Title: Expressions of Fatherhood
Summary: Percival has fatherhood rather unexpectedly thrust upon him. Luckily he has his friends around to "help".
Warnings: Some off screen violence and death of poor innocent villagers.
Author's Notes: This turned into more of a series of drabbles/scenes than a coherant story, but I'm really hoping it fits the bill. My prompt was 'Percival coping as a new father'.
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Expressions of Fatherhood
Leon ran his fingers through his hair, making it even more wild looking than usual. “I told you he was getting too attached!” He looked over to Gwaine for support. “Didn’t I tell you?”
As a rule, Gwaine hated to agree with Leon when he was being sensible, but there were times when he had to break even his own rules, so he nodded his agreement. “It’s not a stray puppy, Perce.”
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say.
“It! It? She’s not an IT, Gwaine!” Percival made an imposing figure as he bristled with indignation. His eyes were red-rimmed from the smoke that also made his voice hoarse and his hair was burnt away in patches. The intimidating image was somewhat spoiled though, by the tiny sleeping baby, cradled carefully against his bandaged chest.
“That’s kind of my point Percy. She is a ‘she’. She’s a baby, a little person. What do you know about babies?” Gwaine asked.
“A lot more than any of you, apparently.” Percival answered, looking around at the cluster of people crowded into Gaius’ infirmary.
Gwaine had to concede the point. The last few days’ travel back to Camelot had proved that point all too clearly…
Two days earlier...
Gwaine had never been so relieved in his life when Percival finally decided to wake up. They’d all truly thought they’d lost the large knight, when after kneeling to check on one of the apparently dead villagers, he’d suddenly stood up and run straight into one of the burning houses. Gwaine had been busy finishing off the bandit in front of him, and missed grabbing at Percival as he ran past. The house had started to collapse as Percival burst out of the flames, his cloak balled up in his hands and he collapsed, coughing and choking.
The bundled up cloak had been making the most fearful howling noise and the knights had cautiously prodded at it, discovering the baby even as Merlin had declared Percival’s injuries as minor burns and some smoke inhalation and a bit of a lump on his head, nothing to worry about. That had been a relief, but then they still had the problem of a crying baby to deal with. All eyes had turned to the King.
Arthur sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “No survivors?” He checked, looking around the ruined village for confirmation. Leon shook his head grimly. He’d been checking the surrounding forest for anyone who might have escaped, but there had been no one, no one alive at any rate. “Then the baby comes with us.” He decided, and with that, the still unconscious Percival was unceremoniously loaded onto a cart and a panicky looking Leon was given charge of the small baby with large lungs.
Several hours later and the baby was still crying, having passed from Leon to Elyan and now Gwaine, with no one having any luck. Gwaine was riding in the cart, rather desperately trying to rock the crying bundle to sleep as Percival coughed and cracked an eye open.
Percival opened his mouth, but only managed a croak. His hands full, Gwaine pointed with his chin. “There’s water just there.”
Percival fumbled around the bed of the cart until his hands came across the water skin, He drank deeply, before trying again. “You’re doing it all wrong.”
“What?” Gwaine, had to raise his voice to make himself heard above the noise.
“You’re holding the baby all wrong.” Percival held his hands out and Gwaine was only too happy to relinquish his burden. He watched in awe as Percival cradled the baby easily in his large hands and as if he’d cast some kind of magic spell, the crying stopped.
“How did you do that?” Gwaine had to ask.
Percival shrugged, carefully, the baby tucked in against his chest. “You need to support their heads. They don’t feel secure otherwise. Also they can break their neck and die.”
Gwaine blinked. He knew Percival got on well with kids, he gave the children from the lower town rides on his horse and seemed to enjoy playing with them almost as much as drinking down at the Rising Sun, but this, this was strange and mystical baby-knowledge.
“Has she had anything to drink?”
Gwaine shook his head, his eyes still wide as he watched Percival rock the baby gently. “Leon found a goat and milked it, but we couldn’t get the baby to drink any of it.”
“You were trying to get her to drink from a water skin?” Percival checked.
“Yeah.” Gwaine said.
“See if anyone has a drinking horn instead. Maybe the King?”
No one wanted the baby to start crying again, so there was a flurry of activity as everyone hunted through their saddle bags and indeed, it was Arthur, who eventually found a drinking horn and handed it over. They all watched curiously as Percival made a hole in the bottom of the drinking horn and threaded a piece of leather through it, before transferring the milk from the water skin, filling the horn. The milk slowly dripped down the strip of leather and the baby hungrily latched onto it and sucked.
After a little while the milk was all gone and Percival rested the baby up against his shoulder, patting gently on its back until it let out a very impressive burp for it’s tiny size, before settling down again, eyes closing contentedly.
“How do you know this stuff?” Gwaine asked, his eyes wide.
Percival shrugged again. “I used to babysit my cousin’s kids, before…”
He trailed off and Gwaine knew all too well how that sentence ended. Before Percival’s village and family had been destroyed by Cenred and his men.
Amazingly, the rest of the journey passed peacefully, the baby sleeping the rest of the way, the tiny baby apparently content in Percival’s large and capable hands. There were several moments, of dopey smiling, cooing and gentle singing, when Gwaine felt sorely tempted to tease the giant knight about his mothering skills, but the continued silence was too good to risk disturbing, so Gwaine managed to hold his tongue for the rest of the journey.
The Present (at Camelot)...
“Knowing about babies and taking one on for the rest of its life are rather different things.” Arthur said, trying to sound patient and reasonable.
“I know that.” Percival said, his grip tightening on the small form in his arms. “Of course I know that. But who else is going to look after her? She has no one.”
“I’m sure someone in the village.” Gaius tried, “A nice family who would be willing to take her on.”
“No.” Percival shook his head, “No, they wouldn’t understand.”
“Understand what?” Arthur asked.
“What it’s like to lose everything. Your home, your family. No one can know what that’s like…not unless it’s happened to them.”
No one had an argument for that, really. There were lots of meaningful looks and a long silence until Arthur sighed deeply. “Okay, okay. If you’re sure you’ve thought this through?”
Percival nodded determinedly.
“Well, let’s have a trial period,” the King decided.
“Thank you, thank you Sire.” Percival tried to bow, but found it rather hard to do with his hands so full.
Arthur shook his head ruefully. “Wait and see if you’re still thanking me in a week’s time. And I still expect you to carry out your duties Sir Percival. No excuses, no turning up for training.”
“I’ll find a nurse, it’ll be fine. I can make it work.” Percival was nodding earnestly even as he began planning in his head.
“We’ll all help you out.” Leon promised as their impromptu meeting broke up, leaving Gaius to finish checking on Percival’s bandages and the health of his brand new responsibility.
Of course, things didn’t go entirely smoothly along the way and Gwaine came to notice that his friend gained a whole new range of facial expressions as the responsibilities of parenthood started to hit home.
First there was the slightly furrowed brow as Percival dealt with the thorny issue of giving the baby a name.
“We can’t go around calling her ‘it’ or ‘the baby’ for the rest of her life.” Elyan pointed out after several days had passed and no name seemed to be forthcoming.
And Percival knew this, but found himself strangely reluctant. “Her mother must have given her a name. What if I get it wrong?”
Gwaine clapped him on the shoulder sympathetically. “As long as you pick a name that suits her, it’ll be just fine.”
That didn’t really help, to be honest, and the furrow in Percival’s brow grew deeper as more days went by. He wasn’t exactly known for his naming skills. He’d named his horses ‘Ned’ and ‘Bill’ much to the despair of Leon who believed that their steeds should have noble names that reflected their bloodlines or somesuch. He didn’t want his girl to have a boring, mundane name, but neither did he want some fancy newfangled mouthful either. It wasn’t until their Queen commented on how beautiful that the little baby was that he finally had it.
“She’s called Belle.” He announced, at last, having summoned everyone for the important moment. “It means beautiful.”
“It’s a great name.” Gwaine smiled.
Then there was the scary glare that Percival developed while he was interviewing for a nanny, although interrogating may he been a more appropriate word. Apparently no one was good enough for his Belle. More than one candidate decided they didn’t want the job after all when confronted by Percival’s scary face, and most of the rest were rejected by Percival. Some were too young and flighty, some too old and crusty, others too mean and shouty, or plain just too busy flirting with Gwaine. The large knight had become a control freak and perfectionist somewhere along the way. The same expression occurred as he was getting his room redecorated, making sure there were no drafts, that the Elle’s linens were soft enough and that the crib was placed in exactly the right place.
The scary glare took on even more dramatic proportions the time when he returned from guard duties to find Belle and her babysitter missing. Having carried out an increasingly panicky search (and following a tip from Merlin) he’d finally tracked down Belle and the babysitter – also known as Gwaine – to the Rising Sun.
Gwaine was sitting at the centre of a crowd of admiring women, at least he was until Percival stormed in, grabbing Belle and hauling Gwaine out of the tavern by the scruff of his neck.
“What?” Gwaine’s protest was more of a squawk and Percival’s glare was truly terrifying.
“What were you DOING? Taking her to a place like that?” Percival demanded, still dragging Gwaine along.
“Like what? It’s the Rising Sun, we go there all the time. And the women just love Belle. Didn’t you see the way they were looking at her? I’ve never seen anything like it. She’s the best way to pull women ever! You’ve got to let me try that again Perce!”
Percival spent the rather brisk walk home explaining to Gwaine in very short words why he would not be taking Belle to a smoke filled inn full of drunks ever again.
There was also a sleepy, bewildered look that Gwaine found rather cute and amusing. He assumed that this look accompanied sleepless nights as Percival tended to be wearing that particular expression when he arrived for training flustered, with sticking up hair and baby sick staining the shoulder of his red cloak. Luckily Arthur seemed to have forgotten his threat about Percival not letting it affect his work, although to be honest Percival still managed to more than pull his weight, and the rest of the Knights and sometimes it seemed, the whole of Camelot were happy to help him out when he needed it.
The flustered look also put in an appearance one day when Gwaine caught him doing something inexplicable and inhumane to a sock - no not that, but something apparently involving a needle and thread and quiet cursing. Gwaine actually did bother to knock this time, he just didn’t bother waiting to be invited in, which meant Percival had no chance to hide the evidence of his current activity.
“Whatcha up to?” Gwaine asked, leaning up against the wall as Percival bushed with bewildered embarrassment.
“What’s it look like?” He asked, defensively.
“To be honest mate, I really can’t tell.” He squinted at the strange object that might once have been a sock in Percival’s hand. “But you’re bleeding all over whatever it is.”
Percival cursed. The last stick of the needle must have gone deeper than he realised and he raised his bleeding thumb to his mouth. “I’m making a sock puppet.”
“That’s a puppet?” Gwaine asked, unconvinced as he whisked the item in question away from Percival’s grasp.
“Yes, it’s for Belle. She needs toys and things to play with. Give it back!”
Gwaine gave the sock a suspicious sniff, before sliding it over his hand. “I dunno, Perce, it looks kind of scary to me.”
Percival had to admit that maybe his sewing wasn’t the best and the mismatched button eyes gave the sock an unnerving lopsided stare. “It’ll be fine.” He said, defensively.
The terrified howl that Belle let out as Gwaine knelt by her crib, waving his besocked hand at her put an end to Percival’s sewing ambitions and the sock puppet from hell (Gwaine’s name) disappeared, only to be seen again many months later, terrifying Elyan one night when they were all out on a night patrol.
Luckily word seemed to get round as a few days later Gwen brought round a beautiful stuffed rabbit, which turned out to only be the start as half of Camelot seemed to get in on the act. Percival even caught Gwaine leaving a soft fluffy stuffed sheep toy. A little while after that Gwen started giving Percival sewing lessons so he could make Belle toys all by himself.
Sometimes there was a soft, sad expression. When Percival was tired, when Belle was having a bad day, or maybe when both of them were having bad memories. On those days, Percival sat Belle down, cradling her against his chest and he’d tell her first about her mother and how brave she’d been and how much she’d loved her daughter, as with her last breath she’d told Percival of her baby, helpless in the burning house. He’d tell her about his family and home and how much he missed them, but that it was okay, because neither of them was alone now. They had each other, they had the knights and they had Camelot.
“You giant sap!” Gwaine told him fondly one day, when he’d overheard the conversation. Percival settled for throwing one of Belle’s stuffed toys at him.
“Pay no attention to Uncle Gwaine.” He instructed Belle, tickling her tummy after the other knight had left. “He’s just a big baby too.”
Weeks later, the ‘exploding baby’ incident brought back the scary, glary expression along with a good helping of panic-face. This time it was Leon who had been babysitting for an hour or two giving Percival a little time to himself after he’d bruised some ribs during practice.
He was just starting to drift off into a peaceful sleep when the senior knight burst into his room with Belle held at arm’s length. Percival blinked at him in bleary confusion.
“Something’s wrong with her. I think she’s exploded.” Leon explained in a rush.
The horrible stench coming from Belle clued Percival in to what the problem was. Still, he’d had plenty of nappy practice, and peeled back the clothes with a practiced air. What he was confronted with was truly horrifying. Nothing that came out of a living thing should smell that bad or be that green.
“She must be ill. Get Gaius, quickly!” He ordered Leon, panic and nausea from the smell fighting for control.
The court physician arrived at a sprint, his bag of medicine clutched in one hand and together all three of them solemnly gathered around Belle, trying not to gag at the smell.
“Well.” Gaius managed after a few deeps breaths. “I have to admit…that is very…yes, very.”
Percival looked at him with pleading eyes, his face pale and hands trembling. “What’s wrong with her, is she sick? Can you save her? Does she need a potion? Medicine?”
“Well now.” Gaius said, stroking his chin for a moment, thinking. “Has she eaten anything unusual at all?”
“No.” Percival shook his head, stroking Belle’s face with a trembling hand. “Just milk, like usual.”
“Ahem.” All heads turned to Leon as he coughed awkwardly.
“What?” Percival demanded, urgently, desperately. “Did she swallow something by accident, is she poisoned?”
“Well, no, not exactly. At least, I don’t think so.” Leon swallowed nervously. “She just seemed hungry and I was eating soup and it was really tasty and I thought she could maybe do with some building up so…”
“Sir Leon.” Gaius interrupted, and sidling in between the two knights as the expression on Percival’s face made the physician rather afraid for Leon’s life. “What kind of soup?”
“Spinach.” Leon admitted.
“Spinach soup? You fed Belle Spinach soup!”
“Now, now.” Gaius held a hand up to Percival, trying to placate him.
“It’s good for you, right? Spinach is healthy, full of vitamins, and, you know, good stuff.” Leon looked pleadingly at Gaius for support.
“For adults, maybe, and children who are eating proper food, that’s true.” Gaius conceded. “And for Belle I expect it has done no harm.”
“No harm?” Percival all but shrieked, “No harm? Look at her!” They all looked again at Belle, who was definitely looking pale and colicky in the midst of the nappy explosion.
“Well. Spinach is very green.” Gaius explained, “And what comes out tends to be the same colour as what goes in so…”
“So, she’s okay?” Percival asked, not quite able to believe something that smelled so as Belle did right now could be truly okay,
“Well she might have a bit of a poorly tummy, but I’m sure she’s going to be just fine,” Gaius reassured Percival, who visibly slumped in relief, running his hands through his already ragged hair.
Gwaine laughed long and hard at Leon’s expense after he heard how Percival had made him change Belle’s nappies for the rest of the day until things were less noxious. Leon agreed to keep Belle on a more traditional diet after that.
The expression Percival wore most often though was a daft smile. A wide, beaming smile that he didn’t seem to be able to stop. It snuck up on the knight whenever he was holding Belle, or was playing with her, when her tiny fingers wrapped around one of his giant fingers, or even just watching her sleep in her crib, holding tightly onto Ned the Second, the rather ugly stuffed toy horse that Percival had given her and now went wherever Belle did.
It was there as he excitedly told the other knights how she’d first sat up n her own. His arms waving animatedly as he described it over and over to them.
And again when she started to crawl, and then get her first teeth.
With each milestone the smile just kept getting bigger and Percival’s whole face threatened to split in half from the truly dopey grin, over a year later, after many adventures, mishaps and new expressions, Belle’s first word was ‘Dada’.
~~ FIN ~~