Elain knew she was being watched.
She’d known it from the moment she left the townhouse for a trip to the market square. It was a presence that followed her down every lane, passage, and alleyway. She welcomed it, nonetheless. Its aura was one of warmth and curiosity, like a friend peeking over her shoulder as she flitted from stall to stall.
She’d felt it before—many times. It had become such a familiar fixture in her life; as familiar to her as her own shadow. Like a caress or an embrace, this presence felt steadfast, sure, and strong.
Most importantly, with this presence by her side, she never felt alone.
It was half past midnight by the time Elain returned to the townhouse. She smiled when noted that only a single glass-paned window was lit from within. It was comforting and reassuring, she thought, to know that the one person she wanted to see most was still awake and waiting for her to come to bed.
She hung her cloak in the anteroom, crept through the foyer, and climbed up the stairs. A preternatural quiet had settled over everything like a fine layer of dust. She had never grown used to that quiet; that strange stillness that only the fae seemed to possess.
It was an observation that filled her with ambivalence. Though Feyre and Nesta had learned to accept their lot, Elain still had not. It was as though she were still caught between her old self and the new; the human world and that of the fae. And because she belonged to neither, she often felt adrift.
Thankfully, she had an anchor. A confidante who understood her even better than her own sisters sometimes. He, too, often felt like he belonged to nowhere, despite the love of his family—and it was that loneliness that drew them together.
She thought about that now as she slipped into Azriel’s room. Their room now, really. She hadn’t slept in her own room for a long time now. Wrapped in his arms, Elain felt no fear or uncertainty. Even when the nightmares plagued her, having him nearby kept them at bay...
Elain found him lounging on the bed, hazel eyes scanning a report. There was a stack of them on the bedside table. Left to his own devices, he would have stayed awake all night to read them. The pile never seemed to diminish, no matter how diligent her handsome shadowsinger was. But in this moment, she knew that he was only waiting for her to toss his papers aside like confetti.
He adored it when she did things like that—bold gestures that seemed to say, “Your attention is mine now, and I shall have it all.”
He gave it to her now. How could he not? Especially when she crawled into his lap, sat astride him, and scattered his papers over the floor. His mouth twitched upwards as she leaned forward, sinking into a kiss that made them both hum with pleasure.
Elain loved their kisses; she could never have enough. They shared so many and each one was precious in their own way. There were breathless kisses where they could hardly keep their hands from each other, the both of them craving to be devoured. There were gentle kisses done in passing, a peck on the cheek or the forehead when they were about to part ways for the day.
This kiss was somewhere in between: heated with longing, but slow and sweet. He drew her closer, burying a hand in her hair. She wore it half up and half down, and purred against his mouth when he unbound her tresses to comb his fingers through them.
It wasn’t long before her tongue made a soft entreaty, teasing past the seam of his lips. Azriel inhaled a sharp breath as their kiss grew deeper, his reaction causing a delicious ache to build between her legs.
He noticed it—of course, he noticed it. As Spymaster, he prided himself in collecting every detail, no matter how mundane or banal. So when it came to pleasing her, he made sure to grant her the same intense focus.
“My love,” she whispered.
Azriel shivered beneath her, the tremors extending as far as the tip of of his wings. It thrilled her, how easily he could be undone by a few endearments. My love, my dearest, my darling... these were the same pet names Elain’s mother called their father when they were alive, when they were happy. Nesta had also adopted this habit, and Cassian always seemed to glow with joy every time she named him as her own.
Azriel was no different. He too seemed to brighten when she expressed her affection in such a way. The shadows receded just a little and his eyes seemed to shine with...something deep, something profound, something that stopped her breath every time she saw it.
He was not an easy lover, however. He probably never would be. There was an icy rage within him that she couldn’t even begin fathom. A rage that sometimes made her shrink in fear—not of him, but for him. There were times where he would withdraw from her, remaining cool, silent, and distant. It was then that she realized that he was more lost than she, and needed her now more than ever to bring him back into the light.
But even when he was at his lowest, he would never ever leave her. His shadows were a testament to that. Their steady presence always there; a comfort that always put her at ease.
Though he was guarded and reserved, his devotion to her was soul-deep. It was because of this that she vowed to always make him feel loved and worthy—even when he pushed her away, even when her faith scared that part of him that was still a small child. A child who was forever marked by injustice and cruelty...
“What are you thinking about?” he asked quietly, breaking their kiss.
Elain blushed, hiding her face in the crook his neck. She breathed him in deep, letting his scent fill her lungs.
“I was thinking,” she began, planting kisses along his throat. “I was thinking about how much I love you and how much I want to show you…”
She undid her laces before he could murmur a protest, as he was wont to do any time she declared her love or faith in him. He was so afraid of disappointing her, of failing her in some way...but no, she would not hear of it. Tonight, she would endeavor to silence his doubts. As he always did whenever her sorrow or isolation became too much.
Her gown fell open before him, the soft linen sliding down her breasts. Azriel lavished them with a tenderness that made her shiver. They peaked under his careful ministrations, tightening as he drew circles around each rosy tip.
She rocked her wet sex against him, feeling the length of him harden beneath her. She wanted—needed—to feel his bare skin on hers, her desire growing more frantic and greedy. He chuckled softly as she pulled off his tunic and his pants. His chuckle turned into a startled moan as she slid down his body to take his cock into her mouth, her tongue kissing and caressing the weeping crown of it before swallowing him down.
He threw his head back and fisted the sheets.
“Elain,” he groaned. “ Elain…. ”
Before Azriel, she would have never thought to give and receive pleasure this way. Even though it had been some time since they began sharing their bodies and their bed, Elain still felt she had much to learn when it came to the art of making love.
It was a good thing she had an excellent teacher.
But a glimpse from beneath her lashes showed her how quick a study she was becoming. The rapid rise and fall of Azriel’s chest gave tell to how much he was unraveling. It filled her with a strange sense of pride and possession; that only she could free him so, to make him feel safe enough to lose control, to be wild and carnal with her.
She took him deep into her throat, sucking and stroking and licking until his hips arched off the bed. He swore and thrashed and cursed, his hands finally taking hold of the back of her head, coaxing her away—a silent request that he wanted to be inside her; that he wanted to drive himself in deep.
And she would let him...eventually.
She pulled away from him, blowing lightly on his straining and erect flesh. Her heart raced at the anticipation of it all, of joining her body with his, of easing him inside her soaked entrance. But before her frenzied lust could conquer her entirely, she sat back and took both of his hands in her own.
His expression was a question. A question that she answered by smoothing her fingers over his knuckles, relishing the raised flesh of his scars. How he hated them. Even now, a dark furrow was forming between his eyes as he watched her trace each of them lovingly.
“You’re scowling,” she teased. “No, look at me.” She kissed his scars; her lips gracing every ridge and every ruin. She knew that it was taking all his willpower to let her revere him this way. She knew of the brokenness inside him, no matter how much he tried to hide it from her. And she loved him not in spite of it, but because of it. “These are the stories of your survival, your strength,” she went on. “One day, you’ll be able to tell them to me on your own and I will be there to listen.” Then she kissed them again, nuzzling them. “They’re my favorite part of you. From the moment we met, I thought they were beautiful.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I do, and you can’t change my mind.” Then she took one of two of his fingers and sucked them deep into her mouth, flushing at the way his pupils darkened at the sight of her. “One day, you’ll believe me, Azriel. I don’t need to be a seer to know that.”
Then she raised herself on her knees so that she could guide his scarred fingers into her quivering body.
“Oh... yes,” she moaned.
Her eyes shuttered as she rode them, her desperate pants in tune with Azriel’s own as he pumped them in and out, making her grow wetter and wetter with every slide. She was liquid and dripping and so far beyond the threshold of arousal that when he curled them inside her, she came. Her inner walls fluttered and clenched as she fought to keep her eyes open.
Azriel loved to watch her come, loved it even better when she kept her eyes on him as she did so. And when he finally removed his beautiful fingers, she took them into her mouth once more to taste her own juices from them.
It took only seconds after that for Azriel to tear the rest of her gown off, rolling her beneath him as he pushed himself into her. She gasped as he filled her; so hard, so deep, and so, so wonderful. She threw her arms around him as he began to thrust, setting such a fierce and hungry pace it was though he were trying to fuse them together.
She whispered in his ear how much she loved him, adored him; how happy he made her. He cried out as she rolled her hips, meeting him at the peak of every rapturous crest. Their skin was slick and sweating. The fever between them yearning for completion.
He raised himself on his forearms, reaching down to where their bodies met, his scarred fingers caressing her swollen jewel. Then at last, she bucked and bowed and screamed as she felt herself yield to him entirely. The bliss that followed only strengthened as he collapsed against her, murmuring her name like a prayer as he poured himself inside her, the essence of him trickling between her legs.
Remarkably enough, his climax only stoked her eagerness rather than quell it. Mother above. He made her feel so ravenous.
Azriel smiled against her neck as she writhed helplessly beneath him, seeking friction. “Don’t worry, my sweet Elain.” Then he raised himself to press a kiss over her heart; the heart that she gave, the heart that he claimed. “I’m far from done with you tonight.”