“After all,” Galahad said, as they left the now-actually-guests to it and boarded Valentine’s plane in the hangar, “You’ve more or less given them the chance to do something that they’ve wanted to all their lives.”
“Crazy capital, global reach,” Eggsy agreed. “Professor Yiping actually even told me that imprisonment has been ‘good for the mind’. She says she now has a lot of ideas.”
“Good, good. I liked her,” Valentine said, because the feisty Taiwanese Professor had, upon her kidnapping, actually managed to slap Valentine across the face. That diminutive old lady could move like a cat.
“Where next?” Eggsy asked, as they strapped down in the plane and their pilot headed through to the cockpit. “You want us to drop Galahad off somewhere? Or?”
“I want to offer him a job, actually,” Valentine said blandly, as he sank gratefully into his ergonomic seat. He did have an old man back, after all. “How would you like to take over Kingsman?”
Galahad raised an eyebrow, seated where he was opposite Valentine, across the small aisle, facing Eggsy. “You already have an Arthur.”
“Chester’s in his late eighties. ‘Bout time he retired somewhere with a nice pension with his grandkids,” Valentine shrugged. “Think about it. No more haring after contracts, too. Kingsman will work fully for me, with autonomy. Help keep the world in one piece while we get it where we want it to be.”
“I’ll think about it,” Galahad said neutrally. “I have some personal affairs to sort out first.”
“Take your time.” Valentine said offhandedly, though he had made his billions by being able to get people to follow him, and he could see that Galahad was tempted. He caught Eggsy’s eye, and Eggsy grinned faintly at him, then turned his attention back to his tablet.
They dropped Galahad off over in London, with Eggsy ‘tagging along’, and Valentine and Gazelle headed home. Michelle and Daisy were already back, having flown home from New York via another Valentine Inc jet, and since it was a Big Mac Day, they had dinner in the cinema room and watched Frozen, because Valentine had heard that little girls liked Frozen, even if Daisy slept through most of it.
Eggsy came back to the villa in the morning, just in time for breakfast, looking flushed and a little smug as he sat down at the table.
“That easy?” Gazelle asked, as she poked through her oats-with-water.
“I’m just that good,” Eggsy said, helping himself to poached eggs and toast. “But he still says that he’s gonna think about the job offer.”
“Keep an eye on him,” Valentine decided. “His friends, too.”
“I gather something spooked the hell out of him between the failed hit and him catching up with us in New York,” Eggsy added. “Was a feeling from the way he was carrying on.”
“An assassination attempt would usually accomplish that,” Gazelle noted mildly.
“Nah. It was something else. Don’t worry, Mister Valentine. I’m gonna find out what it was.”
“Sure thing,” Valentine said, and had a sip of coffee, dairy free. “Oh hey. This almond milk thing is pretty good!”
“Hipster as hell,” Eggsy muttered, though he tried some anyway. “So what are we going to do today?”
“Today?” Valentine said expansively. “Today we go back to the drawing board. And I’ve actually got a good feeling about it all, this time ‘round. It’s gonna be a new start.”
Beside him, Eggsy rolled his eyes. “Ok, firstly, this is our land. These peeps are illegal loggers. Secondly, our lawyers sent their company a cease and desist this morning and were ignored. So. Fuck’em. Lastly, what the fuck, Harry, why the hell are you wearing a suit? We’re in a freakin’ rainforest.”
“A gentleman should always be appropriately dressed,” Harry said, though he smiled blandly. “Besides, I’m here as an observer.”
“Gonna be real fun observing when you got to burn leeches off your ankles later an’ your suit gets ruined,” Eggsy said, wearing far more sensible camouflage gear and boots, loading his two SIGs. “OK, Gazelle. This time, I’m gonna kick your arse.”
“I’ll like to see you try,” Gazelle shot back, limbering up against the ground, checking her smartwatch, which showed a simple little map indicating where they were and where the loggers were.
An hour later, as they were being airlifted out of the forest, Gazelle removed one prosthetic bladed leg, cleaning the grime off its blade, while Eggsy sulked in a corner of the helicopter. Galahad looked as unruffled as ever, and, perhaps strangely enough, also looked more or less untouched by the rainforest, save for some mud on his oxfords.
“That was a fluke,” Eggsy told Gazelle.
“Just so happened that you were right next to that tree when the last scout came back.”
“A gentleman should be gracious in defeat,” Galahad told Eggsy, and sighed when Eggsy stuck his tongue out at Galahad.
“I’m not part of your Mysterious Silver Spoon Up the Arse Suit Club,” Eggsy reminded him, then hesitated. “Though. Katie and Roxy are cool. The rest of you, not so much. Y’know. Katie said her granddad offered her a job?”
Galahad stiffened. “Really? When was this?”
“Dunno. Week ago? We went out to watch SPECTRE in cinemas. You know that film which you said was going to be rubbish and refused to watch? Well. It was awesome.”
There was a deep sigh. “The Bond films deeply misrepresent espionage as a career.”
“Still awesome. But yeah. Don’t freak out. Katie said no. She wants to be an environmentalist when she graduates. Gets along pretty well with Professor Arnold and his geeky friends.”
“That’s… actually a waste of lineage and talent,” Galahad said, though he smiled instead of looking resigned.
“Good for her,” Gazelle decided. “Next time when we do one of these trips, we should bring Lancelot. See who’s the worst of the three of us.”
“… Roxy? The two of you are totally going to cheat.”
“That’s just your insecurity talking, Eggsy,” Gazelle said calmly, and smirked as Eggsy sputtered.
“I’m not going armed,” Alastair told Harry patiently, as he prepared to head out from the Kingsman shop. Harry frowned at him from the head of the Round Table, thin-lipped. “That would be dreadfully impolite.”
“Everyone else is going to be armed. Probably including your wife. And daughters.”
“I know. I’ll start a trend. Mutual disarmament.”
“I rather doubt it,” Harry said sourly. “This is just like your wedding all over again.”
“Not in the least.”
“True, it’s going to be worse. You’re going to be technically on Russian soil.”
“Harry,” Alastair said calmly, “Have a stiff drink, go home, and sleep with our not-enemy, all right? Work it all out from your system. I’m going to be fine.”
Harry grimaced. Alastair had never quite let him forget about the matter of Eggsy, because sometimes Harry needed to be reminded that he wasn’t, actually, some sort of perfect spy. Even if he did talk Valentine out of destroying the world. “Fine. But if you end up getting shipped off to Russia in a box, I’m not going to commit any resources to save you.”
“That’s so sweet of you, Arthur.”
As he picked up Maria from home, Katie from school and then Roxy from the Kingsman base, Merlin said into Alastair’s ear, “Need eyes and ears on the ground?”
“It’s a family reunion, Merlin, not a mission.”
“Sounds like a mission to me,” Merlin said dubiously, which showed that Harry had more or less managed to transfer his extensive trust issues over to his once-handler over the course of a couple of decades.
“Your friends,” Maria said, shaking her head from where she sat in the front passenger seat.
“I heard that,” Merlin said, sounding hurt. “Ask Maria if she’s armed.”
Alastair dutifully repeated the question.
“I’m always armed, lyubov moya.”
“There you go,” Alastair said to Merlin.
“You have serious problems, Percival,” Merlin told him, and nagged all the way to the embassy, after which he fell into a pointed silence.
War did not break out over pre-dinner drinks, or dinner, or even post-dinner drinks, even if Semenko did scowl darkly and mutter under his breath when Katie said brightly that she was going to study environmental science. Although Alastair could not exactly say that it was pleasant, at least it was interesting.
On the way home, Katie piped up. “Grandpapa said that maybe Roxy or I should marry one of his ‘handsome and eligible young friends’.”
Maria snorted, even as, in Alastair’s ear, Merlin started coughing, as though he had just choked on a drink of water. “Well, dear,” Alastair said absently, “Just make sure to bring them home first so we can have a look at them.”
“See,” Katie told Roxy. “Told you Dad wouldn’t freak out.”
“Yes, well,” Roxy said wryly, “Mister Hart will probably do enough of that for all of us.”
And so it was.
“Something up?” Eggsy asked, surprised to actually see Harry and Valentine in the same room. Despite the necessity of their alliance, Harry usually tried to avoid Valentine - or most people - preferring to stay in Kingsman unless out on a mission.
“Looking through nursery schools,” Valentine said absently. “For Daisy, obviously.”
Eggsy sighed. “Really? It’s not like we can’t take care of her at home, right?”
“It’s good to attend prep school,” Harry objected. “Even if home-schooling might have its benefits. She can meet other children.”
“I’m still not sure about her meeting other children,” Valentine muttered. “Other children can really suck. And be mean little monsters.”
“You can’t cocoon her forever.”
“Mum,” Eggsy put a call through to his mum. “Those two are up to It again.”
“I know,” Michelle said, sounding resigned. “Just let them work it out of their system. We’ve got a good specialist coming in here everyday soon, she’ll get the job done. And then I’m arranging a play group with the kids of some friends of mine and Gazelle’s-“
“Gazelle has friends?” Eggsy blinked.
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” Michelle said reproachfully. “Apologize to her at once, young man.”
“Uh. Sorry,” Eggsy told Gazelle, who smiled faintly at him. “But y’know. Now I’m kinda worried.”
“Don’t be.” Michelle said cheerfully, and signed off.
“Mum’s got it covered,” Eggsy told Harry and Valentine doubtfully. “OK? We done? God, you two.”
Harry got up from the table, a little reluctantly. “I’ll send you a note on the results of the Silverback initiative tonight,” he told Valentine. “We’re fairly sure that we might have the beginnings of a long-term solution for the Congo.”
“Hope so. ‘Cos that place gives me a goddamned headache. Eggsy, how was the meeting?”
“Going all right. We’ve just launched the global Get-to-school thing, pretty successful adoption rate across the third world,” Eggsy checked his tablet. “And we’re near a possible agreement with Moscow over having cards out on the ground.”
“Think that place is fucked and probably is a thing for Harry to solve, not me,” Eggsy said cheerfully, and Harry shot him an unimpressed stare.
“One thing at a time,” Harry said briskly.
On their way out, Eggsy crowded Harry against the side of the lift. “You really shouldn’t encourage Mister Valentine over the Daisy thing.”
“I didn’t start it.” Harry hesitated. “Actually, I don’t even remember how that conversation came about.”
“At this rate, she’s not going to have a remotely normal life. What about when she starts dating, huh?”
“I suppose we’ll have to exercise some restraint. After she learns self-defence from Gazelle.” Harry thought over this for a moment. “And undergoes firearms training-“
“You guys. Seriously.” Eggsy said, and scowled, even when Harry brushed a kiss over his forehead. “I’m going to get white hairs at this rate.”
“It’ll keep you on your toes.”
Glancing up, Harry was just in time to see Eggsy saunter into the Round Table room, winking at Harry as he walked right up to him and kissed him full on the mouth, the brazen thing. “I’m still at work,” Harry said reproachfully, as Eggsy sat down on the Round Table, long legs dangling over the edge.
“I know.” Eggsy said brightly, twisting around to look at the doorway, and eventually, Valentine emerged, grumbling and batting away Gazelle’s attempt to steady him by the arm. Age had bent Valentine over a walking stick, for all that it hadn’t had any effect on his dress sense: today, Valentine was wearing a pink baseball cap and leather jacket over a lime green shirt and blue jeans. At least Eggsy was somewhat more sensibly dressed, in a gray blazer over a white shirt.
Harry started to rise to his feet, but Valentine waved him back down, hobbling over to the closest chair at the Round Table, which he tugged out then sat down on it with a sigh. “How did the old Arthur ever manage them steps?”
“Very carefully,” Harry said, with a blink. “I could have gone to the Tower to visit you if you wished.”
“Nah,” Valentine said dismissively. “Good for me to get some air now and then. Guys, I need to talk to Arthur alone, yeah?”
“Sure,” Eggsy said, looking briefly surprised, though he slipped off the table and padded off briskly out of the room, followed by Gazelle.
“How’s business?” Harry asked, rather curious now himself. He had never seen Valentine go anywhere without Gazelle.
“Pretty good. We’ve finally brokered a deal with North Korea to put out our cards on the ground.”
“Hear you probably had a great deal to do with it.”
“Oh, Eggsy did his part as well,” Harry said modestly. It had been a considerably complicated operation that had also, unfortunately, required Harry to owe the now nearly decrepit but still canny Semenko a ‘big favour’.
“I know he did,” Valentine said, and his smile was wry, now. “We’ve cut emissions by half again this year, y’know? Globally.”
Harry nodded. The global thinktank had developed a way to make transparent solar panels on a massive scale - allowing any home’s windows to power the home itself. Combined with advances in battery development, global diplomatic recognition of climate change, and a meteoric rise in general literacy levels worldwide, the world was already weaning itself off fossil fuels. The population levels had long hit a plateau, and reforestation was back on trend.
“And to think,” Valentine said, with a grin, “It’s all ‘cos you talked me out of a dumb idea, twenty years back.”
“We all make mistakes,” Harry said generously, though he leaned back in his chair. “Did you want to talk about something?”
“Yeah. It’s the anniversary, y’know? Of that day in the hotel room in St Regis.”
“I haven’t kept track of such things, I’m afraid.”
“Don’t worry. I’m probably sentimental enough for the both of us.” Valentine assured him. “I’m a seriously old fart now. Few years more and I’ll have been kicking around for nine decades.”
“And there’ll be more years to see, I’m sure,” Harry said, wondering where this was going.
“Maybe. Maybe.” Valentine said pensively. “Eggsy’s already running most of my company. I’m thinking of letting him take over completely. While he’s still young enough to enjoy it.”
Harry arched his eyebrows. “Have you mentioned it to Eggsy?”
“He laughed it off. It’s funny to him now, since he’s in his forties, but it’s less funny to me, with all my old man problems.”
“Well,” Harry said, still a little confused, “If you’re asking me for my opinion, I’m very likely biased, but I do think that he seems to be doing an excellent job.”
“Not gonna have a problem working for Eggsy when the time comes?”
“Of course not.”
“Good. S’what I wanted to hear. Could you get the both of them back up here?”
Harry put a call through to Marcus, and after a moment, Eggsy was back in the room, followed by Gazelle. He bent his head when Valentine beckoned him over, nodded, then wandered back over to Harry’s side of the table, even as Gazelle helped a grumbling Valentine to his feet and out of the door.
“He shouldn’t be walking up and down steps like these at his age,” Harry told Eggsy, once Valentine was gone.
“I know. Told him. Stubborn old man.” Eggsy prodded Harry in the shoulder. “You aren’t that far off either.”
“The previous Arthur managed the stairs all the way into his eighties,” Harry said dismissively. “I’ll be fine. Shouldn’t you be heading off with Mister Valentine?”
“Nah.” Eggsy propped himself back up on the table, pushing Harry’s laptop aside to make space, knees apart and bracketing Harry’s chair. “It’s Friday. Maybe you should knock off work early too.”
“We’re growing rather too long in the tooth for doing something like this in my office,” Harry said dryly, though even now, two decades in, seeing Eggsy like this still made his blood quicken, this gorgeous man with mischief in his smile and mayhem in his eyes.
“Bullshit.” Eggsy curled his fingers into Harry’s tie, pulling him up, until Harry was on his feet, kissing Eggsy, slow and unhurried and with a tender intimacy that always bloomed a swell of warmth within Harry’s chest, like a lover’s caress, like a ribbon of time, winding tight. “It’s been twenty years since I starting learning to be less of a blind, dumb kid.”
“It still seems to be a learning process,” Harry noted, though he pressed a wry smile to the edge of Eggsy’s mouth when Eggsy laughed.
“Man, you have no idea.” Fingers pressed with ticklish playfulness against Harry’s jaw, edging up to his cheek. “I think that favour you owed my dad is long paid. Lots of times over.”
“Perhaps so,” Harry said softly, and this time, when they kissed, it was without the shadow of a man long dead, without the press of old history between them, without the pull of old regrets. “Dinner at the Savoy? My treat.”