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“Sorry, bruv,” the voice said as it bumped into him carrying several boxes that he could barely see over. He has bumped into Merlin a bit, but not too badly. “Hard to see over these.” Merlin automatically offered to help, he’d be late for work, but the manager would understand. “Thanks, but only going a few more, to Kingsman.”

Delivery boy, Merlin figured. “I’m across the street at Straub and Rowling.”

“Security, right?”

“How can you tell?” Merlin wore a simple black suit, not a security guard uniform to work. The owners felt a security guard uniform a bit tacky and off putting to their customers.

“The filth always wear the same types of shoes,” the chav replied.

Merlin had never been an officer of the law, but being former military that bothered him. “The filth?”

“Yeah, what they are.”

They had been walking as they talked, and were in front of Kingsman. “Well, I would hate to get any ‘filth’ on you, and as you said - you can manage. Excuse me.” Merlin crossed over to the shop, and let himself in. He went to the back and tried to shake off the encounter. It was some delivery boy, not like it mattered. He went to the lock box and put the zip ties, pepper spray and collapsible baton in their spots, grabbed the e reader they had given them. The coffee pot was full, and smelled horrible like it had been sitting for hours even though it would be half an hour at most. It reminded him of the coffee when he was stationed in Gibraltar. Just the worst. How he preferred.

He settled in at the stool in the front of the shop, and continued reading his book. The job was boring, but it was better than the sitting around the flat he had been doing. He didn’t even particularly like his flat. It had just been what he had found when he retired, fully furnished because he didn’t own much. It was perfectly generic, in a 30 year old building. He had a balcony, he liked that part. Sat out there as much as he could.

Merlin looked across the way at Kingsman, and that delivery boy was now in the window moving about the display. He was a bit surprised a business in this neighourhood employed a chav like him, but later when he saw the older man in a gorgeous suit, walking with the lad, he figured the situation was a boy toy sort of one and dismissed it from his mind. It was a quiet day in the shop a few people who browsed, and one whom had a private appointment. Them he had to assist with, because private appointment meant serious money was going to be exchanged, and once some sort of bracelet that he thought was rather ugly was purchased, he walked the woman to her car, where her driver was waiting.

He saw the lad back in the window, changing the display. It was odd, there was a female mannequin being put in, but perhaps they made suits for women as well. He went back into the store and finished reading his book. At 3 the other security guard arrived. Merlin put away his security tools in the lock box and headed home.

Merlin put the telly on, made some tea, watched the news and continued to try to find a hobby. Nothing was of particular interest yet. He had tried knitting, and promptly donated all his supplies to a shelter. He went to a range once a month, but that wasn’t a hobby so much as habit. He felt odd not doing that. Though last time someone had a bow in and that had been interesting. Perhaps archery.

Video games were not an option, first person ones made him ill and they just seemed...not for him. He couldn’t draw and didn’t feel like taking the time to get better. His cooking was improving but again not a hobby. Maybe he’d find an old bloke footie league or something.

He eventually ate a proper meal, and was in bed by 10. Tomorrow he didn’t have to be at the store until one. A good hard workout in the morning, maybe poke at the guitar that had been in the living room when he moved in. It was a good night, no dreams, and no phantom leg syndrome waking him up, though that happened less and less with each passing year. He was starting to forget what it had felt like to have two legs, the left gone for 7 years now.

In the morning, he realized he hated the feel of a guitar in his hands, and went to the gym to climb a wall and do some boxing.

*

“We have an interesting appointment today,” Percival told Merlin, and Merlin looked at him in surprise. The man seldom called things interesting. His resume had been ‘interesting’ and thank god Percival had not commented past that; there were things Merlin did not feel like talking about. An estate sale his business went to once had been ‘interesting’ and Percival had spent tireless hours repatriating the African art that had been in the box to the proper people. It was why Merlin stayed at the boring job - Percival was a good man through and through. Interesting was an interesting word from Percival.

“What is the appointment, sir?” Merlin asked politely. He didn’t care that much, but needed to know what would be expected from him.

“Across the way at Kingsman,” Percival began, “Harry Hart.”

“He’s been in, bought a pocket watch.”

“He did, but he is not interesting, beyond the normal ways,” Percival smiled faintly. There was a joke in his voice that Merlin didn’t quite grasp. But he had never been good with jokes. “Who is interesting is his shop assistant, Eggsy. That is who has an appointment with us.”

“Eggsy? That’s a name.”

“Yours is Merlin, mine is Percival, we are not the best to judge. He, in the last year, has been building a personal business out of Harry’s shop as a stylist, and he wants to talk to me.”

“Is he the one in the track suits?”

“He is.”

“He has a past.” Merlin felt it necessary to point that out.

“And you know this how?”

Merlin shrugged. “I can see it on him.” He had watched the man a bit since their moment outside the shops. He put together a good window display and the owner of the shop dotted on him. “And he works at Kingsman - Mr. Hart would put him in a suit but doesn’t. The lad wears those track suits to make a point. Don’t make a point like that in this neighbourhood unless you have a chip on your shoulder.”

“This neighbourhood? Chip? Are you sure you aren’t speaking of yourself?” Percival was giving him a look, that faint smile. His boss saw more than he cared for sometimes.

“What time can we expect him?”

“In about an hour,” Percival said. “He is due in thirty minutes, but being Harry’s protege, I’ve allowed for lateness.”

“Five minutes early is five minutes late,” Merlin replied, a thing ingrained in him from one sergeant many moons ago when he had been in basic.

“You are so much fun at parties, I bet.”

“Don’t know, been at 5 in the last thirty years.” Merlin ignored the look Percival was giving him, and went back to his e-reader. They had one customer who bought a chamber pot and a couple of browsers, and thirty minutes later, he saw the lad jog across the street. Not in a track suit but grey trousers, black pinstripe waistcoat, and light blue shirt. Everything should have been just a little off, but worked together. He also had a portfolio sleeve with him. He opened the door, and looked at Merlin.

“Hiya, I have an appointment with Percival?” The lad was clearly a touch nervous, the way his fingers tightened on the leather. “I’m like a minute early.”

Merlin felt his lips quirk just a bit. “That will surprise Percival. He expected you to take after your employer.”

Eggsy rolled his eyes. “Harry has a reputation that can withstand being late. I don’t. Not yet. Plus seems like a dick move, when trying to ask a man a favour.”

Percival came out from the back room. “Eggsy,” he was clearly surprised.

“Mr. Rowling, a pleasure as always.” Eggsy held out his hand, and Merlin watched him put on the performance of a gentleman. It was not a man who thirty seconds ago had said dick move. It was impressive the way he drew the skin around himself. Merlin had never had a gift to perform grace and manner, he was too much blunt force trauma for that. He pretended to read, keep an eye on the door, but watched them. He was surprised they didn’t go to Percival’s office.

“So what can we do for you Eggsy. This is more than buying a birthday gift for Harry.”

“This is strictly professional, sir,” Eggsy said. “I’m here to convince you to lend me some of your jewelry for a night.”

“Now that is an interesting proposition. Why?”

Eggsy took a breath. “Because I am dressing two people for the BAFTAs. One a presenter, one an actual nominee. And my first female client.” Eggsy bit his lip. “Roxanne Morton?”

Merlin didn’t recognize the name, but Percival clearly did. “She is nominated for best supporting actress, that historical movie.” That explained it, his boss loved historical movies for the antiques.

“Yeah,” Eggsy took a shaky breath. “She heard me on a podcast, and called the shop. Said how I talked about clothes matched what she wanted, that her current stylist didn’t get it. Would I like a try, and turned out the try was the fucking BAFTAs. The bloke is easy. He’s had a tuxedo made at Kingsman, but I was hoping antique watch and cuff links. It is a super modern cut tux, so a few classic pieces would look good next to it.” Eggsy opened the portfolio, and showed a picture of a man that Merlin vaguely recognized - he thought maybe he had been in a Star Wars. “This is from the last fitting. You can see how it is cut, that the contrast of older pieces next to it would be brilliant.”

“Hmm,” Percival agreed. “And for Roxanne Morton?”

“Similar thing. But not?” Eggsy flipped the page. “Here, we have some sample photos, of the various looks we are debating. She were being dressed to sort of match the role she had played. Roxy has a super classic face, and her old stylist was playing to that - not her actual personality.”

“This is the one you are leaning towards?” Percival gestured at a photo.

“Yeah, she isn’t one hundred sold, but I think the contrast, the almost military top with floaty slit skirt is so damn perfect. Want her hair, severe, bun, pulled tight, and dramatic as fuck antique earrings.”

“Hmmmm,” Percival nodded a bit. “What exactly do I get out of this?”

“I can pay a rental fee,” Eggsy said. “Not a lot, though, not what it is worth.” Merlin watched his shoulders slump before he squared them. “And Roxy is really savvy about social media. She has a huge amount of followers on insta and your business would be splattered all over it. Mine too. Not nearly as much but your store would be linked in every photo I post. I know I am fundamentally asking you to work for exposure, which is rubbish, but on the other hand? She is up and coming, 40 years from now she is bloody Emma Thompson. And she’s the sort to never forget who got her there. Can tell.” Eggsy rubbed his neck. “I am too new, no major jewelry house will work with me, and I don’t want them anyways. All the same, and boring. You don’t have boring stuff in here.”

“No, I don’t.” Percival glanced at Merlin with brows raised.

Merlin thought about it. “Security deposit, rental fee, and depending what pieces you give him, one of us goes with him in charge of the jewelry.”

The lad clearly didn’t like that. “Oi, I am not stealing from Harry’s bloke, what type of shit person do you think I am?”

“I don’t know what type of person you are at all,” Merlin said, “But I do know that my boss asked me my professional opinion, and that is my professional opinion.”

“I have to agree with him, because you’ll want a few samples,” Percival said. “What you think works right now, might not at the moment.” He looked at the photos and was clearly mulling. “400 pounds, which will all be returned to you upon return of all pieces to the store. Merlin will be in charge of the jewelry.”

“Sir, Jesse is better suited to this task,” Merlin said. “He is the sociable sort.”

“You are my best, and you will be accompanying the pieces to wherever it is Eggsy will be working.”

“Hotel, we’ve got suites,” Eggsy said. He looked at Merlin. “This is my job yeah. You treat me like a thief in front of my clients, you ruin my career that is just getting going.”

“I will be discreet,” Merlin found himself promising. The boy had a past, but didn’t they all. And he could read the earnestness pouring off him. He wondered if he had been that earnest in his twenties. But he had already been shot a couple times by then so he doubted it. Earnest had never been in his skill sets.

“Shall we look at a selection of pieces, Eggsy?”

“Sure,” Eggsy agreed. “You really doing this for me?”

“You are interesting.”

Something clearly relaxed in Eggsy at that. “Harry said if you called me interesting, everything was going to be okay.”

“He knows me well.”

Merlin watched them go through the jewelry case, and Percival even took him to the back private collection. Merlin stayed put and read his book. But he was curious and pulled out his phone. He searched Eggsy and this Roxanne Morton. She was gorgeous and on her social media raving about her new stylist and how they were going to blow everyone out of the water at the BAFTAs in a couple of weeks. His social media was more restrained, lots of photos of things called ‘look books’ and talking about clothes that flatter, emphasis on suits and women wearing suits. With working out of Kingsman that made sense. There were some photos of him with a cowboy holding a surf board. Some country singer named Tequila who won a bunch of popularity awards in America. When he heard them returning, he put his phone away.

“So, I need all that at the hotel by 3 the night of the BAFTAS.”

“Merlin is very punctual,” Percival promised. “I thank you for considering my shop.”

“Thanks for believing in me?” Merlin heard the question in his voice.

“You are Harry’s, I could do nothing less,” Percival reassured. “And you earn it on your own as well.”

“Right, well, see you in a couple weeks, officer.”

“Security guard, not the filth as you call it,” Merlin reminded him of their first encounter.

“Yeah, ain’t nothing dirty on you is there?” Eggsy winked and left the store a bounce in his step.

“You really should send Jesse,” Merlin looked at Percival.

“He would get star struck, you do not give a fuck.”

Merlin blinked. He had spent decades cursing outrageously on missions, he didn’t have a problem with cursing, it just sounded so odd coming out of Percival. “I suppose I don’t. You really trust him? You were radically undercharging the deposit for what he is borrowing.”

“Sometimes, you have to accept interesting men on faith and their word.”

Merlin ignored the pointed look Percival gave him, and went back to his book. When he got home that night, he started an instagram account to track Eggsy a bit. Just to find out the sort of man he was that Percival was so willing to trust him with about 80,000 pounds worth of stock, that Merlin would have to protect in a couple weeks.

 

Chapter Text

Merlin had found himself oddly engaged in Instagram. He did not expect that. But, he discovered that several museums had accounts, a few military history accounts, even a few people he knew. It was the only social media he engaged in, because there were lots of cute animals, interesting bits and bobs, versus just the yelling people on twitter, or all the photos of babies on Facebook. He thought. Maybe. He remembered a Lieutenant complaining about his wife complaining about “Mummy wars” on Facebook. He had asked if this was a thing he needed to be concerned about, and the Lieutenant reassured him, it was just bitches being bitches, and that if Mummy wars ever got weaponized, Her Majesty’s military would be not be able to do fuck all about saving the world.

Merlin had always been fine with being gay, but dear god hearing a bit about that sort of thing, made him say a prayer of thanks for his sexuality that he had avoided such.

He also followed Eggsy, and the woman all the jewelry was for on Instagram. It made a bit of disconnect scrolling through pictures of monuments, to ones of Eggsy posting about Adidas shoes, raving about them.

Merlin thought they were singularly ugly, and he wasn’t sure how you actually ran in trainers like those. Trainers were for running and they seemed cumbersome.

But he had spent a few decades owning 10 pieces of clothing that weren’t military issue, so he really shouldn’t judge.

The day of the BAFTAs arrived, and Merlin carefully shaved his head and face. He dressed in his black suit, crisp white shirt, black tie. Simple black oxfords. He looked down at his legs. The break of the trousers well hid the difference between the two, which pleased him. He collected his wallet, wound his watch, and put it on. He thought he looked like what he was, a security man. It was a sort of uniform, and that always comforted him.

Merlin made his way to the shop and Percival was just packing up the jewelry into…”Sir, is that a fishing tackle box?”

“Yes,” Percival replied, putting a black velvet bag into a slot.

“Interesting,” was all that Merlin could come up with.

“Isn’t it?” Percival put a few more pieces into the box, and then snapped it shut. “There you are.”

“I need to collect from my locker.” Merlin went and grabbed the baton, pepper spray, and a couple other items, before he returned and just stared at the box. “Really?”

Percival then put it in a small duffel bag. “Secured briefcase, looks like it is carrying something important.”

“This looks like I am hauling body parts around or something.”

“Which will make people think twice about approaching you,” Percival handed him the bag. “Are you aware, just how long this will take?”

“A couple of hours?”

“Oh dear,” Percival sighed. “Well, that is accurate. It will take a couple of hours to get the actors ready for the BAFTAs, and then you will sit around the hotel for several hours while the ceremony occurs. Then they will return, and switch into their after party looks and jewelry for said parties. All goes well, the jewelry should be back in your custody by 2am.”

Merlin blinked. “I should also grab my e-reader.” He went to his locker to retrieve the e-reader, and put it into the duffel when he came back. “Why did you agree to this?”

“Because sometimes I like to take a leap of faith. Never been wrong about a person yet.”

“Does that include me?” Percival should have never hired him, should have turned him down like a half dozen jobs before him, sure it was a man taking the piss or some sort of secret government spy plan.

“Of course it does, you were a wonderful leap of faith.” Percival smiled, nudged the bag towards him. “Enjoy this experience.”

“That sounded a touch too evil,” Merlin pointed out.

“Did it?” 

Merlin just rolled his eyes, and took the bag. He drove himself to the hotel, and was reluctant to hand the car over to the valet, but did so because in the end it was easiest. He went to the front desk and showed them his I.D. “I am expected by Mr. Unwin,” he said.

“Yes, he left a message. We will call up to the room, if you could just take a seat,” the woman said politely.

Merlin went and sat, the chair was quite comfortable, far more so than the furniture in his flat. It was just a couple minutes, and Eggsy came bouncing out of the lift. Merlin could read the terror on him easily enough. “Hey, there,” Eggsy said. He was almost jogging in place. “Come on then.”

They went into the lift and the emotions just pouring off the lad reminded him of some young soldiers on the eve of their first mission. He would have sneered, this wasn’t exactly life or death, but he supposed for the lad to a certain extent it was. “Eggsy?”

“Yeah?” Eggsy couldn’t quite make eye contact.

“It is fine,” Merlin soothed, as he had for many a man under his command in his previous life. “It is fine.”

“Of course it is,” Eggsy dismissed.

“All you can control in this moment is yourself,” Merlin continued. “As much as you might want to control everything you can’t. But you are master of your own fate, as much as anyone can be. Breathe, remember your game plan. Follow through. Control yourself, and it will be fine.” Merlin exaggerated his own breathing. He didn’t care about the lad either way, but he hated seeing young soldiers suffer.

Not a soldier. A stylist.

But he was matching his breathing to Merlin’s and Merlin could see him relaxing. “Good,” Merlin said.

“Thanks, yeah? Tonight. She ends up on a worst dressed list, my career is done. And I don’t…she doesn’t deserve that,” Eggsy looked at Merlin. “I know this isn’t important, but it is important to her. To me.”

“That seems important to me.”

“Okay, yeah. So, Percival said he got in a couple new things and he included them in there, just in case.” The lift opened, and they went onto the 18th floor. “Both my people are here, Roxy is in makeup and hair. My actor is watching footie, because he will take 30 minutes to get ready.”

“Where will I be least in your way?” Merlin asked. 

“Honestly in with the actor, for right now,” Eggsy said. 

“Very well.” Merlin followed Eggsy into a suite, and there was Ms. Morton in a thin robe and it seemed someone was about to poke her eye out, and she was cursing. Merlin reached towards his pocket, reacting on instinct to someone facing trauma, but Eggsy stepped in front of him.

“Fake lashes, are a bitch, but that is all that is going on,” Eggsy held up his hands. “She is just mouthy about them, even though they will make her look brilliant and she has been wearing them since she was what 19?”

“Fuck off, Unwin,” she snapped, and Merlin saw her give a rude gesture. “Hiya, I’m Roxy.”

“Merlin Roberts,” he greeted her in return.

“Merlin your actual birth name of a nickname like Eggsy?” 

“Avery,” he admitted. “Not my favourite.”

“I like it.” She blinked. “Fuck, I hate these until they are on, and then I love how they look.”

There were three people milling about her, and Merlin could well recognize controlled chaos. “Here, the next suite will be quieter,” Eggsy reassured.

Merlin let Eggsy guide him to the door, and there was a shout when Eggsy knocked. “Sir, do you mind if the jewelry security waits in here, while we work on Roxy?”

“Not at all,” he replied.

“James, this is Merlin. Merlin this is James.”

Merlin gave a polite nod. He thought the actor was familiar though his original thought that he was from a Star Wars was mistaken. He thought maybe it would come to him in a bit. He went and sat with the duffel bag at the table in the corner, and pulled out his e-reader. Eggsy disappeared back into the other room, and James returned to watching his footie match. “You a West Ham fan?”

“I have no team allegiances,” Merlin replied.

“Not a fan in general or -?”

“I played quite a bit in my off time, just never really picked a team to cheer for,” Merlin answered. He looked at the man. “Are you a big fan?”

“Big enough,” he replied. “You don’t recognize me at all do you?” He was smirking. “I must admit, I am at a loss. I am accustomed to people gawping.”

“Or maybe I do, but I am a professional and am containing my gawp until I can tell my mates about sitting in the same room with James -” he realized he had no clue what the actor’s last name was. “Bond?” was all he could come up with.

The man snickered a bit. “No, not quite. James Lance, though I was in a very fraught spy movie recently.”

In an instant Merlin pictured it. “The mentor and your young partner discovers corruption within the organization.”

“There we go. Did you love me?”

“Oh fuck no, you were dreadful, completely pulled me out of the movie.” And when the words just hung in the air, Merlin cursed Percival for sending him instead of Jesse who would have been able to fawn. He was absolutely going to get fired for this. “My apologies,” Merlin said, his voice stiff, and his posture rigid. “I just meant -” He couldn’t finish the sentence because well it was the truth, and he was dreadful at social lies. “My apologies,” he said again.

The man turned off the telly and turned fully to him. He was quite attractive, but then actors were supposed to be. “Now this is interesting,” James said. “That performance was generally praised. That my gravitas as the aging spy was palpable.”

“As an aging spy, you’d know about trigger discipline,” Merlin winced a bit. “Also you called a rifle a gun.”

“It is a gun.”

“No, it is a rifle,” Merlin replied. “A gun to military or even those morons at MI-6 is a handgun. A rifle is a rifle, and no seasoned person would say the wrong thing.”

“We actually had a retired MI-6 agent consulting on the movie.”

“I’ve never met an agent of value from them,” Merlin answered unthinkingly.

“How many have you met?” 

“A few. In the future, for the love of all that is good in the world, please if you have any firearm in your hand, you keep your finger off the trigger unless you are actually going to be shooting. It is not a resting spot for your finger. It is the place your finger goes only when it is prepared to take a life. It is that simple.”

“In movies, the finger is there to show that we are ready for action.”

“Train enough with a gun, and you are ready always, you don’t need a lack of discipline.”

“There is more, isn’t there?”

“No,” Merlin replied.

“Darling, I tell lies for my job every day, and I can see when someone is lying. Now what else did I do wrong in the movie?”

“That’s not how you look out of cover,” Merlin said.

“Show me,” the man insisted, and Merlin was so used to training people, upbraiding soldiers that he automatically stepped into his old role.

He worked with the actor, showing him a few things, and he thought the man might make fun of him, but he didn’t. He seemed to be taking it incredibly seriously. Taking photos of Merlin’s body positions, asking questions, even stopping to make notes occasionally. They were so focused on what they were doing that they didn’t hear Eggsy come in.

“James, time to - what the fuck?” 

Merlin looked over at Eggsy. “I’m making him a better actor. He needs the assistance.”

“I,” Eggsy closed his eyes. “Sir, I am so sorry. I will certainly speak to his employer, and I can only -”

“Eggsy, Merlin is wonderful! So much better than any other arms consultation I’ve ever had on a set!” James bounded up. “Thank you so much! I always hate getting ready for awards shows, honestly loathe them, terrible stage fright. Why I do films. No live audience. He has kept me at ease, and been an immense help for when I start filming in a few weeks. It was so clever of you, to bring me former military. Truly I appreciate it.”

Merlin tried to smile at Eggsy, but he knew he had a very poor smile, he had been told that often enough. “Is Roxy ready for jewelry?”

“She’s getting into the dress, need to pick the pieces. James you have 45 minutes, I’ll be back in in 20 to smooth everything out?”

“Of course. Merlin, I need your email - I am sure I will have questions.”

Merlin nodded, and wrote it on hotel stationary. He was sure the actor was just being polite. He seemed an incredibly genial and kind man. “You weren’t completely dreadful in the movie. The speeches no one has time for in those situations were quite intense.” He could feel Eggsy staring at him, appalled. He was pretty sure he shouldn’t have said that. “I just mean…” Merlin’s voice drifted off as James laughed.

“You have become my new favourite person. I will be contacting you.”

Eggsy went over to the wardrobe that had a bag hanging on it and opened it. “I’ll be back shortly to help with cuff links and your tie.”

“Bless, no matter what I do, cannot manage a bowtie, darling.”

Merlin picked up the duffel bag, and followed Eggsy back to Roxy’s room. He put it on a table and pulled out the fishing tackle box.

“I’m sorry?” Roxy asked, and Merlin looked over. Eggsy was dressing her, her underpinnings surprisingly plain. Nude, almost seamless. Merlin supposed he thought it would be fancier. “Is that a bait box?”

“My employer is an interesting man,” was all Merlin could say. But when he looked in, everything was well labeled each little compartment holding something. “Honestly? This is actually quite clever. Eggsy, he has organized this according to metal. Are you looking for a silver, gold, or Victorian mourning jewelry?”

“Wait, what?” Eggsy came over. “Mourning jewelry? That wasn’t on our list.”

“He sent a few things along that just came into the shop.” Merlin lay out the a swatch of velvet, and showed Eggsy the provided list. “What is mourning jewelry?”

“Just that. Victorians made a huge show of grief, it was a bloody sport and whole industry sprung up. Some was made with hair of a person who passed, others were heavy show the weight of death.” Eggsy went into the tackle box, and pulled out one of the velvet pouches. Merlin watched him. He had scarred hands, Merlin could recognize fingers that had been broken at some point. But he was so delicate as he opened the pouch, and put the necklace on the fabric Merlin had laid out. “Fuck,” Eggsy shouted. “Fuck fuck fuck, I do not have time for this!”

“I don’t understand,” Merlin said. “He didn’t mean you had to use that piece. He also sent what you agreed on.”

“Roxy, get naked now!” Eggsy shouted. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, okay hair can stay the same, but makeup is all wrong. Shit shit, shit. I shoulda stayed a fucking thief.” 

Merlin watched him leap towards the wardrobe where four bags were hanging, and he tore one open. 

“Shoes, tell me, baby, I remembered shoes.” He was then digging in the wardrobe.

“Eggsy, what is going on?”

“I’m getting you fucking noticed,” Eggsy looked almost maniacal, and Merlin moved himself in between Eggsy and Roxy. “Look at that necklace Roxy.”

“Oh shit, tell me you have -”

“Yeah, if you are willing to be ballsy at the fucking BAFTAs.”

“My big dick energy doesn’t come from my strap on. What do you have?”

“Tony Ward. Got it by sheer fucking luck. Ate air for a week to get it, but worth it.” Eggsy was holding up a hanger. 

Merlin thought it was nice, but he liked what she was currently wearing as well. He watched though as Roxy stripped down to the skin. “Bra!” she shouted, and Eggsy threw a strapless bra at her head.

Merlin quickly backed away, terrified by the way everyone was tearing around the room. “Don’t you have to leave in -” He thought he should point out.

“Shut the fuck up!” Eggsy roared. 

Merlin was pretty sure he hadn’t been yelled at like that in a few decades. It startled him enough that he did indeed quiet, and put his back to the wall. He watched in shock as they all worked together. They had spent hours building her to a specific look, and they changed everything in less than 30 minutes. Eggsy was giving orders like a drill sergeant, and at a certain point he shouted for James and somehow did his hardware and bow tie all the while directing everyone around Roxy.

It was so bizarre, and surprising. He had not expected the chav to be competent.

“Roxy, Tony Ward. Two years old, but emphasize you aren’t about fast fashion but sustainability, and clothes by him are fucking timeless, yeah?” The red warmed her skin, and the black beading at her waist highlighted how petite she was. He carefully lay the heavy necklace on her. “This is it. No other jewelry, yeah?”

Roxy looked at herself in the mirror. “Fuck, Eggsy.”

“Please tell me that is a good fuck,” Eggsy begged.

“Ms. Morton, you look utterly breathtaking,” James said.

“Thank you.” She smiled at him. “You know I’d love to work with you someday.”

“That could be fun,” he agreed. 

“Right, photos,” Eggsy said, and took a few of James against the wall. He was adjusting Roxy a bit, and then took some of her. “I know you are both here because of me, and are like separate cars to the thing. But you look banger next to each other.”

Merlin shrugged when James looked at him with a quirked brow. “You make a statement together. I am not sure what it is, but it is notable.” 

James gave a bow. “Would you care to have some fun with the rumour mill, my dear?”

“My agent will either buy me flowers or a coffin.” But Roxy was grinning. “Why the fuck not?”

Merlin packed up the jewelry as Eggsy took a few photos of them together. Roxy gave Eggsy an air kiss, and then they were off. The hair person and make up person both hugged Eggsy and praised him, and thanked him so much for the opportunity. Merlin realized they were as green at the career as Eggsy was. He watched Eggsy send them off, and Merlin decided to just go sit and read. The next several hours would be boring.

“Oh god, I should have stuck to the plan, what was I thinking?” Eggsy collapsed on the sofa, and it looked like he was trying to kill himself with a throw pillow.

“She looked well,” Merlin offered. “And seemed pleased?”

“I just ruined my career,” Eggsy moaned into the pillow. “Oh god, fuck, fuck, bugger fucking hell.”

“Perhaps you should watch the red carpet? See what reactions to it are?” Merlin was quiet for a moment. “Sometimes a bold choice, though terrifying, carries much reward.”

“Fuck off,” Eggsy shouted from the other side of the pillow.

“Very well,” Merlin agreed, and decided to focus on his book.

 

Chapter Text

Merlin kept an eye on the lad as he read, and it didn’t take long for Eggsy to emerge from the pillow. “Done trying to smother yourself?”

“Yeah.”

“Good, it is one of the most ineffective ways to guarantee someone dies. Pass out, maybe, but it seldom kills.”

“Well, thank you for the fucking terrifying bit of trivia.”

“You don’t look terrified,” Merlin felt the need to point out. 

“Too busy destroying my career to be terrified.” Eggsy sat up, went and collected a bag. “Need to turn the telly on.”

“That’s fine,” Merlin replied. He marked the chapter, and went to the bathroom to get himself a glass of water. He came back and Eggsy had a paper notebook, his phone, and two laptops out. “Well then. You look like an operation base.”

“What this is really,” Eggsy said. He was uploading some getting ready photos on Instagram. “Can’t put her full up until she shows up on there. But let’s tease a bit.” He also tweeted, and was refreshing a couple pages. “God, the gofugyourself girls are going to bitch I don’t have her in a dark enough lippy, but with the shades of red in that dress would have ended up too matchy matchy.”

“I did not understand many of those words.”

“Okay, right, yeah. Suppose it is silly to you. But right now I just pray she doesn’t end up on a worst dress list.”

Merlin frowned, “she looked young and attractive, and is ‘badass’ acceptable for fashion?” It was the word that came to mind. “And it contrasts to whatever movie she in nominated for, correct?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy nodded. “It were this gothic romance thing. Name just left my head, but lots of poof.”

“That dress seemed the opposite of poof.” Merlin paused. “Well the skirt had a bit of poof, and I dislike saying the word poof.”

Eggsy snickered a bit as he typed. “Yeah, it did. Cocktail isn’t the norm for the BAFTAs. More wiggle room there than say the Oscars, but fuck it might be considered too casual.” He tweeted, and uploaded another photo. “Okay, couple fashion blogs are really getting going. Seems big year for greens.” 

Merlin was a bit impressed at how the lad seemed to be doing four things at once. He remembered those days. All the juggling in the air, hoping everything goes to plan. Would that it had only been about ‘lippy’. He thought about it. “Lippy is lipstick?”

“Yeah.” Eggsy got up, and put himself against the wall. “Light’s changing. Can you hold that lamp at a bit of angle.”

Merlin shrugged and moved the lamp, adjusting it when Eggsy gestured. Eggsy filmed himself talking about the looks for James Lance and Roxy Morton, and put it up on his Instagram. Merlin put the lamp back in place. “May I order room service?” He was starting to feel hungry.

“Sure, go nuts, I won’t be eating until sometime tomorrow.”

“Diet?”

“Nerves, until the reports are in.”

“That isn’t healthy.” Merlin looked at the room service menu, and ordered cold sandwiches and snacks, perhaps the lad would eat a bit at some point. He looked at the telly. “I think Ms. Morton is in the queue.”

“Oh god, oh fuck, bloody bugger and hell. Okay, okay, breathe.” Eggsy ran to the couch, and was typing furiously. “You, you know fuck all about fashion or things that matter right?”

Merlin blinked. “I rather know a lot about things that matter.”

“About the stuff that matters tonight?”

“No,” Merlin had to admit.

“There are five women you can clearly see on the telly. Where does Roxy rank with them?”

“What are my parameters?”

“Attractive, how the dress looks, do they seem uncomfortable? Bangability? I don’t know just look at them and think how Roxy stacks up.”

“That one can’t walk?” Merlin pointed to the screen. “The dress seems too heavy. She is needing help.”

“Yeah, like I get the drama of those big things, but always figure, how the fuck do you sit in them?” Eggsy looked up the screen. “That will make best dressed lists though.”

“Odd.” He looked at again. “That one is good.”

“Yeah, it is.” Eggsy nodded. “Law Roche, knows his shit.”

“Of the ones I see on the screen, Roxy is middle of the pack?”

Eggsy breathed out. “I can live with that.” He refreshed pages, “Okay we are starting to get her in print.” He added more to his Instagram. “I would love middle of the pack.”

Merlin went to answer the knock on the door, and signed for the food. “You really should eat.”

“You should suck my dick.”

Merlin snorted a bit. “I don’t know you well enough for that.” He picked up a sandwich and the fizzy drink he had ordered. “She is about to speak to someone.”

Eggsy turned up the volume. “She looks confident. James is hovering just there. That is going to cause fucking waves.”

Merlin would have asked why, but he didn’t want to interrupt Eggsy listening to Roxy speak. She was quite clear and articulate. He wondered why she was emphasizing that it wasn’t a current season dress. “Good girl,” Eggsy whispered. Roxy laughed a bit and touched her necklace, explained that her new genius stylist put it all together. Said Eggsy’s name, and James chimed in, that he had worked with Eggsy as well, and that the lad was simply divine. Merlin heard Eggsy cough. “They said my name.” He almost sounded choked up.

The interview seemed to be done. “Why is it a thing that they said your name?”

“So everyone uses stylists, yeah? And in fashion interviews you can talk about it, but somehow in the moment on the red carpet, you are supposed to pretend you did it all yourself. Like magic. For her to openly and easily say my name, which is known by like two people? Big fucking deal.” 

“And the hammering about it being an old dress?”

“Getting out in front of people who would say it isn’t current fashion, beating them to the punch and talking about sustainability. That for the BAFTAs it should be fresh; she is saying good fashion is timeless. That dress ain’t been on any red carpet. People don’t wear enough Tony Ward, how I was able to afford that.”

“Isn’t this stuff rented?” He was sure he had read that somewhere.

“Sure, if you got a name, like I said. Two people.” Eggsy looked at him. “I have a collection. Small, spend most of my money on it - who needs to eat right?”

“Everybody?” Merlin suggested.

“Nah, you can split ramen into three portions, if you find a woman clearing out her Louboutins before her husband finds them.”

“Is that a drug?”

Eggsy laughed a bit. He refreshed a page. “Oh my god.”

“What?”

“Jezebel.”

“She is biblical.”

“No, webpage, they do a big all the looks post for big awards.” He pointed at his screen. “Roxy Morton charms in a daring cocktail dress showing to never skip leg day.”

“That is good?”

“Yeah, that is good,” Eggsy agreed. He continued his work, moving between all his devices and Merlin answered when he was asked a question, although he didn’t think his answers were that helpful. It was interesting the way the lad muttered to himself. The red carpet coverage ended and the awards would start soon. Eggsy seemed to just collapse. 

“At least a fizzy drink?” Merlin suggested. “Sugar, calories?” It felt like taking care of a baby soldier again. 

“Sure,” Eggsy agreed. Merlin handed him the bottle. “She looked good, James looked dapper.”

“They both seemed very impressive. I am curious about her acting.”

“So you can insult her to?” Eggsy all of a sudden seemed to remember that. Merlin had hoped he wouldn’t. “What the fuck was that about?”

Merlin flushed a bit. “I wish I knew. I am not the best in social settings, and when he commented on my lack of response to him, it just sort of spilled out.”

“I get that you think I’m trash, but you could have completely fucked me over,” Eggsy said calmly.

“On the contrary, you consider me filth,” Merlin pointed out. “It was not my intention to cause your career harm. Percival likes you, and I can see that you take this seriously. It was my interpersonal limitations that caused that. He seemed amused.”

“Because he is the most chill guy ever. Any other client, and I was done for.” Eggsy was looking at him. “And tell me you weren’t a cop before you were a security guard.”

“I wasn’t a police officer,” Merlin replied honestly. “Military.”

“My da was a royal marine.”

“Fine men,” Merlin replied. “I was in the army. Retired.”

Eggsy’s phone dinged, and he looked. “Aww, Roxy lost out.”

“Was she expected to win?”

“Not really no,” Eggsy replied. “Bet she did good loser face.”

“I apologize for almost impacting your career. I told Percival he should have sent Jesse. And I do not imagine circumstances such as these will arise again.” Merlin looked at the room service tray. “You really should eat. Won’t you have to help her with after party clothes?”

“Yeah, have a little vintage number from the 60s. What do you have in silver jewelry?”

They went through the tackle box, and Merlin listened to Eggsy talk to himself. He learned a fair bit about proportions. “Fuck, wish I had a more masculine watch to put on her.”

“Who wears a watch these days?” 

“You do,” Eggsy pointed at his wrist. “They are still practical depending on your personality, and are aesthetically pleasing. And unexpected. The geometric of the black and white dress, with a watch would look great. But got some good bracelets in here.”

Merlin just shrugged. “She can have my watch for the party.”

“Wot?”

“I am staying here, to take all the jewelry back, so it will be returned to me. I don’t mind.” He had clearly confused the lad. “Unless my filth -”

“Stop, please?” Eggsy asked. “Look, tell me when you saw me you didn’t judge me a little.”

Merlin had to smile at that. “I judged you a lot.”

Eggsy snorted. “Bet you thought Harry was my sugar daddy at some point, they all do.”

“I suppose the thought crossed my mind.”

“Never mind that he and your boss have had whatever it is they have for like 12 years?”

Merlin was a bit lost. “I’m sorry?”

“Harry and Percival, they are a thing.”

“Oh,” Merlin nodded a bit as that solidified some thoughts in his head. “That actually explains a great many of things.” He was happy that Percival had someone, that was a man who needed a partner to look after. “But they don’t live together?” He said after thinking about it. “Unless he was hiding in a closet when I visited.”

Eggsy snickered, “No closet has held Harry since 1986. They live apart, like their space. Like I said, don’t quite get it. I ever fall that much in love with someone, you best believe they’ll need a crowbar to separate me from them.” He was laying out jewelry, and then getting out a small steamer to freshen up the dress. “You ever been in love?”

“No,” Merlin answered simply. “I didn’t have much time for it. And I was in the closet a lot longer than that, for the sake of my career.”

“That is complete bullshit.” Eggsy was holding the steamer wand in his hand. “How fucking long?”

“It doesn’t really matter,” Merlin said. He wasn’t going to get into this with the lad. “She’ll look fetching in that dress.” He hoped that would distract Eggsy. “I remember photos of my aunt in such. She was apparently quite ‘happening’? Is that the correct word.” He saw the frown lines in Eggsy’s forehead and really hoped he wouldn’t press. “Please,” Merlin’s voice was quiet. Not quite pleading but it was there buried in the vowels.

“Yeah that word works,” Eggsy agreed. “The trick with vintage, especially such specific vintage, is to not make it costumey. You want modern hair and makeup, why I wouldn’t want any Bakelite jewelry with it.” He steamed the dress. “Roxy is petite which makes dressing her both easy because designers like small women, sizest bastards, and hard because it is so easy to overwhelm her. What her last stylist was doing. That, and overcharging her.”

“Do you undersell yourself, that is not good either,” Merlin pointed out.

“No, I think I am at my value. I had Harry run up my numbers for me, because yeah do it myself would have way undercharged.”

“You get what you pay for.”

“He said similar, though bit posher.”

“I am not posh.”

“Me neither.” Merlin was not going to comment when Eggsy’s stomach growled. “Yeah, alright, I suppose bit of a sandwich wouldn’t be remiss.” 

Merlin put some food on a plate for him, and Eggsy went back to his million screens. “Oh, Roxy sent a photo. Tux looks good on James on stage. Makes him look younger.” Eggsy ate a little and was scrolling blogs. “Early reports, don’t think…shit I don’t think we’re going to end up on a worst dressed list.” Eggsy took a huge bite of food. “I didn’t cock it up with the last minute change.” 

Merlin had always found people talking with their mouth full a bit gross, but he could excuse the lad in the moment. “My congratulations.”

Eggsy nodded and kept going through webpages, clearly checking out of conversation. Merlin checked his phone, but there were no messages as usual. He went back to his e-reader and a couple hours later, he watched as the two actors returned, and Eggsy changed James into a plaid smoking jacket, and Roxy her vintage dress. 

He was surprised that Eggsy was the one touching up Roxy’s makeup, now adding a dramatic red lip. “Merlin, your offer still on the table?”

“Aye.” Merlin took off his watch and handed it to Eggsy. It did actually look quite interesting with the stacks of silver bracelets on her arm. It was a fast change and then they were in the quiet again. The lad was looking exhausted. “Can you nap a little, I am sure after parties take time.”

“No, bit more online work to do, and just…not very professional if they come and I am asleep. Might though have a super quick shower?”

“Go,” Merlin encouraged. Even with being retired, and at his age, he could still get by perfectly on 4 hours sleep a night, and could stay awake 40 if pressed and not be hallucinating. It wasn’t a particularly useful skill anymore, but it would take a long time to shake the habits. He finished his one book, and was debating which to start next. Eggsy it seemed was going to be as good as his word, and was out of the bathroom in less than 10 minutes. 

Eggsy put away what could be put away and settled into writing it seemed. “Blog post, about putting the look together,” he explained even though Merlin wasn’t intending to ask. They passed the rest of the time quietly, and it was honestly earlier than he expected when they both returned. James shook Merlin’s hand, and swore he’d be in touch, told Eggsy that he would be sending payment for the clothes to Kingsman, that he very much wanted to keep them, and that he would hire Eggsy again in the future.

“Thanks, bruv,” Eggsy was clearly a tactile sort, and hugged James. But Merlin didn’t think the actor minded.

“I appreciate the loan,” Roxy said as she came up to him. Merlin took the watch back, and put it on his wrist. “And thank you for the service.”

“I mostly read,” Merlin said.

Eggsy was helping Roxy out of everything and as jewelry was shed, Merlin returned it to the various pouches. His hands weren’t as delicate as Eggsy’s had been, but nothing snagged or broke. Soon he had it all loaded back up. “Mr. Unwin, is anything more needed from me tonight?”

“No, thanks Merlin, yeah?”

“Have a good night. Ms. Morton my apologies that you did not win the award.”

“You think I deserved it?”

“I have no idea, I’ve not seen anything you’ve been in,” Merlin replied. “But you seem nice. Nice people should succeed in life.”

“Would that were true,” she laughed a bit. “It was a pleasure.”

Merlin ignored the glare that Eggsy was giving him. No one could be held responsible for what they said at 2am. He collected his car and drove home. He had a safe in his flat and put the jewelry in it, to return to Percival tomorrow. His leg was chafing a bit so he decided a bath would be nice. The salts he poured into the water were soothing. He picked up his phone as he soaked and did a google search.

He smiled a bit, when he saw that Roxy made at least one best dressed list. He remembered the name gofugyourself and looked it up. They, on their twitter, commented that the dress was a brilliant choice but a darker lip would be great, just as Eggsy predicted. Merlin smiled a bit. The lad and the job confused him, but Merlin was glad for him that it had been indeed a successful mission.

Chapter Text

Merlin was actually having to do his job, and frankly it was a bit annoying. Especially, because while there was an increase in sales but not equal to the foot traffic they were having. Also because Percival had turned down requests from a few other stylists, and a couple had had overly dramatic reactions to Percival not being interested in their money. He wondered if Eggsy knew that Percival was exclusive to him. Probably not, Percival wouldn’t say anything to Eggsy, but he had made it clear any loans from the shop for styling were only for Eggsy, and he’d be very disappointed if a stylist bought a piece for personal use and he saw it on a red carpet.

Merlin had smirked to himself as they all sort of shrunk into themselves. It was like the worst head of school, mum, and beloved godfather all rolled into one. You were just fundamentally incapable of disappointing Percival when he spoke in that voice. 

But the week after the BAFTAs, they had about triple the clientele, and Merlin had to keep his eyes open, barely gotten through half a book. There weren’t any problems, but still. He wouldn’t fail Percival.

He wouldn’t want to deal with the disappointed voice either.

The bell above the door jingled again, and Merlin inwardly sighed. Lord, he hoped the furor would die off soon. It was lovely how Eggsy pushed the store as promised, and Roxy did as well. James didn’t, but apparently he barely did social media unless contractually forced to. He hadn’t heard from the actor yet, but he hadn’t actually expected to, so he wasn’t disappointed. He just hoped the man remembered about trigger discipline.

He looked up though, to assess the newcomer and gave a faint smile. “Ms. Morton,” he nodded politely. “I can summon the shop owner for you.” The girl behind the counter was more than competent, but he was pretty sure that Roxy warranted Percival’s touch.

“I was hoping to buy the mourning necklace I wore. First major award nomination, want to remember it.” She smiled a bit. “Silly?”

“Not in the least, I still have the shell from my longest practice shot with my sniper rifle.” He heard the shop girl cough. “That was not an apt comparison was it?”

Roxy laughed. “It is as good as any. Has that necklace sold?”

“I don’t think so.” Merlin turned to the counter. “Carol, go get Percival, would you?”

“Of course,” she gave a polite nod, and told the couple people browsing she’d be back in a moment if they needed anything. They wouldn’t, Merlin could tell, but it was the correct behaviour. Percival did train his small staff very well.

“Are you making another movie soon?” Merlin asked. He thought that was a safe question.

“Actually, doing the stage. Limited run, for the big Agatha Christie event. I’m a bit terrified, but my background is actually theatre, so it shouldn't be as hard as my brain is making it out to be.”

“I enjoy Agatha Christie, maybe I’ll see if I can get tickets.”

“Do you have a pen?” Merlin reached into the inner pocket of his blazer, and pulled out the small pad and pen he kept there. “Call this number,” she reeled it off and he wrote it down. “Ask for Richie Mains. Say I said to call, and he’ll get you brilliant seats.”

“I appreciate that,” Merlin replied.

Percival came in and whisked Roxy away, and the browsers left.

“Holy Hell, that really was Roxy Morton, and you spoke to her like you were a serial killer.”

“Better than how I spoke to James Lance,” Merlin muttered. He opened his e-reader and the door chimed again. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” he groaned. He blinked though, because he couldn’t actually see the person. Just legs and a flower arrangement in a simple vase. Percival hadn’t mentioned they were expecting a delivery. “Carol, did your boyfriend fuck up?”

“My boyfriend is Sir Vibe, and sitting in my dresser drawer,” she replied.

“I see…” Merlin did not see, and didn’t particularly want to see. “May we help you?” He didn’t love not seeing the man’s face. Could think of a dozen ways this was a decoy.

“Flowers for Merlin Roberts,” the man said.

“That has to be a mistake.”

“Who mistakes the name Merlin?” the guy said. “Sign here.”

Merlin signed for the flowers, and looked at them in confusion. They weren’t super expensive, he didn’t think. Not exotic, more like the nicer bouquet you could get at the grocery. It was a happy bouquet, lots of cheerful yellow and orange. “Thank you,” Merlin said and the guy headed out. He saw a card inside and opened it.

Thank you for your assistance.
And for feeding me. It was appreciated.
You ever need anything at Kingsman, I’ll see to you personally.
Eggsy

The Eggsy was written with a bit of an odd flourish which suggested that it was a personal signature not said over the phone or in an email. He must have gone and picked the flowers out himself, and written the card. He looked helplessly to Carol. “What do I do with flowers?”

“Well for right now, we can put them by the cash register or in the back room. Then you take them home to brighten your flat, and make sure that you change the water every other day, trim the bottoms every five. That is a good sturdy bouquet, should last you at least a week, maybe even ten days.”

“But what do I do with them?”

“You enjoy the fact that you were sent flowers,” Carol smiled at him. “You appreciate the gesture.”

Merlin carefully moved the bouquet to by the cash register, and went back to his corner. He didn’t really notice Roxy wave goodbye to him, eyes skipping from e-reader to bouquet. When Percival came out front, he commented on them.

“From Eggsy,” Merlin explained. “I really feel that he should have sent a thank you bouquet to you.”

“I got a lovely bottle of wine, from my favourite vineyard a few days ago.”

“Why would he get me flowers?” Merlin was just completely lost at the gesture. “A gift card for a coffee shop would have made more sense.”

“You’d have to ask him, not me.” Percival looked at them. “I do like the thought of fresh flowers there though. Hmm, but people have allergies. Maybe greens? A spot of living in amid all our dead stuff.”

Carol choked on her breath a bit at that. “Some green could be nice, sir. Maybe plant something in a chamber pot?”

“Oh I like that idea.” Percival nodded. “We have a few chamber pots in back. Would you like to plant them?”

“Yeah, that’d be fun,” Carol agreed.

Merlin kept staring at the bouquet. “I still think it peculiar.”

Carol rolled her eyes. “What that you were sent flowers, because you are a man?”

“That I was sent flowers, because I am me,” Merlin said. 

“Perhaps that is why?” Percival suggested, in that kind and soft voice of his. “Eggsy likes to do the unexpected, from what I understand.”

Merlin nodded and they all got back to work. He felt utterly absurd on the underground carrying the flowers, but they did add a rather nice jolt of colour in his rather beige flat. He thought maybe he should add a bit more colour. The furnishings weren’t his, but he could certainly add a throw blanket, or rug or something. The idea wouldn’t leave him so he headed back out. There were a few shops near his flat, one was sort of an all purpose household items place. He didn’t see much, but then saw a tablecloth that was green with yellow and orange stripes. He thought that was a good enough first step and took it home. He unfolded it, thought it probably needed an iron, but he was tired and could do that tomorrow. He put it on the table, and the flowers on top of that.

It looked really quite pretty.

He ate leftovers on the couch, not wanting to get any food or drink on that tablecloth, because it would naturally happen to spill on his first time with a tablecloth not at a restaurant.

He had the next day off and had little planned beyond the gym, but thought maybe a few more touches for the flat wouldn’t be the worst idea.

*

Merlin was building up a nice sweat. He had done the climbing wall to warm up, and was now in their more alternative space, where they had cables, and ropes, tires, and other things. He had always disliked weights, but this suited him well enough. He was lifting a tire and flipping it. One more and he’d start his cool down routine. He crouched ready to heave when he heard his name.

No one ever knew him here. 

He turned and looked. Stood straight up. “Eggsy, I didn’t know you were a member here.”

“Was thinking of joining. My gym is from when I still lived at home. Seems crazy to take 40 minutes to get to a gym when one is just a 15 minute walk.”

“You live in this neighbourhood?” Merlin hadn’t realized they were neighbours.

“Technically bit south, but close enough.” Merlin said Eggsy’s eye flicker down to the prosthetic leg, but they were right back up to his face, so quickly that if he hadn’t been paying close attention, he would have missed the look. “You like it here?”

“I do,” Merlin replied. “It suits my needs.”

“You are well fit, so that is good as any advert.” Eggsy smiled at him. “Roxy said she saw you.”

“Aye, she came to buy the necklace. I should thank you for the flowers.”

“Sorry how late they were. True thank you should have been within three days of the reason for the thanks, but took a bit to think of the right thanks for you.”

“And you concluded flowers?” Merlin tilted his head a bit. “Why?”

“Because I thought you needed some softness and cheer,” Eggsy said. “Enjoy your workout.”

Merlin watched him walk away, completely unsure why Eggsy thought that. It preyed on his mind as he finished his workout. He then showered and stopped at a chip shop for some lunch. He bought a really soft throw blanket with a dozen colours of green in it. When he was home he took off his leg, rested under the blanket and read a book. It was a very good day off. Carol had said every other day, so he carefully changed out the water in the flowers. He found that he wanted them to last as long as they could.

Chapter Text

“Bugger,” Merlin groaned. He couldn’t believe he let Sean convince him to go to this luncheon. But Sean was the closest he had to a friend, and the man wanted a second opinion about what was going to be discussed. Merlin was pretty sure that this was also a nudge to get him doing more than being a security guard.

Sean didn’t believe that Merlin was fine not doing more. He had done more, given more for over thirty years. He was very content right now not to do more. 

But he’d go, for Sean. 

The only problem was that he didn’t quite think he had the right clothes for a luncheon. He had his black work suits, his work out clothes, and his old uniforms which he would only put on again if someone died. A couple other random hoodies, a pair of denim, but it was a sparse wardrobe.

Not charity luncheon clothes. He didn’t actually know what he would need for that. But he knew someone that worked out of a shop across the way that would. He asked if Jesse would be willing to come in an hour early, and he’d make it up to him next week, which Jesse didn’t have a problem with. He put everything in his locker, and went across the street. “Hello,” he said going into the shop. He didn’t see Harry or Eggsy. “I’m Merlin, I work across the street? I was hoping Eggsy was available for a consultation?”

“He has mentioned you,” the older man said. “He is just on a call, you can feel free to have a seat. He shouldn’t be long.”

Merlin nodded and sat. He stared at the wall, not particularly thinking about much, just zoned out a bit, until he heard hard footsteps and looked over. Eggsy was hurrying down the stairs at the back of the shop. He was in a track suit again today. Merlin had actually looked them up, and the trackies Eggsy was wearing cost a lot more than Merlin’s Marks brand set. “Hey, Merlin. How are you doing?” 

Merlin stood as Eggsy came over, and he took the offered hand. “At a bit of a loss to be honest, and could use your specific aid. Do you have an hourly rate for styling?”

“I do, but this is on me,” Eggsy said. “Told you whatever you needed, I’d help you out.”

“I don’t mind paying,” Merlin replied. Eggsy was still young in his career, he shouldn’t turn down money.

“But I would. And I’m betting this is just a one off, so as long as you buy the clothes, we’re square, okay?”

“Very well. I need to go to a charity luncheon, a friend roped me into it.” Merlin buried his hands into his suit’s trousers. “I have work clothes, and workout clothes, but not a lot in between.”

“What sort of charity luncheon?” Eggsy asked. When he gestured, Merlin sat back down on the sofa, and Eggsy sat on the arm. “Is it an awards thing, a meeting?”

“A meeting,” Merlin said. “It is more about ‘networking and building channels’ as well as ‘alternate options for delivery of services’.”

“So what it is really about?” Eggsy laughed. “Or do you have no clue?”

“It was a touch vague, which is concerning, but mostly it is…” Merlin sighed a bit. “It is a veteran’s charity group. They have realized there is a gap. They have services for older men and women who served, and they have very athletic options, for those who have permanent injury, and group talks, counseling, etc, but they don’t have much for people who don’t fit those groups. Who are retired or discharged, and are just…there? Who maybe want to be around people who understand, but don’t quite fit in those groups. So it is about rethinking approaches.”

“That sounds like a good thing. And bet they want to rope you into some of those athletics.”

“No, I think Sean is trying to rope me into heading the ‘rethinking’ committee. I do not want that, but I couldn’t quite figure out a way to say no.”

“So you need to be business casual, and above all else comfortable, because you are going to feel awkward as fuck at this thing?”

Merlin was relieved that Eggsy seemed to understand in an instant. “Aye, and it is this Friday, not exactly time for bespoke.” Not that his budget quite ran to bespoke.

“Location?”

“Catered in the library/commons room at their building.”

Eggsy was drumming his fingers on his thigh. “Okay, yeah we can definitely work with that. Tell you what, I was up way too late last night, trying to pick up some clothes on an online auction. Could you go get us some coffee and I’ll pull together a couple things?”

That sounded reasonable to Merlin. A tea would be welcome. “What would you care for?”

“Skinny vanilla latte, extra shot, no foam.” Eggsy was watching him; Merlin supposed he was waiting for a crack about absurd coffee drinks.

“I prefer hazelnut, generally,” was all Merlin said. “I’ll be back in a bit.” He went down the street, and ordered Eggsy’s drink, and when he was just about to order an Earl Grey he looked at the board. “Oh, actually a medium London Fog please.”

“Name?”

“Avery,” he replied. He had long learned in instances like these that it was far less trouble to give his christian name, than the nickname that he generally preferred. Merlin went to the side and waited. There was a bit of a queue, but he didn’t mind waiting. He was curious what Eggsy was going to put together for him. A woman beside him huffed.

“I can’t believe how long this is taking,” she looked to him. “I swear -”

“No,” Merlin replied. “Thank you.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I don’t have a particular interest in loudly shaming people who are trying to do their best, just to make myself feels chuffed. You making a fuss actually distracts them from their work more.” Merlin realized the area around them had grown quiet. He looked to the worker who mouthed thanks to him. He shrugged and read on his phone. The woman moved away, and soon was bitching on her phone about the super asshole at the coffee shop. He ignored it, and soon she was gone. 

“Avery,” the worker called.

“Oh, I ordered mediums,” Merlin said when he saw the cups. “I can pay the difference, don’t want you to get in trouble for the difference.”

“My hand slipped making it.” He winked, and nudged the drinks forward. “No one ever stands up to the Karens, it is appreciated.”

“Thank you, then,” Merlin said, and put the drinks in a tray. He headed back to Kingsman, making it as just a few drops began to fall from the sky. He never remembered an umbrella, and doubted that would change much. 

“Eggsy is waiting for you in dressing room 3, sir,” the man at the table said.

“Thank you.” Merlin paused. “And I am sorry, I never thought to ask what you wanted for tea.”

“That is quite all right sir.”

“Do you like a London Fog?”

“I do.”

“Here, have my drink,” Merlin said, and handed his cup over. “I really am at my caffeine limit for the day.” That was a lie, his limit was 9 cups in five hours, and he hallucinated Joe Strummer singing Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. But they had completed the mission. 

“You are very kind,” Andrew replied. “Room 3,” he repeated.

Merlin knocked on the door, and Eggsy called him in. “Hiya, I have a few options so we can see what works best.” Merlin gave him the coffee, and Eggsy seemed to drink about half of it. “Cheers.” He looked at no drink in Merlin’s hand. “Nothing for you?”

He thought it might sound silly that he had given to the other worker. “No, they were out of my tea.”

“Bummer, well I owe you a tea at some point.” Eggsy put his drink on a shelf. “Okay, so I figured office hours professor sort of look, sounded perfect for this.”

“Is office hours professor different from other times professor?”

“Based on what I’ve heard from some of the tossers who shop here on Daddy’s money, yeah.” Eggsy smiled a bit. “So, basically I have seen you wear black. Do you have a favourite colour?”

“No.”

Eggsy nodded. “I went warm, but fairly neutral.”  He went to the rack. “Thought nice tweed trouser, crisp white shirt and tie, soft jumper over top. Professional, but not intimidating. It presents a welcoming vibe.” He showed a trouser that Merlin thought was grey, but it had this warmth to it. Plain white shirt, a few different ties and a few jumpers. “What do you think?”

It gave him a few layers, which he liked, and he would not stand out. “Yes that works.”

“Okay I was guessing at size, but I’m pretty solid on that, so try on the trousers and shirt. I’ll give you a mo.”

“I’d just have to call you back, that feels inefficient, and not taking all the kit off, so it doesn’t bother me,” Merlin had long stopped caring about privacy, he had had so little for so long. He stripped down to vest and pants, and pulled on the trousers. “Bit short,” he had to say.

Eggsy turned, and looked at him. “All your height in the legs yeah?” Eggsy grabbed a measuring tape. “Mind?”

“No,” Merlin said, and Eggsy took his inseam and waist. He stood, and did Merlin’s neck.

“Shirt should be fine. Put in on, tie in half windsor, be right back.”

Merlin did as instructed, and the shirt felt softer than the ones he usually wore. He tied the knot carefully, straightened it in the mirror. He was a bit of an odd duck at the moment, shirt and tie, pants, and socks. He noticed a scuff on the metal and bent to wipe it away, wondered what he had banged into.

“Here we go,” Eggsy said, as he came back in. He handed the trousers over and Merlin put them on, they fit perfectly. 

“Wonderful,” Merlin said.

“Needs a touch of adjusting. But you like the colour, the feel?”

“I do,” Merlin said. He was surprised when Eggsy strapped a pin cushion to his wrist. “What are you doing?”

“I want you to have just a little less break,” Eggsy said. “Can have them ready for tomorrow. Are those the shoes you were going to wear?”

“Yes?”

“No,” Eggsy shook his head. “Okay again, back in a sec.” He checked the inside of Merlin’s shoe, and once again was gone. He returned with two shoe boxes. “Right, now I brought an oxford, but honestly, I think we should really just go for it. Half broguing,” Eggsy said holding up a pair. “You like?”

“I do,” Merlin had to admit.

“Let’s try on then,” Eggsy said and loosened the laces, stretched the leather a bit. 

“I prefer to put on shoes myself, the prosthetic doesn’t exactly just slide in like a foot.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“It is fine,” Merlin said, and sat down. Eggsy helped him with the one shoe, and then sat back as Merlin put it on the other foot. Merlin stood, and went onto the small platform. “The trousers seem a fine length.”

“Fine and good are different things.” Eggsy pinned the trouser hems. “There, that will be perfect.” He went to the jumpers. He picked up two, and held them up in front of Merlin. “Shoulder patches or no?”

“They feel a touch too military,” Merlin said.

“You are military, well used to be.”

“Exactly,” Merlin looked at the shoulder patches. “A bit sick of the look.”

“Fair,” Eggsy agreed, and put the jumper back. He took the other and held it open. Merlin slid into it, and fuck it was soft. Once it was on, Eggsy fussed a bit with how it lay. “This should totally work.” He stepped back, and gestured to the mirror. “Well?”

Merlin looked. He was surprised. He honestly didn’t think about clothes, didn’t really think it made a difference, not for men. But these clothes softened him a bit, warmed his skin. He ran a hand over the jumper. Did a few knee bends. The trousers moved well. He walked about the room, and the shoes were comfortable. “Aye,” Merlin smiled at Eggsy. “I like it quite a bit.”

“Like I said, can have the trousers ready for tomorrow. Want to pick everything up then?”

“That should work, I am on until close tomorrow, which is after you shut.”

“I don’t mind hanging out, wanted to change our window anyways.”

“Are you sure?”

“Not a bother,” Eggsy swore. “Andrew will ring you up.”

“Thank you.” Merlin undressed and put his suit back on, easing carefully out of the pinned trousers. He went to the front, and he was sure that the amount Andrew quoted could not be quite right.

“Eggsy told me to give you his employee discount.”

“He won’t get in trouble for that, will he?”

“Not in the least, sir,” Andrew promised.

Merlin nodded and headed home. The shop was back to a normal level of clientele and he managed to get some good reading in the next day. As it grew dark, he saw Eggsy put the closed sign up across the way, and start moving mannequins around. When they closed he waited while Carol counted til, and locked everything up. He escorted her to the tube even though it wasn’t that late, and then headed back to the shop. He knocked on the door and Eggsy smiled at him. He came and unlocked it.

“Got it all ready for you,” Eggsy said. “Come on in.”

Merlin stepped into the shop, and it felt like a different energy after hours. More intimate, like the gentleman’s study it was patterned after. “How goes the window?”

“Oh, fine, just a few small tweaks, nothing seasonal quite yet.” Eggsy went behind the counter, and had a couple bags. “Here you go. All ready and set.”

“Do you have much more work to do?”

“Not really,” Eggsy said. “Why?”

Merlin shrugged a bit. “It is getting late I’d be happy to walk you to the station.” He wondered why Eggsy chuckled at that.

“Bruv, are you worried about my safety?”

That made him sound foolish. “No,” Merlin said, a bit of a lie. He was just really used to making sure everyone around him was safe. “Thank you for these.” He decided a strategic retreat would be a smart call.

“Been in plenty of bar fights, and…other situations,” Eggsy said. “Couple nights in lock up here and there. No one been worried about my safety since I were 15.”

“I understand.” Of course he had insulted the man.

“No, you don’t. It is nice that someone cares, even if it isn’t necessary. Hope your luncheon goes well.”

“I mostly hope I don’t fall asleep in my soup,” Merlin muttered. “Goodnight, Eggsy.”

“Night, Merlin. Stop in anytime.”

He couldn’t think why he’d have to stop in again, the one set of clothes should set him for a while but he nodded. He headed out, gave a small wave in response to Eggsy’s larger wave through the window. He hung the clothes up carefully, and trimmed the flower stem and changed the water. Only two flowers were hanging on, but he thought he could get another day or so out of them.

Merlin settled on the couch with his book, that now had matching throw pillows to the blanket that he had bought.

 

Chapter Text

Merlin had known more people than he expected at the luncheon, and everyone commented on how good he looked. And he had felt rather good in the clothes. He couldn’t afford to build a whole wardrobe at Kingsman, but maybe Eggsy could give him some general tips. He had done some research online about clothes, but it was all rather overwhelming, and had language that simply was outside what he knew. 

The last of the flowers had died, and he missed the colour, the scent. He found himself buying another bouquet for the table. It looked nice, though, not quite as nice as the bouquet Eggsy had bought him. Merlin also realized that he wanted different art on the walls. The framed picture that had come with the flat just didn’t suit. But there was a piece at the shop he didn’t mind. His next shift, at the end, he asked Percival if they had employee discounts; he may have been told when he was hired but it hadn’t stuck, not relevant at the time.

“You do, what are you interested in?” Percival asked as he opened a shipment. “Oh this actually says Upper Canada, lovely.” He was admiring a very old commemorative plate.

“The painting there,” Merlin gestured to the wall. It was of an old church, the side of it and an archway into a cemetery. It had been on the wall as long as he had been there. He supposed it looked too lonely for most people, but he found it soothing. There was something comforting in it.

“It’s yours, your yearly bonus,” Percival said.

“Not been here quite a year yet,” Merlin pointed out.

“Close enough,” Percival clasped a hand on his shoulder. “I know you’ll outgrow this job eventually, but I hope you’ll stay a while yet.”

Merlin looked at him. “You don’t ask everything of me. It is…I find that satisfying.” Merlin looked at the painting. “Do you know how many people I’ve seen die?”

“No, but I am guessing the number is too fucking many,” Percival said.

Merlin felt his lips quirk into a parody of a smile. “Aye, too fucking many,” he nodded, “I like that the dead things in here carry very different weight.”

“I have a quite heavy door stopper in the corner over there,” Percival gestured. “Lot of weight there.”

“I’m not leaving anytime soon,” Merlin promised him.

“I am going to give you a very bro hug now.” Percival wrapped one arm around his shoulders, and squeezed. “Bro.”

Merlin found himself laughing, and shook off the mood that could have settled on him. “I am glad to work for you, Percival.” He meant it, the shop was really quite comforting; it gave him something do, but required very little of him. “I’m going to go see Eggsy on my break, I have a quick question for him.”

“Oh, excellent, a thing arrived, would you drop it off for Harry?”

“A thing?” Percival wasn’t often vague.

“Trust me, you don’t want to know. Private joke.”

“Very well,” Merlin replied. He helped Percival move a few things about, kept an eye on the door, and when his break time came, he took the black box that Percival handed him and jogged across the street. Harry was the one at the large table, he was humming a little as lay out ties. “Percival sent this for you,” he said. “It is a ‘thing’.” Merlin watched a faint flush rise on Harry’s cheek. He guessed he really didn’t want to know what was in the box. “Is Eggsy around?”

“He’s in back,” Harry said, as his eyes never left the box.

“Would you be willing to call him for me?” Merlin asked. 

“Just go back.”

“That is allowed?”

Harry finally looked up. “My shop, I don’t mind, and Percival trusts you.” For Harry that was all that was needed.

Merlin nodded, and headed into the back. Eggsy was on a laptop, bopping his head, headphones clearly on. He hadn’t noticed Merlin yet, and Merlin took the opportunity to watch him a bit. He smiled when Eggsy started to sing, the lad had a lovely voice, though the lyrics were not something he recognized. There was a stool and he sat down, the movement finally caught Eggsy’s eye. “By all means, continue,” Merlin said.

“You don’t need to listen to me massacre Beyonce,” Eggsy said. “Was just working on some ideas for Roxy. She has a small press junket next week for the play series. Putting together a few looks. How’d the clothes go for the luncheon?”

“Really well, and it made me realize how sparse my wardrobe is. I cannot afford to fill it out here at Kingsman, but I was hoping you could give me a few tips?” Merlin looked at him. “I tried to research, but there were a great deal of personality quizzes involved, and I do not know my myers-brigg, and fail to see how that will help me pick out a few shirts.”

Eggsy laughed a bit at that. “Yeah, easy to fall down the wrong well on this sort of stuff. When’s your next day off?”

“Three days from now I am completely free,” Merlin said.

Eggsy tapped his fingers on the computer. “Yeah, all I have on the books that day is dinner with Mum and my sis, so not a problem. Tell you what, how about you come by my flat, say around 9? That gives us plenty of time to talk and sort out what you need, and then hit the shops a bit.”

“And this time you’ll let me pay you,” Merlin insisted.

“Bring breakfast, and we are square.” Eggsy tore a piece of paper out of a notebook, and wrote his address on it. “See you then.”

Merlin looked at him. “You really should let me pay you.”

Eggsy rolled his eyes, “Oh sure, because charging your friends is so damn classy.”

That startled Merlin, though he had plenty of experience not letting such show. He wouldn’t have considered them such, a handful of meetings most of which were business was hardly a friendship, but maybe it was working towards one. And if Eggsy wouldn’t let Merlin pay him for his time, maybe there were other ways he could aid the lad. He’d have to figure that out. “I will see you in a few days.”

Eggsy nodded, and put his ear buds back in. Merlin left the boy be, and Harry was still at front. He could be useful. “Eggsy won’t let me pay him for doing his job.”

Harry huffed. “I swear to god, that boy is going to kill me.” He looked at Merlin. “I won’t be able to convince him, you know. If he’s decided no charge, he won’t change his mind.”

“There must be a…wish list, or supplies he needs?” Merlin was unsure what Eggsy’s business actually entailed.

Harry smiled a little, clearly pleased with Merlin. “He ordered business cards, from the same place I do. It isn’t a large expense -”

“But it would make me feel better,” Merlin filled in, immediately. Harry gave him a number, and Merlin was able to give him the money to take care of it just from his wallet. He instantly felt reassured that he wasn’t taking advantage of the lad. “I am to bring him breakfast.”

“No chocolate,” Harry said. “He hates chocolate at breakfast. If they do American style danishes, he is fond of those, or coffee cake.”

“Thank you.” Merlin gave a nod, and went back to work. He took the picture home with him, and when he hung it, he was relieved that he enjoyed it as much as he did in the shop. It was an oddly hopeful forlorn and that pleased him. Merlin made some dinner, and was eating when his phone dinged.

He had an email from that actor, which was surprising, but the man had a few questions about the rifles they were using on set. He sent along a great deal of photographs, including several of himself holding the various weapons. He sent back a few notes of correction and thought that would be that, only there was an immediate response asking if he had skype.

Merlin did and sent his username, and a moment later his desktop was making that appalling faux ringing noise skype had. He went over and accepted the call. “Hello,” he said. James was blurry for a moment, then appeared. “Are you filming?”

“Soon, we are mostly doing some wardrobe testing, a few still shots and the like,” James said. “Now, about me looking like an overcooked pasta noodle?”

“You are using your arms to support the rifle.”

“Well, they are holding the bloody thing, which weighs more than I expected.”

“Use your shoulders more. You are hunching up too much, draw them down and push back, especially when you are lying down.”

“Our consultant praised me.”

“Probably because he wants a photo with you. You are garbage at holding a rifle.”

“Darling, do come here,” James called off camera. “Not MI-6 this time, former military. A sergeant, so you know that should be impressive to you.” 

A man stood there, and Merlin nodded a bit. “Hello,” he said, and prayed.

“Holy fuck,” the man breathed out.

So much for that prayer.

The consultant snapped to attention so hard, Merlin wondered for the safety of his spine. The salute was very crisp, at a perfect angle. And being held. Lovely. “Sir, my apologies for the foul language.” 

James looked between the two men. “Do you know each other?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Merlin replied. “At ease, please.” Lord the man actually went into at ease. “Relax, I am retired now.”

“I know, but you are you, sir,” the man swallowed. “It is just…it is an honour, sir.”

“I am sure you are doing a good job,” Merlin said. “Though I am a bit confused at how James is holding his gun.”

“Well if he held it properly, wouldn’t see enough of him,” the man explained. “The director wants us to see ‘his stoicism in face of unrelenting odds.”

“Lord save me from everyone who has seen Saving Private Ryan,” Merlin muttered. “Okay, so that makes sense, but there has to be a happy middle, that won’t drive me batty when I see the movie. James can you get your prop rifle? Your consultant and I will see you right.”

“Sir, I just...it is an extreme honour to work with you. Can I just say, wow I don’t even know what I want to say,” the man looked at him, that way soldiers sometimes did. He had never gotten used to it.

“Son, what is your name?”

“Nick, sir.”

“Nick, breathe, I’m just a security guard with some military service that is in the past,” Merlin smiled a bit. “No big deal. We are just two fellow soldiers, yes?”

Merlin waited while it seemed the young man stopped breathing.

“I think you killed my consultant, Merlin,” James was sort of waving a hand in front of Nick’s face. “Why does he seem like he wants to have an aneurysm that you said that?”

“I am sure I don’t know, I am not that big a deal, though I retired out at a slightly higher rank than Sergeant.” Merlin waved a hand. “Go get that rifle.” James disappeared to get the prop, and Merlin looked at the young man. “Please?” he said.

“Sir, he should know who is helping him.”

“He does, Merlin Roberts, security guard for an antique shop, retired from the military, after 30 years of adequate service.”

“Adequate, would that everyone was so adequate.”

“People are very different when they know things. I like how he knows me.”

“I can understand,” Nick said. “Do you regret -”

“Never,” Merlin said firmly, because he didn’t. He regretted moments, actions, but he didn’t regret the big picture. “I just prefer the quiet.” Nick nodded, and he seemed to honestly relax. The two men then helped James work on his stance and poses for the next hour. Merlin thought they reached a good compromise between reality and what would work cinematically. “Good,” Merlin said.

“Thank you. When I’m back in London, we’re going to a footie match together,” James said. “See if we can’t get you a favourite team.”

“If you like,” Merlin said.

“Also, I will paypal you a consultant fee.”

“That is unnecessary,” Merlin said. “I’m just helping.”

“Tell me a security guard couldn’t use a little extra money. And I mean I figured it out. You were a captain weren’t you?” James looked so proud of himself for that guess.

Nick was turning red behind him, and it only got worse when Merlin said, “I was, once upon a time.” 

“So accept the consultation fee.”

“Oh sure, because charging friends is so classy,” Merlin found himself repeating what Eggsy had said to him earlier. He realized though the same thing from earlier. “Not that two conversations makes us friends. I’m not trying to presume, I just -”

“God, if I didn’t have my eye on someone else I’d be dating you in a second,” James said. 

“Sir the -”

Merlin quickly cut the young man off. “While I am gay, James you aren’t quite my type.” It hadn’t been common knowledge about him, while he served.

“Darling, I’m one of England’s sexiest men, I’m everyone’s type.”

“Sir, I know a guy, if you are looking,” Nick offered. “He’d be so into you.”

Merlin wondered how the conversation had devolved so quickly. “I am fine, thank you.”

“Merlin?”

“Yes?”

James grinned at him. “We’re absolutely going to be friends.” He gave a wave, and cut skype off.

Merlin decided to pour himself a scotch as it had been a rather odd day. Somehow he had acquired two friends.

Chapter Text

Merlin went to the bakery area of the grocery store and found a few things that he thought would suit, as well as a bit of fruit. He headed to the address that Eggsy had given him, and was a bit surprised when he reached the building. It was one of those former factory remodels, and he had always been puzzled by those. Couldn’t quite figure out the appeal. But he hit the buzzer, and frowned when Eggsy let him in without checking who it was first. He went in and found the right door. Merlin gave a polite knock and a heavy door was opened. “You should have asked if it was me,” was the first thing he said.

“Security camera, Merlin. And you seem like the sort to be exactly on time.” Eggsy held up his phone, it was one minute to 9. “And look I was right.” Eggsy smiled, and there was no sting to the words as there might be from someone else. “Come on in!”

They went inside, and there were stairs immediately next to the heavy door, Eggsy heading up them. He started up after Eggsy, who seemed to freeze midstep. “Problem?” Merlin asked.

“Fuck, I didn’t think. Are you okay on these stairs?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Merlin looked at them. “Are they booby trapped?”

“No, just a bit steep?” Eggsy winced. “I shouldn’t have said anything?”

Merlin gave him a small smile. “I have run half marathons, Eggsy.” He could also carry a double kit, and run a full course but wasn’t saying that.

“Why the fuck would you run a half marathon?” Eggsy shuddered a bit.

“Mostly to prove I could, and to support a friend.”

“Same friend for the charity lunch?”

“Aye,” Merlin agreed. “He quit smoking, and running a half marathon was a challenge with his lungs, but he was determined.”

“That,s good,” Eggsy smiled and continued up the steps. “Mum finally quit smoking too. Just a couple months ago. She’s vaping as an ease down. Hoping she gives that up in a couple months as well.”

Merlin reached the top of the stairs, and looked about. It was fundamentally one long room, bright windows on either side. Near the stairs was the ‘kitchen’ and the other end had a couch and telly. There was a bookcase filled to the brim, and odd shaped lamps everywhere. Instead of traditional framed art or photos on the wall, there were textiles. Fabric swatches, a quilt, and a few other things. It was a riot of colour on the exposed brick, warming everything up. “Charming,” Merlin said.

“Hey, I like it.”

Merlin frowned. “I was being sincere. My flat came furnished and is…beige. This is lovely.”

“Oh.” Eggsy put his hands in his pockets, and hunched in. “My mates have teased a bit, guess I sorta expect some laughs at my place?”

“It is cheerful, like you seem to be. There is nothing wrong with that.” He did wonder how Eggsy afforded a two level flat in a converted factory. That was a trendy thing, and trendy cost in London. But he was hardly going to ask such. “I brought breakfast.”

“Great. I made coffee, but can put the kettle on, if you prefer.”

“Coffee in the morning is good,” Merlin replied. He put the pastry box on the table, and sat when Eggsy gestured. He was pretty sure he was supposed to fill the silence with small talk, but for a moment struggled to think of a topic. Then he remembered his skype. “That actor, James. He has been in contact.”

Eggsy looked over, “Oh, yeah?”

“Indeed. He suggested when he returns to London we might go to a football match.”

“Be careful, he’s like a do or die hardcore fan. You cheer for what team you want to, or swear down he’ll get his team’s logo tattoo on your arse.” Eggsy laughed. “Milk or sugar?”

“Touch of milk, please,” Merlin said. He had spent decades drinking it black, because he never quite trusted the milk on base after a few curdled incidents. Now he added milk when he could. “He is a very friendly fellow.”

“Yeah, he is. He has a bit of a rep for being a bastard, but that is work. He is super professional on set, wants to be the best he can, and sometimes that rubs people wrong. But when not working, really friendly bloke.”

“That does explain the consulting he has me doing.” Merlin nodded his thanks for the coffee. 

“Well you told him he was rubbish at his job, so you know, he’d want to fix that.” Eggsy sat down with his own mug. “He actually passed my name along to a couple people. Doing a few consultations of my own over the next couple weeks.” Eggsy fiddled with the box a bit, opened it up, put a pastry on his plate. “Got a call or two because of Roxy, as well.”

“Congratulations,” Merlin said sincerely. “You seemed competent when I saw you.”

Eggsy looked at him. “I was completely faking it.”

“Who cares?” Merlin shrugged. “Faking it netted the results you needed, ergo, it is hard to classify it as truly faking it.” He pulled a poppy seed muffin from the box. “Roxy made Cosmo’s best dressed.”

“She did, how did you know that?” 

“Because I checked.” Merlin focused on his muffin.

“Thanks,” Eggsy said. They ate the rest of the breakfast in silence, but Merlin didn’t find it an especially awkward silence. He enjoyed all the light that poured into Eggsy’s flat, his always seemed a bit dark. Why he was on the balcony a lot, even in poor weather. When they were done, Eggsy quickly washed off their plates and put them in the rack. “Let’s go down to my workroom. See if we can’t come up with a game plan before we hit the shops.”

Merlin followed him back downstairs and into a side hall. He could see a small bedroom, bed unmade. He shuddered, a bit. A tidy bed was so ingrained that it was all he could do not to go in and fix it. But he followed Eggsy into a very full room. He thought about the dimensions of the two rooms. “This is supposed to be the master bedroom.”

“Yeah, but what do I need all that space for? Room has a bed and lamp I can read by, I am good.” Eggsy went to the tall desk in the middle of the room, and sat on a stool. Merlin sat across from him on another stool and realized it wasn’t a table but two dressers with a slab of wood over top.

“Clever use of space,” Merlin had to say. Two of the walls had rolling racks filled with clothes. There were shelves on the third all full of storage bins. Everything was ruthlessly organized. It could have made him purr, if he was the sort to react overtly. “You have a lot of clothes.”

“Buy what I can, when I can,” Eggsy had his laptop open and was typing away. “Some for the clothes themselves, some to be torn apart for the fabric or beads on them. Helps me put together a portfolio, show people what I can do.” He looked at Merlin. “Okay, so I’ve started a work file on you.”

“Work file?”

“It has your base measurements, the bit I know about you, what we’ve already bought you.”

Merlin was a touch intrigued. “What bit do you know about me?”

“Former military, current security guard for my boss’s partner. Percival is picky about the people he hires, so you have no record. God, was he mad when Harry hired me.” Eggsy shook his head. “But to be fair, Harry should have never hired me.”

“Why did he then?”

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

“That is fair,” Merlin promised. “Technically when I was 24 I ended up in the brig for a week, due to insubordination.”

“Seems like you’d be a follow the rules sort.”

“I am, generally,” Merlin admitted, “But this particular Lieutenant was a dick, and lord punching him remains a highlight of my life.” Merlin remembered the moment perfectly. “Sometimes, the rules are unjust, and you have to point that out.”

“The rules I broke were plenty just,” Eggsy said. “But I was lucky. Thing is though goody two shoes, obey the law, trust the filth sorts, are often complete arses. Lawful good people? They are cruel. You aren’t. That’s a thing I’ve noticed about you. You are kind. You don’t even realize how kind you are, don’t think.”

“I’m not that kind,” Merlin replied.

“Made sure I ate, gave Andrew your tea.”

“I am used to looking out for those around me. It isn’t kindness, it is just…” Merlin struggled to explain. “It is a matter of fact thing. Or it should be.”

“See, kind,” Eggsy said. “You have a prosthetic leg, and are well used to it - not a new thing.”

“Seven years ago,” Merlin agreed. He waited for Eggsy to ask after the injury but he didn’t, and Merlin appreciated that.

“You have no clue about fashion, but want to feel good. You are ready to not be in uniform.”

“I was ready the day after I retired.”

“If that were true, you’d own more clothes than you listed having,” Eggsy pointed out.

“That is a fair point. Anything else?”

“You have nice eyes.” Eggsy smiled at him. “Planned your wardrobe around bringing that colour out.”

“I don’t need a whole wardrobe. I saw a word online. Capsule?” Merlin frowned, he was sure that was the right word, but maybe it wasn’t. “It seemed a good starting point.”

“It is,” Eggsy agreed, “and what I was leaning towards. Throwing too much at you right now, you’d never wear it. But I gotta know a couple things. When you aren’t at work, what do you do?”

Merlin thought about it. “I go to the gym, do errands. And sometimes Sean ropes me into things.” He nodded, that summed it up. But Eggsy had an odd look on his face. “I also am trying to figure out a hobby.”

“Go out for fun?”

“I sometimes go to the cinema?” Merlin replied.

“When was the last time?” Eggsy pressed.

Merlin had to think about it. “4 months,” he realized. He sighed. “I am sorry to have wasted your time. It really doesn’t sound like I need clothes. Unless you know a fashionable way to wear a hermit sack?” He wasn’t really joking, but he appreciated that Eggsy laughed.

“Well maybe, it is the other way around, you don’t go out because you don’t have the clothes to do so?” Eggsy suggested. “We get you sorted and whammo, you are hitting free hours at the museums.”

“I have enough money for admission.”

Eggsy snorted. “Lucky. Though I have considered getting an annual pass to the V&A. Bullshit colonizing theft all over the place in there, but their fashion wing? Fucking hell I spend hours in there.”

“Why? Isn’t it all historical fashion? How is that relevant to your current work?”

Merlin watched as Eggsy leaned forward, eager, excited. “When you were a soldier you studied right? I mean you are old enough, you would have been of a rank to do planning, yeah?” Merlin nodded. “And if you weren’t garbage at it, you would have learned from history. Because even if everything is different, there is always something you can learn. Same with fashion. I can go there, and look at fabric, dye colours, stitch, everything, and learn something. Plus my learning, I get to look at pretty things.”

“The components of a grenade launcher are quite beautiful in their own way,” Merlin said.

Eggsy barked out a laugh. “Think I’ll stick with Victorian taffeta. One day I’ll tell you about the green dye that killed people.” He turned his laptop around. “So, what I have for you is two pairs of denim, one in blue and one in black, and 2 more trousers, a charcoal, and a nice soft brown tweed. Then we buy three t-shirts, 3 button downs, 2 jumpers, and a really good trench coat. 2 more pairs of shoes and some socks, and you are all set.”

“That doesn’t sound too overwhelming,” Merlin looked at the pictures Eggsy had put together on the screen. It was changing photos every ten seconds, showing him possibilities, and something caught his eye. “Odd socks,” he said.

“I’m sorry?”

“That one model, a photo back.”

“The blue tee?”

“Yes, but they had nifty socks.”

“Nifty?”

Merlin shrugged. “I wore 2 pairs of socks for 30 years. White gym socks, black dress socks. I think wearing nifty socks would be -”

“Nifty?” Eggsy was clearly teasing a bit, but there was nothing mean in it that Merlin could detect. “We can add nifty socks to the list. Downside of that though, is when you do laundry, actually have to match your socks.”

“I don’t see that being a problem.” Merlin didn’t mind sorting laundry, and he didn’t think adding three pairs of bright or patterned socks would do that much to the time he spent on the chore.

“Now I have mocked up a budget, and we don’t have to buy this all at once, there are things we can prioritize.” He clicked and Merlin looked at the budgets. 

“I could swing all of it, but would prefer, tier one, and maybe some of tier two? It isn’t about the money, so much as I would probably end up overwhelmed and resort back to my track pants or suits.” Merlin thought that sounded mildly insane, perfectly average clothes intimidating him, but they did. He didn’t have to care much what he wore for several decades. And it was a hard skill to learn. He laughed a bit. “Before I joined up, do you know what my idea of fashion was?”

“How old were you?”

“19.”

Eggsy tilted his head, and looked at Merlin. “Motorcycle jacket.”

“Aye,” Merlin grinned. “Fuck, I wanted so hard to rebel.”

“And you joined the army. That’s rebellion?”

“That’s survival.”

“Yeah, that is a thing I understand,” Eggsy agreed. “It ain’t ever pretty, but it is better than the alternative.”

“It is,” Merlin nodded. “Well thank you for this. It should help me with the shopping.”

“Nope, I am coming with.”

“I have taken up enough of your time,” Merlin tried to protest.

“Look, bruv, would you trust me to like diffuse a bomb?”

“No, you don’t have the training for it, and it is very different from the movies.”

“Yeah, and you don’t have the training for this.”

“I have bought jeans before.”

“And you hate how they feel after they’ve been worn once, they stretch in all the wrong places?”

“How did you know that?” Merlin was surprised. Because that was indeed a fact. 

“Because that’s my training,” Eggsy tapped a bit on his laptop and shut it down. “So let’s hit Cardinal Place. It will be a solid start for what you need.”

They headed out, and took the underground to the shopping mall. Merlin didn’t have to talk a lot, Eggsy filling the air with conversation easily, talking about why they were looking for the clothes they were, what fabrics would work best from an easy to care for but long lasting standpoint. At one point Merlin found himself walking with no companion next to himself. When he looked over Eggsy was stopped at a window, and taking a few photos. Merlin returned and looked. “Is it an attractive display?” It looked standard to him. Not that he paid much attention to window displays in a mall.

“Fine enough. Corporate mandate, their displays all look the same. But brown belt.”

“Okay?”

“Couple back had a brown leather messenger bag. Think maybe we’re trending towards a thing, but also think it is too subtle to catch on? Don’t know, just always making notes.” Eggsy looked at him. “But shouldn’t be while we are getting you sorted. Sorry ‘bout that.”

“No, I understand,” Merlin replied. “You take your work seriously.”

“Beats what I used to do,” Eggsy smiled. “People paying me, to make them pretty? Feels like a scam half the time.”

“People paid me to stand there and agree with plans other people came up with, that felt like a scam some days.” They continued walking. They passed a Hugo Boss store and he was relieved that Eggsy didn’t steer him into there, but was curious why not. “Why not there? Hugo Boss, that is a thing.”

“Yeah, a fucking Nazi thing. Won’t never put anyone in Boss or Chanel, fuck those brands who were goddamn fucking Nazis,” Eggsy said. Merlin watched a smart looking man come out of Hugo Boss with a bag in his hand, and he gave Eggsy a look at those words, and Eggsy actually stuck out his tongue. “Yeah bruv, you just bought shit the SS bought, hope you feel good.” 

Merlin quickly pulled Eggsy away, because the other man looked ready to thrown down. “I support your principles and all, but I don’t feel like a brawl in a shopping mall, when we are to buy me nifty socks?”

“Right, yeah.” Eggsy moved along with him. “Nifty socks coming up.”

They went into M&S and Eggsy talked him through the men’s department, and Merlin saw the clothes in a different way than he had before. Eggsy pointing out stitching and fabric content, and Merlin listened carefully, tucked away all the information in his brain. “Interesting,” Merlin said.

“Sorry, I know it isn’t, not to most.” Eggsy hunched in a bit.

“No, it honestly is,” Merlin reassured. “It makes sense. I like knowing the mechanics behind things, for a lack of a better word. I can field strip my favourite rifle in less than a minute and put it back together. This is your field stripping.” Merlin went to a rack. “This tee?”

“Yeah, that’s a good one on you. But sorry, going to make you try on like three sizes so we can see what fits best.” Merlin went to the dressing room, and one was successful and he bought in a couple different colours. When he would have headed to the denim, Eggsy stopped him. “Nope, for trousers and denim, not here. Come on.”

They ended up at a few different stores until Eggsy was satisfied. Merlin was fairly certain that this was the most clothing he had ever tried on in his life. Growing up it was cousin cast offs, and later it was, this is my uniform size ergo it should be my clothing size. Apparently that was not the case.

It was several hours, and they were just about done. “One more stop,” Eggsy said.

“Very well.” 

It was leather store and Eggsy was going through the racks furiously before he nodded. “Okay, so this wasn’t in the budget, but I think we should do it.” Eggsy held up a black leather jacket. “Not full moto, but well grown up, not really a rebel but want to remember that I once considered being one jacket.” It was quite streamlined no excess zippers but it looked supple. “It will look brilliant with the denim and tees.” He took it off the hanger, and held it open. “Try.”

Merlin slid it on. It was slim cut but didn’t hinder movement. He twisted this way and that, and had to admit it felt good. He checked in the mirror. “Aye. I can see wearing this a fair bit.” He checked the price, and it wasn’t cheap but wasn’t going to particularly hurt his account. “Thank you, Eggsy this was a good call.” He took it off and went to pay. When he returned to Eggsy, he was hopeful. “We are done for today?”

Eggsy laughed a bit. “Think you would drop like a toddler if I said two more shops.”

“I think I might,” Merlin had to agree.

“We’re done. But…can I have all the clothes you bought?”

Merlin was a bit confused. “Why?”

“I’ll get them to you tomorrow. But want to take them to my workroom, cut tags, make a few small tweaks to a couple things. Also going to take some photos for you. So you can know what goes together, and where it would be good to wear it to. Send you a file, with how it all fits.”

“Like the example file you showed me.”

“Yeah, just now tailored to your clothes.”

Merlin smiled. “Tailored.”

Eggsy snickered a bit. “You know what I mean. That would help you, wouldn’t it?”

“It would,” Merlin agreed. He handed the bags over to Eggsy. “What now?”

“Now, I drop these at my flat, and head to my mum and sis. This wasn’t a nightmare though, was it?” He looked so hopeful.

“No, you are very skilled at your job.”

“Thanks. Drop these off tomorrow, at Percival’s shop then.”

“Have a good supper with your family.” They parted ways, and Merlin was exhausted but he felt an urge to make one more stop. He purchased what he wanted, and a greeting card, at the shop inside his destination. He took them home, and wrote a thank you note inside the card, and slid in a one year’s pass to the Victoria and Albert museum, to give to Eggsy tomorrow when he dropped off the clothes.

 

Chapter Text

“What the fuck?”

Merlin turned when he heard Eggsy’s voice. “I’m pulling a piece of concrete, it is a good workout,” Merlin explained. He was drenched, but pleased with the how the workout was going. He’d be switching to the boxing area soon, but right now this was feeling good. “You did join this gym after all.” Merlin was about to go again, but stopped at the way Eggsy was scowling at him. “Eggsy?”

“What the fuck?” Eggsy repeated, and sort of flailed his arms at Merlin. 

Merlin had no clue what was going on. “This is a perfect safe workout, Eggsy.” The young man must be concerned over his leg, or age, or something.

“You are wearing t-shirt number two! The ice blue that is for with your denim!” Eggsy was now pointing, rather accusingly. “What the fuck, Merlin?”

Merlin looked at his top, “It is a t-shirt.”

Eggsy had to sit on the slab that Merlin had been moving about. “Wot? Why do you hate me?” 

Merlin looked at him. “I don’t hate you. Our interactions have all been successful and even pleasant. I didn’t loathe shopping with you.”

“Yet you betray me, by wearing that top to work out in.” Eggsy hung his head.

Merlin really wanted to get this portion of his work out over with, so he picked up the chains, and grunted as he slowly began to walk backwards, dragging the slab with Eggsy on top. 

“What the fuck?” Eggsy gripped the sides hard.

“You…already…said,” Merlin gasped. The added weight of Eggsy had him at his limits, but he was making the line.

“No, now we are on a completely different what the fuck,” Eggsy said. He was staring, but Merlin ignored it because he had to go a half metre still. “How the fuck strong are you?”

He hit the line, and groaned as he stopped. “Not as strong as I used to be,” Merlin said, and drank desperately from his water bottle. “I don’t gain huge muscle mass, more one of those people who can go for fucking ever. Built to endure. Once -” Merlin cut himself off though.

“Once?”

“I carried a lot a long way,” was all Merlin said. He eased himself to the ground, to rest for a bit. “It is a t-shirt, you wear t-shirts to the gym.”

“You don’t wear a new t-shirt to the gym,” Eggsy said, still sitting on the concrete. “You wear one with a stretched out neck, you wear one with a hole in the armpit, the curry stain that never came out.” Eggsy gestured to his own shirt which indeed had an odd stain on it. “You don’t wear the nice new clothes, to get sweaty or torn from carrying a bloody slab of concrete.” Eggsy pointed at him. “I spent two hours putting together your file! And you wear your new shirt to the gym.”

Merlin felt dreadful. “I am sorry. I’ll only wear a curry stained one after this.” He did feel that Eggsy was overreacting though. “Just a tee.”

Eggsy blinked. “Just a tee? Just a tee?”

His voice had risen a couple octaves, and he was just sitting there staring. Merlin cleaned up what he needed to in the area and went to the boxing section. He wrapped his hands, and went to the large bag. He started slowly and had to laugh when Eggsy showed up. Eggsy went to the other side and braced the bag. “Right you punch, and listen to me explain how it is not just a tee.”

Merlin nodded, and half listened as he punched. It seemed that Eggsy was going to thoroughly lecture him about this. It was punctuated with a great deal of cursing and somehow how the t-shirts were a life changing thing for Merlin, if he just let them be, which seemed a touch dramatic, and he had to stop. “How is a blue tee going to change my life, Eggsy?”

“Because it isn’t just a tee, is it? It is you actually putting yourself into the world - if you let it. It is you saying, okay everything is different now, and maybe I should be different too. It was you being all human!”

Somehow that hurt, and Merlin couldn’t define why. “I am aware I am human, having a leg blown off, makes you very aware of your mortality.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Eggsy said. “I’m sorry.”

Merlin went, and sat on a bench unwrapped his hands. “I don’t really have many places to wear the new clothes we bought. I have a friend, and he is an incredibly busy man, running that charity I mentioned.”

“Get more involved in that? Could be interesting,” Eggsy sat next to him. “I have a bunch of mates.”

“Good for you,” Merlin said; he knew his voice was too sharp.

Eggsy shoulder bumped him. “Look, I love them, and they’d help me move a body, but life is drifting us apart? I’m busy at a different end of town, and sure it doesn’t seem like much, but when we go for pints, they just want to know what Roxy’s tits are like. And can they meet James, or someone. And I have to say, no I’m working when I do this, and it isn’t a real job to them. They are happy I’m making money, but they think it’s kinda bullshit. And that sucks.” Eggsy looked at him. “Why am I sharing with you?”

“Because we seem to find ourselves in a similar place via different paths.” Merlin looked at him. “You suggested we are friends.”

“Hopeful I guess, maybe.”

“Because you could use a friend who didn’t know you before, sees who you are now,” Merlin said slowly. “Just like I could use a friend, now that I am trying to figure out how to have a life.”

“Yeah,” Eggsy nudged him again. “Hey, did you know that my friend got me a year’s pass to the V&A?”

“Did they?”

“Gets me into the fancy special exhibits. They have one on Mary Quant, that I was going to go to. I would have invited Harry, but guess he’s already been - a few times. I know it might not be your thing, but we could go? I’d buy you a biscuit and coffee after, wouldn't even use my discount comes with the card. Just you know, if you wanted.” Eggsy was picking at his track pants a bit. “Though, probably sick of me prattling on about fashion.”

“I’m not,” Merlin replied, and it was the honest truth, he found. “Could we also poke about the museum a bit, I’ve not actually been.”

“Yeah, it has some cool stuff.”

“I should wear, outfit number three?”

“Unless you’ve ruined that tee by working out in it too,” Eggsy grinned at him. 

“I swear, I won’t do this again.” Merlin laughed, and nudged Eggsy back. “I’m done tomorrow at 3 at the shop. I could meet you at the museum at four?”

“That works for me,” Eggsy agreed. “So, see you then.”

*

Merlin thought the exhibition was well put together, and there were really interesting photographs. He had been born in the sixties but he didn’t really remember them. But the photos reminded him of looking through family albums. He smiled as Eggsy almost plastered himself against the glass.

“You own a dress by this designer.”

“Yeah, and it was a lucky find,” Eggsy said. “Not so long ago really, but they were worn hard. Swear it is easier to find stuff from the fifties than Quant and the ilk.”

Merlin looked at the display. “That dress is hideous.” He was glared at by a group of women.

“Men,” a woman sniffed.

“Yeah, he’s right, that one is garbage,” Eggsy said, immediately leaping to Merlin’s defense. “See the way that plain fabric bisects the pattern, what woman on the planet wants that particular part of their body highlighted unless you have abs like a footie woman. You have to be an absolute unit to make that dress look good. And honestly there were not a lot of absolute units at the time. That one is in the collection because no one wanted it. But it is a brilliant colour.” Eggsy took a few photos. “That Peter Pan collar quarter shift dress is brilliant though.”

“Quarter?” That was the word that confused him in there. The women had moved on, but it seemed they were sticking at this display a bit.

“You don’t need me going on.”

“We’ll find something military based later so you can listen to me prattle. Now, explain.” Merlin listened as Eggsy pointed, and talked through all the clothes. The lad was incredibly happy that someone was listening to him. Merlin asked questions, which seemed to make Eggsy even happier, and it took them a couple hours to get through the exhibit.

“Right, well, how about we find something you actually enjoy in here?” Eggsy stuffed his hands in his pockets.

Merlin looked at him. “Eggsy, I quite enjoyed that, and learned a lot. I would have never gone in there on my own, to be sure, but to go in with an expert, made it incredibly engaging and informative.”

“You aren’t taking the piss?” Eggsy was staring at him in shock. “You actually enjoyed it?”

“I did.” Merlin started walking, and then remembered something. “Huh.” 

“Huh, what?”

“Do you mind if we skip the rest of the museum, I remembered something that I think you would appreciate far more than I do.” Merlin thought of the storage boxes he had in the provided locker in his building. “Come back to mine?” 

“Merlin, I’m not sure…”

Merlin shrugged. “If you prefer we can stay, and then I can drop off the stuff for you in a couple days.”

“There is an actual thing? I thought -” Eggsy shook his head. “No, you have me intrigued now. Let’s go.”

They went to Merlin’s flat, into the basement where there were lockers for all the tenants. He put in the code for his locker. “Right, it shouldn’t be too hard. I have every box labeled.” 

“Of course you do,” Eggys peered in. “Bit dark to read labels though.” Merlin had an industrial field torch hanging on the wall, and cranked the handle. “Fucking hell, you could land a plane with that thing.”

“A handy gadget,” Merlin said and shone it over the boxes. “There we go, can ye hold the light?” He moved a couple boxes, and picked up a decent side bin that simply had his mother’s family name it. He stepped back with the box. He put the torch back. “Be more comfortable up in my flat, not that it is particularly comfortable.” He wondered why Eggsy kept giving him these odd looks. “I’d send you off with the whole bin, but don’t think you want family photos. Just what they are wrapped in.”

“Okay you have me super intrigued,” Eggsy looked at the box. “What they wrapped in?”

“Come on, I’ll make you a cuppa. Think I might even have some biscuits.”

“What’s in the box, Merlin?” 

“I bet you are just the worst waiting to open birthday gifts, aren’t you?” They were at the lift, waiting for it to come.

“Maybe?” Eggsy shrugged. “Not gotten that many really. Mates take me to the pub, Mum well, she is busy with my little sister, so I get a dinner if she remembers.”

“When’s your birthday, Eggsy?”

“September.”

“I’ll remember that,” Merlin promised as they stepped into the lift. When they reached his flat, he was going to juggle bin and keys, but Eggsy took the bin from him, and Merlin unlocked the door. “Here we are, nothing so interesting as your place.”

He took the bin back, and put it on the coffee table. He went to put the kettle on, and did find a few biscuits in the cupboard. He turned and Eggsy was glancing around.

“Place came furnished?”

“Aye,” Merlin agreed. 

“Not that painting though, that is you.”

“It is at that.” Merlin put the biscuits on the table and sat down. He cracked open the bin, and was relieved there was no musty odor. He started to move the tissue paper at the top when the kettle shouted. “Excuse me.” He went over. “I have Earl Grey, PG Tips, and something with lemongrass.”

“Tips is fine,” Eggsy said, “Not too strong, if that is okay?” 

Merlin was about to put 6 bags in the pot that made 3 cups. He quickly cut the number in half. He poured water into the pot, and grabbed a couple of mugs. “Sugar? I’m not quite sure the milk is still good.”

“No, I’m fine, then, thanks.”

He could see Eggsy trying not to peer into the box. He poured out the tea, which looked not too strong and brought the cups over. “It isn’t much, but I remembered. My mother hated photo albums, said life was disorganized, your photos should be too.” He reached into the box.

“Gimmie,” Eggsy begged. “I mean, what an interesting wrapping on that pile of photos.” He picked up his tea, and aimed for casual. Merlin was pretty sure he was holding the cup so as to not snatch at the fabric.

“She shopped at charity shops, had a good eye for colour. She loved scarves, wrapping her hair, around her neck. And when they would fall out of fashion, they would wrap up family photos.” Merlin pulled a dozen of small piles out of the box, each wrapped in a vintage scarf. “Miracle they aren’t moth eaten, but she took good care of them, and then they lived in well secured boxes when they came to me.” He put the bin on the ground so that each pile he unwrapped he could lay the scarves out on the table. “Mix from the 60s and 70s, I believe.” He watched Eggsy reach out and then pull back. “Eggsy, they are yours.”

“Bruv, you can’t,” Eggsy said. “You could get a few hundred quid for these, easy.”

“And you should have charged me.”

“You bought my business cards.”

“Got me ten pounds, Eggsy, it didn’t exactly break my wallet. You’ll do something interesting with them, or at least appreciate them more than I do.” Merlin looked down at the photos now all scattered in the bin, and pulled one out. He showed it to Eggsy. “I believe I mentioned that my aunt was rather ‘happening’.” It was his mum and aunt, both in dresses not dissimilar to the exhibit they had come from. His mum standing there glaring at the camera, his aunt clearly caught mid dance. He smiled. “Take the scarves, Eggsy. Add them to your collection.”

“They are fucking gorgeous. Your mum had killer taste.” Eggsy was holding up each carefully, and examining them. “These are killing me.”

“That is a good thing, correct?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy was folding them carefully, and stopped. “No, you are keeping this one,” he said. 

“Why?”

Eggsy went to the bookshelf on the wall. It was a plain, Ikea sort of thing. Merlin had put a few things on it, books, a couple things he had picked up around the world. It had had a wire thing on it when he moved in. He could never figure out what it was for though. He watched Eggsy nod a bit and then return. He took the photo and a couple others from the box. He stood in the way and Merlin couldn’t quite see what he was doing. “There we go.”

The scarf was wound through and around the metal, and the pictures were in the round things. It was a sort of picture frame. And there was his family. He didn’t know if he had ever had photos out before. Not since he first signed up. It looked so cheerful.

“Thank you,” Merlin said. He nodded to Eggsy. “It looks good.”

“Got an eye for colour,” Eggsy said. “And it fit with the other couple personal touches you’ve put in here.”

“How can you tell which is me, and which came with the flat?”

“Easy, if it is boring, came with it. If it is interesting. All you.”

“There is little of interest in me.”

“Nah, Merlin. You are figuring it all out, but trust me there is plenty of interesting in you.” Eggsy went over, and picked up the other scarves. “You are sure about this?”

“I am. Take them, enjoy them.”

“Thanks, Merlin. Hey, so, I was wondering, want to maybe be workout buddies. I do better sticking with a gym, if I have someone to go with. And you seem to do cool stuff there. Could be fun.”

“It could,” Merlin agreed. He didn’t see a problem with that. He spent decades with someone working out with him. It would be nice to have that companionship again. “I’m there Tuesday and Saturday mornings, and Thursday nights.”

“I can do the Tuesday and Thursday,” Eggsy said. “Great. So see you around?”

“See you, Eggsy.” Merlin let him out of the apartment, and spent the rest of the day sorting the old family photographs.

 

Chapter Text

“Right, I’ve changed my mind. We are not going to be friends,” Eggsy declared, and flopped on the ground like a fish. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Eggsy, we are only half done the workout,” Merlin said. He stood over Eggsy and shook his head in a parody of disappointment. “That was practically just the warm up.” He laughed when Eggsy flipped him off. He held out his hand, and Eggsy batted it away. He just reached down. It wasn’t as smooth a motion as it used to be, but he hauled Eggsy up, and up enough that Eggsy was over his shoulder, and he went to the climbing wall. “Come on, you like the wall.”

“What the fuck!” Eggsy shouted. 

“You say that a lot to me, have you noticed?” Merlin stopped at the wall, which wasn’t very tall, just two stories, but was fairly challenging. He eased Eggsy off. “Last one up the green wall, has to buy the winner a smoothie?”

“You drink smoothies?”

“They are grown up milkshakes,” Merlin said. He loved smoothies. He had lived off protein shakes before, and they were gross, but smoothies appealed.

“Bruv, you know what else is a grown up milkshake - a fucking milkshake.” 

But Merlin noticed that Eggsy was strapping into a line. He strapped in as well and soon they were climbing. Green wasn’t the most challenging on the wall, but you definitely had to pay attention. Half way through the climb, he could feel his prosthetic slipping a bit, which was odd, it seldom unseated, but he wasn’t losing. Next hoist up, it really began to feel wrong. “Fuck that,” Merlin growled and paused to remove the leg. He balanced it on his arms, and continued climbing until he was sitting on top of the wall.

Just as his arse touched the ledge, Eggsy was hauling himself up. “I do not care, it has to be said — what the fuck?”

Merlin was strapping his leg back into place. “I have to agree, that has never happened before.”

“You just took off your leg mid wall, and finished the climb.”

Merlin looked at Eggsy. “What else was I supposed to do?” He grinned. “I really want that free smoothie.”

“So like the British Army, train people to be completely insane then?”

“No, they train us to be frugal as fuck, and fear endless paperwork,” Merlin replied. “I don't think the leg would have fallen off, but I didn't want to take the risk. A leg is a costly thing to replace, and the paperwork to do so? Nae, I’ll not do that unless I have to.” Everything seemed to be good to go. “Shall we to the last portion of our workout?”

“My arms are noodles Merlin,” Eggsy whined. “I don’t even know how I’m going to get down.”

“Do ye need help?” 

“You going to carry me again?” 

“If need be.”

“I’m good, so long as you tell me no more arm work today.”

“I can’t actually tell you that,” Merlin replied. He barked out a laugh at Eggsy’s face. “Alright, alright. We can be done today. I have a hankering for that smoothie.” Merlin looked to the ground at the person minding his line. He gestured that he was coming down, and he easily hopped down the wall, making it down in about fifteen seconds.

“Stop showing off!” Eggsy called from the top, and took about a minute to come down. He unclipped, and pointed a finger. “Your smoothie - all spinach, because you didn’t specify that it had to be a tasty smoothie.”

Merlin snorted, and headed to the locker room. He stripped down and hopped in the shower, Eggsy not far behind him. “I actually like spinach,” he said as he scrubbed down.

“Now, I know you are lying,” Eggsy said. He hissed. “Cold, fucking hell.” He hit the knob, and the water didn’t get better. “Fuck.” 

“Switch, I don’t mind cold showers,” Merlin said.

“Seriously, how much does the army fuck up your brain?” Eggsy was shivering, and when Merlin moved he sighed happily under the hot water. He paused. “Oh god, that was a shit thing to say. Fuck, fuck. I’m sorry bruv.”

Merlin went under the other spray which was not cold at all, just tepid. He was quiet for a moment. “I don’t have ptsd,” he offered. “I have things I am not fond of, and would prefer not to do again, but I am lucky.” He started to rinse off the soap. “I suppose it did fuck up my brain though. In some senses.”

“I have ptsd,” Eggsy said quietly.

Merlin noticed two of the other men who were showering quickly leave the area, worried he supposed of some sort of breakdown. “I’m sorry,” Merlin said. “That sucks.” He couldn’t think of any other way to phrase it, because he knew plenty of soldiers who did have it, and sucks was honestly the best descriptor he had found.

Eggsy laughed a bit. “Yeah, it really does. Can’t drink Harp, smell of it makes me throw up, shake. Honestly, most beer makes me shake, but can psych myself up for a pint with the guys.”

Merlin didn’t drink Harp, barely drank beer, and made a note to never drink one around Eggsy. Not that they served beer at the gym. “Well good thing our bet was for smoothies then, wasn’t it?”

“Good thing, yeah,” Eggsy agreed.

Merlin turned off his water, and went to his locker, Eggsy needed a moment alone, he figured. He dried off, carefully wiping off the leg. It wouldn’t rust, but it helped to take extra care of it. He was half dressed when Eggsy came, his stuff a few lockers down. “If we are going to work out together, is there anything else I should know?” Merlin asked.

Eggsy wouldn’t look at him. “No names. Like don’t try to motivate me with negative words, like loser or nothing?”

“That has never been my practice,” Merlin said. “I never subscribed to the break and remake model of training. I prefer to hone what is there.”

“And I mean, be swell if you never called me a whore.”

Merlin blinked. “What workout would we be doing that that would even come up?” Merlin frowned, lost. “Seriously, what on leg day do I say -” he cut himself off, when he saw Eggsy ease a bit away. “I wouldn’t. I won’t.”

Eggsy nodded, and put a clean top on. “So spinach smoothie, yeah?”

“Yum.” Merlin appreciated the way that Eggsy’s shoulders seemed to relax.

“You can have a couple strawberries in it as well,” Eggsy declared.

“Thank you kindly.”

*

“Percival, I have expressed that I am happy that I came to work for you, correct?” Merlin was standing next to him, as Percival ticked off boxes on his manifest.

“You have.” Percival signed, and the delivery truck drove away shortly thereafter.

“And we have a amicable relationship.”

“We do at that.”

“So, I feel it is safe to ask. Why? Just why?” There were four boxes. “Why would you buy another blind auction lot?”

“Because it is fun!”

“That you honestly believe that worries me.” Merlin looked at the boxes. “I guess we are opening these?”

“We are.” Percival had closed the shop for the afternoon, so that he could inventory the crates. “You can even choose where we start.” He handed over the crowbar like he was handing over Excalibur itself.

Merlin took it, and decided to start with the largest one. He cracked the lid and side. “Hmmm, well packed at least. Unlike the last one you bought where most everything was broken inside.”

“You are such a downer.”

“You lost five hundred quid.”

“Harry gambles in Monaco, I do this.” Percival started to move the packing out of the way.

Merlin sat with the clipboard, and made all the notes that Percival called out as he inventoried the crate. It seemed Percival’s gamble had paid off. There was a bit of rubbish, but a few things that were actually decent. It looked like just in the main crate he would break even, the other ones, if they had anything, would be pure profit. Merlin looked up from the clipboard when Percival made a puzzled noise. “Nice chair, single though,” Merlin said. “Victorian?” He had learned a fair bit about the shape of furniture and styles working for Percival.

“Yes, likely,” Percival agreed. “But there is a lock here.” He pointed to the front of the chair. He poked about but nothing happened. He turned the chair over. “No key.”

“Perhaps in one of the other boxes,” Merlin suggested. They opened the whole of the inventory and indeed, Percival would see a handsome profit from this particular auction, but there was no key.

“It will bother me,” Percival said staring at the lock. “It is likely just empty storage, but we need to know for sure.”

“I can get it open,” Merlin offered.

“Without damaging the piece or the value?”

“Likely not,” Merlin had to admit.

“Can you run across the street? Eggsy’s criminal past may prove useful.”

Merlin nodded. Percival began to clean up the packing as Merlin headed out. He crossed the street and went into Kingsman. “Harry,” he greeted. “Is Eggsy about?”

“He is on Skype with James, talking about what to wear for some upcoming press. He is using my office upstairs. Go on up.”

“I can wait, I don’t want to interrupt his work.” Merlin went over to a cabinet. It was filled with cuff links and tie pins. “Never understood the point of tie pins. Had to wear one with the formal uniform, but they always seemed a bit absurd to me.”

“Me as well,” Harry said with a smile. “If you tie a proper knot you don’t need it to keep the fabric in place. It is an affectation I suppose. I have many, but I find it a silly one. They sell well, to a certain group. I like profit.”

“Percival seems to have made one. His latest auction.”

“Good,” Harry said. He tilted his head a bit. “Eggsy is done.”

“How can you tell?”

“His walking has changed, I can hear the floor.”

Merlin couldn’t, but he didn’t have the best hearing for small sounds. He didn’t have a lot of hearing loss at regular levels, but some at lower levels, too many bombs going off over the years. But sure enough, Eggsy was coming down the stairs, his laptop in hand. “Eggsy,” Merlin smiled at him. “We need a criminal.”

“Do you now? What sort of crime?” Eggsy grinned at him. “Because I might know a couple people.”

“Just you,” Merlin said. “Percival has a locked item, he needs it unlocked for inventory sake, and no key was delivered with it. I offered, but my way would likely ruin the chair.”

“Wait, chair?” Harry blinked. “That is unusual.”

“We know. It is a touch intriguing.” Merlin looked at Eggsy. “Would you lend a hand?”

“Of course.”

“Actually, I am too curious.” Harry went, and knocked on dressing room two. “Andrew, just popping across the way, back in a titch.”

“Sir,” Andrew said politely.

The three headed back to the shop, and Percival already had the back room mostly clean. The man’s efficiency was incredible.

“Harry?”

“A locked chair,” Harry replied.

“You are always far too curious.” But Merlin saw Percival’s smile, and didn’t think the man minded too much. Percival gestured to Eggsy. “Can you unlock it? Ideally without damage?”

“Yeah, think I can.” Merlin watched Eggsy crouch in front of the chair. He was taking a look, and even used the torch on his phone to examine it. “Yeah, this wasn’t meant to keep people out out. I can get it. Can you get me a paper clip and maybe…like a tie pin or something?”

Merlin found that funny after his conversation with Harry. Percival got what Eggsy needed, and Eggsy manipulated the paper clip a fair bit. “Merlin, can you hold the torch for me, just here?” Eggsy held it where he wanted it.

“Aye.” Merlin held the phone steady, and Eggsy began to poke at the lock. “The mechanisms could have all rusted in there.”

“Then outside would have hints of it. No smell of rust.”

“You can smell rust?” Merlin looked at him. “That is unusual.”

“Really sensitive nose, why most of my triggers are scent.”

“I stopped wearing cologne in the shop because of it,” Harry added in. “And not like I bathed in it.”

“Wait, you said it was that you were tired of your signature scent.” Eggsy stopped working, and looked at Harry in utter shock. “You didn’t do that for me, did you?”

“Pop Percival’s lock, Eggsy,” Harry said with a soft smile, which Merlin thought was as good as saying, yes he did do that. 

“That sounded so fucking dir -” Eggsy triggered the lock, and flipped up the cushion, “ty. Uhhhhh.”

Merlin stared at the wooden dildo that had risen when the seat was lifted. It swayed in the air, and the bottom of the seat had a rather pornographic etching of how a woman should seat herself on the protrusion. It just sort of kept swaying in the air. “Well then,” Merlin managed to say. 

“The carving is very detailed,” Percival managed to add. And he was right, the dildo was carved quite realistically. “I -” He was blushing. “I do not think I can sell that in the shop.” He looked at Harry. “Happy birthday?”

Harry reached out, and poked the dildo and the swaying began in earnest again. “No,” Harry said.

“You know you are amused by it, and are just pretending you aren’t, because we are not by ourselves,” Percival replied.

“Merlin is starting to add personal touches to his flat, Merlin how about a chair. Be a great conversation starter,” Eggsy suggested.

Merlin gently pushed him over, and tried to bring the cushion down, but the dick blocked the way. He pressed the dildo down, and closed the lid. He let out a sigh of relief when it stayed shut. “I do not think it is quite to my tastes,” Merlin said in a very decided tone. He had a thought. “Eggsy?”

“I am not fucking taking it, for like at least a half dozen reasons.”

“Based on my limited contact,” Merlin began, “it feels like something James Lance would be amused by.”

Eggsy giggled. “Oh my god, he totally would be. You should ring him, and ask.”

“I hardly think an actor of his grace would -”

“Harry, you have to either admit to our friends you secretly want the chair, or accept that it will go to an actor that you have a tiny crush on,” Percival said.

Merlin watched Harry not make eye contact with anyone, and plucked at his trousers a bit. “Well, it is really very funny,” Harry said. “And beyond its secret, it would look quite charming next to my great aunt’s spinning wheel that is in the corner of the study.”

“It would. So as I said, happy birthday, my dear.” Percival leaned over, and kissed Harry’s cheek. “Eggsy, could you pleased figure out how to relock it? I would hate for it to spring open in transit.”

“Yeah, I can do that.” Eggsy fiddled with the paper clip again. “So, Harry you going to test it out?”

Merlin snorted a bit at that.

“No,” Harry said firmly. “While it looks well made, I am sorry nothing that could have splinters is going up my arse.”

“Actually most accountings of wooden dildos historically are -” Merlin quickly stopped talking at the way that everyone was staring at him.

“Please continue,” Percival suggested.

It was Merlin’s turn to blush. “I read a lot. Bit of everything. Read a book on the history of sex toys once.”

“Why the fuck would amazon recommend that to you?” Eggsy asked.

“It didn’t, I just found it for cheap on my e-reader. Lots of time to kill in my career. So I’ve read a little about almost everything.” Merlin looked at the chair. “I have seen many odd things, this might be the oddest.”

Percival laughed, and soon all four men were laughing uncontrollably. Eggsy tilted into the chair which caused the weak lock to spring, and he got a face full of the wooden cock, which just set everyone off even more.

Chapter Text

“Eggsy what do I wear to the theatre?” Merlin had his phone on speaker as he put together some dinner.

“Depends, what are you seeing?”

He thought he heard a giggle, and the telly was a bit loud. “Am I interrupting?”

“No, it’s fine,” Eggsy promised. “Just give me a moment.” Merlin put the pasta in the boiling water, and checked his sauce.

“Bugger,” Merlin groaned.

“Bug!” a small voice shouted.

“Daisy, no using adult words,” he heard Eggsy say. “You alright, Merlin?”

“Decided to actually cook. That was a mistake.”

“We just ordered pizza. Come on over. Feed you, and solve your fashion crisis.”

“You have company.”

“Sister is sleeping over. And I had a coupon, so plenty of pizza coming by.” He could hear Eggsy walking away. “Please bruv, I’m going to have to watch Lilo and Stitch. Again. I can’t do that alone.”

Merlin looked at his pots. “I wouldn’t be a bother?”

“Swear down, you’d be doing me a favour.”

“I’ll head over shortly.” Merlin turned off his stove, dumped the food in the rubbish bin. The sauce had gone black, and he was pretty sure that was not what the recipe called for. He was in his old jeans that were loose and torn, a gym tee on, but he was pretty sure for pizza at a friend’s flat that was fine. A quick trip to the bog and to grab his wallet and keys, and he was off.

Twenty minutes later he was buzzed into Eggsy’s flat. “Hey, Merlin.”

“I do have a question.” He stepped in and could smell the pizza. “What is a Stitch?”

“Disney character. Somehow Dais didn’t get bit by the Frozen bug, which believe me, I am grateful for, but she is in that 3 year old place where she just watches the same four things over and over, and I have them memorized, and it drives me spare. Company is good.”

Merlin nodded, and they went upstairs. There was a young girl sitting on a quilt on the ground, tiny squares of pizza cut up on a plate, cup with lid and straw next to it. She was staring transfixed at the telly. “Hello,” he called to her.

“Uh-huh,” she said.

“Dais, we greet someone properly,” Eggsy said.

She gave the barest glance over, “’lo.” She went back to the screen, and popped a square into her mouth.

Eggsy rolled his eyes, and Merlin smiled at his exasperation. “Right, well, manners lessons are getting worked on,” Eggsy sighed. “Pizza? The guys left a few beers in the fridge if you want one.”

“How many beers?” Merlin asked.

“Three why? I don’t want anyone drinking more than that around Daisy.”

Merlin went to the fridge, and grabbed the three beers. Cans, so he didn’t even need an opener. He hurried back down the stairs to the bog. He dumped them all down the sink, and took care to use the vanilla scented soap he found to rinse the sink, and even the inside of the cans. He couldn’t smell any beer, but Eggsy had said he was sensitive to scent so gave it all an extra wash. He took the cans back upstairs. “Recycling?”

“Did you just chug three beers in the bog in four minutes?” 

Eggsy looked a mix of confused, afraid, and ready to throw down. Merlin shook his head. “No I dumped them down the sink. You don’t like the smell of beer. You said. So I made sure it wasn’t in your home. Also, I rather like that vanilla soap?”

“Daisy’s,” Eggsy’s voice was faint, soft.

“Where do you buy it?”

“Aldi’s just regular soap, but she likes that it smells like party cake.”

“Cake?” Daisy heard, and looked over, the word for a moment more interesting than her movie.

“No cake, but all that pizza gets eaten, you can have fruit snacks. Got you the Trolls ones.”

“Yay!” Merlin saw her cram three of her little squares in her mouth, and her cheeks looked like a woodland creature.

“Will she choke?”

“No, she’s got that down.” Eggsy was watching him. “You dumped the beer down the sink?”

“You don’t like it, to do so yourself could have triggered you, and having them sit there in your fridge couldn’t have made you happy.”

“Just tried not to notice them,” Eggsy replied. He was looking at the empty cans, and slowly took them and tossed them in a bin under the sink. “Thanks, Merlin. You’re the guv.”

Merlin blinked a little. “Had a soldier under my command once who said that. It is a high compliment among the people who use that phrase. Thank you.”

“Sure. So pizza? Got simple pepperoni, or tandoori chicken.”

“Tandoori Chicken? On pizza?”

“Just try it, bloody brilliant.” Eggsy gave him a slice of each on a plate, and Merlin sniffed. It smelled quite good actually. “Water? Or I have some apple juice.”

“Water is fine.” Merlin took the glass Eggsy gave him and they sat at the table. He watched Eggsy regularly glance over, keeping an eye on Daisy. He had a faint smile every time he looked at her. “She is much younger than you.”

“Yeah, taken her to the park, get mistaken for her Da all the time.”

Merlin took a bite of pizza. “Hmm,” he said as he chewed.

“Brilliant, yeah?” Eggsy ate as well.

Merlin nodded. “Not bad. Wouldn’t want it every time, but I am decently impressed.” He ended up eating four slices of pizza. 

Daisy came over with her empty plate. “Tolls!” Merlin watched how one raised eyebrow from Eggsy had a very quick “Please,” added.

Eggsy got her a small little pouch and opened it for her, and she hugged him and ran back to the telly. 

Merlin sat back in his chair, pleasantly full. “I thought screen time was a concern these days?”

“Sure for parents, but not for big brother sleep over time,” Eggsy smiled. He took Merlin’s plate and gave both a rinse. “Cuppa?”

“Aye,” Merlin agreed. He heard a noise from the telly and looked over, but was at a poor angle to see the context of the Elvis Presley.

“Go on,” Eggsy said, and Merlin moved over to the couch. 

“The blue creature seems to function as a record player,” Merlin realized.

“Alien. Stitch.” Daisy popped a fruit snack in her mouth.

“Ahh, that is the Stitch.” Merlin pulled out his phone and did a quick wikipedia of the movie, so he wouldn’t disturb Daisy with too many questions. “The colours in this movie are quite attractive.” It had a soothing and soft palette, versus the more garish look of commercials he has seen for children’s movies. Eggsy brought over a cup, and Merlin took a sip. “I feel like Stitch doesn’t quite mean to cause the problems he does. Or maybe he does? It is a touch confusing.”

“Yeah, he learns.”

“The design is charming.” Merlin watched a bit more. “Hmmm, I do not feel that gentleman is actually child services.”

Eggsy laughed a bit at that.

“Here, Eggsy. I share,” Daisy said, and held up her snack.

“Thanks, luv, but that’s your dessert, you enjoy.”

“Man, you can share,” she smiled, and held out the tiny bag. 

Merlin thought that showed excellent manners, and he was given to understand you should praise stuff like that. “Thank you,” he told her and took the bag. There was one tiny little smooshed piece left in it.

Daisy giggled. “Now your garbage to throw away. I don’t have to get up!” She turned back to her movie, and couldn’t stop giggling.

Merlin looked at Eggsy who was trying to hide his smile behind his mug. “I assume that is also a big brother sort of lesson?”

Eggsy laughed. “Maybe. I’ll bin it.”

Merlin ate the squished piece at the bottom, and took it to the bin under the sink. He sat back down again, and settled into the movie. It was actually quite moving, and he enjoyed how they were a family. Still he couldn’t help himself. “The C.I.A. are gits,” he whispered to Eggsy.

“Sure, but he's not so bad, so it’s fine, yeah?”

“True.” Merlin nodded. “I liked this movie. I would like to see the whole thing.”

“Okay! Again, Eggsy!” Daisy cheered.

“No, again tonight, Daisy. Bath and tuck in time.”

“He wants. I wants. One two us. One you. We win.” She stuck out her chin. “That’s maths.”

Merlin was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to laugh, and he desperately wanted to. “Excuse me,” he said politely and went to the other end of the flat, and looked out the window. Their conversation was quiet, but he could feel the firmness in Eggsy’s voice. An agreement seemed to be reached and he heard the sound of a high five.

“We watch next time,” Daisy said coming up to him. “Two times.”

“Very well,” he agreed.

“Night night, man.”

“Merlin,” he reminded her.

“Okay.” She went to the stairs, and started scooting down on her bum.

“This will take about half an hour, feel free to watch not Disney telly.”

“I really didn’t mean to be a bother.”

“Nah, Merlin, you ain’t a bother, enjoy your company. And ignore it when it sounds like I’m murdering her - hair wash night.”

“Shouldn’t a big brother be able to get out of that?”

“Do you think her hair always has green streaks?” 

“No?”

Eggsy laughed. “That is correct. And sure I’m a grown ass adult, don’t mean my mum won’t murder me if the green stays in.”

Merlin turned the telly off, and saw the small record collection. He flipped through, not recognizing a lot, but found some Bob Dylan. “Huh,” he said and put it on. His CO had loved Dylan back when Merlin was a Sergeant, given him a fondness for the music. He peered at Eggsy’s  bookshelf. A great deal about fashion and its history. There was one called Killer Fashion and Merlin pulled it off the shelf, curious. He saw it was actually about fashion that had killed and sat down with it. He had read the introduction and was half way through the first chapter when he heard footsteps on the stairs. He looked up. “Is she asleep?”

“Yeah, a chapter of Narnia knocks her right out.”

“I remember those books, my aunt read them to me.” Merlin remembered fondly. “She bought me Turkish delight, one time. God it is the worst.”

“Never actually had any. Want a glass of wine?”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Nah, not something was ever around until started working with Harry. He’s been teaching me about it. Like a small glass now and then. Now could be a now.”

“Then thank you, yes.” Eggsy returned with two small glasses of wine. Merlin took a sip. “That is quite nice.”

“Yeah, like I don’t know all that bullshit about bouquet, but figured out a few bottles that taste good. So theatre, hmm?”

“Aye, I am going to Roxy’s show. She gave me a name to call, and I was able to get a ticket for the Thursday night of opening week. But I am unsure which clothes to wear.”

“So not opening night, means lots more flexibility. Can wear one of your work suits, or what you wore to the luncheon would be fine as well.”

“Is there somewhere in between? I feel like I would be comfortable in that.”

“Blazer and trousers, dress shirt, open collar?” Eggsy suggested.

“I like that idea,” Merlin agreed. “But I don’t have a blazer. Can I just -”

“No.”

“But,” he tried.

“No.”

“I don’t see why -”

“No,” Eggsy shook his head. “Nope, nein, whatever other language would get you to understand that it is not happening.”

“I speak English, German, Arabic, Urdu, Mandarin Chinese, and a bit of Russian.”

“I can speak a little Hindi?”

“A difficult language, that is impressive.”

“Mostly order food,” Eggsy admitted. “How’d you pick up so many?”

“Relevant to work.” 

“Well, pick any of those languages and listen to the word no. A suit jacket and a blazer are bloody different yeah?” Eggsy was glaring at him, and he looked like a cranky puppy. “Blazer you can have some fun. What about a dark plaid with the grey trousers we got you?”

“Where am I getting this dark plaid blazer, Eggsy?” Merlin replied. Oh dear, he was going from cranky puppy to mulish. That meant Eggsy was going to dig his feet in. “Fuck I’m doing more shopping aren’t I?”

“Yeah, you are. Don’t have to get it at my shop. But this will be a good thing for your closet.”

“Same mall as last time?”

“Should be able to get you square there. You need me with?”

“I can’t ask you to shop with me every time.”

“I don’t mind,” Eggsy said.

“Which I appreciate. And you will spend the next 45 minutes explaining in detail what I need to be looking for, and then I want to try on my own.” Merlin would use the expertise available to him, but he should learn how to do this on his own. “Worst case, I can text you photos while I shop.”

“Right, let me go grab my laptop and we’ll get you sorted.” Eggsy hurried downstairs, and was back in a moment. “Lord, how does a three year old snore that loudly?”

“I don’t remember seeing a spare bed.”

“Have a little toddler cot, for when she visits, any other company tends to be in my bed if you get my drift.”

“I do,” Merlin replied. “You haven’t mentioned, do you currently have regular company?” Eggsy was a chatty man, and yet no reference to a significant other had been made.

“Nah, had a girl a year ago? She were great, but was here for school and moved back to Sweden. Still casual friends, but we just ran our time.” Eggsy finished his wine. “Been out on a few dates with a couple blokes since then, couple hookups, but nothing that took.” He was typing. “Here, look at these plaids.” There was a screen. “Tell me what appeals.”

Merlin leaned over, and scrolled a bit. “I like this one, and that one.” He pointed to a couple. “They’d look good with just a crisp white shirt, I think.”

“You think correctly,” Eggsy smiled at him. “Nice. Though here, check out theses styles.” He pulled up the web page of a shop from the mall they went to. “Something like this would be brilliant on you. Not too dear, but they make well enough will last you for years.” He clicked. “This one. Black on black is good.”

“Perhaps a little more pop?” Merlin asked hesitantly. “I like the blues you put me in.”

The smile Eggsy gave him was wide and brilliant. “Yeah? Getting you to see the value of a little flash?”

“It seems so.”

“Look at this one.” He clicked and there was a blazer with a plaid that was blacks and greys, and then this shot of blue in it.

“Aye, I like that.” Merlin finished his wine as well.

“Okay, and this is the size you want.”

“That is not my size.”

“Do not, it is. Your suits don’t fit right.”

“Excuse me?”

“You need more room in the shoulders, what I said, yeah it will be a little long in the arms, but you are going to drop it off, and I’m going to bloody fix it for you aren’t I?”

“You don’t have -” Merlin cut himself off when Eggsy got that mulish look again. “I would appreciate the help,” he finished.

“There you go.”

“Are you going to see Roxy’s play?” Merlin asked.

“Yeah, opening night actually. She had me sort her out for the after party, accepted ticket instead of payment.” Eggsy grinned. “I get to get right dressed up, going to be fun.”

“I am sure you will look incredible,” Merlin was sure of it. “Thank you for the company tonight. I needed it more than I realized.”

“You have ‘company’ ever Merlin?” Eggsy asked tone casual, and Merlin thought it fair after he had asked about Eggsy’s personal life.

“No. I’ve never had a relationship.”

“Aro?”

“I don’t know that word.”

“Aromantic, not interested in a long term relationship based on romantic feelings. Like asexual but instead of sex, about romance? Sort of, not the best explanation.”

“Nae,” Merlin said after he thought about. “I always thought a romance would be lovely. But I couldn’t. Not and have my career. I made a choice.”

“You are making all sorts of different choices these days, maybe that will be one too.”

“Maybe,” Merlin agreed.

Eggsy let him out and he went home. The next day the shopping went well, and he dropped the blazer with Eggsy, who had the sleeves shortened by the next day. When Merlin got ready for the show, he thought he had put the look together well, but wanted a bit of reassurance. He stood in front of the mirror and took a photo, like how he had seen some people on his Instagram feed do.

A minute later he had a response from Eggsy. Looking good, Merlin.

Feeling good, Eggsy.

Merlin pocketed the phone, and headed to the play.

Chapter Text

“I would have thought you’d have like a private room, or booth, or something?” Merlin said. They were walking into the stadium, just like the rather large swell of crowd. No security, no VIP passes, nothing. Merlin automatically went into protective mode, scanning the crowd assessing exits and the like.

“Darling, that is not how you experience your first footie match!” James sounded appalled. “You need to be in the crowd, have beer spilled on you. Be united with your brothers. I never go to a box or anything. These are my season’s tickets.” They walked through the stadium, and once passed security, James gestured. “Now what souvenir would you like from the booth?”

Merlin looked at him. “I am not 5.”

James threw an arm over his shoulders. “No but this is your first game, and I want you to have a toy surprise.” He nudged him over to the booth. “A shot glass? A pin?”

“Is there a souvenir program, that feels my speed.”

“There is,” James eagerly bought one, and a scarf for himself. “I have a thing for the scarves. Have about 30? Every new design, must pick one up.”

“Eggsy must love that.”

James snorted. “He knows if I ever have press scheduled during an important game, I will wear my jersey, and he is just going to have to cope. Luckily it hasn’t been a problem. West Ham sucks this year.”

“And you still cheer for them?” At least three people hissed at him. “I don’t know! I don’t follow football!”

“Oh darling, do try to not get murdered,” James laughed. They went and collected some snacks, and headed to their seats. “Now I can afford better seats to be sure. But this is what I blew one of my earliest pay cheques on, and I just refuse to give them up. Sentimental like that. Plus I mostly get left alone here, everyone used to me and all that.”

That made sense to Merlin, but he still took note of the people around them. “That man there is going to get very drunk.” He could just see it.

“Likely a few will. Never did understand that. One beer sure, but there is a game to watch. Get drunk, you aren’t watching the game.” James shook his head. “Now do I need to explain the rules?”

“No, I know the rules. Like I said, have played footie during off hours on base many a time. Played with the locals in Afghanistan a lot. There was a boy Ahmed. Bloody hell, that boy would have been red carded so many times. Brutal.”

“Well, Darling, he was probably working out some issues with imperial interference and what not.”

“Probably,” Merlin agreed easily. “So I well understand all the basics. I just have never followed a particular team.”

“Well, today we are going to make a West Ham fan of you,” James swore.

“I am prepared.” Merlin honestly didn’t think he’d care either way, but his friend wanted him to like West Ham, he figured he could like them. “You said it was a filming break?”

“Yes, couple weeks off, changing locations. Things to set up, and the like. So ten days off. And when I realized there was a game, I thought it would be perfect.”

“Is it going well?” Merlin was a bit curious. “Is it fun?”

“Not really, is being a security guard fun?”

“It isn’t life or death, and I appreciate that. Also bit of fun with the dildo chair that we got in a few weeks ago.”

“You are telling me everything about that,” James said, and then let out a shout when his team hit the pitch. Everyone was standing and cheering, so Merlin joined in. 

“So the men in red?” Merlin asked about the other team.

“Arsenal, fuck them.” James replied. “The Gunners can lick my taint.”

“Arsenal?” Merlin had to admit that name appealed to him more than West Ham. He was sure he had heard of them.

James looked at him in horror. “Do not,” he warned.

Merlin held up his hands, “I haven’t done anything.” In amid the cheering, and shouting, he told James about the dildo chair and had the man in stitches. “So security guard, can be a touch amusing. Why do you say acting isn’t fun?”

“It is work. I enjoy it, and I am good at it. And the final product can be fun, but it is work. And…you are one piece of the puzzle. You can get your piece absolutely right, nail your job, but you are relying on so many factors around you to also do their part, and if they don’t, there is nothing you can do to fix that.”

“Sounds like my old job.”

“Hardly, as you said, no life or death.”

“Do you know, when it is unfixable?” Merlin found this fascinating. “I could, sometimes, but often it was hindsight.”

“Similar,” James agreed before shouting at the pitch. “Sometimes you know, fuck this was a mistake. Like that fucking moron who forget offside was a thing! Sometimes it is only after, and you are like, but I gave it my all, what the fuck happened?”

“I’ve been watching your movies,” Merlin said. “Only missing a couple at this point.” James didn’t respond. Merlin watched the pitch. He wouldn’t tell James that he liked the way Arsenal moved more than he did West Ham. They were more…not aggressive, but the way the moved just appealed. James still wasn’t saying anything and Merlin looked over. “Should I not have watched your movies?”

“I am trying to decide if I want to ask your opinion based on your previous statements.”

“Well, let me know when you decide.” The first period was down and Merlin went to the bog, returned with coffee. He handed one to James who took it, absentmindedly.

“Right, I need to know,” James finally declared. “Just how awful do you think I am?”

“Setting aside moments I reacted poorly to because of my own personal training,” Merlin said, because he had learned a bit from their association. “I think you are remarkable.”

“Oh.”

“But -” Merlin cut himself off quickly.

James laughed. “Knew that would be in there. Lay it on me.”

“Why have you stopped doing fun movies?” Merlin looked at him. “Your early career, there was more humour? You did a couple comedies, and there was romance. I quite liked those.”

“You are just about the only one.”

“That cannot be true. When I was reading there were several articles especially around what to watch for Valentine’s day, that had your one movie as an underrated gem, and I have to agree. Your serious work is good, but don’t you want not serious sometimes?”

“Serious has won me several awards. And that then breeds a specific sort of pattern. You get scripts based on that. And you end up sticking with it.”

“That makes sense.” Merlin raised his glass in salute. “Well, I can say with surety, that I very much enjoy your work.”

“Thank you, Merlin.” James hugged him, and kissed his temple. “But go on, tell me the thing that made you scream in frustration.”

“The knife fight in the one movie. Good god,” Merlin replied immediately. “I had to fast forward. It was just dreadful.”

James laughed. “I trained for three weeks, for that one fight, and it was still mostly stunt double work. Just could never get the hang of it.”

“Clearly.”

“Fuck I adore you, Merlin,” James said, and kissed his temple again. 

“Won’t that end up in some tabloid?” Merlin asked, a little concerned. He was rather easily searchable, and he didn’t want to be known to the general public.

“Unlikely,” James said, “Footie is sacred, especially sitting in seats like these. I did that down in the first row, or a box, might be noticed, but not here. Do you have a problem with me kissing you though?”

“No,” Merlin said. He nodded to affirm the point, “You are an affectionate sort, and I have had a distinct lack of affection in my life. It is nice.” He meant it; he enjoyed James’s easy manner. It was nice to have a friend such as him.

The rest of the match went well, they talked of nothing important, cheered a great deal, and Merlin stopped himself from cheering when Arsenal won.

James poked his side. “You did it, didn’t you? Fell in love with the enemy?” he whispered this. “I see the betrayal in you.”

“I’m sorry, did I ruin our friendship?” Merlin somehow doubted it.

“No I will just endure, but good lord why?”

“I wish I knew. They just were right?”

James nodded. “Yeah, that is the way of it. If you don’t cheer for whom your father did, this is what happens. Someday, a team is just the team, and that is that. You chose wrong, but I still like you enough to take you to the pub and buy you a beer, and some chips.”

“Not a date, is it?” Merlin didn’t think this had been a date, but he wanted to make sure that they were on the same page.

“Not a date,” James promised. “Just friends. My boyfriend would be greatly upset if I took a handsome man out in a romantic way.”

“The person you had your eye on?”

“Oh my eye is still very much on them,” James joked. It was a bit of a crush to get out of the stadium, and they eventually made it a few blocks to a pub. James went to the bar and put in an order, and Merlin minded their table. The pub was rather crowded, and when someone tried to take the empty chair, Merlin gave the same glare he used to give to budget committees, and the person hurried away.

James returned with some pints, and flopped in the chair. “So despite you becoming a betrayer, a foul treasonous man, who is no friend of mine forthwith, did you have fun?”

“I did,” Merlin replied. “To football.” He raised his pint glass, and James did the same.

“To football.” They talked about the game, and then James was clearly sizing him up. “My turn,” he said.

“Okay?” Merlin wasn’t quite sure what he meant.

“My sergeant, the weapons consultant on set? Every time I just casually called you Merlin, he would almost flinch. And if he referenced you it was ‘the sir’, and his spine would almost break how it snapped to. And it was clearly a fight in his brain to just call you sir, not something else.” James was watching him carefully, and Merlin wondered what the actor saw. “Which leads me to this? How important are you, Merlin?”

“I’m a retired soldier, I’m not the least bit important,” Merlin said. But he had to add. “Not anymore.”

“But you were important.”

“To some.” He drank a bit. “To many,” he amended. “How’s the wifi in here?”

James pulled out his phone and checked. “Not too bad.”

“I’m going to the bog. Feel free to google Avery Kester Roberts.” Merlin wound his way to the back, and took a few minutes longer than need be, giving time for James to do research and process the information. When he got back to the table the food was there, and James didn’t have his phone out. “Chips look good,” Merlin said as he sat down. He put some on a plate and added a bit of vinegar and salt, using a very light hand with the salt and a heavy one with the vinegar. “Mmm,” he said after he took a bite.

“I don’t know what to say,” James said quietly.

“Feel free to not say anything,” Merlin offered. He ate some more chips. “You should eat before it gets cold.”

“You are the sort of person I play in movies.”

“No, god no,” Merlin said. “I was no hero.”

“All the medals you have would disagree.” James was watching him. “Was it…I don’t even know what I want to ask.”

“I had a good career, I respected my soldiers, and did my best to make sure they came home alive.”

“You lost a leg for that.”

“I did,” Merlin shrugged. “I did what good I could, what I thought was good. Some of it was, some of it wasn’t. And now I am a security guard, and have a sock drawer full of lots of medals that means little to most people, and a great deal to some. I find myself somewhere in the middle of that. Mostly I am trying to figure out how people live lives. It has been an interesting experience.”

“You are a good man, Merlin. What on earth are you doing being friends with a shitty actor?”

“Hey, you are only shitty in somethings,” Merlin protested. He paused. “I was supposed to say you are brilliant in everything there, feed your ego wasn’t I?”

“You were, you should know by now how fragile my ego is,” James winked at him. “Darling, I am very impressed. And a bit terrified. You could actually kill me with your pinkie finger, couldn’t you?”

“No, that is a bloody myth,” Merlin rolled his eyes. “Middle finger is the one that can do a person in.” He enjoyed the way that James choked on his chips at that. “We are who we are, right? Your google search won’t change what we are becoming will it?”

“No, but if you ever wear a Gunners jersey around me, I will take all the advice you have given me and shoot you,” James swore. He reached out, and squeezed Merlin’s neck. “I don’t care that you are one of the most decorated soldiers of the last decade or two, if you won’t care that I have won MTV’s most stylish villain award.”

“It will be tough, but I think I can manage to not stand in too much awe of ye,” Merlin agreed.

“Please, darling, a little awe would be appreciated.”

“A small bit then,” Merlin smiled at his friend. “A very small bit.”

 

Chapter Text

Merlin looked as the shop door was flung open hard. He had a hand going towards the baton he carried, while his other still held his e-reader casually. “Eggsy?” he asked, and stopped reaching for the weapon. “Good morning.” He wondered at first if maybe the wind had caught the door, but it looked like a fairly still day outside.

“Really? Is it a good morning?”

“I had thought it fine enough.”

“Good for you. Is Harry here?”

“No,” Merlin looked at him. “Eggsy, is something the matter?” Eggsy was quivering, almost shaking. And he looked almost ill. “I mean, I know something is the matter, but can I help?”

“Don’t want to bother you with it,” Eggsy shook his head. He sighed a bit. “Fuck there’s Harry. Know he’s always late, but today wish he weren’t. Bye.” Eggsy stormed out as quickly as he had come in, and Merlin watched him jog across the street, and just barrel into Harry. Harry was clearly startled, but he wrapped his arms around Eggsy and they went back into Kingsman. Throughout his shift he kept glancing across the way, but there was nothing to see. When Jesse arrived and they switched off, Merlin went to the coffee shop down the lane, well remembering Eggsy’s previous order. He went into Kingsman, and saw Andrew at the table. 

“London Fog,” he said, and held out the cup.

“Thank you.” Andrew nodded to the stairs. “He is in Harry’s office at the moment. It is rough day, though I don’t know the particulars.”

If he was still holed up with Harry, Merlin doubted he’d welcome the intrusion. “Can you deliver the coffee to them? I had to guess for Harry.”

“I think Eggsy would welcome your friendship, and opinion. Go on up,” Andrew said. 

Merlin looked at him, and could only read certainty on the man’s face. Merlin headed upstairs and there were a couple doors, but he could hear noise from the one to his right and went and knocked.

Harry was the one to open it, and the man looked a little frazzled, which was an uncommon look for Harry. “I brought coffee,” Merlin said, “I was concerned about Eggsy.” Something seemed to relax in Harry.

“Come in,” Harry urged, and Merlin paused when he saw Eggsy. He had seen that shell shocked look on men before. He thrust the coffee tray and Harry and went over to Eggsy.

“I’m going to touch you, my hands on your shoulders,” Merlin’s voice was soft, steady. “My hands are empty and moving slowly.” He made his gestures deliberate, and when Eggsy didn’t flinch or step away, Merlin’s hands went to his shoulders. Firm, but not gripping. He knew the weight was important, but not so much the person felt trapped. “Breathe with me now,” Merlin said. “We inhale deeply through the nose. Hold and then slowly exhale through the mouth. Soldier, eyes on me,” Merlin said. “Breathe with me.” He slowed his breathing, and looked into Eggsy’s eyes. They did this for a few breaths. “It all seems impossible, but you can face whatever comes next. I won’t promise it will be okay, just that you have the strength to face it. You might not feel it right now, but you do.”

“Not a soldier, I’m a fucking stylist and personal shopper,” Eggsy said. But he didn’t step away, Merlin noticed. “Got some shite news, and I’m having trouble processing it.”

“What was the news, Eggsy?”

“Turns out due to exemplary behaviour, my stepda, actually getting a parole hearing.” Eggsy looked heartbroken, and his breath was clearly about to go erratic again.

“With me, Eggsy,” Merlin reminded him, and kept the slow and steady breaths. “What are the chances of it being granted?”

“Dunno,” Eggsy said. “He were supposed to be in for five years. No way is he being that good, that he can be let out after two? What the fuck?” He stepped away and Merlin let him, knew better than to cage him. He instead went and got the coffee and Eggsy grabbed the offered drink, drank most of it. “He’s gaming the system, or something — no fucking way is that man reformed.”

“Why was he is in?”

“Got pinched on a job, and his blokes one actually rolled on him. Pretty sure that he thinks it was me though, but I ain’t never grassed, because that is how you get dead. But he’d believe I would, not Poodle who were the one that did it. But he got pinched, and Mum had bruises at the trial that she was honest about, and thanks to a whole whack of minor shit and him being a complete dick on the stand, he got five years. Well three to five, and guess they are using a loose definition of three? I don’t even know. He shouldn’t be up yet, not another six months.”

“My understanding is that over crowding can lead to choices being made,” Merlin said. “But a hearing does mean that people can go, and express their opinion of the person being let out early. You can go, and say he shouldn’t be allowed parole.”

“They ain’t going to listen to me. I used to run for the fucker. Bloody miracle I’m not in the cell next to him. But Dean for all his shit, ain’t no grass either. And technically a lot of the stuff, I were underage, so can’t get nailed for it now. And I was good enough, no fucking evidence on me. But I’m not exactly an upstanding witness.” Eggsy laughed, a bitter harsh sound. “Hey don’t let Dean out, says the former thief and whore.”

Merlin knew Eggsy had a past, but this was more laid bare than he had heard before, and he couldn’t stop the surprise on his face.

“Yeah, and now you remember something else you need to do right?” Eggsy was looking at him. “Getting a proper picture of me, guessing working out together, not working out so good, is it?”

“I’ve spent a few days in the brig,” Merlin said.

“Bit different, innit? Brig, for what, probably being all noble and shit? You mentioned it before. Even when you get in trouble it is for a good reason. I just am trouble.”

“You are not,” Harry said firmly. “The only crime you have committed in almost four years is what, jaywalking?”

“Done dumb fucking shit.”

“That is not a crime,” Merlin pointed out. “You are a steady job, and are building a career of worth and recognition. Yes you have a past but it is that - past. You are doubtful that for him, past is past, and I am sure you have grave concerns about your mother and sister’s safety should he be released.”

“Mum is a lot stronger than she were before, but fuck, it’d be so easy for him to get his hooks back in. I can’t let him be in their lives. I can’t let him tell Daisy she is worthless, nothing. Not like he did to me. To Mum, until the words are so stuck in your head that you believe them. That when he presents a way for you to show him you do have value, you jump for that chance, even if it is casing a joint, stealing a wallet, sucking a dick as a distraction. And then you are worthless all over again to him, and more you are worthless to yourself.” 

Merlin was almost bowled over by Harry who had hurried over, and wrapped Eggsy into a tight embrace. “You are worth everything,” his voice was fierce, hard. “All I have ever seen in your is potential, and care, and determination. And you have grown into an incredible man, and I am proud of you.”

“Thanks, Harry.” Eggsy leaned into him. “I’m gonna go, gonna testify, because have to for Daisy, but just fuck, I’m easy to dismiss, to ignore.”

“I’m not,” Merlin found himself saying. He was a bit surprised at himself, but his friend needed him. “I could go with you.”

“And I as well. Character references for you, not that they are needed.” Harry stepped back. “I am sure you go in, in your blue suit, explain what you know of him, that what you care most about is your little sister, that everything will work to the good.”

“When is the hearing?” Merlin asked.

“Two weeks, yesterday.”

“I’ll make sure to book the day off. I doubt Percival will have a problem with that.”

“You’ll really go with me?”

“You are my friend, and I am happy to support you.” Merlin went over, and squeezed his shoulder. “I’d imagine next couple gym sessions, punching bag will be wearing his face, so to speak.”

“You got that fucking right. Dean Baker taking an imaginary left hook will feel good. And in most fucked up sentence ever, you need me to put together a going to a parole board hearing outfit for you?”

“No, I think I can figure out what to wear,” Merlin said. “I’ll see you at the gym?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy untangled himself from Harry, and Merlin found it was his turn for hugs. “Thanks.”

Merlin gently squeezed, and left them be.

*
He shined his shoes carefully, and put them on. When he went to stand in front of his mirror, all he could think was the break was wrong on the trousers - Eggsy would have things to say about that. He wasn’t going to take the underground in what he was wearing, it would attract far too much attention, so he drove to where the hearing was. It took longer than he would have liked, even with budgeting time to get to Belmarsh prison, and he wasn’t running late, but he was running close. He tried not to notice the people staring at him in surprise, and nodded at the security guards who all saluted.

“Um, it will be difficult for me to go through the security screener there, could I have a personal check?” Merlin requested. “I am carrying no arms, retired.”

“Of course, sir,” a woman said, and he was pulled to the side and patted down. “Can I direct you, sir?”

“Parole hearings?” She gave directions, and he headed down the rather confusing halls. Eventually he seemed to find the right room. It wasn’t packed, but it was busy. And he tried to slide in unnoticed but the people at the front of the room, did notice him, and he saw the usual various reactions. It was easy to see Eggsy and Harry. Merlin would recognize Eggsy from 100 metres away, in complete shadow. He didn't really know when the shape of Eggsy became so seared into his brain, but he would always recognize the man. There was also a blonde woman next to Eggsy, and he presumed that was Michelle. He was glad Daisy wasn’t there. There was an open seat next to the woman, and he went to it. 

“Hello,” he whispered because the hearing he had interrupted resumed. “Sorry, I was almost late.”

“It’s fin - what the fuck?” Eggsy whispered back. “What the fuck are you wearing?”

“Oi, Eggsy,” Michelle snapped at him, and then turned to look at the man who had spoken. She blinked, “What the fuck?”

“So that is where he gets that from. May I?” 

Michelle and Eggsy both nodded. Harry didn’t comment at all, but Merlin saw questions in his eyes. He would have thought Percival would have given Harry the details of Merlin’s past, but it seemed Percival had kept his confidence. Merlin wasn’t sure he actually knew a better man that Percival. 

“Dean’s up next,” Michelle said, and Merlin watched her reach out, and Eggsy took her hand. Their knuckles were white.

“Parole granted,” the board said to the man in front of them, and the man began to weep.

“They’ve been generous so far, granted three in a row now,” Eggsy said.

“Just breathe, all you can control in this moment is yourself,” Merlin replied. “The power he has over you? It is only whatever you give him.”

“He made me who I am.”

“No,” Harry said. “You did that, the first time you walked away.”

“Walked back didn’t I?” 

Dean was escorted in, and he looked like a thug, to Merlin’s mind.

“Eggsy, you are a good man,” Merlin said.

Eggsy gave a nod.

Once everyone was settled, Baker’s lawyer read a statement, about his model behaviour, his work in the prison, finding god, seeing the errors of his ways, etc. The board asked Dean some questions, and Merlin could see that his answers were well rehearsed.

The crown lawyer spoke against Dean’s release, arguing that his crimes were such that a handful of years did not counter a life time of cruelty and illegality. “We are given to understand there are a few here, who would like to speak,” the crown lawyer added. He looked to them and Michelle stood up.

Merlin was impressed at how she stayed composed and spoke about her fear, not for herself, but for her daughter. Dean’s lawyer reassured that Dean understood how wrong he had been, and that he was even personally requesting that no visitation be allowed, and a restraining order in place to insure that Michelle felt safe. Merlin could see that impressed the board.

“Bull fucking shit,” Eggsy hissed. He was called forward, and Merlin watched him. Eggsy had clearly practiced too, and he made his statement, and Merlin could see how much it took out of him. Eggsy sat back down. Merlin saw Dean whisper to his lawyer. And knew there was trouble.

“Members of the board, Mr. Unwin was certainly heartfelt and seemingly sincere in his belief. But Mister Unwin, has…a checkered past. He has turned his life around, and that is to be commended. But it feels a bit disingenuous to have a young man who did that, say that no other person can manage what he did. And it is as much about a boy resenting a stepfather as anything else. They had a contentious relationship, and Mister Baker is concerned that Mister Unwin’s statement is motivated by resentment and false revenge, and not true concern for the well being of his family and society.”

Merlin saw Eggsy flinch a bit, and the words tumbled out his mouth, “I beg your pardon,” he snapped. “You do not speak in an insidious manner about a good man, that I trust.”

“Uh, Merlin?” Eggsy whispered. “Thanks, and all, but I don’t think you are supposed to talk.”

“On the contrary, I am very curious what the man has to say,” the crown lawyer argued. “They questioned the veracity of Mister Unwin’s statement. Are you standing to affirm its sincerity?”

Merlin stood up. “I am.”

“For the record, your name, and rank, if you please.”

And there was the moment that would change everything. “Avery Kester Roberts,” Merlin said. “Brigadier General of Her Majesty’s Army. Retired.”

“You seem very decorated, could you list your service record a bit?”

“I’d rather not, it takes about twenty minutes to list everything. I am a KCOBE, and hold a Distinguished Service Order and Victoria Cross.” Merlin shrugged. “Currently I am employed as a security guard.” He could feel the what the fuck, radiating off of Eggsy. “I have known Mister Unwin a few months now, our friendship stemming from his business. I know men, the best and the worst of them. I have stared both in the eye. Eggsy is not without faults, as any man is. But when he found out Mister Baker was up for parole, he didn’t have thoughts of revenge or bitterness. He had fear. He was scared, honestly scared of what would happen if Mister Baker was released. I know fear, know it well. And his was true. If he says that Mister Baker is a threat to society, I utterly believe him.”

“General -”

“Mr. Roberts is fine.”

“It isn’t,” the crown lawyer replied, “My father was a Lieutenant; he’d rise from the grave to put me in the corner.” The whole room laughed. “General, you swear on your career and the judgement of men it gave you, that Mister Unwin’s concern is truly the safety of his family and society?”

“It is his own skin, he worries about,” Dean shouted. “Ratted me out to the filth didn’t he? Now been sucking that man’s dick to impress you lot!”

“I never grassed you out Dean, were your own crap men that did that,” Eggsy said. “I told them what I hypothetically know or had seen, you think you’d be in this room now?”

“Oh the things I could tell your soldier there about you. Hey there, you want to know the truth of Muggsy?” Dean stood up, and moved forward and the prison guards were hurrying over. “You want to know exactly how many dicks have -” 

“Mister Baker, your parole is denied!” One of the board members called out. “This display shows how far you still have to go in your rehabilitation. To speak such to a man of great service!” 

“Fuck all of you,” Dean shouted, and the guards dragged him away.

“Sir, are you alright?”

Merlin looked at the crown lawyer, “Because one man cursed me out in a rather pathetic fashion? My aunt was more creative in swearing.”

“You may be seated, and thank you.”

Merlin gave a nod and he looked to Harry and the four of them left the hearing room. Eggsy was shaking and Michelle pulled him into an embrace, and they were whispering to each other. Merlin and Harry stepped to the side. “Well that worry seems to be off of Eggsy’s shoulders.”

“He is going to have a new one.”

“Oh?” Merlin figured that they'd be celebrating after this.

“What you know now, what Dean is saying. Eggsy greatly respected you even before finding out that you are a man of such importance.”

“Not so important,” Merlin replied. “Easily replaced when the time came.” He carried no resentment for the man who took Merlin’s job, because it was needed, necessary. Not a place where you want sentiment to have sway.

Harry was looking at his chest. “It all barely fits. That suggests importance. He is going to be fragile tonight.”

“I’ll look after him,” Merlin found himself saying. “I think that we have a fair bit to talk about.”

“I drove him and Michelle here. I will take Michelle home,” Harry was watching him. Merlin wondered what he saw. “I am trusting him with you.”

“I have been entrusted with men before.”

“This is different. And you will mind his heart.”

“He is a good man, Harry. I would do nothing to tarnish that.”

Harry nodded and looked over. “Michelle, I am taking you to tea before you have to pick up Daisy.”

“You are too kind, Harry, I don’t know if -”

Eggsy looked at Merlin who gave a tiny nod. “No, you go on, Mum. Let Harry buy you a piece of stupidly overpriced cheesecake. Hang the diet for today, yeah?”

“Are you sure, Eggsy?”

“Yeah, Mum. Go.”

Merlin watched Harry guide Eggsy away. “To your place then?”

“Guess?”

“I have a change of clothes in the car, because I am not walking around in this, and I could show you my favourite place in London.” He watched Eggsy relaxed a little.

“Is it a mystery?”

“It is utterly boring.”

“Now that sounds interesting. All that shit on the front there heavy?”

“In many ways.”

“Let’s get you comfortable then.”

Chapter Text

“Well you were right, this is boring,” Eggsy said. He had stripped off the jacket and tie, left them in the car along with Merlin's dress uniform. “We’re on a bench, in a garden we had to pay 6 quid to sit in garden. Lots of fucking gardens about London, bruv.”

“Aye, and the paying makes it a bit quieter. I like this garden.” Merlin looked around it. “It is a practical garden. A working garden. That appeals to me.” They walked about until Merlin found the spot that felt right. “Here. Just here.” Merlin sat on a bench, and it seemed like the garden had swallowed them whole. “Breathe in, Eggsy. Nice and slow.”

Eggsy did, and something in him slowly relaxed. “What the fuck?” He looked around a bit.

“Herbalist garden, Eggsy.”

“Fuck, I would love some weed right now.”

Merlin laughed a bit. “No, there is lavender and other soothing scents.”

“If you tell me you are an essential oils mother fucker, I am walking away.”

“I sometimes smell sand, and oil; blood,” Merlin said. “And I come here, and can’t. All I smell is flowers meant for healing.”

Eggsy kept breathing in, and Merlin didn’t say anything else. He just let the place hopefully do for Eggsy what it did for him. “I never stood on Smith Street,” Eggsy said.

“I don’t understand,” Merlin had to admit. “Smith Street?”

“A good place to find a bit of rough,” Eggsy looked at him. “You know where you buy sex?”

“I don’t know. I always used a service.”

“Wait what the -”

“Fuck?” Merlin shrugged. “Eggsy, I was in the closet for decades to protect my career. If I wanted sex, the best solution was on leave, to hire someone where discretion served both parties. What they did was illegal, so they had no interest in blackmailing me or ruining my career because it would have brought them down. If I am someone who hired sex workers, why would I judge one?”

“Because people are fucking hypocritical arses?”

“True.”

“Still never stood there, and said twenty quid for a hand job or anything,” Eggsy looked at the flowers. “Will I get in trouble if I nick one?”

“No, it is a healing garden, they understand that sometimes people need to heal.”

Eggsy reached out, and picked a flower. “But sometimes, needed to get into a house to know its security system. Sometimes Dean wanted someone in a good mood. Sometimes when I were kicked out for a few days, a fuck in exchange for a roof didn’t seem like a bad idea. Mostly I was the cracker for Dean, or lookout. But sometimes.”

“Sometimes.”

“Yeah, sometimes.” Eggsy twirled the flower in his hands. “And I mean some of it was good sex, some of it was really bad. Some of it was well, it was what it was.”

“My job was similar,” Merlin said. 

“Me taking d, not the fucking same as you getting shot at, commanding men. Don’t fucking do that.” 

“The tasks were different, yes, but it sounds like the heart of it - the toll - not so different.” Merlin looked at Eggsy. “You want me to be disappointed or appalled right now. I’m not, and I won’t be.”

“Why not? You should be.”

“Because you are my friend,” Merlin said after a moment. He watched Eggsy as crumbled, and pulled him into a hug. He didn’t say anymore, didn’t stroke Eggsy’s back, just held him while he released the emotions of the day. He looked at the flowers and greenery, and waited for the storm to pass.

“I’m always scared that one of Dean’s boys will ruin my career, on his word, because they put their collective two brain cells together. I’m building something, and they could pull it all down.”

“No, they couldn’t,” Merlin swore. “Because it is the past, and it sounds like well past?” Eggsy gave a nod. “You have at most a minor record, and I mean I heard you shout in front of Roxy, I should have stayed a thief and she did not care.”

“I didn’t.” Eggsy looked at him in worry and horror.

Merlin gave him a faint but reassuring smile, “I am afraid you did. And it was fine. Perhaps if word got out, some might not hire you. But many, enough, wouldn’t care. How many clients are you up to now?”

“Well, I have the standard blokes I help out at the shop. Personal shopping, like I helped you with. But the whole full stylist thing? Up to five now. Roxy, and James, couple society ladies, and Tequila that American singer. Had a few one offs too.”

“Sounds like a very good start.”

“Worked my arse off for that.”

“You did, and you are good at it. That matters most.” Merlin smiled at him. “Harry believes in you, and sounds like he believed in you before you were completely on the up and up?”

“Yeah, I mighta tried to steal his wallet. Fuck surprised the hell out of me, when he caught me. Offered to let him fuck me if he let me go. And he just looked at me, and said come along. Figured hey he’s not ugly, this could be worse. And we ended up in the back of the shop, me hauling about bolts of fabric for him, and three hours later he fucking paid me what he would pay a shop boy. Showed up every once and a while, until I showed up every day.”

“I was lucky,” Merlin said. “Or well, luck was made for me. My da died when I was 8, in the mines. My aunt moved in with my mum when I was 10, and they made sure I never went hungry, or felt alone, unwanted. I realized years later, the I’m on a diet you have my share of food was utter bullshit. They hustled and worked, and I always had just enough. Barely but it was there. I joined the military at 19, to make sure that they wouldn’t have to hustle so much for me. I figured I’d do it for a few years and then apprentice somewhere or something. Didn’t really know. Just knew I wouldn't let those two women sacrifice anymore for me than they already had.”

“But you stayed in.”

“I stayed in.”

“I google you what do I find?”

“Some things, some photos.” Merlin looked at the flowers. "A profile in a magazine. Maybe footage of the Victoria Cross getting. I don't know. I try not to google myself. I think there is a wikipedia page."

“You were a big deal.”

“I was,” Merlin admitted. “Does that change how you feel about me?”

“Why would it?” Eggsy made a face at him. “I mean…were you kicked out for like war crimes or some shit?”

“No, I retired because over thirty years of service seemed enough. And I dislike drones.”

“I’m sorry?” Eggsy frowned at him. “Thought you’d like them, save your men and all that.”

“Men can assess the ground, see what the situation really is, versus camera and computer generated reports. By the time you realize an error, with a drone it is often too late. And the soldiers who are in charge of them, carry the weight of that mistake, and enough don’t see that. I felt old and warfare was changing, and I have seen too many civilians, too many refugees because of what we did. I was losing will and objectivity. So I stepped away. And realized I had nothing. My family was gone. Mum died when I was 42, and my aunt not even six months later, couldn't live without her. So here I am no family, a handful or work friends, and my savings which are decent but not lavish. I had spent so little time living my life, that I didn’t actually know how to live one. No real hobbies, or goals, plans, and boredom. Dear god, having a life is fucking boring Eggsy.” He smiled when that got a laugh from Eggsy. “So I got a job, which wasn’t really exciting, but I didn’t want exciting, I wanted to occupy time. And I started to read. Always had a book in my desk or field bag. But never had a chance to finish them. Now I do.  And then a brash young man entered my world, and slowly I began to figure out how to go about being a person. And dress. Clothing was much more complicated than I expected.”

“Yeah well, you are a good looking bloke, shouldn’t wear garbage,” Eggsy said. He sighed. “He’s in for a couple more years.”

“He is, and when the next parole hearing happens, or when he is released, we will deal with that as well.”

“We?”

Merlin frowned at him. “Of course, we. Why wouldn’t it be we?”

“No reason. You know this is a nice garden. Get why you dig it. But now I need the healing that Harry provides.”

“What healing does he provide?”

“Martinis. That is a code for just a fuckton of gin.”

“Very well, let us get you to Harry.” Merlin stood and held out his hand. He thought that Eggsy needed the connection, so they held hands as they left the garden.

*
The next day, Merlin was at work. It was as usual, a cloudy day but Harry and Eggsy were both walking towards the shop in very black sunglasses. He snorted a bit, and Percival who was at the till, looked over.

“I think Harry and Eggsy are hungover,” Merlin said.

“Ahh. That would explain a few texts I received last night.” Percival had a wicked grin. “Harry is not at all a gentleman when on martini number five.”

“How not a gentleman?” Merlin was very curious.

“There was a dick pic sent from the bathroom. It loses engagement when at a bad angle, and also shows the dead dog.”

Merlin choked he was laughing so hard. “Is the dead dog why you two don’t live together?”

Percival blinked. “You do small talk now?”

“I don’t have to.” Merlin went back to his e-reader.

“No, I quite like small talk when it is interesting, and I am sure you do interesting small talk.”

“Can small talk ever actually be interesting?”

“We shall find out,” Percival said. “Shop is quiet today. And the dead dog is one of the reasons we don’t live together. There are several. Mostly we are content as we are. We tried once. An experiment because everyone kept saying we should move in together. We lasted two weeks, and didn’t talk for six after that. 3 nights a week suits us quite well. And a ten day vacation to Italy once a year. He gets so tan, never remembers sunblock.”

“I can see that for you,” Merlin said. Percival was a kind man, but quiet, and him needing his space seemed logical. “I don’t know if I would.”

“You wouldn’t,” Percival said. “If you were in a relationship, you’d want to be in a relationship.”

“I’m rather used to being alone.”

“That is why I can say, if you were in one, you’d want to be all the way in one. You are a gentleman of thorough commitment.” 

“Does Harry really have the dildo chair in his house?”

“He does,” Percival grinned. “Ask me if we’ve opened it again.”

“I think I can guess,” Merlin’s voice was as dry as the desert he had served in. He looked out the window, and saw a man walking with a huge bouquet of flowers. He stopped in front of their store and seemed to be struggling. Merlin got up and helped him with the door. “Let me guess for Percival?” he asked. Harry would want to apologize for the dick pics, he was sure.

“Nope, for a Merlin. Who the hell is named Merlin?”

“I am,” Merlin replied. He put the flowers on the counter. It was different from the last bouquet, and he realized it was a lot of flowers from the garden they had gone to. He signed and tipped the delivery man. He looked through, and found the card.

Thanks, Merlin
The flowers were more healing than the gin.
Shoulda stuck with you.
Glad you are sticking with me.
Eggsy

“You know I do think it would be proper to go across the way, to thank Eggsy for such lovely flowers,” Percival suggested.

“I can’t leave the shop. On duty.”

“Merlin, I think I’ll be fine for five minutes.”

Merlin looked at him, but there was nothing to read on Percival’s face. “Lock the door, and put up the back shortly sign.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Percival replied, and even gave a poor salute. Merlin flipped him off, before he went to the back and stashed his work weapons.

Merlin headed out and stood there, waiting, to make sure Percival did as he asked, and when he saw the lock twist, Merlin went across the street. “Andrew,” he said. “Is Eggsy available?”

“He may be,” Andrew was definitely smirking. “He also may be praying for the sweet release of death. Though that was an exaggeration I am sure. He is in the back.”

Merlin snorted, and went to the back room. Funeral music was quietly playing, and Eggsy was curled up on the table, fabric draped over his face. Merlin coughed to let Eggsy know he wasn’t alone.

“Death, have you come for me? I welcome your embrace.” The fabric didn’t move off his face.

“Thank you for the flowers,” Merlin said softly. “They are beautiful. How did you manage to order them in your state?”

“Sheer force of will,” Eggsy groaned. “Fuck, I gotta remember no human can keep up with Harry and gin.”

“I would think your tolerance would be better.”

“Nah, rubbish. I generally don’t drink a lot, what with seeing too much drunk bullshit, and all that.”

Merlin approached. “May I touch you, Eggsy?”

“Depends where.”

“Your forehead and neck.”

“Fabric ain’t coming off my face, but go nuts.”

Merlin went over and slid his hands under the fabric. He found the pressure points he was looking for, and gently pressed and then rubbed. “Desert migraines aren’t dissimilar to hangover headaches,” he explained. He moved his fingers slowly and firmly. There was a whimper. “Too much?”

“Feels good,” Eggsy said. “Fuck, Merlin, feels brilliant.”

Merlin massaged a bit more, pressed the base of his skull. “Avoid hair of the dog, but you should get a milkshake.”

“What the fuck? How is that a hangover cure?”

“Because who doesn’t feel better after a milkshake?”

“Someone who is lactose intolerant?”

“Point. But you aren’t. I’ve seen you mow down a yogurt smoothie.”

“Lunch, I’ll go get a milkshake. Owe you another bouquet for almost bringing me back to life.”

“You coming out from under there?”

“Fuck no, I’m comfy.” 

“I’ll leave you be,” Merlin said, but he found himself outside his door and Percival must have gone in back, because he couldn't see the man. A couple more minutes wouldn’t matter. He went the few blocks to a small ice cream shop and ordered a milkshake. He hurried it back to Kingsman. Andrew gave him a look, but luckily didn’t say anything. He took it to the back room. Eggsy was on his feet, typing, though sunglasses were still on. “Milkshake,” Merlin said.

“Really?”

Merlin shrugged. “See you at the gym on Saturday?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy agreed and smiled. “Two bouquets owed you now.”

“Just don’t bitch about what I do to your legs and we will be square.”

“No fair, you torturing me with leg day, easier for you what with only having one. Be merciful.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Merlin put the drink next to Eggsy. “It will help.” He headed back, and knocked on the door.

Percival came over and unlocked it. “See I was fine.”

“Yeah, because you listened to me.” Merlin settled back into his spot for the rest of his shift. Fuck, he should have gotten himself a milkshake too, but all he could think about was making Eggsy feel better. He’d get one after work.

Chapter Text

“Merlin, how do you feel about mini-golf, and also fuck you for upping the weights.”

Merlin was unrepentant. “You could lift more, you were slacking off.”

“Of course I fucking was, now answer the goddamn question.”

“I intensely dislike golf. American presidents always want you to play with them, and I never have enjoyed it.” Merlin was spotting Eggsy, and had to catch the bar. “I was sure I didn’t set that too heavy.” He checked the weight and sure it was pushing Eggsy but not unreasonably so - he'd never hurt Eggsy.

“See, there, it sounds like you’ve golfed with multiple presidents?” Eggsy was looking up at him.

“Well yes, for work. Apparently somehow military arrangements can only work with Americans if you are also willing to do a round or two. Which is utter bullshit. They play through so damn slowly.” Merlin looked down at Eggsy. “Are we done on this?”

“You mean the weights, or the topic at hand?”

“Either?”

Eggsy sat up. “Come on. Wall climb. The hard side.”  Merlin followed Eggsy over, and they strapped to the lines. They started up, not racing, because this end was a challenge even for Merlin. “Googled you.”

“I suspected.”

“We going to talk about the photos of you with the Queen?”

Merlin reached, and for just a moment let himself dangle one handed. “Nope.”

“What about the ones with Anne? Because uh, she is actually smiling in a few. Which she never does.”

“Not those, either,” Merlin grunted as he climbed a bit.

“Okay then. But back to topic at hand. Not golf, golf is an environmental disaster, and every course should be made illegal and returned to its natural environment. Mini golf. Tiny indoor little tricky holes.”

“I’ve never played.” They were halfway up the wall, and it was getting really quite tricky. He was working up a good sweat, and loving it. 

“Well, wanna play with me? One of my society ladies, guess her husband owns the company that owns these places called Swingers. So on top of my fee gave me a gift card. Free round of mini golf and 50 quid for the bar/restaurant area.”

“Wouldn’t your sister like mini golf?”

“Probably, but this is 18+. Adult mini golf. So wanna go?” Eggsy had somehow made it up first. He held out a hand and Merlin reached up and grasped it. “Bet I kick your arse.”

Merlin looked at him. “I’ll take that bet.” He sat next to Eggsy. “When would you like to go?”

“Tonight, I’ve got nothing.”

“You are a young and attractive man. You have no plans for a date?” It was Saturday, and Merlin was pretty sure that that was the common date night out in the world.

“I do, if you say yes to kicking your arse at mini golf,” Eggsy pointed out.

“Very well. Text me what one wears to 18+ mini golf bars, because I have no fucking clue.” Merlin kicked off and went all the way with barely touching the wall. 

*

“Eggsy,” Merlin looked around.

“Yeah, I know, but maybe it will be fun?”

“These are hipsters, are they not?” Merlin scanned the crowd. There was more than one waxed mustache. He was not impressed.

“They are, but the golf doesn’t look too bad, yeah?” Eggsy pointed. “Two different courses. I think the Helter Skelter looks decently fun. And the other one is the busier course because of the ferris wheel.”

Merlin looked about. “True. Very well, let us collect what we need.” They went, got the balls and putters. “My writing is dreadful, you’ll keep score?”

“Sure,” Eggsy agreed easily and took the card and tiny pencil. “And I mean at a certain point, you’ll want me to stop keeping score, anyways.” 

“This is how it goes, I see. Does one trash talk during mini golf, because I promise you I can trash talk.” Merlin grinned at him. "The best thing about 30 years of military service - the epic trash talk experience."

“Bring it, old man. Try not to break a hip when you drop your ball.”

Merlin laughed at that. He soon stopped laughing those because the first three holes went dreadfully. Mini golf was not lining up well with this brain. He couldn’t quite get the stroke right, either too strong or too soft. He appreciated though, that Eggsy wasn’t laughing. He wouldn’t have minded, but he thought it kind that he didn’t.

Eggsy scored a hole in one on the next, and Merlin congratulated him sincerely. “Impressive.”

“Just angles really.”

Merlin blinked. “It is, isn’t?” He crouched down and thought about the hole, did some rough math in his head. He got it in two hits, which after mercying out after six tries on the last one, made him feel much better. “There we go.”

“Hey, well done,” Eggsy cheered. 

“Maybe finally we’ll get this moving,” someone in the group behind them said.

“I do apologize for my slowness, we’d be happy to let you play on through,” Merlin said. He looked at the group of six, and smiled politely. “I know my first time is proving more fraught than anticipated.”

“That’s fine, sir. Nice of your son to bring you out. Take all the time you need.” A woman, younger than Eggsy replied oh so earnestly.

“He ain’t my dad,” Eggsy said, and he was starting to get his I’m going to fight the world face on.

“Play on through,” Merlin repeated, stepping a little in front of Eggsy.

The man who had started all this snorted a bit. “No hun, it ain’t his da, it’s his ‘daddy’.” He laughed a bit. “You know what I mean.” He elbowed the guy next to him. The group laughed, though Merlin could tell some of it was awkward and not at all sincere.

“The fuck you say?” Eggsy snarled.

Merlin put a steadying hand on him, and moved to the side. He shook his head, and Eggsy came with him. “He is already several beers in, and not worth your anger," Merlin whispered.

They watched the group play the hole, Merlin thought it was quite polite of him to not mention that they were in fact just as bad as Merlin was, but the next group after that was just starting, so they’d have plenty of time to enjoy the last few holes. When the group went to hold six, Merlin and Eggsy, set up at hole five. Eggsy tapped his ball, and Merlin did the same. “Fucking wankers,” Eggsy muttered.

Merlin could see the obnoxious man occasionally turn back, and then make a comment. The group would laugh, some sincere and some fake. “Pay him no mind.”

“Yeah you are older, but you aren’t the Daddy type, anyone can see that.”

“My lack of parenting skills or desires shine through that brightly do they?” Merlin shouldn’t have enjoyed the way that Eggsy looked dumbfounded for a moment, and he took his next shot. “3 that time for me, on par. Think I’m getting the hang of this.”

“Merlin, do you not know what they meant?” 

Eggsy looked so concerned and Merlin was enjoying, it but he was never the sort to leave a man hanging like that. “They mean that either you have a daddy kink, or that I am your sugar daddy of some sort.”

“Now you just made it clinical and weird.” Eggsy finished the hole as well, and they moved to the next. They took their first shots, and he could feel Eggsy’s eyes on him. “You know I don’t want you for either of that, yeah? I just want you for you?”

“Well that is good, since the limited sexual experience I have had suggests I much prefer to bottom.” He probably shouldn’t have said something like that when Eggsy was taking his shot, as the ball went flying onto the next hole. “My apologies,” Merlin said, and went to retrieve Eggsy’s ball for him. That group laughed at him, but he didn’t particularly care. He grabbed the ball and went back to Eggsy. “You can start over.”

“Fuck that, counts as a shot.” Eggsy got the ball in on his next shot. “So…we are sharing that much huh?”

“We don’t have to, I was just seizing the moment as it were.”

“I don’t really care either way, just so you know. So if you dig the one, that’s…I mean we’re all good.”

“I assumed we would be.” Merlin didn’t think Eggsy was the sort to care about what a man preferred, he didn’t think it was like how it had been when he had been young, and some people had odd beliefs about the preference. “Shall we to the next hole?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy agreed. They finished up the course, and went and grabbed a high top table near one of the bars, and the annoying group were no longer in sight. Merlin ordered a highball, and Eggsy a glass of wine. “So…umm…how goes cheering for West Ham?” Merlin wondered why he sounded so awkward.

“Oh I decided I like Arsenal. Since I used to carry one and all. I didn’t mean to like them, just happened. James has sent me multiple emails trying to get me to see the error of my ways, but I just can’t.” Merlin grinned. “James and I are very much friends now.”

“Yeah, he mentioned when he called for a quick consult for going to a premiere.” Eggsy raised his glass. “Said you went to a footie match together, and that you are fun to kiss, makes you all bashful. Raised a lot of questions that he deliberately wouldn’t answer. But you being here tonight answers them well enough.”

“I do believe he is a tease,” Merlin replied, though he was a bit unsure why him being there answered questions. James was currently in South America filming. How would Merlin be with him? “He is rather enamoured of his boyfriend, though he hasn’t said who it is.”

“He’s dating someone? Cool. So you two are just friends.” Eggsy seemed very relieved. “Know I don’t exactly compare, I mean he’s James Lance.”

“Of course you two do not compare, I would never want to spend as much time with James as I do with you. I like seeing you at least three days a week. Him if he was in town, every other week would be nice, I should think.”

“Merlin, that might be the best fucking thing anyone has ever said to me.” Merlin thought it a shame that Eggsy considered that one of the best things ever told to him, but when he opened his mouth, Eggsy grazed his lips across Merlin’s. “Yeah, you are adorable to kiss. Another round?”

Merlin nodded, a little lost, and watched Eggsy walk to the bar. They were out. On a common date night. Eggsy was getting drinks, yes he had said he had a gift card, but still meant he was paying. And he had kissed Merlin. Had sounded a touch jealous of James kissing him. 

Maths were never Merlin’s strong suit, but he could do the sums on this easily enough.

This was a date.

Now he just had to figure out if he liked the equation or not. He watched Eggsy as he flagged the bartender. Eggsy glanced back and smiled. He looked sharp tonight. Merlin wondered if he had made the trousers he was wearing. He was a touched dressed up for just friends at a bar. First date clothes. Merlin was a little under dressed, but he was wearing what Eggsy suggested. He wondered if Eggsy had dressed Merlin in these clothes because they were what Eggsy liked most, or just the ones that Eggsy knew he’d be most comfortable in. He watched a woman go up and clearly flirt with Eggsy while he was waiting for the drinks, and he had to smile at the way that Eggsy just brushed her off.

Because he was already on a date.

With Merlin.

He was coming back with the drinks and beaming at Merlin. “Right, so you know we never talked about Rox on stage. Just sort of got forgotten in everything else. I’ve been back, because I loved it. You?” Eggsy was looking at him, like he was all Eggsy could think about.

Merlin knew how he felt about the situation.

“This is a first.”

“Huh?” Eggsy scrunched his nose, and Merlin had to. He leaned over and kissed the scrunch.

“This is a first date. My first date.” He leaned back and took a sip of the fresh cocktail. “We should also have some food, aye? To make it a proper first date.”

“Yeah, we should have food.” Eggsy still looked confused. “And not that a big deal our first date is it? I been crushing on your for weeks, according to Harry I was dead obvious what with the ‘oh please may I work out with you’ and all that.”

Merlin blinked. “That was because working out in pairs makes a workout more enjoyable, and safer as well.”

“Oh my god, it was so I could ogle you because you are fit as fuck, and look bloody brilliant when sweaty.”

“I wasn’t ogling you. I feel bad for it now.” Merlin looked at Eggsy. “I will lightly ogle going forward,” he promised. “And I think it being my first first date warrants a bit of noting.”

“What the fuck?”

“You say that a great deal, it starts to lose its oomph at a certain point.”

“Merlin I get that you haven’t you known done the do a lot, but like you’ve dated.”

“Dating implies having time or being out of the closet.” Merlin shrugged. “I had neither.”

“Before the army?”

“Again the time thing. I was working, and a teenager. Didn’t know many other queer lads, and ask the wrong person and you’d get a Glasgow kiss.”

“Is that like a French kiss, I’m betting not.”

“Headbutt, broken nose.”

“Well, then,” Eggsy was staring at him. “So you are -?”

“51.”

“And having your first first date. With me. Who took you to mini golf and a bar. All on a gift card.”

“Aye. I’m having a good time.” Merlin smiled at him. “Does this mean I pick the second date?”

“Fuck, okay, no I can recover tonight.” Eggsy was pulling out his phone, and quickly typing. “What food is romantic, fuck fuck, okay search most romantic restaurants that should help, yeah?” His fingers were flying.

“Eggsy?”

“Just give me a mo, making this perfect.”

Merlin reached out, and gently pulled the phone from Eggsy’s hands. “Eggsy we are fine,” he promised. “Drink your wine, and we’ll either order some food from the bar, or move or there to get some food. Is this place too hipster to do decent nachos? I have a desire for nachos.”

“Nachos are not first date food, Harry would fall over dead.”

“Good this is not a first date of his, isn’t it?”

Eggsy snorted a bit. “I love him, but fuck cannot imagine dating him.”

“Percival is glad of that, I am sure.” Merlin looked at him. “Eggsy. Why didn’t you more clearly say it was a first date?”

“Kinda did.”

Merlin thought back to the conversation. “You implied. Never actually called it a date, and being I have little experience it was easy to miss.”

“If I asked asked, you might have said no.”

“I might have, aye,” Merlin agreed after a moment. “Because I wouldn’t have believed you really wanted it. I’m double your age and utterly hopeless at living.”

“You are kind, you are so unbearably kind,” Eggsy said. “And fucking gorgeous, and you don’t mind needing me. Just…you would have driven all your soldiers insane with lust and never had a clue.” 

“I doubt that.” Merlin thought it sweet though, that Eggsy felt that. “Eggsy can you ask me out on a date?”

“Hey, Merlin? I fancy you, and was hoping you’d maybe go out to play some mini golf, maybe have drinks, and dinner?”

“Yes, thank you, Eggsy. I would enjoy that. Do you know what I should wear?” 

“Yeah, I got some ideas.” Eggsy leaned over, and kissed Merlin’s jaw. “So, were you serious about your preference earlier?”

“I was, not that you are finding out. What sort of man do you think I am to put out on my first first date?” Merlin pretended to be affronted. 

“Of course not, just curious for the future, is all.”

“Then I guess you’ll find out. In the future. If this date turns out successful.”

“Think it already has been.”

“We shall see based on nachos.” Merlin grinned at him, and had to kiss once more the scrunch in Eggsy’s nose.

Chapter Text

“Okay, so I gotta ask, why are you doing this at my flat?” 

Merlin looked up from where he was sitting on the ground and smiled at Eggsy. “The reasoning was three fold.” He had a few albums beside him, all acid free paper, and the proper protections for the photos that he was pulling out of the bin and spreading around him. “One, you have more floor for me to lay out the photos to create some semblance of order. Two the way your windows are, I’ll keep the light to work on the project longer.” Merlin began to lay out photos.

“And the three fold?”

“Well, you are here, aren’t you?” Merlin smiled at him. They had been dating for a couple months now, and he was fairly certain by any metric that the relationship was a growing success. “I like being where you are.”

“Fuck, that is all sorts of good,” Eggsy sighed and looked at his phone. “But Roxy is coming by for a consult in a bit. So I won’t actually be here here.”

“Yes but I’ll know you are in your workroom, just below, perhaps hear your voice. That makes me content.” He smiled when Eggsy stepped carefully around the rows that Merlin was building on the ground and kissed his head. “These look of an age together?”

“Yeah, roughly?” Eggsy was looking down at the photos. “Your aunt isn’t in those ones.”

“No these are younger, my father was taking them.”

“Yeah but you aunt would still be in a few right?” Eggsy was looking around and Merlin knew that 80% of the ones out just were his mother or he and his mum. There were 3 of he and his mum and his father. “You look like him.” Eggsy crouched and picked up one. “And apparently you had resting murder face even when you were what - three?”

“Aye there abouts.” Merlin took the photo and carefully put it in the album. “That is a thing we have in common, isn’t it?”

“Wot, resting murder face?”

“Fathers gone too young.”

“Seven, he died in the army when I was seven,” Eggsy said. “I don’t remember him as much as I wish I did. But sometimes I’ll smell a shitty aftershave walking by, cheap ass stuff, and I can remember him tucking me in. Nuzzling me. And it feels nice.” 

Merlin nodded. “I was twelve, I remember a lot more, but he may as well have been in a foreign country for what I saw him. Every spare shift he could pick up he did. There was a small collapse, they lied and told us he died quickly. Mum flipped off the management building every time she walked by it.”

“Babe, your mum sounds all sorts of badass,” Eggsy picked up a photo. “And you got the resting murder face from her huh?”

Merlin laughed a bit. “Aye, she was terrifying. Only person I remember her smiling for was -”

“Your da,” Eggsy cut him off. “Yeah my mum, same way.”

“No, she loved him, but her true smile, that only came out around my aunt.” Merlin filled one album and then reached for more photos. “One time, my aunt was doing this dance in the living room, she had won 50 quid on a radio contest. It was a mix of like the watusi and the twist and whatever else came to her mind. She was just swinging moving about and demanded I join in. God I am just the worst dancer, and at 15 it all was dreadfully embarrassing even when no one could see us. But I did and I looked over and Mum was smiling. Just this beautiful soft barely there smile.”

“For you,” Eggsy nudged, and started to help lay out the photos on the ground.

“No, all her smiles were for my aunt, and I never minded. Mum showed she loved me in a million ways, a million sacrifices. She would have liked you.” Merlin wondered at the face Eggsy was making. “Eggsy?”

“Nothing. I’m going to make a cuppa, want?”

“Aye,” Merlin looked at him. “Are you sure?”

“Cuppa is no big deal,” Eggsy replied and Merlin decided not to press.

Merlin continued to lay out photos and Eggsy put some music on. He brought over a cuppa, which Merlin put next to himself on the ground. “I’m going downstairs to prep for Roxy. Let me know if you need me.”

“Of course,” Merlin said. He hummed along with the music when he recognized it, heard Eggsy open that giant door of his for Roxy and listened to their voices though with the music he couldn’t hear the words and once in Eggsy’s workroom, couldn’t hear them at all. He filled two more photo albums by the time he could hear footsteps on the stairs. “Done for the day?”

“We are,” Roxy agreed. “Hiya, Merlin.”

“Roxy, a pleasure, you are looking lovely.” Merlin started to stand and crumpled back down. “Fuck, I really should have sat on a pillow.” 

He could see Roxy starting to move forward to help him, and smiled when Eggsy tried to subtly stop her. “Need help, Merlin?” Eggsy asked.

It was a thing he appreciated about Eggsy, he didn’t try to help Merlin. He always asked first, didn’t assume that Merlin couldn’t right himself, or fix the problem. Probably because he had seen Merlin climb the wall with one leg, and their other various workouts. He had asked Eggsy about it on a date and Eggsy had said that he had done a ton of research on amputation once he had known about Merlin’s leg, recovery, and how people could or should help or not help. He had fallen just a touch in love he thought when Eggsy had told him that. 

But he was pretty sure that Roxy didn’t even know about the injury. “Aye, it isn’t my leg, my bony arse is completely numb,” he said. Roxy came over and held out a hand. He was impressed with her strength as she hauled him up. “You don’t neglect arm day, I see.”

“Oi, look I like the gym, and I like being fit, but it isn’t my fucking religion like it is for you,” Eggsy said. “Roxy is hungry. Ordering some curry, you in?”

“Sounds good,” Merlin agreed. “And what sort of workout do you do, Roxy?”

Her eyes gleamed and Merlin found them getting lost in the conversation. The curry arrived and the three had a wonderful dinner, Merlin mightily enjoying the teasing and friendship between Eggsy and Roxy.

“So what are you doing?” Roxy gestured to the floor.

“Finally putting all my mother’s photos in albums. She hated them, but she’s dead and would also be annoyed with me that I wasn’t organizing my own items to how I see fit. She was a contrary woman,” Merlin’s voice was full of fondness. “But the project is a bit slower than I expected. Memories and all that.”

“It’s like a puzzle, I love puzzles.” Roxy smiled. “Want some help. All three of us working on it, go quick.”

“I can hardly impose,” Merlin protested.

“More fun than my plans for the night,” Roxy said.

“Happy to help, more than just giving you my floor,” Eggsy reached out and rubbed the back of Merlin’s neck, a casual gesture that he regularly did now. Merlin leaned into the touch happily. 

They went back over to the photos and Merlin appreciated how they listened as he told stories of his mother and aunt, having gotten all the younger photos put away. There were some teases about the growth spurt that happened when he was around 16 and he endured them easily as they were gentle jabs. Half a dozen albums were filled and there wasn’t that much left in the bin.

“Hey Merlin, you missed unwrapping a packet,” Eggsy said finding one under the loose photos. “Fuck look at this paisley,” he crooned as he stroked the scarf.

“Oh I cannot unwrap those,” Merlin replied and began to lay out photos. “These are now from after I was in the army. Made enough I sent Mum and my aunt on a weekend to Spain. They got sunburned and food poisoning and had the best time of their lives.”

“Aunt hmm?” Roxy gave him a knowing look, which Eggsy missed staring intently at the paisley, and Merlin just shrugged. He continued to organize the photos on the ground.

“Okay, but why can’t you unwrap these ones?” Eggsy asked. He was plucking at the scarf a bit.

“The note right there, it says ‘Avery do not open this one ever’.” Merlin looked at Eggsy. “That is my mother’s hand.” That should explain it enough.

“But aren’t you curious?” Eggsy was moving the packet about. “Thinner than the rest.”

“Not especially curious, Mum said not to open.”

“Yeah but how would she know?”

“It says not to open Eggsy,” Merlin frowned at him. “With my name. Ergo I will not open it.”

“I have to ask how long since she passed?” Roxy was aiming for delicacy.

“Long enough ago, that the memory no longer stings,” Merlin said. “Been alone for a long time.”

“Not alone no more, yeah?” Eggsy stopped poking at the last packet to look at him. “Got me?”

“I do at that,” Merlin smiled at him. “But I know what you are getting at lass, that perhaps it is long enough that that message no longer applies. But if she wrote for me to not open that ever, I will abide by her wishes.”

“Lawful good sort, eh?” Roxy nodded. “Weird but I can respect it.”

“Yeah, but how do you live with the curiosity?” Eggsy kept looking at it. “Would kill me.”

“My name is written on that not yours. By all means, open it, just make sure I don’t see them. You can wrap them in paper after and have the scarf.”

“Best boyfriend,” Eggsy sounded so eager, almost like a kid opening a birthday gift. But then he screamed and dropped the packet. “Arghhhh Mum porn.”

“I’m sorry?” Merlin asked. He made sure to not look at the dropped photos, just as his mother asked. “Roxy, Eggsy seems to have frozen. Could you pick those up?” He closed his eyes and when Roxy gave the all clear he opened them again. “Eggsy?”

“What the fuck were your mum and aunt up to? Oh my god,” Eggsy was pale. “Merlin, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but your family were messed up that your mum and her sister were doing that together. Fuck and now I’ve gone and ruined your memories of your family. Fucking hell, I am the worst boyfriend.”

“I don’t understand, I mean I am not a fan of the fact that I apparently own naked photos of my mother and aunt, but is it really so appaling to you?” He found himself incredibly disappointed in Eggsy. “I cannae believe you are responding like that about someone’s sexuality.”

“Oh my god,” Roxy began to laugh. “Merlin, he thinks your aunt was your actual aunt.”

“What?” Merlin was frowning. “Wait…” He looked at Eggsy who was looking a little queasy. “Eggsy, you thought she was my mother’s sister?”

“Isn’t she?” Eggsy looked between the two of them. “You never even say her name, always just my aunt.”

“Wait, Merlin, please let me,” Roxy begged. Merlin nodded a bit at a loss. “Harold, they’re lesbians,” Roxy said leaning forward and then started laughing so much she fell over. “Eggsy, it was what the 70s and 80s? They couldn’t be out. Eggsy they were partners.”

“Mum called them a bookshelf.”

“Okay, that is a new one.”

Merlin smiled at Roxy. “My aunt was the books and my mother the shelf. Books with all their words and pictures need a place to rest, to be organized, held. And shelves are nothing without the books on them making their sturdiness beautiful.”

“Right, that is going to make me cry.”

“Your Mum was bi?” Eggsy’s jaw dropped. 

“Eggsy my aunt was half black, I thought that it was pretty clear they were nae related,” Merlin held up a photo of him in his uniform after his first promotion, his mum looking dour, his aunt beaming. Just as they always were.

“I dunno,” Eggsy snapped and crossed his arms. He was pouting a bit. “I’m an idiot.”

“No, you just took conversation in earnest and didn’t realize the subtext.” Merlin moved over to him. “I could never call Aunt Carina my mother as well, though that is what she was, because she and Mum were shunned already. For being poor, for everyone knowing what they were but since it was never said couldn’t be made overt. For her being half black. It was a habit so long established, that I forgot for you who probably has been out most of his sexuality, that subtext like that would be foreign.” Merlin touched his leg. “I’m sorry you had to clue in via their porn together.” Merlin paled a bit. “Oh god, I have mom porn.” A moment from his teen years crystalized. “Oh that is why my aunt set up the bathroom to be a dark room. It wasn’t cheaper than the pharmacy, they just couldn’t have those round to the pharmacy for development.”

They were all quiet for a moment and Roxy was the first to break and laugh and soon all three were lost to the laughter, Eggsy even falling off the couch. Any time one of them was near to collecting themselves, one would say “Mum porn” and they were in fits again.

Finally Merlin had control of himself, until he said “Well, I do not think I can put that in an album.”

“Oh fuck, no you cannot,” Eggsy was leaning against him and Merlin certainly didn’t mind when Eggsy threw his legs over Merlin’s lap and cuddled in a bit. “What do you do with Mum nudies?”

Merlin just winced at the word mum and nudies together. “I don’t know, because I am not allowed to look at them.”

“I’ll take them away,” Roxy offered. “Because I think you both will pass out if you have to deal with them.”

“I would be very appreciative of that,” Merlin said. It would kill him to throw out photos of his family, but the thought of keeping those now that he knew they existed would have driven him spare. Out of extreme sight, out of mind.

“I’ll get you a bag for them,” Eggsy said and heaved himself up. 

“Thanks luv, and I need to head out.” Roxy smiled at Merlin. “Nice to see you again.”

“And you as well. Filming coming up?”

“Yeah, think so. Not supposed to say what yet, secrecy and all that. But pretty sure you can keep a secret. But down to me and another woman for a superhero part.”

“Is that the sort of acting you are interested in?”

“One superhero contract and I can make as many broke as indie and historical nerd movies as I want,” Roxy said. 

“If you need to know how to hold a gun, let me know,” Merlin replied.

“Thanks. James said you are brutal at that, but brilliant. So I’ll keep it in mind.” She gave a wave and followed Eggsy downstairs. Merlin cleaned up the rest of the photos. Not much left, but after the discovery he was rather done with the project for the night. He stretched out on Eggsy’s couch. His eyes were closed and he was listening to the music, smiling at the song and the sound of Eggsy’s footsteps. When Eggsy lay down on top of him, Merlin wrapped his arms around him, hands settled in the small of his back.

“All good?”

“Yeah, she needed some advice for meeting wear and she is going to a premiere next weekend.” Eggsy snuggled in. “Not too heavy?”

“I’ve been pinned under a flipped humvee, you are not heavy at all,” Merlin promised him.

“Wee, I weigh less than a humvee?” Eggsy snorted a bit. They listened to the music, Merlin listened to Eggsy’s breathing. “Cannot believe I was that thick about your mum and aunt.”

“It is fine,” Merlin reassured him.

“Is that how you survived? Their example?” Merlin looked at Eggsy who propped up his chin on Merlin’s chest on his arms. “The army, I mean, is cause of them how you survived being in the closet?”

“I suppose,” Merlin said. “I watched them keep the secret out of doors until they died. In theory when they could have been out, they still never openly said anything, never went to a parade, never got to publicly say anything. Lingering fear, habit, the fact that my mother was very specific on her life being no one’s business but hers. And I suppose I agreed with that. I knew many who were happy the day you could officially be out in the army. Mostly I just kept doing my job.”

“Nobody’s business, yeah?”

“Indeed. And the level I was at…” Merlin tried to think how to phrase it. “I was never told to stay in the closet, no one knew enough about my personal life to suggest that. Everyone rather assumed just married to my job. But I listened to coworkers, to some politicians, and did the math. My career wouldn’t have ended, but if I was personally out it likely wouldn’t have progressed that last bit it did.”

“And you weren’t particularly bothered by not being out, because of everything. You never felt trapped.”

“No, it was always my choice. If I hadn’t made that choice, I would have had more sex, a different career, a hundred things would be different. And perhaps I wouldn’t currently be lying down on this couch under my boyfriend who ways less than a humvee. I am content here.” Merlin ran his hands up and down Eggsy’s back. “I have no interest in regretting it. My mother and aunt knew the truth and I had their love, their eternal support. My father if he had known would have been the same.”

“Yeah, tough Scottish miner wouldn’t have given a fuck?”

“He knew Mum was bi. She said when they went to movies they both swooned over Sophia Loren.” Merlin looked at Eggsy. “You have concerns about your father, if he had lived to known?”

“I dunno?” Eggsy lay down, and Merlin could tell he didn’t really want to look him in the eye. “Mum, she weren’t upset that I was bi, but took her a bit to become okay with it, like really okay and not call it a phrase because all young men are horny. And Dean…well…were a weapon in his arsenal against me.” Merlin could only hug him tighter. “My friend Jamal, didn’t give a fuck, so long as I didn’t hit on him.”

Merlin thought making a statement like that was rather giving a fuck but he said nothing.

“Harry was completely square about it all, when I mentioned I had a fun night with a bloke, he made a joke about probably not as fun as when Percival ties him up, which let me tell you, had no fucking clue to do with that sentence for a moment, until I realized it were him being supportive.”

“And you use all these cues to try to suppose how your father might have been,” Merlin put the pieces together.

“Yeah,” Eggsy burrowed in. “He woulda liked you. Him being military and all. And I think, I think he would have been okay. The bloke I almost remembered? He was all heart and love. Don’t think that would have changed none.”

“I am sure that I would have liked him too,” Merlin held Eggsy and they just lay there for a few songs. “Okay, you are starting to approach a more humvee weight.” The dead weight of Eggsy was a lovely thing, but starting to be a little much. Merlin balanced and sat up.

“Did you just fucking do a sit up all the way with me on you? What the fuck?”

“If we had stayed like that, we would have fallen asleep. I would be numb and covered in your drool.” Merlin sighed. He really didn’t want to go to his flat, but he had imposed enough. “Lunch tomorrow?”

“You could stay the night, got that huge bed,” Eggsy said casually.

“Eggsy, I am incredibly sexually attracted to you, but the first time we fuck will not be on the day we discovered that my mother and aunt took naked photos of each other.”

“Together too, your camera must have had a timer.”

“I could have lived the next few decades very happily not knowing that.”

“Least you didn’t see them. If I didn’t know it were your mum, they would have been really hot.”

“Now you are just doing this to tease.” 

“Would I tease the great and fearsome Brigadier?”

“Yes.” Merlin flicked Eggsy’s nose and then kissed it.

“Yeah I would, and no I know we ain’t shagging tonight. But you are content here. I am content that you are here. Don’t have to stop being content, yeah?” Eggsy kissed him. “Stay?”

Merlin nodded. “I would be very happy to.” They stared at each other, the silence growing, knowing they were moving their relationship forward again. He waited for Eggsy to say soemthing.

“Your mum seemed really limber, just so you know.”

Merlin dumped Eggsy onto the floor.

Chapter Text

Merlin was pretty sure he had everything set up correctly. He had a checklist on his phone and consulted it. He had not decorated any, because it was just friends over to watch footie. And not even a hugely important match. But he had bought a new table cloth and serving bowls, so that counted. The webpages all recommended a variety of beer to suit all needs, but he had said in everyone’s invite except Eggsy’s that wine or whisky would be available but no beer, and that there would be a variety of fizzy drinks. He had crisps, and a bunch of other nibbles out. There were meatballs in bbq sauce and coke warm on a chafing dish with toothpicks, an American thing he had found and was intrigued by. He was fairly certain he was prepared for his first have the guys over event.

The buzzer sounded, and he let the person in. When he opened the door he smiled at Sean. “Thank you for coming,” he said formally, and Sean rolled his eyes.

“Course I came,” Sean said. “Brought crisps since you said beer was a no go. Why exactly is it a no go?” 

Merlin let him in and put the crisps on the counter. “Triggers my boyfriend’s ptsd. Like you pumping petrol.” He saw Sean nod in understanding. “How is work?”

“Good, going well with those initiatives you suggested. Would go better if you came to work with us,” Sean was nudging. He did every third time they talked. “Security guard boring you yet?”

“It was boring me the second day of the job, and that is why I like it,” Merlin replied. “Fizzy drink?”

“Ginger ale?”

Merlin got it for him, and answered the buzzer when it rang again. He smiled when he opened the door, easily accepted the hug and kiss he was offered.

“Well, darling, at least you are not wearing a jersey of a certain team that will not be named.” James smiled at him. “Lovely to see you. Missed you.”

“Missed you as well,” Merlin agreed. James had been pulled away for some reshoots and had actually been injured a bit while on set. Nothing horrible, just a bad muscle pull but Merlin had been concerned. “All better?”

“You fuss too much,” James dismissed. “Now then, darling, let’s talk about your flat.”

“Let’s not,” Merlin rolled his eyes. “I know it is perfectly bland, but the couch is fairly comfortable for watching a sports thing. Let me introduce you to Captain McKnight.”

“Retired, and fuck you were brilliant in the Conspiracy Question,” Sean blurted out, and flushed a bit.

“Oh really? Thank you, someone here rather thought my knife fight in it was appalling and unwatchable.”

“Well yeah, it was rubbish but the rest was brilliant,” Sean said. He rubbed his neck a bit. “I mean, it was all spectacular.”

James laughed a bit. “I see it is an across the army thing then, to make fun of my fighting.”

“I can recite one Shakespeare speech and you can make fun of me?”

“Let me guess, we few, we happy few?” James threw an arm over Merlin. “You know any Shakespeare?”

“If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend: And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.”

“What the fuck, darling?” 

“He read Shakespeare when in barracks,” Sean explained. “Said the rhythm was comforting.”

“Watches can die, readouts blur. Memorized a bunch of monologues and how long they took me to recite, for situations where timing was key.” Merlin flushed a bit when James kissed hard. “Not that big a deal.”

“It is a very big deal,” James replied. “Now then, how many more are we expecting?”

“My boss, and his partner, Harry.”

“Oh I love, Harry,” James enthused. “And I trust, Eggsy?”

“Aye, though I do want to text him. He said he’d be early to help me set up and not panic at socializing.” Merlin excused himself, and texted Eggsy. He heard the buzzer and Merlin pocketed the phone. He let in Harry and Percival, and all the men engaged in small talk and settled in front of the telly. Merlin’s phone vibrated in his pocket and he checked it.

Sorry, jamal and ryan stopped by trying to get rid of them.

By all means, bring them along.

Merlin was fairly certain that was what you were supposed to do in situations such as these.

You sure?

I am

Merlin looked over. “Eggsy had some mates stop by, they’ll be joining him and be along shortly.” Everyone nodded agreeably, but Harry had a bit of a look on his face. “Harry, I could use your opinion on…” Fuck now he needed something. “On Eggsy’s friends that are coming over,” was what came out of his mouth. He sighed. “I was supposed to have a generic fake thing there.”

Sean snorted his beer. “It’s like with that Canadian Admiral all over again.”

“Ooh do we have fun military stories about our Merlin?” James leaned forward eagerly. “The one person I knew that knew about Merlin was far too intimidated and in awe to speak trash. I live for gossip.”

Sean looked to Merlin. “Aye that story is fine.” He stood and Harry followed him to the bedchamber.  “You weren’t happy when I said his friends were coming. You weren’t making posh snob face about estate lads, it was something else.”

“To be fair, that is a part of it. I am a bit of a posh snob,” Harry said. He shrugged a bit. “They are good enough sorts, who do hold Eggsy in affection.”

“But,” Merlin said.

“But,” Harry agreed. “They hurt him, by not seeing who he has become, that the teasing about his career choices hurts. They remember the lad that they got drunk with, did drugs with, partying, fighting. They want him to be who he was, because then he won’t leave them behind. But he never would leave friends behind. Forget any soldier you knew, there is none as loyal as Eggsy.”

Merlin knew that. “Well, let us see how this goes then.”

“Indeed. They aren’t bad, they just aren’t ambitious. And they resent that he has become such.”

They left the bedroom, and they were all watching the game, James intensely into it, which Merlin had expected and the buzzer rang. Merlin let them in, and he could see the tension in Eggsy. “Hello,” he said softly and kissed Eggsy’s temple. He looked at the two men behind Eggsy. “Welcome,” he said. “I’m Merlin.”

“Jamal, yeah?”

“Ryan, we brought beer. Made Eggsy stop, can’t go to a footie party without an offering.” Ryan looked very pleased with himself. “Manners like this tosser’s boss goes on about.”

“That tosser boss is already here,” Harry called out.

“Fuck, sorry Eggs,” Ryan winced. 

“No worries, Harry knows you are just taking the piss.”

They came into the flat, and Merlin held out his hand for the beer. “Thank you for this,” he said. “I’ll just put it where it belongs for today, and I am sure it will be enjoyed another time.” Merlin took the six pack and put it out on the balcony, hidden under the table. “There we go. I have fizzy drink, Eggsy’s favourite red wine, and a couple bottles of whisky. Also happy to put the kettle on.”

“Huh?” Jamal looked at him. “I’d like a beer.”

“It’s fine,” Eggsy said. “I don’t mind.”

Merlin looked at him. “Do you honestly not mind, or you don’t want to appear a bother?”

“What’s going on?” Jamal looked at Eggsy.

“I really hate beer. Smell of it makes me think of Dean. Of…things.”

“Fuck, bruv, you should have said,” Ryan looked horrified.

“Did. You just thought I was taking the piss. And now we’re making a weekend footie gathering emotional. Go us.”

“Fizzy drink would be great, it’s a geezer party, so we’ll drink like the geezers,” Jamal nodded. “No offense old - holy shit you’re James Lance.”

“I am darling,” James agreed. “Do you cheer for Arsenal?”

“Fuck no,” Jamal snapped. “West Ham.”

“You may sit next to me because you have good taste unlike our host.” James smiled at Merlin, and Merlin just flipped him off.

“I’d drink a cuppa,” Ryan offered. “Can we go at the food, I’m starving.”

“Of course, help yourself,” Merlin said and put the kettle on. He felt arms wrap around his back and smiled. “Why Percival, we are getting a touch personal.”

Eggsy laughed. “Be hugging you a little higher if it was him.” He gave a squeeze, and then boosted himself onto Merlin’s counter. “Thank you.”

“You will never be made uncomfortable in my home,” Merlin promised him. “The place looks okay, right?”

“Yeah, Merlin. Looks exactly like how it should for having the mates over,” Eggsy reassured him. “And whatever is in there smells brilliant.”

“I found it your cowboy’s Instagram. Tequila swears he serves these meatballs at every superbowl party and they are a big hit.”

“You follow Tequila’s Insta?”

“I follow all your client’s on their social media accounts.”

“That is true fucking love, right there,” Eggsy said. 

Merlin went and stood between his legs. “Perhaps it is,” he said softly.

“Nope, no romantic declarations when my boss is sitting right there, and James is screaming about offside rules.”

“Very well. Go sit and enjoy.” Merlin brought over the requested drinks, and the afternoon seemed like it was successful. Percival started reading a book, footie boring to him, but occasionally commenting on things that people were saying, adding his opinion.

Sean it turned out knew a couple of the players a little bit as they were involved in veteran charities, and told a funny story about them making balloon animals for children of veterans. Jamal and Ryan did tease Eggsy a bit more than Merlin cared for, but Eggsy never had that haunted look in his eyes, and was giving as good as he got, so he let it be, because it was their friendship. Pizza arrived during the second period, and everyone ate, and he was pleased that most of the meatballs had been eaten.

“Fuck!” James screamed at the telly, and they all shouted when a player took a hard hit and flew through the air and hit the ground. “Fuck look at his arm.”

It quickly turned to commercial.

“Bloody hell,” Jamal said, “that was broken, yeah?”

“It was, broke my arm once,” Sean said with a nod, “it sort of looked like that.”

“In the military?” James asked.

“Nope, at a ren fair, slipped on horse shit.” Sean shook his head. “Was shot at for 20 years, had bone bruises for where hit the vests, but thing that hurt the most was arm because of a goddamn horse at a bloody ren faire.”

Merlin snickered. It was the truth and never stopped being funny.

“I broke an ankle once,” Percival chimed in. “Ice on the steps. Brutal needed a couple pins. Still hurts on occasional. I’d say I can tell the weather with it, but oh so hard to figure it might rain in London.”

“Hey maybe we talk about something else?” Eggsy suggested.

“No got you beat,” Jamal declared. “You want to know the worst pain? Like the worst? I promise I win this.”

Merlin watched Eggsy grow a little panicked. “Jamal, really, we aren’t playing this game?”

“Yeah, because you got nothing on me tearing my thigh ligament fucking Roberta Stanis.” Jamal was laughing. “She said pick me up and hell she is a tiny fucking bird, so we’re going hard and okay fine thigh is straining, but then a thrust add a little too much oomph on the push and actually fucking tore a ligament.”

“Really, I am pretty sure Merlin will win this,” Eggsy said. “And I don’t know if he wants to.”

“Besides nothing can beat the chunk I took out of my hand with pinking shears,” Harry held up his hand. “It still sometimes pulses. Missed the fabric when I was apprentice and bled over the whole table. Bastard master tailor took the cost of the fabric out of my pay.”

Ryan just shrugged. “Never had anything that will compare.”

James was clearly mulling.

“Eggsy, worst pain you’ve ever had?” Merlin asked. 

Eggsy shook his head. “Nah, been hurt a bunch, but got nothing to compare to wot some other people here have felt.” Merlin noticed Jamal reach out and squeeze Eggsy’s leg. They did love him, even if they didn’t get him, and that had to count for a lot. 

“Right, I have it!” James clapped his hands with relish. “I win most grievous injury. I was filming this ghastly horror film, right at the start of my career. Turns out I am allergic to this one very specific compound used in many fake bloods. And they had me nude in a pool of it. Do you know how a rash on your taint feels? And worse if you one night do not stop yourself from itching?”

“Sure you didn’t just have the clap, bruv?” 

James snickered. “No, always played safe lad, the rash was so bad, and covered almost every part of me. I was peeling, scabs, bruises. When the director saw me, he told me to go back to makeup they had gone too far, it was actually too disgusting to film.” Merlin rather enjoyed the sound of laughter filling his flat. He would have to do this again. “Can anybody top that, I think not!”

“I have a Prince Albert piercing in my cock,” Merlin said. “Never felt anything worse than that.”  He decided to get himself a bit more pizza, he was a touch peckish. When he returned with a slice, everyone was still quiet, and staring at him in various levels of shock. “What?”

“Why the fuck would you willingly pierce your willy?” Ryan asked. “Oh my god, why?”

“Because for the first time in thirty years my body was my own. It wasn’t queen or country's, it wasn’t there to keep my men safe, to serve another. It was mine, and I wanted to make a statement that said it was mine that any pain delivered to it would be of my choice. And the needle gun thing for tattoos terrifies me, so piercing, but I’d look funny with anything on my face, and nipple were already sensitive so, cock.”

“Point of fact,” Harry said once he seemed to control the shock blinking that had started. “Do they not use a needle to you know, pierce your penis?”

“Yes but it doesn’t make the noise that a tattoo gun does, and I didn’t want anything touching my skin that was called a gun,” Merlin shrugged. “I did a great deal of research on the best piercers in London, and when I explained the woman was very kind and very quick. But still no pain has been as bad as that.” He smiled when Jamal’s hand went in the air. “Yes?”

“You said thirty years and everything else. This wasn’t a stupid choice you lived with since you were like our age?”

“No, I did this two weeks after I retired, so been a year and a half? Thereabouts?”

“You are completely insane.”

“You sound impressed.”

“Bit yeah,” Jamal nodded. “That’s sick.”

“So since I’ve won, shall we go back to watching the game?” Merlin suggested. “It started up a bit ago.”

“What the fuck, sir?” Sean asked.

“Sean, please,” Merlin rolled his eyes. His friend always fell back on formality when thoroughly flummoxed.

“That’s your worst pain?” Sean waved his hand towards Merlin’s leg. “You are missing a body part.”

“Wot?” Jamal and Ryan both shouted.

Merlin just pulled up the leg of his denim showed the prosthetic. “Dick hurt more,” he said. “No big deal. Lots of soldiers far worse off than me.” Sean had his stubborn face on, and he knew the man wouldn’t let this go.

“How, how did you piercing your cock hurt more than that?”

“Because to be fair, I don’t really remember it,” Merlin said. “There was so much adrenaline, and noise, and a million things, that I honestly couldn’t feel the pain.”

“You got pinned by a flying humvee!”

“It wasn’t flying, it was hit with a missile, flipped a couple times and landed on me.” He thought; that is what the reports said anyways. It was so much a blank.

“An armored vehicle landed on you?” Eggsy was staring at him. “That why you know I weigh less than one.”

“It was more it had landed and did a last roll. There were a couple men and well -”

“Well, is that he pushed them out of the way, and while pinned down by a fucking humvee that was crushing his leg so much it would need to be amputated, lay down enough suppressing fire to keep the other men safe. He was basically fucking dying and keeping the men safe until a couple more trucks got to them. He bloody died!”

“I didn’t die,” Merlin swatted his leg. “I’m sitting right here aren’t I? It was just a shock based heart attack, was only not beating for a couple minutes while I was being triaged.”

“You fucking died!” Eggsy glared at him. “You fucking died, and you are saying a piercing was worse than all of that?”

“Yes,” Merlin replied. He was going to stick to this point, because for him it was the truth. “All of that was a blur, and the after it hurt, it fucking sucked, and I was scared my career was over, but instead it got me more commendations and awards and made me finally accept the desk job, that I had been supposed to be doing anyways, I just hated sending men to a field I couldn’t be on. The pain for a long time was constant, consistent. But the pain of a needle going into your dick? That fucks a man up.”

“I still say pinking shears,” Harry huffed, and Merlin knew he had done it deliberately to ease the tension in the room.

“Yes my dear, you have suffered most grievously in your life,” Percival gave Harry’s head a there there pat. “Why the time you had to endure me wearing a black jacket with navy trousers, no one will ever match your pain.”

“It was appalling, like you had dressed in the dark.”

“No, I just did it to rile you up,” Percival replied. “Sort of like how James would be riled if he was looking at the telly.”

Sure enough when he looked over, James started shouting and the pain contest was soon over. The rest of the gathering went smoothly and no one seemed in a hurry to leave but eventually people starting standing and Jamal looked at Eggsy. “Since we made you late for coming, you best stay and help your man clean up, yeah?”

“You sure?” 

“Wot like we can’t figure out how to ride the tube without you holding our hand, mum?” Jamal punched him and a few minutes later Eggsy and Merlin were alone in the flat. 

“This was good, babe,” Eggsy told him, and Merlin collapsed on his couch.

“Fuck, I threw a party, and it didn’t suck,” Merlin looked at him. “People had an enjoyable time.”

“They did. You should make it a regular thing.”

“Oh fuck no,” Merlin groaned, “It is way too much pressure, entertaining.”

“Once a month at least.”

“No,” Merlin flipped him off. He looked over towards the kitchen. “I don’t want to clean.” He wasn’t whining but it was close.

“How about you go have a lie down, or bath or something. I know this was rough for you. Go decompress, and I’ll clean up.”

“Are you sure?”

“You invited my friends along, made sure a single beer was never cracked, but didn’t look at them like how Harry does. Trust me, happy to do a little cleaning.”

Merlin would have protested more, but he knew that would upset Eggsy. And frankly a bath sounded lovely. He went and poured in some soothing salts, the warm hot but not boiling. He sank him and lord it felt wonderful, and the quiet was nice. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift. There was a faint tap on the door, the water was still hot so it hadn’t been that long.

“You want a cuppa?”

“Thank you,” Merlin called back. It was another ten minutes before he heard another tap asking if Eggsy could come in. “Aye.” Merlin smiled at Eggsy. “All done?”

“Near about, got the meatball dish soaking. But wasn’t a fussy clean up. I’ll head out.”

“Stay,” Merlin requested.

“Sure,” Eggsy grinned. “I’ll just -”

“Stay and talk to me. You can ogle.”

“Well, how can a man say no to that?” Merlin watched him hop up onto the bathroom counter. “So pierced dick huh?”

“You’ve noticed, surely.”

“Nope,” the p sound popped hard as it crossed his lips. “Ogled you plenty, but a gentleman these days, never ogled below abs.”

“And I don’t have a particularly large or shiny ring in,” Merlin replied. “Not looking to go for higher gauge than the initial piercing.” Eggsy’s eyes were on his face, not straying. Merlin held up his cock in the water to better show the piercing. “Go ahead and ogle.”

He watched Eggsy’s eyes drift down. He rather liked the soft gasp that came from Eggsy’s lips. He let go and picked up the mug. “Tea is perfect.”

“Thanks.” Eggsy’s eyes were back on his face. “Really the worst pain you’ve felt?”

“Aye,” Merlin agreed. “Because I choose that it was the worst pain I felt. I give other pain the same weight, I don’t think I’d be as fine as I am.”

“I can understand that,” Eggsy said. “My worst pain was Dean beating the shit out of me because a job went south.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“No, but I choose that it is.”

“I understand.” Merlin looked at him. “Stay tonight?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy agreed. He hopped off the counter and moved to sit along the lip of the tub. His hand went into the water, pushed it back and forth a bit.

“Fuck me tonight?” It was the first time Merlin had asked. They had been moving towards sex, both knew it, though they hadn’t done more than make out the few times they had stayed at each other’s flats.

“Yeah,” Eggsy said. He leaned over, and kissed Merlin. “Finish your cuppa and your bath.”

“Staying?”

“Not going anywhere,” Eggsy promised. 

Chapter Text

Merlin was in Eggsy’s bed. It was really quite comfortable. He shouldn’t really be in it, he had come to water Eggsy’s plants, collect his mail, only he had decided to finish this book he had been reading there and by the time he was done, he was tired, and the bed was right there. Eggsy had said to consider the flat as Merlin’s while he was gone, and Merlin decided to take him at his word.

It smelled a bit like Eggsy, though Eggsy had been gone just long enough the smell was fading.

Three weeks in America, working.

He was proud of Eggsy, getting more clients and exposure, even being profiled in a fashion magazine as an up and comer, but he missed the lad. He could have met up with him for a bit of it, Eggsy had casually suggested, but he thought it was important that Eggsy be able to focus on his work.

Next time though, if Eggsy was gone for three weeks, he’d more seriously consider the offer. 

It was late and he was laying there, debating a wank, but that felt utterly crass in another’s bed even if they weren’t there. He looked at the clock. He wasn’t exactly sure where Eggsy was today, the schedule got a bit vague towards the end, but thought he’d send a text.

You’re bed isn’t as comfy without you in it. Rather sappy but it was late at night and he missed his boyfriend.

Ooooh, send me a pic. Merlin took a selfie and sent it. Nice.

Send me a pick of you? Merlin stared at the photo in confusion. Eggsy that looks awfully like the tube.

Don’t it just? Keep the bed warm, see you in twenty.

Merlin grinned. He didn’t realize that Eggsy was coming home. The date had been flexible, but he had expected a few more days at least. He thought about getting up, but the most he did was budge up against the headboard, sitting instead of lying down. He picked up the book on the nightstand that had gathered a few of his things over the last couple of months. He was spending more and more time at Eggsy’s flat than his own. Neither man seemed to object to this. He tried to read, but kept getting distracted by thoughts of Eggsy and seeing him again, what they might do after Eggsy had a shower.

Merlin really liked being fucked by Eggsy. 

He heard the door. “Hiya,” was called out.

“Hello, Eggsy,” Merlin called back, and when Eggsy appeared in the doorway one look was enough to know that sex wasn’t happening that night. “You look dreadful.” The bed bounced a little as Eggsy walked over, and just flopped face first on it. Merlin began to massage his head. “Something go wrong?”

“Too many airports, was a baby who fussed the whole time over the ocean. And not gonna blame the baby was a baby, yeah? But it meant I yelled at a wanker who was yelling at the mum who was doing everything she could. Got a free snack from the flight attendant for that. But just been so busy and couldn’t sleep on the plane and loud and just blah.” Eggsy scooted without really lifting his head and Merlin wrapped an arm around him. “Warm. Beds are cold without you.”

Merlin smiled a bit. “Seemed like it was a successful trip though.”

“Yeah. Think so. Someone asked me to join their team. I said no.”

“Oh?”

“Not moving to L.A.. What the fuck would I do with all that sun? No thanks. And don’t want to work for someone else, them getting all the credit for my plans. Realized something on the trip.”

“What is that?”

“I’m good at this job, and I’m going to get better.”

“You are.”

“I don’t need…” Eggsy looked up at him. “Like I don’t need or really want the hugest portfolio around, I don’t want to build a giant team. Harry talks about how I should aim for the stars, I don’t want that much. I don’t want to be overwhelmed.”

“My aunt loved this depressing as fuck movie where the people don’t really end up together but it is sort of happy and the woman tells the man, ‘don’t lets ask for the moon, we have the stars.’ Sometimes you don’t need everything if you have enough.” 

“I want just a tiny bit more?” Eggsy looked at him and yawned. “There are just a few things I want a tiny bit more of.”

“Like what?” 

Eggsy yawned again. “Tell you another day. Need sleep.”

“Can you stay awake long enough to shower, you’ll feel better for it,” Merlin suggested.

“Do I smell?”

“Not bad, just stale and if you sleep you’ll just feel extra gross in the morning.”

“But you are warm and comfy,” Eggsy said.

“I’m also right.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Eggsy heaved himself up and disappeared. Soon Merlin heard the water running and he snuggled into the bed. A few minutes later Eggsy returned, still a bit damp. He managed to get himself under the covers and Merlin pulled him close. “Missed you, Merlin.”

“I missed you as well.”

“Like that you are here.”

Merlin didn’t respond, just kissed his head.

“I’m too tired but going to wake up aching for you. Can I wake you up sucking your cock?” Merlin desperately wished that he could say yes to that. He stroked his hand up and down Eggsy’s arm and was quiet for a bit. “No surprise wake up for my general huh?”

“Soft kisses and touches could be good, but nothing so thorough as cock sucking.”

“Gotcha,” Eggsy brought Merlin’s hand to his lips and kissed it. “Here is where you belong.”

“In your bed?” Merlin wanted a little more clarification because there was a lot of here in the word here, but Eggsy had drifted off. He reached over to turn off the lamp, and the weight of Eggsy next to him sent him more quickly to sleep than he had since Eggsy had left.

Eggsy did wake him with soft touches and kisses, and it was wonderful, but Merlin was desperate to take a leak and had to ease away from Eggsy. He went to the bathroom and returned, but when he settled back onto the bed Eggsy’s stomach rumbled, a noise that just ripped into the mood they were hoping for. Merlin looked at Eggsy and Eggsy looked back. Eggsy was the first to crack, laughter spilling out of him. “Swear down, I want to shag you.”

“Yes, but if that noise happened while you were balls deep in me, I think it would rather ruin the moment.” Merlin laughed and kissed Eggsy’s nose.

“Ugh, you couldn’t have brushed your teeth after you took a piss?” Eggsy pretended to push him away before pulling him in for a kiss, gross breath and all. “Okay, breakfast, teeth brushing, then epic reunion sex, yeah?”

“I am a fan of this plan.” Merlin put on his leg and not much else. They went upstairs and Eggsy checked the fridge. “Toad in the hole?”

“That really breakfast food?” Merlin frowned.

“Turns out in America it is toasted bread with hole cut in the middle and egg cooked in there. Tequila cooked it for me, pretty brilliant.”

“Sounds good. Coffee?”

“Yeah,” Eggsy agreed.

Merlin got the coffee going, and Eggsy cooked for them. Merlin noticed they couldn’t stop reaching for each other, touching. Quick little brushes of fingers, smiles. When they sat down to eat, Eggsy seemed hesitant. “Problem? It looks delicious.”

“Do the stairs here suck for you?” Eggsy took a bite of his food, and wouldn’t look up. “I know you are well fit, and not like it is a new injury, but like -”

“Getting a snack in the middle of the night isn’t as easy as if I was at my place which is all one level,” Merlin agreed. “My flat, I can just hop or use crutches. I don’t need to put on my leg. Here, I do.”

“Which isn’t the most fun.”

“No, but it is life, and this is a space that you love, so I make it work.”

“Don’t have a balcony neither,” Eggsy said. “You love those.”

“Eggsy, why are you asking this?”

“Wasn’t just sleep talking, I want you here, but here isn’t the best set up for you.” Eggsy drank some coffee. “Been thinking for weeks, that maybe we could consider moving in together.”

“We haven’t been together a year yet.”

“No, but known each other a bit over. Tell me being apart isn’t complete bullshit.” Eggsy stopped staring at his plate, and glared at him. “Tell me you don’t fucking miss me the three nights we don’t spend together, or when I’m away. Double dare you to say that.”

“I can’t,” Merlin replied. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and looked at Eggsy. “I miss you dreadfully.” They had always skirted around words. “You are here,” he placed his hand over his heart. “Here is where you always belong.”

“I love you too,” Eggsy smiled at him. “But asking you to move in here wouldn’t be the best yeah?”

“But it wouldn’t be the worst either,” Merlin countered. “Ask me, Eggsy.”

“Hey, Merlin would you consider giving two months notice to your landlord?” Eggsy bit his lip. “Move in with me?”

“Yes, Eggsy, I would love to.” Merlin wondered why Eggsy looked so stunned. “Eggsy?”

“Right, yeah, clear the table? Be right back.” Eggsy hurried away, and Merlin just shrugged. He cleared their dishes, put them in the sink, wiped crumbs off the table and Eggsy was thundering back up the stairs. “You said yes, I just need to confirm that?”

“I said yes,” Merlin agreed and turned, and he had an arm full of Eggsy. “Hello,” he smiled.

“Hi,” Eggsy replied and pulled him in for a crushing kiss.

Merlin had no objects to that, though the teeth brushing they had mentioned was seeming to be ignored. They kissed and kissed, Eggsy’s hands constantly moving over his skin, and Merlin found himself turned and pressed back to the kitchen table. A nudge and push from Eggsy and Merlin got the hint. He sat down on the table and pulled a little away from Eggsy. He braced his hands on the table, which nudged something. He barked out a laugh at the lube which was what Eggsy had clearly run down for. “I could have just gone downstairs with you.”

“Said you’d move in with me at this table, I’m fucking you on the table,” Eggsy replied. 

“On or over?”

“Fuck, way to make it a tough call,” Eggsy’s nose did the scrunch thing, and Merlin as ever couldn’t resist kissing it. “On, over I don’t get to look at your face when I tell you I love you.”

Merlin smiled softly. “I love you.” He tilted his head down a bit so that his forehead rested against Eggsy’s. “I was a whole man before you, you don’t complete me.”

“Bruv, you were a mess.”

“Okay I was,” Merlin agreed, and lifted his arse so Eggsy could pull his pants off. “You’ve helped me sort out how to live a life, and look good doing it.” Merlin pulled off Eggsy’s vest and kissed his neck. “I didn’t know what to do with my time, and life, but I knew who I was. And knowing that? I can say with certainty, you may not complete me, or be my sun and stars, or anything Shakespeare said. I won’t die if you die.” 

Eggsy smiled at him. “But every day that you are there, is just a little brighter, a little better, more comforting, more joyful?”

“Aye. You near me, makes everything just more. You are the more in my life.” Merlin paused, “That sounded absurd.”

“No, it sounded bloody perfect. You are my more, too.” Eggsy kissed him. 

Merlin felt Eggsy’s finger flick his cock ring and shivered a bit. “Mmmm,” Merlin managed to say. They didn’t talk a little more, Eggsy too busy kissing his jaw and neck, and stroking Merlin’s cock. Merlin spread his legs more and shifted forward a bit. Eggsy got the hint and opened the lube. Merlin winced a bit as Eggsy pressed a finger in. He adored being fucked by Eggsy, but that first breach always felt just a bit peculiar and uncomfortable, no matter how careful Eggsy was. But after a few strokes, his body relaxed and slumped a bit against Eggsy. 

“There you go,” Eggsy whispered. “Always fucking love that second you just are like I’m all Eggsy’s to do with what he will.”

“Because you’ll always do good. Trust you.” Merlin moaned when Eggsy nipped at his neck, just a hit of teeth and pressure. “Well, mostly good,” he amended.

“Always gonna do you great,” Eggsy promised and pushed a second finger in. Merlin just let the arousal sweep over him, loving when Eggsy pressed his prostate. Merlin reached and started stroking Eggsy’s cock. “You masturbate a lot while I was gone?”

“Bit,” Merlin replied. “Few times. Particularly after that video on Instagram of you and Tequila working out.”

“Not jealous that he was my workout buddy were you?”

“No,” Merlin smiled, “More just annoyed that I couldn’t lick the sweat off you.”

“Gross?” Eggsy laughed a bit. “But I get it. Some arsehole sent me a couple photos of themselves playing with the ring I bought them. Ended up wanking a lot.”

“That was quite rude of the person.”

Eggsy tugged just a little at the rink in his cock, the one he had bought Merlin, and Merlin moaned and for a moment forgot how to think. “Good?” Eggsy asked and Merlin nodded. He angled himself a bit and soon Eggsy was pressing into him. Merlin cursed a bit as Eggsy stretched him open, it was an overwhelming and perfect feeling. “I really like the scruff by the way,” Eggsy said as he sank all the way in. “Think you might keep it? Not like full beard but this week’s growth thing, looks real fucking good, babe.”

“I can keep it,” Merlin agreed, because he had to admit, he liked the look of it as well. Eggsy pulled back a bit and pushed in, and it took a moment with the height of the table to figure it out, but soon they had a good rhythm going. Merlin lay down on the table and that made it perfect.

“Feast for my eyes there,” Eggsy’s voice was tight, with hunger, with the strain of not popping off too quickly.

Merlin began to stroke his cock, play with the ring in it, just as he had been in those photos he had sent Eggsy. Eggsy’s pace grew harder, more erratic, his fingers digging into Merlin’s thighs in a way that he adored. Merlin quickened his hand on his skin and as he stroked, he felt Eggsy flick the ring a bit and that was enough to have him spurting over their fingers. Eggsy grunted and a few more thrusts and he went completely silent, even forgetting to breathe. Merlin loved that Eggsy forgot to breathe when he was coming, the gasps that followed as his brain went back online.

Eggsy stayed in him another moment before pulling out. Merlin sat up and they looked at each other. “You were serious, right?” he sounded so small.

“About loving you, and moving in,” Merlin agreed.

Eggsy nodded a bit.

“I’m going to have a bath. You can wipe down our kitchen table very thoroughly,” Merlin said and eased off the table. “Very very thoroughly.”

Eggsy laughed a bit. “Really do like the scruff.”

“I really do like you.” Merlin headed downstairs to the bath, enjoying the way that Eggsy swatted his arse as he went.

Chapter Text

“Merlin, please? I’ll be along quick, and she is getting squirrely.” Eggsy was giving him huge puppy eyes, and Daisy was too.

“I’m a squirrel,” Daisy agreed.

Merlin had to laugh at that. Eggsy was, well they were, babysitting for the day, and had been about to head to the park because Daisy needed some run about, when Eggsy got a work call. He promised them he’d call right back and now it seemed, Merlin was about to fly solo on Daisy for the first time. He was pretty sure he’d rather be back in Afghanistan. “Let us get you back to your natural habitat then little squirrel.” He took the bag from Eggsy, and held out his hand.

“Swear down, I’ll be along in like twenty,” Eggsy promised them. “You got this.”

“Of course I do,” Merlin bluffed. Daisy’s hand was in his, and they headed out for the park that was a few blocks away. It shouldn’t be a long walk. Except it turned out toddler’s, even older ones, do not go at a quick pace. Lord they wouldn’t even be at the park when Eggsy came to find them. “Daisy, would ye like to ride up on my shoulders?”

Daisy gasped and clapped her hands. Merlin put the rucksack properly on, and then reached down and scooped her up. She was still lighter than a full field pack, and in a moment he had her adjusted on his shoulders. He went to the park and the minute she saw other children her feet were kicking his chest. “Down, down, down, down!” He gave a small cough. “Please,” she added quickly. Merlin lifted her down, and for how slow she had started off, she was that fast now. In barely a second she was across the park, and half way up the smaller jungle gym.

“Well, then.” Merlin realized he had rather been worried about nothing. Daisy was as social as her brother, and wasn’t going to be needing much from him. He carefully assessed all the benches and various locations. There were a group of women clearly having a picnic and gossiping, a couple nannies, and a woman in a headscarf who had figured out the best vantage point. He wanted on that bench too and there was plenty of room. He walked over. “May I?” he gestured to the bench, and she looked a bit nervous but nodded. 

Merlin nodded back and then sat down. He was pretty sure he was supposed to make small talk. Or maybe not, it was hard to say. Better to avoid. He kept his eye on Daisy and blinked. “Are they supposed to hang upside down?” He wasn’t even sure how she had contorted herself like that. But she didn’t seem in pain.

The woman laughed, “I swear they have no bones,” she replied. 

Merlin chuckled a bit, and saw Daisy right herself and disappear into the climbing apparatus. He looked over and the other women were not at all paying attention to the children and the woman next to him was embroidering and glancing up at the playground every few stitches. He thought he was safe to read his book and pulled out his e-reader from the rucksack. He made sure to look up at the end of every page, and after thirty minutes, he gave a sharp field whistle. He blinked when like 4 children came out. “Hello?”

“Whistle means all in. From footie,” Daisy explained and a bunch of children nodded. Right people put babies in sports club things.

“You are playing hard, I want you to hydrate.” He held out the small and very sparkly water bottle that was Daisy’s. He nodded when she guzzled a bunch. “Good. I will whistle again in twenty for more water, and a snack. Only Daisy has to respond to me.” He noticed the woman next to him also giving water to her daughter, though the bottle fell when Daisy grabbed the girl and tore back towards the jungle gym. “Sorry about that, she’s a friendly sort.”

“It is good for Aisha. We are new to this neighbourhood, and she hasn’t made a lot of friends yet.” 

Merlin listened to the lilt of her voice and asked. “Pakistan?”

“Yes,” she looked at him. “My husband and I came over ten years ago.”

“I have been a few times,” was all he said. He watched the playground and Daisy and Aisha seemed to be having fun, though for the life of him he could not figure out what exactly they were doing. “Are they trying to fly?” he frowned. “That is a thing I should stop right?”

“I do not think they will attempt to get airborne. Oh no, yours is.” They both watched Daisy leap into the air and wipe out hard.

“Bugger,” Merlin was ready to run.

“Wait. See if she reacts. You go, she will.”

Sure enough when she didn’t see an adult running over, Daisy just shrugged and started climbing again. “Thank you,” Merlin told her.

“Nothing so dramatic as a three year old,” she said. “I am Yalina.”

“Merlin,” he gave a polite nod. “Do you enjoy the neighbourhood?” he asked in Urdu, and watched her light up. They talked and kept an eye on the kids and after twenty minutes he gave the whistle again and Daisy came running. Eggsy hadn’t joined them yet, but he wasn’t worried, he knew that the minute Eggsy got involved in work to more than double the time he said it would take. “Your water, and let’s see what Eggsy packed for your snack.”

“Share?” Aisha was holding out a reusable box.

“What is it?”

“Dates,” Aisha said. “My fav.”

Daisy looked at Merlin. “I find them very yummy, and I do believe Eggsy mentioned a reward system for trying new food. But I don’t know…I know you don’t like sweet things.”

Daisy stuck out her tongue. “Yeah, I do,” she replied and took a date. “Thanks.” She popped it in her mouth. She chewed, and Merlin could see her processing the texture and flavour. “I am in,” she said after she swallowed. “I have…” she looked at what Merlin was holding out. “Apple?”

“I like apple,” Aisha replied, and the two girls happily split the food together.

“Any left for me?” Eggsy called as he jogged up.

“Eggsy. New friend!” Daisy crowed. “Say hi to Eggsy, new friend!”

“Hi!” Aisha waved.

“Well, hello there,” Eggsy smiled at her. “Having fun?”

“Yup. Aisha and I can play when I visit you?” Daisy gasped, and turned to Aisha. “You like to play dress up?” 

Aisha nodded very solemnly. “Mama lets me play with her dupattas.”

“What’s that?”

“Gorgeous scarves to wear with the salwar kameez,” Eggsy explained. The woman stared at him in shock. “Work in fashion,” Eggsy explained.

“Eggsy has a room full of clothes and shoes and sparklies. Some you can’t touch because they are for his barbies, but a lot he lets me play with.”

“You have barbies? How many?” Aisha asked, and Merlin snickered.

“I don’t have barbies,” Eggsy was crouching down and tying Daisy’s shoe. “My job, is to dress people up for when they have to go to big events. So Daisy sometimes calls my clients my barbie dolls.”

“Oh, boring. Wanna go on swings?” Aisha asked.

“Yes! Eggsy push us? Please?”

“Of course, my gorgeous princesses,” Eggsy bowed low and laughed as they ran for the swing set.

“Your daughter is very welcoming.”

“Sister in law,” Merlin explained without thinking. He wasn’t 100% all the way moved in, and they had never talked about it formally but he certainly considered her such. “She is Eggsy’s half sister. We tend to have her over for a sleepover every other week.”

Yalina nodded. “We could exchange numbers, so they could play when she is here?”

“Daisy would very much enjoy that,” Merlin agreed, and carefully inputted her number into the phone.

“Your Urdu is excellent.”

“Thank you kindly. My Arabic is better though,” he had to admit. He wondered why she was staring at him so intently. He watched Eggsy push the two girls and smiled at how happy they all looked. “Mind if I take a picture of them?” When she shook her head, he snapped a few.

“I work for a community center, secretary,” she said.

“I’m a security guard for an antiques shop.”

“We have a gap in our programming we have been trying to fill, but it is difficult because we cannot pay much.”

“Okay?” Merlin had no clue why she was sharing that.

“English as a second, or well for most of our people third or fourth language.”

Merlin laughed a bit. “I am certainly no teacher, I barely relate to people.”

“We have talked well,” she pointed out. She rifled through her bag and gave him a card. “Just if you are ever interested.”

He took the card and nodded. Eggsy was coming over with Daisy in his arms. “I do believe we are all parked out.”

“No, more Aisha.”

“I can keep Daisy,” Aisha immediately agreed.

“That is also enough for you, your grandmother is expecting you while I go to work,” Yalina replied.

“Want Daisy.”

“Want Aisha.”

“I have Aisha’s Mum’s number, Daisy, you will see your new friend again.”

“Promise, Merlin?”

“I do.”

“Okay. Bye Aisha! We’ll play dress up!”

“Bye!” Aisha shouted even though the two were not even a metre apart.

Merlin made his goodbyes as well and carried the bag as Eggsy carried Daisy. Daisy was talking excitedly about her new friend until she literally fell asleep midword and conked out against Eggsy’s shoulder. They got her inside and onto their bed, and went upstairs. “Well, she had a good time.”

Merlin laughed and put on the kettle. “Aye, she and Aisha just seemed to click.”

“That’s good,” Eggsy sat at the table. “And well, it kinda brings up something I want to talk to you about?”

“Oh?” Merlin turned and leaned against the counter. Eggsy had that nervous but determined look on his face. “What is it, Eggsy?”

“I don’t want kids. Like ever.”

Merlin blinked, that was not a thing he expected. He was quiet as he thought about it. The kettle sounded and he poured the water into the tea pot. He brought it and a couple mugs to the table. He sat across from Eggsy. “Me sitting on a bench watching over Daisy, brought this up?”

“I was talking to Harry, and doing some googling. About the things couples need to talk about when they are looking at forever. Kids is kinda high on all those lists. That and money, splitting bills and stuff, which we’ve already done, because you are the practical sort.”

“Aye.”

“I don’t even want a dog or nothing,” Eggsy continued. He poured some tea and clutched the cup for warmth. “With the clothes I have about, a pet would be a bad idea.”

“I haven’t had a pet ever, so this is certainly not a problem for me.”

“Problem for me, a bit. Always wanted a dog, but just can’t have fur around my work stuff.”

“There might come a day when I need the aid of a service dog,” Merlin pointed out. “If we are talking long term.”

“Okay yeah, but that we reassess if it becomes a thing, and I rent a storage unit or we figure it out - that’s fucking different than just randomly thinking damn that RSPCA commercial for making me want like a pug or something.”

“Those commercials are quite brutal,” Merlin agreed. “Make a man well up.”

“Damn bastards.” Eggsy looked at him. “What are your thoughts about a family?”

“You are my family,” Merlin replied simply. “I do like Daisy, but the noise and care a child requires, is not something I ever pictured myself with.”

“Yeah, but you are now living your life, and like maybe a kid is one of those things you denied yourself and you are going to realize maybe you want one?”

“No, Eggsy, I won’t,” Merlin promised. “When I think about the future, our future, there is no child in the picture. There is you and I. We are living our lives, you traveling when your work needs it, me sometimes coming along. There is going to footie matches with James, and having Harry and Percival over. There is us eating lunch together and going back to work. There is you singing to yourself in your office and me reading on the couch. And there is babysitting Daisy, as much as you want. But I never picture a child in any of that.” Merlin reached out and took Eggsy’s hand. “I’ve had decades of caring for people, raising them.”

“Think there is a bit of a difference between a soldier and a toddler.”

“My experience not as much as you’d believe.”

Eggsy snorted a bit. “I don’t want you giving up something you may want, just for me.”

Merlin thought about his answer carefully. “I would give up plenty for you, and do so without a second thought, because you are the most important person in the world to me. But I promise, Eggsy, this is not giving something up. Let us be realistic. I’m in my fifties, early, but still. There is a lot of time for us, and I would likely see a child grown. But maybe not, and a good shot I’d never see a grandchild. Others have children at this age, but I cannot see adjusting to it.”

“I know objectively that I could be a good dad,” Eggsy said quietly. “But it requires just so much of you to be one. And I don’t want to give that part of me up. Selfish, I suppose.”

“No,” Merlin looked at him. “You gave a lot to your mum, to your sister, to survive. It is okay to want the life you want.”

“Can the life I want include skipping leg day every once in a while?”

“No, that is nonnegotiable.”

“Bastard.”

“You love me.”

“So fucking much.” Eggsy smiled. “I have one pet I’d consider?”

“What is that?”

“Could get a fish? Or something that never leaves a tank?”

“How about just a couple more plants in the window?” Merlin had an aversion to tank animals that he could not readily explain.

“That sounds good,” Eggsy agreed. They moved to the couch to finish their tea and read, until Daisy finished her nap.