The Firebird Prince

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Kellan

Kellan had finally lost his mind.

He couldn’t stop staring as his eyes hungrily took in his father’s face—the kind, hazel eyes, the familiar smile, the strong jaw. He—he had thought he’d never see that face again, and now he could not look away.

Dully, he heard his pen clatter to the floor as he instinctively reached outwards towards his father. Tears welled up, but he made no move to wipe them away.

“Father,” he said, in a trance. “Father, it’s really you—”

“Kellan,” Rahim said—and the sound of his name on his father’s lips wrenched a sob from Kellan: but it was of utter, sheer joy, and Kellan let himself cry.

“Son,” his father said, his eyes crinkling, “don’t cry.”

Kellan shook his head. “I missed you so much,” he said, laughing and crying at the same time. “I missed you so, so much.”

Rahim smiled. “I know, son. But it’s okay now. I’m back.”

A sliver of logic registered in Kellan’s brain. “Back,” he said, then frowned. “Back? How—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Rahim said, and Kellan closed his eyes and nodded. It didn’t matter--just that his father was there. That was enough.

Unconsciously, he drew towards his father, arms outstretched. “Father,” he said, again. “Oh my God.”

His father held out his hands and Kellan made to clasp them--

But his hands fell through air.

For a moment he was caught in confusion, then he looked up and horrible realisation dawned on him. “Father?” he asked, voice small. There was a sad, bitter expression on his father’s face, and Kellan felt something in him tear.

“You--” He could not believe it, could not make sense of it. “I--I’m imagining you.”

He pressed his hands to his face, trying to reason with himself.

“You’re not real,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m hallucinating. Oh my God, I’m hallucinating.”

Had he really gone insane? Kellan forced a breath and when he looked up again, his father was gone. Heavily, Kellan fell into his chair again and held his head in his hands, his heart burning. Exhaustion washed over him again and he closed his eyes, unable to resist the pull. His energy was sapped, gone.

With a deep breath, he tried to calm himself. It was probably nothing--it was probably just his weariness addling his mind. All he needed was a little rest. Then he’d be fine.

Rest. Simple but so unattainable, a luxury Kellan could not afford.

Kellan ran his hands through his hair and sat up straight. Get your act together. He had to make things right with Zara in a while, and he was going to use all the time he had to do his work.

He picked his pen up from the floor and then shifted his attention to the papers. There were a few documents he needed to sign to officialise Arkan’s position as duke, so he sifted through the pile for them.

He could barely pay attention, he was so tired. Just for s second, he allowed himself to rest his head on his arms and close his eyes--just a brief reprieve, and then he would go back to his work.

I cannot stop, or I will fall apart.


“Kellan?”

Kellan jerked awake, momentarily panicked and unsure of where he was. Then he realised--he must have fallen asleep.

“Yeah, in here,” Kellan called, trying to sound alert. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Who is it?”

The door opened and Asa stepped in. Her mouth curved into a smile. “You fell asleep?”

“Just--” Kellan broke off, frowning--there was something else in Asa’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”

Asa sighed; the amusement slid off her face. “You left her hanging.”

Kellan’s heart twisted. “Oh.”

“She’s upset,” Asa said, confirming his suspicions. Kellan closed his eyes, tipping his head back, and heaved a sigh.

“Where is she now?” he asked quietly.

“Still on the terrace,” she said. “She’s in a bad place. I...wouldn’t go up there. Let her cool down.”

Kellan nodded silently. He wanted to beat himself up--Zara had expected him to be there for her, and he had let her down. He closed his eyes again and asked, “Are you mad at me too?”

He heard Asa sigh. “I just think you should have been there for her.”

“Yeah,” Kellan said softly. He rubbed at his face. “Stupid me.”

Asa didn’t disagree. “It’s an unfortunate reality, Kellan,” she said. “I know you’re under pressure, but a King is expected to handle his country properly along with his family matters.”

I know! Kellan wanted to rage. Damn me, I know. Just tell me how--just help me do it. I’m trying, I’m giving all of me, but it never seems to be enough.

But this was his burden to bear, so he said, “You’re right, I know. Just let me finish these papers up, and then I’ll go to Zara.”

“Okay,” Asa said, and then she stepped away, closing the door behind her.

Kellan allowed himself to sigh just once, then turned back to his work and finished it as quickly as he could. The day was dying slowly, and when he had finished, the sun was a mere semicircle on the horizon.

Kellan finally rested his pen on the desk, breathing, “Okay. I’m okay.”

On to the next battle.

He stood and stretched his cramped muscles, then ruffled his hair to shake way the limpness. Then he set off towards the terrace, hoping Zara would still be there.

What would he say? I’m sorry? He was, but that didn’t make anything better. He would have to take her anger--he had earned it--and try to make it up afterwards.

“Hey, Kellan,” Arkan said, as he passed through a hall.

“Arkan,” Kellan said. His apprehension must have shown in his voice because Arkan frowned.

“Zara?” he asked, and Kellan grimaced.

“It’ll be okay,” Arkan told him, patting his shoulder. “She loves you. She’ll come around.”

“Yeah,” Kellan said. I hope so. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Arkan said, then they both went on their ways. Kellan stuffed his hands into his pockets and walked quickly to the terrace. Once he was in front of the glass door, he took a deep breath. Zara was outside, standing near the balcony, her shoulders tense. A flash of anxiety shot through Kellan.

Well, he thought, bracing himself, here I go.

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