Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin.
A/N: So, another installment of this series, kind of out of the blue. :) This one, I want to note, does not deal with a whole lot of the reveal aftermath, only the immediate reaction and repercussions. Obviously, it's not going to be as easy as this in the long run. But we've got Arthur being a bit more practical than emotion-driven here, and Merlin's just going with the flow until he gets a feel of the situation. There's a lot more here that could be expanded on, but the truth is, I probably won't do a continuation. I've written so many reveal aftermath, "the talk", explanation scenes that they all seem to run together after a while. This is a story looking more at the... exterior view of things. And remember, we're seeing this from Merlin's POV, not Arthur's, so we don't have access to everything that Arthur's thinking or feeling, we only see what Merlin sees. Just keep that in mind. This is kind of an experiment of sorts, trying to take a new perspective on the initial reaction to the "aha!" moment. Sorry if I went overboard trying to explain. I didn't want anyone to think that I deliberately tried to skimp out on pieces of the story. :D I really hope you enjoy, and please review!
Chapter Thirty-One: Bubkes
The scariest thing about Arthur's reaction to Merlin's magic was that he didn't react at all.
Merlin sat on a log in the small clearing, holding bloody, bandaged arm to his chest, and he looked at Arthur's face, into his eyes, and he saw nothing.
Arthur didn't look angry. He didn't look scared. He didn't even look surprised. He just sat there on the other side of the campfire, expression perfectly arranged into a completely neutral expression. For a moment, one terrible, utterly irrational moment, Merlin thought that Arthur had died where he sat. But dead people didn't sit up straight, and they certainly didn't blink, and they didn't breathe, so Arthur was alive.
But he also wasn't responding.
Merlin's magic had been revealed by accident. The king and his entourage had been attacked by a hoard of bandits on a patrol along the border of the Darkling Woods. The four knights who had accompanied them had been slaughtered, and Merlin and Arthur had barely escaped with their lives. It was only because of Merlin that they had survived at all – as usual – but this time, Merlin hadn't had time for subtlety. He hadn't had time to hide. Already injured and weakened, with Arthur about to be cut down by more than a dozen bandits, Merlin had had no other choice. He had sent them flying, and then, promptly passed out, having expended the last of his strength.
When he woke up, he was in this clearing, his wound had been bound (badly, but Arthur was a king and not a physician), and Arthur had been sitting at the fire, staring. Just staring.
Merlin had approached the king and said his name, only his name, no title, no sire, and Arthur hadn't so much as flinched. And so Merlin had sat down across from him, and here they were now: Sitting in silence, with nothing in Arthur's eyes and no discernible expression on his face, and that's what terrified Merlin the most.
Merlin was about to try again, to lure Arthur out of this trance he seemed to be in, but that's when he saw the blood soaking through the tunic that Arthur wore under his chain mail, the same chain mail that Arthur had somehow managed to remove by himself while Merlin was sleeping. Forgetting his own fear and hurts for the moment, Merlin made his way slowly to Arthur, who didn't flinch, but simply turned his head to meet Merlin's eyes, and still that nothing that was made of all that was wrong in the world…
Trying to clear his mind, Merlin spoke, and his voice came out weaker than he had intended. "Sire… Arthur… you're injured."
Arthur spoke for the first time, his blue eyes utterly unreadable. "So are you," he said blandly.
"But you took care of that… sort of," Merlin said, allowing the tiniest hint of a grin to touch his lips, thinking that maybe Arthur was in some sort of shock and needed a bit of normalcy to bring him out of it.
Arthur's eyes didn't change, but a ghost of a smile – genuine, bitter, mocking, Merlin didn't know. "You have magic," he said plainly.
And that's when the dam broke.
Merlin realized then that what he had been seeing was not nothing, but everything, so much at once, that it had blotted out all recognition. It was like when Gaius was mixing a lot of different colored potions or herbs. Each color was recognizable on its own, but together, they blended and mixed so much that all the many colors became an inky black. No color, nothing.
Arthur's colors had been so mixed that his eyes had seemed void and empty. But now Merlin got to see every emotion as it passed through Arthur's eyes in turn. Disbelief. Hurt. Confusion. Awe. Anger. Affection. Understanding. Frustration. Everything was so obvious that Merlin wondered how he'd missed it to begin with.
Not ten seconds after the show of emotions, the stoic mask was back on, but at least Merlin knew that there was something behind this nothing.
"The knights – they're all dead."
Merlin bit his lip. Tristan, Rupert, Daniel, and Owen. Merlin hadn't known any of them well, but he'd tried to protect them anyway. The trouble was, his main priority was Arthur, and it was hard to keep an eye on five people at once when there was one in particular that seemed to attract trouble more than normal. Merlin had only been able to get Arthur away alive, and he felt like rubbish because of it.
Arthur blinked. "You're sorry?"
"I wish I could have saved them. I—"
"Merlin," said Arthur, and Merlin's heart stuttered at the familiar pronunciation. "Did you send the hoard of bandits to attack us?"
"Um, no," said Merlin slowly, gut clenching. Surely Arthur didn't think that he'd had anything to do with this attack? "I'm pretty sure it was Morgana's doing, Sire."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Now's not the time to be funny, Merlin," he said. Merlin blinked, and Arthur laughed. Actually laughed. "You're not trying to be funny." Arthur scrubbed a hand down his face. "Gods, you're still an idiot, magic or not, aren't you?"
Merlin tried not to be offended, and failed tremendously. He didn't say anything, very unsure of where this was going.
"I'm not afraid of you, Merlin. You saved my life. You tried to save my knights."
"But you're angry." Not a question.
"Of course I'm bloody angry!" Merlin flinched back, heat pressing at the back of his eyes and a knot sticking in his throat.
"Be that as it may, I still need to tend to your wound, Sire…"
"But that doesn't mean I'm not grateful."
Merlin stopped. "I've only ever used it for good. For you. I was born with it, I didn't choose it."
Arthur looked surprised, but held up a hand to stop Merlin from continuing. For once, Merlin listened. "Look, we'll have plenty of time to discuss this later. And believe me, you're going to tell me everything. But for now, it's growing dark, there could still be bandits, we're both injured, and I know that you're more likely to hurt yourself than me, so let's wait until tomorrow, yeah?"
Merlin sighed. "I'm sorry."
"For saving my life?"
"There you go."
As Merlin began to tend to Arthur's wound, the silence was tenser than usual, the weight of the secret and the conversations and confessions to come hanging in the air, palpable. But still Merlin hoped, because when Arthur had spoken to him earlier, Merlin had tried to detect any sign of hatred in his voice, had searched for it in his eyes. But of hatred or malice or an intent to harm, there had been, in Arthur's eyes and face and voice, nothing.
And it was the most encouraging nothing that Merlin could hope for.
Next word: gargalesthesia(the sensation felt when one is tickled; the response to being tickled): Merlin gets cursed with a tickling spell and giggles at the most inopportune moments... Much to Arthur's - and Uther's - chagrin.
This next one's going to be very fun... :) More soon! Please review! :D Thanks so much for your reviews, favorites, and follows! :D