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Simply perfect (takes practice)

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August

“So, do you want the good news or the bad news?”

Merlin lifted his head from where it was resting on his knees. Gwaine was leaning against the sink in Merlin’s tiny bathroom while Merlin had slumped down against the wall of his short hall with Gwen hovering next to him, torn between being motherly and curious.

“Does it really matter?” Merlin asked tiredly. He really just wanted this to be over with.

Gwaine shrugged carelessly, an easy smile on his handsome face. “Well, it’s up to you, of course, but I prefer to get the bad news first, cause then at least I know it can’t get any worse than that.”

“Gwaine!” Gwen interjected firmly. “This really isn’t the time or the place.”

“Sorry,” Gwaine said, though Merlin thought he didn’t really look sorry at all.

“Fine,” Merlin sighed. “Good news first then.”

Gwaine nodded. “Well, the good news is that you’re pregnant.”

Even though Merlin had been expecting to hear that, it didn’t stop him from feeling like there were blocks of ice in his stomach.

“Fuck,” Merlin breathed.

“Oh, Merlin,” Gwen said, kneeling down next to him and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. Merlin let his head rest against her for just one minute, just one, while he pretended that this whole situation was not happening.

“So what’s the bad news then?” Merlin finally asked, rubbing his face with shaking hands.

After a moment of hesitation, Gwaine finally answered. “You’re pregnant,” he said, sounding almost hesitant. It probably sounded better in his head, Merlin decided.

“Gwaine!” Gwen snapped again. “Would it kill you to be a bit more considerate of poor Merlin?”

“Sorry,” Gwaine said. He definitely looked slightly rueful this time, Merlin noted. “I didn’t know if you’d consider it good news or bad news.”

“That’s nice, Gwaine,” Merlin murmured, his voice barely more than a whisper.

“Oh, Merlin,” Gwen said soothingly. She sat down next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Merlin let out a shaky sigh and let his head fall to rest on Gwen’s shoulders, letting himself be comforted.

A moment later, Gwaine was sitting on the floor next to him and resting his head on Merlin’s shoulder, his arm wrapping around Merlin’s waist. It was nice, Merlin thought, letting himself be held comfortingly. He was so glad to have friends like Gwen and Gwaine at a time like this.

“I’m sorry,” Gwaine said. “That may have been a bit tactless.”

Merlin felt a small smile tug at his lips. “Yeah, it was.”

“You know I didn’t mean it,” Gwaine said, amused.

Merlin smiled a bit harder, already starting to feel a bit better. “Might, might not.”

“How did it even happen?” Gwen asked before worriedly backtracking immediately. “I mean, you don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to. I didn’t mean to pry! But you can tell us, you know. If you want, that is. You don’t have to.”

Merlin huffed a laugh. Only Gwen!

“Well, remember how I went on holiday in June?” Merlin started.

*

June

Honestly, Merlin had expected two things from his holiday: fun and relaxation. The last year and a half had been particularly tough on him, between him finishing his studies, finding a job that had nothing to do with his studies, and finally, almost nine months ago now, getting a job at the local library.

He had two weeks to himself, and he had no intentions of forming relationships with other people he’d most likely never see again.

How he ended up meeting Arthur gave him no indication of how important the man would come to be to him in the very near future. In fact, following their first meeting, Merlin was convinced the man was a prat and hoped he’d never come across him again.

It was his first morning at the hotel and Merlin had taken his time, reading his book in bed until almost 11, taking a long, hot shower, and was only now heading out to get some lunch.

He’d just closed the door to his room and turned towards the lift when he heard a door further down the hall slam followed by a loud “damn it!”

Merlin turned around to see a man, probably about Merlin’s age or a bit older, with wet blond hair and a small towel tied around his waist showing off his long, muscled legs. Obviously, Merlin wasn’t the only one taking it easy this morning.

“Are you alright?” Merlin asked, his first guess being that maybe he’d been thrown out of the room.

“Yes, absolutely fine,” the man sneered, barely looking at Merlin. He grabbed the door handle in his right hand and jiggled it hard. “Damn it,” he swore under his breath.

“Oh, did you lock yourself out?” Merlin asked. “Do you need a hand?”

“No,” the man said, his tone implying that he thought Merlin was stupid. “I just left my key card in my other towel.”

“No need to nasty about it,” Merlin replied.

Just as the man tried the handle again, Merlin focused on the key card inside the man’s room, imagined it coming to him, sliding under the door and into his hand. He didn’t even need to mutter a spell to get his magic to bring him the card (though he did, on occasion, entertain his friends with a stick, shouting “accio!” as he summoned an object).

Merlin waved the key card in front of Arthur’s flushed face. “Looking for this?” Merlin asked, annoyed by the man’s attitude. Arthur turned his head to look at him, his eyes wide open in shock. “Maybe next time, you’ll be less of an arse when people are trying to help.”

With that said, Merlin flicked the card at Arthur. He then turned around to catch the lift. The last thing he saw as the lift doors closed before him was Arthur, still staring in his direction.

*

The problem with Merlin’s intention of never dealing with Arthur again was that Arthur, though not always good at interacting with people, had a noble streak a mile wide and was a bit of a charmer, as Merlin found out that very evening.

He was sitting at the bar, reaching into his pockets to grab his wallet when someone came up to him, handed the bar tender a note and said “on me”.

Merlin turned to see the blond man sitting down next to him and ordering a beer. Not wanting to sit next to him, Merlin made a move to stand but a hand on his wrist stopped him.

“Look,” the man started hesitantly, not quite looking straight at Merlin. “About this morning…”

“You were a right prat,” Merlin finished for him, trying to ignore just how warm the hand on his wrist felt. “Now, if you’ll excuse me–”

“I’m sorry,” Arthur blurted out hurriedly. “You’re right, I acted like a prat and you didn’t deserve it. And I just wanted to apologise. I don’t usually act like that.”

Merlin settled back down on the barstool. “So why did you act like that, then?”

Arthur gave a small shrug. “I guess it was a bit embarrassing to be caught in just a towel.”

Merlin smiled. “It didn’t really leave much to the imagination.”

Arthur laughed, throwing his head back, and Merlin felt butterflies in his stomach. There was something about him, something that Merlin very much wanted to explore.

Arthur extended his hand towards him. “I’m Arthur,” he said.

“Merlin,” he replied, closing his hand over Arthur’s and shaking it firmly. He hadn’t even touched his drink and he already felt like he was drunk, unsteady and floating.

“Well, Merlin,” Arthur said, looking Merlin straight in the eye. “Would you like to follow me upstairs and get the whole view, no towels this time?”

All it took was a split second for Merlin to make up his mind. Yes. He wanted to follow Arthur – he couldn’t believe the man’s name was Arthur, how unlikely was that? – upstairs.

“You’re very forward,” Merlin said, smiling, stalling for no reason other than to see Arthur try not to fidget nervously. “Are you always this forward?”

Arthur grinned. “Only when the person’s name is Merlin. I can’t believe your name’s Merlin. What are the chances?”

“Must be destiny,” Merlin said before finishing his drink. “Coming?” he asked, standing up.

Arthur didn’t even bother finishing his drink.

*

When Merlin woke the following morning, everything seemed normal. He was feeling a bit too hot though, but when he went to kick the covers off, he found that he was being spooned by someone.

That was when he remembered the previous night. A slow smile crept across his lips and he snuggled back into Arthur’s arms. This is nice, he thought.

Last night had been hard and fast, both of them too turned on by each other, by trying to get the other right where he wanted him to be. He could still remember Arthur, taking advantage of Merlin adjusting to Arthur’s cock inside him, rolling them over so that he was above him, kneeling between Merlin’s splayed legs, with a self-satisfied smirk.

Neither of them had lasted long after that. Merlin had come first, biting his lower lip and looking straight into Arthur’s eyes. Arthur had followed him not long after, burying his head in the crook of Merlin’s neck, moaning his name against his heated skin.

After a moment, Arthur had moved, stretching out next to Merlin, not touching, but close enough that Merlin could still feel the heat radiating off his skin.

They’d fallen asleep like that. That, Merlin remembered because Arthur had drifted off first, barely managing to remove the condom, tie it up, and toss it in the general direction of the bin. He’d listened to Arthur’s steady breathing and turned on his side to watch him sleep, even as he struggled to keep his eyes open.

It didn’t take long before he felt Arthur stirring behind him.

“Morning, sleepy head,” Merlin said fondly, entwining his fingers with Arthur’s against his stomach.

“Mmm, morning,” Arthur murmured, pressing a kiss to the back of Merlin’s neck.

They both fell quiet for a moment, not really knowing what to say to each other. They were virtually strangers, Merlin thought, feeling a small jolt of panic slicing through the warm languidness of the morning. He never did this, not with strangers.

“I had fun last night,” Arthur finally said, quelling Merlin’s worry. “What are you doing today?”

“Nothing much,” Merlin replied. “I’m just here to relax.”

“So am I,” Arthur said. “It’s been a long year.”

“Same here.”

“So really, there’s no reason for us to get out of bed at all today,” Arthur said.

Merlin turned in Arthur’s arms and was rewarded with a quick kiss to his lips and a warm smile. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

*

Arthur and Merlin quickly and easily fell into a routine. It wasn’t much of a routine, and it involved a lot of sex and snogging both in either of their rooms, or out and about as they explored the local area. But it was good. Merlin had never felt this relaxed or happy in his life and found himself thinking that this was too good to ever end. Arthur could be a bit of a prat, but he was also one of the warmest, most loving people Merlin had ever met, even though he rarely let himself show it.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and his relationship with Arthur was no different.

“I have to go now, Merlin,” Arthur said between kisses.

“I know,” Merlin replied. That didn’t stop him from leaning in and kissing Arthur again.

Finally, Arthur pushed him away. Just slightly, so that Merlin couldn’t just lean in to kiss him again, but still close enough that his hands were still resting on Arthur’s waist.

“I’m sorry, I really have to go,” Arthur said, sounding like he wanted nothing more than to stay here, with Merlin. “My sister–”

“I know,” Merlin said.

Arthur hadn’t said much about his sister. All Merlin knew was that Arthur had received a frantic call from his sister yesterday evening and that Arthur had cut his holiday short.

“She gets these… nightmares, I guess,” Arthur had said after hanging up. “She thinks they’re real, that they’re, um, visions of the future. I need to be there for her, I’m the only one she trusts when her meds stop working.”

Merlin understood. Of course he did. He knew that, in Arthur’s position, he would have done the same. He still couldn’t help the pang of jealousy, even though he kept it hidden from Arthur. He didn’t want their holiday to end, because it meant going back to a world without Arthur.

“Give me your phone number,” Arthur said, grabbing his phone from his pocket. “I’ll call you when I get back.”

Merlin took the phone and entered his number. It was so strange to think that in the week and a half of whirlwind romance, they still hadn’t swapped numbers. He didn’t even know Arthur’s last name or where he lived! Probably because they’d never been apart more than a few minutes.

“Here you go,” Merlin said, giving Arthur his phone back. He took advantage of Arthur putting the phone back in his pocket to kiss him again. Arthur relented for a moment, his arms snaking around Merlin’s waist, pulling him closer.

“I really have to go now,” Arthur murmured, resting his forehead against Merlin’s. “My cab’ll be here any moment now.”

“I know,” Merlin sighed, letting Arthur go. He already felt so cold and lonely, and Arthur wasn’t even gone yet.

“I’ll call you as soon as I can,” Arthur promised.

Arthur grabbed his suitcase and opened the door to Merlin’s hotel room. He pulled Merlin close one last time and kissed him gently. “Bye, Merlin.”

Merlin watched him walk to the lift, and it was only when the lift doors had closed behind Arthur that Merlin had closed the door.

He took a deep breath, trying to keep the feeling of loneliness at bay. It was a bit pathetic, really. He’d only known Arthur a week and a half.

Turning around, he took in the state of his room, his clothes haphazardly tossed on the floor, the towels slung over the back of the chair, the rumpled sheets, his phone…

As soon as Merlin’s eyes fell on his phone, it was as if a block of ice had been dropped in his gut. His phone, the one with the brand new chip that he’d bought after an ex wouldn’t stop calling him. The phone with a brand new phone number and not at all the one he’d given Arthur.

Not even taking the time to put shoes on or grab anything, Merlin ran out of his room, slamming the door behind him. He couldn’t even wait for the lift, his heart beating so hard he thought it was going to jump from his throat. He took the stairs four at a time and ran through the hobby to the main door.

“Arthur!” he shouted when he was outside, hoping Arthur would hear him, that he would turn towards him, maybe wave to let Merlin know where he was.

There were several cabs by the hotel’s main entrance. Merlin ran past every one of them, ducking to see if Arthur was in one of them.

But Arthur was gone. Merlin could feel his eyes prickle with tears he would not shed. He would not cry, he told himself firmly. That didn’t stop the overwhelming feeling of loneliness from spreading through him like a wildfire.

*

August

Once Gwen and Gwaine were gone, Merlin collapsed onto his bed, one hand coming to rest on his stomach.

He hadn’t told them everything about Arthur. The experience of finding then losing him was still too raw and he didn’t want to share it with anyone, he didn’t want others to tarnish the memory of their relationship. He wasn’t worried about Gwen saying anything, but Gwaine… Gwaine was another kettle of fish. He’d make crass jokes or he’d tease Merlin about still being sensitive, and Merlin didn’t want to deal with that. Not today, and possibly, not ever.

Merlin was always conscientious about protection. He always had been, and always would be. His mother had drilled it into him since he was a pre-teen, starting to discover girls, starting to discover boys.

“You have magic, Merlin,” she’d say. “If you don’t use protection, you could end up pregnant.”

Not even with Arthur would he have broken his rule.

But there was that one night…

*

June

“Merrrrlin,” Arthur moaned, his words slurred, nuzzling into the skin of Merlin’s neck, his warm breath gently tickling the skin. “You’re so pretty.”

Merlin giggled. He was nowhere near as drunk as Arthur, but he’d had enough to drink that he was beyond finding Arthur’s behaviour embarrassing. Then again, Arthur seemed to have a reason to want to get drunk, unlike him. Merlin had no idea what had triggered it, but it had all started after that phone call from his father that Arthur had taken just before dinner.

Arthur was rubbing his cheek against Merlin’s shoulder like a giant cat. “I like your eyes,” he continued, still slurring. “They’re so blue.”

“You’re drunk, Arthur,” Merlin chastised gently, not even trying to push Arthur off him.

“Yesh,” Arthur replied enthusiastically. “But I like you a lot so it’s okay. Soooo much, Merlin!”

After that, Merlin could remember very little. Arthur’s declaration had left him flustered and unable to refuse another round of shots when Arthur had ordered it. His memory came in flashes after that, warm skin, a dark room, a lumpy hotel mattress, and Arthur, hot and writhing and so real against him.

“Love you, Merlin,” Arthur would moan against Merlin’s heated skin. “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Merlin had moaned in response before coming, clenching around Arthur’s cock. A few strokes later, and Arthur was coming inside him.

Once they’d both caught their breath, and once they were no longer so sensitive that the slightest touch was too much, they’d sought each other out, pulling the other even closer, so that there was nothing left between them.

*
August

Merlin hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, but in retrospect, he knew that that had to be the night he’d become pregnant. Merlin remembered them using condoms every other time but this one.

He sighed and tentatively moved his hand in circles over his belly.

“What am I going to do?” Merlin asked the child growing inside him.

There was no answer, but Merlin wasn’t expecting one. He smiled; it all seemed so easy now.

He’d always wanted children of his own, children he’d carry himself. Well, not always, but since becoming an adult and giving a lot of thought to how he wanted his life to be, he’d come to the conclusion that he wanted children.

So why not now? He had a job that paid enough for him to take care of a child financially, he had job security, and he loved his job, three important factors. He hadn’t planned to become pregnant, not for another few years at least, but there was nothing he could do about that now. He was keeping the child, and that was his final decision. He wanted this, with a fierceness that took him by surprise.

Still, thinking of the baby inside him brought back bittersweet memories of Arthur. He still missed him, now more than ever. He really wanted his child to know both its parents, even if Arthur didn’t want to be with him.

Merlin had grown up without his father. His mother had done an amazing job bringing him up and taking care of him all on her own. Merlin couldn’t even imagine a life with his father. He’d always been absent, Merlin didn’t need him. But it didn’t stop him from feeling an irrational need to know him, who he was, what he was like, what traits Merlin had inherited from him. He never told his mother, and his father’s absence had never bothered him much, but every once in a while, he would find himself thinking about his absent father.

And it was because Merlin knew what it was like to grow up without one of his parents that he knew that he didn’t want his baby to experience that. He wanted his child to know exactly where he or she came from.

He’d returned home less than a week after Arthur had left. He’d spent countless hours searching the web for any sign of him. Merlin had very little to go on. He didn’t even know his last name, but he did know that he’d been working abroad for Médecins Sans Fontières for several years. He’d chosen that path to spite his father, a renowned surgeon who owned his own clinic.

Nothing.

He’d scoured Facebook, twitter, dating sites, any site Arthur may have a profile on. He’d then moved on to phone book, hoping that he’d find a clue, something to go on.

Still nothing.

So, it wasn’t that he’d given up, not entirely, but he’d stopped searching after about a month, hoping against hope that a clue would come to him in time.

“Guess we’ll have to manage on our own,” Merlin said to his baby.

*

December

Merlin took a small sip of his steaming hot chocolate, looking out the window pensively. Outside, the world was ready for Christmas with its decorations, its lights, and passers-by bustling about with bags full of presents. Not even the cold wind and sleet were enough to make a dent in the Christmas feeling.

Merlin felt the baby kick and rubbed his small bump in response. She’d been quiet since Merlin had left the doctor’s surgery.

He’d taken the afternoon off to go to his check-up because the doctor was always running late. But for once, he’d only been five minutes late, leaving him with the rest of the afternoon to himself.

Just then, his phone buzzed in his pocket. Text message from Gwen.

Hey how did it go? :)

Merlin smiled. He was so glad to have a friend like Gwen who always took time out of her day to make sure everything was ok. The check-up had gone fine. Both he and the baby were fine, which was all that mattered. And Merlin had finally caved and asked to know his baby’s gender.

According to the doctor, he was six months pregnant with a very healthy baby girl. Knowing her gender didn’t change a thing for Merlin. It just meant that she was no longer an ‘it’. Somehow, it made him feel even closer to her.

It also meant that he’d won the bet he’d made with Gwaine. Two weeks of free hot drinks after work. Gwaine had originally offered drinks, i.e. alcoholic drinks, but when Merlin had refused, he’d offered to get Merlin coffee for two weeks. As much as Merlin loved coffee, he was trying very hard to keep his consumption of caffeine to a minimum for his baby’s sake. So, instead of wine, instead of coffee, just generic hot drinks.

Merlin was so immersed in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice anyone else until someone asked: “Do you mind if I sit?”

Merlin was in the middle of texting Gwen back, so he didn’t look up. But he did gesture with his free hand for the other person to sit down at his table.

It didn’t take him long to finish composing the text and sending it. He put his phone on the table and looked up at the man who had sat down in front of him.

It took Merlin a second to realise what – or who, more precisely – he was seeing, but when he did, he let out a loud gasp. He’d recognise that man anywhere.

“Merlin?” the man asked, looking as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. He saw Arthur’s eyes give him a once over, briefly stopping on his pregnant belly.

“Arthur!” Merlin said, unable to stop himself from smiling.

“Sorry, I have to go,” Arthur said, grabbing his cup.

“Wait, what?” Merlin spluttered. He couldn’t let Arthur leave, not again. “Don’t go!”

He had to push himself up to grab Arthur’s arm, the extra weight from his pregnancy making it difficult. “Don’t go,” Merlin repeated.

“Well, you’ll excuse me for not feeling wanted,” Arthur said harshly. But when Merlin caught his eye, he could see a hint of pain that Arthur was trying so very hard to conceal.

“I’m so sorry,” Merlin said. “Just… Hear me out, ok?”

Merlin sat down. He couldn’t spend too much time leaning over the table without his back starting to hurt. As it was, he felt a slight twinge that he knew would only get worse as the day went on.

At least Arthur was still there, sitting in front of him. He was so close, yet so far away. Merlin wanted to scream. It was so unfair.

“I’m listening,” Arthur said.

“Look, I gave you the wrong phone number,” Merlin started.

Arthur snorted a laugh, such an ugly sound. “Really, Merlin? What makes you think that?”

“I’m sorry, alright, I’m –” Merlin took a deep breath to steady himself. “I had to change numbers because one of my exes wouldn’t stop calling me.”

Arthur was starting to look less upset, and Merlin took it as a sign to continue. “I’d had that number for over ten years, Arthur. I was just so used to it, I didn’t even think about it.”

“How long had you had the new number when you lied to me?” Arthur asked.

Merlin winced at the word ‘lied’. “I didn’t lie to you, Arthur, I swear! I’d only had it a month or so.” Merlin let out the sob he’d been holding in for too long and wiped at his eyes furiously. Pregnancy hormones sent his feelings completely haywire. He didn’t want to cry in front of Arthur, but he couldn’t help it.

“I’m so sorry,” he continued, trying to control his voice. “God, Arthur, the moment I realised – I ran after you, but when I got there, you were gone! I hoped you’d still be there, that you’d hear me call you, but I was too late.”

He heard Arthur’s chair scrape against the floor, and for a horrible moment, Merlin thought he’d lost Arthur again.

“Don’t cry,” Arthur said, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and awkwardly pulling him into a hug.

“I can’t help it, the baby –” Merlin said, his voice weak with relief.

“I noticed,” Arthur said softly. “Congratulations.”

The truth about Merlin’s magic had come out one night while they were both a bit drunk and trying to have sex against the wall to the club they’d just left.

“Someone’ll see us,” Arthur whispered, not sounding particularly concerned.

Merlin giggled and wrapped a leg around Arthur’s, wanting him closer still. “They won’t,” he whispered back before dissolving into a fit of drunken giggles again.

“Will too.”

“Will not.”

“Will too.”

Just then, they heard voices coming towards them.

“See? I told you,” Arthur said, still not moving. Merlin could just hear the smirk in his voice.

“Watch me,” Merlin said.

The small group of people walked right past them, even as Merlin put Arthur’s hand on his cock and thrust up into it with a loud moan.

“I have magic,” Merlin whispered conspiratorially into Arthur’s ear. “No one will ever know that you fucked me against this wall.”

It probably wasn’t the best way of telling Arthur that he had magic, but it had all seemed so perfect in the heat of the moment. Later, when they’d both sobered up, he’d explained what his magic actually meant, and amongst others, that he could get pregnant if they weren’t careful.

“She’s yours,” Merlin said in a small voice.

For a moment, Merlin thought Arthur hadn’t heard him because he wasn’t responding. But then he felt Arthur’s arm clench around his shoulders.

“What?”

“She’s yours,” Merlin repeated. “Remember that night we got really, really drunk? I think that’s when it happened.”

“Shit.”

“Sorry.”

Arthur let go of Merlin’s shoulders and went back to his own chair. “She’s really mine?” he asked. “Are you really sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Merlin said, starting to feel a bit worried. He hadn’t exactly expected Arthur to be overjoyed, but… “You’re the only one I had sex with around the time she was conceived.”

“She?” Arthur looked up, curious and maybe even a bit excited, Merlin dared to think.

Merlin smiled at Arthur and put his hand on his belly. “I just found out today. The doctor says she’s a very healthy baby girl.”

“That’s – that’s great, right?”

“Yeah, it’s great.”

They fell quiet for a long moment. Merlin still wasn’t quite sure what to think. On the one hand, Arthur seemed excited by the news. On the other hand, he didn’t seem to want to accept that he’d gotten Merlin pregnant.

It was all a little too much for Merlin and his frayed emotions. Fortunately, Arthur’s phone started ringing. Arthur picked up, and Merlin tried to not listen to the conversation. He couldn’t tune it out completely though, and it sounded like Arthur had to get back to work.

“Sorry, I have to go,” Arthur said, slipping his phone into his pocket.

Merlin didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. It sounded so much like when Arthur had left the first time.

“Ok,” Merlin said, not knowing what to say. He didn’t want Arthur to go. He had so many questions to ask him. Was he really happy to know that Merlin was carrying his daughter, did he hate Merlin, where did the two of them stand now? But he couldn’t, he didn’t want to hear Arthur say that he hated him, that he didn’t want anything to do with the baby.

“Give me your phone number,” Arthur said, interrupting Merlin’s unhappy thoughts. “The real one, this time.”

Merlin just looked up at him like he didn’t understand.

Arthur handed him a piece of paper and a pen. “Your phone number.”

Merlin wrote it down, half in a daze, and checked it twice. Arthur then dialled the number, and to Merlin’s relief, his phone started buzzing.

“I’ll see you around, Merlin,” Arthur said.

*

Merlin got his first phone call from Arthur on Boxing Day. They’d exchanged a few texts. Nothing deep or serious, mostly just Arthur complaining about his work or the weather and Merlin telling him about the strange people he met at the library.

“Hello?”

“Merlin! My sister got me this fancy hot chocolate for Christmas,” came Arthur’s cheerful voice over the phone.

“Oh god, I could kill for a hot chocolate right now,” Merlin groaned. He’d noticed yesterday that his had expired two months ago. It wasn’t something that would usually bother him, but now that he was pregnant, he wasn’t taking any chances. He’d meant to get a few groceries today, to tide him through to the New Year, but he hadn’t slept well, courtesy of an over-active baby pulling an all-nighter.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Arthur said. “Why don’t I come over and let you sample it.”

“Come over?” Merlin asked. As much as he wanted to see Arthur again, his flat was a mess. It was just so much easier to leave things where he’d dropped them. Bending over was such a hassle these days. And using his magic tired him out much faster now that he was pregnant so he avoided using it. But if Arthur was coming over…

“Give me your address, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Arthur said.

Once Merlin had given him his address, Arthur hung up, saying he wouldn’t be long.

*

Despite what Arthur had said, it was almost an hour later that the doorbell rang. At least it had given Merlin enough time to clean his flat a bit.

Now, they were both sitting on opposite edges of Merlin’s sofa, nursing mugs of steaming hot chocolate, neither of them really knowing how to break the awkward silence.

“How’s your sister?” Merlin eventually asked.

“She’s… better,” Arthur said hesitatingly. “They’ve upped the dosage of one of her meds, and so far, it seems to be working.”

“That’s good, really good,” Merlin replied.

They fell quiet again for a few minutes, the clock on the wall ticking painfully slowly.

“Is she really mine?” Arthur eventually asked, turning to face Merlin.

“Hmm?”

“The baby, your baby,” Arthur said. “Is she really mine or are you having me on?”

“Of course she’s yours,” Merlin replied, trying to not sound indignant. “I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

“You don’t exactly have the best track record for telling the truth,” Arthur retorted.

“As I said the other day,” Merlin started, exasperated, “I didn’t mean to give you the wrong number.”

Merlin fell quiet for a moment before continuing. “I looked for you. It wasn’t easy without your last name, you know. I couldn’t find anything online. Do you have any idea how many blokes named Arthur who have blond hair and are doctors there are?”

“I’m guessing the answer is ‘several’,” Arthur said.

“Actually, I was going to say ‘too many’,” Merlin continued. “I really liked you, Arthur. I was really upset when I realised I’d given you the wrong number. I was hoping you’d call me when you had time, maybe meet up again.”

“So, what? You don’t think I liked you?” Arthur asked, defensive. “You think I just shrugged it off when I realised that you’d given me a random number?”

“Arthur…” Merlin murmured.

He hadn’t given it much thought until he’d met Arthur again at the coffee shop. He knew that he himself was hurt, but he’d never really wondered how Arthur felt. But now… Even though Arthur was trying very hard to hide his true feelings, Merlin could tell that he was hurt too, that he was lashing out to hide his pain.

“I’m sorry,” Merlin said, reaching over to put his hand over Arthur’s. He was still so warm and solid, just like Merlin remembered during those long nights where the loneliness had been too much.

Arthur’s hand flinched under his, but he didn’t move it away.

They stayed like that for a while, the silence, this time, comfortable as they sipped their hot chocolates. Merlin was gently rubbing his thumb over the skin of Arthur’s hand, maintaining the only point of contact between them.

“I want to be in her life,” Arthur said eventually, his voice barely above a whisper. “If she’s mine, I want to be involved.”

“Really?” Merlin couldn’t believe his ears. He’d never dared hope that Arthur would want to be involved.

“It’s a bit crazy,” Arthur said, rubbing his face with his free hand. “I mean, until I met you, I had no idea that men could get pregnant. And now, you’re pregnant, and I’m one of the child’s parents. Not only that, but your name is Merlin, it just had to be Merlin. It just seems so unreal.”

“You don’t have to,” Merlin interjected quietly. After all, the pregnancy was an accident – a happy accident, but an accident nonetheless. And after all they’d been through together, spending months apart, missing each other; it didn’t seem fair to expect Arthur to want to be involved.

“I want to,” Arthur said firmly. He turned his hand under Merlin’s grip so that he could squeeze Merlin’s hand. “I want to be there for you and our baby.”

“I’d like that,” Merlin replied, trying not to cry of happiness.

“So would I,” Arthur said with a gentle smile.

“Do you want to feel her move?” Merlin asked. She’d been quiet for most of the afternoon, and just started to stir, maybe in response to Merlin feeling a bit emotional.

“Can I?” Arthur asked, looking like he’d just won the lottery.

“Yeah,” Merlin said with a smile. “Come here.”

He took Arthur’s hand and placed it on his stomach, rucking up his loose T-shirt. “Just wait now,” Merlin said.

And then, she kicked. Arthur gasped loudly and almost knocked his mug off the armrest. “She kicked!” he cried excitedly. “Did she just kick?”

“Yes. She does that a lot, especially when I’m trying to sleep.”

“That’s brilliant!”

“I don’t think so, not when I’m trying to sleep.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Merlin,” Arthur said, rolling his eyes. “Don’t be silly.”

“Prat,” Merlin retorted fondly.

*

March

The last few months of Merlin’s pregnancy seemed to fly by after that. Merlin quickly discovered that Arthur was very enthusiastic about the pregnancy. He bought books, read articles online, and he went with Merlin to every single doctor’s appointment. And he’d bought every single piece of furniture, every single item that Merlin may potentially need to take care of their child.

Merlin’s friends had taken to Arthur easily once they’d realised he wasn’t just a prat. Gwen was the first one to warm to him. All it had taken was Merlin complaining about how Arthur kept on buying books about pregnancy and child care, and Gwen adored him.

“Oh, Merlin, that’s so sweet,” she’d cooed. “It’s so nice that he’s really into this. I was worried you’d feel a bit alone being a single parent. I’m glad you found Arthur again.”

Gwaine had eventually, grudgingly admitted that Arthur wasn’t as bad as he’d initially thought, but that he was still a ‘princess’.

But there was one thing on Merlin’s mind that never came up. Arthur was committed to being a good father to their child, there was no doubt about it, but Merlin couldn’t help but wonder how Arthur felt about him.

It was hard for Merlin to be around Arthur too much because it was so easy for him to believe that Arthur cared about him, that he liked him just as much as he had when they’d first met. It was really, really hard to remember that Arthur hadn’t said anything about their previous relationship, or that he hadn’t initiated anything, when Arthur was inches away, warm and solid, his large hand on Merlin’s round belly as he felt their daughter move.

A few times, Merlin had caught Arthur looking at him, but Arthur would always turn away when he noticed Merlin staring at him. At any other time, Merlin would have been straightforward about it. He would have asked Arthur directly. But now that there was a baby involved and what still sometimes felt like a fragile truce between them, Merlin didn’t feel comfortable broaching the subject.

*

It was two weeks before Merlin’s scheduled due date when he felt something strange inside him. He was on the sofa, watching rubbish telly, and gently stroking his bump. He didn’t think anything of it at first, strange sensations had become almost normal during this pregnancy, but then he felt something warm and liquid spread down his thighs. When he looked down, he saw that the sofa cushion was soaking wet, and that’s when he realised that his waters had broken.

“Oh my god, fuck!” Merlin swore, his heart pounding with fear in his chest.

This couldn’t be happening, not now. He wasn’t ready at all. He still had two weeks to go, why had his waters broken now? He grabbed his mobile and called Arthur but landed on his voicemail.

“Arthur, my waters have broken,” he said into the phone, trying to sound composed. He was so scared and had hoped that Arthur would answer, would provide some comfort. “I’m heading to the hospital now, meet me there?”

He quickly grabbed a few clothes and stuffed them in the first bag he could find. He then grabbed his phone and called Gwen, hoping that she wasn’t busy.

*

Fortunately for Merlin, Gwen was able to drive him to the hospital as Merlin was in no condition to do so himself. He was now in a hospital gown, drawn taut over his full stomach. The doctor had been and gone, saying that Merlin was nowhere near dilated enough. That hadn’t done anything to calm Merlin down. And now he was experiencing contractions, not very far apart and quite painful.

Gwen was sitting on a chair next to the bed and was holding Merlin’s trembling hand.

“You’ll be just fine, Merlin,” she said gently. “It’ll all be over before you know it.”

“It really hurts, Gwen,” Merlin moaned, squeezing her hand tightly as another contraction hit him.

“It’s ok, Merlin, I’m right here,” she said. She tenderly swept Merlin’s hair off his sweaty forehead.

“I don’t think I could do this without you, Gwen,” Merlin said.

“Nonsense,” Gwen said. “You’re a strong man, Merlin. You’d have been just fine without me.”

“I wish Arthur were here,” Merlin said wistfully. He had no idea when Arthur would have time to check his messages, or even if he’d be able to get someone to cover for him at work. After all, he couldn’t just take off; he had to make sure there was someone to take care of his patients.

“I’m sure he’ll be here before the baby comes,” Gwen said.

“I wish I could be as sure as you.”

It felt like an eternity to Merlin, but soon, the doctor was getting ready to deliver his baby. Arthur was still nowhere to be seen.

“I can go with you, if you’d like,” Gwen said. “I’m already used to you squeezing my hand too hard.”

Just as Merlin was going to answer, Arthur came running up to his hospital bed. “Arthur, you made it!” Gwen said, moving to one side to give the two men a bit of privacy.

“I only just got your message,” Arthur said apologetically.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Merlin just said. “You’ll go in with me, right?”

“Of course I will.”

Arthur then leaned in to kiss him on the lips.

“Arthur?” Merlin’s thoughts were racing. Arthur had just kissed him, was it just a heat of the moment thing? Or did Arthur really mean it. Now really wasn’t the time for Merlin to be wondering about such things.

Arthur just smiled at him. “Everything’s going to be just fine, Merlin.”

And Arthur was right. In what seemed like no time at all, the nurse was placing a tiny, wriggling bundle on Merlin’s chest.

“Arthur, look,” Merlin murmured, his voice raw with emotion. “She’s so tiny!”

When Arthur sat down next to him on the hospital bed, so very, very close, Merlin remembered the kiss. He still didn’t know what to think. Looking at Arthur absolutely mesmerised with their daughter revealed nothing. He didn’t know what to do; his head was swimming from everything he’d been through in the last few hours, the birth, his beautiful daughter, Arthur…

So without really thinking about it, Merlin tilted his head and leaned forward slightly to kiss Arthur. It wasn’t much of a kiss, the angle was all wrong, and Arthur just sat there, unmoving.

“What was that for?” Arthur asked quietly, not looking at Merlin.

“You kissed me first!” Merlin retorted. “Why did you kiss me?”

“What kind of a question is that?”

“Like your question was any better. And stop arguing, I don’t want to subject our daughter to that.”

“Make me,” Arthur said defiantly, finally meeting Merlin’s eye.

So Merlin did, leaning forward again to kiss Arthur sweetly. He couldn’t help grinning into the kiss. At that very moment, Merlin’s fears and pains faded away, and everything felt simply perfect.

“I kissed you because I like you, Merlin,” Arthur murmured, his lips brushing against Merlin’s. “I want us to be a family, all three of us, together.”

Merlin giggled slightly, feeling a bit dazed. “Well, now that that’s sorted, I guess we can argue about our daughter’s name, like a proper family.”

Arthur huffed a laugh. “There’s something about you, Merlin.”

“Something good, I hope.”

“Only time will tell.”

Merlin’s smile grew wider still, and he then turned his focus back to his beautiful new-born daughter. Only time would tell, but Merlin was almost certain that they’d make a perfect family.