The Firebird Prince

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Kellan was trying to fall asleep and failing.

The relative absence of pain felt alien. He turned over again and again, restless as he tried to find a comfortable position. He was tired and hurting, both physically and mentally, and his thoughts kept turning to things he would rather not think about, like his nightmare, or--

Not going there, Kellan told himself, but when had he ever listened to anyone?

Waking up and thinking his father was alive--and then promptly finding out that he was dead--it was like losing him all over again. Those emotions he’d felt when the news had been broken to him and Arkan in the carriage--he’d wanted to stop time right there and then and turn it back, thinking that if somehow he hadn’t known, it wouldn’t have come true.

The pain was unbearable, and it had taken all of Kellan’s self-control and more to plaster that smile onto his face and act like he was okay. He was well-aware that he was repressing his feelings, and he could feel them catching him up now.

Kellan curled up into himself, breathing ragged as he tried to keep his tears at bay.

All of a sudden, he was seized by a sudden passion and anger, at Araysh, who’d killed his father, but had him confused as to who was actually in the wrong.

Perhaps both sides were the good sides. Perhaps everyone was right, and everyone was wrong. It was all a matter of perspective.

A part of him was angry at himself, too. For feeling, for not being able to be strong enough. For not being able to save his father, even though the logical side of him knew there was no way he could have.

And he would not allow himself to be angry at his family for not being able, either. They did not deserve his hate.

Soon, he would have to put up a mask again. He would have to pretend he was alright and try to smile through it. God knew how he would make it through the funeral.

But if his siblings could, if Alina could, then so could he.

Kellan took a deep breath, preparing himself to face the others. Sleep wouldn’t come, and if he lay there for much longer, his thoughts would drive him mad.

Was this how he was supposed to feel like? He wasn’t even King yet--and already he could feel the weight of the world weighing down on him. What would he do when he was King?

And he could not bring himself to talk to anyone else about this. This is your burden and yours alone.

Kellan pressed a hand to his eyes, exhausted. Resting had only made him more tired. Maybe he could get out unnoticed and go for walk to clear his head. Maybe he’d sit with Zara and just hear her go on about nothing, or listen to Asa’s rants about books. Just something that would allow him an escape from his thoughts.

The thought of his sisters brought a fond smile to his face, and he swung his legs out of bed, wincing as his sore body protested. A glance in the mirror proved just how dishevelled he was, so he changed into a clean shirt and pair of pants. Then he shrugged on a coat; the cleanliness and stiffness of his clothes made him feel oddly better.

Lastly, he splashed some water onto his face and brushed his hair to get the bounce back. Staring at himself into the mirror, he said quietly, “I’m okay.”

He had to believe it.

Taking a deep breath, he adjusted his cuff and turned to leave. Smile. The girls would need him to be okay. His country would.

The hall was blessedly quiet as he stepped out, and he cast a look at Arkan’s room, across his own. The door was closed, and he could hear faint voices from inside: Arkan and Alina. Here and there, he caught a fragment of what they seemed to be saying.

Alina sounded angry. You disrespected me, she said, and Kellan tried to convinced himself he wasn’t curious and look like he wasn’t eavesdropping.

You bullied him, he heard Arkan reply, for no reason!

Kellan knew they were talking about him and abruptly started to walk away. This was a private conversation, and he didn’t want to hear any further.

On his way to the back garden, he passed the library, and from inside, Zara called, “Kellan!”

Trying to disguise his momentary dismay, he turned to Zara and smiled. She was sitting in an armchair by the fire, an eager smile on her face. In front of her, Asa sat curled up in another chair, engrossed in a book. She looked up as Kellan came in, and smiled at him.

“Had a good rest?”

“The best,” Kellan lied, with an easy grin. “I feel much better.”

“Sit,” Zara said brightly, gesturing to the third armchair. Kellan did, and his tired body thanked him for it.

“What are you up to?”

“I was telling Asa about some fun pranks I played on the staff--”

“And I was ignoring her--”

“--but now I’ll tell you!” Zara said as if Asa hadn’t spoken at all.

“Sure,” Kellan said, finding a comfortable position. “Go on.”

“So,” Zara said, and Kellan smiled at her infectious positivity. He nodded along, not really listening, the steady crackle of the fire and the bright sound of Zara’s voice lulling him into a sleepy state.

He felt Asa’s eyes on him and opened his own; she was smiling gently at him, and he smiled back, feeling a rush of warmth. He’d been so down before, thinking he’d have to act as if he was okay and upbeat. Yet five minutes into their company and Kellan was already cheered up, genuinely and effortlessly.

He took both of them in with a sense of wonder, marvelling at how much he loved them. He watched Zara with a smile as she rambled on, gesturing animatedly, laughing at her own antics, and Asa, half-listening, half absorbed in her book, a fond smile on her face.

Yeah, he thought, content, I think I’ll be alright.

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