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To Relearn What Love Is

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Azriel has always wondered about time.

Standing by the edge of the Sidra, the night barely begun as buttery rays melt into the sight of dark sky and thousands of stars. He’s holding his hands behind his back, unable to fight the urge of a warrior in the safety of the place that is supposed to be his home.

Home.

Such a word feels like a foreign language on his tongue.

He’s fought and lost and conquered in his centuries of life. He’s followed his High Lord since they were mere boys. Azriel has watched the Night Court lose their greatest and then gain another in the shape of the first High Lady.

So why does he feel lonely? It’s like he is drifting on the winds of time, fading from existence as he slowly becomes one with the shadows. He can hear their siren’s call now, whispering the secrets of existence in his ear, sending tendrils down his arms in a mockery of comfort.

Azriel sighs and tilts his head up to bask in the last few rays of daylight. 

By the Caldron, he feels exhausted. And not just the tiredness after a long battle, but something far deeper. By something that has long festered in his bones, leaving him but a puppet in its hands. He wants to rest. He wants to sit back and just be.

His heart aches.

The shadows whither in excitement, their cold caress slithering like excited children as footsteps suddenly echo in the distance. Azriel can hear their chant. Their secret song. The song he refuses to put to name.

It is not quite shame. But he can’t say it’s not exactly that, either. 

Azriel tugs the shadows back, drawing them inside him until he feels heavy, pained. His scars feel itchy under his gloves. He can pretend they don’t exist like this. Like he is not a broken male hiding under a stoic mask.

He wonders what it would be like to break apart, just so he can heal. He wonders whether it’ll hurt.

Azriel looks to the footsteps and almost winces at the sight of Cassian.

He looks... He looks beaten. Downtrodden. Forgotten. Azriel sees the lips that easily stretch into an annoyingly endearing grin, and comes short at the lack of it. He’s never seen Cassian look so much... look so much like him.

Azriel tenses. He doesn’t like this.

And yet, past it all, he looks stunning. Not many would call him stunning. Handsome, perhaps. Attractive definitely. But Azriel sees the sharp edge of his jaw, the beginnings of stubble, his eyes that forever change colours and a slightly crocked nose, and thinks he’s the most breathtaking sight he’s seen. Even when so saddened.

“You okay?” He asks quietly, pushing at the shadows that squirm to reach out, to touch and feel. Idiot, he thinks. Of course he’s not okay. What sort of person asks this? What sort of person can’t muster up the words his friend, his... no... need. 

Useless, the dark part of his mind says. Useless. Useless, useless, useless. It sounds frighteningly like his brothers. Like their nasty taunts, the pain left in their wake. Pain he sees in the dead of night.

Cassian shrugs and moves stand by his side, and Azriel realises he stinks. Alcohol lingers on his breath, his armour and it stings his eyes into a nasty red. Azriel’s hands twitch with the urge to reach out and banish it all away.

You don’t have the right, he tells himself.

But he can’t smell Cassian’s woodsy and mint scent. He can’t taste the linger of it on his lips. And he shouldn’t be surprised how much that hurts.

Azriel realises that Cassian’s hands clench and unclench, as if wanting to hold something that isn’t there. He doesn’t want to ask, he doesn’t, his shadows are murmuring no, but he can’t help himself, “What happened?”

Cassian slouches inwards, looking physically pained. Azriel wants to kill whoever made him look this way. Truth Teller burns into his leg as if wanting too as well.

“I tried to give her a gift.” Cassian says. “I tried and she spat in my face. Told me she isn’t interested, that she doesn’t care. And I, it hurts Az. I said I didn’t care about who she’s been with, who sleeps in her bed. I don’t think she even registered my words.” Cassian looks at him out of the corner of his eyes, his dark hair tied loosely by the name of his neck. Azriel has never despised Nesta more. “What do I do?

Azriel looks down at his covered hands. Tainted hands. Hands that have maimed, tortured and killed and yet still yearn to cherish warm skin and eyes that glimmer gold in the light and green in the shadows. It’s a pointless wish, but he wishes nonetheless.

What do I do?

He doesn’t know. He can’t know. He’s the bastard who’s been yearning for so long that the pain in his heart and the faint bond in his body is nothing anymore. Just another broken part of Azriel, the Spymaster, the Shadowsinger. The male who’s mate doesn’t want him, and never will.

“I think you’re asking the wrong person for this.” Azriel replies, ignoring his dark thoughts to smile lightly at Cassian.

Cassian laughs, and it’s not necessarily a nice thing, but it’s still a laugh. A small slither of joy.

“Nonsense, you have more game than all of us.” Cassian snickers.

Azriel thinks of the females he lets them see him with. Fae with pretty eyes, curvy figures and tight dresses. Hair like spun gold. Skin the shades of rainbows. But always too feminine, not muscular enough. Females he sends home, and never into his bed. Females he looks at, and feels nothing for. Because he can’t. Because he’s not attracted to them.

What would they do if they found out their friend, their brother was nothing more than a liar? That the yearning he knows they all see isn’t for the one they think it is for. 

That’s not to hate on Mor. She’s beautiful. If Feyre is a sapphire, Elain an ever changing opal and Amren a burning topaz, then Mor is like a clear cut ruby. All fiery, wonderful passion. There’s someone out there who is going to cherish her as she deserves. But it’s not him. Azriel feels nothing but brotherly love toward her. 

But it’s easy to redirect the real love he does feel, and aim it at her. It’s not hard. A word, a look, a dangerous thought that he places on her head. And they all think he’s desperate for her attention.

He can’t be. His heart says otherwise.

“Do you love her?” Azriel diverts the conversation.

Cassian’s brightness dims and he shrugs halfheartedly. “I don’t know. Maybe? One day, perhaps.” He pinches his lips in thought. “How do you know when you love someone?”

Azriel looks at him in despair, though his face is carefully blank.

How do you know when you love someone?

When your heart pounds when they enter a room.

When your waking thoughts are on their smile, their laugh, their eyes, their hearts, their soul.

When you see them and think, yes, it’s this one. This is the one for me.

When you crave to be their only thought.

When the sight of them threatens to send you to your knees.

When you sleep at night, and dream of them.

But Azriel only pinches at the skin between his thumb and finger as he replies, “I don’t know. I suppose you just know.”

Cassian sends him a skeptical look, “You would know, right?”

Right.” Azriel murmurs. “I would.”

Cassian sighs and places a calloused hand on his shoulder. Azriel hates the feel of someone else’s touch. Feyre he can manage, just barely. Elain’s hands have only known kindness so she brings nothing but calmness. But he cannot stray from Cassian’s. If he held Azriel in his arms forever, Azriel may just learn to be content. He may find the meaning of true happiness.

“Who would of thought?” Cassian muses in jest, his lips widening into a familiar grin, “That the two of the biggest heroes of the War of the Caldron would be so hopeless in their love lives. How Amren must mock us.”

Azriel rolls his eyes at his friend and nudges at his hand with his shoulder, “You say that as if she doesn’t have her own issues.”

Which, he isn’t sure how to feel about it. He doesn’t trust Amren, never has. Now she is High Fae, something that rears it’s protective head in him has settled. His shadows don’t hiss old curses at her anymore.

He once was disgusted by that. About how purely intertwined his feelings and those of his shadows were. Now they are his greatest confident, maybe the only thing in this vast world that really knows him.

Cassian lets go of his shoulder and Azriel pretends not to mourn the warm touch. Instead he squints his eyes just barely and Cassian sends him a shits-eating grin in return.

“Want to join me?” He asks.

Azriel raises an eyebrow, “Where?”

Cassian flips his head, looking all smug as though the heartbreak evident before is gone. Azriel knows better, he can see it in the twitching of his fingers, in the dull gaze of his eyes.

“Anywhere.” Cassian drawls, crossing his arms. “Or Rita’s. I need a drinking partner.”

“You’re already drunk.” Azriel deadpans.

Cassian, the absolute bastard he is, only pouts. Pouts. Like a child. And it looks far too adorable for Azriel to comprehend, so he stores the memory away to reminisce on later.

“So? We’re Illyrians, we have an impossibly high intolerance for alcohol and I’m too sober.” Cassian sends him a stare that would have lesser males trembling. “Don’t be a prick.”

Azriel already knows he’s going to go. And he knows he’s going to regret it when Cassian will expect him to take home a lover. A Fae his lips will have to touch and ruin with his darkness and misery. A female he’ll have to turn away. There’s a taste of bile in his throat.

“Fine.” Azriel groans and ignores the shout of joy from Cassian. “But I’m not picking your drunk head out of vomit again. No matter how pitiful you look.”

Cassian looks horrified, and there’s an embarrassed flush on his face, “That happened one time.”

Azriel only stares at him.

Cassian groans and rubs his forehead, “Fine. One time I can remember.”

Azriel chuckles under his throat, and begins the walk toward Rita’s, sending one wistful glance at the Sidra and it’s calming small waves. He’s not sure if he’s ready for the loud noises of Velaris’ nightlife so soon. His head is still too jumbled with the pained sounds of war and death.

But he would do anything for Cassian, even if the male doesn’t know it. It’s always for Cassian, to Cassian, with Cassian.

As they walk toward the infuriating club, he hears the coos of his shadows eager in his ear. Over and over again. They have become too restless at being pushed away, and are now louder than ever. They sing their only true lullaby.

Mate, Mate, Mate. Mate, Mate, Mate.

He truly does wonder about time. It’s a cruel thing, stealing mortals away, wasting away the seasons. And it only seems to make Azriel’s peril worse. It only makes him fall further in love.

Cassian says something to his left, his deep voice like warm honey. All he can hear is the whispers of Mate, in his head and heart. The bond flickers, diminished into a pitiful thing. Unlike the tremors of it freshly born.

Time is truly cruel.