Around two hours later, Arthur was sitting down on a rock near the edge of the water, his own feet bare at that point. The cool water slipped against his skin, and he found it rather relaxing. Merlin was knelt into water, on his hands and knees as he picked carefully through the small rocks around. Every so often, he would sit up on his knees, study a rock he'd picked up, then toss it carefully up onto the bank.
Even though Arthur saw this as rather tedious, annoying work, he didn't question it. He let Merlin do as he pleased, provided he stayed relatively dry. His breeches were soaked to his kid-thigh from kneeling, but he didn't seem to mind. Soon though, Arthur watched him sway as he sat up, another rock in his hand. He dropped it, falling back to his hands and knees to catch himself. Arthur had again jerked unintentionally, sitting forward on the rock, ready to rush over. He saw Merlin blink for a suspiciously long time before the boy jerked his head slightly. Arthur sighed as he stood, deciding that Merlin was much too tired to be out here. He got out of the water and dried his feet against the soft grass before slipping on his shoes again.
"Merlin." He called," let's go back home."
Merlin turned to glance at him, then pouted, shifting back on his knees again.
"I don't want to go home." He sulked, crossing his arms.
Arthur rose an eyebrow,"You're very obviously tired, Merlin. Now come on."
Merlin shook his head, standing,"No! I want to stay." He huffed.
"Merlin." Arthur warned,"Now."
The boy's expression shifted, his eyes moving over Arthur's face as if he were deciding something.
Arthur remained unwavering, determined to get Merlin home and in bed.
"No." Merlin finally blurted, turning away from the prince and kneeling down again.
Arthur muttered something before silently removing his boots again. He stepped back into the water, still quiet, waiting until he was only a foot away from the boy before snatching him up around her waist. Merlin gasped and whined loudly, struggling. His small feet sprayed the front of Arthur's shirt with water as he kicked.
"No! I want to stay!" He protested loudly, banging his small fists against Arthur's chest when he was close enough. Arthur immediately held him away from himself, scowling.
"Enough, Merlin!" He barked in anger.
Merlin stopped for a moment, long enough to glare at Arthur before his expression shifted and his lips parted again, giving away to a frustrated scream of protest. Arthur grimaced and before he knew what he was doing, brough Merlin back to his chest, holding him there with one arm wrapped around his waist. His free arm moved quickly and suddenly Merlin's ear-piercing shriek was cut off by a startled, pained yelp as Arthur's palm struck his backside. Merlin's expression shifted again, rapidly, the defiance draining out of him in a second. His hands moved to grip onto Arthur's shirt, his small frame tense.
"I said enough," Arthur said, his tone still stern, but softer.
Arthur shifted Merlin onto his hip carefully, unaware his shoulders had begun to shake until Merlin buried his red face into Arthur's shoulder. His hand shook as a wavering exhale turned into a whine, then a wail of remorse. Arthur, in shock by the sudden mood swing, hesitated only a moment before his fingers shifted to curl into Merlin's hair.
"Shh, Merlin, it's alright." He assured quietly in his ear.
"'M sorry..." he mumbled against his shirt between sharp breaths and his tears.
"I know, it's alright, you're forgiven...no more fits, agreed?" Arthur encouraged softly, feeling like a heartless brute for reducing Merlin to such a state.
Merlin's raven locks bounced as he nodded into his shoulder,"No more."
Soon, the boys crying was reduced to sniffles, and Arthur helped him get his shoes back on before picking him up again, starting the walk back to the palace. No later than ten minutes, Merlin's soft, steady breathing against Arthur's shoulder along with his relaxed frame told him that Merlin had fallen asleep. Arthur still felt something tugging at his chest, still feeling bad about the whole ordeal.