getting the chocolate in the peanut butter (dotfic) wrote in merlin_flashfic,
getting the chocolate in the peanut butter

If It Looks Like a Duck by dotfic

Title: If It Looks Like a Duck
Author: dotfic
Rating: Gen, PG
Spoilers: For 1x04.
W/C: 2,200
Disclaimer: Owned by the BBC, although I see signs that I'm starting to get confused about the facts.

a/n: Set after 1x04. Written for the merlin_flashfic Transformation challenge. Many thanks to laurificus for the quick beta and Brit-pick.

Summary: Arthur gets turned into a duck. Merlin is woeful about it.

Merlin was thirsty, his stomach was empty, and his arm ached from the blows against his sword. He really hoped this sparring session ended soon; Arthur was being snottier than usual.

"Oh, honestly, it's like you have absolutely no coordination at all," Arthur yelled, as Merlin tripped and fell backwards.

"Perhaps we should take a break for some food," Merlin suggested, pushing himself up since Arthur hadn't made a move to help him.

"Not until you get this right. You need at least the basics down. First of all, should you be killed, it would be very inconvenient to have to find another servant. Secondly, your lack of skill is embarrassing. You are my manservant, after all. Now get up," Arthur said, voice clipped and impatient.

The sun was behind Arthur's head, along with the towers of Camelot, and Merlin thought about how Arthur looked a certain way, but then acted another.

"Prat," he muttered, very low under his breath so Arthur wouldn't hear him.

They started again, and Merlin found himself flat on his back on the grass for the fourteenth time. The wind was knocked out of him, so he couldn't even manage to say anything scathing back as Arthur ranted at him.

"That's it. I've had enough." The heir to the throne of Camelot turned and strode--no, stamped, it was definitely stamping, like a six-year-old--off towards the castle, leaving Merlin lying there in the grass.

"Oh, no, Arthur, that's all right, I'm fine," Merlin said to the branches of the trees arching over his head. Only the sound of the wind and birdsong answered him. He let himself lie there for a minute with the sun warming his face until the headache from getting his teeth knocked together subsided. Then he gingerly got to his feet.

The next day, Arthur got it into his head that there should be more training.

Which was how Merlin found himself facing Arthur and clenching his hand into a fist, reminding himself that there was no way it could end well for him if he punched the king's conceited, arrogant son across his smug jaw. For one thing, he wasn't sure he could succeed; Arthur was too quick. For another, if he did, Arthur would be on him in a heartbeat, and the only way Merlin could win would be to use magic, and if he used magic, Arthur couldn't help but notice it, since he'd most likely have his knees digging into Merlin's chest while he beat the snot out of him.

So, there it was. Merlin couldn't punch Arthur. He could imagine all kinds of terrible torments for him, things involving bees and hedgehogs and dirty bathwater.

"Now, when I do this--" Arthur jabbed the air with a finger, "that means what?"

"Return to camp?"

Arthur raised his hands above his head. "He sees it at last! Oh joyful day." He lowered his arms and his lips twitched, and for a moment Merlin thought he looked genuinely happy. "And this?" He spun his finger in a circle, pointed upwards.

"Turn, uh...turn around?"

With a low groan, Arthur buried his face in his hands. "No," he said. "Try again."

"I can't remember!"

"Find a higher vantage point and report." Arthur turned and kicked up tufts of straw. It was too hot in the stables, smelling of manure, the grain the horses ate and old wood. They'd been going over hand signals for an hour now. Merlin couldn't seem to keep them sorted out in his head.

It was the same as yesterday, same as it had been for almost a fortnight, ever since Merlin drank from that poisoned goblet. Endless drills and sparring and information that Arthur seemed determined to ram into his head about swords and maces and feints and footwork.

You would think Arthur would be glad he was alive and there to polish his boots and clean the mud off his armor, but instead he'd been a royal pain in the arse.

"All right, we're going to run through it again." Having finished with his tantrum, Arthur turned back, grinned at Merlin in a predatory way with all his teeth showing, and added, "and get it right, or I'll give you additional chores."

"You know, this is...this is servant abuse," Merlin said, trying to put some conviction into his words.

"Excuse me? Most servants--let alone nobles--would give their arm to get to learn weaponry and fighting technique from me."

He wanted to ask why Arthur was bothering to teach him, then, but didn't. He did, however, feel the urge to punch Arthur resurfacing.

"Show me the signal to fall back." Arthur folded his arms and waited.

Merlin's mind was a blank. He thought of several gestures (several of them very rude), none of them seeming like the one Arthur was looking for.

Arthur grabbed his wrist. His fingers, dry and warm, guided Merlin's hand into the right shape. "Like that, you beef-witted oaf." He let go quickly.

There was no flash of light or any warning at all when Arthur suddenly vanished and there was a duck in the straw at Merlin's feet in his place. The bird had a pale grey beak, and its wing feathers were a handsome, mottled golden brown and orange.

The duck looked up at Merlin and let out an indignant quack.

This was not good.

Tabhair ar ais, Merlin said, very quietly in case the Arthur duck might notice and remember later.

Nothing happened. He tried several other phrases. The duck ruffled its wings and let out a louder quack than before.

This was not good at all. Merlin put his hands to his head, fingers knotted into his hair as he thought hard.

"Gaius. We'll take you to Gaius." He knelt and put out his hands, then stopped. Arthur might not like to be picked up. "It's all right," he said softly, and gently touched the feathers. The duck drew back but Merlin kept speaking to it, got his hands around the soft underbelly, and then it...the duck...Arthur...let him lift it up, only flapping its wings a little.

"You are sure this is Arthur?" Gaius put his fingers to his chin, peering down at the bird on his worktable among the flasks and bowls and scrolls of paper.

"He was standing right in front of me." Merlin gestured, demonstrating. "In the stable. One minute he was there and the next, there was a duck." He swallowed down the panic that threatened to choke him.

"Some enemy sorcerer, choosing a particularly odd form of revenge, no doubt," Gaius said, grimly rifling through his scrolls. "Perhaps the duck isn't Arthur at all, and there was a switch, in order to get Arthur into their clutches. A number of--"

"No, it's definitely Arthur." Merlin sighed.

The duck poked its beak curiously against a glass flask that ended in a twist of clear glass tubes filled with blue liquid.

"We can't know for certain," Gaius rambled on. "I should check and see if--"

"No, I know for certain." Merlin looked down at the floor.

Gaius had gone very quiet, no more rustling. "Merlin?" He said slowly, a familiar note in his voice.

"I didn't mean to--I mean, I didn't. I didn't say a spell, even, but I--" Merlin forced himself to look up and meet his mentor's gaze. The frown of puzzlement on Gaius's face turned to disapproving comprehension as Merlin added, "I was thinking of it right before he..."

"Oh, Merlin," said Gaius.

"Well, he was being very obnoxious!" Merlin said. "For weeks. Being nastier than even he is usually, and I put up with it as long as I could and I didn't mean to. I thought of just punching him but I didn't. And then..." Merlin gestured helplessly at the duck, which had tilted its head to the side and was looking at him with its marble-black eyes. He fancied the duck almost looked sympathetic--probably his imagination. "This happened."

For far too long a stretch, Gaius was again very quiet. "And you tried all the usual phrases to restore him?"

"Gaius, hush, what if he remembers later?"

"I don't think so. Animal transformations work a certain way. It's possible he understands things now, as well as he can with his avian mind, but once he reverts back to himself, his memories will be confused."

"Really?" This was good news. It meant Arthur wouldn't later know that Merlin was the one who'd turned him into a duck, and at the least, have him put in the stocks or beat him personally, and at worst, have him beheaded.

"We do need to be quite concerned about changing him back," said Gaius.

"I can't believe I did this." Merlin dropped onto a stool and folded his arms on a clear space on the workbench, watching the duck as it settled down comfortably. The bird began to preen its feathers in a way that looked somewhat vain--the duck kept stopping to look at its work.

He felt Gaius's hand warm on his shoulder. "Merlin, I know you meant no harm. This is serious, though. Look at me." Merlin did. "You had no awareness of doing this deliberately, but it happened. You spoke no words of magic. This is not unprecedented among more powerful warlocks--in moments of great distress or anger or other emotion, magic can happen without using the words of power. But you must learn to control it."

"Yes. I promise." Merlin's throat had gone dry; he thought about that phrase, more powerful warlocks and wasn't sure how he felt about being one someday. He reached out his hand. The duck didn't object when he lightly stroked its head. "If another sorcerer had done this to him I'd be out for their blood," he said softly. The duck's head jerked at that and Merlin found the bird staring at him, as if it were startled at what he'd said. "I'm sorry," Merlin told him.

Gaius coughed. "It is possible your spell to revert him didn't work before because you didn't want it to."

"Of course I wanted it to!"

"Yes, I know, but you were angry. Perhaps if you tried again now?" Gaius said, and then bent over the bowls of herbs he'd been working with when Merlin had rushed in with the duck in his arms.

Arthur struggled a little as Merlin gathered him up and started to set him on the floor.

"Wait," Gaius said, without looking up. "You might want to take him back to where it happened. Less awkward explaining to do that way."

"Thank you, Gaius," Merlin breathed, and he carried the duck through the castle, ignoring the funny glances he was getting, the page who snickered about stew. Merlin tightened his grip on the duck and walked faster before anyone could get any ideas.

Safely in the stables again, Merlin put the duck down at the straw. The duck's beak snapped out and he gobbled down a bug.

Taking a deep breath, Merlin raised his hand. Tabhair ar ais, he said, putting all his fear and wanting into it.

One moment there was a duck on the floor and the next, there was Arthur, sitting on the straw. Fully clothed, Merlin noted with relief--he hadn't been sure at all if that part of the restoration would work.

Screwing up his face, Arthur spat. "I think a bug wandered into my mouth." He looked down. "What am I doing on the bloody floor?"

"You don't, uh..." Merlin took a step back. "Remember what just happened?"

"Of course I do. I was telling you what an empty-brained idiot you were and trying to push some useful knowledge into your thick skull." Arthur got to his feet in a fluid, powerful motion. "Did you knock me down?"

Merlin hesitated. "Yes." He cleared his throat. "Yes, I did! Don't you remember, you were trying to teach me that move?"

He wasn't expecting to see a slow, genuine smile spread over Arthur's face, crinkling the corners of his eyes. "Maybe there's some hope for you after all. I barely even felt you do it." His fingers gripped warm around Merlin's bicep, then let go. "Not bad."

It was difficult to tell in the dimness of the stable aisle--Merlin might be imagining it--but this time Arthur really did looked pleased. Then Merlin thought about Arthur wanting him to be able to defend himself, and how Merlin had lost his temper and turned Arthur into a duck.

"Arthur?" Looking back, Merlin didn't mind the memory of the sparring sessions quite as much as he'd thought he had.


"I think I need more help with the mace." Merlin felt like he'd been holding his breath for weeks and now he could let it out. "I want to make sure I get it right."

Arthur grinned at him, and they got back to work.


Tags: transformation challenge

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