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It’s going to be one of those days, Arthur can just feel it.

It all starts when he wakes up to a horribly sleep-deprived, grumpy Merlin who was just waiting to start an argument. He remembers this perfectly from Merlin’s last pregnancy, how Merlin became a time-bomb just waiting to go off during his first trimester, almost begging Arthur to set him off.

By the time Merlin’s done throwing up in the bathroom, he’s miserable and exhausted. So even though Merlin faithfully promised he’d take care of Erin this morning, Arthur lets him go back to bed without a word. Because they have a schedule, see? Whoever doesn’t have work takes care of Erin in the morning. If they both have work, then it’s whoever starts latest. And if they both start early, then they take turns.

Of course, they make exceptions. Of course they do. A rigid schedule is the easiest path to conflict. And it’s not like Arthur doesn’t understand that Merlin’s having a hard time coping with the pregnancy, because he does. But just today, he would have liked to have an uninterrupted lie-in, maybe even cuddle with his fiancé and daughter for a few hours while Erin watches the early-morning cartoons.

Today, Arthur’s playing a match for the charity he sponsors, all about improving access to sports for the general public, especially inner city youths. Merlin’s tagging along because that’s what you do when you’re a celebrity couple, you tag along if you don’t have any work.

Instead, Arthur gets out of bed before the crack of dawn (to be fair, it is winter, but Arthur had plans, and said plans did not involve getting out of bed before lunchtime), picks up an enthusiastic Erin from her bed for her good-morning hug. He dresses her, carries her to the kitchen and prepares her breakfast while Erin plays with his ear and hair. She’s such an affectionate, happy two-year-old, Arthur thinks fondly. It certainly makes the early mornings easier to deal with. Even Uther adores her, dotes on her in his own way (he’s already promised her a pony for her forth birthday, Arthur just hopes his father will have forgotten by then).

Things do not improve. While Erin eats her breakfast, Arthur switches on the TV only to catch the weather forecast for the day. Cold, windy, and ice on the roads. Arthur lets out a long sigh and rubs his eyes. It’s going to be one of those days.

Just after half-past nine, Merlin pads into the kitchen, looking slightly less tired, and much less grumpy than earlier on. He sits down next to Arthur on the couch and wraps his arm around Arthur’s neck.

“Thanks for letting me sleep,” he mumbles, leaning in to kiss Arthur good morning.

“Don’t worry about it.”

They spend the rest of the morning on the couch until Merlin’s mother arrives to pick Erin up. Hunith is taking their daughter for the weekend, in part so that they can attend the charity event, but also to give the expecting parents a bit of a break and some time to themselves.

Once they’ve waved, and waved, and waved until they’re sure that the lift doors have closed, Arthur and Merlin head back indoors to get ready.

Now, they’re going to be late if they don’t leave immediately, and Merlin is standing in front of the mirror next to the front door, pulling his long coat taut over his stomach.

“What are you doing?” Arthur asks, perhaps a tad more harshly than he should have – Merlin’s clearly not in a very good mood, anxious even, and the last thing he wants is to start a fight and have to put up with a sulking Merlin while they drive to the stadium. “We’re going to be late.”

Merlin doesn’t even turn to acknowledge him, instead pulling the fabric of his coat even tighter around his stomach. His hands are going white where he’s desperately clenching the thick material. “Shit…” he mutters under his breath. “The paps are going to have a bloody field day with this.”

They really don’t have time for this, not unless Arthur decides to ignore the speed limit (un-bloody-likely with all the ice). But if there’s one thing Arthur’s learnt from past experiences, it’s that sometimes, Merlin needs comforting. Even taking five minutes out of a busy day can make a huge difference in Merlin’s mood.

“What are you talking about?” Arthur tries again, softer, this time. He puts his hand on Merlin’s shoulder and squeezes it in support.

“This!” Merlin shouts, a bit hysterical, pointing at his belly. “They’re going to notice, and they’re going to be fucking unbearable with all their pictures and their speculation articles.”

“Merlin, no one’ll notice,” Arthur says gently, wrapping his arms around his waist from behind. “You’ve barely started showing; no one’ll notice it under the coat.”

He can see Merlin rolling his eyes angrily in the mirror, splotches of red high on his cheeks from the emotion. He actually looks like he’s going to cry, and Arthur braces himself. The paparazzi are definitely going to find out if Merlin arrives at the game with red, swollen eyes.

“Look,” Arthur says, gently pulling Merlin’s hands from their tight grip on his coat. “The only reason you can see it is because you know it’s there. Now, I promise that no one’ll notice, so will you please calm down?”

Merlin takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. Arthur can feel his tense body relax against him. “I just don’t want anyone to find out just yet. I want it to be our secret.”

Not even their closest friends know yet. The only person they’ve told is Merlin’s mum, and that’s only because she was wondering if Merlin’s moodiness might not be because he was pregnant.

“I know,” Arthur murmurs, kissing the side of his head and rubbing the small bump hidden beneath layers of fabric. “They’ll find out eventually though. Your coat’s not going to hide this beauty for much longer.”

“I know that,” Merlin replies, placing his hands on top of Arthur’s. “I just want to enjoy it for as long as possible. And don’t call it a beauty,” Merlin adds sharply. “It’s just my stomach.”

Arthur grins. “It is a beauty because it’s where our baby is growing,” he says, knowing that he sounds ridiculously sappy and besotted. It never fails to cheer Merlin up, even though he hates it. “And you have no idea how beautiful you are when you’re pregnant.”

“Oh god, Arthur,” Merlin laughs. “That’s awful. Stop! I’m begging you.”

Arthur disentangles himself from Merlin and turns him around to face him. “That’s better,” he says, a soft, adoring smile on his lips. He leans in to press a quick kiss to Merlin’s warm lips. “Now come on, we’re going to be late.”

Arthur’s almost at the front door when Merlin grabs his hand and squeezes it gently. “Arthur, thank you,” he says warmly.

Arthur just smiles and squeezes his hand back.

*

In the end, they’re half an hour late, partly because of Merlin’s moodswing, but also, partly due to the traffic on the icy roads. He can feel Uther glaring at him, and the journalists are snapping picture after picture while shouting questions at him, but Merlin’s hand is warm and familiar in his. The rest of the world just seems to fade away when Merlin’s by his side.

The event goes as well as it could have. Plenty of people bought tickets to watch the match despite the freezing weather, Arthur’s team wins the game, the after-match reception is a success (Arthur definitely needs to thank Morgana for everything she’s done).

In the middle of the bustle of activity, no one pays too much attention to Merlin. The reports that come out in the following days show a few pictures of him, because that’s what happens when you’re part of a celebrity couple. People take pictures of you even if you’re not the focus of the event.

If anyone noticed Merlin was pregnant, nobody brings it up. Not even the rags, and they’ll use anything for extra readership, Arthur knows this from first-hand experience.

It’s there though. Arthur can definitely see the small swell of Merlin’s pregnant belly in the photos that make it to the articles, especially the pictures that show Merlin sitting down, watching the match.

Arthur breathes a sigh of relief. Because now Merlin can relax. The peace isn’t going to last long – if Merlin’s last pregnancy is anything to go by, Merlin will soon be visibly pregnant – but they’ll take anything they can get, any respite from the media frenzy they know is just around the corner.