When Hunith handed him over, Merlin knew he had to keep him. "Oh mum, he's adorable," he sighed at the little tyke in his arms. "Why would anyone want to give him away?" He couldn't help but rock his arms a tiny bit, and the baby flailed one chubby fist, eyes flickering around his new environment. It was perhaps known that Hunith had a kind heart and would take in injured goats or stray cats, but this had been the first time that a baby had been dropped off with a plea that she look after it.
Hunith smiled at Merlin; her eyes crinkled at the corners more so now than they used to, but the smile was warm and heartening. "You're getting broody, my boy," she smoothed one hand over Merlin's hair. She had seen Merlin just a few nights ago, hanging back on the outskirts of the Beltane festivities as the rest of the village celebrated. His own loved one wasn't here, and even if he had been, the fertility rites would not have been for them.
"And not everyone is so fortunate in their circumstances as you, Merlin." Her eyes ran over the clothes he wore these days. Whilst Merlin refused to wear outright finery, his shirt was fine cotton, comfortable and sturdy. His boots actually fitted him, and he had a thick cloak for if there blew a breezy wind. He was comfortable.
Still rocking the baby, who gurgled and drooled a little, Merlin still had the sense to look abashed. In the run down home that Hunith still resided in, he was indeed very well dressed. "How are you going to look after him, mum?" Merlin asked as Hunith started pottering near the fire. "A little one like him is a lot of work for someone who's supposed to be retiring." That was what he'd come home to discuss. People in Ealdor generally didn't retire; they couldn't. But Merlin was making enough money from his court appointment as Court Warlock to let his mother live out her later days in style.
Perhaps Hunith already knew what answer Merlin wanted, because she looked at her son, cradling the precious creature and stirred her stew. "I was thinking that it was about time you and Arthur raised a child. It'll give you a good sense of responsibility."
Merlin could have objected that Arthur already knew what responsibility was, having been Prince and now King, and that he also knew what responsibility was, what with looking after Arthur. He didn't though. He just pressed a finger to the soft cheek of the baby boy and smiled.
That was how Merlin found himself blurting the words, "I can explain!" as Arthur strode into their Chambers with an intent to ravish his beloved after two weeks of separation and found Merlin fondly clutching a bundle of baby, a completely inappropriate prelude for being ravished.
In turn, Arthur bundled Merlin up in his arms and rested his cheek against the back of Merlin's head. "Explain... quickly." He splayed his hands across Merlin's stomach, pulling him in closer. He also peered over at the little cock-blocking thing. It seemed awfully small and unbothered for a cock-block.
"He's ours!" Merlin said brightly.
Arthur blinked. "Maybe that was a little too quickly," He admitted. "I'm fairly sure he's not mine and I hope that he's not yours so you can see the bit where I'm confused that he's ours." He was joking, of course; he trusted Merlin not to be cavorting with ladies. Especially because it was well known that he would probably incarcerate anyone Merlin cavorted with in a blind rage.
With a giggle, Merlin leaned into Arthur's embrace before looking back at the baby. "Mum said that his mother was a young girl. She didn't have enough money to raise the baby, so it was going to have to be killed or starve, so mum agreed to take him in. I thought we could raise him," he suggested shyly as if he hadn't already travelled from Ealdor with the assumption that Arthur would just go along with this. "I thought his name could be Caradoc."
Arthur looked down. Caradoc yawned widely, showing his little pink gums. "You are just a terrible sucker for small cute things," he said, taking the time to think it over and pretend as if he hadn't already lost this game. He was referring to the last thing Merlin had brought home: a puppy runt. Arthur could have sworn that the puppy had wibbled at him the moment he even thought about not keeping it. Now, the useless little thing romped around quite happily with Arthur's other dogs, yelping and nipping at everyone's ankles and generally being utterly pathetic when it came to actually hunting.
With a sigh, Arthur reached out to push a fold of the blanket back so that he could see little Caradoc better. "He has my stunning good looks," he commented on the blond fuzzy wisps of hair. "I suppose we'd better keep him then." Merlin gave him the wide, beautiful smile that lifted his heart a bit every time he saw it and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Arthur could hear him mentally cheering like a child inside though.
"I suppose I'd better have the royal nursery put back into place and some woman who actually knows what she's doing to help us poor fellows then," Arthur murmured, entranced by Caradoc's wide brown eyes. They were like honey and chocolate, adorable and a little disgruntled from travelling.
Turning, Merlin held out his arms. Arthur frowned, but slowly, tentatively reached out, trying to mimic the way Merlin had done it. Caradoc was so light, so fragile and he moved. It was an unsettling experience and he was sure that he was going to drop the baby - their baby – on his first day as adoptive father, but the moment Caradoc snuggled into the crook of his arms, a wide grin split across his face.
Something in him slotted into place that Arthur hadn't even known was missing.
Arthur's thoughts of ravishing Merlin were put off by a lot longer than he had anticipated. Firstly, he had spent almost half an hour just gazing down at baby Caradoc before Merlin gently reminded him that he was running late to Court Audiences. Between that and dinner, they had tried to oversee the nursery - Arthur had anticipated never having children and had turned the spacious room into a strategy room – and find a wet nurse. Things then had to be made official at dinner, with a toast and a lot of explaining. The cook complained that she hadn't been told beforehand so that she could have prepared something special.
Finally, finally, Caradoc was tucked away in a cot in an adjacent room meant to be Merlin's chambers despite the fact that he never lived there, and snoring his little cotton socks off. Arthur crawled into bed, tugging the cool sheets over his bare chest with appreciation. "Mmmm, thought I'd never get you to myself," he rumbled at the man on the other side of the bed.
Merlin sleepily shuffled up right next to Arthur so that they could cuddle, and murmured his own appreciation at enjoying some private time with Arthur. "I think private time is going to be even more rare now," he chuckled, thinking of all the horror stories about babies crying in the middle of the night. Their situation was going to be even more awkward, considering that they were two men who had no idea how to look after a baby. "I'm glad I finally got you an heir though," whispered Merlin.
Draping his arm around Merlin, Arthur frowned. It wasn't something that they had ever discussed. Both had simply assumed that the other had considered it. "I knew what I was getting when I committed myself to you, Merlin. If I had to choose again, I wouldn't choose differently." He ran his hand across Merlin's chest, his hips, his legs as if to reassure his sweetheart that Arthur really had no interest in girls.
"I wouldn't either," smiled Merlin. Some nasty rumours had started about him once it became clear that he would be Arthur's choice of partner and it was revealed that he was a warlock. Arthur pulled him close, and kissed him, a sensuous kiss full of softness and love but also strength and passion. Merlin hummed, drawing out their kiss. Now was not the time for ravishing. Arthur drew Merlin towards him, intent on making love to the person he loved. Merlin seemed to think that this was a good idea.
A shrill cry pierced through their bedroom.
Maybe Caradoc didn't think so.