Title: Babe in Arms
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Arthur stares at the baby, who stares right back as it gums on one of his finest leather gloves.
Word Count: 999
Author's Notes: Yeah, it's an overused, fluffy trope, but I love it, okay? DON'T JUDGE ME! ;A;
When Arthur wakes up to find his manservant already flitting around the room and completing errands for the morning, the first words out of his mouth are, “You have a baby.”
“Yes, Arthur,” Merlin sighs, assuming an inflection one would use when speaking to a child. As if it’s a normal occurrence to have an infant strapped to his chest. “Nothing gets by you, does it?”
Arthur huffs. “Why do you have a baby?”
“Oh, it’s not mine. It’s Gaius’s,” Merlin simply replies, as if that explains everything. After a few minutes and he doesn’t elaborate any further, Arthur’s temper rises. “Merlin! Why does Gaius--”
An unearthly wail interrupts Arthur’s ranting, and he then realizes that it’s coming from the swaddled child who has been sleeping all this time. God, how could something so tiny produce so much noise?
“Oh, look what you did,” Merlin admonishes, dropping the dirty clothes he has been gathering in favor of comforting the crying babe. “Shh, it’s okay…”
Arthur flops back down on the bed with a groan, covering his face with a pillow.
As it turns out, it’s not Gaius’s baby at all--which Arthur is secretly relieved to discover, for the idea of the court physician becoming a father this late in life is not something he wants to think about. However, the baby does belong to Gaius’s patient, a young woman whose husband is amongst the many dead from the latest attack on Camelot. With no other family of her own, the woman turned to Gaius when she went into labor two nights ago, and while she delivered a healthy boy, fever set in afterwards.
“So that’s why I’m watching him,” Merlin says after finally managing to get the baby back to sleep, “because Gaius has been so busy tending to the mother these past couple days, and there’s no one else that can take of a baby right now.”
The talk about death and mothers makes Arthur’s insides twist into painful knots, and he grunts in response. “No one, Merlin? Are you quite sure? Besides, you can hardly take care of yourself most of the time, let alone someone’s child.”
“I’m not as useless as you think, Arthur,” Merlin retorts as he makes the bed, taking great lengths not to jostle the baby with his movements. “My mother used to be a midwife, and sometimes I helped her watch the babies while their mothers recovered.”
Arthur snorts. “Someone voluntarily let you watch their children? Isn’t that like the blind leading the blind?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I think I did alright.” Merlin pauses, then grins cheekily. “It prepared me for being your servant, didn’t it? After all, I have to feed you, dress you, wash you--”
“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur growls in warning, gritting his teeth tightly together.
Merlin promptly ignores him, of course. “--and just about everything else, short of wiping your bum.” He chuckles softly, not worrying about how comparing the King of Camelot to an infant is liable to land him in the stocks for weeks. “That‘s one benefit of working for you, I guess.”
Before Arthur can even yell something in rebuttal, there’s a howl suddenly coming from the squirming bundle of linen wrapped around Merlin.
“What happened this time?” Arthur asks, widening his eyes in alarm. He wonders if he has to invest in some cotton to stuff his ears before this whole thing is over.
“Um,” Merlin says, furrowing his brow. “I think he’s hungry.”
Arthur stares at the baby, who stares right back as it gums on one of his finest leather gloves.
“...Are you sure it’s not still hungry?” Arthur asks, eyeing the child like a hawk lest it tries to roll off the bed, even though Merlin has assured him plenty of times that it’s too young for that kind of movement just yet.
Merlin stops in midst of polishing Arthur’s sword; it’s the only reason the infant is currently on the bed, because the general consensus is that no young child should be near any weapon. “I’m sure, Arthur; not for another hour at least. Besides, weren’t you the one who wondered where he was putting it all? And then turned green when I showed you a few minutes later?”
“I did not turn green,” Arthur says, grimacing at the thought. “And if this baby soils my bed, there will be hell to pay.”
“Yes, sire,” Merlin replies flippantly, considering Arthur’s threat is an empty one. “Why are you still here, anyways? I thought you had practice with the knights?”
The sound of the heavy rainfall outside answers for Arthur. “Cancelled for the day, and my next council meeting isn’t until later on. Now really, Merlin, I’m pretty sure it’s trying to eat my glove.”
“He probably just likes the texture of it. If it bothers you so much, take it away from him.”
Arthur hesitates; he really doesn’t want to set off another screaming fit. As he reaches down in an attempt to gently pry the glove away, small fingers wrap around his pinky with a surprisingly strong grip. The sudden act causes him to gasp, leaving him feeling awkward and unsure of what to do.
“...It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Merlin says as he beams at the heartwarming scene. “We come into this world so fragile, yet we manage to persevere. It’s almost humbling if you think about it.”
“Yeah,” Arthur responds quietly, not quite willing to pull away just yet. Even when the baby begins to drool all over his hand.
No one is happier than Arthur when the mother makes a full recovery a week later; the baby belongs with his family after all. And even though the monetary donation made to the mother is supposed to be anonymous, Merlin still teases him for a being huge softie, which Arthur vehemently denies.
But every time he slips on his gloves afterwards, the faint indentations left in the leather catch his eye, and Arthur finds himself smiling fondly.