Author's Note: Hello all! This is just a short little piece, and my first "published" fanfic. "Published" referring to its existence outside of my head and hard drive. Also my first submission to this site (created and uploaded completely on my phone to boot) so I apologize for any formatting wierdness. Who knows why I felt inspired to create such a sad piece of fanfic on my first go, but it is what it is. Sigh. So please read and enjoy, and if you've got the time, tell me what you think!

Disclaimer: Merlin and its characters do not belong to me. Alas.

Stay the Course

Merlin didn't feel his father's power pass to him. He didn't feel the roots and rocks of the forest floor dig into his knees. He didn't see the trees around him and he didn't hear Arthur burst into the clearing where he knelt. The now-still man in his arms occupied every one of his senses. The body in his arms...he couldn't. He just couldn't be gone. Not now, not when they had just found each other. He clutched the still-warm body that had been Balinor-his father-only moments before. Each breath Merlin took marked another moment of distance from the man who had just stood in that clearing, full of strength and life. He couldn't bear this.

Merlin rarely cried, and never in front of Arthur. He was used to hiding so much from everyone-especially the prince; and besides, angsting over things generally wasn't his nature. He'd gotten very good at being cheerful. But now a wall of bitter hot tears pressed behind his eyes, and despite his control they trickled over in stinging rivulets. Arthur's opinion of him became completely insignificant in the face of what he now held in his arms. His hope, the daydreams of his childhood, fantasies of a shining father who would walk into his life one day and tell his son how proud he was of his boy, who would embrace his child's magic with love and acceptance and teach him to calm the raging torrent of power in his breast. The reality of a wounded yet courageous soul who had yet been willing to give up his freedom to save a kingdom that would just as hapily see him burnt at the stake, a man who had ultimately sacrificed everything for a son he'd never known. It was all gone now, what was and what could have been-all of it The dragon was destroying Camelot and innocent people were dying. His father was dead. And it was all his fault.

So he cried for Camelot. He cried for his father and what could have been. And he cried for himself.

But the tears only fell for a moment unchecked. A cold knot tensed in his chest when he realized his own danger. Arthur couldn't see him mourning this great man. Inevitable taunts concerning his manhood aside, his sudden intense attachment to a supposed stranger could not be easily brushed aside by his usual deflections. Gaius' warning taunted him and with shuddering certainty, he knew he could not afford feelings right now lest he betray his own secret. So with more strength than he thought he possessed, he choked back the gut-wrenching sobs that threatened to tear him apart. He shoved the grief for a father he'd only just begun to love back into his heart for later. He'd save it for another time, when Camelot was safe and he could curl up quietly in a corner to let his heart break.

Right now, he had a job to do.