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And All the Days to Come

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The first night Eggsy stays with him after they've collapsed onto the bed, still kissing each other while they try to get their breath back, is an unmitigated disaster. Harry extends the offer to stay somewhat tentatively, unsure if Eggsy will accept, or if it's even such a wise idea. This was only the first time they had sex, after all, something Harry hadn't planned but can't bring himself to regret. The way Eggsy's eyes light up, though, he knows it was the right thing to do. He even manages to convince himself that it will be all right, and he falls asleep still believing that.

Until he wakes up in the dark of night to feel a body pressing itself up against his own. Instinct takes over before he's even completely awake. In a flash he rolls over and has the intruder pinned with a hand on his throat, his other hand poised to strike.

It happens so fast, Eggsy doesn't even have time to react. They just stare at each other, Eggsy's eyes wide and alarmed, Harry glaring down at him, his body still ready to kill even though his brain is quickly catching up.

Horror blasts through him at what he's done, and he backs away, sitting up and giving Eggsy space. He watches Eggsy cough and put a hand to his throat, and he realises belatedly that he was mere seconds away from ending Eggsy's life. He starts to pull away, and he blinks, and suddenly it's not just Eggsy lying there, but dozens of bodies, so many of them sprawled throughout a bloody church, and he put over half of them there himself, and oh God they're all dead.

He hears himself make an incoherent noise, but it means nothing. He scrambles off the bed in a very undignified move and then he just stands there with his back to the bed, uncertain if he's going to be sick. His head is pounding and the room is spinning and he's afraid to move, afraid that if he tries to make it to the bathroom he'll just vomit all over.

"Harry?" He senses rather than hears Eggsy climb out of bed, but the younger man wisely keeps his distance.

"I think this was rather a bad idea," he says, and is amazed by how calm he sounds.

"It's okay," Eggsy says. His voice is only a little hoarse, but even a little bit is too much.

Harry can't look at him. "Did I hurt you," he says dully.

"Nah," Eggsy says. "I'm fine. Honest."

Slowly his stomach settles. He no longer sees the afterimage of the carnage in the church when he blinks. He takes a deep breath and turns to face Eggsy. In the dim light he can't see much, no mark on Eggsy's throat, but he knows it's there all the same. By morning there will be bruises shaped like fingertips on Eggsy's neck, and he will have to force himself to look.

"I apologise," he says, and he hates how stiff he sounds, the formal gentleman even now. But it's all he's got, hiding behind that armour of etiquette and manners.

"It's okay," Eggsy says again. "I get it. Doing what we do for a living…it makes sense." He doesn't sound angry or impatient. "I guess I shoulda known."

"None of this is your fault," Harry snaps. As much as he hates to make mistakes, he hates it even more when someone else takes the blame for his fuck-ups. He has always believed in owning your mistakes, no matter how painful they might be.

"I know that," Eggsy says. He takes a step forward, halving the distance between them. "It ain't anybody's fault."

There's a part of him that wants to turn around and walk out, to leave right now before they cross the point of no return. Even after last night it might still be possible. There's still a chance to end this all now before it even begins. It would be for the best, for both of them. It's the right thing to do.

And yet he can't do it. He knows it's selfish, but he wants this. He wants this more than he's ever wanted anything. He wants Eggsy, this brave, beautiful young man who has, incredibly enough, chosen him, too.

"We'll be okay," Eggsy says. He smiles a little, crooked and endearing. "I mean, I ain't the best in bed, either. I like to put my cold feet on people."

It's not really funny, but it breaks the tension, and Harry is grateful to him for that.

"Come on," Eggsy says. He holds out his hand in invitation.

He would like to, very much. But he's more uncertain than ever about the idea. Tonight's incident has already proven how little prepared he is for this. It's probably best to take some more time before they begin sharing a bed.

"I think not," he says. "I'll stay in the guest room tonight. I do apologise."

"Fuck that," Eggsy says. His hand remains where it is, hovering in mid-air. Now, though, Harry gets the distinct impression that it's meant to fence him in, to physically keep him from walking away. He hopes that's not true, even as he wills his body to relax, to see Eggsy as no threat. "I'm okay with tryin' again if you are." He cocks his head. "I mean, I wouldn't've expected you to give up so easily."

It's absolutely a challenge, and Harry feels a moment of sheer panic –- because he knows he's going to cave in. How can he not? He doesn't want to lose Eggsy. He'll do anything to keep this amazing man by his side. Even if by doing so, he puts Eggsy at risk.

" 'Sides," Eggsy adds, "if anyone's goin', it's me. This is your room."

Harry takes a calming breath. "That won't be necessary. You've made your point. I'll stay."

"Good," Eggsy says, his tone softer now. "Now come back to bed."

So he does, although not without misgivings. He settles on his back and stares up at the ceiling as Eggsy shifts restlessly on the other side of the bed, trying to get comfortable.

"Night, Harry."

He looks over at Eggsy, just a dark silhouette against the window. "Good night, Eggsy," he says.

****

The next night is not much better. The only real difference is that this time Eggsy is quicker, and he rolls away before Harry can throttle him.

They sit on opposite sides of the bed, Eggsy with his knees drawn toward his chest, Harry with one leg dangling off the bed, halfway toward bolting for good. This is never going to work. He's spent the vast majority of his life sleeping alone, and he's a light sleeper on top of that. He's too old, too set in his ways. He's been a spy for too long, looking over his shoulder, forever paranoid and wary. He's never going to be able to relax enough to share a bed with anyone.

Snuggling together with Eggsy is wonderful in those moments when they lie close to each other after making love, but beyond that is somewhere he simply cannot go.

" 's okay," Eggsy says quietly. "We'll get there."

Harry is not at all so sure, but he says nothing.

****

The very next day, Eggsy is sent to Cairo. A few hours later, Harry leaves for Athens.

For the next couple weeks, their paths cross seldom, and only for brief intervals at HQ as Eggsy returns to be debriefed before being sent out again. Harry goes out in the field far less often these days; he's usually given assignments close to home, frequently remaining in London. By now, six months after V-Day and the bullet that nearly ended his life, he's pretty much resigned himself to this fate, although he will never like it or truly accept it.

He misses Eggsy badly during this time, and thinks of him often. It's new to him, this feeling of absence. He doesn't know what to do with it or how to fill it.

With nothing else to do, he takes JB for long walks and lavishes attention on the dog. The pug is ugly, flatulent, and has a nasty habit of digging up Harry's back garden, but Harry has nothing but praise for him. He owes that dog everything. If Eggsy had shot JB and passed his test, he would have been sent on supervised missions as the next step in his training. In all likelihood, he would have gone with Harry to Kentucky. Where Harry would have killed him without compunction or even batting an eye, just one more dead body in that church.

So he is grateful to JB, and he takes care of the dog in every way he can, commiserating with him over Eggsy's absence. But while JB is easily placated with food and walks through the park, Harry still has to find a way to deal with that missing part of himself. He tries everything he can think of: working out for hours, reading books, analysing the mountains of data that come in from Kingsman agents around the world, watching old movies he's seen half a dozen times already.

None of it works. He finds himself pausing at odd moments throughout the day, wondering what Eggsy is doing just then. As he knots his tie he pictures what suit Eggsy is wearing at this moment, what colour his tie is, what knot he chose. He asks Merlin half a dozen times a day for an update on Eggsy's status. He's fully aware that only their long friendship prevents Merlin from rolling his eyes whenever Harry asks, but he's powerless to stop himself.

At night, even though he lies perfectly still in the bed that is once again his and his alone, he has the strangest sensation that he's falling.

****

Eggsy comes back for good on a rainy Thursday.

It's a long day. Kingsman is spread thin these days, none more so than Merlin, who is stuck trying to supervise so many agents in the field all at once. So Harry is the one to sit in the comm center and walk Percival through a tight spot in Laos, providing both intel and encouragement through the glasses.

The mission does not go well. For almost three agonising, eternal minutes, Harry is utterly convinced that he is about to watch his friend die. Ultimately Percival makes it safely to the extraction point, though, and Harry slumps in his chair, almost faint with relief.

Half an hour later, he has to leave. The stress of it, the horror of watching and feeling so helpless, has brought on one of his headaches. Just one more charming souvenir of that day in Kentucky.

Eggsy joins him on the shuttle to Savile Row, jetlagged and glassy-eyed with fatigue. They smile wearily at each other, then Eggsy gets up and sits next to Harry. "I missed you."

"I missed you too," Harry says quietly. He could almost forget the throbbing pain in his skull for the sheer pleasure of having Eggsy back. It's amazing how effortlessly that absence within him is filled by Eggsy's proximity. Without needing to say a single word, simply by being there, Eggsy has made him whole again.

Eggsy slips an arm around him. They lean in and kiss. It's sweet, nothing more. Harry lets his head tip forward just a little, enough so he can rest his aching forehead on Eggsy's, and closes his eyes. "I'm glad you're back," he says.

The journey home seems to take twice as long as it normally does. By the time they get to the house, Harry is almost stumbling on his feet, and Eggsy isn't much better off. JB barks excitedly to see Eggsy again, and Eggsy shushes him with real impatience.

Harry takes his jacket and tie off. Removes his shoulder holsters. Unties his shoes. He does all this with an economy of motion that lets him stay as still as possible. His stomach is unsettled and the lights in the house are too bright. Already he knows he isn't going to make it upstairs, and he slumps on the couch with a heavy sigh.

Eggs sits beside him. "What can I do," he murmurs.

"Nothing," Harry sighs. Most days he spares only a thought or two for Valentine, usually when he's staring at his reflection in the mirror, forced to acknowledge the ugly scar twisting across his forehead. On days like this, though, he wishes the man was still alive -– just so he could kill him all over again.

Eggsy makes an inarticulate sound of protest, and Harry pries one eye open to look at him. He smiles a little. "Just having you back is enough."

For a moment Eggsy's eyes go wide with surprise. Then he's smiling back, warm and tender and more than a little bit goofy. "Harry, you wanker," he says. "You really did miss me, didn't you?"

"I said as much," Harry replies, with not quite as much spirit as the retort truly deserves. It's rather unfair of Eggsy to tease him like this just now.

But it's true. There's no explanation for how much happier he feels now that Eggsy is back. In all his experience, there are no words for it. He just knows that he would rather be sitting here right now, suffering this pain with Eggsy by his side, than be fit and healthy –- and alone -– anywhere else in the world.

"Let me try something, yeah?" Eggsy says. "Roxy showed me one day, when you was still in hospital." He looks momentarily embarrassed, a bit of colour rising on his cheeks. He's taken off his suit jacket and tie as well, and undone the first few buttons of his shirt. Despite the dark circles beneath his eyes and the stubble on his face, he looks absolutely beautiful.

"Showed you what?" Harry asks, because he likes Roxy and he trusts her with his life, but he's not entirely sure he wants to know what she's been showing Eggsy.

"Get your mind out of the gutter," Eggsy laughs. "It's not like that, I swear." He grows serious again and gives Harry a sidelong look. "I can't believe I'm sayin' this," he mutters. "But one day right after you got back, when we wasn't sure yet if you was gonna make it… Roxy found me… I was upset, okay? And I'd given myself a headache, and then she showed me this, and it helped, I swear it did. So will you let me try?"

Harry doesn't even know what to say to that. No one's ever really talked before about what it was like after Kentucky, after V-Day. He always knew on some level that it was hard on them all to see him like that, tubes and wires everywhere, in a medically induced coma to reduce the swelling in his brain. Little wonder Eggsy ended up crying so hard he gave himself a headache.

The thought is enough to make him renew that desire to kill Valentine for a second time. Slowly and painfully.

"Turn a little towards me," Eggsy says. He toes off his Oxfords -– looking rather worse for the wear after his missions -– and kneels on the couch so he's looking straight at Harry.

Harry shifts a little so he's more or less facing Eggsy. He has no idea what to expect, and he finds that he doesn't really care. He trusts Eggsy completely, with no reservations. He doesn't know when that happened, doesn't even really know how it's possible, but there it is.

"Okay," Eggsy says. "Close your eyes. And just try to breathe normally."

It's actually a relief to obey, to shut out the lights of the house. He sits very still, waiting for whatever Eggsy is going to do.

Nothing happens at first. Then he senses the displacement in the air as Eggsy raises his hands, and he feels the first light touch of Eggsy's fingers at his temples.

Instinctively he tenses up, his right hand half-rising, wanting to lash out. The sudden move makes the pain in his skull grow even worse, though, and he freezes in place.

"Okay?" Eggsy asks quietly, not touching him anymore.

"Yes," Harry sighs. Slowly he breathes out and lowers his hand back to his lap.

Eggsy's fingertips find his temples once more. Then they start to rub warm circles on his skin, applying just enough pressure to get the job done.

It's no miracle cure, but it helps. Harry bows his head and makes a faint sound of relief. Some of the tension bleeds from his body, and he actually starts to relax a little. His head still hurts, but the pain is tolerable now.

Eggsy continues to rub those little circles over his temples. After a while he leans in and kisses Harry's forehead, not far from the scar left by Valentine's bullet. "Better?" he whispers.

"Mmm," Harry says.

"You wanna…?" Eggsy says.

Harry needs no more encouragement. He lets Eggsy's arm drape itself across his shoulders and ease him downward. His head settles on Eggsy's shoulder, and he presses his nose against the warm skin of Eggsy's neck, and he sighs.

****

He wakes up to near-darkness and the sound of Eggsy's breathing, slow and steady.

For a long moment, Harry doesn't move. He's too busy processing the fact that he and Eggsy are both lying on the couch. That apparently they have spent the last few hours sleeping like this.

It's not a comfortable position. He's on his left side, crammed into the narrow space between Eggsy and the back of the couch. His arm is trapped beneath him and gone fully asleep. Both his feet dangle off the end of the couch. His head and right arm rest on Eggsy's chest, and most of his body is draped atop Eggsy's. Oblivious to the world, Eggsy lies flat on his back, left arm hanging off the couch, face turned away.

Carefully Harry picks his head up. The headache is gone, thankfully, which means he must have slept for at least four hours. The only light on is the one in the upstairs hall, which casts barely enough light down here to create shadows. He has no idea what time it is, or how Eggsy managed to get up and turn off all the lights without waking him up, then somehow arrange them together on the couch. It's rather alarming to think he slept through all that; he must have been more out of it than he realized.

It's also reassuring. Possibly he can do this, after all, and learn to share a bed with Eggsy.

"Mmm." Eggsy makes a mumbled noise in his sleep, smacks his lips a little, and settles back down. It's utterly endearing, and Harry smiles.

He can't stay here like this, but there's no way he can get up without disturbing Eggsy, who really does need the sleep.

Well, he's got to try. Carefully he levers himself upright. It's a bit difficult given the lack of space and the fact that his left arm is completely numb, but he manages. If he can swing one leg over Eggsy's and get his foot on the floor he might actually be able to pull this off. He can go upstairs then and let Eggsy have the couch all to himself. He'll cover Eggsy with a blanket first, of course, maybe leave a note on the coffee table explaining his absence.

He's in the process of starting to do all this when Eggsy makes another little humming noise – but this one cuts off cleanly when he realizes that Harry is looming above him in an awkward straddle.

Harry freezes. Shit.

Eggsy blinks away the sleep, and smiles. "What're ya doin'," he mumbles.

"Attempting to not wake you up," Harry says with chagrin. "And failing miserably." He finishes his clumsy maneuver and stands up. Reflexively he tugs at his shirt, which has come mostly untucked and is now unforgivably wrinkled.

Eggsy pushes himself up on his elbows. "Feeling better?"

"Yes, thank you," Harry says. He flexes the fingers of his left hand, trying to get the blood flowing again.

He can see Eggsy's next question in those incredible green eyes, and he knows he has to act now, before the words can be spoken out loud.

"However," and he's rather appalled by how rough he sounds, "I think the best thing for us both right now is to just get some rest."

Eggsy closes his mouth, the invitation, Better enough to go upstairs? remaining forever unsaid.

Harry stands there for a moment. He knows Eggsy is disappointed, that he's just let the young man down. But he also knows from bitter past experience that when he goes to sleep next, he's going to dream about the circumstances that gave him the headache that brought him so low tonight. He's going to dream about that blood-drenched church, and if he wakes up from that with Eggsy beside him, he very much doubts he will be able to stop himself from doing real damage.

So he tells himself that it's for the best, that Eggsy is exhausted from his mission and the long flight back home and needs real sleep. He tells himself he's doing the right thing, he's being the adult here, he's making the tough choices because someone has to.

But it doesn't feel that way. It feels like he's a fucking coward.

****

Eggsy forgives him, of course, because that is what Eggsy does. He rolls with the punches and when he's knocked down he gets back up again. His generous heart won't allow him to stay angry for too long. Harry, who's never really learned how to let go of anything, envies him.

So life goes on in that end-of-mews house as the summer draws to a close. Every morning Harry wakes up on his side of the bed and he looks over at Eggsy, and he feels that sensation of falling all over again. And when Eggsy finally gives in to the alarm clock and groans, when he blinks in the early morning light and scrunches up his face with his distaste over being awake, Harry just watches him and smiles.

He's heard the old cliché, of course, about needing someone like oxygen. But he's never understood it until now.

Eggsy has crawled beneath his skin. Eggsy flows through his veins and has delved into the very marrow of his bones. He craves Eggsy's touch and can't wait to kiss Eggsy's mouth and run his hands over Eggsy's skin. He's never considered himself to possess a very strong sex drive before, but now all he wants to do is bury himself in Eggsy's body and touch Eggsy in all those ways that make them both gasp and beg for more.

And yet, in almost direct opposition to such desires, there is also another one equally as strong. Sometimes when they're together it's all he can do to stop himself from touching Eggsy's face so gently. He wants to hold Eggsy close and keep him safe, protect him from all the horrors this world has to offer.

It's far too late for that, obviously. Eggsy is no sheltered innocent, and if he's honest with himself, Harry wouldn't want it any other way. He needs someone like Eggsy who can match him stride for stride as they make their way through life.

Anyone else would just be left behind.

****

September arrives, bringing fading temperatures and longer nights. It's been seven months since V-Day, and one month since Eggsy stopped pretending they were doing anything else, and officially moved in with Harry.

It took the better part of a day to bring in all of Eggsy's belongings and get them unpacked. The closet in the guest room is entirely his. The bathroom counter is covered in bottles and jars and two hairbrushes. There are two toothbrushes in the stainless steel holder, and two shaving kits in the cabinet beneath the sink.

Sharing a house with Eggsy is a revelation. On those nights when they're both home, Harry will let his attention drift from whatever he's reading or watching on TV, and just smile softly to himself. He listens to Eggsy make mindless baby talk to JB, or Face Time with Daisy and his mother. He'll look over at Eggsy – not overtly, of course – and just watch him, part of him still unable to believe how lucky he is.

At night – and some mornings – they make love. Sometimes it's rough and a little wild, and they're both bruised the next day. Sometimes it's slow and deep, and the bruises then are from clutching each other so tightly, neither one wanting to let go. Afterward, they still sleep on opposite sides of the bed, but overall, Harry's never been happier.

So he's blindsided by how much it hurts when Eggsy texts him one afternoon to say that he's just been assigned a mission in New Zealand, he's leaving tomorrow, and he's going home right now so he can start packing.

Utterly disheartened by the thought of him leaving so soon – it seems like he's only just come back – Harry responds, I'll be right behind you.

Eggsy's return text is immediate. Thought u were staying til 6?

Harry makes a face. Not tonight, he replies. I have a headache. It's been building for about an hour now, to his extreme annoyance. He would have left HQ already except he promised Arthur he would have this report finished today, and a gentleman always keeps his promises.

Ok, Eggsy writes back. Text me when ur almost home

I will, Harry responds, then resolutely pushes the phone to one side.

It's another hour before he's done with the report, though. By then his head is throbbing and all he wants is to be home already, where he can turn the lights off and surrender himself over to Eggsy.

The shuttle takes him to Savile Row, and he commissions one of the taxis to finish the journey. It's an indulgence he doesn't often permit himself anymore, but today it's more of a necessity than anything. The whole way back, he curses fate, and particularly Richmond Valentine and Chester King. He hates that Eggsy is going away while he's stuck here doing nothing useful. He hates that Eggsy's last night at home is going to be spent playing nursemaid to a weak, old man. Most of all he hates being that weak, old man.

He forgets to send Eggsy the text he promised until the cab is nearly there, and he is immensely grateful for auto-correct as he makes only an approximation of proper spelling. I'm here, he sends, and then the cab is pulling into the lane leading up to the house.

He thanks the driver (first and foremost a gentleman, after all), then gets out of the cab. The sound of the door slamming shut goes through him like a spear, and he flinches with his whole body, unable to help it. His stomach is churning and he's terribly afraid he's going to be sick right there on the pavement.

The front door opens. He keeps his gaze fixed on the ground, unwilling to look up; it's cloudy out and nightfall is near, but it's still far too bright out. He can hear JB barking, but faintly, which must mean the dog is shut away in the guest room. "Harry?"

"Yes," he says, and he takes a deep breath and follows Eggsy inside.

Most of the lights are off; only the kitchen light is still on. The whole house smells of food, rich and inviting. Harry makes it two steps in, and then he's bolting for the toilet. He's noisily sick, and with every spasm, the pain in his head just gets worse and worse.

Eggsy is there then, an arm around his shoulders, guiding him over to the sink. Cool water is splashed on his face, then a soft towel pats his skin dry. Harry stands there, his eyes closed, numbly accepting these ministrations only because he has no other choice.

He doesn't protest as Eggsy leads him toward the couch, as Eggsy undoes his jacket and tie, unbuckles the holsters and removes them. He lets Eggsy sit him down and take off his shoes, and he doesn't make a sound as Eggsy pulls him into a warm embrace.

"I got ya," Eggsy whispers. "It's okay, Harry."

It's not okay and it's never going to be okay, but for now he lets himself believe it. He sinks down and rests his aching head on Eggsy's shoulder, and he gives in.

****

The moment he wakes up, he knows someone is watching him. That kind of sixth sense has never been wrong – and it's not wrong now.

"Hey," Eggsy says with a smile.

Harry utters a quiet humming sound and cautiously sits up. Except for a lingering ache just above his left eye, where the scar is, he feels all right. The worst of the headache has passed.

"How ya feelin'?" Eggsy asks.

"Better," Harry says, and looks at him. Eggsy looks adorably rumpled, his white shirt wrinkled all over, the top two buttons undone. His black trousers are still crisply pressed, though. Dark stubble lines his jaw; it must be late.

"Good," Eggsy says. " 'Cause I was gonna have to wake you up in a few minutes if you didn't do it on your own."

"And why would you do that?" Harry asks. He glances down at his wrist and notes the time: 11:35 p.m.

"So I could wish you a happy birthday on the actual day, of course," Eggsy says with a grin.

Surprised, Harry can only stare at him. And as he does, a number of things make themselves known.

There is Eggsy himself for starters. Who began this day wearing a grey suit, but who is now wearing black trousers. And yes, there on the armchair nearby is the matching black dinner jacket and black bowtie, tossed carelessly to the side.

Then there are the obvious things, the things he missed before because he was too busy being sick, and because he had his eyes closed from the moment he walked in. So it's not until now that he sees the balloons tied to the dining room chairs. The silver serving dishes set out on the dining room table and the place settings for six. The brightly wrapped pile of presents on the sideboard. The banner stretched across the entranceway to the kitchen proclaiming Happy Birthday Harry in bold blue letters.

Eggsy did all this, and he did it without a word of encouragement. Harry hadn't said anything about his birthday, not wanting to call attention to a day that saw him become a year older, adding cruelly to the already large difference in their ages. He's never been the type to really celebrate anyway, but this year in particular it just felt wrong.

But Eggsy had found out somehow and planned all this. A genuine birthday party. He had done it all – but when he had learned that Harry wasn't feeling well, he had undone it all in an instant.

He's ridiculously touched, and almost on the point of tears. Outside of official Kingsman business, no one has ever gone to such lengths for him before, or made it so obvious that they care. He doesn't even know what to say, so he lets the habit of years come to his rescue. "Thank you, Eggsy," he says. "You didn't have to go to all this trouble."

Eggsy's mouth thins for just a moment, then he's smiling again. "Yeah, well, I figured it was probably your first real birthday party in years, so why not?"

Harry gives him a small smile. "It's actually my first birthday party ever," he says. "Thank you."

In a flash Eggsy's smile vanishes. Now he looks appalled. "Ever? Jesus, Harry."

"I hardly consider it a loss," Harry says honestly. "I've never been big on celebrating birthdays before." He has an idea, though, that this is about to change. Exactly two months from now, on November 10th, he will be celebrating Eggsy's birthday, and doing it in style.

He's somewhat surprised to realize that he's actually looking forward to it.

"But you're okay with it now?" Eggsy asks, somewhat anxiously.

"Of course I am," Harry reassures him. He leans over and gives Eggsy a quick kiss. "Thank you."

"That's it?" Eggsy teases. "That's all the thanks I get?"

Harry cups the side of Eggsy's face in one hand. He looks deep into Eggsy's eyes, letting the silence grow between them until Eggsy must surely think this is all there is. With proper solemnity he says, "Thank you."

For half a second Eggsy looks almost offended. Then his eyes light up with amusement, and he grins, his cheek rising into Harry's palm. "You're a right bastard, you know that?"

"So I've been told," Harry murmurs. He slides his hand around to cradle the back of Eggsy's head, and kisses Eggsy for real this time.

He loves Eggsy's mouth, the warmth of Eggsy's lips, the curl of Eggsy's tongue. He takes his time with this kiss, keeping it deep and slow until they're both panting and their lips are hot and wet and swollen.

"Is that better," he murmurs.

Eggsy hums and nods. "Much."

Harry releases him and sits back. It would be very easy to suggest going upstairs now, to move things along to their logical conclusion. And they will, he knows they will, but he doesn't want to rush into anything. Eggsy obviously spent a lot of time putting the party together, and he feels guilty that he ruined those plans. The least he can do now is acknowledge all of that hard work.

"I imagine much of the food has gone off," he says, "but should we give it a look?"

Eggsy blinks. "Yeah," he says. "Shame, that. It smelled really good."

Harry looks at him in surprise. "You didn't eat?"

"Nah, I'm fine," Eggsy says.

Dismayed, Harry feels another rock of guilt settle in his stomach. For over four hours Eggsy sat on that couch and held him while he slept. Four hours of sitting there while the food he had so painstakingly ordered slowly congealed and dried out, while the balloons drifted about on the air currents, and the kitchen light reflected off those empty wineglasses. "Oh, Eggsy, you should have eaten something." He shakes his head ruefully. "I don't deserve you."

Eggsy looks shocked. "That ain't true! You deserve someone better'n me. You—"

Harry silences him with a kiss. He doesn't want to hear another word. Since the day he proposed Eggsy as a Kingsman candidate he's had to listen to other people dismissing Eggsy for various reasons; his background, his youth, his temper. He won't stand for hearing that bullshit from Eggsy himself. "You are exactly what I want," he says. "You are the only one I want."

But he stops there, because now he's getting into dangerous territory, skirting perilously close to things they've never talked about before.

Things Harry can still barely let himself think about.

"Now let's see about this food," he says.

Together they move into the dining room. Harry flips on the light and only squints a little in the sudden glow.

He can see the whole scene now. The place settings all laid out perfectly, the wineglasses and china plates, silver flatware resting atop linen napkins. In the midst of all this are the silver serving dishes, discreetly covered and just waiting for someone to open them up. Obviously catered, brought in by an establishment of good taste. Not cheap, either, judging by the look of those dishes.

Harry takes the lid off the nearest. Chicken Kiev, one of his favorites. Of course. All the dishes will be his favorites, little bits of knowledge about him that Eggsy has stored up over time. Because it's his birthday and this was supposed to be his party.

"We can heat it up?" Eggsy asks doubtfully.

It hasn't been that long. The food won't have spoiled, although it's no doubt dried out. "There's only one way to find out," Harry says.

It turns out okay, although dry and somewhat lacking in taste, like he expected. He's not terribly hungry but he knows he needs to eat, so he has a little bit of everything.

While they have their very belated dinner, Eggsy says, "Er, I need to tell you, I'm not actually going away tomorrow."

Harry stares at him. "You aren't?"

"Nah," Eggsy says. "I just needed an excuse to come home early and get ready for the party."

It crosses Harry's mind that he should be angry at the trick, but he can't bring himself to actually feel it. His delight at knowing he gets to keep Eggsy to himself for a while longer is far better than any prettily-wrapped present. This here is his real gift.

He knows there's a reason for that, why he should feel that way, but he refuses to look at it too closely. He can't.

Not yet.

After dinner there is a cake, of course, big enough to feed six adults and a hungry toddler. Eggsy sets it in front of him with a big smile, singing "Happy Birthday to You" in a voice that's at once both light and soulful. There's a single candle pressed into the icing that Eggsy lights with his Kingsman lighter. "Go on then," he says. "Make a wish."

You, Harry thinks. Only you. Forever.

He blows out the candle.

The cake is delicious, dark chocolate covered in sinfully rich ganache and garnished with strawberries. Harry is pretty sure he's going to regret eating such a large piece, but right now he doesn't care. It's his birthday still for the next three minutes and he's with the one person he cares most about in the world. Just then nothing else matters.

When all the food is done, Harry sets his fork down, wipes his mouth and folds his napkin neatly beside his plate. He isn't looking forward to the cleaning up, even if it was just two of them dirtying dishes.

"The caterers are coming back tomorrow morning," Eggsy says. "You don't have to do a thing."

This goes against everything Harry believes in, but for the time being he's more than willing to go with it. He just nods and sips at his wine.

" 'Sides," Eggsy says with a grin. "Time for presents."

Harry looks over at the neat stack on the sideboard, where he usually keeps his liquor and some glasses. He's glanced a few times at the packages sitting there, and he knows what most of them are already just by their size. The bottle of whiskey isn't even wrapped, and the others are fairly obvious.

"Mine first," Eggsy says, and he holds out a small box. It's wrapped in glossy paper covered in cartoon superheroes, most of whom Harry can't identify.

"Thank you," Harry says. He regards the box curiously. It's lighter than he expected, which narrows down the possibilities considerably.

"Don't guess!" Eggsy scolds, but he's still smiling.

"I wasn't," Harry says, even though it's patently not true. He can't help it, though. It's in his nature to immediately assess something like this, and try to determine what's inside. He wouldn't be a very good spy if he wasn't able to do it and be successful most of the time.

The superhero wrapping paper falls away to reveal a tasteful black box tied with a narrow white ribbon. He undoes the bow and sets the ribbon aside; he has an idea for something else he'd like to wrap up in a bow, but that will have to wait for later, once they've taken things upstairs.

He lifts the lid from the box and just stares. The cufflinks are practically works of art, square-cut onyx and gold. Purely cosmetic, of course; they don't electrocute anyone or jam satellite signals. But they're nicely heavy, and even better, Harry likes the look of them, the way they catch the light and reflect it back.

He pointed them out once to Eggsy, a couple weeks ago. Just a casual mention as they were window shopping, strolling down the street during a bright day of warm summer sunshine. He never expected Eggsy to remember.

"That's the ones, right?" Eggsy says, somewhat anxiously.

"Yes," Harry says. "They are."

Eggsy exhales loudly in relief. He smiles again. "Wanna try 'em on?"

"Not just now," Harry says. He puts the lid back on the box and sets it on the table. "Thank you, Eggsy. They're perfect."

More at ease now, Eggsy gestures to the pile of presents. "Which one next?"

Harry shakes his head. "Eggsy."

"Okay, okay," Eggsy says. He grabs the bottle of expensive whiskey and lifts it up, examining the label. "This is from Merlin."

Of course it is. As is the set of watercolors and the paper. Eggsy looks surprised. "You paint?"

"I used to," Harry says. It's been years since he even bothered. "I suppose Merlin must think I have something interesting to paint again." He gives Eggsy a significant look, and is rewarded with the sight of a faint blush rising on Eggsy's cheeks.

The other presents aren't as exciting. Roxy and Percival both got him books. Eggsy also got him a cardigan and a new pair of slippers. Michelle Unwin brought a framed drawing from Daisy that shows him and Eggsy as little more than two stick figures. There's no way to tell them apart, but that doesn't matter. The stick figures are holding hands, and seeing that makes Harry smile.

"Harry." He looks up at Eggsy and his breath catches. It's well after midnight, but Eggsy doesn't look tired. He's got his sleeves rolled up, revealing his muscular forearms. His hair is falling from its careful style, not as unruly as Harry's own at this hour, but getting there. He is absolutely beautiful.

And just like that, Harry forgets about everything except how much he wants him.

It's a sentiment Eggsy obviously shares, judging by the look in those green eyes. It appeals to his vanity the way Eggsy looks at him, seeing not the scars or the years, but someone he can't wait to undress and take to bed.

"Ready for your final present?" Eggsy asks.

Harry picks up the white ribbon from his gift and says, "Yes."

They go upstairs, undressing each other with quick fingers, undoing buttons and zips with practiced ease. They're naked even before they step through the bedroom door, and Eggsy is grinning. He gestures with his chin to the ribbon. "What're you planning to do with that, then? Should I…?" He holds out his hands, wrists together.

Harry shakes his head. He's had too many experiences with being tied up in his life, and none of them have been pleasant. It's not something he would ever consider doing in the bedroom. Still, he likes Eggsy's enthusiasm. "Stand still, please."

Eggsy remains perfectly still as Harry kneels down and ties the ribbon about his erect cock. He fusses with the bow, stroking his fingers down Eggsy's length as he makes sure the ribbon lies flat and the bow loops are even. By the time he's done, the muscles in Eggsy's thighs are trembling, and his hands are locked down on Harry's shoulders. His cock is red and leaking. "Christ, Harry."

Regarding his handiwork, Harry stands up. The ribbon isn't tied tight enough to do any harm, or act as a cock ring. But it looks very nice, and he admires the sight. "You cannot come so long as that ribbon remains," he says. "Do you understand?"

Eggsy swallows hard and nods. "Yeah."

"Good," Harry says, and proceeds to take him apart.

In here, at least, Harry is no gentleman. He knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. Eggsy's body is as familiar to him by now as his own; there are no secrets remaining between them.

And he wants this, God he wants this. He lays Eggsy out on the bed and worships him with lips, tongue, and hands. He bites and sucks and leaves marks that will still be there tomorrow. Nowhere visible, of course, for he would never shame Eggsy like that, but over Eggsy's heart, on his hip, on the small of his back where it rises into the curve of his ass. Only places Harry will ever see, where he can look upon what he's done and smile.

"God, Harry." Eggsy pulls on his hair as he mouths wetly at Eggsy's leaking cock. No tongue, just hot breath and soft kisses. Enough to drive Eggsy right to the edge and then leave him there. "I can't… I need…"

"Yes?" he purrs, lying between Eggsy's spread legs and smiling up at him.

"You," Eggsy gasps. "Need you."

Sweet as it is, the torture has to end sometime. Aching with need and the desire to just let go, Harry sinks into Eggsy's willing body and it's so good he groans.

In perfect synchronicity, Eggsy moves with him, never silent unless Harry is kissing him, and even then he gasps and makes such noise. At the end Harry pulls on one end of the white ribbon, releasing the perfect bow he made, and Eggsy comes for him, his face a picture of such exquisite pleasure that Harry can't hold back any longer, either.

Later they lie together and Eggsy nuzzles up against him and kisses the line of his jaw, and Harry thinks that he's never known a more perfect day.

****

He dreams of the church, as he knew he would, of killing without remorse or hesitation, of finding himself standing alone with blood staining his hands. He staggers past their fallen bodies, needing to get outside and breathe the fresh air. He's terribly afraid of what waits for him out there, but he can't stay in here, he can't, he can't. He flings open the doors and the sunlight blinds him, and he shies back from it –

-- and wakes up with a start, his heart racing, one hand already closed in a fist.

It takes only a few moments to recollect himself, to realize he is in his own house, in his own bed. He looks over and sees Eggsy lying across from him, staring at him, the dim light reflected in his eyes. "Okay?" Eggsy asks.

"Yes," Harry says, his voice shaking a little. If he knew that one day he would be free from the dreams of that horrible day, he supposes he might be able to bear them more easily. "I'm sorry I disturbed you."

"You didn't," Eggsy says. "I was already up. But I didn't want to wake you. You know, get too close and all."

Yes, he knows. All too well. Had Eggsy tried, he would have attacked, believing Eggsy to be another threat to be taken out. It's the reason they still sleep on opposite sides of the bed, why they never stay cuddled together too long after sex, but are always careful to separate before falling asleep.

Shame burns within him at this failing, this weakness he cannot seem to conquer. But he does not reach out, or perpetuate the lie that everything will be all right.

"I'm sorry," he says again, but it's not enough.

It's not even close.

****

Nine days later, Eggsy really does go away on a mission. The house echoes without him, and JB isn't the only one to wander around lost and aimless. At night Harry stays on his side of the bed, all too aware of the empty space beside him.

He wants Eggsy to come home. It's still lonely, sleeping alone, but at least when Eggsy is here there is potential. There is the chance that he might wake up one morning and find Eggsy curled up against him. It hasn't happened yet, but it isn't for lack of trying.

It frightens him to think that something might happen to Eggsy while he's gone. That Eggsy might not come back. When such thoughts grip him he is helpless, caught in their power until they subside and he can breathe normally again.

He's starting to suspect, deep down, that he actually loves Eggsy – and it scares him shitless.

****

Eggsy comes home with nothing worse than a dark bruise on his hip where he absently walked into a door. Harry kisses it and spreads his fingers over Eggsy's pale skin and covers it up, and then fucks him up against the wall until Eggsy comes with a shout and then slumps in his arms.

Life resumes its normal routine. Harry goes to Oxford for a day to see if there is any truth to the rumors that someone is advertising for an assassin. (There isn't.) They invite Merlin and Roxy over for dinner, an atonement of sorts for the botched birthday party, and for one night there is more laughter in that old house than there has been in years.

October arrives and a gale sweeps across England. Harry stands on the balcony leading off the office, the wind whipping through his hair and plastering his clothes to his body. He's always been fond of weather like this, although he can't really explain why. He's still standing there when Eggsy comes up and embraces him from behind, wrapping both arms around him and pressing his cheek to the flat of his shoulder. They stand there until they're both chilled, then they go back inside and get warmed up again by the time-honored tradition of stripping off their clothes and sharing body heat.

The next day at breakfast Eggsy announces that he needs to be measured for a new suit, and Harry says he could use one, too. They spend the morning in the shop on Savile Row, selecting fabrics and colors, and then have lunch in the dining room where Chester King once held court.

They take the shuttle to HQ and go their separate ways, Eggsy to the firing range and Harry to the gym. He doesn't want to become soft, doesn't want those weeks of coma and physical therapy to be his undoing. Still, he knows that no matter how hard he tries, no matter how far he pushes himself, he will never achieve the same levels of strength and fitness he enjoyed before he was shot.

He's finally getting old. And all it took was a single bullet.

Of course he's lucky, extremely lucky, and he knows that. He can walk and talk, see with both eyes, use both hands. His memory and cognitive skills seem unimpaired. Just the fact that he's alive is nothing short of a miracle.

But it's still frustrating as hell.

The gym is almost always in use, so it's not unusual for people to be going back and forth. Each time someone comes in, Harry glances up, notes the new arrival and watches where they go, and then returns to his routine. But when the door opens and Lancelot walks in, heading straight for him, Harry abruptly stops what he's doing.

He knows immediately why she's here.

The bottom drops out of his stomach. His heart races from a different kind of energy now, and although he's soaked in sweat, he feels cold all over.

They've only been here a few hours. He hadn't known Eggsy had left on a mission. He hadn't even known Eggsy was gone. He hadn't known.

Lancelot walks right up to him. She looks distressed, which is the only thing keeping Harry from assuming the worst. If Eggsy was dead, she would be perfectly composed in that English-stiff-upper-lip way.

"If you could come with me, Galahad," she says.

"Give me five minutes," Harry says.

It actually takes him eight minutes, but that's only because halfway through his shower, he has to stop and brace one arm against the wall to keep from falling over. He's shaking all over, still so unbearably cold in spite of the steaming hot water pouring down on him.

Something has happened to Eggsy, and he hadn't known.

He finishes up in the shower and gets dressed again, knotting his tie snug against his throat. He puts on his jacket but foregoes the buttons in the need for haste. He finds Lancelot waiting for him in the hall, and without a word he follows her to the comm center.

This is the domain of Merlin and his many assistants. Merlin doesn't personally get on the comm very often anymore, but he has a soft spot for Eggsy and will sometimes walk him through his missions. He's sitting at his accustomed spot now, clearly waiting for Harry. The monitor behind him is dark; the atmosphere in the room subdued in spite of the quiet chatter of the techs with their agents.

"Tell me," Harry demands.

In a low, calm voice, Merlin explains. It was a simple mission – or it should have been. There's some sensitive information up for sale, and Kingsman has narrowed the list of potential buyers down to two. Gawain and Lancelot each selected a target and then went to investigate. It's the kind of mission a trainee could do. The kind of mission Harry himself usually takes, about the only field work he receives these days. "Why didn't you ask me?" he demands.

"You were otherwise engaged," Merlin says, and Harry wants to throttle him. He could have gone. It could have been him. It should have been him. Eggsy could have been saved. But no, he was punishing himself on the elliptical and so instead Eggsy went.

And now Eggsy is gone.

"What happened?" he asks.

Merlin continues with his story. Lancelot had returned within an hour, having determined that her target wasn't the one they wanted. Gawain, however…

"His target was Rupert Bailey. Supposedly in the export business, but actually dealing in information. Formerly working counterintelligence for the Russians, possibly MI-6. We're still working on that."

Harry growls low in his throat, nearly giving in to the fury thrumming all through his body. He doesn't give a fuck about the target. He only wants to know what happened to Eggsy.

"Bailey is in London for a few days, attending a trade symposium. Or that's his cover story. The event is being held here." The screen behind Merlin comes to life, showing an image of a very posh London hotel. "Gawain went in posing as a courier, made his way to Bailey's room, and was detained by Bailey's security detail, something we didn't expect."

Merlin taps at his computer. "This is the last feed we received."

The image is tilted, and Harry knows instantly what that means. The glasses are on the ground, having been knocked off Eggsy's face, most likely by a fist. He can see the walls where they meet the ceiling; discreetly patterned wallpaper; a window and some rich drapes.

Eggsy's voice says, "Mate, I'm just a messenger boy, I don't know what you're on abou—" and then abruptly rises into a sharp cry of pain. A booted foot comes into frame, then the feed cuts off as the glasses are smashed.

Harry stands perfectly still. For a moment everything around him is washed out in a staticky blur. There is a loud roaring in his ears.

Eggsy, he thinks. They have Eggsy. They are hurting Eggsy.

They have him.

"Harry." Merlin says his name kindly. No code names now, just one man speaking to another.

The world snaps back into focus. In spite of the red fury that has taken hold of him, Harry feels very calm. He knows he looks that way, too, a glacial projection of composure and manners that conceals the colossal, icy death lurking just below the surface.

He knows exactly what he has to do now.

"Thank you, Merlin. Lancelot." He looks at each of them for half a second, no longer. "If you'll excuse me." He turns to go.

"Harry!" Merlin calls after him, but he doesn't slow down or look back. One of the very first things he learned as a Kingsman was that if you were trapped and had no way out, forward was your only option. Keep moving and whatever else you do, don't stop.

Don't fucking stop.

"What do I…?" Lancelot asks.

"Go after him," Merlin says as Harry opens the door and walks out. "And for fuck's sake, don't let him out of your sight."

****

They take one of the Kingsman cabs to the hotel where the symposium is being held, where Eggsy was captured just two hours ago. It's cloudy out and a bit drizzly, and traffic is terrible. Harry doesn't say a word during the entire trip. He's too focused on what is coming, on what he has to do to get Eggsy back.

The cab drops them off and they go inside, Harry walking so fast he nearly kicks the front of the revolving door. Lancelot is right behind him, having to nearly trot in order to keep up with him. He doesn't even glance at her as they cross the lobby and enter one of the elevators.

Merlin has already informed them that Bailey's room is on the sixteenth floor. The man himself is attending a conference in the main ballroom, but there is every reason to suppose that his bodyguards are still in his room, waiting for their employer's return. There is equally every reason to suppose that Eggsy himself isn't there, but Harry allows himself a brief moment of hope. It would be the best scenario, the easiest one for everyone.

But frankly, he doesn't care. However long it takes, whatever he has to do, he will do it. He will get Eggsy back.

Outside the door to Room 1632, Harry stands to one side, hidden from view of anyone looking out through the peephole. He does not move as Lancelot raises her hand and knocks on the door.

The chain rattles from within; the door opens a couple inches. "Yeah?"

"I'm sorry, but I was wondering if you could please help me," Lancelot says, sugary-sweet and innocent.

The door closes again. The chain rattles as it's removed. The door opens.

Lancelot moves inside, stepping to her left as she goes. The way is clear then, and Harry doesn't waste a moment.

He's inside within seconds, pistol raised. He sights two men, each of them armed but hiding the weapons beneath ill-fitting suit jackets. They're standing so close together he barely has to adjust his aim when he shoots them.

The third man, though, the one who answered the door, has been waiting for him. He's standing off to the side, ready for something like this. Harry has time to fire his first two shots, then the man grabs his arm and wrenches it upward.

Harry flows with the motion and pivots on the ball of his right foot, shoving the man into the wall, rattling the framed floor plan of the hotel depicting the way out in case of a fire. He raises his left arm and blocks a punch aimed at his face, then he's the one being spun about and thrust up against the wall.

His opponent is obviously well-trained. He hooks his foot about the man's knees as his right arm is slammed against the wall. In spite of himself, the impact and the grinding grip on his wrist force him to drop the gun, so it clatters to the floor.

At a severe disadvantage now that the other man is armed and he is not, Harry sweeps the man's legs out from under him. He has to keep them both moving, prevent the other man from bringing his weapon around and using it.

The fight is brutal but short. By the time he gets the other man's arm in a lock, he's bleeding from a split lip and Lancelot is swearing at him to stand still so she can take the shot.

Harry ignores her and breaks the man's arm.

The man yells in pain and Harry throws him to the floor. He follows with his entire body, dropping one knee onto that sensitive nerve cluster in the man's shoulder and seizing the gun from his suddenly numb hand. As Lancelot moves into position behind him, he presses the barrel of the gun into the man's throat.

"A few hours ago you apprehended a young man in this very room," Harry says. He's barely breathing hard and his voice is perfectly even. "Tell me where he is."

The man glares up at him. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Without taking his eyes off his target, Harry says calmly to Lancelot, "Shoot him."

Startled, the man looks away from him and toward Lancelot.

She never hesitates. She shoots the man in the lower leg, her eyes locked on his.

The man utters a strangled scream, then Harry jams the gun into his throat, silencing him once more. "Tell me, or the next one will be in your knee."

Their eyes meet for a few seconds. Long enough for the man to realize Harry is deadly serious about the threat. He swallows hard, Adam's apple moving against the gun barrel. "They said something about Mr. Bailey's office, I don't know for sure, they—"

Harry whips the gun upward, striking the man in the chin and driving his head back against the floor. He slumps, unconscious.

"Merlin."

"I've got the address," Merlin says in his ear. "Get out of there now. Hotel security has been alerted to the sound of gunfire."

Harry picks up his pistol and rises to his feet. He reaches for the knob on his watch and sets the dart to Amnesia. He hopes the man on the ground has fun trying to explain to Bailey how he wound up in this state – provided he doesn't bleed out first. Honestly, Harry doesn't give a shit.

"I'm sorry," Lancelot says as they step into the hall. "I couldn't get a clear shot."

"It's all right," Harry says. He hadn't expected her to take the man out during their fight, but he's pleased that she wanted to. He's never worked with her in the field before, but she has all the right instincts for a Kingsman; for the first time he truly understands why she is the best agent they have right now.

They walk casually down the corridor together, his arm slung about her shoulders, Lancelot smiling up at him with open delight.

Security runs right past them without a glance.

****

Rupert Bailey's "office" is a two-story building located not too far from the council estate where Eggsy grew up. It's nothing more than a front, an address to lend credibility to Bailey's claim of being in the export business.

As Harry and Lancelot approach on foot, Merlin gives them what intel he has, gathered from satellites and blueprints on file with the city and God only knows what else. "Open office area on the ground floor. First floor divided into four smaller rooms, possibly flats for rent or executive offices."

"Can we get a satellite sweep?" Harry asks. He'd like to know how many people are inside before he goes in.

"No," Merlin says. "Nothing nearby at this time."

Harry just nods. He wasn't actually expecting to get that information. It doesn't matter. He'll be fine without it.

The office building is graffitied and in dire need of a fresh coat of paint. It stands on the corner of a street filled with vacancies and rusting, ancient cars that probably haven't run in five years. There are three exits, one in the front, one in back, and a stairwell descending from a door set in the side of the building.

Eggsy is somewhere in there. Certainly hurt and probably scared. Does he know Harry is coming for him?

Does he know Harry will always come for him?

Because Harry knows the truth now. It's in every beat of his heart, every breath in his lungs. He's known it for weeks, deep inside, but now he can no longer hide from it. Nor does he want to. He loves Eggsy. He will move heaven and earth for Eggsy. He defied nature itself when he refused to die outside that church, and now he finally knows why.

The thought of Eggsy never getting to hear those words, of Eggsy dying today without ever knowing that Harry loves him, is a pain he cannot bear. For a moment it even overcomes the terrible fury that has driven him ever since he first learned of Eggsy's abduction. He feels almost sick with fear.

"Galahad?" Lancelot sounds a bit hesitant; she's been casting nervous little glances his way on the entire journey over here. "How do you want to proceed?"

The question brings Harry sharply back to the present. He promises himself that he will talk with Eggsy when all this is done. And he will be able to do that because Eggsy is in there, alive, and he is going to bring him home.

"I'm going in alone," he says. "Watch the exits. Anyone who leaves, shoot them."

Lancelot takes a breath and nods. "Give me a few minutes to seal the back exit," she says. She points to a rusted-out car on the opposite street corner. It has no windows and three of the tires are flat, but it's still in one piece, which is more than can be said for some of the vehicles around here. "I'll take position there."

It's a good location, giving her access to both the front and side exits while providing cover from anyone who might fire upon her. Harry approves, but says nothing.

She heads for the back of the building. Harry doesn't know how she's going to seal the exit there, and he doesn't care. All his thoughts are for what will happen once he goes inside. His entire body is wired with tension and the desire for bloodshed. It feels like the church again, everything around him falling away, his focus narrowing so only the fight remains.

Lancelot returns and nods at him. "Merlin, I'm getting in position," she says as she heads for the car.

Harry waits just long enough to see her climb in; she grimaces as she settles on the no-doubt filthy seat, then ducks down low enough that only the top of her head is visible, minimising herself as a target. Her pistol rests on the broken window, ready to cover him.

That's it, then.

"I'm going in," he says calmly, and begins walking for the front door.

"Be careful," Merlin says.

Harry opens the door and walks inside.

He doesn't stop, doesn't overtly look around. But it's all happening within his first three steps inside the place. Everything around him has a crystalline clarity, rendering it all in stark lines and vivid colours. He instantly notes dangers and obstacles and assets to be used. He is immediately aware that Eggsy must be upstairs, out of sight, but the knowledge is just another fact to be filed away. He isn't Eggsy's lover right now. He is no one's friend. He is only what he has been trained to be: a killer.

The room is one large open space. Just ahead and to his left is a reception desk. A bored-looking man sits behind it, target number One. There's a computer on the desk, a wire inbox half-full of papers, a phone, and a couple loose ballpoint pens.

Behind the desk, up against the left-hand wall, is a water cooler and a table holding a coffeepot and the assorted accessories for the dedicated coffee drinker: packets of sugar and creamer, cups, stirring sticks. A hotplate and a small toaster sit beside the coffeepot. Targets Two and Three stand in front of this table in idle discussion.

Behind them, against the back wall, is a row of filing cabinets. To their right, in the back corner and in front of a door leading to the back exit, is another desk. Target Six sits here, feet propped up on the desk, picking at his nails with a gold letter opener. He too has a computer and a phone, but no papers and no pens.

Along the right-hand wall there is a battered green couch. Targets Four and Five sit here, one of them flipping through a magazine, the other sipping at a cup of coffee.

All six of them watch Harry closely as he walks in. All six of them tense up, but none of them make a move. He might be just a salesman, or he might be someone who's lost and needing directions.

Or he might not be.

He draws and shoots Six and Three before any of them have a chance to react. Letting the momentum of his arm motion lead him, Harry runs forward and springs onto the desk where One sits.

The others are drawing now, shouting in alarm. Firing wildly at Four and Five, Harry grabs the wire inbox as he lands in a crouch atop the desk. He smashes it into One's face. Teeth, blood and papers go flying everywhere. Before One can drop out of his chair, Harry snatches up one of the ballpoint pens and stabs him in the eye.

Screaming and clawing at his face, One falls over just as Harry lands behind the short end of the desk.

Two, Four and Five are shooting now, but the desk makes for good cover. Except for Two, who has a clear shot at him.

Forward, he has to keep moving forward. There's no thought, just action. Firing now at all three of them, wanting to keep them wary and unbalanced, Harry kicks the water cooler. It topples over, forcing Two to dance back against the filing cabinets. Bullets from Four and Five impact Harry's bespoke suit. The cooler strikes the floor and the plastic canister explodes. Water splashes everywhere.

Four and Five are still shooting at him, and now he's out of ammo. Still moving, Harry throws his empty gun at the two men who are moving in tandem away from the couch and toward him. He seizes the coffeepot off the table and hurls steaming hot coffee on Two just as the man begins to advance on him again. With his free hand he grabs the screaming man and hauls him in front of himself, a human shield who is promptly riddled by the last remaining bullets of his own allies.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees One crawling weakly in his direction.

He drops Two and throws the empty coffeepot at Four and Five just as they converge on him. They easily duck the missile and separate, circling around him. Five comes at him first in a flurry of fists, throwing punches that Harry blocks while striving to land one of his own. While he's thus occupied, Four tackles him, sending him flying into the filing cabinets.

The cabinet he strikes rocks backward. As he scrambles to his feet, Harry knocks his heels together. The blade in his shoe pops out. They're both on him now, coming at him from different sides. He takes a punch from Five, evades one from Four, and Five grabs him from behind in a headlock. Instantly Harry twists his body down and to the side, throwing Five over his shoulder and down to his back on the ground. He pivots, sees Four coming at him with his fist raised to strike, and kicks the man so hard in the gut that the poisoned blade snaps off as it's driven into the man's belly.

Four goes down, both hands clutching at the dagger.

Five advances on him, and Harry lets himself be backed up. They both slip a little in the water spilled on the floor. Harry lands a couple hits, gets slammed into the last filing cabinet and uses it to push himself forward while dodging another heavy punch. As he snaps his fingers into a closed fist, he presses the contact on his ring.

Bleeding, grinning, Five swings at him. Harry retreats another step, ducks and blocks a left hook, then punches Five in the mouth. Electricity judders through the man, and as he stands there shaking helplessly, Harry snaps his neck.

Five falls, dead. Harry spins around and grabs the toaster from the table now at his back. Just as One rises from his knees, triumphant, he smashes the toaster over One's head, shattering both.

One pitches forward and lands face down on the ground.

They're all down now, and for a moment Harry stands there, breathing heavily, waiting to see who will challenge him next. No one has come running from the first floor, which means they're still up there, waiting for him to come to them. They think they have all the power because they have a hostage. They can afford to be patient.

A gentleman does not keep anyone waiting.

He retrieves his gun and reloads as he moves through the room. He stops at the desk where Six was sitting, picks up the gold letter opener from where it fell and slips it into his right sleeve, blade first. Then he's moving again, slowly opening the back door.

The door opens on a stairwell; beyond it is the exit leading outside, the one Lancelot has sealed off. The stairs go up one flight and turn at a landing, then there is another flight to the first floor. Harry listens carefully but can hardly hear anything over the pounding of his heart and the echo of gunfire.

He starts forward and shots erupt from the stairs above him. He spins around and presses himself up against the wall beneath the second flight of steps. He reaches into his pocket, finds the golden lighter, and pulls it free.

"Come you, you fucker!" shouts Seven.

Ever happy to oblige, Harry darts out from under his cover and tosses the lighter up onto the second flight of stairs.

Seven's scream is cut short by the explosion.

He runs lightly up the stairs now, making no noise. The door up here is open, Seven's scorched corpse preventing it from swinging shut. Harry steps over him and into the hall.

There are two doors on either side of the hall. Three of them are closed. The open door is the last one on the left. That's where they have Eggsy.

Cautiously, ready for any of the doors to fly open and reveal a new threat, Harry makes his way down the hall. When he reaches the open door, his gun leads the way as he steps into view.

Eggsy is here, yes. Tied to a chair, stripped down to his white dress shirt, boxer shorts and socks. Beaten and bloody and gagged. But alive. Wonderfully, thankfully alive.

Eight stands beside him, one hand on Eggsy's left shoulder, the other pressing the barrel of a gun so hard into Eggsy's temple that it will surely leave a bruise.

None of the fighting below filled Harry with such rage. He stands in the doorway, pistol aimed at Eight's head. It takes every ounce of his formidable willpower to remain still.

"Hands up," Eight says. There is blood on his knuckles. He's the one who's been hurting Eggsy.

Harry glances at Eggsy, then complies.

"Drop the gun," Eight orders. "Kick it over here."

In the chair, Eggsy stares wide-eyed at Harry and shakes his head as best he can. From behind the gag he makes muffled noises.

"Shut up!" Eight snarls and jams the gun so hard against Eggsy's temple that Eggsy is forced to tilt his head to the left from the relentless pressure.

Slowly Harry lets the gun drop from his hand. He nudges it away with his foot. He ignores the stricken look in Eggsy's eyes as he does this.

Eight smiles, revealing nasty teeth. "Now, how about ya tell me what I want to know. Do it quick, too, or I'll shoot him right in front o' ya. I promise I'll kill ya quick, though, as a reward for bein' such a good dog."

Harry sighs, the mild-mannered man offended by such coarse speech. He starts to lower his hands, slowly at first, then snapping the right one downward. The letter opener socks nicely into his palm.

Eight sees the glint of gold and his eyes widen. Before he can make a move, Harry whips his arm forward, and the letter opener spins through the air. The blade buries itself in the man's neck and he pitches backward. As he falls, he fires, but Eggsy ducks his head as soon as Harry throws, and the shot meant to kill him goes harmlessly into the far wall.

And then it's over.

Eggsy looks up and their eyes meet.

Now that it's done, Harry can let himself feel the fear he's been trying so hard to bury, the worry that they've done something so terrible to Eggsy that he won't recover. He catalogs the cuts and bruises, the marks of a beating designed to inflict maximum pain while keeping him conscious so he could answer their questions. But that's the extent of it, and he feels a relief so strong it washes over him like a tidal wave, weakening his knees and making him sway.

Eggsy is all right. He is here and he is alive and he is all right.

He hurries forward and pulls the gag down; it's damp and spotted with blood. "Are you all right?" he asks.

Eggsy gulps in a deep breath. "I'm fine," he says. "What about you? You're bleeding."

Harry shakes his head. Most of the blood on him isn't his own, and what there is, he doesn't care about. He's still too wired on adrenaline and bloodlust to feel any pain.

"I'm not hurt," he says, which is the truth for now. He leans over to undo the ropes securing Eggsy's wrists to the chair, noting with fury how reddened the skin is beneath the bindings. Undoubtedly Eggsy has been trying to free himself, but it's also plain to see that he's been knocked about in the chair so much that his involuntary movements have rubbed him raw.

"Galahad," Merlin says in his ear. "You'll be happy to hear that Lancelot reports no one has escaped the building. She is executing final clean-up now."

"Good," Harry says, although he doubts she'll find anyone alive down there. He glances distastefully down at Eight, who is staring up at him in dead-eyed shock, the letter opener sticking up straight from his throat.

The moment the ropes fall away, Eggsy is on his feet and in Harry's arms. To hold him, especially when he thought he might never again have this chance, is the greatest joy Harry could know. It works on him like a drug, bleeding away the red fury that has driven him since he first learned of Eggsy's capture.

"Oh Eggsy," he sighs. "I thought I'd lost you."

"No way," Eggsy murmurs, both arms wrapped around him. "I'm like that bad penny, ya know? I always turn up."

For some reason this strikes Harry as very profound. He moves back within the circle of Eggsy's arms just enough so he can gaze at the young man's battered face. "So you are," he agrees. Carefully, mindful of Eggsy's wounded mouth, he leans in and kisses him.

The kiss hurts, but Harry doesn't care. He tastes blood and gunpowder and the unique taste that belongs only to Eggsy.

"Galahad?" Merlin again, sounding less than pleased. Seeing it all through his glasses and no doubt wishing he wasn't.

He lifts his head. "Yes." They need to leave. He doesn't want to remain in this place of blood and pain any longer than they have to. Eggsy must feel the same way, even more so.

He doesn't ask Eggsy if he's able to walk, or offer a supporting arm. He knows Eggsy is strong enough to not require either of those things. He is proud of Eggsy for holding out under torture, for having the presence of mind to save himself at the very last moment, to do what he had to do in order to stay alive. His loyalty, his brilliant mind, his strength, are all things Harry will never doubt, and forever love.

They walk downstairs together and are joined by Lancelot as she confirms that the targets are all down. Eggsy looks around from his somewhat awed contemplation of the carnage and grins to see her. In return, Lancelot gives him a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. She backs away and tries to regain her dignity, but her eyes still shine as she says solemnly, "Good to see you, Gawain."

With Lancelot in the lead, they step outside. The skies are still grey and dreary, and yet the day is bright, Harry thinks, so very bright.

****

Six hours later, they're finally back at home. Finally able to relax.

Harry climbs the stairs slowly, holding an ice pack for Eggsy. Every step jars the cracked rib he received from today's fighting, but he bears the pain easily. He would gladly suffer ten times the hurt if it means having Eggsy safe by his side again.

All evening, through the endless reports and debriefs, the interminable wait for the doctors, and then again to receive the all-clear, he's held onto his new discovery. It still has the power to surprise him; he has only to think I love Eggsy in order to be astonished all over again.

Thinking about it is what got him through those hours at HQ. Wondering how he was going to tell Eggsy, and how Eggsy might react. He's aware that Eggsy might not want to hear such words, that the age difference between them, that the gulf of years and experience -– or lack of it -– might not be bridged even by such heartfelt feeling.

But he intends to find out. He will not remain silent on this point. He has made it the habit of a lifetime to speak his mind, and although he might do so politely and quietly, he will still have his say.

He enters their bedroom and finds Eggsy sitting up in bed, fussing with the bandage wrapped around his left wrist. "You should leave that alone," he says.

Eggsy looks up. His face is spectacularly bruised and swollen, but none of his injuries are major or life-threatening. He'll be sore as hell for the next couple days, and be back at work next week as though nothing had happened. Harry could not be prouder of him.

"You look like shite," Eggsy says. He tries to smile, but it clearly hurts his mouth, because he has to stop before it gets halfway across his face.

"And you are more handsome than ever," Harry says gallantly as he walks toward the bed. He holds out the ice pack. "Here."

"Cheers," Eggsy says, and presses it to his black eye.

"Can I get you anything else?" Harry asks. He's not particularly keen on the idea of going up and down the stairs again, but if he has to, he will.

He hopes not, though. He'd like to call it a night. Roxy took JB back with her so they don't have to worry about letting the dog out. There's no reason they can't just fall into bed now and sleep the night through.

"Just you," Eggsy says. He pats the empty side of the bed.

"I hope you're not thinking what I think you're thinking," Harry says firmly, "because the answer is no. Not tonight."

"Are you mental?" Eggsy says in disbelief. "No thanks. I mean, not that it wasn't arousing as fuck to watch you throw that letter opener -– and you gotta teach me that -– but I really don't think I can get it up tonight. Pain is a real buzzkill, you know?"

"I do know," Harry says. He settles in beside Eggsy, sliding down on the pillows a little so he's half-sitting up, half-reclining. It hurts, and he lets out a slow exhale, trying not to wince.

Eggsy wriggles down to join him, still holding the ice pack to his face. "Well, this is pathetic, innit," he says as he lays his head on Harry's shoulder.

Harry wraps his arm about Eggsy's back and rests his hand on Eggsy's upper arm, pushing the material of his T-shirt up a little so he can caress bare skin. "We did just fine," he says. "I'm very proud of you." He kisses the top of Eggsy's head.

"Next time how about we let someone else need the rescuing, yeah?" Eggsy sighs.

Harry imagines how it would be, Eggsy at his side as they cut their way through a room full of people intent on killing them. He can see them using each other as shields, chest to chest, spinning in place as they fire and reload, the bullets of their enemies thudding into the backs of their bespoke suits. It's an image that sets his heart to racing and makes his cock twitch, and he has to remind himself firmly that there will be none of that tonight.

They are quiet for a little while. Harry strokes Eggsy's arm and listens to the steady sound of his breathing in and out. He feels utterly content to lie like this with Eggsy safe in his arms. He knows now why he's always taken such comfort from moments like this, why they mean more to him than anything else. That he came so close to losing them forever today only makes them more precious to him.

Eggsy's weight grows heavier on his chest as the younger man starts to succumb to sleep. And though Harry could happily hold him like this for hours while he sleeps, his secret burns within him. He knows he cannot remain silent. And there is no better time than right now.

He lets his arm drop to the bed and carefully sits up so that Eggsy can roll onto his back. He props himself up on one elbow and gazes down at Eggsy. His heart beats faster; the pain of his injuries fades into insignificance. Nothing else matters but what he says next.

Eggsy looks up at him, sleepy and a bit confused. "Harry?"

Harry smiles at him. He brushes his fingers lightly along Eggsy's bruised cheek. "Eggsy," he says, "I love you."

Eggsy's lips part in shock. His green eyes widen.

"I have loved you for a very long time," Harry says. "But when I thought today that I might lose you, that was when I finally understood. The idea that I might have to live without you was simply unbearable." Carefully he leans down and kisses Eggsy, keeping the kiss soft and tender. "I love you."

"Harry," Eggsy breathes. "Oh God, Harry." He rises up and flings both arms around Harry's neck, pulling him down. "I can't believe you." His shoulders shake, and for an awful moment Harry thinks he's started to cry, but when he draws back so he can look, Eggsy is laughing.

"You oblivious, posh, idiot," Eggsy laughs. His eyes are shining. "I've been in love with you since you wiped the floor with Dean's little gang. Don't you know that?"

"I do now," Harry says in solemn tones that don't even come close to hiding the joy he feels. Eggsy loves him back. He loves Eggsy, and Eggsy loves him, and this is--

This is actually happening.

Eggsy kisses him soundly, and it hurts like hell, but Harry is beyond caring. He can't remember a time in all his life when he was ever this happy. Even the horrors of today, the terror of thinking Eggsy was hurt or dead, and the violence that came after, are a part of that happiness. It's all woven together, this life they've made with each other, both the good and the bad.

They look at each other, and Harry doesn't know what to say. He has no precedent for this.

"So what happens now?" Eggsy asks quietly.

"Now we get some sleep," Harry says. "And you dream about me loving you."

Eggsy grins, his eyes alight again. "You're such a romantic, Harry Hart. Who knew?"

"You knew," Harry says. "All along."

"Yeah," Eggsy says slyly. "Maybe I did." He leans in for another sweet kiss.

They end up cuddled together, with Harry flat on his back and Eggsy lying half on top of him. Like this he can imagine that he's Eggsy's protector, standing between him and the people who would do him harm. He imagines, too, that Eggsy is maybe thinking the same thing, because Eggsy loves him, against all reason.

Tomorrow they will wake up and he will force himself to get out of bed and make breakfast. He will kiss Eggsy good-morning and say I love you. They will get dressed and go to work, and they will do something good with their lives and help make the world a better place. In the evening they will come home and have dinner and Harry will say it again, I love you. Then they will climb the stairs together and make love on this very bed. And when they are finished, they will lie in each other's arms and listen to each other breathe, and Harry will say it again and again. I love you, I love you.

And the day after that, they get to do it all over again. And the day after that.

And all the days to come.

"Night, Harry," Eggsy mumbles, already well on his way toward being asleep.

"Good night, dear heart," Harry says. He closes his eyes.

****

He wakes up to the unwelcome brightness of lights that were left on all night, and a faint murmuring noise Eggsy makes in his sleep.

Harry goes perfectly still. He knows exactly how Eggsy looks when he sleeps, the way those beautiful lips relax, the curve of his eyelashes against his cheek. What's new is that he has to see those things in his mind's eye. He can't see Eggsy's face right now because Eggsy's head is still resting on his chest.

He hardly dares to believe it. Eggsy's body is pliant and warm, nestled next to his. One knee is pressed up against his thigh, and Eggsy's right arm is draped across him.

He's never woken up to this before.

With a smile, Harry closes his eyes again. He turns his head so he can rest his cheek on the softness of Eggsy's hair. This is what he was missing all those weeks when they slept on opposite sides of the bed, when his own mind came between them and kept them apart.

He knows he can never do without it again.

Best of all, he knows he'll never have to.