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Set The Bar High

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Eggsy breathes hard as he lands on the mat, forcing his feet to stick flat. When his balance settles he lifts his hands above his head and lets the proud smile spread over his face.

He turns towards the clapping coming from the side of the room, but his eyes are on his hands as he starts to unwind the wrappings.

“See Rox, I told you I could stick it. I just needed to warm up.”

“While your landing was good, you wobbled on your dismount. Improving your stamina should help with that.”

Eggsy looks up then to see Merlin leaning against the wall and Roxy nowhere to be found. He curses internally. She should lose best mate status for abandoning him alone with the one man that he has a house-sized crush on.

“I'd like to see you do better,” Eggsy grumbles. He knows Merlin has seen him when he was still a wet behind the ears recruit, but he still hates Merlin to see him at anything except his best.

Merlin gets that smile of his that has Eggsy's heart beating faster. “I'm afraid the parallel bars weren't the ones I showed skills in.”

Eggsy perks up at that, and turns a curious eye to Merlin. “And what bars, exactly, do you have talents with?”

“Nae, it won't be that easy. You're the spy.” He must see the expression on Eggsy's face -- disappointment at being denied a new piece of information about the man -- because his tone softens when he continues. “But I suppose I can provide some encouragement. How about if you can figure it out, I'll give you a demonstration.”

Eggsy's eyes go wide before he can school his expression. That is a challenge worth accepting.

“High bar,” he says immediately. Merlin's a bit too tall, too lanky, for the high bar. But if anyone can surprise him, it'll be Merlin.

Merlin pushes himself off the wall, already shaking his head. “Don't just guess, lad. Figure it out.

He gives Eggsy a single nod and then heads out of the gym.

Eggsy's mind is racing as he tosses the wrappings and heads towards the locker room. This is not how Eggsy expected his workout to go today. But now he has every intention of finding out exactly what Merlin was talking about.

The problem is, Eggsy’s a spy but Merlin is his quartermaster and a tech genius. His past is a vault no one is meant to crack. That means no computers to hack or records to steal, he's certain.

But those aren't a spy's only tools when digging for information. So Eggsy does the next best thing. He makes plans to talk to the man's best friend.

--

“High jump,” Eggsy says as he walks into Merlin's office.

Merlin doesn't even look up from the tiny electronics he's working on spread over the top of his workbench.

“Nae. You've been talking to Harry.”

“Alright then, pole vault. Harry says you spent a bunch of time at track meets after you were first recruited. You've got the legs for it. Bet you were on the team in school.” He thinks of the few gymnastic meets he snuck into to watch his friends compete after Dean forced him off the team.

“Not pole vault either.” He looks up from his work, setting aside his screwdriver. “Would you like to know a secret?”

Eggsy nods eagerly. He steps closer to Merlin's desk as the man looks up at him.

“I was sleeping with one of the sprinters. I kept it from Harry because the man chose me over Harry and I didn't want to bruise his sensitive ego.”

Eggsy bursts out in laughter, even as his cheeks flush at the thought of a young Merlin tangled up in bed with some athletic bloke.

“You know your secret’s safe with me.”

“Aye, I know. Now get out, I’ve work to finish and you have more work to do if you want that demonstration.”

--

“You must have stories about Harry getting proper sloshed,” Eggsy says as he sets the expensive bottle of whisky down on Merlin’s desk. He owed the man at least that after he got him out of the last cocked up mission.

“Aye, although I spent a great deal of my twenties in pubs along with him, so he has some stories about me as well.”

Eggsy leans his hip against the desk and looks at Merlin. “Always at the bar, yeah? Maybe your talent is in darts then. Weren’t bars in the literal sense.”

Merlin chuckles and Eggsy feels the back of his neck flush.

“Better, but not it.” Merlin pulls two glasses out of his desk and goes to crack open the bottle. “Now, let's talk about what went wrong in Cairo.”

--

The smile on Merlin’s face as he opens his package is infectious, and Eggsy finds himself mirroring it as he watches from the couch in Merlin’s office.

“Ya know, I looked it up.”

“Looked what up, lad?” Merlin asks as he pulls out the packages of coffee grounds and sets them on his desk.

“Your coffee. Wanted to know more about the only coffee you actually drink. I’ve seen you dump the mugs the knights bring you when they are trying to get on your good side.”

“The stuff from the cafeteria is swill,” Merlin says with mirth in his voice. “I don’t think any of them have realized yet that it actually makes things worse for them when they try.” He looks over at Eggsy and for a moment Eggsy feel pinned in place by his gaze. Then Merlin looks away so he can pull out a second cup from his drawer.

Merlin is fiercely protective of his personal stash of coffee. This is the first time that Eggsy has ever seen him share, and his smile grows larger when he realizes that Merlin’s sharing it with him.

“So, what did you find out with your research,” Merlin asks as he fills the small pot with water and sets it on his hot plate.

“The beans you get are from a cafe in Ilıca. But since turkish coffee could be made with beans you can get in London, I figure it must be a place that means something to you.”

The pleased look on Merlin's face as he sits down in his chair makes Eggsy's heart race.

“I talked to Harry again. Asked him if he knew anything about you taking a trip down there. He told me that once every couple of years you take two weeks of vacation, and no one knows where you end up, but you always come back with a tan. And indulge in more coffee than usual.”

Merlin’s chuckle is warm, and Eggsy takes it as a sign that he’s on the right track. So he decides to push for one more as Merlin takes the pot from the heat and starts to pour their coffee.

“While I was researching, I found out there’s actually a dance called bar from eastern Turkey. Seeing as it seems you’ve spent some time there, could be that you picked that up there as well.”

Merlin turns back to Eggsy, holding out the small cup cradled by long fingers. Eggsy stares for a beat longer than he should, trying to restart his brain over the sudden images of those fingers holding onto him with such care. But then he manages to pull himself from his gawking and take the offered cup just as Merlin starts to speak.

“You did well, lad. But I’m afraid I’ve never had the chance to learn, although I've seen it danced a few times.”

Eggsy frowns at having been wrong, but quickly covers it with a sip of the coffee. His eyes immediately slip shut and he makes a noise that has a flush dusting over Merlin’s cheeks, although Eggsy can’t see it.

“Now I get it. This is way fucking better, Merlin.”

Eggsy opens his eyes to see Merlin sitting back in his chair, drinking his coffee and watching Eggsy with a smile on his face. Eggsy thinks this was a decent result of his research even if he still hasn't earned that demonstration.

--

“Because it's bloody illegal, Galahad, that's why!” Merlin says through Eggsy's earpiece before he hears him take a breath. Eggsy can easily picture him pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Just because you’re a bloody spy doesn’t mean that I’m going to bail you out of every bad decision you try and make.”

Eggsy keeps his eyes on the building he’s watching. He still thinks scaling the side of the Eiffel Tower would be worth it, but he keeps the thought to himself. He doesn't like pissing Merlin off, but especially not when there is a chance it might mean the man stops talking to him other than pertinent mission information. He's gotten used to their friendly chats when time allows, and he won't risk the man deciding he isn't worth the effort.

Instead he lets silence fall over the connection until his idle mind makes another connection instead.

“That's gotta be it,” Eggsy finally says. “You're a lawyer. You meant bar like the legal profession. I should've known it'd be something brainy.”

Exasperation is obvious in Merlin’s sigh.

“Not every talent I have is brainy , lad.”

“Fuck. Then I’ve got no idea, Merlin. I’ve asked about everything I can think of. Except, I guess, the barre in ballet. But I mean, there ain’t no way it’s something as- as simple as ballet.” He closes his eyes for just a second, cursing inwardly at the image that brings to mind of Merlin in tights and how devastatingly hot that might be.

There is silence on the other end of the connection as Eggsy goes back to watching the building. He’s just starting to wonder if he said something wrong when Merlin speaks again.

“Ballet dancing isn't simple, Galahad. It requires discipline and precision and a great deal of pain. Despite it being a guess and not a proper deduction, it seems I need to give you a demonstration anyways so you understand. Even if you haven't earned it.”

Eggsy will never admit to his mouth gaping open at Merlin saying that, but thank God the glasses can't record his expression before he can control it again.

“Shite. You dance ballet?”

“Aye, until I turned eighteen and started university. Then it was a choice of ballet or engineering, and engineering won out. I still practice, though. It’s good exercise and it keeps me flexible.”

Eggsy nearly chokes on his tongue. He swears down that Merlin must be trying to see him to an early grave.

Across the street, a man comes out of the building.

“Target in sight, Galahad.” The shift in Merlin's tone reminds him of the mission he's supposed to be performing, and his cheeks flush in embarrassment.

“Right. I see him, Merlin.”

But Eggsy also sees the calendar notification pop up in the corner of his glasses, simply labeled ‘Demo’, before it slides away.

--

Eggsy’s palms are sweating and he looks around to make sure there are no staff in the hallway to catch him blowing on them to dry them off, not wanting to wrinkle his trousers by wiping them there.

He comes up just short of the door to the gym and checks his watch again. 2:57. Merlin's calendar note had said to meet him inside at three sharp for his demonstration.

Eggsy still can’t believe that Merlin -- scary as fuck when yelling at recruits, his lifeline when away on a mission, and the smartest bloody man he knows -- was once a serious ballet dancer. But he was, is. And now Eggsy gets to see. His mouth goes dry.

One deep breath later, and Eggsy is turning the handle and walking through the door.

The gym is rarely empty, usually at least a couple of knights are there going through some sort of exercise routine or sparring. But the only one in the room now is Merlin, and Eggsy has to draw on all of his training to keep his feet moving towards the mirrored wall on the far side of the space.

A temporary barre has been set up, and standing in front of it is Merlin in a skin tight black leotard. It hugs every curve of his body, and there are far more of them than Eggsy has ever allowed himself to consider. Eggsy had assumed that Merlin was fit underneath his heavy jumpers and tailored trousers, but not anything like this.

He manages not to gawk as he walks up to the chair set just to the side of where Merlin stands, but he can’t help the tight grip he gives the back of it as he moves to sit.

“Looking good, Merlin.” Eggsy tries to keep it light, easy banter between them, but his voice betrays him, raising a register too high, too breathless.

“I haven’t had any complaints,” Merlin responds, and Eggsy feels a flare of jealousy towards anyone else who has had the luck of seeing Merlin like this.

There is a charged moment of silence between them before Merlin clears his throat and reaches for his glasses.

A classical piece starts to play over the speakers in the ceiling and then Merlin is moving like nothing Eggsy’s ever seen.

The pace is slow, Merlin sweeping his arms out and back, hands forming perfect curves to compliment the bend of his elbows. He bends himself in half, one hand on the barre and the other brushing elegantly over the floor, and Eggsy’s eyes go wide. Merlin moves from one form to the next, not rushed but fluid, like this is a routine he has done a thousand times.

Eggsy is just starting to think that he can get through this without making a fool of himself when Merlin suddenly slides a foot out behind him and does what is nearly a split across the floor, his torso turned to the mirror.

The move stretches the tights around Merlin's ass, cupping each cheek and leaving nothing to the imagination. Eggsy's certain he’s never seen an ass that he wants to get his hands on more, and he makes an undignified noise.

When Eggsy can finally tear his eyes away from the man's spectacular ass, he finds himself meeting Merlin's gaze, and raised eyebrow, in the mirror. He feels completely caught out, and he flushes red.

Merlin stands back up and continues on with his routine, moving into a series of complex foot motions. Eggsy has no idea if Merlin is performing them properly, but he doesn’t care either. Instead he’s focused on Merlin’s legs and the way each motion makes the muscles go tight all the way up, his ass flexing with every movement.

Eggsy’s hands grip his knees tightly as he watches Merlin lift his foot to rest on the barre. There is a backwards motion and then Merlin is twirling and bending in half. He’s face is to the floor, arm sweeping down to touch the ground elegantly as his foot comes off the barre and his whole leg points straight up to the ceiling.

There is a terrible screeching noise as Eggsy stands abruptly and pushes the chair backwards across the floor. Startled, Merlin quickly rights himself, standing properly when Eggsy finishes making his way the dozen steps it takes to get directly into Merlin’s personal space.

“Finish the rest later,” is all Eggsy has the brain power to say before he's reaching up to cup the back of Merlin's head and pull him down into a kiss.

The first press of their lips is electric, and Eggsy already wants a lifetime of kisses like this. Merlin's lips part slightly and Eggsy is quick to deepen the kiss.

“About bloody time, lad,” Merlin says against Eggsy's lips when the finally pull apart enough for breath.

Eggsy pulls back and looks up into Merlin’s eyes.

“Did you...did you plan this?” he asks incredulously.

“How else was I going to get you to make the first move?”

Merlin’s laughter makes Eggsy’s heart skip a beat, and he punches Merlin’s shoulder even as he gets up on his tiptoes to kiss him again.