Part 32: link


    Gwen sits in a pew in the front, the only representative of the groom’s family, Arthur beside her, looking very handsome in his suit. Merlin sits behind them with Freya and the rest of their friends: Gwaine, Percy and Vivian, Leon and Mithian, and Duncan and Ezra and their wives.
    The maid of honor, Latoya’s younger sister Larissa, has just come up the aisle to stand beside Celia, and soon there are soft coos as a tiny flower girl makes her unsteady way forward. Gwen turns and looks, but she cannot see the child yet. She looks forward and sees Celia gently cajoling the girl forward, encouraging her.
    Gwen whips her head around, curious now. She spies the little girl, a darling cherub of about three, with brown ringlets and caramel skin. Celia has a mixed daughter. Gwen looks at Arthur, and she sees that he’s had the same realization. Gwen thinks back to last night, to Celia’s bitter words. She also remembers quite clearly that Celia had no ring on her left hand.
    Arthur reaches for Gwen’s hand and lifts it to his lips, kissing her knuckles softly, a silent reminder of the promise he made her.
    The flower girl toddles unsteadily past them, her new white patent leather shoes poking out from under her pink dress. She looks up at Arthur and he smiles at her. She ducks her head shyly and drops another crumpled handful of flower petals from her basket, her movements deliberate and studious. She’s concentrating very hard.
    Finally she reaches the front and stands beside her mother, tucking herself into her skirts. Gwen sees Celia look in her direction, her baby’s hand clasped in hers now.
    Gwen meets her steady gaze and gives her a small smile, hoping to convey that she understands the bridesmaid’s words the previous night. Arthur is still holding her hand in his lap, and Gwen hopes that Celia doesn’t think she’s flaunting.
    But then Celia gives Gwen the smallest smile in return, just before the music changes and the guests are bidden to stand.
    All eyes turn to the back of the church, but just before Gwen can see the bride, she sees the flower girl clambering back towards the pews and climbing up into the arms of her grandfather, Latoya’s uncle, who scoops her up and holds her up so she can see. Her grandmother hands her a small, well-loved stuffed pink pony, obviously a comfort toy of some sort, judging by the way the girl clutches it.
    Gwen finally remembers to watch the bride like everyone else. Distracted. Not good. Latoya looks beautiful in her white dress, floating down the aisle on her father’s arm. She’s practically glowing she is so happy.
    Gwen smiles and squeezes Arthur’s hand.
    “Are you disappointed we didn’t have a big weddin’?” Arthur asks, whispering in her ear.
    “No. What we had was perfect for us,” she whispers back.
    “Really?”
    “Yes, really. Now shh.”
    I’ve never seen Elyan looking so happy, Gwen thinks, smiling wistfully, knowing their parents are watching over them. Her hand trails over her belly, absentmindedly rubbing it. Arthur gently snatches up her hand again, holding it between his.

xXx

    “Gwen, child, that solo was beautiful,” Mary tells Gwen at the reception. Dinner has just finished, and everyone is mingling.
    “Thank you, Gran. This is my husband, Arthur. Arthur, this is Mary, Latoya’s grandmother,” Gwen introduces them.
    “Pleased to meet you, Arthur,” Mary says, shaking his hand. “You take good care of this little girl, you hear me?”
    Arthur smiles knowingly.
    “You been told this before,” Mary smirks.
    “Many times. And trust me, Miss Mary, there is nothing I enjoy more than making my Guinevere happy,” Arthur says. “She is everything to me.” He smiles down at her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.
    “Good,” Mary smiles at him. “Don’t ever forget that. And you call me Gran, now, Sugar,” she adds, patting his cheek before walking away.
    “Fascinating lady,” Arthur says. “Where’d Merlin get off to, now? I’ve barely gotten to talk to him. I think you’ve seen him more than I have.” He looks around. “Ah. Come on,” he says, pulling her by the hand to the table where they are all gathered.
    The change in Vivian is amazing. She’s no longer the silly little bit of fluff she was when they left. She smiles at Arthur and greets him warmly, but doesn’t simper or fawn.
    “Gwen, nice to see you,” she says. “When are you due? Not too far away, from the looks of things,” she says, giggling, but sweetly, not irritatingly.
    “Late August,” Gwen says. “You look wonderful, Vivian. Bein’ with Percy seems to agree with you.”
    Vivian blushes and looks at her hands. “He’s… really great, actually. Daddy wasn’t too happy at first, but he’s grown to accept and even like him now.”
    “I wouldn’t go that far,” Percy interjects, smirking.
    “He hasn’t killed you, sweetheart, which means he likes you. He hasn’t even tried to cut off your other leg or anything.”
    Did Vivian just make a joke? Arthur is floored, watching Percy laugh at Vivian’s rather bold tease. He decides to redirect. “Percy, you’re looking as… huge as ever,” he says. “How’s the factory?”
    “Doing quite well, considering,” he shrugs. “Alined was nearly running the place into the ground. Leon helped me drag it back from the brink.”
    “Where is Leon, anyway?” Arthur asks. “Didn’t Elyan invite him?” He looks at Gwen.
    “Yeah, he did,” Gwen says. She looks at Merlin. “Merlin, you know where Leon is?”
    “He already had plans. He was going to Texas to see his family, and already had the plane tickets and everything. So he isn’t even in town right now. Took Mithian with him, too,” he says.
    “They gettin’ serious?” Gwen asks, shifting her weight on her feet. Arthur looks around and grabs an empty chair from a nearby table, holding it for her to sit. He stands behind her with his hands on her shoulders, rubbing softly.
    “I think so,” Merlin says.
    “Must be, if she’s meetin’ the family. His family is huge,” Arthur says.
    “I think it was a family reunion, or some such,” Merlin says. He casually leans back in his chair and loops his arm over the back of Freya’s chair. Arthur has to bite the inside of his cheek to stop his smirk. I taught him that.
    “Freya, how do you like Memphis?” Gwen asks.
    “It’s hot,” she laughs. “But the people are very nice,” she adds, glancing shyly at Merlin.
    “How long are you staying?” Arthur asks.
    “Till August. I think. Maybe a little longer, if Uncle Olaf can stand me. I’m in graduate school, and so I’ll definitely need to be back by the fall term.”
    “Oh, what are you studyin’?” Gwen asks, interested.
    “Psychology,” she says.
    “That must be very interesting,” Gwen says.
    “It is. Especially right now, what with everything going on with Civil Rights. It’s fascinating and sometimes horrifying to see how people interact with one another,” she says.
    Everyone is listening to Freya now; this is the most any of them have heard her talk, except for Merlin and Vivian.
    “I imagine so,” Gwen says.
    “Yes, when Merlin told me about you and Arthur, well, wow. It’s an amazing story. You’re so brave, Gwen.”
    “Am I?” I ran away. That’s brave?
    “Going up against a rich white man to seek justice for your father and safety for his coworkers? And then leaving the world you know to chase your own happiness? I’d say that’s pretty brave.”
    “Oh. I guess I never thought about it that way…”
    “Thought about what, what way?” a familiar voice interrupts them. Gwaine leans down and kisses Gwen on the cheek, a beverage in his hand. “Never thought about me, in—”
    “Watch it, Gwaine,” Arthur says, shoving him on the shoulder. “And keep your lips off my wife.”
    “Arthur!” Gwen exclaims, but she looks up to see both Arthur and Gwaine laughing, so she relaxes.
    “You’re gonna name that baby after me, right?” Gwaine asks, hijacking the conversation.
    “Not even if you paid me,” Gwen answers, laughing.
    Gwaine pouts theatrically, and Vivian takes the opportunity to ask, “Well, what are you thinkin’ of namin’ that baby?”
    Gwen smiles an enigmatic smile. “Well, now, that would be tellin’, wouldn’t it?”
    “Aw, please?” Everyone is asking now.
    Gwen holds up her hands. “We are not tellin’,” she says adamantly.
    “We don’t want anyone influencin’ our decision,” Arthur says, smirking a little I’ve-got-a-secret smile.
    “I know that smile,” Merlin says. “I’m touched, Arthur, but you really should name the baby after a relative, if you’re going that route. Well, at least for the first one.”
    Gwen laughs more and Arthur rolls his eyes.
    “What’re y’all laughin’ at?” Elyan’s voice joins them now. Latoya is on his arm. They’re circulating, making the rounds, making sure to talk to everyone.
    “The ridiculous prospect of us naming the baby after Merlin,” Arthur says, rolling his eyes again.
    “That is ridiculous, ’specially ’cause he’s gonna be named after me,” Elyan boasts.
    Now it’s Gwen’s turn to roll her eyes.
    “Elyan, she already told us they weren’t tellin’,” Toya says, squeezing his arm. “Gwen, that dress is beautiful, did you make that?”
    Gwen looks down at her simple lavender sheath dress, sleeveless and flowing. “Yes, I did, thank you. I couldn’t find a dress that wasn’t all… you know, dowdy. It’s like the stores think that just because you’re carryin’ a baby you should look like an old lady. Arthur’s cousin Morgana helped me find this material, and I took a pattern I already had and just altered it some.” She shrugs, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. “Your dress is beautiful, Toya, is it new or family?”
    “Family,” Toya says, swishing the skirt a bit. “My mama’s. Lucky it was long enough, but we did alter it some. It was long-sleeved originally.”
    “Well, it looks lovely. You’re a beautiful bride,” Gwen smiles up at her.
    “Thank you,” Toya says. “We’re so glad y’all could come down, too. El and I really wanted you here.”
    “Wouldn’t miss it,” Gwen says. “A little risky, but I needed to be here for my brother. I’ve just been stayin’ indoors a lot,” she sighs.
    “One day, Sister.” Toya squeezes her shoulder. “Come on, El, we gotta keep movin’ or we won’t get to talk to everyone,” she says, tapping him on the shoulder. He’d been talking to Percy and Merlin while the ladies discussed dresses.
    “Oh. Right. Gwennie, save your feet enough for one dance with your baby brother, all right?” he asks.
    “Of course,” Gwen says, reaching over to squeeze his hand.
    “Irish!” a voice shouts from a short distance away.
    Merlin turns, “Yeah, Aaron?”
    “We’s settin’ up. Get yo’ skinny butt over here, man.”
    Merlin gives Freya an apologetic smile. “Gotta go. I promise I will dance with you,” he says quietly. “We’ll be takin’ breaks and there’ll be recorded music.” Then he leans over and kisses her cheek once before standing and striding over to the makeshift stage set up in the corner of the hall. They can all see his ears turning red as he walks away.

xXx

    “I don’t get to dance with you enough,” Arthur says softly, holding Gwen in his arms while Merlin, Aaron, and Fred play “Skylark.”
    “I guess it’s not somethin’ a person thinks about while at home,” Gwen says. “Though we have a perfectly good record player.”
    Arthur chuckles, reaching up to stroke her cheek with his finger. “We’ll have to make more of an effort. I love holdin’ you in my arms,” he says.
    “Every time you hold me in your arms at home, you start gettin’ ideas, though,” she says, looking up at him through her lashes.
    He leans down close. “I’m gettin’ ideas now, too. Location don’t matter, darlin’.”
    She swats his chest lightly. “You behave yourself,” she says, giggling.
    “I always behave myself,” he protests, his hands stroking her back.
    She makes a noise, blowing exasperatedly through her pursed lips, suggesting she doesn’t quite agree.
    “Most of the time,” he amends, pulling her closer. Gwen gives up and rests her head on his chest, closing her eyes for a moment.
    “It’s nice to see Percy attempting to dance with Vivian,” Arthur says quietly. Gwen opens her eyes and sees the large man basically swaying in place, moving his feet very slightly. “It must be hard for him. He walks very well, but I know stairs give him trouble.”
    Gwen smiles at them, noting how Vivian gazes up at Percy. He’s over a foot taller than she is, and she doesn’t seem to be caring one bit about the stiff neck she’s surely getting. “He does it for her,” Gwen says. “Look at how they’re looking at each other.”
    “I recognize those looks,” Arthur says, smiling down at Gwen. He leans down and kisses her lips softly and chastely, aware that they are not alone on the dance floor.
    “We should get Vivian a box to stand on, though,” Gwen says, smiling impishly.

xXx

    Gwen is tired. She’s danced with Elyan, Gwaine, Merlin, Latoya’s brother Deon, Latoya’s father, and Arthur (several times). She’s had cake, saw Larissa catch her sister’s bouquet, and laughed like crazy when Gwaine caught Toya’s garter. She is ready to go home now.
    Gwen needed the restroom before they left, and when she emerges she sees Celia approaching, perhaps heading to the bathroom, her daughter in her arms. The child is asleep, her head on her mother’s shoulder.
    “Gwen,” Celia says softly. Gwen walks over. “I want to apologize for yesterday,” she starts.
    “It’s all right,” Gwen says. “I… I think I know where you’re comin’ from. I think I did last night, even.”
    “Gran was right, though. I don’t know you. I don’t know your life. Toya told me some o’ what you and your man been through. And… I can see now that your situation is completely different than mine was. Your man loves you. I only thought mine did.” Her daughter squirms a little and Celia adjusts her hold on her and shushes her softly.
    “Your daughter is beautiful,” Gwen says, reaching up to stroke the girl’s curls softly. “Her name is Natasha?” She remembers reading it in the program.
    “Yeah, but mostly we calls her Tasha,” Celia smiles. “She’s the only good that came out o’ that man.”
    “Celia, a wise woman gave me some advice recently for my baby. I’d… I’d like to pass it on to you, if you don’t mind,” Gwen says.
    Celia looks intrigued. “All right, let’s hear it.”
    “She told me ‘Don’t never let that child think he’s anything less than wonderful.’ Tasha is a special girl, ’cause she’s your girl. Make sure she knows it. Don’t let anyone make her feel less-than.”
    Celia smiles slowly, then nods. “That’s good advice. Who said that to you?”
    “A woman that owns a soul food restaurant in Illinois,” Gwen says, chuckling.
    “Oh, well, that’s advice worth heedin’, then, ain’t it?” Celia says, quite sincerely.
    “I believe it is,” Gwen says.
    “Guinevere?” Arthur has come looking for her now. “Oh, sorry,” he apologizes, seeing her talking with Celia.
    “It’s all right,” Gwen says, reaching her hand out to Arthur, indicating that he should come over. “Arthur, this is Toya’s cousin Celia and her daughter Tasha. Celia, my husband, Arthur.”
    “Nice to meet you,” Arthur says, nodding because Celia’s hands are quite full.
    “Hello,” Celia says.
    “That’s one tired baby,” Arthur says, smiling at Tasha, who is now drooling slightly on the shoulder of her mother’s dress. “She’s cute.”
    “Thank you,” Celia says. “She’s heavy,” she laughs.
    “We should go so you can sit. Also Guinevere looks like she’s fixin’ to fall asleep on her feet,” Arthur says. “Have a good night.”
    “You, too. Thanks again, Gwen,” Celia says, smiling at her again.
    “You take care of yourself as well as that baby,” Gwen says, reaching over and squeezing Celia’s unoccupied shoulder lightly.
    “I will. Good luck with yours,” she says, looking down at Gwen’s belly.
    “Thanks. I’ll make sure Toya passes along the message when we have it.”
    “I’d like that, thanks.”

xXx

    Arthur and Gwen leave early Sunday morning. Merlin and Freya show up to say goodbye. They both look like they haven’t slept much, but Merlin really wanted to see them off. Because he had another gift for the baby, of course. Some books this time.
    They also have news.
    “Turns out Percy popped the question to Vivian last night,” Merlin says.
    “Really?” Gwen exclaims.
    “Yeah, it was right after you left, actually. They disappeared for a bit, and we were all startin’ to wonder if they snuck off somewhere…”
    “Or went home,” Freya interjects, poking Merlin on the arm.
    “Or went home,” Merlin allows. “But then they came back in and Vivian was practically jumpin’ out of her skin, wavin’ her left hand around.”
    “Interesting time to propose,” Arthur says.
    “Oh, he’s been planning it,” Merlin says. “He even got Olaf’s permission and everything.”
    “Wonder how he swung that,” Arthur chuckles.
    “Well, I can’t help thinking that the fact that he’s got his own company didn’t hurt his case,” Merlin says, rolling his eyes.
    “Merlin, what a thing to say,” Gwen says.
    “Guinevere, you don’t know Olaf. Merlin’s probably right. Remember how Vivian was before? She was everything Olaf raised her to be.”
    “Oh. Wow. Percy really must have had his hands full with her for a while,” Gwen muses.
    “Yeah, there were some fights,” Merlin says. “When they were trying to figure each other out. But once they found middle ground, once Percy dragged her down to earth and she dragged him out of his shell and made him feel like he was a whole man again, they’ve been good.”
    “Apparently,” Arthur chuckles. He checks his watch, his birthday present from Gwen back in late March. “We should get goin’.”
    The drive home is largely uneventful. The high point is of course their visit to the closed-but-open-for-them Althea’s Soul Food Kitchen, in which they meet Thea’s elusive husband and she gives them a blanket for the baby that she “threw together” over the weekend. It’s blue, which makes Gwen wonder if their friend knows something that they don’t. When pressed, Thea refuses to comment beyond, “Well, if Baby is a girl, then she’ll just be a girl with a blue blanket, then, won’t she?”
    Gwen sleeps a bit after lunch at Miss Thea’s, her head on Arthur’s shoulder. When she wakes, they are in Chicago.
    “Sorry,” she says sleepily. “I’ve been sleepin’ a lot with this pregnancy.”
    “Don’t apologize,” Arthur says, smiling at her. “If Baby wants you to sleep, then you should sleep.”
    They cross the state line into Wisconsin, and as they head north through Kenosha and Racine, Gwen notices Arthur getting fidgety.
    “Baby, is something troublin’ you?” she asks.
    “What? No, why?”
    “You look like someone put fire ants in your britches.”
    He grins guiltily at her, but denies that there is anything amiss. “Just happy to be goin’ home. Happy that nothin’ unfortunate happened when we were back home.”
    “That’s makin’ you fidget?” Gwen asks, raising an eyebrow at him.
    “For someone with a birthday tomorrow, you’re awfully nosy,” Arthur says, keeping his eyes trained pointedly at the road.
    “Oh, someone’s plannin’ something’,” Gwen grins, leaning her head back on Arthurs’s shoulder again. “Havin’ second thoughts about your little surprise?” she teases.
    “No. And stop that; I ain’t tellin’, no matter how much you kiss on my neck.”
    Gwen giggles and moves her lips to his cheek now. “I could get you to tell and you know it,” she whispers, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. She moves over and sits on her own side. “But I won’t. I won’t ruin your surprise,” she says, lacing her fingers together primly over her stomach.
    “Thank you,” Arthur says. “And I didn’t say you had to move way over there, you know.” Morgana better have that thing set up, he thinks, wishing there were some way he could call her and let her know they’re almost home.
    Arthur stares into the trunk of the car, now parked in the lot outside their apartment building. How am I going to get all this upstairs in one trip? he puzzles. I can’t let her go in by herself or she’ll see it.
    “Arthur?” Gwen asks, wondering why he’s standing and staring.
    I’ll come back later, I guess. “Sorry, just tryin’ to see if I can get all this in one trip,” he says.
    “You brought home a case o’ barbecue sauce, Baby, I don’t think you can get that and our suitcase and other things all at once. And you won’t let me carry anything big, so…”
    “I know. I’m just feelin’ lazy.” He reaches in and takes the one large suitcase they shared and the garment bag holding their clothes for the wedding. Gwen takes the blanket from Miss Thea and the books from Merlin. Arthur manages the box with the birdhouse in it as well, then closes the trunk, leaving the cradle, a bag of baby clothes (that Hunith picked out and Uther paid for), and the barbecue sauce for later. “Probably two more trips,” he mutters. Unless I can put the barbecue sauce in the cradle…
    Gwen, whose hands are not full, starts to unlock their door, and Arthur stops her before she opens the door.
    “Wait,” he says. “Close your eyes.” He sets the things down in the corridor outside their door.
    “Arthur…”
    “Just trust me,” he says, leaning over to kiss her.
    “Okay,” she says, closing her eyes. Arthur opens the door and leads her inside, gently taking the blanket out of her arms and setting it on a table. He quickly grabs the suitcase and other things and brings them inside as well. He steers Gwen through the room, grinning when he sees it exactly where he told Morgana to put it, by the window in the corner.
    “Open,” he whispers in her ear.
    Gwen opens her eyes to see a top-of-the-line Singer sewing machine on a new sewing bench with a big red bow on the top.
    “Arthur!” she exclaims, smiling broadly, her hands flying to her mouth.
    “Do you like it?”
    She turns and throws her arms around his neck, squeezing him tightly, kissing his cheek several times. “Yes, I love it. I’ve always wanted one, thank you!”
    Just as suddenly, she is gone, inspecting the machine, making little appreciative noises, touching it, sitting in the chair behind it.
    “Watchin’ you make that dress and all those baby clothes gave me the idea. Sewin’ by hand just looked so laborious,” Arthur says.
    “I’ll be able to make so many more things with this,” Gwen says, grinning up at him.
    Arthur doesn’t remind her that she doesn’t need to make baby clothes. He would gladly take her shopping and let her buy anything she wants for their baby. But he knows that this is something she genuinely enjoys doing. I did tell Toya’s Gran that making Guinevere happy is my favorite thing to do.
    “The man at the store said that we could arrange to have someone show you how to use that if you want,” Arthur says.
    Gwen looks up. “I don’t think that will be necessary,” she says with a grin, perusing the instruction manual. “If I wasn’t so tired I’d be firin’ this up right now.”
    “I’m goin’ to go get the rest of the stuff,” Arthur says.
    “Okay,” Gwen says, engrossed in the manual.
    When Arthur returns, he half-expects to see Gwen sewing something already. Instead he finds her in the bedroom, unpacking the suitcase.
    “Get everything?” she asks, peeking out the bedroom door to see him taking the box of sauce out of the cradle and putting it on the kitchen table. She snorts a laugh.
    “What?”
    “One day we’ll have to tell your first-born that the first thing cradled in there was a box o’ barbecue sauce,” Gwen calls, laughing.
    “Sorry,” Arthur apologizes, joining her in the bedroom to help.
    “As long as none of it spilled, I don’t care. It was probably the smartest thing to do if you wanted to get everything. It just struck me funny.”
    “I’m surprised you didn’t have that machine runnin’ already,” Arthur says.
    “I told you, I’m tired. I will be playin’ with it tomorrow, that’s for sure,” she says. “But first, I need to thank you for my present. Properly,” she walks slowly towards him, a half smile lighting her face.
    “Properly?” he asks, reaching out for her as soon as she is close enough.
    She nods, winding her arms around his neck again, one hand threading through his hair as he pulls her closer.
    She lifts up on tiptoe, pressing her lips to his, softly at first, almost teasing. Arthur’s hands slide on her back, gripping her shirt in his fists when she slides her tongue forward, deepening the kiss.
    He lets her kiss him for a bit longer, enjoying her control. Gwen pulls softly away, gazing up at him. “Thank you,” she says again.
    “You’re welcome, my love,” he says, kissing her forehead. Then he pouts slightly. “That’s all I get?”
    Gwen laughs at him. “For now. To be continued,” she promises, kissing him once more, running her hands down his chest. She tries to move away to finish her unpacking.
    “Oh, no you don’t,” Arthur tightens his grip on her, not letting her go. “We are finishing what you started, Mrs. Pendragon,” he says. He stoops slightly and picks her up, carrying her to the bed.