1960 to 1975, England
Philip Hart met and married Melissa Hargrove in 1960. They were not soul mates and the marriage was very much a dynastic one, though arranged by the couple themselves rather than their families. Philip Hart was a relatively wealthy, though untitled, landowner from Kent. Melissa Hargrove’s family was old money, also untitled, that had fallen on hard times after the second World War. The marriage was made in blue blood and pocketbooks, but the couple and their families were pleased with the choice.
It wasn’t unusual, even in lower class unions, for the spouses not to be soul mates. Considering that worldwide the percentage of same gender soulmates was near twenty percent, and that regardless of the numbers, the prejudice against not marrying the opposite gender to procreate,and thus increasing the population, was alive and well, it was no wonder. As reproductive technology was becoming increasingly advanced and businesses were cropping up to pair people with other than their mates, to reproduce or to pair sets of same sex couples up to have children without needing to have sex, the stigmas against homosexual soul mate relationships, where the couple had no children, were slowly decreasing. But as with any attitude that had been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, it was at times glacially slow with occasional bursts of violence and legislation pushing backward.
Philip never told anyone what he saw in his visions of his mate. Some of the family speculated it was a man, others were insistent his mate had died and so there was a generation gap. Melissa believed Philip had met his mate before they reached puberty and so had had no clues other than the warmth and pull to go on to find them.
Melissa’s own situation was fairly standard for girls in her social class. From the visions she had once a year for ten minutes where she saw through her soul mate’s eyes on the day of their conception, she knew her mate was a man. But he was not of her class. If he had been slightly lower on the scale, prosperous but not rich, or nouveau riche, it would have been do-able. But her mate was in the army. And not even an officer. He was a basic soldier. And when she saw visions of him in his natural habitat, and with his family, they were working class at best, living in estate housing.
Melissa had known from the beginning that unless she was willing to give up everything to be with him, she would not marry her mate. Her family would have never approved a relationship such as that, regardless of what King Edward VIII had done a few decades previously. It just wasn’t done. It was unthinkable. So she put it out of her mind and hoped the time never came where she accidentally crossed his path, as it would cause untold difficulties, especially if she hadn’t yet had a child. Everyone knew once one met their soul mate, one could no longer be fertile with another.
So, Melissa married Philip and even though neither was deliriously happy, they were both content. They didn’t hate one another but they didn’t love one another either. They were polite and very stiff upper lip stereotypical British, in public and in private. It made for a somewhat cold home but not an unbearable one.
The marriage of Philip and Melissa quickly bore the fruit it was designed to, and Melissa gave birth to a son in July 1961, just over a year after the wedding. The boy was given the name of Henry Alistair Hart, after both of their fathers, Henry for the Harts (a name sprinkled through the family tree for the past two hundred years) and Alistair for the Hargroves.
Henry, quickly shortened to Harry in true British fashion, was a quiet child. He rarely got into mischief and enjoyed wandering the estate gardens and grounds, finding interesting flowers and leaves and other outdoor things and bringing them home to research what they were.
Melissa and Philip cared about their son, an only child in their cool marriage, but the only way they truly knew to express it was to give him things their wealth easily provided. Harry had excellent nursemaids and eventually a governess. He learned to ride a horse after being gifted with a pony for his fourth birthday. He had the most expensive clothes they could give him, fashionable and stuffy at the same time, including several suits that he wore for his parents’ numerous parties. And when Harry turned seven, his governess was fired, his latest nursemaid retired, and he was sent off to boarding school.
Bedford School was at first a difficult place for the young boy, but he swiftly settled in and made friends, or at least was friendly with, his dorm mates. He excelled in his classes, and often advanced to an older class, as his governess had simply taught to his level and not worried about the grade level of the material he could understand. Harry learned to love sports and over his time at Bedford, he made a place for himself on the rugby teams, the cricket teams, the fencing teams, and the rowing teams.
Bedford was also the first place Harry truly learned more than the mythology of soulmates.
Harry was just seven years old when he first started attending the boarding school, much too early for soul mates to make much of an impact on his life personally. When one was born into the circles of society Harry was born into, one often didn’t meet many soul mate pairs.
Harry’s governess had taught him the mythology, of course. He had read the stories of Zeus and the other ancient gods and how they had been jealous of humans and split them in two, which he found in Plato. He read the English translations, though he'd been working on learning Latin and Greek when his governess had been fired. He had been taught that humans, according to myth, had once had four arms, four legs, and one head made of two faces. He knew the ancient peoples believed that after being cursed by the gods, they had to find the other half of their soul to be whole.
But the young boy thought it was all bedtime stories and savages from olden times who didn’t understand science and things. It wasn’t until he began his classes at Bedford that he learned the truth: while the idea of four arms, four legs and heads with two faces might be fiction, along with the curse of the gods (though that is strongly debated), the idea of soul mates isn’t just a romantic ideal.
There was an entire class taught every year on advancing levels that made it clear that soul mates were real. Harry learned in his first class more about the mythology, and the ongoing debates about the existence of Zeus or God or Satan, causing the current issue with how one found one’s mate. He read stories (dumbed down to a child’s level) about soul mates throughout history and how their searches for their mates, chance meetings between mates, or the lack thereof had impacted history.
As he grew older, the classes became more focused on the actual mechanism of the soulmate bond and how it manifested in life. Harry learned puberty was key. Puberty, as defined by when he had his first wet dream or awake ejaculation producing actual sperm, would trigger his visions. Once he was considered adult by those standards, he would have ten minute visions every year on his mate’s conception date. He would lose control of his body and see what was happening through his mate’s eyes.
It was a disturbing thought to the boy. He prided himself on his control. His parents had always praised him for his lack of temper or outbursts when he was young, so he strived to keep it that way. It wasn’t that Harry didn’t have emotions or even that he didn't show them. He simply kept them to the correct time, place, and level. A joyful yell when one made a goal in rugby was acceptable but not when one made a touch in fencing or received an outstanding test mark.
The idea that he would have no control over his body for ten whole minutes once a year was disconcerting. He understood he would be stationary. His body wouldn’t do anything without him, it wouldn't be like sleepwalking. And it happened to everyone. It was how you got clues to where your soulmate was, what they did, their age, an idea of a range for their birthday, and if you were lucky, a name or something to indicate who they were.
Harry still wasn’t sure he was willing to do this, though he was smart enough to realize he didn’t actually have a choice. When he reached the magic age, his body would give him a week’s worth of warnings and then the first vision. Though many of his classmates were looking forward to it, Harry would rather not. Especially since he knew now that his parents weren’t mates and it was likely they would want him to marry as they did - for money and property and family reasons - not for something as nebulous as love.
Then Harry turned fourteen and came into puberty properly.
1975, Bedford School, England
Harry reclined on the red leather chaise lounge in the small retiring room in the medical wing of Bedford School. The medical wing had three floors, the top floor devoted entirely to small rooms such as this. They were all seven feet deep by seven feet wide, furnished with a single chaise lounge and a small table piled with several blankets and a few pillows. The walls were a dark cherry wood paneling with a single oculus window cut high into the exterior wall. There were two sconces, gold with white flower-like domes on either side of the window though at a lower height. The rooms were designed to comfort those in vision trances without jarring them upon waking.
The past week had been what Harry considered a personal hell. He understood the biology, both from classes and from his fellow yearmates, most of whom had already gone through the process. Harry was a late bloomer. He had actually started to hope he wouldn’t enter into puberty until he was in his late teens - anything to put off the utter horror of this process.
However, he had not been that lucky. Two months after his fourteenth birthday he had woken up sticky from a wet dream for the first time. Then three months and sixteen days later, his body began to lead up to the first vision. He had been sitting in the cafeteria for dinner and suddenly began to feel increasingly hot. The sensation began at his heart and spread throughout his body, the discomfort increasing quickly.
After that first horrific ten minutes, he had made sure to go to a retiring room for the first half hour of dinner time so he would be alone and not teased about his approaching trance. This was actually encouraged by the professors, as it would enable the newly awakened to get familiar with and comfortable in the retiring rooms before they had their first vision.
And now, Harry reclined in the now familiar room, massaging the fingers that had been tingling uncomfortably for at least the past twenty-eight minutes. He knew this meant the vision would start momentarily. Tingling in the extremities was nature’s way of warning that a vision trance was approaching, to enable one to get to a safe place to fall into the trance. Just as the hot flashes were nature’s way of warning a first timer the new experience would soon occur.
Harry tensed and laid back, staring at the ceiling with gritted teeth, wishing he was not about to lose control over himself. Then suddenly, it happened. Rather than the wood panelled ceiling above the chaise lounge, Harry was seeing a hand twisting a cuff link set into a white dress shirt under what seemed to be a tuxedo arm.
After a few moments, the eyes looked up and Harry saw a beautiful blonde woman in a sparkling wedding dress walking toward him. She was on the arm of an older man, white-haired, with a distinctive mustache. They reached the area near Harry (so it seemed to him) and the eyes turned to the front, and Harry saw the woman escorted to a tall man with dark red hair. The older man lifted the bride’s veil out of the way and stepped back, allowing her to join hands with her groom. Harry watched the wedding ceremony he couldn’t hear, an unknown passenger for this lovely occasion.
The ceremony was short. There was no sermon, no overly religious trappings, simply what seemed to be an exchange of vows and rings and a blessing by the officiant. Harry couldn’t hear what was being said - all visions were just that, vision only - but he had good observational skills. It was an odd sensation but Harry was actually enjoying trying to memorize everything he was seeing so he could interpret it later.
Then the couple turned toward the watchers and bowed their heads. The eyes Harry was seeing through also looked down, and Harry saw a lovely pair of shined Oxfords on his mate’s feet. He suspected his mate had his eyes closed for a prayer but eyelids didn’t count as obstructions for the sake of this vision trance, everyone knew that. As long as the eyeball itself was in the socket, the vision showed what was in front of it, beyond the body limits.
The eyes raised again and for the first time, Harry saw the newly wedded couple look at one another. Previously they were angled so they couldn’t both be seen but now - now Harry saw the almost luminous quality to their smiles, the shine in their eyes that wasn’t caused by tears. They practically radiated peace and happiness and - love. This must be what love looks like , Harry thought, suddenly wistful for all he had never known or thought worthwhile.
As the eyes saw the couple reach for one another to kiss, Harry found himself seeing the ceiling of the retiring room once more and was overcome with longing, feeling a hollow emptiness inside himself he had never before been able to recognize or acknowledge. It was the hole in his soul his soul mate belonged in.
The stoic teen rolled to his side, buried his face in the back of the chaise and burst into tears, finally believing in the idea of soul mates and wanting, needing , to find his own.
Harry Hart sat in a booth by himself in a dingy pub a bit off the beaten track, drinking from his pint of Guinness. The lighting was dim and the few other patrons were as little interested in socializing as Harry himself. He had a decision to make and it had been preying on his mind increasingly over the past year.
Harry had joined the Royal Marines as an officer candidate right out of Bedford School. He had taken his A Levels and done exceptionally well, but had decided against going to university. Over the years, through visions, he had seen his mate leave school and join the army. It had sparked a sense of patriotism in the younger man he had never truly experienced before. But he had looked within himself and known he didn’t just want to be a shadow of his mate.
Harry Hart was his own man. But to be inspired by the other half of his soul, that he found acceptable. Over the years, after each vision, Harry had realized he was often influenced by what he saw. After a vision in which his mate was watching a revival of My Fair Lady at a cinema, Harry had found himself more interested in theater and musicals and romantic movies. He began going to the cinema to see these, both showings of older movies and the newer releases.
Another vision had shown his mate playing the piano. Harry couldn’t hear the music that must have been flowing through the room his mate was in but he could tell that it was more than just a chore, a lesson, or a class. His mate had been totally immersed in what he was doing and there had been no hesitation in his playing, no skipping or starting over, just continual flowing movement. And no sheet music. Harry took up piano lessons within the next week, finding his focus more on jazz and blues than the classical or any type of rock and roll. And he loved playing but as he settled into his love of jazz and music, he found himself drawn to another instrument and taught himself to play the saxophone.
But now, Harry was twenty-five years old and his eighth year of service was ending soon and he needed to decide whether he wanted to make the Royal Marines his life’s career. He was a Captain, had been for three years, and enjoyed his work; the danger when deployed, the control of his squad, the discipline.
His mate was still in the army and Harry knew he was at least three years older, based on when he'd left school. It could even be four years, but statistics put it at three. Unless there was a death and rebirth involved in the equation, soul mates were rarely more than three years apart in age.
So, seemingly, Harry’s other half was a career army officer now. But Harry wasn’t sure that was what he wanted for the rest of his life. While he loved the Royal Marines, he didn’t feel a call to go further. But he didn’t know what else to do with his life. He only knew he didn’t want to just live on his inheritances and be a gentleman landowner.
After his parents’ deaths in a plane accident four years before, Harry had inherited everything from both sides of the family, his grandparents having long since been deceased and both his mother and father being only children. He had taken his bereavement leave to hire good managers to control the fortune and the land. He had no interest whatsoever in doing the tasks himself. He would rather eat his own gun.
But other than those two options, what he could do that would leave him fulfilled and happy, he couldn’t fathom. Thus, his current solitude and Guinness. His time was running out to make the decision on continuing his enlistment or declining and becoming a civilian once more.
As the uniformed young man drank his worries down with his stout, the seat opposite him was suddenly filled. Harry looked up and gazed at the man with a small frown. There were plenty of open seats in the pub. Even all but one of the other booths were available. And yet this gentleman had sat opposite him. Harry tensed, wary about the oddity but ready for action, as he had been trained.
The blond man smiled lightly as he laid his arms on the table, spread wide, showing he had no weapon in hand. The man was clearly comfortable in their surroundings although he looked out of place. The pub was one that usually catered to marines and the middle class workers in the area. It wasn’t a low class dive but neither was it a high class elite establishment and this new man in his obviously bespoke suit stood out like a sore thumb.
“Can I help you?” asked Harry, his head tilted slightly to the right as his leg slid to the side, ready to bolt from the confines of the booth.
The blond smiled again, wider, and winked. “On the contrary, Captain Henry “Harry” Alistair Hart. I’m here to help you.”
Harry tensed further and sat up straighter. He was in uniform so his rank was obvious but not the rest. “How do you know my name?”
The other man sat back, relaxed against the backrest of the booth, seemingly not at all concerned about the deadly soldier opposite him. “I know quite a bit about you, Captain. Born in 1961 to Philip and Melissa Hart, home schooled by a governess until age seven when you began attending Bedford School, advanced classes from the very start and excellent grades but never described as anything close to a swot by either your fellow students or the professors. Captain of the rugby and rowing teams by the age of fifteen, National Team in fencing and could have gone to the Olympics if you chose. No close friendships but not a loner. Graduated with honors and absolute aces on the A Levels. Chose to ignore offers from various universities and instead went directly into the Royal Marines as an officer candidate. Received the King’s Badge at the end of training, the most outstanding recruit your trainers had seen in nearly a decade. Served with distinction since age seventeen, receiving the Distinguished Service Order in 1982 for your service above and beyond during the Falklands. Awarded the George Medal in 1983 for entering a burning factory five times to rescue trapped workers, receiving second degree burns in the process. Very impressive record, indeed, Captain.”
Harry had tensed more and more as the other man had revealed the depths of his knowledge. “You know a great deal about me, sir. Might I at least have the name of my - stalker?”
The blond laughed. “Cheeky. My name is Reginald Forth. And I have an offer for you. I know your eight years are over very soon and I think you might be a very good fit for my organization. We appreciate people like you, Captain. Think about it.”
With those last words, the man stood, straightening his suit jacket and walking away. Harry looked down at his Guinness and saw a business card had at some point been placed under the pint glass.
Savile Row, London
Tailors? The suit fit but Harry didn’t. That man was no more a tailor than Harry was a monkey. But it might be the answer he had come to the pub hoping to find. The universe provided.
1989, Kingsman HQ, England
Harry lay on his bed in the quarters assigned to him in the Kingsman HQ mansion and placed his hands behind his head, fingers interlocked. His gaze took in the relatively familiar details of the white painted ceiling. He had been Agent Galahad for three years and had saved the world, or at least parts of it, over half a dozen times. It amazed Harry how many megalomaniacs there were in the world, men and women who wanted to control the world (or parts of it) and didn’t care who got hurt as long as they were in control. Drugs, guns, technology, even good old fashioned swords once; Agent Galahad had stopped it all.
But now, Harry was waiting for his yearly vision. Kingsman agents were actually expected to still have them though the average in the general population had most people meeting their mates by their mid-twenties. Most agents never did find their other half. It wasn’t forbidden. If you found your mate, you weren’t fired, but it did mean the agency was no longer your first priority. It was why candidates who were on record as having found and bonded with their soul mate were not put forward for training.
When he had first come to Kingsman after being recruited by Agent Tristan, Harry had hoped to use the information, scanty as it was, together with Kingsman resources, to find his mate at last. But agents were not just discouraged from such a thing, it was outright forbidden. And when you were inducted into your seat at the table, one of the intake forms was a detailed description of when your visions occurred, both the time of year and what year they had begun. The agency couldn’t force you to disclose details of what was seen in the visions, that was one of the world’s highest laws, but they still did their best to control their agent’s mate searches.
This desire for control was what had led to Harry being in his Kingsman HQ quarters rather than at home in his end of mews house or on a mission. All field agents were grounded for two weeks before their anticipated vison date and for three days after. And all agents needed to be in a Kingsman approved location when the visions occurred. According to the rulebook, this was to protect the agents during their visions (and the grounding from missions made sense there) but it was actually to keep the agents from rushing out to find the location of the vision during the time the mate would likely still be there.
Harry didn’t mind much. He still desperately wanted to find his mate, but every vision showed his mate either in the field (where Harry couldn’t get to him) or in a locale that could be anywhere (like a movie theater or a kitchen in a flat). As a matter of fact, in his last vision before joining Kingsman, Harry had seen what he hoped was his mate paying some kind of bet. The other man had spent those ten minutes in a small kitchen making six different recipes that featured pickles. It had been hilarious but not at all helpful in locating the man. (But it had led to Harry’s name for the dog gained during Kingsman training.)
Harry always hoped to find his mate looking in the mirror or at paperwork with his name on it during a vision but had never been that lucky. He hoped that someday one of them would see that elusive clue that led them to one another. But as he got older, his certainties fled and became more of a dream, less tangible, and he let go of some of his romanticism. The same romanticism had led to Harry being nicknamed Galahad (ironically enough) by the men in his unit in the army, for the virgin knight in the Arthurian tales. Until joining Kingsman, Harry had been determined to save himself for his mate but with honeypot missions and just general life lessons of a spy, that ideal fell by the wayside and Harry had long since lost that virginity.
Harry sighed as he flexed his toes against the tingling and discomfort of the vision trance warning. He understood the reasoning behind the biology of it but it was still most annoying to endure when you were in place to safely start the trance and your body’s warning system still activated.
Then his view changed and Harry fell into shock and horror at what he beheld in his vision trance. There was no battlefield, no kitchen, no movie theater or street or classroom. All that Harry beheld for the full ten minutes was swirling, tumbling colors, shades of grey and black, like the most horrific of storm clouds.
From his first glimpse, Harry had known what it meant. Everyone was taught the oddities of vision trances. The swirling greys and blacks were a system showing your soul mate was dead. If a mate died before meeting, the vision told the soul in the trance by showing the mourning colors. Once the mate was reborn the vision of swirling colors would remain but turn to bright shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and purple, until normal visions resumed once the reborn mate attained puberty.
Harry was crushed. He was twenty-eight years old and his soul mate had died sometime in the past year. And, based on statistics, the soul would be reborn within the next three years. Until that babe was born, Harry would see these mourning visions, then the timing would change. It was highly unlikely the new child would be conceived at the same time as his former mate. Harry would have no way, until the warnings happened, to know when his new vision trance would be.
When the trance finally ended, Harry rolled over in bed, much as he had done following his very first vision, and holding his pillow as a lifeline, he wept. He wept for the life of the man he had never met, he wept for the life he would now never know, the stories he could never share of those visions, the bonding he would now be without for at least a decade and a half more. Harry wept until his tears ran dry.
Harry Hart sat slumped in a fine leather chair in the den of Kingsman HQ. In his hand, he held a snifter of fine brandy. In the chairs around him were his three good friends in the agency: his mentor, Agent Tristan, more familiarly known as Reginald Forth, who had proposed him as Galahad; Agent Morien, familiarly Geoffrey Gordon, a fellow recruit he had actually known during Royal Marine training and who worked in the tech and handler division rather than as a field agent; and Agent Percival, familiarly Percy Harrison IV, a fellow field agent, whose trials had brought him to the agency after Harry had been there for a year.
All three were commiserating with him over his loss. Reginald actually understood, as his own soul mate had died the year before he had met Harry. Geoff, too, had an oddly sad story. He had never seen an actual true vision. His visions were either the greyed out mourning colors or the rainbow celebration colors of a reborn mate. Since he had attained puberty, he had seen the mourning colors five times. His mate had never made it to puberty before dying, over and over.
“The last time,” Geoff confided to them as they joined Harry in his mourning toasts, “was two months ago. The grey and black. My mate be cursed, I think. Never ta live ta see their own vision of me. Or mebbe I be the one cursed and it impacts them. I dinnae know.”
The four men raised their glasses, not even remotely for the first time, “To soul mates!” cried Percival, the only one whose story wasn’t tragic, just lonely so far. The others nodded, echoed the call, “Soul mates!” and swallowed the aged brandy.
As the men each contemplated their romantic lives, or rather their lack thereof, another agent entered the room and gazed at them with disapproval. “Honestly, drinking this early in the afternoon is not the mark of a proper Kingsman agent, gentlemen.”
The men turned to glare balefully at the newcomer. “We’re toasting, Kay.”
“It doesn't matter what you call it, you’re getting drunk at one in the afternoon. And, Galahad, shouldn't you be in seclusion?”
Reginald turned to the disapproving agent and rolled his eyes, “Harry is out of seclusion and his vision is the very reason we are toasting, Chester. Not that it is really any of your business.”
“You’re toasting your vision, and not in a celebratory tone, Galahad? I suppose that means you didn’t see something that will lead you to them.” The older agent stood there with an intent look upon his face before it cleared. “I see, you had a mourning trance. Lucky. Soul mates really aren’t good for people in our business or of our status, Galahad. I’m happy for you, but do try not to get falling down drunk. It isn’t a good example for the newer agents.”
With that, Chester King, Agent Kay, left the room, shutting the door firmly behind him. Percival sighed, “That man is so pretentious. Classist bastard. I’ve heard he takes vacation days during his conception window so he can be somewhere doing things that won’t have a chance of letting his mate find him. Because his mate isn’t high class enough for him based on his own visions.”
Geoff nodded, “Tisn’t a secret. Kay doesn’t want his mate. And for more reasons than class. He’s not just a classist, he’s also a homophobe and a racist, ya know. Shame he’s in the running fer the next Arthur.”
The others nodded their agreement as they continued to sip their brandies, supporting each other in their silent presence.
Harry strolled nonchalantly into the tech department and approached his old friend, now second in command of all of the handlers. Looking over Morien’s shoulder, he could see the man was prepping for upcoming missions rather than being live as a handler at the moment.
“Good evening, Geoff.”
The Scot shot him a look. “Harry.”
“Are you at a pausing spot perchance? I thought I’d go for a pint. Maybe you’d like to come? I’d ask Percival but he’s in Italy right now.” Harry very carefully brushed nonexistent lint from the arm of his suit.
The wily Scot recognized the other man needed to talk but wanted to be in private. “Give me ten minutes, I’ll meet you at the tube.”
Harry nodded and wandered away, internally screaming and crying and jumping around in joy and confusion, none of it showing externally, his face an even more impenetrable mask than usual.
As Harry boarded the underground bullet train with one of his dearest friends, he still wasn’t sure how he felt or how to talk about it, but he knew himself well enough to be aware he needed a sounding board. And to know he didn’t want Arthur to have any inkling about any of it. The head of the table was truly an uptight bastard at times, and Harry knew that on this topic, as with many others, they did not see eye to eye in the least. And he simply felt keeping the situation private, at least for the time being, was for the best, not for the least for avoiding a lecture from the incredibly unromantic and blasé Chester King.
Harry and Geoff entered the pub they regularly went to when they wanted to be in public doing their drinking. It wasn’t too far from the tailor shop but it wasn’t so close as to be the watering hole for the rest of the agents and others. Here, at the Smiling Crown, they could be assured of relative privacy in public.
After getting their pints from the bar, the two men took seats in a corner booth, the noise from the other patrons providing a nice background hum. Geoff started the conversation, breaking the lengthy silence that had endured since they had boarded the bullet train.
“All right, then, out with it, Harry. What is bothering that curly head of yours now?”
Harry looked at the other man with a frown. “At least I don’t have to shave my head so no one can see how much hair I’ve lost, baldy.”
Geoff huffed. “Don’t evade me, Harry Hart. Don’t turn the subject or go off on a tangent. You came to me , remember? You’re the one looking to talk, so talk.”
Harry sat up straight. “I was in my office this afternoon, doing some paperwork -”
“From how long ago, Harry? You know your backlog is the worst of everyone. You’re late for everything, aren’t you? From meetings to reports.”
“Now who’s changing the subject and going off on tangents?”
Geoff nodded in silent acknowledgment and apology and Harry continued. “Regardless, I was in my office and working on mission reports and requisition forms when - God, Geoff - I - I felt tingling in my arms and hands and then my legs and feet. I nearly passed out from shock. I realized, I - I’ve been so busy and overwhelmed these past few years and in medical or just, I can’t recall a vision trance since I was twenty-eight. The one we drank to, the storm clouds. I’m thirty-two, Geoff! It’s been four years and I haven’t been conscious for my visions for the past three. The year after - after - when I was twenty-nine, I thought I might have a vision at the normal time but if you’ll recall, the day before my two weeks mandatory leave was scheduled, I was kidnapped by that Soviet spy and spent the time unconscious from my injuries after the rescue.”
Geoff nodded. That had been a bad mission. Harry had been in a very bad mental place for several years, taking chances he should not, cutting corners, and just generally not overly caring about his life. It was only within the past six months the fog had really started to lift and Galahad was no longer the most reckless and irresponsible knight in the agency. Granted, the insanity had brought them even closer, as Geoff became Harry’s permanent handler among his other duties; Harry had driven three other handlers into ulcers or nervous breakdowns with his antics. But still, it was a good thing he had become more careful and caring of his own life again.
“I realized as I sat there waiting for what was coming that I hadn’t been, well, compos mentis would work, either during the former trance date nor during this new one since I lost my mate and had my storm trance. I was either in the medical wing, drugged and recovering from injuries, or drugged by an enemy (you remember that one, in the Alps), or knocked unconscious from an explosion (in Thailand) or in an induced coma after that mission to Toronto or well, frankly, this time last year I was in an alcoholic stupor and blacked out. It has been a year since we lost Reg and I didn’t handle it - in an altogether healthy manner last year. To lose both Reg and Arthur in a car accident of all things, black ice and an out of control lorry, and then have no real option for a new Arthur except Chester, since we all knew the only other runner for the spot would have been Reg. Everyone always knew Kay and Tristan were being groomed for the spot, as alternatives for us to choose from. And then to be left with Kay! And the godawful gloating smile on his face when he ascended to the head of the table - I just went home that night -” Geoff looked at Harry with a raised eyebrow, “very well, I went home that afternoon and got falling down, passing out, don’t recall anything or how I ended up sprawled on the floor in the conservatory, drunk. I may have had a vision and don’t recall it due to the alcoholic blackout or I may have been passed out from the alcohol and missed it entirely. I have no way of knowing. Or this might be the first year I have one if my mate was reborn in the year since that blackout. They could be anywhere from a year old (or less likely but statistically not impossible, a few months old) to four years or so.”
Geoff shook his head in disbelief. “So, you had a celebration vision trance with the rainbow colours and now you are fretting because while you know your mate has been reborn, you don’t know if it's been within the last year, or if you're incredible recklessness with your life led to you missing that first colour-filled vision. Only you, Harry. And though I know yer going to fret yourself raw about it, there really is no way to know, not until they reach puberty, at which point you could get a better idea of the age. All you know is they were conceived on this date sometime in the past four years or so. Which puts their birthday anywhere from say five months to eleven months from now. Granted, eight to ten months are more likely but medicine is doing wonders with premature births these days and some women are very late in delivery. Eleven months is highly improbable but possible.”
Harry downed the remains of his Guinness in one long swallow. “I don’t even know if they’re a boy or a girl, Geoff. I knew from my first vision my mate was male, but with a reborn mate, it could change. I have no idea.”
Geoff chuckled. “And you won’t, not until they hit puberty. Welcome to the land of uncertainty, Harry, my friend.”
Harry’s head hit the table with a thunk and a groan and his friend laughed.
September 1999, Ireland
Harry Hart sometimes hated his job. As he pushed through crowds of families and children, meeting the eyes of everyone under four feet tall, his bespoke suit covered in candy floss and popcorn, his Oxfords covered in mud and worse, he cursed the decision he had made thirteen years previously to become a knight.
“Excuse me,” the knight constantly murmured to children as he looked at them, searching for the information dealer who sold state secrets and troop movements to whoever paid the highest and sometimes selling the same information to multiple people who could meet his price. The man’s cover: the dwarf man in a circus that toured Europe and northern Africa. “Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me.”
October 1999, Paris, France
“ All right, Galahad, just mingle with them; stay calm and don’t be condescending. We need this information and we have to figure out which one of them she passed the disk to. It is in one of them. We know that much, and that it will be picked up and passed on after the party. But all we have to go on is the voice print, no physical description, so you need to get them to talk. If possible, to say the words ‘Teddy’ and ‘lovely’. ”
Harry nodded his head subtly, knowing the glasses would pick up the movement. He walked forward, inwardly grimacing, and sat next to the first potential mark. He looked at him and smiled. “I like your bear. Its outfit is very well made. What’s his name?”
The boy held up the bear to the agent and said, “Buzz. He’s a robot bear but looks real. He goes on adventures with a squid and a horse and they ride on motorcycles and fly planes because they’re superheroes and they don’t eat their vegetables because they think they are nasty, especially broccoli ‘cause they are deformed trees and should be torn down.”
Harry smiled even as he inwardly sighed, glancing around at the forty children in the ballroom holding teddy bears.
December 1999, London, England
Harry crossed a tidy living room decorated for Christmas and squatted down in front of the child playing with a snow globe, the sobbing of the widow echoing behind him. He sighed as he looked at the young child, the child who would probably barely remember his father the hero, the hero who was dead because Harry had missed seeing the grenade and Lee had not.
“What’s your name, young man?”
The boy looked at him shyly and lisped the answer, “Eggsy.”
“Hello, Eggsy.” Harry smiled sadly at the boy in his Christmas sweater, surrounded by gifts his father had gotten for him he would never see him enjoy. “Can I see that?”
The boy held out the snow globe and Harry took it in his hand, swirling it around. He showed the young boy the medal his mother had refused to take. “You take care of this, Eggsy. All right?”
Eggsy nodded his head and reached for the symbol of Lee Unwin’s bravery and loss and Harry’s own fatal error. Harry glanced back at Lee’s widow and then again met the boy’s blue eyes. “And take care of your mum, too.”
The boy nodded solemnly once more. Harry sighed, placed the snow globe on a table, gripped the young boy’s shoulder in a show of silent support and shared grief and left the young family to its mourning.
February 2000, Scotland
“The tracker is pointing to the warehouse straight ahead,” Harry murmured over the comms. He crouched in the shadows of an alley and slipped on a pair of infrared goggles. “I read heat signatures of ten on the main floor, spread out, no more than three in close proximity to one another. There are at least four upstairs, all close together. None of the heat signatures are small enough to be Rebecca. Merlin, do the plans for the building show a basement? There’s too much solid rock for me to use the infrared.”
“ Affirmative, Galahad. The structure has a large basement. It spans the entire stretch of the building according to the plans. Best idea is to go in stealth, take out as many as you can, silent approach. Then head downstairs. The goggles should work through the floorboards once you’re inside. ”
Harry smiled. “I’ll do my best to keep it quiet, Merlin.”
The voice squawked loudly over the comms, “ I mean it Harry. You go in guns blazing, they might kill the wee lass before you can find her. Break necks, amnesia darts, garrotes, slice throats, no guns! I’m not gonna be the one ta tell Gawaine his granddaughter died ‘cause Galahad was a showoff. ”
Harry took a deep breath and nodded. “I know, Merlin. I’m perfectly capable of taking out the targets, silent and deadly. I’ll try to keep a few alive for interrogation but if it is a choice between keeping one of them alive and bringing Rebecca home to her family without having to use a body bag, I won’t take prisoners.”
“ Understood and agreed, Galahad. Good luck. ”
Harry proceeded into the warehouse, picking the locks on the closest door. He made his way carefully through the cavernous, yet maze-like space, slowly exterminating the guards, quiet and utterly deadly. After the first floor was clear, Harry ascended to the small second floor that took up one wall of the warehouse. He didn’t want to leave enemies behind him able to ambush him on his way out.
The four men were gathered around a computer monitor, seemingly transfixed by what they saw on the screen. It made it simple for Harry to shoot each in the neck with an amnesia knockout dart before any of them realized they were no longer alone. Harry looked at the screen and cursed as he realized what he was seeing, Merlin echoing and more in his ear. Harry slammed the goggles on and stared downward, now seeing the heat signatures in the basement of the warehouse.
“It wasn’t kidnap for pay or for revenge on Gawaine, Merlin. It was a fucking coincidence. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a fucking child sex ring! They’re kidnapping children to sell them into sexual slavery. Fuck, fuck, no way in hell!”
“ Galahad! Galahad, I see it. Galahad, you need to - Harry - Harry, you need to - we - you’re going to scare the kids, stop, Harry, now was that really necessary, oh, bloody hell, in all fucking senses of the words, Galahad! Fuck, this is one hell of a mess, literally. Oh, now, that was poetic justice, right there. Nice. But really, get control, Galahad. Ooh, last one, decided to get artistic, did we? ”
“My apologies, Merlin,” Harry replied as he smoothed down his suit coat and ran his hand through his hair and straightened his glasses. He looked around at the pedophiles lying on the ground around him. There were the remains of over a dozen men, though it would take some work to determine that with some of the bodies literally severed into multiple pieces. Bodies were cut open, many with their insides lying on the floor, others missing limbs, and nearly all with significant injuries to their groins. The last killed was pinned to the ground with several knives through his shoulders and into the concrete floor and his penis was missing, until one looked into his mouth. “I’m afraid I let my temper get the best of me for a minute there.”
“ Indeed. That’s what we’ll call it, shall we? At least you left the ones in the office alive. They’re the one most likely ta have the info we need to take care of the wider ring. Now find somewhere to clean up a bit before you get those children free. The clean up team is ETA four minutes. ”
Harry nodded, though frankly, based on the little faces peering out of the cages around the room, it was a moot point. But the smiles on those faces made it clear they weren’t afraid of him, no matter his brutal treatment of their captors.
August 2000, London, England
Harry sat slumped in a very ungentlemanly posture on the armchair in his den. Mr. Pickles sprawled on the floor, head on his slipper-clad foot. Across the room, Geoff, now know as Merlin and fully in charge of the tech and handler divisions, and Percival, now a senior knight, sat in their own armchairs. Each man had a glass of whiskey in hand.
Percival sat forward and verbally prodded his old friend. “All right, Harry, spit it out. You practically begged us to come over tonight and we both know you got out of lockdown just before you came to see us. Did you finally see a vision? It seems a little early, but puberty can come early, and by the timeline you’ve figured out over the years, your mate could be ten, which isn’t overly early.”
Harry shook his head. “No, no vision.”
“Then why the urgency, Harry?” Merlin inquired. “Percy’s right. When you invited me over, you were nearly vibrating with tension. Well, at least to someone who knows you as well as I do.”
“I told you. Straight out, I said it. No vision.”
Percival was the first to understand. “You mean, you didn’t even have a rainbow vision? No vision at all? But they let you come home, your lockdown is over, so -”
“Damn it, Harry, you didn’t lie about it?”
“No, Merlin. I had the tingles and pain, then after half an hour, there was no vision. No vision of any kind. At all.”
“Oh, holy fuck! Only you, Harry Hart. You felt the pull and warmth, didn’t ye? You met yer soul mate during the past year but they aren’t in puberty yet so you met but couldn’t bond.”
“Exactly! And I still have no clue how to find them! I don’t know their gender and will now never have a vision giving me a clue. All I’ll have is a geographical pull and the warmth of the love in the bond.”
Percival took a deep drink from his tumbler. “And you can’t even follow the pull because you’ll be locked down at HQ whenever it happens.”
“Thank you for stating the obvious, Percival.”
“But, well, Harry, you aren’t exactly known for being around children and your mate is under eleven and over seven. How many children in that bracket have you interacted with since your last vision?”
Geoff laughed aloud as he understood, being Harry’s handler.
“That’s the problem. This past year my missions have been filled with damned children fucking everywhere!” Harry took a deep breath. “I've never interacted with so many children in my entire life as I have in the past year. I mean, two months ago there was the trafficking ring that Gawaine’s granddaughter got pulled into and before that was the spy who slipped a stuffed bear with a disk inside it to a child at a teddy bear party and then there was the damned circus! I had to look those kids in the eye to make sure one of them wasn’t the damned circus dwarf man, hiding. I - and those - they were just random public children at the circus with their families. There is absolutely no way to track any of them down. Assuming it was one of them. And leaving out that mission, the other two had me talking to or at least interacting in some way with over seventy children. Adding the circus crowds could put the number over one hundred, probably more. I truly think Fate hates me. Any other year and it would be simple. But this year had to be the year of children. Damn it, I’ll never find them again.”
“Take heart and don’t despair, old chap. You may be unable to follow the pull due to Kingsman policies, Harry,” Percival rationally pointed out, “but once your mate hits puberty or adulthood, they can follow it from their end to find you.”
“Assuming Harry isn’t out of the country during their trances,” Merlin pointed out.
Harry threw a pillow at the Scot’s head for that particular pointed reference before he sighed and poured himself another drink, determined to drink his worries away, at least for the night, safe among friends.