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the marriage plot

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The rings are surprisingly contemporary in design, two thick platinum bands with a black carbon fiber stripe inlay. They are, of course, just as capable of delivering 50.000 volts of electricity as the rest of Kingsman’s rings.

Apparently seeing no cause for reverence (and really, why should there be?), Eggsy immediately scoops one of them up and shoves it onto his left ring finger. Having just so happened to have picked the correct one on his first go, he now holds out his hand to admire the band.

“These look pretty nice, actually,” he remarks, which Harry takes to mean he approves. “Merlin’s got some decent taste after all, yeah?”

Maybe Harry still has a bit of the old fashioned in him, because he finds himself almost hesitant to try on his own. It’s long been instilled in him that marriage was not to be taken lightly, and yet here he is, about to be—literally—unceremoniously fake-married to a boy less than half his age, his protégé even, all in the name of Kingsman and country.

But the longer he remains standing there staring at the remaining ring like it’s a live bomb with a swiftly dwindling countdown, the more furrowed Eggsy’s brow dips, so he picks up the thing and slips it onto his finger. The metal is cool at first, but quickly warms to his skin.

The overall effect, though, is startling. He’s never had a ring on that hand in his life.

“It will serve its purpose,” Harry says, trying to sound sensible about it all.

Eggsy gives him a sly grin. “So does this mean we’re married now?”

“Not quite yet,” Merlin answers as he enters the room with a hefty digital camera and tripod in tow. He appears far too pleased about the whole situation. “No fake marriage is complete without a photographic record of the happy young...well...” he glances at Harry, “...splitting the difference, we’ll go with middling couple’s relationship.”

“Can’t you just, like, Photoshop it?” Eggsy whinges.

“I am going to Photoshop it,” Merlin says, narrowing his eyes at Eggsy as if to silently add, You technical ignoramus. “But believe it or not, a realistic composite starts with actual staging of live subjects. Hence the green screen, extensive lighting rig, wardrobe, and your props.”

Said wardrobe and props, which are strewn all around them, include: tuxedos for their fake wedding in Derbyshire, hiking gear for their fake hiking trip to the Preikestolen, rain ponchos for their fake honeymoon to Niagara Falls, an actual row boat for their fake mini-break in the Lake District, and so on, ad nauseam.

“Hey, I don’t fucking play croquet,” Eggsy complains, picking up a mallet.

“You may not, but Gary DeWitt-Mallory most certainly does,” Merlin informs him with a smirk, not even pausing as he begins to set up their first photo session of what promises to be a very long day. “Time to suit up, gentlemen. I like to start with the Big Day first. Really sets the tone for the rest of your happy lives together.”

If anything, this announcement just makes Eggsy sulk even more. “The penguin suits already?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll move on to the matching cardigans and your special time at Wimbledon soon enough.”

Harry thinks he may very well kill Merlin before all of this is over.

 

_____

 

“Oh,” is the first thing Harry says upon entering the bedroom.

He doesn’t know why it’s never occurred to him that they will, in fact, be sharing a bed for the duration of their sham marriage. After the horror of their day-long photo shoot, which involved having to remain liplocked with Eggsy for minutes on end while Merlin insisted on getting the most “passionate” shot of their wedding and then simulating various intimate kisses and hugs for the impending photos of their supposed exotic travels thereafter, the finer details must have escaped his traumatised mind.

But as they get ready to turn in for the night, it becomes immediately apparent that their cosy little bungalow is only equipped with one bedroom and, more pressingly, one bed. Not even a king at that.

“I hope you don’t snore, but I’m gonna warn you right now, I starfish,” Eggsy says, giving him one of his quick, bright grins.

“I can…there’s the sofa, so I can just—”

Eggsy frowns. “Are you shitting me right now? Your back won’t thank you in the morning. Besides, it ain’t so bad.” As if to prove it, he goes to sit on the edge of the bed, bouncing a little on the mattress. “This is pretty sick. It’s like my arse is being lovingly caressed by a cloud. I could fall asleep on this thing right now.”

Not wanting to think about Eggsy’s arse being caressed by anything, quite frankly, Harry grabs his pyjamas and makes a beeline for the loo to wash up, only able to relax once he’s locked himself in. Everything has already been set up ahead of their arrival to mimic their own personal habits, right down to his dressing gown hung on the back of the door. Whatever one could say about Merlin—and Harry could say a lot— his attention to detail, or at least his stalker tendencies, were absolute, or certainly much more honed than Harry's own seemed to be these days.

He changes, brushes his teeth, and washes his face, having long ago given up on trying to see if there were new wrinkles on his face when the answer consistently became: always. When he emerges from the loo, dressing gown sash firmly cinched around his waist, he even feels calm.

That is, until he sees that Eggsy has stripped down to nothing but a pair of boxers, leaving a wall of skin on display, and Harry’s brain just…sputters and goes offline for a few seconds.

Objectively, he notes, Eggsy is in impressively good shape. He also happens to be blessed with ideal proportions and a stunning lack of self-awareness for both of these things. It’s indecent.

By the time he’s decided on this last, he must have been silent and staring for too long because Eggsy’s giving him a funny look. “You’re…oh fuck, this ain’t one of them signs you’re having a stroke, is it?”

That at last snaps him back to sanity. “I’m fine, thank you. Is that what you’ll be wearing to bed?”

“I…yeah?” Eggsy glances down at himself and then looks back up at Harry less certainly. “Sorry. This is how I usually sleep at home. I can, uh, put on a shirt if it’s going to offend your delicate sensibilities.”

By the end of his sentence, Eggsy has returned to his previously cocky demeanour and Harry rolls his eyes. “Do what you want.” He doesn’t quite sulk, but it’s a near thing as he moves to his chosen side of the bed, removes his gown, and carefully drapes it over a nearby char. When he glances back up, this time it’s Eggsy who’s staring. “What?”

“Nothing. Just…nothing,” he says, holding out his hands innocently even though a small smile turns up at the edges of his mouth. It gives him a sly look and makes Harry feel paranoid in turn. “I’m gonna take my turn if you’re done?”

“Be my guest.”

While Eggsy uses the loo, Harry crawls into bed and has to concede that, yes, the mattress is heavenly. It’s far too easy to lie back against the pillows, close his eyes, and almost immediately fall asleep, which he doesn’t realise has happened until he’s jostled awake by Eggsy crawling in from the other side.

“Sorry,” Eggsy’s whispers.

Eggsy must have shut off the light too because the room is now swathed in darkness and he can only hear the rustle of sheets and the creaks of the mattress as his newly wed husband settles into a comfortable position beside him.

“It’s nice, innit?” Eggsy asks, seeming to forget about his earlier whispering and using his normal speaking voice. “The mattress?”

“It’s comfortable, yes,” Harry admits, letting his eyes close and trying desperately to go back under.

“God, I bet you couldn’t even fuck on a mattress like this, ‘cos all people would wanna do is just roll over and go to sleep.”

“Yes, we should endeavour to follow their example.”

“Why, Harry, are you trying to tell me to shut up?”

“If you’d be so kind.”

Eggsy huffs in amusement, but he doesn’t say anything more.

At least for the next 90 seconds, and then Harry hears, “Do you ever wonder what it’d be like?”

Harry opens his eyes and sighs. “What would what be like?”

“Being married. I mean, legit married. Not to me, I mean, but to someone you genuinely fancied. Wanted to do the forever thing with. Kids, the house, all of it.”

Harry actually considers it. “When I was younger, certainly, but only in the sense that it felt like a predestined responsibility I was obligated to take on as the only child and sole heir to my family’s fortune. In a way, Kingsman freed me of that fate.”

“But some of the agents still choose to have families. I dunno how they do it, look in their wives' faces and lie through their teeth. I have a hard enough time doing it to my own mum.”

“I suppose for some, the lure of settling down with a family is a compelling one. Personally, I have never really been tempted,” Harry says.

Eggsy remains quiet in thought, and then says, “I think I’d like it, the whole married bit. The kids. But I couldn’t lie to them, so I guess maybe it ain’t ever gonna happen. I guess I can live with that too.”

In the dark, Harry frowns. The thought of Eggsy having to make yet one more sacrifice doesn’t sit well. “You could marry within the agency.”

But Eggsy just snorts. “Yeah, who’d that be then? Roxy, who’s like a second sister? Percy?”

“It doesn’t have to be another agent. We have hundreds of people across all our divisions.”

“Nah, it’s okay. Most of them don’t really know me, and the ones who do find me barmy enough as it is.”

That’s simply not true, Harry wants to argue. Eggsy is well-loved by most of Kingsman’s staff to the point of absurdity. He even remembers the birthdays of the housekeeper’s nieces and nephews.

Harry turns on his side to face Eggsy, studying the boy’s silhouetted profile. “I think you underestimate your charming qualities. You are a very desirable young man, Eggsy. Anyone would be lucky to have your love.”

Eggsy turns to him and smiles, the closed-lip shy one that Harry knows to be his only genuine one. “You’re not so bad yourself, you know.”

There are no more words after that. Harry’s eyelids grow heavy, and even Eggsy’s breaths starts to deepen as they both answer the siren call to slumber.

Eggsy hadn’t been joking about his sleeping habits. Harry finds himself abruptly waking up in bewilderment when he’s nearly shoved off the bed by Eggsy’s uncontrollably sprawling limbs at several points during the night. Finally it gets to be so bad that Harry simply sucks up his natural reserve and physically encases himself around Eggsy, keeping his wayward limbs pinned to his sides.

And, actually, it’s not altogether uncomfortable like that, holding Eggsy’s warm, solid, aesthetically-pleasing body, inadvertently breathing in the scent of his skin. The next time Harry falls asleep, he doesn’t wake up until the sun starts streaming in through the sides of the thick curtains. By then, he has time to carefully extricate himself and retreat back to the safety of his side of the bed before Eggsy even wakes up.

 

_____

 

Harry must have dozed off again while waiting for Eggsy to wake up, having apparently underestimated the abilities of the young to sleep in all morning if given half the chance. When he slowly surfaces back to wakefulness, he’s completely overshot his own sleep cycle and now just feels tired and wool-brained.

He sits up with a yawn, stares at his bare feet on the rug for a moment, and then stands to stretch, wincing at the sound of too many things cracking. The edges of his vision are still blurry as he as plods a course to the loo and unthinkingly opens the door.

“Jesus, Harry! What happened to being a gentlemen and knocking?” comes the startled squawk as Eggsy, who had been engaged in the rather private activity of wanking himself off if the way his hands are huddled around his groin and the pull of the fabric of his boxers against his straining erection are any indication.

“Oh.” It is then and then only that Harry realises he is no longer living alone. The shock to his system clears away the last of the cobwebs in his brain. “Oh. I—sorry. Sorry!”

Harry backs out so fast he nearly stumbles over his own two feet, slamming the door shut and falling against it with little grace as the echo beats in time with his pounding heart. He had long assumed he was too old and far too experienced to be fased by anything anymore, but now he finds his cheeks hot with embarrassment.

Leaning against the door was also a poor tactic when the sounds of what is happening on the other side still leak through the wood, and with another jolt, Harry is not afraid to admit he flees the room, only barely remembering to grab his dressing gown on the way.

He doesn’t stop until he’s firmly ensconced in the kitchen, palms splayed flat across the counter top as he gives himself a moment to think and reason out this recent turn of events. The unfortunate thing about shocking sights is that his mind had a tendency to helpfully replay them over and over again so he can scrutinise every aspect. An excellent ability for missions, less so for catching your fake new husband wanking in the toilet.

To keep himself busy, he sets out to make breakfast, first putting the kettle on in order to not think about how Eggsy’s head was thrown back nor the entire length of his toned body curved like a bow as if he were being held and bent back by someone.

He cuts off several slices of bread to toast and doesn’t consider the column of Eggsy’s throat, dotted with the occasional mole against pale skin, throat bobbing as he swallowed hedonistically.

He cracks several eggs to scramble and doesn’t associate the way the egg mixture in the bowl trembles at the machinations of his whisk as Eggsy’s stomach had from his own—

Oh for fuck’s sake.

By the time Eggsy slinks into the kitchen wearing more layers than Harry’s ever seen him in since this whole fiasco marriage plot started, breakfast is ready and Harry has returned back to his usual centred, even keel. “Would you care for some tea?” he asks pleasantly.

“Tea would be good yeah,” Eggsy says, biting his lower lip as he watches Harry go to pour him out a cup. “So…about earlier….”

“You don’t need to explain yourself,” Harry says, finishing him off—no, poor choice of words, that, ugh—with a splash of milk. “The fault was entirely mine. I had forgotten I wasn’t in my own home anymore. I am not exactly a morning person, I admit.”

“Right. Yeah…exactly that.” Eggsy frowns. “I mean, I am still young and—”

“Eggs? Toast?” Harry cuts in, and before Eggsy has a chance to answer, he sets down the plate in front of him.

“And you know how sometimes in the morning you wake up and get a little—”

“A distant memory for me, I’m afraid. Preserves? Butter?” Those, too, are pushed dutifully towards Eggsy as well.

“And you’ve got to take care of business, if you know what I’m saying. I mean, what else you gonna do, piss on the ceiling?”

Harry closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Eggsy, honestly. You don’t have to explain the anatomy and physiology of a twenty-something year old human male. I, too, was one once, albeit quite some time ago. Let’s just put this one behind us, shall we?”

“Yeah…yeah, alright then. And I’ll start locking the doors,” Eggsy agrees before tucking into his breakfast with all his youthful enthusiasm, seeming to have shrugged off the incident with ease. “If the loo starts a’moanin’, you know there’s someone a’lonin’”

Harry sets down his fork. He thinks he liked Eggsy when the boy still had his shame. “Please never again say such things.”

“So when’s the last time you…you know?”

“What?”

“Greeted the sun? Got your one-eyed yoga in?”

Harry stares at him.

“What’s the story, morning glory?”

“Alright, can we not do this now? Or ever?” He’s starting to wonder if his eternal punishment is so immense that it has to begin making amends before he’s even died yet.

Eggsy shrugs, then gives Harry a What can you do? face. “Wanna talk about the mission then?”

“Yes, yes, let’s talk about the mission.” He’d grab onto any conversation topic at this point.

“So Merlin told me to tell you he’d try to get us invites for the same party as Thomlinson this Friday.”

“Good,” Harry says before taking a sip of his tea, settling down now that he can focus on the real reason why they’re even doing all of this in the first place.

“It’s a swinger’s party.”

Harry doesn’t do a spit take, thankfully, but does start choking. He can’t help but think the little fucker timed it that way.

Eggsy doing nothing to hide his look of amusement all but confirms his suspicions.

 

_____

 

“What do you think you’re doing?” Harry hisses into the phone. Struck by a fit of paranoia, he quickly glances back into the room, but Eggsy is too busy sorting through...whatever is in the cabinets beneath the telly to eavesdrop.

“And a good evening to you as well,” Merlin greets back. “Or, in my part of the world, a very, very early morning. So, thank you for that.”

“Like you sleep,” Harry scoffs.

“...fair enough.”

But back to the reason why he phoned. “A swinger’s party, Merlin?”

“Ah, yes. I figured you’d be wanting to read me the riot act over that one.”

“We agreed at the outset of this mission that establishing relations with Thomlinson would take time and the careful laying of groundwork. For friendship. You’ve just proposed the equivalent of using a microwave to make a cassoulet.”

“Jesus, you would go there.” There is a slight muffle to Merlin’s voice that would indicate he’s running a hand down his face. “You of all people should know that these situations are fluid. I saw the opportunity and I seized it. If you work this right, a mission we thought might take months has the chance of being completed within a few weeks. One would think you’d be happy about that, unless you’re actually enjoying your newfound wedded bliss.”

As if on cue, Eggsy calls out from the other room, “Oi, Harry, get in here, will you?”

“And Eggsy, did you even consider what he was ready for?” Harry brings up to Merlin. “This wasn’t supposed to be a seduction, this was supposed to be—”

“Are you joking? As soon as I told him, the boy had me send him the whole photo archive we had of Thomlinson with a, and I quote, sign me the fuck up, as well as describing your mark as, and I quote again, daddy as fuck.”

Harry finds himself gripping the phone so hard he thinks he hears the casing creak in protest.

“What the fuck was that?” he distantly hears Merlin ask. “Was that a growling noise? There are mountain lions in your neck of the woods—”

“Oi, Harry, who you talking to?” Eggsy asks. Suddenly. From directly behind him.

Harry spins around and hangs up on Merlin in one gesture. “No one. I was thinking of ringing for Chinese but I can’t seem to get any signal.”

“Oh.” Eggsy digs around his pockets, pulls out his phone, and holds it out to him. “Here. Mine works just fine.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, taking the phone even though he isn’t the slightest bit hungry. The wallpaper is of them on their fake safari in Kenya and Harry was made to wear one of those stupid blasted fedoras. “So what was it you were looking for?”

“The DVD collection. I found us one we can watch tonight. It’s perfect, yeah? We’ve got to practise our intimacy after all.”

“Our intimacy?”

“Well, yeah,” Eggsy says, giving Harry an obvious look. “No one will believe we’re married if we don’t act like it, and married people do all sorts of intimate things with each other.”

“You...you want us to practise having...” Harry stutters, feeling an alarming heat suffuse his body.

You know.” He doesn’t. “Sitting practically in each other’s laps? Gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes? Always casually touching each other. Playing with the other’s hair. Sneaky kisses in funny spots like...like to one’s ear and shit.”

“Ah. I see now.” Harry doesn’t know why he feels both relieved and strangely let down. “You do realise that that we can act fairly believably as needed? Practise won’t be necessary.”

“It should be as natural and involuntary as breathing,” Eggsy insists. “Which is why I’ve planned the perfect training night for us.”

Harry is starting to dread that pleased look in Eggsy’s eye. “And what, pray tell, does that involve?”

As it would happen, training involves them curled up on the sofa, Eggsy practically in Harry’s lap and Harry’s arms around him, while marathoning the Saw films.

“Because when I get freaked out, I’m automatically gonna seek assurance. That’s where you come in,” Eggsy explained like it was the most reasonable thing in the world. “You get to hold and pet me a bit. I subconsciously begin to associate you with safety and comfort. My body will always relax around you and welcome your touches and Bob’s your uncle.”

As they watch some poor victim on screen begin to saw off his own foot, Eggsy wincing and scrunching up his body as if physically repelled by what he’s witnessing, writhing against Harry in a way that is quickly becoming...distracting in spite of the disgusting subject matter, Harry says, “You’ve mowed through a room full of armed assassins and this has you turning green?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t have to saw off their limbs to do it, now did I?” Eggsy says from where he’s been trying to meld the side of his face into Harry’s chest. “Although I did have to chop up a corpse once to transport it. That was pretty rank.”

The film is fairly distasteful and even boring, but holding Eggsy is not an unpleasant experience once Harry relaxes and simply relishes the warm weight of Eggsy’s body pressed against his. It’s like Eggsy’s body was perfectly formed for his arms, they seem to fit perfectly around his lithe torso, rising and falling lightly with every breath Eggsy takes.

It lulls him into a soothed state, much like holding him all last night had been, except now, Eggsy is fully conscious and aware because he reciprocates.

His fingers idly trace little patterns across Harry’s chest dangerously close to a sensitive nipple. He keeps fidgeting and restlessly shifting around, which comes even closer to stimulating other sensitive parts of him, and Harry has to truly focus on the unfortunate material they’re watching to maintain his steely composure. He’s rather proud of himself for succeeding, more or less.

The credits are rolling on the third or maybe fourth film (he’s lost track of them by now) when Eggsy sleepily murmurs, “Weren’t you supposed to be ordering Chinese?”

“Hmm, was I?” Wedged against the too small sofa at awkward angles with Eggsy now a warm, lax weight almost fully on top of him using his chest as a pillow, he finds himself loath to move even if he knows his back will be unhappy and his neck will have a crick in it. “I think all the gratuitous torture sequences have put me off.”

“I could eat.” Eggsy yawns but doesn’t move beyond nuzzling his cheek over Harry’s steadily thudding heart.

“You and JB have stomachs that are like black holes.”

“They do say dogs resemble their owners,” Eggsy says. Then, after a beat, he asks, “Does this mean you’re like—”

“Don’t you dare.”

“—the stuffy king of shit?”

“Mr Pickle was a highly intelligent and vivacious dog in his day, I’ll have you know,” he huffs. Though for the life of him, Harry couldn’t say whose honour he’s defending, his dog’s or his own.

“Oh, vivacious,” Eggsy intones. Harry can’t see his face, but he can hear the cheeky little smile. “He’s very well preserved, at any rate. I kinda like him now as is.”

“You also like ostentatious winged trainers, shit beer, and TOWIE.” And silver foxes likes Frederik Thomlinson, billionaire entrepreneur and suspected illegal war profiteer, he can’t help but bitterly think. “Your tastes are highly suspect.”

“Someone doesn’t mind that. Even got him to marry me.”

Harry is about to point out, needlessly, the parameters of their mission ascribing their roles for them over any sort of individual choice, but...but he doesn’t.

Instead he just closes his eyes and readjusts his hold over Eggsy’s body and says, “Best decision he ever made, I think.”

 

_____

 

“Oi, Harry, have you seen my….”

Harry waits, but when it becomes obvious that Eggsy isn’t going to finish asking his question, he turns around to find Eggsy stopped still in his tracks, eyes glazed over at some middle distance. He’s managed to get half his suit on except for his jacket and tie, and his shirt is not quite buttoned up all the way.

“Are you alright?” Harry prompts. It takes a second for Eggsy to come back from wherever his mind had gone, blinking and raising his eyes to meet Harry’s. But before he can ask again, Eggsy’s cheeks flush and his gaze skitters away. “Have you taken ill?”

“Wha? No! I’m fine!” Eggsy sputters, giving Harry an incredulous look before concentrating on closing up the last buttons of his shirt. “Just asking if you’d seen my tie. The red knit one.”

“You should wear the green silk,” he suggests before turning back to the mirror, eyes critically roving over his reflection to assess anything out of place: crisp ironed white shirt, black pressed trousers, single-button slim fit black jacket, and charcoal grey tie with a platinum pin that matches his wedding ring, incidentally. And like his wedding ring, his tie pin also serves a dual purpose of being able to assess and automatically pick any manual lock with the press of a subtle button along its back. “It brings out the green in your eyes.”

When more silence greets his words, Harry turns around again to find Eggsy looking back at him with another strange expression on his face, the one that makes Harry think he misspoke somewhere. “What?”

“Nothing,” Eggsy says, and this time Harry frowns in mild annoyance. He has little patience for crypticness now, not when he feels like his nerves are drawn so tight they could snap.

Apparently it’s not enough to get used to being intimate with one another within the confines of their own home, Eggsy argues, they ought to practise striking the perfect tone of ‘loving couple’ in public as well.

Harry hadn’t initially minded this proposal because a) when the original plan had been to settle in and gradually make the community aware of their presence as a couple new to the area, such outings would have been inevitable and b) more eyes on them would mean there would be less writhing and less...close calls.

Usually, Harry and Eggsy work very seamlessly together. Merlin has often remarked that they operated with one mind when partnered on missions, seemingly able to predict each other’s next action and accommodate accordingly. Roxy called them drift compatible though she refuses to explain what that means even though it makes Eggsy grin and outright cackle every time he hears it.

Only for some reason, tonight the atmosphere is tense as they both have to dance around each other in the tight space of their borrowed home to don their evening best, and Harry can’t pinpoint exactly why. It’s not like they haven’t gotten dressed in front of each other before, usually in the changing rooms after several vigourous rounds of sparring, and certainly now as supposed newlyweds living within a conservative footprint. It’s not as if they are even embarking on an actual date. Nevertheless, in the last hour, they’ve been constantly in each other’s way, almost stepping on each other’s toes, accidentally elbowing each other in the side until finally Eggsy makes a sound of frustration and goes to put on the rest of his clothes in the sitting room.

After another aggravated noise from the hall pulls him out of his musings, Harry goes to see what has Eggsy so irritated now. He finds him glaring at his reflection in the mirror, the green tie hung limp and loose around his neck. “Clumsy fingers tonight,” Eggsy says. “Just can’t seem to get this one right.”

As Harry draws closer, Eggsy turns to him and looks a little sheepish as he holds out the two ends of his slightly wrinkled tie. “What on earth were you attempting to do?” Certainly not the Windsor as Eggsy has tied that knot hundreds of times already as part of his standard Kingsman outfit.

In response, Eggsy digs into his pocket and unveils a crumpled up printed piece of paper with a diagrammed series of steps. “A Trinity knot. It looked fun. Thought I could wing it, but it’s like trying to read a fucking IKEA manual.”

“Hmm.” Harry takes the paper and studies it for a moment before stepping in close and pinching the ends of Eggsy’s tie between his fingers, tugging down the right thinner end down a little lower to begin.

It’s much easier to read the diagram from a front-facing view than Eggsy attempting to tie it for himself, certainly, and in a few moments, Harry is tightening the playful knot gently against Eggsy’s throat. His knuckles brush against Eggsy’s skin, making Eggsy’s adam’s apple bob as he swallows. When he lifts his gaze to meet Eggsy’s eyes, he’s nearly startled to see how complex their colour really is, not just blue or green but with flecks of brown and even yellow dizzily thrown in, all rapidly being swallowed by dilating pupils.

Harry is aware of how close he’s standing when he can feel the soft exhalations of Eggsy’s breath against the back of his hand and Eggsy’s quick pulse beneath his splayed out palm over his muscular chest.

He snatches his hands away. “That ought to do it, I think.”

Eggsy turns around to examine his new knot in the mirror, touching its perfect proportions reverently. “Cheers, Harry.”

“It suits you,” Harry says, trying to keep his gaze firmly focused on the tie and not on that long expanse of pale skin above it.

He takes a step back to study the full effect of Eggsy’s appearance, all long lines, broad chest, trim waist, narrow hips and—

“Harry?”

—and hastily turns around to retreat back to the bedroom. “These shoes need a polish, I think!” he shouts over his shoulder, not stopping until he’s holed up in the loo once again and resting his forehead against the cool tiles.

“You idiot,” he mutters to himself.

He does give his shoes another unnecessary brushing because he’s paranoid that Eggsy will notice an absence of polish scent, but more importantly it gives him time to surface from whatever bout of madness his nerves have taken a nosedive towards.

When he emerges from the toilet, he is as calm and put together and untouchable as ever.

Eggsy waits for him by the door, a wrinkle in his brow that doesn’t smooth out as his gaze travels up and down the length of him. “Alright?”

Harry smiles at him. “Yes, thank you. Ready to head out?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy says slowly, not wholly convinced, but willing to let it slide. “So, where we going? You never did say.”

This part is familiar. Harry knows how to be suave. He knows how to wine and dine and be the perfect, charming date. He knows just what to say and where to touch. He’s done it tens of dozens of times before.

Eggsy isn’t a mark, but for the sake of his own sanity, Harry needs to treat him like one.

There is a candlelight dinner at a tiny little restaurant built right into the cliffside overlooking the ocean where they can see dark clouds slowly rolling in at a distance, ready to smother a serene deep blue evening sky. There is the way he pulls out Eggsy’s chair for him and strokes his hand across the table and gifts him with small secretive smiles and makes sly references to the waitress about their anniversary, earning them an almost audible cooing sound.

And Eggsy plays along, all glowing smiles and cheeky winks, and pretty blushes, but once the waitress departs to fulfill their order, he frowns and the eyebrow wrinkle is back. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re acting like a robot who’s been set to, like, I dunno, Romance Mode or something. It’s fucking weird.”

“We’re playacting, Eggsy,” Harry grounds out. “You wanted us to go on a trial run in public, so here we are.”

“Yeah, I know that, but...but….”

Harry waits.

“...I dunno! It’s just not...what I thought, is all,” Eggsy finishes weakly.

“And what did you think this was going to be?”

“Normal! Like how we usually act...I mean.”

“These are our covers,” Harry says unflinchingly. “We are on a mission and we’re about to be thoroughly tested in a few days’ time. They must hold up. Whatever you thought this was or whatever you would like to have happen is irrelevant. Now, act like we’re in love and celebrating our anniversary, Gary.”

He reaches out and cups Eggsy’s stunned, hurt face, running a thumb across his lower lip just as the waitress returns with their wine and acts startled and then embarrassed at having been caught out in performing such a public display. “My apologies,” he tells her with a rueful grin. “I’ve had the fortune to gaze into that face for the last year and I shan’t think I’ll ever tire of it.”

It’s slightly delayed, but eventually Eggsy pulls himself together. Harry can see the moment when his expression closes and he plasters on an equally fake, besotted grin that rings so falsely he wants to reach out and smack it off his face. “Well, here’s hoping you never will, love,” Eggsy says, raising his glass.

“To another year and many more to come,” Harry says, knocking his glass gently against Eggsy’s and holding Eggsy’s hardened gaze as he raises his glass to his lips.

He was right about the tie. Eggsy’s eyes are really a blazing shade of green now.

 

_____

 

“Well fuck me,” Eggsy whistles lowly in the dark of the car.

A loaded statement considering what they’re about to walk into, but given that the mansion nestled among the Hills is designed to shock and awe any visitor who rounds the last bend of the long and twisting drive from the front gate, Harry thinks Eggsy’s exclamation is an understandable one. It is a nice mansion, all glass and light and American mid-century modern emerging from the utter darkness of its remote surroundings. With little external activity, the landscape is almost tranquil.

That, and he’s just relieved Eggsy is giving him something remotely warmer than chilly silence or the most painfully polite responses he has been subject to in the past few days since their equally successful and disastrous public outing. Harry enjoys his quiet solitude, he wouldn’t have lived alone for so long had he not, but it’s another thing entirely to inhabit a small space with someone who has purposely distanced himself.

Eggsy has taken up day-long hikes that see him getting up early in the mornings and not coming home until late at night.

Harry has eaten alone. Read alone. Walked along the beaches alone. Eventually even Merlin tired of talking to him.

They share the same small bed but there is a gulf of distance between them. When Harry employs his covert body jacket technique to keep all of Eggsy’s wayward limbs in place, Eggsy is within his arms and yet still so far from reach, and he tortures himself with listening to Eggsy’s soft breaths and inhaling the shampoo scent of Eggsy’s hair.

The worst part is that this is what Harry wanted all along, because he’s a perverted old man who has developed some rather alarming lustful feelings for his young protege, and it is better to nip that problem in the bud before disaster can ensue: namely, that Eggsy would find out and be understandably disgusted with him.

Only now that he has it, he feels lonely and wretched in turns.

He misses Eggsy’s bright smiles and equally bright eyes. He misses the constant stream of chatter filling in all the empty spaces in his life he hadn’t known were there until what had filled them up was suddenly absent.

He misses, quite, simply, Eggsy’s friendship.

There’s a small entourage of staff waiting to descend upon them as soon as the car pulls to a stop: a valet to whisk away his keys, an elegantly attired woman with a sleek top bun to check their names against the list stored on her tablet with intimidatingly long nails, a bouncer type to pat them down and confiscate their mobiles, and another stunningly beautiful woman wearing only a sheer gown that left very little to the imagination to escort them into the house proper.

“Mr and Mr DeWitt-Mallory, welcome to Hilltop Manor.”

Harry has enough discipline to not react, but he can feel Eggsy’s suppressed snort.

“The rules for tonight are simple and designed for the safety and comfort of all our guests,” their escort tells them as they move through the dim foyer where there’s barely any light by which to see, and Harry gets the vaguest impressions of large, extravagantly provocative works of art on the dark walls. “Anonymity is paramount. As you are aware, all guests were required to sign a confidentiality agreement upon receipt of their invitation. We do not allow any recording or audio devices on the premises. Your cellphones and other electronic devices will be returned to you at the end of your stay. Clear, uncoerced verbal consent must be given at all times before there is to be any interaction between guests. We require all guests to use protection during all activities. A diverse array of paraphernalia and accessories are offered complimentary for our guests’ pleasure. Any room in the house that isn’t locked is available for guests to use. Attire, of course, is entirely optional.”

“Feels a bit Eyes Wide Shut if you ask me,” Eggsy mutters under his breath.

Finally they are led into a large open atrium, still dimly lit with atmosphere lighting, soft ambient music ghosting through the air, and populated with various pairings and even moresomes casually strewn about the lounge furniture. Despite the evening’s policies, most are, in fact, still attired and merely in the midst of casual conversations.

“Enjoy yourselves this evening, gentlemen,” their escort says as she gives both of them a once over before departing with an extra swing to her ample hips.

Harry has to pull on Eggsy’s arm to refocus his attention. “Would you care for something to drink, darling?”

And just like that, Eggsy is regarding him with that overly fond expression that holds little genuine warmth. “That would be great, love. I’m going to go mingle with the others, see if anyone takes my fancy, yeah?”

And with a wink, he’s turning and leaving Harry behind.

Speaking of which, Eggsy had specifically chosen to wear a black waistcoat with no suit jacket to accompany his slim cut trousers for the occasion, and it works all too admirably if the trail of turned heads he leaves in his wake is any indication.

At the bar, Harry orders a double scotch neat and drinks half of it in two swallows before turning back to the room and letting gaze casually wander over its occupants. There are the usual suspects that have long since earned themselves a place on Kingsman’s watch list, celebrities of every grade, and some of the more polished Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

“Feeling lonely, are we?” Merlin intones in his ear after nearly twenty minutes of inaction.

“Oh do shut up,” Harry mutters.

“Humour me. The only feed I have is through your glasses. I’m feeling a bit of separation anxiety.”

“Or are you disappointed about missing a free show?”

“From the looks of things, there’s not much of one to be had. Films made these sorts of parties seem far more exciting.”

“I, for one, am overjoyed.”

“Well don’t get too cosy just yet. Your target just walked in.”

Harry casually turns his head to regard the newcomer and it is indeed Thomlinson in all his California-sunned, handsome, athletic glory, looking far younger than his 50-something odd years. A far better preservation than Harry himself could claim.

He swallows down these bitter realisations with another swallow of scotch.

What is more interesting, however, is that Thomlinson’s young paramour on record, one Christopher Gordon, is nowhere to be seen, thus making Thomlinson’s presence here tonight somewhat unusual.

Thomlinson makes a beeline towards him, or more accurately, the bar. “Vodka soda, lime,” Harry hears him order because naturally Thomlinson would be watching his trim figure. He can see out of the corner of his eye the way Thomlinson turns to him congenially. “Are you here with someone?”

“I am,” Harry says. “He’s somewhere on the grounds getting…acquainted with others. Young thing that he is, I imagine he rather enjoys all the attention. Yourself?”

“Ah, the plight of the youthful and energetic, is it?” Thomlinson commiserates. “I’m afraid I’m solo tonight. My partner had a prior engagement. Some sort of fashion show he was eager to see. I told him I could have arranged a private showing with the designer himself, but he enjoys the ambiance of the crowds.”

“One would think he would have enjoyed himself here then.”

“That’s exactly what I was arguing for, but he was having none of it. In the end, I couldn’t persuade him. Unfortunately, we also have a longstanding agreement when it comes to these sorts of things that we go in together or not at all,” Thomlinson says and then smiles. “It means I’ll only be an observer tonight, but that, too, can have its own rewards.”

Harry blinks and tries not to grimace. Whatever quick shortcuts they had been hoping to make were just utterly dashed, and yet here they still had to remain for some time yet.

Worse still, there’s a part of him that’s relieved that he won’t have to witness Eggsy seducing Thomlinson tonight either.

“I thought you were supposed to be getting me a drink, love?” Eggsy says as he sidles up to Harry and encircles an arm around his waist. His eyes, though, are only for Thomlinson as was the original plan.

“Darling,” Harry says, “Forgive me, I got too caught up in speaking with this gentleman here. And before you get any ideas, because I know how you get, unfortunately he’s just here as an observer for tonight as his significant other could not make it.”

“Aw, well that’s just too bad, innit?” Eggsy mouth twists into a disappointed moue, before turning up into a sly smile that he directs behind him. “I guess I’m all yours tonight.”

As if that were his cue, another man joins them who appears to be in late thirties to early forties at most. He’s movie star handsome, because he is, in fact, a famous (and apparently closeted) movie star, Harry knows, though the name isn’t coming to him.

Eggsy slides away from Harry’s side and practically forges himself to the movie star’s instead, turning to Harry and looking like the cat who not only caught the canary but also lapped up all the cream as well. “You don’t mind, love, do you?”

Harry does mind. He minds very much.

“Enjoy yourselves,” he grits out and can only watch as Eggsy gives him a wide grin before tugging on the movie star’s lapels to pull him out of the room.

“That is not the look of a man who is accustom to sharing,” Thomlinson notes.

With some effort, Harry dislodges his death grip on his tumbler and remembers his bloody mission. “I confess all of this is very new to me. Gary, that young man you so briefly met just now, had to convince me to come tonight. We’ve been together for a long time, but I’m getting on in years and I fear he’s grown rather tired of me.”

Thomlinson places a hand on his shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Young people seem more motivated by the desire to see and do as much as they can before settling in on just one thing. I find parties like these to be a great outlet for a relationship that has started to feel stale.”

“You’re right, of course,” Harry distantly hears himself say. “I keep reminding myself I’m doing this for him.”

The music transitions from some light airy flute type sounds to something with a low, throbbing bass that simply feels filthy to listen to. It seems to trigger some collective subconscious mood among those in the room. People begin to gradually sway into each other, melding so close together in the shadows that Harry can no longer tell them apart.

“Some enjoy the feeling of making their partner jealous. For others, well, a little variety every once in awhile can go a long way to revitalising one’s long-term partnership,” Thomlinson whispers close to Harry’s ear. ”For both participants.”

Harry thinks about Eggsy and the movie star.

Harry thinks about what they are doing in the other room, not for a mission anymore, but because Eggsy simply wants him, that other man.

Eggsy letting himself be held and caressed by arms that aren’t Harry’s.

Eggsy rubbing his perfect, toned body against a body that is not his.

Eggsy letting another man who is not him worship him with his mouth, tasting his skin.

Harry abruptly stands up, shaking off Thomlinson’s hand in the process. His feet operate of their own accord, walking him across the room of bodies writhing on the furniture in various states of dress and into the next, which is far, far worse.

His senses are positively assaulted. Whatever had only just begun in the previous room had progressed to fully advanced stages in this one. The air is hot and pungent with sex. It’s much darker in here, and Harry can only just make out the bodies entwined with each other all over the room, the all-pervasive soundtrack piped in through the house-wide speakers disturbed by lustful cries and moans.

And there among them all, he finds Eggsy, now stripped of all his clothing so that his bare skin positively glows, muscles flexing and shifting in the throes of pleasure, mouth slackened as another man scrapes his teeth across his neck and drags his hands all over his body.

One of the movie star’s hands, Harry notes, is between Eggsy’s legs, moving rhythmically as his fingers plunge in and out of Eggsy’s body, and Harry is just…

enraged.

Before he even understands what he is doing, he’s crossed the room, his hand has found its way to the back of the movie star’s neck to grip him in a nerve-pinching hold, and he’s whispering flatly in his ear, “I think it’s time you find another form of entertainment for the evening.”

He doesn’t even pay attention to the other man’s hasty departure because he only has eyes for Eggsy spread out before him, gloriously naked, flushed, dazed, and sweaty. Eggsy, who stares up at him in shock.

“Harr—” Eggsy starts to say, but Harry shushes him up by descending upon him and swallowing the rest of his name with his mouth.

At first Eggsy remains lax beneath him, and then something stokes the fire. He surges up and grabs at Harry to pull him in closer, sweeps his tongue over Harry’s and curls his legs up around Harry’s waist, rubbing his hard cock against the straining fabric of Harry’s crotch, quickly dampening the fabric.

It all drives him mad, those little exhilarating shocks of pleasure at each thrust, Eggsy biting at his lower lip and then the edge of his jaw, exhaling wetly and then gasping as their mouths slot against each other again.

His hands seek to reclaim all those places on Eggsy’s body that another has been allowed to touch, all that hard muscle, smooth skin, and fine dark blond hair, broad chest, swollen nipples, quivering stomach, that luscious, ample arse, thick thighs, and rigid, oozing cock smearing pre-come against Eggsy’s stomach, until one slips between Eggsy’s cheeks and finds his hole already slippery wet with lube, so he thrusts two fingers in, causing Eggsy lips to part in a soundless cry. He’s so hot and tight and wet around Harry’s fingers, silky and clenching around him like a vice as Harry curls his fingers up and drives the tips of them in deeper, stroking Eggsy’s prostate until Eggsy is shuddering and moaning wordlessly, rocking against Harry’s hand, hands wildly clawing at his clothes as Harry continues to stroke and stroke and stroke.

“C’mon,” Eggsy slurs, trying to tug at his jacket. “C’mon and fuck me. C’mon. Fuck me, Harry, please, I want it, please.”

Something dark and possessive within him wants to snarl in vicious victory, but the rest of him, lust drunk, overheated, and so painfully hard, leaps at the opportunity, doing little more than scrambling to unfasten his trousers and free his hard cock.

He presses the blunt head against Eggsy’s entrance, teasing at the tight, puckered muscle until Eggsy growls and reaches between them to grip Harry’s cock and practically shove himself back onto its length with a sharp cry.

Once he slips in past the initial tight ring of muscle, Harry finds himself sinking deeper into Eggsy’s heat until his bollocks are slapping against against Eggsy’s cheeks with each hard thrust.

God—god…” Eggsy chokes out, biting at his lower lip when Harry folds his knees up practically to his chest and begins to fuck him in earnest.

It’s too good, far too good, to last for long. Harry can feel his climax cresting, hastened by the heat in his blood and the way Eggsy clenches around him on each downstroke, the drag of friction on his underside cock is exquisite, and then his vision is whiting out and his whole body is seized by pleasure as he bites off his groan and comes inside Eggsy in long, nearly painful spurts.

His heart is still pounding in his ears, and the dregs of brain may have very well been fucked out along with the rest of him, but he’s mindlessly driven by Eggsy’s desperate whine to pull his barely softening cock out and replace it with his fingers.

Eggsy is so wet and sloppy loose around him as Harry fingers him relentlessly, stroking up in him until Eggsy is sobbing, trying to rub his still hard cock against any part of Harry that he can.

“C’mon, Harry, please! I need—more. Harry, Harry, I need more, c’mon—”

He finally takes mercy upon him, circling Eggsy’s cock with his other hand and simultaneously stroking him from within and without until Eggsy is shouting, nearly bucking him off as comes so hard, he paints his stomach and chest in pearly ropes.

It’s only when Eggsy’s cries become gasping whimpers that Harry relents, dragging his fingers out of Eggsy’s body and slumping over him, uncaring if he’s staining his clothes with Eggsy’s come or that he’s dragging his messy fingers through Eggsy’s sweat-soaked hair to pull him into an equally wet, messy kiss.

As his heart rate calms and the orgasmic haze starts to ebb, reality comes flooding back in like a douse of icy water.

They’re still on a mission. They’re still supposed to be maintaining their covers, and Harry has taken advantage of that to practically force Eggsy to comply with his base desires and wild jealousy.

He feels sick.

Harry pulls back to study Eggsy’s dazed expression and swollen lips. “We should get you cleaned up,” he croaks. Christ, they hadn’t even used protection.

“Yeah,” Eggsy breathes, the corners of his mouth turning up.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, voice cracking. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. I promise you it won’t happen again.”

Eggsy’s brows furrow in confusion. “Wait, what? Harry, I—”

When he sits up, he suddenly becomes aware that they are very much in the middle of a room full of people. Most are too busily engaged in their own erotic entanglements, but there are still plenty who are shamelessly watching them. Who had been watching all along.

When Thomlinson approaches, it’s all Harry can do to hastily cover Eggsy up in his wrinkled suit jacket and draw him close.

“That was a spectacular show,” Thomlinson says, eyes darkened and smouldering. “Worth coming here for alone.”

And then he’s holding out a business card to Harry. “If you ever want to, say, have a more private engagement with me and my Christopher, do give me a call. The name’s Frederik Thomlinson, but call me Fred.”

Numbly, Harry takes it. “Harold DeWitt-Mallory. Harry.”

“Harry,” Thomlinson smiles, shark-like. “I hope you’ll call. I really, really do.”

He casts one last glance at Eggsy curled up against Harry’s chest and then he’s gone, walking away at a sauntering pace as if he were enjoying an evening walk after a satisfying meal.

 

_____

 

The drive back is silent. Harry dares a sidelong glance to the passenger seat and finds Eggsy curled up against the door, head pillowed in the crook of his arm, fast asleep. There are a series of reddening hickeys running down his neck that he doesn’t remember making, but the thought that it hadn’t been him threatens to send him into another possessive fit so he has to force himself to focus on the perilously winding roads and not on the mad impulse to cover all those marks with his own just to be sure.

He remembers the way Eggsy had winced when he first sat down and it still makes him feel both smug and sickened at the same time. Eggsy had showered back at the house, probably thoroughly, but he still can’t help imagining Eggsy sitting there with his come leaking out of him, staining his thighs. Harry should have eaten him out instead of letting him wash it off. He should have taken one of the freely offered plugs available and insisted Eggsy wear it to keep him filled with his—

These were all terrible, terrible thoughts to have, and he needed to stop them entirely. Nothing is going to happen again. It had all been a mistake the first time.

When they get home, Harry has to gently rouse Eggsy awake, and even then, he has to practically carry him into the house and put him to bed. Eggsy tries to sleepily pull Harry in with him, but he makes some sort of muttered excuse about having a nightcap, sits outside by the pool with a full glass of some truly subpar whiskey, and ends up falling asleep in one of the lounges. His back does not thank him for that one either.

He’s startled awake by the unrelenting sun bearing down upon him and Merlin’s insistent call through the glasses that are still on his face. “I take it you’re not here to congratulate me,” he says through a furry mouth, utterly parched throat, and burgeoning headache.

“You gave him the wrong name—your own name, might I add—and now I’ve had to do a hasty patch-up job on your cover, Harry.” Even from a whole continent and ocean away, Merlin’s formidable displeasure can be heard and felt. Keenly. “It’s sloppy. I don’t do sloppy.”

Harry slinks lower in his chair, trying and failing not to feel like an chastised schoolboy called in to the headmaster’s office. “Well considering that’s what had been shouted during the course of the night and was overheard by said target, I had little other choice.”

“Ah yes, that. Let’s discuss what happened there, shall we?”

“I’d really rather not.”

“Shall I go with the professional reprimand first or do you want to proceed straight to the personal bollocking?”

“Nothing you can possibly say now isn’t something I don’t already know.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes in a very rarely felt sense of shame. He’s supposed to be a seasoned agent, and there was nothing about the way he behaved last night that could be argued as professional.

“The only thing that has prevented Arthur from recalling your arses back to London is that, by some miracle, you did manage to further your acquaintance with Thomlinson.” Even Merlin is incredulous at that one. “For your own sake, you had better hope you wrap this one up sooner rather than later.”

Harry sighs. “Are you quite finished?”

“On a personal note, I will never forgive you for subjecting me to that horrorshow,” Merlin continues to rant. “Between you and Eggsy, I have seen your dicks more often than your mothers, sexual partners, nurses, coaches, and NLP marks combined and never have I wished to see the two of them engaged together in any capacity. There are not enough bottles of single malt currently in existence that can blight out the images permanently etched into my brain, of which you will soon come to discover because you will be owing me said bottle whenever I request one, in perpetuity—”

“Goodbye, Merlin. Try to get some sleep, dearest,” Harry says, cutting off the line and peeling off his glasses.

While that particular fallout hadn’t been pleasant, it also could have been a whole lot worse.

Worse, in this case, being how he’s supposed to even look Eggsy in the eye anymore.

Not that Eggsy makes it easy as the rest of the day unfolds.

Whatever cold war Eggsy had previously been engaged in seems to have been entirely scrapped in favour of constantly remaining in Harry’s line of sight at all times and, bewilderingly, with as few clothes on as possible:

Eggsy emerging from the loo freshly showered with a towel barely clinging to his hips, a towel he apparently hadn’t found much use for seeing as how he is still glistening wet.

Eggsy taking full advantage of the bungalow’s inground pool by donning the skimpiest scrap that dares to call itself a speedo and, in Harry’s personal opinion, is a size too small if such a thing were possible.

Eggsy deciding that there’s little point in putting on more clothes for the rest of the day in case he decides he wants to ‘go for another swim again later’ and thus deciding that it is acceptable to lounge about the house all day in said speedo.

Eggsy claiming that his cover obviously does yoga and that he ought to look like he knows what he’s doing by practising it in whatever plot of ground that is within Harry’s periphery–never directly in front of him so Harry cannot accuse him of being an intentional disturbance, but tantalisingly close enough to force him to covert measures for a glimpse. All of this performed, of course, in the speedo.

Harry watches Eggsy move into a Prasarita Padottanasana and slams the book he hasn’t been reading shut. “You’ll burn if you stay out in the sun for much longer.”

“You could always come on over here and rub more sun lotion on me then,” Eggsy says, turning his head from where it’s currently pressed against the grass between his legs and throwing in a saucy wink on top of it all. “And do your husbandly duty.”

“You’ll just wash it off when you jump into the pool again,” Harry rebuffs, standing up from his chair (kept firmly in the shade, thank you) and retreating back indoors and away from flexing muscles.

Matters come to a head when Harry turns away from the stove to locate where he last left the salt and finds himself cornered by Eggsy with a determined look on his face and a loosely tied dressing gown (his dressing gown, Harry notes) that is pulled open enough to reveal that, no, he still hasn’t changed out of that blasted thing yet.

“I’m making a quick stir fry if you’re interested,” he says gamely. “Do you prefer chicken or beef?”

“Are we ever gonna talk about it?”

“Is that not what we’re doing? I personally prefer the beef because of the opportunity for a nice wine sauce reduction.”

“Not about the fucking stir fry. What happened at the party.”

“I don’t see what there is to talk about.”

“You never did come to bed. You’ve been avoiding me all day,” Eggsy goes on, undeterred. “Obviously, yes, there’s plenty we oughta talk about.”

Seeing no other way but through, Harry sighs. “Last night was a mistake, and I am not fond of repeating them. It won’t happen again.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, did you mean to stick your cock in someone else?” Eggsy throws back crudely. “That what got you all embarrassed?”

“I had no intentions of doing anything of the sort, yet apparently when you saw our goals for the evening would not be met as planned, you completely went off-script!” Harry accuses. “Going off with that, that…one-note action star with that truly unfortunate back tattoo—”

“Oh, you think it would have looked less conspicuous had I just stood around at a sex party with my hands in my trousers?”

“I was managing it just fine actually, and even saved the night from going completely tits up.”

“Yeah, by fucking me like a beast right there on the floor in front of him! So was it really a mistake?” Eggsy goads, then his eyes dark as he seems to realise something else. “Or were you just doing that as part of your cover? Really taking one for the team there, Harry. Or, really, I guess that would be me doing the taking—”

“I don’t know, Eggsy, is it really part of your cover to prance around here all day wearing doll-sized underwear in hopes of, what, a repeat performance?”

“You didn’t have to keep looking.”

“That’s difficult to do when everywhere I turn you’re practically shoving it in my face!”

“Because it’s the only way to get you to do something, you fucking coward!” Eggsy shouts back. “You stare at me and touch me and say things and you stealth cuddle me at night like a fucking creeper—”

“I restrain you out of self-preservation!”

“—and then you do a 180 and pretend like I’m nothing better than another parameter you gotta put up with for the sake of the bloody mission. Just…enough with the mixed signals, alright? What the fuck am I to you, Harry?”

“You’re…Eggsy, I…” Harry says, meeting Eggsy’s desperate gaze and finding himself suddenly so very tired.

He never wanted to burden Eggsy with his inappropriate affections, but he owes Eggsy the truth, even if it means ruining what little tenuous connection they seem to have these days. “I’m in lo—”

“Harry, you’re on fire.”

“More like a stumbling, awkward giraffe at this point, actually….”

“No, Harry, you’re on fire!”

Eggsy points and Harry looks down at the sleeve of his cardigan, which, indeed, is on fire from where he had been leaning too close to the burner.

“Ah,” he says.

After putting out the fire (and binning the charred remains of dinner), Harry orders Chinese, Eggsy finally puts on clothes, and they pick out Sabrina to watch, sitting next to each other on the sofa, close but not too close.

There’s still the elephant in the room, but for now, they’ve found a peaceful pocket of space to exist in around it.

He had really rather liked that cardigan, though.

When they climb into bed, each taking his respective side of the small mattress, Harry keeps all his limbs circumspectly at his sides while he stares up at the ceiling. Now that Eggsy’s cottoned on to his stealth cuddling, he’s far too humiliated to try it again.

But Eggsy, as ever, has different ideas, breaching that invisible barrier between their bodies to slide half his limbs and torso over Harry like an octopus sweeping along the bottom of the ocean floor until he’s settled over Harry like a warm blanket.

“This time, I get to be the big spoon,” Eggsy murmurs into his sternum.

Harry would point out that they are not technically spooning, but he’s admittedly far too comfortable to care. There’s something soothing about Eggsy’s weight on top of him. The implicit trust quiets the possessive creature that lurks in his chest.

Slowly, Harry draws his arms around Eggsy, hands coming to rest over his back, and it is very easy to fall asleep just like that.

 

_____

 

When the door to the sprawling mansion opens, it’s not a maid or butler who greets them, but a pretty young man who disconcertedly shares both Eggsy’s age and colouring: Christopher Gordon.

What he doesn’t share is Eggsy’s generally pleasant demeanour as he gives both of them an ill-concealed assessment that ends in a smirk at Eggsy and something decidedly more challenging at Harry. “Typical,” Christopher finally says, and without even so much as introducing himself, he turns and starts walking back into the house, leaving the door open behind him. “The flavour of the month is here!” Harry hears him shout.

Eggsy and Harry share a look. Eggsy’s is mostly relieved, and Harry imagines that if the expression were verbalised, it would most definitely be saying, glad I ain’t shagging that, bruv.

Assuming the open door is meant for them to follow, they step into an expansive modern-styled foyer that Harry imagines would be light and airy by day with its large picture windows and skylights, but at night, it can only be described as moody and intimate.

They aren’t left alone for long, however, because soon Thomlinson is rushing up to greet them. “Harry, I’m so glad you could make it!” he says, reaching out to both shake Harry’s hand and pull him into an awkward half-embrace that Thomlinson somehow transforms into something familiar and elegant before turning to Eggsy. “And you must be Gary. It’s a pleasure. I already feel like I know so much about you.” Harry has to look away as Thomlinson goes in for another one of his overly-friendly greetings, trying in vain to ignore the way Eggsy simpers back.

“I apologise for Christopher. He’s in a mood tonight, but he’ll warm up,” Thomlinson continues, giving them a slightly rueful smile. “But come on, let’s have a drink and talk, why don’t we?”

When Thomlinson leads them into a sitting room, Christopher is already here, feet up on one of the lounges, texting, paying them absolutely no attention.

“Chris,” Thomlinson chides, but Christopher doesn’t so much as glance up. Harry can see the briefest flicker of irritation on his face before he gives his guests his best unbothered host impression once again. “You’re a scotch man, aren’t you, Harry?”

“Depending on the scotch, then yes,” Harry says, trying to ignore the small black cloud in their midst in favour of giving Thomlinson his most charming smile.

“I think I’d have something that will meet your exacting standards. And you, Gary? What’s your poison?”

“Too many things to count,” Eggsy says, drifting away from Harry’s side to join him at the sideboard.

Harry can’t watch this again, he knows, because he suddenly recalls how Eggsy also liked to lean in too close against his side for the many times he fixed them a drink at the end of a long day. Eggsy used to claim it was because he wanted to make sure he learned just how Harry liked his drinks, but kept on doing it long after he ought to have learned.

To distract himself, Harry comes to sit on the adjacent chair nearest to Christopher and studies the young man he’s supposed to be seducing and bedding tonight while Eggsy does similarly to his partner.

He feels like he’d have better luck with a bag of angry cats.

“You don’t want us to be here, do you?” Harry says quietly as he watches Eggsy look at Thomlinson like he’s hung the bloody moon for him from across the room.

This finally produces a result. Christopher’s thumbs pause in their rapid motions across the mobile’s keyboard and he darts a brief glance at Harry. “What gave it away?” Christopher asks with a heavy note of sarcasm.

“To be honest, I’m a little relieved,” Harry admits. “Let’s just sit here and mutually stew for awhile, shall we? We’ll let the others have their fun.”

Christopher gives him an odd look and opens his mouth, but before he can say something, Thomlinson and Eggsy return, drinks in hand. “Here we are. A gin martini for Gary.”

Harry does not point out that the only martini that can call itself as such will always made with gin.

“And a Glenmorangie 1981 for you, Harry,” Thomlinson continues, handing Harry his glass before sitting beside him on the sofa. Not his favourite brand, but he can’t fault Thomlinson for sparing no expense.

“Nothing for me?” Christopher asks, but it is more like pouting.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Thomlinson says with mock contrition. “You seemed to be too busy to engage with us. Would you like to do so now?”

Christopher shoots Thomlinson a positively scathing look, and Harry wonders if he and Eggsy ought to call it an early night before the situation has a chance to escalate, but before he can suggest anything of the sort, Christopher abruptly stands up and pockets his phone. “I’m going to go for a little night swimming. Care to join me, Gary? We have an Olympic size pool, very pointlessly next to the beach.”

Well. The situation is certainly turning out to be rather unprecedented. Eggsy sends him a briefly puzzled look, and Harry says, “I wouldn’t mind a tour of the grounds, Christopher.”

“Then I guess I’ll just be giving you a tour of the pool,” Christopher says flatly.

“Oh, there’s no harm in letting the boys go off on their own. We ought to speak, you and I, anyway,” Thomlinson speaks up before Harry has a chance to reply. “They’ll be quick, won’t they? Go on, Gary. You look as if you have a swimmer’s physique on you.”

“Yoga, actually,” Eggsy says, “But, as dearest Harry here knows, I won’t turn down a dip in the pool. Only, I’m afraid I didn’t bring swimming gear.”

“We have everything you could possibly want,” Christopher says, sounding helpful for once, but then he quickly falls back into surliness. “And not want, for that matter.”

“Right. Well then, lead the way.” Eggsy picks up his still full drink and glances back at them. “I hope you two will pop by later?”

“You can count on it,” Thomlinson says.

Eggsy gives Harry a covert shrug of his shoulders and follows Christopher out. When Harry deems them to be far enough away, he gently says, “I feel as if we’ve arrived at a bad time.”

Thomlinson blows out a breath. “I won’t insult you by lying. Things between Christopher and I have been...difficult of late. Just another bump in the road, though. We’ll work past it. We always do.”

“And you do so with these...evenings?” Harry asks. “Because from my brief observation, might I suggest couples counselling?”

Thomlinson chuckles. “Christopher is a jealous one, but give him time and a few allowance increases and he’ll get over it.” Before Harry can even process the notion of allowance, Thomlinson continues, “We’ve been together for over ten years. You must know what it’s like, right, Harry? How long have you and Gary been together?”

“We celebrated our fifth anniversary a few nights ago,” Harry answers. “These past few days have been strained for us as well. The party, as you know. Gary was rather upset at me for interrupting him.” Though certainly not for the reasons Thomlinson would assume. “I should have never involved myself and given the boy the freedom he wanted.”

“Perhaps you’re the jealous one in this situation,” Thomlinson says keenly, and Harry has to admit that he’s more right than he knows. “It may be cliche, but there’s a grain of truth in it still: if you love something….”

Because Eggsy may be in it for the admittedly blistering physical attraction and friendship now, but a few months from now, a year, five, or ten? He never wants to see that embittered look permanently etched across Christopher’s face on Eggsy’s. Let it go.

“Though I have to admit, I was thrilled to see you take back what was yours, Harry,” Thomlinson breaks into his thoughts. “If only to see who you were really were. When I saw you at that party, the only thing I could think was, ‘This man knows how to take charge.’”

“I fear I have given you a mistaken impression. Half the time I’m wondering what the bloody hell I’ve just done. Case in point.”

“No man can stay switched on like that 24/7. The stress would simply be too much, but when you can act during those moments that truly matter...well, those are the only types of people I can respect.”

There too, Harry feels, he has been sorely lacking. Gods, Eggsy was right. He can’t keep giving off these wretched mixed signals, holding Eggsy simultaneously close and at arm’s distance. It’s not fair to Eggsy, constantly holding him back. “Then I guess this is me making a decision by coming here tonight.”

Eggsy will shag Thomlinson, download the information they need from Thomlinson’s laptop, and Harry will be horribly jealous, but they’ll finish the mission like the competent Kingsman agents they are. Then Harry will apologise to Eggsy for being so inappropriate towards him, wish him well in finding a person truly deserving of all the generosity and kindness he gives so freely, and continue to nurse his own ridiculous feelings in private like he ought have done all along.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Thomlinson says, a smile slowly growing on his face in inverse proportion to Harry’s sinking heart. “Sometimes the burden of the caretaker is occasionally needing someone to take care of them.”

Harry frowns, because something seems...off about the situation. Was Thomlinson sitting this close a moment ago?

Thomlinson lays a hand on his shoulder and slides it down to his chest. There’s really no mistaking that intention.

“Oh,” Harry says, because he’s still working through his shock. “You mean me.”

“Of course I mean you,” Thomlinson says, lightly taking Harry’s glass from his unresisting hand and placing it on the coffee table, all while using the action to scoot even closer. “Have you seen yourself, Harry? You have this wonderfully charming, gentlemanly veneer all dressed up in a dapper suit and beneath all this finery lurks this incredible hungry animal. Let me satiate your hunger for tonight.”

“Holy shit,” Merlin chokes in his ear, breaking his silence for the first time.

Harry has to silently concur even as he confirms, “You don’t...want to sleep with Gary?”

Thomlinson gives him an incredulous look. “Of course not. I already have my own child to deal with. Nights like these? They’re for me. Or shall I say, us?”

“And...and Gary and Christopher are…?”

“Chris has instructions to keep Gary entertained. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine,” Thomlinson purrs before cupping Harry’s jaw and drawing him into a kiss.

And, well, what can Harry do? One of them was always going to be be distracting Thomlinson, even if the way it turned out had been entirely unexpected.

He lets himself be kissed, acts hesitant for a moment as if he were still unsure, and then starts to respond with enthusiasm, like he’s very much warming up to the idea. Really, it’s not altogether so terrible either. Thomlinson is experienced and skilled and terribly handsome. When Harry thinks about it, it’s actually quite flattering, really.

Or it is until Thomlinson’s lips suddenly go lax and he slumps forward onto Harry’s chest, then it’s a little insulting.

Harry looks up to see Eggsy standing not more than two metres away, a thunderous expression on his face and watch still raised.

“Eggsy,” he starts to say and then stalls because he’s not sure where to begin.

“So, I got the info off his computer,” Eggsy says, holding up a flash drive for Harry to see. “Christopher’s sleeping it off in Thomlinson’s office as speak.”

Harry blinks. It’s a bit much to take in. “What did you do?”

“Yeah, well, once I got Christopher ranting about how his bloke treats him all poorly, it was pretty easy to convince him to log onto Thomlinson’s accounts to see if there’s been any other dalliances he’s been keeping from him. Knew all his passwords and everything. From there, I just put him down and downloaded the data and here we are. Looks like you were having a nice time up here.”

“We may have been slightly mistaken in our initial assumptions about who he wanted to be intimate with.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

Harry looks at Eggsy, who just looks at him back, mouth still set in that stubborn frown.

“While I’m one hundred percent grateful I was not subjected to more haunting visuals of your pale British flesh and it’s absolutely riveting to see you two numpties continue this comedy of errors now,” Merlin dryly remarks, “You do have a mission to finish, which involves getting your mutually oblivious arses out of that house and back home so you can upload that bloody data.”

They drag Thomlinson and Christopher into their bedroom and leave them to awake groggily in each other's arms with few memories of the previous night and hopefully somewhat reconciled for it. The ride home is silent again, only this time Eggsy isn’t sleeping. No, because Harry can practically feel him simmering in the passenger seat beside him.

As soon as they step through the door and Harry turns to lock it, he finds himself grabbed by the shoulders and shoved back against the wall with surprising force. Eggsy’s has a hand on each jacket lapel, gripping them so tightly his knuckles are white. “Is this what it feels like?” he hisses.

“What does what feels like?” Harry asks, bewildered.

“Watching someone you love go off with another stupidly handsome man?”

“Eggsy, it was just for the mission,” Harry says. “I was just as taken aback as you were, but I knew I had a job to do and...I’m sorry, did you say love?”

“Yes, love! I love you, Harry. And not like in the family way, which I’m sure you’re just gonna wanna assume because you’re ridiculous and thick headed when you wanna be. I’m in love with you, as in: I wanna shag your socks off right here and now, and I really enjoyed you shagging me at that party and I was enjoying being married to you maybe a little too much.”

Oh.

Oh.

“...I’ve really been daft as a brush, haven’t I?”

Eggsy rolls his eyes. “I’m not gonna dignify that with an answer. But, like, I need to know, okay? I need you to say it, ‘cos if you don’t, then I’ll back off, yeah? All of it. The touching, the cuddling, the going starkers all the time, the sprawling out in bed—”

“That was fake?” Harry asks, a bit outraged. He still has bruises from that first night where he’d been hit with bony knees and elbows.

“—I’ll stop. I’ll leave you alone. It’ll hurt like a hell, but I love you too much to not respect your wishes.” There's a fierce look of determination on Eggsy's face, the same one Harry has seen when he's bleeding out but still insists on finishing the mission, or those rare times when an enemy gets one over him and just about has him on the ropes. One can try to knock Eggsy down, but he always gets back up again. He'll set the whole world on fire, including himself, if he's committed to the decision. His wonderful, reckless, stubborn boy.

“Oh, Eggsy.” Harry reaches out and cups his cheek, hardly daring to believe any of this was real. “I would rather you didn’t, because I’m madly in love with you and I have been for quite some time."

Eggsy smiles and leans into his palm, turning his head to mouth at the callused skin there. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“I never wanted you to be saddled with the silly affections of an old man. You’re so bright and young and so full of promise, and I’m so—”

“Fucking amazing,” Eggsy answers for him, “The most incredible man I’ve ever known, and, yeah, also the most bloody clueless, but we got there in the end, didn’t we? So what do you say we consummate this marriage properlike?”

“I would say I want you over every conceivably flat surface in this house,” Harry heatedly replies before checking his watch. “We have 48 hours until the jet arrives for us. I think we can give it some stick.”

“Not before you upload that data!” Merlin warns. “Oh, for fuck’s sake….”

Harry leans down just in time for Eggsy to lean in, and they meet somewhere in the middle in a searing kiss.

“Glasses, glasses!” Merlin shouts hysterically.

This time, Harry listens to him and pulls back just long enough to pull the glasses from his face, tossing them over his shoulder carelessly as he drags Eggsy off to have a go on the dining table first.