It’s such a good caretaker. It reads you a fluffy bedtime story, holds the cup of warm milk to your lips so you don’t even have to make an effort, passes its hand across your forehead with its familiar, comforting touch…
It tells you not to worry. It tells you everything is going to be all right. It tells you to just ignore that pesky little monkey trying to find perch on your back.
And Merlin had been doing just that. And doing it just fine, thank you very much.
He gets away with this for approximately three months.
Until one morning when he tries to sit up in bed.
And finds he can’t.
Before he tries a second time, Merlin takes a moment to assess the situation. He yawns and stretches his arms over his head, his toes curling downward. He rubs at the itchy sleep in his eyes.
In this short time and with these simple movements, Merlin can confirm his brain still has control over his body and his limbs are still in good working condition.
He stares at the ceiling, his lips puckering in a thoughtful expression.
Maybe that false start was just the result of not being quite yet awake.
He stays in bed as long as he dares to avoid being late to rouse Arthur. He spends the time thinking about his golden prince and being warmed by the sappy little feeling the image conjures.
Very deliberately, he tries to sit up again. And again, something resists the flexion of his trunk and hips. He quickly abandons that strategy and rolls to his side to push up with his arms before he has to acknowledge what exactly is going on here.
He’s out of bed now, so it doesn’t really matter. Time to start the day as usual.
It doesn’t take long for him to realize that Denial has abandoned him and he is left with those bastards Truth and Reality.
He is perched on Arthur’s table (regular chairs just suddenly seem too low), steadily eating the prince’s breakfast and chatting away obliviously when he finally notices the amused expression trained on him.
“What?” Merlin asks, not even finished swallowing his mouthful of sweet bread before his fingers are absently gathering the last of the sliced melon.
Arthur says nothing, just lets his gaze slide slowly to the plate before settling meaningfully on Merlin’s (still moving) mouth before finally making its way back to Merlin’s eyes.
Merlin tucks in the melon and reaches for the fork laying next to the eggs to spear a few lumps without irony or shame. He chews slowly, still glaring at Arthur but no longer perplexed. Now, he looks mildly hostile.
Arthur’s brow raises just a bit more. It shouldn’t be possible for him to look any more amused, but he manages it.
Merlin makes sure to scrape the last remnants of the meal from the plate before speaking.
“Your servants are starving, my Lord. I meant to say something sooner...”
Arthur can’t contain it any longer. He lets out a sharp bark of a laugh and sits back comfortably in his chair. He obviously wants to enjoy this.
“Starving?” he bites the corner of his lip cheekily and gives Merlin the once-over, “Not the word I would use to describe the state of my servants.”
Merlin turns away sharply, his face burning as if from physical injury. With all the stinging pain he feels in that moment, Arthur may as well have slapped him.
His vision blurring with the prickly beginnings of tears, he drops the fork with a clatter against the table and struggles ungracefully (another humiliation) down from it to rush toward the door.
All trace of its earlier mirth gone, Arthur’s voice is heard directly behind the nearly blind warlock before a strong grip clamps around his arms, effectively halting his hasty exit.
Merlin doesn’t struggle and he stops trying to leave. Still, he refuses to turn around and when Arthur tries to hold him around his waist, he bitchily knocks his hands away.
“I didn’t mean…” Arthur sighs, not sure the best tactic for handling this strange, excessively moody version of Merlin, “I’m not saying…”
Merlin crosses his arms over his chest and stares at the door, offering nothing but obviously waiting for something.
Arthur gets as close as he thinks his bristling beloved will allow and tries again, directing his words to the side of Merlin’s jaw where he can add a light kiss to punctuate them.
“You’re beautiful to me.”
The tension in Merlin’s shoulders starts to ease immediately.
Arthur notices and is relieved, automatically assuming Merlin is over whatever little fit he’d just had.
Arthur thinks this is the time for honesty (it’s not).
He laughs good-naturedly and reaches for Merlin again, lightly rubbing his decidedly more substantial hips, “I always thought you were too skinny...”
The tension freezes its descent and starts back in reverse.
“I like the extra weight you’ve…”
A blue/red blur of movement and the loud sound of a slamming door later, Arthur finds himself suddenly alone in his chambers.
Merlin goes back into his and Gaius’ rooms and finally, finally acknowledges something isn’t right.
(Why it took Arthur insulting his weight/appearance to make him face this, he doesn’t know.)
Since Gaius is visiting a neighboring kingdom to trade medical secrets with their physician, Merlin doesn’t bother trying to hide in his bedroom. He lifts his shirt where he stands and stares down at the protrusion of his belly.
It wouldn’t have looked too suspicious if Merlin wasn’t such a naturally thin lad. As it is, the size of his stomach looks decidedly out of place on his small frame.
He and Arthur had spent many nights naked together, but the prince had probably assumed his developing girth was due to his suddenly very healthy appetite. The prat probably believed that was the result of their oh-so-strenuous lovemaking.
Merlin is worriedly rubbing the offending swell, when his hand passes over that strange marking he’s had ever since that First Night (yeah, he thinks about it in title caps).
The little cloud outline is now filled in with raised and discolored skin.
So, that feeling of fluttering butterflies in his stomach wasn’t just his love for Arthur. It was also the miracle manifestation of that love.
Merlin collapses onto Gaius’ workbench and lets himself cry.
In a way, his initial experiment had surpassed all his expectations and had succeeded in achieving him a bastardized version of his ultimate goal.
In a way, he had created human life.
And therein lies the tragedy.
Merlin sits crying for longer than he can perceive.
For the first time in his life, not only does he not know what to do, he doesn’t even know where to start.
No, Merlin. Don’t be a coward.
This baby would ruin everything.
For Arthur to have a bastard son before he is even king… With a man, no less. With a warlock, no lesser.
And there is that to deal with.
There would be no denying the truth about himself if Arthur (or anyone) found out he was pregnant.
Also, just thinking about the logistics of birthing the baby from his male form is enough to drive him mad.
Was this the penalty for daring to believe it was within his rights to wield the power over life and death?
Merlin wipes his sniffles on his sleeve and glares miserably at the potion-cluttered table. He stares unseeing at the numerous vials and beakers of various concoctions. And then his vision shifts, focuses, and he actually sees the potions.
An idea forms. A terrible, terrible idea.
But once Merlin has something (anything) to hold onto, it drives him with a single-minded obsession.
At Gaius’ bookshelf, he frantically scans volume after volume of potion formulas, searching for something with enough toxicity to…
Is he really capable of doing this? When he can’t even think it?
It would be so simple. A few sips, a chemical reaction, a life terminated.
(Why is the destruction of life so much easier than saving it?)
Even with the severe magnitude of his misgivings, Merlin continues searching until he finds something suitable.
He returns to the workbench and with steady hands and a grim determination, mixes a potion that would almost surely cause a miscarriage without killing himself.
The poison appears heartbreakingly innocuous. It’s purely clear and thin. It could be water.
Merlin stoppers the vial and holds it in his palm.
This is the only answer.
Arthur’s destiny could continue unthreatened. Merlin’s secret could continue to be so. His selfish mistake would never be allowed to…
“I thought you would return.”
A quiet voice from the doorway startles Merlin, his attention snapping towards it with a short intake of breath.
Arthur is leaning against the frame, watching Merlin carefully.
“My stubborn nature tried to stop me from coming here,” he continues softly, “But I found that even an hour was too long to be without you.”
Merlin trembles where he sits, the vial a painful pressure in his hand.
Arthur suddenly crosses the room and Merlin wants to flee.
He is guided gently from the bench and into the prince’s arms. He goes without resistance.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur whispers with aching sincerity and takes Merlin’s face in his hands to kiss him sweetly. His lips continue the apology: I never meant to hurt you. You’re everything to me. I love you.
Merlin returns the kiss and his resolve not to destroy what he has here strengthens.
When Arthur pulls back enough to look at Merlin, his handsome face registers concern.
“Have you been crying?” he asks, rubbing a thumb under Merlin’s shiny eye.
Merlin dismisses this with a shake of his head, slipping the vial into his pants’ pocket.
“Yes, but it’s fine. I’m okay now.”
Arthur wants to believe him. He also wants to believe that if it isn’t quite true now, he can make it true.
Merlin finds another balance mocks him: spending time with Arthur is both comforting and painful in equal measure.