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Connection, Interrupted

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"...Oxfords not brogues?"

Dead air. Then...

"Your complaint has been duly noted, and we hope that we have not lost you as a loyal customer."

Shit, so much for that, then. He tries to send I'm sorry, I fucked up, I'm sorry down the line and hopes it translates.

Except less than two minutes later the interrogation room door opens again, an almost reluctant cop telling him he's free to go, that he must have friends in high places. And Eggsy sure as shit doesn't correct him. Feeling like it must be a trick, and getting nothing but confusion being fed back to him, he leaves the room, hesitant like they're gonna change their minds and cuff him again. But they just give him back his wallet and phone, make some dry remark about driving home safe.

He's still reeling about the fact that the medal actually worked, not even out of the station before his world tips even more sideways.

Richmond Valentine, Eggsy imagines, wouldn't look like he belongs anywhere but up on a screen, or on a red carpet – anywhere media-saturated. With his bright, monochromatic outfits and generally loud personality, not something that has any place in a depressing government building. So he sticks out like a sore thumb, sitting in the waiting area, and it stops Eggsy in his tracks, his brain doing that thing when you think you see a celebrity but no, it can't be, and you wonder if it's just a really convincing look-alike.

But it's definitely him, and he's definitely setting aside a golf magazine to get up and walk towards him, smiling.

"Hey! Glad to see you walkin' around a free man," he says almost too loudly, speaking with a lisp and exuding an energy and charisma that makes Eggsy smile even though he still doesn't know what the fuck is going on. Why this man would be talking to him. Valentine extends a hand. "Richmond Valentine."

On autopilot, Eggsy shakes his hand, barely stops himself from sputtering like an idiot. This is the man who donated state-of-the-art POS systems to thousands of small businesses, including his mum's salon. Who set a record for making all his factories run on clean energy. Who's got his own damn movie coming out soon. And Eggsy spent last night in fuckin' lockup.

"Uh, Eggsy— Gary." Introducing himself with his odd name never goes well, but this is probably the worst person to not give his formal name to, right up there with the Queen herself. He cringes internally. Maybe a little bit externally too.

Valentine just smiles a little wider, clasping Eggsy's hand in both of his own before releasing it.

"Good to meet you, Eggsy. Bet you got a lot of egg jokes from kids at school, huh? Let me tell you, I've heard every joke in the book about Valentine's Day, used to beg my parents to let me stay home that day, every year." His voice is warm, genuine. It puts Eggsy at ease, at least for the moment.

"Right, yeah...listen, not that m'not pleased to meet you, or anythin', but why're you talking to me?" he asks, half laughing. Becoming uncomfortably aware that the other people in the station are beginning to stare.

Valentine nods, understanding, and sticks his hands in the pockets of his bright pink hoodie. "Well, now I don't wanna scare you away, but I've had my eye on you for quite a while, Mr. Unwin. You've got promise. And if you ask me, it's the marines' loss, without you in their ranks – course I can't be too upset on their behalf, because now I get to share this opportunity with you."

Blinking, trying to process what he's saying, Eggsy repeats, "Opportunity?"

"Business opportunity."

The medal got him a job offer. Not just any job offer, either – losing his dad is worth more than a get out of jail free card, turns out. And now Eggsy gets the impression he should've called that number a hell of a lot sooner.

A warm arm settles around his shoulder and Valentine walks with him, steering him out an employee exit like he owns the place, to a waiting car worth more than Eggsy's entire apartment block. He doesn't even recognize the model, and realizes it might not be on the market yet, feeling almost guilty for climbing inside in the clothes he's been wearing since yesterday morning. Almost. The interior is all red velvet leather, crisp new scent and humming with power. God, what he wouldn't give to take this thing for a joyride...

"Eggsy, my valet Gazelle. Gazi, Eggsy."

He shuffles to get situated quickly, Valentine beside him in the spacious backseat, and nods at the woman behind the wheel with sharp, dark eyes. He thinks he's seen her with Valentine at press events before. She gives a smile while her eyes stay cold.

"Get us outta here, I want that place in the rear-view mirror," Valentine mutters, and when Eggsy looks over he's rubbing sanitizer between his hands, like some posh git trying to cleanse himself after stepping foot in a rough part of town. Except he doesn't strike Eggsy as posh, more like someone who's got the good sense to know how right filthy London police stations are. And Eggsy can't say he doesn't share the sentiment. Gazelle nods and pulls the car smoothly away, out into traffic, never louder than a soft hum. Electric powered, what a surprise.

The hairs on the back of Eggsy's neck are prickling, eyes darting around, and he's sitting a little too straight in his seat while Valentine lounges back. Even with the favor the army supposedly owes him, shit like this doesn't just happen. Not with Eggsy's luck.

"So...why me?" he asks. Valentine said he'd been keeping an eye on him for a while, which doesn't match up. So either he's lying about that part, to try to make Eggsy feel important or some shit, or...maybe the Powers That Be behind the medal have been planning this, just waiting for him to pick up the phone.

Valentine looks over at him and slowly smiles, taking a moment to consider him before he speaks, and Eggsy gets the impression that he's launching into a very practiced performance.

"Eggsy, what would you say was your strength, during your stint in the marines?"

There's a correct answer to this question, one that Valentine had in mind when he asked. Eggsy hesitates to answer.

"I was good at pretty good at drone piloting," he answers, almost like a question. "Black Hornet, Desert Hawk, all that. Got to run a simulation of a Reaper once, too – got full marks." At the time it didn't seem that impressive – still doesn't – but his SO had been very pleased. It was just like a video game, Eggsy figured. "I really preferred boots-on-the-ground combat stuff, though," he adds quickly, still unsure what exactly Valentine was looking for. But he's looking at him with something that might be pride, or at least approval, so maybe he did something right.

"I saw your scores, in both divisions. And that's exactly why I'm here. Like I said, you've got promise, man."

There's something niggling in the back of his mind, quietly growing more urgent, but it's not from him, or directed at him, so he ignores it. Mentally bats it away. Because if he's hearing this right, Valentine actually wants him to be doing important work for his company, not just getting people coffee. Not that an internship with the Valentine Corporation is anything to sniff at, but Eggsy doesn't know anything about designing or engineering technology. And why would he need someone skilled in combat, except as a bodyguard?

"Still confused?" Valentine guesses. "Let me put it this way: I'm looking for people just like you. Lots of 'em, for a new project I'm working on, very hush hush. People with exceptional skill and experience in warfare tactics and remotely operating weaponized systems." A pause, as if waiting to see if he's going to chicken out. Eggsy holds his gaze steadily. "You'll get more information about the job when and if you pass the qualification tests. But you're gonna have to bring your A-game, 'cause this? Isn't something you wanna miss out on. Trust me on that." He talks with his hands a lot, but when he says this, he keeps still, holding eye contact, intense, and it gives Eggsy a sense of something that might be excitement, but it feels an awful lot like fight or flight instinct. This is big, and it's just intimidating him, he tells himself. He hasn't done shit with his life, nothing to be proud of anyway except keep his mum and Daisy alive – he can't pass up this opportunity and live with himself.

In the pregnant pause that follows, Eggsy slowly smiles.

"You want people who can operate Jaegers or somethin'? We gonna save the world with giant robots?" he asks, half joking and half hopeful. The smile returns to Valentine's face.

"That's exactly right. We're gonna save the world." He turns to his valet, leaning forward and putting a hand on the back of her seat. "There a McDonald's around here, Gazelle? I wanna celebrate."

-

Outside Holborn police station, Harry Hart checks his watch, frowning.

Nearly twenty minutes has gone by since he was told Eggsy's release was approved, and there's still no sign of him. Of course the legal system moves slowly – he silently thanks the lord that Kingsman isn't affiliated with that mess – but has the boy stopped for a coffee and a chat with the officers? He taps the side of his glasses, opening up a comm line.

"Merlin, can you get eyes inside? He seems to be dawdling," he mutters, leaning back against the concrete wall and trying not to draw attention to himself.

"He was arrested last night and you're critiquing his punctuality?" Merlin sounds bored by the very idea, but Harry can hear him tapping at his keyboard. Surely not at headquarters, but from his home office; this isn't exactly a high profile mission, contact with Merlin shouldn't have even been necessary. After a pause, he says, "Facial recognition doesn't match anyone from the live feed to Gary Unwin. I'll check back over the last half hour."

Harry waits uncharacteristically patiently, entertained by the roller coaster of emotion that isn't his own. So far, it seems to have ended on a high note, and about time too. His intended has been numbly grey for far too long.

"Harry, have a look at this."

A video expands on the lens of his glasses, taken from a high-up angle of a security camera, displaying Eggsy Unwin shaking hands with another man dressed in a shocking shade of magenta who has his back turned. A few silent seconds pass as they exchange words, and Harry watches as they both leave through a staff exit – the timestamp on the video displays fifteen minutes ago, and facial recognition confirms the mysterious man's identity.

"What on Earth is he doing with Richmond Valentine?" Harry wonders aloud, closing the video with a long blink.

"Not a clue. If you want me to dig deeper, you'll have to wait until I've finished looking over Lancelot's case."

"Don't concern yourself with it, I'll have a look on my own," he mutters, somber, and straightens up, swinging his umbrella slightly as he heads back to the car. It feels odd to simply leave, when he'd intended on proposing Eggsy as a candidate for Lancelot's position, or at least checking up on him after fourteen years, and now he'll have to find someone else to put forth. Evidently Eggsy has more important people to dedicate his time to. "There must be a simple explanation."

"There never is, with you."

-

Valentine's "qualification tests", as it turns out, kind of fucking suck.

They started out alright, and Eggsy's not too sore about that fact that they had to cut off all his hair – so the sensors can monitor brain activity more easily, they tell him, and stick circular pads with wires trailing from them all over his scalp – but all the tutorial videos for the tests have the same loud brand of humor that Valentine likes, and after a while it starts grating on him. And he doesn't see Valentine himself again, either, not after their trip through the drive-thru and odd meal in the car. He just dropped Eggsy off at home and gave him a card with the address of where to be by eight am the next day.

The only people there are those going through the tests like him, but they're told by the instructional videos not to talk to each other, and Eggsy's quick to spot the security cameras around the testing rooms. Watching for anyone breaking the rules, most likely, so they can throw away their applications that they were never actually asked to fill out. So the days go by in eerie silence, some of the applicants seeming focused and determined like they've been waiting years for this, and others just as confused as Eggsy. New people show up and disappear at an alarming rate, never with any indication as to whether they were accepted or dropped.

And that's not even mentioning the tests themselves. They probably cost more to run than Eggsy's secondary school, taking them through hypothetical combat scenarios in VR, exercises that test their reflexes, ability to make snap decisions or react to unexpected stimuli. Not really running through obstacle courses or anything like Eggsy imagined, in fact most of it's done sitting down, all of them in rows surrounded by tech like a scary looking classroom. It reminds him of that weird Robin Williams film that gave him nightmares as a kid, the one about the toy factory.

At least they keep things interesting; the tests are different every day, sometimes in different rooms with different equipment, and one day he arrives to find doctors there giving them all individual check-ups. It's the first time he's ever asked a personal question, a week into the selection process. And all of them are about his mental state – if he's ever had a mental illness, if he has a family history of it, things like that. They give him an IV of what they call tracer fluid and, when he asks, they tell him it's a radioactive substance that will help them detect any imperfections in his brain tissue, and that no, it will not give him superpowers, Mr. Unwin, so to please stop pretending to shoot webs from his wrists and sit still.

An hour later, Eggsy gets his first and hopefully last PET scan, because sitting in tight spaces and not being allowed to move is already uncomfortable, but being asked questions that test his memory the whole time makes for a very tense two hours. And the whole time, all he can think is that something isn't right here. Wanting to make sure your employees are mentally sound is one thing, but this fucking ridiculous. And maybe it's just bleeding over from the other set of emotions in the back of his head – something has been bugging the shit out of his person all fucking week, he can feel it – but it really does seem like something suspicious is going on.

Then finally, finally he's allowed to go home, signing the usual confidentiality agreement that he does at the end of every day. Yeah, if he tells so much as his mum about the oh so exciting goings-on of the Valentine Corporation they'll make his life hell, alright, he gets it. Doesn't seem so frightening after the shit he's going through already, and his mum is too busy dealing with Dean and the baby to care where he disappears every day. At least he'll be able to tell her he's got a fancy job soon, hopefully.

But they're in a new part of the building this time, for the check-ups. Everything looks a little more high-tech, more streamlined like something he'd expect in a Valentine building, not like a training center they set up temporarily, like they're usually in. And down the hall, Eggsy can just barely see a door marked "authorized personnel only."

He's just being opportunistic, he tells himself as his feet carry him that direction. It'd be stupid to just blindly accept everything that's going on and not want to have a poke around and learn more – and surely Valentine doesn't want to hire stupid people. Maybe he'll even be rewarded for his curiosity and critical thinking, or whatever.

He's kidding himself, but also way too fucking tempted to turn back now.

With all the bustle of people going in and out of the examination rooms, it's not that difficult to step away with an air of confidence without turning any heads. That's the trick of it, he's learned, to act like he knows exactly where he's going and like he's supposed to be there.

The dead silence as he continues down the hallway is a little unsettling, like the rest of the massive building is deserted. There's not even a key card required to enter the restricted area, which makes Eggsy scoff quietly 'cause he'd been expecting a fucking retinal scan, knowing the Valentine Corporation. Quietly he pushes open one of the heavy double doors, to find another deserted hallway that looks even more like a hospital than the last one did, and as he walks down it, gets that apprehensive feeling in his stomach like he's in one of those dreams that's just a maze of endless hallway after endless hallway.

The last time he was in a hospital, Dean had broken Eggsy's collarbone and only agreed to take him to A&E under the condition that he keep his mouth shut about how it happened. The doctors had been way too quick to swallow the lie about him getting knocked down playing rugby with his mates, that much he remembers. So whether it's a Pavlovian reaction to being somewhere so clinical again, or just generally knowing he's not supposed to be here, Eggsy feels sick to his stomach. He's robbed houses, shoplifted...but this feels bigger, somehow. It might have something to do with the big "V" logo plastered all over everything.

He turns a corner and still finds no one and nothing of note, letting out a sigh and considering going home when he spots a door labeled "cold storage 3." And it's not the label that intrigues him, but the fact that it's the first door he's seen with a keypad.

Now, guessing passcodes has always been a specialty of his, but this time he doesn't have to. He saw the one his doctor put in to access the room with the PET scanner, memorized it out of habit, and it works on the first try. The lock clicks loudly in the silence, and Eggsy allows himself a satisfied grin as he pushes the door open.

The lights come on automatically, and immediately his smile falls.

For a long moment there's only oppressive quiet as he stands there staring, ears ringing louder and louder.

Finally giving in to the buildup of nerves all day, his stomach lurches, and Eggsy can't even tear his eyes away from the sight before him as he nearly doubles over, pressing a hand to his mouth and gagging. And while he doesn't actually lose his lunch, he's shaking like he never has before, every instinct telling him to fucking run and block every memory of this from his head. Unsteadily, he turns on his heel, letting out a string of curses in a panicked breath, but he doesn't even get two steps away from the scene.

"Well now, you weren't supposed to see the inside of that room for at least another two weeks!"

Valentine and Gazelle stand just outside the door, as if out of thin air, and Eggsy's heart thunders in his chest. Valentine looks and sounds far too happy for someone who definitely knows the contents of that storage room, standing there casually with his hands in his pockets and beaming. Eggsy wars between fight or flight, feeling as pinned under Gazelle's predatory gaze as he does by Valentine's manic smile.
“What the— what the fuck is in there—?” Eggsy stammers, feeling the blood drain from his face.
"Curiosity killed the cat," Valentine continues with a shrug. "And they say that satisfaction brought it back, but...well, you don't look too good right now, do you? Does he, Gazelle?"

Slowly, she shakes her head, smiling. "He looks pretty dead to me. Like he bled out," she answers. Her lilting voice light.

Chills down his spine, shaken by what he's just seen, Eggsy tries to back away, all his military training failing him because what was in that room—

"Bled out, huh? Well, his mother will want a body to bury. Do me a favor and make sure she gets one."

Gazelle steps forward with dangerous grace, the tines of her metal prosthetics sliding against each other with faint shings, and as she draws closer to Eggsy, two shining rapier blades descend from them.

-

Harry rubs his temples, his own mounting frustration not helped by the flurry of emotion that's not his own in the back of his mind. Typically it isn't obtrusive, not so much that he can't put it out of his thoughts when he needs to, but it's had him on edge all day. He's in his home office and his wet bar is so very close and tempting, but he really shouldn't, he needs to finish these reports...

It happens very suddenly, sensations and emotions growing too loud to ignore, despite there being no actual sound. It's instantly overwhelming and has Harry gripping the arms of his chair, the edge of his desk, using every technique he knows to attempt to ground himself in his own present reality. But it's so much, too much, and before long he's grabbing at the trash can beside his desk and vomiting into it. Horror continues to twist in his gut like a physical, writhing thing.

Heart pounding in his ears, he attempts to stand, to get to his glasses in the hidden compartment where his Kingsman weapons are kept, but he can't even make it that far, letting out a ragged breath as he collapses on the floor and leans back against the wall, eyes squeezed shut. Maybe, he thinks, if he were more accustomed to having someone else's emotions tethered to him, it would affect him so severely, but he was already in his thirties when they first—

A spike of fear rises in him, sudden and growing and growing like a rising scream, reaching a crescendo, and then...

All goes quiet. Just as quickly as it came, it's gone entirely. Eerily, familiarly silent, as it was for the first thirty-one years of his life. And it leaves Harry sitting on the carpet in shock, trembling like a child, utterly and completely alone.