The first time it happened, Lucien had no idea.
He had just returned to Velaris and insisted immediately after his arrival that he would find his own place in the city, not wanting to be a burden. Though he wouldn’t admit it aloud, he was also anxious about living under the same roof as Elain… given that he hardly knew her and did not want her to feel any sort of pressure or obligation to him. But it had been Rhys, not Feyre, who’d insisted he was welcome to stay as long as he liked.
“Are you sure?” Lucien had asked.
“Listen,” Rhys said good-naturedly, “the first time you showed up here, I wasn't thrilled about it. It was… unexpected, I'll admit. Though I tried to give you every courtesy I’d expect the other courts to give me if I was in a tight spot,” he explained. “But you helped us in our most desperate hour. You put the needs of Prythian and its people above any personal issues. You'll always have friends in the Night Court. And you are welcome to stay under our roof as long as you want.”
“You’re sure?” Lucien asked again.
“Well, ideally, you won’t be under this particular roof forever,” Rhys replied with a slight smirk. “But Velaris can be your home… if you want it to be.”
Lucien’s throat bobbed. Home. That word was foreign to him now. He’d already been an outcast and fugitive from his own court for over two centuries. And now, he severely doubted he would ever be able to return to the Spring Court—at least, not while Tamlin remained High Lord. Though he still felt like an outsider in the Night Court, he couldn’t deny that the city’s lights and laughter were welcoming. Sometimes, he still couldn’t believe a place like Velaris existed in Prythian. But he was grateful for it.
Feyre stepped closer and offered to take his rucksack from him. He shrugged it off his shoulder into the crook of his elbow but didn’t hand the bag to her.
“I’d like you to stay,” she said gently. “But I don’t want you to feel like we’re forcing you. It's your choice.”
Choice. Ultimately, Lucien knew that was what made Feyre want to stay in the Night Court, at least initially. Rhysand always gave her a choice—whether or not to train with her powers, whether or not to return to the Spring Court... Meanwhile, Tamlin had literally locked her inside the house after refusing to consider what she wanted.
Lucien met her gaze. He still couldn’t believe she was the same person as that fragile timid mortal who’d saved all of Prythian. She was so vibrant, so full of life here. And happy. Above all things, Feyre was happy. He offered her a small smile of his own and set his bag at the foot of the staircase.
“I swear, I’ll start looking for my own place as soon as I can,” Lucien promised.
Feyre beamed at him. “You can have the same room as before. We didn’t really change it at all, so you should be comfortable there.”
Lucien raised an eyebrow at her. “You knew I’d be coming back?”
Rhys nudged his hip into hers. His expression never changed but Lucien was willing to bet he was communicating with her through their mating bond.
“I mean, I hoped you would,” Feyre said quickly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
Despite Feyre’s words, Lucien wasn’t willing to give in to the hope that Elain had actually wanted him to come back. Still, the air in the sitting room seemed to grow thicker as Lucien’s eyes drifted toward the top of the stairs.
“You look tired,” she continued, her cheeks slightly flushed.
Lucien nodded in agreement. He was tired. He felt like he hadn’t stopped moving since long before the battle with Hybern’s army.
“We were going out to meet Mor and the boys for drinks. You’re welcome to come…” She trailed off as she noticed him grimace slightly. “Unless you’d rather get settled and unpacked?”
“Settled and unpacked sounds good,” he replied.
Feyre nodded. “Well, we still have family dinner once a week up at the House of Wind. That’s a few days from now, if you’d care to join us.”
Lucien stared at her but didn’t say anything, an unanswered question lingering in the silence.
“Yes, Lucien,” she said as she squeezed his arm softly. “You’re family.”
Lucien didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t ever remember belonging to a family. His own father and brothers hated him—so much that they ran him out of the Autumn Court, and he hadn’t been back in over two hundred years. He knew his mother still loved him, but he would never put her through the pain and heartache of trying to return to a court where the High Lord—his own father—couldn’t even look at him without loathing. He loved her too much to force her to side between her husband and her son.
Tamlin had offered him sanctuary and a place to call home, but deep down he had always felt like a refugee. Even though it came to feel like home, he knew he didn’t truly belong there. And over the centuries, Tamlin had come to expect a certain level of obedience and loyalty from Lucien. He’d always felt obligated to offer that fealty… until Feyre.
Feyre was the only person aside from his own mother that he believed genuinely cared about his own wellbeing, and not just when it was convenient for her. He had seen how she’d interacted with the family she’d made here at the last “family dinner” he’d been a part of. None of them, except the Archeron sisters, were related by blood and yet… they were all so comfortable and relaxed with one another. They really were a family.
And offering for him to become a part of it. A corner of his mouth rose—not quite a smile, but the beginning of one as he considered Feyre’s offer.
Family dinner at the House of Wind. But to get to the House of Wind… Lucien immediately paled.
“Don’t worry,” Feyre smirked. “My wings are strong enough that I can fly you up there now. Unless you’d prefer Az carry you again?”
Instead of answering, Lucien made a vulgar gesture at her. Feyre put her hands to her hips and said with authority, “Now that’s no way to treat a High Lady.”
“Maybe not,” Lucien admitted with a smirk, “but you were an awfully annoying little shit before you were a High Lady.”
Even as the words left his mouth, Lucien cast a furtive glance at Rhysand, worried that his remarks about the High Lord’s mate would anger him. But Rhys merely shrugged as he peered over at his mate and said, “Well, he’s not wrong Feyre darling.”
Feyre simply crossed her arms and smiled coolly as a deluge soaked both Rhys and Lucien, leaving the glossy hardwood floors of the townhouse dry and spotless.
“Hey!” Lucien shouted.
Rhysand just chuckled. “I suppose that’s her passive-aggressive way of suggesting I change clothes before we meet up with Mor and the guys.” He murmured something to Feyre, who nodded before Rhys winnowed from the room.
Lucien shook the excess water off his sleeves and raised an eyebrow at Feyre. Try as he might, he couldn’t resist the temptation to glance up the staircase at the dark hallway of the second floor. Feyre remained silent but gave him a gentle smile. Lucien scoffed and rolled his eyes, muttering something about just wanting to get some sleep. He picked up his bag and started up the stairs.
He stopped and glanced back at Feyre, still standing in the middle of the sitting room. He waited for her to give him some kind of warning or to remind him of the rules. But she just smiled again—she was always smiling in the Night Court, it seemed—and said, “I’m glad you’re back.”
Before he could reply, she had winnowed away. He trudged up the rest of the stairs, his legs like lead. The anxiety of returning to this townhouse with so much camaraderie had masked just how exhausted he truly was from traveling. He hadn’t been lying when he’d said he was tired. He barely even glanced at Elain’s closed bedroom door, far at the other end of the hall; though he had noticed her scent as soon as he’d reached the townhouse—apples and honey. He eased his own bedroom door open, slipped inside, and closed it gently behind him. He didn’t imagine a slamming door would be the way he’d want the viper to know he’d returned. Nesta, he silently corrected himself. If he was going to be living here for a while, he needed to call her by her name. It wouldn’t do to badmouth Elain’s sister, regardless of how nasty she could be.
He glanced at the bathing room door, telling himself he really ought to wash up before giving in to his exhaustion. But after sleeping on cots and bedrolls for the past two months, the oversized bed with the down comforter looked so inviting…. He kicked off his boots and stripped down to just his trousers. It didn’t even take a full minute for him to fall asleep once he’d hit the pillow.
Elain woke with a start. She’d been dreaming that she was walking alone through a sunlit forest, fallen leaves crunching beneath her feet in a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and yellows. She’d been looking for someone—or something—but couldn’t remember what. As a Seer, her dreams almost always meant something, though she couldn’t yet figure out the significance of this one. It kept returning to her, at least two, sometimes three, nights per week. And every time, she’d woken up before she’d caught sight or smell of her quarry.
As the grogginess of sleep continued to fade away and her senses became more alert, she realized she did not recognize the room she was in. It was definitely a room of Rhysand’s townhouse—she detected the familiar scents of her sisters with ease. But one glance told her that it was not her own room. She couldn’t winnow yet… at least, not to her knowledge anyway. She breathed deeply.
She confirmed the familiar scents of the others who lived in this townhouse with her—Nesta’s reminded her of lemons, harsh and dominant. Feyre and Rhysand’s scents had mingled into one another’s once they had been mated and had become something entirely their own. The servants’ scents were much more muted, but ever-present. And the scents of Cassian, Azriel, Mor, and Amren flitted in and out so often that Elain had grown accustomed to theirs as well.
But the scent in this room was one she didn’t immediately recognize, though she was certain she knew it somehow. It was an odd combination—the best way she could describe it was sunlight, oranges, and sandalwood. But that was silly, she told herself. Sunlight didn’t have a scent. Yet when she tried to place it, she immediately thought of those days at the start of autumn, when early mornings were brisk and had a slight bite to the air but were still warm during midday.
Elain slowly rolled from her side onto her back, just enough so that she could glance over her shoulder. She breathed in sharply and then clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. Lying not three feet from her, sleeping soundly, was Lucien. Her mate.
She scrambled out of the bed and then froze, hoping the sudden noise and movement didn't wake him. She had no idea what she'd say to him, let alone explain how she ended up in his room—and in his bed—when even she didn't know. She and Feyre had talked about him a few times. She wanted to get to know him but didn't even know where to start, though she had confessed she hoped he would come back after finishing his obligation to help Jurian and Vassa. Feyre had helped explain the whole premise of a mate and what it entailed.
The word still felt foreign to her. Not even meaning to, she brushed her thumb over the coarse iron ring that still adorned her ring finger. She wasn’t even sure why she still wore it. She knew she was Fae and could never go back to a human life… and if she was honest with herself, she wouldn’t want to now, though she’d never admit that to Nesta. Still, the ring was the one connection she had left to the human world. Even though the other end of that connection wanted nothing to do with her.
She watched Lucien as he slept. He hadn’t so much as moved, aside from the gentle rise and fall of his chest. His hair had come loose of the strip of worn leather that kept it tied back and tamed. She surprised herself at the desire to lean forward and brush the hair from his face. Instead, she crept toward the door. Already halfway open, a small strip of light sliced through from the hallway.
She glanced back once more as she softly pulled the door closed and tiptoed back to her room. She still couldn’t fathom how she’d gotten into his room in the first place. She’d tried—and failed—to learn to how to winnow. She could only guess that when she was walking through that autumn forest in her dream, her feet had found their way to the one person in that house with fire in his soul.