Life was supposed to get easier after magic was legalized.
It seemed Life didn’t quite get the message.
Well, sure, overall things were much better: Merlin could organize his room with the wave of a hand without the fear of someone walking in and reporting him; Druids walked freely through the market, the black triskeles on their skin no longer a death sentence if seen; magical trinkets could be sold on the table instead of under; sorcerers, magicians, witches, warlocks, enchantresses, were all free.
But that didn’t reverse the damage from nearly thirty years of fear and slander.
Before, Merlin was simply the servant of the king - someone who the people saw, recognized, and trusted. Someone that they knew was simply doing his best to take care of the one who was to take care of them.
But now - now -
He was the dirty sorcerer - the man who had led the king to bring the plague that was magic back to the heart of Camelot. The Supplanter. The Conspirator. The Deceiver.
Sometimes the feelings of dislike were more than just implied: Sir Bors even taking time one day to call Merlin a “traitorous saboteur” right in the middle of a council meeting, in front of Arthur and Gwen and all the knights.
(Sir Bors may have also had to go to Gaius the next day with a broken nose, though Gwaine swore - admittedly with a grin and a wink - that it had been an accident.)
Merlin knew not everyone thought this: Gwen often walking out with him after difficult council meetings, squeezing his hand and giving him a sympathetic smile; and Percival, kind soul he is, bringing Merlin extra treats from the kitchen when he noticed Merlin was upset.
It helped, it really did.
But sometimes it was just too much.
It had been one side-eye too many, one sneer too much that found Merlin in his and Gwaine’s chambers, sitting at the foot of their bed and his head in his hands.
No candles were lit, no books or papers were out.
He was just… sitting.
Just like he had been for almost an hour now.
But the door opened and in walked Gwaine, still dressed in his chainmail and cloak from patrol. He spotted Merlin on their bed and was taken aback.
“Merlin!” Gwaine began. “You’re off early.”
Merlin didn’t respond, only staring at the floor.
It was that moment that Merlin broke, and he let out a sob.
Before he even realized, Gwaine was to him, arms wrapped tight around Merlin and cheek pressed to Merlin’s hair.
Merlin gripped Gwaine tightly, fingers digging into Gwaine’s cape as he sobbed into Gwaine’s shoulder and just bawled.
Gwaine said nothing, only holding him and gently moving from side-to-side.
But eventually, Merlin’s tears began to run out, and he only took in shaky gasps, still clinging tight to Gwaine and his breathing ragged.
It was when he had taken in several deep, steady breaths that Gwaine spoke.
“What’s wrong, love?” Gwaine asked, moving so he was sitting on his feet, and one hand to Merlin’s face. “Talk to me - just let it out.”
“I can’t - I can’t do this, Gwaine,” Merlin choked out. “Things were supposed to be better - things were supposed to be great. This is supposed to be a Golden Age for Albion and for magic users! Instead, I can’t even walk down the street without people sneering at me. I can’t go get food from the market without people watching me in disgust. This was supposed to be a wonderful future - and instead everyone hates me.”
“That’s not true,” Gwaine said gently. “Not everyone hates you.”
“Well I know you don’t,” Merlin responded. “But, I just…” Merlin took in a shaky breath, new tears spilling over. “It’s so hard to face that everyday, you know? And I - I feel terrible for feeling this way. Because before - before people were being executed - you think I could handle a few glares, but this - this is everyone. I just… I can’t help but wonder if things will ever get better. If this is as good as it’s going to get.”
“Hey,” Gwaine said, moving so he was up on his knees instead of sitting on his feet. He moved his hands further back on Merlin’s head, weaving his fingers behind Merlin's neck and holding him. “Things will get better - they already have. It just takes time. You can’t change things overnight, love. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“But it’s been six months -”
“And I doubt Rome was built in six months, either,” Gwaine responded with a slight smirk. But then it fell to something more serious. He let out a sigh. “...I know things are hard for you right now, love, and I wish more than anything that it wasn’t. But I’m here for you, whatever you need, alright? For however long it takes.”
Merlin didn’t respond for a moment, still just watching the floor, his eyes glassy.
Gwaine gave a moment for Merlin to respond, but when he didn’t, Gwaine only sighed again. “C’mere,” he murmured, before pulling Merlin into a hug again.
Merlin reciprocated, holding Gwaine again and just letting out a sigh into Gwaine’s shoulder.
Merlin wasn’t entirely sure how long they stayed there, the moments passing without much change, but eventually he leaned back.
Gwaine did as well, looking over Merlin with soft eyes and running his hands along Merlin’s arms. “You alright?”
Merlin nodded, but then he only sighed again, staring at the floor.
Gwaine smiled a bit, albeit ruefully, before he leaned forward and placed a quick peck to Merlin’s forehead.
Merlin didn’t move as Gwaine quickly shed his armor and boots, or as Gwaine stepped to the side of the bed.
But then Gwaine climbed up somewhere behind him, and Merlin heard him shifting.
“C’mon,” Gwaine said.
Merlin turned to look.
He found Gwaine lying on the bed, holding the covers up and inviting Merlin to join him. “I know a good cuddle always makes you feel better.”
Merlin stared at him for a moment, before a small, fond smile graced his face and he moved to crawl up the bed, removing his shoes with a flash of gold as he brought his feet up.
Gwaine grinned victoriously, and Merlin pressed himself to Gwaine’s chest and tucked his head under Gwaine’s chin, allowing himself to just be held by Gwaine.
Gwaine kissed the top of his head as he tucked the covers back over the two of them.
“Quiet or talking?” Gwaine asked, gentle.
It had become a common question between the two of them: Gwaine asking whether Merlin wanted silence or Gwaine’s rambling while they spent time together. Most of the time, Merlin didn’t mind Gwaine’s ramblings (quite enjoying them, actually) but there were other times that Merlin only wanted to be held, and Gwaine understood that there were times when silence was necessary.
Merlin thought for a moment, before answering, “Quiet.”
“Quiet it is then,” Gwaine responded, gently placing one more kiss to Merlin’s hair before lapsing into silence, and one hand rubbing slow circles along Merlin’s back as Merlin sunk into exhaustion.
Merlin must have dozed, because the next thing he knew was Gwaine softly saying his name.
Merlin blinked his eyes open to see the orange light of early dusk falling through the window.
“Oh,” Merlin started, taking in a sharp breath as he screwed his eyes shut to rid them of sleep. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
Gwaine only chuckled. “I didn’t either.” But Gwaine let out a breath a moment later, and rubbed Merlin’s back again. “There’s still some time left in the day; do you want to go for a walk?”
Merlin hummed appreciatively, before leaning his head back so he could see Gwaine’s face. “A walk sounds nice,” he answered.
Gwaine grinned and he leaned down to place a quick peck to Merlin’s lips, before he was swinging his legs out from under the covers.
He had to get up to find his shoes (having kicked them to the other side of the room, as he did) but Merlin only had to reach over the side of the bed to reach his.
He felt the mattress shift as Gwaine sat down, and Gwaine bent forward to retie the laces to his boots. “Where do you want to go?” he asked.
Merlin hummed as he thought for a moment, before answering, “Training ground. It should be fairly empty around now.”
“Training ground it is,” Gwaine responded, yanking his laces taut. But then he stood, held out a chivalrous hand to Merlin to help him up, and together the two of them made their way outside.
Merlin had been right: the training ground was mostly empty - only a couple squires looking to get more practice in over at the far side of the field - with no one to jeer at Merlin as they passed. Merlin found himself letting out a relieved sigh, and a soft smile covering his face.
Gwaine and Merlin’s hands were intertwined as they walked, their voices and laughter carrying as low murmurs across the field as it continued to be covered in the lengthening shadows of dusk. It was just the two of them, taking their time to walk around the field.
But then Gwaine paused. “Hey, Merlin,” he said.
Gwaine gestured to the two squires that were still on the field.
They were sparring with dulled blades, looking evenly matched as they parried and arced their swords.
One swung at the other -
But then the other’s eyes flashed gold, and the sword flew away from the first squire’s hand.
Merlin felt the instinctive fear rise in him at seeing magic so openly displayed - what was that squire thinking? - and he moved to rush forward -
But then the first squire only laughed. “Hey! That’s cheating!”
The second squire, the one with magic, looked appalled. “You said I could use magic though!”
“To block - not to take my sword away!” the first squire protested as he picked up his blade from the grass.
“You never said that!”
“I thought it was implied!”
“I’ll show you implied!” the second one said, before rushing forward with his sword once more, the two of them continuing with their sparring match as if nothing had happened, occasional flashes of gold alongside the glinting metal of their swords.
Merlin blinked, but then he let out a nervous laugh, feeling his heart still racing in his chest.
He jumped a bit when he felt Gwaine’s hand on his shoulder. But then he turned to look at him.
Gwaine gave his shoulder a squeeze, and he smiled softly again. “Told you things are getting better.”
Merlin blinked, before he turned back to watch the squires again - one magic and one not, yet both working towards a common goal. He smiled. “It looks like they are.”
There would be more troubles ahead, more tears and frustrations and vitriol, Merlin knew that.
But, given enough time…
Things just might turn out alright.