Merlin sighed, this was probably the oh, twentieth time today that Arthur had called him in that exact tone, the same inflection and everything, and after months of experience with that tone he knew it meant there was some disaster he had to take care of. And usually, actually without fail, it had something to do with Arthur's general inability to actually function like a normal human being. Although, now that he really thought about it, it was probably more due to his refusal to do so, rather than any kind of mental or physical impairment. However he had never quite made his mind up about that one.
"I'm coming!" he yelled, kind of exasperated with being treated like not just Arthur's manservant but his proverbial nanny. I mean come on; the guy was like eighteen and expected to be taken care of like a three-year old. Then again, he did act mentally like a three year old from time to time, although Merlin was pretty sure that was only for the benefit of Arthur's own personal campaign to annoy him.
"So's my 80th birthday feast but I'm pretty sure it'll arrive before you do. And don't you use that impertinent tone with me; I'm the crown prince you know."
"How could I forget?" Merlin muttered under his breath as he turned the doorknob and entered what he expected to be a disaster zone much like he had to experience every morning for the foreseeable future. The sight, when it hit him, hit him hard. At first he thought he was hallucinating, like that would actually happen in real life. And yet, when he pinched himself it refused to disappear. Arthur turned around rather awkwardly as he opened the door and motioned him to come closer.
"Finally, I thought I'd be stuck in this forever." As he noticed that Merlin was still standing at the door and looking rather petrified to boot, his slightly relieved expression turned to one of peeved annoyance. "Well come on, don't just stand there like some sort of monument to idiocy, help me get out of this thing."
Merlin blinked once, then twice, then thrice before realizing that not only was Arthur struggling awkwardly with a rather monstrous looking dress and a black wig, he was also wearing the garish face paint that Morgana and Gwen seemed perpetually obsessed with. His jaw dropped and he grabbed the door frame for support as his traitorous knees had decided to buckle most inconveniently. Arthur, having finally realized what had prompted Merlin's reaction started to smirk and lifted one eyebrow in a patronising look with the ease of one who practices these things.
"What, have you never seen a dress before? Or is it the make-up? You know, from a certain angle I think I do look rather dashing."
As Merlin's jaw dropped further down his chest (Arthur had somehow managed to say the previous sentence in a very convincing and well, slightly disturbing girly voice) Arthur began to shake with laughter. As his laughter became more pronounced and less controllable he tripped over the dress and landed unceremoniously on the floor. Under normal circumstances, he probably would have ranted and then angrily sent Merlin to the stocks because of course he must have told the dress to trip him – crown princes just didn't trip out of their own volition. But this was not normal circumstances. Instead, Arthur continued to laugh uncontrollably, his make-up smeared by the tears running down his face.
When Merlin had finally recovered enough to speak he voiced his concern for Arthur's obviously fragile mental state.
"Uh Arthur," he began eloquently, "you are wearing a dress."
"Why thank you Merlin," Arthur gasped between bursts of laughter, "I had no idea!" Because he didn't trust himself to say anything else on the matter (Arthur's good mood was really, really, disturbing and he didn't want to end up in the stocks if he somehow spoilt his…fun) Merlin simply reverted into autopilot manservant mode.
"Did you need me for something, um sire?"
Arthur's laughter slowly died down until it reached the controllable stage and he began to make a rather futile effort to get up off of the floor.
"Ah yes," he said, "I need you to…oomph."
This time Merlin was the one laughing, and although he tried gallantly to hide it he just couldn't, the site of Arthur, the crown prince, best swordsman in the palace and all the other stuff he liked to boast about had just been beaten by a dress. Arthur, angry now that he was the one being laughed at (it never crossed his mind that maybe it was just a little bit funny) began to frown.
"I didn't ask you to come here to laugh at me." He said petulantly, "I wanted you to help me get this thing off."
on Arthur," Merlin laughed, "you have to admit that was funny."
"Not from where I'm standing." He crossed his arms and glared. Despite his attempt to appear serious and wronged, Merlin detected a spark of amusement in his eyes.
"Sitting." Merlin corrected with a smirk and then started laughing again. Arthur, now unable to control it, laughed along with Merlin, despite that fact that he was actually laughing at himself.
After the laughter had subsided somewhat, Merlin decided it was about time to help Arthur out of his dress. Some impish desire in him prompted him to say the words aloud.
"Would you like me to help you out of your dress, sire?"
Arthur, having seen the humour in the situation, said in his creepy and disturbing imitation of a girl's voice "why yes daaarling. Purple just simply isn't my colour."
With that the two of them collapsed into hopeless laughter.
Later, after Merlin had helped Arthur out of the dress and had successfully removed all the make-up from his face, Arthur put an arm on his shoulder and looked him straight in the eyes.
"Not a word of this to anyone." He said firmly, "or else I'll make you do something incredibly unpleasant and then sentence you to the stocks for a year. And then for good measure I'll make you do something else unpleasant and repeat the whole punishment…seven times. "
Merlin raised an eyebrow, "you're really unimaginative, you know that?"
Arthur growled threateningly.
"Okay, okay. I won't tell anyone, but seriously, you have to tell me, why were you wearing it in the first place?"
"It was a dare."
"Yes Merlin, a dare. Do you want me to spell it out for you?"
"So who dared you?"
"Oh. So why'd you do it?"
"Because we have this little…game, where we either dare each other something or ask a question that the other has to answer honestly."
"Is it just you and Morgana?"
"No, Gwen's involved too."
"I see," Merlin's face suddenly lit up and Arthur could have sworn he had actually seen the wheels turning. "Is that why Morgana was stalking Gaius the other week then?"
And why Gwen kept stealing my shoes?"
"Who dared her to do that?"
"Hmm…can I join?"
"Sounds like fun. Please?"
Against his better judgement, Arthur agreed. Weeks later he would realise that it was probably the worst mistake he had made in his life…or not, depending on the way you look at it.