Title: Deck the Halls
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Arthur wrapped his hands around Merlin’s waist from behind and pressed soft, warm lips to the nape of his neck. It would have been a much sweeter gesture if he weren’t standing around making sweet gestures instead of helping Merlin scrub crayon off the damn walls.
Word Count: 1,000
Prompt: #266: Children
Author's Notes: Takes place in the First Noel 'verse. Short version: Merlin and Arthur are married with two young kids, Merlin is a stay-at-home dad.
“Why did we think children were a good idea? Children were a terrible idea.”
“You don’t mean that.”
Arthur wrapped his hands around Merlin’s waist from behind and pressed soft, warm lips to the nape of his neck. It would have been a much sweeter gesture if he weren’t standing around making sweet gestures instead of helping Merlin scrub crayon off the damn walls.
“Easy for you to say,” Merlin muttered. “You don’t have to wrangle them every hour of every day. I tried to get five minutes of peace to take the roast out and oh yeah, by the way, it burned. Chinese leftovers in the fridge for you again. But you, you just come home and they’re happy to see you and already exhausted and, and—”
He knew he was being unfair even before he ran out of steam. Arthur worked hard and hated how much it took him away from the kids. They’d even talked about cutting back his hours; Uther and Morgana would have supported him, but he was still feeling out the rest of the board before making the proposal.
The last of the accusation dissipated as Arthur firmed up his embrace to support Merlin’s heartbroken slump.
“And they want you to kiss them goodnight. Just you.”
It didn’t mean anything. Noel and Carol were four and three, respectively. Noel was eternally pushing boundaries and Carol was doing whatever her brother did, and they were upset with their dad for not letting them continue defacing the hallway. All of it would be sorted by the morning, he knew that, but it still hurt to be rejected by the twin stars of his solar system.
Arthur’s arm stretched over top of his, his fingers curling around Merlin’s to stop his cleaning efforts. Merlin let him take the sponge and drop it in the soapy bucket, then pull him out of the hall entirely into the living room and guide him into one of the plush chairs. Kneeling in front of him, Arthur kept hold of Merlin’s hands as he looked up at him earnestly.
“I love you,” he said to start, really on a roll with the meaningless sweetness.
Merlin swallowed down the bitterness. It wasn’t meaningless. Arthur did love him, and he loved Arthur, and they both loved their kids. But Merlin was tired and sad, and it all just felt hopeless.
“I love you,” Arthur repeated, like he could tell Merlin needed to hear it again. “And Noel and Carol love you. They’re just being brats today—yes, I know, they get it from the Pendragon side.”
Wobbly though it felt, Merlin managed to answer that with a smile. No argument from him.
“Merlin, love. You’re exhausted. I know you love staying home with the kids most of the time, when they’re not running you extra ragged, but you do know you don’t have to, right? If you ever want a break, to get out of the house, even to get a job... You can. We’ll figure it out.”
Merlin blinked, but found he couldn’t open his eyes again without tears threatening to spill over, so he kept them closed. Did Arthur want him to work instead? It had been a few years since they talked about it, but when they brought Noel home and again with Carol, they’d agreed how wonderful it was that Arthur’s job could support the family so Merlin could be a stay-at-home dad.
“I can,” he started, but his voice cracked revealingly.
“Oh, love.” Arthur was up on his knees in an instant, wrapping his arms around Merlin and holding him tight to his chest. “You can do anything you want. You won’t be disappointing me or the kids either way, I swear. I’m just trying to say that whatever you want to do, you don’t have to do it alone.
“You have me. I can take time off work, hell, I can quit my job, we have savings to hold us while we work it out. You have Dad and Morgana. We can hire someone to clean or cook or watch the kids. Whatever you need.”
“I shouldn’t need to hire someone to raise my kids,” Merlin sniffed at him. “My mom managed, and she was on her own and worked two jobs.”
Arthur stroked his cheek, eyes soft. “Your mother was a saint and I owe her everything that makes my life complete. She did a wonderful thing with you. But was she happy?”
It was a truth that hurt to face, no matter how long Merlin had known it to be true. “She put on a good show, but... No. Most of the time she was just tired.”
“I don’t want that for you.” Arthur kissed away the tear that had escaped down Merlin’s cheek. “You and those two hellions are more important to me than anything in the world. I’ll do absolutely anything for you.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t see how much it was getting to you. You’ve been doing so much—”
“You are, too!” Even if he’d bitterly thought the same thing, Merlin wouldn’t let Arthur feel undervalued. “You work so hard—”
“I don’t need to work as many hours as I do, and I don’t give a damn if the board disagrees. My family comes first. Just, please, Merlin. Tell me if you need something. Anything. Don’t suffer for years when I could be helping, please.”
“It hasn’t been years. It’s just... a rough age. All the books said, but I thought. I don’t know. It would be different, with ours.”
“In what world would we ever end up with children who were less trouble than expected?” This time when Arthur grinned, Merlin returned it more forcefully. “I’m sure they’re still awake and feeling guilty. Go on, let them grovel a bit before you tuck them in. I’ll take care of the cleanup.”
“Like you’ve ever scrubbed a wall before in your life.”
“I can learn. Or pay someone to repaint.”