The holidays were going to be horrible this year, Arthur just knew it. He had spent spring semester planning a trip across the ocean with his mates, spending a few weeks along the coast in Miami and then up to New York, and possibly coming back to party it up in Percy’s family lakehouse for the rest of the summer.
Of course, all of this was completely derailed the moment Uther found out about Arthur’s final exams for his second year at uni and how he’d botched up a few mostly because he was uninterested in the classes he was taking. The resulting screaming match had occurred in the living room and Arthur found himself blurting out the fact that he didn’t even want to be a lawyer like Uther had been training him to do since he could talk. Uther had taken one look at him and said well then he’d bloody well have to find out what to do with his life and he wasn’t going to figure out it by spending the summer with his mates so he was no longer allowed to go.
Arthur’s friends had bitched and moaned but eventually left and Arthur was left bored and alone at home the day after school let out. He was considering taking a summer course at Uni and was just about to sign up for one when his sister called. Arthur groaned and answered the phone-- he loved Morgana and all, but she was always pestering him about things he’d rather not think about.
“Arthur! What is going on between you and Pa? He just called me ranting about you! Told me to talk some sense into you?”
Arthur let out a frustrated babble of what had happened and she simply tsk’d at him. She’d been doing that a lot ever since she’d given birth. As if being a mother now gave her the right to tsk at him whenever she wanted. She let him finish and then started in.
“I have a plan and if you say yes, it’ll get Pa off your back and get you out of the house.”
And that was how Arthur found himself moving into her guest bedroom on Monday morning. He’d agreed to stay for a week while she and her husband went out of the country for their anniversary. He’d be babysitting his six year old niece, and while he loved Victoria, he wasn’t really quite sure how to handle her, considering he’d never been alone with her for more than a few minutes. However, he was a man of his word-- or at least however much a man a twenty year old pretended to be-- and marched into his niece’s bedroom with determination. This kid was going to love her Uncle Arthur to pieces by the end of the week!
“Victoria, are you awake?” He asked as he entered the room and was promptly smacked in the face with a pink princess pillow.
“YOU HAVE TO KNOCK ON MY DOOR! You can’t just come in!”
Arthur quickly closed it and inwardly cursed. He’d forgotten just how particular his niece was-- last Christmas he had gotten hot chocolate spilled on him because he had called her Vicky by accident.
He sighed and knocked gently on her door. “May I come in?”
She called out a “Yes, you may” and he entered, peeking inside. She was sitting in her bed, reading a book in her pajamas.
“I don’t leave my room until ten, when it’s time for breakfast.”
He nodded and sat down at the tiny tea table near her bed. “Right. So... you still like to read, yeah?”
She gave him a glare that reminded him so much of Morgana, it was almost scary. “Of course. Only imbeciles don’t like to read.”
“Right, yeah, of course,” Arthur found himself saying and he casually reached over for a book on her bookshelf and she yelped.
“Don’t touch my books! You didn’t even ask first!”
He snatched his hand back, aghast and looked over. “Sorry, I didn’t... erm, right.” He stood up and walked back towards the door. “I’ll just wait outside then?”
She nodded, still glaring at him as he walked out of the room. He sat down on the couch to wait and was seriously considering calling Morgana to come back and call the whole deal off.
At precisely ten o’clock, Victoria was strutting out of her room, dressed and with a handbag slung over her shoulder. “It’s time to go, Uncle Arthur.”
Arthur nodded dumbly and followed her, grabbing his keys and sunglasses and wallet. “Where exactly... are we going?”
“Breakfast. I go to Cafe Express every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning because I don’t have daycare on those days,” she answered, her voice much too snippy and eloquent for a bloody six year old.
She walked out of the townhouse and down the street and Arthur rushed to follow her, not wanting to lose her in the busy London streets. The girl was intentful as she weaved her way through a mass of people like an expert and Arthur wondered what the hell his sister was teaching her daughter.
He nearly bumped into her as she stopped at an intersection and he looked around confused, not seeing a cafe anywhere. She looked at him impatiently and held out her hand. “You have to hold my hand when I cross the street.”
“Right, of course,” he said quickly, taking her tiny hand in his and walking with her across the road. He remembered when she was born-- he was fifteen, and he had taken her from Uther’s hands and cradled her softly, playing with her tiny tiny fingers and then had nervously signed off when Morgana had named him godfather. He hadn’t spent much time with her since, considering he’d gone to boarding school and straight to Uni, but it was nice to know that her hand was still tiny in his.
She pulled away immediately when they got to the other side of the street and he followed her down and held her hand again once they got to the next curb. A few moments later, she stopped outside a small cafe and waited for him to open the heavy door, strutting inside like she owned the place.
Arthur waited in line behind her and looked up and felt his heart stutter, as foolishly girly as that sounded. The bloke behind the counter struck him as beautiful in a way Arthur hadn’t ever seen before. He was all big ears and smiles and long fingers, hair curling, a bit too long with cheekbones that looked as though they could cut glass. As Victoria waited in the line, foot tapping on the floor impatiently, Arthur watched the employee handing out drinks and orders, giving each person a smile as if he were incapable of not smiling.
Once it was their turn, the smile turned into a large grin and Arthur’s palms started to sweat when at first he thought it was for him-- of course, it wasn’t, it was for the small girl next to him.
“Hello, Ms Victoria! How are you this morning?” The guy asked, and damn, the dimples were going to give Arthur a heart attack.
“Good,” she said happily, smiling at the worker. Arthur tried not to feel jealous-- he was her bloody uncle and she didn’t give him a single smile this morning!-- and listened in on the conversation. “How are you, Cafe Boy?”
Arthur’s eyes widened and he was about to chide her for calling him that, but the bloke just laughed and shook his head. “Busy, busy, you know how it is. The usual, darling?”
“Yes, please!” She took out a small princess cup from her handbag and put it on the counter and Cafe Boy took it and then looked up at Arthur, blinking and then smiling at him too.
“Can I get anything for you?”
Arthur cleared his throat and looked at the menu, wondering what on earth he should get. He was hungry, but his brain was still short-circuiting from Cafe Boy’s rich blue eyes. “Uh... I’ll have a coffee and, um, a...”
“May I suggest the mixed berry tart? It’s our specialty today and it’s deliciously sweet.”
Looking back at the bloke, Arthur found himself nodding. “Yeah, um, sure. Great.”
He grinned again and punched in a few things on the register, taking Arthur’s credit card and swiping it through, handing him a receipt. Arthur went and stood by where Victoria was standing at the end of the counter and tapping her foot again.
Once they got their stuff from the other employee standing there, a short girl with bouncy curls and a friendly attitude, Victoria walked to the end of the shop and sat in the corner booth, sipping at her drink. Arthur sat down across from her and barely paid attention to the food he was eating and more to sneaking glances back at the counter.
“What’s wrong with you?” Victoria asked and Arthur snapped back to attention.
“Why are you breathing all weird?”
Arthur put down his fork and paid attention, realizing he was having a rather difficult time breathing, and not in the lose-your-breath-because-he’s-so-gorgeous way either. Arthur looked down and nearly jumped in his seat when he realized he had been eating raspberries the whole time. “Fu-- ow, oh, God, raspberries...” he gasped out, hand on his throat, eyes widening.
He had to give some credit to how smart his niece was, realizing there was something wrong with him and running back to the counter to tell someone. He tried to focus on breathing, but his vision started to go blurry as his throat closed up and suddenly someone was holding his shoulder, and waving an epipen in front of his eyes. Arthur nodded and moved slightly in the booth and saw that, of course, it was Cafe Boy stabbing him in the thigh with the needle and closed his eyes, feeling both embarrassed and still unable to breathe correctly. Victoria was probably freaking out, Morgana was going to kill him, the Cafe Boy was probably going to laugh about this with his mates that night and-- someone’s tiny hands held one of Arthur’s, and Arthur opened his eyes to see Victoria staring at him determinedly, saying “breathe, breathe, breathe” over and over again.
It took a few moments but Arthur’s throat finally relaxed enough and he started to breathe normally and right then an entire medical team burst through the doors of the cafe and surrounded him, and he squeaked and tried to push them away, gripping Victoria’s hand tightly. The Cafe Boy thankfully intervened and spoke in soft urgent tones, and after a minute, they started to back away and only one was left, checking Arthur’s heartrate and blood pressure. Arthur’s face was heated in an embarrassed flush the whole time and by the time the whole debacle was over, Cafe Boy was back and trying to talk to him.
Arthur felt too humiliated, so he shook off his hand and suddenly he was pushing past people and dragging Victoria out into the street, and back towards Morgana’s house, not looking back at Cafe Boy or any of the other patrons in the shop.
Victoria waited until they were a street away before pulling away from his hand and staring at him. “Why did you just leave like that?!”
“What do you mean? I had to get out of there that was horrible! And that-- that bloke was everywhere and God--”
“Cafe Boy was just trying to help and you pushed him out of the way and that was very rude,” she said angrily and stomped away, down the street.
Arthur stared at her aghast and followed behind, feeling like a pathetic puppy.
The rest of the morning was spent in stony silence as Victoria retreated to her room and books and Arthur watched TV in the living room. Around lunch time, he figured he probably should feed the kid regardless of how upset she was and nervously knocked on her door.
“What do you want?”
Arthur opened the door and looked inside, to where she was coloring on her table. “Now who’s being rude?” He quipped. “Just seeing if you want lunch. Your mum left you spaghetti from last night in the fridge.”
“Fine,” she said, rolling her eyes and standing up, going to the kitchen and plopping down on the table. He had to admire the girl’s pouts-- they were even better than Morgana’s. He went and made her lunch, sitting down with his own and it was still eerily quiet.
“Look... I’m, um, sorry about what happened earlier. I was embarrassed and, erm, it didn’t turn out well,” Arthur said as the silence weighed heavily on his shoulders.
“Okay,” she said, not giving in.
Morgana should not be allowed to have children.
“I’m thinking about making brownies after lunch. Wanna help?” Arthur asked, trying to, yes, impress a six year old.
She looked up, clearly interested, and shrugged casually. “Yeah, I guess.”
So they baked brownies, he got her to laugh when he accidentally spilled chocolate batter all over his shirt and he let her lick the spoon. He was used to doing these things by himself, his mates teased him for being a good cook but he liked it. The brownies came out well and she ate a bunch and then they watched a disney movie, as Arthur was apparently now forgiven. He was making her dinner when she announced that he needed to apologize to Cafe Boy as well.
“I have to what?!” Arthur asked, nearly dropping the lasagna.
“You have to apologize to Cafe Boy on Wednesday when we go!”
“There’s no way I’m doing that.”
“Because I said so!”
“Only Momma can use that and you can’t so you have to apologize to him or I’m not talking to you anymore.”
He resisted the urge to slam his head into the wall and sighed. “Fine.”
Tuesday was boring, since Victoria spent most of the day at daycare and so he went to the gym, went to the video store and rented a few films for them to watch together and then went home and wanked in the shower-- and bloody well not to the Cafe Boy’s smile-- and soon it was time to walk over to the school and pick her up. They went out to dinner that night, Victoria claiming that Tuesdays were seafood night and Arthur shrugged and let her do whatever she wanted, following her around as she did her usual. She seemed the type to have to stick to a schedule, so he figured Morgana had trained the little bugger well enough.
The next day, he wore his favorite shirt and styled his hair and wore a wristband, letting Victoria read in the morning. He waited impatiently until she said she was ready and they walked over to the cafe.
“You’re going to apologize right?”
“Yeah, yeah, otherwise you’d stop talking to me and I’d be ridiculously bored for the next four days.”
She smiled-- yes, a smile for him!-- and nodded, dragging him across the street and waiting until he opened the door. They got in line and Arthur chastised himself internally for being nervous-- he was Arthur Pendragon, man’s man, captain of the footie team and Uni heartthrob, why the hell was he nervous?!-- and saw Cafe Boy smiling behind the counter as they got up.
“Hey princess,” Cafe Boy said, smiling widely and took Victoria’s cup carefully and then looked up at Arthur, slightly shy. “And hello to you too.”
Arthur swallowed thickly at the look and nodded. “Hi.”
He felt a small foot step on his and he looked down to see Victoria looking at him intently. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair and looked back at the Cafe Boy. “I wanted to, erm, apologize for running off on Monday. And say thank you, of course... you pretty much saved my life.”
Cafe Boy just chuckled a bit-- that was a really nice laugh-- and shook his head. “It’s totally fine, I actually am used to carrying around an Epipen, considering I’m allergic to like everything under the sun. Mum didn’t know what to do with me as a child!”
Arthur smiled and relaxed a bit, also noting the line behind him getting restless. “Yeah, it’s just raspberries for me... didn’t even realize they’d be in a mixed berry tart.”
The guy grinned. “Would you like something different with your coffee today? No raspberries, but maybe a slice of key lime pie?”
“Yeah, actually, that sounds great,” Arthur agreed, handing him his credit card. A small tingle went through him as Cafe Boy’s fingers brushed his and he pretended like it was on purpose, even as Victoria was tugging on his shirt to drag him out of the line and towards the waiting counter.
“Good job,” she stated, nodding approvingly at Arthur and though he felt very judged when she looked like that, he also felt kinda proud of himself. He’d never been very good with apologies but he totally rocked that one, in his own opinion.
Arthur suggested they go to the bookstore down the street after breakfast and Victoria agreed happily and followed him. She grabbed a book the moment they were there and sat down in the corner, reading intensively. He wandered around a bit, always close enough to see her but began to look at a different set of shelves. He picked up one of those corny gay self-help books just to see what they were saying about asking guys out these days... it never hurt to polish up the old come-ons, right?
He was startled when he looked over and Victoria was staring at him, head tilted to the side and reading the cover of what he was reading. He quickly put the book back and grabbed a football magazine instead, walking over to her so they could check out.
It wasn’t until later that evening that she brought it up, and quite bluntly, causing Arthur to turn red. “So you are gay.”
Arthur looked at her for a moment and then sighed, fidgeting. “Uh... yeah. How do you even... I think you might be too smart for your own good.”
“Mum brings me to work all the time and lots of her photographers are gay. I know what it means.”
He went back to eating, still feeling her stare at him. “Okay, so it’s no big deal or whatever, your parents know about it and all. Grandpa doesn’t, so don’t go around chattering about it.”
She nodded and was quiet, then Arthur’s phone went off and he grimaced, realizing it was Morgana.
“Hey there Mor--”
“How’s my daughter?”
“Geez... hello to you too, sis,” Arthur said, rolling his eyes. “She’s fine. We’re eating dinner.”
Victoria looked up and held out her hand expectantly at the same that Morgana said “Lemme talk to her.”
Arthur gave her the phone and stood up, cleaning the kitchen and listening to Victoria retell her day with excitement she hadn’t shown during the actual day and then came over to hand Arthur the phone back. He cradled it between his ear and shoulder as he loaded the dishwasher. “Yeah?”
“You forgot you were allergic to raspberries? Are you really that big of an idiot?”
Groaning, Arthur pressed a hand to his forehead. “Look, it wasn’t a big deal, it slipped my mind okay. We’re all fine, go back to vacationing with your husband and whatnot.”
“She approves of you, which is actually saying something compared to how she’s hated her past three babysitters.”
Morgana was quiet for a moment. “I spoke to Pa earlier. He doesn’t seem as upset anymore, why are you still avoiding his calls?”
“Because I don’t really want to have a screaming match with him again,” Arthur sighed, drying his hands and sitting down on the couch, looking over at Victoria as she played with her castle. “I do kinda owe you for, you know, getting him off my back though.”
“Yeah; I was thinking about extending this vacation for another week since it’s so relaxing and just what I needed but I don’t know if I can be away from Victoria for that long...”
“Well it’s okay if you want to,” Arthur said, finding himself actually okay with spending another week with his niece, who was equal parts both terrifying and adorable. “I can stay for another week-- it’s not like I have much else to do anyway. I’d rather kip out here than back home.”
“Really?! That’d be fantastic... I’ll ask Victoria and her father tomorrow, but thanks so much, Arthur, it means a lot to me.”
He tried not to feel happy about her being happy, but he was, because she was still his sister and she still understood him like no one else did. He said his goodbyes and got Victoria into bed, grabbing his laptop and doing some more research, Cafe Boy’s grin still in his head well into the night.
Thursday was filled with taking Victoria to daycare, letting her do her thing while Arthur took the tube down to the fashion district. He bought some new clothes, something a bit more appealing than his usual array of footie jerseys and jeans. When got a few button-downs and casual sweaters, he tried not to think of who exactly he was buying them for. It didn’t matter anyway, he could always use more clothes now that he was getting older and was trying to figure out what to do with his life if he didn’t want to go into law like his father expected of him. He fancied himself taking culinary classes, expanding more on what his family cook had taught him growing up, spending summers of boredom in the kitchens, much to Uther’s disapproval.
Well, I’m used to disapproval by now, Arthur sighed to himself morosely as he walked to go pick up Victoria from school. She was actually talking to him today, chattering about how her teacher was showing them how plants were grown and how she knew everything the teacher was saying before she said it because her father told her about plants already. Arthur tried to keep up with her as best he could throughout the added retelling of how in playtime, the girls fought over who could be Queen and let out a laugh when she said her friend Marissa was a total idiot.
“Why is she an idiot?” He asked as they got back to the house, taking their shoes off and going into the kitchen for lunch.
“Because she said that Queens have to have Kings and she tried to make me marry Nelson so that he could be my King. I told her it was utterly ridiculous because you can be a Queen without a King, I mean look at Queen Elizabeth!”
Arthur nodded as he gave her pasta in her pink plate. “Of course. Girls have just as much intelligence and power as boys. Don’t tell your mother I said that.”
“Because I spent my whole life calling her a dumb girl,” he grinned, sticking his tongue out.
“Well Mum says you’re a dumb boy and Mum’s always right.”
He rolled his eyes and sat down with her to lunch, about to refute the point, but the doorbell rang. Victoria got up and ran excitedly to the door and followed quickly. She tugged on his shirt and he looked at her. “What?”
“You have to pick me up so I can see through the peep hole!”
He obeyed and picked her up, letting her see. “Who is it then?”
“It’s Grandpa!” She called, wriggling out from his arms and opening the door. “Hi grandpa!”
“Hello there, princess Victoria,” he chuckled gruffly, reaching down to pick her up and kiss her on the cheek. “How are you, lovely?”
“I’m good. I just got back from daycare. I have to go finish my lunch now.”
“Of course, of course,” he said, letting her back down. Arthur fidgeted with the hem of his shirt as Uther came in, sitting down on the couch in the living room.
Arthur sighed and locked the door, coming over to sit on the opposite couch from his father. “Hello father, I wasn’t expecting you... Thought you’d be at work.”
“Yes, I didn’t have any meetings today... thought I should come by and talk to you, perhaps take you both out to lunch, but it seems as if I’m a tad too late for that one.”
Arthur swallowed and stood up, not prepared to talk to him at all. “Here, I’ll warm you up a plate, I made lasagna for us last night.”
“Ah, thank you,” Uther said, clearing his throat and going over to sit across from Victoria, who was busy with her meal. “So you still like to cook and... stuff, then?”
Shrugging, Arthur warmed up a plate and brought it to him along with a glass of lemonade. “It’s just a thing. I got used to cooking for myself at Uni since the dining halls were rubbish.”
Uther nodded and started eating. “Well, it’s not so bad. Do you think you’d like to go into it professionally?”
Arthur looked up so fast he was surprised he didn’t get whiplash. “How did you... know that? No, wait, obviously-- Morgana, right?”
“Yes. Your sister was quite ferocious on the phone this morning, insisting you and I have a sit down. While I do not usually take orders from my children--” a stern glare was thrown at Arthur at this point. “She is right, and I really should apologize for my behavior last week. It wasn’t quite the way I wanted that conversation to go.”
Arthur was still reeling and tried to let it sink in for a few silent moments. “How did you want that conversation to go?”
“I wanted to discuss focusing in school and ask why you’ve suddenly not been doing well, since your whole life you’ve been top notch in grades and such. I wasn’t, ehm, planning on you shouting back about not wanting to be a lawyer and such,” his father sighed, taking a long drink. “You know the Pendragon temper, as you have it as well. That conversation turned into a screaming match quite easily.”
“Momma has the Pendragon temper too, Papa said so.”
They both looked over to where Victoria was nodding at them. Arthur hadn’t realized she was actually paying attention to what they were saying, but he really should have. It was Victoria after all.
Arthur sighed and looked back at his father. “Look... about what I said, it’s not really something I was planning on telling you like that. I mean, yeah, last semester I took those law classes and was just... really disinterested and skived off a lot which is something I do regret, but... I’m sorry to have been a disappointment. Again.”
Uther was silent for a moment and Arthur stared down at his plate, feeling his face heat up and tried to push down the usual hurt that came with being the son of the best lawyer and most strict parent in London.
“Arthur...” Uther said after a long, awkward pause. “You are not a disappointment. You have never been anything other than the best son a father could have, and I’m sorry for making you feel as though you were not what I wanted.”
This time he really did feel like he got whiplash as he stared at his father. Uther didn’t look at him, choosing to resume eating. “What? But... I mean... when you didn’t let me go on the trip--”
“I was angry, I thought you were being immature and not taking responsibility but I hadn’t realized it was because you didn’t enjoy what I thought you enjoyed. Arthur you never even hinted at the fact that you didn’t want to go into Law until that day. You and I need to converse more about your life than we do now, regardless of how much we both are unused to it. Another fault of mine, I can imagine.”
Arthur looked over at Victoria, who was looking at him with a knowing look and then bit his lip. “Okay. Yeah, I’d, erm, like that... if were to talk about this stuff.”
“Good,” Uther said, nodding. “Now how about we finish lunch and I take you and the princess out for some ice cream, hmm?”
“Yes please!” Victoria cheered, quickly running to put her plate and cup near the sink before running to her room. “I have to go make sure my hair is okay first!”
Uther laughed. “She’s so much like Morgana it’s ridiculous.”
“She’s kinda like you too,” Arthur said after a chuckle of his own. “She walks into a place and everyone nearly bows down to her it’s pretty funny.”
“Yes, well, Pendragons are rumoured to come from royalty anyway.” His father smiled at him. “Speaking of which, I’d like to make dinner reservations next week sometime, so we can also discuss when you were planning on coming out to me.”
Arthur choked and felt as though he couldn’t breathe again, and inwardly tried to remember if he had had raspberries or was just going into regular shock.
“Morgana?” He managed to choke out.
“Nope. I figured that one out when you were about fifteen Arthur, please I’m not that stupid.”
Arthur simply groaned and, again, resisted any head slamming. He was proud of himself-- he had the self-control of a saint.
Later that night, Arthur lied in bed wondering when his father had gotten to be so awesome and totally accepting. He thought about the day and how Uther didn’t look at him once in disapproval and then sat up so fast, his blood ran cold. He quickly grabbed his phone from the bedside table and checked the date, letting out a tiny cry as he realized the day’s importance. If his mother, Igraine Pendragon, had been alive, today would have been her birthday. He didn’t even realize or think about the fact that Uther said he had no meetings for today-- Uther never went to work on this day-- and Arthur lied back and thought that maybe his father was reaching out for Arthur today.
Tears prickled on the edges of Arthur’s eyes embarrassingly as he thought of when he was younger, he had once snuck up to the attic and saw a large portrait of a beautiful woman and knew that this was the person who had given her life while giving birth to Arthur. Morgana, although a product from Uther’s first and rather horrible marriage, had loved Igraine and told Arthur about her, and how Uther and Igraine had had a fairytale like love, and how it had been devastating for Uther to lose her. Arthur realized now that today Uther was trying to repair his damaged relationship with his son when he realized Arthur’s mother probably wouldn’t want them to be fighting.
It was much later into the night that Arthur decided he was going to work just as hard to be a better son, a better brother and uncle, and maybe then he’d find someone who loved him as much as his father had loved his mother.
The next morning it seemed both Victoria and Arthur were in a rush to get out for breakfast and they were both leaving the house by 9:30 instead of their usual 10 o'clock. Just before they went in, she tugged on his shirt and looked down. She gestured for him to lean down and when he did, she carefully ran a hand down the fringe of his hair. “It got messed up by the wind.”
His heart surged in affection for his little niece, and he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek even though she rolled her eyes and pushed him away afterwards, pointing at the door. He laughed and opened it for her, following in behind her and nearly stopped dead in his tracks when he didn’t see Cafe Boy standing behind the counter. He hadn’t planned on him not being there, and he felt a twinge of disappointment as they got into line. Even Victoria seemed upset, frowning and crossing her arms.
After a few more moments however, Cafe Boy came out of the back storeroom, laughing about something his co-worker had apparently said and sweeping with his broom, head nodding to the background music playing in the shop. Victoria reached up and tugged at Arthur’s shirt again and he grinned, throwing her a wink.
By the time they got up to the register, the girl with the curls was there and she smiled at them. “Hi, what can I get for you two?”
Victoria put her princess cup on the counter. “I want a vanilla milk but the whipped part has to be perfect and you don’t know how to do it. And my usual.”
Arthur cleared his throat. “Um, Victoria, I’m sure she’ll do it fine,” he said quickly, shooting the girl an apologetic look. “And I’ll have a coffee with a bagel.”
The employee hesitantly tried to take the cup from Victoria’s hand, but she wouldn’t let go. “No! Cafe Boy has to do it because you can’t do it right.”
Arthur was about to have a minor panic attack considering Victoria’s lower lip began to quiver and he had been witness to past temper tantrums (last Easter’s kick to the shin was still fresh in his mind) but thankfully Cafe Boy intervened just then, gently asking the girl-- Gwen, he called her-- to fetch the bagel and coffee for Arthur while he grinned at Victoria.
“Hey there Princess, I’m sorry, I’m here now. The usual, steamed vanilla milk and banana nut muffin, coming up.” He took the cup from Victoria and punched in a few things into the register and beamed at Arthur, who nervously handed over the card.
Victoria cheerfully walked over to the end counter and threw him a satisfied smirk. Arthur sighed and turned back to Cafe Boy. “I’m sorry about that... I guess she just really likes you.”
“It’s totally okay,” the guy chuckled, swiping Arthur’s card. “People say I’m kinda magic with children, which is ironic because my name’s Merlin.”
Arthur let out a laugh. “Even more ironic, my name’s Arthur.”
“Really?!” Merlin grinned. “Well isn’t that something. It looks like Princess connected two old souls, then!”
“Yeah…” Arthur paused, not knowing exactly what to say but wanting to keep talking to him. “Victoria is my niece, I’m babysitting her for a bit while her parents are on vacation and she insists on coming here for breakfast all the time...”
“She’s an adorable little girl,” Merlin said softly, handing him the card and his receipt back. “I’ll have your order out as fast as I can.”
“Take your time,” Arthur said, hoping he didn’t sound like a mooning teenage girl. He walked over to where Victoria was standing and she frowned at him. He gawked at her. “What’s wrong now?”
She didn’t answer him, simply looking away and then taking her food when Gwen gave it over. Arthur sighed and followed her back to their booth.
“You’re very bad at this,” she said after a long moment.
Arthur looked up. “Bad at what?”
Just as Arthur was about to ask what in the world she was talking about, Victoria reached over blindingly fast and knocked his coffee cup over, the drink splashing across the floor.
“Ah, what?! Victoria!” Arthur yelped.
“Oops! I’ll go get Cafe Boy to clean it up.”
Before he could even register what she had said, she was gone, and he felt his face already heating up as he got out of the booth and stood awkwardly by the table. Merlin came over with a mop and a dorky grin and Arthur tried not to appreciate his lean figure cleaning up the mess.
“Ah, sorry... again,” Arthur said lamely; his hands didn’t seem to know what to do so he just shoved them in his pockets.
“Believe me, it’s no problem-- I’m a total klutz,” Merlin laughed as he cleaned, and Arthur felt strangely addicted to the sound already. “I have no idea why they hired me to work in a place that is horrid for someone as clumsy as me. My ex-boyfriend used to call me a danger magnet.”
Arthur felt his insides wriggle around and he knew he was in danger of wearing a matching dorky grin-- Merlin was gay and Arthur was gay and this could work. “Ah, well I think you’re a favorite around our family, so it’s good you work here.”
Victoria came over and sat down on the table and subtly nudged Arthur with her elbow as she resumed drinking her milk. Arthur cleared his throat looked over at Merlin, who was just finishing up and putting a ‘floor is wet’ sign near their table.
“So,” Arthur said after a moment. “Do you maybe wanna go out for coffee sometime? I swear I won’t drop it again.”
Merlin quirked a grin at him, this time different than all the other smiles Arthur had seen, and Arthur tried not to lean in any further than he was already standing, but the guy was a magnet.
“Not coffee, since I’m kinda sick of the stuff at the moment; but yeah, I’d like to go out with you.”
Arthur let out a relieved breath and nodded, this time for sure grinning so widely his cheeks hurt with it. “Okay... yeah, sounds great, we’ll, um, figure something else out to do. Together.”
“Brilliant. I should get back,” Merlin said, and then winked at Victoria. “See ya, Princess.”
“Bye Cafe Boy!” Victoria called happily as he wandered back to the counter.
Arthur sat down, slightly giddy and saw Victoria grinning at him. “How was that?” He asked. “Not too shabby, right?”
“Not too shabby,” she giggled and drank the rest of her milk.
After a few minutes, Gwen came by their table and smiled at them, putting a cup of coffee down. “Merlin sent over a replacement, along with this,” she said, handing him a napkin as well.
He laughed when he looked down at the napkin, seeing a pen-drawn picture of a sword and wizard’s hat next to it, along with a phone number underneath. He showed Victoria, who gave him a high five, and then tucked it carefully into his wallet. When they left the cafe, Victoria let him hold her hand the whole time home.
Later that night, after dinner he was tucking Victoria into bed after her bath and she looked up at him with those big green eyes. “You can read me a bedtime story if you want.”
He raised his eyebrows and sat down on the edge of her bed. “Are you sure? That would require me touching your books.”
She shrugged and handed him The Lost Unicorn. “It’s okay. You’re not as bad as I thought, Uncle Arthur.”
“You too, Victoria.” He grinned at her and started to read. Once she had fallen asleep, he put the book back and tucked her in, closing the princess light and kissing her forehead, surprised at his own sudden nurturing attitude towards his niece.
After a lot of pacing and nervous lip-biting, Arthur finally pulled out the napkin and dialed Merlin’s number. He answered after the second ring.
“So I think my niece planned today’s coffee incident to set us up. She’s too smart for her own good.”
He heard laughter on the other end and felt his heart skip a beat at the sound. “You know, I think you’re right. I knew something was up when she made a fuss with Gwen. Usually she’s a sweetheart to her.”
Arthur shook his head, chuckling. They talked for a long time after that, and Arthur found himself totally and completely grateful to Victoria. He’d have to buy her a dozen books for this one.