Harry had never considered waking up a disconcerting experience.
Drugs, concussions, exhaustion, or tripping over his dog, no matter what rendered him unconscious, waking up was simply waking up. His body was particularly adept at orienting itself, and strange locations never caused him to panic. Different circumstances caused different feelings, most certainly, but none of them were accompanied by confusion or unease.
Curiosity and patience were all he needed when things were not quite what he expected upon opening his eyes.
This time, though...
...he was not asleep. He was not waking up. He was simply Here.
Here was not familiar. Here was not dangerous. Here was... incorrect.
Wherever he was he should not be, however he got there could not have happened, and what he was doing...
...what was he doing?
Patience and curiosity. He would understand in a moment. He would understand why and how he got Here .
He was not waking up. He had not been unconscious. Awareness was simply... elusive.
Elusive, such a perfect, damning word. Everything was out of reach. He was not in contact with--
He, Harry Hart, Galahad, knight of the Kingsman, fifty-four year old man, professional murderer-- ( no, no, wrong, but right all the same)-- spy, defender, collector of secrets, lover of– ( hmm no, they didn't use such a word, did they? The two of them were somewhat old fashioned but not that)-- self-diagnosed alcoholic-- ( take that Bond-- Bond? Who was Bond but a figment of someone's imagination? And James, James was dead)-- man of propriety, gentleman, impatient old fool who let his emotions cloud over and--
Professor Arnold's peculiar interior color scheme had painted itself across his glasses. Waking up after that little event had not been disconcerting. He knew hospitals, he knew HQ, he knew--
--he knew he was not there. He knew something else happened.
Harry very, very, desperately wished nothing else had happened.
He clutched at the skin of his arms, fingers finding old furrows, and pressed his cheek against the cool glass of the observation window.
The name fogged the glass.
Harry closed his eyes because Here was not there, where he had first asked that question. It couldn't be (but maybe it was true, maybe it was the same place, same words, same fear) But he had to ask, he had to ask again because he could not remember.
He, Harry Hart, Galahad, knight of the Kingsman--
--fifty-four year old man, professional murderer---
“What's happening to me?”
–was terrified of waking up, knowing he had never been asleep.
Days Awake: 1
His fingers only needed to shift a breath across the blanket before they found the call button. He licked his lips and found facial hair.
Coma. How delightful.
As the doctors arrived Harry took stock of himself, and he was pleased to note that lasting burns had not been a part of his fiery escape through Professor Arnold's window. He did so dislike the tedium of plastic surgery. Merlin hovered in the corner with his clipboard as he was allowed his first few steps out of bed, but did not stay to chat after exchanging simple pleasantries. ( Late again, Galahad ) Busy with the recruits no doubt, which reminded him to send word for Eggsy.
His fine motor skills deemed up to the task, he was allowed to shave himself, though instructed to report any signs of tremor or unusual fatigue.
Where one placed unusual on the health scale considering their line of work was uncertain, what was certain was the underlying message of don't kill yourself because of pride. Harry appreciated the lack of tubes attached to his body, and had no interest in being returned to bed and a diet lacking solid foods. Prior to shaving, he made sure all of his fingers were nimble and cooperating to his standards before picking up the razor.
Reflection returned to a much more acceptable state, Harry barely finished patting his cheeks dry when Eggsy strode into the room.
Manners had still not been covered in training then. Harry offered to teach a course in it but Merlin turned him down with a look. How to engage with various levels of social class was a part of espionage training. How their agents presented themselves in their free time was their own business.
Harry still figured he could provide private lessons, or employ a bit of conditioning should no one prove amenable to extra course work. Decent behavior spread in much the same manner as bad habits. All he had to do was employ them often enough.
The Valentine lead was fortuitous, and meant he didn't have to deal with endless physiotherapy and tests before setting out on his mission once again.
They still had no idea what had been packed into Professor Arnold's head aside from his brain, and whatever he had been exposed to seemed to have left his system even as it left him in a coma. The new age of bio-warfare. Just like the ever expanding world of technology, Harry wasn't sure when humanity would catch up with what it was creating.
With Eggsy returned to the other recruits, and Merlin once again in possession of his clipboard, Harry stepped away from the bed. Merlin's eyes followed him as he moved, and he smiled at the worry.
“Well, now that I have finished catching up--”
“Oh no, you sir, will be going back to bed.”
“--why don't you give me a proper hello and fuck me?”
Had he really just said that out loud?
Days Awake: 8
Can you hear me, Harry?
Voices were not from walls, or his mind-- (they, they were not voices, they were anecdotes, they were observations they were- yes- thoughts- there were thoughts in his head)-- but speakers and mouths. Voices. Voice. One voice.
From a speaker. Merlin's voice.
Here it was always hard to tell where things were coming from. Here was... everywhere Harry was not. The glass was cool, his arms were hot, his fingers were bloody.
His blood. Old blood.
The blood wasn't there anymore. He had scratched himself days ago. Just now. He was going to, his skin itched. No, no, it didn't itch anymore. It didn't itch, it ached.
Merlin's voice... Merlin's voice...
“I need you to answer me, Galahad.”
Merlin's voice ached. It made him ache. It made him press his face into his hands and rub stubble against his palms. Rub his palms over stubble? He needed to shave. He should shave.
“You'll get a shave as soon as you're able.”
Were his thoughts on display, could he hear his thoughts?
“I can hear you because you're speaking out loud.”
“I am? I am.” He was, yes. There was a difference between thoughts and words. Spoken and heard and believed. “Merlin, I-- I-- what was the question?”
“I wanted to know if you needed anything, other than a shave, of course.”
Or a shag. He had said that, hadn't he? Was he again, right now, speaking out loud? He waited and waited, but there was no sound from the speakers.
“Can you hear me, Harry?”
“Stop asking me that. Stop... stop...”
He did not like it Here .
Days Awake: 2
“I don't suppose you would take post-coma glibness as a reasonable explanation?”
Merlin was not amused by his attempt at levity. “This is your health, Harry.”
His mental health, well, the processing capabilities of his faculties. Mental and physiological somehow did not match up when discussing the human brain. Either way, it was all in his head. An agent who could not differentiate between thoughts and spoken words was quite the useless one. Unless they were someone else's thoughts, though Harry was confident he would not develop psychic powers.
The way things were heading, a tumor was the most likely candidate. Except they could find nothing. Just as they had found nothing when he slipped into his coma.
“And glibness isn't the same as saying what you want.”
“Saying what I want?”
“You've never had a problem speaking your mind in the past.” Whatever seriousness he wanted to bring to the situation, Merlin was now trying to lighten the mood.
Had something in Harry's face changed? Had he noticed that tight knot of worry that was growing in his chest?
“It is not currently limited to what I want.”
The thoughts slipping out past his tongue were more than ones he deliberately put there. Telling the nurse what she could do with the needle instead ( he had been quite creative, if he could say so himself), the rather detailed description of what fucking Merlin would be like, the shorter stick he intended to use to replace the one currently up Arthur's arse so that the shock of its sudden absence wouldn't kill him ( very considerate of him, really), were thoughts he had, but not strictly things he wanted to say.
Luckily Merlin (and the nurse) had been the only ones to really hear him. He avoided others once he realized control was slipping.
What would slip out of his mouth to Eggsy in this state? I'm so sorry that you're going to die just like your father, because of me. That ivory tower is bathed in as much blood as the battlefield.
“I don't think I slept last night.”
“You don't think?” Merlin frowned.
“I didn't sleep last night.” It took more than one nights unrest to cause this. This was something else. Something currently inexplicable. “Who is taking over the Valentine case?”
He could not manage anything in his condition. He was not to be trusted. He knew he was not to be trusted. And how long would that clarity last?
“Percival is going to the gala.”
From the tone of Merlin's voice, Harry already knew this.
He forced a smile. “I don't remember sleeping last night.”
Clarity. Such a fragile thing.
Days Awake: 11
Here was the worst because it did not change.
( though sometimes his wrists hurt and sometimes they did not, sometimes there were bruises, sometimes there were not )
The speakers. The voice. His voice. Maybe it wasn't? What did he know was coming out of the speaker? This unchanging place? If he could not remember, maybe the conversation had already happened. Maybe they did not need Merlin. They just needed his voice, timed just right.
He kept his mouth shut.
Yes. That would teach them.
( whoever they were )
Days Awake: 14
That always made him sit up. He wasn't lying down, he wasn't sleeping, but it made him sit up.
“Don't call me that.”
“Is it fair I call you Harry, while you call me Merlin?”
Lovers was not the term they used, no, they were old fashioned, but they were not that. “Alastair.”
Alastair, Alastair, Alastair. That was someone he remembered. Sleeping-- no, himself-- sometimes, Alastair? Yes, he knew Alastair.
Alastair was like Merlin. Was Merlin? Was Harry Hart Galahad? He sat up at the name. He sat up, he wasn't lying down, what was he doing when he sat up? Why wasn't he sleeping, why couldn't he remember? ( why did his wrists hurt, and had there been a change, had there been a new nurse? )
“I wanted to let you know, we've gotten into Valentine's mainframe. His manufacturing, his research. We'll know soon.”
Know what, exactly?
He fixated on the old scabs on his arms. Blood. That was something he had not seen in a while.
(there was a new nurse it made Harry smile he liked change)
Days Awake: 18
“It seems before developing the signal Valentine tried chemical agents first.”
Harry was given a veritable drug cocktail every day. That didn't mean he took it. He laid down often, but that didn't mean he slept.
They seemed to prefer it when he laid down. Just like they preferred it when they strapped his wrists, oh, he finally remembered those. (and the new nurses)
“The rebels Lancelot had been looking into were testing it for him before he moved on. It's much more crude, but it has similar results. It blocks inhibitors and helps amplify aggression.”
Harry was not aggressive. They were talking about him, weren't they? (his hands and his wrists hurt today)
“It also seems to block the brain from going into a proper sleep cycle. Your body is finding some rest when you... shut down, but your mind isn't. Harry.”
Harry, can you hear me?
Days Awake: 22
Alastair. Alastair was somewhere else.
Harry was Here and Alastair was there . there was a funny place. It was not where he was. It was an absence of him that he recognized more than Here. It was the other sides of the glass. It was the speakers. It was...
...it was where Harry wanted to go.
Yes. ( mission, briefing, glasses Gentlemen) He finally had a task.
Days Awake: 23
Neither Here nor there. there nor Here?
He remembered, that was what was important.
He remembered he had something to do.
He remembered that Here was not meant to hold him.
They (who the fuck were they?) were worried.
They were not scared.
When had he last seen blood?
(how many new nurses had their been?)
Days Awake: 25
“Harry." (yes, that was him, here he was- though not Here-- he was finally there, only now- now it was here, with Alastair) "We've been looking for you.”
“Then it's a good thing I found you.”
Alastair did not take the happy news as well as he wanted. Harry smiled, and leaned back into the pillows. Alastair's bed was nice. He did not have to be too happy at the news, as long as he was happy. The bed was marvelously pleasant to lay on.
“What's the thread count on these sheets?”
“It doesn't really matter, come here.”
It took Alastair a moment to comply.
"I'm not going to hurt you."
"I got tired of being in that room. I just needed to stretch my legs."
He looked afraid when he laid down. (when was the last time he had properly seen his face? when was the last time his voice had been given to him through less than a speaker, just him?) Alastair took his time getting comfortable.
"I was worried, when we couldn't find you."
(careful words, perfect words- but wasn't there something wrong with them? Why would Alastair need to say them that way?)
Harry scratched at the faint scars on his arms. "I'm sorry, you must be exhausted. You should get some sleep."
"You should get some sleep too."
"I'm not tired."
Alastair looked away at that.
Harry chuckled. "Don't worry, I'll be here when you wake up."
Days Awake: 3
It was a tiny, dull room with a bed and a bookcase, and a mirror that wasn't a mirror. Harry raised an eyebrow. Merlin smiled.
“Best we could do on short notice.”
He sat down on the bed. It did not creak, it did not sag, but it did not feel like a particularly comfortable bed.
“I'll be sure to check under the mattress for peas, then.”
Harry swallowed thickly and tried to force a smile, but Merlin could read his expression all too clearly. For a man who looked out of his eyes nearly as often as he did, he was remarkably adept at reading his face.
“You didn't realize you had said that out loud?”
“No.” He shook his head as well, worried that the words would stop coming even when he wanted them to. He could pretend for a while yet.
“Still having trouble sleeping?”
“I think so.”
Merlin sat next to him. "We'll find out what this is, don't worry."
It was far too late to tell him that. He had probably already done it. Would have to, again and again. It was a comforting sentiment, until Harry realized he would keep forgetting it. Was the moment of comfort worth the ache the forgetfulness would bring? (every damned second)
Waking up had never been as horrifying as, as disconcerting, as--
--this lack of sleep. The lack of awareness, the lack... the lack of himself.
He had Merlin (Alastair) then, as he did not have himself.
"Try to get some rest Harry, I'll be here when you wake up."
(waking up, people still did that?) When Merlin left and he had the books it was alright. With Merlin gone, when the door opened and it was not Merlin...
...well, Harry enjoyed a little spontaneity, but he did not like that. Surprises.
(surprise was the face in front of him, the one he was not interested in looking at anymore-- why were there so many faces in that mirror?)
The nurse had clawed their way down his arms as they struggled. He picked at the furrows with his own nails. His hand would move away, then he would feel the pain.
Merlin was in the room. Why was Merlin in the room? Had he gone to sleep and woken up already? Or had Harry spoken out loud again without realizing?
At least he wasn't lying down, like the nurse. He wasn't really tired. He could rest later.
Harry stared at the blood on his hands.
“Merlin, what's happening to me?”