"Merlin?" Arthur repeated, doubtfully eyeing the knight. "…Plastered?"
Sir Leon nodded. "Gwaine was there too, Sire. We got him under control- um, he passed out-, but we thought you might prefer to deal with your servant yourself- as opposed to having to lock him up."
"Yes, that would be rather embarrassing," Arthur replied. "Alright, I'm on my way."
The first and only noise he heard when entering the tavern was one he'd not easily forget- Merlin singing, and quite off-key, at that.
He growled inwardly as his eyes settled upon his servant, who stood on top of a table at the end of the emptied room, one hand groping for the wall- the other held a half empty mug-, causing him to stagger dangerously before leaning back against it.
"Just go back to whatever you were doing," the prince told Leon lightly- an order the knight wasted no time in obeying. "I'll deal with this," Arthur muttered to himself, approaching Merlin's table.
"Pop! Goes the-"
Merlin's grin broadened unbelievably. "Weasel!" he finished- throwing any and all traces of harmony to the wind-, pointing at Arthur and thinking himself quite funny.
The prince clenched his jaw, disapproving of the comparison his servant had made. "Get down from there," he demanded. "Now."
As an apparently brilliant thought occurred to Merlin, he leant down towards his master, hardly able to suppress his hysterical laughter before asking, "Why?"
"Because I said so," Arthur answered, interrupting Merlin's giggles by yanking him down to the floor.
Somehow though, the boy kept his feet. Arthur figured that beer must have a reverse effect on those who are already impossibly clumsy.
Merlin continued to laugh, shaking his head at the prince. "The party-pooper- always," he accused happily, and lifted the mug to his own face.
"A-ah," Arthur said, holding his arm away. It took Merlin a moment to realize that his glass wasn't getting any closer, and another moment to sort out why.
"Arthur," he whined, solemn for all of two seconds before bursting into unreasonable laughter again. "I'm thirsty."
"You're drunk," Arthur informed him.
"And you're dense," Merlin returned, matter-of-factly. "Dollop. Head," he named, raising his eyebrows with each word. "D-wol-lop-head."
He nearly gagged on another bout of laughter that Arthur hoped had nothing to do with that last joke.
"Let's get you home, Merlin," he said, beginning to take away his servant's glass. Merlin however, when he saw what was happening, jerked the mug back to himself- sloshing the beer against his own shirt.
"Get your own," he said, taking no notice of what had just happened.
"Whatever," Arthur replied, taking a hold on his arm. For one blissful second, his charge complied. When that second was up, Merlin whirled back around, stopping only as he bumped into his table though he obviously didn't feel the hit.
However he rubbed the back of his neck, looking confused. "Where did Gwaine go?" he asked, sounding like he'd not thought to wonder about that until now.
Arthur held Merlin's arm again, urging him to follow. "He went home; which is what you're doing," he told the younger boy in a tone of voice that should be reserved for children.
"I'm not a baby, Arthur," Merlin claimed, swaggering into him on every other step. "I don't have to go to sleep; it's not even dark outside."
Arthur led them into the moonlit street, which the servant observed with wonder. "It was a different street when we went in."
The prince shook his head at Merlin, disbelieving even now.
"…I think," Merlin amended, stumbling slightly. "How did that get there?" he wondered aloud, head down and stepping backward to see what had interrupted his stride.
Arthur was only just too slow to prevent him from tripping over his own feet to fall on his back, and winced as he heard Merlin's head thump against the ground.
"Ow," Merlin expressed simply, a few seconds after falling.
"Merlin." Arthur folded his arms impatiently. "You're going to have to get up."
"I said…" Merlin began drowsily, closed his eyes and sighed, "I'm pooped; I won't move from this step."
"And I suppose you're going to sleep out here in the street all night- or rather, what's left of it?"
Merlin tucked one hand beneath his neck with a dopey grin. "You're going to have to carry me," he said.
Arthur shook his head. "You really are out of it."
"Why not?" Merlin whined. "After all I've done for you, you can't do me just this one little favor?"
The prince sighed, hesitating. "Is it the only way that I'm going to get you home?"
"I have to say, I'm glad you won't remember any of this," Arthur said, preparing to lift Merlin over his shoulders.
"Hey- that's not very comfortable," the servant protested.
"Well, what would you like me to do?" Arthur complained. "Give you a piggy-back ride?"
"Would you, Arthur, you're so good to me."
"You're not serious."
One look at Merlin's face told him otherwise.
"You are serious," the prince accepted with annoyance.
Merlin was more capable of handling his own weight when it came to climbing up onto his master's back. After staggering to his feet, however, Arthur realized that his burden wasn't much of a burden at all.
"I always knew you were too skinny, Merlin, but this is ridiculous," he muttered.
"You need a bridle, Arthur," Merlin chuckled. Arthur just growled.
They'd almost made it to the courtyard when Merlin got carried away with the idea of Arthur as his horse, and kicked his sides –effectively throwing him off balance.
They each got out a yelp before crashing to the ground- backwards. The prince rolled off promptly, uncertain of how much damage his own weight could do to his fragile looking servant.
Merlin, however, still felt no pain- lest, of course, it be that of an injury to his tickle-bone.
Arthur again shook his head, this time simply annoyed with the laughter. "Call this an unreasonable request- but would you try to pull it together?"
Merlin made a few unintelligible noises- perhaps in hopes of explaining his excessive humor-, but as the prince could understand none of his babble, he ignored it entirely, picking his servant up once more.
"The sooner you're asleep back in your bed, the better," he grunted, having ascended the stairs into the castle.
"'M still not tired," murmured Merlin.
Arthur snorted, smiling despite himself. If nothing else, Merlin was amusing when he was drunk. "Yes you are," he said.
"No, 'm not," came the immediate protest.
"I wonder if your mother had this trouble with you as a child?"
"Nah," Merlin snickered, "I wasn't an arrogant prat like you."
Arthur chose to ignore that as well; but not before expressing his anger in the carefully selected words, "Confounded, lazy, idiot."
He didn't- and probably no one ever would- understand why Merlin then decided to walk on his own, hurling himself out of the prince's grip to land roughly on his own feet. Whatever his reasoning- or lack thereof- the action required his pushing off Arthur- again, causing him to lose his balance. Only this time, Merlin wasn't there to break his fall, and the prince's head hit the harder tile ground with a disturbing thud.
"Look out for that!"
Arthur had but a moment to wonder; What the hell is he talking about now? before succumbing to a complete darkness.
When he awoke to a blur that he guessed to be his own chambers, he took a moment to recall the recent events.
Then he closed his eyes again, wishing in vain that it had all been a bad dream.
An unsteady hand patted his face- Merlin. The 'unsteady' factor gave it away.
"Arthur? Arthur? Arthur? Are you awake?"
The prince's eyes next met the flushed face of his servant hovering above his own- not his sight of choice.
"Get out of my face," Arthur complained, one open hand pushing Merlin's face away. Even while he struggled to sit up, he knew it wasn't such a great idea, for his vision surged before settling.
"How did I get here?" he asked, and eyed his servant skeptically. "How can you walk all of a sudden?"
Sitting sprawled on the floor, Merlin chuckled- an all too familiar happening as far as the prince was concerned. "Arthur, you really don't know how old I am- I've been walking for years."
"You know what I mean," Arthur said loudly- as if that might help him to get through to his companion's intoxicated brain. "How did you get me here? You must have had help- but no one would be stupid enough to leave an unconscious prince in the care of a drunk servant."
Mildly nervous for reasons known only to the boy's mind, Merlin said nothing.
"Merlin," Arthur pressed, "how did you get me here?"
The servant shrugged, stuttering, "That- is, uh… hmm." He didn't laugh- though it seemed clear that his composure was maintained by a thread of control.
"Merlin," Arthur threatened, "if you laugh one more time tonight-"
Merlin lost that thread.
"…It'll be too soon." Resorting to desperate measures with ease, Arthur whacked the back of his head, interrupting his servant's merriment. "Are you going to answer me or not?" he questioned. "How did I get here?"
Merlin chewed his lip. "…I'm stronger than I look?" he suggested.
"That isn't funny," Arthur answered with deadpan sobriety.
After taking a deep breath, Merlin swallowed. "Arthur?" he said, voice quiet and not as cheerful as before. "I think I'm going to be sick."
"That's not funny," Arthur replied, rising to his feet, helping Merlin up as well. The servant softly groaned while Arthur guided him to the bed and made him sit down.
Out of instinct (for he'd no real knowledge of how to handle an ill person), the prince poured water from his side table's pitcher into a cup, giving it to Merlin. However sickness did nothing to sober his servant, who swirled the contents of the glass, gazing curiously at it before dumping the water carelessly on the floor.
Not quite quick enough to stop him, Arthur sighed and set the cup back on his table.
"Do you think Gwaine would be horribly upset if I never went to the tavern with him again?" Merlin inquired, appearing idly concerned.
"I can't speak for Gwaine," Arthur replied, "but I will be horribly upset if you do."
"And that's a far worse situation." Merlin's voice was airy and sarcastic, despite that he spoke the truth. He gave a snort of laughter, sluggishly lifting his legs onto the bed and settling down against the pillows. Arthur stammered words of protest that Merlin either ignored or simply didn't hear, for he yanked the other side of the blankets over himself, sighing comfortably.
"Merlin," Arthur said, tapping him on the head.
"Hmm?" Merlin didn't bother to look up.
"I'm not sure you realize that this isn't your bed."
The servant gazed back at him, pleading sadly, "You really expect me to go all the way down those stairs, and then the hall… and then there're more stairs…"
"You managed to drag me here easily enough," Arthur reasoned.
Merlin gave him a blank sort of look for a few seconds. "Yeah, that was… I'll deal with that in the morning." He rolled onto his other side, away from the prince.
Arthur sighed, but shrugged to indicate defeat. "I can't expect you to understand in your present state just how insolent your behavior is," he said briskly. "Well, I can't expect you to understand anything right now, but all the same- I'm going to make you pay for this, Merlin."
The prince narrowed his eyes. "Did you hear anything that I just said?"
"You're pathetic, Merlin."
Merlin woke with a killer headache and was immediately aware of several bruises he'd no memory of receiving. Testing vision with hesitance, he started to see Arthur lying beside him, and hastily sat up.
Bad move, his headache told him, as he fell back again. At the sound of his stirring, the prince also woke- then took one look at his servant and groaned, turning away.
Merlin tried again to sit up, slower this time. Why does my head hurt so much? Could it have anything to do with that beer I had last night? It was only one beer. …Or two… Or… Hmm. Well, Gwaine did say 'you can't have just one'.
Though that hardly explains my present situation.
"…Do I want to know?" he asked the prince after a hesitant silence.
Arthur turned back again, his mouth tight and his glare intimidating. "No, Merlin," he said. "No, you really don't."
"Okay." The younger boy replied, forcing a smile. "That's fine with-"
"But I'll tell you anyway…"
Merlin winced. He'd a feeling that this was going to be the longest story…