"You did what now?"
Liran began fidgeting, fingers tapping on the dinner table over and over again. He didn't think Holika would tell his parents about Japhet in the middle of dinner. Now there was no escape. The spotlight was on him and it wasn't going anywhere else. The boy's golden gaze shifted down to his plate, picking at his food with his freshly polished fork. As he tapped at the decorative china, he couldn't help but to repeat Japhet's words in his head. All of this was so nice, so plentiful. What did he do to deserve it? Why did a monster like him get to live like this when people's parents had perished in a war…. because of his people? Because of him? Was he truly a monster like Japhet said? Did he even deserve to live this way?
"Liran," Terrance interjected, causing the boy to jump in his seat. Something was clearly on his mind. It wasn't like him to act out violently or ignore his parents. What exactly had happened today? "Your father and I are trying to talk to you. I'd appreciate it if you could look at us."
The boy's fingers ceased their tapping, instead curling into a tight fist. With the briefest of glances, he met his father's eyes, before turning to the other. While Terrance looked concerned, like he was deciphering the boy's every move, Sidonai's eyes looked much different. His brows were furrowed, his arms placed firmly across his chest, his sharp glare shifted itself in Liran's direction, unimpressed. He was expecting an answer. There was no way he was getting out of this now.
"I'm waiting, Liran."
The prince's teeth caught onto his bottom lip, chewing as hard as he could without causing injury. "What do you want me to say, baba?"
"Well, to start, why don't you explain why you attacked a boy at school today?"
Goddammit…Now he was really stuck. What the hell was he supposed to say? Oh sorry, baba. I only shoved my fist in his face because he said you should kill me.
"….He asked for it."
Sidonai sighed deeply, his fingers moving to massage the bridge of his nose. What was wrong with this boy? He'd never been violent in his life. He was always such a docile child, lonely in fact. Three days in public school and he was already getting in fights, with members of some of Akri'qar's most prominent families. Something in the back of his mind told him something wasn't right. This wasn't like Liran. But the amount of frustration that swelled throughout his body was enough to silence the little voice, at least for now.
"You can't get in fights, Liran."
"Oh, really, I can't? I hadn't figured that out yet."
"That is enough!" The entire room fell silent save for the sound of Sidonai's chair being pushed out and his hands slamming onto the dinner table. "I don't like the way you're speaking to me. Is this because we enrolled you in school? That's why you're acting out? Sometimes we have to do things we don't like, Liran, we don't beat the shit out of people because of it!"
"Give it a damn rest, Sidonai," Terrance snapped, now shooting daggers at his mate. "We don't even know what happened. He could've been defending himself. Quit being so damn hard on him!"
They were fighting now. Because of him. He caused this. Everything Liran did made other people angry. But they didn't listen. They wouldn't listen to him. They just kept fighting. No one wanted to hear how he was told such horrid things or that he was surrounded by a group of boys bigger than him, who intended to do Lucifer knows what to him. The boy's fists began to grip and release rhythmically, the sounds of his parents bickering only fueling what felt like a burning flame in his chest. The more they yelled, the more the flame grew and grew until it was about to—
The door to the dining hall suddenly flew open, the butler, Jian, standing in attendance. "Your Majesty, now announcing the arrival of Lord Hiraeth and Princess Vivian Ben-Shahar of Dis."
The room suddenly grew quite quiet at the mention of their guests. Dove was here, an old close friend of Sidonai's, and his young daughter. He hadn't expected a visit tonight. Taking a deep breath, he attempted to calm himself. "Thank you, Jian. Show them to the parlor, please." He turned to his family, eyes closed. "I'm sorry for snapping at you, Nico. And Liran, we'll finish this later."
But by the time he opened his eyes, Liran was gone.
Vivian Ben-Shahar sat crumpled in an ornate chair in the parlor, wiping her tears furiously upon the handkerchief her father had given her. Dove always kept them on his person, for this reason alone. It seemed that every time she came to this place, she was crying. Vivian was the youngest daughter of Hell's emperor, Lucifer, and his mate, Hiraeth, more commonly known as Dove. She was only a few months older than Liran. Visits like this tended to happen quite often with her.
Her father, Lucifer, for whatever twisted reason he had, loathed her. He hated every fiber of her being, every ounce of her. He wouldn't even look at her most of the time, and that was if he even allowed her to be in the same room as him. Vivian was never close to her father. He had been distant her entire life. And what made it truly painful was that she never knew why. She always asked, always begged to know why he did the things he did. But she never received an answer, not from Dove, and certainly not from Lucifer himself.
Dove hated seeing the tension between his mate and his daughter. It shattered his soul when she began to sob. The poor child didn't deserve the pain like that. There wasn't much he could do to sway Lucifer; the man was quite stubborn. But he could do something to help Vivian. Whenever something like this would happen, Dove would grab her some clothes for the next day and would whisk her away to Akri'qar. The royal family adored Vivian and Sidonai always welcomed a visit from Dove. She was always welcome at any time of night. They knew how rough life in Dis could be for the girl, so they opened their arms to her.
Dove knelt down next to Vivian, hushing her, rubbing her back as she continued to cry. She was miserable. Hopefully a visit with her dear friends was enough to help. "Don't cry anymore, little one. We're alright here. Everything will be alright."
Without warning, however, the tender moment between parent and child ended as the door to the parlor flew opened, revealing a frazzled looking Liran.
He rushed to the girl's side, Dove moving to allow the two adolescents to be together. Vivian was Liran's best friend. She always had been, even when they were little babies. Liran felt closer to Vivian than anyone else in all of Hell. He was always ecstatic when she came to visit. Except at the beginning, when she would cry. It broke his heart.
"What did that old bastard do this time?"
The girl sniffled, suddenly hoping to compose herself in front of her dear friend. She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief, her fuchsia gaze keeping itself low. "He…He wouldn't let me eat with them again. H-He had guests staying from another kingdom, so I couldn't even use the other dining room. He wanted me locked in my room, so I wouldn't bother anyone."
Liran's dark brows furrowed, the familiar angry flame returning to his chest. He hated Lucifer, hated him with his entire soul. The things he did to his own daughter were disgusting. "That bastard is lucky I'm not older, or I'd go after him once and for all."
"Now, now, let's not get cocky, little prince," Dove cooed, now stuck with calming down two teenagers. "Going after Lucifer is incredibly dangerous. Vivian is safe as long as she has you. There's no need to frighten your father."
"I bet I'll be strong enough when I'm older. Baba worries too much. I bet I could knock Lucifer right on his bony a—"
"I wish you luck with that," a voice from the doorway chimed. Now standing in the room was Sidonai, smiling sadly at Vivian, a frantic Kaelon nudging past him with a tray of hot chocolate for the girl. It was customary during her visits. "Hello, Vivian. Are you alright?"
Vivian shook her head, wordlessly taking the mug of cocoa graciously given to her by the handmaiden.
"Sweet girl, I hate seeing you cry," Kaelon sighed, unfolding the blanket she carried around her arm for the princess. It was always Vivian's favorite. Wrapping her up tightly, she turned to Liran, handing him his own mug. "Here, darling. I heard it was a rough day."
Liran huffed, moving to take a seat in the chair next to Vivi's, sipping at his cocoa, as grumpy as can be. "Is there anyone you didn't tell, baba?"
"Liran," Sidonai spat, "now is not the time." He took a seat at the chaise across from the two children, his eyes focusing on Vivian. It was almost eerie looking at her now, knowing how much he did about her. He felt terrible for her, being rejected by her father like that. He could relate, easily. He patted the spot next to him, signaling for Kaelon to take a seat with him. "Dove, why don't you sit down as well? We can make some tea if you'd like."
The avian demon shook his head, remaining standing behind Vivian's chair, his hand upon her shoulder as she drank. He couldn't think of eating or drinking at a time like this. He could barely fathom walking five feet away from his girl. He hated seeing her this way. He wanted to stay at her side until she healed, no matter what. When Lucifer was at odds with Vivian, he felt guilty. As if there was something he could do to stop it, but it was always just out of reach. Sometimes he had to wonder…was he a good father? For putting her in this situation?
Vivian sniffled, her tears finally slowing, placing her mug down on the table. "I'm fine. You don't have to worry about me, everyone."
"You're a very strong girl, Vivian," Kaelon chimed, the gentlest smile spreading across her lips. "But we still can't help but to worry. You're very dear to all of us here."
"I know, and thank you." The girl's hands folded over her lap, looking at each of her companions. They were always so kind to her. Did she really deserve their kindness? Her own father didn't even want to look at her, yet these people, a king of Hell even, cared for her enough to take her into their home at any time of night. She often wondered if they knew what they were doing. Didn't they know that something was wrong with her? Something had to have been, something inherent in her, or else why would any of this even happen? It was her fault. It had to have been her.
But if it was her fault…. what exactly had she done?
It had been happening for years, this odd feud between her and Lucifer, ever since she could remember. When she was a little girl, she longed for nothing more than for her father to hold her in his arms like Dove did, give her kisses and read her stories. She wanted him to praise her when she excelled and comfort her when she failed. She wanted a father. But that wasn't what she received. It was made very clear to her that Lucifer had no intention of being a parent. As the years went on, he tolerated her less and less, to the point where now he refused to even be in the same room as her. Each time this happened, the same question always repeated.
Why? Why did he hate her? What did she do wrong? How could she fix it, so her father could love her again?
Vivian felt her chest sink, the tears beginning the prick at her eyes once more. It was no use getting upset now. There was little she or anyone here could do. Standing from her chair, she brushed off her dress, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief. "I'm feeling quite tired. I think I'll retire for the night, if you don't mind."
"Of course, Vivian," Sidonai replied, standing from the chaise as well. "Give us a moment and we'll have Lisette make a room for you."
"You can sleep in my room, Vivi," Liran finally spoke up, casually discarding his empty mug upon the table. "She can, can't she, baba?"
The king began tensing up. The both of them sharing a bed? It was cute when they were tiny pups but now they were getting older, and Liran still did have traces of incubus genes. Was it really the best to put the two adolescents together? "Er…I don't know, Liran. I think perhaps Vivi would like some sp—"
"I'd love to, Liran," Vivian interrupted, the first genuine smile on her lips all evening. "Is that alright, Sidonai? Mother?"
Dove quickly stepped next to his daughter, chuckling. "What he means is yes."
"But keep the door open."
"Yes, that too."
"And Kaelon will be checking on you every hour."
Liran simply gave Sidonai a disgusted face. "Christ, baba, what do you think we're going to do?"
Now it was Dove's turn to save this from becoming a disaster. Sidonai's damage control wasn't exactly helping. "We just want to make sure Vivian is alright, after all that happened tonight. No need to worry. Now run off to bed. Goodnight, children."
The girl nodded, taking Liran's hand. "Goodnight, mother."
Liran had just emerged from his bathroom, now changed in his pajamas. He didn't care if he looked stupid, Vivi wouldn't mind. She was his best friend. He was actually quite excited to spend time alone with her. It gave him an excuse to avoid his parents and it would finally be a place where he wouldn't be judged, even for a couple of hours.
He climbed onto his large bed where Vivian was already sitting, lying down on his side. "Why is my baba so embarrassing?"
Vivian simply shrugged, crossing her legs to get more comfortable. "He's not embarrassing. Sidonai means well. He's just worried, that's all."
"Yeah, well, he worries too much." Liran rolled onto his back, staring up at the canopy above his bed. Sidonai did worry about him, Terrance did too. But they seemed to worry about the wrong things. They hounded him over having girls in his room and picking on boys in school, while the real problems flew beneath their noses. It was almost as if they didn't see it, or they deliberately chose not to. Liran was a target of prejudice wherever he went. He'd just started school and was already almost attacked. He couldn't walk through the city square without receiving a dirty glare or hearing someone mutter slurs beneath their breath. If Sidonai was so protective of Liran, why couldn't he protect him there too?
"Hey, Vivi? Do you think I'm…bad?"
That was something the princess didn't expect to hear come out of her dear friend's mouth. What on earth was he talking about? Her body soon moved so that she was facing him directly, her eyes hardening into a serious expression. "Why would you say something like that, Liran? Of course, you're not bad."
"What if I'm bad and I just…don't know it yet…"
"Liran Caravello-Basmur, don't speak such nonsense. You're not a bad person and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Has someone said that to you?"
The young prince's face soon fell, his heart beginning to pound, his fingers fidgeting. Perhaps it was a mistake talking about this. He didn't want to worry Vivi, not when she already had so much going on. Tonight wasn't about him, anyway. They were supposed to be cheering her up. "Just forget I said anything, ok?"
All Liran heard next was a huff before he felt himself being tugged up from the bed, Vivian's hands around his own. She had pulled him towards her so that their eyes met. Her gaze was rock solid, unwavering. She was not going to budge until Liran would speak to her.
"What happened, Liran? Did somebody do something? Did they hurt you?"
The fluttering in his chest, in his stomach began to quicken, golden eyes darting from every object in the room except Vivian. "N-No. No one hurt me, it was just—"
"So, something did happen. Who is telling you these things? Whose arse do I need to kick?"
"Vivi, stop!" He pulled his hands from hers, his frazzled eyes finally looking into his friend's. She was so serious. She would've hunted down anyone who hurt him. It actually frightened him a bit, how fiercely she protected him at times. "Just…something happened at school today. They haven't been exactly welcoming."
That made much more sense now. Vivian's expression finally softened, her hand once more reaching out for Liran's. "Because of your eyes."
He nodded, his ill-fated golden gaze, trailing down to the patterns on his duvet, following them mindlessly from top to bottom. "This boy, his father died at the hands of the Brakhavans, because of Holika and Naani. He said people like me are brutes. I could've proved him wrong, I could've walked away or said nothing, but instead I just hit him. And not once. I hit him over and over again. He was bleeding, Vivi. It's like something snapped in me, I just got so angry that I…lost control." His free hand curled up, gripping the duvet as tightly as he could, daring himself not to get too emotional. "What if he's right? What if they're all right? What if I am a monster? What if I'm bad and there's nothing I can do to stop it?"
What if I'm bad? What if they're all right? Liran's words resonated in Vivian's mind. They sounded so familiar. They were words she asked herself on nights like these, where being at the receiving end of Lucifer's hatred became too much. She understood his words, his fears. What if those who antagonized them were right? What if there was nothing they could do to stop it, and they caused everything? Her hand squeezed tightly around his own, almost involuntarily, as her magenta eyes strayed from him. "But you're not. You're not bad and you're not a monster. Anyone would fight back to someone who provoked them."
"But Vivi…. I wasn't thinking. My body just acted. My arms swung at him without me telling them to." His grip around her hand began to falter, his own two beginning to tremble. "I-I don't want to be angry. I don't want to be mindlessly violent. That's what he was saying, wasn't he? That Brakhavans are beasts, that we do nothing but kill and hurt other people. What if they're not good, Vivi? What if I'm bad just like them?"
Vivian didn't like this conversation anymore. She didn't like the way Liran was talking about himself. He really did believe all those things people said to him? But she supposed that after hearing it for fifteen years, she would start believing those things too. But she knew Liran, better than anyone of these miscreants did. She took his face in her hands, turning his head so that he looked at her. "You are not bad. You're not evil. You are not a monster. And neither are the Brakhavans." Once his attention was secured, she removed her hands, placing them on his shoulders instead. "What about your grandmother? She's from Brakhava and she's not evil. She even married an Akri'qarian woman. Is your grandmother a brute? What about Terrance, is he a monster too? He doesn't hurt you, he doesn't attack people. And Sidonai? Is Sidonai a bad person?"
"N…No. Baba isn't evil. Naani isn't evil."
"Your family hails from Brakhava. They are not bad, and neither are you."
He could feel tears welling in his eyes. She defended him so passionately. No one had ever defended him that way before…. not even his parents. "V-Vivi…"
"You are not defined by the color of your eyes, just as I am not defined by my circumstance with father. It doesn't matter if you're an incubus or a wrath demon. You're Liran, you're a prince of Akri'qar. No one will take that from you. They can call you whatever they'd like, but they will be wrong. You know who you are, they don't."
Liran couldn't hold it in any longer. Tears began rolling down olive-toned cheeks, watery, golden eyes fixated solely on his companion. He was Liran, he was a prince, he was loved by his family and his friend. No matter what came of him or the people like Japhet, they would never take away who he was. He was more than a Brakhavan or an Akri'qarian, a prince or a commoner. He was himself, and he needed to be strong. He lunged forward, embracing Vivian as tightly as he could. He didn't give a damn what anyone else would think if they saw.
Now… only if he'd let himself believe her words.