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Eggsy meets David Budd for the first time at the lobby of the community building hosting one of the many V-day support groups for victims and murderers alike. This particular group is unique, however- hosted by an ex marine for veterans and soldiers. Merlin had slapped the pamphlet on his palm when he drags himself to work after waking up sweaty, shaking and with bile on his chin the eighth week in a row. It’s no secret that Merlin uses the aid of the Kingsman medical wing to monitor their vitals like some freakish overseer, but it had become all the more evident when the pamphlet had made its way onto Eggsy’s hand.

“V-day support group,” Eggsy had read out, incredulously. “What, Kingsman too elitist to keep a shrink?”

“You’re off duty until you get your shit together,” Merlin had stated blandly, eyes owlish behind his glasses. The great and worst thing about Merlin is that he’s straightforward, never sugarcoating his words or covering them up with thinly threaded lies. They had been in the control room, the large monitors behind Merlin displaying files from Bors’ latest mission to be processed. It is then that Eggsy realises that Merlin hasn’t sent him out on a mission in over a week.

“I’m perfectly fine, Merlin,” he says, but his defense is weak and he knows why. His head throbs with the lack of sleep and his throat feels like he’s gargled glass. He’s not at his best, and Kingsman doesn’t keep agents not at their best. This is Merlin’s way of telling him that the clock is ticking. “I can still-”

“Just go,” Merlin says, and this time his voice is softer. When Eggsy looks up, Merlin is dead serious, his eyes sharp. The slate grey of his eyes hold a fear that Eggsy doesn’t want to acknowledge. “It will be good for you. This support group was started by an ex recruit- Marines, she refused to shoot the dog and told Chester King to fuck himself.” He looks thoughtful. “The dog test really is a bunch of shit, isn’t it?”

Eggsy had stuffed the pamphlet into his pocket, mollified. “Yeah, it is.”

He arrives early, not knowing what the hell to expect. The community building is a looming, grey, washed out building with peeling paint and a woodwork that needs refurnishing. Anxiety curls in his gut at the thought of going in, his skin feeling tight and his palms slick. It is only when someone shoves into him on the way up that he finally ascends the steps, pushing open the doors of the lobby and walking over to the receptionist, fishing the pamphlet out of his bag.

“I’m here for the V day support group? The one specifically for veterans?” He slides the pamphlet over, wincing internally as the receptionist’s face remains blank. There’s a shadow at his feet and the sound of steps behind him- great, a line. His stomach twists uncomfortably.

“You’re in the right place,” the receptionist finally says. “Turn to the left, take the lift to the second level. It’s the first room on your right.”

“Thanks,” Eggsy says hastily, and leaves. There’s the sound of footsteps rushing behind him, before a tap on his shoulder causes him to jump about a foot in the air.

“Sorry, it’s just- are you going to the V day support group?”

Eggsy turns around, the word yes on his tongue when it promptly dies a swift and fiery death because holy hell this man is gorgeous. A grey streak in his fringe, his shoulders outlined by a sports streamlined jacket and his jaw sharp as glass- Eggsy swallows and prays he doesn’t choke on his own saliva. There is a refined graze of stubble coating his jaw and chin, his eyes the most beautiful shade of cerulean blue as he stands half an inch taller. The entire sight is enough to make Eggsy completely lose his train of thought, gaping up at him. It’s only when the man shifts that he realises he hasn’t said anything yet.

“Yeah, I am,” he says hastily, the words tripping over themselves. “I’m headin’ up there meself- I mean, it’s on the second level- do you wanna come? Wait, if you’re already here-” Eggsy sees the man’s lips twitch, and promptly shuts up.

“It’s my first time, I don’t know anyone there,” the man says, and god even his voice is gorgeous as hell, sweet Scottish burr settling over him like warm coffee. Eggsy’s legs may shake just a little. “I was just wondering if we could-” he pauses, his jaw muscles tensing slightly, before continuing, “-if we could go up together, if it’s not too much trouble-”

“Yeah, yeah,” Eggsy answers swiftly, his voice cracking in his enthusiasm. “I mean, I’m shit scared, it would be good to not- enter alone.”

They’re both quiet for a little while, looking at each other. The man smiles, tentatively, and Eggsy realises with a jolt that it’s the smile of a man who doesn’t really smile all that much. He’s looked at that man in the mirror, himself. It’s a lost, trembling thing and Eggsy shouldn’t feel it but he feels the first tingling sense of relief since stepping inside this building- he’s not alone. He’s not the only one seeking help here. He’s definitely not pathetic for having to seek help, either.

“I’m Eggsy,” Eggsy blurts out. “Well, Gary Unwin, really, but my friends call me Eggsy. Gary was a stupid name- well, er, Eggsy’s not all that brilliant either, but- you know.”

The man grins, like he’s amused by Eggsy’s rambling. “David,” he says softly. “I’m David Budd.”

*

That first meeting, neither of them talk.

David is stoically silent, eyes hard and watchful. Eggsy doesn’t speak either- Victoria, the ex marine and recruit who handles the whole support group, tells them it’s perfectly alright if they never say anything the whole time they’re there.

“This is a place for you to heal,” she tells them both. “No one’s going to force you to speak up.”

Eggsy tries hard to pay attention during all the experiences shared but his eyes always drift, drawing back to David again and again. There’s something about David, he figures- maybe it’s the sadness in his eyes, or the rigid way he’s holding himself. Something about him makes a part of Eggsy’s heart ache, for the mystery behind the grief in his eyes and the tightness in his posture. David meets his gaze once, and Eggsy finds himself turning red, turning his eyes back on the person talking- he really is a rubbish spy.

When the session is over, Eggsy stands up and starts when he realises David’s making his way over to him. He crosses over in three wide, strong steps and Eggsy blinks owlishly, looking up at him.

“If it’s alright,” David utters, his cheeks slightly pink as he scratches the back of his head, “would you like to come here together?”

“Sure!” Eggsy says a tad too loudly, and winces at the sound of his own voice. “I mean- I live just across, at Stanhope Mews.”

David’s eyebrow raises slightly and Eggsy winces- outing himself as a chav parading as a toff really isn’t the way to go, is it? Fortunately, David says nothing and instead nods. “I live down the road from here. So- uh, same time tomorrow, I suppose.”

Eggsy nods, watching as David gives him a faint smile and leaves, and tells himself that he’s definitely not staring at his arse.

*

So starts their little routine of meeting up every Saturday and Sunday morning, and heading to the support group.

David is a proper gent- quiet, well-mannered and polite. He hardly talks much but his presence is calming and grounding, a steady rock. He hangs onto every word that Eggsy says like it’s a gift from god and asks questions to keep it going- Eggsy once heads into a ten minute rant about the state of the fast food situation in London and David smiles and says he’d gotten food poisoning just last week from a bad burrito. He’s got a wicked sense of humour hidden beneath the veneer of calm, making Eggsy go into stitches when he describes helping this old lady home all the way from the station because he couldn’t say no and then having her hit on him. To his utter shock, Eggsy finds himself looking forward to going to the support group meetings- the weekdays go by even slower when he’s hit with that particular realisation.

Roxy comes back from her three month mission in Louisiana and confronts Eggsy over McDonalds, slapping Eggsy on the arm with a fry as she says, “You’ve been going to support group meetings and didn’t tell me?”

“Merlin forced me to,” Eggsy says, wiping the salt off with a fry. “And it’s not half bad- the woman in charge is amazin’. She never forces me to actually say anythin’. And you know, it’s very healin’ to-”

“It’s been three weeks and you already look healthier than when I saw you before I left- look at that, you actually have colour in your cheeks again. Three weeks of support group didn’t do that- no support group can.” She leans back, narrowing her eyes, before snapping her fingers triumphantly. “You have a new boy in your life!”

“No, I don’t, and don’t call him a boy,” Eggsy says, annoyed and more than a bit embarrassed. The family at the next booth looks over and he lowers his voice, hissing, “Why is it impossible to believe that I simply went to this support group and managed to let go of any trauma I gained from-"

As if on cue, Eggsy’s phone vibrates with a text from David showing up on the screen. Both Roxy and Eggsy stare at the lit up screen for a second, before both reach for it at once- the bag of fries tip over, the Coke wavers precariously and Roxy’s ketchup upends on itself before Eggsy finally snatches the phone away from her.

It doesn’t deter Roxy. “Oh ho!” She exclaims triumphantly. “Who’s this David, then!”

“No one,” Eggsy says immediately, and blushes. “Look- just someone I met at the support group, alright-”

“Someone you care about a lot then,” Roxy corrects him, waving a fry in the air. “So what does he do?”

“None of your business,” Eggsy says with a note of finality, dipping his fry into the chilli with more than a little force. “Lay off, please Roxy. I never grill you about Sophie, do I?”

Roxy’s quiet for a second, and then she says, “Sophie and I broke it off.”

Eggsy’s stomach drops at that, and he looks up to see Roxy still smiling faintly, but biting her bottom lip with the slightest hint of a tremble. He’s really the biggest idiot in the world, he thinks, reaching over a hand to grab Roxy’s own. “Fuck, I didn’t think- I’m sorry, Rox. Did she-”

“It doesn’t matter- come on, I’m fine.” She grips Eggsy’s hand back with equal force and says softly, “If this David guy is the one making you look like you’re at least taking more than one meal a day, I’m happy. I’m serious, Eggsy- I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.”

“Aw, Rox,” Eggsy says, strangely touched. “This isn’t gonna get you out of replacin’ my fries.”

*

David, Eggsy learns, has many quirks.

Four weeks after the first session, David turns up with a coffee in his hand. It’s from the coffeeshop down the road and at Eggsy’s look, he turns red. “Black with no sugar,” David explains. “I usually get it made at home, but I woke up late and-”

“You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” Eggsy says, leading the way to the lift. “You do have to explain your shit taste in coffee. Who the hell takes black with no sugar?”

“Humans,” David deadpans. “You survive on that macchiato crap? The orders that make coffee baristas cry?”

Eggsy bristles. “It ain’t crap- it tastes sweet, and I like the whipped cream!”

“Load of bollocks,” David says, laughing. He doesn’t laugh often either- but when he does, crinkles form at the corners of his eyes. It makes Eggsy’s heart beat in triplicate, looking at David beam like that- it’s his own opinion that David should be that happy all the time.

“I used to go there to buy my coffee,” David says, holding the lift doors open until Eggsy walks in, and then pressing the button, “before something- anyway, I make my own coffee now.” He clears his throat, visibly embarrassed. The grey streak in his fringe flops over his eyebrows before he smooths it away and continues, “I can take you there sometime, the coffee really is great.”

“Only if they have macchiato,” Eggsy jokes, as the lift doors slide open on the second floor.

“Not to mention whipped cream,” David says wryly, before the smile slides off his face as they approach the room holding the support group. Neither one of them have said anything out in the open yet, both preferring to stay silent on the experiences that have led them to seek help. The support group is great because no one pressures them to finally speak, and actually commit to grieving and letting go, but the weight presses down on Eggsy’s heart like a hammer. At some point, he’s going to have to state the reasons why he’s so utterly fucked up in the head, and he doesn’t doubt it’s the same for David- once they enter the room he shuts off and turns into a shell of a person, silent and terrified.

“I can meet you at the coffee place tomorrow,” Eggsy blurts out. It makes David stop in his tracks. Heart pounding, he continues, “We can have coffee before comin’, you know.”

David stays silent, and doesn’t say anything. Eggsy can’t get a read on his eyes, which stay blank and devoid of emotion, and panics, thinking he’s crossed a boundary. They’ve known each other for four weeks but Eggsy is still wary around David, constantly worried if he’s toeing the line or irritating him with his off topic tangents or chavvy tongue. “I mean, you said you wanted to introduce me to it, but if you don’t want to it’s fine-”

“No, I’d love to,” David interrupts abruptly, turning and staring at Eggsy intensely. “The coffee is great, so I’ll meet you there- you’d love it, I promise.” He snaps his mouth shut with an audible click, blushing furiously, and they both stare at each other stupidly for a second before a voice tells them irritably to get a move on with it and go inside the damn room.

It would have been fine if David had just been another gorgeous face with an even more gorgeous body, Eggsy later admits to himself, staring at the texts from him on his phone screen at night, but the fact is that David is intensely warm, caring and broken. He lets Eggsy speak himself into exhaustion and never tells him to shut the fuck up, nor does he ever make Eggsy feel lesser than himself. He’s sad in a way that makes Eggsy’s heart ache while just looking at him sometimes, eyes holding an inherent, ingrained agony that speaks of deep seated trauma. He’s quiet but the silence between them never feels like a premonition, or an expectation for Eggsy to fill the silence; it’s just comforting and companiable, like a warm blanket in winter. There are times when his strong veneer cracks and he lets Eggsy see beneath and if Eggsy was a better human being, he’d lie to himself and say that he absolutely does not cherish those moments he gets to peel back another layer of David Budd- as horrifically selfish as it sounds.

It is just, Eggsy thinks, that when he is with David, he forgets that he’s a complete disappointment to everyone else in his life.

*

Merlin approaches him one day, scowling. He shoves aside the large pile of paperwork he’d been pretending to do and also shoves his phone under them- David had just texted him the link to a cat video he’d found online. Ever since he’s finally acknowledged the realization that he’s been placed off duty, life at Kingsman has become infinitely more boring with the piles of paperwork Merlin hoists off on him. “Desk duty means paperwork,” Merlin had said resolutely to Eggsy’s scowl, “and ever since V-day I’ve been doing it all on my own. Maybe you’ll learn a bit of patience.”

“What is it,” Eggsy asks, and then brightens, “Am I off desk duty?”

“No,” Merlin snaps, looking stressed out. He stops talking and then just frowns, standing in the same spot and crossing his arms. It reminds Eggsy a little bit of a bad Bond villain, and for a second he does his best not to laugh.

Merlin doesn’t speak, and Eggsy sets his pen down. “Have I done somethin’ wrong? I’ve gone to the support group, you know-”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Merlin bites out frustratedly, almost uncurling as he unfolds his arms and strides forward, throwing himself into the chair opposite Eggsy with a thump. Eggsy jumps slightly, feeling more than slightly alarmed. He’s rarely seen Merlin this unfazed, the last time being about a month back when V day was still being sorted out. ‘You, going to the support group. I’m in contact with Victoria and she tells me you’ve never missed a single session.”

The implication in Merlin’s surprised tone is clear, and Eggsy, miffed, says, “I am capable of followin’ orders, you know.”

Merlin blinks, clearly surprised at the acerbity in Eggsy’s tone before he gives a little snort, laughing and shaking his head. “No, you are well capable of that. You are just terrible at following the orders that relate to taking care of your own health.”

Eggsy opens his mouth to argue and then closes it again because really, he is in no place to defend himself. There’s no ground he can possibly stand on when twenty four hours after killing Valentine up in the Alps he’d collapsed from severe exhaustion due to his own convenient ignorance of Merlin’s entreaties to seek medical help. It’s not that he’s allergic to taking care of himself, like Roxy claims- it’s just that after living with someone like Dean, you learn to ignore your own aches and wounds pretty quick. Eggsy’s high pain threshold hadn’t been due to gymnastics and Marines training, like Harry had hoped.

“So why have you been so diligent about going to the support group?” Merlin demands. “Not a single session missed. It’s alarming.”

“Ha ha,” Eggsy says sourly. “Maybe I just like goin’ there. Did you ever consider that, oh wise Quartermaster?”

“Don’t talk back to me with that attitude,” Merlin says, standing up and straightening his tweed jumper. He fixes his glasses and peers down at Eggsy for a second. Merlin very much resembles an owl at all times in that his gaze feels as piercing as one- right now, it sears Eggsy to the bone and leaves no stone unturned. Eggsy shifts on his seat and tries his best not to cower, shoving his phone even further under the paperwork. It wouldn’t do to admit defeat.

“Whatever you have going for you that makes you want to attend these sessions,” Merlin says after what feels like an age, “keep at it. You’re well on your way back to being reinstated as an active Kingsman, Agent Gawain.”

Ever dramatic, Merlin turns on his heel on that note and walks out. Eggsy gapes at him and forgets what he’s even supposed to do, until the phone beneath the sheaf of paperwork vibrates with a sound loud enough to wake the dead.

*

Eggsy’s night terrors have three types- Daisy and Dean, Chester King and Harry Hart.

Daisy and Dean is fairly self-explanatory. In each nightmare, Eggsy feels like he cannot move and is rooted to the spot, watching as Dean beats Daisy’s tiny three year old body into a pulpy mess of flesh and blood. Daisy screams for her big brother to help her and Eggsy does not, watching and silently screaming each time as Daisy gets punched and kicked and bled out to death. “A feckin’ Kingsman,” Dean snarls, throwing her body aside and approaching Eggsy in long, ominous, loud strides. “Yer just a good fer nothin’, useless sack of shit.” Eggsy wakes up only after the first punch lands, spitting out blood and dashing for the bathroom to hurl up everything he had eaten for dinner.

Daisy and Dean are fairly easy to get over. Eggsy always heads out to the balcony for a smoke, doing his best to clear his head. He takes his phone out and watches videos of Daisy taking her first step or saying her first words, saved in a special little folder. He remembers, bit by bit, how he had ousted Dean out from his mum’s and Daisy’s lives. He, Eggsy Unwin, had done that- saved his family when Lee Unwin couldn’t. He finishes the smoke and goes back to sleep.

Chester King is a tad bit more complicated. His veins run green with poison as he sits in the chair opposite Eggsy’s, hands curled superciliously over the plush arms as he nods at JB sitting on the mat. If anyone could curl their hands superciliously, it would be King. “Shoot the dog,” he will say, tone full of snotty, snobbish upper class arrogance. Eggsy will shoot at JB, and somehow the bullet never hits- some days it hits Chester King, some days the gun misfires and the bullet hits himself, and some days the bullet never appears. Chester King, with his veins green like the grass of the front lawn and forehead blown through with the bullet hole clearly visible, will say, “You were never fit to be in Kingsman,” and Eggsy will wake up, choking on his own bile and dashing for the bathroom, again, to hurl everything he had eaten for dinner.

Chester King is harder to get over. The weight of his murder hangs heavily over Eggsy’s head like Damocles’ sword and he’s forced to head to the balcony with two smokes, this time, instead of one. He tries to clear his head but he can’t, thinking and rethinking the encounter in the conference room and remembering the fact that above all else- he didn’t shoot his fucking dog. Chester King is the bane of his existence even when dead, his disdain for everything that Eggsy represented following Eggsy even to his own fucking bedroom, and sometimes Eggsy thinks that that may be the old man getting his own back from the afterlife.

Both these night terrors pale in comparison to Harry Hart. It starts out terribly enough- Eggsy is in the church, standing in the corner of the room as Harry lays waste to everything inside it like a fucking hurricane. He doesn’t move as knives get buried in skulls, as church pews get demolished and limbs get torn asunder. He doesn’t move as the siren call of the signal hums like a demented, twisted form of the gong throughout the church, turning everyone around him berserk. He still doesn’t move when Harry is the last one left standing, staring around him in slowly growing horror at the wreckage he helped create, Kingsman training turned against him. He only moves when Harry starts for the door, leaping across bodies and stray limbs and debris to grab at Harry’s sleeve. He’s never fast enough and by the time he’s at the door, Harry is gone and the gunshot outside the church echoes with a single, deafening crack, turning Eggsy’s heart into stone. When he’s wrenched the doorknob open and burst through the door, Harry’s corpse is rotting on the floor in a state of half decay, maggots and vultures pecking at his half blown off head. When Eggsy approaches, his one closed eye opens again. “You couldn’t stop the signal from going off, could you?” Harry asks, his voice accusatory and dark. “Millions have died because of your inaction. I never had faith in you, either way. You were never Lee Unwin.”

Harry Hart is the hardest to get over. Eggsy wakes up each time with his throat sore from the screams and his eyes filled to the brim with tears, and he runs to the bathroom only to bring up every single bit of food left in his stomach, crying as he does so. The crying doesn’t stop for several minutes but when it does, he stays in the stench of the vomit ridden bathroom until the sun comes up, thinking of nothing but Harry’s words in his dream. No amount of smokes are enough to do the trick and he’s left a useless slumped mess until the wee hours of the morning, when he finally finds the energy within himself to take a shower, at least.

What hurts worse, Eggsy will always think as he washes his mouth out with toothpaste, his skin stinging with the force of rubbing it with soap, the fact that Harry had died disappointed in him, or the fact that Harry had never even believed in him at all?

*

The coffeehouse is quaint, tucked away into a corner of the street and half filled with teenagers and the usual morning crowd. Glass panels betray a chic interior, boasting barstools and comfortable, soft armchairs. Like a Starbucks, Eggsy thinks, but less corporate. David is already leaning against the transparent panel, clad in a brown bomber jacket and jeans, frowning down at his phone in a manner that adorably twists his features into a scowl. His tongue pokes out as he types away on his phone, and for a second Eggsy is so taken aback by how casually handsome David is that he just stops and stares like a complete buffoon.

David looks up and his frown immediately disappears as he catches sight of Eggsy. The ensuing grin lights up his features and Eggsy, swallowing roughly, smiles back as he hurries to cross the street. “Hey bruv,” he says breathlessly once he’s approached David. “Took me a while to find this joint.”

“It’s worth the walk, I promise,” David says, placing a hand on Eggsy’s back as he pushes the door open. The warmth of his hand is enough to make Eggsy lose his train of thought for the next couple of seconds, focusing on nothing but how seemingly big David’s hands are.

“…and their scones are really good,” David is enthusing, which Eggsy isn’t listening to because he’s only human and he hasn’t been laid since Tilde. “None of that sugary shite from the bakery downtown, it’s fresh. Fresh, Eggsy, that’s rare.” David rambling, Eggsy decides, because he’s somehow really passionate about food, has got to be the cutest shit ever, right up there with Eggsy actually managing to take a video of JB rolling over for the first time.

As they approach the counter, David pulls out his wallet from his back pocket and takes out a few bills and that’s when Eggsy sees it- a tiny photo of two kids. It’s amazing how fast his heart sinks like a stone at the sight of one single photograph but it does, hitting the bottom of his stomach with such a loud thunk Eggsy’s surprised no one else hears it. Instead of showing his upset, though, he keeps his face level and gestures at the photo before David can close his wallet. “Your kids?”

“Oh, yeah,” David says as they get in line behind a couple of teenagers taking forever to decide their orders. “Ella and Charlie- my angels.” He slides the photo out and shows it off to Eggsy, the very vision of a proud father. Both sport blond hair and toothy smiles, with David in between and holding them close to his chest. His hair doesn’t sport any grey streak and his face is smooth and carefree, almost ethereally beautiful in his happiness. Eggsy rubs his thumb over the edge of the photograph, wrinkled and worn with care, before giving it back and watching as David slides it into the wallet again. The pride David has as he gazes upon the photograph is painful in more ways than one- in addition to reminding Eggsy that David is most definitely off the market, it brings to mind what Lee Unwin must have been like as a recruit, keeping a photograph of his own son and wife in his wallet.

“He brought it everywhere and showed you both off,” Harry had told Eggsy once, nostalgic after the influence of wine. “It was unheard of, to have a family in this line of work, but he didn’t care. He wanted to be the first Kingsman who could manage it and come out the better for it.”

They move up one person in the line before David says, out of the blue, “They don’t live with me.” Eggsy opens his mouth, confused, when David elaborates, “Ella and Charlie- they don’t- they don’t live with me.” He shifts on his feet and scratches the back of his neck hard with one hand before taking in a deep breath and confessing, “They live with their mother. My ex-wife- Vicky.”

“I see,” Eggsy says, doing his best to not sound as inappropriately excited as he wants to sound.

“They can’t live with me, anyway,” David rushes out, clearly apprehensive. He clears his throat and painfully continues, “I mean, with the-”

“I get it, David,” Eggsy cuts in, hoping to save the man the misery of having to explain being too emotionally unhealthy to take care of his own children. “I wanted my own mother and little sister to stay with me, but they moved out after a month. The screams terrified Daisy.” He digs out his own phone and shows David the pictures, feeling his cheeks heat slightly when their fingers brush as he takes the phone from his hand. “Daisy’s three, she’s my best girl.”

“Ella would love her, she loves little kids,” David says, smiling softly at the picture. “Maybe someday-”

“Maybe,” Eggsy echoes, beaming and thinking about playdates between Ella and Daisy, looking over the two of them with David by his side. God, he should feel a lot more fucking scared about the fact that he’s started to think this far ahead about someone but he doesn’t- for some reason, David never illicits feelings of apprehension or fear in him. Its always a strong sense of comfort and safety and something else, that Eggsy’s too chicken to admit to himself yet.

David’s smile is small but genuine, his eyes indescribably blue as they crinkle with the effort of it. He opens his mouth to say something but they’re next in line so Eggsy just ducks his head behind David, smiling softly to himself at the thought of photographs and playdates.

*

Eggsy, soon enough, learns that David is a Police Sergeant attached to the Royalty and Specialist Protection division of the defense sector. “I protect people,” he explains, nursing his black coffee one day as they amble down the street to the community building. “I’m a bodyguard, essentially. Nothing special.”

“Sick, guv! Protect anyone special?” Eggsy asks playfully, kicking a stone out of their way as he takes a sip of his own caramel latte. He doesn’t think much of it until David stays quiet for far too long and he looks up to see David’s eyes far away, his jaw working itself into a tight tension. Fuck, he thinks, restraining the urge to apologise and interrupting his train of thought. When David gets like this, he knows to wait it out so he does, trying to avoid the horrible ball of guilt in his own stomach. This isn’t an interrogation- he has no right to ask David questions like these.

When a sliver of clarity comes back into his eyes, Eggsy says, “Sorry, I’m- forget I asked, stupid question.”

“No, it’s okay,” David says hesitantly, taking another sip from his coffee. “I just- I come to the group partly for that and partly for V day, so I don’t…” His voice trails off as he looks frustrated with himself, and this time, anger curls at the bottom of Eggsy’s stomach instead. Whoever it had been that made David be this tensed and anxious, he decides, doesn’t deserve to see the light of day.

“It’s alright. I- I work in espionage- I can’t tell you where, it’s classified,” he says instead, mentally apologizing to Merlin for being unable to not spill to a pretty face. “V-day was a right disaster. I lost my mentor to it and in- not an altogether peaceful way either.”

“Ella and Charlie were out on a camping trip then,” David says reminiscently. “I was in a meeting. Came back to my senses and realized I’d helped kill half the people in it.” He snorts, adding, “Government people- not exactly a loss, but it hadn’t been pleasant.”

You shouldn’t have let the signal run that long in the first place. Eggsy swallows, taking a long burning sip of his coffee to avoid saying anything and acknowledging the tears lodged in his throat. It’s an intrusive mantra that hits him like a train at the worst possible times- he hadn’t subdued Gazelle fast enough, and for that millions of people around the world were massacred by their own loved ones in such horrific wats. V-day had been quite a few months ago, and still the sheer overbearing guilt of it is enough to make Eggsy feel absolutely small and worthless even whilst next to a man he very much has started to deeply care for.

“Terrible V-day memories, aye?” David asks, taking a step closer and placing an arm around Eggsy’s shoulders. It’s not a hug, not exactly, but its enough to make the voice that sounds very much like Harry Hart subside, for once. Eggsy lets out the breath he’s holding and takes a step closer too, until their shoulders overlap and slide alongside each other. “We all have terrible memories, guv,” he says softly.

“Doesn’t make yours not matter, does it?” David snorts, tugging him along with the arm across his shoulders. “Valentine was a right gobshite. And don’t call me guv, I hate that term.”

“Gotcha, guv,” Eggsy says, grinning, avoiding the swat aimed at his head. David keeps his arm across his shoulders and they continue to walk down the street, closely intertwined and entangled in a tight cocoon of warmth.

The first day he goes to Kingsman after that particular conversation, Eggsy heads straight for Merlin’s office. He makes sure to head in early too- he reaches at a whopping eight o’ clock when he usually doesn’t turn up before ten. When he enters Merlin’s dark cave of technology and secrets, the surprise is a little too obvious on Merlin’s face.

“You’re here early,” Merlin comments, reaching across one of his many tablets strewn across the counter to reach for a file. A mission, Eggsy realizes with a strange, sinking feeling. With the amount of time he’s spent with David, Eggsy’s forgotten his need for the adrenaline filled drive of missions and shootouts.

“You have a mission for me?”

“Local, and its not that urgent,” Merlin says, and pointing a finger at Eggsy, adds, “And that’s not why you’re here so early, is it? Stop wasting my time and talk.”

“Charming,” Eggsy says, rolling his eyes. “Just wondering, guv-”

“Don’t call me that.”

“-guv, if you could- give me someone’s profile?” His question, wavering and tentative, falls flat into the cold air of the room and Merlin stares at him, mouth slightly agape. He would be, Eggsy thinks nervously- no one’s probably ever asked their quartermaster this before. And why would they? Kingsman resources shouldn’t be used for personal affairs, and for that matter, personal affairs should never be dealt with using Kingsman resources.

"Forget it, guv, I was being stupid,” he says hastily, and turns to leave when Merlin says abruptly, “Wait.” He stops in his tracks, feeling foolish and yet anticipatory when Merlin spins on his chair and says gruffly, “Tell me the name, I’ll look it up for you.”

Eggsy shifts on his feet, and then says decisively, “No, its alright. It was dumb, and it ain’t right, I shouldn’t-” He gives his head a rough shake, remembering what David had looked like when he’d lapsed back into that flashback once Eggsy had asked him about who he had protected before. The heartbreak and torture in his eyes is something Eggsy doesn’t want to dissect and treat like a recon. David deserves a lot better than that from him.

He turns to leave, but Merlin catches his arm once again. “Eggsy, wait.

Eggsy waits, as Merlin passes him the mission file. “Briefing in ten,” he says. “And Eggsy- I’m proud of you.”

Eggsy can’t help it- he snorts. “For fuckin’ what, exactly?”

“For not being a dysfunctional human being,” Merlin says, turning back to his monitors. “Takes a lot to switch off the agent in our personal lives, just ask Lancelot. Now go away, Bors fucked up his mission again.”

Eggsy wants to make a snarky comment- say I haven’t been an agent for long, guv, but he recognizes the words for what they’re meant to be. “Thanks, Merlin,” he says instead, and the only acknowledgement he gets is a slight nod before the man in question starts yelling at his monitors.

*

Five months and three days after they start the support group, David doesn’t turn up for the session.

Eggsy waits outside the coffeehouse, feeling bereft as the minutes slip by and the tell-tale grey streak and bomber jacket don’t make their appearance. He shoves his hands into his hoodie, feeling more and more lost and frantic as his phone stays silent and the clock inches closer to eleven am, until its five minutes to eleven and he has to give it up as a lost cause. All calls go straight to voicemail, and so sidestepping a bunch of overexcited preteens entering the shop he starts down the street towards the building.

Support group without David by his side is strange and awkward. He feels like he has a limb missing, his tongue extra tied as he listens to others state their experiences. The absence of David makes him feel like a little child again, five years old and lost in the supermarket because he thought he saw someone carry a unicorn shaped balloon. It’s not an altogether pleasant feeling, as it leaves his heart pounding too fast and his skin prickly and tight. Coming for support group without David makes him realise that all this time, he’d been using David as an anchor, a blockade for his problems. In his absence, they come rushing back like the aftereffects of a painkiller running its course.

Support group usually lasts for two hours, with almost everyone except for Eggsy, David and a few others voicing out their opinions. At the one hour mark, Victoria asks if anyone would like to speak and Eggsy clears his throat. All heads turn to him at once, including Victoria’s own very shocked one, making him feel mortifyingly like he’s back at primary presenting in front of the whole class- but he has to do this. For himself, for Merlin who’s clearly concerned for him, for Daisy who he hasn’t seen in seven months because he needed to get his shit sorted- and for David, whom he’d been holding back from the proper purpose of even going for this support group in the first place.

“My name is Eg- Gary Unwin, but I go by Eggsy.” He waits for the customary “Hello, Eggsy,” before continuing. “I lost my mentor and- I suppose I thought of him as a father- to V day…”

Afterwards, Victoria approaches him as the rest mill around and talk. “I’m proud of you,” she tells Eggsy, who hides his trembling hands in the pockets of his hoodie. “It takes a lot, to find the courage within yourself to talk about what ails you. I’m honestly proud of you, Eggsy.”

“Thanks, bruv,” Eggsy says, doing his level best to keep his tone from wavering. In all actuality, the whole time he’d been speaking his heart had been in his chest- he’d been expecting to see pity, or maybe even disgust on the faces around him, but he’d found nothing other than understanding. It had been a relief, to be able to speak to a group of people without being judged for his accent or his experiences. Not everyone, after all, can say that they watched their mentor kill a hate church full of people before getting shot in the head.

“How’s David? I notice he’s not in today.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Eggsy says, trying his best not to let the hurt leak through. It does anyway, and although Victoria’s face remains concerned, he knows what she’s really thinking. “He hasn’t returned my calls or texts.”

“He must be having a bad day,” Victoria says. She pats Eggsy’s hoodie covered elbow, the touch light but firm. “Just check up on him tomorrow. Get some rest, yourself.”

She turns to leave, presumably to talk to the other veterans as well when Eggsy can’t stop his brain to mouth filter from malfunctioning. “That’s it?” he blurts out, wincing as the words fall out. She pauses, giving him a questioning look, and he takes in a deep breath. In for a penny, in for a pound right? “He’s- he usually comes, I don’t- maybe he needs help?”

Victoria stays quiet for so long Eggsy’s considering whether he should leave, the silence between them stretching the limit between awkward and rude, before she finally speaks. “I’m not close to David, and neither are the rest,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest. “He doesn’t talk to us all that much. He talks to you, though- a lot at that, I’ve noticed. If your gut feeling tells you he might need company- by all means. But I have to tell you, David seems like the type to want to be left alone when he’s struggling.”

Eggsy thinks about her words all the way home. He thinks about it when he makes a detour for the nearby restaurant to buy two takeaway containers of Chinese- David’s favourite. He thinks about it when he catches the bus heading for Whittington Estate, food in one hand and My Fair Lady rented out from a dying out DVD store in the other. He thinks about it as he walks up to the address written in his hand- an address David had told him once, in commiseration with Eggsy saying he grew up in Rowley Estate- and knocks twice, sharply, on the door.

There’s a space of five seconds, during which Eggsy goes into a full blown panic and convinces himself that this has been a really, really bad idea, before the door actually swings open. David is on the other end, clad only in a tank and low riding sweatpants. He’s clearly just showered, his skin pink and only a light hint of stubble covering his chin and jaw, his hair in drying curls framing his forehead and neck. The amount of effort that goes into keeping his eye level above David’s waist is almost Herculean- Roxy would be proud. David’s clearly shocked, mouth slightly agape as he takes in the food.

“I missed you at the support group today,” Eggsy says into the sudden silence, when its clear that David is not about to say anything anytime soon. “Um, I brought takeaway? Your favourite, Chinese. And the movie I was tellin’ you about.” He winces, feeling like a big pile of dumb bricks in the face of David’s apprehension and shock. What was he thinking? David clearly needs this time to himself, he doesn’t need Eggsy traipsing around and messing his place up with his stupid movie and stupid food. “I thought you might not want to be alone- I’m sorry, this was a dumb idea, maybe I’ll just leave-”

“No!” David yelps, loud enough that Eggsy jumps. He clears his throat, abashed, and repeats at a lower voice, “No, no- come in. Its messy, but- there’s some space on the couch.” He takes a step back, his mouth quirking into a tiny smile. A little thing, but it makes Eggsy’s heart lift enormously anyway- he hadn’t judged wrong, and wasn’t about to make a huge fool of himself.

Eggsy steps in, passing by David’s heat to place the food and the DVD on the table. David’s apartment is small but cozy, blank in a way that makes it clear that it belongs to someone who isn’t home that often but comfortable enough either way. The couch in front of the television in the adjoining room next to the drawing room is strewn and covered with blankets, two of which are too small to belong to David. It’s not all that messy either, sporting a cleanliness that Eggsy’s own mother nags at him about often enough save for the occasional jacket or shirt lying on the floor or draped across a chair.

“Would you like something to drink?” David asks, ever the vision of courtesy, and Eggsy snorts. “It’s just me, mate,” he says, and David grins. “Beer it is, then.” As he gathers the plates from the cupboards in the kitchen, Eggsy leans against the doorway and studies David’s profile. Again, it’s the little things that stand out to Eggsy, hinting at him the reasons as to why David had been missing today- the dark circles under his eyes, the sweat patches on his tank and the slight shakiness on his fingers. He steadies himself before grabbing the plate from above the sink by clenching his fist twice, and Eggsy feels the knife edge of concern kick at his insides, vicious and sudden.

When David starts rinsing the plates and glasses, Eggsy sidles over to help, ignoring his protest. “I don’t wanna barge in and let you do all the work,” he tells David as they stand in front of the sink together, huddled in close enough that their bodies touch shoulder to thigh. It sends a constant thrill through the base of Eggsy’s spine, akin to an electric shock. “That would be rude of me.”

“You’ve done a lot, already, buying that takeout and distracting me,” David says, chuckling hoarsely. “I was planning to spend the whole day finishing a whole pack of smokes and then finishing my whole cabinet of alcohol.”

His words cause Eggsy’s stomach to curl in on itself uneasily, and not just due to the uncomfortable familiarity in them. “Glad I’m here then,” he decides to say instead, bumping his shoulder into David’s.

“No one’s ever done that for me before,” David continues, his accent making the words sound sharper in the silence of the kitchen. “Check up on me like that- except for Vicky.”

“Expect a lot more of this, then,” Eggsy says, clenching his hands on the plate to stop himself from turning around and wrapping David in a hug. More and more he’d find his skin itching with the need to touch David and comfort him, jolt him out of his funk with the sheer force of his Unwin personality, as Roxy would call it. David, who deserved everything no matter what he thought to the contrary.

“I talked today,” Eggsy blurts out. “During the support group. I- talked about how my f- my mentor figure died during V day, went crazy in the middle of a hate church.” He swallows a bit, his throat dry, before continuing, “I was so fuckin’ terrified, swear down- but I somehow talked it all out and I felt better afterwards.” He glances at David, who’s frozen stiff, staring down at the plate in his hands. “Talking helped me- maybe it will help you, too.”

David doesn’t say anything. Eggsy turns his attention back to his own plate, trying to stop his heart from thundering too loudly. He’d thought that maybe it would have changed David’s mind about keeping silent, given him the strength he needed to open up to someone, anyone- and then David clears his throat.

“Today is the death anniversary of one of my clients,” he says quietly. The plate he’d been cleaning has long since been scrubbed of any filth but he’s wiping it in concentric circles anyway, his mind somewhere else. Eggsy gently takes the plate from him and places it on the counter, and David lets his hands rest on the edge of the sink, breathing deeply. “Julia Montague. Know her?”

“Am I supposed to?”

His reply shocks a laugh out of David, the smile on his face lighting it up like the sun. “No, I suppose not. She was the previous Home Secretary for the UK, you know. She was powerful, a capable leader. We never really agreed on issues, but she was stronger than the rest of the officials in the defense sector put together She died in a bomb blast a year back- it was a terrorist attack, and I couldn’t stop it.”

Eggsy whistles low through his teeth. He faintly recollects the incident but in all fairness, he had been a lot more interested in reading out the comics section to Daisy back then. “That’s rough, mate.”

“She and I were- we weren’t in a relationship, but we were having something, at least.” He shakes his head, looking angry now. “It was my fault that she died.”

“Hey, hey-” Eggsy releases his hold on his own plate, placing it on the counter before placing his sopping, wet hand on David’s arm. Beneath the water, he feels smooth and warm and Eggsy does his best not to let his mind wander- this would be a horrible time to do so. “I’m sure she wouldn’t want you to blame yourself, would she?”

“She wouldn’t,” David mumbles, somber and subdued, staring at his own hands.

“Shit happens, you ain’t Superman,” Eggsy adds. “You can’t save everyone. People just- slip away sometimes, and there’s nothin’ we can do to stop ‘em.” He gives the skin beneath his hand a light squeeze, feeling his heart ready to burst out of his chest at the fervor he feels- nothing in the world can possibly be David’s fault and somewhere along the way of getting to know him, it had become very important to Eggsy that he understood that. “Never blame yourself for shit getting’ fucked up.”

“You have a way with words,” David deadpans, causing Eggsy to chuckle. “But I understand.”

They stand like that for a while, Eggsy’s hand on David’s, before David reaches up a hand and squeezes the one Eggsy has over his arm. “Thank you, Eggsy,” he says softly, the words like a whisper in the silence of the kitchen. “For being here.”

Eggsy’s cheeks heat up as he removes his arm. “Don’t make it weird,” he says, stepping away and gathering the plates in his hands. “Now come on, Eliza and Henry Higgins wait for no man.”

The next day, they meet up an hour early and after their customary coffee, head for the support group together. At the one hour fifteen minutes mark, David clears his throat. His hands are in his lap, twisted together in a tight ball of anxiety and his eyes, full of apprehension and panic, meet Eggsy’s. Eggsy projects all that he feels for David in that one glance and after a split second, David closes his eyes and breathes out. “My name is David Budd,” he says, “and I work as a police sergeant for the Royalty and Specialist Protection Service. A year ago, I got my principal- the client I’m protecting- killed…”

Chapter Text

The day he meets Ella and Charlie is the day he admits to himself that he’s fallen head over heels in love with David.

It’s a Wednesday night, and he’s been invited over for store bought tacos and another rented film- Forrest Gump. Surprisingly enough, family comedy films are David’s favourite to watch above all else, but the reason for it makes sense, albeit in a rather depressing way. “I deal with enough explosions and death in my line of work,” he’d explained, eyes downcast in a show of embarrassment. “I’d rather not deal with them on the TV screen as well.”

“Why not rom coms, then?” Eggsy had asked, as they ambled down the street as close to each other as they could possibly get. An old lady had given them the side eye as she passed them and in response, Eggsy had flipped the V’s. The only acknowledgement David had given the gesture had been a tiny quirk of the lips and a silent shake of the shoulders in suppressed laughter.

“Love never worked out with Julia or Vicky,” David had replied wryly. He had paused then, looking at Eggsy with a strange, intent look in his eyes before saying, “I’m okay with watching it but there’s something else about humour. Makes me laugh and forget myself, a little.”

When Eggsy turns up to the estate armed with the finest whiskey Harry’s house had to offer, he’s surprised to find the door locked. Usually, David leaves the door unlocked for him as he gets the table ready and cleans his house of the non existent mess. Wondering if something is amiss, Eggsy leans up to press the doorbell. David appears immediately, pulling back the door with a harried look on his face. There’s marinara sauce on his grey shirt and what looks to be a dark water stain on his sweatpants. “Eggsy! I- you didn’t get my message?”

“No, my phone died on me,” Eggsy says, frowning. “Is this a bad time? I can leave, if you’re busy- we can watch Forrest Gump another day.”

David chews on his bottom lip for a nerve wracking few seconds and then says, “No, come in. You’re here, so-” he hesitates again, and adds, “Vicky dropped the kids off, unannounced. She has a date.”

The expression on his face is unreadable, as Eggsy steps past him to the drawing room. There’s a blonde girl and boy in the kitchen, both young and well mannered, quietly eating pasta. “And how are we feeling about that?”

“They’re my kids, so I’m not allowed to say annoyed,” David says, closing the door and leaning his back against it, “but I really had been looking forward to watching Forrest Gump with you.”

Nothing about being upset about the date- it makes Eggsy feel an indescribable joy to hear David be so blasé about it and eager about spending time with him instead. He shrugs off his jacket, hanging it on the coat hanger as he says, “We can still watch it, you know.”

“It’s a school night,” David points out. “Vicky would kill me if I let them stay up late.” He runs a hand exasperatedly through his hair, right through the grey streak and serving to jumble it up into a rumpled mess. Only David could make a simple gesture like that look breathtakingly gorgeous, he thinks.

“You never stay up past your bedtime on a school night before?” Eggsy asks, leaning up on tip toe to smooth the tangled strands back into place again. He’s gentle, using the opportunity to feel how soft to the touch the hair beneath his hands is- beneath his ministrations, David is almost unnaturally still. Eggsy looks down from the grey streak to find him looking back with an almost searing intensity, blue eyes ardent in their gaze. He swallows, going back on the balls of his feet. “It’s just one night- come on, I’m sure they did their homework.”

“Just before you came in,” David confirms. There’s a split second of silence during which David searches for something in his eyes before he echoes, “Just one night- I guess I can allow it.”

“Thank you,” Eggsy says, grinning. “This will be the best idea I’ve ever given you, just you wait.”

“We’ll see about that,” David says, smiling softly as he brushes a hand over his own before going past him. “Come on, I’ve got to introduce you to them.”

The kids are polite and quiet, Charlie staring at Eggsy with wide eyes while Ella diligently cuts her meat up into little square pieces. Eggsy seats himself next to Ella and in front of Charlie, definitely feeling out of place and awkward, while David goes back to the kitchen with the promise of tacos. He’s good with little kids, having had practice with Daisy, but children over the age of five is something he hasn’t had many chances to get accustomed to communicating with. He’s tempted to do what he usually does in situations like this and either talk about anything that pops into his head, or fiddle with his phone but he has a feeling neither will go over well.

“If you’re hungry, Mister Eggsy, Daddy’s coming back soon,” Ella says in clear polished tones. It’s not Scottish like David’s but more refined, the consonants sharp at the ends. There’s a watch on her wrist, too big and therefore hanging off the jut of the bone, noticeable as she spears the chicken with her fork and scoops it into her mouth.

“Oh, no, I’m not,” Eggsy says, shifting on his seat a little. The chairs are hard and uncomfortable for his back, especially since just the day before he’d been dismantling a drug ring that had cropped up in London in the wake of the power vacuum that had taken over after V day. The bulletproof suit had done most of the work but getting shot at still hurt, leaving behind paintball sized bruises that had left him no choice but to sometimes hobble like an old man on his last leg. “And please, call me Eggsy.”

Ella sends him a skeptical look, like all six year old girls are wont to do once they think an adult is messing with them on purpose. “Okay, Eggsy.”

Charlie props his chin up on his hands, ignoring the rest of his food to keep on staring at Eggsy. It’s an adorable sight, and Eggsy can’t help but be reminded of David, and his single minded gaze at times. Of course, David’s stare often made him feel very, very different things in comparison to Charlie. “How do you know Daddy?”

“Charlie, you can’t just ask questions like that! It’s not polite,” Ella hisses instantly, dropping her fork. It makes Eggsy jump, and feel a little wary- David is hardly the kind of man to stop his kids from asking questions. Perhaps- but Eggsy doesn’t really want to pass judgement on a woman he hasn’t even met, that has never been what he was taught. Instead, he shakes his head. “It’s okay, I’m fine. We actually met-”

“At work,” David interrupts, coming back to the table with a plate full of tacos. He places it in front of Eggsy, and sits down next to Charlie. Eggsy tries to meet his gaze but he avoids it, the skin around his eyes tight as he ruffles Charlie’s hair. “Eggsy here is a new colleague of mine.”

“Like a bodyguard,” Charlie pipes up, and David smiles. It’s not a carefree smile like before- this is one full of worry and preoccupation, and when he finally meets Eggsy’s eyes its there in his own, the fear of judgement. It doesn’t click at first, and Eggsy is left feeling confused as to why David would lie to his own kids, but when it does Eggsy almost kicks himself. Of course David would want to hide his own trauma and issues of mental health from his children as much as possible. Every child, after all, wants to see their parents as superheroes, never the flaws or the cracks in their armour. Seeing their mom or dad make mistakes and be human can fuck a kid up- Eggsy should know, from dealing with his own mother.

“Like a bodyguard,” Eggsy echoes, and can almost taste the relief in the air emanating from David. “Your father is still the best, though. He’s amazing.”

“He is, he saved a train full of people,” Ella says, voice full of pride, the words coming out garbled because of all the spaghetti in her mouth.

“Ella, don’t talk with your mouth full,” David says, voice full of gentle admonishment. “And really, how on earth did you know-”

“Go on then, tell me more,” Eggsy interrupts him to say, reaching for a taco and sending David a mischievous look beneath his lashes. The corner of David’s lips do that familiar twitch again, and he leans back, happy to let his kids take centerstage as Ella and Charlie start talking over each other to describe exactly how their father stopped ‘a very scared lady from blowing up the whole train’.

The kids fall asleep on top of their father halfway through the movie, snoring lightly as Forrest Gump accidentally reveals the Watergate scandal on screen. Eggsy had curled up in an armchair drawn close to the couch, finding himself watching the family of three cozy up on it more than the actual movie. David is gentle with his children in a way that is consistent with his mannerisms outside of this little bubble of family togetherness- brushing Ella’s hair out of her face and hugging Charlie close with one arm when he shivers in his sleep. The love he has for both of them is etched across his face like a clear oil painting, a stark contrast to Dean who never brought himself to give a single shit about Daisy.

“You’re good with them,” Eggsy says softly, bringing up his legs beneath himself to curl up more comfortably beneath the blanket David had given him. At his words, David looks up and shakes his head, turning red.

“You must think I’m a horrible father,” he says, “hiding my- shit- from them. I’m sorry I had to lie- it’s just-”

“I think you’re the best,” Eggsy says, fighting the urge to go over on the couch to cuddle with David too. Instead, he brings the blanket more firmly around himself to mimic the feeling, adding, “I hide it from Daisy and my mother too- they both think I’m a tailor, for fuck’s sake.”

“Language,” David says, but he’s smiling so Eggsy counts it as a win. “You give me more credit than I deserve. I’m not as great a father as you think I am.”

“Probably,” Eggsy says, and soldiering on when David’s eyes narrow, “but you’re trying your best. That’s a lot more than I can say for m- well, for some people I know.”

David doesn’t say anything, but his eyes stay on Eggsy, the gaze in them turning soft and achingly sweet. It makes Eggsy swallow, looking away on purpose to focus his own gaze on the television screen. There’s something in the way David looks at him these days, always too intense and revealing. It makes Eggsy feel sheltered and naked at the same time, all his protective layers shedding off piece by piece. How is it, Eggsy thinks, that such a guarded, secretive man can make him feel absolutely stripped to the bone- and enjoy it, at that?

The movie’s reaching its closure when Eggsy looks over and realise David’s completely fallen asleep as well, head hanging over the back of the couch in a godawful position while sandwiched between his two kids. They make an adorable family tableau, cuddled up on the couch like a couple of penguins and unable to help but smile, Eggsy switches the television off. He takes the blanket he’d been swaddled in off and walking over to the couch, drapes it over David and his kids. The movement elicits a snort from David and Eggsy freezes, but after a snort and a mumble of what sounds like, “zee” he goes back to snoring softly. His heart squeezing painfully, Eggsy pads out of the room, sliding on his jacket and then closing the front door behind him with a loud ‘click’.

“When do you know you’re in love?” Eggsy had asked his mother once. There had been a girl in his class, blonde pigtails and brown eyes, and he’d been unsure of what his own heart felt. Michelle had been nursing a hangover, stirring the straw of a homemade orange smoothie, but she’d smiled and said, “You’ll know when it happens, darling. You’ll see the whole world in their eyes.”

Ten-year-old Eggsy had privately decided that that had been a shit answer. Twenty five year old Eggsy stands on the front step outside David Budd’s house, thinks of intense, crystalline blue eyes and says loudly into the empty, stale air of Whittington Estate, “Fuck.”

*

The idea of living inside your dead mentor’s- and probably the only father figure in your life- house had been one that only Merlin had been agreeable with. “Harry left you the house in Stanhope Mews,” Merlin had told Eggsy, right after V day with Eggsy clutching his busted ribs in the airplane and Roxy sleeping soundly on the tartan couch. “He had no surviving next of kin. No kids, no nephews, no godsons or goddaughters. You were the only one to ever come close to being his, I should think.”

“What about my father?” Eggsy had asked, pouring four fingers worth of scotch into the shotglass that he’d fished out of the storage room in the corner of the airplane. “I’d reckon he came pretty close too.”

“Misery loves company,” Merlin had said with a slightly sardonic smile. “And no one loved it more than Harry. Lee had his wife and son- you are a walking psychological nightmare with your heaps of childhood trauma and decaying sense of self worth.” He takes his own shot glass and downs the scotch in it in one go, slamming it back on the counter with more than an underlying hint of resentment. If Eggsy had ever needed a hint that there had been something more between Merlin and Harry than that of two colleagues, it would have been this.

“Thanks, I suppose,” Eggsy had said, nursing his own scotch with more care. “I need a place to keep Mum and Daisy away from Dean, anyway.”

Roxy, knowing some of the extent of Eggsy’s trauma and feelings regarding Harry’s death, had opposed the idea vehemently. “This is not the way to recover from your PTSD, Eggsy!” She had hissed, helping him move the packing boxes from the truck to the front hall. Bors had called Eggsy a complete nutter, and Percival- now the interim Arthur until the new one moved in- had expressed his disapproval by dropping a newspaper of estate listings on Eggsy’s desk. “Harry was an impeccable agent,” Percival had said, looking down his nose at Eggsy, “but he liked to live with ghosts. You’re too bright for that nonsense.”

Eggsy disregards that advice consciously and keeps the ghost of Harry Hart within the house in Stanhope Mews. He’s constantly aware of the shadows that follow him around, the weight of Harry’s disappointment and his own guilt coupled together to create a monster living within the four walls. He keeps Harry’s eccentric collection of butterflies and newspaper headlines, as well as the stuffed dog in the loo and the garish paint on the walls. He doesn’t change anything, not even when Michelle and Daisy eventually move out to the better part of North London after not being able to sleep because of his screaming as a result of the night terrors. The house becomes a monument to the legacy that is Agent Galahad, Now Deceased.

The week after he admits to himself that he’s completely gone on David, Eggsy admits to the support group that he’s kept everything as it is in his former mentor’s house, living inside a bloody tomb. “It’s not healthy,” he says, refusing to meet David’s or Victoria’s gaze and keeping his own strictly on his lap. “I suppose I’m terrified of moving on and- and forgetting about him.”

The admission is painful, and afterwards David surprisingly wraps him up in a warm embrace and kisses his forehead before moving back and clearing his throat with a beetroot red blush, but it is the kick in the arse that Eggsy needs to finally make the house liveable again. Roxy is out of the question to help him with it, though, having moved back to Cornwall for the weekend to visit her parents and so is David, who’s taking his kids with Vicky for a PTA meeting that he is absolutely and expressively dreading. Jamal and Ryan too, are busy, both having picked up voluntary shifts over the weekend to help with the V day clean up that is slated to be done by next month. In the end Eggsy’s left to beg Merlin to help him with it, who surprisingly agrees to help swiftly.

The morning after, Merlin arrives at ten sharp, wrinkling his nose at the walls. “I see you didn’t even change the paint,” he says, taking off his jacket and hanging it up. “Harry always did love to pretend like he was in a constant eighties flick.”

“You around a lot, then?” Eggsy says, watching as Merlin trods past him to the drawing room, taking in the mantelpiece. Even that has a ghastly clock on it, large and ticking loudly like an explosive with a set timer. That clock is the sole reason why Eggsy, even when drunk, has never fallen asleep in the front room. “Not really,” Merlin says, picking up the clock and fiddling with it. “Harry loved his privacy more than the eighties era. And I loved my pride. Ah- here we go, that’s better.” In his hands, the clock abruptly stops ticking and he sets it back on the mantelpiece.

“I didn’t know you could just do that,” Eggsy says, amazed.

“The more you know,” Merlin says blandly.

They start in Harry’s office first. The first night Eggsy had moved in, he had curled up in Harry’s big desk chair and cried himself to sleep. He hasn’t been in since, preferring to keep out of the room altogether. The resultant deterioration of the artefacts in the room because of the disuse stands out sharply as a glaring signal- an inch thick layer of dust coats everything like goddamn icing and some of the newspaper headlines are peeling off. Harry’s laptop lies on the table like a modern harbinger of doom, innocuous and yet stark.

“I see you weren’t kidding around when you said you haven’t cleaned up anything,” Merlin says, his tone full of inflection. “Well, come on- don’t just stand around. We have about fifty rooms left.”

Merlin is quiet and diligent when he works. He focuses on easing the newspaper articles off the wall in a way that doesn’t ruin the paint, before folding it up neatly and placing it in one of the cardboard boxes. Between the absence of small talk and the quick manner both adopt in cleaning up the room, they are done in no time at all, the newspaper headlines tucked away and Eggsy trying to get at the dust while on his tip toes.

“You’re too short,” Merlin says, walking over and taking the feather duster from his hands. “Here- I’ll clean this up, and you can get started on the other rooms.”

Eggsy gestures to the newspaper headlines, folded up in a stack on top of Harry’s laptop. “What about these? You ain’t gonna throw them, are you?”

“Of course not,” Merlin says, affronted. His eyes flick over to the stack and for a split second, they crumple beneath the weight of grief- Eggsy blinks, and the look is gone. “I’ll bring them back to my house, keep them in a folder. No reason to ruin them.”

Eggsy rocks on the balls of his feet, looking between both Merlin and the newspaper stack. “Percival said he loved to live with ghosts,” he blurts out, and immediately curses at himself. God, fuck his lack of brain to mouth filter. Merlin places the feather duster on the table behind Eggsy, folding his arms and leaning against the wall. His expression is unreadable, eyes like stone as he folds his arms across his chest. In this position, he looks less like a handler and more like an agent used to getting his way.

“And what do you think?” Merlin asks.

“Harry said it’s a reminder for him of why he does what he does,” Eggsy says, recalling Harry sitting behind the table, a severe expression on his face with the leather shoulder holster giving him the appearance of every bit a fearless agent. “You know, with no recognition at all.”

The expression on Merlin’s face softens, as his eyes drift towards the stack of newspapers. He’s quiet, and for a while Eggsy thinks he’s just not going to answer after all when he says, “He loved his pride, and the fact that he was so fucking good at the job that he saved the world under the radar every single time. Don’t get me wrong, the headlines served as a reminder too, of why he took up being a spy in the first place but at the same time- Harry liked being reminded that he was pretty damn good at his job.” Merlin’s jaw works, before he spits out slightly resentfully, “He was fucking obsessed.”

That coming from Merlin is a tall claim- Merlin, who stayed at Kingsman headquarters morning til night handling missions and delegating the bare minimum. Eggsy keeps quiet though, rocking on the balls of his feet.

Merlin takes one look at him, and sighs. “Spit it out, then.”

“It’s just- you have a bed at Kingsman headquarters, mate,” Eggsy points out hesitantly. “You got no room to talk.”

“There are different levels to being obsessed with what you do,” Merlin says, rolling his eyes. “I do my job to the best of the ability and I admit, sometimes it means overextending myself. Percival- he needs to do everything perfectly, every protocol followed to the letter. And Harry was in love with being a spy. Loved shooting the bad guys, loved the stakeouts and loved saving the world.” He pauses, looking away from Eggsy. There’s a surprisingly wet sheen to them, gleaming in the light of the office. “He was quite practically married to his job. No room in his life for anyone or anything else.”

The air is still, both of them on tenterhooks. Eggsy realizes he’s holding his breath, and lets it go in a loud exhale, watching as Merlin brings up a wrist and swipes halfheartedly at his eyes with the back of it. “You two were in a relationship?”

“Once,” Merlin admits, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trousers and slouching against the wall. “But it’s hard dating a man that reckless, fearless and that in love with the rush of getting shot at. I couldn’t take it, and neither could he. It didn’t work out.”

“You’s in love, though,” Eggsy points out quietly. He thinks of David absently- David’s blue eyes, his stoic, silent manner and his black coffee with no sugar. If what Merlin felt for Harry was even a fraction of what Eggsy feels for David now, he thinks that Merlin must be in very much pain indeed. “That look in your eyes-”

“Recognise it, do you?” Merlin says dryly, and Eggsy blushes, shifting on his feet. “If there’s one piece of advice you could take from me, Eggsy, it’s that you don’t wait for your man to come to his senses. Life’s too short for that, especially for spies. You go to him, and do what I never got the guts to do.”

There’s a small smile playing on Merlin’s lips, but its too full of grief for it to be anything but a poorly constructed mask. “I’ll give you a moment,” Eggsy says softly, picking up the feather duster and walking out of the room, closing the door behind him on Merlin and the newspaper headlines. The ghosts of Harry’s legacy are fainter now, tainted with what Merlin’s told him.

*

“So the house is cleaned up?” David asks, as they walk towards the community building together. Today Eggsy’s changed his order to a green tea latte but he sorely regrets it- the lack of caffeine is making his head hurt.

“More or less,” he says, bumping elbows with him. “All of the pictures and butterflies are in the attic, and all his things with Merlin.”

“Is that healthy?” David asks skeptically. Eggsy’s convinced him to change his order too, to a cookies and cream frappe number- he’s only taken one actual sip so far, the rest clearly being attempts to appease Eggsy. “Living with your dead ex’s shit?”

“Prolly not, but far be it for me to tell him that,” Eggsy says, taking another tiny sip of the green tea. “The way he looked in the office- I ain’t never seen him like that.”

“Did the clean up help with the night terrors, at least?”

“Oh, yeah,” Eggsy says enthusiastically. He hadn’t expected it to be that catharthic but it had- somehow, removing the inch layer of dust that had coated everything and reorganizing Harry’s shelves had been a relieving, stress free process. It had certainly made Eggsy experience the night terrors with a lot lesser frequency. “He hated his china, did you know that? All of it was at the back of the fucking cabinet.”

“I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met him,” David says, taking another pretend-sip. “I would have liked to. He sounds like a great man.”

“He was,” Eggsy says, the past tense sending less of a pang through his soul than it used to. “I idolized him, and resented him for it, but what Merlin told me- he was a great man, but flawed. I needed to know that, to move on. We both made mistakes.”

“He would have been proud of you,” David says, wrapping an arm around Eggsy’s shoulders. “I don’t need to meet him to know that. Something tells me that no matter what you think you did wrong, he was proud of you until the very last second.”

“Bullshit,” Eggsy says, snuggling into David’s very warm side and ducking his head to hide the flush spreading over his cheeks. “So tell me,” he continues, as David opens his mouth to protest, “how was the PTA?”

“Had a night terror about Julia and slept at five,” David says sullenly, the smile slipping away, “so I was late, and Vicky was furious. At least five single middle aged mothers pinched my arse, and I almost punched Charlie’s best friend’s father because he said, and I quote, I don’t understand why you let your son wear painted nails to school.”

“I would have punched him,” Eggsy says, feeling furious on Charlie’s behalf. He’s only met the kid once but he knows that no one deserves to hear that sort of backwards sentiment being verbalized out loud in the twenty first century.

“Ella and his own son told him off,” David says wryly, smiling slightly, “so there is still hope in the world.”

When they reach the first steps of the community building, Eggsy chucks his green tea into the bin before reaching for David’s nearly full frappe number, smiling wryly at David’s sheepish expression. “So I was thinking-”

“A first,” David parries instantly, laughing and dodging his slap.

“If you would listen,” Eggsy says, laughing himself, “I have two free movie tickets, we can go see that new Marvel movie they’re screening at the cinemas. And afterwards, maybe we could- go to that place you talked about for dinner, the one with the grilled fish and mozzarella sticks.”

“You remembered,” David says, sounding pleased as he leads the way up the steps.

“Of course I did,” Eggsy says, taking a huge gulp of the cold frappe, feeling nervous as all hell. “It’s a date, then?”

David stops in his track and turns, one foot on a higher step. The sun behind his head illuminates his hair into a halo, making him impossibly gorgeous and impossibly impenetrable. The anxiety in Eggsy’s stomach reaches a crescendo as he takes in the blank look in David’s eyes and blurts out, “But if you don’t want it to be, it’s perfectly alright! I’m fine not having- I mean. I’m fine with it being just a guys’ night out, you know-”

“I’d love that,” David interrupts him mid-sentence, his ears turning pink. “I’d love to go on a date with you. I was about to suggest that myself.”

“I- oh.” Eggsy stares at him, unable to believe that David’s actually agreed. All morning, he’d been preparing himself for a soul crushing rejection- why would this amazing man want to go on a date with him? David had more amazing people waiting in line for him- David had Vicky, and-

David smiles softly at him. “Come on,” he says. “We’ll be late.”

As they approach the lift lobby together, David reaches out a hand and entangles his fingers with Eggsy’s own, tight and interlocked with no room to breathe in between- just the way Eggsy likes it. His ears are crossing the line from pink to firmly red, and the sight is so adorable that Eggsy can’t help but grin.

Carpe diem, Eggsy thinks, as the lift doors open.