him.

“Start from the beginning,” he said, because it sounded like Jamal was close to hyperventilation.

“You, um. Probably don’t know this. But, when we was at Daisy’s birthday party, Dean threatened Ryan. Said he were going to call Ryan’s dad and tell him about Alfie.”

Eggsy closed his eyes, leaning against the siding of his flat. The door opened next to him, startling him, but it was just Harry. Harry gave him a slight nod of his head and JB trotted out, waddling over to Eggsy to sit directly on his foot. Harry retreated back inside.

How Harry knew he needed support – but not human support – was beyond him. The man was a mind reader.

“And…” said Eggsy, before clearing his throat. “And Dean did? Tell Ryan’s dad about Alfie?” Please say no, thought Eggsy. Ryan’s dad was so homophobic. Please say no.

“Yeah,” said Jamal. “Remember how we was, just yesterday, talking about how we ain’t been hearing from Ryan for a while? Well, I were needing some marmite cause my dad’s been craving it lately, so I went to the grocery store. Ran into Ryan’s sister.”

“Jamal,” said Eggsy, now impatient, “is Ryan okay?”

“He’s alive,” said Jamal, which wasn’t a fucking answer.

“Jamal. Mate.”

“It’s just… You know how Ryan’s dad is. He’s not…”

“I fucking know, Jamal, I fucking know, and if you don’t fucking tell me right fucking now if Ryan’s okay, then I’m going to… I’m going to…”

Eggsy let out a breath, shaky. He slid down the wall, curling into a ball. JB snorted in his face, and Eggsy gathered the pug into his arms, desperately snuggling with him.

“Ryan’s conscious. And stuff. He’s just… He’s not quite whole anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“His sister, she ain’t telling me much. She just said he’s in the hospital recovering. That his dad apparently got drunk and waved around a knife. Pushed Ryan up against a wall, threatened him. And then waved the knife a bit wrong, and bam! There went Ryan’s ear.”

“Fuck,” said Eggsy, relief that Ryan was going to be eventually be all right warring with the fact that Ryan had lost an ear.

“I know,” said Jamal. “And Ryan… He apparently ain’t taking visitors. I can’t get in. Neither can his sisters, or his mum.”

“Fuck that,” said Eggsy, and hung up. He spent a good five more minutes outside, vigorously scratching JB’s ears, until JB whined at the rough treatment. Then he smothered the dog in sloppy kisses to make up for it.

When he trotted back inside, he had a fake smile firmly in place. Harry took one glance at him and said, “Kay, Roxy. The hour has grown late. I do believe it’s time for us to retire.”

“It’s 6 p.m.” Kay looked unimpressed as he crossed his arms and glared at Harry. He had apparently given up on teaching Daisy, because she was currently coloring a blue blob over the King of Clubs’ face.

Harry began spooning the stir fry into Tupperware. “Which means it is 8 p.m. in Yemen. Roxy may still be affected by her mission there.”

“8 p.m. isn’t that late!”

Harry gave Kay a look that suggested Kay was a little daft. “Kay, good manners dictate that you be considerate of other persons. Please ensure that you are looking after Ms. Morton’s welfare.”

“I’m fine,” said Roxy, who looked confused. She was glancing between Harry and Eggsy, clearly not understanding something was the matter.

Harry blinked at them once, then twice. Then his mouth curved into a frown, and he blinked once more.

Kay straightened up. “He’s keeping secrets from us and wants us gone,” he said, a sigh whispering in his voice. “You better give me a good portion of that stir fry.”

Once Harry had packed off Kay and Roxy, Eggsy leaned against him. “You didn’t have to do that,” he muttered, his eyes closed. His head was pounding.

“With that smile on your face? Yes, I did. What news do you have?”

“My friend Ryan’s dad nearly beat him to death,” said Eggsy, bluntly, like ripping a Band-Aid off.

“Then let’s go visit him,” said Harry.

“Thank you,” said Eggsy, honestly. “I’m not even sure what hospital he’s in.”

Harry pulled out his phone.

Five minutes later, they were in a taxicab headed to the hospital. Harry had his hand firmly wrapped around Eggsy’s, and their knees were brushing. It was insanely comforting.

When they walked into the hospital, it was like Harry just took over. Within minutes, he had the man behind the counter practically forking over Ryan’s entire medical history, let alone his room number. It wasn’t even visiting hours, but Harry carried himself with such confidence that no one bothered them.

They stopped outside a door. It was a private room, which had to mean that it was pretty bad. Harry gave Eggsy a supportive shoulder-squeeze before locating a little plastic chair. When Harry sat in it, it looked like a fucking throne, and after a few seconds Harry somehow produced a newspaper to calmly read while he waited.

Eggsy shook his head and opened up the door. He used all of his Kingsman stealth training to get him in quietly, so as to not wake Ryan up. When he saw Ryan in the bed, fading bruises covering almost the entirety of his face along with a huge white bandage over his ear, Eggsy had a moment where he forgot to breathe.

More embarrassingly, he also forgot how to swallow properly, and he started choking on his own spit. He spent several moments trying to stifle his coughs and not wake up Ryan, which resulted in some pretty mortifying phlegmy sounds.

When he recovered, he looked back at the bed to find Ryan watching him, both eyebrows raised.

“Hey mate,” said Eggsy, trying to recover. He took the chair next to the bed, trying to exude a sort of suaveness that would smooth the whole cough-thing over. He expected Ryan to give some snappy comeback, probably about the coughing, but Ryan just sighed.

“I weren’t letting people in on purpose,” said Ryan. “I’m fine and fit, mate.”

“What’s that?” said Eggsy. “I can’t hear you.”

Ryan cracked a grin. “Oh, fuck you. You just stole the first ear joke from me.”

“Couldn’t resist,” said Eggsy. He grinned back at Ryan, but neither of them said anything for a long moment, and Eggsy could feel the grin slowly sliding off his face. “What happened, cuz?”

Ryan thought about it for a moment. “Okay. See, there were this kangaroo –”

“Ryan.”

“Eggsy.”

“Ryan.”

“Has that ever worked? In the history of our friendship. Has saying my name ever worked?”

“No,” admitted Eggsy. “Worth a shot.”

Ryan was normally a restless person; constantly moving, fingers twitching, beating out a drum against any half-stable surface. It was weird for Eggsy to sit next to him now and observe him, because he was so contained. He had to be more injured than he was trying to let on, because any movement from him was deliberate and ginger.

Ryan tried to scoot a little up the pillows, but Eggsy tilted his head, letting Ryan know he didn’t have to. Ryan sighed, getting the message, and stayed where he was, even though it made it harder for them to make eye contact. Probably would be easier anyway, for this conversation.

“You know how this is gonna go,” said Ryan.

Eggsy did.

Once, when they were both eight, they had made a mound of pillows in the middle of Eggsy’s sitting room. They then began to compete over who would be “King of the Pillow Pile.” At first, it was decided through who could hold their breath longer. Except Ryan won that, and he was the sorest winner Eggsy had ever met, so he kept lording his win over Eggsy while he sat on all the pillows and Eggsy sulked on the floor.

So then Eggsy demanded a rematch. It would be decided through who could stuff more marshmallows in their mouth. Even though they knew Michelle would be angry all the marshmallows were gone (she loved them as a snack), they dutifully counted out marshmallows and stuffed them in their mouths.

Ryan won that, too, and scrambled again to the top of the pillow pile. Eggsy demanded another rematch (not understanding that Ryan acquiescing to the rematches was a nice concession in and of itself). So they came up with more games, competitions; they played that the floor was lava and the first person to touch it was not only burned eternally, but also the loser, they played a ridiculous flexibility game (probably the only one that Eggsy won, honestly), they played every game they could think of, some stupid, some halfway decent.

The only problem was the Ryan won the majority of them. He won the very last one, and Eggsy, fed up, tackled Ryan. They play-wrestled and grappled on the pillows, though it didn’t feel very playful at the time. And then Ryan cried out when Eggsy frog-punched his side, which made Eggsy stop, scared.

“What’s wrong?” he had asked.

“Nothing,” said Ryan, surly.

Eight-year-old Eggsy was not satisfied with that answer. Sitting on the now-scattered pillows, he kept trying to reach for Ryan, rebuffed nearly every time, until Ryan finally sighed and lifted up his shirt.

He revealed a blue-purple bruise, clearly at the height of its color vividness.

“How’d you get that?” asked Eggsy, his eyes wide.

Ryan shrugged. He didn’t know what to say. He shrugged again, and then settled on, “I don’t think you’d understand.”

“Yeah, I would!”

“Nah.”

“Come on!”

“Well,” said Ryan, fiddling with his shirt. “I don’t think my da likes me.”

Eggsy snorted. “’Course he does. He’s your dad.”

“He ain’t like yours was,” said Ryan. Eggsy sobered up immediately; the loss of Lee was still keen.

“What’s yours like?”

“I dunno,” said Ryan, picking up a pillow and clutching it to his chest. “I can’t seem to do anything right around him. He’s always angry.”

“He’s never happy?” said Eggsy. At eight, Eggsy just didn’t have the understanding or the worldview to realize that fathers could be different from Lee.

Ryan shook his head. “He says I’m stupid. That this is the only way I’ll learn.”

And Eggsy, just not understanding, said, “Oh. Well, there has to be something that you can do.”

Ryan’s face shuttered. “Whatever.” And then he hit Eggsy in the head with the pillow, and deflected, saying, “But I’m still King of the Pillow Pile!”

“The fuck you ain’t!” Eggsy screamed, except his mum walked in at that point and heard him swear and he got in trouble.

Looking back on it, years later, there were a million things that Eggsy wished that he could have said. No, there wasn’t a thing Ryan could do, and Eggsy had essentially (if unknowingly) invalidated a victim of abuse’s story. Unfortunately, there was no taking it back.

It wasn’t that Ryan hesitated to talk to Eggsy after that. It was just that Ryan, already secretive about his family life, simply… said even less. Every once in a great while, he would drop a small nugget of information, things like, “My da doesn’t like gay people,” off-handedly when one of their classmates came out, or “I’m never having children. Don’t wanna become my father,” when Daisy was born.

The next time it directly came up, they were both thirteen. Ryan had just turned two days previous, and they were celebrating by playing video games in Eggsy’s room. They were screaming loudly at the screen, happy in their knowledge that Dean and Michelle were out, that they were alone.

The game ended in a draw, leaving both Eggsy and Ryan panting, wild-eyed and adrenaline-rushed. Eggsy grinned at Ryan, sharp and happy, and Ryan grinned back.

There was a bag of crisps, just a little snack, sitting between them. Eggsy reached for the bag, ready to draw out a handful, when the sleeve of his sweater rode up and revealed a hand-shaped bruise spanning his wrist.

Ashamed, he drew back and fixed his sleeve, not even looking at Ryan to find out if he had seen. Eggsy trained his eyes on the screen, happiness now replaced with awkwardness.

“Ah,” said Ryan, his tone saturated with so much meaning that Eggsy was forced to tear his eyes away and look at Ryan.

“Yeah,” said Eggsy.

Ryan clapped his shoulder. They didn’t speak for a very long time.

That, if anything, was the best example of their friendship that Eggsy could come up with. Mutual understanding and connection. Any heavier approach to broaching the topic was usually spurned on both sides, a silent pact which Eggsy learned to appreciate.

(And, if sometimes, when it was really late at night and one of them were drunk, or one of them had just had a bad day, or one of them was hurt… if someone said, “I hate my da,” or if someone said, “I want my real dad back,” neither one of them was ever going to mention it. Ever.)

So Eggsy knew exactly how this was going to go. He was going to try and encourage Ryan to talk, and Ryan would shoot him down, and then they would sit in silence and support each other.

Except…

Perhaps it was time to change the status quo.

“My mum left,” said Eggsy, training his eyes on the ceiling. “She’s scared I’m doing coke again.”

Ryan was quiet for a few moments. “We got past all that shit a while ago,” he said, because when Eggsy quit, Ryan decided to as well.

“Yeah.” Eggsy took a deep breath and said, “She’s been drinking and doing cough syrup. And I think I made it worse instead of better. And she says I’m nothing like my dad. And I’ve been trying to take care of Daisy, except I have no fucking idea what I’m doing, and…” Eggsy took another breath, the air dragging across his throat, filling his lungs and expanding his chest. Then he let it out, slowly, carefully.

There was silence, ringing silence for a while. And then Ryan said, “Dean called my dad. Told him I was gay. I had no idea it was coming; I literally walked in the door, and he just suddenly pushed me up against a wall. He was waving around a butcher knife screaming at me that he wasn’t going to let any queers into his house. My mum and sisters were crying in the background. He just kept screaming, and hitting me, and then he didn’t even fucking mean to nick my ear. He just waved the knife wrong. But he didn’t stop.”

Ryan paused. The silence was thick, until he said, “He never really stops.”

Neither of them said anything.

Minutes ticked away while Eggsy tried to think of the correct thing to say. He finally settled on, “I’m going to kill Dean, one of these days. He can’t be doing that to you.”

Ryan snorted. “That’s part of the problem, mate. You gotta learn to defend yourself, not just the people around you.”

“What?”

“Oh, come on,” said Ryan, finally painfully lifting himself up into a sitting position to pin Eggsy down with his gaze. “It’s all well and good while Dean hits you, eh, but when he hurts me all bets are off? That ain’t fair to you.”

“That’s different.”

“It ain’t fucking different and you know it.”

“And why didn’t you tell me Dean threatened you at the party?”

“Because!”

“That ain’t an answer!”

They breathed heavily for a long moment.

“I’ve never hated anyone in my life as much as I hate your dad,” said Eggsy, and it was true. Eggsy had never even met the man, never even seen him, and he hated him. Even Arthur paled in comparison.

Ryan smiled. “You know what’s really fucked up? I still try to impress him. As if by doing something nice, he’ll start to like me.”

“Oh, Ryan.”

“It’s true. I’m twenty-five years old. Shouldn’t I be past that shit? But no. He comes home, and I’m like, ‘I made dinner. Got your favorite newspaper. Anything else I can do?’” Ryan covered his eyes with his hands. Eggsy startled to see Ryan shaking badly.

So Eggsy reached out and snagged one of Ryan’s shaking hands, curling his fingers around it. “Least we got each other,” said Eggsy.

“Yeah,” said Ryan. “It’s weird, not having you around as much.”

“Oh,” said Eggsy, because it had never occurred to him that Ryan was missing him. “Well, you know. My job.”

“Being a spy takes up time, I know that,” said Ryan.

Eggsy blinked five times, and came up with, “Uh?”

“Oh, come on,” said Ryan, rolling his eyes. “You thought you could hide it from me? Jesus fucking Christ. You’re so fucking obvious. You even take that bloke’s phone calls next to me. ‘We need you to come in for a mission,’ he says, and then you turn to us and start nattering on about fucking special tailoring appointments. Please.”

“You ain’t supposed to know!” said Eggsy, a little panicked.

“I ain’t telling anyone,” said Ryan. “And anyway. After the party, all the boys think you’re in the mob. At least they ain’t thinking you’re doing or selling drugs, but you know. They think you’re some sort of hired muscle. Only I know better.”

Eggsy snorted and dropped his head into his hands. “This ain’t how I imagined this conversation going.”

“What’d you expect?”

“We’d talk about your dad!”

“Nah,” said Ryan. “I’d rather talk about you and your new boy. What’s with that?”

“Oh, Harry? Yeah. It’s going good.”

Ryan smiled sadly. “Is it?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Come on, Eggsy. Boys like us, we don’t go for the nice ones.”

Eggsy stood up suddenly, uncomfortable. He started pacing. “What the fuck you talking bout, bruv?”

“You and I, the only sort of love we know ain’t the good kind. It’s the kind where they give you something nice, and then the next day they do something terrible, and you’re constantly guessing what they’re going to do next. And you wonder if they really like you, or if they’re just using you. When someone asks, you justify it – nah, he’s just doing this for me, you know? He’s just helping me out. Giving me tough love sometimes. Years in, you suddenly realize what you’re really saying is, he’s hitting me because he loves me.”

Eggsy wheeled around. “That ain’t true.”

“It’s a cycle, bruv. It’s all we know.”

“That ain’t true! Ryan, what about Alfie?”

Ryan’s small smile turned sour. “He’s hit me twice already.”

Eggsy gaped at him. “Alfie? But he seemed… Never mind. Ryan, you gotta leave him.”

Ryan ignored that. “Has your boy hurt you, Eggsy?”

Eggsy thought of the press of fingers around his neck. He thought of fruity flavors as the world started to spin around him, of Harry massaging his shoulders as he prised secrets from him.

And then he thought of Harry holding his hand. Of Harry carefully, oh-so-carefully, taking off his shoe so Ruby could examine his crushed toes. Harry saving Eggsy, Harry taking Eggsy out of Dean’s home. Harry, smiling softly. Harry, saying without words – and sometimes with words – how fond he was of Eggsy.

“No,” said Eggsy.

Ryan’s eyes flashed angrily. “Whatever the fuck you just justified, Eggsy, just proves my fucking point.”

“He cares for me! He… He loves me, and supports me, and not many other people do that!”

“You sound like your mother,” said Ryan, softly.

“Fuck.” Eggsy sat back down in the seat, drained. “Fuck.”

“Eggsy, I ain’t doing this to hurt you,” said Ryan, seeing how distressed Eggsy was becoming. “I’m just saying. I know why you’re with him. I been there. I am there. And maybe the relationship will be good. Maybe you’re good for each other. Maybe something will change. And maybe I’m wrong. But I’ll never like anyone you date. None of them’s good enough.”

Eggsy understood, because now that Ryan had said that, he didn’t think he’d like anyone Ryan dated either. But there had to be a way. Eggsy, he didn’t know anything about love, but he knew that there was a way out. There had to be. He wasn’t doomed to repeat any sort of fucking cycle.

“Ryan…”

“When were the last time he hurt you?”

“Well…”

“Eggsy.”

“I dunno.”

“And since then,” continued Ryan, looking at him carefully, “has he been sweet to you? Like he’s trying to make up for it?”

“It ain’t like that.”

“Look, Eggsy, lemme just tell it to ya straight.” Ryan gave him a piercing look. “This boy –”

“He ain’t a boy.”

“Like I give a fucking shit. This boy, he seems like an end justifies the means kinda guy. He seems like the strong type, the type who’ll roll right on over you cause he ‘knows better.’ He’s always gonna know better. But you know what, Eggsy? That don’t mean your opinions are worthless. At some point, you gotta tell him that. Especially if you stay with him.

“What I’m trying to say, Eggsy, is that you’ve got a choice. Stay or don’t. But if you stay… Fuck. You’ve seen life before Dean. You can have that. You can have someone good, like your father. Dunno if Harry’s gonna be that for you. If he is, stay – but don’t let him walk all over you. Stop it now. Cause you give him one more inch… He’s gonna keep on walking.”

“I don’t like the implication that I can have that, but you can’t.”

“We ain’t talking about me.”

Eggsy leaned forward. “Now we are.”

“Fuck, Eggsy, c’mon.”

“Ryan, you deserve someone good too.”

“If I agree, will you drop it?”

“Probably not.”

“Look,” said Ryan, rolling his eyes, “you can ignore me and what’m saying if you want. I mean, come on. I don’t know anything about love.”

Eggsy stared at the wall, and then laughed, dropping his head into his hands again. “We’re practically the same person, cuz,” he said at Ryan’s raised eyebrows.

“’Cept I’m more handsome,” said Ryan.

“The fuck you ain’t!”

And suddenly, out of that disaster of a conversation, they were laughing. Eggsy dropped back down into the chair, and laughed, and laughed, until both of them were subtly wiping laugh-tears from their eyes.

After they had calmed down from their hysterics, they stared at each other, grinning wildly. The moment was over. “So, has Jamal been having a bitch-fit over this?” asked Ryan.

“He was practically crying on the phone.”

“Aw, fuck, he’s going to mother-hen me to death,” said Ryan. “Fucking goddamn it, Eggsy.”

“Well, maybe if you had just told him yourself…”

“Fuck you,” said Ryan.

“Hey,” said Eggsy, suddenly hit by inspiration. “I got an extra room in my flat now that my mum’s gone.”

“No.”

“But Ryan –”

“Eggsy,” said Ryan, smiling. “I ‘preciate it. But I ain’t needing you to save me. I can do that myself.”

“Can you?”

“Yeah, I can. Though I can ask you the same damn question.”

They were at an impasse for several moments, before Eggsy deflated. “It’ll always be open to you, cuz.”

“I know.”

And Eggsy reached out and reclaimed Ryan’s hand. He didn’t know how long they sat in silence, until Eggsy realized that Ryan had dozed off to sleep again and morning light was beginning to shine in through the tattered blinds on the window. He let go of Ryan’s hand and slipped out of the room.

Harry was waiting exactly where Eggsy had left him, except he had traded in his newspaper for a scientific journal – probably the only thing he could find around the hospital on such short notice. When the door opened, Harry’s head popped up and he gave Eggsy a tired smile.

“Ready to go home?” he asked.

Eggsy was suddenly aware of how tired he was, how hungry, how exhausted. And, hurt or not, he genuinely cared for Harry. He would make a decision about their relationship later. So he trotted forward and, when Harry stood up, abandoning his journal on the plastic chair, Eggsy let his head drop forward onto Harry’s chest.

Harry’s arms instantly encircled him, burying him in a surprisingly warm hug. “I’ve got you,” said Harry. “I’ve got you.”

Good. Someone needed to have him. Eggsy wasn’t sure how much longer he could do this. It felt like a thread in his body was getting thinner and thinner and every day. He was close to snapping.

And, with that, they went back to Eggsy’s flat, where they both practically collapsed into bed.

The day of the tribunal dawned overcast, though blue tried to peek out now and then. Harry bullied Eggsy into wearing the soft grey suit instead of black, saying that it “humanized him.” He also bullied him out of wearing one of his gorgeous metallic ties, instead forcing a silver and muted red on him that complemented the grey suit fairly well. Eggsy carefully did his hair, perched his glasses on his nose, and sprayed some of Harry’s unnecessarily expensive cologne on himself.

He was lucky: most of the bruising on his face had faded. Harry had shiftily handed him some powder, which, even if Harry refused to talk about it, definitely confirmed that he was using it to minimize his scar.

He smoothed out the non-existent wrinkles in his suit and smiled at his reflection. Harry watched approvingly from the door. “Ready?”

“Ready,” said Eggsy in his poshest accent. Harry rolled his eyes and led the way.

They held the tribunal in a lounge area, easily one of the biggest rooms in the mansion. There were comfy chairs set up for the audience (it looked like all the knights were there, as well as about half the techs and a few choice mechanics, including Mike, who waved at Eggsy), as well as mahogany tables set up for the arguing parties. There was also a smaller table for the witness, acting as the stand. It was extremely fancy, and exactly the kind of thing that Kingsman would do.

The audience sat on either side without discrimination. In the very front of the room sat seven people, most of whom Eggsy didn’t recognize (except – yes, that was Degore! He did remember him! He had a conversation with him once about the wisdom of having eggs in his name). And…

He gaped for a moment and then turned to Harry. “I thought they were choosing people unbiased!”

“She’s one of the most unbiased people you’ll ever meet, your… dalliance notwithstanding,” said Harry. “You’ll get no favors from her.”

Eggsy grinned and waved at Princess Tilde, who gave him a happy wave back.

No one had bothered with a bailiff. Everyone in this room was fairly dangerous, so one person wasn’t going to help if a fight broke out.

Eggsy could see Victoria sitting in the audience, too. Only the lawyers were allowed the tables. Apparently, Victoria hadn’t hired just one lawyer, but a team of them, because three lawyers sat at her table, shuffling through papers in a self-important manner. At the other table sat one lone woman, who wasn’t bothering to shuffle through papers. She looked so confident that Eggsy immediately felt boosted about the entire affair.

Once the chairs were nearly full, the judge smack in the middle stood up. Immediately, silence fell over the room. Next to him, Harry brushed his fingers over Eggsy’s wrist, right over the pulse point, which was insanely comforting. On his other side, Roxy sat, smiling companionly. All the Kingsmen agents (excepting Bedivere) had sat together to present a unified front. Bedivere, the fuck, was sitting next to Victoria.

“Hello everyone,” said the man in the middle. His accent was solidly American, without even a hint of British in it. He gave a cold smile around the room, and it was like all warmth had been sucked from the air. “My name is Wesley Bishop, and I’m your neutral party for this tribunal. I currently work with the Central Intelligence Agency as an agent. I have been asked to oversee your tribunal for the duration.”

“I thought that people weren’t supposed to reveal that they’re CIA,” whispered Eggsy to Harry.

“It’s a tit for tat. We reveal Kingsmen, he reveals himself. We pretty much already knew it anyway.”

“This is Geraint, a Kingsman agent,” continued Wesley. Geraint gave a wave to the crowd, looking unimaginably tired and beleaguered. He must’ve been growing a beard for his mission, because he had days-old growth covering his cheeks in a rather scraggly way. It took away from the ‘gentleman’ air, but also seemed to give him a tougher look. Mostly, though, he just looked tired. Deep cover really took a toll on people. “And this is Degore, your other Kingsman agent.” Degore nodded. Eggsy kept having to look back at him to remind himself of Degore’s face.

Wesley introduced the two donors – the donor that wasn’t Tilde had a snotty name – and then the techs, who Eggsy vaguely knew but didn’t talk to overmuch. He had invited them to his party, though.

“Wonderful,” said Wesley when everyone was introduced. “The purpose of this tribunal is to discuss and decide on the impeachment of one Victoria Willoughby. There are charges of misappropriation of resources, illegally hiding missions, breaking protocol standards, illegally cutting an agent off from medical assistance, blackmail, bribery, and workplace discrimination. The defense responds?”

“Not guilty,” said all three of her lawyers at once.

“I don’t think this is how a court goes,” whispered Eggsy. “Isn’t she supposed to speak for herself? And what the fuck is this – this ain’t following how courts actually work.”

“This is a Kingsman tribunal,” said Harry. “We operate under different standards.”

Wesley nodded. “I now ask that the defense give their opening statement.”

One of the lawyers stood, buttoning up his suit jacket ostentatiously. He gave a sneering grin at the Kingsman lawyer before standing in front of the crowd, his posture straight, his gaze confident. He made eye contact with a few people in the audience before opening his mouth.

“Today, we are gathered to discuss the fate of one Victoria Willoughby, a dedicated and loyal employee of the Kingsman organization. Coming from a shining career from the MI6 –”

Someone in the audience politely coughed.

“– Victoria has tirelessly worked to improve this organization and streamline various processes around the building. When she first arrived, she inherited a deeply troubled position. Her predecessor had just been killed by one of the agents. That predecessor had left her with serious problems, including a leak in the organization. That leak is now contained.”

Someone else politely coughed. That one had definitely been Eggsy. Harry’s fingers brushed his hand.

“Victoria has charges against her that are clearly the work of bitter employees who resent the changes that she has wrought in this organization. It is clear the problem rests with them, not with her. Thank you.”

“That’s her defense? It’s our fault?” whispered Eggsy.

“What else is she supposed to say? That she didn’t do it? We’re about to prove that she did. The defense is trying to justify her actions.”

The Kingsman lawyer stood up, serenely walking to the front. Eggsy could tell that she was their lawyer because it looked like the building could fall down around her ears and she wouldn’t even blink twice. She did not grin looking around the room, instead fixing a composed gaze upon the crowd.

“Victoria Willoughby is not a victim,” she said, her deep voice ringing like a bell. “Rather, Willoughby is the attacker. She has endangered this organization rather than swooping in like an angel, as the defense might have you believe. She has consistently mistreated an employee and has done her best to cripple his career. She has also mismanaged certain missions to the point that she enabled an attack on headquarters just a week ago. This organization has not been discovered since its founding, so this demonstrates clear ineptitude on her part. She has broken protocol, scoffed at rules and traditions, and, in general, shown that she is not inexperienced but dangerously incompetent. I won’t waste words or time – Victoria Willoughby deserves to be impeached.”

The Kingsman lawyer nodded her head and glided to her seat.

“She’s brill,” said Eggsy, maybe developing a little crush.

Harry smirked, because Harry knew everything, and said, “Her name is Bridget.”

“That’s not what I expected. I expected something hardcore.”

“I wouldn’t judge by the name,” advised Harry. Eggsy eyed Bridget. No, no he wouldn’t.

“We’d like to call up our first witness,” said Wesley, flipping through a few papers. “We’re going to start where the complaint originated. Could a Mr. Alfred Pennyworth come to the stand?”

“Oh man,” said Eggsy. “His last name is Pennyworth, too? His parents are cruel.”

Jeeves settled into the little seat at the front, looking composed, though Eggsy could tell by his hands that he was a little nervous.

“Please state your name for the record,” said Wesley, even though there wasn’t a court reporter in sight. Ah well – there were glasses recording this anyway.

“Alfred Pennyworth,” said Jeeves, “but please. Call me Jeeves.”

Bridget stood up, gliding over to Jeeves. Seriously, gliding. She was wearing these dangerous-looking four-inch heels and she was so ethereal that Eggsy couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

“Hello, Jeeves,” she said pleasantly. “Could you please tell the court what your initial complaint was and how it came about?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “I drive the cars for the agents. I’m responsible for picking them up and dropping them off before, during, and after certain missions. Willoughby’s misdoings came to my attention when one of the agents I was responsible for driving kept reading his mission reports in the back of my car. He had never done so in the first five months of his employment, and very rarely do agents study in the car. They sit and brood, certainly, but they don’t read through missions. He started bringing his folders in and reading through them. When asked, he said that he was getting them mere minutes before being sent out.”

There was a slight murmur in the room. Harry brushed his fingers over Eggsy’s hand again.

“Could you give us the name of that agent, please? For the record.”

“Eggsy Unwin,” said Jeeves, coolly.

Bridget nodded. “Let the record note that Eggsy Unwin refers to Gary Unwin. Eggsy is his preferred name.”

Next to him, Roxy turned to him, a Cheshire grin on her face. She mouthed, “Gary?” at him. Eggsy gave her his best shut-the-fuck-up look and fixed his attention back on Jeeves.

“I was concerned, but not overly,” said Jeeves. “I thought he was being dramatic at first. He struck me as the type for dramatics. But then I realized something was wrong about a month ago. He was sent out on back-to-back missions without his eight-hour break. The second mission that he went on, the one when he didn’t have an amount of time to decompress, was odd. I drove him to a hotel, where he came out with a body in a rug. He was clearly shaken up, but I didn’t want to put pressure on him.

“This was out of character for him. I had never seen him shaken up before, even after sustaining serious injuries. He’s also a very talkative person, but he didn’t say anything. I drove him to a safe house.”

“Do you know what he did in that safe house?”

“No. But I have a guess.”

“Please let us know.”

“The man in the rug. I think Eggsy was ordered to do something to that man, and it made him jittery.”

Bridget nodded. “Please let it reflect in the record that one of Gary Unwin’s specialties is torture.”

Jeeves inclined his head, his face not shifting in the least.

“Then I drove him to another mission that night,” said Jeeves. “It was still in the eight-hour timeframe. He was visibly shaken this time around. He was very white and had fine tremors running through his body.”

“I did?”

Harry nodded next to him. “It was quite concerning.”

“There was another mission after that. At this point, it had become quite clear that Eggsy was being sent on consecutive missions. When I asked him about them, he said that they were classified and that he couldn’t tell me anything. One of them I drove him to another location. When he got back into my car, he was hyperventilating badly and was severely injured. I had to help him into the mansion and enlist the aid of one of the other Kingsmen agents to escort him to medical. He was very out of sorts.”

“I see,” said Bridget. “Please continue.”

“But the mission that made me register my concerns was when I drove him to a warehouse. He seemed actively apprehensive about the mission. He had a look in his eyes… I’ve been driving agents around for years, ma’am,” said Jeeves, his composure breaking slightly, “and I recognize that look. That’s the look of someone who’s about to die. When I dropped him off, he asked me to stay a few minutes, just in case. Arthur had given me a very strict lecture just moments before I drove Eggsy to that mission that I needed to be a more effective driver. She said my job was in danger. Knowing that I would lose my job if I was late, I told Eggsy that I couldn’t wait for him, because I had another agent waiting for my services.”

Jeeves sat for a moment, collecting his thoughts. Bridget patiently waited for him.

“I regret that,” he said, finally. “I had a bad feeling about it, but I thought that Eggsy would be able to handle his mission. I should have known better. I should have followed my intuition.”

“What are your impressions of Eggsy Unwin?”

“He’s a good kid,” said Jeeves. “I quickly realized he wasn’t very dramatic at all. In fact, it was hard to get him to reveal any personal information, other than his sister. He loves to talk about his sister. He’s also very respectful. He’s the type of person who pays attention to everyone, even a lowly driver.” Jeeves hesitated. “He looked out for my comfort. When he knew I would be waiting for a while, he often directed me to go to food places on a break. I never would – that would be unprofessional while on duty – but it was touching that he thought that way.”

Harry brushed his fingers over Eggsy’s knuckles. Eggsy didn’t know if he would be able to sit there if Harry didn’t keep doing that. He felt like he was vibrating out of his skin. This was so uncomfortable.

“Excellent,” said Bridget. “No further questions for now.” She glided back to her seat while one of the defense lawyers stood up and walked to the stand, putting his hands on the table.

“Mr. Pennyworth,” he said, smiling a little ingratiatingly. “How often do you drive Mr. Unwin around on missions?”

“Before Arthur was hired, it was once or twice a week. That’s average. After, it was upped to three or four times a week.”

“I see,” he said. “That’s not much time to get to know a man, is it?”

“Eggsy is a very open individual.”

“I thought you said it was hard to get him to reveal personal information?”

“Yes, but he was open in other ways. He was friendly. Happy.”

“Hm. Could you tell me, did Eggsy ever complain about the missions he was being sent on?”

“Not once.”

“Could it have been possible that he had consented to go on those missions through a sense of goodwill, and was actively breaking rules by encouraging an inexperienced superior to assign him these missions?”

“It’s possible,” said Jeeves coolly. “But –”

“It’s possible, I see. And did Eggsy ever say anything negative about Arthur?”

“No,” said Jeeves. “But –”

“In essence, you have no basis for your accusations other than seeing Eggsy after certain missions. Any agent could be suffering from injuries – those are common in these lines of work. No further questions.”

Wesley inclined his head. “Does the plaintiff want to have more questions?”

“They’ll keep going back and forth until they’re out of questions,” whispered Harry. “A witness can be recalled at any time to the stand. Truth matters here, not whether a lawyer can successfully get one over.”

Bridget stood up. “What were you trying to say, Mr. Pennyworth?”

“It’s possible that he consented wholeheartedly to go on those missions. But I saw his injuries afterwards, and I saw the mental toll it was taking on him. I don’t think he did.”

“Thank you. No further questions.”

“Does the defense have questions?”

“No further questions.”

“You can leave the stand, Mr. Pennyworth.” Jeeves stood up and left at Wesley’s request. Wesley scanned his eyes over the room. “Next, we’ll call up Agent Galahad.”

Harry gave Eggsy one final brush of fingers before standing up and making his way to the stand. Eggsy said, “Does he have to state his name, too?”

“No,” said Roxy. “The agents are allowed to maintain their codenames.”

“Except for me,” said Eggsy, a little bitterly.

Harry settled himself in the chair, elegantly crossing his legs and raising one perfect eyebrow. It looked effortless. Eggsy knew that it was all a ruse – he had seen Harry in the morning. He knew the mess that his hair could become, was aware of Harry’s truly terrible morning breath. Not to mention that Harry’s body ran ridiculously warm, and so he sweated through the night. Eggsy would wake up sticky and gross, especially if they had cuddled close to each other at any point, and Harry wouldn’t be any better.

Not that Eggsy could complain, he knew he was a terror in the mornings. Definitely not a morning person.

“Please state your codename for the record.”

“Agent Galahad,” said Harry. He looked calm, cool. Entirely collected.

Bridget stood up. “Could you explain your opinions of Victoria Willoughby?”

“None of the agents were particularly enthused about her hire, except for one,” said Harry, interlocking his fingers in front of him. It made him look intelligent. “She had a reputation for being hard to communicate with. We thought we’d do our best to accept her into our ranks, regardless.”

“Please explain how she got her reputation, and what you personally think.”

Harry chatted for a while, telling the story about Victoria’s history in the MI6 and her privilege through her parents. Eggsy snuck a look or two at Arthur during his testimony, and she looked particularly sour.

“Thank you,” said Bridget. “Could you talk a little about your interactions with Eggsy? How did you become aware of the abuse?”

“It was clear to me from the beginning,” said Harry. “Eggsy is hard to dislike. Yet, during our first official Kingsman meeting, Victoria attempted to dissolve his position, despite months of the other agents deliberating and eventually deciding to keep Eggsy on. It seemed like a clear dismissal of our judgment, despite her being at work for only a few days.”

“You’re a mentor to Eggsy, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I proposed him as a candidate.”

“And you’ve supported him throughout his time here.”

“Of course,” said Harry, his lips quirking a little. “Eggsy is talented.”

“Could you tell me a little more about the abuse Eggsy sustained, from your perspective?”

Harry continued to talk. He noticed Eggsy acting weird; he extrapolated it was because of Arthur; the injuries seemed odd; Jeeves just confirmed it. He left out drugging Eggsy, which was probably a good thing.

“Thank you,” said Bridget. “No further questions.”

The defense attorney got up. “Agent Galahad. Is it true that you knew Mr. Unwin’s father?”

“Yes.”

“And you were responsible for his death.”

“Not quite. We were on a mission and I failed to realize that the mark had a bomb on him. His father jumped on the grenade, saving my life.”

“So you do owe him your life.”

“Yes.”

“Clearly, that has affected your behavior regarding Eggsy.”

Eggsy leaned toward Roxy. “Can’t our lawyer object? There wasn’t a question there.”

“There are no objections,” said Roxy. “It’s a free-for-all. We’re all intelligent beings here, we know when the lawyer is being an arsehole.”

“Potentially,” said Harry. “However, I had already paid the favor back to Eggsy, so I tried to not let it affect my future interactions with him.”

The lawyer frowned faintly. Clearly he was looking for Harry to admit that he was biased. “How would you classify your relationship with Eggsy?”

“It’s good,” said Harry, blandly.

“Just good?”

“Better than good, then.”

Maybe the lawyer scented something in the air. He blinked once. “If you had to put a label on the relationship, would you give it a mentor label?”

“Among others.”

“What others?”

“Mentor. Friend. Partner.”

The lawyer nodded, then paused. “Partner? As in, partner on missions?”

“No.”

There was a subtle shift in the courtroom as everyone realized what that meant. Roxy reached out and pinched Eggsy’s side without looking at him.

The lawyer looked like Christmas had come early. “Does your relationship with Eggsy include sexual relations?”

“Yes.”

“So, you’ve entered into an inappropriate relationship with your mentee.”

Harry tilted his head, looking at the lawyer with languid eyes. There was so much danger in that move, Eggsy wished he knew how to do that. “I wouldn’t classify the relationship as inappropriate. We got along well both professionally and personally, and never let our interactions influence a mission.”

The lawyer grinned. “You’re rather biased regarding Eggsy Unwin, though, aren’t you?”

“No,” said Harry. “Eggsy has plenty of flaws. I’m well aware of them.”

“Really?” said the lawyer, glancing around dubiously.

“Indeed. He can make decisions rashly, he’s terribly stubborn, and he gets distracted quite easily.” Harry paused, considering, then said, “He is also terrible at making tea. I try to drink it anyway, but it’s quite horrid.”

Eggsy’s mouth dropped open. That arsehole.

“I see,” said the lawyer, who wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. He moved on. “You’ve often spoken up during Kingsmen meetings against Victoria’s decision.”

“Bad decisions merit disagreement. When Victoria elects to do something that jeopardizes not only the integrity of this organization, but also the safety of the world in general, I believe it is my civic duty to voice opposition,” said Harry.

The lawyer was now beginning to look very frustrated, because Harry was just so damn unshakeable. He seemed completely unperturbed by the lawyer, perhaps even verging on unimpressed. The lawyer asked a few more questions, targeted at demonstrating that Harry was unnecessarily belligerent during Kingsmen meetings, but he eventually sat back down.

“No further questions,” said Bridget, serenely.

The morning went on in a similar fashion. They called up Kay next, who talked Eggsy’s injuries and his impressions of how Eggsy acted after missions. Then Gawain went up, and he focused on Daisy, oddly enough. He talked about how Victoria banning children from the mansion was difficult for new parents, women in particular, and how it was gender discrimination that was originally intended to be discriminatory only to Eggsy. It was an interesting argument.

Roxy was sent to the stand, but she wasn’t there for long. She had been on missions for a lot of the intrigue, and could only confirm that Eggsy had had injuries and had acted oddly once or twice. She also gave a glowing character reference to Eggsy that made his heart a little warm.

Of course, the defense was there, doing their best to ruin what was going on. Kay, it was revealed, had a gambling addiction, something Eggsy would never have guessed. His mouth was pulled into a moue of distaste as the lawyer questioned him about it, noting that he had risked entire missions if any sort of bet was involved.

The defense tried to shred Gawain’s argument. “How many people actually bring their children to the mansion?”

“Not many,” Gawain had to admit. “Eggsy is the first I can remember.”

“And doesn’t Kingsman provide generous childcare benefits, including parental leave, and cheap daycare options?”

“Yes, but it still disadvantages those who daycare isn’t a viable option for, or those who may not have a partner.”

An interesting argument, but the defense spent a lot of time citing facts that implied it was unnecessary.

For Roxy, the defense gave her an extremely hard time. Eggsy felt a little sorry for her.

“You and Eggsy went through training together, am I correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“And your beds were next to each other.”

“Regrettably. Eggsy had a pug who farts in his sleep. It was terrible.”

The lawyer didn’t even blink. “You two are close as friends, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever had sexual relations with him?”

“With Eggsy?” Roxy wrinkled her nose. “No offense to Eggsy, but he’s not my type. I don’t think I’m his type either.”

“Oh?”

“Well,” said Roxy, grinning, “I’m not Galahad.”

The defense continued on in that fashion. They started grilling her about her failed dates with the podiatrist. How they knew about that mess, Eggsy wasn’t quite sure. They talked about her showering with the other male candidates, briefly touched on sharing a locker room with the male agents, and noted that she had moved on “rather quickly, don’t you think?” from the podiatrist to another unknown male.

By the end of it, Roxy’s face was flushed red with anger and she had been painted as – well. Some sort of desperate attention-seeker. It was so far from who Roxy was that Eggsy felt his heart beat in sympathy with hers.

She slid in the seat next to him. Eggsy fist-bumped her in thanks, even though she looked angry. So angry she could cry, but Roxy was made of tougher stuff than that.

They took a lunch break, where all the agents (minus Bedivere, Geraint, and Degore) ate ham sandwiches together. “It’s not going poorly,” said Kay, optimistically.

“It could be going better.” Gawain thoughtfully took a sip of his milk. “The defense knows that they’re up shit creek. The evidence is fairly irrefutable. There were simply too many witnesses. It all hinges on destroying the characters of the people accusing. That way, they can call for the internal investigation rather than the impeachment of Arthur.”

“You realize what that means, right, Eggsy?” said Roxy, opening up her sandwich and sighing when she realized it had mayonnaise on it. “They’re going to try to absolutely destroy you when you go up there. Most of our accusations hinge on you.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Eggsy.

“Wonder how much they got on you,” said Roxy, taking a fork and scraping at the mayonnaise. Eggsy didn’t have any on his, so he nudged her and swapped sandwiches, even though both of them had taken some bites.

Well. Eggsy knew that they had his complete file, if they were aware his name was Gary. That meant that they had access to Merlin’s notations, which explained why he was chosen to undergo the torture specialty. It mostly just talked about the disassociation, but there was a small note that mentioned the disassociation was “possible because of past life events.”

It wouldn’t be hard for the defense to poke around in his life. There were public records – Eggsy’s broken ribs at age fifteen, the cranial contusion at eighteen. Not hard to figure out he was abused. Then, if they got into his juvenile records, they would realize that he had some crimes in his past – the stolen car at sixteen and another at seventeen, and the one time he was caught with marijuana at fourteen. He had an underage alcohol charge against him at seventeen. Thankfully, when he was eighteen, he wised up and was more careful with his crimes – he knew those records wouldn’t be erased – but if they got into his childhood…

They also had to know about his impending guardianship battle. They could be aware of his drug dealing past, if they asked the right people. This could go very, very badly for Eggsy.

“I dunno,” he said in response to Roxy. Harry squeezed his knee under the table, a motion which Roxy caught.

“And since when are you two dating?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Everyone, with the laser-sharp focus of highly trained agents, fell silent and staidly gazed at Eggsy and Harry. Apparently they were interested in this answer, too.

“You mean none of you knew? We figured at least one of you had figured it out,” said Eggsy.

“It’s been around a month, I believe. Maybe two,” said Harry, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “Can someone pass the platter of chips? They’re quite delightful.”

Gawain passed the chips. “I don’t think any of us saw this coming, honestly.”

“Sloppy,” said Harry. “Merlin needs to retrain you.”

Everyone rolled their eyes and went back to their sandwiches.

That afternoon there was more testimony. Bedivere finally made an appearance. Bridget did a wonderful job of highlighting Bedivere and Victoria’s relationship, making special note of how long they had known each other and subtly bringing up Bedivere’s wife.

The defense, however, had a field day with someone who finally supported them. Bedivere talked about Eggsy’s “irrational” behavior, how he wasn’t a “real” agent, how he nearly hadn’t got the job. He talked about how Eggsy ingratiated himself into the group, how manipulative Eggsy was. He talked disparagingly of Eggsy’s skills, said that Eggsy wasn’t even close to being a professional.

It was brutal.

After Bedivere, there were smaller testimonies. The rest of the agents who had had a minor role made an appearance – Lamorak, Caradoc, and Tristan. When Tristan spoke, speaking candidly about the gas canisters and their contents, Eggsy watched him very closely. There wasn’t even a hint of foul play about him, which curdled Eggsy’s stomach.

They questioned some of the Gareth candidates to ask about their experiences during the mansion invasion. It was a little flattering, really, because one of them clearly had some sort of hero-worship going on for Eggsy. “There were, like, eighty men in the room,” said the shower-candidate, his eyes wide. “He literally wrecked them. Like, there were three standing after he was done in there. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Next to him, Roxy mouthed, “Eighty?” while Harry, out of the corner of his mouth, said, “Someone has a crush.”

The defense focused on the torture. “What was your reaction when he began to inflict injury upon Diane Yates?”

“It was frightening,” said the hero-worshipper. “He had this insane look on his face. But he got the information, I guess.”

Another, the red-lipped candidate, said flatly, “I’ve been having nightmares for this past week.”

That hurt.

Eggsy figured out that he was being left for last, along with Arthur. The techs came up next. Salomea was first, and talked about various missions she had gone on with Eggsy. She was visibly nervous with so many eyes on her and sometimes had difficulty locating the right words to use, but yet… She had nothing but good things to say.

“And you never knew his third specialty was torture?” asked the defense.

“I always assumed that he only had two,” she shrugged.

“Isn’t it telling, that he kept it a secret?”

“He probably didn’t want us to think of him any differently,” she said. “Eggsy… He’s not his job. He’s a good man. I support him wholeheartedly, and I want to continue working with him in the future.”

Other techs were questioned, and some of them admitted that they felt a little traumatized by Eggsy’s actions. One of the testimonies, from a solid-looking woman who Eggsy hadn’t worked with before but had talked to (and even invited her to Daisy’s party) gave a rather damning testimony.

“The nature of this job requires the agents to make difficult decisions under duress,” she said, calmly. “Mistakes sometimes happen, I acknowledge that. But that’s doesn’t mean that the agents should eschew all morals. To me, that is what Eggsy Unwin did during the invasion of the mansion. He brutalized that woman, in front of many people who don’t have the training that he does. It was psychologically scarring and damaging to our morale. I have no desire to work with Eggsy anymore. I also find it troubling that a man that deeply disturbed is responsible for the welfare of a child.”

Here, the woman stood calmly. The panel of judges shifted, a little nervous about what she was about to do, but she only sought Eggsy’s eyes.

“It is my understanding that you are seeking guardianship of your sister. I urge you to drop your suit. You will not be able to give her the emotional support that she deserves as a human being, and you will irrevocably impair her mental state. A man of your past will not be able to provide that child with the warm home she deserves.”

Harry wound his fingers through Eggsy’s, giving a ‘fuck you’ to decorum. Everyone knew about them anyway. Eggsy clutched Harry’s hand, obscenely glad that Harry had given him the opportunity, and sent a silent thanks his way. Eggsy didn’t know what he would do right now without Harry’s staunch support. The pain he was feeling was the opposite of dull, radiating pain – that hurt, like she had taken a knife and slipped it in his stomach. And Eggsy had experience with that feeling.

“Thank you, no further questions,” said the defense smugly.

Up until this point, Bridget had mostly decided not to counter-question. She did for Gawain, where she made the point that the opportunity for childcare was more important than the amount of people using it, and she had for Kay, where she clarified that Kay had not grievously harmed mission objectives through his gambling. But even those were pointed, quick questions.

Here, she stepped forward coolly, raising an unimpressed eyebrow at the tech.

“How often have you interacted with Eggsy?” she asked.

“We’ve had conversations before,” she said. “And I was there when he brought his sister in the second time.”

“When he brought his sister in, did you have any indication that he would be a negative influence on her?”

“No,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean he won’t be.”

“Other than witnessing Eggsy complete his job, do you have any other evidence that he would be a bad parent?”

“No,” she said. “But the torture was evidence enough.”

“Let the record note,” said Bridget, giving the tech a disgusted look, “that there are safeguards in place to ensure that the agent is not psychologically damaged by any portion of their missions. Let the record also note that agents Gawain, Geraint, and Percival have been forced to torture on missions before. This has not come in the way of them raising happy and healthy children who have turned out encouragingly well-adjusted. Despite what this woman seems to believe.”

Bridget sat down.

Harry gave a small nod next to him. It didn’t comfort Eggsy, especially with what happened next.

“Could you give us your initial impressions of Eggsy Unwin?” said Bridget, looking kindly at Percival.

“At first he was a little annoying. A bit like a puppy, always trying to be involved in everything. He’s made good rapport with some of the employees in the mansion, though.”

Bridget frowned faintly. “To your knowledge, has Eggsy always completed his mission objectives?”

“As much as he can, considering.”

“Considering?”

“Well, he’s not very talented, is he?”

Bridget, and everyone else in the audience, abruptly realized at the same time that Percival didn’t like Eggsy. It was a shock. No one had suspected, because Percival, say what you will, was a professional who acted cordially even to people he had no fondness for. Working quickly, Bridget said, “Have you ever been paired on a mission with him?”

“No.”

“And you’ve never seen him work?”

“Not really, no.”

“You’ve been away for most of this time, right?”

“Yes.”

“No further questions.”

The defense stood up. “Agent Percival. Could you explain why you think he isn’t talented?”

Percival gave the impression of a shrug without actually shrugging. “I’m sure he’s competent at his job. Anyone would be, after Merlin trains them. But he didn’t pass the final test to become a Kingsman. I was against him becoming fully knighted for that exact reason. I understand and acknowledge that there were special circumstances regarding it, but I detest throwing out rules just because it suits the situation.”

“It was your candidate who became Agent Lancelot, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Are there other things that discomfit you about Eggsy Unwin?”

“He is entirely incapable of envisioning alternate options to a situation. I believe torturing Diane Yates could have been avoided, had Eggsy thought that situation through more.”

The lawyer nodded, indicating for Percival to go on.

“In addition, as much as I appreciate Eggsy trying to assimilate to this organization, it is clear that he is trying too hard in certain aspects. He’s attempted to become friends with everyone, including support staff, and in doing so, has drawn unnecessary attention to the agents. We are meant to be covert, but now most everyone in the mansion is aware of who the agents are.”

“I see. And, to clarify, do you believe Eggsy Unwin has been detrimental to this organization?”

“Yes. I don’t believe he should become a knight.” Then Percival finally shrugged, a graceful lifting of his shoulders. “But then again. I was overruled. Majority speaks, so clearly my opinion is unpopular.”

“No further questions.”

Bridget stood up, her mouth tight. “Agent Percival. Is it true that Eggsy Unwin spent months after his failed final test completing missions in order to demonstrate his capability as an agent?”

“Yes.”

“And did he not perform spectacularly well, despite not being fully knighted?”

“I’m not saying the boy is useless,” said Percival. “I’m just saying he never had what it takes to become a knight.”

“Please answer the question.”

“Yes, he did perform them well.”

“Did he not prove his mettle during the colloquially-dubbed ‘V-Day,’ in which he single-handedly prevented a cull of the human population?”

“It wasn’t single-handedly. He had help from a knight and Merlin.”

“Did he not single-handedly defeat dozens of attackers?”

“He did.”

“You referenced Diane Yates. Is it not true that members of this organization, including Victoria Willoughby, were tied to bombs, giving Eggsy Unwin limited time to make decisions?”

“Yes.”

“And is it not true, that if he had explored alternative options, that he might have lost valuable time and thus failed the mission?”

“He didn’t know that at the time,” said Percival. “And there were still other options. They could have called Agent Lamorak and had him talk through diffusing a bomb.”

“Wasn’t Agent Lamorak on mission in Kazakhstan, where it would have been difficult to impossible to contact him?”

“He didn’t know that at the time, either.”

“The point I’m trying to make,” said Bridget, finally turning away from Percival, “is that agents are expected to make difficult decisions. In this case, if Eggsy Unwin had pursued any of these other options, then it would have resulted in the loss of many lives.”

“You don’t know that,” said Percival, staidly. “Maybe they could have gotten hold of Lamorak quickly.”

Down the row, Lamorak whispered sourly, “Keep my name out of it.”

“It’s also rather suspicious,” said Percival, examining his fingernails, “that Agent Galahad and Eggsy have had relations. Agent Galahad may claim it’s only been for two months, but there’s good reason to believe it’s gone on for much longer.”

“You have no proof.”

“That’s true,” said Percival. “I don’t mean to demonize Eggsy. He’s nice enough. I just want our judges to know all sides to this issue.”

After that, Percival sat down. He had originally been sitting next to Gawain, but the space magically disappeared. He gave Gawain an exasperated look, said clearly, “Don’t penalize me for being unbiased,” before taking a neutral seat in the back by the techs.

They continued. They got through the techs (except for Merlin, who was apparently slated to go last? How did that work?) and went through a few other people. Mike the mechanic. Some of the other people in the hangar during the attack, though they spoke mostly to the attack and not about Arthur. The cleaning lady who Eggsy had dragged into his office.

They called Jeeves back up twice to clarify timelines. They also called up Harry again, mostly to focus on his opinion on Arthur’s decisions. Relationship or no, Harry was an annoyingly credible person.

At seven in the evening, they called a break. Eggsy went home with Harry, feeling sad and tired and frustrated. It felt insurmountable – would Arthur ever actually be convicted by this anything-goes tribunal?

And Eggsy had other problems to deal with. Like making a decision about Harry.

It was time to put his life in order.

Chapter Text

“Only three testimonies left,” said Harry, rubbing up and down Eggsy’s side as Eggsy leaned against him on the couch.

“Yeah, but they’ll be the most difficult,” said Eggsy. “Me, Victoria, and Merlin. And oi, why is Merlin going last?”

“Because he’s Merlin,” said Harry, simply.

Eggsy snorted but didn’t argue, because that was the damn truth.

“His testimony could make or break us,” said Harry.

“Yeah, but Merlin is on our side.”

“Merlin is also ridiculously fair,” said Harry. “I wouldn’t count on him slanting anything for our benefit.”

Eggsy sighed. Of course not.

Harry snuck in a little kiss against the side of Eggsy’s neck. Eggsy tilted his head to give him more access, and Harry began brushing these little chaste kisses against his neck, almost innocent.

“And hey,” said Eggsy as Harry worked his hand under Eggsy’s shirt to get a feel of his skin, “what do you mean, I’m bad at making tea?”

“Eggsy,” said Harry, turning his torso and pushing up his shirt around his armpits, giving him good access to Eggsy’s abs, which he tickled (Eggsy tried not to laugh, damn it, but Harry knew exactly the amount of pressure to make him chuckle a little). “I never knew someone could make such a bad pot of tea. All you needed to do was heat up the water and make sure it’s steeped correctly. It’s honestly one of the easiest tasks that you could undertake. How do you always manage to fuck it up so spectacularly?”

“Fuck you,” said Eggsy, smacking a hand over his lips so he didn’t start guffawing at the tickling. He tried to squirm away, indignant, but Harry swung a leg over his and pinned him down. “Damn it, Harry, being tickled isn’t sexy!”

Harry grinned at him and tickled him for a few more moments before letting up. Eggsy lightly bopped Harry on the back of his head in retaliation, but Harry kept his hand on Eggsy’s side, lightly stroking his thumb on the sensitive skin. It made Eggsy hyperaware of the contact.

He had so many things he needed to talk about with Harry. The trial. The leak. What they were going to do about their relationship. But all of those things were exactly the things he didn’t want to talk about.

He had had a hard day. Things that Bedivere had said about him on the stand were plaguing of him, not to mention whispers of Percival’s, “Well, he’s not very talented, is he?” dancing around his mind. Memories of the frustration playing out on Roxy’s face as the lawyer insinuated she was a slut, of that tech standing up and saying, “You will not be able to give her the emotional support that she deserves as a human being, and you will irrevocably impair her mental state. A man of your past will not be able to provide that child with the warm home she deserves.”

Fuck, was he ruining Daisy?

Fuck he didn’t want to think about it.

He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to talk about it. He wanted Harry, who was warm and solid and strong beside him. He wanted Harry’s arms around him, he wanted Harry whispering in his ear. He wanted it, needed it, craved it so fucking bad.

All of the shit that was happening felt like a vacuum, just sucking him in, and if he wasn’t careful he wouldn’t be able to get out of the mire. He needed something real. Stable. Harry.

And… And there was a real chance that they would be ending their relationship soon. Say what you would about Eggsy, but he rather thought he deserved another night with Harry. He wanted to show Harry what he really thought. What he really felt.

Harry leaned over and caught his lips in a kiss, and it was perfect. Those thoughts buzzing about dulled to a small ache, way in the back of his mind where they didn’t fucking matter.

Eggsy loved the way Harry kissed – sometimes it just these sweet little pecks on the lips, sometimes it was so wet and dirty and full of saliva that it was almost too sloppy, but he still got turned on by it.

Now, the kiss was sharper, with little licks at his lips but nothing open-mouthed. Harry nipped at his bottom lip and Eggsy realized that somehow, someway, Harry had maneuvered them so that Eggsy was laid out on the couch, blinking up at Harry, while Harry snogged him.

“Bedroom, snooks,” said Eggsy, pushing at Harry’s chest.

“Snooks?” Harry leaned back and fixed Eggsy with an incredulous look.

“Short for snookums? I wouldn’t be able to take the whole word seriously, but I like the way snooks sounds. Much cooler, like something I would say. And it fits, because it sounds like a weird present tense of sneaking or snuck. But it’s snooks. Yeah?”

“You’re ridiculous. That’s the corniest, sappiest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Harry, but he sounded fond as he clambered off of Eggsy.

“That ain’t a no,” said Eggy, pulling his shirt back down as he got up from the couch.

“Anything is better than mate,” said Harry in a long-suffering voice, but Eggsy could see a pleased flush on Harry’s face. He liked it.

They had difficulty getting up the stairs, because Harry kept pinching Eggsy’s arse and Eggsy felt the need to turn around and pull up his shirt, doing the male version of flashing his tits. He made it over exaggerated so that Harry was laughing instead of thinking he was weird, and then Eggsy maybe got a little infatuated with Harry’s laugh and couldn’t stop appreciating the way it made his eyes light up, and then Eggsy tripped and banged his elbow on the stairs.

Harry, instead of being a gentleman and helping him up, took the chance to de-pant him as he was struggling to regain his feet. Now with his trousers down around his ankles and his boxers still on, Eggsy couldn’t help but start laughing, and then Harry was laughing, and they both took a break on the stairs to laugh and kiss and laugh a little more.

By the time they actually reached the bedroom they were both breathless. Harry’s hair was all mused and adorable, and Eggsy knew that his own cheeks had to be pink. He had left his trousers on the stairs, despite Harry’s admonishing, “They could wrinkle. Or what if we forget about them and trip over them in the morning?”

To which Eggsy replied, “Harry. If you trip over those trousers tomorrow, not only will I laugh at how terrible a spy you are, but you’ll also owe me a blowjob for ruining my trousers.”

They separated a moment to get undressed, Harry carefully unbuttoning his shirt, Eggsy hanging up his gray suit jacket. As fun as it was to tear clothes off of each other, both of them were in expensive suits (his poor trousers) and they were too buttoned up to really enjoy the undressing stage.

They both came back when they were fully naked. Harry was already half-hard, appreciating the lines of Eggsy’s body, while Eggsy was still excited from those brief touches Harry had been giving him earlier.

Eggsy took initiative, tonight. He pushed Harry down on the bed, climbing over him and sitting on his stomach. He grinned down at Harry, who placed his hands on the sensitive skin of his inner thighs and raised an eyebrow at him. “What now?” he asked, like he didn’t think Eggsy had a plan.

“I’ve been thinking,” said Eggsy, reaching back and grasping Harry’s dick. He held it loosely in his hand, like it was an afterthought, his thumb idly tracing the slit on the head. Harry’s hips jerked in response, though Eggsy could tell that Harry hadn’t meant for that reaction by the way his cheeks pinked.

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” said Eggsy. “Couldn’t help but notice the way you mouth off to Arthur. And Merlin. And everyone, really. Got me wondering. You get away with it because you’re so posh, but… you got authority issues, don’t you, Harry?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, yeah you do,” said Eggsy. He pressed his thumb down lightly on Harry’s tip, teasing. “So. Tell me if you don’t wanna. But. I’m thinking tonight is my turn to top, and you can call me sir while I’m doing it.”

Harry’s eyes darkened immensely. He licked his lips. “And this clearly isn’t something for you, to have Harry Hart underneath you, calling you sir.”

“I never said I wouldn’t think it was hot, too,” said Eggsy, smiling a little. “If you don’t want to, Harry, just say the word. You know I’m great at being on bottom, so we can always do that.”

“But sir,” said Harry, his hands now stoking up and down Eggsy’s thighs. “I want you to show me what you can do. Prove that you deserve that title.”

Eggsy’ dick jumped a little. “Fuck yeah,” he said. Then he climbed off Harry, grabbing the lube, before situating himself between Harry’s legs. He swung one of Harry’s feet over his shoulder, giving him excellent access, before he considered Harry’s arse, thinking about the best way to go about this.

Eggsy needed to do something spectacular. He wanted to do something spectacular. Harry was always coming up with new ways, new methods of making Eggsy hoarse (but not with screaming, because Eggsy wasn’t a screamer, god damn it). Eggsy wanted Harry to have that kind of pleasure.

He thought the sir might do it, but definitely not alone. His mouth could do it – had done it before – but Eggsy didn’t want to rely on old tricks. He wanted something new. Something different.

So. He had an idea. He worked one finger into Harry, letting a hand ghost alone his hipbone. He kept very, very silent.

He was never silent during sex.

He could feel Harry popping his head up, curious. “What are you planning?” he asked, suspicious. His hair was beginning to become unglued to his head, slowly curling from the heat between them.

Eggsy smirked at him before finding that spot in Harry. He knew he found it, because Harry’s face got all tight and his head hit the pillow with a whumph.

Eggsy stroked his prostate, giving it light little strokes, then doing a prodding motion, then doing a swirling motion with his finger.

At the swirling motion, Harry made a sound through his clenched teeth. It was definitely a whine, even though Harry was trying to suppress it. Eggsy could see Harry’s dick, now completely hard, demanding some sort of attention.

Using his other hand, his wrapped his fingers around Harry’s cock, squeezing lightly and pumping in time with the prostate massage. From this position, Eggsy could see Harry’s hand clutching the sheets, wrinkling them. Once, Harry had given him a long lecture about how Eggsy “holding back” was ruining his sheets. The hypocrite.

Eggsy kept up the assault for a few more moments, before he could tell that Harry was about to lose it. Then he stopped all contact entirely.

He wiped the lube from his finger on the sheet before crawling up Harry’s body. Lying over him, he grinned down, while Harry looked up at him with a dark expression on his face.

“Going to finish what you started?” asked Harry, promise coloring his voice.

Eggsy didn’t respond. He didn’t say anything. Instead, he captured Harry’s chin in his head and turned his head commandingly.

Scar tissue was interesting. Most often, it was deadened nerves. You could still feel when someone touched it, but it was curiously dampened by the scarring. Sometimes, the scar wasn’t deep enough to be anything other than a mark that functioned like regular skin. Other times, however, scar tissue was sensitive. It was rather rare, Eggsy knew, but once while they had been making out Eggsy had brushed Harry’s scar and Harry had shivered. Eggsy wasn’t sure if this was because it was sensitive or because Harry was so hyperaware of the scar. But whatever it was, Eggsy planned on using that.

The first kiss he laid on the scar was small, just a brush of the lips. Harry tensed underneath him when he understood what Eggsy was about to do. Eggsy paused, waiting for Harry’s consent.

“By all means,” said Harry when he realized Eggsy was waiting for permission.

Eggsy didn’t go to town on the scar. That wasn’t what it was about, at all. It’d be kinda gross anyway. Instead, he began to pepper the scar with small kisses, varying where the next one would land. Then he breathed on one spot, before laying an open-mouthed kiss on it. He didn’t lave it with his tongue – again, that would be slightly gross – but he kept up an assault of teasing, brushing kisses.

At some point, Harry’s hands left the sheets and wrapped themselves around Eggsy in a tight hug. Eggsy could feel Harry trembling, but barely; just these fine little tremors that wracked his body when his lips made contact with the scar tissue.

Eggsy pulled back, surveying Harry’s face. Harry was beginning to look wrecked. Eggsy stole a kiss on those lips, and then snuck another one, because, yeah. Harry was a great kisser.

And then Eggsy picked up one of Harry’s hands. He kissed the knuckles, the meat of his palm, the callouses from gripping his gun. He let Harry tug his hand back so Harry could put it on his face, caressing his cheek.

“What are you doing to me?” asked Harry. His voice was breathy, ruined, and Eggsy knew that whatever he was doing, it was working.

So he didn’t respond. He slid down Harry’s body again, working two fingers into him this time. Now he could put twice the pressure on Harry’s prostate, watch as Harry’s face lit up.

When Harry let out another whine, this time louder, Eggsy pressed his advantage. He gave one, two, three rougher strokes to the prostate, and it got a very loud whine. Harry brought up his fist and shoved it in his mouth, his eyes closed, trying to recover himself.

Eggsy didn’t want that. He slid up Harry’s body, taking care to make sure the pressure of his own body rubbed against Harry’s cock, and pulled the fist out of Harry’s mouth. He stared down at Harry, now breathing heavily, and tilted his head to the side.

Harry expected him to go back to his scar. Eggsy didn’t. Instead, he sucked a line of love bites into Harry’s neck, just under where his collar would go so he didn’t look like a rent boy at tomorrow’s tribunal. He made each hickey a deep red, and then lavished them with kisses.

Then he sat up to admire his work.

Harry was looking considerably wrecked at this point. He had a necklace of love bites, his eyes were a little wild, and his cock was jutting up from his hips obscenely. His hair was sticking up and Eggsy thought he had never looked hotter.

Eggsy went down again to massage his prostate. He nearly brought Harry to an orgasm for the third time, and that was when Harry’s composure finally broke.

“Fuck,” he said, thickly. “You know exactly what you’re doing. Looking at me so intensely, not saying anything, just looking like you can see inside of me, like you actually approve of everything I am, fuck, fuck…”

Eggsy sealed his mouth over Harry’s cock. Harry let out something resembling a sob. “And those fucking kisses, like you’re saying you appreciate me, you’re so fucking impossible…”

With a popping sound, Eggsy pulled off of Harry’s cock. He raised an eyebrow. “Gentlemen don’t talk like that,” he said, a little breathlessly, digging his fingers into the divots of Harry’s hips. He eyed the freckle-mole by Harry’s bellybutton, wondering if he could get away with worrying it with his teeth.

Suddenly, Eggsy was on his back, a wild-eyed Harry above him. Harry sunk down onto Eggsy’s cock, causing him to cry out.

Harry set a brutal pace, riding Eggsy for all that he was worth. “I get your fucking message,” he said, his fingers burying themselves in Eggsy’s hair. “I get it. I know what you’re trying to say.”

“What’s…” Eggsy tried to locate his wits. “What’s that?”

Harry bared his teeth in something that might have been a smile, if he had been a tiger. He didn’t answer. Instead, he kept bouncing on Eggsy, making Eggsy hit the headboard.

But Eggsy was in charge, here. Not Harry. So, when Harry had just lifted himself off of Eggsy’s cock, Eggsy struck. He sat up, fast, surprising Harry and knocking him a little off-kilter. Eggsy put two hands to Harry’s chest and pushed him backward. He fell back on the bed, blinking, and Eggsy grabbed his feet and spread his legs.

And then Eggsy started fucking him. “I’m in charge,” snapped Eggsy, and then he set a slow, incremental pace.

Harry let out what was definitely a sob at the diminished pace.

“Do you understand?” asked Eggsy.

“Yes!” said Harry, grabbing at Eggsy’s arse desperately. “Yes, sir, please, sir, just give it to me!”

And oh, that snapped something in Eggsy. He started fucking Harry with wild abandon, making sure to hit Harry’s prostate each time. Each thrust had Harry making this “Uhn!” sound that he had never heard before, but wanted to hear every. fucking. night.

“Is this what you want?” Eggsy demanded, almost snarling.

“Yes!” cried Harry. “Yes! More! Sir!”

Eggsy had never heard Harry so vocal, and within two more thrusts, Harry came all over Eggsy’s stomach. Eggsy followed with three more thrusts, collapsing onto Harry’s chest, breathing wildly.

Once he had his wits back, Eggsy rolled off of Harry’s chest to allow him to breathe. They both stared up at the ceiling, silent, before Harry gave a contemplative, “Huh.”

Well. That about summed it up. Eggsy smiled dopily at Harry, Harry smiled back, and then sat up to grab some pillows. They didn’t bother readjusting, just keeping their heads at the foot of the bed.

“That was hot,” said Eggsy. “Didn’t know you could make those sounds.”

“You seemed to enjoy it,” said Harry, archly, like he had done that all for Eggsy’s benefit rather than the truth.

Eggsy grabbed Harry’s arm and hugged it like a teddy bear, planting his face in Harry’s bicep. “I definitely did.”

They were silent for long moments, still enjoying the afterglow.

Then, Harry said, “We’ll win tomorrow.”

“I hope so,” said Eggsy, and pretended he wasn’t scared. Harry seemed to hear the truth in his voice, because he rolled over and gathered Eggsy in his arms.

They stayed like that the entire night.

The next morning was overcast. Eggsy stopped in his flat to say hello to Daisy, who he hadn’t seen in a few days, as well as check in with Lydia.

“She’s learned some new words. She might be able to start forming sentences, soon,” said Lydia.

“I didn’t think her vocabulary was that advanced.”

“She’s picking it up quicker now,” said Lydia. “Which is great. When’s the doctor appointment?”

Eggsy had only told Lydia that he was going to take Daisy to another doctor appointment – he hadn’t even mentioned it to Harry. He said, quietly, “In five days.”

“I’m sure they’ll have good news for us,” said Lydia, giving a firm nod like there was no other possibility.

“Yeah,” said Eggsy. He could use some good news.

“And the guardianship trial?”

“Three days,” said Eggsy, because even though Merlin had promised that the process would be quicker, it still seemed to be dragging.

Lydia trotted over to where Daisy was sitting, watching reruns of Harry’s Mad (she had been obsessed with the show recently because the parrot reminded her of her stuffed parrot). Lydia swung her up into her arms and walked back to Eggsy, who she handed Daisy to.

“Okay, Daisy,” said Lydia, loudly. “What do you say to Eggsy?”

Daisy grinned at him. “Love! Daddy!”

“Oh,” said Eggsy, and fuck, he was not crying, he just had allergies or something. “Oh, Lydia. I’m not her father.”

“You’re the only true father she’ll ever know,” said Lydia, staunchly. “If she wants to call you dad, I say let her.”

Eggsy bounced Daisy on his hip. “Holy shit,” he said, wiping at his eyes. “I don’t think it’s the greatest idea, though. I’m just her brother. It might confuse her.”

Lydia gave him a look that suggested he might be an idiot. “Then when she’s old enough, explain it to her. Let her make the choice. But right now it doesn’t matter.”

“I’m… not entirely sure I deserve this.”

Lydia gusted out a sigh. “Eggsy. With all due respect. I don’t care about what you think you deserve, I care about what you actually deserve. Let Daisy call you dad, and stop fretting about it.”

Eggsy let out a shaky laugh. “Okay then.”

That was that.

When Harry and Eggsy reached the mansion, Eggsy was still feeling off-kilter from the interaction with Lydia. And now nerves were encroaching upon that space, too. Jesus fuck.

“I’m going to be first this morning, aren’t I?” asked Eggsy, nervousness in his voice, as they stood outside the lounge the tribunal was taking place in.

Harry cocked his head to the side. “Yes,” he said. “But before we go in, I need to show you something.”

“What are you showing me?” asked Eggsy, following Harry obediently. “Harry, the tribunal is going to start in a few minutes, what are you doing –”

Harry led Eggsy into an empty room and then whirled around, pinning him to the door. Eggsy gasped, but Harry was already undoing his trousers, getting his hand around Eggsy’s hardening prick.

Harry jacked him off brutally, efficiently. When Eggsy was near coming, Harry fell to his knees, finishing him off with his mouth and taking care of any mess by swallowing. When Harry zipped Eggsy back up and straightened up, fixing his own tie with a flourish, Eggsy gaped at him, a puddle of post-orgasmic bliss.

“What was that?” he said, his knees feeling weak. That was quick, dirty, and not what he would have expected from Harry.

“That was to help with the nerves. And it was a good-luck blowjob,” said Harry. “Also, you looked handsome this morning, and I was gagging for it.”

“Jesus, Harry, you can’t just say these things,” It was too soon for his cock to get involved again, no matter how hot that statement was. He would just jack off to that when Harry was on his next mission, or something.

“We better get going,” said Harry, checking his watch. “We’re about to be late.”

They were not, miraculously, late. They were right on time. They settled into their seats while Wesley stood, a smile on his face that didn’t meet his eyes.

“This is the second day of the tribunal,” he said. He wasted no more time: “We call Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin to the stand.”

Eggsy thought it was a nice accomplishment that Wesley had partially switched over to calling him Eggsy. He got up – accepting a finger brush from Harry – and made his way to the seat.

That orgasm had done it, Eggsy thought. He felt great sitting there. Well, not great, but like he might actually be able to do this. Thank you, endorphins. He looked out at the audience, into the faces of people he knew. He took a deep breath.

It was time.

“State your name for the record.”

“Gary Unwin,” he said. “But I prefer Eggsy.”

Bridget stood up, gliding over to him. She had a kind face, now that he was closer to her, but still not the sort of face that you crossed. It was set in determined lines, with little crow’s feet by her eyes that connoted wisdom instead of age. She gave him a small smile, the warmth belying the strength underneath it.

“Could you please tell us your side of the story, Eggsy? Start at the beginning, if you could.”

Okay, that was easy enough. He started way back at the beginning. Haltingly, he told everyone about the Valentine debacle and having to kill the original Arthur. How his success at that mission qualified him for a position, but they decided not to give him a codename, since there were none available. He talked about his first three meetings with Victoria, describing them in detail.

“I could tell she didn’t approve from the start,” he said.

He went on. He went through the missions that she sent him on. He glossed over some details – no one needed to know details of torture – and enumerated the ways that she ensured he was shaken. He described the medical care denied to him, both psychiatric care and the later mission where she left him to die. He told them about Bedivere’s blackmail.

He told them everything. Including the terrible things she had said to him.

He felt drained by the end of it.

Bridget nodded. “Just a few more questions,” she said, like she could tell he was tired. “Would you classify this as class discrimination?”

“Ma’am,” he said, polite as he could. “I’m not ashamed of where I come from. But Victoria Willoughby makes me feel like I should be.”

Bridget nodded. “Anything else to add?”

“That’s it.”

“No further questions,” she said, sitting down.

The defense lawyer stood up, walking over to Eggsy. He looked very confident. There was a slickness about him, the sort of over-confidence that suggested he thought he had this in the bag. It was both worrying and grating.

His hair was greased down to minimize a slowly-growing bald spot. He had the kind of face that suggested he was once handsome, but age was slowly sapping the vitality from his skin and he wasn’t sure how to change his look to tease out the youth still in him.

But it was the smile that got to Eggsy. It was the sort of smile that invited people to exchange incredulous looks with him at the expense of others. It was the smile of those used to authority, the smile of someone who had never once been bullied in his life but had instead actively picked on others.

Eggsy had met men like this. Men who had been raised in four-story homes, with their parents paying for their college tuition along with their ponies. Men who received their degrees and believed that writing a few tough papers and getting through classes gave them the right to look down on others and tell them that they didn’t work hard enough because they didn’t have the money to go through college, ignoring that if they hadn’t had the parents they did, they never would have made it.

Eggsy had met men like this. He had. He had watched them try to sentence him to prison before, but it had never worked. And sometimes, he met men like this in seedy places, handing them a baggie of coke while they handed him money.

He had met men like this. He knew these men. These so-called superior men who lifted up their noses with distaste when they heard Cockney, who gave a scandalized laugh when they set eyes on his not-perfectly-put-together mother, who raised a polished eyebrow at the homeless sitting on the side of the street like the homeless were a personal affront to their tastes.

Eggsy hated men like this.

“Mr. Unwin,” said the lawyer. Eggsy didn’t even know his name. He didn’t care to. “Let’s start with the basics first. How did you come to meet Agent Galahad?”

“He knew my father,” said Eggsy. “I was in a tight spot, and I had his phone number, so I called him.”

“Could you tell us about this tight spot?”

The man smiled. His teeth were perfectly straightened and were such a pristine white that Eggsy knew he had to have bleached them at some point. Nothing wrong with that – Harry whitened his too – but the smile didn’t reach to his eyes. Or even his fucking nose. Hell, Eggsy was surprised his lips were even responding, considering how insincere it was.

Eggsy watched as the man’s eyebrows rose, like Eggsy’s slight pause was telling. And, with a sudden clarity, Eggsy realized that this man knew. He knew everything about Eggsy and was setting him up for the kill.

He knew. This man knew.

Eggsy wouldn’t be anything but honest. He was not ashamed of where he came from. He was proud of it.

“I was about to be put in prison,” said Eggsy, careful with his words. “Agent Galahad made sure that didn’t happen.”

“And why were you about to be put in prison?”

“Stole a car,” said Eggsy.

“Interesting,” said the lawyer, the word dragging out. “And could you tell us why you stole the car?”

Yes, thought Eggsy. Because Rottie had reminded him that Dean was banging his mum, and that was fucking gross and insulting. Because Rottie was an arsehole and he deserved something bad in his life, to remind him that towering over weaker men didn’t mean that he wouldn’t get comeuppance. Because Eggsy was frustrated with his life and wanted to issue a solid “fuck you” to the world. Because he wanted to feel the grip of adrenaline – he wanted to feel alive.

What Eggsy said was, “The man was a drug dealer who was both harassing my friends and threatening harm to my family. I made a statement.”

“And this is how you make statements? Ridiculous stunts?”

“Not anymore.”

“Oh?”

“Not since that moment.”

“Really,” said the lawyer, raising his eyebrows. “We’ll come back to that. So, Agent Galahad picked you up at the police station. Is that when you began to have sex? As payment?”

“No,” said Eggsy, refusing to be riled. These sorts of men thrived on throwing off their victim. “Our intimate relationship began two months ago.”

“Can you prove that?”

“Both Galahad and I will swear under oath. You can also ask our friends, family, and colleagues. They were unaware any relationship existed because we were extremely discrete about it.”

“If you didn’t tell anyone, how are people supposed to confirm when the relationship started?”

“Agent Galahad and I will swear under oath,” Eggsy repeated.

“You’re saying we only have your word.”

“Yes,” said Eggsy. There was a small pause while the lawyer looked at him, like he expected him to add more. Granted, the explanation now sounded lame to his ears, even despite the truthfulness of it.

“I see. It didn’t occur to you to register your changed relationship status? It could have affected missions.”

“How? Agent Galahad and I have never been on a mission together.”

“What if you had?”

“Then we would have registered our relationship status.”

“Hm,” said the lawyer, drawing out the sound like he was questioning the validity of that statement. “Well. After the police station. You then went through training to become a Kingsman. But it says on your record that you failed one of the tests.”

“Yes. I was required to shoot a dog. I couldn’t.”

“You can’t shoot a dog but you feel comfortable torturing a human?” The lawyer raised a greasy eyebrow, an incredulous look on his face. It threw his whole face into a warped sort of disbelief, his pale skin a startling contrast to the black hair, the effect almost devilish in its inception.

“Human beings are capable of cruelty and have the ability to inflict pain on other humans,” said Eggsy. “A dog is an innocent, unless deliberately trained – by a human – to be mean. So yes. I can’t shoot a dog, but I can torture a human. I would hesitate to call it comfortable torturing a human, however.”

The lawyer ignored this. “So, when you failed the Kingsman test, you…” He looked down at his notes, which he had brought with him, and then glanced at Eggsy. “You stole Chester King’s car? But I thought you didn’t make statements like that anymore?”

“That was because I was angry,” said Eggsy. “It was a terrible test.”

“You were angry.”

“Yes.”

The lawyer tsked before consulting his notes again. Eggsy had no doubt he didn’t need them, he was just using it for dramatics.

“Let’s discuss your interactions with Arthur. You mentioned that the first time you met her, you had no idea who she was. Do you think, perhaps, that you treated her poorly, which contributed to her negative opinion of you?”

“I treated her like I treat everyone else,” said Eggsy.

“As some testimonies might imply, you don’t treat people very respectfully,” said the lawyer.

“I don’t remember anyone saying that.”

“I said imply.”

“No one implied that.”

The lawyer raised an eyebrow. Eggsy wanted to shave the damn thing off. “All right, then.” He glanced out at the crowd with a ‘is-this-guy-kidding?’ sort of face. Eggsy wished he could smack him around. He could do it, too; the lawyer’s skinny physique implied a sort of flimsiness that made one think a small push might snap him in half. The lawyer referenced his notes again, shuffling self-importantly, before setting the notes back down on his table. “So, you made a bad first few impressions on her.”

“Only if you think working causes a bad first impression.”

The lawyer ignored him. “Ms. Willoughby has a statement here saying that you were comfortable with foregoing the eight hour break and the psychiatric help. She says that you insisted that you wanted to be on missions, and that you needed no help.”

“That’s a lie. I requested psychiatric help, but she denied it to me. And even if that were the case – which it’s not – she’s still required to follow protocol and deny any request like that.”

“It’s your word against hers,” said the lawyer.

“Most of the agency seems to believe that Arthur was in the wrong. It’s not just my word.”

The lawyer seemed to enjoy ignoring Eggsy’s remarks. He began to ask questions about the missions; was the gratuitous sex with Diane necessary? How did others find out about his classified missions? What about during Kingsman meetings – didn’t he think he was a little belligerent? Why didn’t he kill Diane when he had the chance?

There were more, so many more, all designed to make him look incompetent, make him look like he was deliberately rejecting orders. It was tiring. Eggsy had felt drained before, but now he was just fucking exhausted.

“Right,” said the lawyer, nodding. “We’ve got that all established. Let’s talk about this notation in your file. It says here that you were chosen for training in torture because you have the ability to disassociate due to past events in your life. Could you elaborate?”

“If it’s not in my file,” said Eggsy, faux-sweetly, “I probably don’t want to talk about it.”

The lawyer scented the blood in the water. “Really. Well, I did a little digging. I thought it might be educational to talk to some of your old associates. I found it odd, really, that you never had a formal job up until your Kingsman training at the age of twenty-three. Certainly a man who claimed to be so family-oriented had tried to support his mother and sister?”

Eggsy was silent. He knew what was coming.

“Could you confirm whether or not you used to sell drugs?”

Eggsy didn’t hesitate, because he wouldn’t give the man that satisfaction. “Yes. I did.”

“Really. When?”

“I started selling when I was seventeen. I stopped for a period of time when I joined the marines, but restarted afterwards.”

“Who did you sell to?”

“Lawyers like you,” slipped out before he could stop it. There was a tittering in the audience. The defense lawyer flushed slightly, the ruddy color standing out awkwardly on his high cheekbones.

He rallied well. “Really? My reports indicate otherwise.”

Eggsy’s lips twisted into a humorless smile. “I sold to some darker parts.”

“No children?”

“Never.”

“Anyone under aged?”

“Not if I could help it.”

“Not if you could help it?”

“There were bad days,” said Eggsy, simply.

“And what made you decide to start selling drugs? Give us the why,” said the lawyer, smirking an oily smirk.

When they were younger, Ryan used to like to watch law shows on the telly. Cop shows, too. It was when he wanted to become a lawyer, way back before he realized how futile that would be for someone like him. Sometimes, he and Eggsy would veg on the couch, watching lawyers play the game while the cops shook their heads in the background. Ryan would mouth words after they said it, things like “precedent” and “deposition” and “arraignment,” like he was testing them out for later and committing them to memory.

Sometimes – Ryan bribed him to keep this quiet, as if he wouldn’t – Ryan would take notes on a little notepad. Little strategies that the lawyer used, or pieces of advice the show would inadvertently give. Eggsy would later learn that Ryan’s father found the notebook and mocked him for it, quickly giving Ryan a reality check about where he was going to end up in life, but at the time, Ryan was committed to learning legal things.

One of the pieces of advice Eggsy remembered Ryan writing down was never, ever ask a witness why they did something unless the lawyer was absolutely sure how they were going to respond.

What a terrible lawyer, thought Eggsy.

He had to either be confident in Eggsy’s answer or woefully underestimating him.

“My step-father made it clear to me that we were running out of money. At the time, he had lost his official job and he hadn’t yet made his shadier jobs lucrative. We were living in a bit of a limbo. He told me that if I didn’t come up with a way to make money, that he would kill my mother for the insurance money. Said he’d do it in front of me to teach me a lesson. I thought selling drugs was worth saving her life.”

There was a small ripple in the courtroom, like his frankness had startled people. Or like they were uncomfortable with the grey morality of the situation. Was it worth selling drugs to save a life? These people didn’t know. They never had to make that decision. Some of them might have been spy agents familiar with hard decisions, but never before had they been given that choice.

The smile slipped off the lawyer’s face for a fraction of a second before he found it again. “And you couldn’t think of any other way to come up with money?”

“I lived in a depressed neighborhood. I saw someone get shot over an open position at a petrol station. And I needed large amounts of money quickly. The peons never get as much as the kingpins, I never had enough to save any significant amounts, but it was enough to support my mother.”

“If you were going to do something illegal, why didn’t you choose to pursue something less damaging? Drugs actively ruin a person’s life.”

“Like what?”

“Well,” said the lawyer. “Well. There were reports of prostitution around your area. Was that a side job, too?”

Eggsy blinked once, then twice. He couldn’t quite tamp down upon the smile. “Okay, first, I think it’s cute that you somehow think that prostitution is easier and more morally sound than drug dealing. Male prostitutes in my area typically made anywhere between $20-100 per hour, depending on how good they were. Just starting in the profession was dangerous because turf was already divided, and it’s difficult finding clients. Especially since clients tend to be dangerous.

“A night as a drug dealer, I had back-up in case a client got violent. I knew exactly who my clients were, and I could always count on having new ones if the old ones got clean. But I never actively searched for new clients; they came to me, on their own volition. If they weren’t getting it from me, they were getting cut-rate drugs from some other guy. Maybe you can call it enabling addictions that might ruin a person’s life, but I can’t help someone who has already decided to buy drugs. I can only try to make my own living, and help those who want to help themselves.

“Being a rent boy, though… Lots more risk to me. Client could get dangerous. I wouldn’t have back-up, even if I did text my location to someone the client could easily get violent before they got there. Physically, prostitution was just more dangerous in my area. Plus, there’s the chance of STD’s and other shi – stuff like that. Less money, more danger? That’s not easier. And even if you think it’s more morally sound…”

Eggsy shrugged. “You get the same dirty feeling either way. Might as well go with the better option. So, no. I never prostituted myself.”

Like a champ, the lawyer changed the subject. “So you sold drugs for roughly four years.”

“Give or take, yes.”

“And what would you do if a person didn’t have money for the drugs that you sold him?”

Eggsy tightened his mouth. The lawyer had something like a smirk lurking around his lips, like he knew exactly what Eggsy would do. Who had this man spoken to? Rottie? Dean?

“It depended on how much they owed.”

“Give us a range.”

“If it wasn’t bad, then I would just threaten them. If they owed a lot, I would shoot out their knees. But that rarely happened –”

“Thank you, moving on –”

“If I didn’t come back with the money,” said Eggsy, talking over the lawyer, “then my step-father made it clear that he would kill my mother. I did what I had to do.”

“So you’re able to disassociate because of your time dealing drugs.”

“Among other things.”

“Other things?”

“My step-father was abusive. You don’t get through those types of things easily.”

“I see,” said the lawyer. Eggsy didn’t think that he could see. “It also seems you’re currently in a guardianship battle for your younger sister.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I want to take care of her.”

“Is that why you brought her to work with you one day?” The lawyer nearly laughed, his face lighting up. “Couldn’t be without her?”

Eggsy hated being taunted. “The first day I brought her to work, my mother was drunk and high. I couldn’t leave Daisy with her and I didn’t have time to find a babysitter. The second time, my mother had abandoned her in my flat. She said she thought I had been there, even though I hadn’t been home in days. She opted to go out to the pub rather than look over my sister. I didn’t have time to find a sitter then, either. It had nothing to do with not being able to be without her, and everything to do with being a responsible brother.”

“Is your mother an alcoholic?”

“Yes.”

“And does she get high often?”

“Yes. Cough syrup.”

“Is that what you used to deal? Cough syrup?”

Eggsy couldn’t stop the smile. “Cough syrup is an over-the-counter drug. You don’t deal cough syrup because it’s not illegal in the first place.”

The lawyer grimaced, his cheeks pinking. “My point is that you claim to be trying to save your mother, yet it’s clear she’s still has problems. How can you position yourself as a good son when your mother can’t control her own addictions? Why aren’t you helping her out?”

Eggsy’s mouth tightened. God, he asked himself that question every day, and he still didn’t have an answer. So he said, woodenly, “You can’t help someone who doesn’t help themselves,” which Jamal had told him five hundred times. It still sounded like an excuse, even now, in this courtroom. The lawyer looked like he agreed.

“Why didn’t you send her to rehab?”

“She’s not a child. I can’t command her to do something.”

“Why didn’t you pour out the alcohol so she can’t drink?”

“I did. I did pour out the alcohol. It’s not that easy. Even if there’s no alcohol at home, she still drinks when she’s out with her friends. Or she hides it in her room.”

“And you didn’t think to discuss with her how this is impacting your sister?”

I have,” said Eggsy, his voice beginning to sound frayed. “I have. It’s not that easy.”

“You keep saying that,” said the lawyer. He picked up the papers again, rustling through them. “But were you trying to help her when you were in New Zealand? How about Taipei? Or Tuvalu? Suriname? It seems you’ve been away quite a bit.”

“For my job,” said Eggsy. “I’m a Kingsman agent.”

“But not a named one. I think it’s possible that you’ve been deliberately accepting missions – even against protocol – to shirk your responsibility to your family.”

Distress was beginning to curdle Eggsy’s stomach. “That’s not at all what’s been going on.”

The lawyer set down his papers, exchanging a look with the other lawyers. “Then how can you justify taking so many missions overseas?”

“I thought… That’s – Look. I’m trying to do a good job here. I’m trying to prove that I’m reliable as an agent. I’m going to take any mission that comes my way, because I still need to prove my worth.”

“Prove your worth? Is that what you did in Uzbekistan? It says here –” He picked up a paper and held it up, like some warped trophy, “ – that you allowed an innocent couple to die at a bed and breakfast.”

“Allowed? Allowed? I didn’t allow them to die, I had bad intel!”

“Right.” The lawyer exchanged another look with his colleagues, and Eggsy dug the nails of his thumbs into the sensitive skin of his thigh. He could feel the sharp prick of the nail even through the layer of bespoke suit. It was taking everything in him not to either strangle the lawyer, walk out of the room, or just fucking break down. Mixed in, of course, was anger and insecurity, a potent cocktail of hate-myself and hate-you-more.

“And what did you used to deal?”

Safer territory, at least for the moment. Eggsy counted himself lucky – he still felt traces of guilt about that couple, no matter how much his therapist reassured him.

“Coke, mostly.”

“Mostly?”

“I’d deal marijuana occasionally, but there was always less profit in that for me.”

“Were you responsible for your mother’s addictions, then? Did she see you selling and that’s when she got into the alcohol herself?”

Eggsy almost hissed at that question. Not safer territory, then. “No. My mother started drinking long before I even understood what alcohol was.”

This was the most painful thing he had ever gone through. He hadn’t even told most of these things to Harry, let alone to every single one of his colleagues. The only way he was getting through it was by not looking around and fixing his gaze singularly on the lawyer.

“So, let me make sure I have your history right,” said the lawyer. “You began to deal drugs at seventeen, while living with your alcoholic mother. You joined the marines but decided to quit, instead going back to selling drugs. And now you’re attempting to take custody of your sister?”

Well. If you put it like that, it sounded terrible.

“My mother isn’t fit to take care of her.”

“And you are?”

“I’m not perfect,” said Eggsy, slowly. He flexed his fingers. “I have flaws. Lots of them. But I know how to take care of a child. I’m all she has.”

Should you take care of a child? When you’ve already ruined lives?”

“I’ve saved them, too.”

“If you say so.” The lawyer shuffled his papers, looking like he was about finished. “I think it is now clear to everyone in the room what is going on.”

“Enlighten me,” said Eggsy, with a coolness he didn’t feel.

“Well, you’re in a relationship with a man almost thirty years your senior, who saved you from a miserable life –”

“Let me stop you right there,” said Eggsy, firmly. “My relationship with Harry has nothing to do with repayment, neither him repaying the debt from my dad nor me repaying him for springing me from prison. It’s more than that.”

“Oh?” said the lawyer. “Explain to us why you’re with him.”

“It’s…” Eggsy gestured his hands, feebly. Words escaped him. “Well…”

The lawyer raised his eyebrow.

What was he supposed to say?

Eggsy didn’t know anything about love, or if what he had with Harry was even that, but he knew what he felt. He didn’t know how to explain it, or if it qualified as love, or if it was even truly real, but he would never be ashamed of how he felt.

He closed his eyes and thought of smoke curling around Sharpie’s face, of hanging out with Jamal and Ryan, of he and his mum watching movies, of Daisy’s laugh. He remembered when Lee swung him up in his arms. The way his mum cried every night after Lee left for the service, and the way she sobbed when Harry told them he wasn’t coming home.

And he thought of Harry. Of the thrill he got when Harry looked at him like he was of worth. He thought of the way that Harry frustrates him, scares him, makes him crazy, makes him laugh, makes him happy.

“Harry holds my hand,” he finally said, opening his eyes back up.

“What?” The lawyer looked five seconds away from laughing. His shoulders shook, like he was holding in humor, and he glanced over to the other two lawyers for Victoria. One of them had a hand demurely covering her mouth, like she didn’t want to reveal how that childish statement had both surprised and amused her. The other lawyer had both his eyebrows raised, like Eggsy’s statement was insignificant, a piece of proof on how incompetent Eggsy was. The three of them exchanged looks, like they didn’t have Eggsy and an entire courtroom around them.

“Yeah,” said Eggsy, boldly, starting to grow more confident in his thoughts and explanation. “Harry holds my hand. I really like it when he holds my hand, because he doesn’t have to, you know? But it makes me feel good when he does that, because no one has ever held my hand before. And I like it when we do other stuff, too, but when Harry holds my hand I just want him to keep holding my hand.

“And then, while he’s holding my hand, I realize that I want to keep him near me. It’s like the world is a little bit lighter, like there’s more hope in it. It’s a great feeling. The sex is great, the conversations are great, but what’s even better? Is that he’s Harry, and him just being Harry near me is enough.

“It’s like…” Eggsy cast about for the correct words. “It’s like this. I’m not a morning person.”

There was a titter in the crowd, like they weren’t sure whether to be amused or not.

“I’m not!” said Eggsy, grinning a little. “But Harry gets up at godawful times. It’s like, it’s five in the morning and Harry is up and out of bed, looking completely trashed because not even Harry Hart looks good in the morning. And then he showers, and bustles around the room, and keeps waking me up because he’s a fucking arsehole and he knows I just want to sleep. He thinks that the whole world should be on his time schedule, and it’s not that he’s early or late… It’s that you got your times wrong. I firmly believe it’s not healthy to be up before nine in the morning, earliest, but he’s up and he expects every other human to be, too.

“But then there are the mornings that it comes to be five in the morning, and instead of getting up, he rolls over and decides to have a sleep-in with me.” Eggsy paused. “That’s a good feeling. It makes me happy, and I can tell he’s happy, too. Else he wouldn’t bother with it. And that’s why, sometimes, I’ll get up at 4:55 and make a pot of tea before he’s properly up, so we can enjoy the godawful early morning together.”

Eggsy thought about it, and added, “Even though he thinks my tea is horrible.”

There was a silence in the courtroom. Dead, ringing silence. Eggsy thought, a little panicked, that he must have said something terribly wrong. But then the lawyer blinked, looked down at his notes, and cleared his throat.

He continued on like Eggsy hadn’t spoken. “Let me explain the rest of it,” he said, “You’re in a relationship with a man thirty years your senior, and you come from a broken home. Your step-father was abusive, your mother a drunk, and you were forced to take care of a small child. You’ve dealt drugs, you have an arrest record longer than my arm, and you have clear issues with authority. Your past demonstrates your instability. If anything, Victoria Willoughby was a saint for dealing with you. You are not qualified for this job, and your actions show that you could easily relapse into any of the behaviors of your past.”

Eggsy frowned. “I need to clarify something. Are you saying having an abusive step-father and a damaged mother is grounds for dismissal?”

“I – no, that’s not what I meant –”

“Because, bruv, let me tell you what I just heard.” Eggsy leaned forward, pinning that fucker down with his eyes. He wasn’t going to let anyone talk down to him like that, not even at a trial like this. Not even when his job was on the line. “I heard you just say that someone with a past doesn’t qualify for a future. I heard you say that because I had to do some difficult things, that that means I’m unstable and will continue to do them without reason. And you know what? I think you’re full of shit.”

The lawyer opened his mouth, but Eggsy was on a roll. “Yeah, you’re right. I dealt drugs. I’ve been arrested more than once. I’ve had to step in front of my mother to take the punch from my step-father meant for her, only to turn around and realize that she’s high as a fucking kite. But you know what? I’m not ashamed of where I come from. No, I’m proud of it. I’m proud, because I know when I’m running at a mark, or sprinting away from a building about to blow, that I can run so fast because I got good running away from thugs looking to beat me up. I’m proud, because when I drive a car, one of my specialties, I know it’s because I learned to drive at thirteen, scared out of my fucking mind, with my mum bleeding from a head wound in the passenger seat. I’m proud, because when I best someone in a fight, it comes from skills learned dodging fists at a young age. I got those skills from tough fucking situations. I wish I hadn’t had to go through them, but I’ll never be ashamed of where I’ve come from.

“And I’m even more proud, because I know all of my accomplishments are mine, and mine alone. I didn’t get where I am now because my parents bought and paid for my law degree. I got here because someone saw a little bit of potential in me, decided to give me a chance, and I stepped up. I got to this position because I chose the hard path, because I broke the cycle of abuse. I’ve read the statistics, I know that not all the abused kids make it out. But I did. It gives me hope for this world that other kids can make it out, too. And I decided to make a difference in this world. I’m saving lives, helping out, making sure this world becomes a little bit better. I’m making a fucking difference, and I did that on my own. I didn’t follow a path laid out for me at birth, and I didn’t go where directed. I stood up and spoke, and people are listening now. And where I came from? That’s an accomplishment. To even be heard. That’s something to be proud of.

“So you can stand there, saying that my past means that I have no future. You can tell these judges that I’m insane, that I have no heart. You can tell them that I’ll be an unfit parent, that the torture I’m trained in means that I’m unstable. You can tell them all of those things. But the truth, whether or not you have the bollocks to accept it, is that my past makes me the best fucking agent this agency has ever seen. I’m not going to back down just because some lawyer looks down their nose and thinks I’m not worthy. I’ve had too many people tell me no. I’m going to tell you the same thing I’ve told every one of them – you’re the one not worthy, because you don’t have the humanity to stand up for what’s right.

“Don’t act like my roots make me inferior. They make me who I am, and I will never be ashamed of being myself.”

The lawyer gaped at him. There was more silence in the room. Then the lawyer’s mouth clicked shut. “That’s – I see. I am standing up for what’s right. I’m standing up for Victoria.”

“All due respect, sir,” said Eggsy, “you’re currently standing up for the abuser. And that’s on you and your conscious.”

The lawyer clenched his jaw. “No further questions.”

He sat down.

Bridget stood up. “I think that summed up everything nicely. No further questions.”

“I think now is a wonderful time to break for lunch,” said Wesley.

No one moved for a second, and then there was a slow shuffling out of the room. Eggsy sighed, standing up from his chair. Before he could make it a few feet, Bridget grabbed his arm.

“Wonderful testimony,” she said, and seemed to genuinely mean it.

“Thanks,” said Eggsy, baffled. He went forward, finding Harry.

“Sorry,” when he saw Harry. “You told me to answer curtly and not give them fuel. I kinda did.”

“It could go one of two ways,” said Harry. “The judges could find your little speech inspiring. Or they might use it as evidence of your mental instability. You just told off a lawyer in front of the entire organization.”

Harry paused for dramatic effect, and then said, “Also – since when are you the best agent? There could be debate about that.”

Eggsy shoved Harry, because Harry knew what to say to make him grin a little. “Shut up.”

“You also called the lawyer bruv. Bruv. I thought we discussed that habit?”

“But just for you!”

Harry and Eggsy were the only ones left in the room, so they walked out, lightheartedly arguing about calling people bruv. Outside, Mike the mechanic stood, clearly waiting for Eggsy.

“Thank you, Eggsy,” said Mike, clasping his hand.

“What for?”

“Saying what I’ve always wanted to say. Well, I’m not an agent, so without that. But I’m proud of where I come from, too.”

Eggsy paused for a moment, surprised and not sure how to react. Harry, in true spy fashion, managed to retreat without seeming like he was retreating, leaving Eggsy to talk to Mike.

“Well.” Eggsy gave a hesitant smile. He didn’t really want to talk about his testimony. It wasn’t meant to be inspirational or some sort of statement. He was just standing up for himself. “Gotta stick up for ourselves, I guess.”

Mike nodded. His jaw looked like he was clenched, like he was feeling emotional. “I just wanted to say thank you for that.”

“Anytime, bruv.”

Eggsy walked away, off to find Harry. The mix of emotions in him was starting to feel overwhelming, in a way that suggested the onset of a panic attack. He was still breathing just fine, though. It was like it was on the edges, ready for a trigger but not quite enough to overtake him just yet.

But Eggsy knew from experience that, even if the feeling faded, it would still be on the fringes all day. So he slipped into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. He spent some time meditatively breathing, an activity that Merlin had once suggested during training.

After a good ten minutes of collecting himself, he finally went to join the rest of the agents for lunch. No one even blinked when Eggsy walked in. Roxy slid a sandwich over to him, and Eggsy dug in. Thankfully, none of them mentioned the testimony. Eggsy didn’t think he could handle it right then.

They reconvened after lunch. Victoria was up next. Eggsy didn’t pay much attention, honestly. She gave a testimony full of lies – Eggsy was a terrible agent, he was abrasive, never followed orders. His probation committee still had him on probation, for good reason.

Victoria talked for the entire afternoon. Both Bridget and the defense lawyer worked her over thoroughly, each taking turns to ask questions and clarify. It was the most he had seen them clarify – Bridget asked three rounds of questions in addition to her original round, and the defense lawyer asked an additional two. By the time Victoria sat down, she looked fairly shaken as well.

During that time, they only called up Eggsy once, mostly to clarify conflicting timelines and statements. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as his earlier testimony, since it was mostly just confirming things.

They broke again for dinner, because everyone had the feeling it was going to be a long night. Geraint really did need this over by the next day.

They got cheap pasta from a pizza joint – it was funny to watch Harry pick at it and pretend he wasn’t wrinkling his nose – and enjoyed the break while it lasted. Lamorak spread out on a couch and started reading a purple-colored book entitled An Improper Aristocrat while Gawain slunk off to surreptitiously call Kathy because he wanted to hear her voice. Tristan started knitting, because apparently that was a thing, while Roxy pretended she wasn’t dozing off from her seat by a window.

They were sluggish and cranky when they got the call to go back into the room. The fluorescent lighting of the mansion looked eerie in the large lounge, and with it being pitch black outside, the entire room had a surreal cast to it. They all settled in their seats while Merlin was called up to the stand.

Eggsy noticed that a large projector had been set up behind the judging panel. It took up nearly the entire wall, making one hell of a telly screen. Even with this, it seemed, Kingsman only had the best of the best.

“State your name for the record.”

“Merlin.” Merlin drummed his fingers on the desk in front of him. The bags under his eyes had gotten significantly deeper since Eggsy had last saw him, and he looked like he could use a good winter of hibernation. He was visibly impatient by these formalities, sighing and shifting like he wanted to get to the point.

“Could you tell us about your impressions of Eggsy?”

“At first, he seemed to be a problem candidate. Had a huge chip on his shoulder, was rather abrasive. I still had hopes for him, because some of our best agents started as problem candidates. He ended up easily rising to the top of the candidate pool. I’m rather fond of him, now.”

“And you said you had evidence of wrongdoing on Ms. Willoughby’s part?”

“Yes. I subpoenaed her records, even the heavily classified ones. May I show them as evidence?”

“Indeed.”

Merlin had a look of ‘finally!’ on his face even though that whole interaction couldn’t have taken more than a few moments. The judges shifted in their seats, now facing the screen. Merlin made a few taps on his ever-present clipboard, concentrating.

“Fuck!”

Eggsy blinked, because that was him standing there on the screen. He was seeing out of a glasses feed – Jesus, it was their first meeting, and it was from Victoria’s glasses. He, admittedly, did look ridiculous, covered in soot. He was practically dripping it, and he watched as screen-Eggsy scrubbed a hand across his face, smearing more soot across his cheeks carelessly.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m a little out of sorts, what with being a bit of a mess.”

Eggsy grimaced, because Jesus, he looked like a puppy. He vaguely recalled thinking that that grin had come off as roguish; clearly, Eggsy needed to practice his expressions in the mirror or something because that was not confident in the least.

“And you are?”

“Eggsy. Eggsy Unwin, ma’am. I doubt you want to shake, ma’am, my hand is a bit out of commission.”

“Axley? Are you an agent?”

“No, Eggsy.”

“Eggsy.”

“Yes ma’am. Do you need some help? Directions or anything? Otherwise, I have to excuse myself. I’m dripping soot on the carpet.”

“Of course.”

“I’ll be sure to clean it up later. Ain’t fair to the cleaning staff, innit?”

“So you’re part of the cleaning staff?”

It ended with Eggsy’s wave, which now looked less jaunty and more friendly. It left Eggsy grimacing, because he had tried so hard to keep the Cockney accent out of this courtroom, but these videos would nix that plan. Not that they didn’t already know where he was from. Cor.

Also, it was just hard to watch a video recording of oneself.

They went through a few other recordings – Eggsy’s second meeting with her, the first official Kingsman meeting. They went through a few Eggsy hadn’t seen, meetings between her and Harry and then her and Bedivere.

One made Eggsy cover his mouth to stop from laughing:

Harry sat across from Victoria. His long legs were crossed, and his glasses were slightly askew, like he had just come from a mission and hadn’t bothered to correct them.

“That was a tough mission for you, wasn’t it, Galahad?” said Victoria. It was her feed so they couldn’t see her face, but she adjusted minutely, and it gave the impression of slight condescension.

An eyebrow climbed up on Harry’s face. “I wouldn’t classify it as such,” he said, folding his hands pristinely in his lap. He tilted his head and his glasses corrected themselves on his face, like they had never been crooked in the first place.

“You were a little slow to retrieve the anklets,” said Victoria.

Eggsy had no idea what that meant, but he figured he’d ask Harry later. Probably a mission objective.

“We could attribute my slow reaction time to the fact that there had been an explosion three minutes earlier and the ground was trembling from the building falling in on itself,” said Harry. He gave a polite smile, like it was understandable that Victoria had missed that small detail.

Victoria sighed and shuffled some papers. There were flashes of titles on some of the documents – Requisition Form, Harry Hart AKA Agent Galahad, Notice of Termination – before she looked back up. Eggsy could have sworn his name was on the notice of termination form.

“I hate to have this conversation with you,” said Victoria, a bit slowly, “but with your recent head injury on a disastrous mission –”

“I thought my mission to Kentucky was six months ago,” said Harry. “Does that count it as recent?”

“ – and now this, I just wanted to bring up the question of whether or not you’re still competent enough to fill this position.”

Harry, bless his soul, barely reacted. His eye didn’t so much as twitch. He said, slightly deadpan, “Are you saying receiving an injury six months flags me as incompetent?”

“No,” said Victoria. “The head injury is simply more evidence that you’re perhaps… losing your touch.”

“Losing my touch.”

“You’ve gotten old,” said Victoria, bluntly, like she was growing impatient with him not understanding. “And with being laid up in the medical ward so often…”

“Excuse me,” said Harry, sweetly, “but I would like to remind you that I’m not so weak as to let a small coma affect my career.”

Victoria froze.

Eggsy wasn’t sure what to laugh at more – the fact that Victoria called Harry old to his face, or the not-so-veiled insult directed to Victoria. Eggsy wished he could see her face in that moment.

Victoria cleared her throat. “Well,” she said, curling her fingers around some papers, “Your ability to bounce back from injuries nonewithstanding, there’s still the question of whether you are able to operate efficiently in the field.”

Harry leaned back languorously, and every line of his body screamed danger. Victoria had to be some form of higher idiot to question the strength of Harry, to allege that Harry was unfit for the Secret Service.

“It’s understandable that you would be concerned, since you have many gaps in your knowledge. Regarding Kingsman, of course, not in general. Your inexperience means that you require a certain amount of time to fully acquaint yourself with this organization and its inner workings.” Harry lowered his voice and said – without sounding condescending, but the words indicated otherwise – “I know it’s difficult, my dear. Especially for someone like you. Someone who’s new to the entire organization, I mean, not because of your personality or intelligence level. My pardons, I certainly didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”

Victoria didn’t react. She was holding herself stiffly, like she knew he was insulting her but wasn’t sure how to approach the underhanded way in which he was doing it.

“But don’t worry,” said Harry, blinking innocently. “It won’t take long for you to realize which agents are the ones to truly look out for.”

With that cryptic statement, the transmission cut out. Eggsy spent several moments rubbing his face to disguise his smile and doing his best not to look at Harry. Looking at him would’ve completely broken his composure.

“Well,” said Harry, and Eggsy chanced a glance at him finally. Harry was looking at Kay, who was giving Harry a slightly incredulous look. “I certainly never thought other people would be privy to that. How embarrassing.”

Harry didn’t look embarrassed. Maybe more like smug.

After that, it got to Eggsy’s first capture mission. They showed the conversation beforehand – Arthur brushing Merlin off about handling – and then it cut to Eggsy’s own feed.

“Remember,” said Arthur, “Knock on his door and take him out immediately. You’ll need to engineer an escape route with him in tow, because you can’t possibly torture him there. Someone will hear the screams.”

The next moments on screen were dizzying; the fight with the agent was brutal, just as brutal as Eggsy remembered it. Eggsy’s bluffing, from start to finish, seemed particularly cringe-worthy in retrospect. When the iron got pushed down on him, he could see a few support staff in the room covering their eyes.

“Arthur, some help,” said Eggsy.

“I’ve disabled the cameras,” said Arthur. “Other than that, you’re on your own.”

Eggsy could see Geraint frowning up front. Princess Tilde had a hand covering her mouth, and she flashed a look at Eggsy, like she was sending him comforting thoughts. Both of them knew that that was irresponsible of Arthur, then. Thankfully, Merlin must have opted not to show the torture that came later, because it skipped right to the debrief.

“Now we know that Chester King had contacted some assassins to take out Kingsmen agents, and those assassins didn’t keep their mouths shut. If we can just discover those assassins, and trace the leaks…”

Arthur went on in the feed, but Eggsy wasn’t paying attention. He had already lived it once; he didn’t need to hear it again. No, instead he was looking at himself. The feed was through Arthur’s glasses, so it was aimed right at him.

He looked… Well, Eggsy hardly recognized himself. His face was a pasty white, but there were these two red spots right on his cheeks. His eyes were glassy, like he couldn’t quite stay focused, and his eyes were moving back and forth slightly, like he was tracking something that wasn’t there.

Harry had been right. He had been trembling. Not even faintly, but these rather noticeable shivers that were keeping his hands completely unsteady. That, coupled with the huge iron burn on the front of his blazer… He was lucky that Harry hadn’t drugged him that night, because he just looked like a wreck.

“Mr. Unwin? Are you listening to me?”

“I apologize, ma’am. I’m afraid I need some rest. May I be dismissed? I rather fancy a shower.

“Of course. This mission is to be kept off the books, understand? At least until we have more information about the leaks.”

“Do you want me to report to the psychiatric department?”

“No, no need. They’ll want to know why you’re there, and I don’t want this to be official yet. You can report to medical, of course – get that little burn looked at – but you best hurry. You’ll need to be on the road for that gala soon.”

The Eggsy in the feed blinked sluggishly, like that thought wasn’t piercing the muck around his mind correctly. Weirdly enough, Eggsy actually felt a bit sorry for past-Eggsy. It was an odd feeling, especially since it was like he was viewing past-Eggsy almost as a different person, but… Eggsy couldn’t explain it. Distanced from the issue, months after the fact, he could see the wrongness of the situation in a way that he hadn’t quite grasped in the moment.

“You still want me to go?”

“Is there a reason you shouldn’t?”

“I… Some rest might be…”

“Ah. I see. I forget, sometimes, that you come from a place unused to such work ethic.”

“Excuse me?”

Eggsy winced. There was a dead look on his face in the feed. Jesus.

“Let me be clear, Gary Unwin,” said Arthur. “If it were up to me, you would not be employed at this institution. This is off the record, of course. But I’ve dealt with your type before. Lazy, arrogant, entitled. You believe because you had an upbringing in the estates that you deserve certain rights. Let me rid you of that notion right now. You will earn everything that you get here. I’ve seen the way you treat people, the way you make a mockery of this establishment. I won’t have it.

“I don’t know how you’ve endeared yourself to some of the agents. Honestly, I have no desire to know, as I fear it might be illicit, and I would never want to suspect my superior agents of that. But I see you, Eggsy. And you won’t be getting away with any tomfoolery here. I have my eye on you. And I’m the one in power.

“Do you understand?”

“Earn my place here. Got it.”

“Good,” said Arthur. “You’re dismissed. Get to medical and get to your next mission.”

To Eggsy’s absolute horror, the feed abruptly switched to Eggsy’s as he walked out of the room. It followed him as he went through that fucking panic attack.

Yeah. Like his emotions hadn’t already been flayed alive and lain out for everyone in this room to see. Fuck, fuck, fuck, that was unfair.

Harry wound his fingers through his. Fuck, did he need that.

They showed the feed from Arthur assigning his second capture mission, threatening to take away vacation days if he didn’t do it, before showing small snippets of the mission itself. It had been clearly censored to cut out the torture, something Eggsy appreciated.

Then came the debrief of that mission. The feed was from Arthur’s glasses, and Eggsy recognized the door she was walking towards. She gave a firm couple of knocks before opening the door.

There was a laugh from the audience – Eggsy looked up from the floor in the feed, startled, as Daisy was building a tower of blocks on his back. Eggsy scrambled up, taking care that the blocks didn’t fall and harm Daisy, before addressing Arthur.

“I believe I told you to debrief after your eight-hour break,” said Arthur.

“Oh,” he said. “That. I had to undergo foot surgery, and then I spent most the day and night sleeping it off –”

“Convenient. And your excuse for this morning?”

“I’ve got Daisy with me today. You also watched the whole mission yourself. I thought…”

“We need to debrief. As I have been told numerous times, protocol is extremely important around here. Be in my office in ten minutes.”

“All right. But I’m bringing Daisy with.”

“Very well. Where is her mother at, anyway?”

“Working. It was an emergency or something. I figured I wouldn’t have any missions on account of my foot, so…”

“Never assume. We can still send you out on reconnaissance work.”

“Right. Of course.”

Eggsy covered his mouth. He looked so surly on the video.

“Ten minutes.”

It cut to Arthur’s office, still from her glasses, observing Eggsy. Eggsy was bouncing Daisy on his knee and it appeared Eggsy was paying more attention to Daisy than the debrief, though his concise answers indicated otherwise. Eggsy grinned tiredly. He loved Daisy, and with this shitshow… It was just the perfect moment to see her.

The next were a few more interactions, mostly between Arthur and staff, before it got to the Kingsman meeting that Eggsy had brought Daisy to. Oddly enough, the feed was shown from Lancelot’s glasses, since she was in the middle and could look at both Eggsy and Arthur.

This was immeasurably difficult for Eggsy. He had known, logically, that everything that happened was recorded on camera. But it was one thing to know that theoretically and another thing to watch oneself have a panic attack when they thought they were in private.

Even watching small interactions between him and Arthur, where nothing too significant had happened, was gut-wrenching. He was now self-conscious of his accent, the way he held himself, even the style of his hair. Hell, now even his metallic ties looked less fun and more gaudy.

Eggsy took a deep breath when it came time for what he counted as one of the worst conversations between him and Arthur.

“I believe it’s time we had another chat.”

“Okay.”

“At this point, you should be well aware of my opinion of you. So far, your performance has been underwhelming. When word came in of Gareth’s passing, I had to make a recommendation to our donors on whether or not you should be promoted. I chose to not recommend you. In fact, I put in official paperwork declaring that your position should be terminated.

“However, our donors seemed to think that there was a reason why the Kingsmen agents elected to keep you on the team. In addition, our donors kept the Valentine incident in their minds. This does not mean that you should feel your position is anything but tenuous right now. After a bit of debate, we have decided to put you on a probationary period. If your performance does not improve in the next couple of weeks, you will be officially released from your position. We will reassess your position after that.

“As to how you will be assessed, there will be a committee who reviews all the missions you have gone on, start to finish, and pass judgment on them. I will be on that committee, as well as two of our donors. Merlin will be invited to be on the committee, since he both trained and handles you. And our donors have insisted that one Kingsman agent also be on the committee.

“After some consideration, we decided to select the agent we believed to be most unbiased. Bedivere will be the agent on the committee.”

“How will I be assessed in the next few weeks if my foot is damaged?” asked Eggsy. “I assume I won’t be sent on any strenuous missions.”

“You will be sent on missions that do not require physicality, no. But you will still be sent on missions. Also, a fair warning. In the future, I expect you to conduct yourself in a manner befitting the Kingsmen. Up until this point, I have felt your demeanor and attitude have been that of a small child. I want you to begin to act professionally.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

It cut off there. As if that wasn’t brutal enough, then came the assignment of his third capture mission.

“Right, I have another mission for you.”

“My eight hours aren’t up yet. I got off my last mission at six in the morning and it’s only 9:30. I have four and a half more hours.”

“I’m sorry? I don’t think you’re in a position right now to be citing policy at me.”

“Right. What’s the mission?”

“You need to leave in an hour. It’s another capture mission.”

“Wait – what? I’m still in a boot, and will be for another week and a half! And the doctor said nothing too strenuous for another week after that.”

“You’re not going after a trained individual. This should be quick.”

“Is it in regards to the recent situation with the leaks?”

“Yes.”

“Is it the third agent the assassin contacted? Because he’s probably been trained then.”

“It is the third agent. But he’s not highly trained.”

“Highly? But he is still trained?”

“No. Here’s his location. We’ve managed to arrange a meeting between you two, so you don’t have to sneak in or out. It’ll be in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of London.”

“Dramatic. Where’s the folder with materials?”

“No need for them.”

“What?”

“No need. I’ve told you all the information you need.”

“No. I can’t go into a situation without further intel. This is smelling like a suicide mission to me.”

“Need I remind you of your status?”

“And is this mission off the record, as well?”

“Naturally. I will be handling you while you enter the warehouse.”

Bridget was looking extremely, extremely smug, which probably meant that they had won the case with all of this evidence. Small comfort to Eggsy, who now had a death grip on Harry’s hand. What would the agents think of him now? Now that they knew he couldn’t stand up to Arthur? Or what if they were convinced by Arthur’s arguments?

Fuck.

Then, finally, to the death of Timothy Yates. There was some seriously disorienting fight footage, and then:

“Kill her. Mr. Unwin, you are currently under review for poor performance in the field, so I don’t think –”

“No. I do a lot of things, Arthur. Torture. Kill in the line of duty. Many, many things. But I’m not the one who’s going to clean up your collateral damage.”

Merlin, in an oddly comforting move, had skipped most of the conversation with Diane. Thankfully. It was rather humiliating, with the whole stomach-wound thing.

“I need medical, right now.”

“Your entire interaction with Piers and Timothy Yates took a half hour. Therefore, your extraction ride will be there in another half hour.”

“Another – Arthur, I’ve got a stomach wound, I’m bleeding out!”

“Well, you should have thought of the consequences when you didn’t kill her.”

“I had no idea that she would do that, what are you talking about, a half hour will guarantee my death.”

“I’ll prepare the toast for you then.”

“You could still save me!”

Then came Arthur’s ridiculous monologue while Eggsy was bleeding on the floor. To be quite honest, Eggsy tuned it out while he leaned back to assess everyone’s reactions.

Most of the Kingsmen had stony looks on their faces, like the true spies they were. Mike, from across the room, had a disgusted look on his face. Eggsy guessed it was aimed at Victoria and not him. Salomea was a pasty white, and Eggsy had a feeling if she was any better with confrontation she would be on her feet yelling at that moment. Jeeves caught Eggsy’s eye while he was looking around and gave him a nod, which was much more comforting than it probably should have been.

The best reaction, by far, was from Princess Tilde. She had a classic ‘wtf’ face, her mouth slightly open. She muttered something that sounded vaguely Swedish to the donor sitting next to her, who promptly went a vivid shade of puce. Eggsy could only assume that whatever she said had been inappropriate and colorful.

Eggsy wished he could see how Arthur’s lawyers were reacting; he couldn’t get a read of their faces from here, not with the way they were facing front. He could see Arthur and Bedivere, though. Arthur was sitting stiffly, her back ramrod straight, her face mostly expressionless except for an annoyed tick in her jaw. Bedivere wasn’t even watching the feed. He was looking out the window, his arms crossed stoutly in front of him, making it clear that whatever was going on on that screen wasn’t going to impact the way he was seeing this situation.

Whatever.

His attention was drawn by the feed. It was from Lancelot’s glasses again, at the round table. Eggsy wasn’t present. Neither was Harry or Geraint.

“I’ve called this emergency meeting,” said Arthur, pouring glasses of brandy, “because of sad news. I’ve just been informed of a death of an employee.”

There was silence at the table, broken only by the clinking of obnoxiously expensive tumblers. Kay, who Lancelot had a perfect view of, lifted up the glass and took a cautious sniff. He set it back down, his face blank.

“This isn’t the typical 1815 Napoleonic brandy.”

“No, it’s not.” Arthur passed the last glass of liquor to Degore. “Since he was never a real agent, I thought it inappropriate to use the traditional brandy.”

Gawain took a sip of the alcohol and made a face. “Is this Hennessy? My son used to get this at Asda when he was a teenager and sick of beer. It only costs –”

Arthur cleared her throat. “Today, we have lost a valued team member. Though he never became a Kingsman agent, we will miss Eggsy Unwin dearly.”

“Eggsy’s gone?” said Kay, setting his glass down. “And you’re giving us shitty brandy to commemorate him?”

“I like Hennessy,” said Tristan, utterly failing at understanding what was going on.

Lancelot look down at her clenched hands. There was blood underneath her fingernails. She wasn’t trembling, nothing that obvious, but her phone was placed precisely in front of her, like she was waiting on a phone call.

She must have helped stem the wound, Eggsy realized, and didn’t have the time for a more thorough hand-washing. It took forever to get blood up from under the nails. They probably rushed him to the hospital, after which Roxy went to the meeting while Harry stayed behind with him.

She looked up again and fixed her eyes on Arthur. Arthur said, “I understand that this is hard for all of you. We were all fond of Eggsy. To Eggsy!” And she threw back her glass.

Bedivere, Tristan, Degore, Geraint, Percival, and Caradoc all threw back their glasses, echoing, “To Eggsy.”

Lancelot, Gawain, Kay, and Lamorak didn’t move. In a blatant and obvious move, Kay, always willing to make a statement, slid his glass forward, a clear rejection.

“What’s going on?” Caradoc quietly set his glass back on the table. “What am I missing?”

Kay didn’t respond. He fixed his eyes on Arthur instead. “This is wildly inappropriate,” he said, his voice like steel. “Don’t you dare come in here acting like you respected Eggsy and then ask us to toast him with cheap liquor.”

Arthur went white. “Agent Kay, this is not an ideal moment to be confronting me about perceived slights. An employee has just died –”

Lancelot’s phone lit up with a text message. It was from Harry. She paused to glance at it, before saying in clipped tones, “Actually, Eggsy is currently alive. He’s not quite stable yet but the doctors are saying it’s likely he’ll live.”

Gawain said, “You didn’t even have a confirmed death? You just assumed?”

“I – I was informed…”

Gawain stood up. He picked up the glass and tipped it over, draining the liquid onto the floor. He then replaced the tumbler on the table and walked out of the room.

After a shocked silence at the table, Kay made a sound between a laugh and disgust. He stood up and poured his alcohol out too. He set down the glass much more loudly than Gawain and followed him out.

“Ohhhhh shit,” said Tristan. Next to him, Lamorak face-palmed.

“One of our tensest moments at this table, and that’s your reaction?” said Lamorak, shaking his head.

“That was rude and inappropriate!” said Arthur, flustered.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Tristan, ducking his head.

“No, not you.” Arthur flapped her hand at him. “Those two!”

Lancelot made a sound of absolute disgust. She stood up and, instead of pouring her alcohol out on the floor, plunked it in front of Arthur. “What’s rude,” she said, emphasizing the word, “is cutting your losses without confirming the body count. Pardon me.”

She started walking out of the room. Behind her, Caradoc said, “What the fuck is going on here. Arthur, what are you on?”

Lancelot tore open the doors. Kay and Gawain were waiting there. Kay gave her a glance and said, “About time.”

The feed cut there.

There was a final small short of Bedivere blackmailing him, before Merlin tapped on his clipboard.

The screen went blank. There was ringing silence in the room for long moments, before Merlin turned around, grinning. “Any questions?”

Everyone milled about in the hallway while the judges made their final decision. Arthur was staying quite far away from Eggsy, thank you, while Harry kept brushing his arm against Eggsy’s. He appreciated that. It was like he had a little shield of Kingsmen around him, Kay and Gawain and Roxy and more.

It took almost an hour for them to be called back in. Everyone sat down. “Will there be closing statements?” asked Eggsy. “There wasn’t before they called the break.”

“No need,” said Harry. “Everyone got the points they were making. Our organization isn’t fond of time-wasting redundancy.”

Eggsy waited with baited breath while Wesley stood up in the front of the room. Everyone fell silent.

“After reviewing the evidence, it is clear that there has been serious misconduct on the part of one Victoria Willoughby. After deliberation, our panel has decided to move forward with the impeachment process of Ms. Willoughby.

“In addition,” he said over the whispers that broke out, “there is still the question of what to do with Eggsy Unwin. His career has been blocked numerous times by those in power. We seek to end that. Though our committee does not have the power to enact this without full Kingsman support, our recommendation is to make Eggsy Unwin a full agent, effective as soon as possible.

“In order to do this, we recommend a new position to be made for him. Currently, there are twelve Knights of the Round Table, not including Arthur: Lancelot, Gawain, Geraint, Percival, Lamorak, Kay, Gareth, Bedivere, Degore, Galahad, Caradoc, and Tristan. There were, however, other knights of the legendary round table. We recommend creating a new knight, codenamed Lionel, and we recommend that Eggsy Unwin fill the position.”

There was silence. And then the clapping started.

Eggsy dipped his head. His face felt red.

But he had won.

He had won.

He kept that in mind as Harry held his hand, now completely open with affection. He kept that in mind as Roxy clapped him on the back, grinning. As he went through handshake after handshake.

The entire scene had a surreal cast to it; he was going through the motions, robotic, because he couldn’t quite believe that this had actually happened. They had told him that he had a good chance, but for some reason, he had never actually believed that he would win. People like Eggsy, the ones who came from the wrong side of the tracks… They rarely won. It felt odd, and Eggsy looked at it from a distance, like an out of body experience.

Gawain gave him a full-out hug, looking proud. “I wish this had never happened, but I’m glad this is the outcome,” he whispered in Eggsy’s ear.

Tristan shook his hand. “Should’ve called you Mordred!” He grinned Eggsy, pleased with his little quip. Eggsy tried his hardest not to wince and pull away from him.

And then, suddenly, it was far too much. Everyone was too much. They were pressing in on him, laughing, lighthearted, and Eggsy didn’t feel lighthearted. Maybe he was worn out from the testimony. Maybe he was just tired. Tired from everything that had happened so far.

More likely, it was finally hitting him that what had happened was unfair. He had known, logically, that what Victoria had been doing wasn’t right… But there was a part of him, a large part, that kept saying he deserved it somehow.

It was a leftover from Dean, he knew. So maybe it had shaken him a bit that they pronounced her guilty. Maybe it was weird, knowing that he was going to be fully knighted, as long as the other Kingsmen voted for it. And they would – the only ones who would be against him would be Percival and Bedivere.

Like Harry sensed Eggsy’s thoughts, he pulled him from the crowd. “Time for us to go,” he announced to the crowd. “Why don’t we celebrate some other time. Ah, just what I was thinking. Saturday? After we vote, of course. Yes. Sounds good.”

The other side of the conversation went straight over Eggsy’s head. It was like Harry was talking on the phone, except Eggsy knew that Kay was right in front of them, answering Harry’s replies. Eggsy could even see Kay’s mouth moving.

Later, Eggsy wouldn’t be sure how they got back to Harry’s house. It felt like one moment they were in that lounge, and the next, Eggsy was sitting on Harry’s couch, wrapped in blankets while Harry thumbed through a worn copy of Murder on the Orient Express.

Eggsy blinked at him. “What happened?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” said Harry, putting down his book when he saw that Eggsy was finally focusing on him. “A form of shock, perhaps?”

“It wasn’t a panic attack.”

“Panic attacks come in different forms. But it could’ve been anything,” Harry said. “You’ve been through a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a mental breakdown, of sorts. They come in a variety of sizes, those.”

Eggsy felt stretched all wrong still. Like he was an old rubber band, and a child had decided to stretch him out until only a few rubbery strings connected the almost-separated pieces together. He was tired. He was shaking. He was breaking down.

So it was a terrible time to ask about the leak. No good. Bad. But that’s what his mind had latched on, looking at Harry reading his little mystery book. Like his mouth no longer listened to orders from his brain, it came out.

“Harry,” said Eggsy, his voice different, odd, the words feeling like lead in his mouth. “Harry, why’d you do it? Why’d you betray Kingsman?”

Chapter Text

“What are you talking about, Eggsy?” Harry didn’t twitch with shock, or even widen his eyes. He just steadily looked at Eggsy. That could mean a lot of things – maybe he hadn’t thought Eggsy would figure out it, maybe he was deliberately not reacting, maybe he was actually innocent.

Fucking spies.

Eggsy had been around Harry long enough to make an educated guess – he was probably deliberately not reacting. "Don’t play fucking stupid,” said Eggsy. He made to stand up, but discovered that the blankets were well and truly tangled around him. “I ain’t stupid, don’t fucking treat me like I’m stupid.”

“Okay,” said Harry, slightly placating. Eggsy hated being placated. He wasn’t some wounded animal about to bite – he had valid reasons for feeling the way he did. “Eggsy, you need to calm down.”

Eggsy’s temper hit the roof. Of all the condescending, patronizing things to say… As if Eggsy demanding Harry treat him as an equal was tantamount to hysteria. Eggsy had a brief stab of regret for all the times he had told his mum to calm down when she wasn’t actually upset.

“Don’t tell me to calm down. Don’t fucking tell me to calm down.” He knew, theoretically, that starting to raise his voice probably wasn’t the best evidence of a cool mind, but. But. Fucking Harry.

Eggsy dragged in a breath. He could feel his lungs expand, and he imagined that he could feel his heart beating against his ribcage. It was working powerfully. He was hyper-aware of everything, of the steady ticking of the clock on Harry’s mantle, of the barking of a dog somewhere outside, of the slightly stale air inside Harry’s house that suggested Harry probably wasn’t in his house often. It didn’t have a proper chance to air out. The staleness felt itchy on Eggsy’s skin.

Eggsy wasn’t sure if the hyper-awareness was because he was confronting Harry, or if it was because he had just a panic attack/breakdown/something, but the minutiae of the environment seemed so clear-cut. Like 20/40 vision.

For a long moment, he struggled with the blankets, because now they felt confining. He nearly tore some of the threads, and there came a point where he just started futilely trying to wiggle out of them. Harry was giving him a look like he feared for his sanity. When Harry reached out to try and help him, Eggsy flapped his hand at him, ridiculously angry and not entirely sure how to justify it. There was no confession, no hard evidence yet. They hadn’t really even started the conversation.

“Eggsy…”

“Don’t sit there and fucking lie to me, either. You think I don’t fucking know? Jesus fucking Christ, Harry.”

Harry remained seated as Eggsy finally extricated himself from the blankets. He stood up, crossing his arms defensively, ignoring the fact that now he felt a little cold.

Towering above Harry should have made Eggsy feel stronger, but Eggsy was abundantly conscious of the fact that Harry was dangerous in every way possible. He looked sedate right now – he hadn’t even closed his book, instead absentmindedly thumbing through the sheaves while he stared up at Eggsy. But despite the relaxed quality of his stance, there was darkness hidden in the lines of his body, in the cords of his muscles. It was lurking there in the quirk of his lip and the shadows of his eyes. It was like looking at a magazine model; glossy and beautiful on the outside, but the reality was that it was photo shopped to trick the audience.

Before him sat Harry Hart: the man who saw potential in him when no one else did, who wrapped Eggsy up in blankets and made him breakfast. He loved onions and hated yams and did his best not to make faces when drinking Eggsy’s tea. He was obsessed with oral hygiene and silently judged Eggsy if he forgot to brush at night. He also liked to curl around Eggsy in bed after hard missions, like a Harry-blanket, until Eggsy had to nudge him away because he got too hot.

He was also the man who carried the ability to slaughter an entire church filled to the brim with people, who was so attached to his dog that he had him stuffed and displayed, and carried enough cruelty to say, “You should be” to heartfelt bathroom apologies.

This was Harry Hart. And Eggsy, despite all warnings, had underestimated him.

“What do you want from me?” asked Harry, quietly.

“A fucking explanation.”

“About what?”

Eggsy dragged in another deep breath. It didn’t help. “As we ran through the mansion, you told me that Roxy had been hurt in a toilet. You knew all about Bedivere. You knew the tech room were overrun. You knew all of it, Harry. Every fucking thing. And you said Merlin told you.

“But, when I was in the medical wing, Merlin said all the techs, himself included, was hit by that gas and then tied up. When did Merlin tell you, eh, Harry? When the fuck did Merlin tell you?”

Harry’s eyes went simultaneously hooded and bright, with a certain clench to his jaw.

“Oh, you didn’t expect me to make the connection,” said Eggsy. He could feel an ugly expression steal across his face. A slightly hysterical laugh came out of his mouth; it didn’t sound like a laugh Eggsy had ever made before. His world still felt hyper-sensitive, but now with a topsy-turvy element thrown in. It was confirmed. Eggsy had been doing his best to deny, to not think, but… “It all fits, don’t it? Don’t no one know how Roxy went down, but a senior agent could’ve easily taken her out when she weren’t expecting it. How did they get inside without nobody noticing to throw those canisters? Because they had someone on the inside. They had you.

“The attackers didn’t think the candidates was a threat. That’s because you told Diane they wasn’t. You literally told her, and then, to thwart Diane, you used what you knew to be her weakness. And you didn’t want anyone to suspect you, so you made sure you got knocked out during the fight. They didn’t even tie you up. They didn’t even bother to fucking tie you up, one of the most dangerous agents in the organization.

“And don’t get me started on Tristan. Tristan, who’s so fucking scared of you that you made him design a special fucking gas for this, and then lie when asked about it. Cor, I feel so fucking bad for him, I couldn’t even look him in the face.”

Eggsy realized he was breathing hard. He wasn’t close to a panic attack, not really, but there was something wrong with his breathing.

Shit. Maybe he was close to a panic attack.

“All that’s left,” said Eggsy, “is the why. Why, Harry? Why the fuck did you do this?”

“Believe it or not,” said Harry, lightly, delicately, a stark contrast to Eggsy (but that clench to his jaw revealed his tension), “it was for you.”

“What the fuck.”

“I do not like Victoria Willoughby,” said Harry. “I wanted her gone. I already had plans in play to get rid of her… and then I found out about her actions toward you. Thus, it became apparent that I needed to get rid of her quicker.”

“Jesus.”

“So my plans were moved up slightly. I wasn’t the leak in the beginning. Not even close.” Harry shrugged, an elegant motion that complemented the fit of his suit. “That really was Chester King. But, when I found out about what Victoria said to you… It changed things.

“We needed more witnesses of her depravity. Not just agents annoyed at the way she ran meetings: something that suggested corruption, that gave us more meat to our accusations. Something prosecutable. She needed to accost you in public. That way, even if we brought it before a board and they dismissed the claims – which would be unlikely – public opinion would sour against her. A popularity contest between you and Victoria? Easy. People would flock to your side, and demonize her to the point that she would no longer wish to work at Kingsman.

“Victoria Willoughby is a predictable human being. I knew, with just the right push, that she would happily deride you in public. I’ve seen her do something like it before. But it needed to be the right push. And what better than to have her attacked on her home turf? Right in her office? With her humiliated in front of her organization, shaken from the bloodbath in front of her…”

“You couldn’t have guessed that it would turn out the way it did. What if I hadn’t taken out those forty men? What if it had gone wrong?”

“If it had gone wrong,” said Harry, “there still would’ve been an inquiry on how they got into the mansion. She would have been forced to show us those missions dealing with the leak, and it would’ve been discovered. It wasn’t going to fail. I thought of all contingencies. We would not have lost.”

Eggsy let out something between an angry snort and a distressed whine. “You can’t – that’s not – fuck, Harry, I tortured somebody. I tortured Diane. In front of Roxy. In front of everybody.”

“Yes,” said Harry, almost carelessly, “and I shot her in the head.”

“Fuck.”

“Eggsy, you blew up the heads of hundreds of world leaders. What makes Diane different? Because you have a face to the name? Because you liked her? Because you slept with her? She was building an empire. If we had left her for a couple of years, she would have built something stronger than her brother. She would be killing people, too, for a lot less reason than Kingsmen agents. What’s the line separating her and a world leader who was blackmailed into following Valentine? What gives her life weight over Valentine himself? Valentine may have had more reach, but they both ached for control.”

Harry smiled, a slow, dangerous smile. “Is it that you’ve been writing off blowing up their heads? It was a necessity, an adrenaline-fueled decision that was a last resort for a man about to die? Perhaps you’ve been justifying it by saying Merlin pushed the button, not you, and that somehow absolves it from your conscious.”

Harry reached up and ran a hand over his hair, checking the styling. Even now, in this tense moment, he was ultra-aware of his appearance. “My point, Eggsy, is not to bog you down with a moral dilemma – though the nature of our work is a moral dilemma. It’s to say that you can’t really stand there in judgment of me when your hands haven’t sparkled since you picked up the first drug packet.”

“There’s a difference between killing someone like Valentine to save the world and manipulating a woman into invading our organization and putting every employee at risk,” said Eggsy through gritted teeth.

“Explain the difference, Eggsy. Because the way I see it, Diane was going to eventually need taken out anyway. I simply maneuvered it in a way that solved another problem along with it.”

“All of those men Diane hired. Some of them were innocent, Harry. Some of them were just doing it for the money, for their families.”

“And some world leaders were just doing it for their country, or to make sure they survived into the new world to instill some morals into it.” The smile hadn’t left Harry’s face. “The parallels are quite interesting, if you really want to take a look.”

“I didn’t engineer Valentine’s plot!”

“No. But you did benefit from it. You’re an agent.”

“I wasn’t doing it to become an agent!” Eggsy flexed his fingers, because he had been gripping his hands so tightly into fists that his nails had started pricking into the flesh of his palm. Harry just tilted his head, like he acknowledged that point, but that his prior points still stood. That fucking bastard.

Eggsy didn’t want to get into a moral argument with Harry. He had a feeling neither of them would come out the better for it. Instead, casting about for anything to get them on a different track, he said, “How did you even get Diane to agree to it?”

“Diane was easy to ensnare,” said Harry. He was leaning back on the couch, having barely even adjusted throughout the entire conversation. The casual disregard, the carelessness, yet the keen intelligence… If Eggsy didn’t know better, he would call Harry a villain. “She was so desperate to make a name that she jumped on the chance.”

“You’re so fucked up in the head, Harry, you’re just so fucked up.”

“I resent that,” said Harry, almost playfully, and Eggsy wanted to punch him in the face for not taking this seriously.

“You betrayed the entire organization!”

“Don’t be dramatic,” said Harry. “I betrayed Victoria. I don’t have your morals, Eggsy. I do have loyalty to Kingsman, which is why I cleaned up the loose ends. But Victoria? She never stood a chance.”

“You – you – I can’t believe… This is… Harry, fuck.”

“Eggsy,” said Harry, finally taking on a bit of a more serious expression. “I had it under control. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and it occurred just like I predicted. And all is well now. Victoria is no longer Arthur. You’ll have a codename. Security will be beefed up in the mansion.”

“All is well? What about Diane, huh? I liked her, Harry.”

Harry cocked his head, like he hadn’t considered that. “She was an unfortunate necessity.”

An unfortunate - Harry, you’re playing with human life here!”

“I don’t care about her life,” said Harry, quietly. He dog-eared the page he was on in his book and set it aside, straightening out his cuffs in the process. “I care about your life, Eggsy.”

“You don’t care about her life. You don’t care about her life. You don’t… Why are you an agent, Harry, if not to save people?”

“Eggsy, don’t mistake me for philanthropist,” said Harry. “I enjoy this job. I love the adrenaline, the ability to make a tangible change in this world. To make sure this world survives. And I value human life. But I’ve been in this business long enough to understand when I need to cut my losses to achieve a larger goal.”

Eggsy let out a disbelieving huff of air. He tried to come up with a response, but only let out another puff of air. Finally, after several moments, he managed, “I thought gentlemen were supposed to have manners. I don’t think it’s very polite to shoot someone in the head to get another person fired.”

A smile curled the edges of Harry’s mouth. “A gentleman tries to make the best of a bad situation.”

“Do you have an answer for everything?”

“Probably.”

Eggsy ran a hand through his hair. The product he had put in it that morning was still holding, but he jammed his hand through it anyway, thoroughly mussing it up. He could only imagine what it looked like – it was probably standing straight up, like he got hit by lightning. He didn’t care.

The problem – the serious problem – was that Eggsy couldn’t actually fault Harry’s logic here. Okay, betraying Kingsman was bad. But, if you looked through the fucked-up lens Harry was using, he really didn’t betray the organization or what it stood for. He just used privileged information to take out a future target, while also toppling an incompetent leader.

And Diane… Eggsy closed his eyes. He could still remember, even with the foggy edges that always accompanied his disassociated moments, the ‘splurting’ sound that Diane’s blood made as it started dribbling out of her newly-shattered knees. But he also remembered pointing a gun at Timothy Yates’s head and mercy-killing him in front of his shrieking sister without feeling a shred of remorse. There was a difference – there had to be - but for the life of him the only difference Eggsy could come up with was the intentions behind the killing.

Harry was right. What did that mean for him? For Eggsy Unwin, who had blown up hundreds of heads not with the intention of saving the world, but because he was pinned in a corner and it was kill or be killed. He poisoned Chester King, not with noble intentions – he hadn’t even been an agent then – but because he knew King was working with Valentine, and apparently that qualified him for execution.

What did that say about Eggsy’s morals? The man who had once winced as he fished the card out of King’s neck, but stepped over headless bodies without sparing a thought for the un-chipped family members they must have had at home?

And all Eggsy could come up with was Merlin’s statement:

“You have high emotional intelligence. You love animals. And you connect well with children. Anything innocent, you have no problem defending. We’ll run into a problem if, during a mission, you need to endanger any one of those groups. However, you don’t view human beings as innocent in general. A result of your upbringing, I assume. You empathize, and you empathize well, but you also have amazing powers of disassociation. You can compartmentalize, and, in doing so, you can torture a person.”

Perhaps Eggsy and Harry shared the same view: both of them had seen too much of the dirty side of humanity to view humans as generally innocent anymore. Maybe Eggsy would still wince if Daisy bled. But the Eggsy now was different from the Eggsy-in-training. What little benefit of the doubt he had once granted to humans was erased when he pulled that chip out of Chester King’s neck. No more wincing after that.

But…

But…

Eggsy and Harry were still different people. Eggsy still viewed the manipulation as wrong. Given time, he was sure he could come up with a tangible reason. But for now, his gut told him that the situation was wrong.

Or… or maybe something else was bothering him.

“And what if you do this again? Huh? Were you ever even planning on telling me?” said Eggsy, trying to even out his voice.

“No. But would you have told me?”

“I never would have done this in the first place!”

For the first time, frustration stole into Harry’s expression. “We have such different morals, you and I. Fine. If I have a plan in the future, I promise to let you in on it.”

Eggsy stared at Harry, disbelieving. He barked out a laugh. “No, you’ll only tell me if it’s convenient. You manipulative fucker, you stupid fucking arsehole.”

“Eggsy, calm down –”

“I AIN’T A FUCKING PAWN!” Eggsy didn’t know when he started shouting, but if felt right. Like it was making the breath in his body align correctly. “I AIN’T A FUCKING TOY! You don’t own me! I can’t be controlled, and I ain’t someone you can beat into submission!”

It wasn’t really a conscious thought, but when he put his foot through Harry’s telly, the wires sparking and dying, it felt right. Just as it felt right to start smashing other things; the lamp, this ugly decorative vase Harry had, a small statuette of a cow that Eggsy had always wondered about but had never asked. He stormed into the dining room, Harry’s dark eyes following him.

He smashed the container of alcohol on the side table. On the square table itself there was a bottle of Lagavulin left carelessly, like Harry had been indulging. When, Eggsy had no idea, but he had found that Harry drank at odd times. The Lagavulin went down, the amber-colored liquid splashing and spreading onto the carpet. The random thought – were Lagavulin stains easily removed? – pierced through the fog in his mind but was rapidly discarded.

He started trying to destroy one of Harry’s fancy dining room chairs, which turned out to be exponentially heavier than he expected. He repeatedly slammed it into the floor, but nothing seemed to happen to it. This got him angrier, and next thing he knew, several long minutes had been spent trying to destroy the fucking chair. By the end of it he was swearing mightily, only one of the legs were bent at a slightly weird angle, and the thing still stood, albeit wobbly.

He whirled around to face Harry. Harry was leaning against the doorway, his face carefully blank. Eggsy pointed a finger at him. “You need new dining room chairs!”

“Excuse me for not buying the breakable ones.”

“Fuck you!” Eggsy kicked the chair but only succeeded in stubbing his toe. He let out another string of swears and finally subsided, feeling kind of ridiculous now. The chair had robbed him of his desire to destroy.

“Are you quite finished?”

“No,” snarled Eggsy. He may have run out of steam to destroy things, but his anger at Harry still burned.

He moved toward Harry rapidly. Harry fell back, instinctively, into a fighting stance, but Eggsy ignored that and instead got right up in Harry’s face.

“You ain’t my savior,” said Eggsy. “You helped me and mentored me, but the saving part? I did all that myself. I don’t owe you shit.

“We’re on equal grounds, as far as I’m concerned. So, as an equal partner, I got this to say. You ever fucking hit me again, you even start to raise a fist to me in a way that ain’t practice sparring, then we’re going to have a huge fucking problem. I don’t want my boyfriend choking me. It ain’t going to happen.

“Drugging me, hurting me, all of that shit… It ain’t right, Harry. It ain’t fucking right. And I may be like my mum, but I’ve got a lot of my dad in me, too. And you know what? It wouldn’t matter if I were all my mum, because she’s got a lot of good parts to her, too.”

Eggsy stopped for a moment, trying to remember his point. Then he continued, “Yeah, it ain’t right. And you know fucking what? Let’s face it, here – I could do better than you. There’s a reason you’re over fifty and unattached, and it’s not because you’re picky. It’s because you’re fucking impossible. Impossible. But, for some dumbarse reason, don’t ask me why, I still like you. I more than like you. God, if I knew a fucking thing about love, I might even call it that.

“I wanna be with you, Harry. But not if you hurt me. Because…”

Eggsy dragged in another breath, and was startled to discover he was getting perilously close to tears. He took another deep breath, clamping down on the impulse.

“Because I deserve Lee, not Dean,” he said.

Harry just looked at him. Eggsy didn’t back up. Neither did Harry.

“I deserve Lee,” said Eggsy, and it might have been the most freeing statement he had ever said. It was symbolic in so many important ways.

But, perhaps most importantly, it said exactly what it needed to: whatever had happened in his life, whatever he had gone through, whatever he had done to get to the place he was in… none of that disqualified him from a healthy relationship. Making mistakes in his life didn’t automatically put him into a pool of people who weren’t worthy. And, even if he had picked from such a pool before, that didn’t mean he had to again.

He was Eggsy Unwin. Eggsy Unwin. He wanted someone who would kick him out of bed because they were concerned about his smoking habit, but join him on the couch later. No, no, not want – he deserved.

He deserved someone in his life selfless enough to throw themselves on a grenade for him.

And – holy fucking shit – he had people who were that selfless. He had Ryan, and Jamal, and Roxy and Gawain and Kathy and Kay. Salomea and Jeeves and Ruby might, too. He had people in his life who cared. What did he need Harry for?

Except…

Except – and he couldn’t explain it – he wanted Harry in his life, so fucking bad, like Harry was his oxygen.

“I deserve Lee,” he said, slowly, and then repeated it, “I deserve Lee.”

“I’m not Lee,” said Harry.

“You’re not Dean either.”

Harry tilted his head. “I… I’m not sure what you want me to say here, Eggsy.”

“I don’t know, either,” said Eggsy. “I just… I just don’t know, Harry. Everything is so fucked up.”

There was a ringing silence for a few moments. Eggsy could hear the telly in the other room sparking. He couldn’t bring himself to actually care about it, though he sincerely hoped it didn’t set the whole place on fire.

Harry reached out and placed his hand in the crease of Eggsy’s elbow, cautiously, like he thought it might be rejected. “I didn’t mean to make you feel that way. Like I was intentionally hurting you. I thought…” For the first time – perhaps the last – Eggsy saw Harry look unsure. “I’m used to people being unconcerned about occasional physical force. I didn’t think I was really harming you.”

“I know,” said Eggsy. He let out a deep whoosh of air, and it felt like a lot of problems escaped with it. “I know. We’re both spies and you thought I could handle it. But I shouldn’t have to.”

Harry nodded. He looked thoughtful, like he hadn’t expected this to happen. “Where to from here, Eggsy?”

“I… don’t know. I gotta think about it, Harry. I need some space.”

Eggsy deliberately didn’t let himself look around at the mess he had made of Harry’s house. He didn’t want to feel guilty over it. Instead, he let himself out.

He wasn’t quite sure where to go. He thought about just going back to his flat, since that’s where Daisy was and she never failed to calm him down, but he was so antsy and anxious and he didn’t want her to see him like that. Roxy’s flat was too far away to comfortably go to, and he didn’t want to visit Ryan in the hospital and stress him out. It was a toss-up whether Jamal would even be home or at work.

How he found himself at Gawain’s doorstep he wasn’t quite sure, but he lifted up his fist and knocked all the same. It was rather late – it was nearing one in the morning, Jesus Christ he didn’t realize it was that bad. He must have lost more time than he thought.

For a moment, he cast about in a panic, wildly thinking he should jump into the bushes and hide. He wasn’t sure what to say when they opened the door, or even if he had a good reason for being there.

His decision was made for him when the window near the door opened. “Hello, Eggsy dear!” said Kathy. She wasn’t wearing any make-up and her hair was in curlers, which Eggsy hadn’t realized that people still used these days. He thought that was just a 70’s-thing.

“Um, hi,” said Eggsy, thrown off that she hadn’t answered the door.

“Just give me a moment to undo the alarms,” she said. “I didn’t want you thinking we weren’t coming to the door. They just take forever to deactivate; I keep telling Howard they aren’t necessary but then he starts yammering about ‘danger’ and ‘want to protect you’ and I practically fall asleep. You can’t win an argument if you’re asleep for it, dear.”

“Why can you open the window and not the door?”

“I don’t understand these systems either, dear.”

Eggsy laughed as the door was finally yanked open. Gawain was standing there in his shorts, sleep lines on his face but his eyes alert.

“Trouble?” he asked.

“Not really.”

“Ah,” he said, understanding. “Come in. I’ll make you some tea.”

Gawain led him into the kitchen, where he ushered Eggsy into a seat. He began to bustle around the kitchen, opening up cabinets. By the fourth cabinet he was visibly frustrated. “Kathy! Where’s the –”

Kathy popped her head into the room. “It’s in the cabinet above the coffeemaker.”

Gawain opened up the aforementioned cabinet and found the electric kettle. “Ah. Thank you.”

“Lucy keeps moving it about,” said Kathy. Eggsy supposed that was their daughter’s name. “I always tell her to put it in the cabinet by the tea leaves, but she never listens.”

“She gets that from you.”

“Oh!” said Kathy, crossing her arms. “This, coming from the man who has to have me write everything down because he can’t be bothered to remember when I first tell him.”

Gawain looked tired. “Is this about the soap again?”

Kathy’s hissed. “No, it definitely wasn’t, but now that you mention it…”

Eggsy coughed subtly.

It was like a switch flipped. Kathy gave him a bright smile (slanting one last narrow-eyed glare at Gawain). She turned to Eggsy and revealed a comfy-looking fleece blanket, which she began to wind around Eggsy.

“I’m not that cold,” Eggsy protested.

“Nonsense, you’re shivering.”

“I am? Oh… I guess I am.”

“No tea!” Kathy ordered. “Make him some hot chocolate.”

“Either is fine, really, I’m not picky.”

“Hot chocolate,” Kathy reiterated. “I’m going to go to the next room to watch some telly and give you two some time alone.”

Gawain gusted out a sigh. “Kathy, please don’t watch porn while we have a guest over.”

“I would never.” She firmly shut the kitchen door behind her, probably so they couldn’t hear the noises from the telly.

“Is she really going to watch porn?” asked Eggsy.

“She says she finds the storylines fascinating,” said Gawain with the air of a man who had given up on hope.

“There are storylines?”

“Apparently. And she says that she likes that there’s always a happy ending.”

“Gawain.”

“I know.”

“She’s a real firecracker, that one.”

“You become a lot less fond of it when you live with it,” said Gawain, finally plunking a mug of hot chocolate in front of him.

Eggsy raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to tell me you’re getting tired of Kathy?”

Gawain took a sip. “No. The novelty has just worn off.”

“Novelty?”

“The new-love feel. Now we’re just left with love and each other. Scary thought.”

“But you seem to worship Kathy.”

“That’s because she’s the best person in the world,” said Gawain, looking very serious. “I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.”

“But…” said Eggsy, a thought suddenly occurring to him. “But don’t you do a lot of honeypot missions? How does that affect things?”

“It doesn’t really,” said Gawain, lifting up one elegant shoulder. Even in shorts – which, now that Eggsy was paying attention, had cartoon pandas on them – Gawain had more class and grace than Eggsy could ever manage in a full suit. “I sleep with the women and then I come back to the one that matters. It’s a bit boring, honestly, having sex on a honeypot mission. None of them can compare.”

“It’s never fun for you?”

“Oh, it can be fun, sure,” said Gawain. “Not going to deny that. But every time I sleep with one of them I’m just reminded of how much better Kathy is. She’s the type of woman you don’t forget. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the number of missions I’ve fucked up because I accidentally yelled out her name instead of my target’s.”

“And Kathy’s okay with it?”

“Kathy is a confident woman. She knows she’s the best.”

“But… I mean, c’mon. Doesn’t she get even a little insecure about it?”

Gawain mouth twitched into a smile. He set down his mug on the table. “Eggsy, let me tell you a story about Kathy. I met her in high school, long before I became a Kingsman. I asked her to go to a movie with me and she told me that I didn’t bathe enough for her to consider it.”

Gawain was silent for a moment before guiltily admitting, “I only showered once every few days, I suppose I did get a little smelly sometimes. I always felt too busy to shower.”

“Gross, mate.”

“Anyway. I told her if she wasn’t going to date me, then we were at least going to be friends. She told me that she didn’t agree to that, and that it would be a non-consensual friendship, and did I really want that on my conscious? And I realized that no, I didn’t want that on my conscious. I didn’t want to do anything that would make her uncomfortable or sad. I wanted her to be happy. So I told her I understood and let her be.”

“You… let her be?”

“What was I supposed to do? Stalk her until she agreed?”

“Uh, I guess not. So… how did you guys get together then?”

“She rear-ended my car,” said Gawain. “And when she got out of hers she was furious. Told me that I was driving like an absolute dick. I really wasn’t, but I was so scared of her that I apologized. I saw her the next day in school. For a reason she still hasn’t explained to me, she asked me out. She took me to a seafood place that was so messy that our meals came with bibs. We spent the entire time making fun of each other and laughing. Afterward, she drove me home – her driving is the worst, I thought I was going to die the whole way – and she let me know that we were going to go on a second date.”

“So… what happened then?” Eggsy asked when it became apparent that Gawain was lost in his memories.

“Well,” shrugged Gawain, “how can you not fall in love with a woman like that?”

Eggsy wanted to point out that Kathy was clearly a little mental, but he didn’t think Gawain would appreciate that. So he nodded instead.

“My point, Eggsy, is that there comes a point in every relationship where you need to make a decision whether or not you can trust each other. For whatever crazy reason, she decided to trust me that day and invited me out, even though she had rejected me before. She took a chance on me. And now here we are. Six children in and talking about getting a pet monkey.” Gawain looked pained again, like this was some sort of daily discussion that he was slowly but surely losing.

“Is that… legal?”

Gawain sighed. “Does it matter?”

Eggsy realized he was out of hot chocolate; he nudged the cup slyly towards Gawain, who took the hint and poured him another cup.

“I don’t understand Kathy. I don’t even pretend to. But we both took chances on each other. We’ve taken a million chances on each other since.”

“But what if you take a chance on someone and they let you down?”

“Well, it depends on what they did,” said Gawain. “How much it upset you. If trust was broken. You gotta evaluate where to go from there, if you want to take another chance. And keep in mind – you’re never perfect in any relationship, either. Maybe you’ve already used up a few chances yourself.”

“Huh.”

“That help any?”

“A little. I guess.”

“What did Harry do?”

Eggsy hesitated, then lied. “Nothing, really. I’m stressing over nothing.”

“Sounds like a lie if I’ve ever heard it,” said Gawain, yawning a little and stretching.

“Did I wake you two up?”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Gawain. “We’re used to keeping odd hours.”

Which seemed like a bit of a lie itself. Gawain was clearly too polite to just say yes.

“When I look back on my time with Kathy,” said Gawain, quietly, like he was revealing a great secret, “all I can think of is laughter. We just… We have so much fun together. She never does what I expect her to. And I don’t pretend to understand why she likes me. I’m not a complex guy. Yet, even then, I just remember the first time I introduced her to my parents. She arrived on my doorstep in this ridiculous pink and chartreuse dress – not her style, not even close, but it was the only thing formal enough that she owned – and it was clear that she had spent hours trying to get everything right. I hated it. I wanted to mess up her hair and smudge off the heavy make-up and offer her a pair of my most ragged jeans. But my parents were traditional people.”

Gawain was silent for long seconds, absentmindedly blowing on his hot chocolate and staring with unseeing eyes at the wall.

He continued, “My parents asked her about her goals and aspirations. She said she loved children and planned on being a teacher. My mother’s nose wrinkled so hard that it looked like a pig’s. My father kept looking at me, like this were some sort of joke. Kathy had this sad sheen to her face, like she knew this was crashing and she was scared she was going to lose me forever.

“Then, my mother goes, ‘Well, our Howard here is so accomplished. He’ll do great things. Perhaps take over our estate, or invest in property.’ My mother only listed those things because she couldn’t very well say, ‘Oh, yes, we’re putting our son up for the slaughter in a spy program.’ But Kathy didn’t know that. And she just looked at my mother, so deadpan, and said, ‘I think Howard’s greatest accomplishment is that time I watched him puke on your purple Louis Vuitton heels after Georgie Stifles talked him into doing the beer bong twice. I was so proud of him when, instead of owning up to the crime, he grabbed your shoes and hid them in the front bushes. They’re still there. I checked before coming in, because anyone with puked-on shoes in bushes just aren’t scary. And, with all due respect, ma’am, even thinking that as his greatest accomplishment, I still think he can change the world, which seems to be quite different than what you see for him.’”

Eggsy made a choking-laugh sound. The story, which had started out so serious, had taken a rather drastic turn.

Gawain shrugged, a little sheepish this time. “I’m not a complex guy. But if this woman thought I could change the world? Marriage was inevitable.”

“Gawain. You two are just…” Eggsy shook his head and tried to find the words.

Gawain nodded seriously. “You can call me Howard.” He stifled another yawn.

“Okay. Howard.” Eggsy tested it on his tongue. It felt right and gave him a proud, glowy feeling. It felt like he had earned the honor. “I should probably get going,” said Eggsy, feeling a little guilty about the hour.

“Hold on, let me grab Kathy so she can say bye,” said Howard. “She probably fell asleep watching her porn.”

Eggsy couldn’t help but laugh as Howard popped his head into the other room. He came back with Kathy, who was trying to smother a yawn by covering it with her hand.

“Are you leaving?” she asked, clinching her robe a little tighter about her waist.

“Yeah, it’s late,” said Eggsy, standing up and smiling at Kathy.

“Don’t be ridiculous, you can have our guest room. I’m not letting you walk home at this hour.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble, really,” said Eggsy as Kathy began shooing him toward the stairs. “Kathy, seriously, I’ll be fine, you don’t have to put me up.”

Kathy ignored him and began poking him in the back until he finally acquiesced and started heading up the stairs. Next thing he knew, he was firmly bundled into their guest bedroom. Kathy was clucking her tongue while she tucked him into bed – literally, she was tucking him, a grown man, into bed.

Howard lurked in the doorway while Kathy fluffed Eggsy’s pillows. “Now, you stay as long as you want. Don’t feel like you have to get out as soon as morning hits. And if you get cold, we do have extra blankets in the closet. I already showed you where the toilet is, and the towels if you want a shower in the morning. Do you want a glass of water? Of course you do – Howard, could you grab Eggsy a glass of water?”

Snorting, Howard said, “I think he’ll be okay, Kathy.”

Kathy patted Eggsy’s cheek (one of the only things visible from where she had burritoed him). “Don’t worry about Howard, dear. He just doesn’t understand social conventions.”

Kathy bustled around the room for a few more moments, chatting idly. Howard shrugged at Eggsy’s pleading look and said, “I’m sorry, son. This is just what she does.”

Kathy finally deemed the situation okay. She pushed Howard out of the doorway and clicked the lights off. “Sleep well!” she chirped.

Surprisingly enough, Eggsy actually did sleep well. He was so thankful his PTSD (he fucking hated that term, just hated it, but his therapist kept encouraging him to use it) didn’t include night terrors. He couldn’t think of many things more miserable than having to wake up constantly throughout the night and being bone-tired the next day.

(Not that other elements of PTSD were great – he just found that a lot of people romanticized nightmares, for whatever reason. What was romantic about being so tired the next day that you couldn’t concentrate and had an exhaustion headache?)

The next morning he felt refreshed, in a way that he hadn’t felt in a long time. He snuck out of the house before Kathy could get her claws into him and went back to his flat, where he played with Daisy. One of the mothers in Daisy’s new playgroup had given them an old bedazzling set that Daisy was currently obsessed with, so they spent an hour sticking fake blue jewels onto three of her dolls. One of their faces was entirely covered in jewels by the end of it, but Daisy seemed thrilled, so. He couldn’t complain.

He got a call from Merlin later in the morning – he was expected in “at any time.” When Eggsy asked why, Merlin had cackled and said, “Well, you have to make up those lost therapy sessions sometime, don’t you? You’re going to see her every day for weeks.”

Eggsy didn’t know if Merlin was exaggerating or not. He was 75% sure he wasn’t.

As Eggsy cooked some bacon for breakfast, Lydia half-slumped over on the couch – she took about two hours to properly wake up because she had a tendency to marathon episodes of Sherlock – the door opened quietly behind him.

“Ay-yo,” said Eggsy as Roxy came in. Her hair was done fairly well, with lots of curls and loops. She had done this little twisty-thing to a huge chunk in the front that was pinned expertly back, clearing the hair from her face and framing it beautifully. She had on casual jeans and a skin-tight purple shirt that accentuated her arms.

“Is there some for me?” she asked, peering over Eggsy’s shoulder into the frying pan.

Eggsy really hadn’t made enough, but he said anyway, “There’s always some for you.”

“My hero,” she said, dropping a kiss on top of his head like she was a grandma.

“Where are you off to?” Eggsy asked, eyeing her get-up.

“Trying another date,” she said, sitting down. “I’m going out to lunch.”

“Isn’t lunch for friends and dinner for dates?”

“I’m trying something different,” she said, lifting up her arms in a ‘what-can-you-do’ sort of motion.

“Who’s the lucky guy?”

“You wouldn’t know him.” She heaved herself up onto the counter, to Eggsy’s aggravation. Unsanitary, really. “He does embalming.”

“…I’ve never met someone who actually does embalming.”

“Me, either. But he’s a surprisingly nice guy. Polite, respectful, very warm.”

“Is he a murdering psychopath? Because I feel like you gotta be crazy to do embalming.”

“Well, if he turns out to be one, I can handle him,” said Roxy. Which, okay, fair point. “And anyway, you’re dating Harry Hart. Who are you to throw stones?”

Which, okay. Another fair point, even if he wasn’t sure they were dating anymore.

“You find dates suspiciously fast,” said Eggsy.

“I go to conventions.” She gave him a teasing smile. “I went out with a guy who ran a city dump once. Probably the best I’ve had so far.”

“Sex in a garbage dump? Didn’t take you to be the type.”

“Wha – no, I meant that he was the best guy out of them all. Not that he was the best sexually.”

Eggsy looked at her expectantly. Roxy raised her eyebrows. Eggsy said, “Well? You ain’t gonna tell me who was the best sexually?”

Lydia coughed not-so-delicately from the direction of the sofa.

Eggsy shook his head and started serving up the bacon. He would tease Roxy about her sexual exploits some other time. There would always be a spare moment to make her want to kill him. “Want tea or anything with it?”

“Oh, no thanks. I have it on good authority that your tea is terrible.”

“Fuck,” sighed Eggsy, shaking his head. “Can’t believe he said that.”

Daisy, from where she was sitting by Lydia on the floor playing with her stuffed parrot, said, “Fuck! Fuck!”

“Oh, shit,” was the first thing out of Eggsy’s mouth. And then, when he realized, said, “No, that’s not what I meant!”

“Fuck!” she said, grinning over to Eggsy. “Fuck!”

Lydia sighed and dropped her head into her hands.

Roxy covered up her mouth. Her eyes were sparkling as she said, “Well, it was bound to happen eventually.”

“I don’t even say it that much!”

Lydia said, “Is that why Daisy’s saying it now?”

Eggsy’s instinctive first response was a hearty “fuck you,” but he had to tamp down on that impulse when he realized that it would just prove Lydia’s point. Fuck.

Only one thing to do, then. Eggsy walked into the sitting room and picked Daisy up solemnly. “You can’t be like me, baby girl,” he said. “You can’t say those kind of things.”

“Fuck!” she cried happily. She pressed her palm to Eggsy’s jawbone, digging her little fingers with deceptively sharp nails into his cheek. “Fuck!”

Eggsy glanced over to find Roxy holding up her phone, clearly videotaping. He gave her his best deadpan look while Daisy firmly stated, “Fuck.”

Roxy lowering her phone, grinning. “For posterity,” she said, tapping something into the keyboard.

He wanted to say “fuck you” to her, too, but that option was clearly out. His life, really.

Well, whatever. He’d save his worries for more serious problems. Eggsy started setting Daisy up into her high chair while Lydia and Roxy circled the bacon like sharks. When he finally got over to the pan, all the bacon was eaten and both women weren’t even trying to look innocent about it. He gave a sigh and started to make some scrambled eggs for him and Daisy.

“So,” said Roxy, now sniffing around the eggs. “Is Ryan out of the hospital yet?”

“Being released in two days,” said Eggsy. He waved the spatula at her threateningly when she got too close. “Most of the bruises are gone now and they don’t think he’ll get an infection in his ear as long as he keeps it clean.”

“How much of his ear did he lose?”

“Not too much of it, thank God,” said Eggsy. “Mostly the lower stuff. A little more than the lobe. He’s got one of those huge horn-things and he’s planning on putting it in his ear and yelling ‘what’ every time someone tries to talk to him.”

Roxy blinked. “Did he lose some of his hearing?”

“Nope,” said Eggsy.

Roxy sighed and shook her head. “Who gave him the horn?”

Eggsy fell guiltily silent.

“Couldn’t that be insulting to people who have actually lost their hearing?”

“Maaaaybe,” said Eggsy, “or it could be really funny.”

Roxy said, “I’m confiscating it as soon as I see it.”

Eggsy pulled out his phone to text a warning to Ryan.

“Anyway, I should probably get going,” said Roxy. “There’s a Kingsman meeting I gotta get to.”

“A meeting? I haven’t heard about a meeting.”

“Yeah, because you’re the subject of it.” Roxy rolled her eyes at him. “Really.”

Eggsy shooed her out of the house. He fed Daisy, who dropped a couple more “fucks” throughout breakfast, and began to gather his things to go to the mansion. Lydia collected Daisy to take her to the park, where she was supposedly meeting with a play group.

When Eggsy was dressed sharp in a suit (navy blue with faded white pinstripes, single-breasted, with over-large matching buttons), he opened up the door to head out.

And came face-to-face with Michelle. She had an air about her like she had been hovering there for a while, on the brink of knocking but not quite making the leap. Her hands flew up to her face, but not before Eggsy got a decent eyeful of discolored skin.

“Ah, fuck,” said Eggsy. “Come in, mum.”

She stumbled inside, her hands still covering her face, like she didn’t want to reveal the extent of the damage. Eggsy snagged a tissue box and offered it to her. She took one hand off of her face, but even with the other still covering it, Eggsy could see the bruise peeking out.

“Mum,” he said, sadly.

Michelle dropped all pretense. She stood, tears coursing down her face, her make-up ruined. The entire right half of her face was a vivid, purple bruise, from forehead to jaw. It was like someone had taken a purple paintbrush to her face but had loaded the bristles with too much paint – like her face was dripping bruises.

“I ain’t here to see you,” she said.

“You here for Daisy? Cause I ain’t letting you have her, mum.”

Michelle sniffled, wiping snot on the sleeve of her shirt. “I ain’t here to take her. I just need to see her.”

“Why?”

“Because Rottie just whaled the shit out of me, Eggsy, and I want to see something good.”

Eggsy hissed through his teeth. “Rottie did this?”

“I ain’t seen Dean since that fucking birthday party,” said Michelle. “What was it now, two weeks ago? Feels like ages.”

“Yeah,” said Eggsy. “Where you been, mum?”

Michelle gave a sad-sounding laugh. “You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Tell me.”

Michelle scratched her arm absentmindedly, her eyes fixed on the fridge. She ventured a little more into the flat, cautiously, leaning against the kitchen counter. “I been at rehab.”

“Rehab?”

“Rehab.”

“So what are you doing out? You can’t already be clean.”

“I ain’t. They kept telling me there that Dean’s bad for me.” Fresh tears began to trickle out of Michelle’s eyes while she absentmindedly picked at a dirty spot on the counter. She was deliberately avoiding Eggsy’s eyes. “And, okay, I knew that, yeah? I fucking knew that. But I don’t like it when smug counselors sit there and judge me like I ain’t worth shit because I got myself in a bad situation. So I thought I’d nip out for a bit and see Dean, prove that he ain’t as bad as them counselors were saying. Because Dean and I love each other, yeah?”

Eggsy waited patiently for the end of the story.

“’Cept when I was walking towards his flat, Rottie ran across me. Said that since I run off, Dean took away his protection. Said anyone can have at me. And apparently…” Michelle trailed off for a moment, holding a hand up to her mouth. Her face crumpled. “Apparently Rottie’s always wanted at me.”

Eggsy felt anger burn for his mother. He stepped forward, putting his arms around her. It was an awkward question to have to ask his mother, but: “Did he touch you?” He said it lowly, angrily, thoughts of hurting Rottie spinning wildly through his mind.

But his mum shook her head against his chest. “Nah, babe,” she said. “He roughed me up a bit, but I started screaming and he spooked. Got lucky, I guess.”

“Rottie ain’t got the balls to do it if the girl ain’t drugged,” said Eggsy, and he wished he didn’t know that for certain.

“It ain’t right,” said Michelle, her voice high-pitched and full of tears. “None if it’s right, Eggsy. I’m gone for two weeks and Dean cuts ties? I thought… I thought…”

“I know,” soothed Eggsy. “I know what you been thinking, mum, I know.”

“It ain’t fair.” She began to sob in earnest, the ugly kind of sobbing that was bone-deep but healing. “It ain’t fucking fair that the guy I love ain’t a good guy.”

Eggsy made shushing sounds as they began to sway back and forth, rubbing his mother’s back soothingly. It was awkward to hold her in his arms – it was clear that she didn’t want to be there, that she didn’t want to be soothed, but she was also at the end of her rope and unsure of what else to do. Eggsy was at a loss of how to comfort, because he was thrown off-kilter and crying people always made him nervous. It was an awkward situation all around, made worse by the jagged history between them.

It took a long while for Michelle to calm down, but eventually she stepped away, accepting tissues when Eggsy handed them over.

“While I’m here,” she said, wiping away the make-up on her face, “I might as well tell you. I submitted a testimony to the court. I’m supporting your bid for guardianship rights.”

“Mum…” said Eggsy, thoroughly shocked. “Are you sure?”

“I ain’t gonna be able to take care of her while I’m in rehab,” said Michelle.

“You’re going back?”

“Didn’t finish it, did I?” She cast about for a mirror. When she found one, she began to dab at her eyes, trying to minimize the cry-cast to her face. “’Course I’m going back. Dean… he ain’t got no right to say those things about you that he did during that party. And I thought it were time for me to go someplace that’d remind me of that.”

“I’m proud of you, mum.”

Michelle snorted. “You ain’t proud of me, Eggsy. I bet even now you’re trying to think of where to hide me if your nanny gets back. You want me to stay a secret.” Eggsy shifted slightly. He wasn’t thinking it quite like that, really – he had just been trying to work out the logistics in his head, is all. He and Michelle consistently misinterpreted each other. “And anyway,” she continued, “I plan on suing for Daisy back when I get out.”

Eggsy could deal with that. Hell, depending on how his mum was after, he might willingly hand her over. “Still gotta go to court, though. Your permission ain’t enough.”

“That, and I think Dean plans on fighting it,” said Michelle. “Said as much before I left. He mentioned that if I didn’t fight it, he would – he’d sue for full custody. Said he had his rights and planned on exercising them.”

Eggsy froze with the stillness and finesse of a seasoned hunter. He carefully – every motion suddenly very deliberate – handed over more tissues when Michelle threw the used-up wad into the rubbish bin.

She blew her nose. “He’s probably pushing the paperwork through now before the court date.”

“I see,” said Eggsy. He let a fake, practice smile flow across his face. Nothing to see here, Eggsy was completely innocent, look at how nice he seemed. No murderous thoughts going through his head. No, sirree. “You wanna stay here for a bit, mum? Lay down for a bit, get your shit together, and then go back? I dunno when Daisy’ll be back…”

“Thanks,” said Michelle. She looked exhausted, with a million little stress lines decorating her face. She started heading toward her old room. “I’ll only stay for a few hours. I’m knackered.”

While the familiar sounds of Michelle settling down echoed out from her room, Eggsy made a phone call.

“Oi, Merlin,” he said. “Got a question for you.”

“All right.”

“Theoretically, what would happen if I didn’t go to therapy today?”

“Hm,” said Merlin. “I’d probably kill you. Why?”

“I’m not going to therapy today.”

“Well, don’t make this a habit, Agent Lionel.”

When Eggsy fell silent for a moment, Merlin cackled and said, “They voted. Congratulations.”

And then hung up, because Merlin was a son of a bitch.

Eggsy laughed, let the triumph flow through him, and then started preparing for some errands. He chose a Glock out of his (slowly-growing) collection of weapons. Eggsy carefully slid the gun into his shoulder holster. He smoothed out the lines of his suit, the Kingsman-tailored material making any weapon invisible. He had people to visit today. The first: one Dean Anthony Baker. It would be a “conversation” long overdue.

He didn’t ask his mum where Dean was living – another call took care of that. He even recognized, vaguely, the address – it was close to where Sharpie used to live, back when he was messing around with her. It was a pretty bad part of the estates (not that where they had been was great). But this was definitely a darker part.

One last glance in the mirror – fussing needlessly with an errant strand of hair – and he was off. He took a taxi over, since his flat was a hefty walk from the estates and he didn’t want to tire himself out before he got there. He had a feeling he would need his strength.

He made the driver drop him off a block away. He overtipped – the driver looked conflicted for long moments about the amount before deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

And then he was on his own.

It was… weird, to be back in the estates. Well, not weird, per se, since he had been back a few times since moving. Mostly to visit Ryan or a couple of his other friends. Jamal lived on the very outskirts of the estates, enough inside to say he lived in them but just outside enough for some of the other boys to tease him about being rich.

The part that was actually weird was being in the estates in a suit. He was getting suspicious looks from people he recognized but who clearly weren’t recognizing him. Mackie Potter, a rough-and-tumble neighbor who Eggsy had known for most of his life, eyed Eggsy and slipped a hand casually into his pocket. Eggsy knew from experience that he was clutching a slightly-rusted knife. Dame Elda, a seventy-year-old relic who made chocolate cakes for birthdays when requested, tried to make herself as small as possible when Eggsy passed by and held her two grocery bags between them like a shield.

It made sense. Why would someone walk into the estates in a suit if not for trouble? That trouble could come in all forms – he knew the questions going through their minds. Was he an important gangster? Was he from Child Protective Services, there to take someone’s child away? Perhaps he was there to evict someone from their home. Whatever the case may be, the suits made people wary, and they never expected little Gary Unwin to be wearing one.

It almost made him feel guilty.

It didn’t take him long to find Dean’s flat. The outer door had several chunks missing from it, like someone had taken a shovel and gouged at it. The flat next door was covered in graffiti of a giant green and purple dragon smoking a joint. Down the way, he could see a group of four or five men grouped around a beat-up looking hookah. They were sharing a laugh as someone passed the hose over. They paid no attention to Eggsy.

He knocked on the door, two firm raps that felt like they echoed.

No one answered.

He knocked three more times before pulling out his lock picks. He had the door open in thirty seconds. The men still hadn’t even glanced at Eggsy.

A smell rather like dog food rolled over him. He resisted the temptation to gag and put his sleeve up to his face, breathing in the cologne still lingering on his wrist. The lights had been left on though it seemed apparent that no one was there – the flat had an empty, hollow quality that suggested a lack of people.

Not that Dean hadn’t made his mark on it, though. Beer cans and cheap vodka bottles were haphazardly thrown on the floor. The beer cans looked empty, but some of the vodka bottles still had some alcohol in them. He could see hairs and other detritus stuck to the lips of some of the bottles, a sign that they had been on the floor for a while. He could also see sticky alcohol residue dotting the worn-down carpet; fuck, the whole carpet really needed to be replaced.

The flat was small, clearly intended for one-person use. It had a tiny kitchen that included a fridge and a stove and one countertop, which was covered in cans of Red Bull and a half-eaten sandwich. There was a miniscule sitting room that had somehow squeezed in a telly, a couch, and a wobbly-looking squat table.

He took a step further into the flat. The squat table was covered. There were two lines of coke, unsnorted, which was ridiculous – who would make a line and leave it? There were what looked like a couple of dirty needles scattered on the table, fuck, that was dangerous as hell. And since when was Dean shooting up? The most Eggsy was aware of him doing was coke, and even that sparingly. Dean was more of a pot and alcohol guy, usually together.

There was also a pack of unused needles waiting to be opened, along with a messenger bag. Eggsy knew, instinctively, there were drugs in the messenger bag, but he opened it up anyway to check and nearly reeled from shock.

Dean must be moving on to more dangerous drugs, because that was not coke. Not that coke wasn’t dangerous… but this was big-league type stuff.

Fuck.

Whatever. He wasn’t here to bust Dean. He could care less about the drugs.

Eggsy began his first errand – he searched the place, methodically, exactly the way he had been taught. Even though he doubted Dean would notice if anything moved, he still replaced everything carefully. He wore gloves and checked even the most innocuous place. Bedroom – ugh – bathroom, everything.

Nothing revealed papers to sue for sole custody, which meant that either he hadn’t filled them out yet or he had already submitted them. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He trotted back into the sitting room and sighed, surveying the mess. He was half-tempted to steal the messenger bag – there had to be a couple thousand worth of drugs in there – but he knew if he did that then he’d be tempted to do some of it and he wasn’t interested in going into another downward spiral after all he’d recently been through.

Unless…

He reached toward the bag and then jerked his hand back. No. No, he wouldn’t even entertain the thought. This was not the time to get mixed back up in drugs.

He turned around, ready to get out of there, and froze as a muzzle of a pistol pressed into his belly.

“Mugsy,” said Dean, grinning a crooked smile. “Fancy that. We wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Behind him, another man and Poodle slouched into the room, pulling the door shut firmly behind them. Eggsy had no idea how he hadn’t heard Dean come in in the first place, especially with the debris littering the floor. They should’ve been clanging alcohol bottles together like goddamn Christmas bells.

Three men, Eggsy thought, letting his eyes skip over Dean, Poodle, and the unknown man. He could easily take them… except there was the unfortunate fact that Dean could pull the trigger much faster than Eggsy could wrench the gun away. Fuck.

Maybe he should have brought back-up.

Dean dug the gun harder into Eggsy’s six-pack. Eggsy very deliberately repressed a wince. “What’re you doing, Mugsy?”

“What happened to your face?” Eggsy asked instead, because Dean’s face was a mess of fresh-looking scars, some healed, some not. Eggsy guessed he had pressed in on some guy’s turf, but…

“Oi, your pimp didn’t tell you? Thought he’d mess with my pretty face. Jokes on him, though. Look tougher this way. Getting more jobs.” Dean bared a grin at Eggsy and Eggsy counted two missing teeth.

“My pimp?” said Eggsy, confused for a moment until it clicked. God, fucking Harry. When did he even…?

“What are you here for?” said Dean, his face contorting a little. “Revenge?”

“Not quite,” said Eggsy. He jutted his chin out, posturing.

“Ha,” said Dean, seeing through him. “You still ain’t got no fucking bollocks, mate. You still just a fucking loser, just like the rest of us.”

Eggsy thought about it, then grinned. “Nah. I ain’t never been like you. I ain’t the type to smack around a girl.”

Dean snorted, and then paused. “You been seeing Michelle anywhere?” He said it almost casually. Eggsy could see Poodle and the unknown man shift, uncomfortable. There was no way to really be casual when you had a gun digging into someone’s flesh.

“Why don’t you ask Rottie,” said Eggsy, intently. He searched Dean’s face as it crinkled in confusion.

“Rottie? The fuck he got to do with it?”

Eggsy almost took a step forward, but the gun pressed insistently into his belly. “You have no control over your dogs. You put pretend collars on them and then let them piss all over your things.”

Dean’s face contorted again. “Oi, Michelle ain’t a thing. And… I take it you’ve seen her then. How… how is she?”

Eggsy sucked in a breath. “Too good for you,” he breathed out. “Always. Always too good for you.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “You was always so dramatic. Like you was any better for her. Making her think she ain’t deserving Daisy, always making her feel bad cause she ain’t giving you a fancy life like your daddy.”

“Are you… are you defending her? To me? You’re the one who hurt her!”

“Maybe,” said Dean, grimacing. “You know I weren’t meaning to hurt her. I just got a temper sometimes. But you – what’s your excuse, eh? If I started hurting her, you sure finished it.”

“I tried to help her!”

“That so? Well, ain’t that just the bee’s knees, huh, boys?” he turned and grinning at Poodle and the unknown man. Both – who had been pretending not to listen – grunted and grinned stupidly back. “He tried to help her. Like she were some five-year-old child. How’d that pandering work, boy? Eh? Bet treating her like a dumb kid really made her feel better, yeah?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Did you even ask her? Nah, but that’s not how it works, innit? You just gotta sweep in and save her from big bad Dean.” Dean’s eyes looked very cruel. “But Michelle ain’t the kinda woman you just walk in and save, Mugsy. Maybe, if she lets you, you can help her. But save? Nah. She don’t need that shit from you.”

“Fuck you,” said Eggsy, nearly breathless with anger. “Fuck you, Dean.”

“And what’re you doing here, then, Mugsy? Come to do some more saving?”

“I hear you’re countersuing for Daisy.”

Dean’s eyebrows went up. “Well, I’m her father, ain’t I? You ain’t gonna just erase me from her life. Now…” Dean jerked the gun toward the couch several times, clearly motioning Eggsy to sit down. “You just take a load off, Eggsy. I’m going to call a couple of my buddies, and we’re all going to have lots of fun.”

Dean never should have even twitched the gun away from Eggsy. He lashed out, sinuous – with a brutal move, he snagged Dean’s wrist and twisted. A dull crack sounded out in the flat. Unbeknownst to Eggsy, this was the same arm that Harry had broken at the party. Dean had never bothered to go to the hospital about it; as a result, he curled around his arm in agony, almost howling in pain.

Poodle, having gone through a beating with both Eggsy and Harry, was more prepared this time around. He lurched forward, bringing out a knife and throwing it at Eggsy.

This probably would have been a great move, especially since Eggsy wasn’t expecting it. Unfortunately for Poodle, however, he had never thrown a knife before. It didn’t have the correct spin or power behind it. The hilt of the knife hit Eggsy rather than the blade and bounced off of him, skidding across the floor.

Eggsy didn’t give Poodle a chance to recover. He executed a high kick, thanking his gymnastics training in the back of his head. It connected, but perhaps too well – Poodle’s head snapped back and the second crack of the night sounded across the flat. Eggsy had broken Poodle’s neck.

This made Eggsy falter in shock. He had never killed a civilian before… If you could truthfully call Poodle that. And there was no doubting he was dead – no one could survive their head being at quite that angle. Eggsy hadn’t realized he had that much force behind the kick.

“Oh my fucking God,” said the third man, and he brought up a small handgun and shot Eggsy twice in the chest.

Eggsy fell back, swearing. Bulletproof bespoke or no, that shit still hurt like a bitch.

Bulletproof bespoke. How could Eggsy have forgotten? He could’ve let Dean shoot him in the stomach before, it wouldn’t have hurt him. Fuck, being by Dean again was making him forget that he was a Kingsman.

The man’s mouth dropped clear open when he realized that Eggsy was still standing. Eggsy brought out his Glock – in for a penny, in for a pound – and shot the man in the head.

And then he turned to Dean.

“I think we should talk,” he said, stashing his still-smoking gun back in his holster. He didn’t need it anymore. Kingsman had taught him many things, and one of those was that he didn’t need a gun to hurt someone.

Dean was huddled on the floor, still nursing his hurt arm. He looked up at Eggsy, and of all the things that Eggsy thought he would feel in this moment – triumph, anger, hatred – all he could feel was pity.

Eggsy wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because, in the end, Dean was pathetic. Take away his lackeys, strip the power from him, and he was just another man, whimpering on the floor. Maybe, in another life, Dean could have been something. A better man. A better husband. Maybe he could have lived up to that person in the sitting room who had danced with Michelle to no music.

And, to be fair, Dean had never stood a fighting chance. Not when you were constantly compared to Lee Unwin. It didn’t make what he did excusable, but there wasn’t ever any way he was going to fill those shoes.

But.

But.

Pity or not, this man was threatening to take away Daisy. And, what? Make her live in this heap? No.

Not on Eggsy’s watch.

So Eggsy grinned, not a nice one, and channeled his inner Harry Hart as he stepped forward – because here and now, he wasn’t going to twitch away from Dean. He was going to remind Dean why it was a bad idea to challenge him.

“Now,” said Eggsy. “Let’s talk about Daisy, shall we?”

When Eggsy left the flat, he started walking towards one not far off. Rottie lived near Dean, but it was still a good ten minutes before he found himself at his door.

Pity that Rottie hadn’t been with Dean earlier. It would have taken care of two errands instead of just the one.

As far as Eggsy was aware, Rottie was still living with his grandmother. No one was quite sure what happened with his parents, and the only time that Eggsy had summoned up the balls to ask Rottie had smacked him around so hard that his mum had to take him to the A&E to get stitches. No one had asked again after that.

Rottie’s grandmother was a sweet, doting old thing who had an intense addiction to both reality television and ‘shrooms. No one was quite sure how she was still alive and kicking, especially since she had been addicted to various substances throughout the phases of her life. She was about sixty-five years old but looked and walked as if she were around ninety. She had a smoker’s voice and was missing all of her teeth. She had never bothered to get dentures.

She was the one who opened the door when Eggsy knocked. She grinned a gummy smile at him and said, “Hello, sweetie. How can I help you?”

Eggsy opened his mouth and realized he didn’t know Rottie’s real name, or even his last name. He had no idea how to address his grandmother. Awkwardly, he said, “Is Rottie in?”

She smacked her lips together, looking thoughtful. “I think he’s supposed to be getting in in a bit. Unless he’s been held up. Would you like to come in and have some coffee?”

“Sure,” said Eggsy. Rottie’s grandmother was missing the trademark accent, but her words were blurred together by the missing teeth, like she was prevented from articulating fully. She didn’t seem to be aware that the missing teeth might be unnerving, just grinning at him and holding the door open for him to step through.

Rottie’s flat wasn’t anything like Eggsy expected it to be. He knew, theoretically, that Rottie lived with his grandmother, but seeing it was something else entirely. The flat looked like it had been decorated in the 1950’s, with stiff-looking couches and everything in puke-green shades. It looked too neat to touch, and, as much as Eggsy resented stereotypes, everything felt so old and precious that he was uncertain of touching things.

A worry that was quickly put to rest as Rottie’s grandmother ushered him into a seat and began making coffee.

“I’d make you tea, dear,” she said, “but I don’t think the caffeine in tea is good for you.”

“Um. Isn’t there caffeine in coffee?”

Rottie’s grandmother gave Eggsy a slightly pitying look. “Who told you that?”

“I… I’m pretty sure it’s a fact.”

“You can’t believe everything you hear.”

While she jabbed at buttons on her coffeemaker, Eggsy subtly scoped out the flat. Not much room to move, if things got ugly, but he didn’t plan for them to be. Mostly because Eggsy doubted Rottie would try much with his grandmother nearby.

Rottie’s grandmother settled in an overly puffy armchair near the couch. “Rottie doesn’t have friends stop by often,” she said, cheerfully. “Tell me about yourself.”

“My name’s Eggsy. I’m a tailor.”

“A tailor! You know, just the other day I was wearing these beautiful velour pants and I had a little accident. You know how things get when you’re old, these things happen, and I couldn’t quite get to the bathroom in time. I do hate to see that brown stain on those beautiful pants. Would you be able to get that out for me?”

Eggsy tried his best not to gape at her. “Uh, tailors don’t… They don’t clean clothes. I measure and fit for bespoke suits.” He gestured down at his get-up to get his point across.

She huffed. “Well, if you really knew clothes, then you would be able to help me out.”

“…Right. Sorry bout that.”

“It’s okay,” she said, apparently pacified by the apology. She was distracted by a beeping on the coffeemaker, and went back to the kitchen to emerge with two steaming cups of coffee (put in two plastic cups).

Eggsy accepted the cup gracefully and took a cautious sip. It tasted terrible.

“So how do you know my Rottie?”

“Oh. We, uh. Run in the same crowds, I suppose.”

Rottie’s grandmother narrowed her eyes at him. “You aren’t one of them druggies, are you?”

“What? No!”

“Oh. Well, if you were, I have some weed here if you wanna smoke with me.”

Eggsy was beginning to regret coming here. He could also feel a headache coming on. “No thanks. Trying not to smoke anymore.”

“Pity.”

“Right.” Eggsy wanted to make conversation – something like, ‘and what do you do?’, except he didn’t know if she was retired or if that question would make her bitter. He had no idea how to connect with her. Fuck.

She took a sip of her coffee and coughed. “This tastes like shit,” she said, and glared at him like it was his fault.

“It’s not that bad.” Eggsy awkwardly took another sip of the coffee and tried his best not to make a face while it went down his throat. “Uh, when did you say Rottie might be back?”

“Soon, I hope,” she said. “So, you don’t smoke. You don’t do drugs. Tell me you at least have sex.”

Eggsy, who had been taking a sip of coffee at that moment, snorted in surprise and felt the shitty coffee go up the wrong pipe. His nose burned terribly and he coughed for long moments while Rottie’s grandmother scrutinized him.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” said Eggsy, setting his cup down and wiping at his nose.

She narrowed her eyes again. “You aren’t one of them gays, are you? I’ve got a great gaydar.”

“Gaydar isn’t a real thing,” said Eggsy. “You can’t tell a person’s sexuality by the way they act.”

She sniffed. “You’re a gay, then.”

Eggsy gritted his teeth. So this is where Rottie got it from. “All due respect, ma’am, I didn’t come here to be judged by you.”

“When you’re a gay, you’re asking to be judged.”

“Are you fucking serious?” asked Eggsy, just in time for the door to swing open.

Rottie stood in the doorway, blinking at the scene. Eggsy supposed it was probably surreal to him – his grandmother, drinking coffee with Eggsy, who was in a full suit (albeit with two metallic, puckered spots where the bullets had hit). Eggsy in his sitting room was probably weird enough.

“Oi, what’re you doing here?” he demanded when he got over his shock.

“He’s being gay,” Rottie’s grandmother muttered.

Eggsy stood up, abandoning the shitty coffee on the table. “Wanna talk about my mum’s bruises, bruv.”

“Your mum were asking for it, if you ask me. Slag like that, thinking she can just up and leave Dean. And what’re you doing? Dean’ll kill you if he finds you on his turf.”

“Dean ain’t a problem no more,” said Eggsy, grinning. “But you sure as fuck are. Didjya really think I were gonna let you hurt my mum? After all them bar fights, knowing now that I ain’t someone to mess with?”

Rottie squared his jaw. “I ain’t afraid of you. Just cause you got money now don’t make you better than me. I can still kick your arse.”

Rottie’s grandmother tutted. “If you’re going to fight, don’t do it in the flat,” she said. “Take it outside. And, Rottie, could you pick up more weed while you’re out? I smoked most of it this morning.”

Heaving a huge sigh, Rottie stared at his grandmother. “Damn it, I just bought that! How in the fuck did you get through it all?”

She shrugged.

Rottie appeared to give up and gestured at Eggsy to follow him outside. Eggsy did so, keeping a wary eye on Rottie while he slid past.

Shutting the door firmly behind him, Rottie wasted no time in bringing out his gun. This would have been devastatingly effective, if Eggsy didn’t already have a knife out at his throat. It was a simple matter to just dig blunted fingernails into Rottie’s wrist and wrench the gun away. It clattered across the pavement, accidentally discharging a bullet into the cement siding of the flat.

There was a deadened sort of silence before Eggsy could visibly see people pulling their curtains shut. It was like the estates was shrinking in on itself for protection – they wanted nothing to do with this altercation. Nothing.

“Ain’t no Dean here to save you, Rottie,” Eggsy said.

“I ain’t needing Dean to teach you a lesson,” Rottie sneered, curling his lip at Eggsy. He seemed entirely unconcerned about the knife at his throat. “You ain’t gonna hurt me, Eggsy. You got morals.”

“I do,” said Eggsy, coolly. “I do got a lot of morals, Rottie. But you’re a moron if you think that my morals are gonna come in the way of me protecting my own.”

Eggsy pressed the knife harder into Rottie’s throat, creating a straight-edged red line that began slowly dripping blood. Rottie still looked like he didn’t believe Eggsy would do anything –

White-hot bursts of pain exploded on the right side of his head. Eggsy stumbled away, lifting his hands up to prod at his hairline. Something hard and heavy had slammed into his head, and when he pulled his hands away, they were covered in blood. He lifted his hand up again – there, a huge gash, gushing enough to make a blood bank jealous.

Rottie’s grandmother stood nearby, clutching a large, ugly lamp that now had splotches of blood on it. She grinned her toothless grin and said, “You aren’t going to hurt my grandson! Don’t think I wasn’t on to you in there!”

Eggsy supposed that Rottie was banking on Eggsy not wanting to hurt a sixty-five-year-old. In a different life, one where he hadn’t been trained in torture, maybe he would have hesitated. Hell, maybe in another life he wouldn’t have hesitated anyway – Kingsman had a tendency to fuck up feelings of right and wrong. It was no wonder that Harry was so fucked in the head.

In this life, though, Eggsy had been through too much to care about her age. He had dealt drugs, watched his mother cry, felt helpless while Dean held Daisy semi-tender. He had been tied to fake train tracks and been responsible for hundreds of heads blowing up. He had speared a man through his chest and banged a princess after. He had shot out the knees of a lover and experienced the feeling of power as a man wet himself out of fear of Eggsy. He had toppled the prior regime at Kingsman and dismantled the new one. He had bedded Harry Hart, a man Eggsy labelled as one of the most dangerous he had ever met, and he had befriended Roxy Morton, a woman so strong that Eggsy was secretly wondering when she would leave Kingsman to rule the world.

This woman? This one, right in front of him?

Seemed so insignificant.

Rottie dove for the gun while Eggsy recovered from the head hit. It was a poor move on his part – Eggsy kicked up and to the side, catching Rottie right in the mouth. There was a sick crunching sound and Rottie fell back against the cement siding, clutching his mouth, which was trickling out blood. He spit out his two front teeth, looking dazed.

Rottie’s grandmother gave a startled shout and lifted the lamp again, but Eggsy pulled his gun out of its holster, fluidity in his moves. He shot her through her hand – she was lucky it wasn’t through her heart – and with a yowl, she dropped the lamp. It shattered, leaving dangerous-looking shards dotting the walkway.

“Right,” said Eggsy, stashing his gun back in its holster. “So, I didn’t really appreciate that hit, but I understand why you felt you needed to do it, ma’am. But I recommend you get the fuck back in that flat, because I don’t give a shit about you, and if you stay out here any longer you might not survive this.”

Eggsy had never seen someone so withered move that fast in his life. The door shut firmly behind her and Eggsy could hear the clanking of locks on the other side. As if they would really keep him out.

“Here’s the thing, Rottie,” said Eggsy, crouching down in front of Rottie, who had finally dropped the unconcerned act and looked like he might shit his pants. “You’re part of a past that I’m trying to leave behind. You can imagine that I don’t like my mum coming home with reminders on her face, yeah? Now, Dean ain’t going to be a problem for me anymore. Let me repeat that, cause I don’t think you’re understanding. I made sure Dean ain’t a problem anymore. I’d hate to do to you what I did to him.”

Eggsy paused, and then admitted, “Well, actually, I probably wouldn’t hate doing it. I would just hate myself for doing it.”

Rottie made a whimpering noise.

Eggsy clapped him on the shoulder. “So we understand each other, yeah? You stay very far away from my life. And I’ll stay out of yours. That means no more trouble. And I mean completely out of my life – if I hear about you giving Ryan or Jamal a hard time, or even so much as looking at them wrong, I’ll be right back here to have another conversation with you.”

Rottie nodded, his eyes darting all around. He couldn’t seem to stand to look at Eggsy.

“Excellent,” said Eggsy, standing up. He smoothed out the lines of his suit again and tutted over the blood beginning to stain the shoulders of the suit, from where his head was still bleeding. “Can I use your bathroom? I need to see about my head.”

After the visit with Rottie, Eggsy had one more errand to run. It had been one he had been meaning to do for a while now.

He walked the well-worn path to the flat. He knew every step, since he had been going there since he was a kid.

He knocked on the door, studiously ignoring the chips in the paint. It opened up to a semi-pretty woman with straw-colored hair who had the exhausted air of someone who never stopped working. Her dulled blue eyes lit up when they saw him.

“Oh, Eggsy!” she said, surprised. “Ryan’s not here. He’s still in the hospital.”

“I know,” said Eggsy, smiling at Ryan’s mum. “I’m actually here to see Ryan’s dad, if he’s around?”

It was time to confront the man Eggsy considered one of the true villains in his life.

When all three errands were over with and finished, Eggsy called the only person he could think of who had decent morals. He needed a talking to.

“Ay-yo, Eggsy,” said Jamal, yawning into the phone. “I just got back from a shift at work. Oh, hey! Have I told you yet? I been head hunted! I’m going in for an interview with some bloke named Mike. Dunno what garage he works at yet, but he said something bout how he’s a mechanic and they’re short-staffed right now and they heard I were good. Dunno how they heard, but I’m fucking excited!”

“That’s great,” said Eggsy, shrugging out of his suit. He could hear his mother in the other room, gently moving around.

“I know. I hope it pays better. It’d be great if I could move out of here, maybe get a nice flat like you. Support my dad. Pay the community back a little. But living somewhere nice would be awfully sweet right now.”

“Maybe even next to me.”

“I ain’t that optimistic.”

“Well, who knows where this Mike works,” Eggsy grinned into the phone. “Could be a fucking magical place.”

“Fuck you,” laughed Jamal. “So what’s up? You usually don’t call.”

“Oh, I’m just having a bit of a day,” said Eggsy, now stripped down to his pants. He collapsed back on his bed and thanked the lords Jamal couldn’t see him.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Mk. Hey, I was thinking maybe you, me, Roxy, and Ryan could all go out again sometime. I heard about this new place near that club Roxy showed us that’s supposed to be real good.”

“Jamal. Is this ‘new place’ a bowling place?”

“…no?”

Eggsy laughed helplessly, covering his face with one hand. Jamal loved ten pin bowling and tried to trick them into doing it all the time by implying they were actually going to clubs. “Bloody hell, Jamal, I don’t want to go bowling again.”

“But we ain’t been in ages!”

“For good reason!”

“For no good reason, cuz! C’mon. And think, it’s guaranteed that Rottie and his gang won’t be around.”

Eggsy brooded over that for long moments, before saying, “Well, I feel like they won’t be around anyway.”

Jamal snorted. “Like they’re that easy to get rid of.”

“Just saying.”

“Whatever, bruv. We should go bowling!”

“If you can convince Ryan and Roxy to go, I’ll go.”

“Aha! I’ve already got Ryan on board. He said there’s a lot of potential for ear jokes there.”

“How does a bowling alley make for good ear jokes?”

“Guess you’ll just have to come to find out.”

“You’re a wanker,” said Eggsy.

Jamal yawned again in response.

They sat on the phone in silence for a while. Eggsy could hear Jamal absentmindedly moving around in his flat. In the background, Jamal’s father seemed to be saying something, to which Eggsy heard a muffled reply – Jamal must have put a hand over the speaker or something.

“I’m scared I’m becoming a bad person,” Eggsy blurted out.

There was a slight pause, before Jamal said, “Why do you say that, bruv?”

“I hurt people today.”

“Who?”

“Rottie. Dean.” Eggsy left out Ryan’s father. He didn’t want to hear Jamal’s questions about that.

“How’re you a bad person for hurting them? They’re arseholes, bruv. They’d hurt you worse in a second.”

“Yeah, but… I dunno. Shouldn’t I feel guiltier about it?”

“Well, why’d you hurt them?”

“They were hurting my mum.”

“There you go.”

“What?”

“Well, come on, Eggsy. You was always protective of all of us.”

“Yeah. But I hurt more people.”

“Okay. Like who?”

“A girl I slept with.”

“You was sleeping with someone?”

“For a bit there. I really hurt her. Like, physically.”

Jamal was silent for much longer. Then he said, carefully, “What kind of hurt we talking, bruv?”

This was a bad idea. Jamal wasn’t going to understand, not when he didn’t know about Kingsman. “Uh. Just. I dunno, man.”

“Eggsy. Hurting people you date ain’t right, cuz.”

“Oh. Oh, no, not like that. I’m not… Oh, fuck, forget about it.”

“No, no. Don’t back out at this point. What’s going on?”

“…well. I hurt her because she was about to kill someone.”

“That sounds much better than ‘I beat up a girl I were dating,’ cuz.”

“I never said it like that!”

“Well, what the fuck didjya think I was going to think!”

“Okay,” said Eggsy. He scrubbed at his face with one hand and tried to avoid the bandage he had stuck to his cut. “I’m just scared that I’m getting too used to hurting people. Blood used to scare me. I used to hate it all, you know.”

“Well, you still kinda do hate hurting things, don’t you?”

“I don’t know?”

“Well, come on. You’re always so careful around me and Ryan and Roxy. And don’t think I didn’t see the way that you was petting that stray cat the other day. Betcha anything that you went back and picked it up and went to a shelter.”

Eggsy blushed but didn’t deny it. “Look, Jamal, animals ain’t the point. I’m talking humans. Like, I’ve been hurting them a lot more. I used to gross out at the sight of blood. Now I’m okay with it.”

“Eggsy, stop feeding me this bullshit. I don’t know where this I’m-bad bollocks is coming from, but you ain’t bad. Far from it. You’re a good guy. I remember when you had the same freak-out about dealing drugs. It’s the same thing – you gotta do what you gotta do, bruv, and sometimes that means hurting people. It happens. Life’s fucked up. Specially yours. Sorry cuz.”

“All right, whatever,” said Eggsy, not really believing him but set at ease for the moment. “I gotta go. Hey, good luck on your interview, yeah?”

“Thanks bruv.”

Eggsy threw his mobile carelessly on his bedside table and stared up at the ceiling. Was he a bad person? Weeks ago he had told Harry that it was the easy way out to go after Dean. What did that mean for him now? Did he take the easy way out?

He rolled slightly and stared at the picture of Lee on his shelf. What would Lee have done? Would he have been disappointed in the choices Eggsy had made?

Lee had once thrown himself on a grenade for people he had little loyalty to, knowing that he had a wife and kid back at home. Would that selfless man had approved of what Eggsy had done today? Hell, not even just today. What about Diane, or both of the Arthurs.

Eggsy sucked in a deep breath and it wobbled back out, unsteady. He buried his face in his pillow, willing away the burning in his eyes. No. He wasn’t going to get upset over this. He didn’t deserve to get upset over this.

Okay. Okay, Eggsy. Think about something else.

Except the other thing on his mind was Harry Hart, who was waiting for his answer on what they were going to do with their relationship.

And he didn’t want to think about that.

It took another moment for Eggsy to reach a decision, but he finally felt around for his phone on his bedside table. He brought it up to his ear and listened as it rang, rang, rang…

“Jesus fucking Christ, what is it now?”

“Um. I was thinking I might come in today and talk to a therapist anyway.”

Merlin sighed, aggrieved. “Then what the fuck are you still doing out? Get your arse here.”

Eggsy let out an unsteady laugh and said, “Okay.”

“Don’t hang up the phone,” said Merlin, almost like an afterthought. “Keep with me on the line.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy, standing up and casting about for his pants. “Why?”

“Because I recognize that tone of voice. I’ve let people off the line with that voice before and never seen them again. Don’t hang up on me.”

“Merlin, I ain’t gonna commit suicide or something!”

“You won’t while we’re on the phone together,” said Merlin, and if Merlin had been right in front of him Eggsy would have punched him out. Dick.

“Whatever,” said Eggsy. But he kept Merlin on the phone.

Just in case.

The first leg of getting to the mansion was easy – mostly because he counted putting his pants on as the first leg of the journey, pun entirely intended there. He had to put the mobile on speakerphone while he wriggled into the bespoke material. He could hear Merlin breathing on the other line, sedate, steady, solid.

“What’re you doing?” asked Eggsy, gathering up his shit and disconnecting the speakerphone, sticking the mobile back by his ear.

“Salomea fucked up a mission with Degore. Nothing too terrible, he didn’t get hurt, but she directed him the wrong way and he got bogged down by unfriendlies. I’m reviewing the report and trying to figure if I should formally reprimand her or if I should just let it go. She knows better, but I also think her mind’s been elsewhere. She probably won’t do it again.”

Eggsy’s mind – perhaps too entrenched in himself – made what he thought to be the logical jump. “She’s been worrying about me, hasn’t she?”

There was silence, and then Merlin said, “I’d get rid of that ego, boy, before you can’t carry it on your shoulders anymore.”

Eggsy subsided, thoroughly chastised. “I didn’t mean to imply…”

“Eggsy, shut the fuck up. I know what you’re going through. Doesn’t mean that everything bad that’s happening is due to you. Salomea fucked up. Let that rest on her shoulders, not yours.”

“Okay,” said Eggsy. He reached the front door and opened it up. “I’m leaving my house now.”

“Don’t hang up.”

“I’m not going to. I’m still here.”

Except Eggsy found himself wavering on his own doorstep. Weirdly, irrationally, he thought about going inside and collecting JB. JB would make things better – the stubborn little pug had a tendency to lick/fart/snort in a way that comforted Eggsy.

“What are you thinking?” said Merlin, quietly.

“Uh? Nothing.”

“Eggsy. Let’s not pretend that I don’t have your phone tracked, and that I’m not currently watching your dot stay at a standstill by your flat. What’s going through your head?”

“I want JB,” blurted out Eggsy. He then abruptly reddened and dropped his head into his hands. He had not, in any life, meant to say that. Talk about embarrassing. He was going to get so much shit for that…

“Then bring JB to the mansion,” said Merlin, lightly, easily, like he wasn’t judging Eggsy at all. “I wouldn’t be able to count the number of times that Harry brought Mr. Pickle to the mansion. We give those dogs for more than just training, you know.”

“Okay,” breathed Eggsy. Guess he would take Merlin at his word. He went back inside and scooped JB into his arms. He spent long moments snuggling with JB, rocking him in his arms, feeling absolutely absurd for burying his face into his prickly fur. Lydia and Daisy weren’t back from the park yet and Michelle was in her room, so no one saw as he buried his face in JB’s fat rolls.

He didn’t want to dawdle for too long, conscious of the fact that Merlin was still probably tracking him. Eggsy could just imagine Merlin reading Salomea’s report on one screen and watching Eggsy’s dot on another. Maybe he even had a third screen up. Maybe someone was on a mission and Merlin was directing them on another line.

Maybe he should hang up. Merlin had a lot going on. This was ridiculous. Ridiculous.

He stuck a couple of dog treats in his pocket and surveyed the flat. Eggsy was pretty sure that he had everything that he needed… but maybe… Maybe he should just call it quits. It wasn’t like he needed to go in, after all. And what was therapy really going to do for him? Eggsy could handle this. He could.

“Eggsy,” said Merlin, quietly.

“Maybe I won’t come in,” said Eggsy. “I made a rash decision. I don’t need to come in.”

“There’s no shame in seeking a therapist. I have a standing appointment every week. So do most of the agents. And you know protocol, Eggsy. What you’ve been doing is hard. Talking might help.”

“Okay, yeah, that’s true. Or I could just stay here and deal with it myself. Not trouble anyone.”

The silence that followed that statement was super-charged. And then Merlin said, “Has that been working for you? Has ‘just dealing with it’ helped out those panic attacks that you have?”

“I barely ever get panic attacks. And other people get panic attacks and don’t run to a therapist every time they do.”

“Eggsy.”

Eggsy ran a frustrated hand over his face. JB took it as an invitation and started licking the underside of his jaw. “Merlin, I’m fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

“I’m not suicidal.”

“I believe you. I’d believe you more if you were right in front of me.”

“Come on.”

“I’m not backing down.”

“I shouldn’t have to prove myself just because you’re misinterpreting my tone.”

Eggsy.”

“Fine!”

He made it to the doorstep again, and then halfway down the street. Eggsy had to pause for another moment there, not because he wanted to, but because JB was trying to wriggle his way out of his arms. He spent long moments swearing over his stupid dog, and then more long moments peppering JB with kisses for being so unashamedly himself.

Eggsy got the impression that Merlin was amused, simply by the tone of his silence. He resumed his walk, stopping every few moments to re-adjust the thoroughly discontent JB.

“Why didn’t you grab his leash?” asked Merlin after the third such time.

“Didn’t think about it,” grunted Eggsy, nearly losing his grip on JB.

“Stuff him in your shirt,” suggested Merlin.

More moments were spent trying to get JB into his shirt. It wasn’t as successful as when he was running – he wasn’t a puppy anymore, and his dress shirt wasn’t as stiff as his training gear. While he was wrestling with the squirmy dog, a lady passed him and gave him a startled look.

“Sorry,” Eggsy called after her. “He doesn’t understand how to dog sometimes.”

The lady didn’t even pause as she continued to scurry away.

JB got him through the second leg, all the way up to Savile Row. He couldn’t talk himself out of going if he was more involved in making sure JB didn’t jump out of his arms and waddle off into the afternoon.

Eggsy walked into the shop and gave Dagonet a jaunty wave. Dagonet didn’t even have the grace to look surprised. He just underhandedly passed JB a treat while Eggsy pretended he didn’t notice (he really did; JB huffed out crumbs all over Eggsy’s blazer).

Then he took the long elevator down to the bullet train. Most of the elevator ride was spent with Eggsy yelling at JB not to pee on the stupid little ottoman in the room. JB did anyway; honestly, at this rate, Eggsy was going to completely forget about suicide just to keep this stupid dog in line.

(Not that he was thinking about suicide or anything. Nope. That’s not what this was about. It was about Eggsy humoring Merlin, who was clearly overreacting to a little phone call).

The third leg was the problem, because Eggsy was left looking at the entrance of the bullet train, and just like that, all he could think about was sitting on that bullet train as he checked the time, wondering if his time was up and his colleagues were gone. As, just minutes before, he had been torturing Diane.

Torturing.

Eggsy sat down next to the bullet train, his breath coming short. Not a panic attack, not quite. More like his mind was in a very bad place.

“Eggsy?” said Merlin, quietly, the jagged-like burr of his voice a comfort to his ear.

“I’m here,” said Eggsy, but his voice came out faint, like he was just… fading away.

“Where are your thoughts?”

“I’m not…” Eggsy cast about for the right words.

He clenched his jaw. He gulped, which seemed to be really hard, and closed his eyes. He realized, almost apathetically, that he was shaking.

“I’m not well, Merlin. I’m just not well.”

“Okay, talk me through it. Where is this coming from? What’s giving you this feeling?”

“It’s…” Eggsy wind milled his arms, as if Merlin could see. In his shirt, JB snuffled, confused, pressing a wet nose against Eggsy’s collarbone. “I hurt people, Merlin. I hurt them and I didn’t even flinch. And I don’t even feel bad about it, because they deserved to be hurt. I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty. Shouldn’t I feel guilty, Merlin?”

“I’m going to sum up what you just said to me so I make sure I’m getting this right,” said Merlin. Eggsy had never heard such a carefulness to Merlin’s voice before. It was like he was choosing each word with special consideration. “You’ve been feeling bad because you don’t feel like you had the appropriate reaction to torturing people.”

“Who shoots out a woman’s knees and then just moves on with their day?” said Eggsy, the sentence cracking in the middle. Cracking, cracking, cracking. He was aware of the tremors getting worse. It was not a panic attack.

Maybe… Maybe Merlin had reason to worry…

There was a slight intake of breath on the other line. “This is why we require therapy after each instance, and a period of six months before another instance,” said Merlin. “Our jobs are about saving the world, Gary Unwin. We do the things that others can’t. We step into the role of the bad guy, because sometimes, you have to be the bad guy to balance out the world. We topple regimes, we blow up heads, we instill fear. This is not a job people thank us for.

“But we do it because we have to. If we hadn’t, Valentine would have killed off half of the population. Or there would be ten preschoolers still hidden in a warehouse in Wales, suffering.”

The last reference had Eggsy blinking. Ten preschoolers? When –

His first torture mission.

It felt like ages ago.

“That’s different,” said Eggsy.

“In what way?”

“Those were children.”

“I could make the argument, Eggsy, that most missions you go on have some indirect connection to children. By saving the mansion, didn’t you ensure each employees’ survival, thus allowing them to go home and take care of their family?”

Eggsy blew out a frustrated breath. “Yeah, okay, I get that, Merlin. But today I just shot a man in the head for backing up my ex-stepfather.”

“Why did you go after your stepfather?”

“Because he was about to countersue for guardianship of Daisy!”

“Ah. So you were protecting Daisy.”

“Wha – no, that’s not… I mean… Fuck you, Merlin. He was a civilian. A civilian. I didn’t need to kill him.”

“Kingsman has been responsible for a great many civilian deaths. This is hardly the first time you’ve killed a civilian. It won’t be the last. I won’t pretend that we do isn’t hard, Eggsy. But you knew walking in what you were getting into. You knew the day Amelia pretended to die what the risks were. What’s really bothering you?”

Eggsy was silent.

“Is it that this death was personal?”

“Sure,” said Eggsy, even though that wasn’t it.

Merlin probably heard the lie in his voice, but he said, firmly, “Agents sometimes have to defeat their personal demons to continue on with their lives. There would probably be corrective action if I didn’t think this was warranted, but I watched you sit on the stand and say that your stepfather abused you. The system doesn’t always work.”

“Now we’re talking vigilantism.”

Merlin barked out a laugh. “What do you think we are, really, Eggsy? We aren’t government-affiliated. We aren’t sanctioned. We’re Kingsman.”

“We’re fucked up, is what we are.”

“Now you’re getting it. We’re fucked up in every way imaginable, but we get by. And save the world while getting by.”

Eggsy laughed, startled, the sound torn from him. The laugh kept tumbling out, just ringing in the empty metallic-looking foyer for the bullet train. JB licked under his chin, startled, while Merlin patiently waited for his laughing fit to end.

“Harry hit me,” said Eggsy, apropos of all of fucking nothing, the laughter still lurking on his lips.

“Agents do that,” said Merlin, a slight bit of confusion in his voice.

“No. He hit me.”

“Oh. Oh. Fucking Harry.”

“I don’t know what to do about it.”

“My recommendation is to hit the fucker back.”

Another laugh from Eggsy’s lips. “It’s not that easy, guv. I guess he didn’t technically hit me, he just kinda choked me. But after he did it, I wondered – am I like my mum? Am I in a relationship that’s bad for me?”

“The only person who can really determine that is you, Eggsy.”

“I don’t know, and that’s the problem.” Eggsy was distracted for a moment – JB kept trying to adjust in his shirt, so Eggsy pulled the dog out and set him down. It only took a moment for JB to trot across the floor to the desecrated ottoman and start sniffing at it. Eggsy could tell JB was trying to debate whether or not to pee on it again.

“Eggsy?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. It’s just that Harry… he’s…”

JB burped from across the room while Eggsy let his head thud back against the train.

“Harry Hart,” said Merlin, slowly, “is one of our best agents. He knows what he’s doing. But I’ll be the first one to say that he’s… Well. He’s seen some things, Eggsy, and he’s done a lot more. He’s so used to this industry that perhaps he’s internalized more of it than he should have. He choked you during the invasion, yes? Well, he was adrenaline-fueled, not thinking clearly, and in the mindset of violence. Plus, he had other things on his mind.”

“You knew about his involvement, then?”

Eggsy could hear Merlin shuffling papers on the other line. “Plausible deniability, Eggsy. I know nothing.”

Eggsy shook his head. Merlin was a terrible liar. “That doesn’t excuse it, bruv.”

“No. No, it doesn’t, not even close. I don’t think there’s an excuse in the world you can use to erase something like that. Have you talked to Harry about it?”

“I, uh. Sorta destroyed part of his home trying to talk to him about it.”

There was a muted sound on the phone. Eggsy realized that Merlin had put his hand over the speaker to muffle the sound of laughter.

“Damn it, Merlin, it ain’t funny! None of this is funny!”

“Right,” said Merlin, the humor not quite faded from his voice. “Not funny at all. I wasn’t laughing.”

Across the room, JB snorted, like he didn’t believe Merlin either. “You’re so full of shit.”

“At least you can give Harry a run for his money,” said Merlin. “Jesus fucking Christ, I don’t know how I manage with you people.”

“None of this is funny!” reiterated Eggsy, but he was sorta laughing now too. It was that broken-sounded, tangled laugh, but it was a laugh all the same. Because, yeah. He had put his foot through Harry’s telly, for God’s sake. There came a point where you just had to laugh about it. “Damn it, Merlin, quit making me laugh. I still feel bad.”

“Yeah, that feeling won’t go away for a while,” said Merlin, the laughter finally fading from his voice. “Believe me. I’ve been there. But the first step is standing up, collecting your dog, and getting on that train. I can’t do anything else for you right now.”

Eggsy teetered on the edge of a precipice. It would be so easy, wouldn’t it, to just walk away. To not get on the train. Eggsy wasn’t talking about killing himself (he didn’t think, right? …Right.), but just not jumping through these hoops. Merlin was full of shit, anyway, wasn’t he?

Eggsy could take care of himself. Why did he even come this way?

And he didn’t feel that bad.

Right?

Right. He didn’t feel bad.

Not at all.

He didn’t feel bad.

He didn’t feel bad.

Shit, no matter how many times Eggsy repeated it in his head, there was still this consuming, choking feeling in his throat. He realized, abruptly, he was trembling so badly that the phone was a step away from being flung from his hand. Not good.

“Eggsy?”

Eggsy set down the phone.

He could hear Merlin repeat, louder and more insistent, “Eggsy? Eggsy? Please answer me. I’m requesting an answer right now. Eggsy?”

He ran both hands through his hair. He didn’t want to talk to Merlin. He didn’t. He wanted –

…well, not to hurt himself, per se. He just didn’t want to be unharmed. He wanted some physical proof of pain. He wanted the world to know, while simultaneously being horrified at the thought of the world knowing. He wished he didn’t think this way. He wished he understood what he was thinking. Everything was so tangled, and so weird, and fuck, fuck, fuck, Eggsy wasn’t sure what he was about to do –

Because – it was just that – Eggsy didn’t know how to explain it… How do you explain when your mind is talking circles around itself, and you want the world to understand, but you know the world won’t understand, so you talk yourself in and out and in and out, and pretty soon you’re on these weird tangents where the thought never ends, and you just wish you could stop thinking, or have someone rip the thoughts from your mind, but then you think that it’s okay to have these thoughts they’re normal, but then you realize that they’re not normal but wait are they and it’s all confusing and how does it work –

Eggsy sucked in a sharp breath and raised the trembling hand to his mouth. The coolness of his hand felt super-charged against his heated skin.

What should he do?

His mind wasn’t in a bad place, was it?

Just –

Wasn’t Merlin being dramatic –

Wasn’t Eggsy being dramatic? Surely this wasn’t bad –

Nothing was that bad because it’s not like he had hurt anyone –

Oh fuck now his thoughts were spiraling downwards again –

And Eggsy just

didn’t

know

what

to

do

A tinkling sound came from across the room.

Eggsy looked up. JB had his leg lifted and was peeing on the ottoman again.

“JB! No!” he said, sternly, but both words came out weakly. He placed trembling hands on the floor and gave a half-hearted attempt to stand. JB finished up and waddled away from the puddle. He meandered over to the mirror and, when he saw himself in it, he twitched in horror. He started barking at his own reflection.

Eggsy realized he was laughing. It was hysterical and out of control, but it was untangling the knots in his chest. He dropped his face into his hands, chuckling and chuckling and chuckling.

His dog…

His stupid little dog…

…maybe just saved him.

Because how could he ever leave stupid little JB behind? Stupid, brilliant JB. He couldn’t leave him. He couldn’t leave him, or his sister, or any of them.

He couldn’t.

“Right,” said Eggsy, picking up the phone. His tone was all sorts of fucked-up but he figured that Merlin would understand. “I’m getting on the train, Merlin.” He ignored the soft, relieved cursing on the other side. Eggsy still felt off-kilter, like his emotions hadn’t been packed away in their proper places, but he stood up all the same. “JB, come here!”

JB sat down, because he sometimes got his commands mixed up. Eggsy sighed and walked over to him. JB startled, and yipped, and ran to the ottoman. He looked up and grinned, like Eggsy should be proud of the puddle of piss. Eggsy frowned and walked towards him again, and then JB ran between his legs.

“Wha – JB, we are not playing right now! This is not a happy moment!”

JB wagged his curly tail, giving Eggsy a snot-filled look before doing his pug-waddle to the entrance of the train. Eggsy rolled his eyes and followed the dog, only to be foiled by JB barking and dancing around him.

“JB, no, bad dog,” said Eggsy, trying to catch JB.

JB had other plans. He started running in circles around Eggsy, barking happily.

“Why do you only run when I don’t want you to?” asked Eggsy, honestly befuddled, distracted from his thoughts. “I can’t figure you out.”

JB sped past Eggsy and into the train, jumping up on Eggsy’s usual seat. Eggsy stepped inside, too, and the doors instantly closed (Merlin must still be watching, because the train started moving without Eggsy’s command).

He sat down next to JB. JB whined and began trying to heave his little body over the armrest separating them. Eggsy sighed and picked up the dog, settling him in his lap. JB gave Eggsy an adoring look before snorting a little and settling down.

“You’re a character,” Eggsy let the dog know. JB didn’t even pick his head back up.

Eggsy was okay with that. He ran his hands over the prickly fur, scratching JB behind his ears. JB let out a happy sigh and burrowed more into Eggsy’s lap.

Eggsy buried his face into JB’s fur. “Thanks, JB,” he whispered.

Merlin met him outside the bullet train. He didn’t even have his clipboard with him, giving the impression that he had hurried from his office to the train just for Eggsy. Eggsy appreciated that, so very much.

Gruff Merlin swung an arm around Eggsy’s shoulders. “Let’s go, yeah?” he said. Merlin escorted him personally to the therapist.

He sat in the therapist’s office for what seemed to be hours, just talking and talking and talking.

And, just like that, he had taken the first step. He had gotten on the train.

Of course, when there was one good thing – one potentially life-losing crisis averted – the world wasn’t in the habit of cutting him breaks.

He opened up the door of his flat, feeling emotionally vacant and barren after all of the talking. His mum was standing in the sitting room, hugging Daisy fiercely and looking wilted under Lydia’s stern gaze.

At the click of the open door, she turned to Eggsy, her gaze a little wild. “This girl ain’t got no right to judge me,” she said, sounding hysterical. “I just wanna hold her. I ain’t gonna do nothing.”

“Okay,” soothed Eggsy – or he meant to, anyway. His voice sounded flat. “Okay, we get it, mum.”

“I wanna get clean. I wanna enjoy my life. I wanna sleep knowing I’m not in danger. I want my daughter back. I want my son back.”

“You’ve got me, mum. You’ve had me this whole time.”

But Michelle was shaking her head. She hadn’t bothered putting on anymore make-up – probably guessing that this was going to happen.

“I can’t do this,” she said, agony in her voice. She handed Daisy off to Lydia, who promptly backed away and into another room. “I can’t do this, Eggsy.”

“It’s okay,” said Eggsy, moving forward a few cautious steps. Michelle skittered away. This wasn’t her normal behavior under the influence – was this withdrawal? Something else? Eggsy had no idea.

Maybe it was just Michelle breaking down.

“I can’t be here,” said Michelle, shaking her head. “I shouldn’t have come. This was a mistake.”

“It weren’t a mistake, mum. Now I know you’re okay. Where you’ve been.”

Michelle wiped away tears. “I meant it when I say I didn’t come for you, Eggsy. You and me, we’re… we’re not good anymore, baby. We’ve hurt each other too much.”

“I never meant to hurt you, mum.”

“I never meant to hurt you, either.”

They stared at each other for long moments, before Eggsy opened his arms. His mum rushed into them, burying her face in his collarbone.

“I’d tear down the world for you and Daisy,” said Michelle. “But I can’t tear it down when I’m already torn up myself.”

“I know, mum. I know.”

“I ain’t broken,” she said, stepping out of Eggsy’s arms. “I’m just… I’m just not the best I can be, right now. And I’m gonna change that.”

“Mum.” Eggsy took a deep breath, trying to find the words. “You know I support you. Just go and take care of yourself, yeah? You never really took care of yourself after dad died. You were always too busy making sure I was okay. It’s your turn. I want you to be happy. We can fix what’s between us later. Just… please.”

Michelle nodded, still tearful. She gave him a kiss on the cheek, and like that, disappeared from his flat, not even bothering to close the door behind her.

Eggsy pulled it shut and rested his forehead on the door. He had an ache in him, like there was a missed opportunity there or something. Like he should have hugged his mother tighter and figured out a way to fix what was between them.

But he didn’t know what else he could do. He wasn’t in the right state to have done anything else.

The whisper of fabric announced Lydia’s return to the room. Eggsy turned around, tired. She was still holding Daisy.

“She gone?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Eggsy, making grabby-hands for Daisy. Lydia promptly handed her over, and Eggsy hummed a small tune, swaying with Daisy.

“How do you think the guardianship battle will go?”

“Well,” said Eggsy. “I think I just won it. Dean’s out of the picture and Michelle is voluntarily waiving her rights.”

Lydia nodded sharply.

“Still gotta go to court,” said Eggsy. “But… it’s really over.”

“Still have to go to the doctor for her tomorrow, though, right?”

“Yeah,” said Eggsy, looking down at Daisy. “But she’s been better lately, right?”

“We’ll see what the doctor says,” said Lydia, cryptically.

Eggsy nodded. It was late afternoon, but the only thought in Eggsy’s mind was lying in bed and spending the rest of the day recovering.

And the sleep treated him well. He wasn’t much better, by any means – it would take a lot of work to get to where he once was – but it was like his batteries were recharged and he was ready to face the day. Or, at least as ready as he could be.

The next morning found Eggsy back in the mansion. He was meticulously taking down Daisy’s artwork from his walls. He had a therapy session in two hours and he wanted to redecorate his office beforehand (though he had time – apparently he was benched “for just a bit, lad.”)

“You know there won’t be another invasion,” said Harry.

Eggsy looked up. Harry was leaning against the doorjamb, a study in nonchalance. Harry nodded towards the stack of pictures. “You don’t need to take those down.”

“Makes me feel safer, knowing they won’t know about her.”

Harry shrugged. “No one else will get in here.”

“Unless you say.”

“Eggsy.”

Eggsy stood up, cracking his back. “Look, Harry. I’m not sure I can have this conversation yet.”

“That’s fine –” Harry cut himself off from whatever he was going to say. He seemed distracted by something going on down the hallway.

Eggsy pushed past Harry rather roughly to see Bedivere down the hallway. Bedivere had his phone pressed to his ear, and he was saying, “I’m coming to you now.” His voice had an urgent tone to it while he turned a corner and disappeared.

Something – some emotion – stirred in Eggsy. He ignored Harry while he set off down the hallway. He turned the corner, and another, until he was outside of Victoria’s now-ex-office. The door was wide open (the first time Eggsy had seen it that way) and the insides were nearly bare.

In the middle of the room stood Victoria and Bedivere. Bedivere had Victoria folded into his arms, and her face was buried in in his shoulder. He was saying, repeating, “It’s okay. They don’t matter. They don’t matter.”

Victoria muttered something that Eggsy couldn’t quite make out. Bedivere placed a hand on the back of her head and rubbed his hand up and down her back.

“Sh, sh,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I love you. They don’t matter.”

There was a slight rustle behind him, and Eggsy knew that Harry had followed him. He almost didn’t have the heart to break up the moment, but it felt… sacrilegious, somehow, to stand there and watch. It wasn’t a moment meant for him and Harry. He felt like an interloper.

Eggsy coughed, and they broke apart.

“Oh, excellent,” said Bedivere. His face creased in annoyance. “Just who I want to see.”

Victoria turned away for a moment. Eggsy thought he saw tears on her face, but when she turned back, she looked the same as ever. No redness in her eyes, no nothing. She did sniffle slightly, but that was the only other indication that she was – in any way – affected by something.

Victoria picked up a box and headed towards the door. She had a determined set to her jaw, like she was gritting her teeth, and she studiously did not look at Eggsy as she came toward him. Eggsy politely stepped aside to let her through. And then it occurred to him –

This was it. This was the final showdown, the last he would see of Victoria Willoughby.

“I don’t get it,” Eggsy burst out, before she could get too far down the hallway. “Was it all just because of your brother? That’s the only reason?”

Victoria stopped in the middle of the hallway. There was silence for a few moments, before she turned back around. Her face was blank. “You’re rubbish, Unwin. Through and through. If you would just acknowledge that, then maybe you would understand that I treated you exactly as you deserved.”

“I never deserved any of that,” said Eggsy. “I didn’t. And, okay. Maybe I’m not perfect. But you know what?” Eggsy smiled, and said, satisfaction curling in his chest, “Only one of us is employed.”

Victoria grimaced. She looked over his shoulder – she must be looking at Bedivere. After exchanging a look with him, she then fixed her beady eyes on Eggsy. “Well, that happens when people pity you.”

“Really?” said Eggsy softly. He was feeling something weird – oh, wow, he was feeling sorry for her. That’s… not what he expected. Well then.

That changed things.

“Because, honestly, I kinda pity you. You’ll never understand, will you? And you gotta go through your whole life like this. That’s so sad. Just so sad.”

“Save it,” she snapped. She lifted her chin up. The red lipstick, the toffee-colored pantsuit, the French braid… it was like she was the exact same as when she started the first day. She hadn’t changed a bit, while Eggsy felt like he had evolved so much. “I’m better than you. I’ll always be better than you.”

Behind him, Harry said, ice in his voice, “You’re better than no one. You’re incompetent and unable to retain a single job.”

Victoria gaped at him. “How dare you!”

“Oh, pardon me,” said Harry. “I didn’t realize you were intelligent enough to understand that was an insult.”

Eggsy reached out and put a pacifying hand on Harry’s arm. He could speak for himself.

He opened his mouth –

And abruptly realized that he had already moved on with his life. Victoria would probably never change. She would go through life convinced of her own superiority. Ego-wise, that wasn’t a bad way to live, living with the lie that you were always right. But then came the fall: the moment when you were reminded that you weren’t omnipotent, that you could mess up, too. And when you were convinced of your superiority, that fall was long and harsh. It led to sad hugs in stripped offices, and who wants to end up there?

No, Eggsy was happy with where he was. He wasn’t perfect. Hell, he needed to go to therapy soon. He might have another incident like the one near the bullet train. Maybe another panic attack.

But at least he was actively addressing his issues.

He knew that when he thought of Victoria any time after this, this is how he would remember her. Standing in the middle of the hallway, the last box of her possessions clutched in her hands, thoroughly beaten but still fighting back. But fighting not because it was the right thing to do, but because even when she had lost, she was too scared to admit her faults.

He would feel sorry for her.

So he smiled and said, “Goodbye, Victoria. I wish you the best. Stay well.”

Her cheeks pinked. “You’re a nothing and a nobody. And you always will be.”

Eggsy smiled again and turned away. He brushed by Bedivere, who looked inscrutable, and went back down the hallway. He could feel Harry following him.

Maybe Victoria had gotten the last word there. He got no remorse from her, nothing. But – oddly enough – he felt good about that encounter. It settled something in him.

Because, in the end, Victoria had to live with her own poison. That was for her to deal with, not Eggsy. She was out of his life and he had better things to focus on.

Like the weight of Harry’s hand as it settled on the small of Eggsy’s back.

“I’m still angry at you,” he said.

“I know,” said Harry. They stepped back into Eggsy’s office and Eggsy gathered up Daisy’s pictures, paper clipping them together and sliding them in a folder to take home. He would hang them up in his room.

While Eggsy was gathering his things, Harry stepped over to his desk. He picked up the paperweight he had given Eggsy so long ago as a welcoming present, and stared at the selfie they had taken together.

“What you said about me during the trial,” Harry said, then he hesitated.

“About the hand-holding and the mornings and stuff?”

“Yes.”

“What about it?”

Harry shook his head. “You don’t understand what that meant to me. I’ve never had anyone say anything remotely like that. The only other serious relationship I’ve been in went…” Harry stared up at the ceiling. “Sour. It went sour. His name was Duncan, and… He was the one who burned me.”

The faltering quality of the speech made Eggsy give Harry his full attention. He had never seen Harry this shaky before.

“Never mind that,” Harry said. “It’s not important.”

“Do you still love him?” Eggsy asked, not out of jealousy, but curiousity.

Harry stared at the window, idly flipping the paperweight over in his hand. “Never mind that,” he said, which gave Eggsy his answer well enough. “I just want to say. I’ll drink any tea you make.”

“Harry,” breathed Eggsy, recognizing the confession for what it was.

“Even though it tastes terrible,” said Harry, trying to break the moment.

“I can’t trust you, Harry,” said Eggsy.

“I can’t trust you either.”

“Where does that leave us? When you have a relationship with no trust? What does that mean?”

Harry set down the paperweight and finally looked at Eggsy. “Do we really need trust, you and I?”

“Doesn’t every couple?”

“Eggsy, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a relationship like this before. I don’t think we should be defined by the way other couples act. We shouldn’t let the examples of others dictate our own actions here. How do you feel, Eggsy? What do you want?”

Eggsy closed his eyes. “I want to be with you, Harry.” He opened them back up, and bravely said with eye contact, “But you aren’t the best for me.”

Something like a smile curled Harry’s lips. “And do you think you’re the best for me? Eggsy, you come with an amazing amount of baggage for someone your age. And every time I look at you, I feel deep guilt for what happened with Lee. I have no idea what to talk about with you sometimes because you’re so young, and you haven’t lived through what I’ve lived through. You get judgmental when I do something you don’t approve of, and I hate the feeling of disapproval from someone I’m so fond of. I feel like I can’t keep up with you half the time, and the other half of the time I’m just barely keeping up. You don’t make me feel great about myself, Eggsy.”

That rocked Eggsy to his core. He had no idea. None.

“You hit me,” Eggsy said, simply.

Harry tilted his head. “Yes. I did. I’m not making excuses, but, to be fair, Eggsy, I was rather stressed at the time because of the invasion. There’s also the fact that I’ve seen you undergo much worse – you’re trained in torture resistance. I thought it a good way to get my point across. I was wrong,” he emphasized when Eggsy opened his mouth, “and I won’t do it again.”

“See, here’s where trust would be nice,” said Eggsy, softly.

There was silence for long moments.

“We could give it another chance,” said Harry.

“It’s going to be hard work,” said Eggsy. “And if you even come close to hitting me…”

“Of course,” said Harry, but a smile was breaking across his face. He bounded forward – as much as Harry might bound – and swept Eggsy up into a hug.

Eggsy had so many misgivings about this. How many times had his mother said, ‘we can try once more, but if you hit me again…’ He wondered if he was following in those footsteps. He was so, so scared. Everything was scaring him recently.

But he hugged Harry, and it felt right, and for once, Eggsy shut off his brain and just felt.

After the talk with Harry, he went to one more therapy session, where the therapist was a neutral about the resolution with Harry. Then he went home and picked up Daisy.

Sitting in the doctor’s office was surreal, especially after yelling at him the last time. He went through the normal tests with Daisy while Eggsy bounced a knee up and down in an uncomfortable plastic chair. He was anxious to hear the doctor’s diagnosis about Daisy’s potential condition.

When it was all over, Eggsy took Daisy home. Lydia was waiting on the couch. An episode of the 1970’s show Wonder Woman was playing. When Eggsy walked in the door, she jumped up and held out her hands for Daisy. Eggsy didn’t hand her over.

“Well?” asked Lydia, slightly impatiently. “What did the doctor say?”

“Don’t matter,” said Eggsy, bouncing Daisy. Daisy squeed happily.

“What do you mean?”

“It don’t matter what the doctor said. Daisy’s perfect the way she is.”

Lydia’s face fell. She didn’t look annoyed, necessarily, but like she was maybe a little tired of Eggsy’s shit. “Okay. Yes. I get that. But did the doctor have anything to say about her condition? Any disabilities?”

“She’s perfect,” Eggsy repeated. He gave Daisy a sloppy kiss on her cheek, to which she threw her hands up in delight.

Lydia sighed. “You aren’t going to tell me, are you.”

“It don’t matter,” said Eggsy. “Because she’s perfect.”

Lydia grumbled something and walked away. Eggsy began a little dance with Daisy in the middle of the room, just spinning a little while Daisy laughed and laughed. He loved her laugh. In the background, Wonder Woman rode a skateboard after a bad guy. He could hear JB’s huffing in another room; really, he must be trying to walk somewhere.

He threw her up in the air. She screamed in delight and laughed while Eggsy peppered her cheeks with kisses.

And, in that moment, right there in his sitting room, it hit him:

He didn’t need to know anything about love. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was the bright, warm feeling that blossomed every time Daisy laughed. The way his heart tugged when Harry was near him. The way every molecule in his body vibrated with joy when Ryan was nearby, or Jamal, or Roxy. The way he still wanted to sit on the couch with his mum and watch a black and white movie with her.

Maybe he didn’t know, exactly, what love was. But Eggsy was okay with that, because when he smiled at Daisy and she smiled back, he knew that everything in the world was going to turn out okay. Was love close to that feeling? The only answer he had: it didn’t matter. Because he had those feelings, and it was so worth it.

He knew the beauty of those feelings, and fuck anything else.

He felt.

He stood there forever, just holding Daisy. He had stopped dancing long ago, instead just clutching her, needing her near him. He was broken of this reverie when a knock sounded at his door.

It swung open without Eggsy’s prompting and Ryan came in, grinning. “Ay-yo, hope I’m not interrupting!”

“Never,” said Eggsy, and was surprised to find tears in his voice when he said that. He reached up to find two tear tracks on his face. Weird. He hadn’t even known he was crying. He wiped them away while Ryan seemed unphased by the tears.

“Funny thing happened today,” said Ryan. He set down a duffel bag. “With my dad. Where I can’t go back to my flat. And I know you’re behind it, you fucking prick. So. I’m moving in here.”

Eggsy laughed, still off-kilter. “My mum just stayed in her room for a bit. Lemme make sure she didn’t put any traps in there and lemme change the sheets.”

“I’m angry at you!” Ryan sing-songed after him, but the way he was settling into the couch and turned on the telly suggested otherwise.

“Tell it to someone who cares!” Eggsy called back.

“Prick!”

Eggsy did a quick change of the sheets and came back out, carrying the laundry. Ryan had made himself at home, somehow finding a bag of crisps and a Red Bull.

“So,” said Ryan while Eggsy puttered about, “I don’t have a job. Hope you ain’t expecting rent money.”

Eggsy rolled his eyes at Ryan. “I make enough money, dipshit, I don’t need any from you.”

“But I been thinking,” said Ryan. “Maybe I’ll try and get a job. Alfie mentioned that there’s an opening with a paper nearby. Need a copy writer. I could try writing, yeah?”

“You can barely talk!”

“Fuck you too,” said Ryan. Eggsy laughed and made a few calls and got Ryan an interview, despite Ryan bitching the whole time how he didn’t need Eggsy’s help.

Eggsy settled in next to Ryan. “Now, I thought you were supposed to be released tomorrow.”

“Fuck that,” said Ryan, popping a crisp into his mouth. He crunched on it loudly in Eggsy’s face until Eggsy whacked his shoulder. Then he gulped and said, “Couldn’t stand it a moment longer. Checked myself out early.”

“That’s not healthy!”

Ryan pulled out a horn and stuck it in his ear. “What did you say?”

“Damn it, Ryan, that’s not even the ear close to me.”

“What? What?”

The door opened again – Roxy, this time, trotting in. “I’m hungry,” she said, surveying the scene.

Ryan, panicked, thrust the horn underneath a nearby blanket. In no way subtle, he crossed his legs and gave Roxy a grin. She didn’t react, but Eggsy suspected that was so she could calmly take it from under the blanket when Ryan was distracted.

“Roxy, I’m not going to feed you every meal,” said Eggsy.

Kay poked his head in after. “I hear there’s food here?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“It’s okay,” said Kathy, pushing past Kay. “I’m making a quiche. It’ll be great.” She set down two grocery bags and began to bang pots in his kitchen.

“What the fuck is going on,” said Eggsy as Howard came in as well.

“Uh, I invited everyone over,” said Roxy. “Sorry. Hope that’s okay.”

Eggsy laughed, because he actually didn’t mind that much. “I don’t have much room. I barely have room for just you, me, and Ryan.”

The door opened once more and Jeeves stood in the doorway, looking a little unsure. Ruby peered over his shoulder, carrying a bottle of wine.

“How many did you invite?” asked Eggsy, startled. He got up and began to collect Daisy’s toys from the floor, embarrassed.

A moment later, Salomea burst past Jeeves and Ruby and said, “Is Daisy here?” When she spotted Daisy on the floor clutching her stuffed parrot, she made a pleased noise and sat next to her. “There you go, dear, don’t let your daddy take that away from you. That parrot is the best toy you have, don’t let that crazy man tell you any different.”

Eggsy gave up and dropped the toys back on the ground. Caradoc settled in next to Salomea – wait, what the fuck, when did Caradoc get there? – and a hand wound through Eggsy’s.

Harry grinned down at him. “I can get rid of them, if it’s too much,” he whispered.

“Not much room here.”

“There’s plenty of room,” said Harry. There was a lot of noise going on – Kathy and Howard seemed to be having some sort of tiff in the kitchen, something about Howard having “ice cold hands, Jesus, don’t touch me you dick!” even though she kept letting him put his arms around her, while Salomea and Caradoc loudly played with Daisy. Kay was ushering Roxy into a seat, saying something about a new card game he had learned. Ryan was in the mix, trying to steal Roxy’s attention from Kay.

Alcohol bottles were cracked – who brought the vodka? – and people began to mix drinks. Jeeves protested for a good twenty minutes about not drinking before finally giving in and taking a drink. He spent the rest of the night snarking at various people. At one point, when Ruby was terribly tipsy, she giggled at him, “I bet I’m a better driver than you!” To which Jeeves hummed, gave her a slightly pitying look, and walked away. Eggsy had forgotten how much he loved Jeeves.

It seemed to be a celebration of everything: toasts were made to Victoria being fired, toasts were made to Eggsy. When people got tipsy, toasts were made to other things, like Kay’s uncanny ability to always lose his glasses and Salomea’s spot-on Sean Connery impression. Howard made a drunken toast to his wife’s beauty. Someone made a silly toast to Harry’s beautiful collarbones (it was Eggsy).

Merlin made a quick cameo. As soon as he entered someone toasted to his bald head, and everyone yelled and cheered and drank to that. Merlin sighed, beleaguered, and left them rather quickly afterwards.

Through it all, Eggsy laughed, and had fun, and felt deep feelings for his coworkers.

Eggsy and Harry ended up on the couch sitting next to each other. Harry smiled at him, looking content. “How are you feeling?”

“Good,” said Eggsy, honestly.

Harry intertwined his fingers in Eggsy’s. Eggsy smiled, and held on.