Rating/Genre: G, Crack to the nth degree
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Gwen, Merlin
Spoilers/Warnings: inspired by a 3-second clip in the series 3 trailer (clip content outlined in summary). Otherwise, nope.
Summary: When Arthur begins transforming into a donkey, Gwen visits him. Little do either of them know that her single act of affectionate sympathy sets her up for a transformation of her own.
Author's notes: Between the cracktastic clip in the trailer and watching The Sword in the Stone for the first time a couple of weeks ago, this was a crackeriffic explosion waiting to happen. Dedicated to crayford for sharing TSITS and lots of miscellaneous other with me, and to felix_aeternus because she encourages my crack addiction so willingly ♥ mancalahour gets my epic thanks for being a speedy beta on this, and for her suggestion of soup ;)
ETA: now with added artwork by the ever-brilliant felix_aeternus, upon which one scene of the fic is inspired ♥! Click the thumbnail to view the adorableness!
It is with utter dismay that Arthur hears his door scraping open once more. Merlin has only just left; he couldn't possibly have returned so soon. So whoever it is, about to see him like this -
There's a telltale swoop and stutter deep in his chest, and then the burning bloom of mortification in the pit of his belly.
His ears prick; he can hear the soft scuffle of her slippers on the stone of his floor, instinctively he shifts back.
Only to bang loudly into his wardrobe.
He lets loose a low groan, which sounds - horrifically - more like a distressed nicker.
All this, and he can easily hear the hurried patter of her feet, sees her curls before her face and stares up at her balefully when finally she rounds the corner of his bed.
At least, he thinks wistfully, Gwen has the composure to tamp down on her look of surprise, features carefully arranged into an expression of concern.
"Are you hurt?" she asks gently. She takes hold of her skirts and rearranges them so she can crouch before him.
Arthur only stares at her for a moment, for he cannot speak. This he has learned in his attempts with Merlin, which, if the idiot hadn't left so quickly, would not have ended well for his manservant.
Finally, he shakes his head, and Gwen breathes out a soft sigh of relief. "That's something then," she murmurs, and inches closer to him, putting her head to one side and staring thoughtfully at his ears. "When I ran into Merlin and he said I ought to come see you..." She made a face, met his eyes again. "I wasn't expecting this."
He only offers a huff, and she smiles a little. Which is when the trouble starts.
Her smile lingers, and then her eyes travel up to his ears again. Then they linger there, and her smile starts to grow, all dancing amusement and delighted mischief.
He makes the mistake of attempting to say, warningly, "Guinevere," but it only comes out in a dark-sounding bray and he groans, which sounds again like a distressed nicker, and now Gwen is laughing - laughing ! - and he has always rather liked that sound, but he is turning. into. a. DONKEY!
He points - and bloody goddamn brays in protest to her laughter - at his throat, and then at his ears and she does him the dignity of sobering. Somewhat.
She drops her chin, and reigns in her smile to something a little more sympathetic, if still entirely amused, and reaches towards the abominations on his head to give them a slow, appeasing stroke.
And he will resolutely not admit that it actually felt rather pleasant.
"I'll get you some food," says Gwen gently, and before he realises what's happening, she's rocking forward to her knees, leaning her entire body towards him until he sees the lines of her lips just before they close lightly, warmly, damply, over the tip of his nose.
There's not time for him to wrap his hand around the nape of her neck and keep her - not that he ought to, because they aren't meant to be thinking like that, and a kiss to the nose is nothing if not amiably affectionate - for she already pulls away and moves gracefully to her feet.
"And I'll tell the other servants to avoid your rooms," she tells him kindly, offering a sympathetic wince.
Arthur nods, and Gwen smiles in that way she does which is affectionate and consolatory and respectful all at once and so it isn't until the door has shut behind her that he realises he has no hands any longer, but hooves instead.
When she returns, she does him the service of a quiet knock of warning, which just allows him time to settle down behind the table and - hopefully - manage to tuck his tail out of sight.
He hasn't quite worked out how to eat with his hooves yet, but hopes he doesn't look helpless when she enters his chambers and sees them.
But, he notices something about her first - to great distress.
"Gwen!" he cries without thinking, the urgent neigh causing her to freeze. He shoves back from the table and strides to her - awkwardly, for it seems his feet have turned to hooves now as well and his boots just flap around uselessly - and indicates she ought to put the tray down.
With a nervous frown, she acquiesces, sliding the food onto a table, and at his urging - one hoof carefully applied to her lower back, the other flailing madly towards his mirror - she moves forward.
She's looking at him with a baffled frown, but he nods his head towards the mirror frantically and finally she looks.
Then gasps, her hands flying up over her mouth. Then she takes a steadying breath and her fingers stretch to touch her nose.
"Oh," she groans and he frowns in guilt and sympathy, awkwardly patting her back with the flat end of his hoof.
In the middle of her face is a small, rounded, triangular, button of a nose. Dividing into two, and with the hint of a third, cleft pallet forming. There's a little fur dusting the top and sides of this new nose, and before his eyes, four whiskers - two, each side - spring to several inches length.
He's been wholly donkey for some time before Gwen-the-squirrel appears from his side chambers where she had gone to transform in private. He stares at her when she rounds the corner of his bed for the second time that day, and can't quite fathom reality in Camelot any longer.
He clambers to his feet, with noisy clacks and stomps, and lowers his head until it's nearly touching her upturned face. Blinking slowly at her, as she somehow manages to pull a squirrel's features into an expression of worry, he dumbly thinks that he's never noticed how adorable squirrels were before.
"I'm sorry," brays Arthur, wondering if attempts at communication are still in vein.
Gwen tilts her head in a jerky, inquisitive fashion and sighs softly. "This isn't your fault," she chitters.
And despite himself, despite his guilt, his worry, his mortification and above all his irritation... Arthur snorts.
Gwen's tiny forepaws go to what obviously passes for hips on a squirrel's body, and he imagines that she's at least attempting to frown. "What is it?" she asks, all clicks and squeaks, and Arthur snorts again.
Then the orbs of her eyes half disappear behind narrowed lids, in a way he's sure he would have considered dangerous had she not been a squirrel, and his snorts turn into a whole series of low, throbbing neighs that send gusts of donkey breath across her squirrel face - disturbing her fur - and his laughter increases until he's forced to sit back on his haunches.
"This isn't funny, Arthur!" chatters Gwen at him.
His ears flick and twist, listening as the tiny claws on her small paws click against the stone as she runs towards him, then there's a very slight pressure on his hoof as she hammers a fisted paw against it.
He can't help it; he laughs harder.
The sound of his door opening immediately silences him.
He thinks vaguely that, upon discovery, any other woman who had been magically transformed into a squirrel would likely have turned tail and disappeared beneath the bed.
But Guinevere... She drops to all fours in order to turn, and then faces the intruder perched on her hind legs, as tall as she can stand beside Arthur.
If he'd been able to, he would have smiled slightly.
It's only Merlin who appears around the door, and they both heave a sigh of relief. Merlin's eyes cast a swift glance around the room, and his brow furrows.
"I could've sworn, by the racket you were just making, that someone else was in here," Merlin says slowly, closing the door behind him.
Affronted by Merlin's tone and the use of the word racket, Arthur clatters imperiously to his feet. He isn't quick enough with a response, however, as Gwen starts bounding towards Merlin, to the latter's great surprise. Then she scurries up his leg - Arthur would wince along with Merlin, imagining the tiny claws finding purchase for her climb in his flesh, but he isn't feeling particularly forgiving - across his chest to stop at his shoulder.
"Merlin!" she natters, forepaws busily fretting before her, her tail winding around his neck for balance. "Have you found out anything? Arthur said -
"He doesn't understand you, Gwen," brays Arthur gently, tromping towards his confused manservant. "To him, you're a mad squirrel on his shoulder."
Gwen turns and somehow manages to look reproachful as she squints down at him, her ears flicking in agitation. "He couldn't possibly think it normal for a squirrel to be in the castle, let alone decide to... climb him..."
But she sees it as clearly now as Arthur does. Merlin is glancing at her in some bafflement, but without recognition. After a moment's hesitation, he merely looks back down at Arthur, who rolls his eyes.
"As I was saying," Merlin begins, thoroughly bewildered and casting nervous glances in Gwen's direction but making no attempts to dislodge her. "I had sent Gwen along -
To this, Gwen reaches out a tiny paw and clasps, tugs, Merlin's ear in a pointed kind of way. The idiot only winces.
Arthur drops his head and taps his hoof against the ground in frustration. "You ought to throw a nut at his head," he suggests, looking up again to meet her eyes.
"Arthur!" she chirps, irritable.
But it appears, to Arthur's greater annoyance and increased bemusement, that something of the tone of her admonishing chitter resonates in Merlin's mind and his head whips around in some shock as he cries, "Gwen?!"
With an enormous sigh, Gwen nods, her squirrel shoulders dropping in relief.
"Oh, god," groans Merlin. He gawks at her, and then shakes his head, offering his hand to her. She climbs on gratefully, and Arthur's eyes roll upwards to watch as Merlin transfers her to the top of his head.
He hadn't realised he was missing anything until the soft, warm fuzz of her tail curls around one of his ears, her light weight oddly comforting, perched as she is.
Merlin crosses his arms, then lifts a hand to worry at his nails. He takes a step forward, then a step back. Then his hands drop to his waist and he bends in half to inspect Gwen closely.
"It's all right, Merlin," Gwen chatters gently, dropping to settle on four paws again. "We're not suffering at all."
"Speak for yourself," Arthur nickers lowly, and Gwen digs a claw into his brow.
Frowning in increased distress - indicating that clearly, none of Merlin's few talents include reading the nuances of animal speech - Merlin looks frantically up and down between them. "I... I'm going to fix this," he insists, and Arthur can imagine the look Gwen is attempting to give him, and feels a little sorry that she's unable.
He watches curiously as Gwen inspects her tail. Paws lifting the fuzzy length up close to her face. Her two eyes open a little bit wider - and he honestly wouldn't have thought that possible - as she runs her clawed fingers through a few of the strands.
It suddenly whips from her hold and Arthur blinks in surprise.
Gwen says, "It's all very strange, isn't it?" in a musing sort of chitter, and Arthur is left marvelling at her calm.
She looks at him then, and her head tilts curiously and she blinks at him thoughtfully. "What about your tail?"
"My tail?" he asks on a nicker, and instinctively gives it a flick.
Her head straightens again, and he wonders if he's imagining the delighted mischief in her eyes.
She's scampering along his back. Arthur swallows a groan because it feels rather like a massage by small fingers and there's a series of muscles near his waist that have been bothering him for some time.
Perhaps his muscles twitch beneath her, because Gwen pauses. Then a small increase in pressure tells him she's pushing forepaws against him, just an inch off, and he doesn't mean to say - "A bit to the left -" but it comes out anyway.
There's a chitter that may have been a giggle, and he spares just a moment to wonder what exactly Gwen had been thinking to elicit that, but then she hops, and her entire minuscule weight is kneading and rolling against the affected muscle and it's all just fine.
The sounds that come from Gwen's stomach when hunger finally reaches them are no where near as embarrassing as the ones that come from his.
For a moment, as she turns enormous eyes on him and her tiny mouth hangs open, Arthur wonders if she will abandon her usual dignity and begin rolling on the ground in throes of hysterical chittering.
While there's a small part of him that's disappointed, he's mostly grateful when her jaws snap shut and she turns quickly to scale up the side of the table she'd laid his breakfast on several hours previously.
"Apple?" she asks, shouldering one to the edge of the tray, "Or sausage?"
When Merlin finally returns, it's well after the sun has fallen and the moon is shining light in through the window. Arthur looks up when the door opens, and snorts when Merlin lets out a low curse, quickly lighting a candle.
"Arthur?" he asks softly, "Gwen?"
Gwen is tucked between Arthur's forelegs, curled up against his chest. He can feel each minute rise of her body with each deep breath she draws in slumber, and while he is itching to be human again, he's loath to disturb the moment.
With a low sigh, he ducks his head, nuzzling her back awkwardly with his nose and jostling her gently into wakefulness.
As Merlin says again, "Arthur? Gwen? Are you in here?" Arthur neighs, "We're here," and Gwen rises to her back paws, stretching up and accidentally bumping Arthur's chin.
Merlin rounds the corner and crouches down in front of them, holding a book to his chest. "I think I've found something," he says tiredly, letting the book fall open to a page he had marked. "It's a po - an old wive's remedy that is meant to counter the effects of a transformative spell." He glances between them and then quickly adds, "You understand, it isn't magic. It just... somehow manages to counter it."
At this point, Arthur wouldn't give a damn if Merlin was some great wizard in disguise, capable of turning the castle stones into bricks of straw if it meant he could transform them back to being human.
Even so, Arthur catches Gwen's movement from the corner of his eye as she looks up at him. They both watch him; waiting.
He offers a snort, and gives a great nod of his head. Merlin's smile is so swift and so relieved that Arthur inexplicably feels a little guilty.
After collecting their clothes, and with Gwen perched once more on Merlin's shoulder, they somehow make it to Gaius' chambers without once being seen.
Gaius, however, is away visiting some family at the border edge of Camelot, and so Merlin is left to handle the making of it. Arthur spends much of the first while sticking his head beside, around and beneath Merlin's arms to see exactly what he's doing, until Merlin snaps and whaps him on the nose.
Arthur takes a step back in surprise, then attempts to growl, "Merlin!" which comes out as a threatening, bass bray. Merlin cringes a little, and turns, but his expression is far from apologetic as he holds onto his remedy book in a way that may have been threatening if it had been anyone other than Merlin.
"You're getting in the way, sire," he says sternly. Arthur takes an angry step forward - intent on reminding Merlin that simply calling him sire means nothing by stomping hard on his leather-booted foot with his own very solid hoof.
But Gwen kicks up a fuss from her spot on Merlin's work table, saying in a high-pitched chitter, "This honestly isn't helping!"
And with a huff, Arthur takes a step back and Merlin stays frozen for a moment before relaxing his stance. With one last wary glance at Arthur, Merlin turns to Gwen, bending and offering her a finger. One of her paws takes hold and Merlin gently shakes it once, up and down. "Thanks," he says, smiling a little.
Arthur snorts in disgust and wanders towards the hearth.
After a while, Gwen joins him. She gives a yawn and a little shiver before settling down on the rug beside him, running her paw over her nose in a thoroughly endearing and mildly distressing way that is identical to a real squirrel.
Arthur drops his head to rest on his outstretched legs, one of his hooves pressing into his jaw a little uncomfortably. "How are you?" he asks, mentally wincing because he should have asked hours ago.
Her shoulders rise and drop in a shrug and she blinks slowly. "I'm all right," she responds quietly. Then visibly hesitates before adding in an even softer titter, "It wasn't so bad."
Rolling his head so it sits at a tilt, Arthur stares at her in surprise.
"I mean, not that I want to stay as a squirrel, obviously," she says quickly, her tail beginning to whip in agitation. "Just that... It was interesting. And... Maybe a little fun, being a squirrel. Only for the day, though."
"You certainly made the most of it," he concedes, trying to keep the volume of his braying speech low.
There is, perhaps, a slightly impish gleam that enters her eyes as she tilts her head again, chittering softly, "I couldn't have given you that massage otherwise."
And immediately his mind is flooded with the imaginings of a very, very human Gwen pressing and kneading her entirely capable hands against the bare flesh of his lower back and Arthur honestly can't draw a proper breath for a moment.
She's watching him closely, and if squirrels could smile coyly, he is positive she would be doing so now. He desperately wants to say something clever, something about the time she spent between his legs or sat on his head, but all the words that come together sound horrifically lewd even if he doesn't mean them that way.
Which he might. A little. Except nicely.
So instead, inelegantly, he chokes out, "And I never did say thank you."
Her chest puffs as she draws a deep breath, her eyes blink slowly and she just opens her mouth to say something more when Merlin says, "Okay. I think that's probably done it."
Without a backwards glance, Gwen hops off, scampering back over to Merlin.
"It's been... an interesting day," she says with a soft sigh of a laugh.
Gwen walks beside him now, properly human, with no hint of tail, nor claw, nor fur anywhere. Her dress hangs and clings to her body as it always has, and her curls tumble down in the pleasing way they always do.
And her nose is the same blessed one he recognises.
And he... He has five fingers and five toes. He stands at his usual height, with his hair a mop atop his head; no mane in sight, nor tail to lengthen his spine.
So he snorts, and looks at her to see the way the moonlight casts her in silver. "You could say that."
"I did," she insists quickly, and grins when he raises his eyebrows at her. "Do you know -
"Who caused it?" Arthur pulls a face when she nods, and instinctively slows as they near her door, though the exercise is futile. "No. I doubt they linger now, though."
"It's a strange enchantment to cast on you," she says thoughtfully, stepping lightly beneath the overhang outside her house. She turns to face him, lingering by the post. "I wonder what its purpose was meant to be?"
Arthur shrugs and takes a step forwards, only to rock back again. "Who can know? To prove some kind of point?"
The moonlight catches a mischievous sparkling in her eyes, and before she has the chance to say anything, Arthur raises his hand and says weakly, "Please don't say it."
"Say what?" she asks, all too innocently before tugging her bottom lip between her teeth, presumably to prevent herself from laughing.
He stares for a moment too long at her mouth, before he forces himself to look back up at her again. "You know exactly, Guinevere," he says, trying to sound stern.
And she relents, saying nothing, but not bothering to hide her amused smile.
"It was a pleasure, all things considered ... being ... an animal with you today," he says, as formally as he can manage under the circumstances.
Her smile widens for a moment, then fades into a gentler expression; free of teasing or of worry. She just observes him in her affectionate way, warming him. "And you, Arthur," she finally responds quietly. Then she licks her lips, and her face tenses slightly. "Um, I was actually thinking earlier, that is, if you had the time, it may be nice to... Have dinner together one day?"
Arthur stares and Gwen swallows a little nervously.
"I only ask, because aside from today, we haven't had much time to see one another recently."
He nods, wordlessly.
"And obviously nothing an ass - donkey. Nothing a donkey would eat. And no nuts either," she adds quickly, wrinkling her nose. "Maybe... soup. Or a stew."
"Yes, of course," he says quickly, as soon as she finishes. He feels, very powerfully, the flush that prickles his cheeks with her pleased smile, and is thankful for the cover of darkness. "One day soon," he amends.
"Yes," she agrees with a resolute nod. "Soon."
Arthur smiles, and Gwen drops her chin slightly as she smiles back, watching him from beneath her lashes.
"Good night, Guinevere," he says quietly.
"Good night, Arthur," she replies, in tones just as soft.
And if there's a quiet, excited chitter from her as he turns away, he ignores it as adamantly as he ignores the nicker of pleasure that escapes his throat when he rounds the corner.