The Firebird Prince

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Zara was woken by quiet knocking.

She groaned in the darkness, wondering who it would be. Who would wake her up at this time of night? She pressed a hand against her eyes. calling out groggily, “Who is it?”

“Kellan,” came the soft reply, and Zara frowned deeper. She swung her legs out of bed, shrugging on a shawl--it was so cold--and look over to Asa on her bed, but her sister was fast asleep. Zara sighed and padded to the door, opening it as silently as she could. Kellan stood in the hallway, perfectly dressed despite the late hour, looking completely awake.

“Hey,” Zara said in mild confusion. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Kellan said, looking down at his hands. “I just wanted to check in with you’s events.”

“I’m okay,” Zara said honestly. “I was a bit shaken up, but the threat doesn’t mean anything now that Araysh is gone, right?”

Kellan smiled softly and nodded. “Good. I just want you to stick with Asa a bit longer, though, if it’s okay. Just to be careful.”

Zara frowned, taking in the uneasy look in his eyes. “Is everything okay, Kellan? Are you still worried about a threat?”

“No, I--” Kellan smiled; all apprehension was gone. “It’s my job to worry, right?”

That might have been serious, but Kellan said it in such a way that Zara couldn’t help but chuckle. “Alright. I’ll stay here a while.” She eyed his clothes and said, “It’s late. Were you not in bed?”

Kellan shook his head. “I was working. There’s a mountain of paperwork to fill in. I’ll rest when I’m done.”

Zara scoffed. “It’s practically morning, Kellan.”

Kellan blinked. “Is it? Oh dear, time really got away from me. I never would have disturbed you if I’d realised--”

“How did you not realise the time?” Zara asked, laughing quietly.

Kellan shrugged, a grin playing at his lips. “Got busy in my work.”

“There’s of work you have to do these days, isn’t there?” It came out bitter--Kellan’s company had gotten exceedingly difficult to find since he’d become King. He was always working and seemed to have little time for anything else.

Kellan grew serious. “I’m sorry, Zara. I promise I’ll try to make time for you and Asa. It’s wrong of me, I know.” The unsettled look was in his eyes again. He opened his mouth to say something, but then stopped.

“Make it up to me tomorrow?” Zara suggested.

“I’ve got meetings--” Kellan stopped at her raised eyebrow. “I’m sorry. I’ll see what I can do, okay?”

“I will hold you to that,” Zara grinned.

“I’ve got to get back,” Kellan said. “Sleep tight, Zars.”

“Love you,” Zara said, and Kellan smiled and tipped his head before turning away. Zara closed the door behind her and smiled to herself, before turning to her bed again.

“Kellan’s an idiot,” Asa said suddenly, and Zara jumped. Her sister turned over in her bed, grumbling, ”I’ll rest when I’m done. As if."

Zara giggled. “Give him a chance.”

Asa muttered under her breath but said nothing further.

“You know,” Zara said. “Arkan and Kellan have both been off. Especially today.”

“A lot is going on,” Asa said, then added irritably, “Go to sleep now.”

“Fine, Princess Grumpy,” Zara teased, slipping back into bed. She snuggled into the warmth and with a little sigh, drifted off.

The last thing she heard was Asa muttering, “How the hell do you fall asleep in a second?”

Zara fell asleep smiling.

“You know you’re a prat, right?”

Kellan frowned at Zara, having just stepped out of the council room. “I don’t follow.”

“You promised to do something with us today,” Zara said sullenly. “The whole day’s almost over. And I checked. You have meetings.”

“Zars,” Kellan said--

“Don’t call me that,” Zara said, crossing her arms. “Are you just very busy, or are you avoiding us?”

“Why would you say that?” Kellan said, astonished. “I wouldn’t avoid you.”

“Maybe you don’t want to go,” Zara said. “I’ve been pretending like we’re best of friends, but we’re going off knowledge of ten years ago and in reality, we’re practically strangers. I want to get to know you better, away from grief or pressure or anything. Who are you, Kellan? To be honest, I don’t know the answer.”

“Look, Zara,” Kellan said, “it’s not like I don’t want to spend time with you. But we’re not strangers--”

“The Kellan I know,” Zara cut in, “is different in every situation. Polite, charming, cheery in some--but stern, cold in others. You just change in every situation. But who are you, really?”

Kellan closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “How about you meet me up in the terrace in an hour,” he said, “and I’ll tell you the answer.”

He gave her a brisk nod, then disappeared into the hallway.

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”

Zara turned to Asa, who had just appeared, and scoffed. “Am I? Is a little time with my brother too much to ask?”

“I get you,” Asa said calmly, “but he’s really busy.”

“Father always made time,” Zara said. “He was never too busy for us.”

“Zara,” Asa said a little sharply. “Kellan is not Father. Just...let him adjust to his life, alright? Being King--”

“Can’t be easy,” Zara said, rolling her eyes. “I know.”

Asa sighed. “This isn’t just about him not spending time with us, is it?”

Zara turned away, staying silent. Asa put a hand around her shoulders. “This is your way of grieving,” she said, “and I see it, and I accept it. You want to keep everyone close because you made that mistake with Father and then paid for it.” She paused. “I’m so bad at this.”

Zara laughed. “No, not at all.”

Asa smiled, then said, “I’m just saying that...give Kellan some space. He’ll come around--he always does. He’s Kellan. He’s suffered a lot in a very short time; we all have, right? In the meantime, why don’t you and I go something fun?”

“Like what?”

Asa grinned. “I’m in the mood for something sparkly.”

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