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Comfort in Your Smile

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Freakout #1 (although Arthur claims it was merely a shock, not a freakout)

“What?” Arthur said.

“I’m pregnant,” Merlin said. The first time he had told Arthur, he had been nervous, chewing on his lip and pacing up and down the floor. Now he was annoyed. Arthur was okay with that. He knew how to handle an annoyed Merlin, but he had no idea how to handle a nervous one.

“I thought you were on birth control,” Arthur said.

“I was.”

“And we used condoms.”

“We did,” Merlin said.

“So then how did this happen?”

“Come on, Arthur, you know that neither method is 100% guaranteed to not end in pregnancy.”

“But still…” Arthur said.

“It happens.”

“What are we going to do, Merlin?”

“We’re going to have a baby, Arthur.”

“A baby…” Arthur said. His stomach clenched at the words. Until this moment in time, he had never, ever considered having a child. He was too young, too busy, too self-centered, too whatever other adjective you wanted to add. He was not father material.

“Listen, I know you came over here for our usual end-of-the-week fuck, but I’m thinking that you need some time to fully let this sink in,” Merlin said. “Why don’t you go home, Arthur, and we’ll talk tomorrow.”

Arthur nodded and let Merlin lead him to the door. He reflexively kissed back when Merlin gave him a goodbye peck, and then sort of drifted down the stairs and to his car. He shook off his shock enough to drive to his flat. Once there, he let the shock take him into his apartment and into the liquor cabinet. He spent what felt like ages letting the sounds of the Doctor and Rose float over him as he dedicated himself to finding the bottom of a bottle of scotch.

 

*********

 

The first time was almost an accident. Merlin was over at Arthur’s place for their monthly Dr. Who marathon. They were arguing, as they always did, over who was the best Doctor. Arthur, like always, claimed that it was Ten. Merlin put up quite an argument for whatever Doctor had caught his fancy recently.

Somehow, Arthur found himself admitting the one thing that he had sworn to himself never to say, “I like Ten because he reminds me of you, Merlin.”

“What do you mean?” Merlin said.

“He’s fun, but underneath all that, he has a spine of steel that nobody can make bend. That’s you, Merlin.”

Merlin didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he surged forward and kissed Arthur. From there, it was flurry of clothes falling to the floor and skin on skin and mind-blowing orgasms.

Of course, it couldn’t end there.

 

Freakout #2 (or, Arthur’s perfectly logical freakout)

Arthur was spent a few days going over every possible instance it could have happened, and then he pushed aside all thoughts of having a baby with Merlin so that he could go to work and actually do his job. He also had to deal with his father Uther, who was on the warpath because one of the accountants had messed up one of their most important accounts. Arthur not only had to fix the mistake and admonish the accountant, he had smooth the ruffled feathers of the client and Uther.

By the time Friday night came around, Arthur was exhausted, but his brain wouldn’t stop thinking. For the first time, he could relax, but all he could think about was Merlin’s news. He was pregnant. And Arthur was going to be a father.

Suddenly, he couldn’t breath. Out of everything he had ever thought he would be, a father was not on the list. Sure, he had planned to be an accountant and work his way up the ranks. He had planned to own a sensible but stylish car. He planned to own a house some day in the future. He planned to fall in love and get married. But he had never, ever thought about having kids.

Merlin had been his best friend for a lot longer than they had been lovers, so it was no surprise that his was the first number Arthur dialed.

“Are you done freezing me out?” Merlin asked.

“I didn’t mean to freeze you, Merlin. It’s just, this is such a big thing. I’ve never thought about being a dad. And you know my childhood. You’ve met my father. Uther is cold, calculating, and never there. How can I be a father?”

“I didn’t expect this kind of phone call tonight,” Merlin said, “But I do know one thing: you will be an excellent father.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I know you. You know what it’s like to grow up with a father who loves his business more than you. Uther is cold and calculating, but you have somehow managed to grow up into a man who puts his friends’ comfort over his own, who takes over the role of yelling at and firing people so they don’t have to endure Uther’s anger. You care about everyone around you. Why the hell wouldn’t you care about your own kid?”

Arthur was silent for a moment. What do you say to someone when they clearly have so much faith in you?

Finally, he said, “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Merlin said firmly.

“Okay,” said Arthur, “Let’s do this.”

He could hear Merlin smile over the phone.

 

Freakout #3 (Arthur still wonders why Merlin didn’t have this one first)

Two days later, a harried-looking Arthur knocked briskly on Merlin’s door.

It took awhile, but Merlin finally answered. He was bleary-eyed and still dressed in his pajamas. Arthur forced himself to not stare at the sliver of skin that appeared between his t-shirt and pajama pants when Merlin wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

“Arthur?” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“Can I come in?” Arthur asked. “We have some stuff to discuss.”

“Of course,” Merlin said.

He quickly pulled the door to the side. Arthur nodded at him and walked in. He had been in Merlin’s apartment many times over the years, but it never failed to make him smile. It was just so Merlin. Books and DVDs were piled up on every surface. Random hoodies and t-shirts were draped across the furniture. Despite the fact that he always itched to pick up the clothing and straighten up the piles, he kept his hands to himself. Merlin would kill him if he tried otherwise.

“What do you want, Arthur?” Merlin asked as he moved past Arthur and into his kitchen. He filled the kettle up in the sink and then put it on the stove to boil.

“I’ve been crunching the numbers,” Arthur said, “and we are both going to have to make some changes in our lives if we are going to have a baby.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the average child costs the parents about $12,000 for the first year alone. By year two, it will be up to $12,500. We’ll spend close to $50 per week on diapers, formula and baby food alone. That comes out to $2,448 per year, Merlin, per year. Not to mention the costs of furniture, toys, and clothes. And if the baby is sick for some reason, the expenses just get higher and higher. Plus, we’ll have to take into account child care if we both go back to work. Oh, oh, and there’s how much it’s going to cost to just get you through your pregnancy. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average bill for doctors’ fees and hospital charges runs around $9,700 for a normal delivery and roughly $12,500 for a cesarean section. It can be up to nearly $300,000 if complications occur. We need a plan, Merlin,” Arthur said as he paced up and down Merlin’s living room.

“I need a cup of tea, and you need a sedative, Arthur,” Merlin said. He prepared two mugs for tea and then poured in the now boiling water. He handed Arthur’s over before going to the fridge and pouring a little milk in his.

He took a sip and then looked at Arthur. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort you’ve taken in finding out these things, but the cost of the baby doesn’t really matter to me.”

“It doesn’t matter to me either,” Arthur said. “But I feel like we should take the expense into account and figure out how to make at least your pregnancy work without going bankrupt.”

“Okay,” said Merlin. “Just let me shower and get dressed.”

 

Freakout #4 (Or, the one that Arthur isn’t even sure if it counts as a freakout)

Arthur thought that he had done really well. He had managed to support Merlin through his second trimester without freaking out again. He had been at every doctor’s appointment, made sure Merlin had plenty of prenatal vitamins stocked up, and had even gone so far as to buy and read every single MPreg pregnancy manual and child rearing book he could find. Merlin said he was going overboard, but Arthur really didn’t care. Better to be too prepared than not prepared enough.

All the preparation in the world didn’t stop his chest from freezing up when Merlin asked, “Have you told Uther or Morgana about the baby?”

“No,” said Arthur slowly, as if it should be obvious that he would never, ever think of sharing his personal life with his father and estranged sister.

“Don’t you think you should? This kid is going to be a part of their family,” Merlin said.

“I’ll think about it,” Arthur replied.

 

********

 

He didn’t want to think about it, but he promised Merlin. There were a million reasons why it was a bad idea. Uther had never hid his dislike of Merlin and his poverty. He had spent a great deal of Arthur’s childhood trying to convince him that Merlin was only after Arthur’s money and connections. As a five year old, Arthur knew better than to believe that a kid could think like that. As a twelve year old, he had too many weird feelings about Merlin to even think about it, and as a seventeen year old, he had known Merlin too well to even consider it. Uther would probably make some sort of belittling comment to Merlin, but Merlin knew how to handle him by now.

Morgana, on the other hand, could be anything from ecstatic to downright mean. As children, they had been friends and enemies, constantly teasing each other and then defending each other. But sometime in high school, Morgana had started to slip away. Now she lived with her girlfriend Morgause in an apartment across town, and they barely spoke to each other except at their monthly family dinner that Uther insisted on holding.

Arthur didn’t want to think about it, but he had. That was the only reason he was ringing the doorbell at his father’s house with Merlin beside him.

The maid opened it, took their coats, and directed them to the living room where Morgana and Uther were sipping cocktails in silence.

“Hello,” Arthur said. Morgana and Uther stood up. Arthur shook Uther’s hand and gave Morgana a brief hug before tugging Merlin forward.

“Merlin,” Uther nodded at him, disappointment clearly etched across his face. Beside him, Morgana was radiating with barely concealed mirth.

Merlin rested his hand on his stomach and nodded at them both. “How are you doing, Mr. Pendragon?” he asked.

“Fine,” said Uther.

There was a long pause before the maid came back in to announce that dinner was ready.

They walked into the dining room and sat at their seats. Arthur had called ahead to say that he was bringing someone important, so there was already a place set next to Arthur’s usual seat. Morgana cast a few glances at Merlin’s protruding stomach, while Uther steadfastly ignored it.

The meal started in silence, but pretty soon Arthur asked Morgana about how Morgause was and how their business, which sold scented candles, was going. When Morgana had first told them what kind of shop Morgause and her were planning on opening, Arthur had laughed in her face. Of course, six months later, when the women had proved him wrong by recouping all their startup costs and then some, he had been forced to admit that they clearly knew what they were doing. Morgana still wasn’t done rubbing it in.

After about ten minutes of small talk, Morgana finally had enough. “Are we going to talk about the elephant in the room or not?”

Arthur looked over at Merlin, only to see him smiling softly back at Arthur. He took comfort from Merlin’s presence. He looked over at Morgana and his father and said, “Merlin’s pregnant, and it’s my child.”

“Have you had a paternity test?” Uther said.

“What?” said Arthur. He gripped his silverware a little tighter, the tension in the room now ratched up another ten degrees.

“Have you had a paternity test to make sure its your child? After all, you never know where a boy like that has been.”

“He’s been with me,” Arthur said. The knuckles on his hands were beginning to turn white. “And besides, Merlin said it was mine so it has to be so. He wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

“How do you know?” Uther said.

“I’ve known Merlin since I was five. He’s never lied to me. Why would he now?”

“Because he finally has a way to get you,” Uther sneered.

Arthur stabbed his fork into the antique dining table and stood up. Merlin was only half a second behind him.

“I can’t believe you, Father,” he said. “I tell you that you are going to have a grandchild and your first reaction is to ask if I’m sure it’s mine. How about being happy for a change? How about congratulating me on having a child with someone I love?”

“Arthur…” Uther started to say, but Arthur quickly shut him down.

“If you are not going to be happy for me, then I’m leaving,” Arthur said as he reached down and grabbed Merlin’s hand. Together they walked out of the room.

They were just at the front door and had asked the maid to bring them their coats when Morgana ran out of dining room.

“Arthur,” she said, stopping and then bending over to catch her breath.

“Do you agree with him?” Arthur asked.

She shook her head and then stood up straight. “I think it’s great that you and Merlin are going to have a baby. I just wanted to say that if you or Merlin needs anything, don’t be afraid to call me or Morgause. I know we haven’t been the closest over the years, but I do love you and Merlin. I’m so excited that you two are together. And I’m going to be an aunt!”

Arthur cleared and looked at Merlin. Merlin beamed at Morgana.

“Thank you so much,” he said as he walked over and gave Morgana a big hug.

Arthur followed suit, although his hug was markedly more awkward than Merlin’s.

 

Freakout #5 (the one Arthur didn’t see coming)

Arthur spent the next two weeks freaking out about what he had said and what Morgana had said. He hadn’t expected to share his feelings for Merlin that way, and he spent more days than he liked to remember wondering if Merlin was going to call him on it. After all, he had told his father and his sister that he loved Merlin before he told Merlin. Heck, he hadn’t even realized that he loved Merlin. The beginning of their relationship had been an unexpected utterance, and the continuation of it had just felt right. Could they even call it a relationship? They mostly just fell into bed together on Friday nights; there was almost no conversation beforehand or even after, well, except for the few nights one or both of them had fallen asleep afterwards. Then whoever’s apartment it was made breakfast for the other one, and then they would usually spend the day watching television or running errands together. It was nice. Scratch that, it was really nice. It was the kind of nice that made Arthur think of families in commercials, the kind that are so happy it looks like it would be impossible to be that happy. Arthur thought it was impossible, until Merlin and him started whatchamacallit.

But Merlin never brought it up, and Arthur found it easier to pretend it hadn’t happened. Before either of them knew it, nine months were up.

 

Calm (or, Merlin freaks out and Arthur is the calm one, for a change)

Arthur was sleeping when the phone rang.

“Hello,” he answered, his voice sleep-roughened.

“Arthur, I’m having the baby. I would very much appreciate a ride to the hospital,” Merlin’s voice came through the phone at a brisk pace.

“I’ll be right there,” Arthur said.

He hung up the phone and quickly got dressed. He flew out of his apartment and into his car. From there, it was only a short drive to Merlin.

When Arthur pulled up, Merlin was sitting outside on the concrete stairs. He was dressed in a blue coat and a wool cap and had a worn out backpack beside him.

“Merlin, what are you doing out here?” Arthur said as he walked over to the passenger side door and opened it.

Merlin quickly stood up and walked over to it. He threw his bag into the back seat before sitting down. “I needed to do something so I got ready and waited here.”

“Wouldn’t you have been more comfortable inside?” Arthur asked after he had sat down in the driver’s seat.

“I’m having a baby, Arthur. Nothing is comfortable right now.”

Before Arthur could reply, a contraction hit. He could tell that Merlin tensed up as soon as he felt the pain. The only thing Arthur could do was offer his hand to hold, which quickly backfired on him when Merlin squeezed it too hard. He still knew enough to not comment on that.

He was surprisingly calm all the way through parking the car and informing the receptionist what was happening. His heart didn’t even beat a little faster when he filled out the paperwork. Despite the fact that he had freaked out at every possible moment during Merlin’s pregnancy, the actual birth was a piece of cake.

Merlin, on the other hand, begged to differ.

He was a nervous wreck. He paced around the room, made lists of things they needed (even though both of them had nurseries set up in their apartments and had at least two of everything remotely related to babies). The closer together his contractions came, the more frantic he became. Arthur tried to be there like Merlin had been there for him, but while he was soothed with rational approaches and being able to talk it out with Merlin, Merlin wasn’t soothed with any of that. In fact, it seemed to make it worse.

Finally, Arthur grabbed Merlin’s hand and pulled him over to the bed.

“Tell me what’s going on, Merlin. You know that we’re ready. Is there something I’m missing?” he said.

Merlin sat down beside him and stared at his hands as they twisted around each other. “I just don’t know if I can do this. I’m a doctor, I know how to help someone, but I have no idea how to take care of them 24/7. A parent never gets a break. A parent always has to be there. I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Merlin, you’re forgetting one important fact: this child will not have ‘a parent.’ This child will have parents. Parents who can support each other when things get bad. Parents who can take over if one of them needs a break. As for taking care of them, I have no idea what I’m doing, and I don’t think there’s been a parenting book published that I haven’t read. We just have to jump in head first and try not to repeat the mistakes of our childhoods while attempting to replicate the good parts of them.”

“It’s as simple as that?” Merlin asked.

“It’s as simple as that.”

“What if you find someone else? Someone who doesn’t have stretch marks across their stomach and memories of you trying to style your hair with mud when you were five. Someone prettier, funnier, smarter, just someone else.”

“That, Merlin, is something that will never happen. I like that you were there when we were five, and you are infinitely smarter, prettier, and funnier than anyone else I have ever met. As for your stretch marks, they are reminders that you carried my child for nine months. You are giving me the greatest gift I could ever imagine, and I love you for it.”

“But, you don’t love me for any other reason,” Merlin said.

Arthur sighed. He didn’t want to admit it, had lied to himself in every conceivable way, but he couldn’t deny it anymore.

“I love you, Merlin, because you are Merlin. I think I’ve loved you since I was five, and it took having a baby for me to realize it.”

Merlin’s smile was the most perfect smile Arthur had ever seen, even if it crumbled after a second due to another contraction.

“I love you too,” Merlin said when it was done.

“Then we’ll be fine,” Arthur said, suddenly confident in their future like he hadn’t been for the last nine months.

Later on, after he had stood next to Merlin’s birthing chair and massaged his shoulders whenever he could and given him ice chips when Merlin desperately needed water, after he had watched the dark head of his son peek out from Merlin’s body and then cut the umbilical cord, after both Merlin and his son were asleep from exhaustion, Arthur was even more sure. He could handle being a father and all the issues, both good and bad, that came with it, as long as he loved Merlin and Merlin loved him. And he knew that they always would because, well, they always had.