“What do you think?” Harry asks, turning towards the bed.
Elton stares up at him with eager, brown eyes, and at the sound of Harry’s voice, begins to wag his tail. He lets out a soft yip, and Harry obligingly reaches out to ruffle his fur with his free hand before holding a dark green sweater in front of his chest.
“Tell me honestly,” Harry says, but Elton only tilts his head at him before yawning and laying his head back down on JB’s leg. The pug grunts, shifting his weight to accommodate Elton. “JB? Your opinion?”
JB doesn’t spare him a glance, seeing as Harry has no food or leash in his hand, only a selection of now-rumpled sweaters. They still feel new, even though Harry’s owned them for a year, with no loose hems, dryer-softened elbows, or chewed elbows from Mr. Pickle. It’s strange to know that almost nothing from his old life now exists.
But those left over mean more than anything, and it had been easier than he thought to make new memories. The bed the two dogs are lying on is his and Eggsy’s, the one they eat and laugh and sleep and fuck in, and only hours before, had woken up together in.
That morning, his nerves had been put aside for the duties of Arthur, helping get Kingsman back on its feet and guiding his new agents through their tasks. But now, all he can do is stand stock still in front of the mirror.
As always when he requires help, Harry presses the side of his glasses.
“Arthur?” Merlin asks. “Is something wrong?”
“I just need your opinion,” Harry says, then holds out the sweaters in front of the mirror. “I’ve decided, of course, not to wear the bespoke, but I worry that these sweaters will give another wrong impression. There’s no use disguising my age, so can you—”
"Oh, no," Merlin grouses. "There's no way I'm participating in your self-pitying fashion show."
"Merlin—" Harry begins to protest, but his friend cuts him off easily.
"You're meeting his friends, not the queen."
"I'd know what to wear for the queen," Harry archly replies. In fact, he'd already planned it several years ago: a three-piece suit in classic colors with a touch of silver pinstripes and gold cufflinks—not that the suit he had in mind exists anymore. "But these are people important to Eggsy."
"And you think that if this doesn't go well, it'll spell incoming doom for your dinner with Michelle Unwin and her daughter," Merlin concludes, accurate as always.
Merlin's voice gentles. "Look, Harry, if this all goes to shit, Eggsy's not going to break things off with you. The lad cares for you."
"Yes, that’s true," Harry says. There's no denying it. Besides breaking off the engagement to an arguably better candidate—someone who could assist him in helping others without the threat of immediate death and who has never hallucinated butterflies—Eggsy has been his rock since he'd stepped into that padded cell.
Merlin had been an equally-so presence. He’d been the one to help Harry through both the personal and business matters, tell him and Eggsy to get their heads on straight, and exchange a few pounds with Roxy when Eggsy first spent the night.
I guessed when Eggsy had been the one to get you back, Merlin admitted to him during one of those nights where they stayed up, trying to brainstorm on how to rebuild Kingsman from scratch. Been your friend and co-worker for decades and tried a number of times, but Eggsy waltzes in and brings it all back n the first go and hugs you like...well, I’m not blind, Harry.
"So, you admit you're being a bit of a dramatic bastard, and I get back to work," Merlin now says cheerfully. "Do tell me how it goes."
Before Harry can retort, the signal is cut off, and Harry's left glaring into space.
But there's no time to waste. His admittedly useless call ate up the minutes better spent deciding, and he must choose.
He ends up selecting a pair of casual slacks, a dark green sweater, and a white button-down, no tie. Harry still has his oxfords with him—old habits—and he debates putting more pomade in his hair before deciding to leave it as it is.
But the real trouble is his eye. Merlin offered a bionic one, but it would be fairly useless as the nerve endings were damaged, and Harry didn't fancy walking around with a glass object lodged in a facial cavity. Usually, he wears his glasses, but they still look rather odd to an outsider with the one lens blacked out—yet, it's better than showing the world what's underneath.
Reluctantly, he looks at himself in the mirror. Greying hair, crow's eyes, one eye—well. No. No, he won’t turn heads—admiring ones, at least.
Harry takes a deep breath, remembering Merlin’s words. Eggsy loves him. Of many uncertain things in the world, that part isn’t uncertain at all.
Now, he hears the key turn in the doorway and forces himself away from the mirror to quickly fold the rejected clothes and put them away, leaving the dogs cuddled up together on the bed. He walks downstairs just to see Eggsy coming through the door in his bespoke suit, umbrella in hand.
Eggsy takes one look at him and goes to kiss him. "You look aces," he says, as he’s pulling away. "They're gonna love you."
Harry isn't fully convinced—Eggsy's smile is just hinging on the border of nervousness—but he accepts the reassurance as a gentleman would and steps back to allow Eggsy to quickly bound up the stairs and change. He hears Eggsy coo over the dogs, both of them barking in excitement to see him. “Who are my boys? Who are my sweet little puppies? Hm? Oh, JB, I don’t have anything—”
Harry busies himself with checking the gift, then quietly checks the security system one last time. They’re not living in Stanhope Mews; it’s not safe any longer, but Merlin and Ginger took care in making sure they’d at least have a fair warning if disaster struck, missile alerts including. The basement below doubles as a bunker, something Roxy suggested after being in one herself in the manor. Better stocked, though, she requested, with a laugh that indicated it was either that or break down. Some of the biscuits I ate were way past their expiration dates.
It’s not helping his nerves by thinking such grim thoughts, but a Kingsman is always prepared—more than ever. They are lucky, him and Eggsy, to have carved a little home out for themselves, and they’ll both fight to keep it that way.
Finally, Eggsy comes downstairs, texting quickly on his phone, possibly to his friends to alert them about their impending arrival, and kisses Harry again. “Ready?”
“With you, yes,” Harry replies.
It doesn’t take long to reach their destination, and Eggsy parks right next to a silver, if slightly dusty, car in one of the open garages. “Jamal restored it himself,” Eggsy boasts, getting out and shutting the door. “I bet there’s a place for him when we’re all settled.”
Harry only nods, adjusting the bag with the gifts in his hand. They need drivers and mechanics and inventors, all the help they can get. Of course, Jamal needs to prove his worth and pass a background check, but if Eggsy’s praises of his friend are accurate, Jamal may have a strong chance.
According to Eggsy, though, Jamal is his oldest friend and the main one he needs to make a good impression on tonight. He’s my best mate and a bit overprotective, but loyaler than anyone I know, Eggsy had said. If he trusts you, you’re good.
Eggsy gently touches his arm, making Harry snap out of his thoughts. “Hey. Kiss for good luck?"
They do, heedless of any stares they might attract. But it's mostly silent this time of night, people in their own flats, relaxing after their long day, so they kiss, long and slow and sweet.
Eggsy smells of the same Kingsman cologne Harry wears, and part of Harry is possessive about this, about his mark on Eggsy. Doubtless Merlin would mock him mercilessly if he could read Harry’s mind—God forbid—but Harry still treasures the scent. He loves to nose at Eggsy's throat, run kisses along his jaw, bury his face into Eggsy’s neck.
Touching Eggsy is always a pleasure, something still feeling like a rarity. The fact that Eggsy lets him in and trusts Harry so much makes Harry wonder, even more so that he's easily done the same with Eggsy. He loves Eggsy tugging his hair, nuzzling against the back of his neck, murmuring soft words between the sheets and during stolen moments in the day.
“Harry,” Eggsy’s now saying, between kisses, “Harry, I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Harry replies, holding him tighter before gently tilting Eggsy’s head up.
“We got to go,” Eggsy says, but sounds a bit reluctant to part.
Eggsy smiles. “One more?”
Harry obliges, then steps back. Eggsy slips one hand in his and begins to lead him up the concrete stairs.
It's Eggsy's old flat, which belongs to one of his old friends. With Michelle and Daisy settled in a new home of their own, Eggsy's flat was left vacant, and he wanted his stepfather out. So with a few strings pulled, Dean Baker was forced to find a new flat to live in, while one of Eggsy’s friends, Liam, moved in his place.
It's Liam—according to the photos on Eggsy’s phone—who opens the door after Eggsy’s knock, but it's someone else who wraps Eggsy in an embrace, thumping him twice on the back before letting him go. "Eggsy! How the fuck are you?"
“Doing good, Jamal, doing good. Your nan?”
“Tough old bird, mate. Almost clocked Sue in the gardening department the other day.”
“Can't blame her,” someone else chimes in from behind Jamal and Liam, causing all the boys to howl with laughter.
“Brandon, mate!” Eggsy exclaims, hugging him.
“Oof, too tight,” Brandon complains, but doesn't protest further. Little does he know that if he hadn't gotten a surprise shift at work that he would have been in the house when the missile hit. It had been lucky Poppy didn't have Michelle’s address on file. “Eggsy, how's your mum?”
“Good, mate, settling down with her new manager position. Yours?”
“Excited for my dad’s birthday, baked a cake and everything.”
“The big six-oh,” Eggsy says, grinning, heedless of Harry’s quiet grimace. “Nice.”
Brandon rolls his eyes. “No, he always complains about how old he is. Drives me mad.”
“As you always complain about,” Jamal adds, with a nudge to Brandon’s ribs. “Eggsy, how's your sis? Doing good?”
“Uni grad!” Jamal shakes his head as Eggsy exclaims in surprise and congratulations. “I know, mate, I know, went to her ceremony just last week! Been busy, so sorry I kept pushing the dates back and all.”
Eggsy shakes his head, then steps aside to reveal Harry, forgotten in the wave of greetings. "That’s okay, Jamal, but now...you can meet my new boyfriend."
It's as if everyone suddenly remembers the reason for the visit, all turning to him with no small measure of surprise. Liam and Brandon outright stare, and Jamal turns to Eggsy as if expecting a revelation of a prank. Harry can only stand there, nodding politely—and somewhat awkwardly—to each in turn.
“Hello,” he says, reverting back to the gentleman he was trained to be. “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you at last.”
It's Jamal who recovers first. "Hey, Harry," he says, stepping forward and shaking his hand, squeezing a bit harder than strictly necessary. "Jamal, Eggsy's best mate."
"Oi!" someone protests and shoves his way past Jamal to shake Harry's hand, much more loosely than Jamal. "I'm Brandon and Eggsy's actual best mate."
"In your dreams," Liam says, with a scoff and a wave that’s more of a one-handed flick. "Liam here, bruv, and I was there for the Hash n' Gash incident."
"Which Harry doesn't need to know about, thank you," Eggsy says, but grinning, obviously pleased by the reception. "Anyway, Harry, these are all my best mates in equal measure."
“Nah,” Liam says, evoking a wave of protests, then steps backwards to open the door further. “Say, get in before old Mrs. Perkins calls in a noise complaint or something.”
Everyone cheerfully steps into the flat, and Harry hands over the bottle of scotch to Liam. The latter had been named in honor of Merlin before he'd walked through the doors of the Scottish distillery, prosthetics covered by slacks and smiling wryly when Harry had nearly dropped an expensive bottle of whisky.
"Thanks, bruv, top notch," Liam says, examining the label. He gives Harry a polite nod, then places the bottle on the table, backing away into the kitchen to get some glasses. “Be right back, mates.”
The rest of Eggsy’s friends are spread out on the lumpy, brown couch near the television. Harry eyes it hesitantly, wondering if there's enough room for him and Eggsy, but Eggsy gently pulls him to a nearby leather armchair.
He gestures to the chair, and Harry sinks down on it. Before he can wonder if Eggsy will join his friends or sit on the arm, Eggsy plops himself on his knee. Automatically, Harry wraps an arm around Eggsy's waist, then Eggsy settles into him, smiling up at him.
Liam returns with glasses balanced in his arms and manages to find a place for them on the crowded coffee table with some maneuvering. There are an assortment of crisps and Jaffa Cakes, a few pieces of candy, some tissues, a hand calculator, and a remote control. A few pieces of broken-off hash sprinkle the surface, along with a bong hidden among a few paperbacks and shoes, the same brand Eggsy wears on his days off.
No one seems to know what to say, busying themselves with drinks. Liam rips into a package of Jaffa Cakes and passes them around, while Brandon sneaks a peak at his phone. Jamal eyes Harry as he accepts a Jaffa Cake from Eggsy, who feeds it to him, the chocolate already melting on his fingers.
If they were alone, Harry would lean forward and taste the sweetness from Eggsy’s fingers, but as they’re sitting in front of three people, decides to forgo that and watches with a small pang of regret when Eggsy simply wipes his hand on a nearby tissue.
"So, how did you meet?" Jamal finally asks, breaking the silence.
Eggsy leans forward, hands on his knees. "Well, you know when I was away a few years ago?"
"Yeah, for that long-arse job interview." Brandon rolls his eyes before taking a bite of his Jaffa Cake. "Still don't know how competing for a tailor job takes months. Just sewing and whatever. No offense," he says quickly to Harry.
"None taken," Harry replies, quietly amused.
"Yeah, well, Harry was the one to recommend it for me, and I got into the program,” Eggsy looks at Harry, grinning. “Then we, uh, got to know each other better."
"You shagged your recommender?" Liam crows, looking as if he wants to leap up from the couch and high-five Eggsy. Beside him, Jamal and Brandon look very interested all of the sudden, with Jamal raising his eyebrows.
"What! No!" Eggsy's face is bright red, and Harry has to admit his face is probably not much better. "Come on, bruv, no. We didn't do that.”
Everyone shakes their heads skeptically.
“Ten pounds says you did,” Liam says, reaching for his glass.
“No!” Eggsy protests again. “Come on, Liam, we were ethical and all that.”
Except for the martinis, Harry thinks. They’d come very, very close to kissing that evening as well, but Harry hadn’t dared, spending a fitful night in his bed and trying to fend off the memories of the many chances he had purposefully missed.
Stirred, not shaken, remember that.
Yeah, well, don’t mind a bit of shaking myself...
“Mm-hm,” Liam now drawls.
Eggsy glares, but without malice. "Anyway...well, V-Day happened," and with that, the mood dampens.
Jamal in particular seems downtrodden, staring closely at his hands. Harry remembers Eggsy mentioning his friend Ryan had been killed that day, but volunteering little information other than that. Even now, V-Day seems to drift between them, best forgotten in the day-to-day chaos and what little peace they managed to carve out in between.
Eggsy continues, a bit hesitant in the newly-abridged version: "And I thought I lost him during his...business trip to America. But when I had to go there a while back, there he was." He smiles, then leans back into Harry again, who gently squeezes his hip. "The rest is history."
"Well, congrats,” Brandon says, taking a sip of the scotch and briefly raising a glass towards them. “Cheers.”
“Took you a while to introduce us, though,” Jamal says.
Eggsy apologetically shrugs. “Sorry, mate, workload and all.” Before the boys can question him and force Eggsy to delve too much into why they’re busier than ever, Eggsy easily diverts the conversation to the incident with Jamal’s grandmother, which turns out to be a thoroughly amusing tale involving gardenias.
Harry leans back against the chair, too small to really accommodate both of them, but he enjoys Eggsy on his knee, his own arm wrapped around Eggsy's waist. If they were in the privacy of their own home, Harry would love nothing more than to press his mouth against Eggsy's neck and press him more firmly down onto his lap.
Eggsy and his friends continue to chat. Harry tries to keep up and offer an appropriate comment or two, but is lost, far away from the old days of pakouring and veiled insinuations about nights out in town.
Luckily, Jamal brings up his sister's new puppy, a pitbull rescue, adopted after the death of an old family pet, and Harry sees his chance to finally say something.
"I used to have a dog," Harry says, trying not to wince when everyone turns to him. Eggsy bobs his head encouragingly. "A terrier."
"Have any pictures?" Brandon asks.
"Well, I, uh..." Harry's about to say he's got Mr. Pickle stuffed in the bathroom if they want to take a look, but remembers his house was blown up and Eggsy's first horrified reaction. "Not on me, no. But he was like JB, except more intelligent."
"Oi, not nice." Eggsy lightly nudges him. "JB's right smart."
"Of course he is, darling," Harry says, without thinking, and notices Liam and Brandon and Jamal all exchanging looks of co-conspirators.
"Well, he's right sweet with Elton," Eggsy brags, and Harry smiles, recalling JB's protective nature over the puppy: like owner, like dog.
"Elton?" Jamal asks.
Eggsy beams, pulling out his phone to show a photo—Harry with Elton on his lap, stroking his fur absentmindedly while doing paperwork with the other hand. "Harry's dog."
"You adopted a dog together?" Liam asks, and the three boys share another round of glances. “What made you decide on Elton?”
The famous pop star that we met in Cambodia and who saved me from deadly robotic dogs—fair to have a tribute of some sort, Harry thinks, but instead says, “Oh, just partial to to that name.”
“It was either that or MP,” Eggsy chimes in, clearly thinking the same thoughts as he and hiding a full-blown grin.
"What's MP stand for?" Jamal asks, taking another sip of the scotch, then reaching for a bag of crisps.
"For my old dog," Harry explains. "Mr. Pickle."
All of the boys snort, but it’s Liam who manages to ask, "Mr. Pickle?"
"Mr. Pickle was a good dog,” Eggsy replies loyally, “from what I saw of him."
"Bruv, you weren't alive then."
"Oi, yes, I was, Jamal. And it ain't like Harry's got no videos. He was nice looking, soft fur."
"Soft...did you keep a lock of his fur or something?" Brandon raises his eyebrows, then digs his hand into Jamal’s crisps. "Like my mum and my baby hair?"
"Well, uh..." Eggsy looks awkward, shooting Harry an apologetic glance. "Uh, he might have...had Mr. Pickle. Stuffed?"
There’s a chorus of "What?,” then Brandon moaning, "Oh, no. That was his house, wasn’t it? And that's why the fucking loo was always closed?"
"Oh my god. Oh, my god, bruv. This is Hannibal shit."
Harry politely excuses himself and heads over to the loo.
A large part of him sighs in relief when the door shuts behind him, and Harry simply stands in front of the mirror, wishing he hadn’t come after all.
No, that’s not right. It’s just that an evening in with Eggsy’s age seems to highlight the massive differences between them: age, class, experiences. He’s lived such a different life from any of these boys—and look at him, referring to them as boys like the old man he is.
Harry’s highly tempted to call Merlin, but knows it will be of no use. Instead, he flushes the toilet and turns on the faucet in order to give some authenticity. He can’t hide here forever, especially since he’s no longer the young man who preferred to sit in a library and study butterflies.
When he opens the door, Harry can't help standing in the doorway, listening to what sounds like Brandon saying, "...So, let me get this straight. You bring someone to meet us for the first time, and it's a gorgeous Swedish princess. Now, you've come back from America and have this old man with one eye? No judgment, bruv, but what exactly happened?"
"Yeah, what about Tilde?" Jamal demands. “Did it go pear-shaped or what? You never told us.”
"It has nothing to do with Tilde," Eggsy says firmly. "Look, bruv, I loved her and the feeling was mutual, but...our lives are so different, you know? She couldn't stay here in London forever, and I don't think I could have been a prince consort in Sweden."
"And this bloke is..." Jamal’s obviously trying to say something diplomatic. "What? He barely told us anything about himself."
"Harry's private," Eggsy says. "And when you get to know him better, you'll see why I...well..." There's silence.
There's a hoot of laughter, followed by a "Fuck, Eggsy, you're gone!"
"Yeah, I am,” Eggsy says.
Head held a little bit higher, Harry exits the room and prepares to join them again. Immediately, everyone falls silent, Brandon in particular busying himself with fixing himself another drink.
With a soft smile, Eggsy rises, gesturing for Harry to take a seat before settling down on Harry's lap again, curling into him. Harry plants a soft kiss on Eggsy’s forehead, providing Eggsy an opportunity to murmur, “All right?”
“Yes,” Harry says.
The conversation picks up again, this time about hobbies, and when Liam politely asks him what he does in his spare time, Harry replies, “Oh, reading. Jogging,” and after a moment's pause, “Martial arts.”
Liam whistles. “Wouldn’t know it by looking at you—er, sorry.”
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Harry says mildly.
“So, what do you know, bruv?” Brandon leans forward in his seat. “Karate or something? I think Jamal’s sister does a bit of it.”
“Yes, among others.” To list them would take quite some time.
“It would be interesting to see you and my sis spar one day,” Jamal jokes.
“Not a good idea, mate,” Liam advises. “She bites.”
Harry’s certainly encountered worse than biting, and he volunteers a story about an opponent trying to tear off his ear—heavily edited, of course, from a sweltering duel beneath a Spanish sun to a rough night at a pub. Eggsy’s friends seem riveted, so he tells another, then another, allowing Eggsy to crow in between stories about his boyfriend being a “badass.”
“So, where’d you learn all that shit?” Brandon asks when Harry pauses for breath. “That part of the whole posh education?”
“I used to be in the army,” Harry says, which is the most truthful thing he’s said all evening.
“Army to a tailor?” Jamal mutters in surprise, then his gaze flickers ever so slightly to Harry’s missing eye, then to the ground. Liam, beside him, shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
"It wasn’t my initial plan at first,” Harry says, trying to avoid another dead-end silence. “I was going to be a lepidopterist."
“What’s that?” Brandon asks. “Some kinda doctor? Working with lepers or something?”
"They were fascinating to me." He's trying to shove off his father's disappointed glances, his peers' looks of bafflement, Whiskey's sneers, and the distant pang of what he recognizes as nostalgia. No, he can’t see himself as anything but a Kingsman agent now, but long ago, he also thought that studying butterflies was going to be his lifelong passion.
Harry doesn’t know what would have happened if he didn’t recover his memories. Perhaps he would have been happy trekking through the wilderness with the leading experts, oblivious to anything else, but there’s no use wondering. He’s a Kingsman and always will be.
Not even Eggsy really knows how he became one. "Then, old family friend recruited me from the army. Chester was his name." Beside him, Eggsy stiffens, and Harry gently rubs his arm. "He was a good persuader, told me I could—" help people was closer to the truth, but it seemed odd, so he settled on "travel." Which he did, but not often under five star hotels and a life of glamour Eggsy's friends were surely picturing.
"Where've you gone?" Liam asks, and Harry once again begins to regale them with tales.
"Well, maybe you can study butterflies on the side, too," Brandon says, after Harry recounts his stint that led him to the Amazon rainforest, ostensibly to study nature for inspiration for tailoring, but was more so for the purpose of taking down a poaching ring. "Liam's sister is a teacher, but she does writing when she's got time."
“I actually collect them,” Harry says. He hasn’t found much time to restart decades’ worth of work, but a few have taken residence in the hallways and in the loo.
“Ahh, that explains it!” Brandon suddenly exclaims, then exchanges looks with Jamal and Liam. “Remember?”
Liam adds, eyes brightening, "Yeah, Eggsy here for your—"
"Bruv!" Eggsy snaps. "Oi, keep it a surprise."
"A surprise?" Harry asks. "For me?"
"You ain't dragging it out of me," Eggsy protests, shaking his head and crossing his arms.
Harry allows his tone to sweeten, having only eyes for Eggsy now, and lightly touches the inside crook of Eggsy’s elbow. "Please?"
"No," Eggsy says firmly.
"Please?" he breathes, gratified to see Eggsy's cheeks flush before lightly pushing him away.
"Looks like you got an interrogation sesh lined up when you get home, bruv," Liam chuckles, with a slight wolf whistle
"Hey, piss off," Eggsy mutters, without malice.
Eventually, there are complaints of hunger, with a vote for the Indian takeaway place a few blocks away and a stray piece of paper dragged out to write down all the orders. When Harry requests curry, extra-spicy, Liam asks casually, "Sure you can handle it?" to a chorus of ohhhhs.
"Better than you," Harry replies, inducing a round of whooping and shoving.
"Bring it on," Liam says, mock-flexing his muscles.
"Oh, shove off, you can't eat Chipotle without tearing up," Jamal scoffs, lightly knocking him on the arm. "Now, my nan has schooled me well. Brought up on spicy my entire life."
"Well, yeah, your nan's cooking sent Ryan to the hospital," Liam retorts, then a slightly guilty look crosses his face.
"Yeah, I remember," Jamal says, a bit softer, then grins, slightly too big for his face. "Panicked madly."
"Fuck, he was saying he was shitting out hellfire for two days," Eggsy says, and this time, Jamal's smile becomes more genuine.
"Yeah, and my nan felt terrible, sent him flowers and everything." Jamal stands up. "I'll go order the food, cuz. Be right back." Without looking back, Jamal walks towards the door and opens it, quietly shutting it behind him.
“He still misses Ry.” Liam shakes his head. “Fuck, shouldn't have brought 'im up.” He straightens up on the couch, ostensibly ready to follow him.
“I’ll go,” Harry says, much to the surprise of everyone, including himself. Eggsy gives him a worried glance, but stands up to let him go, touching him lightly on the arm. Many things pass between them in that touch—guilt out of not being able to stop V-Day completely, worry for their respective states of mind, and comfort for the latter—and a bit reluctantly, Harry breaks away to follow Jamal.
Jamal’s standing on the balcony, smoking and watching the puffs curl into the night. He glances backward when he hears Harry’s footsteps, then almost immediately turns away. “Food should be here in less than half an hour,” he says tonelessly.
“I know what it's like.”
Still not looking at him, Jamal takes another puff. “V-Day? Yeah, I don’t think anyone could have missed it.” He shakes his head. “Look, I appreciate you coming out here, but I’m not sure you’d understand.”
It reminds Harry too much of Eggsy, downtrodden and slumped in his chair on the plane ride to Cambodia. I don’t think you’d sympathize. He had wondered what kind of man Eggsy took him for if he didn’t think Harry could muster up simple empathy.
Although he doesn’t know Jamal as well as Eggsy, it’s worth trying to give some sort of help.
“I do,” Harry says simply. “You lost someone you love."
Jamal freezes, cigarette clutched in between his fingers. “...What? Bruv, I—” This time, he turns towards Harry, eyes wide. “How did...I never—not even Eggsy—”
“You can talk to Eggsy,” Harry begins.
"But you came back," Jamal counters, tossing his cigarette over the edge. "Ryan ain't. Not after..." He's suddenly clapped a hand over his mouth, muffling a choked sob. "Fuck! Fuck, we was just going back to my flat, and then the fucking signal started. I—"
"It wasn't your fault," Harry gently interrupts. "It wasn't." Fucking Valentine.
Jamal shakes his head again, moisture forming in his eyes. "It was! I—"
"Listen to me," Harry says, slowly stepping forward. "I'm sure you've heard all the stories—husbands and wives and children and best friends. They had as little choice as you."
"And did it happen to you?" Jamal quietly asks, but he doesn’t look afraid. Instead, he looks lost, and Harry wonders if anyone else knows exactly what happened to him on that terrible day, if Jamal ever considered speaking to someone, if he’d thought the weight of guilt and grief would ever leave.
Harry nods. “Yes.” It’s still in snatches; he doesn’t know whether it’s because of the effects of the alpha gel or if his mind purposefully blocked it out, but he remembers the feeling of warm blood on his hands, the savage pleasure in striking down another human being, the loss of his body and mind. There’s also the decades of felling innocent bystanders and people whom he thought were trusted friends or failed to save, piled on top of him like stones
“How did you...can you ever get past it?”
"No,” Harry says. That’s not what Jamal has hoped, judging by the slump of his shoulders, but a part of him senses that Jamal already knew the answer. “No, but I have people who have helped me through those days. And I know Liam and Brandon and Eggsy will always be in your corner.”
Jamal swipes a jacket sleeve over his face, then looks at him at last, clearer this time.
"You're a good bloke,” he finally says. “I ain't going to lie; this will be pretty weird for some time. But you're good for Eggsy." His voice lowers. "And if you ever hurt him, I'm pinning you up like your butterflies."
He and Jamal enter together, bearing plastic bags full of containers and helping to clear away enough to set everything down. Jamal gives him a friendly smile when they sit back down, and Harry readily returns it. Eggsy looks on curiously, but says nothing when Jamal offers Harry some extra samosas.
The food is delicious, and there are a few good-natured cheers and groans when Eggsy kisses off the curry from Harry's lips. After more drinks, Liam suggests arm-wrestling matches, and Harry impresses them all by beating each one with both arms, then by hoisting Eggsy up in the air with one hand.
Eggsy’s friends hoot and holler as Eggsy laughs, cheeks flushed and raising both palms in the air. “No one lifts like Harry Hart!” he half-sings.
Eventually, though, people start yawning, and soon after, there's a round of good-byes and plans of going to the Black Prince. Harry wonders how much has changed since he last entered the pub, and it seems like another lifetime ago, back when things seemed a bit more simple than they are.
But now, he has his friends, a home, a new dog, and Eggsy—and it seems, Eggsy’s friends, too.
“They liked you,” Eggsy says in the dark, snuggling up closer at his side. The bed beneath them creaks, but neither of them pay attention. His voice is thick with sleepiness. “Harry, that’s really aces; I love you.”
Harry holds Eggsy tighter as he begins to drift off, feeling JB and Elton shift at the foot of their bed. This is their home, their new life, and he couldn’t be any happier. “I love you, too.”