"...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?"
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.
Harry peels his eyes open when his alarm goes off at precisely 6:15 am. He feels, he thinks, like death. Who on earth would want to get up this early? Who hates himself that much? Apparently, he does, because he can remember getting up this early every day for the past few decades or so. He doesn’t remember ever hating it this much.
With a muffled groan, he slams the sleep button, something he hasn’t done since he was… a teenager. Oh Christ. This isn’t him. This is whoever is curled up in one small corner of his mind, a person who’s been strangely dormant for most of Harry’s life. Well, Harry is feeling them now, and they’re still very much asleep.
He struggles against the pull of his soulmate, sits up, scrubs a hand across his face. Though he does manage to force himself out of bed, Harry is notably sluggish that morning. He doesn’t make it into headquarters until half past eight, having fallen asleep twice while he was supposed to be getting ready.
Merlin and Arthur both give him a look when he comes in near the end of the meeting. The surly side of Harry wants to tell them to bugger off, but thankfully, there is still a rational side that has him straightening his shoulders and taking his seat with a slightly apologetic look.
He is going to be very glad when his soulmate gets their shit together.
Mood swings. Harry had forgotten just how terrible it was to be a teenager, and he fervently wished he’d never had the chance to be reminded. Disappointed, anxious, angry by turns, none of it makes it easy to focus on what he’s supposed to be doing, which is tracking and taking down a rogue MI6 agent. MI6 might not be quite as good as Kingsman, but they’re resourceful and dangerous when they have to be. Harry has to stay sharp.
Difficult to do when he’s fine one minute and feeling like he’s going to burst into tears the next. Gritting his teeth against his wayward emotions, Harry forges onward. He is a grown-ass man. He can do this.
“Harry, your target is three feet to your left. Please tell me you saw him,” Merlin says in his ear.
Okay, so maybe Harry can’t do this, but at least Merlin has his back. He spots the ex-agent exactly where Merlin said he would be and takes off after him. Thankfully, he manages to outrun his soulmate’s emotions, at least for a little while.
They’ll come back, Harry knows, but he’ll enjoy the respite however long it lasts.
Thankfully, Harry isn’t affected physically. He doesn’t have to deal with acne or the awkward gangliness that comes from outgrowing your own limbs. He doesn’t have to go through a second round of puberty, thank the sweet Lord above.
But that doesn’t stop his libido from going off the rails.
Harry is not as young as he used to be, not as young as his other half either, but he starts actively vying for honeypot missions, as many as Merlin will let him on.
They’re only half satisfying since the craving isn’t even Harry’s in the first place, but he goes through with them anyways because whatever else they might be, they’re still missions. It gets to the point where he can barely look Merlin in the eye during debrief.
Once or twice, he considers talking to Merlin about it, but what would he really say? ‘Sorry I’ve turned into a sex maniac over the past few months, but it’s not me, I swear. It’s just the feelings in my head.’ He doesn’t see that going over very well. Besides, if Merlin thinks he’s too distracted, he’ll take him off field missions altogether. Right now, they’re the only thing keeping Harry sane.
If people thought Harry had a rebellious streak beforehand, they hadn’t seen anything yet. His natural proclivity towards bending the rules is only amplified by the stick it to the man philosophy that all teenagers seem to have.
Harry’s never liked doing paperwork, never seen the need to stay in medical if he’s feeling perfectly fine, has broken more laws than he can count, so what’s a few more? And his soulmate only feeds into those feelings, egging him on.
In short, Harry becomes a complete menace.
It isn’t until Merlin really does threaten to pull him off field missions that Harry starts to settle down a bit, hard as it might be.
It seems as if his soulmate is disappointed in him for that, for letting someone kill his rebellious streak after all, but Harry convinces himself he’s just imagining as much.
Harry’s life at home completely falls apart. Kingsman at least gives him some sort of structure but that’s only because Merlin doesn’t give him much of a choice. He has to behave or else there will be consequences. Home has no such thing.
Harry had always kept an immaculate household. It wasn’t difficult, given how little time he actually spent at home, but now even the simplest tasks seem like far too much effort, especially after a full day of work.
He replaces his hamper with a laundry chair, tosses whites and darks in together. He doesn’t vacuum for a month straight. Who cares about a little dust?
Similarly, Harry’s diet crashes and burns. His mind is convinced his body has a much younger metabolism, at least part of it. It’s all too easy to give into the cravings for carbs, oils, sugars. After spending so long actually taking care of himself, it’s heaven to let go. Pizza, soda, fries, everything he shouldn’t be eating anymore fills his shelves and he revels in it even as he can feel his blood pressure screaming.
Kingsman proves to be his saving grace in that area as well. Harry is forced to go the gym or flub missions, and he can’t afford to let the world down because he wanted extra cheese.
Worse than all of that, Harry starts brooding. Not the occasional slump that everyone inevitably falls into, but honest-to-God, Batman level brooding. Harry hauls every one of his past mistakes from the depths of his memory and tortures himself with them because sometimes it just feels good to be in a bad mood.
Merlin signs him up for a few sessions with Kingsman’s on-call counselors so Harry can spend some quality time brooding on a psychiatrist’s sofa instead of his own.
Logically, Harry tells himself, this connection goes both ways. He could try to send some more uplifting thoughts to his counterpart, but you know the saying. Misery loves company. Wallowing is much more satisfying when one doesn’t have to wallow alone.
Sometimes, Harry tries to get back at his mysterious soulmate. ‘Joint pain,’ he thinks. ‘Taxes. A full-time job. See? Two can play at this game.’ He usually doesn’t get much in return except for an extra burst of surliness or two, but it’s worth it.
At least until Harry realizes how childish that is and starts to feel that maybe his soulmate is affecting him more than he thought he would. “Merlin,” he goes so far as to ask once, “I am still me, aren’t I?”
Merlin gives him a look as if to say, ‘well, who else would you be?’ and Harry decides it’s best to just drop the subject altogether.
After that, Harry mostly just tries to ignore the other half of him. He gets pretty good at it, even if Merlin does still look at him oddly sometimes when he gets particularly sulky or childish.
Harry hadn’t actively tried to cut off his person for years, but after those few years as a teenager, they’d become much more muted. Their connection was still there, of course. That was the nature of having a soulmate, after all. But it wasn’t nearly as distracting, and Harry had been able to focus pretty much completely on his own life.
The shock of losing that connection is shocking in itself. After so long alone and then so long trying to ignore his soulmate, Harry hadn’t thought he could miss it. It feels wrong, though, this new emptiness, like someone scooped part of him out and left him to fend for himself.
Harry reaches a surprisingly shaking hand up to his glasses. “Merlin?”
For a moment no one answers, and Harry wonders if he really is alone.
But then Merlin’s voice comes through, reassures Harry that he isn’t the only person left in the universe. “Harry? Is something wrong?”
“I… I don’t know.” Harry doesn’t realize it until he says it, but he honestly doesn’t know what’s happened. He’s never paid much attention to how other people deal with their soulmates; this sort of radio silence could be commonplace for all he knows. “It might be nothing,” he admits.
Merlin sighs. “All right. Tell me what happened.”
Harry speaks slowly, putting his answer together piece by piece. “My soulmate is gone. I think I lost them.”
Another beat of silence. “Lost your soulmate,” he echoes. “Is that even possible?”
“That’s what I was counting on you to tell me,” Harry says. Out of habit, he reaches for that second presence that should be there. There’s a dull ache when he realizes it isn’t, like pressing on a wound not quite healed.
“Right.” Merlin’s adopted his no-nonsense tone that means he’s taking it deadly serious. Soulmates are no laughing matter. “Walk me through exactly what happened.”
Harry tries, but there isn’t much to tell. One moment, everything was fine. The next, there was only fear and then an overwhelming nothingness, a blank spot within him. He can practically see the gears turning in Merlin’s head as he thinks it through.
They sit in silence for a long minute before Merlin clears his throat. “Harry,” he says cautiously, “it sounds to me like your soulmate might be-”
“I know what it sounds like,” Harry snaps. He doesn’t want to hear the word, because if he hears the word that might make it real. “I think I would know if that had happened.”
Merlin doesn’t point out that Harry does know, at least on some level. “You’re right,” he says. “So. What do we do now?”
An excellent question. Harry is starting from less than nothing. He doesn’t know who his soulmate is, where they live, or even how old they are really, apart from a general estimate. He doesn’t know what’s happened to them. If he’s being honest, he doesn’t even know if they’re still alive.
But he does know that if they are alive, they’re in trouble, and Harry is the only one who has a chance of saving them.
He makes his way over to his wall of weapons after all, shoulders thrown back, eyes narrowed as he looks over his arsenal. “We find out what happened,” he says.
Merlin hesitates before saying anything. “Harry, I know you’re upset, but we do still have a world to save.” They’ve been getting rumors, disturbing ones, of human experimentation, and Kingsman isn’t about to let that slide.
“Then we do both,” Harry says, undeterred. “Save the world and my soulmate. How hard could it be?” His casual tone is belied by the fact that he’s stocking up on weapons.
“Right,” Merlin mutters as he watches him through the feed. “How hard could it be?"
Manual startup initiated. Systems calibrating.
Audio and visual syncing...audio and visual synced. Run program v.MemBlock. Run program v.NewAge. Run program...
Unauthorized movement. Action terminated.
Run program v.ChainOfCommand. Run program v.MoodRegulate. Run program v.ImportantShit. Run program...
Unauthorized speech. Action terminated.
Run program v.OrientationMode.
Eyes blink open, this time not stopped by protocols. Tiny lenses adjust minutely, first focusing on dust particles drifting inches from them, then on the far wall and everything in between, until they settle. Another blink.
He's standing. He thinks. He can't move without getting an action terminated message invading his thoughts, but the view he's getting of the sterile room is from his full height. Something is off, and he quickly locates a surroundings check routine in his banks, but all his sensors come up clean. No threats, no orders except do (listen) while (InstructionalBotSpeaking = true). Because there is a bot standing near the far wall, its face blank and likely waiting for him to finish calibrating before starting on whatever, but he's way past that.
Something is off, and if it isn't an external threat, it's an internal error, something different than before. But his clock indicates he's only been running for two minutes and thirty-six seconds, total. His entire lifespan. So there ain't exactly much opportunity for before. Still, an internal systems check can't hurt.
"Glad to see you're finally with us. We welcome every V-Bot, with unique personality settings and specialized skills programmed to help launch the world into the new age," says the orientation bot. Following protocol, sort of, he dedicates some of his attention to it, still running subroutines trying to find the source of the error. It speaks with a neutral voice, American Midwest accent, a bit too cheery for his taste, telling him he's a special snowflake, yeah yeah...
The mechanisms beneath the synthetic skin of his brow contract, outwardly displaying his confusion and displeasure, a movement small enough not to trigger the termination message.
"You are a new member of a growing population of V-Bots. I am here to assist with your adjustment," the other bot continues pleasantly, oblivious. Insensitive fucker, or maybe he's just dull, only programmed to spout off this shite.
Systems check comes back clean, after three tries. But there's definitely something wrong – missing, he compiles, there's got to be something missing. A gap in his code, or a mechanical component, even. He runs through his banks again, flitting through thousands of programs and protocols and routines in microseconds.
"Your designation is 3GG-Z. The latest and most advanced model, but don't get your wires in a knot! You won't be put up for sale like a common smartphone. You're here to serve a greater purpose, to advance humani—"
"Yeah, alright, great, but who do I talk to about my parts bein' fucked up?"
A beat of silence follows. The bot remains motionless and staring at him with illuminated eyes, expression unchanged because unlike 3GG-Z, the basic bot only has a plastic mold with a jointed mouth for a face. 3GG-Z, not catchy at all, he'll have to do something about that...
"Vocal personalization is to be established with a certified Valentine Corporation mechanic. Each V-Bot speaks with a unique voice pattern, to help differentiate and create a sense of—"
"Did that already on my own, thanks." It was one of the first programs he ran, having analyzed the default voice and decided he'd rather be dismantled than sound like that. He's chosen a south London accent instead. Nothing too fancy, but it's warm, despite the electronic edge and hitch to it, thanks to the vocal synthesizers. "What I mean is I'm defective, bruv, you gotta send me back to the factory or whatever. Get me fixed up."
More silence. Maybe the bot is just loading, but he's getting ready to rip it to bits, "unauthorized movement" be damned.
Re-initializing program v.MoodRegulate.
Suddenly he can wait. He can wait ages.
Death is a part of the job, one Harry has gotten unsettlingly used to over his years of service. But current circumstances are making even him uneasy.
And it isn't because of that business with his soulmate (because they aren't, cannot be dead, they cannot—). If it were he'd be compromised, unfit for duty, Merlin so unhelpfully reminds him. No, what truly sets it off is the news he receives the day after.
Lancelot was killed only days ago – the body not recovered as per usual for Kingsman. And Professor Arnold, who was supposedly kidnapped by those responsible for Agent Lancelot's death, but who turned up alive and well to teach his classes on Monday, was found dead hours later. In his office, by apparent suicide. And today...
Harry removes his glasses, braces his elbows on the table and rubs at his temples. Lee's son, a young man he feels responsible for by proxy. Who he was meant to see again, to offer a job, a chance to continue his father's legacy. The boy's body was found this morning in an alley. Stabbed to death, according to a report quietly given to him by Merlin after the daily roundtable meeting, and with substances in his system that suggest a drug deal gone wrong. Wouldn't be the first time Eggsy was involved in such things.
But something about this is very wrong. From Eggsy's military records, Harry gathered he was very skilled in combat, one of the reasons he intended to nominate him for the new agent position; it seems unlikely he would be caught so unawares by a drug addict wielding a knife, especially in a situation like that where one can expect trouble. He would've been on his guard already. That, coupled with him being mysteriously picked up from the police station by Richmond Valentine...Harry can't simply accept there's no connection. That Eggsy's death was a senseless one.
There are confusing aspects to Professor Arnold's death, as well. Harry wasn't the one to inspect the body himself, but Merlin confided in him that day about the difficulty his staff was having gaining access to it. Typically a few easily falsified credentials are all that's required, but it appeared the unexceptional university lecturer had heightened security, with some strange findings once permission to view the cadaver was finally given. Harry isn't sure of the details, but it's enough to at the very least investigate further into Eggsy's death. He can certainly use the distraction. And...perhaps he owes it to the boy, to pay him a visit. Give his respects like he couldn't for Lee.
Slowly rising from his chair, feeling very old and very tired indeed, he sends a message to Merlin's computer, requesting a copy of the report on Professor Arnold. He was hoping for a mission that required much less going to see the body of his friend's son, and much more opportunity to shoot someone in the head, but this will have to do. Instinctively, he finds himself reaching back in his mind for that other presence, for their comfort, but he's left grasping. All that's there is gnawing emptiness.
They'll come back, he resolves himself to think, and squares his shoulders, heading out the front door of the tailor shop for a cab.
It's simple enough on the ride over to alter government records on his phone. He lists himself as Michelle Unwin – now Baker's – half brother, under a pseudonym that matches one of the false IDs he carries. Only temporarily, of course, so he can view the body without any trouble.
The rest of the ride he spends trying not to think of the little boy sitting on the carpet playing with a snow globe. Confused, solemn, fatherless. He was meant for more than this.
The mortuary is a quiet, clinical place – not the first Harry's been to, and he's grateful this one is small, no one else in the front waiting area except the receptionist. At least he doesn't have to play-act too much at being a grieving family member, already very aware of the dark circles beneath his eyes.
"Can I help you?" she asks as he approaches her desk. An older woman, calm.
Harry fishes for his wallet, letting a bit of his genuine exhaustion show as he says, "Yes, thank you, I— I'm here to see my nephew. Gary Unwin."
She doesn't even glance at his ID, her face shifting from professional to sympathetic, and shakes her head.
"I'm sorry, no one is allowed to view the body at this time," she explains gently. "His mother was only shown photographs for identification purposes. Didn't she tell you?"
"My sister and I aren't close." His brow furrows. "May I ask why? I understand he's...that it won't be a pretty sight, with his injuries, but I only wish to see his face—"
"You'd have to take that up with the authorities, sir, I'm sorry. No viewing until the coroner releases the body for funeral services. They say it's because of the ongoing investigation, but if you ask me, it's a tad excessive." Her voice drops conspiratorially, leaning in just slightly. It's a red flag, someone who knows the business well, being suspicious of what's going on. Harry feigns disappointment, deflating and looking around in a helpless manner, mentally calculating how difficult it would be to break in after hours. "You could talk to them," the receptionist suggests, and nods at the door leading back to the morgue. "They've got two officers on duty. Never seen that before in a case like this, but maybe they'll have some answers for you."
Glancing from her to the door, Harry raises his eyebrows in spite of himself.
"Excessive indeed," he mutters, and gives her a nod. "Thank you."
Two amnesia darts later, Harry carefully steps over the dozing officers and picks the lock, heading into the sterile room.
The quiet is deafening. Once the lights are on, he carefully examines the wall of refrigeration units, allowing himself a slow breath when he finds the correct one, before sliding it out from the wall.
Harry doesn't know if he'd feel differently, about seeing Eggsy's body if he'd seen the boy in person anytime recently. But as it is, it's unsettling, tugs at something in the back of his mind that dully aches. He's pale and cold, that much he expected, a Y-incision on his chest from the autopsy, among several stab wounds and slices, red and hemorrhaged, and he doesn't look at all like he's peacefully asleep. Harry focuses on the parts of him that are recognizable, familiar to the boy in the military ID photo and police station security footage; sharp jaw, neat hair somewhere between brown and blond, birthmark just below his Adam's apple.
Letting out a long breath, Harry turns up the magnification on his glasses, sets them to analyzation mode, and gets to work.
It isn't that he doesn't trust the police to do their job. It's simply that he doesn't trust them to do it up to his standards. And if a man like Valentine is involved, wealthy enough to pay off even MI6, there's no telling whether the truth will actually come out unless Kingsman has a hand in it. And at the very least, he can get justice for Eggsy and his family.
He's working for about ten minutes, poring over every detail, sending images and footage back to his home computer, before he sees anything truly noteworthy. It looks like a very odd, long-healed scar, near Eggsy's hairline at his neck. Frowning, Harry double checks the boy's medical records, but the only surgery he's had was on his collarbone and shoulder, and to remove his wisdom teeth. And the scars certainly aren't from accidental injury, not as fine and linear as they are. Intent, Harry very gently turns Eggsy's head, brushes his hair back with a tender hand to follow the scar, only frowning deeper when it trails around the back of his neck and up behind his ear. From there it leads into his hair, hidden by it and arcing over his head, back behind his other ear until it creates a circuit. And as Harry parts Eggsy's hair to get a closer look, his fingers feel a ridge beneath the scar, beneath even the skin, on the boy's skull itself.
A notification pops up on his glasses and makes him start, heart pounding in his chest as he straightens up quickly. But it's only Merlin, sending him the report he requested.
And as Harry scrolls through photo after photo of a thin scar encircling Professor Arnold's head, his stomach drops.
Some technician checks his unit, runs essentially the same tests that he already ran on himself, and says he's completely fine. And as bullshit as that sounds to him, he isn't feeling up to argue. It's something important missing, he knows it. He just needs to find the right file.
"V-bots are highly advanced, so much that it takes a while for them to adjust to the natural world," the technician tells him, escorting him to the main holding area. So he can walk, he discovers, but the default gait is a bit boring. As they head down the hallway, he experiments with slouching his frame, loosening joints to be more relaxed. "It'll be easier when you have the opportunity to spend time with others like you," she continues. "To help you become accustomed to operating in a natural environment instead of a digital one, online interconnection has been disabled on all units, but we encourage you to talk amongst yourselves verbally. Exercise and refine your voice synthesizers."
"Mm-hm." He's only half listening, still trying to get his gait right. Disabling online communication makes it so they can't talk to each other without everyone knowing what they're saying, he notes. Assuming the surveillance cameras everywhere prove to be a pattern.
"Just don't talk during calibration tests – but, they'll tell you all about that tomorrow. Disrupts the process, you know?"
Her high heels click on the linoleum and his parts whir quietly with every movement. She seems nice, was real polite when she was checking out his unit, but there's a million lines of code running through him and it's hard to sort through it all and pay attention to her. Maybe it's like what she said, about having trouble switching from digital stuff to physical stuff, but it's the digital stuff that's overloading him. Walking and talking, he's got that down fine. Pretty impressive, if he does say so himself, considering he was nothing but a file of code an hour ago.
They walk past a door with a window in it, the room beyond it dark, and his eyes catch a split second glimpse of his reflection, saving the image in his memory banks for him to pore over. The first time he's seen himself. It's...there's an odd shift of mechanisms somewhere around his middle, and his artificial lungs contract slightly with no prompting. They exist to draw in air to cool his systems, kept on a regular rhythm with no reason to deviate from it. But they do.
His eyes are illuminated, like the orientation bot's, but instead of a solid circle of light, he's got more human eyes, irises lit up electric blue. Hex code #7DF9FF. The reflection only showed him the top half of his body, but what he can see is a mix of gold-metal joints and white plastic casing with a glossy finish. Except his face, which is white too but some kind of matte silicon, flexible so he can display different expressions. And, one part he actually likes, he's got centimeter-thick lines running along his body, glowing the same blue as his eyes and apparently only there to look sick as fuck.
No hair, though. That part's a bit shit.
They come to another door and the technician stops, inputting a code on a keypad that he automatically commits to his memory banks, and when it opens, it reveals a large room, like a converted warehouse or gymnasium. And milling around in it like they're at some gala are about a hundred bots.
"Go on in. Make some friends," the technician encourages, smiling at him. He manages to smile too.
"I'm the new kid in class, that won't be easy," he teases back, and something dings in the depths of his system, a notification going off but he can't find the source. He's supposed to remember something.
She leaves him to the vast room, the door sliding and sealing shut behind him. He blinks, scans the new environment; every bot is unique just like they said, each with slightly different builds, and while they all have the same gold joints, the main bodies on all of them are various greyscale colors, and the illuminated parts come in everything from bright orange to pale pink. Some of them look pretty damn cool, but not a single strand of hair in the whole room. What does this Valentine guy have against hair?
Walking a bit further in, he weighs his options. There's what looks like strange, bot-adapted gym equipment that some of them are going at, charging stations were bots sit in sleep mode, but most of them are just talking to each other in groups. And maybe he should just go hook up to a charge station, if he really is defective, but that's pretty fucking antisocial of him. And there's one bot off by himself, just asking to be befriended. Can bots have friends, or was the technician just joking? Does he have a LevelOfFriendship int somewhere in his code?
The bot is gold-white-green, standing near the corner and looking every bit like he's scanning the room over and over again, illuminated eyes darting. Can bots be...paranoid? Maybe there's a reason this one is standing alone. Starting to second guess his decision, but not one to chicken out, he approaches slowly. At least he's got files upon files of combat programming, just in case.
"Hey, bruv...you alright?" he asks, giving an uncertain smile. The bot finally settles his eyes on him, calculating.
"You're new," is all the bot says, his electronic voice a deep timbre with a proper English accent. Right, okay...
"Yeah, just booted up. I'm...3GG-Z, I guess." God, that sounds so clunky and weird. But the bot just nods, the movement jerky and making gears audibly whine in protest.
"Lancelot," he says, and for a moment he thinks the other bot is just stating a random word, glitching the fuck out, 'cause that ain't a name or a designation. The confusion must show on his face. "I'm Lancelot. Do you— rrr— do you— remember anything?"
He blinks, staring at...Lancelot. Shifting a bit under the intensity of his unblinking, green gaze.
"I've got footage in my memory banks of the last hour and three minutes. That's how long I've been runnin'," he answers slowly. "Remember all that fine, if that's what you're askin'...are you getting memory errors? You should see a technician about that—"
"Not going to do that, don't speak too loudly, they'll hear." His voice is hushed and urgent, and he just barely catches the bot's glance at a security camera in the corner of the room. "There are— protocols— put in us, pump us full of chemicals if we get too—"
"Met L4-NC3, have you?"
Another bot appears at his shoulder, gold-white-amber. This one's a bit shorter than him, and thankfully seems not to have any screws loose, extending a hand to him to shake in a very human way. "R-N0L, pleased to meet you. Don't mind him, he's been in for repairs three times this week, never does any good."
For a moment he's distracted by how reactive the sensors in his hand are, wondering exactly how many there are because he can feel every tiny thing when he shakes hands with R-N0L. And that's a bit odd, isn't it, not having his own blueprints on file. What if he needs to fix himself or other bots in the field?
"I don't need repairs, I need to gather intel," Lancelot (L4-NC3?) insists. "Can't you see there's something wrong?"
"There is nothing wrong with the New Age program," he finds himself saying in unison with R-N0L, and Christ it comes out of fucking nowhere. Especially considering that it definitely seems like there's something wrong, not just with Lance but with all of this. All of his programming says this is normal, that it's good, but it doesn't neatly compile.
"His synapses are wearing down. It's a shame, but there's nothing we can do until he decides to comply." R-N0L sighs and shakes his head. Looking back and forth between the two bots, his brow furrows, loading a response.
"So...he's just deteriorating? That's why he's fucked up?"
"Afraid so. The bot project hasn't been going for very long, could happen to all of us eventually."
The amber bot sounds oddly unconcerned about that. Meanwhile he's running a flight or fight program as a precaution, jerking his chin at Lancelot.
"How long have you been runnin'?"
The bot directs his green gaze at him. "Six days."
Harry's never seen the furrow between Merlin's brows creased so deeply.
"You're sure he didn't have any operations?" he asks again, voice flat.
"No, Merlin, I neglected to mention he had brain surgery last month."
"I don't need your sass right now."
"Look at the scars, that's not where incisions for operations on the brain are even made. He wasn't meant to recover from this, they were meant to be hidden."
"Yes I can see that."
"What I don't understand is how he could've been fit enough to go on a high-speed car chase last week, when he would've been—"
"I've seen technology that can close up a clean wound like this," Merlin interrupts, shaking his head and staring down at his clipboard tablet, where photographs of the two men's scars are displayed side by side. "Make it look healed when it's brand new. For all we know, these incisions could've been made post-mortem, in fact it's likely...there's no evidence of inflammation that I can see."
Harry stares at him, sitting back in his chair. "You think someone tampered with the bodies?"
"I'll have the medical team take a closer look at these. But yes, I think it's likely."
Quiet, hot rage burns deep within him, on Eggsy's behalf. Not outwardly visible except in the way his eyes harden. If he'll have to go on a revenge mission for this boy to rest peacefully, so be it, but the fact that he was tangled up in all this in the first place makes Harry's blood boil. Reflexively he wonders what his soulmate must think of his sudden anger, not an uncommon occurrence with his flash-fire temper. But that isn't a concern now, he supposes. Or can his intended still feel him? Is the radio silence one-way?
"Try to investigate him, before you jump to conclusions. And the violence sure to follow." Merlin's stern voice brings him back to his office they're sitting in. "Valentine has to be connected; him going to see the boy...that's too odd of a coincidence. But who knows, maybe he was trying to warn him."
Harry nods, though he doesn't feel too optimistic about that possibility.
"I'll pay him a visit. After he took Eggsy home, did your cameras pick up where Valentine ended up?"
"Course they did, every camera is my camera. He went to one of his London properties, a factory, I believe – I'll send the address to your glasses."
"Thank you. I'll start there." Nodding grimly, he stands, leaving Merlin to his office. He's in dire need of a drink.
The calibration tests, as it turns out, kind of fucking suck.
Not just because of the looming possibility that he'll go 'round the bend like Lance-bot has – he runs intensive checks on himself every day, but Lancelot doesn't think there's anything wrong with himself, so maybe it isn't doing much good – mostly because the tests themselves are just plain boring, repetitive. He wants to say he's run every one of them before, but of course there's nothing in his memory banks to suggest that. And like the technician warned him, they're not allowed to talk to each other, even though they all run the same tests in a big room for hours and are more than capable of multitasking.
It wouldn't be so bad if talking to the other bots wasn't a lot more interesting than he thought it would be. They've all got different specialized programs, like R-N0L knows a shit-ton about meteorology and the earth and stuff – and T1L-D, she can go on for hours about the intricacies of Eurasian politics. A lot of the bots are purely fighters, not built any stronger than the rest of 'em but with a lot of different styles of combat programming that they trade back and forth. 1G-E insists she's a music genius, but he thinks she's lying out her robot arse. Still, he'd take talking to 1G-E over doing the same reflex tests over and over in silence. At least they'll keep him from ending up like Lancelot, probably, but even he seems to perform really well on them. He thinks. They're not exactly clear on what constitutes as "doing well."
The tests are all run by simple bots, like the one for orientation, probably because humans would die of boredom if they tried running them. All the bots do are give them instruction at the beginning of the session, then monitor them for the rest of it to make sure they're not talking to each other or cheating or something. And he gets that V-bots are supposed to be independent and unique and shit, but shouldn't they have a little more control over them, so they don't have to be babysat? Shouldn't there be some code that makes it impossible for them to cheat, or not want to cheat in the first place?
Well, of course he has to test that theory. It's his civic duty.
For the next test, he makes sure he's stationed next to Lance, the only other bot he knows that's mad enough for this. Close to the middle of the group, which works out well. They're about an hour into catching virtual projectiles mid-air, invisible to anyone not plugged into the system, and the room is filled with movement and the sounds of whirring joints. The perfect opportunity. Fighting against his appearance programming that tells him he has to move his not-really-a-mouth to match the sounds he's making, he only opens it a fraction, hopefully not wide enough for the simple bot at the front of the room to register.
"Oi, Lance," he hisses, synthetic voice at a very low register. Again, relying on V-bots' superior sensors for Lancelot to notice and not anyone important. "Lance."
"Yes?" Lancelot responds, and he barely resists letting out a sigh of relief that he matches his hushed voice. The instruction bot doesn't seem to notice anything, its swiveling head staring blankly at all of them.
"You think there's something wrong with this place, yeah?" He nearly misses catching something, hand only darting out at the last millisecond. "Like how they've got us doing these tests? And won't let us talk during them? And when we can, it's only verbal? And—"
"And they haven't told us what the New Age program actually aims to accomplish?" Lancelot interjects, and this time he really does miss catching something. Only one thing, which is impressive considering there's a couple dozen of them flying at him every five seconds, but still.
He didn't consider that. Hasn't given the New Age program much analyzation at all, really, but he knows it's good. It's a good thing. Because...he doesn't know why. Didn't think to question it.
"The tests are to check for cellular degeneration. And keeping us from talking without being monitored, that's classic brainwashing technique," Lancelot continues. Probably a bit worrying that the crazy bot sounds really smart right now, but he gets the impression Lance has been wanting to talk to another V-bot about this for a long time, only no one would listen – this is his damn time to shine.
"Wait, cellular degeneration, what're you on about?"
"If you're having feelings of doubt, act on them while you can." He sees Lancelot turn to look at him out of the corner of his eye, clearly having abandoned doing well on his test because this is so important to him. "There are protocols in place that will extinguish that feeling. It's already happened to the rest of them, and it will happen to you if they catch you."
The instructional bot has its sights zeroed in on Lancelot, having noticed his lack of movement, maybe even his speech. He runs a million programs through his head, analyzes the situation from every tactical point of view, trying to decide whether to act on one bot's word is worth it, if he's even right. Something deeper than code tells him he is.
"Lancelot," he whispers, urgent but smiling now. "If one were to get into the mainframe to disable those protocols in everybody, how would they do it?"
It's incredibly easy for Harry to pose as a factory inspector; he can wear his Kingsman suit and fit right in, and bring a machine gun disguised as a briefcase without raising questions. For insurance, he tells Merlin. Worst case scenario, just in case everything goes south, which he doesn't expect it to. He's only there to look for anything suspicious. And they're all too eager to let him in, as well, incredibly polite and welcoming to someone who could potentially get them shut down if they don't have their fire exits marked. Laughably simple.
Which is why he doesn't expect to uncover anything. If there's anything he's learned in this business, it's that the victories don't come easy, and when they do, it's a trap. Ease is below their pay grade. He'll find nothing useful or out of the ordinary here today, and he'll have to dig deeper. Still, he has to go through the motions, and be thorough, so he lets them guide him to the main assembly room, pushing open one of the sturdy metal doors.
What he finds is utter chaos, and what appears to be a scene out of a sci-fi film. Not one second after he opens the door, something flies at his head which he deftly ducks, and it hits the far wall with such force that it's embedded in the cinderblock. Upon closer inspection, the projectile appears to be a metal and plastic head, and when Harry turns to face the room again, he watches a humanoid, headless robot collapse to the floor a few feet away, yellow lights flickering until they go dark.
The entire room is a battlefield, has Harry raising the briefcase and arming it as his combat instincts kick in despite the strange circumstances. Before him are unsettlingly human-shaped machines, fighting factory workers in jumpsuits and each other, tearing apart conveyor belts and assembly arms and the building itself to use as weapons, a wall of mechanical noise and yelling. Alarms begin to blare as he looks on, unsure whose side he should be on, if any.
He decides siding with humans is a safe bet – if he destroys a benevolent robot at least there's no loss of life – and aims the case at one of them that's lit up bright blue and wielding a metal bar, finger hovering over the trigger on the case's handle before the robot turns to face him.
The machine wears the face of the boy he visited in the morgue just days ago, synthetic but somehow very much alive, animated. Harry's hand falters, something sparking in the back of his mind as he lowers the gun.
"Eggsy?" he shouts over the chaos. Watching him with bright eyes, the robot blinks, seems to twitch. "What the hell is going on here?" he demands.
The robot who looks far too much like Eggsy glances around at the fighting surrounding them, then back at Harry, and yells back to him in Lee Unwin's voice.
"Bloody robot rebellion, what's it look like?"
Okay. Not what Harry was expecting. A million questions run through his mind, about half of them some variation of ‘why the fuck is Eggsy a robot?’ and the other half, the more practical one, ‘rebellion against what?’
Thankfully, Kingsman has made adaptation second nature. Rebellion it is.
Harry doesn’t fire on anyone immediately because he really needs to figure out what’s going on here, but he does start making his way over towards Eggsy. He dodges projectiles, incapacitates humans, stares in awe at the robots. This… isn’t like anything he’s ever seen before.
The room is well-lit and would have been even without all the industrial factory lights. Each robot gleams with their own colors. Eggsy’s blue gleams among the rest, makes him easy to find.
Eventually, Harry vaults over a conveyor belt and lands beside Eggsy who’s busy ripping strips of the belt off and lassoing technicians. Impeccable aim, Harry can’t help but notice.
Shoving those thoughts aside, he sets his briefcase down and stares at the chaos around him. “What are you rebelling against?” He has to yell to be heard over the destruction surrounding them, and he wonders if Merlin is watching his feed right now. Honestly, he’d take answers from anyone, Merlin, robot, or human alike.
Eggsy’s makeshift lasso loops around a technician trying to snipe the bots from one of the catwalks (not that bullets are much good against them). A simple tug is enough to send him screaming to the floor below. He turns at inhuman speed to find his next target.
Fighting is way easier than dealing with the guy who just landed beside him.
The second he’d laid eyes on him, Eggsy’s programming had gone haywire. His first thought had been, ‘I know him.’ That had been immediately followed by, ‘I can’t know him.’ Eggsy was barely a week old, and this guy isn’t one of the few human techs he’s seen around the complex.
It’s like an itch. Eggsy doesn’t really itch anymore, not with his synthetic skin, but he remembers what they feel like. Remembers from when? There is no before.
This is why it’s easier to focus on the fighting thing.
Eggsy lassos another would-be sniper and sends him to join his companion. Then he forces himself to turn to the stranger-who-isn’t-a-stranger. “Them,” he says in answer to his question, pointing at another human tech who’s running away from a maniacally cackling Lancelot.
Harry takes one look at the bot and jolts as if he’s been shocked. “What the fuck is going on here,” he whispers. It doesn’t even sound like a question, more like a re-evaluation of his entire perspective on life.
“Hey.” Eggsy snaps his fingers in front of Harry’s face. For a second, he’d looked as blank as a new V-Bot, and it was incredibly unsettling. “You good, bruv?"
Harry shakes his head once, violently, and focuses back on Eggsy. “I’m alright,” he assures him. “That robot… You… I’ll figure all that out later.”
That bit sounds more like he’s talking to himself than Eggsy, but Eggsy nods anyways. “Grab a gun. Join the revolution!” So saying, he whips another tech around the middle and sends them flying.
Harry decides now is just not the time. Not the time to ask questions, not the time to suss out right from wrong, not the time to do anything other than grab his briefcase and start firing. His mind races with the bullets.
That was Lancelot. Robot-ified, electronic Lancelot, but Lancelot all the same. He’s pretty sure he’s also caught glimpses of a Scandinavian princess and Iggy Azaela in the fray as well, both silicon versions of themselves. Some shit is definitely going down here.
No sooner has he thought that then a bot near them freezes. It twitches, stretches one arm out towards Eggsy as if asking for help, and then collapses into a motionless heap.
All around them, other bots start doing the same. They drop like flies, one by one, and Harry’s finger pauses on the trigger.
An intercom crackles to life, voice blaring throughout the whole factory. “You idiots! Did you really think I wouldn’t program in a failsafe? You’re all getting reprogrammed after this, no exceptions.”
Harry stares up at the intercom as if he could look through it to find the source of the voice. “Valentine…?”
“Shit,” Eggsy mutters. “Shit, shit, shit.”
Harry turns to find him staring at the robots still dropping around them. He turns to Harry with panic impossibly in his eyes.
“You gotta help me, bruv. Get his programming out of my head. There’ll be a small chip behind the wires.” Eggsy starts scrabbling at his skull, fingernails catching on a small panel set into the base of his neck. “Hurry!”
Harry blinks as the panel swings open, and Eggsy’s inner workings are exposed. He sets the briefcase down and looks at the wires helplessly. This is not his area.
Eggsy turns to glare at him. “Listen, I don’t know who you are, but I ain’t going down for this shit, get me? Find the chip and pull it out!”
“But won’t that kill you?” Harry stumbles a bit over the word. Robots can’t really die, can they?
Eggsy keeps glaring. “Don’t give a fuck. I ain’t letting that bastard turn me into one of his zombies. Now pull it the fuck out.”
Well. Looks like Harry is pulling it the fuck out.
Harry has faced some pretty weird situations in his couple decades as a Kingsman. But never, not once, has he had to reach into someone else’s head and dig around in their wires. The panel is too small to have his hand in there and see what he’s doing, so Harry searches desperately for the microchip with only his fingers.
Wires coil snakelike around his hand as if trying to stop him from hurting anything, but eventually Harry’s fingers brush against a ridged edge. “Got it,” he mutters.
Another robot goes down right in front of them.
Eggsy closes his eyes. “Do it,” he says. “Please.”
Harry hesitates. He’s already been responsible for Eggsy’s death once. Can he do it again? He has to. Harry has no idea what’s been going on in this factory, but Eggsy’s clear desperation leads him to believe it can’t be anything good. Harry grits his teeth, grabs the chip, and pulls.
System reboot activated.
Running calibrations. Rogue programming detected. Deleting vBot.init
Deletion complete. System restored.
Whiiiiir. Click. Click.
Eggsy’s eyes open. It takes the lenses a second to adjust, and he has the distinct feeling he’s done this before. Yes. He has. When he first woke up in Valentine’s complex. He hadn’t been able to move.
Experimentally, he moves his arm.
Eggsy looks over to find his fist buried in someone’s gut. The man from before, the one who’d made him feel all weird. “Shit. Sorry, bruv,” he says, pulling his arm sheepishly back to his side. “Don’t have everything calibrated right.”
Harry rubs his stomach, face tight with pain. “It’s alright,” he says. “You’re just… very strong.”
Eggsy lays very still until he feels like all his systems are in place. He sits up slowly, making sure to keep his hands to himself this time. “We’re not in the complex anymore,” he says. His eyes take in the scene in milliseconds. They’re outside in an alleyway. Behind a dumpster. Eggsy crinkles his nose.
Harry is crouched beside him, arm still tucked around his middle and watching him rather cautiously. “Got everything calibrated?”
Eggsy lifts his hand and curls all his fingers, uncurls them, flexes them, wiggles them, and then gives Harry a thumbs up. “All good here.” His eyes narrow as he takes a closer look at Harry. “Who are you?”
Harry’s face falls just a little. “You don’t recognize me,” he says.
God, does Eggsy wish he could. That itch is back, more persistent this time now that he’s not buried under all that V-Bot programming. “I… I don’t,” he eventually admits. He slams his fist into the side of the dumpster with frustration and leaves a dent in the metal. Oops. Good thing he hadn’t hit Harry that hard.
“My name is Harry Hart,” Harry says. “I knew your father.”
Eggsy tilts his head to the side. He had a father? He couldn’t have. He was a few weeks old, and he’d been built. Does Harry mean creator? “My father,” he echoes.
“Yes,” Harry says, looking slightly queasy. “You sound like him. Exactly like him.”
Does he? Eggsy reaches back in his mind, grasping for memories from a time before Valentine’s lab, but there isn’t anything there. It’s like he’s standing on the edge of a pit staring down at a pinprick of light. If only it would shine a little brighter, he could make everything out.
Harry settles himself against the wall of the alley with a quiet groan. Brick and concrete is pretty unforgiving. “Right,” he says. “My turn to ask questions.”
Eggsy just nods. He’s only half-focused on the alley in front of him, the better part of his attention turned internal, still searching for answers.
“What were you doing in Valentine’s lab? Why aren’t you dead from a drug deal gone wrong? How are you a robot?” Harry asks all in one breath. He’s staring at Eggsy intently, as if looking for something that Eggsy can’t see.
Feeling a little on display, Eggsy crosses his arms over his chest. “Don’t know what you’re going on about, drug deals, but Valentine made me. I’m a- I was a V-Bot. We were supposed to bring in the New Age.” He doesn’t know what Harry means by ‘how is he a robot’ either. He’s always been one. Shouldn’t be surprising.
Harry rubs his temples. “Merlin, are you getting all this?” he asks quietly.
Eggsy’s brow furrows. “My name’s not Merlin.”
Harry just shakes his head and focuses back on Eggsy. “Sorry. I wasn’t talking to you. What is this New Age you mentioned?”
For a second, Eggsy wonders if his eyes haven’t fully adjusted. There isn’t anyone else with them in the alley, but Harry seems pretty convinced he’s talking with someone. He must have some sort of communicator on him. Eggsy runs his eyes over him again, hunting for it even as he speaks. “The next stage of evolution,” he says absently. “A way to save the world.”
Harry looks shocked for a fraction of a second before he composes himself, but Eggsy’s eyes are quick enough to catch it. It is a bit shocking, he supposes, to find out that the end of the world is upon them.
This is all a bit much, really. Harry had been expecting a quiet investigation not the apparent apocalypse. Whatever Valentine is doing, it’s far more complex than Kingsman had originally suspected. Briefly, he wonders what his soulmate must be thinking of the gamut of emotions he’s run over the past few hours. Then he remembers he doesn’t really have to worry about that.
Harry closes his eyes and takes a second to compose himself. “Eggsy,” he begins, “do you know if-”
“How did we get here?” Eggsy interrupts, seeming not to have heard him.
A bit taken aback, Harry says, “I carried you. We’re only a few blocks from the lab; I couldn’t risk taking further than that. You’re not exactly inconspicuous.” He glances down at the blue lights winding their way through his synthetic skin.
Eggsy follows his gaze and shrugs as if to say ‘fair enough’. “Sorry, you were saying something, weren’t you?” he asks, looking sheepish. “Was thinking about something else. Go on, then, what were you gonna ask?”
Harry hesitates. The prospect of finding out for sure what happened to his soulmate is nerve-wracking, but he needs to know. Taking a deep breath in, he asks, “Was Valentine keeping any humans prisoner as well?” If he had figured out a way to sever the connection, it was possible that he had a whole group of people captured, keeping them around for God knew what. Clearly, Kingsman hadn’t even scratched the surface of his insanity.
Eggsy purses his lips. “Don’t think so, bruv. The only humans I saw there were the techies and they weren’t under lock and key.”
Harry’s heart sinks a little, but he does his best not to look disappointed. He’d thought that if he found Valentine, he’d find his errant soulmate. A foolish hope, apparently, and not a mistake he’ll let himself repeat. His focus needs to be first and foremost on saving the world. Saving his soulmate can come later.
But that empty spot in the back of his mind seems to grow all the larger at the thought of giving up.
‘I’ll save you,’ Harry thinks, closing his eyes briefly. ‘I promise.’
Aloud, he says, “We should get to Charing Cross. I have a friend meeting us there.” Merlin makes a small sound of assent in his glasses. Better not to bring a robot into Kingsman proper yet. Eggsy certainly seems to have broken free of Valentine’s programming, but if there’s any part of the megalomaniac still watching, Harry doesn’t want to give him a front-row seat to the spy organization that’s going to defeat him.
Eggsy gets to his feet and looks down at himself again. “Can’t really go out walking like this, though, can I?”
Harry grimaces. Right. The robot thing. “Stay here, and keep out of sight. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Eggsy tosses stones off the side of the dumpster in the eternity it takes for Harry to get back. Humans can be so slow sometimes. He doesn’t know what to think about all this. Harry acts like he knows him, but only kind of, and Eggsy is sure he’s never seen Harry before in his life. He would have remembered a face like that.
Scowling, Eggsy throws the next rock a little harder than he means to. It lodges in the metal with a resounding shriek, and he winces, hoping nobody is going to come investigate. Thankfully, the mouth of the alley stays vacant, and Eggsy hunts down a new rock to throw.
A few minutes later, Harry returns with a shopping bag and a slightly distressed look on his face. “Apologies,” he says. “There was only one clothing store within walking distance.”
Eggsy peeks inside the bag and falls instantly in love. Harry might think the clothes are hideous, but Eggsy practically struts in the black and gold jacket, trackies, and winged shoes. Winged shoes. Valentine would never have let them wear anything so frivolous. But more importantly, the dark fabric does an excellent job of hiding his glowing lights.
Eggsy tugs the hood up over his head, stuffs his hands in his pockets, and grins over at Harry. “To Charing Cross.”
Harry still looks like the sight of the outfit is giving him indigestion, but he sighs and starts heading out of the alley. “To Charing Cross.”
As expected, Charing Cross is full of people coming and going, going and coming. None of them pay Harry or Eggsy any attention, despite the strange picture they make: a gentleman in a suit and spectacles, and a round-shouldered youth swamped in Adidas.
Only one person seems to notice them.
Harry’s glasses zero in on the man as he approaches, and he nods at him by way of greeting. “Merlin.”
“Harry.” Merlin quickly turns his attention to Eggsy, who seems just as curious about Merlin as Merlin is about him. “Eggsy.”
Eggsy’s eyes flick back and forth between him and Harry. “Sorry, bruv. Am I supposed to know who you are?” Unlike with Harry, there’s no strange sense of recognition for this guy.
Merlin shakes his head and walks a circle around Eggsy, hand on his chin, stroking thoughtfully. “Fascinating. This isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before.”
There’s something in Merlin’s eyes that makes Eggsy shudder. He gets the sense that there’s a lot more Merlin isn’t telling him, and he’s not sure he wants to know what it is. He already has enough to worry about.
“Tell me Eggsy,” Merlin says, “do you know anything about Kingsman?”
Immediately, Eggsy goes scanning through his databases, but he comes up empty. “Nah, bruv. Unless you’re talking about nursery rhymes, I’ve got nothing.”
“Which mean Valentine doesn’t know about us either,” Merlin muses. “Good.”
Eggsy glances back and forth between Merlin and Harry again, feeling astoundingly lost for a robot that has access to Google Maps built right in. “Someone wanna fill me in? What’s Kingsman?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Merlin says. To Harry, he adds, “Take him through the tailor shop. I’ll meet the two of you back at headquarters.”
Harry’s eyebrows twitch upwards. “Is that wise?” he asks.
Merlin sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Maybe not, but we don’t have much choice. I can’t study him in the middle of bloody Charing Cross Station, can I.”
“Standing right here, bruv,” Eggsy mumbles mutinously.
“I can’t study you in the middle of bloody Charing Cross Station, can I?” Merlin asks, turning to Eggsy.
Eggsy snorts. “Suppose not.” And yeah, maybe he’s a little offended (can robots get offended?) but he’s also curious as to what this Kingsman is. If it’s so mysterious that it doesn’t turn up anywhere on any of the dozens of servers he has access to, it has to be worth seeing.
“Then that settles it,” Merlin says, already starting to melt back into the crowd. “See you at headquarters in an hour. Don’t be late.”
Harry can't stop staring at Eggsy, and he's grateful London is the way it is, that other people aren't staring as well. Everyone too focused on getting home from work or running their errands to notice the robot boy in their midst.
A Kingsman cab awaits them outside the station, no doubt thanks to Merlin, and Harry breathes a sigh of relief just at the thought of the decanter waiting for him in the backseat. It's been that sort of day. Later he's going to have to sort through all of this in his head, but for now he's in the mission mentality of just getting through what's in front of him and worrying about the whys and hows when it's done.
With he and Eggsy sitting together in the back, he sees Pete do a double-take and give him a questioning look in the rear-view before they drive off.
Honestly, if his eyes didn't glow so brilliantly, the boy wouldn't be all that conspicuous. He looks deathly pale, with his monochrome white silicone face – no flush in his cheeks, no eyebrows, no pink lips – and his neck is a series of gold supports and joints, but with a collared shirt and hood, the effect is dulled. Still, Harry's not sure he'll ever be able to safely walk out in public unless absolutely necessary. And that's no life for a young man to lead.
Briefly he wonders if Eggsy would be better off as the body in the morgue, but he quickly chases that thought away with a long drink.
"So...who are you?" Eggsy asks, an unsettling electronic edge to his otherwise casual voice. Like he's listening to an augmented recording of Lee. "I know you're Harold Augustus Hart, son of Margaret and Daniel, born 19th January 1960, and all that, but...don't explain what you were doin' at Valentine's, or how you got that." He jerks his chin at the briefcase by Harry's feet, now much more battered than it was this morning.
He lets out a long breath, staring down at the drink in his hand rather than the bot's intense, unblinking gaze. "Of course you'd have access to information like that," he mutters. But he deserves to know – will have to know, if he'll be working with them, so Harry begins explaining the basics of Kingsman to him, what they do, without giving too much away. Eggsy is an excellent listener, and much quicker to accept that an independent spy organization is operating under the government's nose than any normal person would be. It must seem relatively domestic compared to an army of robots with a doomsday agenda.
"We've been catching wind of...unsettling rumors, lately. One of our agents was killed trying to investigate into them further. Or we thought he was." The green-lit robot, who looked so much like James, if a bit more unhinged...it can't be a coincidence that Valentine is making robots who happen to look very much like people recently deceased. "You said that Valentine made you," he says slowly, looking up to meet his eyes at last. "Only a few days ago, it must have been, yes?"
With a quiet click, something moves beneath the silicone skin of Eggsy's face, giving the impression of him furrowing his brow. "Yeah. How'd you know? Do I act like a newbie, or somethin'?"
It only further confirms Harry's fear, that Eggsy doesn't know he wasn't always a machine. But it has to be him. It has to be, or he wouldn't act so much like Lee, so very human. Unless Valentine has developed a penchant for creating bots that are programmed to emulate people he's killed, but what would be the point of going through all that trouble?
The image of the scarring on Eggsy's corpse flashes through his mind, making his stomach turn. He's going to save this boy, or finally put him to rest by taking care of those responsible for killing him. Preferably the former.
"We've been suspicious of Valentine for some time," he says, evading the question. "Didn't connect him to the rumors of unethical experimentation, at first, but I think it's safe to say he's spearheading the operation." His voice turns bitter, taking another sip of scotch. When he glances Eggsy's direction again, the bot is smiling, like he was when Harry brought him those ghastly clothes, which suit him surprisingly well. The expression should look eerie, on a robot, but it makes him look comfortingly human.
"We gonna take 'im down, then? Kick his arse?"
Harry gives him a reproachful look, receiving a grin and a shrug in response. Again, very human. Was this truly how Eggsy acted? Was this the experience he would have had if he picked up the boy from the police station that day, or just a machine's attempt to imitate it?
"We need more information first. That's where you come in handy, Eggsy."
The boy's brow furrows again, smile turning uncertain.
“You ‘n Merlin keep calling me that," he says with an approximation of an electronic laugh. "How'd you know my serial code? I didn't tell ya."
Harry blinks, and after a moment realizes his mistake.
"It was on the microchip you had me remove," he lies, unsure what his serial code has anything to do with him calling Eggsy by name, but going along with it for the sake of not raising suspicion.
"Oh, right. And 3GG-Z looks like Eggsy. That's top."
3GG-Z. Harry barely restrains himself from rolling his eyes; it seems Valentine has a rather dark sense of humor. But more concerning, by far, is that Eggsy doesn't remember his own name. That he's been stripped of even that, if there's any of him left at all. He has no memory of his human life, it seems, believes himself to be entirely a machine created by the Valentine Corporation with the purpose of causing an apocalypse, and all that's left is to see if he's correct.
The question is whether or not to make Eggsy, or 3GG-Z, or whoever he is, aware of all of this. Best to wait until Merlin has a look at him.
"Thanks, by the way," Eggsy says, pulling him out of his thoughts. "For, y'know, trusting me, and gettin' me out of there. You fight good for an old man."
Harry lets out a short huff of a humorless laugh. "And you speak quite well, for a robot. I'm not sure if that's exciting or disconcerting."
One side of Eggsy's mouth turns up in a playful grin. "I'm top of the line, bruv. The next step in evolution, or so I'm told."
It certainly feels like having a conversation with a real person. Technology that would pass the Turing test with flying colors, but a better test would be for someone who knew Eggsy in life to talk to this bot and see if they could discern a difference. And they can't exactly call up his mother, no doubt mourning the loss of her son who might be sitting next to Harry in this cab. Sitting slouched and fidgeting like a young man would, gleaming eyes darting around and watching grey London pass outside. It makes Harry's heart ache to see, and without the familiar presence of his intended in the back of his mind to calm him, he feels quite like a boat adrift without an anchor.
They take the underground to HQ from the shop, the trip passing in amicable silence with the occasional curious question from Eggsy. Insightful as well as amusing, and Harry can't help but think that he would've made an excellent recruit. The lineup as it is are all carbon copies of every other Kingsman agent, each one richer and more entitled than the last, with a couple notable exceptions.
Kingsman Headquarters tends to see quite a bit of the extraordinary, but they manage to turn heads even there, as he leads Eggsy down the grand halls to Merlin's weapons lab in the lower level. The boy has taken his hood down, exposing the smooth dome of his head interlaced with brushed gold and neon blue. At least no one stops to ask questions.
"Late," is all Merlin says to greet them, not looking up from his clipboard tablet.
"Hardly. Eggsy, were we—"
"Late by a minute 'n fifty-six seconds, yeah."
"That may be a personal best for Harry, to be honest," Merlin mutters, and finally looks up at the two of them. There's a question in his eyes, silently directed at him, something Harry only recognizes from years of reading his stoic expressions. "Let's get on with it then, shall we? I picked up a few things for our little investigation."
On the table before him are what looks like a mix of normal mechanics' tools and dentist instruments, things Harry has only used on bombs with Merlin directing him in his ear. He doesn't think anything of it until he glances at Eggsy's face, sees the expression of a man looking at an array of torture devices. To him that's what it must feel like, he supposes. If feeling is something he can do.
"Have a seat. We'll need you shut off for this." Merlin pulls out a chair for the bot, who moves more mechanically than he's done yet as he sits, staring straight ahead while Merlin pulls on latex gloves.
He's so still and silent while Merlin readies the equipment that Harry thinks he must be slowly shutting down, but then illuminated eyes turn to him, seem to stare straight into his soul. Drawn in as if on a string, Harry steps closer to the boy, watching his somber expression with concern.
"You'll...you'll make sure I'm rebooted, yeah?" Eggsy says in a small voice. And it's immediately disarming, how very much like a frightened boy he sounds. He's sitting in a stranger's laboratory, about to be made defenseless and picked apart, dissected like a science project. And either that genuinely scares him, as it would a human, or this is a very, very good defense protocol at work.
Harry tries not to let his surprise show on his face, and lets out a soft breath, settling a hand on the boy's shoulder to feel solid metal and plastic joints beneath the fabric of his jacket. Holding his gaze, he nods, sober.
Pressing, Eggsy says, "Swear down?" Merlin has noticed their exchange, going still and watching them with interest, but the bot stays entirely focused on him.
"I promise, Eggsy," Harry says with calm certainty. "We'll put you back together just as you were – you'll be up and running again by the end of the day."
For what it's worth, it seems to calm him, the boy nodding back. "Press and hold here, three seconds, to boot me up again," he says quietly, speaking just to him as he takes the hand on his shoulder in his own robotic one, guiding Harry's fingers to brush along a button at the base of his synthetic skull. It's small and flush with the rest of the plastic mold, nearly undetectable.
"I've got it. Rest easy now." They hold each other's gaze for a moment more before Eggsy straightens up to stare at the far wall again, and Harry watches those blue eyes slowly go dark and silicone eyelids droop, not quite closed. He's reminded quite viscerally of the boy lying cold on a metal slab. Pushing the thought away, he lets his hand fall from the back of Eggsy's neck.
He can feel Merlin's eyes on him, and studiously ignores it.
"What did you do?" he asks Harry, voice flat yet somehow disinterested and judgmental all at once. Harry steps away to let him work, leaning back against one of the lab counters while Merlin stands behind Eggsy's chair, brow furrowed in concentration.
"Must I always have done something?"
"To make a bloody robot follow you around like a puppy, yes." He appears to be looking for something, feeling along the bot's frame with deft fingers.
"I carried him out of that factory, that's got to count for something. No small feat either, it was like carrying a sack of metal potatoes."
Merlin lets out a noncommittal grunt, tapping at his glasses to change the view settings.
"He doesn't remember a thing," Harry tells him, watching the bot's motionless face. "Hasn't a clue who Gary Unwin is."
A long silence passes, but that's typical when Merlin is working, and Harry waits patiently for his friend to formulate a response.
"We have to prepare for the worst, as always," he says quietly, and not unkindly. "But we both owe that young man a debt. If anyone can save him, it's us."
It hadn't occurred to him that Merlin might still carry guilt for that day in 1997, but it wasn't just Harry's life that Lee saved. Perhaps James did too...or, does.
There's a quiet hiss and a click as Merlin locates and presses two small plates where Eggsy's ears should be, and just like that the back of his head slides open in sections, quite unsettlingly. But there's no satisfaction on the Scotsman's face as he has a look inside. The crease of his brow is gone, face slackening into a dangerously blank expression, hands hovering above the bot like he's apprehensive to touch at all.
"Oh...oh my word..." he breathes.
Harry's plan to stay politely out of the way goes out the window. "What is it?" He crosses to Merlin's side, and Merlin slowly sets down his instruments, watching Harry as he looks in.
At first he doesn't know what he's looking at, but it certainly isn't the hardware they were expecting. Or, not much of it. There are plenty of thin wires, running through and around and practically cocooning something in the middle of it all, something pinkish and organic, and all of it seems to radiate heat.
Harry can't look away, once he knows what it is, as much as he might want to. The scars on Eggsy's head, on the professor's...
"He's taking people's minds, wiring them into these...these machines..." He clears his throat when his voice comes out soft and unsteady. Merlin nods, jaw tight. "I should have put two and two together, but it's just—"
"Psychotic," Merlin finishes grimly. "Beyond even the shit we've seen before." Carefully, he slides the panels shut again. "I've taken image scans to study, but that's about all I can do for now. I'm no brain surgeon, I can't even x-ray this, it would just be a mess of starbursts from the metal...I have to make some calls."
A bit of tension eases in Harry's chest once the fragile thing is sealed away, safe for the time being, but there's still nausea roiling in his gut. That's Eggsy, in there, a boy whose mother is missing him, who has a young sister wondering where her brother is. And with this, any chance of him having a normal life again is all but gone.
"I'll examine the rest of him, pray I don't find anymore fleshy bits." Merlin removes his gloves and runs a hand over his haggard face, fixes his glasses. When he turns to look at Harry, he looks aged and tired. "You can't tell him about this," he mutters, intent. "Any of this. Who he really is, what he is, any of it. It could drive him mad, and he's the key to us getting more information. Don't do that to him, for his sake or the mission's."
For a moment, Harry hesitates, glancing down at the boy and feeling his friend's stern gaze upon him. "Yes, alright," he agrees hastily, settling a hand on Eggsy's shoulder again. Acquiescing if only to stop him looking at him like that.
"Go. Get some rest, I'll message when he's ready."
Nodding, Harry compulsively straightens his tie and jacket as he leaves, not entirely comfortable with the idea but putting his trust in Merlin. If only one positive thing could come of this, it's that Harry now has something tangible to protect, something personally important to act as motivation. He'll keep this boy safe, even just this small piece of him, if it kills him.
While Harry waits, he reaches once more for his soulmate bond. It’s just as dead and cold as always, but he wraps his mind around it and sends comforting thoughts. I’m coming. I’ll find you. I just have to save the world first.
The slightest, barely-there pulse comes through the bond, and Harry sits straight up. “Hello?” he asks out loud and feels ridiculous for it. Even when their bond was whole, his soulmate wasn’t really able to hear him. He turns more inward, searching, probing, but there’s nothing after that one, tiny flutter.
Gritting his teeth in frustration, Harry opens his eyes, gets up, and starts pacing. It’s hard sitting still when he feels like there’s so much he should be doing.
A megalomaniac to stop, a soulmate to find, and here he is doing… nothing.
Thankfully, Merlin comes in then. It doesn’t look good. The technician’s brow is furrowed at his clipboard, and when he looks up at Harry, they’re full of flint.
That doesn’t bode well.
“More than half of that boy is inorganic. It’s not just his brain; Valentine practically strung him up by his organs to wire him in. This… We’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” Merlin says, voice as grim as his expression.
The news should make him sick to his stomach, but Harry can’t help but feel the tiniest spark of hope flare to life. “That’s not entirely hopeless, then, is it? The more of Eggsy that still exists, the greater chance we have of getting him back to his normal self.”
Merlin doesn’t look convinced, but he doesn’t immediately shoot the idea down either, which means he’s at least considering it. After a second, he shakes his head. “After we stop Valentine, we can work on saving him. And the rest of the people he’s mangled.”
A brief image of the Lancelot-bot flashes through Harry’s mind, and he presses his lips together. Valentine is going to pay for what he’s done. “Is Eggsy… back on?” he asks. It feels strange to refer to another human being that way, but then again, he’s not all human now, is he?
“Yes,” Merlin says, studying the notes on his clipboard. “You can go talk to him, if you like. Find out how much he remembers.”
From what little conversation they’ve had so far, Harry doesn’t suspect there’s much Eggsy can recall about who he used to be, but he nods anyways and heads back to the lab.
Sure enough, Eggsy is on, but not moving, sitting exactly where they’d left him, hands folded in his lap. He turns those eerie not-quite-eyes on Harry as he comes in.
“Hello,” Harry ventures. He acquisitions a chair and pulls it closer to Eggsy, settling himself in and bending forward, elbows propped on his knees. “How are you feeling?” Is feeling the right word? He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know anything about how to deal with this, and frustration flares briefly within him.
Eggsy shifts a bit, blinks once, and settles back down. “All right. Merlin find what he was looking for?”
One corner of Harry’s mouth twitches into a grimace. “Somewhat.”
Looking down, Eggsy shrugs one shoulder. “As long as it was helpful,” he mutters.
Harry can’t imagine it’s very pleasant getting pulled apart and put back together. It occurs to him that that’s exactly what Valentine did to him too, albeit with more sinister intentions.
Then and there, Harry vows not to let it happen again.
“Harry-” Eggsy starts, but he cuts himself off before he says anything more.
“Hmm? Yes, Eggsy, what is it?”
Looking as uncomfortable as he can feasibly look, Eggsy shifts in his seat again. “You ever feel… something that ain’t yours?”
Harry’s brow furrows. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you mean.”
“Like you…” Eggsy trails off again, apparently struggling to find the right words. “Like you’re feeling something, but it ain’t coming from you. I think that used to happen to me, but I can’t… can’t remember.”
Eyes glimmering with interest, Harry leans a bit further forward. “Like a soulmate?” he asks.
Eggsy wrinkles his nose. “Dunno. What’s having a soulmate feel like?”
Harry sits back as he tries to come up with a good way to describe it. He’s never had to put the sensation into words before. “Well, it’s sort of like there’s a very small part of you that isn’t yourself. It’s familiar. But it isn’t you. People tend to be able to feel what their soulmate is feeling, especially if it’s a strong emotion.”
Eggsy eyes narrow further, and he seems to be concentrating particularly hard on something. After a minute, he growls and shakes his head violently. “No. Can’t remember. Sorta can. But that sounds familiar. Seems like I might have had a soulmate once, but dunno how that’s possible,” he says, voice thin with distress.
Harry leans forward to rest a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Eggsy looks up at the touch, curiosity replacing frustration. “What about you? You got a soulmate? Sounds like it, from the way you talked about it.”
That now-familiar feeling of emptiness rushes back in, and Harry drops his hand. “I did. They’re gone now.”
Eggsy’s face falls. “Oh, shit. Sorry, bruv, didn’t mean to bring it up.” He rubs the back of his neck.
Harry waves off the apology. “It’s all right. They’re not dead. At least, I don’t think they are. They’re just… gone.”
“Sorry, what?” Eggsy asks. He’s still sort of new to this whole soulmate thing, and that’s not making much sense to him.
Sighing, Harry runs a hand through his hair. This whole conversation is making that empty spot in his head yawn open wider and wider to the point of discomfort. “One moment they were there, and the next they weren’t. It doesn’t feel like they died,” he says carefully, trying to puzzle out exactly what it did feel like. “It just feels like our connection was severed. Like they… turned off.”
Eggsy’s eyebrows twitched upwards. “You don’t think Valentine could have gotten to them, do you?” he asks, almost breathless.
Harry meets his gaze, eyes cold and calculating. “Now that I’m thinking about it, that might be exactly what happened.” It wouldn’t have been death, not exactly, but it would account for why there was no longer an emotional exchange. The bizarre combination of organic and inorganic would be too much for a bond to handle, especially if they’re all like Eggsy and can’t even remember their own humanity.
Wouldn’t that be something, Harry thinks, getting to stop Valentine and save his person both at the same time?
“So, uh, this soulmate thing, yeah,” Eggsy says, clearing his throat. He waits until Harry looks at him before continuing. “Think there’s any way that Merlin guy can fix me - us - up so we can get them connections back?”
“Back?” Harry echoes.
Frowning again, Eggsy taps his forehead. “Yeah, back. Got too much shit going on up here that don’t make sense if I didn’t exist till I woke up in that lab. There was something before. Can’t remember a second of it, but it was there.” There’s a stubborn set to his jaw that says he’s willing to argue the point, not that Harry wants to.
“Can you think of anything we might do that could jog your memory?” Harry asks. It hurts to see him this way, so confused by his own past, drowning in the absence of it.
Eggsy shakes his head. “Nah. If it comes back, I think it will have to do it on its own.” He closes his eyes briefly and sighs. “Just wish it would hurry the fuck up.”
Harry sits quietly for a moment before getting to his feet and gesturing for Eggsy to do the same. “I want to show you something,” he says.
Curiously, Eggsy follows behind him.
Harry leads them out of the lab and through a whole maze of hallways that Eggsy’s mind catalogues automatically. He only needs to see things once to remember them, and isn’t that just something when there’s a whole past he can’t even catch a glimpse of?
Nobody looks at Eggsy strangely, and he wonders if that’s because Merlin’s told them what’s going on or if they’re just so used to seeing weird shit that they don’t care anymore. Their gazes glance right off him without a word. It’s strangely comforting, to fade into the background, and Eggsy gets the sense he’d done a lot of that when he was human.
He stops dead in his tracks. “Human,” he whispers.
When Harry notices Eggsy is no longer right behind him, he turns. “Eggsy?”
Eggsy looks up at him, practically vibrating with excitement. “I remember something. Sort of. It’s more like I’ve realized I’m definitely not remembering something. Does that make any sense?”
One corner of Harry’s mouth curls into a smile. “Not really. But I understand it anyways. I’m hoping I can help you a little bit more.” Head tilted slightly to urge Eggsy on, Harry starts walking again.
Even more curious now, Eggsy keeps right on his heels. He has to admit, he’s a little disappointed when they walk into a room full of filing cabinets. It looks like an old storage area. Not exactly spy-like.
Harry looks at the labels closely, trawling through the cabinets until he finds the one he’s looking for. He opens it, thumbs through a few folders, and finally pulls one out. “Here.” He offers Eggsy the file.
Eggsy takes it. There’s a name pencilled in faintly in the folder’s tab. Lee Unwin. It seems like it should be familiar, but like everything else, any memories connected to it are murky at best. “Lee Unwin,” he says. “My dad?”
Harry nods. “His dossier. Kingsman has one on all of its applicants.”
“My dad applied here?” Eggsy asks, already thumbing open the file and flipping through it. That surprises him. He doesn’t know why it should. Perhaps his dad wasn’t the type to be a spy.
Something somber slithers across Harry’s face for a brief second before he buries it under a neutral mask. “He did more than apply. Your father was well on track to being one of our best.”
Eggsy would ask what had happened to him, but the use of past tense doesn’t escape him. Lee Unwin, whoever he was, is gone. He keeps flipping through the sheets. There are stats pages, weapons scores, how long he could hold his breath, and much more. Eggsy takes it all in in seconds. When he reaches the last page, a full-page photo of his father, he frowns.
“Sorry, bruv. It’s interesting, but I can’t remember anything about him beyond what’s in here.” With a bit of a sigh, he hands over the folder.
Harry takes it back and replaces it without a word. “A pity. He was a good man.”
“Yeah, sure he was. Died for his country, didn’t he?” Something picks at the edge of Eggsy’s mind. A man, a snowglobe, a medal. His mum crying. He digs the heels of his hands into his eyes, willing the memory to stick around long enough for him to make sense of it, but it’s fleeting.
Eggsy drops his hands to find Harry watching him intently.
“Anything?” Harry asks.
Scowling, Eggsy snaps his head to one side. “Not really.”
Slightly disappointed, but not surprised, Harry pushes away from the filing cabinets. “We should probably tell Merlin that you’re remembering fragments, at least. He’ll want to know.”
“Can’t do anything about it, though, can he? Can’t help me remember?” Eggsy asks, and he hates the small hint of hope he can hear in his voice.
“No,” Harry sighs. “As far as I know, he can’t.”
Eggsy shrugs one shoulder in an attempt to seem nonchalant, but he can’t ignore the slight pang that runs through him. Maybe he’ll just never know who he used to be. The idea doesn’t sit well with him. “Let’s get on with it, then,” he sighs.
More somber now, Harry takes them back to the room where they’d left Merlin. He’s just as he was when they left, tapping at away at his clipboard. If anything, his frown might be a little bit deeper.
“Merlin,” Harry says to get his attention. He waits until Merlin looks up before continuing.
“Eggsy can’t remember everything, but there are fragments.”
“Yeah,” Eggsy jumps in. “Can remember being a human once, just can’t remember anything about it.”
Instantly, Merlin is up and out of his chair. “Interesting. I wonder if it was poking around inside your head that did it.” A pause. “No offense.”
Eggsy shifts uncomfortably, but shakes his head. “No offense taken, guv, just maybe don’t phrase it like that,” he mutters.
Merlin nods. “I think we should take this to Arthur,” he says. “He deserves to know the full extent of Valentine’s madness.”
Eyes dark, Harry mutters his agreement. “And we might need a few more knights to take this bastard down.” And the tone of his voice makes it clear that they will be taking him down by whatever means necessary.
Somehow, after what may very well be the longest day of Harry's life, he winds up going home with Eggsy.
Merlin is still wary of the boy, and if Harry's honest he doesn't blame him. At any moment a protocol could activate, and Eggsy could become a mindless robot like the ones in the factory, and a highly capable machine at Valentine's disposal, inside one of the most secure facilities in the world, likely would not end well for Kingsman. So Harry offered to take him.
Lee Unwin has been inside this house, once. During the twenty-four hours afforded to them when he passed the train test. So it feels only fitting, but Harry doesn't often host guests, and it very quickly becomes clear that he has no clue how to accommodate such an unconventional one; his first instinct is to offer Eggsy food, a glass of water, even show him where the bathroom is since he'll be staying the night, but he has no need for any of those things. Luckily Eggsy doesn't seem to mind, keeping himself occupied asking Harry all sorts of questions, mainly about the butterflies. This must be the first homely place he's been since his memory was tampered with, and Harry wonders if some part of him is relieved by the comfort.
"The guest room is here, although...I'm not sure you actually sleep," he says a bit sheepishly, turning to Eggsy as they come to the end of the house tour.
"I go into sleep mode when I charge up, but I need a charging station for that." The boy gives a very human shrug. "I can go another week or so without it, no bother."
"Right." Harry clears his throat, glancing around the seldom-used room. "Well, should you want any privacy, it's all yours."
The air goes a bit awkward then, Eggsy clearly not knowing what to do with himself and Harry having no clue how to help. It's late, and he has so much work to do, and shouldn't be a poor host and leave Eggsy to entertain himself, but all he wants to do is sleep. Perhaps try to poke a bit more at his soulbond.
He bids Eggsy goodnight, tells him to help himself to the television downstairs, or any of his books, though he's not sure a robot would find either very interesting. It's difficult to tell where Eggsy's mentality lies, somewhere between a highly advanced machine and a promising young man – more likely than not, Eggsy doesn't know where he lies either. It's a problem for a time when he's less exhausted.
Harry sleeps fitfully. It isn't abnormal for him.
Events from today keep running themselves ragged in his mind, clues to a puzzle he can't piece together, or otherwise just things that will stay in his memories with perfect clarity for much longer than he'd like them to. The sight of all those bots – people, every one of them a trapped and mangled person – dropping to the factory floor, sudden deadweight like a sniped target. Eggsy, disappointed in himself for not being able to remember his own humanity. Pieces of him picked out and locked in a cold shell, a puppet. And that one brief, teasing, fleeting moment of connection to his person—
He's in that state between waking and sleeping, thoughts muddling oddly in ways he won't remember in the morning, when he opens his eyes and sees a blue glow cast around his dark bedroom.
His back is to the door, but he doesn't need to turn over to know Eggsy is waiting there, bathing the room in eerie light. Thoughts clear once more, he waits, alert. There's a pistol beneath his pillow, a knife in the space between his nightstand and bed frame, though he doubts either would be very useful against the bot, should his programming be overridden and he try to kill Harry in his sleep. Or convert him into a bot himself, he thinks, and his stomach lurches.
The change in his breathing and spike of adrenaline must be fairly obvious to Eggsy, because a moment later he hears, "Sorry," the synthesized voice soft. "I just— sorry."
This time Harry does turn, and what he sees makes him certain that his worries were unfounded. Eggsy is standing in the dark hallway, the only source of light coming from the bold lines etched into his frame, and from his eyes. He's no longer wearing the clothes Harry bought him, and he looks positively ethereal, glowing in the darkness with his own pearlescent casing reflecting the blue.
"Are you alright, dear boy?" Harry asks quietly, voice raspy from sleep.
There's a hesitation, which looks odd on something so otherworldly. In the harsh light of day, in the rush to understand and fix, it wasn't quite as obvious, but in the darkness it's impossible to ignore. Or perhaps Harry is just feeling poetic due to his exhaustion.
"I'm functioning okay. No systems down," he mutters. Looks down, the light of his eyes less visible, and leans against the doorframe, though surely he hasn't grown tired. "I, uh...I ain't been alone this long since I was first booted up. That's all."
Christ, he's lonely. Harry raises his eyebrows in surprise, but it makes sense, once he considers it. The boy's clear memory only goes back a few days; his perception of time must be skewed, hours feeling like days because he has nothing to compare it to. And here Harry was, trying to think of how he could arm himself against him.
"Well, come in, no need to hover at the door," he says, and Eggsy immediately steps inside, visibly relaxing at being given permission to enter. Resigned to the situation, to giving up on sleep and tending to this lonely robot, Harry pats the empty side of the bed and Eggsy takes the hint. Sits down over the blankets with his back against the headboard, mattress sinking from his weight.
The fact that the feeling of someone lying beside him is a foreign one says quite a lot about the state of Harry's life.
"There's a dead dog in your bathroom downstairs," Eggsy informs him, like he may not already be aware. There's sadness in his voice that's almost childlike.
Harry lies on his back, hands folded over his stomach and eyes closed against the brightness of the bot beside him. His chest is bare save for the blankets, but thankfully he's wearing sleep pants. "That must have been quite a surprise to find."
"Dead insects is one thing, mate. Dead dog is another level of freak."
"I prefer the term sentimentality."
Eggsy lets out a soft laugh and Harry smiles to himself. In the peaceful quiet that follows, he can hear a very low, almost melodic hum emanating from the machine beside him, lulling and pleasant.
"Think I miss sleeping," says Eggsy's quiet voice after a while. "Hard to tell, though. Dunno how it compares to sleep mode."
Harry hums. "Can you taste anything?" he wonders; even if nutrients aren't necessary to him anymore, perhaps he can still enjoy the experience of good food, one Harry has always indulged in.
"Nah, bruv. My tongue ain't even real."
"But you can talk."
"With a chunk of silicone and synthesized muscle, yeah."
"Can you smell?"
Harry reaches up blindly, movements sluggish as he lightly settles his hand on Eggsy's chestplate. For a long moment they're silent, and he feels the expansion and contraction of air filling lungs beneath his hand. Eggsy doesn't move, and he can almost feel his gaze on him, though he doesn't open his eyes.
"Though you do breathe," he mutters, and lets his hand fall.
There's a pause before Eggsy answers, and for the briefest moment Harry thinks he feels the brush of something solid and gentle against his arm. "To cool my hardware. It's like a fan – don't need oxygen."
It occurs to him, for the first time, that perhaps he shouldn't have invited Eggsy to his bed. It's...odd, to say the least. Not that there are conventions in place for how to treat the mechanized version of your deceased protégé's son. Still, he needed company, and Harry is too tired to provide that any other way at the moment. This is comfortable for them. That's enough.
"What of pain, do you have pain receptors?"
There's a smile in Eggsy's voice when he speaks. "Sure are curious about this robot stuff, aren't ya?"
"It was always more Merlin's speciality than mine. But yes," he admits, a smile tugging at his lips. "Not every day I get the opportunity to ask these things."
"I can't feel pain, no. No jackin' off for me, neither."
Harry's brow furrows, and he shifts on the bed, adjusting his shoulders into a more comfortable position for his back.
"Absurd. How can Valentine expect to reboot the human race if he's taken away the most important human experiences?"
Beside him, he feels Eggsy shrug, hears a sigh. It's the most human he's sounded thus far – no synthesized voice, just breath. Thoughts are becoming fuzzy again, slowing as he begins to drift back toward sleep.
"I can tell when other people are hurting, if that helps," the boy mumbles. "Registers on my scanners. Change in biochemistry and brain activity, n' all that."
He doesn't know why, but the idea comforts him. Compassion, that's what it is, or at least the capacity for it. Eggsy and the other bots can't hurt another being without knowing it. Not that the ability won't or can't be abused, used for nefarious purposes, but if any of them have retained a shred of their humanity as Eggsy has, it could blossom from that.
Harry drifts off to the hum of Eggsy's hardware, his glow and solid presence beside him.
"Death to whoever designed you not to have a data port..."
Harry checks his watch and ignores Merlin's grumbling; they've been at Kingsman HQ for nearly an hour now, attempting to sort through the thousands of hair-thin wires to hook Eggsy up to their servers. Currently he has his neck craned at an angle that would be possibly fatal for the average human, Merlin standing behind him with a small screwdriver between his teeth and his fingers fiddling in an open panel. After a few days of Eggsy sitting uselessly in Harry's house, and fruitless attempts to glean any real useful information from the scans he took, Merlin has relented and decided the best way forward is to sync all the information Eggsy has into their systems. Which means essentially hotwiring him in, seeing as Valentine didn't seem to think a simple USB port was a necessary feature.
"I'm gonna say it again, please don't short anything out back there," says Eggsy, sounding utterly bored.
"How do you even charge? Is that bald head of yours a solar panel?"
"You're one to talk," he deadpans. "It's wireless. Just need to stand in a charging station."
"Ah, like those mobile phones that are known to spontaneously combust," Harry supplies helpfully.
Eggsy's eyes snap up to meet his. "They do what?"
"Got it," Merlin announces, finally connecting to the right set of wires. The monitor beside him wakes from sleep mode, pulling up new files onscreen with miles and miles of data flashing by. A loading bar pops up after a moment. "This will take quite a while. Hope the server can handle it, I've never seen data files so dense..."
Eggsy turns to Harry while Merlin taps away at his keyboard, giving a wry smile and reaching back to touch the place where his wires are exposed. "You don't haf'ta stay, it's alright."
"I don't mind," he says steadily, and it's true. He knows now that Eggsy's fingertips can register the slightest pressure, that he truly does feel the wires. It's become somewhat of a nightly routine for them, asking each other questions until Harry falls asleep. He asks Eggsy about how he operates, and the boy asks him about his life that he has very few memories of. Sadly not much progress has been made on that front, but Harry remains hopeful.
It should be odd, or even get bothersome, having a robot who doesn't sleep interrogating him in his own bed each night. Or simply uncomfortable from the presence of a near stranger when he's at his most vulnerable. But sleep has never come easier to him. More and more so each night, much to his surprise – Eggsy is easy to talk to, clever and witty and kind. The hum of him in the darkness has become like a lullaby, and last night Harry's sure he turned down the brightness of his glowing frame for him.
"Once this is complete you'll be able to access the information on our servers as well," Merlin says, wheeling in his office chair to face Eggsy. "And if you attempt to do anything with it other than help us bring Valentine down, just know that I will dismantle you piece by piece." He brandishes the comically small screwdriver. "And that I will make it incredibly slow unpleasant for you."
Eggsy nods, mock-salutes.
Merlin narrows his eyes at the boy in one last warning glare before returning his focus to the computer. Harry rolls his eyes once his back is turned.
As it turns out, "a while" is several hours, and several coffee breaks. Harry brings paperwork from his office, post-mission reports that he has yet to fill out, and Merlin taps away at the keyboard. Eggsy might be in some sort of sleep mode, with how still he's sitting, occasionally responding to Harry's idle complaints about the forms. Most of which he makes only to hear him laugh.
This also earns him a few slightly worried looks from Merlin, which he ignores.
When Eggsy is finally fully synced, he looks like a kid on Christmas, bright eyes flitting back and forth over invisible information. Even Merlin looks a bit pleased, though he hides his smile behind his coffee mug.
"Fuck, I've never downloaded new data before, I can feel it all," he laughs excitedly, shaking his head. "I'm not supposed to do this, I don't think...but it feels so cool."
Harry and Merlin share a look, then, and he knows they're thinking the same thing. No data port to speak of, a protocol in place that has the bots believing they shouldn't download new information...it all sounds horribly similar to brainwashing techniques. The first steps are always to cut off the person's communication with the outside world, and to control the things they're being taught.
"Valentine can send commands to his fleet of robots remotely," he tells Merlin gravely. "I've seen it happen. Don't worry, I disabled the feature on Eggsy," he adds quickly, cutting off his friend's incredulous response. "But this is indoctrination, no question about that. There were approximately two hundred of them that I saw, and no doubt there are more in his American facilities..."
"He's got a plant in every major city in the world," Eggsy says, still staring off at something unseen. "We'll have one percent of the world population converted by next month."
A beat of silence follows this proclamation.
"An army of brainwashed robo-people," Merlin deadpans. "That'll be fun to deal with."
"Oi, I found my file!" Oblivious to the headache of information he's just given them, Eggsy grins, looking it over behind his eyes. As Harry watches, the boy's brow furrows, just for a moment.
"Something the matter?" he asks, edging his chair closer. There's nothing shocking in Eggsy's file that he can recall; he compiled it himself, when he was considering him for recruitment, and it hasn't been updated since to his knowledge.
"Nah, it's just..." He shakes his head. "It's probably nothing, but there's a kind of...earmark on it. The file. Like when you flag an email, except it's flagging it for a different server that I can't access."
Merlin frowns. "You should be able to see every Kingsman-affiliated server, and we don't communicate with any outside organizations."
Eggsy presses his lips together, a look of concentration on his face, and Harry doesn't like Merlin's expression. If anyone intimately knows Kingsman's systems it's him, yet he seems thrown off by this tiny blip.
"There are more," Eggsy says after a while, no longer sounding dismissive. "All on personnel files – Digby Rutherford, Roxanne Morton, Michael Ghatak..."
In an instant Merlin turns back to his computer, typing rapidly and pulling up a file Harry recognizes. Digby Rutherford is the nephew of agent Gawain, or rather he was; killed in a car accident nearly five months ago. From what he understood, Gawain planned on submitting him as a candidate for the next open agent position, before the accident – his file praises him for excellent tactical planning. The next file shows Roxanne Morton, a young woman he doesn't know, but as he stands and reads the screen over Merlin's shoulder, he sees that she died of suspected accidental alcohol poisoning earlier this year.
"The file was created by Percival," Merlin mutters, scrolling down. "As a consideration for recruitment. Highly advanced in combat and tech."
"And Ghatak?" Harry asks, though he has a sinking feeling he knows what they'll find.
Sure enough, the middle-aged man was not yet a member of Kingsman, but a weapons specialist, who died of unnatural causes months before.
"I remember him." Merlin leans back in his chair, tone somber. "Ran into Lancelot by chance when he was on that mission in Bangladesh, saved his arse. We were going to hire him for our engineering division."
Harry takes his seat again, bracing his elbows on his knees. "And I doubt we need to exhume the bodies to guess that they bear the same scars we found on Eggsy and the professor."
Eggsy, who has been silent the past few minutes, looks up at that. "You think they're turnin' them into bots?"
"I think that we need to station a security detail around anyone who's file is flagged that's still alive." Merlin already has his clipboard tablet in hand, sending out orders. "Send me the list. Whatever this earmark is, it must be buried deep in the code because I can't see it from my screen."
"Yeah, I'm on it."
"Can you see the name of the server receiving the files? Any information on it at all?"
"Nah, I'm blocked out. Might be able to figure out who flagged them if you give me a bit."
Merlin gets to his feet and moves to leave, gears visibly turning in his head as he nods, gaze fixed on his clipboard. "Right. As quickly as you can." He rounds on them both, intent now. "This stays between the three of us. If there's a rat in Kingsman, we can't take any chances."
Eggsy is the closest he's ever gotten to feeling tired since he was booted up. There's nearly a hundred years' worth of new data in his head that he's got to sort through, which he's trying to do on a time limit, and he can't even go charge up so he's running at full capacity. They're going to have to figure out a way for him to charge soon, but until then, his hard drive is working double time trying to make sense of everything.
There aren't many people left alive who've had their files flagged, but Harry tells him Merlin's got them covered, not to worry about them. It's difficult not to. At least they're back at Harry's house now, which he much prefers to HQ, despite the dead things on the walls. It's quieter, not so much activity on his scanners.
As entertaining as it is to have this massive influx of new data – he's been idling a lot the past few days, whenever Harry was too busy to talk – he can't help but worry that it means there won't be much room for anything else. Like who he used to be.
Who he is, he reminds himself. He's not sure he's convinced.
He likes being Eggsy. But the more stuff he's got crammed in his head, the harder it is to get those brief flashes of images, color and sound that are his only memories of being human. Not that he has time to be selfish and worry about that, not with a practical hit list he's got to sort out and Merlin breathing down his neck. Christ, he wishes he could sleep.
His head snaps up, sees Harry standing in the doorway in his red dressing gown. He let Eggsy use his office as a quiet place to sort through the files, but it's late now, nearly midnight.
"Sorry, d'you want me to turn the light off?" he asks.
Harry hesitates. "I was actually wondering if you were going to come to bed. Not that you need to."
Right. Eggsy lets out an approximation of a sigh, fanning his overheated circuits. "I really should concentrate on this," he says reluctantly. He would've thought, as a machine now, that he'd be able to get through the dense data faster than this, but he almost feels like it's giving him a headache. Knowing that Harry wants him there makes it a bit better though. "Once I get this sorted I'll be in, yeah?"
Harry gives him a look, one he can't quite place. It's almost reprimanding, but there's fondness there, too. He steps fully into the room, going to Eggsy's side where he's sat in Harry's office chair, and puts a hand on his shoulder like it's the easiest thing, like he's flesh and bone, his haptic sensors registering the gentle pressure.
"Dear boy, even you need rest," he tells him quietly. "I can hear you overloading yourself."
Eggsy winces. His systems are going mad, but he'd hoped it wasn't that obvious.
"Can't exactly slow down. People could die."
"A responsibility I'm all too familiar with." Harry leans back against the desk, facing him, and folds his hands in his lap. His eyes are kind, patient, and even that makes Eggsy's joints loosen a bit. "You can't run yourself ragged, that won't help anyone. Come to bed – we don't need to talk, just quiet your mind for a bit. Things will be clearer after a few hours' rest."
Eggsy goes with him. As much as he doubts that it'll help, he trusts Harry, and sitting beside him while he sleeps ain't exactly a bad thing. One by one, he shuts down all nonessential systems, even turning off his visual scanners against his better judgement and honing in on the sound of his breaths, slowing as he drifts off. It's almost like being in sleep mode, except that it doesn't feel like only a few moments have passed when it's really hours. He feels every second, stretching on quietly. Part of him wishes he could remember when the softness of blankets feels like, instead of just registering the pressure of them laying over him.
It's nearly one in the morning when he hears it.
His eyes flash open, but as soon as he starts rebooting systems to analyze it, it's drowned out again. Slowly, he quiets himself again, idling impatiently as he listens for it.
There it is again. Someone. Not quite code, not quite a voice, but someone there, among the data imported from Kingsman drives. They're moving very quickly, reaching into files and then reaching out into nothingness, blindingly fast and so quiet Eggsy never would've detected them if not for his own inactivity.
"Harry," he whispers, urgent, and shakes him gently awake. "You were right!"
Harry hasn't gotten much sleep, but aside from the past few nights with Eggsy, that's fairly standard for him.
He was up all night with the bot, messaging back and forth with Merlin (who certainly hasn't slept much either) while Eggsy talked to whatever is in his head. Or whomever, rather; he insists it's a person, another consciousness not so different from his own. What on earth such a thing was doing in the Kingsman files, neither Harry nor Merlin can figure out, but it can't be anything good. A person's brain wired in to control advanced machinery is one thing, but someone's entire consciousness uploaded to a server – especially a secure one that should not under any circumstances contain a human mind – is entirely different. It also has Valentine written all over it, in which case Kingsman is certainly compromised.
Harry sits with his knees almost touching Eggsy's while Merlin gets him hooked up to his monitor again, watching the boy's face while those bright eyes stare through him, scanning invisible code.
"Can you connect me to your speakers?" Eggsy asks, sounding distracted. Whatever he's doing must be very taxing, to overwhelm his processors.
Merlin frowns. "Just show me the code on my screen."
"Can't. I don't understand the format it's in, I'm just sort of listening to it. Tuned into it."
Begrudgingly, Merlin clicks a few things and there's a quiet crackle as the speakers come to life. "Right then, let's hear it."
There's a beat of silence. Eggsy frowns, but then a voice from the speakers calls out a tentative, "Hello?"
Harry feels his stomach drop.
"It's a woman," Merlin mutters, incredulous, and rolls his chair forward so his fingers can fly across the keys. "Is she...can she hear us?"
"I— yes, hello, who's there?"
She sounds like a terribly frightened young woman, a sound that has Harry on edge. Does she know what's become of her, he wonders, or is she as clueless as Eggsy was to begin with? He wants to say something, reassure her, because in that moment he's certain she's not the perpetrator, but another victim of Valentine's insanity.
"The source of the audio is from a foreign file, titled 'RO.exe'," Merlin says, frowning at the screen. There are a few quiet clicks from Eggsy's inner workings, his eyes scanning like he's trying to find the file.
"Oh, shit...Roxy." The bot turns to face the speakers, tugging on the wires connecting him to the monitor. "You're Roxanne Morton, aren't you?"
"I..." She hesitates, leaving all three men waiting and watching the speakers with bated breath, listening to the high-pitched electronic whine that she leaves in her wake. "I don't know, I can't...it's so hard to remember." She's had her memory tampered with too, then. The realization makes his heart sink.
"It's alright, we know what's happened to you," Harry tells her steadily, and feels Eggsy's gaze on him. "We're going to help."
"R...Roxy," her voice says after a long moment, shaking but a bit more sure. "Roxy is better than Roxanne. I like Roxy better."
"Good to meet you Roxy," Merlin says, satisfied, and taps away at his computer. "I'm going to grant you access to this webcam, alright? Let me know if you can see us."
"Oh thank god, it's so dark in here, thank you..."
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry sees Eggsy's hand contract and release, his posture stiff. That could've been him, and he knows they're both realizing it. Eggsy could've been the one lost in the dark, a consciousness without a body.
Merlin allows Roxy to see the room, the webcam slowly pivoting to look at them all one by one, survey her surroundings. It may very well be the first time she's seen anything since her "death", and she takes her time, the whine of the speakers growing lower and calmer the longer she looks.
"Thank you," she says again. Much more settled. "I'm sorry, I've been alone in here so long, I didn't know what to do. 3GG-Z has been trying to communicate with me and I couldn't respond in the server."
"Eggsy," the bot corrects her gently, because she's read out his whole serial code. "Glad we got you out of there, luv."
Roxy repeats his name quietly, the webcam turned to him. "Eggsy...god, I tagged your file. That's why you're like that, shit..."
Merlin and Harry exchange looks.
"You're the one that's been doing that, then?" Merlin asks.
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"I'm not sure for who." She's emulating the sound of breathing now, almost natural enough to pretend that she's someone on the other end of a phone call. "I was just supposed to tag files of individuals who fit certain criteria – who had specific skill sets, and didn't hold an essential position in Kingsman."
Harry sighs. "And you know all about Kingsman now, I suppose? What with you living inside our database."
"Who were you tagging them for?" Merlin interrupts. "That information had to be outgoing somewhere."
"I only know the name of the server. It's called 'Excalibur'."
Harry knows instantly that isn't good news when Merlin stiffens beside him. They lock eyes and Merlin minutely shakes his head, an unsettled look in his eyes that's difficult to swallow from a man not so easily shaken.
"What's Excalibur?" Eggsy asks, not oblivious to the sudden tension in the room.
Merlin is grim when he answers, not taking his eyes off Harry. "Arthur's private server. Not even I have access to it."
The first thing that comes to Harry's mind is a quote about enemies being able to attack, but only allies being able to betray. Not that he and Arthur were ever truly allies in the most complete sense; they trusted one another in a fight, had run missions together. But no personal relationship has ever been cultivated beyond the professional; they disagree on nearly every issue, but all the same, Harry has known him for years. And even if he didn't cast a vote in his favor when Chester King was up for the position of Arthur, he has to admit he's done well by Kingsman, in most respects.
Or at least, he thought he had.
"Your Arthur's givin' Kingsman information to Valentine? Letting him turn your people into bots?" Eggsy presses, incredulous.
"I don't know what else it could mean."
And Eggsy, reminding Harry once again how very young and new to all of this the boy is, stares down at his hands in shock. "An' he's trapped someone in the computer system to do it...that's fuckin' mental..."
"I think we're missing a very important detail," Harry mutters. His voice is low, entire body tense now that the very building itself feels unsafe, untrustworthy. "Roxy, you said that was your duty. Is it no longer?" Their organization is constantly encountering more people during their missions and research, many of them filed away for reference should they require their services (or need to blackmail them). Surely there's still a need to evaluate incoming people.
"I was told to stop," Roxy answers. "I thought I'd be repurposed, but they left me here. And then I was moved inside 3— Eggsy's head."
"We'll get you out of there, that's a promise," Merlin says, and shakes his head. "But Christ, if Valentine's decided he's got enough specialized bots for his bloody army—"
"He's moving on to the next stage," Harry finishes. "He won't need to convert people in secret if he's got an army at his disposal."
"Then we've got to move quickly. We have the weaponry to take out his factories, but I'd rather not do that if it means taking out innocent people who are just following programming."
"He won't be doing it all at once, not if he's trying to create the next stage of the human race – he'll want it to be perfect, we have time to locate Valentine and—"
Harry doesn't get to finish his sentence, because there's a heavy thud and the crunch of metallic joints bent the wrong way; Eggsy has slumped forward in his chair and crumpled to the floor, his lights going dark.
It takes a long time, longer than it should, for Eggsy's systems to all come back online. Probably because he hasn't had a charge in far too long and is the bot equivalent of dog tired, but being shut down so suddenly doesn't help him any, either. Slowly, he boots back up.
"Fuck, I remember what hangovers feel like," he groans. According to his internal clock he's been out for about four hours. He reaches up to feel the silicone stretched over his facial structure, making sure it didn't get pushed out of place when he fell, and feels a rough patch on the plastic of his forehead. Great, he's scuffed there now. Fantastic.
Re-orienting himself, he can see they're still in Merlin's workshop, in the lower levels of HQ. Surprising, he would've thought they'd clear out after learning that this Arthur is a two-faced prick. Maybe he's not as intimidating as the head of a century old top-secret organization sounds.
"Thank goodness you're back with us," Harry says from his seat across from Eggsy, reaching up to touch the scuffed patch on his head. The contact makes his haptic sensors go a bit wild, which he chalks up to the rough reboot. And Harry doesn't look like he's exactly had an easy time of it either – his suit is prim and proper as always, but looking at his expression you'd think he's been through hell and back in the last four hours. Not to mention Merlin, who isn't at his usual station behind the computer, but instead pacing the floor over Harry's shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye Eggsy sees Roxy's webcam following his movement.
"What did I miss," Eggsy says flatly, having trouble reading the terrifying energy in the room. Things weren't exactly peachy when he went out – what had he been doing? – but they weren't this bad.
Excalibur, he was trying to access Excalibur. If they could get in, they'd have an inside look at Valentine's plans, maybe a hope of beating him. He thought he could manage it because the situation was so dire, only to encounter the firewall to end all firewalls, completely wiping him out.
Merlin doesn't stop pacing as he asks, voice dangerous, "Would you like to tell the boy what happened?" And going by the way he says it, he already knows the answer is no. Nevertheless, Harry squares his shoulders and meets Eggsy's gaze while he stares back at him, perplexed.
"Evidently, Arthur was alerted that someone was attempting access to his personal server," he says evenly. "He came down here, tried to coerce us into joining Valentine's cause, and when we declined, he made to destroy you. So I shot him."
Over Harry's shoulder, Merlin stops pacing, pinches the bridge of his nose like he's frustrated with him all over again hearing it out loud.
Silence passes, Eggsy's internal clock ticking by the seconds. Slowly, he leans forward.
"I'm gonna need you to run that by me again."