The Firebird Prince

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Zara

“Go away.”

Zara heard Kellan still from where he stood at the door, stopping mid-step. For a minute, there was silence, then he sighed and said at length, “I’m sorry.”

Zara scoffed, still glaring out at the sky. Her shoulders hurt from being so tense, but she was just as angry. “Sorry? For what? Lying to me, ditching me, or neglecting your sister when she needs you?”

In her periphery, she could see him shifting, eyes trained on the floor, his hands tight around his crown. The sight of it inflamed her rage--wasn’t it the root of the problems, after all?

Wait, no. The problem wasn’t the crown. It was the one who wore it.

“I’m sorry for everything,” Kellan said quietly.

Zara shook her head in disbelief. “Why didn’t you show up?”

She turned to face him, crossing her arms, as he hunched his shoulders. He said nothing, and Zara demanded, “Answer me, Kellan. Where were you?”

He wouldn’t look at her, and the obviously false show of sorriness enraged Zara even more. His hands wouldn’t stop fidgeting, he wouldn’t stop shifting.

“Kellan,” she said coldly. “Where were you?”

He closed his eyes and said, ashamed, “I...fell asleep.”

For a moment, she thought she had heard wrong. “You--you fell asleep.”

He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then only nodded slightly.

Zara scoffed again, in disbelief, and turned away again. “I can’t believe it.”

“I’m so, so sorry, Zara,” he tried. “I didn’t mean it, I--”

“You didn’t mean it,” she repeated, then shook her head. “Is that supposed to make it better? If it really mattered, you would have been able to stay awake for a fricking hour. I don’t even know if I feel like your sister anymore.”

His flinch was visible. “Zara--” He broke off, pressing a hand to his face. “Please, I’m really, genuinely sorry. I love you so much and I was afraid this would happen--”

“And yet it still did.”

“I know, and I hate that,” he said softly. “Just give me some time, please, let me sort this new life out--”

“You know what I think?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “I think you’re handling this way worse than I expected you to.”

He looked so lonely, she almost forgave him right there and then. But--but nobody could keep a grudge like Zara. “I let you down,” Kellan said, his voice quiet. “I’m letting everyone down, and I know I should be able to handle this. I know that, but I’m--I just want another chance.”

Zara sighed. “One last one,” she said coldly. “This is not forgiveness. Make it up to me, or it never will be.”

And she left him there, as the sun faded behind him.

Someone was drawing up to the castle.

Curiously, Zara opened the door and asked the guards, “Who is it?”

“I do not know, Princess.”

Zara hummed and stepped outside as the carriage came to a stop. A finely dressed chauffeur drew it, and the carriage was intricately decorated, so it had to be someone important. Zara watched as the door opened and a man stepped down. He was rather old but walked straight, his eyes sharp. Zara frowned to herself; he was unfamiliar, but the guards were clearly treating him with respect.

She straightened her dress and smiled sweetly as the man approached the door. He bowed to her, not smiling--but it didn’t come off as rude.

“Nice to meet you,” Zara said. “I’m Princess Zara.”

“I know you well, Princess,” the man said; his voice was stern but not unkind. “But you must not know me.”

“No, I don’t think we’ve met,” Zara agreed.

The man inclined his head. “I am Fariq,” he said. “Prince Kellan’s tutor.” He seemed to catch himself, then amended, “I mean to say--King Kellan’s tutor.”

“I see,” Zara said cheerfully. “Shall I take you to him, then?”

“That would be nice, Princess,” Fariq said. “If he isn’t busy.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll make time,” Zara said bitterly.

Fariq glanced towards her at her tone but said nothing. They went inside and Zara called for Kellan, trying not to sound cold.

When there was no reply, she turned apologetically to Fariq. “Let me go find him. If you’ll wait--”

“Fariq?”

They both turned; Kellan stood in the doorway, shocked.

“King Kellan,” Fariq said, bowing.

“What--” Kellan seemed unaware Zara was even there, he was so surprised. “What are you doing here?”

Fariq’s sharp eyes turned sad. “I wanted to come before, sire, but I had some complications to take care of. I missed the funeral, unfortunately, but being there for you makes up for it.”

Kellan let out a disbelieving laugh and then to Zara’s surprise, ran to Fariq and tackled him with a hug, which sent the man stumbling back.

“Steady, my King,” he said, amused.

“God,” Kellan said, face buried in Fariq’s chest, curling his fingers into his shirt. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Likewise, sire.”

Kellan laughed again, like a delighted little child. He didn’t let go. “Oh my God, Fariq. Stop doing that and just call me boy like you used to.”

“Well, you aren’t a boy anymore, are you?” Fariq said, and then he hugged Kellan back, a slight smile crossing his face. They hugged for an awkwardly long time, then drew away. Kellan released a long breath and wiped his eyes. He could not seem to stop grinning.

“I honestly want to jump in joy right now,” he laughed, running a hand through his hair. “My God. This is the best thing ever.”

Seeing him so happy...hurt. It was so rare--when did anyone’s genuine happiness deserve to be rare? Zara felt a good portion of her anger away. Maybe Asa was right. Maybe she should give him a chance.

“You must be tired,” Kellan said cheerfully. “Rest, before dinner?”

“That sounds lovely, King Kellan,” Fariq said.

“Perfect!” Kellan said. “I’ll have the maids prepare the best room for you right now. Meanwhile--” he grinned again-- “come, meet my family!”

Seeing him so at ease with a stranger was an odd feeling, but a pleasant one. “I’ll ready the room,” Zara said. “You two go.”

Kellan turned to her and smiled, mouthing a silent thanks. Then he turned back to Fariq and excitedly ushered him into the hall. Zara smiled to herself, then went to find a maid.

Stupid me, she thought fondly. How could anyone ever be mad at that boy?

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