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are we human, or are we dynamite

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„Your father died saving a very big city and the lives of all the people in it,“ the man in the suit says.

Eggsy is five years old. He doesn’t know who the man is. His mother is crying like he’s never seen her before. That night, when she tucks him into bed, she will tell him to be proud. Eggsy doesn’t understand.

Years later, the same man says those same words to him again, though the circumstances are vastly different.

“Less importantly maybe, he also died saving mine,” the man adds. And this time, Eggsy understands.

 

___

 

The others trade their education around like currency over the roar of the engines.

“Schoenfeld Boston,” one says, “since Elementary.”

“Lightcap Institute London,” the girl counters. She’s got her sleek hair tied into a low ponytail, a no-nonsense smile on her lips. Going by the boy’s reaction, she wins this round easily.

“What about you,” she says, turning to Eggsy, while the plane starts its descent over Kodiak Island.

St. Patrick’s School for Boys pops into his mind, the bleak concrete building in outer London, where nothing even remotely prepared him for this, except maybe schoolyard fights and the odd attended history lesson.

“Drafted,” he says.

“Drafted?” the boy on his left says incredulously and with a hint of condescension. 

The word resonates in the empty hangar when they leave the plane and follows him along the corridors for the first week, along with glances and pointing fingers, like his own personal echo.

In all fairness, Eggsy doesn’t quite know how he ended up here himself.

 

___

 

Harry Hart holds himself rigidly straight, parade rest a default, and still, if you looked at him, you’d hardly expect him to be a hero, let alone the owner of a Saviour Medal – with a purple ribbon no less, for valour.

“We need you back,” Merlin says, and watches Harry’s face falter for a split second before he sets his jaw, as expected.

“Why?”

“Word has it there are Category 4 incoming,” Merlin says. “We’re launching the Mark-3s within the month. They need the best of the best.”

“You’re recruiting the best of the best,” Harry says. “All those youngsters from the Academies, the cream of the crop, surely you’ll be able to find someone.”

“Not like that,” Merlin insists. “We’re looking for experience, not skill.”

“I’ve never piloted a Mark-3,” Harry says.

“No-one has,” Merlin counters.

Merlin has always had trouble reconciling Harry with the movement of monstrous machines, with the carcasses of giant beasts on the shore, and the count of what must be millions of lives saved. Harry, with his gentle eyes, and his features that verge on the soft, now more than ever. But Merlin knows his record, has recited it to the powers that be over and over again in the course of the past few weeks, and besides, he knows Harry. He knows he’s the best and only man for the job.

“I’m asking you to reconsider,” Merlin says.

He doesn’t expect Harry to refuse, and as always, he is right.

 

___

 

Within the first week on Kodiak Island, it dawns upon Eggsy that he has made a mistake. He’s used to playing his cards close to his chest, and he has definitely fucked up letting slip the fact that he was drafted. In his defence, back on the plane there was hardly any way for him to know he’d be the only one.

All the other applicants turn out to be bright young things with stellar education who have had the career path of Jaeger pilot laid out for them since earliest childhood. Most of them even enlisted in pairs of already perfected driftcompatibility, and that makes Eggsy even more of an outsider than he’d normally be. At best, the others give him a wide berth.

The girl with the sleek ponytail and the touch-me-and-die smile is the only exception. Eggsy suspects it’s because they come from a similar place of not being taken seriously – similar, not the same, because his fault is in his snapbacks and Kaiju trainers, and hers is in her gender, apparently, which Eggsy has a hard time understanding because, seriously, he wouldn’t take Roxy on in a fight if he was being paid for it.

Luckily, there’s no need for that because Roxy considers herself his guard dog and ally – and come week five, after the first psych evaluation results come in, the powers that be single her out as his potential drift partner. Eggsy couldn’t be more relieved.

 

___

 

Harry arrives at the Hong Kong Shatterdome a week after his conversation with Merlin, looking slightly out of place in the hangar in his suit and tie. Merlin smiles at the sight, catches himself thinking of the good old days, and, almost instantly, marvels at memory’s capacity to idealise.

The names of the pilots that didn’t make it, some of them better suited for this job than Harry could ever be, are engraved on long lists on the outer north wall of the Shatterdome, washed with constant rain.

Merlin knows that, before Harry even set a foot into the Shatterdome, he paid that wall a visit, and one name in particular.

There’s still, of course, the issue of the drift.

 

___

 

Eggsy thanks the heavens for Roxy on a daily basis.

When he returns from another late night lap through ice storms and darkness (a special training method for draftees, one Eggsy is sure the instructor has made up just to spite him), his lungs and muscles burn from cold and exhaustion and Roxy is there to rub the tenseness from his neck.

“They just want to see you earned the draft,” Roxy says.

“That’s me fucked, then,” Eggsy says.

Roxy’s brows furrow. “Whoever drafted you thinks you have it in you. For all I know, you’re as good as any of them.”

No-one but Roxy knows he’s Lee Unwin’s son. It doesn’t make any difference to her, he figures, and after all, she’s going to find out in the drift anyways. He tells her in the elevator on the way to their first drift simulation.

“Anything else I should know?” she inquires, entirely unfazed by the information. It dawns upon Eggsy that she probably suspected as much. She does know every notable Jaeger pilot’s file by heart after all. If anything, that makes him like her more.

She has the capacity to be intimidating, makes Eggsy work twice as hard on his own tasks. If he fails, they both fail, and he’s not going to be her weakest link.

They pass their first drift test with flying colours.

 

___

 

With a loud “thud” Merlin drops a thick folder on Harry’s desk.

“New recruits incoming,” he says. “I thought you might want to take a look.”

“They’re all awfully young,” Harry says, flipping through the files. “Kids, at most.”

“The best-trained kids the Academies have to offer,” Merlin says, nonchalantly sipping on his cup of coffee.

“No chance you can get any of the old team back in?” Harry asks.

“Like you’re going to drift well with any of them,” Merlin says, looking at him fondly.

Harry never was much of a team player, save for one exception. He still looks out of balance without his counterpart. Unwin and Hart, Mark-1 Excalibur. Joined at the hip. In all his time in the Shatterdome, Merlin has yet to see a stronger drift between two unrelated pilots.

“There’s still life in you, old dog,” Merlin says. “Trust me.”

“Which is not to say I’m going to drift well with any of the puppies,” Harry counters, turning to the folder on his desk.

“Give me a selection, and we’ll see in the pod,” Merlin says, and leaves Harry to his task.

 

___

 

They’ve been in the air for almost twenty-three hours when they go into descent over the Hong Kong Shatterdome.

“Scared?” Eggsy asks Roxy, who’s just as wide awake as he is.

“Not beyond reason,” she says.

They don’t know what expects them in Hong Kong, except that they’re about to receive the final part of their training there. They’re the final cut from Kodiak Island Academy, top scores. The last two of a hundred. Sometimes Eggsy pinches himself.

“Have you ever seen one in real life?” Eggsy asks. “A Jaeger?”

Roxy shakes her head. “They didn’t have them at Lightcap. Too far from the danger zone. They’re all deployed for duty these days. They’re not toys.”

“I used to have one,” Eggsy says. “That sort of action-figure type toy. You could open the pod and look inside. Loved it.”

“Where’d you get it?” Roxy asks.

“My dad,” Eggsy says.

It’s the truth, but not the whole truth. The tiny Jaeger, small enough to fit into his palm, sits safely in the very centre of his Academy issued bedroll. It’s a Mark-1 Excalibur, a gift from a stranger exactly seventeen years ago, along with a Saviour Medal, purple ribbon exchanged for a black one.

 

___

 

When they arrive at the Shatterdome, it dawns on Eggsy that the time of trials is far from over.

Along with about twenty fresh-from-the-Academy faces he’s never seen before, they get whisked off to an elevator that takes them deep, deep down into the belly of the whale. In a dark locker room that smells of stale sweat and wet metal, they receive dog-tags with their names on them and standard issue PPDC overalls.

“Welcome to the Shatterdome,” a voice comes over the loudspeakers, tainted with static and white noise. “Get dressed and report to the main hangar.”

“Keep your cool,” Roxy whispers when the elevator stops on ground level and the door is about to open to the Jaeger hangar.

Eggsy pulls a face at her, but that’s before he steps into the Shatterdome and his mouth falls open with wonder.

Rows of half-assembled Jaegers line the walls, three on each side of the room, tall enough to make Eggsy’s neck hurt when he cranes his head back trying to make out the Conn-Pods on the very top. Eggsy recognizes Romeo Blue, a relic of the very first battles, and two Jaegers bearing the characteristic gold emblem of the Kingsman fleet. Where the lines of Jaegers meet at the far end of the room, there’s the War Clock, slowly collecting seconds, minutes and hours until the next Kaiju attack.

Between the Jaegers, tiny like ants in comparison, people are hurrying back and forth, carrying equipment, some of them driving scooters or forklifts, wearing helmets in bright colours, variations of army-issued clothes and the PPDC overalls Eggsy and the other recruits just received. It is a holy mess.

Eggsy only tears his eyes from the Jaegers when he notices a bald man hurrying towards them, another suited man in his wake.

“Welcome to the Shatterdome. I’m your Marshal,” the bald man says, stopping in front of them, and Eggsy hurries to fall into parade rest like the rest of the applicants around him.

“At ease, kids,” the bald man continues. “No need for military exercises around here. You will address me as Merlin. As you will see in the next few days, the priorities around here work a little differently.”

He turns around to exchange a smile with the suited man, but he doesn’t reciprocate. He looks somewhat shaken at the sight of them, or maybe that’s just his resting face. He’s probably some sort of attorney, going by his suit. A bit harmless-looking, Eggsy thinks, the exact opposite of Merlin, who, despite his amiable demeanour, looks like he’d skin and eat you alive if you dared touch him.

“This is your last step towards becoming a Jaeger pilot, kids. I want to be very clear that you are not actually there yet,” Merlin says. “These next few weeks you’re expected to participate regardless of your status in the election process. There are plenty of jobs for you. I want to see you work. If you miss your shift, you’re going home. If you miss your physical examinations, sparrings, simulator drives – you’re going home. If you break anything, you’re going home. If you pick a fight – and I want to be very clear on that – you’re going home. You are the cream of the crop, kids,” he finishes, eyeing each and every one of them intently. “Don’t disappoint me.”

Eggsy feels a lump grow in his throat. He exchanges a glance with Roxy next to him, and suddenly begins to understand the concept of driftcompatibility. He doesn’t need a neural bond to know exactly what she’s thinking.

 

___

 

“You drafted Lee Unwin’s son,” Harry says, boiling with rage.

As soon as Merlin has assigned the applicants to their rooms and left them to their own device, Harry whisked him off to a more private location. The elevator works as well as any other place.

“I took a chance,” Merlin says, unfazed by Harry’s anger.

“He wasn’t in the files you gave me.”

“I knew you’d reject him.”

“And for a good reason, too!” Harry has stopped pacing, turning to Merlin to stare him down, and for once Merlin can feel the power he used to wield, commanding a giant weapon of mass-destruction.

“He could be your perfect match,” Merlin says calmly. “He could be your only match. His scores are excellent. It’s a chance we can’t pass up, Harry.”

“I made a promise to his father,” Harry says, when the elevator rattles to a stop on the top floor, opening its automated doors to the LOCCENT mission control room.

“Then keep it,” Merlin says.

 

___

 

“What’s your assignment?” Roxy asks over breakfast.

Along with their porridge, they’ve been handed out their schedules for the day, deploying them to one of the Jaeger teams stationed in the Shatterdome.

“Wait,” she says, catching a glance at Eggsy’s sheet. “It says Galahad on yours.”

“Yeah,” Eggsy says, stuffing his mouth with excellent porridge. After the initially overwhelming events of last night, today he feels like he could take on a Category 3 Kaiju by himself, if only for a good breakfast.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Roxy says. “Mine says Lancelot.”

“They’re both Kingsman, right?” Eggsy says, chewing. “We’re still on the same team.”

“Well, but if we’re going to drift together, wouldn’t it make sense to deploy us on the same Jaeger?” Roxy asks.

“I guess,” Eggsy says. “They’re probably just alternating us. Maybe they want us to get comfortable with both.”

That explanation seems to satisfy Roxy: the crease between her eyebrows has almost completely smoothed out by the time the gong rings to end their breakfast.

“Don’t break anything, pilot,” she says, zipping up her overall.

“Likewise, pilot,” Eggsy grins, before they report to their Jaeger’s bases, opposed to each other in the central hangar of the Shatterdome.

 

___

 

“You did take him in,” Merlin says, not entirely without satisfaction. From Galahad’s top gangway he’s watching Eggsy walk towards the Jaeger, obviously trying hard for an all-business sort of walk, supressing the natural swagger he usually walks with.

“You hardly left me with a choice,” Harry says. He has his back leaned against the railing, ignoring what’s going on down in the hangar. “I couldn’t very well send him back home.”

“You could if you were heartless,” Merlin says.

“Which I’m not,” Harry replies, maybe a little too harshly.

“That remains to be debated,” Merlin says, still smiling.

 

___

 

Maybe Eggsy would be better at this if he hadn’t been polishing what feels like every last shiny surface on Galahad with a piece of cloth for the past week. Now, his back muscles feel like one solid brick, and Roxy has him on his back with a stick to his face for the eighth time in the same amount of minutes. It doesn’t help that the other recruits are watching, and their murmur is getting louder with every hit Eggsy receives.

“Focus,” Merlin says from the side line, a dangerous edge to his voice.

Eggsy swallows the explanation. To Merlin’s ears, it would sound like nothing but a sorry excuse. Instead he grips his staff tighter, grits his teeth and concentrates.

Roxy moves in swift and smoothly, as if there was not one solid bone in her body, mimes a hit to his abdomen, pirouettes around him and, with a gentle but commanding blow to the base of his spine, propels him to the floor for a ninth time.

“Nine-zero,” one of the recruits announces, and changes the score on the board.

“Let’s put an end to this tragedy,” someone says.

Eggsy stands up, sweat running down his neck into his tank top, his fingers slipping on his staff despite of all the talcum he used earlier.

A man has entered the room and is standing next to Merlin now. It’s the one Eggsy mistook for an attorney earlier. Going by his obvious authority, he’s probably something else entirely, despite his fancy suit.

Roxy shoots Eggsy a look. She, too, is breathing heavily, but doesn’t look half as exhausted as he feels. Instead, there’s alarm in her eyes.

The man exchanges a few words with Merlin, then turns to look at them.

“You, stay here,” he says to Roxy. “You,” he says, turning towards Eggsy, “with me.”

 

___

 

Eggsy Unwin has his hands balled to fists when he walks into Harry’s office, still in his undershirt and sweatpants, barefoot. He looks so much like his father Harry needs to blink twice to get his head back into the here and now. He also looks exhausted.

“Do you know who this is?” Merlin asks, who has slipped into the room behind Eggsy, while Harry has taken a seat behind the desk.

Eggsy’s gaze wanders from Merlin to Harry. He takes his time, then shakes his head. He’s a mere child, Harry thinks, younger by far than Lee had been when he first met him.

“I’m Harry Hart,” Harry says, waiting for the name to sink in, and suddenly there’s a trace of recognition on Eggsy’s face.

“You piloted with my dad,” he says, his face lighting up.

“That’s right,” Harry says. “We met before. I won’t hold it against you if you don’t remember.”

“I do remember,” Eggsy says, eagerly. “You gave me that Jaeger.”

Harry nods. “I did.”

In the short pause that follows, Eggsy suddenly seems to remember where he is, and why. His excitement vanishes as suddenly as it flared up. “You’re kicking me out, right?” he says, looking back at Merlin.

“No,” Harry says, before Merlin can open his mouth. Merlin shoots him a glance, and Harry indicates him to take over.

“Your scores tonight were appalling,” Merlin picks up, although the impact of his words has somewhat been lost. “That would be reason enough to let anyone go. Blaming it on your workload or even the lack of compatibility between you and your partner would be cutting you serious – and dangerous – slack. We’re not in the business of doing that.”

He lets the words linger for a moment, waiting for them to have the desired effect. Harry can see Eggsy squirm on his spot.

“You’re testing with me tomorrow,” Harry says, cutting Merlin’s act short. “Seven-hundred sharp in the Combat Room.”

“You’re kidding me,” Eggsy blurts out, his features moving into an expression that’s in equal parts relief and disbelief. It’s that mobile transformation, fluent, instantly, that brings an unexpected smile to Harry’s face. This boy couldn’t hide his relation to Lee Unwin if he tried.

“Genetics can be as good a base for driftcompatibility as anything,” Merlin says. “This is your last chance, kid. You better make use of it.”

“I will be there, I swear,” Eggsy says emphatically.

For the first time since he set foot in the Shattedome again, Harry Hart allows himself to be cautiously optimistic.

 

___

 

“You did not meet Harry Hart,” Roxy says for the fifth time, while Eggsy is still bouncing around their shared accommodation like a wind-up toy.

“I swear I did,” he says, not even trying to contain himself.

“You don’t just meet Harry Hart,” Roxy says. “He’s a fucking legend.”

Eggsy grins at her, a stupid, senseless grin. “He drifted with my dad!”

Everyone knows that,” Roxy replies indignantly, throwing a pillow at him. “Jesus, Unwin, you’re embarrassing yourself.”

“I’m going to fucking spar him,” Eggsy prattles on, as much to himself as to anyone else. “I’m going to drift test a fucking legend.”

“Get over yourself,” Roxy says, and rolls to the wall in her bunk bed. “That’s just because you failed against me.”

“Fair point,” Eggsy says, suddenly catching her tone, and forces himself to take a deep breath before he continues. “Hey,” he says, gentler now. “They’re not going to send you home just because I failed you. You’re the best they’ve got.”

Roxy breathes calmly for a few seconds, and Eggsy wonders if it is possible for her to have fallen asleep.

“Just make sure you ace that test tomorrow, Eggsy,” she says after a while. “And stop making such a fuss.”

 

___

 

The Kwoon Combat Room is completely empty when Eggsy arrives there at five minutes to seven the next morning. He wouldn’t have expected an audience to be there, but at least Merlin, or someone to keep the scores. As it is now, he can’t help but feel relieved. For all his excitement last night, this morning it dawned upon him that he is actually going to take on a living legend in a fight, and suddenly his porridge wasn’t quite as tasty anymore.

“Eggsy,” Harry Hart says as he steps through the door at the far end of the room. He’s wearing loose trousers and a tank top, just like Eggsy. He looks different without his suit and tie, younger. There are scars running down his arms and neck, an intricate weave of geometric lines, standing out whitely on darker skin. They are, Eggsy recognizes, the imprint of an overheated drivesuit. Eggsy hurries to bow down, unlace his trainers and slip them off. It only begins to dawn upon him then that the Kaiju design might be a tiny bit distasteful, now that he’s aspiring to become a Jaeger pilot. When he’s done, Harry is right in front of him, offering him a hand to help him to his feet.

“Glad you could make it,” Harry says, turning away, walking slowly back to the other end of the room. Eggsy can’t see his face, so he can’t quite be sure if he’s being made fun of.

“Thanks for the invitation,” he says, throwing his head back and rolling his shoulders. When Harry turns back towards him, Eggsy grins. He knows he’s being cocky, but showing intimidation is the first step towards defeat and he’s not going to blow this chance. He made a promise to Roxy, after all.

From the corner of the room, Harry throws him a staff, fast enough for Eggsy to have to hurry to catch it. His reflexes are better now than they were last night. Roxy gave him another backrub to ease the tenseness from his shoulders this morning.

“Let’s begin,” Harry says. With measured steps, he begins to walk a wide circle around Eggsy, and, like he was taught in the Academy, Eggsy mirrors his move. His bare feet sink into the soft padding of the floor.

“Merlin showed me your tapes,” Harry says in a conversational tone that belies the concentrated atmosphere in the room.

“See anything you like?” Eggsy says.

“Excellent fighting,” Harry replies nonchalantly.

Again, Eggsy can’t be sure if he’s being mocked. He keeps his head up anyways, doesn’t let down his guard.

“On her part, at least,” Harry adds, and while he doesn’t smile, Eggsy is almost sure he can make out a twitch in his stiff upper lip. “Don’t worry, it’s hardly your fault. Kodiak Island has always been remiss of the very basic rules of sparring,” Harry continues. “What do you think those are?”

“Keep your guard up?” Eggsy guesses.

Without the blink of an eye, Harry moves in, and it’s all Eggsy can do to raise his staff with two hands in front of his face, blocking Harry’s blow. To his surprise, Harry is not miming. The impact of his hit sends a shock down Eggsy’s arms. Harry keeps the pressure for a few seconds before he steps back, rolls his shoulders and resumes his measured walk around Eggsy.

“Bulldogs,” Harry says. “Every last Kodiak Island recruit I’ve seen has made that mistake. We’ve had them bludgeoning each other with sticks like cavemen. This is not a fight, Eggsy.”

Eggsy concentrates on making one step after the other. Keeping his eyes fixed on Harry’s face is all that keeps him from getting dizzy. Relying on little more than his instinct, he moves in, aims straight for Harry’s head, but Harry misses a step just before Eggsy hits the mark and as a result, his staff cuts through nothing but thin air. Unfazed, Harry resumes his walk.

“It’s a dance, Eggsy,” he says. “You don’t block, you evade.”

He moves in on Eggsy, slower this time, and Eggsy takes a deliberate step to the side.

“Very good,” Harry says. “It’s all about the anticipation of a move, not the reaction to it. That’s how the drift works.”

He takes a few more steps. “Watch me. See what I will do.”

Eggsy watches Harry intently, tries to take in every last bit of his movements, every tremble of a muscle, every flinch, until he feels like his eyes are going to start watering. Entirely without warning, Harry moves in and deals him a blow to the abdomen. He’s not holding back this time, either. When Eggsy doubles over for air, he feels a hand on his shoulder. “Look at me,” Harry says.

Eggsy looks up, gasping for air. Harry’s face is suddenly very close. “Concentrate,” he says. “Feel it. Know it. Use your instinct. Don’t be afraid.”

Harry resumes his walk, and Eggsy meets him step for step. The next time his gut tells him to duck, he goes down, and instants later he feels a wooden stick whirr through the air over his head.

Very good,” Harry says. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Gradually, Harry begins to shorten the intervals between his attacks, and Eggsy grows bolder in his attempts. Apart from Harry encouraging him every now and then, and the muffled sound of their feet shuffling on the padded floor, it’s completely silent. Their staffs don’t touch once, they move around each other like dancers in a complicated choreography, picking up speed.

When Harry steps back eventually, Eggsy couldn’t possibly tell how much time has passed. With a satisfied look on his face, Harry whips out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his face.

“Very good indeed, Eggsy,” he says. “See, this is what the drift feels like.”

To his surprise, Eggsy finds himself breathing heavily, his arms hurting from exhaustion. He didn’t feel a thing while he was focusing on Harry, anticipating his every move. Harry throws him a bottle of water, and Eggsy catches it reflexively.

“So am I not fired?” he asks.

Harry looks at him, not exactly smiling, but close. “I’ll get back to you.”

 

___

 

Their first Kaiju attacks that night.

The horn drives Roxy and Eggsy from their bunks and into the Jaeger hangar, where four of six Jaegers – all but the brand new Kingsman fleet – are being dispatched. It puts them both at loose ends, because the other Jaegers’ teams move like well-oiled machinery, but on the other hand, it gives them leave to watch.

Painfully slowly, the hangar gates open. Eggsy can see helicopters whirring around the Jaegers like flies. Wind and rain are swept into his face through the opened gates but still he can’t turn his head away when the giant machines start to move on their own accord.

As soon as the transporting helicopters let go, they’re almost human, moving efficiently, not at all mechanical. Eggsy half expects one of them to turn his head to take a look back at them, or raise a greeting arm. It’s surreal. When the Shatterdome’s doors close behind them, there’s only the quiet.

It’s an unwritten rule of the Shatterdome that even though action is only required in the LOCCENT while the Jaegers are out hunting, nobody goes to sleep. Nobody sleeps while eight of them are saving the world, it’s as simple as that.

 

___

 

Harry Hart couldn’t sleep, even if it wasn’t for the horns and the people hurrying around in the middle of the night. Living inside the Shatterdome means living inside a giant breathing beast. But it’s not that. There’s a hum inside his chest he hasn’t felt in a long time. It spreads through his entire body, makes his fingertips want to dance on top of his military issued blanket.

At two-hundred sharp he gets up to join the tumult in the hangar. He doesn’t go down to ground level often, prefers to hide out in his accommodation or the mission control room. It’s a sort of shyness that comes naturally with fame. He does realize he’s being stupid, because even if he had been one of those rock star pilots that went all over the tabloids after their retirement, there’d be hardly anyone left to recognize him. The Shatterdome is flooded with people much younger than him, striking evidence of the dangers the job comes with.

So here he is, on the edge of a new drift again, and looking at those brand new Mark-3s he feels like fresh from the Academy. He knows Merlin had a say in the design, and so it’s certainly no coincidence that Galahad’s has borrowed some from the old Mark-1 Excalibur, the same lithe silhouette, almost a dancer’s build.

It’s neither very close to his stature nor to Eggsy’s, but that doesn’t matter. Together, they will dance.

 

___

 

Eggsy does a rubbish job of hiding that he’s nervous. When they install the spinal clamp to his suit, he squirms, the relay gel cold against his skin even through a layer of neoprene.

“Relax,” Harry says. “They’ll be doing all the work today.”

To Eggsy, that’s not as reassuring a thought as it could be. He’s never been one to leave his fate to the hands of others.

“Prepare for the drop,” Merlin’s voice comes through the intercom, and Eggsy tightens his grip around the handles on his left and right, even though he is completely wired into a cradle, his feet attached to the hydraulic system that will allow him to steer roughly two thousand tons of metal in just a few minutes time. The thought is exhilarating and terrifying.

“Drop,” Merlin says, and for a second Eggsy finds himself in free-fall. This is not worse than what his stomach has been doing to him all morning.

“Are you okay?” Harry asks over the intercom once the hydraulics click into place, attaching the Conn-Pod to the Jaeger. He looks as nonchalant as ever behind the glass front of his helmet. Eggsy nods.

“Talk to me,” Harry says.

“I’m fine,” Eggsy says. He knows his voice transmits raspier than it is through the intercom, and he hopes that hides the nervous edge to it sufficiently.

“Just focus,” Harry says.

“Initiating neural handshake,” Merlin’s voice comes over the intercom, and Eggsy braces himself, he’s not quite sure for what. He half expects pain, a sting to his brain or something, suffocation.

“Are you ready, boys?” Merlin says. “Here we go.”

And suddenly, Eggsy is gone. Or he’s still there, but twice.

There is mostly silence, and the unsettling feeling of having two sets of hands, two pairs of feet, two hearts, two brains, and an abundance of memories he doesn’t remember making.

“Neural handshake initiated,” Merlin’s voice comes over the intercom, distant, dreamlike. Harry’s memories feel more real than this. “Drift is holding strong.”

Eggsy moves his arms, and in the corner of his eye he can see Harry doing the same. He knows the Jaeger is moving accordingly around them. It’s magnificent. There’s a vastness to his memories, Harry’s memories, he suddenly knows so much more than he did, recalls emotions he never felt before.

There are rooms Eggsy’s never been to, perspectives of London he’s never seen like that. Newsreels, ruins. The Shatterdome, brand new. The inside of a Conn-Pod.

Then, a familiar face.

He looks over to Harry, and Harry’s gaze has gone empty.

Eggsy knows instantly that something is wrong, because the drift keeps feeding the exact same room back to him, the Conn-Pod, all red lighting.

“Harry,” he says over the intercom, but Harry doesn’t respond, doesn’t even react.

“He’s disassociating,” Merlin’s voice comes in. “You’re out of alignment.”

“What do I do?” Eggsy says.

“Try to get through to him,” Merlin says. His voice is urgent. Eggsy makes a point of it to not think “panicked”.

“Harry – Harry!” Like in a feedback loop, Eggsy hears his own voice breaking, trying to get through to Harry.

“Engage with him,” he hears Merlin’s voice over the intercom.

“I’m fucking trying,” Eggsy says. “Fucking look at me, Harry!” But Harry keeps staring ahead, and Eggsy knows what he sees, sees what he sees.

Lee Unwin, a man he knows from pictures and hazy memories, in the Conn-Pod next to him. Water is breaking through the escape hatch. The whole cockpit is drowned in red emergency lights, the computer is going apeshit, doesn’t know which warning to issue first.

“Shut the fuck up,” a much younger Harry says, “shut the fuck up.” Hurriedly, he tries to shut down the computer, switch to manual, but the Jaeger doesn’t respond.

“Fuck,” Lee Unwin says. “Fuck, I don’t have control.”

He paddles his arms around helplessly, to no avail. The Jaeger doesn’t move an inch. “Harry!”

“I’m fucking trying, Lee,” Harry says. “Shit.”

Through the front window, through the rain and spray of tide, a dark shape is moving in, tainted with blue.

“Fuck, Harry, she’s on to us,” Lee says.

“We need backup!” Harry shouts down the intercom line, but there’s only static in response.

“Harry –“ Lee says, reaching out for him, and for a split second, Eggsy can see a dark shape racing towards them, just outside his half of the Conn-Pod front visor. Then everything goes black, turns upside down. For a moment Eggsy thinks that the blow the Kaiju dealt to the Conn-Pod knocked Harry out, but in an instant, the emergency lighting flicks back on and Eggsy realizes that Lee yanked Harry around, spun the Jaeger into a full turn to evade the Kaiju’s attack. Harry is clinging to his controls, awake and conscious, but Lee Unwin is gone just like that.

Eggsy doesn’t need Harry to look at him to know. The connection between them is torn like loose wire, he can feel it. Where the drift was, where Lee was, there’s only static now. Harry turns his head and Eggsy sees Lee hanging lifelessly in his cradle, his side of the Conn-Pod visor crashed. In a cruelly distorted way, he’d look like a puppet on loose strings, hung up to gather dust, if it wasn’t for the blood. The image works on Eggsy like a kick to the gut.

“For fuck’s sake, Unwin,” someone says, but it’s not Harry’s voice, and Eggsy needs a moment to recognize Merlin, and that Unwin, in this case, addresses him, not his father.

“We need Hart back on track, we’re losing him,” Merlin’s urgent voice comes over the intercom.

“What the fuck do you want me to do?” Eggsy says. Harry next to him has gone completely still. Eggsy knows that if he tried, he could still see what he’s seeing, and it takes all he’s got to stay focused on the here and now. He knows this is the part where Harry got his scars.

“We need you to engage with him, there’s no way we’re getting through,” Merlin says. “He’s hardly breathing. His pain level is off the charts. Think of something.”

Eggsy doesn’t as much think of something as that he does the first thing that comes to his mind: he throws his left arm back with as much force as he can muster – the Jaeger moves accordingly, tears through an abundance of cables and gangways in the process – forcing Harry to follow the motion. Eggsy can feel his ligaments stretch to the point of breaking, but Harry, not in control of his arm, has it worse. With a scream, Harry jerks awake, breathing again. The connection is broken, but once Eggsy’s out of the drift, Harry is, too, and that’s all that counts.

“What the hell was that, Unwin,” Merlin’s voice comes over the intercom.

“He’s back with us,” Eggsy replies, ripping off every cable he can find on his body that keeps him tied to his cradle and out of reach of Harry, who barely seems to be able to keep himself upright.

“I can see that,” Merlin says. It’s the last thing Eggsy hears before he disconnects from the intercom as well and stumbles across the pod towards Harry.

“Harry.” Eggsy positions himself in front of him, holds his head up on each side of the helmet to look at him. “Harry, do you hear me?”

“I hear you,” Harry says. His face is an unhealthy colour and his arm hangs at an odd angle, but he’s conscious, even though he’s obviously not quite there yet.

“We need a medic,” Eggsy shouts over his shoulder, on the off chance that the intercom is still working one way at least.

“Stay with me,” Eggsy says, and presses his hand against the cold glass of the helmet, because he can’t think of anything else to make Harry stay conscious.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says. His speech is slurred, his breath is fogging up the inside of his helmet, but Eggsy doesn’t dare to remove it in case Harry’s spine sustained injury as well.

“Are you okay?” Eggsy asks.

“I’m a fucking idiot,” Harry slurs.

 

___

 

“It’s too early to make a final decision,” Merlin says, leaning on Harry’s desk – the equivalent of a bedside for the man who refuses to stay in bed, even though his shoulder has only just been relocated and his sense of balance hasn’t quite recovered.

“I was irresponsible,” Harry says. “I was stupid thinking I was ready.”

“You can’t leave now,” Merlin says.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Merlin,” Harry says, sharply. “I’m a liability for all of you, not just for him. Frankly, I don’t know why we’re having this discussion.”

“I can tell you,” Merlin says. “We’re expecting Category 4 Kaijus any day now. There has been talk of double events. The lives of millions of people are at stake here, and we’ve got exactly two Jaegers to take on that sort of threat, and exactly two pairs of pilots. That is unless you rather want to go back to enjoying the fruits of your retirement.”

“What if it happens again?” Harry asks, ignoring Merlin’s last stab.

“Then I’ll know what to do,” Eggsy says. Both their heads turn towards the boy in the corner. He’s been so quiet for the past half hour, Harry assumed he’d fallen asleep under his shock blanket. He’s hardly to blame. It must be the early hours of the next day already.

“You can teach me,” Eggsy says, looking at Harry. “There must be an effective way to pull you out.”

He looks over to Merlin for approval, who nods. “It will be easier for you to stay out of it a second time, Harry, when you know what to expect.” Merlin looks to Harry. “You haven’t drifted with anyone since Lee, it was bound to be hard. But your driftcompatibility is off the charts. I haven’t seen anything like that in a very long time. We don’t have the luxury of passing this up.”

“I will think about it,” Harry says into the silence that follows.

 

___

 

“We should have done this earlier,” Harry says.

Eggsy has his collar turned up against the wind and rain, his hands buried deeply in his pockets. The names of pilots, deceased and missing in action, tower over them, two giant pillars, the top names blurring in the heavy clouds.

Over their heads, just out of reach, there’s the name of Eggsy’s father.

“Do you come here a lot?” Eggsy asks.

Harry shakes his head, readjusts the sling on his left arm.

“I’m sorry about that,” Eggsy says, nodding towards Harry’s injury.

“That was bloody brilliant thinking,” Harry says.

“Still,” Eggsy says.

They’re silent for a minute before Harry picks up to speak.

“Your father…”

“Nah,” Eggsy says. “It’s okay.”

“There’s just one thing I want you to know, Eggsy.” Harry looks at him. “Just one thing.”

Eggsy braces his shoulders.

“I was in his head when he died,” Harry says. “I assure you, his last thought was of you.”

“Jesus,” Eggsy says, exhaling sharply. He looks like he’s examining that piece of information, turning it end for end, before he decides to stow it away.

“The way I see it,” Eggsy says after a while, “is, I think we’ve got a responsibility towards them as well, you know?” He looks at Harry. “You know, if we don’t keep fighting, they will have died for nothing.”

He chews on the insides of his cheeks.

“We owe it to them,” he says. “And I really think we can do it. And besides, if it comes to the worst,” he nudges Harry gently with his elbow, “there’s always your other arm.”

Harry actually cracks a weak smile at that.

Eggsy fumbles with his coat pocket and pulls something small from it. Then he takes Harry’s good hand in his, opens it, and puts the tiny Excalibur model into his palm.

“That’s yours,” Harry says, and tries to pass it back to Eggsy, who swiftly hides his hands back inside his pockets.

“Nah,” Eggsy says. “It’s fine. You need something other than your scars to remember him by.”

They stand for a bit longer in silence, and somewhere along Harry closes his hand around the tiny Jaeger and puts it into his pocket.

 

___

 

“So, Harry Hart and you, yeah?” Roxy says.

“So, you and that blade-legged chick, yeah?” Eggsy retorts.

They grin at each other. This morning, they were officially named pilots of the new Kingsman fleet, together with their respective drift partners. It’s the first vaguely ceremonial thing to happen in the Shatterdome since they arrived, with off-duty mechanics and crew present, and a short, dry speech from Merlin.

A week after Harry’s and Eggsy’s disastrous drift test, Roxy emerged from hers with perfect marks and a perfect match: a girl called Gazelle, recruited from the Eastern European Academy, sleek, ice-cold and whip-smart like Roxy. They make a terrifying pair.

Merlin goes all soft around the eyes when he sees them together. After Eggsy’s failed sparring against Roxy, Merlin took it upon himself to scout the Academies for someone to match her unique fighting style. It’s like Eggsy said a lot (and meant quite seriously) back on Kodiak Island: she’s simply too good for all of them.

That is until Merlin discovers a hidden talent in the Volgograd Academy and books Gazelle on the first available plane to Hong Kong.

Now, Roxy and Gazelle are inseparable, laughter bouncing off the hangar walls when they walk to shift every morning, ponytails swinging in unison. The first mechanic who dares to suggest a new pink varnish for Lancelot gets a quick precise kick to the balls with one of Gazelle’s prosthetics, and remains the only one to try his hand at this type of humour.

 

___

 

Galahad rides back-up to Lancelot at first. Eggsy doesn’t mind. Sitting at such great heights over the water surface and still feeling the splash of the tide against his thighs, the screeching roar of the Kaiju in the distance, the sound of combat drowning in rolling thunder and waves while they pace back and forth through the ocean, ready to step in when need be – it leaves Eggsy with a high of adrenaline after every mission, buzzing through his body like a rabid swarm of bees.

And Harry next to him, that feeling of unison.

It’s the best fucking feeling in the world.

 

___

 

The adrenaline is a familiar shock to the system for Harry. It calms him down, eases his fluttering nerves whenever he steps into the Conn-Pod. It throws him right back, and after a while he’s not quite sure how he ever did without it. Drifting begins to feel comfortable again, less of a source of stress, more of a welcomed escape into the calm. He hasn’t given in to the temptation of his own memory again, hasn’t followed the rabbit down the rabbit-hole once. He gives Eggsy the credit for that, mostly.

Harry installed the tiny Excalibur model in their Conn-Pod on a piece of string, swinging back and forth with Galahad’s every move.

“Your father wanted it to be on the rear-view mirror of your first ride,” Harry says by means of an explanation and Eggsy grins as if he’d just made him the most wonderful gift.

And maybe it is a bit of a gift, Harry is grateful to him after all. If anything, Eggsy has made it easier to get back in, easier maybe than Harry deserved.

 

___

 

In between missions, Harry introduces Eggsy around the Shatterdome. So much so, in fact, that within two weeks, no-one even bats an eye when Eggsy trails behind Harry into the LOCCENT.

“Are you really going to take extra measures keeping secrets from someone I drift with?” Harry asks the first time Merlin complains, and that’s that. And Eggsy is a quick learner. If it wasn’t for their driftcompatibility, Harry would suggest him as a LOCCENT officer. Maybe one day, Harry thinks not without bitterness, the qualification for another job than pilot might come in handy for him.

Eggsy takes a special interest in the virtual map in the centre of the room, displaying the depths of the Pacific Ocean and the adjoining cities. It also shows movements in the Breach, and the position of all Jaegers currently dispatched, as well as the Kaijus.

“Crazy shit,” Eggsy says, his nose almost touching the hologram. Curious, he dips a finger into the searing blue light, and pulls it out unscathed. “Look at that, Harry!”

Suddenly, the blue light goes a bright red, and Eggsy takes a hurried step back, hands in the air, his I-didn’t-do-anything expression on his face.

“Don’t worry, Eggsy, that just indicates movement in the Breach,” Harry says, with an amused smile. Eggsy doesn’t grace him with a response.

“So there’s a Kaiju coming?” he asks all business-like instead.

“Could just be false alarm,” Harry says, examining the hologram. “No,” he says after a short pause. “No, there she is.” He indicates Eggsy to step closer. “There she is, do you see her?”

There’s a tiny spot moving in the Breach, not much more than a speck of dust at first, but growing steadily, until it’s roughly the size of a raisin.

“We have a Category 3 Kaiju in the Breach,” Merlin announces across the intercom. “Standby for dispatch!”

“Are we going?” Eggsy asks Harry.

“No need to hurry just yet,” he says. “She might still decide on the West Coast.”

“Nah, she’s gonna go for Tokyo,” Eggsy says so matter-of-factly Harry turns his head from the hologram to look at him.

“Why do you think that?” he asks.

“Well, it’s simple, isn’t it?” Eggsy says. “The last two weeks, we had a row of attacks on the US coast, yeah? But last month, we had that big-ass Kaiju just off the Japanese coast. How long did it take Romeo Blue to take that one out?”

“Two hours, at most,” Harry says.

“That’s right,” Eggsy says. “We blazed it. Obviously, they went on attacking the exact opposite of the Pacific next. They always do that, maybe they’re scared, maybe they think it’ll confuse us, I don’t know. The thing is, they always come back. About a month after we’ve slayed one in one place, they come back to the exact same spot to destroy what’s left. And it’s usually a nastier motherfucker than the earlier one.”

Harry exchanges a look with Merlin, who has stepped behind them while Eggsy was talking.

“Are you suggesting,” Merlin says, “that they have an agenda?”

“That would suggest they’re sentient beings,” Harry says.

“Has anybody proven differently?” Eggsy asks. “Look, I don’t know what they are, or where they’re from, and I don’t know whether there’s an agenda, but I’m willing to bet my ass that there’s a pattern.”

“You are aware that Kaiju Roulette is actually illegal in PPDC states, right?” Harry asks quietly, and the amused smile is back on his face when Eggsy blushes right up to the edge of his snapback.

“Kaiju Roulette?” Merlin asks.

“It’s a game the youngsters play, I believe,” Harry says. “You tap into government radio and when there’s movement in the Breach, you bet money on which city it’s going to take out. A fun little game, as long as you’re in comfortable distance to the Pacific coast.”

Eggsy looks almost insulted. “It’s a way to make money as good as any other,” he says. “Not all of us have the luxury of a pilot’s pension.”

“Well,” Harry says amiably. “It seems to have been of good use.”

“If he’s right,” Merlin adds, a little less easily convinced.

But within the next half hour, the Kaiju crosses the line to Japanese territory.

“Told you!” Eggsy says with a triumphant smile. Harry has never actually seen someone so proud of a talent achieved through illegal activity.

Merlin raises a critical eyebrow and walks over to the control panel. “We have a Category 3 Kaiju on the Japanese coast line,” he announces over the intercom. “Galahad, prepare for dispatch. Lancelot, prepare for backup.”

Eggsy looks to Harry, then to Merlin, and back, eyes wide.

“This one’s yours,” Merlin says.

 

___

 

“I can’t believe we did this,” Eggsy says. “I can’t believe we did this!”

He detaches himself from his cradle, steps down from the hydraulic footsteps, as Galahad shuts down around them, lights switching off, the roar of the engines turning into the soft whirr of ventilators.

Eggsy bounces over to Harry, helps him to take off his helmet.

“We killed a fucking Kaiju!” Eggsy says, grinning at him. He strikingly reminds Harry of a big-pawed puppy, running around waggling its tail in excitement. But all irony aside, he feels it, too. He feels the exhilarating rush of oxygen to his body, the sudden clarity. He also feels suddenly, unexpectedly fond. Instinctively, he reaches out a hand to cup Eggsy’s neck, draws him towards him until their foreheads touch.

Eggsy’s hands clasp to the front of Harry’s drivesuit for balance.

“I’m proud of you, Eggsy,” Harry says.

Eggsy pulls his head back to look at him, and Harry grins at him, a rare and wonderful grin he feels welling up from inside, devoid of melancholy. Harry gives the back of Eggsy’s neck a gentle squeeze.

“So, Kaiju Roulette,” he says, in a mock scolding tone.

“One’s got to make one’s living somehow,” Eggsy retorts, ducking away under Harry’s grip, unfastening the clasps on his hydraulic pedals instead. Harry steps down, detaching himself from the last wires.

“And you didn’t once think that a pattern in Kaiju attacks would be something the PPDC would take an interest in?” he asks, quirking an amused eyebrow, grabbing Eggsy’s shoulder to steer him out of the Conn-Pod and down the gangway towards the adjoining drivesuit room. It’s empty, except for the opened storage cupboards ready to receive their armour.

It amazes Harry, the way Eggsy just shrugs and goes, “Nah.” He grins. “I didn’t think they were daft enough to not figure it out by themselves. And besides,” he adds, putting their helmets into their assigned hold, “I wasn’t too keen on anyone finding out I was rigging bets, either.”

“Fair point,” Harry says, stepping behind Eggsy to remove his spinal clamp. With a few practiced moves, he detaches the piece of armoury and puts it into its cradle in the storage unit. Then he turns his back to Eggsy, who steps behind him to return the favour.

“You made quite the impression today,” Harry says, looking straight ahead while Eggsy works on the fastenings of his drivesuit.

“Always a pleasure, never a chore,” Eggsy quips.

“I’m serious,” Harry says. “There might be a career path worth considering for you.”

The metallic spine rests in Eggsy’s hands like a scaled amphibian animal, heavy and still warm, before he clicks it into place in its hold.

“I like to think I’m pretty fucking good at his one,” Eggsy says, and Harry thinks he can make out a hint of irritation in his voice.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “That’s not what I was implying.”

“I know,” Eggsy says lightly. “You were only saying how you’re old and how it’s pretty likely that you’ll die before me and then there’s no-one left to drift with me.”

Harry turns around to face him, but to his surprise, Eggsy hardly looks angry, or bitter even. Instead there’s a defiant look on his face.

“I don’t give a fuck about any of that, Harry,” Eggsy says, proceeding to unfasten the holds on Harry’s breastplate. The atmosphere of euphoria is gone from the room just like that.

“I wasn’t saying…” Harry starts, but Eggsy interrupts him.

“Like you weren’t thinking it. Like I wasn’t in your head just five minutes ago.” He takes the breastplate off and puts it aside, moves on to the shoulder plates.

To make his job easier for Eggsy, Harry sits down on the wooden locker room bench in the centre of the room. He feels tired all of a sudden.

“You have to admit, it’s a reasonable thought,” Harry says, cautiously.

“Yeah, I don’t care,” Eggsy says, fiddling with Harry’s left shoulder plate. “It’s a fucking useless thought, that’s what it is. It’s not gonna change anything, is it? If you die of old age, or one of us doesn’t make a mission, there’s nothing we can do about it now. We can’t know in advance.”

“I know that,” Harry says. “Believe me, I do.”

Eggsy puts the first shoulder plate aside and clicks open the second’s fastening.

Harry bows his head, turns it left and right to stretch his neck muscles. He’s feeling tense lately. Eggsy puts the second shoulder plate into its hold, and moves back behind Harry, rests his hands on his neck, applying gentle pressure to Harry’s rigid muscles.

“I’m not mad at you or anything,” Eggsy says. “I’m really not. I just wish you’d finally stop holding back all the fucking time. You act like everything you do, everything you commit to, it’s just on loan.” He emphasizes his words, gently digging the heels of his hands into Harry’s neck. “It’s not.”

Harry turns his head to say something, but with a gentle touch, Eggsy indicates him to stay still.

“This is not a temporary thing for me, Harry,” Eggsy says, resuming the gentle ebb and flow of pressure to Harry’s neck. “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life, and with you, for as long as I can. So for fuck’s sake, please stop thinking about dying.”

Suddenly, Harry feels very old. Eggsy’s not wrong. He has been thinking about death a lot recently. Not actively musing on it, but now that he comes to think of it, he realizes the thought has been in the back of his head for a long time, a quiet, unobtrusive subtenant to his conscious.

“Look, Eggsy,” he starts, but Eggsy doesn’t let him finish. His hands have stopped moving, rest steadily on his shoulders, applying warmth now more than anything.

“I’m scared for you,” Eggsy says, fingers curling on the neoprene. “I’m fucking scared for you, man, all those nightmares you have, and how you live in the past. I’m fucking scared of losing you.”

They stay like this for a short while, the words hanging between them, Eggsy bracing himself on Harry’s shoulders, as if he needed a hold to steady himself on.

“This is not a time to make promises,” Harry says.

“I know,” Eggsy responds. Harry can feel him breathing behind him.

After a while, Harry feels Eggsy’s thumb gently graze the skin just underneath the hairline behind his right ear. At first he thinks it’s accidental, a twitch, but there it is again, Eggsy’s thumb moving back and forth ever so slightly. A deliberate motion. Harry stays very still and is suddenly very conscious of the warmth of Eggsy’s body behind him.

“Eggsy,” Harry says, and Eggsy’s hand pulls back immediately.

When Harry turns around to look at him, there’s that expression of stubborn defiance on Eggsy’s face again.

“What?” he says, mouth tense, head cocked back.

“Eggsy, don’t do that,” Harry says quietly, tiredly.

“What?” Eggsy repeats.

Harry takes a deep breath, braces himself.

“The drift – it’s chemical bonds and electricity transmitted through synapses,” Harry says gently. “It’s easy to mistake it for something else, but it’s not love, and certainly no substitute for family.”

Eggsy takes a step back from Harry, lets go of his shoulders.

“What are you saying?” he asks.

“I think you’re getting things mixed up,” Harry says, as gently as he can, but the words still come out cold.

Eggsy’s brows furrow, he takes a deep breath, as if he was about to protest, or deny. Then he reconsiders, just sets his jaw and nods.

“Okay,” he says. “I get it.” The way he looks now, Harry is harshly reminded how young he is, barely more than just a teenager, looking at Harry with an expression of something that verges on disappointment.

“Eggsy…” Harry starts, but Eggsy just turns around and leaves. Harry can hear him banging his fist into something metallic down the corridor.

 

___

 

It took Eggsy some time to figure out that a certain predicament after each mission, one that he discreetly took care of in the rare privacy of the shower cubicle, had nothing to do with adrenaline and everything to do with Harry Hart.

And when he did, well. He was too ridiculously far gone, with no chance of safe return.

He fights himself out of his drivesuit, peels the neoprene off his skin, cursing himself. He doesn’t slip normally, not ever. You can’t really afford slips in suburban London, not with that sort of people around. You learn to be careful. And with Kodiak Island Academy and the Shatterdome not being any different, he begins to wonder if anywhere in the world really is.

As far as father figures are concerned, he doesn’t have much to go on in the way of reference, but he’s pretty sure that this is not the appropriate way to feel about one. Or react to one, physically. This is bound to put him into all kinds of trouble if anyone ever finds out.

He turns the water up to the highest possible temperature, waits until the cubicle has fogged up with thick white clouds hanging in the air, one hundred percent humidity. Then he starts jerking off.

He doesn’t know if the shower, like any other room in the Shatterdome, is rigged with cameras. It strikes him as an unnecessarily paranoid and narcissistic move, but if that doesn’t just sum up Merlin’s approach to problem-solving perfectly. As it is, he can just hope and pray that their lenses are just as fogged up as any other sheer surface in the room.

The hot stream of water hammers against his shoulders while Eggsy squeezes his eyes shut and tries very hard not to think about Harry’s hand on his neck, holding on to it with surprising force, or the hitch in his breath he thought he felt when his thumb had moved on Harry’s skin on its own accord. He definitely doesn’t think about Harry’s voice, those deep registers he uses when he gives orders, and not about his almost-smile, always just stopped short by his stiff upper lip.

He does definitely not think about all of those things, and yet he comes fast and hard on the tiled wall and all over his hand. It’s a depressing image, but fitting for the fucking teenager he’s being.

Eggsy presses his head against the cold tiles, breathes heavily, feels like drowning.

 

___

 

Their next Kaiju doesn’t even grant them a twenty-four hour break.

The horn rips Eggsy from his restless sleep just instants after he drifted off eventually.

“Movement in the Breach!” Merlin announces. “Possible Category 4, Galahad and Lancelot prepare for dispatch!”

Eggsy untangles himself from his sheets and splashes a load of water into his face. His reflection in the mirror looks exhausted.

As much as he doesn’t feel ready to take on the cold spray of the ocean, or a Kaiju bigger than anyone has ever seen – it’s nothing compared to how much he is not ready to face Harry.

 

___

 

“This is a Category 4 we’re dealing with, pilots,” Merlin announces through the intercom. “Which means roughly 3,000 tons of toxic, so be prepared.”

They are not prepared.

They move through the Pacific at medium depth, just outside Hong Kong territory. The Category 4 moves at a terrifying pace.

“Lancelot, come in,” Harry calls down the intercom.

“Galahad,” Eggsy hears Roxy’s voice, tainted with static. “Do you see it?”

“Not yet,” Harry says.

They’re patrolling the length of Hong Kong bay, keeping their eyes on the radar.

“LOCCENT, do we have a location on Cat 4?” Harry asks.

“Just two miles roughly north-west from you,” Merlin comes in. “He’s stopped. Might be waiting for you to approach.”

“Let’s not let him wait, then,” Harry says. “Lancelot, we’re moving in.”

“Understood,” Roxy’s voice comes down the line.

The water’s breathing. Eggsy can see the ripples clearly, originating from one spot just beneath the surface, spreading in concentric circles around, like sonar waves.

“Harry,” he says, nodding towards it.

“Ah,” Harry says. “I see.”

They stop and wait.

“Lancelot, we have visual,” Harry says. He’s dropped his voice in the presence of the beast, even though Eggsy is quite certain Kaijus can’t pick up on radio.

“We’ve got your position, we’re backing you,” Roxy comes in. “See you there in a bit.”

“What do we do?” Eggsy asks.

Harry has his eyes fixed on the water. “Look at that, Eggsy,” he says quietly.

Slowly, the Kaiju breaks the surface. It has a small, mean head resting on the bulk of its shoulders, looks more like a disfigured mammal than an animal of the sea.

“Has it seen us?” Eggsy asks.

“Probably,” Harry says.

The belly of the beast begins to show, scaled, tattered with spots of glowing blue.

“Fuck, he’s ugly,” Eggsy says.

The Kaiju gets up on its hind legs, cocking its head, like it’s scenting them. Slowly, it begins to turn around.

“Prepare,” Harry says, and simultaneously, they go into fight mode, arms on defence, one leg propped back for balance.

Then, the Kaiju attacks.

They evade the first blow taking a step to the side, letting the Kaiju’s own weight work in its disadvantage. While it’s out of balance, they deal it a precise kick to the head. Irritated, the Kaiju turns back around.

“Concentrate on the back and the head,” Harry shouts against the noise of Galahad’s weapons whirring alive around them.

Eggsy aims a missile straight for the Kaiju’s blunt head.

By now, the Kaiju has realized that they're not defenceless. Getting up on its hind legs, it presents its scaled belly and prepares for another attack. This time, it goes straight for the Jaeger’s legs.

“Watch your balance,” Harry shouts, and the impact throws them both forward against the Kaiju’s horned back. One of the horns deals a harsh blow to the Conn-Pod, one that has them shaking in their cradles, but Harry uses the opportunity to drill Galahad’s sharp left hand into the Kaiju’s side.

The Kaiju roars with pain and anger. When it turns around itself to get a look at the wound, it sprays acidic cyan blood all over the water, swimming there in oily patches.

“Come on, baby,” Eggsy says, watching the Kaiju prepare for another attack. This time, it goes for the Conn-Pod. Eggsy ducks instinctively, rams the Jaeger’s blunt head into the Kaiju’s scaled belly. He feels the shock to his own spine on impact, the Jaeger’s synapses transmitting pain signals to his own body through the drivesuit.

“That was harsh,” Harry says, breathing heavily. Several warning lights are switching to life while Galahad regains balance.

“The left escape hatch is out,” Harry says.

“Then make sure we don’t need it,” Eggsy says, grinning at him. Meanwhile, the Kaiju has worked itself into a fury.

It attacks faster now, messier, getting its claws on every last bit of Galahad it can reach. They make use of the Kaiju’s weight, propelling it over their head with its own force of velocity, landing it on its back behind them.

“Let it get close next time,” Harry says through gritted teeth.

Eggsy doesn’t question, and the next time the Kaiju attacks, he holds his ground. Metal collides with scaled flesh, an ugly noise. The Kaiju’s head is so close to the Conn-Pod, Eggsy can see the Kaiju’s eye only at an arm’s length’s distance, tiny and blue, glowing with rage.

Harry makes Galahad reach around the beast, uses the Kaiju’s position, tangled with the Jaeger, to drill another two missiles into its vulnerable side. The Kaiju screeches, tightens its grip. Although it’s not his ribcage being crushed, Eggsy suddenly finds it hard to breathe.

The Kaiju’s weight tips Galahad over, Eggsy can feel the Jaeger losing balance. They go under with the Kaiju’s body still wound tightly around them.

“He’s dead,” Harry says. “That’s the good news.”

They’re sinking steadily down. The ocean’s ground is a slippery slope where they’ve been fighting, just on the edge to the deep sea.

“What do we do?” Eggsy asks.

Harry launches another missile from Galahad’s chest, one that’s meant to blow the Kaiju right off them. But the missile doesn’t make it far through the Kaiju’s scaled belly, half its force instead reflecting back to Galahad upon detonation. Eggsy can feel Galahad’s engines dying down around him.

“Shit,” Harry says.

The gentle whirr under their feet, the equivalent to a machine’s heartbeat, is suddenly gone.

The red emergency light flicks on, and Eggsy has the horrible feeling of having been here before. “Emergency power operational,” the computer says. Eggsy’s breath goes quickly, flatly, without him being able to do anything about it. It’s panic, he knows this, he doesn’t know how to stop.

“Eggsy,” Harry says. His voice has dropped to the deep, commanding registers that settle deeply, calmly in the pit of Eggsy’s stomach.

“Eggsy, look at me.”

Eggsy turns his head to look at Harry, whose face is white and sweaty behind the glass visor of his helmet. The water around them is getting darker by the minute.

“Your escape hatch is still operational,” Harry says.

“Oxygen level dropping,” the computer announces. With a calm gesture, Harry’s hand finds the switch and turns it off.

“What are you doing?” Eggsy asks, staring at Harry with wide eyes. His breath is still ragged, and the fact that he knows he’s using up precious oxygen isn’t helping his situation.

“Eggsy,” Harry says again. His voice is soft, even over the intercom. “Your father died saving a very big city and the lives of all the people in it.” Somewhere deep down in Eggsy’s memory – or is it Harry’s? – the words ring a familiar bell.

“Less importantly maybe, he also died saving mine,” he continues. He jerks his right hand down, and when he opens his fist, Eggsy sees the tiny Excalibur model in it, thread torn.

Suddenly, he understands.

“No, Harry,” he says. “Fuck no.”

Harry grasps his arm with surprising strength, forces his fist open. Presses Excalibur inside, and closes his fingers around it with gentle force.

“Take it up,” Harry says. His speech is already slurring, and Eggsy’s vision is blurring at the edges, surely a result of the oxygen running out.

“Fuck no,” Eggsy repeats. “Harry, no.”

“This is not your choice,” Harry says, detaching himself from his wires, stepping down from the hydraulic pedals. There’s little use in them now anyways. Holding on to the control panel, Harry fights his way over to Eggsy on unsteady legs, catches his hands before he can fall.

“Eggsy,” he says, holding himself upright with his hands clasped to Eggsy’s shoulders.

“I can’t do this,” Eggsy says stubbornly. “You can’t make me do this.” His breath is coming in deep sobs now, uncontrolled.

Harry tips his head forward, until their visors collide with a soft sound, softer by far than the roar of water and metal bending under pressure around them.

“I promised your father,” Harry says.

“This is fucking stupid,” Eggsy says. “You can’t do this.” He holds on to Harry’s helmet with both hands, wishes he could smash the fucking visor to get through to him.

“We’ll be too deep soon,” Harry says. His fingers, clumsy in their gloves, find the red emergency lever on the far right end of Eggsy’s manual control. They’ve joked about it, called it the Catapult. Harry’s fist closes around it.

“You can’t do this,” Eggsy repeats, begs. He’s crying now, tries to get a hold on Harry, gloves slipping off the sheer surface of his drivesuit. “You can’t do this.”

“Eggsy.” Harry presses his helmet to Eggsy’s, as if he could transcend the boundaries just by sheer force of will. “You’re a brave man,” he says. His left hand is in Eggsy’s neck, squeezing tightly. Eggsy can feel his warmth through the layers of neoprene.

Harry’s eyes are closed, his jaw set. Eggsy cannot tear his gaze away, cannot close his eyes, cannot stop looking at him.

Then he feels Harry pull the trigger.

When the hydraulics lift him off his feet, from Harry’s grasp, up to the top of the Conn-Pod, where the automated hatch to the escape pod opens, Harry finally opens his eyes and looks at him.

Eggsy is screaming, fighting the restraints of the cradle, his drivesuit that forces him into the miniature pod, shaped to the exact width and length of his body.

Harry just looks. He almost smiles. He nods. Slowly closes his eyes. And then he’s torn from Eggsy’s view by the escape hatch closing its automated doors.

Just like that, the drift is gone.

Eggsy, singular, infinite, shoots through the darkness towards the light, towards the surface, and Harry stays down.

 

___

 

They fish him out, they give him water to drink and a blanket for warmth. No-one tries to take Excalibur away from him. Why would they? It’s his now, again, like it used to be.

A plastic toy, colours faded, varnish scratched, to remind him of all that’s left of Excalibur and his magnificent knights.

Lancelot is still out without a signal. They’ll be back soon, they say. Eggsy doesn’t care.

Merlin tells him to be proud, and Eggsy tries very hard to not punch him in the face.

 

___

 

It’s Lancelot who brings Galahad home.

After five torturous, endless hours of waiting, the Jaeger pops back up on the radar, moves slowly but steadily towards the Shatterdome.

Slowly, because when Lancelot collapses just in sight of the coastline and a fleet of helicopters sets out to rescue the pilots, they find that Lancelot’s arm is latched on to Galahad’s, 2,000 tons of dead metal, recovered from the deep sea.

“We got your distress signal,” Gazelle says. Roxy is being treated immediately for lack of oxygen, but apart from exhaustion, Gazelle is mostly alright.

“We were too far off course, we tried getting to you earlier. I’m sorry,” she says.

“It’s alright,” Eggsy says. His voice is barely working.

“I had no idea Harry was still in there,” Gazelle says.

Eggsy would tell her the whole story, how the escape hatch broke and Harry is a hero and saved his life, and how he’s proud of him because he should be, but he can’t.

If he’d open his mouth, he’s not sure anything but angry words would come out.

 

___

 

They recover Harry from the wreck and pull him up into one of the helicopters. On board, they detect a heartbeat.

 

___

 

When Harry opens his eyes to the tiny Excalibur model swinging gently above his face, he’s almost sure he’s still in the Conn-Pod.

“Harry,” a voice says. He pins it down as Eggsy’s, although he sounds like he’s been crying and that’s not like Eggsy at all. “Roxy, he’s awake! He’s waking up!” Harry’s eyes drift shut and he sleeps again for a long time.

 

___

 

Due to the desperate lack of flowers in the Shatterdome, Eggsy brings Harry a frayed comic book he nicked from one of the mechanics.

Harry is better now daily, still attached to a drip, but he sits up with his back propped against an abundance of pillows, and he sleeps less and less. He indicates Eggsy to put the comic book to the pile of gifts he brought the previous weeks: a get-well-soon card manufactured from a safety leaflet (very aptly saying “DANGERS” on the front in bright yellow letters), a bouquet of screwdrivers and wrenches, a heap of chocolate rations he undoubtedly very charmingly persuaded members of the crew to donate to a good cause.

“How are you doing?” Harry inquires.

Eggsy shrugs the question away. He’s been talking to the Shatterdome’s shrink for the past few weeks, he’s making progress. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed, and if he has night terrors now, that’s only a temporary thing.

“You?” he passes the question back to Harry.

“Never better,” Harry says. On his last visit, Eggsy insisted on giving him a shave, Harry looks almost like his old self again.

“How much longer are you going to be stuck in here?” Eggsy asks.

“Oh, they’re certainly not hurrying things.” His gaze drifts off. “Did you think about that LOCCENT application I suggested?”

“Nah,” Eggsy says. “Nah, I’m not made for that.”

Harry smiles. He smiles a lot more now, Eggsy notices.

“I was thinking about getting out,” Eggsy says eventually.

Something in Harry’s expression changes.

“Not forever,” Eggsy hurries to add. “I want to go back to piloting eventually. But maybe train in one of the other Shatterdomes for a while. Go back home to the family for a little bit.”

“Why?” Harry asks.

“Just a thought,” Eggsy says, and shrugs. He gives the Excalibur model a gentle push, watches it swing and spin and come to rest again, resting his head on his hands, his elbows propped up on the side of Harry’s bed.

“Are you alright,” Harry asks, resting a hand on Eggsy’s shoulder.

“I will be,” he says. “I just need to get away from the fucking rain for a change.”

“By going to London?” Harry asks, an amused smile on his lips.

“You know what I mean,” Eggsy says.

Harry rests his hand on the back of Eggsy’s head, who rests his head on Harry’s mattress in return.

“I understand,” Harry says.

Ever so slightly, Eggsy can feel Harry’s thumb moving along the hairline on his neck, back and forth. He feels his breath slow down on its own accord.

“I’m going to have a hard time letting you go, you know,” Harry says, almost more to himself than to anybody else.

“I was going to ask you to come,” Eggsy says.

Harry doesn’t say anything, just resumes the gentle, steady motion of his thumb on Eggsy’s neck.

“Once you’re better, obviously,” Eggsy adds after a while.

When Harry still doesn’t respond, Eggsy lifts his head to look at him.

“Listen, Eggsy,” Harry says. The words break out of him like he’s been thinking about them for a long time. “You’re a wonderful boy, and you won’t stop demanding only the best from me, which is as sons do, I presume.” He looks at Eggsy, and there’s fondness in his eyes, and regret, and a small amount of panic. “I’m not your father, Eggsy. And I’m afraid I won’t ever be fit for the task.”

Eggsy almost laughs at Harry’s sincerely upset face.

“That’s not what I’m asking,” he says, grinning at Harry, reaching out a hand to cup his face.

“Then what are you asking?” Harry asks, helplessly.

And Eggsy moves in for the kiss – like he’s going to hold back now, fuck the doctors, fuck Merlin’s cameras. Give them a show to remember, more like.

When he pulls back, Harry looks at him for a long moment, that half-smile on his lips, but his eyes are all soft. “Are you mixing things up again, Eggsy?” he asks quietly.

“I’m really not,” Eggsy says, grinning, and Harry raises a heavy hand, rests it firmly on Eggsy’s neck, and pulls him back in.

 

___