.

.

Arthur tries to sound as bored as humanly possible.

Which, in fact, isn't all that hard since he's reclined out slightly and glaring pointedly at the ceiling.

"Are you done yet?" he insists.

Between his legs, Merlin leans away to dip his brush into the container. It has to be a 'fine oil painting brush' according to the net.

"Soon enough. Try to stay relaxed."

It's an infuriating amount of self-satisfaction evident to Merlin. Classic Merlin expression—what a cheeky little git.

Arthur groans, thudding his head back on the leather cushioned sofa-padding with a poof! of released air.

The other man chuckles at him, the noise of it deep and reverberating, and Arthur thinks he may be falling in love with those dimples all over again. "This is very contrary behavior for a professional tattoo artist," Merlin says. "I thought you would, y'know—show a little more patience."

"It's just you I can't stand, Merlin," Arthur says, drawling but grinning.

Merlin's eyes light up bright-blue as he snorts, arranging himself on his knees once more.

"I hardly think this is necessary—" Arthur's rewarded with a light pinch on his thigh to interrupt and a quick hiss of 'shhh'.

The ink gliding over Arthur's pregnant stomach feels like the right amount of cool, drying and hardening over his distended bellybutton.

Lucky that his pullover is already too-small and riding up. Merlin's thumbs aid the red-and-blue striped hem up a little further. Arthur sighs, hoping it sounds resigned to prove a point—but knowing it's partially out of contentment. He nudges his enormous belly into the warmth of Merlin's palm.

Merlin strokes the firm curve of it, his smile tiny.

"Shouldn't be much longer now," he reassures Arthur, cheerfully.

Arthur's thermal-socked ankles complain of soreness. His back kills him, even while off his feet. He needs to soak them. Arthur mumbles something about the baby being agitated by the outside stimulation, but the truth of it is their child finds Merlin's presence as soothing as Arthur does. Occasional soft kicks, but nothing like the excitable vigor of midnight hours.

Merlin has teased him about his weak bladder, and the unborn feet kicking it in the past—even if it had been gentle, Arthur's hormone-charged temper had not been.

"What are you miserably attempting to paint anyway?"

"A' Crann Bethadh," Merlin speaks up, focused entirely on where he shades the base of his image, using the stretchmarks as added texture. "Bearer of fruit, and represents strength and endurance and life."

Arthur frowns.

"… Did you just call me a tree?"

"You are such a clotpole," Merlin says, fondly. "It's a tree of life. It's meant to protect you and the baby, love." He scoffs at this, blue eyes on blue, and raising an eyebrow.

Merlin raises one back at him, lips twitching in amusement.

"It's a natural-based henna I mixed; it'll wash off in another week."

A grumble.

"Good."

It has been a little over two hours, and Merlin's hardly an artist. Merlin has always been the canvas—Arthur's canvas.

During the years and a half they've been seeing each other, nearly every body part has been subject to discussion of coloured patterns and designs, tattooed by Arthur's steady hand, worshiped—Old English lettering on Merlin's forearms, wheels and intricate knots of unity, of promise going up his shaved calves, talismans and healing runes, flowers and spirals and moons and stars and comets and whatever else they could dream of together.

It had been Merlin, his awkward, second-year roommate in uni, with his fucking gorgeous mouth Arthur couldn't keep his eyes off of and statue-long, bare legs and that curt, unapologetic sarcasm, he had been the person to motivate Arthur to open up his business.

Even with the ghost of Uther hovering with disapproval over his shoulder, Merlin helped chase those doubts away.

The relationship came next, much to the delight and relief of their friends who apparently 'saw this coming miles away' and 'if I had to look at you lot eye-fucking while shouting one more time, I was gonna shove my foot up both your arses when it should have been a prick'.

Arthur suspected at first that Merlin would have stopped at half-sleeves but Merlin, because of some universal decree to keep Arthur on his toes about this grinning, toothy idiot, constantly surprises him.

It wasn't just half-sleeves he wanted, and it hardly ended at full-body. Now the very backs of Merlin's hands were tattooed and elaborately (and prompted him to wear gloves during his lecture hours, as it was deemed 'inappropriate' to reveal them as a professor).

Arthur had taken his paternity leave at thirty weeks, leaving Excalibur Ink Studios to the capable hands of his assistant manager Elyan Thomas. He felt a little better about it when Elyan promised him to fax the client requests and new designs, as well as appoint Percy as new assistant manager. As well as make absolutely sure that Gwaine didn't stumble in for another tribal armband while ridiculously laggered and off his tits.

Now he's meant to be resting and sedentary as possible until it was time. The false contractions already occurring, slow-stretched and aching, as well as plainly inconvenient when his family physician Gaius instructed relaxation.

How can he be? Everywhere on Arthur feels swollen, including his breasts, and he suffers from constipation in the morning and heartburn at night.

Even if the pregnancy itself was been completely unexpected, he has never seen Merlin so committed to something in his whole life—other than his doctorate. Merlin wants to love the child inside of him, to be a father.

The tears building in Merlin's eyes when Arthur nervously managed to admit he was several weeks along, heart pounding—all that panic, all that uncertainty vanished with Merlin dropping the kitchen ladle in his hand and sweeping Arthur into a hug, clumsily pressing them against the sink, laughing joyously and sobbing. Arthur blamed a rush of endorphins, as he clutched a hand into Merlin's dark curls and breathed deep into his neck, smelling cinnamon and sage and the man who Arthur would tear concrete walls apart for in a heartbeat.

Arthur glimpses the top of Merlin's head peeking over his huge belly, and then the rest of him as the other man caps his oil brush, rubbing Arthur's leg. The thoughtful gesture lets Arthur push his knee to Merlin's side, reveling in the humoured laugh.

"Think I fancy you like this," the confession pulls from Merlin's lips.

Careful to maneuver himself without pressing into Arthur's stomach, or his dark ink creation, Merlin stands. He grasps the sides of the armchair and drops his face to leave an open kiss to Arthur's mouth. An appreciative, lusting noise sounds from his throat, when Arthur slips his tongue past Merlin's lips, seeking further entrance and heat.

He tastes like saliva and the peppered eggs from breakfast. Arthur's sun-gold hand slides to Merlin's cheek, grazing his thumb over cheekbone.

"Fat?" Arthur whispers low against their lips, and Merlin shakes his head.

It trickles away the enmity from his bones and veins.

Merlin's teeth softly pinch down on Arthur's bottom lip. "Full of life," he whispers, smiling encouraged at the feeling of lips pressing back.

"Suppose that's another way of saying you are rather proud of yourself."

A question still remains in Merlin's intended look on him.

"Come off it," he murmurs.

Merlin's smile widens, his breathing to Arthur, but his face seems tightened.

"Are you sure about the hospital…?"

"Yes, Merlin," Arthur tells him, instinctively cradling himself, fingers tracing belly-roundness. A faint scowl. "I agreed to a water birth, but in a hospital with an epidural. Not spreading my legs and giving birth in the middle of the sodding woods, with all the songbirds twittering and the fluffy woodland creatures watching."

Merlin may have been raised on a pagan branch of faith healing and rubbish (as much as Arthur shares an equal love of medieval fantasy and studies with his partner), it's not stopping Arthur from the drugs if he needs them. He does believe in having a higher pain tolerance—his own self-done, complex fire-surrounded dragon tattoo as a testament.

Though possibly not as high as Merlin's.

However, the few antenatal classes suggest to him, there is little to compare to like birthing pain. 'Cleaving you in two' being the general input.

"Fine… no woods, no flower crowns, no songbirds," Merlin says, touching his nose around Arthur's left ear, kissing and nosing blond hairs.

"No camera either," Arthur points out, quietly. "I've already seen the videos. I don't want my own recorded—"

He exhales loudly, body going rigid in surprise. The baby kicks harder than expected.

Merlin looks him over in mild concern and then his expression softens as Arthur glances down at his tattooed belly, brows furrowing.

"Oi, I'm talking to your other father," he says. "Don't start taking his side."

"He's a smart lad then. Baby knows whose judgment to listen to."

"Unlike you who doesn't listen at all," Arthur replies with no malice behind it. He groans, shifting in place, massaging the underside of his bump. "How long until I can move again?"

"You'll smear the design if you do now."

Merlin straightens up, wincing sympathetically at Arthur's frustrated eye-roll. "You know what," he adds. "I'll get a basin of hot water for your feet."

"Be quick about it."

"Yes, of course… sire."

Merlin mocks an honouring bow, twirling one of his hands. If Arthur had a slipper ready, it might have landed on the back of Merlin's leg.

.

.

"Amr," whispers sleepily in the dark.

His oversize, bold-coloured nightshirt hikes up when Arthur dozes in their bed, leaving his still-growing belly exposed.

He lets it be while awake as Merlin's fingertips rub purposefully over inked branches and delicately painted circles on Arthur's flesh.

"Amr," Merlin repeats him from across the pillow, yawning. His bright-blue eyes closing. "Lord and son of dragons, is it…"

A coil of pleasant feeling goes up Arthur's ribcage.

"Suits him."

Arthur sees moons and stars and comets, their jeweled colours dull to the shadow-light, and embraces Merlin's naked body, mouthing ancient, healing runes.

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BBC Merlin isn't mine. This is my Merlin Christmas Fest gift exchange to frellingaround from AO3! I hope you guys enjoyed as well! Please tell me if you did!