Chapter 7

Mostly on purpose, Eggsy had ensured that Alex was going to be late for Merlin's orientation speech.

Part of this was simply because he was intentionally copying the experience that Harry Hart had arranged for him.

Part of this was the fact that he had spent a little longer talking to Alex at the pub than he had originally intended.

Either way, Eggsy was thoroughly entertained by Alex's reactions to the Kingsman setup.

"How far down does this thing go?" Alex demanded somewhat incredulously as the Changeroom 4 lift took them down.

Eggsy laughed. "I asked the same thing. Don't worry, we're just… about…" the lift lowered enough for the deep underground chamber to become visible, "there we go."

Quickly, he ushered Alex into the shuttle.

"Okay, tell me something honestly," Alex said, as they both sat down on the tartan armchairs and the shuttle began to move.

"What?" Eggsy noted some strain in Alex's features, and was instantly cautious as to what that could mean.

"Is Kingsman actually CONTROL?" Alex demanded, and from his disbelieving expression Eggsy could tell that he was only half-joking.

Eggsy snickered. "Do I sound like a Yank to you? Maxwell Smart I am not. And unless you missed it, we don't tend to give our agents numbers as code names, but now that you mention it…" Eggsy grinned. "We do have an American base in Washington D.C… and if you ask me, our most capable agent is the lady, so…"

Alex face-palmed.

"I've figured it out," he complained into his hand. "My life is a bad movie, probably directed by Peter Segal."

Eggsy started outright laughing. "Better Peter Segal than Geoffrey Sax."

Alex snorted. "Point."

They sat in companionable silence for a short while, listening to the whistle as the shuttle rocketed through the underground tunnel.

Fortunately, it had been built along the lines of a bullet train, so the trip was extremely quick.

"Well look on the bright side," Eggsy said as the shuttle rolled to a stop.

"What's that?" Alex asked.

Eggsy motioned towards the large semi-circular window, and watched as Alex's eyes widened at the sight of the hangar full of hundreds of vehicles- planes, cars and boats.

Alex turned to Eggsy, and Eggsy grinned, slapping him on the back. "If we're in a bad movie, at least it's one where we get to play with all the cool gadgets and do all our own stunts, am I right?"

Alex smiled ruefully in response, and opened his mouth to respond, but then Eggsy checked his watch.

"Shit, we're late."

Eggsy quickly pulled Alex down the corridor, to see an impatient Merlin holding an electronic clipboard and tapping one foot.

"Honestly Galahad, is it truly necessary to emulate your predecessor in every way?" the tall man demanded, sending a glare through his thick-framed glasses.

Eggsy spread his hands in a placating gesture. "Aw come on Merlin, you know you love me."

Merlin's scowl deepened, but Alex could see a glint of exasperated humour in his eyes.

"You, get out of my sight." Eggsy cheekily waved Alex goodbye, before sauntering back up the corridor. "You," he said, nodding at Alex, "get in here."

Alex entered the room to see a dorm room, with grey itchy-looking blankets on the beds, an open plan bathroom including a large mirror (almost certainly a two-way for observation, judging by how deep-set it was) along one wall, and (rather dramatically, he thought) what were clearly (to him) bodybags lying at the foot of each bed. In the centre of the room stood collection of people who looked to be a little older than him. Only one was female, and all of them stood with perfect military posture, in expensive brand-name clothing. All of them were Caucasian.

(Alex was starting to notice a certain trend.)

All looked up as Alex entered the room, all assessed him, and half immediately exhibited either incredulous or smug expressions.

(The other half, which included the female, hid their reactions behind well-cultivated poker faces. Alex noted who they were for future reference.)

Alex had immediate suspicions as to why exactly Eggsy wanted to annoy the snot out of his colleagues by secretly entering a candidate who had real experience, but none of the obvious Oxbridge polish of these people.

(Not that that was the only reason, Alex felt sure he could assume, that Eggsy had decided to nominate him, but nonetheless, he had a pretty solid suspicion that it didn't hurt.)

Before any of them could speak, Merlin stepped up behind him and commanded that they all fall in.

Alex had not acted as a soldier in the military sense since his training with the SAS, but old habits rushed back to push steel into his spine and a snap into his step as he moved to stand at ease.

Merlin welcomed them all to Kingsman, and gave a brief speech about how this was going to be the most dangerous job interview of their young lives.

(Alex barely suppressed a snort. Considering the fact that he had originally been more press-ganged and extorted than recruited into MI6, not to mention that one time he joined a deadly association of international assassins, he highly doubted it.)

Merlin continued the obvious psychological tactics by holding up one of the body bags and asking if anyone knew what it was. Alex was amused to see the forest of hands going up around him to answer Merlin. That, more than anything else, clued him in that the vast majority of the candidates were still fairly fresh out of whatever sandstone and ivy college they had attended. He wondered idly how many of them might have been on the rowing squad. He would bet his life that a good half of them could fence.

It was almost endearingly archaic.

"In a moment," Merlin said, clipped tones breaking through Alex's musing, "you will each collect a body bag. You will write your name on that bag. You will write the details of your next of kin on that bag. This represents your acknowledgment of the risks you are about to face, as well as your agreement to strict confidentiality, which incidentally if you break, will result in you and your next of kin being in that bag. Is that understood?"

Alex cleared his throat.

"What, Hart?" Merlin demanded.

"A private word, sir?" Alex requested.

Merlin's eyebrows raised, but he nodded sharply, before telling the other candidates to fall out.

They stepped outside the room, and Alex did not miss the fact that there was no chatter inside. He had little doubt that the candidates were all straining their ears to hear what he said to Merlin, so he deliberately spoke in a low murmur.

"With all due respect, sir, I have no next of kin," Alex stated bluntly.

Merlin's expression was stone-like and not a trace of pity appeared on it. Alex appreciated that.

"Is there anyone whom you would wish to be informed should you die?" he asked.

Alex smiled mirthlessly. "Frankly sir, the only person outside this organisation I would want notified is not in a position for you to threaten, and I suspect that he would figure it out within the week whether you officially told him or not," he said, cryptically referencing Smithers in a way that he knew the man would recognise. The two of them had never spoken directly before, but nonetheless, each had experienced how Eggsy interacted with the other on the first mission in the megalomaniac's bunker. Alex knew that he was understood by the bald man.

Merlin nodded once. "Very well. I shall have to trust to your sense of discretion then, but," he nodded, and Alex was surprised to detect a hint of collegial respect, "I will not insult your intelligence by asking if you understand the need for said discretion."

Alex nodded slowly. On the one hand, if he were to be indiscreet enough to spread the word about Kingsman, it would not be the first time he had upset an organisation of highly trained killers.

On the other hand, the last time he had done so, a lot of people, some of whom he had cared about, had died. Oh, and he had missed death by sniper by millimetres. Neither of these experiences were anything he felt especially motivated to repeat.

(He might have no one left in this world who was close to him,

"I would however like you to specifically document what funerary arrangements you would prefer, assuming that there are pieces of you left to bury."

Alex shrugged. "Cremate me, scatter the ashes under a tree, no marker. I can put that in writing if you wish."

Merlin nodded again, tapping the side of his glasses. "No need. I suggest you get to know your fellow candidates. The real tests will start tomorrow."

Alex jerked his head in acknowledgement, and stepped back into the room, ignoring how almost everyone seemed to be looking in every direction except the door, and at least four people were pretending to be mid-conversation.

He strode over to the as-yet unclaimed bed on one end, and wrote his assumed name in blocky capitals on the body bag with the pen he found sitting helpfully on top.

"Seriously?" his immediate neighbour spoke up in an accent as cultivated as his carefully gelled hair.

Alex capped the pen, turned to look the speaker in the eye, slowly and deliberately looked him up and down, and raised an eyebrow.

"Did you have a question?" Alex asked him in a casually thickened version of his normal accent.

"You are related to the Harry Hart? The previous Galahad?" his neighbour demanded, sounding a little incredulous as he read the unmistakeable Alexander Hart that Alex had printed.

"Is there another?" Alex wondered, deliberately not directly answering the question.

"You don't look a thing like him," the speaker announced to the room at large.

Alex shrugged. He wouldn't know. After all, he knew basically nothing about the man, except his name, the time of his death, and that Eggsy still mourned him.

"What are you, his secret lovechild?" asked one of the others, this one with red hair that might have been curly had it not been cropped so short.

Alex eyed the red-head a little bemusedly. "Hardly," he responded. Apparently those expensive schools had not bothered to include tact or manners in the syllabus.

"Aren't you going to fill out your next of kin?" Hair Gel asked him. "Or is your mother dead too?"

Alex snorted. Evidently Hair Gel had decided that the 'secret lovechild' guess was accurate, and he felt no particular need to disabuse him of this notion. After all, it provided a cover that Alex didn't have to work to maintain, so why not?

Still, perhaps best to nip this in the bud in case someone with brains decided to come along and start poking holes in the ridiculous theory.

"Do you ask all new acquaintances deeply personal questions upon first meeting them, or am I just special?" Alex wondered aloud.

The red-head flushed, but Hair Gel was unperturbed. Alex was not sure which reaction was more to his liking.

The sole female candidate strolled over. "Excuse them, expensive public schools were apparently incapable of teaching them manners," she said. "Lucy Larkspur. And you are?"

"Alex," Alex replied.

Lucy nodded serenely. "Alex, this is Montgomery Morton," she said, indicating Hair Gel, "and this is Jonas Highbridge," she nodded to the red-head.

"Monty, please," insisted Hair Gel in unctuous tones, as he offered a slightly sweaty palm for Alex to shake.

"Charmed, I'm sure," Alex snarked as he took the offered hand. "Any relation to Roxy Morton?" he continued idly.

Monty blinked as he retracted his hand from Alex's slightly over-firm handshake.

"You know my cousin?" he asked, his tone disbelieving. "How?"

Alex bared his teeth in a grin.

(Jonas Highbridge remembered, suddenly, that when chimpanzees grinned, it was a threat display. There was something… unsettling… about this Alex Hart's smile, and there was nothing friendly about it.)

"Oh, we have a friend in common," Alex said airily, noting that whilst Lucy, Highbridge and a tall candidate with a few light acne scars whose name he later learned to be Henry Withers seemed to pick up immediately on the possible implications of that, Monty just looked confused.

(Alex wondered if Roxy had inherited all the brains in the family.)

Highbridge also wanted to shake hands, so Alex indulged him.

The others stepped forward then, and Alex was introduced to a Richard Rigby ("call me Rick"), a Ceallach O'Donovan ("Kelly is fine"), and a Tobias Llewellyn ("just don't call me Toby and we're good").

(They would discover soon enough that it took very real effort for Alex to exhibit anything other than slightly hostile apathy to those who had not worked for his trust. No need to disillusion them yet.)

Alex noted the overall drastic change in attitude since "his" last name had been revealed. He was distinctly unimpressed by the implications, but took care to hide his disdain.

After all, he would have to live with some of these people for the next month. It wouldn't do to alienate them.