TITLE: When Two Became More
WORD COUNT: 1970 words
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. No matter how much I wish it so.
SUMMARY: Written for the 9th LAS challenge, where the theme was ...and baby makes 4, and the prompt was Gwen gives birth to twins. This is canon-era.
“I’m a house.”
“I’m waddling and my ankles are the size of small children.”
“The better to carry the even smaller children inside you.”
Arthur laughed as Gwen swatted at him, ducking around to catch her from behind. As annoyed as she was with him, she couldn’t resist leaning back against his chest. To take some of the pressure off her aching feet, she told herself, but really, she just enjoyed how good his arms felt around her body.
Even if it was currently bloated, nauseous, and required at least one other person to help get it from a sitting to a vertical position.
“It won’t be so bad,” Arthur said softly, his breath tickling across her ear. “Elena doesn’t care for those sort of superficial trappings.”
She snorted. “That’s not actually reassuring me about how I look, Arthur.”
“Would you rather I postpone the treaty signing until after the baby is born?”
She would, but she also knew how hard they’d worked to arrange the signing in the first place. The other rulers even refused to step inside the city until everyone had signed off, forcing Arthur’s hand to convene at a mutually agreed upon site a day’s ride away. All nobles had to attend. If Gwen didn’t show up, they would see it as a breach of Arthur’s dedication to peace, and she couldn’t allow that to happen, even if she was almost eight months pregnant.
His suggestion that she follow with Merlin and Elena in a carriage rather than on horseback was meant to make it as easy as possible for her. She loved that he was so determined to see to her needs when Camelot’s future was in such tenuous straits, but it didn’t alleviate her frustrations with a body she barely recognized anymore.
“Of course not.” She ran her fingers up and down the back of his hand, playing with the hairs curling from beneath his shirt. “But you really don’t have to ask Elena accompany me. I’m sure she’d rather ride along with the rest of her council.”
“It’s already done. Actually, she was grateful she had an excuse to be late. She dreads this as much as you do.”
Except Elena was slim and beautiful and could see her feet. Somehow, Gwen thought she still managed to come out ahead there.
“Whatever it takes,” she agreed. “You know I want this to succeed.”
“I know.” His lips grazed her temple. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
He would, too. In all the time they’d been together, Arthur had honored each and every one of his vows to her. It was one certainty she could rely on, as much as she could trust the sun would rise every day.
“For now, all I want is this baby safe in my arms and you at my side.”
“Can that be in our bed?”
“With the baby?”
His kisses drifted lower, down the side of her neck. “He’ll have to sleep sometime.”
“That’s how we got into this mess in the first place.”
“This isn’t a mess.” He smoothed his hand over her belly. “This is our family.”
In spite of how uncomfortable she felt, Gwen smiled. “Then I can’t see how I can say no, now can I?”
Actually, all it would have taken was opening her mouth and uttering the word, but as they jolted down the path, Gwen knew it was too late to wish she’d been just a little bit more selfish. Though Arthur had found the smoothest way possible, the wheels on the carriage seemed to find every little bump, every tiny stone. The entire carriage vibrated, and each time they encountered a particularly large obstacle, she had to ask they stop so she could relieve herself.
She had never been more mortified in her life.
She tried sleeping, leaning her head against one of the many pillows Arthur had insisted she bring, but an odd tightness around her midsection kept her from relaxing. Wrapping her arm over her belly didn’t help, nor did sitting up straighter, as if the added length to her back would take off some of the pressure. Elena kept glancing in her direction, but Merlin was the one who asked if she was all right.
The baby kicked, much harder than usual, and Gwen gasped as another sensation, like something popping, followed almost right on top of it. A moment later, she felt wetness soak her seat.
Merlin rested his hand on her shoulder, his eyes dark with concern. “Do we need to stop again?”
“Yes.” She took a deep breath, wishing it would calm her suddenly frantic nerves. “My waters just broke.”
The next few minutes were a blur. She remembered Elena practically leaping from the cart to stop the driver and call for Sir Leon riding up ahead, and Merlin’s scrounging around for anything to help soak up the damp. Her maidservant was there somewhere, but she wasn’t aware of her with any certainty until Gwen was on a blanket by the side of the path, bent over nearly double as the first labor pain really hit her.
“What do we do now?” Elena asked.
“We should get her back to Camelot,” Merlin replied.
“What if she has the baby along the way?”
“And what if she has the baby right here?”
“She’s thinking this baby will come, regardless of where she is,” Gwen snapped.
“She’s right.” Her maid was pressing along her stomach. “The baby’s dropped already.”
Merlin frowned. “She looks as pregnant as she was before.”
“Gee, thank you, Merlin.” Gwen rolled her eyes. “She means the baby’s—oh!”
Another labor pain cut her off, and she gritted her teeth to try and bear it. Her maid pushed her skirts out of the way, and almost immediately, Elena and Merlin’s eyes went wide and they turned around in tandem, looking everywhere but at Gwen.
“The baby’s in position,” her maid explained. “It could be any time.”
Not what Gwen wanted to hear, though as rough as the pain was, the sooner it was over, the better.
“What do you need?” Merlin asked.
“Water. Blankets. Something to cut the cord—”
“Arthur,” Gwen said as the latest pain eased. “He wanted to be here when the baby came.”
“I’ll get him!” Elena and Merlin said at the same time, then frowned at each other when they realized what they’d done.
“You need to stay,” Merlin explained to her.
She cocked a brow. “And why’s that?”
“Because you can help. Since you’re a…” He gestured helplessly at her dress.
Even in her current state of discomfort, Gwen knew this wasn’t going to go well.
“Being a girl does not necessarily make me an expert on child birthing.”
“You have to know more than I do.”
“Oh, really? I would’ve thought spending all that time helping Gaius, the court physician, would’ve meant some of it actually rubbed off on you.”
Merlin lifted his chin. “I’m Arthur’s manservant. It’s my job to fetch him.”
“Are you faster than him?”
“On a horse. Are you a better rider than he is?”
“No, of course not.”
Elena grinned in triumph. “Well, I am. Problem solved.” She turned to Gwen, only to see that she was still in a less than flattering position, and immediately lifted her eyes to stare up into the trees. “I’ll have him back as soon as possible, Guinevere. You have my word.”
Gwen didn’t want her word. She wanted Arthur. In light of their current circumstances, however, she’d take what she could get.
He was in the middle of a meeting with Percival and Gwaine when pounding hoofbeats interrupted them. Arthur only meant to glance back to see who it was, but at the sight of Elena’s skirts billowing around her legs in her haste to reach him, he stiffened and pulled away from the others.
“It’s Guinevere,” she called out as she approached. He was racing toward his own horse before she could add, “It’s time!”
He should have known. As he pushed his steed to the lengths of its limits, following Elena back to where they’d stopped, all Arthur could do was chastise himself for insisting Gwen make the trip, for believing Gaius that it was safe for her to travel, for not being a stronger man and demanding she be exempt from the treaty signing. She should never have come. Because of his short-sightedness, he could lose everything.
His heart thudded in time with his horse’s hooves, but Elena never let up. She guided him through low-hanging trees that forced him to bend over his horse’s neck, raced along a river before splashing through a shallow pass. He lost all sense of direction, his only beacon the need to get to Gwen. She’d wanted him at her side. He refused to let her down.
When Elena began to slow, he came abreast and spotted Leon’s red cape in the trees ahead. He kicked harder, coaxing a fresh burst of speed from his steed, but as he neared, a cry reached his ears.
A baby’s cry.
He leapt to the ground, running toward the sound as soon as his feet touched. He saw Merlin first, his arms curled around a bundle of blankets, but his gaze jumped immediately past him, drawn to the two women still on the ground. Gwen was sitting up, her face contorted in pain, while her maid knelt between her legs, one hand gripping Gwen’s sweaty knee, the other out of sight.
As he tried to go to her, however, Merlin turned to block his way. “Not yet,” Merlin warned.
Arthur skidded to a halt. “But I heard…” The rest trailed away when he saw what Merlin actually held. Not blankets. A baby. Their baby.
Merlin smiled at Arthur’s stunned silence. “It’s a boy.”
He couldn’t breathe. All his hopes and fears had been for naught because he couldn’t get his lungs to function properly. “I have a son?”
“Yes.” He nodded toward Gwen. “Though who knows? You might actually have two.”
The question of how faded as Gwen let out a gasped cry and slumped back onto her elbows. The maid had already bent closer, but as she pulled back, she cradled a second baby in her hands.
“A girl,” she announced, lifting a smile to Gwen.
Merlin edged forward, nodding for Arthur to follow. When they reached Gwen’s side, he stopped and held out the swaddled baby to him. “Would you like to hold your son, sire?”
Wordlessly, Arthur took the child into his arms. He felt large and clumsy, especially since the baby seemed to weigh next to nothing. His first instinct was to pass the baby back before he hurt it, but then he glanced down, and he saw a familiar curve of a cheek, the soft pout of a wide mouth.
This wasn’t his son. This was theirs. Part of the family he’d been so in love with, long before he ever saw his face.
He met Gwen’s weary smile with his own. Their daughter, now wrapped as well as her brother, lay across her breast. Carefully, he knelt down, reaching out to cover the back of Gwen’s hand where she cupped the back of their daughter’s head.
“They’re beautiful,” he said. “But I’m so sorry you had to go through this away from Camelot.”
Gwen shook her head. “I’m not. You’re here at my side, and our children are safe and strong. That’s all I ever need, Arthur.”
And part of why he loved her as much as he did. Because she saw the world in such simple terms, the greater good rather than selfish desires. The treaty could still happen. Peace could still be restored.
For Gwen, for his family, for Camelot.