Opening my eyes was a terrible idea.
Where am I? Why are all the lights so bright?
I blinked blearily as my eyes adjusted to the light. Spots of black danced around my vision, and I felt slightly nauseous, but I forced myself to look around and assess the situation.
Aqua's lying face-first into some sort of fabric. I squint at the fabric...
Ah, it's the carpet that I cleaned yesterday.
I took a glance at the room again. The throbbing feeling in my head lessened tremendously, but the dull ringing didn't fade.
This is our mansion.
Judging by how I'm sore all over, how I feel like throwing up and the fact that I woke up on the sofa Aqua often hogs, this must mean that I blacked out while drinking.
I close my eyes to try and recall the events of the day...
Ah, that's right. Today is Megumin's birthday.
It was pretty much tradition thanks to the entire group lacking any sort of self-control to drink ourselves silly on any member's birthday. Thanks to Aqua being around, there were no long term effects of our apparent alcoholism.
...Of course, we drunk nothing but fizzy beer which is low in alcohol content, so we were at a considerably lower risk of liver failure than most veteran adventurers.
Megumin was obviously an outlier to our drinking sessions, due to us unanimously agreeing she it was too early for her to end up alcoholics like the rest of us.
Starting today, she's fifteen, so our well-intentioned qualms about keeping her away from the bubbly were a thing of the past.
Aqua tends to binge on drinks of the sort. As a result, all three of us are well accustomed to seeing Aqua passed out randomly all over the mansion. However, me and Darkness stuck exclusively to fizzy beer, so for us to black out was very rare...
I look around the living room again. Darkness is resting her head against the table, similarly unconscious. Dozens of shot glasses were neatly arranged in front of her. I recalled the sight of her downing all of them just hours before. No wonder she's in such a state...
The bottle was...
Which idiot bought -
That's right, Aqua insisted that we do something special to celebrate Megumin's birthday. She'd ended up buying hard liquor!
She promised not to buy anything too strong, but I had an average tolerance toward alcohol and a single glass was able to knock me out cold...
My want to assault her for her stupidity is a familiar urge.
...Whatever, she'll suffer enough from the hangover when she wakes up.
The throbbing returns again. I should just go to sleep. I'd get some much-needed rest, at the very least...
That being the case, I should at least drag everyone off to bed first...
My main concern is Megumin. She hadn't even drunk the fizzy, light beer that the rest of us were accustomed to.
I get up, trying to steady myself with little success. I grabbed Aqua's arms, pulling her upright, resting her body weight against mine. Thankfully, all three of their rooms are on the first floor. With as steady a footing as I can manage, I make my way towards Aqua's room.
My vision keeps blurring, and having to guide a limp Aqua along doesn't help much in trying to walk without falling over. Eventually, I get Aqua into her bed. That's one out of three...
I do the same thing with Darkness, with significantly more difficulty. Her frame is a lot bigger than Aqua's, so I have to attempt to drag her by wrapping my arms around her waist and tugging, since it'd be impossible to support her body weight in my current state.
I successfully dragged Darkness into her bed as well. Good, that's two. The only one I need to help now is Megumin.
Megumin's the lightest of the three, so it shouldn't be nearly as difficult to carry her. But first, I need to find her.
After a brief period of drunken stumbling around the house, I realize that Megumin is nowhere to be found. Could she possibly have left the house...?
After spending a few minutes twisting the doorknob counter-clockwise instead of clockwise, I eventually get the front door open.
I found Megumin lying on the grass outside.
"H-hey, Megumin..." I try to call out to her, but my words are slurred and unclear. A wave of nausea hits me when I try to raise my voice, so the best I can manage is quietly mumbling.
I manage to stumble my way to her. Like everyone else, she's passed out.
Typically, I'd have piggybacked her, but Megumin was unconscious and couldn't hold on to me. She's light enough for me to carry her like this...
I slide my hand under the back of Megumin's neck and the back of her knees, carrying her in this fashion.
The headache was gradually growing stronger. I could feel my consciousness slowly ebbing away...
I'll just bring Megumin to her bed. I can deal with everything else tomorrow morning.
Place her in, pull the blanket over...that's three.
Feeling very accomplished, I paused for a moment to catch my breath.
...Megumin looks so peaceful when she's sleeping. She's been letting her hair grow out slightly nowadays, and a part of me can't help but wonder if it's because of what happened between me and Iris.
Trying to be gentle so I don't wake her up, I slide my hand around Megumin's. My hand is pretty average sized for a eighteen year old, but in comparison to the malnourished fifteen year old Megumin, it's really big.
I've been troubled by a thought recently. Memories of that night in the hotel where Megumin listed reasons why she loved me refused to leave my mind. As a result, I've been trying to think of something to tell her in response.
...Call it liquid courage, but only a mixture of my intoxicated state and her being asleep gave me the confidence to say what I've been planning to say for a few weeks at this point.
"Megumin, I love you. You're the smartest person I know. You're an amazing archwizard. Even though you only know one kind of magic, and it admittedly annoys me from time to time, you love it. And that's okay with me. You care about everyone, even if you don't show it outright. And you'll never need to be anything else to be attractive. When you talk about explosions or your ambition to be the strongest Crimson Mage out there, you're so energetic, so passionate that I can't help but be swept up in your enthusiasm. I love you. I love everything about you."
...Wow. Not even being drunk and tired makes the speech I'd been rehearsing any less frightening for me to say.
Well, thankfully, she's asleep, so -
"I love you too, Kazuma."
I recoil in shock, looking up into Megumin's eyes, the brilliant glow so sharp in contrast to the night sky just outside the window.
"A - ah, how much - um, I'm -"
I try and move my hand away, but she grabs my wrist as I do so.
"Kazuma, sleep with me tonight."
Suddenly, the buzzing in my head is replaced by adrenaline, my heartbeat skyrocketing.
"M - Megumin, that's not -"
She laughs, softly. For a moment, the world melts away, and it's just Megumin and her wonderful laughter. I'm enraptured by her happy giggles, by her smile and the way that her eyes glint.
"Not in that way, you pervert." The coy but teasing smirk does nothing to help me calm down. "Just sleep with me, alright?"
"O - okay..."
I get into the covers. It's warm, in a cozy manner. Winter was approaching, after all. We're face to face, inches apart.
There's a soft, content smile on her face that reaches her eyes. My heart's going to burst at this rate...!
There's a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and her expression changes to a taunting grin. "Hey, Kazuma, why are you so warm? Getting flustered just by being in the same bed as me?"
...I can't let Megumin tease me all the time, damnit! I have to be the dominant one every once in a while!
I wrap my arms around Megumin's midriff, and with a tug, pull her onto my chest.
"A - ah, Kazuma...not bad. You finally did something..." She sounded oddly happy. I still hadn't gotten the embarrassed reaction I wanted.
I stretch my neck forwards a little to press kisses into the side of her neck.
"E - eh?!" She squeaks in surprise. That's the reaction I was looking for. I lie back down.
"Th - that's all?" Her tone was disappointed, and I couldn't help but feel a little guilty.
"Y - yeah. I'm sorry. I'm kind of drunk right now. Plus I just dragged Aqua and Darkness to their beds too..."
"Wait, what happened to you?" Megumin was the one who was lying down in the grass outside, of all things. I thought she'd been the one who was the most badly affected.
"Well, Aqua and Darkness started to try and outdrink the other. You were out after a single shot, and I knew you weren't a light drinker, so I figured it'd be better to stay away from that stuff. I only drank a glass of the fizzy beer. I have to say, I can't believe you guys were keeping me away from it for so long! I didn't drink any more than that, since I knew all three of you will be hungover when tomorrow comes."
...So, she wasn't drunk at all?
"T - then why were you sleeping outside?"
"Hm? Well, the stars were out and I wanted to take a look. Plus the stench of the whiskey Aqua bought was too strong for me. I didn't want to stay inside anymore. I'd have asked you, but you were...well. Eventually, since it was quiet outside, I fell asleep."
"A - ah...I should have just...woken you up..."
Damnit, I want to jump inside a hole and never come out. How embarrassing...!
"Not at all. Being princess carried was a great experience."
I flushed. "Wait, so you were awake the whole time?!"
"Yep." Megumin winks at me, sticking her tongue out. "Just so you know, you were holding me really close to your chest, like you were protecting me. It was a really nice feeling."
I sigh, resignedly. "Well, then it was worth it."
We stayed like this, Megumin in my arms. As I was about to fall asleep -
"Hey, Kazuma." Megumin's voice was unusual. It didn't carry any of the weight, the confidence that it usually did.
"Hmm?" I crane my neck forwards again, just so she would feel my presence.
"I...I know I'm not as...well-endowed as most. Yunyun is...superior in that regard. Am - Am I -"
I don't want to let Megumin finish her question. I press my finger to her lips.
"I don't understand why you're insecure about that aspect of you. I love every bit of you. From this point onwards, every time I hear you say something negative about your breasts, I'll squeeze them."
Megumin's shoulders relax, and she settles back into my chest. "That's the Kazuma I'm used to. I don't know when you became a smooth talker, but the fact that you're a pervert will seemingly never change."
I shift uncomfortably. "Hey, I only said that because you keep being insecure about them..."
"You know, it's kind of a reward, actually. I say something negative about myself and you do something that brings me pleasure. It's not a bad deal."
"I'll steal your panties in public."
"That's fine with me. We're close to being lovers, after all."
"Close to? Haven't we crossed the line yet?"
"Not until you tell my parents."
"But they already - "
"You need to tell them that you love the number one Crimson Mage who walks the path of the strongest spell in history, Explosion. Those exact words. Plus you have to win my sister over, without using food."
"You're really demanding, aren't you?"
"Well, it's to be expected. I'm not a easy girl."
"It's going to be difficult, but I'll do anything for the number one Crimson Mage who will one day become the Demon Queen. I'll tickle you if you say anything about your breasts being inadequate."
She cranes her neck to look up at me, a completely serious expression on her face. "You wouldn't."
"Wouldn't I?" I return her stony gaze with one of my own. I stare until my eyes water, but she blinks before me.
She starts laughing again. Her laughter is infectious, and I start laughing with her.
Once we finally calm down, she nuzzles against me. "It's been awhile since we talked like this, hasn't it?"
"Yeah. It's your fault, though, for being so attractive that my tongue ties itself when I'm around you."
"You're speaking just fine now, aren't you?"
"That's because of the alcohol buzzing in my systems. It's telling me to charm you."
"Well, you're certainly doing a good enough job at it."
She rolls off of me, so that we're side to side again. Megumin's eyes are the brightest I've seen them yet. The only time that's even come close to this was when she saw her Adventurer Card again after handing it to me.
Then, she leans forward -
We're kissing. She's the one leading me, her hands gripping my hair and pushing me where she wants me to be.
We pull away, both breathing harder than we were moments ago. "The book didn't do it any justice..." She mumbles between pants, looking at me with affection.
"I'm glad you enjoyed that. It's difficult to put it into words in a way that sounds attractive. That applies for a lot of things, so you can always ask me if you're curious."
"W - well, I have..." She trails off, the blush on her face making me mildly worried about what's in the books that she's reading.
"Next time. I'll save it for next time. You need to rest, after all." She says this, but she looks at me the way a predator does to prey.
"...Seriously, what have you been reading?"
"...You'll find out next time."
"Well, I'll look forward to it." I wink at her, lips curling in satisfaction at how she averts her eyes, embarrassed. It's difficult to tell that she's the same girl who was looking at me lustfully moments ago.
She presses her forehead against mine.
"Good night, Megumin."
"Good night, Kazuma."