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An Affirmation in Amber

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Quirin was pacing.

It had been weeks since he had been released from the amber. If there had been any side effects from being encased within a previously undiscovered substance for literal years, he did not know what they were. He did not care either. In fact, his own personal well being was probably the last thing on his mind.

His son, on the other hand...that was his biggest priority.

He didn’t regret what he had done. Pushing Varian aside to save him from the amber. Oh, there certainly were many things he regretted. But he had decided long ago that anything done for the wellbeing of his son would never, ever be a cause for regret. It was probably the first thing that had crossed his mind when he was born, along with his gap-toothed smile and wide eyes.

If he had known that there was even the slightest risk that Varian would have been harmed, he would have chosen to spend the rest of his life in that amber block. He would have done it happily.

But a realization hit him when the amber finally splintered away and he took his first gasp of air. When he saw his son for the first time. Injured, with a sobbing princess at his side. In protecting his son, he had failed him. He had failed to be there when he needed him most. 

The time he had spent trapped in amber had taken a toll on Varian. This was clear from the moment he first saw him, burnt arms curled beneath him as tears leaked from his eyes. In protecting him from harm, he had hurt him worse then he could have imagined.

Quirin would not let that happen again. He could not let that happen again.

So yes. In some sense, he didn’t regret pushing his son aside. But he did regret not being there for him. The expression in his eyes, the surprise in Rapunzel’s...it was clear that much had happened in the time he was gone. Guilt churned away at his stomach as he stood impatiently at the door to the king’s throne room. He had been here many times...most of them not ending on a positive note. I doubted that this would be an exception.

He was angry too. Angry that his son was hurt, and angry that they would not let him see him. 

A foolish part of him had hoped-- expected , even--that the king and queen would look after his son. At the very least, they would make sure that one of the villagers back in Old Corona saw to it that he was ok. But it became ever clear that things weren’t what they seemed. Though Rapunzel seemed to have forgiven his son, the rest of the Coronians clearly had not. He could see it in their faces, eyes filled with scorn and faces twisted in anger. Quirin had been too tired and too worried to say anything to them. His only priority was getting Varian’s mangled body to the castle as soon as possible, where physicians would see to him. That was his best chance, damn what the townspeople thought.

The door cracked open, the sound echoing throughout the long hallway. Nigel stood at the doorway, looking Quirin over with a curious expression.

“The king is ready to see you,” he said. 

Quirin hardly acknowledged him as he all but barged through the door. He didn’t have the time nor patience for pleasantries. His son was hurt, and he needed to be with him.

“Frederic!” He bellowed. The king stood beside his throne, taking a step forward when he saw Quirin. The welcoming expression on his face began to die away when he saw the anger on Quirin’s. 

“What is this nonsense? Call off your guards. I want to see my son.” 

What a simple way to put it. He had practically slept at the castle doors, waiting for the king to see him. Years of friendship, years of keeping his secrets, and this was how he was repaid? He knew that it took time for the king’s memories to return, but the last thing he had expected was to be dragged away from his son’s bedside in the process. 

Rapunzel was the only one who was willing to see him. She was the one who told him that Varian was still alive, at least. Even if he wasn’t yet awake. But when Quirin asked if she could sneak him in, she hesitated. I can’t disobey my father’s direct orders , she told him. 

He could understand that. He should have understood that...but he didn’t. He had been away from Varian for far too long as it was. No reason was good enough for him. 

“Your son is a criminal,” Frederic growled. “He captured my wife. Forced my daughter to risk her life more than once…” he shook his head. “But you are an old friend and have served this kingdom well. And, from what I hear, your son helped my daughter and saved both me and my wife. I will acknowledge that much. And because of it, I will not send him back to the dungeons.” His face twisted with annoyance. “Even if that is where he belongs.”

“How generous of you,” Quirin snarled. He could feel the anger rising within him at each word spoken by the king. How dare he talk about Varian in such a way. Like his fate was something that could be decided on a whim. “He asked this kingdom for help...he begged for help, and he was cast outside in the worst blizzard of a generation. What did you expect to happen?” 

The king scoffed, turned away and pacing back towards the throne.

Quirin shook his head in frustration. Deep down, he knew that he shouldn’t be speaking to the king in such a way. But he couldn’t help it. The guards had been so hesitant to even help Varian in the first place. The only reason they would see them through in the first place was because Rapunzel demanded it. The king and queen had been...predisposed at the time, their memories still too murky to make any kind of decisions. Rapunzel was named acting ruler until they were fully restored, and Quirin slept at his son’s side. 

Quirin still saw red when he thought about it for too long. How he had been forced away from his son’s bedside as the memory of Varian’s crimes returned with them.

It was cruel. And it was unnecessary.

Frederic’s eyes flashed. “I expected him to listen to my daughter! She didn’t have the time to help him. Not when the entire kingdom was at stake. That was what I trained her for, and she did her job well.”

“Well enough to get my son hurt!” He snarled in return. “I don’t care what he’s done, Frederic. He’s a child .”

“A child? He’s old enough to know the consequences of his actions. My daughter’s life was threatened because of him--”

“--and my son’s life was threatened because of YOU! I don’t care what he’s done. Fifteen is old enough to understand, yes, but that’s no excuse to throw him in the dungeons! You know just as well as I do what those are like. None of this...” He paused, struggling to keep his voice level. “So much could have been avoided if you showed him an ounce of the same understanding I showed towards you and your daughter. I kept your secrets, Frederic. And my son paid the price for it.”

He felt a sickening sense of pride at the way the king’s expression faltered. He knew that he was right. There was no reason for him to be kept from Varian now. No explanation that couldn’t be refuted. Quirin stood his ground, glaring up at the king. He would argue with him all day if that’s what it took. He would wait outside the gate too, if he was thrown out of the castle. And if even that wasn’t allowed, he would just find some other way. His son never gave up on him, and he would never ever repay that by giving Varian anything different.

They stood for a moment, the king looking more and more uneasy. He opened his mouth, about to speak, when the physician burst into the room.

Quirin felt his stomach drop when he saw the hurried expression on his face. That couldn’t have been good.

The physician glanced between the two of them uneasily, unwilling to speak at first.

“Well?” Frederic growled. “Go on.” 

He gulped. “Sorry, your highness. It’s just...you told me let you know, when…”

When what? Quirin forced himself to breathe. There was no need to think about things that were not yet known. Rapunzel had told him that Varian was alright. She assured him that the physicians were the best in the land. There was no way…

The king sighed. “Oh, go on then.”

The physician straightened, turning away from Quirin so he was facing the king once more. “The boy, Varian. We...well, we think he’s starting to wake up.” 

Quirin did not waste any time. If the king was still refusing to let him see his young son, he didn’t do anything to stop him. 

The walls of the castle rushed by as he bolted through the throne room. There was no need to scream at the physician for directions. He remembered where his son was being kept, and he remembered it well. He refused to let a single detail of that day slip from his mind. The way Varian’s eyes gazed up at him, red-rimmed and half-closed. It was as if he recognized his presence, but was not seeing it for what it was. As if it was a dream or vision. He remembered how he cradled his arms close to his chest, face screwed up in pain. It was utterly ridiculous how Frederic could even suggest that he was anything other than a child who was hurt.

He bit back a sob. There was so much time that could have been. There was so much more that still needed to be said. I’m so proud of you

Varian had to know that. Surely he knew that.

He reached the door before he could finish that thought. The guards glared at him, lifting their spears and stepping forward. 

Everything seemed to slow around him. “Let me in,” he growled. Years of training...years passed since he was in the brotherhood, but none of that mattered at all now. It came back when he needed it most. “I want to see my son.”

The guard narrowed his eyes. “He’s not yet awake.”

“I don’t care if he’s awake! He’s my son!”

The guard, surprised by the intensity in his voice, hesitated.

That’s when he heard it.

It was quiet. So quiet, that he would have missed it if every one of his senses hadn’t been heightened already.

“...dad?”

He pushed through the guards and burst through the room. 

Varian stared back at him, eyes filled with confusion. The sight of it nearly broke his heart in half.

I’m here now. I’m here, son. And I am so proud of you.