Before Gwaine was anything but the disappointing heir to a father long-dead and almost forgotten, before he had the knights and a brotherhood stronger than anything but their devotion to a Prince, before he realized he would walk through Hell and back for that infuriating prat Arthur Pendragon, Gwaine's only true friend in the world was Merlin. They hadn't even known each other well, really, and certainly not long, but the younger man had a way of getting under your skin and sticking there. By the time Gwaine realized that he was in trouble, he was marching into the Perilous Lands for Merlin and a Princeling he didn't care for at all, with a grin on his face because Merlin's was so contagious, worried over how he could keep someone who looked so frail alive.
And Merlin's resolve never wavered.
And Gwaine looked at Arthur a different way, after that. Because Merlin's faith in him was so absolute, it was tangible in the air between them, like he saw a different world than the rest of them.
Gwaine knew the other knights didn't understand Merlin, overlooked Merlin, and often downright resented Merlin. He could see why, of course. He could be a complete and utter dolt and was often so outrageously out of his element it was hard to understand how he had managed to keep himself alive all these years, let alone employed. It was one of the great mysteries of Gwaine's life – that and where the ale had gone – but he had brought it up aloud only once. Coincidently, it was during an instance when a suspiciously large amount of alcohol had gone missing and he was made to pay for it. Lancelot was walking him back to barracks, well... helping him back to barracks... okay, carrying him back to barracks when they had tripped and fallen and Gwaine had been distracted by the stars and refused to get up.
"I'm going to leave you here and let you get put in the stocks in the morning," Lancelot threatened, but Gwaine knew he was far too nice for that, and was therefore unmotivated.
"I think I could get back to barracks if only you would bring me just one more mug of ale."
"You absolutely do not need more ale."
"Merlin would get me more ale."
"That is a downright lie. Merlin is far too smart to fall for something like that."
"That is true." Gwaine raised a hand to point at a particularly nice star and said something aloud he had not been drunk enough to say before: "Merlin is special."
There must have been some significance in the way he said it, some indication that it was a separate thought from the first portion of their conversation, because Lancelot tensed and leaned forward to look at Gwaine's face. "What do you mean?" he asked quietly, his tone terse with some suppressed emotion.
Gwaine turned to look at Lancelot, his face resting on the dirt road. "I know I am not the most observant of men, but I am not a complete dolt."
Lancelot looked down on the other knight sprawled on the road in the early hours of the morning and asked, straight-faced, "No?"
"No," Gwaine replied, having been sprawled on enough roads in enough wee hours to not consider it a deduction against him. "There is something different about Merlin, and not just that he isn't good at knightly things and has the nerve to stand up to Princess and make the spoiled brat see how dolt-ish he can be, and not because he can manage to scare away every blasted wild creature within an acre - but only when hunting them - which should be illegal in a Prince's manservant, honestly... But I met him – what? – once? For a few days? And in he wanders into some bar in the middle of nowehere and I'm off with him on this deadly, dangerous mission and for what? To save a noble who I didn't respect and didn't like and didn't give a nun's t– sorry... a care about? That doesn't make any sense. I did it to help Merlin, because I knew after a day that he was something special.
"And, you know what, don't tell me he isn't the bravest person you've ever met. Or that he doesn't know things before the rest of us even guess them. He always knows who to trust and where to avoid and no one listens to him because he's just a servant and we all get betrayed or stabbed by demon boar with, like, giant red eyes, and no one thinks, 'hey, let's listen to Merlin this time', but we should because he is always right. And maybe the rest of them don't see it, and they can write him off as furniture, but I know – and I think you know, too – that we would have died years ago if it weren't for that servant, and that he'll never tell us why, or how, but that he had something to do with keeping us safe. Not just his friends, and not just Arthur – though especially Arthur – but, I mean... all of us."
Lancelot was staring at him, wide-eyed, but Gwaine only caught the expression for a moment as he turned to look at the other knight. Almost as soon as Gwaine turned his head, Lancelot had wiped his expression and laughed it off. "You, sir Gwaine, are drunk."
Gwaine stared at him, trying to focus eyes that were trying to wander off, trying to see if the signs of Lancelot telling a lie were really there or just drunken hallucinations. "You know something, don't you?" There was a long silence as they stared at each other. "You don't have to tell me. I don't have to know. Nothing you could tell me would change a thing."
"Are you sure about that?" Lancelot asked, almost in a whisper, as Gwaine pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.
"Yup. There's a difference between me and the rest of you righteous idiots, you see... I didn't come to Camelot to serve Arthur; I came to Camelot to help Merlin. I didn't trust Arthur until after the Perilous Lands, and it wasn't because of anything he did, not really, though I could see that he was decent after all... It was the way Merlin believed in him. If someone as true and worthy and as good as Merlin could believe so much in one person, that person had to be something worth believing in. And he is, of course - I would give my life in service to Arthur without a though, which I never thought I'd say about anyone - because Merlin was right about him, as well."
Lancelot tucked himself under Gwaine's outstretched arm before the swaying could turn into another fall. They continued down the street. "That's something we have in common, then," Lancelot said after a few quiet minutes.
"What?" Gwaine asked. He was nearly nodding off, his attention on his feet, as Lancelot waved down the guards at the gate and they walked into the courtyard.
"To everyone else, Merlin is just the prince's servant. To us, Arthur was – at least at first – just the servant's prince."
"Huh... and a bit of a brat."
Lancelot refused to agree. They had reached the barracks and he deposited Gwaine, rather ungently, on his cot.
"Good night," Lancelot said, rubbing the shoulder Gwaine had been hanging off of and turning to walk away.
"Don't worry," Gwaine said, pulling on his covers to get them untangled and around his legs. "I won't tell anyone else that Merlin is special."
"I'm not worried; you won't remember in the morning!"
Gwaine just smiled and fell, instantly, into sleep.
A/N This is, honestly, the weirdest one-shot I've ever written. I blame Gwaine. Half-way through he gets falling down drunk and it no longer has anything to do with anything! How? Why? No idea, but I hope you liked it anyway.