Spirit of Fire

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Chapter Eighteen: Connection

Saffire

I’m in the simulation room, alone this time, fighting off waves of the shadowy androgenous figures as quickly as they appear.

I can feel myself beginning to get tired, my muscles aching as my breathing gets heavier. But this seems to be the last wave, so it’ll be over soon.

I hope.

I’m completely surrounded, what seems to be countless figures surrounding me. I can almost make out expressions on their nonexistent faces; predation, or hostility, perhaps. A ripple of fear pulses through me, but only for a moment.

I can handle this.

I know I can.

As they begin to approach, a shout escapes me as concentrate all my energy and strike the floor of the sim room with my hand – hard.

A shockwave of flames surrounds me and moves outwards, wiping out all the enemies that were in my path. I watch as the figures are lifted off the ground and thrown against the walls, silently evaporating into nothing upon impact. Moments later, the familiar sound of the simulation room powering down fills the air, an overwhelming sense of relief rushing over me.

I stay on my hands and knees for longer than I should, catching my breath as I try to recover my depleting energy.

Maybe I have been getting stronger. I certainly know I couldn’t do that before.

I muster what’s left of my energy and get up, staggering for a moment as I catch my balance before heading out of the simulation.

I notice the increase in temperature as I leave the glass room, a feeling that I never seem to get sick of. Though, the sim room being cold is a good way to prepare for things in the Shadow Realm, so I can’t complain too much.

I quickly scan the area. Coburn and Ehren are sparring on the mat across the room, water and rocks flying everywhere as they fight, accompanied by the occasional yell.

I decide it’s best not to interrupt them.

I head over towards Ana, who’s doing some target practice with small tornados that she creates between her hands.

“Hey, Saf,” she says without looking at me, tossing a tornado towards the target. It lands straight on the bullseye, “do you need something?” She turns to me in the next moment.

I shake my head, sitting down dramatically, “no, I’m just here,” I joke.

“Hmm, I think I’m done for the day anyways,” she smiles, sitting next to me, silence falling over us.

A few weeks have passed since the big address, and things have gotten better, or so it seems. The negative energy that seemed to be following everyone around seems to have dissipated, like clouds parting after a storm. Everyone seems to be in good spirits, despite the fact that the eclipse is set to occur soon.

I think we’re all trying to keep our minds off what could be Armageddon as much as possible.

Training has been taking up most of our time since the big address. It doesn’t make much sense for us to go to the Shadow Realm at this point; we have a decent enough idea of what the twins are planning that we have enough to work off. And honestly, I’m glad we won’t have to go back there for a while; at least until the eclipse to stop the twins from enacting their plans. It gives me time to really process what happened at the Manor.

I shiver at the thought.

“So,” she finally breaks the silence, “is your head feeling any better?”

I shrug, “a bit. I’m sure it will go away eventually,” I chuckle, “what about you?”

“It’s mostly gone, but some days it’s worse than others. I don’t know. It just feels like an off and on migraine.”

“Hmm,” I nod, “It’ll be okay. We’ll stop those guys no matter what.”

She gives me a weak grin, “I’m sure.”

Coburn and Ehren join us a few moments later, sitting next to Ana and I.

“You two looked like you were having fun,” I tease.

“It was good to get some practice in,” Coburn responds in kind, “especially given that we’re ending early today.”

Our families are coming over later for the big gathering this afternoon, so we decided to make today a short training day so that we’d have time to get ready.

“Hey, I have an idea,” Ehren pipes up after a few moments, “let’s see who can throw a projectile the furthest!”

“What does the winner get?” I ask mischievously.

Ehren shrugs with a grin, “bragging rights?”

“I’m going first,” Ana pipes up, suddenly housing a competitive energy I haven’t seen in her before.

She builds energy between her hands, creating a small whirlwind between her fingers that grows larger and larger with each passing second. Before it gets out of hand, she does a small spin and throws the small tornado across the room, landing just short of the sparring mat on the other side of the room.

“Hmm, not bad,” she gives a small grin before sitting back down.

“Okay, I need to try this,” Coburn gets up, his projectile falling around the same place as Ana’s, if not a touch behind hers.

“My turn,” I laugh, throwing a blazing flame in the same direction. It lands short of Ana and Coburn, but it lands with a bang, the sound of fireworks erupting around the room accompanied by a large flash before the sounds disappear as quickly as they came.

I blink several times, staring at the area before turning back around.

“Holy shit,” Ehren blinks at me with a wide grin.

“I didn’t know I could do that,” I laugh, sitting back down next to Coburn as Ehren stands up.

“That was kickass,” Coburn whispers in my ear, giving me a peck on the cheek.

I bite my lip and glance at him shyly, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth before I turn my attention back to Ehren.

He puts all of us to shame, manifesting a large rock between his hands and sending it across the room with a flourish, watching it bounce against the far wall, further than any of us got.

“Those bragging rights are mine,” he announces with a silly grin.

“Did you just pick this because you knew you’d win?” Coburn asks with a cheeky tone, “you use projectiles more than any of us.”

A guilty expression crosses his face, “ha, maybe.”

“Hey guys!” An unfamiliar voice rings through the air and causes us to look up, the sound coming from the platform up by the entrance.

I can’t quite see from here, but I can make out someone with dark hair and a medium dark skin tone, like Ana.

I glance over at Ana and see her eyes light up, an excited grin crossing her face, “Raph!”

He waves and makes his way down the stairs and she jogs up to him, giving him a tight hug before she rejoins our group with him.

“Is that her brother?” I whisper to Coburn.

“Mmhmm,” he winks.

I glance over at Ehren, who is housing some form of a surprised expression, a red tinge to his cheeks. He blinks several times as Ana and her brother make their way over to us, shaking his head out of his daze.

Up close, the resemblance between Ana and her brother is uncanny. They both have the same amber eyes and dark brown hair. The only real difference is Ana’s blonde treatment halfway down her hair and her brother’s shorter style, with his falling just past his jawline, most of it swept back behind his ears with a few strands framing his face. He’s a touch taller than her, with a stronger jawline and a face that would perfectly fit a dashing smile, which he seems to permanently have on his face.

“Saf,” Ana turns to me, “this is my little brother, Raphael.

I give his hand a quick shake, “a pleasure,” he starts, “You’re absolutely stunning, you know?”

Holy that was forward.

I blink at him a few times before responding, “thanks,” I say shyly, ending the interaction and moving back over by Coburn.

“You remember Coburn,” Ana starts as they nod at each other, a warm smile on Coburn’s face, “and of course you know Ehren.

“How could I forget,” Raphael grins at Ehren, who winks back at him, a red tinge still present on his face.

“You’re here early,” Ehren pipes up.

Raphael gives him a mischievous look, “I thought I’d come a bit early and say hello before everyone else gets here. It’s not very often I get to see my big sister in her element,” he quickly musses up Ana’s hair, who rolls her eyes with a grin as she smooths it back out, “besides, then I got to watch your projectile competition you seemed to have going on. You’re all looking good.”

“Oh, you saw that?” Ehren smirks and runs a hand through his long hair, looking away for a moment before coming back to the conversation.

“How could I miss it?” Raphael responds in kind, biting his lip.

“I don’t know, you were all the way up there,” Ehren points out with a silly grin, some of his usual confidence coming back to him.

Raphael raises an eyebrow, “it’s a big room, but I still have eyes,” he teases, “I was also hoping to have some privacy with you at some point before everyone else gets here.”

Ehren’s eyes widen for a moment and I cover my mouth to prevent any sound from escaping me.

“I – are you guys chill with that?” Ehren looks at us, a small twinkle in his eye.

“Well, you won the competition,” Ana starts, “we can handle shutting everything down in here, go have fun.”

After giving Ana a quick hug, Raphael and Ehren head up the stairs to the exit, the door shutting loudly behind them.

“That was amazing,” I avert my gaze from everyone as I process what just happened.

Ana rolls her eyes with a small grin, “that’s just Raphael. He has a tendency to be very, er, upfront,” she runs one hand through her hair.

“I can see that,” I chuckle.

We all work together to power down the simulation room and everything else we were using before heading out to get ready.

After retreating to my room, I decide on a dark turquoise green dress with a halter neckline, the skirt falling just above my knees. I put on my usual black opaque tights that I wear with all my dresses and throw my hair up into a high bun to compliment my mostly bare shoulders. Surprisingly, my hair stays.

Imagine that.

Nonetheless, I secure it with more pins than I’m sure are necessary. Considering Coburn and I are having our date tonight, I want to make sure it’ll last the whole evening.

Even though my birthday is technically tomorrow, we decided it’d be best to go out tonight once everyone leaves since it’s a more relaxed training day already. Besides, the Winter Festival is most beautiful in the evening, in my opinion. And it’s notably less busy than other times, so the chances of us getting stopped is low. Or, lower than it would be compared to other times of the day, at least. As well, the gathering is an afternoon affair; everyone will likely be gone by the evening, which will give Coburn and I plenty of time to enjoy ourselves.

I quickly put on my black suede booties from Katya and grab a long black coat for later, and head down the stairs to the foyer, where I see Tessa arriving.

Before Coburn got chosen three years ago, I was close to Tessa because of how much time I spent with him and his family. But after he got picked, our friendship fizzled out just because of not seeing each other as much. I think the last time I saw her was when she was fourteen, meaning she’d have to be around seventeen by now.

She was still very much a child back then, but it’s so cool to see her now that she’s created her own identity for herself.

Her long, straight brown hair is pulled back into a sleek ponytail, and she wears a small black dress with a square neckline and three quarter sleeves.

Her eyes light up as she sees me, “Saf!”

I reach the bottom of the stairs as she puts her things down, pulling me into a tight hug. She’s a bit taller than me – around the same height as Ehren.

She pulls away, “it’s been way too long, how have you been?”

Up close, I notice how similar her eyes are to her brothers’, except hers have a thin line of eyeliner present that wings out to frame her lids. Her and Coburn have a very similar face shape though, and the same smile.

“I’m doing okay, what about you? You’ve grown up since I last saw you!”

“That’s one way to put it,” she laughs, “I’m okay, a lot better since that address a few weeks ago.”

I run a hand through one of my strands that frame my face, “That’s good to hear. I don’t remember a lot of it, honestly. I sort of blacked out,” I admit.

She chuckles, “well, all of you really succeeded on that front. Just from what I’ve heard, at least. The tension isn’t totally gone, but I’m sure it will go away more in time.”

Hopefully it helped with Nox and Midnight’s diabolical plans too.

“Hmm,” I nod, “I really missed you, you know.”

She smiles, “me too. Let’s stay in touch this time, yah?”

“Agreed,” I wink.

I see her look at something behind me with a small smirk, and just as I’m about to turn, I feel arms wrap around my waist, and instantly put two and two together that Coburn is behind me.

“You look really nice,” he whispers in my ear, so quiet I’m sure even Tessa didn’t hear it.

“Oh, so you are a couple now,” Tessa shoots us a mischievous grin.

“Something like that,” I respond in kind.

“About time,” she laughs, “don’t pretend this hasn’t been coming on since we were kids.”

“Yah, yah,” Coburn teases as he releases me from the hug and moves next to me, allowing me to get a good look at him. He’s wearing a light grayish blue collared shirt tucked into dark pants, though he hasn’t cuffed his sleeves like he’s done in the past. This time they go all the way down to his wrist. He has the first two buttons of his shirt undone, and he’s styled his hair like usual.

He looks so handsome.

“I think the others are upstairs,” Coburn continues as Tessa puts her coat up on a small rack before Katya comes through the door. She gives me a wave and I head over to her, giving her a quick hug.

“Hey babes!” She takes in the surroundings with awe, “it is absolutely gorgeous in here,” she breathes, “I love that waterfall over there,” she looks to the big three canvas painting I noticed my first time I was here.

“It always reminded me of something you’d paint,” I admit with a grin, “come on, the gathering just happens to be in my favourite room of HQ, I’ll show you. Coburn, you coming?”

He grins, “lead the way, Saf.”

Katya and I walk a little bit ahead of Coburn and Tessa, just out of earshot.

“That girl Coburn is with, that’s not Tessa, is it?” Katya quickly glances back.

“It is, I couldn’t believe it either.”

“I feel old,” Katya laughs as we reach the top of the stairs.

We head down the hall and come upon the door, which is adorned in strings of lights that hang from the top of the top. They twinkle softly as the four of us head inside the old Hollywood rec room.

It smells sweeter than usual, likely due to the collection of sweet treats on one of the tables. Chocolate covered strawberries, dainty cinnamon buns and miniature cupcakes adorned in a shimmering white icing, akin to ice that has frozen on a layer of snow.

“Okay, I see why this is your favourite room,” Katya laughs.

The room is cozy and inviting, like normal, but there are added lights where the wall meets the ceiling that add an extra touch of whimsey, making it special. They’re warm, matching the rest of the room, but drape down every few meters, the lights themselves made of small circles. I notice Ehren, Ana, Raphael and Luna hanging out by the small bar, with a palpable energy between Ehren and Raphael that even I can detect from here.

I don’t have to think too hard about why that could be.

The four of us make our way over to them and I give introductions for Katya, who’s bright eyes continue to take in the surroundings.

“It is so great to finally meet you all,” Katya starts, “this place is beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Luna smiles at her as I pour a glass of white wine for Katya, Coburn, Tessa and myself, “well, now that we’re all here, everyone make yourselves at home.”

I turn to Katya, “we have that block stacking game we used to play when we were kids, should we start a game?”

Her eyes widen with excitement, “yes! Oh, that would be so fun!”

We each find a spot on the dark velvet couches as I grab a chocolate covered strawberry. She sits across from me as we begin to stack up the tower.

“Do you have room for two more?” Ehren playfully taps my shoulders with a mischievous grin on his face, Raphael following close behind.

I nod with a wide smile as Raphael takes the spot next to me, Ehren sitting next to Katya across from us.

“I’ll have you all know I’m a pro at this game,” Raphael smirks.

“I’m sure you are,” Ehren winks.

I look between the two of them and manage to supress a laugh, Katya giving me a silly look. She can probably already pick up on their energy.

“So, are you an Air Wielder like Ana?” I turn to Raphael as he pulls a block from the tower, placing it on the top with a flourish.

“No. I wield water. Just the way things worked out,” he says lightly.

“Hmm,” I respond, thinking, “you and Ana must have had a blast growing up.”

He laughs, “oh, we did. We used to create small hurricanes in the living room. Drove our parents mad.”

I picture the scene in my head, imagining Ana being a sensible big sister before getting caught up in the fun.

“That sounds amazing,” I chuckle.

“What about you two?” Raphael looks between Katya and I, “you don’t look like sisters.”

Katya thinks for a moment, “I mean, we’re not, technically,” she explains.

“I basically grew up with her family,” I respond with a light grin.

Raphael opens his mouth, I’m sure to ask more questions, when Ehren interrupts him, “Saf, it’s your go,” he laughs.

Whew. Thank you, Ehren.

Coburn mentioned to me that he told Ehren about my parents, which I’m okay with. I don’t mind being open with people once I get to know them, but it’s not something I like to shout from the rooftops when I’m first meeting someone.

Coburn is the one and only exception to that rule.

“Ah, shit,” I chuckle, grabbing a block from the tower.

“So when did you two first meet each other?” Katya props her face in her hands, looking between Ehren and Raphael.

I knew she could pick up on their connection.

“Last year,” Raphael answers, “at this very event, in fact. And it’s been a fun ride ever since.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Ehren smirks.

Coburn seemingly appears out of nowhere and sits next to me, giving me a peck on the cheek as Tessa takes the spot beside Katya, rolling her eyes with a light grin.

“Speaking of couples,” Katya starts again, “nice to see that you two finally got together,” she gives us a warm smile.

“It was only a matter of time, I think,” Coburn answers, giving me a warm glance, “mind if Tess and I join?”

Soon everyone has gathered around the couches, and we all take turns pulling blocks out of the tower. Ana and Luna end up sitting on the floor due to there being no more seats, but they don’t seem to mind.

After playing multiple rounds of building the tower as high as we could – and with a notable amount of attempted cheating from Tessa – the stack falls over on my turn, the blocks cascading over the dark oak table with several clattering sounds.

“Oops,” I laugh.

“You’ll get it next time,” Luna reassures.

We put away the game, and everyone ends up starting their own small conversations, with Coburn, Raphael and I talking together simply because we’re on the same couch.

“Oh, Luna!” Coburn calls across the room, “I need to talk to you for a second.”

She nods and gets up, but I take Coburn’s hand before he can do anything.

“What’s up?”

A playful grin crosses his face, “you’ll see. I’ll be right back,” he gives me a light peck on the lips before leaving the room with Luna.

“So, I guess opposites really do attract,” Raphael looks at me.

“Ha, Ana said the same thing,” I pause, thinking, “but wait, how is it you have two different elemental skillsets if you’re brother and sister?”

“Something about how the genetics of it all break down, I think,” he pauses, “I don’t know too much about how it all works. Something about Earth abilities being dominant and Fire recessive, and then Air and Water are a mixture of the two. Something like that, love.”

“Hmm,” I nod, “how interesting.”

“I suppose. But enough about that,” he says with a light flourish, “tell me about you. How has all this been for you?”

“I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it,” I laugh, “it’s been an adjustment, though.”

“I’m sure. I don’t know how you all cope with it sometimes. Ana doesn’t tell me much, but she’s always been like that,” he chuckles, “but Ehren’s opened up to me a few times about things. It seems to really upset him sometimes.”

I glance over at Ehren, who appears to be in the midst of telling a joke, a bright smile on his face.

“Really? I’ve never known that side of him, I suppose. He always seems so put together and full of energy.”

“He’s quite private about it all. Much like you are, I’m sure,” he looks at me inquisitively.

“We all are to some extent,” I chuckle, “but you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right, love,” he winks, “I know my sister better than anyone, and I’ve watched her be in this position for years. Even if she doesn’t tell me much, I can always tell when something is on her mind. The same could be said for Ehren.”

Coburn rejoins us on the couch in the next moment, “sorry, what did I miss?”

“Oh,” Raphael starts, “we were just talking about how lucky you are to have a girl like her,” he gives me a warm grin as I feel heat rushing to my cheeks.

I chuckle lightly, not knowing how else to respond.

Coburn gives me a tight sideways hug, “how could I forget.”

He cups my face with one hand and turns my face towards him, a warm glimmer in his eyes as he gazes at me, before giving me a peck on the lips.

“Get a room!” Tessa taunts from the other side of the room.

“Tess!” Coburn laughs.

I turn to Raphael again, “he started it!”

He feigns innocence, “I gave some encouragement at best,” he says with a playful grin.

“Your version of encouragement is one step down from full on seduction,” Ehren teases.

“You’d know all about that,” Raphael responds in kind.

“Of course I do,” Ehren winks at him.

“You two really are a perfect match,” Katya giggles.

The rest of the afternoon passes in a blur of laughter and fun conversations, filled with games and wine and relaxation. It’s nice to have a break like this and just enjoy ourselves, especially given the impending doom that is ever present in the back of my mind. At least I can take my mind off it for a little while. Besides, it’s fun getting to know parts of everyone’s family, not to mention reconnecting with Tessa again.

It seems like no time has passed before evening falls over the city and everyone says their goodbyes before heading back home.

Soon, it’s just the five of us in the foyer again.

“Well, that was fun, as usual,” Luna says to no one in particular before turning to Coburn and I, “I imagine you’d like to head out soon before it gets to cold, hey?”

“Yah, just let me get my coat,” Coburn gives my hand a quick squeeze before heading up the stairs.

We all say goodnight shortly before Ana, Ehren and Luna disperse. Coburn comes down the stairs a few moments later, wearing in a light gray wool coat with two rows of dark buttons that go down the front.

“Ready?” He winks.

“As I’ll ever be,” I respond in kind as we head outside.

The plaza outside HQ is still alive, though it’s less busy than it would be during the day. The various booths set up in the large area are still bustling with people giving away all sorts of keepsakes and trinkets, with just enough space between the booths for small pathways for people to walk. The sun is just finishing its process of setting, causing the sky to be a dark indigo colour. The darkness has warranted numerous soft white lights around the area, some cascading down the surrounding buildings like a waterfall, others lining the outside of the pathways, and others dotting the darkness that may be present anywhere else, like stars in the night. A crisp winter breeze lazily passes through the area, making the air slightly chilly, but nothing unmanageable. I notice my breath hanging in the air in wisps before dissipating. A sweet smell lingers in the air; sugar, I think. There’s a magical sense of wonder that the festival seems to capture, even since I was younger.

*

I only remember coming to the festival once with my parents.

I was six – almost seven – at the time, my red curls bouncing as I walked, taking in everything around me.

It was nighttime, the lights igniting my imagination and childlike sense of wonder. Everything looked so big, but not overwhelming. It mystified me, the twinkling lights looking as though they were trying to tell me something, the laughter of people around us echoing in my ears as we walked.

I remember clutching both my parent’s hands as they walked on either side of me, for fear of getting lost. I don’t remember how busy it was, but it seemed like the busiest place in the world to me at the time.

“Saffire, it’s okay,” my father reassured me with his gray blue eyes. Maybe he could tell I was feeling a little nervous.

“We’ve got you, darling,” my mother showed me the same assurance in her face, giving me a light nod and a bright smile.

They made me feel better as I walked through the lit-up pathways with them. We stopped moments later to get hot chocolate, which I miraculously didn’t spill on my dark purple coat.

We found a spot to enjoy our drinks, a small sitting area nearby with cushioned seats. I think they were blue.

I took a few sips of my drink when my six-year-old mind remembered something, “isn’t it past my bedtime?”

My mother lightly pinched my nose, making me giggle, “it’s a special occasion, darling.”

I sat between them as they told me stories about mother’s crazy adventures when she was younger, and various escapades that father used to go on with his friends as he explored the island. It never clued in that mother was talking about her time as Spirit of Fire until I found out she was in that role.

I found my worries from before melt away as we laughed into the night.

It’s one of the last memories I have of my parents.

*

“I forgot how pretty this place gets at night,” I breathe, bringing myself back to reality.

“Me too,” he agrees, giving my hand a small squeeze.

We make our way down the steps that lead to HQ and into the bustle of stalls.

The booths are filled with anything you could imagine. Some are giving away food, where others are handing out small, handmade jewelry pieces, or glass figurines turned into ornate sculptures of animals, plants, and mythical creatures, like dragons and unicorns and fairies.

One of the jewelry stalls catches my eye, giving away small pendants in the shape of glittery snowflakes, among other things.

Coburn leans his head on my shoulder as I run my fingers over one of the snowflakes, when the person behind the stall reaches out and places her hand on top of mine.

I jump and quickly look up, the action catching me off-guard. My eyes meet a woman with straight, orangey red hair who looks a fair amount older than me, with dark blue eyes that seem to be as deep as the ocean. She looks at me with an overwhelming sense of kindness as she smiles at me, some lines appearing at the corners of her eyes.

“Hi,” I start, in an attempt to start a conversation, “your pieces are really beautiful,” I try to hide the amount of awkwardness I’m feeling.

“Thank you, dear. Excuse my abruptness, I just wanted to catch you to say thank you for everything you said last month. It’s really gone a long way.”

“Oh,” I stutter, “I – thank you,” I grin.

She releases my hands, taking a breath, “you’re both young. I imagine it’s hard to picture a world where everything you see wasn’t here.”

“I suppose so,” Coburn answers lightly.

She nods, “my point is, in all the years I’ve been a part of this island, no one has spoken out about the attitudes towards Fire Wielders.”

No one has ever spoken out about it before now?

“Why?” I ask.

She frowns for a moment, “I suspect a fear of futility, and fear in general. But you were brave enough to take that step. And though it’s still not perfect, I’ve already noticed things beginning to improve. I just wanted to be able to tell you in person how much your actions mean to myself and others.”

I’m speechless.

What I said really meant that much to people?

Now that she mentions it, I haven’t been getting near the number of double takes in recent weeks compared to before the address. Or glares, or snide remarks. Of course, people’s attitudes can’t be changed overnight, but I suppose there has been a difference.

“Thank you,” I start, “I’m really glad I had a positive impact. You have no idea how nervous I was,” I chuckle as Coburn gently puts his arm around my waist as I lean my head against his shoulder.

“Could have fooled me, dear,” she reassures, “please, take whichever charm speaks to you the most.”

I turn to Coburn, “what do you think? Let’s choose something together.”

He grins with a nod before we scan the small table again. A small charm catches my eye, with a bloodred gem in the middle of the snowflake, a circle present around the tips of the flakes. The silver glimmers in the light, the gem looking almost black from certain angles, but the red tinge is ever present.

“I like this one,” I murmur, glancing at him.

“I was looking at that one, too,” he whispers, a wide smile appearing on his face.

After making our choice, she packs up the charm in a sleek black box, and we say our goodbyes as we head down the pathway.

“She was really nice,” I think aloud as I look at Coburn, “I didn’t realize how much of an impact I made until now.”

“It’s cool to see. I’m really happy for you, Saf,” he gives my hand a squeeze, his smile unwavering.

We walk in silence for a little longer, taking in the various stalls around us, before we reach the end of the maze of booths.

“Come on,” he starts, a giddy look on his face as he takes both my hands, “I have a surprise for you.”

I raise an eyebrow, “a surprise?”

My mind races at all the possible things he could be planning, but I try to push my thoughts away as much as possible.

He nods energetically, “let’s find somewhere more private, though.”

We explore the plaza for several minutes, before turning a corner and finding a small park bench in front of a curtain of lights hanging from a building. They bathe the area in a soft white glow, adding a sort of whimsey to the bench. It’s as though the city is going out of its way to feel as romantic as possible by giving us our own private space.

“Okay, you got me here, what’s all this about?” I ask impishly as we sit down.

“Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” he winks.

I raise my eyebrows at him before doing as he asked, listening to him take something out of his pocket. What feels like a small box gets placed in my palms, the outside soft, like crushed velvet.

“Okay, ready?”

I open my eyes and look down, and find what I suspected; a small, black velvet box, one that is normally used for jewelry.

“Open it,” he whispers, putting an arm around me as I glance at him.

I pop it open, revealing a silver ring, with small white stones that lead up to what looks like a deep blue sapphire in the middle. My jaw drops as I take in the beauty of the ring, watching it glimmer in the soft light, awestruck. Something about it feels familiar, but I can’t pinpoint where I’ve seen it before.

I look back up at him and notice a shy smile on his face.

“Coburn, I, it’s beautiful,” I stutter, suddenly unable to speak clearly, “thank you. You didn’t have to get me anything like this.”

He chuckles, “I wanted to. Besides, it gets better.”

I give him a curious look, “oh?”

“It was your mother’s ring. It’s why she named you Saffire.”

I cover my mouth in shock as I look at him, my breath shaky as I feel my heart attempting to burst out of my chest.

“I – how did you –”

“Luna hung onto it after your parents died because she knew them so well. Or that’s what she told me.”

So that’s why he had to talk to Luna earlier.

I feel tears tug at the corners of my eyes, and before I can think to do anything else, I pull him into a tight embrace.

“These are good tears, right?” He asks shyly.

“Mmhmm,” I linger in the hug for one more moment before pulling away, patting my eyes dry as I take a deep breath, “I just, thank you. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I’d do anything for you,” he runs his thumb along my cheekbone before tucking a curl behind my ear, “let’s put it on.”

He takes the ring out of the box and slides it onto my right ring finger; it fits perfectly.

I move my fingers around, watching the diamonds twinkle in the soft light with the deep blue sapphire, unable to wipe the grin from my face.

“Happy birthday, Saf,” he says warmly.

I pull him into another hug, unable to form words to respond.

The fact that he was able to track down my mother’s ring with Luna’s help means so much to me, more than he could possibly know. It could very well be the last thing that is left of her, and he was able to give that to me. The last piece of my parents that still exists in this world.

He really does know me better than anyone.

An idea suddenly springs into my head as we release from the hug.

“I know it’s not your birthday for another month and a half, but I want you to have this,” I give him the box the woman put the snowflake pendant in, “It’s no ring, but we picked it together, and . . .” I trail off, feeling my heart burst out of my chest again.

He takes the box with one hand, cupping my cheek with the other, nothing but kindness and affection swimming around in his brown eyes.

He gives me a soft, lingering, romantic kiss, everything about him emanating warmth, gratitude, elation.

Love.

He’s radiating everything I seem to be feeling in return.

He pulls away, softly biting his lip with a smile, “it’s perfect.”

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