Summary: Gwaine has a drink...or five, and thinks about things that can't be changed.
Warnings: Somewhat strong language because...Gwaine.
Word Count: 712
Prompt: #62 Undeniable
Author's Notes: I wanted to do something different, and I feel Gwaine was always an underutilized character. Someone on ff.net once mentioned that, in their head-canon, Gwaine always knew about Merlin's magic. Because, y'know...Gwaine.
He winked at the barmaid habitually, but he already knew he would be in no shape for her charms tonight. Gwaine could always tell around this time, when the day was tipping toward darkness and the fields were lit by the dying sun, giving them an otherworldly cast that made anything seem possible. He could tell what kind of night it would be.
Sometimes he'd spend it chasing the bottom of his tankard as it receded from him again and again, until his coin ran out and he was thrown into his bed in the gutter. Sometimes he'd spend it searching all the secret places of a woman's body for whatever it was he'd lost, or never had. And sometimes he'd spend it bruising his knuckles on bollocks-faced gits who were too much in tune with the dying pulse of a rotting kingdom, taking whatever they could from anyone smaller and weaker than themselves.
He'd stood outside the tavern, smelling that daily scent of anticipation, of change that would never come, and it drove him inside to seek the bottle. But he still smiled at the harried angel bringing him his salvation in a leather cup. He tossed it back in the time it took her to tap a new cask, then held it out for the first foamy drops of the new draught. She obliged, but not until he'd paid in advance for the rest of the night's liquid balm.
"S'matter, lass? Don't trust me?"
"Don't trust any man. Least of all one what laps my best brew like a landlobbed fish."
"That's probably wise," Gwaine admitted before considering the golden froth before him. "'Tis a good swill."
"Once sold in the heart of Camelot," she agreed proudly, and he realized that she must be the alewife herself. He raised his eyebrows.
"Not often I meet a fellow traveler. What brought you to this goat-swyving cesspit of a kingdom?"
She gave a short bark of a laugh, almost in spite of herself, and Gwaine began to reconsider his prognostication of the evening's end. Her eyes were hard, but when her lips turned up, however briefly, it was unconscious and...earned. "The king, may a thousand rats piss in his casks, made promises."
"Ah." He nodded into his flagon as he took another pull. "Kings make almost as many of those as they break."
"He said the common folk would be their own ale-conners, and those what drank the brew would judge by coin, buying from the best and shunning the others." She snorted. "That lasted all of a season before his men came round the alehouses, tasting for free and arresting anyone who didn't speak kindly enough of the Pendragon's rule."
Gwaine cocked his head, trying to reach his hazy recollections of Camelot's taverns. "I was only in Camelot for a brief time, but I didn't see any ale-conners. Uther has a son, you know. He's only half the git his father is."
"I'll believe that when they crown pigs and use cow pies for scratch."
She moved off to exchange ale for coin, and he nodded to himself as he plumbed the depths of his drink. The further he'd gotten from Camelot, the more faded his memories of Arthur's exploits became. It was easy to fall back into the old patterns. Arthur may have given him a decent turn once, but that didn't make him any less of a noble. They were such masters of affectation that they often fooled themselves into ignoring their own sins. Even if the younger Pendragon had a good heart, he'd never look at the blood on his hands. Nothing would change. Nothing could change. As well call the sun false and deny the stars.
Gwaine had just about convinced himself that the world was as it shouldn't be when Merlin's dotty grin surfaced in his thoughts and would not leave off. Somehow, the image of that terrifyingly hopeful, daft sorcerer clung determinedly to his melancholy. Who but Merlin would have the stones to practice magic under the noses of the Pendragons? Who but Merlin would give his enemy his unabashed and undying loyalty?
The battered and disgraced knight found himself raising his flagon in a silent salute before swallowing the last of his shattered hopes.