Merlin manages to keep his secrets for another three months.
He doesn’t quite get a visit from Denial, but he forces the unpleasant thoughts to the back of his mind and holds them there with the will of the gods. The vial of poison goes everywhere he goes, yet he still manages to keep the pregnancy on the fringe of his consciousness.
But the months seem to pass quickly and the extra two inches he gains around his waist once again force his hand. It is painfully obvious he is with child.
He can only go for so long borrowing Gaius’ shirts and holding random objects in front of him any time he does anything. It’s especially hard to hide from Gwen and Morgana who both possess that extra-sensory perception all women seemed to have. He knows they must suspect something is not quite as nature intended, but their friendship and loyalty keep them silent. They watch him closely though, often randomly speaking words of support even during situations that don’t call for them. Merlin can only smile at them gratefully and pretend he has no idea what brought that on.
The worst part is having to constantly deny Arthur and make outrageous excuses for why he can’t take his clothes off or let Arthur on top. Arthur has been graciously patient so far with Merlin’s lies, but he is not stupid nor a saint.
And in the end, the warlock is just too exhausted with having to maintain the illusion of Normal-Merlin to let this go on any longer.
He knows the exact moment he has unconsciously decided to take the poison.
He is lying in bed one morning, staring at nothing, when a terrible pain erupts in his stomach and a sudden flood of heat and vertigo follow. Without remembering how he gets there, he finds himself crouched on the floor over a puddle of his own sour sick.
He presses a shaking hand up to his still-drooling mouth and wants to call out for Gaius, for help. But, he knows he can’t and he is forced to lie in disgrace beside the sticky, disgustingly-fragrant pile until he feels semi-human again.
He passes the rest of the day in a zombiefied stupor (now truly a product of his own long-forgotten experiment).
He carries out his usual duties, interacts with the people who cross into his sphere of consciousness, and restrains himself from spontaneously screaming for death as loudly as he can.
In Arthur’s chambers after dinner, he sits up against the headboard on the bed (with a strategically-placed pillow on his lap), trying to learn how to sew so he can fix the tear he put in one of Gaius’ shirts and keep his mind and hands busy in the process.
“You know,” Arthur muses, lying on his side while watching Merlin’s pitiful attempts with amusement, “I can get the seamstress to do that for you.”
“I know. It’s just that I borrowed it and…”
“I was wondering why I hadn’t seen it before,” Arthur interrupts and snatches the shirt out of Merlin’s hands.
“Arthur!” he protests, holding his hand out in the hope that he will just give it back. He can’t even reach forward to take it with his boulder-sized stomach in the way.
“Whose shirt is this?” Arthur frowns, trying to place its owner.
Certainly not royalty, he thinks.
“What does it matter?” Merlin gives him an incredulous look, flexing his fingers in an obvious gesture of demand for the clothing.
“Why are you wearing another man’s shirt?” Arthur asks as if it’s a perfectly reasonable question.
Not as far as Merlin is concerned.
“Don’t tell me you’re jealous.”
“What? No!… Why? Whose shirt is this?”
Any other day, this would be as amusing as it is frustrating.
Not today. Merlin can’t deal with this right now.
He starts blinking a little too rapidly and his arms come up to cross over his chest.
Oh, fuck me, Arthur thinks.
He crawls over to Merlin and grabs his wrists, pulling them down to the bed so he can lean in and steal a kiss.
“It’s Gaius’ shirt,” Merlin explains in a wet voice, “I borrowed it because… because-”
“It doesn’t matter,” Arthur rescues, tweaking Merlin’s nose, “I was being silly. You keep trying to sew up that tear. I’ll be back.”
He returns about a half hour later with a “Ta-da!” and a tray carrying a bowl of lemon pudding and a single flower.
“I know how much you like this dessert so I had them whip it up for you in the kitchens. Well,” he shrugs with an arrogant grin, “They think it’s for me.”
Merlin tries to smile around the sudden constriction in his throat and accepts the tray.
“Can you… can you bring me a little powered sugar?” He bats his lashes and looks up at Arthur with an innocent expression, “Pretty please?”
The prince drops a kiss onto the top of Merlin’s head and turns to leave with a sigh.
As soon as the door closes, Merlin digs into his pants’ pocket and retrieves that damnable vial that has been his constant companion for months.
Before he can change his mind, he dumps all the poison into the pudding and stirs it in.
The already moist dessert shows no sign of its now deadly composition.
Merlin dips the spoon in slowly and gathers a substantial lump, his uncontrollable shaking depositing more than half of it back out as he lifts it from the bowl.
He feels feverish, his breathing short and strained, and there’s a hot pressure building in his head so that it’s difficult to focus.
It almost feels as if he’s already poisoned himself.
He sets the spoon back in. Gathers more of the pudding that is going to kill his and Arthur’s baby.
He raises it to his parted lips.
When Arthur returns with the sugar, the first thing he sees is a destroyed-looking Merlin standing in the middle of the bedroom. The next thing that registers is the lemon pudding painting the north side of his wall.
“Merlin?” Arthur steps further in, closing the door behind him.
The sobbing boy doesn’t even seem to realize Arthur is there. He is bent over, holding his stomach as if it pains him.
Arthur hurries over and tries to see his face.
“I couldn’t do it,” Merlin bursts out, suddenly clinging to Arthur and trembling so violently it’s like he’s about to fly apart. “I couldn’t…”
“I don’t know what you’re saying,” Arthur pleads, frustrated, “Are you hurt?”
Merlin shakes his head and the vise around the prince’s chest eases just a bit. His gentle hands smooth back dark hair and wipes away still-falling tears.
Merlin takes several calming breaths, trying to get a hold of himself enough to explain. He owes Arthur that much.
But when he sees the anxious yet trusting look in Arthur’s eyes, he finds he can’t speak.
He shows him instead.
Merlin carefully takes Arthur’s hands in his and guides them under his shirt to press against his extended belly. When their joined hands lie over the distention, he can almost feel the warmth penetrate deep inside and that near constant fluttering stops almost immediately. It is as if the little life inside is soothed by his fathers’ touch.
Merlin can see physically see the thoughts and feelings warring within Arthur. His reason, his sanity, does not want to let him come to the obvious conclusion of Merlin’s confession.
When it finally does, his confusion and fear only deepen.
“How?” he whispers, searching Merlin’s face frantically for an answer that will make sense of all this. He still holds onto Merlin’s stomach tenderly as if afraid of disturbing something fragile.
Merlin slowly removes his hands from over Arthur’s and holds them over his pregnant belly.
Watching Arthur carefully, he brings his two index fingers together, the light of his magic already flickering between them. He moves his fingers in a wide arc and touches them together again.
A golden, glittering heart-shape sparkles over their baby.
Arthur gapes open-mouthed at the fantastic sight, his breathing a forced rush from his lungs.
“Merlin…” He looks past the heart to the sorcerer who conjured it, letting him see how much this secret has hurt him.
Merlin stares back with everything laid bare, desperate for Arthur to understand.
I do trust you. I didn’t want this burden to be yours. The purpose of my life is to love and protect you.
And somehow… Arthur hears him.
Merlin lets the heart disperse into the air and leans forward to rest his forehead against Arthur’s, the baby safe and happy between them.
And there is that feeling of contentment again, as if Merlin has eaten another miracle fruit.
“Do you know already?” Arthur asks after a long moment. The smile in his voice tugs at Merlin’s own lips. “Can you tell?”
Arthur lifts his head to gaze affectionately at Merlin, thumbs caressing his ample sides in little circles.
“Prince or princess?”
The sequel: Rediscovering Magic