Merlin has always disliked the color red. It means stop, which to a boy with a rebellious streak means only negative things. It means alarm, or emergency. But it’s not just because of that. It’s because his grandmother told him it was the color of evil, of the devil.
“He teases ye with red things,” she told him when he was about five or six. “Things ye should nae have, such as candy, or cherries. Everything that could tempt ye, the Devil made it red. Wasn’t the apple in the Garden of Eden red?”
“Yes, Grannie,” Merlin chirped, not quite sure he understood.
“Godly folk don’t need bright colors like red. We wear sensible colors, such as grey…black…brown.”
“Yes, Grannie.” And Merlin believed her, because she was pretty much his whole world. His father was nowhere to be found, his mother worked, and they lived with his maternal grandparents.
His grandfather, on the other hand, had other ideas. “Dinnae listen to her, lad. Ye wear whatever colors ye wish. Yes, stay away from candy and cherries and other snacks between meals, but the Devil does not bother himself with tempting colors. He preys on your soul. The only red ye have to worry about is the red dress of a harlot.”
“What’s a harlot?” Little Merlin gasped.
“Nothing ye need to worry yourself about for a long time, Hamish,” his Grandda said.
He managed to avoid the harlots, for the most part (at least the female ones – he’d met quite a few easy blokes at university and learned a LOT), but still also avoided the color red. Just in case. He was completely happy with his grey, black and brown life.
Until Eggsy Unwin came along.
The boilersuits of the recruits were as drab as humanly possible. Merlin made sure of that. No red on his watch. But Eggsy somehow managed to make it look dashing. Eggsy Unwin was a spark in Merlin’s dull life, one he hadn’t realized he’d been missing. He’d never before paid special attention to the recruits, but this one…he was different. Not only was he gorgeous, with a beautiful body and an arse you could bounce a coin off of, but he was sharp, angry, and bright. And the rebellious streak? Merlin recognized that very well.
When he came upon Eggsy in Harry’s room in Medical, he really wasn’t surprised. He eyed Harry’s red dressing gown with disdain and tried to focus on the matter at hand…the suspicious actions of Richmond Valentine.
It went unsaid, but Eggsy inherited that red dressing gown upon Harry’s death, along with everything else in the Mews. The spark in Eggsy temporarily went out, and Merlin understood. He missed his oldest and dearest friend as well.
“Okay, so, yeah, it’s different,” Eggsy warns as they approach the little house in a Kingsman cab. It’s been almost two years since V-Day, and Eggsy’s been given leave to redecorate Harry’s house as he wishes. It’s his now, and he’s put it off for months. “If you don’t like it, I understand.”
“Lad, it doesn’t matter what I think,” Merlin reminds him, but he is pleased that Eggsy cares so much. They’ve become close friends in the time since everything went to hell, working side by side to rebuild Kingsman as well as the world at large…and mourning side by side as well after the loss of so many people.
“It does,” Eggsy insists. “Know he was your mate, know it’s hard for you to see him erased, kinda. But swear down, he’s still there. Made sure of it, here and there. I want you to feel comfortable when you’re over.”
“Why?” Merlin asks. He’s tried very hard not to push to spend time with Eggsy outside of Kingsman. He cannot possibly let Eggsy see the way he feels about him.
“Cuz…cuz we’re…cuz you’re…” Eggsy stammers. “Cuz we’re mates, right? Want you to feel like you can just stop by any time…knock on the door, come in to watch telly or have a beer or whatever.” Eggsy turns red.
“I appreciate it, Eggsy,” Merlin says sincerely. “Most people dinnae wish to have me as their mate.”
“Well, all those people are idiots,” Eggsy says. They stop at the end of the street and get out. “Want to walk from here…want you to get the full effect of the decorations. Me and Daisy worked hard on them. Well, I worked hard, she mostly played with the boxes,” Eggsy says with a laugh.
“As long as she did nae electrocute herself, I would consider it a…success.” Merlin stares up at the little house in shock.
The upstairs windows and balcony are outlined in red Christmas lights. There is a large wreath on the door with a big red bow, and the red lights wrap around the greenery out front. Green and white lights frame the large windows downstairs. Eggsy turns to look at Merlin. “Too much?”
“Nae, lad, it is very nice,” Merlin whispers, unable to look away from the twinkling red lights.
“Not as gaudy inside, swear down…just always wanted a place I could light up at Christmas.” Eggsy unlocks the door and hangs up his coat. Merlin does the same and notices Eggsy’s wearing a red jumper. They’d met outside the shop that evening, and he hadn’t noticed it in the darkness of the cab.
“Oh,” Merlin whispers, looking around. The dark furnishings and ugly paintings are gone, replaced by landscapes and drawings from Daisy. The table in the dining room remains, as does Mr. Pickle in the loo. The wallpaper and border in the kitchen and hall have tiny butterflies in them, and on the mantle above the fireplace, nestled in a bough of pine, are a pair of Kingsman glasses, tiny cufflinks, and a signet ring.
“Found Harry’s spare kit,” Eggsy whispers. He swallows hard and runs his finger along the wood of the mantle. “Thought…thought he deserved a place of honor here, ya know. Not like a shrine or nothing, but…”
“A memorial,” Merlin finishes for him. He looks around the cheerful room, lit in the corner by a tiny Christmas tree covered in red, green and silver decorations. “It is beautiful, Eggsy. I think Harry would love it.”
“Do you? I mean, do you really like it? Understand if you don’t love it or whatever,” Eggsy says with a weak laugh. He bites his bottom lip and looks up at Merlin hopefully.
“Do ye care so much about my opinion, lad?”
Eggsy nods. “Yes, Merlin. You…I…”
“I’m no one special.” Merlin’s insides are twirling and he’s finding it hard to breathe.
“Miss me with that shite,” Eggsy snorts. “You’re everything good about Kingsman, and I don’t know what I’d do without you, Merlin, swear down.”
Merlin blushes and looks down at his feet, and only then does he see the oxfords on Eggsy’s. He then sees the nice grey trousers, the expensive red jumper. “You dressed up.” Eggsy nods and blushes again. “For me?”
Eggsy shrugs. “Thought maybe I’d try this…maybe you’d finally see me.”
“Oh, trust me, lad, I see ye quite clearly…all the time.”
“As more than a mate,” Eggsy murmurs, and Merlin’s heart officially falls out of his chest.
“Oh, trust me, lad,” Merlin repeats. “I see ye quite clearly…as more than a mate…all the time. I have never allowed myself to…”
Eggsy lets out something suspiciously like a squeal, throws himself into Merlin’s arms, and kisses him before Merlin can react. He finally comes to his senses and puts his arms around Eggsy, holding him close. “You serious, bruv?” Eggsy says breathlessly when comes up for air.
“Quite serious, lad.” Merlin strokes his cheek before kissing him again.
Red might be the color of the devil himself, but Merlin thinks Eggsy’s red jumper looks heavenly next to his own grey jumper on the floor by Eggsy’s bed.