Title: Don't Forget
Characters: Arthur, Ygraine, Uther
Summary: Modern AU. Ygraine has ways of helping Arthur remember things.
Warnings: Character death
Word Count: 975
Prompt: #177, "remember"
Author's Note: Also fills the "mpreg/kidfic" spot on my trope bingo card for merlin_writers
Arthur stared at his thumb. “What’s this for?”
Ygraine’s touch was gentle as she finished the tiny bow. “It’s to help you remember to be nice to the other children today. Your teacher told me what happened, you know.” She sat back on her heels, her blue eyes soft but stern. “It’s not nice to say mean things to those less fortunate than you, Arthur.”
“Why? Father does.”
When her mouth tightened, pinching at the corners, he immediately regretted the question. He loved his mother for so many reasons, but one of the biggest was how she was never cross with him when he got into trouble. Her gentleness and smiles softened the harsh tones and frowns he always got from Uther.
“How many times have I told you, it doesn’t matter what others do,” she said. “What matters is how you behave, the actions you take. You’re four years old now. That’s old enough to understand what’s right and what’s wrong.” She touched the edge of the scarlet ribbon she’d tied around his thumb. “So what is this for?”
“To help me ‘member to be nice,” he recited.
He was rewarded with a wide smile and an even better hug. “That’s my boy.”
The red ribbon around his thumb became a common feature throughout Arthur’s primary years. Every time Ygraine thought he needed an extra aid, she took the time to tie it, always in a firm, little bow, always with a soft touch and a knowing smile. Often, they were minor things he needed to remember, like don’t forget your homework or don’t forget to brush your teeth after lunch, but there were bigger lessons, too, like the time he got in a fight with Valiant.
“Did you even try talking to him before you hit him?” Ygraine had asked.
“No, but he was—”
“I don’t care. Violence is never your first option, Arthur. Most of the time, it shouldn’t be an option at all. Remember that.”
By the time he reached third year, however, the ribbons never saw the inside of his school. As soon as their driver dropped him off, he tore it off and stuffed it into his pocket so the other boys wouldn’t see it. It was Gwaine’s fault, mostly. He was the one who always teased him when he saw the ribbon, goading the rest of Arthur’s friends into similar taunts. Arthur hated feeling like a baby. Who needed a stupid ribbon to remember his homework, anyway?
If Ygraine ever noticed those times when Arthur forgot to put the ribbon back on before coming home, she never said a word.
On the day Arthur walked out of his second form classes to find Uther waiting for him at the car instead of the chauffeur, he instinctively looked down at his bare thumb. What had he forgotten? Why was Uther here? He ran through his morning conversations but found no clues. And once the initial rush of panic wore off, he remembered he hadn’t even worn a ribbon to school that morning.
“Get in,” Uther said, nodding toward the front seat before Arthur could say anything. He was stiff and cold, staring out the windshield when Arthur slid into the seat next to him. “Your mother’s been in an accident. Don’t embarrass me with a scene by blubbering.”
Arthur grew sicker to his stomach with each ominous, passing mile. He didn’t dare ask for clarification. He didn’t think Uther would give it to him anyway. But the farther they got from his school, the more he wished he was brave enough to press for answers.
His flesh felt like lead, unfeeling, too heavy to carry, when Uther pulled up to hospital. He followed inside, his gaze locked on Uther’s back until his eyes burned from not blinking enough.
That was the excuse he gave himself anyway.
Gaius waited for them when they got off the lift. The look on his face said it all.
Uther refused to let Arthur see her. “What was the point of bringing me here then?” Arthur yelled at him. He no longer cared about Uther’s order not to embarrass him. Nothing mattered now that Ygraine was gone.
“That was before,” Uther hissed. “Trust me. You don’t want to remember her like this.”
When Arthur tried to take a runner, Uther had him locked into an office until whatever arrangements he had to make were complete. He couldn’t look at his father when they finally left. He was terrified all he would see was his mother’s disappointment when he invariably threw a punch at Uther for doing this to him.
She hadn’t liked violence. He’d never forget that.
On the day of her funeral, Arthur wore a red ribbon on his right thumb to the church. Nobody commented, though his best friend Merlin surprised him by pulling him into a tight hug when he saw it. When Arthur took his seat next to Uther in the front pew, Uther reached into his coat pocket and took out a small box.
“Here,” he said.
For a moment, Arthur stared at his father’s profile, trying to discern what his intentions were. They’d not spoken since that fateful day. He’d barely seen Uther at all. Now, he could’ve sworn Uther’s eyes were shining with unshed tears.
The box contained a simple silver ring. “What’s this?”
“To wear instead of the ribbon.” Without looking away from the flowers on the altar, Uther held his hand up to show a matching ring on his own thumb. “So that neither one of us ever forgets.”
The world washed away when the weight of Uther’s arm settled over his shoulders, and Arthur bowed his head to hide his tears as he slipped the ring over the ribbon.
He never took it off.