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I Only See Daylight

Chapter Text

The first time it happened, Lucien had no idea. 

 

He had just returned to Velaris and had 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, the first time you showed up here I wasn't thrilled about it. It was unexpected, I'll admit. I tried to give you every courtesy I’d expect the other courts to give me if I was in a tight spot,” Rhys 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. 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 said with a slight smirk. “But Velaris can be your home… if you want it to be.”

Lucien’s throat bobbed. Home . A word that was foreign to him now. He’d been an outcast and fugitive from his own court. And now, he severely doubted he would ever be able to return to the Spring Court… not while Tamlin remained High Lord in any case. Though he still felt like an outsider in the Night Court, he couldn’t deny that the city’s lights and laughter were welcoming. He sometimes 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 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 her 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 timid fragile mortal who’d saved all of Prythian. She was so vibrant and 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?”

“We—” 

Rhys nudged his hip into hers. 

“I mean, I hoped you would,” Feyre said quickly. 

The air in the sitting room seemed to grow thicker as Lucien automatically glanced at the top of the stairs. 

“You look tired,” she continued, her cheeks slightly flushed. 

Lucien nodded in agreement. 

“We were going out to meet Mor and the boys for drinks. You’re welcome to come…” She noticed the doubtful expression on his face. “Unless, she continued, “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,” Feyre 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 couldn’t even look at him without loathing. He loved her too much to pit her 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 inclined and 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 idea of one as he considered Feyre’s offer. 

Family dinner at the House of Wind. But to get to the House of Wind… Lucien paled. 

“Don’t worry,” Feyre said with a knowing smile. “My wings are strong enough that I can fly you up there now. Unless you’d prefer Az carry you again?”

Lucien made a vulgar gesture at her. Feyre put her hands to her hips and said with authoritatively, “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. Rhys merely shrugged as he peered over at his mate and said, “Well, he’s not wrong Feyre darling.”

Feyre simply crossed her arms 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 and said, “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 knowing 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. 

“Lucien.” 

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 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, before pushing open his own. Even though he’d noticed her scent as soon as he’d reached the townhouse - apples and honey. He closed it gently behind him. He didn’t imagine a slamming door would be the way he’d want the viper… Nesta… to know he’d returned. 

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 yet this dream 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 suddenly realized she was not in her own room. She couldn’t winnow yet… at least, not to her knowledge anyway. She breathed deeply. 

She recognized 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. 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, it immediately made her think of those days at the start of autumn, when it was brisk in the early morning but still warm during midday.

Autumn. 

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. Feyre had helped explain the whole premise of a mate and what it entailed. 

Mate.

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 (if she was honest with herself, she wouldn’t want to now, but 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 that kept it tied back and tamed. She surprised herself at the desire to brush the hair from his face. She crept toward the door, which was halfway open, a small strip of light coming 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 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.

Chapter Text

Elain fidgeted while Nuala and Cerridwen helped her dress. Once they were finished, she thanked them and slid her feet into a pair of blush pink slippers that matched her dress. She cleared her throat twice and continued to fidget with a loose thread. She wondered if Lucien knew she’d been in his room last night. Feyre had come by her room early this morning to tell her of his return. She’d feigned ignorance and mild interest at the news while her insides twisted and turned. 

“Is everything okay, miss Elain?” Nuala asked as she ran a comb through Elain’s thick, wavy hair. 

“I’m fine,” Elain breathed, far too high pitched and quickly to be a casual response. 

Nuala smiled at Cerridwen but said nothing. 

Elain left the safe confines of her room for the staircase. Ever since the defeat of Hybern, Elain had been trying to be more engaging with the others. She’d worked on accepting that she would never be mortal or live in the human world again. After Greysen's rejection, it had come easier than she'd expected. In the months following Hybern's defeat, she had challenged herself to participate in more family dinners and truly get to know these people that Feyre considered family. Once she had done that, Velaris became a much more pleasant place to live. 

She spent most mornings in the garden she had been nurturing outside the townhouse. She would spend her afternoons either with her sisters or the wraith twins. Nuala and Cerridwen had been so kind to her when she had first arrived and had grown to be so much more than handmaidens to her. Occasionally, Azriel would join her in the garden. He didn’t talk much, but the silence was comfortable and somehow, still welcoming. 

When she reached the bottom of the stairs, her mouth was already watering at the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. She thought back to her initial days as Fae when she refused all food. 

I must have been crazy , she mused , to turn away food as good as this.

“Good morning,” she said cheerfully as she rounded the last stair and drifted into the sitting room. One thing she both loved and had to get used to was the informality of Rhysand’s Inner Circle. No one was sitting at a table eating breakfast with utensils. Rhysand never sat at the head of the table. Rather, everyone was lounging in whatever seat they’d chosen with a platter of cinnamon rolls on a low lying table in the center of the room. 

Lucien’s head jerked as if he’d been about to whip around to face her and then thought better of it. Feyre smirked at him. Rhysand smirked at her. Everyone around here smirked.

Mor rose from the chair she’d been halfway reclined on and plucked a cinnamon roll off the top of the heap. 

“Good morning, Elain,” Mor said, mouth full of food. “Since apparently everyone else in this house either has gone mute or has lost their manners.”

Feyre narrowed her eyes and stuck out her tongue at Mor. Mor retaliated by wiping a smear of sticky cinnamon roll icing onto Feyre’s arm. 

Elain laughed at the shriek Feyre responded with. She had never seen her sister with a true friend. Happiness looked amazing on her baby sister. 

At the sound of her laughter, Lucien did whip his head around to face her. To hide the blush creeping up her cheeks, Elain picked up a cinnamon roll and took a much too large, unladylike bite. To her relief, Nesta was nowhere in sight .

“Where’s Nesta?” She asked Feyre once she had chewed and swallowed.

“Oh, I think she stayed over at Amren’s last night. Amren is still helping her hone in on her powers.” 

Elain nodded at the information but didn’t comment. Feyre pushed a little farther. 

“Rhys has to go over to the House of Wind with Az and Cass for most of the day. I was going to go down to the Rainbow and get some paints. I’ll probably be gone through lunch.”

Elain continued to nod as she took another bite of her breakfast. 

“I suppose you ought to tag along,” Feyre said, gesturing to Lucien. He stared at her uncomprehendingly. “You’ll need… well, everything and Rhys has already extended our line of credit to include you.”

Lucien's expression was one of both appreciation and shame. Elain could understand well enough, even though she’d lived in both squalor and excess. It was embarrassing to go from having wealth and financial security to having practically nothing to one's name. She scowled slightly at her sister for calling attention to it in front of everyone. She would never wish for her family to be poor again, but she sometimes couldn’t help but remember the times when they’d lived in the cottage - the times they’d had little more than each other. She had neither appreciated nor protected Feyre as she should have.

Once she and Nesta had been made Fae, they had come to live here. Though they had wanted for nothing, they also had nothing. Not anything that was truly their own, anyway. Elain remembered the feeling of being grateful for the generosity, but also the chagrin of needing it in the first place. 

Elain realized she still hadn’t spoken to Lucien. She wanted to say something reassuring… or at least welcoming. He had little more than the clothes on his back and what meager things could fit in his rucksack. Which he’d done for her, she realized… he had abandoned the Spring Court for her. Granted, what she heard from Feyre, Tamlin was not a pleasant person to tolerate. And after Hybern's defeat, he'd gone to the continent to help the humans rebuild. He could have stayed there... but he came back to the Night Court, to Velaris, for her. From conversations she had with Feyre about what her sister had learned during her time as High Lady spy in the Spring Court, Lucien had not known of the priestess’s intention to kidnap Elain and Nesta. 

She steeled her courage and reminded herself that moving forward was the only way to heal. She bit down the fear of the unknown and cleared her throat softly. Most everyone turned their attention toward her and she willed herself not to blush.

“The best seamstress is on the far side of the Sidra, near the Rainbow,” Elain offered. 

Elain remembered having to wear dresses that had once belonged to someone else and wishing for custom-tailored garments. Again, she'd been grateful to have something to wear, but she'd longed for something that fit and that she could call her own. She couldn’t imagine Lucien would want to wear someone else’s clothes if he didn’t have to. Though... when he’d been outfitted in the Illyrians’ fighting leathers at the Treaty renegotiation meeting, he’d looked absolutely devastating. 

Her cheeks flushed at the memory. Luckily, from their expressions, Feyre and Lucien assumed it was simply from her volunteering information. She’d developed a reputation for being quiet and shy. 

Lucien gave her a small nod of acknowledgment, trying and failing to hide his smile. “Thank you.”

“So," Feyre drawled, "how are you planning to spend your morning? Anything in the garden ready for plucking?”

“It's pruning, not plucking," Elain declared as she rolled her eyes. "And... Actually,” she said slowly, tucking a stray curl behind her ear, “I was thinking I’ll come with you... If—If that's okay.”

Neither Feyre nor Lucien bothered to hide their surprise. “Of course!” Her sister said with genuine delight. 

Chapter Text

As they walked the bustling city streets, Lucien let himself marvel at the mere existence of the place. He’d been out in the city before, but that had been for a specific purpose. This was the first time he’d been able to leisurely enjoy the city for what it was. Just as he’d observed when he first arrived in Velaris, children laughed in the streets. Merchants sold their wares with smiles on their faces. This place was a living miracle. 

And he was strolling through it, midmorning sun heating the sidewalks and making the Sidra glitter, all with his mate by his side. This had to be a dream. 

Granted, she was his mate only by title. Though he’d felt the bond snap into place the moment he’d picked her up off the water-soaked floor in Hybern, it had yet to solidify for her. He reminded himself to be patient, to give her time to get to know him and then make the decision willingly. Even if that decision was to reject it. The mere thought of it felt like a dagger straight into his gut. But it was still not as sharp as the pain of imagining her being forced into a bond that she didn’t want. 

When they’d left the townhouse, Elain had walked next to her sister and Lucien followed a few paces behind them. He knew Feyre’s relationship with her sisters had been strained even before the events in Hybern. He was glad that it appeared those relationships were being mended. With Elain, at least. Nesta was a whole other story. 

They crossed one of the bridges that led to the far side of the Sidra - toward the Rainbow. They passed by a few shops when Elain stopped suddenly, pointing at a storefront with garments in the shop windows. 

“This is my favorite,” she explained. “Deidre makes such lovely dresses and she has quite the eye for male styles too.”

Lucien caught Feyre’s eye and knew she was thinking the same thing he was. Elain had said “male” not “man.”  

“Well, if you say she’s the best, then she’s the best,” Lucien offered. 

Feyre rolled her eyes at him. “I’m going to get paint,” she said, raising her eyebrows at Elain, as if to ask Are you coming with me?

Elain quickly glanced between Feyre and Lucien. “I’ll stay and help Lucien. Cauldron knows, males can’t match clothes as well as females can.”

Both Feyre and Lucien didn’t bother to hide their surprise. 

“Oh, okay then,” Feyre declared. “I’ll meet you back here for lunch then?”

Elain nodded as Feyre started toward the Rainbow. Elain smoothed away invisible wrinkles in her skirt and gestured toward the door. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to Deidre.”

Lucien held open the door for her and followed her inside the shop. It was a tiny space with mannequins and bolts of fabric everywhere. Yet somehow, the clutter seemed welcoming instead of chaotic. Despite any lack of obvious organization, he suspected Deidre knew exactly where everything was. 

“Oh, hello, Elain!” A voice called from the back of the shop. Deidre appeared carrying several different fabrics. She was a short plump faerie with warm eyes and a kind face that reminded Lucien a lot of Alis. 

“I didn’t expect you back so soon, but I’m always happy to design something new for you.”

“Hello, Deidre,” Elain said cheerfully. “Nothing for me today, but Lucien needs practically a whole new wardrobe and I knew if anyone could do it, you could.”

Elain said his name so casually, like they'd known each other for years.

The faerie set her handful of supplies on a bench and placed her hands on her hips as she surveyed him. 

“So... you’re Lucien.” It wasn’t a question. 

Did... did that mean Elain had talked about him? Lucien’s mouth went dry. He didn’t trust his ability to speak yet, so he simply nodded. 

Deidre gave him a look that might have been sympathetic. “Well, we’ll get you sorted. Elain is my best customer.”

Elain waved her hand in a dismissive gesture and Lucien felt a pang when he saw the iron ring still adorning her finger. Although, it looked as if she’d turned it around so that the diamond was against her palm. 

Deidre set to work, taking measurements and making notes about the various garments she would be creating. As she worked, she hummed softly. Elain browsed through the fabrics in the shop, drifting back every so often to offer suggestions. 

When they were finished, Deidre promised that a few pieces would be finished by tomorrow and the rest would take no more than a week.

“Thank you, Deidre,” Elain said. 

“No trouble, dear,” Deidre replied. She pulled Elain into a brief, motherly hug. Before she let her go, she whispered against Elain’s hair, “You’re right. He is handsome.”

Elain turned crimson while Lucien turned toward the door and gave her the courtesy of pretending he hadn’t heard. They exited the shop together and found Velaris to be a much more bustling city than it had been early in the morning. 

They walked in silence toward the bridge where Feyre had said she would meet them. She wasn’t there yet, so they stopped in the center and watched the crowds pass by.

Lucien leaned his forearms against the stone railing of the bridge. He willed his erratic heartbeats to steady themselves as Elain leaned forward in a similar pose as his, standing next to him but just far enough away that their shoulders didn’t touch. 

“I love this time of day,” she offered as she started out over the glistening river. “The sun is at its peak and it’s like it just warms you from the inside out.”

“When I was a boy,” Lucien said, “I sometimes would skip afternoon lessons. I’d go up to the roof and just lie in the sun all afternoon... until my mother would send one of the servants out looking for me.”

“You never got sunburned?” Elain asked, pushing her hair out of her face. 

“Never,” Lucien said. “My brothers would though. I think because they all had fairer complexions than I did.”

“You were lucky. I love the sun but I have to use balms and wear a wide-brimmed hat in order to be outside all day.”

A stronger breeze came in, smelling of salt from the nearby ocean. But all Lucien could smell was her. That mixture of apples and honey, so tantalizingly sweet he felt he could get drunk off that alone. 

Elain was struggling to keep her hair out of her face since the wind had picked up. Just as soon as she would push her thick curls behind her ear, the wind would blow it back into her face. She gave a little huff of frustration. 

Lucien withdrew a thin strip of leather from his pocket. “Would this help?” He asked, offering it to her with a chuckle. 

“It would, actually.” She took the strip from him and gathered all of her hair in her hands. She tried to tie the strip around her hair, but the wind kept blowing strands back into her face. 

“May I?” Lucien asked tentatively. 

“Please.” Elain held her hair in a bunch behind her neck. As Lucien wrapped the leather around her hair, she shivered when his fingers brushed against the back of her neck. He tied it tightly and took a step back. He had to create at least a little distance. Having her this close, close enough to touch... he could barely think straight. 

Elain shook her head lightly, testing out the hold of the leather strip. Her hair held in place and she offered him a warm smile. 

He could die. He could die every time she smiled at him. 

“Thank you,” Elain murmured, barely audible over the crowds and the wind. 

“So... when do they have these weekly family dinners?”

“Oh, those. The next one is three nights from now. They were awkward at first. I watched and listened and never talked. But everyone is just so...”

“Obnoxious?” 

Elain’s laugh was like starlight made into sound. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. Lucien loved being the cause of it.

“Well, they can be that too I suppose. But I was going to say they’re all so warm and friendly that you just can’t help but love them all.”

“Even Amren?”

“Yes, even Amren...” Elain glanced around as if she was making sure the tiny fierce Fae wasn’t listening. “But don’t tell her I said that.”

Lucien laughed. Not a forced, weak laugh. But a genuine booming laugh that loosened some of the tension that had been lingering since he’d returned to the Night Court. He’d been so afraid that his being here would make things tense and uncomfortable, but she seemed to be coming out of her shell. He wanted to test the bond again but didn’t want to scare her away like he had the first time. 

Elain looked as if she was about to say something else when Feyre appeared, cheeks flushed and arms laden with packages. She unceremoniously dumped half of them into Lucien’s arms with a quick, “Here, hold these,” as a greeting.  “How did it go at Deidre’s?”

“By the time the poor lady is finished sewing, I’ll have more clothes than I think I’ve ever owned in my life,” Lucien remarked. 

“Well, it’s not my fault that everything she tried on you looked good,” Elain automatically replied. As if she realized what she’d said, a crimson flush climbed up her cheeks. 

Feyre raised her eyebrows slightly but gave no other indication she’d noticed Elain’s embarrassment. She dumped the rest of her parcels onto the stack Lucien already carried so she could drape an arm around her sister’s shoulder. 

“Males just don’t get it, do they?” Feyre complained. “They never struggle to find clothes that fit and look nice. Everything just automatically works out for them.”

She glanced back at Lucien and winked. He gave her a sarcastic sneer and fell into step behind them. Moments later, they were seated at an outdoor table (Elain’s request) at Sevenda’s restaurant. They had just ordered when Amren dropped into an empty seat at their table. 

“Amren, why don’t you join us?” Feyre teased. 

“Don’t mind if I do,” Amren replied. 

Lucien remembered who was with Amren that morning just as a shadow appeared out of the corner of his right eye. 

“You’re back,” Nesta said to him flatly. 

“I am.”

“Why?”

“Nesta! Be polite!” Elain chided.

Nesta gave her sister an incredulous look. She addressed Amren and said in a clipped voice, “I’m going to swap out the books we’ve already gone through for some new ones. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She turned and strode away without so much as a good-bye. Feyre ripped off a large piece of bread and stuffed it in her mouth. 

“Don’t let Nesta bully you,” Elain said. It seemed obvious that she meant to address Lucien, even though she said it as a general statement to the whole table.  “If I can accept what our lives have become, then so can she.” 

“Well said girl,” Amren said with a nod. 

“I love Nesta.”

“I know you do—” Feyre started.

“But,” Elain continued. “I think her sheltering me so strongly did me no favors when we first arrived here.”

Feyre leaned forward, resting her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand.

“I know she just wanted to protect me. But what had been done was done. There was no undoing it.”

No one else at the table spoke. Elain fiddled with the tablecloth. “For a long time, I desperately wanted nothing more than to undo it and go back to our home. I felt like I was underwater and everyone else was above on dry land. No one could reach me and then... I woke up. And for the first time, I could breathe. And then when we lost Father..." Her eyes were focused on the pattern of the tablecloth. “I realized there truly was nothing left for us back home. And that this was home now.”

Feyre laid her hand over top of Elain’s and gave it a soft squeeze. The gesture seemed to shake Elain from her musings and she looked up into the eyes of her sister. 

“I’m so sorry, Feyre.”

“For what?”

“For not taking care of you like we should have. You were our baby sister and yet... you were the only one responsible enough for making sure we didn’t starve.”

Feyre squeezed her hand tighter. “It’s okay, Elain. Things worked out the way they were supposed to, I think. Everything that happened led us here.”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Amren cut in. “We all forgive each other. We all love each other. Now can we eat?”

Elain caught Lucien’s eye and smiled. 

I told you so , she mouthed. 

Chapter Text

After lunch, Feyre went to the House of Wind to train with Cassian. Elain said she needed to tend her garden - something she normally did in the mornings but had put off in order to go into town with Feyre and Lucien. 

Lucien considered asking her if he could join her, but he didn’t want her to feel as if he was smothering her with his presence. There would be time, he reminded himself. Still, as he watched her and her sister turn and head back to the townhouse, he couldn’t deny the pull that made him want to follow after her. 

Lucien spent the afternoon browsing shops and picking up things he needed. He tried to pay for things himself, but after the third shop refused his coin and insisted, “The High Lord took care of it,” Lucien stopped trying. Still, he hated feeling like he needed handouts. 

Later, he would look for a place of his own. He noted potential apartments as he wandered the city streets. Not for the first time lately, he thought about Jesminda. He’d been so young and naïve to believe they had a real chance at a future. But, oh how he’d loved her. He would have gone to the ends of the world for her. 

Thinking about Jesminda automatically triggered the guilt he felt about pursuing Elain. Lucien had sworn to love Jesminda forever. And he supposed, in a way, he always would. But she had known just as well as he did how rare mating bonds were. Couples married all the time despite not being mates, but once a bond was identified, that complicated things. He wondered what she would say to him if she were here, now. 

I’d tell you you’re a fool, Lucien Vanserra, for even thinking about all of this.

He heard her voice in his head as clearly as if she was speaking to him. As if it hadn’t been over two hundred years since he’d heard it. He walked without really paying attention to where he was going. He still couldn’t shake the guilt for wanting another female. When he’d promised Jesminda forever, he’d meant it. 

Things change, Lucien , he felt like she would say. Yes, we loved each other fiercely and without reservation... but—

But she died. She died as a result of his love. If he had left her alone, as his father had demanded, she would be alive. 

Alive, yes. But unhappy. An eternity of misery is not a life I would have wanted.

Lucien shook his head. He’d had this argument with himself more times than he could count. He thought of something happening to Elain. Of his father coming after her once he learned that she was his least loved son’s mate. Fire danced behind his russet eye and burned beneath his very soul. He wouldn’t just kill anyone who harmed her, he would eliminate their very existence from this world.

You love her already, Lucien. Give yourself the chance to be happy with her.

And even if the memory-preserved shadow of Jesminda was right, it didn’t change the fact that loving another female felt like a betrayal. Even if she was—

Your mate. By the Cauldron and the Mother and everything else, you are supposed to be with her. 

Lucien raked a hand through his hair. He’d finally stopped walking. A flash of something caught his eye. Something on the bank was reflecting off the smooth surface of the Sidra... He was back on the bridge that he and Elain had stood at earlier while waiting for Feyre. 

Lucien knew he belonged with Elain. That was clear from the moment the bond snapped into place for him. What worried him was that she would feel differently. 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It was nearly dark when he returned to the townhouse. 

“Finally,” Feyre cried the moment he’d walked through the door. “We thought you’d gotten lost.”

“And unfortunately,” Nesta quipped, “You didn’t.”

Elain opened her mouth to argue but Lucien beat her to it. “Don’t worry, Nesta. There’s always tomorrow.”

Cassian barked out a laugh. Feyre and Mor both looked at Lucien as if they’d never seen him before. Even Elain managed a tight-lipped smile. 

“What are you even doing here?” Nesta demanded. 

Mor refilled Feyre’s wine glass and then her own. They both sat on the couch as if they were watching a live sporting match. 

“Well,” Lucien drawled. He chanced a glance at Elain. She’d told him not to let her sister bully him, but he didn’t want to go too far and upset her. “I’m sort of staying here.”

“Why can’t you go stay at an inn?”

“Because it's Rhysand's house... and he and Feyre extended me an invitation to stay here.”

“I know what you want,” Nesta hissed. 

Lucien schooled his expression to one of blissful ignorance. “Right now, I just want dinner.”

Mor snorted and choked on her wine just as Rhys and Azriel emerged from the kitchen. 

“What’s going on?” Rhys murmured to Cassian. 

“Nesta’s about to eviscerate Lucien.”

They murmured something else too low for Lucien to make out, but he could have sworn he saw coins being exchanged. Arrogant wagering bastards. 

Nesta suddenly seemed to realize they had an audience. She took a few steps toward Lucien and pointed her finger at him. “If you touch her, I’ll—”

“Skewer me and feed me to Bryaxis?”

Nesta started. He hadn’t balked or cowered. He barely even blinked. 

“You’re not afraid of me.” It wasn't a question.

“Why should I be?”

“If he had any sense,” Cassian muttered to Azriel, “he would be.”

“If you hurt her...” Nesta threatened. 

“Nesta, leave him alone,” Elain interjected. “You’ve made your point.”

Nesta whirled around toward her sister as Lucien muttered, “I could never.” He wasn’t even sure she heard him.

Thankfully, at that moment, Rhys announced, “There’s a lot of food that’s about to get cold if you assholes don’t quit bickering and eat.”

Everyone proceeded to make themselves a plate and find a seat wherever they could - sofa, armchair, the armrest of the sofa.

Nesta continued to glare at Lucien every few minutes as they all ate. Every time she stabbed her food with her fork, he imagined she pictured his head on her plate.

“I thought ‘family dinner’ wasn’t until later in the week?” Lucien wondered aloud. 

“This isn’t the weekly family dinner,” Feyre explained. “This is just... well, most nights.”

Lucien was starting to realize that even though Rhys, Feyre, and her two sisters were the only ones who actually lived here (well, himself now too he supposed), everyone else more or less came and went as they pleased. 

“Like I told you before,” Feyre continued, “You get used to the informality.”

“Did everyone in your old court have sticks up their asses?” Nesta asked. 

“Not everyone,” Lucien replied. “Just Tamlin...” He cast a nervous glance at Feyre. He felt extremely uncomfortable talking about Feyre’s former love here. but it seemed that whatever harboring resentment and bitterness Feyre felt toward Tamlin had been neutralized when he'd shown up to fight for Prythian. Lucien felt some lingering guilt where Tamln was concerned as well, but it was overpowered by the guilt he felt at ignoring Feyre’s desperate pleas for as long as he did. Tamlin had gone crazy with possessive rage. Since the Treaty renegotiation meeting, Lucien had tried on three separate occasions to make contact with Tamlin. To explain himself and deliver Feyre’s letter. But Tamlin hadn’t even so much as acknowledged Lucien’s presence outside the manor. He had even gone so far as to put the same ward around the house that he’d done when he locked Feyre inside. After that, Lucien stopped trying. 

Lucien regretted how things had gone with Tamlin because for whatever else he was, he’d been a true friend to Lucien... once. When Lucien had needed sanctuary from his brothers, Tamlin had been there. But the longer Lucien had remained in the Spring Court, the more he’d felt like one of Tamlin’s subjects who took orders instead of his friend. 

Feyre watched him, waiting to see what he was going to say. 

“Tamlin,” Lucien continued, “doesn’t so much have a stick up his ass. It’s more like the entire fucking forest.”

This time, it was Rhys who choked on his wine. Everyone except Nesta laughed. Even Azriel. But no one laughed as hard or as long as Rhys. He pointed at Lucien as he addressed Feyre. “He stays. Forever.” 

He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and cleared his throat. “That is, of course, if you want to stay. I can't make you."

“No, I want to stay,” Lucien said a little too quickly. 

“Why do you even want to stay here anyway?” Nesta demanded. 

Lucien regarded her with one eyebrow arched and his gold eye clicking and whirring. “Oh, it’s definitely because of your friendly disposition.”

And even though her eyes remained narrow, suspicious slits, to everyone’s shock including Lucien’s, Nesta cracked a smile. 

Chapter Text

That night, Nesta didn’t go back to Amren’s. And Elain imagined that if Nesta had known Lucien returned the previous day, she would have rushed straight home instead of staying overnight at Amren’s. 

Still, Nesta excused herself shortly after dinner and closed herself off in her room for the rest of the night, despite Cassian tossing teases and taunts at her. 

Elain sat at her vanity, idly running a wide brush through her honey-brown curls. The strip of leather Lucien had given her to tie her hair back sat on the vanity.

There was a soft knock at the door but before Elain could even get up to answer it, the door swung open and Feyre strode in. 

“You know, usually people wait to be told to enter after knocking,” Elain teased. 

“That rule doesn’t count for sisters,” Feyre teased back as she flopped onto Elain’s bed. She put up a wall of air to ensure no prying ears in the house overheard her discussion with her sister. If his room had been closer, she would have extended the wall of air to include his room. But being at the opposite ends of the hall and on different sides of the house, it wasn't doable.

She supposed she ought to feel slightly guilty for trying to play matchmaker, but she didn’t. These were two people that she loved dearly and she wanted them to both find happiness, preferably with each other. Still, she wouldn’t do anything to force them upon one another. But if she used her powers to help things naturally progress... well, she saw nothing wrong with that. Rhys might call it meddling. Feyre called it concern from an interested party. She didn’t say anything as she watched her sister continue to brush out the tangles from her hair. 

“What?” Elain asked.

“I’m just... really happy.”

“Any particular reason?”

“You,” Feyre said simply. 

“Me?”

“I was so afraid for you when I first returned from the Spring Court,” Feyre admitted. “It made me sick to think you were so miserable and I’d have given anything to take back what was done to you.”

“But?”

“But...” Feyre continued slowly. “Is it wrong to say that I’m happy you didn’t find a way to reverse it? That having you and Nesta here, among all the other people I love, brings me more joy than I ever thought my life would have.”

Elain considered for a moment. “No, I don’t think that’s wrong at all.”

Feyre got up from the bed and crossed the room to the vanity. She leaned over and draped her arms around her sister in a tight embrace. 

“I sometimes forget I’m younger than you are,” she said to Elain. “You and Nesta always seemed so fragile and defenseless whenever I’d come home from a hunt.”

“We owe you our lives a thousand times over. We’d be dead if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Well, we’ll never have to live that way again.”

Feyre broke off the embrace and peered out the window. Elain’s room had a beautiful view of the House of Wind, off in the distance at the top of the mountain. Elain was quiet for a few minutes, trying to think of how to phrase what she wanted to say. 

“I knew he was wrong for me,” she finally said, so softly that if Feyre still had human ears, she wouldn’t have heard it. Feyre didn’t ask who she meant. 

“Then why—”

“Because I thought I couldn’t do any better than a Lord’s son. I would be provided for and protected. But those walls around his estate always gave me a bad feeling.”

Feyre barely breathed, as if doing so would break this spell on Elain that had drawn her from her reclusive silence. As if Elain could guess what her sister was thinking, she said, “I’m better now, Feyre. I’m not going to turn inward and disappear into nothing. I... when I first got here, I thought I’d rather die than live as a Fae. So I wouldn’t eat. That, combined with the visions I couldn’t understand or control, made me want to just... fade away into nothing. But you, all of you, helped me. You all brought me back to life. I still have moments where I mourn the loss of my humanity and our home. I still have hard days, but they're growing fewer as time goes on.”

"When I was still an absolute mess, Mor told me something that has stayed with me ever since. She said 'don't let the hard days win' and it's what I use to get through those days that try to break me."

Elain extended a hand to Feyre, who accepted it. She tugged her sister back to the bed and they both sat. “I haven’t said anything around Nesta yet because I don’t want to upset her, but I love it here. I truly do.”

Feyre let out a tiny noise that might have been relief. As if she still hadn’t believed it until the words had come out of Elain’s mouth. 

“And if we’re being honest,” Elain continued, “I had hoped that after Greysen and I married, I could change his mind. About the Fae. If only for your sake. In truth, now that I've had time and distance to reflect on it, I don’t know if I could have been married to someone with that much hate in his heart.”

Feyre’s eyes automatically went to the ring still on Elain’s finger. “Then why do—”

“Why do I still wear it?”

Feyre nodded. 

“I don’t know. With Father gone, I suppose it’s the very last tie to the mortal lands and when I take it off, that chapter of my life is truly over.”

Feyre eyed Elain suspiciously. It was a good answer, but Elain could tell Feyre suspected there was more. 

Elain sighed. “And... I suppose it’s a reminder.”

“Of what?” Feyre asked sharply. She couldn’t imagine why her sister would want to be reminded of the bigot who rejected her just for being what she was. Even if he had shown up to the final battle against Hybern. Though, Feyre suspected that was mostly to protect his own people and not for the sake of any of the Fae. 

“Of why I’m better off here. Of the prejudice and hatred that we aspire to overcome. Of the skewed perceptions from centuries of one-sided stories passed down generations.”

Feyre blinked back tears. We , her sister had said. Not they. We. Oh, she wished he could hear this.

“And I’ve decided what I’m going to do with it, eventually,” Elain announced. 

“Oh?” 

“When I give my heart to a deserving Fae male, I’m going to chuck this hateful ring into the Sidra.”

Feyre blinked. “Is that so?”

Elain nodded in a matter-of-fact kind of way. 

“Why not before?”

“Before?”

“Before you give your heart to a ‘deserving fae male.’ Why after?”

A tiny smile crept across Elain’s delicate mouth. “Because I want him to know I did it for him.”

Feyre felt a twinge at her heart. She cast her eyes around the room, looking for something to focus on because if she looked at her sister, she knew she would break into more tears. Elain, her sweet sister, ever the romantic. Her attention caught at the familiar leather strip that Lucien always used to tie his hair back. Elain followed her sister’s line of sight and sighed. 

“So, Feyre,” she began, sounding every bit of the blissful tween girl she’d once been before poverty and hardship had fallen upon them. “Tell me about Lucien.”

Feyre barked out a gasp of surprise. "What do you want to know?"

Elain shrugged.

“Oh, I know. Let me tell you about the time he almost got me killed.”

She could practically hear the indignant sound of protest he'd make if he could hear her. Undoubtedly, he'd prefer Feyre not start with that story. It was true she was hoping he'd win Elain's heart but... she wasn’t going to make it that easy for him.

Chapter Text

Elain woke just before first light, groggy and bleary-eyed after she and Feyre had stayed up until well past two in the morning. Even though she would suffer for it today, she was glad Feyre had come to her room. She couldn’t remember the last time she and her sister had just talked... like sisters are supposed to. Not stressing over where their next meal was going to come from. Just talked.

The first thing she noticed was that the sheets were the wrong color. Elain’s sheets were white but the sheet and matching pillowcase beneath her head was dark green. She rubbed her eyes and sat up. She recognized his scent not even a second before she saw him, sleeping beside her. 

Lucien. Her mate.

Heart beating wildly, Elain slid out of the bed as quietly as she could and with rushed, quiet footsteps, retreated back to her own room. 

She just couldn’t understand it. Two nights in a row she’d somehow meandered or otherwise transported herself to his room. She was just grateful he hadn’t woken up. She had no idea how she would explain that. 

She took several deep breaths once she was back in the safety of her room. It was too close to dawn for her to go back to sleep. Not that she would have been able to, in any case. She sat down at her vanity and began brushing her thick wavy hair just for something to do until Nuala and Cerridwen came in. She’d told them she didn’t expect them to come every morning, but they said they enjoyed the routine and her company. 

Elain thought about some of the things her sister had told her last night. About how Lucien had become Feyre’s first real friend in Prythian (after he'd set her up with the Suriel). How he’d become an unintentional matchmaker between her and Tamlin. Elain detested hearing about that brute but reminded herself that if Feyre hadn’t loved Tamlin first, all of Prythian would still be under the tyranny of Amarantha. Elain had felt a tug at her heartstrings when Feyre told of her time Under the Mountain and how Lucien had helped her (and suffered greatly for it). Feyre told her about how she’d found out that the only reason Lucien hadn't come to heal her, leading her to make the bargain with Rhys, was because Lucien had been whipped so fiercely he couldn’t walk. 

And then Feyre had told her about Lucien trying to find her, to bring her back to the Spring Court, on Tamlin’s orders. Elain had physically shuddered when Feyre had said, “Gods, I can’t imagine what it was like during those months. Living with Tamlin was already a volatile thing but when I left him... I honestly feel terrible for leaving Lucien to deal with that.”

“Do you think Tamlin...” Elain had faltered, not willing to voice the rest of the question. 

“Do I think Tamlin took out his rage on Lucien?” Feyre had asked, voicing it for her. 

Feyre’s eyes had turned dark. “Yes... I do. And it makes me sick.”

Elain had felt physically ill. “Why would he stay there? Why would he stay with someone who treated him that way?”

Feyre had sighed and said, “Lucien hasn’t had an easy life. Tamlin was... is... his friend and for someone who doesn’t have a lot of those, it’s hard to make yourself admit the bad parts. You just want to focus on the good parts but eventually, even that isn’t enough. Anything more than that... It’s his story to tell, not mine.”

Elain had understood that. At least the part about it being his story to tell. She wanted to know more, but only when he was willing to share that part of himself with her. 

The sun peeked through her window as dawn finally broke. Elain hadn’t even noticed that Nuala and Cerridwen had come in and were rifling through her wardrobe. 

“Good morning,” she said to them with what she hoped was a light, cheerful tone. Her mind was heavier than it had been lately. 

“Mind in the clouds today?” Nuala teased. 

“Something like that,” Elain replied with a tiny smile. 

Cerridwen held up a dress with a lot of lace appliques, but Elain shook her head. 

“I’m going to be in the garden for most of the day, so let’s go with something practical.” 

Cerridwen nodded and kept searching the wardrobe while Nuala started braiding Elain’s hair. She hated her hair getting in her face when she was constantly bending over and tending to her garden. Cerridwen brought over a much more plain but pretty shift dress and Elain’s favorite apron to wear over it. She nodded her approval. 

As Nuala finished with her braid, Elain gestured to the strip of leather on her vanity. “Use that, please.”

Nuala picked it up as if it were one of the worms that wriggled through Elain’s garden. “This? But it doesn’t even match the dress. There’s a ribbon that’s the exact same shade—”

“This one, please.”

Nuala huffed as if the strip of leather had personally offended her. Cerridwen just giggled. 

Once Elain was dressed, she slipped her feet into the clogs that Rhys and Feyre had given her for when she was gardening. She crept down the hallway, careful to make as little noise as possible. It was still early enough that everyone else in the house was still asleep.

Her blood heated as she passed Lucien’s door. She resisted the urge to stop and listen to see if he was awake yet. Instead, she quietly made her way down the stairs and out into the tiny garden outside the house. 

She had a much larger garden up at the House of Wind, but she made sure that didn’t need as meticulous attention since she couldn’t get there every day. She set to work with pruning and clearing away any stubborn weeds that kept resurfacing. 

As the morning sun burned off any lingering dew, Elain’s brow began to sweat. She generally hated getting dirty or sweaty... unless it pertained to her garden. There was something fulfilling about working with her hands to encourage new life to bloom. 

As the morning wore on, she saw the rest of the house inhabitants bustling around the sitting room. Feyre barely stopped to grab a muffin off the counter before summoning her wings and flying off for the House of Wind, no doubt to train with Cassian. Elain hadn’t even seen Rhys. No doubt he’d winnowed away to wherever he needed to be. Elain really hoped she could master that skill one day. Not everyone could do it, but she’d willingly trade her “skills” as a Seer for the ability to winnow. 

Nesta had popped her head out long enough to say good morning and that she was going back to Amren’s. Elain had joked that she ought to just move in with Amren since she spent practically all of her time over there anyway. Nesta’s expression darkened and Elain suspected that she was the reason why her sister hadn’t moved out.

By the time the sun had reached its peak, Elain was covered in dirt and sweat and wishing she’d remembered to buy a wide-brimmed hat yesterday. She used the back of her hand to wipe her forehead. Despite the heat and her disheveled state, this was where she was happiest. She started humming to herself, a melody she remembered her mother singing to her and her sisters. 

As she hummed, the lyrics of the song came back to her, drawn up from some distant, near-forgotten memory. 

“I have no use for rings of gold, I care not for your poetry,” she sang softly. “I only want your hand to hold, I—”

“Only want you near me.”

Elain jerked her head up from her roses and saw Lucien standing in the doorway. She flushed with embarrassment at being caught singing. And yet...

“You know it?”

“My mother used to sing it when she thought no one could hear her,” Lucien explained. 

“I thought no one could hear me,” Elain admitted shyly. 

“And I thought you might be hungry,” he said as he offered her a plate of various fruits and cheeses. "Feyre said you likely skipped breakfast and came straight out here."

“I am, actually,” she admitted. She’d gone straight to her garden without breakfast and her stomach had been growling for the past thirty minutes. 

She sat on the stone bench and cleared away her gardening tools to give Lucien room to sit. 

“My mother used to sing it too,” Elain said. “I wouldn’t have guessed that anyone here would have known it.”

“Evidently, we aren't as different as we appeared.”

Elain pursed her lips. “I suppose not.”

She ate quietly for a few minutes, all of Feyre’s stories from last night swimming through her head. 

“So, which ones are your favorites?” Lucien asked, gesturing to her flowers. 

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly choose,” she immediately answered, even as she surveyed her little garden, considering. “The lillies,” she whispered. “But don’t tell the others.”

Lucien drew his finger across his lips. “Your secret is safe with me.”

Elain leaned over to point at the tiger lillies. “Those, especially.”

Her braid fell over her shoulder when she leaned forward. Lucien eyed the strip of leather he’d given her the day before and gestured toward it. “Seems to be coming in handy, then?”

Her hand automatically went for the tail of her braid. “You can have it back if you want. I can use ribbon.”

He made a dismissive gesture. “You keep it. I can make another.”

Elain absentmindedly fiddled with the dangling ends of the leather strip. She didn’t want to admit it, but she was relieved when he told her to keep it. She couldn’t explain why something so simple and insignificant mattered. But it did. She ate a few slices of melon as she twirled the end of her braid around her fingers. 

“If you’re going to stay out here the rest of the afternoon,” Lucien said, “you probably ought to eat more than just this.”

Elain raised an eyebrow at him and, surprised by her own daring, challenged, “Are you my keeper now?” The second the words left her mouth, she remembered her conversation with Feyre last night and regretted them.

Lucien looked horrified. “N—No. I—I’m sorry,” he stammered, “I shouldn’t tell you what to do.”

She pushed lightly on his shoulder and said, “I was just teasing you.”

He relaxed, but not fully. He still had doubt painted on his face. 

“It was in bad taste,” Elain apologized. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” he muttered. 

She folded her hands in her lap, making sure she covered her left hand, and that iron ring, with her right. The gesture did not go unnoticed. 

“I suppose I should eat something more sustaining than fruit,” she conceded. “I’m nearly finished anyway.”

Lucien nodded and began to rise. He was halfway to the door when t he idea popped into her head. Before she could talk herself out of it, she said, “Do you like seafood?”

“I do,” Lucien said slowly, pausing with his hand on the doorknob. 

Elain fidgeted with her apron. She began speaking in a rush. “There’s a restaurant right on the Sidra that has the most delicious scallops I’ve ever tasted. It’s not too far from Deidre’s and... well, she said she’d have a few of your garments ready today. I was thinking we— well, that is to say if you wanted to, we could stop for lunch on the way to her shop? But we don't have to if you don't want.”

She kept her gaze intently on her lap as she inhaled deeply. She had no idea where this courage and assertiveness had come from. She had never been like this with Greysen. She’d barely even spoken to him when he’d courted her. She’d just worn her pretty dresses and curtsied at his father’s estate parties and had been the epitome of a lady.

And I would have been barely more than an arm decoration, she suddenly realized. If Tamlin hadn’t provided for them after taking Feyre away, and they’d still been living in their pitiful cottage at the edge of the woods, Greysen would have never even given her a second glance. He would have sneered down his noble nose at her and their poverty. She deserved someone who would give her a second glance, who would care about her interests and which flowers were her favorite and not her social status, who would look at her... 

... the way that Lucien was looking at her now. The corners of his mouth turned up in a smile and his russet eye full of amazement and wonder - as if she’d just told him some monumental universal truth instead of asking him to join her for lunch. She marveled at how so much could be conveyed through just one eye. 

“I love scallops,” he replied. 

Elain beamed at him. 

Chapter Text

Elain had gone upstairs and frantically asked Nuala and Cerridwen to please draw her a bath and help her choose something to wear. 

“Miss Elain, what’s the matter?” Nuala fretted. “You’re out of breath!”

“She’s going on a date with that Autumn Court male,” Cerridwen supplied with mischief in her eyes. 

“Oh, the handsome one?” Nuala marveled. 

“For Cauldron’s sake, Nuala, the  only  one living in this house!” Cerridwen said with an exasperated sigh.

“It is  not  a date!” Elain hissed as she stripped off her gardening clothes and submerged herself into the tub. “It’s just... lunch!”

"Lunch and going to Deidre's," Nuala countered.

“It sure  sounds  like a date,” Cerridwen challenged. 

“You know, I think I’ve changed my mind,” Elain declared. “I can bathe and dress myself.”

Nuala and Cerridwen just giggled as the former worked soap suds into Elain’s hair and the latter flitted through the wardrobe. 

Thanks to a bit of magic, Elain was bathed and dressed, her hair dried, in under fifteen minutes. She debated leaving her hair free-flowing, but the afternoon was hot... Still, she asked Nuala to put a few braided plaits in but leave the rest down. Nuala braided the two sections on either side of Elain’s head and then brought them together at the back and tied them together. Nuala didn’t even ask this time; she just tied off the braid with that strip of leather she found so offensive. 

Elain smoothed her skirt and gave the handmaidens a nervous smile. “I don’t know what I’d do without you two.”

“Go about naked with bad hair, most likely,” Cerridwen teased. 

Elain laughed and hugged them both. Cerridwen gave her a light push on her back toward the door. “Go on, then. Go to your non-date.”

Elain turned around to retort, but the twins had vanished into smoke and shadows. Elain just grumbled as she made her way downstairs. She hadn’t even reached the bottom when she called out, “I’m sorry, you probably think I’m being foolish, changing clothes and washing my hair just to go eat lunch, but... what?”

For she had stopped in the foyer at the foot of the stairs to see Lucien staring at her, his mouth slightly open and an almost terrified expression in those mismatched eyes. Before she’d met him, she would have not believed that a mechanical eye could convey such expression and emotion, but oh, how it could. 

“You look fantastic,” he breathed. 

Elain turned crimson and searched for something, anything, to look at besides his punch-drunk expression. She looked down at her own dress. It was nothing, really. A lightweight periwinkle blue dress (“It's such a lovely contrast to your dark eyes!” Cerridwen had insisted) with a few ruffles at the skirt and capped sleeves. Still unwilling to meet his eyes, she shrugged and muttered, “It’s just a dress.”

“And hell is just a sauna,” Lucien quipped. 

Elain chanced a glance at him. He was smirking as he opened the front door and gestured for her to exit first. 

“I would lead the way except, ah, I have no idea where we’re going,” he said, that smirk still pasted on his mouth. 

Elain laughed. She couldn’t help it - he was funny. It felt like it had been so long since she’d wanted to laugh at anything, but Lucien just made it effortless. She was halfway out the door when she turned and rushed back in. 

“I’d better leave a note. If Nesta comes back and I’m gone, she’s likely to explode.”

She penned a quick note and left it underneath one of the blood rubies that Tarquin had sent Rhys and Feyre. They were now the household’s favorite paperweights. 

“Come on,” she said. “I’m starving.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien tried to school his expression into neutrality and mild interest when he realized he was staring for the seventh time. The restaurant Elain had taken them to was indeed right on the Sidra as she’d said and also as she’d promised, had some of the best scallops Lucien had ever tasted. He told her as much and she’d given him one of those smiles that he was certain would be his death. 

As they’d walked to the restaurant, she’d pointed out some of her favorite shops, which merchants charged too much, who made the best sweets. A few people waved to her and she waved back. She had really begun building a life here. 

He knew it made her uncomfortable when his attention settled on her, so he tried to avoid it as much as he could. But he really couldn’t help it. She was breathtaking. And not just in the figurative sense of the word. He found himself forgetting to breathe when the sun would catch her hair just right and made it practically shine. He wished there was a way to capture her smile and bottle it, to take out and use on bad days. It was impossible to be unhappy or forlorn when that smile was in the world. 

He’d seen his share of beautiful females. He’d believed once that Jesminda was the most beautiful female he’d ever beheld, and she had been... until Elain. Cauldron boil him for thinking it. He felt vile and shallow for thinking it... but Elain’s beauty was simply otherworldly. He wondered if it had anything to do with the bond between them. The elemental, fated connection that bound him to her. 

Aside from being struck by her elegance, he was amazed that she was even willing to be here, talking to him. She had been so reclusive when he’d first come to the Night Court. He’d been so afraid and anxious about how to break that ice and just  talk  to her. To be fair, she'd been the one to really initiate contact, which had surprised the hell out of him. He chided himself for being so craven to just talk to her. She was astonishingly easy to talk to. But, by talking to her, getting to know her, he'd doomed himself. Because now he could never go back to a life without her in it. 

He reminded himself of the promise he made when he’d first returned to Velaris. Her choice. If she decided she wanted nothing to do with him, he would accept it. He wasn't sure how. It would utterly destroy him but... he would find a way to live with it. Somehow. He suddenly had much more respect for Rhysand. How he had stood by and watched his mate live with and love not only another male, but his sworn enemy, Lucien would never know. Rhysand endured the unrequited mating bond for  so long . Lucien reminded himself to commend his host for his fortitude... and ask him what his secret was to surviving it.

Elain was breaking off pieces of bread and throwing them to the gulls loitering nearby. The light caught on her iron ring at just the right angle to cause a tiny flare. It was just for a second and if he’d blinked, he would have missed it. He wished he’d blinked. 

Elain caught him looking at it and abruptly stopped throwing bread to the birds. They cawed their disapproval at the sudden lack of bread. Lucien’s throat bobbed. She seemed like she was settling in here, building a life, making connections in the city... so he couldn’t figure out why she still wore that infernal thing. 

He’d heard about her fiance’s brutal rejection upon finding out what she was. And about him. Feyre had told him that Greysen knew about Elain’s mating bond with Lucien. He squeezed his hand into a tight fist when he thought of how cruelly that mortal swine had dismissed the alleged love of his life. If he knew it wouldn’t absolutely devastate Elain, he would go to that spineless peacock’s estate and snap his neck. 

But he had more self-control than that and told himself that the boy wasn’t worth it. He just wished she would stop wearing that ring. 

I’d rather take the lashings from Amarantha’s whip again than see that wretched thing upon her hand.

Elain’s doe-brown eyes went wide. Lucien had closed his eyes and taken a hearty swig of wine at the moment he’d had that thought, so he didn’t see Elain’s horrified expression. If he had, he would have realized that his pain was so palpable, he’d unintentionally sent that thought through the mating bond. And Elain had heard it. 

Chapter Text

Elain had been quieter as they walked from the restaurant to the seamstress shop. Granted, the majority of the time he’d known her, she’d been quiet. But compared to the last couple of days, she was more quiet than usual. 

“Are you alright?” Lucien asked her tentatively. 

She smiled, but it was clear that it was an effort. “Just preoccupied, I suppose.”

Lucien began replaying everything they’d talked about since leaving the townhouse through his head, trying to identify what had triggered the change in her mood. If the mating bond had been solidified, he could reach her more easily. But since she hadn’t accepted it yet, it was still muted and murky. He wondered if she was thinking about the mortal whose ring she still wore. 

That fucking ring...

Lucien suddenly stopped. Elain had gone a few more steps before realizing he was no longer beside her. She turned back and said, “Are you alright?”

The ring. He’d been so agitated when he’d first thought about her ring at lunch. It was shortly after then that she’d begun acting aloof and sullen. Had she heard him through the bond?

No. It wasn’t possible. Even though mated pairs could communicate through the bond before it was formally accepted, he would have had to send the thought to her. And he hadn’t... had he? 

“Lucien?”

Her voice tugged him out of his spiraling thoughts. He was still reeling, still perplexed about this bond that even he didn’t fully understand yet. But the sound of his name on her sweet voice... It rocked him to his very core. He could live a thousand lifetimes and not hear anything as intoxicating as the sound of his name on her lips. 

“Lucien.”

Elain was starting to look worried, which is what finally pulled him back to the present. He both loved and hated seeing her doe-brown eyes clouded with concern.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a small shake of his head, expelling those toxic thoughts from his mind. “I let my thoughts run away with me.”

“You looked like you’d seen a ghost,” she said softly. 

It was Lucien’s turn to paste on a forced smile, but his was more convincing than Elain’s had been. 

As they neared Deidre’s shop, the street grew more crowded. Eventually, the throngs of people were so thick, there was no clear way through the crowd. 

“I wonder what’s going on,” Elain mused. 

Lucien could faintly hear a rapid, high-pitched voice calling out lot numbers and bids. 

“I think there must be some public auction,” he surmised. 

“Oh, you’re right,” she said. “On the new moon every month, the city auctions off surrendered and foreclosed properties and any other seized assets. Although Rhysand said that there’s usually no foreclosures or seizures, just surrenders.”

“This place really is some kind of nirvana,” he commented. 

Elain shrugged her agreement but then grimaced. To get to the seamstress, they would have to get through the crowd. There was another bridge, but they would have to backtrack nearly eight blocks. She held out her hand. 

Lucien stared at it like it was a rattlesnake poised to strike. Elain glanced back and waved her hand impatiently. 

“Come on.”

Lucien took her hand. She squeezed her fingers around his and tugged. He moved on autopilot, letting his feet follow the pull he felt from both her hand and the bond that tethered him to her. If hearing his name from her mouth was the sweetest sound in the world, then the feel of her hand in his had to be the best feeling. 

Elain led them through the crowd with many “Excuse me’s” and “Begging your pardon's.” 

Lucien felt like a fool. He was centuries old, the son of a High Lord, and here he was losing his shit over a girl taking his hand. He might as well be a boy back in lessons. He told himself he was being stupid, that it was just so they weren’t separated in the massive hoard of people, that it didn’t have anything to do with them...  but then Elain adjusted her grip and interlaced her fingers between his. And Lucien forgot how to think altogether. 

Yes, he had most definitely lost his shit. Over a girl holding his hand. What a fucking embarrassment he was. But she wasn’t just some girl, he reasoned with himself. She was his mate. His mate who, until very recently hadn’t seemed to want anything to do with him. And yet here she was, laughing and smiling and holding his fucking hand

Cauldron boil me. Still, the last time he’d felt this way about anyone, he had been barely more than a boy fresh out of lessons, sneaking off into the woods with Jesminda and allowing himself to be positively smitten. He’d taken lovers over the years, but never anyone else who meant anything to him.

He thought he felt a flicker of something that didn’t belong to him. It was just a fragment of a feeling - that backward flip of the stomach that’s both exhilarating and slightly nauseating at the same time. He felt it right when he’d squeezed her hand after she’d interlaced their fingers together. 

They reached the far end of the auction crowd and Lucien spotted the seamstress’s shop. He expected (and dreaded) Elain to let go of his hand, but to his surprise, she didn’t. She no longer pulled on his hand as she’d done when trying to get through the crowds, but she kept her fingers entwined between his all the way to the shop’s door. 

A tiny bell jingled as Elain opened the door. Deidre was calling out measurements to nobody, and yet a pen was scribbling across a sheet of paper on its own accord. She glanced over her shoulder and called out, “Oh Elain dear! I’ll be right up!”

Elain was admiring a bolt of orange fabric with coppery butterflies woven into the material. 

“I just got that in this morning,” Deidre commented, noticing Elain’s interest in it. “I’ll whip you up something from it. On the house.”

“Deidre, that’s not necessary,” Elain objected. 

“Nonsense, you’re my best customer.”

The squat shopkeeper turned her attention on Lucien. She kept her eyes on his hair for a beat too long before smiling and saying, “Now, you get into that dressing room and just try out what I’ve got so far. No need in me making a whole wardrobe if anything needs to be tweaked first.”

Again, Lucien was reminded of Alis. She had the same warm but authoritative presence. He hoped she and her nephews were living a life of peace and happiness in the Summer Court. He obeyed Deidre’s orders and went behind a partition to change. 

He emerged a moment later in tailored trousers that were somehow both fitted and comfortably casual. The tunic was a dark green breathable material that was also loose enough to be comfortable but still complimented his broad chest and muscled forearms. The sleeves and neck were lined with an intricate gold filigree design. He felt silly as Deidre ordered him onto the pedestal in front of several mirrors. She tugged and pinned in various places all while Elain tried not to laugh at the expressions Lucien pulled.

“How’s that?” Deidre asked after putting another pin in place.

“I didn’t know I was going to become a living pincushion today,” Lucien quipped. 

“Males,” Deidre bemoaned. “They complain about every last little thing. I meant with the clothes, you wiseass.”

Just like Alis. 

“You’ve got yourself a feisty one, girl,” Deidre said. 

Elain and Lucien both turned various shades of scarlet. 

“But the ones that are kissed by fire are always feisty,” she continued to no one in particular, still adjusting her pins. 

“Kissed by fire?” Elain wondered. 

“Oh don’t mind me, dear,” Deidre said with a wave of her hand. “Just an old expression my people have used for generations.”

“What does it mean? Is it an Autumn Court expression?”

Lucien shook his head and held a finger up, pointing to his hair. Elain nodded with understanding. 

“Well, I think that’s about right then,” the shopkeeper declared with a satisfied nod. “Now, mind you don’t knock loose any of my pins when you take those off.”

Lucien gave her a tiny salute as he disappeared behind the partition. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

As he took painstaking efforts to change without moving a single one of the seamstress’s pins, he could hear her chatting with Elain. 

“I thought the green would be a nice contrast to that fiery head of his. I wasn’t going to add the gold at first, but with that remarkable eye, I just couldn’t resist. Do you like it?”

Elain muttered something that sounded like, “doesn’t matter what I like.”

“Hmm, of course it doesn’t,” Deidre mused. “But do you like it?” 

Lucien had to strain to hear her. Her voice was barely above a whisper when she said, almost breathlessly, “He looked magnificent.”

Chapter Text

The walk back to the townhouse was relatively uneventful. They stopped once for Elain to buy a vibrant pink daisy from a small cart. 

“They’re almost out of season,” she explained as she tucked it behind her ear. 

Lucien gave her a look that was part wonder and part curiosity. 

“Are you wondering why I bought a flower that I have in my own garden?” She guessed. 

Lucien started. “Well... yes, actually.”

Elain smiled wistfully. “I see flowers the way people see art. Twenty artists could paint the same image, yet they would all be different. Each artist has their own style. Cultivating a garden is very much the same. Depending on how each person tends and nurtures their garden influences how the crops and flowers grow.”

Lucien was looking at her like he’d never seen her before. She nervously tucked a section of hair behind her ear just for something to do with her hands. She wanted to take his hand again but had no good excuse for doing so. Even though she’d initially grabbed him to avoid them getting separated in the crowd, once his fingers had laced between hers, her stomach had done a backflip. 

She rubbed her fingers together at the memory of how the callouses from decades of wielding weapons had brushed roughly against her smooth hand. Though she worked in a garden every day, she wore gloves to reduce the amount of dirt that ended up beneath her fingernails. 

She wished he would take her hand, but she strongly doubted he would. Thus far, he’d been nothing but gentlemanly, respecting the distance he seemed to think she needed. She couldn’t blame him... since his only other interactions with her had been so tense and strained. But that had been before she understood what she was and how to control it instead of letting it control her. She still had a long way to go before she could confidently say she was in control of her abilities, but... she was constantly improving. At the very least, she wanted to have a life here in Prythian now. 

For the first time, she wished for the mating bond so she could subconsciously tell him to take her hand. The moment she thought it she felt her face heat, and not from the sun. She was debating whether or not to just throw caution to the wind and take his hand again when he casually slid both of his into his pockets as they walked. Elain cursed her own indecisiveness. 

As they neared the townhouse, Elain could hear the raucous laughter of Cassian and Rhysand. She pushed open the wrought iron gate that surrounded her tiny garden and the sun caught on her ring again. The Cauldron must have maintained a personal grudge against her, she thought, as the light reflected directly into Lucien’s eyes. 

They flashed with heartache and sorrow. It was gone when she looked again, but the thought he’d unknowingly sent down the bond came rushing back to her. She suddenly felt nauseous again. Lucien, to his credit, showed no outward signs of any discomfort as they entered the townhouse. 

Cassian halted mid-sentence when they came walking in. His eyes went from the shopping bags Lucien carried to the flower tucked behind Elain’s ear. 

“Oh, I so wish Nesta was here,” he chortled. 

Feyre elbowed him in the ribs. “You thrive off of chaos, Cass.”

He shrugged and said, “Guilty as charged.”

“Honestly, by now Feyre darling, you shouldn’t be surprised,” Rhys said, amusement dancing in his violet eyes. 

Lucien excused himself to carry his parcels up to his room. Elain’s eyes followed up all the way up the stairs until he rounded the corner into the hallway and out of her sight. 

Cassian was reminiscing on some story from his and Rhysand’s training days when Cass had caused some manner of ruckus. Elain wasn’t paying attention. She grabbed Feyre’s arm, a bit harder than she meant to, and hissed, “I need to talk to you. Now.”

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Elain was pacing back and forth in her room. Feyre had erected one of her air bubbles or whatever it was that kept their surroundings sound-proof. 

“Feyre, you have to tell him,” she blurted.

“Tell him what?” Feyre’s confusion was painted clearly on her face. “What happened?”

“I... I felt, no not felt. I heard his thoughts.”

Feyre looked slightly surprised but reasoned, “That’s not uncommon, as I understand it. Rhys could hear a lot of my thoughts, especially in the beginning before he’d taught me to build my mental shields. And that was months before I accepted the mating bond or even knew of its existence.”

“But I don’t even know how to talk or communicate through it.”

Elain was on the verge of tears. She didn’t know why this was affecting her so strongly. He’d only been here for... she had to stop and think. Two days? Had he really only been back for two days? Perhaps these mating bonds were more serious and complex than she’d initially thought. She felt like he'd been back for weeks. She had already grown so used to his presence around the house. Around her. She shook her head. It was too soon. She still didn’t know what she wanted. Or felt. She was still trying to figure herself out on top of everything else. 

“What is it that you think I need to tell him?” Feyre’s voice was steady and soothing. 

Elain closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Even with Feyre’s wall of air, she could smell faint traces of it. Of him. Sunlight, oranges, and sandalwood. 

“About why I’m still wearing the ring.” Even as she said it, she pushed it in circles with her thumb. 

Feyre blinked. “Don’t you think that’s something you should tell him?”

“No!” Elain was wringing her hands. “I—I can’t. Not yet.”

“I’m not saying you have to decide how you feel right now. But I just think it would mean more if it came from you.”

“Feyre, you didn’t hear it... You didn’t feel it,” Elain insisted. “It felt like someone wrapped their fist around my heart and squeezed until it threatened to burst. And not in the good way.”

“Take a deep breath and tell me exactly what happened.”

Elain breathed in deeply and exhaled. She explained about lunch and the sunlight catching on her ring. “And then he said— well, I guess he thought it but it was as loud and clear as if he’d said it directly to me. He thought that he would rather take the beating he got Under the Mountain for helping you than see me wearing this ring.”

Feyre paled. “By the Cauldron...” 

“Please, Feyre,” Elain begged. “Please... I—I need more time to sort through things and to know him better but... I can’t bear to see that look on his face ever again.”

“Oh—Okay,” Feyre stammered. “I’ll talk to him.”

Elain threw her arms around her sister and let out a shaky breath. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Chapter Text

And so, Feyre’s meddling had landed her exactly where Rhys told her not to get - directly in the middle. He’d tell her I told you so later, she was sure of it. 

After an unusually uneventful dinner, Feyre jerked her head at Lucien and then the door to the patio. To Elain’s little garden. Lucien steeled himself to be told off and got up to follow his friend outside. Rhys and Cassian, leaning against the counter with glasses of amber liquor in their hands, stared unabashedly after them. 

Nosy Illyrian Bastards, he mouthed at them as he walked outside. 

Cassian bowed. Actually bowed. Lucien hated to admit he liked the cocky son of a bitch. 

Once he was outside, Feyre threw up her handy little wall, or in this case, dome of air to block sound. Something about it triggered his memory and before she could speak he pointed an accusatory finger at her. 

“This is what you did back at the manor, isn’t it? How you masked your scent in my room and kept Tamlin from hearing anything until he’d rounded the corner and saw us. Tell me I'm wrong?”

Feyre’s silence and tight-lipped smile was all the confirmation he needed. 

“It would have been impressive,” Lucien admitted. “If I hadn’t been absolutely terrified that Tamlin was going to slice me into ribbons.”

“I’ll admit, you were the one variable I didn’t consider all the way through,” Feyre said, not willing to meet his eyes. 

He cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean?”

“When I first got back to the manor, I knew you suspected me,” Feyre explained. “And at the time, I hated you for following him so blindly.”

Lucien had the decency to look ashamed. “Believe me, I will never forgive myself for—”

“I know,” Feyre interrupted him. “At first, I had no moral issues letting you go down with him and his entire court... but the longer I was there, the more I was reminded that he treated you like something he’d stepped in. When we went on that last scouting trip to the wall, I had more than a little remorse for dragging you into it and then planning to leave you to deal with the aftermath.”

Lucien cocked an eyebrow in slight surprise, thinking hard. “After he scolded us like children for setting the Bogge on the Hybern twins... you let his rage wound you.”

Feyre took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I should have done a lot of things differently. I was angry and wanted personal vengeance against him. I know it was selfish. But yes, to answer your question. I could have protected myself from his rage, but I wanted him to see what the results were when no one and nothing protected me from him.”

Lucien shook his head, half in disbelief and half in... he wasn’t entirely sure. Part of him was undeniably impressed with the tangled plot she’d weaved, even though she’d played him as part of it. 

“By the Cauldron,” Lucien breathed, suddenly realizing how all the pieces had fit together. “You made him think that we—” He gestured between himself and Feyre with wide eyes.

Again, her silence confirmed it. 

He barked out a laugh. “I cannot believe you!” 

Feyre was trying to suppress her smile but was failing miserably. 

It was brilliant, he had to admit it. Lay seeds of doubt and mistrust that would blossom into Tamlin’s biggest fear - his closest friend betraying him by taking his betrothed for a lover. He ought to be furious at her for using him as a pawn in her game, but she had played it so well. Still, he was curious about one thing. 

“What would you have done if I hadn’t insisted on coming with you?”

Feyre didn’t answer immediately. She sat on the little stone bench and stroked the leaves of Elain’s roses. Lucien hoped Feyre didn’t start plucking petals. He felt oddly protective over those flowers. They were the one thing that brought Elain genuine joy.

When Feyre looked up at him, he was startled to see a tear rolling down her cheek. “I don’t know,” she confessed. “I mean, I do. I would have left you there. And I would have never forgiven myself for it. It made me sick to think of what Tamlin would do to you.”

Lucien felt a surge of affection toward his friend. She’d made some poor judgment calls, but he supposed they all had. He sat down beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. She sniffled and wiped her nose on his sleeve. 

“Oh, nice,” he said dryly. 

“I think, even before you insisted on coming with me, I was willing to let you come,” Feyre admitted. 

“And when did you decide that?” He had a sinking feeling in his gut that he knew. 

“When I found you shackled against that tree,” she said, her eyes turning dark with hate.

Lucien shuddered. Ianthe. There were few people he hated enough to summon his rarely-used powers to set them ablaze, but she was at the top of the list. Even now, knowing she was dead, he couldn’t forget the abhorrent things he’d done with her. All to keep Tamlin from having to be unfaithful to a female who didn't even love him anymore. Everything Lucien had done, everything he’d sacrificed had been for Tamlin. And what had Tamlin ever sacrificed for him? The selfish prick deserved to live out the rest of his days alone. 

Feyre knew what Ianthe had done to him. He had made her swear never to tell Elain. It made him sick to his stomach just thinking about it. Gods, if Elain ever found out... she’d never look at him the same way. She was only just starting to look at him like he was worth something, like he could be...  something to her. It would destroy him if she ever found out. 

As if sensing he needed to be pulled out of his spiraling thoughts, Feyre said, “I would have died in those mountains.”

Lucien furrowed his brow. “What?” It was a physical effort to drag himself out of that self-destructive line of thinking. 

“In the Winter Court,” Feyre clarified. “I would have died if I’d been by myself. Your stubborn ass insisting on coming with me saved my life.”

“Your life might not have needed saving if I hadn’t been with you. I doubt my brothers would have pursued just you so relentlessly.”

Feyre pursed her lips. “Yes, well...” She looked like she wanted to say more but caught herself just before saying something she shouldn’t have. 

“As much as getting all of that out in the open helps, I feel like that isn’t why you wanted to talk to me?” Lucien looked at her expectantly. 

“No,” she admitted. “It’s about Elain.”

Lucien tensed. He prepared himself for her to tell him to back off, to leave her alone. He stared at the ground and dug the toe of his boot into the loose soil. He wasn’t prepared for what she actually said. 

“You know she doesn’t still love him, right?”

“What?” Lucien glanced up sharply. 

“Greysen,” Feyre said. 

Every time he heard that name, Lucien tasted bile. 

“She doesn’t love him.”

What he would give for that to be true. “She still wears his ring, Feyre,” he said testily. 

“Not for the reasons you might think...”

“What other reasons could there be?” He couldn’t understand why Feyre insisted on trying to spin it into any other thing that it was. Or why bring it up at all. Unless this was her way of telling him to back off. 

“She wears it to remind herself of how he treated her, in the end.”

“Why would she want to be reminded of that?” His lip curled up with disgust. 

“So that when she chooses to give away her heart again, it will be to someone who deserves it.”

Hope flickered in Lucien’s eye but quickly vanished. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”

“I swear it.” He saw the fire dance behind her eyes. The same fire that lived deep within himself. The fire they'd both inherited from the High Lord of Autumn.

He wanted to believe her. Oh, how he wanted to believe that. But it was much more likely that Elain was still holding on to the one shred of humanity she still possessed. Lucien swallowed thickly. After Jesminda, he’d never expected to love again. Only now did he remember how much pain love could cause. 

“Can I show you?” Feyre asked tentatively. 

Lucien’s brows creased with confusion until he remembered one of her gifts. She was a daemati. He shrugged. 

Feyre took a deep breath and suddenly, Lucien felt talons, not unlike the ones Rhysand had used when he’d entered Lucien’s mind Under the Mountain. He automatically tensed. Only hers were gentle, waiting to be invited in. Not like the one that had seized control of his mind by force. When he was seconds from being ripped apart from the inside out. He understood why Rhys had done it, but it didn’t change the fact that he’d been truly terrified of losing everything that he was. Until Feyre... Feyre had sacrificed her name, her identity, in exchange for his life. Even though she’d known that Amarantha would put her through hell for it. He reminded himself to strive to be a better friend to her. Even if she had no connection whatsoever to Elain, he loved Feyre as he would a sister. 

That’s sweet, Lucien. Her voice echoed inside his head. I love you too, pain in the ass that you may be. 

Lucien was about to retort when she spoke, or... thought, again. Now shut up and listen. 

It was the strangest sensation Lucien had ever felt. It felt like her hands were physically gripping his face, forcing him to look at the scene in front of her... him... whatever. Yet the only physical touch she maintained was a gentle hand on his arm. She took him into her own mind, and he saw Elain as clearly as if she were standing right in front of him. But, he supposed, he was inside Feyre’s head, so she was. 

“Why do I still wear it?”
“I suppose it’s a reminder.”
“Of what?”
“Of why I’m better off here. Of the prejudice and hatred that we aspire to overcome.”

Lucien felt Feyre’s joy at her sister saying “we” instead of “they.” It mirrored his own. 

“And I’ve decided what I’m going to do with it, eventually.”
“When I give my heart to a deserving male, I’m going to chuck this hateful ring into the Sidra.”
“I want him to know I did it for him.”

Feyre released Lucien before she could feel anything that he was thinking as he processed everything he’d just witnessed. Those thoughts weren’t for her to see. 

Feyre had given him arguably the best gift he’d ever received. He hugged her fiercely. When he released her, Lucien’s russet eye burned but he didn’t care.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself now,” Feyre warned. 

Lucien’s brow creased. 

“I’m thrilled that things seem to be going so well between you two,” Feyre explained. “But don’t go jumping to conclusions. I don’t want to see either one of you with a broken heart.”

“I told myself when I came back here that it would always be her choice,” Lucien said. “Even if that choice wasn’t me. And I still mean that. I can’t promise that I could stay here if she chose someone else. Accepting it and watching it are two different things. But it will always be her choice.”

Feyre eyed him cautiously. 

“I just... It...” Lucien struggled to explain. 

“It gives you hope to know she’s at least considering it?” Feyre offered. 

He nodded. Feyre put a gentle hand on his arm. 

“I’m rooting for you. I truly am. Rhys picks on me and calls me a meddling matchmaker but I want you to find true happiness. Both of you. Whatever that means and with whomever you choose..."

He nodded. but stayed quiet. 

"Now," she went on, "I wouldn’t be a meddling matchmaker if I didn’t give you a hint.”

Lucien’s eyebrows rose in curiosity. 

“Elain’s favorite flowers are tiger lilies,” Feyre supplied as she used the toe of her shoe to point to the violently orange flower. 

Lucien’s mouth curved into a grin, mischievous and fox-like. “Your information is weak, matchmaker. I already knew that.”

Feyre’s mouth dropped in slight surprise. 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Elain stayed in her room the remainder of the afternoon and evening. She remembered Feyre writing a letter to Tamlin after the defeat of Hybern, thanking him for his help and attempting to settle the hard feelings left behind their tumultuous ending. 

Elain pulled out a pen and parchment from her bedside table and began writing. It was a letter she would never send, but perhaps it would make her feel differently once her thoughts were on paper. Perhaps she would burn it when she was through. 

By the time Feyre came in with a bowl of stew and some crackers, Elain had written three pages. 

“What’s this?” She set the bowl down on the vanity and peered over Elain’s shoulder. 

“Just... something. I don’t really know,” Elain admitted. “I don’t intend to send it. Just something to do for me.”

Feyre nodded with understanding. Elain set the pen down and glanced at the bowl. 

“He asked about you at dinner,” Feyre said. 

Elain nodded. She felt like a coward for hiding up in her room, sending her sister to be her messenger. “Did you tell him?”

“I did.”

Elain held her hands out, palms toward the ceiling. “And?” She demanded impatiently. 

Feyre poked her sister in the arm. “Oh no. I’m not going to be the go-between. You asked me to tell him. I told him. The rest is up to you.”

Elain stuck out her tongue but said, “Fair enough.”

“I will say this, though... Don’t be surprised if he starts paying much closer attention to your fingers now.” 

It felt like a nasty, horrible weight had been lifted off of Elain’s chest. Like she hadn’t realized it was difficult to breathe until she could breathe normally again. Outside her window, the sun was setting and had painted the sky pink and orange. 

Feyre’s voice was much quieter when she spoke again. “What do you know about his past?”

"I thought you said the rest is up to me?"

"I'm serious."

Elain turned away from the window. She hadn’t expected to see her sister looking so full of sorrow.

“Not much,” Elain admitted. 

“Before I learned to control my powers, I accidentally went into his mind,” Feyre admitted. “You and Rhys are the only people I've told. And what I saw and what I felt... I don’t want you to feel like I’m pushing you in any one direction, but I truly believe you two would be good for each other.”

Feyre shook her head, as if she was trying to expel the feelings and memories she'd unintentionally seen inside his head. “Just... get him to open up to you. Believe me,” she said, her voice breaking, “he needs a friend as much as you do.”

After Feyre had kissed the top of Elain’s head and left her alone, Elain had crawled beneath her sheets, the bowl of stew untouched. She didn’t remember falling asleep... but like so many nights before, she found herself in an autumn forest, pursuing some unknown quarry. Though, as the leaves crunched beneath her feet, she suspected she was searching for someone who’d been kissed by fire. 

Chapter Text

 

A clap of thunder woke Elain with a start. She automatically looked to the clock on the wall only to find no clock where one should be. She eyed the pillowcase beneath her head. Hunter green. The scent of sunlight, oranges, and sandalwood filled the room. The forest dream.

She wasn’t even surprised that she woke in Lucien’s room for the third day in a row. She didn’t immediately scramble out of the bed like she had the previous two mornings, however. He never woke up before and she suspected he wouldn’t wake up now. 

She took a moment to let her eyes adjust to the dimly lit room. The only light came from the smoldering embers in the fireplace. She finally located a clock on the mantle and saw that it was nearly five in the morning. A magnificent thunderstorm was raging outside the window. 

This was the kind of weather that made Elain want to burrow deep beneath the covers and go back to sleep. But she didn’t dare. It was one thing to take a few minutes to peer around his room. It was entirely something else to go back to sleep and risk him waking before she did. 

As she slowly got out of the bed, she tried to hold on to the tendrils of the dream that were already slipping away the longer she was conscious. She had been so close to catching just a glimpse of whatever it was she was pursuing. She whispered a curse at the clap of thunder that had woken her just before she’d seen what she was chasing. 

From Lucien’s window, she could see most of her little garden, practically drowning under the tempest that raged outside. She hoped she could use magic to perk her babies back up once the storm passed. A normal, mortal garden would have been wrecked from a storm like this, but Rhys had told her that a little bit of magic protected it from harsh weather such as this.

She decided she’d lingered long enough and turned away from the window to go back to her own room. She stopped as she was passing by the bed. Or more accurately, something made her stop. Her feet wouldn’t have kept moving no matter what she’d willed them to do.

She studied his sleeping form. He was lying on his back, bare from the waist up. His tunic was draped over the back of a chair in the corner. The sheet was bunched up by his ankles, as if he’d slept restlessly and kicked at it for most of the night. That struck her as odd since she'd slept peacefully, even though she'd been woken from her dream abruptly. For the first time since she’d started waking up in this room, she wondered how long she spent here each night before waking up. 

Lucien, mercifully, appeared not to sleep nude as Feyre claimed Rhys did. Elain had shrieked and stuck her fingers in her ears, insisting that was too much information about her sister’s mate. Though he was clothed from the waist down, the top button of Lucien’s trousers was undone, causing them to rest almost obscenely low on his hips. Elain might have let her eyes linger on the wide, flat plane of his stomach and the sensual way his hip bones formed the shape of a V... 

She jerked her head back up toward his face, even as hers burned crimson. Bless the Mother than he hadn’t been awake to see her staring at him like that. Yet, her traitorous mind wondered if he’d be mortified or aroused at the thought of it. Or perhaps a little of both?  She was shocked by her own daring. This was so far beyond propriety that she hardly believed it was happening. And yet... the Cauldron or the Mother or some other power had declared that out of all the males who had and ever would walk this earth, he was the one to be her match. 

She turned her attention to his face. Even though the sheets bore evidence to a restless night, his face betrayed no such signs of distress. He looked peaceful. His long red hair, which he always either tied behind his neck or every once in a while, wore in a thick braid, was loose and splayed wildly around his pillow. 

Just as it had been the previous morning, a section of his hair was across half of his face. Elain glanced down at the balled-up sheets once more. Those, combined with his untamed hair, almost certainly confirmed her suspicion that at some point in the night, he’d thrashed wildly and restlessly. She wondered what terrors haunted his dreams. 

She knew what haunted hers. A rough, burlap sack over her head and a gag in her mouth. The bruising grip of those brutal guards as they’d manhandled her into that wretched cauldron. And the Cauldron itself... though rare, those dreams still returned to her every once in a while. 

As she looked down at his sleeping face, she remembered how gentle he’d been after she was poured out of the Cauldron like stale bathwater. She’d been freezing and shivering, positively indecent in her thin nightgown. He had shed his own jacket and wrapped it around her. He’d picked her up and held her tightly as she’d shivered against him. She had been too traumatized by shock to fully understand and appreciate what he’d done in the moments after she’d been Made. 

A memory pulled at her. Something she’d forgotten until just now. It was before the guards had forced her into the Cauldron. As Feyre’s former fiance had stood by and watched idly, it had been Lucien who’d stepped forward and at least tried to stop it. 

That’s enough . She recalled the threat in that low, guttural growl. 

And now here he was, sleeping mere feet from her. Close enough to touch. Her mate. 

Mate.

It was as if that one, solitary word propelled her fingers forward, giving in to the desire to do what she’d wanted to do the previous morning. Fingers as light as feathers, she swept the hair away from his face, revealing the jagged scar beneath. As he slept, one would have no inkling that one of his eyes was a mechanical stand-in, after that monster Amarantha had clawed it out. Feyre hadn't told her much, insisting that it would be better if Elain got to know him on her own, but she had told her that story at least. Elain felt something inside her boil and rage as she recalled the details her sister had shared with her.

For the first time in quite a while, she thought of her alleged friends back in the village. How shallow and vain they’d all been. And Elain had been guilty of it as well. They’d remark about the boys and bachelors of their little town. About their perfect features. Their sleek hair, breathtaking eyes, perfect noses. Elain grimaced with disgust at the person she used to be.

No doubt her “friends” would have said atrocious things if a man in town had borne a scar like this. They would have sneered and never given him a second glance. But Elain studied his face again. That scar was evidence of the courage and bravery he’d shown when he’d challenged that loathsome female’s rule. When he’d demonstrated that he and his people weren’t afraid of her. Even if he didn’t think so, she couldn’t help but think the scar made him even more devastatingly handsome than he already was. 

Wishing she had Nuala and Cerridwen’s powers to turn to smoke and whisps, she risked one final touch. She ran her finger, so lightly, across the scar that ran from his forehead to his chin. Lucien shifted in his sleep and the softest sigh escaped his lips. Elain jerked her hand back and held her breath, but he merely settled back in and remained, to her relief, asleep. 

She retreated back to her room and for the first time, wished Feyre hadn’t deliberately given Lucien the room farthest from hers. 

Chapter Text

Once everyone was awake and gathered in the sitting room, Rhys tore off a bite of bread with his teeth and between chewing, said, “Well, we’ve more or less figured out how to get everyone up to the House of Wind in this monsoon.”

“Oh, pray tell?” Nesta barked. 

Elain winced. Nesta was especially... Nesta today. 

“Cass, Az, and Feyre will carry Nesta, Elain, and Lucien,” Rhys explained lazily. “Cass and Az can use their Siphons to shield from the rain and Feyre has that handy little air bubble ability that she’s so fond of using to have secret conversations... Out— in— the— open,” Rhys poked her in the stomach after each of the last four words. 

Feyre swatted at him. 

“What about Mor and Amren?” Nesta asked with her arms crossed. 

“I’m going to winnow in with them just above the wards. We might get a smidge wet, but they’ll survive,” Rhys supplied. 

“Yeah, how about giving us an ETA on when you’re planning to come in for that landing,” Lucien appealed. “Because I’d rather be down in the bottom of that library having a friendly chat with Bryaxis than be within range of a sopping wet, pissed off Amren.”

Elain burst out laughing. Several heads turned to look at her, including Azriel and Nesta. While Azriel regarded her with something like satisfaction, Nesta’s glare was accusatory and scolding. 

“Oh, Nessie, lighten up, it’s just a bit of rain,” Cassian said as he nudged her hip with his. 

“Wh—what did you just call me?” Nesta spluttered so hard she temporarily forgot to look daggers at Lucien. 

“Nessie,” Cassian repeated with a shrug. “Y’know, Cassian... Cass. Nesta... Nessie.” He gave her a brilliant grin that flashed as many teeth as he could manage. 

Everyone was seemingly holding their breath for Nesta’s response. 

“I... may just kill you for that,” Nesta promised, her voice unnervingly calm as rage danced in her eyes. 

“Not if you never train,” Cassian retorted. “You’d have to catch me first.” As if for emphasis, he winnowed away and reappeared at the far end of the foyer, closest to the stairs.

Nesta’s eyes narrowed into a simmering glare. “Feyre, you carry me to the damned House. Make the Loudmouth with a death wish carry him .” She slung her head around to indicate she meant Lucien. 

“Hey!” Lucien protested. “Why do I get punished for him being a moron?”

Nesta just cocked her head to the side and smiled, but there was no warmth in it. “I think you know why.”

“You all are worse than a pack of feral cats,” Amren huffed as she winnowed into the foyer. “Where’s Mor?”

“She should be winnowing in any—”

Mor appeared between Azriel and Lucien. “Damn, you all get so pissy when the weather is shit.”

“Well, good morning to you too, Mor,” Cass called over Nesta’s head, having winnowed back beside her. 

“Let’s get going, then, while the rain isn’t coming down in absolute sheets,” Rhys said in his High Lord voice. 

They all traipsed up the stairs, ragtag group that they were, and out onto the semi-covered rooftop balcony. Feyre summoned her wings and Lucien quickly moved to her side before Nesta had the chance to reach her sister. He gave her a pleading look and Feyre rolled her eyes but nodded all the same. 

Nesta scowled. 

“Looks like you do get to ride with me,” Cassian purred at her. She punched him in the arm. “Weak. I’m telling you, come train with me.”

Nesta didn’t reply as she begrudgingly let him pick her up. 

Lucien’s gut twisted when Azriel picked up Elain.  He felt something dark and ugly stir inside him when Elain wrapped her arms around Az's neck for security. Lucien had never wanted to be an Illyrian with those leathery membranous wings... until now. 

A sharp poke in his ribs made him turn away to look at Feyre. “What?” His voice came out as a hiss. 

“You’re staring,” she muttered. 

Lucien’s eyes, both russet and gold, darted around to see if anyone else had noticed. They were all preparing for the tumultuous journey up to the House and hadn’t. Lucien breathed a sigh of relief. He glanced at Cassian and Azriel, each holding one of Feyre’s sisters with one hand beneath their knees and one on their backs. 

Lucien glanced at Feyre again and cocked an eyebrow.

“You can bear my weight?” He was doubtful. 

Feyre laughed. “Don’t you trust me?”

“Oh, I trust you,” Lucien answered without hesitation. “I’m just not thrilled about being carried like some damsel in distress.”

Feyre glanced at Cassian and Azriel, each carrying one of her sisters, as they activated the shields from their Siphons and took to the air. Rhys took Mor and Amren by the hand and vanished. She chewed on her bottom lip, thinking. 

“I could hold you beneath your arms, but you’d be dangling. And I wouldn’t be able to fly as long with you like that.”

“Well then, winnow to just above the wards and drop me in.”

“The wards extend over fifty feet above the perimeter of the House,” Feyre warned. 

“I don’t care.” He was barely concerned with how he’d get to the House. Not when his mind was fully occupied by how effortless and familiar it was for Azriel to scoop up Elain and fly off into the sky with her, as if he’d done it dozens of times before. Which, Lucien reminded himself miserably, he probably had. Lucien had told himself he would accept whatever choice Elain made... but only now did it really occur to him that she might not choose him. He started taking quick, shallow breaths as panic threatened to overtake him.

“Stop,” Feyre commanded. 

Lucien looked up sharply at her. “Did you...?”

“No,” Feyre replied, hurt flashing in her eyes that he even thought she would intrude his mind without his permission. “I didn't have to. It’s written all over your face.” 

Lucien felt like a fool. Prior to Hybern’s downfall, he’d been gone for weeks in search of the cursed queen. And then after, he’d spent months helping the humans rebuild. Azriel had been there when Lucien hadn’t. He had hoped that staying away for a while, giving her time to adjust to her new life, would be better for her. Evidently, it had worked too well - she’d adjusted to life without him in it. He’d been stupid to think that in just a few days, he’d made any kind of impression on her at all. She was probably just being friendly and trying to make him feel welcome. 

"Stop,"  Feyre said again. 

But he couldn’t. “Are she and him...” He couldn’t finish the question. Couldn’t put it into speech. Saying out loud would make it more real. 

Feyre sighed. “Azriel has been a dear friend to her,” she said carefully. “They’re a lot alike. Both quiet and reserved but open up once you get to know them. They’re—they’re good for each other.”

Lucien squeezed his eyes shut. Counted to five. Opened them. Feyre was still giving him that sad... no, that wasn’t sadness in her eyes. It was pity. That was even worse. 

“Maybe coming here was a mistake,” he muttered. 

And then Feyre did something he never would have expected her to do. She slapped him sharply across the back of his head. 

“You’re doing exactly what I told you not to do,” Feyre chided. “You’re getting ahead of yourself. I said they were good for each other, but for Cauldron’s sake, Lucien. Mor and I are good for each other. That doesn’t mean we’re going to sleep together!”

Lucien rubbed the back of his head where she’d hit him. But it had served its intended purpose... she slapped enough sense into him to stop feeling sorry for himself. He reminded himself again that it was about Elain’s happiness, not his, that was important. 

“Now come on,” Feyre commanded. “Rhys is wondering where we are. He wants to know if he needs to come back and get you?”

“Absolutely not.”

Feyre chuckled softly. “Fine. Now let’s go.”

Lucien sighed and strongly considered winnowing above the wards and just free falling. 

“Do I have to hit you again?”

Lucien just shook his head as Feyre stood behind him and slid her arms under his, gripping just beneath his shoulders. “This isn’t going to be a comfortable ride,” she warned. 

“Let’s just go,” Lucien grumbled. 

Feyre flapped her wings and they rose into the sky. Lucien fought down the nausea that always accompanied flying. Feyre had surrounded them with that bubble of air she was so fond of, so the rain and even the wind didn’t touch them. As they flew, Feyre said, “I have an idea" but didn't elaborate any further.

But whoever she was sharing that idea with, it wasn’t Lucien. No doubt she was communicating with Rhys through their bond. He let himself wonder if he would ever be able to talk to Elain from miles away through that same bond. The first time he’d felt it... there was no way to describe the blend of emotions it had invoked. He still couldn’t fathom how something could make him elated and terrified at the same time. 

They neared the House and Feyre flew up, apparently to where the wards stopped. Rhys flew up to meet them. He was soaked. Lucien silently reminded himself to give Amren a wide berth once they landed.

“I’m going to have Rhys hold you up here so I can land,” Feyre explained. “From the balcony, I can keep a bubble of air around you and Rhys and create a second one for you to land on when he drops you.”

Lucien thought of all the ways that could go wrong but didn’t object. He hadn't been lying earlier when he told Feyre he trusted her. 

Rhys carefully replaced Feyre’s hold on him and she darted down to the balcony. Lucien didn’t see the others; they must have already gone inside. He gulped when Feyre looked up at them and nodded. 

“On three, okay?” Rhys said. 

Lucien didn’t trust himself to speak. 

“One... two...” Rhys let go. 

Even as Lucien fell, Rhys flew as near to him as possible. He supposed it was to catch him if Feyre’s little air trick failed. But by the grace of the Mother, it didn’t. One moment, there was nothing between him and the ground but gravity. The next, it felt like he was sitting on... nothing. But definitely not falling anymore. 

His feet touched the balcony seconds before Rhys landed beside him. Feyre has a relieved smile. Clearly, she had wondered if it would work too. 

“That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” She asked. 

“Next time,” Lucien said, resisting the urge to kiss the ground, “just carry me like a damn girl. I never want to do that again.”

Rhys roared with laughter as the three of them went inside the House of Wind. 

Chapter Text

Once Lucien remembered how to breathe normally, he wandered to the library. The only other time he’d been to this House was when he’d first come to the Night Court with Feyre. He’d been so preoccupied with seeing Elain that he hadn’t fully appreciated the grandeur of the House itself, including its remarkable library. 

Rhys had told everyone before leaving the townhouse that if the storm continued into the night, family dinner might turn into an overnight event. Dinner wasn’t for hours but Rhys had wanted to get everyone up to the House before the storm got worse. 

Lucien had asked why go up to the House at all if the weather was that bad. It would be cramped but they could have all gathered for dinner at the townhouse. Rhys had turned grim and said, “Because of Feyre’s little arrangement, whoever draws the short straw has to go talk to Bryaxis after dinner.”

Lucien had paled at that. That thing was not of this world. He’d seen it briefly during the battle with Hybern and had hoped never to see it again.

Lucien had expected the library to be empty. Cassian, Feyre, Azriel, and Rhys had gone off to train, even though it was pouring. Nesta and Amren were... somewhere. They were a lethal combination. Lucien shuddered at the thought of those two unleashing their fury on the world. And the Morrigan had asked Elain something about her garden, so he assumed they had gone off to see it. 

But when he pushed open the mahogany door, he found that the library was not empty. 

Lucien remembered all too well the condition he’d found her in the first—and only—time he’d entered this library. She had been little more than skin and bones, wasting away with no light in her eyes. She had been a shell, void of any emotions at all. That memory, that image of her, would haunt him forever.

What a stark difference was before him now. Elain was curled up in a comfortable-looking armchair, her feet tucked beneath her with a book open in her lap. Her face was no longer gaunt and hollow. It was full of joy and life. 

She looked up from her book and smiled when she saw him. Mother save him... He wondered if she knew what that smile did to him. That every smile she’d ever offered him was more precious than the last. 

She replaced the ribbon to mark where she’d left off and closed the book. 

“I didn’t expect you to be in here,” Lucien admitted. “I thought you were in the garden with Mor.”

“I was, but then Cassian taunted her into training with them.”

Lucien nodded in understanding as he claimed the chaise lounge across from her. 

“Mor is remarkable,” Elain said quietly. 

You’re remarkable. Lucien thought. 

From the pink blush that colored Elain’s cheeks, he suspected she’d heard him. He hadn't intended her to, but the bond was still mysterious and unpredictable. Even he wasn't entirely sure how it worked since she seemed to occasionally hear things that he didn't realize he was sending. Or perhaps it was just that open channel between them, not unlike a gate that swang open from time to time due to having a broken lock. The bond hadn't been accepted yet, but neither had it been rejected. It was just... there. 

“She’s beautiful and regal,” Elain continued. “But she’s also a warrior.”

“Wars are ugly affairs. Wielding a blade is a good skill to have, but one you secretly hope you never have to use.”

Elain nodded. “I could never be as brave as Mor.”

“But you were,” Lucien gently reminded her. “You dealt the killing blow to the king.”

She looked down at her hands and mumbled, “That was Nesta.”

“Nesta was cornered,” he countered. “You saved her. And Cassian. The king would have killed them if you hadn’t shown up.”

Darkness flashed in her eyes. She shivered at the memory and Lucien immediately felt terrible for making her relive it.

“I remember the last time you came in here,” Elain said softly. “When I was still lost.”

Lucien remembered too. How pale she’d been. How deathly thin. Even in her malnourished state, she’d been beautiful. But now... her fair skin was golden and tanned from spending so much time out in her garden. She’d gained back the weight she had lost. Now she was breathtaking.  

“You said you wanted to see the sun,” Lucien suddenly remembered. 

Elain nodded and glanced at the window. The sky was nearly black from storm clouds and rain lashed at the window panes. 

“Not much chance of that today, I’m afraid,” he lamented. 

Elain shook her head. “I can still see it.”

Lucien blinked. “How?” Did her Seer abilities allow her to look through the tempest and see the sun shining behind it?

“I see it in you,” she said. “Sometimes it’s like you are sunlight.”

Lucien didn’t know how to reply to that so he said nothing. It didn’t make any sense, what she was saying. But something about it made him happy. That, whether she was speaking literally or metaphorically, he could be that for her. 

“Oh!” She exclaimed, and then remembering that she was in a library, clapped her hand over her mouth. “I almost forgot,” she continued in a hushed voice, “I have something for you.”

That truly took Lucien by surprise. He watched as she reached into the pocket of her dress and withdrew a small swatch of leather. His confusion must have been evident because she went on to explain, “You said you’d make a new one since you insisted I keep it.” 

She gestured to the strip of leather tied at the end of her braid. “I got it when we were at Deidre’s yesterday. I showed her yours and she found the closest leather that matched it.” 

She leaned forward and held it out. He didn’t move. Didn’t think he could just yet. He was frozen in place, staring at the fabric folded in her hand. It was incredible how such a small, insignificant thing could mean so much. He had been sincere when he’d called her remarkable. She was so thoughtful and kind and genuine. Everything he wasn’t and didn’t deserve. 

Her face fell. “If it’s the wrong kind, I can ask Deidre to—”

Lucien’s knee collided painfully with the low lying table in his haste to lean forward and take the fabric. He bit back the curse he would have uttered and breathed, “It’s perfect. Thank you.”

Elain looked relieved. Her hands suddenly empty, she reached for the tail of her braid and fumbled with it. She did that a lot, Lucien observed. 

“This is... You didn’t have to do that,” Lucien declared. 

“I wanted to,” she insisted, her cheeks flushed. “And it was nothing.” 

No, it wasn’t nothing. It most definitely was something. Lucien wanted to take her in his arms and hold her tightly to him, but he didn’t want to frighten her.  He couldn’t explain why something so simple as her wearing that stupid, insignificant leather strip made him as happy as it did. Oh, but it did. 

Lucien cleared his throat and searched for something to say. He gestured to the book still in her lap. “What are you reading?”

“Oh, just some silly romance adventure,” she muttered, shoving the book between her hip and the side of the chair. 

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “I didn’t guess you for a romance novel type.”

“I’m not usually,” she admitted. “But this one just seemed to jump out at me."

"Must be good then. What's it about?"

"It’s about a prince whose father arranges his marriage to another country’s princess in order to form an alliance. But the prince is in love with a girl from the village. His father forbids him to wed a peasant, so they run away.”

Lucien paled as the air in the room seemed to grow heavier and stale. He tugged at his collar and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. That story hit a little too close to home. 

Elain noticed his discomfort immediately. She let out the tiniest gasp and stammered, “Oh—oh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t think. That’s practically what happened to— Feyre told me. I’m so sorry!”

Lucien jerked his head up. “Feyre told you?”

Something like hurt and betrayal flashed in his eyes. How could his friend do that? 

“She didn’t tell me everything,” Elain rushed to clarify. “I’d just asked her once, why you lived in the Spring Court when Autumn was your home.”

“Autumn isn’t my home. Nowhere is,” Lucien said bitterly. “What else did Feyre tell you?”

Elain's hands were fidgeting with the tail of her braid again. Her voice was strained. “That you had to leave Autumn because you defied your father for the girl you loved. And he had her...” 

Lucien’s eyes burned and his chest felt tight. Constricted. 

Elain’s expression was pained. “Lucien, I am so... so sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said, his voice low and hoarse. He didn’t look at her. Couldn’t. He just stared at the floor. He wanted to be angry at Feyre for telling Elain, but he couldn't summon it. 

“If I hadn’t mentioned the stupid book...” She flung it out of her lap and it landed face down on the floor between them. 

“Sooner or later, it would have come up,” Lucien said. 

Elain stood from her chair and retrieved the book. The pages had gotten slightly bent from when she’d tossed it onto the floor. She gave it an apologetic look and laid it on the table. Instead of sitting back in her chair, she came around the table and sat next to him on the chaise. 

Close. She was much too close. He was overwhelmed by the scent of her. Apples and honey. Her hair was the color of honey... 

“Tell me about her,” Elain requested. 

Lucien blinked. “You—you want me to talk about her? To you?” 

“If you’d like to. If not, I absolutely would understand.” Her voice was gentle and comforting. 

Lucien’s face was painted with doubt. 

“She was important to you,” Elain said, readjusting and tucking her feet beneath her. “So I’d like to know. If you'd like to tell me.”

He wouldn’t want to know anything about her former betrothed. Even knowing his name was too unpleasant. His eyes automatically went to the iron ring on her finger. He reminded himself why she continued to wear it. Still, the last thing Lucien would want to do is hear how his mate had fallen in love with someone else. 

And yet, here she was, asking him to tell her about the very same thing. What an amazing puzzle this female was.

“I, uh, wouldn’t know where to begin.”

“The beginning is usually a good place,” she gibed, nudging him with her elbow. “What was her name?”

“Jesminda,” Lucien said, wondering how long it had been since he’d said her name aloud. “Her name was Jesminda.”

Lucien was continuously awed by his mate. She didn’t show any signs of discomfort or balk at any point during his narrative. She showed genuine interest, even asking questions occasionally. He had never met another female like her. 

Of course, that self-doubting part of himself hissed, it could be because she isn’t interested in you and is only asking as your friend. Lucien shoved down that thought and any like it. 

He told Elain of how they met, how Jesminda had teased and taunted him. He could have sworn he saw something like jealousy, or perhaps even envy, flash in her eyes when he (somewhat awkwardly) rushed through the parts about how Jesminda had seduced him and made him fall in love with her.

He didn’t realize he’d been talking so long until Feyre and Mor came in to tell them dinner was ready. Feyre had looked surprised, and a little pleased, when she saw them on the tiny chaise together. 

Lucien stood up, slightly stiff from sitting so long. He extended a hand that Elain graciously took, helping her up from the low sitting lounge. She smoothed out the wrinkles from her dress and they made their way to the dining room. 

Chapter Text

Family dinner was just how Lucien remembered it. Disorderly and loud. Except this time, with Elain seated across from him, the chaotic energy seemed welcoming instead of anxiety-inducing. 

Rhys still didn’t sit at the head of the table, a fact that Lucien still thought strange. “What kind of High Lord are you, anyway?” He asked. 

“One that cares more about who is sitting at my table than where tradition and society dictate we sit.”

Lucien dipped his head appreciatively at that answer. If there was one thing Rhys valued above anything else, it was his family and his people. Lucien remembered once when he'd sat in Tamlin's seat by mistake. It had been after two straight days of border patrol and he'd returned exhausted and near starved. All he'd wanted was a hot meal before going up to bed and had sat in the first seat he'd come to. Tamlin had lectured him about respecting the High Lord's position and that the head of the table was reserved for the High Lord only. He'd make Lucien feel like a child. 

“The other High Lords could learn something from you,” he said. 

“They certainly could," Amren agreed. "If they weren't such pompous males, they might consider making their wives High Ladies instead of just decorations that looked pretty in dresses at social functions.”

Lucien sat between Rhys and Cassian, with Feyre on Rhys’s other side. Mor was at the head of the table, seemingly unconcerned about it. Elain sat across from him, Nest on her right and Azriel on her left. Amren sat across from Feyre. 

And everyone just talked and ate and laughed. He’d never admit it to Rhys, or any of them for that matter, but this was possibly his favorite thing about this group of people. They cared more about each other than arbitrary rules and customs put in place generations ago. One corner of his mouth turned up in a smile. 

What , Elain mouthed to him but he’d been looking at Mor, who was animatedly telling a story with a lot of hand gestures, and hadn't seen her. 

Feyre cleared her throat and appeared to be scratching her head, but only Elain saw that she was actually pointing at her head, not scratching it.

Elain understood. Say it through the bond.

But Elain didn’t know how to talk through the bond. She’d heard Lucien a few times, but each time it had been by accident. He hadn’t meant for her to hear him. She took a deep breath and tried to filter out the cacophony of voices around her. Feyre had told her once that the bond was like a bridge. Elain pictured the stone bridge that stretched across the Sidra. She remembered when they'd stood on that bridge and he helped her tie back her hair. She shivered as she remembered the feeling of his fingers brushing against her neck. It had felt like a bolt of lightning had gone through her. 

Lucien. 

He was debating with Mor and Azriel about... something. Elain didn’t care. She didn’t want to close her eyes or screw up her face in concentration. Nesta would notice something like that, despite being deep in a debate with Cassian about the pros and cons of having wings. 

Lucien. 

His head twitched but he didn’t break from his conversation. Elain was getting frustrated. Feyre made this sound so easy.

Easy. Like the way her mind automatically thought of him when she felt the warming rays of the sun on her face. Easy. Like how they had talked in the library, not even realizing that hours had gone by. Easy. How the spaces between his fingers fit hers perfectly. 

Lucien.

His eyes widened but to his credit, he didn’t break from his conversation. He didn’t interrupt Mor as she gave some long-winded explanation of why she was right and they were wrong. 

E—Elain? Are you alright?

Elain felt his concern. Actually felt it like the rapid heartbeat was inside her own chest. 

I’m fine. 

Then wh—

Lucien had fully turned away from the conversation with Mor and Azriel. He looked at her like she was the most amazing thing to ever walk the earth. She expected that kind of intensity to scare her, but it didn’t. 

Oh! I was mostly just seeing if I could do it. I honestly didn’t think I’d get this far. 

Lucien snorted with laughter and then quickly tried to cover it up with a cough. Nesta broke off from her tête-à-tête with Cassian to glance sharply between Lucien and Elain. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” She barked at Lucien, not even trying to keep her voice down. 

All other conversations stopped as everyone’s attention turned to him and Nesta.

“Beg your pardon?” Lucien said conversationally. 

“Yes, you'd better have,” Nesta seethed. 

Lucien set down his fork and closed his eyes for a long beat. “I won’t insult your transparency by asking what your problem is with me, but I will ask you why. Why are you so averse to me even speaking to Elain?”

“Speaking through that bond that she never asked for,” Nesta retorted. 

“Nes, no one asks for the bond,” Feyre cut in. “It just... happens.”

“No one asked you,” she snapped at Feyre before turning her seething eyes back to Lucien. “I don't want you talking to her because the last girl you set your attention on ended up dead.”

“NESTA!” Elain cried. She’d gone white as a sheet. 

Nesta ignored her. “And the same thing would have happened to Feyre, who you claim is such a good friend, if she hadn’t gotten out of that hell hole of a Court you claimed allegiance to. Autumn Court, Spring Court, now the Night Court. You’re little more than a vagabond wandering to and from whichever Court is convenient for you.”

Lucien’s russet eye darkened and his gold eye clicked and whirred as the components shifted. 

“First," he growled, his voice low and raspy with barely contained rage, "if you ever mention Jesminda with that hateful tone again, I will appeal to Rhysand to make you forget she ever existed. And given how little tolerance he has for injustice done to innocents, I strongly believe he would grant my request.” Pure venom dripped from Lucien’s voice. “Second, I would die before I’d let any harm come to Elain. And if it was my death alone that would protect her from harm, I would go to it willingly.”

Lucien felt a shiver of fear through the bond. Not fear of him, but at the thought of him sacrificing himself for her. 

“And finally," he went on, trying to control the shaking in his hands from his fury, "I made a lot of mistakes where Feyre was concerned. I ignored her desperation and just hoped that the next day, Tamlin would be better. That he’d wake up and see reason. I was too cowardly to confront him and not back down when he would tell me to leave it alone. So I took a backseat and waited. It was wrong and I was too blind to see that one of the dearest friends I have ever had was wasting away before my eyes. I can never make up for how I wronged Feyre. And I’ll never forgive myself for it.”

From behind him, he heard Feyre sniffle. 

“But I can swear on my life that I will always put Elain’s needs above my own, regardless of the cost.”

He completely turned his back to Nesta and looked at Rhys solemnly. 

“I know you told me when I first came here that I would never have your forgiveness. And I deserve that. But I will never stop working to earn Feyre’s.”

He heard the legs of a chair scraping across the floor and out of nowhere, Feyre was throwing her arms around his neck. 

“I forgive you, Lucien,” Feyre said, voice breaking, her eyes glistening with unspilled tears.

Lucien rose from his seat and returned her embrace as he repeated, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Rhysand stood and Feyre let go of Lucien to tuck herself under her mate’s arm. 

“Lucien, I told Feyre that when she saw fit to forgive you, I would too,” Rhys said as he clapped a hand on his back, “Welcome to the Inner Circle.”

Lucien’s mouth fell open at what Rhys had just offered him. To have a permanent place as one of his closest friends. To be part of this family. He’d never had a true family. Not in the way a family was supposed to treat each other. His own family had rejected and scorned him and Tamlin... Lucien had hoped one day, Tamlin would see him as a brother instead of just an emissary. But this... this was what a family was supposed to be. 

Everyone at the table, with the exception of Nesta, was smiling and nodding their approval of Rhys’s proclamation. But Elain’s smile was the widest of them all. 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien thought it best to just ignore Nesta. After dinner, Rhys reluctantly pulled out the Byraxis straws. Cassian shuddered. 

“Honestly, Feyre ought to have to go babysit the thing since she made the deal with it,” he grumbled. 

“We all agreed...” Rhys reminded him. 

“I know... I know." Cassian's voice was strained. 

“Ok everyone," Rhys announced, "you know the drill.”

One by one, they each pulled out a thin flat stick of wood from between Rhysand's hands. Cassian made a strangled noise that didn’t sound quite human. Lucien glanced at the straw in Cassian’s hand; it was noticeably shorter than the rest. 

Elain’s voice appeared in his head. This is the first time Cassian has ever drawn the short one.

Lucien couldn’t help but pity the Illyrian. Feyre had told him about Cassian’s encounters with the beast. How for whatever reason, it terrified Cassian more than the others. Lucien wondered what form it took with him. What Cassian’s fears manifested into. 

Cassian was taking several shallow breaths. Even Nesta looked worried for him. Lucien was amazed to see that there was at least someone for whom her heart hadn’t entirely frozen over. 

“I’ll go.”

For the second time that night, every head in the room turned to look at him. 

“I... I can’t let you do that,” Cassian stammered. 

“I’m not afraid of it,” Lucien said. 

“That’s because you haven’t seen it.”

“I’ll go,” Lucien insisted. 

Cassian’s thick exterior had crumbled. The sarcastic jokes and constant quips were gone, replaced with a somber expression. Lucien had never seen this side of him. The Illyrian clapped a hand on his shoulder. 

“You— You’re— I take back any hateful thing I’ve ever said about you.”

Lucien just shrugged but was secretly curious what Cassian might have ever said about him. Having spent so many years as Tamlin's mouthpiece, Lucien could only imagine. 

Elain was looking at him in a way she never had before. Lucien could have been mistaken, and if he was, he’d go to his grave believing it, but it looked like pride and adoration shining in her doe-brown eyes. He said a silent prayer to the Mother that Byraxis didn’t eat him so he could look upon them again. 

To his surprise, even Nesta appeared appreciative. That was truly puzzling... and if he was honest, more unsettling than his impending chat with the monster in the darkness. He was so accustomed to seeing pure loathing in Nesta's eyes whenever they were trained on him, that anything else was alarming. 

Nesta told me once, in one of her rare sentimental moods, that if Cassian every drew the short straw, she would go in his place.

Lucien wasn’t able to hide his surprise as his eyebrows arched. 

That doesn’t sound like Nesta.

She said when he saved her and Feyre from the Ravens... she had never seen anyone so scared in her life. She said she would never subject Cassian to that fear if she could help it. 

So she does have a soft spot for someone at least. Interesting. 

The bond was silent. Lucien wondered if he’d gone too far. He hadn’t meant to insult her sister. 

I’m so sorry for what she said to you.  

Lucien sent what he hoped was a reassuring gesture. It’s not your fault. 

He tapped his hand against his own thigh, trying to expel some of his nervous energy, and said, “Okay, let’s get this over with.”

Feyre glanced at Rhys, nodded to something he undoubtedly said through their bond, and said, “I’ll walk part of the way with you.”

 

Chapter Text

Balls of faelight bobbed in the air a few feet in front of them as they walked down, down, down, into the darkness. Lucien had never been inside this library before, but he’d heard stories about it. 

“Lucien, I am...  so sorry for what Nesta said to you at dinner,” Feyre rasped. 

“It’s okay,” he said automatically. 

“No, it isn’t,” she insisted. “It crossed a line and I will be addressing that with her.”

“Don’t,” he appealed. “Don’t make her hate me more than she already does.”

Feyre was quiet for a few minutes, the only sounds were their footsteps. 

“So I take it she figured out how to do it,” Feyre said. 

“Do what?”

“Speak through the bond.”

Lucien blinked at her, but wasn't sure if she could even see it. The darkness grew with each level they descended. 

“I’ve never fully understood mating bonds,” he admitted. “She can communicate through it even though she hasn’t accepted it.” He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice. 

“Rhys tried explaining it to me. The bond is there, no matter what. Once it’s revealed, it’ll never go away... but a female can reject it. Which apparently isn’t the same as just not accepting it and letting it go on unreciprocated.”

“I don’t know which would be worse,” he said.

“Rejecting it,” Feyre said darkly. “Mor told me about a friend of hers whose mate rejected their bond. I don’t know what it entails to actually reject it, but the way Mor talked about it, the male was never the same afterward.”

“Well, thank you for raising my spirits as I go to chat with nightmares made real, my dear friend.”

Feyre burst out laughing, earning a scowl from one of the priestesses working nearby. 

“It’s my understanding that females rarely reject the bond. There have only been a few cases of it happening in the last millennium or so, and it’s always been because the female fell in love with someone else and didn’t want the mate to have that open line of communication whenever he pleased.”

Lucien prayed he never found out what that felt like. The darkness had grown heavier. More tangible. Feyre slowed to a stop and Lucien nodded grimly. 

“Do you want me to wait for you?” 

“No, go ahead on back.”

He could barely see the nod Feyre gave him. The faelights had refused to follow this far down. 

“You only have to stay for an hour. That’s its price.”

She turned and began the ascent back up to the house. Lucien took a few deep breaths and walked the rest of the way in total darkness, keeping his hand out so his fingers could brush the stone wall.

“They’ve sent me a new one.”

The voice resonated inside Lucien's head, making it rattle. Cassian had warned him not to look at it and he was not at all tempted to ignore that advice. 

"What do you call yourself, new visitor?"

“I am Lucien. Seventh son of the High Lord of Autumn.”

“You are not.”

“Oh, I'm not? Pray tell me who I am then?” If the thing wanted to play, he’d play along. 

“In due time.”

“Feyre didn’t tell me you spoke in riddles.”

“She is unlike any other who has walked this world. I do not deny that she made her bargain with me out of fear and that primal instinct to save her life. But she did me a kindness that no one else even considered for over a millennia.” 

“What is it you want from me?”

“Tell me, Lucien, son of the lady of Autumn, your story.”

"I thought you said that wasn't who I am."

"I did not misspeak. And I also said in due time."

Lady of Autumn. But it had denied him being a son of the Autumn Court. This thing made no sense. And either way, how would it know? It lived down in the depths of the earth.

“My story?”

“Yes. Where you’ve been. What you’ve done. What experiences have culminated to bring you to this very moment.”

Lucien stared at the darkness in mild disbelief. This creature, this thing that they were all so terrified of literally just wanted someone to talk to. He’d admit, its voice chilled his blood and made his mouth run dry but... at least it was too dark to see it.

So Lucien gave it what it wanted. Since Feyre was the common element between him and this... Bryaxis, he started there. But it had interrupted him and told him to go back to the beginning. Lucien wasn’t sure he could fit his story into an hour. But he tried. 

He told it everything, summarizing where he could to condense the story as much as possible. The way his brothers ostracized him ever since before he could remember. How his mother had tried to make up for it and treat him differently, better even, than she treated the others. He told it about Jesminda but not in great detail like he’d told Elain. How ironic that he would end up talking about such a buried part of his past twice in the same day. He told it about how he’d fled to the Spring Court, about the years spent with Tamlin, before and after Amarantha’s curse. 

Bryaxis had hissed the first time Lucien had said her name. “They call me evil, but that female was a true demon.”

Lucien didn’t disagree. He told it of Feyre, how she broke the curse and in doing so, it broke her. He told it how they had lost her due to their own negligence. He talked of the months he spent looking for her. He confided to it that he only searched in earnest when Tamlin had sent sentries with Lucien. Initially, he’d been sent on his own and he didn’t even try to find her. Even though he had still believed the stories about what the Night Court was like, he suspected she was better off with Rhysand and thought that forcing her back to the Spring Court was a mistake. 

He talked of Hybern and of Elain's Making. Of him insisting to go with Feyre to the Night Court. He talked briefly of his search for Vassa on the continent. And of coming back to Velaris after the months following Hybern’s defeat. Which led him into talking about—

“Elain.”

Lucien shuddered when he heard her name from its guttural voice. 

“Your mate.”

“Yes.” 

“I heard you. On your way down here. She has not accepted the mating bond yet?”

“No.”

“Do you believe she will?”

“I don’t know.”

Byraxis was silent for long enough that Lucien wondered if it was somehow rendered mute when the hour was up. Time had to be running out, if it hadn't already. 

“That is what you fear.”

“What?”

“It is why you are not afraid of me. For your fears are much deeper, much more primal than of what lurks in the dark. You are afraid of never having a family. Of your mate rejecting the bond and falling in love with another. Of living out the rest of your days lonely and forsaken.”

Lucien had never felt more alone in his entire life than he did at that moment. Even with Bryaxis looming over and all around him. Or perhaps because of it. 

“Yes," he croaked.

“You admit it.”

“Why deny what you already seem to know?”

“Many do not admit their fears. They deny them and try to run from them, hoping that they would diminish if they went on unacknowledged.”

“I’m not like many others.”

“No, Lucien, son of Day, you are not.”

Lucien’s head whipped around so quickly a sharp pain shot through his neck. 

“What did you just say?”

Bryaxis chuckled. It was the most terrifying and yet fascinating sound Lucien had ever heard. 

“You heard me.”

“You said son of Day,” Lucien said slowly. “I hail from the Autumn Court.”

“You were correct when you said you are like none other. You are Day and Autumn united.”

“That’s... not possible.”

“Believe what you will. But denying the truth is much like denying one’s fears. It can consume you and drive you mad.”

Lucien’s head spun. Earlier, Byraxis had said son of the Lady of Autumn. 

“Are you implying that my mother... and Helion?!”

“I imply nothing. I speak only truths.”

“Who else knows about this?” 

Bryaxis was silent. 

“Who else?” Lucien demanded through a clenched jaw. 

If darkness could sigh, it did. And it was terrifying. “The High Lord and High Lady of the Night Court.”

Lucien felt like the ground beneath him had vanished. Like he was falling. Falling into the void of endless darkness around him. Feyre knew. She knew and she didn’t tell him. 

“It seems I have left you much to think about, Son of Day.”

“Don’t call me that.” He was already stalking back up.

“I hope you visit me again. You have been my most interesting visitor yet.”

Chapter Text

 

Feyre had known. He should have asked Bryaxis how long Feyre had known. But Feyre had known. That thought repeated in his head until he was all the way back to the top and out of the library. 

The storm was still raging; they would be spending the night at the House of Wind. 

He’d hoped that by the time he had gotten back to the House, he’d know how he wanted to confront Feyre but he was still just as lost as he’d been at the bottom of that library. He didn’t know what he wanted. He wanted to be alone but having all night to do nothing but mull over what he’d learned threatened to drive him mad. He wanted to be around people but worried that he would explode and chew out the first person who spoke to him. Maybe it would be Nesta. 

Elain. He needed Elain. Even if she couldn’t make sense of this, as he couldn’t, her presence was automatically soothing. Being around her would calm the raging inferno that lived within his soul and was now threatening to burst free. The power of fire... that he most definitely did not inherit from Beron. Which meant it had to have come from his mother. His mother... she had never even indicated she knew the High Lord of Day, much less had an affair with him. Lucien shook his head in irritation. He had so many questions that were running amuck inside his head. He couldn't make sense of any of this. His fingertips burned as that fire struggled to be contained. 

Elain. Where was she?

He stalked through the house in search of her. The first people he encountered were Cassian and Rhys, both leaned back in chairs with their feet kicked up on the table. Two glasses of whiskey and a bottle between them. Cassian, whose face had regained the color it had lost upon drawing that short straw, leaped to his feet at the sight of Lucien. 

“You survived!" Cassian exclaimed with relief. He'd gone pale again. "But you look like hell. What happened down there?”

“Have you seen Elain?” Lucien ignored his question entirely. He thought about asking where Feyre was, but Rhys was no fool. He could see something had troubled Lucien down in the library and asking where the High Lord's mate was in his present state was not wise.

Rhys carefully lowered his chair until all of its legs were resting on the floor and slid his feet from the table. He rested his hands on his knees and said, “Azriel took her to her garden.”

“But it’s pouring!” Lucien objected, forcing down nausea from knowing that while he was down in the darkness making small talk with his nightmares, Elain was with another male where she was happiest. Her happiness is what matters, he reminded himself. He also reminded himself that she didn't belong to him. She belonged to no one and was free to do whatever she liked and with whomever she chose. But it still hurt.  

“Her garden has a shield of magic protecting it from the harsh weather,” Rhys explained. 

“You seriously look like hell. Can we get you anything?” Cassian’s voice was laced with concern. It seemed that by volunteering to take his place, Lucien had gained favor with the Illyrian general.

Lucien eyed the bottle of whiskey on the table. Cassian scrambled to pour a hearty serving and handed it to Lucien, who downed it in one gulp. 

“Fuck, what happened down there,” Rhys wondered. 

And no sooner had Rhysand spoken that Lucien remembered he also knew. 

Lucien’s russet eye darkened. “Can I speak to you? Alone?”

Rhys gave him a curt nod.

Cassian passed a nervous glance between Lucien and Rhys and said, “I’ll be... somewhere else.” 

When he was gone, Lucien took a deep breath. And another. 

“I knew sending people down there to talk to that thing was a bad idea,” Rhys muttered. "Before too long, my entire Inner Circle will be scared out of their skins.”

His Inner Circle. Which he'd just made Lucien a part of a few hours ago. His Inner Circle. The group of people he trusted and loved more than anyone else in the world. But he'd conspired with Feyre to keep this secret from him. Lucien's head throbbed. 

“It didn’t scare me.” 

Rhys shook his head in confusion. He picked up his glass but didn’t drink from it. “Then what happened?”

“How long have you known that Helion is my father?”

“Ah.” If Rhys was surprised, he didn't show it. He gave Lucien a tight-lipped smile and gestured for him to take the seat Cassian had recently vacated. 

Lucien sat, if only to be near enough to the bottle of whiskey to pour himself another serving. Which he did. Twice. 

To his credit, Rhys didn’t insult him by trying to deny it or ask how he found out. He simply gave Lucien the answer he asked for. 

“Since the meeting with the other High Lords.”

Lucien's eyes widened. That was months ago. He couldn’t believe Feyre would keep a secret like that from him for months. 

“Let me explain, Lucien,” Rhys said quickly, as if he could see Lucien’s anger rising. “I assume you know that Feyre also knows? I doubt you'd be this angry with me, but I can imagine why you'd feel betrayed by her.”

Lucien grunted. 

“We suspected at the High Lords’ meeting. We never received any kind of confirmation, neither at the meeting or since then. It was always just a suspicion.” 

“Why didn’t Feyre tell me?”

“She planned to if she was ever able to discern whether or not it was true. She didn’t want to come to you with such a claim and nothing to back it up.”

“Well, it’s true,” Lucien spat out. 

“How did Bryaxis even know that?” Rhys wondered. 

“It knows... everything,” Lucien said quietly, remembering what it had said about his fears. “Everything.”

Rhys scoffed. “If it knows everything, it shouldn’t need company to tell it of life.”

Despite his anger and irritation, Lucien chuckled. “No kidding.”

Rhys set his glass on the table. “I can understand why you're angry, but try not to be upset with Feyre. It was something she just deduced from being as observant as she is."

"Oh?"

Rhysand sighed. Lucien got the feeling that Rhys would prefer Feyre tell this story, but didn't want to leave Lucien fuming with no information. 

"At the High Lords' meeting, Helion couldn't take his eyes off your mother."

Lucien's chest tightened at the mention of his mother. "I'm surprised Beron even brought her."

"All the married High Lords brought their wives," Rhys said. "You know how they are. A bunch of peacocks that constantly try to outdo one another."

"So they all showed up with entourages?"

"Everyone except Tamlin. He came alone."

Lucien's gut twisted. Tamlin wouldn't have had to go alone if his emissary hadn't abandoned him. But he'd had to learn that people couldn't be bullied or ignored into submission. The Cauldron had a cruel sense of humor, Lucien decided. Tamlin, who favored old traditions like Calanmai and the Tithe, was the only High Lord who didn't show up with courtiers and a retinue. He had refused, time and time again, to compromise.

"Self-righteous prick," Lucien muttered, earning a grin from Rhys. "So, Feyre deduced that Helion was my father because he was ogling my mother during a meeting?"

"Not entirely. After the meeting, Helion came by our suite for a visit."

Lucien blinked at that. "Friend of yours?"

"Out of all the other High Lords," Rhys said, "Helion is by far the most entertaining and lively."

"The Lord of Day and the Lord of Night are friends. Who'd have thought," Lucien mused. 

"Poetic, isn't it?" Rhys chuckled. "But once the meeting was over and things became much more informal, Helion told Feyre of him rescuing your mother from Hybern's soldiers. Feyre did the math and made the assumption all on her own. I'll admit I didn't even consider it until she practically shouted it through the bond."

"I just wish she'd told me."

"I actually talked her out of telling you. We didn’t know for sure and I didn’t want it causing a rift between the two of you.”

Lucien could feel his anger ebbing away. If he was honest with himself, he was never truly angry with Feyre, just shocked and hurt that she hadn’t told him something this important. Even if it was unconfirmed. 

He tossed the information around in his head until a realization hit him so hard he felt winded. 

“If Beron isn't my father, then that means...”

Rhys nodded, having already come to the same conclusion. 

“That you’re the sole heir and next High Lord of the Day Court. I believe it's probably why your brothers always felt so threatened by you. They were all too aware of that power surging through you, the culmination of Autumn's fire and Day's light. That's why they wanted to be rid of you. They feared you would overtake them as Beron's successor.”

Lucien reached for the bottle again. He needed that drink now more than ever.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien had stayed in the dining room talking with Rhys until the bottle was empty. (Cassian was invited back in, so it didn’t take long). Rhys was surprisingly easy to talk to. To the point where Lucien was quite impressed that Rhys was able to play the role of ruthless High Lord so well. Cassian had wanted to pull out another bottle, but Lucien declined. After today, he was exhausted and was looking forward to getting some sleep. 

He did wish he could see Elain before turning in though. Even though he’d gotten the answers he needed and wasn’t agitated anymore, he still just felt... better when she was around. But it was late; he was sure she was asleep by now.

As he passed by the parlor, he heard high-pitched laughing. Amren, Mor, and Feyre were sitting at a small round table with a deck of cards in the center. From the pile of coins and jewels near her, he guessed that Amren had won most of the hands. She was scowling slightly at Feyre, who looked at her cards and laughed. 

“You have a terrible poker face, Feyre,” Amren chided. 

“Which is doing favors for you, Amren,” Mor said, inclining her head toward Amren’s pile of winnings. 

“Oh, I don’t care about winning anything,” Feyre said cheerfully. “I just love the game.”

Lucien smiled as he quietly moved past the doorway to the parlor and kept going down the hall. He was glad he’d encountered Rhys first. Feyre deserved to have a carefree night with her friends and he’d have only ruined it. 

He found the room he’d stayed in when he first came here and let himself inside. The air was musty and stale which made him doubt that anyone had slept in here since he and the Archeron sisters were moved to the townhouse. A light layer of dust across the top of the nightstand confirmed it. But the bed was made and the sheets looked clean. 

He wanted to go straight to sleep, but his encounter with Bryaxis had made his skin crawl. He went to the adjoining bathing room and drew a bath. After washing his hair, he pulled it back into a neat plait that hung down the center of his back. He didn’t bother redressing before collapsing into bed. 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

One floor above, Elain went through a similar routine as she prepared for bed. Except after she’d braided her hair, she had slipped on a comfortable nightgown. She crawled beneath the covers and listened to the storm still raging outside. She hoped the rain stopped by morning. 

The diamond on her ring, still turned down into her palm, snagged on a loose thread of her sheets. She pulled it free and spun it around her finger. It truly was hideous. How she’d ever been wooed with such a bauble, she wasn’t sure. The iron was cruel and ugly. She slipped it off her finger and set it on the little table next to her bed. 

She would put it back on in the morning. But just for a little while, in the confines of her room, she wanted to remember what it felt like not to wear it. Her finger felt light and free. There was a tiny line of pale skin beneath where the ring had sat, the rest of her hand tanned from spending so much time outside. 

She hoped Lucien’s encounter with Bryaxis hadn’t disturbed him too much. She would have liked to have seen him when he’d returned from the library, but it had gotten so late and he still hadn’t returned. She hoped he was alright. There had been a moment earlier when she’d felt a jolt of shock and anger that hadn't belonged to her. She hadn’t felt anything since then and had been too afraid to call down the bond for him. Too afraid that he wouldn’t answer. 

The bond. It was still such a mystery to her and yet... she’d finally learned how to use it. To open that line of communication that was wholly theirs and none others. Elain had thought it was just a way to talk without speaking aloud but it was so, so much more than that. They could pass anything between each other - thoughts, emotions, even images. 

For the first time, Elain was glad of the bond. Glad that she had some part of him that no one else could, or would ever have. She thought back to earlier in the day when they’d talked in the library. She was grateful that he’d been willing to open up to her, as Feyre had urged her to, and tell her about parts of his past. 

She’d been sincere when she’d said she wanted to hear about Jesminda. In a strange way, it was reassuring to know that he had once loved someone so fiercely. It suggested that he could love like that again, someday. She hadn’t expected to feel jealous or possessive, but as he’d talked about the faerie who’d stolen his heart, she had felt this primal instinct take over. It had come about abruptly, growling one single word. M ine.

It had gone before she’d even had time to process what happened. But it had been there. She was still trying to figure out how she felt about Lucien. She knew she cared for him, but she wasn’t sure yet just how deep that caring went. That kind of possessive claim felt wrong when she wasn’t even sure what she felt yet. And still, the idea of him with someone else awoke something in her that she hadn’t even known she possessed. 

Mating bonds were so much more complicated than she thought. 

Elain fiddled with the strip of leather holding her braid in place. She let out a yelp of surprise when Cerridwen appeared without warning in the corner of her room. 

“Cerridwen! You scared me half to death!”

“I’m sorry, lady. It was not my intent.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to see if you required any help preparing for bed, but I see you handled yourself just fine.”

“I thought no one could winnow here?”

“I don’t winnow,” the wraith explained. “I travel through the mountain itself, through shadows and darkness.”

“Oh, well of course you do,” Elain said, as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. As if everyone just walked through walls.

“Well, if you’re ready to sleep, I won’t keep you.”

“Actually,” Elain said, an idea suddenly coming to her, “Can you travel anywhere inside the house and not be seen?”

Cerridwen nodded. 

“Can you... that is, would you make sure Lucien is back? He went down into the library to meet with—”

“Do not say its name,” Cerridwen warned. “I know where it is he went. I will check his room.”

She walked straight for the wall and through it. Just walked through the wall. Elain shuddered. 

Not even a full minute passed before the wraith was walking back through the wall. “He’s asleep.”

Elain made a small, relieved sound. Part of her felt silly for even worrying but she knew she wouldn’t have been able to sleep until she’d known. 

“Thank you.”

Cerridwen bowed slightly at the waist. “Goodnight, miss Elain.”

Chapter Text

LUCIEN

It had stopped raining. Lucien knew that because the moon was now shining directly into his face. A glance at the clock on the mantle told him it was after three in the morning. He knew if he got up to close the curtains, he’d be too awake and have trouble going back to sleep. So he rolled over onto his other side and closed his eyes. 

In the same heartbeat, his eyes shot back open. He was hallucinating. He had to be. 

Elain was in his bed. 

He rubbed his eyes and opened them again. She was still there. 

Someone had to be playing a cruel joke on him. This was a glamour. It had to be. Probably Cassian’s idea, the stupid prick. But... it couldn’t be a glamour. His golden eye could see through glamours and spells and any other enchantments. It was how he'd known Feyre was up to something when she'd come back to the Spring Court. He'd seen the tattoo on her right hand, the tattoo she thought no one could see. This wasn't a glamour. Elain was right in front of him. Close enough to touch. He slowly propped himself up onto his elbow.

Elain opened her eyes just as she made a tiny sound of frustration, as if she'd been seconds away from finding out something and was woken from her dream. She rubbed her eyes... and saw him staring back at her with his own mismatched russet and gold. She drew in a sharp breath that sounded like a hiss and scooted back until she was at the edge of the mattress. Even though she was wearing a modest nightgown, she snatched the sheets up to her neck, nearly pulling it away from him completely. Shit. He snatched one of the spare pillows and held it in front of him. She blushed as crimson as his hair. 

“What are you doing here?” He forced himself to ask as calmly as he could manage. 

She didn’t answer. She still looked absolutely horrified. Lucien’s eyes automatically went to the hand clutching the sheet. Her ring was gone. She was in his bed and her ring was gone. His heart was beating fast and erratically. Lucien breathed and made himself think, when all he wanted to do was pull her close to him and—

Her ring was gone. He was dreaming. This had to be a dream. She’d said she would throw the ring into the river when she chose not to wear it anymore. But she’d had it on at dinner and there was no way she’d gone to the city and back in those few hours. 

“Is this a dream?” 

Elain was so still, he wasn’t sure she was breathing. Definitely a dream. 

Slowly, so slowly, she nodded. 

“I was afraid of that,” he said with a miserable sigh. “It’s always just a dream.”

She didn’t move or speak. 

“Someday, if I’m lucky, it'll be real.” He chuckled softly. “And even then, I probably won’t believe it.”

He allowed himself one long lingering glance at her. She was beautiful no matter what, but her honey-golden hair and smooth tanned skin illuminated by the moonlight streaming through the window was otherworldly. She looked almost ethereal. He sighed and rolled back over toward the window. The moon was still shining in his face, but that was a mild annoyance compared to the pure torture of the phantom that masqueraded as his mate, taunting him with something he feared he would never have. 

 

 

ELAIN

She was in the forest again. Like so many times before, she walked on a bed of fallen leaves, the brisk autumn air making her clutch her cloak tighter to her chest. The leaves rustled ahead of her, the only sight or sound of her quarry. She’d tried sneaking up on it before and that had done her no good. So she tried a different tactic now, hoping that by just casually strolling through the forest, she might catch it off-guard. 

The rustling grew louder as she got closer. So far, it was either unaware of her presence or simply unconcerned. The leaves shifted barely three yards ahead of her. This time. She was certain she would see it this time. 

Her eyes opened and she was no longer in the forest. She growled, frustrated, and then saw beautiful, mismatched russet and gold eyes staring at her. 

Lucien was awake. 

Elain drew in a sharp breath that sounded too much like a hiss. She scooted back until she couldn’t feel the mattress behind her. Her nightgown was stifling but she still felt so exposed that she grabbed the sheets and snatched it up to her neck. When she jerked the sheet toward her, she realized that her earlier assessment about his sleeping habits was mistaken. He didn't have on a scrap of clothing and her eyes automatically strayed to the smooth plane of his stomach and those cursed hipbones that she hadn't been able to get out of her mind all day. Heat settled in her core even as it rose to her cheeks.  He snatched one of the pillows and brought it to his waist. 

He'd told her once before he couldn't hear her heartbeat, but he had to be able to hear it now. It crashed against her ribs like a drum. But the sounds it made... they were so abnormal and out of rhythm. It was beating so irregularly, she worried she was suffering from heart failure until she realized she was hearing, and feeling, both her own heartbeat and his.

She saw his gold metallic eye focus on her hand. The ring. The one night she decided to take it off would be the night he would wake up. But it was the absence of that ring that made his expression shift from pure shock to doubt. 

“What are you doing here?” His voice was much calmer than she expected it to be, considering the circumstances. 

She had no idea what to say. How was she supposed to explain that every night since he’d returned to Velaris... returned to her...  that she’d mysteriously woken up in his bed in the middle of the night. It sounded crazy even to her. No one in their right mind would believe it. 

“Is this a dream?” He asked. 

Oh, bless the Mother. And bless Lucien for unknowingly giving her an escape. She barely breathed as she gave him a tiny nod. 

Her chest tightened and a wave of guilt washed over her as his face fell. 

“I was afraid of that.” He sighed miserably. She didn’t think she’d ever heard such a harrowing sound. 

“It’s always just a dream,” he added. 

Always? Did that mean he dreamed of her often? She wondered how many times she appeared in his dreams only to leave him disappointed and crestfallen. 

She realized with silent horror that she was trapped. She couldn’t just get out of the bed and walk out of the room. That wouldn’t be dream-like at all. She suddenly wondered at what point in all of his previous dreams had he realized it was, in fact, a dream... and what happened after that. She wasn’t naïve.

She was in his bed. He was a male who wanted her, desperately. She knew he did, but she was also grateful for the respect and restraint he'd shown since coming back, even if she wished he'd be just a smidge more forward. Though he was covered with the pillow, her eyes trailed down his chest and abdomen again.  She’d never wanted to be able to winnow more than she did right now. She could only hope he didn’t realize he wasn’t asleep.  

But Lucien, it seemed, was just as much of a gentleman with her in his dreams as he was when they were awake. He gave her a sad smile and said, “Someday, if I’m lucky, it will be real.” He chuckled softly. “And even then, I probably won’t believe it.”

He rolled back over, facing the window, and didn’t say another word. 

Elain waited several long, tense minutes until his breathing was deep and steady before slipping out of the bed and creeping into the hallway. She wasn’t sure she breathed until she was back in her own room. 

Chapter Text

The next morning, the sunlight shining into Elain’s room was especially bright, almost like it knew it had an entire day’s absence to make up for. She sat up and stretched until she heard, and felt, a satisfying pop! from her shoulder.

She slipped the ring back on her finger and rotated it until the diamond was against her palm. She was sure it was only because she’d taken it off, but it felt heavier than it had yesterday. She hated the damned thing... but reminded herself why she was wearing it. She also reminded herself of everything that could have happened last night (this morning?) if she hadn't taken it off. Her heart clenched at the memory of Lucien's crestfallen expression when he believed her appearance was just another dream.

She got out of bed to find an emerald green dress already laid out on the chair by the vanity. As if someone had known what a tumultuous night she’d had and wouldn’t want to even spare the energy to choose a dress to wear. 

“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she murmured gratefully.

She took her time getting dressed, savoring the light the morning sun sent through her window. There weren’t many birds at this altitude, she realized. She loved to hear the birds sing outside her window at the townhouse. She was glad they’d be going back today. 

She wandered down to the lower level and into the dining room where several of the others were already gathered. They were picking at breakfast pastries or having low conversations. 

“Family dinners” were usually when the group would blow off steam, celebrate, or a little of both. That, combined with someone always having to visit with Bryaxis ensured that at least one person was almost always hungover the following morning. Elain rarely drank in excess, so to her, the morning after family dinner was always entertaining. 

“Morning!” She said cheerfully. 

“Shh!!” Cassian hissed, not even lifting his head off the table. 

“My hair hurts,” Mor complained. 

From the far end of the table, Lucien surveyed the pitiful group with a bemused smile and a small shake of his head. On a plate in front of him was a croissant with honey drizzled over it. He sat back and sipped from his tea, probably louder than he needed to. 

“Are they always like this?” He asked when he’d caught Elain’s attention. 

“Not always.”

“Why are you so loud?” Cassian demanded, his voice much louder than either Lucien or Elain's. 

She just giggled and poured herself some tea. 

You escaped Bryaxis unscathed, it seems. 

She tried not to let him feel the wave of relief that had swept over her when Cerridwen told her he'd been asleep in his room last night. It was remarkable how easy it was to communicate through the bond. Once she had figured out how to do it, it came more naturally than breathing. 

More or less. I’m convinced it’s compiling a history of Prythian, one obligated visitor at a time. 

So, all it wanted was...

To hear my story. 

Elain nodded. The others had said basically the same thing, but they’d all come back terrified. Maybe he had been and he was just exceptionally well at hiding it. Or maybe... maybe the creature didn’t scare him. If that didn’t scare him, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what did. 

I had the most... unusual dream last night.

Elain inhaled sharply just as she’d raised the teacup to her mouth. As a result, she took a much larger sip than she’d intended and grimaced against the scalding pain that went down her throat. 

Oh? What did you dream of?

Well, I can’t tell you yet.

Elain gave him a puzzled look. She felt his laughter even though his own expression hadn’t changed, save for the mischievous twinkle in his russet eye. That scoundrel.  

My mother always told me that if you speak aloud your dreams before you’ve had anything to eat, they won’t come true.

She noticed the untouched croissant on his plate. Her eyes traveled from the plate up to find him smirking at her. Did he know? Had he somehow found out he hadn’t been dreaming? 

It was a good dream. I wouldn’t mind it coming true.

Well, you can’t say something like that and then not tell what it was! She sent an indignant little huff down the bond and made sure it was filled with as much sass as possible. 

Still, she’d heard that old wives tale too, only in the human world... 

My mother used to tell me something similar. Except hers was that if you told your dreams before breakfast, they would come true. 

She indicated the untouched pastry on his plate. 

Well, most of your mortal superstitions originated from Fae magic, but they almost always get changed here or there. I’m not surprised your human version is different. 

He looked up to smirk at her and saw the hurt in her eyes. 

My human version? Is that all I am? Still?

No! That isn’t what I meant at all! I only meant—

But she’d shut him out. She didn’t even know how she did it - if it was a conscious effort or something her mind had done automatically to expel his presence. Elain focused her eyes on the wood grain of the table and blinked against the burning tears. She didn't know why it upset her to be thought of as human. That alone was ironic enough since it had been all she'd wanted to return to once. But now... to be human and to know of Prythian and all its wonders would seem like being a panther stuck in the body of a housecat.  

“Elain,” he croaked. 

She didn’t look up. He must have tried to call out to her through the bond before speaking aloud. 

“Elain, I—”

She pushed her chair away from the table, legs scraping the floor and causing Cassian to hiss for quiet again. She stood up and hurried from the room so that no one, least of all him, could see the tears welling in her eyes. 

She nearly collided with Feyre as soon as she turned into the hallway. Her sister gripped her shoulders firmly to keep her from falling. A deep crease appeared between her eyebrows when she realized Elain was upset. 

“What’s wrong?”

Elain just shook her head. “Can we go back to the townhouse?”

“Yeah, of course,” Feyre said gently. “I was actually going into the dining room to tell the rest of them that we were about to head back.” 

Elain sniffled. 

“You want to tell me what’s wrong now?”

“Not here.”

Feyre peered into the dining room and saw Mor and Cassian having a whispered argument over which hangover cure works the quickest. Lucien was hunched over, his head in his hands as he rested his elbows on the table. Feyre glanced back at Elain, sniffling and teary-eyed, and nodded.

“Rhys can handle the others. Come on. I’ll take you back myself.”

To get to the balcony and have enough room to spread her wings, though, they’d have to go through the dining room. Feyre put her arm around Elain’s shoulders and positioned herself between her sister and Lucien. 

He glanced up sharply when they came through the dining room and gave Feyre a pleading look. She just shook her head and mouthed, later. 

Once outside, she summoned her wings and extended her arms to her sister. Their flight back to the townhouse was silent. When Feyre landed on the roof and set Elain down, she gave her sister’s arm a soft squeeze and said, “It’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it, but if you do—”

“I do.”

Feyre nodded and they went into Elain’s room. Elain didn’t even have to ask - Feyre automatically put up her soundproof bubble. 

“Okay, spill. What did he do?” 

Elain explained about their conversation at breakfast (leaving out anything that might even hint at her being in his room). 

“And it was just the way he said it,” she fumed, her hurt having been transformed into anger as she recounted the events of the morning. “Like, our wives' tales and superstitions were inferior to Prythian’s because we were 'just' humans. And after everything, I didn’t expect him to still think of us as being different. I know we weren’t born High Fae and we didn’t ask to be Made into them, but... we are Fae now. And it just felt like I would always be seen as something... lesser than him.”

She took a shuddering breath and folded her hands in her lap. 

Feyre was silent for a few moments, making sure Elain was finished. “I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t be upset. In my initial weeks, even months as Fae, when I said 'we' and 'us,' I meant humans. The High Fae were ‘them.’ I’m not sure when it changed, but I eventually came to see myself as Fae and then the humans became the ‘thems.’ Do you know the difference between being born Fae and being Made?”

Elain shook her head. 

“Fae who are Made become Fae in body, but we retain our mortal hearts. It was why I struggled so strongly with my guilt for what I’d done Under the Mountain. A born Fae wouldn’t have felt half of the turmoil I went through. They feel guilt and shame and everything else humans do, but it's something about living for centuries that blunts those emotions, at least where humans are concerned. Now, when it's concerning Fae, that guilt can be tenfold because of being alive for centuries.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, that Lucien is a born Fae.”

“Don’t you dare say he gets a pass because he doesn’t know any better,” Elain snapped. 

“I wasn’t going to. He spent enough time around me when I was human, he definitely knows better. But I think, more than anything, you probably surprised him by taking offense at being referred to as a mortal, considering you were made High Fae against your will. I’m sure he expected you to still be bitter about being Made and missing your humanity.”

“I was for a while,” Elain admitted, “until...”

Feyre gently laid her hand on top of Elain’s. “Until you started caring about him?”

Elain snatched her hand out from under Feyre’s as if she’d been burned. “I don’t— It’s not because I— How do you know that?”

Feyre’s eyes softened with sympathetic understanding. “Because you wouldn’t be this upset if you didn’t have at least some feelings for him.”

Elain wanted to object, but she knew Feyre was right. She breathed in as deeply as she could and then counted to ten as she breathed out. A headache was forming in the center of her forehead, just above and between her eyes.

"It isn't just because of him," Elain insisted. 

Feyre just waited for her to continue. 

"I've really come to see this place as home. Our father's estate holds nothing for me now. The people I love are here. I've made friends here. The flowers are brighter, more vibrant. For the first time since I came out of that wretched Cauldron, I really didn't feel like it was a curse. To have to go back and live as a mortal now would feel... wrong."

Feyre nodded her agreement and understanding.  

“I am such a mess,” Elain sighed.

“And yet, he adores you all the same,” Feyre said with a wink. 

“So, you’re saying I shouldn’t be upset with him?”

“No, be upset with him. But not for the reasons you’re thinking. Be mad at him for being an idiot who doesn't think before he talks, not for making a personal jibe at you. Granted, I didn’t hear exactly what he said or how he said it, but I know Lucien... and I’m willing to bet every bauble in Amren’s jewelry box that he didn’t intend to make a personal stab at you. And I know for certain that he'd rather die than hurt you.”

Elain nodded. Deep down, she already had known that. She knew Lucien hadn’t intentionally meant to make her feel inferior. It had just hurt that his instincts were to group her in with mortals. She never imagined that would be something that would hurt her feelings. 

“It makes no sense when you think about it,” Feyre wondered aloud, “the people who love you and care for you are usually the ones that end up hurting you the worst. And not because they don’t care... but because they do. Take Tamlin for example."

Elain bristled at the mention of his name. 

"Tamlin loved me," Feyre said without any emotion. "And because he loved me, he tried to keep me locked up and protected, not realizing that it was the very opposite of what I needed. He was so blinded by his love and obsession with keeping me safe that he ended up driving me away. There's still a lot I haven't forgiven him for, but... I'd like to be able to someday. Even though we'll live for gods know how long, I don't want to live with hate and resentment in my heart."

Elain tried to process that. Tamlin had wronged her sister so very much and for Feyre to even consider forgiving him was more than Elain felt he deserved. Her little sister had grown up so much over the past couple years. It was easy to forget that Feyre was in fact the youngest. 

"Life is so strange."

Elain was inclined to agree. She pushed her ring around with her thumb as she thought of something. 

“Graysen and I never fought.”

“Then you probably didn’t truly love each other,” Feyre said as gently as she could. “I love Rhys with everything in me. I have never loved anyone the way I love Rhys and I never will again. But even so, we say things from time to time that hurt each other. But we learn from it. Grow from it. Ensure we don’t make the same mistakes again. And when it’s over, we love each other even more for it.”

Elain considered that. Any time something unpleasant came up with Graysen, one of them would abruptly change the subject in order to avoid it. If he said something hurtful, she just assumed it was because she’d said something that deserved that kind of response. She had been timid and submissive, exactly what she had believed a Lord's wife ought to be. She had been smitten with Graysen... but now she wondered if she ever really did love him. 

Feyre could see she’d left her sister with a lot to think about, so she quietly dropped the air bubble around them and rose from the bed to leave. 

“Feyre?”

Her sister stopped at the doorway. 

“Don’t tell Nesta.”

“Not in a million lifetimes,” Feyre promised. She jerked her chin toward the chair in front of Elain’s vanity. “Looks like you got a delivery from Deidre while we were up at the House.”

Elain turned her attention to the vanity for the first time since returning home. Sure enough, there was a dress box resting in her chair. Her curiosity got the better of her and she rose from the bed to open the box. 

She lifted the lid and gasped when she saw the orange dress inside. Pinned to it was a little note written in thick, neat handwriting:

Elain,
Hope you love it! I have a feeling that male of yours certainly will.
With love,
Deidre

She set the note to the side and picked up the dress. Deidre had certainly taken some creative liberties with the design, Elain couldn’t help but notice. The dress itself had a full skirt and a plunging neckline that was far more revealing than anything Elain would have ever worn as a human. The sleeves were sheer orange, ending with satin cuffs at the wrists. Except for the sleeves, the gown was covered in metallic coppery butterflies, gathered in clusters at the bottom of the skirt and thinning out as the climbed up toward the bodice. It truly was a beautiful garment. 

Elain placed it on a hanger and tucked it into her wardrobe. That was something to save for a day when she wasn’t still annoyed with him.

Chapter Text

When Feyre called up the stairs hours later that dinner was nearly ready, Lucien’s stomach turned at the idea of food. Granted, his stomach hadn’t stopped turning since this morning at the House of Wind. When he saw the utter hurt and betrayal on his mate’s beautiful face. 

His mate. 

He felt like he didn’t even deserve to call her that after today. He had sworn to himself and to her sisters that he would never, ever hurt her. And he had. He’d been stupid and careless, saying something that he didn’t even mean, let alone believe. He’d gotten carried away as they’d teased each other and now she was suffering for it. 

Well, they were both suffering but she was the one who didn’t deserve to be. His heart ached like it had the first time he’d seen her at the House of Wind. She’d wanted nothing to do with him then. He thought of trying to call out to her several times throughout the day, but never did. She had made it clear that she hadn’t wanted to speak to him. Had wanted nothing to do with him, now too. 

He scoffed at his own stupidity and shook his head. He never seemed to make the right call. When he ought to speak up, he was mute and when he ought to hold his tongue, he never left well enough alone. This day could have gone so differently if he’d only known when enough was enough.

When he’d woken up this morning, her scent had been all around him. He’d breathed it in deeply, letting it fill his lungs. She had been in his dreams again, only this one had felt so real. Oh, how he’d wanted those dreams to come true. 

Slim chance of that happening now, he told himself. 

He eyed the boxes that had been delivered from Deidre’s shop while they’d all been up at the House. Since he’d already decided he was skipping dinner, he figured he might as well see what the seamstress had made for him. If he hadn’t been such a pompous fool, he could probably have convinced Elain to come help him open them.

The very first box he opened made his stomach flip. On the top of the pile was a jacket, much like the one he’d wrapped around Elain right after she’d come out of the Cauldron. It was finely embroidered with orange stitching and the color... the color was almost the exact shade of Elain’s doe-brown eyes. 

Damn that woman. Is she a dressmaker or a matchmaker?  

He couldn’t tolerate going through the rest of the parcels right now. Not if every damned garment was designed to complement the person who was so upset with him right now. 

The air in his room felt stuffy and suffocating. He went to the window and pushed it open as far as it would go and caught sight of Elain’s little garden beneath it. 

“Oh no.”

Her garden, the place that brought her true joy, was in shambles. Flower petals were strewn about, some stalks had no petals left at all, and the little section where she’d planted fruits and vegetables was flooded. Evidently, the meager protections that had been placed on it wasn’t strong enough to withstand yesterday’s storm. 

He hoped she hadn’t seen it yet. She would be devastated. 

He turned back to the dozen parcels that littered his bed. He began digging through them, hoping that Deidre had seen fit to make him something comfortable and sturdy enough to work in. Finally, he found a pair of trousers that looked closest to the ones he used to wear in the Spring Court and a roughspun green tunic. He tossed those into the chair in the corner, along with a pair of supple leather boots. 

Lucien glanced at the clock, and seeing he still had time, snatched open his door and took the stairs two at a time. 

Feyre looked up, startled at his abrupt appearance in the foyer. 

“Finally, I called you at least three times.”

“Not hungry,” he said in a rush. “I need to take care of something. I’ll be back shortly.”

He caught a glimpse of Elain at the table, though she wasn’t looking at him. She was looking miserably through the pane glass of the patio door at her ruined garden. 

Damn it.

Without any further explanation, he darted out the front door, Feyre and the others staring at the spot he’d just disappeared from. 

He found what he needed in town quicker than he thought. Like all the other shops, the merchant had tried to put it on Rhy’s credit but Lucien had insisted on paying for this himself. Even though he’d been gone for less than half an hour, when he got back to the townhouse, the sitting room was empty. 

He spotted a note on the table that read:
Gone out for drinks and dancing. There are leftovers in the kitchen if you’re hungry. - Feyre
P.S. You’re a dumbass. 

“I know, Feyre,” he muttered. “I know.”

Back in his room, he realized there was nothing more he could do until morning and upon that realization, his adrenaline seemed to vanish. 

He slept fitfully, barely getting more than a half-hour of sleep at a time. Every time he managed to fall back to sleep, he was plunged into total and complete darkness, tormented by the sounds of Elain screaming and sobbing as she was forced into the Cauldron echoing inside his head. 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

He woke before dawn covered in a cold sweat. He might as well have gotten no sleep at all for all the good it had done. He got up and went into the bathing room to splash cold water on his face. 

He dressed quickly and stalked through the hall, down the stairs, and out the front door without making a sound. Retrieving Elain’s garden tools, he got to work. He picked out the parts that looked salvageable and left them alone for the time being. Elain had a more delicate hand and keener eye for this sort of thing, so he’d probably leave that to her. 

He hoped his instincts were right on this. He’d been wrong so many times before that he wouldn’t be surprised if him trying to help only made things worse. As he worked, he realized he might be intruding on some private hobby that was meant for her and no one else. But i t was too late to stop now. 

By the time he’d dug up all of the ruined and broken plants, the sun had risen and was beating down relentlessly. He cursed his luck that this would be that one day of autumn that was uncharacteristically hot. Probably some indirect retribution from the Mother for him being an insensitive ass yesterday. 

Lucien noticed movement inside the house out of the corner of his eye but never stopped working. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He wished he’d made more leather ties for his hair last night; it kept falling into his face and getting in his way. 

Fucking hell, it was hot. It should not have been this hot in autumn. It wasn’t even midday yet. He figured he would catch shit for it from Rhys and Cassian later, but at that moment he didn’t care and peeled off his shirt, tossing it onto the ground. He instantly felt better. He quickly braided his hair but without something to tie it off, he didn’t expect it to hold long.

He didn’t know how he knew, but he just knew the exact moment that Elain saw him in her garden and began watching him. He worked until the garden was completely clear of debris and the soil had been tilled and prepared for fresh seeds and trimmings. He peered over his shoulder when he heard the patio door open. 

His heart leapt to his throat when he saw Elain step outside.

Chapter Text

Elain surveyed the little space that had brought her so much joy. There was barely anything left.

Lucien had cleaned and cleared away all the debris and prepped the soil for new plants. His mouth was a tight line as he watched her assess the work he’d done.

“It was totally wrecked from the storm,” he rushed to explain.  

“I know,” she said softly. “I saw it last night.” 

She’d woken up in his room again, but by the grace of the Mother, he hadn’t woken up. When she got up to go back to her room, she had seen all of the clothes that Deidre had made in boxes and strewn about the floor, as if he’d dug through them looking for something specific. 

She was relieved that he hadn’t woken up, considering how restlessly he’d been thrashing around. When she’d come downstairs for breakfast, she had been surprised to see him outside, tilling her garden. 

While she’d eaten breakfast, Cassian had teased her, asking, “So what did he do?”

“Excuse me?”

“He had to have made you mad to be out there working like a dog. We males aren’t that complex.”

“Horrible, disgusting creatures,” Amren muttered as she took a bite of toast. 

But Elain hadn’t answered him. She’d just returned her attention to her mate. She suspected why he was out there and it was because he’d upset her... but Cassian didn’t need to know that.

“He must have really pissed her off,” Cassian muttered to Amren. 

“Or perhaps he’s a rare decent male who just wants to do something nice for her,” she retorted. 

Cassian watched Lucien for a beat and said, “No, he definitely pissed her off.”

Elain wasn’t exactly ready to confront the awkwardness that was bound to rest between her and Lucien, but she couldn’t tolerate the endless banter going on behind her. So she went to the kitchen, poured an ice cold glass of water, and went outside. 

Lucien pulled at the back of his neck, clearly searching for something to say but taking care not to repeat his mistake from yesterday morning. 

Elain offered him the glass of water. “Have you had anything to drink since you came out here?”

“No,” he admitted. He took it from her and drank until the glass was empty. 

Elain had almost brought out a plate of biscuits, suspecting that he'd also had nothing to eat this morning, but remembered what Feyre had told her about what it meant for a female to offer her mate food. She wasn’t quite ready for that yet. 

Lucien took a shallow breath and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his forearm. Elain couldn’t help but notice that his arms... really, his whole upper torso was solid toned muscles. She thought about the other night when she’d observed him sleeping. Of the broad, flat plane of his stomach. Of his hip bones exposed by the low waistline of his trousers... 

Her eyes betrayed her and strayed to his waist. Damn him. Had he really needed to take his shirt off to work out here? Although it really was unnaturally hot outside today. 

She knew Cassian and Amren, and probably the rest of them by now, had found their way to the sitting room and were undoubtedly eavesdropping. She turned as pink as the dress she was wearing. 

Lucien set the empty glass on the bench and sat down. His braid had come loose so he swept his hair off to one shoulder to re-braid it. Elain hoped the heat didn’t tempt him to cut it. She loved his long hair and allowed herself to imagine what running her fingers through it might feel like. Her stomach did a backflip.

Once his hair was no longer covering his back, Elain had an unobstructed view. She’d expected it to be as toned and muscled as his front. What she hadn’t expected to see were the scars. 

His entire back was covered in long white scars, the healed remnants of the whip lashes he’d suffered Under the Mountain. The ones he’d taken for helping Feyre. Elain lost count at twenty-five. She suddenly had to fight down nausea and wished she hadn’t eaten breakfast. 

The scar on Lucien’s face somehow made him even more ruggedly handsome than he already was. But these... these broke her heart. And all of them, on his face and his back, were thanks to Amarantha. Elain hated her.

Lucien stiffened when Elain sat down beside him on the tiny bench. He had to have known she was staring at the criss-cross of scars that disfigured his back. She raised a tentative hand, expecting him to jerk away, but he didn't move. His mis-matched eyes met hers and she didn’t break his gaze as she lightly, so lightly, ran her fingers over one of the dozens of healed lashings. 

Despite the heat, Lucien shivered when her skin made contact with his. And without warning, Elain was pulled into a memory that wasn’t her own. 

She was in a dark, wet stone room with no windows. Her wrists were tied to a whipping post and her feet had given out, unable to bear her weight so she hung limply by her arms. She was naked from the waist up. She knew her back was screaming in agony but somehow, she only knew it without actually feeling any pain. Blood ran down her back and seeped into the waistband of her pants. 

Why was she wearing pants? But then the conscious part of her mind that was still Elain realized that she was living inside Lucien’s memory. 

“Again,” said a cold female voice. 

The whip cracked and the sharp metal tips at its end bit into her back again. No physical pain reached her, but her mind told her that it was excruciating. She bit her tongue so hard it bled but she wouldn’t give the bitch the satisfaction of screaming. 

“Again.”

Over and over the whip seared against her flesh. Stars danced in front of her eyes and she thought she might pass out. At this point, she wished she would. When she was certain there wasn’t an inch of her back left the jailer’s whip hadn’t found, the Queen Under the Mountain spoke again. 

“Stop.”

Elain was panting. She’d vomited twice, but never screamed. Amarantha came around to peer at her face. 

“Perhaps now, you have finally learned your lesson, Lucien. To hold your fucking tongue or the next time, I shall rip it from your throat like I did your eye from its socket.”

“Go... to... hell,” Elain snarled in a low voice that wasn’t hers. 

Amarantha’s eyes raged, but her face was lethally calm. “Dump him in a cell,” she ordered. “And no healers.”

Elain was thrown backward so violently it felt like she actually had been transported through time and space. But she was still on that stone bench, her fingers tracing the lines of his scars. 

Her eyes widened and she let out a strangled gasp. Lucien looked even more horrified as Elain’s hands began shaking violently. Lucien took them between his and held them tightly against his chest. 

"Shit!"   He bellowed. " Oh, gods, tell me you didn’t just see all of that? That you didn’t feel it?” Lucien squeezed her hands so hard she yelped. He let go. “I’m sorry.” 

“I saw it all... but I didn’t feel anything,” Elain said, her voice shaking. 

“Well, thank the Cauldron for small fucking favors.”

Elain had never heard him sound this angry. No, angry wasn’t a strong enough word. He’d transcended anger. He was livid with pure, untamed rage. But when he shifted on the bench and looked at her, she saw none of it in his eye. That was full of remorse and apology. 

“Elain... gods, if I’d known it was even possible for you to see that, I would have never tried to strengthen the bond with you. I’m so sorry. So sorry. You should have never had to see that.  I am so sorry you had to see that.”

Elain fought back tears that burned her eyes. Tears that weren't for her own sake, but for his. These were tears of rage. Of sorrow for what her mate had been forced to endure. 

“Well, I’m not,” she said firmly. 

He blinked at her. 

“Lucien, if there’s anyone in the world who needs to see it, it’s me.”

“No,” he croaked, reaching for her hand again. “You’re the one person in the world I’m supposed to protect from having to see things like that."

Seeing his scars had broken her heart, but reliving the experience within his memory had shattered it completely. He had survived something truly horrific... and he’d endured it alone. Though it wasn’t right to compare, she thought about the one truly traumatic experience she’d had and knew without a shadow of a doubt that without her sisters and her new friends to help her heal, she would have never survived the ordeal of being forced into the Cauldron. 

And yet, Lucien was bound and determined to lock his pain away, to bury it so that no one else would suffer as he’d suffered. A tear finally broke free and slid down her cheek. Lucien’s rough calloused thumb was there to wipe it away before it reached the corner of her mouth. 

She shot to her feet and put one hand on either side of his face, pulling him slightly toward her. 

“Now you listen to me, Lucien Vanserra. You do not have to carry these burdens alone anymore. You have friends. Feyre and Rhys and Cass and all the rest of them. And me,"  her voice cracked. "You have me now. And you do not have to shield me from the terrible things you've seen. Stop being a stubborn male already and let me help. Okay?”

"Okay..." Lucien stared at her for a beat and said, in a squished voice, “Can I have my face back now.”

Elain released him and he gave her a little smirk. She sat back down beside him with a little huff. 

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that side of you before,” he remarked dryly. She blushed slightly but didn’t break his gaze. 

“I think I like it,” he purred. 

Even though the day was scorching, Elain’s arm prickled with gooseflesh. He never took his eyes off her. And then his hand was reaching toward her face. It seemed to take a lifetime and yet no time at all. His fingers were coarse but gentle as they brushed the hair away from her cheek, tucking it behind her ear.  

“I’m so sorry for what I said up at the House yesterday,” he murmured. “I was an idiot.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she muttered. 

“Yes it does,” he insisted. She wasn’t sure if he was pulling her closer to him or if she was leaning forward on her own. 

“I forgive you,” she breathed. “I forgave you the minute I saw you out here.”

He was going to kiss her. Her heart was beating so fast she couldn’t think straight. Yet when she saw the flash of delighted surprise in his eye, she realized that she was the one moving into him. 

The patio door swung open, sending the rake that had been leaning against it clattering to the cobblestones. Elain jerked back and sprang to her feet.

Rhys filled the door frame and flashed them a wicked grin. 

“Damn you, Rhysand!” Elain cried. “You scared me half to death.”

“So sorry, but I thought you’d like to know Nesta was at Amren’s this morning but they’ve just dropped by for lunch.” 

He gave her a pointed stare before winking and disappearing back into the house. Elain understood. Nesta would have come raging outside if she'd seen them sitting so close on the bench together. 

“Anyway, I’m sorry I interrupted you,” she mumbled, picking up the rake and tucking her hair behind her ear after it fell back into her face.

“I was more or less finished,” he said good-naturedly, as if they hadn’t just shared such an intimate connection through their bond mere moments ago. “At least, until I got some direction from you. You’ll need to decide where you want everything to go and then we can plant it all.”

“We?”

“Sorry, you probably want to do that on your own. I just meant—”

“No, no,” she said hurriedly. “I’d like you to help... if you want.”

“I would love that,” he answered earnestly. He leaned back to retrieve the box of assorted seeds he had hurriedly purchased when he’d gone into town last night. “I don’t think it’s a replacement of everything you had, but I found most of them.”

He remained on the bench, holding out the box to her. Elain swallowed thickly. He had gone to so much effort to restore her little slice of heaven. It meant more to her than she could say. She opened her mouth twice but couldn’t find the words to express her gratitude. 

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Nesta and Amren through the patio door. Nesta zeroed in on Elain like a hawk but Elain pretended she hadn’t seen her, taking a few steps closer to Lucien and accepting the box from him. 

“Lucien... thank you,” she breathed. As if working tirelessly to clear and prep her garden hadn’t been enough, he’d gone and found seeds to replace what had been lost. 

She set the box down on the bench and threw her arms around him. His skin was hot and slick with sweat but she didn’t care. She could barely wrap her arms entirely around his shoulders, but she leaned over and kissed his cheek, right on the scar that ran down the length of his face. 

Chapter Text

Lucien wasn't entirely sure he was still breathing. After going back inside, leaving Elain to have a few minutes alone in her little garden, Lucien had waited for Nesta to deliver her killing blow, but she never did more than glare at him. He couldn’t believe she wasn’t leaping at an opportunity to yell at him. Something must have put her in a better-than-normal mood this morning. Though come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Nesta downstairs with the rest of them when he’d hurried through the dining room to buy Elain’s seeds. 

Whatever the reason, he was glad for it. He was still recovering from the shock of Elain throwing her arms around his shoulders and pressing her soft lips against the scar that ran down the left side of his face. His cheek still burned where she’d kissed him. Once again, he felt like a foolish greenboy. 

When he'd stepped inside, Nesta had taken one look at him, still shirtless and sweating, and sneered. 

“Why does it look like Elain’s garden is empty?” She asked Feyre. “Where are all her flowers?”

“Because it is empty,” Feyre replied, pouring two glasses of water. “The storm from family dinner night practically destroyed everything, so Lucien cleaned it up, clearing away the debris and getting it set up to plant new flowers.”

He couldn't be sure since he was still struggling to think clearly, but it almost looked like respect in Nesta’s eyes. 

Feyre offered the second glass of water to him, and he gulped it down as quickly as the one Elain had brought him. 

“Oh, Lucien, by the way,” Feyre said, “Rhys told me if I saw you to mention that he, Cass, and Az are having a ‘boys’ night and asked if you’d want to join them.”

Lucien was mildly intimidated about what a boys night with those three would involve and said as much. 

Feyre shrugged. “Booze, raucous laughing, inappropriate jokes... I’d say if you join them they might be a bit more civilized, but... that’s a huge might.”

“Barbarians,” Nesta muttered. 

Feyre gave her sister a pointed look before glancing back at Lucien and mouthing, hypocrite.  Lucien snorted. 

“I pity the poor restaurant owner that has to tolerate those three together,” Lucien simply said. 

“Oh, no, they know better. They usually go up to the House of Wind, but if you wanted to join them, Rhys said they’d do it here.”

“Here?” Lucien looked skeptical as his eyes strayed to Elain in her garden. 

“We’ll all go out,” Feyre explained. “Everyone’s been raving about the show at the theatre and the final curtain is in a week, so no better time to go see it. Afterward, we’ll probably go for a few drinks.”

“I would have thought Cassian wouldn’t want to drink again for a while, after how much he was complaining yesterday morning,” Lucien said with a smirk. 

“Illyrians,” Feyre offered, as if that explained everything. “So?”

Lucien shrugged. “Why not.”

Feyre beamed at him. “Great. Now go take a bath. You stink.”

Lucien feigned offense and moved around the table to where she stood, threatening to bear hug her with sweat-soaked arms. She shrieked as she leaped backward, out of his reach, and held her two index fingers out, one crossed over the other as if to ward him away from her. 

“Have I told you lately what an annoying little shit you are?” He griped with a playful smirk.

“Nope.”

“You’re an annoying little shit.”

 Nesta had been silent, arms crossed, her lip curled up slightly in disgust. “Don’t you talk to her like—”

“Oh, don’t even get me started on you,” Lucien said. 

He didn’t linger to hear her retort. He just bound up the stairs two at a time, chortling softly to himself. He was sure he’d pay for that later, but his cheek still tingled from the kiss Elain had given him, and he couldn’t be bothered to care about much else. 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien took his time in the bath, not feeling the need to rush. The back of his neck was tender from being in the direct sun all morning and most of the afternoon. Not burnt - Lucien never burned for some reason but he would still feel the effects of the sun’s heat if he spent all day in it. 

Once he’d washed his hair and the water had gone cold, he dried off and dressed. A glance at the clock told him it was still an hour or so before the girls were leaving, so he retrieved the swatch of leather Elain bought him and sat at the little desk in his room. Using his dagger, he sliced the leather into thin strips. She’d bought enough leather for him to make nearly a dozen. There was really nothing to them. Just cutting them into strips would have been enough, but he always singed the ends of them just to keep any fraying to a minimum. 

Lucien stuffed a few in his pocket and left the rest on the desk. He went downstairs to find Feyre and her sisters mulling around the sitting room. 

“We’re waiting for Amren and Mor to meet us here and then we’re leaving together,” Feyre explained. 

Just then, Cassian and Azriel came in through the front door. Catching sight of Nesta, Cassian’s grin turned wolfish. He sidled over to her and tried to put his arm around her, but she ducked away from it. He didn't seem deterred by the rejection, leaning as close as he could and withdrawing something from his pocket. 

“You left in such a hurry, you forgot this,” he murmured, revealing an earring in his palm. 

Nesta’s eyes grew as wide as saucers as she snatched the earring out of his hand and grabbed his wrist, pulling him inches from her face. “If you utter another syllable, I will eviscerate you.”

“Aww, Nesta, I love it when you talk dirty,” Cassian purred. 

Nesta turned purple. 

“On second thought,” Feyre said quickly, “I think it’s best if we wait for Mor and Amren outside.” She grabbed her sister by the arm and steered her toward the door. 

Elain followed, looking back over her shoulder at Lucien. 

Have fun.  Lucien said through the bond as he winked at her.

She just shook her head with a tiny smile on the way out the door. You have fun.

Once they were gone, Rhys chuckled as he said, “They’re going to have to invent a name for the color Nesta turned.”

Lucien hadn’t even seen him come in; he’d been too surprised by this turn of events with Nesta to notice much else. Rhys produced four lowball glasses and a bottle of amber liquor. He twisted the cap off, poured an equal serving into all four glasses, and set the bottle aside. He picked his up and sat in one of the armchairs. Cassian and Azriel followed suit, sitting on either end of the sofa. Lucien claimed the other armchair. 

He felt slightly awkward with these three. They had known each other for centuries and were more like brothers than friends. Lucien was the outsider. 

“What do you guys typically do on these nights without the girls?”

“Usually, get rip-roaring drunk and find ways to embarrass each other,” Cassian supplied. 

“So what you’re saying is, you provided us with plenty of material to get started then?” Lucien gibed. 

Azriel snorted.

“Yes, Cass, please enlighten us on what that was all about?” Rhys prodded. 

Cassian shook his head. “Not getting it that easy, boys.”

Azriel and Rhys exchanged glances, both grinning wickedly. 

“Oh, no,” Cassian paled as Rhys grinned even wider. “No, no, no, that’s not fair!” 

“What’s not fair?” Lucien wondered. 

“Usually,” Rhys explained, “it’s just playing cards and having a few drinks. Cassian tends to exaggerate things if you couldn’t already tell. But tonight, Cass has brought this on himself really. He could have just told us.”

“But now we get to find out the fun way,” Azriel added. 

“What’s the fun way?” Lucien asked, not sure if he wanted to know. 

Rhys didn’t answer him. Instead, he said, “I’ve never tried to fly upside down and busted my ass in the process.”

Cassian shot him a dirty look as he took a sip of his drink. 

Lucien nodded with understanding. He’d played this game before, a lifetime ago when Tamlin had still remembered how to have fun. “To make sure your rules are the same as when I played,” Lucien said, “whoever’s done the statement has to drink. If no one has done it, then the original speaker drinks?”

Rhys pointed a finger at him, "Yep." 

“I hate you,” Cassian growled. 

“Surely, you’ve gone through just about every question possible, considering how long you three have known each other,” Lucien remarked. 

“For the most part, we have,” Rhys agreed. “But we haven’t played this in... help me out, Az?”

“At least seventy-five, maybe a hundred years,” Azriel guesstimated. “And I’ve never used my wings in part of a pick-up line.”

Rhys and Cassian glared at him as they both drank. 

“I’ve never stabbed myself in the ass from improperly sheathing my sword,” Cassian said with a snort. 

“That was one time!” Azriel protested as he took a drink. 

Lucien realized the disadvantage he was at, since these three knew plenty of incriminating details about each other and he knew practically none. He didn’t let that discourage him though. Until he learned their individual mishaps, he’d just have to take broad, general shots at all three of them. 

The three Illyirans looked expectantly at Lucien. He swirled the contents of his glass around as he considered. “I’ve never measured my wingspan.” 

“That's not— He doesn’t even have a wingspan!” Cassian objected. 

Rhys just threw his head back and roared with laughter before taking a generous sip from his own glass. He pointed at his brothers. “Drink, you assholes. You know you have.”

Cassian and Azriel both took sips from their cups. 

“Not wasting any time before playing dirty, I see,” Rhys said appreciatively. 

“Why? Should I be expecting mercy as the newcomer?”

“Not a chance,” Cass chortled. 

“Good. Take your best shots then,” Lucien challenged. He really had nothing to hide. He felt no love for his family, save for his mother, so let them take shots there. He lamented the loss of his friendship with Tamlin, but the High Lord of the Spring Court had made his bed and now he had to lie in it. If Tamlin saw it as a betrayal or personal attack for Lucien making a home in the Night Court, then to hell with him. 

“I’ve never been stuck in a gilded mask for almost fifty years,” Rhys said with a glance at Lucien that was both taunting and apologetic. 

“Fuck you very much too,” Lucien said sarcastically, making a vulgar hand gesture toward Rhys as he drank, though he smiled appreciatively. He'd told them to take their best shots. 

Rhys snickered as he said, “Your turn, Az.”

Azriel considered, shadows curling around his shoulders. “I’ve never slept with any of the Archeron sisters.”

Lucien’s stomach somersaulted. 

“WHOAH, AZ!” Cassian exclaimed. “Let’s not waste time with petty bullshit questions, let’s just jump right on in, shall we?”

Rhys took another gulping sip and smacked his lips loudly, as if anyone in the room had doubted what his response to that question would have been. Cassian glanced between Azriel, Rhys, and Lucien and said, “Fuck every single last one of you,” as he drained his glass. 

Rhysand roared “I KNEW IT!” and Azriel just rolled his eyes at the two of them. Having noticed that Lucien hadn’t drank, Rhys patted his knee sympathetically. 

“Oh thanks, that’s not at all patronizing,” Lucien grumbled. 

Rhys just chortled. 

Cassian opened his mouth to take his turn, but Rhys cut him off. “Oh no, you have to give details now.”

“What are you, a girl?” Cassian fumed. “Hell no.”

“Has it hit yet?” Rhys asked. 

“Why do you think I’m trying so godsdamned hard?” Cassian said as he let out a breath of frustration. 

“She’ll come around,” Rhys said. “It seems to snap for us long before it happens for them. Maybe it's because they've been Made and not born Fae. I don't know. But all I know is they don’t seem to feel the months of suffering that we have to endure waiting for it to hit them.”

Lucien knew what he meant. He’d felt the snap of the mating bond the moment he’d picked up Elain off that soaking wet floor. He could only hope she hadn’t felt it yet. The alternative...

“I can confirm this,” he offered, tipping up the glass and drinking what was left. He savored the burn it left in his throat. 

Cassian and Rhys both looked at him. Rhys’s expression was more sympathetic whereas Cassian’s was one of mutual understanding and suffering. 

Azriel surveyed them and declared, “Damn, am I glad I’m not in either of your shoes.”

“Okay, enough emotions and sappy shit,” Cassian insisted. “Let’s get back to ragging on each other.”

They each took turns coming up with wild, inappropriate, vulgar statements, causing each other to take drinks. They’d gone four or five more rounds before the game had somehow turned into a roast on Tamlin. 

“He’s such a pretentious ass,” Cassian said after Lucien had told them about Tamlin’s throne of roses and thorns. 

“Oh, and how many of the other courts still do the Tithe?” Lucien wondered. 

“None. Spring is the only one,” Rhys answered. 

“Because Tamlin is a fucking prick,” Cassian supplied. 

“Not to mention, he had one chance to get Feyre out Under the Mountain and what did he do? Tried to fuck her instead," Rhys growled. "He never even looked at her the whole time until he had a chance to put his hands all over her. Selfish bastard."

Lucien hadn’t known about that but was sorry to admit that he wasn’t surprised. Lucien had often thought Tamlin had given up too easily Under the Mountain. He’d understood when Tamlin had maintained a mask of indifference before Feyre had given up her name, but once she’d agreed to the trials, Tamlin should have acknowledged her at least. But he’d sat by Amarantha’s side, mute and submissive, while Feyre had suffered endlessly. 

Cassian and Azriel both looked surprised. 

“I’m not exaggerating,” Rhys insisted. “Ask him.” He motioned to Lucien. 

“He did,” Lucien confirmed. “I’m not sure how much Rhys and Feyre have told you, but the only reason Feyre made the bargain with Rhys at all was because—”

“Because that bitch had Lucien beaten to within an inch of his life for helping Feyre in her first trial. He couldn’t fucking walk, let alone heal her,” Rhys finished, cold rage burning in his eyes. 

Cassian gaped open-mouthed and Azriel swore under his breath. 

“And Tamlin wouldn’t risk going down to Feyre’s cell,” Lucien added. “Even though he had ample opportunities to because...”

Lucien gave Rhysand a nervous glance. Rhys gave a grim smile and said, “They know.”

Cassian and Azriel nodded, sparing Lucien from having to say it. That Amarantha had been entertained and distracted by Rhys, so Tamlin could have gone down to Feyre and at the very least, healed her. 

“I’m sorry I called you her whore,” Lucien said solemnly to Rhys, who gave a dismissive wave of his hand and just said, “It’s fine, everyone did.”

It wasn’t fine. But Rhysand wasn’t going to show how much it truly got to him, not even to his closest friends. His brothers. Lucien doubted anyone saw that damaged, broken side except for Feyre. 

“But in some sick twisted way, I guess we should be grateful that he didn’t,” Cassian said. “Otherwise, our High Lady might still be with the prick.”

“She got her revenge though,” Lucien reminded him. “After Hybern.”

“Oh, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to see that,” Cass chuckled. 

“It was magnificent,” Lucien admitted. “She played him. And me, if we’re being honest.”

“Like a fiddle?” Cassian asked hopefully. 

“No. Fiddles are expensive and hard to play. She played him like the cheap harmonica he is.”

Azriel snorted. Cassian and Rhys roared with laughter. 

Cass was clutching his sides as he said, “I agree with Rhys’s earlier pronouncement. Please stay forever.”

Lucien planned on it. 

“Alright you boozehounds,” Rhys said, still chuckling, “we’ve been through five bottles of whiskey already.”

“That’s it?” Cass hiccuped. 

But Lucien had to side with Rhys. Rhysand was many things, but a bad host wasn’t one of them. And these bottles of whiskey they’d drank weren’t the cheap, watered-down garbage. They were expensive, high-quality bourbons that were much more concentrated. He regretted the headache he’d have in the morning but it would be a small price to pay for what he’d gained tonight. 

Friends. Aside from Tamlin, Lucien couldn’t recount the last time he’d had friends. And Tamlin had become a poor excuse for one. Lucien felt no remorse about the insults and jabs that had been made at Tam's expense. Maybe that made him a prick. But Tamlin deserved it.

Just then, the front door opened and the three Archeron sisters came gliding in. From the high-pitched laughter and unsteady steps, it would seem they’d gone out for drinks too. Feyre gave Rhys a warm smile and Lucien realized that she must have told him through their bond that they were on their way home. Perhaps that had been why Rhys insisted they stopped at the five bottles they'd emptied. 

Nesta and Elain lingered by the stairs while Feyre came over and gave Rhys a gentle kiss. 

“I’ll be up shortly,” Rhys promised her. 

Cassian was wagging his eyebrows at Nesta, who was pointedly ignoring him.  

Nesta stomped up the stairs, Elain pausing to glance at Lucien. He gave her a lazy smile. Feyre nudged Elain and whispered, “I told you he’d be fine with them.”

Once the girls were upstairs and out of sight, Cassian raised his empty glass to Lucien in a salute. “Nice job, by the way.”

“Excuse me?” Lucien stood up and stretched. Gods, he was going to feel like shit tomorrow. 

“On that garden,” Cassian clarified. “What you did for Elain... even Nesta was impressed. Which only set the bar outrageously high for me, so thanks.”

Lucien regarded him for a second. “You’ve got wings, I’m sure you can manage.”

Cassian snorted. “You’re funny, I’ll give you that.” He rose from the sofa, seemed to reconsider, and flopped back down onto his stomach, wings splayed out with one draped over the back of the sofa and the other just barely grazing the floor.

Azriel stood and shook his head. “Cassian had a point, though.”

“About?”

“The garden.”

Lucien involuntarily tensed. 

“She spent a lot of time there immediately following the defeat of Hybern,” Azriel said. “I won’t insult you by saying you have no idea what it means to her, because I feel like you do.”

Lucien nodded, his throat bobbing uncomfortably. If there was any male he had competition with, it was this one. And he was giving him... praise? 

“It’s the only place she seemed truly happy,” Azriel continued, "Until..."

“Until what?” Lucien's stomach was in knots. He should have drunk so much. 

“Until you came back. She didn’t smile that much before.”

“I’m sure it has nothing to do with me...” 

“It has everything to do with you,” Azriel insisted.

“Look,” Lucien said, pulling at the back of his neck, “I just want her to be happy, whatever that means.”

“You misunderstand me,” Azriel said. “Elain and I are very alike in a lot of ways. Call it kindred spirits if you want. She is a dear friend to me, but that is all. I too care about her happiness and I hope she finds that with you.”

Lucien released a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding as some invisible weight disappeared from his chest. Lucien felt undeserving of these males’ friendship, of the camaraderie they had already offered him and the kindness they’d shown him. He had immediately perceived Azriel as a threat when he would have known he wasn’t if he’d just taken the time to talk to him. 

Cassian had fallen asleep on the couch and at some point, while Lucien and Azriel had been talking, Rhys had gone up to bed. 

“Will you go home, or...?”

“Rhys is something of a mother hen,” Azriel said with a chuckle. “He has a room upstairs for Cass and I if we ever want to stay over.” He seemed to consider a moment as they climbed the stairs. “If you ever tell him I called him that—”

“Oh, I’ll never breathe a word,” Lucien promised. “I don’t want to find out what those shadows would do to me.”

Azriel chuckled again as Lucien entered his room and quietly shut the door behind him. 

As he lay in bed, strangely enough, it wasn’t Elain that Lucien thought of. It was Cassian and his volatile relationship with Nesta. He wondered if Nesta knew Cassian was her mate and just refused to acknowledge it or if she didn’t even know yet. Either way, Nesta was Cassian’s mate. Poor bastard.

Chapter Text

Elain was back in the forest, leaves crunching beneath her feet as she followed... whatever it was. A low-lying branch full of unfallen leaves hung in her way. She tried to push it aside, but it kept brushing against her face and tickling her nose. 

She opened her eyes and realized that it wasn’t a branch of leaves at all. It was Lucien’s hair. Before she could scramble out of the bed, Lucien rolled over in his sleep. She was much closer to him than she normally was when she awoke in his bed. So close that when he rolled, his arm crossed over hers. 

She hissed softly, wondering how she was going to sneak out without waking him. To her horror, Lucien opened his eyes at the sound. 

His eyes went wide, the russet eye gleaming in the moonlight that spilled in from the window and the mechanical golden eye seemed to be focusing on everything and nothing all at once. 

He jerked back and sat up quickly but squeezed his eyes shut from the sudden movement. He had drunk a lot, Elain reminded herself. 

His chest rose and fell with the rapid breaths he was taking. Elain tried to focus on that and not the fact that he was shirtless. And though she willed them not to, her eyes darted down, just for a split second but long enough to see that he’d evidently excused himself of his trousers as well before climbing into bed. The sheet hung dangerously low around his hips. Heat rose up her neck and cheeks. She hoped it was too dark for him to notice. 

“Wh—What are you... Why are... Are you alright?” Lucien spluttered. 

“I’m fine,” Elain breathed, her own heart slamming against her chest. Blood rushed to her head, filling her ears, causing her to nearly miss his next words. 

“Fuck, I didn’t think I had that much to drink... Are you real?” Lucien reached out a tentative hand as if to test to see if she was a hallucination. He didn’t touch her, but he still breathed out in disbelief as if he had. 

“You’re really here, aren’t you?”

Elain let out a tremendous sigh and nodded. He stared at her and then glanced down, as if he were trying to remember something. 

“I wasn’t dreaming the other night up at the House, was I?” Lucien was pale and looked slightly nauseous. 

She hoped he could hold his liquor well enough not to throw up on her. She closed her eyes, unwilling to see his expression when she whispered, “No.”

He sucked in a sharp breath and muttered, “Cauldron boil me.”

Elain opened her eyes and without thinking said the first thing that came into her head. 

“I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not pleasant.”

Lucien blinked at her and then seemed to realize what she’d said. “Oh my gods, I’m sorry.”

She waved her hand with dismissal, swallowing thickly. “Before you ask,” she said, her voice tiny and soft, “I have no idea.”

His eyebrows rose. “Has it just been tonight and the night at the House?”

“No,” she admitted, which made his eyebrows rise even farther. She wondered how high they could go, if they'd just disappear into his hairline. 

“How long—”

“Every night since you came back.”

“Wh—”

“I have no idea,” she repeated. “I’d wake up and just... be in here. And every night, I go back to my room and go back to sleep. I can’t explain it.”

His mouth opened, but nothing came out. He closed it and tried again. Elain giggled softly. She knew it wasn’t the right time to laugh, but he looked like a marionette. 

Without warning, Elain’s vision grew cloudy and her head swam. The temperature felt like it had dropped nearly twenty degrees and she shivered. Images flashed through her mind - a thousand nights, all running together, of her beside Lucien in a bed not unlike this one. It was over as quickly as it had started and she clutched her head, willing herself not to vomit. She felt like she’d been slung around in circles as fast as possible without ever having left the bed. 

“Are you alright?” Lucien’s voice was laced with worry. She could only imagine how she looked. 

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. 

“Do you need some water?”

“Water would be good,” she said automatically. Her mouth had gone as dry as a desert. Lucien moved to slide out from under the sheet, only pausing when Elain’s eyes went saucer-wide. 

“I’ll get it,” she said in a rush. 

She slowly put her feet to the floor and stood up, swaying slightly. There was a pewter pitcher and a couple of glasses on the desk by the window, so she helped herself. Once she’d gulped down half the glass, she refilled it and glanced back at him. 

She didn’t want to go back to her room, which mildly surprised her. But she didn’t want to get back into the bed and give him the wrong impression. So she settled for sitting in the armchair by the corner. 

Lucien seemed just as surprised when she didn’t go back to her own room. He watched her carefully, as if trying to make sure she wasn’t on the verge of fainting. 

“I’m fine now,” she assured him. He still looked doubtful. 

“So you don’t remember anything before you just wake up in here, every night?” 

She wasn’t ready to tell him about the dreams. She was certain it was no coincidence that she dreamed of an autumn forest and woke up in the son of Autumn’s room each night. 

“Well... technically, I do remember a dream,” Elain admitted as she glanced toward the clock. “And technically, it’s morning. So do I tell it, or don’t I?”

Lucien suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Don’t remind me.”

Elain laughed softly. “You know I’m just teasing you.” 

“I know.” His voice was stiff, halted. 

“Why are you looking at me like you expect me to jump up and run out of the room at any minute?” 

“Because that’s exactly what I expect,” he admitted.

“I can go if you want me to,” she faltered. 

“No,” Lucien said quickly. “I mean, I don’t expect you to sleep in here or anything but I just... enjoy your company.”

Elain’s expression softened and she settled more comfortably in her chair. “So, tell me something.”

“What?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Anything.” She bit her lower lip as she considered. “When’s your birthday?”

“Really digging deep with those soul-searching questions, are you?” 

Elain spit her tongue out at him, causing him to chuckle. “The Autumn equinox,” he answered. 

“Wait, really?”

“Really.”

Lucien had piled up the pillows behind him and was half-reclined against them, the sheet and blanket tucked tightly around his waist. Elain knew he noticed every single time her eyes lingered on his bare chest for just a beat too long. 

“Why does that surprise you?” He wondered. 

“It’s just interesting,” she remarked. “Mine is the Spring equinox.”

Lucien’s eyebrows rose in mild surprise. “Isn’t Feyre’s on the Winter Solstice?”

“Yes,” Elain nodded. “Our mother always thought it was... prophetic of something monumental. All three of us were born at the change of a season. Feyre on Winter Solstice, me on the Summer Solstice, and Nesta on the Spring equinox.”

“That does seem... highly unlikely,” Lucien commented. 

“Father always told Mother she was just reading too much into things,” she said, “but she insisted that it meant something.”

“Do you wonder how she’d feel about you all becoming Fae?”

Elain pursed her lips as she considered. “I honestly think she wouldn’t have been that upset about it. Our mother was always a dreamer, telling us stories and singing us songs that, well, didn’t originate on our side of the wall.”

She was quiet as she thought of the song she’d sung in the garden, the one her mother used to sing to her. The song that Lucien’s mother used to sing. Elain wondered what she was like - the Lady of the Autumn Court. Autumn. She counted the days in her head.

“Wait, the Autumn equinox is just a few days from now,” she said in an excited whisper. 

Lucien waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Of course it is!”

“When you’re immortal, birthdays sort of lose their charm after the first hundred years or so.”

A hundred years. It sounded like forever to Elain but in reality, a Fae who was a hundred years old was still young. It was still inconceivable that she would live that long and longer. She could barely picture what she’d be doing or where her life would be ten years from now, much less a hundred. 

“I’m sure it’s hard to imagine,” Lucien guessed. “But given time, it’ll feel a lot more effortless.”

She offered him a warm smile and said, “it’s your turn.”

“My turn?”

“Soul-searching questions,” she clarified. 

“Ah. Hmm... What’s your favorite color?”

Elain feigned offense, throwing a hand to her chest and leaning back as she said, “Why sir, you impune upon my honor with such a brazen question.”

Lucien smiled at her with amusement and adoration. She blushed and quickly looked away from him as she said, “I don’t have so much of a favorite color as a favorite blending of colors.” 

Seeing his confusion, she went on to explain. “I love the colors of the sky as the sun rises."

"And here I was, thinking it would be green," Lucien said.

"I do love green," she admitted. "But I just love the orange and pink mixed together as it changes the sky gradually from dark to light.”

“And I thought Feyre was the artist out of the three of you,” Lucien remarked. 

“Oh, I could never paint it,” Elain said. 

They talked for over an hour, passing questions back and forth and learning little insignificant details about one another. Elain learned that Lucien’s favorite food was a delicacy from the Summer Court and that he hated peas. He’d told her that he learned to winnow at a very early age in order to escape the torment of his brothers. He promised to try to teach her how. He told her that as Tamlin’s emissary, Lucien had learned three different languages and could speak them all fluently. 

“So what else do you want to know?” He asked with a yawn.

“Would you go back if you could? To Autumn?”

Lucien didn’t answer right away. His eye seemed to focus on nothing as he slowly said, “I don’t think so. I’d like to see my mother again, but even if my father and my brothers didn’t detest the mere sight of me, I’ve been gone so long it doesn’t feel like my home anymore.”

“I think I know what you mean,” she agreed. “Even if our father’s estate hadn’t been destroyed, I don’t think I’d want to go back.”

She absentmindedly thumbed the ring, a gesture she’d done so many times it had become second nature. But then she remembered what Lucien had thought that day they’d had lunch on the river and jerked her hand down to her side and out of sight. 

I’d rather take the lashings from Amarantha’s whip again than see that wretched thing upon her hand. 

Only now, that thought seemed a thousand times more horrific than it had when she’d first heard it. Now that she’d seen that memory and known the pure torture he’d endured, it made her hate the ring even more. She could barely imagine enduring that once. The idea of going through it all again, willingly... She wished he’d say something. 

She looked up and her request for him to ask her something else died on her lips when she saw his head slumped over and his eyes closed. She reminded herself that he had spent the evening drinking with Rhys and the others, and because of her, he’d only had a couple hours of sleep. 

The weight of the ring, both on her finger and her mind, still troubled her, but she couldn’t bring herself to wake him just to ease her mind. She rose from the chair and moved the pitcher of water and a clean class to the small table next to his bed. 

She was so close to him. His scent was overpowering but in the best possible sense. She breathed it in deeply, savoring it and, for the first time, craving it. Sunshine, oranges, and sandalwood. He was still half-way reclined, the pillows wedged behind his back. If he slept like that for the rest of the night, he’d have a horrible ache in his neck come morning. 

She retrieved a small decorative pillow from the armchair and gently slid it behind his head. It wasn’t perfect, but she hoped it would be enough. She’d woken up one too many times with a sore neck from sleeping at a bad angle and knew how uncomfortable it could be. 

Somehow, in a way she couldn’t quite explain, he looked different when he was asleep. The burdens of his family, his home court, the horrors he’d survived Under the Mountain... all of the things that weighed on him seemed to vanish. She thought how cruelly unfair it was that the only time he got to escape those burdens was when he’d have no memory of it. 

For the first time, she let herself wonder what it truly would be like to love this male. What it would mean to be his mate. He was genuine and kind. He said what he meant and didn’t back down or cower from someone who challenged him. He’d made mistakes, but he’d begun to atone for them and admitted them. He was loyal to a fault... so much that he was still wracked with guilt for feeling as if he’d betrayed Tamlin. Personally, Elain felt that he ought not to waste feelings of any kind on that monster, but she could understand how spending that long at someone’s side would be a hard habit to break. 

And Cauldron knows, he adored her. Above all else, that she was certain of. He’d made no excuses or kept any secrets about how he felt about her. It was an intense, heady feeling to be the object of such unbridled affection. 

Elain thought about the vision she’d had when she’d first woken up in his bed tonight. She wondered if it was a prophetic vision or just one of the many possible outcomes her future held. As she brushed the hair off of his face and kissed his scarred cheek, she didn’t stop herself from imagining what waking up beside him, morning after morning, would feel like. And as she slipped out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her, she was thinking that waking up beside him might not be a bad way to spend eternity. 

Chapter Text

As he’d expected, Lucien woke up with a headache, but not as severe of one as he’d expected. It took him a moment to remember why he was half-way sitting up with the throw pillow from the chair wedged behind his head. As he rubbed the sleep from the corner of his eye, the night’s events came rushing back to him. 

Elain had been in his room... in his bed... The air seemed to rush out of his lungs as he recalled her confessing that she’d been waking up in his bed every night since he’d returned to Velaris. He wondered how he hadn’t noticed her scent on his sheets when now, it was all he could smell. 

He picked up the pillow she'd been sleeping on and breathed as deeply as he could. Apples and honey. It was more intoxicating than all of the drinks he had last night. Gods, how he’d dreamed of having her in his bed. And there she’d been, night after night, without him ever being aware of it. 

Except for the night they’d spent at the House of Wind. He imagined her in his bed so often, dreamed of it almost every night, that he’d assumed she was another dream or a figment of his own overactive imagination. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t imagined what it would be like to bed her. He was sure every male in the history of the world had imagined that about his own mate. But it wasn’t just that. He’d had just as many dreams of simply holding her securely in his arms, falling asleep with her in his embrace. 

And she’d been in his bed . Not even three hours ago. The pounding in his head was getting worse. He turned to glare at the blazing sunshine streaming through his window and noticed the pitcher of water on his bedside table. 

That female is a godssend. 

He drank straight from the pitcher. Lucien recalled there being a basket of scented soaps in the bathing room and, thinking the lavender would ease his pounding head, he rose from the bed to draw up a bath. 

And realized he’d slept stark naked. 

And Elain had been in his bed.

“Oh, Mother save me and Cauldron boil me.”

He was mortified. How he was going to look her in the eyes today, he didn’t know as he submerged himself beneath the water of the tub. 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Half an hour later when he went downstairs for breakfast, Feyre was already smearing jam on toast for Cassian, who looked better than Lucien had expected. In fact, he seemed completely fine, which made Lucien wonder just how much he’d drank up at the House of Wind to have had such a searing hangover the following morning. 

“You,” Cassian said, pointing a finger at him, “are a hilarious sonofabitch.”

“Seems like you boys had fun,” Feyre commented. 

“He’s hilarious,” Cassian said again, his attention back on Feyre and his toast. “And savage. I’m going to have to step up my game before we play ‘I’ve never’ again.”

Lucien eyed the toast that Feyre set on Cassian’s plate. 

“Do I need to make some for you too?” She offered. 

“I’m not a child,” he barked. “I can make my own toast.”

“Of course you can,” Feyre patronized. “Two slices or four?”

Lucien let out a sigh of defeat. “Four.”

“She’s become our mother hen since she and Rhys were mated,” Cassian explained with a mouthful of food. 

But it suited her, Lucien couldn’t help but think. Everything in Velaris suited her. He’d never seen her falter or appear out of place, not even once. Lucien had heard how his father—no, he reminded himself. Not his father. Beron. How Beron and some of the other High Lords (but not his real father) had chided and scoffed Rhysand for “spitting on tradition” by making Feyre High Lady. But he had to wonder if Rhys was on to something. The more he thought about it, the more sense it made. If a High Lord’s wife, and especially his mate, was to sit by his side, why not proclaim her as his equal—his true partner in love and in life.

Rhys believed in a more unified Prythian. A nation that concerned itself with coexistence and equality, not class status and outdated traditions. It wasn’t something that would happen overnight. But as the High Lords’ successors gradually took their places, it was at least achievable. Perhaps. 

As Feyre slid a plate over to him with flaky slices of toast smothered in blackberry jam, Elain came in through the patio door from her garden. His stomach somersaulted when he saw her. But her face betrayed nothing about their middle-of-the-night encounter as she gave him a warm smile. 

“Good morning,” she said jovially. 

After rinsing off her hands in the basin, she came to the table and sat down in the seat next to Lucien. She was behaving so calmly, so untroubled. They had finally developed a general, casual comfort around one another. Yet, almost every time she was around, he felt that jittery, nervous energy somewhere in his middle. He wondered if she felt it too. Or if she was behaving untroubled because she was untroubled. She still could just see him as she did the Illyrians—friends she could trust and depend on. He hated that he'd fallen asleep in the middle of their conversation. He hoped she didn't interpret it as disinterest. He genuinely didn't remember falling asleep.

Elain glanced at his toast and chewed on her bottom lip. 

If you’re that hungry, you don’t have to eat your own lip. You can have some toast if you want.

Oh, ha, ha. Look at you with your jokes. Aren’t you just the clever fox?

She smirked at him as she took a piece of toast off his plate and bit into it. 

So I’ve been told. 

Lucien caught the glance between Feyre and Cassian when Elain casually ate off of Lucien's plate. Before he could come up with any witty retort about it, everyone’s attention turned to the thundering footsteps coming down the stairs. 

“Well, good morning, Nesta,” Cassian drawled. “You’re looking ravishingly murderous today. Who’s been unfortunate enough to have landed themselves in your sights?”

She didn't even acknowledge Cassian. She was shaking with rage as she pointed a finger at Lucien. 

“You’d better explain why her scent is all over your room and you’d better do it NOW .” Nesta had white-hot fury burning in her eyes. Everyone in the room slowly, but deliberately moved into positions of defense. Elain was reminded too much of the day Amren found out about their plan to release the Bone Carver from the Prison. They had acted like she might have blown the house apart and were now taking similar precautions with Nesta. Cassian had slid off the barstool and taken calculated steps until he was between Nesta and Feyre. Lucien actually pitied Cassian, who looked tormented at the position he found himself in. But Lucien could see from the look in Cassian's eyes that he would obey duty over desire and protect his High Lady, even from his mate. But it would destroy him if it came to that. Even as Cassian moved in front of his High Lady, Feyre was trying to discreetly throw up shields to protect them all if Nesta's rage exploded. Lucien wasn't about to let his mate's sister do something she'd later regret. He didn't think she would have any qualms if she hurt him, but if either of her sisters ended up as collateral damage...

“It’s not what you think...” Lucien said weakly, summoning every single ounce of self-restraint he possessed not to instinctively turn to look at Elain. 

“How could it be anything other than what I think?!”

She waited for an answer, but he didn’t have one to give her. He wasn’t about to betray Elain’s confidence by telling Nesta what had really happened. Not that she would even believe it if he did. 

“Nesta—”

“You stay out of this Feyre,” she snapped at her sister. 

Cassian bristled and even though she was his mate, he narrowed his eyes at Nesta. "Don't speak to your High Lady like—"

"She's not my High anything. She's my sister and I'll speak to her however I damn well please."

She turned back to Lucien with lethal venom dripping from her words. “You have exactly three seconds to explain or I will rip you to shreds.”

“Nesta, leave him alone!" Elain shot up out of her seat, palms flat against the table. "Not that it’s your business, but I went in there last night to get a book he thought I’d like.”

Lucien tried not to act surprised by her answer. Elain was sticking her own neck out for him and it wouldn't do to look like this was brand new information to him. He only hoped Nesta didn’t ask...

“What book?”

Lucien had stared down the face of death plenty of times and had often wondered what would eventually land the killing blow. He'd fought in battles and tracked unspeakable creatures in the darkest, oldest parts of the woods. Never did he imagine it would come at the hands of a pissed off, overprotective sister. 

He was just about to admit that there was no book when—

Tell her it was a book about the different species of flowers in Prythian.

Won’t she fact check?

Let her. Feyre bought it for me last week. Nesta’s never seen it. 

But Feyre will know you’re lying. 

Better Feyre than Nesta. Hurry up!

“One about the different kinds of flowers in Prythian," Lucien lied hurriedly. "There are a lot of species that grow here that never grew south of the wall, so I thought it would be helpful for her considering how much she loves her gardens." He could practically feel Feyre’s eyes burning holes into the back of his head. 

Nesta blinked. Once. Twice. Lucien wasn’t sure if it was because of the innocent explanation or because of Elain’s own assertive tone. It wasn’t something that came out very often. He loved when it did, though. Despite the situation he found himself in, he couldn't help but think back to yesterday when Elain had forcefully grabbed his face and yelled at him. Though it hadn't been her goal, it had only made her more attractive to him. He reigned in his thoughts and reminded himself that if he didn't survive this encounter with Nesta, everything else would be of little consequence. 

“Feyre is like a sister to me and Elain..." he risked a glance up at her, her eyes full and round. She lowered herself back into her chair and laid a soft hand over the top of his own, making his heart leap into his throat. "You are Elain and Feyre’s kin,” Lucien continued. "Because of that, I have tried to be cordial with you, but you have done nothing but attack me since I got here.”

Nesta's nostrils flared, rage still boiling behind her eyes. Cassian, seemingly having decided that Nesta's rage wouldn't obliterate the room, had gradually moved to her side. He was a brave sonofabitch, Lucien would give him that, as he watched Cassian try to put an arm around Nesta’s shoulders. She shrugged it off with a huff. She hadn’t taken her eyes off of Lucien since she’d stormed into the room. 

“I don’t know what else I can do to prove to you that I’m not here to force her into anything,” Lucien beseeched, his palms out to her in what he hoped was a gesture of peace. "Elain will always be my first priority," he croaked, willing his voice to remain steady and strong, "and if she tells me she wants nothing to do with me, I’ll leave.” His throat bobbed and constricted. He felt nauseous at the idea of leaving her, but if she asked him to, he would.

“But that is her choice to make,” he growled. “Not yours.”

Nesta glowered at him but said nothing. Instead, she rounded on Feyre and said with lethal calm, “I can’t force him to leave Velaris. But I’m telling you right now, either he leaves this house or I do.”

A thick, heavy silence followed her pronouncement. No one seemed to even breathe until Elain let out a strangled sob as she pushed back her chair and darted up the stairs. 

Lucien immediately rose from his seat to follow her. Nesta opened her mouth to protest, but Cassian put a firm hand against the small of her back and gave her a light push. 

“Come on,” he muttered against her ear, “everyone needs to cool down. We’ll talk about this when we’re all a bit more level-headed.”

He didn’t give her the option to argue. As Lucien climbed the stairs, he heard Cassian tell Feyre in a low voice, “I’m taking her up to the House to punch out some of this pent up rage.”

Lucien hoped Cassian had plenty of spare punching bags.

Chapter Text

Lucien knocked on Elain’s door but got no answer. 

“Elain?” 

The door opened, but it wasn’t Elain who was staring back at him. 

“Where is she?” He asked Cerridwen. 

The wraith handmaiden just shook her head and shrugged. The twins must have just been tidying up her room... or possibly just waiting for her to return from breakfast. Lucien understood they’d grown quite close to Elain and they enjoyed one another's company. 

He let out a low growl of frustration as he stalked down the hall to his room. When he opened the door, he was hit with the overpowering scent of her, apples and honey, but this time it was mixed with something else... salt?

He heard a sniffle and found her curled up in the same chair she’d sat in last night—this morning—whatever. He didn’t care. 

Elain had come to his room. 

His heart clenched at the sound of her weeping. He realized with an unpleasant jolt that the salt mixed with her scent was from her own tears. In that moment, he hated Nesta. 

She looked up as he slowly approached her. She wiped her eyes with the heels of her palms and sat up a little straighter. 

“I—I’m s-sorry.”

“What on earth for?”

“Running off all upset. It was ch-childish.”

“You never have to apologize for getting upset,” he said gently. His heart was breaking for her. She was so gentle, so precious, and he could do nothing to ease her own heartache. Heartache, he realized, that was being caused by him. By his mere presence here. 

“I’m so sorry, Elain,” he croaked. “I should have left when I first realized that she didn’t want me here. I shouldn't have caused so much animosity between you two. It was selfish, so selfish, because I just wanted to be near you. But not if this is the cost. I’ll find an apartment in the city today.”

“No!” Elain cried. “Don’t let her chase you away. I don’t want you to go.”

Lucien’s heart soared. 

“I don’t want her to go either,” she admitted. “I just don’t understand why she doesn’t like you so much.”

Lucien sat on the edge of his mattress. “I don’t think she will ever be able to let go of the fact that I was with Tamlin in Hybern. In her mind, I’m just as guilty as he is,” Lucien guessed, voicing a theory he’d had for a while. 

“But you had nothing to do with it!” Elain leaped up from the chair and began pacing. “It was that-that... priestess tramp Feyre told me about!”

Lucien’s blood turned cold. Ianthe. He felt physically ill as he remembered what he’d done with her, just to appease Tamlin. He had to fight down the bile that rose in his throat. Gods, if Elain ever found out... he’d lose her. He knew it in his very soul. 

She took a shuddering breath and collapsed back in the chair. 

“Are you sure it wouldn’t make things easier if I found my own place to stay?” He asked tentatively. 

“Please don’t go,” Elain begged, hugging her knees to her chest. 

Lucien wasn’t sure if she meant for him to stay here in the room with her or at the townhouse. Either way, he had no plans to go anywhere if she didn’t want him to. 

He sat with her in the silence, her sniffles becoming less and less frequent until they’d stopped altogether. When she’d finally risen from the chair, she moved to stand near the window and peered down at her garden. Lucien rose from his silent vigil on the bed to stand beside her. The only buds in her garden were the ones she had planted yesterday. It looked like too much dirt and not enough plants, but soon it would be a kaleidoscope of colors, even with winter approaching. Rhysand had found some concoction to mix with the soil that would keep her garden in bloom year-round. 

Lucien wasn’t sure if she realized it, but she took half a step backwards and leaned against him, still looking out the window. Finally, he voiced a thought that had been heavy on his mind since the confrontation with Nesta. 

“You lied to your sister.” It wasn’t a question. 

“It’s none of her business." 

“Still," Lucien insisted.

Elain sighed, turning around to face him and resting her hip against the windowsill. “I’m tired of her monitoring your every breath like you’re some bird of prey that’s going to swoop down and whisk me off to someplace she’ll never see me again. She hasn’t once given you a chance. Hasn’t even tried to get to know you. I know she loves me and she only wants to keep me safe... but it’s suffocating. And Tamlin did the same thing to Feyre and look what happened to her! And—and I don’t want to be so protected that I can’t live my own life.”

Elain drew a trembling breath and fought off the tears that threatened to spill. After the tumultuous morning she had, it wouldn’t take much for those tears to break the fragile dam that Elain held at bay. 

Lucien acted on instinct, taking her wrist and pulling her tightly against him. Elain wrapped her arms around his waist and took in a deep breath. He could tell she was willing herself not to cry. Not to let herself fall apart. He kept one arm wrapped around her slender petite frame and with his free hand, he gently stroked her head, letting his fingers comb through her honey golden hair. She sighed into his chest. 

Lucien thought he might die. Right here and now. Having her in his arms was the most perfect feeling in the history of the world. It was a feeling he’d craved like an addict ever since he’d first held her in Hybern. She’d been cold and trembling and terrified then. She trembled now, but she was warm and safe and the tears she cried weren’t tears of fear. They were tears for him, not of him. He didn’t deserve the affection of such a perfect creature. 

Gods, how he loved her. He’d never loved anyone, or anything, the way he loved her. He wanted so badly to tell her, but he didn't want to scare her or make her feel pressured into saying anything she didn't truly mean. But he suspected that she already knew. She had to know. And Lucien didn’t care if it took a hundred years or more before she accepted the bond. Or if she never accepted the bond, he could deal with that too. As long as he got to hold her like this, he would endure whatever it took. Even if he had to face Nesta’s wrath every single day. Elain was worth it. 

As he held her, he finally understood what his memory of Jesminda had been trying to make him see. That in order to fully commit to Elain, to be the mate she deserved, he would have to let Jesminda go. No one could take away the love they’d shared, but she was gone and a part of his past. And in his past is where she needed to remain so that his heart could have a chance at a future with his mate. 

So as he gently ran his fingers through Elain’s hair, he silently sent up the prayer for the departed and thanked his first love for everything she taught him.

Cauldron save you. Mother hold you.
Pass through the gates, and smell the land of immortal milk and honey.
Fear no evil. Feel no pain. Go, and enter eternity.
I know you’ve been in eternity for some time now, but I was never willing to let you go. I’m ready now. Go in peace and carry my memory with you fondly. And thank you… for giving me the strength and the courage to let you go.

He kissed the top of her head, took a deep breath and said, “Elain—”

“Shh,” she murmured. 

Just hold me. Please.

He did. And he would. For as long as she wanted or needed him to.  

Chapter Text

Elain sat at her vanity, brushing out her wavy hair just for something to do. Her eyes were sore and puffy. She wished she hadn’t cried so much, but there wasn’t much she could do about it now. 

She wracked her brain for some way to make Nesta understand. She loved her sister dearly but it was time to draw the line at her overprotectiveness. She couldn’t bear to have two of the people who meant the most to her at each other’s throats. 

There was a soft knock at her door. 

“Come in.”

The door opened and the face of her younger sister appeared. Feyre closed the door behind her and came to sit beside Elain on the little bench in front of the vanity. 

“Nesta and Cass are still up at the House,” Feyre offered. 

Elain nodded idly. 

“How do I make her not hate him?” Elain wondered aloud. 

“I don’t think it’s exactly him she has a problem with,” Feyre pondered. “I think he’s just the outlet she’s chosen because he makes an easy target for her. I think what she’s truly upset about is losing you.”

Elain’s brows furrowed. 

“She’s spent so long protecting you,” Feyre explained. “You two have always been closer than I was to either of you. She’s afraid that by opening yourself up to him, she loses you. And I believe that terrifies her.”

“She was fine with ‘losing’ me to Graysen, though,” Elain countered. 

Feyre pursed her lips. “She wasn’t though. She didn’t let you see it, but she didn’t like Graysen. She was just willing to accept it because you would have been safe and provided for.”

“But there is so much more to life than being safe.”

“You’re absolutely right about that,” Feyre agreed. “Nesta just has to learn that. I’m hoping Cassian can help her come to that realization.”

“What’s going on with them anyway?”

Feyre took the brush and ran it through Elain’s hair, combing through the spots that were difficult for Elain to reach on her own. Something Elain should have done more for Feyre when they were younger. “Nesta is fighting tooth and nail to deny the fact that there’s something between them.”

“Are they mates?”

Feyre’s silence told Elain all she needed to know. She continued to brush the tangles from Elain’s curls.

“Do you want me to braid it?”

Elain considered, but the days had returned to their normal crisp autumn air, so she shook her head. Still, she eyed the leather strip she’d been using to tie off her braid. She felt strangely sad about not having it tying back her hair. She picked it up and held it out to her sister, extending her wrist. 

Feyre understood and tied the thin strip of leather around Elain’s left wrist, loose enough that it dangled freely but not enough to slip over her hand. 

An idea was forming in Elain’s mind. She wasn’t sure of the details yet, but she decided to go ahead and voice it to her sister. 

“Did you know that Lucien’s birthday is the autumn equinox?” 

Feyre’s eyebrows rose at the information. “No, I didn’t. But I’m not even surprised.”

“That’s in...” Elain trailed off as she counted days in her head. “Oh, it’s tomorrow!”

Feyre’s expression grey wary. “Elain... what are you thinking of doing?”

“I don’t know, but... we ought to do something.

Elain was one of those people who loved birthdays. Her own and others. She loved turning an entire day into a celebration of the person. Despite what Lucien had said, birthdays were special, no matter how many someone had. 

“He’s not the flashy type,” Feyre warned. “Putting all of the attention on him would probably make him uncomfortable.”

Elain’s face fell. “But… he deserves to be celebrated."

"I'm not disagreeing with you," Feyre said. "But I just don't want your feelings to be hurt if you plan some big thing and he isn't excited about it."

Elain considered that as Feyre finished tying off the strip of leather. She doubted that Tamlin ever even acknowledged Lucien's birthday and she was almost certain his father and brothers never did. Surely, his mother did, but he hadn't seen her in centuries. And suddenly, Elain was angry.

"Honestly, when do you think is the last time anyone cared that it was his birthday?" She practically spat. "Maybe he plays it off that it’s no big deal because no one bothered to care for the last two hundred years.”

Feyre looked sad as she said, "I hate to say it, but you're probably right."

And then it came to her. Elain had no idea how to make something like this happen in such a short window of time, but she shared her thoughts with Feyre anyway. Feyre’s eyes danced as she said, “Oh! Elain! If we could pull this off... Let me call Rhys in. He can help.”

A few minutes later, Rhys stood somewhat awkwardly in Elain's room as Feyre and Elain explained what they wanted to do. 

Rhysand expressed doubts about their idea. “If we had a week, maybe two, it might be doable. But tomorrow? You females don’t ask for much, do you? Just miracles.”

But Elain had begged him and Feyre had conversed with him mind-to-mind through their bond. Elain wasn’t sure what Feyre said to convince him, but he sighed and said, “Elain, my dear sister-in-law, you’ve asked for practically nothing since you’ve been here. If this is important to you, I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.”

Elain hugged him tightly. "Oh, thank you, Rhys. Thank you!" 

“I’m going to have to call in some favors for this one,” Rhys muttered to Feyre.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

That night, after spending the entire rest of the day going to various shops with Feyre, Elain collapsed into her bed. Her feet hurt from walking for hours and she was exhausted. They had to go back out in the morning for some last-minute things, so she willed herself to fall asleep quickly. 

She wasn’t even surprised when she woke in Lucien’s room a few hours later, exhaustion still weighing heavily on her. As much as she wanted to stay, she knew she had to be awake again in just a few hours, so she just silently slipped out of bed and crept toward the door. She paused and turned back around toward the desk. She scribbled a brief note and then silently returned to her room. 

When Nuala and Cerridwen came in shortly after dawn to wake her, they found her already awake and dressed. She’d chosen today to debut her burnt orange dress with the copper butterflies.  

“Miss Elain, you’re awfully chipper this morning,” Nuala commented. 

Elain just shrugged and hummed to herself while she slipped on her shoes. Cerridwen fussed over her hair and insisted Elain let them style it for her, so she gave in to their one request. They had a way of making her hair more voluminous and sleek than she ever could on her own anyway. When they were finished, her hair fell in soft waterfall curls down the length of her back. Nuala retrieved a headband made to resemble autumn leaves that would help keep her hair from falling into her face all day. Elain had no idea where it had come from, but she wasn't the least bit surprised. Nuala had an eye for accessorizing and undoubtedly had crafted the headband after seeing the dress in Elain's wardrobe.

Feyre met her downstairs in the sitting room. Before Elain could ask, Feyre gave her a tiny little shake of the head to indicate Rhys hadn’t gotten back to her about their idea. 

As they left to go into town, Cassian passed them on his way to the townhouse. He spun around to change directions and walk with them. 

“How’s Nesta?” Feyre asked. 

“She worked out a lot of frustration yesterday,” he said, picking at the dirt under his fingernails. 

“I’m sure she did,” Feyre quipped with a wink at him. 

Cassian nudged her hip with his. “Mind out of the gutter, my High Lady. I made her take it all out on the punching bags.”

Feyre held up her hands in a gesture that plainly said she didn't want to know details. “It’s none of my business.”

“So where are you lovely ladies off to?”

“We’re going to find a bakery that can scrounge us up a cake by tonight.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Cassian remarked. “It’s fox boy’s birthday, right? Rhys told me.”

Elain snorted. “Fox boy? Why do you call him that?”

Feyre shot Cassian a dirty look and draped her arm over her sister’s shoulders. “When Amarantha held the masquerade party to curse Tamlin, Lucien had worn a fox mask.”

“And he couldn’t take it off for fifty years?” She marveled with mild disgust. Whenever she heard that foul female’s name, her mind was filled with the sound of the whip biting into Lucien’s back. 

“Almost fifty years, yeah,” Feyre said. 

Elain brought her hand up to her face. She couldn’t imagine having a cold metal mask stuck there for half a century. 

“What would you have gone as?” Cassian asked them conversationally. 

Feyre considered. “Not that anyone will ever want to have one of those masquerades ever again thanks to her, but I think I'd have gone as a hawk.”

She glanced at Elain who bit her bottom lip as she considered. “A doe. No... a fawn.”

“A fox and a fawn,” Cassian said under his breath. Feyre poked him in the ribs. 

“Where’s Azriel?” Feyre asked. 

“Trying to accomplish the impossible task you gave Rhys last night,” Cassian replied. He turned his attention back to Elain. “If you pull this off, I’ll be extremely impressed.”

They arrived at the bakery and explained what they wanted, Cassian tagging along for lack of anything better to do. 

“What would you like the cake to say?” The baker asked. Feyre and Elain were browsing the selection of ready-made cakes and weren’t paying attention. 

Cassian cleared his throat. “Hey, Elain, do you want a talking cake?”

Elain rolled her eyes and said to the baker, “Ignore him. Nothing written on the cake, I think. Just keep it simple.”

“Whatever you like, miss,” the baker said. “Normally, these orders need to be put in a few days ahead, but as it's for our High Lady's family, I’ll have it ready for you by noon.”

“Perfect, thank you so much.”

They were barely outside the bakery when Feyre gasped and gripped her sister tightly by the arm. “Elain!”

“What?!” Both Elain and Cassian looked at her with concern. 

“He did it!” Feyre exclaimed. “Rhys and Azriel actually did it!”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Cassian marveled. 

Chapter Text

Lucien half expected Elain to be in his room when he woke and then he chided himself for being disappointed that she wasn’t. As he got up and dressed, he noticed a note lying on top of the desk by the window in narrow delicate handwriting. 

Don’t you dare try sneaking off and hiding until today is over. I’m running errands with Feyre but I’d like to see you later. We should be back before noon.
- Elain

Lucien sighed and rubbed his temples. Stubborn female. Still, the corners of his mouth pulled up into a smile. He’d always been indifferent to his birthday since they didn’t matter much without anyone to care. His brothers and Beron certainly never cared. Tamlin had made an effort once, but after Amarantha’s curse, birthdays were forgotten or outright ignored in the Spring Court manor. The only other people besides Elain who’d ever cared were Jesminda and his mother. 

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad now that he had people he genuinely regarded as friends. Still, he hated being the center of attention. He went downstairs to find something to eat and was slightly surprised to find the house completely empty. He decided to make the most of the peace and quiet by going up to the rooftop balcony and reading. There was just the hint of an autumn bite to the air but the sun warmed the little rooftop patio. 

He heard her laughter a few hours later as Elain and Feyre returned to the townhouse. He marked his place in his book and dropped it off in his room on his way downstairs. As they came inside, Cassian with them, the Illyrian clapped a hand to Lucien’s back. 

“It’s a shame you don’t have wings, because she’s set that bar so high you’ll never top it.”

“Cassian.”  Feyre’s voice was commanding and full of warning. 

“Okay, okay, I’ll be up at the House,” he grumbled. 

“The House?” Lucien asked with a glance at Elain. And forgot how to breathe. 

She was radiant. Her dress was almost the same shade as his fiery hair and the copper butterflies that covered her skirt looked like fallen leaves. Her honey golden hair was held back with a headband of autumn leaves and around her neck was a tiny gold pendant shaped like an acorn. She looked like she had stepped right out of the Autumn Court palace. Prythian didn't have royalty aside from the High Lords (and Lady), but as she appeared to him now, Elain could be the princess of Autumn.  He knew his mouth was hanging open at the sight of her, but he couldn't be bothered to care. This female was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. And she was his mate. 

Lucien didn't know if it was because of the way he was looking at her or if she somehow heard or saw what he was thinking through their bond. Either way, she blushed and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Well, don’t be upset, but we organized a little dinner for tonight. Just the Circle, I promise. No big fanfare or anything. It’s just so crowded here for everyone to be comfortable.”

Lucien groaned inwardly but couldn’t deny Elain the sheer excitement it seemed to bring her to plan all of this. If it made her happy, then so be it. 

“Just a dinner?” He repeated. 

Elain exchanged a glance with Feyre. 

“Just dinner,” Elain promised, her fingers crossed behind her back. She forgot that Lucien’s mechanical eye could see through glamours and spells, even the most primitive ones. 

“I can fly you up there before everyone else,” Feyre offered. He knew it was to avoid the embarrassment of being carried. Being the only male in this group without wings had its drawbacks. He shrugged in agreement. 

Feyre jerked her head toward the stairs, indicating she'd be waiting for him on the rooftop patio. Elain was chewing on her bottom lip as she looked up at him. 

"Do you like it?" She asked shyly. "It's the fabric Deidre had when we went by her shop."

"I remember," he murmured. "You look sensational."

Her cheeks turned pink again and she mumbled something he couldn't catch. When she reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear again, he noticed the strip of leather around her wrist and his stomach felt like it was full of those same butterflies adorning her skirt. 

Feyre called down the stairs impatiently. "Are you coming or not?"

I'll see you shortly. Elain promised through the bond as she nudged him to not keep Feyre waiting any longer. 

He climbed the stairs without really paying attention to what he was doing. Feyre was silent as she picked him up and practically dove off the roof. Lucien instinctively squeezed his eyes shut. Flying was definitely not his favorite method of traveling. 

As they flew, the wind noise was muffled from Feyre’s air manipulation.

“Thank you,” she said.

“For?”

“Indulging her in all this.”

He almost shrugged but remembered Feyre was suspending him hundreds of feet in the air and didn't want to make any unnecessary movements that might cause her to drop him. “It’s fine. It makes her happy.”

They were almost to the House when Lucien said, “So the wings. Is that some side-effect of mating with an Illyrian?” He chuckled. 

Feyre clicked her tongue. “No, wiseass. They’re just what I manifest from the shape-shifting ability Tamlin passed to me.”

Lucien could have been wrong, but it seemed like she had finally, finally, reached a point where she could say his name without automatically being reminded of the hell he’d put her through. Lucien was glad of it. Glad that Feyre had healed and been made whole again. It would take much, much longer for Lucien to shake those unpleasant memories that immediately sprang to mind at the mention of Tamlin. He regretted how things had transpired, but it couldn't have been helped. Tamlin was responsible for the way his story played out. He could have taken steps to change the outcome, but he'd been too stubborn and blind.  

“I’m almost surprised he never manifested any wings of his own. That beast form he takes would have been extra terrifying with wings,” Feyre commented as she adjusted their course and slowly descended to land. 

“I can forgive him for a lot of things,” she continued. “But one thing I’ll never forgive is what he did to Rhys’s mother and sister.”

Lucien nodded gravely. He hadn't been around for that, but he'd heard the stories. 

“The only consolation is that at least he burned their wings,” Feyre added. 

Lucien looked sharply at her and then hoped she hadn’t seen. But she had. 

“What?”

He stayed quiet. 

“What?” She asked again, more firmly as she landed on the balcony. 

“He didn’t burn them,” Lucien scowled. 

Feyre paled. “Bu—But he told me...”

“He lied.” Lucien wished he’d kept his mouth shut about her wings. 

“Where are they?” She demanded. “I scoured that manor from top to bottom and couldn’t find them.”

“Did you ever go in his room?”

If Feyre had any color left at all, it drained from her face. “No,” she breathed. 

“Never?” Lucien was surprised. “Not even once? I mean, before the wedding. Even before Under the Mountain?”

“No,” she repeated. “He always came to my room.”

“Well, that’s probably why. He didn’t want to have to explain why he had them hanging on the wall in glass cases like some sick trophy.”

She’d set him down but gripped his arm tightly, as if he was the only thing keeping her from tethered to the ground. 

“He truly is a monster,” she rasped. 

Lucien didn’t disagree. He’d made excuses for a lot of Tamlin’s poorer choices but this was one he’d never been able to excuse away. Nor had he ever wanted to. He’d implored Tamlin to burn the wings countless times, but Tamlin had always ignored him. It enraged Lucien to know that Tamlin had lied to Feyre, claiming he'd done the very thing Lucien had begged him to over and over. 

“I have to get them back,” Feyre declared. 

She marched to the edge of the balcony, as if she intended to fly off and go straight to the Spring Court that very instant. 

“Whoah, hold on,” he said as he grabbed her arm and swung her back around. “One thing at a time. I promise, I’ll help you. But at the right time.”

Feyre scoffed. “Please. We’re the two least likely people that he’ll allow into his borders.”

“Leave that to me,” Lucien promised. "I patrolled those borders for years. I can get us in." 

Feyre took several deep breaths, her hands gripping the railing of the balcony so hard her knuckles had turned white. 

"I thought you only started patrolling after I came? After I killed..." She trailed off, unwilling to say Andras's name. 

"No, I'd been patrolling the borders for decades. Ever since Amarantha's curse," Lucien explained. "I only said that to make you feel guilty. In case you weren't aware, I didn't like you much at first."

She didn't respond. She was still clutching the railing and looking nauseous. 

In an effort to get her mind off it, Lucien said, “So are you going to tell me what Elain has planned?”

Feyre let go of the railing and turned around. She gave her head a tiny shake, but Lucien wasn’t sure if it was an answer to his question or to expel the mental image of those wings on Tamlin’s wall. 

“She’d kill me if I gave anything away,” Feyre said. 

“Just promise me that Byraxis isn’t going to turn up wearing a party hat and streamers,” Lucien beseeched. 

Feyre barked out a laugh. “Poor Cassian would have a heart attack.” She shook her head as she added, “I promise, it’s nothing embarrassing or flashy.”

From Cassian's comment this morning about Elain raising the bar, Lucien seriously doubted that. Still, he gave a small shrug as the silhouettes of three winged males approached. He went inside to wait. 

A few minutes later, Rhys, Cassian, and Azriel arrived carrying Elain, Nesta, and Amren. 

“Where’s Mor?” Lucien wondered. 

“At the townhouse,” Rhys said vaguely. “Said she didn't have the stomach for flying today. We’re going back there after dinner anyway.”

Which was just as normal, if not chaotic, as any of their family dinners. No one broke out into song or dance, nothing out of the ordinary. It truly did seem to be just dinner, as Elain had promised. 

They mulled around a bit after dinner, apparently waiting for some kind of signal from Rhys, which came seemingly out of nowhere. 

“Not you yet,” Rhys said, holding up a hand to stop Lucien and Feyre. “I’ll tell Feyre when to bring you back.”

Lucien eyed Elain and Feyre suspiciously. “You said just dinner.”

“It was just dinner,” Elain said innocently. As she walked to where Azriel was waiting to carry her back to the townhouse, she gave Lucien a coy little smile when she passed him. “But I didn’t say anything about after dinner.”

You sly little vixen.  Lucien shook his head incredulously. 

I don’t know what you’re talking about. Although she had mischief and excitement dancing in her doe-brown eyes.

Elain let Azriel pick her up and fly off with her into the sunset. Even though he hated flying, Lucien wished that he had wings, and not for the first time. Rhysand and Cassian carried Amren and Nesta back to the townhouse without a word. 

Thankfully, Nesta had opted to just outright ignore him throughout dinner, which suited him just fine. He’d rather she pretend he didn’t exist than attack him for breathing wrong. 

“Really, Feyre,” Lucien said after everyone else was gone. “What did you do?”

Feyre just drew her finger across her lips. 

She was quiet on the flight back to the townhouse, although from the scoffs and tiny giggles she let out, Lucien knew she was talking to Rhys through their bond. When they landed, Feyre’s hands were clammy as she set him down. 

“What could you possibly be nervous about?” 

Feyre just shook her head and plastered on a forced neutral expression as she walked inside and down the stairs. Lucien had no choice but to follow her. Everyone was in the sitting room, various drinks in hands and a cake... a cake... on the table. Lucien gave Elain a sardonic look but she wasn’t paying attention. 

Lucien moved through the room to stand next to her. He wasn’t sure why, but instinct had told him to. As if the bond between them had physically pulled at him until he'd gone to her side. His hand reached out for hers and she automatically laced her fingers between his and squeezed gently. Why it was such an exhilarating feeling just to have her hand in his, he couldn’t explain. 

No one looked like they were anxiously waiting for anything to happen. Rhys was talking softly to Azriel and Cassian, Feyre was pouring a drink for herself and one for Nesta. Amren was eyeing the cake, no doubt wondering when they could eat it. Since becoming High Fae, Amren had developed a liking for sweets. The one person who was missing was the same one Rhys had said was waiting here. A fact Lucien found very odd indeed. 

Just then, the front door opened and Mor came in, as if Lucien's wondering about her whereabouts had physically manifested her.

“Hey everyone," she called from the foyer. "Sorry I’m late! But I brought someone with me!”

Lucien’s stomach leaped into his throat when he saw his mother stride in behind Mor. 

Chapter Text

His mother was here. In the Night Court. In Rhysand’s townhouse. By the Cauldron...

Lucien stood frozen in place, hand still clutching Elain’s, with his mouth hanging open. 

“Hello, son,” the Lady of Autumn said with a strong voice. Though she appeared nervous and anxious, her voice never quavered or broke.  

All other conversation stopped dead as the rest of the Circle whipped around to see the newcomer. 

“How in the Cauldron’s murky depths did they get her here?” Amren hissed. She glanced at Elain appreciatively. “You, girl, are not to be underestimated.”

Lucien took a tentative step toward his mother. Elain loosened her grip on his hand, no doubt to let him greet her on his own, but he squeezed her hand and tugged her with him. 

“Mother,” Lucien said, his throat bobbing. “Why are— What did— How are you here?” 

Lucien tried to do a mental tally of how long it had been since he’d seen her. The brief encounter Under the Mountain barely counted, since their every move had been watched and scrutinized for traces of treason. Fifty years since the masquerade and nearly two hundred since Jesminda... too fucking long. 

He released Elain’s hand to wrap his mother into a tight embrace. She let out a tiny sob as she hugged her youngest son fiercely. He was over a foot taller than her, but she still hugged him as a mother hugs her son - arms wrapped around his neck and pulling him down onto her own shoulder. She wiped her eyes and sniffled once he let her go. 

“How?” He asked again. 

She gestured to the group of people in the sitting room. His friends. “Well, I don’t know all the specifics, but Rhysand’s spymaster came to me with a note from Feyre explaining it all.”

“Won’t he notice you’re gone?” Lucien’s voice was laced with worry. 

“Not for a few hours. Rhysand helped put on a very convincing glamour.”

“How did they even get into Autumn without him knowing?”

“Eris,” his mother said gently. 

Mor’s eyes grew wide and even Lucien scoffed with disbelief. 

“Azriel reached out to Eris,” Rhys explained. “Told him what we wanted to do. Turns out the alliance we made with him at the Court of Nightmares paid off. So long as he has our support, he's willing to help us here and there. He went to your mother and explained our plan and she agreed to it.”

“The glamour will only hold for a few hours,” Azriel warned. “I’ll have to take her back before it wears off.”

Lucien didn’t care if it was five minutes or five hours. He glanced around at his friends and swallowed thickly before saying, “Thank you. All of you.”

“Don’t thank us,” Rhys said with a shrug. He pointed at Elain. “This whole thing was her idea.”

Lucien’s head snapped around to Elain. She had her hands folded in front of her and was looking down shyly. He barely registered his mother letting go of him as he stepped back over to Elain, slowly and deliberately. 

“You said you didn’t care about your birthday," she rushed to explain, "so I didn’t want to make you tolerate a party with gifts and all of that nonsense if you didn’t want it, but... I just thought—”

She broke off when Lucien wrapped his arms around her tiny waist and hoisted her into a crushing embrace. He held her as tightly as he dared without hurting her. He buried his face in her honey-brown hair and whispered, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Elain’s delicate arms wrapped around his neck as he held on to her and refused to let go. 

He wondered if it was possible to fall in love with the same person more than once. If he hadn’t already been in love with her, this would have been what made him fall for her. 

He could practically feel Nesta’s eyes burning holes into the back of his skull, but he didn’t care. He set Elain down, taking her hand in his once more. He seemed to have forgotten that Elain hadn’t even accepted the mating bond yet. It didn't matter. The gift she'd given him was nearly as good. He led her back over to where his mother stood, who gazed up at him with tears in her eyes. 

“Mother, this is Elain,” he said, slightly breathless. “Elain, meet my mother Anlyn, Lady of the Autumn Court.”

His mother pulled Elain into a warm embrace. “Thank you for your kind heart,” she whispered to his mate. “I cannot ever explain what this means to me.”

She released Elain and took Lucien’s face in her hands. She seemed unwilling to let go of him for more than a few moments at a time. “Oh, my dear son,” she wept.

The others appeared to be silently taking their leave, allowing Lucien to spend the next few precious hours alone with his mother. 

Rhys and Feyre went upstairs as Amren announced to them that she was going back to her own apartment. Cassian tugged Nesta’s arm and convinced her to go... somewhere. Mor and Azriel also headed upstairs, the later pausing long enough to say to Lucien, “We’ll be on the patio upstairs. I’ll come down when I need to take her home.”

Lucien nodded his understanding. Elain turned to follow the rest of them upstairs, but he grabbed her arm. 

“Stay.” He hadn’t meant to make it sound like a command. “Please?”

“Oh, I don’t want to intrude. I thought you’d want to catch up and—”

Please. I'd like for her to know you. 

No, no, this was for you. 

Please? He sent the pitiful pout through the bond.

For a little while, she conceded. Then I’m going upstairs. You need to spend some time, just you two.

Fine, fine. 

Lucien sat on the sofa and his mother sat across from him in one of the armchairs. He tried not to show his surprise as Elain settled on the sofa, feet tucked beneath her and leaning slightly against Lucien’s side. The full skirt of her dress fanned out, covering her knees and draping over the edge of the sofa. 

“Elain, you are Feyre’s sister, is that right?” The Lady of Autumn asked as she admired Elain's dress with an approving gaze.

“Yes,” she said in a tiny voice. 

“Your sister sacrificed her identity for my Lucien.”

Elain nodded. Between Feyre and Lucien, Elain knew most of what occurred Under the Mountain.

“I’ve never been more afraid in my life than at that moment when I thought Rhysand was going to destroy my beloved son.”

Elain said nothing. Lucien didn’t think he could say anything. 

“And now you, blessing that you are, have brought me here, to a miracle of a city where he is not only living but thriving." She wiped her eyes again. “A mother isn’t supposed to have favorites,” she said, addressing Lucien, “but you have always been mine.”

Elain shifted at his side. He reached down and interlaced his fingers between hers. The feeling of her hand in his felt like the most natural thing in the world.  

“Is it because I’m the only child you had with Helion?”

Elain tried to cover up her gasp with a cough but Anlyn didn’t stutter or balk. She maintained her composure as she said calmly, “Know that I never kept the truth from you out of malice. I did it to protect you. So long as you were ignorant to it, Beron could never use it against you. But aside from that, you have always been different from your brothers. You’ve never had the crazed bloodlust that they all inherited from their father.”

Helion is your father?

Yes. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.

You don't have to apologize. How did you find out?

My wonderful new friend Bryaxis brought me that tidbit of information.

Elain said nothing else through the bond, but Lucien could practically feel her reassuring embrace through it. 

“Have you always known?” Lucien asked her. 

“Yes. A healer came to me while I was pregnant and she knew of a... method to determine paternity. I’ve never had the courage to tell him though.”

“But Beron found out anyway, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” she said with a sigh. “After that, I had to swear never to see Helion again. Or else Beron would punish me by punishing you.”

Elain sucked in a breath that sounded like a hiss. 

“That was exactly how I felt too,” Anlyn said. “He lost any lingering love I had for him when he threatened my son to obtain my obedience.”

“Why do you stay with him?” Lucien demanded. “He has no more leverage over you. Leave him.”

Anlyn gave him a sad smile. “I wish it were that easy.”

“It can be,” he insisted. “Yes, it’s terrifying to start over in a new court. Believe me." He tried to keep the bitterness in his voice to a minimum. It wasn't her fault that he'd been run out of his home court. She had even tried to reason with Beron about Jesminda.

"But you are the strongest female I have ever known," Lucien went on. "If anyone could do it, you could.”

Lucien’s mother looked around the room and gestured toward the walls. “I'm told they call this the Court of Dreams and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that you ended up here. You always were a dreamer with a heart of gold, son. I hope you’ve finally found a place where you feel you belong.”

Lucien hoped so too, more than anything. They chatted softly for a while. Lucien told his mother of his search for Vassa on the continent. Elain talked of growing up as a mortal and the struggles they endured. She gave a severely summarized account of being Made, all the while Lucien never letting go of her hand. Thankfully, Anlyn hadn't asked any questions during that part of their shared narrative. After nearly two hours had passed, Elain nudged Lucien through the bond.

I’m going to go out to the garden. Give you a moment alone with her. 

You’re welcome to stay. 

Elain stood from the sofa and so did Lucien’s mother. He watched in silent amazement as Elain embraced his mother as if they’d known each other for years. The two females he loved more than any others in the world. And from first appearances, they seemed to adore one another. Lucien waited for the other shoe to drop. Things this good didn't happen to him. Moments of joy were almost always followed by tragedy. It was his lot in life.

“I’m so grateful to you, dear,” Anlyn whispered. “You will never know what this has meant to me.”

“I'm so glad to have met you," Elain said genuinely. "I hope to see you again." 

“By the Mother’s grace, you will, my dear,” Anlyn replied. 

Elain excused herself to her garden, leaving Lucien and his mother alone. 

“She is a treasure,” Anlyn said. 

Lucien didn’t say anything as he watched Elain kneel in the garden, spraying the tiny buds that were just barely breaking the surface of the soil with water.  

“Happiness looks good on you, my son. I haven’t seen it in so very long I feared I never would again. Not after Jesminda.”

“She didn’t deserve what happened to her,” Lucien said darkly. 

“Neither did you,” his mother murmured. She pursed her lips as she considered what else she wanted to say. “Has she accepted the bond yet?”

Lucien blinked. “How did you—”

“Call it a mother’s intuition,” she shrugged. “Give her time. She will. It’s easy to see that you love her. Have you told her yet?”

Lucien hadn’t taken his eyes off of Elain through the patio door. “She knows.”

Anlyn glanced outside. Elain was talking to her flowers, encouraging them to grow. “Yes, I do believe she does. Still, take it from a female. We like to hear the words all the same.”

He would tell her. When he was certain she was ready and willing to hear it. Even though his heart ached every day, every moment he was with her. He refused to do anything, say anything, that might make her feel pushed or pressured.

“Have you ever encountered yours?” Lucien wondered. “Surely Beron isn’t—”

“Oh, Cauldron no,” she agreed. “Helion is mine.”

Lucien’s mouth fell open. “But then... Does he know?”

“I’m honestly not sure,” she said with a soft laugh. “I didn’t realize it until you were about ten years old, so it’s likely not.”

“It’s not too late you know,” he proposed. “I’ve got pretty powerful friends now. We could relocate you here. Or to Day if that’s what you wanted.”

“I’m not going to make any rash decisions,” she said, displaying the wisdom that age and hardship had taught her. “But I will promise you that I’ll consider it. Now that I know you’re safe and happy, the time may be approaching for me to bid Autumn goodbye.”

She turned her head toward the stairs as Azriel appeared at the bottom. Lucien stood and she pulled him down to her once more. “I love you, son. I’m so grateful you’ve found a place to call your home and friends who love you as you deserve.”

She kissed his cheek and fussed over the length of his hair. Lucien's throat bobbed. It had been so very long since his mother had doted on him. He was a grown male who'd been to war and back, but he would never be too old for his mother's affectionate touches. He'd always thought he got more attention than his brothers because he was the youngest, but now, he supposed it was because he was the only child his mother bore from her true love. Her mate. 

“Happy birthday, my son," she said as she kissed his cheek once more.

She took Azriel’s outstretched hand and they disappeared.

Chapter Text

Lucien stared at the spot they'd vanished from for a moment before opening the patio door and stepping outside into the garden. Elain stood and turned at the sound of the door opening. 

“I know, I know, you said your birthday wasn’t a big deal," she rushed to say, "but—”

Lucien cut her off as he wrapped his hand around her wrist and snatched into another tight embrace. He buried his face in her hair and held her tightly.

“I don’t know if you will ever understand how much that meant to me,” he said, his voice muffled from her hair. “I could live a thousand lifetimes and never deserve you.”

He let out a ragged breath as he released her. 

“Lucien,” she implored. Gods, he loved the way his name sounded on her sweet voice. “You don’t think well enough of yourself. You are remarkable.”

He shook his head gently. 

Elain took his hand and led him to the tiny little stone bench in the corner of the garden. He sat down beside her and she tucked one foot underneath her so she was facing him. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I should have long before now,” she said firmly. “I am grateful every day that I met you. When I was lost in an endless sea of darkness and gloom, I yearned for the sunlight. I didn’t know it then, but you were that light. You helped bring me back. You saw me when no one else did.”

She put her hand against the left side of his face, weaving her fingers through his hair. Lucien leaned into her touch. It was both soothing and electrifying. He couldn’t believe he wasn’t dreaming. Things like this didn’t happen to him. 

“And I know,” she was saying, “I still have a long way to go in terms of figuring myself out and all of that, but I want you here with me while I do.”

Tell her. He should tell her now. He’d wanted to wait until she’d made up her mind fully, didn’t want her to feel pressured into making a choice just because of how he felt. But his mother said that sometimes, they just want to hear it. If he didn’t tell her now...

“Elain, I—”

“I know,” she murmured as she leaned closer into him. 

Lucien’s heart was slamming wildly against his rib cage. He wasn’t sure what cardiac arrest felt like, but he suspected this wasn’t far off from it. She was so close. Much too close. He couldn’t breathe when she was this close. 

“Happy birthday, Lucien,” she breathed. Her mouth was inches from his. Her hand was still on the side of his face. And then she kissed him. 

It was such a light, brief kiss he wasn’t sure it had even happened. She’d drawn back, giving him the physical space and time to process. But then she leaned forward again, her mouth slightly parted as if she were asking him an unspoken question. 

A timid test of the waters. And Lucien answered her by diving headfirst. 

He lifted her chin with his fingers and brought her mouth to his. He kissed her both hungrily and gently, bringing one of his hands around to the back of her head and weaving his fingers through her hair. The tiny sigh she made against his mouth as his fingers tugged through her hair was his undoing and he forgot everything that wasn't her lips colliding with his. 

Her arm wrapped around to his back and she gripped a handful of his shirt into her fist. Oh, gods, he could die from this. He could die a happy male in this moment. She could ask anything of him, anything in the world and he would do it. She could ask him to teach Bryaxis how to tap dance and he would march willingly into that crushing darkness. He was wholly and completely hers. 

She parted her lips and his tongue found hers before scraping against her teeth. He groaned as she dragged her hand up his back and into his hair. This female, his mate. She’d been so timid and shy... he’d never expected this sort of raw passion from her. 

She finally drew back, gasping for breath. There was a wildness in her eyes that he’d never seen before. It probably should have terrified him, but it only made him want her more. 

Night had fallen. The patio door opened suddenly and Feyre stuck her head out. “I just thought I’d let you know Azriel’s back. Your mother was returned to Autumn and no one was the wiser.” 

“Thank you, Feyre,” Lucien said, his words clipped. 

Feyre glanced between him and her sister and seemed to finally notice the hand Elain still had against his back and her slightly breathless expression. 

“Oh, well, I’m late for something incredibly important,” Feyre said with delight dancing in her eyes and a smirk on her mouth. 

Lucien remembered all too well giving her the same exact excuse, word for word, when he’d escaped the passionate glances she and Tamlin had been exchanging that day in the Spring Court. And now, she had found a way to turn his own words back on him. 

He leaped up from the bench, grabbed a handful of loose potting soil, and tossed it at her. She closed the door just in time for the dirt to smack against the glass pane with a wet sticking noise. 

Elain stood up from the bench, laughing softly. “We probably ought to go inside anyway,” she conceded. 

Lucien didn’t want to go inside. He didn’t want to go anywhere except back to that wonderfully tiny bench and lose himself in her again. But he didn’t object when she took him by the hand and led him into the house. 

Feyre was pouring herself some mint tea and raised the teapot, offering to pour them cups. Elain yawned and shook her head. Lucien remembered that she'd orchestrated all of this and that she had likely been up since dawn, if not earlier. He was still amazed she’d managed to arrange such a surprise... and for him. He truly didn’t deserve her. 

“Nesta is in her room,” Feyre said conversationally, though Lucien saw the warning in her eyes. 

He walked up the stairs behind Elain, fingers lightly intertwined with hers. When they reached her bedroom door, he was under no illusion that just because they’d shared a passionate kiss down in the garden she would invite him in. He actually surprised himself by hoping that she didn’t. He’d want to die if she did something she would later regret just because she’d been caught up in the moment. 

She pushed open her door and stood in the doorframe. Lucien brought her hand to his mouth, kissing the back of it and murmured, “This is one birthday I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”

She stood on the tips of her toes and gave him the tiniest kiss, barely more than a peck. “I’m glad,” she said, covering her mouth as another yawn escaped her. “Goodnight, Lucien.”

When she closed the door behind her, Lucien murmured to the empty hallway, “Goodnight, Elain.”

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien had known he wouldn’t be able to sleep right away, so he lit the lamp on the bedside table and opened the book he'd been reading earlier in the day. But he couldn’t focus - he read the same passage three times and didn’t remember anything. 

He tossed the book aside and tried to catalogue every moment of tonight in his memory. He was replaying that kiss through his mind for the dozenth time when a soft knock made him jump with surprise. 

“Yes?”

The door opened just a crack and Elain slid in, closing it swiftly behind her. 

“What’s wrong?” Lucien asked immediately. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” she assured him. “I just can’t sleep.”

“That makes two of us,” he muttered. 

She didn’t wait for him to ask her to sit down before she curled up in the armchair she’d sat in last night. 

“What’s on your mind?” He asked gently, watching her adjust until she seemed comfortable. 

She didn’t answer. Instead, she played with the ends of the leather strip tied around her wrist. Little things like that made him love her even more. Knowing that she carried a tiny reminder of him everywhere she went... it inflated his ego probably more than it should have, he admitted to himself. 

“I really liked your mother,” she said finally. 

“She likes you too,” he told her. 

That coaxed a genuine smile out of her. “So tell me, were you very surprised?”

Lucien choked on a laugh. “What do you think?”

She laughed and they fell into a comfortable rhythm, talking and laughing in hushed voices until well after two in the morning. Elain finally fell asleep in the chair and though he wanted to wake up to her beautiful smile, he knew the chair wouldn’t be a comfortable place to spend the entire night. He picked her up and carried her back to her room before returning to his own bed. This time, he had no trouble falling asleep at all. 

Chapter Text

So began a different nightly routine. Instead of Elain waking up in Lucien’s bed sometime during the night, she started the evenings in the armchair across from it, usually after making sure Nesta heard her going into her own room first. She sometimes felt foolish, like she was a tween maiden sneaking out of the house after her parents had fallen asleep to go on moonlit walks with a boy from the village. But it just made things so much less complicated if Nesta was mostly ignorant to their activities. Elain wasn't stupid—and she knew Nesta wasn't either. She was sure Nesta knew that she and Lucien were spending time together, but Elain still did what she could not to add fuel to that fire. So each night, after she bid everyone goodnight and went into her room, she would usually read or chat with Nuala and Cerridwen until she heard Nesta's door close (or until Feyre mentioned that Nesta had gone to Amren's for the evening). Only after that would she leave her room, pad down the hallway as quietly as possible, and slip into his room, claiming the armchair that had gradually moved further from the window and closer to the bed. No matter how often it happened, her stomach would do a tiny little backflip at the delight that flashed in his eyes when he saw her slipping into his room and closing the door behind her.

They’d talk of anything and everything, and when Elain would fall asleep during the first lull in conversation (sometimes intentional on Lucien’s part just to ensure she went to sleep), Lucien would gently scoop her up and carry her back to her own room. He would tuck her into her own bed and kiss her forehead before drifting back to his room. Some nights he wondered how he’d get any sleep at all with her scent filling his room and his lungs, but somehow he was always able to fall asleep relatively easily. She still visited him in dreams most nights, but no longer as a taunt of something he couldn't have. Now, the Elain that visited his dreams felt like a promise of things to come. 

Occasionally, Lucien would join her in the garden, but made sure to give her time alone in it too. They’d go back to that lovely little seafood restaurant on the Sidra or to one of the other dozen establishments that had become favorites. Once, when they'd been leaning against the railing of the bridge with their fingers entwined together, Deidre had passed by them carrying parcels full of new fabrics and sewing materials. She had smiled broadly at them and fussed when Lucien had insisted on carrying her supplies back to her shop for her. Deidre had nudged Elain and whispered her approval. Lucien liked the squat little seamstress—she was so warm and full of life. 

Once per week, they all made the trek up to the House of Wind for family dinner. So far, neither Lucien nor Cassian had drawn the short straw again to be Bryaxis’s conversation partner for the week. Lucien would join Rhys and the others for “guys night,” which Lucien learned wasn’t on any sort of set schedule. The girls would go out to the theater or the opera on those nights. 

Lucien was still looking for a place of his own but without any real conviction. At first, he hadn’t been looking because he wasn’t sure how he’d even pay for a place of his own, which he'd voiced one night after dinner. But Feyre had reminded him that Rhys had made Lucien part of his Inner Circle, and with that came a hefty salary. When Lucien had wondered what it was that Rhys was even paying him for, Feyre had shrugged and said, “Good counsel, watching his back... making him laugh? You never can tell with Rhys sometimes.”

He wouldn’t admit to anyone but himself (and possibly Elain) that he enjoyed living in the townhouse. And not just because of her. He loved the chaotic energy and casual comfort. The rest of the Inner Circle was always flitting in and out. It had come to feel like a home.  

There were the occasional confrontations with Nesta, but even those had begun to feel like a normal part of life among the Inner Circle. 

This was their routine for nearly eight weeks. Until one morning, when Cassian came in, slightly breathless, with a letter clutched in his hand. 

“Jurian and Vassa have sent word from the continent,” he announced. 

The various conversations that were buzzing around the sitting room all came to an abrupt halt. 

“Vassa writes that the death lord who holds her curse will be back to the lake in seven days’ time. She says that he accidentally let slip something about her curse being unbreakable because the only thing that can break it is endless starlight in the high noon sun.”

Cassian set the letter down on the counter. Rhysand picked it up and read through it. 

“Endless starlight,” repeated Azriel, puzzled. 

“Night triumphant and stars eternal,” Mor murmured. “It’s Feyre.”

Everyone turned to look at her. 

“High Lady of the Night Court,” Mor continued. “Stars eternal.”

Rhys seemed inclined to agree with her. “Well, that’s one half. But how do we make endless starlight in the sun at high noon?”

Everyone was quiet as they tried to make sense of the riddle. Lucien shared a glance with Feyre and then Elain. They both gave him imperceptible nods.

“With me,” he sighed. 

“You?” Nesta sneered. 

Lucien set his cup of tea on the low-lying table next to the sofa and placed his hands on his knees. “As the son and sole heir of Helion Spell-Cleaver, I possess the power of Day.”

Cassian’s mouth hung open and Azriel murmured, “How about that.” Mor let out a tiny strangled sound and turned several shades of red. Amren simply clicked her tongue and said, “How very interesting.”

“For obvious reasons, that piece of information doesn’t leave this room,” Rhys said in a voice that reminded everyone that above all else, he was their High Lord. 

It was instinct now for Lucien's gaze to go to Elain. I suppose it would have come out sooner or later. 

You’re among friends. You can trust them. 

“Well, that’s all fine and well,” Cassian pointed out, “until they get to the continent and Autumn fox boy wields the power of the sun. Who knows how many witnesses there will be. Then what?”

“He has a point,” Azriel said, shadows curling over his shoulders and around his ankles.

Elain snickered through the bond.

What could possibly be funny?

Fox boy. 

Lucien's outward expression never changed, but Elain felt his eye roll through their bond. She stifled a giggle as she practically felt him poke her in the ribs. 

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Feyre said. “And hope that we can persuade Vassa and Jurian to also keep their mouths shut.”

“Cass, what do you think? Winnow to the coast and then across the sea?” Rhys pondered, pulling a map seemingly out of nowhere. 

“Actually,” Feyre chimed in, “I think it might be better if Lucien and I go alone.”

Rhys stared at her like she’d suggested they name their first child after Tamlin. 

“If we’re trying to keep Lucien’s true identity a secret," she explained, "the fewer people and less fanfare, the better.”

Rhys grimaced but held his hands out palms facing the ceiling, yielding to her. “This is why she’s my High Lady. Because she’s smarter than me.”

“You should get that stitched onto your pillowcase,” Amren gibed. 

Rhys plucked an apple from a nearby bowl of fruit and chucked it at her. She caught it with one hand and took a savage bite. 

Lucien shuddered. 

“You’re not still afraid of her, are you?” Rhys asked with a snorting laugh. 

“She’s just High Fae now, like the rest of us,” Mor added. 

“You all believe whatever you want,” Lucien said, keeping his golden eye locked onto Amren. “She’ll always be the tiny ancient one to me.”

“I knew I liked you, boy,” Amren said between bites of the apple. 

“Fox boy,” Cassian corrected. 

“Oh, shut up,” Lucien grumbled.

“When did Vassa say the prick would be back?” Mor asked. 

Rhys looked back at the note. “Seven days.”

“That’s not a lot of time to get there and figure out exactly how to break this curse,” Feyre said. 

“Exactly,” Mor said with a grim nod. 

“Which means we have to leave as soon as we can,” Feyre added. 

“Get packed,” Rhys said, more for Lucien’s benefit than Feyre’s. “You leave tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow?” Lucien wasn't sure if the flash of dismay he felt was his own or Elain's. They had gotten so much better at communicating through their bond but sometimes, it was hard to tell where an emotion originated.

“The sooner you get there and break that curse, the sooner you get back,” Rhys reasoned. “Ideally, you’ll be gone days before that bastard ever gets back. You don’t want to cut it too close.”

Lucien couldn’t argue with that logic. Still, he wasn’t at all prepared to leave so abruptly. 

Cassian pinched Feyre’s hip and said, “If you’re leaving tomorrow, we’re going up to the House. You’ve slacked off on training the last few days.”

Feyre smiled at him and summoned her wings, knocking over a nearby vase. “Race you there.”

Rhys and Azriel went off to plan the best route for them to take. Azriel, being able to disappear into the shadows, would escort them across the ocean. It would also lessen the strain on Feyre so that she didn't have to carry Lucien across the sea. 

Nesta and Amren disappeared (though Lucien couldn’t say he was sorry to see them go) which left him, Elain, and Mor in the sitting room. 

“Helion is your father,” Mor said, not meeting his eyes. It was a statement, not a question. 

“He is.” 

“You’re certain?”

“It’s been confirmed by Bryaxis and my mother,” Lucien said dryly, “so... pretty sure, yes.”

“Fucking hell,” Mor muttered, mostly to herself. 

“Are you alright?” Elain asked, gently placing a hand on Mor's shoulder. 

Mor shook herself from whatever musings she’d gotten lost in. “Oh, I’m fine. Did—did you know that he and Rhys are fairly good friends?”

“No, I didn’t,” Lucien admitted. “I don’t think I’ve ever even talked to Helion, come to think of it. As Tamlin’s emissary, I’ve been to the Day Court plenty of times, but I always dealt with Helion's ambassadors, not him.”

“Does he know?” Mor's tone was more aggressive than Lucien would have expected. 

“I don’t think so.”

Mor ran a hand through her long golden hair. “Well, just so you don’t get any more surprises thrown at you at the wrong time, Helion and I fucked at the High Lords’ meeting.” 

Elain had chosen that moment to sip her tea and nearly choked on it. Lucien just laughed. He had to—the alternative was to have a nervous breakdown. Elain stared at her with a mixture of disbelief and astonishment. 

“What? I was stressed out,” Mor said in a feigned defensive tone, but there was a tiny smirk beneath it. 

“This family is something else,” Lucien muttered, taking Elain's teacup from her and draining the rest. 

“Yep,” Mor agreed and clapped him on the back. “And you’re just as dysfunctional as the rest of us.”

"I wasn't drinking that or anything," Elain said sarcastically, her tone uncharacteristically sharp.

Mor's expression softened and she gave Elain a quick one-armed hug. “We’ll go out for drinks tomorrow night," she said. "Just us girls. Take your mind off of it.”

For whatever else they were, dysfunctional or otherwise, Lucien was grateful for the Inner Circle. Above all else, they looked out for their own. 

 

Chapter Text

Lucien spent the rest of the morning and half of the afternoon with Elain in her garden. She was unusually quiet, even by her standards. He had spent enough time out there with her that she didn’t even have to ask for the gardening tools anymore. When she needed a trowel, Lucien was handing it to her or refilling her watering can just before she reached for it. Lucien had never given two shits about flowers or gardening, despite having spent almost two centuries in a court that was eternal springtime. But Elain’s love for it made him look at it in a whole new light. Maybe it was just because of how much joy it brought her. 

Except for today, it didn’t seem to be bringing her joy. Today, she seemed to be acting on autopilot, going through the motions without feeling anything. 

Elain had been so preoccupied that she hadn’t put on her gloves before starting her work for the day and now, with the sun already low in the sky, her hands were covered in dirt. She stood up and wiped them on the apron she wore over her dress.

For the first time since his return to Velaris, he was at a loss for what to say to her. She sat on the bench beside him and rested her head against his shoulder. He snaked an arm across her lower back and held her waist gently. She didn’t say anything until the sun was dipping behind some of the taller buildings in the city. The late autumn days were shortening as winter arrived, the sun setting earlier every day. 

“I’m hungry,” she announced, her stomach growling for emphasis. 

“I’m a poor excuse for a chef,” Lucien admitted. “We can go into town if you like?”

She considered his suggestion and sighed. “I don’t want to be around people right now.”

He could understand that at least. Though he and Feyre were only supposed to be gone a few days, it felt the same as when he’d been about to embark to find Vassa on the continent for the first time, unaware of how long he’d be gone. 

Elain was trying to wipe some of the dirt off her hands onto her apron, but it wasn’t going to come off without soap and water. It was caked under her fingernails. Lucien smiled inwardly, thinking that she’d have been aghast to have been seen in such a state two months ago.

“How about you go upstairs and have Nuala draw you a bath?” He suggested, taking one of her dirt-covered hands in his and tracing abstract patterns across the back of her hand. “One with all the bubbles and flowery-scented soaps you females seem to favor. Take your time, relax. I’ll go to that cafe on the Sidra and get dinner and bring it back?”

“That... actually sounds fantastic,” she grinned. “If the Summer Court delicacy is still in season, I want the crab—”

“Wrapped in seaweed and rice topped with salmon,” Lucien finished for her. “I know.”

Elain nodded and stood, untying the apron and draping it over the bench. It wouldn’t do to track all of that dirt inside. She slipped off her gardening clogs and wandered inside and up the stairs. 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien arrived back to the townhouse, trays laden with takeout tucked under his arm. He’d expected Elain to be downstairs waiting for him, but the house was empty and silent. He had a sneaking suspicion that Feyre was keeping everyone out deliberately for his benefit and he silently thanked her for it. 

Where are you?  He called out through the bond. The bond she had still not accepted, but he was content with her at least no longer being afraid of it. 

Upstairs. 

He carried the food trays upstairs and subconsciously let her scent of apples and honey lead him into his own room. She was wearing a long shift dress, little more than a nightgown, and a deep violet dressing gown tied loosely around her waist. She was curled up in the armchair she’d spent so many nights falling asleep in. A book was in her lap but her chin rested in her hand, her elbow upon the armrest, and she was gazing idly out the window. 

“You’re lucky everyone in this town adores you,” Lucien teased as he set the bag of food on the low-lying table in front of her chair. 

“What?” Elain questioned curiously. 

“When I told them what I wanted, they initially said they weren’t serving that anymore until spring,” he explained as he withdrew the containers from a paper bag. “But by some stroke of luck, Deidre was eating dinner there and told me to tell you hello. And when they heard her mention your name, they suddenly had some salmon left in the kitchens.”

He handed her one of the trays of food. “So enjoy,” he said. “It was made especially for you.”

“Bless Deidre,” Elain said as she picked up one of the round pieces of the Summer Court delicacy and popped it into her mouth.

Lucien sat on the corner of his mattress and unwrapped his own food. Elain eyed it curiously. 

“Which one did you get?”

“The salmon and escolar,” he replied. “And yes, you can have some.”

As she leaned forward to take a piece off of his tray with a grin, Lucien’s throat constricted unexpectedly. Barely two months ago, he’d been so wracked with nerves he could barely speak to her. He had been so worried she would never want anything to do with him, would always be afraid of that bond that connected him to her. And now, he had a brief glimpse of what a real future with her could be like... and he wanted it more than anything he’d ever wanted before in his entire life. 

As they ate, they talked about things of little consequence. Inevitably, the topic arose of Lucien leaving in the morning. 

"I suppose I ought to pack," he said without getting up. 

"Feyre says it's colder on the continent than it is here," Elain remarked. 

"It is," he agreed, standing up reluctantly. "Couldn't guess as to why, though."

He moved around the room, retrieving things from drawers, tucking them into the rucksack he had to dig out from the very back of the wardrobe. He could feel Elain’s wide, expressive doe-brown eyes watching him. Once he had everything packed, he set the rucksack at the foot of his bed. 

He took off his jacket and then hesitated. Ever since Elain had been spending her evenings in his room with him, he’d no longer stripped down completely as he used to some nights before going to bed. He’d wait until after he carried her back to her room. 

He settled into his bed, pillows propped up behind him. Elain was fidgeting with the strip of leather tied around her wrist. Her eyes were on her lap but weren’t really focused on anything. 

Lucien tried to think of something reassuring to say to her. She looked so terribly sad. 

“I wish you could see some of the flowers that grow on the continent,” he said. “I’ll try and bring you back some seeds if I can.”

She only nodded, eyes still downcast and full of dread. 

“Elain?”

She took a shuddering breath and her bottom lip quivered. When she looked up, her eyes welled with tears. 

It physically hurt Lucien to see her this upset. His chest tightened and it became hard to swallow. 

“Come here.” It was a request, not a command. 

Elain rose from the armchair that she had spent so many hours in and moved to sit beside him on the edge of the bed. Lucien slid over to make room for her, his arms held out—a silent invitation. She folded herself into the crook of his shoulder and his arms wrapped around her tiny, petite frame. 

“I don’t want you to go,” she sniffled. “I didn’t then and I don’t now.”

“Don’t say things like that,” he warned, his heart breaking.

“Why not?”

“Because I’ll never leave your sight again,” he said, holding her tightly and giving her a little smirk.  

“I don’t want you to go,” she said again, a weak, watery smile playing on her mouth. “I almost told you before, when you went to find that queen. Maybe if I had, everything would have been different.”

Tightness clenched his heart. He had to go then. The freedom of Prythian had depended on it. And he had to go now. He’d promised he would help, that he’d come back if they made any headway on breaking Vassa’s curse. But didn’t the promises he made to his mate overrule any and all others? They did, but if he ignored their cries for help and didn't go, he would never be able to live with the guilt. If he stayed, it would be for his own selfish desires. 

“We won’t be gone long,” he promised. 

“And then what? Will she come back here once her curse is broken?”

Lucien truly hadn’t thought that far in advance. He didn’t imagine Vassa would care to live in Velaris. She was still a queen, after all, and a mortal. She and Jurian made formidable allies - they could do great things for the mortals on the continent. 

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. 

Elain nestled herself deeper into the hollow recess of his shoulder, her arms around his waist. What he would have given months ago for this. He wished he could go back to those hopeless months of praying for just a smile from her and tell himself that it would get better. That he would have his mate wrapped in his arms, begging him not to leave her side, and it was better than any dream. 

She traced her fingers idly across his chest, following the whorls of gold stitching on his tunic. It was amazing how something could be so relaxing and yet have him completely on edge at the same time. He hoped she couldn’t feel the rapid beating of his heart as her fingers moved across his chest. 

Despite how comfortable and familiar they’d become with one another, Lucien had still done everything he could to remain within the boundaries of physical contact that she’d established. There was the occasional peck on his cheek or him pressing a light kiss to her forehead, but little more than that. Not since the night of the autumn equinox. The night of his birthday. The memory of that kiss burned in his core, igniting that fire within his soul. That fire he kept at bay, usually no more than a burning cinder. 

As she continued tracing in lazy circles, Elain looked up at him. Gazing down into her eyes, he felt like he was drowning and coming up for air all at once. Her fingers grazed lower, over his stomach, and his breathing hitched. Her eyes never left his. 

One of his hands left her waist, lightly raking up her side and up to her neck. His thumb rested on her cheek as his finger cupped behind her ear. Slowly. So slowly, giving her every opportunity to stop him if she wanted to. She didn't stop him—she just kept dragging her fingernail along the stitched lines of his tunic. He pulled her toward him and brought his mouth down onto hers. Her other hand drifted up his back and into his hair as she parted her lips for him. 

Oh, gods, he loved this female. Did she know? Did she know that he was reduced to rubble when she wove her fingers through his hair and softly tugged? That he would face any monster in the world if she asked him to? That he would destroy the very world itself for her? She could ask for the moon and he would find a way to tie a lasso around it. 

"If I offer you the moon on a string, would you give me a kiss too?"  Those were the words he'd taunted Feyre with when Tamlin had been trying to woo her. They had been full of sarcasm and spite, but now... now he would gladly lasso the moon and tie it to the balcony railing for Elain.  

Elain shifted so that she was bearing her weight on her knees, both of her hands now buried in his hair. When she drew his bottom lip between her teeth, Lucien groaned with arousal and desire. Once again, she surprised him with how... forward she was. 

Maybe it was wrong to make assumptions, but he’d always seen her as a delicate little fawn, sweet and innocent and timid. But this side of her... he would have never expected it and had anyone told him to, he’d have said they must be thinking of the wrong female. 

But here she was, assertive and confident and... dominant? She never ceased to surprise him.

Elain had slid into his lap without taking her mouth off of his. Lucien tried to make himself think of anything else besides the fact that she was straddling him. Gods, he wanted this. But as much as he wanted it, he was terrified of it. Terrified that she would later regret it— and he couldn’t bear that. It would destroy him. His mind told him to stop, to slow down. But her hands were in his hair again and he stopped thinking altogether. 

Chapter Text

Elain asked herself what she was doing for what she was sure was the five thousandth time. She was sitting in his lap, for Cauldron’s sake. But his kiss was like oxygen. The more breathless it made her, the more desperately she needed it. 

She felt slightly guilty. She was always so proper, so reserved, and now she was trying to hold herself back from ravaging him like a feral animal. She also knew she shouldn’t compare them, but Graysen had never woken such a primal desire in her. Though her sisters might think her one, Elain wasn’t a maiden. She wasn't a whore by any means, though. There had been Graysen and before him, a kind boy in their village. But she had never absolutely craved someone the way she wanted Lucien. 

The sound he’d made when she nibbled on his lip had driven her absolutely wild. 

When he raked his hands up the length of her back and brought his mouth to the tender skin on her neck, she stopped caring about propriety and what was expected of her. She’d spent too long being what other people expected her to be. All she wanted right now was to be with him. To hell with being proper.  She was no longer the daughter of a merchant who was expected to curtsy and entertain guests in a stiff and musty sitting room. She was strong and powerful and wild. She was High Fae... and she was straddling her mate's lap. 

“Elain.” He breathed her name like a prayer, like she was his salvation. And then she felt it. 

It was like the snap of a whip, only without the biting pain. The indestructible tether that connected her to him, and him to her, had grown taut. It tugged on her heart and she knew the other end was tied firmly to his. If Lucien was the sun, Elain was the dawn. They were every sunrise since the birth of the world. He was hers, wholly and completely. And she was his – mind, body, and soul. Every part of her belonged to him and with him. Anything else was unthinkable. 

The mating bond. 

She had known of its existence, had used it to talk mind-to-mind with him. But she’d taken it for granted. She’d never actually felt it until now, except for that one time, months ago when she'd still been lost. When he had tugged on it and she had panicked. How he had withstood it this long, she had no idea. It had only been a minute, maybe two, and Elain wanted to lose herself in him forever. 

He nipped at her collarbone and she drew in a sharp breath. She had never wanted anyone so much in her entire life. Her heart was beating wildly as she fumbled to pull her skirts aside. Oh, gods, this was actually happening. 

“Lucien, I—”

“Don’t!"

Elain blinked at him.

“Don’t say it,” he begged. "Not yet."

She didn’t—couldn’t—understand. She thought that he’d wanted to hear those words more than anything. 

“Wh—” 

“Don’t say it just because I’m leaving,” he forced out. Every word seemed to cause him physical pain as he fisted his hands. As if he had to physically force himself to stop touching her. She wished he wouldn't. She wanted those hands roving all over her. “If it’s really how you feel, tell me when I get back.”

There was true regret in his russet eye, which was locked on her left hand... and the ring that still weighed down her finger. Of course, he didn't want her to say it... not while she still wore it. She felt like a fool as he shifted his hips and scooted aside until she was no longer straddling his lap. They were both breathing heavily. 

“Believe me,” he said, his voice low and raspy, “I want nothing more than worship you between these sheets.”

Elain’s insides turn to liquid. 

“But it just doesn’t feel right this way.”

She could hardly believe what she was hearing and yet, her heart felt like it might burst because of it. He had wanted her from the moment he’d seen her... and he was turning down the opportunity to finally bed her, all so there wasn’t a chance she would later regret it. She didn't deserve this male. 

“I suppose you’re right,” she said with a frustrated sigh. “Plus, think of how truly unfortunate it would have been if Nesta had barged in.”

She thought she felt Lucien actually shiver. “Oh, Cauldron boil me,” he muttered. “I have to find my own place... immediately.”

Elain giggled. Actually giggled. What the hell was wrong with her? 

She softly rested her hand against the brutal scar on his left cheek and kissed him. He’d told her not to say it yet, but perhaps she could show it. 

The pillows he’d been using as a backrest had gotten strewn about during their brief but passionate interlude. Lucien retrieved two from the floor and tucked one beneath his head with a yawn. 

Elain made an instant decision and instead of going back to her room or even the armchair by the window, she lay down beside him, nestling back into the crook of his shoulder. If he was surprised, he didn’t show it; although, she thought she felt a surge of amazed delight that didn’t belong to her. He wrapped one of his firm, muscular arms around her as she draped her arm over his chest. 

Lucien gently took her hand and brought it to his mouth, pressing his lips against her knuckles. 

“You have no idea how exceptional you are,” he murmured. 

“I might say the same thing about you,” she replied. 

Outside the window, a shooting star flashed across the sky. 

“Make a wish,” he said.

Elain thought for a moment. There was a superstition about wishing silently on a shooting star, but she didn’t care much for superstitions anymore. 

“I wish I hadn’t been so afraid," she admitted, both to him and to herself. "That I hadn’t been so stubborn and so unwilling to acknowledge what you were to me. We could have had so much more time...”

“Elain, dove, I’m not going off to war.”

"It certainly feels like it."

“It’s just for a few days,” he assured her. 

“Anything could go wrong,” she countered, leaning up onto her elbow. “That brute could show up early. It might take longer than you think to break the curse. Anything could go wrong. That mortal queen might try to express her gratitude to you for breaking her curse by, I don't know, offering to—”   

“Stop,” he said gently but forcefully. He pulled her back down to him and she nestled back in the crook of his shoulder. “Don’t let your mind drive you mad with ‘what ifs.’ It’ll be fine,” he promised, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “I’m yours. Only yours.”

And maybe it was the lingering euphoria of the bond snapping into place or perhaps she was just being naïve, but with Lucien holding her tightly as she drifted off to sleep, she believed him.

Chapter Text

As Elain walked through the autumn forest, leaves crunching beneath her feet like always, she couldn't help but feel like these woods were different somehow. The sun shone brighter through the canopy of red and orange leaves, warming her face and her soul. She knew now that these woods were the autumn forests of his home court—the court that had forsaken him. 

He was the son of Day... and she thought it was no coincidence that the warmth of the sunshine was what helped bring her back from the depths of despair those first few months in Prythian. She caught a faint trace of his scent on the air, or perhaps it was from that worn strip of leather she wore around her wrist. Sunshine, oranges, and sandalwood. Suddenly, the brighter sunlight made more sense.

The scamper of paws running over dead and dying leaves echoed through the empty woods. She never seemed to have any luck catching her quarry when she chased it, so she decided to be still and see if it came to her. She stopped next to a wide oak tree and waited. 

She wasn’t at all surprised when the creature finally approached her, timidly at first. She kneeled down and extended her hand. The fox looked up at her quizzically and Elain didn’t even try to hide her grin upon seeing its left eye was missing. 

She woke feeling rested and content, still tucked tightly under Lucien’s arm. She tried to move her arm that was crushed between them. He was still asleep, but the movement made him stir, pulling her tighter to him. Elain thought her heart might burst. She had only that brief momentary bliss, however, before remembering why she’d chosen to stay in his room, to sleep in his bed with him. He was leaving. 

His eyes opened lazily and the arm around her shoulders withdrew as he stretched. Lucien propped himself up onto his elbow and gazed down at her. He looked at her with an expression she couldn’t quite read. 

What?  She asked down the bond. She didn’t want to speak yet, didn’t want to break the spell the night had cast on them and had carried over into the morning. 

I was starting to think I would never know what it would be like to wake up beside you. 

Elain melted. It would have been cheesy and cliché if not for the tendrils of affection and wonderment that snaked down the bond to her. 

The bond. She wondered if he knew about it snapping into place for her last night. She still could reject it if she chose to. Feyre and Rhys had explained the delicate and intricate nature of mating bonds to her one day shortly after they’d all returned to Velaris. She could reject the bond at any point, even after accepting it. Rhys had told her about mates who grew to hate one another and rejected their bonds after decades of being mated.

But Elain could never dream of putting him through that kind of pain. She would rather never accept the bond than to reject it. She knew how he felt about her. If she rejected the bond, she feared it would kill him. 

A sharp rap on the door made both of them jump. 

“Hurry up,” came Feyre’s muffled voice from the other side of the door. “Are you decent?”

Elain looked at him with wide eyes. She knew if Feyre caught her in here, she wouldn’t tell anyone else, but she wasn’t ready to see the smug look on her sister’s face. 

I can put a glamour over you so she doesn't see you. 

“I know she’s in there,” Feyre hissed as quietly as she could.

So much for that idea.

Lucien sighed and muttered, “It’s open.”

The door opened and closed so quickly, Elain didn’t immediately realize Feyre had come in. Her sister stopped abruptly and her eyes grew wide. 

Elain groaned and tugged the sheet up as far as it would go, hiding the scarlet flush that had crept up her neck. Not that she cared what Feyre thought, but she just wasn't ready to explain what was going on between them yet when even she didn't fully know. She was instantly grateful that Lucien had slept in his shirt. He’d already scrambled out of the bed and was tugging on his boots. 

“Shit, I’m sorry,” he sputtered. “You said dawn, I know.”

But Feyre remained silent as she stared in wonder at the sight of her sister in his bed. 

“It’s not what you’re thinking,” he went on in a rush. 

Feyre held her hands up in a gesture that plainly said: “it’s none of my business.”

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” she said, slipping out into the hall and pulling the door closed behind her. 

Elain was mortified. Seeing the hurt expression in Lucien's eyes, she rushed to explain. "I don't care that she knows I was in here. I just don't want to see her smug smile every time she looks at us now."

“At least you’re about to get a few days away from her,” he said dryly. “She’s going to give me so much grief over this.”

But he was smiling as he said it and Elain couldn’t help but smile too. 

“I’d better go dress,” Elain huffed, slipping out of the bed. “I’ll be down shortly.”

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien was talking to Azriel about the Illyrian’s plan for getting them to the coast and across the ocean. They would winnow twice on their own, allowing Azriel to conserve as much strength as possible before he would winnow and fly them across the sea. Feyre would winnow and fly as much as she could on her own. Lucien's attention drifted when he caught Elain’s scent coming down the stairs, a smile playing on his lips. But that smile faltered when he saw Nesta right behind her. 

The viper whispered something to Elain, who shook her head. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Elain automatically drifted over to stand next to him. He adjusted the baldric over his shoulder and wordlessly took her hand in his. 

He and Feyre were both dressed for travel in supple Illyrian leathers, each with half a dozen daggers sheathed in various places. They didn’t expect to encounter any problems but didn’t want to be caught off-guard if they did. His hair was braided into one thick plait down the center of his back. 

The nights had started getting cold enough to frost, especially on the far east side of the Illyrian mountains, and it was full-on winter already over on the continent. Lucien and Feyre each had a heavy fur-lined cloak over their leathers. 

“Ready?” Azriel asked, shadows curling around his shoulders and wings. 

Feyre gave each of her sisters a brief hug, kissed Rhys, and said to no one in particular, “We’ll be back in a few days.”

Nesta peered at Elain’s hand clutched tightly in Lucien’s with slightly narrowed eyes. He met her gaze and didn’t balk from the intensity. She seemed surprised by that. 

“Try not to die,” Nesta bristled. “For reasons unfathomable to me, it would cause my sister profound grief if you didn’t come back.”

“Nesta, please,” Elain implored.

But Lucien just brought his hand up to his chest, right over his heart. “Aww, Nesta,” he crooned, “you do care.”

The noise of disgust she made was practically palpable. Lucien just chuckled softly. Nesta took a few steps toward the front door and paused with her hand on the knob. 

“Aren’t you coming?” She addressed Elain. 

“I’ll be along shortly,” Elain replied. “Go ahead. I’ll catch up.”

Nesta tossed Lucien one more scornful look at went out the door. The others appeared to be making themselves busy, fastening clasps on bags and speaking in low voices. 

He pulled at the back of his neck, avoiding the melancholy expression that marred Elain’s beautiful face.

“You won’t stay gone longer than you have to this time, will you?” Her voice was so tiny, so vulnerable. There was no trace of the assertive, dominant female from last night in that voice. 

He shook his head. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me from you for even a second longer than I have to be.” 

She wrapped her arms around his broad torso and rested her head against his chest. 

“We need to go,” Feyre said, as gently as she could. 

“I know,” he said but didn’t make any attempt to move.

Elain pulled back and when she looked up at him, her eyes were welling with tears. It broke his heart. He distinctly remembered feeling like his heart was breaking the last time he’d departed this house for the continent. Except then, it had been because Elain seemed cold and indifferent to his departure, like it wouldn't have mattered whether he came back or not. And now she was clinging to him, begging him not to go. 

He cupped her face in his hands and brought her face inches from his. He kissed her softly, not even caring who saw. He almost wished Nesta hadn’t left so he could enjoy the shocked offense on her face. 

“I’ll see you in a few days,” he promised her. 

He nodded to Feyre, who was already clutching Azriel’s hand. He took her other hand and the three of them vanished into the darkness.

Chapter Text

When they finally reached the coast, Lucien was glad of the cloak Feyre had given him. The Celestial courts and the continent experienced all the seasons, and winter was fast approaching. 

Lucien shivered, and not just from the temperature. He was reminded of the first time he encountered Feyre in these woods. He hadn’t been sure what to expect when he finally found her, but the dominating powerful female with massive wings wasn’t it. At the time, he’d believed the skewed stories of the Night Court and what Rhysand was. He had truly believed she was being held against her will... until the letter. 

When the letter arrived, Lucien had begged Tamlin to let her go, but Tamlin had just raged at him and blown apart his desk. Lucien had wondered how many times they were going to replace it before calling it a lost cause. 

“Tam, please,” Lucien had implored. “She sounds like she’s doing okay. Maybe we should just—”

“She can’t fucking read, Lucien!” Tamlin had roared so loudly the windows had shaken. “She can’t read and she can’t write. Clearly, that fucking prick sent it to make me think she was fine. Now go back out there and find her. You’re taking sentries with you this time and they’ve been ordered not to let you come back until you’ve found her.”

When he finally did find her in those woods, he didn’t want to take her back. She had looked healthy and whole again. But Tamlin had been his High Lord, and his word was law. Lucien had been too afraid of Tamlin’s rage to defy him, having been on the receiving end of that rage on more than one occasion. But he’d been even more afraid of it when he had to return to Spring without her. He shuddered at the memory of Tamlin’s rage. 

“Hey!” Feyre called out, bringing him back to the present. 

“What?” He shook his head to expel the unpleasant memories. 

“I said, are you okay with Az carrying you?” 

Lucien wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but Feyre explained that Azriel was stronger than she was and to cross the ocean, they’d have to winnow as far as they could and fly the rest of the way. So Lucien just nodded. 

To his credit, Azriel didn’t roll his eyes or mutter when he clutched Lucien and took to the air. Feyre had erected her wall of air to keep the biting wind to a minimum. When they landed on the continent, it had already gotten dark. 

“No point in carrying on in the dark. We might as well set up camp,” Feyre suggested. 

Lucien began erecting the tent while Feyre started a small fire. Azriel was flexing his wings and rubbing his hands together for warmth. 

“Az, you ought to stay the night so you’re not tired,” Feyre suggested, but Azriel just shook his head. She gave him a brief hug before adjusting the quiver of arrows on her back and retrieving her bow. 

“Where are you going?” Lucien asked her. “We have plenty of food.”

“I know,” she shrugged. “I’m just going to shoot some targets.”

As she disappeared into the dense treeline, the Illyrian spoke to Lucien as he adjusted the strap of his baldric.

“Take care of yourself. And our High Lady.”

Our High Lady. Not my. Our. Lucien’s throat constricted as he realized he’d truly been accepted among all of them, not just Rhys. 

“We’ll be back in a few days,” he promised.

“Good,” Azriel said. “I guarantee Elain is already talking to her flowers to quell her nerves.”

Lucien could picture it just as easily as if he was actually looking out the patio door. She’d be sitting right on the cobblestones, leaning to one side, pruning and plucking, all the while telling her babies about her day. He pictured her hair tied back into a thick braid, one of the leather strips he’d given her holding it in place as the late afternoon sun made it shine. Gods, how he loved her. 

“I’m glad she has you to keep her company,” Lucien said. And he genuinely meant it. 

Azriel’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “You are?”

“Yes,” Lucien insisted. “You’ve been an invaluable friend to her and I hope you’ll continue to be. Part of why I’m not that worried about leaving like this is because I know you’ll be there to make sure she’s not lonely.”

Azriel was looking at him like he’d grown a second head. “And here I was thinking you’d want me to stay as far away from her as possible.”

Lucien pulled at the back of his neck. “I did,” he admitted. “For a while. But it was wrong. Elain isn’t my property. She chooses who she wants.”

“You’re a good male, Lucien. You may not know it, but she’s been more lively since you’ve been around. And what you did for her garden after the storm? Cassian said that even Nesta was impressed.”

Lucien grunted at the mention of the eldest Archeron. “I don’t think I’ll ever win her favor.”

“Don’t feel bad,” Azriel said, cracking a rare smile, “Cassian probably won’t either and he’s her damn mate.”

Somehow, though it made him pity Cassian, that made Lucien feel better. 

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay and leave in the morning?”

Azriel shook his head. “I’d rather be tired and worn out at home instead of sleeping in that tiny tent. Not that all three of us would fit in it.”

Lucien nodded. Azriel said nothing else as he spread his wings and took to the sky. As his silhouette crossed in front of the moon, Lucien barked out a laugh as he imagined the Illyrian sleeping suspended upside down from a tree, wings tucked tightly around him. 

Feyre returned barely two minutes later, leading Lucien to suspect she hadn’t really wanted to target practice at all. He was quiet as they ate jerky and rice cakes. Lucien already missed the vibrant food of Velaris, full of spices and rich flavors. 

He was reminded a little too much of the desperate trek north that he and Feyre had made so many months ago, huddled together in a cave to avoid freezing to death. Thankfully, they had better provisions now, though they still only brought one tent. It was less to carry and the only other female Lucien felt more comfortable around than Feyre was Elain. 

They both lay on their backs, staring up at the canvas of the tent. Less than twenty-four hours ago, Elain had been tucked tightly against him, sleeping soundly. And before that... Lucien's blood warmed as he remembered Elain sitting in his lap, softly biting his lip. He groaned inwardly. This was not what he should be thinking about right now. 

"So..." Feyre drawled. "I don't want details, but what happened last night?"

Lucien rubbed his forehead roughly. "I knew it. I knew you were going to give me grief over this."

"How could I not!?" 

"Nothing happened," he insisted. 

Feyre clicked her tongue and chuckled. "I do actually believe you. And if I had to bet, I'd say you're the one who insisted nothing happen?"

"How do you know that?" Lucien asked her sharply. 

"There is a whole other side of Elain you don't know yet."

Lucien's russet eye went wide and the gold eye whirred and clicked as he sat up sharply. "What is that supposed to mean? And how do you know that?!"

He could barely see her, but he felt her shrug beside him. "She's my sister."

Lucien reached for the carafe of wine he had stowed in his rucksack and took a hearty swig. Unfortunately, it was at the same time that Feyre said, "When you're poor, there's not much to pass the time. You mostly just sleep, hunt, and fuck."

Lucien choked on the wine as he inhaled it into his lungs. Feyre patted him on the back until his coughing subsided. 

"Oh, come on," Feyre chided. "You didn't think she was still a maiden, did you?"

"No," he answered quietly, his mind again replaying the events of the previous night. Of her weaving her fingers into his hair and yanking. Of her intentionally trying to arouse him by dragging her fingertips over his stomach. "No, I got the impression she wasn't a maiden."

"Don't misunderstand me," Feyre went on. "She wasn't loose by any means. I think there have been two? Maybe three, but two that I'm certain of."

"Why are you telling me this? Surely she wouldn't want you to tell me this." The tent suddenly felt much smaller.

"I mean, I'm not going to tell you their names and have you go hunt them down," Feyre jibed. "Although you know the name of one of them already."

Luciel growled with hatred. 

"My thoughts exactly," Feyre agreed with a yawn. "I just thought it might help moving forward."

Lucien cocked an eyebrow at her. 

"So maybe next time you won't feel compelled to stop her." Feyre wiggled her eyebrows at him. He rolled his russet eye in mock annoyance and turned onto his side, his back to her. 

"Goodnight, Feyre." 

"Goodnight, moron."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

The following morning, once they’d packed up the tent and eaten breakfast, they winnowed to the spot where they had arranged to meet Jurian. 

He was waiting right where he said he’d be, on the edge of a small clearing roughly five hundred yards from Vassa’s cursed lake. He was leaning against a tree, his back and one foot propped up against it, using his dagger to clean dirt out from under his fingernails. 

“Welcome to the continent, Feyre Archeron,” he said by way of greeting. 

“It’s colder here than it is in Prythian,” Feyre commented. 

“It’s quite warm by the lake,” Jurian said with a smirk. 

“Which is why we’re here,” Lucien said. 

“I must say," Jurian sniffed, "I expected you back much sooner, Lucien. What happened? Did you get comfortable up in the Night Court? A certain mortal queen-turned-firebird has missed you.”

Feyre gave Lucien a sideways glance but said nothing. 

“You knew I was going back to Prythian after your lot had been straightened out. Don’t seem so surprised by it,” Lucien said coolly. 

“Well, there’s no point going back to the lake just yet,” Jurian said. “Not unless you want to stare at a giant winged bird made of flames. Have you figured out how to break the curse yet?”

Lucien exchanged a glance with Feyre. “We have an idea.”

“Well, let’s hope it’s a good one.” Jurian sighed. 

While they waited for nightfall, Jurian filled them in on what had been happening since Lucien had returned to Prythian. When the sun was finally setting, they began walking toward the lake.

“If Vassa is still cursed and unable to rule her kingdom,” Feyre wondered aloud, “who’s covering the expenses of her absence?”

Jurian suddenly became interested in his own fingernails and didn’t answer right away. He avoided the question, asking one of his own. “So how are you planning to break this curse, anyway?”

Feyre was about to answer when Lucien spoke first. 

“You didn’t answer our question. Why should we answer yours?”

“Tsk tsk, Lucien. Where has the trust gone?”

“You tell me,” Lucien retorted. 

Jurian sighed deeply. “I didn’t want you to find out about this until we’d gotten to the lake. Most of the funding for Vassa’s kingdom operations has come from Lords Nolan and Graysen.”

Lucien’s eyes flashed with loathing. He gave Feyre a dark look and snarled, “Let’s go. We’re leaving.”

“You swore you’d help her break her curse,” Jurian barked. “Swore that if she helped you defeat Hybern, you would find a way to break her curse.”

Lucien rubbed at his temples where the headache was forming. He glanced over the black expanse of the lake and at the modest manor home on the far side. Though cursed, Vassa wanted for nothing, save for her freedom. She had a comfortable home and plenty of servants to wait on her during the nights when she was no longer covered in flames and feathers. 

They trudged through the snow until they’d reached the house. Lucien kicked his feet against one of the porch banisters, shaking off the excess snow from his boots. 

The house was stifling. Fireplaces in three separate rooms crackled as they burned. Lucien supposed spending her days as a bird of flame made the nights especially colder for her. 

Vassa was seated in a high-backed armchair with a book on her lap. She looked every bit the captive queen that she was - a deep purple velvet cloak lined with fur was tied at her neck. Her striking blue eyes were warm, but sad. Although they sprang to life at the sight of them in the foyer and lingered especially long on Lucien. 

“Lucien!” She exclaimed in delighted amazement. She leaped out of her chair as the little group made their way into the sitting room that felt hotter than a furnace. “What a nice surprise!”

Chapter Text

Lucien and Feyre rounded on Jurian, who had the same expression as a child caught sneaking sweets before dinner. 

“You sent that letter without her knowledge, didn’t you?” Feyre accused. 

“Guilty as charged,” Jurian shrugged. 

Vassa was looking back and forth between Lucien and Jurian. 

“What’s going on?” She wondered. 

“It appears your dear friend Jurian sent us a letter, posing as you and forging your signature. The letter said that Jurian had figured out how to break your curse,” Lucien explained. 

Her eyes danced. “Really?”

“That part wasn’t a lie,” Jurian rushed to assure her. “I really did determine the spell your captor used and how to break it. I just figured if the letter came from you, they’d be quicker about coming.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me you’d solved it?” She asked Jurian. 

“I didn’t want you getting your hopes up in case they couldn’t make it right away.”

Feyre dropped her rucksack and pointed at Jurian. “Wait. So the part about the death god coming back in seven days...”

“Also, regrettably, a fabrication. Though he doesn’t exactly give us his schedule. I have no idea when he’ll be back.”

“So, he could show up tonight and we’d all be dead,” Lucien intoned. 

“Always so negative,” Jurian quipped. “Yes, he could return at any time and that would be most unfortunate. So I suggest we work quickly.” 

“We’re not doing anything,” Feyre said in a commanding voice, “until we’ve had something to eat and a hot bath. We’ve been winnowing through the woods for two days and we're tired and hungry.”

Jurian flourished grandly toward the stairs. “There are plenty of rooms available for you to wash up in. Help yourselves. I'll have the kitchen staff whip you up something.”

Feyre picked her bag up and stomped ungracefully up the stairs as Lucien followed her. They chose rooms next to one another. Lucien gave her a wordless nod as he went into the room on the left. 

The room was modestly furnished but looked comfortable enough. He found the bathing room and drew a bath with water as hot as he could tolerate, which for him was nearly scalding. Having fire in his blood made him susceptible to more extreme heat than most people could handle. He wished he could just stay in the bath for the rest of the evening but knew he’d have to go back downstairs eventually. He hadn't enjoyed the way Vassa's eyes had lingered on him. She was a lovely person and he had enjoyed sharing conversation with her immediately after the war. But he suspected that he knew what she wanted and he couldn't give it to her. And it seemed she was too blind to realize that Jurian was right in front of her, offering exactly what she wanted from Lucien. 

Lucien stayed in the bath until the water had grown cold. After he’d washed and put on fresh clothes, he knocked softly at Feyre’s door. It opened with a creak and Lucien went inside. It was nearly identical to the room he’d chosen. Feyre was braiding her wet hair at the vanity. 

“I cannot believe Jurian,” she said to him, making eye contact through the mirror. 

“I wish I could say the same,” Lucien lamented. “But I’m honestly not surprised.”

Lucien was about to ask her plan for breaking the curse, to admit he had no idea how to wield the power of Day, when he realized he hadn’t spoken to her about his father’s identity since learning about it from Bryaxis. 

As if Feyre could tell what he was thinking, she said, “You have every right to be angry with me for not telling you about Helion.”

Lucien sat on the bench beside her, facing out into the room while she faced the mirror. “I was,” he admitted. “But I bumped into Rhys that night and he explained.”

“He told me.”

“You still could have told me,” Lucien remarked, poking her in the ribs with his elbow. 

“The main reason I didn’t was out of respect for your mother,” Feyre explained. “We had no proof at all. It was just a suspicion from how he looked at her and the way he talked about her. He was the one who told us about the affair. But even then, we had no way to prove it and I didn’t want you to feel like I was accusing your mother of being...”

“A trollop?”

“Okay, you said that, not me,” Feyre declared. 

"I have no idea how to summon his power," Lucien admitted. 

"We'll use tomorrow to practice. Maybe it'll come naturally?"

Lucien shrugged as Feyre tied off the end of her braid with a thin cord of sturdy rope.

“It’s funny,” Lucien ruminated. “I thought this place was just as good as any to end up. After we defeated Hybern, I wasn’t sure I was going to go back to Velaris. I didn’t want Elain to feel like I was coming to claim her.”

"Here?" Feyre's voice was coated with doubt. 

"Maybe not necessarily here, but the continent."

"But... Prythian is your home," she objected. 

"I didn't have a home," Lucien said, trying to keep the bitterness in his voice to a minimum. "So long as Beron and my brothers live, I can never go back to Autumn. I thought Spring was my home for a time. But it was just where I sought refuge. Nesta was right about me in that regard - I was just wandering from court to court without a place to call my own."

"But none of that was your fault," Feyre said, resting her hand gently on his forearm. 

"I know that now." He glanced around the plainly decorated room. “I’m glad I went back. This place can’t hold a candle to Velaris.”

“There really is nowhere else like it in all of Prythian. I miss it already,” Feyre said. 

“So do I.”

“You just miss Elain,” Feyre teased, pushing lightly against his shoulder.  

“I do,” he admitted. “But I also miss Velaris. I know I haven't been there very long, but I’ve grown to love the city, its energy, its sunrises.”

Sunrises. The oranges and pinks mixed together as the sun rose—Elain’s favorite color.  

“In fact,” Lucien said, “When we get home, I need your help with something.”

Tears welled up unexpectedly in Feyre’s eyes and she sniffed. 

“What?”

“You said home. You said ‘when we get home.’”

Lucien sighed. “It is home. It’s where I have friends and a dysfunctional, outrageous, obnoxious family. And if the Mother is kind, it’s where I have a female to share my life with.”

“What do you need help with?” The way she was looking at him, Lucien imagined Feyre would do just about anything he asked. 

“I need you to paint something for me. A sunrise—orange and pink. Over her garden.”

Feyre made a tiny noise that might have been a sob. A knock on the door made her jump in surprise. The servant didn’t wait for her response before walking into the room. 

“Master Jurian wanted me to check and make sure everything was to your satisfaction,” she said in a subdued voice. She backed out of the room, leaving the door open. 

"This place is depressing," Feyre announced. 

Lucien nodded his agreement. "It wasn't like this when I was here a few months ago."

"Vassa must be growing more hopeless about breaking her curse."

Lucien sighed and stood up. Feyre did the same and the pair trudged into the hallway and down the stairs. Vassa was in the same high-backed chair she’d been in when they’d first arrived, sitting with her back straight as if she were on a rigid throne. Jurian sat in the chair across from her, chatting to someone who was standing by the fireplace, his forearm resting against the mantle. 

When Lucien and Feyre reached the bottom of the stairs, the stranger turned around and gave them a wide, mocking smile. 

“Well, it’s about time you showed up to break my queen’s curse,” Graysen sneered. 

Chapter Text

ELAIN

Elain was tending to her daily chores in her garden when Azriel returned. He slipped outside and sat on the stone bench but remained silent. Elain knew he wouldn’t say anything until she did. He liked to sit out there and not disturb her while she worked. 

“They’re coming in nicely, aren’t they?” She said with pride as she indicated the purple bulbs of crocus that were peeking up from the light dusting of snow covering the soil.

“They are,” Azriel nodded his agreement. “I’m glad to see it’s recovered from its run-in with that storm.” 

Elain just nodded and continued working. Silence was one of those things that could be comfortable or tense and with Azriel, it was almost always comfortable. She never felt compelled to say something just to fill a void. Occasionally he would point to one an area of her garden she had overlooked that still needed tending to. Some people might take it as condescending or commanding, but Elain appreciated that Azriel knew her enough to know that she’d want to do it herself. There were few things she was fussy over but her garden was at the top of that short list. 

Nearly an hour later, Nesta emerged with a tray of mugs, steam rising from each one. 

“It’s freezing out here, but I know you’re not coming inside until you’re finished. So I brought you something that’ll warm you up.”

Elain and Azriel each took a mug, Elain resisting the urge to roll her eyes as Nesta kept giving her a pointed look and then glancing at Azriel. Her sister was anything if not relentless. 

“We should start planning something for Feyre’s birthday,” Nesta said. “We owe her a lot and she hasn’t had many birthdays where we actually had anything to celebrate.”

“That’s... actually an excellent idea,” Elain agreed. 

“So, when she gets back—”

“When she and Lucien get back, you mean?”

Nesta made a small sound of impatience. “Fine, whatever. Though if he stayed gone, that would be just as well.”

“Why can’t you ease off him a little?”

“I don’t like him,” Nesta bristled. 

“Why?”

“You know why. He sold us out.”

“And you know he had nothing to do with it,” Elain fought back. She was tired of this. Tired of two of the people she loved most being at each other’s throats. 

Azriel had melded back into the shadows in the corner of the garden but remained. Elain was secretly grateful that he didn’t leave her out here to battle her sister alone. She’d have to thank him later. 

“He’s too pushy,” Nesta insisted. “And you’re too fragile to—”

“I am not! And I cannot continue to be broken for you!”

Nesta stared at her. “I don’t know what you—”

“As long as I’m delicate and broken, you can direct all of your attention on me instead of acknowledging your own issues!”

Elain had never shouted at her sister like this before. She never shouted period but ever since becoming Fae, she found herself feeling things more strongly than she had before. Found herself unable to contain the emotions that she used to just clamp down and ignore until they went away. But she supposed that wasn’t entirely a bad thing. She used to just keep everything she felt contained and subdued. But no more. She couldn’t be seen as some porcelain doll that might break at any moment. 

“Elain, I... I just think he’s wrong for you,” Nesta choked out. 

“I love him, Nesta.”

There. She said it. She choked back the sob that was welling up in her throat. She had wanted him to be the first person to hear those words. But she’d had enough of Nesta berating him at every turn.

“No, you don’t!” Nesta waved her arms so wildly that the contents of her cup splashed out onto the cobblestones, the metal campfire mug clattering against them loudly. “You just think you do because of this... unlucky roll of the dice that's left you tethered to him.”

“It’s not like that at all—”

“He thinks he’s entitled to you. That he owns you—”

“He doesn’t! And if you bothered taking one single second to do more than criticize him, you’d know that!”

Elain had done something she’d never done before. She had stunned her sister into silence. 

“From the very beginning, he’s told me time and time again, it was my choice! I’d never be forced to commit myself to him if I didn’t want to. He was willing to let me reject the bond before making me do anything I didn’t want to! Do you understand how traumatizing, how painful, that is for a mate?”

Elain physically shuddered at the thought of it. She’d read that it was such an excruciating, heart-shattering pain that a High Fae once died from it. 

Nesta just stood with wide eyes and her mouth hanging open. 

“No, you don’t,” Elain snapped. “But keep treating Cassian like he’s something foul you stepped in and you’ll probably find out.”

Nesta’s eyes flashed with rage. “You leave him out of this.”

“Oh, so when it comes to your mate, we can’t talk about that,” Elain fumed. “But you can tear mine to shreds and I’m supposed to just stand back and let it happen?”

“Why do you insist on making things so difficult?” Nesta balled her hands into fists. She threw up one hand, pointing at Azriel in the corner. “Why can’t you just be like Feyre and me and fall in love with an Illyrian and be done with it?!”

Elain blinked. Even Azriel left the confines of the shadows and moved slowly to stand next to Elain. 

“You—you love Cassian?” Elain marveled in a hushed voice. Her throat was raw from screaming. 

“We aren’t talking about me right now,” Nesta huffed. 

“Well, maybe we should.”

“Enough.” Azriel held up a scarred hand and both sisters quieted. 

“You’re sisters,” he said in a low, commanding voice. “You shouldn’t be fighting like this. Nesta, I think Elain is right. You need to find a way to accept that Lucien is part of your lives now.”

Nesta growled, actually growled, at the mention of his name. 

“Regardless of what happens between him and Elain,” Azriel continued, “Rhys has made him part of his Inner Circle and that is not something he does lightly.”

Nesta crossed her arms over her chest, either out of irritation or due to the cold, Elain wasn’t sure. 

“Perhaps you ought to start thinking about Elain’s happiness instead of what you believe is best for her,” Azriel said. Elain had never heard him speak this much. “If you spent even half the time actually paying attention to them as you do trying to sabotage them, you’d see that he makes her happy.”

Nesta had the decency to look ashamed. She took a deep, shuddering breath. “Elain... I’m sorry. I just watched you get engaged to Graysen and I hated it because I knew you felt like you couldn’t do any better than the son of a Lord. And I know you said you had feelings for him, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that you only said yes to his proposal because you felt like you had to. And I didn’t want to see you in the same situation twice - being with someone out of obligation.”

Azriel seemed to think things had calmed down enough for him to meld back into the shadows. He glanced at Elain for confirmation and she nodded. He gave her a small squeeze of the hand and subtly slipped inside the townhouse.  

Elain sat on the bench and invited her sister to sit beside her. “I know you would tear apart the world to protect me,” she said to Nesta. “And I love you for it. But I don’t need you to right now. I need you to trust me enough to make decisions for myself.”

Nesta only nodded. She made a show of rubbing her arms to warm them. 

“Now,” Elain continued, “let’s talk about Cassian.”

Nesta groaned and buried her face in her hands. “Me and my big mouth.”

“You should tell him,” Elain suggested. “Mother knows he’s worked hard enough to earn your affection. He ought to know he’s succeeded.”

“He knows,” Nesta quipped. “Arrogant bastard.”

Elain’s confusion must have been evident because Nesta continued, “I accepted the mating bond weeks ago. All those nights I was staying over at Amren’s? I wasn’t actually. I was at Cassian’s.”

“Nesta!!” Elain shrieked, elbowing her sister in the ribs. 

“I just didn’t want anyone making a scene over it.”

“But why are you still so abrasive toward him then?”

“Oh, because that’s just how we are with each other,” Nesta said dismissively. Her eyes suddenly darkened. “But when you said that bit about a bond being rejected...” She shuddered again, and from the haunted expression in her eyes, Elain knew for certain it wasn’t from the cold. “I can imagine it.”

Elain felt a swell of sympathy for her sister. Nesta was always so afraid of letting people in that she let them all believe she was made of stone with a heart of ice. But Elain could see that she was just afraid of getting hurt like everyone else. 

“I’m sorry, Elain,” Nesta said thickly. “I promise to try. If he truly means something to you, I will try.”

She hugged Elain tightly. “Now let’s go inside before we freeze.”

Chapter Text

LUCIEN

Feyre tensed beside him. Lucien had no idea who this stranger was, but Feyre certainly seemed to. And she didn’t seem to be fond of him. He was tall and fair, with dark brown hair, rounded ears, and striking blue eyes. He struck Lucien as the type of male—man—who could get whatever he wanted from flashing a dazzling smile. Lucien couldn't exactly explain why, but he instantly disliked him. 

“Jurian, what is he doing here?” Feyre demanded. 

“He’s our benefactor,” Jurian explained, his voice tight and his smile forced. “He drops in for a visit from time to time."

The human male regarded Lucien carefully, paying particularly close attention to the golden eye and the scar that ran the length of his face. 

“You must be Lucien,” he sneered. "My queen talks about you... frequently." 

“And you are?” Lucien asked coolly. Feyre tried to hide the nudge she gave him, but the stranger had seen. 

“Wait,” he said, clearly delighted, “Does he not know who I am? Oh, this is delicious.”

Sudden realization hit Lucien like a tidal wave. This was Elain’s former betrothed. The human piece of filth who broke her heart. Lucien balled his hands into fists, flames licking his fingers. He had never hated anyone as much as he hated this prejudicial prick. 

Feyre delicately laid her hand against the small of his back, a gesture that went unseen by anyone else, but was enough to remind him to keep his rage in check. 

“Your elf friend doesn’t look well, Jurian,” Graysen chided. 

“We’re faeries,” Feyre snapped. “Not elves.”

“Same difference,” Graysen said dismissively. “All of you pointy ears are abominations.”

Knowing that Graysen was financially supporting Vassa until she could reclaim her throne was one thing; having to see him in the flesh was more than Lucien could tolerate. Lucien wanted to kill him. And he would... if it wouldn’t devastate Elain. Though he believed she didn’t love him anymore, he still imagined that her mate killing her former fiance would be far too much for her to handle. 

He was trying to keep his breathing slow and steady, concealing any evidence of the rage that burned within him. It was so, so close to bubbling over. He hadn’t lost his temper since he’d had his eye gouged out by Amarantha. But he was on the verge of it now. 

“So, you’re her mate,” Graysen quipped, turning his attention to Lucien once more. “Mates. Such a beastly term. But then again, I suppose you are little better than animals. I hear some of you can actually shift into animal form.”

Lucien’s russet eye burned with hatred. He knew their goal was for peace and tolerance of one another, but how could they possibly achieve that with filth like this mortal walking the earth? His hands smoldered like burning coals. 

“See?” Graysen sneered, pointing at the flames surrounding Lucien’s balled fists. “They’re not natural."

"Graysen, please," Vassa beseeched. 

But he ignored her. He angled his head at Lucien, his lip curling up. "Tell me, has my erstwhile fiancée spread her slut legs for you yet?”

Lucien's rage erupted as white-hot flames shot out of his hands. He was going to melt this slimy piece of filth from the face of the earth. He could tolerate the jibes and insults made at his own expense, but he would incinerate this human swine before he would let him disrespect Elain. In the same moment that he slung the flames at Graysen, Feyre sent a wave of seawater to douse them. Steam rose where the water and flames had met in the middle of that stifling sitting room. 

Feyre grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him toward the front door. Lucien barely registered where she was leading him. He was breathing heavily, the loathing so strong in his remaining eye that he couldn’t even see straight. 

As she slung open the door and shoved Lucien outside, she turned around and pointed a finger at Jurian. To his credit, he looked horrified. “Either he goes, or we do. To hell with your queen’s curse.”

Feyre slammed the door closed behind her as Lucien gulped down mouthfuls of the frigid winter air. 

“I’m sorry!” He blurted as soon as the door was closed. He hoped Feyre had put up her wall of air to ensure they weren’t overheard. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing... nothing to apologize for,” Feyre said, scowling at the manor. 

“I shouldn’t have lost my temper,” Lucien insisted. “It makes them look right about us.”

Feyre grabbed his shoulders roughly and forced him to look at her. “The only reason I stopped you was so that you didn’t regret it later. Because I know you. You would have. He deserves to burn in hell and if it wasn’t for Elain, I’d have gladly let you send him there.”

Lucien’s eye darkened. He would do anything for Elain, but it did still sting that she cared about what happened to that swine. 

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Feyre went on. “If you’d killed him, I wouldn’t have really cared what Elain would have thought. She’d get over it eventually. I cared about them retaliating and what they’d do to you.”

Lucien’s hands were still shaking. He crossed them tightly across his chest and shivered as the heat of his rage finally settled so deeply within him that its heat no longer insulated him from the cold. 

“If they had killed you, or worse... I couldn’t go home and face her, knowing there was something I could have done to stop it. But it’s most definitely what he deserves.”

Lucien took several long, deep breaths. Feyre watched him carefully. 

“So, what do we do?” He asked her. 

“Like I told them, either he goes or we do,” she said, every bit the High Lady that she was. “I will not stay here and offer aid to anyone whose company will disrespect us like that. I don't give a damn what he's paying for.”

Lucien nodded his agreement. He really wanted to go home and never set foot on this wretched continent again. 

“I’ll go back in,” Feyre decided. “Once I’m sure he’s gone, I’ll call for you.”

As she opened the front door and went inside, Lucien silently thanked the Mother for Feyre. For her ability to remain calm and level-headed. For being his friend and always having his back. If she hadn't been here, he would have burned Graysen to ash, and likely would have been killed for it. It had been over half a century since he'd lost his temper like that. One day. One day, that human filth would get his comeuppance. He heard Feyre call for him and went back into the sitting room. 

Vassa was staring at the floor, eyes not focused on anything. Jurian was pale and looked slightly nauseous. 

“I’m so sorry,” Vassa siad, barely above a whisper. “That was most unfortunate.” 

Feyre just sniffed in disgust. “The curse requires endless starlight under a high noon sun.” She tossed a look full of contempt to Jurian. “Is that true, or was that part of your ruse to get us here too?”

“I assure you,” he said sincerely, “that part is the whole truth.”

“How do you plan to bring that about, Feyre Cursebreaker?” Vassa asked, finally looking up. 

Lucien saw the desperation in her eyes. And behind it, the exhaustion and tiresome existence of living as one form by day and her human form by night.

“As High Lady of the Night Court,” Lucien answered for her, “she is Stars Eternal to the High Lord’s Night Triumphant.”

“So the sun just has to shine on Feyre at noon?” Vassa asked, one of her eyebrows arching. “How is it that easy?”

“It isn’t,” Feyre said. “Until me, there has never been a High Lady of any of the courts in Prythian, so it’s likely that your captor didn’t believe his curse was breakable. I also believe that just standing out in the sun isn’t enough. The sun’s light will have to come from the power of the Day Court.”

“So, we need Helion?” Jurian supplied. 

“No,” Lucien said with a sigh. “Someone from his bloodline should suffice.”

Jurian stared at them for a beat, and then slowly nodded his understanding. 

“I expect your utmost discretion,” Feyre warned. 

“Very well,” Jurian said as he cleared his throat. “So when do we do this?” 

“This is just a guess,” Feyre offered, “but I feel like it must be done when she’s in her firebird form. I had wanted to use tomorrow as something of a trial run, a chance to test our powers together, but you'll understand if we want to do this quickly and return home.”

"I am truly sorry for that," Jurian said, and Lucien believed him. Jurian had been tense when Lucien and Feyre had come back downstairs. It seemed that Jurian was not overly fond of Graysen... or his infatuation with his queen. All evening, Jurian had let his gaze linger on Vassa, even as her own drifted to Lucien. Lucien recognized the longing in Jurian's eyes when he looked at the firebird queen—recognized it because it was present in his own eye whenever he gazed at Elain.

Feyre regarded Vassa, one queen to another. "I can appreciate the difficult position you're in, your highness," she remarked. "Ensuring your people are provided for in your absence must weigh heavily on your mind. But I implore you to consider the cost of having such a benefactor. He does not want the same things that we do."

"We?" Vassa repeated sharply. 

"Perhaps I am mistaken," Feyre said, though her tone suggested she thought nothing of the sort, "but I believe you and I both strive for peace between our two peoples. Graysen would sooner see all of us Fae eradicated from the world."

Vassa didn't reply. She rested her chin in her palm and looked out the window at the moonlight reflecting off the lake. 

"It's still several hours until dawn," Feyre commented. "And the spell must be broken at high noon."

“So..." Jurian supplied, "we wait?”

“So we wait,” she repeated.

Chapter Text

LUCIEN

They’d sat up until nearly four in the morning, chatting cordially with Vassa and Jurian. Jurian asked about Rhysand and the others. Feyre offered a polite but vague answer, which Jurian replied with a quip about trust. But Lucien understood—Feyre had a duty to protect Velaris and her people. The last time Velaris was revealed to strangers, it had been attacked. Lucien trusted Jurian, but not enough to want him to know the city's precise location. Not yet.

When Feyre had fallen asleep with her chin in her hand, Vassa had insisted they go upstairs and get some rest. Even though they doubted the natural sunlight of high noon would make much difference, they’d opted to try to break the curse at that time anyway. 

Vassa shooed them both upstairs with her hands. “Jurian will be sure to wake you in plenty of time. I’m going to read for a bit before dawn,” she sighed wistfully. 

Lucien followed Feyre up the stairs, his legs like lead. He had gotten used to living in comfort and ease again. Sleeping in tents and roughing it in the woods had taken its toll on him. He made the decision to begin a consistent training regimen with Azriel once they got home. Though he prayed they never got caught up in another war during his lifetime, he couldn't afford to become complacent. 

“Lucien,” Feyre called before he went into his room. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob, waiting for her to speak again. 

“I swore I would never go into your mind without your permission...”

“But?”

She gave him a grim expression. “But while we’re here, it might not be a terrible idea. Something just doesn’t feel right.”

He wholeheartedly agreed. Ever since they’d learned that Vassa hadn’t known about the letter Jurian had sent bearing her signature, Lucien had been tense. As if waiting for the other shoe to drop. He wanted to break this curse and get home as quickly as possible. 

“It probably would be to our benefit to talk without speaking,” he said with a shrug, giving her the permission she was struggling to ask for. 

He bid Feyre good night in the hallway and went into the room he’d claimed. He slipped off his baldric and boots, leaving them in a small pile on the floor by the foot of his bed. Though it was well below freezing outside, the fireplaces of the manor were all crackling with lively fires, and the entire house was almost uncomfortably hot. Lucien peeled his tunic off and set it atop the baldric laden with daggers. 

He slipped between the sheets and punched the pillow into a more comfortable position. Instinct had him glancing toward the window, but there was no armchair there. No Elain with her feet tucked beneath her, fiddling with the tail of her braid. 

The bed was too firm, the sheets rough and scratchy. He sighed and willed himself to sleep. All too soon, Jurian (or more likely a servant acting on Jurian’s orders) would be waking them to go down to the lake. 

As sleep beaconed to him, he pictured Elain’s beautiful smile and the way her eyes tightened at the corners when she laughed. 

Not long after sleep claimed him, the door to his room creaked open. He heard it, but he couldn’t be certain whether it was real or part of his dreams. The mattress slumped behind him as someone—Elain?—slipped between the sheets and pressed tightly against his back. A delicate, feminine arm snaked around his waist. Fingernails drug softly across his stomach, but they felt sharper, more pointed than those of his mate’s. 

“Lucien,” Vassa whispered. 

His eyes shot open as he jerked away from her. 

“What are you doing in here?” He hissed. He remembered asking Elain the same thing, the night he’d believed her to be a dream in the House of Wind. Except that night, the female presence in his bed had been welcomed. 

Vassa clicked her tongue. “We barely got to talk tonight,” she simpered. “You’ve been away so long. You promised you were coming back.”

“I promised to help you break your curse,” he corrected her. He’d sat up, one foot on the floor, the other tucked beneath him. 

“Lucien,” she chided, “don’t insult me by pretending there’s nothing here between us.”

“There’s not,” he said firmly. 

She flipped her head to one side, causing her fiery hair to cascade down the side of her face. “You have fire in your soul, Lucien. So do I. This curse wasn't random—it brought my true soul to the surface. I thought, once it was broken, we could—”

“You thought wrong.”

“Why so serious and dull all of a sudden?” She pouted. 

“I’m a mated male,” Lucien replied instantly. 

Vassa’s eyebrows arched. “Oh? And has your mate accepted this bond?”

He didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of the answer but his silence told her all she needed to know. 

“See? You aren’t a mated anything yet.”

“Perhaps not... yet,” he conceded, slowly rising off the bed and backing up toward the door. “But she has my heart.”

Vassa laughed and clicked her tongue again. “I’m not interested in your heart, Lucien.” Her eyes roved over his bare chest and down to his waist. There was a hunger burning in her eyes that was easy to identify. She crawled, actually crawled , on her hands and knees to the edge of the bed, prowling like a predator hunting for its prey. 

“You know, Jurian would kill for this attention from you,” Lucien told her. He’d seen the looks of longing and desire Jurian had given Vassa when he’d thought no one was looking. 

“Jurian,” Vassa scoffed. “He’s too hung up on fixing things between himself and Drakon and Myriam.”

Lucien was at the foot of the bed. His eyes darted to gauge how far his boots and weapons were from where he stood and how far to the door. 

“Lucien,” Vassa crooned. “We are alike. We both have fire in our blood. You and I could have so much fun.”

Panic seized him, freezing his limbs in place and turning his blood cold as he recalled another female’s voice that had said almost exactly the same thing as she ran her disgusting hands over him, his power subdued from those faebane cuffs. 

We had fun, you and I. 

Ianthe. 

And even as he tried to force himself to think of anything else, her face swam to the front of his memory, dimly lit by the light of a torch ensconced against the wall of a cave. 

He swallowed down the bile that had risen in his throat. He’d squeezed his eyes shut so hard, stars danced against his vision when he opened them. He no longer saw the priestess’s face, but the feelings of being helpless, of shame and guilt, threatened to make him vomit. Hatred, both for that loathsome female and for Tamlin surged through him. At the time, Tamlin had been so sick with grief over Feyre and Lucien hadn’t known what to do. Tamlin had raged that he couldn’t, he wouldn’t, complete the Rite but bemoaned that if it didn’t get done, his entire court would suffer. So Lucien had done what Tamlin would not.

He had gone into that cave in Tamlin's stead. He’d done unspeakable things with that bitch and afterward, Tamlin hadn’t even had the common decency to thank him for it. No, he’d merely nodded at Lucien, as if it had been expected of him. 

Lucien had never been so satisfied for anyone’s just desserts as he was when Feyre made that hellbitch crush the bones in her own hand. 

His vision cleared. Vassa was on her feet and sauntering toward him. She was wearing... not very much at all. Scraps of lace that just barely covered her. Feyre’s strips of gossamer Under the Mountain had covered more. 

“Lucien,” she practically sang, “come back to bed.”

She raised a long-fingernailed hand to his chest but he snatched her wrist roughly. Her eyes flashed with delight and desire.  She was either too stupid or too starved for physical contact to realize that he hadn’t meant it in a playful manner. 

“Don’t touch me again,” he said, every word clipped. Fire rose to his fingertips again and Vassa snatched back her hand, rubbing her wrist where his power had left a red welt around it.  For all her talk of having fire in her soul, she was still mortal. 

Her eyes no longer held that coquettish gleam. She looked at him with fear and apprehension. 

“Get. Out.” 

Mercifully, she obeyed. Lucien searched for a lock on the door but there was none. He didn’t think she’d be stupid enough to come back, but just in case, he wedged a chair beneath the door handle. 

He slipped his tunic, baldric, and boots back on and sat on the very edge of the mattress, tapping his foot restlessly as he waited for dawn. 

Chapter Text

ELAIN

Elain shot up suddenly, waves of panic and fear, guilt and shame battling for attention inside her mind. She’d been sleeping restlessly as it was, but out of nowhere, this discord of emotions jerked her out of her sleep and had her heart beating wildly. 

“Lucien,” a harsh female voice crooned, “come back to bed.”

A tall woman with crimson hair was curling her finger seductively at him. Vassa. 

Dread settled in the pit of her stomach as she choked back a sob. She didn’t want to believe what she had seen was true. It was exactly what she had feared—the firebird queen taking a prince of Autumn to her bed in the aftermath and gratitude of breaking her curse. 

Elain forced herself to take several long, deep breaths. Lucien wouldn’t hurt her like that. 

“I’m yours,” he’d promised. “Only yours.”

She clung to that promise, telling herself not to jump to conclusions. She got up from the bed and poured herself some water as she tried recalling the events of the dream and making some sense of it. 

She’d been dreaming from Lucien’s perspective. Which wasn't odd in and of itself since she’d taken to sleeping in his room since he and Feyre had left for the continent. Nesta had pursed her lips but said nothing, making good on her promise to try harder to accept him. 

Before she’d gone to sleep, Elain had curled up beneath those hunter green sheets and filled her lungs with his scent. Sunlight and oranges and sandalwood. It wasn’t as strong as it would have been if he’d been there. She only hoped that he and Feyre returned soon before his scent faded from the room entirely. Not caring that her sister and the others might tease her for it, she’d clutched his pillow tightly as she’d fallen asleep. 

She’d dreamed of a cave. It had been too dark to see much, but it had felt like an unnatural sort of dark. She thought she had seen glimpses of firelight reaching into the shadows of the cave, but then it would be replaced with a solid wall of black, as if trying to keep whatever was inside that cave from her view. But the darkness couldn't hide the noises that echoed from the back of the cave. Carnal, vicious sounds.

The scene had shifted to a sunlit forest. A female of exquisite beauty laughed, cold and cruelly, as she bound Elain's wrists in blue shackles. The result had felt like ice-cold water had doused the burning embers that lived within her. Like it had thrown a blanket over the light inside her, smothering it into darkness. The female's beauty was harsh and unforgiving, like the gaze from her teal eyes. Elain’s stomach had roiled when that female invaded her space, coming so close Elain could feel her breath on her face, and ran her hands down the length of her chest and stomach. She’d had to force down the nausea that had risen along with the memory of that cave. 

And for just a fraction of a second, the wall of black had been lifted and she’d seen what had happened inside that cave. It was quicker than the blink of an eye, but she’d seen enough to deduce the rest. And that was when she was catapulted out of the dream—or was it a memory?

Elain kicked off the covers and launched herself to the bathing room, barely making it to the toilet before she vomited. 

For not only had she seen Lucien’s memories of that vile female, but she’d felt them. She had felt the anxiety and apprehension of taking Tamlin’s place, for what she wasn’t precisely sure and didn’t think she wanted to know. She’d felt the shame and self-loathing that he’d had every second he’d been inside that cave. She’d felt the terror and panic when that—that bitch had shackled him against that tree. And she’d felt the absolute guilt that threatened to rip him apart from the inside out when he’d begged Feyre, with desperation in his russet eye, Don’t tell Elain.

She sat on the cool tile floor of the bathing room, a thin sheen of sweat on her brow as tears welled. 

Oh, Lucien... my Lucien. 

She waited a minute. And another, making sure her stomach wasn’t about to roil once more. When she was sure she wasn’t going to be sick again, she stood up off the floor and climbed back into bed. 

She clutched the pillow tightly again, her tears soaking through the pillowcase as she cried softly for every injustice that had been done to him. She barely knew Tamlin, but she hated him even more now. How could he force his closest friend to do that? Though Tamlin hadn’t held a blade to Lucien’s throat and forced him, Lucien had known what his High Lord expected of him and was too honorable and loyal to decline. 

She doubted she’d be able to fall back to sleep, so she lay in his bed and cried for him. She wondered with dread how many more memories like this he had locked away... and what was happening on the continent to bring this particular memory to the forefront of his mind. 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

LUCIEN

Several tense hours later, after watching the sun peek over the trees surrounding the lake, Lucien decided it was finally an acceptable hour to knock on Feyre’s door. He removed the chair from beneath his doorknob and eased the door open. He adjusted the baldric across his chest but before he could step out into the hall, Feyre emerged from her room and slipped into his, closing the door behind her. 

She seemed unwilling to meet his gaze. 

“You know what happened last night?” He guessed. 

Feyre nodded. “I was about to come in when you told her to get out. I’ll admit, I hesitated.”

Lucien remembered saying the same thing to her, what felt like a lifetime ago, after her close call with the Suriel and the naga. 

“Why?”

“I didn’t want to make it worse,” she muttered. 

Lucien understood though. She’d been his savior once before from a female’s unwanted advances. To do it twice would have been a severe blow to his pride. Still, he was grateful that she would have been willing to do it. To hell with pride.

"Next time, just barge in," he said miserably. 

"By the Cauldron, there better not be a next time," Feyre growled. Lucien heartily agreed.  

“Have you seen anybody yet since the sun rose?” Feyre asked him. He shook his head. “A servant informed me there was breakfast downstairs and we could help ourselves,” she went on.

He nodded. “Go ahead, I’ll meet you down there in a few minutes.”

Feyre grasped his hand, gave it a light squeeze, and released it before heading out the door and down the hallway. 

He thanked the Mother every day for his friend Feyre. A better friend to him than he ever was to her.

But it was Feyre’s sister who was occupying his mind just then. Granted, she was always on his mind, but specifically now. Within minutes of throwing Vassa out of his room, he thought he’d heard Elain’s voice in his head. He wasn’t sure if it was through the bond or just from his overwhelming desire to see her. But he’d heard her as clearly as if she’d been standing in front of him. Just two words. 

My Lucien.

His heart had done cartwheels. He was hers. There was no denying that. He’d known it from the moment he’d felt that tug. But Lucien had never heard her refer to him as hers before now. 

He’d tried to call down the bond to her but had gotten no response. He didn’t know if it was the distance or whether she’d been asleep, but either way, he hadn’t been able to reach her. He could have tried harder, but he didn't want to disturb her if she was asleep. Still, those two words repeated inside his head. 

He left the confines of that depressingly bare room and followed the scent of bacon down the stairs, remembering that Jurian did have an affinity for bacon. Lucien only hoped that they could fulfill their end of this commitment and break Vassa’s curse so they could go home.

Sure enough, when he reached the dining room, Jurian had a plate piled high full of bacon.

"You know, you should really eat something else besides just bacon," Feyre chided. 

Jurian tossed her a deep, sincere glare of offense as he plucked the slices off Feyre's plate. "With that kind of attitude, you don't deserve any." 

Lucien snorted. 

Jurian chewed happily on the stolen bacon from Feyre's plate as he said, “So, ready to break some curses?”

“Jurian,” Lucien said steadily. “For your own sake, don’t waste your life with someone who isn’t going to appreciate it. Take it from someone who knows.”

Jurian peered at Lucien quizzically but didn’t question him. 

Lucien wolfed down a plate of food, barely paying attention to what he was eating. Feyre’s eyes kept darting over to him, but she never spoke a word. After a tense, quiet breakfast, Jurian got up and they followed him wordlessly outside. 

Vassa was perched on a low-hanging branch of the nearest tree. Lucien wondered how she hadn’t burned through it yet. Though she was in her cursed bird form, he could feel the glare that was meant for him. 

“Do you even know how to manifest Day’s power?” Jurian asked, not with malice but genuinely curious.

“I suppose we’re about to find out,” Lucien snipped. 

“You’ve used it before,” Feyre said. “In Hybern. You used Day’s power to break the king’s bonds when his guards left Elain soaking wet on the floor.”

Lucien remembered very well, though at the time he hadn't realized what hew was doing. All he had known was that he had to get to her, that female, whose very essence had called out to him. He wasn't sure if he imagined it, but it seemed as if Vassa had begun burning brighter at the mention of Lucien’s mate. But Lucien blocked the firebird out of his mind. He was trying to remember exactly what he’d done when he’d broken the king's bindings.

“What time is it?” Feyre asked.

“I looked before we came outside,” Jurian said. “Ten minutes 'til noon.”

Lucien glanced at the sundial in the yard. It was almost time. 

“Let’s do this then,” he said to Feyre. 

She locked her gaze with his and though he couldn’t read her mind, he felt like he knew what she was trying to tell him. To unlock these long-suppressed powers, he needed to take himself back to that night. The night he had used his father’s spell-breaking gifts to get to his mate. She had been in danger. Some pitiful binding spell couldn’t keep him from his mate. He’d broken through it as a knife cuts through soft butter. 

As much as he hated to relive it, Lucien shut his eyes and replayed that night in his mind. He had no idea what Feyre was doing; he trusted her to fulfill her own portion of the countercurse. He closes his eyes as he let his mind and his heart fill with the sounds of Elain’s screaming, her terrified sobs, and his pure panic and rage at not being able to get to her. At the time, he didn't even know why he needed to reach her so desperately. All he had known was that he had to. He replayed his fury when the guards had tipped the Cauldron on its side and she had spilled out like the contents of a discarded bowl. 

Initially, the fire that smoldered inside his soul sparked and threatened to rise to the surface, such was his rage. But it began to transform, just as it had that night in Hybern, into something more powerful than mere flames. The might of the actual sun seared through him, building and growing until it filled every inch of him. 

“Close your eyes,” he warned the others. He didn't know how he knew to warn them, but he just knew that if they didn't, their eyes would be burned from their very sockets.

The power continued to build until it finally exploded in all directions. Even with his own eyes closed, he could feel the blinding brightness and warmth of the light of Day. Something flickered, and he saw stars—not the kind one sees after being struck sharply on the head, but actual stars. Shining brightly amongst the rays of sunlight that streamed out of him—a field of endless stars that danced through the sun’s rays was.

Stars Eternal. 

It was a sight to behold... Lucien wished Elain was here to see it. 

She can see it , Feyre spoke into his mind. Lucien barely contained his shock before remembering he’d given her permission to see into and speak to his mind if need be. 

How? He thought back to her. 

You can show your mate images and feelings through the bond. Show her when we get home. 

Home. He couldn’t wait to go home. To his friends, to his family. To his mate. 

The light from Lucien and the stars from Feyre had combined, forming a cocoon around Vassa. Whatever the spell required, it seemed to be working. The light intensified until it was truly blinding and then both sunlight and starlight vanished altogether. In their place stood the mortal queen, all evidence of her firebird form gone. She crumpled on the ground and Jurian wasted no time in rushing to her side. He scooped her up and held her tightly to his chest. 

Lucien pitied the poor fool, he truly did. He hoped that Vassa would appreciate that unwavering loyalty that she most assuredly did not deserve. 

When Vassa's eyes fluttered open, they filled with tears. She was free. Jurian didn't seem to care that she had thus far shown no interest in him. He kissed her forehead and smoothed her long fiery hair from her face. 

"Can you stand?" He asked her gently. She nodded weakly and he gingerly set her down.

Lucien was doubled over and breathing heavily. Using that much raw power that he was unfamiliar with had exhausted him. Feyre glanced at him and asked if he was alright. He wasn't sure he had the energy to speak, so he simply nodded. She seemed satisfied and abruptly stalked over to where Vassa and Jurian stood. 

Jurian watched her approach warily. “What are you—” 

Feyre shoved him out of her way and roughly grabbed Vassa’s collar, pulling her inches from her own face. “If you ever attempt to solicit anyone from my Court without their consent again, I will see that your retribution is swift and severe.”

“Hey!” Jurian protested. “You can’t talk to her like that! She’s a queen!”

“I don’t give a damn whether you’re a queen or not,” Feyre spat.  

Lucien was leaning against the nearest tree, his energy completely spent. Feyre picked up both of their packs and said roughly, “Let’s go home.”

“Wait,” Jurian said tentatively. 

Feyre turned back around, slowly and deliberately. “What?”

“Can’t you winnow us closer to the mortal border? If that death god comes back before we’re gone—”

“That’s your problem,” Feyre seethed. “We promised to help break the curse. It’s broken.”

“But—”

"Look at him!" Feyre yelled, pointing to Lucien. "He can barely stand. Does it look like he has the energy to winnow anyone?"

Jurian looked like he wanted to say more, but remained silent. 

“I like you, Jurian,” Feyre said. “I truly do. You became a welcomed, albeit unexpected, ally in the war against Hybern. But your queen has wronged someone from my Court and I’ll not tolerate that. I wish you all the best. Truly.”

She didn’t pause to wait for Jurian’s reply as she took Lucien’s arm and winnowed them both away from that lonely manor by the lake.

Chapter Text

Feyre was panting when she let go of him. Lucien’s energy was still drained, so Feyre had practically carried him plus both of their packs when she’d winnowed them away. They were still in the woods somewhere on the continent, but at least they weren’t anywhere near that lake. 

“I’m sorry,” she said as she gulped down the bitter cold winter air. 

“For what?”

“If I embarrassed you,” she clarified. “I didn’t think. I was just so angry with her.”

Lucien had pressed his back against a tree and slumped down, sitting right in the snow. “I don’t care,” he muttered. “In fact, I quite enjoyed watching you put her in her place. I think she forgets that you’re essentially a queen yourself.”

Feyre had busied herself with setting up the tent and building a fire. She wasn’t going to be able to winnow them both all the way back to Velaris and the distance was much too far for her to fly them. She told Lucien that she was going to call out to Rhys through their bond, telling him they were ready to come home.

But Lucien was already thinking one step ahead of her. Feyre set her pack on the snow and sat on it. Lucien wished he’d done the same as he felt the snow melting through the seat of his pants. 

“We’ll rest here for a while,” Feyre decided. “I know it’s only midday, but we both barely slept. Rhys is sending Azriel to come get us. We can get some rest and Az should be shortly after nightfall if I had to guess.”

“Can you get back without him?” Lucien asked her. 

Confusion furrowed her brows. “Well, yes, but I can’t fly you back.”

“I know,” he said. “You’re going back without me.”

“Excuse me?”

She tossed another stick onto their meager fire a bit more aggressively than necessary, sending sparks up as it collided with the pile of burning kindling. 

“You should go back. Let the others know we’re okay,” Lucien said. “But I’m going back to Spring.”

Feyre paled. “Lucien wh—”

“I’m getting Rhysand’s mother and sister’s wings back before I return to Velaris.”

“I’m going with you,” she said instantly. 

He’d expected nothing less. Lucien gingerly got up, brushing snow off his pants as he stood. He was still so exhausted that just the act of standing was a challenge. He moved to the tent where his pack rested and dug through it for some jerky. Even though they’d eaten a few hours ago, he felt hollow, like he hadn’t eaten in days. 

“Obviously I can’t stop you,” he admitted. “But I will implore you not to come. I don’t doubt your abilities one bit, but it will be easier to sneak in if it’s just me. Plus, I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you in there.”

“And I’m supposed to forgive myself if Tamlin guts you with those claws?” She retorted. 

Lucien waves his hand dismissively. “No one needs me,” he said automatically. 

Feyre scoffed. “There’s no way you can still believe that.”

Elain. He needed her, he knew that much. But he still doubted whether she truly needed him. She had her sisters and Nuala and Cerridwen and the whole Inner Circle. She didn’t need him...

“You’re a fucking idiot, Lucien.”

“Okay, no more rooting around in my head,” he snapped. But he wasn’t angry with Feyre. Not really. “It just takes some getting used to, I suppose,” he sighed. 

“That people actually want you around?” 

He didn’t answer. It had been so long since anyone had given a damn about what he did. Where he went. What happened to him. 

Feyre stood up and he half expected her to slap him on the back of the head, but she didn’t. Instead, she hugged him tightly. 

“If the Mother is kind,” she said, “you’ll end up as my brother-in-law, Lucien. I love you, you moron.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, hugging her back. “I love you too. You're like the annoying little sister I never wanted."

Feyre elbowed him in the ribs.

"But you’re still not coming with me.”

Feyre pulled back and glared at him. 

“Look," he justified, "if we both go, and Mother forbid something happens to both of us, the others will have no idea what became of us."

She rested her hand against her hip as she contemplated. “Well, I can’t deny that you’ve got a point there. But I still don’t like the idea of you going in there alone.”

Lucien rubbed his temples. "You're my High Lady," he declared. "If you tell me not to go, I won't."

She stiffened. "I'm not Tamlin. I'm not going to give you an order and expect you to follow it, no questions asked. If you think it's best you go alone, I trust your judgment. I'm not thrilled about it, though, just so you know."

“Noted,” Lucien replied as he crawled into the tent with a yawn. “I’ll be fine.”

“You’d better be. I don’t want to have to be the one to tell Elain anything to the contrary.”

Lucien didn’t reply right away. He sat in the little tent, one foot folded beneath him and his arm resting on his other knee. He felt obligated to get those wings back to Rhysand. He had shown Lucien so much kindness and had welcomed him into his family. The least Lucien could do was retrieve those wings for Rhys to give a proper burial... or whatever it was he needed to do for them to be at peace. 

But he wouldn’t put himself at unnecessary risk. Not now. In the past, he would have, but now he finally had someone who was waiting for him. If he didn’t come back...

No. That wasn’t an option. He would ensure that no matter what happened, he made it back to her. 

“If you’re not going to sleep,” he said to Feyre, “toss me your bedroll.”

She nudged the pack with her foot until he could reach it. He unclipped her bedroll from the pack and after spreading his out on the cold, frozen ground, he tucked Feyre’s underneath his head as a pillow. 

He lay on his back staring up at the canvas of the tent and wondered if he should try to communicate with Elain through the bond. To tell her that he wasn’t coming straight back. He’d promised her that he would be home in a few days. He decided against it, not wanting her to worry. She would likely be angry at him for not telling her, but he’d rather her be angry after the fact than to worry the entire time. 

What surprised Lucien was the lack of nerves at seeing Tamlin again. He had expected to feel anxious about going back to his former home, but he found that he just didn’t care whether Tamlin was furious with him or not. Lucien had given some of his best years to Tamlin, remaining loyal and devoted to his friend. But Tamlin had never been appreciative and as such, had lost Lucien’s loyalty. So Tamlin could rage at Lucien’s reappearance if he wanted to. It made little difference anymore. 

Lucien didn’t remember falling asleep, but when he opened his eyes, it was dark. He heard hushed voices talking outside the tent as he packed up his bedroll and fastened it to his pack. Outside the tent, Feyre and Azriel were talking quietly. 

“Oh, good you’re awake,” Feyre remarked. “I was just about to wake you. Azriel is going to take you back to Prythian.”

“But—”

“I know you’re going back to Spring first,” Feyre interrupted. “But if you let Azriel get you across the ocean, you can save most of your strength and not have to winnow the whole way.”

Lucien couldn’t argue with that logic, so he simply nodded his agreement. They made quick work of disassembling the tent and stowing it in Feyre’s pack.

“We’ll leave whenever you’re ready,” Azriel told him. 

“No use waiting around,” Lucien said with a grimace. 

Feyre gave him a swift firm hug. “What do you want me to tell Elain?”

“The truth,” Lucien said. “I won’t be long. I promise.”

“If you run into any problems—”

“I’ll tell Elain,” he avowed. “She can let someone know.”

Feyre nodded, satisfied. 

She spread her own wings, preparing to take flight when they did. 

“Feyre,” Lucien called just as Azriel took to the sky. 

She glanced at him to let him know she’d heard. 

“Don’t tell Rhys yet,” Lucien requested. “In case something goes wrong and I can’t get them.”

“No, he needs to know,” she countered. “Even if you can’t get them, he needs to know what you’re willing to do.”

She didn’t wait for Lucien to argue as she winnowed into nothingness. Azriel alternated between flying and winnowing until they were across the sea and once again on solid ground. He’d landed just below the Spring Court borders, where the wall would have been if it still stood. 

“Are you sure you want to do this alone?” Azriel asked him. “I can keep to the shadows and could get the wings out without him knowing.”

“No,” Lucien shook his head. “But thank you. We both don’t need to be away at the same time.”

Azriel nodded, understanding what Lucien meant. He wanted Azriel in Velaris, close to Elain. She had the others and her sisters, but Azriel was her closest friend amongst the Circle. 

“If you need help, tell her,” Azriel said. “I’ll get here as quickly as I can.”

Azriel extended a hand to Lucien, who gripped his forearm as Azriel gripped his. Lucien nodded gravely and turned to face the woods that he knew just as well as those in Autumn. He turned around once but Azriel was already gone. 

Chapter Text

The Spring Court was so much quieter than Lucien remembered. Granted, it had always had a peaceful isolation about it, but this seemed like a much more unnatural quiet. Lucien could understand why Feyre had struggled here. This was the kind of place where someone could drown in their own thoughts if they let themselves become carried away. Velaris was full of vibrant colors and laughter and energy. It was exactly what she had needed to bring her broken spirit back to life. 

Lucien stalked quietly through the trees, avoiding paths he knew were monitored by sentries. He wasn’t sure how many Tamlin had anymore or how frequently they patrolled, but Lucien thought it best to take routes that were less traveled. 

Even taking the more tangled, overgrown paths, Lucien reached the manor in under a day. He was grateful that he had slept most of the previous day. Traveling through the woods at night was more dangerous but less likely to be picked up by sentries. It wasn’t yet noon by the time he saw the manor in the distance. 

It looked as serene as a painting. The servants must still be around since it looked like nothing was out of place. The gardens were still meticulously maintained and Lucien couldn’t help but think of how much Elain would love it here. There were fields of wildflowers as far as the eye could see. The manor gardens alone would probably leave her speechless. He wished that things had worked out differently so he could bring her here to marvel at the endless spring. 

Lucien had been thinking about how he wanted to approach the manor the entire time he’d stalked through the forest. He knew the land and the layout of the house well enough and was confident that he could sneak in and out without being caught. But he was no lowly thief. Not that the wings were Tamlin’s rightful property to begin with, but Lucien was not going to skulk in and out like a bandit in the night. Regardless of what the outcome was, he was going to confront this lingering tension with Tamlin. 

So he marched right up the gravel road leading to the manor, up the stairs, and through the front door. 

One of the maids saw him first. She was a woodland faerie like Alis. He recognized her—her name was Dryzi and she had a daughter who worked in the kitchens and happened to make the best cherry cordial pie in all of Prythian. Lucien had made it a point when he’d lived here to learn all of the servants’ names. Dryzi let out a tiny gasp of surprise and rushed off, no doubt to alert Tamlin. 

Lucien sighed. Whether he was ready for this or not, the time to turn back had long since passed. He didn’t wait in the foyer for Dryzi to reach Tamlin. Rather, he climbed the stairs and went in search of him himself. The dining room had been empty when Lucien passed by it, so chances were Tamlin was either in his room or in his study. 

Lucien opted to check Tamlin’s room first since that’s where the wings were anyway. He slowly creaked the door to Tamlin’s room open but it was empty. The wings were splayed wide in a glass case against the wall opposite Tamlin’s bed. Lucien’s lip curled at the sight of them on display, like a hunter’s trophy.

He approached the case and studied it, trying to figure out the best way to remove the wings and transport them without damaging them any further, all the while listening for any sounds of movement outside the door. 

He peered around the room, looking for something to wrap the wings in once he’d removed them from the case. Lucien retrieved one of the spare sheets from a chest of drawers and laid it out flat on the floor. 

The sun shone in through the window, illuminating the thin layer of dust across the duvet. Tamlin clearly hadn’t slept in here for some time. Lucien found that odd and foreboding. If Tamlin wasn’t sleeping in his own room, where was he? Even though he felt no allegiance left to Tamlin, Lucien automatically worried for him. It was hard—so hard—to suppress that worry and concern that had become second nature. For so long, Lucien’s first priority had been the safety of the Spring Court’s borders and its High Lord. His duty had been diplomatic relations with the other courts, but it went unsaid that he was expected to be willing to lay down his life to protect the High Lord. It wasn’t something he could switch off, especially being back in his old home. 

Lucien reminded himself why he was here and turned his attention back on the wings. They were each pinned to the back wall of the case with a dozen straight pins. He opened the case and carefully removed the pins from the first set of wings. He pulled them away from the backing, encountering some slight resistance from the sheer number of years the wings had been suspended on display. 

He set them down as gently as possible on the sheet and then seemed to reconsider. Crouching down, he tried to manipulate the wings to fold in as he’d seen Rhys and the others do when they were in tight spaces. Though they were slightly stiff, the long arm of the wing bent easily and Lucien folded the wings in as tightly as he dared without damaging them. He took down the second pair, slightly smaller than the first. These must have been Rhysand’s sister's. 

Lucien forced down the bile that rose in his throat as he forced the thought from his mind. Of them being shorn off that poor girl’s back. Once he’d gotten those wings folded and tucked next to the first pair, he rolled the sheet up tightly around the wings, tucking in corners to ensure they were secured and protected from the elements. He withdrew a length of rope from his pack and tied it securely around the bundle. 

He tied the bundle tightly to his pack and slung it on his back, testing the weight. The wings were awkward but manageable. He slipped out of Tamlin’s room and closed the door quietly behind him, making his way back down the hall toward the stairs.

When he rounded the corner into the hallway, the door to the upstairs study opened and the High Lord of the Spring Court stepped out. 

He paled when he saw Lucien standing in the hall. A soft snarl ripped from his throat as loathing filled his emerald eyes. He didn’t look as disheveled as he had during the Treaty renegotiation, but he still looked a bit threadbare. His tunic was more of a muted green instead of the vibrant and bold colors he used to wear. 

“What are you doing here?” Tamlin asked, every word clipped and icy. 

“Hello, Tam,” Lucien said tentatively, palms out to him. 

“Don’t ‘hello Tam’ me.”

Lucien’s eyes darted past Tamlin, assessing the distance to the stairs and how long it would take Tamlin to catch him if he ran. He could probably outrun Tamlin on foot, but not once the High Lord transformed into the beast that lived beneath his skin. He remembered Feyre’s horrified wonder when he’d first told her that Tamlin had gone off to hunt the Bogge after Lucien had told her he couldn’t kill it. T amlin was, above all else, the High Lord of this territory. His power outstretched Lucien’s by a longshot. Even if he could beat him, Lucien desperately wanted to avoid a fight. 

Tamlin seemed to finally notice the bundled up sheet tied to Lucien’s back. His eyes darted to his bedroom door and back to Lucien. 

“Where exactly are you going with those,” he snarled. 

“I’m taking them back where they belong.” Lucien’s voice was firm and strong, betraying none of the anxiety that was roiling in his gut. 

Tamlin’s lip curled with disgust. “Is life comfortable for you in the Night Court? Have you found yourself a nice, cushy position among Rhysand’s pets?”

There it was. The root of Tamlin’s wrath. It wasn’t Lucien he was furious with but the fact that he’d made friends with Tamlin’s sworn enemy. 

“Rhys actually gives a shit about his people,” he retorted. “You used to. I’m not sure when that changed.”

“You’re a backstabbing turncoat, Lucien.” Tamlin’s eyes raged with hate. “And now you’ve snuck back here just to steal from me.”

“I gave you everything, Tam,” Lucien said wearily, his words laced with pain. He hated how centuries of friendship had withered to little more than ash in the inferno of Tamlin’s rage. “Everything I was, everything I had in me. You gave me sanctuary when I had nowhere else to go. And for decades, over a century, I felt indebted to you. I would have done anything you asked me to. If it had come down to it, I would have gone over the wall and laid down my life to give you the chance to break your curse. I never asked for anything in return, aside from your friendship.”

“You were my friend, Lucien,” Tamlin spat. “For over two godsdamned centuries, you were my only friend.”

“You’re right, I was. But that ended the night you refused to complete the Rite." And as the words came out of his mouth, Lucien realized that was indeed when his allegiance to Tamlin had fractured and broken. "The night you willingly sent me into that cave with that hellspawn bitch.”

“I couldn’t— The Rite had to be completed. And as your High Lord—”

“Yes,” Lucien scoffed, “as my High Lord, it was your right to delegate orders. But as my friend, I never would have believed you could do that to me. You knew how much I hated her.”

Tamlin just glowered at him, claws extending from his fingertips. 

“But you’re not my High Lord anymore,” Lucien said resolutely. “The High Lord I serve now doesn’t enforce rank or outdated traditions. He cares more about his people than his station.”

At the mention of Rhys, Tamlin’s claws fully extended and his teeth lengthened to fangs. Lucien slowly slipped the pack off his back, gently setting it down to avoid crushing the wings. 

“I bet you helped her, didn’t you?” Tamlin growled. “When you weren’t fucking her, I bet you helped her destroy my court from the inside out. Does Rhysand know? Does your beloved new High Lord know that you had your hands all over his mate while she was playing spy for him? What about your own mate? Does she know you fucked her sister?”

That was Lucien’s breaking point.  “Do you even hear yourself?!” He exploded. “You are so obsessed with her! You’re blaming everyone but yourself! It's over! Let it go and move on!”

Tamlin took an involuntary step back as flames appeared over Lucien’s balled fists. Tamlin’s growl was bloodthirsty as his own hands were replaced by massive furry paws. Lucien didn’t want to fight Tamlin. It made him sick that their centuries-long friendship had come to this. But he was done trying to play nice with him. To toe the line, walking on eggshells to avoid stoking his wrath. Feyre had deliberately left her shields down, letting Tamlin’s rage hurt her. Perhaps that was the only way Tamlin could see the consequences of his temper. 

Tamlin leaped at Lucien once he’d fully transformed into the horned beast covered in fur. He roared his fury as he swiped at Lucien, who ducked underneath the lethal paw. Lucien was waiting when Tamlin spun around to strike again, causing him to yelp in pain as his paw collided with Lucien’s flaming fist. 

Lucien misjudged how long it would take Tamlin to recover from the blow and wasn’t prepared when Tamlin tackled him, sending them both tumbling down the stairs. The servant from earlier was dusting in the foyer and scurried out of the way. 

Both of them were able to effectively block the others blows, each familiar with the other’s tactics, having trained together for centuries. Lucien knew his strength would give out eventually—he couldn’t beat Tamlin and he could only hold him at bay for so long. He tried to summon the blinding light of Day to disorient Tamlin, but it seemed freeing Vassa the day before had spent that energy and he couldn’t summon it on command. That would take practice... and time he didn’t have right now. 

Tamlin leaped at him again and Lucien sent a ball of flames at him. The odor of singed fur burned his nostrils. Lucien had deliberately aimed for Tamlin’s flank instead of a direct hit to his chest. 

“You’re holding back,” Tamlin seethed. It was a statement, not a question. 

“I don’t want to hurt you, Tamlin,” Lucien protested. 

“You already have!” Tamlin roared. “So why don’t you just finish it? Or are you too craven? You know the dance well, Lucien, you just don't have the balls to deal the killing blow.”

Anyone else would have taken Tamlin’s words as an insult, but Lucien knew better. It was a tactic Tamlin had used when they would train together. Whenever Lucien would tire, his attacks waning and lacking conviction, Tamlin would goad him to stoke his rage and adrenaline. It always worked to give Lucien that last push he’d needed to finish the fight. 

Tamlin wanted Lucien to keep fighting him. To hurt him, maybe even kill him. No matter what he’d done, Tamlin had been his friend once. He would never willingly take his life unless it was absolutely unavoidable. He took a step toward the banister where his pack rested but Tamlin growled and blocked his path. 

The flames surrounding Lucien’s hands flickered and died. 

“Do it,” Tamlin ordered. 

“I’m not going to kill you, Tam,” Lucien panted. He'd barely recovered his energy from breaking Vassa's curse the day before. This fight with Tamlin had drained him of whatever meager energy he had recovered. 

“Do it!” 

Lucien just shook his head sadly. Tamlin snarled, still in his beast form, as he swiped at Lucien, the force of the blow slamming him back against the wall, his elbow punching a hole through the canvas hanging there. One of the pieces of art Feyre had admired during her initial days here. 

“Coward!” Tamlin roared. “Fight back!”

He raised one massive furred paw, claws fully extended. 

“You blame everyone else for your own misery, but you can’t see the role you played in all of it,” Lucien rasped. 

He blocked most of the blows Tamlin threw at him, but a few found their mark. Blood filled Lucien’s mouth as Tamlin’s paw swiped across his face. His jaw was definitely dislocated. Though Lucien couldn’t help but notice that Tamlin had retracted his claws before landing that blow. As if he wasn’t willing to add to the scars that already marred Lucien’s face.

“You claimed you loved her, but you never once paid attention to what she needed,” Lucien went on, blocking about half the blows as Tamlin’s attack persisted. “And you’re right. I was craven for not helping her. Because I was afraid of you. Of your retribution for going against your orders.” 

Blow. Block.

Blow. Blow. Block. 

“You blame Rhys,” Lucien wheezed, his vision swimming as Tamlin's most recent blow almost assuredly broke his nose. “You blame me. When are you going to look in the mirror and blame yourself?”

Blow. Crack!

Tamlin’s paw collided with Lucien’s ribs, causing him to double over as he grunted in pain. Tamlin swiped his paw again, this time at Lucien’s feet, bringing him crashing down to the floor. 

“Go ahead,” Lucien goaded. “Kill me. Prove I’m right.”

Tamlin roared and bent his head low to the ground, using his horns to punt Lucien across the marble floor of the foyer. Lucien winced as he slammed against the wall. He pushed himself up, his arms buckling beneath him. He looked up at Tamlin, whose eyes were full of rage and hate. Lucien’s arms gave out and he collapsed, spitting blood onto the sparkling marble floor. 

Being passive never worked with Tamlin. Fighting him wouldn't make him see reason either. The only way Tamlin would ever let Lucien leave alive is if he felt guilty. 

As quickly as it had escalated, Tamlin’s rage seemed to deflate. His fur had begun to recede beneath his skin, the horns disappearing and the claws retracting. 

“She was dying here, Tam. And neither one of us did anything to stop it. I wish you could see how happy she is. So full of joy and life.”

Lucien clutched his ribs. He was certain that several were bruised—a few may even be broken. 

“If you really loved her,” he went on, “you wouldn’t care how she found happiness or with whom. You’d just be glad that she’s happy.”

Tamlin looked as if he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to scream or be sick. Finally, when not a single trace remained of the beast that lurked beneath his skin, Tamlin extended a hand to Lucien. 

“I’m sorry,” he said thickly. 

Lucien swatted the hand away and got to his feet on his own, wincing in pain. “Yeah, I know. You always are.”

Tamlin had the decency to at least look somewhat ashamed. 

“How about trying to stop doing things to be sorry for,” Lucien said, his voice clipped. It was a vicious cycle with Tamlin. He was always sorry after his rage. He would promise he’d be better, would get his temper under control... until something else invoked his ire. And then it all started over again. Lucien was through with it. He limped past Tamlin and up to the first landing of the staircase, where he’d discarded his pack. He grimaced as he replaced the pack on his shoulders and gingerly made his way back down the stairs. 

“I’m sorry,” Tamlin said again. He didn’t try to stop Lucien from walking to the front door. 

Lucien glanced back at his former friend when he pulled the mahogany door open. 

“Try for some humility, Tam,” he begged. “You were a good male once. I want to believe you can be again. But until you admit your own shortcomings, it’ll never happen. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t want to see you wither away and die alone. I hope you can get back to the male you used to be... but either way, we're done.”

Tamlin didn’t reply as he watched, expressionless, as Lucien walked out of the manor, his head held high, clutching his ribs. 

Lucien didn’t encounter a single sentry as he made his way to the cave that Feyre had told him to use. The cave that would take him out of Spring and into Autumn. From there, once he had healed and his strength returned, he could winnow home. 

Chapter Text

Elain was tending her garden when Nesta burst through the patio door. 

“Feyre’s back,” she announced. 

Elain’s heart began beating wildly as she immediately untied her apron and began compulsively smoothing out the wrinkles of her skirt. Ridiculous, since he didn’t give the slightest care to the state of her dress. 

Nesta noticed how flustered her sister was and her expression softened. “Just Feyre,” she said gently. 

A deep sense of foreboding fell over Elain. Where was he? Why hadn’t he come back with Feyre? And most of all, why hadn’t he told her through their bond that he wasn’t coming back with her sister? Perhaps he couldn't talk through their bond. Perhaps he was hurt or—

A wave of nausea hit her so hard she staggered back a few steps. No. No, he couldn't have died. Surely, she would have felt something. She tugged on the bond and though it was faint from the vast distance between them, it was still there. He was alive at least.

“Is he okay?” She silently begged the Mother for forgiveness for hoping he was delayed due to injury. The alternative—that he’d remained on the continent with that firebird queen—was too much to bear. 

“I’m not sure,” Nesta answered honestly. “Feyre can probably explain better than I can.”

She held out her hand, which Elain accepted, her own hand trembling and clammy. Nesta squeezed it reassuringly and they both went inside. 

To her credit, Nesta had been true to her word and had tried. The day before, they had eaten lunch together at the seafood restaurant that had become Elain's favorite. Over lunch, Nesta had asked questions and listened raptly, not interrupting or scoffing once. She was either putting on an excellent front or was genuinely interested in the things Elain had to say about her mate. 

Though she doubted Nesta had any true concern for Lucien’s wellbeing, Elain appreciated the regard her sister showed, if only for her sake. 

Feyre had barely set her pack down before Elain was upon her. 

“Before you ask,” Feyre began wearily, “he’s fine.”

Elain let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. 

“Well, let me rephrase,” Feyre corrected herself, the pit in Elain’s stomach immediately returning. “He was fine when I last saw him.”

“Where is he?” The force behind her question took both of her sisters by surprise. Nesta averted her eyes from Elain’s piercing stare while Feyre’s eyebrows arched. 

“Somewhere in the Spring Court, I expect,” Feyre answered nonchalantly. 

“Wh—what?” Elain spluttered. “Spring? Why would he go back there?”

Just then, Rhys came down the stairs, the broad smile from the return of his mate vanishing at the mention of Tamlin’s court. 

“Yes, please enlighten us,” Rhys requested darkly. He looked deeply troubled and a little hurt.

Feyre glanced at him and though she didn’t speak, the change in Rhysand’s expression told Elain they were communicating through their bond. Rhys’s eyes suddenly went wide as the color drained from his face. 

Nesta exchanged a worried glance with Elain, who just shrugged. 

“Feyre,” Elain said sternly. “Why is Lucien in the Spring Court alone?”

Rhysand cleared his throat. “Elain, Nesta, would you kindly excuse us for a moment?”

Nesta had already begun moving toward the staircase, but Elain remained firmly planted in place. She was determined not to let her nerves get the better of her, keeping her voice steady as she said, “Respectfully, Rhysand... no. If it has to do with my mate, I deserve to know.”

To her surprise, Rhys looked at Elain with approval and gave her a tiny nod. “Very well, but—”

“Elain will just tell me whatever you tell to her...” Nesta had backtracked down the stairs and stood next to Elain. Even as she spoke, she looked uncertainly at her sister. “Won’t you?”

Elain was tempted to say that she wouldn’t. That she had been so nasty to Lucien for so long that she didn’t deserve to know. But Nesta was trying. 

“Of course I will,” Elain said, earning a sigh of relief from her older sister. 

Rhysand exhaled long and loudly, signaling his defeat. “Fine, fine,” he grumbled. He motioned to Feyre to tell her sisters what she clearly had already told him through the bond. 

“A long, long time ago, Tamlin and Rhys were friends. But Tamlin betrayed Rhys and with his father and brothers, Tamlin murdered Rhys’s mother and sister,” Feyre began. 

A deep crease formed between Elain’s brows as Nesta murmured, “What does this have to do with Lucien?”

“I’m getting to that,” Feyre barked. “When they were found, their wings had been shorn off. When Rhys sought justice for them, he wasn’t able to locate the wings at the Spring Court manor.”

Elain shuddered as she thought about those poor females who’d had their wings cut from them. She hoped the Mother had shown mercy and that their wings had at least been cut off after death and not before. Nesta looked like she might be physically ill. 

“When I was back in Spring after you two were Made,” Feyre explained, “I searched for the wings, but I couldn’t find them. Tamlin told me he’d burned them long ago.”

Nesta’s eyes were wide, hanging on to every syllable of Feyre’s story. Elain kept glancing over at Rhys for any indication of discomfort but he showed none. Feyre did say he was always so collected, keeping the things that haunted him buried inside.

“When I flew Lucien up to the House for his birthday dinner, he told me that Tamlin hadn’t burned the wings. That they were on display in his room like some gruesome trophy.”

“Barbarian,” Nesta hissed. 

Elain didn’t bother trying to hide the disgust from her face. Hunting trophies were one thing... but these had been people, not animals.

“After we broke Vassa’s curse,” Feyre continued, “Lucien insisted that he was going to Spring before coming back here. He said he wasn’t coming back without those wings. So, I assume that’s where he is now.”

Elain’s mouth fell open in silent surprise. She remembered when Feyre had told her about feeling so many emotions upon learning that Rhysand was her mate that even the Suriel couldn’t read her. She suddenly understood and imagined that if it had been present in the sitting room of that townhouse, the Suriel wouldn’t be able to get an accurate read on her either. 

She was moved, feeling a surge of affection and reveling in the selflessness and kindness of her mate. He was always so willing to put himself in harm's way for others. Which made her terrified for him and furious at him for going alone. His relationship with Tamlin was unstable, to say the least, and going into his court alone put Lucien at great risk. If he was caught... Elain bit back the sob that threatened to escape her. 

Feyre’s head snapped in her direction anyway. She left Rhysand’s side and came over to Elain, pulling her into a tight embrace. 

“He will be fine,” Feyre assured her. “He didn’t wear that fox mask just for show fifty years ago. He’s clever.”

Elain took a deep, shuddering breath. Nesta was staring at a spot on the carpet, silent and brooding. 

“Oh, and Vassa is never to set foot in this court,” Feyre added, turning back to her own mate. Her words dripped with authority and venom. “I’d prefer it if she never came back to Prythian, but I can’t control that. However, I made it quite clear that if she comes into this court, it will be the last thing she ever does.”

“What did she do?”

Feyre considered for a moment and said, “It’s not my story to tell. But if she ever comes near any member of my family again, I’ll kill her myself.”

Elain’s blood turned to ice at Feyre’s tone. “What did she do,” Elain asked again, more forcefully. 

Feyre just shook her head. Elain was frustrated, but also a little grateful. She wouldn’t want anyone telling her business if she didn’t want them to. But her worry for her mate was magnifying by the minute. 

Nesta finally cleared her throat, shaking her head as if she was pulling herself out of deep thought. “Why...”

“Why what?” Feyre asked. 

“Why would he do that? Risk his life to bring back those wings?” She looked at Rhys apologetically. “Not that I’m saying they shouldn’t be retrieved, but... why Lucien? He had no personal connection to them at all.”

Elain drew in a breath, prepared to defend him, but Feyre answered before she could. “Because that’s just the kind of person Lucien is. He is loyal to a fault and puts the needs of everyone else above his own.”

The color drained from Nesta’s face. “But—but, Tamlin could kill him. And...” She gestured to Elain. 

Feyre only nodded, a grim smile pulling at her mouth. Nesta gave Elain a horrified look and murmured, “I—I'm sorry. I didn’t know.”

Elain just gave her sister a small nod of understanding, her thumb pushing the ring around her finger out of habit. The ring. 

Right.

“Nesta?” Elain asked tentatively. Her sister looked up but didn’t say anything else. “Will you and Feyre come with me? There’s something I need to do.”

Feyre’s eyes lingered on the ring that Elain was still fiddling with and then shot up to her sister’s face. Elain smiled at her. 

“We’ll be back shortly,” Feyre told Rhys and after giving him a quick kiss, she followed Nesta and Elain out the door. 

As they walked, Elain explained to Nesta about her ring and why she hadn’t taken it off. 

“I wish you had told me,” Nesta bemoaned. “I wouldn’t have—”

Both of her sisters were looking at her with arched eyebrows and doubtful expressions. 

“Okay, well, I still would have been hard on him, but not this hard. If I had known... I didn't want him talking to you or trying to sway you in any one direction. I thought you still loved Graysen." 

“Oh, Cauldron no!” Elain exclaimed. 

Nesta made a sound of frustration. "All this time, I’ve thought you wouldn't take the ring off because you still hated it here and wanted to go back to our mortal lives.”

“At first, yes, but... going back now would feel like returning to a world void of color and laughter and beauty.”

Feyre nodded her agreement. 

“Elain, I am so... so sorry!” Nesta cried, clutching her sister’s arm tightly as she practically dragged Elain through town. 

They waved and said hello to those who spoke to them and moments later, they stood on the stone bridge that crossed over the river. 

Elain took a deep breath and savored the tinge of salt in the air. She could see Deidre’s shop from where she stood and on the other side of the river, she spotted the cafe where she and Lucien had eaten scallops. That was the day when she first heard his despair about the ring through their bond. She took a long, lingering look out at the city she had come to love as her home before she stepped forward, leaning slightly against the stone railing. 

As she slipped the ring off her finger, she eyed the strip of leather tied around her wrist. It was on this bridge that he had tied that same strip around her hair, making her shiver from his gentle touch. She shivered now, both at the memory and against the biting breeze that had picked up, as if the very wind was remembering that day as well. 

She suddenly wondered why she had waited so long to do this. She should have done it the night before he left for the continent with Feyre. No... she should have done it long before then. She should have done it on the night of the autumn equinox after they'd shared a breathless kiss. She hadn't been willing to admit it at the time, but that was the night she wanted her heart to belong to him. What if she had done it then? How different would things be today, she wondered. 

Stop, he had told her. Told her not to let her mind drive her mad with ‘what ifs.’ She could do nothing with what might have been. What could be now was entirely up to her, though. Wherever he was now, she hoped he could hear her when she whispered through their bond, Come home. Come home to me.

Elain turned around and what she saw made her heart fuller than it already was. Nesta and Feyre were standing behind her, arms linked together, both smiling at her. She let out a tiny gasp of surprise when she heard—no, felt his reply through the bond. 

Wild horses, dove.

She turned back to the river, let out a deep breath, and threw the ring as far as she could into the calm black waters of the Sidra. 

Chapter Text

Lucien was exhausted. He was curled around a measly fire in the cave he and Feyre had run to so many months ago. He had debated whether or not to use it to travel to Autumn, but decided that of the two courts, he was safer in Spring. 

He doubted Tamlin would send anyone after him, but if he’d gone to Autumn, he was sure his brothers would come sooner or later. Possibly not Eris, since it seemed he was finally growing a backbone and standing up to Beron. But the others were bloodthirsty savages that wouldn’t be satisfied until Lucien no longer breathed. 

Which he was having a hard time doing at the present. Every breath sent searing pain through his ribs. At least two were definitely broken, and half a dozen more were bruised. He could have healed himself, but he worried that he wouldn’t have enough energy left to winnow. Even then, he doubted his ability to winnow more than a mile or two at a time in his current condition. Tamlin had effectively beaten the shit out of him. 

But he had let it happen. Just as Feyre had. Tamlin had to see the consequences of his rage with his own eyes in order for him to ever learn from it. Even then, Lucien doubted whether he would change. Some things just festered and burrowed too deep to ever be fully undone.

He had been resigned to wait in this pathetic cave for a few days until his ribs had begun to heal before trying to go back to the Night Court... until he heard her. 

Come home. Come home to me. 

He bolted to his feet and winced sharply. 

“Not smart, Lucien,” he said aloud as he gingerly lowered himself back down to the ground. 

To hell with waiting for his ribs to heal. He would winnow through the pain. It was a small price to pay for the reward that waited for him in Velaris. He tried to stand again, but his vision swam and the contents of his stomach threatened to resurface. 

He took several deep breaths until the nausea subsided. Peering out of the cave opening, he could see it was starting to get dark. It wouldn’t be wise to travel at night, injury or no injury, and especially in the Autumn Court. He forced himself to untie his bedroll from his rucksack and spread it out on the cave floor. He delicately rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. 

Before he drifted off into a night of fitful sleep, he sent a short reply through the bond, just so she would know he heard her. 

Wild horses, dove.

He had promised that even those couldn’t keep him from her. And if they couldn’t, neither would a few broken ribs.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Lucien woke only a few hours later to a hand covering his mouth. Instinctively, he snatched one of the daggers from his baldric, sending searing pain shooting through his chest. The stranger countered the blade with one of his own.

“Shh!” Azriel hissed, slowly lowering his hand from Lucien’s mouth. 

The Illyrian was crouched down, his wings splayed out wide enough that they blocked Lucien’s view of the cave mouth. 

“Azriel? What are you doing here?” Lucien winced as he sat up.

“Feyre sent me,” he breathed, sheathing Truth Teller without a sound. “What the hell happened to you?”

Lucien clutched his side as he stood up gingerly. “Tamlin.”

Azriel only nodded. Lucien was suddenly grateful that Feyre had sent him and not Cassian, who no doubt would have wanted to hear all the details. But Azriel only eyed Lucien’s pack in the corner, the bundle of wings still tied securely to it. 

“How bad is it?”

“A couple broken ribs,” Lucien answered. “Some bruised. The sonofabitch dislocated my jaw too but I handled that.”

“How were you planning to get back like this?”

“Winnow through the pain. I didn’t care,” Lucien muttered. 

“You’d have been near dead by the time you made it back to Velaris,” Azriel said. 

“It would have been worth it..."

"Not if you didn't make it back."

"So, why did Feyre send you all the way here?”

“I believe her exact words were, ‘I don’t care if he’s gotten the wings yet or not. Go bring that stubborn jackass back here immediately.’” Azriel gave him a wry smile. “I didn’t think it prudent to disobey a direct order from my High Lady.”

“No, that would have been most unwise,” Lucien agreed. 

Azriel had folded his wings in tightly behind him and was peering out of the cave entrance.  “You weren’t followed?”

“I think Tamlin might have withdrawn his sentries for the night. Or told them not to come after me in any case.”

Confusion fell over Azriel’s face. “Why would he do that?”

“Because I made him feel like shit,” Lucien answered. “So the least he could do is let me leave his territory without interference.”

“How positively diplomatic of him.”

“Tell me about it,” Lucien grumbled. 

Azriel seemed to be considering. “Can you heal yourself?”

Lucien winced, as if the mention of his injury caused his broken ribs to throb extra painfully. “I can, but then I won’t be able to winnow.”

“Do it,” Azriel commanded. “I can winnow us both back.”

“You’re sure?” Lucien sounded skeptical, but Azriel nodded as his seven Siphons glowed blue. 

“There’s no point in you struggling in pain for days when I can get us back in an hour,” Azriel insisted.

Lucien couldn’t exactly argue with that logic. He grit his teeth and focused his energy on his aching ribs. It took less than a minute. He breathed in and upon exhaling, his chest didn’t sear with pain. He bent over to pick up his pack, Azriel watching him carefully. 

Lucien offered the pack to Azriel. After all, there were Illyrian wings wrapped up and bound to it. Lucien didn’t know all of the etiquettes around their wings, but it seemed right to offer for an Illyrian to return them home. 

Azriel held up a scarred hand and shook his head. “Absolutely not. You took a beating to retrieve those wings. It should be you who returns them to Rhys.”

Lucien shouldered the pack as Azriel made a comment about extinguishing the remnants of the fire, just to ensure they erased as many traces of their presence as possible. Lucien nodded and using the power bestowed upon him through his mother, he drew the very last spark out of the smoldering embers, leaving nothing more than a few bits of charred wood. 

Azriel nodded his satisfaction and extended his hand. “Come on,” he said as he jerked his head north. “Best not keep her waiting.”

As he grasped the Illyrian’s arm, Lucien knew it wasn’t Feyre he was referring to.

Chapter Text

The journey back to Velaris had been quick, just as Azriel promised. When they reached the townhouse, Azriel was barely winded whereas Lucien would have been too exhausted to stand.

He was looking for her even before Azriel opened the front door. Her scent was everywhere. A lingering trace of it had clung to him when they had left for the continent but each passing day it had grown fainter. It had all but faded completely by the time he was huddled in that cave Azriel found him in. But now it was surrounding him, making it hard to focus on anything else. He automatically peered through the patio door, but her little garden was empty.

Several pairs of footsteps came thundering down the stairs and a moment later, Feyre, Rhysand, and Nesta appeared in the foyer. 

Feyre didn’t hesitate—she strode across the hall and embraced him tightly. When she pulled back, she noticed the large bundle tied carefully to his pack. “You got them,” she breathed. 

Lucien only nodded as he slid his rucksack off his shoulder and carefully untied the delicate bundle. He left them wrapped in the sheet, feeling like unwrapping them would be somehow disrespectful, and extended them to Rhys. “It’s long past time these were returned to you.”

Nesta, for once, remained silent as a tomb. She stood back and watched the exchange with her arms crossed and her jaw clenched. 

Rhysand approached Lucien slowly. He accepted the bundle from Lucien, holding it as gingerly as one might hold a newborn. Feyre’s eyes glistened with tears as she watched her mate. Rhys closed his eyes for a long beat, his face etched with pain and mourning. When he opened his eyes, he laid the bundle on the dining room table and extended his hand to Lucien. 

Lucien grasped Rhys’s forearm and Rhys pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. Lucien couldn’t help but be grateful that Azriel insisted he heal himself, otherwise a few more of his ribs might have broken. 

“You have no idea what this means to me,” Rhysand croaked, his voice raspy and thick. 

“Why didn’t you come straight back?” Feyre interrogated him once Rhys had released him. 

“Well, because—”

“Because Tamlin beat the shit out of him,” Azriel finished viciously, angry shadows curling over his shoulders. 

“What?!” Feyre’s mouth fell open. 

“I found him bruised and beat to hell in that cave—the one that’s the transfer point to Autumn,” Azriel said. 

“What happened?” Feyre hissed. 

Lucien shrugged in Azriel’s direction, “He pretty much covered it.”

“By the Cauldron, Lucien,” Feyre snapped, “I'm glad I asked Az to just go check and make sure you were alright. What would you have done if I hadn’t?"

“I’d have made it back... eventually.”

Feyre just shook her head incredulously. “You’re fully healed now?”

Lucien nodded. “Azriel insisted he could get us both back, so I used my power to heal myself.”

“Good,” Feyre growled. And punched his stomach. Hard. 

Lucien doubled over, more out of surprise than from pain. “What the hell was that for?!”

“For being a stubborn ass male and almost getting yourself killed!”

Lucien rubbed his abdomen as he scowled at Feyre, but the corner of his mouth was turned up in a smile. “What a homecoming. No ‘Welcome back Lucien!’ or ‘We’re glad to see you, Lucien!’ Nope, just proceed right to the ass-kicking.”

“Welcome home, asshole,” Rhys chuckled, all traces of sorrow vanished from his eyes, as if they'd never even been there. He was exceptionally good at hiding any unpleasant emotions when he needed to. 

“We are glad to see you,” Feyre added. “You just scared us.”

“Some more than others,” Nesta said, finally breaking her silence. She pushed off the banister she had been leaning against and stalked over to him. Lucien immediately tensed. 

“Where is she?” Lucien asked, not addressing any one of them in particular. 

“Out with Mor,” Nesta answered. “I think Amren went with them, so chances are they’re at a sweet shop.”

“I’ll go find them,” Azriel offered and in the blink of an eye, he vanished among the shadows. 

Nesta surveyed Lucien with an unblinking gaze. He tried not to look away from her piercing glare as he attempted to lean against the back of one of the dining room chairs. Except it was farther away than he’d anticipated and his elbow sliced through the air instead of landing firmly on the chair back, making him stagger forward. He recovered as quickly as he could, standing straight with his arms crossed over his chest. 

Nesta snorted and tried to hide the grin that pulled at her mouth. 

“Wait, are you actually smiling?” Lucien asked with wide eyes. "Feyre, quick. Speed paint it before we lose the image forever!"

But now, Feyre was the silent one, leaning against Rhys with her arm around his waist. 

“You went to retrieve those wings knowing it could have cost you your life,” Nesta said flatly. 

“Yes.”

“I told you not to die.”

“And I didn’t,” Lucien replied. 

“You came awfully close.”

“Disappointed?” 

Feyre seemed to be holding her breath. Rhys just watched, ever calculating. 

“In your lack of judgment, yes,” Nesta chastised. “But what you did for Rhysand...” 

And then Nesta did the one thing Lucien would have never expected she would do. She hugged him. 

When she came at him, arms up, he instinctively flinched. It was just a brief hug. Nothing overly emotional or particularly warm. But she hugged him. 

She released him quickly and narrowed her eyes threateningly. “If you ever tell Elain I did that, I’ll lie through my teeth. And then I’ll have Amren tear you limb from limb.”

For once, Lucien didn’t even try to joke. “I absolutely believe you,” he stated. 

“And if you ever do something that stupid again,” Nesta badgered, swatting at him as he deflected her lackluster blows, “I’ll go back to hating you. I won’t watch my sister grieve a moron.”

Lucien didn’t bother hiding his grin. He nudged her with his hip and crooned, “See, Nesta, I knew you cared.”

“Shut up...” she muttered, “...fox boy.”

Rhysand snorted. He'd been so quiet, Lucien had forgotten he was there. He looked over Feyre's shoulder, where the shadows in the corner of the room were rippling. He started when he saw Azriel emerge from them. He whispered something to Feyre, who glanced over at Lucien and nodded. 

“C’mon,” she said, taking Lucien’s arm and linking hers through it. “I want to show you something.”

“But—” Lucien protested, weakly pointing at Azriel. If Elain was on her way back...

“She specifically asked me to do this,” Feyre said firmly, guiding him toward the front door. 

“Fine,” he grumbled, letting himself be steered out the door and into the street. 

“Where are we going?” He asked once the townhouse was barely visible. He kept glancing back at it as if hoping it would suddenly shine like a beacon once she had returned to it. 

“You’ll see in a minute,” Feyre answered impatiently. 

Lucien shivered as they walked. Though the sun hadn’t fully set, it was already low enough in the sky that most of its warmth had dissipated. There was a bite in the winter air—Lucien could see his breath in tiny puffs of vapor as they walked in the cold. 

“Lucien,” Feyre said gently. “You were my first real friend in Prythian.”

Shoppers bustled past them, not giving them a second glance as they hurried around them, eager to get out of the cold. 

“And what a poor excuse for a friend I was... Actually, I think the Suriel might have been your first friend,” Lucien countered wryly. “That creature was fond of you.”

Feyre poked him. “I’m serious.”

“Okay, okay,” he prattled. “Go on.”

Feyre stopped walking and Lucien had no choice but to stop too. She surveyed him with that same unblinking gaze that Nesta had worn back at the townhouse. “Do you truly love my sister? Or—”

“Or do I feel entitled to her because she's my mate?” He guessed. 

Feyre gave him an apologetic smile, as if she didn’t want to have this conversation, but felt like it was necessary. “Well?”

Lucien sighed, taking his time to collect his thoughts before answering.

“I won't lie to you. At the very beginning, when you were still in the Spring Court, I did feel, I don’t know, like the mating bond meant that by the Mother and the Cauldron, she was for me and me alone...” He ran his hands through his long crimson hair, unbound and loose with the exception of one thin braid just above his ear. 

“But Elain is not a pet or a possession,” he went on. “She’s the most remarkable person I have ever met. And she has the right to choose. If being with someone else, or no one else for that matter, brings her joy, then... I would relinquish the mating bond. It would kill me to do it, but I would do it for her.”

“Why?” Feyre pressed. 

“Because I love her,” Lucien answered instantly. “I love her more than I’ve ever loved anyone. I love everything about her—the way she wrinkles her nose when she’s thinking about something. The way her eyes light up when she tends to her flowers. I love how gentle and caring she is. I thought about her every moment when we were on the continent. I saw her every time I closed my eyes. I want nothing more than for her to find peace and happiness… even if that means I have to give her up.”

Feyre sniffed, but Lucien couldn’t tell if it was from what he’d said or from the cold. 

“Very well,” she said. “Come with me.”

She led them down the familiar walk toward Elain’s favorite restaurant... until they were standing on the stone bridge that stretched across the Sidra. 

The Rainbow bustled with merchants and artists on the far side of the river. The late afternoon sun caught on an artist’s multi-colored glass mosaic, sending a kaleidoscope of colors across the surface of the river. 

“What are we doing here?” He asked somewhat testily. He was cold and tired and all he wanted to do was to see Elain. Still, the natural beauty of the river was infectious. Lucien leaned against the stone railing and gazed out over the river, long and winding as it stretched out to the sea.

“I thought you might like to stand in the same place she did,” Feyre offered. 

Lucien pushed off the railing and cocked his head sideways at Feyre. “What are you talking about?”

Before Feyre could answer, Elain appeared, just appeared, at the far end of the bridge. Her smile could barely be contained and her eyes were full of relief and joy. Lucien just stared at her for one long, lingering moment. 

For all his reassuring talk of how he would only be gone a few days, it felt like a lifetime had passed since he’d seen that breathtaking smile. Elain had gathered her skirts in one fist and was running toward him. Lucien just stood, frozen in place, struggling to speak. 

She stopped a foot in front of him, cheeks pink from the cold and her breath coming out in puffs. 

Lucien said the first thing that popped into his head. "You winnowed."

Of all the things to say to her after being gone for days...

She giggled and nodded. Lucien’s russet eye instinctively glanced at her left hand. The strip of leather was still tied loosely around her wrist, but her hand was totally bare. The memory Feyre had shown him came rushing back to him.

“I want him to know I did it for him."

Lucien’s heart hammered inside his chest and he silently thanked Azriel again for insisting that he heal himself. As hard as his heart was pounding against his ribs, they would have been screaming in pain otherwise. He jerked his chin toward her hand. “Where—”

“At the bottom of the Sidra,” Elain answered, tears glistening in her doe-brown eyes. 

Chapter Text

Lucien’s own eyes pricked and burned. He squeezed them shut and took several deep breaths, the bitter cold air burning his lungs. How long he had dreamed of this moment. Gods, if this was another dream, he prayed he never woke up. When he opened his eyes, Elain was still there, smiling broadly at him. 

Lucien let out a shallow breath and abruptly seized her by the waist. He wrapped his solid muscular arms around her torso and hoisted her up into the air. And on the middle of that bridge, with all of Velaris as his witness, he kissed her hard and deliberately. 

Elain wrapped her arms around his neck, returning his kiss with just as much vigor. All of his exhaustion instantly vanished. He was still disheveled from traveling, the laces on the sides of his roughspun tunic coming loose, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered except the female in his arms. 

His mate. 

Lucien held her tightly, stumbling backward slightly as she wrapped her arms tighter around him. His lower back collided painfully with the bridge’s stone railing, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. He lowered her back to the ground just as her kiss turned hungry and possessive. 

Feyre softly cleared her throat and with an enormous amount of self-restraint, Lucien pulled back from Elain. He had all but forgotten that Feyre was still there. In truth, he had forgotten where they were and was mildly surprised to remember they were on a very public bridge in the middle of the city. 

“You were starting to get quite the audience,” Feyre warned with a smug smile. 

Sure enough, several onlookers were gazing at them with expressions ranging from distaste to amusement. A group of matronly faeries were shaking their heads and whispering furiously amongst each other while a couple of younger fae males were wolf-whistling and offering a mixture of jeers and encouragement. 

Elain’s cheeks were flushed and she was breathless. Lucien was surprised to see that instead of appearing mortified at the public attention, her eyes danced with mischief and passion. She drew a corner of her lower lip between her teeth and gave him a wolfish grin. 

Stop that.

Stop what? 

Even through the bond, her voice was coy and teasing. 

Stop looking at me like that. 

Or what?

Or I’ll really give these nosy spectators a show they won’t forget.

“Hey,” Feyre said sternly. “Stop seducing each other through your bond and let’s go.”

“You and Rhys do it all the time,” Elain protested. Even so, she took Lucien’s hand and begrudgingly followed her sister off the bridge. 

Feyre laughed. “Not in the middle of a crowded street!”

Lucien never took his eyes off Elain... until he nearly tripped over a basket of fruit a merchant had sitting in front of his cart. The walk back to the townhouse seemed to take forever. He shivered when they finally walked through the front door, the wave of heat from the magic that kept the house warm an abrupt change from the frigid temperatures outside. 

“Oh, good,” Rhys said conversationally as they filed into the sitting room. “You’re back.”

“As if Feyre didn’t tell you we were on our way,” Elain chided. 

“Irrelevant,” Rhys said with a shrug. “Come on, we’re all going up to the House.”

“The House?” Lucien repeated warily. He tried to do a mental tally of the number of days he’d been gone. Surely, it wasn’t family dinner night...

“We’re amending family dinner to tonight,” Rhys said, guessing at Lucien’s confusion. “A welcome home dinner.”

“Can’t I be welcomed home here?” He groaned. 

“No,” Rhys said firmly. “I have my reasons.”

Lucien knew better than to ask what those were. Rhys would keep his reasons to himself until he was ready to divulge. 

“Fine, fine,” Lucien grumbled. “Can I at least go change?”

Feyre looked him over and made a show of pinching her nose. “And take a bath. You stink.”

“Oh, you’re hilarious,” Lucien deadpanned. 

Elain caught Feyre’s eyes and gave her a pointed, deliberate look—as if she was trying to talk to her without speaking. Her sister swiftly glided over to her and linked her arm through Elain’s. 

“Come on, I need your help with something up at the House,” Feyre said.

Elain let out a tiny indignant noise of protest, but Feyre ignored it, ushering her up the stairs and to the rooftop balcony. She was already out of sight when her voice came through the bond.

Can you believe them?

Honestly? Yes... Yes, I can. 

Elain’s giggle through the bond made him smile as Lucien climbed the stairs and pushed open the door to his room. 

Chapter Text

An hour later, everyone was up at the House, mulling around the sitting room with glasses of wine or whiskey, a handful of separate conversations occurring at the same time. 

Lucien tried not to appear disheartened that Elain was missing from their little group. Feyre told him that Elain was just taking care of something and would be joining them shortly, so Lucien just assumed it was something to do with her larger garden here at the House. 

Feyre, Amren, and Nesta were discussing some new production at the theatre that was due to open next week while Rhys and Azriel filled Cassian in on Lucien’s recovery of the wings. 

Cassian was nodding his head and looked at Lucien with approval and respect. Just then, one of the members of Rhysand’s permanent staff announced that dinner was ready, so they migrated into the dining room where the table was laden with food. 

“Shouldn’t we wait for Elain?” Lucien wondered aloud as everyone took whatever seat they happened to be closest to. No rank, no formality. He loved this. Though he noticed that Mor, who had been standing next to him and chatting with Feyre on her other side, deliberately moved to the other side of the table, leaving the chair next to his empty. 

“She’ll be along shortly,” Feyre said with an unconcerned wave of her hand. 

“I have to agree with Lucien,” Nesta remarked. "We should wait for Elain."

Cassian tossed her a concerned glance and put his hand against her forehead. “Nesta... are you ill? Do you feel faint?”

She swatted his hand away. 

“You just agreed with Lucien,” Cassian marveled. “You realize that, right?”

“Of course I do,” she rolled her eyes. 

Everyone at the table chuckled as they began serving themselves. There seemed to be more food than usual, or perhaps just different varieties. There were platters of baked chicken and roast beef. Half a dozen different vegetables and casseroles. Lucien spied a sweet potato casserole he was particularly fond of at the far end of the table. 

Perhaps it was the different array of foods or that family dinner was being held on a different night than usual, but something about this dinner just felt... different. It could also be that Elain was still missing. Lucien caught himself turning and glancing over his shoulder for the third time since they sat down. 

Finally, finally, after everyone was well into their meal, Elain emerged from the kitchens with Nuala and Cerridwen, who swiftly dissolved into smoke and shadows. It wasn’t a formal dinner by any means, yet Elain had on that orange dress with the copper butterflies. He had no idea why his pulse quickened when he saw her in that dress. Perhaps because he knew Deidre made it specifically for her with him in mind. 

Elain’s cheeks were flushed, but Lucien just assumed it was because she had been in the kitchen. She had grown fond of baking with the wraith twins. There were faint lines of flour on the edges of her dress, as if she had worn an apron but the outline had remained once she had taken it off. She carried a basket laden with steaming hot dinner rolls. 

“All this food,” Cassian said with a mouthful, “and you’re late to dinner because you had to make rolls?”

He winced as a muffled thump beneath the table suggested that Nesta’s foot had collided with Cassian’s shin, but then his eyes widened at the basket of bread in Elain’s hands. 

Everyone at the table watched Elain, but no one more carefully than Lucien. His eyes followed her from the swinging door that led to the kitchen all the way to the table. She stood between Lucien and the empty seat meant for her, his mouth going dry as he gazed up at her, at the basket in her hands. 

Elain’s smile was confident and unwavering as she offered the basket of rolls to him. “I made these for you.”

The aroma of cinnamon and dried cranberries that had been baked into the rolls was overpowered by Elain’s scent of apples and honey as tendrils of it reached out for his own. 

Lucien raised a hand slowly, deliberately, but didn’t take the basket. “You... made me food?”

Elain swallowed thickly and said, “Yes.” So much weight in one tiny little word. So much promise. 

Lucien swallowed down the lump in his own throat and accepted the basket from her, standing as he did so. He set the basket on the table and pulled her into his arms, a crumpled sigh of disbelief escaping him as he folded her into his embrace. 

Elain. His mate. 

It was too much, too overwhelming. She had already thrown her ring into the river, which she had said she would only do when she gave her heart away to a ‘deserving male,’ though he hardly felt deserving. And now... now she had formally accepted the mating bond in front of everyone who meant anything to them. 

Lucien had never understood how someone could feel they might die of happiness until that moment. 

He gripped her shoulders and held her at arms’ length so he could look into her beautiful doe-brown eyes. Eyes that were full of warmth and happiness and love. An involuntary tear escaped from Lucien’s russet eye, which Elain gently brushed aside with her velvety soft thumb.

He buried his face into her curls again, breathing in her scent of apples and honey. He wanted to drown in her scent and never come up for air.  

“Well,” Rhysand said loudly, dragging Lucien’s attention back to the table. With some effort, he forced himself to return to his seat, instead of taking Elain by the hand and disappearing with her like he wanted to. 

Elain finally sat in the chair designated for her, her hand held firmly in Lucien’s. He was unwilling to release her, as if letting go of her would shatter this miraculous illusion that couldn’t be real. 

“I suppose now is an even better time for my announcement,” Rhys said with a good-natured chuckle. 

“Announcement?” Lucien puzzled. 

Rhys’s smile faded, his features abruptly turning serious. “I think everyone already knows what you did for my family,” he said to Lucien. “But in case someone somehow missed it, let me recap for you. Lucien risked his life to return to the Spring Court manor to recover the wings of my mother and sister. He brought them home to Velaris so they could be mourned properly.”

Mor covered her hand with her mouth as Amren fixed Lucien with an intense gaze that made him shudder. They claimed she was only High Fae, but she didn’t blink enough for a normal faerie. 

“Apparently, word hadn’t fully reached everyone,” Rhys commented with an approving glance at his own mate. It seemed Feyre had kept that information to herself out of respect for Rhys no doubt.

“You could have been killed,” Mor fretted. 

“He nearly was,” Azriel said darkly. Lucien understood why Azriel was so angry about what had happened—on the journey back to the Night Court, the Illyrian had told him briefly of his early childhood. Azriel held a personal grudge against anyone who harmed someone they claimed to care for and love... and Tamlin was supposed to have been Lucien’s friend. 

Elain gasped beside him and he realized she hadn’t been made aware of any of this yet. Lucien was suddenly uncomfortable, all the attention now on him. “It wasn’t that bad,” he insisted. “A few broken ribs.”

How am I just now hearing about this?!

I’m sorry, dove. I didn’t want you to worry.

“It was bad,” Azriel muttered. Lucien met his gaze, dipping his head subtly at Elain. Azriel understood. “But he was healed straight away,” he added hastily. 

“Anyway,” Rhys cleared his throat, attempting to reign the conversation back in, “You have my gratitude, Lucien. It is a debt I may never be able to repay.”

Lucien held up his hand in protest. “I didn’t do it for you to be indebted to me.”

“I know,” Rhys said, “which is all the more reason why I will be.”

Lucien shook his head. “They deserved to be at peace.”

“And now they are,” Feyre said softly, her hand covering Rhys’s. “Because of you.”

“It isn’t even close to the value of what you’ve done for me,” Rhys declared, “but to show my gratitude, I’ve bought the townhouse four doors down from ours.”

He started at Rhys uncomprehendingly. Later, Lucien would blame his delayed realization on the euphoria of Elain accepting the mating bond. 

“I’m not throwing you out, by any means,” Rhys continued. “But it’s yours if you want it. If you don't, I can just rent it out.”

“You bought...” Lucien’s mouth hung open. A house. Rhysand bought him a house. And mentioned it as casually as if he went around buying houses every day. 

“Rhys,” Lucien croaked. “Most people buy each other, I don't know, a jacket or pottery... not a house, for Cauldron’s sake." 

Rhysand just shrugged. “I’m not most people.”

“Clearly,” Lucien rasped. 

“If you don’t want it—”

“No, no, I do. I just... don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

“Males,” Elain muttered, even as she looked at Lucien adoringly. 

“Abhorrent creatures, I keep telling you,” Amren goaded. 

"But, you're with Varian!" Cassian objected. 

"And he's just as appalling as the rest of you," Amren declared.

Rhys snorted before addressing Elain. “I bought the one that had the best set up for you to start a new garden.”

“But— How did you know she—” Lucien spluttered. 

Rhys glanced between Elain and Lucien. “Intuition.”

“Thank you, Rhys,” Elain said warmly. "That was very thoughtful of you."

“My pleasure,” he answered, giving her a wide smile. 

Lucien growled softly, a completely involuntary reaction. 

“So it begins again,” Cassian remarked as he plucked one of the rolls from Elain’s basket and tearing off a bite between his teeth. “These are excellent, by the way.”

“Gods, was I like that?” Rhys wondered aloud, taking Feyre’s hand and giving it a gentle kiss.

“No,” Azriel muttered. “You were worse.”

Elain just tsked and rolled her eyes as Rhys feigned offense. 

“Worse?” He barked. He took a hearty handful of green beans and chucked them at Azriel. “How’s that for worse!”

Mor shrieked as Azriel’s counterstrike of a baked chicken leg went flying over her head. Amren slid her chair away from the table in hopes of avoiding being hit by any of the food being hurtled across the table. 

Cassian ripped off the other chicken leg and hurtled it at Rhys. To everyone's surprise, Nesta picked up an entire serving bowl full of peas and dumped it onto Cassian’s head. In retaliation, Cass dug his hand directly into the sweet potato casserole and planted his hand on the side of Nesta’s face. The shocked outrage upon her face as mashed sweet potato clung to it was worth the price of a hundred townhouses. 

“You did not just—”

Cassian leaped out of his chair and darted around to the other side of the table, cowering behind Mor. 

“Hide me!” He beseeched. 

Nesta stalked around the table, trying to hard to look furious but failing miserably. She was holding back laughter as Cassian ducked behind Mor, his wings tucked around him.

And all the while, Elain was laughing, clutching her side and gasping for breath.

Feyre, who had erected a bubble of air around her to avoid any collateral damage, caught Lucien’s eye and jerked her head towards the hallway. He grasped Elain’s hand and pulled her with him, pausing briefly to snatch the basket of bread off the table before following Feyre until the raucous noise from the dining room was barely audible. 

“I know Rhys bought you the townhouse,” Feyre intoned, “but if you want, I’ll take you to the cabin.”

“The cabin?”

“It’s up in the Illyrian mountains,” she explained. “In the middle of nowhere. It’s warded so only family can get in.”

Lucien looked dubious. “For the five thousandth time, Lucien,” Feyre said, somewhat exasperated, “you are family. Get that through your thick skull.”

He exchanged a glance with Elain. 

Just because you accepted the bond doesn't mean I expect you to rush into anything you don't want

He stopped short when she sent a most un-Elain-like growl full of desire through the bond. His pulse quickened as she squeezed his fingers between hers. 

“Okay,” he said weakly. “To the cabin.”

“When?” Feyre asked. 

“Now,” Elain answered for him. 

Chapter Text

With a little help from Rhys, Feyre escorted Elain and Lucien to the Inner Circle’s cabin, secluded in the woods with nothing else around for miles. Feyre lingered just long enough to explain the magic of the cabin and the warding and then winnowed away without saying so much as a goodbye. 

Lucien barked out a laugh as he opened the door to the quaint, comfortable cabin. “She couldn’t get out of here fast enough. She acted like we were going to just start tearing into each other the second the door opened.” 

Elain forced a casual laugh. That was exactly what she wanted to do. But she forced herself to exercise restraint. They had the rest of their lives to devour one another. She wandered over to the fireplace but didn’t see any tools for stoking the fire. 

“Feyre said you just have to ask for what you need and the cabin provides it,” Lucien said, his brows furrowed. 

He walked up behind her, his scent overpowering her in the best possible ways. 

“But where’s the fun in that,” he said with a slightly wolfish grin. Lucien balled his fist and when he opened his hand, a tiny ball of flames danced in his palm. The light of it reflected in Elain’s eyes as he dropped it onto the dry logs in the hearth. They ignited instantly, crackling and popping as if they’d been burning for hours. 

Elain spied the basket of rolls on the sturdy wooden table. She stifled a giggle that he brought them here. 

“Did you even get a chance to eat anything at dinner?” She asked him. 

“Barely,” he replied, his stomach growling for emphasis. “Did you?”

Elain shook her head. She decided to test the cabin’s magic by going into the kitchen and asking for something to eat. A bowl of fruit materialized on the table, along with a platter of cheeses, some biscuits, and a carafe of wine. She collected the food and carried it into the sitting room, setting it down on the low-lying table in front of the sofa. 

She sat down next to Lucien and pulled the tray into her lap. He had removed his baldric, leaving it in a crumpled pile on the floor next to the sofa.

“It really does provide whatever you ask for,” she said as she popped a small cube of cheese into her mouth. 

Lucien idly plucked pieces of cheese and a handful of grapes from the tray, munching quietly. Once the cheese and biscuits were gone, Elain set the empty tray back on the table. She readjusted, wincing as she tucked one of her feet beneath her. 

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing,” she said dismissively. “Deidre made me a new pair of slippers and they’re just not broken in yet. They are adorable and they match my dress but they pinch my feet something fierce.”

She straightened her legs and pointed her toes, demonstrating the stiffness of the new shoes. Lucien took her ankle in his rough, calloused hands and slipped the shoe off her foot, revealing her red swollen toes. Elain held her breath as Lucien gently, methodically massaged her sore foot.

“Oh, you don’t have to—”

“Hush,” he murmured. 

The only sound around them was the soft crackling of the fireplace. Lucien rubbed her foot for another few moments and then gently set it down in his lap. He twitched his fingers, motioning for her to bring her other foot up. She made a weak sound of protest which he ignored. He took her other slipper off and began massaging that foot as well.

Elain leaned back against the armrest of the sofa, her head lolling onto a throw pillow. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt this relaxed. This content. 

She wanted to ask him about what had happened on the continent and then in the Spring Court, but she suspected that those were all unpleasant stories that were best saved for another day. She let out a soft, audible sigh as Lucien put pressure on the sore spot of her foot. 

You’re quite good at that, you know.

Wait til I show you what else I’m good at.

Elain’s eyes went wide and heat rushed to her core. She practically shivered with anticipation. 

Through the bond, she felt a flash of restlessness and impatience immediately followed by shame. 

I’m sorry. 

For what?

Lucien just shook his head, his eyes on her small feet still lad across his lap. Elain tugged on the bond firmly, purposefully. 

Well?

Well what?

Are you going to show me or not?

Lucien’s eyes snapped up to meet hers. There was a smoldering intensity burning in his russet eye that made Elain’s breath catch. She wasn’t sure if the tiny nod she gave him was real or just an image sent down the bond, but either way, he understood it. 

He pushed himself up onto one knee, Elain’s feet sliding out of his lap. He inched closer to her and she sat up. He brushed one hand across the side of her face and wove his fingers into her loose flowing curls. 

“Are you certain you’re not a dream?” He breathed. 

Elain put her hands on either side of his face and held his gaze. “This is real,” she promised him. “And I’m yours.”

Those last two words seemed to snap whatever meager tether of restraint Lucien had been holding back. He breathed a sigh of longing and tightened his grip on her hair, pulling her closer to him and covering her mouth with his. 

Elain immediately opened her mouth to him, allowing his tongue to rake over the roof of her mouth. She nibbled on his lip, hoping it would elicit the same growl of arousal that it had the night before he left for the continent. She was not disappointed. 

Lucien groaned as he pushed her back against the sofa. Elain kissed every bit of him that her mouth could reach—his lips, his jaw, his neck... when she drew his earlobe between her teeth, he hissed sharply, his jaw clenched. 

“Oh, you wicked female,” he growled as she let her hands roam down his chest. Her fingers found the laces on the side of his tunic and she tugged frantically at them. When they were loose enough, she pulled the tunic up and over his head. Warmth settled between her legs when she got a glimpse of his defined hip bones. She wanted him now. 

His own fingers pulled at the long, intricate laces of her bustier. Even as he untied them, he seemed to hesitate, as if he feared at any moment she would tell him to stop. She captured his mouth with hers, dragging her tongue over his teeth, reassuring him that she wanted this every bit as much as he did. 

The laces were proving difficult to untie. Nuala and Cerridwen had done their jobs too well, it seemed. 

“Cut it,” Elain ordered. 

“What?”

Her eyes went to the baldric on the floor, outfitted with Lucien's dagger. 

"It's your favorite dress," he protested weakly.

“Cut it,” she insisted. “Deidre can make me a new one.”

Lucien didn’t argue any further. He retrieved the dagger, drew it carefully over the laces, and tugged. She let out a gasp when he pulled the bustier free and tossed the dagger to the floor. Hi s hands seemed to be everywhere all at once. They were in her hair and raking up her sides and cupping her breasts. Her breath hitched when his rough hands burrowed beneath her skirts. She bunched them up to one side until she could slip the rest of the dress off entirely. His fingernails drug across the inside of her thighs. He sucked in a sharp breath when his fingers found the dampness waiting for him. 

Fuck. 

What?

But she knew what. She was drenched. No one had ever aroused her quite like this before. Her center ached at the taunting of his hand, so very close to where she wanted it. 

She shuddered as he slowly, teasingly, traced circles on her inner thigh. 

Tease.

Lucien had barely taken his mouth away from hers. But he drew back, nipping at her jaw, and watched her face carefully as he sank two of his fingers into her. Elain threw her head back and moaned. 

He pulled his fingers out, so frustratingly slowly, and then sunk them back in. He plunged his fingers back and forth, deeper and faster, until she was breathing heavily. He was pressed tightly against her and there was no hiding how hard he was. She needed him inside her before she exploded. 

Her head was still thrown back over the armrest of the sofa. She opened her eyes and was met with a jarring sight. 

Mor, Cassian, Amren, Azriel... they were all peering down at her. 

“Lucien,” she said sharply. “Lucien stop.”

He instantly obeyed, but through the bond, she felt the severe restraint it took for him to do as she asked.

“What’s wrong?”

She jerked her head toward the eyes that Feyre had painted above the door frames. 

“Oh, gods, it’s like they’re all watching us.”

“It’s creepy, right?”

“Very creepy,” he agreed. Elain shrieked as he scooped her up and carried her into one of the bedrooms, kicking the door closed behind him. 

“She better not have painted fucking eyes in every room,” he muttered, “or so help me...”

But the bedroom was, mercifully, unpainted. He set her down gently on the mattress, the brass bed frame creaking slightly. 

She sat in the middle of the bed, orange and copper skirts fanned out around her and Lucien couldn’t help but think that she looked like an autumn leaf resting gently atop the first snow of the season. He stood at the edge of the bed, just gazing down at her. 

Elain tried to slide to the edge of the bed, but her skirts kept tangling beneath her. With a soft growl of frustration, she pulled the remains of the dress over her head and tossed it aside. Lucien’s mouth went dry at the sight of her. 

“What?”

“You are... so beautiful,” he choked out. “I have no idea how I got lucky enough to have you. I will never understand why the Mother thought I could ever be worthy of you.”

She sat on the edge of the mattress, one leg on either side of him. She reached for the waistband of his trousers and tugged, coaxing him closer to her. 

“You are mine,” she avowed. “And I’m yours. Only yours.”

Lucien just closed his eyes and shook his head. Elain caught flashes through the bond—not complete thoughts or sentences but fragments. Undeserving was the word she heard most clearly. 

“Look at me,” she ordered. His russet eye locked onto her round doe-brown eyes. “You are deserving. You are kind and selfless and loyal.”

Elain took a deep, steadying breath. “Lucien, I love you.”

Whatever dam was holding him together broke free. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and buried his face into her hair. “Oh, gods, I thought I would die before I heard those words.” His body shuddered against hers as a muffled sob ripped from him. 

Elain hated herself at that moment. Hated herself for making him endure her months of indecisiveness and uncertainty. He had waited so long for her, never asking for anything, content to wait for her to make up her mind. Yet clearly, it had almost destroyed him. How could she have been so selfish?

She kept one hand pressed against his lower back and ran her other through his long, unbound hair. His arms tightened around her, his rough fingers grazing gently across her smooth bare back. She shivered even though it was plenty warm inside the cabin. 

“I’m yours,” she murmured into his chest. Her hands became restless again, determined to learn every contour and line of his body. His breath caught when she let her fingers slide beneath the waistband of his trousers. She deftly unclasped the top two buttons and slid his pants down off of those sinful hip bones. 

Elain involuntarily licked her bottom lip once he was bare before her. She was his, indisputably and completely. He was hers... and she wanted all of him. She tried to grasp him in her hand but he angled his hips away.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he taunted, wagging his finger back and forth. “Me first.” 

Elain gave him a quizzical look before he dragged his hand down her stomach and past her aching bundle of nerves, making her breath catch again as he returned his fingers to the soaking puddle between her legs.

She was barely conscious of her next moves as she moved back to the middle of the mattress, Lucien prowling after her. She lay back onto the mountain of pillows that propped her up enough to still be able to watch him. 

Lucien withdrew his fingers from her and dragged one across his lips. Elain felt lightheaded and he wasn’t even touching her. But her mind went completely blank when he slung her ankles over his shoulders and buried his head between her legs. He drew his tongue in long, slow circles around her mound that throbbed, wanting that contact. 

Elain was panting, her breath short and shallow. In one fluid motion, Lucien closed his mouth over her delicate mound at the same time that he plunged his fingers deep inside her. She arched her back and writhed, a breathless moan escaping her lips.

My gods, you are the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.

Elain came apart as pleasure ripped through her. She had never come so quickly before, but the feeling of his tongue against her... She cried out as her climax made her see stars. Even as she trembled from shockwaves of her climax, she already wanted more. This had to be the... frenzy that Feyre had mentioned. 

Elain also recalled something else her sister had told her, probably not thinking of the implications of it at the time. It had been in the weeks following Hybern’s defeat and Feyre was just getting around to telling them all her full account of what happened in the Spring Court. She was recounting the trips to the wall with Brannagh and her twin when the Hybern princess had insinuated that Feyre was sleeping with Lucien to make Tamlin jealous. “Autumn court males have fire in their blood,” Brannagh had said to Feyre, “and they fuck like it too.”

Her own Autumn court male was lying beside her, breathing heavily. But he had the same insatiable desire in his eye that she knew mirrored her own. If he truly had fire in his blood, then Elain was prepared to burn. She grabbed his arm and pulled him on top of her. Lucien’s mouth went to her neck, nipping softly. 

“Please,” she begged him. She'd had his fingers and his tongue and now she wanted him. 

He let out a primal growl and pressed himself against her entrance. She was already so drenched that he slid into her in one smooth motion. Elain cried out as he entered her, her sigh of gratification ignited the spark that was already burning in his eye. 

He withdrew from her and pumped in again. 

“Elain,” he said breathlessly, as he pulled out and pushed back into her. “I love you.”

Again. Pulling out and plunging back in, harder. 

"I love you so much."

And again. Deeper. 

Harder and faster with each thrust, she writhed beneath him and whined his name weakly.

Lucien held her tightly as he flipped her over so that he was on his back and she was atop him. He sat up and Elain’s legs wrapped around his waist, clinging to him. She felt it—the fire that coursed through him as he relentlessly thrust into her. It burned through her core and set her own soul ablaze. 

Waves of pleasure wracked through Elain as he sheathed himself into her, plunging all the way down to the hilt. He filled her, both body and soul, and she thought she might die from the bliss. She lost count of the number of times she climaxed, not wholly convinced she hadn’t been on one long, continuous high. He thrust his hips against her and whispered over and over how much he loved her. When she pushed him down onto his back, grinding her hips against his, he growled as he came—and Elain felt the inferno within him explode into a raging fireball.  

They lay beside each other, both gasping for breath, completely spent, as the blinding white sun rose over the snow-covered mountains. 

Chapter Text

Somehow, they managed to sleep. It was only for a few hours, but it was enough to give them both the chance to recoup their energy. Elain felt slightly guilty as she realized that Lucien hadn’t slept at all since returning to Velaris. Though her stomach growled, she remained still in hopes of not waking him. 

There wasn’t a fireplace in the bedroom, but with Lucien pressed against her back she hardly noticed. He seemed to radiate heat—the combination of Autumn and Day’s powers that flowed through his veins made his skin naturally warm to the touch. 

His body was curved around hers, his chest pressed tightly against her back and his arm draped over her waist. His other arm was stretched out, her head resting on his bicep. Lucien shifted in his sleep and despite the heat he produced, Elain shivered when his fingers grazed the tender skin just below her breast. She slowly rolled over and he pulled her tighter against him. 

Elain suddenly understood what Feyre had meant about the initial frenzy. For even though they had been all over each other mere hours ago, her pulse quickened as her arousal returned. With nothing between them but the chill morning air and his firm, muscular body pressed tightly to her, Elain wanted—needed—to feel him inside her again. 

Even as she found herself wanting him, she truly didn’t want to wake him. He was so peaceful when he slept, so unburdened by all of the hardships he had faced. She was struggling to resist the temptation to wake him. She could actually feel the slickness rising between her legs. 

She whispered a tiny prayer for forgiveness and promised to let him sleep later before she slowly eased her hand beneath the blanket. She bit her lower lip as she took him in her hand and gently began stroking him.

Lucien’s eyes snapped open and she gave him an abashed smile. He hardened instantly. His head tipped back and a moan escaped his lips as Elain let her hand slide the length of him and back up. His cock throbbed in Elain’s hand and though she could have continued until she'd given him release, she was selfish. She guided him to her sodden folds and sighed with pleasure as he entered her. 

She wrapped her leg over his, allowing him to penetrate her deeper. His thrusts were unhurried, tender even. His hands roved over her body and she sucked in a sharp breath when he took one of her erect nipples softly between his teeth. 

Lucien’s hand slid down her back and over her rear, gripping tightly and pushing deeper into her. 

“Oh, Lucien,” Elain whined. The friction of him moving against her sensitive bud as he plunged in and out of her was electrifying.

He growled as she moaned his name. She was gasping as her pleasure mounted with every thrust until she erupted, crying out in ecstasy. 

She trembled from the shockwaves of her climax, and through the bond, she caught an errant thought he probably hadn’t meant to send. He was close, trying to stave off his own release until he could withdraw from her, worrying about pregnancy this early into being Mated. 

She squeezed her leg tightly around his, pushing him deeper. I’ve been taking a tonic since before you left. 

His eyes grew wide but she only grinned wickedly at him. 

Sly little vixen.

“I’m your sly little vixen,” she purred, weaving her hand into his hair and tugging. 

Lucien groaned as his own climax ripped through him. Elain clung to him until the spasms of his release subsided. She unhooked her leg from around his, the inside of her thighs damp and pleasantly sore. 

Lucien rolled onto his back and tucked one arm underneath his head, a slight punchdrunk expression in his russet eye.

"I’m sorry I woke you." 

“Sorry?” He snaked his free arm around her and pulled her against him. “Darling, you can wake me like that any time you like.”

Elain bit the corner of her lip and grinned. 

“I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I’m starving.”

She nodded her agreement. “I’ll go see what I can find.”

Elain slipped on a long velvet dressing gown that appeared out of nowhere. This house has a truly unique kind of magic. In the kitchen, she wished for something to eat. A plate of breakfast pastries and assorted jams appeared on the heavy wooden table along with a tall pitcher of orange juice. She carried both back to the bedroom, where Lucien was sitting up with his back against the wall. 

She set the food down and her cheeks heated as she imagined him taking her against that wall. 

What was the matter with her? They had just finished ravaging one another less than ten minutes prior and she already wanted him again. 

Frenzy, indeed. 

Lucien, to both her relief and dismay, had pulled his trousers back on. Still, she thought it might help to quell some of that insatiable desire long enough for them to eat something. She climbed back into the bed and pulled the tray of food toward them. She smeared blackberry jam onto a croissant and took a generous bite. Before she could finish chewing and swallow, Lucien plucked the other half of the croissant from her hand and shoved it in his mouth. 

He snorted at the look of consternation and tiny sound of protest she gave him. They were quiet as they ate, listening to the sound of icicles melting off the roof outside the window, dripping into tiny puddles. 

She studied him—her mate—this male who adored her to no end. Since becoming Fae, she could see through the natural glamours they kept on themselves when the humans saw them. But even so, he seemed different somehow. His auburn hair seemed to glow from within and his russet eye, gazing over at her with more love than she could have ever imagined, smoldered like the very core of the earth. 

Oh, how she loved him. 

Her eyes lingered on his bare chest and broad shoulders. It was wrong to objectify him. To look at him like he was a morsel for her to devour. But he was the most beautiful male she had ever seen. 

She heard his scoff inside her own head. 

“You are,” she insisted.

She felt the doubt and disbelief resonate through her as memories that weren’t hers flashed before her eyes. Of Amarantha savagely clawing out his eye and leaving his face scarred and disfigured. 

Elain reached a delicate hand out and traced the lines of his scar before leaning closer and kissing it - above his eyebrow, just below his golden metallic eye, down the length of his cheek, against his jaw. 

“I love every single bit of you,” she told him. “And you’re wrong if you think this takes away from who you are.” She gestured to the scar and his metal eye before continuing. “On the contrary, it makes you so devastatingly handsome, that sometimes I can’t breathe when I look at you. I wanted to accept the bond so much sooner, but I thought you would get the wrong idea if I did. I didn’t want you to feel as if I was accepting it because I had no other choice. Before I accepted the bond, I wanted to love you with my whole heart. And I do, Lucien. Oh, Gods, I do.”

Lucien closed his eyes and rested his forehead against hers. “You are such a treasure,” he murmured. “I will never understand what I did to deserve you.”

“I love you,” Elain whispered. 

Lucien drew in a shuddering breath, as if he still couldn’t believe her when she said it. “Why?” He croaked. 

Elain’s eyes filled with tears. Even after everything, he doubted his own worth. “Because you gave me the choice not to.”

He opened his eyes, his gold one clicking softly and his good eye surveying her carefully. 

“You saw me when no one else did,” she went on. “When everyone else was content to let me wander in darkness, you were the beacon of light calling me back. You waited for me and even then, you let me choose.”

She rested her head on his shoulder and traced idle patterns on the back of his hand with her fingers. “I think I first knew I was falling in love with you when I saw you repairing my garden. I was certain of it when we were eating dinner in your room the night before you left for the continent. I knew I wanted a million more nights just like that and I was so afraid that you would come back different. Or not come back at all.”

“How could you think I wouldn’t come back?”

Elain glanced away and mumbled, “I thought you and that cursed queen were—”

“No,” he said firmly. “Though she tried.”

They were both quiet for a moment, Elain shifting slightly so that her head was against his chest. She listened to the steady beat of his heart. 

He sighed and said, “You know, don’t you?”

She lifted her head and met his gaze even as she felt his shame and horror through the bond. “About Ianthe?”

He didn’t reply but the surge of disgust and remorse that coursed through the bond told her she guessed correctly. 

“Yes,” she admitted. “I saw your memory like I did that day in the garden. I didn’t mean to. I actually thought I was dreaming at first.”

“I’m sorry,” he croaked. “I’m so sorry, Elain. I didn’t know you yet. I would take it back if I could. If there’s anything I hate Tamlin for, it’s making me go into that cave and—”

“Stop,” she said firmly, taking his chin in her hand and forcing him to look at her. “You have nothing—do you hear me? Nothing to be sorry for. I know what she did and she deserves to die for it.”

“She’s already dead,” he supplied.

“Good,” she snarled. “Although part of me wishes she could be brought back just so I could kill the dirty tramp myself.”

He smiled weakly. It absolutely broke her heart that he carried so much guilt and shame for something that wasn’t even his fault. Something that he had been forced to do. She hated that trollop from hell. And she hated Tamlin for being a piss-poor High Lord and not fulfilling his own duties. 

“I love you,” he rasped. “You’re probably going to get so tired of hearing me say that.”

Elain shook her head. “I’ll never tire of that.”

Lucien toyed with the singed ends on the strip of leather tied around her wrist. 

“I never expected to fall in love again,” he murmured, barely above a whisper. The story he had told her that day in the House of Wind’s library came rushing back to her. “In fact, I was determined not to. Not only because she died, but because of what they did to her. She had committed no crime, aside from being with me. I would have rathered walked this earth alone for the rest of my life than put another innocent person at risk simply for loving me.”

Elain’s eyes welled with tears again.

“But then you happened,” he continued, “and now, I couldn’t stop loving you any more than I could stop breathing the air.”

He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. It surprised her to see terror and rage flash in his eye. 

“And Mother forgive me, but if any of them come after you for what you are to me... I will reduce them to ashes.”

Elain shuddered. It was an intense, heady rush to be loved that much. To know that he would incinerate the world if anyone took her from him. A few loose strands of crimson hair fell into his face, partially obscuring his golden eye from view. She hadn’t been exaggerating when she said it made him devastatingly handsome. She raised herself up onto her knee and brushed the hair from his face before throwing her leg across his lap and resting her hands on his shoulders. 

Lucien was gazing at her like he wanted her to be his undoing. His ruination. She kissed him, her hands sliding from his shoulders up the back of his neck and into his hair. She felt him harden against her as she shrugged the dressing gown off. 

By the time the initial mating frenzy was over, Elain doubted she would be able to walk. But then Lucien was biting her earlobe and nipping at her neck. “I seem to recall hearing you think something about the wall,” he growled against her ear. 

Oh, Mother above. 

Walking was overrated anyway. 

Chapter Text

It had been nearly two full days and Lucien hadn’t slept more than what he guessed was a few hours. But if he died from sleep deprivation, it would have been worth it. Lucien had spent months imagining what being with her would be like, but the reality far surpassed any of his fantasies. He knew it was at least partially due to the initial mating frenzy, but Elain was insatiable. And the sounds she made... they were enough to drive him over the edge all on their own. 

They had barely left the warm comfortable confines of that bedroom in the two days they’d been at the cabin, though they had made an attempt to go outside yesterday. After Lucien had taken her against the wall and been driven to the brink of insanity by the sound of her moaning his name, he had suggested taking a walk through the woods... if only to get out of the house for a bit. Elain had made a wry comment about wondering if she still possessed the ability to walk and he had left a trail of featherlight kisses down her neck, promising to carry her if need be. 

So they had gone outside, bundled in layers of warm clothing—courtesy of the cabin's magic—to keep themselves warm in the snow. They’d barely made it a hundred yards from the little house before they were tumbling through the snow together, the snow melting beneath him as the fire in his veins surged.

After that, they’d agreed to stay in the cabin. In between romps, they tried to eat and sleep. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it—at times, it was hurried and frantic while other times were slow and lazy. They seemed to leave no surface of the bedroom untouched—they made love on the bed, the dresser, up against the wall (Cauldron boil him, Elain seemed to favor the wall), and even on the floor. One particularly intense interlude had been in the massive bathtub, which felt more like a small pool than a bathing tub for personal use. They avoided the sitting room and the kitchen, out of respect for the rest of the Inner Circle who occasionally used the cabin for less... carnal purposes. 

Lucien had heard plenty of stories about mating bond unions. He had always been somewhat judgmental and bitter about them—wondering how all of them always seemed incapable of restraining themselves. For a long time, Lucien had believed Jesminda was his mate and that the bond just hadn’t had a chance to snap into place before she’d been killed. So, he secretly hated every couple who found their mate... and subsequently disappeared for a week to fuck their brains out. He had never understood... until now. 

It was something that was out of his control. He had no idea how it worked or why. All he knew was that there was nowhere else in the world he needed to be besides here with his mate. He knew it would eventually taper down and they could rejoin their friends. But until then, if Elain wanted him, by the Cauldron, she could have him any way she pleased. 

They were lying together under a thick heavy quilt, nothing between them but the night, watching the snow fall outside the window. Elain was nestled beneath his arm, tucked into the crook of his shoulder, and he ran his hand idly through her hair. 

If he didn’t die from sleep deprivation first, he might die of pure, unsullied bliss. It still hadn’t fully sunken in—that she was his now, and would be until he took his final breath. He held her as if she was smoke that might slip through his fingers at any moment. 

“Lucien,” she prompted sleepily. 

He had never particularly cared about his name. He hadn’t been named for any notable Fae from Prythian’s history or a long-dead family member. It was just a name. But the sound of it from her lips made him want to hear it a hundred thousand times. And when she was whimpering it between gasps of pleasure... he ascended to a higher plane of existence altogether.

“Hmm?”

“Can we just stay here forever?”

 “That sounds terrific,” he said, his voice muffled from his mouth pressed against her head. He loved the way her hair smelled—like honey and nectar after a spring rain. 

“But,” he continued, “if we stay, how will we ever find out who won the bet?”

Elain shifted to look up at him. “What bet?”

“The one that Rhys and the others have undoubtedly made about how long we’ll be here.”

She laughed softly.“I can’t believe Rhys bought us a house,” she marveled. 

“Us?” Lucien repeated carefully. He feared his heart might actually burst. A few months ago, he didn’t have a home, no court to belong to, nor did he have friends he could count on or a female to share his life with. Now, he had everything. It was too much to hope that he and Elain could have that domestic bliss that normal couples got to have. Nothing about his life felt normal. 

“Oh, how presumptuous of me,” she teased, pushing against his shoulder. “Although technically, he bought it for you. So am I to remain your neighbor?”

“Not on your life,” he murmured, pulling her closer. “I just thought, because of your garden—”

“Lucien, my love, I can plant flowers anywhere. I belong with you. I’m yours. Only yours.”

Yours. Those were the same words she had said to him before they made love for the first time. Just before she had told him she loved him. He wondered if she knew what those words did to him. How they somehow made him powerless and invincible at the same time. Yours. There were moments he still hardly believed it. She was the best thing he had ever gotten to claim as his.

He gently lifted her chin with his fingers and she looked up at him. “At the risk of sounding completely trite, this feels like a dream.”

“I know what you mean,” she agreed. “I keep fearing I’ll wake up and you’ll still be on the continent.”

He held her tighter, her arms wrapped snugly around his waist. “I’m not going anywhere, love.”

The falling snow outside the window swirled as a flurry of wind swept through. Snow began to collect in the corners of the window panes. 

“Feyre said that mates often go before a priestess to have their union verified,” Elain stated listlessly. 

Lucien knew what she was thinking. Not because of their bond, but because the same thought was echoing in his own mind. The entire order of the priestesses had been tainted because of Ianthe. There were still those who were loyal to their station, but Ianthe had been like the rotten piece of fruit that contaminated the whole barrel. 

“That’s the most common practice,” Lucien answered. She stiffened in his arms. “But we don’t have to do that, not if you don’t want to.” He combed his fingers through her long wavy hair. “Frankly, I’m satisfied with this. No ceremony or titles. Just you.”

Elain bit her bottom lip as she considered. He wondered if she knew how wild it drove him when she did that. “What if we went to one of the priestesses in the library? The one under the House. But if you want to avoid priestesses altogether, I understand, I just thought—”

“We can do whatever you like, dove,” he replied. Her hand was resting against his chest, the tiny band of untanned skin on her ring finger the only evidence that she had once worn something there. “We can get you a ring and have a wedding if that’s what you want to do. I’ll do anything you want, so long as I get to call you my own.”

“I am yours,” she avowed. “But... no wedding.”

Lucien raised an eyebrow at her and tried not to acknowledge the knot that had instantly formed in his stomach. 

As if she could sense his unease (and she could, he reminded himself), she hurried to explain. “I almost married a mortal and it would have been the biggest mistake of my life. I will happily marry you, but... not the mortal way. We are not mortals.”

Lucien’s throat bobbed and he struggled to swallow. He could hardly believe how much she had changed, how much she’d grown, in such a short span of time. 

“I am honored that you want me to be your wife,” Elain proclaimed, “and I will be. But more than that. I am your mate. Now and for eternity.”

If ever there was a moment that Lucien feared he would actually die of happiness, it was this one. He kissed her deeply, trying to put everything he was too overcome with emotion to say into that kiss. She moaned softly as his tongue parted her lips and slid into her mouth. Threading his fingers through her hair, he gently pushed her back onto the bed, his elbows against the mattress. 

He entered her slowly, murmuring her name like a prayer. Which, he supposed, it was. He had prayed for her before he’d even known her name. She was his salvation, his saving grace, his redemption. He moved inside her as their scents danced with each other until they merged into something entirely their own. Lucien's breath hitched as she arched her back. 

Slow and tender, this lovemaking was unhurried. Indulgent. The physical manifestation of what they were promising each other. “I love you, Elain,” he said, his voice breaking on her name. “I love you so much.” But love wasn’t a strong enough word. It didn’t manage to convey everything he felt for her. He kissed her neck as he ground his hips against hers. She released a breathy gasp as her pleasure peaked, her legs trembling slightly. His own release came moments later, the sheet gripped in his fists.

He rolled off of her and lay on his back, panting slightly. Elain rolled onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow. Her heartbeat gradually resumed a normal rhythm. 

“I can hear it,” Lucien said.

“Hear what?”

“Your heartbeat. The first time we spoke, up at the House, you asked if I could hear your heartbeat.”

“I remember,” she said, her eyes growing distant as she recalled the memory. “You said you couldn’t.”

“I can hear it now,” he insisted. 

“Well, as I was saying before I was so indecently interrupted,” she teased, earning a pinch at her waist, “I do want to have a ceremony. Or at the very least, a party or celebration with our friends. Beyond all odds, we found each other. We deserve to celebrate that little victory with the people who love us.”

“I like the sound of that,” he replied. 

“What is the custom regarding rings, anyway?” Elain asked, her thumb sliding over the bare skin of her ring finger. “I noticed Feyre and Rhys wear them but I wasn’t sure if that was just them.”

“It’s common for mated couples to exchange rings,” he explained, “but not mandatory. Traditionally, mothers pass their own mating rings down to their sons to give to their mates.”

“What if the female has more than one son?”

The corner of his mouth turned up into a smirk. “Then she gives it to the son she favors most.”

Elain’s eyes drifted, settling on some spot on the wall over his shoulder. He suspected what she was thinking. “My mother does wear a ring, but it’s the one Beron gave her.”

"Why does she stay there?" Elain wondered. "She doesn't love him, does she?"

"No. She stays for political reasons, mostly. I only hope I can eventually talk her into leaving." 

Elain nodded noncommittally. 

“We can have something made for you,” he offered. 

She shook her head. “No.”

“No?” 

Elain blushed. “I mean, if you want me to wear one, I would, of course. But..." she fiddled with the strip of leather tied around her wrist. “But I don’t want something just because tradition dictates it. I want to find a token that is unique to you. To us.”

Every time Lucien thought he couldn’t possibly love her more than he already did, she proved him wrong. His throat bobbed and he didn’t trust himself to speak, so he just pulled her close to him, tucking her into the crook of his shoulder where she fit so perfectly. He realized suddenly that all the years he'd spent trying to find a court to call home were wasted. It didn't matter what court he lived in—home was wherever Elain was. 

"Elain?"

"Hmm?" She sounded half asleep already. 

"Are you tired of hearing me say it yet?"

"Never," she murmured as she nestled tighter against him.

"I love you," he breathed. 

He tried to stay awake, just to watch how peacefully she slept. But their lack of sleep over the past two days was rapidly catching up to him. With the magic of the cabin keeping it comfortably warm and with Elain tucked in next to him, he fell asleep almost instantly. 

Chapter Text

They woke a few hours later, still bleary-eyed, but so far it had been the longest period of uninterrupted sleep they’d gotten since coming to the cabin. 

Elain’s stomach growled obnoxiously loud. Lucien’s metallic eye clicked and whirred as it focused on her. "Cauldron, was that your stomach? What did you do—swallow Bryaxis?

Elain swatted his arm with a giggle.   

“We should probably eat something,” he suggested. 

She had to agree. Very little sleep and barely more than light snacking for the past three days had her feeling lightheaded. She slid out from beneath the thick woolen blanket and eyed the dressing gown draped over the chair. The house was plenty warm and she was just going to the kitchen and then straight back to bed. It hardly seemed worth the effort. 

“What are you hungry for?” She asked, feeling his eyes on her. She had barely taken two steps toward the kitchen when he replied. 

“Mmm... you,” he said, his voice low and husky.

Elain faltered a step and glanced back at him. He was devouring her already with his eyes. She let her feet carry her back to the bed, all thoughts of food forgotten. 

Later, the muscles in her legs trembled and ached, but in the best possible way. She lay on the pile of pillows, her hair splayed out around her. Lucien crawled up the mattress to lie beside her with a satisfied smile.

“Who do you think is winning the bet?” She wondered idly. 

“If I had to guess,” Lucien pondered as he traced a circle around her navel, “either Rhys or Cass.”

Elain’s stomach growled again. “I bet it’s going to be someone who completely shocks us. Amren, perhaps.”

Lucien barked a laugh. “That wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

They stayed in the cabin for another day. After they had gotten their first full night of sleep since arriving and had managed to eat three complete meals, they agreed they were probably safe to return to their friends and general civilization. For the first time since leaving the House of Wind, Elain fretted over her garden and the state it must be in after nearly four days of neglect. She felt slightly guilty for forgetting about it.

"Oh, you know good and well that Az was probably out there keeping it tended," Lucien said with a chuckle. "He was probably out there telling your flowers not to worry, that you'd be back soon."

Elain looked amused but also mildly pleased at that. 

Elain’s dress had been cut on the first night at the cabin (another thing she felt guilty about now that the frenzy was waning and she could think rationally again). But because of the magic of the house, she wouldn’t have to make an appointment with Deidre—a new one appeared on top of the nightstand as they dressed, identical to hers. She almost wondered if it was her dress, just repaired. 

“It’s going to be so tedious having to wear clothes all day,” she complained. 

Lucien snorted as he pulled his trousers on. “I mean, feel free to walk around our house unclothed all you like...”

His russet eye gleamed playfully. “Though when you go out to garden,” he continues, “I’m afraid I must insist you at least wear your apron.”

Elain pictured herself gardening in naught but her apron, more of a smock really... which led her to think about Lucien surprising her in the garden and having his way with her on that little stone bench—

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Naughty. 

She threw him a feigned look of offense and wagged her finger at him. Eavesdropping is frowned upon in most places. 

She felt his unconcerned shrug. Not my fault if you send it through the bond as clear as day.

Elain just shook her head and smirked. He sat on the bed with his forearm draped over his knee, his chin resting on his fist, as he watched her dress. The house had mercifully provided warmer underthings than she had arrived. She pulled on the thick woolen stockings that went up to the middle of her thighs, resting her foot against the bedframe for balance, and caught him staring at her. 

I love you.

Somehow, hearing him say it through the bond felt even more sincere and intimate than the times he’d said it aloud. Perhaps it was because, in addition to hearing the words themselves, she could feel the pure devotion behind them. 

I love you. 

And she meant it. She felt like she had already loved him for a thousand years. And she would go on loving him for a thousand, ten thousand more. She would love him long after their souls left their bodies behind for the eternal peace the Mother promised.

Once she finished dressing, Lucien rose from the bed and wordlessly took her hand, leading her into the small hallway.

"I still can't believe you winnowed," Lucien marveled.

"Oh, that," she said with a blush. "Az has been trying to teach me. I'm a terrible student, but I managed it once or twice. I can only do it if I can see the spot I'm winnowing to so... it's not very effective yet. I haven't been able to get farther than a few blocks."

Lucien shrugged. "Some people never learn it, though. So be proud of yourself for getting this far already."

Elain just pursed her lips. 

"You'll get there, love," Lucien said, kissing her hand still clasped tightly in his. They walked outside and both turned to give the cabin one more glance. Elain felt a swell of affection for the little house—it was where she and Lucien had been made whole together. Where their scents had merged and created something new, something unique, that belonged solely to them. She would miss it. 

She would also not know how to behave there when the entire family returned for Solstice or any other occasion. She was glad they had kept their lovemaking confined to the bedroom. 

Once they passed the perimeter of the wards, Lucien put his arm around her waist and winnowed them back to Velaris. 

Chapter Text

It was just before dusk when they returned to Velaris, winnowing to the rooftop patio of Rhys’s townhouse. The house was warded against anyone outside of Rhysand’s Inner Circle winnowing directly into it. 

“I’ll bet you anything Cassian and Rhys are waiting like vultures downstairs,” Elain said. 

“Anything?” Lucien wiggled his eyebrows and his eye gleamed mischievously. 

“Oh go on,” she rolled her eyes, pushing him toward the stairs. “Rascal.”

Elain shrieked as he pinched her waist. They paused in her room long enough for her to change after she made the valid point that if they went downstairs in the same clothes they left in, the teasing would be even worse. They could hear raucous laughter coming from downstairs as Lucien wove his fingers between Elain’s and led her down into the sitting room. 

“Hey!” Cassian roared with delight. “Look who’s back!”

Rhys, Azriel, Mor, and Feyre all looked up, all of them smiling. There was a platter of meats and cheeses on the low-lying table in the center of the room. Clearly, the group was having one of the informal, lazy nights that Lucien had come to love. 

Mor rose from an oversized armchair, gesturing for them to take it, as she handed Elain her own glass of wine. She poured herself a new one and squeezed between Cassian and Azriel on the sofa. 

“Cabin still standing?” Cassian teased. 

Elain settled into the chair while Lucien sat on the armrest. She leaned against him and smirked, “Wouldn’t you love to know?”

Feyre choked on her wine and gave her sister a look of surprise. Elain winked at her. 

“Where’s Nesta and the tiny ancient one?” Lucien wondered. 

“They should be back any minute,” Mor answered, trying and failing to keep Cassian from stealing her wine glass and taking a generous sip. “They went to look for a specific type of wine Nesta likes. Since someone has a drinking problem.”

“Moderation is for quitters,” Cassian pronounced. 

"Boozehound," Mor muttered. 

“So, who won?” Lucien asked.

“Won what?” Rhys asked innocently, though his smile all but gave him away. 

“Oh, don’t play coy,” Elain simpered. “The bet you barbarians had about how long we’d be up at that cabin.”

“Oh, that bet,” Rhys said, picking a piece of nonexistent lint off his jacket. 

Lucien nudged Elain. Told you they had a bet. 

“Barbarians,” Cassian repeated, clicking his tongue. “You shouldn’t talk about your sisters like that.”

“My—” Elain gave Feyre a look of disbelief, but her sister wasn't looking at her.  Feyre seemed very interested in her fingernails all of a sudden. 

“Well, let’s see,” Cassian said, pulling out a folded slip of paper from underneath one of Tarquin’s blood rubies. “How long were you there? Four days?”

“Not quite four,” Elain said, looking up at Lucien for confirmation. “Three and a half?”

Lucien was taken aback by how utterly unconcerned Elain was discussing this. He’d expected her to blush and smile coquettishly, telling the rest of them it was none of their business. Not that he was about to give them a detailed account of everything that went on in the cabin. He’d take those memories to his grave before he shared them with anyone. 

“Sounds about right,” he shrugged. Elain tilted her head back to rest it against his chest. 

“Well, we didn’t do half-days,” Cassian said, reviewing the betting sheet. “So, we’ll go with four days.”

“I lost,” he admitted, scanning the list, “I guessed two days. You two were either more ravenous than I thought or you actually attempted to still behave like civilized people some of the time.”

Elain had just taken a sip of her wine and inhaled it. She coughed and spluttered, finally turning scarlet. 

“Feyre, you’re out too,” Cassian continued. “She had three days. Same opinion as me, but she gave you more leisure time it seems.”

“Oh, my gods,” Elain muttered, resting the wine glass on the armrest that Lucien wasn't occupying and covering her face with her hands. 

“I’m so glad you all put so much thought into this,” Lucien grumbled. 

Cassian just sniggered as he checked the sheet again. “Looks like Azriel only gave you a day.”

“Damn, Az,” Lucien quipped. “And here I thought we were friends.”

“Not my fault they were vague with the terms,” Azriel remarked. “The bet was for how long you’d be at the cabin . I said one day because I assumed you’d high tail it out of there the moment you saw all of our eyes staring down at you.”

“Yeah, about that,” Lucien barked, snapping his head over to Feyre. “Those are creepy.”

“They are not,” Feyre argued. 

“They are when you’re naked,” Mor sang. 

Elain choked on her wine again. She gave the glass an offensive glare before draining it and setting it on the table in front of her. She seemed not to trust what might come out of anybody else’s mouth and didn’t want to run the risk of inhaling another sip.

“Mor lost by three days,” Cassian calculated. “She gave you a week.”

Elain raised her eyebrows at Mor. 

“These things aren’t to be rushed,” she simply said with a little shrug. She wrestled her wine glass out of Cassian's hand.  

“But Rhys,” Cassian drawled as he checked the sheet again, “why, he gave you two whole weeks.”

“That’s flattering,” Lucien chuckled. Elain elbowed him in the ribs. 

Rhys stretched his arms over his head before draping one around Feyre’s waist and pulling her closer to him. “If I’d had my way, Feyre and I wouldn’t have left that cabin for at least two weeks.”

The look Feyre gave him suggested she wanted to return to that cabin immediately and take him up on that offer. 

“And yet,” Cass provoked, stroking his chin as if in deep thought, “you were only there a day...”

“We were in the middle of a war!” Rhys appealed, looking to Feyre for support. She just laughed and shook her head softly, her expression plainly saying he wouldn't be getting any help from her. 

“Can’t you just tell us who won so we can talk about something else?” Elain muttered. 

“Nope,” Cassian said cheerfully. “We’ve all been waiting for this moment since you left so abruptly from family dinner.”

“Screw you, Cass,” Elain griped. 

Cassian’s eyes flashed with mischief. “Is that an offer?”

Lucien slowly slid his arm around Elain’s shoulders. The gesture seemed completely casual and unthreatening, but the growl that accompanied it sent a clear message to the room. And though no one else could, Elain heard the instinctual thought behind the growl. 

MINE. 

Elain leaned into his arm and reached for the hand on her shoulder, weaving her fingers between his. 

“You truly have a death wish, don’t you, Cass?” Feyre said with a disbelieving shake of her head. 

“What can I say,” he shrugged. “I like to keep things interesting. Sweet Miss Archeron knows I mean no harm.” He inclined his head to Elain. 

She studied him for a moment, her head held high, every bit of the nobleman's daughter she once was. Her gaze was harsh and unforgiving and in that moment, Lucien could easily see the resemblance she bore to her elder sister. He shivered inwardly at how... Nesta she looked.

“Actually,” she objected, “I’m a mated female, so I believe that’s Mrs. Vanserra to you.”

The silence was palpable. 

Lucien’s heart skipped a beat... and then another. Yes, it was true they’d been Mated and she had every right to take his name if she chose. He'd thought about it, hoped for it, but hadn’t really expected it. Least of all, not before it was officiated by a priestess. But here she was, this miracle who never stopped surprising him, declaring herself his in front of almost everyone they loved. If he'd never cared about his first name, he certainly had never cared about his surname. But suddenly, with her claiming it, it no longer represented Beron and his rancor. It represented them. 

She looked up at him tentatively.

I hope that was okay... I didn't think, I just said it. I know it’s not Helion’s surname, but—

I love you so fucking much.

Lucien kissed her, which broke the spell of silence around them. The rest of the group made general sounds of impression and approval. 

"My sincerest apologies," Cassian dipped his head to Elain, "Mrs. Vanserra.” 

He clawed at Mor's fingers, trying to make her release her wine glass again until she finally rolled her eyes and released it. 

"Just keep the damn thing," she groused.

Cassian took a hearty sip before glancing down at the betting sheet once more. 

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered. 

At that moment, the front door swung open, a flurry of snow sweeping into the foyer. 

“We had to go to three different shops to find my wine, Cass!” Nesta hollered from the entryway. “Three! All because you can’t keep your paws off mine and just drink your own damn whiskey. If you so much as touch— Elain!” 

Nesta cut herself off when she noticed her sister among their group even as Lucien muttered, "He better not."

Elain just giggled. 

“You’re back!” Nesta cried with delight. 

“And you won,” Cassian said to Nesta. 

Amren was half a step behind her, flakes of snow on her mdnight-black hair already melting. “Damn you, girl,” she groused, setting down a paper bag on the counter. Its contents clinked—evidently, Nesta had bought several bottles as backups. “You couldn’t have stayed away for one more day? I haven’t seen Varian in over a month.”

Elain’s brow furrowed in confusion. She glanced over at Cassian for clarification. 

“Whoever won the bet got to... ah, use the cabin next,” he explained, his expression turning lustful as he addressed Nesta. “So even though I lost, I still won, right?”

Nesta gave him a cynical glare. “Who says you’re coming with me?”

“Well, who else would you take up there!” Cassian demanded indignantly.

“Oh, don’t be so obscene, Cass,” Feyre snipped.

"I'm sorry, have you met him?" Azriel chuckled, his shadows curling around his hands as he took a swig of whiskey.

“The agreement was whoever won could go to the cabin for a getaway of any kind," Feyre explained. "Even just to go up there by yourself and read if you wanted. And whoever lost by the largest margin had to take over the winner’s normal duties and responsibilities until they came back.”

“I’m tempted to give the prize to Amren,” Nesta taunted, “just to wipe that smirk off his face.”

Cassian’s face did indeed fall, his grin shifting into a pouting frown. 

“Incorrigible,” Nesta mumbled. 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

The rest of the evening passed relatively uneventfully. After a bit more heckling from Rhys, Cass, and Azriel, the topic (mercifully) shifted away from Lucien and Elain’s time in the cabin. Feyre recounted most of what happened on the continent, with some help from Lucien, though he deliberately left out the bits involving Vassa coming to his room. 

“Oh!” Feyre shrilled. “And you’ll never believe who was padding the pockets of that hateful queen while she was cursed.”

Lucien desperately tried to get her attention, as he realized with an uncomfortable jolt that he hadn’t gotten around to telling Elain about—

“Graysen!” Feyre cried. 

A collective groan of disgust moved through the room as everyone expressed their displeasure. Elain’s eyes widened and her mouth fell open in surprise. Lucien tried to speak, but nothing came out.

Shit shit shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t get a chance to tell you... I swear I wasn't withholding it just to sleep with you first. You have to know it's not like that. I just... fuck.

It’s alright. 

No, it’s not. You shouldn’t have had to find out that way. And you probably think I kept it from you because it would have ruined things at the cabin and... I'm sorry.

Look at me. 

Lucien stared at the carpet. 

Lucien, look at me. 

Elain laid her hand on his thigh and he turned his head toward her. She gave him a reassuring smile that he weakly tried to return. 

I don't think that's what you were doing at all. And I'm glad you didn't bring it up. I wouldn't have wanted him in my mind when we were together in that cabin. He doesn't deserve to occupy my mind any longer. I'm yours. He can go to hell.

The general upheaval around the room had quieted, as everyone seemed to realize Elain hadn’t known. They watched tensely for her reaction even as she waited for him to reply through their bond, but he remained silent. 

She shifted in the armchair so she could look up at Lucien. “Please tell me you set him on fire.”

“Oh-ho!” Cassian roared, slapping his own thigh. “She’s feisty!” 

Amren and Mor were nodding appreciatively while Lucien just gaped at her. 

“What?” Elain said defensively. 

“He, uh... he actually tried to,” Feyre admitted. “I stopped him.”

Elain peered at her sister and shrugged, “That’s a shame.” The cold unforgiving glare that reminded Lucien so much of Nesta had returned. He didn't think Elain had the capacity to hate anyone... but clearly, he was wrong.

“But...” Feyre stammered, “I thought you’d—”

“Be upset? Why, because we used to be engaged?” Elain’s eyebrows arched. “I’m not generally a hateful malicious person—"

"I know you're not," Feyre said.

"But," Elain said firmly, "I can’t say I’d feel any remorse over it. He was cruel and callous when we went to him in our time of need, begging for help.”

“Well, in all fairness,” Feyre conceded, “Lucien didn’t actually try to incinerate him until he slandered you.”

Lucien tightened his hold on her waist. 

"What did he say?"

"I'm not repeating it," Feyre insisted. 

Elain tugged on the bond. 

What did he say?

Nope. I’m not repeating it either. 

I love you. 

He leaned his forehead against hers. 

Not nearly as much as I love you.

“Excuse me,” Cassian called, waving his arms wildly. “You two wanna share with the group?”

“No,” Lucien and Elain said together, not even looking in his direction. 

“Rude,” Cassian grumbled, though a smirk played on his lips. 

Mor nudged him. “Leave them alone. They’re a newly Mated couple.”

“I know,” Rhys jibed. “So disgustingly sentimental.”

“You two are just bitter,” Azriel laughed. 

“I agree, Az,” Mor said. “Rhys and Feyre were Mated in the middle of that mess with Hybern and as for Cass... Well, we love you, Nesta but you’re just not the sentimental type.”

Nesta clicked her tongue. “How did this get flipped to me and Cassian?”

“Probably because they love watching you turn every shade of the fucking rainbow when it’s brought up,” Amren said with a wry smile as she handed Nesta a glass of wine.

“Oh, piss off, all of you.”

Cassian rose from the sofa and stretched obnoxiously. He paraded over to Nesta and said, “Since all the attention has somehow shifted off Mr. and Mrs. fox boy, might as well milk it for all it’s worth.” 

He put one hand on Nesta’s lower back and before she could stop him, he pulled her in and kissed her right in front of everyone. Nesta’s spluttering and protests died on her lips as Cassian covered her mouth with his. 

Mor, Rhys, Lucien, and even Azriel hollered various catcalls and wolf-whistles. 

Feyre stifled a yawn and only then did Lucien realize how late it was. Time just raced by with this group. What felt like a few minutes would end up being hours. It was effortless to fall into place with them. His friends. His family. 

“Alright, you freeloaders,” Rhys said, “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. Well, I mean, you can... but I’m carrying my tired ass to bed.”

The group collectively rose from their seats, returning wine and whiskey glasses to the kitchen and straightening up. 

“Oh, before we turn in,” Rhys added, turning to Lucien as he reached into his pocket, “I thought you might want these.”

He handed a small ring with two keys on it to Lucien. “To your house,” he clarified. 

Lucien had almost forgotten that Rhys bought him a townhouse. He took the keys with a wordless nod of thanks. 

“And I took the liberty of having the ground floor patio modeled into a garden identical to the one here,” Rhys said. 

Elain’s eyes lit up. “Oh, Rhys, did you really?” She chirped. “Thank you so much!”

“Of course,” he said with a little bow. “You’re family.”

Nearly everyone had either already left or was in the process of leaving—Amren and Mor announced they were going dancing, Azriel disappeared into the shadows, and Cassian was coaxing Nesta out the front door.

Nesta sighed and took his outstretched hand, turning back to glance at Elain. They shared a smile before Nesta nodded to Cassian. “Okay, let’s go.”

“You’ll have to furnish the house as you see fit,” Rhys told Lucien and Elain. “I had the basics from your room here sent over just so you didn't have to sleep here tonight." He winked at Lucien. "Most of the furniture and home decor stores have already been told to put whatever you need on my account.”

“Rhys... that’s not—”

“It is necessary,” he insisted firmly. “I could buy you a thousand townhouses and it wouldn’t equate to what you did for me.”

“I didn’t do it for you to do all this,” Lucien protested weakly. 

“I know,” Rhys replied. “Which is exactly why I’m doing it.”

Lucien huffed a sigh of defeat. “Thank you.”

Feyre gave Elain a brief hug before starting up the stairs. Lucien took Elain’s hand in his and his heart skipped a beat when she smiled at him. He suspected that was something that would never diminish with time. At least, he hoped it didn’t. He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it softly. His mate—by the might of the Cauldron and the will of the Mother. But beyond that... she was the love of his life, by the doctrine of his heart.

“Let’s go home,” he murmured. 

Chapter Text

Epilogue

It had been roughly three weeks since Lucien and Elain had moved into the townhouse Rhys bought them. Winter was in full swing, but every so often, there were days like this one that was uncharacteristically balmy. The snow had melted and the sun shone brightly, warming the streets. It made for an exceptionally good shopping day, considering Solstice was right around the corner. The streets bustled with shoppers, taking advantage of the mild weather. 

Feyre walked with Nesta and Mor at a leisurely pace, returning from a morning of shopping and brunch. They strolled up the cobblestone walkway, approaching the row of townhouses. Ever since Elain had moved out of her and Rhysand’s house, Feyre had started coming home a different route just so she could pass by Elain’s new garden. 

It was truly remarkable how she managed to keep it pristine and colorful, even in the heart of winter. 

As she neared the Vanserras' townhouse, Feyre heard her sister’s voice singing a tune she vaguely remembered from her early childhood. Her mother used to sing it, she recalled, sometimes with their father humming a few lines too.  When they rounded the corner and the little patio garden came into view, Feyre’s heart filled. 

Elain and Lucien were dancing in the garden. A rake and a hoe were leaning against the stone bench (Rhys had insisted on finding one exactly like the bench on their own patio) and a bucket of potting soil sat next to it. Lucien held Elain close, arms around her waist and hands clasped together at the small of her back. Her head was resting against his chest as they swayed in place to a melody only they could hear. 

Elain had always been beautiful, but Feyre had never seen her this happy. Now, she was a vision. Her dress was made of soft, baby pink fleece with a sheer layer of chiffon overlaying the skirt. Her long sleeves ended in cuffs of puffy white wool—clearly not something she would normally work outside in. Lucien was, however, in a casual pair of brown trousers and roughspun green tunic with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His vibrant red hair flowed loosely down his back, with the exception of a braid on either side just above his ears to keep those sections out of his face. And woven into those braids—

“Are there flowers in his hair?” Nesta wondered aloud. 

“It would seem so,” Feyre replied with a wide smile. 

“Oh, she has got him wrapped around her tiny little finger,” Mor said as she adjusted the tote slipping off her shoulder. 

Elain drew back, looking up at Lucien with joy in her eyes and drawing the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth as she gave him an impish smile. She said something that Feyre couldn’t make out, or perhaps she hadn’t even said it aloud. Perhaps it was something meant only for him that she said through their bond. Whatever it was, Lucien’s eyes widened slightly as he broke into a wide, overjoyed smile and nodded. 

Elain gripped his tunic in her gentle hands and pulled him in, kissing him deeply. 

“Well, they seem happy about something,” Mor commented wryly.

“Let’s go ask them,” Feyre suggested, but Nesta raised a hand. 

“No,” she said. “It’s their business, not ours.”

Feyre grinned at her eldest sister. She linked one arm through Nesta’s and the other through Mor’s and the three of them continued on toward Feyre’s own townhouse. 

Mor gave them a tiny little wave as they passed by and Feyre called out, “You coming to dinner at Sevenda’s later?”

“We’ll be there,” Elain called back. 

Feyre nodded cheerfully. Mor and Nesta unlinked their arms from hers and carried their purchases into the house. Feyre glanced back, her sister and Lucien still visible four houses down. She couldn’t be certain since it was a naturally sunny day, but it seemed as if Lucien was glowing softly, radiating the power of Day’s light, just like Feyre had with Rhys. It still happened, from time to time, when she was exceedingly happy, though she had learned to control it better. 

She could only wonder what her sister had said to make Lucien that happy. She was itching to find out, but as Nesta said, it wasn’t their business. Still, Feyre was nothing if not persistent.