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The last room at the end of the Cygnus compound is large and brightly lit, with whitewashed walls on all four corners and an equally pristine ceiling to match. Inside, there is a technician in a grey lab coat at the raised computer terminal in the centre, hammering frantically away at the keyboard. When he sees Eggsy come in, he whips out a pistol from the folds of his coat, but Eggsy fires first.

The man slumps to the floor, blood bubbling out from the hole in his forehead. At the same time, the door through which Eggsy just entered slides shut with a hiss and emits an ominous mechanical click.

“Fuck!” Eggsy tries the access pad next to the door, then runs over to the computer terminal. “Merlin, I’m locked in. What do I do now?”

“There should be a manual overwrite. Can you pull up the user interface?”

The monitor in front of Eggsy has no icons, no taskbar or cursor, just a rapidly-filling bar with EXCALIBUR: ACTIVATING in digital-green letters above it. “It says it’s activating,” Eggsy breathes in alarm, just as the lights in the room dim and he steps back, almost tripping over the body behind him.

“What is? Galahad, what’s activating?”

 

ACTIVATION COMPLETE. COMMENCING DOWNLOAD.

 

The darkened room fills with images. Hundreds and hundreds of images, across the walls and ceiling and the floor beneath him, images that flicker and scroll and change much faster than should be humanly possible to follow, but somehow Eggsy does. Frozen where he is, he can do nothing but watch each and every one of the images, unable to blink, unable to move or look away from them.

“Galahad, listen to me,” Merlin is saying from so very far, far away. “There will be pictures very shortly, but you are not to look at them. Do you copy that? Do not, I repeat, do not look at the pictures. Galahad, do you read me? Galahad? Galahad!”

The images keep coming.

***

When Eggsy wakes up, he’s in the back seat of a Land Rover and there’s a pulsing ache in his head that he can’t blink away. His handler, Otto, is in the driver’s seat and is conversing with both Harry and Merlin over the comms system built into the dashboard.

“Unnh,” Eggsy groans, and the three of them stop talking.

“Galahad, are you alright?” Harry asks.

“Fuck,” Eggsy mutters, sitting up and wincing as his headache intensifies briefly. He squints at the tiny screen above the gear stick, from where both Harry and Merlin look concernedly back at him. “The fuck happened back there?”

“What do you remember?"

Eggsy furrows his eyebrows. There was the compound he broke into, and the small contingent of Cygnus operatives he had to fight his way through, and at the end —

“Pictures,” he recalls. “I got locked in, and then. There was a computer, and pictures. Loads of pictures, everywhere.”

“You saw them?” Merlin asks, his voice terse.

“I… I think so.”

There’s a pause. Otto ends it by supplying, “We should reach HQ within the hour.”

“What is your present location?” Harry asks.

“An hour from Berlin,” Otto reports. “Geraint has been notified of the situation.”

“You said an hour from HQ, correct?”

“Ja, Arthur.”

“Thirty minutes,” Harry says. “We’ll contact you there again.”

***

Eggsy’s never been to the German Kingsman division or seen pictures of it before, which is why after thirty minutes of Otto breaking what feels like every speed limit in the country, he’s not prepared to be driven up to the front step of a castle. A legit, honest-to-goodness castle with turrets, portcullises, towering brick walls and a moat around its perimeter. And here he thought the mansion was something, Eggsy thinks. Talk about putting the King in Kingsman.

It’s while they’re waiting for the drawbridge to be lowered when it happens. Eggsy leans out the window to gawk up at the building for a second, then knows, in a sudden flash, its name, the year it was built, the year it was destroyed by a bomb and then rebuilt, that it was acquisitioned by Kingsman in 1989 prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall as a new permanent base, and a list of all personnel operating there former and current. The thoughts come out of nowhere, springing into his mind one after the other, ceasing only when Eggsy tears his eyes away and blinks, blinks again in the wake of so many afterimages fading from his vision.

“Otto van Eckart,” he mumbles absently, slinking back into his seat.

“Ja,” Otto says, sounding surprised. “You know my full name?”

That and more — date of birth, education, domestic address and every relative dating back to the late 20th century — but Eggsy swallows and shakes his head.

“Nice base,” he comments instead, because it really is, and if Otto looks at him just that more strangely, Eggsy pretends not to have noticed.

***

Harry and Merlin are waiting for him in the main briefing room — or their holograms are, rather — along with Geraint, a tall, auburn-haired man who waves Eggsy into the seat on the opposite side of the meeting table and offers to pour him a glass of bourbon.

“Three fingers, thanks,” Eggsy says.

“You must know that we appreciate your assistance in this matter,” Merlin says as the liquor is pushed across the table.

“Safeguarding Excalibur was our responsibility,” Geraint says, not without some regret. “This would not have happened if we had been more stalwart with our security.”

“I’m sure you took reasonable precautions,” Harry says, his tone conciliatory but still implying polite agreement.

“Danke, Arthur. You are too kind.”

“Is someone gonna get round to telling me what Excalibur is?” Eggsy asks. “Since apparently I've got it now, whatever it is.”

Geraint flicks a look at Harry, who exchanges one of his own with Merlin. Then, with a small nod from Harry, Geraint slides a thin brown folder over to Eggsy and sits back, threading his fingers together in front of him.

“Have you watched The Matrix, Galahad?” he asks.

***

Top Secret

Project Excalibur: A summary

Development of Project Excalibur began in 2010 as part of Kingsman’s efforts to digitise and compile intelligence in a manner that would allow for long-term, incorruptible storage and unparallelled cross-referencing of available data. Research conducted by chief data officer Stanislaus Hanselmann found that such information could be converted into computer codes, and then double-coded into images compatible with neurobiological programming — a single image is estimated to be able to retain between 500 and 800 gigabytes of compressed information, and possibly up to 10,000 lines of coding. Preliminary tests confirmed that visualisation of an encrypted image allowed for horizontal transfer of any data or skills contained within for subliminal retention by the viewing subject to be accessed post-download — either by external stimulus or at will — with a recall rate of 92 to 96 percent.

***

“So you’re telling me,” Eggsy says, “I’ve downloaded, what, a supercomputer?”

“In the loosest of terms, yes,” Geraint says. “A database, among other things, but it is a computer by design.”

“What’s Kingsman doing trying to put computers into peoples’ brains?”

“The project in question was primarily meant to be used within a local setting,” Geraint explains. “Discovering that the data could be stored in a person came at a later date. That development was… unexpected. It changed the direction of our research inexorably, opened doors for programming aptitudes and intelligence directly into field agents. At any rate, this is the only initiative of its kind. Was the only one, I should say.”

“Was? What do you mean, was? I got the tech back for you lot, didn’t I?” Eggsy asks.

“It’s a very novel technology,” Geraint says. “The storage unit that was stolen from us was a prototype — it contained but a single transfer. At the very least, I’d say it will take another five years to rewrite and compress whatever information we had on that unit, even with our remaining blueprints.”

“Okay. What was on the unit?”

Fiddling with a diamond cufflink, Geraint only meets Harry’s knowing eyes as he says to everyone else in the room, “Every scrap of intel gathered by Kingsman since 1969, for a start.”

“Fucking hell.” Eggsy exhales, blinks through it. “Well, that’s just great,” he grunts, folding his arms, “So what now?”

“Is there any way to remove the data from Galahad?” Harry asks.

Geraint looks down into his bourbon glass. “We were working on a suppression counter-program, but the software for that was stolen along with the computer. They were not among the items we recovered from the Cygnus compound Galahad infiltrated.”

“Another base, then.”

“I believe so.”

“Was there anything that might suggest where that may be?” Merlin asks.

“Not to my knowledge, nein.”

“Could we go back to the part where I’ve got all this stuff in my head now?” Eggsy interjects. “Like, is it safe? My brain’s not gonna explode in a couple of hours or anything, right?”

“All of our volunteers have reported mostly positive outcomes,” Geraint says.

“Mostly?” Eggsy asks at the same time that Harry does.

“Ja. There were some side effects after the download, but nothing to be terribly worried about. Though I should warn that we’ve conducted very few trials for multiple-image transfers — it goes without saying that Excalibur is on an entirely different level.”

“No kidding,” Eggsy mutters, his headache threatening to return at the memory of a thousand different images teeming before his eyes.

“If you have the time, we’ve arranged a full checkup for you,” Geraint suggests. “Just to make sure that you’re fine before you leave.”

Eggsy shrugs. “Sure, if it’s alright with Arthur.”

“I think that would be most prudent,” Harry agrees.

Geraint nods. “I’ll inform tech and medical to make the necessary arrangements.”

***

Two hours of being probed and scanned in the infirmary later, Eggsy’s greeted by a familiar face at his bedside.

“Amelia!”

“It’s Ingrid, actually,” she corrects him, unclipping a pen from her belt and taking the chair next to the examination table Eggsy’s perched on. Her hair’s been cut short and she’s wearing glasses not unlike those issued out to Kingsmen working the field. “But you can keep calling me Amelia, if you’re more comfortable with that.”

“Were you working on Excalibur too?”

“Ja,” she says, and rolls her eyes when Eggsy smirks. “Yes. I was assigned to the coding team. Chief’s briefed you on the project, then?”

“If you can even call it a brief,” Eggsy sniffs. “I barely know anything about what this thing’s supposed to do. Say, you wouldn’t happen to be able to tell me, would you?”

“Sure, if you’ll answer some questions I’ve got for you,” Amelia says and flips through the papers affixed to the clipboard she has with her.

Eggsy nods. “Ready when you are.”

“Did you experience any effects following the download, unpleasant or otherwise?”

“Had a bit of a headache,” Eggsy says.

“Mm. That’s one of the most common unwanted effects. Any tingling or itching? Experience any numbness?”

“Uh.” Eggsy scrunches up his face. “I passed out when it was over.”

“Did you now? Interesting. How long were you out for?”

“I dunno. You’ll have to ask Otto about that.”

“Were you able to maintain smooth muscle tone?”

Eggsy looks at her. “Huh?”

“Did you vom, piss, or shit yourself at any point before, during or after the download?” Amelia rephrases.

“What? No!”

“That’s encouraging,” Amelia notes, flipping to another page. “Have you started to recall data already?”

“I — yeah. Yeah, I have.”

“Could you elaborate? What sort of data?”

“Uh.” It takes some more concerted thought, but Eggsy manages to remember, “Things about this place, about some of the people working here. Geraint, Otto,” he hesitates, then adds, “You.”

Amelia stops writing and looks at him over the rim of her glasses. Lips thinned, she says, “I see. Anything specific?”

Before he can answer, Eggsy glimpses the ID badge clipped to Amelia’s coat pocket and the information comes to him in another unbidden flash — Ingrid Dillinger, born 12th of December 1986, recruited and propositioned in 2008 for the newly-created designation of Bedivere, shunted into tech in 2009 upon failure of final task; Wendla the cocker spaniel had been killed in a car accident the very same year, two months after the death of Theres Janke-Dillinger, wife of Stephan Dillinger. A second offer at candidacy was turned down in 2014, and a third in 2015.

“Not really,” Eggsy prevaricates. “It tends to all come in a flash, it’s hard to pick things out.”

“Is that what it’s like? A flash?”

“Yeah.” It’s only happened twice — thrice, now — but Eggsy can’t think of any other word that’s as fitting. “I guess you could call it that.”

***

The next set of tests are only slightly more interesting. Eggsy’s provided with a set of images to look at and describe, many of which are of the most random selection. There are animals and plants, buildings and people, and other assorted objects that appear to have come off the world’s most unimpressive collection of stock photography. But every now and again there’ll be a picture that’s innocuous for a second before Eggsy finds himself talking about things he’s never known about or heard of — past Kingsman missions, access codes, radio transmission frequencies, the birth names and aliases of every agent who has held the title of Pellinore since the post was created in 1967. It feels like he’s breathing out on a inexhaustible reservoir of air whenever it happens, the intel flowing from some unreachable location inside his mind.

After they break for lunch, the images graduate from indiscriminate photographs to the sort that Eggsy’s more used to seeing in mission dossiers. He identifies a Lithuanian assassin terminated by Percival in 2006 from a grainy surveillance photo and the schematics of a bomb used to blow up a hotel in Bangkok in 1999. He looks at the close-up of a ruby ring and knows that the owner headed an underground terrorist cell in Tel Aviv from 2008 to 2012 before being brought down single-handedly by one agent Galahad.

Eggsy’s a little disappointed that he’s not given extra time to pull up further details surrounding the Tel Aviv mission, but moves on to the eco-terrorists operating out of Louisiana anyway when the image switches over to an oil rig engulfed in dark smoke. It’s not as interesting a case file as the previous one, though, and as much as he hopes, there aren’t any more of Harry’s old missions lurking among the remaining photos they show him.

***

“Are you coming to get me soon?” Eggsy asks later over the line.

“We’re sending a jet over to pick you up once you’ve been cleared,” Harry says. “How are the tests going?”

“Not bad, I suppose.” He hasn’t been notified on any of his results yet, but Eggsy has a pretty good vibe from the excited chatter that follows whenever there are two or more technicians presiding over his examinations. “I’ve just been looking at lots of pictures all afternoon.”

“Goodness. I hope it hasn’t been as dull as it sounds.”

“If only,” Eggsy groans. “I just want to get out of here is all.”

“Do you have a lot of tests left?”

“There’s one more. Ingr — Amelia says it’s the most hands-on out of the lot. Dunno what that means.”

“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Harry says, a smile laced into the warmth of his words. “Just like you always do.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like you’re gonna kick me out of Kingsman if I fail, are you?” Eggsy jokes.

Harry makes a considering noise. “I’ll have to think about that,” he says, and Eggsy grins, his cheeks flushing red.

***

The last test, as it turns out, is having Eggsy watch simulations of moves from different styles of martial arts and then attempt to perform them himself. He’s a fairly fast learner, can handle the basics with relative ease, but fails repeatedly with more difficult strikes and positions that end with him landing painfully on his bottom every time he falters. The research team’s refusal to provide him with a training mat isn’t helping.

“I can’t,” Eggsy groans when he’s asked to try a butterfly kick for the third time. He can’t get adequate momentum to cycle through the full move without tripping at the very end; if he slips up one more time, a sprained ankle isn’t entirely out of the question. “It’s too bloody hard, I can’t.”

"Yes, you can,” Amelia insists. “You just need to focus harder.”

As if Eggsy’s not already giving it everything he’s got; fuck.

“I don’t think this is working,” he says.

“It should be on Excalibur, you’ll know once you’ve got it.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It’s not just intel that we wrote codes for,” Amelia says. “There are skills as well, all kinds of competencies that would take years of practice and training to build up. If you can access the intelligence — which you have been doing splendidly, I must say — you should be able to do the same for said skills. In theory.”

Eggsy contemplates protesting again but the simulation restarts and he stares at the demonstrator on-screen, the way his legs sweep through the air in one graceful motion. He imagines, over the course of the slow-mo replay, what it would look like if it were him executing the kick, how his whole waist would twist like that, his right foot swinging in the same arc traced out by his left, and —

He doesn’t know where the confidence to do so comes from, but doesn’t hesitate or falter, just leaps and kicks and sticks the landing as flawlessly as he had envisioned not seconds ago.

“Meine Fresse,” Amelia murmurs, and Eggsy looks up at her as it suddenly becomes clear to him what she said.

“What else did you guys put on this thing?” he asks, and only works out from Amelia’s mounting, wide-eyed astonishment that he’s just spoken in German without having realised it.

***

Top Secret

Project Excalibur: Codable skills, knowledge and proficiencies

An initiative to begin coding aptitudes for Excalibur was proposed in June 2014 and approved shortly thereafter. As of January 2015, programs for miscellaneous skills have been successfully written and integrated into the Excalibur files, including — but not limited to — marksmanship, firearm handling, Olympic-level athletics, encyclopaedic knowledge, martial arts, all known classes of driving licenses, field surgery, and no less than a hundred native languages and dialects. Skills are chosen based on operational requirements by the subject in possession of Excalibur, and shall continue to be reassessed for inclusion as and when deemed necessary.

***

Twenty minutes after Eggsy’s issued with a clean bill of health, the jet from London touches down in the castle itself, part of which has been refashioned into an aerodrome that rises out of the keep. Amelia bids him goodbye with a peck on the cheek and an abridged manual on Excalibur that she warns him to tell no one about, lest the entire tech team gets a bollocking for physicalising highly confidential information. Probably means he shouldn’t be skimming it in front of Merlin, but Eggsy figures he’s good so long as only one of them can understand German.

“You can read that?” Merlin asks in the flight cabin.

“Mmph.” Eggsy turns a page and sifts through the lines of text — a calm emotional state provides optimal conditions for true somatic recall and decreases the incidence of ectopic activation — perfectly fluid and with easy clarity. “Ja, ich kann.”

“Blimey. What else can you do now?”

“Pretty much everything,” Amelia had said in the post-test briefing when Eggsy asked. “We wrote programs for every skill that could conceivably be useful to a field agent. If a person can learn it, chances are it’s in there.”

“I’m still figuring it out,” Eggsy says to Merlin. The jet’s flying on autopilot but he wonders if he could convince Merlin to let him try steering the aircraft home. “They told me it’d be better if I spent some time dicking about with it on my own. Said I might learn to use it faster that way.”

Merlin’s eyebrows join in the centre of his forehead. “Isn’t it a bit dangerous that they’re letting you go without teaching you?”

“S’nothing much to teach. They don’t really know how a lot of it works either.”

“All the more reason for you to remain under their supervision, no?”

Eggsy looks up from the manual. “You tryin’ to get rid of me, Merlin?”

“I await the day when I may ever be so fortunate,” Merlin replies wryly. “I’m just saying that I’d rather we be prepared to deal with the worst should something untoward happen. Tech as new as Excalibur, there’s bound to be glitches.”

“There’ll probably be an app for that,” Eggsy ponders out loud.

Merlin folds his arms. “You might want to take this more seriously, Galahad. Might I remind you that it’s your head on the line here?”

“Aw, I’m just ribbin’ ya, Merls,” Eggsy says, waving him off. “Let your hair down a little. Or, y’know, whatever it is you’ve got to let down.”

“Cheeky rascal,” Merlin grunts, but lets it drop.

***

Except, of course, Harry brings it up again back at the mansion.

“You understand that we have to take all uncertainties into account,” he says, flipping shut what Eggsy surmises is the English translation of the same manual Amelia gave him.

“They said I’m fine,” Eggsy says.

Harry links his fingers and rests his hands on the cover of the manual. “That they did. Do you feel well enough to remain on active duty?”

“Uh, yeah. More or less.”

“Are you sure? I’d be happy to give you some time off if you need it.”

Eggsy thinks about what Amelia said and the manual he’s read from front to back to front and gets maybe a quarter of. He remembers going airborne in the training room before knowing what he was doing, foreign syllables and consonants on his startlingly versed tongue. Remembers flashing on floorplans of the mansion and the fastest route to Arthur’s office from the hangar as he was getting off the jet, and almost falling down the airstairs in that moment of fleeting disorientation.

“Maybe a couple days,” he reconsiders.

***

The learning curve is surprisingly linear. Eggsy starts off slow, tentative. When he can reasonably conclude that there’s nothing more the manual can tell him, he spends an hour watching the news, flashing on stories that Kingsman have flagged for possible intervention in future. It’s not surprising, but the breaking report confirming the recovery of the Polish ambassador’s son leaves out the fact that it was Lancelot who tracked the kidnappers to Athens and rescued the boy — Eggsy vaguely remembers Roxy making casual mention of her most recent mission when they last spoke, though he hadn’t been paying close attention at the time.

In the afternoon, he goes to the neighbourhood gym. At the weights station, between reps of bench presses, he becomes aware of someone shadowboxing in the corner of the room. Eggsy watches him without thinking about anything in particular, and the close-combat flash comes to him almost instantly with a little bit of concentration. He realises that the man’s holding his fists too far from his body to react as quickly as he could, that he’s too tall not to afford dropping his centre of gravity further for a more sturdy defence. He identifies five different ways to TKO him in seconds before shifting his focus back to his own workout, not without some conscious effort.

There are parallel bars that Eggsy usually reserves for his last set of balance exercises, but he heads for them straight after finishing with free weights. For the hell of it, he flashes on advanced gymnastics before powdering his hands and mounting the bars. He does peach handstands and twirls, full turns and other manoeuvres he’s always wanted to try but has never been confident of pulling off without badly injuring himself, and dismounts with a double back-off pike that has half the people in the same room staring and more than a few mouths hanging open.

The pommel horse nearby sorely tempts but Eggsy makes the executive decision that he’s done for the day — no matter what his mates or Merlin say, even he isn’t that big of a show-off.

***

A week after returning from Berlin, Eggsy books himself for a solo run on the Kingsman standard obstacle course. He hasn’t tried it in ages, not since his training days with Roxy and the others, and can’t quite recall the exact progression of stations to clear, only has a rough idea of how it goes. All geared up and ready at the starting line, he flashes on assault course clearing tactics just as the countdown horn blares, and sets off at top speed.

He feels the program take charge immediately. He’s up and over the low wall in an instant, even though it’s always been the station Eggsy remembers struggling the most with, and lands on the other side running. Then across the stepping stones and the climbing net, past the balance beam and high rope — it feels like his brain processes each obstacle instantly with a single glance and maps out the quickest way through, instructions that his body follows automatically and seamlessly in rapid succession.

He finishes in half the duration he’d taken for his last clocked run, a full minute ahead of the all-time fastest on record.

***

“My, my, someone’s awfully cheerful,” Harry notes.

Eggsy grins wider. He’s just come back from the firing range, where multiple perfect scores in his name now dominate the leaderboards for rifles and handguns alike. If the marksmanship program on Excalibur was involved at any point, then nobody has to know about it. “I’m having a pretty good day,” he says, sliding into the armchair in front of Harry’s desk.

“I’m glad to hear that. How’s the supercomputer?” Harry asks without lifting his gaze from the mission report he’s vetting.

“Super,” Eggsy says, and smiles impishly at Harry’s look. What? The joke was just asking to be made, come on.

“Gotten the hang of it, have you?”

Eggsy nods. The other day he’d had a sparring session with Ywain in the dojo and trumped the hand-to-hand combat instructor three times in a row: karate, judo and muay thai. He officially didn’t hear it from Roxy, but Ywain had to have some time to himself in the quiet meditation room afterwards.

“S’not as hard as I thought it’d be,” he says. “Don’t really have to think too much most of the time.”

“That’s good,” Harry says, putting the report down. “Any issues so far, or things you’d like to feedback on?”

“I still can’t get Wi-Fi,” Eggsy complains. “Some supercomputer this is.”

This joke earns a hearty laugh, one that crinkles Harry’s eyes and puts creases into his forehead, and the warmth that unfolds in Eggsy’s chest at this tilts his heart just so, works its way up into his face. Harry’s laugh is one of those things he tries to get out of the man at every given opportunity, actively seeks like it’s Eggsy’s default state of being around him. It’s an invaluable step down from jumping Harry like the lovesick groupie he feels like at times, or worse, making poor life decisions as always and declaring you-know-what and fucking up their standing relationship for the whole of forever; Eggsy would sooner off himself than run that risk, walk it, whatever.

“I’ll make sure to inform Geraint about that,” Harry says. “We’ll see if it’s not doable. Anything else?”

Eggsy shakes his head. “Nope.”

“Splendid.” Harry slides a folder over to Eggsy. “I think it’s about time we had a field test, wouldn’t you say?”

***

Because the mission is technically a trial — Eggsy’s informed that this will apply to the next few ones he’s assigned with — Harry attaches Percival to him as a handler slash mission control, and to serve as backup on the off-chance that things somehow go far south and Eggsy can’t carry the mission to completion. Eggsy feels marginally better about this when Roxy’s mentor makes it clear from the get-go that he'll be far too busy gathering field data on Excalibur to even think about nannying him. In that vein, Eggsy intends to give him plenty to analyse and then some.

The Kingsman jet drops them off in Mumbai, where Eggsy’s to conduct surveillance on a Pakistani shell corporation until he knows where they’re hoarding the sarin gas that was smuggled into the country about a month ago. There’s a meeting for investors that Eggsy attends under the guise of a Welsh stock magnate, just to get inside the building and see if they can mine for flashes that could give them an idea as to where to start looking.

He gets two in the first hour he’s there, one on a cargo flight that has recently come in from Luxembourg, and another on a shipment freight that was scheduled for departure from Chennai in the last twenty-four hours. During a briefing outlining regional branches of the company, Eggsy flashes a third time on a factory just north of the India-Nepal border — it’s registered to a Japanese automobile firm operating out of Kathmandu, but its subsidiary holders were bought over in 2011 by Luxembourg NewCo Technologies Limited, the same name recorded on two-thirds of the consignment processed in Findel Airport the previous month.

All in all, they’re in Mumbai for less than twelve hours before Percival re-hails HQ for a ride to Nepal. Harry had instructed them to send a report with their initial findings back within the week.

***

“Galahad, are you in position?” Percival asks over the comms.

The back of the factory is cordoned off with a tall wire fence. The lichen-encrusted warning sign hanging off it is in Nepali but Eggsy’s not wasting a perfectly good flash on interpreting what the stick figure being skewered by a thunderbolt is meant to convey. Looking up the length of the fence and the building behind it, he tugs on his Kingsman-issue suede gloves, tests the insulated material, and flashes through wall-climbing, freerunning, and lets the program chart the fastest way inside.

“I’m going in,” Eggsy says.

***

In the aftermath of his one-man infiltration, the factory has been evacuated of hostiles and non-combatants alike and part of it is on fire. Eggsy had let off a hand grenade at full blast close to where the sarin was being kept and built-in safety protocols did the rest, locking the damaged vault down as the whole floor was flooded with a liquid that smelled funny enough for Eggsy to put his hopes on a proper neutraliser rather than just plain water.

It’s easy to cover his tracks in the chaos that follows. He leaves the same way he entered, through a lavatory window on the second floor, and is in and out of the place without being noticed. As far as he knows, nobody is killed or injured, and with luck, he can see it all being put down to little more than an unfortunate accident.

***

Because Harry hadn’t expected them back for at least two weeks, much less two days, he’s sufficiently astonished and pleased with their performance to consider giving Eggsy yet another lengthy break. This is before Percival, the vicious traitor, informs Harry that he needs more data to supplement his assessment of Excalibur, at which point Eggsy’s too high on glowing compliments and Harry’s smile to turn down the second mission that’s offered to him.

Granted, it’s not all that bad. The assignment isn’t as straightforward as the first and takes five days of intensive recon and staking out dozens of diners, but Eggsy's cool with racking up his mission count while he’s on a roll. Pursuing a flash on some files he lifts from an NSA agent working on Capitol Hill, they track the Serbian sleeper installed in the West Wing to the eleventh floor of a DC hotel and a spectacular fight ensues — a brawling flash gives Eggsy all the skills he needs to pummel his recalcitrant opponent into submission, and a taekwondo one to knock him out cold with a roundhouse kick to the temple.

“Already?” holo-Harry says later in the Arlington safe house. Eggsy’s just finished delivering his post-action report and is standing before Harry in parade rest, a habit brought over from his Marine days. “Goodness, Galahad. At the rate you’re going, there won’t be any missions left for the others. Care to slow it down a little?”

Eggsy grins. False modesty’s just as bad as a lack of the real thing in his books, and objectively speaking, he’s been killing it. “A lot of it was Excalibur,” he does admit, because a gentleman always gives credit where credit is due and acknowledges it when it’s not his to take.

“A weapon is only as good as the person wielding it,” Harry says, and Eggsy supposes it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if he concurs with that. “I think you’ve risen to the occasion marvellously. Percival, your thoughts?”

“Galahad’s performance has been most impressive,” Percival allows. “Couldn’t have done better myself, I’d say.”

“There you go,” Harry says to Eggsy, and addresses Percival again, “I assume you’ll need more time to complete your appraisal?”

“It would be helpful.”

“How about it, Galahad?” Harry smiles at him, eyes soft and twinkling even in virtual projection. “Keen to make it three for the road?”

Eggsy wonders if there’ll ever come a day when he can say no to this man as he nods and smiles back.

***

They’re carrying out a spoofed drug deal in Prague when things go tits up.

Third time’s the charm, Eggsy thinks ironically as he continues dragging a barely-standing Percival further down the street, closer to their designated safe house. It should have been a simple mission — Eggsy had been posing as an interested buyer, and Percival his bodyguard — but neither of them thought to factor in the possibility of the other party planning to stab them in the back. Literally. The sticky patch between Percival’s shoulder blades has soaked into Eggsy’s sleeve and he’s been coughing up blood for the last ten minutes; Eggsy hadn’t seen how deep the blade went, had only reflexively flashed on knife fighting the instant he saw it pull out and proceeded to lay waste to the four men who tried to cross them.

By the time they’ve made it to the safe house and Eggsy’s hauled Percival onto the sofa, Percival’s struggling to breathe. He’s making increasingly desperate gasping noises and can’t seem to hold on to any air, let alone speak. Eggsy opens an emergency channel on his glasses and grabs the medical kit from the kitchen, and when he has crouched back down by the sofa Harry’s saying in his ear, urgent:

“I’m transferring you over to Merlin.”

“Galahad, talk to me,” Merlin says.

“He’s been stabbed,” Eggsy reports. He turns Percival onto his side so that Merlin can see the wound, then presses a wad of bandages to it when Merlin grunts in response. “I dunno how far it’s gone, I didn’t get a good look.”

“This is bad,” Merlin mutters. “This is very, very bad. Looks to me like a —”

“Tension pneumothorax.” He’s snipped through Percival’s shirt with surgical scissors to expose his sweat-slicked chest and is now dunking a pair of large swabs in iodine. His mind is already listing what he needs for a needle decompression, going through possible approaches and complications, aseptic technique and that Percival crucially needs supplemental oxygen now. At the same time he’s zeroing in on the insertion site for the large-bore cannula he cracks from its packaging, mentally organising the procedure by sequence of importance, each and every step searingly clear in his mind’s eye. Eggsy’s hands are stabler than they should be when he snaps on nitrile gloves and fills a hypodermic from an ampule of morphine, then gives it two flicks from the side expertly to get rid of air bubbles.

“Galahad,” Merlin says. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

He doesn’t, as a matter of fact, but for Percival’s sake Eggsy hopes that the field surgery program on Excalibur does.

“Here goes everything,” he murmurs, slipping the needle into Percival’s arm and pressing down on the plunger.

***

They’re flown back to London a day after Percival does not die in Prague. In total, Eggsy’s been awake for thirty hours straight, hasn’t gotten any sleep or rest for having stayed up through the night and into the late morning, re-flashing on trauma medicine to check Percival’s vitals and getting mini heart attacks whenever the unconscious man’s pulse so much as flutters or has the audacity to change by more than five beats per minute. Once they’ve loaded Percival up on the air ambulance Merlin flies into Václav Havel, Eggsy conks out in the cabin before the aircraft can begin to taxi and sleeps like a narcoleptic the whole flight home.

When Eggsy wakes up — woken up by Merlin shoving him out of his seat — two hours later, he has a splitting headache that follows him to the infirmary, where they drop Percival off to be operated on properly. Eggsy takes two paracetamol and wonders if medical would mind him having a kip on one of the beds, they’ve got loads empty anyway, but Merlin ushers him to mission control before he can try. There’s an incident report to be filled in, his own personal account to be typed up and verified by recorded footage, and it’s dark out again when Eggsy steps out of the monorail and rides the elevator up back into the shop.

He answers the storekeeper’s good evening, sir with a small smile, much too exhausted for words or anything more complicated than that. His head still hurts, a dull, insistent ripple of an ache that spreads from between his eyes to the back of his skull. Eggsy’s yet to call for a taxi, which he attempts to do but fumbles and drops his phone as he fishes it out; fan-fucking-tastic. He’s about to bend down and pick it up, but there are footsteps coming down the stairs and the storekeeper’s repeated, “Good evening, sir,” and the familiar distinguished hum that Eggsy will eventually be able to handle like a mature grown-up, someday.

“And you, Carruthers,” Harry says, and, “Alright there, Eggsy?”

Eggsy would nod but the throbbing in his head warns him off trying to move it more than strictly necessary, so he goes mmph and glares at his phone until Harry stoops to pick it up for him. “Thanks, Harry.”

“You’re very welcome,” Harry says, handing it over. “Tired?”

“Fuckin’ knackered,” Eggsy mutters. He thumbs his passcode into his phone and manages to screw it up, bites down on a fuck as Harry grimaces sympathetically.

“Oh, dear. I was just leaving, myself. Would you like a ride home?”

Eggsy looks up. He’s got the number for a Kingsman taxi on his phone now but doesn’t make the call. “For real?”

Harry raises an eyebrow, smiles at him with something that’s kind and soft-edged and — and fond, Eggsy wants to say, would know better than to mistake anything else for if his brain wasn’t flickering like a light bulb on the verge of fusing for good. It’s just, well, gentlemen do this sort of thing, don’t they, be nice to people just because it’s within their capacity, not because they like them or want to curry favour or simply fancy a shag; Eggsy doesn't know what it says about himself that he’s actually disappointed by this at times, but it can’t be anything flattering.

“Yes, for real,” Harry confirms. “Taxi’s waiting outside.”

“I don’t wanna be a bother,” Eggsy starts, stops when Harry shakes his head and puts his hand on Eggsy’s shoulder.

“Nonsense. It’s no trouble at all,” Harry says, and Eggsy kind of wishes they lived in different neighbourhoods so that would be just the smallest bit untrue. “We’re headed in the same direction, it’ll take no longer than a few minutes.”

Eggsy reaches up to hold Harry’s arm, rethinks it, rubs his nose instead. “I s’pose,” he says, and lets Harry lead him out of the store.

***

Seated in the back of the taxi, next to Harry, Eggsy does his best to keep awake. He ends up dozing intermittently, startling to semi-consciousness whenever the taxi turns a corner and his head lolls into Harry’s shoulder. After Eggsy’s apologised for the fourth time, his words slur-stuttered and sloppy with interrupted slumber, Harry smiles and tells him it’s fine, he doesn’t mind in the slightest, and eases Eggsy’s head back down, and. Shit. Lying against him, all weariness forgotten, Eggsy gulps and hopes that Harry can’t feel his heart thumping.

“You were splendid, you know,” Harry tells him — the taxi’s waiting at a red light, and Eggsy opens his eyes because it would be pointless to continue pretending to sleep. “Percival would have died, if it weren’t for you.”

Eggsy’s not sure what to make of this. On the one hand it’s true, a fact laid plain and bare, but on the other it wasn’t him who’d decided on what to do then, acted judiciously, steadied his hands. Not really.

“Didn’t really have a choice,” he murmurs. “Wasn’t gonna have that brandy a’gin, would’ve done anything to — you know it tastes like shit, don’t you?”

“There is no taste fouler than the loss of a comrade,” Harry says solemnly, which makes Eggsy feel like a twat for trying to be funny before Harry adds, a resigned but lighthearted lift to his tone, “Though I must profess that brandy puts up quite the contest.”

“And you’d still make us drink it,” Eggsy says.

“Tradition, I’m afraid. ‘Tis the most longstanding of all those that come with being a Kingsman.”

Eggsy understands. He’d flashed on the brandy thing that sleepless night in Prague, when it was three in the morning and there’d been one terrible moment where things got worse, such that he’d been convinced that Percival wasn’t going to make it. He knows now about the first man ever to hold the title of Arthur, about all he had dedicated to and done for Kingsman, that he’d bequeathed his earthly belongings to charity upon his death, save a priceless collection of Napoleonic 1815s that would only ever be tasted in memory of the fallen, of those who would not be furnished with as befitting an honour otherwise.

“The first Arthur fought with a sabre, did you know that?” Eggsy says. “Diamond-coated, solid Damascus steel core. Nothing could dull or chip it. He called it Excalibur, too.”

“There have been many Excaliburs in the history of Kingsman,” Harry says, which is precisely what’s been bugging Eggsy ever since Prague.

“Yeah, but they’ve all belonged to Arthurs,” Eggsy says slowly.

“Yes.” It feels like it should, but the word doesn’t come out wistful. From the corner of his eye, Eggsy sees Harry smile. “They most certainly have.”

That’s all Eggsy really needs to know for sure — who the single upload should have gone to, who it was always meant for, the rightful owner of the current Excalibur in his head. That it should be Harry who can speak Russian and Sanskrit and Thai and Hebrew, who can rattle off every element known to man by atomic weight and year of discovery, who will never lose another fight for as long as he lives. He deserved — deserves — all that, and it’s not like Eggsy’s taken that away from him by choice, but his chest still goes tight just the same.

“I’m sorry,” Eggsy says, and hates how small his voice sounds.

“Whatever for, Eggsy?”

“Should’ve been you, innit,” Eggsy mumbles, turning his head to look up at Harry, and he would if he could: give him Excalibur, the world, everything. “Getting Excalibur, doing all this stuff I’m doing.”

“I’m very much of the same mind as Percival on that, dear boy. I hardly think I would’ve done any better than what you have,” Harry laughs, and he believes that, Eggsy can tell, proving yet again that there will be no other person as gracious as him, nor Eggsy will love as much.

“I think you would’ve done alright,” Eggsy says, mock-musingly, and it’s more than worth it for the second chuckle he gets from Harry.

“Thank you, Eggsy. That might just be the most flattering thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

“What, you don’t think I mean it?” Eggsy asks. “I’m serious, I think you’d have been pretty decent. Maybe even almost as good as me.”

“Oh, come now, stop it. You’re making me blush.”

Weird, Eggsy thinks, that Harry’s face is a little red now, a tint of colour to his cheeks that’s visible even in the faint light from the passing streetlamps. Eggsy doesn’t believe for a moment that he’s actually flattered, keeps his eyes on Harry’s eyes and tries not to let them stray to Harry’s mouth, to the pale slice of skin above his buttoned collar. All he can think of is how Harry smells exactly like he did the day they’d met outside that police station, of aftershave and expensive leather in the taxi ride over to the Black Prince. That he's in love with this man and it kills him to think that he may never get to say it out loud.

"Would you like to keep Excalibur, Eggsy?"

Eggsy thinks about it. There is an obvious answer to this and he is not going to give it even if it makes him a liar on top of being selfish. "D'you want me to?"

Harry smiles. "If it makes you happy, then yes. Of course I do."

Eggsy breathes in and doesn't know what he means to mean when he looks Harry right in the face and says without thinking, "I want it to make you happy."

Harry's eyes widen and his mouth opens a little, like he was expecting something entirely different. Eggsy freezes, and it's not too late to laugh it off, yuk it up to a stupid joke, but he doesn't. He looks at Harry for what feels like the longest time, and it takes even longer than that for him to realise, like it’s a flash coming off Excalibur, that Harry’s seeing the same thing that he is.

The taxi putters to a stop on the road outside Eggsy’s place and their chauffeur announces, “Neville Street, sirs,” but Harry pays him no notice, and quite rightly, neither does Eggsy. It’s the gentlest of movements when it happens — Harry bending towards him, willowlike, to press his lips to Eggsy’s — and Eggsy lifts his chin, kissing him back. Harry’s mouth is soft and Eggsy can taste dry gin, which gives him an inkling of this potentially turning out to be a disaster in the morning, but he closes his eyes against how long he’s wanted this, wanted Harry, and doesn’t think about anything, just mouths into the kiss and lets it bring him wherever it may go.

He barely registers it when the car engine chugs back to life and the taxi sets off again, further down the road to Stanhope Mews.

***

“Was that you or Excalibur, just now?” Harry murmurs.

It’s much, much later in the night and they’re in Harry’s large four-poster, twined together and naked under the duvet. Eggsy’s been lapping up smears of Harry’s come off the man’s chest for the past minute but halts to cock an incredulous eyebrow at Harry. “Seriously, Harry?” he says. “Do you really think I’m so shit at sex that I’d need a flash to tell me how to fuck you?”

Harry just grins, the smug bastard, and rolls over to lie on top of Eggsy. “There’s nothing wrong with trying it out. That’s all I’m saying.”

Eggsy rolls his eyes and wraps his arms around Harry, tucks his fingers into the cleft of Harry’s bum. “Like I’d let anything else get its hands on you.”

“It would be you doing it, though,” Harry points out.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Eggsy insists, and Harry shushes him, kisses him into silence.

“Whichever way it was, I enjoyed that very much, darling. Thank you,” he says. Harry Hart, polite and posh as fuck even in bed. Eggsy can’t say that he’s surprised.

“Yeah? Well, good,” he says. “Guess I won’t have to blow you then, if you’re all done for the night.”

“Is that so? Forgive me, but I may have to retract my previous statement.”

“Don’t you dare,” Eggsy warns, and Harry smiles at him radiantly like a new dawn breaking, doesn’t.

***

In the morning, Eggsy wakes with warm breath in his hair and dried come on his jaw and Harry’s hand at his belly, stroking lazily. He has a long, indulgent moment lying with his eyes closed and a stupidly contented grin that grows stupider still at the press of doting lips to the back of his neck.

“Good morning,” Harry murmurs.

It really is, Eggsy has to agree. Might just be the best he’s ever had.

***

Nothing changes drastically, is the funny thing. They go to work as per normal and handle the daily regimen of mission reports, grounds inspections and status checks on all agents handling active assignments. Harry keeps from sending Eggsy out again for the time being, citing indisputably above-satisfactory performance in recent weeks. Besides, the pool of available missions has been considerably thinned out with Eggsy’s latest hat-trick, and with Percival out for the count, there’s scarcely anyone else with as much familiarity with Excalibur to take over the formal assessment.

That’s all Harry’s reasoning, anyway. Eggsy’s just grateful for the much-needed breather and mindblowing fucks they’re having every other day or so.

But there are changes, and these are the ones Eggsy likes to think about, that he focuses on and welcomes. Changes such as Harry picking him up from his house in the morning, Harry kissing his fingers on the front steps of the shop before they get to where they’re supposed to be, his own little self-reminders that he can kiss Harry now, that it’s something he no longer has to restrict to merely wanting. They knock off at the same time most days but Eggsy hangs back whenever Harry’s kept in late, and sometimes Harry takes him out to dinner or invites him home for a drink. Those tend to end in fucking on different surfaces in Harry’s house more than they don’t, not that Eggsy’s complaining.

Flapjack Whack,” Eggsy all but pleads, and grabs blindly back for Harry’s hips, greedy for more than the five inches Harry has buried deep in him. He’s bent over the desk in Harry’s study, forced to face the wall of tabloid covers as Harry fucks him open, fucks him rough. “Shit, Harry. If you’re gonna poison someone, don’t use pancakes, that ain’t right.”

“You know about that?” Harry grunts. He draws out and rams in again and Eggsy keens his pleasure, embarrassingly loud and wanton but he doesn’t care. “Ahh, yes, of course — Excalibur. There’ll be files on all these, most definitely.”

There are indeed. Eggsy’s been flashing on different headlines every time his control slips on any of Harry’s thrusts, enough so that he can feel the beginnings of the migraine that develops whenever he flashes too many times in a single day. He should snap at Harry to hurry it up, to come in him before the headache gets worse and Eggsy loses his hold on the mood, but Harry feels so fucking good in him that Eggsy wants it to last despite all else.

“You could know everything about me if you wanted,” Harry purrs in his ear. He grips Eggsy’s wrists hard, anchoring him to the desk, and god Eggsy loves him. Wants Harry to take him, own him, do with him as he so pleases. “One flash, that’s all you would need.”

He’s got that right, too. The Kingsman agent primers on Excalibur boast an extraordinary level of detail that borders on obsessive — out of sheer curiosity, Eggsy had poked into some of his own records one day and discovered a second cousin even his mum didn’t know about. He can’t begin to imagine what Excalibur could tell him about Harry, but already he knows that he knows things it never could, like the timbre of Harry’s moans when Eggsy’s swallowing around his cock, the solid weight of Harry’s body on top of his, the look on Harry’s face when he comes and how that’s about the most goddamn beautiful thing in the world to him.

“Yeah, I know,” Eggsy gasps, turning his head so Harry can kiss the corner of his mouth. “Where’d be the fuckin’ fun in that?”

***

Following a short misadventure in the Kingsman weapons lab, Eggsy’s left with a mild concussion and three stitches in the back of his head and a newfound distrust of all experimental tech guaranteed to be completely safe for testing, Galahad, honest. Harry tries to get him warded for observation, failing which he bullies Eggsy into living with him for the duration of Eggsy’s sick leave and Harry’s self-alloted downtime.

“Only if I can bring JB,” Eggsy says, even though he’s already told his mum that he’ll be staying over at Harry’s for a bit. She’s taken to Eggsy being with someone older than her better than he’d thought she would — whether she remembers Harry from all those Christmases ago is a bridge Eggsy decides they’ll cross only if they ever have to.

Harry doesn’t look up from his laptop and continues typing. “Certainly.”

“He sleeps in my bed at home,” Eggsy elaborates.

There’s a lull in the clacking of keys. “Certainly not.”

“I’ll suck you in the car, on the way back,” Eggsy offers, never mind the fact that this basically makes him a prostitute by definition. “And also whenever you feel like it.”

Harry looks up. “Negotiation tends to involve some self-sacrifice on your part, Eggsy, darling.”

“You’re massive, alright?” Eggsy counters, but he’s smiling. “S’not as easy as it looks, keeping your cock in my mouth.”

Lips pursed, Harry appears to consider this. “One night,” he says.

“Three.”

“One.”

“Two,” Eggsy bargains. “Come on, Harry, be a sport.”

“One.”

Eggsy sighs and pulls out the big guns, “I’ll let you put your whole fist up in me too, if you can wing it.”

Harry looks slightly less resolute than he did moments ago. He licks his lips and goes back to typing, and says, “…fine. Two, then.”

The things Eggsy does for JB, sometimes.

***

As much as Eggsy’s sure Harry wants to, there’s little to make a fuss over for the next few days. The constant cluster headaches are attributable to the concussion, ameliorated by ibuprofen and the power naps Harry forces him to take even with Eggsy’s nine hours every night. Half the time Eggsy’s not tired enough to sleep, but it’s cosy to lie in bed or on the sofa with his head in Harry’s lap, nice in and of itself and for how easy it is for Harry to feed him a generous serving of cock afterwards, sighing encouragement whilst Eggsy sucks him slow and tender.

When he’s not sleeping or fucking Harry, Eggsy goes about finding different uses for Excalibur in context of productivity and being an A-star lover. He keeps the sex for himself but is more than happy to flash on masseuse craft for the benefit of Harry’s shoulders, or concert pianoforte to play some Chopin or Prokofiev with Harry seated close by and listening. Professional cooking is on Excalibur as well, and Eggsy whips up a five-course dinner the day before they’re back on duty, complete with mood lighting and scented candles and soft music piping in from the living room.

“I’m supposed to be looking after you, mind,” Harry says over the entree — rolled and cured applewood-smoked bacon, served with a sweet beetroot and artichoke mash. “On that count, I daresay I’ve failed miserably.”

Eggsy rolls his eyes and helps himself to more mash from the serving bowl. “Not everything’s gotta be about you, Harry,” he says, setting aside two Nurofens for later.

“I would agree, Eggsy, but you have just spent the last five days spoiling this silly old man rotten,” Harry laughs.

“Maybe I just like spoiling you,” Eggsy says, and thinks of the next two courses — poached morels and cannellini beans in wild garlic; oven-baked stuffed quail and a butter-salt sauce — to distract himself from the headache that’s been bothering him for the past hour. “How’s the bacon?”

“Divine.” Harry smiles. “Not unlike you, dear.”

“Wait till you see what’s for dessert,” Eggsy says, and they tuck in into their food together.

***

It becomes apparent to Eggsy that the weapons department has the largest balls in all of Kingsman when he gets a request to take another look at the ‘new and improved’ — inverted commas his — model of the explosive device that nearly got him blown up the week before. Under regular circumstances he would tell them to fuck off but it’s Merlin who asks the favour of him, assures that it’s a dud this time and all they need is some input from Excalibur’s munitions development program for confirmation of a final design.

On the surface, the device hasn’t been modified much — they’re cufflinks, packed with a tritonal derivative that primes when chemically combined. Eggsy listens to Merlin explain the changes they’ve made to the formulation to enhance the thermodynamic stability of the substance, then studies the device and wills the program to activate.

He flashes, but it’s not pyrotechnic chemistry or bomb design that comes rushing in. It’s the brawling program he’s used several times already, flooding him with images of punches and throws and takedowns. Eggsy frowns in confusion, positive that he’d done it right. He’s about to try again when a ringing starts in his ears, right before a migraine seizes him and he stumbles, off-kilter, flinging a hand out to grab the edge of the table for balance.

“Galahad,” Merlin says. “Galahad, what’s wrong?”

Everything is too bright, too glaring and too tinny, as if someone’s put a stun grenade inside his head and yanked the pin. He can’t talk or think, can hardly see even as the room spins around him, and he blinks, screws his eyes shut, forces them open, but none of that helps to diminish the pain, only makes it worse.

“Eggsy, are you alright?” Merlin says, grabbing his arm, and Eggsy flashes again — another mode of combat, taekwondo, now.

He follows the program and kicks Merlin squarely in the face.

***

When Eggsy returns to himself, he’s lying on a bed. The pain has abated somewhat but there’s still some ringing that remains, accompanied by the buzz of Excalibur images flickering behind his closed eyes. He opens them and the images fade to the ceiling of the infirmary, the ringing to the soft beeping of a monitor above him.

“Eggsy,” he hears Harry say, and turns to look at him. “How are you feeling?”

Like his head’s made of brick and there are pins around his eyes; Eggsy blinks slowly and ponders going back to sleep. “How did I get here?” he asks.

“You don’t remember?”

Something cold and unsettling rolls about Eggsy’s stomach at Harry’s hushed tone, at the realisation that he can taste blood in his mouth. “What’s happened?”

“You attacked Merlin,” Harry says, and Eggsy can’t meet the heavy look in his eyes. “Ywain had to help him subdue you.”

Eggsy feels his mouth tremble as he tries to fully reboot his brain. He doesn’t want to but forces himself to ask anyway.

“Who’s Merlin?” he mumbles.

***

Apparently, the bald, angry-looking man with a shiner and a split lip and a bandaged nose is Merlin, but — Eggsy knows that now, can’t believe he’d forgotten Merlin, of all people, except he had, if just for the greater part of an hour after regaining consciousness. Geraint’s hologram sits on the other side of the table, listening on stoically through Merlin’s account of what happened, his expression granite. He doesn’t look at Eggsy even once. Nobody else seems to want to either, save Harry.

When he’s asked for his side of the story, Eggsy sits a little straighter to recant the things he can recall — going to bed the previous night, having breakfast that morning and freshening up for the day. What he can’t remember is coming in to work, or being asked to the weapons lab, and definitely not whaling into Merlin with the intent to do more than just incapacitate. There is video footage from Merlin’s perspective available, but it is summarily agreed upon that his injuries are evidence enough.

Merlin displays a number of scans on the mirror-screen above the fireplace and Eggsy stares at the grey shapes that are supposed to represent the inside his own head. He can’t make any sense of them himself, stamps on the instinct to flash, and waits for Merlin to bring them through in terms anyone could understand.

“Were you able to identify what could have caused Galahad to lose control?” Harry asks.

Merlin shakes his head. “Not with certainty.”

“And the memory loss?”

Merlin’s eyes flick to Eggsy, then return to Harry and he says, “An in-depth examination might turn up more concrete findings.”

“The German division is at your disposal,” Geraint says. It’s the first thing he’s said since greeting everyone on attendance. “We have the facilities for it. I can ensure that you’ll be assessed by leads from both research and project teams that pioneered work on Excalibur.”

Harry nods. “Merlin, get the jet ready.”

***

Harry’s not coming with him to Berlin.

“You’ll be alright,” Harry tells him. His hands tighten on Eggsy’s shoulders and Eggsy doesn’t know how much either of them truly believe that. “Eggsy, look at me. Look at me. You will be fine.”

“Yeah.” Eggsy forces himself to smile because he must. “Course. Try not to miss me too much, yeah?”

“I shall restrain myself,” Harry says, and kisses him. A runway marshaller walking by does a double-take. Behind them, Merlin clears his throat and succeeds in breaking up nothing at all.

“Takeoff in five minutes,” Merlin says thickly, and Eggsy steps back smiling.

***

“So you have no memory of the incident?” Amelia asks.

It’s the fourth time he’s been asked that since returning to Berlin and Eggsy hasn’t had a sudden stroke of recollection yet, so he shakes his head. The examination room’s the same as it was two months ago, though the automated blood pressure machine in the corner is new.

“And it says here that you couldn’t remember who Merlin was, for a time. Is that right?”

Eggsy swallows. “Yeah.”

“Can you think of anything else you’ve forgotten?”

Eggsy wants to be smart and say that he wouldn’t know, that’s how forgetting works, but just shakes his head again. “Least I don’t think so.”

“What about other symptoms? Things like pains, or aches?” Amelia prompts. “It doesn’t have to be related to what happened, could be things you’ve had for a while.”

He stares at the eye chart on the wall. “Just headaches, but.” Eggsy stops at that, could kick himself for not realising it before this. Even taking the concussion into account, he should have known something was wrong. He should have raised it sooner.

Amelia’s pen clicks off and she sets it down on her clipboard. “Have you used Excalibur since?”

Eggsy shakes his head. He’s been too afraid to try.

“We’ll run some tests,” Amelia decides.

***

He recognises the machine from when they used it to scan his head after he’d downloaded Excalibur. Back then it had taken less than a minute, but Amelia tells him that they’ll be operating the scanner at the highest possible setting and preliminary films will take at least twenty minutes to render. After then, there’s one more thing to do.

“It’s important that you tell us if you experience any discomfort,” Amelia says into the mike.

Eggsy grins. “Any requests?”

“Just something simple, anything you’d like. Warum sprichst du nicht ein wenig Deutsch, Eggsy? Können Sie?”

His eyelids flitter at images that translate German verbs and nouns for him and he’s fine to converse with Amelia for a time, but the ringing that comes out of nowhere at the minute mark stops him short. He can see Excalibur images again, but they’re faint and incomplete and staticky, flickering with the shrill needle-scratch of a noise filling up his head.

He expects the pain before it comes, tells Amelia and doesn't pass out this time, but when they pull him from the machine and he sits up, he feels something trickle out his nose. Eggsy reaches up a hand instinctively to touch, and brings it back bloody.

***

After some intravenous painkillers they give him and an hour-long nap, Eggsy’s led to the briefing room by Otto, who hands him the paper cup of coffee he’s holding and two ibuprofens as they walk. Eggsy swallows the pills dry but politely turns down the coffee, which he changes his mind about at the doors and drains in two gulps before entering.

“We’re terribly sorry that this is happening to you,” Geraint begins by saying. “Rest assured that we will continue doing everything in our power to help.”

“You assured us that there were no harmful long-term effects of using this technology,” Harry says, sounding more level than the frame of his words. Eggsy just wishes his hologram would stop flickering so much — it’s starting to hurt his eyes.

“Only from what we observed,” Geraint stresses. “We never kept test programs in our subjects for longer than a month.”

“Then why remove them at all?” Merlin cuts in pointedly. “Unless you suspected there’d be significant repercussions, you wouldn’t have had reason to intervene.”

“We planned to carry out more extensive tests in future. Separate ones, with different aims and safety parameters. But we did suspect,” Geraint owns, and Merlin’s bruised mouth twists.

Harry asks, “And what did you suspect, exactly?”

***

Top Secret

Project Excalibur: A case study of possible effects on neurological function

The biochemical interactions that underpin the operation of Excalibur have been described in depth in previous reports, but can be summarised as the release of electrical energy into the nervous system to stimulate the creation of new neural connections and govern existing ones. Excalibur was downloaded into an individual subject following theft and unsuccessful intact retrieval of the core data files in November 2015. Subsequent follow-ups on the subject over the post-download period initially showed promising results. A recall rate of 99 percent was scored, as was few problems reported with usage and excellent operational applicability in the course of beta-testing.

The subject has since presented with chronic cephalalgia (prodromal), subjective tinnitus and acute memory loss on usage, with EEG-concomitant MRI scans revealing heightened intracranial pressure exacerbated by erratic electrical activity in the thalamus and central nervous system. Faster conduction rates were observed in nervous tissue but attributed to hypertrophic proliferation of oligodendrocytes and spatial overcrowding of glial cells. This finding has tentatively been characterised as a primarily homeostatic response to Excalibur’s mechanism of operation and has been correlated with the aforementioned adverse cognitive and neurological effects, which can be predicted to worsen with repeated use.

***

There is a list that Geraint reads off from, with words that Eggsy hears and processes without thinking — neuropathic pain, dissociative amnesia, psychosis, early-onset dementia. He doesn’t let Geraint finish reading to the end of the list. He doesn’t have to. He interrupts, “What if I stop using it? Will I be alright then?”

Geraint hesitates to answer. “It may be slowed down,” he finally says. “There’s evidence that most of the existing damage was caused by repeated usage. But in all likelihood, the baseline electrical signature will still continue to cause damage in the long run.”

“Can you do anything for him?” Harry asks.

“I’ve received recommendations for pain management as a first line of treatment,” Geraint says. “Ideally we would remove Excalibur from Galahad posthaste, but without the suppression device —”

“How long do I have?”

If nothing else, Geraint has the common courtesy to look Eggsy in the eye as he says, “Two months, perhaps. It might be more. We can hope for three, or four. It wouldn't be unreasonable to.”

Silence. Eggsy clenches his hands into fists and stares at the same whorl of wood in the table he’s fixed his eyes on since sitting down. It almost looks like a target sight.

“Thank you, Geraint,” Harry says smoothly. His face is a rictus of perfect neutrality. “Galahad, Merlin, time to come home.”

***

In the flight hangar beneath the mansion Eggsy steps off the airstairs of the landed jet and walks straight into Harry’s arms. Harry holds him close and they stay like that for a long moment, not saying anything to each other.

***

He’s suspended from the roster with immediate effect, his things collected and retained: watch, umbrella, lighter, Oxfords, and anything else that could conceivably trigger a flash if looked at in just the right way. Or wrong way, depending. The glasses, he’s allowed to hold on to, but with the understanding that they’ll kept out of sight and used only when absolutely necessary.

“We’ll know if you open that,” Merlin says, handing over the case that they’re now sealed in. “Remember, Eggsy. Only in an emergency.”

“Like if I’m dying?” Eggsy jokes, and Merlin’s expression darkens. “Kidding, Merlin. Jeez.”

Merlin still doesn’t smile as he hands over prescription medication for the migraines. After he's explained the dosages printed on the sides of the bottles, Eggsy says as he pockets the pills, “Should’ve listened to you, huh? About Excalibur.”

“I’m loathe to be right about these things,” Merlin says and removes his own glasses to clean them. “Still, I’m not sure if this could have been avoided.”

“Least you’re finally rid of me,” Eggsy tries again with a grin. “If anyone’s happy about this, I’m glad it’s you.”

Merlin shakes his head and when he looks at Eggsy, his eye, the bruised one, is suspiciously shiny. “You make the worst jokes, you know that?”

***

He goes home and hugs his mum in the dining room, tells her that he loves her. When he draws back, the look on her face is not unlike the one from the day he told her he’d signed on to the Marines.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” she asks. “Is everything alright at the shop? Has something happened?”

“What? Mum, no, wait —”

“Is it him? That Harry Hart?” Her eyes narrow. “It’s him, isn’t it? I knew he was no good, I knew —”

“Mum,” Eggsy strains. “It’s not Harry, we’re still. We’re fine. It’s nothing really, everything’s alright.”

She doesn’t look convinced and Eggsy can’t say he’s surprised by that. He knows what it’s like to ferret out welts and bruises beneath a winched-up smile and a comforting hug, and Dean may be gone from their lives but these things that have burned Eggsy for so long, they burn him still.

“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you?” she says and Eggsy’s familiar with this, too, the real meaning of words spoken softly as if to remain unheard by those who might hurt them.

“Yeah, of course.” Eggsy kisses her on the cheek, squeezes her hands reassuringly and smiles. “So what’s for lunch? I’m starving.”

***

Things are resoundingly calm away from Kingsman. Barred from the shop and mansion, there’s only so much Eggsy can get up to at home before he gets bored and goes out into the city. He takes long walks and long drives and eats at the same pho place twice even though he doesn’t really like the taste. He goes into other tailor shops on Oxford Street and shops for suits that won’t stop bullets but are still very, very fashionable, and bills it to the Kingsman common expenses account to be a dick. For all that’s happened, he thinks it’s owed to him.

Roxy meets him for lunch in Covent Garden. It’s nice to have a friendly face to chat with, though she doesn’t talk much about what’s going on up at HQ as of late. He can still guess at the general shape of it through her small hints and Harry’s reluctance to tell him anything in their calls. There have to be more pressing issues in the world than tracking down and raiding every Cygnus base for the tech that they stole, but it doesn’t feel like Eggsy’s place to point this out even considering the circumstances.

They talk about other things, too. Sometimes Roxy refers to stuff that happened in their candidacy together and Eggsy can follow what she's talking about for the most part, but not all of it. The training, he can remember with considerably clarity. Other than that, he knows who Rufus is, can't figure if he's ever met anyone named Digby, but guffaws because putting an earwig in his bed does seem like something Eggsy would do to someone he thought was a wanker.

Later in the day after Roxy’s gone back to the shop, Eggsy’s walking home when he spots a man standing at a pedestrian crossing and his eyes flutter outside his volition — ex-MI6, abducted in Belize on a 1996 mission, rescued by then-Caradoc after six weeks of captivity. A wave of nausea comes over him even before the flash is over and Eggsy sways on his feet, waving off a concerned passer-by to dodge into a skip and lean with his palms against the wall to gasp out the pain.

He’s home five minutes late for dinner that he doesn’t have the stomach for and tries to cop out on in favour of an early night. His mum catches him before he can go upstairs, however, and tells him she’s making pot roast, his favourite, and to bring Gracie down from her room. Standing on the steps, his migraine now dulled to an absent aching, it takes him whole minutes to realise who it is that his mum’s talking about, to remember that he even has a baby sister.

***

He hasn’t had nightmares with regularity since the world dug itself out of the wreckage of V-day. Eggsy used to dream a lot about the rattle of gunfire in the Ural Mountains, the sound titanium makes as it slices through metal and flesh, what would have happened if he hadn’t made it, what could have even after he had. He was proud of getting past all that, even if the memory of Kentucky, the courtyard, endures on. He's not going to lie to himself. Kentucky will never leave him. He thinks it’s very much the same for Harry, suspects but won’t ask to confirm. It’s not something they talk about, you see.

When the nightmares start again they are new and unfamiliar, taking on different shapes and swirling forms, some of them more vivid than life and overlaid with Excalibur images. He is falling out of the sky alone, a Scottish cackle in his ear, no parachute, boy, no Roxy to save you now. Charlie Heskeith staggers out of the fog of night with a knife in hand, throat slashed open and white eyes unblinking, and keeps straggling towards him no matter how many times Eggsy fires. He’s in that church massacre, an unwilling participant, and only breaks down screaming when Harry falls dead at his feet.

It doesn’t always happen, but infrequently he will flash on waking — intel that he has no business accessing, skills to stave off enemies that aren’t there — and has to bolt from his bed to splash his face with water until he is sure that he truly is awake. Most nights he lies in bed for hours and wonders what else was on that list of Geraint’s. If it would make any difference knowing what’s to come.

***

Halfway through Eggsy’s second week of exile, there are no texts from Harry for two days. Eggsy gives it six hours after his fifth text fails to elicit a reply, then takes a taxi to Stanhope Mews and pounds on the door until Harry opens it and glowers out at him.

“What are you doing here?” Harry asks.

“You know, if I’ve done something wrong, the least you could do is tell me what it is,” Eggsy says, not nearly as acerbic or testy as he would like. “Seeing as I’ve done fuck-all, though, maybe it’s something you’ve done. I dunno.”

“You shouldn’t be here,” Harry says, and Eggsy gets a foot caught in the frame rather than settling for a faceful of door.

“You can either let me in, or I’ll fucking flash and get in anyway,” he threatens. “Don’t think I won’t do it, Harry. I’ll kick the shit out of you if I have to.”

Harry’s jaw works visibly, then he relents, shutting the door behind Eggsy.

“So are you gonna tell me what the fuck’s going on?” Eggsy asks.

Harry stands next to the coat rack and folds his arms. “It’s late. Won’t your mother be worried about you?”

“You can leave her out of this, thanks, and don’t change the subject,” Eggsy growls. “Answer me, or we’re fucking through. I mean it.”

Inclining his head, Harry looks down at him. “I’ve been very busy, Eggsy. We've had a lot of missions come in lately, and without you —”

“Bullshit. You couldn’t have told me where you were, or that you were okay, at least? You could’ve been dead in a ditch somewhere for all I knew, give me a fucking break.”

Some of Harry's disdain turns to thinly-veiled misery. “You don’t understand.”

“No shit I don’t, you’re giving me nothing!” Eggsy shouts, and yeah, this is a scene already, may as well amp it up to twenty. “You know what, if that’s the way you’re going to be, fine, just lemme go get my stuff and I’ll get the fuck out, and I hope you have a nice fucking life, Harry —”

“This is my fault.”

Eggsy blinks. “What?”

“This — what’s happening,” Harry says. “None of this should be happening to you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Excalibur was meant for me, it was my project. I shouldn’t have sent you.” Harry looks at him and his eyes frighten Eggsy for a second. “I should have gone to retrieve it myself.”

“Okay, no, first of all,” Eggsy interjects. “No Arthur has gone out on a field mission since, like. Forever. I know, I’ve checked, you’re a real lazy bunch and you know it. And second, do you think that I’d feel any better if it was you getting your brain fried by this fucking thing?”

“You would be safe,” Harry asserts.

“I’d be as safe as any other Kingsman,” Eggsy contends, but Harry shakes his head.

“Precisely my meaning.” His mouth is a stern line and Eggsy wants to punch him, would if he had a chance in hell at besting Harry in a fistfight without Excalibur. “I brought this on you. All of it. You don’t deserve this.”

“Fuck you,” Eggsy snarls. He doesn’t have to think twice about the way things had been before Kingsman to realise how much he means it. “Go fuck yourself. Of all the fucking — I can’t believe you’d even think that.”

Harry takes his hand and brings it to his chest, eyes boring into Eggsy’s face. “You don’t know half of what I would do to keep you safe,” he says, and the words are brittle as glass shards underfoot, low and thick and jagged as they break. “Do you understand that? Nothing has ever meant as much to me as you.”

“That makes two of us, then,” Eggsy says, and drags Harry in to kiss him. He feels Harry jerk against him and tightens his fingers in Harry’s cardigan, veering in until there’s nary a breath between them, only lips and teeth and the silent promise of to the very end of us. His mouth slants over Harry’s and Eggsy makes an angry noise, frustrated at how he can’t stop trembling in front of this man whom he loves more than he’d once thought could be humanly possible, now of all times when being strong enough for them both has never been more important.

“I don’t — I can’t,” Harry whispers, and Eggsy stills. “I can’t lose you.”

“I don’t want you to lose me,” Eggsy says, and this is as much to himself as it is to Harry. “You know me, I ain’t gonna take this lying down, I’ll be fighting with everything I’ve got, but — I don’t wanna do this on my own either. Not without you. I need you, Harry.”

Harry looks back at him, and there is a soul-lurching moment where Eggsy thinks he’s going to make him leave, but then he kisses Harry or perhaps Harry kisses him first and he knows that at the very least, he won’t be fighting alone tonight.

***

“I sort of regret it now, come to think about it,” Eggsy says, more ponderous than he’s ever sounded with Harry’s cock snugly in his body.

Lying under him, Harry brings his hands to Eggsy’s thighs and keeps them there as Eggsy rides his cock gently. “Regret what, Eggsy?”

“Not flashin’ on you when I could,” Eggsy clarifies, though this is not entirely true. He still could, but these days it's almost never worth the pound of flesh it costs. For a while Excalibur gives him everything like it always has, and takes something in return when it’s over. The most recent memories go the fastest. He’s already lost most of Monday to a flash on his dad’s medal while he was cleaning out his dresser the other day.

Harry angles himself up until Eggsy’s sitting in his lap and they’re fitted together, his cock still inside Eggsy, and kisses him. “I think you would have been terribly bored,” he murmurs.

“By you? Yeah, right.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Where’re you from?” Eggsy asks, leaning back on his palms. “How’d you get into Kingsman? Who proposed you? What sort of stuff did they make you do? I wanted to ask you about — Tel Aviv, yeah, that’s it. Is Harry Hart even your real name? Why is it that —”

“One thing at a time, love,” Harry chuckles, lying back down and pulling Eggsy with him, and Eggsy has to admit it — it really is a lot more fun, like this.

***

He moves in with Harry the day after. As it is, Eggsy stays over a lot more than he does at home anyway, and it’s actually his mum who suggests it, albeit a little sarcastically. Eggsy wins her over with promises of weekly dinners and Sunday being family day for the Unwins, and doesn’t have to pack much since a fair amount of his things have already made the move long before him.

Harry picks him up in the evening. The taxi takes them back to his place and Eggsy hits the sack at nine, exhausted by a particularly harrowing migraine he’s had all day. It’s seven a.m when he wakes and Harry’s still asleep, so Eggsy goes down to the kitchen to make tea for breakfast.

He pulls the mugs out and puts the kettle on, and as he fetches the teaspoons with the water starting to boil, he slowly comes to the realisation that he can’t remember where Harry keeps the teabags. Shaking it off, he looks in all the cabinets and finds them in the last one, then fixes two mugs of English breakfast and brings them back to the bedroom, where Harry’s woken up and is sitting up in bed.

“Good morning,” Harry greets, taking the mug that Eggsy offers and sipping from it. He frowns a little. “That’s… did you put sugar in this?”

Eggsy closes his hands around his own mug. He couldn’t remember how many sugars Harry took with his tea either, if he even took sugar at all, and had gandered a wild swing at just the one because that felt safest. “Um,” he mumbles. “Yeah. Sorry.”

The fear in his eyes must show. Harry smiles and drinks more of the tea, smacking his lips appreciatively. “It’s delicious,” he says, and Eggsy avoids looking at him.

***

He manages to refrain from flashing for three days straight and still forgets about the new house in the city, where Mum and Gracie now stay without him. Eggsy has to turn the cab he hails around when he remembers, en route to their old council estate, that they haven’t lived there in over a year.

After dinner, he stops at a Ryman’s on the way home and buys a notebook. Just a small Moleskine, black-bound and pocket-sized, nondescript. He fills in half of the first page with what he’s done in the day, and when he draws a blank he pencils in other little things he might forget, that he’s afraid of forgetting but still knows for certain. He keeps the notebook where he knows Harry will never look — in the lower drawer of his bedside table, under the bottles of Maxalt tablets.

***

Went to dinner with Mum and Gracie yesterday. Mum made teriyaki chicken. It was alright, I guess.

Missed football night at the pub this week. I owe Ryan and Jamal two Guinnesses each.

Football night is every Thursday evening at the Black Prince.

Just flashed on probabilistic combinatorics (???) I don’t even

Harry likes his tea with semi-skimmed milk. No sugar.

***

While Harry’s working during the day, Eggsy spends most of his time watching daytime telly at home. Mainly serials, with the odd documentary in between — he stays away from the news because that would be asking for trouble. There aren’t many shows on that he finds acceptably interesting, however, which is sort of the point. He doesn’t want to have to think about what he’s doing too much, but even so it’s not long before he grows bored of it.

He checks his notebook for his Netflix password and gets online, scrolls down the shows list. His viewing history isn’t very long but he stops a third of the way through, keeping the selection box over the first season of Daredevil. The date on it is from last weekend, and Eggsy can just about recall watching something with Harry then, and actually liking it somewhat, enough to bookmark it for a rewatch.

When he hits play and sits back, it’s like he’s watching it for the first time.

***

“I’m off to the shop,” Harry announces on his way out.

“Mm.” Eggsy doesn’t look up from his phone, from the contacts that he’s struggling to remember past their names and numbers. “Get me some grub while you’re there, yeah?”

Harry stops. “I can get some on the way back,” he says slowly.

Eggsy looks at him. He feels like he might have missed something. “On the way back from where?”

Harry doesn’t move or answer that. His look is unreadable. Eggsy knows what that means. His stomach turns and he’s about to ask what it is that he’s forgotten now when Harry shakes his head and says, smiling, “Why don’t you come with me? I’ll be less lonely if you’re around.”

“Really?” Eggsy hardly leaves the house much anymore, not since the week before when he’d gone out on a run and spent four hours wandering about South Kensington trying to retrace his steps back home. He stands up and pockets his phone. “Depends, I guess. Can I get whatever I want?”

“Whatever you want,” Harry promises, beckoning with an upturned hand.

 ***

Harry takes him out to the neighbourhood Waitrose. Eggsy loads up their trolley with everything that looks remotely enjoyable because he’s forgotten most of his favourite foods and snacks, and Harry doesn’t object. 

Fifteen minutes in, Eggsy's acquired ten packs of Monster Munch, five boxes of fish fingers, three tins of duck pate, two key lime pies, a six-pack of Schweppes, a small cafe’s stock of chocolates and rich tea biscuits, and several frozen pizzas. Somehow, after all this, the only thing that gets a tut of disapproval from Harry is the 2010 Château Pontet Canet Eggsy chooses in the wine section.

“You could’ve gotten the Vieux Chateau Certan, at least,” Harry grumbles.

Eggsy shrugs and puts the bottle in the trolley, next to the Bakewell slices. “So get it, then. It’s not an either-or, Harry.”

“I hardly believe we need more that what we have already. You’re going to have a real job getting through all of this on your own,” Harry says, nodding at the contents of their trolley.

“On my own? You’ll be having some too, won’t you?”

“Some of us have diet plans to maintain,” Harry says primly, selecting a packet of chia seeds from the shelf and reading the nutrition information.

“Liar, you had ice-cream yesterday,” Eggsy points out.

“It was reduced fat,” Harry sniffs and drops the packet into their trolley.

After they’ve checked everything out, their total falls just short of two hundred pounds and Harry doubles back to the health foods aisle to grab another packet of quinoa. The woman who’s next in line lets Eggsy know how sweet she thinks it is, that there are still young men who are willing to help their fathers with the shopping in this day and age. Just for that, Eggsy kisses Harry on the mouth when he comes back, smiles at her like a fool as Harry greets the staring cashier good-day.

They exit the Waitrose with their purchases on hand, arms interlinked.

***

Today I learnt how to make corn quiches. Harry taught me.

I live at 22 Stanhope Mews South. I have for about a month now.

Harry likes having his feet rubbed. Pro-tip: start with the toes.

Still having nightmares. Flashes getting worse.

Didn’t write in this yesterday because I forgot I even had this bloody thing.

***

It’s when Eggsy nearly falls down the stairs from the shock of an inadvertent flash one day that Harry takes an indefinite leave of absence to look after him around the clock. Part of Eggsy wishes he wouldn’t bother, but the other, more rational part brings him back to walking into wrong rooms all the time and knowing less and less where things are kept around the house, and he knows deep down that it’s really for the best.

They go out into the city more often now that Harry’s home all the time. Harry takes him to shops and cafes and but sometimes they just walk JB along the streets in the brisk autumn air. Afternoons in St. James’ Park are his favourite, where they can spend ages sitting on the park benches or feeding ducks in the lake before embarking on the hour-long stroll back home with the evening sun setting over Buckingham Palace.

When Eggsy’s headaches are especially bad he still insists on their walks together but doesn’t talk as much when they’re outside. It’s just as well that Harry only speaks when Eggsy says something to him, nowadays, though he always stays close to Eggsy, keeping him within arm's reach at all times.

***

Eggsy helps make dinner. He chops up garlic and onions at one corner of the kitchen counter while Harry bastes the chicken breasts at the other. His mind is too preoccupied to pay full attention to what he’s doing until he feels a sharp pain in his hand. A drop of blood splatters on the chopping board and he hisses irritably, eyeing the sliver of red left in his index finger by the cooking knife.

Harry turns to him. “Oh dear, have you cut yourself?” he asks, wiping his hands and coming over to him.

Eggsy means to shake his head and tell him it’s nothing, only a flesh wound, except the knife-edge glints in the kitchen lighting and he flashes: stainless steel, long blade, too heavy to throw with effective accuracy but adequately sharp for a fight, to kill with.

“Let’s take a look,” Harry says, holding out a hand, and the program sums him up from toe to head, deduces the likely location of major blood vessels, telling Eggsy where best to stab him for a single-blow fatality, appropriate counterattacks for when Harry fights back.

Eggsy drops the knife and bolts, not upstairs, but to the ground floor bathroom. He locks the door, scrambles to hunker against the tub and presses his forehead to his knees and breathes and breathes and breathes. By now, the pain in his finger has been dwarfed by the one in his head, and the ringing, oh, the blasted ringing. He doesn’t move from where he is, not while the urge to drive sharp metal into someone else’s flesh lingers, and even after that has passed he has to hold his head in his hands, barely able to think or make anything of the far-off sound of the bathroom lock releasing and the door bursting open.

Then Harry's arms are so tight around him it's almost impossible to breathe, and Harry kisses his face, murmurs it’s okay over and over again, and as the pain steadily ebbs down Eggsy sobs against Harry’s chest, because it’s not.

***

They go upstairs to the bedroom and Harry sits him on the bed. He leaves for a bit and returns with a first-aid kit. He swabs the cut on Eggsy’s finger with disinfectant, bandages it with gauze and a plaster. Then he clears away the wrappings and the kit and sits next to Eggsy, and kisses him without saying anything else.

Closing his eyes, Eggsy can’t help but wonder what it is that he’s lost this time.

***

Phone got fucked in the wash today. Must've left the stupid thing in my jeans.

To use microwave: top button first, then the timer, and the big green button on the bottom.

The other day I thought Harry was still dead.

***

“How have you been lately?” Roxy — one of his closest, bestest mates, Eggsy’s notebook assures him — asks over the phone.

“Not too bad,” Eggsy says. There is something familiar in her voice, even if he has trouble putting his finger on it. “What about you?”

“Merlin’s working everyone raw,” she says. “Must’ve been sent out like five times in the last month.”

“Jesus.” That’s a lot, isn’t it? It sounds like a lot. “I — sorry about that, Roxy, mate.”

“Oh, it’s fine, really. So long as you’re back on your feet soon, Eggsy,” she says, and Eggsy can imagine a smile and a wink tacked on to the end of that. “Everyone here misses you, even Percival’s getting moody.”

“Is he?” Eggsy has a profusely grateful message from the man on his phone, though he can’t for the life of him figure out why. “I miss all of you lots, too.”

“Even Merlin?” Roxy laughs.

Eggsy grins. “Is he listening in?”

“Possibly.”

“Then no. Everyone but Merlin.”

“I’ll be sure to let him know,” she says, and Eggsy can hear him calling out in the background, Lancelot, some other Kingsman, probably. “Shit, gotta go. I’ll talk to you again sometime, alright? Take care, Eggsy.”

“You too, Rox,” Eggsy says, and she hangs up.

***

Pretty Woman is playing on cable and Harry invites Eggsy to join him on the couch, a bowl of microwaved popcorn balanced between his knees. Eggsy acquiesces, shuffling over and plonking himself on the cushions to curl up to Harry’s side. Harry puts an arm around Eggsy’s shoulder as Eggsy rests his head cosily on Harry’s chest. He feeds Harry bits of popcorn and cracks jokes about being totally on-board with shagging Richard Gere, elbows Harry in the ribs and bites punishingly at his jaw when Harry casually concurs.

This is midway through the movie and they are out of popcorn, but neither of them retreat to the kitchen to top up the bowl. Instead, Eggsy cups Harry through his pyjama bottoms, sneaking a hand in to stroke him as Harry nuzzles kisses into his hair. Soon enough, Harry’s bottomless from waist to mid-thigh and Eggsy suckles him to hardness before taking him in deep, and they forget about the film altogether.

***

My name is Gary Unwin and I love Harry Andrew Christopher Hart. I really, really do.

***

In the addling dark of night he wakes to hands gripping him by the shoulders and flashes instantaneously — clinch fighting, grappling holds, choking techniques — before whirling whoever’s on top of him to the bed and pinning him by the throat, knees digging into his attacker’s thighs.

“Where am I?” he demands, readying a fist to strike if need be. “What’s going on?”

“Eggsy,” the person he’s overpowered gasps up at him. “It’s alright, you’re just — you’re alright, it’s just a nightmare. Only a nightmare, Eggsy.”

Cycling through Dutch and Pashto and Greek and Swahili clears none of this up, so he tightens his hold on the man’s throat and and raises his fist marginally higher.

“The fuck’s an Eggsy?”

***

I need you to activate Galahad’s biotracker and send me his coordinates as soon as you can.

Harry, what’s happened?

The coordinates. Please.

I’m transmitting them to you right now.

***

He comes to in bits and pieces, to wet asphalt at his cheek and the smell of stale garbage and the noisy honk of traffic in the distance. He’s freezing cold and it’s starkly obvious why when he curls tighter to himself — he’s only got a thin nightshirt and a pair of boxer shorts on, no jacket or trousers to speak of. The sky is still dark but it dances with gritty static — everything does — when he hazards a glimpse with eyes raw and stinging. Cringing, he squeezes them shut again and stays where he is.

After a long while a hand touches him on the arm, and he keeps his eyes closed as someone drapes a coat over him, presses warm palms against his face and neck and says, “Eggsy.”

He knows that voice. Ever so gingerly, he shifts and sits up to look around the skip he’s in. Brick walls on both sides and damp pavement beneath his chill-pricked skin. A refuse bin stands chained to a bollard near the main street. He looks up at the person who has found him, up into Harry’s haunted expression, and Eggsy — he can’t stop thinking it, his own name, Eggsy, Eggsy, like the peal of church bells calling out the time — feels his throat close up.

“Are you alright?” Harry asks quietly.

There is no answer Eggsy can give to that. He shivers, clutching the coat closer as Harry aids him back to his feet.

“Let’s go home,” Harry says and Eggsy nods again, wherever home's supposed to be. Harry puts an arm around his shoulders, holding him close as they walk on through a London waiting for night to kindle into day.

***

The house is unfamiliar, but Harry stays with him throughout and doesn’t leave his side. He brings Eggsy upstairs, to the bedroom with a broken window, and gives him a clean set of clothes to change into. Eggsy almost trips over when he’s stepping out of his shorts and Harry is there at once, supporting him with steady hands and helping Eggsy with the rest.

The bruises on Harry’s wrists make Eggsy feel sick, and it’s all he can do not to flinch away every time Harry touches him. Before Harry puts him to bed again Eggsy holds his hand and kisses his knuckles, and Eggsy’s heart is already past the point of breaking but it twinges all the same at Harry’s wistful smile.

He stays awake for as long as he can, afraid of what he might rouse into next, but Eggsy’s too tired and he ends up falling asleep against the warmth of Harry's chest, their fingers tangled and bunched together under the covers.

Come morning Harry is gone, his space in the empty sheets, no warmth on his side of the bed.

***

10:27

To: Harry Hart

Did you have breakfast before leaving?

 

12:21

To: Harry Hart

Where do you keep the hoover? Had a little accident in the kitchen

 

12:36

To: Harry Hart

If you’re busy with work just tell me and I’ll stop

 

13:49

To: Harry Hart

I’m ordering pizza for dinner tonight. What's your regular, again?

 

14:11

To: Harry Hart

Where are you now?

 

14:19

To: Harry Hart

Roxy says you’re not in today. Where've you gone?

 

14:50

To: Harry Hart

Where are you? Are you okay?

 

15:22

To: Harry Hart

This isn't funny, Harry. Where are you?

 

15:26

To: Harry Hart

Answer your phone you cunt

 

15:44

To: Harry Hart

I’m sorry I called you a cunt. Answer your phone

 

15:58

To: Harry Hart

Please answer your phone

***

“Eggsy,” Merlin answers once the comms link has been established. He doesn’t sound surprised or angry and Eggsy has a fairly good idea why.

“Where’s Harry gone?” he says, clutching the glasses case in his hand tighter, his knuckles going white next to the blinking red light on the catch. It’s only been slightly more than a month but the glasses feel too foreign on his face for how well they fit him. “Something's happened, hasn't it?”

Merlin doesn't say anything at first, then, "Eggsy, I don't think I should —"

"Where is he?"

He can sense Merlin making a decision in the silence. “I don’t know,” Merlin says softly.

It’s the truth, Eggsy can tell. His heart squeezes in his chest and it feels like Kentucky all over again, with the crack of a gunshot in a courtyard thousands of miles away leaving him alone in the world once more.

“Come get me,” Eggsy says. "Now."

Another pause, then Merlin says, “Stay put. I’ll send a car out.”

***

The taxi that arrives takes Eggsy to a tailor shop on Savile Row. In a room upstairs, Merlin debriefs Eggsy on the final Cygnus base they’d uncovered in Nuremburg, a besiegement upon which was scheduled to take place later on in the week before Harry had expedited and requisitioned the mission for himself early that morning. Merlin’s leery to discuss the details at first, but gives in at Eggsy’s pressing and goes through the full story, from the raid itself to the arrival of enemy reinforcements to Harry falling off the grid, and how all efforts to locate him have failed thus far.

Eggsy doesn’t bother asking why Harry was allowed to go in alone, or why Merlin hadn’t thought to stop him. Whatever rage he’s capable has had a whole day to burn out and so has he. Eggsy doesn't have it in him to be angry anymore. Instead, he asks the only iteration of the question he won't touch, “How do we know that they have him?”

“The biotracker stopped transmitting four hours ago,” Merlin says. “The footage was scrambled at that point as well, but that was minutes before we last heard from him. It’s not unlikely that a low to medium-power signal jammer was used. Sounds to me like an awful lot of trouble to go through for a dead man.”

Eggsy will take it. He has no other choice; the alternative is unthinkable. “Have we got anything to follow?” he asks. “Clues, or stuff like that. Maybe he saw or heard something.”

“He sent back this just before we lost contact,” Merlin says, tapping on his clipboard to open up the image file on screen at full size. “Blueprints from the control room. We don’t know what building it’s for, they don’t seem to be complete, but there wasn’t —”

“It’s a bunker."

Merlin looks at Eggsy. “A bunker?” he repeats.

Tipping his head back, Eggsy closes his eyes and inhales, swallowing repeatedly against the images flaring across his field of vision. He blinks and shakes his head, and is surprised to find that he can still think straight through the tinny pain he knows too well. He will not allow himself to focus on that or the ringing, not while Excalibur’s rapidly cross-checking what they know — the compound Eggsy raided in Leipzig, where the initial heist had happened in Dresden, the location of this base in Nuremburg, and an old Nazi bunker on the outskirts of Triebel that could match the blueprints — to return but one conclusion, the only place in the whole of Germany that would make sense for them to look.

“I know where they’re taking him,” Eggsy says.

***

They fly to Zwickau and Geraint picks them up directly from the airfield in a Humvee. Driving southwest on the E441 at a hundred miles per hour, they discuss possible plans, different strategies, who will take part in the infiltration and who’s on mission control. When Eggsy requests for a place among the former, Merlin frowns.

“I don’t think —”

“You need me in there,” Eggsy says firmly. “There’s only one way in and it’s a fucking maze inside. Nobody will know the place better than me.”

Merlin looks torn, which is how Eggsy knows he’s right. “He wouldn’t want me to risk your safety for him,” he says.

“And what about what I want?” Eggsy counters hotly, and something in Merlin’s expression hardens.

“Excalibur’s architecture-mapping algorithm could be of veritable utility,” Geraint supplies from the wheel. “You’re best on mission control, Merlin — I could spearhead with Galahad flanking.”

“If he uses Excalibur —”

“Just for navigation,” Geraint argues. “Nothing more than that.”

“Eggsy.” Merlin looks him straight in the face as he says the words. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

Eggsy has never been as sure of anything when he presses his lips together and nods.

***

Somehow alarms are already blaring audibly when they arrive outside the bunker. A strobe light spins above the metal door barring the entrance, but there are no guards in sight. Leaving Merlin behind in the Humvee, Geraint slips in with his Beretta raised and Eggsy follows close behind him.

The pathway slopes down into the depths of the bunker, lined with boot prints and multiple sets of tire tracks. At the branch point they come to, Merlin tells them the general direction they should be headed according to the blueprints and Eggsy flashes on the mapping algorithm Geraint described to figure out which path to take. A short way down, they run into enemies — a small squadron of guards tromping off somewhere else — that Geraint dispatches in a shootout lasting all of thirty seconds.

“Looks like we’re not the first ones here,” Merlin notes grimly as Geraint annexes a dead guard’s walkie-talkie and wires the frequency into their three-man comms link.

“I’m not aware of any concurrent operations in this area, Kingsman or otherwise,” Geraint says, reloading his pistol with fresh rounds.

“Nor am I,” Merlin accedes. “Do you think it may be Arthur?”

"It's most possible," Geraint says. "It'd be very much like him — I wouldn't be surprised.

Eggsy stares at the men Geraint just killed and hopes that they're referring to Harry, because he has no idea who this Arthur person they're talking about is otherwise.

“Let’s keep moving,” he says.

***

Further in, they find out over the hijacked airwaves that yes, the ongoing hubbub’s over the newest prisoner, who has escaped and gone amok somewhere deep inside the bunker. The revelation has Eggsy momentarily overcome by relief, but then a shoot to kill order is issued and there is suddenly a lot less to be at ease with.

He stays behind Geraint and covers him as they proceed. Merlin’s connection starts to go choppy before their third hostile encounter — there're high-power signal jammers nearby, he relays in fractured sentences — and cuts dead right after. Now a two-man team, they still have the incomplete blueprints to guide them as far as the first half of the bunker goes.

They don’t make it that far without running into serious trouble. An ambush catches them off guard, and with Geraint locked in a firefight on the sidelines Eggsy has no choice but to forge ahead or risk them being run over from the front. He means to pick off enemies advancing from that direction and wait for Geraint to catch up with him at a rendezvous point or another, but there turns out to be far too many guards to fight on his own.

He takes cover behind a wall, pinned down by automatic fire he can’t return with parity. A hollow-point to the shoulder forces out a marksmanship flash, however, and Eggsy ends up taking out the same number of guards as there are bullets left in his pistol. Charging forth, he downs four more guards at a melee before the fifth throws a forearm strike that connects with Eggsy's neck, and Eggsy flashes on cervical dislocation skills without meaning to.

Neck number seven breaks just as easily as the first, though the cramping pain in his head after a subsequent flash on knockdown karate almost makes Eggsy wish he could do the same to himself. When there are no enemies left standing, he backpedals until he hits the wall and slinks down holding his head in his hands, eyes squeezed shut as if to blot out the ringing, the disjointed electric-sputter of images that threatens to overwhelm. At this rate, he won't last much longer, but he can’t pass out here. Not right now.

His glasses lie in a mangled heap by the body at the far wall, the tortoiseshell frames twisted from being knocked off his face and then trampled on. Eggsy can hear gunfire echoing in the corridors behind him and the sounds of people fighting far on ahead. He feels like he should backtrack, that there’s someone he should wait for. It’s troubling because he can’t remember coming here with anyone besides Merlin and Eggsy’s certain that the man’s on mission control as always.

An explosion rumbles through the walls and floor from somewhere deep inside the bunker, and there’s an interruption in the shooting before it begins anew. No time to puzzle it out. Eggsy grits his teeth to brace through the hurting, the ever-present ringing, and sets off at a shaky run.

***

Further in, Eggsy doesn’t know if the bodies he passes in the tunnels have been left behind by Harry or if he’s gone round in a circle and forgotten putting them there himself. He’s still taking directions from the mapping program so the former seems slightly more probable than the latter, even if he doesn’t want to give too much thought to how he knows it’s safer to trust Excalibur over his memory at this point.

He reaches the room at the end of the tunnel and is hit with a mixture of pain and déjà-vu. It’s large, with white walls on all sides and a matching ceiling overhead, a computer terminal on a pedestal in the centre of the room. The bright fluorescent lights are too much, enhancing the shrilling in his head, and Eggsy has to shield his eyes for a moment but doesn’t step back or double over from the pain. He sucks in a breath and forces himself to look on, to proceed.

There are three other people left standing in the room — Harry, the front of his suit a bloodstained mess; the guard he’s fighting; and another ducked behind the computer terminal with a rifle, who’s bleeding from his calf and trying to get a clear shot at Harry. Two, when Harry snags the guard by the wrist and bends it backwards, slashing the knife he’s holding across his throat, but as the guard crumples his comrade fires twice and hits Harry cleanly in the chest.

“Harry!” Eggsy shouts, only he can’t hear his own voice and Harry doesn’t seem to either. He’s on his hands and knees and straining to get up, but the last remaining guard is aiming again, right at the back of Harry's head now. He's about to fire and there’s not enough time, Eggsy’s not going to make it —

There’s a knife sticking out of the body by the door. Before Eggsy can think about shouting Harry’s name a second time, he’s flashed on weapon throwing, wrenched the knife out and hurled it across the room with all of his might. The guard sprays the computer terminal with bullets as he goes down, blood spurting from around the knife-hilt embedded in his neck.

Harry looks at Eggsy then, and his expression is dumbfounded and aghast and grateful, all at once. “Eggsy,” he wheezes, and nearly falls down again attempting to get to him.

Eggsy reaches for him but makes it a step forward before stumbling backwards. He’s still flashing — helicopter piloting, Mandarin Chinese, savate — program after program, and he can’t stop, he can’t stop. The pain in his head is excruciating as it’s never been before, like his whole skull's getting turned inside out, like he’s got a hundred of Valentine’s chips in his head and they’re all activating at the same time. His knees buckle and he presses his face into his hands and screams his throat raw, if only to drown out the insurmountable ringing, the roar of countless programs battling for control, the agony that's surely tearing him in two.

“Eggsy!” Harry’s holding him now, and Eggsy has never seen him look so scared before. The brawling program orders Eggsy to strike him, the choking program to strangle him, but moving is already beyond Eggsy and he can only lie convulsing in Harry’s arms, gaping feebly for air. “Eggsy — Eggsy…!”

“Help me,” Eggsy begs, and then everything goes black.

***

He wakes with his head pounding and his arms heavy, a sour taste lingering in his mouth. When Eggsy stirs and groans, sheets rustling under his wrists, he hears a voice beside him saying, “Eggsy, can you hear me?”

His back hurts. The bed he’s in is soft but he has a crick in his neck that twinges when Eggsy turns his head to look up at the ceiling, at the people hovering worriedly over him. It’s bright and he squints in confusion, attempting to cover his eyes with a clumsy hand and stopping at the smarting sting of a needle taped to the back of it.

“He’s awake,” the same voice reports, and another one, Scottish-sounding, asks, “Galahad — Eggsy. Are you alright?”

He has a plastic mask covering his mouth and nose and he murmurs indistinct words behind it until someone helps him take it off. Eggsy keeps his eyes open, no easy feat for the exhaustion weighing him down and the heavy thrum of drugs in his veins. He takes a deep breath in and the longing to drift off again lessens.

And again: “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy mumbles, insofar as alright goes. “M’alright.”

The man closest to him, the one in the suit and glasses, looks boundlessly relieved and says, “Oh, thank heavens,” before he moves close and kisses Eggsy. Eyes widening, Eggsy’s too flabbergasted to react for a moment, but then he comes back to what’s happening with a start and shoves the man away.

“Who the fuck are you?” Eggsy growls.

***

The man who kissed him is named Harry and Eggsy decides that he’s a pervert. Has to be. It’s the only explanation. Men his age don’t go around kissing younger men they hardly know unless they get off on it, and while he hasn’t tried to kiss Eggsy again Eggsy wouldn’t put it past him.

He stays at Eggsy’s bedside an awful lot, which Eggsy initially finds creepy as fuck because he’s half-convinced Harry’s going to touch him in his sleep. After a while, though, Eggsy’s just annoyed more than anything with being looked at all the time in that sad way only Harry does. The doctors and nurses who come in to check on him don’t, and neither does the bald Scottish bloke with the glasses and grey jumpers, so Eggsy doesn’t know what his deal is. It's not like he's the one who’s gone and done a Jason Bourne, after all.

Sometimes Harry talks to him when Eggsy’s awake, asks if he’s feeling better and if there’s anything he can do to make Eggsy more comfortable. Frankly, Eggsy doesn’t really want him there, would prefer it if Harry left him alone, but instead Eggsy asks him for things he could do without, like an extra pillow or some water, if just to give Harry something to do with himself. It's just that Eggsy can’t help but feel sorry for him. Hard not to when he looks like he's never going to be happy about anything ever again.

Maybe, like Eggsy with his memories, he’s lost something important, too.

***

Harry knows lots of things about him, or pretends that he does, at least. Though he doesn’t give terribly enlightening answers to questions on what the place is and how Eggsy got here and why they’re keeping him, he tells Eggsy about his mum and baby sister back home, that pug of his he keeps, that he used to be in the Marines not so long ago. Eggsy can’t make up his mind if he should believe him or not, but Harry has a picture of them in his wallet with Eggsy holding said pug, so he supposes that much is probably true.

He asks about the picture because it’s the one of the few things Eggsy has to go on. The frame is markedly canted, their positioning indicative of a self-taken shot. In it, they’re leaning towards each other, their heads and shoulders touching. Eggsy’s toothy grin and Harry’s shy smile are nearly side-by-side and below them the pug pants happily up into the camera. Harry says that they live together and his face doesn’t fall all at once when Eggsy asks if he’s his son — it’s more when Eggsy asks where his dad is, then, if Harry’s not his father.

“Your father was a very brave man,” Harry says, and Eggsy averts his gaze. No points for guessing where that’s gonna go. He stops asking about his family from there on out but it doesn’t matter — the more he asks about anything the more upset he feels Harry becoming, and Eggsy gives up on questions to spare them both the collective misery.

***

One night, Eggsy dreams —

A room in a house he once knew. Dim lights and red walls and words around him like headlines from the fronts of newspapers. The full moon coming up large and looming in the night sky outside curtained windows. He can hear soft music and his head feels light, awash in a pleasant buzz like he’s had a little to drink already. The smell of cologne and whiskey and freshly-laundered shirts calms him, as does the hand in his and the one at his back.

In this dream, someone is leading him a dance. Someone tall and strong and handsome and wonderful and Eggsy loves him so much he can barely breathe. They lilt together to the slow rhythm of the music, feet shuffling, bodies swaying, and Eggsy leans into him with a sigh. Warm breath grazes his cheek and the hand on his back moves lower and he has never been happier in his life. There are words being whispered into his ear, quiet, soothing words that he says back and will always mean as much as he does now if not more so, every single time.

When he wakes up, it takes Eggsy a minute to remember where he is. The room is dark and Harry is asleep in the chair by his bed, hand resting palm-up on the corner of the sheets. Eggsy looks at him for a long while. It had felt so real, the dream. Almost like it actually happened. He felt like he believed it when he said I love you then but Eggsy mouths the words now and finds that they mean nothing to him.

Still, he slips his hand into Harry’s on a passing whim and a lump forms in his throat when he closes his eyes and can imagine waltz music playing.

***

On the fourth day that Eggsy’s there, a tall man with auburn hair comes into the room and hands a pair of glasses to Harry. He asks after Eggsy in thickly-accented English and Eggsy wants to laugh at the way he pronounces his W’s but that would make him rather a twat, wouldn't it?

“Yeah, I’m doing alright, thanks,” Eggsy says, and the German man, Geraint, smiles.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he says. “I trust you’ve been well-taken care of?”

Eggsy nods. “This guy won’t leave me alone,” he jokes, indicating Harry with a tilt of his head.

A clicking sound — Harry’s unfolded the glasses and is looking down at the lenses. “When it’s gone,” he says to Geraint, “Will he remember?”

Geraint’s smile falters but does not fade completely. “Let’s hope so.”

Something in the way he says it sits uneasy with Eggsy. “When what’s gone?” he asks. “What’re you gonna do?”

Looking back at him, Harry holds his hand and Eggsy lets him. His thumb brushes gently over Eggsy's knuckles and he asks, “Do you trust me, Eggsy?”

Eyebrows knitted, Eggsy thinks about it and… does, oddly. He can’t place where the feeling comes from, can’t narrow it down to the part of his mind that tells him it’s okay to, but he feels like he can trust Harry in one way or another and maybe it’s best that he does.

“Yeah,” Eggsy admits. “Yeah, I do.”

Harry smiles at him as he slides the glasses onto Eggsy's face.

***

I guess I’d probably miss being able to do anything, and being the best at it all, but I think it's mostly that with Excalibur, I could’ve been everything that he wanted.

Then again, I suppose it’s entirely possible that I already was.

***

When the flashing images on the backs of the lenses stop and he can move again, Eggsy lets go of the breath he hadn’t known he was holding. There’s a sizzling sound, then the smell of something burning. His eyes are dry from being open for so long and he blinks as the glasses are taken off, little wisps of smoke curling from the frames.

“Eggsy,” Harry says, his voice careful.

Eggsy turns to face him. He thinks he sees Harry’s lips quiver, a brief flutter of hope, of expectation. “Harry,” he answers.

“Are you,” Harry says and doesn’t seem sure how to continue. He tries to say something else but stops himself again.

Eggsy doesn’t look away. Harry's hand is still warm in his and he squeezes it, holds it tight. He doesn’t think either of them breathe.

“Yeah,” Eggsy says. He lifts Harry's hand to press his lips to his fingers, and his heart opens wide at the look on Harry’s face. “Yeah, I am.”

Harry leans over to kiss him, and together they breathe it into memory.